THE GETTYSBURG CAMPAIGN.
By Randolph H. McKim, late 1st Lieutenant and A. D. C. Brig.-Gen.
Geo. H. Steuart's Brigade, Major-Gen. Edward
Johnson's Division, Ewell's Corps.
I. PRELIMINARY STRATEGY.
On the 12th of June, 1863, Gen. Joe Hooker with his great host of one hundred and thirty thousand men, lay encamped on the Stafford Heights, on the Rappahannock River, opposite Fredericksburg, within sixty miles of the Capital of the Southern Confederacy.
Two weeks later this splendid army under its gallant leader is on Pennsylvania soil marching north
to intercept Lee's army, which is moving on Harrisonburg on the Susquehanna River.
Note.-The following is a table of distances which may be useful in studying the campaign:
Gettysburg to Washington...........77 miles
Gettysburg to Emmetsburg..........10 miles
Gettysburg to Frederick...............34 miles
Gettysburg to Rockville...............62.7 miles
Gettysburg to Littlestown............10.2 miles
Gettysburg to Westminster...........24.3 miles
Gettysburg to Monterey.................5 miles
Gettysburg to Waynesboro...........22 miles
Gettysburg to Hagerstown............34 miles
Gettysburg to Cashtown.................7.7 miles
Gettysburg to Chambersburg........24.5 miles
Gettysburg to McConnelsburg......46 miles
Gettysburg to York......................28 miles.
Hagerstown to Frederick..............25.9 miles
Hagerstown to Washington..........69.3 miles
Hagerstown to Boonsboro...........10.3 miles
Richmond has been relieved: scarcely a Federal soldier remains upon the soil of Virginia; and the burden of war has been transferred from that battle-worn State to the shoulders of
the State of Pennsylvania.
It is Washington now, not Richmond, which is threatened! Here surely is a great military achievement--and it has been accomplished without fighting a pitched battle, in fact, with insignificant loss to the forces of the Confederate chieftain.
In studying the Gettysburg Campaign I ask you to note this splendid result of Lee's masterful strategy--the great army of General Hooker drawn a hundred and thirty miles north, clear out of Virginia and across the State of Maryland into Pennsylvania,--by the sheer force of strategy.
Observe then that in the primary purpose of this campaign, the relief of Virginia from the presence of war, Lee was successful.
The more it is studied the more is the admiration of the students of war elicited by the skillful manner in which the Confederate army was withdrawn from Hooker's front. A large part of it was marched a hundred miles north to Winchester, Va., in six days and the whole of it was transferred in about two weeks from the Rappahannock River to the Potomac, without the movement being discovered for many days after its inception. As late as June 12th Gen. Hooker wrote Gov. Dix:
"All of Lee's army so far as I know is extended along the Rappahannock from Hamilton's Crossing to Culpeper," (quoted by Thos. Nelson Page, Life of Lee, p. 315.)
If we ask how this was achieved the clear answer is, by Lee's skillful strategy, seconded by the adroit handling of his cavalry by his gallant and resourceful Cavalry Chief, Gen. J. E. B. Stuart. Later we shall see that it was the unfortunate absence of his cavalry which primarily accounts for the comparative failure of the rest of the campaign.
The boldness of Lee in marching his whole army out of Virginia and thus leaving Richmond uncovered, is notable. When Gen. Hooker at last discovered. that the Confederate army was on the march for Pennsylvania, he proposed to the Washington authorities an immediate march on Richmond. This was promptly disallowed by Mr. Lincoln and his military adviser, Gen. Halleck. Doubtless Lee's experience had satisfied him that the safety of Washington would be considered the supreme object to be kept in view, and for this reason he felt no great anxiety for the Confederate Capital in making his march into Pennsylvania.
I cannot proceed to the story of the battle itself without calling your attention to an important feature of Lee's plan of campaign which is apt to be overlooked. I mean his purpose that General Beauregard should be ordered to Culpeper Courthouse, Va., in order to threaten Washington while Gen. Lee himself was marching into Pennsylvania. He believed that an army at that point "even in effigy," as he expressed it, under so famous a leader, would have the effect of retaining a large force for the defense of the capital, and diminishing by so much the strength of the army which would oppose him in Pennsylvania. The government at Richmond, however, was unwilling, or felt itself unable, to carry out this part of Lee's plan, though we now know there were certain brigades which were available for the purpose.
We touch here a fact of moment in forming an estimate of the military capacity of Gen. Lee: I
mean that he was never in supreme command of the Confederate armies until a few weeks before
the close of the war, when it was too late. Field Marshal Lord Wolseley remarks that for this
reason we can never accurately estimate the full measure of Lee's military genius. Strange indeed
that this great soldier should have been obliged to submit the plan of his campaign to the President
and Secretary of War at Richmond before he could make any arrangements for putting it into
operation! And should have been obliged, by their disapproval, to abandon a part of his plan,
which was really of great importance for the general result. So good a military critic as Capt.
Cecil Battine, of the English army, is of opinion that this proposal, if carried out, might have had a
decisive effect upon the issue of the campaign. (See "Crisis of the Confederacy.")
II. THE INVASION OF PENNSYLVANIA--MOVEMENT OF THE
I come now to consider the second stage of the Gettysburg campaign, the actual invasion Pennsylvania.
Seldom has an army entered upon a campaign under more hopeful auspices. The victories of Fredericksburg, December, 1862, and of Chancellorsville the following May, had inspired the Army of Northern Virginia with confidence in itself and with renewed faith in the genius of its great commander. It had been strengthened by the return of the two divisions of Longstreet's corps. It had been skillfully reorganized. In a word, it was the finest army Lee had ever commanded, although not the largest; better equipped and armed than ever before; thoroughly disciplined. The organization of the Confederate artillery has been pronounced by distinguished Federal authorities "almost ideal;" although it was far inferior in number of pieces and weight of metal to the artillery of the Union Army. Col. Fiebiger, Professor of Engineering at the U. S. Military Academy, says: "If the differences of the two armies are fairly weighed, the chances of success in the campaign about to be opened, were in favor of General Lee, notwithstanding his numerical inferiority." Gen. Long, of Gen. Lee's staff, says: "The Army of Northern Virginia appeared the best disciplined, the most high spirited and most enthusiastic army on the continent. The successful campaign which this army had recently passed through, inspired it with almost invincible ardour."
Again, he says: "Everything seemed to promise success and the joyful animation with which the men marched north after the movement actually began, and the destination of the army was communicated to them, appeared a true pressage of victory."
Gen. Lee himself said: "Never was there such an army; it will go anywhere and do anything if properly led." Upon which Chas. Francis Adams remarks: "This is not an exaggerated statement. I do not believe any more formidable or better organized force was ever set in motion than that which Lee led across the Potomac in 1863. It was essentially an army of fighters, and could be depended upon for any feat of arms in the power of mere mortals to accomplish; they would blench at no danger."
Nevertheless, in spite of these favorable auspices the campaign did not achieve victory. Why then did it fail? If any experienced soldier had been able to look down from a balloon, or an aeroplane, upon the advancing columns of Lee's army after they had crossed the Potomac, and were moving northward toward the Susquehanna, the reason of the ultimate failure of the campaign would at once have suggested itself. He would have said,-- "where is the cavalry that should be marching on the right flank of the army?" And had he, a few days later, turned his eyes eastward and seen Stuart with his 5,000 horsemen marching through Maryland on the right flank of the Federal army, entirely severed from communication with the Confederate army, he could not but have been greatly astonished.
Lee's campaign in the opinion of the best European and American critics suffered from a fundamental error--the absence of the larger part of his cavalry with their skillful and intrepid leader, Gen. J. E. B. Stuart. "At Gettysburg," says Col. G. F. R. Henderson, "you have an instance of this screen, the cavalry, being altogether absent; and I think the difficulties of the General arising from this absence will illustrate how completely the other arms are paralyzed without the aid of the cavalry."*(*Lecture on Battle of Gettysburg, p. 6. See also his "Science of War," the chapter on Gettysburg.)
Again, he says: "What were the circumstances that thus paralyzed his army, and his own great skill in daring manoeuvres? Why was a flank march, possible in front of Hooker in June, impossible in front of Meade in July. The answer is simple--the absence of the cavalry."
Major Steele, in his "American Campaigns," says (p. 362): "Never did Lee so much need 'the eyes of his army' that were now wandering on a fool's errand. Without his cavalry, his army was groping in the dark; he was in the enemy's country and could get no information from the people. He did not know where Meade's army was. All he could do was to concentrate his forces and be ready for a blow on either side."
General Lee's own opinion on the subject is recorded by Gen. Long in his Memoirs, (p. 275): "Gen. Lee now exhibited a degree of anxiety and impatience, and expressed regret at the
absence of his cavalry. He said that he had been kept in the dark ever since crossing the Potomac, and intimated that Stuart's disappearance had materially hampered the movement, and disorganized the campaign."
Here then we have a sufficient reason for the failure of the Gettysburg campaign which had begun so auspiciously: the major part of Lee's cavalry did him no service whatever during the first week of the invasion.
But why was it absent? Was Gen. Lee ignorant of the importance of using his cavalry in screening his front, in reconnoitering, and securing information of the movements of the enemy? Such a supposition is absurd. On the other hand, knowing, and realizing as he must have done, the great importance of this use of his cavalry, did he fail to give his chief of cavalry the necessary orders to fulfill this function?
