The Failure of Pickett's Charge

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rpkennedy

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That's funny, but had the Confederate artillery found their mark you'd be speaking with a southern accent.
Honestly, I'd say that the Confederate artillery was fairly effective. The Union batteries between Ziegler's Grove and Stannard's Brigade were shot to pieces (as were some of the Union regiments supporting those batteries, the 108th New York for example). Unfortunately for the Confederates, there were batteries that could replace the shot up units.

Ryan
 

damYankee

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This has been an informative discussion, how refreshing!
It would be presumptuous of me attempt to correct others so well informed and studied.
But I do have some questions;
Does the proximity of graves in relation to a road or trail confirm beyond doubt that the dead died there, or where graves prepared by grave diggers next the roadway for expediency, while others went out into the battlefield to collect them, placing the dead on carts and wagons and transported them to the prepared graves?
When artillery shoots high over it's target, obviously failing to hit the other armies artillery (because obviously the enemy kept up its artillery fire) who is responsible for the failure of the artillery to hit it's target?
More to the point, was the failure of the artillery observers due to ineptness or was it over confidence or worse, were the observer's intimidated by superior officers who idolized Lee and would never question him?
When unit cohesion breaks down is it a failure of training or of the individual or tactic, training and indoctrination?
In previous victories, Lee's success was attributed to his mastery of maneuvering and coordination of cavalry and exploitation of his adversaries weaknesses, why did Lee abandon the tactics that had served him so well and insist on frontal attacks even when he knew the Union held every advantage such as high ground and logistics, while Lee was operating at the extreme ends of his lines?
 

Mint Julep

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Honestly, I'd say that the Confederate artillery was fairly effective. The Union batteries between Ziegler's Grove and Stannard's Brigade were shot to pieces (as were some of the Union regiments supporting those batteries, the 108th New York for example). Unfortunately for the Confederates, there were batteries that could replace the shot up units.

Ryan
It's been common knowledge that the Confederate artillery, for the most part, overshot the main front of the Union line on Cemetary Ridge. This isn't some recent theory; it's recorded in books for over eighty plus years. The objective of the Confederate artillery was to destroy the Union line, that didn't happen as planned.
 
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JerseyBart

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That's funny, but had the Confederate artillery found their mark you'd be speaking with a southern accent.
This is a response???

I'll play along. I posted the actually event. You replied with a what if...different forum. And I wouldn't be speaking with a different accent. At best, maybe...just maybe the rebels win the war, a second country is formed, continuing to speaking in that accent. The rebels lost but civil war era/modern southerners weren't forced to lose their accent as part of their pardon/parole. I prefer my Joisey accent anyway. I'll keep it.
 
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WJC

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This is a response???

I'll play along. I posted the actually event. You replied with a what if...different forum. And I wouldn't be speaking with a different accent. At best, maybe...just maybe the rebels win the war, a second country is formed, continuing to speaking in that accent. The rebels lost but civil war era/modern southerners weren't forced to lose their accent as part of their pardon/parole. I prefer my Joisey accent anyway. I'll keep it.
Jerseyites have an accent?
 
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E_just_E

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I was not impressed by that episode when I first saw it. I'll just say that the problem with the fences is overblown, IMO.

Ryan
Indeed. Especially when most of those fences on the west side of Emmittsburg Road were broken down by Union troops trying to reach the battle up North during Day 1...
 
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Mint Julep

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Indeed. Especially when most of those fences on the west side of Emmittsburg Road were broken down by Union troops trying to reach the battle up North during Day 1...
I've never heard that, do you have a source? I'm pretty sure they traveled the roads for speed. I have read that on the 2nd (possibly the evening of the 1st) they took sections down to fortify their positions on Cemetary Ridge.
 

E_just_E

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I've never heard that, do you have a source? I'm pretty sure they traveled the roads for speed. I have read that on the 2nd (possibly the evening of the 1st) they took sections down to fortify their positions on Cemetary Ridge.
Plenty of sources. Even Doubleday is talking about it in his memoirs and most of the monographs of Gettysburg have primary references to the fact. From Emmittsburg Road to McPherson's ridge, there were not any straight roads (you had to go through the town diamond) and the Seminary Ridge was the direct route. Thus all those fences went down on that side of Emmittsburg Road. The sections they took to fortify their positions at the Cemetery were from inside of their lines and that happened the night and both of the next days.
 
