Volume 25, No. 12 – December 2012
Volume 25, No. 12
The annual Holiday party will be on Wednesday, December 12th. Please bring a guest and enjoy a great evening of fellowship. Each Round Table member is asked to bring a dish. This is the time of year when we have a special raffle. Items need not be Civil War related. Enjoy the Holiday party in December and remember to bring your dues in January when it is time re-enlist. Elections will also take place in January. If you are interested in running for any office, speak to Janell Bloodworth or me at the December meeting.
Gerridine LaRovere, President
December 12, 2012 Assembly
Robert Macomber, who needs no introduction to the Roundtable, will be our featured speaker at our Holiday Assembly for the ninth consecutive year! Robert, whose tenth book in the best-selling "Honor" series, Honorable Lies, came out in October, always surprises us with a topic that will introduce us to a little-known but fascinating aspect of the Civil War and Florida.
November 14, 2012 Assembly
Marshall D. Krolick, a long-time member of our Roundtable, presented us with a scathing indictment of the leadership of Robert E. Lee and James Longstreet and other Confederate leaders that led to the defeat at the Battle of Gettysburg: As the remnants of the division of Pickett, Pettigrew and Timble came slowly back to Seminary Ridge on July 3, 1863, Robert E. Lee was heard to exclaim several times "All this has been my fault." If, as has been assumed, he was placing the blame for the loss of the battle of Gettysburg on himself, truer words were never spoken. This fact becomes even more tragic to the cause of the Confederacy when it is realized that the Union did not win a victory at Gettysburg, the Army of Northern Virginia lost one. True, the Army of the Potomac fought bravely there, under skillful leadership, but even so, it could have been beaten, in fact probably should have been beaten. The answer to why it was not beaten is to be found not only in the events that took place in the various headquarters on Seminary Ridge during those three fateful days, but also in the minds and spirits of three of the principal actors in the drama; first, Robert E. Lee, second, James Longstreet, and third, the Army of Northern Virginia itself.
In May of 1863, during a month of seeming Confederate glory, the seeds of defeat in Pennsylvania were sown. The first such seed was planted when Lee won what many have called his greatest victory, Chancellorsville, a brilliant combination of planning and fighting. Yet out of that success came a dangerous overconfidence that festered and grew for the next 60 days and struck both the army and its leader. The men fervently believed in the almost deity of Robert E. Lee. With him at their head they could not be beaten and so they would follow him anywhere. Their morale was at its highest pitch. This feeling was returned by Lee a hundredfold. He began to regard his troops as supermen. After Gettysburg, Lee would realize this. On July 4, 1863, he said to Col. Freemantle, "I thought my men were invincible." He wrote in a letter on July 26, "The army did all it could. I fear I required of it impossibilities," and again, in a letter to Jefferson Davis on July 31, "I alone am to blame in perhaps expecting too much of its prowess and valour."
The second seed was planted on May 10: the death of Stonewall Jackson, which triggered Lee’s decision to reorganize the Army. The number of corps grew from two to three. To find experienced, qualified leaders for the second corps (once Jackson's) and the new third corps, and for the divisions, brigades and regiments within them, was difficult. Promotions were made, but few of the promoted officers had experience in handling larger bodies of men. They did not realize that their old staffs were inadequate in quantity and quality for their increased duties. Many had never before worked with or did not like fellow brigade or division commanders. Lafayette McLaws was to admit after the war that he had never spoken ten words with Jubal Early and "would not know him if he saw him." McLaws and Hood were engaged in a verbal feud. Hill and Longstreet were not on good terms. Ewell had been away for ten months and had served directly under Lee for approximately thirty days. Lee hardly knew him. Under circumstances like these, the necessary degree of coordination and cooperation could not be expected to occur.