In other words, was Gen. Lee responsible for this fundamental mistake in his campaign? was it his intention to be separated from the bulk of his cavalry in his advance into Pennsylvania To answer this question I direct your attention to the instructions given by General Lee to General Stuart. He wrote Gen. Ewell that he had instructed Gen. Stuart to "march with three brigades across the Potomac and place himself on your right and in communication with you; keep you advised of the movements of the enemy and assist in collecting supplies for the army." To Gen. Stuart himself Gen. Lee wrote, June 22: "You can move with the other three brigades into Maryland and take position on Ewell's right (Ewell was to march northward June 23d), place yourself in communication with him, guard his flank, keep him informed of the enemy's movements, and collect all the supplies you can for the use of the army. One column of Ewell's army will probably move towards the Susquehanna by the Emmitsburg route, another by Chambersburg."
This order was repeated in a letter to Gen. Stuart dated June 23d, a part of which I will quote:
Major-Gen. J. E. B. Stuart,
* * * I think you had better withdraw this side of the mountain tomorrow night, cross at Shepherdstown next day, and move over to Fredericktown. You will, however, be able to judge whether you can pass around their army without hindrance, doing them all the damage you can, and cross the river east of the mountains. In other words, after crossing the river you must move on and feel the right of Ewell's troops, collecting information, provisions, etc. * * * I think the sooner you cross into Maryland, after tomorrow, the better. I am
Very respectfully and truly yours,
R. E. Lee,
Thus, in the very last communication received by General Stuart from General Lee the order was emphatically given that as soon as he crossed the river he should place himself on Ewell's right and march with him toward the Susquehanna. The Commanding General indicated Frederick, Md., as Stuart's first objective, and he thought that he had better cross at Shepherdstown; but gave him the option of crossing east of the Blue Ridge and passing around the Federal army if he could "do so without hindrance."
This refers to a suggestion which General Stuart had made, viz: that he should pass through Hopewell or some other gap, in the Bull Run Mountains, gain the enemy's rear, passing between his main body and Washington, and cross into Maryland, joining our army north of the Potomac.
Now, at the time of this correspondence, Ewell's corps whose right flank Stuart was to guard, was just beginning its march, northward from Hagerstown, and General Hooker's army was still in Virginia. General Stuart's plan then contemplated passing round General Hooker's rear while his army was still south of the Potomac, and General Lee's conditional authorization contemplated that, and that only. It did not authorize General Stuart to carry out his plan of passing round the enemy's rear after the enemy had transferred his army to the north side of the Potomac. Col. Mosby confirms this view, for he says in his book, p. 212, "the orders contemplated Stuart crossing the Potomac in advance of both armies." Col. Mosby also says "the object was to go by the most direct route to Ewell."*(* "Stuart's Cavalry in Gettysburg Campaign," p. 212.)
Now, did General Stuart carry out the above instructions and do these things? The history of the campaign shows that he did none of these things; he was not on Ewell's right in the march toward the Susquehanna; he did not guard his flank; he did not keep him advised of the movements of the enemy. But it has been affirmed that General Lee gave Stuart discretion to take the route that he did, viz: to cross the Potomac east of the Blue Ridge and pass by the enemy's rear. I submit that this is a complete misapprehension of the instructions of the Commanding General. In the first place, as just pointed out, his assent to the plan of passing around Hooker's army was given when Hooker's army was in Virginia. He was instructed to cross the Potomac in advance of Hooker, he had no permission to pass around Hooker's army after that army had crossed the Potomac. Only, it should be observed that General Lee's consent to Stuart's plan was conditional. Here is General Lee's language: "You will be able to judge whether you can pass around their army without hindrance." Now, when Stuart attempted that move he found all the roads obstructed by the columns of Hooker's army moving to cross the Potomac. Was not this a most serious hindrance? and did not its existence cancel Lee's conditional permission to cross the Potomac east of the mountains? It follows that Stuart departed from Lee's orders when he crossed east of the mountains and thus cut himself off from the Confederate army. Moreover, General Lee wrote that he should cross the river on the 24th. He did not cross till the night of the 27th. In doing so the gallant Stuart committed a serious error of judgment. Now it is not a pleasant task to point out the responsibility of this splendid officer for the failure of the Gettysburg campaign; but we are confronted by the alternative of convicting General Lee of a serious and inexcusable error in the plan of his campaign, or recognizing what the facts and the correspondence establish beyond contradiction,--that it was General Stuart, and not General Lee, who committed the error. He failed to keep in view the main object of his expedition, which was to co-operate with Ewell in his march through Maryland to Harrisburg.
The first and most important duty imposed upon the chief of cavalry was subordinated to the secondary and incidental object of damaging General Hooker's communications and making a raid around his army. Colonel Henderson remarks: "in the Gettysburg campaign Stuart forgot for once that to cover the march of the army and to send in timely information, are services of far greater importance than cutting the enemy's communications and harassing his rear." ("Science of War," p. 303)
When General Stuart discovered that the Federal army was moving to cross the Potomac, which it did three days before he crossed at Seneca ford, two things should have been considered by him: 1st, that the reason given by Gen. Longstreet for the suggestion that he should pass in the rear of the Federal army (viz: that his passage of the Potomac by Shepherdstown "would disclose our plans") no longer existed; for evidently the enemy had discovered Lee's northward movement and were following him. And 2d, that General Lee's permission to pass around the rear of the Federal army did not apply to the situation now developed when the Federal army had left Virginia. To take that course now, after June 25, would completely prevent the main object of his expedition, which was to "join the right of the army in Pennsylvania," on its march "towards the Susquehanna." It was also in conflict with Lee's admonition that "the sooner he got over the river after the 24th, the better." His long detour by Fairfax Courthouse delayed his passage of the river until the night of the 27th. So instead of marching with Ewell from the Potomac to the Susquehanna, Ewell made his march and reached Carlisle before General Stuart began to cross the Potomac!
Nor is this all. General Stuart erred in judgment in the course he took after he brought his 5,000 horsemen across the Potomac on the night of the 27th. Instead of proceeding "with all dispatch" to join Ewell, he stopped to break up the canal, and to intercept and capture canal boats and burn them; he also captured a wagon train and "took it along" on the march of the 28th. This proceeding consumed valuable time that should have been devoted to marching to Ewell. By that time Longstreet was at Chambersburg and Ewell at Carlisle. Was it not Stuart's duty to make all speed to overtake Ewell as three precious days had been lost? And could he do this encumbered by a captured wagon train? He knew that Hooker had crossed the Potomac and was marching northward. Then should it not have been his supreme purpose to march day and night and place himself in communication with Ewell, and be at hand to render whatever service he could? He does not seem to have been of that opinion, for he had only gone as far as Westminster by the evening of the 29th, though Westminster is less than 50 miles from the point where he had crossed the Potomac (two days' march for infantry). Had he pressed on the morning of the 28th he could easily have reported to General Early at York (30 miles further) before nightfall of the 29th, or certainly before daybreak of the 30th. In that case he would not have made the fruitless march to Carlisle but would have marched with Early on the 30th.
Observe that the march of Stuart's horsemen was seriously impeded by the captured wagon train which he "took along." In his report he says: "If my command had been well closed now, this cavalry column would have been at our mercy; but, owing to the great elongation of the column by reason of the 200 wagons and hilly roads, Hampton was a long way behind and Fitz Lee was not yet heard from on the left."
Again, he says, "our wagon train was now a subject of serious embarrassment." Observe that but for the drag put on General Stuart's column by the captured wagon train he might have marched from Westminster to Gettysburg by Littlestown; for he could have reached Westminster by the morning of the 29th instead of at sundown; and at that earlier hour he probably would not have found the Federal cavalry on that road.
General E. P. Alexander (Memoirs, P. 375) says, "in saving a large number of wagons instead of burning them, and delaying twelve hours to parole his prisoners, instead of bringing along the officers and letting the men go, Stuart committed serious blunders."
He further says (p. 375) that had Stuart's column "here followed the direct road via Littlestown to Gettysburg, only about 16 miles away, it could have reached Gettysburg before 11 A. M. on the 30th, where it would have found itself in good position in front of Lee's army then concentrated at Cashtown." And he adds, further, that in that case "Lee's army would have occupied some strong position between Cashtown and Gettysburg, and the onus of attack would have been on the Federals, as had been the plan of the campaign."
Thus but for his unnecessary, fatal delay he would have been at Littlestown before the Federals, and could have reached Gettysburg by the morning of the 30th. We put then the question plainly: Did General Stuart exert himself with whole hearted energy to carry out the instructions he received, and in the most expeditious manner? In so critical and fateful a movement as the invasion of Pennsylvania, it was supremely important that every officer should carry out the orders of the commander-in-chief with the strictest fidelity and exactness. As a matter of fact Ewell made his march to the Susquehanna, starting on June 23d from Hagerstown, without receiving any aid from General Stuart. That officer was not able to accomplish any of the things he was charged to do in connection with Ewell's advance; and he was not able to do so, first because he crossed east of the Blue Ridge and passed round Hooker's army when the reason for that line of march no longer existed, and when the circumstances under which he had received permission to do so had completely changed; and secondly, because, having crossed the Potomac on the night of the 27th, he did not march as directly and expeditiously as possible to effect a junction with General Ewell. It cannot be supposed that when Lee gave Stuart instructions on the 22d of June, he had any idea that that officer would not report to General Ewell until afternoon of July 2d, the tenth day after.
