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tv   The Civil War The Peach Orchard at the Battle of Gettysburg  CSPAN  November 10, 2021 10:34am-11:35am EST

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home and rest up. the supervisor knew he couldn't fire the senators brother-in-law so they just had to put up with this. but they told him they had taken care of the demon cat. history gets made because other guards discovered if they were attacked by the demon cat, they got a couple of days off too. and this is how history gets written. so the demon is -- some tell me there is no real evidence of the demon cat. but i can show you some actual concrete evidence. because here is where he carved his initial into the concrete. this is the corridor that goes from the old senate into the terrace and there is where the demon cat carved his initials into the concrete there. >> you can watch the full program online at c-span org/hilz.
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history. hope everyone is enjoying their day so far. my name is tammy myers. i'm director of visitor and member relations here at the gettysburg heritage center. if you are not already aware. we are owned and operated by the gettysburg nature alliance, which is a 150 c 3 not profit charitable organization that educates about and preserves gettysburg's combination of heritage and habitat. >> licensed guide here at the park and done so since 2003.
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co-authored --. and it was the first battlefield to the legendary attacks here at gettysburg. also a co-host of the popular the battle of gettysburg pod cast. which is free on all platforms. he's written numerous articles for publications. one of the primary content designers for and appeared in american battlefield trust mobile app here at gettysburg. he's a speaker for civil war run tables. and npr, travel channel, monumental mystery, pcn, bright bart, civil war and talk radio and featured --. i would now like to present to you james hessler who is going
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to be presenting his program neutral ground --. [ applause ] >> thank you for the introduction. i was going to tell you --. wow. what a crowd. this is really humbling to see people literally standing in back. i got kind of these bright studio lights in my face but i still recognize a lot of familiar faces back there. and boy, i hope this is good. i'm going to do neutral ground. kind of the theme here tonight. both a military assessment of the sickles controversy and a tweak at historians and gettysburg enthusiast to make
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sure when we are evaluating this, we too are sticking to neutral ground. little bit of a play on words there. i'm actually doing a little bit of a crossover between two of my books. the sickles book and the peach orchard. little bit of a mashup as the kids would say. and i thought given recent developments and the popularity of the new gettysburg biography, i thought maybe i'd focus more on the mead sickles controversy that i have in the past. give you more of an overview of it, my interpretation and a timeline how it progressed from beginning to end.
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dan sickles, the name invokes some really hot emotions, you know, hardly a day go by on social media or facebook. let's not kid ourselves. never does a day go by where there is not a dan sickles related debate on social media and to this day this name can evoke argument, bar fight, social media debates. all of the above. having said that, let's get a
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show of hands how many of us have what you would consider to be a positive impression of general dan sickles? seriously. come on pod cast super fans. help me out. one, two, three. all right. couple hands are going occupy. negative impression of dan sickles? okay? yeah. majority of the hands. neutral? okay. all right. maybe about a third or so are kind of neutral. and that's fair enough. and like i said, all joking aside. i don't care if you like him or not. but i do think he's definitely one of the most important figures of the gettysburg story. and we're going talk about that during the course today. now let me start with my disclaimer in terms of what i mean by historical neutral ground. as i've already kind of said at the outset, i'm really not excuses for what he did or didn't do at gettysburg. i'm not here to criticize
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general meade. you should be skeptical of historians that take sides. remember historical interpretation is about, you know, an attempt to describe, analyst and evaluate sources. and, you know, there is no shame in a historian trying to figure out what happened and why it happened. and quite frankly to me, the why, why did sickles move forward? why did we have this communication breakdown between meade and sickles? that's always been more interesting to me than the what. you know the what, sickles moved his troops into the peach orchard, took heavy losses and got pushed back. and this was against meade's orders. good night everybody. that's the what. why? why did he do it? how did happen? always been not only more interesting to me but it reveals some fascinating personal
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dynamics that existed within the army of the potomac and within any army, did he do it because of willful disobedience? did he do it because he was confused with the orders? or as you know some historian even speculated did sickles move forward because he wanted to be president and this would get him into the white house? all of that's been fair game and fodder for 158 years. now we've got what i kind of call our three stages of sickles here. okay i wasn't sure if the laser pointer worked. congress, general and then as old grizzled civil war veteran. his life was rich with incident, is a line that comes from his 1914 "new york times" obituary and is frankly quite appropriate. daniel sickles was 44 at the battle of gettysburg.
