tv The Civil War The Peach Orchard at the Battle of Gettysburg CSPAN November 10, 2021 4:58pm-5:56pm EST
i was pulled out of my group and then i had to go back. and they restrained me and i felt guilty about. another time i held a guy until he died. when he was dying he said tell mom and dad i'll be all right and that i love them. and he died and i didn't know who he was. i didn't go back to see him. >> where did you go -- >> i went from hadong to chinju and chinju we're taken out again southwest to a new position by the captain. >> where? >> then we got chased off that hill and back through chinju. and after chinju fell is when i left there. >> you can watch this interview its in entirety along with other oral histories on
c-span.org/oral history. >> hope everyone is enjoying their day so far. those of you who do not know me i'm tammy myers. i'm the director of relations here at the gettysburg relations center. if you're not already aware we're owned and operated by the gettysburg nature alliance which is a 501c 3 non-profitable charitable organization. a licensed battlefield guide here at the gettysburg national military park and has done so since 2003. two of his previously published books which was coauthored with brit eisenberg and also also another has been awarded as the
most outstanding work on the gettysburg battle campaign. and it was the first battlefield guide in similarity to the legendary attack we had here at gettysburg. and also the co-host of the popular the battle of gettysburg podcast. he's written numerous articles and publications and a content provider. he is a speaker for civil war round tables. pct tv, brightbart and civil war
talk radio. i'd like to present to you james hesler who's going to be presenting his program. [ applause ] >> all right, thank you, tammy, for the introduction. i was knowing to tell you to not go too far because i did not have the remote clicker but i think i do now. wow, what a crowd. this is humbling to see people literally standing in back. i've got kind of these bright studio lights shining in my face but i still recognize a lot of familiar faces back there, and boy, i hope this is good otherwise i'm in a little bit of trouble. as tammy said i'm going to do neutral ground, and that's kind of the theme here tonight is both a military assessment of the mean sickles controversy as
well as a brief history so when we're evaluating the controversy associated with this we too are sticking to neutral ground. so a little bit of a play on words there. i'm actually doing a bit of a cross over between two of my books, a bit of a mash up as the kids would say. and i thought given recent developments and the popularity of the new gettysburg biography, i thought i would focus more on these controversy i have in the past. gives my interpretation on it and kind of a time line how it progressed from beginning to end. now, before we do that let's address this guy. there's always one, two, ten anytime we talk about sickles.
certainly when he comes into play on social media you've had to do this. i've literally had people walk up to me and say that. i don't care how good your presentation is tonight i'm not going to like dan sickles. i want to be clear. i'm not here to get you to like dan sickles. my goal is i do hope you find him interesting and i can make him interesting. but i'm not here -- historians should not be here to ever get you to like their topic, their favorite general, favorite historical figure or whatever the case may be. i haven't said that. dan sickles, the name that evokes some really hot emotions, you know, hardly a day goes by on social media or facebook -- well, let's not kid ourselves. never does a day go by where there's not a dan sickles debate on social media. and to this day this name can evoke arguments, bar fights,
social media debates, all of the above. having said that, let's get a show of hands how many of us have what you would consider a positive impression of general dan sickles. seriously, come on podcast super fans, help me out. all right, one, two, all right a couple hands are going up. negative impression of dan sickles. okay, majority of 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 is definitely one of the most important figures of the gettysburg story, and we're going to talk about that during the course of it. let me start with my disclaimer in terms of what i mean by historical neutral ground. as i've already set at the outset i'm not here to make excuses for what he did or didn't do. i'm not here to criticize
general meade. i'll never forget the day i was stopped literally by one of my own dolleges who said whose side are you on inbut all joking aside you should be skeptical of historians who take sides. there's no shame in a historian trying to figure out what happened and why it happen. and quite frankly to me the why, why did sickles move for, why did we have this communication break down, quite frankly that's always been more interesting to me than the what. the am what, sickles moved his troops, got pushed back and this was against meade's orders. why did he do it? why did this happen?
