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Old October 10th, 2017, 07:13 PM   #1

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What was the most decisive factor in the outcome of the Battle of Gettysburg?


I've only recently developed an interest in the US Civil War and I am an Aussie so my knowledge is a bit limited.

As far as I can see Lee was on the back foot from the start because he got pulled into a battle while his army was still spread out, with little knowledge of the terrain or what forces he was facing, and no way of finding out without Stuart's cavalry. Thus I would blame A.P. Hill's attack on Buford as the root cause of the defeat, as all the other mistakes of the day flowed from the fact that the battle was started before Lee was ready by Hill's attack. I also think Stuart's absence was an important factor.

Also, what do you think of Longstreet's suggestions that they retreat and find a better battleground? Do you think Lee could have won the campaign if he followed this advice?

What are your thoughts?
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Old October 10th, 2017, 07:32 PM   #2
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Originally Posted by Marshall Ney View Post
I've only recently developed an interest in the US Civil War and I am an Aussie so my knowledge is a bit limited.

As far as I can see Lee was on the back foot from the start because he got pulled into a battle while his army was still spread out, with little knowledge of the terrain or what forces he was facing, and no way of finding out without Stuart's cavalry. Thus I would blame A.P. Hill's attack on Buford as the root cause of the defeat, as all the other mistakes of the day flowed from the fact that the battle was started before Lee was ready by Hill's attack. I also think Stuart's absence was an important factor.

Also, what do you think of Longstreet's suggestions that they retreat and find a better battleground? Do you think Lee could have won the campaign if he followed this advice?

What are your thoughts?
I agree about Lee forces not being ready when the battle started, if he could have launched his attacks sooner with his full force things would have gone better,

As for Longstreers suggestion, tnat would only work if the Union obliged him by fighting Lee on a battlefield of his choosing. Lee was in enemy territory, and vulnerable to his supplies being cut off. Had Lee tried to find another battlefield to fight, he could have become trapped. Most of Lee's great success was fighting very agressively on the defense on the Confederacy's home turf.

Both times when Lee took the offense, he failed. Union ultimately had enough troops both to cut off Lee's escape, and fight him on the front, if they gave the union enough time to gather troops. And in the process of finding a new battlefield to fight, Lee might have given the Union the time they needed. Lee held off Grant by constantly retreating. When Lee was held at bay at St. Petersburg, it spelled the doom of his army. When he finally broke and ran after attrition had made it impossible to continue to man the trenches, it was a matter of time before defeat became inevitable. I am not sure Lee's defensive-offensive tactics would have worked inside Union territory.
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Old October 10th, 2017, 07:38 PM   #3
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Lee was at an overall disadvantage. JEB Stuart was off on his own ride and Lee was effectively blind. He didn't know the ground and Union Col. Buford had positioned his force on Cemetery Ridge before the battle started. That position was the single most important fact in determining the outcome. Reenforced extended during the battle, it proved to be beyond Lee's ability to take. Lee had to assume the offensive or move on. If did move his forces off Seminary Ridge, he would likely be exposed to heavy Union fire. Moreover he was not disposed to do so. "The enemy is there" on Cemetery ridge.

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Old October 10th, 2017, 09:53 PM   #4

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Lee was at an overall disadvantage. JEB Stuart was off on his own ride and Lee was effectively blind. He didn't know the ground and Union Col. Buford had positioned his force on Cemetery Ridge before the battle started. That position was the single most important fact in determining the outcome. Reenforced extended during the battle, it proved to be beyond Lee's ability to take. Lee had to assume the offensive or move on. If did move his forces off Seminary Ridge, he would likely be exposed to heavy Union fire. Moreover he was not disposed to do so. "The enemy is there" on Cemetery ridge.
Stuart was following Lee's orders. If Lee was at a disadvantage for lacking Stuart, Lee was the creator of that disadvantage.
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Old October 10th, 2017, 10:39 PM   #5

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Stuart was following Lee's orders. If Lee was at a disadvantage for lacking Stuart, Lee was the creator of that disadvantage.
Based on my research I would disagree with you. Lee's orders did say that Stuart was to follow the army on a parallel course to the east, but only east as far as the Blue Ridge Mountain passes. However, Stuart decided to traipse over as far east as Washinton D.C. He then ended up, by accident, on the far side of the Union army, with it between him and Lee's army.

