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?
 

Lubliner

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I give a huge amount of weight to what Gen. Halleck had to say;
"General Sickles, misinterpreting his orders, instead of placing the Third Corps on the prolongation of the Second, had moved it nearly three-quarters of a mile in advance---an error which nearly proved fatal in the battle."
[O. R. Vol. 27 Part 1, page 16.]
This report was written on Nov. 15, 1863 before all the arguments developed. Halleck had the position to receive the official reports and draw from them the basic events that had transpired. He would have looked at it from an unbiased point of view, I think. What he describes is possibly what actually happened, including the misinterpretation of orders at the outset by Sickles. In other words, Sickles may have sent to Meade and asked, "Didn't you mean to align it this way?"

Lubliner.
 

Lincoln56

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Lubliner said:

"General Sickles, misinterpreting his orders,

Think the term 'misinterpreting' in this case is a genteel or shorthand or political correct way of saying 'in complete defiance of orders and violation of sound basic military principles'.

an error which nearly proved fatal in the battle
This is the essence of Sickle's impulsive behavior on this occasion. An extraordinary amount of collateral damage as a result.
 

Belfoured

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I give a huge amount of weight to what Gen. Halleck had to say;
"General Sickles, misinterpreting his orders, instead of placing the Third Corps on the prolongation of the Second, had moved it nearly three-quarters of a mile in advance---an error which nearly proved fatal in the battle."
[O. R. Vol. 27 Part 1, page 16.]
This report was written on Nov. 15, 1863 before all the arguments developed. Halleck had the position to receive the official reports and draw from them the basic events that had transpired. He would have looked at it from an unbiased point of view, I think. What he describes is possibly what actually happened, including the misinterpretation of orders at the outset by Sickles. In other words, Sickles may have sent to Meade and asked, "Didn't you mean to align it this way?"

Lubliner.
In addition, after the war Geary told Meade that before the XII Corps (take that, you Roman Numeral Bashers 😎) division moved, he sent a courier to Sickles explaining the position to be assumed.
 

rpkennedy

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In addition, after the war Geary told Meade that before the XII Corps (take that, you Roman Numeral Bashers 😎) division moved, he sent a courier to Sickles explaining the position to be assumed.

I'd like to see something a little more contemporary to the battle to corroborate that assertion. Where Geary was exactly is still pretty up in the air and it's clear that Sickles had no idea where he was by the early morning. I would bet that Geary was weighing in on the postbellum battle with that statement.

Ryan
 

Belfoured

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I'd like to see something a little more contemporary to the battle to corroborate that assertion. Where Geary was exactly is still pretty up in the air and it's clear that Sickles had no idea where he was by the early morning. I would bet that Geary was weighing in on the postbellum battle with that statement.

Ryan
That could well be, of course. Much of the "murk" about this in either direction is unsubstantiated by contemporary written evidence and is the product of the "postbellum battle" or the "postbattle battle". In a polygraph exam, I would bet that Meade and Geary would perform at least as well as Ole Dan and his acolytes. So it's probably entitled to as much "for what it's worth" weight as the rest of the information on the subject. Sickles having literally "no idea" may be a bit of a stretch - just my opinion, of course. And everything about this is unavoidably informed by the flawed position Sickles moved to - as in, did he really think that was where Meade wanted him?
 

rpkennedy

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That could well be, of course. Much of the "murk" about this in either direction is unsubstantiated by contemporary written evidence and is the product of the "postbellum battle" or the "postbattle battle". In a polygraph exam, I would bet that Meade and Geary would perform at least as well as Ole Dan and his acolytes. So it's probably entitled to as much "for what it's worth" weight as the rest of the information on the subject. Sickles having literally "no idea" may be a bit of a stretch - just my opinion, of course. And everything about this is unavoidably informed by the flawed position Sickles moved to - as in, did he really think that was where Meade wanted him?

On at least 3 occasions, he informed HQ that he did not know where Geary had been (Geary's men had left before 0500). Perhaps I should not have said that he had no idea but it's clear that he had some major questions about how far his line was supposed to extend.

I don't think that there's any question that Sickles knew that Meade didn't want him out on the ER ridge but he felt that controlling that position was necessary to defend his portion of the line. That in and of itself is reasonable but the lack of communication between Meade and Sickles and Sickles' terrible deployment created a dangerous situation for the AotP.

