Day One Here Day Two Here JULY 3RD A FEW HOURS AFTER MIDNIGHT submitted by
The night fighting on Culp’s Hill was slow and torturous. The Confederate assault from Johnson’s division had to cross rough terrain and a river before it even started going uphill, which at night was an incredibly miserable task even without Union troops firing at them. Union skirmishers played hell with their progress, and after brushing them aside, Johnson bumped into a defensive line that his Union counterpart Geary had spent all day perfecting.
As mentioned yesterday, their only success was to grab tiny footholds on the Union side of Rock Creek, which ran between the two hills.
As the fighting died away and the bone weary soldiers on both sides crashed asleep hard, Lee plotted. He smelled blood; on July 1st, they’d carved up the Union men good and drove them from the field. Yesterday, on the Union left, they’d wrecked a Union corps under Sickles, smashed into the Union center and almost broke it (damn those blue belly reinforcements showing up in the knick of time), and even gained a toehold on the Union right. The men’s morale was high. Lee decided to repeat yesterday’s plan, but better executed.
Simultaneous attacks on both flanks should overwhelm them, and J.E.B. Stuart could make it up to all of them by chasing down the shattered Army of the Potomac to scoop up all the heavy guns and supplies and wounded that could not retreat rapidly. To which end, Lee sent Stuart on a super wide flanking attack around the Union right so as to be in position to strike at the right moment. Lee generated the orders in written form and sent them off by messenger to his corps commanders.
Meanwhile, Meade had another war council face to face with his generals. They decided to stand pat, to neither attack the Confederate positions nor retreat back towards Washington. The terrain massively favored them and Lee would (more likely than not) walk into their gunsights again.
A defensive stance, however, doesn’t mean pure passivity. A few hours after the Confederate assault petered out and Lee’s decision was made, the Union started a counterattack on a small scale.
At dawn, the Union right flared up. Fresh troops had marched in overnight and Meade wanted his damn hill back. The extreme end of the Confederate left flank (which is of course opposite the Union right) found itself getting hammered in front of Culp’s Hill by artillery from the Baltimore Pike. Clearly, such a bombardment was meant to be followed up with an assault to retake the bridgehead.
Johnson, having received his orders from Lee and being under the impression that Longstreet was attacking in tandem a mile and a half away on the other side of the hills, attacked Culp’s Hill again before the Union could attack him first. The plan was what the plan was; pressure here, successful or not, was needed for someone to break through somewhere. But Longstreet wasn’t attacking
. Later on, Longstreet would claim to have never received the order to advance, but the sources I have assert this is untrue- he received the order, he just didn’t do anything about it. Instead of spending the night getting his troops on line to attack Little Round Top and the southern chunk of Cemetery Ridge, he just sat tight and did nothing. Oceans of ink have been spilled over the years speculating as to why. The Lost Cause narrative asserts that Longstreet was a Yankee-loving turncoat who deliberately sabotaged Lee’s plan and lost the battle on purpose. Others think that Longstreet's conviction that attacking here was insane and that they should fall back and look for battle somewhere else on more favorable terms had been strengthened by the results of July 2nd, and as such was dragging his heels trying to not attack again. Or maybe it was just the general haze of Civil War era incompetence taking its toll again.
As Johnson’s men gamely attacked the untakeable Culp’s Hill and were cut down by accurate rifle fire and close range cannon fire, Lee hunted down Longstreet to demand an explanation for his borderline insubordinate refusal to attack.
Longstreet pitched his idea again. He’d spent all night scouting the Union line. The enemy line was unbreakable. They shouldn’t try to attack them here. They should slip around the Union left, south of Big Round Top, to threaten the Union supply lines. Do that, they would make the Union respond to them, fight them on more equal terms. That’s the plan Longstreet had been preparing for all night, not a suicidal-
Lee cut him off with a raised fist. There would be no tricky maneuver around the flank. They would assault the Union line under the present conditions.
To the north, Johnson was still getting his teeth kicked in. Lee sent orders to call off the assault, but it would take a while for the messenger to get there and for Johnson to get word to his brigades to stand down and fall back. Meanwhile, across the way on Cemetery Ridge, Meade stalked his line, double checking all the positions for any confusions or errors to correct, emitting confidence and good cheer.
Lee scoped out the Union center personally, being in the area anyway. His complex double flanking maneuver wasn't working. A new plan was needed.
Lee figured that Meade had reinforced Little Round Top and the surrounding area yesterday, and that those troops hadn’t gone anywhere since. The Union defense at Culp’s Hill has been similarly fierce that morning, fierce enough to threaten Johnson with an offensive. If both flanks were strong... the center must be weak. Yesterday, a small Confederate brigade had crossed the Emmitsburg road under fire and smashed into the Union line on Cemetery Ridge, just south of Cemetery Hill. They had straight up routed
the enemy- had there been more men available to back them up and follow through, that small brigade might have won the battle outright instead of being pushed back as they’d been. Lee was satisfied. The Union center was brittle, undermanned, and the best point to hit it was at that same place.