As it set out on its most important campaign, the Army of Northern Virginia may have thought itself at its peak as a fighting unit, but in truth it was at its worst because of poor, untested organization and inexperienced generals. Lee must have realized this. In a letter to Hood, May 21, 1863, he said "Our army would be invincible if it could be properly organized." At Gettysburg, Lee failed to remember this shortcoming and permitted his overconfidence to control. Moreover, Lee apparently did not realize that the offensive striking capability of the army had been damaged, if not destroyed. Jackson was gone! He had been the lightning bolt, the attacker who led the brilliant flanking movements, who carried the battle to the enemy. In seeking a replacement to carry out this vital function, Lee could not count on Ewell and Hill, the new and inexperienced corps commanders. Maybe in time, but for now their performing this role could not be assumed. That left only the veteran commander of the First Corps, the "war horse," James Longstreet. If Lee did not already know that Longstreet's desire for the defensive would render him incapable of filling Jackson's shoes, a series of events which also occurred in May, 1863 should have convinced him and affected not only his opinion of his army but also his tactics in the future.
Longstreet had not been at Chancellorsville. Instead, he and two divisions of his corps were returning from the mediocre Suffolk Campaign, which had been Longstreet's first taste of independent command and, despite poor performance, had greatly increased his opinion of himself as a strategist. His ego was further inflated by Secretary of War, James Seddon, who solicited Longstreet's opinions on the Vicksburg situation. Longstreet proposed an offensive led by him against Rosecrans designed to draw troops from Grant and Hooker and relieve the pressure on Pemberton and Lee. Seddon did not approve the plan but Longstreet left Richmond feeling that it had become his prerogative to devise as well as execute, to dictate strategy as well as tactics. Rejoining the army, Longstreet found that Lee was in the process of obtaining government approval for an immediate invasion of the North. Longstreet disagreed and repeated his plan for attacking Rosecrans, but Lee rejected it because of his total unwillingness to divide his army in the face of the enemy and his belief in the primary importance of Virginia.
From May 18th through June 3rd a series of conversations between Lee and Longstreet took place, out of which arose "Gettysburg Controversy," a debate that has lasted almost 150 years. Lee explained, as he had to the Confederate Cabinet during meetings from May 14th through the 17th, that sending troops from his army to reinforce either Pemberton or Bragg might save Mississippi, but could lose Virginia. On the other hand, a successful invasion of the North would cause the relief of Vicksburg by drawing Federal attention and troops away from the citadel on the river, would disrupt Federal plans for summer campaigns, would enable the Army to feed itself and capture supplies in areas not previously foraged over, and, most important, would encourage the success of the Northern peace party, now at a high peak of activity, in its efforts to bring about a truce and peace negotiations. Longstreet concluded that Lee and the government were determined to carry out the invasion. In Longstreet's own words, in his Battles & Leaders, "I then accepted his proposition to make a campaign into Pennsylvania, provided it should be offensive in strategy but defensive in tactics, forcing the Federal army to give us battle when we were in strong position and ready to receive them. One mistake of the Confederacy was in pitting force against force. The only hope we had was to outgeneral the Federals ... the war had advanced far enough for us to see that a mere victory without decided fruits was a luxury we could not afford. Our numbers were less than the Federal forces, and our resources were limited while theirs were not."
Lee listened to this proposal with politeness and tact, because it was his nature to do so and because he agreed with Longstreet’s military logic. Lee had formulated the same thoughts before conferring with Longstreet. Lee, too, had seen the defensive lessons of Malvern Hill, Groveton and Fredericksburg, had realized the emptiness of victories like Second Bull Run and Chancellorsville after which the Army of the Potomac bad been able to retreat, refit, recruit and come out again as strong as ever. Before the campaign began and before Longstreet's pronouncements, it was Lee's intention, one, to give battle only on ground of his own choosing and, two, that such battle, probably occurring far from his supply base, would be a defensive one. However, Lee erred in allowing Longstreet to expound in this manner, even though he agreed with him. A subordinate does not have the right to "condition" his acceptance of his commander's plan or to insist that a campaign be fought his way. Lee should have thanked Longstreet for his views and firmly reminded him that the campaign and any resulting battle would be fought Lee's way as dictated by Lee's opinion of the existing condition. By not dressing his lieutenant down, Lee left Longstreet with the proud belief that the "offensive strategy / defensive tactics" plan was Longstreet's own and that Lee had promised to obey it. That Lee made no such promise is clear, but that Longstreet honestly thought he had is equally clear. Longstreet's reaction on July 1st, 2nd and 3rd, when he believed this "promise" had been broken, would greatly affect the future of the Army of Northern Virginia.