Ryan
 

Belfoured

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On at least 3 occasions, he informed HQ that he did not know where Geary had been (Geary's men had left before 0500). Perhaps I should not have said that he had no idea but it's clear that he had some major questions about how far his line was supposed to extend.

I don't think that there's any question that Sickles knew that Meade didn't want him out on the ER ridge but he felt that controlling that position was necessary to defend his portion of the line. That in and of itself is reasonable but the lack of communication between Meade and Sickles and Sickles' terrible deployment created a dangerous situation for the AotP.

Ryan
Those are fair points. I do think that his alleged confusion has to be assessed to some extent by what should have been some common sense, given where the II Corps was, etc etc. As I've said a few times in this thread, what grade Meade gets for how he handled communications about his left is a wholly separate issue from whether Sickles gets an "F" for his decision.
 

OpnCoronet

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@OpnCoronet I share your admiration for the fighting qualities of the 3rd. Corps on July 2nd. I think some of their formations are often judged without considering the situation they faced. Only two of their brigades suffered losses of captured or missing in excess of 100 if I'm not mistaken. That figure is an indication, in my opinion, of the fight they put up.


John
@OpnCoronet I share your admiration for the fighting qualities of the 3rd. Corps on July 2nd. I think some of their formations are often judged without considering the situation they faced. Only two of their brigades suffered losses of captured or missing in excess of 100 if I'm not mistaken. That figure is an indication, in my opinion, of the fight they put up.


John
I agree, in fact overall, I am not, despite what many probably think, a great defender of Sickles as a general. It is just that IMO, in relation to the question of the OP, Sickles forward movement of III Corps, was justified under the circumstances that existed at the time, i.e., the movement although not perfectly conceived or executed according to standard military doctrine of the time, it did put his force in a better position to defend itself, than in its original ill considered position.



P.S. Ill considered in that it was not best for the kind of attack contemplated by Lee at the time.
 

Belfoured

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I agree, in fact overall, I am not, despite what many probably think, a great defender of Sickles as a general. It is just that IMO, in relation to the question of the OP, Sickles forward movement of III Corps, was justified under the circumstances that existed at the time, i.e., the movement although not perfectly conceived or executed according to standard military doctrine of the time, it did put his force in a better position to defend itself, than in its original ill considered position.



P.S. Ill considered in that it was not best for the kind of attack contemplated by Lee at the time.
"it did put his force in a better position to defend itself, than in its original ill considered position."

No it didn't. Again, look at the map of his new position.
 

MichaelWinicki

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"it did put his force in a better position to defend itself, than in its original ill considered position."

No it didn't. Again, look at the map of his new position.

The very-rough map of the so-called better position keeps being referenced... However that map neglects the various foliage that either blocked the western face of that ridge or does not show the foliage and woodlots that were directly in front of that ridge which made line-of-sight haphazard at best.

What we know of Geary's position late on July 1st, early on July 2nd is that he never occupied that ridge either– His two brigades were in front of that ridge because they saw what accurate maps show and that is the ridge in question was highly questionable as a defensive anchor from the George Weikert house to Little Round Top– All due to the presence of foliage and woodlots facing or in front that ridge.

I fully agree that Sickles forward line was too long to defend with his corps but to imply that the 6/10 of a mile line from the George Weikert house to LRT could have been a strong military position is simply not correct it was meh for infantry and downright artillery unfriendly.
 

Belfoured

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The very-rough map of the so-called better position keeps being referenced... However that map neglects the various foliage that either blocked the western face of that ridge or does not show the foliage and woodlots that were directly in front of that ridge which made line-of-sight haphazard at best.

What we know of Geary's position late on July 1st, early on July 2nd is that he never occupied that ridge either– His two brigades were in front of that ridge because they saw what accurate maps show and that is the ridge in question was highly questionable as a defensive anchor from the George Weikert house to Little Round Top– All due to the presence of foliage and woodlots facing or in front that ridge.