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and if you are thinking here sickles, why? this is a guy who was first of all a 19th century political figure. and i've got his resume in front of me. attorney, tammany hall democratic. new york state assembly. served in london with james buchanan prior to the civil war. somewhat instrumental in the formation of new york's central park. served in the new york state militia. later is going on the minister to spain. two terms of congress in the 1850s and in the 1890s and as we all know the congressman who got away with murder, a noteworthy civil war general, battlefield preservationist, i could go on and on. but i won't. and of course a colorful character. because how many bog fis can you do where a guy is involved with murder, allegations of theft, embezzlement, fraud, forgery, prostitution and battlefield controversies on some of the
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biggest battles of the american civil war. including gettysburg. or state it another way. he's three things we hate all rolled up in one guy. politician, attorney and a new yorker. so you can kind of take your pick on that. and i'm a new yorker too so everybody watching on c-span relax, we're good. and i will say, and i do mean this, i think with his combined impact on the battle, for better or worse, the historiography, for better or worse, and
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battlefield preservation, mostly for the better, i do think that makes him one of the most monumental, no pun intended, figures in the gettysburg story. and there are not many figures or generals where the tale spans all of these different eras. and that is what makes studying dan sickles important. i think 2 you kind of ignore sickles as some people want to do i don't think you have a really good grasp on the history of gettysburg and i think that makes him important. he first comes to prominence, historical prominence. he'd already been a noteworthy politician. but he first comes to historical prominence in 1859 with the murder of phillip barton kei on the streets of washington and most probably know the basics of the story. theresa sickles was having the affair with dea phillip barton key. congressman dan sickles found out and basically confronted key on the streets of washington and more or less shot him down like
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a dog on the streets behind the white house. i'm not going to go into that whole case. that is frankly a separate talk and very interesting one but i'm not going to do that today. but what i do want to say is kind of some relevance to understanding gettysburg and the meade-sickles controversy. over the years and, you know, i've been doing this for years and my own impression of sikds is kind of a evolved a little bit. so i've kind of come to realize and appreciate the dan sickles was what we could consider today i think to be an emotional decision maker. now i do not have a psychology major. i did great in community college. but that is about it. you know, i don't have a psychology degree. but i do -- you know, i do at this point kind of have an understanding of this guy. and if you look at some of the key moments of his life, you know, this temporary insanity, killing phillip barton key was really an impulse, really a crime of passion coined of thing. if you look at his life and career he's impulsive with
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women, with money, with dare i say certain battlefield actions. and then you also see in him dependent relationships. highly dependent on some of the women in his life. highly dependent on abraham and mary today lincoln to get himself moving through the army of the potomac. highly dependent on commanding officers and those are all characterics of what i would consider to be an emotional decision maker. people like this make quick decisions and then they will afterwards seemingly create what they think are rational decisions to justify. anybody see where this is going? rodney does? okay. and i think july 2nd, 1863 is in a lot of ways example of this.
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you can take -- in large part because he hates general meade and wants to destroy the arm, that sort of thing. i would argue the decision making behind it is more complex and quite flankly more more interesting and nuanced. so we'll come back to that. sickles then obviously goes into the war. and the ensuing scandal from the key murder had driven him out of congress. so i always say there is a direct line between the key murder trial and the civil war and sickles' career in the civil war because when the civil war starts, congressman sickles is out of office and he's practicing law as a private citizen in new york. when, you know, the shooting starts in april of '61. so sickles at that point i think realized there was an opportunity here. and he raised troops in new york city and in and around new york. many of which became known as the famed excelsior brigade who
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is going to fight within the gettysburg but also too sickles and lincoln both like to tell it later, president lincoln, new president lincoln basically seemed to like or they said he liked sickles' fighting spirit and helped basically enable sickles' rise within the army of the potomac. i don't know if lincoln liked sickles as much as lincoln needed democrat, really any democrat to promote the war effort. but sickles is kind of become as a result the poster boy for the dreaded political general. the guy who is going to elevate and rise through the ranks with really no commensurate military training. such that at gettysburg sickles as y'all know is going to command the third core and be the highest non ranking west pointer in the army. prior to that i would say that he -- you know, he appeared to me he appeared to have the makings of a competent brigade commander. and i think as he moved on,
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literally brigade in 1861, division in '62 and core command in 1863 finally. you know it looks like this progressive rise on paper and rank, but i think particularly in '62 or '63 start to see him kind of missing more and more battles. sometimes intentionally, sometimes not intentionally. you know, he's not at antietam. he's at fredericksburg but primarily more in a reserve position, that sort of thing. and his rise during that period seems to really be more dependent than anything on his relationship with hooker. what did i say on the previous slide? one of the things dan sickels needs is dependent relationships. they tend to like to socialize together. and they connect with fifth
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corps commander and future chief of staff dan butterfield so that from late 1862, into early 1863, i always tell people, that winter, late '62, early '63, go back to that winter, read as many of the memoirs as you can, many of them talk about what a party atmosphere it was in the army of the potomac. with these three, hooker will eventually take command of the army of the potomac. every time hooker gets promoted from brigade to division to corps, sickles gets promoted behind him. they add dan butterfield in this trio. the three of them basically set kind of a wild social scene in the army during late 1862 to
