Was the Confederate Victory at Gettysburg Inevitable?

For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it’s all in the balance, it hasn’t happened yet, it hasn’t even begun yet, it not only hasn’t begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances which made more men than Garnett and Kemper and Armistead and Wilcox look grave yet it’s going to begin, we all know that, we have come too far with too much at stake and that moment doesn’t need even a fourteen-year-old boy to think This time.  Maybe this time with all this much to lose than all this much to gain: Pennsylvania, Maryland, the world, the golden dome of Washington itself to crown with desperate and unbelievable victory the desperate gamble, the cast made two years ago;

William Faulkner, Intruder in the Dust

Hattip to Sir Winston Churchill.

As we prepare to observe the 150th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg, a question arises as to whether the shattering Confederate victory was inevitable.  I believe it was for the following reasons:

1.  Lee and Jackson-The most formidable military partnership in American military history, Jackson and Lee by Gettysburg had perfected the teamwork that made them matchless on the battlefield.  With Lee providing strategic insight and bold plans, Jackson was the perfect man to execute Lee’s will on the battlefield.  As Lee said of him:  Straight as the needle to the pole he advances to the execution of my purpose When fired upon by his own men by accident in the gloom of night at Chancellorsville, it was fortunate indeed for the Confederacy that although several members of his party were killed and wounded, he emerged unscathed.   Lee and Jackson hoped in their Northern invasion to produce a defeat so decisive that it would destroy Northern morale and end the War.

2.  Jackson and Stuart-The grim Cromwellian warrior of God Stonewall Jackson and the spiritual descendant of the cavaliers, Jeb Stuart, were, surprisingly enough, good friends.  After Brandy Station, Lee was concerned that Stuart was stung by the criticism of the Southern newspapers, and that might cause him to attempt one of his patented spectacular raids, precisely not what Lee desired in the forthcoming invasion of the North.  Lee sent Jackson to talk with Stuart.  Stuart describes the interview in his memoir, one of the classic pieces of literature to come out of the Second American Revolution, Riding the Raid (1880):

Initially I was perplexed as “Stonewall” described the plan of the coming campaign and that General Lee wished to use my cavalry as a coordinated attack force with General Jackson’s corps.  Then I realized this was General Lee’s characteristically polite manner of telling me that I was to follow Jackson’s orders in the coming campaign.  I will not pretend that I was not chagrined although I gave no outward sign of the irritation I felt to my friend “Stonewall”.  As it turned out this was yet another example of the brilliance of General Lee, the greatest soldier of our age.  If not for this order, I would not have been on hand to quickly scatter General Buford’s cavalry during the early morning of July 1, and General Jackson would not have been aware of how distant the Union infantry corps were from the all important high ground south of the town.  After that day I never entertained the slightest doubt as to the decisions of General Lee, even if they ran directly counter to my own opinions.

3.  The Hardluck XI- I have always thought that the XI Corps receives a disproportionate amount of blame for the Union loss at Gettysburg.  Any of the Union corps marching on to the battlefield as the XI Corps did probably would have fared as poorly, however that task fell to the same Corps that had recently been routed by Jackson at Chancellorsville, and hardly two months later they met the same fate at Gettysburg.  It was the luck of the draw that the XI Corps was at the head of the marching order that day and the first Union corps to reach the field.  With the loss of McPherson’s Ridge, courtesy of Stuart, Jackson was free to march through Gettysburg and launch a furious assault on the XI Corps at noon as it attempted to deploy on Cemetery Hill.  After a half hour of fighting the XI Corps collapsed and headed southeast on the Baltimore Pike.  Seeing Union reinforcements arriving from the southeast, Jackson made no effort to pursue, but contented himself with seizing, completely uncontested, Cemetery Ridge, Little Round Top and Big Round Top and fortifying these immensely strong by nature positions.

4.  George Gordon Meade-Appointed to command the Army of the Potomac just two days prior to the battle, Meade has gone down in history as the man who lost the decisive battle of the War.  It is hard not to have sympathy for him.  He had indicated prior to his appointment that he did now want the job and he now had it under the worst possible circumstances, with no time to put his own stamp on the Army or come up with a plan of campaign on his own.  My sympathy does not extend to his decision to attack the now heavily fortified Confederate positions on July 2, 1863.  Meade had enough experience of the War to realize that a frontal assault on fortifications held by veteran troops of the Army of Northern Virginia was merely a colorful way to commit suicide.  The men making the attacks certainly did, many of them pinning notes with their names and home addresses on them so their next of kin could be informed of their deaths.  After the debacle at Fredericksburg this decision by Meade, albeit under heavy pressure from Washington to do something, was truly unforgivable.  Meade would have done better to withdraw and keep Lee’s army under observation, harassing Confederate foraging parties.  This would have forced Lee to eventually leave his fortified nest due to lack of supplies.  Instead Meade’s attacks cost him 12,000 casualties in exchange for less than 3,000 Confederate casualties.  Jackson favored a counter-attack, but Lee decided that he would wait and see what Meade would do the next day. (more…)