The campaign had not yet started and already Lee had made mistakes: first: overconfidence, second: failure to fully appreciate the effect on his army of reorganization and Jackson's loss and third: mishandling Longstreet. Now, as the march began, he made a fourth error, as grave as the others: totally underestimating the vanity and impulsiveness of his headline-happy cavalier, J.E.B. Stuart. On June 22nd and 23rd, Lee wrote Stuart that if the latter felt that two of Stuart's five brigades would be sufficient to guard the Blue Ridge passes, Stuart could take the other three brigades into Maryland. The orders were clear--the main function of the cavalry was to keep Lee advised of the enemy's movements. However, the route to Ewell's flank and the possibility of passing around the Army of the Potomac before joining Ewell were left to Stuart's questionable discretion. Lee should have known that Stuart's pride had been hurt at Brandy Station. The Southern press had criticized him severely for being surprised in his camp on June 9th, just one day after the grand review he had held for Lee's benefit. When faced with a choice Stuart would now choose the road that led to glory to revenge his embarrassment. Even worse, nothing could create greater publicity than another ride around the Federal army. Only this time his opponent was not the stationary McClellan.
Lee should have given Stuart specific, not discretionary orders. He should have tied him to Ewell's flank with a rope if necessary. Northing could be more important to Lee during this campaign than news of Federal movements. Nothing endangering this vital pipeline of information should have been left to the whims of his gallivanting glory-hound. In making this ride, Stuart acted within his orders, but the orders should not have been given. Thus, the primary fault lay not with Stuart, but with Lee. Stuart left his two weakest brigades to guard the supply line in the Shenandoah Valley. Lee failed even to try to use the poorly organized, undisciplined, independent commands of Jenkins and Imboden traveling with the Army for reconnaissance. Instead, Imboden was sent west to forage and Jenkins traveled ahead to scout the advance. As a result, Lee had no word of the location of the Army of the Potomac from the day he lost contact with Stuart until the night of June 28th, when the spy Harrison reported that the Union Army was north of the Potomac. In fact, it was in the area of Frederick and South Mountain threatening the Confederate rear. Lee's reaction was the correct one: to move out of the mountains and concentrate his scattered forces to the east, thus drawing the Federals away from his lines of retreat and supply.
The movements on the 29th and 30th were slowed because of uncertainty as to the location of the Federal Army, overcrowded roads and heavy rain. Lee was on the Chambersburg Road west of Cashtown when he first heard the sound of the guns. Lee rode forward to Gettysburg about 2:00 P.M. and found Heth and Pender engaged in a desultory action. Lee made no attempt to force the fight as he had no knowledge of what confronted him. However, at 3:00 P. M. Rodes' division came in from the North at right angles to the line of battle and attacked. Even though Rodes was soon heavily pressed by newly arrived Federal troops, Lee denied Heth's request to go to Rodes' aid stating, "I am not prepared to bring on a general engagement today -- Longstreet is not up." Around 4:00 P. M., Early's division came on the field squarely on the Federal right flank. This obvious opportunity caused Lee to change his mind and ordered a general advance all along the line. The routed Federal troops fled through the streets of Gettysburg to the heights to the South and Southeast. By 4:30 P.M., by coincidence and accident, the Army of Northern Virginia, which had not sought a fight, had won a stirring, if small-scale victory. In considering his next move, Lee felt that he would be in full control if he could drive the Federals off the heights without bringing on the general engagement he was trying to avoid. Hill's Corps was badly used up, so, if the job was to be done, it must fall to Ewell.
Robert E. Lee now came to the first of many critical decisions he will be forced to make during three days of battle. In each decision, his action will not, in hindsight, be the proper one. However, as will be true of each decision thereafter, he will come to the only conclusion he was capable of, not because of the situation on the battlefield or the condition of his army, but because of the limitations of his own character, his own temperament and his own mental processes. The Army of Northern Virginia will not lose this battle because its soldiers did not fight, but because its commander was not the right man for this time and for this place.
