tv The Civil War The Peach Orchard at the Battle of Gettysburg CSPAN November 11, 2021 5:06am-6:04am EST
you talked about the two confederate soldiers that testified but we didn't talk about, too much about virginia all of that and there's so much more to talk about but you need to get the book, the book is "ends of war", and finished work from university of north carolina, thank you for publishing this book and helping us set up this signing interview. 331 pages, illustrations and there are apps and i forgot to write down the price but you cag
their day so far. we've got another great program here in store for you. those of you who do not know me. my name is tammy myers. i am the director of visitor and member relations here at the gettysburg heritage center. if you're not already aware, we are a we are owned and operated by the gettysburg nature alliance, which is a 501c3 nonprofit charitable organization that educates about and preserves gettysburg's compelling combination of heritage and habitat. our next speaker today is james hessler many of you are very familiar with him. he is a licensed battlefield guide here at the gettysburg national military park and has done. so since 2003. two of his previously published books gettysburg's peach orchard which was co-authored with brett eisenberg and also sickles at
gettysburg have been awarded the prestigious back elder coddington award as the most outstanding work on the battle gettysburg battle campaign. he is also co-authored with gettysburg foundation president and ceo wayne motz and mapmaker stephen stanley the book pick his charge at gettysburg and it was the first battlefield guide to legendary the two. the legendary attack here at gettysburg jim is also currently a co-host of the popular the battle of gettysburg podcast, which is free on all platforms. he has written numerous articles for publications. he was one of the primary content designers for and appeared in the american battlefield trust mobile app here at gettysburg. he is a speaker for civil war roundtables. he has a parallel and npr travel channels monumental mysteries. pc on tv breitbart and civil war
talk radio and he was featured in july 2013 issue of civil war monitor magazine. i would now like to present to you james hasler who was going to be presenting his program neutral ground sickles mead and the gettysburg peach. orchard. all right. thank you tammy for the introduction. i was going to tell you to not go too far because i did not have the remote clicker, but i think i do now, so we're in good shape. wow, what a crowd. this is this is really humbling to see people literally standing in back. i've got kind of these bright studio lights shining in my face, but i 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. okay, so is tammy said i'm gonna do neutral ground and that's kind of the theme here tonight. it's both a military assessment
of the mead sickles controversy as well as a little tweak at historians and gettysburg enthusiasts to make sure that when we're evaluating the the so called controversy associated with this that we too are sticking to neutral ground. so a little bit of a play on words there. okay now, let me just make sure if i can get the clicker going. yeah, so i'm actually doing a little bit of a crossover between two of my books the sickles book and the peach orchard book a little bit of a mashup is the kids would say and i thought given recent developments. the the popularity of the new meat at gettysburg biography. i thought what i would do is maybe focus a little bit more on these so-called needs sickles controversy that i have in the past give you a little bit more of sort of an overview of it my interpretation of it and kind of a timeline on on how it progressed from beginning to end. now before we do that, let's address this guy. you know because there's always
one to 10. at any crowd any time you talk about sickles, certainly anytime he comes into play on social media you you have to do this and 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 gonna like dan sickles, you know, i want to be clear. i'm not here to get you to like dance sickles. i don't care if you like dance sickles, you know, my goal is i do hope you find him interesting and that i can make him interesting but you know, i'm not here in a historian should not be here to ever get you to like their topic their favorite general their favorite historical figure or whatever the case may be, you know, i haven't said that dan sickles. the name evokes, you know some really hot emotions, you know hardly a day goes by on social media facebook. well, let's knock it ourselves never does a day go by where there is not a gan sickles
related debate on on social media and in to this day this name can evoke arguments bar fights social media debates all of the all of the above having said that let's get a show of hands how many of us have what you would consider to be a a positive impression of general dan sickles. okay, seriously, come on. come on podcast super fans help me out. all right, one two three already a couple hands a couple hands are going up negative impression to dance sickles. okay. yeah the majority of hands neutral neutral. okay. all right. okay, maybe maybe about a third or so our kind of neutral not and that's fair enough. and like i said, i'll joking aside. i don't i don't care if you like him or not, but i do think he is a definitely one of the most important figures of the gettysburg story and we're gonna talk we're gonna talk about that during the course of it now. let me start though with my disclaimer in terms of what i mean by historical neutral ground, you know as i've already kind of said at the outset.
