Question of the Week: 6/8-6/14/2020

It’s Gettysburg Campaign season… In your opinion, what’s the key event of the campaign prior to the big battle in Pennsylvania?

21 Responses to Question of the Week: 6/8-6/14/2020

  1. There are several good answers here, but Hooker’s resignation and replacement by Meade looms large to me. Hooker’s performance at Chancellorsville hardly inspires confidence as to how he would have performed in a potential battle at Gettysburg. An argument can be made for the significance of the emergence of the Federal cavalry at Brandy Station and the role that played as the war waged on as well.

    1. Brandy Station may have been bigger tan the emergence of the Federal cavalry. As the surprise attack at brandy Station that embarrassed Stuart, his “ride around the army” to repeat the same that made him a military celebrity status in the Peninsula Campaign a year earlier, would hopefully renew his star status. But rather than perform his cavalry’s ordinary status as screening the army’s movement and gathering intelligence, he arrived with the plunder of 100 supply wagons that were nothing more than a hindrance to Lee, especially after the second day of fighting based on the faulty intelligence of a captain on Lee’s staff.

  2. Stuart going around the AoP.

    Lee was blind and deaf as the ANV advanced into Pennsylvania.

    1. I suggest reading Plenty of Blame to Go Around, by Eric Wittenberg and J.D. Petruzzi. You may change your mind on this. Lee retained more than half his cavalry and simply failed to use it.

      1. Let’s see now.Jenkins accompanied Ewell as Ewell marched into Pennsylvania. Stuart took the best troops with him…the Brigades of Hampton, Fitzhugh Lee, and Rooney Lee ( under Chambliss) Robertson and Jones guarded Ashby’s and Snickers Gap and were ordered to stay to the right and rear of the ANV if the Union Army moved beyond his reach. They however stayed at their posts, and disobeyed Stuarts orders and when ordered to join the ANV on June 29th, they moved slowly, reporting on July 3rd. Mosby lost touch with Stuart. It was Stuart who Lee depended on for his intelligence, and in the advance into Pennsylvania, Stuart wasn’t there. If Stuart had just stayed with he ANV, or had joined Ewell as ordered, he would have been in a position to inform Lee of the roads, and topography. As it happened, the 1st day of Stuart’s March, he ran into the Union Army….Stuart’s orders were to pass around the Union Army without any hindrances, and dispatches sent by Stuart to Lee were never delivered.

      2. Feel free not to read the book. Those guys did a boatloads of research and analysis which you’re missing. And the fact is that Lee had ample cavalry to do the needed screening. Add in the fact that as the authors point out Stuart was complying with Lee’s orders and you can figure out where the blame and causation lie.

      3. Feel free to read books on Gettysburg, by Sears, Coddington, and Pfanz. Those books are excellent in discussing the advance and the Battle of Gettysburg. I am sure that what-ever gaps there are in your knowledge, will be remedied. The fact is, Lee had only 1600 cavalry troopers under Jenkins, These man lacked the training and discipline of Stuart’s Cavalry, and Jenkin’s men showed their inefficiency in the advance to Pennsylvania. So your comment that Lee had half the number of available wrong.

      4. Maybe you should read them again? Just sayin’.

        I make it a point to inform people who defend Stuart, that his orders from Lee, Stuart was given the latitude to “pass around their army without hinderance”.And the fact is, that Stuart was hindered immediately by the Union Army…Hancock’s Second Corps, at Haymarket Virginia, occupied the road which Stuart intended to take…certainly a hinderance. I believe , as many others who study this campaign, that THIS , certainly met the condition that Lee imposed. And certainly, Stuart wasted valuable time by remaining idle while Hancock moved out of his way.

        Bottom line is…the cavalry is the eyes and ears of the army…that one of the functions of cavalry is to report the progress of the enemy, and to report to the commander about significant terrain features. Stuart failed to tell Lee that the AoP had crossed the Potomac and failed to inform Lee of any topographical features that Lee could have used to the ANV advantage.

        Lee depended on Stuart for this intelligence gathering. However this is not the 1st time that Stuart failed to inform his superiors of Union Army advances…please read about South Mountain.-

        What Lee said to Stuart upon his return to the ANV , is disputed. Some quote this……“General Stuart, where have you been? I have not heard a word from you for days, and you the eyes and ears of my army.”

      5. None of those books go into this issue in depth. Wittenberg and Petruzzi do. They’re not the first, by the way. Mark Nesbitt’s Sabre and Scapegoat came up with a similar conclusion c. 1994 but Wittenberg and Petruzzi were able to access more sources. By the way I’ve read Coddington, Sears, and all three of Pfanz’s books (since you don’t specify which one). They didn’t have the space or focus to just target this issue.

      6. You should assume that I’ve read a ton about South Mountain, including Stuart’s actions. But we’re discussing the Gettysburg Campaign, not the Maryland Campaign. And I’m not on some mission to “defend” Stuart. I’m simply pointing to work by two co-authors – one of whom is an unquestioned authority in the area – who have looked into this far more deeply than I – and I’ll wager, you – have. It’s worth reading.

      7. I don’t assume anything, since geometry. I am just pointing out that Stuart had failed to inform Lee of the proximity of the AoP at South Mountain, and he failed to inform Lee of the proximity of the AoP North of the Potomac River, in 1863. It’s what my lawyer friends say…calls to a pattern., your Honor.

        Now…You made this comment above…..”Lee retained more than half his cavalry and simply failed to use it.”
        Using Busey and Martin’s Regimental Strengths and Losses at Gettysburg, a book that has stood the test of time…Lets look at the Stuart’s Cavalry Command…..
        One June 30, 1863
        F Lee…………2164
        Chambliss… 1328
        9511…You can check the math.
        So, I made the comment above where all those men were……and Lee had 1330 men with Ewell…so when you say Lee retained over half of his cavalry….the numbers just don’t add up.

