MAY 28, 1899


The battle of Gettysburg, more than any other conflict of the civil war, retains an interest for all who participated in it, and for all those who witnessed any part of the events that led to it. It was the fortune of the writer of this article to see the whole of Lee's army on the march through the Cumberland Valley on its way to that fatal field. I can still recall vivid pictures of the Confederate chiefs as they proudly put their horses on the march-Lee, surrounded by his staff: Longstreet at the head, or what seemed to me the head of his corps; Hood and Picket with their divisions, and other general officers not so vividly remembered. A. P. Hill I saw at his famous conference with Lee in the center square in Chambersburg, and Ewell standing on his one leg on the porch of the old Franklin Hotel where he "put up" for a day or two. Of theses only Longstreet survives, and I could not fail to look forward to his expected presence at Gettysburg on Tuesday with expectations that have a strong element of personal interest in them.

-- It is understood that speeches are to be made at Gettysburg on Tuesday by both Longstreet and Sickles and that General Daniel Butterfield, who was Meade's chief of staff, will also be one of the orators. The presence of these great soldiers as participants in the ceremonies on the battlefield on Dedication Day will stir proud recollections in the minds and hearts of those who, from their own participation in the battle scenes of that fatal day in July, are able to agree with General J. Watts De Peyster in his somewhat paradoxical conclusion that it was pleasant to be there.

There can be not doubt that Meade's intentions were that Sickles right was to be Hancock's left: Sickles' left on Round Top. Any one familiar with the battlefield will understand this. Round Top was the extreme left of the Union line. From this eminence to the cemetery extends a long ridge, the crest of which must have seemed like an undulating wave in the morning breeze on the 2nd of July, the second day of the battle. At the base of Round Top and almost abutting upon it is Little Round Top, where some of the severest fighting of the three day's battle occurred, and from which a panoramic view of the salient points of the battlefield may be had--the Devil's Den facing it on the west across Plum run; the famous wheat field, where the golden grain was crimsoned with the blood of friend and foe, father to the north, and the peach orchard, west of it in the angle formed by two ridges-one from Devil's Den and one from the Emmettsburg road. In the wheat field and peach orchard was the ground Sickles coveted for his line and which he attempted to occupy, thus bringing on the battle of the second day at Gettysburg. About noon the signal corps on the top of Little Round Top began to report the enemy in heavy force making dispositions for battle to the west of Round Top, opposite the left of the Third Corps on the crest of the ridge which formed Meade's line of battle. It was Longstreet's corps, consisting of three divisions, Hood, McLaw's and Pickett's, that was forming on Sickles' front, but is was concealed by the woods that skirted the ridge along the Confederate right. There was some skirmishing on the part of the enemy at times and an occasional shot from one of our guns, but no earnest fighting and no certainty of a battle until about 1 o'clock, when Sickles began to advance his whole corps from the general line straight to the front with a view to occupy the ridge between the Taneytown and Emmettsburg roads.

Lee's purpose was to fight the decisive battle of Gettysburg on Meade's left with his right, and Meade had clearly made up his mind to accept the tender of battle, if it came, along the crest of the ridge extending from Cemetery Hill and Ziegler's Grove to Round Top. But the views of the two subordinates who confronted each other on Meade's left and Lee's right were diametrically opposed to those of their respective chiefs.

Sickles, with the Third Corps, which was greatly inferior in numbers to Longstreet's three divisions, was not content to occupy the ground originally designated for his occupancy by General Meade. Longstreet, while obedient to Lee's order to make the attack on Meade's left, was dissatisfied with it, and was anxious for a flank movement to throw the whole of the Army of Northern Virginia in Meade's rear.

The battles that ensued on that and the following day put both the opposing corps commanders, who confronted each other on the afternoon of the 2nd of July, on the defensive historically, and the Gettysburg battlefield has always had for each of them a keener interest than it possesses to-day for any of the survivors of that titanic struggle. Each of them repeatedly visited it, fighting the battle over again so far as he was personally concerned in it, the one claiming that his movement to the Bloody Angle in Sherfy's peach orchard saved the Army of the Potomac from the rout that would inevitably have followed on the line that Meade had chosen, and the other confident that his own recommendations to General Lee would have brought victory instead of defeat to the Army of Northern Virginia.

