View of Pickett's Charge: Maj Gen Lafayette McLaws on July 3

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lelliott19

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"I sat on my horse watching the shells passing over me, now bursting over artillery, now over the enemy's lines and then suddenly against Round Top, until it became monotonous, as the results could but be conjectured. But finally, during a temporary lull in the artillery fire, my attention was attracted by seeing a number of my command, among them General Wofford on horseback, looking intently down our lines towards Gettysburg, and I rode in that direction and saw the advancing Confederates moving to the charge on the enemy's centre."

In 1877, former Confederate Major General Lafayette McLaws sent inquiries to the former Colonels and Brigadier Generals of his division at Gettysburg. Where exactly was your line? What do you recollect about the order to withdraw from the base of Little Round Top? Where again was that battery that you prevented your men from capturing? What were the significant events that occurred outside of my observation? His object was to write a paper to be presented, first before the Georgia Historical Society in Savannah, but later to other groups, too.

Whether you think McLaws was a good division commander or not, you have to admire his diplomacy. After the ill-fated assault on Fort Sanders, Longstreet removed him from command and had charges preferred against him. So, in McLaws' post-war essay, it would have been easy to heap blame upon the Old War Horse. But he didn't. He criticizes neither Lee nor Longstreet. He states what happened - what he observed and what was reported to him directly from his subordinates. McLaws had no political aspirations - there is no campaigning in his account. He had no military reputation - he had nothing to lose. Here, then, is an excerpt from McLaws' first version of "The Battle of Gettysburg."

In the early morning of the 3d my new line was careful revised. Kershaw and Semmes' brigades towards the Round Top, and the others extending diagonally towards the peach orchard -- all concealed by the woods from the batteries on the hills. My skirmish lines were to the front, commanding half-way across the wheat field, which is shown on the map <Unfortunately, McLaws' map is not included.>​
We lay undisturbed by the enemy. The exertion and excitement of the previous day had been tremendous, and excepting burial parties, those engaged in attending to the wounded and collecting and stacking arms, my division was resting. What the next move was to be was unknown to me. My troops were in close proximity to the enemy, and my front was covered with woods. If the enemy had determined to commence the offensive, my command would become engaged at very short notice, and I therefore stayed with it.​
It was not notified that it was in contemplation even to make any further attack by either Hood's or my division, nor was I informed that it was the intention to assault the enemy's centre with Pickett's division, with the assistance of troops from other corps. I was not told to be ready to assist, should the assault be successful, nor instructed what to do should the assault fail and the enemy advance. I contented myself with reconnoitering my ground and vicinity in all the directions necessary for movement in any emergency, and took my position among my troops.​
I became early aware that artillery was concentrating along my rear, on the crest occupied by my line, before I advanced, and that not only the corps artillery but the guns from Hill's corps and others were preparing for a grand opening. And when the numerous guns opened, shaking the very earth between the opposing armies, the shot and shell from the batteries on our right poured over my command; those of the enemy crossing ours, going in the opposite direction, but all bent on the same mission of destruction.​
Not a shot, as I can remember, fell among my men. We were resting entirely undisturbed, excepting now and then a bomb shot would come from Round Top, fired at some of us moving about, and got in view of the batteries, in mere wantonness, as the chance was very small and they did not care to waste a shell on one, two or three.​
The enemy appeared to be waiting the assault to follow the storm of shot and shell. Of course there was not a soldier in either army of any experience who did not know that an assault was to be made somewhere, and the shells, as they bursted over the enemy's lines gave of themselves a pretty sure indication to them that it was on their centre that the shock was to be given. Not only was that a sign, but undoubtedly they could see our preparations from every prominent signal station from Round Top on their left to the cemetery on their right; and disposed their forces, stationed their reserves, and made all other needful preparations to meet the shock and to meet it at the exact portion of their lines it was made.​
The forces of the enemy were on a crest overlooking our position, the hill, known as Cemetery Hill, declining to their rear, so that they could move their troops without being seen by us, whilst our movements were plainly visible for fully a mile distant on an average along our entire front; and down the main roads for a mile further all between the armies was swept by artillery.​
<to be continued>
[Lafayette McLaws, "The Battle of Gettysburg," a paper presented before the Georgia Historical Society, January 7, 1878.]
Image borrowed from @Robert Gray 's previous post https://civilwartalk.com/threads/general-lafayette-mclaws.159155/#post-2076808
 
