Since crossing the Potomac the army under General Lee had done a great deal of marching, much of which could have been avoided had the Confederate commander been kept advised of the movements of his adversary.
It was well known to the officers and men of Johnson's Division that the road they were now traveling led to Gettysburg, but why we moved in that direction was a mystery that none could penetrate, unless it was despoil the merchants of that place of their stock of shoes, of which we were sadly in need. Surely there could be no enemy there! The air was full of rumors, but the one most credited was that the army was to concentrate in the vicinity of Gettysburg, and from there march by two or three converging roads that led to Baltimore, and from there to the Federal capital, leaving Hooker floundering around in Pennsylvania in a vain search for us.
All this seemed plausible enough, and was readily accepted, probably because it was father to the wish, and when on the morning of July 1 the division broke camp to resume its march the men were in great good spirits, notwithstanding almost one-third of them were barefoot.
Thee seemed to be no occasion to hurry our movements that morning, and it was therefore well on the 8 o'clock before the march was begun. Had the division started three hours earlier what a vast difference it might have made in the result of that day's battle? But who dreamed that such a thing was to occur?
It was a fearfully hot day and the troops marched leisurely. Some miles beyond Fayetteville Longstreet's Corps was unexpectedly encountered, encamped in the woods that lay on both sides of the road. We were surprised to note that the artillery horses were unharnessed, and that no evidences were manifest anywhere of an intended early move. Indeed, General Longstreet rode beside General Johnson for some distance, and then turned back to his command.
Hour after hour the march continued, when at last we neared the summit of South Mountain. The road was much congested, owing to the long train of wagons moving in the same direction, and our progress had, consequently, been greatly retarded.
For some time before the mountain's summit was reached I fancied I heard faint sounds in the distance resembling the discharge of artillery, and I called the attention of Major George Kyle, the brigade quartermaster, to it. He had also noticed it, but the thought of an engagement going on in the direction of Gettysburg never occurred to either of us, as there could not by any means be an enemy there.
But as we advanced up the mountain the sound became more and more distinct, until at last we became convinced that something unusual and unexpected was happening a few miles ahead. What could it be? Our suspense was not of long duration, for presently a horseman was seen away in the distance coming like the wind; nor did he slacken his speed until he had reached the head of the column, where was riding General Johnson, and a moment later aids were hurrying up and down the line with orders, and then came the command: "close up, men; close up," and every man in the division knew what that meant and what was expected of him.
The weary and footsore forgot their sufferings in an instant as they quickened their pace and moved along with an elasticity of step that seemed incredible, and time and again they broke into a double-quick. A great battle was being fought, and their assistance was sorely needed. They were yet many miles from the scene of carnage, and to arrive there in time to participate in the battle was their only thought, although it meant death and wounds to hundreds of them. Such is the feeling which animates the veteran soldier when he hears the sound of battle.
But as we progressed it was noted that the discharges of artillery were less frequent, and when we reached within two or three miles of Gettysburg there was heard but an occasional discharge.
That it had been a fierce and well-contested field, we soon had ample evidence, for improvised hospitals were observed all along the road, and although many surgeons were working at high pressure, hundreds of poor fellows awaited their turn, while a long line of ambulances were unloading their ghastly burdens, and many others were on the way. And all these were Confederate wounded. If a victory had been gained, as we were told it had, it must surely have been at a fearful cost, and so it proved.
As we came in sight of Gettysburg and diverged from the road to the left, we found ourselves on the battlefield, for hundreds of corpses in blue and gray littered the ground on every side, and particularly was this the case along Thad Stevens' old railroad cut. Amid these ghastly evidences of "glorious" war we silently and sadly threaded our way, until the right of the column reached the railroad station on Carlisle street, where a long halt was made, while it was being determined what disposition was to be made of us.
It was learned that the Federal troops had been driven from the field to a strong position on a ridge beyond the town, which they held in force, and Generals Lee, Ewell and A.P. Hill were then debating whether to renew the attack, now that Johnson was up. But the dusk of evening was setting in, and the attack was deferred, as was supposed, until morning, when the splendid fighters under Longstreet would be there. Johnson had arrived an hour or two too late.
