Was Pickett confident his attack at Gettysburg would succeed.

major bill

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#1
I would not think any general about to launch an attack would want to show subordinates that they were not certain of success. Moves and such like to show a General Pickett as sure of success, but was he so sure?

This was not Pickett's first battle and he must have had some doubts that the attack would achieve its goals. He had to expect that, if he succeeded in making a penetration, that the Union would attempt to counter attack, and if they did so, he would be short of additional support. I just do not see Pickett getting much additional help as part of the planned attack.

So why was Pickett so sure of success? He had to know that the attack would cause casualties in his forces and at some point the offensive momentum would slow down. Then his disorganized men would probably be subject to a counter attack.
 

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WJC

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I believe you answered the question- as best it can be answered today- in your opening sentence.
Further, I believe we sometimes surround the famous July 3, 1863 assault with an aura that immediately sets it apart in our minds from other, similar actions. Frontal assaults were not uncommon. They were often successful. To both officers and men, confident after a series of tough but successful victories, success must have seemed difficult but certainly achievable.
 

JPK Huson 1863

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I don't mean to be argumentative, honest, but were Napoleonic assaults all that effective? Didn't it take a certain amount of well, cold knowledge that overwhelming the enemy through sheer numbers meant losing a huge amount, banking on loss to gain? Please no one go up the wall about Lee making this decision- I've always found it extremely odd. Cold Harbor was a deadly fiasco too. In fact, how many descriptions post battles speak of fallen men piled so thickly you couldn't walk without stepping on someone, after a frontal attack.

The ' charge ' ( a slow march into those guns seems a little misnamed ) Day 3 had no backup- all available troops were engaged in one phase. Did Pickett understand how alone they'd be? If he had the idea Lee had ( enough ) reserves, may have felt confident.
 

Northern Light

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I was just watching a video about Pickett's Charge that puts a different spin on the thing.

https://www.c-span.org/video/?313440-1/picketts-charge.

I think that movies like "Gettysburg" and the novel "Killer Angels" make Pickett a foil for the serious business of war. Much is made of his hair and perfume, and the fact that he came in last in his class at West Point, making him seem an almost ridiculous buffoon. As he was not a political appointment, I cannot see how he rose to division command if he did not have some skills as a soldier.
 

Waterloo50

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I don’t think Pickett really believed that the charge would be successful but his was not to reason why, earlier arguments against the attack had already been made by Longstreet but to no avail, I think that it’s worth remembering that the order or at least the timing of the advance was left in the hands of artillery officer Lieutenant Colonel Edward Porter Alexander, If Pickett was convinced the attack could be successful then it would have been Alexander that gave him that confidence, the opening bombardment should have smashed the Union line, perhaps Alexander believed his cannon had done a good job and Pickett perhaps took the order to advance as a sign that little resistance would be met by his men. It wouldn’t be the first time in history where an officer placed his faith in artillery, just consider the Somme and the confidence placed in the opening barrage.
My thinking is that Pickett was resigned to the fact that the attack would go ahead and he’d have to make the best of a bad situation, maybe, just maybe he believed the Union line was smashed which in turn led him to believe in the charge.
 

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It seemed to me that Pickett did think the charge might be successful, in which case he'd be covered in glory. That was always a bonus for officers. Lee believed it would succeed as well - he believed in his army. Pickett thought Porter Alexander's amazing cannonade had softened up the Union lines, and there were indications (misinterpreted as it fell out) they were pulling back. Don't think it took him very long to find out otherwise, but by then it was do or die anyway.
 

major bill

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All generals have good points and bad points. But I would find it hard to believe that either Lee or Longstreet would allow a buffoon to be a division commander. Especially one with little political backing.
 

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#12
It seems like people want to place blame and Pickett is as good as goat as any. Still, in movies his depiction as a buffoon is a bit over the top.
True enough, in my humble opinion Longstreet shifted the responsibility for coordination of the attack onto someone else, namely Alexander, I think I’m right in saying that Longstreet didn’t ask or expect Alexander to meet with him after the bombardment was finished, in a nutshell, an infantry officer was told when to attack by an artillery man/engineer, that’s pretty much unheard of in warfare.
 

