The Man Who Lost Gettysburg

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Jul 042013
 

Gettysburg plays a central role in the mythology of the Lost Cause. Two Confederate generals present on the battlefield, Isaac Trimble and Jubal Early, were among the myth’s first proponents, and adherents believe that if Lee had won there, the war might have gone differently. The Army of the Potomac might have been destroyed; European allies might have interceded on the South’s behalf; Lincoln might have gone to the bargaining table.  As such, it became very important to identify whose fault it was that the Army of Northern Virginia had been defeated. However, the blame could not land on the Saints of the Lost Cause – Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Jackson’s death at Chancellorsville made him immune, but Lee had been in overall command. Thus the Lost Causers hunted for fault among his subordinates.

Harry Heth and A.P. Hill could be blamed. Heth, with Hill’s approval, had made an intemperate foray towards Gettysburg on the 1st, bringing on a battle that Lee did not yet want to fight. However, the first day went well for the Confederacy, arguably better than it would have if Richard Ewell had taken the Second Corps to Cashtown that day and they had advanced in force along the Cashtown Pike on the 2nd. Hill comes in for further criticism since he made no real contribution to the battle on the following days. Although divisions from his Corps were engaged on the 2nd and 3rd, he personally contributed almost no leadership, not even to correct obviously faulty alignments on both days.

Many critics blamed J.E.B. Stuart. He had taken the best brigades of Confederate cavalry on a useless raid around the Army of the Potomac that netted some irrelevant plunder and barely affected Yankee communications. In the process, the story goes, he rendered the Army of Northern Virginia blind, forcing it to battle on ground it did not know against an army it had not scouted. Worse, the need to use infantry to cover the cavalry’s traditional tasks meant that Pickett and Law were delayed reaching the battlefield. However, Stuart didn’t take all of the cavalry with him. Lee had two brigades of cavalry (Jones and Robertson) and one of irregulars (Imboden) that he could have used to scout and serve as rearguard. He mishandled these troops, however, leaving Jones and Robertson to guard passes that needed no guarding, and giving Imboden too free a hand to do as he wished. Stuart allowed his wounded pride to tempt him into a mistake, but if the Army of Northern Virginia was blind, it was not entirely his fault.

Ewell, despite successfully pushing aside the XI Corps on the first day, also became a target. His decision not to attack Cemetery or Culp’s Hills on the first day has long been criticized for ceding the best ground available to the Union. His desire to keep his men positioned on the right, too far from the rest of the army for Lee to exert any real control, left the Confederates in an awkward tactical position and interfered with operations. His attacks on Culp’s Hill were mostly fruitless and never achieved their aim of drawing troops away from the rest of the field. Aside from his first day’s success, Ewell did little to help the Confederate cause. Yet, the failures were not his alone. Lee declined to offer any support for an attack on the hills on the first day, and he could have simply ordered Ewell to move over towards the main body of the army if he had wished to do so. Instead, Lee deferred to his subordinate’s wishes; if Ewell erred, it was because Lee let him.

Many Lost Causers focused on James Longstreet, not least because of his friendship with Ulysses S. Grant and his Republican politics. Longstreet also was not shy about sharing his opinion that Lee had made critical errors at times – a sin by Lost Cause standards. Longstreet had not wanted to invade Pennsylvania, had not wanted to fight at Gettysburg, and had not wanted to use the tactics that Lee ordered. He had been absent during the successes of the 1st, slow and inefficient on the 2nd, and reluctant on the 3rd. Yet, he had also been the only one of Lee’s Corps commanders to take an active hand in operations, and the slowness on the 2nd had not been entirely his fault. Longstreet performed poorly in many ways, but the blame could not all land on him.

He's just a guy, not some saintly, noble soul.

He’s just a guy, not some sainted noble figure.

The truth, unpleasant as Lost Causers might find it, is that Robert E. Lee is The Man Who Lost Gettysburg. He lost because he did not exert enough control over Hill and Stuart. He lost because he deferred excessively to Ewell, while disregarding Longstreet’s misgivings. He lost because he counted on an artillery barrage without making sure that Porter Alexander had the authority and ammunition to make it succeed. Mostly, though, he lost because of a sin as old as Aeschylus: hubris. Robert E. Lee had great pride in his army, and believed it invincible. He had contempt for Yankee fighting men, and even more for their leaders. He believed that he could not be defeated by “those people”, as he called them. And in the end, he believed that he was The Man Who Lost Gettysburg. “All this has been my fault,” Lee told Cadmus Wilcox, and he was right.

