Lee, Longstreet, and the Battle of Gettysburg
By Jack Nelson, UNC 1965
Several weeks ago, I asked
Jack Nelson (Battle of the Crater) for advice on how to approach the Gettysburg
battlefield site on a one day visit. He gave me some good tips, but then it
occurred to me that Jack could refresh my memory on what exactly took place at
Gettysburg, the battle that most people feel turned the tide in the Civil War.
Jack's knowledge of the Civil War is amazing and one of the greatest thrills I
have had recently was to listen to him and the Park Service guide discuss Lee's
surrender when he and I visited Appomattox last fall. I would have paid to hear
So I asked Jack if he would be willing to write about Gettysburg and he graciously accepted my invitation. We both know the article is long and many of you may not read it in its entirety but others will. The site has received numerous hits from Civil War buffs, courtesy of Google, after the Crater article appeared and one individual even contacted me to see if I could help her research a Union soldier who received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroics at the Crater.
Hope you enjoy the article.
Historians and Civil War buffs have long considered the Battle of Gettysburg, fought July 1-3, 1863, as the pivotal battle of the war. Indeed, the point marked by the final forward surge of Pickett’s Charge is often called the “High Water Mark” of the Confederacy. Gettysburg, fought at a place and time chosen in advance by neither side, changed the course of war in the east. After July 1863, the Army of Northern Virginia would never again be able to launch a major offensive campaign.
Why was the Battle of Gettysburg fought when and where it was? What were the military and political objectives that brought two great American armies together in a monumental clash of men and will? And for southerners, the most compelling question of all: Why did the South lose the battle?
Much was written in the years following the war, and continues to be written today, about the part played by General James Longstreet, I Corps commander and ranking subordinate to General Robert E. Lee. Many writers have criticized Longstreet’s performance at Gettysburg, and some have gone so far as to lay blame for the defeat squarely on Longstreet’s doorstep. Was he really to blame, or does he share the blame with others, including Lee himself?
In mid-May 1863, Longstreet and Lee sat down for an intensive three-day strategy and planning session. Longstreet favored an “offensive-defensive” campaign, maneuvering so as to threaten Washington and bringing the Army of the Potomac to the capital’s defense, then positioning the Army of Northern Virginia so that the Union would have to attack the Rebels on ground carefully chosen to give all the advantages to Lee. Longstreet argued this point with Lee and came out of the May meeting convinced he had secured Lee’s promise that only defensive tactics would be used in battle. Lee, commenting after the war, only remarked that his recollection was that he had agreed to nothing of the sort; indeed, could not have agreed to a course of action so limiting in scope without foreknowledge of what the enemy might do, and did not know why Longstreet would have thought otherwise. Thus, the Army of Northern Virginia embarked on its’ greatest campaign with the commanding general and his chief lieutenant holding radically different ideas as to what was going to happen.
Lee’s reasons for invading the North, as he outlined them for Longstreet, were fairly basic. First, he wanted to move the theater of war out of Virginia so that farmers could get crops in without interference. Also, Lee believed that as the Army of the Potomac under General Joe Hooker was fairly sedentary and this would give the Confederates time to gather supplies from the rich Pennsylvania countryside. A successful invasion would increase Northern war-weariness. And, if a battle could be fought and won, particularly if it led to the capture of Washington DC, it might bring about Jefferson Davis’ deeply held dream of foreign intervention. Lee may also have thought that an invasion of the North might lead to the recall of Grant from Vicksburg, but he apparently did not give much weight to that idea.
On one thing both Lee and Longstreet were in complete agreement: the South had to act because it simply could not afford to wait. Hooker still commanded 90,000 men opposite Fredericksburg, while another 15,000 were at Harper’s Ferry. There were 32,000 more down the peninsula from Richmond. If all these forces ever began to move in concert, it would be major trouble for Lee and the Confederacy.
Lee’s first objective was to get away from Hooker at Fredericksburg. The army had been reorganized, as the death of Jackson had required the appointment of a new commander of II Corps. Lee had taken this one step further, dividing the army into three corps instead of two, and naming General Richard S. Ewell to Jackson’s post and assigning General A. P. Hill to the newly formed III Corps. Lee knew that Hooker would eventually learn that the Rebels were on the move, and Lee watched carefully to see what Hooker might do. If Hooker made a mistake, Lee might be able to beat him in detail.
