We travel back to the 1993 film Gettysburg along with military historian and author Gregory J.W. Urwin to find out how well it does showing the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War.
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Dan LeFebvre Let’s start as we normally do here on the podcast with a letter grade for historical accuracy, but let’s do it with a little bit of a twist because this movie was a huge production that had to have had a lot of details to try to attain historical accuracy. So we’ll kick off with kind of a two part question.
What letter grade would you give Gettysburg for historical accuracy? And can you share some of the lengths that the filmmakers went to make the movie? Sure.
[00:03:03] Gregory J.W. Urwin: Now as a historian, I’m used to being critical but I liked this movie for a number of reasons. I’d give it a B overall. I’d give it a B overall.
I think it tells the basic story two sides square off at Gettysburg and the Confederate slews. No surprises there. It’s based on a Pulitzer Prize winning a novel by Michael Oshara, The Killer Angels, which was a big hit when it came out. In fact, a number of history professors, including The faculty at the U.S. Military Academy used it as their text for teaching Gettysburg because the basic facts were right and the story was so compelling they thought that young people would get more out of that than just, a straight history of the battle. And the movie is pretty much faithful to the book. So yeah, the author took certain liberties and was partial to certain characters.
He relied a lot on the writings of Joshua Chamberlain the autobiography and other writings of James Longstreet the Civil War diary Arthur Fremantle, the British military observer who is depicted in the film. So we see a lot of the battle through their eyes. Historians favor certain sources too I’m not going to begrudge a movie for interpreting certain fine points differently than I would.
As far as production values were concerned the folks who made this, it was originally made as a TV mini series by Ted Turner. I think for T, for TNT, one of his two networks, he was doing a number of historical films, a lot of them on the civil war in the 1990s. And then he acquired New Line Cinema.
And wanted to test its distribution power. So they put out a four hour feature film with an intermission, which attracted stress test, right? They’re huge numbers of civil war buffs. Of course it wasn’t a blockbuster hit, but it lives on. Digitally, lots of people watch it, lots of teachers use it in their classes to teach the Battle of Gettysburg.
It’s still with us and it’s folks who live in Gettysburg love it because it helps to to draw in the tourists as well. But to make… A movie about the biggest battle waged on the North American continent. The battle that many consider the turning point of the civil war.
You needed numbers back then you couldn’t rely on CGI. The producers appealed to the reenactor community. They had a core group, I think, of about 250 guys who got a minimum wage, but everyone else. We’ll feed you and we’ll give you a place to pitch your tent, but you’re working for free. But they struck a deal with the National Park Service and they were able to fill parts of it on the National Park, on the actual battlefield.
For instance, half of Pickett’s Charge, the first half, before they reached the Emmitsburg Road, was shot on the actual ground that Pickett’s veterans marched over. So if you’re a Confederate reenactor, especially if your great granddaddy was in Gettysburg, the chance to walk over that ground, to recreate that, that moment in, in history was irresistible.
And They got all together about 5, 000 reenactors to work on the film with camera angles. They make that, they make them look even more numerous. And for the Pickett’s Charge sequence, from what I’ve read, about 3, 000 men participated in that. And again, with camera angles, they made it look like 13, 000.
Now, the great thing about reenactors They come with their own costumes, which are usually more accurate than what you’d get from a Hollywood costume warehouse. They come with their own props, meaning the weapons and equipment. And they’re organized in the units. And they’re trained in the rudiments of Civil War.
Drill. So for director says, okay, I want to send a battle line across this shot here the unit commanders know how to set their men up and they just go where their directors tell them to go. And of course there are artillery units among civil war reenactors and Calvary units among civil war reenactors and that, yeah, I think they reimbursed the artillery for the gunpowder to the but still they were able to save a lot of money.
And get a lot of bodies that looked pretty good, look better than the actors at times on, on, on screen. Now, the trouble with reenactors are there, there’s no age limits. If you could still stagger around, you could reenact. I’m dressed as the world’s oldest. Union infantry major. I’m in my late sixties.
Most of the guys who held this rank at Gettysburg were in their twenties, maybe their early thirties. So please suspend your disbelief. And some guys were heavy. One of the things that cracked me up at the beginning of the movie when the Confederate spy is trying to get back into Confederate lines with this report.
He gets stopped by a confederate sergeant who looks like a misplaced Santa Claus. This guy would not have been able to make the march down the Shenandoah Valley and across Maryland into Pennsylvania. But again a minor irritant to suspend your disbelief. Overall, overall uniforms, formations colors, flags they all added an aura of authenticity that, that enables me to enjoy the movie.
I don’t know if anyone else cares. Thousands of reenactors do, but it enables me to enjoy them.
[00:09:04] Dan LeFebvre: According to the movie, in June of 1863 Robert E. Lee, the general, the confederate general crosses the Potomac River to invade Union territory. This is setting up the battle itself, and he’s with the confederate army of Northern Virginia.
His intent in the movie is to draw out and then destroy the Union army in an attempt to force peace. How well does the movie do establishing the situation surrounding the Battle of Gettysburg?
[00:09:32] Gregory J.W. Urwin: That prelude is what I call dramatic buildup and there’s a certain degree of exaggeration there. In, in the spring of 1863, May, June, July Ulysses S.
Grant is in the process of isolating and besieging Vicksburg, Mississippi, which is the last Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River. The Confederacy faces being cut in half and a lot of pressure is being put on Lee after Chancellor’sville. Okay, you whip those Yankees. They’re going to be a while recovering.
Send some troops west. And Lee, whose main motive for joining the Confederacy was to defend Virginia, he doesn’t want to send any of his troops out of theater. They might get butchered under another commander. Confederate commanders in the west weren’t that good. Or he may never get them back.
So he says, if I go north, and threaten possibly Baltimore, Harrisburg, Washington he didn’t say did I take them? He just said, I threatened them. That will do more for Vicksburg than by sending any of my troops there. The Yankees will pull men away from the Mississippi Valley, which was only Robert E.
Lee could have gotten away with making that argument, I think. He’ll also say that he did this. To take the war out of Virginia, where for more than a year, these contending armies although they had rations supplied by their respective governments, they’re living off the land. They’re stripping Virginia farms where they operate of of livestock of harvested crops.
Et cetera. And Lee wants the North to pay the price of the war. Let’s go into Pennsylvania, which is rich farmland, the Pennsylvania Dutch up there. And I’ll feed my army off off Yankee largess. Or Yankee Affluence, Yankee Bounty, that’s a better word. The idea that he’s going to fight his way into Washington and storm into the White House, throw a letter on Lincoln’s desk saying, Surrender Dorothy that really wasn’t, that really wasn’t Something that maybe in a happy dream while he was slumbering, that wasn’t really something that was practical.
Washington was ringed by extensive defenses and had its own garrison. Thousands and thousands of troops, heavy artillery regiments, et cetera, even had its own cavalry division, although it gives that to the army of the Potomac in the midst of this. This campaign. So Lee wants to throw a scare into the Federals.
The North is already this war has gone on longer and has resulted in more deaths and heavy expenditure, heavier expenditures than anybody anticipated. And Lee, time and time again he just whips. The Army of the Potomac, the North’s largest field army drives the Federals off the peninsula surprises the Yankees and routes them at the Second Battle of Bull Run, butchers them when they stupidly charge him behind stone walls at Fredericksburg, and again, flanks them and routes them.
At Chancellorsville, where he’s outnumbered two to one. He’s outnumbered two to one, and even though after the initial clash, he’s still outnumbered. He has unhinged his opposition that they, the best thing they could think of doing is, we’ve got to save our army, we’ve got to retreat. He’s built up this image of invincibility.
And there’s great discouragement throughout the North. And if he can go North, And do what he wants, at least give him that appearance, and if he can whip the army of Potomac in its own court, on its own ground. He’s hoping that we’ll have political repercussions. The Lincoln administration will, there’ll be fewer Republican, Republicans in Congress to support the Lincoln administration.
And there’s a presidential election coming up the following year. There’s also still a faint hope that if the Confederates can win their version of Saratoga the turning point of the American revolution, the British and the French will intervene. And and that will assure a Confederate independence.
So he has a variety of motives, but th they really play it up. ’cause this is gonna be the showdown. This is gonna be the battle that, winner when we either win or we lose. That kind of thing.
[00:13:55] Dan LeFebvre: Yeah. Even in the beginning, before the battle begins, there, there were multiple scenes, little bits of dialogue and stuff that.
A lot of the impression I got from a lot of the military commanders on both sides of the conflict seemed to believe that this is going to be the battle determining the outcome of the war, even before the battle ever began. But it sounds like maybe there wasn’t quite as much truth to that idea that the entire war would be decided by this one battle before it even began.
[00:14:21] Gregory J.W. Urwin: Military people, they don’t, Go into a campaign thinking, win some Lusso, their efforts, they have a major impact. You don’t ask people to fight and die and say this is just part of a process, guys, it’s going to be a long haul. Sure. I’m sure people were hoping that catharsis over where to destroy the enemy and the Yankees will have no, no choice, but to give up they hope they could do that at first bowl run civil war.
You could batter them, but they were really hard to destroy, because the nature of Civil War combat meant that win or lose, you suffer a lot of casualties. You expend a lot of ammunition. If you’re in enemy territory too, you’re only carrying a limited amount. You shoot, even if you win a battle, if you shoot away most of your artillery ammunition you’re not going to go back into action anytime soon.
You’re going to wait to be replenished and leave would have depended on wagon trains coming up from Virginia. Federals were often able to operate near bodies of water and they had naval superiority so they could establish depots with lots of surplus and resupply quicker than a confederate army operating deep in, in enemy territory.
The odds that that Lee was going to strike a win, a war winning blow, a war winning blow outside of psychologically. If he won a big enough victory then that might get people in the north to decide, This just isn’t worth cost. We’ve got to, we’ve got to find some way to disengage.
It’s, he’s really running a kind of a giant rate on giving a Yankee, giving the Yankees a taste of their own medicine and keeping his own army together. To him is important because the defense of Virginia. Is paramount in his mind. I don’t think Confederate capital is at Richmond too, so Virginia is an important strategic factor.
