Why did the South lose at Gettysburg?

Why did the South lose at Gettysburg?

What role did Daniel Sickles play in the Battle of Gettysburg?

Command Decision: General Daniel Sickles and The Movement of III Corps on July 2,1863.

Portrait of Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Sickles, officer of the Federal Army.

The impact of Maj Gen Daniel Sickles on the second day at Gettysburg can not be exaggerated. The American Scoundrel either saved the Union Army at Gettysburg or almost led to its defeat, or both, depending on your viewpoint. Several things everyone can agree on is that he was a highly controversial man; that he enjoyed being controversial; and he would have enjoyed being the center of our attention 159 years later.

The Man

Thomas Keneally, the author of Schindler’s List, wrote an outstanding biography of General Daniel Sickles, entitled American Scoundrel. Sickles was an unscrupulous swindler who led a life that no writer of fiction could have invented. A brief synopsis: A lawyer, Tammany Hall politician, US Congressman from New York, and serial adulterer, he murdered his wife’s lover (Francis Scott Key’s son Philip) in broad daylight across the street from the White House, pleaded temporary insanity (invented for him by Edwin Stanton) and won acquittal. That was just the start; then he recruited the Excelsior Brigade, lost his leg at Gettysburg, testified against Meade at Congressional hearings, had an affair with the Queen of Spain, received the medal of honor, and championed saving the battlefield at Gettysburg as a park. 

In short, he was a diplomat, playboy, lousy husband, beloved general, congressman, leader, murderer, and good old boy. This was a man who looked out for himself. Who got other people killed with no concerns. He had zero training as a soldier. He was self-aggrandizing, selfish, corrupt and unprincipled, but he was also brave, loyal, patriotic and extremely enterprising. Lastly he got away with all of it because he was colorful, resourceful, and charming.

The Battle

At Gettysburg, his infamous decision on July 2 to not defend the line General Meade assigned him between Little Round Top and Cemetery Ridge but rather to advance to the Peach Orchard must count as one of the most fateful decisions of the entire war. Certainly, it led to the destruction of his III Corps. In addition, it threatened the entire left flank of the Union defense. But, it might have saved the battle. By leaving uncovered both of his flanks, leaving Little Round Top uncovered, and not telling anyone what he was up to, he clearly put Meade at a serious disadvantage

On day 2 at Gettysburg, General Lee’s plan was for Longstreet to attack north on Emmittsburg Turnpike to Cemetery Hill combined with a simultaneous pincer move on Culp’s Hill by Gen. Edward “Allegheny” Johnson’s division from Richard S. Ewell’s Second Corp.
Longstreet at Gettysburg c. 1900

The delay in Longstreet reaching the area for his attack was created by Hood being placed far behind in the march to the field, then further delayed in trying to get to the position on the Emmitsburg Road without being seen. Lee had wanted an attack around noon.

This 4-hour delay changed the battle immensely. Not only had Sickles moved his III Corps out into the middle of the field without permission to do so, but meanwhile Meade made adjustments to reinforce his left. Instead, Longstreet’s brigades of McLaw and Hood became tangled up at Little Round Top and with Sickles in the Peach Orchard and Wheatfield. The attack ended at the south section of Cemetery Ridge. Because of Sickles’s unexpected location, Longstreet’s assault did not proceed according to Lee’s plan.

Instead of wheeling left to join a simultaneous two-division push on either side of the Emmitsburg Road, Hood’s division attacked in a more easterly direction than intended, and McLaws’s and Anderson’s divisions deployed brigade by brigade, in an en echelon style of attack, also heading more to the east than the intended northeast.

General Sickles was not at all happy with the position on the line that he was assigned by General Meade.  He felt the higher, more elevated ground to his front would be more defensible & offer his artillery a better field of fire. So, without authorization, at about 2 pm, General Sickles moved his entire corps forward.

General Sickles (center) with his staff, after the loss of his leg at Gettysburg

This act unhinged the Union line & left the flanks on both sides exposed, and 3rd Corps vulnerable to attack from multiple directions. Reinforcements had to be sent to protect his flanks, which were in the air, due to his unauthorized movement. Moreover, what he could not have known was that his movement placed an entire corps right where General Lee had planned to start his attack. 

The Union generals were fortunate they had the V Corps entering the fray.

However, they had to be ordered to get to the hot spots. Furthermore, the heroic actions of Strong Vincent, Patrick O’Rorke and Joshua Chamberlain were required to save that day. Thus, their bravery cannot be exaggerated.

These men likely saved the country. 
Generals Joseph Carr, Sickles, and Charles Graham in 1886, near the Trostle Barn where Sickles was wounded at Gettysburg. Why did the South lose at Gettysburg?

General Meade responded to this dangerous situation brilliantly, thanks to his commanders on the field, especially Brig Gen Warren.

No one can say for sure how things would have turned out without that movement, but the artillery wasn’t ready for that as it was on day 3. Sickles made a dumb move that worked perfectly by accident in forcing the attack west to east rather than south to north.

Sickles’ funeral

Why did the South lose at Gettysburg?

Civil War Historian Dr. Lloyd W Klein

Please see Dr. Klein’s Works:

Siege of Vicksburg

The Battle of Shiloh

The Hampton Roads Conference

Sherman’s March To The Sea

Why Did the North Win the Civil War (and, Alternatively, Why Did the South Lose?)

The Atlanta Campaign : The Conundrum of General Joseph E Johnston

The “Lost Order” Of General Lee

What caused the South to start the Civil War?

Was the Reconstruction of the Civil War successful?

Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Greatest Victory

Eric Foner

Why did the South lose at Gettysburg?