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30i. A Pickett Relook

It is a rare occurrence when your entire foundation of what you thought you knew is shaken and perhaps replaced with a new version. Some decades ago as a product of 16 yrs of CATHOLIC education, I came to the realization that the clerical monastic life was as close to pure Communism as anything tried elsewhere on Earth!

Recently, reading Troy Harman’s book LEE’S REAL PLAN at GETTYSBURG, I was stricken to the core with what I thought I knew about the overall plan and specifically Pickett’s Charge much less the ‘copse of trees’. Harman exposes the folly of the common beliefs involved in these event; what he terms the ‘affirmed story’ = what everyone thinks to be a valid version of what actually occurred.

In some circles, I believe that he is called a heretic in that he attacks some of the most favored ‘myths’ about Lee at Gettysburg. In a few hundred pages he calls into question thousands of pages of text and many Ph.D. thesis documents. And he provides documentation to back his newly offered premises!

As I note in Section 32, I started my journey to understand this major event in US (world?) history with the simplest of texts and gradually sought out more araldite tomes to deepen that understanding. Then I stumbled into Harman who turned everything on its side; if not quite upside-down!

In quite the methodical but not plodding manner and with many original text citations, he builds a case that although he was unsuccessful, Lee formulated a plan on 1 July and tried to execute that blueprint over the next two days. It was just that the Union forces hadn’t read or agreed to his plan and they managed to thwart it at every turn. Meade, Hancock and Sickles simply would not cooperate with Lee’s intent to overrun the Cemetery stronghold and vanquish the enemy and thereby win this battle and maybe the war!

I’m not going to turn this into a high school book report to prove that I read the text. Suffice it to say that I HIGHLY recommend that this book be on every Gettysburg aficionado’s book shelf.

Harman also seemingly appears regularly on YOUTUBE Gettysburg-related videos. I’ve not yet had a chance to delve into them but they come highly recommended by others.

Troy Harman’s VDO:

https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=3329742843800066

https://fb.watch/6nQildNoIE/

It would seem that another one of Lee’s major failures was to more effectively utilize Stuart’s Cavalry. Rather than relegate them to a minor supporting role – one that was easily and effectively thwarted by the Union Cavalry on 3 July – Lee seemed to have a number of other options.

Part 1

If indeed we adhere to the theory proposed by Troy Harman in his book LEE’S REAL PLAN at GETTYSBURG, then WHY wasn’t Stuart redirected to launch a more direct attack on the Cemetery? Indeed, even COL Alexander, Longstreet’s Artillery Commander, had drawn up an attack plan to assault the Cemetery from the north rather than the west as Pickett was ordered to do.

If Lee had reservations about assigning such a task to LTG Ewell and MG Rodes whose troops were in position to do so, why did he not bring the cavalry to bear?

As I delve into the use of the cavalry in my late-nite musings, I can conjure up two major scenarios to better utilize that cavalry. One was to have them strike from the north while Pickett was occupying the attention of the infantry and artillery alike. How simple would it have been to bring the 5-6000 cavalrymen around to the west side of the town and position them behind Rodes’ division? While the entire west-facing Union line was in awe of Pickett’s aligned troops, and with Rodes’ artillery in support, Stuart could have launched a devastating attack on the Cemetery. Even if the slope was a bit of a challenge for any but the most experienced riders, that cavalry could have dismounted and ascended the hill as infantry. Here was a group of highly experienced soldiers, who were just as motivated as Pickett’s men were to join the fight. With their late arrival, they had something to prove. Stuart, too, was a glory-hunter who would have liked nothing better than to be the one to snatch victory after two days of disappointing attacks by his two rival commanders: Longstreet and Ewell.

Both Ewell and Rodes would seemingly have relished the chance to ‘redeem’ themselves after their successful but rather lack-luster performance on Day 1 and their outright failures on Day 2. A head-to-head competition between Longstreet/ Pickett and Stuart/Rodes might have gone a long way to claiming victory on Day 3.

As it was, it seems as if Lee had a vision of Stuart charging into the Union rear logistical area after sweeping aside the Union Cavalry. That was never going to happen! As was explored in Section 7g, Lee had no troops whatsoever poised to exploit any gains or breakthroughs that Pickett may have achieved. And yet Lee squandered 5-6000 relatively fresh – and highly motivated – troops on a menial attack 3 miles from the main battle!

History does not formally record whether any alternate plans were even discussed. Did Alexander/Longstreet actually offer the attack from the north scenario? Was it rejected or simply never offered? Was it perhaps a late construct by Alexander to one-up Lee after the abject failure of Pickett’s attack? Perhaps, having seen the futility and failure of Ewell’s Corps to make any effective headway in attacking the Cemetery on Day 2, Lee simply ‘moved on’ to alternate approaches. But it is truly hard to fathom how he could have ignored Stuart’s troops as his ace-in-the-hole. Lee seemingly envisioned Stuart arriving by the backdoor when he might have been better utilized attacking via the front door = the Saddle!

Part 2

My late-nite musing tended towards a different utilization of the cavalry. Rather than attacking from the north, I’d suggest that they could have been more effective in something of a reprise of the Day 2 assault plan that went so awry. It wasn’t a bad plan that Lee envisioned; it was bad execution, thwarted by LTG Sickles’ insubordinate shift of his Corps.

