How could Lee think Pickett’s charge would succeed?

3/26/2013 • Ask Mr. History, Drafts

Good Day,

So let’s say that Pickett’s charge succeeded. Against the odds, let’s say a couple hundred Confedrates stand in the middle of Cemetary Ridge and watch the remainder of Hancock’s corps running either towards Cemetary Hill or Little Round Top. So General Lee’s plan has succeeded. Now what?  

You have this couple hundred rebel soldiers milling around with the guns on Cemetary Hill and those on Little Round Top staring down on them. There were no troops readily available to exploint the breakthough. What do they do now?  Once they started catching hell from the artillary on both hiils, I guess that they go back the way thay came.

What did General Lee expect was going to happen? Even if the Union line was split, there was no one to keep driving forward. The Confederates had to return and the Union troops would reoccupy their original position. How could General Lee think that Pickett’s Charge would win the battle?

Thanks for your thoughts.

Richard Greabell

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Dear Mr. Greabell,

Far be it for me to say what was going on in General Robert E. Lee’s head, but I do believe his ego, reinforced by his remarkable victory against the odds two months earlier at Chancellorsville, overrode the growing evidence that the Army of the Potomac, occupying the high ground at all quarters, was not going to crack—and neither was its commander, Major General George G. Meade. Keep in mind, though, Pickett’s Charge up the middle was not the only Confederate move on July 3, 1863—there was another assault up Culp’s Hill and Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart was trying to start a distracting tumult in the Union rear that Lee hoped might cause some useful panic, until it was undone by an aggressive countercharge by some younger Yankee cavalry leaders like Brig. Gen. George Custer. Hindsight is always 20-20, but I believe Lee put it fairly well himself when he said: "It’s all my fault. I thought my men were invincible."



Jon Guttman
Research Director
World History Group
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