Was Sickles justified in disobeying orders when he positioned his corps along Emmitsburg Road on the 2nd Day of Gettysburg?

29thWisCoG

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Was Sickles justified in disobeying orders when he moved down from Cemetery Ridge to position his corps along Emmitsburg Road on the second day?

What would have happened if he had remained on Cemetery Ridge as ordered, would there have been less casualties, would the line have held the Rebel attack?
 

JeffFromSyracuse

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Was Sickles justified in moving the III Corps? Having stood at both Hazel Grove and the Peach Orchard, no. Changes in artillery control and potential gun positions at Gettysburg made a repeat of Chancellorsville unlikely.

What would have happened if he hadn't moved? Lee's en echelon attack would have had to go further and made contact on less-favorable ground.
 

James N.

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Was Sickles justified in disobeying orders when he moved down from Cemetery Ridge to position his corps along Emmitsburg Road on the second day?

What would have happened if he had remained on Cemetery Ridge as ordered, would there have been less casualties, would the line have held the Rebel attack?
I'm sure he thought so, based in at least part on the appearance of the ground there:

https://civilwartalk.com/threads/a-closer-look-at-the-peach-orchard.104648/
 

jackt62

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When Sickles moved his corps forward from his assigned position along Cemetery Ridge, he did so remembering his withdrawal from the high ground at Hazel Grove during the battle of Chancellorsville. Hooker ordered that pull back in order to constrict his lines, but in doing so allowed the Confederates to obtain a desirable artillery platform. Thus, Sickles was prompted to occupy the slightly elevated area around the Peach Orchard and the Wheatfield at Gettysburg. But this created a dangerous salient whose longer length had to be occupied by insufficient III Corps troops. Was this a logical move? At the end of the day's fighting, after touch and go struggle, the salient was penetrated and the III Corps line was essentially pushed back to where it would have originally been located. This is what Sickles forever afterwards claimed as proving that he made the correct decision. But Meade and others have long argued that the failure to hold the Cemetery Ridge line resulted in higher casualties and with no apparent benefit to the Union defense.
 

Belfoured

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When Sickles moved his corps forward from his assigned position along Cemetery Ridge, he did so remembering his withdrawal from the high ground at Hazel Grove during the battle of Chancellorsville. Hooker ordered that pull back in order to constrict his lines, but in doing so allowed the Confederates to obtain a desirable artillery platform. Thus, Sickles was prompted to occupy the slightly elevated area around the Peach Orchard and the Wheatfield at Gettysburg. But this created a dangerous salient whose longer length had to be occupied by insufficient III Corps troops. Was this a logical move? At the end of the day's fighting, after touch and go struggle, the salient was penetrated and the III Corps line was essentially pushed back to where it would have originally been located. This is what Sickles forever afterwards claimed as proving that he made the correct decision. But Meade and others have long argued that the failure to hold the Cemetery Ridge line resulted in higher casualties and with no apparent benefit to the Union defense.
All anyone has to do is look at the line he held after the move, noting the ridiculous bend and salient; where his supports were before and after the move; and how many men he had per yard defending his new line compared with how many he had in the old line. His corps was sufficiently shattered that it became a shell of itself and disappeared in the 1864 reorganization. (I'll even leave aside for the moment the notion that the commander of one unit can and should decide unilaterally to abandon his alignment with other units as directed by his CO). Sickles was operating on an amateur's simplistic assumption that somewhat "higher" ground was always better and that no other factors specific to the terrain and the location of supports might be relevant. Being basically a dishonest narcissist, he spent his remaining years concocting the spin that he "saved" the Army of the Potomac.
 

jackt62

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All anyone has to do is look at the line he held after the move, noting the ridiculous bend and salient;
And Sickles may not have remembered that in ordering the withdrawal from Hazel Grove, Hooker was trying to eliminate an exposed salient in the Union lines at Chancellorsville. But as you note, Sickles the amateur warrior and political operator, figured he could overrule Meade's sensible arrangements and get away with it.
 

joshrobmere

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It is curious that Sickles is heavily criticized and Francis Channing Barlow, for the most part, escapes such scrutiny for his move on July 1. I've heard someone say that Barlow "pulled a Sickles" before Sickles had a chance to do it the following day. In 1863 Barlow was not a likable individual. After the battle, he blamed the Germans under his command for what happened to his division. Should Barlow receive as much scrutiny as Sickles? Thoughts?
 