[00:16:22] Dan LeFebvre: In the movie, the very first day of the battle is July 1st, 1863. And… In the movie, it almost seems like the start of the battle is a mistake. General Lee wants to wait until all of his forces are concentrated before attacking, but one of the generals under his command, General Hill, thinks that there’s only some militia in town and his men need shoes, so he’s gonna go into town to get shoes.
Then he finds out that what he thought was only militia, turns out to be dismounted cavalry. So they put up more of a much more strong fight than they were expecting. And they hold off the Confederates for long enough for more infantry corps to arrive. And before long, General Legion realizes that the fighting’s already underway.
So he orders all his commanders to attack. How well does the movie do showing how the Battle of Gettysburg actually started?
[00:17:09] Gregory J.W. Urwin: I think pretty good. As you say, General Robert E. Lee was not seeking a an all out engagement, a general engagement, as he would have put it, at Gettysburg, nor was the Union commander Major General George Gordon Meade had drawn up tentative plans to deploy along a defensive position at Pipe Creek, somewhat to the south of Gettysburg, and hoped that Lee would attack him there and they could have a Fredericksburg in reverse.
But, in war, you can desire something, but then circumstances force, force your hand. Gettysburg was a natural magnet because it was a crossroads. There were at least eight, maybe more roads feeding in. to Gettysburg. So if you have armies that are spread out because you can’t put an entire army on one row, you have this long column, 20 miles or more, you run into the enemy.
The troops up front are going to get mangled while they’re waiting for everyone else to try to come up and extend the line. Both armies have elements traveling on different roads. The Federals are trying to keep themselves between. Lee and Washington and Baltimore, cause they’re not sure what his intentions are.
And they have a certain inferiority complex. They believe Lee can actually do more at times that then reason would dictate. And Lee as you say he starts to concentrate his army. His top 25th.
To ride around the Union army to cause some havoc, maybe interrupt the enemy’s logistics heighten the apprehensions of Northerners. And while that may have seemed like a good idea at the time when Stuart tries to. Get back to Lee. He keeps bumping into formations of Union Calvary Brigadier General John Buford, who was pictured helping to trigger the first day’s fighting, he commands only one of three Calvary divisions.
Belonging to the Army of the Potomac, and there are others that are looking for Stuart and clashing with Stuart. And when Stuart runs into them while he’s trying to head west, he has to then detour further north to get around them, etc. Which keeps him from reaching Lee until July 2nd after the battle is is has been commenced.
As it leads deep into that fight. Now Stuart took only three brigades of Calvary with him. He left Lee three or four brigades, but Lee had this very personal command style. There were certain subordinates. With whom it was like husband and wife. They could read each other’s mind.
Lee would give general instructions and the subordinate, like Thomas Stonewall Jackson, who’s dead by this time, is killed at Chancellorsville or Jeb Stewart will fulfill. And Stewart was able to bring Lee found actionable.
And these other commanders, these other Calvary commanders that are with Lee, they’re just not up to the job or Lee just finds them launching. The Confederates they’re assembling
They’ve come out of the Shenandoah and they’re trying to come together and Gettysburg is just a natural convergence point. But as you say they don’t expect. to run into heavy opposition when they move on Gettysburg. Harry Heath’s division goes in he’s part of A. P. Hill’s First Corps, goes in on the morning of July 1st, and he gets about two miles yeah, more than two miles out from Gettysburg.
He runs into a thin line of cavalry pickets or vedettes thin outpost line in a place called Knoxland Ridge. And they open fire, and this is the kind of the advance outposts of Buford’s Union gallery. And Buford, he sees that McPherson’s Ridge, northwest of Gettysburg, is defensible ground.
They get infantry there if they could hold it. And at Gettysburg, is a good place to assemble the Army of the Potomac because all roads in the vicinity seem to lead to Gettysburg. So he’s determined to buy as much time as he can to hold the Confederates at bay so that Meade can get his infantry to Gettysburg or more specifically, so that the commander of half of Meade’s army, General Major General John F.
Reynolds, Who’s commanding the left wing of the Army of the Potomac can rush infantry to the vicinity, and he fights this delaying action. The Confederates are coming down a row, but when they run into opposition, they’ve got to now throw down the fences on either side of the road and go from a four man column into a line of battle, or at least to throw out skirmishers, and that takes some time and you pick your way forward.
Can’t do that. Quickly, because you’re hugging cover and you want to get picked off. And these Calvary men, they open fire. And then when the rebels draw near, they fall back and they’re more Calvary miss when they stop. And so the rebels come down the road, then they’ve got to redeploy and unlimber artillery.
And this is repeated over and over again. And in this way, Buford is able to delay the rebels for about two hours. It’s not until about 1030 that Harry Heath’s leading two brigades are up and deployed and ready to attack MacPherson’s Ridge. And that’s when General Reynolds and one of his corps, the corps he had formerly commanded before he became a wing commander of the First Corps, His leading brigades are there.
Lysander Cutler’s brigade deploys a stride McPherson’s ridge, and then to the left facing Herbst woods are the, is the iron brigade, the men in the black hats, the Westerners who wouldn’t wear the little forage caps, but Where the old regulation dress pilgrim hat, as some of them called it, or the hardy hat, etc.
But that’s their trademark. And so the rebels know this is a militia. If they weren’t sure of that before they got to McPherson’s Ridge, then they know for sure. Look at those darn damn black hats. It’s the Army of the Potomac.
[00:23:28] Dan LeFebvre: Yeah, but at that point, it’s already too late. They’ve already run into
[00:23:31] Gregory J.W. Urwin: them.
There’s a division engaged and it’s getting roughed up heats two leading brigades. They don’t show this in the movie, but they get mauled. They get driven back. By the First Corps. And so the gauntlet has been thrown down. Lee is leading an army of men who feel they have beaten the Yankees every time they’ve met them.
And to back away from this challenge would not be good for morale. Not be good for morale. And Lee can see again that Gettysburg is a natural place. To concentrate his army Ewells Richard Ewells, second core, which had menaced Carlisle further North is coming down on the roads leading to the Northern approaches of the town and long streets.
First core can come up behind AP Hills court and deploy as well. So this may not have been the spot where Lee sought a battle, but. It turns out to be usable, to, to work in his mind, especially because he’s able to get more men to Gettysburg by the end of the first day and they’re able to defeat and route.
The Union troops that opposed them drive them back drive them east and then south out of Gettysburg and onto the high ground south of the town, which turns out to be pretty defensible to maybe even better than McPherson’s Ridge. And that, that sets the stage for the next two days.
of the Battle of Gettysburg. According to
[00:25:00] Dan LeFebvre: the movie, after the first day of the battle, we do see that the Confederate Army has pushed back the Union Army in their positions and forced them to retreat. General Lee says something to the effect of couldn’t have worked out better if we’d planned it, suggesting again that they didn’t really plan it to be that way.
And then General Longstreet points out that they pushed back two corps, but there’s still five more coming. So with the sun going down on the first day of fighting stops, and then we see some conversation between the commanders on both the Confederate and Union side. And the impression that I got from these scenes at the end of the first day was that both sides had victories during the day, but neither side really considered it to be over yet.
They knew the next day was going to bring a lot more fighting. Was the outcome of the battle at the first day, essentially just a toss up at that point, like the movie suggests?
[00:25:53] Gregory J.W. Urwin: Yeah, I think either side could have won at that point. Now, the Confederates are probably feeling better than their Union opponents because they end up carrying the day, albeit with some heavy casualties.
A. P. Hill’s Corps suffered in addition to Heath’s division, two others come up and they suffer pretty substantial. Losses and forcing the Federals back the Federals overall suffer even more. But Lee has two more he’s got a long streets core, which is fresh you will score saw some action North of town.
Didn’t suffer as much as AP hills. But still, Lee has got a substantial body of fresh troops under his most veteran Corps command. Before Gettysburg, the Army of Northern Virginia was divided into into two Corps, one under Longstreet, one under Stonewall Jackson. And when Jackson dies, Lee divides his army up into three corps and gives two of the corps to fresh commanders, the first the third to A.
P. Hill, the third to A. P. Hill. And the second Jackson’s old corps goes to he feels that his army is still potent. It hasn’t spent its force and, they, they showed their mastery over the Yankees once again, but as the movie has Longstreet exhibiting extraordinary prescience and saying me, most of his army hasn’t been engaged as yet.
And they’re coming up, they’re coming up and Meade will decide to to hold that defensive. Position. It’s a risk, but it’s even riskier to turn your back on an enemy and try to get away from him. Meade is going to is going to pick, I think the the more courageous option.
And he’s only been in command of the Army of the Potomac since June 28. He gets in just about three days before the battle breaks out. He doesn’t know that. He knows his old 5th Corps. He had been commanding the 5th Corps before he became army commander, but he doesn’t know the other components intimately.
He has to rely on the staff of the man he replaced fighting Joe Hooker. And a lot of those people despise him because he’s replacing their beloved boss. And they have to know that once things calm down after this fight, he’s going to replace them too. He’s going to bring in his own people to run the army.
But he’s going to have to rely on his support and command to make a lot of the decisions. And he starts that right off the bat. What he finds out that there’s fighting on the first at Gettysburg, he’ll pick a very promising senior union commander, major general Winfield Scott Hancock who’s commanding the union army.
Second court, he says, right on ahead and assess the situation and make whatever dispositions you think proper. You’re my deputy, and Hancock will do that. Hancock’s really the one who says, yeah this is the ground we’re going to fight on. He chooses the hills and the ridge that become that upside down fishhook line that the Federals will hold through the rest of the battle.
[00:29:00] Dan LeFebvre: You, you mentioned briefly the Longstreet mentioning the court, and he does do that in the movie. He mentions, that there’s more court, More people coming from general means army but also the oth you had mentioned Stewart wasn’t there yet, so they were going blind. Did they really know, did the Confederates really know that the union still had more coming?
[00:29:22] Gregory J.W. Urwin: no, they had ge general picture of the shape of the armies before the campaign begins. And they just, they’re just going to assume that the federals are coming to this location because the guys they whipped aren’t running away, but that’s.
Interesting things about this battle, about this campaign up to this point in time, at least up until the spring of 1863, the Union cavalry had been a negligible factor because it was poorly used. It was dispersed in, in small units, escorts for generals and just small screening forces, et cetera.
