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The turning point of the American Civil War... 150 years ago

Discussion in 'Off-topic Zone' started by MichaelWinicki, Jun 30, 2013.

  1. MichaelWinicki

    MichaelWinicki "You want some?" Staff Member

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    July 3rd.

    Pickett's Charge.

    Most with even a wee-bit of knowledge about the Civil War are aware of Pickett's Charge... The huge cannonade prior to, and then seemingly the entire Confederate line moving forward to try to pierce the center of the Union line and if they succeed, it was the opinion of their chief, Robert E. Lee that the battle and maybe the war was over.

    Not so fast Robert!

    If anyone has studied the battle a little or watched the move "Gettysburg" they know that Lee's top general Pete Longstreet was very much against the charge. He felt it was going to be a failure. And of course it was. Some historians have painted a picture that the charge could have succeeded. And yes there was a chance. Kind of like the chances of an 2-10 football team beating a 10-2 football team. Yes there was a chance, just not a very good chance.

    Was R.E. Lee a knucklehead for ordering the charge?

    That would be a good question.

    There is much evidence to support the notion that R.E. Lee was not in the best of health during the Gettysburg Campaign. Some have suggested that he may have even suffered a mild heart attack. Certainly that could have affected his judgement.

    He could have also been overconfident. The prior two battles the Confederates won, Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg were won rather handily. The Army of Northern Virginia had repeatedly beaten the Army of the Potomac going back to the First Bull Run. And even when the Northern Army did win, it wasn't a clear victory. I think it would be understandable to think that R.E. Lee had very high expectations for his army.

    Lee could have also known that this was his lastest, bestest chance to totally decimate the Union army opposing him. In other words, he swang for the fences.

    And against a different Union commander, Lee may of pulled it off. But his counterpart, George Gordon Meade was tenacious if nothing else. Even after being on the losing end by a lot on July 1st and on the losing end by a little on July 2nd, his army was still there on July 3rd. Previous commanders may have retreated towards Washington DC to lick their wounds after July 2nd, but not Meade.

    Plus the Union Army had home field advantage fighting in Pennsylvania. The 12th man seemed to cause many units to play the game a little harder than what they had previously.

    Lee's grand scheme was to:

    1. Bombard the Union line with as many cannon as he could muster.
    2. Have a cavalry division try to sneak around the Union rear to cause confusion.
    3. Have several divisions charge towards the Union center.

    The cannonade was massive. Between the Southern and Northern guns, it was the largest cannonade ever in the western hemisphere.

    The trouble for the South is that it did very little damage.

    Now the cavalry raid in the rear of the Union position... Well a young general by the name of George Custer kind of broke up that attempt.

    That left the charge. And even though the charge is kind of mislabeled by calling it "Pickett's Charge" in that Pickett's division was just one of many participating, the charge ended up being a massive failure. A couple hundred soldiers did manage to kind of break through the front Union line, General Meade had plenty of reserves behind to mop up any residual mess.

    Pickett's division was destroyed. Supposedly Pickett said, "That Old Man (R.E. Lee) destroyed my division". And even if that isn't entirely accurate there is no doubt Pickett felt ill will towards Lee throughout the rest of the war.

    After charge ended, a Union Cavalry general ordered a cavalry charge towards one end of the Confederate line thinking the Southern army was ripe for the taking... Other than killing a bunch of Union cavalrymen including a general, the battle was over at that point.
  2. burmafrd

    burmafrd Well-Known Member

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    I believe that Union Cavalry general was Killkenny. His troopers called him "Kill Cavalry."

    I read with interest those that claim the charge would have been successful if the angle had just been a little different.

    I have walked that ground. By the time the leading brigades reached the stone wall they had taken 50% or more casualties; they were still moving forward because that was the type of men they were. But all control and organization was gone. Even if there had been enough there to push back the union forces any distance, reserves were already moving in and above all else the union units still were under control. Armistead came close, but its telling he never made it past the first line of cannon.
  3. burmafrd

    burmafrd Well-Known Member

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    the movie Gettysburg was probably the closest to capturing what actually happened even though it had several historical errors in it.
    Longstreet was not as certain the charge would fail as the film showed. He was very worried but far from absolutely knowing it would fail.

    One other thing about that movie; it was the only one that was ever allowed to shoot Picket's Charge on the actual ground. What you see in that movie was the real thing in many ways. The charge was filmed at the end of June in 1992 so the weather and foliage were the same as the real battle. A lot of effort was put into making it as close as possible to the original ground.
  4. MichaelWinicki

    MichaelWinicki "You want some?" Staff Member

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    I think Wright's brigade came closer the day before at actually piercing the Union line that what happened on the 3rd.
  5. burmafrd

    burmafrd Well-Known Member

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    and even if he had there was no reserves behind him to exploit the situation.

    Realistically the only chance Lee had to win that battle came on the first day. And with Ewel's hesitation that small chance was gone
  6. arglebargle

    arglebargle Well-Known Member

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    Great thread, quite enjoyable reading the discussion. I've never been to Gettysburg, but walked Antietam, Vicksburg, Chattanooga etc. A friend I used to work with (and his dad) were reenactors who volunteered as extras for the Gettysburg movie. I think they were almagamated with the New York Irish Brigade.
  7. MichaelWinicki

    MichaelWinicki "You want some?" Staff Member

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    I haven't done Vicksburg or Chattanooga.

