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25i. The Squeeze

Following the lead of the scenario proposed by Peter Tsouras in his GETTYSBURG: An Alternate History, I can construct a different scenario that Lee assumed would lead to a CSA victory. Like my proposal to deploy Anderson to the SE on Day 1, this scenario would demand that Lee break from his normal pattern of command and deployment [see Section 28].

Tsouras builds a Day 2 attack that has two main alternative factors:

1) Lee comes to a compromise with Longstreet that allows him to split his Corps into two parts. While McLaws waits behind Seminary Ridge, Longstreet leads Hood’s Division and a large cavalry contingent to the south of Big Round Top and attacks north up the Taneytown Road into the heart of the Union Logistics area.

2) The second ALT Hx portion has Anderson attacking Humphrey’s Division of Sickles’ Third Corps so as to draw him into an attack on Anderson’s right flank on Seminary Ridge. Once Humphrey is fully engaged, Birney must shift north to provide both a reserve and to protect Humphrey’s flank and rear. This distraction allows McLaws to sweep around the south end of the Ridge and attack directly into Birney who is looking in two directions.

1) Hood’s attack, led by fast moving cavalry, wreaks havoc in the Union rear area and pushes to the north, effectively creating a bulge in the Union line; separating east and west. Most of the Union combat strength finds itself facing in the wrong direction, outwards while the threat is inwards. Meade and Hancock struggle to turn their muskets and cannons 180 degrees to stem Hood’s advance. Meade directs most of the Twelfth Union Corps off Culp’s Hill to confront Hood. Fortunately for Meade, Vincent’s Brigade of Fifth Corps had already occupied Little Round Top and having not yet established themselves was able to throw light but effective volleys into Hood’s left flank.

2) Sickles, seeking glory and if possible a humiliation for Meade, readily takes Anderson’s bait and sends Humphrey north. Little does he know that his two-division Union Corps is facing one of the largest Confederate divisions, consisting of 5 brigades. He is massively out-numbered. Once the lookouts of Seminary Ridge see Birney shift from the area near the Wheatfield Road towards the Peach Orchard, McLaws launches his attack. Sickles is trapped; isolated from the rest of the Union line. Humphrey and Birney are both driven back so that they are now back-to-back with no relief available. Meade can only watch as Third Corps is chopped to pieces. They are even too far from Cemetery Ridge to attempt to retreat.

1) Meade’s greatest concern lies with Hood to his east. He has driven a deep wedge into the Union rear and the cavalry is slaughtering the non-combatant logistics personnel. Once BG Hunt manages to pivot his artillery in the cemetery and on the ridge running south from there, their combined fire power is able to stop Hood’s advance, but it will take infantry to drive him out. Hunt is cut off from Culp’s Hill so it takes a bit longer for the Twelfth Corps artillery to pivot and add its firepower. It isn’t too long before Hood is stopped and under a deadly barrage from three directions. Meade dare not commit more infantry than Twelfth Corps and 2 regiments from Vincent’s Brigade to push Hood back. But by this time Hood’s men have thrown together a makeshift breastwork from the Union wagons and are proving hard to dislodge.  

3) Then Lee springs the last portion of his trap. Ewell’s Corps attacks in full strength. Johnson up onto Culp’s Hill with one brigade swinging south and west to try to re-enforce Hood. Early and Rodes hit the Cemetery from the north with one of Rodes’ brigades moving down the Emmittsburg Road; sweeping past Anderson’s left flank and attacking up into Ziegler’s Grove. Meade is being squeezed from all sides. His muskets and cannons cannot fight in two directions at once.

4) But Meade has an ace to play as well. From the SE comes the remainder of Fifth Corps. They smash into the left flank of Johnson’s Brigade moving around Culp’s Hill and drive it back. Then, in almost a classic Hollywood movie scene, the Union Cavalry arrives. Two full brigades led by BG Custer charge in from the east and slip just north of Fifth Corps’ advance. Custer plunges into Hood’s rear and begins to clash with the CSA Cavalry. Buford’s Cavalry Division, depleted and tired, was recalled for their egress to Taneytown. They attack directly up the road reprising Hood’s advance. Fifth Corps moves in behind him to block any retreat back down towards Taneytown.

1) Hood now finds himself surrounded by Union forces. Because there is now such an intermingling of CSA and Union troops, the Union artillery can no longer be employed. Those cannons in and around the Cemetery could now be pivoted back to confront Ewell’s attack. There was fierce hand-to-hand fighting all around the Cemetery strongpoint. Hancock is able to shift a few regiments from the south end of the ridge to bolster the cemetery defense and attack into Rodes’ right flank in Ziegler’s Grove. The 8th Ohio Regiment was caught out in the open but managed to ‘go to ground’ and hide at the Trostle farm. They independently attack into Ziegler’s Grove. The fighting there is intense and deadly.  

2) By mid-afternoon on Day 2, Sickles’ Corps was all but wiped out. Concerned primarily with holding the cemetery and adjacent areas, Meade and Hancock could only watch as McLaws’ and Anderson’s divisions compressed Sickles into an ever-shrinking pocket. Out in the open, astride the Emmittsburg Road, beset by infantry in front and back, and bombarded by artillery from Seminary Ridge, Sickles succumbs.

