1. Welcome to the CivilWarTalk, a forum for questions and discussions about the American Civil War! Become a member today for full access to all of our resources, it's fast, simple, and absolutely free!
Dismiss Notice
Join and Become a Patron at CivilWarTalk!
Support this site with a monthly or yearly subscription! Active Patrons get to browse the site Ad free!
START BY JOINING NOW!
Dismiss Notice
--- Please Take Note! ---
All discussions about the removal of Confederate Monuments must be restricted to the following two threads. Any other new threads about monument removal will be deleted without warning.
- New Orleans Monuments
- St. Louis Monument
Thanks for your understanding on this issue!

Why Did Lt. Gen James Longstreet Feel So Strongly The Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble Assault Would Fail?

Discussion in 'James Longstreet' started by War Horse, Apr 30, 2017.

  1. War Horse

    War Horse Captain Forum Host Silver Patron Trivia Game Winner Regtl. Quartermaster Gettysburg 2016 Member of the Year

    Joined:
    Sep 4, 2014
    Messages:
    5,268
    Location:
    Lexington, SC
    It is well recorded that James Longstreet was not in favor of R.E Lee's decision to attack the Union Center with approx. Thirteen Thousand men on day three at Gettysburg. His actions during the 3rd day have been used ever since by his critics. Were his actions insubordination? The answer to that question is, No. Was it his belief that a movement around the Unions left flank was a better option? Again the answer is, No. The reason James Longstreet stated "Never Was I So Depressed" is because he believed he was sending his men to a slaughter pen. Why would he feel this way? Lee order the assault and believed it would be successful if properly executed. Was Lee wrong? Again the answer would be, No. How can both generals be correct? Lee using sound tactical reasoning had assumed his punishing assaults the previous two days on the enemy's flanks would have caused them to reinforce those positons making the center the likely weak point in the line. This was sound military thinking done by a West Point trained officer. Lee completely understood the negatives of his plan and accepted them. He was audacious in nature. Longstreet on the other hand also a West Point trained officer realized the futility of the movement. While he would agree Lee's proposed attack was sound military reasoning, Longstreet was cautious in nature. The attack order by the Commanding General defied the training both men received at West Point. The army on the offensive should numerically outnumber the army on the defensive by a margin of four or five to one. The confederates simply did not have anywhere near this numeric superiority. Lee was depending on several factors to work in his favor. He depended on Ewell's early morning attack on Cemetery Ridge to fool Meade into moving sufficient troops to his flanks, Lee depended on the past splendid performance of his army vs the past poor performance of the AOP. Lee expected the critical mistake to be made at the critical time that had always lead to his past successes. The audacious general had forgotten the prediction he had made just a few days earlier when he learned George Gordon Meade had taken command of the AOP. "Meade will make no mistake in my front and will take advantage of any that I make" Longstreet being a conservative thinker understood the odds and felt no mistake would be made and was not willing to gamble the lives of his men on such a longshot. Had the Confederacy processed the numbers necessary Longstreet would have undoubtable been much more than agreeable. Was he wrong? Both men completely understood the situation fully.
    IMO there are other faults of Longstreet on day three that hold much more validity to criticize than his lack of enthusiasm for an assault that was destined to fail before it began. As it turns out Longstreet was correct and the assault failed.
     

  2. (Membership has it privileges! To remove this ad: Register NOW!)
  3. BillO

    BillO Captain

    Joined:
    Feb 2, 2010
    Messages:
    5,855
    Location:
    Quinton, VA.
    Because he wrote that long after it had failed. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
     
  4. StephenColbert27

    StephenColbert27 First Sergeant

    Joined:
    Aug 4, 2015
    Messages:
    1,101
    Location:
    Middle of a Corn Field, Somewhere in Illinois
    Lee took what information he had and made an educated guess. He had made attacks on both ends of the Union line, and after both were reinforced was repulsed. It was logical and reasonable to assume that the center was weaker. He knew that making an attack based upon that assumption was a risk, but Lee was willing to take it; he believed that if the attack was successful, the entire AotP might be put at risk. It is important to remember that the attack had a real chance of succeeding. The what ifs that might have turned in its favor are numerous and have been remarked on for years. But Longstreet's warnings were all correct also. While Pickett's division was relatively sheltered from artillery fire for most of the advance, the other two divisions were hammered the entire way. The Union position also lent itself to quick reinforcements to any point along the line. Both were right.
     
