General James Longstreet's Account of the Campaign and Battle.
[The following paper is not properly one of our " Gettysburg Series," and was not called forth by our enquiry for detailed narratives by active participants, nor by anything which we have
In the early part of last year the Philadelphia Times announced that it had engaged General
Longstreet to prepare his account of Gettysburg, and his article appeared in that paper on the 3d
of November last. But we have no hesitancy in republishing the paper, although it was not
written for our pages, and we are under no obligation to copy an article Which has first appeared
elsewhere. General Longstreet's position as second in command at Gettysburg, the important part
be bore in the great battle, his unquestioned gallantry, and the fact that he commanded as noble a
corps as ever fought for any cause-all demand that, in addition to his official report (which our
Society published for the first time), we shall put into permanent form the narrative which he now
gives of these great events. We therefore, print the paper in full.]
It has been my purpose for some years to give to the public a detailed history of the campaign of
Gettysburg, from its inception to its disastrous close. The execution of this task has been delayed
by reason of a press of personal business, and by reason of a genuine reluctance that I have felt
against anything that might, even by implication, impugn the wisdom of my late comrades in arms.
My sincere feeling upon this subject is best expressed in the following letter, which was written
shortly after the battle of Gettysburg, when there was a sly under-current of misrepresentation of
my course, and in response to an appeal from a respected relative that I would make some reply
to my accusers:
Camp, Culpeper Courthouse,
July 24, 1863.
My Dear Uncle: Your letters of the 13th and 14th were received on yesterday. As to our late battle, I cannot say much. I have no right to say anything, in fact, but will venture a little for you alone. If it goes to aunt and cousins, it must be under promise that it will go no further. The battle was not made as I would have made it. My idea was to throw ourselves between the enemy and Washington, select a strong position and force the enemy to attack us. So far as is given to man the ability to judge, we may say with confidence that we should have destroyed the Federal army, marched into Washington, and dictated our terms, or, at least, held Washington and marched over as much of Pennsylvania as we cared to, had we drawn the enemy into attack upon our carefully chosen position in his rear. General Lee chose the plans adopted; and he is the person appointed to choose and to order. I consider it a part of my duty to express my views to the Commanding-General. If he approves and adopts them, it is well; if he does not, it is my duty to adopt his views, and to execute his orders as faithfully as if they were my own. I cannot help but think that great results would have been obtained had my views been thought better of; yet I am much inclined to accept the present condition as for the best. I hope and trust that it is so. Your programme would all be well enough, had it been practicable; and was duly thought of, too. I fancy that no good ideas upon that campaign will be mentioned at any time that did not receive their share of consideration by General Lee. The few things that he might have overlooked himself were, I believe, suggested by myself. As we failed, I must take my share of the responsibility. In fact, I would prefer that all the blame should rest upon me. As General Lee is our commander, he should have the support and influence we can give him. If the blame (if there is any) can be shifted from him to me, I shall help him and our cause by taking it. I desire, therefore, that all the responsibility that can be put upon me shall go there and shall remain there. The truth will be known in time, and I leave that to show how much of the responsibility of Gettysburg rests on my shoulders. * * * *
Most affectionately yours,
To A. B. Longstreet, LL. D., Columbus, Ga.
I sincerely regret that I cannot still rest upon that letter. But I have been so repeatedly and so rancorously assailed by those whose intimacy with the Commanding-General in that battle gave an apparent importance to their assaults, that I feel impelled by a sense of duty to give to the public a full and comprehensive narration of the campaign from its beginning to its end; especially when I reflect that the publication of the truth cannot now, as it might have done then, injure the cause for which we fought the battle. The request that I furnish this history to the Times comes opportunely, for the appeal just made through the press by a distinguished foreigner for all information that will develope the causes of the failure of that campaign has provoked anew its partisan and desultory discussion, and renders a plain and logical recital of the facts both timely and important.
After the defeat of Burnside at Fredericksburg in December, it was believed that active operations were over for the winter, and I was sent with two divisions of my corps to the eastern shore of Virginia, where I could find food for my men during the winter, and send supplies to the Army of Northern Virginia. I spent several months in this department, keeping the enemy close within his fortifications, and foraging with little trouble and great success. On May 1st I received orders to report to General Lee, at Fredericksburg. General Hooker had begun to throw his army across the Rappahannock, and the active campaign was opening. I left Suffolk as soon as possible, and hurried my troops forward. Passing through Richmond, I called to pay my respects to Mr. Seddon, the Secretary of War. Mr. Seddon was at the time of my visit deeply considering the critical condition of Pemberton's army at Vicksburg, around which Gen. Grant was then decisively drawing his lines. He informed me that he had in contemplation a plan for concentrating a succoring army at Jackson, Miss., under the command of General Johnston, with a view of driving Grant from before Vicksburg by a direct issue at arms. He suggested that possibly my corps might be needed to make the army strong enough to handle Grant, and asked me my views. I replied that there was a better plan, in my judgment, for relieving Vicksburg than by a direct assault upon Grant. I proposed that the army then concentrating at Jackson, Miss., be moved swiftly to Tullahoma, where General Bragg was then located with a fine army, confronting an army of about equal strength, under General Rosecranz, and that at the same time the two divisions of my corps be hurried forward to the same point. The simultaneous arrival of these reinforcements would give us a grand army at Tullahoma. With this army General Johnston might speedily crush Rosecranz, and that he should then turn his force toward the north, and with his splendid army march through Tennessee and Kentucky, and threaten the invasion of Ohio. My idea was, that in the march through those States the army would meet no organized obstruction; would be supplied with provisions, and even reinforcements, by those friendly to our cause, and would inevitably result in drawing Grant's army from Vicksburg to look after and protect his own territory. Mr. Seddon adhered to his original views; not so much, I think, from his great confidence in them as from the difficulty of withdrawing the force suggested from General Lee's army. I was very thoroughly impressed with the practicability of the plan, however, and when I reached General Lee I laid it before him with the freedom justified by our close personal and official relations. The idea seemed to be a new one to him, but he was evidently seriously impressed with it. We discussed it over and over, and I discovered that his main objection to it was that it would, if adopted, force him to divide his army. He left no room to doubt, however, that he believed the idea of an offensive campaign was not only important but necessary.
At length, while we were discussing the idea of a western forward movement, be asked me if I did not think an invasion of Maryland and Pennsylvania by his own army would accomplish the same result, and I replied that I did not see that it would, because this movement would be too hazardous, and the campaign in thoroughly Union States would require more time and greater preparation than one through Tennessee and Kentucky. I soon discovered that he had determined that he would make some forward movement, and I finally assented that the Pennsylvania campaign might be brought to a successful issue if he could make it offensive in strategy, but defensive in tactics. This point was urged with great persistency. I suggested that, after piercing Pennsylvania and menacing Washington, we should choose a strong position and force the Federals to attack us, observing that the popular clamor throughout the North would speedily force the Federal General to attempt to drive us out. I recalled to him the battle of Fredericksburg as an instance of a defensive battle, when, with a few thousand men, we hurled the whole Federal army back, crippling and demoralizing it, with trifling loss to our own troops; and Chancellorsville as an instance of an offensive battle, where we dislodged the Federals, it is true, but at such a terrible sacrifice that half a dozen such victories would have ruined us. It will be remembered that Stonewall Jackson once said that "we sometimes fail to drive the enemy from a position; they always fail to drive us." I reminded him, too, of Napoleon's advice to Marmont, to whom he said, when putting him at the head of an invading army, "Select your ground and make your enemy attack you." I recall these points simply because I desire to have it distinctly understood that, while I first suggested to General Lee the idea of an offensive campaign, I was never persuaded to yield my argument against the Gettysburg campaign, except with the understanding that we were not to deliver an offensive battle, but to so manoeuvre that the enemy should be forced to attack us--or, to repeat, that our campaign should be one of offensive strategy, but defensive tactics. Upon this understanding my assent was given, and General Lee, who had been kind enough to discuss the matter with me patiently, gave the order of march.
The movement was begun on the 3d of June. McLaws' division of my corps moved out of Fredericksburg for Culpeper Courthouse, followed by Ewell's corps on the 4th and 5th of June. Hood's division and Stuart's cavalry moved at the same time. On the 8th we found two full corps (for Pickett's division had joined me then) and Stuart's cavalry concentrated at Culpeper Courthouse. In the meantime a large force of the Federals, cavalry and infantry, had been thrown across the Rappahannock and sent to attack General Stuart. They were encountered at Brandy Station on the morning of the 9th, and repulsed. General Lee says of this engagement: "On the 9th a large force of Federal cavalry, strongly supported by infantry, crossed the Rappahannock at Beverly's Ford and attacked General Stuart. A severe engagement ensued, continuing from early in the morning until late in the afternoon, when the enemy was forced to recross the river with heavy loss, leaving four hundred prisoners, three pieces of artillery, and several colors in our hands." The failure of General Lee to follow up his advantage, by pouring the heavy force concentrated at Culpeper Courthouse upon this detachment of the Federals, confirmed my convictions that he had determined to make a defensive battle, and would not allow any casual advantage to precipitate a general engagement. If he had had any idea of abandoning the original plan of a tactical defensive, then, in my judgment, was the time to have done so. While at Culpeper, I sent a trusty scout (who had been sent to me by Secretary Seddon while I was at Suffolk) with instructions to go into the Federal lines, discover his policy, and bring me all the information he could possibly pick up. When this scout asked me, very significantly, where he should report, I replied: "Find me, wherever I am, when you have the desired information." I did this because I feared to trust him with a knowledge of our future movements. I supplied him with all the gold he needed, and instructed him to spare neither pains nor money to obtain full and accurate information. The information gathered by this scout led to the most tremendous results, as will soon be seen.
