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30a. Unique

The Uniqueness of Gettysburg

In addition to being the bloodiest [1] and one of the longest (not campaigns) battles in the Civil War, Gettysburg had 5 unique elements all of which contributed to the Confederate loss. Things REALLY didn’t go their way!

Obviously, I have delved deep into the terrain and psyche of Gettysburg and I will freely admit that I am far from an expert on the other campaigns of the war, but I’m pretty sure that these elements are indeed unique to this battle. I’ve touched on each of these in other essays, but here is the list:

  1. This battle was fought far into Union territory. Never again did the Rebels invade the north.
  2. There was no real expectation that BG Buford would concoct the ambush that started the event. His assigned role was to fix the position of Lee’s force. He did that before noon on 30 June and could have returned to base in time for supper = mission accomplished! Instead, he decided to stay and ambush Lee to hold him in place until Meade could converge his troops. It was also a situation where the infantry arrived to ‘rescue’ the cavalry.
  3. Staying with the cavalry, J.E.B. Stuart was supposed to be screening and scouting for Lee. Instead he was off on a personal tour of Maryland garnering newspaper headlines with his exploits. He should have been waiting at Gettysburg when Buford arrived. A 30 June Cavalry clash could easily have changed the entire series of events.
  4. The concept of a military unit being out of its assigned place is certainly not a unique circumstance, but the fact that Sickles had placed his 2 divisions exactly in the path of Longstreet’s flank attack – thereby thwarting it – may, in fact, be a never before seen event.
  5. The Day 3 pre-attack artillery barrage was about a unique event as one can find. Lee was a master tactician, but he had never before used such a tactic and never would again. It was the largest such attack ever executed in the Western Hemisphere and wasn’t rivaled until WW I. The fact that it failed was not Lee’s fault, but a technical one due to bad fuses.

Each of these elements conspired against Lee’s chance of success in his plan to bring the war to an end. 

[1] If I’m not mistaken., Fredericksburg was the BIGGEST battle in terms of the most participants.

A myth debunked:

For a number of decades in the 20th century a myth evolved about why Hill’s Corps was headed to Gettysburg. That myth stated that he was in search of shoes. While it is true that much of the Army of Northern Virginia was unshod, there simply were no shoes to be had in the town.

In contrast, there MAY have been shoes for the taking at the Union supply depot at Carlisle. MG Ewell’s Corps was headed there. If anyone could find needed military supplies there, it was Ewell. He had once been stationed there. But he never got to fully plunder the depot. GEN Lee recalled him to consolidate with the rest of the army at Gettysburg before he had time to ransack to base.

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