Ole Miss Musings: Gettysburg Explained


Next month, Jim Carroll will be joining Starke Miller and a group of Civil War buffs to two great battlefields in American history… Sharpsburg and Gettysburg.

Sharpsburg may be better known as Antietam. Jim is a law alum of Ole Miss and a presidential historian in his own right. Jim might actually possess the only collection of authentic presidential signatures (save one….DJ Trump) or at least, one of the very few. We posed the following questions to Jim, and we will be curious if any of Jim’s views change following the expedition.

One of Jim Carroll’s historic collection of presidential signatures.

HottyToddy.com: Jim, before we get too deep into the details, set the stage as to the commanders on each side who actually fought at Gettysburg.

Jim Carroll: Confederate Commanders…. Robert E. Lee, Commander of the Army of Northern Virginia; General James Longstreet; General Richard S. Ewell; General A.P. Hill and General J.E.B. Stuart. Northern Commanders…..General George G. Meade; General John Reynolds; General Annette Doubleday; General Winfield S. Hancock; General Oliver O. Howard; General Henry Hunt; General Daniel E. Sickles; General John Buford; and Colonel Joshua Chamberlain.

HottyToddy.com: What was Lee thinking by going into Pennsylvania when he was grossly outnumbered?

Jim Carroll: The total Union strength at Gettysburg was 88,000. Confederate strength at Gettysburg once Lee got his army consolidated was 73,000. Not bad odds since Lee had been so successful previously at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and even at Sharpsburg when outnumbered. At this point, the war could only end one of two ways: the South would exhaust its diminishing resources or the people in the North would wear down and demand peace. There was considerable anti-war, “just let them go” sentiment in the North with anti-draft and anti-black riots as well. George McClellan was getting ready to run for president against Lincoln on a peace ticket. Lee was hoping to win a big battle on Union soil, offer peace and hope growing anti-war sentiment in the North would prevail.

HottyToddy.com: Here’s a hypothetical: How would the war have been different if there had been no Gettysburg?

Jim Carroll at his home in Norfork, Arkansas.

Jim Carroll: It could have ended. A letter offering peace was to be placed on the desk of Abraham Lincoln the day after the Union army was destroyed. On the third day of the battle, Lee sent Jeb Stuart with his Grand Cavalry Division around to the rear of the Union army to cut them to pieces as they retreated. Trouble was the Union army crushed the Confederate frontal attack south of Gettysburg, and they weren’t retreating! For an interesting look at this question, Newt Gingrich has written two books on “what if” the South had won the battle. One is “Gettysburg” and the other is “Grant Comes East.”

HottyToddy.com: Day one of the three-day battle, where were the forces positioned?

Jim Carroll: North to west, Confederate Lt. General Ewell’s II Corps with Maj. General Early on his left and Maj. General Rodes on his right converged on Gettysburg along the Carlisle Road, Harrisburg Road and the Mummasburg Road while Lt. General A.P. Hill’s III Corps attacked from the west against Union Maj. General Doubleday’s I Corps and Maj. General Schurtz’s XI Corps. The Confederates took the town of Gettysburg and sent the Union forces fleeing to the hills south of the town. General Ewell had a chance to take high ground positions on July 1, but inexplicably refused to do so. Late that afternoon, Confederate Lt. General James Longstreet arrived ahead of his I Corps and suggested to Lee that he move the army south and east around the Union army and take up positions between it and Washington. His idea was to set up prepared positions between the Union army and Washington and force the Union to attack. To his surprise, Lee ordered an attack against the high ground positions, now occupied by Union forces, south of Gettysburg the next day, July 2.

HottyToddy.com: Was the battlefield realigned going into day two? Or, were the positions similar to the start?

Jim Carroll: The battlefield was realigned, the Confederates having taken the town and forced the Union forces to retreat to high ground south and east. Day one went to the Confederates.

HottyToddy.com: The fighting on day two was so intense, why did day three even occur?