Meanwhile, J.E.B. Stuart was stepping off on his flanking ride.
———————————————————————— LATE MORNING
Johnson’s last big push up Culp’s Hill was heroic. By that time, all of them knew how strong the Union position was. They surely walked into this with their eyes open.
A three brigade front set up for a shock attack, backed up by four more to exploit the hoped-for opening. Among them was the famous Stonewall Brigade, Jackson's old unit that he’d raised up and trained personally before being tapped for higher command. The Stonewall Brigade was, arguably, the elite of the Confederate army. The year before, they’d outmaneuvered and outfought a Union stab at Richmond coming through the Shenandoah valley.
The charge was cut down and butchered like all the others, and Johnson fell back.
Williams, whose batteries on the Baltimore Pike had kicked things off that morning, got a little overexcited and counterattacked without orders. His orders to attack the Confederate flank left his subordinates sickened with dread, but were obeyed nonetheless. Once the Union counterattack was butchered in retaliation by the entrenched Confederates, combat on the Union right ceased after six straight hours of gory, hopeless combat.
Meanwhile, Confederate artillery under the command of Colonel Alexander set itself up on a mile wide front, all carefully sited and positioned both for protection and for good lines of sight on the Union center. A brief but fierce artillery duel kicked off as each side tried to knock out the other’s firing points before the big moment, but was soon cut off to preserve ammo.
Lee mustered his available forces, bringing in troops that were only now straggling in and combining them with some units that had fought the day before. It was a haphazard and frankly half-assed piece of staff work- veteran units who hadn’t fought at all in the last two days were left in reserve, while exhausted troops who’d already suffered 50% casualties were included. Many of the brigades who were to charge Cemetery Ridge had green colonels in charge because their generals had been killed or wounded the day before. The gap between the northern half of the assaulting force and the southern half was four football fields long, and nobody seemed to notice or care. The division commander to lead the north side of the assault, General Pettigrew, was selected not for any rational consideration or advantage, but because he happened to be standing nearby when the decision was being made. Longstreet, who by this point wanted nothing to do with any of it, was placed in overall command. It took a few hours to organize this clusterfuck into something resembling a coherent unit- three divisions spread over a mile wide front, with Pickett on the left, Pettigrew on the right, and Trimble behind them to provide some depth to the big push.
There is no particularly good reason why the upcoming Pickett’s Charge is known as “Pickett’s Charge”. Pickett was not actually in charge of it, or even in charge of most of it. He was a division commander who had never seen proper combat before- in every battle since 1861, his unit had been held in reserve or absent. This was to be his first chance to get in this war. I suspect it’s known as Pickett’s Charge because he and his men were Virginians, and it was fellow Virginians who would pour over the battle to find out why the wrong side won. Accordingly, they conceived of it as being a Virginian affair, overshadowing the Tennesseans, Alabamans, North Carolinians, and Mississippians who formed the other two-thirds of the attack.
I was surprised to learn that we have a hard time figuring out how many men were actually involved in Pickett’s Charge (this being a basic narrative history, I am sticking with the common name for it despite the inaccuracy); I attribute this to the confusion involved in organizing it. I’ve heard as low as 12,500 men and as high as 15,000. I’m going with 14,000 men because it’s a nice even number that is approximately midway between the upper and lower limit, so don’t mistake my choice as being accurate or even evidence-based per se. Regardless, the agreed upon number of Union defenders is 6,500. The Confederates would outnumber the Union by about 2-1 or greater at the point of contact.
These days, a lot of people show up at the battlefield and stare out from Cemetery Ridge at Spangler Woods where Pettigrew would have emerged from (or stand in Spangler’s Woods and stare out at Cemetery Ridge, same difference) and wonder what the hell was going through Lee’s head. The ground there is now flat and devoid of cover, the exact kind of terrain that time and time again had proven to be a death sentence for infantry assaults. The answer is that the ground changed between 1863 and today. Just before World War One ended in 1918, the field over which Pickett charged was artificially flattened for tank training. Before that, it was the kind of rolling terrain that Buford’s skirmishers had exploited on day one- an observer from a distance would see the troops disappear and reappear as they went over and down each gentle slope. The 14,000 attackers would have some
cover as they advanced- not perfect terrain to keep immune from artillery and bullets, but not explicit suicide either.
———————————————————————— EARLY AFTERNOON
By 1 PM, Alexander had his guns set up the way he liked them. What followed at his command was the single largest coordinated artillery mission that the Western Hemisphere had ever seen.
In the south, cannons at the Peach Orchard suppressed the Union firing point on Little Round Top. All along Seminary Ridge from whence the charge would spring, cannons lined up practically wheel to wheel for a mile, aimed at wrecking Cemetery Ridge.
