Extra Dossier: Stonewall Jackson

For the Dossier section of the fall 2016 issue of The Civil War Monitor, we asked a panel of 20 Civil War historians a series of questions about Confederate general Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, from what they most admired about the famed commander to their favorite book about him. Due to space constraints, we weren’t able to include any of the answers to our final question for the panel, “If Jackson had been at Gettysburg, would the battle’s outcome have been different? Yes or No?” Below are their answers, in full.

Glenn David Brasher:

“Too many assume he would have taken Cemetery Hill on July 1, but I am not sure they fully comprehend the situation or the terrain. A better question is if there would have even been a Battle of Gettysburg if Jackson had lived.”

Gary W. Gallagher:

“No. My answer assumes that conditions below Cemetery Hill between 4 and 5 p.m. on July 1 would have been the same for Jackson as for Richard S. Ewell.”

Joseph T. Glatthaar:

“It would have been different, and I suspect better for the Confederacy, but I am speculating and historians should not do that.”

Lesley Gordon:

“There are so many contingencies related to ‘what if’ questions, it is difficult to say with any certainty what would have happened. If Jackson had lived, would Lee have chosen to fight at Gettysburg in the first place? Would the battle have lasted 3 days? Would there even have been a ‘Pickett’s Charge’? I don’t doubt that Lee would have been equally aggressive in seeking a final ‘Napoleonic’ victory on northern soil after Chancellorsville, but Jackson’s death added, I believe, a sense of urgency to Lee’s decision-making process (and his overconfidence in what his men were capable of enduring). Losing his trusted lieutenant unsettled Lee; and it seems what we now know as the Gettysburg Campaign would have developed entirely differently. But even if Jackson’s presence had resulted in a Confederate victory, it’s not entirely clear that the long-term outcome of the war would have changed substantially given the events occurring in Vicksburg at precisely the same time.”

A. Wilson Greene:

“This is the iconic question posed to speakers at Civil War Round Tables, whose topics are either Jackson or Gettysburg (and sometimes Pea Ridge!). The answer is unknowable, beyond an almost certainty that he would have assaulted Cemetery Hill on the evening of July 1. The success of such an attack, however, is not a foregone conclusion.”

Allen C. Guelzo:

“Yes, but not in quite the way some might think. I do not believe that Lee felt sufficient urgency at the close of July 1 to attempt an attack on Cemetery Hill, believing that the bulk of the Federal army was still too distant to support the remnants of the 1st and 11th Corps of the Army of the Potomac. Absent that urgency, Jackson might have been as likely as Richard Ewell to stop short of Cemetery Hill. Additionally, Richard Ewell encountered the same problem at Gettysburg that Jackson encountered at Chancellorsville, i.e., that even a victory ends up disorganizing one’s forces and limits the amount of aggressiveness that can be displayed. If anything, Ewell had it worse, since he had to cope with the additional disorganizing effect of a town’s streets. Jackson might have been more aggressive than Ewell in occupying Culp’s Hill, but with exhausted and dis-arranged troops and no urgency from Lee, I do not see Jackson doing much differently from Ewell (despite all the nattering from junior officers about, ‘If only Old Jack were here….’). Jackson might have been more aggressive on July 2 in supporting Longstreet’s attack; and given how close Longstreet came to destroying the Army of the Potomac on July 2, it’s not unreasonable to imagine Jackson, from the other side of Cemetery Hill, delivering the coup de grace.”

M. Keith Harris:

“I hesitate to answer this question because I think counterfactuals do very little to shed light on actual history… but, because the ‘what ifs’ can be fun, I would say that no, the outcome would have been then same—except there would have been a lot more dead Confederates. I imagine Jackson would have indeed found it ‘practicable’ to take the heights south of town on July 1. He might have succeeded too. But with more fresh Union corps coming up the road, I doubt his fought-out men could have held it for very long.”

John Hennessy:

“No. Jackson’s greatest successes were usually not tactical, but in the realm of the theater—the Valley Campaign, Second Manassas; there is nothing in his tactical record that suggests he would have behaved any differently at Gettysburg.”

Brian Matthew Jordan:

“Yes—there wouldn’t have been a battle at Gettysburg, as Jackson would have either seized Harrisburg or established a defensible position elsewhere.”

