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 Post subject: Failure of the CSA Commanders
PostPosted: Fri May 16, 2014 10:08 am 
As mentioned in a previous post I am reading through all the major campaigns and battles, chronologically, of the Eastern Theater. It is really shocking to see how bad the Confederate leaders perform at Gettysburg after a string of brilliant actions from Second Manassas to Chancellorsville. I will exclude the victorious but botched Seven Days offensive as the CSA high command had a rather cumbersome command structure filled with many soon-to-be-banished leaders. But for over a year everything in the CSA high command seemed to have worked perfectly. Stuart was always at the right places at the right time. Jackson drove his men hard and with a will and determination to defeat any opponent before him. Longstreet was Lee's reliable lieutenant who could be counted on to perform strongly in battle. Hood, McLaws, Ewell, Early, and others performed admirable supporting roles throughout the year.

Then I get to the Gettysburg Campaign and it all seems to fall apart tragically. I could list the failures of the commanders but you all already know them. The question is why? Why does the CSA High Command utterly fail at Gettysburg? Was it all Longstreet's attitude toward the entire battle that soured it from the start? Was it Lee's failure to more firmly give orders to his commanders? Was Ewell too cautious? Did AP Hill... do anything? The list goes on and on.

In the back of my mind I just think... what if Stonewall Jackson was there? Would commanders have questioned his orders or been slow to attack if they knew Old Jack was staring over their shoulder with his eyes blazing and preaching the damnation of all the Yankees? It is a fascinating "what-if".

Or was it Porter Alexander, or someone else, who when asked why they failed at Gettysburg replied, "I think the Yankees had something to do with it."


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 Post subject: Re: Failure of the CSA Commanders
PostPosted: Sat May 17, 2014 8:58 am 
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I think it was very much the vacuum created by the loss of Jackson. Longstreet got a bad case of inflated ego. He thought he was second in command and threw a temper tantrum when he didn't get treated in that way. Hill and Ewell were good division commanders but were way out of their league as Corps commanders. The Union cavalry finally learned their trade and out fought Stuart leading him to some serious errors in judgment trying to compensate. It didn't help that Lee's health was failing leading him to be more dependent on undependable generals.

The net result was that the Gettysburg Campaign was a study in the failure of command from Army level down to Division level. Almost every leader in the ANV above brigade failed to do their job at some point.

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Chatham Grays
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 Post subject: Re: Failure of the CSA Commanders
PostPosted: Wed May 21, 2014 12:55 pm 
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I don't see the performance of Confederate leaders, with a few exceptions, of being all that bad. You should take into account that this was the only battle except for the Seven Days where the ANV was on the offensive throughout. Fredricksburg and Antietam were almost exclusively defensive battles, while Chancellorsville and 2nd Manassas began as defensive battles and were decided by devastating surprise flank attacks.

Also, the Confederates did not have access to the intelligence they were accustomed to. Not only was the cavalry failing to perform its scouting function but the army was in the midst of a hostile population rather than a friendly one. Citizens were providing intelligence to the Union army instead. As General Whitehead pointed out in a different post, Meade had a pretty good idea of the size and location of every division of the ANV, while Lee didn't even know where the AOP was until Longstreet's spy told him.

A lot of mistakes were made during the battle, but that happened in every battle, and both sides made them. I wonder if Reynolds' decision to hold the good ground would have been viewed in the same light if Johnson's or Anderson's divisions would have been closer and been able to launch a successful attack on Cemetery Hill.

I agree that, as it turned out, Hill and Ewell couldn't replace Jackson, but who could? I don't think they were any worse than the average of all corps commanders north and south. The problem was that fighting against forces that were superior in numbers, supply and equipment required extraordinary leaders, and there were very few of those, north or south.

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 Post subject: Re: Failure of the CSA Commanders
PostPosted: Wed May 21, 2014 11:36 pm 
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Speaking of intelligence, wasn't also the map material not the best for a drive into Maryland and Pennsylvania?
Can't find it at the moment but I think I read somewhere about the lack of good maps.

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 Post subject: Re: Failure of the CSA Commanders
PostPosted: Thu May 22, 2014 8:52 am 
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Without getting into it to deeply the failures of command during the Gettysburg Campaign were both large and many.

Starting with the single greatest failure. Stuart's decision to ignore his orders and ride around to Union army mainly to satisfy his ego. This one decision blinded Lee and the army and set them up for all the future mistakes.

The next command failure was by Hill sending a single division toward Gettysburg for shoes. Any glance at a map would tell a commander that you shouldn't send an unsupported division that far east toward such a major road junction while not knowing where the enemy was.