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Tom Elmore

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Artillery accounted for about 30 percent of the casualties in Pickett's division, which includes the cannonade and charge itself. That is based on a sample size of 359 wounds identified by type, with 83 (30.1 %) being from artillery and 276 (76.9 %) being from gunshot. In contrast the Union infantry along the point of attack suffered total losses well under 10 percent, with the greatest impact felt on units that lay adjacent to Union artillery batteries, such as the 108th New York.

Presumably the percentage was somewhat less for the commands of Pettigrew and Trimble, but they cannot be broken down with the same confidence given that they also fought on July 1. The woods on Seminary Ridge would have blunted much of the impact of the cannonade on Pettigrew and Trimble, while most of Pickett's men occupied exposed ground.

The Union First Corps units would have dismantled a relatively small portion of the fencing on the west side of the Emmitsburg road just south of the Codori buildings on July 1. As Ryan pointed out, on July 2 portions of the fencing north of the Codori buildings were taken down by Harrow's men, and they were also partly dismantled by charges and counter-charges that day. They did not disrupt Pickett's men to any notable extent on July 3, based upon extant sources. More fencing evidently remained in place north of the Angle, which did factor into the attack made by Pettigrew and Trimble. Even so, there must have been gaps to allow skirmishers to deploy on July 2 and early on July 3 without impediment.
 

rpkennedy

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It's been common knowledge that the Confederate artillery, for the most part, overshot the main front of the Union line on Cemetary Ridge. This isn't some recent theory; it's recorded in books for over eighty plus years. The objective of the Confederate artillery was to destroy the Union line, that didn't happen as planned.
The prime objective of the Confederate artillery was to silence the Federal guns along Cemetery Ridge so that the Union artillery wouldn't be able to blast apart the attacking columns. In that, they were pretty effective.

Battery B, 1st New York Light Artillery under Captain James Rorty started the day with 4 guns. During the bombardment, 2 guns were disabled and the battery lost so many men that volunteers from nearby infantry regiments had to help service the guns and Captain Rorty served as a number 1 on one of the guns. Captain Rorty was mortally wounded shortly after when one of his limber chests was blown up.

Battery B, 1st Rhode Island Light Artillery under Captain T. Fred Brown lost the famous "Gettysburg gun" and most of its crew.

Battery A, 4th United States Artillery under Lt. Alonzo Cushing was reduced from 6 guns to 2 due to casualties and required men from the 71st Pennsylvania to keep firing. In addition, during the bombardment, 3 guns were taken out of service for a time when fragments crippled their wheels which had to be replaced. Lt. Cushing was seriously wounded in the shoulder by a shell fragment and then was struck in the testicles by another splinter just before running his remaining guns to the wall as the bombardment ended. Another gruesome incident was when a shell killed a team of horses when it passed completely through one and exploded within the second. A fragment of this shell also eviscerated the driver who pled with those nearby to kill him and when they didn't stop working their guns, he drew out his revolver and shot himself in the head.

Battery A, New Jersey Light Artillery under Lt. Augustin Parsons took their casualties during the bombardment, including a man whose pocketbook was driven into his bowels. He retrieved it, gave his money to his comrades then died.

Captain William Arnold's Battery A, 1st Rhode Island Light Artillery, positioned north of the Angle and Lt. George Woodruff's Battery I, 1st United States Artillery in Ziegler's Grove also took heavy casualties.

The problem was that most of these guns were replaced before the attack and played havoc against the assaulting troops.

Ryan
 
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Mint Julep

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The prime objective of the Confederate artillery was to silence the Federal guns along Cemetery Ridge so that the Union artillery wouldn't be able to blast apart the attacking columns. In that, they were pretty effective.

Battery B, 1st New York Light Artillery under Captain James Rorty started the day with 4 guns. During the bombardment, 2 guns were disabled and the battery lost so many men that volunteers from nearby infantry regiments had to help service the guns and Captain Rorty served as a number 1 on one of the guns. Captain Rorty was mortally wounded shortly after when one of his limber chests was blown up.

Battery B, 1st Rhode Island Light Artillery under Captain T. Fred Brown lost the famous "Gettysburg gun" and most of its crew.

Battery A, 4th United States Artillery under Lt. Alonzo Cushing was reduced from 6 guns to 2 due to casualties and required men from the 71st Pennsylvania to keep firing. In addition, during the bombardment, 3 guns were taken out of service for a time when fragments crippled their wheels which had to be replaced. Lt. Cushing was seriously wounded in the shoulder by a shell fragment and then was struck in the testicles by another splinter just before running his remaining guns to the wall as the bombardment ended. Another gruesome incident was when a shell killed a team of horses when it passed completely through one and exploded within the second. A fragment of this shell also eviscerated the driver who pled with those nearby to kill him and when they didn't stop working their guns, he drew out his revolver and shot himself in the head.

