Reply to General Longstreet's Second Paper.
By General J. A. Early.
General Longstreet is of the opinion that he is a very deeply-aggrieved man, because he has not been permitted, without question, to pronounce that General Lee's strategy in the Gettysburg campaign was very defective; that General Lee had lost his mind when he determined to deliver battle at Gettysburg, or, to use the language in which the idea is conveyed, that he had "during the crisis of the 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"; that he, himself, alone understood the requirements of the occasion, and if he had been allowed to control the operations of the army, a brilliant victory would have ensued; and that every other officer in any responsible position, outside of his own immediate command, was grossly derelict, or terribly blundered. All this he claims the right to do, for the benefit of "the Comte de Paris and the general historian," because he is "the only living person who could explain the motif of that campaign and the true reasons of its failure."
He laid the foundation for enlightening the "general historian" in regard to the demerits and
deficiencies of General Lee, and his own superior claims to the leadership of the Army of
Northern Virginia, by a letter written to his uncle, on the 24th day of July, 1863, which letter
would have never seen the light of day if he had not, himself, given it to the public. In that letter
"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 term, or, at least, held Washington and
marched over so 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 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 them 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."
The arrogance and egotism of all this might be to some extent pardonable when confined to a
private confidential letter to a near relative; but when that letter is given to the public by its
author, they become insufferable. The part of the letter published concludes as follows:
"As General Lee is our commander, he should have all 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
remain there. The truth will be known in time, and I leave that to show how much of the
responsibility of Gettysburg shall rest on my shoulders."
The spirit of the first part of this latter passage is very self-sacrificing and commendable indeed, but the declaration of it is confined to the ear of his uncle, until the letter is made public for the purpose of showing that General Lee made an inexcusable blunder in framing his own plans, andrejecting the wiser counsels of the writer of that letter; and, when the attempt is made to show that the latter was really at fault in not cordially, promptly, and vigorously seconding the plans of the Commanding General, he cries out most lustily that he is the victim of "the, ill-natured and splenetic attacks" of "certain wordy soldiers," in a "tom-tom warfare." These figures of rhetoric are, doubtless, very brilliant in the dress given them by "the professional writer" of the Philadelphia Times; but when General Longstreet undertakes to blow his own trumpet, at the expense of others, he must not complain if its discordant notes are drowned by the sound of the tom-tom, nor, when he decks himself in stolen feathers, if he shares the fate of the jackdaw.
He very evidently does not agree with the poet, that--
"Truth crushed to earth shall rise again:
The eternal years of God are hers."
He has no confidence in her unaided efforts to make herself known, and hence he applies himself to the work of helping her out of the dirt and mud most manfully; and after tugging at her skirts for some time, he presents to the public gaze a brazen-faced image, in which are to be recognized none of the lineaments of the diffident and modest goddess.
Very soon after the war, in what Swinton designates as "a full and free conversation" with him,
General Longstreet made the statements upon which were based the very severe criticisms of that
writer on General Lee's conduct of the Gettysburg campaign ; and when General Lee's letter to
President Davis, written a short time after the close of that campaign, was made public, a little
more than two years ago, General Longstreet hastened to publish the above-mentioned letter to
his uncle. In General Lee's very self-abnegating letter to the President, there occurs this passage:
"Everything therefore points to the advantages to be derived from a new commander, and I the
more anxiously urge the matter upon your Excellency, from my belief that a younger and abler
man than myself can readily be obtained. I know that he will have as gallant and brave an army as
ever existed to second his efforts, and it would be the happiest day of my life to see at its head a
worthy leader; one that would accomplish more than I could perform, and all that I have wished."
In a communication, over his signature, in the New Orleans Republican of the 27th of February,
1876, General Longstreet, referring to his letter to his uncle, said:
"His [Longstreet's] letter was published owing to its corroborative and sympathetic relations to
one of General R. E. Lee written two weeks later. The publication was made following the
publication of General R. E. Lee's, so that the facts might be known and noted in their proper
connection, not in attack or defense of any one."
The letter of General Lee here referred to is the one to the President from which the foregoing extract is made, and the only part of it to which Longstreet's could bear the remotest "corroborative and sympathetic relations" is the passage given--that is, Longstreet's letter was corroborative of the opinion that a younger and abler leader for the army could have been obtained, and sympathetic with it in pointing out who that leader should have, been--to wit: General James Longstreet.
Accompanying the publication of the letter to his uncle, General Longstreet gave the following
extract from a letter to him from General Lee, dated, as alleged, in January, 1864:
"Had I taken your advice at Gettysburg instead of pursuing the course I did, how different all
things might have been."
A letter from General Fitz Lee appeared in the public prints very shortly thereafter, and, in that letter, he spoke in very complimentary terms of General Longstreet, but expressed a desire that the whole of General Lee's letter, from which the brief extract was given, should be published.
This was the occasion of the publication of the communication in the Now Orleans Republican, from General Longstreet, which has been referred to. That communication contained a bitter tirade of denunciation against General Fitz Lee, General William N. Pendleton, the Rev. J. William Jones, and myself, the greater part of it being directed against me. Thus originated the "tom-tom warfare," in which the leading part on our side was borne by me, and two long articles were published on both sides. It implies no immoderate degree of vanity on my part to say that General Longstreet came out of the first campaign badly worsted. The only ground for his complaint against me has been already shown in my reply to his first article in the Philadelphia Times; and I will take occasion here to say, that I did not suspect him of having employed another to write the two articles then published over his own name.