But asking who The Man Who Lost Gettysburg was already concedes the matter to the Lost Causers. The question itself reflects the belief that victory was something due the noble warriors of the South, only denied to them by the small-mindedness of corps commanders and the overwhelming power of Northern material wealth. The question assumes Lee’s contempt for the Yankee army was justified. But the soldiers of the Army of the Potomac, with few exceptions, fought bravely and well, and they were led, for the most part, by generals who made the right decisions and saved the army in moments of crisis. John Buford’s excellent defense in depth, Abner Doubleday’s skillful management of the I Corps, Gouverneur K. Warren’s quick recognition and solution of the danger at Little Round Top, Winfield Hancock’s capable management of the defense on the second and third days of the battle, and Henry Hunt’s brutally effective artillery placements all could be viewed as critical to Union success on the field. So perhaps the question we should be asking is, who is The Man Who Won Gettysburg?

July 3, 1863

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Jul 032013
 
GeorgePickett

They named the charge after George Pickett, who commanded one of the three divisions involved.

George Meade met with his generals on the night of July 2 pleased with the day’s outcome. Although the loss had been terrible, the line had held, and he had a whole corps worth of fresh troops to use for tomorrow – the VI Corps, the largest in the army. Prisoners interrogated by the Bureau of Military Information revealed that during the course of the previous two days the Rebels had engaged every single division of every corps of their army, save only George Pickett’s division of Longstreet’s corps. Meade had more fresh troops and a better position, and was ready to stand on the defensive until an opportunity presented itself.

Lee, (accurately) convinced that his men had very nearly broken the Union line the previous day, expected that Meade would reinforce his flanks, drawing troops away from the center of his line. Thus, a massive assault at that point should be able to break through and send the Yankees flying. He would have his best general, Longstreet, attack with his whole corps, preceding the attack with massed artillery fire to further weaken the Yankees and protect the charge.

This plan would have to change. Pickett was fresh, but the divisions of Hood and McLaws had fought desperately the previous day, taking many casualties and losing many commanders. Hood himself had been badly wounded in the arm, and would lose the use of it. In addition, the Army of the Potomac had reinforced that end of the line, and if those two divisions were used for an assault, there would be no forces to prevent a flank attack by the Union. Lee decided to add parts of two divisions from A.P. Hill’s corps: Heth’s division, commanded by Johnston Pettigrew because a bullet had concussed Heth on the first day, and Pender’s division, commanded by Isaac Trimble since Pender had been mortally wounded.

Again, Longstreet disagreed with Lee’s tactics. He reported himself to have said:

General, I have been a soldier all my life. I have been with soldiers engaged in fights by couples, by squads, companies, regiments, divisions, and armies, and should know, as well as anyone, what soldiers can do. It is my opinion that no fifteen thousand men ever arrayed for battle can take that position.

Longstreet again agitated for a move to the right, but this was not a serious possibility. If nothing else, the awkward position of Ewell’s Corps, far out on the left and in plain view of the Yankee troops on the high hills, made it impossible to perform such a maneuver with the main body of the army. Lee would not be swayed. He determined to attack.

The charge was doomed from the beginning. Lee meant for demonstrations by Ewell and J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry out on the far right to draw the attention of the army, but the XII Corps under Slocum attacked Ewell early in the morning, and Stuart ran into Union cavalry almost as soon as he got into position. Bloody and desperate fighting took place in the entrenchments on Culp’s Hill, but it never drew any troops away from the Cemetery Ridge line.

The grand cannonade that Lee had planned similarly ran into difficulties. Some of these were beyond Lee’s control – Confederate ammunition, for instance, was notoriously unreliable and often exploded too early or too late. The smoke of the artillery duel between the armies rapidly made it difficult for the Rebels to check their aim. Some of the Union artillery and infantry positions had defilade and could not be seen by the Confederates. These were the practical problems.

There was a larger, organizational problem as well. Porter Alexander, who had worked the artillery so effectively at Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg, had been given command of the artillery barrage. However, he did not have the authority to command all the artillery. The artillery of the Army of Northern Virginia was nominally under the command of William Pendelton, but he was a staff officer who exerted no direct control. This meant that the artillery batteries were essentially commanded by generals leading infantry corps and divisions, with the result that Alexander was not able to compel the obedience of batteries outside of the First Corps. As a result, ammunition was squandered in fruitless duels, and guns he’d expected to use in supporting the assault disappeared. Worse, Pendleton had failed at one of his few real duties – the amount of ammunition available was not equal to the demands of the attack.

