25 September 2005 by Published in: Civil War books and authors 18 comments

A version of this post has previously appeared on Bret Schulte’s blog.

I’ve always been one to buck settled history. In my mind, the only way to make sure that history remains a living, breathing, evolving thing is to challenge its settled assumptions. Properly and responsibly done, revisionism can be a powerful and welcome tool that causes us all to sit back and ask whether we should change the way we look at things. Consequently, I’ve always been known as one who’s not afraid of tilting at windmills.

However, doing so carries a great deal of responsibility. Whenever we challenge settled interpretations of history, we must do so carefully. Words are an extraordinarily powerful tool, and the choice of words can play havoc on people and on settled interpretations. Consequently, the only appropriate way to revise settled history is to do so responsibly and where there is ample evidence to support those revisionist interpretations of history.

I wish I could say that Tom Carhart’s recent book, _Lost Triumph: Lee’s Real Plan at Gettysburg–and Why It Failed_ is a worthy piece of revisionist history that adds something to the existing body of knowledge. Sadly, I cannot. Carhart’s work is revisionism of the worst sort–it’s grossly irresponsible, and there is not a shred of evidence to support Carhart’s contentions. What astonishes me most of all is that people have been flocking to buy this piece of tripe and that prominent and well-respected historians such as James McPherson and John Keegan have put their imprimatur on something that has no basis in fact.

Carhart’s theory is that Pickett’s Charge was to be coordinated with Jeb Stuart’s thrust at the Union rear with his cavalry. According to Carhart, the one true hero of the Battle of Gettysburg–the man who saved the Union–was Brig. Gen. George A. Custer. Thus, the clash on East Cavalry Field takes on an importance that it never had. Even for the most ardent cavalry admirer–like me–East Cavalry Field, while tactically important, has never been much more than a sideshow to the big show, to borrow a line from Sam Watkins.

The problem with this theory is that there simply is not a single shred of evidence to support it. There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that Stuart’s movement was in any fashion coordinated with what we now know as Pickett’s Charge. Not to be deterred by the facts, Carhart makes the preposterous and wholly unsubstantiated claim that the historical evidence was either destroyed, or even more absurd, that it was hidden and kept from Jeb Stuart to protect his delicate ego. Never mind that there is not a single stitch of evidence to support any of this. Where there is no evidence, Carhart just makes it up, inventing conversations that never took place to suit his purposes.

Where there is historical or documentary evidence that rebuts his theory, Carhart either manipulates it to suit his purposes, or he launches personal attacks on them. An excellent example of this is Brig. Gen. David M. Gregg, who commanded the Federal forces on East Cavalry Field. Gregg, according to Carhart, lied in his official report of the action in order to steal the credit that rightfully belonged to George A. Custer. The problem with this is that even the staunchest Custer supporter–Capt. James H. Kidd, who was Custer’s hand-picked successor to command the Michigan Cavalry Brigade when Custer was promoted to division command–saw it otherwise. Here’s what Kidd had to say about this:

“Thus, it is made plain that there was no ‘mistake’ about it. It was Gregg’s prescience. He foresaw the risk of attempting to guard the right flank with only the two decimated brigades of his own division. With him, to see was to act. He took the responsibility of intercepting Kilpatrick’s rear and largest brigade, turning it off the Baltimore pike to the right, instead of allowing it to go to the left as it had been ordered to do, and thus, doubtless, a serious disaster was averted. It makes us tremble to think of what might have been, of what inevitably must have happened had Gregg, with only two two little brigades of McIntosh and Irvin Gregg, and Randol’s battery, tried to cope single-handed with the four brigades and three batteries, comprising the very flower of Confederate cavalry and artillery, which those brave knights–Stuart, Hampton and Fitzhugh Lee–were marshaling in person on Cress’ Ridge. If Custer’s presence on this field was opportune, and, as has often been said, providential, it is to General D. M. Gregg to whom, under Providence, the credit for bringing him here is due. Gregg was a great and modest soldier; let us pause a moment before we enter upon a description of the coming battle, to pay him the tribute of our admiration. In the light of all of the official reports, put together link by link, so as to make one connected chain of evidence, we can see that the engagement which took place twenty-six years ago, was, from first to last, a well planned battle, in which the different commands were maneuvered and placed with the same sagacity displayed by a skillful chess player in moving the pieces upon a chess board; in which every detail was the fruit of the brain of one man, who, from the time when he turned Custer to the northward until he sent the First Michigan thundering against the brigades of Hampton and Fitzhugh Lee made not a single false move; who was distinguished not less for his intuitive foresight than for his quick perceptions at critical moments. That man was General David McM. Gregg.”

Unlike Tom Carhart, James H. Kidd was there, and was an active participant in that battle. Kidd had the benefit of his own observations, as well as of speaking with many other veterans. Kidd also worshipped George Custer. Kidd also said, “This conclusion has been reached by a mind not–certainly not–predisposed in that direction, after a careful recent study, and review of all the information within reach bearing upon that eventful day. If the Michigan Brigade won honors there that will not perish, it was to Gregg that it owed the opportunity; and his guiding hand it was that made its blows effective. We shall see how, later in the day, he again boldly took responsibility at a critical moment and held Custer to his work on the right, even after the latter had been ordered by higher authority than he (Gregg), to rejoin Kilpatrick, and after Custer had begun the movement.”

It bears noting that these passages by Kidd come from his speech at the 1889 dedication of the monument to the Michigan Cavalry Brigade that stands on the spot where the 1st Michigan Cavalry’s charge crashed into the onrushing Confederate cavalry on East Cavalry Field. This address has been published a number of times, including in Kidd’s well-known memoirs and also in a MOLLUS paper, and was readily available to Carhart. He never mentions it in his book.

