Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Ewell at Gettysburg

I've just finished the latest issue of Civil War Times, which includes an article on Richard S. Ewell's actions on July 1 at Gettysburg. That failure to take Culps or Cemetery Hill on July 1 cost Lee's Army of Northern Virginia the battle is often taken as gospel, and Ewell comes in for most or all of the blame.

Authors Chris Mackowski and Kristopher D. White take issue with the standard story. They of course discuss Lee's famous ambiguity in the orders issued to Ewell - to take the hill "if practicable." And this is where many discussions of July 1 stop. But apparently Lee's orders, even at this late hour, also warned against bringing on a general engagement. The original orders, of course, have not survived. Even if Culps Hill was unoccupied at the time Ewell received the order, as the authors point out, Wadsworth's division occupied the hill shortly thereafter. And Federal artillery and infantry occupied East Cemetery Hill in strength, partially commanding the approaches to Culps Hill. Finally, troops of William's Division of the 12th Corps lay just beyond Benner's Hill, and are likely to have spoiled any opportunity to occupy Culps Hill without a fight.

Ewell certainly displayed some indecision on July 1 and also later in the battle. To blame the loss solely on him, however, ignores substantial problems at all levels of the ANV at Gettysburg. Let's save that for another time, or not.

I often tire of reading about Gettysburg controversies, but Mackowski and White have managed to create an entertaining and enlightening reappraisal of the key question concerning Ewell's performance at Gettysburg. The article, along with the entire issue of CWT, is well worth reading. I recently subsribed again after a long absence, and have enjoyed every issue so far. For those that are not interested, the text of the article can be found here.

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