Confederate “Missteps” at Gettysburg

Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 9.39.52 AMGreetings all!

I get a question from my Civil War students all the time. It goes something like this: what mistake cost the Confederates the battle at Gettysburg? There are plenty of contenders. Richard S. Ewell failing to take Cemetery Hill on July 1, James Longstreet sulking around and not launching his flank attack against Little Round Top until late in the day on July 2, and Robert E. Lee himself – ordering a perilous frontal assault against well-fortified Yankees on Cemetery Ridge on July 3. Cavalry wiz-kid JEB Stuart comes up too. He had been more or less MIA for the whole campaign – denying the Army of Northern Virginia valuable intelligence they most certainly would have used to their advantage.

What I find most interesting about the question is that is presumes a foreordained Confederate victory that only fell short due to a misstep by a single individual. The question fails to address whether or not Union commanders (Meade, Hancock, Warren, etc) made some really good calls and outfought the Rebels. This, I think, is worth considering. After all, after the war, when someone asked former Confederate George Pickett why his army failed to secure a victory at Gettysburg he responded, “I think the Union army had something to do with it.”

So here’s your chance to weigh in. And for my money, though I do not necessarily think this was the determining factor to the outcome of the battle, JEB Stuart blew it wholesale and really let his army down. I mean…come on dude. You had ONE JOB.

With compliments,



8 thoughts on “Confederate “Missteps” at Gettysburg”

  1. Speaking of Union success, Buford’s cavalry did an amazing job of keeping the Confederates on their heels on July 1. Infantry support was slow in coming and Buford’s command held well.

    1. As for Confederate mid-steps, Gettysburg was one of Porter Alexander’s few failures as an artillery commander. Combined with Longstreet’s tardiness, Pickett was doomed further.

  2. One of the soldiers in the Army of the Potomac was once quoted as saying that army was an army of lions led by jackasses, and that at Gettysburg there were fewer jackasses.

    I think that captures it.

    1. That’s a great quote Al – do you know the name of the soldier? I would love to use it in my Civil War class next year.

  3. Keith,

    Correction. It came from Jeff Wert at the 2013 CWI, and he quoted the unnamed soldier as saying the Army of the Potomac was an army of lions led by jackasses. The comment about there being fewer jackasses at Gettysburg was by Wert.

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