Stonewall at Gettysburg … Again?

Recently The Civil War Monitor asked several historians (including yours truly) their opinions about Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson. The answers appear in the current issue, but space restraints in the paper edition offered an opportunity for the journal to share on its website how people responded to that traditional counterfactual query, “What if Stonewall Jackson had been at Gettysburg?”

You can find the answers here.

It’s a question that is as problematic as it is popular. I’ve tired of it, largely because I’ve learned that people who don’t know nearly as much about the Civil War as they claim to know prefer to talk about what could have happened (where research and knowledge gives way to fantasy and imagination) than to discuss what really did happen and why (thus Civil War discussion groups thrive on such debates). Besides, there are other what-ifs I find more interesting.

Nevertheless, these discussions are just the thing for people who like that sort of thing, so enjoy.

51 thoughts on “Stonewall at Gettysburg … Again?

  1. M.D. Blough September 17, 2016 / 6:15 pm

    The classic answer to the question of ‘What if Stonewall had been at Gettysburg”, of course, is (and I’ve seen it attributed to many different people), “Well, considering that he’d been dead almost a month, I suspect he’d have been a tad gamey.”

    • Mark Snell September 22, 2016 / 6:23 pm

      That quote is from Carol Reardon, and in my opinion, it is the most sensible answer of to a very nonsensical question.

      • M.D. Blough September 22, 2016 / 10:41 pm

        Thanks, Mark. As I said, I wasn’t sure who’d originated it, but I know I can rely on you for the correct attribution. It is classic Carol Reardon (I go way back with her to the very first Longstreet Memorial Fund in Gettysburg in 1995).

        • David Rasch September 23, 2016 / 1:13 pm

          Does some of this stuff originate with the ‘lost cause’ ?

  2. rcocean September 17, 2016 / 9:34 pm

    I think you made an excellent comment. Would Jackson have pressed the attack on July 1st? No doubt. But the capture of Cemetery Hill on the 1st day would not have meant the complete defeat of the AoP. Meade would’ve continue with his Pipe Creek defensive plan and who knows what would’ve happened.

    More interestingly, I think Stonewall – had he lived – probably would’ve been given command of the AoT in Jan ’64, instead of Joe Johnston, and that could’ve been a game changer. Its impossible to believe that Stonewall would’ve been as passive as J.J. in the Atlanta campaign. Had he thrown back Sherman it could’ve had far reaching effects. With Grant and Sherman stalled before Richmond and Atlanta in Nov ’64 who knows if Lincoln would’ve been re-elected.

    • John Foskett September 18, 2016 / 7:38 am

      An honest question – why do you think he would have “pressed the attack” on July 1 given his thoroughly mediocre tactical resume? He didn’t press it during the Seven Days (and I reject the thesis that this happened only because he was “wicked tired”); he didn’t press it at Cedar Mountain or at Brawner’s Farm (despite on both occasions having a significant numbers advantage); he didn’t press it on Day 2 of 2 BR; and even his best-known attack at Chancellorsville was hardly a model of expeditious movement. Stonewall was indeed an aggressive sprinter – until he actually had to fight a battle. As for Northern Georgia, I’ll rely on his tactical resume there, as well. Hood established that aggression for its own sake wasn’t a deal maker. And how do you think Stonewall would have fared with the A of T personalities? He had major problems with a much less fractious group in Virginia.

      • M.D. Blough September 18, 2016 / 11:45 am

        Agreed. Stonewall Jackson simply did not play well with others. I am not a blind Robert E. Lee worshiper, but I greatly respect that among his great gifts are that (1) he was able to get more than a few difficult personalities to work effectively under him (Exhibit A: Jackson) and with each other. and (2) if someone couldn’t or wouldn’t work effectively under him, he was able to get them moved somewhere else quietly with a notable absence of acrimony. Lee clearly recognized both Jackson’s strengths and weaknesses and used him where the former would be maximized and the potential ill effects of the latter would be minimized. Furthermore, while the generals of the Army of Northern Virginia had more than their fair shares of flaws, I think Leonidas Polk alone (and he was far from alone in his diva personality) would have tested even Lee’s abilities to the utmost (as did Wise and Floyd in West Virginia at the beginning of the Civil War.

        • John Foskett September 19, 2016 / 6:25 am

          Stonewall would have placed everybody under arrest after not telling them what they were supposed to be doing.

          • David Rasch September 19, 2016 / 2:47 pm

            With Lee’s management/leadership style, Stonewall was left to his own devices once he proved he could interpret and deliver on his instructions.

