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

29thWisCoG

Private
Joined
Apr 12, 2021
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?
 

OpnCoronet

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Feb 23, 2010
Really that shouldn't and probably didn't matter. If anything by this point in the war the AOTP was well aware Lee could strike anywhere at anytime and what was a quiet part of a defense line in the morning could become red-hot by afternoon.
Yet Meade seems to have continually ignored Sickles concerns concerning the security of the Union Left .
 

OpnCoronet

Lt. Colonel
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Feb 23, 2010
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 .....
What Meade should have taken away from the experience of Chancellorsville,, would be not taking anything for granted.

Sickles position was not a salient, it was more of an isolated strong point, that absorbed the impact of the Confederate attack and slowed the impetus of the assault to a slow slog that did not reach the Union MLR until evening dusk, by which time all coordination and energy of the attack was lost.

It is all very well to talk of what might have happened if Sickles remained in the position assigned by Meade(wherever that exactly was) we can know for sure, that Sickles' movement guaranteed a Day 3, and we have only an assumption that an un9mpeded flank attack by Lee would have failed anyway, despite almost all previous experience to contrary, seems problematic to me.
 

OpnCoronet

Lt. Colonel
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Feb 23, 2010
Yep.

I think to some extent Meade was overwhelmed with the task at hand... Under the circumstances it would be understandable.
I agree completely, but then Sickles' in his legitimate concerns for the safety of his command, that his commander seemed either to be ignoring or was ignorant of. In Either. case, it would seem Sickles move was. justified.
 

Belfoured

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 3, 2019
What Meade should have taken away from the experience of Chancellorsville,, would be not taking anything for granted.

Sickles position was not a salient, it was more of an isolated strong point, that absorbed the impact of the Confederate attack and slowed the impetus of the assault to a slow slog that did not reach the Union MLR until evening dusk, by which time all coordination and energy of the attack was lost.

It is all very well to talk of what might have happened if Sickles remained in the position assigned by Meade(wherever that exactly was) we can know for sure, that Sickles' movement guaranteed a Day 3, and we have only an assumption that an un9mpeded flank attack by Lee would have failed anyway, despite almost all previous experience to contrary, seems problematic to me.
Pfanz, Hessler, Powell, and others with solid credentials disagree. A simple look at the map shows that he put himself in an isolated position on both flanks, that also doubled the length of a line which in the original position he already deemed too lengthy to be held. Humphreys - an experienced and smart military professional - had a problem with the removal of his division's connection to the II Corps. Hunt felt there was some advantage to the Peach Orchard terrain (although he had second thoughts on his way back to Meade) but categorically believed that a unilateral move was wrong - for very obvious reasons. I've invited anybody who disagrees with this to take on Powell's analysis in detail. I'm still waiting.

You simply ignore the intended line of Longstreet's attack as measured against the Union line Meade intended to hold. Longstreet's right flank would have been at least partly exposed. How on earth do you maneuver the map to equate those circumstances with Jackson's flank attack from the west against the open right flank of a south-facing XI Corps (which may have still been south-facing due to Dandy Dan telling his friend Hooker that Jackson was "retreating")?
 

Belfoured

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 3, 2019
Yep.

I think to some extent Meade was overwhelmed with the task at hand... Under the circumstances it would be understandable.
Certainly possible, but this discussion doesn't involve the zero-sum conclusion some would like. One can conclude at the same time that (1) Meade should have paid more attention to his left and (2) Sickles made an incompetent decision to move his corps into a thinly-held position leaving both his flanks exposed (and also exposing the II Corps' left flank). They are not mutually exclusive.
 

OpnCoronet

Lt. Colonel
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Pfanz, Hessler, Powell, and others with solid credentials disagree. A simple look at the map shows that he put himself in an isolated position on both flanks, that also doubled the length of a line which in the original position he already deemed too lengthy to be held. Humphreys - an experienced and smart military professional - had a problem with the removal of his division's connection to the II Corps. Hunt felt there was some advantage to the Peach Orchard terrain (although he had second thoughts on his way back to Meade) but categorically believed that a unilateral move was wrong - for very obvious reasons. I've invited anybody who disagrees with this to take on Powell's analysis in detail. I'm still waiting.

