J. D. Petruzzi filmed a joint interview with Tom Carhart as part of the PCN coverage of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg this past July 3. J.D. and Carhart debated the merits of Carhart’s nonsensical theory about the fighting on East Cavalry Field – prior to the interview, J.D. and Carhart agreed that the conversation would remain civil, which it did. Each time that J.D. raised the issue that the evidence did not support his theory, Carhart’s response was to the effect of “I’m a trained soldier, and I know that this is how it was.” At one point, Carhart got so frustrated by J.D.’s insistence that the evidence does not support his theory, he held up his book Lost Triumph to the camera and stated that he was just there to promote his book. After the end of the interview, Carhart took J.D. aside and told him (quoting Carhart according to J.D.) “The reason guys like you and Wittenberg don’t know what you’re talking about is because you never served in the military.”
Ummm….no. While I may not have the formal military training, like Carhart does, I have a license to practice law, and I know and understand evidence, weighing that evidence, and evaluating its credibility. And I know an intellectual fraud when I see one.
I give J.D. a great deal of credit for being civil to this poseur and for not doing a “Jane, you ignorant slut” with him like the old Saturday Night Live bit. I’m not at all persuaded that I would have been able to show the same level of restraint. I would have found it all but impossible not to describe his book as the festering pile of turds that it is. And I would have found it all but impossible not to tell him to his face that he and his book are nothing but an intellectual fraud. Kudos go to J.D. for not doing so. In fact, after viewing that interview, many mutual friends later told J.D. that Carhart looked pathetic, frustrated, nonsensical, and that J.D. must have had infinite patience in dealing with Carhart’s silliness. The interviewer was also obviously increasingly frustrated with Carhart and kept signaling J.D. to move the discussion along as Carhart kept trying to dominate the conversation.
I had a chance to discuss all of this with J.D. at the Williamsport event last weekend, and yesterday, while driving, I had a sudden realization.
The gist of Carhart’s theory is that Stuart’s presence on East Cavalry Field was a coordinated thrust with Pickett’s Charge (one “prong” in a supposed “two “prong” attack), and that it represented a major component of Robert E. Lee’s plan for the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg. I’ve already dealt with the bulk of this stupidity in Appendix C to the new edition of Protecting the Flank. But last night, I had an epiphany about it.
Let’s assume, just for the sake of discussion, that Carhart’s theory is correct (we need to first, of course, throw out all of the definitive evidence that refutes Carhart’s theory). If that’s the case, wouldn’t Stuart have committed all of his troopers to an all-out attack on East Cavalry Field? And would he have just called it a day after the repulse of one large-scale attack, as he did that day, if his orders were to make a coordinated attack with Pickett’s Charge? If he truly was to take the offensive, after that charge was repulsed, wouldn’t he have committed his entire command and tried again? The uncontroverted fact is that he did not do so. Instead, Stuart called it a day after the repulse of the charge of Hampton’s and Fitz Lee’s brigades at the climax of the fighting on East Cavalry Field.
The evidence shows that when he was on the offensive, Stuart was quite aggressive and quite persistent. A study of Stuart’s taking the offensive to the Union cavalry during the retreat from Gettysburg and keeping it tied up for days at a time by constantly attacking it demonstrates this beyond a doubt. Just take a good look at the battle of Boonsboro (July 8, 1863) and the battle of Funkstown (July 10, 1863) for examples of what I mean here. By taking the fight to the Union cavalry and being unrelenting about it, Stuart kept two full divisions of cavalry tied up and away from the defensive position being built by the Army of Northern Virginia. In short, Stuart’s aggressiveness bought Lee the time he needed to forge a largely impregnable defensive position along the banks of the Potomac River at Williamsport. Stuart committed his entire force on each occasion, and launched attack after attack in the process.
By contrast, on East Cavalry Field, Stuart tried once, and then with only a portion of his command. The charge by the brigades of Lee and Hampton that was the climax of the fighting on East Cavalry was only by a portion of his command. Stuart watched and saw his command was repulsed by a vastly outnumbered force scraped together from the brigades of McIntosh and Custer and he called it a day after that. If Stuart’s orders were to reach the Union rear at all costs, would he really have just quit after committing only a portion of his force? And wouldn’t Stuart have known the repercussions of withdrawing from further attempts, if his “offensive” action were indeed a vitally important prong of a “two prong” attack coordinated with the infantry assault? If, as Carhart and others have posited, Stuart was so embarrassed by his performance during the week of June 25 – July 2, and was chastised by Robert E. Lee for it, why would he run the risk of further chastisement and disappointment by Lee by not making an all-out attempt to fulfill his “coordinated mission”?
Knowing Stuart’s tenacity and aggressiveness as well as I do, the fact that Stuart did not press the issue indicates the following to me:
1. He knew his command was in wretched shape from its ordeal on the way to Gettysburg and that his mounts probably could not stand more hard fighting.
2. His orders truly were to guard the flank against what he knew was the presence of two full divisions of cavalry—four of the Army of the Potomac’s eight brigades of cavalry—from the attacks of July 2, and were not to execute some grand, coordinated assault as part of the Pickett’s Charge scenario. This protection of the ANV left flank is, of course, all that Robert E. Lee claimed himself as Stuart’s mission on July 3 in his own official report of the campaign. Nothing more, nothing less.
3. The single mounted charge represented Stuart at his opportunistic best—given the opportunity to break through and make some mischief in the Union rear, he would have done so. He was probing to see whether he could get through, and the repulse persuaded him that he should simply be content with guarding the flank effectually, as he did, and as he was ordered to do.
These observations are the only ones that make any sense. Any other interpretation of these events is neither logical nor supported by the evidence.
But, then again, Carhart’s comments to J.D. demonstrate quite plainly that this man is not one to allow the facts to get in the way of a good story.Scridb filter