The Confederates had taken, four or five regiments and formed them into brigades. And then Stuart had, I think seven brigades that’s operating as a giant division. If the Confederate Calvary before this time ran into union mounted troops, there wasn’t much opposition. They just sweep ’em aside.
But Joseph Hooker who’s the butt of a lot of humor, When he commanded the Army of the Potomac early in 1863, he formed his cavalry into a corps. He took regiments and combined them into brigades and brigades into divisions. So now the Union cavalry has the kind of mass required to prevent Stuart from pushing them around.
In fact they surprise him just as Lee’s getting ready to march north at Brandy Station on June, I think it’s 9th, 1863. They catch him sleeping in his camp and he’s able to fend them off. He’s very good. He reacts quickly, but he’s humiliated. The Richmond Press, who had been treating him as their golden boy, making fools of the Yankees throughout 1862, say, what’s with this guy?
His reputation has gone to his head. That’s another reason why he wants to conduct this raid. Yeah, he wants favorable headlines again. He also thinks he’s going to serve a strategic purpose. But he’s least not getting the intelligence he needs. The Union cavalry is providing the intelligence.
Union commanders, John Buford, he has his outposts. They capture Confederate prisoners. They find out what unit they belong to. They know this regiment belongs to this brigade. This brigade belongs to this division. This division belongs to this core. And Buford is send, Buford is sending every bit of information he gets to his superiors.
So they’re able to take these puzzle pieces and start putting the picture together. Intelligence is always iffy. And you can have an abundance of information. It depends on what you do with it. But the Union cavalry is doing its job and that he does something Union cavalry doesn’t normally do. He turns his troopers into mounted infantry.
In effect, he has them dismount. In sets of fours one guy takes care of four horses, takes them behind a ridge where they’re safer than a cannon fire and rifle fire, and the other three guys, it’s a lot easier to aim when you’re on the ground than on a moving horse. They fight this delaying action when the enemy gets too close, they retire behind the ridge, get on those horses, scurry away, set up a new defensive line, and play the game over again.
And it’s interesting too, there was a prejudice against the cavalry in the Union army, early histories of Gettysburg make hardly any mention. of what Buford did. This has changed over time. One of the things that helped change that perception, though, to get historians to look more seriously at the Union Cavalry was the Killer Angels and this movie.
If we go back
[00:33:02] Dan LeFebvre: to the movie, the second day of the battle is July 2nd, 1863. And the impression that I got while I was watching the movie was that some of the most important fighting on the second day took place at Little Round Top. Even though General Hood points out that the Union soldiers are entrenched on the hill and an attack would be devastating, the attack is ordered anyway.
Then on the Union side, we see Colonel Chamberlain’s men defending an area that the movie just calls below the summit as the extreme left of the Union Army. Chamberlain’s men are, I think there’s some dialogue in there that mentions, they’re the end of the line. So if they’re overrun, the Confederates can flank the rest of the Union Army.
And before long, we see Confederate soldiers climbing the hill, Chamberlain’s Union soldiers firing down at them. The fighting seems to happen in waves. The Confederates advance, then they’re driven back after a brief pause, and they come back, only be driven back again. And this happens time and time again, despite what looks like Overwhelming numbers.
It’s hard to, you mentioned camera angles and stuff. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how many people are, but just seems like a waves of attacking Confederates are coming. There’s a lot of close calls as bayonet charge down the hill due to running out of ammunition on the union side. But Chamberlain’s men seem to be able to hold the line.
Was the movie accurately portraying both the importance of Chamberlain’s position as well as what happened there?
[00:34:25] Gregory J.W. Urwin: Yeah, basically it’s interesting. The battle on July 2nd, Lee is planning his next move the night of the first and sends out an engineer to reckon order the union left because he’s hoping to pull another Chancellor’s bill.
Get on the federal flank and roll up the line. And this engineer, I don’t know how close this guy came to Jake, the Yankee troops or not, but he reports back that the federal left flank ends. where the Pennsylvania Monument stands today. Not that far from where Pickett’s Charge goes in on July 3rd. And that, the Federals, the troops that came up at the night, they ended up occupying much more land south of that.
The July 2nd dawns, and Lee has a council of war with Longstreet and some other commanders, and he basically tells Longstreet, okay, I want you to go down, To quite opposite the Union left flank, which he thinks, is much shorter than it was. And I want you to march up the Emmitsburg Road and just roll them up, flank them and drive them out.
And Longstreet, who’s made it clear that he’s not quite sure this is the place to fight. And this is the way to fight the Yankees. He’d rather get in a defensive position that threatened the enemy strategically so that the Yankees would do what they did at Fredericksburg, attack the Confederates and suffer heavy casualties out in the open while the Rebs were undercover.
He says I’ve got three divisions, Pickett’s far back. It’s he’s not going to get here until tomorrow, but I’ve got two, basically two divisions here. But one is missing a brigade. This was part of of John Bell Hood’s division. And he says, Law’s brigade isn’t here. So he tells them attack as early as practicable.
And he decides to wait for that one missing brigade, which doesn’t get there until 1130. He blows the whole morning. The movie doesn’t show this, but he blows the whole morning waiting. Then he takes off marching to get around the left end of the Union line. And at one point. His troops come up over a rise and Confederate commanders realize, holy cow, the Yankees can see us from here because they’re on some of that high ground.
So Longstreet about face and he counter marches, which kills more time to put a, a ridge between his troops and the Federals. And by the time he finally gets into position to attack, it’s 4 p. m. It’s 4 p. m. The movie doesn’t show this because it’s following. Longstreet’s version of this story throws away basically most of the second day and you have to wonder is he just he doesn’t seem to be himself.
And are these legitimate reasons? Is he being surly? Is he dragging his feet? He does send his troops in eventually. And they fight like galleons. But by the time he gets into position to attack, The Federals their line should have extended all the way down what one can visualize as the shank of that upside down fishhook, Cemetery Ridge, all the way down to Little Round Town.
But there’s another fly in the ointment there. The Union commander in charge of the troops at the southern end of the line Major General Daniel E. Sickles he commands the Third Corps. He sees in front of him a peach orchard on a high rise of ground. And he says, boy, if the rebels get artillery up there, they’re going to butcher my guys.
So I’m going to advance and I’m going to move in front of the rest of the line and I’m going to occupy that high ground. I’m not going to tell General Meade this is what I’m doing. I’m not going to keep a contact. My, my flanks are going to be at the air, but I’m going to go, I’m going to occupy this forward position.
Sickles was a politician turned soldier. Congressman from New York. He he would have been a wonderful character in this movie, an inveterate womanizer. He had all kinds of affairs, but when his wife had an affair with the Senator Francis Scott Key, he shot him down in Washington, D. C., and then get off.
He’s the first person to be acquitted. Due to the insanity defense, and because he’s an important New York Democratic politician, Lincoln, to get him to support the war effort makes him a general. Mead is stuck with this loose cannon. But, this is not open ground like the Confederates envisioned.
Longstreet has to now eliminate Sickles. And a lot of Sickles guys are in the woods and they’re in this peach orchard. South of the woods, there’s a rock formation called Devil’s Den there’s a ridge in front of it called Hook’s Ridge, there’s a brigade of Union troops there and they are way far in front of the hill known as Little Round Top.
The Confederates are going to have to blast through that force, and that is a fierce fight. Those Union troops do a pretty good job, they’re pretty tenacious. In the end, they’re over well. They’re facing an entire division, John Bell Hood’s division. But Hood’s division fractures. Some of them are attacking the Federals on Hooks Ridge.
Some go around the Federal left flank through a kind of a valley of depression, and move on Little Round Top. Little Round Top. Little Round Top is the best viewpoint elevated viewpoint if you want to see the battlefield. It’s a logical objective for the Confederates to take and it’s undefended.
It’s undefended. Sickles didn’t place any troops. They put them in front. But there is Meade’s chief engineer, Brigadier General Gouverneur K. Warren. He sees what’s happening and he says, we got to get infantry up here. So he’ll send an aid down they’re eunuchs of the Union 5th Corps that are coming up 5th Corps this badge I have on my left breast is their Corps badge, 1st Division.
That’s where the 20th of May came from. But he, they this aid runs into this brigade commanded by Colonel Strong Vincent. Who is pictured in the movie and says, we got to get troops up there. The rebs are going to take that eminence. Where’s your division command and no one can find this guy.
Rumor has it he was drunk, but Vincent on his own authority, orders be damned, Lee’s his brigade up there and places his four regiments facing South, the front of little round top, the Eastern the Western face of little round top. It’s really steep, really hard to climb, but the southern side is sloping ground.
So if the Rebs are going to try and come up this hill, they’re going to come up the easier way. And Vincent deploys his brigade the 16th Michigan regiment on, on the right, 44th New York. Next to it, Vincent’s old regiment, the 83rd Pennsylvania from Erie, and then at the far left of his line, the 20th May.
And according to Chamberlain’s testimony as shown in the movie Vincent says you have to hold this to the last. We are the left flank, if the rebels get past us, they can get into the rear, they can cause all kinds of trouble. So the movie does a good job of showing Vincent’s brigade.
getting position. It doesn’t really show what’s happening to Hood’s division other than it clears Hook’s Ridge, clears Little Round sorry, it clears Devil’s Den and moves on. A portion of it is already moving on Little Round Top before that fight along Hook’s Ridge is decided. So it’s a bit messy thing.
The Yankees aren’t where the Rebs expect. The Yankees are tenacious. And when they get to Lower Round Top, they’re even more anxious because they’re not going to be driven from their position. That
[00:42:37] Dan LeFebvre: leads right into my next question, because in the movie, it does focus mostly on Chamberlain’s men there.
And after they hold the line, it shifts to the Confederate side, where we see rather defeated looking General Longstreet talking to a badly wounded General Hood, who says, It was the worst ground and laments that they could have couldn’t have gone to the right like he asked to do things don’t really seem to have gone well for the Confederates and Longstreet tells Lee that it wasn’t close, although Lee still seems to think that they won the day, but based on what you’re saying to if didn’t really even start the advance until 4 PM.
Can you share what else was going on in that time in the second day of fighting that we don’t even see in the movie? Yeah.
[00:43:21] Gregory J.W. Urwin: The Federals fortified the hill that the rebels didn’t take at the end of the first day, Cemetery Hill. And they also fortify a hill right next to it, Culp’s Hill.