Published in: on June 30, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
Tags: ,

Introduction to Gettysburg

Introduction to the movie Gettysburg.  Released on the 130th anniversary of the battle, I will have it playing at my home during the 150th anniversary next week.  Overlong, and historically suspect, especially as to its Longstreet-could-do-no wrong  perspective, it still is a masterpiece.  It captures perfectly the desperate nature of the battle that has become the symbol of that fratricidal conflict.  The late Shelby Foote once said that to understand this country you needed to understand the Civil War.  I concur, and I would also suggest that it is impossible to understand the Civil War without understanding Gettysburg,  a battle which marked the end of Lee’s perceived invincibility and gave Lincoln an opportunity to explain to the nation why so many men had to die so their nation might live.

Published in: on June 29, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Introduction to Gettysburg  
Tags: ,

Lincoln Accepts Hooker’s Resignation

It is truly remarkable when one thinks about it.  In the face of a huge enemy offensive, the President of the United States accepts the resignation of the general tasked to oppose an invasion.  Yet that is precisely what President Lincoln did on June 28th, accepting General Hooker’s offer to resign that Hooker had made in a fit of pique resulting from a dispute with General in Chief Halleck as to whether Harper’s Ferry should be defended.  Hooker had not done terribly in his marshalling of his forces as the Army of Northern Virginia pursued the Army of Northern Virginia its march into Maryland and Pennsylvania, but it was clear that he could not get along with Halleck and that he no longer enjoyed the confidence of Lincoln.  The fact that he had gone on a few drunken binges after duty did not help matters.  After he was relieved Hooker pressed journalist Noah Brooks to tell him what Lincoln thought of him.   Brooks responded that he had heard that Lincoln viewed Hooker like a beloved son, but who due to some physical defermity would never grow into a successful man.  Hooker was reduced to tears when he heard this. (more…)

Published in: on June 28, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Lincoln Accepts Hooker’s Resignation  
Tags: , ,

Quotes Suitable For Framing: Frederick Douglass



In regard to the colored people, there is always more that is benevolent, I perceive, than just, manifested towards us. What I ask for the negro is not benevolence, not pity, not sympathy, but simply justice. The American people have always been anxious to know what they shall do with us… I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us! If the apples will not remain on the tree of their own strength, if they are worm-eaten at the core, if they are early ripe and disposed to fall, let them fall! … And if the negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall also. All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone! If you see him on his way to school, let him alone, don’t disturb him! If you see him going to the dinner table at a hotel, let him go! If you see him going to the ballot box, let him alone, don’t disturb him! If you see him going into a work-shop, just let him alone, — your interference is doing him positive injury.

January 26, 1865-Frederick Douglass

Published in: on June 27, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments (1)  
Tags: ,

Saving Lincoln

Well this is interesting.  A film about Lincoln told from the perspective of Ward Lamon, Lincoln’s friend and self-appointed bodyguard for Lincoln who appointed him as United States Marshal for the District of Columbia.  The film uses computer graphics to place the film within period pictures.  An independent film, it received funding via Kickstarter.  Go here to view the film’s website.  I find the concept interesting, albeit gimmicky.  I will have a full review after I view the film. (more…)

Published in: on June 24, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Saving Lincoln  
Tags: , ,

Quotes Suitable For Framing: Abraham Lincoln




Lincoln and Liberty



Now, when by all these means you have succeeded in dehumanizing the negro; when you have put him down, and made it forever impossible for him to be but as the beasts of the field; when you have extinguished his soul, and placed him where the ray of hope is blown out in darkness like that which broods over the spirits of the damned; are you quite sure the demon which you have roused will not turn and rend you? What constitutes the bulwark of our own liberty and independence? It is not our frowning battlements, our bristling sea coasts, the guns of our war steamers, or the strength of our gallant and disciplined army. These are not our reliance against a resumption of tyranny in our fair land. All of them may be turned against our liberties, without making us stronger or weaker for the struggle. Our reliance is in the love of liberty which God has planted in our bosoms. Our defense is in the preservation of the spirit which prizes liberty as the heritage of all men, in all lands, every where. Destroy this spirit, and you have planted the seeds of despotism around your own doors. Familiarize yourselves with the chains of bondage, and you are preparing your own limbs to wear them. Accustomed to trample on the rights of those around you, you have lost the genius of your own independence, and become the fit subjects of the first cunning tyrant who rises.

