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Jonathan Doblix - 1
The Literature Review
While researching the varying aspects of General Robert E. Lee’s decision to order Pickett’s
Charge on July 3, 1863 outside the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, a multitude of sources
surfaced which lent credence to the actions taken by the commanding general of the Army of
Northern Virginia (NVA), as well as his troops. It remained very interesting to view how various
authors’ perspectives on the charge caused them to either praise or upbraid Lee, his subordinates,
and his decision. Throughout researching this controversial query, surprisingly, there existed several
more opinions on the issue than the two previously mentioned. In fact, authors lauded his tactical
judgment, questioned his motives, and analyzed every action leading up to and following Pickett’s
Charge. The literature studied included numerous opinions that ranged from simply reporting the
facts to analyzing and critiquing virtually every action and command given. Nevertheless, they
supported the fact that Pickett’s Charge, as well as Lee’s decision to order the attack indelibly
represented not only the farthest North that the NVA ever reached, but also the turning point of the
Civil War. Additionally, writers penned dashing, as well as scandalous accounts of Lee and his
men questioning the resolve of the NVA subsequent to the defeat at the Battle of Gettysburg.
The earliest source, Life and Campaigns of General Robert E. Lee, written by James
McCabe in 1867, four short years after the battle, provided a strong and detailed overview of the
campaigns which Robert E. Lee led and participated in while commanding the NVA. Interestingly,
McCabe attempted to provide his readers with an unbiased view of the Battle of Gettysburg but
ultimately focused on the movement of troops and supplies, thus providing relatively sparse details
pertaining to General Lee’s actual reasons and orders for mounting the attack on the fortified Union
position. Unlike McCabe’s work, Douglas Southall Freeman’s text, R. E. Lee, A Biography –
Volume III, written in 1935 provided a semi in-depth analysis of Lee’s motives for ordering the
attack. In fact, that author’s work represented the first wonderment pertaining to the rationale why
Jonathan Doblix - 2
Lee and his men charged a heavily fortified Union position. He devoted several chapters to
pondering the questions – “Why Gettysburg? and How it was lost?”1 With that mindset of reporting
and analyzing the Battle of Gettysburg, Freeman forever changed the way that people viewed the
men who fought in the battle. Additionally, he elaborated on the rationale that the South utilized
when launching the attack on July 3, 1863.
In 1944, Freeman penned a second book entitled Lee’s Lieutenants: A Study in Command
and presented to his readers an extensive analysis into the command structure of the ANV. Without
that work, audiences would never have fully comprehended the army’s dependency upon Lee’s
mandates, as well as its willingness to adhere to his directives regardless of the consequences. In
fact, Lee’s nickname, “Old Man,” reflected the admiration, love, and respect bestowed upon him by
not only his soldiers, but also his officers and staff members.2 Even though Freeman paralleled his
writing style and sources to his first book, he did not specifically focus on the Battle of Gettysburg
but rather the orders given throughout the final day of fighting. Nevertheless, Freeman’s account
provided extremely helpful insight because it juxtaposed the initial orders given by Lee and the final
orders given before commencement of the assault by ground troops.
Several years later in 1956, Burke Davis wrote Gray Fox: Robert E. Lee and the Civil War
in order to attempt to explain Lee’s actions as commander of the entire Southern Army. Davis
wonderfully described every battle from numerous perspectives ranging from ordinary privates to
the commanding general. Similar to Freeman, the author seamlessly interwove personal accounts,
quotes, letters, and orders into his text, thus lending credence to his various arguments. While he
Freeman utilized countless primary accounts of Pickett’s Charge in order to present one of the best historical
writings on the battle during the mid 1900’s. His research and style of writing laid the groundwork for future decades.
Douglas Southall Freeman, Lee’s Lieutenants: A Study in Command (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons,
1944), 251.
Jonathan Doblix - 3
reported on the battles and their outcomes, he also analyzed each and every move that Robert E. Lee
made while on the field commanding his troops.
Conversely, a varying analysis which investigated both the Union and Confederate
viewpoints regarding Pickett’s Charge, George Stewart in 1959 penned Pickett’s Charge: A Micro
History of the Final Attack at Gettysburg, July 3, 1863. Rather than just reporting the facts, Stewart
synthesized and composed a thorough scrutiny into the rationale adopted by the opposing
commanding officers. Similar to Stewart, in 1963 Shelby Foote wrote a monumental text, The Civil
War – A Narrative: Fredericksburg to Meridian, painstakingly detailing every aspect of the
Gettysburg campaign from start to finish. Through the usage of anecdotes from not only the
exceptional heroes, but also the common foot soldiers, the book allowed readers to envision and
experience the true horrors of the war. In fact, Foote had influenced historians of all ages when he
pondered whether or not Pickett’s Charge represented the High Water Mark, the Confederate’s
furthest penetration into the north.