And there’s fighting for the possession of these two heights, but the rebels do not prevail. Hood’s division is, its troops are the ones that are involved in the little round top fight. Walk Street’s other division, McClaw’s division. And a supporting division from the third core Anderson’s division.
They chew up sickles troops. In the peach orchard and the wheat field, another union core gets chopped up. So the first and the 11th core got chopped up on the first day. The third gets chopped up on the the second day. And the rebels come close to getting into cemetery rich. Some say they came close to breaching the union position there.
But Hancock who is with his second core. Which is lined up south of Cemetery Hill, they’re on Cemetery Ridge. He’s feeding brigades into this fight. He sees the rebels are close to making a breakthrough, and delaying the rebels, eventually the rebels run out of steam, although he suffers some heavy casualties among his units.
Doing that. Yeah, it’s uncomfortably close in front of Cemetery Ridge. South of that though the Federals the 5th Corps does come up and helps to fill in the line that the 3rd Corps had abandoned when it moved out to the Peach Orchard. And Meade’s largest corps, the 6th Corps, comes up and he keeps that in reserve.
He doesn’t need to commit that. One brigade, I think, gets set up to Culp’s Hill, but most of it is there waiting in case there’s a real emergence. So Longstreet’s overall assessment is, yeah, the Federal line is still intact. We had our, we, the Rebels had their moments of glory. His two divisions get chopped up too in the process.
They suffer heavy casualties. They’re pretty worn out. That’s why they’re not going to participate in the big assault that Lee entrusts to Longstreet’s care the following day. July 3rd. There are some historians who say that by the end of the second day, the battle had been decided.
The Confederates could not win. So that’s the opinion of some, and if you look at the situation, Lee’s army has been torn up and need is still holding a strong positions. And as I say, he’s got this sixth core. That hasn’t been hasn’t really been bloodied. A couple other, a couple others on his right flank, sir.
His right flank that are in pretty good shape as well. You mentioned
[00:46:08] Dan LeFebvre: the third day, and the third day is the final day of the battle. Of course, they may not have known it exactly going into it yet, but according to the movie, General Lee orders General Longstreet to have General Pickett go to the center and split the federal positions in half.
Longstreet doesn’t like this idea. Reminds Lee that the two divisions under his command is, as you were just saying, they’re at like 50 percent strength, he says, from the day before. So they need rest. Also, there’s two federal corps in the rocks to the right of the hill. So if they attack in the center, they’re going to be in the open.
being attacked from fortified positions and artillery. And Lee says that they’ll break in the center because they’ve been fighting on the left and the right for the past couple of days. So those have been reinforced. That means the weak point is in the center. So he goes on to tell long street that retreating now means the past two days would have been for nothing.
Richmond has no more soldiers to offer, so this is basically it. A little later, Lee gives Longstreet three divisions, including a fresh General Pickett. Nearly 15, 000 soldiers concentrate at the center, where Lee estimates there’s only 5, 000 Union soldiers. Lee flat out, or I’m sorry, Longstreet flat out tells Lee that he thinks the attack is going to fail, but Lee says that everything is at stake, so it cannot fail.
Was that the plan going into the third day of fighting?
[00:47:26] Gregory J.W. Urwin: Again, it’s a little melodramatic. Lee wants to win. And what you say, what the movie says is basically correct. He feels that Meade has reinforced his left and his right. And his right. And so the center is there and he can punch through there.
And Pickett’s division is fresh about 5, 000 guys. They’re Virginians and Lee, of course, is partial to Virginians. So I counts on them to do great things. And then two divisions that had fought from AP Hills Corps on the first day, Harry Heath’s division, although Harry Heath.
Got hit by a spent ball on the first day’s fighting. The you may recall the actor playing Harry Heath has a white bandage under his hat. He was probably lying on his back somewhere in real life, would have been saying, General Lee, sir, the boy’s got their head up. I couldn’t I couldn’t restrain them.
But JJ Petare is gonna command his his division and two, two other brigades from one of AP Hill’s division entrusted to general Isaac Trimble, who was traveling with the army with no command. He was just there, . He’s available. Okay. We do the general officer to lead this echelon here and so he’ll be he’ll be part of this mix.
This mix as well. But Lee is acting on a hunch and he’s acted on instinct before. Commanders often do that. You try to be as well informed as possible. But there’s certain educated guesswork that goes into making decisions on battlefields, making decisions. In military campaigns and Lee thinks okay, this is it.
Maybe he wants it too badly. The movie makes it seem that way Martin Sheen’s Robert E. Lee, there’s a mystical quality to him. He’s not just religious, but it’s feels that he has a vision that’s inspired by God that he can see certain things. It’s the movie and the novel’s way of trying to to explain his genius for making smart tactical decisions.
And he’s in the center, they will break, like he could see it happening. It’s interesting take and I’m not going to dispute, dispute badly. Certainly believe that it would break how, for whatever reason he made that decision. But yeah he’s, he’s hoping to guess I, the thing about this, it’s a frontal assault, it’s not a flank assault and it’s troops moving across ostensibly open ground and Union artillery.
Which is positioned pretty much along, positioned along the most of that line from Cemetery Hill to Little Round Top there within range and they can see the Confederate troops that will be launching that attack. So yeah, you can expect a pretty stiff reaction if you send troops over that ground, but on the other hand, it’s not as suicidal as someone just looking at a map.
might think. I lead the annual staff ride for Temple’s Army ROTC program to Gettysburg, and so we’ve walked the route of Pickett’s Charge. And I read some battlefield guides before doing this, and one by Carol Reardon, a professor emerita at Penn State, which is especially good. She says, when you walk in Pickett’s Charge, ask yourself, What can I see?
What can’t I see? Who can see me? Who can’t see? Because the ground undulates. It’s not just a flat plane. It undulates. You come up, and then you go down, and the people along that They can’t see you. Someone off to your flank might be able to see you while you’re in a certain patch. Then you come up and you go down.
The confederates, when they were advancing, especially pickets troops, they just didn’t go straight ahead. They o leaked to the left and they would more or less maneuver to try to stay under covered ground as long as possible. It’s not till the Confederates get to the road with the fences on E either side, the The those two stout fences that they have to try to climb over.
They just can’t throw down. That’s where they’re visible to all the Federals in front of them. That’s where the union artillery in front of them can start wailing them with canister. And the union infantry they’re within rifle, rifle musket range. And that’s where they really start taking the heavy losses.
But the idea is we just move forward. And when we get close enough, we run, we don’t stop at that exchange fire with troops under cover and we just try to bowl them over. And if their line is thin there we can do
[00:52:20] Dan LeFebvre: it in the movie. We do see the main attack on the third day and before the fight, Longstreet predicts what’s going to happen.
He says it’s a mathematical equation that most will die, but he’s been ordered to carry out the attack. The, and we see the way this happens in the movie, the art, the artillery on the Confederate side, kick it off. They have a heavy barrage on union positions to try to break them up. And then the artillery is actually running low on ammunition.
We talked about a supply before. And Longstreet decides to order the attack earlier than the movie makes it seem like he didn’t want to attack as fast as he had to because the artillery was starting to run low on ammunition. And then the movie focuses a lot on General Louis Armistead, although he’s under the command of General George Pickett, who is tasked with leading his division across the field towards the center of the Union positions.
Kind of starts as a slow march. The infantry makes their way past the Confederate artillery positions, and they continue marching. Into an open field, the movie mentions them being out in the open for, I think, like a mile in range of artillery and muskets alike. We talked a little bit about that, but the way that it’s depicted in the movie, it doesn’t really seem to be too much of a surprise when Pickets march forward turns into essentially a slaughter and that’s what we see.
Union artillery fires on them for a while before the confederate soldiers get closer and under fire going, union infantry starts firing on them. Then many of them are firing from an elevated position or under the cover of a stone wall. We see there. But there are so many Confederates that it still seems like a large number of them make their way to the wall where the Union artillery is and then turns into like close range bayonet.
We have all these different types of fighting hand to hand combat. The general, the Confederate generals, Lee, Longstreet, and some of the others are watching this fighting from the distance. We see this in the movie and we see the different flags flying into fighting and then One confederate flag goes down, another one goes down, and then all of a sudden there’s no more confederate flags flying.
It just seems like it’s a total victory for the union army. Is that a pretty good interpretation of what really happened?
[00:54:30] Gregory J.W. Urwin: It’s not bad. It’s not bad. We intended the artillery barrage to drive away the union. Which would take weapons that could be converted into powerful anti personnel weapons with canister cans with metal balls, about 90 of them the size of golf balls, convert a cannon into a giant shotgun.
But he, wanted to drive away the Union artillery, which would make things easier for his infantry. Keep their casualties down the confederate artillery, they’re out in front so they’re within range of the artillery too, they received counter battery fire, so they only bring out so much ammunition to supply the guns, they keep their main ammunition drain back a bit, so it doesn’t get blown up, they blow up one reaction, but They shoot away the artillery that’s in their limbers up front with their guns, and the commander of the artillery tells Longstreet, look, I’m running out of ammunition.
He had a dual mission, it was not just to drive away the Union artillery. The Confederate artillery was supposed to go forward and support the Confederate infantry, which doesn’t happen. But, he’s telling Longstreet, I’ve done the best I can. Some of the guns have been driven away. New guns have come up.
He feels like sissy buzz, but if you’re going to go, you got to go now. Or, we just, we won’t be able to carry out the second part of our mission and Longstreet his his diffidence is obvious and he’s sitting on a rail fence and picket comes up to him and says. Should I go in?
Longstreet doesn’t say, yeah, give him hell. He just bows his head and waves his hand as if in assent, and the Confederates take off. It’s just you just can’t actually say the words. And that, that, that is a telling moment. That that, that conveys the fact that he thinks that this is a suicide mission, but He’s under orders.
Louis Armistead. Of course, he’s he’s useful in a number of ways. He commands one of Pickett’s three divisions. When Pickett begins his attack, he has two dot divisions, brigades. He commands one of Pickett’s three brigades. When Pickett begins his attack, he has two brigades out front, Dick Garnett on the left and Kemper on the right.
Armistead’s coming up in the second line. His brigade doesn’t absorb a lot of the casualties that some of the others do during the initial approach. But, he’s also an emotional device helping to capture the traditional brother versus brother vision of the Civil War.