          • John Foskett September 20, 2016 / 10:41 am

            He was indeed left to his own devices. The resulting problems with subordinates revealed why army command was probably not “in his wheelhouse”.

        • Mark September 19, 2016 / 11:16 am

          Yeah I think that’s a fair statement of one of Lee’s strong points. I think Grant had that too. Doesn’t the story go that he looked down pensively at ground while Meade was fuming about Sheridan, and when he heard him say “He said he could ride out and whip Early’s cavalry!” he looked up and said “He said that? Well, we’ll he usually knows what he’s talking about so you should probably let him go do it.” Was that Porter’s account?

      • Lyle Smith September 19, 2016 / 3:58 pm

        What does pressing an attack or aggressiveness have to do with tactical acumen? Nothing, I would argue.

        Sure, Jackson wasn’t a tactical genius, but he was aggressive and wasn’t afraid of sacrificing his men if he thought it was required.

        As far as Gettysburg goes it is an impossible question. I can totally see him doing the exact same thing as Ewell and not attacking Cemetery Hill. Maybe he better controls Rodes’ Division, or Johnson’s Division is closer at hand. Or maybe the Yankees make some mistakes and help Jackson look good. It is all just speculation and not history.

        • John Foskett September 20, 2016 / 6:17 am

          Uh, you may want to look a little more closely at his “aggressiveness” at Cedar Mountain and Brawner’s Farm, just for example (at both of which he had distinct numerical superiority) . And making the decision whether, when, and how to attack on July 1 involves “tactical acumen”. Bank it.

          • Lyle Smith September 20, 2016 / 11:39 am

            Yeah, I don’t agree with you. I am confused as to why you would choose two battles from this particular campaign to impugn Jackson’s aggressiveness. The fact that he was at Cedar Mountain and near Bull Run reveals how aggressive he was as a wing/corps commander.

            He aggressively counter attacked at Cedar Mountain and at Brawner’s Farm he purposefully attacked the Yankees marching past him before Lee and Longstreet were even with him.

            Yep, he was just too easy-going that campaign.

          • John Foskett September 20, 2016 / 2:52 pm

            He was so “aggressive” in those battles that he dribbled in his superior numbers, making both fights closer than they should have been. If you read what I’ve been saying, nobody questions his “aggressiveness” when it came to the operational campaign level. The problems arose whenever he actually had to fight. This discussion is in the context of the July 1 hypothetical involving the decision to launch an assault on the Union position at Cemetery Hill- not in the context of what Stonewall might or might not have done during the operational maneuvering which led up to Gettysburg. His track record was consistent and allows one to predict/hypothesize that he would not have seized the tactical initiative with an “aggressive” attack. Your turn….

          • Lyle Smith September 20, 2016 / 10:10 pm

            What does dribbling troops into battle have to do with a lack of aggression? Aggression comes from attacking or counterattacking, and not if you attack or counterattack in dribbles or piecemeal. Attacking piecemeal is poor tactics, but not a lack of aggression.

            The attack on Rufus King’s troops at Brawner’s Farm was an aggressive move where Jackson knowingly gave up his position to Pope in the hope that Pope would attack him at Stony Ridge. The fact that the King’s men got the better of Jackson men suggest poor tactics, but not a lack of aggression on the part of Jackson.

            Jackson’s Valley campaign also provides a number of examples of poor tactics by Jackson, but no lack of aggression on the battlefield.

          • John Foskett September 21, 2016 / 6:48 am

            ” What does dribbling troops into battle have to do with a lack of aggression?” Are we playing word games here? How “aggressive” is the attack (which is a tactical decision) if you’re not fully committing your force? Making a half-a—d attack isn’t “aggressive”. And this entire debate is about July 1 and whether Stonewall in lieu of Ewell would have made a difference. Your answer apparently is a resounding “no”. We agree.

          • David Rasch September 21, 2016 / 3:01 pm

            By ’63 these soldiers were veterans who knew their jobs and the chances they were taking. They knew how to kill. Given an objective they carried out their jobs. Even soldiers down where the metal meets the meat can tell hesitation of leadership.

          • John Foskett September 22, 2016 / 3:37 pm

            I’d agree. The guys who were sitting on their arms back in the woods early in the evening on August 28, 1862 while their colleagues were being bloodied in a stand-up, static firefight must have had some doubts about their leadership.

          • David Rasch September 23, 2016 / 5:23 am

            Soldiers talk; among themselves and what they hear from their immediate leaders-all the way up the line. Of course things become distorted. My point is, without exact orders to a proven leader soldiers will take the ‘easy way’. This does not mean they will neglect their duty, they just may not push as hard.

