Having pursued a large number of alternative scenarios, I have the following remaining questions:

1) Why did Meade agree to Buford’s Ambush plan? It had obviously never been considered as a possibility and was concocted in complete isolation by Buford. IMHO, Meade should have simply ordered him back to Emmittsburg and then implemented the Pipe Creek Plan. This would have given the Army of the Potomac 2-3 days to prepare for an attack.

2) Why was Lee in such a hurry? The actual battle was played out over only three days. The first day was a surprise to both sides. But once the second day’s flank attack failed to roll up the Union left flank, why did Lee feel the need to immediately attack in force again on Day 3? Returning to my castle siege analogy, Lee held the advantage; Meade was defending the castle. While Lee had insufficient infantry to completely surround said castle, once Stuart’s Cavalry arrived, he could have re-deployed them to the south. Their duty would have been to interdict any supplies moving up from Westminster. In short, Lee did not need to take the castle by brute force. He could have laid siege. The Army of Northern Virginia (ANV) was well supplied. Its supply lines were long but unencumbered and not yet threatened by any Union forces. Meade’s men had only the minimum of supplies; mainly what they carried on their backs.  (see Section 23e)

While it is true that Lee was an island of the Confederacy far in enemy territory, for at least a short time he had the advantage. There was no overriding need for him to immediately launch a new attack on 3 July. Just about every aspect of Pickett’s ill-fate attack was rushed. The planning for that rather complex attack took place over just a few hours. During that time, it evolved from an attack from the south by all three of Longstreet’s divisions to an attack led by Pickett but supported by a cobbled together force from A.P. Hill’s Corps. Even the massive artillery barrage was hastily assembled as if by an afterthought!

Would it not have served the ANV better to have waited at least a day before making a second attack? What did Lee think he had to gain by rushing into action?

Again IMHO, a series of probing attacks that caused the Union to deplete their ammunition would have strengthened Lee’s position. It does seem true that Lee was unaware that Meade had an entire Corps held in reserve, but under siege conditions they were simply more mouths to feed! The analogy of an island would have been reversed. Lee, at least for a matter of days (possibly even weeks) had access to a huge area from which to draw supplies. By sending his wounded back along the same path by which he entered Pennsylvania, he could have used those same wagons to bring up more ammunition. This would have taken time, but seemingly Lee had all the time he needed. There was no burning fuse on his timeline to defeat the Army of the Potomac.

It truly does seem that Lee was obsessed with achieving that victory and was unwilling to lay siege to Meade’s army.


As pointed out above, the addition of remnants of Heth’s division now under the command of Pettigrew and that of Pender’s newly under the command of Trimble was a late decision made by Lee on the morning of 3 July. Longstreet had apparently succeeded in his argument that both of his divisions that had fought so hard on 2 July that were incapable of participating in the plan for Day 3. Apparently, he also expressed concern that using Hood’s Division (now led by BG Law) would leave the entire Confederate right flank open to a counter-attack. So Lee agreed to replace Longstreet’s two divisions with men from Hill’s Corps. But why did he choose the ones that he did?

3) Why wasn’t Anderson’s Division included in the plan?

Anderson had attacked the Union center on Cemetery Ridge in the late afternoon as Sickles’ salient was collapsing in from of McLaws’ Division. But their battle was nowhere near as intense as what Longstreet’s men experienced nor of what Heth had endured on Day 1. Simply stated, Anderson’s men should have been much more ‘fit for duty’ than the ones Lee selected to support Pickett. In addition, both of those (depleted) divisions were under new commanders. It was a recipe for disaster.

Harkening back to the question of the timing, would not the ANV have benefitted from a day or two of rest? Meade’s men were sleeping in the open (no tents), they had only the rations they carried (mainly hardtack and salt-beef). Another day and night of such conditions could only have weakened them further.

A.P Hill could have used that time to re-configure his corps, perhaps reducing it to two divisions by re-assigning the able-bodied men. He had lost two division commanders (Heth and Pender), Pettigrew and Trimble had taken their place but had had no time to fully understand their new positions – particularly Trimble who had been shifted out of Ewell’s Corps while Pettigrew simply moved up in stature within his division.

If ever the adage “Haste makes waste” was true, it applied on 3 July. There was simply no pressing reason for Lee to rush into another battle after two days of intense and costly fighting. Longstreet was still pleading his case that an attack from the south or possibly a disengagement altogether and a movement to Westminster were viable options compared to Lee’s frontal attack plans. Lee could have used that time to better assess his options. For whatever reason, he seemed to be rushing towards his own defeat!

