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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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?
 

neyankee61

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Oct 30, 2018
This may have been already mentioned but...Sickles may have fixated on the Emmitsburg Rd because one-third of his Corps (2 Brigades, Burling's and DeTrobriand's plus two batteries) and the Corps train had to use the road to come up. Numerous aides were sent to hurry them up and orders were sent to turn off the trains at the Greenmount intersection and for the Brigades to follow. Even though the trains did the two Brigades continued up the road. Sickles became so concerned he sent Gen'l Graham to find out what the delay was. The road was in rough shape following the over night rain, the I Corps men and wagons, and the III Corps men and ammo wagons passage, churging it up. The two Brigades arrived after 9AM but Sickles had spent the morning looking at and worrying about the road and the elevated ground to his front. His focus was there.
 

29thWisCoG

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His original line was somewhat like a V shape, from the 2nd Corps on the right sloping down to the base of LRT then to the top of LRT... it was partially wooded in the lower/middle portions, why would this be so difficult to defend compared to where he moved his line up to the PO Salient?
 

Belfoured

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Aug 3, 2019
His original line was somewhat like a V shape, from the 2nd Corps on the right sloping down to the base of LRT then to the top of LRT... it was partially wooded in the lower/middle portions, why would this be so difficult to defend compared to where he moved his line up to the PO Salient?
That may be why, as I pointed out, Hunt's apparent concern about that line was not whether it could be defended, but whether it was favorable for offensive operations.
 

OpnCoronet

Lt. Colonel
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Feb 23, 2010
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.
Thank you. One of my great regrets in life has been my inability to walk the Gettysburg Battlefield.
 

Saint Jude

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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.
Barlow also said that he was in the position he had been ordered to be in.
 

CavRTO

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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.
Absolutely true. He should have been court martialed. Meade ordered Sickles where to place his troops not once or twice but 3 times.
 

Texas Yank

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Mar 25, 2020
Absolutely true. He should have been court martialed. Meade ordered Sickles where to place his troops not once or twice but 3 times.
To his dying day, he held firm in his belief that disregarding Meade's placement of his Corps was the right thing to do. Further, he felt that this move led to the ultimate "softening" of Longstreet's attack up the Emmitsburg Rd. How's that for arrogance??
 

rpkennedy

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Absolutely true. He should have been court martialed. Meade ordered Sickles where to place his troops not once or twice but 3 times.
In fairness to Sickles, on three occasions, he informed Meade that he did not know where he was supposed to be, in part because he didn't know where Geary's men had been the previous night. That said, it was Sickles' responsibility to go to Meade and try to figure out exactly where he wanted Sickles to deploy although Meade should have understood that Sickles could not be treated as a typical corps commander since he was not a West Pointer and had to be given more specific instructions. In addition, Meade was far more concerned (understandably) about his right and kind of relegated his left to the back burner which led to Sickles become agitated as the day went on and he observed Confederates moving across his front.

Ryan
 

Saphroneth

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Feb 18, 2017
In fairness to Sickles, on three occasions, he informed Meade that he did not know where he was supposed to be, in part because he didn't know where Geary's men had been the previous night. That said, it was Sickles' responsibility to go to Meade and try to figure out exactly where he wanted Sickles to deploy although Meade should have understood that Sickles could not be treated as a typical corps commander since he was not a West Pointer and had to be given more specific instructions. In addition, Meade was far more concerned (understandably) about his right and kind of relegated his left to the back burner which led to Sickles become agitated as the day went on and he observed Confederates moving across his front.
I mean, let's be clear about this - Sickles was absolutely right that his sector was where the main Confederate attack was going to fall, and Meade disregarded Sickles' (correct) warning.

Furthermore, when Meade sent Hunt to quiet Sickles down by reassuring him about the ground not being as vulnerable as it looked, Hunt actually agreed with Sickles not Meade.

There were two fundamental aspects to Sickles' worry:

1) The ground on which I have been placed is vulnerable.
2) The enemy is going to attack my sector.