Another point that needs to be made here is that Gregg actually usurped Custer twice during the fighting on East Cavalry Field. On two separate instances, Gregg issued orders directly to the commanders of first the 7th Michigan and later the 1st Michigan Cavalry regiments to charge. On both instances, Custer joined the charges, but he never ordered them. The fact that Custer had only been a general officer for four days, and that other than the fights and Hanover and Hunterstown, he had never led anything larger than a squad, while Gregg had been a general officer since the fall of 1862 and had a great deal more experience may have had something to do with this. Alternatively, perhaps expedience may have required that Gregg usurp Custer. Irrespective of the motives, the fact remains that Custer never ordered these charges, Gregg did. There is plenty of historical evidence to prove this.

Quite disenguously, Carhart then argues that Gregg–who, by the way, was known as one of the modest and self-effacing officers to serve in the Army of the Potomac–intentionally downplayed Custer’s role in order to play up his own role. This outrageous, slanderous claim flies directly in the face of ample historical evidence: David Gregg was remembered fondly by his men as “tall and spare, of notable activity, capable of the greatest exertion and exposure; gentle in manner but bold and resolute in action. Firm and just in discipline he was a favorite of his troopers and ever held, for he deserved, their affection and entire confidence.” Gregg knew the principles of war and was always ready and eager to apply them. Endowed “with a natural genius of high order, he [was] universally hailed as the finest type of cavalry leader. A man of unimpeachable personal character, in private life affable and genial but not demonstrative, he fulfilled with modesty and honor all the duties of the citizen and head of an interesting and devoted family.” A former officer later commented that Gregg’s “modesty kept him from the notoriety that many gained through the newspapers; but in the army the testimony of all officers who knew him was the same. Brave, prudent, dashing when occasion required dash, and firm as a rock, he was looked upon, both as a regimental commander and afterwards as Major-General, as a man in whose hands any troops were safe.” His men called him “Old Reliable.” Does that sound like a man who would downplay Custer’s role just to advance his own interests?

Carhart also claims that Stuart’s decision to order one of his batteries to fire four shots in the four directions of the compass was a signal to Robert E. Lee that he was in position and that Lee could then order the grand assault that became Pickett’s Charge. There is not a single shred of documentary evidence to support this claim. None at all. Further, historian Bill Styple has recently published an excellent new book titled _Generals in Bronze_, which consists of transcripts of interviews conducted by the eminent sculptor, James Kelly, who sculpted the monument to John Buford on the Gettysburg battlefield. 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.”

My experience is that H. B. McClellan, who was Stuart’s adjutant, is a reliable and dependable source. So much for Carhart’s nonsensical theory.

Carhart also devotes a major portion of this book–in redundant and poorly written fashion–discussing the historical battles that were taught as the primary curriculum at West Point. The actual discussion of the fighting on East Cavalry Field occupies only a small portion of the overall book, but Carhart claims that these historical lessons molded, formed, and drove Lee’s strategy for the third day at Gettysburg. Never mind that there is no evidence to support any of this. Instead, Carhart conveniently claims that a 1935 fire destroyed the evidence. How convenient.

The rest of this book is just as poorly researched. The book has no bibliography, which makes it impossible to examine the scope of his research. When we reach the discussion of East Cavalry Field, the only real primary sources consulted by Carhart seem to be the Official Records of the Civil War, and the correspondence by veterans included in _The Bachelder Papers_. While the _Bachelder Papers_ are an invaluable source, there are many more important primary sources that Carhart either ignored outright, or more likely, simply disregarded if they did not support his thesis. That this is lazy at best and intellectually dishonest at worst should be obvious.

This book also contains many major errors. How, for instance, is it possible to sneak 4,000 mounted men behind Union lines without detection? According to Carhart, the paved road network meant that billowing clouds of dust would not betray his presence. Later on, Carhart claims that Custer saw the dust of Stuart’s advance, thereby enabling him to prepare his brilliant defense. Which is it? These sorts of inconsistencies fill this book and leave the reader scratching his or her head and wondering just what the hell Carhart’s really trying to say.

I think that the thing that bothers me the most about this book is that Amazon.com, which seems to be selling the hell out of it, has apparently decided that it is no longer interested in honest and fair critical assessments of the works it sells in its reviews section. There have been multiple negative reviews of this festering pile of garbage, and most–but not all–have been censored by Amazon. I am aware, for instance, that one individual has had three different reviews deleted/censored by Amazon. Of course, any fawning review is kept, but anything that questions or otherwise criticizes this terrible book gets censored, meaning that unknowing or unsuspecting consumers will end up buying this book because they have been intentionally misled. In my mind, this is consumer fraud. Then, when the likes of Keegan and McPherson endorse this garbage, it only adds to the appearance of the legitimacy of what is a lousy piece of work.

This book is an intellectually dishonest, poorly researched, fabricated piece of tripe that manipulates SOME of the available evidence to support foregone conclusions and which should be marketed as fiction. It is certainly not history, and it constitutes revisionism of the worst variety. Save your money. Buy a happy meal at McDonald’s. You will find it to be a much better–and ultimately more satisfying–use of your hard-earned money.

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Comments

  1. Lawrence B. Ebert
    Mon 17th Oct 2005 at 12:41 pm

    In the foreward to Tom Carhart’s 2005 “Lost Triumph” [about the cavalry engagement at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863], we have Professor James M. McPherson of Princeton University refer to the book as “innovative” and state “Most important, we have not previously comprehended Lee’s full tactical plan for July 3 in which Stuart’s cavalry was to have an essential part. No historian before Tom Carhart has pieced together the whole story from the scattered bits of evidence.”

    The idea that Carhart was “first” with this theory has been questioned by D. Scott Hartwig ["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. "] Further, 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.

    Of the Carhart idea that the cavalry action was coordinated with Pickett’s charge and with action on Culp’s Hill, why did Stuart’s command fire cannon before 12 noon on July 3, thereby announcing their presence to the Union command long before Pickett’s charge began and long after the action at Culp’s Hill had ended?