that's always been not only more interesting to me but it reveals some fascinating personal dynamics that exist within the army of the potomac, frankly within any army. did he do it because of willful disobedience? did he do it because he was confused with the orders? or as some historians have speculated did sickles move forward because he wanted to be president and somehow this would get him into the white house? all of that has kind of been fair game and canon fodder for historians 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 of course old grizzled civil war veteran. his life was rich with incident from his 1919 obituary and quite
appropriate. he was 44 years old at the battle of gettiesbering. if you're sitting here thinking sickles again, why? this was a guy first of all a 19th century political figure. attorney, democrat, new york state assembly, served in london with james buchanan prior to the civil war, somewhat instrumental in the formation of new york central park, had served in the new york state militia. later on he's going to be minister to spain, two terms of congress in the 1850s and in the 1890s, and, you know, as we all know the congressman who got away with murder, a noteworthy civil war general, batfield preservationist. i could go on and on but i won't. and of course a colorful character because how many biographies can you do where a guy is involved with murder, allegations of theft, embezzlement, fraud, forgery,
prostitution, feuds and battlefield controversy on some of the america's biggest battles of civil war including gettysburg. so i always say dan sickles is an imminently relatable individual. he's not a money man. he's always got money problems, women problems and he doesn't get along with his boss. and i don't think anyone in this audience can relate to at least a couple of those points. or stated another he's three things we hate all rolled up into one guy. he's a politician, an attorney and a new yorker. so you can kind of take your pick on that. and i'm a new yorker, too, so if anybody's watching on c-span, relax. we're good. i will say this goes to my you know what you can love him or hate him kind of thing. i think with his combined impact on the battle for better or
worse, the historiography for better or worse i do think that makes him one of the most monumental, no pun intended, figures for the gettysburg story. there are not many individuals or generals where the tail spans all these different areasch and that is what makes studying dan sickles important. i think if you kind of ignore sickles as some people wants to do i don't think you have a good grasp on the history of gettysburg and i think that's what makes him important. of course he first comes to historical prominence -- he'd already been a noteworthy politician of his era. he comes to historical prominence of 1859 with a murder. most of you probably know the basics of the story. theresa sickles is having an affair. congressman dan sickles found out about it one day, basically confronted key on the streets of
washington and more or less shot him down like a dog on the streets behind the white house. i'm not going to go into that whole case. that's, frankly, a separate talk and a 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, the controversy. over the years i've been doing this for years and my own impression of sickles kind of evolved a little bit. i've kind of come to realize and appreciate dan sickles is what we could consider today i think to be an emotional decision-maker. i do not have a psychology major. i did great in community college and that's about it. i don't have a psychology degree, but i do at this point i think have an understand of this guy. if you look at some of the key moments of his life, this temporary insanity, killing philip barton key, was really an impulse, really a crime of
passion kind of thing. if you look at his entire life and career he's impulsive with women, with money, with dare i say certain battlefield actions. and then you also see in him dependent relationships, highly d. on some of the women in his life, abraham and mary todd lincoln. highly dependent on commanding officers, and those are all characteristics of what i would consider to be an emotional decision-maker, they make quick decisions and they will afterwards seemingly create what they think are rational decisions that justify their actions. anyone see where this is going? okay. and i think july 2, 1863, is in a lot of ways an example of this. so you can take the stereotypical notion that dan
sickles was kind of the 19th century mustache twirling politician who was going to advance in large part because he hates general meade and he wants to destroy the army or that sort of thing, but i would argue the decision making behind it is more complex, and quite frankly, you know, more interesting and nuanced. so we'll come back to that. sickles then obviously goes into the war. and the ensuing murder had driven him out of congress. so i always say there's a direct line between the keith trial and the sichbl 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
around new york, many of which became known as the excelsior brigade. new president lincoln basically seemed to like or they said he liked sickles' fighting spirit and helped basically enable sickles' rise in the army of the potomac. i don't know if lincoln liked sickles as much as lincoln needed democrats, really any democrats to help promote the war effort. but sickles becomes a poster boy for the dreaded political general, the guy who's going to elevate and rise through the ranks really with no comenseerate military training. prior to that i would say he appeared -- to me he appeared to have the makings of a confident
brigade commander, and i think as he moved up literally brigade in 1861, division in '62 and finally core command in 1863, it looks like kind of this progressive rise on paper in rank. but i think particularly in '62 or '63 you start to see him kind of missing more and more battles, sometimes intentionally, sometimes not intentionally. he's not at antitum. he's at fredericksburg but primarily a position or that sort of thing. what did i say on the previous slide? one of the things a guy like dan sickles needs is dependent relationships on people above him. and sickles and hooker as probably many thought -- no pun intended -- basically form a relationship within the armo of the potomac that goes from
professional to personal. they tend to like to socialize together, and they connect with fifth core commander and future chief of staff dan butterfield. that's late 1862 into early 1863. i always tell people go back during that winter late '62, early '63, read as many memoirs you can from veterans of the army of the potomac. many of them often talk about what a party atmosphere it was. and particularly with these three hooker, you know, is eventually going to take command of the army of the potomac. every time hooker gets promoted kind of like from brigade to corp, sickles gets promoted behind him and they add butterfield in this trio. the three of them basically set kind of a wild social scene within the army during late '62
and early 1863. there's a famous quote from a new england officer who said to the effect that during that winter headquarters of the army 06 the potomac sank to its lowest level ever. it's commanded by a trio who said the at least that was said would be the better. it was a combination of bar room and brothel, a place no self-respecting man would go to and no self-respecting woman would dare go to. and that was sort of the atmosphere they were creating, the culture, if you will, within the army of the potomac. and you see that like i said in these memoirs. 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 who was not invited to sit at the cool kids table was fifth corp commander george meade.