Battery A, New Jersey Light Artillery under Lt. Augustin Parsons took their casualties during the bombardment, including a man whose pocketbook was driven into his bowels. He retrieved it, gave his money to his comrades then died.

Captain William Arnold's Battery A, 1st Rhode Island Light Artillery, positioned north of the Angle and Lt. George Woodruff's Battery I, 1st United States Artillery in Ziegler's Grove also took heavy casualties.

The problem was that most of these guns were replaced before the attack and played havoc against the assaulting troops.

Ryan
You do realize that there were approximately 85 artillery pieces on Cemetary Ridge. Even with your losses that wasn't "effective" enough to carry the day.
 
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rpkennedy

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You do realize that there were approximately 85 artillery pieces on Cemetary Ridge. Even with your losses that wasn't "effective" enough to carry the day.
There were about 3 dozen guns along the ridge, not counting Cemetery Hill and McGilvery's gun line. Because of the terrain, McGilvery's guns were not visible to Colonel Alexander and so were never targeted and Cemetery Hill was too high to be effectively targeted (although some overshoots did plow up some dirt and headstones on the hill). Rather, the Confederate guns targeted the guns that they could and devastated those batteries.

That said, I agree that the Confederate fire was not nearly as effective as it could have been and they were plagued with faulty ammunition and low visibility once the firing began in earnest which led to many shots sailing over the ridge.

Ryan
 
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Mint Julep

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There were about 3 dozen guns along the ridge, not counting Cemetery Hill and McGilvery's gun line. Because of the terrain, McGilvery's guns were not visible to Colonel Alexander and so were never targeted and Cemetery Hill was too high to be effectively targeted (although some overshoots did plow up some dirt and headstones on the hill). Rather, the Confederate guns targeted the guns that they could and devastated those batteries.

That said, I agree that the Confederate fire was not nearly as effective as it could have been and they were plagued with faulty ammunition and low visibility once the firing began in earnest which led to many shots sailing over the ridge.

Ryan
What source are you getting "about 3 dozen guns" from? Besides you really need to look at the entire picture, Hunt's guns that were in position from Cemetery Hill to Little Round Top were operational to respond; some estimates are up to ninety guns.

Also, about 20% of the artillery rounds used by the Confederates were defective; then there was the issue with the fuzes.
 

Mint Julep

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Plenty of sources. Even Doubleday is talking about it in his memoirs and most of the monographs of Gettysburg have primary references to the fact. From Emmittsburg Road to McPherson's ridge, there were not any straight roads (you had to go through the town diamond) and the Seminary Ridge was the direct route. Thus all those fences went down on that side of Emmittsburg Road. The sections they took to fortify their positions at the Cemetery were from inside of their lines and that happened the night and both of the next days.
Buford likely took the most direct route; however, Infantry for the most part during the advance remained on the roads. During the Union retreat, I do recall hearing about some Union soldiers skirting the western edge of town to get to the rally point on Cemetary Hill. Most of the retreating Union troops stayed on the roads which meant going back into Gettysburg.
 
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rpkennedy

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Buford likely took the most direct route; however, Infantry for the most part during the advance remained on the roads. During the Union retreat, I do recall hearing about some Union soldiers skirting the western edge of town to get to the rally point on Cemetary Hill. Most of the retreating Union troops stayed on the roads which meant going back into Gettysburg.
Wadsworth's troops opened up the fences around the Rogers house, IIRC, and passed directly north. They would arrive directly into the valley between Seminary and McPherson's Ridges with Cutler continuing north of the Chambersburg Pike and the Iron Brigade deploying in the valley and advancing towards Archer's Brigade in Herbst Woods and on the western face of McPherson's Ridge.

Edit: I just glanced at the ORs and it appears that Robinson's division followed in Wadsworth's footsteps, passing Gettysburg and setting up on Seminary Ridge before being deployed onto Oak Ridge.