Longstreet had in the past made use of “scouts” to determine enemy activity, and he now called on one of these to undertake an intelligence mission. This was Henry James Harrison, sometime actor and adventurer who Longstreet thought might in fact be a double agent but whose information had proved reliable before. Now, Longstreet sent him off to check on Hooker and whatever information could be gathered in Washington, telling Harrison that he was to find him with the army wherever it was and report his findings.
By late June 1863, Lee’s army was well into Pennsylvania. Ewell had divisions at Carlisle and York, with designs on Harrisburg. Longstreet was at Chambersburg, with Hill nearby. Absent, however, was Stuart’s cavalry. Lee, as was his habit, had given largely discretionary orders to Stuart, and Stuart had broadly interpreted them and gone off on a long jaunt nearly to the outskirts of Washington. This had deprived Lee of his “eyes” and as a result, Lee was not quite sure where Hooker was.
Now Longstreet’s foresight in employing Harrison paid a huge dividend. On the night of June 28th, Harrison arrived at Chambersburg with a full report. Longstreet took him to Lee, and there Lee learned, to his surprise and dismay, that the Union army was all north of the Potomac, seven corps plus cavalry, in and around Frederick. Lee also learned that he would face a new opponent, Major General George Gordon Meade, who had replaced Hooker. Lee had never respected Hooker, to whom he disdainfully referred as “Mr. F. J. Hooker”, a play on Hooker’s newspaper nickname of “Fighting Joe”. Meade, whom Lee had known in Mexico, was a different story: a solid professional who would be unlikely to make the ruinous mistakes his predecessors had made.
Still without news from Stuart, Lee had to make a decision and he did it quickly. Looking at his map, Lee searched for a place to consolidate the army. Tracing roads with his finger, he came to the place where they all met: Gettysburg. Riders were immediately dispatched to Ewell, instructing him to move his separate divisions from York and Carlisle to Gettysburg as rapidly as possible. With Longstreet and A. P. Hill, Lee would move from Chambersburg to Cashtown, about halfway to Gettysburg, and there wait for news from Ewell and Stuart, then move on to Gettysburg itself. Turning to Longstreet, Lee remarked “It looks like we will not be going to Harrisburg after all. We will go and see what General Meade has in mind”.
So it was that on July 1st 1863, the leading elements of A. P. Hill’s III Corps came swinging down the Cashtown Pike, heading into Gettysburg. Watching them from the ridge northwest of the town was Union General John Buford and his cavalry. Nobody had ordered either of these two to get into a fight, but fight they did, as soon as there was contact. But the Confederates had far more men at hand than did the Union. By late afternoon, after Ewell’s force had reached the field, the Union line collapsed and survivors were streaming back through Gettysburg to the hills just southeast of the town, where a division had been left as security. But the first day at Gettysburg was an unquestioned Confederate victory.
Lee arrived on Seminary Ridge, west of Gettysburg, just as the battle was ending. What he saw must have excited him. Blue-clad soldiers were streaming out of the town, and moving up the hills beyond, obviously beaten and retreating. Lee then received reports from his commanders: two Yankee corps driven from the field, 5000 prisoners, and success all along the line. Lee had not expected to fight here, but the fight had come anyway and Lee had won. However, Lee realized that there was more to do, and he sent word to General Ewell to try to take, if practicable, the northernmost of the hills to which the enemy was retreating – Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill, they were called. If those hills could be taken and held, the Union line would be outflanked again and the retreat would continue. Ewell however, not used to Lee’s discretionary orders and unsure of his position, did not aggressively follow up the day’s events with a determined attack.
Longstreet arrived shortly after Lee, and he too was excited, but for very different reasons. Longstreet saw the same hills and ridges Lee did, but to his eye they represented a naturally strong defensive position that should not be attacked directly. Instead, the Confederate Army should move to its right, swing around the Army of the Potomac and position themselves between Meade and Washington. If that could be done, Meade would be forced to attack on ground chosen by the Army of Northern Virginia and it would be Fredericksburg all over again. Longstreet immediately raised this point with his commander. “But the enemy is there,” said Lee, gesturing towards the ridge across the valley, “And if he is there tomorrow I will attack him.” “If he is there tomorrow” replied Longstreet, “it will be because he wants you to attack him; in my mind a good reason not to do so.”