and look, you know, battlefield guides some of us kind of have an old joke. sickles is the guy you would want to hang out with on saturday night, right? probably many of us have had a variation of that. but on a personal level meade and sickles are just two very different people. sickles a womanizer. i don't know sickles is the hard drinker he's often portray as, but certainly he's the guy who likes to have by most accounts george meade is a solid, reliable, devoted family man. of course we all know the west point graduate. if you've ever read meade's correspondence, some of that has been sanitized so encourage y'all to get into philadelphia when you can and read the unpublished stuff. but i see with meade a guy whose responsibilities weighed on him, his career and how to provide
for his family and things of that nature. that's why he's 47 years old, but that's why he looks like he's 147. and what happens is very often these parties and these social events i talk 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 and at times criticizing folks like sickle and butterfield. and you see things like that going on. there's clearly some sort of personal friction going on with these two. at that time joe hooker is the rising star in the army. it's no surprise sickles is
connected to hooker who he thinks is the rising star. but i'm pausing here and 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's the west point professional against sickles, the untrained amateur. that's what you kind of hear and some sort of excuse for the fiasco on july 2, 1863. being from west point doesn't guarantee you're going to have military success on the battlefield. there's more to the relationship
than that. the trouble starts after the battle of gettysburg 1862. meade at that time performed well but didn't get support from a guy and i'm convinced sort of the fiction between meade and the officers of the third corporeally exists after the battle of fredericksburg. so you have that dynamic going on and after the battle there's a dispute between meade and hooker. let me put it this way. there's a dispute whether or not madee is favored withdrawal back across the river. and they start pulling all the generals. did you want to move forward, that sort of thing. sickles of course supports his buddy hooker.
meade says he does not favor a withdrawal, and this gets in the newspapers. there's a little bit of this debate going on which i think is fascinating because, again, this whole idea of advance or retreat after a major battle is something that seems to dog the army of the potomac after almost every campaign. we always act like it's unique to gettysburg and it's not. kind of the seeds are getting planted for the future meade sickles controversy. when meade takes command you see this right away, june 29th, july 1st. you see this right away in the messages and 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 for headquarters. from meade's perspective he's got this guy commanding he probably doesn't like and doesn't like to trust. you see immediate confusion and miscommunication going on between meade and sickles. so july 2nd 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 spectacular clash here at gettysburg. hopefully some of you can see this. i would more than anything characterize the meade-sickles communication break down as a failure to communicate more than anything. some historians would say,
no sickles got direct orders or he's the president or 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 2nd as far as we know they were verbal orders. that always carries a risk of being miscarried. and also as historians, too, we don't have orders sitting in an archive we've got to go out and look at today. with general meade, george meade describe the orders later during his testimony before the joint committee on the conduct of the war. and this is how general meade described them directing him on the battle and i indicated to him his right was to rest on hancock's left.
sickles left was to extend to plainly visible if it was practical to occupy in. and there's another piece about having to replace some of the troops in the vicinity of the round tops on the night before. about 8:00 or 9:00 in the morning general meade goes to his son captain meade and base clesays ride down to 3rd corp headquarters and see if he's in position. captain meade comes down. sickles is sleeping late. he had a rough day the day before. so initially, captain meade doesn't talk to sickles directly. captain meade talks to randall, the artillery sheaf. and he goes into his tent, comes out and basically says, you know, general sickles, he's sleeping. he's not really sure where we're supposed to go, not really sure where the 12th corp was.
