Battle of Gettysburg

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Chief Master Sergeant
Jan 19, 2007
Montrose, Colorado
Many historians believe that the Battle of Gettysburg in June-July, 1863, was the turning point in the War Between the States. It was the first battle that General Robert E Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia actually lost to the Union Army although the Union declared the battle at Antietam(we call it Sharpsburg) was a victory. Why did the South lose that battle and if they had won it would the US have sued for peace? I hope this is the correct form to start a new thread and that this has not already been discussed earlier.
I believe that, as Historian James McPherson has stated, Lee suffered from the Chancellorsville syndrome. The attack on day 3, Pickett's Charge, crushed his army. Lee believed that his army could do anything. No Union commander had effectively battled him and he launched his army against an anvil. After that army crossed a mile of open ground under fire. It is very possible that the South would have sued for peace. Even if they had not the war would have gone on even longer leading to the U.S. to ask for peace later, from being war weary. The 1864 election may have led to George McClellan's election. At the risk of every Southern calling me dirty names, Lee should have listened to Longstreet.
Just a quick post before I head to school....

The Confederate cavalry was galloping all over Pennsylvania without providing the necessary recon that Lee needed.

Another reason the South lost was for once, the North fought on the defense and Johnny Reb had to assault the fortifications.

And finally, the most inept of the Union generals in the Army of the Potomic had finally been sent packing and the compatent officers were in positions of authority.
Good points all but what if Ewell had taken Culp's hill on the afternoon of the first day. Then the Army of Northern Viginia would not have had to try to take Cemetary Ridge on the third with Picket's division plus others. Do you think if Jackson had been alive and commanding the second corps they would have stopped without taking the high ground on Culps' hill? Actually, Syscom 3, The Union Army fought on the defense during all of the Seven Days, the Confederates were attacking during the last phase of Second Manassas and the Confederate Army was on the offensive at Sharpsburg and the Confederates attacked at Chancellorsville so in 1862 and 1863 in the east the Conferate army was attacking in all but one campaign, Fredricksburg. Do you think that if Longstreet had gotten wound up and attacked earlier in the day on the second day (before the Federals had a chance to fortify Little Round Top) Lee might have broken Meade's army?
I don't think that the US would have agreed to an armistice even if the South had won the Gettysburg affair as long as Lincoln was president but I believe you are right that if McClellen had been elected in 1864 along with a victory by the South at Gettysburg there might have been meaningful negotiations between the North and south.
The confederates were within minutes of smashing the Federal lines twice.

One of them was on the extreme Union left where some brilliant maneuvers by the troops from Maine smashed a confederate attack.

The second was just to the north of that position where the Minnesota regiment charged into an attacking wave of confederates (outnumbered 4 to 1) and stopped them cold, buying time for Hancock to plug the gaps in his line. The Minnesota Rgmt. Took 84% losses in this charge that took 4 minutes. Highest casualty rate of any regiment in the shortest time in western military history.

But, if the Confederate cavalry had kept close to Lee and appraised him of the Union movements, then the battle might have been different.
Thank you syscom 3 for your remarks. Yes, the Maine troops on the extreme left of the Union line along with Pennsylvania just to their right kept us from taking Little Round Top but if Longstreet had started his attack earlier in the day as planned Little Round Top was not occupied and we may have flanked the union line and rolled them up like we did at Chancellorsville.
I am not sure about those casualty numbers you quoted. My reference states that at Sharpsburg on Sept. 17, 1862, our boys in the First Texas, of Hood's Brigade, took 226 men into battle and lost 186 casualties for a casualty rate of 82.3 percent the" highest casualty rate for any regiment, North or South for a one-day battle during the war." Hood's Texas Brigade went into action that day with 854 and lost 560 killed, wounded and missing-a casualty rate of over 64 percent. When Lee that night asked Hood what had happened to his "splendid division." Hood answered. "where you sent them,sir; but few have straggled. They are lying on the field. My division has been wiped out." Bet you can't guess where I am from? I do remember those Minnesota boys you mentioned and the fine work they did. Just think what would be said today if we ever had casualty rates like that in an American army.
Renrich, check this out. You will like this web site about the 1st Minnesota:

Of the 262 men of the First Minnesota, only 47 remained unscathed. Eighty-two percent of the regiment was dead or injured. These were the highest battle casualties suffered by any Union regiment during the War.