    • rcocean September 18, 2016 / 10:19 am

      After re-reading my comment, I realized that Stonewall, had he lived, probably would’ve been sent West in Sept ’63, not just in place of Longstreet but to take over from Bragg, who had been maneuvered out of East Tennessee and was highly unpopular with his Corps commanders What would’ve happened if uber-aggressive Stonewall had been in command at Chickamauga? No doubt a much more complete victory than Bragg won.

      • NedB September 18, 2016 / 1:41 pm

        Assuming your premise, that Jackson would be sent instead of sending the slightly more senior Longstreet, I really dont see a better outcome at Chickamauga. Jackson would have fed men in piecemeal, as was his wont, which was really how Chickamauga was fought anyway. Who would have delivered the breakthrough attack in the absence of Longstreet? And without the numeric advantage Jackson seemed to need to win battles (see Winchester, Port Republic, Cedar Mountain, Harpers Ferry), I dont see the outcome looking any better than Bragg.

        • John Foskett September 19, 2016 / 6:27 am

          You make a subtle point here, as well. Even Stonewall’s legend-building Valley Campaign featured some tactical boo-boo’s. See: First Kernstown. Winchester, and Port Republic.

          • David Rasch September 19, 2016 / 2:49 pm

            I knew a man who was a young lieutenant in the armor in Korea. He told me they would plan hell out of things but after the first shot the plan went to hell in a heart beat. I agreed.

        • rcocean September 21, 2016 / 5:45 pm

          I think you need to read more about the Battle. Its hard to top Bragg for his incompetence and passivity at Chickaamuga. And its impossible to believe that Jackson would not have pursued the Union army without let up, after the center was broken. And I’m not even talking about Bragg lackadaisical handling of the army when he could have easily crushed the Union army when it was split into widely spread non-supporting Corps.

          Given Jackson popularity, almost equal that of Lee’s, and his previous ability to act independently he would’ve been the logical choice to go West. Jackson was the senior subordinate in Lee’s Army – in reality if not on paper.

          • Ned B September 24, 2016 / 5:30 pm

            I think i have read plenty about the battle and about Jackson. Why is it impossible to believe that Jackson would not have pursued any better than Bragg did? Did his record in conducting pursuits show this?

            Also Jackson was not the senior subordinate in Lee’s army, either in reality or on paper; Longstreet was.

          • David Rasch September 26, 2016 / 4:47 am

            I think its all about apotheosis. Jackson’s almost god-like status after his death makes him a ‘go to’ guy.

          • John Foskett September 25, 2016 / 8:12 am

            Jackson’s “popularity”? With the spilled gasoline that was the Army of the Tennessee’s dysfunctional command structure, Stonewall would have been little more than a Zippo lighter. As noted, he had major issues with his subordinates in the much less toxic setting of the ANV. As for Stonewall’s record of pursuits, everybody can take a gander at Day 2 of 2BR, after Longstreet had swept up the Yankee left. Then there are the Seven Days. “Stonewall? Stonewall? Do you read me, Stonewall? Oh, Stonewall……..”

      • Bob Huddleston September 18, 2016 / 9:19 pm

        Given that Jackson was a junior LT GEN, ranked by Longstreet, Kirby Smith, Hardee, and Holmes, and the PACS had no provision for assigning a junior officer over a more senior one it is highly unlikely Jefferson Davis would have shipped him west. You think that Jackson had demonstrated superior tactical and strategic skill over all of them?

      • David Rasch September 19, 2016 / 2:57 pm

        If Stonewall had exact explicit goals and outcomes explained, he could have done as well as any. After all he had a reputation for victory.

        • John Foskett September 20, 2016 / 6:18 am

          He certainly did have a “reputation for victory”. Whether that was deserved is an entirely different proposition.

          • David Rasch September 20, 2016 / 10:21 am

            As long as his troops believed it and even more the enemy, it is a valid warpoint. As a former soldier I knew which leaders I would risk all for and which were better off in the rear.

          • John Foskett September 20, 2016 / 11:40 am

            As you would well know, it’s more complicated than that. We’re talking about leading a corps or an army, not a platoon.

          • David Rasch September 21, 2016 / 3:27 pm

            These things have a way of trickling down. The troops under Jackson and his generals had a history. I wonder weather Lee’s instructions would have been the same to Jackson. Might he have said go left around the hill and hit them from the rear.

