1938: In December, Fritz Strassmann & Ottoman Hahn, two German physicists succeeded in splitting the uranium atom.
1939: Leo Szilard solicited the help of Albert Einstein
1942 September: Manhattan project was turned over to the military. Project’s military commander: Brigadier General Leslie Groves. Robert Oppenheimer, a leftist and communist chosen by Groves as Manhattan Project Coordinator. He created and coordinated the most destructive weapon. Assembled were:
First nuclear chain reaction achieved in an atomic pile.
1945 March 9: LeMay’s masterpiece, 300 planes sent over Tokyo. Incendiary and napalm used to kill 100,000 and 1,000,000 homeless. Stench caused vomiting in planes. American military bombed 100 cities, some with no military value taking more than an estimated 1/2 million lives; the atomic bomb can be viewed as a chilling and logical next step.
Leo Szilard and others understood that this bomb they were building was a primitive prototype of what was to follow:
Harold Urey (Nobel prize winner, chemistry)
Astronomer Walter Bartky
attempted to see Truman to caution him against the use of the bomb, but were re-routed to South Carolina to speak with Brynes, whose response appalled Szilard. Mr. Brynes knew at the time as the rest of the government, Japan was essentially defeated. He was much concerned about the spreading of Russian influence in Europe and that possessing and demonstrating the bomb would make Russia more amend to. Leslie Groves also admitted that in his mind Russia was always the enemy and the project was conducted on that basis. A petition was signed by 155 project scientists for Truman, but Oppenheimer barred it and alerted Groves. Groves had recommended Szilard to be interned as an enemy alien for the duration of the war, in May 1945 General Marshall supported Oppenheimer suggestion to share information with Soviet scientists but Brynes vetoed the idea.
1945 May: the Japanese war council decided to feel out the Soviets for peace terms to keep the USSR out of their war and to seek better surrender terms from the Americans. This was a delicate negotiation; the US intelligence had been intercepting Japanese cables since the start of the war. On July 18, a cable sent from Tokyo to Japanese ambassador in Moscow seeking surrender terms said: unconditional surrender is the only obstacle to peace. Truman unambiguously categorized this: “the telegram from Jap Emperor asking for peace.”
Forestall noted an evident desire of the Japanese to get out of the war
Stimson describes this as Japanese manoeuvrings foe peace.
Brynes pointed to Japanese peace feelers
They all knew that the end was near, the Japanese were finished. Several of Truman’s close advisers urged him to modify the unconditional surrender to signal that Japan could keep its emperor and speed the end.
MacArthur: the hanging of the emperor would be like the crucifixion of Christ to us. Jimmy Brynes told Truman that he would be crucified politically if the imperial system was retained. Once again, his advice prevailed. Truman and Byrnes believed that they had a way to speed the Japanese surrender on American terms without Soviet help, thereby denying the USSR the territorial and economic concessions promised by Roosevelt. MacArthur: considered the bomb completely unnecessary from the military point of view. He later said that the Japanese would have surrendered in May if the US had told them that they could keep the emperor.
Opposition was sufficiently known that Groves posted a requirement that US commanders in the field . . . clear all statements on the bomb with the War Department. “After three years of the highest tension we did ‘t want MacArthur and others saying the war could’ve been won without the bomb.”
1945July 16, 0529 and 45 seconds: Alamogordo, New Mexico, the bomb turned the refuge of the founding fathers into a militarized state. War in Europe ended May 8. First atomic bomb dropped on Japan on August 6.
Iwo Jima: 7000 US Marines and sailors were killed, 18,000 wounded.
Okinawa: 12,000 Americans killed or missing and 36,000 wounded. 100,000 Japanese and 100,000 Okinawans were killed. Many of them committed suicide.
1900 kamikaze attacks which sank 30 and damaged 360 naval vessels
Marshall told Truman that he expected no more than 31,000 casualties.
Estimated 1/2 million German, Italian and French civilians were killed because of British and US bombing.
79,000 US and equal number of British aircrew members were killed
1945 July Potsdam: Big three discussing the post war world. Truman had said that his primary reason for going to Potsdam was to ensure Soviet entry into the war, an assurance that Stalin was ready to give again. Truman in his diary: He will be in the Jap war on August 15.
Allied intelligence concurred: an entry of the Soviet Union into the war would finally convince the Japanese of the inevitability of complete defeat. Yet it was clear to most that the Japs were already finished. By the end of 1944, the Japanese navy had been decimated, the air force was badly weakened, railroad system was in tatters, food supply shrunk, public morale plummeting.
Truman had delayed the start of Potsdam for two weeks giving the scientists the time to ready the bomb test. It worked. Stimson gave him the news. The conference began the very next day. He later read the full report. The test was terrifying, almost beyond comprehension. Truman’s demeanor changed immediately, Churchill was stunned by the transformation.
1945July 24: Truman informs Stalin that the US possesses a new weapon of unusual destructive force.
Klaus E.J. Fuchs a man of ideological conviction, part of the British scientific mission at Alamogordo had delivered technical information relating to the bomb to his Soviet handlers. Stalin already knew that the test had succeeded. On return, Stalin remarked to Gromyko on return to his villa that the Americans would use the atomic monopoly now to dictate terms in Europe. But that he wouldn’t give in to that blackmail. Stalin concluded from Truman’s behaviour at Potsdam that the US wanted to end the war quickly and renege on its promised concessions in the Pacific.
1945July 25: Truman approves directive signed by Marshall and Stimson ordering the use of the atomic bomb against Japan after August 3 asap weather permitting. He expected the Japanese government to reject the Potsdam declaration which failed to give any assurances about the emperor. The US even vetoed Stalin’s wish to sign the declaration adding that Stalin’s signature would have signaled Soviet entry in the Pacific war. It was an incredibly underhanded behaviour by the US both toward the Japanese and USSR.
Truman accepted responsibility for the decision, it was Groves who drafted the final order to drop the bomb. He contended Truman didn’t really decide: “As far as I was concerned his decision was one of non-interference. Basically, a decision not to upset existing plans. Truman did not so much say ‘yes’ as not say ‘no.‘ He described Truman scornfully as ‘a little boy on a toboggan.‘
Six of America’s seven five-star officers who received their final star in WWII declared the bomb morally reprehensible, militarily unnecessary, or both.
General Douglas MacArthur
General Dwight Eisenhower
General Henry Arnold
Admiral William Leahy
Admiral Earnest King
Admiral Chester Nimitz
Eisenhower: the Japanese were ready to surrender, and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing. I hated to see our country be the first to use such a weapon.
After the war was over, General Curtis LeMay said, “Even without the atomic bomb and the Russian entry into the war, Japan would have surrendered in two weeks. The atomic bomb had nothing to do with the end of the war.
1945 August 6, 0245, 3 B-29s took off from the island of Tinian for Japan. Six and a half hours later the Enola Gay cane into sight of its target. 300,00 civilians, 45,000 Korean slave labourers. From 31,000 feet at 330 mph. The bomb (uranium) fell5 miles to two thousand feet and then detonated. An estimated 140,000 were dead by the end of the year, 200,000 by 1950. Officially the US reported 3243 Japanese troops killed. Japanese did not surrender
1945 August 9: Stalin honouring his pledge to Churchill now moved I 1/2 million men to the eastern front and attacked Japan on three fronts in Manchuria. 700,000 Japanese killed, wounded or captured. Also attacked in Korea, the Kurile Islands and Sakhalin Island. Later that morning on August 9 before Japan had time to react to the Soviet invasion, the US dropped a second atomic bomb (Plutonium) on Nagasaki. 40,000 died immediately.
General Masakazu Kawabe: in comparison, the Soviet entry into the war was a great shock. Because we had been in constant fear of it with a vivid imagination that the vast Red Army forces in Europe were now being turned against us.
Suzuki: Japan must surrender immediately. “There was little mention in the Japanese cabinet of the use of the atomic bomb by the US.”
The dropping of the bomb was the pretext seized upon . . . As a reason for ending the war. But it is almost a certainty that the Japanese would have capitulated upon the entry of Russia into the war.”
On August 14, five days after the second bomb was dropped at Nagasaki and with desperate fighting still raging against the Soviets, Emperor Hirohito exerted his personal power. Hirohito speaking to the Japanese people directly ordered surrender over the radio.
Truman’s estimate of the anticipated American casualties kept climbing as the years went by. In 1991 President George H. Bush praised Truman’s tough calculating decision which spared millions of American lives.
Attributing victory to the bomb insults the memory of the many men and women who gave their lives to defeat the Japanese year by year.
1945October: Truman met Oppenheimer to inquire when the Soviets would have the bomb. Oppenheimer replied he didn’t know. Truman responded that he knew the answer, never, giving Oppenheimer an insight into his ignorance. He told Dean Acheson, “I don’t want that SOB in this office ever again”. Later Oppenheimer was attacked by right wing conservatives as an agent of the Soviet Union and subjected to numerous by the FBI. Oppenheimer’s security clearance was revoked in 1954. His crime was opposing the building of the hydrogen bomb which he considered a weapon of genocide. The dropping of the atomic bombs did not make the Soviet forces any pliable. They occupied the Northern portion of Korea Peninsula face to face with US forces in the south.
The Japanese could keep the emperor for stability of Japan.
Condoleezza Rice named Truman her man of the century to Time Magazine.
It was a warning to the Soviet Union.
Henry Wallace: “it is obvious that the attitude of Truman, Brynes and both the war and navy department will make for war eventually.”
Robert Oppenheimer met Henry Wallace shortly after the war: he proposed international control of atomic technology to assuage Soviet fears over US intentions. In September, Stimson sent a memo to Truman saying that the Soviets should be treated as allies, saying that they should be trusted. He proposed that America should dismantle its bomb if the Soviets accepted a ban on atomic research and thus submit to an international system of control.
Wallace allied himself to Stimson indicating the absurdity of trying to keep an atomic monopoly. ” I then went in some length into the scientific background describing how foreign Jewish scientists had in the first place sold the President in the fall of 1939. I indicated the degree to which the whole approach had originated in Europe and that it was impossible to bottle the thing up no matter how much we tried.”
Navy Secretary Forestall argued that the Soviets could not be trusted, the Russians like the Japanese are essentially oriental in their thinking. Truman vacillated and ultimately yielded to the Byrnes/ Forestall hardline faction.
“Some have spoken of the American century, I say that the century on which we are entering, century which will come out of this war can be and must be the century of the common man. If we really believe we are fighting for a people peace, all the rest becomes easy. “–Henry Wallace
In 1946 ran for president. Accused of being a Soviet sympathiser, he compromised himself during the pressures of the Korean War and the McCarthy period loudly condemning the Soviets but decried support for Vietnam. He died in 1965. He remains the unsung hero of the second world war showing the world a kinder vision of America. Though his vision was opposed at every step it did not die.
Roosevelt: No man was more of the American soil than Wallace. In July 1944 Roosevelt acceding to the party bosses’ choice of Harry Truman committed his greatest blunder. He could have resisted and had Wallace at his back as his VP, but he was tired of defending his vision for world peace, near death. His sad moment points most clearly to the fallibility of all human history. To fail is not tragic, to be human is. What might this country be if Wallace had succeeded Roosevelt in April 1945 instead of Truman.
G.A. Custer, Lieutenant Colonel Seventh Cavalry, is young, very brave, even to rashness, a good trait for a cavalry officer–William T. Sherman
On June 25, 1876, while leading the 7th Cavalry Regiment at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in Montana Territory against a coalition of Native American tribes, he and all his regiment—which included two of his brothers—were killed. The battle is popularly known in American history as “Custer’s Last Stand.” Custer and his regiment was defeated so decisively at the little bighorn that is has overshadowed all his prior achievements.
George Armstrong Custer (December 5, 1839 – June 25, 1876) was a United States Army officer and cavalry commander in the American Civil War and the American Indian Wars. Armstrong Custer’s first charge as a General, on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg, was a disaster, and he barely managed to escape with his hide (though not his horse). His final charge, against a large Plains Indian village on the banks of a winding river, was also calamitous. Between the two, he led a charmed life, attributable by some to chance – “Custer’s luck,” as he and both friends and enemies termed it — and by others to good fortune’s true components: preparation, analysis, confidence, and decisive action.
During the Civil War, Custer was frequently termed “The Boy General” in the press, reflecting his promotion to brigadier general at the age of 23.
During his years on the Great Plains in the American Indian Wars, his troopers often referred to him with grudging admiration as “Iron Butt” and “Hard Ass” for his physical stamina in the saddle and his strict discipline, as well as with the more derisive “Ringlets” for his vanity about his appearance in general and his long, curling blond hair.
His detractors claimed that he loved nothing better than a charge. They were right. They also accused him of recklessness, of acting without thought or deliberation. They were wrong about that. Custer had an uncanny ability to process what he saw, what he heard, and what he knew — the intelligence available in a situation — and then make a considered decision in an incredibly short amount of time. “He was certainly the model of a light cavalry officer,” said one of General Wesley Merritt’s staff members, “quick in observation, clear in judgement, and resolute and determined in execution.” Time and again in the last two years of the Civil War, after his promotion to Brigadier General, his subordinate officers observed ” the Boy General” decide on a split-second course of action that turned out to be the right thing to do at the time. It did not take more than a charge or two to make a believer out of anyone. By war’s end, only a few skeptics remained, and they tended to be resentful officers who were older and less successful. The men who served under Custer swore by him and claimed that they would follow him into hell itself.
After the Civil War, Custer remained a major general in the United States Volunteers until they were mustered out in February 1866. He reverted to his permanent rank of captain and was appointed a lieutenant colonel in the 7th Cavalry Regiment in July 1866. He was dispatched to the west in 1867 to fight in the American Indian Wars. On June 25, 1876, while leading the 7th Cavalry Regiment at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in Montana Territory against a coalition of Native American tribes, he and all his regiment—which included two of his brothers—were killed. The battle is popularly known in American history as “Custer’s Last Stand.” Custer and his regiment were defeated so decisively at the Little Bighorn that it has overshadowed all his prior achievements.
On July 28, 1866, Custer was appointed lieutenant colonel of the newly created 7th Cavalry Regiment, which was headquartered at Fort Riley, Kansas. He served on frontier duty at Fort Riley from October 18 to March 26, and scouted in Kansas and Colorado to July 28. 1867. He took part in Major General Winfield Scott Hancock’s expedition against the Cheyenne. On June 26, Lt. Lyman Kidder’s party, made up of ten troopers and one scout, were massacred while en route to Fort Wallace. Lt. Kidder was to deliver dispatches to Custer from General Sherman, but his party was attacked by Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne (see Kidder massacre). Days later, Custer and a search party found the bodies of Kidder’s patrol.
Following the Hancock campaign, Custer was arrested and suspended at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas to August 12, 1868 for being AWOL, after having abandoned his post to see his wife. At the request of Major General Sheridan, who wanted Custer for his planned winter campaign against the Cheyenne, Custer could return to duty before his one-year term of suspension had expired and joined his regiment to October 7, 1868. He then went on frontier duty, scouting in Kansas and Indian Territory to October 1869.
Under Sheridan’s orders, Custer took part in establishing Camp Supply in Indian Territory in early November 1868 as a supply base for the winter campaign. On November 27, 1868, Custer led the 7th Cavalry Regiment in an attack on the Cheyenne encampment of Chief Black Kettle — the Battle of Washita River. Custer reported killing 103 warriors and some women and children; 53 women and children were taken as prisoners. Estimates by the Cheyenne of their casualties were substantially lower (11 warriors plus 19 women and children). Custer had his men shoot most of the 875 Indian ponies they had captured. The Battle of Washita River was regarded as the first substantial U.S. victory in the Southern Plains War, and it helped force a significant portion of the Southern Cheyenne onto a U.S.-assigned reservation.
In 1873, Custer was sent to the Dakota Territory to protect a railroad survey party against the Lakota. On August 4, 1873, near the Tongue River, Custer and the 7th Cavalry Regiment clashed for the first time with the Lakota. One man on each side was killed. In 1874 Custer led an expedition into the Black Hills and announced the discovery of gold on French Creek near present-day Custer, South Dakota. Custer’s announcement triggered the Black Hills Gold Rush. Among the towns that immediately grew up was Deadwood, South Dakota, notorious for lawlessness.
Grant, Belknap and politics
Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer, 7th U.S. Cavalry, ca. 1875
The expedition against the Sioux was originally scheduled to leave Fort Abraham Lincoln on April 6, 1876, but on March 15 Custer was summoned to Washington to testify at congressional hearings. These concerned the corruption scandal involving U.S. Secretary of War William W. Belknap (who had resigned March 2), President Grant’s brother Orville, and traders at Army posts in Indian Country, who were charging troops double what they would have paid for the same goods in Bismarck, North Dakota. (Soldiers were required by regulations to purchase goods from the traders.) Belknap had been selling trading post positions.
After Custer testified on March 29 and April 4 before the Clymer Committee, Belknap was impeached and sent to the Senate for trial. Custer left Washington on April 20, but instead of immediately returning to Fort Lincoln, he visited the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia and planned to travel to New York City to meet with publishers. Custer’s testimony was a sensation, both because of what he said and because he was the one saying it. Custer was sharply criticized by the Republican press and praised by Democratic editors.
President Grant held up Custer’s departure from Washington. Grant and Custer did not get along. Earlier, Custer had arrested Grant’s son, Fred Grant, for drunkenness. Now, Custer was accusing Grant’s brother and Secretary of War of corruption. Additionally, Custer was writing magazine articles criticizing Grant’s peace policy towards the Indians.
Brigadier General Alfred Terry determined there were no available officers of rank to take command, but Sherman refused to intercede. Stunned that he would not be in command, Custer approached the impeachment managers and secured his release. General Sherman advised Custer not to leave Washington before meeting personally with President Grant. Three times Custer requested meetings with Grant, but was always turned down.
Custer gave up and took a train to Chicago on May 2, planning to rejoin his regiment. On May 3, a member of Sheridan’s staff greeted Custer in Chicago. President Grant had ordered Custer’s arrest for leaving Washington without permission. President Grant had designated General Terry to command the expedition in Custer’s place. Custer took a train to St. Paul to meet General Terry.
Brigadier General Terry met Custer in Fort Snelling, Minnesota on May 6. He later recalled, “(Custer) with tears in his eyes, begged for my aid. How could I resist it?” Terry wrote to Grant attesting to the advantages of Custer’s leading the expedition. Sheridan endorsed his effort, accepting Custer’s “guilt” and suggesting his restraint in future.
Grant was already under pressure for his treatment of Custer. His administration worried that if the “Sioux campaign” failed without Custer, then Grant would be blamed for ignoring the recommendations of senior Army officers. On May 8, Custer was informed at Fort Snelling that he was to lead the 7th Cavalry, but under Terry’s direct supervision.
President Ulysses S. Grant
Major General Philip Sheridan, Custer’s mentor
By the time of Custer’s Black Hills expedition in 1874, the level of conflict and tension between the U.S. and many of the Plains Indians tribes (including the Lakota Sioux and the Cheyenne) had become exceedingly high. Americans continually broke treaty agreements and advanced further westward, resulting in violence and acts of depredation by both sides. To take possession of the Black Hills (and thus the gold deposits), and to stop Indian attacks, the U.S. decided to corral all remaining free Plains Indians. The Grant government set a deadline of January 31, 1876 for all Lakota and Arapaho wintering in the “unceded territory” to report to their designated agencies (reservations) or be considered “hostile”.