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early 1863. there's a famous yet from a new england officer who says to the effect that, during that winter the headquarters of the army of the potomac sank to the lowest level ever, commanded by a trio that he said the least said the better, a combination of barroom and brothel, a place no self-respecting man would go to and no self-respecting woman would dare go to. sickles and hooker had a party last night, where do they get all these women from? you see things like that in the various accounts. unfortunately the one guy not invited to sit at the cool kids' table was fifth corps commander george meade. look, battlefield guys, some of us have an old joke, you would
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want george meade commanding your army but sickles is the guy you want to hang out with on saturday night, many of us have heard a variation of that. on a personal level meade and sickles are just two very different people. sickles, a womanizer. i don't know that sickles was the hard drinker he's portrayed as, but certainly he comes out of tammany hall, new york, and likes to have a good time. whereas by most accounts george meade as a solid, reliable, devoted family man, we all know the west point graduate. if you ever read meade's correspondence, some of which is published in "life and letters," i encourage you to go to philadelphia and read the unpublished stuff. i see in meade a guy whose responsibilities weighed on him, his career, how to provide for his family and things of that nature. i always say on my tours, that's
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why -- he's 47 years old, that's why he looks like he's 147. maybe he could take a dip from dan sickles on how to lighten up a little bit. but he doesn't, they don't like each other. and what happens is, so very often these parties and these social events that i talked about, you see meade writing home and literally saying things like, every officer in the army was at that party tonight except me, i wasn't invited, kind of thing. and you see him doing things like that and kind of at the time criticizing guys like sickles and butterfield. in a quote, such gentlemen as dan sickles and dan butterfield are not the persons i should select as my intimates, and you see things like that going on. there's clearly personal friction going on with these two. at that time joe hooker is the rising star in the army. so it's no surprise that sickles is connected to hooker, you know who he thinks is kind of the rising star.
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again, that's kind of the way dan sickles does things. but i'm pausing here and i'm giving a little added emphasis to this because i think an area that gettysburg historians and authors and scholars have gone a little shallow on is developing the origins of the meade/sickles relationship. because what do you usually hear? you usually hear, meade, the west point professional, against sickles, the untrained amateur. that's what you kind of hear, and is that some sort of excuse for the fiasco they both go through on july 2, 1863? being from west point doesn't guarantee that you'll have military success on the battlefield and frankly, not going to west point doesn't guarantee that you're going to be a failure. there's more to the relationship than that at least for these two particular guys. in meade's case, trouble starts after the battle of gettysburg
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in september of '62. meade at that time had actually performed well but didn't get support from another third corps general by david byrny. david byrny, who serves under circles, becomes part of the sickles clique. i'm convinced that sort of the friction between meade and the officers of the third corps really exists after the battle of fredericksburg. so you have that dynamic going on, you have meade sort of being socially excluded from the parties going on. and then after the battle of chancellorsville, there's a dispute between meade and hooker. well, let me put it this way. there's dispute between hooker and the different generals over whether or not meade had favored withdrawal back across the river after the battle of chancellorsville. and they start polling all of the generals, you know, did you favor a withdrawal, did you want to move forward, that sort of thing. sickles of course supports his buddy hooker. meade says he did not favor a
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withdrawal, but they sort of put him in the camp of favoring one. and this gets to the newspapers and meade is like, whoa, wait a minute, i didn't support that, i wanted to go forward kind of thing. and so there's a little bit of this debate going on which i think is fascinating because, again, this whole idea of, you know, advance or retreat after a major battle is something that seems to dog the army of the potomac after almost every major campaign. and we always act like it's unique to gettysburg and it's not. in a lot of ways, the seeds are getting planted for the future meade/sickles controversy. so when meade takes command, you see this right away. june 29, june 30, july 1, you see this right away in the messages and the orders going back and forth between meade and sickles. from sickles' perspective, his buddy hooker has been removed from command so he's kind of on the outs at headquarters, really
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something he's not used to. from meade's perspective he's got that guy commanding the third corps that he really doesn't like. and probably doesn't trust and probably has good reason not to trust. and you see it again particularly in some of the marching orders, june 30, july 1, you see immediate confusion and miscommunication going on between meade and sickles. so july 2, the whole move to the peach orchard doesn't happen in a vacuum. this is a thing that's been building up and obviously comes to a kind of a spectacular clash here at gettysburg. so i'm going to pause for a minute, hopefully some of you can see this. i would more than anything characterize the meade/sickles communication breakdown on july 2, i would characterize that as a failure to communicate more than anything. and again, some historians will say, no, sickles got direct orders and he just violated 'em because he didn't like meade or he's a new yorker or he wanted
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to do -- or he's a president, all this kind of stuff. i think if you break it down, first of all, clear and direct orders, the orders that sickles received as far as where to place his troops on july 2 were verbal, as far as we know, we were verbal orders. that always carries a risk of being miscarried. but also for us as historians too, we don't have orders sitting in an archives somewhere that we can kind of go and look at today. but general meade, george meade, described the orders later, during his testimony before the joint committee on the conduct of the war, and this is how general meade described them. i sent instructions to general sickles directing him to form his corps in line of battle on the left of hancock's second. i indicated to him that his right was to rest on hancock's left. sickles' left was to extend the round top mountain, plainly visible if it was practicable to occupy it.