It was very apparent to me, however, when I read the first article in the times, professing to be from him, that the diction was not his, and that he had manifestly been curbed in the expression of his comments on General Lee's character as a commander, and I accordingly said in my reply that the article was evidently not written by him. I mentioned this fact, not because I thought the article, though exhibiting some improvement on his style, contained any better logic than his own productions had shown, but to prevent the lucubrations of a mere newspaper writer from being taken for the criticisms of a soldier of, at least, some experience.
In the last paper on "The Mistakes of Gettysburg," published in the Philadelphia Times of the 23d
of February, General Longstreet is made to say:
"One of the chief elements of this tom-tom warfare is found in the fact that, owing to wounds
received in the honorable service of my country, which have virtually paralyzed my right arm, and
made it impossible for me to write save under pain and constraint, I have been compelled, in the
preparation of my articles, to accept the service of a professional writer generously tendered me
by the editor of the Times. Upon such trifling casuals as this do my enemies propose to build their
histories and amend mine. The attempt is at once pitiful and disgraceful."
I cannot but believe that this passage, in thought as well as diction, is wholly the production of the "professional writer" for the Times. I cannot believe that General Longstreet has yet arrived at such a stage as to be the prompter of so unmanly an appeal. He knows very well that there are a number of officers and men who entirely lost their right arms in the war, and are yet able to write with great facility; and it is hardly to be presumed that he suggested that appeal of the "old soldier" for sympathy. My suggestion had no reference to the mere mechanical task of writing, or the employment of another as his amanuensis, for if he had but done the latter he would only have followed the example of many very able writers, and among them Homer and Milton, whose blindness rendered it necessary for them to use the services of others in transferring the grandest productions of their brains to paper. So if General Longstreet had merely employed another to commit to paper his own ideas, or to correct and render more perspicuous their expression, there would have been no impropriety in that. The objection is that the views, speculations, and criticisms of a professional newspaper writer, without military experience, should be palmed on the public as historical matter, to solve the disputed points as to the battle of Gettysburg. The fact is, that it would be better for General Longstreet if he would get some competent person to do his thinking as well as his writing. He would then avoid the difficulties into which he has been floundering, deeper and deeper, not only with his own productions, but through the instrumentality of those written for him by his friend, the professional writer for the Times.
Though professing to be on "The Mistakes of Gettysburg," one of the prime objects of the last
article in the Times seems to have been to claim for General Longstreet the principal credit for the
victory gained at the second battle of Manassas, at the expense of both General Lee and General
Jackson. The pretense for advancing this now claim is found in the following passage:
"At this late date the official relations of General Lee and myself are brought in, question. He is
credited with having used uncomely remarks concerning me, in the presence of a number of
subordinate officers, just on the eve of battle. It is hardly possible that any one acquainted with
General Lee's exalted character will accept such statements as true."
It is evident that allusion is here made to the language used by General Lee, as given by me, in the
conference had with Generals Ewell, Rodes, and myself, after the close of the first day's fight,
when he said: "Longstreet is a very good fighter when he gets in position and gets everything
ready, but he is so slow." It will be seen, from a letter given by General Fitz Lee, in his article in
the April number of the Papers, from a distinguished gentleman to himself, that General Lee made
a similar remark to that gentleman after the war; and, if the fact was that General Longstreet was
slow in his movements, there could be no possible impropriety in mentioning it under the
circumstances attending General Lee's remark. It is a little curious, though, that while General
Lee's exalted character is cited as being inconsistent with such a remark, General Longstreet
himself wrote a letter to the editor of the Times, of which the latter gives the substance, as
"The letter from General Longstreet, which accompanies these extracts; 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
afterwards 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 justified in discussing the battle on its merits."
It seems, then, that General Longstreet's appreciation of General Lee's exalted character did not prevent him from making the false charge, that General Lee had, when time enough had elapsed for the generous feelings, which prompted him on the field to assume all the responsibility, to subside, written a report differing from his first report, and from the facts of the case, after General Longstreet and other officers had been entrapped into making the reports which they sent in. For that is the real purport of the charge against General Lee, as the editor of the Times gives it, and it is very probable that the letter itself, which is withheld, made it in more emphatic language.
If there was any doubt before of a fact well known to the whole army, that General Longstreet
was very slow in his movements on all occasions, he has now furnished very conclusive evidence
of its truth, in his narrative of incidents connected with the second battle of Manassas. He says:
"When the head of my column reached that field it was about 12 o'clock on the 29th. As we
approached the field we heard sounds of a heavy battle, which proved to be General Jackson very
heavily engaged with the enemy."