Abraham Lincoln, September 11, 1858, Edwardsville, Illinois (more…)

Published in: on June 21, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
Tags: , ,

June 20, 1863: West Virginia Admitted to the Union

west virginia state sea

West Virginia was admitted to the Union one hundred and fifty years ago, a product of the Civil War and the unwillingness of the mountaineers of  north western Virginia to leave the Union over slavery.  Here is the Proclamation of President Abraham Lincoln:

By the President of the United States of America A ProclamationWhereas by the act of Congress approved the 31st day of December last the State of West Virginia was declared to be one of the United States of America, and was admitted into the Union on an equal footing with the original States in all respects whatever, upon the condition that certain changes should be duly made in the proposed constitution for that State; and

Whereas proof of a compliance with that condition, as required by the second section of the act aforesaid has been submitted to me:

Now, therefore, be it known that I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, do hereby, in pursuance of the act of Congress aforesaid, declare and proclaim that the said act shall take effect and be in force from and after sixty days from the date hereof.

In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this 20th day of April, A. D. 1863, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-seventh.


By the President:


Secretary of State.

The Constitutionality of the creation of the state of West Virginia was never challenged in court.  The State of Virginia, through the loyalist government set up by the Union during the War was deemed to have consented to the creation of the new state.  The Reconstructed government of Virginia did sue after the War over Berkeley and Jefferson counties, arguing that the people of those counties had never voted to be part of the new state since an election could not be held in them due to them being militarily controlled by the Confederacy at the time.  The United States Supreme Court in the case of Virginia v. West Virginia (1870) ruled 6-3 that the two counties were part of West Virginia: (more…)

Published in: on June 20, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments (7)  
Tags: , ,

Douglas MacArthur and West Point

Ah, General Douglas MacArthur, perhaps the most controversial figure in American military history, except for Nathan Bedford Forrest, hailed as a military genius by some, and damned as an arrogant danger to the Republic by others, this is a beginning of a look at the man in a series of posts who biographer William Manchester deemed an American Caesar.  First up is a look at MacArthur and West Point.

As closely identified as MacArthur is with West Point it might be assumed that it was an uncomplicated relationship of adulation by him of his alma mater.  Such was not the case.  When MacArthur was a cadet, due to his being the son of a general, and also, no doubt to a fairly haughty demeanor that followed him throughout his life, he was subject to brutal hazing, the common lot of underclassmen at West Point in his day.  When Cadet Oscar Booz left the academy due to hazing and died from tuberculosis two weeks later, his physical condition having been weakened by the hazing he was subjected to, a national furor arose.  A Congressional committee was called to examine the hazing at West Point.  Cadet MacArthur was called to testify before it.  He spoke candidly about the hazing of other cadets that he had witnessed, but he minimized the hazing to which he had been subjected.  In 1903 MacArthur graduated first in his class and First Captain of the Corps of Cadets.  He had done superbly at West Point, and he had developed a love for the institution, but it was not a blind love, as he would demonstrate sixteen years later. (more…)

Published in: on June 19, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
Tags: ,

Report From the Aleutians

If there is a forgotten theater where American troops fought in World War II, it is most definitely the Aleutians.  The Japanese took Attu and Kiska, islands in the Aleutian chain,  in June of 1942, to forestall the Aleutians being used as a base for a move on the Japanese Home Islands from the Aleutians.  Due to the rugged weather conditions, the US had never seriously entertained using the Aleutians as a staging area for future offensives.  However, Attu and Kiska were American territory, and national pride, as well as alarm from the Alaskan territorial government, made inevitable an American campaign to take back the strategically worthless islands.

Aleutians Campaign

Large reinforcements of planes, ships and men were part of a huge buildup which culminated in the retaking of Attu, after a very hard fight, in May of 1943 which resulted in 3900 American casualties and the death of all but 29 of the 2900 Japanese garrison.  Kiska was taken on August 15, 1943, the invasion force learning after landing that the Japanese had vacated the island. (more…)

Published in: on June 18, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments (4)  
Tags: , , , ,

Hail Columbia and The Man Without a Country

Something for the weekend.  Yesterday being Flag Day I thought our first, unofficial, national anthem would be appropriate:  Hail Columbia.  Composed in 1789 by Philip Phile for Washington’s first inaugural, and originally entitled The President’s March, lyrics were supplied by Joseph Hopkinson in 1798.  Hail Columbia functioned as the unofficial national anthem of the United States up until the 1890s.   From 1947 here is Bing Crosby narrating a radio dramatization of Edward Everett Hale’s, a great nephew of Nathan Hale, classic story of love of country, The Man Without a Country: (more…)

Published in: on June 15, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Hail Columbia and The Man Without a Country  
Tags: , , ,