About 9 o'clock the division crossed Carlisle street, and moving parallel to the York turnpike for a mile, filed to the right for some distance, and then formed line of battle along the Hanover road, on the extreme left of Ewell's corps, the men lying down upon their arms in confident expectation of engaging the enemy with the morning light.
Greatly did officers and men marvel as morning, noon and afternoon passed in inaction - on our part, not on the enemy's for, as we well knew, he was plying ax and pick and shovel in fortifying a position which was already sufficiently formidable. In the afternoon General Johnson ordered three or four batteries to occupy Benner's Hill, the only position available for artillery along that part of the line. These were soon engaged with the Federal batteries on Cemetery Hill, and after an artillery duel that lasted two hours the Confederate batteries were withdrawn, having suffered terribly, for Cemetery Hill commanded the position taken by the Confederate batteries. It was here that the brave Lattimer, in command, received his death wound, as did the gallant Captain Brown, of the Chesapeake Artillery of Baltimore.
It was past 6 o'clock P.M. before the command to advance was given, almost twenty-four hours after we had formed line of battle. We were to storm the eastern face of Culp's Hill, a rough and rugged eminence southeast of the town, and which formed the key to the Federal right centre.
Preceded by a cloud of skirmishers, after passing through a woods the line of battle crossed several large fields before the base of the hiss was reached, the enemy having opened a brisk fire as soon as we were unmasked. After fording Rock Creek, which was waist-deep and having entered the dense woods, our skirmishers were, for some unaccountable reason, drawn in, and the column soon after suffered serious loss in consequence.
Up the steep acclivity we clambered, falling over rocks and into fissures, as by this time night had set in, and the dense foliage made the darkness more intense. intense. It was impossible to keep on horseback over such ground, and field and staff were compelled to dismount. Ours was a long, weary climb, which was attended with much disorder.
Soon General Steuart discovered that he had inclined too far to the left, and had become separated from the rest of the division. The order was at once given to move obliquely to the right, and it was while executing this movement that a blaze of fire lighted up the woods not 20 yards in front, revealing to our astonished eyes a formidable log breastwork. Although staggered by this unexpected and deadly volley the troops of Steuart's Brigade quickly recovered and, dashing forward, drove the enemy out of the works.
From prisoners taken it was learned that the force we had encountered was Greene's Brigade, a portion of which had been distributed along our front, while the remainder occupied an angle of the same works, about 300 yards to our right, and which we could not reach, a clearing intervening, and this angle commanded and enfiladed that part of the works on the right slope of the hill. From this angle, now occupied by Greene's whole brigade, there came, and continued, a crashing fire of musketry that told with deadly effect upon the right and exposed part of the line. The Third North Carolina was almost wiped out, but 19 men being left, when morning dawned, out of 300. The two right companies of the Second Maryland, which joined the Carolinians, suffered in as great proportion.
On the wooded hill in our immediate front, which I believe is Culp's Hill proper, there seemed to be no enemy. Johnson was on the flank and well into the rear of the Federal right, and beyond was the Baltimore turnpike. This fact General Johnson was aware of, as Captain John W. Trosch, a very gallant officer of the Second Maryland, reconnoitered the ground and penetrated to the turnpike without encountering anything but immense numbers of wagons, moving and preparing to move.
All this was reported to General Johnson, but he was not given long to debate what he should do. The log breastworks we held had been occupied by Geary's Division, which had been temporarily withdrawn to the Federal left, to help repel the desperate attack of Longstreet, leaving only Greene to man the works. Great, then, must have been the surprise when the troops of this division soon after returned to find them occupied by the Confederates. Indeed, many in their ignorance of our presence came in and were captured, and Confederates and Federals opened their eyes when they found themselves drawing water from Spangler's Springs at the same time, neither knowing of the proximity of the other.
