Thursday, October 13, 2005

Was Tom Carhart's book on Gettysburg pre-empted?

In the law review business, if someone has already addressed a particular issue, a later person is not supposed to write on the same question. Of Carhart's suggestion of Lee's "real plan" at Gettysburg, one notes the following from a review by Steven Leonard of a 2002 book by Paul D. Walker:

In The Cavalry Battle that Saved the Union:
Custer vs. Stuart at Gettysburg, Paul D. Walker
reveals the apparent genius behind the plan:
Confederate General Robert E. Lee's grand scheme was
to attack with infantry from the front while
Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart's cavalry swept into
the rear of the Union formations.

Sadly, the 2004 review also states:

Only David F. Riggs' relatively short account of the
battle East of Gettysburg: Custer vs. Stuart (Old Army
Press, Fort Collins, CO, 1970 [revised 1985]),
chronicles the engagement.

Unfortunately, among other sources, Wert's 2001 "Gettysburg Day 3" spends much time discussing the cavalry engagement.

D. Scott Hartwig got it right when he wrote:

Our final book this month is yet another revelation of Robert E. Lee’s real plan at Gettysburg. Tom Carhart, in Lost Triumph: Lee’s Real Plan at Gettysburg—and Why it Failed (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, 2005), contends that Lee planned to attack the Union rear with Jeb Stuart’s cavalry while James Longstreet’s assault struck their front on Cemetery Ridge, and that the plan failed due to the bravery and impetuousness of George Custer. Carhart is not the first to advance this notion of Lee’s plan for July 3. It has been around for many years, but lacks evidence to support it.

Once again (as with patent grant rate), we have a situation wherein the federal employee called it correctly, and the professor at the elite institution (here Princeton University) was way off base. Proxies for good scholarship don't always work. Separately, we have a moral for the business method/software patent area: what can appear to be novel might only be so for lack of a thorough search.

Overall, the Carhart situation is definitely "been there, done that," not unlike a lot of academic IP writing. However, so far, the Civil War writers have not severely re-written history, unlike academic IP writing, which has re-done the stories of the transistor and radio to serve preconceived notions, among other things.

***My review -->

The gist of Dr. Carhart's book is that Lee's "real plan" at Gettysburg on Day 3 involved more than Pickett's Charge, and the "real plan" was thwarted by Custer's opposition to Stuart in a cavalry action east of Gettysburg.

There is a suggestion that this is a new theory. Any idea that the cavalry action itself has been ignored by historians is wrong. Wert's "Gettysburg Day 3" covers the cavalry action in detail in Chapter 14, and Wert was not the first to discuss the matter. Moreover, any idea that the potential significance of the cavalry action was unexplored is also wrong. Steven Leonard wrote in Military Review of a 2002 book by Paul D. Walker:

In The Cavalry Battle that Saved the Union:
Custer vs. Stuart at Gettysburg, Paul D. Walker
reveals the apparent genius behind the plan:
Confederate General Robert E. Lee's grand scheme was
to attack with infantry from the front while
Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart's cavalry swept into
the rear of the Union formations.

One can also note the article by Eric J. Wittenberg, East Cavalry Field: Battle of Gettysburg, July 3, 2003.

D. Scott Hartwig was correct in stating: "Carhart is not the first to advance this notion of Lee’s plan for July 3. It has been around for many years, but lacks evidence to support it."

Carhart's book probably overemphasizes Custer's role at the expense of other Union officers who were involved in the cavalry action. David Gregg was on site and giving orders to Custer. However, it is true that it was Custer's men (armed with Spencer rifles) who heard the discharge of cannon by Stuart before noon on July 3 and deployed north of the Hanover Road. If Stuart's movement were meant as a surprise, why was the Louisiana Guard firing shells before noon? Further, Oliver Howard and David Gregg were aware of the Confederate cavalry by noon.

Although Carhart's book suggests that the true significance of Stuart's foray was covered up in later reports, there seems to have been enough to motivate writers prior to Carhart. Placing the "real plan" in the perspective of pre-Civil War course work at West Point is a nice touch, but does not make up for the lack of evidence for Carhart's conjecture.

