Dan Sickles' leg is on display at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C.
Photo by GDG member Paula Gidjunis


The Sickles Meade Dispute

After the battle of Gettysburg, a dispute arose between General Meade and General Sickles. Meade presented his side in the Official Records. Sickles made his "Unofficial Report," in a letter to the New York Herald under the pseudonym "Historicus."

Last Updated 6/19/96 These archived discussions are still open for comment. To join in write gettysburg@arthes.com

From: sspec@nauticom.net (Frank and/or Mike Swogger)
Subject: Dan Sickles:Idiotic twit or unsung hero?

What does everyone think of General Sickles? At first, I thought him to be just plain wrong for the job. I know his reasoning for moving foward 100 yards to slightly higher ground was absurd (and believe me, I've been there a dozen times and it is only slightly higher ground). But after I thought about it, his blunder and irrational thinking may have saved the Union army. His moving foward caused Hood's/Oates' men to move all the way around, up Big Round Top, and down again before any fighting on the flank was to occur. Had Sickles not moved, the flanking move would have been much easier and quicker for Longstreet's men, and the Union army might have fallen that day. Unfortunately, like many other battles, to save the army often means losing a great number of that corps, division, brigade or regiment.

> >Mike Swogger


From: benedict@ns.moran.com (Benedict R Maryniak)
Subject: Sickles

Mike Swogger wonders about Sickles being a hero or zero; he then observes that Sickles' deployment may have benefited the US at Gburg.

Sickles was what, in CW parlance, has become known as a "political general" - a cmdr without military training or experience - but he was clearly an adept manipulator of men. Where most influential men became colonels by recruited their own regiments, Sickles raised an entire brigade. Only the Doofus of the West John A McClernand topped Dan, by raising more than two brigades by virtue of his political fame in Illinois (he lost his first brigade to Grant & Sherman by taking a brief vacation to get married). In addition, Sickles was a manipulator of systems - a wiley lawyer, a media mogul. He knew the power of publicity at a time when most considered the media to be vulgar and would not dirty their hands dealing with it. And he was a relative success as a general because he followed cues in his surroundings (it was Sickles who formed Colonel Sharpe & others into a true intelligence-gathering "unit" and this group went on to be very important under Grant).

Sickles disobeyed a clear, direct order with his deployment at Gburg and the size of his sin was a reflection of his reputation. Gettysburg victory or not, he only escaped court-martial because his lost leg left him out of further field command, thereby giving Meade what he wanted. Personally, I think he would have "won" the court-martial, anyway (he capped Phil Key and beat the wrap cleaner than OJ).

It has been said over and over here in the GDG that men win battles, not "ground," and the number of casualties certainly indicated the effort expended toward victory. That same effort (sacrifice?) would have been necessary had Dan been where Meade ordered him. For this reason, I don't think Sickles was the hero of Gburg any more than Meade. Abe got it right in his Gburg Address.


From: Marc73@aol.com

Sickles was IMHO an idiotic twit. He construed the orders from Meade to his own use and really endangered the AoP on the second day. His left flank was in the air and I do not think he caused Hood etal to move around up to the BRT Hood wanted to do this anyway. Walk the positions back from Sickles beginning front lines to the ridge and imagine the destruction that was caused.

A very good book to read on the Sickles/Meade issue is "A Caspian Sea of Ink" by Dr. Richard Sauers

Pvt Marc Riddell
Cooper's Battery B 1st Pa Light Artillery


From: Norman Levitt There have been two questions going around laately:

Could Longstreet actually have concealed his movements well enough on July 2 to make a "sneak attack" on athe Federal left?

Did Sickles move into the Peach Orchard actually save the main Federal force from a decisive defeata by blunting Longstreet's assaulat well in front of Cemetary Ridge?

These aren't unrelated questions; in fact they're very closely related.

One has to keep Chancellorasville in mind. There, Jackson's flank march did succeed; his numbers and intentions weren't discerned by the Federals until it was much too late. So Lee--Longstreet as well--certainly did have a model of a successful operation, much along the lines of Longstreet's intended assault very fresh in his mind.

But remember that it was Sickles at Chancellorsville who sniffed something in the air as Jackson's men moved past, and who almost succeeded in ambushing Jackson's would-be ambush. Had Sickles moved a little faster in pursuit of Jackson's corps, and had just a bit of support from Hooker, Chancellorsville might well be remembered as the decisive Federal victory of the war. It was a very near thing.

As well, it was Sickles corps that halted Jackson's advance just when iat seemed that the entire Federal line might be rolled up.

Finally, it was Sickles who got put in the notorious "hole" under fire from guns posted on high ground that he'd evacuated, for no good reason, under orders from Hooker. That embarssmewnt was fresh in his mind.

Add to this that Sickles didn't like or trust Mead and thought he was as smart aws any man in the Federal Army--which he probably was.

All this certainly justifies Sickles concern and his strong intuition that a flank attack would come from the left and that something should be done to take the initiative against it. No one would criticize Sickles, I think, had the AoP quickly taken the cue from him and sent a division or so to protect his flanks and cover the Round Tops.

Thius doesn't justify his insubordination, nor excuse him for leaving the Ropund Tops undefended--that was blindness on his part. But still, how his move affected the ultimate outcome is a complicated manner.

First of all, the Confederate push through the Peach Orchaard and the Wheatafield was hardly foreordained. The problem, as I read Pfanz, was not insufficient numbers of troops on Sickles' line, nor bad defensive positions. It wasn't even the exposed flanks, primarily. The position of III corps and its reinforcements crumbled because there was poor co-ordination between adjacent regiments and because, subsequently, reinforcements were thrown in piecemeal, without any coherent plan. Unit for unit, the Federal troops fought pretty well; with a little luck, they might well have held their lines on the soutah and west fronts, and the day would have gone done as an unambiguous defeat for Lee and Longstreet.

As it was, there seems little doubt that Longstreet fought 2/3 of his corps into a frazzle in order to win ground of little worth; moareover, he left the main strength of the Federal armies intact; and, by focussing attention on the Round Tops, he virtually forced the AoP to make their new left flank invulnerable by the end of the day.

Thus, Sickles force, while defeated locally, effectively neutralized Lee's best troops for the July 3 battle and bought time for Mead to construct an invincible left and center along Cemetary Ridge. To my mind, the "decisive" element at Gettysburg was the failure of Longstreets July 2 action to gain anything of strategic importance, in fact, while its apparent success in pushing back the Federal line led Lee to have unrealistic expectations of the possibilities of offensive action, leading to you-know-who's foredoomed Charge.

One more word on Sickles' personality. He was smart as a whip and as good an instinctive general as anyone on the Federal side, but he was an obstinate son of a bitch with strong likes and dislikjes. As for being a "political general", let's remember that at the outset of the war, he was a ruined man, and the most notorious in America, because of his murder of Barton Key, his unwritten-law acquital, and, most of all, because he publicly forgave his wife. The war came as his salvation as a public figure, but not because he carried much political weight--he had belonged to the pro-South wing of the Democratic Party. Sickles rose as far and fast as he did in the AoP because he really was able. If one imagines him, rather than Meade, as CIC at Gettysburg, it's easy to believe that the Union triumph would have been even more sweeping. Sickles was smart, agressive, had a natural feel for battles, and loved to win.

He's one of the most fascinating (and charmingly repulsive) figures in American history, and he deserves to be better known. I propose the creation of the Dan Sickles Memorial Drinking, Wenching, Bragging and Skulduggery Society as an adjunct of this group. It would be a fine outlet for all the hot air. We could use Sickles' legbone as our mascot.

Norm Levitt


From: ajackson@oyez.law.upenn.edu (Anita Jackson-Wieck)
Subject: Sickles&Longstreet

With Norman Levitt's defense of Dan Sickles I now think I've heard it all. Apparently it is not the duty of the soldier to follow the orders of a superior officer but that of the superior to "follow the lead" of the subordinate. With this loopy logic and inverted chain of command, a private on picket can, with a wave of his hand, order the entire army forward.

Perhaps I'm being too harsh. After all, Sickles didn't have a good read on Meade yet, and with Dan's great intuitive feel for battle he was justified in taking matters into his own hands. He had, after all, been commanded by Hooker, and that experience made it clear that obeying orders was much overrated. Of course, Hancock, who also had been commanded by Fighting Joe, replied to an adjudant who had remarked how glorious Sickles' men looked marching forward with flags flying, words to the effect of, "Keep watching. You'll soon see them tumbling back." But then, Hancock's intuition may have been inferior to Sickles'.

Old Pete must be twirling in his grave as well. If I read Norman's note correctly, Longstreet's error on July 2 lay not in being "sullen", or slow, of failing to reconnoiter the line of march, or waiting for Laws, or of being politically incorrect after the war. No, his error on that day was in pressing the attack too hard. Even Early, awash in bitterness and Old Crow, would have a chuckle over that one.

Silly me, I thought Sickles was running for senator, or was it governor, and that every boy who died as a result of his unwarranted adventurism would mean twenty votes for Dan back in New York after the war. I believe his stump was still bleeding when he began his spin doctoring to Lincoln and fast talk and blood were all that kept him from a court-martial. Jackals eat carrion, but I'm sure they have their preferences. What do you say, Dan? Perhaps a leg?


From: Norman Levitt
Hey, wait a minute!! I'm not "defending" Sickles. He was clearly insubordinate and by not covering LRT he made an elementary blunder of the crudest kind. I'm merely suggesting that battles aren't "graded" to see who did the best job of playing by the rules; battles are won or lost or more or less drawn for the damndest of reasons. There's a hypothesis here!!! That by taking the brunt of Longstreet's assault on ground of little real importance, the III Corps, + reinforcements, managed to neutralize the assault, bloody Longstreet's troops so they had no further major role in the battle, and give the rest of the AoP the time (and the understanding of the situation) necesssary to construct the ironclad position that they had on the 3rd. This doesn't mean Sickles deserved his Medal of Honor. It doesn't mean he shouldn't have been court-martialed (with a separate trial for his leg). It does mean that inadvertance often rules.

Sickles and his Corps acted like a goat tethered to attract a tiger. In this case, the tiger took the goat, but it give him indigestion. Or maybe, the goat got in a few good licks with hoofs and horns. But the net effect, arguably, was to cripple the Confederate Rigth while leaving the Federal Left, in virtue of its greater numerical resources, in excellent shape.

Dumb luck has a role in war, and nobody has ever been able to do anything about it that I can see. On July 2nd, the Federals had the dumb luck to tempt Longstreet to exploit Sickles impudence, but not in a particularly clever or useful way.

There is, of course, the separate question of whether Sickles basic idea--to establish an advance line 1/2 mile in front of Cemetary would have been a sound plan, if properly supported on the flanks, on the Round Tops, and with a fallback line on Cemetary Ridge. It might well have been. One imagines that Sickles thought that he would force Meade's hand by his move, compelling him to provide the extra troops and solidify the position. That's the way Dan's mind worked.

Of course, that's not what happened. But all things considered, the cost of Sickles' "blunder" was a price worth paying in the bloody accountancy of war. In dozens of battles, men sacrificed just as much for far less gained.

The moral is: sometimes foolishness is rewarded. Look at the Federal charge up Missionary Ridge!!

Norm Levitt


From: sspec@nauticom.net (Frank and/or Mike Swogger)
Subject: Re: Sickles&Longstreet

>>>On 12-1-95, Anita Jackson-Wieck wrote: >> >> With Norman Levitt's defense of Dan Sickles I now think I've heard >>>it all. Apparently it is not the duty of the soldier to follow the orders >>>of a superior officer but that of the superior to "follow the lead" of the >>>subordinate. With this loopy logic and inverted chain of command, a >>>private on picket can, with a wave of his hand, order the entire army >>>forward.

>>> >> EASY NOW! Wasn't it Old Longstreet who disobeyed (indirectly) orders during the Peninsular Campaign because he didn't feel that the overall battle plan was effective enough? Its not just men like Sickles, its a lot of generals, even good ones.

>> >>Mike Swogger


>> From: benedict@ns.moran.com (Benedict R Maryniak)
Subject: Dan Fans

Me for the GDG Sickles Auxiliary! At Remembrance Day, I ran into Red Davis, the Albany gent who is yet trying to have Dan reinterred at the Gburg Natl Cemetery. Though ridiculed and stonewalled, he still merrily presses the issue on a number of new fronts. The Johnnies get all sorts of mileage out their Lost Cause and I say huzzah to Red's windmill.

>From a Washington paper -

ASSASSINATION
- Hon. D.E. Sickles M.C., from New York city, on Sunday last, deliberately shot Philip Barton Key, U.S. Attorney of the District of Columbia, two balls passing through his body and death ensuing almost instantly. The cause of this cold blooded murder, was that Mr. S. had just learned the fact that Mr. Key had debauched and seduced his (Sickles) wife. A disgraceful state of things truly.

And let's not forget the words of that old NY City Republican, George Templeton Strong:

"Sickles is one of the bigger bubbles in the scum of the legal profession, swollen and windy, and puffed out with fetid gas."

"One might as well try to spoil a rotten egg as to damage Dan's character."

Ben Maryniak


From: Norman Levitt
Subject: Re: Dan Fans

Re: Sickles

Ben;
But Machiavelli would have loved him!!

Norm


From: DPowell334@aol.com
Subject: Dan Sickles

Sickles definitely comes off as a twit on July 2nd. the greatest single mistake he made was in trying to hold the final line he adopted at all. Simply put, it was much too long for his strength. The 3rd Corps was forced to deploy over almost twice the length of the line he would've held as part of an integrated Cemetery Ridge position. This left him desperately over-extended, and critically short of reserves when Longstreet hit. Just look at how badly dispersed the NJ regiments became (Burling's Brigade) as they were used to plug holes in the line. Elements of that brigade fought with just about every other of the brigades in 3rd Corps.

Longstreet's Right didn't really travel that far out of their way because of Sickles advance - Hood's men advanced due east anyway, coming in over the slopes of Round Top. They weren't detouring around 3rd Corps - they deployed that far south.

The question is essentially moot, however, because none of us can know what plan Longstreet and Lee would've adopted if confronted with a Union line as Meade envisioned it. Remember, Lee's original plan fit none of the above conditions, and Longstreet had to modify it on the spot to match Sickles' deployment. Given a third set of conditions, an entirely new action would have evolved.