As soon as his troops were deployed into line, General Lee wanted him to open the attack, but
Longstreet insisted on taking time to make a reconnaissance, which was delayed for a time by a
report of an advance on his right, and the reconnaissance was not made until about nightfall. This
is according to his own showing, and in the meantime General Jackson's command had sustained
and repulsed seven different attacks in heavy force during the afternoon. So little evidence had
General Longstreet given to the enemy of the presence of his command on the field, that General
Fitz John Porter, of the Federal army, was afterwards court-martialed and cashiered for failing to
carry out an order sent to him by Pope, at half-past four o'clock of that very afternoon, to attack
Jackson's right flank--the very one on which Longstreet was. It was not until after sunset that any
part of Longstreet's command became engaged, when there was a conflict between Hood's
division and King's division of McDowell's corps, which was moving along the Warrenton Pike to
cut off Jackson's troops, erroneously supposed to be retreating. On the next day, though there
was skirmishing and fighting in Jackson's front all day, General Longstreet was not ready to go
into action until after 3 P. M. What caused this delay he does not pretend to explain, but gives his
operations on that day as follows:
"The next day the Federals advanced against General Jackson in very heavy force. They soon made the battle so severe for him that he was obliged to call for reinforcements. At about 3 P.M., while the battle was raging fiercely, I was riding to my front when I received a note from Generals Hood and Evans, asking me to ride to a part of the field where they were standing. I changed my course and hurried to the point indicated. I found them standing upon a high piece of ground, from which they had full view of the battle being made against Jackson. We could see the solid masses of the Federals forming for a charge against Jackson's weakening lines. They were gathered in immense force, and it seemed impossible that Jackson's thin line could withstand the onset. The Federals moved forward steadily, surging on in solid blocks, headed directly for Jackson's lines. Just then a courier arrived in great haste with orders from General Lee for me to hurry to the assistance of Jackson. It was in the very crisis of the battle. I had very serious doubts about being able to reach General Jackson in time to be of any service to him. 1 had no doubt, however, that I could impede or paralyze the immense mass of men that was pressing steadily to his overthrow. We were standing on the flank of the advancing columns. They swept on at right angles to our line of vision. They were within easy artillery range, and I felt certain that a heavy enfilading fire poured unexpectedly into their charging column would disconcert and check it. Instead of moving to reinforce Jackson, therefore, I sent dispatches for batteries to hurry to where I was. In an exceedingly short time Captain Wiley's six-gun batteries came dashing up at full gallop, the horses covered with foam, and the men urging them forward. They were wheeled into position and directed against the moving flank of the enemy. The range was fair, and as the six guns flashed the heavy shot went ploughing through the solid flank of the Federals, doing terrible damage.
"The result was as anticipated. The line faltered for an instant, started again, hesitated, reformed
and pressed forward, and then as a rear broadside was poured into them, broke ranks and retired,
slowly, sullenly and doggedly. General Jackson did not pursue, and the Federals halted after
moving back a short distance, and arranged to reform their ranks and renew the charge. As soon
as they started, however, they were obliged to face against General Jackson. This exposed them,
of course, to our enfilading fire. We now had several batteries in position, and as soon as the lines
had taken shape and started on their second assault we poured a perfect hail of balls into their
flanks and scattered them again. Although discomfited they were not broken, but retired with
their slow, angry, sullen step. When they had gone beyond the fair range of our batteries they
halted and tried to form again for the third assault. I now determined to end the matter, feeling
that I had an easy victory in my grasp I therefore ordered every battery to be in readiness, and
drew my men up for a charge, designing to throw them into the broken ranks of the enemy as
soon as my artillery had dispersed them. The Federals moved forward once more. When they
were fairly in range every gun was opened upon them, and before they had recovered from the
stunning effect, I sprung every man that I had to the charge, and swept down upon them like an
avalanche. The effect was simply magical. The enemy broke all to pieces. I pushed my men
forward in a pell-mell pursuit, hoping to reach the in main Federal lines at the same time with their
retreating forces. We succeeded in this and drove the enemy back, pursuing them until fully 10
o'clock at night. In the meanwhile I received a note from General Lee. He had heard my guns,
and at once supposed I had thought it best to relieve Jackson in a different manner from that
indicated by his orders. He therefore wrote me that if I had 'found anything better than
reinforcing Jackson, to pursue it.' I mention this incident simply to show the official relations that
existed between General Lee and myself."
According to this account the whole credit for that battle was due to General Longstreet, and General Lee had very little to do with it. General Jackson merely withstood the enemy's attacks, while Longstreet was getting ready; and the question comes in here very naturally: What would have been the result, if Jackson and his men had not been of the stuff to withstand the shock of more than three times their numbers, for the long hours it took Longstreet to get ready? It must be borne in mind that General Lee wanted to make the attack on the enemy the day before, according to Longstreet's own statement, and wanted him to begin it, but he demurred and asked permission to take time to reconnoitre. It was twenty-seven hours after his arrival on the field before he was ready to begin, and if the troops of McClellan, the junction of which with Pope's army Jackson's movement had been intended to prevent, had been hurried to the front, what a different result might have taken place!
Is it to be credited that, when General Lee was anxious for Longstreet to begin the attack as soon
as his troops arrived on the 29th, he said nothing to him, nor gave him any orders on the 29th,
until, as Longstreet says, after 3 P. M. a courier arrived in great haste with orders from General
Lee for him to hurry to the assistance of Jackson; and that the only other part General Lee took in
the battle that ensued, was to write him a note saying that if he had "found anything better than
reinforcing Jackson, to pursue it"? Let us see what General Longstreet says in his official report,
intended for General Lee's own eye. In that report, after describing his riding to the front, and his
determination to direct an artillery fire on the attacking column, he says:
"Two batteries were ordered for the purpose, and one placed in position immediately and opened.
