13 thoughts on “Dan Sickles: Fool, Hero, or Something Else?

  1. Al Mackey June 25, 2013 / 9:51 am

    It’s what happens when a prima donna decides to act on what he thinks is best for his own group instead of thinking about the team as a whole. He did have what he considered to be legitimate concerns, and Meade did blow him off, but an army commander shouldn’t have to explain the importance of keeping the integrity of a defensive line intact to a corps commander. As a result of his actions his own corps was wrecked, and significant parts of two other corps were wrecked. Sorry, Dan, but sometimes you have to take one for the team, and this was one of those times.

  2. wgdavis June 25, 2013 / 9:59 am

    Dan Sickles was a man of low moral character, but when it came to leadership, he was one of the best.

    That said, his move forward from what appears to be an excellent position on Munshower’s Knoll to positions on the south end of Houck’s Ridge [Ward] and from the Peach Orchard [Graham] north along the Emmitsburg Road [Birney’s Division] was a terrible blunder that met with some fortuitous results along with the resulting disaster to his Third Corps troops.

    Had he stayed in place on Munshower’s Knoll, which appears to have a west face that is stepped so he could have stacked his artillery, then Lee’s plan for an oblique attack up the Emmitsburg Road would have been followed. That would have brought the right of Hood’s Division across the front of Sickles, but above the Wheatfield, from Sickles left to his right. They would then have passed in front of the Vth Corps, and at that point, Sickles was free to move out, wheel to his right and follow Hood’s men, who would have been taking fire from the Vth Corps, and from McGilvery’s artillery line. And advance by the Vth Corps at that point would have hit Hood’s right flank dead on, and potentially wrapped it up.

    At some point here Hood and McLaws have to be making adjustments, when Sickles closes in from behind Hood. Hood has no choice but to withdraw to his left, and fight his way out of the trap.

    As it was, Sickles Corps was savaged by McLaws, Meade was forced to make emergency changes to fill the massive holes Sickles left in his line between the Peach Orchard and the top of Devil’s Den on Houck’s Ridge, leading to the massive casualties in the Wheatfield, on Houck’s Ridge, around the Sherfy Farm, and in the Peach Orchard.

    Obviously a concentrated Third Corps would have fared much better, and been used more effectively had they been in place as ordered–covering a much shorter segment of, and contiguous to, the main Union line of defense.

    As I see it, his blunder here cost a lot of good Union soldiers their lives, and Dangerous Dan his leg.

    As an eventuality, had he remained in place and not been wounded, perhaps Meade’s reputation would not have been trashed. Grant might have remained in the West, and other events might have been different. Hard to tell at this point, but the ramifications of his remaining in place are far reaching.

    • Joshism June 26, 2013 / 8:30 am

      “perhaps Meade‚Äôs reputation would not have been trashed. Grant might have remained in the West, and other events might have been different.”

      I think Grant’s victories at Vicksburg and Chattanooga bring him to General-in-Chief in early 1864, regardless of what happens to Meade. And Grant did not seem like the type to stay in Washington.

      Meade’s reputation is probably better, but if Lee’s attack on July 2nd goes awry what does he do July 3? That really opens the field for historical divergence.

  3. Scott Manning June 25, 2013 / 11:24 am

    Forrest Gump.

  4. Paul Marcone June 25, 2013 / 1:40 pm

    Most of Sickles corps was in a boggy swamp area the morning of July 2, 1863. To his credit, Sickles does send out a recon and learns that the enemy is moving around his flank. There is good high ground in front of him (the Peach Orchard) that is a natural artillery platform. Hindsight is always 20/20 in that we know now that Lee could not make good use of that platform on July 3rd. Sickles had to act on the intel he had. Also, to his credit, Sickles tried several times on the morning and early afternoon of July 2nd to communicate his concerns to his CO. Meade can be justly faulted for not paying attention to his most difficult subordinate (keep your friends close, but your enemies closer). Sickles’ behavior and actions post-Gettysburg to discredit Meade are despicable, but his actions on July 2nd have to be examined in context. Also, his actions on July 1st in marching to Gettysburg (per orders received from his wing commander, Reynolds, and also leaving a small force to protect Emmitsburg per orders from his CO, Meade, were exemplary). I am biased in that I am a Sickles fan. Hard to hate anyone who would present NYC’s leading Madam to the Queen of England…

    • John Foskett June 26, 2013 / 7:11 am

      The :”context”, however, was where his flank supports were positioned and whether he had sufficient strength to hold the longer line that he created by moving forward. Since when is unilateral action in that context anything other than stupid?

  5. John Foskett June 25, 2013 / 3:57 pm

    Well, let’s say I have 10,000 men in my III Corps and I am positioned so that I line up with the II Corps on my right flank and a wooded hilly eminence on my left. Let’s also say that I have just enough troops to hold that line in adequate depth. I recognize, however, that I am on lower-lying ground than that in my front, which could cause me problems if occupied by the enemy. Having recognized that, do I address it unilaterally by removing myself from my flank protection and occupying an extended line which I now lack sufficient strength to defend in depth, at the same time doing so by creating a salient which can be assaulted on both its flanks? In other words, occupying that higher ground in front may make military sense but ONLY if I haven’t created a new set of problems. Since presumably the intent was not to wreck his corps Sickles failed because that’s exactly what happened. And it was eminently foreseeable, making him a fool. I’m sure this analysis can be shot full of holes but…..

  6. Joshism June 25, 2013 / 7:42 pm

    Fool. He committed insubordination on weak tactical grounds leading to his entire Corps being wrecked with several other divisions being worn out and the entire army endangered.

    Any disruption by Sickles to Longstreet’s attack plans was luck because he moved not knowing Longstreet was there or planning to attack. Plus Longstreet’s attack never would have gone as intended because Lee’s scouts had given him information that was not only outdated when Sickles redeployed, but also inaccurate to his original and intended deployment.

  7. Nathan June 26, 2013 / 7:46 am

    I admire Sickles for his work in preserving the Gettysburg battlefield. Other than that, no.

  8. R E Watson June 26, 2013 / 3:31 pm

    Dandy Dan should have lost more than his leg !!

  9. TF Smith July 2, 2013 / 12:54 pm

    Foolish, but not a coward…which, when it comes to flag and general officers, is not to be set aside lightly.

    As James V. Richardson said of the Pacific Fleet’s leadership (Kimmel and Pye) after Pearl Harbor and the bungled Wake Relief mission, “I used to say I want a man who thinks and fights…now I just need one who will fight.”

    Thankfully, Nimitz and all were both thinkers and fighters…

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