Gettysburg is the most significant battle in the history of the United States of America. The fate of the nation would be determined in the Civil War. The outcome of the Civil War rested on a battlefield in southern Pennsylvania. The battle of Gettysburg reached its climax on the third day, when the men of General George Pickett charged up Cemetery Ridge. Therefore the outcome of the battle, the war, and ultimately the direction the nation would take rested with the victor in this courageous assault. The men involved and the choices they made would be continually put under a microscope and evaluated over the course of history. The great significance of this battle and the implications that it held has produced both heroes and villains, who would be blamed for the ultimate failure of the charge. In the book Picketts Charge George Stewart depicts the importance of the advance as the height and ultimately the downfall of the Confederacy, and puts the burden of the defeat on the shoulders of General Lee.
Picketts Charge was a complete failure for the Confederacy. They initially appeared to be winning the battle when the Rebels broke through the Union lines. The Union held strong however, and was able to withstand the assault. The Confederates stayed and fought until their morale was weakened, their men demoralized, and their chance for victory impossible. The Rebels eventually retreated back down Cemetery Ridge losing all hope for a victory in the battle. Realistically, the war was also lost.
As the smoke cleared from the field, the battle was over, but the critique of it was just beginning. The battle that transpired was so significant that historians would review it frequently. George Stewart is not the first to relive the events that occurred on July 3, 1863, and certainly his opinions have been expressed before. That being said, Stewart
sets up a detailed account of the events that happened that day, and the reasons for every decision made. He outlines every perspective and then offers his own opinion.
James McPherson, the author of Battle Cry of Freedom and George Stewart view Picketts Charge as a metaphor for the entire war for the Confederates (662). They liken the beginning of the battle to the beginning of the war, with the Rebels having the advantage. The Confederates were able to charge up a ridge through heavy artillery fire and pierce through the entrenched Union line, against all odds. This was like the Confederate cause at the beginning of the war, for although not expected to win they seemed to be doing so. However, as the battle that parallels the war continued, the Union seemed to gain the advantage. During the battle the Confederates reached the High-water Mark in which they had gone as far as they ever would (Stewart). This is considered the climax of the battle, from which things turned around and deteriorated for the Rebels. The war would turn in favor of the Union after their victory at Picketts Charge. Thus, the High-water Mark was not just the climax of the battle, but also the war. As the Rebels fled from Cemetery Ridge they had lost the battle, and the war would soon follow suit. Stewart strengthens his analogy when he proclaims, That the Confederates would retreat from the assault on a road that evently passed through Appomattox (272). The charge culminated with the aggressors losing the battle. Ultimately their cause was also lost as they scattered back down Cemetery Ridge.
Confederate independence ultimately rested on one single military campaign, which ended in failure. For that someone must be held responsible. Stewart, like many historians before him, examines each general involved in the charge and the roles they
assumed. History determines that the burden of the defeat be placed on someones shoulders. Accountability for this devastating loss varies between historians, but always seems to focus upon one of three characters: Pickett, Longstreet, or Lee.
Stewart assigns the blame to General Lee for he was the one that ordered the charge. Stewart takes the approach that it was Lees scheme to attack the Union center, and that he had the final say on whether to proceed with it. The assault was a complete failure for which Lee took full responsibility by stating, This has been my fight, and upon my shoulders rests the blame (Stewart 256-257). Lees misplaced faith of his troops ability to win this advance cost him the battle, and a considerable portion of his army. Lee proclaimed, Its all my fault, and Stewart could not agree more (Stewart 257).
A popular accusation in the South is that General James Longstreet should be liable for the failure of the assault. Many Confederates in Virginia and in the rest of the South hold Lee up as a God-like figure. To place the failure of Picketts Charge on Lee would be absurd. Lee and Longstreet disagreed about where the advance should concentrate. Lee wanted to charge the Union center while Longstreet proposed to attack both of the Union flanks (Stewart 19). Lee had authority over Longstreet, and therefore his scheme would be enacted. Longstreet believed the assault would fail when he defiantly proclaimed, It is my opinion no fifteen thousand men ever arrayed for battle can take that position (Stewart 22). Even with his opposition to the charge Longstreet was assigned to give the final orders for the advance. He did not wish to be responsible for an attack he did not believe in; and thus tried to put the burden on artillery Colonel E.