Not to be out done Heth then proceeded to handle the march poorly. Failed to determine the type of force he made contact with. Misinformed his superiors about the situation leading the ANV into a meeting engagement.

The Hill comes to the rescue of Heth with some of the poorest Corps handling of his career. He fails to coordinate Pender and Heth allowing them to get committed piecemeal.

Meanwhile Longstreet makes his first contribution to failure doing something vary similar to how he caused Johnston to fail at Seven Pines. He give road right away to baggage trains instead of combat troops delay the arrival of Johnson and Anderson by almost eight hours.

Ewell finally comes to the rescue with the only bit of luck in the Campaign once it crossed the Potomac. Rodes and Early come in at just the right time and from just the right direction to overwhelm the Union XI Corps. Then Ewell looses his balls and never makes another correct decision when he bothers to make any decisions for the rest of the battle.

Ewell proceeds to grab defeat from the jaws of victory. First sending his few fresh brigades on wild goose chases when he had cavalry to do that. Refusing to follow up on his success. Allowing a division commander, Early, to make the decisions for his Corps.

And that is just day one. Day two Longstreet takes command and demonstrates why he couldn't command an army. It is a much longer list involving Longstreet, Hill, Anderson and a few other minor players.

But that is enough for now. It show the trend.

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 Post subject: Re: Failure of the CSA Commanders
PostPosted: Sun Jun 01, 2014 8:41 am 
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Can I be the only one who thinks Lee was not just being gentlemanly when he said, "Its all my fault"? He was telling the truth! Lee mismanaged the battle throughout. He outnumbered his enemy but kept his commanders on a short leash worried about bringing on a general engagement on day one. Uncoordinated attacks on a poorly understood foe's flanks on day two. Finally the Grand Disaster of the Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble Charge on day three. Lee's subordinates might have performed better at Gettysburg if Lee himself did not perform so badly.

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 Post subject: Re: Failure of the CSA Commanders
PostPosted: Fri Jun 06, 2014 9:00 am 
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W. Bajan wrote:
Can I be the only one who thinks Lee was not just being gentlemanly when he said, "Its all my fault"? He was telling the truth! Lee mismanaged the battle throughout. He outnumbered his enemy but kept his commanders on a short leash worried about bringing on a general engagement on day one. Uncoordinated attacks on a poorly understood foe's flanks on day two. Finally the Grand Disaster of the Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble Charge on day three. Lee's subordinates might have performed better at Gettysburg if Lee himself did not perform so badly.

Lee ultimately bares the responsibility since he failed to rain in his subordinates. But the Civil War wasn't like modern wars. You couldn't dismiss the Corps leader during the battle it would disrupt the command structure to much. You had to work with what you had and leave corrections for after the battle. You were also very dependent on them to carry out your plans since you couldn't micro manage a Civil War battle.

Gettysburg was primarily a failure of command control at almost every level. The men in the ranks performance was excellent. Their leaders performed poorly.

Don't know where you got the "He outnumbered his enemy" unless you mean for just those few hours on Day One when the ANV did have more men on the battle line than the Union. However, knowing that you had this required cavalry to tell you what was out of sight.

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 Post subject: Re: Failure of the CSA Commanders
PostPosted: Sat Jun 07, 2014 6:36 pm 
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Yes Sir, I was referring to day one numbers. Perhaps all Lee needed to do on day one was play traffic cop and see that Anderson's division reached the field in a timely enough manner to make the taking of that hill practicable.

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 Post subject: Re: Failure of the CSA Commanders
PostPosted: Sat Jun 07, 2014 8:21 pm 
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I think too much is made about Ewell not taking "that hill" on the first day. In my mind if Ewell takes Cemetery Hill Mead then just stops everyone and mans the Pipe Creek line that was his original intention in the first place. The Union wasn't that committed to Gettysburg until later that evening and could have stepped back I think and consolidated on Meade's line.

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 Post subject: Re: Failure of the CSA Commanders
PostPosted: Mon Jun 09, 2014 10:07 am 
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Taking "that Hill" on the first day would have turned Gettysburg into a victory with Meade retreating to the Pipe Creek line. Lee probably wouldn't have attempted the Pipe Creek line since the best result would have been just forcing Meade back further on the Washington defenses. It would have left Lee in possession of most of Maryland and Southern Pennsylvania which would have been a major embarrassment to Lincoln. It's a big "what if" so no telling what it would have lead too. But for sure there would have been no "Pickett's Charge".

