NEWSPAPER ARTICLE, A REPLY BY "A STAFF OFFICER OF THE FIFTH CORPS' TO A
NEWSPAPER ARTICLE SIGNED 'HISTORICUS,' MENTIONED IN LETTER OF MARCH
THE BATTLE OF GETTYSBURG-THE TRUTH OF HISTORY, &c.
To the Editor of the Herald:
In your paper of the 12th instant "Historicus" favors the world with an immense letter on the battle of Gettysburg. It is so manifestly intended to create public opinion that few will attach to it the importance the writer hopes. I wish to correct some of his misstatements, and, having been an eye-witness, claim to be both heard and believed.
FIRST-The Fifth corps was never placed under the orders of General Sickles at any time during the battle of Gettysburg and never was posted by General Sickles on the left of the Third corps.
SECOND-General Sykes was never requested to relieve Ward's brigade and Smith's battery on Roundtop for the very good reason that neither that brigade nor the battery was on Roundtop; and what is undeniable, was held by Vincent's brigade, First division, Fifth Corps; Weed's brigade, Second division, fifth corps, and Hazlett's battery of regular artillery. Each of these commanders lost his life in its defence.
THIRD-Two brigades of Barnes's division (First), Fifth corps, were posted on the edge of a wood, and in front of a portion of the Third corps (Ward's brigade) before any musketry firing began; so that the hour's conflict sustained by the Third corps before the Fifth Corps came up has no existence.
FOURTH-General Crawford's troops, Fifth corps, were thrown into action by order of the corps commander, not by any order of General Sickles, or by any solicitation of Captain Moore, of General Sickles staff.
FIFTH-The left of the Third corps was far in advance of Roundtop, and did not connect with it in any way.
SIXTH-The imminent danger of losing Roundtop resulted, not from the failure to relieve Ward's brigade, which was not there, but from an order of General Sickles, taking Weed's brigade from that hill to assist the Third corps, and Weed, in obeying this order, was met by his corps commander, and promptly returned to his position on the hill, just in time to assist in repelling Longstreet's attack.
SEVENTH-When a dispassionate writer seats himself to bolster up one officer at the expense of others, neither "hearsay evidence" nor "slight errors" should have a place in his narrative. Unadulterated truth should stamp its every assertion.
A STAFF OFFICER OF THE FIFTH CORPS
NEWSPAPER ARTICLE, A REPLY BY GENERAL BARNES TO A NEWSPAPER ARTICLE
SIGNED "HISTORICUS" MENTIONED IN LETTER OF MARCH 22, 1864.
THE BATTLE OF GETTYSBURG
To the Editor of the Herald:
Washington, March 16, 1864.
In the New York Herald of the 12th inst., a communication of the signature of "Historicus" purports to give the account of an "Eye-Witness" of the battle of Gettysburg, and the reason for it assigned that up to this time no clear narrative of it has appeared.
I desire to call attention to that portion of it which pretends to relate certain events in connection with the part taken by the Fifth Corps in that engagement, and particularly to what the writer refers to as an "Alarming incident" occurring in the First division of that corps, which I had the honor to command. He says:-
"An alarming incident, however, occurred. Barnes' division, of the Fifth Corps, suddenly gave way; and Sickles, seeing this, put a battery in position to check the enemy if he broke through this gap on our front, and General Birney was sent to order Barnes back into line. 'No,' he said; 'impossible. It is too hot. My men cannot stand it.' Remonstrance was unavailing, and Sickles dispatched his aides to bring up any troops they met to fill this blank. Major Tremaine, of his staff, fell in with General Zook, at the head of his brigade (Second Corps), and this gallant officer instantly volunteered to take Barnes' place. When they reached the ground, Barnes' disordered troops impeded the advance of the brigade. 'If you can't get out of the way,' cried Zook, 'lie down, and I will march over you.' Barnes ordered his men to lie down, and the chivalrous Zook and his splendid brigade, under the personal direction of General Birney, did march over them and right into the breach. Alas! poor Zook soon fell, mortally wounded, and half of his brigade perished with him."
