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The Gettysburg battle concluded


Thaddeus Kosciuszko
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on this date in 1863.  Lee's foray into the north set Pennsylvania into a panic, and had a number of circumstances fallen differently it's easy to speculate how Lee might have won. At a couple of points the Confederate soldiers nearly broke the Union lines in Cemetery Ridge. Which leads to further speculation how that victory might have charted a different course for the Union and the Confederacy.

 

But circumstances led to Lee's defeat, or at least to his retreat back to the South if one contends the North only outlasted the Confederate forces.  Both sides left over 50,000 dead, wounded, captured, or missing after they departed Gettysburg.

 

http://www.civilwar.org/battlefields/gettysburg.html?tab=facts

 

 

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on this date in 1863.  Lee's foray into the north set Pennsylvania into a panic, and had a number of circumstances fallen differently it's easy to speculate how Lee might have won. At a couple of points the Confederate soldiers nearly broke the Union lines in Cemetery Ridge. Which leads to further speculation how that victory might have charted a different course for the Union and the Confederacy.

 

But circumstances led to Lee's defeat, or at least to his retreat back to the South if one contends the North only outlasted the Confederate forces.  Both sides left over 50,000 dead, wounded, captured, or missing after they departed Gettysburg.

 

http://www.civilwar.org/battlefields/gettysburg.html?tab=facts

 

FREDERICKSBURG!

FREDERICKSBURG!

FREDERICKSBURG!

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At a couple of points the Confederate soldiers nearly broke the Union lines in Cemetery Ridge. Which leads to further speculation how that victory might have charted a different course for the Union and the Confederacy.

  Thad, you're usually pretty good at this stuff, but never at any times was the Union line at Cemetery Ridge ever in jeopardy. On the second day, the Union positions at Little Round Top were under that kind of serious pressure, and so was Gen Dan Sickles corps in the peach orchard, but they got ripped up because Sickles was an idiot and moved his men half a mile in front of the Union lines.

 

This battlefield is only 35 miles from my house. I've been there many, many times. I've ridden my bike to the battlefield and back when I had my knee working.

 

If anybody is ever interested in the Battle of Gettysburg, I can take you on a tour of the battlefield that you can't get from the Park Service. There's a lot of obscure bits, like the creek where the 1st Wisconsin (the Black Hats) were decimated on the first day is a quiet little run with woods all around now.

 

On Culp's Hill you can see how futile is was for Jubile Early's men to try and fight their way up to take the Union breastworks

 

And on Cemetery Ridge, at the monument to the Pennsylvania 69th is where my great-great-great-granddad was during Picket's Charge.

 

the thing is that the artillery preparation for Picket's Charge wasn't effective. The shells landed well in the rear of the lines, raising hell with the rear areas, but the men at the Bloody Angle were still there. At one place on the line the Confederates breached the line and captured some cannon, but all the Southern soldiers that were in the breach were killed or captured.

 

If you walk from the woods toward Cemetary ridge you can see how difficult it would have been for the Confederate soldiers to take that position.

 

At around 3 this afternoon is the 151st anniversary of Picket's Charge

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Yeah I didn't understand that the Union lines were at any real threat during the attack. IIRC, some confederate troops (the few remaining) were even helped over the line by Union troops, straight into captivity of course, but they were done.

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That's absolutely right. This is why Lee fared so well in Virginia. The North had to carry the fight to them.

 

The infantry tactics of the day were way behind the advances in weaponry, too. The mini ball could shoot accurately enough to kill at several hundred yards. The old smooth bore musket? not so much. So the tactics were to take a position, you massed your men and advanced with bayonets

 

there were hardly any bayonet wounds in the battle. when you massed your men, you just made it so the other guys couldn't help but kill somebody with every shot.

 

General Longstreet, Picket's Corps Commander, had been in command at Fredricksburg at the stone wall on Marie's Heights. He had seen first hand what the rifled musket could do. He knew the charge was hopeless, but nobody could convince Lee to pull out. Lee said "Ill whip them here, or they'll whip me"

 

Picket's Charge was the price the south paid for having General Lee

 

Longstreet wanted tomove south and get between General Meade and Washington DC and force the union to attack them. There's great ground for that to the south east of Gettysburg in southern York county. Longstreet was overruled and the attack commenced at 3pm July 3rd, 1863

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Between here and Fredricksburg there's several battlefields. Manassas is on the way to Fredricksburg and Antietam is on the other side of South Mountain from Gettysburg.

 

There's an event down here run by the Baltimore bike club called the "Civil Way Century" that goes through both Antietam and Gettysburg, but they don't really "tour" the battlefields. At Gettysburg the route only briefly touches the southern end of the battlefield down by Devil's Den and then takes the Tannytown Road back to Maryland.

 

Sad thing is that its one of those events that grew until it was out of hand. Last time I rode it was maybe 2007 and it was a zoo, and I haven't been back. The Seagull in Delaware is like that, too. Used to be a fun event, now its slam full of idiot trying to ride a PB.

