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 Post subject: Does Gettysburg Matter?
PostPosted: Thu Sep 02, 2021 10:10 pm 
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I was listening to a talk by Dr. Richard McMurray in which he stated, flatly, that Gettysburg is the most overrated battle of the war.

"The battle of Gettysburg has no particular significance beyond the campaign of which it was a part. I believe Mill Springs, Fort Donelson, Vicksburg, are far, far, more important than Gettysburg. I'm suggesting the Battle of Gettysburg had three main results: it determined the outcome of the Gettysburg Campaign, gave Lincoln a platform for a speech (but that speech could have been given at any other Union victory site), and made Adams County, Pennsylvania, famous. Most of the people that talk about Gettysburg being the turning point, or the high-water mark, will say 'if such and such had happened' then Gettysburg would have been crucial or important or decisive. I have no quarrel with that. I mean if rhinoceros had wings they might be able to fly. If the Confederates had won the Battle of Lookout Mountain then they might have been able to do something. But when you get into that 'if, if, if', it just becomes impossible to talk about it very long before you just go off the deep end into things we can never know. I think Gettysburg is that way. When you look at the battle itself - what it did, what it accomplished, what it meant - it did not accomplish or mean very much. And that's the point I would stress."

Interesting talk, sir, made me think.

http://www.impedimentsofwar.org/singleshow.php?show=215

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PostPosted: Fri Sep 03, 2021 7:43 am 
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Whenever someone would say "if" when we were discussing anything a dearly missed friend would say, "If'n you had a blue arse you could join the circus."
:mrgreen:

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PostPosted: Fri Sep 03, 2021 3:42 pm 
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i think it accomplished one very important thing. Confidence. in the Union Army. In the soldiers and the in the leadership.

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PostPosted: Fri Sep 03, 2021 4:23 pm 
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William Stewart wrote:
i think it accomplished one very important thing. Confidence. in the Union Army. In the soldiers and the in the leadership.


Did it? From what I have read Hooker had done quite a lot to boost morale and espirit de corps with corps insignia and divisional colors. The cavalry engagement at Brandy Station has also been credited with giving the Union cavalry a boost in confidence as they finally managed a draw against Stuart's forces.

McClellan had turned Lee back in Maryland but I see no real boost in army confidence after that battle. The same, I think, could be said for Gettysburg in 1863. Both battles played out the same way where a major battle ended with a day of the two armies staring at one another over a bloody field to see if either side wanted to keep the battle going. In both instances Lee then retreated after giving his opponents an opportunity (perhaps a golden opportunity) to attack.

Meade quickly fumbled the offensive to pursue Lee and his next offensive fizzled out at Mine Run. It wouldn't be until May 1864 that the Federals in the east came at Lee again. Grant's celebrated refusal to turn back after the Battle of the Wilderness is well documented as a monumental shift in the Army of the Potomac's psyche of always falling back after a beating.

I'm just playing devil's advocate here so feel free to argue otherwise :D

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PostPosted: Fri Sep 03, 2021 6:37 pm 
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hmmmm, while i admit i am surely no scholar on the subject, i have read many times (and not just the "Killer Angels" :)) that was the case. Indeed, i think mead could have attacked a wounded reb army at Gettysburg, but it may have been costly. The same terrain that defeated the rebs would have, in theory, thwarted a union advance. Although i think i recall Longstreet being warned that the Reb guns were quickly running out of ammo.... Maybe a better answer would have been "The confidence that the Union Army would eventually prevail" increased. With the citizens of the north, the union government and maybe most importantly, the European powers? Wasnt the battle of Gettysburg a telling point of interest in Europe? I could very easily be wrong here.....

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PostPosted: Fri Sep 03, 2021 7:18 pm 
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As regards the Mine Run Campaign I think Meade is often overly criticised for his performance. Increasingly poor weather slowed the Union army and there was little that Meade could do about that. A hasty advance would have been very difficult to achieve and likely to result in heavy casualties for the Union as it was terrain that favoured defensive actions. Meade tried hard to pursue the ANV but was up against Lee at his best who out-generalled Meade in a series of skillful manoeuvres. When Meade's army was in place at Mine Run he could not afford a full scale assault lest the Union army suffer another Fredericksburg.

The best book I've read on the campaign is The Maps of The Bristoe Station and Mine Run Campaigns by Bradley Gottfried. Through numerous maps with accompanying prose the complexities of the camapign are easy to follow and make for a very enjoyable read (and referencing later). A review on that title can be found at https://emergingcivilwar.com/2013/11/27/the-maps-of-the-bristoe-station-and-mine-run-campaigns/.
[Disclaimer: I'm a big fan of Gottfried's 'Maps of' books and have them all. Late last year, on another internet site, I asked him if he had any plans for 'Maps of Shenandoah 1862 - Jackson's Valley Campaign' (a particular interest of mine). He said "Yes, down the road, I will cover both campaigns (in separate volumes)." In an answer to someone else query he said he is currently working on the Shiloh campaign. I can hardly wait, whatever 'Maps of' books he writes I'll buy.]

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PostPosted: Fri Sep 03, 2021 8:06 pm 
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Blake wrote:
I mean if rhinoceros had wings they might be able to fly.

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PostPosted: Sat Sep 04, 2021 9:28 am 
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I think it presumptuous to declare Gettysburg the most overrated battle primarily because of all the ifs we will never know.