From where they stood, the two generals could look out over a broad, shallow valley. Cultivated fields, a few buildings, and an orchard were visible. Almost in the center, the Emmitsburg road with rail fences on both sides ran from right to left into Gettysburg. In the distance, about a mile away, there was a long, low ridge on which Union forces appeared to be assembling. The northern end of this ridge – to Lee’s left as they observed it with field glasses - were the hills Lee had suggested Ewell occupy. The ridge took its name from the most prominent landmark, as did one of the hills – the town cemetery. At the southern end of Cemetery Ridge were two larger hills, locally called the Round Tops. To distinguish the two, the smaller one with simple Pennsylvania logic was always called “Little” Round Top.
Continuing to discuss the situation, Lee held to his conviction that an attack was necessary while Longstreet argued strongly against it. At some point, Longstreet reminded Lee of their May meeting and Lee’s promise to use only defensive tactics. Lee was unmoved, and at last Longstreet mounted and rode back to his command, still several hours march away. Longstreet was deeply troubled by Lee’s behavior, which he felt was “out of character”. Even though he was convinced a direct attack was ill advised, nevertheless as soon as Longstreet reached his headquarters he issued orders to move his two closest divisions, Lafayette McLaws’ and John B. Hood’s, to Gettysburg as soon as they had sufficient rest. His third division, George E. Pickett’s, was some miles further out and although Longstreet ordered them up as well he knew they would not reach Gettysburg until late the following day. Then he lay down to get a few hours rest.
Longstreet was up well before dawn on July 2nd, and after a quick breakfast he mounted and rode the hour or so necessary to reach Lee’s headquarters on Seminary Ridge. There, as dawn was breaking, Lee, Longstreet, Hood, Hill and other staff officers discussed the day’s coming events. Longstreet again raised the issue of a flank march around the Union left, and Lee again rejected this plan in favor of a direct assault. Lee then ordered a reconnaissance of the Union position, sending one of his staff engineers to scout the area on the other side of the Emmitsburg road. Longstreet was visibly upset by his commander’s refusal to adopt his preferred plan of action, and began pacing up and down. Lee chose to ignore this, and when General McLaws arrived Lee greeted him and began discussing plans for an attack.
Sometime around mid-morning on July 2nd, the engineers returned from their scouting mission, and reported to Lee that the Union line ended on Cemetery Ridge, short of the Round Tops. In this they were almost certainly wrong, for the Union line had indeed reached Little Round Top. Pointing to the hill, Lee specifically asked the lead engineer, Captain Johnston, “Did you get there?” Johnston assured him that he had, and had found no Yankees. But blue-coat soldiers had been there all morning. There was, however, a brief interval when one division had replaced another, and by ill luck Johnston had apparently climbed Little Round Top in that interval.
Buoyed by this report, Lee continued to discuss plans with his generals. At one point, McLaws stated that he himself would ride to the front and survey the ground, but Longstreet refused to allow it. A little while later, McLaws again suggested a personal reconnaissance, but Longstreet snapped, “Sir, I do not wish you to leave your division!” Then, bending over the map Lee and McLaws were studying, he jabbed a finger at it, tracing a line parallel to the Emmitsburg road: “I wish your division placed so”. “No, General” said Lee quietly, “I want it placed just opposite”.
Robert E. Lee was a patient and courteous man, but Longstreet’s behavior must have annoyed him. Still, Lee believed that Longstreet was the man to lead the attack, and outlined again what he wanted: Longstreet with his two divisions to attack by moving to the right to form a battle line across the Emmitsburg road, then march north (toward Gettysburg) and angle in on the Union position on Cemetery Ridge. If the end of this line was where Lee thought it was then Longstreet’s attack should take it in flank. Having made these plans clear to Longstreet, Lee then rode to the left of his line to confer with Ewell. After conferring with that officer and advising him of the proposed attack, with which Lee hoped Ewell could cooperate by increasing pressure on Culp’s Hill, Lee returned to Seminary Ridge. There, he discovered that Longstreet had accomplished little towards preparing the attack.
Although he never publicly said so, Lee by now must have been frustrated and disappointed with his “war horse”. When asked about the delay, Longstreet advised Lee that he had been waiting for the men of Evander Law’s brigade, just then arriving, and Pickett’s Division, still out on the Chambersburg road, to arrive. Lee knew that Pickett could not arrive until late afternoon; the attack could not be delayed that long. He then did something he rarely did – he gave Longstreet a direct order to attack with the two divisions he had on the field and never mind Pickett. Lee did caution Longstreet to move his men in a manner that kept them hidden from Yankee signalmen, who could be observed wig-wagging flags on the summit of Little Round Top. Against this, no further argument was possible, and Longstreet rode away to form his men for attack.