In contrast, the Union artillery was all under the direct command of the magnificently efficient Henry Hunt, who had been carefully seeing to the position, sighting, and supply of the Union guns since the first day of the battle. Hunt and Meade both suspected that Lee would attack the center of the line, and prepared their artillery to meet the threat. The whole of the Union artillery would be coordinated to deal with the crisis.

The cannonade began around 1 in the afternoon, all the Confederate fire converging on the center of the Union line. Hunt insisted that his artillery respond in a restrained manner, so as to preserve their ammunition for the charge they knew was coming. The seemingly lackadaisical response infuriated Hancock, but did not result in much retreating from the line. Due to the bad ammunition and difficulty aiming, the shells from the Rebel guns flew long and exploded late, doing their worst damage behind the Union line. Perversely, the artillery fire compelled the Yankee soldiers to remain in place.

Eventually Hunt and some of his subordinates came up with the idea that if they withdrew some of their cannon they might tempt the Rebels into attacking prematurely. The gambit worked, although it certainly didn’t hurt that Alexander had been running low on ammunition. Longstreet had shamefully tried to pin the decision for the charge on Alexander, who gave his best analysis without claiming authority. Some of the enemy guns had been withdrawn, and if Pickett didn’t start soon, the artillery wouldn’t be able to support the charge.

About 12,500 men made the charge.

About 12,500 men made the charge. Image from National Park Service.

At about 3 PM, the Confederate soldiers marched off towards the Union lines, with Pickett’s men on the right and the Pettigrew-Trimble group on the left. They were soon under artillery fire from all over the field. Guns as far away as Little Round Top enfiladed the brigades, sending shell and solid shot bouncing down the lines of men. Infantry and artillery flanked the assault and poured fire into the Rebels, routing some of Pettigrew’s brigades almost as soon as the charge began. The brigade holding Pickett’s right flank was cut down harshly.

Johnston Pettigrew would die in rearguard action several days later as the Rebels retreated across the Potomac.

Johnston Pettigrew would be mortally wounded in rearguard action several days later as the Rebels retreated across the Potomac.

Pettigrew and Trimble never made it to the Union line. Massed fire from the Yankees and a troublesome fence along the Emmitsburg pike kept them pinned down until they decided it was hopeless and withdrew. Lew Armistead’s brigade from Pickett’s division made it up to and over the low stone wall the Yankees had been using for cover, but the attacking force was barely a company at that point. They were repulsed in a counterattack, and Armistead fell mortally wounded among the Union cannon, at the high-water mark of the Confederacy.

The misadventure earned the name “Pickett’s Charge”, although Pickett commanded only a part of it and could not have done anything to save the day. He lost all of his brigade commanders and nearly all of his regimental officers. The attack had suffered 50% casualties, losing more than 6,000 men (Union casualties in the attack were about 1500).

The armies would sit staring at each other for another day before the Rebels retreated, but by sundown on July 3, the fighting was through. Casualties for the whole battle exceeded 46,000, with the Confederacy suffering slightly more than the Union. The battle was not a decisive defeat for the Confederacy – the Army of Northern Virginia had, overall, given as well as it got, and had succeeded in its strategic goal of obtaining provisions in Pennsylvania. The victory Lee needed eluded him, however, and as the armies waited on July 4, John Pemberton surrendered Vicksburg to Ulysses S. Grant, giving the Union control of the Mississippi. The war had turned against the Confederacy, and it would never recover.

July 2, 1863

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Jul 022013
 

The absence of Stuart, and Lee’s mishandling of the cavalry brigades left to him, had caused the Army of Northern Virginia to blunder blindly into the Army of the Potomac on July 1, but the failure of the cavalry had its greatest effect on the second day of the battle. Lee still had little idea of the actual position of the Yankee Army. Before dawn, he had sent a small party to scout the right side of the Union position. Through bad luck or incompetence, this group reported that the flank of the Yankee army was in the air – according to them, no troops were posted at Little Round Top, the small hill that should have formed the anchor of the Union line. The hill held a Union signal tation, however, and troops had occupied the hill until around 5:30 in the morning, and reoccupied it soon after. The faulty report convinced Lee that a flank attack was not only practicable, but actually bound to succeed.

