Friday, July 19, 2013

Assorted Stuff

Once again, we're in the that part of Summer where God turns the oven on broil and goes off to tend to other business for a while. The unrelenting fury of Mean Ol' Mister Sun does tend to sap my ability for deep thinking, but even so, I do notice a few things going on.

1) Sharknado. It's a movie about a tornado full of sharks. But it was always advertised as a movie about a tornado full of sharks. If you tuned into a movie called Sharknado expecting anything else, you have no right to your disappointment. Understand, I'm not saying it was a good film by any reasonable standard of the term. But lots of bad movies have been made, like, let's say, Battlefield Earth or Zardoz. (Oh God, Zardoz.)

Pictured: Sean Connery wearing a mustache, a diaper, and an expression saying "I quit James Bond for this?!?"

But they were just ordinarily bad. Sharknado, at least, has the potential to be legendarily bad. But that's beside the point. If you tuned in for the world premiere, you knew the job was dangerous when you took it.

2) Sikorsky Prize Won. There were two prizes awaiting the first man-powered aircraft: the Kremer prize for the first man-powered heavier-than-air vehicle, and the Sikorsky prize for the first man-powered rotary-wing aircraft. The Kremer prize was won in 1977 by Paul MacCready's Gossamer Condor. The Sikorsky prize proved to be a much tougher nut to crack ... until now. The AeroVelo team, funded by a Kickstarter campaign, designed and built an enormous contraption that, nonetheless ... well, you have to see this to believe it.

Yes, you saw that right. One dude, by himself, pedaled that enormous thing into the sky.

3) Photobombing Saturn. By the time you read this, it's already too late to participate, but someone noticed that one of Cassini's routine photo surveys of Saturn would include the Earth. So, someone at NASA HQ got the idea that everyone should go outside, smile, and wave to make it a proper photobombing. So I did. (I mean, why the heck not?)

4) For Sale: Rocket Engine, Used Once. Earlier, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos financed a salvage mission to try to recover some old discarded Apollo hardware from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Specifically, he was looking for remnants of the Saturn V first stages that were discarded after use, off the Florida coast. They found what they were looking for, but weren't sure what mission they'd come from yet. Well, after some analysis, they can report that yes, they found the engines that sent Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins on their historic voyage aboard Apollo 11. He doesn't intend to sell the engines, of course, but he does want to put them on display somewhere.

5) Zombie Satellite! A while back, the Kepler planet-hunting satellite lost another of its control gyros, leaving it with two left. Three has been considered the minimum number necessary to give the pointing accuracy needed for Kepler to do its job properly. I say "has been considered", because in a week or two, NASA will try a last-ditch effort to find a work-around for this issue. If it's successful, Kepler will continue hunting new planets for a little while longer.

And that's probably a good place to wrap up for now. For all the stuff and nonsense going on, it's worth remembering that we do live in a wondrous, beautiful world.

Wondrous and beautiful, even if it is a world with Zardoz in it.

What the HELL, Boorman?!?

Friday, July 05, 2013

Sesquicentennial, Part XXXI: The Fulcrum of History


July 1  --  July 2  --  July 3  --  July 4  --  July 5

"For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it's still not yet two o'clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it's all in the balance, it hasn't happened yet, it hasn't even begun yet, it not only hasn't begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances which made more men than Garnett and Kemper and Armistead and Wilcox look grave yet it's going to begin, we all know that, we have come too far with too much at stake and that moment doesn't need even a fourteen-year-old boy to think This time. Maybe this time with all this much to lose and all this much to gain: Pennsylvania, Maryland, the world, the golden dome of Washington itself to crown with desperate and unbelievable victory the desperate gamble, the cast made two years ago..." -- William Faulkner

The American Civil War is, undeniably, the central event in American history. Well, I say "undeniably", but there may be a few other events that qualify. There's the Revolution, without which there wouldn't be a United States, at least not in its present form. And there's the Second World War, which not only transformed America's role in the world, but was the catalyst for an amazing cascade of changes that would reverberate through the decades to follow. But if you had to pick one event that was the pre-eminent watershed, one event that irrevocably separated what came before from what would come after, then you'd be hard pressed to choose anything but the secession of the Southern states, and the Constitutional crisis that provoked. It's like Shelby Foote once said, before the Civil War, you'd say "the United States are", and after you'd say "the United States is". Before, a collection of States; afterwards, a single, inviolable Union.