Sheridan to Terry & Crook at Omaha HQ: order for operations against hostiles on Feb 8. 1876. Before leaving Fort Snelling, Custer spoke to General Terry’s chief engineer, Captain Ludlow, saying he would “cut loose” from Terry and operate independently from him. Several companies of infantry will accompany the 7th to man the supply depots while Custer searched for the enemy from his base up the Yellowstone River. Steamers would freight supplies up the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers. Dakota Column comprised 12 companies of 7th Cavalry, 3 infantry companies & battery of Gatling Guns.
Sioux War Country 1876; The Little Bighorn Campaign 1876; Area in Detail; The Battlefield 25 June 1876.
June 25, 1876
Battle of the Little Bighorn
Montana Column from Fort Ellis– eastwards in western Montana Territory; Colonel John Gibbon; 5 companies of infantry & 4 cavalry troops under Major James Brisbin, 400 men, 2 Gatling Guns.
At the outset of the campaign, Terry had ordered Gibbon’s smaller command to move down the Yellowstone to the mouth of the Bighorn River, prevent any Indians from getting away to the north, and strike a hostile camp only if the opportunity arose. His Montana column had been encamped some twenty miles east of the mouth of the Bighorn since April 20. The next day a dispatch from Terry ordered him to stay put until the weather delayed Dakota column got underway.
May 16: Lieutenant James Bradley spotted an immense Lakota camp on Rosebud Creek. Upon hearing Bradley’s report, Gibbon ordered his command on May 17 to cross the Yellowstone and strike at the encampment but the fast flowing river prevented a surprise attack.
Gibbon moved his command downstream to the mouth of the Rosebud on May 21, four days after the failed river crossing in response to his scout’s report of a large body of Indians headed that way. He found no Indians but established a new camp there.
On May 27, Bradley reported that the village he had espied eleven days earlier had now grown to almost five hundred lodges and moved from the Tongue River to Rosebud, the next waterway to the west. Gibbon did not take any action but wrote to Terry about the sighting of a large enemy village. The report was delivered to Terry by courier a week later.
On May 28 pursuant to fresh orders from Terry to move east toward the Little Missouri, he began marching downriver Yellowstone to join the Dakota column against the hostiles then believed to be in the vicinity. After more tan 5 weeks on the Yellowstone, Gibbon’s command of almost 500 men had accomplished little. Indians seemed indifferent to the soldiers in the north.
Wyoming Column from Fort Fetterman-north from Wyoming, Brigadier General George
March 1. two companies of infantry & ten troops of cavalry under Colonel Joseph J. Reynolds (55 years age).
March 8: wagon train sent back with all tents and bedding to increase mobility.
March 16-Crook splits command into Reynolds with strike force of 400 men and remained behind with 4 companies.
Cheyenne band of 50 lodges led by Old Bear attacked Crook’s column which blundered and returned to Fort Fetterman.
June 11: Crook reached Goose Creek to establish a base camp there.
June 16: Crook marches out with four days rations leaving wagon train and pack train behind under guard to increase mobility. (1300 men, including 175 infantrymen mounted on green wagon mules). Spots the Indian camp which shifted from Rosebud to Little Big Horn on June 15.
On the afternoon of June 16, two Cheyenne hunting parties stalking a herd of buffalo came upon Crook’s Wyoming column. The chiefs of all the tribal circles met in one large council and after a discussion advised prudence. A course of action was decided upon the insistence of young warriors. The Indian force comprised at least seven hundred warriors and Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse rode with them. But Sitting Bull would not participate in the battle, and for good reason.
Battle of Rosebud is a debacle for Crook, and he turns back to Goose Creek. Crook loses strategically for he retreats the next day and abandons the mission. No attempt made to communicate with Terry or Gibbon though he notifies Sheridan on June 19. Intelligence reached Terry on July 9.
Dakota Column from Fort Abraham Lincoln: west from Dakota Territory.
May 17: Custer & 7th Cavalry + 1 infantry battalion & artillery departed from Fort Abraham Lincoln, part of a larger army force planning to round up remaining free Indians.
June 7: reached Powder River,a few miles below the Yellowstone. Three scouts from Gibbon’s command rode up and delivered the news that the Indians were in considerable force south of Yellowstone. Supplies received at Stanley’s Stockade (Yellowstone & Glendive Creek) by river steamers.
Meanwhile, in the spring and summer of 1876, the Hunkpapa Lakota holy man Sitting Bull had called together the largest ever gathering of Plains Indians at Ash Creek, Montana (later moved to the Little Bighorn River) to discuss what to do about the whites. It was this united encampment of Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho Indians that the 7th met at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
About June 15, Reno, while on a scout, discovered the trail of a large village on the Rosebud River.
On June 22, Custer’s entire regiment was detached to follow this trail.
On June 25, some of Custer’s Crow Indian scouts identified what they claimed was a large Indian encampment in the valley near the Little Bighorn River. Custer had first intended to attack the Indian village the next day, but since his presence was known, he decided to attack immediately and divided his forces into three battalions:
One led by Major Marcus Reno, sent north to charge the southern end of the encampment.
One by Captain Frederick Benteen sent south and west to cut off any attempted escape by the Indians.
One by himself; rode north, hidden to the east of the encampment by bluffs and planning to circle around and attack from the north.
Captain Thomas M. McDougall and Company B were with the pack train.
Reno began a charge on the southern end of the village but halted some 500–600 yards short of the camp, and had his men dismount and form a skirmish line. They were soon overcome by mounted Lakota and Cheyenne warriors who counterattacked en masse against Reno’s exposed left flank, forcing Reno and his men to take cover in the trees along the river. Eventually, however, this position became untenable, and the troopers were forced into a bloody retreat up onto the bluffs above the river, where they made their own stand. This, the opening action of the battle, cost Reno a quarter of his command.
Custer may have seen Reno stop and form a skirmish line as he (Custer) led his command to the northern end of the main encampment, where he apparently planned to sandwich the Indians between his attacking troopers and Reno’s command in a “hammer and anvil” maneuver. According to Grinnell’s account, based on the testimony of the Cheyenne warriors who survived the fight, at least part of Custer’s command attempted to ford the river at the north end of the camp but were driven off by stiff resistance from Indian sharpshooters firing from the brush along the west bank of the river. From that point, the soldiers were pursued by hundreds of warriors onto a ridge north of the encampment.
Custer and his command were prevented from digging in by Crazy Horse, however, whose warriors had outflanked him and were now to his north, at the crest of the ridge. Traditional white accounts attribute to Gall the attack that drove Custer up onto the ridge, but Indian witnesses have disputed that account.
“Hurrah boys, we’ve got them! We’ll finish them up and then go home to our station.”—Famous words reportedly said by General Custer shortly before being killed.
For a time, Custer’s men appear to have been deployed by company, in standard cavalry fighting formation—the skirmish line, with every fourth man holding the horses, though this arrangement would have robbed Custer of a quarter of his firepower. Worse, as the fight intensified, many soldiers could have taken to holding their own horses or hobbling them, further reducing the 7th’s effective fire.
When Crazy Horse and White Bull mounted the charge that broke through the center of Custer’s lines, pandemonium may have broken out among the soldiers of Calhoun’s command, though Myles Keogh’s men seem to have fought and died where they stood. According to some Lakota accounts, many of the panicking soldiers threw down their weapons and either rode or ran towards the knoll where Custer, the other officers, and about 40 men were making a stand. Along the way, the warriors rode them down, counting coup by striking the fleeing troopers with their quirts or lances.
Initially, Custer had 208 officers and men under his command, with an additional 142 under Reno, just over 100 under Benteen, 50 soldiers with Captain McDougall’s rearguard, and 84 soldiers under 1st Lieutenant Edward Gustave Mathey with the pack train. The Lakota-Cheyenne coalition may have fielded over 1800 warriors. Historian Gregory Michno settles on a low number around 1000, based on contemporary Lakota testimony, but other sources place the number at 1800 or 2000, especially in the works by Utley and Fox. The 1800–2000 figure is substantially lower than the higher numbers of 3000 or more postulated by Ambrose, Gray, Scott, and others.
As the troopers were cut down, the native warriors stripped the dead of their firearms and ammunition, with the result that the return fire from the cavalry steadily decreased, while the fire from the Indians constantly increased. The surviving troopers apparently shot their remaining horses to use as breastworks for a final stand on the knoll at the north end of the ridge. The warriors closed in for the final attack and killed every man in Custer’s command. As a result, the Battle of the Little Bighorn has come to be popularly known as “Custer’s Last Stand”.
Some eyewitness reports state that Custer was not identified until after his death by the Native Americans who killed him. Several individuals claimed personal responsibility for the killing, including White Bull of the Miniconjous, Rain-in-the-Face, Flat Lip, and Brave Bear. In June 2005, at a public meeting, the Northern Cheyenne broke almost 130 years of silence about the battle. Storytellers said that according to their oral tradition, Buffalo Calf Road Woman, a Northern Cheyenne heroine of the Battle of the Rosebud, struck the final blow against Custer, which knocked him off his horse before he died.
A contrasting version of Custer’s death is suggested by the testimony of an Oglala named Joseph White Cow Bull, according to novelist and Custer biographer Evan Connell, who relates that Joseph White Bull stated he had shot a rider wearing a buckskin jacket and big hat at the riverside when the soldiers first approached the village from the east. The initial force facing the soldiers, according to this version, was quite small (possibly as few as four warriors) yet challenged Custer’s command. The rider who was hit was mounted next to a rider who bore a flag and had shouted orders that prompted the soldiers to attack, but when the buckskin-clad rider fell off his horse after being shot, many of the attackers reined up. The allegation that the buckskin-clad officer was Custer, if accurate, might explain the supposed rapid disintegration of Custer’s forces. However, several other officers of the Seventh, including William Cooke and Tom Custer, were also dressed in buckskin on the day of the battle, and the fact that each of the non-mutilation wounds to George Custer’s body (a bullet wound below the heart and a shot to the left temple) would have been instantly fatal casts doubt on his being wounded or killed at the ford, more than a mile from where his body was found. The circumstances are, however, consistent with David Humphreys Miller’s suggestion that Custer’s attendants would not have left his dead body behind to be desecrated.
During the 1920s, two elderly Cheyenne women spoke briefly with oral historians about their having recognized Custer’s body on the battlefield and had stopped a Sioux warrior from desecrating the body. The women were relatives of Mo-nah-se-tah’s, who was alleged to have been Custer’s one-time lover. In the Cheyenne culture of the time, such a relationship was considered a marriage. The women allegedly told the warrior: “Stop, he is a relative of ours,” and then shooed him away. The two women then shoved their sewing awls into his ears to permit Custer’s corpse to “hear better in the afterlife” because he had broken his promise to Stone Forehead never to fight against Native Americans again.
When the main column under General Terry arrived two days later, the army found most of the soldiers’ corpses stripped, scalped, and mutilated. Custer’s body had two bullet holes, one in the left temple and one just below the heart. Capt. Benteen, who inspected the body, stated that in his opinion the fatal injuries had not been the result of .45 caliber ammunition, which implies the bullet holes had been caused by ranged rifle fire.
Following the recovery of their remains, Custer’s body and that of his brother Tom were buried on the battlefield, side-by-side in a shallow grave, after being covered by pieces of tent canvas and blankets. One year later, Custer’s remains and those of many of his officers were recovered and sent back east for re internment in more formal burials. Custer was buried again with full military honors at West Point Cemetery on October 10, 1877. The battle site was designated a National Cemetery in 1876.
Criticism and controversy
President Grant, a highly successful general, bluntly criticized Custer’s actions in the battle of the Little Bighorn. Quoted in the New York Herald on September 2, 1876, Grant said, “I regard Custer’s Massacre as a sacrifice of troops, brought on by Custer himself, that was wholly unnecessary – wholly unnecessary.”
General Nelson Miles (who inherited Custer’s mantle of famed Indian fighter) and others praised him as a fallen hero betrayed by the incompetence of subordinate officers. Miles noted the difficulty of winning a fight “with seven-twelfths of the command remaining out of the engagement when within sound of his rifle shots.“
The controversy over blame for the disaster at Little Bighorn continues to this day. Major Marcus Reno’s failure to press his attack on the south end of the Lakota/Cheyenne village and his flight to the timber along the river, after a single casualty, have been cited as a causal factor in the destruction of Custer’s battalion, as has Captain Frederick Benteen’s allegedly tardy arrival on the field, and the failure of the two officers’ combined forces to move toward the relief of Custer.
“When writing about Custer, neutral ground is elusive. What should Custer have done at any of the critical junctures that rapidly presented themselves, each now the subject of endless speculation and rumination? There will always be a variety of opinions based upon what Custer knew, what he did not know, and what he could not have known…”—from Touched by Fire: The Life, Death, and Mythic Afterlife of George Armstrong Custer by Louise Barnett.
General Phillip Sheridanand other critics have asserted several tactical errors in Custer’s final military actions. While camped at Powder River, Custer refused the support offered by General Terry on June 21, of an additional four companies of the Second Cavalry. Custer stated that he “could whip any Indian village on the Plains” with his own regiment, and that extra troops would simply be a burden. At the same time, he left behind at the steamer Far West, on the Yellowstone, a battery of Gatling guns, knowing he was facing superior numbers. Before leaving the camp all the troops, including the officers, also boxed their sabers and sent them back with the wagons.
On the day of the battle, Custer divided his 600-man command, despite being faced with vastly superior numbers of Sioux and Cheyenne. The refusal of an extra battalion reduced the size of his force by at least a sixth, and rejecting the firepower offered by the Gatling guns played into the events of June 25 to the disadvantage of his regiment.
Custer’s defenders, however, including historian Charles K. Hofling, have asserted that Gatling guns would have been slow and cumbersome as the troops crossed the rough country between the Yellowstone and the Little Bighorn. Custer rated speed in gaining the battlefield as essential and more important. The additional firepower had the potential of turning the tide of the fight, given the Indians’ propensity for withdrawing in the face of new military technology. Other Custer supporters have claimed that splitting the forces was a standard tactic, to demoralize the enemy with the appearance of the cavalry in different places all at once, especially when a contingent threatened the line of retreat.
Custer monument in Ohio
After his death, Custer achieved the lasting fame that he had sought on the battlefield. The public saw him as a tragic military hero and exemplary gentleman who sacrificed his life for his country. Custer’s wife, Elizabeth, who had accompanied him in many of his frontier expeditions, did much to advance this view with the publication of several books about her late husband:
Boots and Saddles,
Life with General Custer in Dakota (1885),
Tenting on the Plains (1887), and
Following the Guidon (1891).
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote an adoring (and often erroneous) poem.
President Theodore Roosevelt’s lavish praise pleased Custer’s widow.
Connell concludes: “These days it is stylish to denigrate the general, whose stock sells for nothing. Nineteenth-century Americans thought differently. At that time, he was a cavalier without fear and beyond reproach.”
Family, ancestry and early life
From the beginning of his life, Custer never lacked for confidence. Its source, as with anyone, can only be guessed at–what a man is born with, what he develops, what he is accorded– but a good portion of Custer’s share of that attribute likely was his upbringing. A middle child of a large family, he was loved, encouraged, and admired by his parents and all his siblings.
Custer’s ancestors, Paulus and Gertrude Küster, immigrated to North America around 1693 from the Rhineland in Germany, probably among thousands of Palatine refugees whose passage was arranged by the English government to gain settlers. According to family letters, Custer was named after George Armstrong, a minister, in his devout mother’s hope that her son might join the clergy.
Custer was born in New Rumley, Ohio, to Emanuel Henry Custer (1806–1892), a farmer and blacksmith, and Marie Ward Kirkpatrick (1807–1882). He had two younger brothers, Thomas Custer and Boston Custer, who both died with him on the battlefield at Little Bighorn. His other full siblings were the family’s youngest child, Margaret Custer, and Nevin Custer, who suffered from asthma and rheumatism. Custer also had several older half-siblings. Throughout his life Custer was known by a variety of nicknames. He was called “Autie” (his early attempt to pronounce his middle name) and Armstrong.
USMA Cadet George Armstrong ‘Autie’ Custer 1859
Custer spent much of his boyhood living with his half-sister and brother-in-law in Monroe, Michigan, where he attended school. Before entering the United States Military Academy, Custer attended the McNeely Normal School, later known as Hopedale Normal College, in Hopedale, Ohio.
Custer entered West Point as a cadet on July 1, 1857, to become a member of the class of 1862. At the time, West Point’s course of study was five years long. With the outbreak of the American Civil War, the course was shortened to four years allowing Custer and his class to graduate on June 24, 1861. He was last in a class of 34 cadets. Throughout his life, Custer tested boundaries and rules. In his four years at West Point, he amassed a record-total of 726 demerits, one of the worst conduct records in the history of the academy.
Under ordinary national conditions, Custer’s low-class rank would represent a ticket to an obscure posting, but Custer had the ironic fortune to graduate as the Civil War broke out. During his rocky tenure at the Academy, Custer came close to expulsion in each of his three years, due to excessive demerits. Many of these were awarded for pulling pranks on fellow cadets.
Custer was commissioned a second lieutenant in the 2nd U.S. Cavalry Regiment and was assigned to drilling volunteers in Washington, D.C.
On July 21, 1861, he was with his regiment at the First Battle of Bull Run during the Manassas Campaign, where Army commander Winfield Scott detailed him to carry messages to Major General Irvin McDowell. After the battle, he continued participating in the defenses of Washington D.C. until October when he was sick and absent from his unit until February 1862.
In March 1862, he participated with the 2nd Cavalry in the Peninsula Campaign (March to August) in Virginia until April 4.
On April 5, he served in the 5th Cavalry Regiment and participated in the Siege of Yorktown, from April 5 to and May 4 and was aide to Major General George B. McClellan; McClellan was in command of the Army of the Potomac during the Peninsula Campaign. On May 24, 1862, during the pursuit of Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston up the Peninsula, when General Barnard and his staff were reconnoitering a potential crossing point on the Chickahominy River, they stopped, and Custer overheard his commander mutter to himself, “I wish I knew how deep it is.” Custer dashed forward on his horse out to the middle of the river and turned to the astonished officers of the staff and shouted triumphantly, “That’s how deep it is, Mr. General!” Custer then could lead an attack with four companies of the 4th Michigan Infantry across the Chickahominy River above New Bridge. The attack was successful, resulting in the capture of 50 Confederate soldiers and the seizing of the first Confederate battle flag of the war.
McClellan termed it a “very gallant affair” and congratulated Custer personally. In his role as aide-de-camp to McClellan, Custer began his life-long pursuit of publicity. Custer was promoted to the rank of captain on June 5, 1862. On July 17, he was reverted to the rank of first lieutenant. He participated in the Maryland Campaign in September to October, the Battle of South Mountain on September 14, the Battle of Antietam on September 17, and the March to Warrenton, Virginia in October.
Lincoln and generals at Antietam (Custer (extreme right) with President Lincoln, General McClellan and other officers at the Battle of Antietam, 1862)
On June 9, 1863, Custer became aide to Brevet Lieutenant Colonel Alfred Pleasonton (rank since September 17, 1862), who was now commanding the Cavalry Corps, Army of the Potomac (June 7 to March 26, 1864); after the Battle of Chancellorsville (April 30-May 6, 1863), Pleasonton’s (Brigadier General, July 16, 1862, U.S. Volunteers) first assignment was to locate the army of Robert E. Lee, moving north through the Shenandoah Valley in the beginning of the Gettysburg Campaign.