(1) may be true or false, but if false then it's not the sort of thing that is obviously false to any trained West Pointer. Hunt looked at it and agreed with Sickles.
(2) was true. No ifs/ands/buts about it, this was where the Confederate main effort was that day, or to be precise it is where the Confederate attack started (as Lee planned an echelon attack).


Meade may have been more focused on his right, but he arrived on the field at midnight on day 1 and Longstreet's attack went in around 4PM on day 2. He had sufficient time to tour the whole front line, including to go over and check on Sickles, even if only to positively assure him that the place where Sickles had been assigned was correct; instead he gave Sickles every reason to believe that Meade was ignoring him and unaware of the danger - particularly when Hunt concurred with Sickles!
 

John Hartwell

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Years later, Longstreet affirmed that Sickles' movement surprised him and 'unbalanced' his attack. But Pete and Dan were 'good buddies' by then.
fdhg-jpeg.jpg

[Pittsburgh Dispatch, March 19, 1892]​
Would love to have been there.
 
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Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Getty.jpg




This map is a map I made taking the intended line of advance for Longstreet's corps (red-yellow-orange), and superimposing on it in cyan Sickles' actual position. Based on this, it looks like Longstreet's attack essentially turns into an echelon attack more or less by default, with Hood's right wing aimed at Sickles' left.

Perhaps this is a situation in which Sickles can fight off Longstreet's entire corps without significant reinforcement, but if he's forced back more than a couple of hundred yards (which is quite possible given that it's an attack which historically inflicted heavy casualties on something like half the Union army) then the Union's lost the Taneytown road and needs to commit reinforcements urgently to recapture it.


Furthermore, 3rd Corps wasn't all that strong, and the reinforcements sent to bolster Sickles by Meade actually outnumbered 3rd Corps. If "a number of men equal in strength to 3rd Corps" can hold the sector 3rd Corps was historically assigned by Meade, then those reinforcements shouldn't have had any trouble holding Longstreet off - but in fact they had considerable trouble, even with Hood's entire division buggering off to attack the Round Tops.


This doesn't change that Sickles disobeyed orders, but it instead highlights that Sickles was being placed in an impossible position. An attack with a credible chance of defeating the Army of the Potomac was brewing and he raised the alarm about it (correctly), and Meade dismissed him; he can either stick to his position and (he believes) potentially doom the Army of the Potomac, or exercise discretion and depart from his assigned sector.

Not a happy situation to be in.
 

CavRTO

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In fairness to Sickles, on three occasions, he informed Meade that he did not know where he was supposed to be, in part because he didn't know where Geary's men had been the previous night. That said, it was Sickles' responsibility to go to Meade and try to figure out exactly where he wanted Sickles to deploy although Meade should have understood that Sickles could not be treated as a typical corps commander since he was not a West Pointer and had to be given more specific instructions. In addition, Meade was far more concerned (understandably) about his right and kind of relegated his left to the back burner which led to Sickles become agitated as the day went on and he observed Confederates moving across his front.

Ryan
I respectfully disagree with you. Sickles received his first orders from Meade thru General Slocum who went so far as to show Sickles on Captain Paine's map the placement of the Third Corps. Initially Meade had to search for Sickles and found him and his corps in encampment behind the lines Meade was rushing to establish. I can understand Sickles confusion during their first encounter, but by the second order from Meade he was getting established where Meade ordered him via General Slocum. He didn't like the position so he took it upon himself to move his corps forward without informing Meade. When Meade inspected the lines he found that Sickles wasn't where he was supposed to be and rode off to find him and get him to move back. By the time Meade finally located him all hell broke lose on Sickles corps and it was too late to fall back.
In summary, Sickles had initially occupied his assigned defense position, didn't like it and then he took it upon himself to move forward creating a salient which was indefensible. Sickles was guilty of disobeying an order and dereliction of duty by placing his troops in an indefensible position thereby causing catastrophic casualties on his and supporting corps sent to reinforce his failure. In addition it threatened the integrity of the rest of the Union line. Also, his location precluded his corps trains and artillery from supporting him. Nothing short of a court martial should've been his reward, not the Congressional Medal of Honor. His defense of confusion about Meade's order doesn't hold water.
 