Worse, the absence of cavalry units to act as a rearguard compelled Lee to fill this function with infantry. Specifically, Evander Law’s brigade, and George Pickett’s whole division, both from James Longstreet’s First Corps, had been posted to the rear. Early in the morning on July 2 they received the order to move up, but Law would not reach the field until the afternoon and Pickett would not get on it at all. Longstreet, ordered to make a flanking attack on the Union position, expressed much displeasure at being forbidden to wait for Pickett, stating that he did not like to go into battle with one boot off. Perhaps he did not recall that he’d done precisely that at Sharpsburg.

Longstreet’s gripe about Pickett was one expression of a larger dissatisfaction with Lee’s plan. Longstreet did not want to assault the Union army where it stood, and preferred the idea of sidling around to the right, outflanking them on a strategic, rather than a tactical level. He felt the Yankee position was simply too strong to be successfully taken, which he expressed to Lee bluntly:

Lee: “If he is there tomorrow, we must attack him.”

Longstreet: “If he is there, it will be because he is anxious that we should attack him – a good reason, in my judgment, for not doing so.”

Lee's attack plan called for Hood, McLaws, and Anderson to attack in sequence to weaken the line. Map by Hal Jespersen.

Lee’s attack plan called for Hood, McLaws, and Anderson to attack in sequence to weaken the line. Map by Hal Jespersen.

Lee must have been rather unhappy himself, as he was not getting the sort of help he was used to from his corps commanders. Ewell was even worse than Longstreet – not only did he not want to attack the men in front of him (although he did mount a modestly successful effective assault against unoccupied entrenchments late in the day), he was even reluctant to reposition his corps to a spot where it could attack fruitfully. As for Hill, his record in the battle is practically nonexistent. After allowing Heth to make his ill-considered push towards town on the first day he seems to have made no contribution at all. Stuart was still absent from the field.

History strongly suggests that Longstreet allowed his irritation with Lee to affect his battlefield performance, earning him his candidacy for The Man Who Lost Gettysburg. He insisted on waiting for Law to rejoin Hood’s division before he started moving the rest of his corps, which delayed the day’s planned attack. When he took his troops along the poorly-scouted route to the point of attack, he belatedly realized that part of the route was exposed to the signal station on Little Round Top and ended up taking a slow and inefficient countermarch to remain concealed.

Lee’s attack plan, predicated on his belief that the Army of the Potomac had entrenched along Cemetery Ridge without anchoring its line on Little Round Top, involved first taking the Peach Orchard in order to use it for the artillery, then rolling up the Union line with an advance parallel to the Emmitsburg road. When Longstreet finally reached his destination, however, the plan had to be changed, because the III Corps was suddenly positioned where nobody expected it to be.

Daniel_Edgar_Sickles

Dan Sickles moved the III Corps into danger.

Dan Sickles was a prime example of that now-extinct species, the political general. A well-connected Congressman, he had once murdered a man who was romancing his wife and employed the first successful temporary insanity defense to avoid conviction. By this point in the war he had command of the III Corps of the Union army, and on this day he had been told in no uncertain terms that the was to deploy his troops along Cemetery Ridge and anchor his flank at Little Round Top.

Sickles, no doubt remembering how the Confederate seizure of Hazel Grove had proven decisive at Chancellorsville, felt very uncomfortable staring at the elevated ground of the Peach Orchard just to his front. He decided to advance his men to form a large salient, pushing out from Cemetery Ridge to the Peach Orchard before angling back towards Little Round Top. This position had several problems. First, because of the way it protruded from the rest of the line, it was vulnerable to attack from two directions rather than one. Additionally, it pulled off the troops that had been guarding Little Round Top, leaving the hill undefended. Finally, Sickles had nowhere near enough men to actually hold the line he had occupied.

Sickles made his move around 4:00 PM. Meade recognized the danger as soon as he saw the troop positions, but by then it was too late. Longstreet was attacking.

Meade immediately sent Gouverneur K. Warren to see to the defense of Little Round Top, which Warren discovered to be unoccupied, with Rebels advancing on it. The V Corps was quickly ordered to defend the position, but the courier had trouble finding the intended divisional commander. Colonel Strong Vincent decided to occupy the hill on his own authority, and deployed his brigade just in time to meet the Alabamians of Law’s brigade. The fight was desperate, and the 20th Maine regiment, anchoring the defense, almost bent back on itself to avoid being outflanked by the assault. As their ammunition ran out, Joshua L. Chamberlain ordered a bayonet charge that finally swept away the attackers, preserving the far left of the Union line.