And if you had to pick the central event within the central event ... There are a few perfectly defensible candidates, but I'd have to pick the first week of July in 1863. Everything that happened in the previous three years led up to this point, and everything that followed flowed away from it.

You could pick the Emancipation Proclamation. Or the Thirteenth Amendment. But those would have come to naught, if the Union couldn't compel the Confederacy into obedience. And these last four days were the crucial turning point of that contest. Before the one-two punch of Gettysburg and Vicksburg, the Confederacy had a shouting chance of holding out long enough for either Europe to intervene, or the North to tire of the effort. Now, although the latter might still be in play, the former was a hope gone forever.

You see, one of the ways that the Confederacy would raise money was by the sale of bonds in European markets. The bonds promised repayment in Confederate cash, once Confederate independence had been won and Confederate cotton was once again available on the world market in bulk. They did a fairly brisk trade, raising desperately-needed hard cash for the war effort.

After the news hit Europe, though ... bond prices crashed, and never recovered. Speculators saw that not only was the Confederacy's biggest army under its best commander seen off, but the Confederacy itself had been cut in two and isolated. No one was touching those instruments with a ten-foot pole after that.

But it's not just that. The character of the conflict has changed. One of those changes, I'll leave for another time. The other change is still fairly significant: the Confederacy has lost the initiative.

This isn't obvious, yet. But the Tale of the Tape was beginning to tell, and hard. Not only that, but the Confederacy's initial advantage in officer quality had finally slipped.

First, supply issues. The South was never able to support a modern field army. Their plan had always been to rely upon foreign support that never actually materialized. They didn't have the industry, or the transportation infrastructure, to keep an army well-stocked with ammunition, or guns, or food and clothing. They did well enough the first two years, but only by running their industrial plant ragged. They were desperately short of tools, and skilled men. And now, totally cut off from foreign trade, the supply problems would only get worse.

Second, officer quality. The Union's problem was never that they had poor officers, it's that they had to staff and garrison forts out West, where there wasn't any action to speak of. They also had to placate the long-serving officers in the Regular Army, who were of somewhat uneven quality. The Confederacy, as I've said before, had no such problem, and could immediately put their best men in key spots. Two years pass. These two years have been a particularly brutal sifting process for the Union. Just about anyone who's still alive at this point has, at a minimum, proven that they're not abjectly incompetent ... with a handful of exceptions. And the troops themselves? Hardened, skilled, tested in the fire; they've been weighed in the scales and found worthy. The Confederacy had an early advantage in officer skill and troop morale. But now, they face officers just as skilled, and troops hungry for victory. And there are more of them. That's the other side of the Tale of the Tape, that the Confederacy was always punching above its weight class. They knew that, but were betting that the Union didn't.

Well the Union knows it now. And they're about to spin the vise down and squeeze.

It wouldn't be quick. It wouldn't be easy. But Phase I of the Anaconda plan was now complete. Now it was time for Phase II to begin. And there was blessed little that the Confederacy could do about it.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Sesquicentennial, Part XXX: Vicksburg


July 1  --  July 2  --  July 3  --  July 4  --  July 5

"God gave us Lincoln and liberty, let us fight for both." -- General Ulysses S. Grant

Sieges aren't fun for anybody.

A siege combines the horrors of an extended campaign with the stultifying boredom of garrison duty. You're either on the firing line, shooting and getting shot at, or you're back in camp, doing a whole lot of nothing. It doesn't especially matter which side of the siege works you're sitting on. Except, that is, for the fact that the besieging force can resupply with food and ammunition. The besieged force, and the unfortunate civilians within the besieged city, have whatever food and stores they managed to lay in before the noose drew shut.

Eventually, it runs out.

That's how sieges have almost always ended. The dramatic version, where the attackers smash down the walls by force and take the castle, almost never happens. The counter-examples are exceptional, like when Alexander the Great seized the then-island city of Tyre. (Incidentally, Alexander's also the reason Tyre is no longer an island, but that's another story.) The usual result, especially in the medieval and early modern period, is that the opposing commanders would meet and fix a date. The date was related to how much food the defenders had. If that date passed without relief for the defenders, then the defending commander would surrender his garrison.

