Thursday, March 8, 2012

Reason 15: The collective decision by Meade and his corp commanders to stay and fight on July 3rd.

As stated earlier, I once again apologize for the gap of time between posts. Due to major medical reasons I was down and out for while and although I am no where near 100 percent, I refuse to allow my medical condition stop me from posting for you guys any longer.

Meade and the Council of War

We continue today with the advancing of the list of reasons on why Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia were unsuccessful in obtaining victory at Gettysburg. Ranking in at number 15 on our list is Meade's council of war during the late night of July 2nd. It was during this council of war that Meade and his corp commanders chose to stay and fight it out on July 3rd.

Many a civil war historian, both amatuer and professional, usually point to Grant refusing to retreat back across the Rappahannock river to safety after the Battle in the Wilderness as the moment when confidence in ultimate victory shifted from Lee's army to the Army of the Potomac. It is a theory that I personally completely disagree with. Don't get me wrong, Grant leading his troops south instead of to the safety of the opposite banks of the Rappahannock is a very moving image, but to me, the ultimate moment when confidence shifted took place in Meade's headquarters on the evening of July 2nd 1863. It was there that Meade and his senior officers chose to stay and fight it out.

The choice was a brave one to say the least. When I take a look at what Meade faced when he entered his headquarters for the council of war that late July evening, I certainly don't envy the man. For two days prior to the council, the Army of the Potomac has been simply put, pummeled. Three of Meade's seven corps had been eviscerated. Twenty five of his fifty one infantry brigades had been used up. An other little known fact was that supplies such as water and rations were running low for the army as well.

An other thing that may have been weighing on Meade that evening, was the selection of ground. Abner Doubleday would claim after the war that Meade was never happy with Hancock's selection of the ground that his army now held control of. I personally find Doubleday's claim to be nonsensical, but if you choose to believe his words, than this would have also played a huge factor in the troubles that Meade faced that evening.

As the council of war began to wrap up, Meade put the issue of staying put to a vote, and as we know today, the vote was an unanimous vote to stay and fight it out, a choice that would lead Meade and his army to ultimate victory on July 3rd. It would also lead to complete confidence in victory for the entire war to be restored to the high command in the Union Army of the Potomac. That muggy July night in 1863 would not only have repercussions on the battle at hand, but I dare say the entire war.

It would not take long after the battle, for accusations to begin to fly. Meade would come under attack by Daniel Butterfield and David Birney, both claiming Meade wanted to retreat that night, but was forced to stay by the generals present during the council of war. These accusations are probably very much unfounded. Basically all of the other generals that were present disputed them and claimed them to be untrue. Also Butterfield was a close friend of Hooker and Sickles, and being that Meade was not exactly close with both Hooker and Sickles, there was more than likely an agenda to be accomplished by Butterfield. Many of today's historians actually believe that Meade really had made up his mind to stay before the council and vote even took place.

In closing, on the late night of July 2nd, Lee had Meade against the ropes so to speak. Where Meade succeeded where others had failed, was Meade did not throw in the towel and turn and run away. He refused to give in and he earned the respect and confidence of the men who served under him in doing so. With that confidence now in Meade's hand, it was just one more nail in the coffin that belonged to Lee's Army of Northern Virginia at Gettysburg.

Fred Brennan

Lack of Posts

I wanted to take the time to apologize to everyone for the lack of activity recently on the blog. Unfortunately I was in the hospital for about a week plus due to some major issues with my kidneys. I have just recently gotten back home and up until today, did not have the energy between bouts of pain and doctors appointments to make a post.

On the bright side, I am now regaining my strength and I have a lot I want to post about. So stay tuned over the next couple of days as there is bound to be a flood of posts.

Thank You,
Fred Brennan

Sunday, February 19, 2012

16. Meade's localized counter attack at Culps Hill early on July 3rd.

We continue now onto reason 16 as to why Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia was unsuccessful in the Gettysburg Campaign. As stated before, the 17 reasons for the confederate loss at Gettysburg must be credited to the authors of the highly informative book "Last Chance for Victory".

Today we are going to take a look at reason number 16, Meade's localized counter attack at Culps Hill early on the morning of July 3rd. To understand what happened on July 3rd we must first take a quick look at Ewells actions and the attack made by Edward Johnson's division on July 2nd.

