So Far from the Assigned Position

Looking to Cemetery Ridge from the wounding site of Major Daniel Daniel Sickles.

About Kristopher D White

Civil War historian.
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2 Responses to So Far from the Assigned Position

  1. Frank J. Piatek says:

    Actually, Sickles advanced position was farther west from Cemetery Ridge than depicted in the photo when one considers the area occupied by Birney’s Division around the Devil’s Den and Wheatfield (DeTrobriand) and also, of course, Humphrey’s Division around the Peach Orchard. There is no question in my mind that Sickles disobeyed Meade’s orders on his “assigned” position and exceeded any discretion he might have enjoyed in that regard by moving his corps out that far. But the larger issue is whether, in doing so, Sickles inadvertently helped the AOP by acting as a breakwater once the Confederate assault took place. The fighting at the Devils’ Den, Wheatfield, and Peach Orchard had sapped much of the Confederate cohesion to carry out Lee’s plan for the second day. It is true that Sickles’ angle at the Peach Orchard created a weakened salient to defend, but there many instances of salients created by commanders which are nothing more than extensions of an existing line to avoid being outflanked (eg. Chamberlain refusing his 20th Maine on Little Round Top to counter Confederates trying to outflank him; Barlow creating a salient on Blocher’s Knoll on July 1 that was attacked from two sides). It is equally true that Sickles’ extension with only two divisions lacked sufficient strength to hold that position; but would his two divisions have been sufficient to hold the position assigned to him on Cemetery Ridge, assuming that the Confederate had struck him there, without being blunted by fighting farther out? Please keep in mind that I only present these issues as a Devil’s advocate for those who automatically accept all the arguments made by critics of Sickles for so many years. Given Sickles’ pre-war bad reputation and his being a non-West Pointer, many of the opinions of the officer cadre might have been tainted by those things that would, otherwise, make them reticent to be so critical of a fellow officer. I think Sickles knew that the Peach Orchard area was a better defensive position for his corps (particularly for its potential as an artillery platform for the enemy), even though it might not fit in with Meade’s concept. This is understandable, given his experience at Hazel’s Grove in the Chancellorsville campaign where he was called off by Hooker and immediately Confederate artillery took position thereon with devastating results for the AOP. At Gettysburg, the Berdan sharpshooters (1st Regiment, U.S.S.S.) along with the 3rd Maine discovered early on that Confederates were moving into position in that area and probably influenced Sickles’ decision, more than anything else, to make the movement forward. Not trusting Meade to make the necessary expeditious decisions, he took responsibility himself and spent years afterward justifying it, albeit without a great deal of honesty. In doing so, he used fabrications and made Meade a straw man in an effort to elevate himself. An interesting personality in his own right, Sickles was certainly one of the most colorful characters in the Civil War.

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