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History, Politics & Society
US Civil War
Battle of Gettysburg

Was Lee's ordering of Pickett's charge at Gettysburg a collosal tactical blunder or an attack that could have succeeded but did not?


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July 17, 2015 5:42PM

Most attacks that fail could have succeeded had circumstances been slightly different. Similarly, most successful attacks could have failed. Any failed attack becomes, by definition, a tactical error. Those are the fortunes of war. Lee's decision to fight at Gettysburg after the first day was an error because the possibilities of success on that ground were too few. Had he shifted to the right, seeking better ground he might possibly have gained a victory. Certainly the odds might have been more in his favor. Anyway it didn't matter. Nothing that happened in Pennsylvania was going to stop Grant from taking Vicksburg on July 4 and that was by far the more strategically important event.Michael Montagne

While its true that Grant's capture of Vicksburg was important, the Battle of Gettysburg is still the high water mark of the Confederacy. When Lee ordered Pickett's charge, he made a colossal blunder. Of course, this judgment is made with the benefit of hindsight. However, I have been to Gettysburg and I have stood and looked out across the ground that the Southerners had to cross that day. Secondly, I also point to Lee's experiences in the Battle of Malvern Hill. At Malvern Hill, Lee faced a situation where he tried to dislodge a Federal force with the use of artillery. That attempt failed miserably, and it would fail again at Gettysburg. The Civil War was not a war of 'attack' since the Napoleonic charge was no longer effective (rifled muskets had much better range). So, when Stonewall Jackson utters 'we must show them the bayonet' - he also shows that he's fighting a different war from a different era. Lee's subordinate, Longstreet was in favor of the 'offensive defensive' - ie. to lure the Federals to attack the Confederates on 'Southern' terms. Throughout the course of the war, thousands died because generals just didn't understand that you could not run men with bayonets and one musket shot into an enemy protected by breast works and cannon.