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?
 

29thWisCoG

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Some thoughts after reading some of these discussions:

Terrain

While I would not characterize the terrain that Sickles was supposed to hold as a "hole" like he did, there are spots where it was noticably lower than the Emmitsburg Road ridge to his front. In addition, it was poorly suited for artillery as there were numerous woodlots that cut down sight lines but it was also quite rocky, hindering the guns' deployment. For modern reference, the Third Corps line extended from about the Father Corby monument to Munshower's Knoll. I get why Sickles didn't like his position but his problem was his inability to see the bigger picture and how he fit within the greater plan. As James Hessler puts it, Sickles was an emotional man who led with his gut but needed affirmation. As early as the morning of July 2, he was already looking to the front and developed tunnel vision regarding the two positions. He never went to LRT and never really scouted the Second Corps' position to see how he fit in with the rest of the army.

Communication

Something that also needs to be addressed is the relationship between Sickles and Meade. They did not get along at all and on several occasions that morning, they were essentially talking past one another. Meade only sent verbal orders to Sickles and Sickles repeatedly stated that he didn't understand exactly where he was supposed to be (he was supposed to place his left where Geary's Division had been camped the night before but he did not know where Geary had been and, to be fair, we still don't know definitively where Geary was). Sickles was afraid that he was going to become the Eleventh Corps at Chancellorsville and the ridge to his front caused him a lot of concern. When Meade finally dispatched Hunt with Sickles late in the morning, Sickles took him out to the ridge in addition to showing him the line on the ridge that he wanted to occupy. Hunt agreed with Sickles that the ridge was a better position but pointed out that if the Confederates held Seminary Ridge, it was going to be very difficult to hold (which prompted Sickles to dispatch the 3rd Maine and 1st United States Sharpshooters to Pitzer's Woods where they bump into Anderson's Division moving into position). This firefight fed into Sickles' fear about the Rebels trying to get around his flank and when Buford's Division was ordered out for refitting, it was the straw that broke the camel's back. With no one watching his flank, Sickles felt that he had to take the ridge but in doing so, put his men right into the frying pan and then botched the deployment, leaving his corps spread too thin and exposed.

Ryan
Thank you for mentioning this, that has been my theory is that Sickles really didn't understand where Meade wanted him, or how he fit into the overall defensive scheme for the AoTP, and so he acted on his own accord.
 

29thWisCoG

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So if Sickles was on the original line he would have been attacked in the front by McLaws and his left by Hood, probably too much for him to overcome on his own... but wouldn't he have fallen back towards the 2nd Corps and reconsolidated his line, receiving support there to repulse Longstreet?
 

OpnCoronet

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The original Union line was actually even further south than Lee had thought, and it was anchored on LRT. As for the Peach Orchard position, Powell has explained its vulnerability to Union guns along the Ridge. So while Alexander's boys were launching long range shots at the Hill, they would have been taking a large dose of incoming. As for anything about Lee not managing Longstreet adequately, I assume you're referring to the conventional wisdom that Longstreet delayed implementing what Lee wanted him to do. I found Pfarr's excellent 2019 book (that I referred to in an earlier post) very enlightening on this subject.
We certainly have serious disagreement. However, I will only point out, that Sickles' original position barely stretched to the base of LRT, as I noted the hill itself was occupied., and, again, the position was not strong, even if III Corps were at full strength. As it was, as I noted, II Corps was stretched to the limit to reach LRT, with not ready reserves to meet any serious attack.

The important thing about the plateau on which the Peach Orchard rested, was how important was it to Lee? On military matter, especially tactical, I think Lee is very reliable as to what he thinks is important or not. I tend to refer to him.

One of my main points concerning the OP, is that we cannot know what or why anything could or would have happened, based upon conjectures of events that do not happen. But, I am sure there are just as many pros and cons of speculative scenarios, as there are for the events that did happen. Such speculations are useful as mental exercises, but, IMO, are sterile of any really useful historical content.
 

rpkennedy

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So if Sickles was on the original line he would have been attacked in the front by McLaws and his left by Hood, probably too much for him to overcome on his own... but wouldn't he have fallen back towards the 2nd Corps and reconsolidated his line, receiving support there to repulse Longstreet?

