1

Pickett’s Charge

For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it’s all in the balance, it hasn’t happened yet, it hasn’t even begun yet, it not only hasn’t begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances which made more men than Garnett and Kemper and Armstead and Wilcox look grave yet it’s going to begin, we all know that, we have come too far with too much at stake and that moment doesn’t need even a fourteen-year-old boy to think This time. Maybe this time with all this much to lose and all this much to gain:  Pennsylvania, Maryland, the world, the golden dome of Washington itself to crown with desperate and unbelievable victory the desperate gamble..

William Faulkner, Intruder in the Dust

 

 

One hundred and fifty-five years since the inaptly named Pickett’s Charge.  It was of course Lee’s Charge since the attack was by his order and was his concept.  Although manfully Lee took full responsibility after the failure of the attack, blame was heaped upon Pickett for not doing the impossible.  General Pickett, who graduated last in his class at West Point and who was a pre-war friend of Abraham Lincoln, was not the brightest bulb among Confederate generals, but he was blessed with a keen sense of humor.  He was frequently questioned after the War as to why the attack failed.  His stock response was to fall silent, ponder the question, and state solemnly:  “I’ve always thought the Yankees had something to do with it!”.

 

Tall Pickett went up to Longstreet-his handsome face was
drawn.
George Pickett, old friend of Lincoln’s in days gone by with the
blast,
When he was a courteous youth and Lincoln the strange shawled
man
Who would talk in a Springfield street with a boy who dreampt of
a sword.

Dreamt of a martial sword, as swords are martial in dreams,
And the courtesy to use it, in the old bright way of the tales.
Those days are gone with the blast. He has his sword in his hand.
And he will use it today, and remember that using long.

He came to Longstreet for orders, but Longstreet would not
speak.
He saw Old Peter’s mouth and the thoughts in Old Peter’s mind.
He knew the task that was set and the men that he had to lead
And a pride came into his face while Longstreet stood there
dumb.

“I shall go forward, sir,” he said and turned to his men.
The commands went down the line. The grey ranks started to
move.
Slowly at first, then faster, in order, stepping like deer,
The Virginians, the fifteen thousand, the seventh wave of the
tide.

There was a death-torn mile of broken ground to cross,
And a low stone wall at the end, and behind it the Second Corps,
And behind that force another, fresh men who had not yet
fought.
They started to cross that ground. The guns began to tear them.

>From the hill they say that it seemed more like a sea than a wave,
A sea continually torn by stones flung out of the sky,
And yet as it came, still closing, closing and rolling on
As the moving sea closes over the flaws and rips of the tide.

You could mark the path that they took by the dead that they
left behind,
Spilled from that deadly march as a cart spills meal on a road,
And yet they came on unceasing, the fifteen thousand no more,
And the blue Virginia flag did not fall, did not fall, did not fall.

They halted but once to fire as they came. Then the smoke closed
down.
And you could not see them, and then, as it cleared again for a
breath,
They were coming still but divided, gnawed at by blue attacks,
One flank half-severed and halted, but the centre still like a tide.

Cushing ran down the last of his guns to the battle-line.
The rest had been smashed to scrap by Lee’s artillery fire.
He held his guts in his hand as the charge came up the wall
And his gun spoke out for him once before he fell to the ground.

Armistead Leapt the wall and laid his hand on the gun,
The last of the three brigadiers who ordered Pickett’s brigades,
He waived his hat on his sword and “Give ’em the steel!” he cried,
A few men followed him over. The rest were beaten or dead.

A few men followed him over. There had been fifteen thousand
When that sea began its march toward the fish-hook ridge and
the wall.
So they came on in strength, light-footed stepping like deer,
So they died or were taken. So the iron entered their flesh.

Lee, a mile away, in the shade of a little wood,
Stared, with his mouth shut down, and saw them go and be slain
And then saw for a single moment, the blue Virginia flag
Planted beyond the wall, by that other flag he knew.

The two flags planted together, one instant, like hostile flowers.
Then the smoke wrapped both in a mantle-and when it had
blown away,
Armistead lay in his blood, and the rest were dead or down,
And the valley grey with the fallen and the wreck of the broken
wave.

Pickett gazed around him, the boy who had dreamt of a sword
And talked with a man named Lincoln. The sword was still in
his hand.
He had gone out with fifteen thousand. He came back to his lines
with five.
He fought well till the war was over, but a thing was cracked in his
heart.

Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body

 

4

Gettysburg Closed

In the never ending effort of the Obama administration to see just how absurd they can be over the fake government shutdown, they have attempted to close down the Gettysburg battlefield.  I say attempted because a lot of tourists are engaging in civil disobedience and touring the battlefield, playing catch me if you can with National Park Service Rangers.  Go here to read all about it.

This of course is all part of a carefully orchestrated plot by the Obama administration:

A U.S. park ranger, who did not wish to be identified, told FoxNews.com that supervisors within the National Park Service overruled plans to deal with the budget cuts in a way that would have had minimal impact on the public. Instead, the source said, park staff were told to cancel special events and cut “interpretation services” — the talks, tours and other education services provided by local park rangers.

“Apparently, they want the public to feel the pain,” the ranger said.

 

Instead of feeling pain the public has had a glimpse into just how mean, petty and spiteful the gangsters currently in power in the White House can be.

 

 

Continue Reading

2

General John Reynolds and his Catholic Fiancee

Hattip to Matthew Schmitz at First Things.  I have been studying the Civil War since 1964.  It is an immense subject and I still find things about it I never knew.  Major General John Reynolds, commander of the I Corps, helped save the Union by his heroic leadership of his Corps in support of Buford’s cavalry division on the First Day, buying time with blood for other corps of the Army of the Potomac to deploy.  He was a Protestant but Matthew Schmitz tells us why he died with  Catholic religious medals around his neck:

One-hundred and fifty years ago today, Gen. John F. Reynolds made the crucial tactical decisions that would start the Battle of Gettysburg, then became one of its first fatalities.

Reynolds was widely admired for his personal qualities and military skill—we have found no recorded negative comments by his contemporaries—and scholars today generally share the assessment. (Shelby Foote called him perhaps the best general the Army of the Potomac had.) Yet as Edwin C. Bearss records in Fields of Honor, Reynolds’ death revealed that the well-liked man had a secret:

As his aides loosen his collar, they find two Catholic medallions hanging around his neck. This is surprising because he is not Catholic, and none of them knows that he is seriously interested in any woman.

They carry Reynolds’ body to the rear, with instructions to send it to his home in Lancaster after it is laid out in Philadelphia. And as they’re laying him out on July 4, with his sisters there, a lady comes in. She is Katherine “Kate” May Hewitt. Kate has his West Point ring and tells his sisters that they met on a boat from California to New York and that they’re engaged.

Reynolds was a Protestant, she a Catholic. That is why he had not told his family. The two agreed that if he was killed and they couldn’t marry, she would join a convent. After he’s buried, she will travel to Emmitsburg and join the St. Joseph Central House of the Order of the Daughters of Charity.

Reynolds’ last words—meant martially but also capable of being read spiritually—were, “Forward men! For God’s sake forward!” Continue Reading

9

Your Turn

“We made a great mistake, Mr. Hill, in the beginning of our struggle, and I fear, in spite of all we can do it will prove to be a fatal mistake.”

“What mistake is that, general?”

“Why, sir, in the beginning we appointed all our worst generals to command the armies, and all our best generals to edit the newspapers.  As you know, I have planned some campaigns and quite a number of battles.  I have given the work all the care and thought I could, and sometimes, when my plans were completed, as far as I could see, they seemed to be perfect.  But when I have fought them through, I have discovered defects and occasionally wondered I did not see some of the defects in advance.  When it was all over, I found by reading a newspaper that these best editor generals saw all the defects plainly from the start.  Unfortunately, they did not communicate their knowledge to me until it was too late.”  Then, after a pause, he added, with a beautiful, grave expression I can never forget:  “I have no ambition but to serve the Confederacy, and do all I can to win our independence.  I am willing to serve in any capacity to which the authorities may assign me.  I have done the best I could in the field, and have not succeeded as I could wish.  I am willing to yield my place to these best generals, and I will do my best for the cause in editing a newspaper.”

Georgia Senator Benjamin H. Hill relating a conversation with General Robert E. Lee

 

Okay all you armchair generals!  Go here to see if you could have done better than Lee at Gettysburg.

13

Was the Confederate Victory at Gettysburg Inevitable?

For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it’s all in the balance, it hasn’t happened yet, it hasn’t even begun yet, it not only hasn’t begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances which made more men than Garnett and Kemper and Armistead and Wilcox look grave yet it’s going to begin, we all know that, we have come too far with too much at stake and that moment doesn’t need even a fourteen-year-old boy to think This time.  Maybe this time with all this much to lose than all this much to gain: Pennsylvania, Maryland, the world, the golden dome of Washington itself to crown with desperate and unbelievable victory the desperate gamble, the cast made two years ago;

William Faulkner, Intruder in the Dust

Hattip to Sir Winston Churchill.

