You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to SpringfieldNewsSun.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and interactive features. Starting at just 99c for 8 weeks.

X

Welcome to SpringfieldNewsSun.com

Your source for Clark and Champaign counties’ hometown news. All readers have free access to a limited number of stories every month.

If you are a News-Sun subscriber, please take a moment to login for unlimited access.

Civil War symposium to examine Gettysburg


The Battle of Gettysburg wasn’t a turning point in the Civil War.

“It wasn’t even a turning point in the East,” Kent Masterson Brown will argue April 13 at the third annual Springfield Civil War Symposium.

Brown contends that’s so because Gen. Robert E. Lee’s masterful retreat from the battle saved his army as a fighting force.

He also argues that President Abraham Lincoln’s speech at Gettysburg and martyrdom not only cast a shadow of misunderstanding over the battle but over the reputation of Union Gen. George Meade for an alleged failure to destroy Lee’s army during its retreat.

The attorney and historian whose assessments run contrary to the majority of historians will makes his case when he’ll share the symposium stage with military historian Parker Hills, who will focus on the other major battle of 1863: Vicksburg.

Deadline to register for the symposium is April 5. It will be held at the Heritage Center of Clark County. For details call 937-324-0657.

Brown, author of “Retreat from Gettysburg” and “The Civil War in Kentucky,” said Lee took responsibility for his Army’s defeat at Gettysburg.

But given the intelligence and information Lee had, said Brown, “I would have not have come to a different conclusion.”

Seeing the wreckage on the hill extending in front of him, Brown, too, would have ordered George Pickett to attack what looked like the enemy’s weakened center.

To understand the brilliance of Lee’s generalship after the battle, Brown said, it’s necessary to look at what led up to the battle.

Lee drove north not solely for a military objective but for the practical purpose of sustaining his army, which was “on the brink of destruction before Gettysburg,” Brown said.

“There was just no food in Virginia,” he said. So like a migrating herd of animals, the army and its animals headed for new foraging territory, but in a very organized way.

“Lee going up to Pennsylvania relied on a line of supply and communication that extended from the Cumberland Valley Turnpike down to the Potomac (River), up the Shenandoah Turnpike to Virginia.”

At 300 miles, “it was as long a supply line as we had in the war in Iraq,” Brown said. And because it provided a flow of munitions, mail and replacement soldiers, he said the relationship between the general and his supply lines “is like a deep sea diver and his hose: You’ve got to keep that line up and protected.”

After the defeat at Gettysburg, Lee falls back on that line, said Brown. “That becomes his line of retreat.”

It was a retreat that, by necessity, was led by miles and miles of wagons and supply trains.

“Lee starts those trains at 3 in the morning of July 4,” Brown said.

His army takes two routes south between the mountains. A 17-mile length of supply train heads south at Cashtown, eight miles south and west of Gettysburg, a 40-mile supply train turns at Monterey, 14 miles west-southwest of Gettysburg.

“Then behind the trains going over Monterey comes the army itself,” said Brown, led by A.P Hill, James Longstreet and Richard Ewell.

Using the narrow mountain geography to his advantage, Lee “posts a very strong rear guard.”

When Confederate positions are first threatened at Monterey, he said, he has all his men build campfires, cut down trees and start to build breastworks or defensive positions.

“He makes it appear that he’s going to fortify the mountains,” Brown said, a move that gave the Union’s Meade, himself leading a tired army, cause to pause.

Before the battle at Gettysburg, Meade’s lines has been stretched out along a length line to protect Washington, forcing troops to rush to the village when the battle began.

This separated the army 30 miles from its supply lines for food and ammunition, a reconnection made more difficult after the battle because Confederate troops had ripped up rails and otherwise delivered body blows to the trains in the days before the battle.

When the battle at Gettysburg ended “his army hadn’t been fed in four days and his horses hadn’t been fed in four days.”

