The Confederates had pushed the Union army out of their defensive position. The Yankees were seemingly fleeing in confusion and panic. The Confederates had seized the initiative. General Lee wanted to exploit that advantage as much as possible.
150 years ago right about now, General Lee sent one of his aides to find General Ewell and ask him to take possession of the high ground on the south end of town – Cemetery and Culp’s Hills. The problem is the way Lee went about asking for this.
Ewell wasn’t used to Lee’s command style. He had been under “Stonewall” Jackson’s command and “Stonewall” kept his subordinates on a tight leash. They got direct, plain, un-ambiguous orders. Lee was more nuanced.
The order Ewell received was to take the heights “if practicable”. Since his men had just marched all the way from Carlisle, fought their way through the XI Corps, and chased the stragglers through town, Ewell decided they had enough. It was also getting late in the day, and he didn’t want to make an attack over un-scouted ground.
In short, rather than pressing forward like Jackson would have done, Ewell came up with a slew of reasons why the attempt wasn’t “practicable”. Lee would have to learn to adjust his style from now on.