The Story of The First Minnesota

"Hancock got his five minutes, and at least ten minutes more, but at a terrible cost to the First Minnesota. Only about 50 men rallied around the colors on Cemetery Ridge. All the rest were killed, wounded, or missing at this time. Hancock declared, 'I can not speak too highly of this regiment and its commander in its attack as well as its subsequent advance against the enemy, in which it lost three-fourths of the officers and men engaged.' Later he told Senator Morton W. Wilkinson of Minnesota: 'I had no alternative but to order the regiment in... I saw that in someway five minutes must be gained or we were lost. It was fortunate that I found such a grand body of men as the 1st Minnesota. I knew they must lose heavily and it caused me pain to give the order for them to advance, but I would have done it if I had known every man would be killed. It was a sacrifice that must be made. The superb gallantry of these men saved our line from being broken.'"


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Not so sure a victory at Gettysburg would've put the South that much further ahead. They had a lot of things riding against them.

-They were far from home with rickety (at best) supply lines.
- There were very few battles in the Civil War where one side or another was wiped out. The Union troops would've fallen back. Maybe towards Baltimore (down the Emmitsburg Rd) or towards Chambersburg and Lee is faced with the same battle all over again. But this time the North is reinforced and the South is further North. Think of Sherman moving into Georgia and fighting towards Atlanta.
- If Lee wins at Gettysburg, what then. He is in Union Territory, does he head for Pittsburgh? Talk about going really far from home. Does he head for Phila? Same problem. And to do both he has to ignore the Union Army. Strategically, a victory at Gettysburg almost gives Lee more problems than opportunities.

Lastly, the war wasn't won in the East, it was won in the West. It was Sherman and Grant, marching and burning their way through the South that proved the Confederacy only existed where their armies existed. Lee would have to take and hold Washington,attempting to force the Lincoln Government to negotiate with him. It didn't work in 1812 and it probably would not have worked in 1863.
Good stuff Syscom3. The Union battery that was captured that day( the only one so captured) was captured by the Texas Brigade. Of course Longstreet's Corps was not his complete corps because Pickett was still on the road so Longstreet had only Hood and McLaws divisions. Sickles made a big mistake by moving down off of the ridge to the Peach Orchard and wheatfield and paid for it by having his command ruined. Timshatz, your point about no one achieving complete victory in a battle is well taken and probably is the reason that if Lee had won the battle, he couldn't have won the war. However, in spite of his long supply lines his army was living off the land, just as Sherman did in his march to the sea. If Lee had won and marched on Washington, there is no telling what the politicians in DC would have done. All the South wanted was a draw, not victory. The long chance that the war could have been ended in the East in the Summer of 1863 could have only happened because of the series of defeats the Army of Northern Virginia had inflicted on the Army of the Potomac and the resulting panic, pessimism and disaffection toward the war in Washington, KIND OF LIKE TODAY. Certainly would have saved a lot of lives since the Union casualty toll mounted once Lee went on the defensive in 1864.
Timshatz, your observation about the Confederate's rickety supply lines was quite accurate. Even when our armies were fighting at home they had a difficult time feeding themselves and their animals. Part of that had to do with a poor railroad system but a lot of it was poor planning and administration. The South actually did a better job of arming it's armies than feeding them. And The South was an agrarian society to boot. Bearcats in a fight but couldn't be bothered about food and fodder. Speaking of fodder, Jackson's supply wagons during the Shenandoah campaign numbered 1500. Can you imagine how much space on a road would be taken up by 1500 wagons and teams?
Even if the Lee had won the battle, it would still have been a bloodbath for everyone. Lee would have had to retire because his amry would have been spent and not in condition to fight on the offensive.

The political results for the Union would have been incalculable. This loss might have result in a negotiated settlement. But then, it might have been tempered with the north knowing that Grant had won Vicksburg and the Misssissippi was open.