Quick Review of Lee's Plan for the Union Right Flank on July 2nd

As we are all very much aware, Lee's plans for July 2nd was to conduct what is referred to as an en echelon attack. This attack was to begin with Longstreet's corp using the Emmitsburg road as a guide line to assault the union left flank. The attack was to begin with Hoods division and Mclaw's division. It was Lee's plan to then have A.P. Hill commit his division in an assault in the area of Cemetery Ridge and finally Ewells corp would commit its divisions in an assault on Cemetery Hill and Culp's Hill.

The reason behind this plan was Lee was hoping that Longstreet's divisions would strike the union left and have enough success that Meade would be forced to strip away troops from the area around Cemetery Hill and Culp's Hill to stop the tide of Longstreet's and essentially A.P. Hills assault. With the area of Cemetery Hill and Culp's Hill weakened, Ewells corp would then attack in the weening hours of July 2nd and if all went according to plan, Ewell's corp would carry these objectives and could quite possibly win the day for the confederacy.

Although Lee's en echelon attack began to fall apart with A.P. Hills corp, which is a topic we will discuss in an other post, Meade was still forced to do exactly what Lee had intended. By the early evening hours of July 2nd, Meade had only one of Slocum's 12th corp brigades manning the defenses of Culp's Hill. He had sent the rest to endangered parts of the union line to the south.

Ewell Attacks Culp's Hill on the Evening of July 2nd.

Somewhere between the hours of 4pm and 6pm, while Ewells guns were being outmatched by Union artillery on Cemetery Hill and along the Baltimore Pike, Ewell and his staff rode through the town of Gettysburg to St, Francis Xavier's Roman Catholic Church located on High Street. Ewell sent his staff scurrying up the ladder of the church to the cupola to observe how things were progressing. While Ewell waited down in the street below, his staff members, who had an excellent view straight down the Emmitsburg road from there high perched posistion, called down to Ewell. "Things are going splendidly! We are driving them back everywhere!" It was not long after Ewell and his staff left the church on high street, that he received reports from skirmishers along Rock Creek, that union troops were quitting there positions.

Even Ewell, the general who had erred so much on the side of caution during the early evening hours of July 1st, knew that all of these signs showed it was time to attack. It was sometime between 6pm and 6:45pm that Ewell's division commander Edward "Allegheny" Johnson received his orders to proceed with the assault on Culps Hill. By 7pm Johnson had his men aligned and ready to proceed with the assault.

Johnsons division, minus Walker's Stonewall brigade, which was kept on the Hanover road to protect the flank in lieu of Stuart's missing cavalry, crossed waist deep Rock Creek. It was just about dark when Johnson's division began to struggle up the rocky slopes, guided only by the flash of small arms fire. In there front lay the lone New York Brigade of George Greene.

Greene had been forced to stretch his brigade from the area occupied by General Wadsworth all the way to lower Culp's Hill. 400 hundred yards of breast works from lower Culp's Hill to the area around Spanglers Spring were left unoccupied.

It was on this fateful evening that glory could have fell upon confederate brigadier general George Hume "Maryland" Steuart.  Steuart occupied the far left of Johnson's line. Steuart had lucked out, and his left most regiments stumbled up the rocky slopes and into unoccupied trenches that stretched beyond Greene's line.  Steuart began to turn Greene's flank and forced at least two regiments back to the summit of the hill. Little did Steuart know that thanks to his flanking movement, he and his regiments were now within 400 yards of Meades vital supply line along the Baltimore Pike, but the day was not to be Steuart's. In the nick of time, badly cut up regiments from the first corp arrived, halting Steuart's advance. The combination of darkness, the rugged and rocky terrain, and finally the arrival of those battered first corp regiments, caused Johnsons advance to grind to a stop, and the men of the division hunkered down in the abandoned trenches the men occupied.

Meade Counter Attacks on July 3rd

During the late night hours of July 3rd, the commanding generals of both armies made fateful decisions that would effect both countries that they represented in this brutal conflict. The generals had something in common in there choices that late evening. They both made the choice to stay on the current battlefield and fight it out. One would choose to stay and attack, while an other would choose to stay and defend the ground they currently occupied.

While Lee sat by candlelight that fateful late night of July 2nd, and planned his attack on the union center, he knew that he would have to do everything in his power to draw as many troops away from the center as he possibly could. The best way to achieve this would be to have Ewell use Johnsons division to press there July 2nd gained advantages on Culps Hill.