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and then there's another piece about having replaced some of john geary's 12th corps troops that were in the vicinity of the round tops on the night before. now, at about 8:00 or 9:00 a.m., general meade goes to his son captain meade and basically says ride down to third corps headquarters, see if sickles is in position. captain meade comes down and again, finds general sickles still in bivouac. hey, sickles is sleeping late, he had a rough day, the day before. initially captain meade doesn't talk to sickles directly. captain meade talks to george randolph, who goes into sickles' tent, comes out and basically says, yeah, you know, general sickles, he's sleeping, but, you know, he's not really sure where we're supposed to go, not sure where the 12th corps goes.
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captain meade gets back on his horse, rides back to headquarters and reports to his father. what do we know about general meade's temper? patient, soft-spoken, they don't call him the snapping turtle for nothing, you have to earn nicknames like that. he's under a lot of stress, yes, he was. he's new to command. remember, we're not making excuses. we're just trying to say what happened. but anyway, anyway, so general meade probably told his captain meade, staffer, son, in no uncertain terms, look, these are the orders for general sickles. captain meade goes back, this time finds sickles on his horse, something to the effect of, okay, we'll be in position but i'm still not sure where the 12th corps was, see ya, kind of goes riding off. with that, i will make the case that general sickles has
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exhibited some uncertainty about where he is supposed to be. and i will state for the record with the danger of being called the monday morning quarterback, i think headquarters should have paid more attention to sickles. i've been lambasted on social media for this, recently, especially with the new book out, to the effect of -- to the effect of, well, hessler's saying those orders were unclear. eh eh eh, i'm not saying that. i'm saying it would have served leaders to pay attention to what is clearly proving to be a difficult subordinate. if 9:00 in the morning is too early to do that, how about at 11:00? because at 11:00, sickles goes to meade's headquarters looking for assistance. i know people on the battlefield here who interpret this whole controversy in a couple of words, and i've heard people do this, and i'm going to sort of paraphrase here, but i once heard a colleague telling a group that sickles told meade to
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go to hell and just did whatever he wanted to do. and i would say that's the impression of most people in the room, go to hell, i'm going to do whatever i want to do, why would you go to headquarters at 11:00 looking for assistance? why not just go to hell and do whatever you're going to do, why not save the trouble? again, some meade supporters dispute this, and that's okay. look, folks, it's all interpretation. this is what the record says. this is what the record says. i interpret sickles looking for assistance. meade supporters can interpret sickles as, you know, saying put your troops on that hill. it's interpretation of the same source. but i would say they have this conference at headquarters, again. he seems to be requesting additional assistance, which meade describes, sickles came to my headquarters, i told him what my general views were, intimated he was to occupy the position that i understood hancock had
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put geary in the previous night. so if there's two concerns there, i would say, if practicable, and yeah, i know that was common in the 19th century, but, you know, isn't if practicable at the heart of every gettysburg controversy? like, what would we talk about if they didn't say "if practicable" in the 19th century? and this notion of that i understood hancock had put geary the night before, i take that at face value, that meade hasn't seen the position. i'll say again, i'm not saying the orders were unclear. i am saying, i think with the difficult subordinate on the flank, you would probably be better suited to give him a little more time. if i'm going to nitpick a little, i'll nitpick for that. we all know what happens next, general warren doesn't come out, henry hunt, artillery chief does, and that's a whole different conversation. before leaving headquarters
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sickles asked meade whether he was not authorized to post his corps in such manner as his judgment should deem most suitable. meade says, any ground within those limits you choose to occupy, i leave to you. just so we're all clear, look, sickles clearly -- clearly the intent of the order is to prolong the left of the second corps to the range of those hills. if you're a guy like dan sickles, you maybe feel like you've got some wiggle room within the limits of the general instructions, if practicable and things like that. all i'm saying is, you have this going on between two guys who don't like each other, who don't work well together. it's a recipe for disaster. and, you know, that's kind of what happens. again, terrain is part of the story. the military guys like to say terrain drives the battle. i would argue that experience and decisionmaking still trumps
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terrain, but what do i know? but this is an area that we call sickles' hole. it is an area on the battlefield north of little round top. the camera is looking west. this is huck's ridge. devil's dun would be over here, the wheat fields over here. from this area over here you cannot see the confederate position, you cannot see emmitsburg road. this is a rocky, rugged field. for better or worse, sickles, his staff, and officers evaluated this field and felt they would not have room to put their artillery, they would not have appropriate fields of fire from which they could hit an enemy approach. so this is one of the things they evaluated. i took this picture after one of the parks control burns, so typically when you go through that tall grass, when you take that grass off, there's a whole lot ofboulders were there, and as far as we know, the rocks were there during the battle.
