Archive for November, 2009

Longstreet – Help or Hindrance at Gettysburg

by Andy Mateja

Much has been written about the reason why Lee was not successful  on the second day of the battle of Gettysburg. Initially, battle participants such as Jubal Early and others pointed their finger at James Longstreet and his inability to accomplish what Lee has expected from his “old warhorse” .  Current writers have taken a different approach and are exonerating Longstreet and redirecting the blame at Richard Ewell and JEB Stuart.  The one question these “revisionist”  writers  seem to ignore is; Why did it take Longstreet FOUR HOURS to march the 2 miles required to get into position for his  attack? By re-examining the facts leading up to the battle you will find the answer.

After returning from detached duty to the Army of Northern Virginia after the battle of Chancellorsville, Longstreet recommended to Confederate President Jefferson Davis that his corps be detached again from Lee and sent to Mississippi to aid Joseph Johnston’s effort in preventing Grant from taking Vicksburg. Longstreet knew this was a sweet spot for Davis since his Brierfield plantation was just outside of Vicksburg . He also wanted to be reunited withJohnston, his friend and mentor , whom he had not seen since Johnston’s wounding at Seven Pines almost one year earlier.  It was Johnston’s wounding that provided the opportunity for Robert E Lee to take command of the eastern Confederate army, which Lee promptly renamed the Army of Northern Virginia. Longstreet and Johnston shared another symbiosis -they both preferred defensive strategy.

Lee overruled Longstreet’s recommendation and instead presented his own offensive strategy of moving his army into Pennsylvania to threaten the Northeast which he believed would relieve the pressure on Vicksburg and cause major consternation and turmoil in Washington DC. Lee’s audacious strategy had already worked in the past – lifting the siege of Richmond by attacking McClellan, preventing a massive new advance on Richmond by attacking Pope , moving his army into Maryland to take Union pressure off Virginia and attacking Hooker with a successful flank attack while he was in the process on engineering his own flank attack against Lee. In every case Lee was outnumbered which did not deter him from taking the initiative. Jefferson Davis concurred with Lee’s strategy andthe movement into Pennsylvania began in early June 1863. With Stonewall Jacksonsrecent death, Lee had only Longstreet as an experienced corp commander to rely on…………… and Longstreet knew it.

Once the battle of Gettysburg began , Longstreet was more of an advisor the first day, as his corps was not on the field – it was 15 miles away at Chambersburg. As the unexpected battle developed Lee was concerned that his army was not concentrated and ordered Longstreet to immediately bring up his corps, most of which did not arrive until later that evening and too late to participate in the day’s action. That night Lee informed Longstreet that her wanted an attack to take place the following day on the Union left, since all of the day’s heavy fighting had been on the Union right . Longstreet went to sleep knowing what Lee’s intentions were for the following day. On the morning of July 2nd,  Lee again reiterated his desire for an attack on the Union left to Longstreet before riding over to Ewell on the extreme Confederate left to have his corps cooperate in the plan by providing a feint attack when he heard the sound of Longstreet’s attack guns. After returning from Ewell’s position several hours later, Lee was agitated to see that Longstreet had not even started to move  his infantry divisions into position. Lee was forced to issue a formal order to Longstreet to move his partial corps (Pickett’s division had still not arrived) into attack position with specific details and objectives. Longstreet appealed to Lee for more time as one of Hood’s brigades (Law’s) was due soon and did not want to advance without it. Another 90 minutes was lost waiting for this brigade to arrive. Longstreet’s two divisions began their movement at noon – about 7 hours after daylight – and followed a circuitous route  used earlier by Porter Alexander, Longstreet’s artillery commander. When about halfway into the movement  Lafayette McLaws, Longstreetslead division commander, observed Union signal flags on Little Round Top and felt the column would be spotted if they proceeded further. Longstreet immediately agreed and ordered the column to countermarch back to find an alternate route, overruling the appeals of Porter Alexander who reported his artillery was spotted by the same Union signalmen without issue  earlier in the day when it traveled down the same road. Longstreet not only reversed the direction of the march, but further complicated the matter by having his lead division (McLaws) take the lead of the reverse march instead of just having the column do an “about face” with the rear division becoming the lead. Obviously there was no sense of urgency for Longstreet to move into position to comply with Lee’s attack order.  By the time Longstreet’s divisions were in attack position, it was 4:00PM – FOUR hours from when they started. As history has already recorded,  Strong Vincent’s 5th Corps brigade (which included the 20th Maine)  barely got into position when Longstreet’s attack commenced. And as we know, the 20th Maine was instrumental in holding the Union left flank and saving the army from destruction. IF Longstreet had attacked only one hour sooner, there would have been NO Union defenders on Little Round Top and NOBODY to stop Law’s brigade from flanking the entire Army of the Potomac , capturing their supply wagons and severing their supply line. Revisionists have tried to defend Longstreet by saying Lee did not “formally” order to advance until mid-morning on July 2nd. However, they do not deny that Lee had informed Longstreet of his desire to attack the Union left the night before and early on the morning of the 2nd before riding off to confer with Ewell.

Does anyone doubt that if Stonewall Jackson had been with Lee at Gettysburg and ordered to attack the Union left, that he would have been in position to  launch his attack before noon and hours before the Union 5th Corps even arrived on the field. After all Jackson successfully implemented a successful flank attack at Chancellorsville two months earlier – marching 12 miles – six times Longstreet’s distance – in less than 9  hours.

Longstreet was already known to be stubborn and moody – was this on display at Gettysburg ?  After all, he wanted to go help his friend Johnston in Mississippi but was overruled by Lee, his commander who was now on the verge of victory which would have proven Lee’s strategy was correct and reverted Vicksburg into a meaningless Union victory. Historians agree a major victory on Union soil which imperiled Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia would have trumped the fall of Vicksburg and the opening of the Mississippi River.

Abraham Lincoln – An American Patriot

by Andy Mateja

Another defining moment in the History of the United States, when our nation was facing it’s greatest crisis – The Civil War.

Abraham Lincoln, who had this terrible and bloody war thrust upon him, wanted to preserve the Union at any cost. He faced tremendous hardships and challenges unknown to previous presidents and a determined group of fellow Americans who felt they had a right to oppose the U.S. government by force and form their own separate nation.

His own Republican party began to turn on him – they felt he could not win re-election. Northern Democrats wanted to end the Civil War because it was costing too much and the casualties were high (sound familiar?). They wanted the nation to remain divided and the Confederacy become independent of the United States. Fortunately the VOTERS did NOT agree and re-elected Lincoln so he could WIN the war and re-unify the nation.

Once again perseverance paid off – thanks to an American President with the courage of his convictions and the willingness to stake everything on victory.