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Saphroneth

Major
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Feb 18, 2017
He didn't like the position so he took it upon himself to move his corps forward without informing Meade.
This is false, though, or at least incomplete? Sickles repeatedly contacted Meade during the morning to let him know that he felt the position was deficient, but Meade ignored him; when Meade sent Hunt to shut Sickles up, Hunt agreed with Sickles about the deficiencies of the position.
 

CavRTO

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I mean, let's be clear about this - Sickles was absolutely right that his sector was where the main Confederate attack was going to fall, and Meade disregarded Sickles' (correct) warning.

Furthermore, when Meade sent Hunt to quiet Sickles down by reassuring him about the ground not being as vulnerable as it looked, Hunt actually agreed with Sickles not Meade.

There were two fundamental aspects to Sickles' worry:

1) The ground on which I have been placed is vulnerable.
2) The enemy is going to attack my sector.

(1) may be true or false, but if false then it's not the sort of thing that is obviously false to any trained West Pointer. Hunt looked at it and agreed with Sickles.
(2) was true. No ifs/ands/buts about it, this was where the Confederate main effort was that day, or to be precise it is where the Confederate attack started (as Lee planned an echelon attack).


Meade may have been more focused on his right, but he arrived on the field at midnight on day 1 and Longstreet's attack went in around 4PM on day 2. He had sufficient time to tour the whole front line, including to go over and check on Sickles, even if only to positively assure him that the place where Sickles had been assigned was correct; instead he gave Sickles every reason to believe that Meade was ignoring him and unaware of the danger - particularly when Hunt concurred with Sickles!
Hunt was not the Commander of the Army of the Potomac. That Sickles was made to believe Meade was ignoring him doesn't exhonorate him from disobeying Meade's order. That sounds like an excuse not a reason.
 

Scott Brown

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Jul 14, 2018
This is false, though, or at least incomplete? Sickles repeatedly contacted Meade during the morning to let him know that he felt the position was deficient, but Meade ignored him; when Meade sent Hunt to shut Sickles up, Hunt agreed with Sickles about the deficiencies of the position.
I respectfully disagree. There is nothing in the extant record that verifies that Sickles voiced concerns about a “deficient“ position. In the early morning, he expressed confusion over where to place his line, and stressed that Geary, whom he was instructed to relieve, wasn’t in - or didn’t have - a position.And there are no Third Corps accounts that reference Hazel Grove as a reason for taking up that ‘new’ line. And there were no repeated attempts to inform Meade that the original line was deficient.
Tremain’s Two Days of War is a highly recommended read on this topic. He made six trips to hq on July 2 (before the shooting started). On two of those trips he simply accompanied Sickles. The other four, by his own admission, had nothing to do with complaining about the assigned line.
 

Saphroneth

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Feb 18, 2017
Hunt was not the Commander of the Army of the Potomac. That Sickles was made to believe Meade was ignoring him doesn't exhonorate him from disobeying Meade's order. That sounds like an excuse not a reason.
But Hunt was sent by Meade to check if Sickles was correct, and Hunt agreed with Sickles.


The question that needs to be asked here is this - in what way can Sickles get the information to Meade that there is a problem, and how should Meade have then reacted?

What Sickles did historically was to repeatedly inform Meade that there was a problem in his opinion. He said the position was weak, and he said that the enemy was planning to attack in his sector (the second point is true).

Meade's response to this could have been:
1) Take Sickles' comments seriously and view them as correct, and reposition Sickles in a better position.
2) Take Sickles' comments seriously and go over to check the ground, to affirm that Sickles' current position is the correct one.
3) Send a staff officer (like, say, Hunt) over to check if Sickles is correct, and if he is then take Sickles' comments seriously (as above).

