The second day at Gettysburg can be described as the "what the hell do we do now day?" Neither army wanted a fight in this town, but they got one nonetheless.
Let's begin with our campaign analysis:
· 2nd Day-July 2, 1863
-- Lee plans next day offensive; no cavalry for reconnaissance
-- Union maintains defensive posture; awaits developments
--Confederacy launches uncoordinated attacks on both Union flanks; Confederates not strong enough to overlap Union lines to enable flank attacks; allows Union to use “central position” and shorter battle lines to move reinforcements to maintain lines; day ends inconclusively
In a nutshell, Lee's army was in a horrible geographic position, and the long standing controversy about whether Lee's should have chosen the "slip around the Union right" alternative plan that history says his subordinate Gen James Longstreet recommended can really be seen on the map above. The challenge for Lee was that he was outnumbered and although he could no doubt see the potential for a double envelopment of the Union position...always a commanders dream sense the days of Hannibal, he just didn't have the numbers to make it happen. Not to mention, his attacks were piecemeal and not coordinated at all, another truth of the time when orders were passed verbally by dispatch riders, so that Gen Meade could just move troops around to the threatened sectors and hold off Lee's attacks. Not that things could have turned out differently if the 20th Maine hadn't made their stand, but the math just didn't add up for Lee to win a decisive victory the second day either.
Of course Lee won several tactical victories that day..most notably the near destruction of Gen Sickle's III Corps because of his insubordinate and boneheaded move to place his troops in a salient in front of the main Union position on Cemetary Ridge. Lee quickly pounced on his stupidity and wiped out the salient in an afternoon of hard fighting. However, Lee could make no traction on either Little Round Top or Culp's Hill and the positions of the armies remained pretty static. Even when Stuart finally showed up his cavalry forces had no real influence on the battle as Lee was now committed to one mighty and final blow the drive the Union army off the heights and secure victory.
I was watching Gettysburg last Saturday night and was really struck by the scale of the geography these men fought over. If you have never been to the battlefield and stood on Little Round Top, or looked at it from the Devils Den.... it was really a long march in the hot summer for those Confederate soldiers sent to take the hill.
THE definitive book on the second day at Gettysburg remains Harry Pfanz highly detailed and encyclopedic account. I inherited my father-in-law's copy, which maintains center stage on my Gettysburg shelf. This is truly a book for Gettysburg aficionados as it describes the day's actions almost down to the company level.