I decided to take a break from the sun and attend the Sacred Trust lectures.
I missed Jared Frederick’s lecture on the history of the Gettysburg Battlefield since the 1950s, but got there in time for Michael C. C. Adams’ talk on “The Mindset of the Union Army After Gettysburg.” This was a very disappointing talk. I thought he demonstrated a very superficial knowledge of the war. He called Marsena Patrick the head of Union intelligence when Patrick instead was the Provost Marshal of the Army of the Potomac. The head of the Bureau of Military Information was Colonel George Sharpe. He also advanced the tired bromide that technology outpaced the tactics of the war, not understanding the concept of massed fire that was still necessary with muzzle-loading muskets, even when rifled. His thesis was that the Army of the Potomac didn’t pursue Lee as Lincoln wanted because the Union generals were intimidated by perceived “southern” capabilities [he also confused “southern” with “confederate”]. He also claimed the exhausted state of the Army of the Potomac reinforced the timidness of its generals. I think he needs to read Eric Wittenberg’s One Continuous Fight: The Retreat from Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, July 4-14, 1863.
Next up was S. C. Gwynne, whose talk was advertised as “Stonewall Jackson’s Death: A Turning Point During the War.” He basically spent his time talking about Jackson and only talked about Jackson’s death at the very end when he was out of time. He makes a good presentation, but he had poor time management, didn’t discuss the advertised topic, and really didn’t contribute anything new. My notes from his presentation consisted of one word: “meh.” This was another disappointing talk.
Frank O’Reilly’s talk about “A Tale of Two Councils of War” was really good. He discussed the councils of war held on May 5 at Chancellorsville and July 2 at Gettysburg, comparing and contrasting them for us. He advanced the thesis that George Meade asserted himself at the May 5 council of war, becoming a threat to Joe Hooker’s retaining command and becoming the choice of the corps commanders, except Dan Sickles, to replace Hooker.
They saved the best three talks for the final three talks of the day.
Dennis Frye gave a wonderful talk on “Did McClellan Out-think Lee During the First Invasion?” He outlined four things McClellan did that completely changed the invasion and foiled Lee. He said that while Washington was the most defended city in the world at the time, Baltimore was almost barren of defenses, and had Lee taken Baltimore he would have isolated Washington from the rest of the Union, so McClellan first sent the bulk of the Army of the Potomac toward Baltimore to take away that possibility. On September 11, 1862 Lee was at Hagerstown, Maryland, only four miles from the Mason-Dixon Line with Stonewall Jackson and 2/3 of the army at Harpers Ferry. McClellan began moving west, which worried Lee. On September 14 McClellan moved toward South Mountain, forcing Lee to withdraw from Hagerstown and move south to Sharpsburg to rescue Jackson from McClellan’s threat. McClellan’s movement occurred PRIOR to the finding of Special Orders Number 191, the “Lost Orders.” Lee, Dennis told us, had no intention to fight a battle at Antietam. He wanted to reunite his army and continue north. McClellan sent troops on a flanking maneuver around lee’s left and blocked the road to Hagerstown, taking away Lee’s route north. Finally, Lee wasn’t finished after the Battle of Antietam. He withdrew, but in a letter to Jefferson Davis he said he planned to continue his invasion by moving to Williamsport and crossing the Potomac there before heading to Hagerstown. He sent Stuart to seize Williamsport AFTER the Battle of Antietam. McClellan anticipated Lee’s action and sent his cavalry to Williamsport, followed by the Sixth Corps to ensure the confederates couldn’t recross the Potomac. Only then, when Stuart reported what had happened, did Lee cancel his invasion. This was an outstanding presentation.
Next Dr. Carol Reardon spoke on “Medical Lessons from the Civil War.” This was another excellent presentation. She told us about Union Surgeon General William Hammond, who was responsible for a number of key innovations in Union medical care. He experimented with different treatments for gangrene and also experimented with different techniques for amputations. He formed partnerships with key civilian organizations such as the US Sanitary Commission and the US Christian Commission to provide medical care for the wounded as well as resources. He also established the Union’s hospital system and placed Paris-educated doctors in key places. Dr. Jonathan Letterman was the “Father of Battlefield Medicine” and was the Medical Director of the Army of the Potomac. He developed a new, stable ambulance wagon as well as division and corps hospitals and the system of triage. He also created a system to move the wounded to where they would get the best care. Dr. Hammond, in addition to his other contributions, established the Army Medical Museum, curated by Dr. John H. Brinton, who was first cousin to Maj. General George Brinton McClellan. We definitely learned a great deal from this presentation.
The final presentation of the day was Jim Hessler and Wayne Motts discussing Pickett’s Charge. They said it was the great turning point that changed the battle and caused Lee to disengage. Was this a case of Lee suddenly going crazy or just lashing out? They quoted Lee’s military secretary, A. L. Long, who wrote in 1886, “It was not ordered without mature consideration and on grounds that presented fair prospects of success.” They said the inability of the confederate artillery to support the assault changed the battle. they were supposed to have moved forward with the infantry to cover the flanks and weren’t able to do so. That allowed the Union artillery to inflict more damage on the attacking force. Wayne gave a human interest story in the form of the friendship between Winfield Scott Hancock and Lewis Armistead. He was able to trace down sources that confirmed the friendship. This was a terrific presentation.
Once the YouTube videos of these talks come out, I’ll post them so you can enjoy them as well.