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The Longstreet-Gettysburg Controversy

Discussion in 'Civil War History - General Discussion' started by Rebforever, Jan 6, 2017.

  1. War Horse

    War Horse Captain Forum Host Silver Patron Trivia Game Winner Regtl. Quartermaster Gettysburg 2016 Member of the Year

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    Meade told Sedgwick and Hunt to anticipate an attack on the Union center and order troop to support the 2nd corps incase of a breakthrough. Meade was not fooled at all and took the necessary precautions to meet the coming threat.
     

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  3. civilken

    civilken 2nd Lieutenant

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    hello Gen. I have often wondered if meade really said that about his center I have often heard people refer to it and I have read it myself but I still can't make my mind up what do you think.
     
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  4. War Horse

    War Horse Captain Forum Host Silver Patron Trivia Game Winner Regtl. Quartermaster Gettysburg 2016 Member of the Year

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    I believe it 100%. The account comes from Hunt's recollection not Meade's.
     
  5. KansasFreestater

    KansasFreestater 1st Lieutenant

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    Thanks for that link, Eleanor! Great article. Very moving.
     
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  6. Tom Elmore

    Tom Elmore First Sergeant

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    I think Longstreet's explanation is plausible, and portrays Lee as a fighter and calculated risk taker, which are essential traits in war, as well as in many other pursuits. Lee took and retained the initiative throughout the entire campaign, his opponent only reacting to counter his moves. True, Meade was new to army command, but being conditioned to react to Lee's moves seems to have become an acquired trait for the Federals, and one which Grant later labored hard to overcome. However, the downside for any offensive-minded general in this war was the clear advantages the defender enjoyed, which would be the basis for a strategic decision to compel the enemy to attack. Moreover, the now seasoned Federal veterans would fight on their own turf for a change, with a supportive populace. In addition, the open fields of southern Pennsylvania benefited the artillery arm, and reduced the opportunities to achieve surprise maneuvers. All things considered, forcing the Federals to attack was probably the best strategy in this campaign, but when the battle was joined, Lee's fundamental aggressiveness would not be constrained by any pat theories of assuming a defensive posture. Besides, time was on the Union side, and so if the Federals declined to take the bait, Lee's army would eventually be compelled to return to their base in Virginia. In that case, Lee would have been roundly and justifiably censured. Perhaps in Lee's estimation, it was better to gamble and take your chances, than to concede the initiative and lose anyway.
     
  7. War Horse

    War Horse Captain Forum Host Silver Patron Trivia Game Winner Regtl. Quartermaster Gettysburg 2016 Member of the Year

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    Meade elaborated on his thought process in an 1870 letter, referring to his fear that Lee might try to outflank him at Gettysburg, as advocated by James Longstreet. “Longstreet’s advice to Lee was sound military sense; it was the step I feared Lee would take.

    Meade Life and Letters 2:351
     
  8. lelliott19

    lelliott19 2nd Lieutenant Forum Host Trivia Game Winner

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    Indeed. As Ryan points out, the supply of ammunition was a limiting factor......, even if the position had been adequate to "flatten the hills."

    Edward Porter Alexander wrote back to Longstreet concerning the cannonade planned to precede the assault on the center:
    "If, as I infer from your note, there is any alternative to this attack, it should be carefully considered before opening our fire, for it will take all the artillery ammunition we have left to test this one thoroughly, and, if the result is unfavorable, we will have none left for another effort."

    Then after the cannonade was underway, says E P Alexander: "At the end of 20 minutes no favorable development had occurred. More guns had been added to the Federal line than at the beginning, and its whole length, about two miles was blazing like a volcano. It seemed madness to order a column in the middle of a hot July day to undertake an advance of three-fourths of a mile over open ground against the centre of that line. But something had to be done. I wrote the following note and despatched[sic] it to Pickett at 1.25:
    General: If you are to advance at all, you must come at once or we will not be able to support you as we ought. But the enemy's fire has not slackened materially and there are still 18 guns firing from the cemetery."
    At 1:40 another note was sent:
    For God's sake come quick. The 18 guns have gone. Come quick or my ammunition will not let me support you properly.
    Two more verbal messages followed.

    E P Alexander continues: "I had grown very impatient to see Pickett, fearing ammunition would run short, when Longstreet joined me. I explained the situation. He spoke sharply, "Go and stop Pickett where he is and replenish your ammunition." I answered, "We cant do that, sir. The train has but little. It would take an hour to distribute it, and meanwhile, the enemy would improve the time."

    Edward Porter Alexander, Military Memoirs..., 1907, page 422. https://archive.org/stream/militarymemoirso00alex#page/422/mode/2up
     
  9. War Horse

    War Horse Captain Forum Host Silver Patron Trivia Game Winner Regtl. Quartermaster Gettysburg 2016 Member of the Year

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    I've read it several times and it still gives me chills to read.
     
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2017
  10. lelliott19

    lelliott19 2nd Lieutenant Forum Host Trivia Game Winner

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    Ahhhh. I found it......the reference to the "alternate route" taken by Longstreet's artillery which could have allowed his infantry to avoid the countermarch:

    This had been done by noon, when three battalions, - my own, Cabell's and Henry's - were located in the valley of Willoughby Run awaiting the arrival of the infantry. Riding back presently to learn the cause of their non-arrival, the head of the infantry column was found halted, where its road became exposed to the Federal view, while messages were sent to Longstreet, and the guide sought a new route. The exposed point had been easily avoided by our artillery, by turning out through a meadow, but after some delay there came orders for the infantry to countermarch and take a road via the 'Black Horse Tavern.' This incident delayed the opening of the battle nearly two hours.

