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?
 

joshrobmere

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Vincent is 1 brigade you’re talking about an entire corps with Sickles. Sickles knew what he was doing was not where Meade wanted him to position his troops.

he moves his corps to a position that it doesn’t have enough men to hold, and is too far to receive support from other forces if attacked. there’s no defensible reason for what he did.
What I am trying to get at is not a defense of Sickles or his move. I am posing the question: Is the move of July 2 criticized in as much depth and with as much passion because it was made by Sickles? There worse blunders made by other commanders throughout the war. What is it about Sickles that his blunder gets this much scrutiny? Is it the blunder or the man? Is it that it happened at Gettysburg? A combination of these things?
 

joshrobmere

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What I am trying to get at is not a defense of Sickles or his move. I am posing the question: Is the move of July 2 criticized in as much depth and with as much passion because it was made by Sickles? There worse blunders made by other commanders throughout the war. What is it about Sickles that his blunder gets this much scrutiny? Is it the blunder or the man? Is it that it happened at Gettysburg? A combination of these things?
I am doing research on how certain generals are remembered with the goal of publishing an article. Sickles has become a big part of my research. These questions I'm asking are questions that I have been asking myself. Thought I would pose them to get other interpretations.
 

Lubliner

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What I am trying to get at is not a defense of Sickles or his move. I am posing the question: Is the move of July 2 criticized in as much depth and with as much passion because it was made by Sickles? There worse blunders made by other commanders throughout the war. What is it about Sickles that his blunder gets this much scrutiny? Is it the blunder or the man? Is it that it happened at Gettysburg? A combination of these things?
I think it is more or less a sum total. The more controversy one causes will make a backlash inevitable. He disobeyed orders at the beginning, and argued his point to Meade. First controversy. He wouldn't allow the decision formed afterward to be accepted. Second controversy. He had plenty to say loudly about various things; many controversies. All these fueled one another. it is the man's character we now judge, being the military expedient is known.
Lubliner.
 

WScott

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Dan Sickles was a politician! Sickles was made a General because he was a politician, never showing much military skill. His decision to advance his Corps to the Emmitsburg Road was insubordination regardless of what HE thought. Meade established his defense so that each Corps could support each other, instead Dan got a lot of men killed and wounded that didn't need to be. I agree with others that had he stayed were he was supposed to be the Confederate attack would have petered.
 

Belfoured

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It is curious that Sickles is heavily criticized and Francis Channing Barlow, for the most part, escapes such scrutiny for his move on July 1. I've heard someone say that Barlow "pulled a Sickles" before Sickles had a chance to do it the following day. In 1863 Barlow was not a likable individual. After the battle, he blamed the Germans under his command for what happened to his division. Should Barlow receive as much scrutiny as Sickles? Thoughts?
In a word, "yes". His tactics on July 1 were inept.
 

jackt62

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It is curious that Sickles is heavily criticized and Francis Channing Barlow, for the most part, escapes such scrutiny for his move on July 1. I've heard someone say that Barlow "pulled a Sickles" before Sickles had a chance to do it the following day. In 1863 Barlow was not a likable individual. After the battle, he blamed the Germans under his command for what happened to his division. Should Barlow receive as much scrutiny as Sickles? Thoughts?
Barlow's movement to the knoll salient may have been a mistake, but unlike Sickles' movement, was probably not deliberately thought out or planned in advance. Sickles move occurred at the onset of the fighting on Day 2 in direct contravention to orders, whereas Barlow and his division were already engaged in holding off the Confederate 2nd Corps. Barlow did not have the stature of being Corps commander, as was Sickles; moreover, Sickles had greater public notoriety because of his past reputation so greater criticism could be expected. Finally, Barlow commanded a division in the XI Corps, which had been tarnished for its performance at Chancellorsville, unfairly I might add. So once again, most of the criticism for Gettysburg Day 1, fell on that hapless Corps and Howard, its commander, rather than on subordinate officers.
 