***See also, on the subject of on-line reviews-->

Hammer v., 2005 WL 2467046 (E.D.N.Y., Sept. 27, 2005).

***A blog of particular interest is
The History Channel, which contains a post

Piston's discussion of how Lee's first plan was foiled by Longstreet, and how Lee had to improvise a second plan (i.e., "Pickett's Charge") is interesting enough. Carhart goes beyond that and asserts that Lee would not have left Stuart¡¦s 6,000 mounted men out of his second plan. While there is nothing in the written record to support it, he assumes that Stuart came back to Lee's location on Cemetery Ridge, and was there when Lee issued the orders for his second plan. This was to be the Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble charge, with Ewell to pitch in when the situation allowed, with additional follow-on forces (including the divisions of McLaws and Hood) designated to spring into action once the initial assault gained Cemetery Ridge. Carhart additionally theorizes, on what seems pretty plausible evidence, that Stuart was to now attack not into the rear of Culp's Hill, as in the first plan, but to attack into the rear of Cemetery Ridge simultaneous with the main assault. This would cut the Union line in two, allowing Ewell, Hill, and Stuart to destroy the north wing while Longstreet, with McLaws and Hood, would keep the south wing occupied.

Some evidence, and lack of evidence, that leads Carhart to this conclusion.

-- Neither Stuart nor Lee directly mention this attack in their reports, but the do make allusions that seem to fit this scenario very well.

-- None of Stuart's subordinates' reports for 3 July, except for Hampton's, were ever made part of the record. What happened to them seems to be what happened to Pickett's report--it was suppressed by Lee.

-- Stuart was far too far beyond the Union right flank for a security mssion to make sense. On Cress Ridge, he was two miles beyond the Union right, and he could not even see the flank of either army from that position.

-- Stuart had reconnoitered the area of Cress Ridge and southward, perhaps even as far as East Cavalry Field, the evening before, and had found it clear of Union troops.

-- Upon arrival on Cress Ridge, Stuart had his artillery fire "a number of shots" for reasons he did not explain. His adjutant, Major McClellan speculated that his might be a signal to Lee, or he might be trying to locate the Federals. But locating the Federals by drawing fire does not make sense if Stuart is screening the Confederate left flank, as he later claimed he was doing.

-- Carhart theorizes that the artillery shots were a signal to Lee that Stuart was in position on Cress Ridge, and that he did not see any Federals to his south.[LBE note: The shots, fired before noon on July 3, alerted Custer. Stuart was seen from Cemetery Hill, before noon, and Oliver Howard was alerted.]

-- Carhart theorizes that Stuart must have had a trigger telling him when he was to attack, and that it must have been when the Confederate artillery prep for ¡§Picketts¡¦ Charge¡¨ ended. This would mean that Stuart would need to be attacking the rear of Cemetery Ridge in 20-30 minutes. [LBE note: Stuart was engaged with Federal cavalry BEFORE the Confederate artillery ended.]

-- Stuart, while the artillery prep was underway, spotted a Union skirmish line in what is now East Cavalry Field, which was right on the route he needed to take to get to the Baltimore Pike. He figured that he could blow through it if necessary, but in the meantime, he dismounted Jenkins' brigade and used these men as a heavier skirmish line to try to push the Federals out of the way so that he could, when the time was ripe, push his entire mounted force south on Bonaughton Road, to the Baltimore Pike, to Cemetery Ridge.

-- This dismounted skirmishing got heavier and heavier, eventually leading to mounted rushes. Custer, who was there contrary to Pleasonton¡¦s orders (peace, Custerphiles, he was not the one who countermanded them) distinguished himself in this inconclusive combat. [Custer was to be relieved. Because the Union troops were aware of Stuart, Gregg gave Custer orders to stay.]

-- After a couple of hours of this, both sides heard the guns on Cemetery Ridge go silent. This was Stuart¡¦s signal to attack the Union center from the rear in 20-30 minutes. This meant that he had to stop the skirmishing, and mount an attack.