Longstreet was in what you might call a high stress kind of mood. He was having second, third, fourth, and fifth thoughts about attacking, but orders were orders and he was in charge of this damned charge. As the guns began their bombardment, Longstreet did something that frankly goes beyond the pale of any command decision I’ve ever heard of. The film Gettysburg
and the novel it’s based on cast Longstreet in a very sympathetic light, as a kind of deliberate pushback against the reductive myth that Longstreet was personally responsible for losing the battle and by extension the war, leaving Lee off the hook to stay firmly in the saintly canon of the Lost Cause. But here, Longstreet indisputably abdicates any pretense of the responsibility of command.
He fired an order off to Colonel Alexander, telling him:
If the artillery fire does not have the effect to drive off the enemy, or greatly demoralize him, so as to make our effort pretty certain, I would prefer that you should not advise General Pickett to make the charge. I shall . . . expect you to let General Pickett know when the moment offers.
Allow me to reiterate in case you were reading this on autopilot. Longstreet, the man in charge of the whole offensive, was telling a lowly artillery colonel that the decision when and if
to attack was on him and no one else.
Alexander was a subject matter expert on artillery and not infantry for a reason. This order hit him from out of left field. He wrote back for clarification, and the professional in him mentioned that since the plan is to use every single artillery shell they can spare, if there is any alternative plan to charging Cemetery Hill at the end of the bombardment then they’d better tell him before
he runs out of ammo. And Longstreet reiterated his first order
. He told Alexander to advise General Pickett whether or not to attack. And with that on his shoulders, Alexander gave the order to open fire. All told, somewhere between 150 and 170 guns opened up at the same moment.
The 75 Union cannons they had on hand briefly engaged in counter-battery fire, before being ordered to go quiet and save ammunition for the infantry assault to come. For about an hour, the Union troops just had to sit still and take what the Rebel had to give them.
What Lee was doing was classic Napoleonic tactics. Massing artillery against the weakest point on the enemy line was literally by the book soldiering. The problem, as was noted here before, was that technology had changed. Napoleonic could bring his cannon close to the frontline with the reasonable expectation that they wouldn’t be shot, since smoothbore muskets are basically harmless from 200 yards away. But that was no longer the case. The long stand off distance that the enemy rifles dictated meant that the cannonfire was proportionally less accurate and devastating. The smoke covering the field concealed the truth from the Confederates- their artillery fire was off. Most of the shells flew high overhead and exploded behind Cemetery Ridge. Some
shells hit the target area- Union men did die screaming by the score. But the positions on Cemetery Hill were only lightly damaged, and the units manning them were intact and cohesive. Most of the damage done was to the rear echelon types- surgeons, supply wagoneers, staff officers, that kind of thing. Such men were massacred as the shells aimed at men a quarter mile away arced over and found marks elsewhere. Meade, of course, was on hand, showing a brave face and cracking some jokes about a similar moment in the Mexican-American War 15 years back.
Throughout the hour, as his line endured the steel hailstorm, Meade’s engineer mind was working. He’d already suspected that Lee was about to hit his center- he’d predicted as much the night before- and now the shot placements confirmed it. He was already ordering troops into position, getting ready to reinforce the line on Cemetery Ridge if needed. He hedged his bets, putting them in a position to relieve Cemetery Hill as well, just in case. Little Round Top became somewhat less defended as men marched out, using the high ground to mask their redeployment.
Irresponsible and insubordinate though Longstreet was at that moment, he was right. Lee’s improvised plan had already failed, though it hadn’t happened yet. Pickett’s Charge wasn’t going to slam into a fragmented and demoralized Union line. It was heading into a mile long, mile wide kill zone backed up by a defence in depth.
———————————————————————— Pickett’s Charge
Confederates were getting mangled before the charge even started. Union artillery fire reached out and touched out them in Spangler’s Woods, rolling solid iron shot and explosive shells into their huddled ranks.
Longstreet rode the line, exposing himself to the artillery fire to set an example of courage. The men didn’t need such an example- or rather, they’ve seen such examples in a dozen battles over the last two years and have already learned valor as a second language- but there’s something to be said for showing the groundpounders that their boss is in the wrong end of the shooting gallery the same way that they are.
Just before 2 p.m., Alexander decided if it’s gonna happen, it’d have to be now. He needed at least a small reserve of shells to function after the battle and he’s running out fast. He dashed off a note to Pickett telling him to step off. In keeping with the standard of Confederate comms thus far, Pickett then took Alexander’s note to Longstreet in person for confirmation, because nobody had told him
that Longstreet was trying to dodge the responsibility of command.
Longstreet was desperate for an out, and in one crazed leap of illogic he thought he found one. Alexander was low on shells, with only a tiny reserve of ammunition left over for self-defense! Longstreet issued orders to halt in place and delay some more, so that they could replenish their ammo chests from their strategic reserves.
