Sunday, October 30, 2011
Monday, October 24, 2011
A summary and comments on the three-day Battle of Gettysburg.
The Battle of Gettysburg was a famous battle of the American Civil war. It took place over July 1-3, 1863 at a small town in southeastern Pennsylvania.
The American Civil War was fought between the northern "Union" states and the 11 secessionist southern states. The secession of those 11 states was not recognized by President Abraham Lincoln or the rest of the American government. The Confederate States of America was never recognized as an independent nation by any country.
Both sides had several armies. The Battle of Gettysburg was fought between the Army of the Potomac (north) and the Army of Northern Virginia.
Both armies were organized into several large groups called corps. In turn, corps were made up of divisions. Divisions were made up of brigades. Brigades consisted of regiments and regiments were made up of companies, the smallest unit of organization. Corps were usually simply assigned Roman numerals, and were also known by the name of their commander. Divisions and brigades were usually simply referred to (by Civil War historians) by the name of their commanding officer. Regiments were named after the states that raised them, preceded by a number; companies were almost always simply known by letters. Some had unofficial or official nicknames.
At Gettysburg, the Army of Northern Virginia was commanded by Robert E. Lee. The Army of the Potomac was commanded by George G. Meade.
The invasion of the North by the Army of Northern Virginia began in early June, 1863, when that army crossed the Rapidan river and began their march north toward Pennsylvania. Coincidentally, the new state of West Virginia was admitted to the Union effective June 20 while the Confederates were marching north across part of it.
The Army of the Potomac crossed the Rappahannock shortly thereafter and also began marching north, shadowing the Army of Northern Virginia, staying generally between Lee's army and Washington City. The armies continued north, paralleling each other. Lee's cavalry also proceeded northward, but (with Lee's permission) moved, on June 26, to the east of the Army of the Potomac, then resumed northward between the Union Army and Washington. Those three brigades of Lee's cavalry (Stuart) left the main army on June 26 and rejoined it on July 2.
The march northward took most of the month of June. There were some major encounters between the two armies as they proceeded northward.
With relation to the town of Gettysburg, Lee's army columns ended up marching to the west of the town, and the Union army to the east of the town. One corps of Lee's army was sent further north past Gettysburg. Lee's cavalry, still farther to the east, also proceeded farther north than Gettysburg. The original plan was for II Corps (Ewell) and Lee's Cavalry (Stuart) to link up and perhaps take Harrisburg, the Pennsylvania state capital, but both were recalled south to Gettysburg when it became obvious to Lee that a major battle would be fought at Gettysburg.
On the last day of June, elements of the two armies sighted each other when a forward unit of Lee's army, intending to enter the town of Gettysburg, encountered a group of Union recon cavalry. The Confederate party returned to their main body after this brief encounter.
The next morning, on July 1, a larger force of two confederate divisions (Heth, Pender) were sent into Gettysburg with the intent of driving out the Union cavalry. The Union cavalry resisted the Confederate advance into Gettysburg, and held the forward units of the Confederates long enough for the Union I Corps (Reynolds) to begin arriving from the south. Lee immediately ordered concentration of his entire army at Gettysburg. The morning battle at Gettysburg intensified as more and more units from both sides began to arrive and engage.
Meade did not receive word of the large engagement taking place at Gettysburg until later in the morning, at which time he, too, sent out orders to all his corps commanders to come to Gettysburg, and notified the War Department in Washington. He also dispatched General Hancock, the commander of the Union II Corps, ahead to organize and align the Union troops as they arrived at Gettysburg, until Mead himself could come up. The furthest distant, the Union VI Corps (Sedgewick) in Maryland, did not receive Meade's orders until near midnight, but the large 16,000-man corps was mobilized immediately and was force-marching to Gettysburg by 3 a.m.
After initial Union success in the morning of day one, more and more of the Confederate army began arriving and made fine progress before the bulk of the Union arrived on site and got in line. The Union I Corps (Reynolds/Doubleday) units were driven back and back until they were routed, pursued through the streets of Gettysburg, to Culp's hill, up Culp's hill and Cemetery Hill. Many Union prisoners were taken.
The above describes the state of the battlefield as of late afternoon on day one. There was plenty of light left, as it was July 1.
Confederate II Corps (Ewell) declined to pursue.
End of day one.
During the night, the Confederates could hear the sound of axes and picks and shovels as the Union troops labored through the night on fortifications, and, corps by corps, the rest of the Army of the Potomac, except the distant VI Corps, arrived on the field. General Meade arrived on the field at about 3 a.m., assumed personal command of the field (from Hancock), and set up headquarters. Come daylight of day two, it was a very different sight indeed which greeted Confederate eyes.
On the morning of day two, Lee ordered a simultaneous assault on both flanks of the Union line.