A lot of the senior commanders here have been through West Point, and they had northern friends, they had southern friends, but when the Union breaks up, most of them go with their native states. End up trying to kill each other, at least destroy each other’s military units. And so the agony that some of these fell fellas felt is exemplified, especially in the armstead and Hancock relationship.
They were best buds before the war. But yeah as the front of pickets division is getting shredded and to make things worse as the confederate straw near. On their right, a brigade of Vermont troops come out and flank, firing into their right flank. They come from, there are no rebels in front of them, so they come out from behind the stone wall and they’re pouring fire into Kepper’s Brigade.
And on the other side where the two divisions from AP Hill’s Corps was involved, the Oath, the 8th Ohio Infantry. Does the same thing. So it’s not just cannons in front of them and cannons to the right and left of them, but infantry pretty close to the right and left firing into them tearing, tearing them up as they’re making that final approach from the Emmitsburg road.
So it may not have looked like a trap in the beginning. And some of that was optimistic thinking, but it certainly becomes one. And part of that is because subordinate federal commanders. Flank the rebel assault force and make their lives even more miserable. And for many of them, sure.
[00:58:42] Dan LeFebvre: mentioned with Armistead and Hancock, and we do see that very prominently displayed in the movie. And I wanted to ask about that because it does seem to add to either the drama or the controversial aspect of the battle in the movie, because it is a civil war. And With Armistead and Hancock relationship, there’s a really emotional aspect of Armistead recounting this story, the last night he was with his friends before they broke up, somewhat north, somewhat south and.
This seems the battle of Gettysburg seems to be the first time that Armisted is facing off with Hancock on the, either at sides of the battlefield and there’s almost seems to be some reluctance on Arm, Ted’s side to going into battle. ’cause he knows his friend is going to be on the other side.
He ends up doing it anyway. Of course. But do we know of. Any reluctance to fight because of this, what we see in the civil war, brother against brother, it’s not really a true enemy as they would see. I
[00:59:38] Gregory J.W. Urwin: don’t know about reluctance. There’s stories about the honest at Hancock relationship that, you know, if I ever.
Turn my hand against you, may God strike me dead. So if he actually said that, it’s in his mind as he’s going up against Hancock’s second corps there were other networks that connected men on different sides during the fighting and Armistead figures on that as well, Armistead was a Mason, many 19th century gentlemen were Masons and when he was hit, according to one story, he.
Gave the Masonic sign, they had secret handshakes and certain signals, kinda like urban gangs today. But maybe Masons wish he could take umbrage at that comparison. But supposedly he gave this sign of Masonic distress and a union officer who was a Mason hasten to his sign to su him, to give him a drink from a cante and to try to make him comfortable.
And that’s where he supposedly, asked about Hancock and learned that Hancock had been wounded and expressed regret according to at least one Northerner account. Tell him I’m sorry. As if he was apologizing for being. Being a confederate, but that vignette of the stricken armistead and his northern Masonic brother one of the one of the last monuments to go up at Gettysburg depicts that and it’s all it’s off it’s off Cemetery Ridge but it was funded by the Masons, funded by the Masons.
So the brother against brother theme is still alive and well. Even though a lot of us have grown less sentimental about the Civil War, people being hesitant to fight because they knew there was a friend on the other side.
I’ve worked a lot on George Custer in the Civil War. All his roommates but one at West Point were Southerners, he preferred their company. He was a Democrat and so that was the pro Southern party and he had friends that fought for the Confederacy. In the peninsula in 1862, he in fact, one of his Confederate classmates was wounded and then paroled and got married at Williamsburg and Custer was the best man.
Gimlet Lee invited him to be the best man. He’s there mixing. Mixing with all these secessionists, including young women, saying, I’ll look on you favorably if you join our side. Lieutenant Custer, Captain Custer, I forget what he was at the time. Custer’s best friend at West Point, Thomas Lafayette Rosser, who was a Confederate cavalryman.
They will square off against each other in certain battles. One fight, Trevelyan Station, Rosser, the Confederates overran Custer’s baggage train. And they captured Custer’s personal wagon, which had a brand new dress, Brigadier General’s coat in it. And Rosser sent him a note through the lines. Rosser was a bigger man than Custer, but he thanked him for the coat, and he said, Next time, please tell your tailor to take it out on the shoulders.
And later in the war Jubilee Station was in June. In October, Custer turned the tables on Rosser, and routed Rosser, and kept Rosser, and captured his baggage train, and captured one of his coats. In fact, it’s preserved at West Point. Custer’s widow presented it to the U. S. Military Academy as a symbol of that brother against brother motif.
But Custer will send Rossford out and say, tell your teller to bring it in. And George Pickett was a classmate of Ulysses S. Grant. They talk about Pickett being newly married. He’ll have a baby born to him during the Grant will order his artillery to fire a salute. And and if I recall this correctly, some of Pickett’s other buddies on the union side will subscribe and send a silver set, and babies are born christening sets, silver cups and things they’ll send that across the lines.
So you see those expressions of of fellowship at times during the war, but I don’t recall anybody. I know Hancock never helped from attacking a Confederate force. And Armistead doesn’t either. Armistead does his duty. He he’s the only Confederate brigade commander to get over the Union wall.
So this guy is hell for leather, as they say.
[01:04:07] Dan LeFebvre: There’s something else that, that… Other than the brother versus brother, I think a lot of people think that the American Civil War was a war to free the slaves. And that’s something that we see talked about at different times throughout this movie, too.
One scene, I think, sums it up best when Thomas Chamberlain, Lieutenant Thomas Chamberlain is talking to a confederate prisoner about why they’re fighting. Chamberlain says that he’s fighting to free the slaves and preserve the Union. The confederate soldier says he doesn’t care about the slaves. He’s fighting for his rights to live however he wants to.
Or rats. Or rats. Yeah, no you’re right. I’m not good with the
[01:04:44] Gregory J.W. Urwin: accent. It’s a nice touch. It’s a really nice touch. It is. I love that.
[01:04:50] Dan LeFebvre: That is great. Yeah, there’s a scene right after that, though, where Thomas Chamberlain and his is talking with his, his, oh no, his brother is it’s Joshua Chamberlain.
Thomas Chamberlain’s brother is talking with a Sergeant Kilrain there about their views on race. And Buster says, you can’t judge a race. You can’t judge a whole group of men at once. You have to take them one at a time. Chamberlain says that there was never a difference in his mind. So we get some inklings of the issue of slavery and race here in the battle too, between the different soldiers on either side.
Do you think it did a good job of showing us the views on race among the average soldiers?
[01:05:28] Gregory J.W. Urwin: That’s part of the movie that I’m the least happy with. There’s no doubt that slavery caused the war. The 11 states that seceded in their ordinance of secession said the reason we’re going out is because Yankees want to take slavery away from us.
It was the main bone of contention between the North and South. There were others, but in the 30 years leading up to the war. The North finally came down to this position. We don’t want the South to become stronger politically. They already have an advantage. They can count two thirds of their slaves for representation, even though those people can’t vote.
Gives them more seats in the house of representatives, gives them more votes in the electoral college. And we’re sick and tired of that. And we don’t want any more Southern states, any more slave states. Southerners were insulted by that. Who are you to say how we should live and where our lifestyle should spread, et cetera.
And they were convinced the only reason the Yankees want to do this. is that they want to take slavery from us. And we’re not going to let them get away with that. And it wasn’t just a matter of regional pride. Part of the price that white America played for, or paid, I’m sorry, white America paid for having slavery was psychological.
In order to rationalize a living with a system that was based on force and cruelty. They convinced themselves these people that have been kidnapped from Africa are better off because they’re being exposed to Christianity, and we’re giving them something productive to do, as if they weren’t doing productive things back home in Africa, where they had cities, even universities, and Quran, etc.
But, so what benefiting them? But at the same time, because of their African background, they are inherently sad. If we don’t keep them under control, they will rise up against the white race, and we will have a race war, and either whites will exterminate the blacks will exterminate the whites.
Thomas Jefferson, who agonized over slavery, will end up coming to that conclusion, saying we cannot end slavery because we have the wolf by the ears. The wolf by the ears. Picture that. If you pick up a wolf, you don’t let go because wolfy will tear out your throat. So even white southerners who didn’t own slaves feared emancipation.
They thought that there would be race war. And that’s, so when northerners say we want to free the slaves, they didn’t think they’re just a bunch of namby pamby do gooders. They want to get us killed. And they’d even send people down south to do that. John Brown seizes a federal arsenal, 1859 at Harper’s Ferry, to give guns to blacks.
There’s one, one, one, one time when the south, white south is again, is for gun control. But to give guns to blacks to turn on us and those people they’ll kill men, women, and children that south. It doesn’t happen. It did once with Nat Turner’s revolt in 1831. I guess one, one, one bad example is enough when Lincoln arms blacks.
During the Civil War, they don’t run amok, they pretty much follow military discipline. But what people believe is true is more powerful than what is actually true. This thing about slavery, it’s more than just an academic discussion or a matter of economics.
There, there’s a lot of emotion tied up there. These men, when they came north, Besides helping themselves to the larders and the apple sellers and the smokehouses of South Central Pennsylvania, if they found any free blacks, they apprehended them and sent them back to the South as slaves, which is, you don’t see that in the movie.
There’s one black person in the film and he doesn’t say anything. He’s okay, he has no voice. He has no voice. So Chamberlain and Buster Killray Get philosophical. It’s an interesting argument. It would have been interesting if Chamberlain said to Kill Rain, he says, I take one man at a time.
How do you feel about the English? But it reflects the times in which the the novel was written. For coming out of the Civil War. By the beginning of the 20th century, history had been rewritten for the general American public in order for the white North and the white South to get along.
We agree. Both sides were brave. Both sides were noble. Both sides fought for their beloved cause. As for slavery and blacks, we’re just going to erase them from, for the picture. Yeah. Lincoln frees the slaves. Good. Oh, let’s get back to Robert E. Lee and these other noble fellows sacrificing themselves.
For what they believe in that. That’s still part of the of American culture, popular culture, when shower writes the killer angels and still part of the popular culture, when they make the movie, they’re no real bad guys in this movie. Are there, they’re all good guys.