I really feel for Alexander, man. I've had bosses like that too. Alexander had to break the news to Longstreet that there was no strategic reserve, he already told him, they were shooting every round they got
. Longstreet was shocked- apparently nobody on Lee's staff had been paying attention to how fast they'd been burning through their artillery rounds. (Meade's staff paid attention to such banal details- that's why they now had tons of ammunition standing by their guns on Cemetery Ridge, patiently waiting for something valuable to shoot at). Even then, Longstreet couldn’t bring himself to actually say the words to order the attack. He just nodded, mute and numb.
At 2 p.m., the attack started. 14,000 men rose up and walked forward, a giant line of infantry one mile across. In lieu of specific instructions about where they were going and how to get there, the order was to aim for a copse of trees on the objective- an easy visual marker that was easy to remember. As long as you kept the trees in sight and kept moving forward, you were right.
(Miles and miles away, J.E.B. Stuart’s flanking maneuver was being countered by an equal force of Union cavalry. Their clash had one of the few cavalry-on-cavalry battles of the Civil War; fun fact, this was one of the fights that put Custer’s career on the map, until getting killed off by the Cheyenne at Little Big Horn 13 years later. The battle was intense, but a draw; Stuart couldn’t break through. Even if Pickett’s Charge worked, there’d have been no way to follow up and finish Meade off for good. Lee’s plan was well and truly fucked.)
Things immediately stopped being clean and neat, as per the usual. The center of Pickett’s Charge sprang up and walked before the flanks did, but the brigades on the south and the north of them set off late, leading to a kind of droopy effect where the center bulged out unsupported.
When the Union soldiers manning Cemetery Ridge saw the Confederate advance begin, they began to chant “Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg!” Just a little “fuck you” from one set of veterans to another; at Fredericksburg eight months before, Union General Burnside had ordered several such suicidal attacks on prepared defenses which the Confederates had gleefully blasted into chunky salsa. 70 odd guns opened up on them all.
To give a sense of the skill involved, the artilleryman in charge of the Union guns, Colonel Hunt, had written the book on artillery- literally, because his work Instructions for Field Artillery
was the go-to manual for the US Army- and at West Point had personally taught most of the Confederate artillery officers across the way everything they knew about the big guns. One must not mistake this as just plopping down the cannons and pointing them in the right direction. Hunt was an artist with his weapon systems, and the pattern of explosions that snaked into the advancing infantry had been painstakingly designed by a master craftsman.
At the distance of a mile, it was iron shot and shell that carved bloody little holes into the line. The Confederates took the beating, closed ranks, and pushed on. On the south, the cannons on Little Round Top delivered particularly hideous effects from the flank, driving their line into disorder; some brigades cut in front of other brigades, and what should have been a line became a muddled column. On the north, a brigade under General Brockenbrough bumped into a small detachment of 160 Union men who were jutting out north of the road. The Union men fired a small but devastating volley that raked them from the side and broke their nerves. Brockenbrough’s men ran- the first to break, but not the last.
Similar small detachments of skirmishers dotted No Man’s Land between the armies. Between their vicious little ambushes and the massive shock of massed artillery, Pickett’s Charge slowed down. Slowing down just left them in the kill zone for that much longer.
When Pickett’s Charge reached the Emmitsburg Road, they were further delayed by the stiff fencing that lined it. As they clambered over it, Union infantry opened fire at long range. The casualties skyrocketed as the Confederate line absorbed the fire. If you want to know what it was like under fire, picture the start of a rainstorm. The water droplets go taptaptap tap taptaptap taptaptaptaptap taptaptaptaptap taptap taptaptaptaptaptap taptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptap
... that's how the survivors described the musketry that pelted the fence they were trying to climb over. One small contingent of Davis’ brigade (you recall how roughly they were manhandled on July the 1st) accidentally got ahead of everybody else and found itself standing right in front of the Union line all alone. The guys closest to the Union defenses surrendered as one; the rest got shot up bad and ran for their lives.
Pickett’s Charge was pure chaos by then- their mile wide front that had surged forth from Spangler’s Wood had shrunk down to about a half mile, partly from taking casualties, partly from brigades running away after the shock of massed fire, and partly from bridges shifting north away from flanking fire from their right side.
From the fence line on the Emmitsburg to the stone wall that protected the Union defense was about two hundred yards. This is a long shot for a rifle, especially under pressure- that’s the whole point to volley fire, so that everybody shooting at once will create a sort of probability cloud of danger even at long range. Some Confederates, desperate to hit back after enduring hell, shot anyway. Their fire was ineffective. It is a very, very
short shot for an artillery piece, even under pressure. A battery of cannons placed just behind the Union line switched to canister and blasted massive bloody holes in the bunched up Confederates.
A lot of Confederates huddled up behind the fencing and stayed put. It is marginally safer than moving two feet forward past the wooden railings, and the spirit had been knocked out of them by the mile long charge and the mile long shooting gallery they’d been subjected to. The left side of the attack had been stopped dead and turned back; the right side pushed on, disregarding any thought but closing distance. 1,500 men blitzed those last 200 yards to the stone wall
Scores of them died from rifle fire as the cannons reloaded.