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lelliott19

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<continued from above>
I sat on my horse watching the shells passing over me, now bursting over artillery, now over the enemy's lines and then suddenly against Round Top, until it became monotonous, as the results could but be conjectured. But finally, during a temporary lull in the artillery fire, my attention was attracted by seeing a number of my command, among them General Wofford on horseback, looking intently down our lines towards Gettysburg, and I rode in that direction and saw the advancing Confederates moving to the charge on the enemy's centre.​
The sight was magnificent, it was grand, as it stirred all the highest and deepest emotions of our nature, of admiration for the splendid bearing and courage of our Southern men, mingled with a heartfelt prayer for the most fortunate results; but of reasonable hope of real success, based on what one could see, there was none.
I had had some such feelings aroused many years before, during the siege of Vera Cruz, when looking at a number of strong ships, well manned and equipped, having on board our sick, our ammunition and supplies, and our soldiers' wives, being driven by the irresistible force of a norther against a sandy shore. Their destruction as ships was a foregone conclusion, and the only thing we who saw them coming could do, in our blind bewilderment, was to "pray that God would have mercy on the crew."​
The irresistible force which operated here was the military honor to obey his orders, which actuated the leader of the charge, that noble, chivalrous, fearless, high-toned gentleman and old army officer, General Geo. E. Pickett, and the pride and courage of the Army of Northern Virginia, which made them eager to try to do whatever General Lee ordered.​

<to be continued>
[Lafayette McLaws, "The Battle of Gettysburg," a paper presented before the Georgia Historical Society, January 7, 1878.]
 

lelliott19

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<continued from above>
It was a charge upon the enemy's centre made by Pickett's division and Heth's, advancing in two lines. Pickett on the right, Wilcox's brigade marching in rear of Pickett's to guard that flank, and Heth's division was supported by Lane and Scales' brigades under General Trimble. I was far in advance of the main Confederate line, and could see along both the advancing Confederates and those of the enemy lying couchant to resist their charge.​
Our troops moved steadily under a heavy fire, the main attack being against the left centre of the enemy. The enemy's artillery, which had slackened just previous to the charge, now reopened with renewed energy, whilst ours slackened theirs because of decreased ammunition, which enabled the enemy to move their infantry from other portions of the field, reinforcing their front and moving to attack the flanks of the assailing force.​
But in spite of all this, the first line of the enemy was reached by our men and taken possession of, a large number leaping over and dashing at the second line, a great number sheltering themselves behind the stone walls or fortifications of the first line. But all this was but momentary, for the enemy, rushing their reinforcements, overpowered our men; the most advanced, or most of them, threw down their arms and surrendered, as also did many behind the first line captured. The rest fled in confusion, and what is known as Pickett's charge was over, with no results but the exemplification of the spirit and daring of our people.​
The enemy did not pursue, but rested content with the success so miraculously given to them. I looked around on my command, very few of whom were aware of the tremendous sacrifice that had been consummated. They were all in place, and needed but to be called to be ready, and seeing no necessity for arousing them I said not a word, but let them rest on.​
<excerpt quoting Official Reports of Gen Lee>If General Longstreet did not attack early on the 3d, as General Lee says he was ordered to do, his reasons for not doing so appear to have been perfectly satisfactory to General Lee, and as the same causes were in existence when Pickett's charge was made, it is not to be disputed that General Lee could not have expected Longstreet's two right divisions to take part in that charge. In his account of what is known as Pickett's charge, General Lee says -- and as General Lee's report was published before his death, and was uncontradicted, or was not disputed, I take it for granted that what he says there, in regard to his own orders and his own intentions &c cannot now be questioned. <another excerpt>​
General Lee does not say anything about General Longstreet not advancing his two [other] divisions. If you will observe this map, which is a copy of the one carefully prepared by the Federals since the war, showing the positions of the Federal troops, you will observe that the largest mass of Federal troops seem to have been on that day, the 3d of July, posted between my left and Pickett's right, and at the place or near it, where Longstreet's two corps [sic; divisions] -- Hood's and mine --would have had to have attacked, if it had been intended they should, in order to have been of service in aiding Pickett's charge.​
All along the Main Round Top on to Little Round Top and to its foot extending to their right the enemies lines had been fortified during the previous night and strengthened with additional troops, rendering the few places which were assailable with some chances of success on the 2d entirely unassailable with any prospect of accomplishment on the 3d. So it would have been of no use to Pickett for Hood and myself to have made a direct assault on our direct front. But we would have had to have attacked about where you see that mass of troops is lying, or was, and in attempting it, we would have exposed our flanks and rear to artillery and infantry fire, besides the tremendous force which would meet us in front.​
The right of Pickett and my left were by no means in close proximity. There was a gap of a half mile between --it looked so to me-- and I therefore do not believe that we could have effected anything, and if we had been repulsed as Pickett was, which would not have been at all improbable under the circumstances as above stated, and the enemy had then advanced their whole line, the consequences might have been more serious than they proved to be. I therefore do not think that it was ever expected by General Lee that Hood's and my division should take part in the charge unless we had been moved around and enveloped the enemy's left, and yet, without more help than we had -- more cooperation -- it is difficult to conceive how Pickett could have been expected to be successful against the whole Federal army.​
<to be continued>
[Lafayette McLaws, "The Battle of Gettysburg," a paper presented before the Georgia Historical Society, January 7, 1878.]
 