You simply ignore the intended line of Longstreet's attack as measured against the Union line Meade intended to hold. Longstreet's right flank would have been at least partly exposed. How on earth do you maneuver the map to equate those circumstances with Jackson's flank attack from the west against the open right flank of a south-facing XI Corps (which may have still been south-facing due to Dandy Dan telling his friend Hooker that Jackson was "retreating")?
All very nicely said, but does not say anything about whether Sickles' move could be justified in the light of what was known at the time. I would think Sickles' move was justified by the events following. whatever the speculations of other might have beens or what ifs.


As I have noted before, it is an assumption on your part, et. al., apparently, that remaining in position would have greater success on the field than what was actually achieved in the event. But the assumption all would have been well if Longstreet's attack to be unimpeded, is but one of many assumed results, some of them contrary to it. Who can say?
 

Cavalier

First Sergeant
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Jul 20, 2019
I don't think it can be assumed that all would necessarily be well if Sickles didn't make his move. Due to the several reasons listed above the 3rd. Corps is for all intents and purposes destroyed, and he is in violation of his orders. The end result of his move is almost disastrous to the AOP. His butt has to be pulled from the fire of his own making by the troops of other Corps.


We have no way of knowing how things would have turned out had he obeyed his orders, but he didnt. In my opinion his move was not only incompetent and unjustified, but insubordinate. Judging him on his military competence alone and without regard to his love life or personal and political scandals, I believe he should have been court marshaled. If he didn't get Meade 's permission to make the move he desired then whatever occurred would have been on Meade.


Regardless of which opinion one may share on the Longstreet, Lee controversy, when Lee doesn't take Longstreet's advice to "disengage and move to the right" the results rest with the Army Commander.

John
 

Belfoured

2nd Lieutenant
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Aug 3, 2019
All very nicely said, but does not say anything about whether Sickles' move could be justified in the light of what was known at the time. I would think Sickles' move was justified by the events following. whatever the speculations of other might have beens or what ifs.


As I have noted before, it is an assumption on your part, et. al., apparently, that remaining in position would have greater success on the field than what was actually achieved in the event. But the assumption all would have been well if Longstreet's attack to be unimpeded, is but one of many assumed results, some of them contrary to it. Who can say?
And it is an assumption on your part that Sickles made the correct decision in light of its impact on Longstreet's attack rather than remaining where he was ordered. As for "what was known at the time", Hunt, Humphreys, and Hancock - at least- all disagreed at the time with the unilateral move that detached the III Corps from LRT and the II Corps.
 

Lubliner

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I don't think it can be assumed that all would necessarily be well if Sickles didn't make his move. Due to the several reasons listed above the 3rd. Corps is for all intents and purposes destroyed, and he is in violation of his orders. The end result of his move is almost disastrous to the AOP. His butt has to be pulled from the fire of his own making by the troops of other Corps.


We have no way of knowing how things would have turned out had he obeyed his orders, but he didnt. In my opinion his move was not only incompetent and unjustified, but insubordinate. Judging him on his military competence alone and without regard to his love life or personal and political scandals, I believe he should have been court marshaled. If he didn't get Meade 's permission to make the move he desired then whatever occurred would have been on Meade.


Regardless of which opinion one may share on the Longstreet, Lee controversy, when Lee doesn't take Longstreet's advice to "disengage and move to the right" the results rest with the Army Commander.

John
I think a solid point made with this argument is the fact that if one justifies Sickles' move, then more confidence is given to him over Meade. The validity of Meade's experience and level of command almost certainly justifies his direct orders. Even under this circumstance, how can one overrule a commanding General with education and experience and place any confidence in a political gainsayer? This is/was a great injustice to Meade.
Lubliner.
 

Belfoured

2nd Lieutenant
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I think a solid point made with this argument is the fact that if one justifies Sickles' move, then more confidence is given to him over Meade. The validity of Meade's experience and level of command almost certainly justifies his direct orders. Even under this circumstance, how can one overrule a commanding General with education and experience and place any confidence in a political gainsayer? This is/was a great injustice to Meade.
Lubliner.
Excellent point. Sickles' post-battle explanations defending his decision are rife with inconsistencies and outright fabrications. If he had been court-martialed, his only prayer for avoiding devastating cross examination and conviction would have been to resurrect that "insanity" defense he worked in the Key trial. And - for those who would "justify" Sickles' decision - I eagerly await the roster of those who have analyzed the decision carefully and have concluded that it was correct. To the list of qualified authorities I've already posted who have criticized it, I would add Coddington and Sauers. There are still more. But that shouldn't be necessary, because a simple look at the "before" and "after" maps shows why it was wrong. Facts are facts ...
 

