[From the Richmond (Va.) Dispatch, February 16, 1896.]
THE LONGSTREET-GETTYSBURG CONTROVERSY
WHO COMMENCED IT.
The Whole Matter Reviewed by J. William Jones, D. D.
To the Editor of the Dispatch:
You are unquestionably right in the very courteous little difference with the Times as who begun the Longstreet-Gettysburg controversy, but you do not put its origin quite far enough back, and omit some very important points in the history of the controversy.
As I have been in a position to know all of the facts, have read and preserved everything of interest that has been published concerning these matters (although I have not until quite recently printed anything myself), and as there seems to be a constantly recurring question as to "who fired the first gun," and who is continuing the firing, I ask space for a summary statement of the whole question.
There was in army circles after the battle of Gettysburg a good deal of talk as to the causes of our failure, and it seemed to be very generally understood that the fault was not Lee's, but that his orders had been disobeyed, in that the heights were not carried on the evening of the first day, the attack was not made until the afternoon of the second day, and the troops making the assault on the third day were not properly supported.
But, as Lee, moving among his shattered battalions at Gettysburg, had shown the same superb magnanimity as when at Chancellorsville he had given the glory of the victory to Stonewall Jackson, and had declared, "This is all my fault; I have lost this battle, and you must help me out of it the best you can," no one was disposed to publish any criticisms of his subordinates. And so after the war there seemed to be a general disposition on the part of leading Confederates to let the Federal generals do the quarreling, and to preserve among themselves the harmony and good-will counseled by their great commander, and of which he gave so conspicuous an example.
The first publication made in reference to the cause of our defeat at Gettysburg by any Confederate who participated in the battle, so far as I have been able to ascertain, was made by General Longstreet in Swinton's. "Army of the Potomac," which was published in the spring of 1866.
In this book (page 340) Swinton says, and gives Longstreet as his authority for the statement: "Indeed, in entering upon this campaign, General Lee expressly promised his corps-commanders that he would not assume a tactical offensive, but force his antagonist to attack him. Having, however, gotten a taste of blood in the considerable success of the first day, the Confederate commander seems to have lost that equipoise in which his faculties commonly moved, and he determined to give battle."
Swinton then proceeds to criticize Lee very severely for not "manoeuvring Meade out of the
Gettysburg position," and says: "This operation General Longstreet, who forboded the worst from
an attack on the army in position, and was anxious to hold General Lee to his promise, begged in
vain to be allowed to execute." (Ibid, p.341). He quotes General Longstreet as his authority for
this, as also for the further criticisms of General Lee which he makes, and the very language of
which bears a most remarkable resemblance to what General Longstreet has since printed over his
NOT REPLIED TO.
These criticisms of Longstreet on Lee were not replied to by the latter, though it is within my personal knowledge that he had Swinton's book and read at least a portion of it, and none of Lee's subordinates thought proper to make answer.
A short time after General Lee's death General Longstreet gave out for publication the private letter which he wrote his uncle from Culpeper Courthouse, on July 24, 1863, and in which he distinctly claimed that we lost Gettysburg because Lee refused to take his advice; and fought the battle against his judgment; that, if his (Longstreet's) plans had been adopted, "great results would have been obtained;" and, "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."
It will be thus clearly seen that General Longstreet first began this controversy by his criticisms of General Lee, and his claim that we lost Gettysburg because the Napoleonic genius of General James Longstreet could not overcome the obstinate stupidity of Robert Edward Lee.
As a matter of course, these criticisms of Longstreet against the idolized commander of the Army of Northern Virginia met with reply.
January 19, 1872, General J. A. Early delivered the address at Washington and Lee University on
the occasion of the anniversary celebration of General Lee's birth. He discussed "Lee, the
Soldier," with that ability, accurate knowledge of the subject, and real loyalty to the name and
fame of his old commander which so preeminently characterized that sturdy old patriot, Jubal A.
Early, and in the course of his address gave an outline of the Gettysburg campaign and battle, and
defended General Lee from the charge that he failed by his own blunders or mistakes.
HIS CRITICISM OF LONGSTREET.
