Confederate blunders at Gettysburg - who was responsible?

who made the most costly blunders at Gettysbug?

  • A. P. Hill

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Henry Heth

    Votes: 0 0.0%

  • Total voters
    73

Salah

Forum Staff
Oct 2009
23,284
Maryland
You'll have to forgive me for a lazy OP, as I'm short on time at the moment. While no one ever doubted the courage of the officers and men of the Army of Northern Virginia during the Gettysburg Campaign, a lot of doubt has been placed on the quality of their leadership. Various Confederate generals have been 'scapegoated' for the defeat, and particularly for the events of the first day of the battle.

This is not a 'bashing' thread and there's no need to discuss the event from anything other than a military perspective.

Of the names on the poll, who do you feel was most 'responsible' for the Confederate defeat, or who was guilty of the most costly blunders?

Personally I like Pickett's interpretation of the matter - he 'always thought the Yankees had something to do with it.'
 
Apr 2013
1,041
St. Augustine
:lol:"
Personally I like Pickett's interpretation of the matter - he 'always thought the Yankees had something to do with it.'
Indeed, Pickett's comment was the first thing that came to mind upon seeing the title of this thread.
 
Jun 2013
338
USA
I think Jeb Stuart bears some blame. He failed to properly provide Lee with the information he was expecting on the enemy's forces and deployments at Gettysburg. Lee might have made better choices and come up with a better strategy had Stuart provided the information he was expected to provide.
 

Spartacuss

Ad Honorem
Jul 2010
7,575
Georgia, USA
I've seen opinions that a good part of the "blunders" resulted from less than concise orders from Lee. I don't have a good grasp of Lee's overall style of orders throughout the war. Only the famous "captured orders" of his Maryland campaign where they seem to be quite firm and unambiguous. Which of these two examples would represent the anomaly?
 

Rongo

Ad Honorem
Dec 2011
5,683
Ohio
I've seen opinions that a good part of the "blunders" resulted from less than concise orders from Lee. I don't have a good grasp of Lee's overall style of orders throughout the war. Only the famous "captured orders" of his Maryland campaign where they seem to be quite firm and unambiguous. Which of these two examples would represent the anomaly?
His orders to Stuart and Ewell in the Gettysburg campaign were highly ambiguous, so much so that you could hardly call them "orders". More like "suggestions".
 
Jun 2013
808
West Palm Beach, Fl
Lee knew where the Union forces were, but he could not get them off key points such as Little Round top. His biggest mistake was his artillery attack on the main Union forces on the ridge. His guns fired over the troops instead on them. If they did, Pickets charge could have succeeded and he would have won the war.
 

Fiver

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
3,759
The Gettysburg is arguably Robert E Lee’s worst run campaign. Sun Tzu said the superior commander should know his enemy and know himself – Lee failed at both at Gettysburg. Lee misjudged his enemy’s determination, misjudged his own men’s ability, and failed to learn from his own and other’s mistakes. Lee ignored the advice of his experienced subordinates and made no allowance for the fact many of his subordinates were inexperienced in their positions. Lee’s plans were inferior, poorly communicated, and poorly coordinated.

Stuart was gone, but with Lee’s permission. Both share the blame for Stuart taking the experienced half of the cavalry, but Lee was moving blind because he failed to use the cavalry he still had. The cavalry was in the wrong place, put there by Lee. They lacked Stuart’s experience, but Lee failed to give them extra instruction or do anything else to help compensate for this lack of experience.

Thanks to Heth, the battle did not start on a field of Lee’s choosing and Confederate success on July 1st came from Ewell directly disobeying orders from Lee. Late in the day, Lee issued a vague and self-contradictory order to assault the hill if practicable, but not to bring on a general engagement. Given the circumstances, Ewell’s response was aggressive. Even though his troops had been engaged in hard fighting, Ewell was willing to make the assault if supported by AP Hill. Hill would not do so, and appeals to Lee were fruitless. Rather than do his job of coordinating between corps commanders, clarifying Ewell’s orders, or telling Ewell to stand down, Lee did nothing. It was a failure to command on Lee’s part that would not get better during the next two days.

Without the necessary support to make an immediate assault on the hill ‘practicable’, Ewell was forced to wait until the troops of Allegheny Johnson came up. The assault was further delayed due to a false alarm of Union troops approaching on the flank, a delay that would never have occurred if Lee had been properly directing the cavalry he had.

Lee’s plan for the main assault on the second day of battle was based on faulty intelligence from a lone staff officer. When Longstreet, Lee’s only experienced Corps commander, wanted to change the plan slightly to improve chances of success, Lee angrily overruled him. The Confederacy only did as well as they did because Hood disobeyed orders and covered their flank and Dan Sickles made one of the greatest blunders of the war. The Confederates might have done better if the attack had been coordinated with Ewell’s assault, but Lee made no attempt to do so.

Pickett’s Charge was a bad plan in the first place. Meade had predicted it the night before. Longstreet said no 15,000 men ever made could achieve it, but Lee angrily overruled him. The Union troops saw the clear parallel to Burnside’s fruitless assault at Fredericksburg and started chanting the name of that town.

Again, Lee made no attempt to coordinate between his Corps commanders. AP Hill does not seem to have been directly involved at all, so it appears Lee realized illness had rendered Hill unfit to command, but Lee did not appoint a temporary replacement or do anything else to compensate for the problem. Hill’s two most heavily used units were sent on the charge, one led by Trimble, a self-serving supernumerary who’d attached himself to the army and appeared to be out of his depth. Other troops received contradictory orders on when or whether they were to support the Charge and/or cover Picket’s flanks.

In many ways Lee at Gettysburg reminds me of McClellan at Antietam – failure to use cavalry properly, piecemeal attacks, and a lack of exercising command. Unlike Little Mac, Lee appears to have had plans, even if they were poor; Lee acted in a much more timely manner; and Lee was smart enough to realize he had mishandled the battle.