What If Longstreet Called Off Pickett's Charge?

Generic Username

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Then Lee relieves Longstreet and the attack commences as Lee has originally ordered:

Lee's orders for day (an oblique attack against Cemetary Hill with all 9 divisions) got watered down a lot, and we ended up with Pickett's Charge.

However, in Lee's original concept of operations Hood's and McLaws' Divisions would also step off moving NE up the Emmitsburg Road (as they were ordered to on the 2nd, before Hood was hit and C&C broke down, leading to the attack drifting onto the Round Tops, ground with no significance). Pickett to their left was also to advance NEE. The Heth/Pender composite division was to advance roughly E (hitting where they historically did hit), Rodes' to the SE, Johnson's to the S, Early's the the SWW while Stuart's cavalry "closed the box". Anderson's division was shifted to Longstreet as a reserve, since 1st Corps had the hardest task.

If successful it would have enveloped the Union Right (11th and 12th Corps) and Centre (1st and 2nd), leaving the left (3rd, 5th and 6th) isolated and on poor ground.

Great plan, poorly executed....
 

Saphroneth

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To my mind the thing that you have to do with Pickett's Charge is to consider the perspective of each individual commander involved (in this case both Lee and Longstreet), as well as their alternatives and the scope of success.

As far as Lee is concerned, he has done a lot of damage to the Union army (true) and badly mauled several corps, and he has also engaged in heavy fighting on their flanks (also true) which has drawn away a lot of their strength. He planned on a converging attack on 11th Corps on Day Two but it didn't go off, which was a missed opportunity, and he has information which indicates that reaching the ridge might be doable; at the same time, the road network around Gettysburg is all focused towards Gettysburg, so moving his freshest troops around the flank to make a turning movement would involve a considerable delay (which would give the mauled Federal corps the chance to recover).

The concept of operations has at least some sophistication to it. The attacks in the morning are intended to draw off any remaining Union reserves, and then a quick grand battery bombardment will be followed by an attack on the centre - this is basically from Napoleon's playbook, and is a lot more sophisticated than some assaults that take place in the war, so it has that going for it.

The assault also has mass behind it. As originally envisaged it was more than twice the size of what actually happened (in brigade terms) and if an attack isn't practically a sure thing then reducing the mass can only hurt.

Now, if the assault had been successful, it would have been pretty damaging for the Army of the Potomac (worse than historical, and historically it was pretty bad).


Let's say, for the sake of argument, that if Lee "rolls a six" he cripples the Union army. Is that worth doing?
The answer is that it's not worth doing if Lee could produce another situation with an equal or better probability-adjusted return, if he'd not done the charge. Given that the general arc of strength for the Confederacy over the war is declining relative to the Union I think Lee has different pressures to a Union general - he wants to win as soon as possible because his chances are declining, while the Union generals don't have the same need to win quickly.
 

Generic Username

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To my mind the thing that you have to do with Pickett's Charge is to consider the perspective of each individual commander involved (in this case both Lee and Longstreet), as well as their alternatives and the scope of success.

As far as Lee is concerned, he has done a lot of damage to the Union army (true) and badly mauled several corps, and he has also engaged in heavy fighting on their flanks (also true) which has drawn away a lot of their strength. He planned on a converging attack on 11th Corps on Day Two but it didn't go off, which was a missed opportunity, and he has information which indicates that reaching the ridge might be doable; at the same time, the road network around Gettysburg is all focused towards Gettysburg, so moving his freshest troops around the flank to make a turning movement would involve a considerable delay (which would give the mauled Federal corps the chance to recover).

The concept of operations has at least some sophistication to it. The attacks in the morning are intended to draw off any remaining Union reserves, and then a quick grand battery bombardment will be followed by an attack on the centre - this is basically from Napoleon's playbook, and is a lot more sophisticated than some assaults that take place in the war, so it has that going for it.

The assault also has mass behind it. As originally envisaged it was more than twice the size of what actually happened (in brigade terms) and if an attack isn't practically a sure thing then reducing the mass can only hurt.

Now, if the assault had been successful, it would have been pretty damaging for the Army of the Potomac (worse than historical, and historically it was pretty bad).


Let's say, for the sake of argument, that if Lee "rolls a six" he cripples the Union army. Is that worth doing?
The answer is that it's not worth doing if Lee could produce another situation with an equal or better probability-adjusted return, if he'd not done the charge. Given that the general arc of strength for the Confederacy over the war is declining relative to the Union I think Lee has different pressures to a Union general - he wants to win as soon as possible because his chances are declining, while the Union generals don't have the same need to win quickly.

Worth noting that Lee decisively defeating the Army of the Potomac would come as the Roebuck Motion is still in motion in the UK....
 

Saphroneth

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Worth noting that Lee decisively defeating the Army of the Potomac would come as the Roebuck Motion is still in motion in the UK....
I'm not overall convinced that that could have done the job of winning the war for the CSA by itself (or even securing recognition) but it can hardly have made the chances of the motion worse.
 

Belfoured

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Worth noting that Lee decisively defeating the Army of the Potomac would come as the Roebuck Motion is still in motion in the UK....
It's also worth noting that the motion was probably DOA by July 10, at the latest, and probably before that - compromised by Napoleon III's duplicity regarding where France stood on recognition, opposition even by some pro-CSA members, and the slavery issue. While Roebuck may have thought that a Confederate battlefield win was the driving force, Chancellorsville didn't work and this likely would have come too late.
 