General A. P. Hill, having left Fredericksburg as soon as the enemy had retired from his front, was sent to follow Ewell, who had marched up the Valley and cleared it of the Federals. My corps left Culpeper on the 15th, and, with a view of covering the march of Hill and Ewell through the Valley moved along the east side of the Blue Rid e and occupied Snicker's and Ashby's Gaps, and the line of the Blue Ridge. General Stuart was in my front and on my flank, reconnoitering the movements of the Federals. When it was found that Hooker did not intend to attack, I withdrew to the west side and marched to the Potomac. As I was leaving the Blue Ridge, I instructed General Stuart to follow me, and to cross the Potomac at Shepherdstown, while I crossed at Williamsport, ten miles above. In reply to these instructions, Gen. Stuart informed me that he had discretionary powers; whereupon I withdrew. General Stuart held the Gap for awhile, and then hurried around beyond Hooker's army, and we saw nothing more of him until the evening of the 2d of July, when he came down from York and joined us, having made a complete circuit of the Federal army. The absence of Stuart's cavalry from the main body of the army during the march is claimed to have been a fatal error, as General Lee says: "No report had been received (on the 27th) that the enemy had crossed the Potomac, and the absence of the cavalry rendered it impossible to obtain accurate information." The army, therefore, moved forward as a man might walk over strange ground with his eyes shut. General Lee says of his orders to Stuart: "General Stuart was left to guard the passes of the mountains and to observe the movements of the enemy, whom he was instructed to harrass and impede as much as possible, should he attempt to cross the Potomac. In that event, General Stuart was directed to move into Maryland, crossing the Potomac on the east or west of the Blue Ridge, as in his judgment should be best, and take position on the right of our column as it advanced."
My corps crossed the Potomac at Williamsport, and General A. P. Hill crossed at Shepherdstown. Our columns were joined together at Hagerstown, and we marched thence into Pennsylvania, reaching Chambersburg on the evening of the 27th. At this point, on the night of the 29th, information was received by which the whole plan of the campaign was changed. We had not heard from the enemy for several days, and Gen. Lee was in doubt as to where he was; indeed, we did not know that he had yet left Virginia. At about 10 o'clock that night Colonel Sorrell, my chief-of-staff, was waked by an orderly, who reported that a suspicious person had just been arrested by the provost-marshal. Upon investigation, Sorrell discovered that the suspicious person was the scout, Harrison, that I had sent out at Culpeper. He was dirt-stained, travel-worn, and very much broken down. After questioning him sufficiently to find that he brought very important information, Colonel Sorrell brought him to my headquarters and awoke me. He gave the information and that the head enemy had crossed the Potomac, marched northwest, and that the head of his column was at Frederick City, on our right. I felt that this information was exceedingly important, and might involve a change in the direction of our march. General Lee had already issued orders that we were to advance toward Harrisburg. The next morning I at once sent the scout to General Lee's headquarters, and followed him myself early in the morning. I found General Lee up, and asked him if the information brought by the scout might not involve a change of direction of the head of our column to the right. He immediately acquiesced in the suggestion, possibly saying that he had already given orders to that effect The movement toward the enemy was begun at once. Hill marched toward Gettysburg, and my corps followed, with the exception of Pickett's division, which was left at Chambersburg by General Lee's orders. Ewell was recalled from above--he having advanced as far as Carlisle. I was with General Lee most of that day (the 30th). At about noon the road in front of my corps was blocked by Hill's corps and Ewell's wagon train, which had cut into the road from above. The orders were to allow these trains to precede us, and that we should go into camp at Greenwood, about ten miles from Chambersburg. My infantry was forced to remain in Greenwood until late in the afternoon of the 1st. My artillery did not get the road until 2 o'clock on the morning of the 2d.
General Lee spent the night with us, establishing his headquarters, as he frequently did, a short distance from mine. General Lee says of the movements of this day: "Preparation had been made to advance upon Harrisburg; but on the night of the 29th information was received from a scout that the enemy had crossed the Potomac, was advancing northward, and that the head of his column had already reached South Mountain. As our communications with the Potomac were thus menaced, it was resolved to prevent his further progress in that direction by concentrating our army on the east side of the mountains." On the morning of the 1st General Lee and myself left his headquarters together, and had ridden three or four miles when we heard heavy firing along Hill's front. The firing became so heavy that General Lee left me and hurried forward to see what it meant. After attending to some details of my march, I followed. The firing proceeded from the engagement between our advance and Reynolds' corps, in which the Federals were repulsed. This encounter was totally unexpected on both sides. As an evidence of the doubt in which General Lee was enveloped, and the anxiety that weighed him down during the afternoon, I quote from General R. H. Anderson the report of a conversation had with him during the engagement. General Anderson was resting with his division at Cashtown, awaiting-orders. About 10 o'clock in the morning he received a message notifying him that General Lee desired to see him. He found Gen. Lee intently listening to the fire of the guns, and very much disturbed and depressed. At length he said, more to himself than to General Anderson: "cannot think what has become of Stuart; I ought to have heard from him long before now. He may have met with disaster, but I hope not. In the absence of reports from him, I am in ignorance as to what we have in front of us here. It may be the whole Federal army, or it may be only a detachment. If it is the whole Federal force we must fight a battle here; if we do not gain a victory those defiles and gorges through which we passed this morning will shelter us from disaster."
When I overtook General Lee at 5 o'clock that afternoon, he said, to my surprise, that he thought of attacking General Meade upon the heights the next day. I suggested that this course seemed to be at variance with the plan of the campaign that had been agreed upon before leaving Fredericksburg. He said: "If the enemy is there to-morrow, we must attack him." I replied: "If he is there, it will be because he is anxious that we should attack him--a good reason in my judgment for not doing so." I urged that we should move around by our right to the left of Meade and put our army between him and Washington, threatening his left and rear, and thus force him to attack us in such position as we might select. I said that it seemed to me that if, during our council at Fredericksburg, we had described the position in which we desired to get the two armies, we could not have expected to get the enemy in a better position for us than that he then occupied. I said, further, that he was in strong position and would be awaiting us, which was evidence that he desired that we should attack him. I said, further, that his weak point seemed to be his left; hence I thought that we should move around to his left, that we might threaten it if we intended to manoeuvre, or attack it if we were determined upon a battle. I called his attention to the fact that the country was admirably adapted for a defensive battle, and that we should surely repulse Meade with crushing loss if we would take position so as to force him to attack us, and suggested that even if we carried the heights in front of us, and drove Meade out, we should be so badly crippled that we could not reap the fruits of victory; and that the heights of Gettysburg were in themselves of no more importance to us than the ground we then occupied, and that the mere possession of the ground was not worth a hundred men to us. That Meade's army, not its position, was our objective. General Lee was impressed with the idea that by attacking the Federals he could whip them in detail. I reminded him that if the Federals were there in the morning it would be proof that they had their forces well in hand, and that with Pickett in Chambersburg and Stuart out of reach, we should be somewhat in detail. He, however, did not seem to abandon the idea of attack on the next day. He seemed under a subdued excitement which occasionally took possession of him when "the hunt was up," and threatened his superb equipoise. The sharp battle fought by Hill and Ewell on that day had given him a taste of victory. Upon this point I quote General Fitzhugh Lee, who says, speaking of the attack on the 3d: "He told the father of the writer (his brother) that he was controlled too far by the great confidence he felt in the fighting qualities of his people, who begged simply to be 'turned loose,' and by the assurances of most of his higher officers." I left General Lee quite late on the night of the 1st. Speaking of the battle on the 2d, General Lee says in his official report: "It had not been intended to fight a general battle at such a distance from our base unless attacked by the enemy; but finding ourselves unexpectedly confronted by the Federal army, it became a matter of difficulty to withdraw through the mountains with our large trains."
When I left General Lee on the night of the 1st, I believed he had made up his mind to attack, but was confident that he had not yet determined as to when the attack should be made. The assertion first made by General Pendleton, and echoed by his confederates, that I was ordered to open the attack at sunrise, is totally false. Documentary testimony upon this point will be presented in the course of this article. Suffice it to say at present that General Lee never in his life gave me orders to open an attack at a specific hour. He was perfectly satisfied that when I had my troops in position and was ordered to attack, no time was ever lost. On the night of the 1st I left him without any orders at all. On the morning of the 2d I went to General Lee's headquarters at daylight and renewed my views against making an attack. He seemed resolved, however, and we discussed the probable results. He observed the position of the Federals and got a general idea of the nature of the ground. About sunrise General Lee sent Colonel Venable, of his staff, to General Ewell's headquarters, ordering him to make a reconnaissance of the ground in his front, with a view of making the main attack on his left. A short time afterwards he followed Colonel Venable in person. He returned at about 9 o'clock and informed me that it would not do to have Ewell to open the attack. He finally determined that I should make the main attack on the extreme right. It was fully 11 o'clock when General Lee arrived at this conclusion and ordered the movement. In the meantime, by General Lee's authority, Law's brigade, which had been put upon picket duty, was ordered to rejoin my command, and upon my suggestion that it would be better to await its arrival, General Lee assented. We awaited about forty minutes for these troops and then moved forward. A delay of several hours occurred in the march of the troops. The cause of this delay was that we bad been ordered by General Lee to proceed cautiously upon the forward movement so as to avoid being seen by the enemy. General Lee ordered Colonel Johnson, of his engineer corps, to lead and conduct the head of the column. My troops, therefore, moved forward under guidance of a special officer of General Lee, and with instructions to follow his directions. I left General Lee only after the line was stretched out on the march, and rode along with Hood's division, which was in the rear. The march was necessarily slow, the conductor frequently encountering points that exposed the troops to the view of the signal station on Round Top. At length the column halted. After waiting some time, supposing that it would soon move forward, I sent to the front to inquire the occasion of the delay. It was reported that the column was awaiting the movements of Colonel Johnston, who was trying to lead it by some route by which it could pursue its march without falling under view of the Federal signal station. Looking up toward Round Top I saw that the signal station was in full view, and, as we could plainly see this station, it was apparent that our heavy columns was seen from their position, and that further efforts to conceal ourselves would be a waste of time.