All this is important on this day, July 4, 1863, because General Ulysses S. Grant has been camped out outside of Vicksburg, Mississippi with his army since mid-May. General John Pemberton has been cut off from communications or supply since that date. In theory, a Confederate army could come to break the siege. It's a nice theory. Unfortunately, it depends on an army being available for siege-breaking that President Davis didn't already have busy elsewhere.

Grant didn't take inactivity well. He never did. All of the episodes of his reported drunkenness happened when he was cooped up with nothing better to do than taste-test whiskey. When his army was on the move, Grant had plenty to occupy him; but when it was encamped outside of Vicksburg, he had very few decisions that needed making. The main decision being, when to try another assault on the defensive works?

After a few bloody attempts in May, Grant gave those up as a bad idea. He simply surrounded Vicksburg with big guns, and let his artillerymen do all his talking from then on.

Eventually, Pemberton decided that his soldiers could endure no more. Starvation, and all the diseases associated with starvation, were becoming a real problem. He asked Grant for terms on July 3, 1863. At first, Grant began to issue his standard demand of unconditional surrender ... but then reconsidered, because he had no particular desire to have to feed some 30,000 hungry Confederate prisoners in Union prison camps. Instead, he worked out a parole arrangement, where the Confederate soldiers would go home until "exchanged" with similarly-paroled Union prisoners. This sort of thing was not uncommon up to this point in the war. The final terms were worked out on July 4, when Pemberton surrendered Vickburg to Grant.

Upon hearing of the surrender of Vicksburg, Lincoln exulted, "The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea." With the surrender of Vicksburg, the Confederacy was not only cut in two, it was totally isolated from the outside world.

From now on, the Confederate Army's supply problems would only get worse.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Sesquicentennial, Part XXIX: July 3, 1863


July 1  --  July 2  --  July 3  --  July 4  --  July 5

"And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by, from this day to the ending of the world, but we in it shall be remembered..." -- King Henry V

George Meade was not a man given to dramatic, flowery speeches. It would never have occurred to him to bust out in the kind of glorious oratory that Shakespeare attributes to old Harry in the famous play. But even if he were, Meade might not have thought it absolutely necessary. Yes, he expected Lee to try to run it up the middle, having already tried both of his flanks. But he liked his position, and he liked the mettle of his men. If that battle were his lot today, he'd take it.

Robert E. Lee wasn't famous for his stirring speeches, either. He was a quiet, private man by nature. He knew the dire straits his army was in, though, and if he had it in him to pull a St. Crispin's Day speech out of his hat, he'd have certainly given it a shot. But he had something almost as good: late yesterday afternoon, his "prodigal son" Jeb Stuart finally showed up. He wasn't exactly ... happy ... with his cavalry chief, but knew what he was capable of when his head was screwed on straight. And he needed Stuart's wizardry in the saddle if he was going to pull a victory out of this mess.

Meade was right: Lee was going to try to run it up the middle today. Now, if that was all he was going to try then there's no way the plan could possibly end but disaster. Marching men uphill against protected infantry plus artillery was a recipe for an enormous casualty list, to no gain worth mentioning. No, the plan had to have more. Now that Stuart was there with his cavalry corps, Lee felt he had all the pieces he needed.

The plan had three elements. First, his artillery commander E. Porter Alexander would lay on a barrage that would suppress the Union artillery on Cemetery Ridge. Second, Stuart would lead his cavalry around the right flank of the Federal line, to strike at their rear. Third, there would be a simultaneous assault by Longstreet's infantry on the front, concentrated such that the Confederates would be able to overwhelm the Union troops and break their line. By hitting them in two places at once, it was hoped Meade would be unable to shift reserves fast enough to seal the breach.

Unfortunately for Lee, the Plan Fairy wasn't his friend today, because things began to unravel almost immediately. The problems began with the artillery bombardment. Alexander faced two significant challenges. First, he was firing uphill, and the Union gunners were firing downhill. That automatically gave the Union gunners a significant range advantage. Alexander had to put his ammunition storage well back from the front, otherwise the Union artillery would blast them to scrap in fairly short order. This hindered Alexander's rate of fire. The other problem was one that Alexander had no way of knowing about. Most of Alexander's shells weren't hitting Union positions. They were sailing overhead, smashing into unoccupied areas in the Federal rear.

An idea began to dawn upon the Federal artillery commander, Brigadier General Henry Hunt. He wanted to save ammunition for the assault that was sure to come. But, he didn't want to cut fire all at once, since that would tip his hand. Instead, he had his batteries quit firing one at a time, in semi-random order. One here, another there, a third down the line... He wanted to give the impression that the Confederates were taking out his guns.

