Friday, April 25, 2008

CWL---Malvern Hill July 1862 and Cemetry Hill July 1863: Lee's Deja Voodoo?

At the GNMP Seminar in April Jennifer Murray, a doctoral student at Auburn University, compared frontal assaults made during the American Civil War. She noted at Malvern Hill, Lee planned for converging artillery fire followed by an attack by 14 brigades. This assault was plagued by bad communication between division, brigade and artillery generals, and suffered from poor maps that allowed troops to be out of position. Longstreet dissented from the plan and Henry Hunt was in charge of the Federal artillery.

Lee, 367 days later, does it all over again at Gettysburg. Murray asked 'What did Lee learn from Malvern Hill?' She feels Lee learned very little. Was the artillery organized better at Gettysburg? No. Did the infantry generals get their troops to the point of the attack in a way that allowed them to break and hold the Union line at Gettysburg? No. Did Lee clearly mark the beginning of the attack after the artillery had cleared the point of attack? No.

Murray, after discussion Fort Donelson, Malvern Hill, Gettysburg, Chickamauga, Spotsylvania and the Crater, reaches the conclusion that there was no significant change in infantry tactics in the course of the war.

Stephen W. Sears in the March 2008 issue of North South magazine presents Lee's efforts at Malvern Hill in a manner that encourages the reader to find marked similarities between the July 1862 and July 1863 assaults. 'The Battle of Malvern Hill, July 1, 1862' map on page 25 is striking in its resemblance to Cemetery Hill as the Union forces occupied it on July 2-3, 1863.

On the Carter and Poindexter farms, Longstreet found a low, open ridge lines within artillery range of the Federal's Malvern Hill line. Lee and Longstreet wished to catch the Union position in an artillery crossfire; if a crossfire could be achieved the Federal artillery would be destroyed or be forced to withdraw from the hill. Difficulties arose when it became apparent that insufficient artillery was available for both farms to be used as artillery platforms. Instead pf 50 canons on the Pointdexter Farm, only 16 were deployed by Jackson and these were quickly destroyed or chased away by the Federal artillery. The Federals achieved a 2 to 1 advantage in the number of artillery pieces engaged. Confederate access to the Carter Farm's ridge was obstructed by dense woods; one battery at a time could reach the firing line on Carter's Farm and these also were dispatched as the Federals could concentrate more pieces than the Confederates could on the farm's ridge line.

As the Federals rearranged their guns, a Confederate colonel reported that the Federals were pulling back from the hill. Also, a Confederate general reported that Armistead's brigade had taken a lower portion of the hill. These two reports caused Lee to issue new orders for an immediate rapid advance. Sears lays the blame for the Confederate defeat on to several instances of imprecise infantry orders and a mispreception of the terrain to be assaulted by Lee. From the Official Records, Sears quotes Lee's understanding of the battle; "Under ordinary circumstance the Federal Army should be been destroyed."

It is interesting to note that Lee interpreted Gettysburg in the same manner; in Lee's view Gettysburg is a failure of his lieutenants to achieve coordination with each other. From 'The Battle of Malvern Hill, July 1, 1862' map on page 25 the path of the Confederate assault leads to the salient of the Union line; at Gettysburg the Cemetery Hill salient is protected by the borough of Gettysburg itself. At Malvern Hill, Lee wished to assault the flanks of the salient but found the terrain made that assault impractical; he assaulted the center instead. At Gettysburg, the flanks of the Cemetery Hill appeared vulnerable and he did order the assault.

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