he kind of gets back on his horse, rides back to headquarters, reports back to his father. what do we know about general meade's temper? patient, soft-spoken kind of guy. you don't get names like the snapping turtle for nothing. you've got to earn that. he's under a lot of stretch -- remember we're not making excuses. we're just trying to clear what happened. anyways, general meade probably told his captain meade staffer, son, probably told him in no uncertain terms he needs to go find general sickles. sickles says something to the effect, okay, we'll be in position but i'm still not sure where the 12th corp was, see you, kind of goes riding off.
with that i will make the case that general sickles has exhibited some uncertainty about where he's 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 lam basted on social media for this recently especially with the new book out to the effect of -- to the effect of well, hesler is saying those orders were unclear. i'm not saying that. what i'm saying i think as a good leader would it serve them to pay more attention. if you think 9:00 in the morning it's too early to do that how about 11:00? because 11:00 sickles goes to meade's headquarters looking for assistance. i know people on the battlefield here interpret this whole controversy in a couple of words. i've heard people do this and
i'm going to sort of paraphrase here. i once heard a colleague telling a group that sickles told meade to 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'm going 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 save the trouble? and 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 meade basically saying put your troops on that hill. i would say they had this conference at headquarters again. he seems to be requesting additional assistance which meade describes. sickles came to my headquarters,
i told them what my general views were, that i understood. so if there's two concerns there i would say and i know that was common in the 19th century. what would we talk about if they didn't say impracticable in the 19th century? there's that and this notion if i understood hancock the night before i think at face value meade hadn't seen the position. again, i'm not saying the orders were unclear. i am saying, though, i think with a difficult subordinate on the flank you'd probably be better suited to give him a little more time. we all know what happens next. general meade does not come out to visit the frank. henry hunt, the artillery chief does, and that's kind of a whole
different conversation. before leaving headquarters, though, sickles asked meade whether he was not authorized to post his corp in such manner as his judgment should deem the most suitable. meade answered certainly within the limits of the general instructions i have given you any ground within those limits you choose to occupy i leave to you. so just so we're all clear, look, sickles cheerily disobeys orders. clearly the spirit of the intended order is to prolong. but i think if you're a guy like dan sickles you may feel like you've got some wiggle room here within the limits of the general construction and things like that. and 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 it's kind of what happened. the military guys like to say
terrain drives the battle. i would argue that experience and decision making still trumps derange. this is an area we call sickles' hole. an area on the battlefield north. the ridge would be over here. the wheat fields kind of over here. and from this area here you cannot see the confederate position on seminary ridge. you cannot see the road, and this is a very rocky, rugged field. for better or worse sickles and his staff and his 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. and so typically when you go through that field it's tall grass, but when you take that grass off there's a whole lot of
boulders in there. as far as i know the rocks were there during the battle. do we move the rocks? don't laugh. we could move rocks. again, what happened? general meade's idea position would have sickles on the left flank here covering what we know today is little round top shaped like an upside down "j" or as we more famously call the position, a fishhook. i've never seen a primary account from 1863 where someone said rally around the fishhook. i think the fishhook is kind of a leading invention. as we know he's going to move forward and primarily the peach orchard and along the road as a more commanding position primarily for artillery.