My own belief is that Sickles almost lost the battle. Longstreet got the chance to hit a freshly deployed Union corps beyond the reach of reserves and without any of it's own. Ensuing Union forces arrived piecemeal, and so each was much less effective than such reinforcements might have been had they been used en masse.

Remember, Longstreet engaged with 11 brigades (8 not counting Anderson's) numbering about 17,000 men (again, only about 14,000 infantry not counting Anderson.) It took the Union 19 brigades (and that's omitting the 6th corps, who were present but only lightly engaged) and 24,000 infantry to stop that attack. Given the overall defensive advantage the ACW conferred, that's pretty impressive attacking. Why? because the Union was unable to fight as a single force, given how far out of position Sickles placed himself.

Dave Powell


From: "James F. Epperson"
I agree with Dave Powell that Sickles's advanced line was a weakness, not a strength. The forward position allowed the Rebels to engage the Union army piecemeal, as individual brigades were fed into the fight from other sectors. The "breakwater" effect so often touted by others was more than overmatched by this factor.

It is speculation, of course, but I often wonder what might have happened had Sickles stayed put. As I understand Lee's plan of attack, Longstreet would have been advancing up the Emmittsburg Road, with his line roughly perpendicular to that road -- Lee's plan was based on the misconception that the Union right ended much sooner than it did. Under these circumstances, III Corps in its original position could have flanked the flank attack, so to speak, and done terrible damage to Longstreet's force.

Dave, do you know if anybody has used any of the many wargames to play that situation out?

Jim Epperson


From: DPowell334@aol.com
Lee's original plan called for Longstreet to attack north astride the Emmitsbrug Road. Lee thought the Federal Line extended southwest along that road, and Longstreet would have attacked that flank.

In Deploying, Longstreet was supposed to reach the vicinity of Warfield Ridge just south of the Peach Orchard, and then march in column due east until he was perpendicular to the Union flank, do a right face into battleline, and strike.

Had Sickles occupied his original position, McLaws Division would have advanced in column over the Peach Orchard, and then down towards Sickles line. I think it highly unlikely that the CSA force would not have discovered the Union line before they deployed. After all, Hood sent recon forward, and McLaws probably did as well. At the very least, they'd likely have noticed that the flank they were aiming for did not exist, but was instead angled due south along Cemetery Ridge.

At that point, I think Lee and Longstreet might well have become stuck. Historically, they rapidly altered the plan to meet the changed circumstances, but they at least still had an exposed flank to hit. Hood deployed something like a 1/2 mile south of Devils Den, the anchor point for Sickles' southern flank. With Sickles in the original line, however, the only exposed flank would have required a march around the Round Tops. It's interesting to note that Longstreet rejected Hood's proposal to do exactly this because of the time factor - no attack would have been possible that day if they'd made that march, and Lee was insistent on attacking.

That only leaves a frontal attack on a well-manned line, backed up by numerous cannon and within easy reach of about 15,000 reserves - 5th Corps, plus parts of 6th and 2nd. I can't see anything but a CSA bloodbath coming from this. Would Lee have forgone an attack alltogether, given the new circumstances? I'm not sure I see that either.

Jim,
I've gamed this stuff out a little bit, always to the CSA's great disadvantage.

Dave Powell


From: sspec@nauticom.net (Frank and/or Mike Swogger)
Subject: Re: Sickles&Longstreet

I agree with you Norm. I believe it was I who started this whole Sickles conversation with my title "Idiotic Twit or Unsung Hero." We argument starters must make one thing clear. WE DON'T THINK SICKLES WAS A GOOD GENERAL. In fact, I think he totally sucked. But is it not possible that one general's blunder, bad mistake, or unfollowed orders can accidentally result in something good? It most certainly can, if you look throughout the entire war, things like this did.

Mike Swogger


Subject: Re: Sickles&Longstreet
In a message dated 95-12-01 20:59:45 EST, you write:

>That by taking the brunt of Longstreet's assault on >ground of little real importance, the III Corps, + reinforcements, >managed to neutralize the assault, bloody Longstreet's troops so they >had no further major role in the battle,

Interesting. Remember that Lee committed 11 Brigades to this attack. That's less than a third. overall, losses ran to 5400 out of 17,000 infantry - bloody but not devastating.

Meade sent 24 Brigades to the fight, out of 50 with the army. His losses ran to 8900, out of about 29000 infantry committed. Overall, these numbers are still about a third, but if you discount the 3-4 brigades of 2nd and 6th corps who lost only about 100 men each, you get losses among the heavily engaged brigades of closer to 35-40 %.

No CSA brigade lost 40 of it's strength. 6 Union brigades did.

The only thing I can make out of this is that it would not have taken Meade almost half his army to stabilize the situation unless Sickles committed forward. This was a great opportunity for the South the almost shatter the Union army, not a lighting rod to uselessly divert the power of Longstreet into some safe channel. Meade lost the use of all of III Corps, and goodly portions of II and V corps as well.

In fact, given their losses, I don't think you can consider Hood and McLaws completely fought out yet earlier. Longstreet's desire not to use them on July 3rd had as much to do with who to replace them with as it did with their action the previous day.

One more thing. The great failure of July 2nd was Ewell's. Had Ewell delivered the kind of smashing attack that Longstreet did, Meade clearly would not have enough reserves to preserve his line. Instead, Ewell committed his freshest troops (Johnson) to flank guarding duties and a grinding but useless fight in the woods along Culps hill. He never got more than two brigades in action at any one time - a dramatic contrast to the moving mass under Longstreet's command. Even so, those troops got in among the Union line at dusk. What might have happened if Ewell's men had delivered another 8-10 brigade assault, spearheaded by Jackson's old Division - clearly one the the better combat units in the army? That, I think, was Lee's best chance for victory, and one of his soundest battleplans.

Dave Powell


From: "James F. Epperson"
Subject: Re: Sickles&Longstreet

I'm going to agree with Dave on this one, and not with my fellow mathematician Norm. Sickles wasn't a goat that gave the tiger indigestion, he was a goat that gave the tiger an opportunity. By deploying forward, without reserves, without secure flanks, he was vulernable. With no line behind him, the army was forced to over-react and commit a large fraction of its reserve strength to shoring up III Corps' collapsing position. The reason that Longstreet's smaller attack force was able to cripple such a large fraction of the Union army is that it engaged it piecemeal, since the reinforcements were all sent into action pretty much as soon as they arrived on the scene.

The stripping of troops from the II Corps sector is what made Anderson's attack possible (and Pender's, if Pender had not been wounded). But the biggest opportunity was mentioned by Dave: if Ewell had attacked in force and with even a modicum of coordination, the stripped Union right could not have dealt with the blow, even with the strong terrain advantage they had. And Meade had committed all his reserves to the left. Sauers's book, A CASPIAN SEA OF INK is a good read on this controversy.

Jim Epperson


From: acameron@tcac.com (Alexander Cameron)
Subject: Sickles and Longstreet

Jim wrote:
>Sauers's book, A CASPIAN SEA OF INK is a good read on this controversy. Jim,
Yes, it sure is. There is also a shorter version which was published in CIVIL WAR HISTORY, Vol XXVI titled "Gettysburg: The Meade-Sickles Controversy".

However, if you haven't already, recommend you also read John Watts De Peyster's "The Third Corps and Sickles at Gettysburg", an address reprinted in GETTYSBURG SOURCES, Volume 2, Baltimore: Butternut and Blue, 1987. You will just go nuts! You can't appreciate all the garbage written in Sickles defense until you read some of it first hand. It's a lot worse than the "Historicus" stuff. Let me give you a sample:

"Meade did not intend to fight at Gettysburg. Meade did not want to fight there... he wanted to leave it... Who saved the Round Tops? Sickles and the Third Corps! No one who is honest will seek to detract from the credit of the insight, foresight, farsight, gallantry and energy of the lamented Warren; but, to emphasize, who was it but Sickles, who, by his tactical comprehension, bold resolution, and brave tenacity, saved the key point of the field at Gettysburg and determined that the great battle of the Rebellion at the east should be fought out then and there. It is utterly useless to attempt to disprove their claim Sickles with his brain and blood, the Third Corps with their bodies and bones... From the highest to the lowest, Sickles was unappreciated and misrepresented... Anyone who blames Sickles, alleging that he left his left flank in air, forgets that it was Meade's proper business to see to the dispositions of his own battlefield... Why was it left to accident and to Warren?... "
My opinion is that the best way to convince yourself of Sickles' shortcomings on July 2, 1863 is to read the stuff written in his defense.

Bill


From: benedict@ns.moran.com (Benedict R Maryniak)
Subject: You the man, Dan

In one of his three written comments about Gettysburg, Lee said he tried again on July 3 because he thought he had what he lacked on July 2 - more concerted effort and better artillery positions. He clearly felt that the batteries along the Eburg Road - where Sickles had been the day before - gave him an edge. Lee would have been there on July 2 if Sickles hadn't.


From: acameron@tcac.com (Alexander Cameron)

Rory Costello wrote: > >

If this ground has been covered before, I hope people don't mind my > restating it. The debatable case in favor of Sickles, as has been noted > here, is that his advance, which exceeded his authority, absorbed the > shock of Longstreet's attack. If Gouverneur K. Warren (whose statue > stands in Brooklyn's Grand Army Plaza) hadn't covered Dan's flank by > rushing troops to Little Round Top, then the Union position would have > been overrun. O'Rorke and Vincent (both killed) and Chamberlain deployed > their men because of Warren.

> > W.A. Swanberg's "Sickles The Incredible" is a colorful biography of the > man, whom I can't help but feel was a lovable rogue, even if he was a > giant blowhard. He had plenty of post-war adventures in addition to the > Philip Barton Key business before. The book also talks about how Sickles > and Longstreet became friends later; Longstreet agreed with Dan and gave > him credit for his action! Of course, Sickles repeated this at every > opportunity, brandishing Longstreet's letter. It was also Sickles who > shepherded the legislation establishing Gettysburg as a park.

> Rory,

If you can access the web page, there is a lot of information archived there on Sickles. Look under discussion topics and you'll find some good posts on Sickles. Also, Dennis has posted Meades' report and the Historicus letter. If you read this stuff and still think there is really any "case in support of Sickles", come on back and we'll discuss it.

I think Sickles was far from a "Lovable Rouge" He was a self-serving pain in the ass who had absolutely no business in uniform. Guys like that get soldiers killed. We've had them in every war. At Gettysburg, he caused Meade to consume reserves piecemeal, failed to protect the flank as he was directed, created a huge gap in the Union line, overextended his line creating an salient which was impossible to defend, and was the direct cause for the wrecking of the 3rd Corps. After the battle, he caused an untold amount of grief and disruption to Meade and the Army selfishly trying to defend his honor. On top of everything else, he didn't have the decency to accept his mistakes and he was one of the great liars in our history.

But every once in a while, some brave soul comes up on this group and suggests that he did a good thing by moving his corps forward to take the brunt of Longstreet's attack. Come on, we'll debate it. Should be more fun than some of the other stuff going on here lately. Bring your flak vest. :)

Bill

PS Some additional reading would be Meade and Sickles' testimony before the Joint Commission, Richard Sauer's MEADE - SICKLES controversy, and the articles in B&L.


From: semperfi@siu.edu (Patrick King)

Greetings,

Rory wrote...
W.A. Swanberg's "Sickles The Incredible" is a colorful biography of the > man, whom I can't help but feel was a lovable rogue, even if he was a > giant blowhard.

When I read Bill's response I was drawn to Don Troiani's painting "Retreat by Recoil. When Longstreet was rolling over Sickles 3rd Corps (Barksdale through the Peach Orchard salient). Captain John Bigelow's 9th Mass battery moved from the Trostle farm to the Weatfield Road east of the Peach Orchard. When they were close to being overrun they were attacked from the west and south. They were able to cover 400 yards while retreating to the Trostle farm. They were commanded by Col McGilvery (Brigade commander) to remain and were the only force remaining between the Confederates and Cemetary Ridge. They were attacked by Col B. G. Humphrey's 21st Mississippi. In the face of point blank fire the Mississippians overran two guns killing Lt Whitaker and Erickson. In this engagement 92 cannister charges were fired by Bigelow's men. Bigelow was wounded and what was left of the battery retreated to Cemetary Ridge leaving all their horses dead and most of their men dead or wounded. It was this unit that was able to delay Longstreet with their heroic stand!

Sickles had gone to Meade and asked if he could post his troops as he saw fit. Meade replied, " (yes) within the limits of general instructions. Any ground within those limits you choose to occupy, I leave to you.". Sickles returned with Henry Hunt (an artillerist sent by Meade) to look at the ground. The low ground at the end of Cemetary Ridge was difficult to defend but he warned that a salient was too open to inderdictory fire and would require the avaible troops to be spread too thin facing attack from a number of directions. He declined to approve the movement and said he would discuss it further with Meade. Sickles heard that Buford had been relieved from left flank duty and heard nothing from Meade. He made his decision to "avoid disaster." He made his move over open ground in full battle formation "bugles blearing and flags waving (Foote), John Gibbon asked Hancock why they had not been given notice of a general advance! Hancock reesponded, "wait a moment and you will see them come tumbling back."

When Meade say this he was agast and told Sickles he was too far out. Sickles said he would withdraw, Meade said "it is too late." McLaws and Hood when looking at the area saw blue troops all along their front were surprised, but in time would learn how thin the line was. One could fault Meade for not being direct and firm with Sickles ( sounds like Lee's and Ewell's disscussion on practibility), but in the long run Sickles placed a great many men in danger. He formed a weak point in the line and put in the defensive battle plan up for grabs.


From: cakes@ix.netcom.com (Eric Wittenberg)

I.tend.to.think.that.the.blame.falls.on.both.Meade's.shoulders.and on Sickles' for the disaster that occurred along the Emmittsburg Road. My biggest complaint about Meade is that he was afflicted with one of the same shortfalls as Lee-his orders were not specific enough to prevent the type of freedom of interpretation that led to this problem. Further, Meade must take the blame for ordering Buford's division from the field without taking adequate steps to make certain that Gregg's Division was in place on the flanks (Gregg was camped along the Baltimore Pike) before ordering Buford away. Instead, Gregg was not brought up in time, and the flank was left uncovered. When Gregg finally did come in, only part of his division made it to the field. The rest got hung up with the Stonewall Brigade at Brinkerhoff's Ridge. Sickles, of course, acted rashly. At the same time, if one walks the entire length of the Cemetery Ridge line, starting at LRT and proceeding all the way to Cemetery Hill, as I have done several times, one will find that the area occupied today by Sixth Corps monuments is not terribly commanding high ground. Indeed, the area around the Peach Orchard is significantly higher, and makes for a much better artllery platform. If the flank had been properly covered, this would not have been such a bad position, since the salient would would either not have existed, or would have been covered. In my opinion, therefore, the blame must be equally shared. The two critical problems that set the stage for this disaster lie with Meade--sending Buford away without ensuring the security of the flank, and in giving ambiguous orders. Sickles deserves blame for acting rashly and for creating a salient, which inevitably leads to problems.


