Angel’s Share: Musings of a bourbon sipping ACW Student

February 3, 2008

Lee’s Operational Plan Seminar

Filed under: Uncategorized — angelshare @ 2:22 pm

I’m told by experts that events during the Civil War typically were not happenstance. A great example of this is the Battle of Gettysburg (What did you think I was going to say, Cold Harbor???). While the battle itself may have not been the exact battle that either commander wanted to fight at the time and events evolved that culminated in the battle, it was not the unplanned for collision that some early authors would lead us to believe.

Last year around this time I participated in a seminar sponsored by MHO ( lead by Retired Lt. Col. William Hewitt. Bill knows a thing or two about Operational Planning as that’s what he did for many years including some time in the 1st Gulf War. He also taught this doctrine at the war college level. So, when I asked that he put on a seminar about Meade’s Operational Plan he immediately said yes!

The seminar was comprised of a 4 hour classroom study of Meade’s Operational Plan, which was quite impressive being that he had only been in command for a couple of days. There was a lot of discussion surrounding the Pipe Clay Creek circular and overall operational theory. Bill shared some great Powerpoints with the group that depicted the operational moves of the Union Army. I’ll seek his permission to post one or two here in the future. After the morning classroom session we took a ride out to view the PCC proposed line and three or four other sites, including a visit to Power’s Hill, or what Ranger Troy Harman calls Meade’s “Grand Central Station” as it is in this area that Meade was able to shift troops quickly throughout the battle.

Now the good news….
This year Bill has offered to do another seminar in the same format but “Lee’s Operational Plan” so that we can have a look at the other side. This seminar will include some an examination of some of Lee’s decisions before, during and after the fight. Here’s the announcement:

Winter Skirmish 2008 Announcement!
Lee’s Operational Plan

Date: February 16, 2008
Time: 8:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Classroom, Afternoon Field Study

Instructor: Bill Hewitt

Where: Valentine Hall Room 206, Lutheran Theological Seminary – Gettysburg PA

Cost: 20.00 per person (please add 3.00 if you are using PayPal) All proceeds go to the Gettysburg National Military Park

Send check to:
Chris Army
1277 Willowood Rd.
Knoxville Tn, 37922

Details of the Seminar & Study:
Meade’s apparent lack of offensiveness gave the impression that he did not want to fight at Gettysburg, and did not want to stay at Gettysburg on 2 July. The reactive mindset (1) allowed Lee to set the tempo of the battle- retaining the initiative even in withdrawal, (2) allowed Lee to escape, and (3) hindered Meade in executing attacks on his right flank on 2 July, or counterattacking on 3 July. History overlooks Meade’s decisiveness in ordering 40% of his force to Gettysburg, the central point of concentration in the area, and physically between the two known wings of his opponent. History ignores his attempts to counterattack, and fails to consider that Meade, at any time, could have ordered a retrograde from Gettysburg, always a prerogative of command.

Lee was also a meticulous defensive and offensive planner and capable leader, who generally exercised a “hands off” approach once the execution began. At times, such as the withdrawal, when tighter controls were needed, Lee adjusted to those needs. Lee clearly lost the battle and the campaign. While he achieved many of his goals prior to the battle, he failed to achieve his overarching goal of defeating the AOP. Lee gave an equally credible performance, overall. His offensive skill could not overcome Meade’s defensive skill.

During movement Lee made no major error. Lee did make a minor error, which would surface in the next phase. When Stuart did not execute Lee’s orders to rejoin the army on 24-25 June, Lee did not compensate by using other available cavalry forces from 26 through 2 July. Without intelligence Lee was forced to enter the Susquehanna Valley to protect his line of communications.

On 1 July, during movement to contact and hasty attack, Lee assumed the AOP could not close at Gettysburg as fast as they did. The intelligence that Stuart, or some other cavalry force, would have provided, would have corrected this. Compounding his initial minor error Lee began movement to contact during the evening of 28-29 June without diverting other available cavalry to the area of predictable enemy activity. He concentrated at Gettysburg with less information than he could have had. He compensated for his lack of intelligence by conducting a hasty attack with favorable force ratios. The Confederates prudently diverted infantry forces for security missions on both flanks. Lee diverted Anderson, and Ewell delayed an advance. Both actions brought about culmination of the hasty attack on 1 July before the seizure of more terrain (Cemetery Hill).

Lee’s plan for the 2 July deliberate attack was excellent. Well over 50% of his mass was focused on the emerging decisive point (Cemetery Hill). In execution, when faced with the forward deployment of Sickles, the Confederates shifted forces further south to find and capitalize on any weakness. Aware of this shift south and apparent Federal strength there, Lee did not exercise additional command and control over the exploitation force (Anderson’s and perhaps Pender’s Divisions). His inaction caused a shift of projected energy from the decisive point in the center of the line to the Confederate right flank near the Wheatfield. When coupled with a successful Federal response to the south end of the battlefield, Lee’s lack of adjustment resulted in the deliberate attack culminating with limited gains in the Peach Orchard and part of Culp’s Hill.

During the continuation of the deliberate attack on 3 July, Lee’s plan was generally good, but his force was becoming out of balance for complete victory. To compensate for the lack of forces, Anderson’s Division was given two diverging missions, and the center was weakened to reinforce Ewell’s attack on Culp’s Hill. In execution, with the plan unraveling with attacks on Ewell, the detection of Stuart, and the ineffectiveness of the artillery, Lee failed to adjust to compensate for evolving weaknesses. Given the lack of coordination between corps from the previous day, Lee should have deduced that increased coordination was a necessity. Once the plan began to unravel, Lee had a choice to either reinforce Longstreet’s assault with another division equivalent, or terminate the ground assault portion. Lee did neither and his risk became a gamble. The artillery cannonade was extended with the hope of an increased chance. The Confederates unwisely conducted Longstreet’s assault now vastly undersized. Continuing the attack was an error.

During the withdrawal, Lee again effectively planned a detailed operation, taking a more hands on approach. He reorganized and transitioned the force quickly, reestablishing unit cohesion. When faced with Federal activity, he readjusted his plan. However, had the AOP been more aggressive, Lee’s slowness in planning and implementing his defense at the crossing sites was an error. Meade was not in position to bring light to Lee’s error.

Join us as we discuss Lee’s Operational Plan.

The classroom portion will be followed by a Field Study. Please plan on carpooling to cut down on traffic to the field sites.
Lunch will be on your own.

Email me at or IM me if you have any questions.

So, if you’re around Gettysburg on the 16th consider joining us! This type of seminar is my favorite format as it’s pretty focused, you don’t have to have a lot of background reading or knowledge done and you get to see some field study as well. Bill will be conducting elements of this seminar when he does his tour for the Ranger’s program in April this year.

See you there!


1 Comment »

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