The plan was for the axis of advance to parallel the Emmitsburg Road and roll up the Union line as it proceeded northeast. Without Union troops along the Emmitsburg Road ridge (sort of where they were thought to be but their line extended much further than expected). If Sickles wasn't on the ridge, there's no way to know what Longstreet would have done. I could even argue that an attack would have been delayed until July 3 while Longstreet and Lee ascertained where the Yankee line actually was and how far south it went.

Ryan
 

MichaelWinicki

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So if Sickles was on the original line he would have been attacked in the front by McLaws and his left by Hood, probably too much for him to overcome on his own... but wouldn't he have fallen back towards the 2nd Corps and reconsolidated his line, receiving support there to repulse Longstreet?

It's hard to say how the engagement would have taken place if Sickles had adhered to the positioning as desired by Meade.

To say the attack would have transpired as Longstreet originally intended (as intended by Lee) is conjecture. As it went as we know it, the attack direction was altered based on what the Confederate's found in front of them. The perpendicular attack, using the Emmitsburg Road as a guide did not occur as intended.

Bottom line I'm thinking any Confederate attack based on Sickles position (as intended by Meade) would have changed direction mid-stream if necessary.

In addition even if Sickles had stayed in the Meade-suggestion position, I'm betting a strong line of skirmishers would have been out in somewhat similar fashion to what Sickles line ended up being, i.e. along the Emmitsburg Road and back towards Devils Den/Little Round Top, which would have clued the Confederates that a stronger line of Federals were behind the skirmishers somewhere.
 

MichaelWinicki

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The plan was for the axis of advance to parallel the Emmitsburg Road and roll up the Union line as it proceeded northeast. Without Union troops along the Emmitsburg Road ridge (sort of where they were thought to be but their line extended much further than expected). If Sickles wasn't on the ridge, there's no way to know what Longstreet would have done. I could even argue that an attack would have been delayed until July 3 while Longstreet and Lee ascertained where the Yankee line actually was and how far south it went.

Ryan

There's merit in that thought.
 

Belfoured

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We certainly have serious disagreement. However, I will only point out, that Sickles' original position barely stretched to the base of LRT, as I noted the hill itself was occupied., and, again, the position was not strong, even if III Corps were at full strength. As it was, as I noted, II Corps was stretched to the limit to reach LRT, with not ready reserves to meet any serious attack.

The important thing about the plateau on which the Peach Orchard rested, was how important was it to Lee? On military matter, especially tactical, I think Lee is very reliable as to what he thinks is important or not. I tend to refer to him.

One of my main points concerning the OP, is that we cannot know what or why anything could or would have happened, based upon conjectures of events that do not happen. But, I am sure there are just as many pros and cons of speculative scenarios, as there are for the events that did happen. Such speculations are useful as mental exercises, but, IMO, are sterile of any really useful historical content.
So that I understand, are you (1) asserting that the decision to move unilaterally was correct or not or are you (2) simply explaining why Sickles correctly assessed the benefits of a coordinated movement forward? Apologies if I missed that. And to be clear, I'm relying only to some extent on my own personal analysis of what was relevant to the decision. For general enlightenment, it would be helpful for someone to explain in specific detail where Dave Powell got it wrong. He's not the only qualified authority who has concluded that but I have found his evaluation to be one of the more detailed and focused.
 

Eric Wittenberg

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It's hard to say how the engagement would have taken place if Sickles had adhered to the positioning as desired by Meade.

To say the attack would have transpired as Longstreet originally intended (as intended by Lee) is conjecture. As it went as we know it, the attack direction was altered based on what the Confederate's found in front of them. The perpendicular attack, using the Emmitsburg Road as a guide did not occur as intended.