I personally think that the Union was "due" for a victory and the best Lee could have hoped for was a stalemate, perhaps forcing the Union to retire to another defensive position.
History supports your position, Syscom. Always fun to "what if" though. I have my copy of " The West Point Atlas of American Wars' out now and am "war gaming" away to see if I can find a way to win this battle. More later.
What interesting threads and posts about Gettysburg Battle. Gentlemen I am impressed with your wealth of knowledge on the subject of American Civil War and the politics attached. Yes I agree the WHAT IFs are an amazing concept to speculate on. I hope you don't mind me asking question every now and again. Your Civil War fascinates me at times
History supports your position, Syscom. Always fun to "what if" though. I have my copy of " The West Point Atlas of American Wars' out now and am "war gaming" away to see if I can find a way to win this battle. More later.

Remember that the Union had a excellent supply "train" and could outlast Lee logistics wise.

After day 3, I dont think the confederate cavalry could have effected the outcome as the Union cavalry was in force and could counter any screens.
The Union's supply train was excellent, as SYS notes. It was based on the Railroad and Sea movement. The Union could repair and, in some cases, lay an (ungraded) railroad in a short time. The South could never come close to equaling, much less surpassing, this ability. This highlights the problems Lee would've faced if he had won at Gettysburg. Every step he moved further into Union territory led him farther from his base without adequate means of contact with that base. Meanwhile, the Union troops were falling back on their Railheads. The same problem occured in WW1, but to a far greater extent due to the size of the armies involved.

Lee's Army could not conquer and hold territory. It lacked the industrial and manpower resources to hold territory. Both "invasions" into the North were more like raids than true invasions. If the North really wanted to go somewhere and stay there, they could. Once the incompetent generals were moved out of the way and Grant took charge, that point was proven.

That is the reason most of the war was fought on Southern Territory. The South lacked the means to do it in the north. They could annoy and disrupt the North, but they could not conquer it. It simply lacked the resources.

But the South did not fight a war of conquest, it fought to stay intact as it was. In short, it fought a Revolution to stay the same. It was a goal that was in oposition to itself.
What interesting threads and posts about Gettysburg Battle. Gentlemen I am impressed with your wealth of knowledge on the subject of American Civil War and the politics attached. Yes I agree the WHAT IFs are an amazing concept to speculate on. I hope you don't mind me asking question every now and again. Your Civil War fascinates me at times

Thanks emac. You're always welcome to ask questions or provide your opinion on the matter.
My goodness, Emac, you are most welcome to join in this "fun" we are having. As you can see, I am outnumbered by these two gentlemen in this discussion so if you can offer any help, I would be grateful. However, Lee was almost always the underdog and he managed to prevail on several occasions and us Texans as at Bexar, the Alamo, Goliad and the San Jacinto were heavily outnumbered and we managed to come out on top so I am not disheartened and I know that if our boys can just defeat those people at Gettysburg then the will of the Yankee politicians will be broken and we can negotiate a fair settlement just as Washington did by winning at Yorktown when the other British armies had not been defeated. All kidding aside, I believe that if Stuart had kept Lee apprised of the Union army's dispositions or if Ewell had taken Culp's Hill the first day, the battle would have had a different outcome. Likewise, on the second day, if Longstreet had attacked at eleven in the AM instead of three PM ,Little Round Top would have been unfortified, we would have gotten guns on that hill with a clear field of fire and had the Union lines in enfilade and Picketts Charge would never have taken place.
Thanks as I said I find your Civil war very interesting. One question I do have. Most battles elsewhere had the same name etc Why at stages were battles known as different names in the Civil War. You have for example Bull Run battles yet it was known as Mannassas Junction as well. Or Sharpsburg is another example. I have never been really clear on that issue.

Unfortunately Renrich I have to plead as being a neutral observer much like British Army Officers were at Gettysburg.

I have to admit though Southern Commanders had exceptional talent in battle. For example Robert E Lee and it seems to me he had the exceptional ability to gather around him good officers of the calibre of Longstreet and Ewell for examples but not only that he was admired by his own troops as a Commander. Totally different from example like McCelland who was self absorbed and Burnside etc. Lee had the ability no question about it that was lacking in some Northern Commanders greatly. Until such a time when Grant and Sherman came to the fore and it changed dramatically in another direction for the North

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