Sunday, July 7 was the last day of this year’s Sacred Trust lectures.
First up was Eric Wittenberg, speaking on “Opening the Gettysburg Campaign: The Battle of Brandy Station, June 9, 1863.”
This was a very well-done, fact-filled presentation. Eric told us that Lee ordered a concentration of the cavalry in Culpepper County, Virginia. This drew the attention of Joe Hooker. Lee had anticipated beginning his invasion of the North, what we would later call the Gettysburg Campaign, on June 9. After the Battle of Chancellorsville, George Stoneman (USMA Class of 1846, graduated 33 out of 59) left the army to take medical treatment for a terrible case of hemorrhoids.
He would never command troops in the Army of the Potomac again. He was replaced by Alfred Pleasonton (USMA Class of 1844, Graduated 7 out of 25). Pleasonton leads from the rear, but he has a good eye for talent.
The Cavalry Corps at this point was 11,000 strong.
The Third Division is commanded by Brigadier General David McMurtrie Gregg (USMA Class of 1855, Graduated 8 out of 34)
Commanding the Second Division was Colonel Alfred Napoleon Duffié, born in France and served in the Crimean War.
Pleasonton also realizes he needs infantry support. He gets this from the brigades of Adelbert Ames (USMA, Class of May, 1861, Graduated 5 out of 45) and David Russell (USMA Class of 1845, Graduated 38 out of 41).
They depart Falmouth, Virginia on June 7, 1863. They spend the night at Catlett’s Station. On June 8 they camp at the Rappahannock River crossings. Buford is at Beverly’s Ford. He will move on Culpepper from the north. Gregg and Duffié are at Kelly’s Ford. Gregg is to move on Culpepper from the south with Duffié screening.
Pleasonton didn’t realize all of the confederate cavalry was encamped on the Rappahannock River.
On June 8 a grand review was held on the fields of John Minor Botts, Virginia Unionist. Previous reviews were held on May 22 and June 5. Lee is attending the June 8 review. Stuart also invites John Bell Hood and his entire division.
Lee spends 4-5 hours inspecting the cavalry. All the while, Union scouts were watching.
Benjamin Franklin “Grimes” Davis (USMA Class of 1854, Graduated 32 of 46) led Buford’s troops. They run into Company A of the 6th Virginia Cavalry picketing the river. The Virginians send an alarm to Grumble Jones.
All the confederate horse artillery is near Beverly’s ford. Buford has a chance to capture it. The videttes have to delay the Federals. In the fighting, Grimes Davis is killed and Thomas Casimir Devin (NY State Militia) takes over for him.
Jones does the bulk of the fighting at Brandy Station.
Major Charles Jarvis Whiting (USMA Class of 1835, Graduated 4 out of 56) commanded Buford’s Reserve Brigade.
Wade Hampton brings his brigade to confront Buford. Robert Morris Jr. of the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry (Rush’s Lancers) was ordered to clear the woods. He charges into the teeth of four batteries of confederate artillery. Buford refers to them afterward as “My Seventh Regulars.” Morris is captured and dies in August in Libby Prison. Buford then also sends in the 6th US Cavalry. Stuart rides over to personally supervise the fight. Also present during this battle is Capt. Ulric Dahlgren.
Things bog down on Buford’s front. Troops at the stone wall are commanded by William Henry Fitzhugh “Rooney” Lee (Harvard University) This was Rooney Lee’s best day of the war. He deploys his artillery on the high ground and holds his position most of the afternoon.
Pleasonton then takes personal charge and won’t let Buford pitch in. Buford brings the infantry in to try to clear the wall of confederates. Later in the afternoon, they will drive the confederates away. Thomas Devin will be Buford’s hard hitter.
Beverly Holcombe Robertson (USMA Class of 1849, Graduated 25 out of 43) was a brigade commander. His troopers were picketing Kelly’s Ford. They fire a few shots and retreat and are not seen again for the rest of the battle.
Hugh Judson Kilpatrick (USMA Class of 1861, Graduated 17 out of 45) then enters the fray. As Kilpatrick’s troopers attack they head toward Fleetwood Hill. The only people there are Henry Brainard McClellan, JEB Stuart’s aide, and a piece of artillery. Stuart orders Lt Carter to open fire. This causes Gregg to stop and deploy, and this allows Stuart and Jones to disengage and ride over.