From: SteveH7645@aol.com

In a message dated 96-01-13 17:33:15 EST, you write:

In my opinion, therefore, the blame must be equally shared. The >two critical problems that set the stage for this disaster lie with >Meade--sending Buford away without ensuring the security of the flank, >and in giving ambiguous orders. Sickles deserves blame for acting >rashly and for creating a salient, which inevitably leads to problems.

There are other factors, also. Sickles sent repeated messages to Meade about the situation, messages which Meade chose to ignore. Meade was focusing on a potential Confederate attack on his RIGHT flank, and had little time to think of or explore the possibility of an attack on his LEFT flank.

You are right, and so was Sickles, about the Emmitsburg road position dominating the Federal lines at Cemetary Ridge that Sickles was ordered to defend. In Sickles' defense (and I rather like the guy, as well as being a Third Corps junky myself), Sickles had been in a similar situation at Chancellorsville, being ordered off an excellent artillery position, Hazel Grove, which was quickly occupied by Confederate artillery. The Confederate artillery at Hazel Grove pulverized the Union position. Sickles remembered this, and was determiend not to be caught in the same position again! He had a good point, and if Meade had spent some time examining the position, he would have understood Sickles' fears and done something to allay them, if only to reassure Sickles that things would be ok.

Sickles was wrong to unilaterally take such a forward position, a bad position which placed the army in jeopardy.His reasoning was sound, though, and, as you said, Meade has to take some of the blame.


From: DPowell334@aol.com

In a message dated 96-01-13 18:03:28 EST, Steve wrote:

Sickles was wrong to unilaterally take such a forward position, a bad >position which placed the army in jeopardy.His reasoning was sound, though, >and, as you said, Meade has to take some of the blame.

His reasoning was quite unsound, actually. The Hazel Grove problem has been much exaggerated. A force of enemy guns posted at the Peach Orchard would have been annoying, but hardly decisive, and subject to powerful counterbattery from the Union guns - who could mass a converging fire in return. Ample tree cover was present to screen Union infantry, thus precluding large loss there. Sickles exchanged a well-supported position, with covered approaches and a protected lateral communications line (the Taneytown road) for one twice it's length and unsecured flanks. Taken as a whole, it really was quite stupid. Hancock said as much with his comment about "they'll soon be back again."
From: DPowell334@aol.com

In a message dated 96-01-13 17:33:15 EST, Eric wrote:

on Sickles' for the disaster that occurred along the Emmittsburg Road. >My biggest complaint about Meade is that he was afflicted with one of >the same shortfalls as Lee-his orders were not specific enough to >prevent the type of freedom of interpretation that led to this problem.

That's simply not true, Meade's orders were perfectly specific and appropriate for an Army commander to a Corps commander. Meade specified the objective of the deployment (protecting the Round Tops and extending Hancock's flank) and the general disposition of the corps. That's what corps commanders are for - so army commanders don't have to post every division and brigade. Implying the Meade failed to be specific really reflects badly on Sickles, if he needed to have his commanding officer do his job for him.

>Further, Meade must take the blame for ordering Buford's division from >the field without taking adequate steps to make certain that Gregg's >Division was in place on the flanks (Gregg was camped along the >Baltimore Pike) before ordering Buford away. Instead, Gregg was not >brought up in time, and the flank was left uncovered. When Gregg >finally did come in, only part of his division made it to the field. >The rest got hung up with the Stonewall Brigade at Brinkerhoff's Ridge.

While a legitimate complaint, this is more Pleasonton's fault than Meade's. Pleasonton authorized Buford's departure. While Meade likely could have double-checked to see that Pleasonton adaquately replaced them, it is a bit much to have Meade doing the work of his corps commanders.

Sickles, of course, acted rashly. At the same time, if one >walks the entire length of the Cemetery Ridge line, starting at LRT and >proceeding all the way to Cemetery Hill, as I have done several times, >one will find that the area occupied today by Sixth Corps monuments is >not terribly commanding high ground. Indeed, the area around the Peach >Orchard is significantly higher, and makes for a much better artllery >platform. If the flank had been properly covered, this would not have >been such a bad position, since the salient would would either not have >existed, or would have been covered.

> In my opinion, therefore, the blame must be equally shared. The >two critical problems that set the stage for this disaster lie with >Meade--sending Buford away without ensuring the security of the flank, >and in giving ambiguous orders. Sickles deserves blame for acting >rashly and for creating a salient, which inevitably leads to problems.

This sharing of blame ignores the fundamental fault with the position and Sickles' inability to see it. Had Sickles stayed put, the army's position would have been vastly stronger. No position is without some fault, and Meade understood that an made good decisions in the face of those possible flaws. Sickles, on the other hand, failed to grasp how much weaker his new position was - and, despite attempts at postwar justification, how much in violation of Meade's orders he was.

Dave Powell


From: acameron@tcac.com (Alexander Cameron)

Eric and Steve wrote:
>In a message dated 96-01-13 17:33:15 EST, you write: >

In my opinion, therefore, the blame must be equally shared. The >>two critical problems that set the stage for this disaster lie with >>Meade--sending Buford away without ensuring the security of the flank, >>and in giving ambiguous orders. Sickles deserves blame for acting >>rashly and for creating a salient, which inevitably leads to problems.

>> >> > >There are other factors, also. Sickles sent repeated messages to Meade about >the situation, messages which Meade chose to ignore. Meade was focusing on a >potential Confederate attack on his RIGHT flank, and had little time to think >of or explore the possibility of an attack on his LEFT flank.

> >You are right, and so was Sickles, about the Emmitsburg road position >dominating the Federal lines at Cemetary Ridge that Sickles was ordered to >defend. In Sickles' defense (and I rather like the guy, as well as being a >Third Corps junky myself), Sickles had been in a similar situation at >Chancellorsville, being ordered off an excellent artillery position, Hazel >Grove, which was quickly occupied by Confederate artillery. The Confederate >artillery at Hazel Grove pulverized the Union position. Sickles remembered >this, and was determiend not to be caught in the same position again! He had >a good point, and if Meade had spent some time examining the position, he >would have understood Sickles' fears and done something to allay them, if >only to reassure Sickles that things would be ok.

> > Sickles was wrong to unilaterally take such a forward position, a bad >position which placed the army in jeopardy.His reasoning was sound, though, >and, as you said, Meade has to take some of the blame.

> As a soldier, I've got a problem with your logic. Either Sickles should have moved forward without orders or he should not have. Sharing the blame does not do the dead soldiers any good. They are still dead. All of your points (Buford leaving, the effect of Chancellorville on Sickles and so forth) are covered in Sauers' article. If I were to pick something from the Sauers article, it would be the qoute from that great soldier, John Gibbon. For those who don't have access to Sauers' work, here it is:

A stinging rebuke to this article [Sickles'"Further Recollections of Gettysburg"] was administered by General John Gibbon. Gibbon's main purpose was to inform the public of some details of military orders. He did not argue for or against the forward move undertaken by Sickles. Rather, he initially stated that the Third Corps "was placed in a position to which it was not ordered by General Meade...."Meade ordered Sickles to occupy a line on the left of the Second Corps, and although Sickles was adamant about not receiving any orders to that effect, "neither did he receive any orders to go where he did go." Gibbon reached the central point of his argument by stating that

"In cases of this kind there is and can be but one rule in armies. If a soldier is ordered to go to a certain point on a field of battle, he goes there if he can. If he does not get orders to go there, he does not go, with the one single exception that overwhelming necessity requires him to make the move, when he is so situated that he cannot solicit or receive the orders of his commanding officer."

In this case, Gibbon remarked that Sickles was in close proximity to Meade and he had no orders to move up to the Emmitsburg Road. Gibbon concluded that most of the remarks directed against Meade were based on hindsight and it was generally "Idle" to sit and speculate upon what might have happened under different circumstances.[Richard A. Sauers, "Gettysburg: The Meade-Sickles Controversy", CIVIL WAR HISTORY, Vol. XXVI, p.210. Gibbon's quote is from John Gibbon, "Another View of Gettysburg, NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW, June, 1891, pp. 704-713]

Love that Gibbon!

Bill


From: Norman Levitt

Sickles (again):
My guess is that Sickles may have thought himself the brightest general in the Union Army (which in some sense he may have been) and that everyone else was pretty much an unreliable fool (his experience at Chancellorsville may have had something to do with that). I think he wanted to become de facto commander of the AoP on July 2, and that he sent III Corps into the Peach Orchard knowing the weaknesses of his unsupported force, but thinking to present Meade with a fait accompli, thus forcing him to fill up the gaps and to establish a reserve line with V and parts of II Corps. Obviously, he outsmarted himself, and his men paid the price; minus a leg, he got away with it.

I assume Lincoln supported him because, superficially, Sickles looked more "aggressive" than was customary for AoP corps commanders.

Norm Levitt


FFrom: ATWF68A@prodigy.com (MS EILEEN M MURPHY)

FOR BILL CAMERON..... Bill, I couldn't agree more. On the Civil War Journal episode on Sickles, Brian Pohanka made a comment to the effect that despite all Sickles' shortcomings, you have to love the man! PUL--EASE!!! (Brian must have had his Zouave kepi on a little too tight that week! :-) You have to wonder about anyone who thinks a murdering, cheating, lying, political sleeze ball who alienated his family and caused the death of many of his men in the Peach Orchard had any redeeming value! I'm sure he had a hidden political agenda when he helped establish Gettysburg Battlefield, too. I'd say the only reason Sickles didn't get punished for his actions on July 2, 1863 was due to the fact he was wounded. Then, again, he might have lapsed into another phase of 'temporary insanity' . What do you think?

Eileen Murphy

P.S. Sickles isn't even included on my list of Union warriors!


From: SteveH7645@aol.com

In a message dated 96-01-13 19:20:45 EST, you write:

"In cases of this kind there is and can be but one rule in armies. If a >soldier is ordered to go to a certain point on a field of battle, he goes >there if he can. If he does not get orders to go there, he does not go, >with the one single exception that overwhelming necessity requires him to >make the move, when he is so situated that he cannot solicit or receive the >orders of his commanding officer."

> > In this case, Gibbon remarked that Sickles was in close proximity to Meade >and he had no orders to move up to the Emmitsburg Road.

That is just the point, though. SIckles believed there was overwhelming necessity for the move he made. he informed his commanding officer at least three times of this, and was ignored. From this point of view, SIckles did the soldierly thing, shouldered the responsibility and took action. he should be lauded for that. It turned out to have been a porrly executed move; a professional soldier wouldnt have moved to such a broad front with the number of troops he had to cover the front. Gibbon should have agreed with the move, though.

Gibbons was always my favorite Northern General. Next to Grant and Sherman, of course.

Steve Haas


From: Norman Levitt

Memorials to Sickles:
I grew up in a NY City neighborhood where many of the streets and parks were named after CW generals (Union, of course). I used to go sledding on McClellan Street. Also around were Sherman, Sheridan, Grant, Burnside, and Sedgwick Avenues, as well as Franz Segal Park (there's also a Carl Schurz park elsewhere). But NYC has no street named for Sickles,nor any other memorial, despite the fact that he was a lifelong New Yorker. I guess that tells you how lovable he was.

Still, he was an interesting rogue, not a commonplace one.

Norm Levitt


From: "James F. Epperson"

Eileen sez:

I'm sure he had a hidden political agenda when he helped establish Gettysburg Battlefield, too.

To which I sez:

Of course he did, and it wasn't so hidden: He established the park to the greater glory of himself!

Jim Epperson


From: cakes@ix.netcom.com (Eric Wittenberg)

Certainly Dan Sickles enjoyed a certain degree of political clout. It means that he and Ben Butler got much further in their military careers than they ever could have deserved. Both are examples of the Peter Principal in action. Neither was competent to command large bodies of men. Neither did well. As Samuel Sturgis put it, neither one of them was worth "a pinch of owl dung."

I believe that the only reason why Sickles was not court-martialed and cashiered from the army is because his wound made him a folk hero. It is hard to cashier a legend. Otherwise, I believe that he would have been cashiered from the army. As Bugs Bunny would say, "What a maroon!"

By the way, the Excelsior Brigade's monument at G-Burg was to have a bust of Sickles in it. Legend has it that he stole the money.

Figures. Eric J. Wittenberg


From: SteveH7645@aol.com

In a message dated 96-01-13 21:34:36 EST, you write:

His reasoning was quite unsound, actually. The Hazel Grove problem has been >much exaggerated. A force of enemy guns posted at the Peach Orchard would >have been annoying, but hardly decisive, and subject to powerful >counterbattery from the Union guns

That's just simply not true. For one thing, Hazel Grove DOMINATED the Federal position at Chancellorsville, and was primarily responsible for the Federal's having to abandone their position around the Chancellor house. Sickles was quite aware of this, as he was in the center of the maelstrom.

Secondly, if you've ever walked the peach orchard, you can see how a force of guns on this position dominates Sickles' position. the guns might have been enfiladed from Cemetary Hill; in retrospect, they might have been enfiladed from Little Round Top. However, when Sickles took charge of the position, neither position was occupied by any amount of Federal guns. Little Round top was unoccupied, and certainly didn't have the space for more than a few guns.

In addition, the guns wound up on these heights, or near them, during the bombardment preceeding Pickett's Charge. They certainly weren't silenced in any sense of the word.

I'm not defending Sickles. What I am saying is that he had a point, a point Meade should have looked into. Maybe, if Meade HAD looked into it, he would have agreed, and moved the lines himself, with sufficient supporting troops to make the line effective. Or, he could have told Sickles why the position was untenable. meade did none of the above, as his eyes were facing North, where he believed the Confederates would attack. He was very much at fault for not anticipating the Confederate attack on the left. He deserves censure for this; he was lucky. It could have been worse, and it was a near thing in any case.