James M. McPherson:

“The course of the battle might have gone differently—e.g., Jackson probably would have attacked Cemetery and perhaps Culp’s Hill on July 1, but there is no guarantee that the attack would have been successful, so I think the outcome of the battle probably would have been pretty much the same as it was.”

Kathryn Shively Meier:

“No. If Jackson had faced the same situation as Ewell on day one—worrying reports of advancing Union troops, disadvantage in terrain, serious casualties, and no reinforcements from A.P. Hill—who is to say he or anyone could have swept Cemetery Hill? Besides, in initiating the action despite Lee’s warning to avoid a general engagement, Ewell behaved as aggressively as Jackson ever did.”

Kenneth W. Noe:

“Jackson surely would have been more aggressive than Ewell or Hill, but I’m not convinced that the Confederates would have won at Gettysburg had Jackson been there, or even that they would have taken Cemetery Hill on July 1. The ground and its defenders were strong, and Jackson was not always a skilled tactician.”

Frank O’Reilly:

“Rather than worry about the answer of ‘The Great What-If’ question, I think it is more important to recognize why the question is even asked. The question’s endurance alone for the last 153 years insists that we believe something would have been different had Stonewall Jackson been at Gettysburg—that Thomas J. Jackson, alive, well, and whole, would have made a meaningful impact. No one ever asks what if James Longstreet had NOT been there, or what if J.E.B. Stuart had arrived earlier. The question revolves around a dead man—which speaks volumes about the value his contemporaries placed on him then—and we place on him now.”

Ethan Rafuse:

“The course of the campaign would have been so different, of course, that it is impossible to give a definitive response to this question . . . but it is probably no. The Federal army was well-managed enough (and due for a victory) that it is hard to believe Jackson’s performance would have been enough of an improvement over that of the eminently capable Richard S. Ewell that it would have reversed the outcome of the battle.”

Stephen W. Sears:

“Assume Jackson had the lead in Pennsylvania, and been called down from the north to Gettysburg. With the trusted Stonewall at hand, would Lee have hesitated on July 1 (as he did) to finish off the fight? Probably not, and the Yankees might not have held on to Cemetery Ridge—a whole new set of decisions facing Lee and Meade (and don’t count out George Meade to innovate).”

Brooks D. Simpson:

“I think the ultimate outcome of the Pennsylvania campaign would not have been different. At most, Jackson’s presence on July 1 would have meant that Gettysburg would have not been nearly as significant, because the major battle of the campaign would have been fought elsewhere. So whether the outcome’s different really doesn’t matter: Had Jackson been successful (no guarantee there), the magnitude of Gettysburg declines significantly.

Besides, there are too many variables overall to give a meaningful answer (I’ve written on this before, and people have Jackson replacing Ewell on July 1 and Longstreet on July 2, overlooking that July 2 looks different if Jackson’s there on July 1).

It is far from clear that Jackson would have seized Cemetery Hill on July 1, although I believe he would have tried. But if he took it, then Gettysburg becomes a sharp meeting engagement, not what happened over the next two days. It’s no longer a battle of decision. So let’s say he tries and fails. Would Lee have looked to outflank the Union right at Culp’s Hill with Jackson? Would Jackson have opened things up on July 2, and then Longstreet would have attacked later (Second Bull Run revisited?). Or would Lee have entrusted Jackson with Longstreet’s mission, which would have meant abandoning the Confederate position east of Gettysburg? How long would that have taken? All interesting discussions … but all also fabrications of our imagination.”

Christopher S. Stowe:

“Not likely. Jackson’s tactical performance had been decidedly mixed during the 12-month period preceding the campaign in Pennsylvania; this, coupled with an enemy at Gettysburg that was both concentrated and unified in purpose, diminished his chances to pull off a major victory there.”

Daniel Sutherland:

“We all know what Douglas Southall Freeman thought, but I do not think Jackson could have taken Cemetery Hill, and there is nothing he could have done to offset Longstreet’s lethargic move against Little Round Top.”

Joan Waugh:

“No. Jackson’s presence would have made little difference to the ultimate outcome of the battle as the deciding factor was the resolute fighting of men of the Army of the Potomac, which led to a crushing defeat of Lee’s troops in Pennsylvania.”

Jeffry Wert:

“I do not know but, if he had been there, his presence would have been most important on July 2.”

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