Brigade command and Gettysburg
Custer (left) with General Pleasonton on horseback in Falmouth, Virginia
Pleasonton was promoted on June 22, 1863 to Major General of U.S. Volunteers. On June 29, two days prior to the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1–3), Pleasonton promoted Custer to brigadier general of volunteers, commanding the Michigan Cavalry Brigade (“Wolverines“). Despite having no direct command experience, Custer became one of the youngest generals in the Union Army at age 23. Two other captains—Wesley Merritt and Elon J. Farnsworth—were promoted along with Custer, although they did have command experience. Custer lost no time in implanting his aggressive character on his brigade, part of the division of Brigadier General Judson Kilpatrick. He fought against the Confederate cavalry of Major General J.E.B. Stuart at Hanover and Hunterstown, on the way to the main event at Gettysburg.
In his first command, Custer affected a showy, personalized uniform style that alienated his men, but he won them over with his readiness to lead attacks from the front (in contrast to many other officers); his men began to adopt elements of his uniform, especially the red neckerchief. Custer distinguished himself by fearless, aggressive actions in some of the numerous cavalry engagements that started off the campaign, beginning with the Battle of Aldie on June 17. Pleasonton was Custer’s introduction to the world of extravagant uniforms and political maneuvering, and the young lieutenant had become his protégé, serving on Pleasonton’s staff. Custer was quoted as saying that “no father could love his son more than General Pleasonton loves me.”
Custer’s style of battle was often claimed to be reckless or foolhardy, but military planning was always the basis of every Custer “dash”. As Marguerite Merrington explains in The Custer Story in Letters, “George Custer meticulously scouted every battlefield, gauged the enemy’s weak points and strengths, ascertained the best line of attack and only after he was satisfied was the ‘Custer Dash’ with a Michigan yell focused with complete surprise on the enemy in routing them every time.” One of his greatest attributes during the Civil War was what Custer wrote of as “luck” and he needed it to survive some of these charges.
Custer established a reputation as an aggressive cavalry brigade commander willing to take personal risks by leading his Michigan Brigade into battle, such as the mounted charges at Hunterstown and East Cavalry Field at the Battle of Gettysburg. At Hunterstown, in an ill-considered charge ordered by Kilpatrick against the brigade of Wade Hampton, Custer fell from his wounded horse directly before the enemy and became the target of numerous enemy rifles. He was rescued by Private Norvell Francis Churchill of the 1st Michigan Cavalry, who galloped up, shot Custer’s nearest assailant, and allowed Custer to mount behind him for a dash to safety.
One of Custer’s finest hours in the Civil War occurred just east of Gettysburg on July 3, 1863. In conjunction with Pickett’s Charge to the west, Robert E. Lee had dispatched Stuart’s cavalry on a mission into the rear of the Union Army. Custer encountered the Union cavalry division of Brigadier General David McMurtrie Gregg directly in the path of Stuart’s horsemen. He convinced Gregg to allow him to stay and fight, while his own division was stationed to the south out of the action. At East Cavalry Field, hours of charges and hand-to-hand combat ensued. Custer led a mounted charge of the 1st Michigan Cavalry, breaking the back of the Confederate assault. Custer’s brigade lost 257 men at Gettysburg, the highest loss of any Union cavalry brigade. “I challenge the annals of warfare to produce a more brilliant or successful charge of cavalry”, Custer wrote in his report. On July 3, he received the rank of Brevet Major, “For Gallant and Meritorious Services at The Battle of Gettysburg, PA.” Custer was wounded during action at the Battle of Culpeper Court House in Virginia on September 13.
Elizabeth (Libbie) Bacon
George and Libbie Custer, 1864
On February 9, 1864, Custer married Elizabeth Clift Bacon(1842–1933), whom he had first seen when he was ten years old. He had been socially introduced to her in November 1862, when home in Monroe on leave. She was not initially impressed with him, and her father, Judge Daniel Bacon, disapproved of Custer as a match because he was the son of a blacksmith. It was not until well after Custer had been promoted to the rank of brevet brigadier general that he gained the approval of Judge Bacon. He married Elizabeth Bacon fourteen months after they formally met.
In November 1868, following the Battle of Washita River, Custer was alleged (by Captain Frederick Benteen, chief of scouts Ben Clark, and Cheyenne oral tradition) to have unofficially married Mo-nah-se-tah, daughter of the Cheyenne chief Little Rock in the winter or early spring of 1868–1869 (Little Rock was killed in the one-day action at Washita on November 27). Mo-nah-se-tah gave birth to a child in January 1869, two months after the Washita battle. Cheyenne oral history tells that she also bore a second child, fathered by Custer in late 1869. Some historians, however, believe that Custer had become sterile after contracting gonorrhea while at West Point and that the father was his brother Thomas. A descendant of the second child, who goes by the name Gail Custer, wrote a book about the affair.
The Valley and Appomattox
In 1864, with the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac reorganized under the command of Major General Philip Sheridan, Custer (now commanding the 3rd Division) led his “Wolverines” to the Shenandoah Valley where by the year’s end they defeated the army of Confederate Lieutenant General Jubal Early in the Valley Campaigns of 1864. During May and June, Sheridan and Custer (Captain, 5th Cavalry, May 8 and Brevet Lieutenant Colonel, May 11) took part in cavalry actions supporting the Overland Campaign, including the Battle of the Wilderness (after which Custer ascended to division command), and the Battle of Yellow Tavern (where J.E.B. Stuart was mortally wounded). In the largest all-cavalry engagement of the war, the Battle of Trevilian Station, in which Sheridan sought to destroy the Virginia Central Railroad and the Confederates’ western resupply route, Custer captured Hampton’s divisional train, but was then cut off and suffered heavy losses (including having his division’s trains overrun and his personal baggage captured by the enemy) before being relieved. When Lieutenant General Early was then ordered to move down the Shenandoah Valley and threaten Washington, D.C., Custer’s division was again dispatched under Sheridan. In the Valley Campaigns of 1864, they pursued the Confederates at the Third Battle of Winchester and effectively destroyed Early’s army during Sheridan’s counterattack at Cedar Creek.
Sheridan and Custer, having defeated Early, returned to the main Union Army lines at the Siege of Petersburg, where they spent the winter. In April 1865, the Confederate lines finally broke, and Robert E. Lee began his retreat to Appomattox Court House, pursued by the Union cavalry.
Custer distinguished himself by his actions at Waynesboro, Dinwiddie Court House, and Five Forks. His division blocked Lee’s retreat on its final day and received the first flag of truce from the Confederate force.
Custer was present at the surrender at Appomattox Court House and the table upon which the surrender was signed was presented to him as a gift for his wife by General Philip Sheridan, who included a note to her praising Custer’s gallantry. She treasured the gift of the historical table, which is now in the Smithsonian Institution.
Before the close of the war Custer received brevet promotions to brigadier general and major general (because of a plea by his patron General Sheridan) on March 13, 1865, in the regular army, and major general of volunteers on April 15, 1865. As with most wartime promotions, even when issued under the regular army, these senior ranks were only temporary.
On April 25, after the war officially ended, Custer had his men search for, then illegally seize a large, prize racehorse “Don Juan” near Clarksville, Virginia, worth then an estimated $10,000 (several hundred thousand today), along with his written pedigree. Custer rode Don Juan in the grand review victory parade in Washington, D.C. on May 23, creating a sensation when the scared thoroughbred bolted. The owner, Richard Gaines, wrote to General Grant, who then ordered Custer to return the horse to Gaines, but he did not, instead hid the horse, and winning a race with it the next year, before the horse died suddenly.
Reconstruction duties in Texas
On June 3, 1865, at Sheridan’s behest, Major General Custer accepted command of the 2nd Division of Cavalry, Military Division of the Southwest, to march from Alexandria, Louisiana, to Hempstead, Texas, as part of the Union occupation forces. Custer arrived at Alexandria on June 27 and began assembling his units, which took more than a month to gather and remount. On July 17, he assumed command of the Cavalry Division of the Military Division of the Gulf (on August 5, officially named the 2nd Division of Cavalry of the Military Division of the Gulf), and accompanied by his wife, he led the division (five regiments of veteran Western Theater cavalrymen) to Texas on an arduous 18-day march in August. On October 27, the division departed to Austin. On October 29, Custer moved the division from Hempstead to Austin, arriving on November 4. Major General Custer became Chief of Cavalry of the Department of Texas, from November 13 to February 1, 1866, succeeding Major General Wesley Merritt.
During his entire period of command of the division, Custer encountered considerable friction and near mutiny from the volunteer cavalry regiments who had campaigned along the Gulf coast. They desired to be mustered out of Federal service rather than continue campaigning, resented imposition of discipline (particularly from an Eastern Theater general), and considered Custer nothing more than a vain dandy.
Custer’s division was mustered out beginning in November 1865, replaced by the regulars of the U.S. 6th Cavalry Regiment. Although their occupation of Austin had apparently been pleasant, many veterans harbored deep resentments against Custer, particularly in the 2nd Wisconsin Cavalry, because of his attempts to maintain discipline. Upon its mustering out, several members planned to ambush Custer, but he was warned the night before and the attempt thwarted.
American Indian Wars
On February 1, 1866, Major General Custer mustered out of the U.S. volunteer service and took an extended leave of absence and awaited orders to September 24. He explored options in New York City, where he considered careers in railroads and mining. Offered a position (and $10,000 in gold) as adjutant general of the army of Benito Juárez of Mexico, who was then in a struggle with the Mexican Emperor Maximilian I (a satellite ruler of French Emperor Napoleon III), Custer applied for a one-year leave of absence from the U.S. Army, which was endorsed by Grant and Secretary of War Stanton. Sheridan and Mrs. Custer disapproved, however, and when his request for leave was opposed by U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward, who was against having an American officer commanding foreign troops, Custer refused the alternative of resignation from the Army to take the lucrative post.
Following the death of his father-in-law in May 1866, Custer returned to Monroe, Michigan, where he considered running for Congress. He took part in public discussion over the treatment of the American South in the aftermath of the Civil War, advocating a policy of moderation. He was named head of the Soldiers and Sailors Union, regarded as a response to the hyper-partisan Grand Army of the Republic (GAR). Also formed in 1866, it was led by Republican activist John Alexander Logan. In September 1866 Custer accompanied President Andrew Johnson on a journey by train known as the “Swing Around the Circle” to build up public support for Johnson’s policies towards the South. Custer denied a charge by the newspapers that Johnson had promised him a colonel’s commission in return for his support, but Custer had written to Johnson some weeks before seeking such a commission. Custer and his wife stayed with the president during most of the trip. At one point Custer confronted a small group of Ohio men who repeatedly jeered Johnson, saying to them: “I was born two miles and a half from here, but I am ashamed of you.”
Custer and Bloody Knife (kneeling left), Custer’s favorite Indian Scout
Custer presented Bloody Knife, his Arikara (“Ree”) scout, with several gifts. Custer told Bloody Knife and some Arikara scouts this would be his last Indian campaign. Custer further stated that if the scouts helped him win a victory, then he would become president and look after the Arikaras from the White House.
Sitting Bull, spiritual leader of the Plains Indians, had been a renowned warrior in his prime
Low Dog, Oglala war chief
Wooden Leg, noted northern Cheyenne warrior
Spotted Eagle, Sans arc war chief
Major Marcus Reno, Custer’s second in command on the expedition
Captain Frederick Benteen, chafed at serving under Custer, whom he despised
Brevet Major General George Armstrong Custer, United States Army, 1865
George Armstrong Custer
Born: December 5, 1839, New Rumley, Ohio
Died: June 25, 1876 (aged 36), Little Bighorn, Montana
Buried at: initially on the battlefield; later reinterred in West Point Cemetery
Allegiance: United States of America
United States Army
Years of service-1861–1876
American Civil War
First Battle of Bull Run
Battle of Antietam
Battle of Chancellorsville
Battle of Gettysburg
Battle of the Wilderness
Battle of Yellow Tavern
Battle of Trevilian Station
Valley Campaigns of 1864
Siege of Petersburg
American Indian Wars
Battle of Washita River
Battle of the Little Bighorn
Promotions and ranks
Custer’s promotions and ranks including his six brevet [temporary] promotions which were all for gallant and meritorious services at five different battles and one campaign:
Second Lieutenant, 2nd Cavalry: June 24, 1861
First Lieutenant, 5th Cavalry: July 17, 1862
Captain Staff, Additional Aide-De-Camp: June 5, 1862
Brigadier General, U.S. Volunteers: June 29, 1863
Brevet Major, July 3, 1863 (Battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania)
Captain, 5th Cavalry: May 8, 1864
Brevet Lieutenant Colonel: May 11, 1864 (Battle of Yellow Tavern – Combat at Meadow)
Brevet Colonel: September 19, 1864(Battle of Winchester, Virginia)
Brevet Major General, U.S. Volunteers: October 19, 1864 (Battle of Winchester and Fisher’s Hill, Virginia)
Brevet Brigadier General, U.S. Army, March 13, 1865 (Battle of Five Forks, Virginia)
Brevet Major General, U.S. Army: March 13, 1865 (The campaign ending in the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia)
Major General, U.S. Volunteers: April 15, 1865
Mustered out of Volunteer Service: February 1, 1866
Lieutenant Colonel, 7th Cavalry: July 28, 1866 (killed at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, June 25, 1876)
3rd Cavalry Division
2nd Cavalry Division
7th Cavalry Regiment
Elizabeth Bacon Custer
Thomas Custer, brother
Boston Custer, brother
James Calhoun, brother-in-law
A Terrible Glory by James Donovan, Little Brown & Company, New York, London, Boston, 2008
Henry A. Kissinger, U.S. Secretary of State, 1973-1977.jpg
56th United States Secretary of State
In office: September 22, 1973 – January 20, 1977 under President: Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford
8th National Security Advisor
In office: January 20, 1969 – November 3, 1975 under President: Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford
Chairman of the 9/11 Commission
In office: November 27, 2002 – December 13, 2002 under President: George W. Bush
Henry Alfred Kissinger born on May 27, 1923 is an American diplomat and political scientist who served as the Secretary of State and National Security Adviser under the presidential administrations of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. Born in Germany, Kissinger is a Jewish refugee who fled the Nazi regime with his family in 1938. He became National Security Adviser in 1969 and later concurrently United States Secretary of State in 1973. For his actions negotiating a ceasefire in Vietnam, Kissinger received the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize under controversial circumstances, with two members of the committee resigning in protest. Kissinger later sought, unsuccessfully, to return the prize after the ceasefire failed. After his term, his advice has been sought by world leaders including subsequent U.S. presidents.
A proponent of Realpolitik, Kissinger played a prominent role in United States foreign policy between 1969 and 1977. During this period, he pioneered the policy of détente with the Soviet Union, orchestrated the opening of relations with the People’s Republic of China, and negotiated the Paris Peace Accords, ending American involvement in the Vietnam War. Kissinger has also been associated with such controversial policies as CIA involvement in Chile and U.S. support for Pakistan, despite the genocide during the Bangladesh War. He is the founder and chairman of Kissinger Associates, an international consulting firm. Kissinger has been a prolific author of books on diplomatic history and international relations with over one dozen books authored.
General opinion of Henry Kissinger is strongly divided. Several scholars have ranked him as the most effective U.S. Secretary of State since 1965, while some journalists, activists, and human rights lawyers have condemned him as a war criminal.
EARLY LIFE AND EDUCATION
Kissinger was born Heinz Alfred Kissinger in Fürth, Bavaria, Germany, in 1923 during the Weimar Republic, to a family of German Jews. His father, Louis Kissinger (1887–1982), was a schoolteacher. His mother, Paula (Stern) Kissinger (1901–1998), from Leutershausen, was a homemaker. Kissinger has a younger brother, Walter Kissinger. The surname Kissinger was adopted in 1817 by his great-great-grandfather Meyer Löb, after the Bavarian spa town of Bad Kissingen. As a youth, Heinz enjoyed playing soccer, and played for the youth wing of his favorite club, SpVgg Fürth, which was one of the nation’s best clubs at the time. In 1938, fleeing Nazi persecution, his family moved to London, England, before arriving in New York on September 5.
Kissinger spent his high school years in the Washington Heights section of Upper Manhattan as part of the German Jewish immigrant community that resided there at the time. Although Kissinger assimilated quickly into American culture, he never lost his pronounced Frankish accent, due to childhood shyness that made him hesitant to speak. Following his first year at George Washington High School, he began attending school at night and worked in a shaving brush factory during the day.
Following high school, Kissinger enrolled in the City College of New York, studying accounting. He excelled academically as a part-time student, continuing to work while enrolled. His studies were interrupted in early 1943, when he was drafted into the U.S. Army.
Kissinger underwent basic training at Camp Croft in Spartanburg, South Carolina. On June 19, 1943, while stationed in South Carolina, at the age of 20 years, he became a naturalized U.S. citizen. The army sent him to study engineering at Lafayette College, Pennsylvania, but the program was cancelled, and Kissinger was reassigned to the 84th Infantry Division. There, he made the acquaintance of Fritz Kraemer, a fellow Jewish immigrant from Germany who noted Kissinger’s fluency in German and his intellect, and arranged for him to be assigned to the military intelligence section of the division. Kissinger saw combat with the division and volunteered for hazardous intelligence duties during the Battle of the Bulge.
During the American advance into Germany, Kissinger, only a private, was put in charge of the administration of the city of Krefeld, owing to a lack of German speakers on the division’s intelligence staff. Within eight days he had established a civilian administration. Kissinger was then reassigned to the Counter Intelligence Corps, with the rank of sergeant. He was given charge of a team in Hanover assigned to tracking down Gestapo officers and other saboteurs, for which he was awarded the Bronze Star. In June 1945, Kissinger was made commandant of the Bensheim metro CIC detachment, Bergstrasse district of Hesse, with responsibility for de-Nazification of the district. Although he possessed absolute authority and powers of arrest, Kissinger took care to avoid abuses against the local population by his command.
In 1946, Kissinger was reassigned to teach at the European Command Intelligence School at Camp King, continuing to serve in this role as a civilian employee following his separation from the army.
Henry Kissinger received his AB degree summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa in political science from Harvard College in 1950, where he lived in Adams House and studied under William Yandell Elliott. He received his MA and PhD degrees at Harvard University in 1951 and 1954, respectively. In 1952, while still studying at Harvard, he served as a consultant to the director of the Psychological Strategy Board. His doctoral dissertation was titled “Peace, Legitimacy, and the Equilibrium (A Study of the Statesmanship of Castlereagh and Metternich)”.
Kissinger remained at Harvard as a member of the faculty in the Department of Government and, with Robert R. Bowie, co-founded the Center for International Affairs in 1958. In 1955, he was a consultant to the National Security Council’s Operations Coordinating Board. During 1955 and 1956, he was also study director in nuclear weapons and foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. He released his book Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy the following year. From 1956 to 1958 he worked for the Rockefeller Brothers Fund as director of its Special Studies Project. He was director of the Harvard Defense Studies Program between 1958 and 1971. He was also director of the Harvard International Seminar between 1951 and 1971. Outside of academia, he served as a consultant to several government agencies and think tanks, including the Operations Research Office, the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Department of State, and the Rand Corporation. Keen to have a greater influence on U.S. foreign policy, Kissinger became an adviser to Nelson Rockefeller and supported his bid for the Republican nomination for president in 1960, 1964, and 1968. After Richard Nixon won the presidency in 1968, he made Kissinger National Security Adviser.