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<continued after extensive excerpt>
As I have stated previously, the enemy did not pursue Pickett. If they had, I would have at once called to arms and prepared to act as the emergency called for -- either attack the advance against Pickett, or, if the whole line of the enemy advanced, would have retired to my position of the 2d before the charge, and defended that line. The enemy did not pursue because, perhaps, of the presence in their front of the tremendous artillery fire that would have been concentrated on their advance, and, more probable, because of the presence on their immediate flank of Longstreet's two divisions.​
<excerpt>​
It may be remarked, in conclusion, that no one as yet has seemed disposed to give blame to General Lee -- I mean no one who was under his command -- but no matter what order he gave, or what resulted from it, if even disaster followed, it has been the disposition to believe that the cause was not in the order, but in the execution of it by subordinates. This resulted in great measure from that nobility of soul which caused General Lee to be willing to take the blame on himself and not try and throw it on others.​
He was one of those chosen few in the world so richly endowed with that divine quality which made men follow him, attach themselves to him, and do his bidding without question; that he never had to contend against the machinations of the ambitious, the envious or the mischievous. No matter whether in victory or defeat he had no defection from him, and to the last his commands were obeyed without a murmur. This great respect and confidence which all had in him prevented or disarmed even a desire to criticize his orders.​
And no matter how we may at this day discuss the causes of our failure at Gettysburg, it remains the general opinion that if General Lee's orders had been obeyed, all would have been well, and that they were not, resulted from causes beyond his control. And it is due to General Lee to believe that in those instances where his orders seem now to have been defective, he would, if living, be able to supply such information concerning them as would make them plain.​
<end of excerpt>
[Lafayette McLaws, "The Battle of Gettysburg," a paper presented before the Georgia Historical Society, January 7, 1878.]
 
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Tom Elmore

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McLaws writes in an unadorned yet clear and compelling style. I am struck by the fact (although not surprised) that Longstreet kept McLaws in complete darkness regarding Confederate plans for a major attack on July 3. If Pickett and company had been successful in breaching the Union center, a simultaneous demonstration by McLaws might have prevented Federal reinforcements in his front from being sent northward to seal off the penetration. On the other hand, if a major Federal counterattack had subsequently been launched against Lee's center, much valuable time would have been lost in mobilizing McLaws' men to effectively strike back against their flank. In the former case it was a prescription for ensuring an ultimate Confederate defeat, and in the latter case it courted utter disaster for the Army of Northern Virginia. Since neither scenario developed, Longstreet never had to face scrutiny over his apparent conscious decision to keep one of his key subordinates uninformed.
 

lelliott19

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Longstreet kept McLaws in complete darkness regarding Confederate plans for a major attack on July 3.
Thanks for weighing in Tom. I too was taken aback by the fact that McLaws' was apparently uninformed. Even if his division was not ordered to act directly in concert with the assault, it seems that he should have been aware that it was going to occur. Would this map represent basically what McLaws revised July 3 line would have looked like?
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I looked around on my command, very few of whom were aware of the tremendous sacrifice that had been consummated.
This statement also struck me as really interesting. It seems unbelievable that a whole Confederate division could be sitting less than a mile away and not be aware of the carnage that was the failure of Pickett's charge. The fact that, for the most part they evidently weren't, may offer some explanation as to why those brigades continued to perform with such enthusiasm, commitment, and high morale afterwards.
 