When called upon to explain his theory of high command, Lee stated that the commanding general should not attempt to direct the battle tactically. This explains his penchant for discretionary orders. However, discretionary orders should be used only when the reaction and good judgment of the subordinate can be presumed, as in the case of Jackson. As Lee had misread Stuart, now he misread Ewell. Lee, on Seminary Ridge, could see the Federals streaming out of the town and up the heights. He sent an aide to Ewell with the "suggestion" that Ewell get possession of the heights "if practicable." Left to make his own decision, Ewell did nothing and the heights were never taken. If they had been, the entire Union line would have been rendered untenable and the Baltimore Pike exposed. Whether the heights could have been taken is irrelevant. The point is that an attempt should have been made so the blame must fall on Lee who did not order it made. In his report Lee explained this discretionary order to Ewell by saying that he was not sure of the strength of the enemy and the condition of the 2nd Corps. Thus Lee shifted the burden of ascertaining these facts to Ewell, a man with whom Lee had no personal experience. Lee himself should have gone to the 2nd Corps front to determine the situation. By saying he'd come soon, he gave Ewell the perfect opportunity for avoiding the issue by waiting for his commander. The only answer for this failure was Lee's belief that a commander does not tactically direct a battle.
Between 5:00 and 6:00 P. M. Longstreet joined Lee on Seminary Ridge. Longstreet used binoculars to study the Union positions. Their natural defensive strength impressed him. Imagine his astonishment when Lee said that he would attack the heights the next day. What had happened to his beloved plan of "offensive strategy, defensive tactics" and the promise to follow it which he believed Lee had made? Had Lee forgotten Fredericksburg and Malvern Hill? Lee listened to Longstreet's protestations and then said, pointing to the heights, "If the enemy is there tomorrow, we must attack him." Longstreet replied, "If the enemy is there tomorrow, it is because he is anxious we should attack him - a good reason for not doing so."
At this point Longstreet made, for the first time, his now-controversial proposal for a move to the right, a flank march around the Federal left to interpose between the Army of the Potomac and Washington. This would enable Lee to establish a defensive position on ground of his own choosing. There he could await the Federal attack which must come if the Union Army was to preserve its supply line and safeguard its capital. In such an attack, Longstreet continued, the Union troops would be destroyed completely, whereas a Confederate victory on the heights of Gettysburg would leave Lee's army so badly hurt itself that once again its enemy would escape to regain its strength. Lee heard Longstreet out, but said little and did not change his mind, thereby making his second and probably the most important battlefield decision.
Lee had four alternatives. First, Lee could retreat by the way he had come. This he discarded because of the danger of such a move in the face of the enemy and also for the reasons that had caused him to move out of the mountains. Second, he could await attack where he was, but this was ruled out because his line was not strong defensively, he would be unable to provision his army where he was and his line of retreat could result in a bottleneck in the mountains. Third, Lee could adopt Longstreet's plan for a movement to the right. Lee's pronounced reason, stated after the battle, for not making this choice was that the absence of his cavalry meant the movement would be made blindly without knowledge of where the enemy was. The fourth alternative was to attack the federals where they were and this Lee chose to do.
The point about the absent cavalry is a good one, yet Lee never gave Jenkins' inefficient and undependable irregulars on his left with Ewell a chance to see if the move to the right was feasible. The movement would have been in keeping with his announced plan of the campaign: not to give battle so far from his base of supply unless it was defensive and on ground of his choosing. Whether a move to the right was good or bad is not the point; the main question must be whether Lee ever even considered this alternative on July 1st. To this question, the answer must be an emphatic no.