Porter Alexander. He sent two messages to Alexander stating that, If the artillery fire does not have the effect to drive off the enemy or greatly demoralize him, so that to make our effort pretty certain, I would prefer that you should not advise General Pickett to make the charge (Stewart 111). Alexander quickly responded that, He would not be able to tell the infantry losses because they were entrenched and because of smoke, and if there was any alternative to this attack it should be carefully considered (Stewart 112). Alexander was thus putting the burden of the fatal decision back on Longstreet. When Pickett confronted Longstreet to get final authorization for the assault Longstreet could not bring himself to talk, but instead just bowed his head (Stewart 164). After the attack had begun Longstreet announced, I do not want to make this charge (Stewart 162).
After the war Longstreet took a job with the newly united Federal Government and was proclaimed a traitor by one Southern newspaper when they wrote, He has dishonored the dignity of the white blood and is a traitor alike to principle and race (Stewart 285). While the South had found a scapegoat which to assign the blame of the defeat, Longstreets actual guilt in the defeat is arguable. There is no question that Longstreet was against this charge from the beginning, and tried everything in his power to stop it. He was confident the charge would end in disaster, and told Lee of his reservations. Stewart reflects Southern thinking by saying that; The South could never forgive him for being right (286). However, Stewart contradicts Southern thought when he inserts that the suggestion of Longstreet not doing his duty is, Unfounded and utterly fantastic (Stewart 286).
It is not as common to blame Pickett for the failure of his men to successfully take the ridge. Many felt as though Picketts men fought bravely and should be recognized as heroes.Another opinion, however is that Pickett was a coward and scattered to the rear of his division at the first sign of combat. Pickett was the only high ranking officer in his division to survive the charge, and was also one of the first to retreat. He was relieved of his duty in the final days of the war. Stewart does not hold Pickett to be at fault, and like Longstreet thinks he did everything that he could that day.
McPherson in Battle Cry of Freedom also blames General Lee for the trouncing (McPherson 662). He sets up the same points and therefore arrives at the same conclusion. McPherson strengthens Stewarts arguments by asserting that Longstreet should not be held accountable for the failure of the advance. He defends Longstreet just as Stewart does by expressing that he felt forced to order the offensive by his superior commander. Longstreet would not have made this attack on his own and therefore should not be held accountable for its demise according to McPherson and Stewart.
The book Picketts Charge is an extremely detailed account of the events that transpired on July 3, 1863 and overall is a well-written manuscript. The author George Stewart lays out the details of the charge and presents it from different viewpoints. Stewart objectively lays out both sides of an argument, before clarifying his opinion. He does an exceptional job of inserting his arguments and backing them up with evidence that proves his point. The book sometimes went into too much detail, which made it confusing, but overall it is worth reading.
Stewart argues that the assault parallels the whole Confederate war effort. This is a common opinion and is one that I believe to be true. The Rebels did enjoy initial success in the battle, as they also did in the war. I agree that the turning point of the battle and the turning point of the war were one in the same. This occurred when the Union lines halted the advance and forced the Rebels to retreat from Cemetery Ridge. Stewart portrays this in great detail in Picketts Charge.
Stewarts other central argument is that the burden of the defeat should be assigned to General Lee. He argues that the charge was of Lees creation, and it was also his decision to make the fatal assault. I agree with the position that it was Lees fault and that he should be held accountable. After the battle Lee took full responsibility and said that it was of his doing. Lee also dismissed Longstreets doubts about their mens ability to prevail in the attack. It is my opinion that Lee was influenced by past success, and refused to listen to objections to his proposition. Many Southerners refuse to hold Lee accountable for the failure of the charge, but instead blame the doubting Longstreet. He was against the charge from the beginning, but many Southerners wonder if there was more he could have done. In theory, I agree with this idea that no one likes the skeptic that believes something is lost before it has begun. In this case however, I do not blame Longstreet for the collapse of the assault. I also believe that Longstreet did everything he could to be victorious. Pickett, I assume did his best to follow the orders of his superiors, and the failure cannot rest with him. The attack malfunctioned not because of the skeptical Longstreet, but because of the improbable plan he was ordered to carry out by
Lee. I agree with both of Stewarts arguments in Picketts Charge that the advance was the downfall of the Confederacy and the blame should rest with General Lee.
The Confederacy would cease to exist just two years after the Battle of Gettysburg. It can be argued, however that the war was lost for the Confederates on that hot afternoon in early July. The failure of Picketts charge could thus be considered the end of the war. In Picketts Charge by George Stewart the author depicts the assault on Cemetery Ridge as a metaphor of the war itself. He sets up the importance of the battle as the height and ultimately the downfall of the Confederate cause. With so much at stake there must be someone to blame for such a significant defeat. In the South they created a scapegoat in General Longstreet. Stewart argues that bias aside; General Lee was really at fault. I agree with Stewart on this statement. Therefore the man that brought the Confederacy to such great heights was also responsible for its demise.