3) But Ewell’s attack is blunted by the cemetery defenders and the attacks into the Grove.

1) Hood is also being pressing into a smaller and smaller area. At about 4PM, both Hood and Longstreet slip out of the shrinking pocket and make their way to Meade’s HQ where they offer their surrender. Lee is as yet unaware of this action. He is in the Seminary cupola watching what seems like a victorious battle along the Emmittsburg Road. He can sense if not see that the fight for the cemetery is waning. It is not clear who won. He knows nothing of Hood’s demise.

In summary then, the bold move to attack into the Union rear while at first successful, becomes a Battle of the Bulge in which Hood’s Division was encircled and trapped. The battle on the Emmittsburg Road eliminated the Union Third Corps. Sickles is wounded and captured. The skillful and rapid repositioning of Union troops first blunted Hood’s attack then eliminated his division. Thousands of ANV troops are taken prisoner; many of them wounded as well. The timely arrival of both the Fifth Corps and Union Cavalry were the determining factor that Hood could not escape from. The stalwart defense of the cemetery prevented a link-up between the two parts of the CSA attack. Ewell was driven back, bloodied but not broken.

The Aftermath: Hood and Longstreet are prisoners. Sickles is soon to succumb to his wounds as a prisoner. Hill’s Corps, bloodied on Day 1, is still reasonably intact; as is Ewell’s. MG McLaws was WIA, so MG Law takes over the ANV First Corps replacing Longstreet. Pickett is just arriving in the area as the Day 2 battle is subsiding.

Lee had gone against his own best counsel and permitted ‘Old Pete’ his attack from the south. The only real chance it had to succeed was if Ewell could have broken though from the north. Failing that, all was lost. Now Lee decided he had had enough. Thus, he began the long march back to Virginia. During the night, he shifted Pickett onto Seminary Ridge and drew back Anderson. To his great consternation, Pickett once again would be the rear guard against a Union counter-attack.

As for Meade, overall his forces had effectively enveloped one attack and repelled the other. While serious, the loss of the two-division Third Corps was not a fatal blow. More of concern was the devastation to his logistics trains. He had left the majority of his supplies and wagons near Pipe’s Creek and Westminster. But those with him at Gettysburg were all but destroyed. He had no supplies to allow him to follow Lee’s withdrawal. Even his cavalry were depleted enough that they were in no shape to pursue Lee. He could do nothing but march towards Westminster.

The war would go on for two more years.

An Alternate ALT Hx?

I suppose it would be possible to reconstruct this scenario in such a way that Ewell breaks through and links up with Hood. But that seems quite remote. Meade found it necessary to sacrifice Third Corps to salvage the rest of his army. Perhaps Pender’s Division could have been employed in an attack much like Pickett’s actual Day 3 attack, but he was somewhat too far behind both Anderson and Rodes that moving an entire division between them would have been quite dicey.

Perhaps a portion of McLaws’ Division could have broken off from the attack on Sickles and surged over Little Round Top since it was occupied by only Vincent’s Brigade and they were facing Hood. But such a major change on-the-fly in the midst of a multi-divisional battle was unusual in that era; it would have required an inordinate amount of command and control that Lee simply did not have.

The best chance of success was that Rodes could have subdued the cemetery strongpoint allowing Early to break through to join up with Hood. But the overall chances of that were quite slim. It would seem that the order of the attacks might have been better served if – the ever reluctant – Ewell had attacked first. That may have pinned down the artillery in and around the cemetery and not allowed it to pivot to Hood.    

IMHO, the southern attack scenario proposed by Tsouras just had too many working parts that needed to be perfectly coordinated to result in a CSA victory. Plus, Meade simply had too much of a reserve and counter-attack force in Sixth Corps and the Cavalry for Hood to withstand. Once again, Lee was defeated by a lack of INTEL about the location and strength of Union forces!

Making it work

Try as I might, I am unable to play out this proposed scenario of an attack up Taneytown Road in such a way that it results in a CSA victory. To my mind, there are just too many Union defenders in too many places for all to be neutralized. By the end of his book, Tsouras has a full-scale attack on Cemetery Ridge by Hill’s Corps (not Pickett). Seemingly, it would have taken attacks by both Hill and Ewell to pin down the entire Union line to keep them from interdicting Longstreet’s rear attack. Such an attack by all three of his Corps would have had to be meticulously planned and executed. Lee’s divisions were just too far-flung for him to exercise minute-by-minute control. Besides, that was simply not his style.

It is possible that the inclusion of McLaws’ Division might have increased Hood’s chances of success, but that is doubtful. No one, not even Meade, could have predicted the timely arrival of Fifth Corps that was able to slam the door on Hood and cut off any retreat. Out in the open as it were, Anderson’s huge division should have been able to make easy work of subduing Sickles’ Corps even without McLaws, but McLaws would have had a hard time fending off the Fifth Union Corps. Once Hood was engaged, without McLaws in support, the nearest Division was Johnson’s. But due to his position and Lee’s philosophy of routing all orders through his Corps Commanders, Johnson would have been difficult to employ to assist Hood.

All in, Hood’s attack into the Union rear, while devastating, was insufficient to break the Union defenses even with the help of the entire Army of Northern Virginia (less Heth and Pickett).

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