          • John Foskett September 22, 2016 / 6:49 am

            Look at the situation as it confronted Ewell. At that moment, there would have been significant hurdles to simply organizing a head-on assault, Coming up with the Chancellorsville solution would have been impossible IMHO. As it was, even the Chancellorsville frolic by Jackson took longer than it should have to get in position.

          • David Rasch September 22, 2016 / 10:03 am

            I’m not as well versed as some commentators but wouldn’t the death and injury toll in the Army of Northern Virginia directly affect its performance? People new to jobs they may not have been qualified but had to assume.

      • hankc9174 September 26, 2016 / 10:44 am

        It wasn’t ‘Longstreet’ who was sent west – it was his corps (minus Pickett).

        The 2 divisions contained troops from Georgia (about half), Alabama, Texas, Arkansas, South Carolina and Mississippi: all ‘western’ troops. The only Virginians to travel were a handful of artillery batteries.

        To some extent, it shows Lee’s reluctance to send Virginians west.

        • David Rasch September 27, 2016 / 5:21 am

          I’ve also read Virginians themselves did not want to go west. They enlisted to fight for their country-Virginia. This is two edged. First makes them ferocious in a fight. Second makes the Confederacy weak in national spirit.

          • David Gill October 1, 2016 / 11:50 am

            Of course, one of the greatest fighters in the West was a Virginian – George Thomas.

  3. bob carey September 18, 2016 / 1:22 am

    If Jackson had survived,unscathed, would Lee have changed the structure of the ANV? How many Corps would have there been? Would A.P. Hill have Corps command or Division Command? Would Stuart had acted differently? Would Jackson have used Robertson and Jones more effectively? The questions are endless, and where does speculation start and where does it end? Lets say that Ewell is replaced by Jackson at 3 pm on July 1, does Jackson attack Cemetery Hill and does that attack succeed?
    I believe that one of the unsung Union heroes at Gettysburg was von Steinwehr, his defenses on Cemetery Hill must have been quite formidable because Ewell did not find it “practicable” on July 1, and Rodes refused to attack this same position on July 2. I don’t think Jackson would have fared any better. As Pickett said ” the Union Army had something to do with it”.

    • John Foskett September 18, 2016 / 8:53 am

      Your first paragraph is a compelling demonstration showing why this particular “what if” is so meaningless.

    • Joshism September 18, 2016 / 10:38 am

      Of all the Historians questioned in that article, I think Frank O’Reilly’s answer was the best.

      My thoughts:

      If Stonewall isn’t shot at Chancellorsville then the entire rest of the battle may go differently, and thus the Gettysburg Campaign.

      If he is shot, but survives he’s probably not ready to return to command in time for Lee’s offensive (only a month after Chancellorsville) and things probably proceed much as in OTL. Even if he does return in time he is probably not 100%. (Which raises another point: that if Stonewall is somehow there on July 1 his behavior may hinge on whether he was shot. A recovering Stonewall might be less aggressive.)

      If Stonewall is not shot and Chancellorsville somehow ends up pretty much the same and Lee still undertakes the same offensive into PA at the same time, it’s doubtful the army would have been divided into 3 corps. If Longstreet and Jackson are the still Lee’s only corps commanders then the Army moves into PA in a different arrangement and there probably is no battle at Gettysburg.

      That’s the real problem I see with the “Stonewall at Cemetery/Culp’s Hill on July 1” question: it’s nigh impossible to construct a reasonable scenario where Stonewall could be there in the first place. The butterfly flaps its wings too hard on this one.

      It could make for an interesting alternate history though, IF done right. Certainly a better question to explore than cosmic accidents hurling West Virginia towns into the middle of the 30 years war or time traveling white supremacists giving Lee AK-47s. (Alternate history: a very intriguing genre wasted on absurd ideas.)

    • M.D. Blough September 22, 2016 / 10:55 pm

      That’s actually been one of my big problems with the “if Stonewall had been at Gettysburg” scenario. Do I see Lee trying a massive reorganization of the ANV with Stonewall either alive and well or alive and returning to the army at some point? Unlikely. It’s clearly something that he’d thought of but, while I don’t think you can come up with two more different personalities than Jackson and Longstreet, it was a command structure under Lee that had most of the bugs worked out of it. On the other hand, Jackson’s death meant that there were not only two new corps commanders but that this was the first battle in which they’d be part of the entire army. It also meant that with the necessary rearrangement of unit assignments among the corps, you’d have a certain number of experienced commanders who were no longer reporting to the commander with whom they were familiar. That’s where I fault Lee in not calling staff meetings with all three corps commanders there. I’m not recommending the type where voting took place, even advisory, but ones where it could be made sure that, as the saying my later father used to quote, everyone was singing from the same page in the hymnbook and that any questions and concerns could be addressed and answered. I don’t know if it would have changed the outcome but if the problem was, as Lee was quoted as saying after the battle, a want of coordination, the source of the problem had to be at the top.