All this is pure invention. No such occurrence as is here related took place. There is not a particle of truth in it. No order was given to me by General Birney. None was received by me through any one from General Sickles. I did not see or hear from General Zook. I did not meet him in any way. I did not know he was there, and the article above referred to is the first intimation that I have had that any one pretended that any such event took place. There was no order to advance-no refusal; no order to lie down given to the command by me or by any one else to my knowledge; no passing over my command (I should be sorry to see any body of men attempt to do such a thing in my division); nothing of the kind occurred that ever came to my knowledge, and I think I should have heard of such a thing before this late day if it, or anything like it, had taken place; the whole story is untrue in every particular, and my astonishment at now hearing of such a thing for the first time may possibly be imagined.
So much for that portion of the article above quoted.
In reference to other criticisms of the movements of the Fifth corps, it may perhaps properly devolve on others to refer to them. I shall only add a few words as to what the Fifth division of that corps did do.
Upon receiving the orders to move to the front, the First division, composed of three brigades, was promptly in motion. In about fifteen minutes it reached the ground which it was ordered to occupy, to the left of the Third corps. General Sykes, commanding the fifth corps, and myself, reached the ground in advance of the head of the column, and the position to be occupied by my division was determined upon.
As soon as the head of the column came up General Warren rode up in haste and earnestly requested General Sykes to permit a brigade to be sent to Round Top-a high elevation upon the left, not far from us-and urged the importance of holding that position.
Although separating on of my brigades from the remaining two, one of which was already weakened by the detachment of a Regiment-the Ninth Massachusetts-as skirmishers in another part of the field, yet, yielding to the emergency which was apparent, General Sykes consented, and I immediately directed the Third brigade, then under the command of the late much lamented General Strong Vincent (who fell mortally wounded within an hour of receiving the order) to proceed in that direction. The Second brigade arrived next under the command of Colonel Sweitzer, who immediately placed his brigade in position. The 1st brigade, under the command of Colonel Tilton, was posted on the right of Colonel Sweitzer, being the right of the division and on the right of the position of the Fifth corps, the other two divisions of the corps extending to and embracing the celebrated Round Top.
The five corps therefore occupied what may well be called the post of honor of that day, and, as the result proved, well deserved that proud distinction.
In passing to their positions it was necessary for the two brigades of my division to cross an open piece of ground in a thick wood, at the entrance of which a portion of the three corps, commanded by General Birney, was lying upon the ground. My brigades, advancing over and beyond these men a considerable distance, took the position assigned them upon the opposite edge of the wood, nearest to the enemy. They were all in place before the engagement commenced in their front. An open and gently ascending ground upon the right seemed to be unguarded. To the right of this open space the remaining portion of the Third corps was posted. General Sykes observing this, remarked that that portion of the three corps now lying down in our rear would be soon relieved. The engagement commenced immediately and with great severity. The gap upon my right was still unoccupied. The First brigade was violently assailed in front and stood its ground without flinching, and soon after the fight became general along the whole of my front. Soon, however, the enemy, working his way through the gap upon my right, came down in large force upon my flank and rear.
Under these circumstance I was obliged to change my front to the right; the order was given, promptly executed in good order, and the further progress of the enemy in that direction was prevented.
Colonel Tilton in his official report says:- "In this last movement I was greatly embarrassed by squads of men and parts of regiments, who, hurrying from the front, broke into and through my lines. I retired, firing a short distance in the timber and took up a new position upon the right of the two divisions. All my officers and men did their duty, their whole duty, and showed the greatest coolness and courage."
Colonel Sweitzer in his official report says:- "The enemy were getting into our rear in the woods behind us on the right. I directed these regiments to change front, to face in that direction and meet them, which they did. I do not intent to go into the further details of these movements, or ascribe any blame to others or to fix any responsibility upon any one for any error which led to so threatening a danger to the flank and rear of my division. I only design to show that the orderly movement of my command, rendered imperative by the circumstances in which it was placed, prevented any further advance of the enemy upon my flank, notwithstanding the imminent danger to which it was exposed by the unfortunate gap upon my right between portions of the Third corps."
