Three Days at Gettysburg: Essays on Confederate and Union Leadership

By Gary W. Gallagher | Go to book overview

"No Troops on the Field
Had Done Better"

John C. Caldwell's Division in the
Wheatfield, July 2, 1863

D. Scott Hartwig

IN THE 128 YEARS SINCE THE BATTLE OF GETTYSBURG, VETERANS, students, and historians have filled volumes exploring the question of why the battle was lost or won. Such writers usually have focused on command at the army and corps level. There is nothing wrong with this emphasis, for the decisions and actions of senior officers shaped the battle and influenced thousands of lives. But these officers did not lead troops into battle. They managed resources, allocating men and material to obtain objectives. Command at this level can be likened to a sword. The hilt represents the army commander, the blade is the corps. The point of the sword represents those who directed soldiers in combat—the division, brigade, and regimental leaders. Although we know a great deal about what happened at the hilt and blade of the sword of command, we know relatively little about activity at the point. It is thus instructive to shift focus from the hilt and blade to the point. An examination of the experience of division command on July 2 illuminates the challenge of directing men in battle during the American Civil War.

The experience of Brig. Gen. John C. Caldwell and his First Division of the Second Corps, Army of the Potomac, illustrates the role of division leaders at Gettysburg. Caldwell's division serves as an excellent model for two reasons. First, Caldwell conducted the only division-sized Federal assault in what was almost exclusively a defensive battle for the Army of the

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