I will add a remark made by Capt. Cecil Battine, the accomplished military critic already quoted: "Probably it was the want of information due to the lack of cooperating cavalry, which lay at the root of the halting tactics of the Confederate leaders. Thus, every move of the enemy took them by surprise, and inspired them with unnecessary caution at the very moment when boldness would have gained so much." ("Crisis of the Confederacy," p. 195.)
Napoleon's maxim might have been advantageously remembered by Stuart, "An army superior in
cavalry will always have the advantage of covering its movements, being well informed of the
enemy's movements, and giving battle only when it chooses."*(* "Napoleon, as a General," by
Count Yorck von Wartenburg, p. 246.)
III. MOVEMENTS OF THE INFANTRY.*
[*MISFORTUNES DUE TO ABSENCE OF CAVALRY.
1. Failure to occupy Gettysburg.--(Henderson).
2. Battle of first day and compulsion to fight an offensive battle the second.
3. Failure to pursue and destroy defeated enemy.
4. Flank march not feasible July 2d.--(Henderson).
5. Had Lee known true situation of Union army July 1st, Col. Fiebiger says he could have destroyed the 2d Federal Corps--(Gettysburg, pp. 132-133).
(The Union army was under orders to move towards York, A. M., June 29th).
Decisive victory possible for Lee had the cavalry done its part in ascertaining the position of the enemy.--(Id.)
The failure of Confederates to profit by their advantages, July 1st, was due to a single
cause--defective information, due to the absence of the cavalry.--Id. p. 134.]
I turn now to the movements of the infantry of Lee's army. Ewell's corps moved northward from Hagerstown on the 23d of June, taking up the line of march for Chambersburg, and Carlisle, with Harrisburg as its objective. It reached Carlisle June 27th. Hill's corps crossed the Potomac on the 24th of June, and marched through Hagerstown and Chambersburg to Fayetteville, where it arrived June 27th. Longstreet crossed the Potomac on the 25th and 26th of June, and reached Chambersburg on the 27th.
Here let me call attention to General Lee's Order No. 73, in which he charged his soldiers not to molest private property. "The duties exacted of us," said be, 'by civilization and christianity are not less obligatory in the country of the enemy than our own. The Commanding General considers that no greater disgrace could befall the army and through it our whole people than the perpetration of the barbarous outrages upon the innocent and defenseless, and the wanton destruction of private property that have marked the course of the enemy in our own country * * * We make war on armed men and we cannot take vengeance for the wrongs our people have suffered, without lowering ourselves in the eyes of all whose abhorrence has been excited by the atrocities of the enemy, and offending against Him to whom vengeance belongeth."
This order of their noble commander was strictly obeyed by the soldiers of the Confederate army. Again and again in this Pennsylvania campaign the citizens told us that we treated them far better than their own soldiers did. I can truly say I did not see a fence rail burned between Hagerstown and Gettysburg. What a contrast was presented in this respect to the armies of Napoleon of whom the historian says, describing one of their campaigns: "The Emperor's army soon took to plundering the country wholesale, considering the vanquished as having no rights worth mentioning." Commenting on this, Count von Wartenburg says, Napoleon "could only reach his highest aims by demanding enormous efforts, and could exact this only by fanning all the passions of his soldiers, and permitting them to satisfy them. He could only conquer the world by abandoning its constituent parts to his instruments as their booty."*(* "Napoleon as a General" (pp. 310-11, 379).)
What a sublime contrast to all this is presented by this Southern army of invasion! They performed deeds of arms equal to any achieved by the armies of Napoleon; they made marches as long, as arduous, and as rapid, as any that his soldiers made; they endured hardships far greater than any endured by his army. But they did and endured all these things, not because their commander fanned the passions of his soldiers, and permitted them to satisfy these passions by abandoning the country and the people to plunder; but because of the pure spirit of patriotism that burned in their breasts. Where indeed in all the records of history shall we find an army that endured what Lee's army endured, and achieved what it achieved, without reward, save the pitiful pay of $11 Confederate money a month! It is when we contemplate these things that we realize how sublime was the spirit of devotion that animated the private soldiers of the Confederacy.
In this campaign I was attached to the staff of Brig.-Gen. Geo, H. Steuart, commanding the Third Brigade of Johnson's Division, Ewell's corps; and I may therefore make brief mention of an expedition under General Steuart to McConnellsburg Pa., a town situated beyond the Tuscarora mountains which constitute the western boundary of the great Cumberland valley, which runs from Hagerstown to Harrisburg. A glance at the map will show that McConnellsburg is as far west of Hagerstown as Gettysburg is east of it; that its latitude is considerably north of that of Gettysburg, and that, in order to reach it, General Steuart's force had to cross three subsidiary ranges of mountains. From McConnellsburg we marched eastward again, passing through Lowdontown and Chambersburg and Green Valley and Shippensburg to Stowe's Town in order to effect a junction with the rest of Ewell's corps before Carlisle. Day after day, in all weather, this expeditionary force marched 20 miles, sometimes 23 miles, a day. In the nine days previous to the battle of Gettysburg I find that we marched 133, perhaps 138 miles. I mention this in order to make a comparison with some of the famous marches made by the soldiers of Napoleon. Thus a recent historian, already quoted, says that Marshall Davoust traversed 166 miles in 14 days including the fighting of a battle. Again he says (p. 244), "The corps of Lannes and Soult marched in 13 days 152 miles along country roads. Davoust had marched 150 miles in 16 days, partly by most difficult country roads. Thus Napoleon did not after all vanquish his enemies so much by the battles of Ulm and Jena, as by his incredible marches."
The French soldiers of 1805 said: "The Emperor has invented a new method of waging war, he makes use of our legs instead of our bayonets." (Id. p. 79).
Again, the soldiers said to the Emperor (p. 326): "You cannot be quite right in your head to lead us about on such roads without any food."
Now a comparison with these records of marches which excite such admiring comment from the historian, shows that Steuart's brigade, in marching 133 miles in 9 days immediately preceding the battle of Gettysburg, considerably surpassed the achievements of Napoleon's soldiers. And, again I say, they were stimulated to these extraordinary exertions not by the expectation of plunder, but by devotion to their heroic chief, and to the sublime cause which he represented.
I have already said that Ewell's objective was the city of Harrisburg. Indeed this was the objective
of the whole army. Both General Early, marching through York, and General Hill, crossing the
South Mountain and passing through Cashtown, were instructed to cross the Susquehanna and
move upon Harrisburg. Up to the evening of the 28th of June, the orders issued by General Lee
contemplated the concentration of his whole army at or near Harrisburg, but late that evening
intelligence was brought which gave him his first information that Hooker had crossed the
Potomac; that he had subsequently been relieved of the command of the Army of the Potomac by
General Meade; and that that officer, with his whole army, was marching rapidly northward. This
occasioned a complete change in Lee's campaign. Orders were at once issued to General Ewell at
Carlisle to march southward and by him to Early at York to retrace his steps, marching southwest.
The whole army was now to concentrate at or near Cashtown, which is on the eastern breast of
the great South Mountain, eight miles west of Gettysburg. Here Lee hoped in a very
advantageous position to fight a defensive battle. His three corps under Ewell, Hill and
Longstreet were rapidly concentrating at the chosen point.
IV. FIRST DAY'S BATTLE.
Let us now point out that the battle of Gettysburg was begun on the 1st of July without orders from General Lee, and without his knowledge, and when, in fact, he was himself far away from the field. We have a letter of his dated Greenwood (about 9 miles west of Cashtown, and 17 miles west of Gettysburg), July 1st, 7:30 A. M., in which he gives certain directions to General Imboden, then at Chambersburg; and adds, 'my headquarters for the present will be at Cashtown." At that very moment Lieutenant-General Hill was marching, without orders and on his own responsibility, from Cashtown to Gettysburg with his two leading divisions, under Heth and Pender, and his artillery. Thus General Lee's purpose to fight a defensive battle, and to fight it at Cashtown, was frustrated by the unauthorized action of the commander of one of his corps.
General Ewell, marching south from Carlisle for Cashtown, heard the noise of the battle, and turning the head of his column in that direction, to General Hill's assistance just in time to avert a serious disaster. Soon afterward General Early, marching westward from York, came upon the ground, and threw his division promptly into action. Thus a great battle was joined, without orders, in which about 50,000 men were engaged; about half on the Confederate side and half on the Union side. *(*[note italicized due to length-Compiler] Note.-As to the numbers engaged in the battle of July 1st, General Doubleday testified before the Congressional Committee (I. p. 309), that the two Federal Corps put into the fight not more than 14,000 men "to contend against two immense corps of the enemy, amounting to 60,000 men." What magnifying glasses Federal officers put on when they studied the size of the Confederate forces! Now General Butterfield testified that the First and Eleventh Corps mustered on June 10th, 1863, together 24,000 men, and they had fought no battle since.--(See Southern Historical Society Papers 1877, vol. IV, p. 83).
Gen. Fitzhugh Lee estimates as follows: Federals--First Corps, 10,089; Eleventh, 9,893; Buford's Cavalry, 3,000. Total, 22,982. (Life of Lee, p.271). Confederates--Two-thirds of Ewell's Corps and two-thirds of Hill's--four divisions--26,000. Col. Walter Taylor says the infantry nearly balanced, from 22,000 to 24,000 each. I may add that General Doubleday records the interesting fact that he, with his personal guard of 40 men, fought a whole brigade for twenty minutes, in this battle! Yet General Meade was so unappreciative of his distinguished services that he displaced him from his command at the end of the day.)