Still grumpy, Longstreet rode west on the Chambersburg road, arriving sometime after noon at the headquarters of McLaws, with whom he would ride. Orders had been sent separately to Hood, whose command was a short distance away. To reach their starting point, Longstreet’s divisions had to move south, taking a country road well behind the Confederate lines. According to Longstreet’s later comments, he was under the impression that this road had been scouted by Captain Johnston, and would be concealed from Round Top by hills and woods. (Johnston, for his part, said that he had not scouted the road, assumed that he was along to provide information about the Emmitsburg road area, and further assumed that Longstreet knew where he was going.) Around 1 PM, the head of McLaws’ column reached a point where it had to pass over a small ridge to gain the Emmitsburg road. Longstreet was surprised and angered to discover that at this point, the Confederate column would be in full view of the Union signal station on Little Round Top.
Longstreet’s state of mind was apparently such that he reacted to this information in an uncharacteristic – and unprofessional - way. It could be easily seen that a short detour across neighboring fields would take Longstreet where he wanted to go. But Longstreet, for reasons never clearly explained, ordered a lengthy countermarch that took more than two hours. Perhaps he hoped Lee would countermand his earlier orders. Or, perhaps out of frustration he decided to keep to the roads as Lee had directed, no matter how long it took. Whatever his reasons, it delayed the attack until late afternoon.
Once in position astride the Emmitsburg road, Hood and McLaws prepared to advance. But suddenly, McLaws became aware of a new problem. Ahead, he could see a peach orchard full of bluecoat soldiers that were not supposed to be there. And John B. Hood could see the ground in his front was broken and strewn with huge boulders, and to his right, on Little Round Top, there was a lot more activity than any set of signalmen could provide. All things considered, Hood thought an attack along this line was foolhardy. His Texas scouts had advised him that a force could pass around the south of Round Top, and come in on the rear of the Union lines. Hood immediately sent word to Longstreet, advising a change in plans. Longstreet, who had been arguing for just such a movement for two days, knew that his orders from Lee could not then be circumvented. He advised Hood to attack. Again Hood, one of the hardest fighters in the Southern armies, objected. Longstreet again replied: Attack; our orders are clear. For a third time, Hood advised against any attack up the Emmitsburg road. This time, Longstreet personally rode to Hood’s position. Hood explained again his objection, noting (as he said later) that the Yankees didn’t need guns to defend Little Round Top, they could just roll rocks down on any attackers. Longstreet again advised Hood: we cannot delay any longer, Lee has made his decision and we must attack. Hood then filed a formal protest with Longstreet, something he had never done before and never would do again, and rode away to order his men forward.
It was after 4 PM when Longstreet’s battle line rolled forward. Longstreet himself went in with McLaws, and could be seen in the middle of one of his brigades, waving his hat and urging men forward. But Longstreet had 15,000 men against 20,000, and although they gained the Peach Orchard and drove away its defenders, they could not take Little Round Top. Hood had been right. Casualties on both sides had been heavy, but the Union line had been re-established and remained intact along Cemetery Ridge. If a victory was to be won, it would have to wait until July 3rd.
Robert E. Lee was up early on the morning of July 3rd, and was at his makeshift desk in the small stone cottage just below Seminary Ridge that he was using for his headquarters. His exact plans for the day had not yet been finalized, although certainly in his own mind one thing was clear: there would be a new attack against the Union positions across the valley. Probably Lee was already inclined towards renewing the attack with his right against the Union left, and as he read through reports of the prior day’s action he became convinced of it, particularly in light of the problems he had experienced getting much action out of II Corps and III Corps. On the other hand, while it had taken Longstreet forever to get into action, when he did engage it was typical of him, slamming into the Union line with every man he could lay hands on. Longstreet had essentially wrecked another Yankee corps, and while the results were perhaps not as favorable as Lee wanted to think it had been a near thing nonetheless.
Lee was confident that a victory could yet be won, if only he could find a way to coordinate the attacks of his different units. The brunt of the fighting would again have to be carried by I Corps. However, after greeting Longstreet at HQ, Lee might have been somewhat amazed to hear that officer once again launch into his argument for a movement around the left of the Union Army. More probably, knowing “Old Pete” as he did, Lee expected it and was prepared to quickly and hopefully, finally, put it to rest. Lee advised Longstreet that the plan was to attack the enemy where they were rather than where they were not, and he did so with a finality that even Longstreet accepted as being beyond any further discussion.