    [More at IPBiz.blogspot.com]

  2. Mon 17th Oct 2005 at 5:47 pm

    Lawrence,

    I read your review on Amazon.com and said “bully” for you as I did. Since Amazon has now deleted three different reviews by me, I’ve given up. You have said a lot of what I said.

    I would, however, caution you about the Walker book. It’s one of the worst books I have ever read. Of the approximately 100 pages of this book, only 12 deal with East Cavalry Field, and there was no research to speak of that I could detect.

    Lousy book.

    Nevertheless, your point is well taken, and I very much appreciate your support.

    Eric

  3. Lawrence B. Ebert
    Tue 18th Oct 2005 at 9:19 am

    Eric,

    Thank you for the reply. I understand your point about the Walker book.

    Of the theory priority issue, the question in good scholarship is whether one acknowledges previous work, even if the previous work is considered faulty. Here, Walker advanced the theory prior to Carhart. It seems Carhart might have commented on deficiencies in Walker’s theory or underlying factual support, rather than ignoring the book completely. Curiously, a similar issue has been presented in patent law, in the case of Eolas v. Microsoft, of some relevance to everyone who uses browsers. The inventor of the patent at issue (then a professor at University of California at Berkeley) was told about a different browser (Wei’s Viola browser) but chose not to mention this work to the Patent Office. The case is not over. However, it may turn out that the failure to mention the prior work will be more detrimental to the inventor than was the relevance of the prior work.

    Of the allegation that the cavalry engagement was underreported, one notes that details of the cavalry engagement were published in Gettysburg!, a special issue of Civil War Times Illustrated, in an article by Wilbur S. Nye. Nye’s map, appearing on page 29 of Gettysburg!, is arguably better than Carhart’s map on page 219. I believe the first publication of Gettysburg! was in 1963, although it has been re-published.
    As you know, many Civil War historians have not ignored the cavalry engagement.

    Of the substantive issue of whether this was a coordinated plan in which Stuart would cause disruption by going down the Baltimore Pike while Pickett attacked, I have difficulty with Stuart’s firing cannon before 12 noon, which basically assured that Stuart would be strongly opposed long before Pickett would be charging.

    Lawrence B. Ebert
    blog: IPBiz.blogspot

  4. Tue 18th Oct 2005 at 9:20 pm

    Lawrence,

    Your point is well taken, and as a lawyer myself, I appreciate your point analogy about patent law.

    The point is that the engagement has definitely not been ignored, and there is simply nothing novel or new about his theory. My book, which came out in 2002, attempts to debunk that theory in some detail.

    As for the firing of the cannon, I find the H. B. McClellan statements to be conclusive evidence that there was nothing coordinated between the two actions.

    Eric

  5. Lawrence B. Ebert
    Sun 13th Nov 2005 at 10:53 pm

    Just as a heads-up, a short discussion of the Carhart claim to priority, in the context of the concept of anticipation in patent law, will appear in the November 2005 issue of Intellectual Property Today in an article “You only look twice.”

    To place this in context, in the year 2005, we have much discussion about reform needed for the patent office and we have a bill drafted in the House (H.R. 2795). One issue is that there has been a lack of “quality” in the examination of patent applications, with examiners frequently missing relevant prior art, art which purportedly should have anticipated or rendered obvious claims in applications which (mistakenly) became patents.

    With the Carhart matter, we have a theory asserted to be novel by a number of well-credentialed experts, with more degrees than a typical patent examiner. Yet, the theory was published more than one year before Carhart’s book, and was even discussed in published book reviews more than one year before Carhart’s books. [And, yes, the theory was published even before Walker's book, and, yes, the theory itself is questionable, but I'm just looking at the ability of knowledgeable people not to recognize or discuss "prior art."]

  6. Yvonne
    Wed 11th Jun 2008 at 2:33 pm

    I loved the possibility of this book. I read it simply as his opinion and maybe it is not factual as you say there is not enough proof. Just how much proof was kept from the South. You know “To the victors goes the spoils” The books not written right after the war are always more factual than those writtenlater. Just look what our children are NOT being taught about the reason the war was fought in the first place. When does States Rights
    per our constitution get mentioned.. I’m sorry you can’t see the pleasure of the possibility and leave it at that.

  7. Wed 18th Jun 2008 at 9:32 pm

    Yvonne,

    With all due respect, I’m a historian. It’s what I do.

    I don’t deal in possibilities. I deal in facts. What I don’t deal in is fiction, and fiction is what this festering pile of turds is.

    Eric

  8. Doug
    Sun 16th Nov 2008 at 9:51 pm

    I have spent 25 years in the military as an officer, and worked as a planner and operator in places such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Colombia, as well as national level counterdrug planning. Most of my career was in the Special Forces where we do considerable work behind enemy lines. I am also a historian and have my BA in history (I’m looking into getting my PhD in history also). I can tell you now that there is no single reason for Stuart to have been behind Meade’s lines except for the purpose of an attack. Any other explanation is buffoonery. No one whose military experience comes from a library book with a cup of coffee in hand can ever convince me otherwise. 25 years experience gives me no other consideration except that Stuart meant to attack. The ‘strategic envelopment’ was a classic Napoleonic move which Lee had employed several times, most notably at Chancellorsville. In fact, Lee fought Napoleonic style tactics better than anyone in the war (Grant’s style of fighting, such as Vicksburg, would not be seen again until World War II). Why Lee would move Stuart to Meade’s rear and not conduct a rear attack, which is classic Napoleon, makes no military sense what-so-ever. Even if it was not Napoleonic, it still would make no military sense what-so-ever. To hell with the historians, 25 years of military experience tells me what I need to know.

  9. Sun 16th Nov 2008 at 10:06 pm

    Thank you for your service–it’s much appreciated.

    The rest of what you wrote, not so much. The cheap shots are not appreciated, and if you do it again, you will be banned from MY site.

    The flaw in your argument is that Stuart was NEVER in Meade’s rear, only on the flank. And I will take the words of the actual participants over your 25 years, any time.

