Midpoint of the War: May to July 1863

Gettysburg: The Second Day

How could so many officers do more, or less, than what their commanding generals required?

No simple answer exists to this question: part of it has to do with the vagaries of human nature. One part of the trouble, however, lay with the difference between officers of the U.S. Regular Army—those commissioned before the war commenced—and the officers of the various volunteer regiments. Given that they were often elected by their men, volunteer army officers often showed an independent streak. This difference did not exist in the Confederate ranks, however, and cannot be used to excuse General Ewell’s lack in following Lee’s order.

There was something special about Gettysburg, however, and the answer to it lies in the speed with which events unraveled. If under normal circumstances there was some dissension between commanding and subordinate officers, that tendency was exacerbated by the smoke, noise, and confusion at Gettysburg. There were times on that battlefield when it seemed as if no one was really in command, as if it were every man, company, or regiment for himself.


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