General Lee and his staff, says General Long, were ascending South Mountain on their way from Greenwood to Cashtown, when firing was heard in the direction of Gettysburg. This caused General Lee some uneasiness; he first thought that the firing indicated a cavalry affair of minor importance, but by the time Cashtown had been reached the sound had become heavy and continuous and indicated a severe engagement.
This statement is confirmed by General Pendleton.
I wish to emphasize the fact already stated that General Hill's advance to Gettysburg on the early morning of July 1st was made entirely upon his own responsibility.
General E. P. Alexander says, (p. 380): "Lee knew approximately the enemy's position, however, and his own three corps were converging by easy marches upon Cashtown, near which village he proposed to select his ground and await an attack." General Hill in his report says that he sent a courier to General Ewell informing him that he intended to advance the next morning and discover what was in his front. General Alexander says "Hill's movement to Gettysburg was made on his own motion and with the knowledge that he would find the enemy's cavalry in possession. Ewell was informed of it. Lee's orders were to avoid bringing on an action." (p. 381.)
In reference to the matter just mentioned two statements have been made by officers of Lee's army that demand correction. One is the statement by a staff officer that an interview took place at Cashtown between General Lee and General A. P. Hill on the morning of July 1st, before Hill started for Gettysburg. But as, according to Hill's report, Heth's division started for Gettysburg at 5 A. M., and Hill himself accompanied it; and as General Lee's letter to Imboden of July 1st shows that he was at Greenwood at 7:30 A. M. west of the mountain and nine miles from Cashtown, no such interview could have occurred.
The other is a statement made by one of Hill's division commanders, many years after the battle (General Heth, see Mosby, p. 152), viz: "I sought and found General Lee, saying to the General, 'Rodes is heavily engaged, had I not better attack?' General Lee replied, 'No, I am not prepared to bring on a general engagement today.'" It is impossible that this interview could have occurred. General Lee was at least 12 or 15 miles away when that officer became engaged. He did not arrive on the field until 2:30, when the battle was nearly over. General Early, in his report, states that on June 30th he rode to see Ewell near Heidlersburg and "was informed that the object was to concentrate the corps at or near Cashtown, and received orders to move the next day to that point." Let it be clearly understood then that General Lee gave no orders for Hill's advance to Gettysburg July 1st; that he had no intention to fight a battle there on that day; that he was firm in his purpose to fight a defensive battle, and that General Hill, and not he, was responsible for the battle that occurred on the morning of July 1st.
Thus General Lee's determination to fight a defensive battle and to fight it at Cashtown, which was an ideal position for such a battle, was frustrated by the unauthorized action of his Lieutenant-General. General Hill in his report states that he went to Gettysburg on a reconnaissance--to ascertain whether the enemy was there in force. But Heth had ascertained the day before that the Federals were there. Instead of this Hill put two of his divisions into action with the enemy and sent to Ewell for reinforcements, thus, one might think, doing his best to bring on a general action which General Lee had expressly forbidden. Let it be remembered that we have General Lee's own word that his headquarters were to be at Cashtown, and that we have the word of General Long and General Pendleton for the fact that Lee was still on the west side of the great South Mountain when he heard the firing of Hill's guns.
In view of the facts now stated the dispassionate critic cannot acquit General A. P. Hill of blame in the course which he elected to pursue. Gallant and able and energetic as he was, A. P. Hill displayed the same inconsiderate rashness here that he is said to have exhibited in the seven days battles around Richmond, and again in a subsequent campaign at Bristow Station. His action on this occasion disarranged the plan General Lee was resolved to pursue, and precipitated a great battle which compelled Lee to assume the offensive with an inferior force against the enemy posted in an almost impregnable position.
The gallant, but impulsive Hill, reminds us of Marshall Ney, of whom in one of Napoleon's campaigns, the historian says:
"The Marshal, seeing the opportunity of especial distinction, advanced without orders." When the Emperor received information of this, he was extremely angry at this departure from his instructions, and said, "The Emperor, Marshall, has, in framing his plans, no need of advice, or of any one acting on his own responsibility. No one knows his thoughts. It is their duty to obey."
I will not enter upon a description of the battle of July 1st except to say that it opened unfavorably for General Hill, in the defeat of the brigades of Archer and Davis of Heth's division. General Archer with a large part of his brigade was captured. By the timely arrival of Rodes' division of Ewell's corps about 2 P. M., and subsequently of Early's division, the tide of battle was turned and the Confederates were victorious along the whole line. Fifty thousand men had been engaged in the battle--about equally divided between the contestants. For six hours the battle raged--in the morning favorably to the Federals, but, as already stated, victory ultimately perched upon the Confederate banners; 5,000 prisoners were captured, including two general officers, not counting the wounded, and three pieces of artillery. General Reynolds, esteemed the ablest commander in the Union army, was killed. The Confederate victory was complete, but nothing like as complete as it would have been had a brigade of Stuart's cavalry been present to reap the fruits of victory. As Captain Battine says: the want of a thousand lancers lost the Confederates the chance of destroying two Federal corps and capturing all their guns.
The charge of Gordon's Georgia brigade of Early's division has been thus vividly pictured by Captain Battine: "Without waiting for the artillery to prepare the way, or for the skirmishers to feel for their enemy, the Georgia troops descended on both wings of the Eleventh corps, and with a precision acquired on many battlefields, swiftly and silently moved forward to the assault, without firing a shot. The sight of Jackson's veterans once more threatening to close with them in hand to hand conflict struck a chill to the hearts of the men they had so recently defeated, and who now had to face that long brown line hardly distinguishable from the corn over which it trampled, save for the fringe of steel glittering above it in the July sun, and for a dozen crimson standards which flaunted defiantly the starry cross of the Confederacy. Like the sickles of a great line of reapers the sharp bayonets came nearer through the red gold of the ripening wheat; then the line disappeared only to emerge a minute later unbroken and unhesitating from the willows which lined the little stream. The sight was too much for the nerves of Barlow's men. Some there were who gallantly stood to be bayoneted near their comrades. Barlow himself and many superior officers fell in the fire which preceded the Southern charge; but the first line was borne back half a mile before it, rallying on its reserves."
And now occurred a disastrous blunder. The victorious Confederates were ordered to halt.
Let me here transcribe the account given by General Gordon himself, who says "the whole of that portion of the Union army in my front was in inextricable confusion and in flight.* * * The fire upon my men had almost ceased, large bodies of the Union troops were throwing down their arms and surrendering, because in disorganized and confused masses they were wholly powerless to either check the movement or return the firing. As far down the line as my eye could reach the Union troops were in retreat * * * in less than half an hour my troops would have swept up and over those hills, the possession of which was of such important and momentous consequence. It is not surprising that with the full realization of the consequences of a halt I should have refused at first to obey the order. Not until the third or fourth order of the most peremptory character reached me did I obey." (Reminiscences of the Civil War. p. 153.)
General Lee, as I have already stated, did not arrive upon the field until the battle was nearly over. General Long says: "Near the close of the action General Lee reached the field." I myself saw him when he arrived, and watched him while he swept the horizon with his glass. He promptly sent one of his staff, Colonel Walter Taylor, to General Ewell, saying that from the position which he occupied he could see the enemy retreating over those hills, without organization and in great confusion that it was only necessary to press those people in order to secure possession of those heights, and if possible he wished him to do this. Colonel Taylor says "General Ewell did not express any objection, but left the impression upon my mind that the order conveyed to him would be executed." (Four Years with Lee, p. 95.)
It was then between 3 and 4 o'clock in the afternoon. At least three hours of daylight remained during which Ewell could have executed General Lee's order. He did not execute it, however, although earnestly solicited to do so by General Early, General Gordon and General Trimble. The last named officer was most urgent. "Give me a division," said he, "and I will engage to take that hill." When this was declined he said: "Give me a brigade and I will do it." When this, too, was declined he, said: "Give me a good regiment and I will engage to take that hill." When this was declined the gallant Trimble threw down his sword and left General Ewell's headquarters, saying that he would not serve longer under such an officer! He could do this because he had no command, and was acting as a volunteer aid. He participated gallantly in the great charge on the third day of the battle, in command of Pender's division, and was severely wounded and captured.
Here then we find still another of General Lee's lieutenants, the gallant and usually energetic Ewell, failing at a critical moment to recognize what ought to be done; failing also to carry out the suggestion and conditional order of General Lee himself although urgently solicited to do so by three of his subordinate generals. Had the advance upon Cemetery Hill been pushed forward promptly that afternoon we now know beyond any possible question that the hill was feebly occupied, and could have been easily taken, and thus Meade would have been compelled to retreat to the line of Pipe's Creek, or else would have been disastrously defeated. General Gordon, in his Reminiscences, tells us that his heart was so burdened by the mistake of that afternoon that he was unable to sleep. Mounting his horse at 2 o'clock in the morning, he rode with one or two staff officers to the red barn in which General Ewell and General Early had their headquarters. He said: "Much of my time after nightfall had been spent on the front picket line, listening to the busy strokes of Union picks and shovels on the line, to the rumble and the tramp of their troops as they were hurried forward by Union commanders and placed in position. There was therefore, no difficulty in divining the scene that would break on our view with the coming dawn. I did not hesitate to say to both Ewell and Early that a line of heavy earthworks and guns with infantry ranks behind them, would frown upon us at daylight. I expressed the opinion that even at that hour, 2 o'clock A. M., by a concentrated and vigorous night assault we could carry those heights, and that if we waited until morning it would cost us 10,000 men to take them."
