July 29, 1881




From the Louisville Courier-Journal

It may be said that the battle of Gettysburg was unpremeditated. Gen. Lee's aim was to induce Meade to attack him. Orders had been given to concentrate at Gettysburg, but positive instructions had been given not to bring on a general engagement. Gen. Stuarts cavalry, after crossing the Potomac, had become detached from the main army; Gen. Lee was deprived if its valuable services until the evening of July 2, and the position of the enemy was not fully known until Gen. Hill came upon them on the evening of July 1 in force at Gettysburg. He pushed them strongly, and they retired after some resistance to Cemetery Hill. It has always been the belief of all the officers of Hills corps that if they had been free to push things  on the evening of the 1st of July they could have driven the enemy from his position on the hill and have secured it themselves. In the battles of the 2nd and the 3rd, had that been done, the Confederates would have been on the defensive in a position almost impregnable. It was not considered best to risk a general engagement in opposition to positive orders on the evening of the 1st, and the golden opportunity was lost. On the night of the 1st Meade moved his corps up from Pipes [sic] Creek , which was his chosen battle-field, and occupied Cemetery Hill in force. The contest of the 2nd of July resulted  on the whole in favor of the Confederates, though Meade was not dislodged. That the result was not decisive is accounted for in various ways by the members of the different corps, and it is controversy not to be entered on here. It may be said there was strange want of co-operation between the different commanders, which has never been clearly explained, and the different attacks made on the enemy's line were not sufficiently supported. It was the determination of Gen. Lee to make a combined attack on the morning of the 3rd. E.P. Alexander, Colonel of Artillery, commanding a battalion of six batteries attached to Longstreet's corps, was placed by Gen. Longstreet in command of all his artillery on the field of action, which gave him exceptional opportunities for observation, and attached unusual interest to his personal narrative of the battle. Gen. Alexander, now Vice-President of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, was asked to give the Courier-Journal an account of the battle of the 3rd.


To this note I received the following reply: the original is still in my possession:


    This letter again placed the responsibility on me, and I felt it deeper, for the day was rapidly advancing (it was 12 M., ) and whatever was to be done was to be done soon.  Meanwhile I had been anxiously discussing the attack with Gen. Wright, who said the difficulty was not so much in reaching Cemetery Hill or taking it--that his brigade had carried it the afternoon before-but that the trouble was to hold it, for the whole Army was massed in a sort of horse shoe shape and could rapidly re-enforce the point to any extend, while our long enveloping line could not give prompt enough support. This somewhat reassured me, as I had heard it said that morning that Gen. Lee had ordered ‘every brigade in the Army to charge Cemetery Hill,' and it was certain that the question of supports had had his careful attention. Before answering, however, I rode back to converse with Gen. Pickett, whose line was now formed or forming on the road, and, without telling him of the question I had to decide, I found that he was entirely sanguine of success in the charge, and was only congratulating himself on the opportunity. I was convinced that to make any half-way effort was to insure failure, and that if our artillery was once opened, after all the time consumed in the preparation for the attack, the only hope of success was to follow it up promptly, with one supreme effort, concentrating every energy we possessed into it, and my mind was fully made up that if the artillery opened Pickett must charge. After the second note from Gen. Longstreet, and the interview with Pickett, I didn't feel justified in making any delay. But to acquaint Gen. Longstreet with my determination, I write him a note, which I think I quote verbatim as follows:

     It was my intention, as he had a long distance to travel, that he should start not later than 15 minutes after our fire opened. About this time, to be sure, Richardson, with his seven 12-pound howitzers, should be promptly on hand. I sent for him to come through the woods, and be ready to move ahead of Pickett's division  in the advance. To my great disappointment, I learned, just as we opened fire, and too late to replace him, that Gen. Pendleton had sent four of his guns, without my knowledge, to some other part of the field, and the other three had also moved off and could not be found Probably, however, the presence of the guns at the head of this column would only have resulted in their loss, but it would have been a brilliant opportunity for them, and I always feel like apologizing for their absence.

    It was 1 P.M. by my watch when the signal guns were fired, the field at that time being entirely silent but for the light picket firing between the lines, and as suddenly as an organ strikes up in church the grand roar followed from all the guns of both armies. The enemy's fire was heavy and severe, and their accounts represent ours as having been equally so, though our rifle guns were comparatively few and had very defective ammunition.  As an illustration, I remember that the casualties in my own battalion (26 guns) were about 147 men and 116 horses in the two days' action, and about 80 per cent. of the wounds were from artillery fire. Gen. A.S. Webb, United States Army, who commanded a brigade on Cemetery Hill, told me after the war that a Federal battery, coming into action on the Hill, lost from our artillery fire 27 out of 30 horses in about 10 minutes. Average distances, I should suppose, were about 1,400 yards. We had some casualties from canister.