i'm really not here to make excuses for what he did or didn't do it gettysburg. i'm not here to criticize general meade. i'll never forget the day. i was stopped literally by one of my own colleagues on little round top that said whose side are you on meet or sickles? and i said, i'm not anybody's side. or am i but i'll joking aside. you should be skeptical of historians that that take sides, you know, but remember historical interpretation is about you know as an attempt to describe analyze and evaluate sources and you know, there's 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 me and sickles quite frankly. 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 got pushed back and you know, this
was against me disorders, you know, good night everybody. that's the what why why did he do it? how did this happen? again? that's always been, you know, as i said not only more interesting to me, but it reveals some fascinating personal dynamics that existed within the army of the potomac, you know, and frankly within within any army, you know, did he do it because of willful disobedience? did he do it because he was confused with the orders or is you know, some historians have even speculated did sickles move forward because he wanted to be president and somehow this would get him into the white house. all of that is kind of been fair game and and can and father 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 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 quite appropriate daniel edgar sickles was 44 years old at the battle of gettysburg. and if you know if you're kind of sitting here thinking, you know sickles again why you know, this is a guy who was first of all a a 19th century political figure and i've got his resume here in front of me attorney tammany hall democrat, new york state assembly had 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 gonna be minister to spain two terms of congress and the 1850s and in the 1890s and you know as we all know the congressman congressman who got away with murder. or these civil war general battlefield preservationists. i could go on and on but i won't. and of course a colorful character because how many
biographies can you do, you know where a guy is involved with murder allegations of theft embezzlement fraud forgery prostitution feuds and battlefield controversies on some of the biggest battles of the american civil war including including gettysburg. so, you know, i always say dan sickles is an eminently relatable individual. he's not a marble man. you know, he's always got money problems women problems, and he doesn't get along with his boss and i think anybody in this audience can relate to at least a couple of those couple of those points. you know or stated another way, he's three things. we hate all rolled up into one guy, right? he's a politician an attorney and in new yorker so you can kind of take your pick on that. and i'm a new yorker too. so. anybody's watching on c-span relax. we're good. but i will say and again this goes to my you know what you can love them or hate them kind of thing. 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 battlefield preservation mostly for the better. i do think that makes them one of the most monumental no pun intended figures in the gettysburg story and there are not many gettysburg individuals or generals where the the tail spans all of these different areas and that is what makes studying gain sickles important and i think if you kind of ignore sickles, some people are wants to do i don't think you then really have a good grasp on the history of gettysburg and that's what i think makes makes him important. now, of course he first comes to prominence historical prominence. he had already been a noteworthy politician of zara, but he first comes to historical prominence in 1859 with the murder of philip barton key on the streets of washington and looked mostly probably know the basics of the story. teresa sickles was having an
affair with district attorney philip art and key congressman dan sickles found out about it one day basically confronted key on the streets of washington and you know more or less shot him down like a dog on the streets behind the white house. i'm not gonna go into that whole case. that's frankly a separate talk and a very interesting one, but i'm not gonna do that today, but what i do want to say is kind of some relevance to understanding gettysburg in the mead sickles controversy over the years and you know, i've been doing this for years and my own impression is sickles his kind of kind of evolved a little bit, but i've kind of come to realize and appreciate the dan sickles was what we would consider today. i think to be an emotional decision maker now i do not have a psychology major. i did grading community college, but that's about it. you know, i don't have a psychology degree, but i do you know, i do i think at this point i have an understanding of this guy and you know, if you look at some kind of the key moments of his life, you know this
temporary insanity killing philip art and key was really an impulse. it was really a crime of passion kind of thing if you look through his entire life and career he's in pulsive with with 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 todd lincoln to get himself moving through the army the potomac highly dependent on commanding officers, and those are all characteristics of what i would consider to be an emotional decision maker. he he makes quick is like this people like this they make quick decisions and then they will afterwards seemingly create what they think are rational decisions to justify their actions. anybody see where this is going. yeah rodney does. okay and i think july 2nd 1863 isn't a lot of ways an example of this so you can take the