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#13
The proper name for it is Longstreet's Assault, but Longstreet was so convinced he was sending everybody to their certain death he just couldn't do it. That's the only time he behaved that way, too. So...that infantry officer who followed orders was a heck of a lot easier to blame than the famous and often victorious Bull of the Woods.
 

Waterloo50

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It seemed to me that Pickett did think the charge might be successful, in which case he'd be covered in glory. That was always a bonus for officers. Lee believed it would succeed as well - he believed in his army. Pickett thought Porter Alexander's amazing cannonade had softened up the Union lines, and there were indications (misinterpreted as it fell out) they were pulling back. Don't think it took him very long to find out otherwise, but by then it was do or die anyway.
Agreed, Pickett could well have thought that the union lines had been softened up, after all, the orders to Alexander were to smash and weaken the line to the point where there’d be very little resistance, I’m not sure how Pickett responded to the note sent from Porter Alexander but I imagine he was given very little time to consider it.

At 1:25 p.m., Alexander wrote to Pickett, "If you are to advance at all, you must come at once or we will not be able to support you as we ought . . . " Fifteen minutes later, the artillery commander wrote again to Pickett, "For God's sake come on quick or we cannot support you. Ammunition nearly out."
 
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This eyewitness account was originally published by General Longstreet in his book, From Manassas to Appomattox, in 1896. The emphasis is mine.

"Pickett said, 'General, shall I advance?'

The effort to speak the order failed, and I could only indicate it by an affirmative bow. He accepted the duty with seeming confidence of success, leaped on his horse, and rode gayly to his command. I mounted and spurred for Alexander's post. He reported that the batteries he had reserved for the charge with the infantry had been spirited away by General Lee's chief of artillery; that the ammunition of the batteries of position was so reduced that he could not use them in proper support of the infantry. He was ordered to stop the march at once and fill up his ammunition-chests. But, alas! there was no more ammunition to be had.

The order was imperative. The Confederate commander (General Lee) had fixed his heart upon the work. Just then a number of the enemy's batteries hitched up and hauled off, which gave a glimpse of unexpected hope. Encouraging messages were sent for the columns to hurry on, - and -hey were then on elastic springing step. The officers saluted as they passed, their stern smiles expressing confidence. General Pickett, a graceful horseman, sat lightly in the saddle, his brown locks flowing quite over his shoulders. Pettigrew's division spread their steps and quickly rectified the alignment, and the grand march moved bravely on. As soon as the leading columns opened the way, the supports sprang to their alignments. General Trimble mounted, adjusting his seat and reins with an air and grace as if setting out on a pleasant afternoon ride. When aligned to their places solid march was made down the slope and past our batteries of position.


I actually believe George Pickett did think the attack could succeed. I think much of his bravado that has been written about over the years is true. I also don't think George was the "sharpest knife in the drawer."

The proper name for it is Longstreet's Assault, but Longstreet was so convinced he was sending everybody to their certain death he just couldn't do it.
I have never thought this action should be referred to as Pickett's Charge because it wasn't a charge. It was a walk. But let's don't name it for my favorite general. Let's name if for General Lee. It was his idea and he ordered it. :smile:
 

diane

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#18
Why, goodness, Eleanor, you can't name it after Lee! It might indicate he possibly made a mistake...

I agree, though, he wasn't the brightest bulb in Lee's army, and he had an uncanny gift for misinterpreting the information he received. Five Forks - yep, looks like a good time for a shad bake to me! Then it was Malfunction Junction and Lee could probably have cheerfully shot cousin Geoge dead himself!
 
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#19
Why, goodness, Eleanor, you can't name it after Lee! It might indicate he possibly made a mistake...
:giggle:

I agree, though, he wasn't the brightest bulb in Lee's army
I have read in the past that General Longstreet paid special attention to George - made sure he clearly understood his directions. I always think about that when I see Tom Berenger drawing out the plan for him in the dirt right before the "charge."
 
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#20
He would have had to be a darn fool to accept that it would produce a victory. Not saying he would not accept his orders. He had enough battle experience to size up the pluses and minuses. He had to sense Longstreet"s dismay in giving him his orders to attack across such a vast open area. As to if he was personally confident, we will never know.
 

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