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Re: [civilwarwest] Newbie Question re: Chickamauga

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  • DPowell334@AOL.COM
    Longstreet s attack: there are a lot of misconceptions about Longstreet s column that do need to be cleared up. Longstreet did not manage to get the column he
    Message 1 of 6 , Jun 21, 2005
      Longstreet's attack:

      there are a lot of misconceptions about Longstreet's column that do need to be cleared up. Longstreet did not manage to get the column he wanted, and he did not have any understanding of Wood's movement. Instead, he massed the forces he as best he could given what he found when he took over, and he attacked when he sensed the battle was overtaking events.

      When Longstreet arrived on the field about Midnight, he got a few hours rest, had a brief conference with Bragg, and then set off in the pre-dawn hours to find his command. Contrast his actions with Polk, his counterpart. Polk went to bed without ever finding Hill or visiting his divisional commanders, and woke up at dawn (I won't discuss the whole Polk-on-the-porch thing, as that is much to complicated a story to tell here) to find events had already overtaken him and his attack was delayed.

      Longstreet, by contrast, found and visited every divisional commander by about dawn. He was with Buckner and essentially took over Buckner's HQ for his own. Armed with a local guide (Tom Brotherton, found not by Longstreet, BTW, but assembled as part of a group of locals by Bragg's order the day before) Longstreet had a good working knowledge of his command, and started to shift his forces to assemble the attack column he wanted. He was stuck with Bushrod Johnson in front because there was not time to replace him, but given Bushrod's later performance that proved not to be a hindrance.

      Of course, Longstreet did benefit from time. Polk had to attack at dawn, while Longstreet was not expected to open his fight until after Polk had engaged - say, under the original plan, by about 7-8 am. This was very helpful, but Longstreet put that time to good use. (by contrast, Polk could have been using the time between dawn and 9:30 am to bring up Walker or Cheatham for a similar attack column behind Breckinridge, but that never happened. When Breckinridge broke through, only then did Hill, Walker, and Polk start arguing about reserves.) As it was, Longstreet was ready by about 8 or 9, at the latest, and waited for near two hours for the attack order.

      I have stressed before the importance of having Hood command the entire column, and being able to shift troops forward in and around Johnson's flanks when the breakthrough in Brotherton Field happened. Thus, Benning's men were able to flank Brannon's Federals on the north shoulder, and drive them back, while Davis' Yankee Division was similarly handled on the south flank. Davis' men had the misfortune to also be outflanked to the south by Hindman's division, which only compounded the problem.

      Longstreet's other major feat, IMO, was in getting his column re-oriented to attack north against Snodgrass Hill after the initial success. This is actually a very difficult manuver, and Longstreet accomplished it quite ably.

      Did Longstreet make mistakes? Certainly. I think that the gap between Snodgrass Hill and Kelly Field should have been exploited, even if Humphreys failed to note it properly, and I think that Longstreet expended far too many attacks directly against Snodgrass Hill when he should have thrown Preston's division into that gap. Why? Because even if Longstreet did not know the gap was there, he did have to realize that the Union line bent back sharply there, creating a salient (Just like at the Peach Orchard back in that small PA college town) and that salient was by definition a vulnerable point. Gap or no, it was a logical place to commit a fresh division.

      Secondly, when he lost Hood, he failed to replace him with a clear successor. I personally believe that he should have ordered Buckner to take over and co-ordinate the attack against either Snodgrass or the salient just described. There are a host or reasons why Buckner might, in the end, have failed at that task, but Longstreet did have confidence in Buckner, and why he failed to use him is a mystery. Hood brought cohesion and a clear chain of command at the decisive point. Gone, the various commanders fell prey to confusion - for example, Johnson and Kershaw trying to figure out who was senior, and pulling in different directions.

      These mistakes are understandable, however, and do not detract from what Longstreet did accomplish. If you want to understand Longstreet's impact on the field, simply look to Breckinridge's attack. If anything, Breckinridge had an even better opportunity on the Federal Left, but was replused fairly easily. Longstreet broke through and kept on going.

      To make it even simpler, Longstreet is the one Rebel commander on the field, in the whole battle, who brought more than five brigades in action at once on either day.

      Subsequent actions, RE: Lookout, Wauhatchie Valley, Knoxville, etc. are quite different, and colored by a host of problems - some self-induced, others imposed by Bragg - that make them less successful.

      Chickamauga, however, was a high point in Civil War offensive combat, and Longstreet is largely responsible for that, IMO.

      Dave Powell
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