Category Archives: Battlefield Interpretation

Touring Gettysburg With Carol Reardon and Tom Vossler

I am hoping to have a bit of time to take Carol Reardon’s and Tom Vossler’s new Gettysburg guide out for a test run next week at the CWI. The book is right up my alley given its emphasis both on what happened during the time of the battle as well as the many postwar battles over memory. Here is a taste of that approach in a series of videos that Reardon and Vossler recently did for CSPAN. First up is the North Carolina monument.

123rd New York Infantry & Culp’s Hill

24th Michigan (Iron Brigade)

Finally, here is David Thompson’s (Civil War Monitor magazine) interview with Allen Guelzo about his new Gettysburg book. This is a book that I recently finished and highly recommend. David was kind enough to give me the opportunity to ask a couple questions of Prof. Guelzo. I suggested he ask whether beliefs in American Exceptionalism have hampered our understanding of the battle and the war as a whole and whether it is fair to measure every new Gettysburg book with Coddington’s classic work.

Two Views of J.E.B. Stuart’s Arrival at Gettysburg

Here is Allen Guelzo’s brief commentary on Stuart’s arrival on July 2.

However late Stuart was in arriving, the Army of Northern Virginia was still glad to see him. As he rode along the York Pike in Gettysburg, “such joyful shouts as rent the air I never heard” and  “the cavalry for once was well received.” Lee, however, had grown increasingly “uneasy & irritated by Stuart’s conduct,” recalled George Campbell Brown and “had no objection to [Brown] hearing of it,” which was surprising for “a man of Lee’s habitual reserve.” In time, descriptions of an epic confrontation between Lee and Stuart surfaced, mostly for the purpose of showing that Robert E. Lee himself pointedly held Stuart responsible for the Gettysburg battle. But there is no contemporary description of such a meeting, despite its inflation in subsequent retellings to a level with the return of the Prodigal Son. Although it is safe to say that Stuart may have reported directly to Lee after his arrival in the late afternoon of July 2nd, the few descriptions we have of Stuart that evening place him “at the vidette-post nearest” the “Infantry” or Ewell’s corps, near Rock Creek. As for Henry McClellan, Stuart’s chief of staff, his only comment on Stuart’s arrival in Gettysburg (in his 1893 biography of Stuart) was to describe, laconically, how “for eight days and nights, the troops had been marching incessantly,” on “on the ninth night they rested within the shelter of the army, and with a grateful sense of relief which words cannot express. (pp. 362-63)

The floor is open.

Is There a Difference Between Longstreet’s July 2 and Jackson’s May 2?

Still making my way through Allen Guelzo’s Gettysburg: The Last Invasion. Here is how Guelzo sums up Confederate assaults on July 2 led by James Longstreet and Jubal Early.

So much of the fighting ended in agonizingly near misses for the Army of Northern Virginia–the within-an-inch failure to capture Little Round Top…the last-minute blunting of Barksdale and Wilcox by George Willard’s “Cowards” and the charge of the 1st Minnesota…Ambrose Wright’s bitter moment of abandonment, just shy of Cemetery Ridge..Harry Hays’ Tigers having victory (not to mention captured Federal artillery) snatched from their hands by Samuel Carroll’s helter-skelter counterattack by the Evergreen Cemetery gatehouse and left without support by Rodes’ intertia…and finally the failure to overrun just one Union brigade on Culp’s Hill–that it has become almost a matter of habit to speak of Longstreet’s attack or Early’s assault on east Cemetery Hill purely in the mordant tones of failure. This is not really true. In the first place, although James Longstreet’s corps failed to turn Dan Sickles’ collapse into a complete rout, this was no more of a failure than Stonewall Jackson’s famous flank attack at Chancellorsville on May 2nd. Jackson, like Longstreet, achieved a great initial success; but Jackson’s attack also like Longstreet’s, fell far short of dislodging the entire Federal army (that work had to be completed by Lee on May 3rd).  Jackson, like Longstreet, had begun his attack so late that darkness forced him to halt substantially short of their goal. Yet no one has ever suggested that Jackson’s descent on the Union right flank at Chancellorsville was a failure–or at least not in the way Longstreet’s descent on the Union left at Gettysburg would be described. (p. 351)

First, do you agree with Guelzo’s comparison of Longstreet’s assault with that of Jackson’s at Chancellorsville?  To the extent that you do agree, does this make it more difficult to talk in counterfactual terms about what Jackson would have done had he been at Gettysburg? In other words, if Longstreet did everything that Jackson accomplished at Chancellorsville than why do we need to imagine his presence at Gettysburg?

Let’s Recross that River and Return to Chancellorsville

antietam

Today is the anniversary of one of the bloodiest days of fighting of the entire Civil War.  Those of you who visit Chancellorsville today will enjoy an insightful tour and interpretation of the final day’s fighting at Chancellorsville that took place in the area around the clearing between Hazel Grove, Fairview, and the Chancellor House.  The overwhelming majority of the roughly 30,000 casualties suffered that day between the two armies took place in this area on May 3, 1863.  While Stonewall Jackson’s daring flanking maneuver and its successful assault, which resulted in the collapse of the Eleventh Corps, damaged the Army of the Potomac the day ended with the two wings of Lee’s army split off from one another and facing much larger enemy forces in their respective fronts.  A Federal counterattack was still possible and Lee knew it.  Throughout the morning of May 3, Lee’s army fought to reunite its two dangerously divided wings.

Interestingly, many visitors to Chancellorsville never walk the May 3 ground or if they do they fail to appreciate its significance.  For many, a visit to Chancellorsville begins and ends at the visitors center, whose location reinforces a Jackson-centered narrative that highlights his flanking maneuver, assault, and accidental wounding on the very same ground.  You can replay the series of events that led to Jackson’s wounding at the hands of his own men and imagine to your hearts content those counterfactual scenarios that keep the general alive at least through the first day’s fighting at Gettysburg.  Continue reading