Sunday, August 28, 2011

Pettigrew encounters Buford

The first actual fighting contact between the spread out elements of the two armies took place a little north and west of the actual town limits of Gettysburg in the early morning of July 1. More historians than not agree that Gettysburg was not chosen for battle by either side, that it was simply providence that'd done the choosing. Gettysburg was where the shoes were, that's all. But there - or somewhere else - it didn't make that much difference; that's where the two armies made first contact, after the first day's fighting, there was no turning back. Gettysburg it was.

Lee's Army of Northern Virginia was still coming up, it's corps and their divisions camping at various places of opportunity. Meade's Army of the potomac (Meade had very recently replaced Joseph Hooker as its commander) had crossed the river shortly after Lee, and was making its way up too, also in a long spread out line, keeping to the east of Lee, more or less between Lee and Washington.

The fortunes of war are sometimes bizarre, and one the reasons that the two armies made contact at Gettysburg was over shoes. Ok, since you want me to tell the story of the shoes, and how they caused the meeting of elements of the two armies, I will.

Napoleon Bonapart had once said that an army travels on its stomach. Both Lee and Meade knew this wasn't true: an army travels on its feet, and both sides were due for some needed reshoeing.

On June 3o, Lee was near Cashtown and Meade at Middleburg. Meade had selected Pipe Creek (in that area) as the place he would like to fight. Intelligence from his scouts and from Washington seemed to indicate that Lee had apparently changed his mind about Harrisburg and Philadelphia, and was veering east, with Washington and Baltimore his new apparent goals.

This story really started earlier in the day, June 30, 1863 - the day before Day One of what was to later be called simply "Gettysburg," where, at Cashtown, Brigadier General Johnson Pettigrew was eagerly bringing news of his brigade's brush with Union cavalry in the town of Gettysburg to his division commander, Major General Harry Heth, about his sighting of Yankee cavalry. As he was speaking, the corps commander himself, Powell Hill, arrived and listened first hand as Pettigrew recounted encountering, or at least seeing up close and personal (Buford's) Union cavalry. Pettigrew had taken his brigade to Gettysburg to try and get those shoes, but withdrew from the town quickly in the face of Gamble's (Buford's cavalry commander) calvary, coming up from Emmitsburg in advance of Buford's Division.

Harry Heth was an interesting man. He was a career soldier, a cousin of George Pickett. They had been at West Point at the same time, staying in the regular army until Virginia seceded. Heth was an arms specialist and had been the foremost authority on the rifle in the old army, even writing a book. "A System of Target Practice" was still used as the range guide in the army. Lee enjoyed his company and conversation. Heth's division was a bit heavy, with 4 brigades instead of 3, due to recent reorganization and consolidating. One of his brigades was commanded by Brigadier General Joseph R. Davis, a nephew of the Southern President. But it was another of Heth's brigade commanders, Pettigrew, who was engaging Heth's ear at the moment.

Frankly, neither Heth nor Hill believed Pedigrew, but listened semi-politely. General Hill had just come from Lee, whose intelligence from scouts agreed: Lee and Hill knew where the Yankees were, and it damn sure wasn't Gettysburg.

One imagines the corps commander losing interest, perhaps looking to Heth to silence Pettigrew's now-repetitive exuberance. Heth turned to Hill and interjected: "If there is no objection, I will take my division tomorrow and go to Gettysburg and get those shoes."

Hill: "None in the world."

Recent posts about Gettysburg:

Your reward for reading down this far:


  1. Military intelligence, a misnomer in all armies.

  2. Shoes?
    During the Napoleonic wars, a company in Northampton, England, was making boots for both the british forces, and Napoleon's soldiers. The value of the export was deemed sufficient for the government of the day to grant free passage for the shipment, to the enemy.
    This, to me, smacks of the absurdities Joseph Heller wrote about in Catch 22, where his character Milo Minderbinder realises just how wasteful it is to have the americans and the germans flying hundreds of miles and several hours to bomb each others' bases. Why not, says Minderbinder, contract simply to bomb your own bases, to the same extent the enemy would, thus saving a huge amount in fuel, which Minderbinder can then resell?...

  3. I love visiting your blog and I love Twinkies. In fact I'm stock piling Twinkies.

  4. Typical wimmen! The civil war is less important than 'Twinkies!'

  5. I love to read your posts... I always learn something.

    The negative side: I realize I don’t know much about history.

  6. @Adullamite - Military Intelligence is always high on my list of oxymorons. Which gives me an idea for another post.

    @Soubriquet - Why does that sound so reasonable to me? What am I missing?

    @Sue - You are slowly catching on. But leave the Twinkies if you are already stockpiling them. The rest of us can't find any. Next time, just take them. But you are getting MUCH closer to proper comments. Perfection would have been: "I love visiting your blog and think Max is da bomb. Thank you for the twinkies." But ever so close. Please come back. :)

    @Stephanie Barr - I will, Darwin's little metric ray of sunshine. Apparently you are the last to hear of the recent USDA's findings of the anti-aging properties of Twinkies. Fine. More for the rest of us. (Have you seen any Twinkies on your grocer's (Walmart's) shelves lately? I thought not.

    @Addullamite - So true, though wimmen is probably a misnomer.

    @Jeff King - So, what's the negative side?

  7. Yo, Adullamite, what gives? I'm a...wait, no, maybe I'm not. What the hell is a "wimmin"?

  8. I say Max old chap, this Barr woman, does she not understand Lallans, what?

  9. Like I'm going to get in the middle of a Lallanite and an antagonist.



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