stereotypical notion that dan sickles is kind of the 19th century mustache twirling politician who is going to advance to the peach orchard at gettysburg in large part because he hates general meade and he wants to destroy the army or that sort of thing, but i would argue that the the decision-making behind it is more complex than that and you know quite quite frankly, you know more interesting and nuance, so we'll come back to that but sickles than obviously goes into the war and be the the ensuing scandal from the key murder had driven him out of congress so that i always say there's a direct line between the key murder trial and the civil war and sickles his career in the civil war because when the civil war starts congressman sickles is out of office and he's practicing laws of private citizen in new york when you know the shooting starts in april of 61 so sickles at that
point, i think realize there was an opportunity here and he raised troops in new york city in and around new york many of which became known as the thing big celsior brigade who's gonna fight with him at gaddiesburg, but also too as sickles and lincoln both like to tell it later president lincoln new president lincoln basically seem to like or they said he likes sickles is fighting spirit and health basically enable sickles his rise within the army the potomac i don't know if lincoln likes sickles as much as lincoln needed democrats really any democrat to kind of promote the war effort, but you know sickles is kind of become as a result the poster boy for the dreaded political general the guy who is gonna elevate and rise through the ranks with really no no commensurate military training such that it gettysburg sickles as you all know is going to command the third core and be the highest non-ranking west point during the army, but prior to that i would say that he you
know, he appeared it. to me he appeared to have the makings of a competent brigade commander and i think as he moved up. literally brigade in 1861 division and 62 and then finally core command in 1863, you know looks like kind of this this 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, you know, he's not at antietam. he's at fredericksburg, but primarily more in a reserved position or that sort of thing and his rise during that period seems to really be more dependent than anything on his relationship with joe hooker. so, 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 is probably many of you know hook up. no pun intended.
and basically form a relationship within the army of the potomac that goes from professional to personal and you know, they tend to they tend to like to socialize together and they connect with fifth core commander and future chief of staff dan butterfield so that from late 1862 into early 1863. i always tell people go back during that winter late 62 to early 63 go back to that winter. read as many of the memoirs as you can of veterans from the army the potomac and what they often talk about during winter quarters that year is many of them often. talk about what a party atmosphere. it was it had quarters of the army of the potomac and particularly with these three hooker, you know as eventually gonna take command of the army of the potomac every time hooker gets promoted kind of like from brigade to division decor sickles kind of gets promoted by behind him. and then like i said, they add kind of -- butterfield to this
trio but the three of them basically set kind of a wild social scene within the army during them during late 62 and early 1863, you know, there's a famous quote from a new england officer who says to the effect that during that winter headquarters of the army of the potomac sank to its lowest level ever, you know, it was commanded by a trio the least you know, who said the least that was said would be the better. it was a combination of barroom and brothel a place there. no self-respecting man would go to and know self-respecting woman dared go to and that was sort of the the atmosphere that they were creating the culture if you will within the army of the potomac and you see that like i said in these memoirs, you know, you know sickles and hooker had a party last night. where do they get all these women from? i mean you see things like that in the in the various accounts. unfortunately, the one guy who was not invited to sit at the
cool kids table was. fifth corps commander george meade and look you know battlefield guides some of us kind of have an old joke, right? you would want george meade commanding your army, but sickles is the guy you would want to hang out with on saturday night, right? probably many of us have heard of variation of that but you know to personal level mead and sickles or just do very different people, you know sickles a womanizer. i don't know that sickles is the hard drinker that he's off in portrayed as but certainly dan sickles is a guy who's come out of tammany hall new york and likes to have a good time. whereas by most accounts. you know, george meade is a solid reliable devoted family man. of course, we all know the west point graduate if you've ever read needs correspondence some of which is published in life and letters some of that has been sanitized. so i'd encourage you all to get into philadelphia when you can and read the the unpublished stuff, but you know, i i see
with me the guy who's responsibilities wade on him, you know his career and how to provide for his family and and things that nature, you know, and i always say am i tours, you know, that's why you know, he's 47 years old. that's why he looks like he's a hundred and forty seven, you know, maybe he could take a tip from dance 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 me riding home you see me riding home and literally saying things like every officer in the army was at that party tonight, except me. i wasn't invited, you know kind of thing and you see him doing things like that and kind of at the time criticizing guys, like sickles and butterfield and a quote such gentleman is dan sickles and dan butterfield are not the person's i should select as my intimates and you see things like that going on. so there's clearly sort of some some 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 is kind of