That conclusion becomes clear when one looks within Robert E. Lee the man. There can be found not only overconfidence in what his army could accomplish, but also a love of battle. The roar of the guns and the smell of the powder made his adrenalin flow. His very nature was taken over by a prevailing sense of combativeness and, as Longstreet later wrote, "He got his blood up." Even as great an admirer of Lee as Douglas Southall Freeman remarked on Lee's ability to put aside the butchery of war in favor of its pageantry. Perhaps the point can be best illustrated by recalling Lee's comment after Fredericksburg, "It is well that war is so terrible, we should grow too fond of it." The taste of victory on July 1 had made Lee grow too fond of battle and so he forgot the lessons of prior battles in favor of an attack that was the antithesis of everything he had planned to do.
Longstreet finally realized that Lee had made his mind up and so he lapsed into a pouting silence. Lee questioned him about the whereabouts of his two divisions, Hood and McLaws, but Longstreet gave a vague and almost disrespectful response. Pickett, with Longstreet's third division, had been left as a rear guard at Chambersburg under orders to come up as soon as Imboden's cavalry relieved him. Lee urged Longstreet to hurry Hood and McLaws as they would be needed the next day, but Longstreet argued that if an attack was planned it should be made immediately! Lee did not agree, pointing to the lateness of the hour, it was now well past 6:00 and the fact that he wished to wait until Longstreet's troops were up. At this point, a disgruntled Longstreet rode back to his men and Lee finally making the promised visit to Ewell on the left.
When Lee reached 2nd Corps headquarters, it was dusk, about 7:30. In answer to his inquiry as to whether the attack on the next day could be made on their front, Lee was astonished to hear all three commanders express doubt as to the probability of success. Instead they urged the assault be made on the other end of the line while they took a defensive position. How different this must have seemed to Lee from his last meeting with Jackson on the cracker box at Chancellorsville. Lee failed to attach any significance to the dominant role played by Early while Ewell sat quietly. This, too, was a costly mistake, for from this Lee should have realized the quality of leadership he could expect in the future from the 2nd Corps commander.
After changing his mind several times, Lee reverted to the original plan for July 2nd: an attack on the right coupled with a demonstration on the left. Again Lee had made a decision and again it was wrong. Again his penchant for discretionary orders had betrayed him. He had let a subordinate, whose performance had already been disappointing, talk him into maintaining a concave line over seven miles in length, a line where communication between the wings was almost impossible and coordination a hopeless dream. Also, at his headquarters in the center, Lee was completely out of touch with the inexperienced Ewell, who was obviously dominated by the irascible Early. Lee had again left the tactical direction to a subordinate. Why was he not with Longstreet at the point of attack so he could examine and evaluate the situation? As long as he was with Hill, Lee must certainly shoulder the responsibility for the failure of more than two or three brigades of Hill's troops to join in and hammer home the attack. Most contemporary observers, including Longstreet, cited this lack of coordination and cooperation as a major reason why a victory was not obtained.
Ewell was to have made a demonstration at the sound of Longstreet's guns, but he did nothing until long after Longstreet's attack had ended, thus enabling Meade to transfer troops from one flank to another as needed. Lee himself failed to compel Ewell to act at the proper time. Once the attack began he seems to have become strictly a spectator. This cannot be the proper role of any commander.
On the night of July 2nd Lee had a very welcome visitor: Stuart the mounted marauder, who had finally arrived on the field late that afternoon. Another arrival at the same time was Pickett with his division. In his report of the battle, Lee claimed that he ordered both Longstreet and Ewell to renew the attack the next morning, but specified no exact time. Longstreet denied that such orders were given. It is known that Ewell, under orders or not, planned to attack on the left at dawn, but the Federals beat him to it and pushed him back in a spirited assault. Longstreet certainly did not act as though he had been ordered to attack. On the night of the second, his scouts reported no Federals on the Confederate right flank.