AThompson

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It is curious that Sickles is heavily criticized and Francis Channing Barlow, for the most part, escapes such scrutiny for his move on July 1. I've heard someone say that Barlow "pulled a Sickles" before Sickles had a chance to do it the following day. In 1863 Barlow was not a likable individual. After the battle, he blamed the Germans under his command for what happened to his division. Should Barlow receive as much scrutiny as Sickles? Thoughts?
I've often wondered the same thing. I think Howard absorbs most of the blame, being the corps commander and then field commander when it happened. I think the perception is that Day One was more of a foregone conclusion, too, since there was no way the two Federal corps could have held the town against Ewell and Hill (whether they knew they were facing both Ewell and Hill at the time is a separate question entirely). Sickles' position is also in Devil's Den, the Wheatfield, the Peach Orchard, and results in the fighting on LRT, so it's already in the middle of the conversation. Barlow's move is also more ambiguous as to who ordered it (was it Howard? purely Barlow? a misunderstanding?) And his move resulted in less casualties, since he only had a very small division. That's at least what I've come up with.
 

joshrobmere

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I've often wondered the same thing. I think Howard absorbs most of the blame, being the corps commander and then field commander when it happened. I think the perception is that Day One was more of a foregone conclusion, too, since there was no way the two Federal corps could have held the town against Ewell and Hill (whether they knew they were facing both Ewell and Hill at the time is a separate question entirely). Sickles' position is also in Devil's Den, the Wheatfield, the Peach Orchard, and results in the fighting on LRT, so it's already in the middle of the conversation. Barlow's move is also more ambiguous as to who ordered it (was it Howard? purely Barlow? a misunderstanding?) And his move resulted in less casualties, since he only had a very small division. That's at least what I've come up with.
Barlow and Howard barely spoke out after the war. Sickles couldn't shut up. It's much easier to criticize Sickles when there is so much to pick apart. Barlow also redeemed himself (somewhat) the following year. Barlow also never shot his wife's lover. But I can't trust a guy named Channing.
 

ivanj05

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The primary mistake Sickles made, and one that his admirers have continued to make down through the years, was viewing his assigned position in isolation. Yes, the position assigned to the Third Corps on the line was not the absolute best defensive ground on the battlefield. And yes, Sickles probably didn't have quite enough men to hold it by himself. Sickles however, was not by himself and neither was his corps. He was one part of a larger defensive position. Had Sickles led his troops where Meade wanted them, he would have been on ground that, while not the most textbook defensive position, would have allowed him to anchor his right to the Second Corps and his left to Little Round Top. He would have had the help of the massed Fifth Corps close by if he needed it, and access to the interior lines the Union position offered to provide him with rapid additional help if he really needed it.

But Sickles did not put his corps where Meade wanted it. Instead he took a position that he unquestionably did not have the troops to hold. He took a position that did not have other Union supports close at hand. Perhaps worst, he took a position that left his flanks (note the term flanks, plural) completely and totally out in the air. What did Sickles get for this? He got his leg shot off, his corps immolated, and interestingly enough a Medal of Honor several decades later. He also left the entire Union strategic position at Gettysburg gravely imperiled.
 

joshrobmere

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Do we criticize Sickles for not following orders or respecting the chain of command? Strong Vincent didn't have orders from his commanding officer to do what he did. Is it the loss of men? Is it the feud with Meade? Testimony before the Joint Committee? Others testified against Meade. Would the scrutiny be as bad if it were Hancock who made the move? I guess I am interested in how we remember Sickles. How history gets interpreted. Thoughts?
 

Jamieva

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Do we criticize Sickles for not following orders or respecting the chain of command? Strong Vincent didn't have orders from his commanding officer to do what he did. Is it the loss of men? Is it the feud with Meade? Testimony before the Joint Committee? Others testified against Meade. Would the scrutiny be as bad if it were Hancock who made the move? I guess I am interested in how we remember Sickles. How history gets interpreted. Thoughts?

Vincent is 1 brigade you’re talking about an entire corps with Sickles. Sickles knew what he was doing was not where Meade wanted him to position his troops.

he moves his corps to a position that it doesn’t have enough men to hold, and is too far to receive support from other forces if attacked. there’s no defensible reason for what he did.
 
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All anyone has to do is look at the line he held after the move, noting the ridiculous bend and salient; where his supports were before and after the move; and how many men he had per yard defending his new line compared with how many he had in the old line. His corps was sufficiently shattered that it became a shell of itself and disappeared in the 1864 reorganization. (I'll even leave aside for the moment the notion that the commander of one unit can and should decide unilaterally to abandon his alignment with other units as directed by his CO). Sickles was operating on an amateur's simplistic assumption that somewhat "higher" ground was always better and that no other factors specific to the terrain and the location of supports might be relevant. Being basically a dishonest narcissist, he spent his remaining years concocting the spin that he "saved" the Army of the Potomac.
This sums it up perfectly. He was a politician with no military training. You can try your best and still make mistakes, but Sickles was in WAY over his head. He should not have had a command. Of course there are others too, whose name could be added to that list....
 
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