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?
 

rpkennedy

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Depends on whether you think his countermarch was a waste of time or it it was important than he not be seen.

He definitely did not want to be seen but he also knew that McLaws had been specifically ordered by Lee to be on the left of Longstreet's attack. That explains the countermarch rather than Longstreet just ordering his column to about face, which would have saved a bit of time.

Ryan
 

Belfoured

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My questions were about memory. How we remember the war. How generals attempted to shape memory in the post-war period. Not necessarily the actual movements of the day. A Caspian sea of ink has been spilt debating the military aspects of the move on July 2. I am interested in memory.

I bring up other movements and men to get at how we remember aspects of the battle. Barlow, for example, was not a likable person in 1863, but he has been spared the criticisms that Sickles has received. If you read the reporting of Samuel Wilkeson, then Barlow does not come out looking too great. Wilkeson, however, is a grieving father.

I was asking about memory and not defending or criticizing Sickles.
Barlow made a tactical error and I don't see anybody minimizing it. Sickles, however, made a larger tactical error, especially given that his half-baked reasoning included his own knowledge that his original line already was "thinly-held". He also knew that by acting unilaterally he was divorcing his right from the II Corps and his left from LRT. Most important, he acted in disobedience of his orders and knew that Hunt had told him he could not authorize the movement. Two fundamentally different circumstances.
 

OpnCoronet

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The plan was for the axis of advance to parallel the Emmitsburg Road and roll up the Union line as it proceeded northeast. Without Union troops along the Emmitsburg Road ridge (sort of where they were thought to be but their line extended much further than expected). If Sickles wasn't on the ridge, there's no way to know what Longstreet would have done. I could even argue that an attack would have been delayed until July 3 while Longstreet and Lee ascertained where the Yankee line actually was and how far south it went.

Ryan
Very true, in fact Lee seems to have been as pig-headed on the attack on Day 2 as Longstreet.

The Plan was conceived and orders issued just before , or just at Dawn, based upon the most recent intelligence, that noted the Union line did not extend to the RT's. Which was essentially true until the arrival of III Corps
around Noon.

Yet although very anxious about Longstreet's delays, Lee seemed determined to keep to his plan even though by the middle of the Afternoon, it should have been obvious that the plan would be seriously out of date and called for a reevaluation of the situation and perhaps, as you suggest, even a delay until the next day.

Even Lee noted in his official Report on the battle to Davis, admitted that a big reason for failure was his 'Overconfidence'. I think the events of Day 2 seem to confirm Lee's analysis.
 

OpnCoronet

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He definitely did not want to be seen but he also knew that McLaws had been specifically ordered by Lee to be on the left of Longstreet's attack. That explains the countermarch rather than Longstreet just ordering his column to about face, which would have saved a bit of time.

Ryan
Longstreet knew that, yet he did not know the axis of Lee's proposed attack by McLaws?
 

MichaelWinicki

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Barlow didn't cause the wreck of several divisions.

It was a "mini-Sickles".

No did not involve the shear number of divisions as what happened on the Union left on July 2nd, but it certainly brought a quick unraveling to the Union line north of Gettysburg, which resulted in thousands of soldiers being captured (from both Union Corps) due to the rapid collapse and uncoordinated retreat from the forward positions.

I agree with what @Joshism posted about any line north of Gettysburg of not possibly being held long-term, but a line closer to town with a greater view of what was coming down Harrisburg Pike may have kept the position a little longer and allowed for a more organized retreat.
 

OpnCoronet

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Really? At the time that Hooker placed the XI Corps at Chancellorsville, Lee/Jackson were to the south of that line and the XI Corps was facing south. It continued to do so as Jackson used most of the day to head west, then north, and then stage a flanking attack from the west. Let's take Meade's original line and the intended Confederate attack and show the similarity. As for what Sickles "learned" from Chancellorsville, it had to do with his position on May 3 and Hazel Grove. The Powell analysis shows that he "learned" the wrong lesson.
Really. Hooker and Meade placed what they considered their weakest corps far from where they expected to meet Lee and placed them in a position to be taken in the flank, by a patented flank attack by Lee.

The main difference being III Corps was prepared and XII was not, because Howard seems to have assumed Hooker knew what he was doing; an assumption Sickles did not share with Meade.