Kissinger being sworn in as Secretary of State by Chief Justice Warren Burger, September 22, 1973. Kissinger’s mother, Paula, holds the Bible upon which he was sworn in while President Nixon looks on.
Kissinger served as National Security Advisor and Secretary of State under President Richard Nixon, and continued as Secretary of State under Nixon’s successor Gerald Ford. A proponent of Realpolitik, Kissinger played a dominant role in United States foreign policy between 1969 and 1977. In that period, he extended the policy of détente. This policy led to a significant relaxation in US–Soviet tensions and played a crucial role in 1971 talks with Chinese Premier Zhou En-lai. The talks concluded with a rapprochement between the United States and the People’s Republic of China, and the formation of a new strategic anti-Soviet Sino-American alignment. He was jointly awarded the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize with Lê Đức Thọ for helping to establish a ceasefire and U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam. The ceasefire, however, was not durable, Thọ declined to accept the award and Kissinger appeared deeply ambivalent about it (donating his prize money to charity, not attending the award ceremony and later offering to return his prize medal. As National Security Advisor, in 1974 Kissinger directed the much-debated National Security Study Memorandum 200.
DETENTE AND OPENING TO CHINA
As National Security Advisor under Nixon, Kissinger pioneered the policy of détente with the Soviet Union, seeking a relaxation in tensions between the two superpowers. As a part of this strategy, he negotiated the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (culminating in the SALT I treaty) and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Leonid Brezhnev, General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party. Negotiations about strategic disarmament were originally supposed to start under the Johnson Administration but were postponed in protest upon the invasion by Warsaw Pact troops of Czechoslovakia in August 1968.
Kissinger, shown here with Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong, negotiated rapprochement with the People’s Republic of China.
Kissinger sought to place diplomatic pressure on the Soviet Union. He made two trips to the People’s Republic of China in July and October 1971 (the first of which was made in secret) to confer with Premier Zhou En-lai, then in charge of Chinese foreign policy. According to Kissinger’s book, “The White House Years”, the first secret China trip was arranged through Pakistan’s diplomatic and Presidential involvement, as there were no direct communication channels between the states. His trips paved the way for the groundbreaking 1972 summit between Nixon, Zhou, and Communist Party of China Chairman Mao Zedong, as well as the formalization of relations between the two countries, ending 23 years of diplomatic isolation and mutual hostility. The result was the formation of a tacit strategic anti-Soviet alliance between China and the United States.
While Kissinger’s diplomacy led to economic and cultural exchanges between the two sides and the establishment of Liaison Offices in the Chinese and American capitals, with serious implications for Indochinese matters, full normalization of relations with the People’s Republic of China would not occur until 1979, because the Watergate scandal overshadowed the latter years of the Nixon presidency and because the United States continued to recognize the government of Taiwan.
In September 1989, the Wall Street Journal’s John Fialka disclosed that Kissinger took a direct economic interest in US-China relations in March 1989 with the establishment of China Ventures, Inc., a Delaware limited partnership, of which he was chairman of the board and chief executive officer. A US$75 million investment in a joint venture with the Communist Party government’s primary commercial vehicle at the time, China International Trust & Investment Corporation (CITIC), was its purpose. Board members were major clients of Kissinger Associates. Kissinger was criticized for not disclosing his role in the venture when called upon by ABC’s Peter Jennings to comment the morning after the June 4, 1989, Tiananmen crackdown. Kissinger’s position was generally supportive of Deng Xiaoping’s clearance of the square and he opposed economic sanctions.
Kissinger with President Richard Nixon, discussing Vietnam situation in Camp David, 1972.
Kissinger’s involvement in Indochina started prior to his appointment as National Security Adviser to Nixon. While still at Harvard, he had worked as a consultant on foreign policy to both the White House and State Department. Kissinger says that “In August 1965 … [Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr.], an old friend serving as Ambassador to Saigon, had asked me to visit Vietnam as his consultant. I toured Vietnam first for two weeks in October and November 1965, again for about ten days in July 1966, and a third time for a few days in October 1966 … Lodge gave me a free hand to look into any subject of my choice”. He became convinced of the meaninglessness of military victories in Vietnam, “… unless they brought about a political reality that could survive our ultimate withdrawal”. In a 1967 peace initiative, he would mediate between Washington and Hanoi.
Nixon had been elected in 1968 on the promise of achieving “peace with honor” and ending the Vietnam War. In office, and assisted by Kissinger, Nixon implemented a policy of Vietnamization that aimed to gradually withdraw U.S. troops while expanding the combat role of the South Vietnamese Army so that it would be capable of independently defending its government against the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam, a Communist guerrilla organization, and North Vietnamese army (Vietnam People’s Army or PAVN). Kissinger played a key role in bombing Cambodia to disrupt PAVN and Viet Cong units launching raids into South Vietnam from within Cambodia’s borders and resupplying their forces by using the Ho Chi Minh trail and other routes, as well as the 1970 Cambodian Incursion and subsequent widespread bombing of Khmer Rouge targets in Cambodia. The bombing campaign contributed to the chaos of the Cambodian Civil War, which saw the forces of leader Lon Nol unable to retain foreign support to combat the growing Khmer Rouge insurgency that would overthrow him in 1975. Documents uncovered from the Soviet archives after 1991 reveal that the North Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in 1970 was launched at the explicit request of the Khmer Rouge and negotiated by Pol Pot’s then second in command, Nuon Chea. The American bombing of Cambodia resulted in 40,000-150,000 deaths from 1969 to 1973, including at least 5,000 civilians. Kissinger himself said there were about 50,000 civilian casualties in the bombing. Pol Pot biographer David P. Chandler argues that the bombing “had the effect the Americans wanted—it broke the Communist encirclement of Phnom Penh.” However, Ben Kiernan and Taylor Owen suggest that “the bombs drove ordinary Cambodians into the arms of the Khmer Rouge, a group that seemed initially to have slim prospects of revolutionary success.”
Along with North Vietnamese Politburo Member Le Duc Tho, Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10, 1973, for their work in negotiating the ceasefires contained in the Paris Peace Accords on “Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam”, signed the previous January. According to Irwin Abrams, this prize was the most controversial to date. For the first time in the history of the Peace Prize, two members left the Nobel Committee in protest. Tho rejected the award, telling Kissinger that peace had not been restored in South Vietnam.[ Kissinger wrote to the Nobel Committee that he accepted the award “with humility,” and “donated the entire proceeds to the children of American service members killed or missing in action in Indochina.” After the Fall of Saigon in 1975, Kissinger attempted to return the award.
Under Kissinger’s guidance, the United States government supported Pakistan in the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. Kissinger was particularly concerned about the expansion of Soviet influence in South Asia as a result of a treaty of friendship recently signed by India and the USSR, and sought to demonstrate to the People’s Republic of China (Pakistan’s ally and an enemy of both India and the USSR) the value of a tacit alliance with the United States.
Kissinger sneered at people who “bleed” for “the dying Bengalis” and ignored the first telegram from the United States consul general in East Pakistan, Archer K. Blood, and 20 members of his staff, which informed the US that their allies West Pakistan were undertaking, in Blood’s words, “a selective genocide“. In the second, more famous, Blood Telegram the word genocide was again used to describe the events, and further that with its continuing support for West Pakistan the US government had “evidenced […] moral bankruptcy“. As a direct response to the dissent against US policy Kissinger and Nixon ended Archer Blood’s tenure as United States consul general in East Pakistan and put him to work in the State Department’s Personnel Office.
Henry Kissinger had also come under fire for private comments he made to Nixon during the Bangladesh–Pakistan War in which he described Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi as a “bitch” and a “witch“. He also said “The Indians are bastards“, shortly before the war. Kissinger has since expressed his regret over the comments.
ISRAELI POLICY AND SOVIET JEWRY
According to notes taken by H. R. Haldeman, Nixon “ordered his aides to exclude all Jewish-Americans from policy-making on Israel”, including Kissinger. One note quotes Nixon as saying “get K. [Kissinger] out of the play—Haig handle it”.
In 1973, Kissinger did not feel that pressing the Soviet Union concerning the plight of Jews being persecuted there was in the interest of U.S. foreign policy. In conversation with Nixon shortly after a meeting with Golda Meir on March 1, 1973, Kissinger stated, “The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy, and if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.” Kissinger argued, however:
That emigration existed at all was due to the actions of “realists” in the White House. Jewish emigration rose from 700 a year in 1969 to near 40,000 in 1972. The total in Nixon’s first term was more than 100,000. To maintain this flow by quiet diplomacy, we never used these figures for political purposes. … The issue became public because of the success of our Middle East policy when Egypt evicted Soviet advisers. To restore its relations with Cairo, the Soviet Union put a tax on Jewish emigration. There was no Jackson–Vanik Amendment until there was a successful emigration effort. Sen. Henry Jackson, for whom I had, and continue to have, high regard, sought to remove the tax with his amendment. We thought the continuation of our previous approach of quiet diplomacy was the wiser course. … Events proved our judgment correct. Jewish emigration fell to about a third of its previous high.
1973 YOM KIPPUR WAR
Documents show that Kissinger delayed telling President Richard Nixon about the start of the Yom Kippur War in 1973 to keep him from interfering. On October 6, 1973, the Israelis informed Kissinger about the attack at 6 am; Kissinger waited nearly 3 and a half hours before he informed Nixon.
On October 31, 1973, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ismail Fahmi (left) meets with Richard Nixon (middle) and Henry Kissinger (right), about a week after the end of fighting in the Yom Kippur War.
According to Kissinger, in an interview in November 2013, he was notified at 6:30 a.m. (12:30 pm. Israel time) that war was imminent, and his urgent calls to the Soviets and Egyptians were ineffective. He says Golda Meir’s decision not to preempt was wise and reasonable, balancing the risk of Israel looking like the aggressor and Israel’s actual ability to strike within such a brief span of time.
The war began on October 6, 1973, when Egypt and Syria attacked Israel. Kissinger published lengthy telephone transcripts from this period in the 2002 book Crisis. On October 12, under Nixon’s direction, and against Kissinger’s initial advice, while Kissinger was on his way to Moscow to discuss conditions for a cease-fire, Nixon sent a message to Brezhnev giving Kissinger full negotiating authority.
Israel regained the territory it lost in the early fighting and gained new territories from Syria and Egypt, including land in Syria east of the previously captured Golan Heights, and additionally on the western bank of the Suez Canal, although they did lose some territory on the eastern side of the Suez Canal that had been in Israeli hands since the end of the Six Day War. Kissinger pressured the Israelis to cede some of the newly captured land back to its Arab neighbors, contributing to the first phases of Israeli-Egyptian non-aggression. The move saw a warming in U.S.–Egyptian relations, bitter since the 1950s, as the country moved away from its former independent stance and into a close partnership with the United States. The peace was finalized in 1978 when U.S. President Jimmy Carter mediated the Camp David Accords, during which Israel returned the Sinai Peninsula in exchange for an Egyptian peace agreement that included the recognition of the state of Israel.
TURKISH INVASION OF CYPRUS
Following a period of steady relations between the U.S. Government and the Greek military regime after 1967, Secretary of State Kissinger was faced with the coup by the Greek junta and the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in July and August 1974. In an August 1974 edition of the New York Times, it was revealed that Kissinger and State Department were informed in advance of the impending coup by the Greek junta in Cyprus. Indeed, according to the journalist, the official version of events as told by the State Department was that it felt it had to warn the Greek military regime not to carry out the coup. The warning had been delivered by July 9, according to repeated assurances from its Athens services, that is, the U.S. embassy and the American ambassador Henry J. Tasca himself.
Ioannis Zigdis, then a Greek MP for Centre Union and former minister, stated in an Athenian newspaper that “the Cyprus crisis will become Kissinger’s Watergate”. Zigdis also stressed: “Not only did Kissinger know about the coup for the overthrow of Archbishop Makarios before July 15th, he also encouraged it, if he did not instigate it.”
Kissinger was a target of anti-American sentiment which was a significant feature of Greek public opinion at the time—particularly among young people—viewing the U.S. role in Cyprus as negative. In a demonstration by students in Heraklion, Crete, soon after the second phase of the Turkish invasion in August 1974, slogans such as “Kissinger, murderer”, “Americans get out”, “No to Partition” and “Cyprus is no Vietnam” were heard.
Some years later, Kissinger expressed the opinion that the Cyprus issue was resolved in 1974, a position very similar to that held by Turkish prime minister Bulent Ecevit, who had ordered the invasion.
LATIN AMERICAN POLICY
Ford and Kissinger conversing on grounds of the White House, August 1974
The United States continued to recognize and maintain relationships with non-left-wing governments, democratic and authoritarian alike. John F. Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress was ended in 1973. In 1974, negotiations about a new settlement over the Panama Canal started. They eventually led to the Torrijos-Carter Treaties and the handing over of the Canal to Panamanian control.
Kissinger initially supported the normalization of United States-Cuba relations; broken since 1961 (all U.S.–Cuban trade was blocked in February 1962, a few weeks after the exclusion of Cuba from the Organization of American States because of U.S. pressure). However, he quickly changed his mind and followed Kennedy’s policy. After the involvement of the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces in the independence struggles in Angola and Mozambique, Kissinger said that unless Cuba withdrew its forces relations would not be normalized. Cuba refused.
INTERVENTION IN CHILE
Chilean Socialist Party presidential candidate Salvador Allende was elected by a plurality of 36.2% in 1970, causing serious concern in Washington, D.C. due to his openly socialist and pro-Cuban politics. The Nixon administration, with Kissinger’s input, authorized the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to encourage a military coup that would prevent Allende’s inauguration, but the plan was not successful.
Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet shaking hands with Kissinger in 1976
United States-Chile relations remained frosty during Salvador Allende’s tenure, following the complete nationalization of the partially U.S.-owned copper mines and the Chilean subsidiary of the U.S.-based ITT Corporation, as well as other Chilean businesses. The U.S. claimed that the Chilean government had greatly undervalued fair compensation for the nationalization by subtracting what it deemed “excess profits”. Therefore, the U.S. implemented economic sanctions against Chile. The CIA also provided funding for the mass anti-government strikes in 1972 and 1973, and extensive black propaganda in the newspaper El Mercurio.
The most expeditious way to prevent Allende from assuming office was somehow to convince the Chilean congress to confirm Jorge Alessandri as the winner of the election. Once elected by the congress, Alessandri—a party to the plot through intermediaries—was prepared to resign his presidency within a matter of days so that new elections could be held. This first, nonmilitary, approach to stopping Allende was called the Track I approach. The CIA’s second approach, the Track II approach, was designed to encourage a military overthrow.
On September 11, 1973, Allende died during a military coup launched by Army Commander-in-Chief Augusto Pinochet, who became President. A document released by the CIA in 2000 titled “CIA Activities in Chile” revealed that the United States, acting through the CIA, actively supported the military junta after the overthrow of Allende and that it made many of Pinochet’s officers into paid contacts of the CIA or U.S. military.
In 1976, Orlando Letelier, a Chilean opponent of the Pinochet regime, was assassinated in Washington, D.C. with a car bomb. Previously, Kissinger had helped secure his release from prison, and had chosen to cancel a letter to Chile warning them against carrying out any political assassinations. The U.S. ambassador to Chile, David H. Popper, said that Pinochet might take as an insult any inference that he was connected with assassination plots. It has been confirmed that Pinochet directly ordered the assassination. This murder was part of Operation Condor, a covert program of political repression and assassination carried out by Southern Cone nations that Kissinger has been accused of being involved in.
On September 10, 2001, the family of Chilean general René Schneider filed a suit against Kissinger, accusing him of collaborating in arranging Schneider’s kidnapping which resulted in his death. According to phone records, Kissinger claimed to have “turned off” the operation. However, the CIA claimed that no such “stand-down” order was ever received, and he and Nixon later joked that an “incompetent” CIA had struggled to kill Schneider. A subsequent Congressional investigation found that the CIA was not directly involved in Schneider’s death. The case was later dismissed by a U.S. District Court, citing separation of powers: “The decision to support a coup of the Chilean government to prevent Dr. Allende from coming to power, and the means by which the United States Government sought to effect that goal, implicate policy makers in the murky realm of foreign affairs and national security best left to the political branches.” Decades later the CIA admitted its involvement in the kidnapping of General Schneider, but not his murder, and subsequently paid the group responsible for his death $35,000 “to keep the prior contact secret, maintain the goodwill of the group, and for humanitarian reasons.”
Kissinger took a similar line as he had toward Chile when the Argentinian military, led by Jorge Videla, toppled the elected government of Isabel Perón in 1976 with a process called the National Reorganization Process by the military, with which they consolidated power, launching brutal reprisals and “disappearances” against political opponents. During a meeting with Argentinian foreign minister César Augusto Guzzetti, Kissinger assured him that the United States was an ally, but urged him to “get back to normal procedures” quickly before the U.S. Congress reconvened and had a chance to consider sanctions. According to declassified state department files, Kissinger also attempted to thwart the Carter Administration’s efforts to halt the mass killings by the 1976-83 military dictatorship.
In September 1976 Kissinger was actively involved in negotiations regarding the Rhodesian Bush War. Kissinger, along with South Africa’s Prime Minister John Vorster, pressured Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith to hasten the transition to black majority rule in Rhodesia. With FRELIMO in control of Mozambique and even South Africa withdrawing its support, Rhodesia’s isolation was nearly complete. According to Smith’s autobiography, Kissinger told Smith of Mrs. Kissinger’s admiration for him, but Smith stated that he thought Kissinger was asking him to sign Rhodesia’s “death certificate”. Kissinger, bringing the weight of the United States, and corralling other relevant parties to put pressure on Rhodesia, hastened the end of minority-rule.
The Portuguese decolonization process brought U.S. attention to the former Portuguese colony of East Timor, which lies within the Indonesian archipelago and declared its independence in 1975. Indonesian president Suharto was a strong U.S. ally in Southeast Asia and began to mobilize the Indonesian army, preparing to annex the nascent state, which had become increasingly dominated by the popular leftist FRETILIN party. In December 1975, Suharto discussed the invasion plans during a meeting with Kissinger and President Ford in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta. Both Ford and Kissinger made clear that U.S. relations with Indonesia would remain strong and that it would not object to the proposed annexation. They only wanted it done “fast” and proposed that it be delayed until after they had returned to Washington. Accordingly, Suharto delayed the operation for one day. Finally on December 7 Indonesian forces invaded the former Portuguese colony. U.S. arms sales to Indonesia continued, and Suharto went ahead with the annexation plan. According to Ben Kiernan, the invasion and occupation resulted in the deaths of nearly a quarter of the Timorese population from 1975 to 1981.
In February 1976 Kissinger considered launching air strikes against ports and military installations in Cuba, as well as deploying Marine battalions based at the US Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, in retaliation for Cuban President Fidel Castro’s decision in late 1975 to send troops to Angola to help the newly independent nation fend off attacks from South Africa and right-wing guerrillas.
Kissinger left office when Democrat Jimmy Carter defeated Republican Gerald Ford in the 1976 presidential elections. Kissinger continued to participate in policy groups, such as the Trilateral Commission, and to maintain political consulting, speaking, and writing engagements.
Shortly after Kissinger left office in 1977, he was offered an endowed chair at Columbia University. There was significant student opposition to the appointment, which eventually became a subject of wide media commentary. Columbia cancelled the appointment as a result.