    I had fully intended to give Pickett the order to advance as soon as I saw our guns had their ranges, say in 10 or 15 minutes, but the enemy's fire was so severe that when that time had elapsed I could not make up my mind to order the infantry out into a fire which I did not believe they could face for so long a charge in so hot a sun, tired as they already were by the march from Chambersburg. I accordingly waited in hopes our fire would produce some visible effect, or something turn up to make the situation brighter, but 15 minutes more passed without any change in the situation, the fire on neither side slackening for a moment. Even then I could not bring myself to give a peremptory order to Pickett to advance, but feeling the critical moment would soon pass, I wrote him a note to this effect: ‘If you are coming at all you must come immediately, or I cannot give you proper support; but the enemy's fire has not slackened materially, and at least 18 guns are firing from the cemetery itself.' This note, which, though given from memory, I can vouch for as nearly verbatim, I sent off at 1:30 P.M., consulting my watch. I afterward heard what followed its receipt. from members of the staffs of both Gens. Pickett and Longstreet. Pickett, on receiving it, galloped up to Gen. Longstreet, who was not far off, and showed him the note. Gen. Longstreet read it and said nothing. Gen. Pickett then said: ‘General, shall I advance'? Longstreet turned around in his saddle, and would not answer. Pickett immediately saluted and said: ‘I am going to lead my division forward, Sir,' and galloped off to put it in motion; on which Gen. Longstreet  rode out alone to my position. Meanwhile, five minutes after I sent the note to Pickett the enemy's fire suddenly slackened materially, and the batteries in the cemetery were limbered up and withdrawn. As the enemy had such abundance of ammunition and so much better guns than ours that they were not compelled to reserve their artillery for critical moments, (as we almost always had to do,) I knew that they must have felt the  punishment a good deal, and I was a good deal elated by the sight. But to make sure that it was a withdrawal for good and not a mere change of position or relieving of the batteries by fresh ones, I waited five minutes, more closely examining the ground with a large glass. At that time I sent my courier to Pickett with a note: ‘For God's sake come quick; the 18 guns are gone!' and going to the nearest guns I sent a Lieutenant and a Sergeant, one after the other, with messages to the same effect. A few minutes after this, Pickett still not appearing, Gen. Longstreet rode up alone, having seen Pickett and left his staff, as state. I showed him the situation, and said I only feared I could not give Pickett the help I wanted to, my ammunition being low and the seven guns under Richardson having been taken off. Gen. Longstreet spoke up promptly: ‘Go and stop Pickett right where he is, and replenish your ammunition.' I answered that the ordnance trains had been nearly emptied repairing the expenditures of the day before, and not over 20 rounds to a gun were left--too little to accomplish much-- and that while this was being done the enemy would recover from the fire which we were not giving him. His reply was: ‘I do not want to make this charge. I don't believe it will succeed. I would stop Pickett now, but that Gen. Lee ordered it,' and other remarks showing that even then he could easily have been induced to order Pickett to halt.

    At this moment Pickett's line appeared, sweeping out of the wood, Garnett's brigade passing over us. I left Gen. Longstreet and rose a short distance with Gen. Garnett, an old-time friend, who was killed on the charge. He had been sick, but, buttoned up in an old blue overcoat, in spite of the heat  of the day, was riding in the front of his line, and for the last time, I then galloped along my line of guns, ordering those that had over 20 rounds of ammunition to limber up and follow Pickett, and those who had less to maintain their fire from where they were. I had advanced several batteries, and parts of batteries, in this way, when Pickett's division appeared on the slope of Cemetery Hill, and a considerable force fo the enemy were thrown out, attacking his unprotected right flank. Meanwhile, too, several batteries which had been withdrawn were run out again, and were firing on him heavily. We opened on these troops and batteries as fiercely as we were able, and appeared to do them considerable damage, but meanwhile Pickett's division seemed to melt away in the blue musketry smoke, which now covered the hill.  Nothing but stragglers came back. As soon as it was clear Pickett's division was destroyed I ceased firing, saving what little ammunition was left for fear of an advance by the enemy. About this time Gen. Lee came up to our guns alone and remained there half an hour or more, speaking to Pickett's men as they came straggling back and encouraging them to form again in the first cover they could find.

    A little before this Wilcox's division had been advanced also, but I cannot recall the moment or the place I saw them, but only the impression on my mind as the men passed that the charge must surely be some misapprehension of  orders, as the circumstances at the moment made it utterly impossible that it should accomplish anything, and I thought what a pity it was that so many of them were to be sacrificed in vain. It was intended, I believe,  that Wilcox should support Pickett's right flank, but the distance that had to be traversed in the charge got such an interval between the two that Pickett's force was spent and his division disintegrated before Wilcox got under close fire. I have always believed that the enemy here lost the greatest opportunity they ever had of routing Lee's army by a prompt offensive. They occupied a line shaped somewhat like a horse-shoe. I suppose the greatest diameter of this horse-shoe was not more than one mile, and the ground within was entirely sheltered from our observation and fire, with communications by signals all over it, and they could concentrate their whole force at any point and in a very short time without our knowledge. Our line was an envelopment, and communication from flank to flank even by courier was difficult, the country being well cleared and exposed to the enemy's view and fire, the roads all running at right angles to our lines and, some of them at least, broad turnpikes where the enemy's guns could rake for two miles. Is it necessary now to add any statement as to the superiority of the Federal force, or the exhausted sand shattered condition of the Confederates for a space of at least a mile in their very centre, to show that a great opportunity was thrown away? I think Gen. Lee himself was quite apprehensive the enemy would riposte,  and that it was that apprehension, which brought him alone out to my guns, where he could observe all the indications.

    We waited on the ground we had chosen for an attack, but we were not molested. The enemy about dark sent out a skirmish line, and occasionally sent a random shot in the direction of our batteries, but no effort was made to capture us or drive us away. We were supported only by a small body of skirmishers, and preparation for a retreat went on. About 9 o'clock orders were given for us to withdraw, and in a short time all the Confederates had abandoned the ill fated field of Gettysburg, the invasion was at an end. Battle was offered next day and anxiously expected, but the three days' conflict around Cemetery Hill seemed to have satisfied the appetite for blood, and the Confederates crossed the Potomac without an action being urged by the Federal Army.