What he said in criticism of General Longstreet was contained in the following sentences. After speaking of a conference General Lee had with Rodes, Ewell, and himself, held on the evening of the first day, General Early says: "General Lee then determined to make the attack from our right on the enemy's left, and left us for the purpose of ordering up Longstreet's Corps in time to begin the attack at dawn the next morning. That corps was not in readiness to make the attack until 4 o'clock in the afternoon of the next day. By that time Meade's whole army had arrived on the field, and taken its position. Had the attack been made at daylight, as contemplated, it must have resulted in a brilliant and decisive victory, as all of Meade's army had not then arrived, and a very small portion of it was in position. A considerable portion of his army did not get up until after sunrise, one corps not arriving until 2 o'clock in the afternoon, and a prompt advance to the attack must have resulted in his defeat in detail. The position which Longstreet attacked at 4 was not occupied by the enemy until late in the afternoon, and Round Top Hill, which commanded the enemy's position, could have been taken in the morning without a struggle."
Speaking of the fight the next day, of the impossibility of General Lee's doing "the actual marching and fighting of his army," and the necessity of the prompt and cheerful execution of his orders by his subordinates, General Early said: "If Mr. Swinton has told the truth in repeating in his book what is alleged to have been said to him by General Longstreet, there was at least one of General Lee's corps commanders at Gettysburg who did not enter upon the execution of his plans with that confidence and faith necessary to success, and hence, perhaps, it was that it was not achieved."
These were all of General Early's criticisms upon General Longstreet, and it is obvious that, under
the provocation of General Longstreet's previously published criticisms of General Lee, they were
very mild for General Early.
GENERAL PENDLETON'S SPEECH.
The next year, January 19, 1893(sic 1873), General W. N. Pendleton, General Lee's chief of artillery and his beloved friend and pastor during his residence in Lexington, made the anniversary address, in which he made the statement about General Lee's orders for the early attack which you have published, and in which, while pointing out his tardiness and its result, he spoke of General Longstreet in very complimentary terms as a brave and sturdy soldier.
This address General Pendleton repeated at a number of points in the South, and then published in the Southern Magazine, Baltimore.
General Longstreet next published in the New Orleans Republican of February 27th, 1876, a very bitter attack on General Fitz. Lee (whose offence was that he had respectfully asked him to publish the whole of a letter from General R. E. Lee, from which he had published a single sentence), General Pendleton, and General Early, but was especially bitter against General Early.
Of course "Old Jubal" replied, there were several papers from each, and General Early used him
up so badly that General Longstreet's warmest friends very much regretted that he had gone into
THE NEXT PHASE.
The next phase of the controversy was the publication of General Longstreet's paper in the Philadelphia Times of November 3, 1877, a very full account of the campaign and battle of Gettysburg, in which he criticized General Lee more severely than ever, and undertakes to show nine distinct mistakes which Lee made, and he (Longstreet) saw, pointed out, and remonstrated with Lee against at the time. This called forth the scathing rejoinder of General Dick Taylor, "That any subject involving the possession and exercise of intellect should be clear to Longstreet and concealed from Lee is a startling proposition to those possessing knowledge of the two men. We have biblical authority for the story that the angel in the path was visible to the ass, though invisible to the seer, his master. But suppose that instead of smiting the honest, stupid animal, Balaam had caressed him and then been kicked by him, how would the story read?"
Especial indignation was excited against General Longstreet because in a letter to the editor of the Philadelphia Times, accompanying this paper, he charged that General Lee had altered his original official report, written under the generous spirit in which he had assumed all the blame of the defeat at Gettysburg, and had afterwards "written a detailed and somewhat critical account of the battle," from which Longstreet's critics had gotten all of their points against him. In other words, he charged General Lee with altering his original report in order to injure him.
