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Battle Of Gettysburg

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Battle of Gettysburg

War is unlike any other activity that humans partake in. To be a General in a war is something that not every man is cut out for. To be able to maintain your composure and think clearly while men are being killed all around you is no easy task. To say in retrospect what this General and that General should have done is easy because we were not there and we have a lot more information about the battle and we know what is going to happen. This is a luxury that neither General Meade nor General Lee had during the battle of Gettysburg. During war unexpected things happen and sometimes quick decisions are made that have tremendous impact on the outcome of battles. It is true that the Union won the war, but it wasn’t just because everything the union did was right, some of it can be attributed to the mistakes made by the Confederates.

George Gordon Meade was the new appointed commander of the Union forces by Lincoln after Joseph Hooker resigned. Meade was the sixth general after Pope, Burnside, Hooker, and McClellan twice. He replaced Hooker because there were feelings that Hooker wasn’t aggressive enough. Meade was tasked with two objectives; Protect Washington and destroy Lee’s army. For the most part Meade did not have any real significant command issues at Gettysburg until the battle was over. His delegation of power to certain subordinates however is worth noting.

After John F. Reynolds died on the first day it was Meade’s decision to appoint Winfield S. Hancock as a new corps commander. He was responsible for a huge number of Union soldiers and was in charge of leading the defense against the confederate charge on Cemetery Ridge on the second day. The Union lines were very close to breaking on the second day and if it hadn’t been for Hancock’s decision to sacrifice the 1st Minnesota regiment there is a possibility that the confederates could have broken the lines and severely damaged the union army of which could have led to defeat. Fortunately, because of the 1st Minnesota’s sacrifice it allowed Union soldiers to reorganize the defensive line, which in turn saved the Union on the second day of the battle. There is no guarantee that had Meade chosen someone else to lead the “left wing” of the army that they would have made all the same decisions on the battlefield or would have done what Hancock did in basically sending the 1st Minnesota to their doom.

Meade’s one true command mistake actually didn’t occur until after the battle was over. Meade’s two objectives were to protect Washington, and destroy Lee’s army. He was able to protect Washington by making the confederates retreat after the three day battle, but he was unsuccessful in his other objective when he had the perfect opportunity to destroy Lee’s army when they were pinned along the water while trying to make there escape. Outside of this Meade’s command decisions were good because ultimately he won the battle.

On the other side of the battlefield General Lee suffered from a series of command problems that could have altered the outcome of this battle. Many of which had to do specifically with his subordinates, especially, Richard S. Ewell, J.E.B. Stuart, and James Longstreet.

Lee was an aggressive commander and had very high confidence in his men. Prior to Gettysburg he had two lieutenant commanders, James Longstreet and Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson. But after Stonewall died, Lee decided to divide Stonewall’s corps, “Lee felt a corps of that size was too large for one man to handle”. (Course reading, pg.6) When he divided it he gave half to Richard S. Ewell and the other half to A.P. Hill, and they formed the 2nd and 3rd Corps. This event is significant because on the first day of the battle Ewell’s corps were able to push back the Union army all the way to Cemetery Hill, and when Ewell asked if he should continue his attack and take Cemetery Hill Lee told him to take it “if practicable”. It is because of Lee’s indecisive order that Ewell decided against attacking even though they actually had the Union troops on the run. Instead the hill was left for the Union troops to regroup on, and gave them great position on elevated terrain. There is some speculation that had Stonewall Jackson still been alive that he would have taken the initiative and attacked the hill. This single decision of to attack or not attack had a tremendous effect on the outcome of this battle and could have led to Confederate success rather than defeat at Gettysburg had Lee been more decisive with his decision.




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