        Civil war cavalry had 3 functions….
        1. Find out where the enemy was located
        2. Don’t let the enemy find out where your army was located.
        3. Find any topographical strongpoints that may be used to your advantage.
        Stuart failed in #1 and #3

        Now, if you care to discuss the retreat and how Stuart performs, I am sure I can agree with you. But as to the advance, Stuart, in my humble opinion, dis-obeyed orders when the Union Army proved to be a hinderance.

        Would you care to discuss the actual battle and the effects of the absence of Stuart’s cavalry? It certainly had an impact on the fighting at Culp’s Hill.

    2. Agree–J.E.B.’s inability (I decline to say “failure”) to get across the Potomac in a timely manner. Review D. Southhall-Freeman’s analysis of aggressive Union cav keeping him south of the Potomac, and in the saddle, for almost 96 straight hours. Lee kept much cav behind, true, but that was to cover his OTHER flank, and rear–and, critically, he trusted Stuart to get through. Of course, and in addition,, ANV was strung out over almost 60 miles of dirt roads–Lee should have known better than to create a situation in which if his vanguard got into trouble, it would be 48 hrs before the rear could catch up. I own an original 3rd Corps circular, dated June 26, written at Point of Rocks–and Sickles, God bless him, 😉 was in the middle of the constellation of Union corps groping their way north at that time. Think Lee would’ve benefitted from knowing, around the 25th, that half of AoP was already north of the river?

  3. Probably the death of Stonewall Jackson at Chanscellorsville in May, and the resultant failure to take Cemetery Hill by new Corp commander Richard Ewell…..the tone was set for Meade’s strong interior lines and increased confidence by the Army of the Potomac!

    1. Ewell acted properly under the circumstances. Anybody who thinks Stonewall would have taken Cemetery Hill in the same circumstances also needs to account for Jackson’s tactical deficits at First Kernstown, McDowell, Cross Keys/Port Republic, the Seven Days, Cedar Mountain, Brawner’s Farm, Day 2 of 2 BR, Chantilly, and Fredericksburg/Hamilton’s Crossing. I agree that holding Cemetery Hill was crucial.

    2. Coincidentally, over lunch today I happened to read a 2000 article in “Civil War Times” about the impact of Jackson’s death on the South’s cause. They asked half a doz scholars and I was surprised to read them all say the strategic impact as “not much”. Regardless, one scholar did point out that Jackson ATTACKING Culp’s Hill late in the evening of 1 July is not the same as Jackson CARRYING Culp’s Hill that night…

  4. I agree with both of the above, and put the Army of the Potomac’s change of command ahead of Stuart by a narrow margin. In third place for me is the Pennsylvania militia’s burning the bridges over the Susquehanna, thus confining the campaign to south of that river.

  5. During the weeks leading up to the advance intoPennsylvania, Lee wrote a series of letters to Davis . In them he laid out his plan of campaign. A concentration of 100,000 me at Culpepper under Beauregard was an integral element of Lee’s plan. Rather than a meeting engagement in nowhere PA, Lee contemplated pinning the AoP against Washington with Beauregard’s force from the Carolinas & the AoNV. The combined force would destroy the AoP & take Washington. The most significant event of the Gettysburg Campaign was Davis’refusal to even contemplate Lee’s plan. Absent the Coastal Carolina forces, the Advance into Pennsylvania was devoid of strategic possibilities.

  6. I personally think it was the decision to even go into PA that was the major mistake, and hence the key event. Disaster for the Confederacy was looming at Vicksburg. With some exceptions, Lee had found his greatest success reacting to Union moves, and in VA at that. Had the PA invasion not been undertaken, might some of the resources that were lost in that be available the next year when Sherman was engaged in his Atlanta campaign? The hopes of the Confederacy arguably boiled down to the election of 1864. Atlanta had everything to do with the result of that. ‘Cause and effect’. Of course, we can’t KNOW what all would have transpired. But if Atlanta had been held through the election, Lincoln’s defeat almost certainly means peace with a resulting permanent CSA. The double whammy of losing at Vicksburg and Gettysburg were huge in bringing about the Confederacy’s demise.

    This might be a poor analogy, but I’ll offer it anyway. In WWII, on the Eastern Front, the German army reigned supreme when they could unleash their blitzkriegs in the SUMMER. At least until Kursk. But it was always getting bogged down in big cities and/or the Russian winters that ultimately derailed their goals (and of course Hitler being an idiot contributed to all that, but I digress). But armor-led offensives in wide open spaces allowed the Germans to excel. Lee excelled in defensive operations. When he let the enemy come to him he always seemed to have his greatest successes. Invading PA, just like invading MD the year before, did not play to the Confederates greatest strengths. So I say again that I believe the decision to go north was THE key event.

    1. Fair points. Who knows what would have happened had he not made the decision but we do know what did happen. And his prior invasion in September 1862 did not fare well as it turned out. This was even more aggressive and risky.

  7. Stuart’s absence. Lee spent more time worrying about Stuart’s location than in coordinating the march order of his infantry units. His entire performance on the First Day was reactive. Pure luck had drawn two Union Corp forward into an indefensible, outnumbered position, and killed that wing’s commander, but Lee failed to coordinate a robust late afternoon strike. Anderson’s division was kept in close reserve to the west, guarding a possible line of retreat, rather than being swiftly brought forward. And this diffident performance continued overnight and into the morning, with amateurs doing reconnaissance, giving the Union army precious time to consolidate and evaluate the terrain.

    Of course the unknown in all this is the reaction of the other Union cavalry divisions were Stuart closer to Lee. Given their recent performance, they would no doubt have worked hard to hinder Stuart.

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