The next morning. Lee rode to Longstreet's headquarters, who related what his scouts had found. Then, unbelievably, Longstreet revealed that, without consulting Lee, he had already drafted orders for his beloved movement to the right. He vigorously presented the details of his plan and the arguments in its favor. Even more unbelievably, Lee again listened without voicing any reprimand, either for Longstreet's failure to prepare for an attack or for his preparation of unauthorized orders. When Longstreet was through, Lee verbalized his conviction that the proper course of action was an attack on the Union left center by the whole 1st Corps. According to Longstreet, Lee then pointed toward Cemetery Ridge and said "The enemy is there and I am going to strike him." The size of the force indicated by Lee for the attack was 15,000 men. Longstreet continued to argue, stating that not less than 30,000 men could successfully execute the assault. At this point, Lee finally showed impatience with further discussion and Longstreet turned away to begin the arrangements. Soon, however, he was back -- this time to protest the composition of the attacking column. He stated that Hood and McLaws, on the right flank, had no support and had been badly hurt by the fighting the day before. Therefore, he insisted they not be included with Pickett. On this point Lee let Longstreet prevail. Lee designated Heth's division, under Pettigrew, and half of Pender's division, under Trimble, to replace Hood and McLaws. Longstreet was far from satisfied with this one concession, but began to prepare. To reduce the time needed to assemble the troops, the path of the charge was moved to the left so that the target point was almost directly in the Union center.
The farthest stretch of military logic cannot justify Lee's decision to make this attack. Nothing should have persuaded him to attempt with only 15,000 men, a charge of 1400 yards over open fields. The Federal troops would have a clear field of fire and their artillery on Little Round Top and Cemetery Hill would have a field day enfilading the Confederate lines. All prospect for cooperation from Ewell had been eliminated by his heavy fighting and defeat that morning. Again the answer to Lee's determination must be in his over-confidence in the ability of his troops, in his spirit of combat, and in his love for the pageantry: of lines of men crowned by a sea of battle flags moving forward to meet the foe.
Lee’s failure to consider seriously the move to the right was an error. It certainly would not have been difficult to steal a march on Meade, especially with Pickett's fresh division available to take the lead. The old excuse of the lack of cavalry to scout the way was no longer valid for Stuart was up at last. Yet Lee sent him to the left to pass the Union flank there, not to the right to find a position between the Army of the Potomac and Washington. To make the prospect for success even dimmer, the organization of the charge was a comedy of errors. Far this the blame must rest on Lee and to some degree on Longstreet. The decision by Lee to utilize the divisions of Heth and Pender showed a complete lack of attention to the facts. Both units had been badly hurt on the first day and both had lost their commanders. The designation also by Lee of Longstreet as the general in charge of the attack is incredible. His fervent opposition to the plan was obvious. His mood that morning was noticeably one of black gloom. He was to admit later that never in his life was he as despondent as on July 3, 1863. Longstreet had absolutely no confidence in the move he was directing; in fact, he was certain of defeat. As a result of his apathy and defeatism, he failed to properly organize the attack. In addition, Longstreet never told Ewell or Hill what support he expected from either. Under these circumstances, even a drummer boy would have been a better choice than Longstreet! As usual, Confederate staff work was non-existent. No one bothered to inform either Lee or Longstreet of the artillery ammunition shortage which was to curtail the preparatory barrage and threaten the army's safety after the repulse. Not until the charge was under way did Longstreet learn that the figurehead chief of artillery, Pendleton, had, for no good reason, ordered the withdrawal of the howitzer battery that was to accompany and support the assault.
The story of the charge and its defeat is well known to all. Thus we have come full circle to where we began, with Lee acknowledging the fault was his. And so it was. The repulse on the third day finally opened his eyes to what he, himself, had done to his army and his cause. In his defense it can be said that each of his subordinates had performed poorly. Stuart was lost; Hill was sick, as he always was at the time of battle; Ewell was indecisive and easily dominated; and, finally, Longstreet, who, although usually right in theory, had sulked and pouted, thus failing in his duty as an officer to obey to the best of his ability the orders of his superior. Yet Lee’s sins were the worst: overconfidence; inability to control his emotions; failure to exercise sound military judgment; and failure to decisively direct and control his subordinates so as to overcome their faults. The indictment goes on and on--but added up, it spelled defeat for brave men who, if properly led, might have won a victory that could have changed the course of the war.
The Assembly gave Marshall a rousing round of applause for a bravura performance.
[Editor’s Note: If you have not seen Lincoln, do so now! It is a terrific and educational movie!]
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