Just as this fire began, I received a message rom the Commanding General, informing me of
General Jackson's condition and his wants. As it was evident that the attack against General
Jackson could not be continued ten minutes under the fire of these batteries, I made no movement
with my troops. Before the second battery could be placed in position, the enemy began to retire,
and in less than ten minutes the ranks were broken, and that portion of his army put to flight. A
fair opportunity was offered me, and the intended diversion was changed into an attack. My
whole line was rushed forward at a charge. The troops sprang to their work, and moved forward
with all the steadiness and firmness that characterize war worn veterans. The batteries, continuing
their play upon the confused masses, completed the work of this portion of the enemy's line, and
my attack was, therefore, made against the forces in my front. The order for the advance had
scarcely been given, when I received a message from the Commanding General, anticipating some
such emergency, and ordering the move which was then going on, at the same time offering me
Major-General Anderson's division. The Commanding General soon joined me, and, a few
minutes after, Major-General Anderson arrived with his division. The attack was led by Hood's
brigades, closely supported by Evan. These were rapidly reinforced by Anderson's division from
the rear, Kemper's three brigades and D. R. Jones' division from the right, and Wilcox's brigade
from the left. The brigades of Brigadier-Generals Featherston and Prior became detached, and
operated with a portion of General Jackson's command. The attacking columns moved steadily
forward, driving the enemy from his different positions as rapidly as he took them."
The claims here made are exorbitant enough in all conscience, but there is a little room left for a suspicion that Jackson's men had something to do with the repulse of the enemy from their front, and that it was not all the work of Longstreet's two batteries, and that they also took some part in the pursuit of the enemy. The relations which General Lee is made to bear to Longstreet's operations and the battle, are very different from those indicated in the extract from the article in the Times.
General Lee's report puts quite a different face on the whole proceeding, and his account is as
"About 3 P. M., the enemy having massed his troops in front of General Jackson, advanced
against his position in strong force. His front line pushed forward until engaged at close quarters
by Jackson's troops, when its progress was checked, and a fierce and bloody struggle ensued. A
second and third line, of great strength, moved up to support the first, but, in doing so, came
within easy range of a position a little in advance of Longstreet's left. He immediately ordered up
two batteries, and two others being thrown forward about the same time by Colonel S. D. Lee,
under their well-directed fire the supporting lines were broken and fell back in confusion. Their
repeated efforts to rally were unavailing, and Jackson's troops, being thus relieved from the
pressure of overwhelming numbers, began to press steadily forward, driving the enemy before
them. He retreated in confusion, suffering severely from our artillery, which advanced as he
retired. General Longstreet, anticipating the order for a general advance, now threw his whole
command against the Federal centre and left. Hood's two brigades, followed by Evans, led the
attack. R. H. Anderson's division came gallantly to the support of Hood, while the three brigades
of Wilcox moved forward on his left, and those of Kemper on his right. D. R. Jones advanced on
the extreme right, and the whole line swept steadily on, driving the enemy, with great carnage,
from each successive position, until 10 P. M., when darkness put an end to the battle and the
It was not all Longstreet's battle then, and Jackson and his men had something to do with it. That Longstreet's troops, when once turned loose, fought with all the dash and gallantry possible, no one will pretend to deny; but it seemed an almost interminable period before they were brought into action, and often was uttered the anxious enquiry, by those who for four days had been confronting and fighting Pope's accumulating columns, "Will Longstreet never begin"? Is it to be wondered that General Lee had come to the conclusion that Longstreet was very slow, however well he fought when once in action ?
It is to be observed that General Longstreet, in his account of this battle in the article in the
Times, says that "General Jackson did not pursue," while General Lee says: "Their repeated
efforts to rally were unavailing, and Jackson's troops, being thus relieved from the pressure of
overwhelming numbers, began to press steadily forward, driving the enemy before them." The
inference to be gathered from Longstreet's statement is that Jackson took no further part in the
battle after the troops were repulsed from his front, but he (Longstreet) won the victory. The fact
is that General Longstreet always proved himself incapable of doing justice to the troops of others
who fought in conjunction with his own. To show how different it was with a truly great soldier,
who could afford to accord to his comrades their due share of the glory won in battle, the
following extract is given from General Jackson's report in regard to the same battle. He says:
"After some desultory skirmishing and heavy cannonading during the day, the Federal infantry,
about 4 o'clock in the evening, moved from under cover of the wood and advanced in several
lines, first engaging the right, but soon extending its attack to the centre and left. In a few
moments our line was engaged in a fierce and sanguinary struggle with the enemy. As one line
was repulsed, another took its place and pressed forward as if determined, by force of numbers
and fury of assault, to drive us from our positions. So impetuous and well-sustained were these
onsets as to induce me to send to the Commanding General for reinforcements; but the timely and
gallant advance of General Longstreet, on the right, relieved my troops from the pressure of
overwhelming numbers and gave to those brave men the chances of a more equal conflict. As
Longstreet pressed upon the right, the Federal advance was checked, and soon a general advance
of my whole line wis ordered. Eagerly and fiercely did each brigade press forward, exhibiting in
parts of the field scenes of close encounter and murderous strife not witnessed often in the turmoil
of battle. The Federals gave way before our troops, fell back in disorder, and fled precipitately,
leaving their dead and wounded on the field. During their retreat the artillery opened with
destructive power upon the fugitive masses. The infantry followed until darkness put an end to
After giving his statement of the operations at Second Manassas, to show the official relations between General Lee and himself, General Longstreet gives two letters, one from Colonel Taylor and the other from General Lee, to show the kindly personal relations that existed between himself and General Lee and his staff, a matter which no one will pretend to controvert, but which all will say ought to have prevented General Longstreet's insidious efforts to undermine the military fame of one who had been so kind, so indulgent, so magnanimous to him under all circumstances.