    Next?

    Eric

  10. Doug
    Wed 19th Nov 2008 at 7:25 pm

    Eric,
    Sorry for the late reply. I’m at a busy time. Also, I’ll heed the warning on the language. I forget that civilians are not used to the sometimes overly blunt and colorful language we use in the military. I’ll tone it down. BTW: I appreciate you having a web site that opens up dialogue such as this discussion. I think it makes for great debate of an obviously very controversial topic.

    I must say I’m first very interested in who at the time said that Stuart was on the flank? That is a mystery to me, and I’d like to see how he stated it and in what context. Was it the report of Stuart’s aide…McClellan?

    If I were to develop a MCOO (Modified Combined Obstacle Overlay) and a mobility overlay, Stuart would not end up on a flank, but clearly behind my lines. First, I recommend to try not to think of a units location based on latitude/longitude (as I know he is pretty much straight east of Ewell), but think of “effects” (a term we commonly use in our current combat zones). If Stuart’s intent was to somehow have an effect on the flank, he is much too far east to be doing a screening operation (i.e. on the defense), and if he is on the offense to effect the flank, he is pretty far away. I even had one of my armor NCOs state that if Stuart was trying to affect the Meade’s flank, he appears to be lost. I’ll talk McClellan’s comments later on.

    If I were to make the overlays mentioned above, I would probably draw my lines to show anything that could possibly have an effect on my rear as anything east of Rock Creek and White Run Creek (I’m looking at a map which shows the battlefield din 1863), as I have Union cavalry screening just northwest of the White Creek area. On a modern map, Highway 15 is well behind my lines, and Stuart is well east of that. If I were the Operations Officer of an army, and I told my commander that Stuart was not in my rear, but on the flank, and he then saw Stuart’s position, I’d be on a quick airplane home with a recommendation on my officer evaluation report saying “do not promote” (as a minimum). From that position, Stuart is not in a good position to roll my flank, but he can have a devastating effect on my rear operations, regardless of his being about a mile or two north of my exact center rear. His position would be frightful in regards to what he could do to my rear area. If Carhart’s map is correct, all Stuart needs to do is take the Bonaughton and Baltimore roads, and my army will be experiencing a very significant emotional event in the worst way in a very short time. Stuart would not be in a good position to role my flank because he would run into the cavalry screening my flank. But he is in a great position to wreak havoc on my rear.

    I doubt the theory some have used that Stuart was going to just harass the lines of communication (LOCs). Attacking LOCs can have varying effects depending on how far to my rear they are attacked. However, there is nothing Stuart can do to my LOCs which could affect my ability to hold off Picket in an attack which is about to take place. Also, rear areas in armies during those days were not like rear armies of today which practically have cities of headquarters and logistics behind them. Meade was up near the front lines, and any weapons and munitions which would be used in the attack were either near the line, or too late in coming to have an effect on the battle. Had Stuart attacked any logistical wagons along the road 12-24 hours earlier, it might have had an impact. But Lee was already out numbered in the battle. Therefore, the principle of war “Mass” and “Economy of Force” were of utmost importance to Lee, just as they had been in all Lee’s previously battles. He could not attack the full Union line, he had too few forces, but he had to use “economy of force” and concentrate his “mass” at the key location (something he was remarkably effective at during the 7 Days Battle). If Lee was sending the large groups of troops away from the battlefield to attack LOCs, I would need to take Lee of the list of great tacticians, and put him down with the three Bs (Burnside, Butler, and Banks). Napoleon’s Les Manoeuvre Sur Les Derrieres (or “Strategic Envelopment” as David Chandler translates it) had been an effective technique Lee had employed earlier, and with Stuart’s previously knowledge of the enemy rear area from his earlier venture, using the Les Manoeuvre Sur Les Derrieres was a very good idea on Lee’s part.

    As far as an historical sense, I do know that Stuart’s aide, H.B. McClellan stated that “At about noon Stuart, with Jenkins’ and Chambliss’ brigades, moved out on the York turnpike, to take position on the left of the Confederate line of battle.” It’s an interesting comment and I wonder if that is the one you are refereeing to. The route does take Stuart to the Northeast, and then his move south obviously puts him in geographically east of Ewell, but I would never call Stuart on the “Line of battle”. In 1863 warfare, Stuart would need to be almost touching to be on the “line of battle.” In modern warfare I could see the term used, but not in 1863. If that was truly Stuart’s intent to be on the line of battle, then I think my armor NCO is correct in stating that Stuart “was lost.” However, I cannot image Stuart moving several miles up the York Road and thinking he was still on the “line of battle.” He is anything but. If that is McClellan’s true intent, he is either mistaken, or intentionally trying to cover things up. I don’t know a military mind today who would call Stuart “on the line of battle” when he met the Union cavalry.

    McClellan also states that “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.” “Protect the left of Ewell’s corps? !!!!“ This leaves me seriously in question of McClellan’s motives about writing this. A proper screening operation to protect Ewell’s flank and rear would have been to have positioned his troops generally along creek that goes from behinds Ewell’s lines (Stuart would have needed to connect to the east flank of Ewell, of course), and generally hold the line along that creek as it goes between Benner’s and Wolf’s Hill (I don’t see a name on the creek on the old 1863 map I am looking at). Whether Stuart screened along the creek or on the hill would depend on the terrain on the ground, but based on a map recon, I’d initially look at putting my cavalry along the northwest side of the creek, and position my artillery on Benner’s Hill (vegetation and visibility from Benner’s Hill would obviously effect my decision). I would then ensure that I had proper surveillance on both Hanover and York Pike roads.