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Longstreet wanted tomove south and get between General Meade and Washington DC and force the union to attack them. There's great ground for that to the south east of Gettysburg in southern York county. Longstreet was overruled and the attack commenced at 3pm July 3rd, 1863

 

Which would have been smart because that would mean shortening your supply lines. ....

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Which would have been smart because that would mean shortening your supply lines. ....

 

The thing was, and this is really  a sign of the time this battle was fought in, Lee really didn't have any idea how large a force was in front of him. Stuart's cavalry had made a huge ride around the Union army and had been out of touch with Lee's command for several days.

 

On the first day, they had taken the town of Gettysburg and had the union fleeing to Cemetery Ridge

 

On the second day, they almost rolled up the union flank at Little Round Top and by then, by all accounts, Lee's "blood was up" and he had decided to fight them there. Lee had, by that time, come to believe his Army of Northern Virginia was invincible, and their record in battle really  gave him no reason to doubt that his boys could do anything he asked of them

 

What happened next was a complete disaster. Picket's entire division was gone. The few that straggled back to the Confederate lines were met by General Lee himself saying "It's all my fault". It was probably R.E. Lee's finest moment, really, and it came in one of his few defeats. But to go out there and personally apologize to those men who made it back and tell them it was not their failure, but that he had asked them to do something that he never should have asked of them...you don't see that in our leaders today

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  Thad, you're usually pretty good at this stuff, but never at any times was the Union line at Cemetery Ridge ever in jeopardy.

 

 

A matter of opinion which I suspect will never be resolved.

 

On July 2 the Louisiana Tigers broke the Union lines on East Cemetery Ridge.  Had they been able to hold onto their gains and turn the guns around, they would have been able to sweep a good part of the Union positions with the Union's own artillery.

 

At Little Round Top, Texas and Alabama regiments very nearly pushed Maine and NY regiments off of there too, to the point where the Maine regiments were out of ammunition and saved their positions only by a desperate bayonet charge.  Union forces had struggled to get several cannon to the top of Little Round Top, and no way could they have extricated them if the Confederate forces reached the guns.  Again, the cannon could have been turned against the Union forces along the ridge and below.

 

At one point during the battle for Culp's Hill, Confederate forces were with 200 yards of the Baltimore Pike, Meade's primary supply line to the rear.  If they had succeeded in severing this road and holding it, the Union positions on Cemetery Ridge would have become untenable forcing a retreat to Meade's secondary defensive position at Pipe's Creek.

 

On July 3 Pickett's charge reached the Union lines, dispersed them, and started moving on the artillery there too.  A counter-charge by Union forces pushed them back off the line and sent them retreating back toward Seminary Ridge.  If the Confederate reserves in the second and third waves, intended to follow on the initial attack, had hit the Union line according to Lee's original battle plan they would have blunted the Union counter-charge possibly long enough for the Confederates to get to the cannon, again to turn them against the two wings of the Union position.  Fortunately for the Union forces the Confederate second and third waves suffered from a combination of inept leadership and an effective cross fire that kept them from crashing into the Union lines on the heels of the first wave.

 

So, no offense, but I'm going to hold with my contention that the Confederate forces nearly broke the Union lines on several occasions on Cemetery Ridge. 

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yea, but 3 of the 4 examples you gave were not at Cemetery Ridge. Not to be pedantic, the first 2 days were close run deals for sure, but Culps Hill is a quarter mile from Cemetery Ridge

 

If you were ever to go to Culps hill, you would see that 200 yards might as well be 10 miles. The woods are thicker than anything and there are ravines on the east side of Culps Hill that gave the union positions interlocking fields of fire at the points where the Confederates were advancing up the draws. Its why the advance ground to a stop where it did.

 

I won't argue that Lee had his chances over those 3 days, but the line on Cemetery Ridge was never threatened with collapse. Everywhere else on the battlefield, Lee had better chances, but not on Cemetery Ridge

 

Also, in Pickett's charge, you have to realize that those men had to cover about a half mile of open ground, completely exposed, and in front of massed artillery. The reason those 2nd and 3rd waves didn't happen is that when the Union opened up they were decimated. The fighting at the Bloody Angle, the only place where the line was breached, was not close to breaking through. Every confederate soldier that made it that far was killed or captured

 

Their best chance was probably on the 2nd of July at Little Round Top, or if Early's men could have continued up Culps Hill that evening of the first day. Once Early stopped for his men to rest, the union troops could be heard chopping trees and fortifying the hill. After they did that, there was no chance. You have to see Culps Hill to appreciate how great a position the union men had there

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 You have to see Culps Hill

 

I have, twice.  Perhaps not as often as you but enough to appreciate the advantage of the position.

 

It appears you agree with the authors, scholars, and park rangers who contend the Union lines were never threatened with collapse, and I align with the authors, scholars, and park rangers who hold they were.

 

Such is the interpretation of history...

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