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did we move the rocks? don't laugh, we can move rocks, it's possible. again, what happens, right? general meade's ideal position would have sickles on the left flank here covering, you know, what we know today as little round top. shaped like an upside down "j" or as we more famously call the position, a fish hook. again, as a sidebar, i've never seen a primary account from 1863 were somebody said, rally round the fish hook. it's kind of not how that worked. don't you agree, i think the fish hook is kind of a later invention. regardless of that, the idea is clearly that sickles is supposed to extend the left of the second corps and be the left flank. but as we know, he's going to move forward because he views primarily the peach orchard and the emmitsburg road, along the emmitsburg road, as a more commanding position, primarily for artillery. some people think he's reliving some wrong lessons that he might have learned from
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chancellorsville. again, that's possible. remember too, there were also a series of other events. he had a recount of pitser's woods at hunt's request, it basically convinced him the enemy was moving to attack his flank. there was an error at army headquarters that removed his cavalry screen. you put all that together, sickles later claimed he was confused by meade's orders. and after that he later concocted a story saying that he basically advanced to prevent meade from retreating from gettysburg, right? you like that "like"? hearty laughter in the front row, i like it on that one. more than anything, it's that last bullet point. all of you that raised your hands and said you don't like dan sickles, you don't like him primarily because of that last bullet point, because i'll tell you, if you study the civil war, if you study military history, a lot of generals make battlefield mistakes. look, i'm not excusing that,
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battlefield mistakes cost lives, i'm not playing light with that. what i'm saying is a lot of guys make mistakes at gettysburg. pickett's charge, mistake. from a public relations perspective, the spin campaign that he goes after meade with later. i would argue all of the sickles haters in the audience are probably more turned off by his attack against meade than anything. maybe some of you are turned on by it, i don't know. okay. so we go from sickles' hole to the, quote unquote, with irony, the commanding ground of the peach orchard. this is an image of a kind of -- what i'm trying to emphasize here in this image, it's a broad, flat position. it was viewed as a favorable position for placement of the artillery. that's really what a lot of this fight for the peach orchard and the emmitsburg road is
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artillery, how to use it, how to defend against it, that sort of thing. you know, we've kind of played out the depth, the weaknesses of sickles' position. it created an awkward salient, his flanks were in the air, his line was stretched in. all of those are still accurate, don't get me wrong, but i think as historians we've kind of played that out. what i've been looking at more recently is trying to assess the merits of the peach orchard on its own merits. is it or isn't it what they might have referred to in the military as key ground or decisive terrain? can occupation of the peach orchard grant a decisive advantage to each army? i've been trying to look at it from that perspective to answer the age-old question, who is right. so robert e. lee in front of general longstreet, the enemy held a position from which if he could be driven it was thought our artillery could be used to
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advantage in assaulting the more elevated ground beyond. guess what? robert e. lee wanted that position for artillery. i would say, imagine that, robert e. lee, being outcast by dumb old dan sickles. a have a friend who says, even a blind squirrel can get a nut sometimes. there's that possibility too. but all joking aside, it's very clear from robert e. lee's reports that he valued this position for artillery, very much kind of the chancellorsville fear that sickles had in the first place. so, you know, and a couple of prominent historians have kind of said, no, lee didn't do that, sickles made that up. no, that's not true. and i'm not going to name the historians, i'm not going to do that, i'm a nice guy. but some prominent historians have written that sickles manufactured the confederates' interest in the peach orchard, and that's not true, it's not accurate. it's in robert e. lee's report. so there's the value of it as perceived by robert e. lee,
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while george meade, when meade found out that sickles was out of position, wrote -- or is attributed to have said, the ground that sickles was on was neutral ground, the enemy could not occupy it for the same reason that his own troops could not. there is the title of tonight's presentation, huh? you see where i'm going with this? neutral ground. george meade assessed it as neutral ground. is out of robert e. lee looking at it for artillery, you have sickles agreeing with robert e. lee, you have george meade assessing it as neutral ground. there's the question of, is it logical to consider it as a valuable position and did either general lee or sickles overstatement that. and we'll come back to that. now, i'm not going to do the battle here in powerpoint, it's very hard to do civil war battles with powerpoint presentations, i think that's why so few people actually do it. so we'll skip ahead. you guys know what happens. longstreet attacks the union
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left flank with great vigor, little round top, the wheat field, eventually sickles' troops are driven out of the peach orchard. arguably one of the best things that could have happened to dan sickles was this. because the confederate artillery shell, solid shot, comes in, smashes into sickles' right leg. he's carried off the battlefield where he's amputated that night and sickles is then removed from the battlefield. he misses july 3, he misses the rest of the gettysburg campaign. but he goes back to washington to recuperate. and on july 5, while recuperating in washington, who is his first visitor? lincoln. and lincoln is desperate to hear something from somebody who was at the battle of gettysburg and here's my old friend, dan sickles. now, sickles is in great pain at that moment. i don't want to underestimate this.