    But as it was, Ewell’s rear and flank were very much vulnerable to Gregg’s cavalry had Meade and the Army of the Potomac had any sense of offensive operations in mind. Ewell’s rear was so exposed that I’m surprise that Gregg didn’t request an attack. There was nothing stopping it. Again, if McClellan really calls Stuarts position near the Low Dutch Road as ‘protecting Ewell’s corps,’ I need to put both Stuart and Lee on the list of the three Bs. Most offensive-minded commanders would dream of such an enemy “flank protection” position. I have great difficulty believing that McClellan really thought he could be taken seriously by professional military officers in saying that the two mile gap between Stuart and Ewell was ‘protecting Ewell.’ The position of the cavalry battle field leaves both the Hanover and York Pike roads complete exposed. Stuart is not protecting the Confederate rear!!! Perhaps had McClellan known the battle would be studied so much, he might have found a different excuse. Not to be rude, but I question McClellan’s sanity with the comment. No military mind would ever call Stuart’s position “flank protection“ or “rear protection” of any confederate force that day.

    The final point would come to “hearsay, I suppose. As Fitzhugh Lee wrote: “The position held by my cavalry at Gettysburg on the morning of the 3d was held by them at dark. They never left it except to go to the front in a charge. Such a condition of things could not have existed had other portions of the line been abandoned.”

    That seems to indicate that Stuart stayed on the defensive the whole time. Yet, as Carhart quotes William Brooke-Rawle of the 3rd Penn, “In close columns of squadrons, advancing as if in review, with sabers drawn and glistening like silver in the bright sunlight, the spectacle called forth a murmur of admiration. It was, indeed, a memorable one.” There does seem to be room for Carhart’s comments that 4,000 confederates were on the move. Being so close to Meade’s rear, it would be a mystery of all times if Stuart had not made an attempt to strike Meade in the rear.

    I think to sum it up I really have to question McClellan’s motives in why he said Stuart was in a position to protect Ewell. If the man were here today and told me that, I’d have no trouble telling him he were either completely ignorant or stupid, or a very bad liar. Stuart was in NO position to protect any part of the Confederate army, but he is in a dandy position to attack Meade’s rear!

    V/R Doug

  11. tim
    Tue 26th Jun 2012 at 2:42 pm

    Well said on both accounts Doug. I too feel the idea that Stuart was either lost or holding a defensive postition is absurd. McClellan’s own words noted a Michigan Cavalry charge against an advancing Stuart. Defensive maneuvers would dictate that you DON’T charge. If they were truly lost (a fact that I think is preposterous as those men knew how to navigate the countryside), then a hasty retreat would be in order.
    I thank you Doug for bringing out the battlefield jargon and thought process, as so many people who write believe they know even if they don’t. I think your assessment of Lee’s ability is correct, his ingenuity is well documented and he would not have attempted such a futile charge unless he had a diversion in mind. Now, I am not saying that Stuart was supposed to attack with the intent of breaking the Union lines, but isn’t it possible that the intent was to draw some attention/fire from the Union line so as to allow Pickett to succeed?
    I dare say that people who reccount their actions have a tendency to exagerate what happened, or, more simply, forget what happened (ask anyone who was in a car accident) and attempt to fill in any holes in their memory with a “best guess”.
    As far as documentation is concerned, Stuart had Carte Blanche as far as movement. Lee didn’t know where he was when the battle first started. Sitting in Lee’s quarters the night before the charge, listening to the battle plan would have been great, but when it comes to Stuart, I was under the impression that most of his orders were verbal and he was free to improvise within reason.

  12. Tue 17th Jul 2012 at 10:26 pm

    I don’t know who General Eric (the “General”) is, but I gather he knows the Battle of Gettysburg battlefield as his on-line bio tells that he attended Dickinson College. His bio also tells that he is a lawyer and “arm chair” historian. I am neither, but I have been a “student” of the Battle of Gettysburg since I was 14 years old. For a variety of reasons, I have been revisiting the action on July 3rd on what is known as the East Cavalry Battlefield. This includes having just finished reading Tom Carhart’s “Lost Triumph.”
    My great-great uncle, my mother’s mother’s favorite brother, was Capt. William Wallace Rogers. He joined the 3rd Penna. Cavalry during its formation in July, 1861 in Philadelphia. At the time of the Battle of Gettysburg he was in command of Company (Squadron) “L” of the 3rd Penna. and was actively involved in the actions on the East Cavalry Battlefield on July 3rd.

    At the bottom of page 213 of “Lost Triumph” Tom Carhart quotes the “Bachelder Papers,” volume 2, 1123:
    “The 1st N.J. becoming warmly engaged, two squadrons of the 3rd Penna. Cav. were sent in on their left. The enemy then ran out a battery on the knoll in front of the woods in which they had their forces masked and at the same time further strengthened their line.” One of these two squadrons was “L,” commanded by Capt. W. W. Rogers.

    The General attacks the position of author Tom Carhart that Lee’s plan was to have Stuart out flank the Union right and attack the rear of Meade’s army in support of Pickett’s Charge. He argues that without hard facts Tom Carhart’s thesis is without any merit, and he stands on the established, conventional wisdom of “historians” that Pickett’s Charge was a great mistake by Lee.

    While the debate will go on, I strongly ascribe to the position put forth by Tom Carhart in “Lost Triumph.” This is not a new revelation for me. In fact it goes back to my mother’s mother who passed on the stories of W.W. Rogers military service, my grandmother having been born in 1890, the year W. W. Rogers died. The oral history I was told as a young boy in the 1950s, and my mother’s family back to the 1630’s was very good at oral history, is that the action on the East Battlefield at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863 was a very important action and vital to preserving the Union. Building on that foundation, and with my own study of the Battle, including commentators who preceded Tom Carhart by decades in believing that Lee planned for Stuart to outflank the Union right and attack Meade’s army from the rear, I was convinced of what the “General” refuses to consider absent a written record to this effect.