But I think the most important result of the actual battle is that a significant portion of Lee's army would never be available to defend the South again, and that should not be taken lightly.

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PostPosted: Wed Sep 22, 2021 8:52 pm 
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I don't doubt that Gettysburg gave the Union troops morale a boost but I think more importantly it showed the Army of the Potomac that Lee could be beat. And if nothing else it severely hurt the manpower reserves of the Army of Northern Virginia. Vicksburg might have been more important but combined with the victory at Gettysburg and Rosecrans brilliant outmaneuvering of Bragg in the Tullahoma Campaign (just read a fantastic book on this by David Powell and Eric Wittenberg) it gave the whole Union a boost.

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PostPosted: Sat Oct 02, 2021 10:08 pm 
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I tend to disagree with revisionists, but if you use his logic the only thing that mattered in the war was Port Royal, Donelson and New Orleans. At that point it was obvious the Federals were playing a different game than the Confederates. So no battle mattered including Vicksburg. Vicksburg barely mattered, even if the Federals did not quite control the Mississippi the Confederates had lost the MS R. Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg did not matter and maybe no battle after Shiloh mattered as that battle showed the world that modern warfare was not decisive.

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PostPosted: Fri Oct 08, 2021 8:39 pm 
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Gents

My take. Lee staked it all on a knockout blow, and bled the ANV white doing so. ANV at the height of its political and psychological advantage and cast it away due to the failures of Lee. Snip away at this and that as you will but those days proved the CSA would not win the war militarily with any kind of decisive blow.

Have at me Blake!

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PostPosted: Sat Oct 09, 2021 2:34 pm 
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Walt Dortch wrote:
Gents

My take. Lee staked it all on a knockout blow, and bled the ANV white doing so. ANV at the height of its political and psychological advantage and cast it away due to the failures of Lee. Snip away at this and that as you will but those days proved the CSA would not win the war militarily with any kind of decisive blow.

Have at me Blake!


I'm not arguing Lee's performance at Gettysburg (subpar) but just asking whether or not the historian quoted above is correct or not (or partially correct even) with his comments about Gettysburg being overrated.

I do tend to agree with him. One might argue Chancellorsville was more important than Gettysburg as it resulted in the loss of Jackson.

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PostPosted: Sat Oct 09, 2021 6:17 pm 
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I took the comment above to be about the impact of the psyche of the Army of Potomac leadership, and especially the emerging leadership; in a nutshell it clearly indicated that Lee was fallible. Sending Pickett on the 3rd proved that in as big a way as anything.

I've read some background about the cited author, who seems to have a distinct bias; I'd suggest comparing notes on a broader range than one specific person, or even a school of thought, for example the blame Longstreet crew, that I'd first encountered in the mid 80's. I guess though the importance of that, was recogising that for some the battle was more than really about the battle (or even campaign). I'd characterise it as more of a political debate.

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PostPosted: Sat Oct 09, 2021 7:07 pm 
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Officer Trauth states: "I'd characterise it as more of a political debate".

I agree with that. I recently finished reading Longstreet at Gettysburg by Cory M. Pfarr and he delves into the post war politics of the pro and con CSA Officers regarding Lee's performance at Gettysburg. It surely was political then and as Pfarr writes about, still is. Lee's sacrifice of his veterans and Officers at Gettysburg is nearly as tragic as Hood's at Franklin. Historians widely and properly blame Hood, but many are reluctant to blame Lee for the same mistake at Gettysburg.

It would seem that the effort to diminish the importance of the battle of Gettysburg may be, in part, an effort to diminish, excuse or shift the blame for the extent of Lee's mistakes there.

Politics and responsibility aside, how can it be said with a straight face that the loss of over a 3rd of the ANV and the cream of its veteran field commanders without achieving any of the stated objectives of the invasion was not a decisive loss for the CSA?

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PostPosted: Sun Oct 10, 2021 3:15 pm 
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Walt Dortch wrote:
Politics and responsibility aside, how can it be said with a straight face that the loss of over a 3rd of the ANV and the cream of its veteran field commanders without achieving any of the stated objectives of the invasion was not a decisive loss for the CSA?


Was it a decisive loss? It was a loss, yes. But decisive? No.

Nashville was a decisive loss. It wrecked an army. Vicksburg was another decisive loss for the Confederates.

But after Gettysburg what happens? Lee retreats back to Virginia and with little exception enjoys a 10 month reprieve from battle as both armies lick their wounds and dance around one another all winter. Lee even manages to detach a large part of his army to send west to help the Army of Tennessee win their only real victory of the war at Chickamauga.

The battle was important. The Army of Northern Virginia suffered its first major loss and was forced to retreat south back to Virginia. But in a letter to Jefferson Davis on 31 July, 1863, Lee termed the campaign “a general success”. Two weeks prior he had also written to Davis that everything was “accomplished that could have been reasonably expected. The Army of the Potomac has been thrown north of that river [the Potomac], the forces invading the coasts of North Carolina and Virginia had been diminished, their plan of the present campaign broken up…” This hardly sounds like a decisive defeat or a turning point in the war. - Ryan Toews https://musingswargameslife.blogspot.com/p/was-gettysburg.html

Gettysburg was a Union victory. But not a decisive one which changed the course of the war.

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