No one's sure if Lee or Alexander bought the ruse. It wouldn't have mattered. The orders went out for Stuart and Longstreet go prepare their attacks.

Stuart's ride started out well enough. He made it all the way around, east of the Federal positions. Unfortunately, when he began to turn to head towards the Federal rear, he found that the Federal cavalry was there waiting for him. By Civil War standards the casualties were almost negligible. But the damage to Lee's plan was incalculable.

The orders had already been given. No one knew, no one could know, that no attack from the rear was coming. Longstreet, who had deep misgivings about the plan from the start, could hardly bear to give the final orders to advance. Some say that a subordinate had to give them. But, given they were.

The Confederate bombardment had not silenced the Union guns. The Confederate cavalry had not pierced the Union rear. Fifteen thousand men marched into a Hell of fire and lead, about half made it back to the Confederate lines when it was over. Miraculously, they made it to the wall, General Pickett's men, from General Armistead's brigade, had actually broken through. But that wasn't enough. General Hancock was able to put enough men into the breach to seal it up.

This was an especially poignant moment. Armistead and Hancock had been the best and closest of friends before the war. Both men were wounded in the attack. Armistead's prayer was answered, after a fashion; Hancock recovered from his wounds, but Armistead did not. (Richard Jordan's work here is doubly poignant, since it was his last role before he died of brain cancer.)

Lee was appalled at the casualties, and would regret ordering this charge for the rest of his life. He had the survivors form up to receive a possible Union counter-attack, but none was coming. Meade had his hands full reorganizing his men, having pulled so many from other units to plug holes here and there. Besides, he saw how that whole marching-across-a-field-under-fire thing worked out, and wanted no part of it.

There would be no significant actions the next day. Under an unofficial truce, they collected their wounded and their dead. Later on that same day, Lee withdrew and began his retreat towards Virginia. While he regretted that charge on the third day, he nevertheless saw the campaign as an overall success. He'd achieved clear successes on two of his goals, gathering supplies and keeping the Union busy somewhere other than Virginia. As for the third goal, well, public opinion in the Union might turn against the war eventually. That was always a long-term project. He had a year and change, until November 1864, to make that happen.

He might have been less optimistic, had he known what was happening out West. As bad as Gettysburg's third day had been, worse news was yet to come.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Sesquicentennial, Part XXVIII: July 2, 1863


July 1  --  July 2  --  July 3  --  July 4  --  July 5

"On difficult ground, press on; on hemmed-in ground, use subterfuge; on death ground, fight." -- Sun Tzu

All through the night, Union reinforcements arrived at Cemetery Hill and Cemetery Ridge. By morning, six of the seven Corps that made up the Army of the Potomac had arrived at the scene. John Sedgwick's V Corps was still enroute, about thirty miles away and closing. With the bulk of the Army of the Potomac came its new commander, General Meade. His was a difficult position: with only days to study the predicament, he had to join his new command while the battle was already in progress. Fortunately for him, the day's actions didn't commence straight away, and he had a bit of time to take stock of the situation. Holding such a strong defensive position, it seemed to Meade that the best course of action by far would be to sit tight, and let Lee come to him. He saw the same thing that Hancock had seen the day before, all the advantages lay with the Union -- high ground, interior lines of communication, more men and guns at his disposal. There was no need for him to come down off the ridge to engage the enemy. The enemy would have to come and fight, or go home. And Meade was fairly sure Lee wasn't going to go home, not just yet.

But a few peculiar things happened before the battle was joined in earnest. The first had to do with the peculiarities of the landscape, the second had to do with the peculiarities of a certain Union officer.

Lines of sight can be tricky things. I know of a place in the Wichita Mountains in Oklahoma, a certain small gorge that is utterly invisible from the road. You can drive by every day for years and never notice it's there, but if you know just the right place to park, and walk just ten yards off the road, there it is. To an eye unfamiliar with the terrain, the hills south of Gettysburg can play tricks on you.

The main point being ... from his headquarters on Seminary Ridge, Lee could not see the Union deployments to the south or east of Cemetery Ridge. His plan of attack, meant to turn the Union left flank, was as follows: Ewell would mount a diversionary attack on Culp's Hill. If the diversion looked like it was actually going to go anywhere, Lee reserved the option to commit more forces there. But the main attack would be on the left, with Longstreet's divisions attacking through the Peach Orchard and the Devil's Den. After this attack was underway, A.P. Hill would attack Cemetery Ridge directly, to prevent Meade from reinforcing his flank. Lee was utterly unaware that Union troops were already deployed farther south than he expected.