It may have been simply anxiety, it may have been some other affection of the mind in the midst of the danger so apparent which prevented this "eye-witness," if he were one, upon whose narrative I am commenting from distinguishing between an orderly and a disorderly movement.
It is not absolutely necessary to attribute it to a desire to misrepresent. The motives and the object of the narrative must be judged by its general tenor. He has presented to the public what he claims to be a true and only correct account of the celebrated battle of Gettysburg.
So far as I am able to judge, and I saw something of the movements of that day, I think it filled with errors, detracting from the merits of some and exalting the moderate claims of others to a ridiculous excess.
Brigadier General United States Vols. Commanding Second Division, Fifth Corps, at the Battle of Gettysburg.
LETTER FROM GENERAL MEADE TO THE DEPARTMENT ENCLOSING NEWSPAPER
ARTICLE SIGNED "HISTORICUS"
Headquarters, Army of the Potomac, March 15, 1864
Col. E.D. Townsend,
A.A.G. Washington, D.C.
I enclose herewith a slip from the New York Herald of the 12th inst., containing a communication signed "Historicus," purporting to give an account of the battle of Gettysburg to which I desire to call the attention of the War Department-and ask such action thereon as may be deemed proper and suitable.
For the past fortnight the public press of the whole country has been teeming with articles, all having for their object assaults upon my reputation as an officer, and tending to throw discredit upon my operations at Gettysburg and my official report of the same. I have not noticed any of these attacks and should not now take action, but that the character of the communication enclosed bears such manifest proofs that it was written either by some one present at the battle, or dictated by some one present and having access not only to official documents, but to confidential papers that were never issued to the Army, much less made public.
I cannot resist the belief that this letter was either written or dictated by Major General D. E. Sickles. An issue has been raised between that officer and myself, in regard to the judgment displayed by him in the position he took with his corps at Gettysburg. In my official report I deemed it proper to state that in this position was a false and untenable one, but I did General Sickles the justice to express the opinion that altho' he had committed an error of judgment, it was done through a misapprehension of his orders and not from any intention to act contrary to my wishes. The prominence given to General Sickles' operations in the enclosed communication, the labored argument to prove his good judgment and my failings, all lead me to the conclusion he is either indirectly or directly the author.
As the communication contains so many statements prejudicial to my reputation, I feel called upon to ask the interposition of the Department, as I desire to consider the questions raised purely official. I therefore have to ask, that the Department will take steps to ascertain whether Major General Sickles has authorized or endorses this communication, and in the event of his replying in the affirmative I have to request of the President of the U. S. a court of inquiry that the whole subject may be thoroughly investigated and the truth be made known. Should this court not be deemed advisable, any other action the Department may deem proper I desire should be taken, and should the Department decline any action, then I desire authority to make use of and publish such official documents, as, in my judgement, are necessary for my defense.
I am, Very respectfully
Your obt. servant
Geo. G. Meade
Major General Comm'dg.
IN REPLY TO GENERAL BARNES AND THE STAFF OFFICERS OF THE SECOND AND
FIFTH CORPS. THE EVIDENCE BEFORE THE COMMITTEE ON THE CONDUCT OF
THE WAR, &C.
To the Editor of the Herald.
In your journal of the 12th ult. I gave an impartial and conscientious sketch of the battle of Gettysburg. Regarding it as the decisive battle of the war, I thought it wise to put its main features on record while the facts were familiar and the principal actors at hand.
I challenged criticism; and three replies have appeared, accusing me, not only of inaccuracy, but downright misstatement. This induced me to redouble my researches, as my only motive was to aid the future historian of this great event.