Was it not, indeed, extraordinary blindness to wait at the foot of Cemetery hill for 24 hours while
the Federal troops were making their lines impregnable before the Confederate forces were led to
the attack? Here then we have to record the failure of still another of General Lee's lieutenants, a
fine and gallant soldier. No wonder Colonel McIntosh exclaims in his account of the battle, "A
greater military blunder was never committed." There were still three hours of daylight, and
Anderson's division was close at hand. (See further facts in Addendum, p. 299.)
V. SECOND DAY.
The first of the three days' battle of Gettysburg had ended in a brilliant success for the Confederates; but it was a costly victory, for it compelled General Lee to accept the alternative of retreating or fighting; fighting on a field where the Federals had every advantage of position; where they must be assaulted at a great disadvantage whether on the right, or the left flank, or in the center. Whoever has visited the field will recognize the great difficulty of a concerted attack by the forces of Lee, and will also recognize that when Meade was attacked on one side of his line he could hurry troops easily and quickly from another part to its succor, because his position was like a horseshoe, or rather like a fish hook, and he held the interior line. And yet in my opinion General Lee's decision to attack the Federal army the next day was justified by the situation at nightfall of July 1st.
The enemy, to the number of about 25,000, had been defeated with great loss and driven from the field in great disorder; five thousand prisoners had been taken, including several general officers; one corps had been almost annihilated, the finest officer in the Union army had been killed. Lee's army was well concentrated, Longstreet's corps, except Pickett's division having bivouacked within four miles of Gettysburg; whereas a larger part of the Federal army was still far from the field (and Lee knew it). Moreover the key of the position, Little Round Top, was within Lee's grasp, if at least he might count on his orders being obeyed. General Lee could not foresee that the first corps, then four miles from the field, would not be launched against Little Round Top until 4 P. M. next day, though two of its divisions were in position for attack at sunrise.
A conference was held that evening between Lee and his principal commanders on the left flank, at which it was decided that Longstreet should commence the battle the next day by a forward movement, having as its object the seizing of the commanding position on the enemy's left.
General Early states that he left the conference with the distinct understanding (in which Ewell and Rodes agreed) that Longstreet should make the attack early next morning. General Pendleton, chief of artillery, is on record as saying that Lee told him that night that he had ordered Longstreet to attack at sunrise. Hill, in his official report, says: "General Longstreet was to attack the flank of the enemy and sweep down his line." A great deal of controversy has arisen upon this point, but the evidence given by a number of officers of high standing is so strong, that it is impossible to resist the conclusion that Longstreet was instructed to make his attack early in the morning. He himself, in his report, acknowledges that he was directed to attack "as early as practicable;" but he excused himself from doing so by saying that "he did nat wish to go into battle with one boot off," referring to the fact that one of his divisions (Pickett's) had not arrived on the field.
General Long says that on the evening of July 1st, Lee said to Longstreet and Hill "Gentlemen we will attack the enemy in the morning as early as practicable." That Lee himself expected the attack to be made early is certain; he was on the ground at daybreak July 2d, and showed some impatience at Longstreet's failure to attack, saying to one of his officers: "Longstreet is so slow." Captain Poague, of the artillery, in a letter addressed to Mr. Thomas Nelson Page, says that "at 9 A. M., southwest of Big Round Top, I ran across General Lee riding through the woods. He said: 'Have you seen General Longstreet or any of his troops in this neighborhood?' and expressed impatience and disappointment, adding: 'I wonder where Longstreet can be.'" Conclusive proof that Longstreet knew he was expected to attack at an early hour is found in the fact that both Hood and McLaws moved at daybreak and were in position to attack at sunrise.
As to the prospects of success had an attack been made early, the English military critic already referred to says: "There can be no doubt that the opportunity was the brightest the Confederates had made for themselves since they let McClellan escape from the banks of the Chickahominy." "One third of the Federal army had been severely defeated: the remainder were concentrating with difficulty, by forced marches; a prompt employment of all his available forces would have placed victory within Lee's grasp. The resolution to attack was therefore sound and wise; the failure lay not in the plan but in the faults of execution which were caused to some extent by the want of sympathetic cooperation by the corps commanders."
Colonel Henderson says that at daylight of July 2d there were no more than 40,000 men present on the Union front, and that the Confederate attack should have been made at that hour.
Only four of the seven corps of Meade's army were present and two of them had been roughly handled the day before. By 8 o'clock two more had come up, making in all some 55,000 men. Longstreet's course must be pronounced inexplicable and inexcusable. Instead of cheerfully co-operating with the plan of his great leader, he undertook to argue the question; and Henderson says, Lee lost the battle of Gettysburg because he allowed his second in command to argue instead of marching! The statement of Col. Henderson is confirmed by Major Steele in his well known work on American campaigns. He says. (p. 373), that at 7 A. M. the 6th Corps, and one-third of the 3d, and one-third of the 5th Corps were absent; at 9 A. M. the rest of the 3rd Corps arrived; at 12 M. the rest of the 5th Corps; at 10:30 A. M. the artillery reserves under Hunt came up; not until between 4 and 6 P. M. did the 6th Corps come up, after a continuous march of 34 miles. He also says that Buford's Cavalry had been ordered to Westminster, and thus the left of the line was left uncovered. Longstreet's attack was not made until 4 P. M.,--although his troops began to move about 2 o'clock. Thus his attack was delayed until the whole Federal army had arrived upon the ground and the golden opportunity of winning a great victory was lost.
There is, however, one feature of the drama on that fateful morning of July 2d which baffles all attempts at explanation. General Lee knew, through prisoners (Hist. Papers, 1877 Vol. IV, p. 268), that only a portion of the Federal army occupied the opposite ridge. "It is clear," says Henderson, "that an opportunity presented itself of dealing with the enemy in detail; and the meanest capacity must have grasped the advantage of storming the strong position south of Gettysburg before it should be occupied in overwhelming strength."
Yet he allowed Longstreet to argue against the assault, instead of making an immediate attack. That officer says "he went to Lee at daybreak and renewed his views against making the attack. He seemed resolved however."
But the thing that baffles us is this: Why did not Lee give Longstreet then absolute orders to advance to the attack? Hood and McLaws, with their splendid divisions, were in position at sunrise. Why did not Gen. Lee, knowing that every hour of delay was lessening the hope of success, launch those troops to the assault at once, in spite of Longstreet's objection?
It would seem that the mind of the great commander wavered, for he mounted his horse and rode over to confer with Ewell, on the left, to see if a successful attack could be made from that side, "not wishing," says Gen. Fitz. Lee, "to drive his right corps commander into battle when he did not want to go." (p. 278).
What a moment of fate it was! Gen. McLaws, sitting on his horse, could see the enemy coming, hour after hour, on to the battlefield. And he was convinced that if permitted to advance "his command could reach the point indicated by Gen. Lee in half an hour." (Fitz Lee's Life of Lee, p. 279.)*[note italicized due to length- Compiler](*Note.-General Long tells us of a conversation he held with General Lee in the evening of July 1st, in which he said to General Lee, "In my opinion it would be best not to wait for Stuart. It is uncertain where he is, or when he will arrive. At present only two or three corps of the enemy's army are up, and it seems best to attack them before they can be greatly strengthened by reinforcements. The cavalry had better be left to take care of itself." Memoirs of R. E. Lee, p. 278.
Hood says he was in front of the heights of Gettysburg soon after daybreak. General Lee was then walking up and down. "He seemed anxious that Longstreet should attack," says Hood. Longstreet said, seating himself near the trunk of a tree by his side, "The General is a little nervous this morning. He wishes we to attack. I do not want to do so without Pickett. I never like to go into battle with one boot off,"--Fitz Lee's Life of Lee, p. 279.
McLaws says he was ordered to leave camp at 4 A. M., afterward changed to sunrise; reached G. very early, halted head of his column a few hundred yards of Lee. Conference between L. and Lee, former appeared irritated and angered. Believed he could reach point indicated by Lee in half hour. Saw the enemy coming hour after hour, on to the battlefield. Wilcox went into line on Anderson's right at 9, 7 seven hours after in same woods McLaws formed.--Id. p. 279.)
Major Steele tells us the location of Meade's five corps at 7 A. M. the morning of July 2d. It appears that the First and Eleventh corps were on Cemetery Hill; Wadsworth's division on Culp's Hill; the Twelfth corps on the right of Wadsworth; the Second corps to the left of the Eleventh on Cemetery Ridge. "The Third corps was placed so as to prolong the line to the Round Top on the left." Thus there was only one corps, the Third, on Meade's left, to oppose Longstreet's advance had it been promptly made. Buford's cavalry division, which had been posted near Round Top, had been ordered away, and so the left of the line was left uncovered. What a magnificent opportunity was thus offered to the Confederates, had Longstreet heartily cooperated with Lee in his purpose to make the attack at an early hour on the 2d! Gen. E. P. Alexander tells us that Longstreet was not ordered to attack until 11 A. M. This, although not intended to be such, is a misleading statement. Lee was not in the habit of giving written orders to his Lieutenant-Generals. He plainly indicated to Longstreet, as the testimony overwhelmingly shows, that the attack should be made on the left as early as practicable the next morning. When, however, Longstreet hesitated and objected and argued against it, he was at length compelled to issue a written order, and that was at 11 A. M. Even then victory was possible; but so apathetic was Longstreet that it was 3 P. M. before Hood's division in advance crossed the Emmitsburg road and moved against the enemy; 4 P. M. before he fired a gun. Now it was 4 o'clock before Little Round Top, 670 feet high, the key of the position, was (at the instance of General Warren) occupied by a portion of the Fifth corps. The two brigades ordered to the spot arrived just in time to anticipate Hood's seizing the point.
