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?
 

Belfoured

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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.
Standing alone, I don't have an objection to that part of your analysis. I think all of this gets really murky when we move to the hypothetical Confederate attack. The only certainty is that the line of the originally-conceived attack would have been more or less up the road with an unwittingly exposed right flank and having little if anything to do with the position Sickles objected to, since his extension of that line was well below the objective. Things shifted as time went on but that has gotten inextricably intertwined with Sickles's refusal after the battle to acknowledge the plain facts - that his new line had multiple military flaws - and with his fabricated public relations bear c--p that his decision "saved" Meade and actually "won" the battle.
 

29thWisCoG

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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.

Here is what Sickles had to say about Halleck's "misinterpreting" characterization of Sickles regarding Meade's orders for Day 2:

"It was not through any misinterpretation of orders." -Dan Sickles, from Pfanz's Day 2 book on page 103

Dan thought he new better than General Meade on how best to place his Corps in position that day. He knew where Meaded wanted him, to the left of the 2nd Corps and end at LRT, and disregarded his order. There was no confounding, no confusion, no conundrum.
 

OpnCoronet

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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.
I have not been to Gettysburg, but, if you have, I have read posters here who alos have, say that the ground between Cemetery Ridge and Seminary Ridge, is not flat and open as shown on most maps. This is especially true of the ground between III Corps assigned position and the Peach Orchard area, i.e., that the ground is undulating, with a series of small hillocks that rise gradually to the plateau on which the Peach Orchard sits. That an attacking force would not be exposed to continuous defensive fire from Sickles original position, if it were attacking him frontally or if it were attacking up Emmitsburg Pike.

Do you have any info on this ?
 

Belfoured

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Schurz's memoirs are not trustworthy. He lied a lot.
I agree to some extent but that doesn't mean that everything in there is false. Schurz's official report also states that at some point he discovered that Barlow had moved his division forward and that Schurz in response maneuvered his own division to try to re-establish connection. On the other hand I haven't seen anything that supports the notion that Barlow was ordered to the knoll by Schurz. It's one thing to discredit Schurz on this point because he has mis-stated some other matters, but that is very far from affirmative evidence that he ordered Barlow to abandon contact with Schurz's own division - which would appear to be stupid.
 

MichaelWinicki

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I have not been to Gettysburg, but, if you have, I have read posters here who alos have, say that the ground between Cemetery Ridge and Seminary Ridge, is not flat and open as shown on most maps. This is especially true of the ground between III Corps assigned position and the Peach Orchard area, i.e., that the ground is undulating, with a series of small hillocks that rise gradually to the plateau on which the Peach Orchard sits. That an attacking force would not be exposed to continuous defensive fire from Sickles original position, if it were attacking him frontally or if it were attacking up Emmitsburg Pike.

Do you have any info on this ?

Have walked that area many times and yes it is very much true. Not only is the landscape rather uneven, the woodlots between what would have been Sickles assigned position (between the southern-end of Cemetery Ridge and Little Round Top) and the Peach Orchard/Emmitsburg Road would have presented a challenge for infantry and was very poor for artillery.
 

Belfoured

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Schurz lied in his official reports, too. I think "stupid" isn't far off the mark as a description of his abilities=-or lack thereof--as a major-general.
Got it - that's all great. Now how about something showing that he ordered Barlow forward and to eliminate his connection to Schurz. IIRC, Barlow's own account in his letters was that he was ordered to "connect with" Schurz's division, which is consistent with Schurz.
 

Jimbo_Poke

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If the southern portion of cemetery ridge was such a bad position to defend, why was it not targeted as part of the PPT assault on the third day?

If it was so vulnerable why was it not taken advantage of when the rebels held the Peach Orchard? Why did the Rebels not turn the Peach Orchard into such a dominating artillery platform?
 

rpkennedy

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If the southern portion of cemetery ridge was such a bad position to defend, why was it not targeted as part of the PPT assault on the third day?

If it was so vulnerable why was it not taken advantage of when the rebels held the Peach Orchard? Why did the Rebels not turn the Peach Orchard into such a dominating artillery platform?
By July 3, there were A LOT of Union troops between Cemetery Ridge and Big Round Top. Besides, southern Cemetery Ridge wasn't the key to the Union position, Cemetery and Culp's Hills were so that was the point that Lee was attempting to break.

Ryan
 

Belfoured

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If the southern portion of cemetery ridge was such a bad position to defend, why was it not targeted as part of the PPT assault on the third day?

If it was so vulnerable why was it not taken advantage of when the rebels held the Peach Orchard? Why did the Rebels not turn the Peach Orchard into such a dominating artillery platform?
For what it's worth, Hunt's concern about the Cemetery Ridge position was not really so much that it was not a defensible line. His criticism was that it was not a good line from which to launch an attack and that the Peach Orchard area was more favorable if one wanted both options. All aside, of course, from the foolish decision to take that position unilaterally.
 

rpkennedy

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For what it's worth, Hunt's concern about the Cemetery Ridge position was not really so much that it was not a defensible line. His criticism was that it was not a good line from which to launch an attack and that the Peach Orchard area was more favorable if one wanted both options. All aside, of course, from the foolish decision to take that position unilaterally.
The Emmitsburg Road ridge had a lot to pros but some very serious cons as well. It was higher than the surrounding valleys and was much more open so that artillery could be deployed effectively. The problem was that it extended the front considerably and was so close to Seminary Ridge that it really couldn't be efficiently defended because any Confederate advance would be on the defenders before they could react. Even Hunt commented that the ERR could not be defended if there were Confederates along Seminary Ridge which prompted Sickles to send the 3rd Maine and 2nd United States Sharpshooters into their firefight with Wilcox's Alabamans as they moved into Pitzer's Woods.