It may be observed here, that, while General Longstreet has given a letter from General Lee to him, written since the war, to show their kindly personal relations, he has never yet given the full text of that letter of January, 1864, from which the brief extract before alluded to was taken, though the extract is repeated in the first article in the Times.
Referring to the points made in the last-named article, General Longstreet says in the second
"These points I supported with the most particular proof. Not a single one of them has been
controverted. The truth of a single fact, or the correctness of a single opinion laid down in that
article, has not been disproved. Very few of them have been questioned--none of them
If it be true that very few of his facts and opinions have been questioned, and none of them overthrown, then why the necessity for another article to sustain them, and whence the cause of all this complaint of attacks on himself ?
If he has sustained by proof a solitary fact or opinion that has been in dispute, I am not aware of it. Take, for instance, the question as to the order for the attack on the second day of the battle. Besides his own declaration, he has adduced the letters of four gentlemen as his proof on that question. Three of these gentlemen know nothing of an order to attack at sunrise, or at any particular time, but one of them, in a part of his letter which was suppressed, says he was of the impression, from certain circumstances, that an order was given for an attack at as early an hour as practicable on the second; and the fourth says he knows of no order to attack at sunrise, and does not think such an order was given, for reasons which he states, and which I have shown to be entirely unsatisfactory. This is his whole proof on the question as to the order. On the other side, we have General Pendleton's statement that General Lee told him, on the night of the first, that he had given the order for Longstreet to attack at sunrise next morning. General Lee also said to the gentleman referred to by General Fitz Lee, "that the battle would have been gained if General Longstreet had obeyed the orders given him, and had made the attack early instead of late." General Hood says that Longstreet said to him on the morning of the, second: "The General is a little nervous this morning; he wishes me to attack; 1 do not wish to do so without Pickett. I never like to go into battle with one boot off." Hood got up before sunrise, and he gives several circumstances tending to show that General Lee was anxious to make the attack at once. General Longstreet, in his first article, has stated that General Lee, at 5 P.M. of the 1st, announced his purpose of attacking the enemy the next day, that he persisted in that purpose late at night against his own repeated remonstrances, and that he reiterated it at daylight next morning. All the presumptions from these statements and circumstances are in favor of the correctness of General Pendleton's statement, and when connected with General Lee's declaration to Ewell, Rodes, and myself, at the close of the first, it becomes absurd for General Longstreet to say that he has sustained all his facts and opinions by the most particular proofs. It is very evident, beyond all reasonable doubt, that General Lee indicated to him the desire for him to attack at a very early hour on the 2d. It is possible, and in fact probable, that no peremptory order was given to make the attack at any specified time, but the purpose must have been indicated in a manner that should have had the force and effect of a peremptory order with one whose duty it was to second promptly and cordially all the Commanding General's plans.
It is beyond all dispute that General Longstreet thwarted General Lee's purpose of attacking the enemy at as early an hour as practicable, by his reluctance and procrastination.
When he asserts that his troops fought on the 2d with heroic courage and devotion, all Confederates will admit the fact; and even when he asserts that they "did the best three-hours, fighting ever done by any troops in any field," the claim will be allowed to pass without challenge, that much being conceded to the admissible pride of a commander in his troops; but when he asserts that his troops "virtually charged against the whole Federal army," the idea at once suggests itself, that, if those troops, who came so near success under such circumstances, had had a leader competent to the occasion, and had been led to battle in the early morning or at any time in the forenoon, when all of the Federal army had not arrived and the bulk of it that was up was massed on its right, in front of our left, victory must inevitably have ensued. We can but lament that the heroic courage kind dash of such troops were rendered powerless by the tardiness of their leader, and that when they were given occasion for the display of their prowess, it was but to be sacrificed to his incompetency. It is pitiable to think that Hood's gallant men were doomed to slaughter in a desperate struggle for the heights of Round Top, against troops that had been on the extreme right of the Federal army until 2 o'clock P. M., about which time they were ordered to the left, and who were barely able to reach the Round Top in time to save it from the assaulting column. Had the movement begun even two hours sooner, that point, which Meade says was the key-point to his whole position, and the possession of which by us would have prevented him from holding any of the ground, would have fallen into the possession of Hood's men with little or no contest; for Sykes' troops, that saved that point from capture, had not then started from the enemy's right. Even the muses, which it is presumed General Longstreet did not cite, could not have speeded them enough to secure their arrival at the Round Top in time, if the assault on it had begun when they were two or three miles away.