  4. David Rasch September 18, 2016 / 5:00 am

    I agree with your comment on pontificators with little knowledge of the facts. I am just now(I’m 66) beginning to closely read the official reports in lieu of popular offerings.

  5. Matt McKeon September 18, 2016 / 5:19 am

    I forget who said this, but I agree with this idea: If the failure or success of the Confederate project hinges on the life of one subordinate general, no matter how talented, it wasn’t going to succeed if Jackson lived to 90.

  6. John Foskett September 18, 2016 / 7:44 am

    Thanks for linking that. I find the Stonewall July 1 hypothetical interesting for only one reason. It illustrates the blind faith possessed by some in the Saint Stonewall School who simply ignore his track record (putting aside all of the reasons why you can’t just yank Ewell out of the nets and insert Jackson as everything else stays the same). As for the answer, John H. nailed it – Stonewall was no Mario….

  7. Michael William Stone September 18, 2016 / 12:48 pm

    They could well do better on July 1, but if they do the most likely result is that Meade orders a retreat to the Pipe Creek line, as I understand he considered doing anyway. Since that line was chosen for its defensibility, there is no reason to expect Lee to do any better there than a the actual Gettysburg.

    In this case, Summer 1863 probabely follows the pattern of Summer 1862, with the one-day Gettysburg as another Second Manassas, and Pipe Creek as another Antietam.

  8. Shoshana Bee September 20, 2016 / 12:47 am

    (Warning: Gloating comment ahead) I currently arrived home from my first trip to Gettysburg, and in all honesty, I sincerely admit that I never once though about Stonewall Jacket the whole time I was there. I thought about many things, and a few “what ifs” concerned the taking of Little Round Top, Pleasanton providing cavalry for Sickles (would he have still moved), & is that hill practicable if Ewell had been given support by A. P. Hill. No Stonewall Jackson musings, too many other interesting ponderings related to the action on the field. Must go unpack a TON of books, now.

  9. Al Mackey September 20, 2016 / 5:36 pm

    Having looked at Richard S. Ewell’s decision that it was not practicable to take Cemetery Hill while not bringing on a general engagement, in accordance with R. E. Lee’s orders, I’m of the view that Jackson would have encountered the same problems Ewell encountered. There would still have been 43 cannons on Cemetery Hill. There would still have been Federal troops ensconced behind stone walls and fences. The town would still be an obstacle. The confederate soldiers would still have been disorganized and worn out by the battle. They would still have had thousands of Union prisoners to handle. There would still have been a report from “Extra Billy” Smith of an unknown Union force on the left flank. There would still have been two of Early’s four brigades on the flank and unavailable. Edward Johnson’s division would still be unavailable. If we assume Lee still reorganizes the ANV and A. P. Hill still commands the Third Corps, there is still a lack of support from that corps.

    In other words, it’s my view that had Jackson been alive at Gettysburg in place of Richard S. Ewell, assuming also there is still a battle at Gettysburg, Jackson also decides it’s not practicable to take Cemetery Hill while not bringing on a general engagement. He probably would have made the same decision as Ewell–that it was more advantageous to take Culp’s Hill. It’s possible he may have used troops on hand despite Rodes and Early saying their troops were too exhausted to make the attempt instead of waiting for Johnson as Ewell did.

    • Shoshana Bee September 20, 2016 / 7:02 pm

      What he said ^ . As part of my very recent Gettysburg trip, Albert Mackey did a fabulous presentation about Richard S. Ewell’s decision that it was not practicable to take Cemetery Hill whilst not bringing on a general engagement. A finer case study could not have been laid out before a skeptical jury of discerning listeners. I walked as close to every inch of that ground, and I am convinced that even the venerated Stonewall Jackson could not have difference regarding the decision to decline an attempt on that hill.

    • John Foskett September 21, 2016 / 6:54 am

      Good analysis. I’d add only that if Stonewall did utilize the available troops, it’s even more likely (given their condition and disorganization) that he would have ineffectively trickled them in. As noted, he did that at Brawner’s Farm, despite the absence of the additional hurdles present on the late afternoon/evening of July 1.

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