Steve haas


From: DPowell334@aol.com

In a message dated 96-01-13 23:07:20 EST, Steve wrote::
As I've just pointed out, there was ample concealment in the Cemetery Ridge line to prevent dangerous exposure to enemy cannon.

As I've also just pointed out, excellent Union arty positions would have made such a forward position (without significant cover) dangerous for any CSA guns, had they become a problem. As Ed pointed out, Hazlett, on LRT, was in an excellent position to do this. Look at the example of the Rebel Artillery on Benner's Hill for what could well happen to any CSA guns at the Peach orchard if they became annoying.

Finally, you are seriously over-estimating the power of ACW artillery in long range bombardment. I suggest you get Stewart's book on Pickett's charge, and study the loss rates due to various causes. Stewart, furthermore, was adressing the issue of close-range arty firing defensively, essentially the the ideal situation for cannoneers to inflict losses.

This was not Hazel Grove, and Sickles is to be faulted for not realizing that...

Dave Powell


From: DPowell334@aol.com

In a message dated 96-01-13 21:21:51 EST, Steve wrote:


>
That is just the point, though. SIckles believed there was overwhelming >necessity for the move he made. he informed his commanding officer at least >three times of this, and was ignored. From this point of view, SIckles did >the soldierly thing, shouldered the responsibility and took action. he should >be lauded for that. It turned out to have been a porrly executed move; a >professional soldier wouldnt have moved to such a broad front with the number >of troops he had to cover the front. Gibbon should have agreed with the move, >though.

Steve,
If Sickles had actually saved the army by some shrewd move, you might have a point. There is still a strong case to be made for following orders, and Bill's post - with the benefit if years of military experience and command time on his own part - is an excellent commentary on the need to follow orders. However, sometimes overwhelming circumstances need to be judged instantly and acted upon. That's why senior officers have discretion, to make such decisions.

However, each decision needs to be judged on it's own merits, and that is the fundametal flaw here. Sickles decision stunk. Had he shut up, stayed in place and followed orders, the Union position would have been much stronger. Instead, he took up a rediculously over-extended position, endangered the flank of the army, and all on his own dime. To say his intentions were good - and I dispute even that, given his past assn with Hooker and resentment over that officer's relief - justifies the decision ignores the stupidity of the actual move.

Dave Powell


<

From: semperfi@siu.edu (Patrick King)

Greetings,

I have to agree with Bill; after two tours in the Corps in Vietnam one obeys orders. Of course I did not fight at a time where officers were elected and movements by a commander were voted on by his staff. Sickles orders were clear, and I believe he did not feel he had to say more than for Sickles to keep within the guidlines. His end of the line was lower but Cemetary Ridge is not a much in the way of high ground anyway. He would have been supported by the middle of the line moving to his end of the left flank. He considered himself to be much more of a general than did his fellow generals. Mant good men died for no reason among the wheat and peaches.

"Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees."

Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson

semperfi@siu.edu Patrick King


From: kgm@rci.rutgers.edu (Ken Miller)

Hey GDG'ers

Please excuse an ignorant question!

According to what I've read, Sickles advanced at 3:00 Pm on the 2nd.

However, Old Pete says " There is no room for doubt of the accuracy of these reports, which go to show that it was one o'clock in the afternoon when Third Corps, upon which the First Corps was to form, was in position."

J.P. Longstreet, "From Manassas to Appomatox," p. 366.

He is clearly referring to Sickle's deployment.

Is there evidence to support this??

I am confused.

Ken Miller


From: SteveH7645@aol.com

In a message dated 96-01-14 10:11:02 EST, you write:

As I've also just pointed out, excellent Union arty positions would have made such a forward position without significantcover dangerous for any CSA guns, had they become aproblem. As Ed pointed out, Hazlett, on LRT, was in anexcellent position to do this. Look at the example of the RebelArtillery on Benner's Hill for what could well happen to any CSA guns at the Peach orchard if they became annoying.

Yes, yes, but as I pointed out, when Sickles took his position, there were NO UNION ARTILLERY ON LITTLE ROUND TOP (emphasis added so I don't have to repeat this). And the Union artillery on Cemetary Hill was pointed towards the North, and was of minimal scope.

Finally, you are seriously over-estimating the power of ACW artillery in long range bombardment. I suggest you get Stewart's book on Pickett's charge, and study the loss rates due to various causes. Stewart, furthermore, was adressing the issue of close-range arty firing defensively, essentially the the ideal situation for cannoneers to inflict losses.

This was not Hazel Grove, and Sickles is to be faulted for not realizing that...

But you are proving my point; the Confederates didn't have to worry about Artillery counter-battery fire; it didn't really silence anything during Pickett's charge, and wouldn't have been a problem for the Confederates along Emmitsburg road. It WOULD have been a problem for Federals on Cemetary Hill; maybe not a major one, but it would have been a problem that Sickles had to deal with. He felt the best way to do this was the way he chose. As I said, he was wrong, though if he had had another Corps to defend his line (and the Fifth Corps was available), the line probably would have held.

As with Lee's attack plan on the second day, which was based on faulty intelligence, poorly planned and sighted, and which ultimately failed, Sickles has to be taken to task because he failed. However, if one looks at the situation from his point of view, it has to be admitted that he has a point. The point could have been argued, perhaps, by sound military personel, but no one was listening to him! YOU might not think the situation analogous to Hazel Grove. Sickles thought it was. THAT is what the problem was.. His objections to the position assigned him along Cemetary Hill were valid. They were not dealt with by his superiors.

Sickles took initiative, based on his idea of what he considered a commander in chief who was ignoring a basic flaw in the Federal lines, in the true spirit of American Arms, in the best interest of his troops, the army and the country.

Steve Haas


From: SteveH7645@aol.com

However, each decision needs to be judged on it's own merits, and that is the fundametal flaw here. Sickles decision stunk. Had he shut up, stayed in place and followed orders, the Union position would have been much stronger. Instead, he took up a rediculously over-extended position, endangered the flank of the army, and all on his own dime. To say his intentions were good - and I dispute even that, given his past assn with Hooker and resentment over that officer's relief - justifies the decision ignores the stupidity of the actual move.

Ok, Dick, look at it from this point of view. What would you have said if Sickles had found a serious flaw in his lines, say if he had found Confederates lining up against his flank, he had told headquarters about this, received no reply, done nothing about it, and had his flank caved in a la Chancellorsville. Would you not consider him to be at fault for not taking action he knew had to be taken? Would he be more at fault for following orders and allowing the Federal lines to be flanked, or for taking action? Even if, in his inexperience, the actions taken were wrong?

Please, I'm not defending Sickles' final line. It was flawed. But he knew something was wrong, and no one was listening to him. He took it upon his shoulders to act, and I have to give him credit for that. As I said, if Meade had sent the Fifth Corps to bulk up the line before the attack, the line would have held, Longstreet's attack would have failed miserably, and Sickles would have been a hero. Luck of the draw.

Steve Haas


From: James F. Epperson (epperson@s10.math.uah.edu)

On Sun, 14 Jan 1996 SteveH7645@aol.com wrote:

Please, I'm not defending Sickles' final line. It was flawed. But he knew something was wrong, and no one was listening to him.

I think this is the beginning of the disagreement. I question whether anything was wrong at all. Sickles's original line was connected on the right flank to the rest of the Union army, and anchored on the left flank by LRT. He had no indications that Confederates were on his flank at all. The 3rd Maine, et al, recon revealed Confederates on his right front, not his flank. (And I am unsure of the chronology. Did that scrap occur before or after he took his new line?)

I basically see his actions as indefensible on several grounds. Bill Cameron has already spoken to the military discipline issue. Dave Powell has already spoken to the inadequacies of the line he took up. And I question whether he had any shred of a justification for acting on his own, even if his ultimate line had been perfects.

Jim Epperson


From: SteveH7645@aol.com

In a message dated 96-01-14 19:16:48 EST, you write:

However, Old Pete says " There is no room for doubt of the accuracy of these reports, which go to show that it was one o'clock in the afternoon when Third Corps, upon which the First Corps was to form, was in position."

J.P. Longstreet, "From Manassas to Appomatox," p. 366.

Weygant, in his "History of the 124th NYSV" has the Third Corps in position by 3:00; they first saw Confederate artillery at 3:30, so they would have had to have been in position. In any case, he describes the men as having spent the afternoon lolling in the grass instead of building breastworks, which would indicate a long afternoon at Devil's Den...


From: Norman Levitt (njlevitt@math.rutgers.edu)

Sickles claimed he lacked adequate troops to maintain a solid line from the left of II Corps down to LRT. Has anyone examined this in detail?

Norm Levitt


From: DPowell334@aol.com

In a message dated 96-01-14 19:16:48 EST, Ken wrote::

According to what I've read, Sickles advanced at 3:00 Pm on the 2nd. However, Old Pete says " There is no room for doubt of the accuracy of these reports, which go to show that it was one o'clock in the afternoon when Third Corps, upon which the First Corps was to form, was in position."

J.P. Longstreet, "From Manassas to Appomatox," p. 366.

He is clearly referring to Sickle's deployment.

Is there evidence to support this??

Trying to pin down exact times for movements on a 19th century battlefield is tricky at best. Nobody kept the same time on thier watches, so that you often get variances of several hours in time estimates from participants in the same event.

I believe that Sickles advanced between 1 and 2 p.m. 3 p.m. is much too late, given the lenghth of time it would take to deploy a corps in the new line, as well as bring up the numerous reserve batteries Hunt reinforced that line with. Pretty much all of these troops were in position in the new line by 3:30 to 4:00 p.m., when Longstreet's column arrived to find them blocking the way, and 30 minutes to and hour is much too short a time to deploy 10,000 men in that position. The math just won't work if Sickles didn't advance until 3.

Dave Powell


From: DPowell334@aol.com

In a message dated 96-01-14 19:19:53 EST, Steve wrote:

The point could have been argued, perhaps, by sound military personel, but no one was listening to him!

Meade sent Hunt, a qualified officer of high rank, to examine the situation. Sickles was paid attention to. Hunt clearly realized that Sickles' proposal would radically alter the defensive scheme of the army, and decided to defer to the Army commander.

YOU might not think the situation analogous

to Hazel Grove. Sickles thought it was. THAT is what the problem was... His objections to the position assigned him along Cemetary Hill were valid. They were not dealt with by his superiors.

His objections to the position were not valid, given the vastly greater weaknesses of the position he proposed. I don't see how you can make the logical leap that the move forward, however much poorer the position taken up, was a good one because the one he was directed to hold was not perfect. In essence, he exchanged an adaquate one for a _really_ bad one, almost textbook in what not to look for in a defensive line.

Sickles took initiative, based on his idea of what he considered a commander in chief who was ignoring a basic flaw in the Federal lines, in the true spirit of American Arms, in the best interest of his troops, the army and the country.

Steve,

I will never argue against initiative: a commander who stifles initiative in his subordinates is looking to be defeated because he cannot fill all command slots at the same time. But I think you miss my point. My heartburn with the move is based on the quality of the decision Sickles made - and the choice made here was full of elementary errors in tactics and judgement, which needlessly shattered Third Corps. Sickles cost Meade the combat effectiveness of an entire Corps of the AOP, because he made a stupid decision to advance. War is not a place for bumblers who "mean well."

BTW, much of the "Hazel Grove" is post-war justification of that move, published in numerous letters and articles defending Sickles - even hailing him as the savior of Gettysburg. Alas, Sickles won _that_ fight for many years. I'm not quite so convinced his "heart was pure" as you are, I'm afraid.

Dave Powell


From: DPowell334@aol.com

In a message dated 96-01-14 20:29:02 EST, Norm Levitt wrote:

Sickles claimed he lacked adequate troops to maintain a solid line from the left of II Corps down to LRT. Has anyone examined this in detail?

One of my favorites. Yes, that line was a little long - that's why 5th Corps was positioned in reserve with an eye towards supporting this flank.

But, by the same token, it totally shreds Sickles' own arguments for taking up the advanced line. THAT line was over twice as long, and with exposed flanks to boot! How in the hell could he expect to defend that?


From: lawrence@appsmiths.com (Robert W Lawrence)

If I might oversimplify the discussion a bit. In my opinion the problem was that Sickles had no real military training. He had garnered the idea that it was best to take the high ground and seeing the Peach Orchard was higher ground that he was on away he went. I doubt if he thought about the problem of creating a salient-in fact up until that day he probably didn't even know what one was!

The controversy was helped by two factors;

1. Sickles got to Lincoln first.

2. Sickles was a prodigious writer after the war.

Quite frankly i can't see how anyone could support such an obviously ill conceived, ill planned BLUNDER!

Robert Lawrence From: thumphri@nafis.fp.trw.com


From: (Thad Humphries)

lawrence@appsmiths.com (Robert W Lawrence) wrote

If I might oversimplify the discussion a bit. In my opinion the problem was that Sickles had no real military training. He had garnered the idea that it was best to take the high ground and seeing the Peach Orchard was higher ground that he was on away he went. I doubt if he thought about the problem of creating a salient-in fact up until that day he probably didn't even know what one was!... Quite frankly i can't see how anyone could support such an obviously ill conceived, ill planned BLUNDER!

I quite agree. I have often wondered if losing his leg wasn't what kept Dan Sickles from being court marshalled as he should have been. You know, the "noble, wounded hero" and that crud.

Thad Humphries


From: DPowell334@aol.com

In a message dated 96-01-15 10:51:43 EST, Bob wrote:

If I might oversimplify the discussion a bit. In my opinion the problem was that Sickles had no real military training. He had garnered the idea that it was best to take the high ground and seeing the Peach Orchard was higher ground that he was on away he went. I doubt if he thought about the problem of creating a salient-in fact up until that day he probably didn't even know what one was!

Basically, I think I'd agree with this, Bob, but I'd reinforce the caution that it _is_ an oversimplification...

Sickles was not a bad Corps commander, overall, doing fairly well at Chancellorsville. I think I might put him in the catagory of gifted amatuer, a man who was a quick learner and picked up enough Military skill to handle many aspects of command.

However, at Gettysburg, things got more complex - and there he lacked the depth and background to understand the need to remain in place and secure that flank, overriding his own desire to advance. In effect, he stumbed, and badly, when confronted with a situation that required something less straightforward than "attack" or "retreat."