    Last edited: Apr 30, 2017
  5. War Horse

    War Horse Captain Forum Host Silver Patron Trivia Game Winner Regtl. Quartermaster Gettysburg 2016 Member of the Year

    Joined:
    Sep 4, 2014
    Messages:
    5,268
    Location:
    Lexington, SC
    He wrote what long after the war? I am not quoting anything Longstreet had written.
     
  6. Jamieva

    Jamieva 2nd Lieutenant Forum Host

    Joined:
    Feb 7, 2006
    Messages:
    2,999
    Location:
    Midlothian, VA
    I'm sure people will disagree with me but that assault had a less than 1% chance of working, if that. The biggest negative was teh distance the infantry had to cover from the confederate lines to the union lines. Just way too long ot be exposed to enemy fire.
     
  7. novushomus

    novushomus Corporal

    Joined:
    May 23, 2016
    Messages:
    359
    In this case, Longstreet's memoirs which were written in the 1890s by a bitter old man who had been abused by history and who wanted to distance himself from Gettysburg as much as possible, even to the point of changing his narrative of how he felt.

    Actually, we have a primary account of how Longstreet felt regarding the assault and its' failure from just a day after the attack. He told Arthur Fremantle that Lee had not concentrated enough men to make the assault, and that 30,000 men would have been required. When he was telling Lee that 15,000 men could not make that attack successfully, this was not remonstrating against any assault, but only that more troops would be required. That makes sense given his previous remonstrations with Lee the previous day - if the army could not march around the Union right, then why not at least wait for Pickett so Longstreet's whole corps (21,000 men) could go in (and thus without "one boot off")?

    (Page 138 of Fremantle's Diary): At 2 P. M. we walked to General Longstreet's camp, which had been removed to a place three miles distant, on the Fairfield road. General Longstreet talked to me for a long time about the battle. He said the mistake they had made was in not concentrating the army more, and making the attack yesterday with 30,000 men instead of 15,000. The advance had been in three lines, and the troops of Hill's corps who gave way were young soldiers, who had never been under fire before. He thought the enemy would have attacked had the guns been withdrawn. Had they done so at that particular moment immediately after the repulse, it would have been awkward; but in that case he had given orders for the advance of Hood's division and M'Laws's on the right. I think, after all, that General Meade was right not to advance--his men would never have stood the tremendous fire of artillery they would have been exposed to.
     
    Last edited: Apr 30, 2017
  8. StephenColbert27

    StephenColbert27 First Sergeant

    Joined:
    Aug 4, 2015
    Messages:
    1,101
    Location:
    Middle of a Corn Field, Somewhere in Illinois
    Overall I would agree with that assessment. The troops committed to the attack were fully capable of making a break in the Union line on their own, and indeed came close to making such a breakthrough. However, that breakthrough would have needed a large number of reinforcements almost immediately for it to come to anything. As it was, the Union was able to stave them off, and also had plenty of reinforcements on hand if needed.
     
    Last edited: Apr 30, 2017
  9. FarawayFriend

    FarawayFriend Captain Silver Patron Trivia Game Winner

    Joined:
    Aug 25, 2013
    Messages:
    6,579
    Location:
    Hannover, Germany
    In my opinion he felt that the attempt was doomed to fail because he was more a battlefield general, a soldier's soldier - not a strategic planner, fixed on plans and tactics like Lee.
    Longstreet's famous quote "General, I have been a soldier all my life. I have been with soldiers engaged in fights by couples, by squads, companies, regiments and armies, and I should know . . what soldiers can do. It is my opinion that no 15,000 men ever arrayed for battle can take that position.” shows more understanding of what was possible than Lee's desperate gambling for victory. IMHO.
     
