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GO NAVY BEAT ARMY

'87 Sir

Thirty years of service ----USNA Class of 1987 '87 Sir

Monday, July 1, 2013

Gettysburg, the first day....

Ok, so let's dive into the first day, using our Campaign Analysis as a guide.
· Prelude/ Preliminary Maneuvers on 30 June
 ---Union Cavalry located west of town

---Confederate plan to move infantry into town in search of supplies; expect light to no resistance

· 1st Day-July 1, 1863
---Begins as meeting engagement between Union cavalry and Confederate infantry north and west of Gettysburg
---Both sides feed forces piecemeal into battle as they arrive; Confederates push Union forces through town and onto high ground south of town. Union forces make final stand and Confederate vacillation on launching final attack of day leaves Union army in strong defensive position
 A meeting engagement is by definition, a confusing and uncertain time for both armies, where the strength and disposition of the enemy army is uncertain, which can cause a great deal of stressful moments for a commander.

Gettysburg was a classic example of a meeting engagement, something that has becoming increasingly rare in military circles, and the amount of confusion and plain old chaos that occured that first day in the hot Pennsylvania sun is hard for modern Americans to understand...given that we are bombarded with instant information from a variety of sources in this era.

The Union and Confederate commanders did have some idea of where their opponents were and generally where they were going, but the lack of Jeb Stuart's cavalry and the dispersed nature of both armies not only made reconnaissance tough, but command and control nearly impossible.

This fact lead to the first major turning point in the battle---the failure of Lee's army to secure Cemetery and Culp's Hill.  Again, most Americans are unaware of the influence of geography on warfare in this day of mass mechanization, but when you either marched or rode into battle on a horse or wagon, having control of the high ground was the key to winning any battle.

At the end of the first day, both armies were disorganized and battered, but Lee's army was on the move and had the initiative.  Unfortunately, the loss of Stonewall Jackson the month before had left the Confederate I Corps in the hands of General Richard Ewell, a much less capable general.  Lee's famous order to "take the hill if practicable" would have been understood by Jackson as take the hill no matter what---but Lee and Jackson had shared a unique command relationship that would not be duplicated in the war.  Ewell let caution overtake him and did not seize those hills before darkness fell. 

In a real sense, this battle was one that neither side wanted to fight...least of all Lee, and it was clear that both commanders reacted to actions by their subordinates rather than lay out a real operational battle plan.  Fortunately for the Union, it is much easier to figure out a plan on defense--"HOLD THE HIGH GROUND" than it is for the offense.  In addition geography played a huge role in the development of the battle...not only as the focus of the battle in terms of high ground, but the nature of the road system which served to funnel the corps of each army into the fight piecemeal, which allowed the Confederates to maintain the upperhand most of the day until the Union army arrived in strength.

At the end of the first day, Lee may have won in terms of holding the initiative and driving the Union forces out of the town into the heights, but there was still no sense of the strength or disposition of the Union forces as Jeb Stuart's cavalry was still nowhere to be found.  Lee would begin the second day of the battle nearly as blind as he was on the first.

SO, no Grouchy Historian post on Gettysburg would be complete without some book recommendations...

I read this book when it first came out and it is fantastic.  IF you only want to read one book about the battle...make it this one.  Sears is one of my favorite Civil War historians and all of his books are superb.  Coddington's book is not for the faint of heart...I have picked it up a few times, but it is really dense in material and thought. It is always highly recommended on most Gettysburg book lists..but it is not for the casual reader.   
I just got a used copy of this new book by Allen Guelzo, I will no doubt compare it to Sears' book, and we will see how it measures up.  It supposedly puts the battle more into  it's political context of the day and discusses strategy, tactics and doctrine to a greater extent.  We shall see.  Gary Gallagher is another one of my favorite Civil War historians and I actually have an autographed copy of this book, which has a special place on my Gettysburg shelf.  This book looks at brigade, division and corps level leadership of the battle from both sides and has some wonderful examples of both heroes and knaves from some usually unheard of regiments and brigades.  What really makes this book stand out is there are no sacred cows, so to speak, and the critiques of both decision making and execution are pretty brutal.  Again, this book is not for the average reader, as you must have a pretty good working knowledge of the battle in order to place the examined unit and leader into the wider context of what's going on the battlefield.  However, if you have read reasonably extensively on the battle, it is a real treasure not to be missed.  


This book finally attempts to lay to rest many of the myths of Stuart's ride to Gettysburg and his controversial role in the battle.  There have  been some really excellent books published lately on some lesser known events both before and after the battle, a story that has been neglected far too long.  This was a wonderful Christmas present a couple of years ago and is in my "cavalry section" of the Civil War bookshelf awaiting its turn.

Oh, and of course, let's not forget the definitive book on the first day of battle.  Harry Pfanz is kind of the grand old man of Gettysburg history...and has written almost micro histories of the fight for Culp's and Cemetery Hill.  His book on the first day is really marvelous.


So that's the end of the first day...lots of casualties and confusion, but no real decision..and as we shall see tomorrow...no really excellent tactical options for either army.

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