I became very impatient at this delay, and determined to take upon myself the responsibility of hurrying the troops forward. I did not order McLaws forward because, as the head of the column, he had direct orders from General Lee to follow the conduct of Colonel Johnson.
Therefore I sent orders to Hood, who was in the rear and not encumbered by these instructions, to push his division forward by the most direct route so as to take position on my right. He did so, and thus broke up the delay. The troops were rapidly thrown into position and preparations were made for the attack. It may be proper just here to consider the relative strength and position of the two armies. Our army was 52,000 infantry, Meade's was 95,000; these are our highest figures and the enemy's lowest. We had learned on the night of the 1st, from some prisoners captured near Seminary Ridge, that the First, Eleventh, and Third corps had arrived by the Emmettsburg road and had taken position on the heights in front of us, and that reinforcements had been seen coming by the Baltimore road just after the fight of the 1st. From an intercepted dispatch we learned that another corps was in camp about four miles from the field. We had every reason, therefore, to believe that the Federals were prepared to renew the battle. Our army was stretched in an elliptical curve, reaching from the front of Round Top around Seminary Ridge, and enveloping Cemetery Heights on the left; thus covering a space of four or five miles. The enemy occupied the high ground in front of us, being massed within a curve of about two miles, nearly concentric with the curve described by our forces. His line was about 1,400 yards from ours. Any one will see that the proposition for this inferior force to assault and drive out the masses of troops upon the heights was a very problematical one. My orders from General Lee were "to envelop the enemy's left and begin the attack there, following up as near as possible the direction of the Emmettsburg road."
My corps occupied our right, with Hood on our extreme right and McLaws next. Hill's corps was next to mine, in front of the Federal centre, and Ewell was on our extreme left. My corps, with Pickett's division absent, numbered hardly 13,000 men. I realized that the fight was to be a fearful one; but being assured that my flank would be protected by the brigades of Wilcox, Perry, Wright, Posey, and Mahone moving en echelon, and that Ewell was to co-operate by a direct attack on the enemy's right, and Hill to threaten his centre and attack if opportunity offered and thus prevent reinforcements from being launched either against myself or Ewell, it seemed that we might possibly dislodge the great army in front of us. At half-past 3 o'clock the order was given General Hood to advance upon the enemy, and, hurrying to the head of McLaws' division, I moved with his line. Then was fairly commenced what I do not hesitate to pronounce the best three hours' fighting ever done, by any troops on any battle-field. Directly in front of us, occupying the peach orchard, on a piece of elevated ground that General Lee desired me to take and hold for his artillery, was the Third corps of the Federals, commanded by General Sickles. My men charged with great spirit and dislodged the Federals from the peach orchard with but little delay, though they fought stubbornly. We were then on the crest of Seminary Ridge. The artillery was brought forward and put into position at the peach orchard. The infantry swept down the slope and soon reached the marshy ground that lay between Seminary and Cemetery Ridges, fighting their way over every foot of ground and against overwhelming odds; at every step we found that reinforcements were pouring into the Federals from every side. Nothing could stop my men, however, and they commenced their heroic charge up the side of Cemetery Ridge. Our attack was to progress in the general direction of the Emmettsburg road, but the Federal troops, as they were forced from point to point, availing themselves of the stone fences and boulders near the mountain as rallying points, so annoyed our right flank that General Hood's division was obliged to make a partial change of front so as to relieve itself of this galling flank fire. This drew General McLaws a little further to the right than General Lee bad anticipated, so that the defensive advantages of the ground bad enabled the Federals to delay our purposes until they could occupy Little Round-Top, which they just then discovered was the key to their position. The force thrown upon this point was so strong as to seize our right, as it were, in a vise.
Still the battle on our main line continued to progress. The situation was a critical one. My corps had been fighting over an hour, having encountered and driven back line after line of the enemy. In front of them was a high and rugged ridge, on its crest the bulk of the Army of the Potomac, numbering six to one, and securely resting behind strong positions. My brave fellows never hesitated, however. Their duty was in front of them and they met it. They charged up the hill in splendid style, sweeping everything before them, dislodging the enemy in the face of a withering fire. When they had fairly started up the second ridge, I discovered that they were suffering terribly from a fire that swept over their right and left flanks. I also found that my left flank was not protected by the brigades that were to move en echelon with it. McLaws' line was consequently spread out to the left to protect its flank, and Hood's line was extended to the right to protect its flank from the sweeping fire of the large bodies of troops that were posted on Round Top.* (*The importance of Round Top as a point d'appui was not appreciated until after my attack. General Meade seems to have alluded to it as a point to be occupied "if practicable," but in such slighting manner as to show that he did not deem it of great importance. So it was occupied by an inadequate force. As our battle progressed ,pushing the Federals back from point to point, subordinate officers and soldiers, seeking shelter, as birds flying to cover in a tempest, found behind the large boulders of its rock-bound sides not only protection, but rallying points. These reinforcements to the troops already there, checked our advance on the right, and some superior officer arriving just then, divined from effect the cause, and threw a force into Round Top that transformed it, as if by magic, into a Gibraltar.) These two movements of extension so drew my forces out that I found myself attacking Cemetery Hill with a single line of battle against not less than 50,000 troops.
My two divisions at that time were cut down to eight or nine thousand men, four thousand having been killed or wounded. We felt at every step the heavy stroke of fresh troops--the sturdy regular blow that tells a soldier instantly that he has encountered reserves or reinforcements. We received no support at all, and there was no evidence of co-operation on any side. To urge my men forward under these circumstances would have been madness, and I withdrew them in good order to the peach orchard that we had taken from the Federals early in the afternoon. It may be mentioned here as illustrative of the dauntless spirit of these men, that when General Humphreys (of Mississippi) was ordered to withdraw his troops from the charge, he thought there was some mistake, and retired to a captured battery near the swale between the two ridges, where he halted, and when ordered to retire to the new line a second time, he did so under protest.*(*The troops engaged with me in the fight of the 2d were mostly Georgians, as follows: The four Georgia brigades of Generals Benning, Anderson, Wofford and Semmes, General Kershaw's South Carolina brigade, General Laws' Alabama brigade, General Barksdale's [afterward General Humphrey's] Mississippi brigade, and General Robertson's Texas brigade.) Our men had no thought of retreat. They broke every line they encountered. When the order to withdraw was given a courier was sent to General Lee informing him of the result of the day's work.
Before pursuing this narrative further, I shall say a word or two concerning this assault. I am
satisfied that my force, numbering hardly 13,000 men, encountered during that three and a half
hours of bloody work not less than 65,000 of the Federals, and yet their charge was not checked
nor their line broken until we ordered them to withdraw. Mr. Whitelaw Reid, writing a most
excellent account of this charge to the Cincinnati Gazette, says: "It was believed from the terrific
attack that the whole rebel army, Ewell's corps included, was massed on our centre and left, and
so a single brigade was left to bold the rifle-pits on the right and the rest hurried across the little
neck of land to strengthen our weakening lines." He describes, too, the haste with which corps
after corps was hurried forward to the left to check the advance of my two-thirds of one corps.
General Meade himself testifies (see his official report) that the Third, the Second, the Fifth, the
Sixth, and the Eleventh corps, all of the Twelfth except one brigade and part of the First corps,
engaged my handful of heroes during that glorious but disastrous afternoon. I found that night
that 4,529 of my men, more than one-third of their total number, had been left on the field.
History records no parallel to the fight made by these two divisions on the 2d of July at
Gettysburg. I cannot refrain from inserting just here an account of the battle of the 2d taken from
a graphic account in the New York World. It will be seen that the correspondent treats the
charge of my 13,000 men as if it were the charge of the whole army. The account is as follows:
"He then began a heavy fire on Cemetery Hill. It must not be thought that this wrathful fire was
unanswered. Our artillery began to play within a few moments, and hurled back defiance and like
destruction upon the rebel lines. Until 6 o'clock the roar of cannon, the rush of missiles and the
bursting of bombs filled all the air. The clangor alone of this awful combat might well have
confused and awed a less cool and watchful commander than General Meade. It did not confuse
him. With the calculation of a tactician and the eye of an experienced judge, he watched from his
headquarters on the hill whatever movement under the murky cloud which enveloped the rebel
lines might first disclose the intention which it was evident this artillery firing covered. About 6
o'clock, P. M., silence, deep, awfully impressive but momentary, was permitted, as if by magic, to
dwell upon the field. Only the groans--unheard before--of the wounded and dying, only a
murmur, a warning memory of the breeze through the foliage; only a low rattle of preparation of
what was to come embroidered this blank stillness. Then, as the smoke beyond the village was
lightly borne to the eastward, the woods on the left were seen filled with dark masses of infantry,
three columns deep, who advanced at a quick step. Magnificent! Such a charge by such a
force--full forty-five thousand men, under Hill and Longstreet--even though it threatened to pierce
and annihilate the Third corps, against which it was directed, drew forth cries of admiration from
all who beheld it. General Sickles and his splendid command withstood the shock with a
determination that checked but could not fully restrain it. Back, inch by inch, fighting, falling,
dying, cheering, the men retired. The rebels came on more furiously, halting at intervals, pouring
volleys that struck our troops down in scores. General Sickles, fighting desperately, was struck in
the leg and fell. The Second corps came to the aid of his decimated column. The battle then
grew fearful. Standing firmly up against the storm our troops, though still outnumbered, gave
back shot for shot, volley for volley, almost death for death. Still the enemy was not restrained.
