30p. Summation

I do not believe that anyone would dispute the fact that Lee lost the Battle at Gettysburg more so than Meade won it. In terms of the number of soldiers lost, it was a horrendous tactical defeat. But it might not have been an ignominious a defeat on the strategic level as history would record.

I suggest that my ‘4Ts’ analysis (Section 2) accurately and succinctly lays out the underlying reasons for the Confederate loss. But there is more to it. I had independently come to much the same conclusion as Troy Harmon that Lee had a coherent and militarily defensible plan that simply suffered from a number of unanticipated impediments.   

I would agree that from his first sighting of the cemetery and its adjacent hills, Lee recognized it as the ‘castle keep’ that needed to be captured. His actions and orders in the next two days were entirely consistent with this assessment. It is a simple fact that multiple factors conspired to thwart his plans. His vision of how the Union troops were aligned on the morning of 2 July may have been flawed and perhaps he could have done more to monitor and verify that alignment. The fact that Sickles was able to move undetected into his advanced position exactly where MG McLaws was expecting to begin to maneuver into his attack formation is undoubtedly a major failing. I find it hard to believe that no one in Anderson’s division positioned as it was on the east-facing slope of Seminary Ridge noticed this advance of thousands of troops. I do not find it hard to accept that no one reported this movement back to Lee. Once again we need to fallback to Lee’s command philosophy (Section 3b) to see that Hill’s Corps and Anderson were playing a supporting role at best in the Day 2 plan. There is no reason to suggest that Anderson or any of his subordinate commanders would have presumed to attempt to intervene to alter Lee’ orders of the day no matter what vital information they may have had. Lee’s command philosophy and chain of command simply did not work that way.

There is also every reason to believe that Lee’s focus was solely on the cemetery on both Day 2 & 3. The unanticipated and unrecognized advance by Sickles simply destroyed Lee’s plan and vision. The entire battle on the Union left flank that day was purely a detour. There was never a plan to attack in the area of Little Round Top.  

In the same vein, it was largely terrain that dictated the inability of any of his attack plans to actually penetrate the cemetery. If we take a drone’s-eye view of that small corner of the battlefield, the reasons can be easily identified. Rather than a smooth curve at the flexion point of the inverted-J, the cemetery actually is a salient of its own projecting out from the Union line. If Lee could have been able to view it from above, his plan to attack it would easily have been validated. In one way it was a problem for those trying to defend it. All of the Union infantry defending it and its array of artillery were facing outward in primarily three; perhaps with even a few facing south. This configuration prevented them from offering support across the salient; they were essentially back-to-back. In the converse, this ‘protrusion’ was a boon to the artillerymen. It was a simple matter to rotate their guns a few degrees in any direction to aim at any attacking force. This worked especially well when the attacks were not well coordinated to come at them from multiple directions at once.

Simultaneously, its precise location impeded Ewell’s attacks. From his position on the SW corner of the town, Rodes was the closest. He had at his disposal a few strategically placed knolls on which he positioned artillery that could easily and accurately target the cemetery. But the fact that he cemetery was so close to the southern edge of the town (barely a ½ mile) was an impediment to his aligning troops to launch a ground attack up the slope into the cemetery proper.

To the east, MG Early had a similar problem. He was also constrained by the terrain of the town itself. His main bivouac was to the east of mid-town. To attack the cemetery, he had to thread his way past the southern edge of the town. As he did so, he was under the observation of the Union forces on Culp’s Hill. It became necessary for him to use part of his force plus Johnson’s Division to pin down and occupy those defenders. None the less, on the late afternoon of Day 2 he had the most successful penetration into the cemetery salient. Not unlike Wright’s advance on Cemetery Ridge, that eventually failed due to a lack of any support and the timely arrival of Union re-enforcements.

If we simply write off Day 2 as a complete fluke and not an actual failure by Lee, then Pickett’s attack on Day 3 makes more sense. But only if we grant that the focus of that attack was the cemetery via Ziegler’s Grove and not the copse of trees or ‘the angle’ of the stone boundary wall. (In section 30j, I make the argument — so solidly supported by Troy Harmon’s work — that the grove was the easily visible target that all his commanders could focus on from every direction.) But there were some serious repercussions of the Day 2 battle that carried over into Day 3. Namely, this was the reluctance and failure of Longstreet to commit Law [1] and McLaws to support Pickett on his right flank. The failure to occupy and contain the lower end of the Union 2nd Corps on Cemetery Ridge allowed the three regiments from Vermont to shift forward ad devastate Kemper’s right flank with enfilading volleys. This would never have happened if that portion of the battlefield was busy dealing with either Law or McLaws.