To my satisfaction more than to my surprise, I find that not only was the outline of my picture correct but nearly every detail and incident exact. I stated, it may be remembered, that the left wing of our army, under the command of General Sickles was selected by General Lee as his report shows for the main point of his attack. I stated, also, that whilst this formidable attack was preparing all the morning of Thursday, July 2, General Sickles was left without orders, in spite of his urgent entreaties to the Commander-in-Chief, General Meade. I stated, likewise, that during this fearful interval, instead of being occupied with the steady advance of the enemy, General Meade was entirely engrossed with the plans for a retreat that General Butterfield, his Chief of Staff, was employed in drawing up, and that just at the moment the general order for retreat was prepared, the cannon of Longstreet opened on our left wing, under Sickles. I stated, further, that, as retreat was now hopeless, General Meade galloped up to our left flank and inspected the dispositions General Sickles had made on his own responsibility to repel the enemy, when the following colloquy ensued, which I repeat in epitome: - "Are your lines not too extended, General Sickles?" said the Commander-in-Chief. "Can you hold this front?" "Yes," replied Sickles, "till more troops are sent up." "I will send you the Fifth corps and a division of the Second corps and you can have all the artillery you need." I stated finally, that the Third corps, constituting our left wing at the beginning of the battle, withstood "heroically," to use General Meade's expression, the furious onset of Longstreet for nearly an hour before the reinforcements promised to Sickles, by the Commander-in-Chief arrived and took their part in the dreadful fray. Now, I appeal to your readers when I ask what one of these statements, describing the beginning of the action, or any other portraying the contest of Friday, July 3, as well as the inglorious failure of General Meade to profit by his victory in pursuing and destroying the enemy, has been disproved or controverted by the anonymous communications published in reply? Not one. Allow me briefly to notice them.
The first evidently emanates from a champion of the Second corps, whose task was gratuitous; for it was far from my intention to disparage by a single word, the valiant troops of the Second corps or their gallant commander. The writer in question is deeply offended that General Sickles figured so conspicuously in the fight of July 2; but that is no fault of mine. The blame, if any, is to be attributed to the eagerness and activity of General Sickles. The said writer, however, makes one charge so grave that it demands refutation. He declares that Sickles advanced his corps so far away from his supports, on his right and left, as to cost the lives of these three thousand men to extricate him. He calls this a "sad error and an unaccountable one." Yes, it would have been an error for which General Sickles would have been immediately cashiered if he had committed it, the aspersion is preposterous. What General Sickles did do was to make a simple manoeuvre which the movements of the enemy required. He changed his front to the left by wheeling forward the centre and right wing of his corps so as to confront the flank attack of Longstreet. No military critic would call this an advance. If he had not done this he would have been cut to pieces by an enfilading fire, and the safety of the army might have been compromised. Furthermore, it would have been difficult for General Sickles, at the moment in question, to abandon the support on his left for the obvious reason that he had none; for the Fifth corps, which afterwards took up position on his left, was not there when he changed front. So much for "Another Eye-Witness."
The second reply which appeared in your columns is signed by a "Staff Officer of the Fifth Corps" and he indulges in a series of such reckless assertions as to show that neither his temper any more than his memory, if he was at the battle, qualified his for the task of rectification. He first denies that General Sykes reported to General Sickles on the field. Then General Sykes failed in his duty; for he was ordered by General Meade to do so. Let me vindicate Sykes, however; for he did report, and Sickles requested him to take position on his felt, and also to relieve General Ward's brigade and Smith's Battery on the Little Roundtop Mountain. Again, the "Staff Officer" asserts that the Third corps never had a soldier on the Roundtop. This is true enough for Ward's Brigade and Smith's Battery (Third corps was posted on the Little Roundtop, adjoining the Big Roundtop Mountain). This is a mere quibble and unworthy of the gravity of the subject. I reassert that it was nearly an hour after the battle began before the Fifth corps reached the Big Roundtop; and it required all this time to march the distance. The desperate valor of the troops of this corps in defence of their position not only covers them with honor but sheds glory on the army and country. Three accomplished officers-Vincent, Weed and Hazlett, of the Fifth corps-consecrated the spot by their heroic deaths. With a view to mislead the public the "Staff Officer" coolly asserts that Barnes' division of the Fifth corps, was posted in front of a portion of Sickles' corps, but, forgetting this, he soon afterward states that "the left of Third corps (Sickles') was far in advance of the Roundtop," occupied by the Fifth corps. This is a ludicrous contradiction I will not dwell on; nor is it necessary to waste time on the blunders of the "Staff Officer."