Also, clearly his resentment of Meade over Hooker's relief got the better of him. Like many amatuers, Sickles had reached the conclusion that he knew as much or more than the fussy old professionals who always seemed to prepare for the worst. Since he'd been lucky and had very little "worst" in his military career so far, he tended to dismiss professionals as useless. Hubris, if you will.

Dave Powell


From: acameron@tcac.com (Alexander Cameron)

Ken Miller wrote:

Hey GDG'ers

Please excuse an ignorant question!

According to what I've read, Sickles advanced at 3:00 Pm on the 2nd. However, Old Pete says " There is no room for doubt of the accuracy of these reports, which go to show that it was one o'clock in the afternoon when Third Corps, upon which the First Corps was to form, was in position."

J.P. Longstreet, "From Manassas to Appomatox," p. 366.

He is clearly referring to Sickle's deployment.

Is there evidence to support this??

I am confused.

Ken,

Don't be confused. Longstreet was just flat wrong. He incorrectly interpreted the signal messages (the "reports" to which he was referring. They are in the paragraph you are talking about on page 366 of FROM MANASSAS TO APPOXATTOX). These two flag signal messages were sent by Lt. Arron Jerome (Buford's Signal Officer) from Little Round Top. You can see the entire text of the messages on pages 487-8 of part 3, OR 27. Jerome was observing Berdan's foray against Anderson's Division. All of this happened prior to the advance of the 3rd Corps. This reconnaissance was one of the reasons Sickles decided to advance. If you are interested in more detail, see my article in GB Mag 3. It is also covered in my Signal Staff Ride Dennis is fixing to post to the web page.

Bill


From: SteveH7645@aol.com

In a message dated 96-01-14 20:09:13 EST, you write:

I basically see his actions as indefensible on several grounds. Bill Cameron has already spoken to the military discipline issue. Dave Powell has already spoken to the inadequacies of the line he took up. And I question whether he had any shred of a justification for acting on his own, even if his ultimate line had been perfects.

Ok, I think that does come to the nub of the issue; what was wrong with Sickles' position? I think there are several answers to this.

1) It was undefined. Meade's orders to Sickles told him to 'occupy the position formerly held by General Geary (of the 12th Corps). Geary had left the position before Sickles got there, there was no guide, and Sickles had a very vague idea of what position he was ordered to occupy. He knew it had something to do with connecting with the 2nd Corps' left flank, and extending the Cemetary Ridge position, but that was all.

2) The position outlined in #1 was a low, marshy area, with little or no defensible position before Little Round Top.

3) Before him Sickles could see an excellent artillery position, along Emmitsburg road. This position masked the enemy from him, if the enemy chose to mass prior to an attack on his position. That is, the enemy could mass without Sickles being able to disrupt the enemy.

4) Sickles DID know the enemy was massing on his front. The 3rd Maine, of his Corps, and Berdan's Sharpshooters had become embroiled in a rather sharp fight with parts of Longstreet's attacking column, and had reported seeing large masses of enemy marching towards Sickles' left. Again, Sickles reported all of this to Meade, and was ignored. He felt his position was threatened, and chose to seek a better, more defensible position, to meet this threatened enemy attack. So, from Sickles' point of view, there was a threat, his position was weak, and he had to take some sort of action.

Steve Haas


From: SteveH7645@aol.com

Meade sent Hunt, a qualified officer of high rank, to examine the situation. Sickles was paid attention to. Hunt clearly realized that Sickles' proposal would radically alter the defensive scheme of the army, and decided to defer to the Army commander.

My reading of Hunt was that he didn't disagree with Sickles; in fact, he was alarmed. He did defer to the army commander, as he felt he did not have the authority to overule Meade's order.

His objections to the position were not valid, given the vastly greater weaknesses of the position he proposed. I don't see how you can make the logical leap that the move forward, however much poorer the position taken up, was a good one because the one he was directed to hold was not perfect. In essence, he exchanged an adaquate one for a _really_ bad one, almost textbook in what not to look for in a defensive line.

Welllllll, I'm not defending the position; it WAS a good position, just too big for one Corps to man, and it had a big problem of leaving the left flank in the air. It was very defensible though. I've walked the position, and the line from Peach Orchard to Devil's Den and Little Round Top is a lot better than the Cemetary hill position. As I said, one Corps was not enought to man it, though. That was Sickles' fault, and it was a faulty judgement that a good military officer wouldn't have made.

But I think you miss my point. My heartburn with the move is based on the quality of the decision Sickles made - and the choice made here was full of elementary errors in tactics and judgement, which needlessly shattered Third Corps. Sickles cost Meade the combat effectiveness of an entire Corps of the AOP, because he made a stupid decision to advance. War is not a place for bumblers who "mean well."

Yes, we agree on this. As I said, I've never defended the move, or the position. I'm saying that one can understand SIckles' distress, and why he made it. I think he had a valid point.

BTW, much of the "Hazel Grove" is post-war justification of that move, published in numerous letters and articles defending Sickles - even hailing him as the savior of Gettysburg. Alas, Sickles won _that_ fight for many years. I'm not quite so convinced his "heart was pure" as you are, I'm afraid.

Oh, no, Sickles wa a great rogue. He lied after the battle to enhance his own position. I rather like him, though. He was quite colorful.

Steve Haas


From: Grant_Troop@fcgate1.osc.on.ca (Grant Troop)

In a message dated 1/14/96, Steve wrote:

YOU might not think the situation analogous to Hazel Grove. Sickles thought it was. THAT is what the problem was.. His objections to the position assigned him along Cemetary Hill were valid. They were not dealt with by his superiors.

What a delight to return from the weekend and find all these posts about Sickles! I noted references to Chancellorsville and Hazel Grove thrown about throughout the thread, so I thought I'd get in my opinion. While the situation seems superficially similar, there are in fact significant differences between the Hazel Grove and Peach Orchard positions at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg respectively. At Chancellorsville, the reason that Hazel Grove was such a devastating artillery position for the ANV is that it enfiladed much of the Union line on May 4th. Sickles 3rd Corps had been pulled back by Hooker to defend the apex of the Union line at Fairview - with Stuart attacking from the west and the rest of the ANV under Lee attacking from the east, Sickles was in a vise. All Alexander had to do was line 'em up from the Hazel Grove position (due south of Fairview) - he couldn't miss. On this I agree - this was an experience that Sickles should remember well.

However...at Gettysburg, the Peach Orchard was not an enfilading position to the Cemetery Ridge line. Sickles knew the ANV was lining up on Seminary Ridge parallel to his line. Thus, if Sickles did interpret it as analogous to Chancellorsville, as he purports, then he shows a lack of insight in and understanding of military deployment. In fact, he comes across as an amateur if lied about it or not - the mere fact that he chose such a story undermines his credibility.

I have a feeling that Sickles outfoxed himself on July 2nd - by moving forward off the Cemetery Ridge line to avert being pulverized by ANV artillery from the Peach Orchard (if indeed he really did think this), he opened himself up to exactly the type of enfilading fire he hoped to avoid. It's true the Wheatfield-Rose Farm-Houcks Ridge area became a tangled mess of enfilading fire for both sides - but it's hard to imagine this was by Sickles' tactical design, nor does it exonerate him from blame for misreading the situation.

Sickles should have followed Meade's orders - if he didn't have enough troops to fill out his line down to include the RT's, then he should have expended his efforts in convincing Meade to deploy the Fifth Corps in the line, rather than arguing for a forward defense.

Regards to all,

Grant Troop


From: acameron@tcac.com (Alexander Cameron)

Steve wrote:

Ok, I think that does come to the nub of the issue; what was wrong with Sickles' position? I think there are several answers to this.

1) It was undefined. Meade's orders to Sickles told him to 'occupy the position formerly held by General Geary (of the 12th Corps). Geary had left the position before Sickles got there, there was no guide, and Sickles had a very vague idea of what position he was ordered to occupy. He knew it had something to do with connecting with the 2nd Corps' left flank, and extending the Cemetary Ridge position, but that was all.

Geary maintained that he sent a staff officer to explain where the position was and Sickles told the staff officer he would attend to it "in due time". Geary said that he waited until his patience was exhuasted and left.[Sauers, the primary source is, Meade to Benedict, March 16, 1870. I have both references] Regardless, Sickles rode to Meade's headquarters and Meade told him, "Why, you were to relieve the Twelfth Corps" Meade further stated, "He [Sickles] said they had no position; they were massed, awaiting events. Then it was I TOLD HIM HIS RIGHT WAS TO BE HANCOCK'S LEFT, HIS LEFT ON ROUND TOP, WHICH I POINTED OUT" [Emphasis is mine. awc, source is Meade to Benedict].

Dave has already answered all that other stuff. BTW, Berdan came in contact with A.P. Hill's troops, not Longstreet's.

So, from Sickles' point of view, there was a threat, his position was weak, and he had to take some sort of action.

I don't disagree that this was sickles point of view. He was however, very wrong and wrecked a whole damn army corps because of his actions.

In another message you wrote:

He lied after the battle to enhance his own >position. I rather like him, though. He was quite colorful.

Golly, I don't quite know what to say. I sure as hell don't like him. If Schwartzkopf, Powell, Luck, Franks or Yeosock had done something similar, I bet you wouldn't like them or think they were "colorful". I betcha you'd think they were flaming SOB's and you'd be right. Time shouldn't make a difference.

Bill


From: SteveH7645@aol.com

In a message dated 96-01-16 11:02:28 EST, you write:

Sickles should have followed Meade's orders - if he didn't have enough troops to fill out his line down to include the RT's, then he should have expended his efforts in convincing Meade to deploy the Fifth Corps in the line, rather >than arguing for a forward defense.

No one is arguing that point, nor the point that Sickles was not an experience army officer. An experienced officer wouldn't have done what he did. (Hmmm...that brings up another point, which I'll get to later). You all aremaking too much of the Hazel Grove analogy, and not seeing the point. Sickles' position at Gettysburg was not precisely like Hazel Grove. The similarity was that Sickles saw both as a good artillery position he was giving up at the orders of higher command. He had been pulverized at Chancellorsville when he gave up Hazel Grove. He didn't want to give the enemy another good artillery position if he didn't have to. The Hazel Grove analogy only fed into his general unease about a position he considered to be inferior.

Look, all of the people here are trying to brand Sickles as an incompetent. he wasn't. He was a shrewd, canny politician (not a soldier, a politician). Of course he was trying to aggrandize his position. So were most of the other officers in the AOP, the so-called professional soldiers there. If you are to understand why Sickles did what he did, you have to understand what was going on in his mind.

Sickles saw (as did many others in the army) military glory as a route to political gain after the war. In order to succeed, he had to have the glory. It wouldn't do to make foolish moves. Sickles did what he did for what he considered to be sound military reasons. The point is to understand what these reasons were. They were NOT frivolous. They were well based. The position he took WAS, in many ways, suprior to the Cemetary Hill position he had been assigned to; it was on an elevation, commanded the country around him and had good defensive ground on his left. It was an excellent position except for two faults; he couldn't defend it with the number of troops he had, and his right was up in the air. Contrarily, the Cemetary Hill position, from Sickles' point of view, was on low, marshy ground, and was dominated by the heights above him (how many generals do you know ever took a defensive position on the BOTTOM of a hill?).

Again, I make the point that he was wrong to take matters in his own hand. He shouldn't have done it. My point is, the main point I'm making, that Meade bears a major part of the responsibility for this. He should have known that Sickles was a weak reed in his organization, and when Sickles repeatedly sent him messages expressing his fears, Meade should have responded in a more forceful way than sending over an officer (General Hunt) with no authority to do anything. Meade didn't like Sickles, thought the right to be a safe position, and had his eyes on the North, expecting the Confederates to attack his right and center. Meade was more surprised than anyone when Longstreet attacked on the left.

That's about it. I'm rather tired of the discussion, as it is going in circles....everyone is so eager to look for bad guys in this war, without thinking that people might really have been doing the best job they could under very difficult circumstances. Sickles did an excellent job at Chancellorsville, and was not as bad as some of the professional soldiers in the AOP.

One other point, a digression. One of the problems with the AOP was the fact that too few of the generals there were willing to take the initiative. maybe if there were more go-getters like Sickles (and I compare him to Phil Sheridan, in a lot of ways), the AOP would have done better. The AOP was always a slow, Conservative force, unwilling to take chances. I guess one reason I like Sickles is because he was willing to take chances, take the bull by the horns.


From: John Kelly (jkelly@argo.net)

At 06:31 PM 1/14/96 -0600, Jim Epperson wrote:............

And I question whether he had any shred of a justification for acting on his own, even if his ultimate line had been perfects.

If one stretches the point, there may be a shred of justification, tied to Sickles's Hazel Grove experience. As you all know, infantry at Gburg had not developed the habit of entrenching. George Greene did it on Culp's Hill, but that was the exception, and a fortunate exception. Officers at the time generally followed French military doctrine which held that entrenchments robbed an army of its fighting spirit.

Sickles' original Cemetery Ridge position was, or at least is now, in an area with scattered woods, rock outcroppings, and small clearings. With CSA artillery at the Peach Orchard, Sickles could have feared that III Corps would be subjected to a murderous bombardment, made worse by the lack of entrenchments and the splintering of trees and rocks. Even if not very accurate, long-range artillery fire is demoralizing to foot soldiers. After a prolonged bombardment, the case could be made that the soldiers on Sickles' original line would not be able to stand up to the inevitable assaultAfter his experience at Chancellorsville, this could be behind Sickles' decision to move up to his ultimate line. Regardless of his logic, that decision was, of course, a disaster to III Corps, and nearly to the Army of the Potomac. This is being sent under the new anvil-less format. Hope it gets thru OK.

Regards,

Jack Kelly


From: lawrence (Dennis Lawrence)

Steve wrote of Sickles' position.....

It was an excellent position except for two faults; he couldn't defend it with the number of troops he had, and his right was up in the air.

To quote brother Bob:

"When asked how the theatre was, Mrs. Lincoln replied, "Fine, except for one incident."

Steve, You receive the tenacity award this month! :-) Hope you are able to join us at the muster so we can stand back and watch you and your adversaries walk the Sickles' line!

