Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Gettysburg - nearly as long as the film!

Last week I nearly gave up the ghost, being bored to death with 15mm Napoleonics and so decided to have another mess around with a couple of command figures. Purely by chance I picked up two Confederate brigadier types:  Henry (Harry) Heth (pronounced Heath) and George Pickett from the Perry command packs. For the uninformed, this is the American Civil War we're talking about; a conflict I've always found more than a bit interesting.

Now then, coincidence or synchronicity? The two officers were actually cousins, both passed out last (the 'Goats”) in their respective classes as West Point and both went into insurance business after the war, Harry for only a short period though. They weren't astral twins or anything though because, whereas Harry was certainly not an academic, but could work, cousin George was vain, thick and idle. Heth more or less started the battle of Gettysburg and Picket more or less ended it. They're the type of general wargamers try to avoid like the plague in campaign games . . . .

I don't want to turn this blog entry into a huge history lesson, but it's difficult to know where to start and finish, given that some reading this will be expert in the ACW while others will have little or no knowledge. On the other hand, the back story to these two figures is like something from a Dennis Potter play. So, I've tried to keep it to the battle the figures are sculpted from and not go too much into anything else – but it's a temptation. Gettysburg the campaign and the battle) is full of 'what ifs' and 'might have beens'. Both armies had had significant changes in their command structure; one was supremely confident, the other unsure, but out for revenge; gripping stuff. Add to this, if Lee's army won, the war could be won for the South (or at least massive damage limitation); if Mead's army won . . . . well, we know what happened next.

The following passages (in italics) are extracted from "The Generals of Gettysburg: The Leaders of America's Greatest Battle" by Larry Tagg and, although not Oxbridge standard, certainly save me having to revert to historian mode. Let's start with Harry Heth.

Heth's troops were on the Chambersburg Pike toward Gettysburg by 5 o'clock on the morning of July 1. An artillery battalion was in the lead (a careless choice, showing that Heth expected no serious trouble), followed by Archer's brigade, then Davis, Pettigrew, and Brockenbrough. At 7:30 A.M., cavalry outposts were spotted about three miles east of Gettysburg and the first shots of the battle were fired. The cavalry were slowly pushed back about a mile to Herr Ridge, and when that eminence was secured, Heth deployed Archer on the south side of the Pike and Davis on the north side, both facing east. The artilley were unlimbered on the crest. By that time it was 9:30 A.M.
Heth then gave the battle line the order to advance without bringing up the rest of the division--a costly mistake. By the time his two brigades had worked their way across the shallow valley in their front and ascended McPherson's Ridge, they were surprised to meet the two just-arrived brigades of the crack First Division, First Corps of the Army of the Potomac. In this initial confrontation, which lasted until about 11:30 A.M., Archer's brigade was routed, losing about 600 men, including many captured--among them Brig. Gen. James J. Archer himself. Davis's brigade fared no better. After a promising beginning, Brig. Gen. Joe Davis was thrown back with similar losses, including large numbers captured in the Railroad Cut. Heth's shoe expedition had turned into a foray, and the foray had stumbled into a disaster. His poor judgment and recklessness had committed Lee to the battle he expressly wished to avoid until his army was concentrated.
There was a noontime lull in the fighting while Heth sent back the news to Hill and reformed his lines on Herr Ridge, bringing up Pettigrew and Brockenbrough and sending his two damaged brigades to the flanks--Archer to the right and Davis to the left. In the meantime Rode's division had come up on Oak Hill and attacked the Union defenders on McPherson's Ridge from the north, and Lee had arrived with Lieut. Gen. A.P. Hill to survey the situation. At 2:30 P.M., watching Rodes's attack and seeing Pender's division available to support Heth's men, Lee saw an opportunity and gave the order for Heth to renew his attack. Heth threw his division forward in a head-on assault in concert with Rodes. Col. John Brockenbrough's Virginians struck the Yankee "Bucktail Brigade" near the Pike, and Pettigrew's regiments met the Iron Brigade and another Union brigade further south. Both sides suffered horribly in the desperate fighting which raged on McPherson's Ridge over the next hour. Great holes were torn in Heth's lines, fighting and dying at distances of only a few paces from the Union muzzles (one of Pettigrew's regiments alone lost 687 men), but Heth neglected to ask for support from Pender's division when it might have spared his own men much suffering.
At this moment, Heth too became a casualty, victim of a bullet which struck him in the head and cracked his skull open. His life was saved because, a couple of days earlier, he had gotten a new felt hat, one of dozens captured in Cashtown. Since the hat was too large, his quartermaster had doubled up a dozen or so sheets of foolscap paper and stuffed them inside the hat, insuring a snug fit. "I am confidently of the belief that my life was saved by this paper in my hat," Heth wrote later. As it was, Heth was knocked unconscious for a full 24 hours. Although he insisted groggily on sitting in on Lee's consultations with his officers the next day, Heth's part in the battle was over. His brigades, meanwhile, had been shattered. Nearly half the men in the division had been cut down in Heth's clumsy head-on rushes.
Heth was not publicly chided for his recklessness, however, perhaps because such lapses were so general in the Army of Northern Virginia over those three July days, perhaps because of his special relationship with Lee. Heth was back in command by July 7, and directed the fight at Falling Waters as Lee's army recrossed the Potomac. He commanded his division until the final surrender, and briefly took command of the entire corps during the final winter while Hill was on sick leave.”