A third letter and a long one, has appeared in your columns signed "James Barnes, Brigadier General, United States Volunteers commanding 1st division, Fifth corps, at the battle of Gettysburg," which denies in obstreperous language the unpleasant charge I felt myself obliged to make in my first letter. I narrated that Barnes' Division suddenly fell back and left a gap in the line of battle, and that General Birney by desire of General Sickles remonstrated at his conduct, but that Barnes refused to return to his position. I further declared that Zook's Bridgade, which came up gallantly to supply the defection of Barnes, marched over his troops, who were ordered to lie down for this purpose. As General Barnes denies all this roundly, under his own signature, it is proper I should give the names of those who cheerfully came forward to corroborate in every point the facts I stated. I refer General Barnes, first to the letter of General de Trobriand, in the Herald of March 29, where he states that a portion of Barnes' division fell back and took position in his rear, and that in spite of his remonstrance they finally withdrew altogether without being engaged. This confirms what I alleged; but I have positive testimony in a private letter from General Birney, which he will not object I am sure, to my using. When he saw Barnes withdrawing his troops before they had received a shot, he remonstrated at Barnes' leaving a dangerous gap in his line, as well as abandoning the good position. It was of no avail, for Barnes retired. I copied the following from General Birney's letter:-
"He (Barnes) moved to the rear from three to four hundred yards, and formed in the rear of the road which passed from the Emmettsburg Road to the Round Top. When Zook's Brigade, the first one brought to me, came up, Barnes' troops (being in the way) were, at my request, ordered to lie down, and the Brigade from the Second corps passed over their prostrate bodies into the fight, under my command, relieving de Trobriand's left. A portion of the troops of Barnes were afterwards detached and fought splendidly under another commander. I mentioned the conduct of General Barnes to his corps commander General Sykes, and also to General Sedgwick, that night, after the Council; and Sykes told me that Colonel Sweitzer who commanded one of Barnes' Brigades, had reported the same thing."
This extract must be regarded as conclusive. In final confirmation, I may add that General Barnes was relieved of his command after the battle and now has been reduced from the commander of a division to a brigade. I regret to place General Barnes in so mortifying a position, but it is well that both officers and soldiers should know that the eye of the country follows them to the battlefield, and that while it sparkles with joy at their heroism it is dimmed with sorrow at the want of it. In fine, I defy my three assailants to deny that the invincible resistance of the Third corps under Sickles, to the determined flank attack of Longstreet, until the reinforcements arrived, saved the army from imminent danger; and no better proof of this is wanted than that it finally took the united efforts of the Third, Fifth and four brigades of the Second corps to defeat this grand manoeuvre of the enemy, and the result was still doubtful until the reserve (the Sixth corps) under General Sedgwick, came up.
It is only due to myself to say that my narrative of the battle of Gettysburg, published on the 12th ult. will be fully sustained by the concurrent testimony of all the generals who have recently appeared before the Committee on the Conduct of the War. The evidence of General Butterfield, Chief of Staff to General Meade, is known to be so ruinous to the reputation of the Commander of the Army of the Potomac that it will be a singular indifference to public opinion on the part of the government if he is allowed to remain longer in that important post. It has been most conclusively proved that nothing was easier than to force Lee's whole army to an unconditional surrender at Williamsport, where he was without ammunition or subsistence, and the swollen Potomac preventing his escape. It was stated that our army was so humiliated at the vacillation and timidity of General Meade on this occasion that many of them shed tears and talked of throwing down their arms. Yet General Meade still commands this noble army, and not only that, but he has lately ventured to break up, under shallow pretexts two of its finest corps, and dismiss some of its most heroic officer, Pleasanton, Sykes and others. It will be an important inquiry for the Committee on the Conduct of the War to ascertain by whose influence General Meade exercises such arbitrary power. This vital and dangerous act was carried out without any consultation with General Grant and may we not hope, that for his own sake and the country's sake he will wield the authority which belongs to him, else the worst is to be feared.