I fully agree that Sickles forward line was too long to defend with his corps but to imply that the 6/10 of a mile line from the George Weikert house to LRT could have been a strong military position is simply not correct it was meh for infantry and downright artillery unfriendly.
You put far too much reliance on leaves - if you're using the map of Sickles's advanced position to "kind of/sort of/maybe" defend the decision. Gaps are gaps - and Sickles's new line unavoidably created gaps. Batteries were stuffed into positions where they would lack any meaningful support and were exposed to being overrun. That's bad artillery doctrine, and events showed why. You have yet to explain why a line in which Sickles's right flank met Hancock's left flank was somehow weaker than the advanced line where neither flank met anything but air. Feel free ...
 

MichaelWinicki

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You put far too much reliance on leaves - if you're using the map of Sickles's advanced position to "kind of/sort of/maybe" defend the decision. Gaps are gaps - and Sickles's new line unavoidably created gaps. Batteries were stuffed into positions where they would lack any meaningful support and were exposed to being overrun. That's bad artillery doctrine, and events showed why. You have yet to explain why a line in which Sickles's right flank met Hancock's left flank was somehow weaker than the advanced line where neither flank met anything but air. Feel free ...

Where did I say I defend the advanced position?

OK, so leaves and foliage should have no affect on selecting a combat position.

Got it.
 

Belfoured

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Where did I say I defend the advanced position?

OK, so leaves and foliage should have no affect on selecting a combat position.

Got it.
That's why I used "if ....". Apologies if I misunderstood your assessment of the advanced line but you spend so much effort on denigrating the Cemetery Ridge line that it creates the impression that maybe the advanced line was somehow better. It wasn't. Whatever the problems with the Cemetery Ridge line, Sickles's decision gave him a line with even more problems.

Regarding whether "leaves and foliage" should play any role, all I've said is that they don't make up for fatally flawed gaps in a line. As for their relevance to the discussion overall, Powell has made this point about the first/intended line:

"The second was the presence of substantial wooded areas both along the intended line and down in the low ground of his campsites. This tree cover would have enabled Sickles to conceal much of his command from enemy observation and fire from the Peach Orchard, and give his skirmishers cover as they sniped at any enemy artillery deployed along in the open fields along Emmitsburg Road."
 

MichaelWinicki

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That's why I used "if ....". Apologies if I misunderstood your assessment of the advanced line but you spend so much effort on denigrating the Cemetery Ridge line that it creates the impression that maybe the advanced line was somehow better. It wasn't. Whatever the problems with the Cemetery Ridge line, Sickles's decision gave him a line with even more problems.

Regarding whether "leaves and foliage" should play any role, all I've said is that they don't make up for fatally flawed gaps in a line. As for their relevance to the discussion overall, Powell has made this point about the first/intended line:

"The second was the presence of substantial wooded areas both along the intended line and down in the low ground of his campsites. This tree cover would have enabled Sickles to conceal much of his command from enemy observation and fire from the Peach Orchard, and give his skirmishers cover as they sniped at any enemy artillery deployed along in the open fields along Emmitsburg Road."

Fair enough.

I have several challenges with that part of the Powell argument...

Even if Sickles occupied the rear-line... There was going to be a line of Union skirmishers out in the area of the Peach Orchard and along Emmitsburg Road, just the way Buford did on the night of the 1st. There was going to be a Union presence in the Peach Orchard be it one regiment in skirmish formation or one brigade, but there was going to be Union soldiers in that area.

Secondly even if the Peach Orchard was totally devoid of a Union presence then that wasn't going to change where McLaws units launched from– It was still going to be Warfield Ridge and not the Peach Orchard, so I have no idea how/why the skirmishers picking off Confederate artilleryman comes into play because artillery was only going to be placed there AFTER the Confederate infantry swept through that area including where any Union skirmishers would be in this part of the Powell scenario.

And even if Longstreet said, "Hey the Peach Orchard is totally empty right now– before we attack lets move some batteries to that position."

Well the problem with that is the nearest woodlot to the Peach Orchard from the Union-side of the field was the Trostle Woods which were at least 500 yards away. The sniping would have been a big challenge and then after the artillery started throwing shells toward the Union line the area would have have been filled smoke rather quickly rending "sniping" even less effective.

I respect and agree with much of what Powell wrote in that issue #28 article of "Gettysburg Magazine" but I've always had issue with this part of his argument.
 
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