Kissinger was then appointed to Georgetown University’s Center for Strategic and International Studies. He taught at Georgetown’s Edmund Walsh School of Foreign Service for several years in the late 1970s. In 1982, with the help of a loan from the international banking firm of E.M. Warburg, Pincus and Company, Kissinger founded a consulting firm, Kissinger Associates, and is a partner in affiliate Kissinger McLarty Associates with Mack McLarty, former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton. He also serves on the board of directors of Hollinger International, a Chicago-based newspaper group, and as of March 1999, was a director of Gulfstream Aerospace.
From 1995 to 2001, Kissinger served on the board of directors for Freeport-McMoRan, a multinational copper and gold producer with significant mining and milling operations in Papua, Indonesia. In February 2000, then-president of Indonesia Abdurrahman Wahid appointed Kissinger as a political advisor. He also serves as an honorary advisor to the United States-Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce.
From 2000–2006, Kissinger served as chairman of the board of trustees of Eisenhower Fellowships. In 2006, upon his departure from Eisenhower Fellowships, he received the Dwight D. Eisenhower Medal for Leadership and Service.
In November 2002, he was appointed by President George W. Bush to chair the newly established National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States to investigate the September 11 attacks.[Kissinger stepped down as chairman on December 13, 2002 rather than reveal his business client list, when queried about potential conflicts of interest.
Kissinger—along with William Perry, Sam Nunn, and George Shultz—has called upon governments to embrace the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons, and in three Wall Street Journal op-eds proposed an ambitious program of urgent steps to that end. The four have created the Nuclear Security Project to advance this agenda. In 2010, the four were featured in a documentary film entitled “Nuclear Tipping Point”. The film is a visual and historical depiction of the ideas laid forth in the Wall Street Journal op-eds and reinforces their commitment to a world without nuclear weapons and the steps that can be taken to reach that goal.
On 17 November 2016, Kissinger met with then President Elect Donald Trump during which they discussed “China, Russia, Iran, the EU and other events and issues around the world”.
VIEWS O FOREIGN POLICY
In several articles of his and interviews that he gave during the Yugoslav wars, he criticized the United States’ policies in Southeast Europe, among other things for the recognition of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a sovereign state, which he described as a foolish act. Most importantly he dismissed the notion of Serbs, and Croats for that part, being aggressors or separatist, saying that “they can’t be separating from something that has never existed”. In addition, he repeatedly warned the West of inserting itself into a conflict that has its roots at least hundreds of years back in time, and said that the West would do better if it allowed the Serbs and Croats to join their respective countries. Kissinger shared similarly critical views on Western involvement in Kosovo. In particular, he held a disparaging view of the Rambouillet Agreement:
The Rambouillet text, which called on Serbia to admit NATO troops throughout Yugoslavia, was a provocation, an excuse to start bombing. Rambouillet is not a document that any Serb could have accepted. It was a terrible diplomatic document that should never have been presented in that form.— Henry Kissinger, Daily Telegraph, June 28, 1999
However, as the Serbs did not accept the Rambouillet text and NATO bombings started, he opted for a continuation of the bombing as NATO’s credibility was now at stake, but dismissed the use of ground forces, claiming that it was not worth it.
In 2006, it was reported in the book State of Denial by Bob Woodward that Kissinger met regularly with President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney to offer advice on the Iraq War. Kissinger confirmed in recorded interviews with Woodward that the advice was the same as he had given in an August 12, 2005 column in The Washington Post: “Victory over the insurgency is the only meaningful exit strategy.”
In a November 19, 2006, interview on BBC Sunday AM, Kissinger said, when asked whether there is any hope left for a clear military victory in Iraq, “If you mean by ‘military victory’ an Iraqi government that can be established and whose writ runs across the whole country, that gets the civil war under control and sectarian violence under control in a time period that the political processes of the democracies will support, I don’t believe that is possible. … I think we have to redefine the course. But I don’t believe that the alternative is between military victory as it had been defined previously or total withdrawal.”
In an April 3, 2008, interview with Peter Robinson of the Hoover Institution, Kissinger reiterated that even though he supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq he thought that the George W. Bush administration rested too much of its case for war on Saddam’s supposed weapons of mass destruction. Robinson noted that Kissinger had criticized the administration for invading with too few troops, for disbanding the Iraqi Army, and for mishandling relations with certain allies.
Kissinger said in April 2008 that “India has parallel objectives to the United States,” and he called it an ally of the U.S.
Kissinger was present at the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. In 2011, Kissinger published On China, chronicling the evolution of Sino-American relations and laying out the challenges to a partnership of ‘genuine strategic trust’ between the U.S. and China.
Kissinger’s position on this issue of U.S.–Iran talks was reported by the Tehran Times to be that “Any direct talks between the U.S. and Iran on issues such as the nuclear dispute would be most likely to succeed if they first involved only diplomatic staff and progressed to the level of secretary of state before the heads of state meet.”
2014 UKRANIAN CRISIS
Henry Kissinger in 2016.
On March 5, 2014, The Washington Post published an op-ed piece by Kissinger, 11 days before the Crimean referendum on whether Autonomous Republic of Crimea should officially rejoin in Ukraine or join neighboring Russia. In it, he attempted to balance the Ukrainian, Russian and Western desires for a functional state. He made four main points:
Ukraine should have the right to choose freely its economic and political associations, including with Europe;
Ukraine should not join NATO, a repetition of the position he took seven years before;
Ukraine should be free to create any government compatible with the expressed will of its people. Wise Ukrainian leaders would then opt for a policy of reconciliation between the various parts of their country. He imagined an international position for Ukraine like that of Finland.
Ukraine should maintain sovereignty over Crimea.
Kissinger also wrote: “The west speaks Ukrainian; the east speaks mostly Russian. Any attempt by one wing of Ukraine to dominate the other—as has been the pattern—would lead eventually to civil war or break up.”
Following the publication of his book titled World Order; Kissinger participated in an interview with Charlie Rose and updated his position on Ukraine, which he sees as a possible geographical mediator between Russia and the West. In a question he posed to himself for illustration regarding re-conceiving policy regarding Ukraine, Kissinger stated: “If Ukraine is considered an outpost, then the situation is that its eastern border is the NATO strategic line, and NATO will be within 200 miles (320 km) of Volgograd. That will never be accepted by Russia. On the other hand, if the Russian western line is at the border of Poland, Europe will be permanently disquieted. The Strategic objective should have been to see whether one can build Ukraine as a bridge between East and West, and whether one can do it as a kind of a joint effort.”
In December 2016, Kissinger advised then President-elect Donald Trump to accept “Crimea as a part of Russia” in an attempt to secure a rapprochement between the United States and Russia, whose relations soured as a result of the Crimean crisis.
At the height of Kissinger’s prominence, many commented on his wit. In February 1972, at the Washington Press Club annual congressional dinner, “Kissinger mocked his reputation as a secret swinger.” The insight, “Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac”, is widely attributed to him, although Kissinger was paraphrasing Napoleon Bonaparte. Some scholars have ranked Kissinger as the most effective U.S. Secretary of State in the 50 years to 2015. A number of activists and human rights lawyers, however, have sought his prosecution for alleged war crimes. According to historian and Kissinger biographer Niall Ferguson, however, accusing Kissinger alone of war crimes “requires a double standard” because “nearly all the secretaries of state … and nearly all the presidents” have taken similar actions.
Kissinger was interviewed in Back Door Channels: The Price of Peace, a documentary examining the underpinnings of the 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. In the film, Kissinger revealed how close he felt the world came to nuclear war during the 1973 Yom Kippur War launched by Egypt and Syria against Israel.
Attempts have been made to attach liability to Kissinger for injustices in American foreign policy during his tenure in government. In September 2001, relatives and survivors of General Rene Schneider, the former head of the Chilean general staff, commenced civil proceedings in Federal Court in Washington, DC, and, in April 2002, a petition for Kissinger’s arrest was filed in the High Court in London by human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, citing the destruction of civilian populations and the environment in Indochina during the years 1969-75. Both suits were determined to lack legal foundation and were dismissed before trial. British-American journalist and author Christopher Hitchens authored The Trial of Henry Kissinger, in which Hitchens calls for the prosecution of Kissinger “for war crimes, for crimes against humanity, and for offenses against common or customary or international law, including conspiracy to commit murder, kidnap, and torture”. Critics on the right, such as Ray Takeyh, have faulted Kissinger for his role in the Nixon administration’s opening to China and secret negotiations with North Vietnam. Takeyh writes that while rapprochement with China was a worthy goal, the Nixon administration failed to achieve any meaningful concessions from Chinese officials in return, as China continued to support North Vietnam and various “revolutionary forces throughout the Third World,” “nor does there appear to be even a remote, indirect connection between Nixon and Kissinger’s diplomacy and the communist leadership’s decision, after Mao’s bloody rule, to move away from a communist economy towards state capitalism.” On Vietnam, Takeyh claims that Kissinger’s negotiations with Le Duc Tho were intended only “to secure a ‘decent interval’ between America’s withdrawal and South Vietnam’s collapse.” Johannes Kadura offers a more positive assessment of Nixon and Kissinger’s strategy, arguing that the two men “simultaneously maintained a Plan A of further supporting Saigon and a Plan B of shielding Washington should their maneuvers prove futile.” According to Kadura, the “decent interval” concept has been “largely misrepresented,” in that Nixon and Kissinger “sought to gain time, make the North turn inward, and create a perpetual equilibrium” rather than acquiescing in the collapse of South Vietnam, but the strength of the anti-war movement and the sheer unpredictability of events in Indochina compelled them to prepare for the possibility that South Vietnam might collapse despite their best efforts. Kadura concludes: “Without Nixon, Kissinger, and Ford’s clever use of triangular diplomacy … The Soviets and the Chinese could have been tempted into a far more aggressive stance” following the “U.S. defeat in Indochina” than actually occurred. In 2011, Chimerica Media released an interview-based documentary, titled Kissinger, in which Kissinger “reflects on some of his most important and controversial decisions” during his tenure as Secretary of State.
Kissinger’s record was brought up during the 2016 Democratic Party presidential primaries. Hillary Clinton had cultivated a close relationship with Kissinger, describing him as a “friend” and a source of “counsel.” During the Democratic Primary Debates, Clinton touted Kissinger’s praise for her record as Secretary of State. In response, candidate Bernie Sanders issued a critique of Kissinger’s foreign policy, declaring: “I am proud to say that Henry Kissinger is not my friend. I will not take advice from Henry Kissinger.”
AWARDS, HONOURS, AND ASSOCIATIONS
Kissinger and Le Duc Tho were jointly offered the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize for their work on the Paris Peace Accords which prompted the withdrawal of American forces from the Vietnam war. (Le Duc Tho declined to accept the award on the grounds that such “bourgeois sentimentalities” were not for him and that peace had not actually been achieved in Vietnam. Kissinger donated his prize money to charity, did not attend the award ceremony and would later offer to return his prize medal after the fall of South Vietnam to North Vietnamese forces 18 months later.
In 1973, Kissinger received the U.S. Senator John Heinz Award for Greatest Public Service by an Elected or Appointed Official, an award given out annually by Jefferson Awards.
In 1976, Kissinger became the first honorary member of the Harlem Globetrotters.
President Ford, General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev, and Kissinger speaking informally at the Vladivostok Summit in 1974
On January 13, 1977, Kissinger received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Gerald Ford
In 1980, Kissinger won the National Book Award in History for the first volume of his memoirs, The White House Years.
In 1995, he was made an honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
In 2000, Kissinger received the Sylvanus Thayer Award at United States Military Academy at West Point.
In 2002, Kissinger became an honour member of the International Olympic Committee.
On March 1, 2012, Kissinger was awarded Israel’s President’s Medal.
In October 2013, Kissinger was awarded the Henry A. Grunwald Award for Public Service by Lighthouse International
Kissinger was a member of the Founding Council of the Rothermere American Institute, University of Oxford.
1979. The White House Years. ISBN 0-316-49661-8 (National Book Award, History Hardcover)
1982. Years of Upheaval. ISBN 0-316-28591-9
1999. Years of Renewal. ISBN 0-684-85571-2
Born: Heinz Alfred Kissinger on May 27, 1923 (age 93) at Fürth, Germany
Political party: Republican
City College of New York
Harvard University (BA, MA, PhD)
Civilian awards: Nobel Peace Prize
Military service in United States Army
Years of service: 1943–1946
Rank: US Army WWII SGT.svg Sergeant
Unit: 970th Counter Intelligence Corps
World War II
Bronze Star Medal ribbon.svg Bronze Star
Kissinger married Ann Fleischer, with whom he had two children, Elizabeth and David. They divorced in 1964. Ten years later, he married Nancy Maginnes. They lived in Kent, Connecticut and New York City. His son David Kissinger was an executive with NBC Universal before becoming head of Conaco, Conan O’Brien’s production company.
He described diplomacy as his favorite game in a 1973 interview.
The Presidency 1971
On the morning of November 4, I met in the Oval Office with the Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi. Her visit to Washington came at a critical time. Eight months earlier there had been a rebellion in East Pakistan against the government of President Yahya Khan. Indian officials reported that nearly 10 million refugees fled from East Pakistan into India. We knew that Yahya Khan eventually would have to yield to East Pakistan’s demands for independence, and we urged him to take a more moderate and conciliatory line. We could not have known the extent to which India would seize this opportunity not just to destroy Pakistan’s control of East Pakistan but to weaken West Pakistan as well.
Mrs. Gandhi complimented me highly on the way I was winding down the war in Vietnam and on the boldness of the China initiative. We talked about the uneasy situation in Pakistan, and I stressed how important it was that India not take any actions that would exacerbate it.
She earnestly assured me that India was not motivated in any way by anti-Pakistan attitudes. “India has never wished the destruction of Pakistan or its permanent crippling,” she said. “Above all, India seeks the restoration of stability. We want to eliminate chaos at all costs.”
I later learned that, even as we spoke, Mrs. Gandhi knew that her generals and advisers were planning to intervene in East Pakistan and were considering contingency plans for attacking West Pakistan as well.
Even though India was officially neutral and continued to receive foreign aid from us, Mrs. Gandhi had gradually become aligned with the Soviets, and received substantial economic and military aid from Moscow. President Ayub Khan and his successor, Yahya Khan had responded by developing Pakistan’s relations with the People’s Republic of China. With Moscow tied to New Delhi and Peking tied to Islamabad, the potential for the subcontinent’s becoming a dangerous area of confrontation between the Communist giants was great.
In our conversation that morning I was disturbed by the fact that although Mrs. Gandhi professed her devotion to peace, she would not make any concrete offers for de-escalating the tension. Yahya Khan had agreed to move his troops away from the border if India would do the same, but she would not make a similar commitment.
I said, “Absolutely nothing could be served by the disintegration of Pakistan. For India to initiate hostilities would be almost impossible to understand.” I said that in some respects the situation was similar to that in the Middle East: just as American and Soviet interests were involved there, so Chinese, Soviet and American interests were at stake in South Asia and the Indian subcontinent. “It would be impossible to calculate precisely the steps which other great powers might take if India were to initiate hostilities,” I said.
A month later, primed with Soviet weapons, the Indian army attacked East Pakistan. Fighting also erupted along the border with West Pakistan, but it was impossible to tell whether the Indian objective there was to pin down Pakistani forces or whether the action was the prelude to a full-scale attack. Battle plans of such dimensions are not formulated in less than a month, and I could not help thinking that Mrs. Gandhi had purposely deceived me in our meeting. I was also concerned that the Soviets had ignored several, clear signals from us that we would react very unfavourably if they supported India in an invasion of Pakistan. I felt that one of the primary Soviet motives was to show the world that, despite the much-heralded Sino-American rapprochement, the U.S.S.R. was still the premier Communist power. In fact, the Soviets moved troops to the Chinese border in an unsubtle attempt to tie up Chinese forces and prevent them from going to the aid of Pakistan.
I felt it was important to discourage both Indian aggression and Soviet adventurism, and I agreed with Kissinger’s recommendation that we should demonstrate our displeasure with India and our support for Pakistan. To coordinate our planning, Kissinger convened a meeting of the Washington Special Action Group (WSAG), composed of representatives from State, Defense, CIA, and the NSC. He found that the State Department felt that independence for East Pakistan was inevitable and desirable, and that India had limited aims in East Pakistan and no designs on West Pakistan. The risk of Soviet or Chinese intervention, according to this reasoning, was small. The State Department, therefore, argued that we should keep calm, sit back, and let the inevitable happen.
I completely disagreed with this bland assessment. I wanted to let the Soviets know that we would strongly oppose the dismemberment of Pakistan by a Soviet ally using Soviet arms. Kissinger, therefore, summoned Soviet Charge Vorontsov to the White House and told him that this crisis had once again brought our relations to a watershed because we considered that promoting a war in the Indian subcontinent was inconsistent with improved relations with us.
Kissinger said that we wanted a cease-fire and the withdrawal of all Indian troops from Pakistan. Once the fighting had stopped, the parties could begin to negotiate a political settlement of the problem. We recognized that political autonomy for East Pakistan would be the probable outcome of a political solution, and we were willing to work in that direction. The main point was that the fighting should stop and the danger of a great power confrontation should be removed.
The next day I wrote a letter to Brezhnev that left no doubt about my feelings:
The objective fact now is that Indian military are being used in an effort to impose political demands and to dismember the sovereign state of Pakistan. It is also a fact that your government has aligned itself with this Indian policy . . .
I am convinced that the spirit in which we agreed that the time had come of us to meet in Moscow next May requires from both of us the utmost restraint and the most urgent action to end the conflict and restore territorial integrity in the subcontinent.
At eleven that night, Vorontsov delivered a note replying to the points Kissinger had made the day before. It accused the United States of not being active enough in maintaining peace, and it proposed an immediate cease-fire coupled with a demand that Pakistan immediately recognise the independence of East Pakistan. The Soviets clearly intended to play a hard line. What we had to do, therefore, was remain absolutely steadfast behind Pakistan. If we failed to help Pakistan, then Iran or any other country within the reach of Soviet influence might begin to question the dependability of American support. As Kissinger put it, “We don’t really have any choice. We can’t allow a friend o ours and China’s to get screwed in a conflict with a friend of Russia’s.”
On December 9 Vorontsov arrived with a long letter from Brezhnev. In an attempt to put the shoe on the other foot, he said that the crux of the problem lay in finding ways to exert influence on Yahya Khan to give up East Pakistan. Kissinger felt that the cordial tone of the letter at least indicated some responsive movement on the Soviet side, but I expressed my doubts.
In the meantime, the crisis had taken a disturbing turn. Through intelligence sources we learned that at a meeting of the Indian Cabinet Mrs. Gandhi had led a discussion of plans to expand the war on the western front and to invade West Pakistan. Kissinger called the Indian Ambassador, virtually told him that we knew his government’s plans, and demanded that the Ambassador urge New Delhi to reconsider any precipitate action.
The Soviet Minister of Agriculture happened to be visiting Washington at this time. I knew he was a close friend of Brezhnev’s, so I asked him to carry back a personal message to Brezhnev from me, conveying my seriousness in saying that it was incumbent upon the two of us as the leaders of the two nuclear superpowers not to allow our larger interests to become embroiled in the actions of our smaller friends.
Late that afternoon I authorised Admiral Moorer to dispatch a task force of eight ships, including the nuclear aircraft carrier Enterprise, from Vietnam to the Bay of Bengal.
