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GETTYSBURG: THE MEADE-SICKLES CONTROVERSY Richard A. Sauers The battle of Gettysburg has been the most written-about battle in American, if not world, history. Ranging from massive general sketches to hundreds of unit histories, the number of published items dealing with this epic conflict reaches well over two thousand, and as one would expect from such a staggeringnumber ofsources, conflicting statements are bound to occur. Gettysburghas produced twoverybitter controversies in particular. One, the debate among proponents of Generals Lee and Longstreet over why the Confederacy was defeated at Gettysburg, has received exhaustive treatment over the last century. On the other hand, the dispute between Generals Meade and Sickles has generally been neglected, especially when compared to the published literature dealing with Lee and Longstreet. As the Union Army of the Potomac, commanded by Major General George G. Meade, reached the Gettysburg battlefield late on July 1 and throughout the morning of July 2, the famous fishhook-shaped line began to appear. Major General Daniel E. Sickles, the commander of Meade's Third Army Corps, was apparently ordered to occupy a position on theleft of Hancock's Second Army Corps and extend the line along Cemetery Ridge to Little Round Top, which was also to be occupied.1 Sickles was in position by mid-morning, but he did not like the ground on which his command was assembled. Thesouthern half of Cemetery Ridge hardly deserves to be called a ridge at all, as the ground rapidly drops off and is covered with patches of woods and some marshy areas before ascending to Little Round Top on the south. This 1 Meade had succeeded Hooker onJune28. His previous experience in thewar included service with the Pennsylvania Reserves and command of the Fifth Army Corps. The best recent biography is Freeman Cleaves, Meade of Gettysburg (Norman, 1960). Daniel Edgar Sickles (1825-1914) was a New Yorker by birth. He was admitted to the bar in 1846, and later served in the United States Congress. His pre-war fame resulted from his shooting of his wife's lover, the son of Francis Scott Key. On Lincoln's call for troops after Bull Run, Sickles raised five regiments of infantry which were dubbed the Excelsior Brigade, Sickles being made a Brigadier-General for his efforts. Needless to say, Sickles was a 'political general' as opposed to Meade, West Point, 1835. His mostrecentbiography is W. A. Swanberg, Sickles the Incredible (New York, 1956). Civil War History, Vol.XXVI, No.3 Copyright ® 1980 by The Kent State University Press 0009-8078/80/2603-0001 $01.05/0 198CIVIL WAR HISTORY portion of Cemetery Ridge is dominated, in the military sense, by the somewhat higher ground to its front in the shape of a ridge midway between Cemetery and Seminary Ridges. Sickles was worried that ifthe Confederates occupied this ridge and attacked, his men would not be able to stop them because any artillery posted on this ridge would command the ground on which the Third Corps was deployed. Several times during the morning on the second, Sickles made his feelings about his position known to Meade, but Meade was preoccupied with planning an attack by the right wing of his army and was awaiting the arrival of Sedgwick's Sixth Army Corps before making any arrangements to redeploy his troops. Sometime between 11:00 A.M. and noon, Sickles sent out a reconnaissance party which detected a Confederate force in the woods along Seminary Ridge, apparently moving toward the Union left flank. With no orders from headquarters, Sickles took the responsibility of moving his command forward to the Emmitsburg Road and occupying the ridge to his front, but in the process Little Round Top was uncovered and the connection with Hancock's Second Corps was broken. When finally deployed, the Third Corps formed a V-shaped salient with no support on either flank. Meade did not learn of this until3:00 P.M., when he called a conference of corps commanders at headquarters to decide on strategy now that the Sixth Corps was approaching the field. As Sickles reached headquarters, some of Longstreet's artillery openedfire on the Third Corps, and Meade told Sickles to go...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 197-217
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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