Monday, July 02, 2007

Those mysterious cannon shots of JEB Stuart on July 3, 1863

The blog civilwarcavalry noted my June 30 post ( What was JEB Stuart really doing on July 3, 1863?) on the book review by Jason Bell of Carhart's Lost triumph: Lee's real plan at Gettysburg - and why it failed which review appeared in Army Lawyer. The June 30 post is more a commentary on the review than on Carhart's book. Bell obliquely criticized Carhart for not using text written by a Union cavalryman (which was referencing text by Stuart's adjutant McClellan). HOWEVER, a deeper look at what McClellan said (and "surmised" is indeed a better word) shows one reason why Carhart didn't use the text. Separately, McClellan's text about Stuart's purpose is inconsistent with Carhart's thesis. Specifically, McClellan said: Stuart's object was to gain position where he would protect the left of Ewell's corps, and would also be able to observe the enemy's rear and attack it in case the Confederate assault on the Federal lines were successful. He proposed, if opportunity offered, to make a diversion which might aid the Confederate infantry to carry the heights held by the Federal army.

Of the cannon shots fired at the order of JEB Stuart on July 3, 1863, there is a post on civilwarcavalry:

One officer interviewed by Kelly was Alexander C. M. Pennington, who commanded the battery of horse artillery assigned to serve with Custer’s brigade. Here’s what Pennington had to say about this episode:

“When Jeb Stuart rode round our army at Gettysburg without striking us on the morning of July 3rd, he found that he could not locate us. Now [Maj. Henry] McClellan who was on his staff told me this story. He said that Stuart looked in every direction but could find no sign of our troops, so he ordered a gun out and ordered it to be fired in different directions in hopes of getting an echo or a reply from one of our guns, and then through his glass locate the smoke.

He fired in one direction, and then [received] an answering gun. He said that shot from that gun entered the muzzle of their gun, and knocked it off the trunions, breaking two wheels. Now, he said, this seems remarkable, almost incredible, but when he told me that story he said, ‘I assure you on the honor of a gentleman that it is true.’ And the singular fact is that it was my gun that did it. I was standing with Custer when I told my gunners to fire at them. He was an Irishman by the name of ————. I noticed he took a long time before he fired. Of course we could not tell at that distance exactly what happened.”

Of a different story of the cannon shots fired by Stuart's men, there is one post at reviewing Carhart's book and entitled "Whoa there, Carhart," (November 16, 2005), which states:

I tracked down the source of the rumor the cannon shots fired by Stuart on Cress Ridge were a signal to Gen. Lee to begin Pickett's Charge. It began with Major McClellan, Stuart's adjutant and biographer who guessed that was the explanation for Stuart firing one gun in four directions. A guess is hardly a fact. And it can't be right. S. Foote puts Stuart on Cress Ridge at 2:30 pm or well after the cannonade supporting Pickett's Charge began. It is absurd to suggest the alleged signal could be heard over the din of that cannonade by Lee on Seminary Ridge, or more cogently, by Longstreet miles away at his HQ near the Peach Orchard. The latter is cogent because it was Longstreet, not Lee, who gave the order to start the cannonade as well as the assault (although Porter Alexander has it that Longstreet never actually gave Pickett a direct order to start). It is hardly plausible Maj. McClellan way off on the left was privy to the doings at Longstreet's HQ and obviously didn't know Longstreet had responsibility for the order. Thus a basic premise of the book, the idea Pickett's assault (the Pettigrew, Trimble, Pickett Charge) was fired off by a lanyard in Stuart's hand, so to speak, signalling to Lee Stuart's cavalry was in position for an attack on the Union right and rear, is incorrect in light of known facts. Longstreet not Lee was responsible for Pickett's start time.

IPBiz notes that text written by McClellan admits, conditionally, of both interpretations:

While carefully concealing Jenkins' and Chambliss' brigades from view, Stuart pushed one of Griffin's guns to the edge of the woods and fired a number of random shots in different directions, himself giving orders to the gun. This, quite as much as the subsequent appearance of Hampton and Fitz Lee in the open ground to the left, announced his position to the enemy's cavalry; for General Gregg tells us that about noon he had received notice from army headquarters that a large body of cavalry had been observed moving toward the Confederate left. He was, therefore, on the alert before Stuart's arrival. I have been somewhat perplexed to account for Stuart's conduct in firing these shots; but I suppose that they may have been a prearranged signal by which he was to notify General Lee that he had gained a favorable position; or, finding that none of the enemy were within sight, he may have desired to satisfy himself whether the Federal cavalry was in his immediate vicinity before leaving the strong position he then held; and receiving no immediate reply to this fire, he sent for Hampton and Fitz Lee, to arrange with them for an advance and an attack upon the enemy's rear. In the mean time Lieutenant-Colonel Vincent Witcher's battalion, of Jenkins' brigade, was dismounted and sent forward to hold the Rummel barn and a line of fence on its right.

IPBiz notes that the description of random shots in different directions does not, on its face, sound like a prearranged signal.

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