Gouverneur K. Warren would later be unjustly relieved from command by Phil Sheridan after Five Forks.

Gouverneur K. Warren would later be unjustly relieved from command by Phil Sheridan after Five Forks.

Meanwhile, Sickles’ division was being destroyed by the grinding attack of John Hood’s and Lafayette McLaws’ divisions. Rather than trying to belatedly organize a defense in depth with massed units, Sickles was committing his reserves and even units grabbed from other commands piecemeal, trying to plug the holes in the line one brigade or regiment at a time. Eventually a cannonball ruined his leg, requiring that it be amputated below the knee and removing him from command (a II Corps officer expressed the opinion that the general’s loss was thus the country’s gain). Meade deputized Hancock, once again, to take overall command of the Union line and began sending him every soldier that could be spared. Despite this reinforcement, the Union line was dangerously close to being penetrated.

They were saved by the poor alignment of Dick Anderson’s division of the Rebel Third Corps. In the absence of Pickett, Anderson’s men were expected to finish off the flanking attack. Unlike McLaws and Hood, who had concentrated their brigades, Anderson had strung his out, weakening the overall power of his assault and his ability to provide immediate support at breakthrough points. Worse, once his attack started, some of his brigades never actually attacked, or stopped before reaching the Yankee army. As a result, Hancock had enough time to save the Army of the Potomac. He accomplished this at great cost, at one point essentially sacrificing an entire regiment so he could cobble together a line, but the day ended without a Confederate breakthrough.

The second day of Gettysburg featured surprisingly poor showings from most of the Confederate high command, and a strong effort from many Union officers (Sickles excluded). Despite the inefficiency of their commanders, the Rebels had made some modest gains, but the actions of Warren and Hancock denied them the victory they might have had if proper cavalry dispositions had allowed Longstreet to go into battle with both boots on. By the end of July 2, Pickett’s division had arrived at last. Whatever attack took place the next day, his men – the only fresh ones the Confederates had – would almost certainly play the key role.

July 1, 1863

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Jul 012013
 

The Battle of Gettysburg holds a central place in the Southern mythology of the Lost Cause. Here the Confederacy came tantalizingly close to destroying the Union army, and afterwards Lee was never really able to seize the initiative again. As such, assigning the blame for the defeat has long been a pastime of Southern historians, both amateur and professional. The argument can continue indefinitely, for the three days of battle in July offer many fine candidates for The Man Who Lost Gettysburg.

Similarly, the Union had a surfeit of people who could be assigned credit for a victory. Even Joe Hooker eventually attempted to claim a slice of the glory, arguing that it was he who had ordered the cavalry to Gettysburg. Unfortunately, in trying to prove this he turned to Alfred Pleasonton for aid, and the self-aggrandizing cavalryman promptly insisted he had been the one to send the troopers.

John_Buford

John Buford, commanded the first division of the Army of the Potomac’s cavalry corps.

The cavalry in question were commanded by John Buford, who would have led the Union cavalry corps if not for the matter of Pleasonton’s slight seniority. As it was, he had to satisfy himself with a division, with which he brushed off the brigade of Johnston Pettigrew, which had been making a reconnaissance towards the town. Taking stock of the situation, and recognizing that the town had good ground, should the army be able to advance quickly enough to make use of it, Buford wrote back to John Reynolds, commanding the Union I Corps, and asked for support. He took position on McPherson’s ridge, west of town, with a preliminary line of defense on Herr’s ridge.

Pettigrew returned to camp and reported that he had encountered soldiers in Gettysburg. Although Lee had given orders not to bring on a general engagement, Pettigrew’s division commander, Harry Heth, and his corps commander, A.P. Hill, decided to make a strong push towards town the next day. The Rebel army had been encountering scattered militia forces throughout Pennsylvania, and the senior commanders probably thought Pettigrew had only seen these.

Henry Heth, whose disregard for orders brought on the battle.

Henry Heth, whose disregard for orders brought on the battle.

The next morning proved them wrong. Heth (Hill remained in camp, ill) pushed his troops towards two brigades of dismounted cavalry backed up by a small complement of artillery. Though greatly outnumbered, the cavalrymen were equipped with breech-loading carbines and repeaters that gave them a significant edge in firepower over the slow-loading muskets of the Confederate infantry. The numbers could not really be overcome, but Buford forced the Confederates to deploy two full brigades for the fight. They then swept Buford’s advance forces off Herr’s ridge.

