U. S. History Stephen W. Sears Gettysburg

ISBN 13: 9780618485383

Gettysburg

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9780618485383: Gettysburg

A masterful, single-volume history of the Civil War's greatest campaign.

 

Drawing on original source material, from soldiers' letters to official military records of the war, Stephen W. Sears's Gettysburg is a remarkable and dramatic account of the legendary campaign. He takes particular care in his study of the battle's leaders and offers detailed analyses of their strategies and tactics, depicting both General Meade's heroic performance in his first week of army command and General Lee's role in the agonizing failure of the Confederate army. With characteristic style and insight, Sears brings the epic tale of the battle in Pennsylvania vividly to life.

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About the Author:

STEPHEN W. SEARS is the author of many award-winning books on the Civil War, including Gettysburg and Landscape Turned Red. A former editor at American Heritage, he lives in Connecticut.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

1 We Should Assume the Aggressive

John Beauchamp Jones, the observant, gossipy clerk in the War Department
in Richmond, took note in his diary under date of May 15, 1863, that General
Lee had come down from his headquarters on the Rappahannock and was
conferring at the Department. "Lee looked thinner, and a little pale," Jones
wrote. "Subsequently he and the Secretary of War were long closeted with
the President." (That same day another Richmond insider, President Davis's
aide William Preston Johnston, was writing more optimistically, "Genl Lee
is here and looking splendidly & hopeful.")
However he may have looked to these observers, it was certainly
a time of strain for Robert E. Lee. For some weeks during the spring he had
been troubled by ill health (the first signs of angina, as it proved), and hardly
a week had passed since he directed the brutal slugging match with the
Yankees around Chancellorsville. Although in the end the enemy had
retreated back across the Rappahannock, it had to be accounted the
costliest of victories. Lee first estimated his casualties at 10,000, but in fact
the final toll would come to nearly 13,500, with the count of Confederate
killed actually exceeding that of the enemy. This was the next thing to a
Pyrrhic victory. Chancellorsville's costliest single casualty, of course, was
Stonewall Jackson. "It is a terrible loss," Lee confessed to his son Custis. "I
do not know how to replace him." On May 12 Richmond had paid its last
respects to "this great and good soldier," and this very day Stonewall was
being laid to rest in Lexington. Yet the tides of war do not wait, and General
Lee had come to the capital to try and shape their future course.
For the Southern Confederacy these were days of rapidly
accelerating crisis, and seen in retrospect this Richmond strategy
conference of May 15, 1863, easily qualifies as a pivotal moment in
Confederate history. Yet the record of what was discussed and decided that
day by General Lee, President Davis, and Secretary of War James A.
Seddon is entirely blank. No minutes or notes have survived. Only in clerk
Jones's brief diary entry 1 are the participants even identified. Nevertheless,
from recollections and from correspondence of the three men before and
after the conference, it is possible to infer their probable agenda and to piece
together what must have been the gist of their arguments and their
agreements — and their decisions. Their decisions were major ones.
It was the Vicksburg conundrum that triggered this May 15
conference. The Federals had been nibbling away at the Mississippi citadel
since winter, and by mid-April Mississippi's governor, John J. Pettus, was
telling Richmond, "the crisis in our affairs in my opinion is now upon us." As
April turned to May, dispatches from the Confederate generals in the West
became ever more ominous in tone. In a sudden and startling move, the
Yankee general there, U. S. Grant, had landed his army on the east bank of
the Mississippi below Vicksburg and was reported marching inland, straight
toward the state capital of Jackson. On May 12 John C. Pemberton,
commanding the Vicksburg garrison, telegraphed President Davis, "with my
limited force I will do all I can to meet him. . . . The enemy largely
outnumbers me. . . ." Pemberton offered little comfort the next day: "My
forces are very inadequate. . . . Enemy continues to re-enforce heavily."
Grant's march toward Jackson threatened to drive a wedge
between Pemberton in Vicksburg and the force that Joseph E. Johnston
was cobbling together to go to Pemberton's support. On May 9 Johnston had
been put in overall charge of operations against the Federal invaders of
Mississippi, and by the 13th Johnston had grim news to report. He had
hurried ahead to Jackson, he said, but the enemy moved too fast and had
already cut off his communication with Vicksburg. "I am too late" was his
terse verdict.
Thus the highly unsettling state of the war in Mississippi as it was
known to President Davis and Secretary Seddon as they prepared to sit
down with General Lee to try and find some resolution to the crisis. To be