As I noted in another post as Hood was preparing to attack on Day 2, he was disconcerted to find Union troops to his front. What disconcerted him was that the Union troops were facing him in Line of Battle. Hood immediately notified Longstreet and suggesting moving his attack further to his right beyond the RT's and coming in behind the Union lines, but Longstreet refused.
 

OpnCoronet

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So that I understand, are you (1) asserting that the decision to move unilaterally was correct or not or are you (2) simply explaining why Sickles correctly assessed the benefits of a coordinated movement forward? Apologies if I missed that. And to be clear, I'm relying only to some extent on my own personal analysis of what was relevant to the decision. For general enlightenment, it would be helpful for someone to explain in specific detail where Dave Powell got it wrong. He's not the only qualified authority who has concluded that but I have found his evaluation to be one of the more detailed and focused.
I am saying that under the circumstances and what Sickles knew at the time, he was very probably justified in exercising his initiative to meet a situation he believed his commander was not fully aware(or perhaps, even completely ignorant of).
 

Belfoured

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Really. Hooker and Meade placed what they considered their weakest corps far from where they expected to meet Lee and placed them in a position to be taken in the flank, by a patented flank attack by Lee.

The main difference being III Corps was prepared and XII was not, because Howard seems to have assumed Hooker knew what he was doing; an assumption Sickles did not share with Meade.

As I noted in another post as Hood was preparing to attack on Day 2, he was disconcerted to find Union troops to his front. What disconcerted him was that the Union troops were facing him in Line of Battle. Hood immediately notified Longstreet and suggesting moving his attack further to his right beyond the RT's and coming in behind the Union lines, but Longstreet refused.
How does Hood's "discovery" relate to the suitability of the original line for the defense? It's not as if Meade's line was facing north and Sickles fixed that by facing west.

The Chancellorsville analogy is superficial and easily rejected. The problem on May 2 was that the XI Corps was facing in the completely wrong direction and had its right flank open to the attack. There's no way on earth you can make the III Corps position in the original July 2 line remotely similar. Not even close. In fact, if anything the III Corps new line was closer, because Sickles left both his flanks unprotected. He fixed the problem on his left by contriving a salient in the middle of his new line - not exactly the preferred solution but in a fix it was better than nothing in attempting to correct a mistake.

Speaking of Hooker not "knowing what he was doing" on May 2 as Stonewall headed off, care to guess which corps commander decided - wrongly - that the ANV was "retreating" and told his friend, the commanding general? Meade clearly learned that listening to Dan was a bad idea .....
 

joshrobmere

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Barlow made a tactical error and I don't see anybody minimizing it. Sickles, however, made a larger tactical error, especially given that his half-baked reasoning included his own knowledge that his original line already was "thinly-held". He also knew that by acting unilaterally he was divorcing his right from the II Corps and his left from LRT. Most important, he acted in disobedience of his orders and knew that Hunt had told him he could not authorize the movement. Two fundamentally different circumstances.
I just use Barlow because, like Sickles, he was not well-liked in 1863 and he threw his men under the bus after the battle. I'm not saying his move was on the same level as Sickles. Not at all.

I agree with every tactical argument against Sickles. I concede he disobeyed orders, even though Meade could have done more to make sure his orders were followed. Meade could have relieved Sickles of command like a coach benching a player mid-game. Meade, like Lee, had an "if practicable" moment of which Sickles took advantage. Meade, of course, does not bear the blame for this disaster. That rests with Sickles.

I don't believe that the actions of Sickles on July 2 have shaped the memory of what happened on that day. I would argue that his actions after the battle (and after the war) have shaped the memory of what he did on July 2. I would argue that his ceaseless attacks on Meade, his testimony before the Joint Committee, the Historicus essay, the scandal over the money for the New York monuments have all shaped our memory of Sickles on July 2. Also, let's not forget that Sickles was toxic for a couple years before the war due to his killing of Philip Barton Key.

If Sickles had just gone away after the battle, would he still be the target that he is today? Or if he had returned to service and redeemed himself like Barlow had done in 1864? I could see this much argument over his move on July 2 if it had cost the Union the battle.
 

jackt62

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Is Sickles Meade's Jubal Early?
No, I don't think a comparison is valid. Sickles was a non-professional soldier whose claim to fame was of a certain type of political and social notoriety. Sickles' military judgement (if one can call it that), was based on his own peculiar reasoning. Early held important posts throughout much of the war and rose to army command in the Shenandoah Valley. While he was not successful against Sheridan's superior forces, his raid on Washington and his deployment of the Valley Army was a component of Lee's strategy of opening a diversionary front away from the Petersburg lines. Early was Lee's "bad man" so maybe there is some sort of symmetry with Sickles, but Early's reputation was mostly that of an irritable, demanding individual in contrast to Sickles suave and calculating moves to further his own career.
 