4) Why isn’t WESTMINSTER mentioned more as the true prize in the region? Once Hooker moved the Army of the Potomac north to chase Lee, the Union RailRoad troops began pushing supplies there from Baltimore. Physically, Westminster was simply a larger Gettysburg, closer to Baltimore. But those supplies turned it into the jewel of the region. Meade increased its value when he divested the infantry of their wagon trains and concentrated most of them there as well. Had Lee followed Longstreet’s council and quickly moved south, he may very well have captured those supplies and set himself as a ‘well supplied island of the Confederacy’.

5) alternate sites

There is another aspect of this campaign that I have never seen addressed in the literature. Perhaps it has been researched and found void of evidence. It deals with the possibility of alternate sites for the clash. In an essay that I wrote early on, I asked about Lee looking to the other cardinal compass directions. I have since found a bit more information to expand that discussion, however unsatisfactorily.

Lee seemed obsessed with attacking the Union enclave at Gettysburg. “The enemy is there. We will attack him there!” is a quote oft attributed to him in response to Longstreet arguing to choose a different battlefield; one where they were on the defense forcing the Union to attack them. Seemingly, the possibility of such places did exist, even if Lee would not entertain them seriously.

The Union enclave was to the east. Apparently, as they approached Gettysburg, Lee had had his staff look at a series of hills between Chambersburg and Cashtown as the point to which the ANV would consolidate.

To the north, there was Dilsburg. This is mentioned in passing and had not been properly evaluated. It was nearly equidistant between Gettysburg, Harrisburg and Carlisle. It might have afforded an opportunity to loot military supplies from the Carlisle depot, while pulling the AoP farther from its supply point at Westminster.

Of course, Westminster to the south was the true prize in the region. Lee had no way of knowing but it would have afforded him the luxury of the Pipe Creek line that Hooker and Meade so admired. But the supply cache in the city was the real prize.

It is simply unexplained as to why Lee when confronted with fighting at a place not of his choosing and one in which he was at a clear dis-advantage, would stay and fight as opposed to looking to better ground. This was the tactic that Longstreet persistently but unsuccessfully argued for.


Lee’s haste

Continuing the issue raised in Q2 above, I have looked at this issue from many angles and I cannot understand why Lee felt the urgent need make the attack on 3 July. It is evident that there was inadequate planning and coordination prior to launching the attack. Throughout the morning, Longstreet argued against the plan. Lee wasn’t listening. Longstreet was successful in changing the plan to drop his two divisions that had had so many losses on 2 July. They were replaced by two cobbled together units under new commanders. Both of these belonged to AP Hill’s Corps. There was little coordination between these corps. Is it a wonder that those units to Pickett’s north failed so miserably?

In short, there seemed to be no urgency to continue attacking on 3 July. Both sides could have benefitted from a rest. Losses had been heavy on the prior day and on 1 July Lee had lost many senior officers. He may not have fully appreciated it, but time was on Lee’s side. The AoP was short on supplies. Even though Lee had yet to interdict them, the supply line from Westminster was slow to deliver. Emphasis was on ammunition over food or tentage.

Lee would have been better served to pause and develop a more coherent plan of attack. Perhaps during that interlude, the plan could have been developed that included the cavalry in a more effective way. Longstreet could see the futility of Lee’s Day 3 plan, but failed to get Lee to agree to delay the attack.

If we look at the Union enclave as a rectangle, the only quadrant that had not been probed was the SE corner. This would have been the hardest for Lee to align troops to attack but it deserved consideration. Where were the weak points in the Union line? Certainly not the middle of Hancock’s Corps at the angle of the stone wall! Had Lee probed, he might have found the point where the BALTO Pike passed near Culp’s Hill (another Saddle) but also the juncture of two corps. Such seams are venerable since two different commanders have to react. This may have proved to be an avenue of access to the cemetery.

Lee was determined to take what he saw as the castle keep = the cemetery. He had no way of knowing that Meade’s HQ was in that immediate area, but it was the major prize.

All things considered, throwing the remainder of his fighting strength at Hancock made little sense. Seemingly, Lee had convinced himself – mistakenly – that Meade would have weakened that area to reinforce his flanks. Nothing could have been farther from the truth. Perhaps it is what Lee would have done had their positions been reversed so he was projecting that onto Meade.

Stuart’s return and chastisement by Lee was fresh in everyone’s mind. Stuart was not about to question Lee’s order for him to conduct an ill-planned and ill-fated mission. Perhaps, had there been a short period for tempers to settle, Stuart and Longstreet might have combined to provide Lee with alternative attack plans. There was nothing to be gained and everything to lose by acting hastily.

