sunny.png
Tuesday August 9th, 2022 7:36AM

New map may explain Lee's decisions at Gettysburg

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor
GETTYSBURG, Pa. (AP) -- On the second day of fighting at Gettysburg, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee listened to scouting reports, scanned the battlefield and ordered his second-in-command, James Longstreet, to attack the Union Army's left flank.

It was a fateful decision, one that led to one of the most desperate clashes of the entire Civil War - the fight for a piece of ground called Little Round Top. The Union's defense of the boulder-strewn promontory helped send Lee to defeat at Gettysburg, and he never again ventured into Northern territory.

Why did the shrewd and canny Lee choose to attack, especially in the face of the Union's superior numbers?

While historians have long wrestled with that question, geographers and cartographers have come up with an explanation, by way of sophisticated mapping software that shows the rolling terrain exactly as it would have appeared to Lee: From his vantage point, he simply couldn't see throngs of Union soldiers amid the hills and valleys.

"Our analysis shows that he had a very poor understanding of how many forces he was up against, which made him bolder," said Middlebury College professor Anne Knowles, whose team produced the most faithful re-creation of the Gettysburg battlefield to date, using software called GIS, or geographic information systems.

Developed for the Smithsonian Institution to mark Gettysburg's 150th anniversary, the panoramic map went live on the Smithsonian website Friday, giving history buffs a new way to look at the Civil War's pivotal battle, which took place July 1-3, 1863.

"Our goal is to help people understand how and why commanders made their decisions at key moments of the battle, and a key element that's been excluded, or just not considered in historical studies before, is sight," Knowles said.

Long before the advent of reconnaissance aircraft and spy satellites, a general's own sense of sight - his ability to read the terrain and assess the enemy's position and numbers - was one of his most important tools. Especially at Gettysburg, where Lee was hampered by faulty intelligence.

"We know that Lee had really poor information going into the battle and must have relied to some extent on what he could actually see," Knowles said.

The geographer applied GIS to find out what Lee could see and what he couldn't.

To reconstruct the battlefield as it existed in 1863, researchers used historical maps, texts and photos to note the location of wooden fences, stone walls, orchards, forests, fields, barns and houses, as well as the movement of army units. High-resolution aerial photos of the landscape yielded an accurate elevation model. All of it was fed into a computer program that can map data.

Lee is believed to have surveyed the battlefield from a pair of cupolas, one at a Lutheran seminary and the other at Gettysburg College, both of which yielded generally excellent views.

But a GIS-generated map, with illuminated areas showing what Lee could see and shaded areas denoting what was hidden from his view, indicates the terrain concealed large numbers of Union soldiers.

"What really came through as a new discovery for us in this project was seeing how few federal forces Lee could see, particularly on Day 2, when he decides to send Longstreet," Knowles said.

Historian Allen Guelzo, who wasn't involved in the project, agreed that Lee's view probably misled him. Guelzo, director of Civil War-era studies at Gettysburg College, took a visitor up to the school's cupola and motioned toward the peak of Little Round Top, just visible in the distance.

"You can see a lot from up here, and Robert E. Lee might have thought on July 2 that he had seen everything," said Guelzo, who has written a new book on the Battle of Gettysburg. "But, in fact, the dips and folds of the ground, the foliage as it was on the ground in various groves and woods, all of that concealed what turned out to be the deadly truth."

Conversely, the Union Army occupied higher ground, and used it to great advantage.

Union Gen. Gouverneur Warren spied Longstreet's troops just as they were about to launch their attack on an undefended Little Round Top. Frantic, Warren dispatched an officer to round up reinforcements. They got there just in time, and withstood the Confederates.

In Warren's case, GIS confirmed what historians have long known.

For Knowles, the mapping project and the mysteries it revealed helped Gettysburg come alive.

"Commanders always had to make decisions with really limited information ... committing men's lives to scraps of information or intuition, or what you can see at a certain day or a certain time," she said. "This analysis, for me, is making the battle more human."

Friday, Civil War re-enactors from all over the country remembered the battle with mock skirmishes on the site where the Battle of Gettysbur occurred, the second day of a four-day observance.

One group from Gainesville was to participate. (See earlier story. Link below.)
© Copyright 2022 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
S&P 500 index has its best year since 1997
The stock market closed out a record year with more all-time highs on Tuesday, giving U.S. indexes their biggest annual gains in almost two decades.
6:56PM ( 7 years ago )
Colorado readies for 'Green Wednesday' pot sales
Police were adding extra patrols around pot shops in eight Colorado towns that plan to allow recreational sales to anyone over 21 on Jan. 1.
1:52PM ( 7 years ago )
Kerry seeks framework for Mideast peace talks
A senior State Department official says Secretary of State John Kerry will try this week to get Israel and the Palestinians to agree on a framework for negotiating a final peace agreement, yet cautions against raising expectations for Kerry's latest round of shuttle diplomacy.
1:35PM ( 7 years ago )
U.S. News
Ethics laws set to take effect Jan. 1 in Georgia
After dominating much of the legislative session, a set of major ethics reforms is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1.
7:04PM ( 7 years ago )
Sex offender held in Hall County for failing to register
A 47-year-old man was booked into the Hall County Jail Tuesday, being held without bond for allegedly failing to register as a sex offender, his second such arrest.
6:09PM ( 7 years ago )
Pharmacy robberies may involve same suspect
Oakwood Police Tuesday afternoon released details in a pharmacy robbery they're investigating, similar to one that happened in the Hall County Tuesday morning.
5:46PM ( 7 years ago )
Local/State News
Jesse Jackson released for therapy post gallbladder surgery
The Rev. Jesse Jackson has been released to a physical therapy center following gallbladder surgery
10:51AM ( 1 hour ago )
Big challenge: Biden is pressed to end federal death penalty
Joe Biden is the first sitting president to openly oppose the death penalty, and officials say he's discussed the possibility of instructing the Justice Department to stop scheduling new executions
7:45AM ( 4 hours ago )
Which COVID-19 tests are required for international travel?
Many countries are stepping up requirements for incoming travelers to show a recent negative COVID-19 test
6:34AM ( 5 hours ago )
4 skiers killed, 4 injured by Utah avalanche, police say
Police say an avalanche killed four skiers and injured four others in a popular recreation area, making it one of the deadliest avalanches in Utah history
1:35AM ( 10 hours ago )
Florida: Slain FBI agent remembered for protecting children
A slain FBI agent in Florida is being remembered for her strength, infectious laugh, love of family and commitment to protecting children
11:43PM ( 12 hours ago )