“He’s not going to attack Lee in the mountains,” Brown said, “so the whole attempt to poke through Lee’s rear (positions) is called off.”

Although the torrential rains helped Lee’s army early in its retreat, they also caused the Potomac River, over which Lee had to get his troops, to swell, blocking the way.

At Hagerstown, Md., “he engineers a nine mile defense line” of artillery and infantry 50 to 75 feet above the valley floor, Brown said.

Now at work on a book of Meade’s pursuit of Lee, Brown credits the Union general with moving “with incredible speed” to reach Lee’s defensive positions on July 10.

But because Meade’s army would have had to first cross the river, then climb the hill to attack the enemy, the Union general’s officers tell him “don’t dare,” fearing the losses would be substantial.

Meanwhile, Brown said, with his troops in strong defensive position, Lee’s engineers manage to replace a pontoon bridge that had been destroyed by flooding with an 800-foot bridge of 26 pontoons constructed in an amazing 62 hours.

“It’s just unbelievable,” Brown says. “They’re dismantling wharves and barns, remelting pitch from roofs. They were doing everything to patchwork a bridge. And that bridge is going to take the remnants of his wagon trains, all 96 artillery batteries and two corps across the Potomac and back to the safety of Virginia.”

Escaping across the Potomac with 57 miles of trains, 36,000 head of cattle, 36,000 sheep and some hogs “is the most amazing operation you can imagine,” Brown said.

And in leading his army on a successful retreat, Lee “re-establishes equilibrium, which is the object of a retreat after a lost battle,” Brown said. “I really argue that Gettysburg, because of the retreat, ceased to become a turning point in the war.”

Although Lincoln urged Meade to stronger action during Lee’s retreat and “has in the popular sentiment won the argument,” said Brown, “in reality, he really shouldn’t have.”


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Community News

Zuckerberg visit a surprise to Dayton roundtable participants
Zuckerberg visit a surprise to Dayton roundtable participants

One of the most influential men in the world was in Dayton this weekend to talk to local people about opioid addiction, an issue devastating many area families. Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who is touring the Midwest, stopped in Dayton on Saturday, for a community roundtable hosted by CareSource. Lori Erion, founding director of FOA...
Follow these detours around Dayton after I-75 shut down
Follow these detours around Dayton after I-75 shut down

Dayton-bound motorists on I-75 should use alternative routes to avoid a shut down in the downtown area from a fatal crash that resulted in a major fire.  Southbound motorists should exit onto I-70 East and proceed to I-675 South toward Cincinnati to get back onto I-75 in Miami Twp. Northbound motorists should take I-675 North to I-70 West and...
Billy Ray Cyrus changes name, releases new version of ‘Achy Breaky Heart’
Billy Ray Cyrus changes name, releases new version of ‘Achy Breaky Heart’

Country singer and songwriter Billy Ray Cyrus is celebrating the 25th anniversary of his hit “Achy Breaky Heart” with three new versions of the song. Rolling Stone reported that Cyrus has recorded “Achy Breaky Heart 25th,” a version closer to the original demo. It was released Friday. The song will also reportedly get a...
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg surprises Ohio family, drops in for dinner
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg surprises Ohio family, drops in for dinner

Guess who’s coming to dinner? Mark Zuckerberg! In their wildest dreams, an Ohio family couldn’t imagine hosting dinner for one of the wealthiest people in the world, and talking about politics and an African charity they support with the Facebook founder and CEO, but that’s exactly what happened. Members of the Moore family...
Wrong-way driver causes fiery, fatal crash that shuts down I-75 in Dayton
Wrong-way driver causes fiery, fatal crash that shuts down I-75 in Dayton

A wrong-way driver of a car crashed head-on into a tanker truck carrying gasoline, Dayton Police Lt. Mark Ponichtera said. The crash resulted in a massive fire that shut down both directions of Interstate 75 in Dayton and left at least one person dead, police said. It’s  not clear whether the truck driver was injured, but he was able to...
More Stories