Down he came upon our left with a momentum that nothing could check. The rifled guns that lay
before our infantry on a knoll were in danger of capture. General Hancock was wounded in the
thigh, General Gibbon in the shoulder. The Fifth corps, as the First and Second wavered anew,
went into the breach with such shouts and such volleys as made the rebel column tremble at last.
Up from the valley behind another battery came rolling to the heights, and flung its contents in an
instant down in the midst of the enemy's ranks. Crash! crash! with discharges deafening, terrible,
the musketry firing went on. The enemy, reforming after each discharge with wondrous celerity
and firmness, still pressed up the declivity. What hideous carnage filled the minutes between the
appearance of the Fifth corps and the advance to the support of the rebel columns of still another
column from the right, I cannot bear to tell. Men fell, as the leaves fall in autumn, before, those
horrible discharges. Faltering for an instant the rebel columns seemed about to recede before the
tempest. But their officers, who could be seen through the smoke of the conflict galloping and
swinging their swords along the lines, rallied them anew, and the next instant the whole line
sprang forward, as if to break through our own by mere weight of numbers. A division from the
Twelfth corps, on the extreme right, reached the scene at this instant, and at the same time
Sedgwick came up with the Sixth corps, having finished a march of nearly thirty-six consecutive
hours. To what rescue they came their officers saw and told them. Weary as they were,
barefooted, hungry, fit to drop for slumber, as they were, the wish for victory was so blended with
the thought of exhaustion that they cast themselves, in turn, en masse into line of battle, and went
down on the enemy with death in their weapons and cheers on their lips. The rebel's camel's back
was broken by this "feather." His line staged, reeled and drifted slowly back, while, the shouts of
our soldiers, lifted up amid the roar of musketry over the bodies of the dead and wounded,
proclaimed the completeness of their victory."
It may be imagined that I was astonished at the fact that we received no support after we had driven the Federals from the peach orchard and one thousand yards beyond. If General Ewell had engaged the army in his front at that time (say 4 o'clock) he would have prevented their massing their whole army in my front, and while he and I kept their two wings engaged Hill would have found their centre weak, and should have threatened it while I broke through their left and dislodged them. Having failed to move at 4 o'clock, while the enemy was in his front, it was still more surprising that he did not advance at 5 o'clock with vigor and promptness, when the trenches in front of him were vacated or rather held by one single brigade (as General Meade's, testimony before the Committee on the Conduct of the War states). Had he taken these trenches and scattered the brigade that held them, he would have found himself in the Federals' flank and rear. His attack in the rear must have dislodged the Federals, as it would have been totally unexpected--it being believed that he was in front with me. Hill charging upon the centre at the same time would have increased their disorder and we should have won the field. But Ewell did not advance until I had withdrawn my troops, and the First corps, after winning position after position, was forced to withdraw from the field with two corps of their comrades within sight and resting upon their arms. Ewell did not move until about dusk (according to his own report). He then occupied the trenches that the enemy had vacated (see General Meade's report). The real cause of Ewell's non-compliance with General Lee's orders was that he had broken his line of battle by sending two brigades off on some duty up the York road. General Early says that my failure to attack at sunrise was the cause of Ewell's line being broken at the time I did attack. This is not only absurd but impossible. After sunrise that morning Colonel Venable and General Lee were at Ewell's headquarters discussing the policy of opening the attack with Ewell's corps. They left Ewell with this definite order: that he was to hold himself in readiness to support my attack when it was made. It is silly to say that he was ready at sunrise, when he was not ready at 4 o'clock when the attack was really made. His orders were to hold himself in readiness to co-operate with my attack when it was made. In breaking his line of battle he rendered himself unable to support me when he would have been potential. Touching the failure of the supporting brigades of Anderson's division to cover McLaws' flank by echelonmovements, as directed, there is little to be said. Those brigades acted gallantly, but went astray early in the fight. General Anderson in his report says: "A strong fire was poured upon our right flank, which had become detached from McLaws' left." General Lee, alluding to the action of these two brigades, says: "But having become separated from McLaws, Wilcox's and Wright's brigades advanced with great gallantry, breaking successive lines of the enemy's infantry and compelling him to abandon much of his artillery. Wilcox reached the foot and Wright gained the crest of the ridge itself, driving the enemy down the opposite side; but having become separated from McLaws, and gone beyond the other two brigades of the division they were to attack in front and on both flanks, and compelled to retire, being unable to bring off any of the captured artillery, McLaws' left also fell back, and it being now nearly dark General Longstreet determined to await the arrival of Pickett." So much for the action of the first day.
I did not see General Lee that night. On the next morning he came to see me, and fearing that he was still in his disposition to attack, I tried to anticipate him by saying: "General, I have had my scouts out all night, and I find that you still have an excellent opportunity to move around to the right of Meade's army and manoeuvre him into attacking us." He replied, pointing with his fist at Cemetery Hill: "The enemy is there, and I am going to strike him." I felt then that it was my duty to express my convictions; I said: "General, I have been a soldier all my life. I have been with soldiers engaged in fights by couples, by squads, companies, regiments, divisions and armies, and should know as well as any one what soldiers can do. It is my opinion that no 15,000 men ever arrayed for battle can take that position," pointing to Cemetery Hill. General Lee in reply to this ordered me to prepare Pickett's division for the attack. I should not have been so urgent had I not foreseen the hopelessness of the proposed assault. I felt that I must say a word against the sacrifice of my men; and then I felt that my record was such that General Lee would or could not misconstrue my motives. I said no more, however, but turned away. The most of the morning was consumed in waiting for Pickett's men and getting into position. The plan of assault was as follows: Our artillery was to be massed in a wood from which Pickett was to charge, and it was to pour a continuous fire upon the cemetery. Under cover of this fire, and supported by it, Pickett was to charge.
Our artillery was in charge of General E. P. Alexander, a brave and gifted officer. Colonel Walton was my chief of artillery, but Alexander being at the head of the column, and being first in position, and being besides an officer of unusual promptness, sagacity and intelligence, was given charge of the artillery. The arrangements were completed about one o'clock. General Alexander had arranged that a battery of seven 11-pound howitzers, with fresh horses and full caissons, were to charge with Pickett, at the head of his line, but General Pendleton, from whom the guns had been borrowed, recalled them just before the charge was made, and thus deranged this wise plan. Never was I so depressed as upon that day. I felt that my men were to be sacrificed, and that I should have to order them to make a hopeless charge. I had instructed General Alexander, being unwillingly to trust myself with the entire responsibility, to carefully observe the effect of the fire upon the enemy, and when it began to tell to notify Pickett to begin the assault. I was so much impressed with the hopelessness of the charge that I wrote the following note to General Alexander: "If the artillery fire does not have the effect to drive off the enemy or greatly demoralize him, so as to make our efforts pretty certain, I would prefer that you should not advise General Pickett to make the charge. I shall rely a great deal on your judgment to determine the matter, and shall expect you to let Pickett know when the moment offers."
To my note the General replied as follows: "I will only be able to judge the effect of our fire upon the enemy by his return fire, for his infantry is but little exposed to view, and the smoke will obscure the whole field. If, as I infer from your note, there is an alternative to this attack, it should be carefully considered before opening our fire, for it will take all of the artillery ammunition we have left to test this one thoroughly, and if the result is unfavorable, we will have none left for another effort, and even if this is entirely successful it can only be so at a very bloody cost." I still desired to save my men and felt that if the artillery did not produce the desired effect I would be justified in holding Pickett off. I wrote this note to Colonel Walton at exactly 1:30 P.M.: "Let the batteries open. Order great precision in firing. If the batteries at the peach orchard cannot be used against the point we intend attacking, let them open on the enemy at Rocky Hill." The cannonading which opened along both lines was grand. In a few moments a courier brought a note to General Pickett (who was standing near me) from Alexander, which, after reading, he handed to me. It was as follows: "If you are coming at all you must come at once, or I cannot give you proper support; but the enemy's fire has not slackened at all; at least eighteen guns are still firing from the Cemetery itself." After I had read the note Pickett said to me; "General, shall I advance?" My feelings had so overcome me that I would not speak for fear of betraying my want of confidence to him. I bowed affirmation and turned to mount my horse. Pickett immediately said: "I shall lead my division forward, sir." I spurred my horse to the wood where Alexander was stationed with artillery. When I reached him he told me of the disappearance of the seven guns which were to have led the charge with Pickett, and that his ammunition was so low that he could not properly support the charge. I at once ordered him to stop Pickett until the ammunition had been replenished. He informed me that he had no ammunition with which to replenish. I then saw that there was no help for it, and that Pickett must advance under his orders. He swept past our artillery in splendid style, and the men marched steadily and compactly down the slope. As they started up the ridge over one hundred cannon from the breastworks of the Federals hurled a rain of cannister, grape and shell down upon them; still they pressed on until half way up the slope, when the crest of the hill was lit with a solid sheet of flame as the masses of infantry rose and fired. When the smoke cleared away Pickett's division was gone. Nearly two-thirds of his men lay dead on the field, and the survivors were sullenly retreating down the hill. Mortal man could not have stood that fire. In half an hour the contested field was cleared and the battle of Gettysburg was over.