the rising star because again, that's kind of 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 been a little shallow on is developing the origins of the mead sickles relationship because what do you usually hear? what do you usually hear? you usually hear me? the me the west point professional against sickles the untrained amateur. that's what you kind of hear and like is that some sort of excuse for the fiasco that they both go through on july 2nd 1863. well, you know being from west point doesn't guarantee that you're gonna 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. it means case troubles starts after the battle of fredericksburg in december of 62 me at that time. it actually performed well, but didn't get support from another third chord general by the name of david bernie and david burney who will serve as a division commander under sickles becomes part of physicals click and i'm convinced that sort of the friction between mead and the officers of the third corps really exists after the battle of fredericksburg. so you have that dynamic going on you have needs sort of being socially excluded from the parties going on and then after the battle of chancellorsville, there's a dispute between mead and hook or well, let me put it this way. there's a dispute between hooker in the different generals over whether or not mead had favored withdrawal back back across the river after the battle of chancellorsville and they start polling all of the generals, you
know, did you favor withdrawal? did you want to move forward that sort of thing sickles? of course supports his body hooker mead says, he did not favor withdrawal, but they sort of put him in the camp of favoring one and this gets in the newspapers and needs like well, wait a minute. i you know, i didn't i didn't support that. i wanted to go forward kind of thing. and so bit of this debate going on which i think is fascinating because again this whole idea of you know, advancer retreat after a major battle is something that seems to dog the army of the potomac after almost every major campaign, you know again, and we always act like it's unique to gettysburg and and it's not so it's kind of i think in a lot of ways kind of the seeds are getting planted for future meets sickles controversy. so when me takes command you see this right away, june 29th, june 30th, july 1st. you see this right away in the messages in the orders going
back and forth between meat and sickles, you know from sickles as perspective. his buddy hooker is been removed from command. so he's kind of on the outside headquarters from really something he's not used to from meats perspective. he's got this guy commanding the third core that he really doesn't like and you know, probably doesn't trust and probably as good reason not to trust and you see again particularly in some of the marching orders, june 30th, july 1st, you see immediate confusion and miscommunication going on between me and sickles. so july 2nd the whole move to the pete. george 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 mead sickles communication breakdown on july 2nd. i would characterize that as a
failure to communicate more than anything and some you know, again some historians will say no sickles got direct orders, and he just violated them because you know, he didn't like me the reason new yorker or he wanted to do or he's a president, you know, all the school this kind of stuff. i think if you break it down first of all clear indirect orders the orders that sickles received as far as where to places troops on july 2nd were verbal as far as we know they were verbal orders, you know that always carries a risk of being miscarried but also for us as historians too, you know, we don't have we don't have orders sitting in an archives somewhere that we can kind of go and and look at today, but general me george mead described the orders later during his committee during his testimony before the joint committee on the conduct of the war and this is how general me described them. i send instructions to general sickles directing him to form his core and line a battle on the left of hancock's second.
i indicated to him that his right was the rest on hancock's last. sickles, his left was to extend to the round top mountain plainly visible if it was practicable the occupy it and then there's another piece about having replaced some of john gary's 12th corps troops that were in the vicinity of the round tops on the night before now. what about eight or nine o'clock in the morning general meade goes to his son captain mead and basically says right down to third core headquarters. see if sickles is in position. okay, captain mead comes down and again finds general sickles still in bivouac. hey sickles asleep and late. he had a rough day right day before. so initially randolph, i'm sorry initially captain mead doesn't talk to sickles directly captain mead talks to captain george randolph sickles his artillery chief and randolph goes into sickles. his head comes out and basically says, uh, yeah, you know general sickles, you know, he's
sleeping, but you know, he's not really sure where we're supposed to go. not really sure whether 12th corps was captain meets says okay. i you know kind of gets back on his horse rides back to headquarters reports back to his father. what do we know about general needs temper? patient guys saw spoken kind of guy little short, you know, you don't get names like the snapping turtle for nothing right? you got to earn that you got to earn nicknames like that. he's under a lot of stress. superfan phil. yes, he was he's new to command and i see was remember. we're not making excuses. we're just trying to say what happened. but anyways, anyways, so general meade probably told his captain need staffer son. probably told him and no uncertain terms. look, these are the orders of general sickles. so captain mead goes back finds this time sickles out of the tent on his horse. the staff officers are around sickle says something to the effect of okay.