  10. wausaubob

    wausaubob Sergeant

    Joined:
    Apr 4, 2017
    Messages:
    865
    Location:
    Denver, CO
    The math did not work out to point to victory, in Longstreet's calculation.
    The AofV was not big enough to stage the attack that was necessary, and the commanders of the supporting divisions demurred, given the choice, to join the desperate undertaking.
    Lee was partly right, since Meade probably anticipate the attack closer to angle in his line at Cemetery Ridge, where the artillery did not have the same angles, which is why Sedwick's Corp was in reserve.
    But in the attack as it was mounted, Longstreet foresaw that the last two hundred yards would cost too much.
     
  11. Eleanor Rose

    Eleanor Rose Sergeant

    Joined:
    Nov 26, 2016
    Messages:
    654
    Location:
    central NC
    I agree with @FarawayFriend. I think General Longstreet had the foresight (not hindsight @BillO) to see that the attack would be unsuccessful due to his experience as a battlefield commander. He communicated this to General Lee before the assault ever began. I also don't discount the notion that people on occasion can have a feeling or sense about things that are going to happen, especially if they have firsthand experience with the situation. As the OP indicates, General Longstreet felt this strongly.
     
  12. Burning Billy

    Burning Billy Corporal

    Joined:
    Jul 6, 2016
    Messages:
    348
    He recognized the obvious.

    Lee didn't because he had become infected by what the Japanese historians who analyzed their country's defeat in the Second World War, would have called victory disease. Success had made Lee overconfident and it led to perhaps the greatest mistake any military commander can make...to underestimate his enemy.
     
  13. Lost Cause

    Lost Cause Sergeant Major

    Joined:
    Sep 19, 2014
    Messages:
    2,066
    He saw what happened at Fredericksburg and Malvern Hill.
     
  14. W. Richardson

    W. Richardson 1st Lieutenant

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2011
    Messages:
    4,688
    Location:
    Mt. Gilead, North Carolina

    Andrea, I agree, and in the end, for whatever reason(s), Longstreet was right..................I think Longstreet looked at the formidable terrain that Meade held, and I also feel Longstreet knew what his men were capable of, and not capable of..........He IMHO did not think them invincible. I do think Pickett's charge could have been successful if better planned, and conducted, and with more troops than what was used. Some of the brigades used were very beaten up from the prio 2 days of fighting and should not have been included. There was also, IIRC a division or perhaps it was a couple of brigades, that had not been in action or very little action the 2 prior 2 days, and they were not included in the attack but should have been.


    Respectfully,
    William
    Pickett's Charge.jpg
     
    Last edited: Apr 30, 2017
  15. 5fish

    5fish 1st Lieutenant

    Joined:
    Aug 26, 2007
    Messages:
    4,743
    Location:
    Central Florida
    If I remember Lee had planned for the assault for another location on the union line and ask Longstreet's opinion. Longstreet suggested moving the assault to another location on the union line which became Pickett's charge. In truth Longstreet pick the location of the assault so should he not bear some of the blame. As far as I know no one has ever compared Lee's original location of the assault to where Longstreet chooses to assault. As far as I know no one knows why Longstreet suggests his location over Lee's first choice. I think Lee was going to assault the cemetery ridge. Would not have assaulted the ridge have been better than assaulting the hill?

    If Longstreet picks the location of the charge, how could he have been so against the charge? If he would have been against the assault he would have either tries to talk Lee out of it but he picks the location of the assault and Lee's agree?
     
  16. Southern Unionist

    Southern Unionist Private

    Joined:
    Apr 27, 2017
    Messages:
    187
    Location:
    NC
    Most leaders like to surround themselves with people who nearly always agree with them, but Lee knew such conversations were worthless. He wanted to bounce his ideas off Longstreet instead, because he knew the two of them were somewhat opposite, so Longstreet would always give him a different perspective that might be valuable in fully understanding a situation. Lee was more of an optimist and more offensive-minded, whereas Longstreet was more pragmatic and more defense-oriented. So, it shouldn't surprise anyone that they had differing opinions on Pickett's Charge.