The thing is ... Union forces were also deployed farther west than Meade expected, as well. Which brings us to the aforementioned peculiarities of a Union officer, the first man ever to use an insanity defense successfully in American legal history, General Daniel Sickles. Sickles didn't like his assigned place on the line. He thought another ridge slightly to the west offered higher ground, and a better vantage for his guns. So, without asking Meade's permission, or for that matter even telling him where he was going, Sickles redeployed his Corps.

When Longstreet's attack ran into Union forces pretty much where every officer who wasn't Dan Sickles expected empty ground, Lee's carefully-engineered plan started to go cubist. Not that Meade was any better off, since Sickles' extemporaneous reorganization left a few honking great gaps in his lines. Meade had two huge strokes of luck: first, Lee couldn't see those holes, the terrain being what it was; and second, he had enough reserves to plug the holes ... provided that Sickles and his men could blunt the charge long enough.

They were certainly going to try. It's not like they had much choice. Because of his forward stance, the Confederates could flank Sickles on both sides, and did so. But they could no longer pursue their original plan. Those of Longstreet's men who weren't already engaged had to march farther south and east than they'd originally intended, and by the time they got there, Meade had forces there waiting for them.

What was happening in the Peach Orchard and Devil's Den was exactly no one's idea of a fun time, with the possible exception of General Sickles, but we've already established that Dan-O was nuttier than a short ton of Almond Joy. We'll never know what the rest of Sickles' plan was, since a Confederate cannon ball caught him in the leg and took it off, taking Sickles out of the fight. One of his subordinates remarked, uncharitably, "Bad news for Sickles, good news for the Army." But even though it cost dearly in casualties, it's possible that his crazy stunt kept Lee's attack from coming off as he'd originally planned.

Even so, it was a near-run thing. Even so, Hood nearly turned the Union flank. The very end of the line was held by the 20th Maine Volunteer Regiment. They endured ninety minutes of fearful, intense, non-stop combat. They'd beaten off two charges by Hood's men, but had suffered nearly fifty percent casualties, and were just about out of ammunition. Before they could get additional men or supplies, the Confederates came for one last try. The commander of the 20th Maine, Lieutenant Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, made a decision that would later cement his place in American history.

The bayonet charge broke the last attack, and there were no more attempts on the left flank that day. There would be sporadic fighting on the right until nightfall, but as promising as Ewell's attacks were in the beginning, they were never able to gain enough of a foothold to matter. In time, they, too, had to withdraw.

Later that night, Meade called a council of war. He explained the situation as he saw it, and asked his senior commanders one question: go, or no go? Do we fight it out here, or do we withdraw?

On the one hand, every one of these men had memories of being badly mishandled by Lee. They had a healthy respect for his ability to seemingly pull miracles out of nowhere, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat more than once. But on the other ... they held their ground today. They felt good about their positions, had great confidence in the bravery and competence of their men. Gone were the green-horns that bolted in fear from Bull Run. The ones that were left after the brutal winnowing of two years of war were hardened, skilled veterans. The vote was: we stay. We fight.

Meade was relieved. He didn't think his men would vote to withdraw, but he was gratified that their confidence matched his own. He expected that Lee would try the center tomorrow, having tried to turn both flanks.

But come what may, the Army of the Potomac was going to stand its ground and fight.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Sesquicentennial, Part XXVII: July 1, 1863


July 1  --  July 2  --  July 3  --  July 4  --  July 5

"Where there is no vision, the people perish ..." -- Proverbs 29:18

Nowadays, we take the aerial, God's-eye view of the battlefield for granted. We forget that it's less than a hundred years old. Today's commander has a plethora of eyes to deploy: enormous downward-pointing telescopes in Earth orbit, telescopic sensors mounted on U-2 aircraft flying at 80,000 feet above the battlefield, any of several kinds of drones, or sensor pods slung underneath a low-flying helicopter or fighter jet. If an enemy is foolish enough to be out in the open, day or night, cloud or clear, rain or shine, it's Candid Camera time, followed shortly by an Explodium Candygram.