    I guess it doesn't exactly say they showed them the alternate route.....but surely? This is from E P Alexander's memoirs. Anyway, Alexander goes on to say, "It hardly seems probable, however, that in this instance the delay influenced the result of the battle."
     
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  11. Drew

    Drew Captain

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    Most of the Union artillery was rifled - incapable of effectively delivering canister that was deadly to an infantry charge.

    Confederate scouts knew this, they could see it. General Lee did not order his Army into a canister position, but a ridge defended by infantry.
     
  12. RebelHeart

    RebelHeart Corporal

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    Once again, this begs the question: What did Lee plan to feed his soldiers if they hadn't met opposition at Gettysburg? What friendly environment of locals or hidden cache of rations for 70K+ soldiers did he have hidden between Gettysburg and Harrisburg? If he didn't have the food or means to acquire it long-enough to occupy a town and hold it for three days then how did he plan to cover the other thirty-eight miles to Harrisburg?

    There's some kind of logistical logic that's lost in this discussion. Lee lacked the necessary supplies to support his soldiers and their mounts to hold out for a few days in Gettysburg, but he somehow would have enough to travel almost forty miles past it and lay siege to Harrisburg? I'm guessing there must've been a few thousand sutler's wagons on the road to Harrisburg that Ewell, Early, and Stuart all missed on their way into Gettysburg.

    I'll admit that the ANV didn't record a rout of the AotP on Day One. That was a poor choice of words on my part. What the ANV did have was the AotP backing-up and seeking shelter in the hills. The argument that Lee couldn't support his forces on what was available doesn't make sense to me if his original plan was to go even further and attack a larger city. For that matter, how did he supply his 40K+ soldiers on their retreat back south after Gettysburg was lost?

    None of us knows exactly what Lee was thinking. It appears to me that Longstreet's criticism is sound, especially in hindsight with the knowledge of how it ended. If what Longstreet stated was true then he makes a solid argument that it couldn't have been worse than what actually did happen.
     
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  13. Drew

    Drew Captain

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    Part of the plan was to feed off of Pennsylvania and not Virginia. They were taking (and paying for in Confederate script) what they needed. The logistics are not lost here.
     
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  14. RebelHeart

    RebelHeart Corporal

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    To me, the obvious answer is that Lee pulls back to the northeast and continues toward Harrisburg, where he originally intended to go, and into an area where Ewell, Early, and Stuart had already been. Even if he doesn't make Harrisburg (I doubt that he would have), he at least gets Meade's forces out of the advantageous positions in the hills unless the Union planned to concede Harrisburg (which I also doubt they would do). I'm sure others can find a hundred reasons why that's a bad idea, but it doesn't strike me as being as bad as repeating a failed assault on the third day.
     
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  15. leftyhunter

    leftyhunter Major

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    Good point. If the AnV can move it can feed itself just like General Curtis did in Arkansas or General Sherman in Georgia. If it stays stationary it's more problematic. Has others have pointed out it is doubtful if the AnV had enough troops to encircle and starve out the AoP. Other posters have pointed out per General Porter Alexander's memoirs that the AnV had a limited amount of artillery ammunition.
    I will see if @War Horse has anything to add since he and some others are more knowledgeable on Gettysburg then I.
    Leftyhunter
     
  16. War Horse

    War Horse Captain Forum Host Silver Patron Trivia Game Winner Regtl. Quartermaster Gettysburg 2016 Member of the Year

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    Not to mention the foraging was plentiful. They were not lacking. Water on the other hand is a completely different story! Spangler Spring would become a popular spot over the next couple of days.
     
  17. RebelHeart

    RebelHeart Corporal

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    I'm guessing the plan to "feed off of Pennsylvania" was abandoned once they actually got into Pennsylvania, or the people of Gettysburg and surrounding farms were just better at refusing Confederate script. The suggestion that Lee planned to "feed off of Pennsylvania" was countered by his own statements that the area wasn't conducive to acquiring the necessary supplies his men and horses needed.

    However, you make a point that I don't think has really been addressed before.... that Lee, upon arriving in Gettysburg, realized or was made-aware that the area wasn't good for provisioning his armies (and, no, I'm not being sarcastic with this). If that was in-fact the case then suddenly his logic and strategy makes a little more sense, even though I still don't agree with the decision to repeat the frontal assault on Day Three.
     
  18. War Horse

    War Horse Captain Forum Host Silver Patron Trivia Game Winner Regtl. Quartermaster Gettysburg 2016 Member of the Year

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    He did and his fuses were defective. Which is why the cannonade mostly overshot its target. Alexander was an excellent artillery commander. Had he have had sufficient ammo and his equipment not been defective Pickett's Charge may not be viewed as such a blunder today!
     
  19. War Horse

    War Horse Captain Forum Host Silver Patron Trivia Game Winner Regtl. Quartermaster Gettysburg 2016 Member of the Year

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    Think about it 170,000 men concentrated together in one small space. The well's went dry quickly. Lee could not sustain the army there long. The creeks after battle quickly became fouled. It makes perfect sense.
     
  20. RebelHeart

    RebelHeart Corporal

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    Before this goes any further, I would like to take a moment to thank all of the contributors to this discussion. It has been enjoyable, enlightening, and educational. Looking into all of the different accounts of America's most-famous battle and its participants has me fixated.

    Again, my sincere thanks to you all.
     
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  21. RebelHeart

    RebelHeart Corporal

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    I agree. That's part of what boggles me about why he stayed and pressed a frontal assault again after it failed on Day Two. My instinct would be to move for both strategic as well as logistical reasons.
     
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