As we prepare to observe the 150th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg, a question arises as to whether the shattering Confederate victory was inevitable.  I believe it was for the following reasons:

1.  Lee and Jackson-The most formidable military partnership in American military history, Jackson and Lee by Gettysburg had perfected the teamwork that made them matchless on the battlefield.  With Lee providing strategic insight and bold plans, Jackson was the perfect man to execute Lee’s will on the battlefield.  As Lee said of him: Straight as the needle to the pole he advances to the execution of my purpose. When fired upon by his own men by accident in the gloom of night at Chancellorsville, it was fortunate indeed for the Confederacy that although several members of his party were killed and wounded, he emerged unscathed.  Lee and Jackson hoped in their Northern invasion to produce a defeat so decisive that it would destroy Northern morale and end the War.

2.  Jackson and Stuart-The grim Cromwellian warrior of God Stonewall Jackson and the spiritual descendant of the cavaliers, Jeb Stuart, were, surprisingly enough, good friends.  After Brandy Station, Lee was concerned that Stuart was stung by the criticism of the Southern newspapers, and that might cause him to attempt one of his patented spectacular raids, precisely not what Lee desired in the forthcoming invasion of the North.  Lee sent Jackson to talk with Stuart.  Stuart describes the interview in his memoir, one of the classic pieces of literature to come out of the Second American Revolution, Riding the Raid (1880):

Initially I was perplexed as “Stonewall” described the plan of the coming campaign and that General Lee wished to use my cavalry as a coordinated attack force with General Jackson’s corps.  Then I realized this was General Lee’s characteristically polite manner of telling me that I was to follow Jackson’s orders in the coming campaign.  I will not pretend that I was not chagrined although I gave no outward sign of the irritation I felt to my friend “Stonewall”.  As it turned out this was yet another example of the brilliance of General Lee, the greatest soldier of our age.  If not for this order, I would not have been on hand to quickly scatter General Buford’s cavalry during the early morning of July 1, and General Jackson would not have been aware of how distant the Union infantry corps were from the all important high ground south of the town.  After that day I never entertained the slightest doubt as to the decisions of General Lee, even if they ran directly counter to my own opinions.

3.  The Hardluck XI- I have always thought that the XI Corps receives a disproportionate amount of blame for the Union loss at Gettysburg.  Any of the Union corps marching on to the battlefield as the XI Corps did probably would have fared as poorly, however that task fell to the same Corps that had recently been routed by Jackson at Chancellorsville, and hardly two months later they met the same fate at Gettysburg.  It was the luck of the draw that the XI Corps was at the head of the marching order that day and the first Union Corps to reach the field.  With the loss of McPherson’s Ridge, courtesy of Stuart, Jackson was free to march through Gettysburg and launch a furious assault on the XI Corps at noon as it attempted to deploy on Cemetery Hill.  After a half hour of fighting the XI Corps collapsed and headed southeast on the Baltimore Pike.  Seeing Union reinforcements arriving from the southeast, Jackson made no effort to pursue, but contented himself with seizing, completely uncontested, Cemetery Ridge, Little Round Top and Big Round Top and fortifying these immensely strong by nature positions.

4.  George Gordon Meade-Appointed to command the Army of the Potomac just two days prior to the battle, Meade has gone down in history as the man who lost the decisive battle of the War.  It is hard not to have sympathy for him.  He had indicated prior to his appointment that he did now want the job and he now had it under the worst possible circumstances, with no time to put his own stamp on the Army or come up with a plan of campaign on his own.  My sympathy does not extend to his decision to attack the now heavily fortified Confederate positions on July 2, 1863.  Meade had enough experience of the War to realize that a frontal assault on fortifications held by veteran troops of the Army of Northern Virginia was merely a colorful way to commit suicide.  The men making the attacks certainly did, many of them pinning notes with their names and home addresses on them so their next of kin could be informed of their deaths.  After the debacle at Fredericksburg this decision by Meade, albeit under heavy pressure from Washington to do something, was truly unforgivable.  Meade would have done better to withdraw and keep Lee’s army under observation, harassing Confederate foraging parties.  This would have forced Lee to eventually leave his fortified nest due to lack of supplies.  Instead Meade’s attacks cost him 12,000 casualties in exchange for less than 3,000 Confederate casualties.  Jackson favored a counter-attack, but Lee decided that he would wait and see what Meade would do the next day. Continue Reading