Three Days at Gettysburg: Essays on Confederate and Union Leadership

By Gary W. Gallagher | Go to book overview

Three Confederate Disasters
on Oak Ridge

Failures of Brigade Leadership
on the First Day at Gettysburg

Robert K. Krick

ANY LISTING OF THE MOST VICTORIOUS DAYS IN THE tactical annals of the Army of Northern Virginia must include May 2, 1863, and several days at the end of August 1862. Fredericksburg leaps to mind as a thoroughly triumphant day, but the simplicity and ease of General Ambrose E. Burnside's destruction leaves little room for talk of Confederate prowess. Gettysburg hardly stands high on any register of Southern successes—but July I, 1863, taken alone, was unquestionably one of the best days Lee's army ever enjoyed. Late that afternoon, as Federals scampered through the town in desperate flight, leaving thousands of casualties behind and losing thousands more as prisoners, their prospects were bleak indeed. Some forty hours later the Northern army would be able to claim an immensely important victory that forever dimmed the memory of the Confederate triumph on July I.

The newly reorganized Army of Northern Virginia that approached Gettysburg at the end of June 1863 seemed an unlikely candidate for quick and sweeping conquests. It had unbounded confidence in its commander, and it rode the momentum imparted by familiarity with success; but it also had a disturbingly large increment of leaders new to their posts and units new to the army—and it did not have the mighty arm of "Stonewall" Jackson to execute Lee's designs. As fate would have it, the entire command structure of the army component that opened the battle was new to its role:

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