Meade also sat by candlelight on the late evening of July 2nd. The difference being he sat in a room filled with his generals attending a council of war. When Meade chose to stay and fight it out, he knew that he would have to secure the union's endangered right flank. He knew he would have to regain the ground lost to Johnson's division.

In the wee hours of the morning of July 3rd, the focus was not on Little Round Top, Devils Den, or the Wheat field. The focus was on Culp's Hill, and the results of the upcoming day lay could very well lay in the balance with the occupation of this crucial ground.

It was 4:30 am on the morning of July 3rd when a furious cannonade exploded from the union right, bombarding the confederate left. Eventually 26 guns would participate in the bombardment. Meade had attacked first. General Slocum's plan was to hit the confederates hard and "Drive them out at daylight."

Meades choice to stay and fight at Gettysburg, let alone attack Johnson's division, was a brave and smart decision. Meades army had lost almost 20,000 troops in two days time. Three of Meade's corps were shattered, and many other regiments from the other corps had been used and chewed up. A little known fact about the Army of the Potomac was that water was in very short supply, and much of the army had just one days rations, if that. Despite all of this, Meade took the initiative from Lee on Culp's Hill that muggy summer morning.

Because of the rugged and rocky terrain that makes up Culp's Hill. The union cannonade caused little casualties among Johnson's reinforced division. (Two of Rode's brigades and one of Early's brigades had joined Johnson's division that morning.) Johnson's reinforced division surged forward up the difficult terrain and began a fight that would be fought foot by foot by just about six hours.

The First Division of the Twelfth Corp crossed the ground around Spanglers Spring and struck Johnson's left flank. Two brigades from the second division attempted to attack and retake the earthworks the confederates occupied the night before, but they were thrown back with great slaughter.  It is rumored that as the sun grew higher in the sky on the morning of July 3rd, that Johnson caught a glimpse of how close the Baltimore Pike really was to the confederates, and he doubled his efforts to push forward. Johnson would try twice more to push the union out from there position, but the effort was for naught.  The enemy was well entrenched and to large in number. Johnson also could not count on confederate artillery support because of the fear the artillery would cause damage among there own men, while the union artillery could fire freely, even going through two thirds of there ammunition. Attacks were made back and forth all morning long. Attempts were made to dislodge Billy Smiths Virginian brigade from a stone wall in the field around Spangler's Spring, but the attempt failed with heavy loss to the union. Despite all of this, by 11am the fight was over. All of the trenches and earthworks were firmly in the hands of the Army of the Potomac and all of Johnson's brigades had been repulsed.

The tale of Culp's Hill was a tragic tale for the Army of Northern Virginia. When Ewell and Johnson continued the attack on the morning of July 3rd, they were under the impression that Longstreet would at least be beginning his bombardment by that point. It was not until a half hour after the fighting began that Ewell received word that Longstreet would not begin his assault until 10:30pm and even that assessment at the time was wildly optimistic. (Longstreet did not begin his bombardment until 1pm) When Ewell received word of this, there was no way he could call of the attack. The Federals were in charge now, and Ewell and Johnson had no choice but to continue the fight.

And so we have reason 16. Thanks to Meade counter attacking Johnson's division in the area of Culp's Hill, he protected the vital Baltimore Pike, and helped derail Lee's initial plan for July 3rd.

Yours Truly,
Fred Brennan

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Reason 17: Lee's inadequate staff size

As stated in my previous post, over the next couple of weeks, I am going to review the seventeen reasons as to why Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia lost the battle of Gettysburg. I must honestly admit that the seventeen reasons were not originally drafted by myself, but by the authors of the book "Last Chance for Victory: Robert E Lee and the Gettysburg Campaign." I have spent much time researching the 17 reasons co authors Scott Bowden and Bill Ward have compiled and have found them all to be an excellent representation as to what went wrong for the Army of Northern Virginia at Gettysburg.