some people think he's reliving some wrong lessons he might have learned. again, that's possible. remember, too, there were another series of events that basically convinced him the enemy was moving to attack his flank. there was an error at army headquarters that removed his cavalry screen. and you put all that together sickles later claimed he was confused by meade's orders. and he concocted a story he advanced to prevent meade from retreating to gettysburg. hearty laughter in the front row. i like it at that one. i would say more than anything it's that last bullet point. all of you raised your hands and said you don't like dan sickles, i'll tell you if you study military war and study history a
lot of generals make battlefield mistakes. look, i'm not excusing that. battlefield mistakes cost lives. you don't enthusiastically hate the guy that ordered that, but i think one of the problems with obviously sickles from a public relations perspective the spin campaign he goes off after meade with later. 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 is the broad, flat position. it was viewed as a favorable position for placement of the
artillery, butthets really what a lot of this fight for the peach orchard and the road is about, artillery, how to use it, that sort of thing. we kind of played out the weaknesses of sickles' position. his flanks were in the air. his line was stretched thin. 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, you know, what they might have referred to in the military as key ground or decisive terrain. can occupation of the peach orchard -- general e. lee from
which if he could be driven it was thought our artillery could be used to advantage in assaulting the elevated ground beyond. guess what? robert e. lee wanted that position for artillery. i would say imagine that, robert e. lee being outgassed by dumb old dan sickles. look at 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 play. you know a couple prominent historians have said lee did know didn't do that. i don't name historians because i'm a nice guy. but some prominent historians have written sickles manufactured that and that's not
true. it's in robert lee's report. the value of it is perceived by robert e. lee. when meade found out sickles was out of position or is attributed to have said the ground sickles was on was neutral ground, the enemy could not occupy it for the same reason his own troops could not. there's the title. it's a nice presentation, huh? you see where i'm going with this? neutral ground. george meade assessed it as neutral ground. so robert e. lee looking at it for artillery. you have dan sickles kind of agreeing with robert e. lee. you have george meade assessing as neutral ground. the question is it logical to consider it as a position and did either general lee or sickles overestimate that? and we'll come back to that. i'm not going to do the battle here and power point. it's very hard to do civil war battles with powerpoint presentations. i think that's why so few people
actually do it. we're going to skip ahead. long street attacks the union left flank with vigor. little round top, the wheat field doubles then and eventually sickles and his troops are driven out of the peach orchard. as far as the meade, sickles controversy goes arguably one of the best things that could have happened to dan sickles was this. because the confederate artillery shell, shawl udshot basically comes in, smashes into sickles' right leg. he's carried off the battlefield where he's amputated that night and sickles is then remove from the battlefield. he misses july 3rd and misses the rest of the gettysburg campaign, but he goes back to washington to recuperate. and on july 5th while recuperating in washington who's 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. sickles is in great pain at that moment. i don't want to underestimate this. there's still some doubt over whether sickles is going to survive this wound. so i don't think by july 5th sickles has a very complicated or coordinated attack going against general lee's reputation or image at this point. but i do think sickles is probably already thinking, i was not getting any attention on the left flank so i moved into this, when you come to gettysburg you're going to love it kind of thing. i do think there's some of that going on. and as one of sickles' staff officers later wrote he got into the story. this is now kind of playing against george meade, right? seeds are being supposedly planted in the president's head against meade and, you know, meade's performance at gettysburg. i don't think sickles is the sole contributor of that.
i think historians have made sickles the sole historian of that, kind of overplayed sickles influence. he's definitely a contributor, there's no doubt about that. the fall of 1863 comes around, october, three months later. guess what? dan sickles is recuperated enough and ready to come back to the army. whatever you think of sickles as a tactician, a strategist, as a human being, the guy has learned to love being a general in the field. whether it's the trappings, whether 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. he comes in and meet with general meade. i'm back! what do you think meade says? not so -- exactly. it's really i think the refusal of meade to let sickles back in
the army in the fall of '63 that becomes the cattest for what i often refer to as the second battle of gettysburg. people often say why wouldn't meade court-martial sickles, this isn't the kind of army where we do that. boom, you're gone. the american army doesn't do that, right? or do they? they don't. if you take what meade wrote at face value in his report he talks about finding sickles not fully apprehending the instructions given to him. but henry hallic is much more direct in his report. he talks about sickles misinterpreting his orders, an error which nearly proved fatal in battle and his glory was to be utterly annihilated until he
received reinforcement from other troops. now sickles has been denied reentry into the army and basically say what an error, we would have been annihilated if we hadn't saved him. meade at that point stole the opinion sickles did what he thought was for the best. i'll add even in the spring of '64 meade is still kind of i think in some ways turning the other cheek on this and saying, you know, difference of opinion but my judgment was right, and oh, by the way i'm the guy in charge kind of thing. some gettysburg historians have been kind of sloppy at this.
they think sickles is hell bent on revenge because he hates general meade and all that stuff. there's a specific agenda here. the agenda is i want to go back to the army. and if meade is not going to let me back into the army, bet we can help me get removed. and that leaves some of the gettysburg portion of the joint committee of the conduct of the war in the spring of 1864. now, ier hate hearing the joint committee referred to as the meade hearings on the battle of gettysburg. joint committee had been going on for a long time. it goes on basically to the end of the war. gettysburg is only a portion of their testimony, but 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, right? and for anybody who says, oh, that could never have happened, how many times did george mcclellan come back to the army. so it was possible.