I personally believe that the scenario of placing the cavalry in a blockage position as explored in Section 23e above would have had much better results. Laying siege to the Union enclave makes more sense that attacking the castle walls! Perhaps the castle keep could have been starved into submission rather than taken by sheer force.

I have asked in other sections just what Lee would have seen as success on Day 3. It is truly unclear what he could have done to exploit any gains that Pickett may have made. Seemingly his plan stopped at attacking the castle wall and failed to provide a means to conquer the castle keep.

Would it not have been a better plan to include either Stuart or Anderson as the second wave to exploit any success by Pickett? There seems to have been no such second wave.   

Why then did Lee seem to have such a sense of urgency that he was willing to sacrifice his last unbloodied division on such a poorly planned attack? He was so embarrassed by the subsequent defeat that he never wrote anything about that battle. We have hundreds of firsthand accounts of the battle. But we know nothing of Lee’s personal thoughts and expectations.

Squandered opportunities

Knowing what transpired at Gettysburg over those three days, I have spent endless hours cogitating on what might have been. There were multiple opportunities where decisions were made that sent these forces hurtling towards a particular outcome. Almost all of these turned in favor of the Union. Most were actions that Robert E Lee took or failed to take that sealed his fate as loser.

As his army approached Gettysburg, there is little to be faulted about his deployment of Ewell north with Early to York. But his failure to guard Early’s rear by securing the town with at least a small force, opened the door for BG Buford to seize the initiative and concoct the ambush plan. IOW, Buford should never have been allowed near the town on 30 June. Of course, there is the argument that Buford’s actions were so far beyond his mandate that they could have been considered insubordination and he court marshaled for them.

Twice (thrice?) Lee seemingly failed to properly utilize MG Anderson’s Division. He was held in reserve rather than committed to battle. My complicated WHATIF scenario of sending that division south to interdict arriving Union forces could indeed have led to a stunning Confederate victory on 1 July. But Lee failed to see that option. On 3 July, the frontal assault by Pickett failed largely in that his division was not adequately supported on its flanks. One is forced to ask, where Anderson’s division was and why was it not part of the attack force? Even on 2 July an attack from the north by Anderson on Sickles’ salient would possibly have had greater success than Longstreet had.

In the same vein of failure to act, we can place the blame solely on Lee for not more effectively utilizing MG Stuart’s cavalry. Almost anything would have been preferable to the ill-fated attack on the rear of the Union position. He could also have augmented Pickett’s attack. I prefer the WHATIF where he moves to interdict any supplies coming north and thereby institutes a siege of the Union enclave. We also have the situation that had he acted solely within his orders, Stuart would have been at Gettysburg when Early was passing through. So his division should have been the one to repel Buford’s advance.

Although it was not Longstreet’s exact plan, I can easily speculate that had Lee listened to Longstreet’s arguments, a siege situation would have developed rather than the two failed attacks that doomed the Rebel cause. Lee was simply too over confident and in too much of a hurry to reach a decisive end to this battle and possibly the war that he seemed deaf and blind to any alternative approaches. He hurried to defeat when no haste was required.

Examining the sequence of events as they actually played out, it is clear that neither of the attacks on Days 2 or 3 should have proceeded. All the signs were clear that they would not succeed. And yet, Lee insisted that they be carried out. Longstreet should have halted his advance and an alternative plan evolved in response to Sickles’ shift. Much more planning should have gone into Pickett’s attack. Its futility should have been recognized and the plan aborted.

Lee’s uncharacteristic absence from the battlefront on both Day 1 and 2 were a large factor in the ultimate defeat. His orders remained unquestioned and he was not present to alter them as the situation changed. He alone – not the soldiers who carried out those orders – was to blame for the defeat. Once again, we are forced to ask how much of an impact Lee’s health had on this outcome.

On the Union side, Meade’s only major decisions came before and after the battle. He chose to follow the advice of LTG Hancock who agreed with Buford and Reynolds that Gettysburg was ‘good ground’ and yet he quite likely had ‘better ground’ at Pipe Creek at least as far as access to his supplies. Once he had committed his entire force to Gettysburg, he wisely adopted a wait and see posture and simply reacted to Lee’s (somewhat disastrous) decisions. He was much criticized by his superiors who were not present on the battlefield for not pursuing the ANV with the intent of destroying it. His reasoning was sound and his actions prudent if a bit underwhelming in not chasing Lee down.

Surely, Lee lost the battle much more so than Meade did anything to win it.

It is also of note that the next major clash between the ANV and the AoP did not occur until late November.


Discusses Lee’s health at 2:00 in:

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