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 directions; 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 the 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. Anderson was not about to act to alter Lee’s plan without Lee’s direct intervention via Hill.  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 four 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 (Section 25k).

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

4. Had he used the cavalry to encircle Meade and interdict his supplies

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.


Somehow I thought it was fitting that in the four and a half hour movie GETTYSBURG, GEN George Meade has little more than a walk-on part, appearing on screen for mere seconds. Such was his role in that battle. His overall strategy was quite simple: Let Lee attack then repulse that attack! Meade’s only active contribution to the battle occurred on the late afternoon of Day 2 when he personally directed units to support Sickles’ salient.

I, too, have spent the vast majority of my time ‘second-guessing’ Lee’s orders and playing out multiple alternative scenarios. I thought it time to take a look at how Meade may have moved his chess pieces in different ways. There seemed to be few possibilities. The most obvious was that he never should have been there in the first place. It seems quite clear that he should have rejected Buford’s insubordinate ambush plan and ordered him back to Emmittsburg. We should be debating the outcome of the Battle of Pipe’s Creek. There never should have been a clash at Gettysburg.

As to options that Meade had to change the outcome at Gettysburg, there were relatively few. The first is rather far-fetched because it requires a major alteration of the time-line. It involves the re-direction of either the 5th or 6th Corps to arrive by marching around Big Round Top and shoring up Sickles’ salient prior to the Rebel attack. But there are just too many alterations to reality to make this a feasible ALT Hx scenario.

As we view the battlefield as a whole, Meade’s chess pieces are rather ‘fixed’ and not suited to re-deployment. The terrain defined their deployment as each arrived in-turn. The ‘castle walls’ had to be manned! The decision that Meade made to leave most of his supply wagons near Westminster was tactically sound, but could have proved costly in the long-run. Had Lee opted for a longer ‘siege’ tactic, Meade might have been caught short on supplies. (see Section 40)

The only element of his army that was not fixed in place was the Sixth Corps being held in reserve. But Meade really had no option but to leave them astride the BALTO PIKE. There simply was nowhere else to place them until and unless they were needed.

I briefly explored the possibility that Sixth Corps could have been ordered into the Gettysburg area much earlier. But such an ALT Hx scenario added little to the Union position on Day 1. With Meade so new to the command, that would have been a very bold move so early on.

Meade made another decision late on the afternoon of Day 3 that resulted in no action. Despite the urging of some of his Corps Commanders, he decided not to counter-attack in the wake of Pickett’s defeat. He cited a list of reasons why he would not give such an order. Most were valid concerns.

His last major decision not to pursue the Army of Northern Virginia as it lumbered south was based largely on a lack of supplies meaning that his men were hungry and tired and in his estimation not capable of that long march.

So most of Meade’s major decisions resulted in no action. Even his intense direct involvement in attempting to save Sickles’ salient ultimately failed. That entire day’s battle resulted in little more than a stalemate with the Rebels holding a bit more ground than they did earlier. But those gains proved useless on Day 3.   

A Deadly Game of Chess

Part 1 Reality

In what I refer to as my late-nite musings, I lie in the quiet and dark of the evening and play out the battle or these many ALT Hx scenarios in my mind. I envision GENs Lee and Meade as two ethereal ancient gods playing chess on a large board. But their pieces are limited. Meade has 9. His 7 Pawns represent his 7 infantry corps. These can be broken down but they generally move and fight as a unit. He also has a rather diminutive Knight. They are all defending a Rook; his castle keep = the cemetery just to the south of town. Lee has no Rook; no central concentration of power. Because it is organized as a single fighting force, his Knight is larger and more powerful than Meade’s.  He has 9 Pawns = his 9 divisions. They, too, are loosely organized into three Corps but generally move and fight more independently than Meade’s divisions. One Rebel division is roughly equal to 1 Union Corps.

The chess game was initiated on the afternoon of 1 July, when LTG Hancock notified Meade that the terrain that BG Buford had identified was indeed “good ground” and Meade should consolidate his entire Army of the Potomac (AoP) there. Since neither Lee nor Meade was present on Day 1, we will ignore most of the action that took place. It only served to set up the board! It set the first few pawns into place.

By late afternoon, MG Early had isolated his division on the east side of the city. In balance, MG Rodes was on the SW corner. MG Heth’s division had borne the brunt of the day’s fighting and was on the original battlefield to the NW of the city. That division was no longer combat effective. MG Pender’s wounded but alive division was between him and Rodes. Four Rebel pawns were on the board!

The AoP had only two! Yet they were busy building the castle keep in the cemetery. The First and Eleventh Union Corps had been battered by the day’s fighting but were still strong. Three more pawns arrived throughout the night [1] and were in place by morning. Each was placed in its respective position to “man the castle walls”. By that time, Lee had two more pawns on the board as well. MG Johnson’s was sitting just to the south of Early and MG Anderson’s was occupying the east-facing slope of Seminary Ridge.