The surviving Confederates, running on pure adrenaline, reached the stone wall at a place called the Bloody Angle. The Union line was disjointed, with the Northern section slightly back from the southern section. The Angle was the little joint that connected the two walls; it was also right by the copse of trees that everybody was racing towards.
A fierce firefight broke out once the Confederates reached the wall. Most of them stayed behind the wall; like their buddies to the west still behind the fence on the Emmitsburg pike, they’d finally found a few square feet that was sorta kinda safe, and every instinct they had in their brains screamed at them to stay there. The Union troops were outnumbered at the point of impact, and backed off in good order.
Reserve regiments were already marching up to plug the gap that didn’t exist yet. Units north and south of the Bloody Angle shifted in place to fire at the beachhead. Behind the Confederates on the Angle, there was a small ocean of blood on the ground and a mile long procession of silent, mangled dead and writhing, screaming wounded... but no follow on reinforcements to help exploit the breakthrough.
General Armistead, the only Confederate General there still on his feet, still believed in all that chivalrous Walter Scott romantic nonsense, still thought that raw valor and heart could somehow beat a superior enemy. He stuck his hat on his sword as a makeshift battle flag and rallied his men to leave the safety of the Bloody Angle and close distance.
Just as the pitifully few Confederates got on the east side of the wall, the cannons shot canister again and puked metal death all over them. After shooting, the artillerymen ran back to safety before the rebels could stagger up to them.
Hundreds of men surged forward by inertia; hundreds out of the 14,000 that they’d started with. They drove off the understrength Union regiments with the bayonet and capture those hated big guns, turning them around to use against the inevitable counterattack. This failed; there was no more ammo left for the guns. Colonel Hunt had measured out the number of rounds needed for the job at hand with the utmost precision.
The counterattack was messy and bloody for everybody involved, for the brawl saw everything available used as a weapon- bullets, bayonets, rifle butts, pistols, knives, rocks, boot heels, bare hands. But the Confederates all just dissolved after a short while. Nobody ordered a retreat; nobody was alive and of sufficient rank to order a retreat. Thousands just plopped down where they stood and waited for Union men to come out and collect them. They were too numb and exhausted to walk anymore. Others streamed back to safety in ones and twos.
For every Confederate who died, four more were maimed and crippled. For every wounded man, another was taken prisoner. It was an unmitigated disaster for the Confederate cause, and correspondingly it was a triumph of humanity as the stalwart defenders of the slave plantations died in droves. Remember, like I said, we’re rooting for the Union.
The battle wasn’t over, not really. Not was the campaign. But it certainly was decided.
———————————————————————— RIGHT SO
Interestingly, at first it was kind of ambiguous who won.
Meade got fired from the job after Lee got the Army of Northern Virginia home intact. Lincoln was seething that Meade hadn’t shown some aggression and had failed to destroy Lee’s army as he had been ordered. Meade, however, didn’t have much of an army at that point, just a diverse collection of units that had suffered 50% casualties and were in no condition to do anything. Moreover, there had been no way to bring the retreating Lee to battle without taking a lot of risks that might see all the good done at Gettysburg undone. Still though. Meade was out, and Grant, riding high after his conquest of Vicksburg, was in. Lee initially claimed victory in the Richmond papers, and it was hard to gainsay him at first. He had indisputably invaded north and thrashed the living shit out of the Army of the Potomac so bad that they could not invade again in 1863, which was indeed partly the point of the strategy.
But soon the facts of life made themselves clear. Lee had holes in his ranks that simply could not be filled anymore. Southerners didn’t want to die in a losing war, and coercing in them into the ranks through State violence only gave him shitty recruits who would desert the second they were put on guard duty. In contrast, tens of thousands of men poured into training depots across the nation, all armed and clothed and fed by the grandest industrial base in the world. Thousands of experienced veterans re-upped their contracts in Gettysberg’s wake to become these new recruits’ NCOs and commanding officers. Lee has gone north to break the will of the Union to continue the fight. Gettysburg had, if anything, demoralized the Confederacy and reinvigorated the Union instead. I do not believe that Gettysburg started this trend, but I do think it sped it up significantly. Patterns that might have taken a year to come to fruition instead took months.
Gettysburg, in my opinion, is significant not because of any great gains or losses on the material level, but because of its effects on the minds of voters and soldiers and politicians in the North and the South. To crib C. S. Lewis really quick, what matters was not whether a given action would take a specific hill, or seize a certain road; what matters is whether a given action pushes people to either dig their heels in and seek victory at any personal cost, or whether it pushes them to back down and seek a safer compromise. Gettysburg pushed all of the American people in the directions they were already heading down, that’s all. Any conclusion beyond that is on shaky ground, I feel.
Having said that, I shall now irrationally contradict myself; Gettysburg can also act as a Rorschach test with symbols and images and stories in lieu of the ink blots. Like I said, it’s a place of religious significance to me to an extent far beyond appreciation for its historic value.