They’re all good guys. They’re all given their. Giving their best for their cause and, at the same time, most white Northerners didn’t go to war just to free the slaves either the white North was pretty much as racist as the white South, I would say. There are exceptions the abolitionists, et cetera.
Some were less bigoted than others but as the war goes on and as casualties mount. There’s this growing sentiment in the north that we’ve got to hurt the Confederacy any way we can. And all these white men off to war. The black population is bearing a disproportionate burden of the labor in the south keeping the confederate economy alive.
If somehow we can get those people off the plantations, somehow we can get them to run away, that is going to weaken the confederates. And yeah, it’s an extreme measure because the American way was based on the protection of private property. It was, guaranteed by the constitution, but these people are rebels.
These people are traitors. These people cause this war. They deserve it. They deserve it. At the same time, there’s a growing sentimentality. A lot of Northerners didn’t have much contact with Blacks, didn’t really know what slavery was like. And when they get South, they get a taste of those terrors.
Some photographers took pictures of the scarred backs. A black man who had been flogged and that’s being sent north. So for, there’s this growing sympathy for blacks. Doesn’t last much beyond the war. But slavery is a bigger factor. In all this, but it is complicated and hard to depict in a movie that’s trying to cover such a big battle.
But, they make they take, they take their nod to it. New Englanders like the Chamberlains may have been more inclined to support abolition and emancipation than their Irish neighbors who are competing with free blocks for jobs.
[01:12:28] Dan LeFebvre: Yeah. Yeah. It sounds like just the, you mentioned just the one I think it was a runaway slave.
They just call him a John Henry because they don’t even, he doesn’t talk, they don’t even know his name plays such as such a minor role in the movie, which granted the movie is not specifically, it is about the battle itself, but It sounds like it that even in and of itself, the way the movie portrayed that is almost historically accurate to the general sentiment of how people, especially sounds like, after the war, just wanted to wash some of that away and talk about it.
[01:13:01] Gregory J.W. Urwin: Ordinary Confederate soldiers, they were fighting for their families because they were afraid if there’s a new racial order they’re going to be on a losing end one way or another. That’s one reason why Confederate veterans will turn to political terrorism. After the war, when the Republicans start setting up state governments that are supported by the black vote, they don’t want blacks to have any kind of power.
And they will end up, according to one historian, killing an estimated 50, 000 politically active blacks during the Reconstruction era to take back control. Of their home states. So it’s again we sanitize a lot of the aspects of our civil war, but the savagery just didn’t occur on the battlefield.
[01:13:46] Dan LeFebvre: Yeah. Fear is a powerful motivator too. That’s for sure. Yeah. Earlier, I had asked about, what the thought was before the battle and the movie does talk about how the balance of the war rested on the outcome of the battle. And we talked about, People even might have thought that beforehand, at least according to the movie, but at the very end of the movie, after the battle, the Union one generally realizes that the Confederacy has lost and he needs to focus on getting as many survivors as he can out of there alive.
But with the battle over the movie ends, so can you fill in some more historical context around the aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg and its impact on the Civil War overall?
[01:14:24] Gregory J.W. Urwin: It was important. It was big. It checked Lee’s second. Invasion of the of the North it could be the impression that Lee’s invincible, but that they neglect politely to mention Antietam.
I got his army chopped up and had to retreat back into Virginia. Gettysburg is an even bigger. Disaster as far as that’s concerned. He lost just under one third of his troops killed, wounded and missing 32. 4%. So yeah his army is in bad shape. He shot away a lot of his artillery ammunition. He really can’t afford to fight another major engagement until he gets resupplied, so he has to get out of there he stands fast on the 4th of July he, what he does is that he, his troops curled around Gettysburg. His line was like an upside down fishhook, too on Seminary Ridge, facing Cemetery Ridge, and then going north around the town of Gettysburg, curving around Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill. What he’ll do is he’ll straighten his line, he’ll pull everybody back to Seminary Ridge, and it’s almost as if he’s hoping Meade will come across that open ground and try to clinch a decisive victories, just wishing that Meade will attack him.
But Meade doesn’t do that, and Lee, realizes that his position is tenuous. So he’ll start withdrawing his troops. He’ll load those wounded who can be moved without killing them, at least killing them right away, into ambulances and wagons. And that convoy stretches for 17 miles. 17 miles of named men in vehicles with poor suspension system on dirt roads, jolting along eyewitnesses talked about, the screams of agony, God have mercy, somebody kill me, things like that, but he’ll send them.
Kind of angling northwest and then around to get clear of the Federals. And then he’ll start marching his troops south toward Maryland and the Potomac River trying to keep a line of mountains between himself and the Federals. Meade spends a couple of days he sends his cavalry out right away to find out what Lee’s doing and to harass.
The Confederate retreat to attack any detachment that might be exposed fight your way through these passes to get an idea of just how strongly posted Confederate troops are. His infantry’s kind of held up for a couple of days, bearing the dead and getting reorganized. He’s lost he’s lost a couple of Corps commanders three at least.
Reynolds is dead. Hancock is wound dead. Sickles got hit by a Confederate artillery and had one of his legs amputated. So he’s out of the war. But he has plenty of leisure to write articles saying how Mead botched things up. But he actually saved me by marching the third Corps out to the peach order.
Orchard. I heard the politician, huh? here. It name’s a pistol. This guy he fit very well in today’s politics because no matter what. Dumb things he did. He was unapologetic. It was always right. He was a master of the big line and worked for it. It works for some of those guys. Maybe you’d have to be from New York to pull that off.
Hope my wife doesn’t see this because she’s from New York. It will start pursuing. He wants a decisive win. During the fighting at Gettysburg, when he ordered his troops there, he told his quarter master. I want you to prioritize ammunition and hospital supplies. Food comes third.
So his guys are hungry and they need to be fed before they can begin this pursuit. That’s another reason why they delay soldiers aren’t Superman. And if you push them. Too hard, men are going to start dropping. You need a lot of calories to sustain just marching. So he starts moving down, but while Lee is behind this chain of mountains, he thinks to try to fight your way through these gaps, it’s just trying to go through a bottleneck. They have the other side lined up and they’ll gun your guys down before you can deploy them at an ample strength. It’ll be it’ll be foolhardy. It’ll be a massacre. So Lee’s racing to the river and he’ll get there first, but it rained heavily after the Battle of Gettysburg.
And when Lee gets to the Potomac, it’s flooded. So he has to dig in and try to put a pontoon bridge across and that takes several days. So need lines up and he’s trying to figure out where Lee’s line is weak and try to launch an attack and by the time he’s ready to do it Meade gets most of his army across the army of the Potomac.
The rearguard at Falling Waters gets chopped up. George Custer and other Union cavalrymen get in there. Pettigrew, who commanded one of the divisions in Pickett’s Charge, is mortally wounded by one of Custer’s troopers. So they pick up a thousand or more prisoners. But Lee gets his army across the Potomac.
Lee manages to escape. Lincoln is disgusted. It’s. Private Secretary, we call him, saying, I’m paraphrasing, but we had them, we had them on our hand. All we had to do was close it, and nothing I could say would get the army to move. Now he’s watching this from his desk in Washington.
He doesn’t appreciate Meade’s problems, but he’s just heartbroken because it’s not the end. It’s not the turning point. The war’s going to go on for nearly two more years. Confederates have been hurt, but in the following year, that will be the bloodiest year of the war. As you listen, says Grant keeps trying to find his way through various defensive positions that Lee that Lee occupies at the Wilderness at Spotsylvania Courthouse at Cold Harbor. He forces Lee back and Lee, both the opposing armies lose half their strength during the first six weeks of that campaign. And the Confederates have fewer reserves than the Union does. But the bloodletting, everyone thought that Grant, after he took Vicksburg, that he was the miracle baker who would just come to Easton.
win the war with one more battle and Northerners are getting disgusted and war weariness is at its height. And Lincoln in the summer of 64, despairs of being reelected. He draws up a secret plan, tells his cabinet about it, but he puts it in a sealed envelope. Of what he will have to do if he is voted out of office in November to win the war before the next president is inaugurated in March.
So it’s, we is not finished. His capacity has been reduced, but he is still dangerous. And it’s not just a matter of winning battles. It’s a matter of sustaining the will to win and who’s willing to pay the price to attain victory in there. You mentioned
[01:21:27] Dan LeFebvre: to Lee’s kind of feeling of being invincible.
We talked earlier about the way the movie portrays it, this mystical type thing. But in the movie, there was a line of dialogue from generally in the last day of the battle where he says, he has, I think he says never yet left the enemy in command of the field. And basically the idea that we’re always going to win it.
The impression I got from that was there’s almost this element of pride to Lee’s orders, particularly to attack the center in the, on the third day. Do you think that’s true? Yeah.
[01:22:00] Gregory J.W. Urwin: There’s an honor code. that permeates the command echelon. So many of them are graduates of West Point, duty, honor country.
And it’s a point of honor, to hang tough. You, you want to win not just for your own self esteem, but also for the troops. Cause you’re asking them to make these sacrifices. And, we go in there the first day and we kick a lot of yanky butt. And this is I don’t particularly like this charade here, so we’re going to leave.
And the men are going to say, what were we fighting and dying for? We got, we had him on the run, we could do it again. It’s not just Lee thinks himself invincible, it’s his men. Arthur Freeman the English military observer, said that Lee’s troops going into Pennsylvania, That they harbored a pretty hearty contempt for an enemy that they had beaten time and time again.
Everyone’s conveniently forgetting Antietam, but elsewhere, Fredericksburg and Chancellor’sville blot out that unhappy memory. Yeah, I was just a bad day, but a fair fight or not even a fair fight for a number. Three to two, we can take them.
[01:23:10] Dan LeFebvre: You mentioned Freeman. I was going to ask about him too.
In the movie, he’s an emissary of Queen Victoria, his role in the movie kind of sounds like a, almost a liaison of sorts between the British and the Confederacy. Were the British actually supporting the Confederacy during the war?
[01:23:23] Gregory J.W. Urwin: Let’s deal with Freemantle first. He is not an emissary. Oh the queen or British ministry or anything like that.
He is a captain and Lieutenant colonel in the cold stream guards. Now the British guards were a set apart from the rest of the army in the guards in his regiment he was a captain, a company commander, but if he stepped out of the guards and encountered officers from regular line regiments, he is Lieutenant Colonel Freeman.