    My thanks to Doug, 16 Nov. 2008, in support of Tom Carhart’s central thesis, and his follow-up back then to the “General’s” rebuttal that “The flaw in your argument is that Stuart was NEVER in Meade’s rear, only on the flank. And I will take the word of the actual participants over your 25 years any time.” Interestingly, Lt. William Brooke Rawle, a 3rd Penna. Cavalry Lieutenant on the right flank on July 3rd is recorded as writing: “Had Stuart succeeded in his well-laid plan, and, with his large force of cavalry, struck the Army of the Potomac in the rear of its line of battle, directly towards which he was moving, simultaneously with Longstreet’s magnificent and furious assault in its front, when our infantry had all it could do to hold on to the line of Cemetery Ridge, and but little more was needed to make the assault a success- the merest tyro in the art of war can readily tell what the result would have been.” Source “Commander-in-Chief Biographies, Major General David McMurtrie Gregg,” MOLLUS web site.

    Capt. Rogers was wounded in attacking the Confederate charge from the left in support of Custer and his Michigan troopers counter-charge, being shot twice in his own words, once in the “right breast” and once in the “left shoulder.” He returned to duty in Sept., 1863 and served throughout the War.
    On one point I must agree with the “General.” I think that Tom Carhart’s heavy criticism of Gen. Gregg is much overdone and undeserved. Gregg was a much better officer than he is portrayed as being in “Lost Triumph,” and certainly was very much responsible for his forces being in the “right place at the right time.”

    John (former Capt., U.S. Army, MI)

  13. Wed 18th Jul 2012 at 8:03 am

    Mr. Nesbitt,

    I appreciate your writing.

    Be assured that I know what I’m talking about. I am an award-winning Civil War historian who specializes in cavalry actions with 17 books in print. If you can wait a bit, you will see a new edition of my book Protecting the Flank that contains a 6000 word essay that completely dismantles Carhart’s academic fraud. It speaks for itself, and I commend it to you.

  14. Fri 20th Jul 2012 at 12:05 am

    General,
    I had no idea that I was I was “corresponding” with the Eric J. Wittenberg who wrote Protecting the Flank: The Battles for Brinkerhoff’s Ridge and East Cavalry Field- maybe I am “blogging,” if so it is my first experience with this form of modern correspondence. I have your book in front of me, having purchased it at the National Park Service gift and bookstore at Gettysburg almost ten years ago. It has been most helpful , particularly as a quick reference to the cavalry battles of July 2-3, 1863. The maps on pp. 67 and 95 and the accompanying text have been particularly helpful when visiting those cavalry battlefields. Thank you for authoring such a useful book.

    The following was written by me for our family records re: William Wallace Rogers before I bought and read Lost Triumph in recent weeks on the positive recommendation of a friend who has a strong foreign service background and grounding in military history. Since then I have had e-correspondence with staff at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania who seem to find the thesis of “Lost triumph” of interest. At least they don’t seem hostile to it.

    The cavalry battle at Gettysburg, called the East Cavalry Field, on the afternoon of July 3, 1863, in which Capt. Rogers was wounded, was both a major cavalry action and an important part of the Union victory on that day. There are many historical reports of Capt. Rogers’ valor that day. “While the 1st Michigan slugged it out with Hampton (Wade Hampton’s Confederate cavalry) who by now was supported on the flanks by Lee and Chambliss, additional bodies of Federals that had been scattered about the field rallied and struck the Confederates on the flanks. Among them were two squadrons of the 3rd Pennsylvania, under Captain Charles Treichel and Lieutenant William Rogers (should be Capt. Rogers) who struck the Confederates on the right” and with others joining in “Soon the entire Confederate assault was being repulsed…” Blue and Gray Magazine, October, 1988, page 38. Other sources that report this action include: Gettysburg: Day Three by Jeffry D. Wert, Simon & Schuster (2001), p. 269; and, Protecting the Flanks: The Battles for Brinkerhoff’s Ridge and East Cavalry Field, Battle of Gettysburg, July 2-3, 1863 by Eric J. Wittenberg, Ironclad Publishing (2002), pp. 68 & 107.
    Excerpt from THE MILITARY CAREER AND FAMILY HISTORY OF WILLIAM WALLACE ROGERS, Including the all too short, unfortunate military service of his son Dewey Rogers (who died in action in the Boxer Rebellion with the 9th Infantry). Compiled from family and other sources by John J. Nesbitt, III (June 5, 2012).

    You will recall that in my, I guess “blog,” in response to your uncompromising, actually scathing, “review” of Lost Triumph I made a point to explain to you that I have a voice in this matter based on Rogers’ family oral history as follows, This is not a new revelation for me. In fact it goes back to my mother’s mother who passed on the stories of W.W. Roger’s military service, my grandmother having been born in 1890, the year W. W. Rogers died. The oral history I was told as a young boy in the 1950s, and my mother’s family back to the 1630’s was very good at oral history, is that the action on the East Battlefield at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863 was a very important action and vital to preserving the Union.

    While I knew that this view of the cavalry action on July 3rd at Gettysburg was not shared by all, particularly in the official and “formal” histories of the Battle of Gettysburg, I did not focus much of my time and attention on this controversy until 1988. That was the year that Blue & Grey Magazine in the October number published their “Anniversary Issue,” “Gettysburg Cavalry Operations: June 27-July 3, 1863.” Like your book, Protecting the Flank, this issue of Blue & Grey Magazine has been a useful reference, particularly the maps on pp. 36 and 37 for their size and some details. But, I took exception to the opening of the description of the July 3rd action on the East Cavalry Field, which was as follows, “One of the myths of the battle of Gettysburg is that Lee planned for Stuart to strike Cemetery Ridge in rear simultaneously with “Pickett’s Charge.” There is no evidence to support this theory. Rather, it appears Lee merely wanted Stuart to protect his left flank, and to be in position to threaten the Union rear and harass a hoped-for rout of Meade’s army.” Blue & Grey Magazine, Oct., 1988, p. 32, as it was contrary to the Rogers’ family history as told to me by William Wallace Rogers’ niece, my grandmother, whose mother was his sister, who, living into the 1930s, was also able to pass on this oral history on to my mother (who only passed away in 2003).