I just don’t think it’s possible for that many people to die in such a short period of time, in so compact an area, and with such blunt contempt for the foreseen probability of violent death, and not leave an indelible and ineffable mark on the land itself. Like, if humanity went extinct and Earth got colonized by Betelgeusians a hundred years after, I am certain that the aliens would somehow feel a chill in their exoskeletons when they walk over the soft leaves and through the bare trees of Herbst Wood, or tromp around the south side of Little Round Top, or poke about on the steep slope of Culp's Hill, or splash across the Plum River in the Valley of Death.
I’m not saying I’m right, of course. But I am saying how I feel.
RUMSON, N.J.— Howard "Howie" Hubler is slowly resurrecting his career after being blamed for a $9 billion trading loss at Morgan Stanley in 2007 that helped veer the securities firm near collapse when the financial crisis exploded a year later . submitted by
The former mortgage trader now works at a start-up he launched that offers what it says is a cure for the runaway epidemic of homeowners who owe more than their houses are worth.
Working from a renovated brick church here, the 40-year-old Mr. Hubler and other executives at Loan Value Group LLC have met with dozens of government officials, banks and investors about the firm's "Responsible Homeowner Reward." Underwater borrowers are promised a cash reward if they keep making their mortgage payments, and the closely held firm collects fees from lenders that sign up for the service.
"We have a view that, this time, we can help," says Mr. Hubler, Loan Value Group's chief executive, in his first interview since leaving Morgan Stanley for his disastrous bet on triple-A securities tied to subprime mortgages. Launched in 2008 with a former Morgan Stanley colleague, Loan Value Group has commitments from participating mortgage investors to offer rewards on more than $1 billion in loans.
The company signed up its first three clients—all hedge funds that own loans—earlier this year. Ohio's Housing Finance Agency has endorsed the program in a recent paper. Mr. Hubler and his colleagues also have met or talked with mortgage-bond pioneer Lewis Ranieri and officials from Citigroup Inc. C -0.30% and Fannie Mae. One thing rarely comes up: Mr. Hubler's past, according to people who have attended the meetings.
Asked about the trading loss in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Hubler replied: "I'd rather focus on Loan Value Group." Frank Pallotta, executive vice president at Loan Value Group, says no one has decided against doing business with the company because of the trading losses.
"We're comfortable with whatever anybody is able to find out," Mr. Pallotta says.
The $9 billion trading loss is one of the biggest in Wall Street history, exceeding the blowups that destroyed hedge funds Long-Term Capital Management in 1998 and Amaranth Advisors in 2006. Mr. Hubler's trades led to the ouster of several senior officials including Co-President Zoe Cruz, one of the earliest high-profile casualties of the financial crisis.
John J. Mack, chief executive of Morgan Stanley at the time, offered to resign over the trading loss, but the board decided to keep him, according to people familiar with the matter. The trading desks at Morgan Stanley where hotshots like Mr. Hubler doubled down their bets with the company's capital have been all but shut down.
But several mortgage-industry executives who have met with Mr. Hubler about doing business with his new firm say the exit from Morgan Stanley isn't that important. One investor currently using the product says he wasn't concerned because no one suggested that Mr. Hubler acted dishonestly. The loss "wasn't germane to what we were doing here," he says.
There is no reason to punish the upstart company because of what happened at Morgan Stanley, says a person who met with Mr. Hubler recently. "If you bring that up in the mortgage industry, it's a slippery slope. …A lot of people drank the Kool-Aid" and made bad mortgage trades.
Mr. Hubler's past has become much more widely known since the mortgage trade was detailed in a chapter of former Wall Street trader Michael Lewis's book "The Big Short," published in March. Privately, Mr. Hubler has told people that his bosses were aware of what he was doing and that few saw the housing debacle coming. Zoe Cruz
"His attitude has been that it was a 100-year flood," a former coworker says. "What was he going to do?"
Others who worked alongside Mr. Hubler at Morgan Stanley say he owes the company an apology. After he was forced out, executives considered trying to seize some of his compensation, including $25 million made before the trading blowup. Some company executives refused to even mention Mr. Hubler by name.
Eventually, though, some of the same Morgan Stanley officials said the loss was a blessing in disguise because it exposed flaws in the firm's risk management. It also convinced Morgan Stanley to tighten its controls and raise capital before the financial crisis deepened two years ago. That forced the company to take emergency capital infusions in order to survive.
Traders who keep in touch with Mr. Hubler say he hasn't changed much since the crisis. At Morgan Stanley, he took a ferry to the firm's Times Square headquarters, where employees on his trading desk once endured a slow period by wagering on the number of chicken nuggets a junior-level trader could eat in one hour.
Mr. Hubler now drives a few minutes each morning to Loan Value Group's headquarters. A quote in his office from hockey player Wayne Gretzky reminds employees: "100% of the shots you don't take don't go in." On weekends, the former trader shuttles his kids to football and hockey games.