Belfoured

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I just use Barlow because, like Sickles, he was not well-liked in 1863 and he threw his men under the bus after the battle. I'm not saying his move was on the same level as Sickles. Not at all.

I agree with every tactical argument against Sickles. I concede he disobeyed orders, even though Meade could have done more to make sure his orders were followed. Meade could have relieved Sickles of command like a coach benching a player mid-game. Meade, like Lee, had an "if practicable" moment of which Sickles took advantage. Meade, of course, does not bear the blame for this disaster. That rests with Sickles.

I don't believe that the actions of Sickles on July 2 have shaped the memory of what happened on that day. I would argue that his actions after the battle (and after the war) have shaped the memory of what he did on July 2. I would argue that his ceaseless attacks on Meade, his testimony before the Joint Committee, the Historicus essay, the scandal over the money for the New York monuments have all shaped our memory of Sickles on July 2. Also, let's not forget that Sickles was toxic for a couple years before the war due to his killing of Philip Barton Key.

If Sickles had just gone away after the battle, would he still be the target that he is today? Or if he had returned to service and redeemed himself like Barlow had done in 1864? I could see this much argument over his move on July 2 if it had cost the Union the battle.
I agree on the "memory" issue, and to follow up on yours I think that it's due to two things: (1) The Army of the Potomac won the battle, and that happened on July 3 despite Sickles screwing up on July 2; and (2) the entire post-battle public relations campaign by Sickles, feeding into the JCCW's dissatisfaction with Meade for failing to destroy Lee after Gettysburg, and posing as the "real hero" who sacrificed a leg.
 

joshrobmere

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No, I don't think a comparison is valid. Sickles was a non-professional soldier whose claim to fame was of a certain type of political and social notoriety. Sickles' military judgement (if one can call it that), was based on his own peculiar reasoning. Early held important posts throughout much of the war and rose to army command in the Shenandoah Valley. While he was not successful against Sheridan's superior forces, his raid on Washington and his deployment of the Valley Army was a component of Lee's strategy of opening a diversionary front away from the Petersburg lines. Early was Lee's "bad man" so maybe there is some sort of symmetry with Sickles, but Early's reputation was mostly that of an irritable, demanding individual in contrast to Sickles suave and calculating moves to further his own career.
I meant during the post-war years. Early's repeated attacks on Longstreet remind me of how Sickles continued to slander Meade after the war.
 

WJC

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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?
No.
Hard to say. Longstreet (a friend of Sickles) consistently claimed that Sickles' unauthorized move was the key factor in the failure of his July 2, 1863 assault.
 

Belfoured

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No.
Hard to say. Longstreet (a friend of Sickles) consistently claimed that Sickles' unauthorized move was the key factor in the failure of his July 2, 1863 assault.
True, but I've always taken Longstreet's point with a few tons of salt. As you note, he and Sickles became quite friendly after the war. The key factors may well have included Hood's disabling wound, the timely rushing into the breach of reinforcements from the V and II Corps, the diversion of most of Law's regiments towards LRT, etc. I've also not seen an analysis from Longstreet that the original line would not have presented a problem, given the intended direction of his attack - as in "flank"
 

jackt62

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I meant during the post-war years. Early's repeated attacks on Longstreet remind me of how Sickles continued to slander Meade after the war.
True. I would add that Early's attacks on Longstreet were also part of his larger "Lost Cause" narrative that elevated Lee to stardom, while also denigrating any other Confederate commanders that could be blamed somehow for the fall of the Confederacy. Sickles' attacks on Meade were done simply to burnish Sickles' own reputation. Of course, the early passing of Meade and the longevity of Sickles made that an unfair match-up.
 

WJC

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True, but I've always taken Longstreet's point with a few tons of salt. As you note, he and Sickles became quite friendly after the war. The key factors may well have included Hood's disabling wound, the timely rushing into the breach of reinforcements from the V and II Corps, the diversion of most of Law's regiments towards LRT, etc. I've also not seen an analysis from Longstreet that the original line would not have presented a problem, given the intended direction of his attack - as in "flank"
 
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