During the night Geary was heavily re-enforced and his men were busily engaged strengthening their position, not over 200 yards away, and at the first appearance of day a terrific fire of musketry and artillery was directed upon us that was startling in its intensity. Had it not been for the breast work we had so providentially captured scarcely a man of the brigades of Stuart and Daniel would have survived. Trees were riddled and immense rocks torn and splintered to pieces: but, although the Confederates suffered severely, they stubbornly held the ground they had gained the preceding evening. The rest is soon told. Johnson delivered his attack about 9 o'clock on the morning of the 3d, and was driven back with heavy loss. For an hour longer he held the works, to which his troops had retired after their repulse, and then he fell back to Rock Creek, a mile away, because he was ordered to do so, and it was not until he had reached Rock Creek that Geary moved into the abandoned works.
The historian, or historians, do not state facts when they say "the Confederates were driven out at the point of the bayonet." The Federals at this point, and at all others, fought fiercely on the defensive, never once making an advance, and when Geary finally discovered that the Confederates had withdrawn he moved into the works, and he did not have over 200 yards to go.
With the charge of Pickett's division later in the day the dreadful battle of Gettysburg ended. General Lee had staked all on ground not of his own choosing, and had lost. Misfortune
Seemed to follow the Confederate army from the very beginning of the campaign to its close. A raid by General Harry Heth after shoes brought on an engagement with Buford's cavalry that was nothing but an insignificant skirmish, and yet that skirmish developed into the most terrible battle of the war. General Lee was thus denied the privilege of compelling the enemy to fight him on a field of his own selection, where he had hoped to inflict upon him a crushing defeat.
About one year after the war, in company with Colonel Harry Gilmor and Major Byrd Washington, the author paid a visit to Capon Springs, in West Virginia. There we met General Ewell, who, with Mrs. Ewell, was spending the summer. One evening, while we were all sitting in front of the hotel in conversation, the Gettysburg campaign was mentioned, and the General expressed himself freely regarding it. His comments made a great impression upon me, and even after such a lapse of time I can repeat his almost every word.
"Of the reasons for the invasion of Pennsylvania I have little to say," said the General. "They may never be perfectly understood, but it was hoped to relieve Vicksburg, and that was, perhaps, the weightier reason for it. But I think there were still others. You know that General Lee was in command of the finest army that the South had yet assembled - an army of seasoned veterans, flushed with the many victories of the previous year, and of Chancellorsville that spring. The Federal army was believed to be greatly demoralized, and for very good reasons. It had had many commanders, all equally unfortunate, and the officers and men could not have had confidence in Hooker after his very recent disaster. On the other hand, the Confederate soldiers had the most unbounded confidence in General Lee.
"Of course, General Lee did not underrate his adversary: possibly he overrated the ability of his own army. It was, indeed, a splendid body of men, and I believe on ground of their own selection would have been invincible. Of course, General Lee expected to give battle on a field of his own choice, but a combination of unforeseen circumstances willed otherwise. It was hoped to administer a crushing defeat to the Federal army, and in that event General Lee would have had it in his power to go wherever he pleased. No. I do not think Philadelphia would have been in any danger; I believe we would have marched to Baltimore, and thence to Washington, and had we reached the Federal capital a settlement of the differences between the two sections would probably have been reached speedily.
"Many things conspired against the success of the campaign, In the first place, the cavalry engagement at Brandy Station was unfortunate, as it gave Hooker warning of what was to follow, and thus prevented General Lee from getting a better start. And then came a still greater misfortune - Stuart's raid to Rockville, which cut him off from the army, and left it without its eyes.
"Yes; I know I have been blamed by many for not having pressed my advantage the first day at Gettysburg. But, then, I cannot see why I should be censured. General Lee came upon the ground before I could have possibly done anything, and after surveying the enemy's position, he did not deem it advisable to attack until re-enforced. Had I taken Johnson's fine division with me there would have been no second day at Gettysburg; but it reached me too late.
"There did not seem to be that concert of action among some general officers that was necessary at critical periods of the battle of Gettysburg to insure success, and I fear there was some friction where it should not have existed.
"Yes, Longstreet was slow - unaccountably slow. Had he attacked in the early morning, as he was expected to do, the enemy would have been driven from his strong position. Little Round Top, the key to the position, was not occupied until late in the day. But an hour or two earlier would have been sufficient time, for, notwithstanding the late hour at which he put his troops in motion, he very nearly succeeded."