Jim Carroll: The Confederate Army was finally united for the first time on day two with the arrival of Major General George Pickett’s division and Major General Jeb Stuart’s Calvary Grand Division (Stuart was in hot water with Lee for not getting to Gettysburg sooner), but with his appearance, Lee’s army was at last united. What was Lee to do with it? His instinct, as always, was to attack. Longstreet had taken the Wheat Field, the Peach Orchard and Devil’s Den on the Union’s left flank, and Ewell had taken a part of the high ground on Culp’s Hill on the Union’s right flank. If either, or both, of those flank attacks could be successfully pushed forward, especially if they could be done simultaneously, the entire Union position would become untenable. Lee knew that General Meade had been compelled to weaken his center to reinforce his flanks. Lee had Pickett, Heath, Pendergrass and others (perhaps 15,000 men including the 11th Mississippi) to assault the center of the Union line, which was in a fishhook extending from Big Round Top in the south through Cemetery Hill, around to Culp’s Hill. Lee thought it could be done; Longstreet did not as Lee gave the order to attack.

HottyToddy.com: What was the biggest mistake made by the South?

Jim Carroll: Stuart lost contact with the army and did not keep Lee advised of the troop movement of the Union Army in the days leading up to battle. Heath attacked on day one before the army was consolidated, and Lee decided not to follow Longstreet’s advice to go around the Union’s left flank.

HottyToddy.com: Was there any major mistake made by the North?

Jim Carroll: Plenty. In fact, they should have lost the battle. First mistake was General Sickle’s decision to push out ahead of the main line and occupy the Wheat Field, the Peach Orchard and Devil’s Den. Second mistake: the failure to occupy Little Round Top and Big Round Top until it was almost too late. Third: failure to counterattack after the failed assault on their center. And finally: their delay in pursuing the Confederate retreat.

Jim Carroll in front of Ole Miss Law School

HottyToddy.com: Describe the action on day three.

Jim Carroll: Generals Ewell and Longstreet commenced attacks on the Union, left and right flanks in the afternoon, and part of Longstreet (Pickett’s Division) and Hill’s Division (12-13,000 infantry) attacked the center of the Union line. The attack was preceded by a massive artillery bombardment. The attack was across largely open ground for nearly a mile. The Confederates were under murderous artillery and rifle fire attempting to breach the stone wall which shielded the Union army. The South charge was repulsed with over 50 percent casualties as several generals were killed. General Stuart’s planned rear attack failed as Lee began his retreat into Virginia.

HottyToddy.com: The war would continue for two more years following Gettysburg. Why so?

Jim Carroll: The people of the South really despised the North on a number of different levels and did not want to be part of the same country. Many would rather die. Lincoln was stubborn, and the radical Republicans wanted to control the vast natural resources of the South.

HottyToddy.com: Every battle has heroes and villains. How does history portray all the brave officers who were in the midst of the fire?

Jim Carroll: Both sides had too many heroes to count, not just officers. On the North: Gen. Reynolds, Gen. Hancock, Col. Joshua Chamberlain. On the South: Gen. Barksdale, Gen. Garnet, Gen. Armistead, Gen. Keeper, Gen. John Bell Hood, Gen. Amos Humiston.

HottyToddy.com: Where did Lee move his army immediately following the battle?

Jim Carroll: Under the command of Brig. Gen. John Imboden, they traveled west to Waynesboro; south to Hagerstown, Maryland and then to Williamsport, crossing the Potomac River at Falling Waters, arriving in Virginia.

HottyToddy.com: Would Gettysburg have had a different ending if Lee had listened to Longstreet?

Jim Carroll: What does the reader think?

HottyToddy.com: Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address occurred how soon after the battle?

Jim Carroll: November 18, 1863, which was four-and-a-half months following the battle. The speech lasted fewer than five minutes!


Steve VassalloSteve Vassallo is a HottyToddy.com contributor. Steve writes on Ole Miss athletics, Oxford business, politics and other subjects. He is an Ole Miss grad and former radio announcer for the basketball team. Currently, Steve is a highly successful leader in the real estate business who lives in Oxford with his wife Rosie. You can contact Steve at sovassallo@gmail.com or call him at 985-852-7745.

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