[Note: the Union right flank or northern end of the Union line, closest to the town of Gettysburg, would have been on a Confederate soldier's left. The Union left flank or south end of the Union line, would have been to a Confederate soldier's right.]
Lee's intent was (apparently) an enveloping action, but was not coordinated simultaneously. Because of this failure to attack both flanks simultaneously, Meade was able to use troops from the center of his line to reinforce first his left flank, then (to a lesser extent) his right simply by moving some troops back and forth. A coordinated attack by Ewell and Longstreet on both flanks at once (as Lee had apparently envisioned) would have (perhaps) denied Meade the ability to reinforce both of his flanks.
For his own reasons, Longstreet (Confederate I Corps) did not choose to begin his assault on the Union's left flank (south) until 4 p.m. or shortly thereafter (but, contrary to lore and even some history books, Lee had not ordered Longstreet to attack "at dawn" or at any other specific time; Longstreet was given the discretion to engage at will, when ready; and Ewell was to attack the other Union flank when Longstreet's artillery opened.) Nevertheless, the Federals used the extra time to continue digging in. Lee might have preferred earlier, but he was well aware of Longstreet's deliberateness. When Longstreet finally opened on the Union left flank, the attack was fierce, with some of the bloodiest fighting seen so far. American military lore is filled with odd names from that afternoon: Little Round Top. Devil's Den. The Wheatfield. The Peach Orchard. Longstreet saw some results and gained some ground, yet he was not successful in taking the high ground from the Federals, or in fully turning Mead's left flank.
Ewell did not attack exactly simultaneously (as previously pointed out) at the sound of Longstreet's guns, but did begin his own (poorly reconned) bombardment at about 5 p.m. - which the superior Union artillery answered, immediately and emphatically, pounding Ewell's guns until their position on bald and vulnerable Benner's Hill became untenable and the Confederate artillery commander requested permission to withdraw. Thus, at about 7 p.m., with only 4 guns remaining in support, Ewell attacked the Union right at Culp's Hill with Johnson and, later, near nightfall, Cemetery Hill with Early.
With the cessation of firing of both muskets and artillery, quiet descended over the field, the light of the full moon illuminating the corpses lying helter skelter on the hillsides and valley. Soon, the only sounds were the sobs and moaning of the wounded, begging for assistance and for water from their comrades, combined with the noises of the maimed and dying horses. Those still alive on both sides were becoming used to that sad sound, that continual wail. But attempts at aid would likely only lay them dead next to the already fallen.
At nightfall on day two, there weren't nearly as many participants of either side still standing, but the Union, thinner on the flanks, and reinforced as needed from the center, still held the high ground on the east.
"And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him."
After the repulse, General Lee told Pickett to regroup his division.
"General, I have no division."
Sunday, October 23, 2011
Thursday, October 20, 2011
"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind. Were an opinion a personal possession of no value except to the owner; if to be obstructed in the enjoyment of it were simply a private injury, it would make some difference whether the injury was inflicted only on a few persons or on many. But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error."
- On Liberty, John Stuart Mill
Recommended previously banned reading list from Relax Max to you:
The Adventures of Huckelberry Finn Mark Twain
Of Mice and Men John Steinbeck
The Catcher in the Rye J.D. Salinger
The Color Purple Alice Walker
A Wrinkle in Time Madeleine L'Engle
To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee
Beloved: A Novel Toni Morrison
Slaughterhouse - five, or, The Children's Crusade Kurt Vonnegut
Lord of the Flies William Golding
Native Son Richard Wright
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Mark Twain
Song of Solomon Toni Morrison
The Call of the Wild Jack London
Frankenstein Mary Shelley
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Monday, October 17, 2011
Friday, October 7, 2011
Rather short at 5 feet 8 inches, he had just a fringe of brown hair on an otherwise bald, bomb-shaped head. Bright, bulging eyes protruded above a prominent nose, creating an effect which many likened to a bird—an eagle, some said, or a woodcock—especially when he let his head droop toward one shoulder, as he often did, and uttered strange speeches in his shrill, twittering lisp. He had a habit of muttering odd remarks in the middle of normal conversation, such as "Now why do you suppose President Davis made me a major general anyway?" He could be spectacularly, blisteringly profane. He was so nervous and fidgety he could not sleep in a normal position, and spent nights curled around a camp stool. He had convinced himself that he had some mysterious internal "disease," and so subsisted almost entirely on frumenty, a dish of hulled wheat boiled in milk and sweetened with sugar. A "compound of anomalies" was how one friend summed him up. He was the reigning eccentric of the Army of Northern Virginia, and his men, who knew at first hand his bravery and generosity of spirit, loved him all the more for it.
— Larry Tagg, The Generals of Gettysburg