    But Antietam is a beautiful park. In a lot of ways the opposite of Gettysburg... And don't get me wrong Gettysburg National Park is terrific. It's my #1 vacation destination, but the park is or was so commercialized and busy all the time it's hard to go out onto the battlefield and take in a peaceful moment unless you're out that at the crack of dawn– Just keep an eye out for the deer!

    Antietam is much less congested and very little commercial development right next to the park.

    What caught me by surprise at Antietam was the large distance between the action that took place on one end of the battlefield to the action that took place on the other end. It wasn't like there weren't troops and stuff in the center... It's just one side didn't threaten the other there.

    As a side note I'm big on what they've done at Gettysburg over the last couple decades to reduce the amount of commercialization next to the battlefield. I first visited as a youngster in the early 70's and there were many cheezy tourist traps, diners and modern houses either on or next to the battlefield. Most of those have been removed. They even buried the electric lines so modern photography no longer captures those.

    Several years ago the park service started having removing a lot of the tree growth that wasn't there in 1863. When I first saw the changes around Devils Den, I was shocked how much different it looked.
    Last edited: Jul 4, 2013
  8. BoysFan4ever

    BoysFan4ever Well-Known Member

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    Gettysburg has a eerie vibe to it if you visit. You are aware at all times of how much death occurred there.

    It was a sad sad place to me.
  9. Manwiththeplan

    Manwiththeplan Well-Known Member

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    and still apparently don't
  10. MichaelWinicki

    MichaelWinicki "You want some?" Staff Member

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    July 4th... 1863.

    The armies at Gettysburg just sort of glared at each other most of the day. R.E. Lee contracted his lines and tried enticing his counterpart to take the bait and attack the Confederates in their somewhat fortified position.

    It didn't work.

    Meade's army held their position and celebrated the Nation's Birthday.

    Between July 1st and July 4th, the South lost over 50,000 men, due to the loss at Gettysburg and their capitulation at Vicksburg Mississippi. The equivalent of a Confederate field army was wiped off the map. From this point forward Lee would be the defender in the East... No longer having the offensive firepower to be the attacker.

    July 5th, the Rebel army, realizing that Meade wasn't going to attack and rapidly running out of supplies started making the long trip back to Virginia. Making the trip that much more miserable were the severe downpours that would continue to plague the route back. On top of that Lee had to deal with thousands of injured. By all accounts it was a miserable trip.

    The Union army followed cautiously... too cautiously to President Lincoln. He would press Meade to follow up aggressively but a full-fledged battle never ensued. As happy as Lincoln was about Gettysburg he was disappointed in the follow-up. It was no doubt a factor in Lincoln bringing US Grant east in March of 1864.

    The Battle of Gettysburg took the starch out of both armies. It would be 10 months before the armies met again in a fully involved battle.
  11. burmafrd

    burmafrd Well-Known Member

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    Meade gets an unfair rap in my estimation for the aftermath of Gettysburg.

    The AOP had rushed to get there in great heat and were exhausted. The weather had been very hot. That was one factor in his slowness to pursue Lee.

    Then there is the fact that Meade was brand new to command of the Army. Add to that he had lost first Reynolds- killed on the first day- then Hancock- badly wounded the third day. Those were his best Corps Commanders. We saw the problems Lee had because of the loss of Jackson yet Meade gets no slack?

    By the end of the third day he had one proven good Corps commander left- Sedgwick.

    One of the reasons Grant later brought Burnside back to the AOP as a corps commander was the lack of good ones.

    Meade probably was too cautious; but it is entirely understandable. Lee was not exactly a predictable foe. Meade had just won the biggest victory of the war for the North. History is replete with examples of commanders that got the Victory Disease and ended up badly.
  12. MichaelWinicki

    MichaelWinicki "You want some?" Staff Member

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    Oh I think Meade was probably unfairly criticized in some circles about the lack of pursuit after Gettysburg. There was also some of the same criticism after the Mine Run Campaign of the fall of '63 failed to bring Lee to battle.

    Unfortunately for Meade, Lincoln's patience for commanding generals was wearing rather thin by that point of the war– rightly or wrongly.

    On top of that Meade was being held (somewhat unfairly) to Grant's standards at the time... And as we know, just about everything Grant touched after Shiloh "turned to gold'.
  13. hipfake08

    hipfake08 Well-Known Member

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    Yes. Can't argue that point. But even if it was not Jackson - When they met I'm sure he would have used the massive amount of troops for the flank and not the head first charge.
  14. hipfake08

    hipfake08 Well-Known Member

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    Yes. For sure - Winning at Gettysburgh would have only held off the end another year.

    But Lincoln might have been alive to reconstruct the South the right way.
  15. arglebargle

    arglebargle Well-Known Member

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    I don't think there was any chance for Lincoln to do that. He was a lightening rod. Reading some histories of the Civil War in the West, I ran across a tidbit that showed just how likely Lincoln was to die. At the time Boothe shot Lincoln, a group of Quantrell's Raiders were riding to Washington to assassinate Lincoln, impersonating a Union cavalry squad in full blue regalia. They turned back only upon hearing that Lincoln had already been shot. And I don't imagine they were the only ones....

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