6b. Lee’s orders

The only action that Lee took to scout the route of his proposed attack was to dispatch his engineer, CPT Samuel Johnston to reconnoiter the route. Oddly enough, this is a role that CPT Robert E Lee himself had played in Mexico for GEN Winfield Scott.

As is pointed out in Section 6a above, CPT Johnston reported to Lee that he could detect no Union forces near the southern end of Seminary Ridge or in the valley over to Little Round Top. He could not pin-point for Lee the location of the Union left flank. This only fed Lee’s delusion that they must be along the Emmittsburg Road.

Over breakfast, Lee met with LTG James “Pete” Longstreet and assigned him the task of making this flank attack. Since Longstreet had never laid eyes on the battlefield on the east side of Seminary Ridge, he had to take Lee at his word as to where the Union forces were how the attack should proceed. Longstreet received these orders with reluctance. All thoughout the march north, he had been cautioning Lee about being too aggressive. He urged that once they met the Union army that they should assume a more defensive mode and force (allow) the Union to attack them. Now Lee was advocating a bold attack on a seemingly entrenched force; exactly the opposite of Longstreet’s counsel. Since the death of Stonewall Jackson, Longstreet was Lee’s most senior and trusted advisor. In fact, the other two corps commanders had yet to lead a full corps into battle. Longstreet was beginning to feel slighted in that his tactical recommendations were being ignored.

Longstreet changed the argument. He’d march his two divisions south behind Seminary Ridge but rather than make a U-turn and attack north, he wanted to keep going south and swing around Big Round Top to attack along the Baltimore Pike. [This end-run scenario is the subject of Peter Tsouras’ book: GETTYSBURG: An Alternate History] Alternately, he could keep going south and attack whatever Union forces were still en route to Gettysburg. He was as yet unaware that five of the seven Union corps were already consolidated. His chances of randomly locating the other two were quite slim.

At this point in the battle, I suggest that the ONLY way Lee could improve his chances of winning a major victory would be to have disengaged and moved south to try to occupy Westminster. But Lee was having none of this. His quote seems to have been: “The enemy is there! We will attack him there!” as he pointed east.

Having rejected all of Longstreet’s counter-arguments, Lee dismissed him to work out the details of his attack. Lee seems to disappear from the history books for the remainder of the day. Some historians speculate that he retired to his HQ and slept most of the day. He did not reappear until late afternoon to receive the (ghastly) reports of the day’s actions.

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