Until July of 1863 the north had not a single strategic victory to its credit that could have caused the collapse of the South – yet Lincoln was unwilling to make peace and restore the nation. There had been victories but the South was finally ready to move from a defensive to an offensive war to force peace on the north. The defeat at Gettysburg ensured that there would be two more years of bloodshed and horror and that the war would degenerate into smaller skirmishes, bloodier defenses and finally the defeat of the South, at Gettysburg and in the Civil War, would stem from the same reasons.
First is the fact that the battle was fought outside of the parameters of Southern strategic planning for victory. Robert E. Lee had, for nearly two years, enjoyed victory after victory when his troops were fighting in Virginia and hitting union forces that were inferior – in both terms of supply and leadership – who were fighting on “foreign” soil. His defeats had come in approaching well entrenched positions when he had not been able to outflank them. While the leadership of the north did not improve it had at least learned to sit behind its defenses until it had overwhelming superiority and then to wage total war against soldier and civilian both.
At Gettysburg he faced a numerically superior enemy – 94,000 men versus 72,000 – and due to the failure on especially the first day but also the second day to take and hold the high ground by the third day the union artillery commanded the heights. And here not only the numerical superiority of the north gave them the advantage but the fact that their industrial base had been able to produce a larger number of rifled – hence more accurate – artillery pieces meant that frontal assaults, like Pickett’s Charge, were tantamount to human wave suicide charges. That he managed to inflict as many casualties as he took is a tribute to the gallantry of his men who followed the order – Up men! And to your posts! And let no man forget today, that you are from Old Virginia!
By the time J. E. B. Stuart had been dispatched to use his cavalry the issue had been decided. The fact that he had not, as so often before, been leading the first wave of the charge along with his death the year following in the Overland Campaign made him a convenient scapegoat. As another scapegoat, Major General George Pickett – who gave the order that concluded the last paragraph, responded when asked why the Confederates were defeated at Gettysburg, I always thought the Yankees had something to do with it.The reasons for the failure of the Southern War for Independence are many and varied. Most of them have to do with the ineptitude of the political leadership although there are a number of military commanders whose abilities were dubious. The one assertion we feel safe in making is that no general officer of the Confederacy present at Gettysburg fell into that category.
Saber and scapegoat : J.E.B. Stuart and the Gettysburg controversy Mechanicsburg, PA : Stackpole Books, c 1994 Mark Nesbitt Gettysburg, Battle of, Gettysburg, Pa., 1863, Stuart, J. E. B. (James Ewell Brown), 1833-1864 Hardcover. 1st. ed. and printing. xix, 227 p.,  p. of plates : ill., maps ; 22 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 217-222) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG
The major facts of the Gettysburg campaign and battle are well-known, but controversies about its outcome abound even today. No issue is more contested than that of the whereabouts of the dashing cavalryman, Maj. Gen. J. E. B. Stuart.
Nesbitt gives a detailed reconstruction of Stuart’s actions during the campaign and presents the case that Stuart was not at fault for the loss: He was following orders to the best of his ability.
The blame surrounding Stuart only surfaced after the war when some veterans vilified Stuart unfairly. Unfortunately for the great cavalryman, that culpability has stuck. Nesbitt’s findings challenge generations of Gettysburg historiography.