If we concede the fact that Stuart does not ‘return to the fold’ until the afternoon of 2 July, could his 6000-man cavalry have been better utilized? By the time of his arrival, four of Lee’s nine divisions had been battered into a state of military ineffectiveness. Ewell’s three were out of position to do much to directly support Lee’s Day 3 plan. Anderson’s Division was bloodied but not battered and only Pickett’s had yet to fire a shot.
As it was, Lee assigned Stuart only a supporting role for Day 3. He was to launch a diversionary attack on the lightly defended Union rear and reserve area along the Baltimore Pike. On his right flank, Johnson would renew his attack onto Culp’s Hill – again mainly a diversion. Both were designed to tie up Union forces that might otherwise shore up the Union center where Lee was sending Pickett.
My WHATIF here is why don’t Lee add Stuart’s 6000 to Pickett’s 5000? Instead he cobbled together about 5000 from Hill’s Corps most of whom were now under new commanders replacing those wounded or killed.
As other of these ALT Hx analyses will show, Lee had no units that could have possibly exploited any success that Pickett might have had.
Let us suppose that Lee positioned Stuart’s cavalry at the southern tip of Seminary Ridge. They could have charged up the Emmittsburg Road and followed Pickett’s path. In a matter of minutes – remember it only took Pickett about 20 minutes to cross the valley and reach the wall – they could have been at the throats of the Union defenders with swords swinging and pistols blazing. The shock value of the sudden appearance of four brigades of cavalry would surely have broken the spirit of the Hancock’s men.
An alternative strategy would have been to pre-position them behind Rodes’ Division on the SW corner of the city. At the initiation of the attack by Pickett, they would ride behind Pender and swing east. This would place them in front of Trimble. They could have been leaping over the low stone wall before the Union artillery had any chance to re-aim their guns. In this way they would have drawn much of the attention away from Trimble and Pettigrew. I’d propose that this would have allowed those two forces to successfully cross Emmittsburg Road and then reach the slope of the ridge. Since they had a slightly shorter march, they’d have arrived before Pickett. Again, this may have drawn fire away from Pickett’s left flank allowing a more successful advance.
In such a scenario Staurt’s men would be the punch and the infantry the exploiting force. It is most likely that the cavalry would have had to sacrifice itself on the wall to allow the infantry to advance to the wall. But that may have been worth the expense. If the cavalryrmen or the infantry could have penetrated as far as Ziegler’s Grove, they may have been able to establish a foothold to operate from. All said, I fully believe that Lee had more and better options than he conjured up to use against Meade in those crucial hours.
I still contend that I fail to see whatever Lee saw in throwing 10,000 men at the Union line. Getting there was hard enough, successfully exploiting any breech was quite something else.
See the description of The Saddle in Section 30h as to how the terrain may have aided Stuart in such a maneuver.