In the meantime, I, as secretary of the Southern Historical Society, received a letter from the Count of Paris, propounding a series of questions as to "the causes of Lee's defeat at Gettysburg," and asking that I secure replies from leading Confederate officers, who were in position to know. I sent copies of this letter to prominent men in every corps, division, and arm of the service, with a personal letter requesting a reply. The result was a series of papers on Gettysburg from such men as Generals J. A. Early, A. L. Long, Fitz. Lee, E. B. Alexander, Cadmus Wilcox, J. B. Hood, H. Heth, L. McLaws, R. L. Walker, James H. Lane, and B. D. Fry, Colonels William H. Taylor, William Allen, J. B. Walton, J. R. Winston, and W. C. Oates, Major Scheibert, of the Prussian Engineer Corps, Captain R. H. McKim, and the Count of Paris. General Longstreet did not send me a paper, as I requested him to do, but published a second paper in the Philadelphia Times, in which he undertook to reply to his critics, who had handled his first article pretty roughly. It is clear that I was, according to the rule among editors, under not the slightest obligation to copy his papers from the Times, and yet I was so anxious to do him the fullest justice, and to have our "Gettysburg series" as complete as possible, that I republished both of his articles. I also published all of the Confederate official reports of Gettysburg that I could procure, including General Longstreet's report, which had never before been in print, and which he contradicted five times in his papers in the Times.
This series of papers excited wide interest among Northern and European military critics, as well as among our own people.
As I did not, personally, write either of the papers, but published all that reached me without note
or comment of my own, I may say that most of them were able, clear, and of rare historic value,
showing deep research and a thorough knowledge of the subject, and that the series (which may
be found in Volumes IV, V, and VI of Southern Historical Society Papers), thoroughly
established these points:
1. General Lee made no mistake in invading Pennsylvania.
2.After the brilliant victory of the first day, the Confederates ought to have pressed forward and occupied the Gettysburg heights, and General Lee ordered General Ewell to do so, but excused him when he afterwards explained that he was prevented by a report that the enemy were advancing on his flank and rear.
3.We would have won a great and decisive victory on the second day had Longstreet obeyed the orders which there is overwhelming proof General Lee gave him, to attack early in the morning, or, had he carried out the orders which he admits he received to attack at 11 o'clock that morning, but which he managed to put off until 4 o'clock that afternoon.
4.With the great results to be attained, and the confident expectation of winning, General Lee made no mistake in attacking on the third day.
5.We should have pierced Meade's centre, divided his army, smashed to pieces his wings before they could have reunited, and captured Washington and Baltimore, had Longstreet obeyed orders on the third day, and made the attack at daybreak simultaneously with that of Ewell; or made it, as ordered, with his whole corps, supported by A. P. Hill, instead of with a bare 14,000 men against Meade's whole army, while the rest of our army looked on, admired, and wondered while this "forlorn hope" marched to immortal glory, fame, and death.
But I did not mean to go into any discussion of these points, and will only add, as completing the history of the controversy, that Longstreet afterwards continued the fight by publishing in the Century several articles, in which he bitterly criticizes General Lee, ridicules Stonewall Jackson as a soldier, belittles A. P. Hill, and makes light of nearly every other Confederate soldier, except--General James Longstreet; who "knew it all," and virtually did it all that he submitted to several newspaper interviews, in which he said many unlovely things, and that he has now published his book, which has so fully shown the philosophy of the proverb, "Oh, that mine enemy would write a book!"
It will thus be seen that instead of being the meek martyr whom his critics have persecuted and goaded into saying some ugly things, General Longstreet began the controversy, and kept it up--that his attacks upon General Lee have been as unjust as they have been unseemly and ungrateful; and that the only thing "politics" has had to do with the controversy has been that ever since Longstreet became a Republican, a partisan Republican press, has labored to make him the great general on the Confederate side, and to exalt him at Lee's expense.
So far as I am personally concerned, while I would not pluck a single leaf that belongs to the
laurel crown of the brave leader, the indomitable fighter, the courageous soldier who commanded
his old brigade, his old division, his old corps of heroes on so many glorious fields of victory, yet I
shall not stand idly by and see him or his partisans criticize and belittle our grand old chief, Robert
Edward Lee--the peerless soldier of the centuries--without raising my humble voice or using my
feeble pen in indignant burning protest.
J. William Jones,
The Miller School, Crozet, Va.
February 14, 1896.
(Source: Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. 23, pages 342-348)