-- Stuart formed his 3 cavalry brigades in a "column of squadrons"--now about 4,000 men strong--to blow through the disorganized Federal resistance. Only Custer, with the 400 men of the 1st Michigan Cavalry, stood still organized, as yet uncommitted, at the south end of the field.

-- Custer, incredibly, mounted a charge head-on into the Confederate column, halting the front of it and disorganizing the rest of the formation. Inspired by this, the other units of Custer's brigade, plus two regiments of McIntosh's brigade of Gregg's division, attacked from the flanks.

-- This meant that time ran out on Stuart. After 10-20 minutes of this fighting, he knew that he was too late. He started trying to withdraw. At the end, the Confederates occupied the north end of the field, where they had started, and the Federals occupied the south end, where they had started.

-- Meanwhile, unsupported by Stuart, the men of Pickett, Pettigrew, and Trimble marched to their doom on Cemetery Ridge. All the follow-on attacks that were supposed to take place, did not, as the charge did not gain its objective of seizing Cemetery Ridge.

-- Lee took the blame himself rather than report Stuart's failure in his reports. He suppressed any reports that would have given away the mission that Stuart had for 3 July.

I find Carhart's analysis that this is what Lee intended to do convincing. I do not necessarily follow him to his next conclusion. Carhart assumes that--executed properly--this attack would have succeeded, destroying or scattering the Army of the Potomac so that it would be unable to prevent him from either advancing further or withdrawing at his leisure. I part with him here. I do not think that this is a given, or that such a victory would have necessarily won the war for the Confederacy. But it is an interesting theory, IMO.

**UPDATE. July 9, 2006**

On July 8, 2006, I had the opportunity to discuss Carhart's book with a Civil War "living history" person at the "Camp Olden" event in Hamilton, New Jersey. "James Longstreet" did not think much of the book, and, among other things, pointed to the silliness of suggesting Stuart was signalling Lee when Stuart fired FOUR cannon shots. "Longstreet" also pointed to a different revisionist book, one on the Farnsworth cavalry engagement on July 3, which placed Farnsworth's position at a different point than generally believed.

However, "Longstreet" also said categorically that Custer's men were NOT armed with Spencer repeating rifles.

My source for the Spencers was a book, not the internet.

On the internet, one can find the following:

Army units began to actually receive their Spencer rifles in January of 1863. The 5th and 6th Michigan Cavalry were the first to get repeaters. Their rifles had been inspected in November of 1862, and shipped in early December. But, the day before they arrived in Michigan, the units had departed for Washington, D.C. 4 The rifles finally caught up with their units almost a month later in Washington.

This internet site does indicate that the 5th and 6th Michigan USED Spencer repeaters at Gettysburg. Moreover, it even indicates that a Confederate soldier used a captured Spencer at Culp's Hill:

The first reported Confederate use of a Spencer was by Sergeant W.O. Johnson, Co. C of the 49th Va. Infantry on July 3rd 1863. He used one of the repeaters in fighting around Culps Hill at the battle of Gettysburg.

Separately, the widipedia also states Custer's men had Spencer repeaters:

Stuart's plan had been to pin down McIntosh's and Custer's skirmishers around the Rummel farm and swing over Cress Ridge, around the left flank of the defenders, but the Federal skirmish line pushed back tenaciously; the troopers from the 5th Michigan Cavalry were armed with Spencer repeating rifles, multiplying their firepower.



Blogger Christopher Perello said...

1. Carhart was preempted long before Wert and the others. Winston Churchill wrote an alternative-history tome in 1934 (1935?) called "What if the South had Lost the Civil War?" In this work, Churchill considers the effect on world history if Stuart had NOT charged the rear of the Union line as Pickett crashed into the front.

2. Carhart's [sic] theory of a massive cavalry charge is highly unlikely. Not once in the entire war, before or after Gettysburg, did Lee call upon his cavalry for large scale mounted action on the battlefield. Likely Lee thought, as did his mentor, Winfield Scott, that mounted cavalry was out of place on the modern battlefield.

2:57 PM  

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