Some details related to the $9 billion trading loss remain in dispute. Mr. Hubler entered the giant trade in late 2006, which helped offset the cost of a bearish housing position he took earlier. As the housing market grew more precarious in 2007, Mr. Hubler looked for ways to get out of the trade, people close to him say. Just a few months earlier, the trader had argued to superiors that losses on subprime loans wouldn't be severe. Now he was changing his mind.
People who worked closely with Mr. Hubler also say he was planning to exit part of the bullish position by converting his trading desk into an asset manager where outside investors could take over some of the trades. The plan was scrapped due to legal and logistical concerns, people familiar with the matter say.
By the summer, a group of Mr. Hubler's bosses took over management of the position. Many of those officials wanted to sell, but some were reluctant to record a loss as Mr. Hubler and others unsuccessfully looked for a good price to sell in the frozen market.
Ms. Cruz, the No. 2 at Morgan Stanley, had ordered a reduction in the size of the firm's risk position, but her lieutenants got bogged down in details, people familiar with the matter say. Arguments flared about whether the positions, scattered across various mortgage-collateralized-debt obligations, could be hedged.
By the autumn of 2007, it was too late. Subprime bonds plummeted. In December, the firm announced a $9.6 billion write-down.
On his way out the door, Mr. Hubler checked to make sure he would be allowed to keep all the shares previously awarded to him, a person familiar with the matter says. The company felt it had no choice because Mr. Hubler hadn't broken any rules or deceived higher-ups about his strategy. John Mack
Mr. Hubler now is making another housing bet. Even though his new company doesn't make trades, its success hinges on a slow, uneven housing recovery that would prompt more underwater homeowners to walk away from their loans.
Mr. Hubler's reward program taps the desire of banks to minimize such "strategic defaults." Borrowers pay nothing to join the program and keep their reward money only if the loan is paid off. "That's a heck of an incentive," says Lewis Niblett, 66, who got a savings account with $9,000 plus $80 a month to keep making payments on the second mortgage on his three-bedroom stucco home in San Jacinto, Calif.
Some critics contend Mr. Hubler is tricking borrowers to hold onto mortgages that they would be financially better off to abandon. Mr. Hubler counters that Loan Value Group is working to "get equity back to the borrower."
Company officials say they aren't making money off the mortgage mess because they only turn a profit if lenders recover their money and the borrower pays off the loan. Mr. Hubler says he is "comfortably confident" that the product is working as designed "and it becomes a matter of acceptance in time."
See first quarter breakdown here
First off - I want to thank everyone for the awesome response that my previous write-up got. These are a good bit of fun to do so I'll continue making them throughout the season.
So, without further adieu, let's get back into it.
We saw in the first quarter that the Packers defense came to play. They mixed an aggressive man-coverage underneath with a more zone coverage up-top. The Packers also showed consistent pressure in the A-gaps (the gaps between the center and guard), probably in an effort to confuse James Daniels and get quick pressure up the middle.
At the start of the 2nd quarter the score is still 3-0 Bears. The situation: First play of the second quarter. 3rd and 9 from the Chicago 29 yard line Full Play Presnap
The Packers are again showing scattered depths of man coverage on the receivers with one safety deep (Amos). More importantly, the Packers are crowding the box and showing an A-gap blitz. Snap Protection
At the snap the Packers are already showing numbers against the Bears RT Massie (70) by asking him to choose who to block between 97 & 91. Mitch (or Daniels) should have slid the RB to his right-side to pickup the blocker since Davis (25) has to go across Mitch to pick up the extra rusher. Coach's Tape of Snap
This is actually another example of a great
defensive call by Pettine. At the snap Massie is prepared to block 91 and let Davis pick up 97. What winds up happening is 91 drops into a soft zone coverage and 91 bull-rushes the vacated gap. Davis is too slow to get across the line (though does do a fine job of chipping the bull rush) and Trubisky has to do some nifty navigating to steer around the pressure.
Also, it's worth noting to watch Trubisky go through his progressions here despite the immediate pressure. He looks to his right flanking receiver, his crossing tight end, and then finally Patterson on the deep post route. The Throw
This throw is an example of a QB over-trusting his arm strength and throwing across his body. This throw should have never been made since Trubisky is basically throwing against his own momentum. Patterson is actually open
, but Trubisky can't put enough mustard on the pass and the DB (King) is able to easily undercut the route and almost snag the INT.
The situation is important here. It's 3rd down and Trubisky is trying to make something happen to move the chains. The Packers have great coverage on all his targets except Patterson, but given the circumstances Trubisky's best bet would have been to throw it away and let the punt team punt it away.