There’s this dual rank system double standard which set the guards apart and above, but he There’s war going on in North America and it seems interesting and there may be some new developments involved. So he is able to obtain a lead and he’s more a military tourist the movie’s, right?
He has to stick through the blockade and land in Texas and he travels over land through Texas. He keeps a diary. And so he meets all these great, bizarre frontier characters. He’s a precursor for a little big man, which is, cutthroat frontiersman. People have been flayed a lot because they committed a crime, et cetera.
And he goes to Louisiana and meets some of the characters there and crosses the Mississippi, which is dangerous because gunboats are patrolling it and travels across the rest of The rest of the South, because he wants to link up with Lee’s army. That’s where the action is. He wants to see it on campaign.
Originally he was neutral, but he received such a warm reception from Southerners, white Southerners, many of whom, especially plantation owners, tried to eat the manners of the English nobility. They in some of the nasty literature exchange before the war, they’d say, we’re descended from the Cavaliers, who follow Charles the same, whereas the Yankees are those nasty Puritans, always judging people, that kind of thing.
In English, Guards officer, whoo hoo. Everyone’s throwing parties for this guy. I’m glad to meet him. But yeah, he’s He’s there too. He’s there too. He’s there. He’s not there to report back to the British Army or anything Although he will take his diary and he will publish it A year later when he gets back to England.
It’s a big hit It’s a big hit and it’s a great primary source of the state of the South and the Gettysburg campaign. You overhear certain conversations, et cetera. He does not. parade around the Gettysburg battlefield dressed in the uniform of the Coldstream Guards. He does not wear a red coat because he is not acting on official capacity.
He would have gotten in trouble for that. He was wearing what he called a hunting jacket. I think it was gray or something. The first scene that he appears in where he’s at the campfire meeting Pickett and the officers of Pickett’s division. That’s what Arthur Free Battle wore.
During his American travels, but his text is an important source for for Shara. And he’s a character in the novel and of course he’s a character. Yeah, that’s an
[01:26:30] Dan LeFebvre: interesting twist that they did to make him seem a little bit more important than he probably was. One of the
[01:26:35] Gregory J.W. Urwin: military observers from different countries that came, there was one from Germany who dismissed the American civil war as a clash of mobs.
There’s nothing to be learned from that. And we sent military observers to observe the Franco Prussian war. General Phil Sheridan Observed it, and when he got back to America, he supposedly told Custer, who was a buddy of his, Custer, if I had you and your 3rd Cavalry Division, which Custer commanded at the end of the Civil War, with me, we could have captured the Prussian crowned prutes three times over.
That kind of thing. Military men could form low judgments of their peers and other armies. It’s a two way street.
[01:27:14] Dan LeFebvre: Going back to some of that invincibility that we see Lee having to do.
[01:27:18] Gregory J.W. Urwin: Invincibility. You want a commander who’s confident. How are we going to do it? I don’t know.
Yeah yeah. Try it and see what happens. No, you want somebody who’s confident. Somebody who
[01:27:28] Dan LeFebvre: always has the answers. Yeah.
[01:27:30] Gregory J.W. Urwin: Gotta project that to your troops. Command presence. It’s called, and we had them, even though he was in his fifties, he was the old man, as Harvest had called him at one scene, and I’m sure a lot of troops saw him at his age, boys in their teens and early twenties, but he was still fit, could ride a horse, he still looks…
impressive in his photographs. If people can get by the, the current low opinion of Lee because he fought for the Confederacy and fought for slavery. He he projected a certain presence that elicited the elicited the devotion of his troops. One of the big best selling novels that came out during the war by Victor Hugo, Les Miserables.
Jean Valjean and all that copies, probably pirated, got to the got to the CSA, got to the Confederate States, also the North, translated into English. And Lee’s men, they were so devoted to him that like a lot of Americans, they mispronounce the title of the book. Oh, Lee’s Miserables. They call themselves Lee’s Miserables.
Yeah. We suffer what we suffer for him. We believe in him. And that is a devotion that transcended more than a century. There is an unscripted scene in this movie where Martin Sheen in makeup and costume as Lee on a gray horse, movie version of traveler comes riding out and the Confederate armies assembled.
I don’t know when this was shot. I assume it was probably just before Pickett’s charge. Cause a lot of reps together, they see him and they go nuts. They forget that he’s. This liberal activist, all they see is Lee, and they gather around him cheering and get some close up shots of Sheen. And it looks at first, he’s scared out of his mind.
What if they’re going to lynch me? But they’re just, there’s this fusion of emotion and they’re waving at him. And they’ve got their caps and hats on their rifles. And they’re, pumping them up and down. And they end up going Lee. League, which was a lot of Civil War cheer, as we’re on USA.
If Xing wanted to improvise and said, okay boys, let’s take Washington, they would have followed down the road to DC. And it’s our culture has changed. You’ll never see that in the movie again, I think. And you may or may never get that many confederate reenactors together again to stage that kind of.
of demonstration, but it testifies to the Lee mistake, to the Lee mistake.
[01:30:00] Dan LeFebvre: Throughout the movie, there are a lot of things that, as I was watching, it just made me question how things might’ve been different if they went according to plan or went differently. Are you open to doing maybe a few what if scenarios from the movie?
[01:30:13] Gregory J.W. Urwin: I’ll stick my neck
[01:30:14] Dan LeFebvre: out, sure. The first what if revolves around the Confederate General Stewart.
In the movie, he arrives at the Confederate camp just before the final day and generally scolds him for not sending any word. According to the dialogue in the movie, Lee says, Stewart’s cavalry are the eyes of the army and because he wasn’t there, that meant the entire army was blind for the first two days of the battle.
What would have happened differently if General Stewart had been there for the entire battle?
[01:30:43] Gregory J.W. Urwin: Yeah, it would have been, it would have been interesting. Lee actually called Stewart by eyes. And it’s too bad that he wasn’t able to use the cavalry yet to take Stewart’s place. But the Army of Northern Virginia would have had a better idea what was in front of it.
And Lee wouldn’t have said to his commanders we’re gonna converge, we’re gonna concentrate. Don’t bring on a general engagement. I just just feel your way and don’t get into big trouble. He would add more concrete orders for these guys. He went, I said, stop at cash town. And wait for early to get to Hanover or something like early and you all to get to Hanover and then we’ll do a bit more scouting and decide what our next move will be.
So he may not have blundered into that battle as he did whether that would have altered the outcome or not could have. They could have. Maybe he would have of once he got an idea of what the terrain was like in and around Gettysburg, he might have pleased Longstreet by saying, no, this isn’t the place to fight.
We’re going to maybe angle off to the east a bit more and see if we can draw the Federals into this territory here or that territory there. So there may have been a lot more maneuvering before those two armies clashed.
[01:31:54] Dan LeFebvre: It’s interesting that you mentioned that there was, he did have cavalry, he just didn’t, it wasn’t under Stewart, so he didn’t use as much, whereas in the movie it makes it seem like there was absolutely no cavalry whatsoever, so it was much more emphasized how important it was to have the eyes there.
[01:32:10] Gregory J.W. Urwin: it’s, it’s easy to say they left this out, they left that out, but when you’re doing a movie. You’ve got to leave certain things out or you’ll be, with a six hour production. The Wretched Virgin of War and Peace. I don’t
[01:32:22] Dan LeFebvre: know how… A real time three day movie.
[01:32:25] Gregory J.W. Urwin: And theaters would have been wiped out from popcorn and robotics foraging through A& Ps and stuff like that.
Yeah okay, Lee doesn’t have his gal and is operating blind. They make the point that’s the main
[01:32:37] Dan LeFebvre: point. The next what if scenario that I want to ask you about happens during the first day of battle. The Confederate General Trimble tells General Lee that his commanding officer, General Ewell, refused to let Trimble take a hill that overlooks the town, even though it was empty at the time.
And at the end of the first day, we see a scene in the movie where Ewell says he didn’t think it was practical to take the hill, and General Rhodes apologizes to Lee for not taking that hill. The movie makes it seem like this was a big blunder because they talk about how the federal troops are digging in overnight and it’ll be a strong position for the Union the next day.
What do you think would have been different if the Confederates had taken the hill that first day?
[01:33:18] Gregory J.W. Urwin: If they had taken Cemetery Hill, it would have compromised the position that Meade held during the battle. They would have been on the north flank of that upside down fish hook. Opposition. So Meade I don’t know could have formed a new line anchored on a little round top facing north or moved even further away.
But there wouldn’t have been a lot of the battle of Gettysburg at Gettysburg. What happened on the second and the third would have been very, would have been very different. Maybe Meade could have caught I should let me rephrase. Maybe Lee could have caught Meade on the road or something like that, although I don’t think Meade would have been that careless, but it would have been a very different kind of stuff, very different kind of situation.
How much of a fight would have raged in that vicinity? In that vicinity that’s anybody’s guess.
[01:34:11] Dan LeFebvre: Yeah. It’s interesting how how something like that can affect. That would have the butterfly effect, of, of everything changing from that, yeah. We
[01:34:19] Gregory J.W. Urwin: talk a lot about the forces of history and we’re swept along by forces greater than our individual efforts.
But I think there’s also room for contingency in history. Individual decisions make a difference. Strong Vincent putting his brigade on little round top. Lawrence Chamberlain would not have become a hero unless Vincent put him where he was. And Lawrence Chamberlain wouldn’t have been as big a hero, I think, as he is if he had not survived the battle and ridden up his exploits and given numerous speeches about his exploits.
Strong Vincent is mortally wounded. He can’t be celebrated as the Lion of the Round Top because he’s gone. He’s got to find somebody else. And it wasn’t just the bayonet charge on the left by the 20th Maine that saved that position. When the Confederates first attacked Little Round Top ends up three Alabama regiments off against most of Benson’s brigade, two against Chamberlain’s 20th Maine, two Texas regiments from a splintered brigade that bypassed Devil’s Den will come up.
Against Vincent’s right flank, and that’s rockier ground, steeper ground, but they’re able To start pushing the 16th Michigan back. And at the last minute, another regiment by this time Warren, he’s not sending proxies, he’s off on his horse, trying to grab other union troops to come up to Little Round Top and leading regiment and another brigade that he grabbed the 140th New York commanded by Colonel Patrick H.