Sickles' movement was begun to the surprise, admiration and fear, if not consternation of the whole of the Army of the Potomac that witnessed it. General Hancock, it was said, could not withhold his admiration of the daring displayed, but remarked that the command would return to the place from which it started. That the movement was undertaken without Meade's knowledge, and that it was generally regarded as a military blunder even while it was in progress, are two propositions that seem to be beyond controversy. That General Sickles believed he was doing what was for the best was not doubted then and it is not doubted now. When his action was brought to Meade's attention it was too late to prevent or recall it. The only way to save Sickles from complete disaster was to support him. On went the gallant Third Corps, Sickles' heavy line of skirmishers clearing the way for the main body. Sickles soon found that he was not to be allowed to occupy what he regarded as his superior position without a battle, and that he was to be confronted by a danger even greater than a battle face to face with the enemy would have implied. Longstreet's artillery opened slowly at first from long range, but it was clear from the moment the first gun was fired that he was square upon Sickles' left flank. Little Round Top was unoccupied, except by a detachment of the signal corps. That the enemy would try to seize it was certain. Fortunately General Warren was on the ground to perceive its importance and through his prescience and exertions a force was sent to occupy it, just in time to receive and repel the assault when it came. The movement began while the artillery duel between Sickles and Longstreet was in progress.

-- It will be impossible to describe the battle or rather series of battles that followed quickly upon Sickles' temerity. The Peach Orchard, the Wheat Field, the Devil's Den, the western declivity of Little Round Top, all form chapters in the history of that day's strife. Perhaps a favorite romance of one of the battlefield guides-a German, who spoke broken English--is better as a mere suggestion than the most elaborate description. "Dere shentlemens," this veracious guide was accustomed to say to his astounded hearers, standing on the brow of Little Round Top and pointing to a copse in the Valley of Death below, "seven shenerals vas killt." At first it seemed as if the seven generals who their met their fate were not put in immediate or very great peril. Then enemy withdrew his guns farther and farther away as ours advanced upon him, and his fire not only slackened, but ceased altogether. This proved to be only a breathing spell. The cannonade soon opened again and with great spirit on both sides. Longstreet's batteries pressed those of Sickles, pounding them with a vigor that had not be shown before, and it became our turn to withdraw our guns, bringing them to positions nearer the infantry. At the same time Longstreet's infantry began to appear in long columns between his batteries on Sickle's left, moving to the attack. It was now 5 o'clock. To meet the onset Sickles made a partial change if front, swinging back his left and throwing forward his right to bring his line parallel with his adversary. But time was not given for the complete execution of this movement. While it was in progress other batteries that had been quiet until then opened of Sickles' right flank--his former front--and the infantry of Longstreet and Hill suddenly appeared in the same quarter. Then came the dreadful battle picture that seen from the brow of Little Round Top or the crest where Meade had placed his embattled troops could ever be forgotten.

In the thick of the fight Sickles' leg was shattered and thus desperately wounded he was borne from the field. I was told on the battlefield with the signs of the havoc all around me that when he was carried from the field he lay on his stretcher smoking a cigar as serenely as if he was still unhurt. During the rest of the conflict until the Third Corps was pressed back to Hancock's battle-line at the foot of the hill by the Taneytown Road General Birney had command in Sickles' stead.

That General Sickles was beaten, that his corps was cut to pieces, and that the whole army was in peril are facts that cannot be gainsaid. But it is a question whether the defeat that imperiled Meade as its final result was not the basis of the victory that crowned the three days' battles. General Robert McAllister, who commanded the Sixth New Jersey Regiment, which was cut to pieces by the flank fire, wrote in 1886 that if Sickles had not occupied the Peach Orchard Lee would have placed his artillery there, raking the Army of the Potomac by a flank fire. This assumption does not seem to me to be well grounded. Sickles was not only driven from the orchard, but the Confederate held it afterward until the close of the battles on the third day. But if Sickles had not moved to his "superior" line on the second day it is possible that Hood's division would have occupied Little Round Top unopposed. What would have happened then? These heights would have commanded Meade's line along its entire length from the base of the cemetery to Ziegler's Grove. By advancing and occupying the "superior" line bring a result that it paralyzed the enemy along the rest of the line until it was too late to make the assaults simultaneously on Meade's right and left-Culp's Hill and Little Round Top-and Hancock's front along the crest of Cemetery Ridge. The unexpected battle in the Valley of Death between the Emmettsburg and Taneytown roads, although it involved the defeat of Sickles, resulted in its final consequences, in my opinion, in saving Meade and giving the Union army the victory. This is the conclusion that the unmilitary observer, standing on Little Round Top and overlooking the field, inevitably reaches.