The attempt to show that the same result that did happen would have followed an attack at
sunrise or at any other hour in the forenoon, is an utter failure. It is sought to sustain it by the
testimony of Federal officers, by detaching scraps of their testimony from the context, in order to
give them a different meaning from that intended by the parties testifying. Here is what is said on
that head in the article:
"Let us briefly review the situation on the morning of the 2d. During the night of the 1st General
Sickles rested with the Third corps upon the ground lying between General Hancock's left and
Round Top, General Geary's division of the Twelfth corps occupying part of the same line.
General Meade had given General Sickles orders to occupy Round Top if it were practicable; and
in reply to his question as to what sort of position it was, General Sickles had answered, 'There is
no position there.' At the first signs of activity in our ranks on the 2d, General Sickles became
apprehensive that we were about to attack him, and so reported to General Meade. As our move
progressed his apprehensions were confirmed, and being uneasy at the position in which his
troops had been left, and certain that he was about to receive battle, he determined to seize the
vantage ground in front of the peach orchard. Without awaiting for orders, he pushed forward
and took the position desired. Meanwhile the reports made to General Meade drew his attention
to our part of the field, and finally he rode out just in time to see the battle open. It will be seen,
therefore, that General Sickles' move, and all the movements of the Federal left, were simply
sequents of mine. They would have followed my movements inevitably, no matter, when they had
been made. Had the attack been made earlier, or later, we should have seen the Federals move
just as they did, and with the same results--except that if I had attacked earlier I would have had
Geary's division of the Twelfth corps in my immediate front in addition to the Third corps. This
would certainly have been the effect of a 'sunrise attack.'"
In his testimony, General Sickles says:
"At a very early hour on Thursday morning I received a notification that General Meade's headquarters had been established at Gettysburg, and I was directed by him to relieve a division of the Twelfth corps, (General Geary's division, I think,) which was massed a little to my left, and which had taken position there during the night, I did so, reporting, however, to General Meade that that division was not in position, but was merely massed in my vicinity; the tenor of his order seemed to indicate a supposition on his part that the division was in position. * * * * * *
"Not having received any orders in reference to my position, and observing from the enemy's
movements on the left, what I thought to be conclusive indications of a design on their part to
attack there, and that seeming to be our most assailable point, I went in person to headquarters
and reported the facts and circumstances which led me to believe that an attack would be made
there, and asked for orders. I did not receive any orders, and I found that my impression as to the
intention of the enemy to attack in that direction was not concurred in at headquarters; and I was
satisfied, from information which I received, that it was intended to retreat from Gettysburg. I
asked General Meade to go over the ground on the left and examine it. He said his arrangements
did not permit him to do that."
Geary's division was removed very early in the morning, and Sickles' corps remained on that flank,
alone, until late in the afternoon. It was in the morning that he reported to Meade his
apprehension of an attack on that flank, as shown by Meade's testimony, and yet no arrangements
were made for transferring troops to meet such an attack, and Sickles did not go into position
until near 4 o'clock. In fact Meade had been projecting an attack from his right flank on our left
until the afternoon, when it was reported impracticable. He then ordered the Fifth corps (Sykes')
over to the left about 2 o'clock P. M. In his testimony he says:
"About half-past three o'clock in the afternoon--it having been reported to me about two o'clock that the Sixth corps had arrived--I proceeded from headquarters, which were about the centre of the line and in rear of the cemetery, to the extreme left, in order to see as to the posting of the Fifth corps, and also to inspect the position of the Third corps, about which I was in
doubt. * * * * When I arrived on the ground, which I did a few minutes before four o'clock in the
afternoon, I found General Sickles had taken a position very much in advance of what it had been
my intention that he should take."
General Warren, after saying he had reconnoitred in front of their right and advised against an
attack there, adds:
"Soon afterwards I rode out with General Meade to examine the left of our line, where General
Sickles was. His troops could hardly be said to be in position."
He then says that he went to Round Top, by Meade's direction, and from there sent word to
Meade that that point would have to be, occupied very strongly. Meade then ordered a division
of Sykes' corps, which was coming up, to the position, and Warren says:
"The troops under General Sykes arrived barely in time to save Round Top hill, and they had a
very desperate fight to hold it."
The assumption, under these circumstances, that, "had the attack been made earlier or later, we should have seen the Federals move just as they did, and with the same results," argues a degree of obtuseness on the part of the writer of the above passage, or of reliance upon the credulity of his readers, which is marvelous. The idea is, that, if Longstreet's columns had gone to the attack at sunrise, or at any time on the morning, when Meade apprehended no attack in that quarter, and Round Top was not occupied and he knew nothing of the character of the ground, he would have been able to make precisely the same dispositions before the enemy was reached by Longstreet's columns that he was enabled to make in the afternoon, after he had gone to that flank, and Sykes had had two hours for his movement from the right to the left, before Longstreet's advance began; and it is wholly untenable. It is very apparent that General Longstreet has not the remotest conception of the importance of celerity in preparing for and conducting an attack. According to his own admission, he received at 11 o'clock in the forenoon the positive order to make the attack, and yet it took him until 4 o'clock in the afternoon to get ready for that attack. Imagine Stonewall Jackson taking five hours to reconnoitre the enemy's position and get his own troops in position before beginning his advance, after making the circuit to get on Hooker's right flank at Chancellorsville, thus giving the latter time to be informed of the movement and to prepare for receiving the projected blow, and what, can it be supposed, would have been the result? Is it not manifest that instead of the brilliant victory which crowned the career of that immortal hero, there would have been a disastrous repulse?
