General Lee's Health at Gettysburg
I’ve always wondered why things went disastrously wrong for Robert E Lee, commander of the Army of Northern Virginia (ANV) at the battle of Gettysburg. Admittedly he faced superior enemy numbers who were in a strong defensive position. General Longstreet an able staff officer told him from the onset of the battle, that they should disengage the enemy and look for better ground to suit their defensive strategy for the war.
Gen Lee was in good spirits after the victory at Chancellorsville (May 1863) ably assisted by Gen Jackson (Stonewall). However, by the first two days of Gettysburg (1st – 2nd July 1863), his own doctor and Colonel Freemantle (Coldstream Guards British Army who was observing the Confederate army), noted that Gen Lee seemed restless and agitated and at other times sat quietly alone, only rarely sending out orders to his troops. Could General Lee, have lost the battle of Gettysburg (1st-3rd July 1863), because of a bout of dysentery? On the evening of the 2 July, aides noted that General Lee appeared to be suffering from diarrhoea, as on several occasions he went to the rear of his quarters to relieve himself. He walked showing signs of weakness and in a lot of pain. Therefore could his concentration have been impaired and at times irrational?
Along with the above, take into consideration these two major occurrences:
A. Losing his most experienced right-hand man, General Jackson after the battle of Chancellorsville through pneumonia, after an arm was amputated.
B. The eyes and ears of the ANV, the cavalry, going AWOL after the battle of Brandy station which went badly for General J E B Stuart his cavalry commander.
The Confederate Army fought with determination for three days at Gettysburg, But with an ill conceived (suicidal) charge on the final day, the cream of Gen Lee’s army were decimated, although the brave southern boys fought on for nearly another two years.
My feelings are that if General Lee was fully fit during battle of Gettysburg:
A. Would it have been fought?
B. Fought, but in a different way?
But after all that’s history!
A BIG IF.
Article by Paul Draper Pte 1st Tenn
Source - Gettysburg by Mark Aiden, Stackpole books.
The above article first appeared in the ACWS Newsletter, Winter 2016