A century and a half ago, a commander's eyes were seldom any higher off the ground than horseback. A man on horseback made for a pretty good scout. Unfortunately for General Robert E. Lee, it had been about a week since he'd last seen his cavalry chief, General J.E.B. Stuart. And as a result, he only had the vaguest of ideas where the Union army was.

Partly, the Union army was busy changing commanders. Again. Hooker had gotten in a spat with someone at headquarters, and in the heat of argument offered his resignation to President Lincoln. Hooker hadn't expected Lincoln to accept. This, a moment when a rebel army was marching into your territory, seemed like a damned odd time to switch out the top officer of your largest field army. It was a puzzling decision ... except that Hooker had already lost Lincoln's confidence, and Lincoln was looking for an opportunity to replace him. In his stead, he sent General George Gordon Meade to take his place. In the meantime, the Union army would have to trundle along, trusting to the competence of its brigade and division commanders.

Fortunately, most of them knew their jobs pretty well. The Union army was shadowing Lee's northward progress, on the other side of the mountain ridge. Such was the paucity of information available to Lee that he didn't discover until June 29th that the Union army had crossed the Potomac river, several days after the event. The news was an unwelcome surprise, since Lee's army was strung out on an arc between Chambersville, Carlisle, and Wrightsville. He needed to concentrate his forces, quick, or be defeated in detail. He also needed to know where the Union army actually was, with equal urgency. He issued orders to assemble at Cashtown, which was in a reasonably defensible position.

The next day, General Pettigrew made what would become a momentous decision. He heard that a great store of supplies was available in a nearby town, called Gettysburg. He ventured a reconnaissance-in-force to see if these reports were accurate, because his troops were in pretty desperate need of shoes.

The good news is that they found shoes. The bad news is that they were attached to the feet of dismounted Union cavalry under Brigadier General John Buford. Both Union and Confederate commanders sent runners back to their respective armies that they had made contact with the enemy.

The Battle of Gettysburg had begun.

Buford knew that he wasn't going to hold his position with just one division of cavalry, so he laid out defenses on three ridges to the north and west of town, intending to fight a delaying action until the Army of the Potomac could occupy the far better defensive position south and east of the town. He was joined by two divisions of infantry, which gave him a little more staying power. With this many soldiers at his disposal, Buford and company could execute a fighting withdrawal through the city of Gettysburg itself, an operation that would chew up most of the day.

This, of course, is exactly what Buford had in mind. You see, people tend to see what they want to see. And, several times before, the Confederates had seen the Yankees flee before them in panicked rout. On this day, enchanted by the loot of Gettysburg itself, their eager eyes couldn't tell the difference between panicked rout and planned fighting withdrawal. Otherwise, someone might have said, "Hey, this is too easy. Are they playing us for suckers?"

Meanwhile, the Army of the Potomac was beginning to arrive in force, and took up positions on Cemetery Hill, just to the southeast of town. Meade had sent General Winfield Scott Hancock on ahead to take stock of the situation, and when he got there, he liked what he saw. "I think this is the strongest position by nature upon which to fight a battle that I ever saw," he said. Now, this might have been smoke and mirrors to boost the morale of the men, but this was a pretty fearsome defensive position. The hills surrounding Cemetery Hill formed a fish-hook shape, which not only gave him the advantage of high ground, but the further advantage on interior lines of communication. He had it all: high ground, a convex front, and a numerical advantage. Hancock liked those odds.

Lee didn't. As night was falling, he knew he had to do something about that before the rest of Meade's men showed up. He dashed off an order to one of his Corps commanders, General Ewell, that the position on Culp's Hill must be taken ... "if practicable."

Once again, Lee was far too polite for his own good. Ewell's men had been marching and fighting all day. Night was falling, and in such a state Ewell wasn't sure of his ability to control and co-ordinate a night-time battle. He decided that such an assault wasn't practicable, and did not attack.

Thus passed Lee's best chance for a victory. Because while additional Union forces would trickle in all through the night, Lee had as many men as he was ever going to get, minus Stuart's cavalry, whenever he decided to show up. The math wasn't ever going to get any friendlier for Johnny Reb. But that didn't matter.

Lee and Meade were encamped across a field from one another. Come Hell or high water, Lee was going to try to turn Meade's flank in the morning.

But on the bright side, the Confederates had achieved one of the major goals of the campaign: there were plenty of shoes to be had in Gettysburg.