Few QBs in the league have the pocket mobility that Trubisky does and that was on full display here; however, even fewer can make that throw across their body ~15 yards downfield to a receiver heading in an opposite direction as you. The situation: 1st and 10 from the Chicago 25. This is the drive directly following the Packers TD drive. Full Play Presnap O-line Presnap
The Packers come out in a Wide-9 defense which affords their defensive ends extra space to get around the offensive tackles. The Bears show a bunch formation on the right which could signal a screen pass to Cohen, and they also have a single flanking receiver on the right and left who are against man coverage. Packers again have a single high safety (Amos) Snap O-line Snap
Both Leno and Massie are plus-rated pass blockers and you can see why here. They both are able to get engaged with their rushers very quickly despite the extra space prior the snap.
With the time afforded by the O-line, Trubisky is able to sit in the pocket and keep his eyes towards the center of the field. This forces Amos (31) to not vacate the center of the field. Throw Throw view 2
By the time Trubisky releases the football Amos has a lot of ground to cover. ARob's defender is playing inside coverage and Trubisky places the ball exactly where only ARob can get it towards the outside hash.
This was easily Trubisky's best throw of the night and perfect execution by the team as a whole. The O-line picked up the rush and Trubisky kept his eyes towards the center of the field versus locking on to any one receiver. This forced Amos in his deep safety spot to not hedge his bets one way or the other, and by the time Trubisky threw it to Robinson, Amos was out of position to make a play on the ball. Trubisky also put the ball in the absolute perfect spot and ARob made a phenomenal grab. The situation: it's 2nd and 21 at the Chicago 16 yard line. The previous play was a sack by Zadarius Smith for -1 yard. The Packers are up 7-3 and there's 3:00 left in the 1st half Full Play Coach's Film Presnap
At first glance this is a pretty innocuous play that goes for a marginal gain. Before the snap it's worth noting that Trubisky audibles out of the original play and if I had to bet I'd argue that the Bears had called some sort of draw play to Montgomery. Trubisky saw the crowded box and audibled out. Snap
At the snap everyone on the Packers begin to shift to a deep zone coverage. They anticipated that Trubisky would take advantage of a blitz and take a deep shot, but the Packers were ready to counter. Or were they? Trubisky's read
Trubisky makes multiple reads this play, but they're all
to the right side of the field. As a result he keeps his head locked onto the right side of the field and the Packers start to shift their coverage to the right. Throw Room to run
What Trubisky (and the Packers) failed to see was that Montgomery would peel off his blocking assignment and occupy the left flat. He was wide open
and had close to 15 yards before the nearest defender.
This would have gone for a huge
gain on 2nd and 21 and with Montgomery's ability to break tackles and his elusiveness, if he gets by that one defender then he may have taken it for a mammoth gain since the deep coverage is focused on Shaheen.
This is an example of a play that was completed for a marginal gain but could have been something more. Credit Trubisky for finding Cohen in the soft spot of the defense, but if I had to bet I imagine Nagy is showing him this tape and telling him to swing his body at the last minute and hit Montgomery.
The entire defense forgot about Montgomery but, unfortunately, so did the QB in this instance. The situation: 3rd and 14 from the Chicago 23 yard line. This play is immediately after the previous breakdown Full Play Coach's Film Presnap Martinez Bluff
It's 3rd and 14 and the Packers are playing two safeties high. They're not about to let anything behind them. Martinez bluffs a B-gap blitz. Snap
The Packers have effectively taken away anything deep and have intermediate and deep coverage bracketing the Bears and their routes. The Packers have effectively called the perfect defense to counter the Bears offense - the only player on the Bears that's open would be Mike Davis and Patterson's outside coverage man is starting to peel off to pick up Davis. Throw
What's aggravating about this play call is that all three of the Bears receivers not only break their routes before the first down marker, but do so in between the Packers coverage.
There is nowhere for Trubisky to go and the only safe play would be to Davis; however, that would only go for a paltry gain. Forced Throw
You can see how Trubisky tries to force this throw in between two defenders. Even if Robinson catches this it's not going to move the chains.
That was the second to last drive of the Bears 2nd quarter. The next drive came with only 43 seconds left and was not noteworthy. Trubisky got sacked on 2nd down (after a short completion to Patterson on 1st) and then Davis collecting a short pass for -1 yards.
I think towards the end of this half Nagy and Trubisky both started to get really frustrated with the Packers defense. Pettine really did do a great job of squashing what the Bears want to do, and Nagy did a terrible job adjusting.
The recipe was basically the same throughout for the Packers: crowd the box and play man coverage on 1st and 2nd down, and then on 3rd down play a deep zone. The Bears never did anything to really counter this and instead just kept trying to wedge a round peg into a square hole to no avail.
I'll be back tomorrow or Thursday with the 2nd half write-up (will combine the two quarters). I'm interested to see if the Bears made any adjustments and also break down the game-sealing interception.
Oh, and before I forget: A few people asked what I used to break these down.
The Coach's Tape is from NFL Game Pass. I use Replay Video Capture to capture the live action and then use gyfcat to make it a gif.
I use snip and sketch to get the still shots and upload those to imgur.
Hope that helps for anyone interested in doing this in the future!
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