03 Jul 2020

Lee’s Gamble

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For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it’s all in the balance, it hasn’t happened yet, it hasn’t even begun yet, it not only hasn’t begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstance which made more men than Garnett and Kemper and Armistead and Wilcox look grave yet it’s going to begin, we all know that, we have come too far with too much at stake and that moment doesn’t need even a fourteen-year-old boy to think This time. Maybe this time with all this much to lose than all this much to gain: Pennsylvania, Maryland, the world, the golden dome of Washington itself to crown with desperate and unbelievable victory the desperate gamble, the cast made two years ago.

—William Faulkner, Intruder in the Dust, 1948.

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Mike-SMO

Gettysburg has always been a puzzle since Lee didn’t narmally gamble. He knew what he had and knew what the opposition had and what coulod be expected from the opposition leadership. Still,…….

At a higher level, Lee had probably concluded that Europe wasn’t going to save the Confederacy and that the Confederate leadership was pretty feckless. Lee had all that he would ever have, so “betting the farm” and possibly ending the conflict may have made sense. The ground didn’t allow for a wide flanking maneuver and the conservative Federal leadership would not easily be drawn off the ridge with a fake Southern retreat, so a charge “right up the middle” might have seemed workable. There wasn’t really anything else. The Confederate “invasion” of the North was in good part to get supplies that Lee’s army didn’t have and could not expect from the Confederate leadership or the Confederate public. Lee’s forces had high morale and the Federal lines might break under a focused assault.

So, a gamble, but not the obvious one.



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