My forebears were – and I remain – Confederate sympathizers. But in recent years I’ve come to realize that the world has become a better place courtesy of the Union’s victory. And although I remain stunned by the courage of the men in gray, I have come to equally respect the spine of the Bluecoats.
We bought the audio dvd designed to go with the auto tour. Throughout the tour things went right for the Union and wrong for the Rebs. It is though Old Bog (Kurt Vonnegut’s higher being, He who took sides when interested) had awakened long enough to realize “I can’t let them Southerners win.” Here are a few examples of Old Bog’s thumb on the scales.
The battle began on the west side of town where dismounted cavalry held off Confederate infantry for hours. Infantry of that day was very well equipped to roll up dismounted cavalry, but somehow Buford’s cavalrymen held out long enough for help to arrive.
Fate turned against the Rebels there in the identity of the help, the famed Iron Brigade, probably the best soldiers anywhere in blue. Nonetheless, Confederates routed the other end of the Union line chasing them through town onto easily defended high ground to the east. On Day 2 the 15th Alabama completed a 25 mile march to Gettysburg with little food or water, and the 22 men sent out with all the canteens they could carry were promptly captured. If that weren’t bad enough, the 15th Alabama was then ordered to immediately attack Little Round Top without water or chow. (Little Round Top had been unoccupied all of Day 1 and the morning of Day 2; it was there for the taking by either side.) Lee’s cavalry was off on a boondoggle thus depriving Marse Robert of mobile eyes and intelligence, including the key vacancy on LRT. Blame that on JEB Stuart. Brigadier George Greene, a Union general and engineer, ordered his 1,300 men to dig in on Culp’s Hill. That force would repel 6,000 Rebs and deny them valuable cannon placements that could have enfiladed the entire Union line running to Cemetery Ridge.
By Day 3 Lee had tried and failed to break Union defenses on both ends, at Culp’s Hill and Little Round Top; all that remained to try was an assault on the Yankee center, which proved to be mass suicide. Why? Lee and Pickett were using Mexican War tactics once so successful, but now obsolete after only 15 years. What had changed? Rifled muskets were unheard of before 1850, but now common, especially on the Union side. An unrifled musket could be effective up to 100 yards, but spiraled rifling tripled the weapon’s killing range. Those extra 200 yards translate to two or three extra shots from each of those 6,000 rifles. When your targets are marching upright, packed elbow to elbow, with two more ranks right behind the first, the guys in blue behind the wall must have found it hard to miss something alive downrange.
Gettysburg marked the end of Southern capability to conduct offensive operations. The next 19 months were to be a grinding war of attrition with immense suffering on both sides. A thoughtful leader would have ended it not long after Gettsyburg. But no one has ever accused Jefferson Davis of possessing wisdom, and Robert E. Lee was unwilling to accept the inevitability of defeat. We might be a better, closer nation today had the war ended a month or two after the horrors of Gettysburg. Lincoln might have saved the South many of the indignities of Reconstruction. Another 250,000 lives could have been spared. Maybe, just maybe, modern day southerners would not detest Yankees quite so much.
But, as that late 20th century proverb solemnly insists: “It is what it is.”