When this charge had failed I expected that of course the enemy would throw himself against our shattered ranks and try to crush us. I sent my staff officers to the rear to assist in rallying the troops, and hurried to our line of batteries as the only support that I could give them, knowing that my presence would impress upon every one of them the necessity of holding the ground to the last extremity. I knew if the army was to be saved those batteries must check the enemy. As I rode along the line of artillery I observed my old friend Captain Miller, Washington Artillery, of Sharpsburg record, walking between his guns and smoking his pipe as quietly and contentedly as he could at his camp-fire. The enemy's skirmishers were then advancing and threatening assault. For unaccountable reasons the enemy did not pursue his advantage. Our army was soon in compact shape, and its face turned once more toward Virginia. I may mention here that it has been absurdly said that General Lee ordered me to put Hood's and McLaws' divisions in support of Pickett's assault. General Lee never ordered any such thing.* (*Colonel Taylor says that General Lee, in his presence, gave me orders to put Hood's and McLaws' divisions in this column of attack. This I deny, and do not suppose he will claim that any one else heard the order. If the reader will examine any of the maps of Gettysburg he will see that the withdrawal of these two division, from their line of battle would have left half of General Lee's line of battle open and by the shortest route to his line of supplies and retreat. Fully one-half of his army would have been in the column of assault and half of Meade's army would have been free to sally out on the flank of our column and we should have been destroyed on that field of battle beyond a doubt. Of course, if we assume that Meade would place his army in line of battle and allow us to select our point of attack, we could have massed against it and rushed through. But this assumption would be absurd. The only way for those divisions to have been moved was to have attacked the heights in front. But this attack had been tried and failed the day before. If Pickett had shown signs of getting a lodgment, I should, of course, have pushed the other divisions forward to support the attack. But I saw that he was going to pieces at once. When Colonel Freemantle (Her Majesty's service) approached me (see his account) and congratulated me On Pickett's apparent success, I told him that his line would break in a moment--that he was not strong enough to make a serious impression. My assertion was correct. To have rushed forward my two divisions, then carrying bloody noses from their terrible conflict the day before, would have been madness.) After our troops were all arranged for assault General Lee rode with me twice over the lines to see that everything was arranged according to his wishes. He was told that we had been more particular in giving the orders than ever before; that the commanders had been sent for and the point of attack had been carefully designated, and that the commanders had been directed to communicate to their subordinates, and through them to every soldier in the command, the work that was before them, so that they should nerve themselves for the attack and fully understand it. After leaving me he again rode over the field once, if not twice, so that there was really no room for misconstruction or misunderstanding of his wishes. He could not have thought of giving any such an order. Hood and McLaws were confronted by a largely superior force of the enemy on the right of Pickett's attack. To have moved them to Pickett's support would have disengaged treble their number of Federals, who would have swooped down from their rocky fastnesses against the flank of our attacking column and swept our army from the field. A reference to any of the maps of Gettysburg will show from the position of the troops that this would have been the inevitable result. General Lee and myself never had any deliberate conversation about Gettysburg. The subject was never broached by either of us to the other. On one occasion it came up casually and he said to me, (alluding to the charge of Pickett on the 3d), "General, why didn't you stop all that thing that day." I replied that I could not under the circumstances assume such a responsibility, as no discretion had been left me.
Before discussing the weak points of the campaign of Gettysburg, it is proper that I should say that I do so with the greatest affection for General Lee and the greatest reverence for his memory. The relations existing between us were affectionate, confidential, and even tender, from first to last. There was never a harsh word between us. It is then with a reluctant spirit that I write a calm and critical review of the Gettysburg campaign, because that review will show that our Commanding-General was unfortunate at several points. There is no doubt that General Lee, during the crisis of that campaign, lost the matchless equipoise that usually characterized him, and that whatever mistakes were made were not so much matters of deliberate judgment as the impulses of a great mind disturbed by unparalleled conditions. General Lee was thrown from his balance (as is shown by the statement of General Fitzhugh Lee) by too great confidence in the prowess of his troops and (as is shown by General Anderson's statement) by the deplorable absence of General Stuart and the perplexity occasioned thereby. With this preface I proceed to say that the Gettysburg campaign was weak in these points--adhering, however, to my opinion that a combined movement against Rosecranz in Tennessee and a march toward Cincinnati would have given better results than could possibly have been secured by the invasion of Pennsylvania: First, the offensive strategical but defensive tactical plan of the campaign as agreed upon should never have been abandoned after we entered the enemy's country. Second, if there ever was a time when the abandonment of that plan could have promised decisive results, it was at Brandy Station, where, after Stuart had repulsed the force thrown across the river, we might have fallen on that force and crushed it, and then put ourselves in position, threatening the enemy's right and rear, which would have dislodged him from his position at Fredericksburg and given us the opportunity for an effective blow. Third, General Stuart should not have been permitted to leave the general line of march, thus forcing us to march blindfolded into the enemy's country; to this may be attributed, in my opinion, the change of the policy of the campaign. Fourth, the success obtained by the accidental encounter on the 1st should have been vigorously prosecuted and the enemy should have been given no time to fortify or concentrate. Fifth, on the night of the 1st the army should have been carried around to Meade's right and rear, and posted between him and his capitol, and we could have manoeuvered him into an attack. Sixth, when the attack was made on the enemy's left on the 2d by my corps, Ewell should have been required to co-operate by a vigorous movement against his right and Hill should have moved against his centre. Had this been done his army would have been dislodged beyond question. Seventh, on the morning of the 3d it was not yet too late to move to the right and manoeuver the Federals into attacking us. Eighth, Pickett's division should not have been ordered to assault Cemetery Ridge on the 3d, as we had already tested the strength of that position sufficiently to admonish us that we could not dislodge him. While the co-operation of Generals Ewell and Hill, on the 2d, by vigorous assault at the moment my battle was in progress, would in all probability have dislodged the Federals from their position, it does not seem that such success would have yielded the fruits anticipated at the inception of the campaign. The battle as it was fought would, in any result, have so crippled us that the Federals would have been able to make good their retreat, and we should soon have been obliged to retire to Virginia with nothing but victory to cover our waning cause.
The morale of the victory might have dispirited the North and aroused the South to new exertion, but it would have been nothing in the game being played by the two armies at Gettysburg. As to the abandonment of the tactical defensive policy that we had agreed upon, there can be no doubt that General Lee deeply deplored it as a mistake. His remark, made just after the battle, "It is all my fault," meant just what it said. It adds to the nobility and magnanimity of that remark when we reflect that it was the utterance of a deep-felt truth rather than a mere sentiment. In a letter written to me by General Lee in January, 1864,.he says: "Had I taken your advice at Gettysburg instead of pursuing the course I did, how different all might have been." Captain T. J. Gorie, of Houston, Texas, a gentleman of high position and undoubted integrity, writes to me upon this same point as follows: "Another important circumstance which I distinctly remember was in the winter of 1864, when you sent me from East Tennessee to Orange Courthouse with dispatches for General Lee. Upon my arrival there General Lee asked me in his tent, where he was alone with two or three Northern papers on his table. He remarked that he had just been reading the Northern official report of the Battle of Gettysburg; that he had become satisfied from reading those reports that if he had permitted you to carry out your plans on the third day, instead of making the attack on Cemetery Hill, we would have been successful." I cannot see, as has been claimed, why the absence of General Lee's cavalry should have justified his attack on the enemy. On the contrary, while they may have perplexed him, I hold that it was additional reason for his not hazarding an attack. At the time the attack was ordered we were fearful that our cavalry had been destroyed. In case of a disaster, and a forced retreat, we should have had nothing to cover our retreat. When so much was at stake as at Gettysburg the absence of the cavalry should have prevented the taking of any chances.
As to the failure of Stuart to move with the army to the west side of the Blue Ridge, I can only call attention to the fact that General Lee gave him discretionary orders. He doubtless did as he thought best. Had no discretion been given him he would have known and fallen into his natural position--my right flank. But authority thus given a subordinate general implies an opinion on the part of the commander that something better than the. drudgery of a march along our flank might be open to him, and one of General Stuart's activity and gallantry should not be expected to fail to seek it. As to Ewell's failure to prosecute the advantage won on the 1st, there is little to be said, as the Commanding-General was on the field. I merely quote from his (General Ewell's) official report. He says: "The enemy had fallen back to a commanding position that was known to us as Cemetery Hill, south of Gettysburg, and quickly showed a formidable front there. On entering the town I received a message from the Commanding-General to attack the hill, if I could do so to advantage. I could not bring artillery to bear on it; all the troops with me were jaded by twelve hours' marching and fighting, and I was notified that General Johnson was close to the town with his division, the only one of my corps that had not been engaged, Anderson's division of the Third corps, having been halted to let them pass. Cemetery Hill was not assailable from the town, and I determined with Johnson's division to take possession of a wooded hill to my left, on a line with and commanding Cemetery Hill. Before Johnson got up the Federals were reported moving to our left flank--our extreme left--and I ,could see what seemed to be his skirmishers in that direction. Before this report could be investigated by Lieutenant T. T. Turner, of my staff, and Lieutenant Robert Early, sent to investigate it, and Johnson placed in position, the night was far advanced." General Lee explains his failure to send positive orders to Ewell to follow up the flying enemy as follows: "The attack was not pressed that afternoon, the enemy's force being unknown and it being considered advisable to await the arrival of the rest of our troops. Orders were sent back to hasten their march, and in the meantime every effort was made to ascertain the numbers and positions of the enemy and find the most favorable point to attack."