Stuart had orders from Lee, but he chose to take a little detour over by the capital which ended up separating him from Lee and preventing him from fulfilling his orders. Thus, I believe it is, in fact, Stuart's fault that he became separated.
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Old October 11th, 2017, 03:56 AM   #6
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As far as I can see Lee was on the back foot from the start because he got pulled into a battle while his army was still spread out
Lee wasn't "pulled into" the battle. He wasn't trapped and nothing was pulling on him. He freely made the decision to fight there. A list of decisive factors in losing the battle can start with that one.
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Old October 11th, 2017, 04:21 AM   #7

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Lee wasn't "pulled into" the battle. He wasn't trapped and nothing was pulling on him. He freely made the decision to fight there. A list of decisive factors in losing the battle can start with that one.
Excuse my expression, what I mean is that Lee was not yet ready to fight, but when Hill attacked Lee decided to just go with it and like you said, "made the decision to fight there". In that sense, what Hill "pulled" Lee into was making a snap decision to fight before he was ready.
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Old October 11th, 2017, 06:53 AM   #8
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Good article here:

https://padresteve.com/2014/06/03/ge...ck-of-control/
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Old October 11th, 2017, 08:03 AM   #9
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Why Lee lost Gettysburg:

1. He may have underestimated the importance of homefield advantage. In Virginia he had the support of a friendly population. In the north, the civilians withheld useful information such as the nature of the terrain, quality of the roads, what the enemy was doing, etc. There's also a psychological component. Southern soldiers fought harder in Virginia than they did in the North while Northern soldiers fought harder in the North than they did in Virginia.

2. The absence of Stuart for which both Lee and Stuart share some blame.

3. Poor command and control on Lee's part.

4. The Union occupied excellent defensive terrain.

5. Lee had not yet adjusted to the absence of Jackson. Two of his corps commanders were inexperienced at that level of command. It was Ewell's first battle back from a nine month convalescence.

I'm sure there are a few more factors out there.
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Old October 11th, 2017, 08:09 AM   #10

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The most decisive reason for Confederate defeat at Gettysburg was that Meade had been promoted to command of the Union Army...

Gettysburg will probably always be a battle that attracts a lot of attention in the study of the American Civil War, as it was a major Union victory after a string of Confederate victories (or at least a tactical draw). As such, people are bound to be attracted to why the Confederate's lost the battle, but many answers either seem to blame Lee for the mistakes he made in the Gettysburg campaign, blame other subordinates for failing to interpret his orders "correctly," or for Stuart failing to stay in close contact with the army. The actions of the Union Army is practically forgotten... as though if Lee hadn't made those mistakes there was no realistic way that the 80,000 men of the Army of the Potomac could beat Lee's 70,000 men.

This perpetuates the myth that Lee was the greatest commander of the war, with only Grant on the Union side coming close to him...

Lee was NEVER a perfect commander and he made plenty of mistakes prior to Gettysburg. His attacks in the Seven Days in 1862 were sloppy and the Army of Northern Virginia suffered greater losses than it inflicted. However, the mistakes are overlooked because McClellan was a coward and ran away after every victory his army won against Lee...

Lee did well in the Second Bull Run campaign, but it should be noted that Pope had been so reckless and left his own supply lines unguarded that defeating him really didn't take genius. Especially when observed that Pope ultimately left a flank hanging open, which is what Lee sent Longstreet to attack.

In many ways, while Lee was able to hold his lines at Antietam, it could be argued that he shouldn't have fought that battle... And again, McClellan's unwillingness to fight allowed Lee to disengage and move behind strong positions.

Burnside initially outmaneuvered Lee in reaching the north bank of the Rappahannock across from Fredericksburg. The problem that hit him was that the War Department failed to have Pontoon boats ready for him and thus he couldn't cross his whole army. This left him with a few options... 1) Cross his infantry to secure the heights on the other side of Fredericksburg. They'd be without major resupply and artillery support, but they would hold high ground that would allow them to protect the advance. 2) Wait for the Pontoon boats to be delivered, though this could allow Lee to recover from the initial maneuver Burnside had managed and fortify the heights behind Fredericksburg. 3) Move north to one of the nearby fords and cross the Rappahannock there, though given the time of year, this could have only meant being slowed by mud and ice. 4) Settle into winter encampment and reevaluate the situation come spring. Burnside chose Option 2 and Lee was given time to fortify the heights... and when Burnside DID attack, instead of attacking in force to the south at Jackson's corps, where Meade had some measure of success, he attacked the heights directly and was never able to even reach the defenses.

In 1863, Hooker ALSO initially outmaneuvered Lee and essentially had the Confederate commander in a position where Lee would have to either fight a losing battle or retreat. However, for reasons that are really unknown to this day, Hooker stooped short of Lee's army and dug in, leaving one flank of his army completely unsupported. This gave Lee time to try something daring, and while it paid off at Chancellorsville, it came more due to Hooker's bumbling than Lee's brilliance. When Jackson's corps was detached, they had a long way to go to even get to their attack point, which made that effort come late in the day. In pure theory, Hooker could have brought up additional strength, battered what forces Lee still had in front of him and worry about Jackson later...

The point in going through these previous battles is to show that Lee generally depended on his opponents having flaws bigger than his own, as it masked the mistakes that Lee made or made his job easier to handle. It was not as if he was fighting competent commanders who weren't making major unforced errors. In fact... Lee RELIED on his opponents making unforced errors in order to win...

At Gettysburg.... against Meade, he didn't get that. Meade may not have wowed anyone with great brilliance, but he wasn't going to make the major unforced errors that Lee had relied on exploiting earlier. And without those errors, the Union army stood its ground and won the battle.
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