Instead, what Meade did was to dismiss Sickles' concerns. He responded to Sickles saying the enemy was going to attack in his sector by saying that all commanders think the attack is going to come in their sector (which led to him ignoring a true warning of the attack position) and he did not go over to check the ground - something he could have done at any time and which would have consumed some time, certainly. Instead, he sent over Hunt but then didn't listen when Hunt concurred with Sickles, which means he didn't send over Hunt to actually find out if Sickles was right - he sent Hunt over to shut Sickles up.
 

Saphroneth

Major
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Feb 18, 2017
I respectfully disagree. There is nothing in the extant record that verifies that Sickles voiced concerns about a “deficient“ position. In the early morning, he expressed confusion over where to place his line, and stressed that Geary, whom he was instructed to relieve, wasn’t in - or didn’t have - a position.And there are no Third Corps accounts that reference Hazel Grove as a reason for taking up that ‘new’ line. And there were no repeated attempts to inform Meade that the original line was deficient.
Tremain’s Two Days of War is a highly recommended read on this topic. He made six trips to hq on July 2 (before the shooting started). On two of those trips he simply accompanied Sickles. The other four, by his own admission, had nothing to do with complaining about the assigned line.
It's certainly my understanding that Hunt was sent, and concurred with Sickles about the risk to the line; also that Hunt went to consult with Meade about it, and there were several hours between that event and Sickles' actual advance. Is that incorrect?
 

CavRTO

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But Hunt was sent by Meade to check if Sickles was correct, and Hunt agreed with Sickles.


The question that needs to be asked here is this - in what way can Sickles get the information to Meade that there is a problem, and how should Meade have then reacted?

What Sickles did historically was to repeatedly inform Meade that there was a problem in his opinion. He said the position was weak, and he said that the enemy was planning to attack in his sector (the second point is true).

Meade's response to this could have been:
1) Take Sickles' comments seriously and view them as correct, and reposition Sickles in a better position.
2) Take Sickles' comments seriously and go over to check the ground, to affirm that Sickles' current position is the correct one.
3) Send a staff officer (like, say, Hunt) over to check if Sickles is correct, and if he is then take Sickles' comments seriously (as above).

Instead, what Meade did was to dismiss Sickles' concerns. He responded to Sickles saying the enemy was going to attack in his sector by saying that all commanders think the attack is going to come in their sector (which led to him ignoring a true warning of the attack position) and he did not go over to check the ground - something he could have done at any time and which would have consumed some time, certainly. Instead, he sent over Hunt but then didn't listen when Hunt concurred with Sickles, which means he didn't send over Hunt to actually find out if Sickles was right - he sent Hunt over to shut Sickles up.
Gen. Hunt wrote "Gettysburg was not a good strategical position for us, and the circumstances under which our army was assembled limited us tactically to a strict defensive battle". If all things were perfect he would be correct, but things weren't perfect and Meade was compelled to defend what he was forced into. Meade would've preferred to draw Lee into battle at Big Pipe Creek in Maryland.
Given what General Hunt wrote, he was already biased toward defending at Gettysburg so it makes sense that he would agree with Sickles. But he wasn't Meade, and Meade wanted defended what he viewed as the overall best defense. It wasn't up to Hunt or Sickles to second guess and countermand Meade's orders. When you're given an order your only response is, "yes sir, yes sir, three bags full", and carry out your orders.
 

Scott Brown

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Jul 14, 2018
It's certainly my understanding that Hunt was sent, and concurred with Sickles about the risk to the line; also that Hunt went to consult with Meade about it, and there were several hours between that event and Sickles' actual advance. Is that incorrect?
It’s complicated, but Hunt did write in Battles and Leaders that he was asked to examine a new line “as he thought the one assigned to him was not a good one, especially that he could not use his artillery there.”

However, Hunt went on the explain the problems associated with this “new line”, and reported back to Meade. I guess it depends on what you mean by Sickles’s advance, but Graham moved out to the PO in response to the Pitzers recon.
 
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