sure, the Vicksburg question had been agitating Confederate war councils
since December, when the Yankees opened their campaign there to clear
the Mississippi and cut off the westernmost states of the Confederacy. At the
same time, a second Federal army, under William Rosecrans, threatened
Chattanooga and central Tennessee. For the moment, Braxton Bragg's
Army of Tennessee had achieved a standoff with Rosecrans. Bragg, however,
could scarcely afford to send much help to threatened Vicksburg. The
defenders of the western Confederacy were stretched very close to the
breaking point.
Early in 1863, a "western concentration bloc" within the high
councils of command had posed the argument for restoring the military
balance in the West by dispatching reinforcements from the East. Most in-
fluential in this bloc were Secretary of War Seddon, Senator Louis T.
Wigfall of Texas, and Generals Joe Johnston, P.G.T. Beauregard, and one of
Lee's own lieutenants, James Longstreet. It was Longstreet, in fact, who had
been the first to offer a specific plan to rejuvenate affairs in the West.
In February, responding to a Federal threat, Lee had detached
Longstreet from the Army of Northern Virginia and sent him with two of his
four First Corps divisions to operate in southeastern Virginia. Taking fresh
perspective from his new assignment, casting his eye across the strategic
landscape, Longstreet proposed that the First Corps, or at the very least
those two divisions he had with him, be sent west. It was his thought to
combine these troops, plus others from Joe Johnston's western command,
with Bragg's army in central Tennessee for an offensive against Rosecrans.
Once Rosecrans was disposed of, the victorious Army of Tennessee would
march west and erase Grant's threat to Vicksburg. All the while, explained
Longstreet rather airily, Lee would assume a defensive posture and hold the
Rappahannock line with just Jackson's Second Corps.
General Lee was unimpressed by this reasoning. He thought it
likely that come spring the Federal Army of the Potomac would open an
offensive on the Rappahannock, and he had no illusions about trying to hold
that front with only half his army. Should the enemy not move against him,
he said, he intended to seize the initiative himself and maneuver to the
north — in which event he would of course need all his troops. In any case,
Lee believed that shifting troops all across the Confederacy would achieve
nothing but a logistical nightmare. As he expressed it to Secretary
Seddon, "it is not so easy for us to change troops from one department to
another as it is for the enemy, and if we rely upon that method we may
always be too late."
Longstreet was not discouraged by rejection. After
Chancellorsville — from which battle he was absent, there having not been
time enough to bring up his two divisions to join Lee in repelling the
Federals — he stopped off in Richmond on his way back to the army to talk
strategy with Secretary Seddon. In view of the abruptly worsening prospects
at Vicksburg, Longstreet modified his earlier western proposal somewhat.
As before, the best course would be to send one or both of the divisions with
him — commanded by George Pickett and John Bell Hood — to trigger an
offensive against Rosecrans in Tennessee. But after victory there, he said,
a march northward through Kentucky to threaten the Northern heartland
would be the quickest way to pull Grant away from Vicksburg.
More or less the same plan was already familiar to Seddon as the
work of General Beauregard, who from his post defending Charleston
enjoyed exercising his fondness for Napoleonic grand designs. Emboldened
by these two prominent supporters of a western strategy, and anxious to do
something — anything — about the rapidly deteriorating situation in
Mississippi, Secretary Seddon telegraphed Lee on May 9 with a specific
proposal of his own. Pickett's First Corps division was just then in the
vicinity of Richmond; would General Lee approve of its being sent with all
speed to join Pemberton in the defense of Vicksburg?
Lee's response was prompt, sharply to the point, and (for him)
even blunt. He telegraphed Seddon that the proposition "is hazardous, and
it becomes a question between Virginia and the Mississippi." He added,
revealing a certain mistrust of Pemberton's abilities, "The distance and the
uncertainty of the employment of the troops are unfavorable." Lee followed
his telegram with a letter elaborating his arguments. He pointed out that it
would be several weeks before Pickett's division could even reach Vicksburg,
by which time either the contest there would already be settled or "the
climate in June will force the enemy to retire." (This belief — misguided, as it
turned out — that Grant's Yankees could not tolerate the lower Mississippi
Valley in summer was widespread in the South.) Lee then repeated his
tactful but pointed prediction that Pickett's division, if it ever did get there,
would be misused by General Pemberton: "The uncertainty of its arrival and
the uncertainty of its application cause me to doubt the policy of sending it."
But Lee's most telling argument was framed as a virtual
ultimatum. Should any troops be detached from his army — indeed, if he
did not actu...

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