Ryan
 

Jimbo_Poke

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By July 3, there were A LOT of Union troops between Cemetery Ridge and Big Round Top. Besides, southern Cemetery Ridge wasn't the key to the Union position, Cemetery and Culp's Hills were so that was the point that Lee was attempting to break.

Ryan

Ahh, so attacking that position is not the best way to assault and take the key terrain?

I just think that if the position was so glaringly bad as some posters and Sickles makes it out to be, that would be an obvious weak point to hit and break the line and from there roll up the line and take the key terrain. Never have I read of even one rebel suggesting to attack the Union position there for the third day. I think the lack of even a suggestion from the rebels to assault or even barrage on the third should give those disparaging the position some pause.
 

rpkennedy

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Ahh, so attacking that position is not the best way to assault and take the key terrain?

I just think that if the position was so glaringly bad as some posters and Sickles makes it out to be, that would be an obvious weak point to hit and break the line and from there roll up the line and take the key terrain. Never have I read of even one rebel suggesting to attack the Union position there for the third day. I think the lack of even a suggestion from the rebels to assault or even barrage on the third should give those disparaging the position some pause.

I would say that "glaringly bad" is an overstatement but there were weaknesses to the line. Large parts of the line were in low, swampy, and rocky ground which limited the use of artillery. In addition, there were woodlots that broke the fields of view to the front while the terrain (mostly the ERR but also Warfield Ridge, LRT, and BRT) hid the areas to the south and southwest from view. But, this position could anchor its left on LRT with its right firmly tied in with the Second Corps and it was close to reinforcements which could help support the line.

There were pros and cons to both positions but Sickles focused almost exclusively on the ERR and became fixated on that forward position. To my mind, what cinched the deal was when Buford's cavalry division was pulled out and never replaced that Sickles felt that he had to advance. He had lost his flank protection and acted in order to prevent the hammer that he was sure was being readied for his left.

Ryan
 

Lincoln56

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I would say that "glaringly bad" is an overstatement but there were weaknesses to the line. Large parts of the line were in low, swampy, and rocky ground which limited the use of artillery. In addition, there were woodlots that broke the fields of view to the front while the terrain (mostly the ERR but also Warfield Ridge, LRT, and BRT) hid the areas to the south and southwest from view. But, this position could anchor its left on LRT with its right firmly tied in with the Second Corps and it was close to reinforcements which could help support the line.

There were pros and cons to both positions but Sickles focused almost exclusively on the ERR and became fixated on that forward position. To my mind, what cinched the deal was when Buford's cavalry division was pulled out and never replaced that Sickles felt that he had to advance. He had lost his flank protection and acted in order to prevent the hammer that he was sure was being readied for his left.

Ryan
Ryan, I agree - I’d posited a similar thought in an earlier post in this thread - as a what-if - do people think Sickles would have advanced IF Buford’s cavalry would have been replaced on the left BEFORE Buford moved out? If Sickles would have moved forward regardless, then the point is moot.

While I don’t recall much emphasis being placed on the cavalry moving out on the left contributing to the days results perhaps this is due to a lack of the depth on my reading on the subject and maybe the question has been satisfactorily answered.

Sickles advancing or not advancing assuming replacement cavalry is present on his left adds a whole new perspective on the discussion.
 

rpkennedy

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Ryan, I agree - I’d posited a similar thought in an earlier post in this thread - as a what-if - do people think Sickles would have advanced IF Buford’s cavalry would have been replaced on the left BEFORE Buford moved out? If Sickles would have moved forward regardless, then the point is moot.

While I don’t recall much emphasis being placed on the cavalry moving out on the left contributing to the days results perhaps this is due to a lack of the depth on my reading on the subject and maybe the question has been satisfactorily answered.

Sickles advancing or not advancing assuming replacement cavalry is present on his left adds a whole new perspective on the discussion.
Sickles had become laser-focused on the ERR on July 2; I tend to think that he would have moved forward anyways but the difference might be that he wouldn't have felt that the situation had become so desperate that he had to move with or without permission. If Buford remains (or is relieved by another cavalry force), Sickles might have been more willing to work through the channels rather than taking the matter into his own hands.

Ryan
 

Belfoured

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Ryan, I agree - I’d posited a similar thought in an earlier post in this thread - as a what-if - do people think Sickles would have advanced IF Buford’s cavalry would have been replaced on the left BEFORE Buford moved out? If Sickles would have moved forward regardless, then the point is moot.

While I don’t recall much emphasis being placed on the cavalry moving out on the left contributing to the days results perhaps this is due to a lack of the depth on my reading on the subject and maybe the question has been satisfactorily answered.

Sickles advancing or not advancing assuming replacement cavalry is present on his left adds a whole new perspective on the discussion.
It doesn't really change the fatal flaws in his new position that resulted from the unilateral move, however. With all of the interesting points regarding the original line, etc, ultimately we have to look at his second line as it ended up in reality.
 
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