It must be acknowledged, however, that "Hill and Ewell ,were also at fault, for they had been ordered to co-operate with Longstreet's battle, but they limited their operations to an ineffective cannonading of the Federal entrenchments in front. Longstreet's attack began at 4; they did not begin their infantry attack until 6 P. M."
This second day's battle has been well described by Major Steele as follows: "On the part of the Confederates, a succession of tardy assaults, unsupported attacks, in which only one division, Pickett's, had not yet reached the field; and three others, Heth's, Pender's and Rodes', and four brigades had scarcely fired a shot. On the part of the Federals, a perfectly well arranged if passive defense in which every imperilled section of the line had been promptly reinforced and every assault of the enemy repulsed." (p. 378).
It seems that among the Confederate leaders that day the coordinating faculty was paralyzed.
This failure of General Longstreet to achieve what was expected of him differs vitally from the failures of Stuart, and Hill, and Ewell. Stuart committed a most serious error of judgment; Hill acted rashly and without orders; Ewell failed to perceive the golden opportunity that presented itself to him, to seize Cemetery Hill; but there is no reason to doubt the loyalty of any of these three brave soldiers to their commander. This cannot said of General Longstreet; he displayed on this occasion an obstinate unwillingness to carry out the wishes of his commander; not only did he fail to move as early as practicable on the morning of July 2d against the Federal left, but he sought General Lee and objected to his plan and entered into an argument to convince him that it was faulty. General Sorrell, who was his chief of staff, in his account of the battle says that "Longstreet did not want to fight on the ground or on the plan adopted by the General-in-Chief." He made determined objection. General Sorrell, (p. 166), says "he failed to conceal some anger," and he continues "there was apparent apathy that lacked the fire and point of his usual bearing on the battlefield." Warm as was General Sorrell's admiration for General Longstreet he cannot conceal his disapprobation at his delay; he says, "On the 2d, quite late, 4 P. M., Longstreet made his long deferred attack on the enemy's left. * * * He gained ground rapidly and almost carried Round Top; but the morning delay was fatal. The enemy had been heavily reinforced while we were pottering around in sullen inactivity. Undoubtedly it was Lee's intention to make the attack in the forenoon, and support it by strong movements of Hill and Ewell." (p. 168).
Had he made an early attack it is absolutely certain that he would have made himself master of the two Round Tops and that would have decided the battle. Had he even attacked promptly after 11 o'clock, when he acknowledges he received a positive order to attack, there is every reason to have anticipated success. Even at the late hour when he finally did make his attack, 4 P. M., General Longstreet had an opportunity of seizing Round Top, but refused to embrace it. Scouts reported to General Hood that Round Top was unoccupied and that there were no troops in the rear. This intelligence was corroborated by prisoners. Hood sent three officers in succession to Longstreet to urge that he have permission to make the move on the Federal left, which would give him Round Top, but he doggedly refused, saying that "General Lee had ordered the attack to be made on the Emmitsburg road."
On this Colonel Henderson says: "His summary message to the divisional commander to carry out the original plan at least lays him open to the suspicion that although he was prepared to obey, it was like a machine, and not like an intelligent being." Such conduct is deserving of the severest reprehension.
In endeavoring to defend himself from the criticism which his conduct on that occasion called forth, Longstreet assailed General Lee (after his death) with a rancour which must be resented by every true Confederate soldier. In his book he declares that General Lee made eleven capital mistakes in the battle of Gettysburg! (One mistake General Lee certainly did make at Gettysburg--which however Longstreet does not mention--he did not relieve that officer of his command!) It cannot be denied that Longstreet's writings exhibit excessive self esteem and sheer jealousy. We cannot forget, moreover, that had he obeyed General Lee's orders he would have been at the battle of Chancellorsville with the fine divisions under his command, in which event Hooker's army might have been not defeated as it was, but actually destroyed.
Here let me quote a remarkable passage from the oration of Edward Everett at Gettysburg.
At the dedication of the Cemetery for Federal Soldiers killed at Gettysburg, Mr. Everett, in
presence of President Lincoln, said: "And here I cannot but remark on the Providential inaction of
the rebel army. Had the conflict been renewed by it at daylight on the 2d of July, with the First
and Eleventh corps exhausted by battle, the Third and Twelfth weary from their forced march,
and the Second and Sixth not yet arrived, nothing but a miracle could have saved the army from a
great disaster. Instead of this, the day dawned, the sun rose, the cool hours of the morning
passed, and a considerable part of the afternoon wore away without the slightest aggressive
movement on the part of the enemy. Thus time was given half our forces to arrive and take their
places in the lines, while the rest of the army enjoyed a much needed half day's repose."
TO SUM UP THE EVENTS OF SECOND DAY.
On the left Early had stormed and taken the works on Cemetery Hill, but, not being supported, had been repulsed. Further to the south, Hill had stormed another part of Cemetery Hill, with exactly the same experience.
On our extreme right Longstreet had lost the chance of seizing Round Top (755 feet), but had achieved notable success in the Peach Orchard and in Devil's Den, inflicting severe defeat on General Sickles.
On our extreme left in front of Culp's Hill (633 feet in height) a very important success had been achieved by Johnson's division. It is thus described in General Lee's official report, "The troops of General Johnson moved steadily up the steep and rugged acclivity under a heavy fire, driving the enemy into his entrenchments, part of which were carried by Steuart's brigade, and a number of prisoners taken." The position thus so hardly won was one of great importance. It was within a few hundred yards of the Baltimore turnpike, which I think it commanded. Its capture was a breach in the enemy's lines through which troops might have been poured and the strong position of Cemetery Hill rendered untenable.* (*[note italicized due to length-Compiler] 1. As to the character of these works, they were built of heavy logs with earth piled against them to the thickness of five feet, and abattis in front.
2. "Through the long hours of the night we heard the rumbling of their guns, and thought they were evacuating the hill. The first streak of daylight revealed our mistake. It was scarcely dawn, (the writer of this had just lain down to sleep, after a night in the saddle) when the artillery opened upon us at a range of about five hundred yards, a terrific and galling fire, to which we had no means of replying, as our guns could not be dragged up that steep and rugged ascent."--Letter of R. H. McKim soon after the battle.)
General Howard, commander of the Eleventh corps, says "The ground was rough and the woods so thick that their generals did not realize until morning what they had gained." Dr. Jacobs says, "This might have proved disastrous to us had it not occurred at so late an hour." And Swinton, the Federal Historian, declared, "It was a position which if held by him would enable him to take Meade's entire line in reverse" (page 355). It is only in keeping with the haphazard character of the whole battle that the capture of a point of such strategic importance should not have been taken advantage of by the Confederates. It remains, however, no less a proud memory for the officers and men of Steuart's brigade that their prowess gained for the Confederate General a position whence Meade's entire line might have been taken in reverse." But if the Confederates did not realize what they had gained, the Federals were fully aware what they had lost. Accordingly they spent the night massing troops and artillery for an effort to regain their works. "During the night," says Swinton, "a powerful artillery was accumulated against the point entered by the enemy." "To one conversant with the ground," says a Federal authority, "it is now apparent why the enemy did not reply. The creeks, the forest, and the steep acclivities made it utterly impossible for him to move his guns, and this circumstance contributed to the weakness of his position and the futility of his occupation of this part of the line."
Sufficient emphasis has not been laid upon the achievement of Steuart's brigade just referred to.
It was probably the most important success attained on any part of our line, had our staff officers
only recognized the fact. Let it be noted that this position was held by this devoted brigade for
about fourteen hours, from 9 o'clock in the evening to 11 the next morning, and the courage and
tenacity exhibited by these troops was not surpassed by any unit of Lee's army in that great battle.
Professor Jacobs (Federal) says, "The battle raged furiously and was maintained with desperate
obstinacy on both sides.' He goes on to speak of the terrible slaughter of our men. General
Howard says: "I went over the ground five years after the battle, and marks of the struggle were
still to be observed. The moss on the rocks was still discolored in hundreds of places where the
bullets had struck. The trees as cut off, knocked down, or shivered, were still there; stumps and
trees were perforated with holes where leaden balls had since been taken out, and remnants of the
rough breastworks still remained. I did not wonder that General Geary, who was in the thickest
of this fight, thought the main battle of Gettysburg must have been fought there." In fact, seven
brigades were concentrated in the attack upon Steuart's brigade, and they were supported by a
powerful artillery. Whitelaw Reed says, "From four to five there was heavy cannonading from
our batteries nearest the contested point * * * the rebels made no reply * * * the musketry crash
continued with unparalleled tenacity and vehemence." Bates says, "The batteries began to open
again on points along our outer line. They were evidently playing on what had been Slocum's line
of yesterday. The rebels then were still in our rifle pits. Presently the batteries on Slocum's Hill
opened too, aiming apparently in the same direction."
VI. THIRD DAY.
We come now to the third and last day of the battle.