I’d suggest that Lee should have positioned the cavalry near the southern tip of Seminary Ridge. By swinging a bit west of the city, Stuart could likely have avoided detection by any Union observers. Day 3 would have proceeded as it did up to the point of Pickett’s line of advance reaching the Emmittsburg Road. As the entire Union line was focused on that spectacle, Stuart could have emerged around the ridge just as McLaws’ had done on Day 2. He could even have utilized the Peach Orchard knoll as an additional masking terrain element.

Stuart’s Cavalry Corps was organized into 4 Brigades with a 5th of Artillery. BG Fitzhugh Lee led the largest brigade of just under 2000 men. The other 4000 troops were commanded by BG Hampton (1700), BG Jenkins (1100) and BG Chambliss (1100). As per Lee’s envisioned Day 2 flank attack, I’d propose that a staggered echelon attack would have been called for. Fitzhugh Lee’s Brigade would swing around to the south of the orchard knoll and gallop NE aiming at the saddle between Cemetery Ridge and Little Round Top. Their main goal would be to occupy the defenders on LRT and to silence the artillery massed to that low area.

Stuart would led the other three brigades around the north tip of the orchard and with the support of Longstreet’s artillery under the command of COL Alexander, aim directly at the saddle as well. The slashing attack by Lee’s Brigade plus the speed of the advance across that ¾ mile of rather open terrain would hopefully have reduced the effect that any Union artillery that could be brought to bear.

Meanwhile, just to the north, Pickett would be advancing as ordered. But unhindered by the troops to his right (south) that were now being overrun by waves of charging horsemen.  As the vanguard, BG Lee’s Brigade would suppress the union artillery and establish something of a beach head that Stuart could pivot off. Once inside the Union line, Stuart’s three brigades would wheel north. Hampton’s 1700 men would ascend to the crest of the Ridge and attack obliquely into the rear of Hancock’s Second Corps. With Chambliss in reserve to be added to exploit whatever gains were to be had, Jenkins would have stayed on the flatter terrain and charged into the reserve troops and the adjacent logistics area. What would have developed was a multi-layered battle. Frontline Union troops facing Pickett would now find sabers and pistols wreaking havoc in their rear. Reserve infantry on the upperpart of the reverse slope of the ridge would find themselves under attack in front and rear. Their position on the slope would have them off balance for the use of either musket or bayonet. Charging horses could have severely disrupted their lines by sweeping them off their feet and sending them tumbling down the inner slope.

It would not have been a cake-walk, but it is likely that mounted troops would have fared considerably better than Pickett’s advancing foot soldiers! With only a few hundred yards separating them, both of these mighty forces would have been converging on the Cemetery. Now might have been the perfect time for Ewell to launch even a diversionary attack. This would have pinned down and occupied the Cemetery-based infantry and artillery and eased their interdiction of Pickett. With no artillery nor repositioned infantry (the Vermont Regiments), Pickett should have fared much better. Hancock’s infantry crouched behind the stone wall would have been hard-pressed to decide which way to direct their fire. Massed infantry to their front and slashing cavalry to their rear would have added to the chaos and confusion.   

Would Hancock truly have been able to steady and hold his line? Or would they have broken and abandoned the defensive line for a chance of escape to the rear? Again, a major target of at least some of the horsemen would have been the cannons on the ridge as well as those in reserve to the east. Suppressing them would have gone a long way to increasing the number of Pickett’s infantry that reached / breached the wall!

Rodes’ supporting attack would also have removed the Eleventh Union Corps from the equation to the north. The artillery and massed musket fire that disrupted the left flank of the attack by the cobbled together elements of Heth’s Corps would likely have been removed as well. Many more of them would likely have been able to rally, push past the Emmittsburg Road, and assail the Cemetery via Zeigler’s Grove.

It is highly unlikely that even the vastly superior numbers of the massed Union forces could have withstood what was essentially a 5-pronged attack. Rather than needing more troops to exploit any gains, Pickett’s 10,000 men would have been the ‘exploiting’ force. Stuart would have been the anvil against which his hammer fell, crushing the Second Corps infantry between them.

Part 3

Would Meade have had any recourse, any answer, for thousands of cavalrymen marauding through Hancock’s Second Corps?       

Any Fifth or Sixth Corps troops that tried to shift position and support their comrades to their north would have had to contend with BG Lee’s Brigade which would have effectively been Stuart’s rear guard. Overrun and repositioned Union cannons would have been brought to bear on any ‘relief’ force that tried to move north.

Likewise the interior attack by BG Jenkins and perhaps even Chambliss would have prevented Meade from shifting any troops from his east-facing front on Culp’s Hill. Any attempt to use them as reinforcements would have invited a further attack by Early and Johnson on a weakened Culp’s Hill line.

Assuming that GEN Lee and MG Stuart would have deduced the most likely place for Meade to have established his HQ, Stuart would have had at least as a secondary objective to locate and overrun that HQ. Would Meade have had the time and presence of mind to evacuate that cabin and move his HQ staff to the east? We will never know!

Would a white flag of surrender be brandished first by a (now wounded) Hancock? Would that be followed by a general collapse of morale and fight and more such flags flying? Would one be sported by Meade’s HQ staff itself as it approached Stuart in the now-fallen Cemetery? We will never know!

Would the loss of most of seven Corps of the Army of the Potomac have brought Lincoln to the negotiating table? We will never know!

Would the Civil War have effectively ended in a CSA victory on 3 July 1863? We will never know!

 

 

 

 

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