Pursuit "pell-mell" is sometimes justified in a mere retreat. It is the accepted principle of action in a rout. General Early, in his report of this day's work, says "the enemy had been routed." He should, therefore, have been followed by everything that could have been thrown upon his heels, not so much to gain the heights, which were recognized as the rallying point, but to prevent his rallying at all in time to form lines for another battle. If the enemy had been routed this could and should have been done. In the "Military Annals of Louisiana," (Napier Bartlett, Esq.,) in the account of this rout, he says: "Hays had received orders through Early from General Ewell (though Lee's general instructions were subsequently the reverse) to halt at Gettysburg and advance no further in case he should succeed in capturing that place. But Hays now saw that the enemy were coming around by what is known as the Baltimore road, and were making for the heights--the Cemetery Ridge. This ridge meant life or death, and for the possession of it the battles of the 2d and 3d were fought. * * * * Owing to the long detour the enemy was compelled to make, it was obvious that he could not get his artillery in position on the heights for one or two hours. The immediate occupation of the heights by the Confederates, who were in position to get them at the time referred to, was a matter of vital importance. Hays recognized it as such and presently sent for Early. The latter thought as Hays, but declined to disobey orders. At the urgent request of General Hays, however, he sent for General Ewell. When the latter arrived many precious moments had been lost. But the enemy, who did not see its value until the arrival of Hancock, had not yet appeared in force." General Hays told me ten years after the battle that he "could have seized the heights without the loss of ten men." Here we see General Early adhering to orders when his own convictions told him he should not do so, and refusing to allow General Hays to seize a point recognized by him as of vast importance, because of technical authority, at a moment when he admitted and knew that disregard of the order would only have made more secure the point at issue when the order was given.
Before closing this article I desire to settle finally and fully one point concerning which there has been much discussion, viz: the alleged delay in the attack upon the 2d. I am moved to this task not so much by an ambition to dissolve the cloud of personal misrepresentation that has been settled about my head, as by a sense of duty which leads me to determine a point that will be of value to the historian. It was asserted by General Pendleton, with whom the carefulness of statement or deliberateness of judgment has never been a characteristic, but who has been distinguished for the unreliability of his memory, that General Lee ordered me to attack the enemy at sunrise on the 2d. General J. A. Early has, in positive terms, indorsed this charge, which I now proceed to disprove. I have said that I left General Lee late in the night of the 1st, and that he had not then determined when the attack should be made; that I went to his headquarters early the next morning and was with him for some time; that he left me early after sunrise and went to Ewell's headquarters with the express view of seeing whether or not the main attack should be made then, and that he returned at about 9 o'clock; and that after discussing the ground for some time he determined that I should make the main attack, and at 11 o'clock gave me the order to prepare for it. I now present documents that sustain these assertions.
The first letter that I offer is from Colonel W. R. Taylor, of General Lee's staff. It is as follows:
Norfolk, VA., April 28, 1875.
"Dear General: I have received your letter of the 20th instant. I have not read the article of which you speak, nor have I ever seen any copy of General Pendleton's address; indeed, I have read little or nothing of what has been written since the war. In the first place, because I could not spare the time; and in the second, of those of whose writings I have heard I deem but very few entitled to any attention whatever. I can only say that I never before heard of 'the sunrise attack' you were to have made as charged by General Pendleton. If such an order was given you I never knew of it, or it has strangely escaped my memory. I think it more than probable that if General Lee had had your troops available the evening previous to the day of which you speak, he would have ordered an early attack, but this does not touch the point at issue. I regard it as a great mistake on the part of those who, perhaps, because of political differences, now undertake to criticize and attack your war record. Such conduct is most ungenerous, and I am sure meets the disapprobation of all good Confederates with whom I have had the pleasure of associating in the daily walks of life.
"Yours, very respectfully,
" W. H. Taylor.
"To General Longstreet."
The next letter is from Colonel Charles Marshall, of General Lee's staff, who has charge of' all the
papers left by General Lee. It is as follows:
Baltimore, Md. May 7, 1875.
"Dear General: Your letter of the 20th ult. was received and should have had an earlier reply but for my engagements preventing me from looking at my papers to find what I could on the subject. I have no personal recollection of the order to which you refer. It certainly was not conveyed by me, nor is there anything in General Lee's official report to show the attack on the 2d was expected by him to begin earlier, except that he notices that there was not proper concert of action on that day.
"To General Longstreet, New Orleans."
Then a letter from General A. L. Long, who was General Lee's military secretary:
"Big Island, Bedford, Va., May 31, 1875.
"Dear General: Your letter of the 20th ult., referring to an assertion of General Pendleton's, made in a lecture delivered several years ago, which was recently published in the Southern Historical Society Magazine substantially as follows: 'That General Lee ordered General Longstreet to attack General Meade at sunrise on the morning of the 2d of July,' has been received. I do not recollect of hearing of an order to attack at sunrise, or at any other designated hour, pending the operations at Gettysburg during the first three days of July, 1863. * * *
"A. L. Long.
"To General Longstreet."
I add the letter of Colonel Venable, of General Lee's staff, which should of itself be conclusive. I
merely premise it with the statement that it was fully 9 o'clock before General Lee returned from
his reconnaissance of Ewell's lines:
"University of Virgina, May 11, 1875.
General James Longstreet:
Dear General: Your letter of the, 25th ultimo. with regard to Gen. Lee's battle order on the 1st and 2d of July at Gettysburg, was duly received. I did not know of any order for attack on the enemy at sunrise on the 2d, nor can I believe any such order was issued by General Lee. About sunrise on the 2d of July I was sent by General Lee to General Ewell to ask him what he thought of the advantages of an attack on the enemy from his position. (Colonel Marshall had been sent with a similar order on the night of the 1st). General Ewell made me ride with him from point to point of his lines, so as to see with him the exact position of things. Before be got through the examination of the enemy's position General Lee came himself to General Ewell's lines. In sending the message to General Ewell, General Lee was explicit in saying that the question was whether he should move all the troops around on the right and attack on that side. I do not think that the errand on which I was sent by the Commanding General is consistent with the idea of an attack at sunrise by any portion of the army.
Yours, very truly,
Chas. S. Venable"
I add upon this point the letter of Dr. Cullen, medical director of the First corps:
"Richmond, Va., May 18, 1875.
General James Longstreet:
Dear General--Yours of the 16th ult. should have received my immediate attention, but before answering it I was desirous of refreshing my memory of the scenes and incidents of the Gettysburg campaign by conversation with others who were with us and who served in different corps of the command. It was an astounding announcement to the survivors of the First army corps that the disaster and failure at Gettysburg was alone and solely due to its commander, and that had he obeyed the orders of the commander-in-chief that Meade's army would have been beaten, before its entire force had assembled, and its final discomfiture thereby made certain. It is a little strange that these charges were not made while General Lee was alive to substantiate or disprove them, and that seven years or more were permitted to pass by in silence regarding them. You are fortunate in being able to call upon the Adjutant-General and the two confidential officers of General Lee's staff for their testimony in the case, and I do not think that you will have any reason to fear their evidence. They knew every order that was issued for that battle, when and where attacks were to be made, who were slow in attacking and who did not make attacks that were expected to be made. I hope, for the sake of history and for your brave military record, that a quietus will at once be put on this subject. I distinctly remember the appearance in our headquarter camp of the scout who brought from Frederick the first account that General Lee had of the definite whereabouts of the enemy; of the excitement at General Lee's headquarters among couriers, quartermasters, commissaries, etc., all betoking some early movement of the commands dependent upon the news brought by the scout. That afternoon General Lee was walking with some of us in the road in front of his headquarters and said: 'To-morrow, gentlemen, we will not move to Harrisburg as we expected, but will go over to Gettysburg and see what General Meade is after.' Orders had then been issued to the corps to move at sunrise on the morning of the next day, and promptly at that time the corps was put on the road. The troops moved slowly a short distance when they were stopped by Ewell's wagon trains into the road in front of them, making to Cashtown or Gettysburg. How many able to say, but it must have been many, for I remember eating lunch or dinner before moving again. Being anxious to see you I rode rapid ly by the troops (who, as soon as they hurriedly by us also), and overtook you about dark at the hill this side of Gettysburg, about half a mile from the town. You had been at the front with General Lee and were returning to your camp, a mile or two back. I spoke very exultingly of the victory we were thought to have obtained that day, butt was surprised to find that you did not take the same cheerful view of it that I did, and presently you remarked that it would have been better had we not fought than to have left undone what we did. You said that the enemy were left occupying a position that it would take the whole army to drive them from and then at a great sacrifice. We soon reached the camp, three miles, perhaps, from Gettysburg, and found the column near by. Orders were issued to be ready to march at 'daybreak,' or some earlier hour, next morning. About 3 o'clock in the morning, while the stars were shining, you left your headquarters and rode to General Lee's, where I found you sitting with him after sunrise looking at the enemy on Cemetery Hill. I rode then into Gettysburg and was gone some two hours, and when I returned found you still with General Lee. At 2 or 3 o'clock in the day I rode with you toward the right, when you were about to attack, and was with you in front of the peach orchard when Hood began to move towards Round Top. General Hood was soon wounded and I removed him from the field to a house near by. * * * *