The military situation in East Pakistan was hopeless. The numerically superior Indians had been joined by fierce Bengali rebels, and Yahya Khan’s forces were in total retreat. The almost unbelievable cruelty of the fighting on both sides had turned the situation into a nightmare. Millions of people were left homeless before the fighting ended.
Finally, Yahya recognised that he should follow the course of action we had been recommending: that he could no longer defend East Pakistan and that he should concentrate his forces in the defence of West Pakistan, in which event I indicated he would have my complete support. On December 9 Pakistan accepted the UN General Assembly’s call for a cease-fire. India rejected it, however, and tension was still rising along the border in West Pakistan, as I wrote another letter to Brezhnev calling on him to join me in ending the crisis before we ourselves were dragged into it. I began by stating that, in our view, his proposal for the political independence of East Pakistan had been met by Pakistan’s own action. Then I wrote:
This must now be followed by an immediate cease-fire in the West. If this does not take place, we would have to conclude that there is in progress an act of aggression directed at the whole of Pakistan, a friendly country toward which we have obligations.
I therefore propose an immediate joint appeal for a complete cease-fire. Meanwhile, I urge you in the strongest terms to restrain India with which, by virtue of your treaty, you have great influence and for whose actions you must share responsibility.
On December 11 we waited all day for a reply from Brezhnev. This delay was intolerable, since the possibility of an Indian attack on West Pakistan increased with each passing hour. On December 12, shortly before I was to fly to the Azores for a Franco-American Summit with President Pompidou on the international monetary crisis, a brief reply arrived from Moscow, stating simply that the Government of India had no intention of taking any military action against West Pakistan.
I immediately sent back a message that the Indian assurances lacked any concreteness. In view of the urgency of the situation and the need for concerted action, I proposed that we continue consultations through the secret Kissinger-Dobrynin channel. I added that I could not emphasise too strongly that time was the essence to avoid consequences that neither of us wanted.
Despite the urgent tone of my message, the hot-line wires were cold until 5 A.M. the next day, when a three-sentence message arrived that the Soviets were conducting a “clarification” of the circumstances in India and would inform us of the results without delay.
In Washington on December 14, Vorontsov handed Haig another message from the Kremlin. Once again it offered only vague assurances that India had no intention of taking any military action against Pakistan. Since this reply offered no improvement over the earlier message, I agreed with Kissinger that Haig should call Vorontsov and tell him so.
On the flight from Azores back to Washington, Kissinger talked to the three pool reporters flying aboard Air Force One. One of them asked if there was any danger that the crisis might deteriorate to the point that it would affect my plans to go to the summit. “Not yet,” Kissinger replied, “but we will have to wait and see what happens in the next few days.” the reporters immediately realised that they just been given a big story. “Should we infer from statement that if the Russians don’t begin to exercise a restraining influence very soon, the plans for the President’s trip might be changed?” one asked.
Kissinger replied, “We are definitely looking to the Soviets to become a restraining influence in the nextfew days, and if they continue to deliberately encourage military actions, we might have to take a new look at the President’s plans.”
As soon as the plane landed, the reporters rushed to share their notes with their colleagues and file their stories. The early evening news programs flashed the report around the country and around the world.
Kissinger summoned Vorontsov to the White House and told him that I had been concerned that the Soviet leaders were not doing everything possible to arrive at a settlement. In view of their continued delays, I had begun to believe that they were dealing only in words, with the intention of letting events on the ground dictate the ultimate outcome. “It is not President Nixon’s style to threaten, ” Kissinger said. “He has long sought a genuine exchange in U.S.-Soviet relations. Despite his desire, however, your government has proceeded to equip India with great amounts of sophisticated armaments. If the Soviet government were to support or to pressure other foreign leaders to dismember or to divide an ally of the United States, how can they expect progress in our mutual relationships?”
The next day, Kissinger called Vorontsov back and showed him the text of a letter I had written to Kosygin urging that our countries take prompt and responsible steps to ensure that the military conflict not spread and that assurances be given against territorial acquisition by either side.
Vorontsov complained that the Indians were proving very resistant to Soviet pressure. Kissinger replied, “There is no longer any excuse. The President has made any. Umber of personal appeals, all of which have been rejected, and it now time to move.”
Vorontsov said that the Soviets were prepared unconditionally to guarantee that there would be no Indian attack on West Pakistan or on Kashmir. But to do this publicly would mean that they were, in effect speaking for a friendly country. In other words, the Soviets would urge the Indians to accept a cease-fire as long as they did not have to do so publicly. Without the prospect of Soviet support and aid, the Indians were almost certain to agree to a settlement.
The next day Yahya Khan’s forces in East Pakistan surrendered unconditionally. On December 17, the explosive situation on the western front was also resolved when Pakistan accepted the Indian offer of a cease-fire there. By using diplomatic signals and behind-the-scenes pressures we had been able to save West Pakistan from the imminent threat of Indian aggression and domination. We had also once again avoided a major confrontation with the Soviet Union.
The Indo-Pakistan war involved stakes much higher than the future of Pakistan–and that was high enough. It involved the principle of whether big nations supported by the Soviet Union would be permitted to dismember their smaller neighbours. Once that principle was allowed the world would have become more unstable and unsafe.
The Chinese played a very cautious role in this period. They had troops poised on the Indian border, but they would not take the risk of coming to the aid of Pakistan by attacking India, because they understandably feared that the Soviets might use this action as an excuse for attacking China. They consequently did nothing, but the presence of their forces probably had a deterrent effect on India.
Three days after the cease-fire was arranged, we sent the Chinese a brief description of its major points. We concluded, “It is the U.S. view that recent events in South Asia involve sobering conclusions. The governments of the People’s Republic of China and the United States should not again find themselves in a position where hostile global aims can be furthered through the use of proxy countries.”
As a result of the Indo-Pakistan crisis, my respect and regard for Mrs. Gandhi diminished. A few months later, in March 1972, after having seen a film biography of Mahatma Gandhi–who was no relation to her–during a weekend at Key Biscayne, I dictated a brief reflection in the diary I had begun keeping in November 1971.
Diary As I saw Gandhi’s assassination and heard his words on violence, I realised how hypocritical the present Indian leaders are, with Indira Gandhi talking about India’s victory wings being clipped when Shastri went to Tashkent and her duplicitous attitude towards us when she actually made up her mind to attack Pakistan at the time she saw me in Washington and assured me she would not. Those who resort to force, without making excuses, are bad enough– but those who resort to force while preaching to others about their use of force deserve no sympathy whatever.
One of the most serious incidents of the Indo-Pakistan crisis occurred on our domestic front. On December 14, while we were still uncertain whether India would attack West Pakistan, syndicated columnist Jack Anderson published verbatim excerpts of the minutes of the WSAG meetings of December 2,4, and 6. The minutes revealed Kissinger’s statements to the group relaying my strong pressure to “tilt” toward Pakistan, which differed from the posture that had been adopted by some State Department sources as well as from the more neutral public position we embraced in order to exercise greater leverage on all parties. From a diplomatic point of view, the leak was embarrassing; from the point of view of national security, it was intolerable.
The leak came as a shock because WSAG meetings had been attended by only the highest-ranking members of the military intelligence organisations and the State Department. We learned that Rear Admiral Robert O. Welander believed that one of the leaked documents had to have come from his office, which handled liaison between the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the National Security Council. Bud Krogh and David Young were assigned to investigate.
Suspicion centred on a young Navy yeoman assigned to Welanders’s office. In the course of questioning, Young learned that for some time the yeoman has been making copies of secret NSC documents. He had rifled burn bags for carbon or xerox copies, and in some cases, he actually took documents for copying out of Kissinger’s and Haig’s briefcases. On one occasion, he copied a memo of Kissinger’s conversation with Chou En-lai during the first secret mission to Peking. He passed the documents to his superiors in the Pentagon.
We were not able to establish beyond doubt that the yeoman was Anderson’s source. However, circumstantial evidence was strong. They were personally acquainted and had met on several occasions. Whether or not he had disclosed classified information to Anderson, the fact remained that he had jeopardised the relationship of the JCS to the White House.
I was disturbed–although not perhaps really surprised–that the JCS was spying on the White House. But I was, frankly, very reluctant to pursue this aspect of the case because I knew that if it were explored, like so many other sensitive matters it would wind up being leaked to the media where it would be completely distorted, and we would end up doing damage to the military at a time when it was already under heavy attack.
The yeoman himself presented a similar problem. I felt the circumstantial evidence that he had provided information to Anderson was convincing, and I knew that such actions could not be tolerated.
Diary What concerns me about this story is the Ellsberg complex that drove the yeoman to put out the information. His spying on the White House for the Joint Chiefs is something that I would not particularlybe surprised at, although I don’t think it’s a healthy practice. But his proceeding to put out top secret information to a newspaper columnist, because he disagreed with the policy on India is the kind of practice that must, at all costs, be stopped.
I felt, however, that it would be too dangerous to prosecute the yeoman. He had travelled with Kissinger and others on a number of secret missions and had had access to other top-secret information, which if disclosed, could have jeopardized our negotiations with China and with North Vietnam. In this respect, he was a potential time bomb that might be triggered by prosecution. We had him transferred to a remote post in Oregon and kept him under surveillance, including wiretaps for a time, to make sure that he was not dispensing any more secret information. It worked: there were no further leaks from him.
The Battle of Gettysburg was fought July 1–3, 1863, in and around the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, by Union and Confederate forces during the American Civil War. The battle involved the largest number of casualties of the entire war and is often described as the war’s turning point. Union Major General George Meade’s Army of the Potomac defeated attacks by Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia ending Lee’s attempt to invade the North.
After his success at Chancellorsville in Virginia in May 1863, Lee led his army through the Shenandoah Valley to begin his second invasion of the North—the Gettysburg Campaign. With his army in high spirits, Lee intended to shift the focus of the summer campaign from war-ravaged northern Virginia and hoped to influence Northern politicians to give up their prosecution of the war by penetrating as far as Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, or even Philadelphia. Prodded by President Abraham Lincoln, Major General Joseph Hooker moved his army in pursuit, but was relieved of command just three days before the battle and replaced by Meade.
Elements of the two armies initially collided at Gettysburg on July 1, 1863, as Lee urgently concentrated his forces there, his objective being to engage the Union army and destroy it. Low ridges to the northwest of town were defended initially by a Union cavalry division under Brigadier Gen. John Buford, and soon reinforced with two corps of Union infantry. However, two large Confederate corps assaulted them from the northwest and north, collapsing the hastily developed Union lines, sending the defenders retreating through the streets of the town to the hills just to the south.
On the second day of battle, most of both armies had assembled. The Union line was laid out in a defensive formation resembling a fishhook. In the late afternoon of July 2, Lee launched a heavy assault on the Union left flank, and fierce fighting raged at Little Round Top, the Wheatfield, Devil’s Den, and the Peach Orchard. On the Union right, Confederate demonstrations escalated into full-scale assaults on Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill. All across the battlefield, despite significant losses, the Union defenders held their lines.
On the third day of battle, fighting resumed on Culp’s Hill, and cavalry battles raged to the east and south, but the main event was a dramatic infantry assault by 12,500 Confederates against the centre of the Union line on Cemetery Ridge, known as Pickett’s Charge. The charge was repulsed by Union rifle and artillery fire, at great loss to the Confederate army.
Lee led his army on a torturous retreat back to Virginia. Between 46,000 and 51,000 soldiers from both armies were casualties in the three-day battle, the most costly in US history.
On November 19, President Lincoln used the dedication ceremony for the Gettysburg National Cemetery to honor the fallen Union soldiers and redefine the purpose of the war in his historic Gettysburg Address.
Shortly after the Army of Northern Virginia won a major victory over the Army of the Potomac at the Battle of Chancellorsville (April 30 – May 6, 1863), Robert E. Lee decided upon a second invasion of the North (the first was the unsuccessful Maryland Campaign of September 1862, which ended in the bloody Battle of Antietam). Such a move would upset U.S. plans for the summer campaigning season and possibly reduce the pressure on the besieged Confederate garrison at Vicksburg. The invasion would allow the Confederates to live off the bounty of the rich Northern farms while giving war-ravaged Virginia a much-needed rest. In addition, Lee’s 72,000-man army could threaten Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, and possibly strengthen the growing peace movement in the North.
Initial movements to battle Thus, on June 3, Lee’s army began to shift northward from Fredericksburg, Virginia. Following the death of Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, Lee reorganized his two large corps into three new corps, commanded by Lieutenant General James Longstreet (I Corps), Lt. General Richard S. Ewell (II), and Lieutenant General A.P. Hill (III); both Ewell and Hill, who had formerly reported to Jackson as division commanders, were new to this level of responsibility. The Cavalry Division remained under the command of Major General J.E.B. Stuart.
The Union Army of the Potomac, under Major General Joseph Hooker, consisted of seven infantry corps, a cavalry corps, and an Artillery Reserve, for a combined strength of more than 100,000 men.
The first major action of the campaign took place on June 9 between cavalry forces at Brandy Station, near Culpeper, Virginia. The 9,500 Confederate cavalrymen under Stuart were surprised by Major General Alfred Pleasonton’s combined arms force of two cavalry divisions (8,000 troopers) and 3,000 infantry, but Stuart eventually repulsed the Union attack. The inconclusive battle, the largest predominantly cavalry engagement of the war, proved for the first time that the Union horse soldier was equal to his Southern counterpart.
By mid-June, the Army of Northern Virginia was poised to cross the Potomac River and enter Maryland. After defeating the U.S. garrisons at Winchester and Martinsburg, Ewell’s IInd Corps began crossing the river on June 15. Hill’s and Longstreet’s corps followed on June 24 and 25. Hooker’s army pursued, keeping between the U.S. capital and Lee’s army. The U.S. crossed the Potomac from June 25 to 27.
Lee gave strict orders for his army to minimize any negative impacts on the civilian population. Food, horses, and other supplies were generally not seized outright, although quartermasters reimbursing Northern farmers and merchants with Confederate money were not well received. Various towns, most notably York, Pennsylvania, were required to pay indemnities in lieu of supplies, under threat of destruction. During the invasion, the Confederates seized some 40 northern African Americans. A few of them were escaped fugitive slaves, but most were freemen; all were sent south into slavery under guard.
On June 26, elements of Major General Jubal Early’s division of Ewell’s Corps occupied the town of Gettysburg after chasing off newly raised Pennsylvania militia in a series of minor skirmishes. Early laid the borough under tribute but did not collect any significant supplies. Soldiers burned several railroad cars and a covered bridge, and destroyed nearby rails and telegraph lines. The following morning, Early departed for adjacent York County.
Meanwhile, in a controversial move, Lee allowed Jeb Stuart to take a portion of the army’s cavalry and ride around the east flank of the Union army. Lee’s orders gave Stuart much latitude, and both generals share the blame for the long absence of Stuart’s cavalry, as well as for the failure to assign a more active role to the cavalry left with the army. Stuart and his three best brigades were absent from the army during the crucial phase of the approach to Gettysburg and the first two days of battle. By June 29, Lee’s army was strung out in an arc from Chambersburg (28 miles (45 km) northwest of Gettysburg) to Carlisle (30 miles (48 km) north of Gettysburg) to near Harrisburg and Wrightsville on the Susquehanna River.
In a dispute over the use of the forces defending the Harpers Ferry garrison, Hooker offered his resignation, and Abraham Lincoln and General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, who were looking for an excuse to get rid of him, immediately accepted. They replaced Hooker early on the morning of June 28 with Maj. Gen. George Gordon Meade, then commander of the V Corps.
On June 29, when Lee learned that the Army of the Potomac had crossed the Potomac River, he ordered a concentration of his forces around Cashtown, located at the eastern base of South Mountain and eight miles (13 km) west of Gettysburg.On June 30, while part of Hill’s Corps was in Cashtown, one of Hill’s brigades, North Carolinians under Brigadier General J. Johnston Pettigrew, ventured toward Gettysburg. In his memoirs, Major General Henry Heth, Pettigrew’s division commander, claimed that he sent Pettigrew to search for supplies in town-especially shoes.
When Pettigrew’s troops approached Gettysburg on June 30, they noticed Union cavalry under Brigadier General John Bufordarriving south of town, and Pettigrew returned to Cashtown without engaging them. When Pettigrew told Hill and Heth what he had seen, neither general believed that there was a substantial U.S. force in or near the town, suspecting that it had been only Pennsylvania militia. Despite General Lee’s order to avoid a general engagement until his entire army was concentrated, Hill decided to mount a significant reconnaissance in force the following morning to determine the size and strength of the enemy force in his front. Around 5 a.m. on Wednesday, July 1, two brigades of Heth’s division advanced to Gettysburg.
Union–Key commanders (Army of the Potomac)
Major General George G. Meade, (Commanding)
Major General Winfield Scott Hancock; Major General John F. Reynolds
Major General Oliver O. Howard; Major General John Sedgwick
Major General George Sykes; Major General Daniel E. Sickles
Major General Henry W. Slocum; Major General Alfred Pleasonton
The Army of the Potomac initially under Major General Joseph Hooker (Major General George G. Meade replaced Hooker in command on June 28), consisted of more than 100,000 men in the following organization:
I Corps, commanded by Major General John F. Reynolds, with divisions commanded by Brigadier General James S. Wadsworth, Brigadier General John C. Robinson, and Major General Abner Doubleday.
II Corps, commanded by Major General Winfield S. Hancock, with divisions commanded by Brigadier Generals John C. Caldwell, John Gibbon, and Alexander Hays.
III Corps, commanded by Major General Daniel E. Sickles, with divisions commanded by Major General David B. Birney and Major General Andrew A. Humphreys.
V Corps, commanded by Maj. Gen. George Sykes (George G. Meade until June 28), with divisions commanded by Brig. Gens. James Barnes, Romeyn B. Ayres, and Samuel W. Crawford.
VI Corps, commanded by Major General John Sedgwick, with divisions commanded byBrigadier General Horatio G. Wright, Brigadier General Albion P. Howe, and Major General John Newton.
XI Corps, commanded by Major General Oliver O. Howard, with divisions commanded by Brigadier General Francis C. Barlow, Brigadier General Adolph von Steinwehr, and Major General Carl Schurz.
XII Corps, commanded by Major General Henry W. Slocum, with divisions commanded by Brigadier Generals Alpheus S. Williams and John W. Geary.
Cavalry Corps, commanded by Major General Alfred Pleasonton, with divisions commanded by Brigadier Generals. John Buford, David McGregg, and H. Judson Kilpatrick.
Artillery Reserve, commanded by Brigadier General Robert O. Tyler. (The preeminent artillery officer at Gettysburg was Brigadier General Henry J. Hunt, chief of artillery on Meade’s staff.)
During the advance on Gettysburg, Major General Reynolds was in operational command of the left, or advanced wing of the Army consisting of I, III, and XI Corps.
Note that many other Union units (not part of the Army of the Potomac) were actively involved in the Gettysburg Campaign, but not directly involved in the Battle of Gettysburg. These included portions of the Union IV Corps, the militia and state troops of the Department of the Susquehanna, and various garrisons, including that at Harpers Ferry.
Confederate–Key commanders (Army of Northern Virginia)
General Robert E. Lee, (Commanding)
Lieutenant General. James Longstreet; Lieutenant General. Richard S. Ewell; Lieutenant General. A. P. Hill; Major General J.E.B. Stuart
In reaction to the death of Lt. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson after Chancellorsville, Lee reorganized his Army of Northern Virginia (75,000 men) from two infantry corps into three.
