What If Longstreet Called Off Pickett's Charge?

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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.
Disagree a bit......he indeed gave alot of latitude in how orders were carried out.....it remains the order for Longstreet was to make the attack.........not carrying out the order isn't really latitude in how to carry it out at all.....but a refusal to carry it out.......

His letting his troops rest and not being in place earlier.....was that latitude....the attack was still expected however
 

Saphroneth

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Disagree a bit......he indeed gave alot of latitude in how orders were carried out.....it remains the order for Longstreet was to make the attack.........not carrying out the order isn't really latitude in how to carry it out at all.....but a refusal to carry it out at all........
This is actually an interesting thing, because there are multiple cases in which Jackson does indeed outright refuse orders rather than merely carry them out in a dilatory way. One example being the weeks during which he doesn't move to support Longstreet in November 1862, and another being his not breaking off from the Harpers Ferry siege in September.


In the German (Prussian) tradition meanwhile officers were permitted enormous leeway - the pithy quote is something like "My monarch can have my head after the battle, but during it I will exercise it in his service."
 
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The problem of trying to defend Longstreet or a refusal to carry out the attack is it's based on hindsight.......

Lee wants the centre attacked because it is the weak sector in his opinion.....there is little excuse to fail to attack a weak sector.....

The only way the sector can be proven as not being the weak sector......is to carry out the attack.
 

Saphroneth

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The problem of trying to defend Longstreet or a refusal to carry out the attack is it's based on hindsight.......

Lee wants the centre attacked because it is the weak sector in his opinion.....there is little excuse to fail to attack a weak sector.....

The only way the sector can be proven as not being the weak sector......is to carry out the attack.
Oh, I'm not defending him from it - I'm saying that in the past Lee had not canned Jackson despite Jackson disobeying orders, which is the main reason why I think Longstreet's position might survive a refusal to attack.
 
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I still say unlikely as there's a multitude of officers he does get rid of after disappointing performances, and for lessor offences then refusing to carry out the decisive attack.

There was no "if practical" to this ordered attack. At the time this was thought to be the weak spot and this was to be the decisive attack to break the Unions back......Longstreet being slow getting Pickett's div in place, to then dilly dally and ultimately refuse to attack at all, rather hard to see that to go unaccounted for responsibility wise....that's the type of thing likely to see heads roll.
 
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reading48

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Longstreet was given orders by his Superior Officer...Army protocol calls to carry out those orders. Even if you think the order is wrong or will fail... or face the consequences ( Army Court Marshal )....Longstreet had no choice but to carry out those orders...He was Career Army....
 

Rio Bravo

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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.
I think that Hood’s Texans were supposed to have been in support as well .
 

67th Tigers

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Longstreet was given orders by his Superior Officer...Army protocol calls to carry out those orders. Even if you think the order is wrong or will fail... or face the consequences ( Army Court Marshal )....Longstreet had no choice but to carry out those orders...He was Career Army....

This is what we teach privates, corporals etc., who are under the intimate control of their squad, section and platoon leaders, but once you're beyond intimate contact you have to be making your own assessment of the situation.

In modern theory we divide command style into auftragstaktik (mission command or literally "orders tactics") and befehlstaktik (restrictive command or literally "command tactics"). In the later, a commander intimately controls all the actions of his subordinates and suppresses initiative. In the former a commander tells a subordinate what the mission is, what resources, restrictions etc. they have, and lets them get on with it.

Now, in a modern infantry squad or platoon, and maybe even a company, befehlstaktik may be appropriate because one man might be able to control everything that the troops are doing. At battalion and above, such intimate control is impossible, and the commanders need to be given latitude to make their own decisions. Befehlstaktik in an ACW era army may be appropriate upto brigade level, the highest command level that one man can see his whole command and command fairly intimately. The brigadiers had to simply get a general briefing and try to align their commands to fit with the intent of the division commander. The normal practice for a division was that the division commander would ride with the brigadier of one brigade nominated the "directing brigade", and give direct instructions, whilst the other brigadiers simply tried to keep their assigned positions (brigadier B keeping his brigade to the left of brigadier A's brigade, brigadier C behind it etc.). A corps commander could only give general instructions to his divisional commanders etc.

No, at the time there were orders and there were orders. The idea that senior officers, i.e. major and lieutenant-generals, should just go "yes sir" like a private was non-existent. They were perfectly free to query an order from a superior or adjust to the situation as long as it was not peremptory. Only peremptory orders gave no leeway, and they were rarely used.
 

Saphroneth

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To use the classical example, a commander is expected to "march to the sound of the guns". This is a simplification of course and is at best a rough guide, but the basic principle is that if there's a battle going on then unless you have positive instructions not to get involved then you should go and pitch in; this greatly accelerates the command and control loop. (If a fight starts at 8 AM and a corps commander eight miles away starts marching to the sound of the guns, he can probably get involved by 4PM; if he waits until a messenger arrives around 10-11 AM then he might not arrive until 6PM/7PM, by which time it can be dark.)

A corps commander is usually expected to have (and be given) some understanding of the general situation around the battlefield and his orders, which is what lets him determine if he should be "marching to the sound of the guns"; he also knows more about his own command than his army commander, because he is on a lower management level.
 

John S. Carter

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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.
Please to explain any incident relating to #1.
 

Saphroneth

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Please to explain any incident relating to #1.
The ordered attack involved more brigades and a shorter, more intense artillery bombardment (as 67th indicated on the previous page) - what Longstreet did was basically about half the strength Lee intended. It's the equivalent of if Napoleon ordered Ney to send in two corps at Waterloo and Ney only sent in one; Ney was raked over the coals by French military writers for deviating from his orders less.
 