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there's still some doubt over whether sickles is going to survive this wound. i don't think by july 5 sick les has a complected or coordinated attack going to against general meade's reputation or image at this point. sickles is probably thinking, you know, i wasn't getting any attention on the left flank so i moved to this great ground, abe, when you come to gettysburg, you're going to love it. as one of sickles' staff officers later wrote, sickles certainly got his side of the story into lincoln's head. and as any good meade scholar knows, this is now playing against george meade, seeds are supposedly being planted in the president's head against meade and meade's performance at gettysburg. i don't think sickles is the sole contributor of that. i think historians who have made sickles the sole contributor of that kind of overplay sickles'
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influence. but he's definitely a contributor, no doubt about that. the fall of 1863 comes around, october, three months later, guess what? dan sickles has recuperated enough and he's ready to come back to the army. whatever you think of sickles as a tactician, as a strategist, as a human being, the guy has learned to love being a general in the field. whether it's the trappings, whether it's being with the men, whether it's the adrenaline, the action, all of the above. and by october of '63, he's ready to come back to the army of the potomac. the army is down in virginia. he comes in, he meets with general meade. i'm back! what do you think meade says? eh, not so excited, right, exactly. so it's really, i think, the refusal of meade to let sickles back in the army in the fall of '63 that becomes the catalyst for what i often refer to as kind of the second battle of
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gettysburg. now, people often say, well, why didn't meade court-martial sickles? why didn't meade shoot sickles? isn't this the kind of army where we do that? you screwed up today, boom, you're gone. the american army doesn't do that, right? or do they? they don't, they don't. if you take what meade wrote at face value, october of '63, he talks about sickles not fully apprehending the instructions given to him, was in the act of advancing and things of that nature. but henry hallock is much more direct in his report. he talked about sickles misinterpreting his orders, an error which nearly proved fatal in battle and his corps was likely to be utterly annihilated until he received reinforcements from other troops. so now sickles has been denied reentry to the army and the official reports being filed
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basically say what an error, he would have been annihilated if we hadn't saved him. how do you think a guy with sickles' ego and temperament is going to react to that? not well. not well. i'll add meade at that point was still of the opinion that sickles did what he thought was the best. subsequent events proved my judgment was correct and his judgment was wrong. in the spring of '64 meade is in some ways turning the other cheek on this, and saying, eh, difference of opinion, but my judgment was right, and oh, by the way, i'm the guy in charge kind of thing. but now with the reentry to the army denied, this is when sickles turns up the heat. and again, i'm emphasizing this because some gettysburg historians have been kind of sloppy at this. they think sickles is just sort of hell bent on revenge because he hates general meade and that sort of stuff. no, there's a specific agenda
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here. the agenda is, i want to go back to the army. and if meade's not gonna let me back into the army, maybe we can help get meade removed. and that leaves some of the gettysburg portion of the joint committee on the conduct of the war in 1864. now, i hate to hear it referred to as the meade hearings on the battle of gettysburg. the committee goes on basically to the end of the war, gettysburg is only a portion of the testimony. but yeah, the guys running it, the radical republicans, for a host of reasons, don't really like meade and they would be happy to see meade get removed from command and ironically, get replaced with joe hooker. and for anybody who says, oh, that could never have happened, how many times did george mcclellan come back to the army? so yeah, it was possible. sickles is what meade calls, and i think meade is right, an agent
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of the joint committee. there is some correspondence behind the scenes where sickles is saying stuff like, hey, hey, call butterfield, he's got some dirt for you. so i do think meade -- i'm sorry, i definitely think sickles is definitely cooperating with the committee. but sickles, for better or worse, just remained unrepentant. and, you know, he said it was not through any misinterpretation of orders, it was either a good line or a bad one and i took it up on my own responsibility. so, you know, even i'm kind of sitting here thinking, well, i think sickles kind of misinterpreted his orders. sickles didn't want to admit that sickles misinterpreted his orders. sickles is saying, i did it on my own responsibility whether it was good or bad. but again, where he turns people off, is some white lies. oh, and i also succeeded in
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getting in a position on round top and my third corps held those positions, and again, we know that's out and out a fabrication and a lie. he doubles down too with the famous anonymous newspaper account penned under the name of historicus which also appears in that opinion, when meade is doing his own testimony to the committee, historicus appears in the paper, supporting sickles' version of this. i'll say again, if you've studied military history, officers using anonymous accounts in the newspapers is not limited. this was something they did in an era when maybe they wanted to get their story across. anonymity in the newspaper was the way you saved your career kind of thing. but obviously, the historicus
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thing only draws more blood. meade, who before was turning the other cheek, is writing his wife, oh, my god, these are false and perverted statements which have astonished myself, i came to town and i can't believe what sickles and doubleday and pleasanton are saying against me. meade has to go on the defense. one thing i think we do not give george meade enough credit for is the defense that meade mounts during the joint committee. and again, historians to this day will often say, meade doesn't get credit because of what happened afterwards. i would tell those historians, pause, take a deep breath, hug your kids, and go back and kind of follow this all through. and actually by meade's second appearance before the joint committee, meade actually i think does a very effective job of defending himself, laying it all out, and basically defusing any criticism against him.