Dennis


From: "James F. Epperson" (epperson@s10.math.uah.edu)

I am not convinced the forward position is all that much better than the one he took. IIRC, the Peach Orchard is only 40 feet higher than the low point on Cemetary Ridge along Sickles's line as planned by Meade. Now here is where it gets tricky. I =used= to be very familiar with that section of the park, but it has been years since I was there. So take what follows with several rocks of salt. My memory is that the only real bad spot of ground on the line Sickles was supposed to take is the low point, approximately where the road from the Wheatfield hits the main N-S park road along Cemetary Ridge; perhaps a bit north of there. Anyway, to the north of that low spot there is a decent slope in front of Cemetary Ridge; to the south of that you begin to get the slope of LRT. If Sickles puts troops on LRT, he can see if anyone is massing behind the Peach Orchard ridge, and his subordinate Birney testified that he was able to figure the orders out to the extend that he knew to put troops on LRT. (This is from Sauers, I think.) So I am not convinced the position was all that bad.

But Steve may be right that we should let this go. This is something that we all appear to feel strongly about so I doubt if anyone's mind is going to be changed. I am curious, though, if my dim recollections of the geography are correct.

Jim Epperson


From: SteveH7645@aol.com

In a message dated 96-01-16 19:44:52 EST, you write:

Sickles' original Cemetery Ridge position was, or at least is now, in an area with scattered woods, rock outcroppings, and small clearings. With CSA artillery at the Peach Orchard, Sickles could have feared that III Corps would be subjected to a murderous bombardment, made worse by the lack of entrenchments and the splintering of trees and rocks. Even if not very accurate, long-range artillery fire is demoralizing to foot soldiers. After a prolonged bombardment, the case could be made that the soldiers on Sickles' original line would not be able to stand up to the inevitable assaultAfter his experience at Chancellorsville, this could be behind Sickles' decision to move up to his ultimate line. Regardless of his logic, that decision was, of course, a disaster to III Corps, and nearly to the Army of the Potomac.

My point exactly. I quite agree.


From: SteveH7645@aol.com

In a message dated 96-01-16 21:17:07 EST, you write:

Steve, You receive the tenacity award this month! :-) Hope you are able to join us at the muster so we can stand back and watch you and your adversaries walk the Sickles' line!

Hahaha. Yeah, I have some strong opinions on some subjects. One of those is I hate to see someone impeached or lauded in a knee-jerk fashion. I like to see everyone as a multi-faceted character (well, almost everyone; Burnside was definitely incompeten as an army commandert. Even he admitted it). Sickles did ok at Chancellorsville. One has to give him some sort of credit for smarts. I hate the deification of Bobby Lee for the same reason. Nolan was the first to really try to paint an alternative viewpoint on him that painted him as less than perfect. I would love to make the muster, but probably can't. Illinois is just too far away, and I'm saving my LONG trip for a trip to South Dakota and the Badlands, and the Wilderness reenactment in May...

Steve Haas


From: lawrence@appsmiths.com (Robert W Lawrence)

In a message dated 96-01-16 21:17:07 EST, you write:

Steve, You receive the tenacity award this month! :-) Hope you are able to join us at the muster so we can stand back and watch you and youradversaries walk the Sickles' line! I hate the deification of Bobby Lee for the same reason. Nolan was the first to really try to paint an alternative viewpoint on him that painted him as less than perfect.

Saying that Nolan painted Lee as less than perfect is the understatement of the year. Nolan did to Robert E Lee what Stone did to Nixon.

lawrence@arthes.com


From: SteveH7645@aol.com

In a message dated 96-01-16 21:17:07 EST, you write:

My memory is that the only real bad spot of ground on the line Sickles was supposed to take is the low point, approximately where the road from the Wheatfield hits the main N-S park road along Cemetary Ridge; perhaps a bit north of there. Anyway, to the north of that low spot there is a decent slope in front of Cemetary Ridge; to the south of that you begin to get the slope of LRT. If Sickles puts troops on LRT, he can see if anyone is massing behind the Peach Orchard ridge, and his subordinate Birney testified that he was able to figure the orders out to the extend that he knew to put troops on LRT. (This is from Sauers, I think.) So I am not convinced the position was all that bad.

Yes, I rather agree with you. The bad part of his position was just to the North of Little Round Top. It doesn't get any sort of elevation for several hundred yards. it is basically flat. It might have been ok with an anchor on Little Round Top....but I still agree with Sickles that the line along Emmitsburg road to the Peach Orchard, down Rose Farm to Devil's Den is inherently a stronger position. Except for the right flank, and I don't know what even Meade could have done about that. The other fault is the line is just that much more less compact than a line along Cemetary Ridge. I think this deserves some debate, and I'm not completely sold on either position.


From: SteveH7645@aol.com

In a message dated 96-01-16 22:56:25 EST, you write:

Saying that Nolan painted Lee as less than perfect is the understatement of the year. Nolan did to Robert E Lee what Stone did to Nixon.

I Beg to differ (of course). Stone did an illiterate hatchet job. I think Nolan had a lot of good points, and he had references for all of them. Obviously I'm not in love with Lee either (g).


From: SteveH7645@aol.com

, you write:

He lied after the battle to enhance his own position. I rather like him, though. He was quite colorful. Golly, I don't quite know what to say. I sure as hell don't like him. If Schwartzkopf, Powell, Luck, Franks or Yeosock had done something similar, I bet you wouldn't like them or think they were "colorful". I betcha you'd think they were flaming SOB's and you'd be right. Time shouldn't make a difference.

Yeah, and Patton was a flaming SOB too...Custer was too. They were all colorful, though. I prefer them as historical characters to someone like, say, Ike Eisenhower. Great general, but who knows anything about him, or even cares?


From: "John A. Leo" (johnleo@mail.erols.com)

At 11:13 PM 1/16/96 -0500, you wrote:

....but I still agree with Sickles that the line along Emmitsburg road to the Peach Orchard, down Rose Farm to Devil's Den is inherently a stronger position. Except for the right flank, and I don't know what even Meade could have done about that. The other fault is the line is just that much more less compact than a line along Cemetary Ridge. I think this deserves some debate, and I'm not completely sold on either position.

It appears to me that the discussions regarding Sickles and his Salient always leave out one element or another of Sickle's actions. The argument can not simply be put forward that the "new line" was stronger than the "orignal", (nearly what Meade intended) line. We must include in one parcel all the other factors such as numbers of men needed to hold that new line and the "right flank in the air" problem that just doesn't go away under under any argument that I can imagine. The various Corps of the AOP were intended to be stronger than the sum of their parts through carefully designed mutual support. Sickles unilaterally undermined Mead's plans and weakened the army's OVERALL position. Even if the "right flank in the air" problem and the undermanned line assumed by the III Corps and other problems could be made to completely disappear, Sickle's action did not strengthen the Army of the Potomac, which was supposed to be his reason for being. Even if his initial position had been LOCALLY weak, it still strengthed Meade's AOP overall line. As for the rascally rogue picture put forth by some, I'd rank Sickles among the slimiest characters of his two chosen professions - Politions and lawyers. His intelegence and skills were not used to better mankind, or to even help the few individuals that he came into immediate contact with. Rather it was only used to project his amoral, raw, ego. All in all, Sickle's life seems to have been a negative one, he hurt others more than he helped them, and society would have been better off if he hadn't existed. (does this still qualify as a "humble opinion"?)



Subject: Re: 9am near Round Top

Alexander Cameron wrote:

If Longstreet had been a little earlier it wouldn't have made any difference. Sickles was in a better supported position before he moved forward. (waiting for an incoming round from Steve H.)

Having walked that area of the field several times and studied tactics I can not agree that Sickles had a better position than his "advanced" position. His original position put him at the base of the west slope of Cemetary Ridge. Granted this is not a very high ridge at this point. But his main problem was what was in front of him not behind him. He was in effect in a valley created by the rise where the Peach Orchid is located and the ridge behind him. After moving to this much more defendable position he was pushed off the high ground. To quote/paraphrase Meade "My God if he can't hold the top of a hill, how can he hold the bottom?" Meade said that at Chanclorsville of course but the truth of the statement remains. If Sickles could not hold the high ground from the Peach Orchard to The Devil's Den. How can one say his original position was more defendable. E. Porter Alexander describes in his book how he was able to bring artillery to bear on Sickles' advanced position and drive him off the high ground. He also expresses his disappointment when he rode up to the Peach Orchard and realized that the Yankees had another line on a smaller ridge behind it. It was then according to him that he realized that all the success up to that point was for naught. Because McClaws did not have enought fresh troops to take the second ridge.

Had Longstreet attacked early, McClaws would not have had to try and take two ridges. He proved he could take one. Please feel free to criticize me. I must admit Gettysburg, although I only live 1 hour away, is not my favorite battlefield. My Favorite is Sharpsburg. (Antietam to Yankees, Anteatahm to the Indians/Native Americans)

Vic


From: "James F. Epperson"
Subject: Re: 9am near Round Top

Others can do justice to this topic, but I thought I would try my hand at it. Consider the following:

(a) Sickles's original line was shorter than the advanced one, and had both flanks anchored -- the right on Hancock, the left on LRT. The advanced one was longer, and both flanks were in the air.

(b) The original line was closer to the support troops.

(c) The Peach Orchard is only 40 feet higher than the dip in Cemetery Ridge -- hardly a serious difference.

(d) The Peach Orchard is a bald hilltop, exposed to fire from a wide arc, all of which was in the direction of Longstreet's approach march.

(e) Longstreet's orders were not to attack the position that Sickles was to have taken up originally. He was supposed to advance up the Emmittsburg Road to take the (supposed) Federal line in flank. If Sickles does not advance to the Peach Orchard, then Longstreet probably attacks up the road, thus presenting his right flank to III Corps.

(f) The only advantage that the delay gave to Meade was that it allowed V Corps to get a little rest and it allowed VI Corps to get closer to the field.

Jim Epperson


From: kgm@rci.rutgers.edu (Ken Miller)
Subject: Re: 9am near Round Top

Jim Epperson raised some great points. A minor quibble: according to topographic maps the difference in elevation between Cemetary Ridge (measured near Weikert House) and the maximum elevation of the Peach orchard is less than 30 ft, and is closer to 20) ft. This latter figure has been mentioned before, and illustrate the little elevational difference.

Source: GNMPPa, Civil War Battlefied Ser., Trailhead Graphics (available form GNP book store) commonly referred to as the "monuments and markers" map

I must admit that Vic has a way of stirring the pot; this does keep the group awake!

Ken Miller From: Victor Vernon
Subject: Re: 9am near Round Top

Steve Haas wrote:

Vic:

I agree with your analysis. We had this argument about a month ago, where I took on the whole GBG on Sickles. Sickles' line might not have been optimal, but I think his criticism of the line he was ordered to take was justified, and should have been look on by the Federal High Command.

In my opinion, Sickles would have been driven from his position on Cemetary Ridge. Hood, attacking from the South, would have surrounded LRT and and taken it.

Steve Haas

I didn't know the group has covered this ground. And I didn't wish to open old wounds. But like Burnside at Antietam, Sickles has been given a BUM RAP. His movement forward had only one flaw: the shape an inverted V which allowed attacks from 2 fronts. Other than that it is, in my humble opinion, correct to say that Sickles saved the day for Meade on 2 July. Sickles was a politian and not a member of the old boy West Point clique. These great Generals could not admit that someone like him could handle troops. But he distinguished himself at Chanchlersville and at Gettysburg. Again my opinion.
I consider him to be a more than adequate general I rank Longstreet with Grouchy.

Vic


From: lawrence@appsmiths.com (Robert W Lawrence)
Subject: Re: 9am near Round Top
vicv@voicenet.com wrote:

I didn't know the group has covered this ground. And I didn't wish to open old wounds. But like Burnsides at Antietam, Sickles has been given a BUM RAP. His movement forward had only one flaw: the shape an inverted

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
V which allowed attacks from 2 fronts.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Other than Booth how did you enjoy the play, Mrs Lincoln?"

As you point out the line Sickles took up was flawed. The line he left was not. A lot of men paid the price for Sickles blunder. He left a line that was anchored on both ends and had clear fields of fire looking down a gentle slope. He ended up with an exposed salient over a mile closer to the confederate artillery & troops on seminary ridge. Imagine how much easier it would have been to reinforce Sickles if had had stayed where he was told to. Would Paddy O'Rorke and Strong Vincent still be alive if they had not rushed to cover the flank exposed by Sickles blunder? Would Cross have died on the slopes of the stony hill if he had been able to stay on cemetery ridge and wait for the enemy to come to him? Needless to say I disagree with you.

Robert Lawrence


From: DPowell334@aol.com
Subject: Re: 9am near Round Top

In a message dated 96-03-06 20:07:27 EST, Mike wrote:

Dave,

I think you've hit the nail on the head with Buford being the trump card in the morning. I am by no means an expert on this part of the battle and your post has left me with some hanging questions.

1. If the lead elements of the 5th corps were just arriving at 9:00AM would they have been able to deploy quickly enough to reinforce a possible Confedrate victory in the AM?

5th Corps was around as early as Sunrise, but a little further to the east. (they pulled a night march. Tom Desjardin's book deals with this, so he might supply some more detailed answers.) They shifted in the early A.M. to the line along Granite Schoolhouse Road, where they were massed in reserve. As I recall, they starting arriving along that road around 8 or 9. However, they were well in hand, had a couple hours to rest, and were already massed for movement. I think they could have deployed fairly easily, given any sort of advance warning like Buford might provide.

2. If there had been a coordination in the attacks on the right and left and Ewell had attacked when he heard Longstreet's guns as ordered would the shufffling of troops from right to left still been possible?

3. With this same coordinated attack in mind would Longstreet's echelon attack have drawn reserves from the center of the line instead of the right flank weakening the center of the line. So that by the time Wilcox, Perry and Wright hit they would have a better chance of breaking through and holding onto what they attained?

I really see these two issues as related. Sickles' historical line was in dire straights very shortly after Longstreet's intitial contact, and Meade clearly sensed the precarious nature of it almost before the guns were opened - he had Hancock sending forward Caldwell very promptly.

Sickles sucked all those reserves forward because his line was too fragile, and only desperate action could salvage the situation. However, a shorter line, closer to it's reserve, might well not need that kind of massive response. In that case, it's quite possible that Caldwell stays put and helps fend off Anderson's brigades. In essense, Hancock gets to fight the action he was planning for - with the troops he initially counted on.

Ditto for 12 Corps - if no need exists to strip out these guys from the other flank, it's quite possible that the north end of the line has sufficent mass to deal with an attack in greater strength from Ewell.