Even though in 1974 Michael Shaara wrote The Killer Angels as a fictional account of the
early days of the Gettysburg Battle, his work actually became a pivotal text that enabled readers to
garner information about the battle because Shaara penned the fictional historical text in a narrative
form. Additionally, he utilized all primary accounts of the battle in order to substantiate his overall
arguments. Like Foote, Shaara posited that the battle actually represented the beginning of the end
for the Confederate States of America.
In fact, he suggested the idea that Lee should have
shouldered the blame for the Confederate defeat. Additionally, Bevin Alexander penned Robert E.
Lee’s Civil War in 1982 as an analytical text for audiences to comprehend the mindset of the
South’s greatest general. Since the author strongly respected Lee and his directives, he firmly
believed that any command given by the general held importance, thus requiring scrutiny and
evaluation. Interestingly, he highlighted the fact that Lee’s orders issued to his subordinates did not
Jonathan Doblix - 4
properly translate to his division and corps commanders, thereby becoming the catalyst that created
chaos on July the 3rd.
As recently as 2001, Scott Bowden and Bill Ward co-authored Last Chance for Victory:
Robert E. Lee and the Gettysburg Campaign which not only presented a modern viewpoint, but also
provided additional information when individuals have debated and pondered the Battle of
Gettysburg. Interestingly, they outlined various reasons explaining why Lee ordered the attack, as
well as the opposing opinions offered by Lee’s subordinates. The authors combined facts, opinions,
and primary accounts into a work highlighting the atrocities that occurred on the bloody fields
outside the town of Gettysburg.3 Similar to Bowden’s and Ward’s writing, in 2001 Earl Hess
penned Pickett’s Charge – The Last Attack at Gettysburg. He not only reiterated previous authors’
information, but also developed new insight into one of the most pivotal battles of the Civil War.
Hess’s work allowed historians and readers to ponder a new perspective relating to the actions of
the officers who commanded on that fateful day.4
The varying texts analyzed and researched proved to change over time as historians found
new insights into Pickett’s Charge. One of the most interesting nuances which arose, however,
dealt with authors’ varying perspectives pertaining to General Robert E. Lee. Most writers lauded
the commanding officer of the NVA, but there existed those who questioned his motives for
ordering his men on an almost suicidal charge against a fortified Union position. Nevertheless, by
not discerning and interpreting the diverse texts, a complete portrait of Robert E. Lee and his men
would never have been created to survive forever in the annals of American history.
Those two authors represented the only ones who systematically laid out the foundation for the reasons that
Lee ordered the attack. They also skillfully presented other distinct possibilities that Lee could have chosen in order to
avoid Pickett’s Charge.
Without the author’s ability to garner new information about the Battle of Gettysburg, historians would have
utilized semi-archaic texts. In essence, he provided his audience with a more complete set of events than ever before.
Jonathan Doblix - 5
Works Consulted Bibliography
Alexander, Bevin. Robert E. Lee’s Civil War. Massachusetts: Adams Media Corporation, 1998.
Bowden, Scott, and Bill Ward. Last Chance for Victory: Robert E. Lee and the Gettysburg
Campaign. Cambridge: Savas Publishing Company, 2001.
Davis, Burke. Gray Fox: Robert E. Lee and the Civil War. New York: Rinehart &Company, Inc.,
Freeman, Douglas Southall. Lee’s Lieutenants: A Study in Command. New York: Charles
Scribner’s Sons, 1944.
Freeman, Douglas Southall. R. E. Lee, A Biography. Vol. III. New York: Charles Scribner’s
Sons, 1935.
Foote, Shelby. The Civil War- A Narrative: Fredericksburg to Meridian. New York: Random
House, 1963.
Hess, Earl J. Pickett’s Charge-The Last Attack at Gettysburg. Chapel Hill: The University of
North Carolina Press, 2001.
McCabe, James D. Life and Campaigns of General Robert E. Lee. New York: Blelock &Co.,
Shaara, Michael. The Killer Angels. New York: Ballantine Books, 1974.
Stewart, George R. Pickett’s Charge: A Micro History of the Final Attack at Gettysburg, July 3,
1863. Cambridge: The Riverside Press, 1959.