GEN Lee had arrived in the afternoon of 1 July. He immediately spotted the Castle Keep and made that his primary objective. He also thought that he recognized a weakness on the Union left (southern) flank. He began to devise a plan to attack that castle. But his last four pieces were not yet in play. Much to his dismay, he had lost track of his cavalry (Knight) and his other three pawns [2] were still en route.

On the morning of 2 July, he ordered Longstreet to attack from the south aiming at the Rook. He was to loop around the end of Seminary Ridge and attack up the Emmittsburg Road. But that plan had three major flaws: it would be hours before Longstreet could get his force to the start point; the union line was not where Lee presumed it to be [3]; MG Sickles had ideas of his own.

It appeared to the Rebels that the southernmost hills were unmanned. But Sickles’ Corps was there out of sight. Then he made the bold move farther west to what he saw as ‘better ground”. He inadvertently occupied the exact place that Longstreet intended to use to launch his attack. To say the least, Lee’s plan disintegrated before it began. The entire battle on the south (left) flank was a detour. It was only the very timely arrival of the Fifth Union Corps that prevented the Rebels from routing the Union line. The day’s fighting continued well into the night as LTG Ewell’s Corps and MG Anderson’s Division, launch ineffective attacks all along the Union line. The day ended in a virtual stalemate with the Rebel gaining a small tract of land, but at great expense. Both of Longstreet’s Divisions were battered. Sickles’ Corps was all but destroyed.

While this fighting was taking place, the remainder of the pieces arrived. MG Stuart’s 5000-man Cavalry finally reported in, they were unbloodied but less than ‘fresh’ having endured a long demanding meandering tour of Maryland and Pennsylvania. Lee’s final infantry pawn [4] arrived after a long march as well. On the Union side, the late-comer was the Sixth Union Corps. As there was no place on the wall for them, they were kept in reserve. Meade now had upwards of 100,000 men and horses in a rather small enclosed area [5].

Part 2: ALT Hx

At the war council that evening, Lee put forth a plan to storm the castle once more. But Longstreet argued against it. He pointed out that time was on their side; that there was no need to take the castle by brute force. The entire Army of Northern Virginia – especially Stuart and Pickett could benefit greatly from a rest. A number of the leadership had also been wounded [6]. Lee could use that time to reassign officers and re-align some of the units.

Together they mapped out a plan. The first move was to cut off Meade’s supplies. To do this, Stuart would shift to the south and set up road blocks on the only two roads that linked Westminster and Gettysburg. To seal off any contact or escape to the east, Rodes would move his division to the south of Johnson. This would have the added benefit of re-uniting Ewell’s Corps.

Similarly, Pickett would move to the south of Hood’s Division [7]. A cobbled together force under MG Trimble would fill the space vacated by Rodes. Meade would be fully encircled.

Time was not on Meade’s side! In order to hasten the arrival of his infantry, he had ordered them to leave most of their wagon trains near Westminster. Thanks to Stuart, he now had no access. Other than medical supplies and ammunition, he had little else in is enclave. Even the few kitchen wagons had little or nothing to cook with. Horse stew of meat and marrow was the fare of the day. Food, water and sanitation were major issues. The few streams and wells on the farmsteads were insufficient to meet the needs of so many mouths. Then came the rain! It rained for nearly 36 hours from 3 to 5 July. With no tents, his men were wet, cold, hungry and miserable. With so many in such a small area, sanitation was deteriorating rapidly.

Lee’s men however were hunkered down in their tents, enjoying at least one hot meal per day of meat, vegetables and bread with fruit for dessert! All the bounty that Pennsylvania could provide! Once the encirclement was complete, Lee had proposed a truce to allow for the collection of wounded and burying the death. Lee knew that this would place an additional burden on Meade to care for those wounded. He, on the other hand, was immediately sending his wounded south. They were riding on top of supplies looted during the invasion. They were accompanied by huge herds of cattle, sheep, and pigs as well as horses. These would serve the ANV well for months to come. Moving north from the railhead at Winchester VA was a steady stream of supply wagons, especially ammunition, the one item not easily available.

Lee fully expected Meade would be forced to try a break-out soon. The logical move would be for Meade to try to reach his supply cache at Westminster. Stuart’s cavalry remained mobile so as not to be pinned down. Pickett and Rodes were perfectly positioned to move to Stuart’s aid if needed. But when that escape came, Lee had no intention of engaging. He was wary that with him in the north, Lincoln might be persuaded to send more troops north to support Meade. He could be walking into another ambush. So he was prepared to send Hill’s Corps south, back through Chambersburg. Longstreet would move south then turn west and escape through the mountain pass near Emmittsburg. Ewell had the most hazardous exit. He’d have to cross behind the Union Army and follow Longstreet. But Lee was confident that Meade’s only concern would be reaching the safety of Westminster and that he would not pursue.

[1] Second, Twelfth and Third Union Corps

[2] LTG Longstreet’s Corps

[3] It was a full half-mile farther east on Cemetery Ridge, not on the road.

[4] Pickett’s Division

[5] The “wall” was only 3 miles long and the entire enclave was roughly 2 square miles.

[6] Heth and Pender on Day 1 and then Hood on Day 2.

[7] Now under the command of MG Law.

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