A little nooz blurb from Reuterville, no doubt connected to the fact that this week marks the sesquicentennial of the Battle of Gettysburg:

Confederate General Robert E. Lee was “virtually blind” to the superior positions held by Union troops hidden by rolling hills and valleys, which contributed to his downfall at the pivotal battle of Gettysburg in the American Civil War, researchers said on Friday.

 Lee’s ill-fated combat decisions and ultimate defeat likely stemmed from bad reconnaissance reports, his forces spread too thinly across 7 miles, and an inability to see the more compact and elevated Union forces, according to geographers and cartographers who synthesized old maps, text and data into a digital model of the three-day Pennsylvania battle in 1863.

 “We know that Confederate General Robert E. Lee was virtually blind at Gettysburg,” Anne Kelly Knowles, a geography professor at Middlebury College, wrote in the article accompanying the interactive map on smithsonianmag.com.

“Altogether, our mapping reveals that Lee never had a clear view of enemy forces … In addition, Lee did not grasp – or acknowledge – just how advantageous the Union’s position was,” Knowles wrote.

 I seem to remember reading about this mapping project a year or two ago.  I also have a vague recollection that, although I thought the project rayther neat, I also thought its findings about the lie of the land scored pretty high on the “Well, duh” meter.

On the other hand, I’m not sure I would agree that Lee didn’t grasp the situation.  He knew perfectly well how big the Army of the Potomac was.  He also knew it was concentrated and dug in.  I think he decided to throw down anyway.  Perhaps overconfidence following the string of Southern victories over the prior year and a half factored into it, but I think it most likely that Lee recognized he had no real choice in the matter.  Withdrawal in the face of Meade’s army – especially after the first day’s fighting on Seminary Ridge – would be both tactically risky and psychologically devastating.  Maneuvering around to try and come at the Union forces from a different angle would again be risky and also would be too time-consuming.  I’m not sure what else Lee could have done on the second day than try the attacks against the Round Tops on the right,  Culp’s Hill on the left (Why doesn’t the Culp’s Hill attack get more publicity?  The Rebs damn near broke through there, too)  and Cemetery Ridge between them.

As to Pickett’s Charge on the third day, I think Lee probably knew the risks, too.  This was a straight gamble and he lost it.   Personally, I would have withdrawn after the second day and slunk back to Virginny, but then again, I ain’t no Bobby Lee.

Curiously, Meade hadn’t wanted to fight at Gettysburg, either.  He had in mind a fortified position at a place called Plum Creek (IIRC) a few miles to the southeast.  However, after the first day, his generals – led by Reynolds – convinced him to stay put on Cemetery Ridge and fight it out.

 

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