John S. Carter

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The ordered attack involved more brigades and a shorter, more intense artillery bombardment (as 67th indicated on the previous page) - what Longstreet did was basically about half the strength Lee intended. It's the equivalent of if Napoleon ordered Ney to send in two corps at Waterloo and Ney only sent in one; Ney was raked over the coals by French military writers for deviating from his orders less.
THANK YOU for clarifying this.
 

Waterloo50

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If I were Lee I’d be thinking that we’d lost a golden opportunity, I wouldn’t/couldn’t have known that Pickett charge was doomed to failure, so what next? I wouldn’t retreat or try to regroup, I’d definitely be looking for another weak spot, strike whilst the iron is hot, the problem is that Lee’s confidence in his commanding officers would have taken a massive hit which would definitely have had a knock on affect for any future orders and decision making. I can’t see any other opportunity for Lee to achieve his goal, if Pickett’s charge never happened the fight was lost, if it did happen the fight was lost, it was over before it began.
 

Saphroneth

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I can’t see any other opportunity for Lee to achieve his goal, if Pickett’s charge never happened the fight was lost, if it did happen the fight was lost, it was over before it began.
I think the issue here is that Pickett's Charge (with feasible modifications given the state of the day) is something that has a plausible chance of succeeding. It's an attack on a position behind a reverse slope (bad) against an enemy without reserves (good) and has the prospect of gaining local superiority if executed properly (also good).

This is before considering the AH possibilities of Day Two, of course.

I think the way to view Pickett's Charge is as a "roll 5 or more on the dice and it's successful". It is by no means a guaranteed success, but it is also not a guaranteed failure, and was probably worth it on the whole; arguably the Day Two attack is more likely to succeed, but Day Three still offers a chance.

Longstreet's half-hearted execution may actually have been the worst of both worlds, exposing the Confederate army to serious casualties without maximizing the chance of return for it; possibly he worried that the Union still had reserves in hand to mount a counterstroke, when in fact they did not.
 

GwilymT

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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...

I don’t see any reason such an attack wouldn’t be successful with largely fresh troops. We seem to talk about how bloodied the AoP was in the first two days but the ANV was beat up as well. The sixth corps could make an assault along with the second straight at seminary ridge with good artillery to back them (ANV is nearly out of ammunition). Also, the ANV is strung out along a vast line, from east of culp’s hill to south of the round tops, they can’t bring reinforcements to the point of attack.
 

Saphroneth

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I don’t see any reason such an attack wouldn’t be successful with largely fresh troops. We seem to talk about how bloodied the AoP was in the first two days but the ANV was beat up as well. The sixth corps could make an assault along with the second straight at seminary ridge with good artillery to back them (ANV is nearly out of ammunition). Also, the ANV is strung out along a vast line, from east of culp’s hill to south of the round tops, they can’t bring reinforcements to the point of attack.
6th Corps would need to re-concentrate before this could be done. They'd been packeted out along the whole line themselves.
 

67th Tigers

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Aye, 6th Corps had been spread out thus along the line, and in parts were the line. They were not available as a reserve.

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I think the issue here is that Pickett's Charge (with feasible modifications given the state of the day) is something that has a plausible chance of succeeding. It's an attack on a position behind a reverse slope (bad) against an enemy without reserves (good) and has the prospect of gaining local superiority if executed properly (also good).

This is before considering the AH possibilities of Day Two, of course.

I think the way to view Pickett's Charge is as a "roll 5 or more on the dice and it's successful". It is by no means a guaranteed success, but it is also not a guaranteed failure, and was probably worth it on the whole; arguably the Day Two attack is more likely to succeed, but Day Three still offers a chance.

Longstreet's half-hearted execution may actually have been the worst of both worlds, exposing the Confederate army to serious casualties without maximizing the chance of return for it; possibly he worried that the Union still had reserves in hand to mount a counterstroke, when in fact they did not.
This something often seen here......people use hindsight and their personal opinion of the principles to form and advance opinions as to fault, proper course, ect.

However in "what ifs" such as this, hindsight and personal opinions of the principles are both rather irrelevant.

The perception at the time is what counts, not hindsight, and not opinions of the principles, as the actual command structure delineated who makes the choice to roll the dice or not. Something frequently seen in discussions of JJ and Davis....as the subordinate remains the subordinate regardless of ones opinion of the superior....and the subordinates role still remains to follow.
 
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Saphroneth

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This something often seen here......people use hindsight and their personal opinion of the principles to form and advance opinions as to fault, proper course, ect.

However in "what ifs" such as this, hindsight and personal opinions of the principles are both rather irrelevant.

The perception at the time is what counts, not hindsight, and not opinions of the principles, as the actual command structure delineated who makes the choice to roll the dice or not.
I'm not sure that's entirely relevant to the post you're replying to?

If what you're saying is that "it was over before it began" because Pickett's Charge had no chance to succeed, then surely it's worth evaluating whether Pickett's Charge had no chance to succeed or a reasonable chance to succeed, and Lee certainly thought it was possible (with his initial intent).

I think what's going on is that Lee is focusing on the possibilities offered by success (to whit: if all the brigades go in then there's a good chance of success) and Longstreet on the risks of failure (to whit: if all the brigades go in and are repulsed then the army is vulnerable). They are both weighing both possibilities, but make different decisions on the matter.
 
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