    Civil War Era Photographs of William Wallace Rogers, Capt. 3rd Pennsylvania Cavalry
    As my mother and her mother were very good at keeping the Rogers’ family history “alive,” as have been other branches of the Rogers family, both in documentation and orally, I have benefited from that, and have as time allows built upon that base of information. Hence, I was pleased to come upon your book Protecting the Flank, particularly since on first glance it seemed to complement my knowledge, including Brooke-Rawle’s 1878 record, of the cavalry battle of July 3rd. But, then I got into your conclusions, specifically on page 130, of Protecting the Flank, where you say, “Therefore, although Stuart never really explained his reasons for being where he was, analysis plainly shows plainly that he intended to ambush Gregg’s Federals and that the attempted ambush failed.” As you will know, the italics are mine. I would like to be more kind, but this is nonsense. Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Fifth Edition (1945) defines an ambush as follows: “1. A post or tactical trap of troops in wait, concealed for the purpose of attacking an enemy by surprise; hence, a device to entrap.” In simplest terms, Stuart’s movements on July 3rd do not at all demonstrate a move to “entrap” Gregg’s cavalry, but rather a movement to out flank the Union right to gain the rear of the Union lines, and, when confronted by resistance, to aggressively defeat and pass through this resistance in time to be in concert with Pickett’s Charge.

    I should note at this point that on May 1, 1863 1st Lt. W. W. Rogers, up to then in Company C, 3rd Pennsylvania Cavalry, was promoted to Capt. upon being transferred to Company L, with which he served at Gettysburg, as well as after he had recovered from his wounds of July 3rd. Brooke Rawle joined Company C on May 16, 1863 as a 2nd Lt. For myself, as a student at Bucknell University I completed Army ROTC and went on to serve, following graduate school, as a military intelligence officer 1967-1969, leaving the Army as a Captain. My active duty officer training included I.O.B.C. at the infantry school at Ft. Benning, GA and the officers’ Combat Intelligence course at the Army Intelligence School, then at Ft. Holabird, MD. My active duty service was with a joint services intelligence “branch” of the DOD.

    You almost casually dismiss the viewpoint of “Doug,” apparently a former military officer with combat experience and Special Ops. knowledge by his own description back in 2008, as follows:
    Question: “Why Lee would move Stuart to Meade’s rear and not conduct a rear attack, which is classic Napoleon, makes no military sense what-so-ever. Even if it was not Napoleonic, it still would make no military sense what-so-ever.” Doug 16 Nov 2008.” Response: “The flaw in your argument is that Stuart was NEVER in Meade’s rear, only on the flank. And I will take the words of the actual participants over your 25 years, any time.” The General 16 Nov 2008 Response to Response: “ …Stuart is not in a good position to roll my flank, but he can have a devastating effect on my rear operations, regardless of his being about a mile or two north of my exact center rear. His position would be frightful in regards to what he could do to my rear area. If Carhart’s map is correct, all Stuart needs to do is take the Bonaughton and Baltimore roads, and my army will be experiencing a very significant emotional event in the worst way in a very short time. Stuart would not be in a good position to role (sic) my flank because he would run into the cavalry screening my flank. But he is in a great position to wreak havoc on my rear.” Doug 19 Nov 2008.

    You say to Doug that you “…will take the words of the actual participants over your 25 years, any time.” To that I direct your attention to the written record as put forth by “actual participants” William Brooke-Rawle, 3rd Pennsylvania Cavalry, and Frederick C. Newhall, 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry, as follows:

    THE RIGHT FLANK AT GETTYSBURG, BY WILLIAM BROOKE-RAWLE (1878)

    “…on the right flank occurred one of the most beautiful cavalry fights of the war, and one most important in its results. It may be confidently asserted that, had it not been for General
    D. McM. Gregg and the three brigades under his command on the Bonaughtown road, on July 3d, 1863, that day would have resulted differently, and, instead of a glorious victory, the name of “Gettysburg ” would suggest a state of affairs which it is not agreeable to contemplate.” p. 6

    Brooke-Rawle then attributes lack of knowledge of the importance of this action partially to the fact that, “The Second Cavalry Division, moreover, was not a favorite among the newspaper correspondents.
    None of them were attached nominally to its staff, nor allowed in its camps or among its men, for its commander saw the mischief which they worked. He was appreciated the more for his rule, but there are instances of others thereby gathering in the ephemeral records of the times the glory which he had rightly earned, well knowing that no public denial would come from him. It is but tardy justice which is
    now being done to him and his command, and the importance of the operations on the right flank was never brought before the public until the recent appearance of Major Carpenter’s able article, containing extracts from the official report of the Confederate General Stuart, of infinite importance to the history of the battle, but which the War Department, for some reason, has hitherto refused to the public.”; and, adding that Bachelder in the official maps of the battlefield “…has paid but little attention in his studies of the battle to the operations of the cavalry…” pp. 6-7

    Referring to Stuart, Brooke-Rawle writes that, “On the morning of the 3d he moved forward to a new position to the left of General Ewell’s left, and in advance of it, where, from the elevated ground, there was a view of the country for many miles. He was thus enabled to render Ewell’s left secure, and at the same time to command a view of the routes leading to the rear of our lines. His purpose, he states, was to effect a surprise on the rear of our main line of battle. It is obvious that he intended to accomplish this by way of the Baltimore pike, and the roads hereafter described, simultaneously with Pickett’s attack in front.” P. 12

    Of the final effort by Stuart’s cavalry to break through to the Union rear in support of Pickett’s Charge Brooke-Rawle states, “This was about three o’clock.” and that, “Just then there appeared in the distance, turning the point of woods on the cross-road by the Stallsmith farm, a brigade of cavalry. It was manifest to every one that unless this, the grandest attack of all, was checked, the fate of the day would be decided against the Army of the Potomac. It was Stuart’s last reserve and his last resource, for, if the Baltimore pike was to be reached and havoc created in our rear, the critical moment had arrived, as Pickett was even then moving up to the assault of Cemetery Ridge.” P. 20
    ???