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so that by the time of joint committee issues the report related to gettysburg, there is really nothing in there at that point that is seriously damaging to george meade, the general. probably the steepest criticism against him is his failure to bag lee's army at williamsport, which again, is probably the most lasting meade criticism of the gettysburg campaign and really has nothing to do with dan sickles. the other thing i would say too is, remember, grant's arrival that spring also helps take some of the heat off of meade as well. so the next time somebody says meade was fired and replaced by grant, remind them that no, in a lot of ways grant saved meade, in more ways than one. meade, after his death, was credited, which i think is probably the ultimate rebuttal to sickles, after meade's death, a letter was published where made a says sickles' movement practically destroyed his own
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corps and drove us back to the position he was ordered to hold originally. if this is an advantage, to be so crippled when obtaining an object, i must confess i cannot see it. again, i think we do meade a disservice when we think he's kind of overwhelmed by these attacks. i think he does a pretty good job at defending himself. unfortunately, meade dies in 1872 and sickles lives for a long, long time, until 1914. begin in the 1880s, that gives sickles the advantage when meade is no longer around to defend himself. 1886 is a big year in the meade/sickles controversy because it's in that year sickles is pointed chairman of the new york monuments commission for the gettysburg battlefield. and what that basically means is sickles has a permanent and official reason to come back to gettysburg to give speeches, to
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give monument dedications, to attend veterans reunions. and guess what, he's a popular and in some corners beloved speaker. so it's hard to find a sickles speech from that period where he doesn't bash on meade at least once, which again, is to meade's disadvantage because he's no longer around to defend himself. so 1886, up until sickles' death in 1914, is really kind of the prime period for the so-called meade/sickles controversy for that reason. the other thing too that i always wanted to make sure we point out, 1895, sickles back in congress at that time, does introduce legislation that establishes gettysburg national military park. and again, people will kind of be like, sickles, he murdered a guy, he's not really that good. you know, almost lost the battle of gettysburg, not that good. created gettysburg national military park, i guess that's
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okay but somebody else would have done that. uh-uh, that's revisionist history. it doesn't matter that sickles wasn't the only one who would have done it, but he did do it. i know we're running short on time, just a couple of more. trends are coming back to gettysburg in increasing numbers. they're developing what we know today as gettysburg national military park and it's during that period that sickles, there he is, this is probably about 1888, 25th anniversary, it's during that period that sickles strikes up a relationship with his july 2 opponent, james longstreet. and, you know, they spend many years together, they go to many events together. time tonight doesn't allow me to tell all of their drinking stories but some of them are pretty good. but sickles and longstreet basically support each other's gettysburg records for the remainder of their lives.
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in '92, longstreet summarized it as, quote, i believe it is now conceded that the advance position at the peach orchard saved that battlefield to the union's cause, end quote. longstreet literally went to his grave believing sickles was right. or did he? well, you know, people are kind of skeptical about this, is this too old buddies kind of propping each other up a little bit. longstreet said that by moving forward, sickles cut down longstreet's ability to move and act. there is a legitimate reason why you could argue, you know, in favor of longstreet's statement at that point. not many of you have seen the photo at this point but again, over here we've got sickles, we've got longstreet, butterfield is in here and joshua chamberlain, the 20th
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main, perhaps a guy nobody would have heard of today. the joshua chamberlain fan club owes something to dan sickles. mark twain got to know sickles late in life. two great quotes, quote, the general valued his leg, way above the one that is left. i am perfectly sure that if he had had to part with either one of them he would part with the one that he has got, right, kind of summarizes how sickles the war hero played up the missing leg. but there's another quote here that i don't use as much that i want to kind of close with. twain added this. i will also say this, sickles never made an ungenerous remark about anybody. he spoke severely of this and that and the other person, officers in the war. but he spoke with dignity and courtesy.