sickles was what meade calls an agent, an agent of the joint committee of the conduct of the war, and he testifies when he can on his behalf against sort of general meade's view of this. there's also some correspondence behind the scenes where sickles is saying call butterfield, he's got some dirt for you. i thinksickles is definitely cooperating with the committee. but sickles for better or worse just remained unrepentant. and he said it was not through any misinterpretation of orders. it was either a good one or a bad one and i took it up on my own responsibility. i'm sitting here thinking, well, i think sickles misinterpreted his orders. sickles didn't want to admit sickles misinterpreted his orders. sickles is saying i did it on my
own responsibility whether it was good or bad. where he turns people off it's kind of some white lies. my third corp held those positions, and again we know that's just out now the fabrication and a lie. he doubles down, too, with these famous anonymous newspaper accounts penned under a name which also appears during that period right when george meade is doing his own testimony before the joint committee, basically supports the sickles version of this and is kind of against meade and the fifth corp and some of this other stuff. if you've studied military history officers using anonymous accounts in the newspapers is not limited to gettysburg. this was something they did epian era when maybe they wanted to get their story across but anonymity in the newspaper is the way you save your career kind of thing.
but obviously the name only draws more blood. and george meade who the war was turning the other cheek is writing his wife oh, my god, these are false and perverted statements which have astonished myself. and i came to town and i can't believe what sickles and pleasanton and all these other guys are saying against me. and one thing we don't give him credit for is the defense meade mounts. historians to this day will often say meade doesn't get credit because of what sickles did 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 i think meade does a
good job of defending himself, laying it all out and basically diffusing any criticism against him by the time the joint committee issues the report related to gettysburg, there was really nothing in there at that point that didn't seriously damage the george meade and general. probably the steepest criticism against him was the failure of the army at williamsport, which again is probably the most landing meade criticism of the gettiesbering 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 helped take some of the heat off as well. the next time someone say meade was fired and replaced by grant, in a lot of ways grant saved meade in more way than one. meade after his death was credited which i think was the ultimate rebuttal to sickles. after meade's death a letter was published where meade reportedly said sickles' movement
practically destroyed his own corp and produced 66% of my losses in the battle with what result driving us back to the position he was ordered to hold originally. if this is an advantage to be so crippled in battle without oub taining an object i must confess i cannot see it. and again, i think we do meade a disservice when he think he's actually overwhelmed by these attacks. unfortunately meade dies in 1872 and sickles lives for a long, long time until 1942. so beginning in the 1880s that gives sickles the advantage when meade is no longer around to defend himself. it's at that year sickles is appointed chairman of the commission for the gettysburg battlefield. and what that basically means is sickles has a -- a permanent and
official reason to come back to gettysburg to give speeches, to give monument dedications, to attend veterans reunions, and guess what the he's a popular in some corners beloved speaker. it's hard to find a sickles speech from that period where he doesn't bash on meade at least once which is a disadvantage because he's no longer around to defend himself. 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 i want to make sure we point out 1895 sickles back in congress at that time doesn't introduce the legislation that establishes gettysburg national military, and again people are like sickles he murdered a guy, that's not really that good, you know, almost lost the battle of gettysburg. that's really not that good and
created geiesbering national military park, but somebody else would have done that. that's revisionist history. not that he was the only guy during that era but let's give credit where credit is due. i know we're running short on time here but a couple more. throughout the period veterans are coming back. they're coming back to gettysburg in increasing numbers. they're developing what we know today as gettysburg national military park. and during that time sickles and this is probably about 1888 25th anniversary he strikes up a relationship with his july 2nd opponent, and they spent many years together. they go to many events together. time tonight does not allow meade to tell all their drinking stories in that but some of them are pretty good. but sickles and long street basically mutually support each
other's gettysburg records for the remainder of their lives. and 1902 shortly before long street said long street summarized it as, quote, i believe it's now conceded the 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 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. 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 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 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 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. download c-span's new mobile up and stay up-to-date with political events from live streems a at the house and senate floor and key congressional hearings to white house events and supreme court oral arguments. even our live warning program washington journal where we hear your voices every day. c-span now has you covered. download the app for free today. hey, everybody. my name is john tracy. i'm one of the newest members. due in no small part to