Lubliner

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Excellent point. Sickles' post-battle explanations defending his decision are rife with inconsistencies and outright fabrications. If he had been court-martialed, his only prayer for avoiding devastating cross examination and conviction would have been to resurrect that "insanity" defense he worked in the Key trial. And - for those who would "justify" Sickles' decision - I eagerly await the roster of those who have analyzed the decision carefully and have concluded that it was correct. To the list of qualified authorities I've already posted who have criticized it, I would add Coddington and Sauers. There are still more. But that shouldn't be necessary, because a simple look at the "before" and "after" maps shows why it was wrong. Facts are facts ...
Funny, maybe he could have used that insanity defense again!
Lubliner.
 

OpnCoronet

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Feb 23, 2010
I think a solid point made with this argument is the fact that if one justifies Sickles' move, then more confidence is given to him over Meade. The validity of Meade's experience and level of command almost certainly justifies his direct orders. Even under this circumstance, how can one overrule a commanding General with education and experience and place any confidence in a political gainsayer? This is/was a great injustice to Meade.
Lubliner.
Please, Command is not a one way street. There has to be communication between a commanders and his officers. It is not just a matter of 'yes sir no sir and shut up' .

Sickles' was trying to communicate very valid concerns, that Meade continually rejected without investigation or ignored.. Sickles had every right to be concerned in the event, a massive assault was in motion at the very time he was trying to get Meade's attention to the dangers of his position.

The peacetime army that nurtured Meade and other senior officers of the time, was imbued with the conviction that an officer's duty was to obey orders to the letter and not one syllable further. If anything bad happened it was not their fault, 'they followed orders' to the letter. All very good for a peacetime army, not nearly good enough for a war for national survival.
 

OpnCoronet

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Feb 23, 2010
And it is an assumption on your part that Sickles made the correct decision in light of its impact on Longstreet's attack rather than remaining where he was ordered. As for "what was known at the time", Hunt, Humphreys, and Hancock - at least- all disagreed at the time with the unilateral move that detached the III Corps from LRT and the II Corps.
The other corps commanders had their own problems and concerns, as did Sickles, I do not think soliciting their opinions, after the fact, is a reliable guide, defining the course of army politics and personalities, i.e., Sickles was outside the West Point Pale of the 'Academy 'Old Boy' network, where protecting 'ones own' is Primal.
 

WJC

Major General
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Yet Meade seems to have continually ignored Sickles concerns concerning the security of the Union Left .
Sickles move was not (as I understand it) over concerns of security on the left: it was in order to give him what he felt was more defensible high ground. In doing so he made the left less secure. He was very fortunate that his mistake became an excuse for the failure of the July 2 rebel assault.
 

Belfoured

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
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The other corps commanders had their own problems and concerns, as did Sickles, I do not think soliciting their opinions, after the fact, is a reliable guide, defining the course of army politics and personalities, i.e., Sickles was outside the West Point Pale of the 'Academy 'Old Boy' network, where protecting 'ones own' is Primal.
The opinions I'm referring to were given at the time - literally when it was happening. Hancock's concern was that his left flank was being exposed. Humphreys's was that his right flank was being exposed. Hunt told Dapper Dan that he would not authorize the proposed move - based on his concerns about Sickles isolating his corps from its supports. As for the "Academy Old Boy" network, we're matching that against the word of a veteran Tammany Hall politician. In fact, that's how he got himself a generalship. You make an odd selection in the "reliable" category.
 

Belfoured

2nd Lieutenant
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Sickles move was not (as I understand it) over concerns of security on the left: it was in order to give him what he felt was more defensible high ground. In doing so he made the left less secure. He was very fortunate that his mistake became an excuse for the failure of the July 2 rebel assault.
It's like a D-man in hockey blowing his assignment in the D-Zone, toe-picking, blundering into blocking a shot, and then looking for one of the "star of the game" awards.
 
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