Count von Wartenburg, in his brilliant work on the campaigns of Napoleon (published in 1902), says: "In the case of Lee we admire much that is Napoleonic in the conception of his plans." Now his determination to pierce the center of Meade's line on the third day was the adoption of one of Napoleon's favorite methods. "The young general, Bonaparte, initiated his brilliant career by piercing the enemy's center: he employed the same method again in 1812 in the most magnificent and well thought out manner, and once more in the opening of the last of all his campaigns. At Austerlitz he ordered Marechal Soult to assail the heights of Praetzen, thus piercing the center of the Austro-Russian army. This gave him the victory. In the same way at Rivoli, he sacrificed his wings in order to decide the issue in the center; and again at Eylau; and yet again at Wagram." In the same way Lee now determined to assail the center of Meade's line, and gave directions to Longstreet to make the assault early next morning.
But the question has been raised "Was Lee justified in expecting success in adopting this Napoleonic method at this center? Was there any reasonable hope of success in the grand assault which he ordered on the third day of the battle?"
In answering this question we may now take into account the statement made by Major-General Doubleday, who commanded the First corps of Meade's army. He says that "on the night of July 2d the state of affairs was disheartening. In the combats of the preceding days the First, Third and Eleventh corps had been almost annihilated; the Fifth corps and a great part of the Second were shattered and only the Sixth corps and the Twelfth were comparatively fresh." (Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, p. 185.)
He also says that Meade "thought it better to retreat with what he had than to run the risk of losing all." (Id.)
We know also from the testimony of General Sickles before the Congressional Committee that at the council of war the night of July 2d, some of the Generals were in favor of a retreat.
General Sorrell, Longstreet's chief of staff, admits in his book that the attack was to be made as soon as possible, and he adds, "the delay in attacking, which undoubtedly hurt us, was apparently caused by his objections made known to the Commander-in-Chief." (p. 171.)
And now we have a repetition of the events of the previous day. Instead of attacking early in the morning Longstreet did not begin his dispositions to attack until 1 P. M. He argued against Lee's plan as he had done the day before; he was completely out of sympathy with his commander. Such was his self esteem that he believed his judgment superior to that of General Lee. The consequence of this delay was that instead of a simultaneous attack on the enemy's center by Longstreet, and on his right by Ewell and Hill, we have again a series of isolated attacks. In obedience to orders, General Ewell attacked the enemy at sunrise. Meade, not assailed on his left, concentrated an enormous force against Ewell on his right; seven brigades attacked Steuart's one brigade on Culp's Hill; and so before Longstreet had begun to get ready to make his attack on the center, Ewell's attack on the right had been made and defeated.
But this is not all. General Longstreet disobeyed General Lee in another respect; it is an unquestionable fact, supported by testimony from various sources, that Longstreet was directed to put his whole corps into the attack. Indeed he himself admits it. (See Henderson's Lecture, p. 15.)*(* "He rode over after sunrise and gave his orders. His plan was to assault the enemy's left centre by a column to be composed of McLaws and Hood's divisions. reinforced by Pickett's brigades. I thought it would not do."--Longstreet.) The divisions of McLaws and Hood and Pickett were all to be employed. He was to be reinforced moreover by Heth's division, and by two brigades of Pender's division, to the command of which Major General Trimble was assigned--and General Hill was ordered to afford General Longstreet further assistance if necessary. Instead of this Longstreet sent forward about 12,000 men*(*This is the estimate of Jesse Bowman Young, a Federal writer, in his valuable book, "The Battle of Gettysburg," published in 1913 by Harper Bros., p.p. 306. He points out that Wilcox's brigade took no part in the assault.) only to assail the whole Federal army. They made the assault, those Virginians and North Carolinians, with magnificent gallantry. They pierced the enemy's center, but where were their supports? where were the divisions of McLaws and Hood? Where the brigades Hill was to put in? The answer is,-- idle, looking on. doing nothing! This devoted column of 42 regiments, possibly 12,000 men assaulted nearly the whole Federal army, while 7-9 of the Confederate army looked on without firing a shot. At the moment of their success they looked back vainly for support; "not a single Confederate bayonet, save in the hands of wounded or retreating men, was between them and the ridge from which they had advanced, 1,200 yards in the rear. Fiercely they struggled to maintain their position, but their courage had been thrown away." (Henderson, p.16.)
Could there be a more conspicuous illustration of the disregard of Napoleon's maxim that in a decisive attack the last man and the last horse should be thrown in?* (* "The staff as we have seen, seemed utterly incapable, throughout the battle, of bringing the efforts of the larger units into timely cooperation, and at the most important crisis of the whole engagement their failure to insure combination was conspicuous. In the first place there is no doubt that Lee intended that 30,00 men should have been employed instead of 15,000."-- (Henderson, p. 18).)
And now we have a strange incident to record--Colonel Fremantle, the accomplished English
officer, who was present with Longstreet's command during the battle, tells us in his book (p.
281) that Longstreet talked to him for a long time about the battle; he said the mistake they had
made was in not concentrating the army more and making the attack with 30,000 instead of
15,000 men. That mistake, we now know infallibly, was not made by General Lee, but by
General Longstreet himself. Had General Lee really intended to assail the Federal position with
so slender a column, he would have been unworthy the command of a great army.
WAS SUCCESS POSSIBLE?
The question has often been discussed, "What would have been the result if Lee's orders had been carried out and this charge of Pickett's division been supported by the troops of McLaws and Hood or those of Hill?"
I am able to throw light on that question from three sources: First, by the courtesy of Colonel R. P. Chew, Jackson's chief of horse artillery, I am able to give an opinion expressed by Captain Fitzhugh, who commanded a battery in the Federal army at that point of the line. At the crisis of the charge he was ordered by General Hunt to put in his battery and open on the charging Confederates. He expressed to Colonel Chew astonishment that Pickett's charge had not been supported, saying that he could see large bodies of troops available for this purpose but making no movement in their support. Colonel Chew asked Captain Fitzhugh what in his opinion would have been the result if they had been advanced to Armistead's support. He said they would have pierced the Federal army and certain defeat would have awaited it. "The Federal troops were streaming to the rear and fresh troops thrown into the breach would have decided the battle in favor of the Confederates."
Secondly. Testimony of a Federal artilleryman: On Tuesday, November 11, 1913, at 924 Pennsylvania Avenue, S. E., I had a conversation with W. A. Bobb, who left home at 14 and entered the United States service. He was 16 years old at time of the battle, and served as a private in Battery A, Second corps, United States Army. He was engaged at the point where Armistead's men broke through the Federal line. He said that the ammunition (of his battery) was almost exhausted; only two or three rounds left. In his opinion, if the charge had been supported, it would have proved disastrous to the Union army. All the artillery would have fallen into our hands. Their horses were nearly all killed or disabled. Their support, a New York regiment, 200 yards in rear, had taken to flight and left them alone.
I give a third testimony from the Federal side on this point.
The late General W. P. Craighill (of the Union army) said that he had often reflected with a feeling of awe on the fact that that great charge on the third day was a wedge that almost split the Union in two. In his opinion, if the charge had been supported, as Lee ordered, it would have wrecked the Union line and given the Confederates a decisive victory.
Thus we have concurrent testimony from a private artilleryman, from the captain of a battery, both at the salient when the shock of the charge broke over, and from a general officer an accomplished engineer.
I hold therefore in the light of this testimony that our great commander was justified in ordering that grand assault on July 3d, and that had his orders been carried out, as they might and should have been, it would have resulted in a decisive victory.
Mr. Jesse Bowman Young, in his careful, painstaking and valuable study of "The Battle of Gettysburg," says, p. 306, that "there is no evidence on record in the reports of the battle that General Lee had in mind any larger force than this (the 42 regiments mentioned in the text) for the movement, or that orders were issued for any troops at other portions of the line to co-operate simultaneously with this charge, except Stuart's cavalry attack." Mr. Young is only another example of the exceeding tenderness of Federal writers for the reputation of General Longstreet.
Yet General Longstreet, himself, tells us that Lee's plan was "to assault the enemy's left centre by a column composed of McLaws' and Hood's divisions, reinforced by Pickett's brigades." And Young quotes Anderson's orders that Wilcox and Perry's brigades were to render assistance, and also Wright's and Posy's brigades, but he received orders from General Longstreet to stop the movement. (Young, p. 307.)
Strange, is it not, that Colonel Walter H. Taylor, Lee's adjutant General, Colonel Venable, and General Long, of Lee's staff, and General Fitz Lee--to name no more--should testify that it was within their knowledge, that Lee directed that the assaulting column on July 3d, should have been very strongly supported; yet Mr. Jesse Bowman Young says. "and with confidence, having gone over the data in the case," that Lee had no such intention!
Perhaps any student who may be inclined to accept his conclusion on this point, will reconsider the idea, when he learns that that accomplished English military critic, Colonel G. F. R. Henderson, says, that after a careful study of the records, he was convinced that it was Lee's intention that the great charge should have been made by 30,000 men.
But the evidence in the case is conclusive. General Fitzhugh Lee tells us: "Three of General Lee's trusted staff officers--Taylor, Venable, and Long--have recorded that the plan of assault involved an attack by Longstreet's whole corps, supported by one-half of Hill's, or all of it, if he called for it. * * * A consummate master of war, such as Lee was, would not drive en masse, a column of 14,000 men * * * to attack an army, of one hundred thousand, and give his entering wedge no support."--Fitzhugh Lee's Life of Lee, p. 289.