I am yours, very truly,
J. S. D. Cullen."
I submit next an extract from the official report of General R. H. Anderson:
"Upon approaching Gettysburg I was directed to occupy the position in line of battle which had
first been vacated by Pender's division, and to place one brigade and battery of artillery a mile or
more on the right. Wilcox's brigade and Captain Ross' battery, of Lane's battalion, were posted in
the detached position, while the other brigades occupied the ground from which Pender's division
had first been moved. We continued in position until the morning of the 2d, when I received
orders to take up a new line of battle on the right of Pender's division, about a mile and a half
further forward. In taking the new position the Tenth Alabama regiment, Wilcox's brigade, had a
sharp skirmish with the body of the enemy who had occupied a wooded hill on the extreme right
of my line. * * * Shortly after the line had been formed I received notice that Lieutenant-General
Longstreet would occupy the ground on my right, and that his line would be in a direction nearly
at right angles with mine, and that he would assault the extreme left of the enemy and drive him
From a narrative of General McLaws, published in 1873, I copy the following:
"On the 30th of June, I bad been directed to have my division in readiness to follow General
Ewell's corps. Marching toward Gettysburg, which it was intimated we would have passed by 10
o'clock the next day (the first of July), my division was accordingly marched from its camp and
lined along the road in the order of march by 8 o'clock the 1st of July. When the troops of Ewell's
corps--it was Johnston's division in charge of Ewell's wagon trains, which were coming from
Carlisle by the road west of the mountains--had passed the head of my column, I asked General
Longstreet's staff officer, Major Fairfax, if my division should follow. He went off to enquire, and
returned with orders for me to wait until Ewell's wagon train had passed, which did not happen
until after 4 o'clock P. M. The train was calculated to be fourteen miles long, when I took up the
line of march and continued marching until I arrived within three miles of Gettysburg, where my
command camped along a creek. This was far into the night. My division was leading
Longstreet's corps, and of course the other divisions come up later. I saw Hood's division the
next morning, and understood that Pickett had been detached to guard the rear. While on the
march, at about 10 o'clock at night, I met General Longstreet and some of his staff coming from
the direction of Gettysburg, and had a few moments conversation with him. He said nothing of
having received an order to attack at daylight the next morning. Here I will state that until
General Pendleton mentioned it about two years ago when he was on a lecturing tour, after the
death of General Lee, I never heard it intimated even that any such order had ever been given."
I close the testimony on this point by an extract from a letter from General Hood. He writes:
"I arrived with my staff in front of the heights of Gettysburg shortly after daybreak, as I have
already stated, on the morning of the 2d of July. My division soon commenced filing into an open
field near me, when the troops were allowed to stack arms and rest until further orders. A short
distance in advance of this point, and during the early part of the same morning, we were both
engaged in company with Generals A. P. Hill and Lee in observing the position of the Federals.
General Lee, with coat buttoned to the throat, sabre belt around his waist and field glasses
pending at his side, walked up and down in the shade of large trees near us, halting now and then
to observe the enemy. He seemed full of hope, yet at times buried in deep thought. Colonel
Freemantle, of England, was esconced in the forks of a tree not far off with glasses in constant use
examining the lofty position of the Federal army. General Lee was seemingly anxious that you
should attack that morning. He remarked to me: 'I The enemy is here, and if we do not whip him
he will whip us.' You thought it better to await the arrival of Pickett's division, at that time still in
the rear, in order to make the attack, and you said to me subsequently, while we were seated
together near the trunk of a tree: 'General Lee is a little nervous this morning. He wishes me to
attack. I do not wish to do so without Pickett. I never like to go into a battle with one boot off.'"
Having thus disproved the assertions of Messrs. Pendleton and Early in regard to this rumored order for a sunrise attack, it appears that they are worthy of no further recognition; but it is difficult to pass beyond them without noting the manner in which, by their ignorance, they marred the plans of their chief on the field of battle. Mr. Pendleton robbed Pickett's division of its most important adjunct, fresh field artillery, at the moment of its severest trial, and thus frustrated the wise and brilliant programme of assault planned by General Alexander, and without the knowledge of that officer. (See narrative of General Alexander in the Southern Historical Papers for September, 1877.] General Early broke up General Lee's line of battle on the 2d of July by detaching part of his division on some uncalled-for service, in violation of General Lee's orders, and thus prevented the co-operative attack of Ewell ordered by General Lee.
It is proper to discuss briefly, at this point, the movements of the third day. The charge of that
day as made by General Pickett was emphatically a forlorn hope. The point designated by
General Lee as the point of attack seemed to be about one mile from where he and I stood when
he gave his orders, I asked him if the distance that we bad to overcome under a terrific fire was
not more than a mile. He replied: "No; it is not more than fourteen hundred yards." So that our
troops, when they arose above the crest, had to advance this distance under the fire of about half
of the Federal army, before they could fire a shot. Anything less than thirty thousand fresh
veterans would have been vainly sacrificed in this attempt. The force given me for this work was
Pickett's division (or rather a part of it), about 5,500 men, fresh and ready to undertake anything.
My supporting force of probably 8,000 men had bloody noses and bruised heads from the fight of
the previous day, and were not in physical condition to undertake such desperate work. When
fresh they were the equals of any troops on earth; but every soldier knows that there is a great
difference between fresh soldiers and those who have just come out of a heavy battle. It has been
charged that the delay of the attack on the third was the cause of the failure of Ewell to
co-operate with Pickett's attack. Colonel Taylor says that Ewell was ordered to attack at the
same time with me, mine being the main attack. He says:
"General Longstreet's dispositions were not completed as soon as was expected. * * * General
Ewell, who had orders to co-operate with General Longstreet, and who was, of course, not aware
of any impediment to the main attack, having reinforced General Johnson during the night of the
2d, ordered him forward early the next morning. In obedience to these instructions, General
Johnson became hotly engaged before General Ewell could be informed of the halt that had been
called upon our right."
Let us look at the facts of this. Instead of "making this attack at daylight," General Ewell says: "Just before the time fixed for General Johnson's advance the enemy attacked him to regain the works captured by Stuart the evening before." General Meade in his official report, says: "On the morning of the 3d, General Geary, having returned during the night, attacked at early dawn the enemy, and succeeded in driving him back and reoccupying his former position. A spirited contest was maintained along this portion of the line all the morning, and General Geary, reinforced by Wharton's brigade of the Sixth corps, maintained his position and inflicted very severe loss upon the enemy." Now to return to my end of the line. At about sunrise General Lee came to me and informed that General Picket would soon report to me, and then ordered that his troops were to be used as a column of assault, designating the point of assault, and that portions of the Third corps were to be used in support. About 7 o'clock General Pickett rode forward and stated that his troops would soon be upon the field and asked to be assigned his position. Colonel W. W. Wood, of Pickett's division, in his account of the day, says: "If I remember correctly, Pickett's division and the artillery were all in position by 11 A. M." Hence we see that General Geary attacked General Ewell at least one hour before I had received my orders for the day; that at the very moment of my receiving these instructions General Ewell was engaged in a "spirited contest;" that this contest had continued several hours before General Pickett's troops came upon the field, and that the contest was virtually over before General Pickett and the artillery were prepared for the battle. When these arrangements were completed and the batteries ordered to open, General Ewell had been driven from his position and not a foot-step was made from any other part of the army in my support. That there may have been confusion of orders on the field during the second and third days I am not prepared to deny, but there was nothing of the kind about the headquarters of the First corps.
General Wilcox steps forward as a willing witness in all concerning the battle of Gettysburg, and seems to know everything of General Lee's wishes and the movements of the First corps, and in fact everything else except his own orders. His brigade was the directing brigade for the echelon movement that was to protect McLaws' flank. He went astray at the opening of the fight, either through ignorance of his orders or a misapprehension or violation of them. Had he but attended to his own brigade instead of looking to the management of the general battle, the splendid exhibition of soldiery given by his men would have given better results.
I have not seen the criticism of the Comte de Paris upon the campaign, but I gather from quotations that he adduced as one of the objections to the invasion of Pennsylvania that the Federals would do superior fighting upon their own soil. The Confederates, whom I have read after, deny that this is true. Although not technically correct the Comte is right in the material point. The actual fighting on the field of Gettysburg by the army of the Potomac was not marked by any unusual gallantry, but the positions that it occupied were held with much more than the usual tenacity of purpose.
There is little to say of the retreat of General Lee's army to the Potomac. When we reached South Mountain, on our retreat, we learned that the Federal cavalry was in strong force threatening the destruction of our trains then collecting at Williamsport, and that it was also intercepting our trains on the road and burning some of our wagons. Upon the receipt of this intelligence, General Lee ordered me to march as rapidly as possible to the relief of our trains. By a forced march we succeeded in clearing the road and reached Williamsport in time to save ,our supply trains. We then took position covering the crossing there and at Falling Water, a short distance below. As the other corps arrived they were assigned positions and we went to work, as rapidly as possible to strengthen our line with field-works. On the 13th General Lee informed me that the river had fallen sufficiently at Williamsport to allow us to ford, and that the bridge at Falling Water had been repaired, and that he would that night recross the river with his entire army. I suggested as a matter of convenience and to avoid confusion, that it might be better to pass the trains over that night, with everything not essential to battle, and let his troops remain in position until the night of the 14th; that if the rest of his line was as strong as mine we could easily repulse any attack that might be made, and thus recover some of the prestige lost by the discomfiture at Gettysburg. After we crossed the Potomac we soon found that the Federals were pushing along the west side of the Blue Ridge with the purpose of cutting off our retreat to Richmond. General Lee again sent my corps forward to prevent this effort on the part of General Meade, and we succeeded in clearing the way, and holding it open for the Third corps that followed us. General Ewell, however, was cut off, and was obliged to pass the mountains further south. The First corps reached Culpeper Courthouse on the 24th.