Ryan
 
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E_just_E

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Buford likely took the most direct route; however, Infantry for the most part during the advance remained on the roads. During the Union retreat, I do recall hearing about some Union soldiers skirting the western edge of town to get to the rally point on Cemetary Hill. Most of the retreating Union troops stayed on the roads which meant going back into Gettysburg.
Buford was there (in Gettysburg) the 30th of June and most of his force (1st & 2nd Brigades) was in Fairfield, PA (SW of Gettysburg) the previous day, so he went to Gettysburg via the Fairfield Rd (PA Rt 116 these days) which becomes Middle St. in town. His reserve Brigade was in Mechanicsburg (now Thurmont), MD in the 29th and did not make to to Gettysburg the 30th or was involved in the Day 1 battle July the 1st.

As Ryan indicated above, the fences went down during the morning advance of the Union Infantry troops and not during the retreat. Union troops were all over the place during the retreat, including a particularly distinguished General who spent the whole battle in a bag yard pig pen in town.
 

Mint Julep

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Buford was there (in Gettysburg) the 30th of June and most of his force (1st & 2nd Brigades) was in Fairfield, PA (SW of Gettysburg) the previous day, so he went to Gettysburg via the Fairfield Rd (PA Rt 116 these days) which becomes Middle St. in town. His reserve Brigade was in Mechanicsburg (now Thurmont), MD in the 29th and did not make to to Gettysburg the 30th or was involved in the Day 1 battle July the 1st.

As Ryan indicated above, the fences went down during the morning advance of the Union Infantry troops and not during the retreat. Union troops were all over the place during the retreat, including a particularly distinguished General who spent the whole battle in a bag yard pig pen in town.
More sections of the fence came down on the second day as well; I'm not saying that the fences were the main obstacle unless canister is coming down on you.
 
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It's 12:18, July 3, 2019. In about 42 minutes from now . . . at 1 PM, 156 years ago . . . . will begin the largest exchange of cannon fire in North America and set the stage for the defeat of the Army of Northern Virginia at Gettysburg.

This video . . . . part of the "Unsolved History" series . . . . does a pretty good job of analyzing why Pickett's Charge failed. Gettysburg Pickett's Charge

It places most of the blame on Lee's failure (actually Longstreet's failure) to clear away the fencing on either side of the Emmitsburg Road which at the time was a two-foot deep sunken road. Their theory is that the fencing posed a severe obstacle which caused the Confederate infantry to hit the dirt instead of making the final charge.

So why did Confederate commanders fail to clear the fencing?

What troops would have done so?

I did find reference to the Confederacy creating an engineer regiment in 1864, but I did not find any reference to "engineers" in Longstreet's Corps. Unlike today's Army where each division is assigned an engineer battalion and a corps is assigned an engineer brigade, Longstreet's Corps doesn't appear to have had any. From what I did find, it was the Union that most employed engineers as "sappers" . . . to dig saps, tunnels, emplace mines, etc, during sieges. Great examples of this can be found at Vicksburg and Petersburg. We also know that engineers were used to emplace pontoon boats, repair bridges and build things.

But were there specific troops assigned to clear away battlefield obstacles in front of an advancing line? I don't think so.

So, if Longstreet's Corps had no dedicated engineers to clear the way for the infantry, whose job was it?

Could it have been the job of skirmishers?

According to this source The Evolution of Skirmish Tactics in the U.S. Civil War the answer is no. Clearing obstacles was not a doctrinally assigned mission for skirmishers. Emphasis on "doctrinally." Could they have been tasked to do it? Of course.

Were skirmishers deployed in Pickett's Charge? Yes, at least some were, according to Sergeant Major Tom Elmore in his civilwartalk post here.

So if there were no special troops assigned to clear obstacles and the skirmishers probably weren't doing it, how did commanders expect to cross the fences?

I did find this reference to clearing obstacles in the front in a "DRILL FOR DUMMIES" review of the School Of The Battalion.



and I did find in Scott's Infantry Tactics, Vol III Evolution Of The Line Article 8, Link description of "how to pass a defile." (Interestingly, there were places where the fencing had fallen or been pushed over and Confederate infantry did stream through . . . making them vulnerable to concentrated Union artillery.)

Clearly then, commanders understood in at least a doctrinal sense, that the way forward might be impeded and commands would be needed to control the line.

Since I can't think of many examples where fencing proved to be an obstacle . . . . could it be that Confederate unit commanders on the 3rd of July, 1863, didn't think about it much at all?

Could it be they simply assumed their men would figure it out?


(Note: There is a previous post on this subject from several years ago here: Why wasn't the fence on the Emmittsburg Rd. cleared before Pkt's Charge?
Coupla things. Union skirmishers were in the area of the Emmitsburg road and those fences were substantial fences not easily removed.
 
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