General Longstreet's repugnance to making the attack, and his foreboding of failure, were very potent causes of the want of success when the attack was made. It was his duty to have accepted the plans of the Commanding General without question, and undertaken their execution at once, with the determination to do all in his power to insure their success. That he did not do so, but presumed to question the wisdom of General Lee's decision, and oppose to it his own judgment, is abundantly established by his own repeated declarations. He went into the fight, from the beginning, with the expectation of losing, and hence he lost. One who determines to achieve success at all hazards, has won half the battle, while he who goes to the performance of any undertaking with no hope of success is not likely to succeed under the most favorable circumstances. This is alike applicable to the case of the sluggard school-boy who thinks his task too heavy, and therefore will not try to learn his lesson, and that of the reluctant Corps Commander who goes to the performance of the duty assigned him with the belief that he is charged with a hopeless undertaking.
General Longstreet's complaint, now, that he was not promptly supported, and therefore failed, is a little singular, as he insists that there was no chance of success from the beginning. The uncertainty with which all his movements were attended, and his almost interminable delay, rendered it impossible for any one to know when he was ready or had actually begun, and the complaint therefore comes from him with a very bad grace. He who is at fault is very generally apt to lay the blame on others for what is due to his own shortcomings.
There is again in this second article an allusion to "our line of battle having been broken through the advice of General Early." By this is meant the position of two of my brigades in a position to protect our left flank, which was very much exposed before the arrival of Stuart's cavalry. This has been fully explained heretofore, and the fact shown that these two brigades never constituted any part of our line; so that it was not broken by their being assigned the position they occupied. If General Longstreet found it necessary to take two of his divisions, which were intended to support the attacking column on the 3d, in order to protect his right flank against two brigades of Pleasanton's cavalry, it was certainly not unreasonable to take two brigades to protect a flank that was very much more exposed. This objection is really too insignificant to discuss.
In the second article there is this passage:
"In my first article I declared that the invasion of Pennsylvania was a movement that General Lee
and his council agreed should be defensive in tactics, while of course it was offensive in strategy."
I have italicized the words "his council" to fix attention upon them, and the question very
naturally arises: who constituted this "council" that exercised or claimed to exercise powers
co-equal with those of the Commanding General? Was General Lee really Commander-in-Chief,
or was it a divided responsibility which he shared with a "council"? It is a novel proposition that
there existed any such body or person. On turning to the first article, there will be found the
following remarkable passage, a portion of which I have also italicized :
"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 so to 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."
This passage bears very strong "corroborative and sympathetic relations" to the one taken from the second article, and it becomes very apparent that it was General Longstreet himself who was the self-constituted "council" of General Lee, and claimed the right to dictate and control the policy of the Gettysburg campaign.
The impudence, arrogance, and presumptuous self-conceit which characterize both passages, Eire intolerable; and the only response that is necessary, is simply a reference to the story of that obtuse though useful animal, who, not content with the subordinate station assigned him, essayed to play the part of the monarch of the beasts, by wearing his skin, and succeeded tolerably well in palming himself, in his assumed character, upon the more foolish animals, but when he had the folly to open his mouth, betrayed himself by his voice.
I will not again undertake to discuss the propriety of the attack on the third day of the battle of Gettysburg , but will merely say that the officer who was entrusted with the conduct of the attack from our right, and who failed to begin it at the designated time, but shifted the responsibility for the final order for his charge, that properly attached to himself, to the shoulders of a colonel of artillery, and then withheld two divisions intended and directed to co-operate in the charge, has no right to complain that that charge was hopeless from the beginning. It was his own conduct that contributed to make it so.
It is evidently assumed by the writer of both articles that there is some magic charm in the phrase "offensive in strategy but defensive in tactics," which settles the whole question as to the propriety of the attack on Meade at Gettysburg, and hence it is given with a "damnable iteration" that may serve to confuse and delude those unskilled in warfare, but when applied to the Pennsylvania campaign, which was a campaign of invasion by the weaker against the stronger power, the phrase becomes the veriest nonsense. The only chance for success in such a campaign was, when the opportunity occurred, to strike blows on the enemy quick and fast, so that he should not have the opportunity of concentrating his superior forces to overwhelm his weaker assailant.
That General Longstreet's idea, "to throw ourselves between the enemy and Washington, select a strong position, and force the enemy to attack us," was entirely impracticable, as well as unsustained by sound logic or wisdom, I hold to be ful y demonstrate :
1st. Because General Lee, a consummate master of the art of war, to whom the proposition was submitted, so thought and decided.
2nd. Because, to get between Meade's army and Washington, we would have had to make a wide circuit, and Meade, having the inner and shorter line, would have been able to thwart the attempt, while our trains would have been exposed to destruction, during the movement, by the enemy's cavalry and French's force at Frederick, in the absence of our own cavalry.
3rd. Because we were entirely dependent upon the enemy's country for food, and forage for our men, horses, and mules, and when it became necessary for our army to concentrate in the presence of the enemy, it became impossible to send out foraging parties to obtain sufficient supplies of provisions and forage. The consequence, therefore, must have been, if Meade had pursued what would have been his very obvious policy, to-wit: to assume a position sufficiently near us to render necessary the continued concentration of our army, that we would have been compelled to attack him after his army had been considerably reinforced and strengthened, to retreat for the purpose of getting supplies, or to be reduced to a state of starvation, and thus become an easy prey to the enemy.