    Also, some modern doctors have read what was written about the weeks before Gettysburg and said that Lee most likely had a mild heart attack, brought on by years of stress and heavy responsibility. So, he may have been thinking that he might not have much time left. Clearly, the war had taken a heavy toll on his body. Visibly, he had aged quite rapidly. While he trusted Longstreet with tactical command and logistics, he had to know that Longstreet was not the high energy, inspirational, motivational leader that the ANV needed at the top, so that could have provided Lee with additional motivation to push forward and take risks that he might not have taken under different circumstances.

    Then there was the artillery problem. Never before had so many cannons been used all at once, massed together. As a pessimist, Longstreet would naturally think, some unknown thing could go wrong with this. As an optimist, someone like Lee would more likely think, this should be highly effective. As it turns out, the pessimistic view was right. There was too much smoke on the field for anyone to see anything, so they didn't notice that the cannon trailer hitches were digging into the mud, causing them to overshoot and waste a lot of ammunition. US reserves in the center got hit a lot harder than Hancock's front lines. This problem may have been enough to change the outcome of the attack.
     
  17. BillO

    BillO Captain

    Joined:
    Feb 2, 2010
    Messages:
    5,855
    Location:
    Quinton, VA.
    Lee had also thought that there would have been more men with better flank protection. The lack of flank protection, particularly on their left is what cost them the most.
     
  18. rpkennedy

    rpkennedy Major

    Joined:
    May 18, 2011
    Messages:
    7,992
    Location:
    Carlisle, PA
    Lee's original plan was a repeat of the attacks of July 2nd with Ewell attacking Culp's Hill and Longstreet assailing the Union left at dawn. Pickett's Division had not gotten started on time and the Twelfth Corps took the matter out of Ewell's hands at first light. That's when Lee began developing the plan that would become the attack on July 3rd. Longstreet played no role in choosing the point of attack.

    Ryan
     
  19. rpkennedy

    rpkennedy Major

    Joined:
    May 18, 2011
    Messages:
    7,992
    Location:
    Carlisle, PA
    Lee may have expected more support but didn't really make any preparations for that support. Rodes was ordered to prepare to support any breakthrough but that was the extent of it. Anderson was ordered to support the right flank but the nature of that support was never specified. Anderson and Longstreet agreed that his division would advance after Pickett's Division made the attack in order to either cover a withdrawal or exploit a breakthrough. Even so, only 3 of his brigades made any moves with Wilcox and Lang making a half-hearted attack.

    Ryan
     
  20. theoldman

    theoldman First Sergeant Trivia Game Winner

    Joined:
    Apr 22, 2013
    Messages:
    1,548
    Location:
    upper mid-west
    A few random thoughts, if I may.

    1. Being West Point graduates had no part in what Lee & Longstreet did in Gettysburg.
    2. Longstreet had fought the ground the day before, he knew what to expect.
    3. The timing of the assault and the terrain required to be crossed was too much.
    4. IIRC, Lee looked for more troops to committ to the attack but thought if he took any more he would leave his own position too weak.

    The Old War Horse was right.
     
  21. hanna260

    hanna260 Sergeant Major

    Joined:
    Mar 1, 2015
    Messages:
    1,992
    Location:
    Just Around the Riverbend
    This is the bottom line.

    Pickett's Charge, in my mind, gets a bit of an unfair rap, due to works like The Killer Angels which fail to point out things like the flank protection Lee was expecting, and the breakthrough that very well could have happened. On the other hand, Lee plain did not have enough men to make it happen. Longstreet saw this, and I think that was his objection, more than that the Charge could never, ever work in theory or even that Lee was necessarily totally overconfident.
     

(Membership has it privileges! To remove this ad: Register NOW!)
Loading...

Share This Page


(Membership has it privileges! To remove this ad: Register NOW!)