    GREGG’S CAVALRY FIGHT AT GETTYSBURG, WILLIAM BROOKE-RAWLE,
    Historical Address, October 15th, 1884, Dedication of the Monumental Shaft

    “During the morning of July 3d, Stuart moved forward to the left and in advance of Ewell’s Corps, for the purpose of occupying the elevated ground east of Gettysburg, from which, while protecting the left of Lee’s army, he could command a view of the routes leading to the rear of the Army of the Potomac, and could, at the same time, be in position to move out at the proper moment, and there attack it, simultaneously with the grand assault which was to be made upon Cemetery Ridge from the other side by Pickett’s Division of Longstreet’s Corps, supported by Heth’s and Pender’s Divisions and Wilcox’s Brigade of Hill’s Corps. That this was his purpose he tells us almost in so many words.” p. 13
    “We cavalrymen have always held that we saved the day at the most critical moment of the battle of Gettysburg- the greatest battle and the turning point of the War of the Rebellion. I know that it has not been the custom among historians to give us credit for having done so, nor, except very
    recently, to give us credit for having done anything. So fierce was the main engagement, of which the infantry bore the brunt, that the fighting on the part of the cavalry passed almost unnoticed ; yet this was the only battle of the War in which the three arms of the service fought in combination
    and at the same time, each within supporting distance and within sight of the other, and each in its proper sphere. The turmoil incident to an active campaign allowed us no opportunity to write up our achievements, and no news correspondents were allowed to sojourn with us, to do it for us. But now that the official records of the campaign, both Union and Confederate, have been brought together,
    and, for the first time, been made accessible, and the official map of this field has been prepared,* the Great Historian of the War, as yet unknown, and perhaps unborn, will have at hand materials which have been denied to others. He will see the importance of the fight which I have attempted to describe, and will give it the credit due to it. Had Stuart succeeded in his well-laid plan, and, with his large force of cavalry, struck the Army of the Potomac in the rear of its line of battle, simultaneously with Pickett’s magnificent and furious assault in its front, when our infantry had all it could do to hold on to the line
    of Cemetery Ridge, and but little more was needed to make the assault a success,- the merest tyro in the art of war can readily tell what the result would have been.” P. 28
    ???

    LT. COL. FREDERICK C. NEWHALL’S SPEECH AT THE DEDICATION OF THE MONUMENT TO THE SIXTH PENNSYLVANIA CAVALRY ON THE BATTLEFIELD AT GETTYSBURG, GIVEN ON OCTOBER 14, 1888
    (a relevant excerpt thereof)

    “On this spot, on the afternoon of the 3rd, a portion of our own regiment came into the fight, and at the same hour, or a little later, while Pickett was charging up Cemetery Ridge-which lies between us and Gettysburg, my brother, in the Third Pennsylvania Cavalry, was wounded in a brilliant cavalry charge, seven miles from where we now stand, at Rummel’s farm yonder in the northeast, where Gregg and Custer checked Stuart’s vain attempt to gain the Baltimore Pike, in the rear of the Army of the Potomac.”
    ???

    In Summation: My intention here is not to settle the matter of the controversy, but to set the record straight that there is a very strong case for the position that Stuart’s intended goal was to go around the Union right flank on July 3rd at Gettysburg with the objective of a coordinated attack on the Union rear in direct support of Pickett’s frontal attack on the Union center. Central to Tom Carhart’s thesis in Lost Triumph is that Lee gave Stuart “verbal orders” that put Stuart and his forces in position designed to outflank the Union right flank to attack the Union battle lines from the rear. Everything we know of Lee the soldier and military leader, back to his brave exploits in the Mexican War, is supportive of this thesis. In other words, that Stuart had the “mission” to out flank the Union right and attack the rear of the Union lines in direct support of Pickett’s Charge. As a former intelligence officer, I also find it logical that Lee would be very cautious about the “security” of his orders to his top commanders for July 3rd at Gettysburg, and that he gave Stuart verbal orders. “Need to Know” and “Loose lips sink ships,” are from our times, but it is well known that Lee, like General Washington before him, very well knew the value of timely and accurate intelligence and the corresponding vital necessity of protecting one’s own strategically and tactically important communications and information.

  15. Nap
    Thu 29th Nov 2012 at 10:51 pm

    Fascinating topic of a debate. Personally, upon first learning of the final assault of the third day of the battle of Gettysburg known as Pickett’s Charge I viewed it as nothing more than a terrible folly.

    An attack on the union center by only around 15,000 men; the soldiers would be torn to shreds as they marched about a mile to attack a fortified union line. I find it hard to believe that Lee wouldn’t have realized that it alone would fail; he himself used 28,000 me to attack and successfully crush an unprotected Union flank at Second Manasses. Clearly, the man had at least some sense of the proper amount of force needed to succeed. Pickett’s charge alone would be a perfect way to lose an army.

    However, upon later learning of the east cavalry engagement at about the same time that day it all started to make sense to me. The center of the Union line would have almost definitely broken under the simultaneous attack of the Pickett’s fresh hammer and Stuart’s 4000 cavalry anvil. At the very least military reason dictates that it would have given the confederates a chance to succeed by easing some of pressure faced by their advancing infantry as the Union responded to the rear cavalry threat.

    Currently, I am a student at Cornell, and I am working on a paper about this topic. I thank you all for your input and your knowledge; you have all added a substantially helpful perspective to my views as I sit down now to write it. I am deeply indebted to you all. Thanks for all the help.

  16. David Flaisher
    Wed 27th Mar 2013 at 1:58 pm

    Then why did Lincold say “Thank God for Michigan”, a refernece to Custer? Lincoln was there, you weren’t

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