Three Days at Gettysburg: Essays on Confederate and Union Leadership

By Gary W. Gallagher | Go to book overview

"Every Map of the Field
Cries Out about It"

The Failure of Confederate Artillery
at Pickett's Charge

Peter S. Carmichael

ROBERT E. LEE'S TACTICAL MASTERPIECE AT CHANCELLORSVILLE electrified the Army of Northern Virginia. The rank and file boasted of their invincibility, proclaimed their leader unbeatable, and assured the nation that final victory lay within reach. No branch of the army exhibited more confidence before Gettysburg than Lee's "long arm." Confederate gunners helped consummate victory at Chancellorsville when they overwhelmed Federal batteries at Fairview, shattering the backbone of Joseph Hooker's defense on May 3. Their remarkable performance marked the emergence of Lee's cannoneers. Long considered inferior to their counterparts in the Army of the Potomac, Southern artillerists pointed to Chancellorsville as irrefutable proof that they could out-duel their adversary. They attributed their success to a newly implemented battalion system that effectively concentrated firepower. "The most noteworthy feature of the Battle was the efficiency of our Artillery," observed a Confederate cannoneer after Chancellorsville. "Owing to the issue of good guns replacing bad & the organization into Battalions we massed it & produced effects unknown [and] unhoped before."1

Success at Chancellorsville led Lee's cannoneers to conclude mistakenly that organizational problems, a persistent weakness in the long arm, had been solved with the battalion system. Gettysburg shattered this illusion. The massive, but largely ineffective, cannonade preceding Pickett's Charge

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