Saturday, October 13, 2018

Gettysburg: the Last Invasion - updated 10/25

Gettysburg: the Last Invasion,  by Allen Guelzo

Weak at beginning and end, though kind to Reynolds. 

If Lee's intelligence was good, as Guelzo claims, Ewell wouldn't have been preparing to assault Harrisburg on the 30th. 

At 3 pm on the 29th, Ewell received a message from Lee to move back from Carlisle outside Harrisburg to Chambersburg on the west side of South Mountain. Fatefully, Ewell started Johnson's division in that direction. At 7 pm, Ewell received a countermanding order from Lee to head for the vicinity of Cashtown/Gettysburg. It was too late to call back Johnson. Johnson's division would not arrive in time to fight at Gettysburg on the 1st because of the circuit route it took to Gettysburg. Better intelligence and Ewell might have had the manpower to successfully assault Cemetery Hill on July 1.   With adequate intelligence and sound judgement,  Lee would have never let Hill bring on a battle while Lee's army was divided by South Mountain.  How in heaven's name did Hill and only two-thirds of Ewell's corps end up at Gettysburg with the entire army of the Potomac already at or nearby.

Where was J.E.B. Stuart?   Regardless of how he got there,  he was where he was supposed to be on July 1.  At Carlisle,  ready to cover Ewell's assault on Harrisburg.   Problem was Ewell was long gone and neither Ewell nor Lee had bothered to leave someone at the appointed rendezvous to tell Stuart plans had changed.

By plan, by definition, Stuart would be separated from the rest of Lee's army by South Mountain until Stuart linked up with Ewell at Carlisle.   It was Lee's plan.

In the pursuit of Lee after the battle, Guelzo assumes Meade could have destroyed Lee if Meade had attacked on the 13th before Lee could cross the Potomac. Earlier Guelzo says Lee had very nearly won at Gettysburg and that his efforts had left the Union army in tatters. It's hard to believe that an army in tatters only days before would have been able to successfully assault Lee's prepared positions on the east bank of the Potomac. More likely a precipitous, all out attack on the 13th would have been another Cold Harbor.

American historians blame generals, Lee and Meade included, for failures to deliver a knockout punch during the Civil War.   Few if any of these historians seem to have read Epstein's Napoleon's Last Victory, which describes the paradigm shift that occurred during the Napoleonic wars.  Countries mobilized by mass conscription.  Campaigns were fought on multiple fronts.  By 1808, armies were being organized into corps structures that were flexible and resilient, making it extremely difficult to entirely destroy an army in one battle like the French did at Austerlitz in 1805.   Viewed in light of the paradigm shift, the North should have expected a long war of attrition, but didn't.   Instead the North expected an easy victory, mobilized piecemeal, never fully taking advantage of its massive manpower advantage, fighting battles far too often on roughly equal terms ... often against opponents barricaded as extensively, if not more so, than the Russians at Borodino.

Moreover,  historians neglect questions of individual and organizational development.   American's had never fought a war with gigantic, multi-corps armies.   Some of the officers had solid theoretical backgrounds and combat experience with smaller units, but to a man, the Civil War was on-the-job training, building huge organizations and moving them all over a continent while navigating the politics of a nation that was divided on more than one front.   General officers were finding themselves and finding competent officers to work under them.   Meade couldn't have succeeded without Reynolds, Hancock and Warren.   Grant had Sherman and Sheridan.   Connolly's diary 
( is valuable not simply because it illuminates Sherman's Georgia campaign, but also because, in passing, it details the competencies a staff officer needed to develop and how general officers relied on young staff officers to scout movements and deploy troops.

In 1861,  there were few if any 1864 Connolly's.   The Grant of 1862 wouldn't have fared any better than the McClellan of 1862.  The Grant of 1862 was lucky to survive Shiloh.  The Grant of 1863 wouldn't have done better than Meade.  It took Grant six months to capture Vicksburg in 1863.

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For more detail on the lead up to Gettysburg, see

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The Corps d'Armee engagement, or trap. Acting on superior understanding of the tactical situation,  an army corps engages an enemy and hangs on while its supporting allied corps concentrate to develop a tactical advantage in an escalating battle of attrition,  if possible the opponent is drawn in the direction of the concentrating allied corps.