The plan, as Lee outlined it with Longstreet, was to attack with the entire I Corps – Pickett’s Division of Virginians having arrived the evening before – basically along the same lines as the attack on the 2nd. Longstreet listened, then made the observation that it might be better, if an attack was to be made, to shift somewhat to the left and to leave McLaws’ and Hood’s commands where they were. Longstreet reasoned that by moving those divisions forward, the flank would be exposed to Union forces on and behind the Round Tops. Anyway, both divisions had been badly damaged in the attacks the previous day, were only at about 50% effective strength, and the best division commander, Hood, was down with a wound that would cost him the use of an arm. Lee listened, then agreed with Longstreet’s view. Longstreet would attack with Pickett’s Division, and Lee would assign two divisions from A.P. Hill to fill out the attacking column. The whole would number about 15,000 men, and they would move from Seminary Ridge straight across the valley and hit the Union Army in its center, on Cemetery Ridge.
Longstreet still remained unconvinced of the wisdom of an attack, and told Lee he did not think any 15,000 men could carry such a position. Ever patient, Lee explained that the plan provided for a massive artillery bombardment by Confederate guns as a prelude, which should drive off both Union guns and soldiers. Further, as Longstreet’s attack developed, additional support would come from III Corps, adding more weight to the column. II Corps would also engage those forces holding Culp’s and Cemetery Hills, preventing any reinforcement from that quarter. Finally, Stuart’s Cavalry (that officer having at last arrived the previous afternoon) would slash in behind the Union right, threatening the rear. If all went as planned, the attack would be successful. The center would break, and the Confederates would roll up the Union Army left and right. The victory Lee so desperately wanted would be at hand.
Although he remained skeptical, Longstreet said nothing further. Longstreet knew Lee well enough to know that his patience had a limit, and there was something in Lee’s tone that told Longstreet that limit had been reached. Lee then left to return to his headquarters, and Longstreet set about planning the details of the attack. The young gunner, 28-year-old Colonel E. Porter Alexander, would arrange the 70-plus guns of I Corps so that they would bear on Cemetery Ridge. Pickett would command the attacking column, with the three brigades of his own division on the right. To Pickett’s left would be two divisions of Hill’s Corps. Immediately on the left would be Heth’s Division, but since Heth had not recovered from a head wound suffered on July 1st, it would this day be commanded by a graduate of the University of North Carolina, General J. Johnston Pettigrew. Making up the remainder of the attacking column was Pender’s Division, now commanded by General Isaac N. Trimble since Pender, like Heth, was wounded and out of action.
At approximately 1 PM, two signal guns were fired. Then the entire I Corps artillery went into action, raining shell on Cemetery Ridge and sending Yankees scampering for cover. Union guns began firing in reply, and quickly the battlefield was covered with rolling clouds of smoke. This barrage went on for over an hour, during which Longstreet looked to the disposition of Pickett’s command, sheltering themselves along the back side of Seminary Ridge. Longstreet was seen riding calmly along, shells exploding all around, steadying his men by personal example. He then dismounted, and stood with Pickett while waiting for word from Alexander. A little after 2 PM it came: if you are coming at all come now, we are running out of ammunition. Pickett, whom Longstreet had known since Mexico, read Alexander’s note. “Sir, shall I advance?” he asked Longstreet. Longstreet could not speak the order, but only nodded. “Sir, I will lead my division forward”.
Longstreet was not the only one who saw the difficulties that lay before the army. On Seminary Ridge, two of Pickett’s brigadiers had been watching the artillery fire. General Dick Garnett turned to his friend General Lewis Armistead, and said “This is a desperate thing to attempt.” “It is,” replied Armistead, “and I am afraid our losses will be terrible. But we must trust in God.” And all along the ranks, men steeled themselves for the attack knowing full well what awaited them. They were veterans, wise in the ways of war, and like their generals they could but trust in God – and General Lee.
As Pickett rode to advance his men, Longstreet mounted and rode to Alexander’s position along the line of guns. There, Alexander told him again that they were almost out of ammunition. “Then,” said Longstreet, “go and stop Pickett where he is, and replenish your supply!” “But we can’t do that, sir. The trains have but little, and it would take an hour to distribute it. In the meantime the enemy will improve the time.” Longstreet then turned away, looking through his field glasses at Cemetery Ridge, clearly fighting his emotions. In a few moments he spoke. “I don’t want to make this attack. I believe it will fail – I don’t see how it can succeed – I would not make it even now but that General Lee has ordered it and is expecting it.” Alexander said nothing, and in a few minutes Pickett’s men marched past, heading across the valley.