Belfoured

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I am doing research on how certain generals are remembered with the goal of publishing an article. Sickles has become a big part of my research. These questions I'm asking are questions that I have been asking myself. Thought I would pose them to get other interpretations.
I don't think those who have analyzed the decision in detail - just for example, Dave Powell published an excellent article in Gettysburg magazine - have to any extent based their analysis on Dirty Dan's character. One can look at the decision from a strictly tactical perspective, as pointed out in several posts, and conclude that the decision was wrong. On the other hand, it's fair to add in Sickles' aversion to honesty when assessing his post-battle "justifications".
 

jackt62

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What I am trying to get at is not a defense of Sickles or his move. I am posing the question: Is the move of July 2 criticized in as much depth and with as much passion because it was made by Sickles? There worse blunders made by other commanders throughout the war. What is it about Sickles that his blunder gets this much scrutiny? Is it the blunder or the man? Is it that it happened at Gettysburg? A combination of these things?
Sickles was a showman, who relished being a celebrity and gadfly. He maintained that image from his celebrated trial for shooting Philip Barton Key, through his political maneuvering which got him a Medal of Honor, his quarrels with Hooker and Meade, and his long career promoting how he "saved" the Union at Gettysburg. Very likely, had his move on Day 2 been made by many another general, that officer would have been court-martialed.
 

rpkennedy

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Barlow's movement to the knoll salient may have been a mistake, but unlike Sickles' movement, was probably not deliberately thought out or planned in advance. Sickles move occurred at the onset of the fighting on Day 2 in direct contravention to orders, whereas Barlow and his division were already engaged in holding off the Confederate 2nd Corps. Barlow did not have the stature of being Corps commander, as was Sickles; moreover, Sickles had greater public notoriety because of his past reputation so greater criticism could be expected. Finally, Barlow commanded a division in the XI Corps, which had been tarnished for its performance at Chancellorsville, unfairly I might add. So once again, most of the criticism for Gettysburg Day 1, fell on that hapless Corps and Howard, its commander, rather than on subordinate officers.

I believe that Barlow's move was deliberate and thought through. Honestly, his move makes sense if he thinks that the threat to the Eleventh Corps is coming from the area around Oak Hill as his move to Blocher's Knoll puts him in a position to strike any threat from the northwest in the flank (he was in a position to attack Doles if/when he advanced against Schimmelfennig's Division on the Gettysburg plain). The problem is that it left him extremely vulnerable to attack from the northeast, which is exactly the direction that Early's Division was already deploying. The skirmishers that Barlow deployed on his right flank (Elements of the 17th Connecticut) were simply insufficient to do much at all before the attack smashed into the rest of the division and the deployment of the division was shaky at best. It also didn't help that Barlow fell almost at the start of the attack which left his command leaderless at a critical moment (although I don't think that there was much that he would have been able to do even if he had not been seriously wounded).

Ryan
 

rpkennedy

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I don't think those who have analyzed the decision in detail - just for example, Dave Powell published an excellent article in Gettysburg magazine - have to any extent based their analysis on Dirty Dan's character. One can look at the decision from a strictly tactical perspective, as pointed out in several posts, and conclude that the decision was wrong. On the other hand, it's fair to add in Sickles' aversion to honesty when assessing his post-battle "justifications".

I would also recommend James Hessler's two books that deal heavily with Sickles in order to understand what he may or may not have been thinking. Sickles at Gettysburg: The Controversial Civil War General Who Committed Murder, Abandoned Little Round Top, and Declared Himself the Hero of Gettysburg is a very good biography of the man and Gettysburg's Peach Orchard: Longstreet, Sickles, and the Bloody Fight for the "Commanding Ground" Along the Emmitsburg Road (with Britt Isenberg) deals heavily with the question of what Sickles was thinking on July 2.

Ryan
 

jackt62

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I believe that Barlow's move was deliberate and thought through. Honestly, his move makes sense if he thinks that the threat to the Eleventh Corps is coming from the area around Oak Hill as his move to Blocher's Knoll puts him in a position to strike any threat from the northwest in the flank (he was in a position to attack Doles if/when he advanced against Schimmelfennig's Division on the Gettysburg plain).
Yes, I do not mean to say that his move was accidental, or that he knowingly placed his men in a position of jeopardy. While both Barlow and Sickles may have believed that their respective movements were reasonable under the circumstances, Sickles disregarded orders to hold an assigned position before battle, and largely based his move on his past experience at Hazel Grove, which did not necessarily translate into taking similar action at Gettysburg.
 