Bottom line I'm thinking any Confederate attack based on Sickles position (as intended by Meade) would have changed direction mid-stream if necessary.

In addition even if Sickles had stayed in the Meade-suggestion position, I'm betting a strong line of skirmishers would have been out in somewhat similar fashion to what Sickles line ended up being, i.e. along the Emmitsburg Road and back towards Devils Den/Little Round Top, which would have clued the Confederates that a stronger line of Federals were behind the skirmishers somewhere.
Not desired.

Ordered.
 

OpnCoronet

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In one respect, I find the thinking that led to the outflanking of the AoP at Chancellorsville very similar to Day 2 at Gettysburg.

Hooker placed XI Corps at the farthest end of his line safel, it was assumed, away from any serious fighting, because those at Hooker's Hdqtrs did not trust Howard or his men. Meade , seemed to assume from his disposition, that the main threat was to his Cemetery Hill/Cup's Hill positions. and put Sickles' and his men as far away from the expected danger area, because Meade did not trust Sickle's and his men.

Apparently, Sickle's learned from Chancellorsville and Meade apparently did not.
 

Carronade

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Lee's strategy was based on an erroneous idea of where the Union line was. Sickles moved his troops up to where the Confederates expected to find them.

Had Sickles followed orders, the initial Confederate advance would have been into the air, across his front, subject to flanking fire. No doubt the rebels would soon realize their mistake and redeploy to attack the actual Union position, but they would be doing this under observation and fire. As they turned, Hood's division would be in front/in the way of McLaws'. The end result would be a series of frontal assaults against troops dug in on a ridge.

Again, all this would be happening under observation from the Union lines, allowing the Yankees to reinforce or extend their position.
 

Belfoured

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In one respect, I find the thinking that led to the outflanking of the AoP at Chancellorsville very similar to Day 2 at Gettysburg.

Hooker placed XI Corps at the farthest end of his line safel, it was assumed, away from any serious fighting, because those at Hooker's Hdqtrs did not trust Howard or his men. Meade , seemed to assume from his disposition, that the main threat was to his Cemetery Hill/Cup's Hill positions. and put Sickles' and his men as far away from the expected danger area, because Meade did not trust Sickle's and his men.

Apparently, Sickle's learned from Chancellorsville and Meade apparently did not.
Really? At the time that Hooker placed the XI Corps at Chancellorsville, Lee/Jackson were to the south of that line and the XI Corps was facing south. It continued to do so as Jackson used most of the day to head west, then north, and then stage a flanking attack from the west. Let's take Meade's original line and the intended Confederate attack and show the similarity. As for what Sickles "learned" from Chancellorsville, it had to do with his position on May 3 and Hazel Grove. The Powell analysis shows that he "learned" the wrong lesson.
 

Belfoured

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Lee's strategy was based on an erroneous idea of where the Union line was. Sickles moved his troops up to where the Confederates expected to find them.

Had Sickles followed orders, the initial Confederate advance would have been into the air, across his front, subject to flanking fire. No doubt the rebels would soon realize their mistake and redeploy to attack the actual Union position, but they would be doing this under observation and fire. As they turned, Hood's division would be in front/in the way of McLaws'. The end result would be a series of frontal assaults against troops dug in on a ridge.

Again, all this would be happening under observation from the Union lines, allowing the Yankees to reinforce or extend their position.
Exactly. There appear to be two completely different maps in play here.
 

MichaelWinicki

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Lee's strategy was based on an erroneous idea of where the Union line was. Sickles moved his troops up to where the Confederates expected to find them.

Had Sickles followed orders, the initial Confederate advance would have been into the air, across his front, subject to flanking fire. No doubt the rebels would soon realize their mistake and redeploy to attack the actual Union position, but they would be doing this under observation and fire. As they turned, Hood's division would be in front/in the way of McLaws'. The end result would be a series of frontal assaults against troops dug in on a ridge.

