Gettysburg Historiographic Essay

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The Battle of Gettysburg:
Strategies Invested and Who is to Blame

Historiographical Essay
Prepared by:
John Smith

HISTORY 480, Historiography
Dr. Smith
Washington University
Spring 2011
The American Civil War is a time in America’s history that is full of debatable topics. The country was split in two and was threatened with potential division if the North didn’t prevail in reeling the dissenting group of states of the South back into the Union. The war was complete with pivotal moments and pitted battles chock-full of blunders, yet Gettysburg stands alone as one of the most influential and tide turning confrontations of the war. With questionable tactics employed by the Generals and a potential shift in the tide of the war at stake, the winner of Gettysburg would hold an advantage over their enemy for the rest of the war. Just who was to hold the most blame in the blunders at Gettysburg? Was it Lee with his overconfident mentality and desperate need for a win in the North? Or was it a combination of his subordinates and their failure to support Lee at a time when he would need them most?

Many people thought that it was Lee’s fault for the loss at Gettysburg due to his over confidence in his troops, believing that they were almost invincible in battle. Others believed that he had no business being in Pennsylvania at all since the South’s strategy had been all along to make the war one of a defensive nature and hold off the oppressive Northern advance. There is the thought that had he been able to win t Gettysburg he would not have been able to do anything significant since his army was so badly ravaged and unsupplied. This is why he was thought to invade Pennsylvania in the first place: to gain supplies and food for his desperate army, and to gain a victory against the Northerners on their soil. Lee was desperate, and these frantic feelings were building up to effect his strategic decisions at Gettysburg. These nine sources seem to have an opinion that Lee held the most fault for the failure at Gettysburg.

In The Marble Man: Robert E. Lee and His Image in American Society, Thomas Connelly claims that a General Lee’s stubbornness, “believing his army could achieve anything, Lee ignored Longstreet’s council for a flanking movement and chose to assail Cemetery Ridge.” This thought that the assault on Cemetery Ridge against fortified enemy positions was a fatal mistake of the battle and would lead to Lee’s most well-known blunders of the war. Those that viewed him as invincible witnessed his defeat. He went back on his word when he promised that he would not fight an offensive battle, and lost his former successful perspective on the war. According to Roy Basler in A Short History of the American Civil War, the effects of Lee’s army could have been felt in a much more painful instance if Lee would have held back in the South and used his numbers in a defensive manner to drag the war out even longer. Basler argues that “even a costly Confederate victory at Gettysburg would have left Lee without the ability to destroy the Union Army or even to capture Washington.” His troop numbers were far from the sufficient number needed in order to obtain dominance in the North, and it was a far cry that Northerners would revolt or become sympathetic to the South’s cause. They would react just as the South had years before, by fighting harder. He claims that when Lee decided to invade the North in hopes for a victory on their home soil, he was desperate and took a selfish gamble. He goes on to argue that the South could never have truly won the war, but only prevail with a defensive strategy and convince the North that it was too expensive financially and by means of human life, to continue the war against the South. He states that the battle was more of savage futile butchery ad poor Confederate generalship.” According to Champ Clark in his work, Gettysburg: The Confederate High Tide in the Time-Life Series, Lee was...
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