Sir Percy Wyndham attacks and the 1st New Jersey Cavalry suffers heavy losses.
Joseph Martin deploys his horse artillery and his guns are taken. Kilpatrick then attacks, led by the 1st Maine Cavalry, and is repulsed by Young’s cavalry. This battle lasted the better part of 3 hours.
Rooney Lee engages in one-on-one combat against Wesley Merritt (USMA 1860, Graduated 22 out of 41). The injuries sustained in this combat led to Rooney Lee’s capture days late. The 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry makes another charge.
Col Louis Palma di Cesnola attacks Stevensburg and routs the Black Horse Cavalry.
Col Matthew Calbraith Butler of the 2nd South Carolina Cavalry, Wade Hampton’s protégé and Captain Will Farley are involved in the fighting. Battery M of the 2nd US Artillery is commanded by First Lieutenant Alexander Cummings McWhorter Pennington. Pennington personally aims and fires a piece and a single shot hits Farley and Butler. Farley won’t survive. Butler loses a leg and returns to duty later.
Duffié marches to find Gregg, and then finds Gregg withdrawing. The Union had almost 1,000 casualties and the confederates had almost 800. Brandy station made the Union cavalry, according to H. B. McClellan. Because of Brandy Station, the invasion was delayed a day. Stuart’s troopers didn’t march until June 15. If Pleasonton had allowed Buford to attack right away, Stuart, with only three brigades against two divisions, would have been driven from the field.
Eric had a great deal of detail in his presentation, so necessarily some of it is missing from my notes, even though I was writing as fast as I could.
Next up was Ranger John Hoptak, speaking on “Gettysburg’s Forgotten Corps Commander: The Life and Career of Major General George Sykes.”
The volunteers respected him, but they thought he was too strict. Sykes never sought fame or attention. He had no connections among newspapers or politicians. He kept no diary, wrote no memoirs, and had very few letters. He stayed clear of all the bickering and didn’t actively seek promotion.
Sykes commanded the only division of Regulars. He let his record speak for itself.
Born in Delaware in 1832 he was appointed to the USMA in 1838, graduating in the Class of 1842. His roommate was Daniel Harvey Hill. At West Point he acquired the nickname “Tardy George.” He didn’t acquire that name on any battlefield. After graduation he was commissioned a second lieutenant and sent to Florida, then to the Mexican War. He won a brevet promotion at Cerro Gordo. After the Mexican War he remained in the army serving on the frontier against the Apache and the Navajo.
Sykes had no more sentiment than a gunstock. In 1861 he was at Fort Clark in Texas serving with the 3rd US Infantry. He began a 300-mile march to the Texas coast on March 9. On April 12 he arrived at Indianola, sailed to New York City, and then went on to Washington.
He served in the Shenandoah Valley as a major. At 1st Bull Run he supported Burnside against Shanks Evans. He drove back Evans, Bee, and Bartow. McDowell turns to Sykes and his Regulars to steady the volunteers. Rebel artillery forced them to slowly fall back, though, to the stone bridge. After the big retreat from Manassas, Sykes was in camp at Arlington Heights.
In March, Sykes was promoted to Brigadier General of United States Volunteers. He commanded the U.S. Division of Regulars.
The Battle of Gaines’ Mill was his first real test of command. He was on the right flank of the V Corps, putting up a stout resistance until his ammunition ran low. He took heavy casualties but his Regulars, according to his old roommate D. H. Hill, “stood line an iron wall.”
At the Battle of 2nd Bull Run Sykes formed his men to meet Longstreet’s attack. Again taking heavy losses, they fell back slowly and methodically and covered the army’s retreat.
On September 17, 1862, at the Battle of Antietam Sykes held the center of the Union line. He wanted to attack, but wasn’t allowed to do so.
At the Battle of Chancellorsville, Sykes was in the forefront of the advance and confronted Lafayette McLaws (USMA Class of 1842, Graduated 48 out of 56). While he was awaiting reinforcements he was ordered to retreat.