The Delaying Action, July 1st 1863 Map by Hal Jespersen, www.posix.com/CW

Now, there appears to be some debate about the shoes saga in that even Shelby Foote believes the story to be true, but others (including me) ignore or dispute it (Ewel's Corps had passed through Gettysburg a few days before and it seems unlikely that such a useful prize as a hoard of new of shoes would have been ignored by an infantry corps). However, Heth wasn't noted for his discretion, nor A.P.Hill for his lack of aggression. While there is apparently no record of a written order from Lee to Hill to avoid pre-empting a major engagement, the move was intended by Hill to be reconnaissance in force and not the opening phase of a general engagement. Unfortunately Heth didn't seem to appreciate this, even though, on 30th June, Lee had instructed him not to bring on a major engagement. Heth had had a less than brilliant service record so far in the war and was keen to make up lost capital.

Heth was new to divisional command and throwing two brigades up a single road in a reconnaissance is somewhat heavy handed: too strong for the intended job and more likely to fight if attacked – just what Lee didn't want. However, one of the brigadiers, Archer, was a veteran of Hill's famous 'Light Division' and should have been able to handle any situation, whether they faced dismounted cavalry, militia or the Iron Brigade. There was really no excuse for Heth's 'reconnaissance' to develop into a full scale battle.

Anyway, here's a similar (but hopefully for my troops, better) general waving on his men into the attack. He's certainly sculpted as Harry Heth, but not intended to be him.

And now for George Pickett (same source as above: http://www.rocemabra.com/~roger/tagg/generals/general47.html)

Just about everybody was fond of George Pickett, one of the most affable officers in the Army of Northern Virginia. He combined conviviality with a swashbuckling image. "Dapper," and "dashing," were the two words most frequently on the lips of witnesses; one spoke of his "marvelous pulchritude."
On July 1, Pickett's division was at Chambersburg, detached from the other two divisions of Longstreet's corps, which were at Greenwood, about seven miles to the east. All three were waiting to march over South Mountain toward the battle raging at Gettysburg about 20 miles away. Pickett's division, guarding the army's rear, was ordered to remain in Chambersburg until relieved by Imboden's tardy cavalry brigade, and it wasn't until that night that Pickett received orders to move toward Gettysburg.
Pickett's men got a late start, and made much of their march during the hot daylight hours of July 2, arriving exhausted about three or four miles east of Gettysburg late in the afternoon. Although Pickett reported to Lee that the men would be ready to pitch into the fighting that evening if given a couple of hours rest, Lee sent back word to go into camp--they wouldn't be used that day.
Pickett and his men rested in their bivouac on the Chambersburg Pike until the morning of July 3. Although Lee intended an attack early that morning, the balky Longstreet waited to issue marching orders to Pickett until 3:30 A.M., making Lee's dawn attack impossible. Lee made a new plan, wherein Pickett's three fresh Virginia brigades, plus all four of Heth's brigades, two of Pender's and two of Anderson's, would assault the middle of the Union line. The focus would be a Clump of Trees on Cemetery Ridge where the Rebel army had nearly made a breakthrough at the end of the previous day's fighting. This plan was put into execution, and would become one of the most famous assaults in the history of warfare--known forever as "Pickett's Charge."
After daylight, Pickett led his division forward to a spot "into a field near a branch," probably Pitzer's Run, a few hundred yards behind the main Confederate line on Seminary Ridge. The men fell out and relaxed in the morning air for about twenty minutes. Then they formed battle lines and advanced east a few hundred yards before they were ordered to lie down. They advanced again through Spangler's woods and lay down again behind another crest, on which Confederate artillery were perched. Pickett's division would form the right wing of the afternoon's assault. Pickett drew up his men in two lines, with Kemper and Garnett in the first line, right to left, and Armistead behind. Pickett at this time was "cheerful and sanguine," according to artilleryman Col. Porter Alexander, and in fact "thought himself in luck to have the chance." Another colonel remembered Pickett "in excellent spirits," expressing great confidence in the Confederates ability to "drive" the Yankees after the artillery had demoralized them.
About 1 o'clock in the afternoon the Confederate artillery began their bombardment of the Union line where the assault would be directed. About 150 guns opened up at once--the biggest artillery barrage in the history of the North American continent--and thundered with bone-jarring ferocity for nearly two hours. Pickett made a dangerous ride along the lines with answering Union shells bursting and cannonballs whistling all around him.