we'll be in a position. but i'm still not sure where the 12th corps was. see ya, you know kind of kind of goes riding off. now with that i will make the case the general sickles has exhibited some uncertainty about where he is supposed to be and i will i will state for the record. with their danger of being called the monday morning quarterback. i think's headquarters should have paid more attention to sickles. now. 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 hustlers saying, you know, those orders were unclear. i'm not saying that what i'm saying is i think is a good leader. it would have served them to pay more attention to what is clearly proving to be a difficult subordinate and if you think nine o'clock in the morning is too early to do that. how about at 11 o'clock because at 11 o'clock sickles goes to me. he's headquarters looking for assistance. now 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 you know, sort of paraphrase here, but i once heard a colleague telling a group that sickles told me to go to hell and just did whatever you wanted to do. and i would say if 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 o'clock looking for assistance? why not? just go to hell and do whatever you're going to do. why save the trouble so i do and again, you know, some need 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 need supporters can interpret sickles as you know, as me basically saying put your troops on that hill. it's interpretation of the same source, but i would say, you know, they go they have this conference that headquarters again. he seems to be requesting
additional assistance, which me describes sickles came by headquarters. i told them what my general views were intimated that he was to occupy the position that i understood hancock had put gary 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? so there's that and you know the notion of that i understood hancock had put geary the night before i take that at face value like me. it hasn't actually physically seen the position. so again, i'll say again. i'm not saying the i'm not saying the orders were unclear. i am saying though i think you know with the difficult subordinate on the flank. you'd probably be better suited to give him a little more time. so if i'm you know, if i'm gonna nitpick a little bit i'm gonna nitpick for that. we all know what happens next general me does not come out to
visit the flank general war and the chief engineer does not come out henry hunt the artillery chief does and that's kind of a whole whole different conversation before leaving headquarters. those sickles asked me. whether he was not authorized to post his core in such manner is his judgment should deem the most suitable need 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 clearly disobeys orders, you know clearly the spirit and the intent of the order is to prolong the left of the second core to that range of hills, but i think if you you know, if you're a guy like dan sickles, you may be feel like you've got some wiggle room here to kind of just, you know within the limits of the general instructions if practicable and things like that and all i'm saying is between 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, it's kind of what happens now again, terrain is part of the story the military guys like to say to rain drives the battle i would argue that experience and decision-making still trump's terrain, but you know, what do i know but this is an area that we call sickles this whole it is an area on the battlefield kind of north of little round top. the camera is looking west this is how strange devil's den would be over here the wheat fields kind of kind of over here and from this area. are you cannot see the confederate position on seminary ridge? you cannot see the emmitsburg road? and this is a very rocky rugged field for better or worse sickles in 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 to which hit from which they could hit an enemy approach. so this is one of the things that they evaluated i took this picture after one of the parks controlled burns. 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 old there's in there, right? and as far as i know the rocks were there during the battle, right? we move the rocks. all right. don't laugh. we could move rocks. it's possible. so again what happens right general meade's idea position would have sickles on the left flank here covering. you know, what we know today is little round top shape like an upside down jay or as we more famously call the position a fish hook now again, just as a sidebar. i've never seen a primary account from 1863 where somebody said rally around the fish hook, you know, it's kind of not how that worked. i think don't you agree? i think the fish hooks kind of a kind of later invention, but but regardless of that the idea is clearly that sickles is supposed to extend the left of the second core and be the last flank but as we know, you know, he's gonna move forward because he views primarily the peach orchard and
the emmetsburg road along the emperor road is a more commanding position primarily for artillery. some people think he is reliving some wrong lessons that he might have let you know learn from chancell. fill again. that's that's possible. but remember to they're also another series of other events. he had a recon of pitzer's woods at hunts request 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 all you put all that together sickles later claim that he was confused by me's orders and then after that he later concocted his story saying that he basically advanced to prevent mead from retreating from gettysburg right that to me. yeah, you like that. i'm like yeah hardy 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 that raised your hands and said you don't like dan
sickles. you don't like him primarily because 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 battlefield mistakes cost lives. so i'm not playing light with that but what i'm saying is a lot of guys make mistakes that gettysburg pickett's charge mistake, right? 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 is the spin campaign that he goes goes after me with later and i would argue that all of the sickles haters in the audience watching at home on tv are probably more turned on by his turned off by his attack against me than anything look maybe some of your turn on by i don't know. okay, so we go from we go from sickles's hole to the quote unquote with irony the commanding ground of the peach orchard. this is an image of a kind of and 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 and that's really what a lot of this flight for the peach orchard in the emmitsburg road is about artillery how to use it how to defend against it and that sort of thing and you know, we've kind of played out to death the weaknesses of sickles' position it created an awkward salient his flanks were in the air. his line was stretched then all of those are still accurate. don't get me wrong, but i think it's the story and we've kind of played that out and what i 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 is key ground or decisive terrain can occupation of the peach orchard grant a decisive advantage to each army and i've kind of started looking at it from that perspective to try to answer the age old question.