Today we are going to discuss number 17 on the list, Lee's inadequate staff size and faulty organizational structure. General Lee studied and followed Napoleon Bonapart very closely and was fully aware that his staff size was roughly the size of one of Napoleons lone division commanders. Lee did not alone suffer from this problem, in fact, there was not a single army commander in the union or confederacy who had the much needed intricate Napoleon style staff. There is a simple reason for this. The United States of America had no need for such staff sizes before the beginning of the Civil War.The're two reasons for this. Number one, from the time of the American Revolution through the time of the war with Mexico, the armies in field were far smaller than those put into action during the Civil War. Number two,  American army officers were trained at academies that emphasized engineering expertise instead of the art of commanding armies in the field.

When one looks at the correspondences of General Robert E Lee you will see that he often requests men that have received "Proper instruction" so that his soldiers could be "properly led". This shows Lee was well aware he needed a more intricate larger staff.

During the Gettysburg campaign Lee's small staff size really began to show itself as a problem. Thanks to the absence of JEB Stuart, Lee was forced to send what little staff officers he had available out on reconnaissance missions. It is obvious that these scouting missions could have been performed more efficiently and far more quickly if they were to be performed by Stuart's troopers. Sending staff officers on scouting missions restricted to information that could be obtained as well as put restrictions on how that information could be acted upon.

Finally the most important defect of Lee's staff was to have a general officer on his staff who was with the army, but without a field command. This role would be very much similar to Napoleons Imperial Aide De Camp. There was such an officer with the army at the time of the Gettysburg Campaign, but was not a member of Lee's staff. This man was of course Isaac Trimble. Trimble was just the man for this type of job. Aggressive, intelligent, and experienced, Trimble in his imperial aide de camp role would have carried with him the authority of the commanding general.

In the next post I hope to take a look at reason 16 for the Army of Northern Virginia's  loss at Gettysburg, Meade's localized counter attack on Culps Hill on July 3rd. Please stay tuned.

Be well,
Fred Brennan

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A look at "Last Chance for Victory"

I chose for my first blog post to to bring to everyone's attention a book that is near and dear to my heart. It's the first book on the topic of the civil war I ever read cover to cover. I have read hundreds since, dozens on the topic of the battle of Gettysburg, and no matter how many books on the subject I read, none in my mind can over take Last Chance For Victory: Robert E Lee and the Gettysburg Campaign, written by Scott Bowden and Bill Ward. 

It baffles me that this book is not put on the same mantle that works by Pfanz, Sears, Coddington, or even Freeman are put on. Last Chance for Victory does an excellent job of examining Lee's actions during the Gettysburg campaign as well as defending many of the choices Lee made during those fateful days in the summer of 1863. Now I am well aware that defending Robert E Lee has become very unpopular within recent years and have even heard the book called nothing more than lost cause propaganda, but I fail to see it. The writers not only defend Lee and try to explain why he made the choices that were made, but also list Hancock and his army corp as one of the top reasons Lee failed in his attempt for victory at the small crossroads of  Gettysburg. They also take the time to heap some praise on Meade, mainly for his localized counter attack on Culps Hill on July 3rd. The writers give praise where praise is do, and I find it hard to believe that the book is lost cause propaganda when so much praise is given to the Army of the Potomac. 

Although the book breaks down Lee's actions on each of the three days in July, its strongest point is a list of seventeen reasons as to why the Army of Northern Virginia failed. In the coming days and weeks I hope to share these seventeen reasons with everyone and hope to get your feedback on what you, the people, think.

In closing I know this is a rather short post, but I just wanted to bring to everyone's attention Last Chance For Victory, and if your looking for a good read about Lee and the Battle of Gettysburg, then please add this excellent read to your collection. 

Yours truly
Fred Brennan

And so it begins ...

I would first like to take the time to welcome everyone to my newly created blog. My intentions and reasons for creating this site is to not only share my knowledge and passion of the American Civil War, but for all of you to share your knowledge and passion as well.

Allow me to get a little my in depth as to what I plan to do with this blog. Everything from book reviews, photo essays, discussion of controversial topics, unit history's, battlefield hiking expeditions, and just about everything in between.

This site is designed to be a two way street, where not only I share what I know and my opinions with you, but for you to do the same with me. I am a huge proponent of freedom of speech, and no civil war topic is off limits. I am thick skinned and any and all opinions are welcome. I just ask that you be the same way.

I pray that you find enjoyment in this blog. You are encouraged to tell everyone you know with an interest in the American Civil War that this blog exists in hopes that this site can flourish, and so let this journey begin and may it be a long and prosperous one.

Thanks to everyone,
Fred Brennan