Of course, now we're building supposition upon supposition here. Speculation is about all we can do. The baseline for me, however, is how much of his reserve Meade gets to retain after any one crisis. Meade proved he knew how to commit troops in the decisive moment, but the historical 3rd Corps crisis burned up virtually all of those reserves.

Dave Powell


From: "John A. Leo"
Subject: If Sickel's left was on LRT, where was his mind?

Major. Gen. David B. Birney
U.S. Army, Commanding First Division of, and Third Corps.
August 7, 1863

{paragraph 8}: At 7a.m., under orders from Major-General Sickles, I relieved Geary's Division, and formed a line, resting on the Sugar Loaf Mountain and the right thrown in a direct line toward the cemetary, connecting on the right with the Second Division. My picket line was in the Emimitsburg road, with sharpshooters some 300 yards in advance.

............................. I believe that August 7, 1863 was prior to the eruption of the controversy between SIckles and Mead and before Sickles claimed (in Historicus) that Geary had had no "position" that Sickles knew of, and that Geary was instead simply massed somewhere near LRT

Birney, to my knowledge, steered clear of the controversy and certaiinly had no ax to grind four weeks after the battle when his action report was filed. Is it possible that our "rascal" Sickles had lapses of memory like some of our 20th Century Presidents?

. Altogether now (with feeling): What did Sickles know, and when did he know it?

John Leo


From: Victor Vernon
Subject: Re: If Sickel's left was on LRT, where was his mind?

Are you implying that Birney might be "deep throat"??? :-)
Or could it be that the doctors amputated something from the other end of Sickles? (opposite his leg).
Vic


From: benedict@ns.moran.com (Benedict R Maryniak)
Subject: Sickles' leg

Dan took his leg with him when he left Gburg (don't know if he managed to recover the actual artillery projectile) and had the bones set in a small black casket. At one point, tickets were sold to view these relics but Sickles eventually gave it to the army medical museum, where he then visited periodically. Not West Point, but Walter Reed Hospital in the Washington DC area. In the words of NPS strong man Frank Hebelthwait, "once you get to Walter Reed , Sickles' leg pales in comparison to the world's longest tapeworm and a hairball in the shape of the human stomach it filled."

Ben Maryniak


From: benedict@ns.moran.com (Benedict R Maryniak)
Subject: Magnificently-Despicable Dan

In response to Terry - Fred Hawthorne's GBURG: STORIES OF MEN & MONUMENTS mentions the unrealized plan to place a bust of Sickles inside the Excelsior Brigade monument, but he doesn't tie it to the NYS Monuments Commission troubles. Since the monument was dedicated July 2 1893, the explanation would have to be that the delayed addition of Sickles' bust was later scrubbed completely because of his sticky fingers. For GDGers who might be interested, the affair is covered in Swanberg's SICKLES THE INCREDIBLE. Dan was chairman for nearly 30 years. During 1912, it was discovered that Sickles' expense vouchers didnm't account for $28,476 of the $445,641 given to the Commission. Dan's son Stanton soon paid $5000 of it, and Dan himself (aged 93) took sole responsibility when the NYS Attny Genl stated his intent to go after all eight members of the Commission. He was spared arrest when a surety company posted a $30,000 bond in January of 1913.

All of you GDGers who spend your children's milk money on Civil War books will feel kindred to Sickles, who was LOOSE with money. In 1887, his father left an estate of five million dollars, but, when Dan went to his "reward" in 1914, his daughter Eda was still sueing him for her share of it and banks were foreclosing on him. Swanberg says he lost four million on Wall Street over his lifetime.

Then there's the story I never want to verify because I like it so much. Dan's last "donation" to the Gburg Park that allegedly came after his death. A metal fence that was to be used to divide the civilian Evergreen Cemetery from the Natl Cemetery. Dan bought it when Lafayette Park in Washington (where Dan had drilled philandering Phil Key) was being renovated. A sort of monument to Dan's earlier craziness, it went to Gburg as further proof of his nefariousness! I'd have the man sign my mitt anyday!!

Ben Maryniak


From: lawrence (Dennis Lawrence) Subject: Sickles a Jailbird?? Considering that at 93, he was on his "last leg", why did they bother to put him in jail???

Paula

Hi, Paula,

Don't worry too much about Dan spending his twilight years in the caboose.

The following sugar coated account is from a book written by a friend of DS's grandson in 1945. A willing suspension of disbelief is needed to get through the whole thing.

"Friends followed him to jail, instantly bailed him out. On every corner the newsboys shouted, 'The General arrested. General Sickles goes to jail!' And overnight, from North and South came alike a burst of protests, a shower of wires, bales of letters, sizzling with indignation and proffering assisstance. Helen Longstreet followed a telegram of passionate concern with an eloquent letter to the press apealing for suspended judgement, public generosity to him who had been unfailingly generous. An unkown admirer, a Mr. William Dodge, of Ohio wrote offering to take the General's note for the entire deficit - some twenty-five thousand dolars. Contribtions from Blue and Gray poured in. And what gave much of the pathetic drama to the incident - Caroline, after thirty-seven years of absence, hearing of her husnband's difficulties, arrived at by the earliest boat in New York, bringing with her rich heirloom jewelry to offer in payment of the default. Somehow, from hundreds of sources, in a torrent of public sympathy and endorsement, the general's confused misplacement of funds was made good. Bewildered he could only understand that he was vindicated, and by a world of friends."

Gag, spew, choke. Old Dan never was at a loss for supporters who would buck up a seemingly unbuckable reputation.

Dennis


From: curlew@cts.com (David Clark)
Subject: Sickles Saves the Day

Moved by Dennis' post about (almost) jail bird Sickles, I thought I should share a few lines from Horatio King which I found in "Sickles the Incredible" by W.A. Swanberg.

I see him on that famous field,
The bravest of the brave,
Where Longstreet's legions strove to drive
The Third Corps to it's grave.
The fight was bloody, fierce and long,
And Sickles' name shall stay
Forever in the Hall of Fame
As he who saved the day.

David Clark


From: curlew@cts.com (David Clark)
Subject: Re: Old Dan & Helen Longstreet

Norman Levitt says:

Dan Sickles and Pete Longstreet became great pals after the war, probably because both were "outcasts" in the debatges that followed the war. They used to tour the field together; and Longstreet's praise for Sickles was probably the best evidence DAn could put forward that he'd done the right thing by moving out to the Peach Orchard.

Norm Levitt

Right you are, Norm!

When Sheriff Harburger returned home from his attempt to arrest ol' Dan, he found a letter from Sickles stating that there had once been criticism of his tactics at he battle of Gettysburg, but that this criticism had been laid to rest by a statement from General Longstreet. "You will see from the statement from General Longstreet that I won the great and decisive battle of Gettysburg."

Pete's widow, Helen Longstreet sent Dan a telegram when she learned of his troubles that read;

"My soul is sorrowed by your troubles. Am wiring the attorney general of New York that I will raise money among the ragged, destitute, maimed veterans who followed Lee to pay the amount demanded if the New York officials will allow sufficient time. We are writting into our history the story of degenerate descendants of heroic sires. The Republic, whose battles you fought, will not permit your degradation."

Strong stuff, indeed. Having made the "goat" by their respective sides post-war seems to have cemented a close bond between these old opponents.

David Clark


From: arnoldfl@carlisle-emh2.army.mil (arnoldfl)
Subject: Re[2]: Greetings

This is my first foray into the group, so bear with me. When looking at Sickle's forward position on the 2nd, one needs to bear in mind that the Army DID HAVE a commander, who had been very pro-active in his administration of his army's position throughout the day:

1) All the msg traffic, to include on-the-ground intelligence, has told Meade that Confederate activity had heretofore been on his right. Meade, thus, reacted to the best information at hand, by fully reinforcing his right and leaving reserves in a position where they could efficiently reach either flank.

2) When msg traffic arrived indicating that there was Confederate activity (Longstreet) on his left, Meade would have been ready to respond in kind. Perhaps at that point, Sickles may have been moved to the position Meade had ordered him to say away from (Emmitsburg Road Line).

3) Sickles' movement deprived the Army Commander of several options, including a response in force to the threat posed by Longstreet.

4) Had it not been for the Signal Corps (Hey, Bill), Sickles would have been bacon faster than it already was.

5) Bottom line, Meade was acting at the operational level, Sickles was quite aware of his commander's intent but was making independent decision(s) at the tactical level contrary to the operational intent, and as a result almost three full corps (V, II and XII) had to be re-aligned to compensate for the position.

6) When evaluating Sickles' position outside of the whole picture, consider this...he moved from a relatively weak position stongly defended to a strong position weakly defended. I deal with professional soldiers on a daily basis. Everytime this question has arisen in casual or structured discussions, professional soldiers will opt for the original position, with the knowledge that there were reserves in a posture to offer full support.

Louise Arnold-Friend


From: Steve Haas Subject: Sickles

Dave Powell wrote:

fundamentally flawed - for two reasons. First, it was almost twice as long as his original position, and the 3rd Corps had nowwhere near enough troops to man a line that long. Hence the new line was essentially an overly thin crust defense with inadaquate reserves. Second, it was too far forward, beyond the close support of 2nd and 5th Corps, and this only exacerbated the lack of reserve problem.

Both points are perfectly valid, Dave. In fact, you left out the third flaw in Sickles' line; the right hanging in the air with no way to connect with the rest of the Federal line on Cemetery ridge.

However, the argument before was the fact that Sickles was right in thinking his original, assigned position was inadequate. Meade simply refused to listen to Sickles; he didn't like Sickles, Sickles was not a professional soldier, Sickles was a friend of Hooker, and Meade was convinced that Sickles' sector was a quiet one. The Confederates were SUPPOSED to come from the North. No one blames Meade for not looking to his right flank. I believe he was quite culpable. Remember, Henry Hunt basically agreed with Sickles, though he told Sickles he should wait to get word from Meade before changing his position (rightfully so).

If Sickles had been able to convince the Federal High command of his point, that the Cemetery ridge position was inadequate and dominated by the heights along Emmittsburg road, and if the Fifth Corps had joined him on the line he chose, then it is quite possible, if not probable, that Longstreet's attack would have been stopped cold in its tracks. The line itself was good; just undermanned. Except for the right flank, of course, and I have no answer for that; perhaps the trained military men of the time would have come up with something.

Stephen Haas


From: DPowell334@aol.com
Subject: Re: Sickles did something alright!

Joe wrote:

I try to stay out of controversies like this because of the high emotion from defenders/supporters of Sickles, but Ray touched on something I feel is vital.
Any discussion concerning the Sickles controversy (IMHO) cannot include the end results. It is not relevant to ponder what effect the move had on Longstreet or anyone else. The question would seem to simply be:
- Does a Corps commander have the right to second guess the commander of his army regardless of his opinion on the correctness of his original orders? Isn't this the precise thing that the chain of command is supposed to eliminate?
As 'Historicus', if my memory is correct, Sickles boasted of actually acting independently of Meade on three separate occasions (the march to Gettysburg, deciding not to attend the council on time, and the advance of his position). Sorry to all defenders, but I don't see where that kind of behavior is what a corps commanders duties are supposed to be - regardless of what later

Joe Avalon

The Subject of initiative has always been a touchy one - given that a subordinate is expected to use his initiative, and indeed is applauded for it, when the situation deems. Prior to modern communication, Corps Commanders and other senior officers were expected exercise judgement when the Army commander couldn't be in two places at once.

On the other hand, a subordinate exercising his initiative was expected to do so in order to *support* and *further* the Army Commander's objectives. This last point tends to get glossed over by in discussion of an event, even by historians. Of course, just what furthers the army objective is the kind of question that fuels both historical debate and seats courts-martial.

Ultimately, it has been largely a results-driven kind of process. Military men have generally regarded the use of initiative as full of attendant risk - in other words, if you use your own judgement, you'd better make the risk pay off, because if the gambit fails, yours is the head that rolls. While not an ideal process, it *is* one that works - mostly because this is all very subjective stuff. Good officers do use initiative, and efforts to stifle that kind of response are deadly in any army in any time - but too liberal use of independent judgement is no less a disaster.

In that light, it is tough to me to see merit in Sickles' actions simply because he he moved his command. Aside from the military merits - or lack of - inherent in the move (which have been amply debated on both sides in past posts) Sickles ultimately advanced for personal goals. As his inordinate pride in boasting about disobeying his superior suggests, I think he was driven more by spite for Meade than a genuine concern for the flank. Oh, to be sure, Dan Sickles thought he knew more about military affairs than any three West Pointers ever graduated, and so felt free to make judgements about the deployement of the army; but the real reason he advanced was that he held Meade in complete disdain.

One final note: I have trouble seeing this as Dan Sickles 'acting aggressively.' he did nothing of the sort. He intended no attack, not even a probing action to determine the force against him. He merely exchanged one defensive point for another, and once in the new position, he didn't even do much by way of recon to see what faced him in the woods ahead.

Dave Powell


From: Steve Haas
Subject: Re: Greetings

Dave Powell334 says:

fundamentally flawed - for two reasons. First, it was almost twice as long as his original position, and the 3rd Corps had nowwhere near enough troops to man a line that long. Hence the new line was essentially an overly thin crust defense with inadaquate reserves. Second, it was too far forward, beyond the close support of 2nd and 5th Corps, and this only exacerbated the lack of reserve problem.

Both points are perfectly valid, Dave. In fact, you left out the third flaw in Sickles' line; the right hanging in the air with no way to connect with the rest of the Federal line on Cemetery ridge.

However, the argument before was the fact that Sickles was right in thinking his original, assigned position was inadequate. Meade simply refused to listen to Sickles; he didn't like Sickles, Sickles was not a professional soldier, Sickles was a friend of Hooker, and Meade was convinced that Sickles' sector was a quiet one. The Confederates were SUPPOSED to come from the North. No one blames Meade for not looking to his right flank. I believe he was quite culpable. Remember, Henry Hunt basically agreed with Sickles, though he told Sickles he should wait to get word from Meade before changing his position (rightfully so).

If Sickles had been able to convince the Federal High command of his point, that the Cemetery ridge position was inadequate and dominated by the heights along Emmittsburg road, and if the Fifth Corps had joined him on the line he chose, then it is quite possible, if not probable, that Longstreet's attack would have been stopped cold in its tracks. The line itself was good; just undermanned. Except for the right flank, of course, and I have no answer for that; perhaps the trained military men of the time would have come up with something.