Paddy O’Rourke, graduated first in the West Point class in June, 1861. The class in which Custer was last. Irish Catholic immigrant. These are people who, the Anglo Saxon establishment looked down on, but this guy’s so talented, so charming, so good. He, he’s class president! And he’s commanding this regiment, and he gets up there, and he sees the Reds, and he just yells at his men, charge!
They go rushing in. He gets hit in the neck by a bullet that kills him almost instantly. So Paddy O’Rourke doesn’t get to write up his exploits. And he probably would have become a general officer too. He would have become a monument to him. There’s a bronze base relief of his face on the monument of his regiment.
It’s at eye level. People who pass it rub his nose. And that’s the shiniest part of the monument. The Ark Service doesn’t want you to shine his belt, but Paddy O’Rourke is there where he fell. But yeah, I got into contingency. But there are other examples of that. Union battery commanders, regimental commanders, brigade commanders, making decisions without their superior’s approval.
That especially Union officers that shut the Confederates for crucial periods. Yeah, the Confederates would have would have I think Meade could not have held the line that he held that shaped the battle of Gettysburg.
[01:37:22] Dan LeFebvre: That kind of leads then into the final what if scenario that I have. It’s more from an overall perspective.
We already talked about what actually happened, how the battle of Gettysburg impacted the Civil War. But with some of these things in the movie that, if they had happened differently, then the impression that I got was that Things very well could have gone the other way, and the Confederates could have come away from Gettysburg with a victory.
What do you think would have happened different if the Confederacy had won at Gettysburg?
[01:37:51] Gregory J.W. Urwin: Yeah, that’s a good, that’s a good question. This whole attitude, this is the last, this could be the last battle. This could be the battle that makes a difference. It comes from William Falk.
Michael Schurrer was an English professor. I’m sure he knew Faulkner, and in a book, I think it’s called Epsilon My Epsilon. Faulkner says that the imagination of every Southern boy, it’s a few minutes before 3 p. m. on July 3rd, and they’re all thinking, what if this time we’re able to carry that stone wall?
What if this time we’re able to win? Here’s a Southern writer, writing in the early 20th century, 20s and 30s, and he’s capturing this kind of collective mindset. And that, that has hung over Gettysburg ever since. The high water mark of the Confederacy, they came so close to cracking the line on Cemetery Ridge, and that would have made Gettysburg the turning point in favor of the Confederacy.
Let’s get down to brass tacks. As I said, Lee lost a third of his men at Gettysburg. If Pickett’s Charge had been a victory, he still would have lost that many, or close to it. And lost a lot of horses, lost a lot of of of high ranking officers. A lot of his corps commanders were killed.
Some of his division commanders are disabled, like John Bell Hood. Shot away a lot of his artillery ammunition. The Army of the Potomac would not have been destroyed because Meade had that Sixth Corps that he could have brought up to stabilize the line and cover a retreat. So they would have had to do it again.
And I don’t know if Lee would have had the strength to do it right away until he was resupplied. And if we gave the Federals time to lick their wounds and bring up reinforcements and reserves from different parts of the North. I think it would’ve been tough going, could
[01:39:46] Dan LeFebvre: he have been resupplied?
’cause the movie mentions, I think that there was a point where Lee says, Richmond doesn’t have anybody else to send us this, is it?
[01:39:52] Gregory J.W. Urwin: Not true. So I’m thinking of artillery ammunitions. Okay. Okay. That, you really need your artillery to fight a battle. And the Yankees would’ve resupplied.
Yeah. ’cause they were closer to their depots, et cetera. But yeah, he would have been fighting with reduced numbers, but Meade would have too. Meade lost about 25 percent of his troops. But his losses were not as evenly distributed as Lee’s. Some Corps were chopped up, but some weren’t so badly chopped up.
And 6th Corps was pretty much intact. So that was his ace. Ace in the hole but say me, so say Lee wins the spectacular victory and scatters the ivory of the Potomac and marches into, marches to Washington again, he’s got to fight his way through this ring of forts, some of which still stand, have been converted into parks, and say he fights his way through them, he’s not going to have enough men to hold Washington.
And, he’s in an exposed position. Federals can move around and get between him and Virginia. etc. The Union has naval superiority. They could steam up the Potomac and make his life tough. The Federals with all their resources, it’s going to take them four years of attrition to finally reduce Lee’s army to such a shape that it can be encircled and captured at Appomattox.
So I don’t think 1863 was the time to score that kind of victory. Again, The psychological ramifications. That’s another question. The political side of it. Perhaps if they hurt the Yankees badly enough, if they forcedly to retreat, if they need to retreat with heavy losses, and the Army of the Potomac is just not in, in condition to really react and pressurely he’s able to hang around Yankee territory for a while.
Every day that passed would have eroded Northern support for the war. Thank you for
[01:41:46] Dan LeFebvre: talking about the what ifs. That’s obviously a lot of speculation. I’m obviously talking about different
[01:41:51] Gregory J.W. Urwin: answers to that.
[01:41:52] Dan LeFebvre: It’s fascinating because there were so many points throughout the movie where it made it seem like.
It could go completely the other way, which I know is, it happens a lot in war and in battles and stuff and things can go the other way. So it is interesting with the amount of the amount that they put on this battle as being the turning tide of the war. And then all these things that could have turned this battle a different direction, it just makes me wonder some of those, what if scenarios, like if things had gone differently.
[01:42:21] Gregory J.W. Urwin: What posterity thinks it, it was the turning point for the north which simplifies things. It wasn’t a walkover for the North after Gettysburg, but the Confederates had won. Then it would have been the turning point for them. The North would have cried uncle or whatever. That you, the people who fought there wanted it to have meaning.
So for Confederates to say, we got this close, it’s just, it was within our grasp it was just a matter of dumb luck or a fluke here, a fluke there. That doggone Stuart he wasn’t here. He’s off glory riding. And then after Robert E. Lee dies and Longstreet starts hearing his criticism.
Lee Longstreet threw the battle out of spite. Why he wouldn’t go along with Lee’s plan. He wasn’t a faithful subordinate. So he got he became vilified. And there. These arguments would rage at confederate reunions, and there’s a story told that George Pickett was within earshot of one of these arguments, and they’re going back and forth, and someone says, where’s Pickett?
Let’s ask him, and they got his attention, and Pickett probably the wittiest thing he ever said. I hope he actually said it. I think the Yankees had something to do with it. Ha. Let’s give more credit for fighting a good battle. But that’s part of the fun of of studying military history.
Especially Yeah, even professionals, the one ifs, what could happen if things had gone one way or someone made this decision instead of that decision it’s a judgment game. Everybody and everybody’s a judge.
[01:43:56] Dan LeFebvre: That’s true. That’s true. Thank you so much for coming on to chat about Gettysburg.
For anyone who’s wanting to learn more about the true story, where would you recommend that they start?
[01:44:07] Gregory J.W. Urwin: Stephen Shears, who wrote a number of bestselling books. about different phases of the Civil War, a great biography of George McClellan. His book on Gettysburg is quite good. Alan Gelso published a anniversary history of the battle in 2013.
And I think it’s called Gettysburg. A lot of these are just called Gettysburg, different authors, but that’s well written. And that’s well done. He is a little less critical of Lee. In some instances, like you say, Pickett’s Charge, couldn’t Lee see that was suicidal. And Gelzer would point to some frontal attacks that because of undulations in terrain, et cetera, succeeded, like the British attack on the Russians.
On the Heights of the Alma during the Crimean War in October, 1854. So he deviates from the conventional wisdom in in some of some of his some of his remarks, but new books on Gettysburg are coming out all the time. Some deal with the micro history, Stuart’s Ray Custer on the The right flank on July 3rd, helping to stop Jeb Stuart a number of books about Little Round Top on the 20th of May books focusing on what Hancock did, what the Iron Brigade did, what the 26th North Carolina Confederate Regiment that really got shredded.
On the first day, what it did. Start off with some of these general histories and then go to Amazon. com and just put in Gettysburg and see what what catches your what catches your fancy.
[01:45:41] Dan LeFebvre: Yeah, I didn’t, I guess I didn’t realize that Custer was there. Obviously he’s not in the movie at all, but he was actually at the Battle of Gettysburg, huh?
Yes, my main grief note.
[01:45:49] Gregory J.W. Urwin: He was on the Union right flank, the right end. And when Stewart gets in on July 2nd, Lee will send him with four brigades to go around the Union right around the same time that Pickett is attacking or Pickett, Longstreet is attacking, the 7th, Pickett’s charge is occurring.
And that caused some people to say, yeah, Lee was piling up Pimpster’s attack and Pickett come coming from the front, Stewart coming in from the rear. We’re not quite sure what Stewart’s mission was. It was certainly to distress the Federals, to distract the Federals. Maybe to get in their supply trains.
But Custer was there and his division had been shifted to the south, to south of Little Round Top to guard that flank. And he gets orders from his Corps commander to report down there. And just at that time, Stewart makes his appearance. And the union Calvary force that had been left in place is pretty weak.
It’s commander David McMurtry. Greg asks Custer to ignore his orders and stay in Custer does and his brigade, it’s a fairly new brigade. The Michigan Calvary brigade will form the center of the union line. In fending off Stuart and Custer will lead a climactic charge at the end that helps to check Stuart.
There are other people that help Custer as well. He doesn’t do it single handed. Some Custer buffs like to purport. But that’s where he he’s only been a Brigadier General for a few days. He’s one of Meade’s first promotions. Promoted from First Lieutenant to Brigadier General.
And, but that’s where he makes his mark. He does good. I made some mistakes earlier, but in that final charge he he he does well. And that’s where his rise to national prominence begins.
[01:47:33] Dan LeFebvre: And I know you’ve written about Custer too, so I’ll make sure to include a link to your books in the show notes for this episode
[01:47:38] Gregory J.W. Urwin: as well.
I cover Custer Kettlesburg as you can gather, but there are a number. Fine books in Gettysburg that cover a bigger picture and even more important scenarios. Than the one involving custody.
[01:47:52] Dan LeFebvre: For sure. Thank you again so much for your time.
[01:47:55] Gregory J.W. Urwin: You’re welcome. It’s always a pleasure.