View single post by Ted51
 Posted: Mon Feb 16th, 2009 12:29 am
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Ted51
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I found the Carhart book extremely persuasive; as the original review observes, it explains many things about the third day that are otherwise difficult to understand.  It may never be proven, but it outlines an interesting possibility.
 
Those who object on the grounds that the thesis of the book takes credit away from the Army of the Potomac are missing the point.  By this stage of the war, the Union cavalry had improved in equipment, organization, training, and perhaps most of all, leadership.  (Custer had been promoted from Captain to (Brevet) Brigadier General just weeks before Gettysburg.)   The action at Brandy Station a few weeks earlier had proven that the Union cavalry were the equal of the Confederates in an offensive role.  The action at Gettysburg shows that the Union horse could stand up to J.E.B. Stuart and company in a defensive role also.  Custer’s improvised stand, if Carhart is right, messed up the timing of the attack and led to the fiasco on Cemetery Ridge. 
 
If Carhart’s thesis is correct, then Stuart is open to criticism for being unable to punch through.  Lee can also be faulted for what turned out to be an overly elaborate plan.
 
One final point may have a bearing on the lack of proof.  Carhart contends that only a few people knew the full plan in the first place, and that those leaders maintained silence about it on the direct orders of General Lee.  As to why Lee should do that, Carhart makes a weak argument that Lee wanted to protect Stuart’s reputation, and by the time Lee wrote a full report, Stuart was dead.  I think another explanation is more persuasive. 
 
Whether or not Lee had any particular historical battle in mind, the whole cavalry corps of the Army of Northern Virginia, reinforced by mounted infantry, could have been a devastating battlefield weapon, particularly in the relatively open country of Pennsylvania.  If the plan had worked the way Carhart describes, the northern half of the Union position would have been completely surrounded.  The remainder would have been outnumbered, Lee would push on to Washington, and the Union would be forced to sue for peace.  Gettysburg would have been, in other words, the decisive battle so seldom achieved in the war.  I believe – with no proof, to be sure – that Lee ordered silence about the plan because he hoped to get another chance to try it.  Lee did not want to alert the Union to what he thought could be a war-winning maneuver.
 
 

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