Stephen Haas


From: acameron@tcac.com (Bill Cameron)
Subject: Re: Sickles The Irrepressible

Suzanne, here is what Lincoln said to Sickles. It was in response to Sickles request for a court of inquiry.

"Sickles, they say you pushed out your men too near the enemy, and began the fight just as that council was about to meet, at three o' clock in the afternoon of the battle. I am afraid that what they say is true, and God bless you for it. Don't ask us to order an inquest to relieve you from bringing on the battle of Gettysburg. History will set you all right and give everbody his just place, and there is glory enough to go all around."

Bill

Willowreed@aol.com says:

Didn't Ole Honest Abe Lincoln congratulate Dan Sickles as the person who brought on the victory at Gettysburg?
Don't recall Abe doing that...Do you have any sources? have a good night..

s.


From: Steve Haas
Subject: Re: Sickles did something alright!

At 11:40 PM 5/7/96 +0000, John Leo wrote:

I really believe that there are parrallels between the lives of Sickles and another self-agrandiizing General, Benedict Arnold. Interstingly, both were shot in the leg. But Arnold was not at GB, so such comparisons should be done by private E-mail.

John Leo

Sure, John, and, as I've said before in this forum, I'm not going to defend Sickles, though I personally have a higher opinion of him than most. Whatever his motivations, you didn't answer my principle point, that Sickles, alone of the Union Generals, was trying to take the battle TO the Confederates; to be pro-active instead of passively waiting for them to come to him. And, he WAS in a perfect position to meet the Confederate attack as it developed.

Steve Haas


From: DPowell334@aol.com
Subject: Looking high, looking low...

Steve wrote:

I don't know if he was there too early to see Longstreet...I don't think it makes a difference. AS I said, his report places him back to Birney at 2:00....this would have been sufficient to see Confederate movement...

Hi Steve,

Steve, Berdan was indeed there too early to see Longstreet. The time he reported back to Birney is not germane to that argument. He could not have seen "Confederate movement" (I take it you mean Longstreet) standing back in the Federal lines talking to Birney at 2:00 p.m. Berdan began to withdraw from his advanced position at 11.55 a.m. This is the latest he would have been in position to observe anything and it was long before Longstreet had advanced to the point where Berdan could have observed him. [O.R. 27, 3, p. 488]

Bill

I agree with Steve about this: Berdan's Recon was imoportant in Sickles' Mind. However, where we diverge - and the point I was trying to make originally, but none to clearly, I suspect - is that Sickles advanced his corps on a single, out of date report, whose info was 3 hours old. His advance was not adaquately screened by light forces during the event. He never got the cavalry he was promised, another strong argument to do some recon on his own. Instead, he took the whole Corps forward.

Consider for a moment that had Berdan's info been absolutely correct, (and Sickles seemed to regard it as highly significant) CSA infantry would have been moving across his front for about 3 hours, taking up unknown positions both in front of him and assumably on his flank. In effect, he was advancing blindly into a force of unkown size and unkown deployment.

Now let's look at his method - Humphreys advanced his entire division massed in column of division, like a parade. I don't know if the details were done on Humphreys' orders, or if Sickles was responsible for this, but I do know that Sickles disliked Humphreys and did not tell him much, if anything, about what he might face. However, had Longstreet been in place, this move could have been devastating to the Union. Cought by suprise on the move, outnumbered, and likely out-generaled, I suspect that III Corps would have been routed in short order. Now Meade wouldn't even have a speed-bump on the right.

My original point, then, Steve, was that Sickles failed to properly screen his advance once he dicided to move, and did little to recon the enemy position once he was in place. This is why I don't think Berdan's effort was germaine to the point at hand. Certainly, however, it was an important element in the decision to go forward.

Dave Powell


From: Ddavis@VAX2.Winona.MSUS.EDU (Dick Davis)
Subject: Sickles' Retreat

Steve said:

And, of course the 1st MN was not 'almost trample' by anyone. There was no general rout on the part of the III Corps...every report indicates a slow, steady withdrawel in the face of the enemy. Give me some details of Federal Units that were 'almost trampled by Sickles' men running for their lives." I'd love to see the documentation.

I'd be happy to help. Following is the documentation. These are quotes from infantrymen from the 1st Minnesota -- combat veterans of five major battles. They were on Cemetary Ridge in the middle of the action and saw what happened. These are not the words of historians trying to prove a point or of generals trying to clear their names; they are from eye witnesses to the event. These accounts are devastating to General Sickles.

All of these quotes can be found in the original documents listed or in Richard Moe's outstanding book _The Last Full Measure_. These writers describe the scene in ways that support my belief that the Minnesotans "were nearly trampled by Sickles' men running for their lives." I suggest that that description is closer to the mark than "a slow, steady withdrawel in the face of the enemy."

The first eye witness I'll quote is Col. William Colvill, commanding officer of the 1st Minnesota, a man who nearly lost his life filling the gap Sickles created. He wrote it in a paper called "The Old First Minnesota at Gettysburg."

"Gen. Hancock was with us, and immediately dismounted and with all his energy sought to rally them. Our field and staff also dismounted and aided him. It was useless; they were perfectly demoralized. Then the rebel line, following, came in sight across the hollow, looming through the smoke, and pushed down the slope into the bottom, their left extended out on the terrace--we could not see how far. The last of Sickles' men had passed, and this skirmish line opened a scattering fire upon us."

The second eye witness I'll quote is William Lochren, infantryman in the 1st MN; this is taken from _Minnesota in the Civil and Indian Wars, 1861-1865_ written in 1891.

"[Sickles' men were] broken and in utter disorder, rushing down the slope... across the low ground, up the slope on our side, and past our position to the rear..."

The third eye witness I'll quote is an infantryman from the 1st MN who also wrote for the Minnesota newspaper the "St. Paul Pioneer." He called himself "Sergeant." He sent in this report on August 9, 1863.

"The Third Corps gave way and came to the rear in squads carrying back men, flags and wounded, and running over our ranks in spite of all our attempts to rally them."

Dick Davis


From: Martjim@aol.com
Subject: Re: gettysburg V1 #137

Steve wrote:

Give me some details of Federal Units that were 'almost trampled by Sickles' men running for their lives." I'd love to see the documentation.

steve:

check gettysburg magazine july 1995 article on the 19th Maine...documentation is cited in the article about some panic in the III Corps...also check Richard Moe's book on the 1st Minnesota....there is documentation there as well...pp.267-270.

Gen Humphries, on the other hand, said his men went back slowly firing as needed....it was most likely a combination of both...panic by some men and slow fighting withdrawal by others.

jim martin


From: Martjim@aol.com
Subject: Re: Dandy Dan Sickles

No matter how many books the person has published or how many experts agree, they are still opinions.

to vic

let me put it to you this way and i mean no disrespect to your opinions:

i will still take as the most accurate account of the 2nd day the considered educated judgements of coddington, who made a life long study of the written record, and harry pfanz, who served as the chief NPS historian at g-burg for approximately 20 years..and spent most of those years preparing to write the definitive history of the 2nd day.

until someone comes up with new information on the 2nd day that casts a new light on the 2nd day..i will trust their judgement as unbiased and professional historians who considered sickles's case...and found it wanting.

jim martin


From: Steve Haas
Subject: Coddington, Alexander, Weygant on Sickles

The action with the 3rd Maine and Berdan's was in the morning - It is only remotely connected to the move forward. It is, btw, no evidence of an impending flank attack, since the recon discovered troops from Anderson's CSA division, well north of the left flank of the 3rd Corps. An attack on the Union center, mayhap. No flanking move in evidence here tho.

Just not true, Dan. Berdan reported his skirmish and observations to Birney at 2:00. He reported that "the enemy had three columns of troops in motion to the rear of the woods in motion toward the Union left." (OR XXVII, pt. 1, pp. 352-353). For a Corps which had just come from the catastrophe at Chancellorsville, this would sound alarms all over the place. It might not have been a VALID argument for an impending flank attack, but, at the time, no one NEEDED a valid argument.

To quote from Coddington (no supporter of Sickles; I KNOW this...y'all don't have to tell me (g))

"Sicklse also liked the open character of much of the country in which he formed his line, for it reduced the danger of Confederate surprise attack. He [Sickles] and other Union soldiers could not forget the gloom of the Chancellorsville wilderness when thousands of Confederates, screened by dense underbrush, had suddenly burst upon the startled Yankees screaming like banshees. It was enough to unerve even the toughest veterans, and Sickles was not going to have his men suffer the fate of the Eleventh Corps. Meade, he felt, had assigned his ccorps to low ground which seemed to be hemmed in by dark woods on all sides and he could not wait to break out of these bounds into bright sunlight.

My main point, however, is that once Dan the man took up his "Best Position," he did absolutely nothing to determine what he faced over there in Biesecker's woods - he barely threw out a skirmish line. The advance SHOULD have been preceeded by significant recon - it wasn't at all. Hence my comment on the lack of recon.

Yes...quite agree with this....though NO ONE in the Federal command seems to have done this...Weygant's book certainly indicates the lack of interest of those on the sight in finding out what was going on in front of them. However, there is also strong evidence that they were aware that SOMETHING was going on in front of them. There is mention of the continuous popping of skirmisher's rifles off to the West and South, of seeing the glinting of bayonets....my feeling was the soldiers knew something was going on there. But there was no reconassaince besides Berdan's that I know of.

Next, Meade did NOT ignore his left. A quick glance at a map will show that the amount of support available was divided equally between north and south, and had Sickles remained in place, the integrity of this line would not have been in question. Certainly Meade did not have time to hand-hold Sickles every moment, but he did make sufficent provision to meet an attack from that quarter.

No, but he WAS focusing on his right. There is no indication that he ever even visited the left until his 3:00 meeting with Sickles. It is not that he didn't have plans for the left, but the plans, if any, were OFFENSIVE, not defensive. I quote from Weygant and Meade's report of the battle,

Weygant,

" At mid-day a cloud of dust was discovered in the dim distance, and at two p.m. Sedgwick's advance brigade arrived upon th scene; whereupon General Meade mounted, and, after ordering the Fifth Corps, WHICH HAD HELD POSITION ON THE RIGHT (my emphasis) to move over to the left....he inteded to personally superintend the positng of his old corps on the left of the Third, for it was his intention to prolong his line in that direction...."

Meade,

" About 3 p.m. I rode out to the extreme left to await the arrival of the Fifth corps and post it....Having found Major General Sickles, I was explaining to him that he was too far in advance, and discussing with him the propriety of withdrawing, when the enemy opened upon him with several batteries in his front and his flank, and immediately brought forward columns of infantry and made a vigorous assault. The Third corps sustained the shock most heroically."

There does not seem to be a sense of urgency on anyone's part with regards to the left. Sickles' movement was noted and filed away and, when Meade had everything else prepared, he went over to Sickles and began remonstrating about his position. I have a feeling that everyone there recognized that Sickles had taken a better position; it was just out of line, and had to be brought back.

You forced me to go to the books for this, Dan...I won't hold that against you (g)...my resources are limited here...if I want to do some REAL research on it, I have to go to Madison, WI, about an hour away...if necessary I will do it, but really don't think the point worth it...the argument is fun, though...I think it a wonderful intellectual excersize.

I leave you with some other thoughts. There was some discussion about Longstreet's letter before, and the fact that of COURSE Longstreet couldn't have known what he was talking about; he was a doddering old fool at the time and angry at the other Confederates.

Here is Porter Alexander's thoughts on the same subject. Porter was no fool, was not old when he wrote this, and possessed one of the best minds in the Confederate army.

"...While on the subject, I may say that in my judgement it was no harm to Meade to have our charge expend its first fury upon an advanced line in front; where the shank line in rear gave such fine opportunity for artillery to cover the retreat of troops from the front. And Sickles claims that his advanced position is what gave Meade the victory, and in my opinio he has reasonable groud for thinking so...."

Stephen Haas


From: R D Winthrop
Subject: Re: Coddington, Alexander, Weygant on Sickles

I, too, find Alexander to be an unusually interesting source, but his notes for what was to become Fighting_for_the_Confederacy were begun at the end of the 1890's when he would have been nearing 60(?).

If source of his comments is those ledger-book notes, they were written about 35 years removed ...

Regards -rdw


From: John Kelly
Subject: Re: Sickles did something alright

! At 12:32 PM 5/10/96 GMT, Steve Haas wrote:

Just not true, Dan. Sickles was the ONLY one who sent out any sort of reconnassance; Berdan's Sharpshooters and the 3rd Maine had a real sharp skirmish the the Confederates, and were the only ones to report the Confederate flank march. Sickles sent repeated warnings of this attack, which were ignored by the Federal high command.

Steve:

Sorry to get into this so late, but just returned from a trip.

Hiram Berdan led the 2nd USS and the 3rd ME in the recon. They slightly disrupted Wilcox's move into the north end of Pitzers Woods, but did not in any way have any contact with Longstreet's flank march. They were several hours too early. See Harry Pfanz, GETTYSBURG - THE SECOND DAY (pp 97-103). Probably Berdan's report was overstated (he having very little front-line experience-at least in the presence of unfriendly fire), and I believe that I read something of Berdan's report in an article on the recon in a past GETTYSBURG magazine. Postwar embellishments by Berdan and Sickles inflated the importance of this reconnaissance, Sickles to prove the merit of his deployment of III Corps and Berdan to counter those ever-recurring rumors of personal cowardice.

Major Tremaine of III Corps staff went to Meade with the report from Berdan (through Birney) and Meade told him, essentially, to rely on the cavalry to cover the left flank along the Emmittsburg Road. Pleasonton had been ordered to replace Buford's force, which he had withdrawn earlier, and Pleasonton had ordered Gregg into that position "as soon as practicable". That time never became "practicable", I guess, because Gregg never made it, but Meade assumed that his orders to Pleasanton had been obeyed. This lack of cavalry support on the left was one of the main points advanced by Sickles as a reason for his move to the Peach Orchard.

A question here: Where was Gregg, and why did he not obey Pleasanton's order?

Jack Kelly


From: Susan & Eric Wittenberg
Subject: Re: Sickles did something alright!

Jack:

Gregg tried to get there. He made his approach along the Hanover Road. When he got west of the intersection of the Low Dutch Road and the Hanover Road, he came under fire from Confederate infantry on Brinkerhoff's Ridge. The men of his divsion were fairly well pinned down there the rest of the day.

Hope this helps.

Eric Wittenberg



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