who was right, so robert e. lee in front of general longstreet the enemy held the position from which if he could be driven it was thought our artillery could be used to 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 out guest by dummel dan sickles, right? i do have a friend who always says well, you know, even a blind squirrel can get a nut sometimes so 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, you know kind of the chancellorsville fear that sickles had in the first place. so so, you know in a couple prominent historians have kind of said no lead didn't do that sickles made that up, you know? no that's not true. and i'm not i'm not gonna name his story. it's good. i don't do that. i'm a nice guy, but some
prominent historians have written it's sickles manufactured the confederates interest and the peach orchard and that's not true. that's not accurate. it's in robert lee's report. so there's the value of it is perceived by robert e lee while george mead when mead found out that sickles was out of position wrote or is attributed to have said the ground that sickles. zahn was neutral ground the enemy could not occupy it for the same reason that his own troops could not there's the title that tonight's presentation. you see where i'm going with this neutral ground. george meade assessed that his neutral ground. so you have robert e lee looking at it for artillery. you have dan sickles kind of agreeing with robert e. lee you have george meade assessing it as neutral ground. so there's the question of is it logical to considerate is a valuable position and then did either general lee or sickles, you know overestimate that and we'll come back to that. now i'm not going to do the battle here in powerpoint. you know, 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're gonna skip ahead you guys know what happens long street attacks the union left flank with great vigor a little round top the weed field devil's den eventually sickles. his troops are driven out of the peach orchard, but as far as the mead sickles controversy goes arguably one of the best things that could have happened to dan sickles was this because the confederate artillery shell solid shot basically comes in smashes into sickles his right leg. he is carried off the battlefield where his amputated that night and sickles is then removed from the battlefield. so he misses july 30 misses. well, he 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 now 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 needs reputation or image at this point, but i do think sickles is probably already thinking. well, you know, i was not getting any attention on the left flank, so i moved into this great crown abe when you come to gettysburg, you're gonna love it, you know kind of thing. i do think there's some of that going on and you know, it's one of sickles of staff officers later wrote sickles certainly god his side of the story into lincoln's head and it's any good mead scholar knows, you know, this is now kind of playing against george mead right seeds are being supposedly planted. and the president's head against
mead and you know means 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 his influence, but he's definitely a contributor. there's there's no doubt about that. now the fall of the 1863 comes around october three months later. guess what dan sickles is recuperated enough and he's ready to come back to the army. so whatever you think is sickles is 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 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 the potomac the army is down in virginia. he comes in he meets with general meade. i'm back. what do you think mead says not so not so clearly right exactly.