On June 28, 1863, George G. Meade was promoted to command the Army of the Potomac. On Meade’s promotion, Sykes was promoted to command the V Corps. He and his men did a marathon series of marching. They stopped in Hanover on the evening of July 1. On getting word from Meade, they continued onto Bonneville, where he sent a courier to Meade to let Meade know he was close to the field. This courier was captured by Richard S. Ewell’s men and the message brought to Ewell. This message telling Ewell at least a full corps of Union troops was close to the battlefield on his left flank probably played a role in Ewell’s calculations on July 1 not to attempt to take Cemetery Hill.
On July 2 he was told to throw his entire corps in when Sickles moved forward into the Peach Orchard. Sykes himself rode on to the Wheatfield, where he met with David Bell Birney. He told Birney to move his men to the left and Sykes brought his men to Stony Hill.
In the spring of 1864, Sykes was removed from command and replaced with Gouverneur K. Warren. We’re not sure why. It could be because of his friendship with McClellan and Fitz John Porter, or it could have been because of poor health. He spent the rest of the war in Kansas. In March of 1865 he was breveted Brigadier General in the Regular Army for his action at Gettysburg, and Major General for his service in the war. After the war he reverted back to his permanent rank of Lt. Colonel. In 1878 he was promoted to full Colonel. In 1880, in Kansas, he died of cancer.
There have been two efforts to put monuments to Sykes at Gettysburg, but to date there are no monuments to this steady officer on the field.
The next lecture was “Reunion and Commemoration at Gettysburg” by Sue Boardman. This was another repeat lecture, but it was still well done.
The first reunion of a notable number of veterans was in 1878. They helped purchase land on Culp’s Hill, Cemetery Hill, and Little Round Top. This was a reunion of the GAR Pennsylvania Department held in Gettysburg. The veterans decided they wanted to wrest control from David McConoughy and the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association. The first monumentations were death markers.
From 1882 to 1887 small groups of veterans had reunions and during those reunions they also put up monuments.
In 1887 the Philadelphia Brigade monument was erected and we saw the first hand clasp across the wall. The legacy of this reunion was it was the first joint reunion and the Armistead monument was erected by the Union side.
The 1888 reunion was the 25th Anniversary reunion. General William Curtis laid the Memorial Prince of Peace Church cornerstone. This proved joint reunions are possible.
In 1893 there was New York Day.
In 1910, the Pennsylvania Memorial was dedicated.
In 1913 there was the 50th Anniversary Reunion, called the “Peace Jubilee.” Veterans from 46 of the 48 states attended. There were 53,407 veterans, 44,657 of them being Union veterans. The average age of the veterans was 68. The ideology of reconciliation stressed collective American valor. It avoided slavery as a cause of the war, and it avoided the anniversary of Emancipation.
For the 1938 reunion there were 12,000 veterans still alive. 3,600 veterans accepted invitations to go to Gettysburg, but 1,800 actually attended. Fewer than 50 of these veterans were actual Gettysburg veterans. The ideology of celebration of reconciliation also included avoiding slavery as a cause and avoiding the anniversary of emancipation.
1963 was the 100th Anniversary of the Battle. This was the birth of reenacting, with little emphasis on historical accuracy. There was no Lincoln, no Gettysburg Address, no mention of the Emancipation Proclamation, and no mention of slavery.
The 125th Anniversary was in 1988. The theme was “Days of Peace and National Unity.” Gen. William Westmoreland gave the keynote address. He spoke about reconciliation and reunion, not about the causes of the war. This was a missed opportunity.
Next up was James Hessler, reprising his presentation on “Sickles at Gettysburg.”
Sickles, of course, was an embezzler who frequented high-end prostitutes, and of course he was known for murdering his wife’s lover and having the first successful use of the temporary insanity defense. Sickles was a protégé of James Buchanan. He was elected to Congress in 1856. In his famous trial, Edwin M. Stanton was a member of his legal defense team (not the lead attorney), and it was said, “His mind became diseased.”
Meade was unpopular with the III Corps. There was a dispute between Hooker and Meade at Chancellorsville. Sickles supported his buddy, Hooker, against Meade. Meade as Commander of the Army of the Potomac criticizes Sickles’ march to Gettysburg.