Longstreet rode back to Seminary Ridge, his eyes fixed on the field. It was as Longstreet had predicted – Pickett’s attack failed, and by late afternoon Confederate soldiers were streaming back across the valley, some helping wounded men, others limping along, many in small groups, organization gone. Longstreet rallied what men he could, concerned about a counterattack. He gave orders to pull his remaining two divisions back to the line of Seminary Ridge, but it soon became clear that no Union attack was forthcoming. Pickett’s Charge, and the Battle of Gettysburg, was over. Casualties for the three days had been frightful – over 20,000 men on both sides – and Pickett had lost nearly half his command. It was as one Virginian wrote later: “We gained nothing but glory, and lost our bravest men”.
Robert E. Lee was nearby as well, and as magnificent in defeat as in victory. Lee rode out to meet the returning survivors, telling them “this has all been my fault”. Lee had words of encouragement for all who passed him. Finally Pickett himself came up. Lee told him he must look to his division. “General Lee, I have no division now”, said the distraught Pickett. “Come, General Pickett,” Lee said, “this has been my fight and upon my shoulders rests the blame.” If there were any direct conversations between Lee and Longstreet, they were not recorded. In any case, Lee remained at Gettysburg throughout July 4th, while arrangements were made to move the trains and wounded south. Then the Army of Northern Virginia began its retreat, finally crossing the Potomac a week later. In this retreat the army lost UNC’s General Pettigrew, mortally wounded in a rear-guard action.
Lee also took full responsibility for the defeat in his report to President Jefferson Davis. While he made no apology for the campaign or the battle, he did admit that had he known more about the terrain and the disposition of the Union army, he might have used different tactics. Lee then offered to resign, telling Davis that the army might be better off in the hands of a younger, more capable officer. Davis promptly replied that if such a man existed he would use him, but in his opinion such an officer did not exist. That settled the issue; Lee would serve on to the end of the war.
Why was the Battle of Gettysburg lost? Historians have generally agreed that several factors contributed to Confederate defeat. A major reason was the absence, for the majority of the campaign, of Stuart’s cavalry. Lee had badly missed both Stuart personally, on whom he placed great reliance for intelligence gathering, and his veteran troopers. Without them, Lee was fighting blind.
Another reason was the lack of a proper staff at army headquarters. Most of Lee’s staff were colonels or majors, young men who were more personal assistants than true staff officers. Lee needed a real chief of staff, someone with both rank and experience – someone like General Trimble, for example – who could take Lee’s broad directions and turn them into specific orders and then see they were carried out.
Also, there is no question that Lee was let down by his ranking subordinates. Stuart’s failure to be where he was needed has been noted. The two new corps commanders, A. P. Hill and Richard Ewell, both performed poorly. Ewell in particular failed to show the aggressive instincts that a good commander needs, and his failure to take Culp’s Hill at the end of July 1st was a major error. Hill was unable to properly coordinate his command with that of Ewell or Longstreet. And Longstreet himself has to bear a large part of the responsibility for failure to achieve a coordinated attack. Longstreet believed Lee had reneged on his “promise” to use only defensive tactics. He allowed his personal feelings to interfere with his normally sound judgment and his efforts at Gettysburg lacked the initiative he usually showed.
And, there is also no question that Lee himself must bear a large part of the burden of defeat. Lee’s battlefield command style had always been loose. Lee gave broad direction to his subordinates, allowing them to work the details out for themselves. This method, particularly with the lack of a proper staff, played him false at Gettysburg. Lee needed to be more proactive, probably with Longstreet and certainly with Ewell and Hill. It has also been noted that Lee may have been physically unwell at Gettysburg, suffering from diarrhea, and that may have affected him. Lee desperately wanted a victory, and in seeking it he asked more of his army than was possible to achieve. If Longstreet was too skeptical Lee was overconfident, and his combative nature led him to give battle orders that in retrospect should not have been issued.
Finally, it has to be recognized that the presence of a large and well equipped Union Army had as much to do with Confederate defeat as anything done by Lee or Longstreet. There has been a tendency, particularly among writers with a southern point of view, to see the Army of the Potomac as a set of cardboard cutouts propped up by beanpoles, ready to be outmaneuvered and defeated whenever the Army of Northern Virginia chose to do so. At Gettysburg, the Union fought with fierce courage and tenacity, and perhaps for the first time was not hindered by the blunders of its commander. Gettysburg is as much Union victory as Confederate failure.