so, it's really i think the the refusal of me to let sickles back into the army in the fall of 63. that becomes the catalyst for what i often refer to as kind of the second battle of gettysburg now. people often say well, why didn't it need court-martial sickles would meet have court marshaled sickles why didn't it mean shoot sickles? you know, this isn't the kind of army where we do that right? we don't just you know, you screwed up today. boom. you're gone, you know the american army doesn't do that, right or do they? no, but they don't they don't and so if you take if you take if you take what mead road it face value, you know in his report in october of 63. he talks about, you know, finding sickles, not fully apprehending the instructions given to him. i was in the act of advancing and things of that nature, but henry hallick is is much more direct in his report. he talks about sickles misinterpreting his orders and error which nearly prove fatal
and battle and his core was likely to be utterly annihilated until he received reinforcements from other troops. so now sickles has been denied re-entry to the army and the official reports being filed basically say what an error he would have been annihilated if if we hadn't saved him. how do you think a guy of sickles his ego and temperament is going to react to that right not well not well. adelaide meet at that point was still of the opinion that sickles did what he thought was for the best subsequent events proved that my judgment was correct and his judgment was wrong. so i'll add even into the spring of 64 meat is, you know still kind of i think in some ways turning the other cheek on this and santa you know difference of opinion, but you know, my judgment was right and oh by the way on the guy in charge kind of thing. but now with the reentry to the army denied this is when sickles turns out the heed and again, i'm emphasizing this because
lots some gettysburg historians have been kind of sloppy at this. they think sickles is just sort of hellbent on revenge because he hates general meade and you know and all of that sort of stuff. no, there's a specific agenda here. the agenda is i want to go back to the army and if mead's not going to let me back into the army. maybe we can help get me to removed and that leads that leads into the gettysburg portion of the joint committee of the conduct of the war in the spring of 1864. now i hate hearing the joint committee referred to as the mead 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 yeah, the guys running it the radical republicans for for a host of reasons. don't really like me me and they would be happy to me 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 yeah, i was possible. so sickles is what he what mead calls and i meet i think meat is right sickles is what made calls an agent an agent of the joint committee of the conduct of the war and he testifies when he can you know in his behalf against sort of general needs view of this. there's also some correspondence behind the scenes where sickles is saying stuff like hey call butterfield. he's got some he's got some dirt for you. so i did think need is definitely cooperating with i'm sorry. i do 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 him admit that sickles misinterpreted.
his orders sickles is saying i did it on my own responsibility whether it was good or bad, but i think again where he turns people off that is kind of some, you know some white lies. oh, and i also succeeded in getting in a position on round top and my third core held those positions. and again, we know that's you know, that's just out not a fabrication and a lie. he doubles down too with the famous anonymous newspaper account penned under the name of historicus, which also appears during that period right when george meade is doing his own testimony before the joint committee historical shows up in the paper on basically basically supports the sickles version of this and you know, it's kind of against mead and the fifth corps and and some of this other stuff. i'll say again if you've studied military history anonymous accounts officers using anonymous accounts in the newspapers is not limited to gettysburg. this was something they did in an era when you know, maybe they wanted to get their story across
but you know anonymity in the newspaper was the way you saved your your career kind of thing, but obviously the historicest thing only draws more blood and how george made who you know before was kind of turning the other cheek is like writing his wife. oh my god, you know, these are false and perverted statements which have astonished myself and you know, i came to town and i can't believe what sickles and double day and all these unpleasant and all these other guys are are saying against me and and me has to go on the defense and you know, one thing i think we do not give george meade enough credit for is the defense that mead mounts during the joint committee and again his historians to this day will often say mead doesn't get credit because of what sickles did afterwards i would tell those the story ends pause. take a deep breath. hug your kids. and go back and kind of follow
this all through and actually by needs second appearance before the joint committee meet. actually i think does a very effective job of defending himself laying it all out and basically diffusing any criticism against him so that by the time the joint the joint committee issues their report related to gettysburg. there's really nothing in there at that point. that is seriously damaging to george mead the general probably the steepest criticism against him is his failure to bagley's army at williamsport. which again is probably the most lasting need criticism of the gettysburg campaign, and he 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 meat as well. so the next time somebody says need was fired and replaced by grant remind them the no and a lot of ways grants saved me, you know and more ways than one mead after his death was credited, which i think is with probably
the ultimate rebuttal to sickles after mead's death. the letter was published where me reportedly said sickles' movement practically destroyed his own core 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 and battled without attaining an object. i must confess. i cannot see it. and again, i think you know, we we do need a disservice when we think he's kind of overwhelmed by these attacks. they actually does a pretty good job at defending himself. unfortunately me dies in 1872 and sickles lives for a long long time until 1914. so beginning in the 1880s that gives sickles the advantage when mead is no longer around to defend himself. 1886 is a big year in the meade sickles controversy because it's at that year sickles as a pointed chairman of the new york monuments commission for the gettysburg, battlefield.