First Corps, commanded by Lieutenant General James Longstreet, with divisions commanded by Major Generals Lafayette McLaws, George E. Pickett, and John Bell Hood.
Second Corps, commanded by Lieutenant General Richard S. Ewell, with divisions commanded by Major Generals Jubal A. Early, Edward “Allegheny” Johnson, and Robert E. Rodes.
Third Corps, commanded by Lieutenant General A.P. Hill, with divisions commanded by Major Generals. Richard H. Anderson, Henry Heth, and W. Dorsey Pender.
Cavalry division, commanded by Major General J.E.B. Stuart, with brigades commanded by Brigadier Generals Wade Hampton, Fitzhugh Lee, Beverly H. Robertson, Albert G. Jenkins, William E. “Grumble” Jones, and John D. Imboden, and Colonel John R. Chambliss.
First day of battle
Overview map of the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1, 1863 Herr Ridge, McPherson Ridge and Seminary Ridge
Anticipating that the Confederates would march on Gettysburg from the west on the morning of July 1, Buford laid out his defenses on three ridges west of the town: Herr Ridge, McPherson Ridge and Seminary Ridge. These were appropriate terrain for a delaying action by his small cavalry division against superior Confederate infantry forces, meant to buy time awaiting the arrival of Union infantrymen who could occupy the strong defensive positions south of town at Cemetery Hill, Cemetery Ridge, and Culp’s Hill. Buford understood that if the Confederates could gain control of these heights, Meade’s army would have difficulty dislodging them.
Heth’s division advanced with two brigades forward, commanded by Brig. Gens. James J. Archer and Joseph R. Davis. They proceeded easterly in columns along the Chambersburg Pike. Three miles (5 km) west of town, about 7:30 a.m. on July 1, the two brigades met light resistance from vedettes of Union cavalry, and deployed into line. According to lore, the Union soldier to fire the first shot of the battle was Lt. Marcellus Jones. In 1886 Lt. Jones returned to Gettysburg to mark the spot where he fired the first shot with a monument. Eventually, Heth’s men reached dismounted troopers of Col. William Gamble’s cavalry brigade, who raised determined resistance and delaying tactics from behind fence posts with fire from their breechloading carbines. Still, by 10:20 a.m., the Confederates had pushed the Union cavalrymen east to McPherson Ridge, when the vanguard of the I Corps (Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds) finally arrived.
North of the pike, Davis gained a temporary success against Brig. Gen. Lysander Cutler’s brigade but was repulsed with heavy losses in an action around an unfinished railroad bed cut in the ridge. South of the pike, Archer’s brigade assaulted through Herbst (also known as McPherson’s) Woods. The U.S. Iron Brigade under Brig. Gen. Solomon Meredith enjoyed initial success against Archer, capturing several hundred men, including Archer himself.
General Reynolds was shot and killed early in the fighting while directing troop and artillery placements just to the east of the woods. Shelby Foote wrote that the Union cause lost a man considered by many to be “the best general in the army.” Maj. Gen. Abner Doubleday assumed command. Fighting in the Chambersburg Pike area lasted until about 12:30 p.m. It resumed around 2:30 p.m., when Heth’s entire division engaged, adding the brigades of Pettigrew and Col. John M. Brockenbrough.
As Pettigrew’s North Carolina Brigade came on line, they flanked the 19th Indiana and drove the Iron Brigade back. The 26th North Carolina (the largest regiment in the army with 839 men) lost heavily, leaving the first day’s fight with around 212 men. By the end of the three-day battle, they had about 152 men standing, the highest casualty percentage for one battle of any regiment, North or South. Slowly the Iron Brigade was pushed out of the woods toward Seminary Ridge. Hill added Maj. Gen. William Dorsey Pender’s division to the assault, and the I Corps was driven back through the grounds of the Lutheran Seminary and Gettysburg streets.
As the fighting to the west proceeded, two divisions of Ewell’s Second Corps, marching west toward Cashtown in accordance with Lee’s order for the army to concentrate in that vicinity, turned south on the Carlisle and Harrisburg roads toward Gettysburg, while the Union XI Corps (Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard) raced north on the Baltimore Pike and Taneytown Road. By early afternoon, the U.S. line ran in a semicircle west, north, and northeast of Gettysburg.
However, the U.S. did not have enough troops; Cutler, whose brigade was deployed north of the Chambersburg Pike, had his right flank in the air. The leftmost division of the XI Corps was unable to deploy in time to strengthen the line, so Doubleday was forced to throw in reserve brigades to salvage his line.
Around 2 p.m., the Confederate Second Corps divisions of Maj. Gens. Robert E. Rodes and Jubal Early assaulted and out-flanked the Union I and XI Corps positions north and northwest of town. The Confederate brigades of Col. Edward A. O’Neal and Brig. Gen. Alfred Iverson suffered severe losses assaulting the I Corps division of Brig. Gen. John C. Robinson south of Oak Hill. Early’s division profited from a blunder by Brig. Gen. Francis C. Barlow, when he advanced his XI Corps division to Blocher’s Knoll (directly north of town and now known as Barlow’s Knoll); this represented a salient in the corps line, susceptible to attack from multiple sides, and Early’s troops overran Barlow’s division, which constituted the right flank of the Union Army’s position. Barlow was wounded and captured in the attack.
As U.S. positions collapsed both north and west of town, Gen. Howard ordered a retreat to the high ground south of town at Cemetery Hill, where he had left the division of Brig. Gen. Adolph von Steinwehr in reserve. Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock assumed command of the battlefield, sent by Meade when he heard that Reynolds had been killed. Hancock,commander of the II Corps and Meade’s most trusted subordinate, was ordered to take command of the field and to determine whether Gettysburg was an appropriate place for a major battle. Hancock told Howard, “I think this the strongest position by nature upon which to fight a battle that I ever saw.” When Howard agreed, Hancock concluded the discussion: “Very well, sir, I select this as the battle-field.” Hancock’s determination had a morale-boosting effect on the retreating Union soldiers, but he played no direct tactical role on the first day.
General Lee understood the defensive potential to the Union if they held this high ground. He sent orders to Ewell that Cemetery Hill be taken “if practicable.” Ewell, who had previously served under Stonewall Jackson, a general well known for issuing peremptory orders, determined such an assault was not practicable and, thus, did not attempt it; this decision is considered by historians to be a great missed opportunity.
The first day at Gettysburg, more significant than simply a prelude to the bloody second and third days, ranks as the 23rd biggest battle of the war by number of troops engaged. About one quarter of Meade’s army (22,000 men) and one third of Lee’s army (27,000) were engaged.
Second day of battle
Robert E. Lee’s plan for July 2, 1863
Throughout the evening of July 1 and morning of July 2, most of the remaining infantry of both armies arrived on the field, including the Union II, III, V, VI, and XII Corps. Two of Longstreet’s brigades were on the road: Brig. Gen. George Pickett, had begun the 22 mile march from Chambersburg, while Brig. Gen. E. M. Law had begun the march from Guilford. Both arrived late in the morning. Law completed his 28-mile march in eleven hours.
The Union line ran from Culp’s Hill southeast of the town, northwest to Cemetery Hill just south of town, then south for nearly two miles (3 km) along Cemetery Ridge, terminating just north of Little Round Top. Most of the XII Corps was on Culp’s Hill; the remnants of I and XI Corps defended Cemetery Hill; II Corps covered most of the northern half of Cemetery Ridge; and III Corps was ordered to take up a position to its flank. The shape of the Union line is popularly described as a “fishhook” formation.
The Confederate line paralleled the Union line about a mile (1,600 m) to the west on Seminary Ridge, ran east through the town, then curved southeast to a point opposite Culp’s Hill. Thus, the Union army had interior lines, while the Confederate line was nearly five miles (8 km) long.
Lee’s battle plan for July 2 called for a general assault of Meade’s positions. On the right, Longstreet’s First Corps was to position itself to attack the Union left flank, facing northeast astraddle the Emmitsburg Road, and to roll up the U.S.line. The attack sequence was to begin with Maj. Gens. John Bell Hood’s and Lafayette McLaws’s divisions, followed by Maj. Gen. Richard H. Anderson’s division of Hill’s Third Corps.
On the left, Lee instructed Ewell to position his Second Corps to attack Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill when he heard the gunfire from Longstreet’s assault, preventing Meade from shifting troops to bolster his left. Though it does not appear in either his or Lee’s Official Report, Ewell claimed years later that Lee had changed the order to simultaneously attack, calling for only a “diversion”, to be turned into a full-scale attack if a favorable opportunity presented itself.
Lee’s plan, however, was based on faulty intelligence, exacerbated by Stuart’s continued absence from the battlefield. Though Lee personally reconnoitered his left during the morning, he did not visit Longstreet’s position on the Confederate right. Even so, Lee rejected suggestions that Longstreet move beyond Meade’s left and attack the Union flank, capturing the supply trains and effectively blocking Meade’s escape route.
Lee did not issue orders for the attack until 11:00 p.m. About noon, General Anderson’s advancing troops were discovered by General Sickles’ outpost guard and the Third Corps- upon which Longstreet’s First Corps was to form- did not get into position until 1:00 p. m.
Hood and McLaw, after their long march, were not yet in position and did not launch their attacks until just after 4 p.m. and 5 p.m., respectively.
Attacks on the Union left flank
Overview map of the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg, July 2, 1863
As Longstreet’s left division, under Maj. Gen. Lafayette McLaws, advanced, they unexpectedly found Maj. Gen. Daniel Sickles’s III Corps directly in their path. Sickles had been dissatisfied with the position assigned him on the southern end of Cemetery Ridge. Seeing ground better suited for artillery positions a half mile (800 m) to the west, he advanced his corps—without orders—to the slightly higher ground along the Emmitsburg Road. The new line ran from Devil’s Den, northwest to the Sherfy farm’s peach orchard, then northeast along the Emmitsburg Road to south of the Codori farm. This created an untenable salient at the Peach Orchard; Brig. Gen. Andrew A. Humphreys’s division (in position along the Emmitsburg Road) and Maj. Gen. David B. Birney’s division (to the south) were subject to attacks from two sides and were spread out over a longer front than their small corps could defend effectively. The Confederate artillery was ordered to open fire at 3:00 p. m. Meade was with Sickles at the time, urging Sickles to return to his assigned position.
Meade was forced to send 20,000 reinforcements: the entire V Corps, Brig. Gen. John C. Caldwell’s division of the II Corps, most of the XII Corps, and portions of the newly arrived VI Corps. Hood’s division moved more to the east than intended, losing its alignment with the Emmitsburg Road, attacking Devil’s Den and Little Round Top. McLaws, coming in on Hood’s left, drove multiple attacks into the thinly stretched III Corps in the Wheatfield and overwhelmed them in Sherfy’s Peach Orchard. McLaws’s attack eventually reached Plum Run Valley (the “Valley of Death”) before being beaten back by the Pennsylvania Reserves division of the V Corps, moving down from Little Round Top. The III Corps was virtually destroyed as a combat unit in this battle, and Sickles’s leg was amputated after it was shattered by a cannonball. Caldwell’s division was destroyed piecemeal in the Wheatfield. Anderson’s division, coming from McLaws’s left and starting forward around 6 p.m., reached the crest of Cemetery Ridge, but could not hold the position in the face of counterattacks from the II Corps, including an almost suicidal bayonet charge by the 1st Minnesota regiment against a Confederate brigade, ordered in desperation by Hancock to buy time for reinforcements to arrive.
As fighting raged in the Wheatfield and Devil’s Den, Col. Strong Vincent of V Corps had a precarious hold on Little Round Top, an important hill at the extreme left of the Union line. His brigade of four relatively small regiments was able to resist repeated assaults by Brig. Gen. Evander M. Law’s brigade of Hood’s division. Meade’s chief engineer, Brig. Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren, had realized the importance of this position, and dispatched Vincent’s brigade, an artillery battery, and the 140th New York to occupy Little Round Top mere minutes before Hood’s troops arrived. The defense of Little Round Top with a bayonet charge by the 20th Maine, initiated by Lt. Holman S. Melcher, was one of the most fabled episodes in the Civil War and propelledCol. Joshua L. Chamberlain into prominence after the war.
Attacks on the Union right flank
Union breastworks on Culp’s Hill
Ewell interpreted his orders as calling only for a cannonade”. His 32 guns, along with A. P. Hill’s 55 guns, engaged in a two-hour artillery barrage at extreme range that had little effect. Finally, about six o’clock, Ewell sent orders to each of his division commanders to attack the Union lines in his front.
Maj. Gen. Edward “Allegheny” Johnson’s Division “had not been pushed close to [Culp’s Hill] in preparation for an assault, although one had been contemplated all day. It now had a full mile to advance and Rock Creek had to be crossed. This could only be done at few places and involved much delay. Only three of Johnson’s four brigades moved to the attack.” Most of the hill’s defenders, the Union XII Corps, had been sent to the left to defend against Longstreet’s attacks, leaving only a brigade of New Yorkers under Brig. Gen. George S. Greene behind strong, newly constructed defensive works. With reinforcements from the I and XI Corps, Greene’s men held off the Confederate attackers, though giving up some of the lower earthworks on the lower part of Culp’s Hill.
Early was similarly unprepared when he ordered Harry T. Hays’ and Isaac E. Avery’s Brigades to attack the Union XI Corps positions on East Cemetery Hill. Once started, fighting was fierce: Col. Andrew L. Harris of the Union 2nd Brigade, 1st Division, came under a withering attack, losing half his men. Avery was wounded early on, but the Confederates reached the crest of the hill and entered the Union breastworks, capturing one or two batteries. Seeing he was not supported on his right, Hays withdrew. His right was to be supported by Robert E. Rodes’ Division, but Rodes–like Early and Johnson–had not been ordered up in preparation for the attack. He had twice as far to travel as Early; by the time he came in contact with the Union skirmish line, Early’s troops had already begun to withdraw.
Jeb Stuart and his three cavalry brigades arrived in Gettysburg around noon but had no role in the second day’s battle. Brig. Gen. Wade Hampton’s brigade fought a minor engagementwith newly promoted 23-year-old Brig. Gen. George Armstrong Custer’s Michigan cavalry near Hunterstown to the northeast of Gettysburg.
Third day of battle
Overview map of the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg, July 3, 1863
Lee’s plan General Lee wished to renew the attack on Friday, July 3, using the same basic plan as the previous day: Longstreet would attack the U.S. left, while Ewell attacked Culp’s Hill. However, before Longstreet was ready, Union XII Corps troops started a dawn artillery bombardment against the Confederates on Culp’s Hill in an effort to regain a portion of their lost works. The Confederates attacked, and the second fight for Culp’s Hill ended around 11 a.m. Harry Pfanz judged that, after some seven hours of bitter combat, “the Union line was intact and held more strongly than before.”
Lee was forced to change his plans. Longstreet would command Pickett’s Virginia division of his own First Corps, plus six brigades from Hill’s Corps, in an attack on the U.S. II Corps position at the right center of the Union line on Cemetery Ridge. Prior to the attack, all the artillery the Confederacy could bring to bear on the U.S. positions would bombard and weaken the enemy’s line.
Much has been made over the years of General Longstreet’s objections to General Lee’s plan.In his memoirs, Longstreet described their discussion as follows:
[Lee] rode over after sunrise and gave his orders. His plan was to assault the enemy’s left centre by a column to be composed of McLaws’s and Hood’s divisions reinforced by Pickett’s brigades. I thought that it would not do; that the point had been fully tested the day before, by more men, when all were fresh; that the enemy was there looking for us, as we heard him during the night putting up his defences; that the divisions of McLaws and Hood were holding a mile along the right of my line against twenty thousand men, who would follow their withdrawal, strike the flank of the assaulting column, crush it, and get on our rear towards the Potomac River; that thirty thousand men was the minimum of force necessary for the work; that even such force would need close co-operation on other parts of the line; that the column as he proposed to organize it would have only about thirteen thousand men (the divisions having lost a third of their numbers the day before); that the column would have to march a mile under concentrating battery fire, and a thousand yards under long-range musketry; that the conditions were different from those in the days of Napoleon, when field batteries had a range of six hundred yards and musketry about sixty yards.
He said the distance was not more than fourteen hundred yards. General Meade’s estimate was a mile or a mile and a half (Captain Long, the guide of the field of Gettysburg in 1888, stated that it was a trifle over a mile). He then concluded that the divisions of McLaws and Hood could remain on the defensive line; that he would reinforce by divisions of the Third Corps and Pickett’s brigades, and stated the point to which the march should be directed. I asked the strength of the column. He stated fifteen thousand. Opinion was then expressed that the fifteen thousand men who could make successful assault over that field had never been arrayed for battle; but he was impatient of listening, and tired of talking, and nothing was left but to proceed.
The “High Water Mark” on Cemetery Ridge as it appears today. The monument to the 72nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment (“Baxter’s Philadelphia Fire Zouaves”) appears at right, the Copse of Trees to the left.
The largest artillery bombardment of the war Around 1 p.m., from 150 to 170 Confederate guns began an artillery bombardment that was probably the largest of the war. In order to save valuable ammunition for the infantry attack that they knew would follow, the Army of the Potomac’s artillery, under the command of Brig. Gen. Henry Jackson Hunt, at first did not return the enemy’s fire. After waiting about 15 minutes, about 80 U.S. cannons added to the din. The Army of Northern Virginia was critically low on artillery ammunition, and the cannonade did not significantly affect the Union position.
Pickett’s Charge Around 3 p.m., the cannon fire subsided, and 12,500 Southern soldiers stepped from the ridgeline and advanced the three-quarters of a mile (1,200 m) to Cemetery Ridge in what is known to history as “Pickett’s Charge”. As the Confederates approached, there was fierce flanking artillery fire from Union positions on Cemetery Hill and north of Little Round Top, and musket and canister fire from Hancock’s II Corps. In the Union center, the commander of artillery had held fire during the Confederate bombardment (in order to save it for the infantry assault, which Meade had correctly predicted the day before), leading Southern commanders to believe the Northern cannon batteries had been knocked out. However, they opened fire on the Confederate infantry during their approach with devastating results. Nearly one half of the attackers did not return to their own lines. Although the U.S. line wavered and broke temporarily at a jog called the“Angle” in a low stone fence, just north of a patch of vegetation called the Copse of Trees, reinforcements rushed into the breach, and the Confederate attack was repulsed.
The farthest advance of Brig. Gen. Lewis A. Armistead’s brigade of Maj. Gen. George Pickett’s division at the Angle is referred to as the “High-water mark of the Confederacy“, arguably representing the closest the South ever came to its goal of achieving independence from the Union via military victory. Union and Confederate soldiers locked in hand-to-hand combat, attacking with their rifles, bayonets, rocks and even their bare hands. Armistead ordered his Confederates to turn two captured cannons against Union troops, but discovered that there was no ammunition left, the last double canister shots having been used against the charging Confederates. Armistead was wounded shortly afterward three times.