In defending his movement forward on July 2, Sickles took several tacks. He claimed he was confused by Meade’s orders, he claimed he disliked the ground north of Little Round Top, he claimed he lacked the manpower to cover the line he was ordered to occupy, and later he claimed that he advanced in order to prevent Meade from retreating.
Next up was Supervisory Ranger Scott Hartwig, giving an abridged version of his presentation on “Despair, Defeat, Redemption and Determination: The Army of the Potomac in 1863.”
You can see my report on the full version here. As always, he was excellent.
Next was Noah Andre Trudeau on “What Gettysburg Taught Me.”
This presentation was awful. It had nothing to do with the title and he said absolutely nothing worth taking notes about. That is an hour of my life I will never get back, and I feel he owes me gas money for my driving down to Gettysburg. This was the worst presentation I’ve ever heard at Gettysburg. In my notebook I wrote only one sentence for his presentation: “Big Huge Honking Waste of Time.”
After that huge disappointment things got back on track very quickly when Ranger William Hewitt came up to give his presentation, “through the Looking Glass: The Reflection of Military History at Gettysburg.”
Bill started out by differentiating military history from other types. He said the military historian is interested in what happened, what should have happened, and why that didn’t happen.
He said there were two prisms of military analysis, one for one’s own forces and one for the enemy. Each has education, experience, and capabilities. In the ground between those two prisms is where one finds options.
He said army capabilities depend on these factors:
Units (number of units, type of units, and soldier attributes)
We can put these capabilities on a timeline:
One factor will often advance and will drive the rest forward. Sometimes a factor that advances won’t drive anything else forward.
He used the example of trenches.
Trenches combine with another factor, the Minié Ball. This combination has a significant impact.
The smoothbore musket has a range of 0-100 yards and can be fired at a rate of about 3 rounds per minute.
The rifled musket with the Minié Ball has a range of 300+ yards and can be fired at a rate of about 3 rounds per minute.
When the ball is placed in a cartridge, now it has a range of 300+ yards, but can be fired at a rate of 15 rounds per minute.
This can be devastating.
Napoleonic tactics involved closing to within 100 yards, firing a volley, and then use the smoke to close to within bayonet range.
If we add entrenchments, then the defender becomes a smaller target and this adds a challenge to the attacker and safety for the defender. There is a synergistic effect.
The defender gets 5-6 shots before the attacker can get close. This means they need more men on a narrow front to attack and the defenders can have fewer men to defend the position.
The bayonet and cavalry charges are becoming obsolete.
Trench lines prior to the civil war were thought of for the offensive. One would dig concentric lines to bring artillery closer to the defense.
In the late Civil War, trench lines are more sophisticated. Parallel trench lines are used in defense. Multiple parallel trench lines are also used in the defense.
Leaders react slowly. Trenches in the defense protect the defender, meaning you need fewer defenders per mile. Attacking a trench line in depth is very costly. Adding a second dimension of depth with multiple trench lines increases the problem for the offense.
The solution to the trench line is something that can cross trench lines, something that bullets will bounce off of, and something that has mobility–it will be the tank.
There are still several trenches at Gettysburg:
- Culp’s Hill across from the Slocum monument (Iron Brigade)
- Culp’s Hill near the 78th and 102nd New York Monument
- Sedgwick Avenue southeast of the Pennsylvania Memorial. This is now a mound where the III Corps are reorganized.
- Hancock Avenue end of the stone wall to the Pennsylvania Memorial (Gibbon’s Division and Stannard’s Brigade were there)
- Near the Boy Scout Camp off West Confederate Avenue, where A. P. Hill entrenched on July 4. 49 yards to the rear of the cannons are the caissons, then 50 yards behind that is the location of the trench line.
- Double line of entrenchments on Culp’s Hill
Bill’s presentation was excellent.
I skipped the last presentation. It was Patrick Falci on “A. P. Hill: Savior or Red Devil?” I like Pat’s presentation, but I’ve seen it twice already, last time was last year’s Sacred Trust, and I think I shouldn’t know someone’s presentation as well as that person knows it from seeing it so many times.
So ended my 2013 Civil War Geekfest. I was tired, and I needed to go to work to get some rest.