In the month of August, 1863, while lying along the Rapidan, I called General Lee's attention to
the condition of our affairs in the West, and the progress that was being made by the army under
General Rosecranz, in cutting a new line through the State of Georgia, and suggesting that a
successful march, such as he had started on would again bisect the Southern Country, and that
when that was done the war would be virtually over. I suggested that he should adhere to his
defensive tactics upon the Rapidan, and reinforce from his army the army lying in front of
Rosecranz--so that it could crush that army and then push on to the West. He seemed struck with
these views, but was as much opposed to dividing his army as he was in the spring when I first
suggested it. He went down to Richmond to arrange for another offensive campaign during the
fall. While there several letters passed between us, Only two of which I have preserved in
connected form. The result of this correspondence was, however, that I was sent with two
divisions--Hood's and McLaws'--to reinforce our army then in Georgia. The result of this
movement was the defeat of Rosecranz at Chickamauga, when the last hope of the Confederacy
expired with the failure of our army to prosecute the advantage gained by this defeat. The letters
are appended herewith:
"Richmond, August 31, 1863.
"Lieutenant-General J. Longstreet,
"Headquarters Army Northern Virginia:
"General: I have wished for several days past to return to the army, but have been detained by the President. He will not listen to my proposition to leave to morrow.
"I hope you will use every exertion to prepare the army for offensive operations, and improve the condition of men and animals. I can see nothing better to be done than to endeavor to bring General Meade out and use our efforts to crush his army while in the present condition.
"The Quartermaster's Department promise to send up 3,000 bushels of corn per day, provided the cars can be unloaded and returned without delay. I hope you will be able to arrange it so that the cars will not be detained. With this supply of corn, if it can be maintained, the condition of our animals should improve.
"Very respectfully and truly yours,
(Signed) "R. E. Lee, General."
"Headquarters, September 2, 18 63.
"General: Your letter of the 31st is received. I have expressed to Generals Ewell and Hill your wishes, and am doing all that can be done to be well-prepared with my own command. Our greatest difficulty will be in preparing our animals.
"I don't know that we can reasonably hope to accomplish much here by offensive operations, unless we are strong enough to cross the Potomac. If we advance to meet the enemy on this side he will in all probability go into one of his many fortified positions. These we cannot afford to attack.
"I know but little of the condition of our affairs in the West, but am inclined to the opinion that our best opportunity for great results is in Tennessee. If we could hold the defensive here with two corps and send the other to operate in Tennessee with that army, I think that we could accomplish more than by an advance from here.
"The enemy seems to have settled down upon the plan of holding certain points by fortifying and defending, while he concentrates upon others. It seems to me that this must succeed, unless we concentrate ourselves and at the same time make occasional show of active operations at all points.
"I know of no other means of acting upon that principle at present, except to depend upon our fortifications in Virginia, and concentrate with one corps of this army and such as may be drawn from others in Tennessee and destroy Rosecranz's army.
"I feel assured that this is practicable, and that greater advantages will be gained than by any operations from here.
"I remain, General, very respectfully,
"Your obedient servant,
(Signed) James Longstreet, Lieut.-General.
"General R. E. Lee, Commanding, etc."
It will be noticed by those who have watched the desultory controversy maintained upon this
subject, that after I had proved the fallacy of Gen. Pendleton's and General Early's idea of a
sunrise attack, they fall back upon the charge that I delayed bringing my troops into action,
waiving all question of an order from General Lee. I have shown that I did not receive orders
from General Lee to attack until about 11 o'clock on the 2d; that I immediately began my
dispositions for attack; that I waited about forty minutes for Laws' brigade, by General Lee's
assenting authority; that by especial orders from General Lee my corps marched into position by a
circuitous route, under the direction and conduct of Col. Johnson of his staff of engineers; that
Colonel Johnson's orders were to keep the march of the troops concealed, and that I hurried
Hood's division forward in the face of these orders, throwing them into line by a direct march, and
breaking up the delay occasioned by the orders of Gen. Lee. I need only add that every
movement or halt of the troops on that day was made in the immediate presence of General Lee,
or in his sight--certainly within reach of his easy and prompt correction. I quote in this connection
the order that I issued to the heads of departments in my corps on the 1st. I present the order
issued to Colonel Walton of the artillery, similar orders having been issued to the division
"Headquarters First Army Corps,
"Near Gettysburg, July 18, 5:30 P.M.
"Colonel: The Commanding-General desires you to come on to-night as fast as you can without distressing your men or animals. Hill and Ewell have sharply engaged the enemy and you will be needed for to-morrow's battle. Let us know where you, will stop to-night.
"G. M. Sorrell, A. A. General.
"To Colonel J. B. Walton, Chief of Artillery."*(*I am indebted to Colonel Walton for a copy of
I offer also a report made by General Hood touching this march. He says:
"While lying in camp near Chambersburg information was received that Hill and Ewell were about
to come into contact with the enemy near Gettysburg. My troops, together with McLaws'
division, were at once put in motion upon the most direct road to that point, which we reached
after a hard march at or before sunrise on July the 2d. So imperative had been our orders to
hasten forward with all possible speed that on the march my troops were allowed to halt and rest
only about two hours during the night from the 1st to the 2d of July."
It appears to me that the gentlemen who made the above-mentioned charges against me have chosen the wrong point of attack. With their motives I have nothing to do; but I cannot help suggesting that if they had charged me with having precipitated the battle instead of having delayed it, the records might have sustained them in that my attack was made about four hours before General Ewell's. I am reminded in this connection of what a Federal officer, who was engaged in that battle, said to me when we were talking over the battle and the comments it had provoked. He said: "I cannot imagine how they can charge you with being late in your attack, as you were the only one that got in at all. I do no think their charge can be credited."
In conclusion I may say that it is unfortunate that the discussion of all mooted points concerning
the battle was not opened before the death of General Lee,. A word or two from him would have
settled all points at issue. As it is, I have written an impartial narrative of the facts as they are,
with such comments as the nature of the case seemed to demand.
The following appealed in the same issue of the Times which contained General Longstreet's
Some Additions to General Longstreet's Article, printed elsewhere.
After the pages containing General Longstreet's article on the Gettysburg campaign had been
stereotyped, two paragraphs were received from him which he desired to have added as foot
notes to the text. As it was impossible to insert the in their proper place, they are given here. The
first is a note to the passage which treats of Longstreet's arguments with Lee against making the
attack on the morning of the 2d:
Now that the war is over, and we have the privilege of reviewing the conduct of both armies, we
can see more, clearly what would have been the effect of this proposed movement around the
Federal left on the afternoon of the 1st. General Meade telegraphed to General Halleck in cipher
just before my battle on the 2d: "If not attacked, and I can get any positive information of the
position of the enemy which will justify me in doing so, I will attack. If I find it hazardous to do
so, and am satisfied that the enemy is endeavoring to move to my rear and interpose between me
and Washington, I shall fall back on my supplies at Westminister." If, therefore, we had drawn
everything up on the night of the 1st and made a concentrated move on the morning of the 2d by
our right flank, so as to seize the Emmettsburg road, we should either have been attacked or we
should have dislodged General Meade from his position. The attack was of all things that which
we most desired and had labored for. If, however, we had dislodged him from his position
without his daring to strike a blow for his own soil--which is most probable, if not certain--the
moral effect upon his army would have been appalling. The grandest feat that a general can hope
to perform is to win a victory without striking a blow.
The next is a remark which should be added to the narrative at the point where General
Longstreet argues against Colonel Taylor's assumption that he should have advanced Hood's and
McLaws' divisions to the attack opened by Pickett, on the 3d:
A reading of the testimony before the committee on the conduct of the war (page 408) will show
that General Meade fully anticipated my attack on the 3d, and was determined, if we moved our
army in a direct column of assault, to attack it upon the flanks and destroy it. He told General
Hancock upon the evening of the 3d that if we attacked him 'he would throw the Fifth and Sixth
Corps upon the enemy's flank." This determination was thwarted by the position of Hood's and
McLaws' divisions, which were in line of battle before him. If I had moved them into the column
of assault led by Pickett, as it is absurdly assumed by Colonel Taylor I was expected to do, the
two threatening corps would have swept down upon our moving flank, with what effect any
military man can easily divine.
The letter from General Longstreet, which accompanies these, enclosures, dwells particularly
upon a point which he wishes to have his readers understand as the justification of his present
narrative. It is that while General Lee on the battle-field assumed all the responsibility for the
result, he afterward published a report that differs from the report he made at the time while under
that generous spirit. General Longstreet and other officers made their official reports upon the
battle shortly after its occurrence, and while they were impressed with General Lee's noble
assumption of all the blame; but General Lee having since written a detailed and somewhat critical
account of the battle-and the account from which General Longstreet's critics get all their points
against him-Longstreet feels himself justified in discussing the battle upon its merits. It is in
recognition of his soldierly modesty that the substance of his letter is given here; the article is its
own sufficient justification.
(Source: Southern Historical Society, Vol. 5, pages 54-86)