Closely associated with this Sickles' controversy but in fact not part of it is the controversy in which Longstreet has found himself involved. The battle unmistakably was Lee's battle. The responsibility for the defeat, if any responsibility is attached to it, is in his generalship. There is a story that Lee manfully assumed the entire responsibility to his army when the battle was over.

On the morning of the 2nd of July there was no army in gray at Gettysburg to fight the army in blue already in position along the crest of Cemetery Ridge, or if there was it was not Longstreet's corps. Longstreet himself only arrived at Lee's headquarters at daybreak, and some of his brigades, like Sheridan at Winchester, were twenty miles away. Indeed a considerable part of both armies were still toiling wearisomely along the dusty roads that led to Gettysburg and was still many miles from the field of conflict when the sun kissed the brows of the Round Tops and whisked the morning dew from the golden grain in the wheat field. That march, or rather those marches, along unfrequented roads to the greatest of the battlefields of the civil war have never yet found a historian to tell the story as it ought to be told. It would indeed require a deft hand to gather those tangled threads and weave them into a picture tapestry more stirring than any ever woven to relate the prowess of knights and overlords in the bloody frays of the Dark Ages. During the whole of the night of the 1st of July and until late on the morning of the 2nd there was a series of foot races of armed men on all the roads converging on Gettysburg. Pickett's brigades and Law's of Hood's division were at Chambersburg and New Guilford, twenty-four and twenty-two miles away, according to Longstreet's reckoning, when the battle of the first day was fought. Law did not receive the order to join Hood until 3 o'clock on the morning of the 2nd. Pickett's brigades had a still longer march to the front. Law was in line after an exhausting march when the actual battle of the second day began, but he was still far away at daylight. It will thus be seen that Lee's army, and especially Longstreet's part of it, was in no condition to make a sunrise attack even if it had been ordered.

The charge that General Longstreet was ordered to make a sunrise attack on the morning of the 2nd originated with General Pendelton, of General Lee's staff. Pendelton nursed the idea for a considerable period before he made the charge openly in a lecturing tour through the South in behalf of a memorial church for General Lee. He claimed he made a reconnaissance on the afternoon of the 1st of July and that upon his reporting it General Lee ordered General Longstreet to attack at sunrise the next day. He brought forward no actual proof of this charge, which was clearly intended to damage Longstreet's reputation as a soldier. "The only troops that could come the order" General Longstreet wrote afterward, speaking of the suppositions order, "were McLaw's division, part of Hood's and the artillery--about ten thousand men. These, after a hurried all night march reached General Lee's headquarters about sunrise of the 2nd, and by continued forced march could have reached the point of battle, about five miles away, by 7 o'clock, where they would have encountered a division of the Third Corps (Birney's): presently the Second and Fifth Corps under Hancock and Sykes; the First, Eleventh and Twelfth under Newton, Howard and Solcum; then the balance of the Third coming in our rear along the Emmettsburg road-making sixty thousand men or more." It was not asserted that Ewell and Hill had received orders for a sunrise attack simultaneously with the alleged order to Longstreet. Under the circumstances it must be admitted that Longstreet would have been required to bite off more than he could chew.

The battle of the third day--the attack on center and on the left where we heard him during the night putting up his defenses;*** that thirty thousand men was the minimum force necessary for the work; even such force would need close cooperation in the other parts of the line," and other objections to a like effect. Longstreet thought that Lee should not have put him in charge of the attack. "He knew that I did not believe success was possible," Longstreet said: ***"and he should have put an officer in charge who had more confidence in his plans." It was the disastrous ending of this battle that led Lee to say when it was over: "It is my fault." It is claimed that Lee said afterwards: "If I had taken General Longstreet's advice on the eve of the second day of the battle of Gettysburg and filed off the left corps of my army behind the right corps, in the direction of Washington, Baltimore and along the Emmettsburg road, the Confederate would be to-day a free people." It was until after his death that a determined effort was made to shift the responsibility for the disaster to Longstreet's shoulders