The idea that popular clamor, through the newspapers, would have compelled Meade to attack us at once, is absurd. It presupposes that he was wholly incompetent to the command of the large army under him, or that he was weak enough to yield to a senseless clamor in opposition to his own judgment. He would have had to wait but a very few days, if he had pursued his true policy, to vindicate its wisdom and put to shame the clamorers for immediate attack. French had 8,000 men at Frederick, with 4,000 more somewhere on the way between Harper's Ferry and Washington; Pennsylvania had put into the field, under a call of President Lincoln for the emergency, 32,104 well-equipped militia; and New York had sent forward 13,971 men, under the same call, as shown by the final report of the Provost-Marshal General, page 63, (Documents 1865-'6). Other troops were on their way from North Carolina and the Virginia Peninsula. The greater part of all these troops, and probably a considerable portion of the troops still in the defenses of Washington, especially south of the Potomac, would have been added to Meade's army, before he would have attacked us, and in the meantime troops would probably have been brought from the West, over the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, to cut off our retreat across the Potomac; and then, with our army weakened and demoralized by starvation, what would have been the result? If we had attempted a retreat on the eve of starvation, it would have been a disorderly one, and our army would have become thoroughly demoralized in the search for food to stay the cravings of hunger. The consequence would have been total and inevitable destruction, unless we began the retreat before the crisis arrived. Such considerations as these, doubtless, presented themselves to General Lee, but they seem never to have penetrated General Longstreet's brain.
He thinks Meade would certainly have attacked us at once, if we had awaited his attack, or, by
abandoning his position, given us the moral effect of a victory, because, in a telegram to Halleck
"If not attacked and I can get any positive information 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
Longstreet's deduction from this is most illogical. All the inferences from his telegram are that Meade would not have attacked us in our then position, unless he could do so to great advantage, and the fact is that, after a reconnaissance, he abandoned the only project of attack which he formed, to-wit: from his right against our left flank. If we had abandoned our position after the success of the first day, the moral effect upon our own men would have been that of a defeat. If we had moved to Meade's left to get between him and Washington, and he had made a corresponding movement to protect his supplies and his communications, it is impossible to conceive how that could have given us the moral effect of a victory. That he would not have followed us at once to attack us in any new position we may have taken to threaten his communications with Washington, is shown by his own declared purpose in this telegram. His policy, doubtless, would have been, after securing his depot and rendering his own supplies certain, to take and fortify some position near us, and then the results already indicated would, unquestionably, have ensued.
There is no reason to suppose that Meade would have been more prompt to attack us in position on the heights of Gettysburg, if we had gained that position on the 1st, than he showed himself to attack us in the position on Seminary Ridge, with our left extended in a curve through Gettysburg. He did not attack us on the 4th in our then position on Seminary Ridge, after the
disastrous repulse of the day before; nor did he dare attack us, afterwards, in the vicinity of Hagerstown, when he had been reinforced by 8,000 men under French, and a considerable part of Couch's force from Harrisonburg, besides having at hand (at Harper's Ferry) a portion of the troops from North Carolina and the Peninsula, with all the prestige of victory in his favor, though General Lee had not been reinforced to the extent of a solitary man, unless the cavalry brigades of Robertson and Jones, which reached the vicinity of Gettysburg on the 3d, too late to participate in the battle, be counted as reinforcements.
These facts should satisfy General Longstreet and his adherents that Meade would not have been in a hurry to attack us, if we had awaited his attack on Seminary Ridge, or had moved past his left and assumed another position; and they should equally convince those who think the taking possession of the Gettysburg heights, on the afternoon of the 1st, would in itself have been a great advantage to us, that he would not have attacked us in that position. His whole subsequent career proved him to be an excessively cautious commander in all aggressive movements.
The question which really presented itself to General Lee at Gettysburg was, whether he should attack the enemy in that position, or retreat. Between these alternatives he had to choose, and, if he decided to attack, it was necessary to attack as promptly as possible. Whether or not he chose wisely as between those alternatives, is the proper question for discussion.
Had General Longstreet been content to let that question be settled before the tribunal of history, on the facts as presented in General Lee's report and other authentic forms, I know of no one who would have been disposed to assail his war record, or submit his own operations at Gettysburg to a crucial test. But when his overweening vanity and egotism caused him to enter the arena, as a contestant for the highest honors of that and all other campaigns of the Army of Northern Virginia, by depreciating its commander, his pretensions could not be allowed to pass unquestioned. But for his own folly, and his exorbitant demands for historic honors, there would have been a general disposition to remember to his credit his meritorious deeds, while the mantle of charity would have been allowed to fall upon his shortcomings.
If he has now suffered in the controversy which he has provoked, he has but met the fate of all who, not content with receiving the credit justly due them, aspire to honors to which they are not entitled.
In all that I have written in this controversy, my sole purpose has been to vindicate the fame of the
great commander of the Army of Northern Virginia and the truth of history.
J. A. Early.
(Source: Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. 5, pages 270-287)