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 Post subject: Re: Failure of the CSA Commanders
PostPosted: Sun Jun 15, 2014 4:49 am 
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I do not see this great failure in the CSA commanders. They were basically the same that had won a few months earlier at Chancellorsville, how could they have become so scarce after a month? ..
The real difference to the south was the loss of Thomas Stonewall Jackson, who was the best general of the South. He was the only general that he understood the futility of frontal attacks against infantry behind barricades and equipped with modern weapons (the European generals hadn't yet figured out 50 years later in the WWI). It was preferable to a defense and counterattack the flanks.
Lee realized it too later (just after the three days of Gettysburg): during the battle of seven days in 1862 made a series of bloody frontal attacks, while at Antientam chose the worst place of defense and only the total inability of McClellan and the rescue of T. Jackson, saved him from disaster.
Despite this, after the first day of the battle, CSA was close to getting a decisive victory ..
If they had taken Cemetery Hill the first day we'll talk about another battle..Then it is clear that history is written by the winners.

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 Post subject: Re: Failure of the CSA Commanders
PostPosted: Tue Jun 17, 2014 3:56 pm 
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I just finished Guelzo's book on the battle (literally finished it on Saturday) and he posits that Longstreet's attack was comparable in scheme (flank attack, with Lee repeating an approach that worked at 2nd Bull Run and Chancerlorsville), execution, and result. He points out that Longstreet's attack wrecked two Union Corps and, like Jacksons famous flank march and attack, needed to be followed up the next day to complete the victory.

I am not totally sold on the comparison but I think it does show how close to victory the Rebs came. I forget the specific brigade (Wright?) that made a lodgment on cemetery ridge at the end of the 2nd day but if it had been supported as planned and ordered then the Rebs still could have forced the yanks to retreat at the end of day 2.

One thing that was different at Gettysburg than on other fields was the willingness of Meade to stay and fight, even if (according to Guelzo and others), he was hesitant to do so and would have preferred a retreat after day 2. Sears in his book on Chancerlorsville does a good job of showing how much fight (both fresh units and keen commanders) the AotP had left in it when Hooker ordered a retreat. Lee was faced with an army that was still fairly well ordered, well supplied, and willing to continue the fight. He had not faced this full combination before--his opponents had always either made horrible mistakes (Pope) or been unwilling to commit their last reserves and fight to a more clear cut conclusion (McClellan, Hooker). Meade gambled and won.

In this thread we are pin pointing the mistakes of the AoNV, but this same conversation really could be made for any battle of the Civil War I any period---mistakes and bad decisions are always made, and the side that sees the mistakes of their enemy and takes advantage of them often increase their chance of winning.


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 Post subject: Re: Failure of the CSA Commanders
PostPosted: Wed Jun 18, 2014 3:31 pm 
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Mistakes are always made in a battle. Gettysburg was just notable for the shear number of mistakes made on the Rebel side.

Longstreet's day 2 attack being a good example. It was executed to late to be truly effective. Night would have shut it down regardless of the out come. And it was made by two and half divisions instead of the four that were ordered to attack. Another command failure by both Longstreet who was suppose to coordinate the attacks and the division generals who were suppose to coordinate their brigades.

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 Post subject: Re: Failure of the CSA Commanders
PostPosted: Wed Jun 18, 2014 3:53 pm 
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A question about the timing of Longstreet's attack--could it have gone in any earlier? From what I have read it could not have gone in all that much earlier based on the marching time to get in place. Losing Hood early in the attack certainly hurt too. Guelzo also points out that Jackson's famous attack was also halted by night and failed to fully achieve its goal. I am not trying to absolve Longstreet of all responsibility but I think he gets too much blame for the failure of his attack and the decision of the battle---it was Lee's plan to attack up the road and Lee did not know that a whole Union Corps was sitting on the road (with more behind it close enough to provide support). All this said, despite all of the mistakes, missing brigades, and the late start, it still came very close to taking the ridge and likely winning the battle.


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 Post subject: Re: Failure of the CSA Commanders
PostPosted: Wed Jun 18, 2014 4:14 pm 
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Flip it around a bit and could it be that the ANV had finally met an AoP that had enough good commanders who could challenge them and possibly beat them. That nothing was wrong with the ANV per say, but that the AoP was finally turning a corner in quality??

I think a good example is Henry Hunt. I think he is very much under appreciated at Gettysburg and before too. He reorganized the Union artillery arm and he was responsible and even overstepped his command authority for the 3rd day's bombardment and the Union artillery response. Riding up & down the lines from Cemetery Hill to Little Round Top issuing orders. He was the one who called for the stop to the Union's counter fire to pull the Confederates out and he did a lot of directing of the fire as the CSA infantry got closer. Where was that quality with Pendleton, his counter part?? In the CSA's defense there is the issue with the fuses on their shells.

No one is perfect in this war and if someone thinks that Stonewall Jackson would of been the answer in this battle should reconsider that thought a bit. The war was about to pass Stonewall's type by.

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