[1] replacing the wounded MG Hood.

A completely independent assessment and plan of attack was offered a few years after the event by Longstreet’s artillery chief, COL Alexander (See Section 30j). He literally mapped out an attack plan from the north as an alternative to Pickett approaching from the southwest. It is hard to assess whether he held such a view at the time of the battle or whether it was purely in retrospect given the known failure of that ill-fated attack. Another element that Lee never seemed to even entertain was to use Stuart’s cavalry to support Pickett more directly. (In Section 23e, I postulate how Stuart might have had an actual impact on Day 3 if he had been otherwise utilized.)

Lee may indeed have made an error in assuming that Meade had weakened his center to strengthen his flanks after the Day 2 attacks. But that does not in itself condemn the concept of aiming 12-15,000 men at the cemetery on Day 3. Had Hill’s depleted forces on the left flank of Pickett had more success in advancing closer to the cemetery and the grove of trees, the overall attack may have had a greater chance of success. Had there been a more effective diversionary attack by Ewell from the north to occupy some of the artillery that tore into them, Pickett may have had more success with troops supporting his left. Of course, we also have to factor in the failure of the fuse technology that all but negated the pre-attack barrage. Once again, the lack of employment of the thousands of Stuart’s cavalry – whether mounted or dis-mounted – is still an unanswered question in Lee’s overall strategic plan. Also unexplained in this cobbled together attack force is the absence of any involvement by Anderson. He had been fully engaged late in the afternoon of Day 2, but his losses never came close to those of the forces that Pettigrew and Trimble were leading as replacements for the wounded Pender and Heth.

In summary, following a reasonable successful battle on Day 1, Lee concocted militarily defensible plans of attack over the course of the next two days. Pickett’s frontal assault followed somewhat logically to the failure Longstreet’s Day 2 flank attack. I repeat that Lee’s plan for that attack was simply driven off the rails by Sickles’ decision to move his corps forward. That was not an actual failure on Lee’s part except not to have detected and perhaps even more adequately reacted to that unexpected development. Could the earlier employment of Anderson have circumvented and somewhat negated Sickles’ position and disruption of Longstreet’s attack plan? The simple fact that Lee himself was not noted to be present on the battlefield for most if not all of Day 2 could be his worst failure of that day. Anderson was not about to act to alter Lee’s plan without Lee’s direct intervention via Hill of course.  In short, the plans were not necessarily flawed, the execution was severely lacking. Thwarting those plans was where Meade and his subordinates excelled; resulting in a win.

Seemingly, Lee had three opportunities to change the course of history during this battle: .

1. Had he deployed Anderson’s Division on Day 1 as proposed in Section 28.

2. Had he preempted Longstreet’s delayed attack on Day 2 by sending Anderson’s men down from Seminary Ridge to attack either Sickles’ right flank or into the gap between Humphrey in the orchard and the Saddle at Hancock’s left flank; or even both.

3. Had he added the punch of Stuart’s cavalry to Pickett’s attacking force. (Section 23)

One can only speculate on how great an impact Lee’s reported ill-health (angina) during that week affected his stamina to directly oversee the Day 2 battle maneuvers as opposed to simply ordering them then withdrawing to rest. He was simply unaware of the hours of delay that Longstreet encountered in the movement to attack the Union left flank. Seemingly he had it within his purview to launch Anderson off Seminary Ridge prior to McLaw’s arrival at the Peach Orchard. There would have been two possible alternatives: 1) to send Anderson south to oust Sickles [2] and thereby clear the way for the attack as planned or 2) to have him carry out the planned attack along the Emmittsburg Road in Longstreet’s stead [3].


[2] Anderson’s 5 brigades would vastly outnumber Sickles’ two divisions and even rivaled Hood ad McLaws in total numbers.

[3] Such a substitution attack by Anderson was suggested by BG Hunt in a post-war assessment of the battle.

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