Jamieva

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I would also recommend James Hessler's two books that deal heavily with Sickles in order to understand what he may or may not have been thinking. Sickles at Gettysburg: The Controversial Civil War General Who Committed Murder, Abandoned Little Round Top, and Declared Himself the Hero of Gettysburg is a very good biography of the man and Gettysburg's Peach Orchard: Longstreet, Sickles, and the Bloody Fight for the "Commanding Ground" Along the Emmitsburg Road (with Britt Isenberg) deals heavily with the question of what Sickles was thinking on July 2.

Ryan

agree. Hesslers books on the topic are great
 

Belfoured

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I would also recommend James Hessler's two books that deal heavily with Sickles in order to understand what he may or may not have been thinking. Sickles at Gettysburg: The Controversial Civil War General Who Committed Murder, Abandoned Little Round Top, and Declared Himself the Hero of Gettysburg is a very good biography of the man and Gettysburg's Peach Orchard: Longstreet, Sickles, and the Bloody Fight for the "Commanding Ground" Along the Emmitsburg Road (with Britt Isenberg) deals heavily with the question of what Sickles was thinking on July 2.

Ryan
Good recommendation - both are well-done. I mention the Powell article because it is focused only on the decision and the analysis is very difficult to question.
 

Belfoured

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I believe that Barlow's move was deliberate and thought through. Honestly, his move makes sense if he thinks that the threat to the Eleventh Corps is coming from the area around Oak Hill as his move to Blocher's Knoll puts him in a position to strike any threat from the northwest in the flank (he was in a position to attack Doles if/when he advanced against Schimmelfennig's Division on the Gettysburg plain). The problem is that it left him extremely vulnerable to attack from the northeast, which is exactly the direction that Early's Division was already deploying. The skirmishers that Barlow deployed on his right flank (Elements of the 17th Connecticut) were simply insufficient to do much at all before the attack smashed into the rest of the division and the deployment of the division was shaky at best. It also didn't help that Barlow fell almost at the start of the attack which left his command leaderless at a critical moment (although I don't think that there was much that he would have been able to do even if he had not been seriously wounded).

Ryan
Good analysis. I didn't mean to suggest that Barlow's decision fit the problematic context of how Sickles acted - just that it proved to be a bad tactical move. (Although, as others have noted, Barlow's biased finger-pointing at the Germans was hardly commendable).
 

Belfoured

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Sickles was a showman, who relished being a celebrity and gadfly. He maintained that image from his celebrated trial for shooting Philip Barton Key, through his political maneuvering which got him a Medal of Honor, his quarrels with Hooker and Meade, and his long career promoting how he "saved" the Union at Gettysburg. Very likely, had his move on Day 2 been made by many another general, that officer would have been court-martialed.
Agree. Of course, it helped that Dirty Dan's foolishness cost him a leg.
 

joshrobmere

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I would also recommend James Hessler's two books that deal heavily with Sickles in order to understand what he may or may not have been thinking. Sickles at Gettysburg: The Controversial Civil War General Who Committed Murder, Abandoned Little Round Top, and Declared Himself the Hero of Gettysburg is a very good biography of the man and Gettysburg's Peach Orchard: Longstreet, Sickles, and the Bloody Fight for the "Commanding Ground" Along the Emmitsburg Road (with Britt Isenberg) deals heavily with the question of what Sickles was thinking on July 2.

Ryan
I am working my way through Sickles at Gettysburg right now. I plan on reading Gettysburg's Peach Orchard next. Thank you.
 

joshrobmere

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I don't think those who have analyzed the decision in detail - just for example, Dave Powell published an excellent article in Gettysburg magazine - have to any extent based their analysis on Dirty Dan's character. One can look at the decision from a strictly tactical perspective, as pointed out in several posts, and conclude that the decision was wrong. On the other hand, it's fair to add in Sickles' aversion to honesty when assessing his post-battle "justifications".
Thank you for the source.
 
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