Stonewall at Gettysburg, Part 2

on April 27, 2013 in American Civil War, Battles

A period depiction of Early’s troops on July 1st.

The other day I blogged about the practical ins and outs of a feasible “Stonewall Jackson captures Culp’s Hill at Gettysburg” scenario. Briefly, I think that while Jackson’s presence might have led to the capture of Culp’s Hill, having that hill would not have led to a decisive Confederate victory, if for no other reason than Meade and Hancock would not have been stupid enough to stay in an untenable position waiting to get the hell kicked out of them.

Yet there was another interesting opportunity on that first day at Gettysburg, and one that is often overlooked. If I were to write a Jackson goes to Gettysburg story, the outline would look like this…

Stonewall at Gettysburg, My Way
When I and XI Corps collapsed and ran back through the town of Gettysburg, A.P. Hill missed a substantial opportunity to bag the bulk of those fleeing troops. Although much of Hill’s Corps had seen hard fighting that day, two brigades from Pender’s Division — Lane’s and Thomas’s — had been only lightly engaged. If dispatched promptly, those troops could have jumped in and captured the bulk of the fleeing soldiers of the I Corps, and some of XI Corps as well. As it was, Hill left this task to the bloodied and tired South Carolinians under Abner Perrin. They stormed the town, but weren’t up to chasing down the fleeing Northrons.

In Stonewall Goes West, I have Longstreet, Jackson, and Ewell as Lee’s corps commanders, with A.P. Hill filling in for Jackson temporarily and then returning to his (reorganized and reduced) division. Imagine Jackson sending a brigade down the road from Cashtown instead of Hill, and that brigade getting tangled up with Buford’s cavalry. Jackson’s eyes light up and sparkle as he decides to chase the blue troopers off, committing more force in a piecemeal fashion, as he was sometimes prone to do. By mid-morning, he too would have been sucked into a fight in a time and place that Lee never wanted.

That puts Jackson in the perfect place to do something he was very good at: ruthlessly pursue a broken enemy. If you remember the movie Gettysburg, Martin Sheen has a very Lee-esque line, where he tells Tom Berenger “If we can take out one or two of his corps, we can even the odds, but we must strike hard and we must strike quickly.” If I were writing a Gettysburg story, I think that is what I would do: put Jackson in the right place to go all in with his freshest troops, and complete the destruction of the I and XI Corps.

This is the kind of a switch-up that produces a more exciting result than something like the tired, picked over old capture of Culp’s Hill, while at the same time staying firmly within the bounds of realism.

What Next?
If Jackson were coming down from Cashtown, Ewell would still approach from the north. The major difference would be that his corps would have the new divisions led by untried commanders, just as A.P. Hill’s did. That pretty much makes it a certainty that Ewell would still not capture Culp’s Hill, even though the Iron Brigade’s survivors would be marching to the rear under guard rather than assuming defensive positions there.

Meade would still be able to take up the Gettysburg position, albeit with his army reduced in strength by some 12 to 15,000 men. As a storyteller, I think that’s an advantage, because it keeps the setting familiar, albeit in a new situation. Think about Meade’s position at Gettysburg if I Corps and most of XI Corps were gone. The possibilities there are tantalizing, aren’t they? And then…

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