Midpoint of the War: May to July 1863

Gettysburg: The First Day

Why did Ewell fail to attack?

Almost an hour passed, during which chaos reigned in the town of Gettysburg, and the Confederates swarmed over the positions to its west. Nothing was happening to the east, however, and, worried, Lee rode over to see what was the matter.

Most accounts agree that Ewell and his division commanders had no more stomach for fight that day. This was unusual, given that the Second Corps had long been Lee’s most important striking force. He found General Ewell resting in an armchair, apparently in a minor form of daze (it could have been brought about by sunstroke, as well as the possibility of what World War I and World War II soldiers called “shell shock”). Lee had committed one very large error: when sending his order to Ewell to attack, he had added the words “if practicable.” Ewell clearly did not find it so, and Lee soon discovered that Ewell’s men had no more punch left in them. Even so, he asked if they could attack at daylight. The disconcerting answer was that they had done all they could: the next day’s attack should come at the other (southwestern) end of the line.


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