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rpkennedy

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@Tom Elmore Regarding McLaws' line - at least the part occupied by Wofford's brigade - W. B. Wofford (A/3d Battn GA SS) wrote of the position he occupied. I assume this account refers to after the fighting ended on July 2?
View attachment 318008
The National Tribune., August 06, 1896, page 3.
It wouldn't have been the 149th Pennsylvania (they were in the First Corps) but I did look to see if the 148th Pennsylvania (Caldwell's Division) might have been this man's regiment. The 148th was raised in the Pittsburgh area so, while it's possible that a Gettysburg man could have been in the regiment, it's probably not likely. I'll have to look up some of the other Pennsylvania regiments in the area to see where they were raised.

Ryan
 
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Tom Elmore

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It wouldn't have been the 149th Pennsylvania (they were in the First Corps) but I did look to see if the 148th Pennsylvania (Caldwell's Division) might have been this man's regiment. The 148th was raised in the Pittsburgh area so, while it's possible that a Gettysburg man could have been in the regiment, it's probably not likely. I'll have to look up some of the other Pennsylvania regiments in the area to see where they were raised.

Ryan
Ryan/Laura, I think the 140th Pennsylvania best accords with the account by the 3rd BN SS soldier.
 

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Ryan/Laura, I think the 140th Pennsylvania best accords with the account by the 3rd BN SS soldier.
The 140th was raised in the Pittsburgh, Youngstown, and Warren area of Pennsylvania so they suffer the same issue as the 148th. The nearest regiment who is the likeliest to have had area men in it was the 115th Pennsylvania, who did recruit in Lancaster County.

Ryan
 
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lelliott19

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Ryan/Laura, I think the 140th Pennsylvania best accords with the account by the 3rd BN SS soldier.
The 140th was raised in Pittsburgh, Youngstown, and Warren area of Pennsylvania so they suffer the same issue as the 148th. The nearest regiment who is the likeliest to have had area men in it was the 115th Pennsylvania, who did recruit in Lancaster County.
Thanks guys. What about the 49th PA? Did they recruit nearby? Maybe the "1" was just a mistranscription? and instead of 149th; its the 49th?
 

rpkennedy

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Thanks guys. What about the 49th PA? Did they recruit nearby? Maybe the "1" was just a mistranscription? and instead of 149th; its the 49th?
That's another possibility. A good portion of the regiment was raised northwest of Harrisburg. It's definitely near enough to consider and that he was misremembering how far away that soldier's home was or the soldier thought that he was closer than he actually was.

Ryan
 
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rpkennedy

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Further evidence that the lack of support was one of the reasons that Pickett's assault failed.
Longstreet can be legitimately criticized for not really going all out in trying to give the attack on July 3 the best chance for success. It's pretty clear that his heart really wasn't in it and that he was going through the motions and acting strictly within the letter of Lee's desire. That said, Lee has to also take his fair share of criticism as well for that day's actions as there was virtually no preparation for any real support. Lee put part of Anderson's Division at Longstreet's disposal (Wilcox, Lang, and Wright) but Anderson was not under Longstreet's command. In addition, Rodes received orders to be ready to follow up any success that he could observe but was given no instruction as to what success might look like, how he was supposed to support the assault troops, and with whom he was to use as support. That's a lot to leave up to a junior division commander who was ill and had not performed well on July 1 and, like Anderson, he was not placed under Longstreet.

In all honesty, Longstreet's Assault comes across as rather ad hoc (which it somewhat was) and without the detailed thought as to how it was to play out. Of course, this was Lee's hail mary so this is understandable.

Ryan
 
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