Map by Hal Jespersen, www.posix.com/CW
Just before 3 o'clock, while he was writing a letter to "Sally" Corbell, his fiancée, a note came to Pickett from Alexander: "For God's sake, come quick, or we cannot support you. Ammunition nearly out." Pickett read the note, then took it to Longstreet. "General, shall I advance?" he asked. Longstreet, with no confidence in the attack, could not speak, but merely nodded. Pickett saluted and said, "I shall lead my division forward, sir," and galloped over to his waiting division. Pickett's men rose to their feet and Pickett made "a brief, animated address," as Confederate generals were expected to do, ending with "Charge the enemy, and remember old Virginia!"
Pickett began his advance from the bottom of a swale, but within five minutes came to the top of a low rise where the whole line came into view of the Yankees. According to everyone present on both sides, the Rebels' perfect order and steady advance gave a sense of overwhelming power--"beautiful, gloriously beautiful," wrote one Yankee--and made one of the grandest spectacles in the annals of warfare. Pickett himself was by all accounts alert and active during the entire short affair. He sent aides in all directions. He was seen galloping to the left to steady the men there, and one aide remembered him personally ordering the division to double-quick at the end of the advance. But Pickett's whereabouts during the latter stages of the assault which bears his name is a mystery. He probably halted at the Codori farm, a couple of hundred yards behind the farthest advance (exactly where he should have been as a division leader, exercising command from a position where he could observe the situation). It probably took twenty minutes in all for the Confederate host to cross the shallow valley and hit the stone fence behind which the Federals crouched. After another fifteen minutes or so, though they breached the Federal line on the ridge at the Clump of Trees for a few precious minutes, the assault ended in a monumentally tragic loss of life and the annihilation of Pickett's division. Two-thirds of the division lay crumpled on the field or languished as prisoners. Pickett was the one who finally called retreat, according to Longstreet.
The heaps of Confederate dead left after the ill-considered assault could be seen as the price Lee and the Rebel army paid for their arrogance after a year of smashing, odds-defying victories over the Army of the Potomac. Immediately afterward, Pickett was seen in tears. When Lee asked him to reform his division to repulse a possible counterattack, he replied, "I have no division now." He became embittered, and blamed Lee for the "massacre" of his brave Virginians. For their part, there was no hint from Longstreet nor Lee that Pickett had performed less than correctly--he kept his command until near the end of the war, though he never rose further.”
Pickett lamented the losses at Gettysburg for the rest of his life. In around an hour, the approximately 12,500 to 13,000 infantry who set out towards Cemetery Ridge had been reduced by 50% or so. Some 6,600 were dead, wounded or prisoners. Mead's army lost some 2,300 dead, wounded and missing. Not bad for an afternoon's work.
Nevertheless, the modern view of Pickett is one of a tragic hero thanks to Michael Shaara's novel and the Gettysburg film (which really is a great film if you just suspend disbelief and accept the indifferent acting, false beards and overweight re-enactors!). I know what I think of him, but I'll give George the last word himself. When asked why the charge failed, Pickett is on record as having said "I've always thought the Yankees had something to do with it." ( Boritt, Gabor S., ed. Why the Confederacy Lost. Gettysburg Civil War Institute Books. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. ISBN 0-19-507405-X.)

So, a 'not' George Pickett figure (he was fair haired for a start!), but rather a brigadier in the "Get a f****n' move on!" pose as two privates move at a leisurely pace towards the fighting:


  1. Great read Gaz, cheers.

    Makes you want to rush out & buy a load of 28mm ACWs (again).
    Excellent period for reading & gaming.

    Chin (TOO)

  2. I have a problem with the overall premise of your article but I still think its really informative. I really like your other posts. Keep up the great work. If you can add more video and pictures can be much better. Because they help much clear understanding. :) thanks

  3. Excellent work on the figures. Great info too.