Generic Username

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It's also worth noting that the motion was probably DOA by July 10, at the latest, and probably before that - compromised by Napoleon III's duplicity regarding where France stood on recognition, opposition even by some pro-CSA members, and the slavery issue. While Roebuck may have thought that a Confederate battlefield win was the driving force, Chancellorsville didn't work and this likely would have come too late.

A strong Confederate victory on Northern soil, followed by the taking of a Northern State capital (i.e. Harrisburg) is a different beast entirely from Chancellorsville.
 

Generic Username

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For another thought, Meade will probably be compelled by his Corps commanders to launch an attack on July 4th; he's not really in a state to do such on the 3rd, but by the following day 6th Corps reinforced by other units can probably make an attack. Lee will repulse it with heavy Federal losses but from there it's an open question, as Lee will be getting low on ammunition but Meade now has no reserve...
 

Saphroneth

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For another thought, Meade will probably be compelled by his Corps commanders to launch an attack on July 4th; he's not really in a state to do such on the 3rd, but by the following day 6th Corps reinforced by other units can probably make an attack. Lee will repulse it with heavy Federal losses but from there it's an open question, as Lee will be getting low on ammunition but Meade now has no reserve...
By the 4th-5th some of Meade's units will be recovering somewhat, as they won't have fought for a couple of days. 1st and 2nd Corps for example might be able to fight effectively, at least in the defensive role.
 

jackt62

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I believe Hill would have comnanded the charge remember it was not just Picketts division

There is a question in my mind as to the whereabouts and activity of Hill on July 3rd. Was he medically indisposed at least part of that time? Wilcox and Lang of Hill's Corps were supposed to support the main assault, but that didn't come off as planned.
 

CowCavalry

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What Lee envisaged was a "whirlwind" 15 minute bombardment, followed by an immediate strong assault by 20 brigades. What he got was ca. 2 hours of faltering bombardment, and then an assault by only 9 brigades.

Longstreet's reasoning was that he believed the assault could not succeed, and he preferred his idea of maneouvering. Hence he hesitated and held back.
If I recall correctly, Alexander, in his memoirs, stated that his cannonade lasted about 20-30 minutes. Again, if I am remembering correctly, he stated that others thought it lasted longer do to some artillery activity on other parts of the line.
 

Generic Username

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By the 4th-5th some of Meade's units will be recovering somewhat, as they won't have fought for a couple of days. 1st and 2nd Corps for example might be able to fight effectively, at least in the defensive role.
The supply lines also open on the 6th, so time benefits Meade here and with his own supply situation I think it’s likely Lee pulls out on the 4th at the latest because of that. On the flip side though, Coddington makes it clear Meade’s instinct on the night of the 2nd was to withdraw and a failed assault by 6th Corps (and any odds and ends) might reinforce that notion.

Either way though, without a fresh, unbattered Corps to use in the pursuit, Lee will make a clean get away in my estimation. Gettysburg goes down as an indecisive battle, with Lee squandering an opportunity to attack on July 3rd but having inflicted massive losses and then escaped with ease, allowing the CSA to claim a convincing victory. On the other hand, Meade can claim he halted Lee’s invasion and held the battlefield at the end of the engagement if he doesn’t fallback on the 4th, so the North can claim a victory/draw too.
 

John S. Carter

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They would have sat for a day or two with some light work done and then Lee would have pulled back.
The question is what would Lee had done to Longstreet for not carrying out orders,?Would he had replaced him but with whom?Longstreet was a dedicated general officer he would have given the orders as would any officer of his position .Then there is another question; If Lee had taken the flakes and with Pickett moving to take the center what would have been the outcome? Communication seems to have played the biggest part in this.whole battle .How fast could Meade had moved his reserve to locations needing support.As with all afterevents of life,could have ,should have if everyone had played their part the result would have been what we have wanted them to be.The thing is that Lee was Napoleon ,the ANV was the Grand Army ,Mead was Wellington and the place was Waterloo.That seems to be the way Lee must have envisioned the battle. All that was missing was the Prussian army
 

Saphroneth

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The question is what would Lee had done to Longstreet for not carrying out orders,?Would he had replaced him but with whom?
Probably not, because:

1) Historically Longstreet did effectively disobey orders, as I understand it.
2) When Jackson disobeyed or did not promptly obey orders, he didn't really suffer any significant consequences.

Of course, it's possible he would retaliate, but the closest example we have is Jackson.
 
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Longstreet would go from old warhorse to scared pony.

Not sure why one would want to discount it but most likely relieved, then either court-martial or xfered to different theatre. Either way his reputation and likely career shot.

If by some twist, Lee valued him too important to relieve during campaign, transfer would still seem likely afterwards IMO. Not alot of place for renegade subordinates
 

67th Tigers

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Lee ran a loose "mission command" type of command structure, and he was of the opinion that corps commanders etc. should be allowed to fight their own battles.

On 3rd July 1863, AP Hill was down sick, leaving Lee with only two principle lieutenants; Ewell commanding his left and Longstreet his right and centre. His instructions to both were for a major converging attack against Cemetery Hill. He indicated that the artillery should make a 15 minute "whirlwind bombardment" and then the infantry should attack.

Longstreet, worried about Federal cavalry off his right flank, detached two whole divisions of the attack force to protect his flank. He was left with 18 brigades to attack with. He effectively ended up with two waves each of 9 brigades, but the second wave was recalled and some brigades never even launched.

Longstreet prevaricated over launching the first wave, and kept the artillery firing for 2 hours until they basically ran out of ammunition and couldn't support the attack. He then launched the 1st wave, but recalled the 2nd wave when the 1st wave failed.

Lee may have been disappointed, but he had given Longstreet a lot of latitude to act as he wished. Perhaps too much.
 
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