The Battle of Gettysburg, and factors of the conflict some argue would have changed the course of history, is at the centre of Michael Armstrong’s research.The associate professor of operations research at Brock’s Goodman School of Business is set to shed light on the 1863 battle during a presentation on Wednesday, April 19 at the Royal Canadian Military Institute in Toronto. Armstrong completed a study, “Refighting Pickett’s Charge: mathematical modeling of the Civil War battlefield”, in 2015 while visiting Norwich University in Northfield, Vt.The study, supported by funding from a 2013-14 Fulbright Scholar award, later won the 2017 Southwestern Social Sciences Association best published paper award. In collaboration with Steven Sodergren, Associate Professor of history at Norwich University, Armstrong developed a mathematical model of Pickett’s Charge to determine if it could have won the Battle of Gettysburg, a turning point in the American Civil War.At the height of battle, General Pickett’s infantry charge failed and forced the Confederate army to retreat south, leading the Union army to take the initiative and eventually win the war.Some historians have argued that Pickett’s Charge would have succeeded if the Confederates had made better decisions.Armstrong and Sodergren’s research used a scientific approach to answer questions about what would have happened if General Lee had assigned more men to Pickett and if Lee’s staff had supplied enough ammunition for a longer artillery barrage.After building the mathematical model of the charge, Armstrong and Sodergren calibrated the model’s equations using troop strengths from the actual fight to ensure they recreated the historical results. After adjusting the model to represent changes in the battle plan, they used the equations to calculate the battle’s likely new outcome.Their model indicated that a longer barrage would have only slightly helped the charge, as it would have needed several thousand more infantry to work. Their findings include that if Lee had added his five reserve brigades to the charge, it likely would have captured the Union position, but that would have left no fresh troops ready to exploit the success. This means the charge itself would have succeeded, but it would not have won the battle.Armstrong notes that this study benefited from mixing scientific methods with humanities viewpoints. This interdisciplinary approach revealed insights that neither specialty could have found on its own.Armstrong’s presentation is open to the public and will take place April 18 at 7:30 p.m. at the Royal Canadian Military Institute in Toronto as part of the organization’s American Civil War roundtable series. read more