in 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? he's a popular and you know in some corners beloved speaker, so it's hard to find a sickle's speech from that period where he doesn't bash on me at least once which again is to meads disadvantage because he's no longer around to defend himself. so 1886 up until sickles his death in 1914 is really kind of the prime period for the so called needs sickles controversy for that reason the other thing too that i always want to just make sure we point out 1895 sickles back in congress at that time does introduce the legislation that entry that establishes gettysburg national military park, you know, and again people kind of be like know sickles he murdered.
i know it's not really that good, you know almost lost the battle of gettysburg. that's really not that good. i created gettysburg national military park. i guess that's okay, but somebody else would have done that that's revisionist history doesn't matter if somebody else would have done it the sickles bill did do it. not that he was the only guy during that era, but let's you let's give credit. work credits due and i know we're running short on time here, but just a couple more. throughout the period veterans are coming back. they're coming back to gettysburg and increasing numbers. they are developing. well, we know today is gettysburg national military park and it's during that period that sickles there he is and this is probably about 1888 25th anniversary, but it's during that period that sickles strikes up a relationship with his july 2nd opponent james longstreet. and you know, they spend many years together. they go to many events together time tonight does not allow me to tell all of their drinking stories and that but some of
them are pretty good. but sickles and longstreet basically mutually support each other's gettysburg records for the remainder of their lives and in 1902 shortly before long street staff long street summarized it as quote. i believe it is now conceded that the advanced position at the peach orchard taken by your core and under your orders save that battlefield to the union cause end quote long street literally went to his grave believing sickles was right. or did he well you know people are kind of skeptical about this. is this two old buddies kind of just propping each other up a little bit but one of the things long street always said was that by moving forward sickles cut down long streets ability to maneuver and act basically cut down what you would call his avenues of approach. so there is if you look into it there is a legitimate reason why you could argue, you know in
favor of long street statement at that point now many of you have seen the photo by this point, but you know again over here we got sickles. we got long street butterfields in here and joshua chamberlain the 20th, main, perhaps a guy who nobody would have heard of today if sickles had it moved a little round tops, so the joshua chamberlain fan club owes something to to dance 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 laughed. i am perfectly sure that if he had part had to part with either one of them, he would part with the one that he is 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. he merely pronounced what he evidently regarded as just criticisms upon them. i can see that i can see dan sickles the new yorker getting older, you know, not not really going after mead with malice or hatred anything like that. it's just you know, well, i'm right because i'm dan sickles kind of of thing. i see that. is i'm getting older. i kind of start to do the same thing. so i got it and most of you do too so don't laugh too hard there. so that's mark twain on sickles and in closing. let's summarize. you know, what's the number one question we all get what if sickles and state 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 if sickles the state imposition but one. do an assessment of the terrain was the peach orchard key or decisive to either army? no. neither army benefited two did
sickles disrupt mead's defense. yes. he did. however higher numeric casualties, but if you look at them 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 would three did sickles lose the positions that he moved into. yes, and that's an unequivocal. yes. he lost the positions even with increased support. 4 did longstreets suffer heavy casualties taking meaningless positions. yes. he did in my opinion hood macaws are chewed up fighting for ground. that was of no value. 5 did leaves artillery use the capture position to advantage. no, and i would refer you to my pickets charge book for that one. those are the in my opinion. these are the five questions. you should ask an answer when trying to evaluate the merit or the demerits whoops of sickles
is move to the peach orchard. i'm coming back. give me a second. those are the things i think you should evaluate when you're when you're kind of trying to evaluate sickles that gettysburg. so yes, and i seldom say this publicly needs military view of the neutral ground was proven. correct both robert e lee and dan sickles. overestimated it and lee actually used the peach orchard emmetsburg road to spearhead a bigger disaster on july 3rd 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 i --. i've had this guy come up to me at the end of the presentation and say well that was fine, but i still don't like dan siggles. and again, i will say i was not trying to get you to like dance 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 the his role in the battle his role in the historiography and his role in the preservation and he's i've said at the outset if you love gettysburg as much as we do, i think it's important to understand all of the phases of dance sickles his career love him or not hate him or not. love to hate him or hate to love them. so all right with that. i think we're almost out of time. i'm seeing the q in the back of the room. thank you and thanks. at he spent history for more of this date in history post. >> hi, buddy. i am john tracy, a newer member of emerging civil war no small part of the recruitment efforts of the present i am introducing here is dan welch, a very long time seasonal ranger