Again, all this would be happening under observation from the Union lines, allowing the Yankees to reinforce or extend their position.

Agree on the thought that Lee's strategy was based on the incorrect assumption of where the Union left flank was.

A couple thoughts on the rest...

Doubtful the III Corps would have been dug in.

There was not much of a ridge south of the present Father Colby monument. And what ridge there was, was tree covered in front making it of questionable military value. And in front of this ridge were additional woodlots further reducing visibility for any defenders on the slightly higher ground.

And I would bet dollars to donuts that if Sickles had occupied the line envisioned by Meade that a strong skirmish line would have been put forth in the Peach Orchard and along the Emmitsburg Road, which would have alerted Longstreet's group that the Union presents in the area wasn't as it seemed from early in the morning on July 2nd.
 

Joshism

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I'm in the camp that finds Sickles behavior inexcusable insubordinate.

And on top of that he was simply wrong.

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 probably warrants more discussion, but he was on the end of a weak line that would have been routed by Ewell whether he occupied his knoll or not. A Union defensive line north of Gettysburg simply wasn't tenable.

Do we criticize Sickles for not following orders or respecting the chain of command? Strong Vincent didn't have orders from his commanding officer to do what he did.

Vincent was part of a corps in reserve. Altered to a problem that needed an immediate solution he marched to the guns rather than wait for orders he would have received anyway through the normal chain of command.

If anything, Vincent vs Sickles seems an excellent example of the difference between initiative and insubordination.

In no way did Longstreet waste time that morning.

Depends on whether you think his countermarch was a waste of time or it it was important than he not be seen.
 

joshrobmere

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I'm in the camp that finds Sickles behavior inexcusable insubordinate.

And on top of that he was simply wrong.



Barlow probably warrants more discussion, but he was on the end of a weak line that would have been routed by Ewell whether he occupied his knoll or not. A Union defensive line north of Gettysburg simply wasn't tenable.



Vincent was part of a corps in reserve. Altered to a problem that needed an immediate solution he marched to the guns rather than wait for orders he would have received anyway through the normal chain of command.

If anything, Vincent vs Sickles seems an excellent example of the difference between initiative and insubordination.



Depends on whether you think his countermarch was a waste of time or it it was important than he not be seen.
My questions were about memory. How we remember the war. How generals attempted to shape memory in the post-war period. Not necessarily the actual movements of the day. A Caspian sea of ink has been spilt debating the military aspects of the move on July 2. I am interested in memory.

I bring up other movements and men to get at how we remember aspects of the battle. Barlow, for example, was not a likable person in 1863, but he has been spared the criticisms that Sickles has received. If you read the reporting of Samuel Wilkeson, then Barlow does not come out looking too great. Wilkeson, however, is a grieving father.

I was asking about memory and not defending or criticizing Sickles.
 

Jamieva

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How much blame can be placed on Meade in the instance of giving Sickles that part of the Cemetery Ridge line to begin with. If Meade new the difficulties Sickles faced in obedience and training, would it not have been better to keep him closer on a tether, and not at the extreme flank of the AOP? Would Meade have time on July 1st, evening to form a better plan for defense by giving switching corps with one another, and placing Sickles at a less vulnerable spot?
Lubliner.
Where Meade was placing him was as far away from where the confederate forces had been on July 1.
 

War Horse

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I'm in the camp that finds Sickles behavior inexcusable insubordinate.

And on top of that he was simply wrong.



Barlow probably warrants more discussion, but he was on the end of a weak line that would have been routed by Ewell whether he occupied his knoll or not. A Union defensive line north of Gettysburg simply wasn't tenable.



Vincent was part of a corps in reserve. Altered to a problem that needed an immediate solution he marched to the guns rather than wait for orders he would have received anyway through the normal chain of command.

If anything, Vincent vs Sickles seems an excellent example of the difference between initiative and insubordination.



Depends on whether you think his countermarch was a waste of time or it it was important than he not be seen.
It was very important that he not be seen.
 
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