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there was no malignity in what he said. i can see sickles getting older, not going after meade with malice or hatred, it was like, i'm right because i'm dan sickles. as i get older, i kind of do the same thing, and you do too so don't laugh too hard there. in closing, let's summarize, what's the number one question we all get, what if sickles had stayed in position, what would have happened? answer, we don't know. it's not that we can never use what-if history, but we don't know what would have happened. was the peach orchard key or decisive to either army? no. neither army benefitted. two, did sickles disrupt meade's defense? yes, he did. however, higher numerical casualties but on a percentage basis, kind of equal on a percentage basis. and again, i don't mean to be
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cold about this, but the army of the potomac could afford casualties more than the army of northern virginia could. three, he lost the positions even with increased support. four, did longstreet casualties taking meaningless positions? yes, he did. in my opinion, hood is chewed up fighting for positions november value. five, did he use the capture to advantage? no, and i would refer you to my book pickett's charge on that one. in my opinion these are the questions you should ask when evaluating sickles' move to the peach orchard. those are the things you should evaluate when you're trying to evaluate sickles at gettysburg. so yes, i seldom say this
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publicly, meade's military view of the neutral ground was proven correct. both robert e. lee and dan sickles overestimated it. and lee actually used peach orchard/emmitsburg road to spearhead a bigger disaster on july 3 called pickett's charge. but did sickles knowingly act out of intentional disobedience? i'll leave that to you to decide. which comes back to this guy, because, damn it, i've had this guy come up to me at the he found the presentation and say, that was fine but i still don't like dan sickles. and again i will say, i was not trying to get you to like dan sickles, but what i do hope you come away with is a better appreciation of the story of, you know, kind of what i talked about, the three phases, his role in the battle, his role in the historiography, and his role in the preservation, and as i said at the outset, i think it's
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important to understand all of the phases of dan sickles' career, love him or not, hate him or not, love to hate him or hate to love him. with that i think we're almost out of time. see you in the queue at the back of the room. thank you. weekends on c-span2, an intellectual feast. every saturday, american history tv documents america's story. and on sundays, book tv brings you the latest in nonfiction books and authors. funding for c-span2 comes from these companies, including cox. cox is permitted to providing eligible families access to affordable internet through the connect to compete program. bridging the digital divide one connected and engaged student at a time. cox. bringing us closer. cox, along with these television companies, support c-span2 as a public service.
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how did the suffragists win the vote? in a virtual discussion with the u.s. capitol historical society, lucinda rabb and rebecca roberts, heirs of two rom entity political families, explain the suffragists' strategies and tactics, in "the suffragists' playbook." >> the first thing is this idea of a parade down pennsylvania avenue. there had been celebratory parades down pennsylvania avenue, i'm sure you've seen the pictures of the army of the potomac. but the idea of taking a cause, a march on washington, that was the suffragists' idea. and, you know, it's now so common that we just think of it as a traffic headache. but it had never been done before in this way, the idea of a political protest in washington from the legislative branch to the executive branch. that was her idea. in the 1913 parade, which i will
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talk about at great length if given half an opportunity, so i'm going to restrain myself, because we have a lot to cover today, it did not go at all as planned. again, an event planned down to its last minute but then this massive crowd blocked pennsylvania avenue. for perspective, we're standing at about 13th street in this picture. you can see the capitol in the background, the large building on the right within the post office is now the trump hotel. pennsylvania avenue is a really broad street, right? it's got really wide sidewalks. and there's no daylight between these men. and they are men, you can see all those bowler hats. they weren't there for the suffragivities' parade, they were there for woodrow wilson the next day. they behaved very badly, they blocked the women, spit on them, tripped them. the police did nothing to get the crowd back, in some cases the police joined into the name calling and the spitting. how familiar is this image now,
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right? this is the march for our lives in the wake of the douglas shootings. now, this is a friendly crowd but this is the same picture 100 years later, right? so once you start seeing these parallels to tactics the suffragists invented, you kind of can't unsee them. picketing the white house, this was the national women's party's idea. not only is picketing the white house now incredibly common. this is an image from this summer when there were so many back lives matter protesters that they started adding their signs to the fence that the white house had put between the historic fence and lafayette square. also what are these women doing? they're making a message go viral. this is the 1917 equivalent of a tweet, right? sure, it reaches the people who are standing in front of the white house on lafayette square. but it reaches more people as a picture in a


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