Now Heth could see that he was facing much more than mere militia, but rather than obeying Lee’s orders not to bring on a major engagement, he pushed east towards McPherson’s ridge.

However, Buford’s defense had given enough time, barely, for Reynolds to come up. The I Corps quickly deployed on McPherson’s ridge, bringing artillery to brush back the Confederate cannon. The Yankee troops bloodily repulsed the attacking Rebel brigades (one of those retreating was commanded by Jefferson Davis’ son Joseph). By noon the first major clash had ended, with the Rebels falling back to Herr’s ridge and the I Corps concentrating its forces on McPherson’s. Unfortunately, the morning’s fighting had cost the life of Reynolds himself. Abner Doubleday had command of the I Corps now, but the senior officer on the field, and hence the overall commander, would be Oliver Otis Howard of the XI Corps.

The XI Corps was small, and had performed very poorly under Howard at Chancellorsville. Meade had put him and Dan Sickles, one of Hooker’s pets, under Reynolds’ command for this phase of operation, probably with the hope that Reynolds would compensate for their shortcomings. With Reynolds dead, Howard was free to to make errors, and promptly did so. He left the I Corps essentially by itself on McPherson’s ridge, and did not respond in a timely fashion when it needed his permission to adjust its position. As for his own Corps, he strung it out along indifferent ground north of the city.

This move had to be made because Confederate Second Corps under Ewell, which had been in position at Heidlersburg, was coming south towards Gettysburg. Buford’s pickets had detected the movement earlier in the day, and Howard had initially been detailed to confront this threat as best he could.

The first try on the lines went poorly for the South. Brigades from Robert Rodes’ division launched an attack at the north end of the I Corps, where two brigades had positioned themselves on Oak Hill. As the fight began the XI Corps arrived and formed a line towards the east, making this the spot where the two Corps were connected. The rebel assault failed because its generals arranged it badly and stayed behind rather than guiding their brigades. The North Carolinians under Alfred Iverson were taken by surprise by a group of Yankees hidden behind a low stone wall and lost 2/3 of their strength in minutes; Alabamians under Edward O’Neal fared better, if only because it was hardly possible to fare worse.

The first day's action at Gettysburg

The first day’s action at Gettysburg (map by Hal Jespersen)

Rodes soon attacked the junction again, with brigades under more competent commanders. At the same time, Rebel troops began deploying in formations that overlapped the ends of both the I Corps and XI Corps lines. Despite this development, Howard did not allow the I Corps to withdraw towards Seminary Ridge in an orderly fashion, and did little to improve his own Corps’ position. Of course, there is some doubt that any position could be held by such men. They had stampeded at Chancellorsville, and they gave way here, fleeing almost as soon as they saw Jubal Early’s division coming. Soon en0ugh, the I and XI Corps were retreating through Gettysburg.

Many men were lost in the disorderly retreat, but enough made it south of town to take up a defensive position on Cemetery Hill. Winfield Scott Hancock, the commander of the II Corps, had been sent by Meade to take command of the field at Gettysburg, and he organized a defense on Cemetery Hill, with Howard’s help. A quick reconnaissance showed Ewell that neighboring Culp’s Hill was unoccupied, but he and Early decided that there was no time to organize an attack before nightfall.

This decision has lived on in debates about The Man Who Lost Gettysburg, and a successful attack at this time would certainly have forced the Yankees off of Cemetery Hill, which Culp’s Hill dominated. However, victory had produced as much chaos in the Rebel ranks as defeat had caused for the Union, and when Ewell asked Lee to arrange some support for a further assault, the commanding general declined. Hancock knew the danger posed by Culp’s Hill and quickly had a First Corps division occupy it. Less than two hours elapsed between the collapse of the Union line and the point when Hancock thought his position organized enough to be impregnable. Without additional support, and given the poor scouting, Ewell simply didn’t have time to organize the attack he needed.

These practical concerns, however, have done little to affect Ewell’s candidacy, just as Lee’s failure to properly handle the cavalry he had on hand has not exonerated J.E.B. Stuart for his ill-conceived raid around the Army of the Potomac. The hapless Heth has also been mentioned, for bringing on the engagement against orders, but in truth this day went quite well for the Army of Northern Virginia. Two Union corps were badly mauled, and the Rebels took the field. The Yankees held the high ground, however, thanks to the efforts of Buford, Reynolds, and Hancock. Yet Lee, undaunted by his opponent or the ground, resolved to attack.