There were two significant cavalry engagements on July 3. Stuart was sent to guard the Confederate left flank and was to be prepared to exploit any success the infantry might achieve on Cemetery Hill by flanking the U.S. right and hitting their trains and lines of communications. Three miles (5 km) east of Gettysburg, in what is now called “East Cavalry Field” (not shown on the accompanying map, but between the York and Hanover Roads), Stuart’s forces collided with U.S. cavalry: Brig. Gen. David McMurtrie Gregg’s division andBrig. Gen. Custer’s brigade. A lengthy mounted battle, including hand-to-hand sabre combat, ensued. Custer’s charge, leading the 1st Michigan Cavalry,blunted the attack by Wade Hampton’s brigade, blocking Stuart from achieving his objectives in the U.S. rear. Meanwhile, after hearing news of the day’s victory, Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick launched a cavalry attack against the infantry positions of Longstreet’s Corps southwest of Big Round Top. Brig. Gen. Elon J. Farnsworth protested against the futility of such a move, but obeyed orders. Farnsworth was killed in the attack, and his brigade suffered significant losses.
“The Harvest of Death”: Union dead on the battlefield at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, photographed July 5 or July 6, 1863, by Timothy H. O’Sullivan.
The two armies suffered between 46,000 and 51,000 casualties. Union casualties were 23,055 (3,155 killed, 14,531 wounded, 5,369 captured or missing), while Confederate casualties are more difficult to estimate. Many authors have referred to as many as 28,000 Confederate casualties, and Busey and Martin’s more recent 2005 work, Regimental Strengths and Losses at Gettysburg, documents 23,231 (4,708 killed, 12,693 wounded, 5,830 captured or missing). Nearly a third of Lee’s general officers were killed, wounded, or captured. The casualties for both sides during the entire campaign were 57,225.
In addition to being the deadliest battle of the war in terms of casualties, Gettysburg also had the highest number of Generals killed in action of any battle in the war. TheConfederacy lost generals Paul Jones Semmes, William Barksdale, Richard Garnett, and Lewis Armistead, as well as J. Johnston Pettigrew during the retreat after the battle.
The Union lost Generals John Reynolds, Samuel K. Zook, Stephen H. Weed, and Elon J. Farnsworth, as well as Strong Vincent, who was posthumously promoted to general after being killed in the battle. Additional senior officer casualties included the wounding of Union Generals Dan Sickles (lost a leg) and Winfield Scott Hancock.
For the Confederacy, John Bell Hood lost the use of his left arm, while Generals James Kemper and Isaac R. Trimble were severely wounded during Pickett’s charge and captured during the Confederate retreat. General James J. Archer, in command of a brigade that most likely was responsible for killing Reynolds, was taken prisoner shortly after Reynolds’ death.
The following tables summarize casualties by corps for the Union and Confederate forces during the three-day battle.
Bruce Catton wrote, “The town of Gettysburg looked as if some universal moving day had been interrupted by catastrophe.” But there was only one documented civilian death during the battle: Ginnie Wade (also widely known as Jennie), 20 years old, was hit by a stray bullet that passed through her kitchen in town while she was making bread. Nearly 8,000 had been killed outright; these bodies, lying in the hot summer sun, needed to be buried quickly. Over 3,000 horse carcasses were burned in a series of piles south of town; townsfolk became violently ill from the stench.
Confederate retreat (Gettysburg Campaign (July 5 – July 14, 1863)
The armies stared at one another in a heavy rain across the bloody fields on July 4, the same day that the Vicksburg garrison surrendered to Major General Ulysses S. Grant. Lee had reformed his lines into a defensive position on Seminary Ridge the night of July 3, evacuating the town of Gettysburg. The Confederates remained on the battlefield, hoping that Meade would attack, but the cautious Union commander decided against the risk, a decision for which he would later be criticized. Both armies began to collect their remaining wounded and bury some of the dead. A proposal by Lee for a prisoner exchange was rejected by Meade.
Lee started his Army of Northern Virginia in motion late the evening of July 4 towards Fairfield and Chambersburg. Cavalry under Brigadier General John D. Imboden was entrusted to escort the miles-long wagon train of supplies and wounded men that Lee wanted to take back to Virginia with him, using the route through Cashtown and Hagerstown to Williamsport, Maryland. Meade’s army followed, although the pursuit was half-spirited. The recently rain-swollen Potomac trapped Lee’s army on the north bank of the river for a time, but when the Union troops finally caught up, the Confederates had forded the river. The rear-guard action at Falling Waters on July 14 added some more names to the long casualty lists, including General Pettigrew, who was mortally wounded. General James Kemper, severely wounded during Pickett’s charge, was captured during Lee’s retreat.
In a brief letter to Major General Henry W. Halleck written on July 7, Lincoln remarked on the two major Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg. He continued:
Now, if General Meade can complete his work so gloriously prosecuted thus far, by the literal or substantial destruction of Lee’s army, the rebellion will be over.
Halleck then relayed the contents of Lincoln’s letter to Meade in a telegram. Despite repeated pleas from Lincoln and Halleck, which continued over the next week, Meade did not pursue Lee’s army aggressively enough to destroy it before it crossed back over the Potomac River to safety in the South. The campaign continued into Virginia with light engagements until July 23, in the minor Battle of Manassas Gap, after which Meade abandoned any attempts at pursuit and the two armies took up positions across from each other on the Rappahannock River.
Union reaction to the news of the victory The news of the Union victory electrified the North. A headline in The Philadelphia Inquirer proclaimed “VICTORY! WATERLOO ECLIPSED!”
New York diarist George Templeton Strong wrote: The results of this victory are priceless. … The charm of Robert E. Lee’s invincibility is broken. The Army of the Potomac has at last found a general that can handle it, and has stood nobly up to its terrible work in spite of its long disheartening list of hard-fought failures. … Copperheads are palsied and dumb for the moment at least. … Government is strengthened four-fold at home and abroad.— George Templeton Strong, Diary, p. 330.
However, the Union enthusiasm soon dissipated as the public realized that Lee’s army had escaped destruction and the war would continue. Lincoln complained to Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles that “Our army held the war in the hollow of their hand and they would not close it!” Brig. Gen. Alexander S. Webb wrote to his father on July 17, stating that such Washington politicians as “Chase, Seward and others,” disgusted with Meade, “write to me that Lee really won that Battle!”
Effect on the Confederacy In fact, the Confederates had lost militarily and also politically. During the final hours of the battle, Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens was approaching the Union lines at Norfolk, Virginia, under a flag of truce. Although his formal instructions from Confederate President Jefferson Davis had limited his powers to negotiate on prisoner exchanges and other procedural matters, historian James M. McPherson speculates that he had informal goals of presenting peace overtures. Davis had hoped that Stephens would reach Washington from the south while Lee’s victorious army was marching toward it from the north. President Lincoln, upon hearing of the Gettysburg results, refused Stephens’s request to pass through the lines. Furthermore, when the news reached London, any lingering hopes of European recognition of the Confederacy were finally abandoned. Henry Adams wrote, “The disasters of the rebels are unredeemed by even any hope of success. It is now conceded that all idea of intervention is at an end.”
Compounding the effects of the defeat would be end of the Siege of Vicksburg, which surrendered to Grant’s Federal armies in the West on July 4, the day after the Gettysburg battle.
The immediate reaction of the Southern military and public sectors was that Gettysburg was a setback, not a disaster. The sentiment was that Lee had been successful on July 1 and had fought a valiant battle on July 2–3, but could not dislodge the Union Army from the strong defensive position to which it fled. The Confederates successfully stood their ground on July 4 and withdrew only after they realized Meade would not attack them. The withdrawal to the Potomac that could have been a disaster was handled masterfully. Furthermore, the Army of the Potomac had been kept away from Virginia farmlands for the summer and all predicted that Meade would be too timid to threaten them for the rest of the year. Lee himself had a positive view of the campaign, writing to his wife that the army had returned “rather sooner than I had originally contemplated, but having accomplished what I proposed on leaving the Rappahannock, viz., relieving the Valley of the presence of the enemy and drawing his Army north of the Potomac.” He was quoted as saying to Maj. John Seddon, brother of the Confederate secretary of war, “Sir, we did whip them at Gettysburg, and it will be seen for the next six months that that army will be as quiet as a sucking dove.” Some Southern publications, such as the Charleston Mercury, criticized Lee’s actions in the campaign and on August 8 he offered his resignation to President Davis, who quickly rejected it.
Gettysburg became a postbellum focus of the “Lost Cause”, a movement by writers such as Edward A. Pollard and Jubal Early to explain the reasons for the Confederate defeat in the war. A fundamental premise of their argument was that the South was doomed because of the overwhelming advantage in manpower and industrial might possessed by the North. However, they claim it also suffered because Robert E. Lee, who up until this time had been almost invincible, was betrayed by the failures of some of his key subordinates at Gettysburg: 1. Ewell, for failing to seize Cemetery Hill on July 1
2. Stuart, for depriving the army of cavalry intelligence for a key part of the campaign;and 3. Especially Longstreet, for failing to attack on July 2 as early and as forcefully as Lee had originally intended. In this view, Gettysburg was seen as a great lost opportunity, in which a decisive victory by Lee could have meant the end of the war in the Confederacy’s favor.
After the war, General Pickett was asked why Confederates lost at Gettysburg. He replied “I always thought the Yankees had something to do with it.”
Gettysburg, November 19, 1863. Crowd of citizens, soldiers, and etc., with a red arrow indicating Abraham Lincoln.
Gettysburg National Cemetery The ravages of war were still evident in Gettysburg more than four months later when, on November 19, the Soldiers’ National Cemetery was dedicated. During this ceremony, President Abraham Lincoln honored the fallen and redefined the purpose of the war in his historic Gettysburg Address
Historical assessment The nature of the result of the Battle of Gettysburg has been the subject of controversy for years. Although not seen as overwhelmingly significant at the time, particularly since the war continued for almost two years, in retrospect it has often been cited as the “turning point”, usually in combination with the fall of Vicksburg the following day. This is based on the observation thatafter Gettysburg Lee’s army conducted no more strategic offensives—his army merely reacted to the initiative of Ulysses S. Grant in 1864 and 1865—and by the speculative viewpoint of the Lost Cause writers that a Confederate victory at Gettysburg might have resulted in the end of the war.
[The Army of the Potomac] had won a victory. It might be less of a victory than Mr. Lincoln had hoped for, but it was nevertheless a victory—and, because of that, it was no longer possible for the Confederacy to win the war. The North might still lose it, to be sure, if the soldiers or the people should lose heart, but outright defeat was no longer in the cards.
Bruce Catton, Glory Road It is currently a widely held view that Gettysburg was a decisive victory for the Union, but the term is considered imprecise. It is inarguable that Lee’s offensive on July 3 was turned back decisively and his campaign in Pennsylvania was terminated prematurely (although the Confederates at the time argued that this was a temporary setback and that the goals of the campaign were largely met). However, when the more common definition of “decisive victory” is intended—an indisputable military victory of a battle that determines or significantly influences the ultimate result of a conflict—historians are divided. For example, David J. Eicher called Gettysburg a “strategic loss for the Confederacy” and James M. McPherson wrote that “Lee and his men would go on to earn further laurels. But they never again possessed the power and reputation they carried into Pennsylvania those palmy summer days of 1863.“
However, Herman Hattaway and Archer Jones wrote that the “strategic impact of the Battle of Gettysburg was … fairly limited.” Steven E. Woodworth wrote that “Gettysburg proved only the near impossibility of decisive action in the Eastern theater.” Edwin Coddington pointed out the heavy toll on the Army of the Potomac and that “after the battle Meade no longer possessed a truly effective instrument for the accomplishments of his task. The army needed a thorough reorganization with new commanders and fresh troops, but these changes were not made until Grant appeared on the scene in March 1864.”
Joseph T. Glatthaar wrote that “Lost opportunities and near successes plagued the Army of Northern Virginia during its Northern invasion,” yet after Gettysburg, “without the distractions of duty as an invading force, without the breakdown of discipline, the Army of Northern Virginia [remained] an extremely formidable force.“
Ed Bearss wrote, “Lee’s invasion of the North had been a costly failure. Nevertheless, at best the Army of the Potomac had simply preserved the strategic stalemate in the EasternTheatre …” Furthermore, the Confederacy soon proved it was still capable of winning significant victories over the Northern forces in both the East (Battle of Cold Harbor) and West (Battle of Chickamauga).
Peter Carmichael refers to the military context for the armies, the “horrendous losses at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, which effectively destroyed Lee’s offensive capacity,” implying that these cumulative losses were not the result of a single battle. Thomas Goss, writing in the U.S. Army’s Military Review journal on the definition of “decisive” and the application of that description to Gettysburg, concludes: “For all that was decided and accomplished, the Battle of Gettysburg fails to earn the label ‘decisive battle’.” The military historian John Keegan agrees. Gettysburg was a landmark battle, the largest of the war and it would not be surpassed. The Union had restored to it the belief in certain victory, and the loss dispirited the Confederacy.If “not exactly a decisive battle“, Gettysburg was the end of Confederate use of Northern Virginia as a military buffer zone, the setting for Grant’s Overland Campaign.
Lee vs. Meade
George G. Meade
Prior to Gettysburg, Robert E. Lee had established a reputation as an almost invincible general, achieving stunning victories against superior numbers—although usually at the cost of high casualties to his army—during the Seven Days, the Northern Virginia Campaign (including the Second Battle of Bull Run), Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville. Only the Maryland Campaign, with its tactically inconclusive Battle of Antietam, had been less than successful. Therefore, historians have attempted to explain how Lee’s winning streak was interrupted so dramatically at Gettysburg. Although the issue is tainted by attempts to portray history and Lee’s reputation in a manner supporting different partisan goals, the major factors in Lee’s loss arguably can be attributed to: (1)his overconfidence in the invincibility of his men; (2) the performance of his subordinates, and his management thereof; (3) his failing health, and (4) the performance of his opponent, George G. Meade, and the Army of the Potomac.
Robert E. Lee
Throughout the campaign, Lee was influenced by the belief that his men were invincible; most of Lee’s experiences with the Army of Northern Virginia had convinced him of this, including the great victory at Chancellorsville in early May and the rout of the Union troops at Gettysburg on July 1. Since morale plays an important role in military victory when other factors are equal, Lee did not want to dampen his army’s desire to fight andresisted suggestions, principally by Longstreet, to withdraw from the recently captured Gettysburg to select a ground more favorable to his army.War correspondent Peter W. Alexander wrote that Lee “acted, probably, under the impression that his troops were able to carry any position however formidable. If such was the case, he committed an error, such however as the ablest commanders will sometimes fall into.” Lee himself concurred with this judgment, writing to President Davis, “No blame can be attached to the army for its failure to accomplish what was projected by me, nor should it be censured for the unreasonable expectations of the public—I am alone to blame, in perhaps expecting too much of its prowess and valor.”
The most controversial assessments of the battle involve the performance of Lee’s subordinates. The dominant theme of the Lost Cause writers and many other historians is that Lee’s senior generals failed him in crucial ways, directly causing the loss of the battle;the alternative viewpoint is that Lee did not manage his subordinates adequately, and did not thereby compensate for their shortcomings. Two of his corps commanders—Richard S. Ewell and A.P. Hill—had only recently been promoted and were not fully accustomed to Lee’s style of command, in which he provided only general objectives and guidance to their former commander, Stonewall Jackson; Jackson translated these into detailed, specific orders to his division commanders. All four of Lee’s principal commanders received criticism during the campaign and battle:
James Longstreet suffered most severely from the wrath of the Lost Cause authors, not the least because he directly criticized Lee in postbellum writings and became a Republican after the war. His critics accuse him of attacking much later than Lee intended on July 2, squandering a chance to hit the Union Army before its defensive positions had firmed up. They also question his lack of motivation to attack strongly on July 2 and 3because he had argued that the army should have maneuvered to a place where it would force Meade to attack them.
The alternative view is that Lee was in close contact with Longstreet during the battle, agreed to delays on the morning of July 2, and never criticized Longstreet’s performance.
(There is also considerable speculation about what an attack might have looked like before Dan Sickles moved the III Corps toward the Peach Orchard.)
J.E.B. Stuart deprived Lee of cavalry intelligence during a good part of the campaign by taking his three best brigades on a path away from the army’s. This arguably led to Lee’s surprise at Hooker’s vigorous pursuit; the meeting engagement on July 1 that escalated into the full battle prematurely; and it also prevented Lee from understanding the full disposition of the enemy on July 2. The disagreements regarding Stuart’s culpability for the situation originate in therelatively vague orders issued by Lee, but most modern historians agree that both generals were responsible to some extent for the failure of the cavalry’s mission early in the campaign.
Richard S. Ewell has been universally criticized for failing to seize the high ground on the afternoon of July 1.Once again the disagreement centers on Lee’s orders, which provided general guidance for Ewell to act“if practicable.”Many historians speculate that Stonewall Jackson, if he had survived Chancellorsville, would have aggressively seized Culp’s Hill, rendering Cemetery Hill indefensible, and changing the entire complexion of the battle. A differently worded order from Lee might have made the difference with this subordinate. A.P. Hill has received some criticism for his ineffective performance. His actions caused the battle to begin and then escalate on July 1, despite Lee’s orders not to bring on a general engagement (although historians point out that Hill kept Lee well informed of his actions during the day). However, Hill’s illness minimized his personal involvement in the remainder of the battle, and Lee took the explicit step of temporarily removing troops from Hill’s corps and giving them to Longstreet for Pickett’s Charge.
In addition to Hill’s illness, Lee’s performance was affected by heart troubles, which would eventually lead to his death in 1870; he had been diagnosed with pericarditis by his staff physicians in March 1863, though modern doctors believe he had in fact suffered a heart attack. He wrote to Jefferson Davis that his physical condition prevented him from offering full supervision in the field, and said, “I am so dull that in making use of the eyes of others I am frequently misled.”
As a final factor, Lee faced a new and formidable opponent in George G. Meade, and the Army of the Potomac fought well on its home territory. Although new to his army command, Meade deployed his forces relatively effectively; relied on strong subordinates such as Winfield S. Hancock to make decisions where and when they were needed; took great advantage of defensive positions; nimbly shifted defensive resources on interior lines to parry strong threats; and, unlike some of his predecessors, stood his ground throughout the battle in the face of fierce Confederate attacks.
Lee was quoted before the battle as saying Meade “would commit no blunders on my front and if I make one … will make haste to take advantage of it.” That prediction proved to be correct at Gettysburg.
Stephen Sears wrote, “The fact of the matter is that George G. Meade, unexpectedly and against all odds, thoroughly outgeneraled Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg.”
Edwin B. Coddington wrote that the soldiers of the Army of the Potomac received a “sense of triumph which grew into an imperishable faith in [themselves]. The men knew what they could do under an extremely competent general; one of lesser ability and courage could well have lost the battle.”
Meade had his own detractors as well. Similar to the situation with Lee, Meade suffered partisan attacks about his performance at Gettysburg, but he had the misfortune of experiencing them in person. Supporters of his predecessor, Major General Joseph Hooker, lambasted Meade before the U.S. Congress’s Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, where Radical Republicans suspected that Meade was a Copperhead and tried in vain to relieve him from command. Daniel E. Sickles and Daniel Butterfield accused Meade of planning to retreat from Gettysburg during the battle. Most politicians, including Lincoln, criticized Meade for what they considered to be his half-hearted pursuit of Lee after the battle. A number of Meade’s most competent subordinates—Winfield S. Hancock,John Gibbon, Governor K. Warren, and Henry J. Hunt, all heroes of the battle—defended Meade in print, but Meade was embittered by the overall experience.
Courtesy of: By United States, War Department. – United States, War Department. Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1891 (2 vols.)., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49068657 By United States, War Department. – United States, War Department. Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1891 (2 vols.)., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49095926