There was no serious fighting after the repulse of the great charge on the 3d of July. During the night General Lee withdrew his left wing from Culp's Hill, and the morning of July 4th found his army in line of battle on Seminary Ridge. Here he stood throughout the day ready to receive General Meade, but Meade made no attempt to attack him.* (*[note italicized due to length-Compiler] Colonel Henderson in his lecture on the Battle of Gettysburg, delivered nearly twenty years after the event, falls into two serious errors. He says, (p. 16), that during the night of July 3d, "slowly followed by his adversary, Lee fell back through the South Mountain passes, and away southward across the Potomac into Virginia." But in fact Lee did not begin his retreat until the night of July 4th, and did not cross the Potomac until July 13th. On p. 14, he says, of July 3d, "The day opened ominously. As the sun rose, a vigorous attack of the Federals on Culp's Hill, prepared during the night, drove Johnson's Division in panic down the hill." Instead of this there were at least six hours of stern conflict after the sun rose, for possession of Culp's Hill, and when Steuart's brigade of Johnson's Division finally yielded the hill, they marched steadily down without confusion, rout or panic, in spite of their long hours of terrible battle and their immense losses.
Elsewhere in his writings he makes the great mistake of putting the white population of the seceded States at 7,000,000, instead of 5,000,000, which is the figure given in the census.
The lecture referred to is published also in Henderson's "Science of War," Chapter X, pp. 285
VII. WAS GETTYSBURG A FEDERAL VICTORY?
Light is thrown upon this question by the testimony of several general officers given before the Congressional committee on the conduct of the war in the years 1864-5. Thus General Sickles testified, (Part I. page 302) that "at a council of war held on Friday night, July 3d, there was a pretty strong disposition to retreat." He further testified that the "reason why the enemy was not followed up was on account of differences of opinion whether or not we should ourselves retreat." Again he said, "It was by no means clear in the judgment of the corps commanders, as of the General in command, whether we had won or not."
Major General Butterfield, General Meade's chief of staff, testified, (page 426) that, "on the night of the 4th of July a council of war was held to decide the question, 'Shall we assume the offensive,' and that General Newton, General Sedgwick, General Howard, General Birney, General Pleasanton, General Hays, and General Warren., all voted 'no' to that question."
Major General Birney, (page 367) testified that "at a council of war held on the night of July 4th, the opinion was expressed that Lee was not retreating, but making a flank movement." Several of the council (page 368) voted to retreat, but it was finally decided by a vote of 3 to 5 to wait twenty-four hours before retreating. It was stated that General Meade did not wish to hazard a battle unless certain of victory. However, he intended to be guided by the opinion of his Corps Commanders. As a matter of fact, the Federal army remained at Gettysburg Saturday, Sunday and Monday, July 4th, 5th and 6th (page 369). Major-General Hunt (page 453) testified that "on the 3d of July, after the great charge had failed, our troops had been very roughly handled when they were attacked, and for that reason it was not easy to make a counter-attack." He further says that "in his opinion there were good reasons for not attacking Lee that afternoon, July 3d." In a letter written January 12th, 1888, to General Webb, General Hunt says, "General Meade was right in not attempting a counter-attack at any stage of the battle." Major-General Sedgwick, second in command, testified (page 460) that "it was not expedient, in his judgment, to attack Lee after such a charge as this." As to the condition of the Federal army, we may infer what it was from the testimony of Major General Warren, Chief of Engineers (page 380), "I should have fought on the morning of the 12th of July if I could have got my troops to fight."
This testimony of the corps commanders of the Army of the Potomac, given under oath, makes it very evident that the officers and men who fought the Army of Northern Virginia those three days of July, 1863, had no idea at the close of the battle that they had gained a victory. General Meade himself, the Commander in Chief, had no contemporaneous delusions on the subject of Gettysburg, as is made manifest by a letter addressed to his wife on the 8th of July, 1863. In it he announced to her his appointment of Brigadier-General in the regular army, which Halleck had forwarded to him, complimenting him on the victory at Gettysburg, and General Meade proceeds, "I send you a document received yesterday afternoon. It will give you pleasure, I know. Preserve it because the terms in which the General in Chief speaks of the battle are stronger than any I have deemed it proper to use myself. I never claimed a victory, though I stated that Lee was defeated in his efforts to destroy my army." (Life and Letters of General Meade, Volume 2, page 133). This then is the judgment of the man who commanded the Federal army at Gettysburg--he never claimed a victory.
To this let me add an extremely interesting statement found in the diary of Colonel Fremantle, the English soldier already quoted. He says, (page 287 of his narrative) that the "officer at whose headquarters he was lodged told him that one of the enemy's dispatches had been intercepted, in which the following words occurred: "THE NOBLE BUT UNFORTUNATE ARMY OF THE POTOMAC HAS AGAIN BEEN OBLIGED TO RETREAT BEFORE SUPERIOR NUMBERS."
In a correspondence with the late General Sickles a year or two before his death I told him of this incident, whereupon he wrote that that might be the explanation of what General Slocum, who commanded the Twelfth corps at Gettysburg, used to say to him before his death in a mysterious way, holding up two fingers, "I have a piece of paper about that size that would throw a wonderful light on what happened at Gettysburg, but, as I like to avoid controversy, I shall not publish it, leaving it to my heirs to do so if they choose."
Two other facts should be considered in deciding the question whether the Federal army won a
victory at Gettysburg. The first is that Lee offered battle on Seminary Ridge all day of July 4th,
but the Federal commander would not accept the gauge. In this connection it is interesting to
note that General Butterworth said that he conversed July 4th with a corps commander who had
just left General Meade, and that he said, "Meade says he thinks he can hold out here, if they
attack him," (page 204). It is pretty clear that General Meade was not of the opinion at that time
that the Confederate army had been defeated, and that his solicitude was for the safety of the
Army of the Potomac, not for the destruction of the Army of Northern Virginia. The other fact is
that the Army of the Potomac did not dare to attack the Army of Northern Virginia from the 3d
of July, 1863, till May, 1864. Had Gettysburg been a Federal victory, this would have been an
We come now to General Lee's retreat. What was its cause and what was its character? Having offered battle all of the 4th of July on Seminary Ridge, and the offer having been declined, he took up his march the night of the 4th and the morning of the 5th for Virginia.
General Meade held a council of war near Williamsport on the 12th of July to consider whether he should attack General Lee in his position at Falling Waters. As to this we have the testimony of Major-General Warren, Chief of Engineers, before the Congressional Committee already referred to, (page 381). He said he never saw the principal corps commanders so unanimously in favor of not fighting as on that occasion, and Major General Sedgwick, (already quoted) says, (page 45:2) that "at a council of war July 12th all but two voted against attacking Lee."
Observe now that Lee's retreat was rendered necessary, not by the condition of his army, but by the necessity of replenishing the ammunition chests, which were all but exhausted (see Colonel Taylor). His retreat was slow and deliberate. He offered battle again for three days at Falling Waters, near Hagerstown, but although Meade had been heavily reinforced, and was strongly urged by Mr. Lincoln to attack and destroy General Lee, who stood at bay with a swollen river in his rear, he, with the assent of his council of war, again decided against making such an attack. It is a great mistake to suppose that the Confederate army was demoralized. I saw a good deal of different commands in the army during those ten days after the battle, and I can testify that they were full of fight and eager for an opportunity to redeem the mistakes made at Gettysburg. At length, on the night of the 13th of July, eleven days after the close of the battle, General Lee recrossed the river in the face of Meade's great army. And he effected his crossing with such success that his entire loss consisted of two guns, a few wagons, and some five hundred exhausted men.
Here let me quote the generous testimony of a Federal officer: "It is difficult to imagine a more discouraging situation than that in which General Lee found himself between July 4th and
14th. Decisively repulsed in battle and compelled to retreat, his communications were suddenly severed by the destruction of his only bridge, and by floods at the fords.
"Yet it is clear that never once through those trying days did the commander or his men show any signs of demoralization. On the contrary, it is certain that they would have welcomed an attack on their entrenched lines about Falling Waters." ( "Campaign and Battle of Gettysburg, by Colonel G. J. Fiebeger, p. 139.)
Reviewing the whole campaign, I think it is plain that Lee lost the battle of Gettysburg by the failure of four splendid soldiers upon whom he had been accustomed to rely. His strategy was not at fault (of his tactics perhaps we cannot say as much); the orders issued were correct, and should have resulted in victory. But one thing we are compelled to acknowledge; General Lee did not enforce that prompt and implicit obedience to his will as commander-in-chief which he should have done; and without which success in a great campaign can hardly be achieved. Gettysburg was a drawn battle it is true; a fight in which 68,000 men were pitted against at least 105,000. --We may sum up the results by saying that on the first day the Confederates won a great victory; on the second day they also won two important successes both on Culp's Hill and at the Peach Orchard and in the Devil's Den; on the third day the great attack on the center was repulsed, and also that on Meade's left.
Thus it was on the whole a drawn battle, in which the Federals lost many more in killed, wounded and prisoners than the a defeat. Complete victory was essential to success and although Confederates. But a drawn battle under the circumstances was the Army of Northern Virginia afterwards fought many splendid battles, with magnificent courage, and often with great success, between July, '63, and April, '65, nevertheless the battle of Gettysburg does mark the beginning of the decline of the Confederate hopes.
As we ponder the circumstances of that great battle and note how one after another the omens of success were turned to defeat, through no fault of our great commander, we can only feel that Lee, like Hector of Troy, was fighting against the supernal powers. It was not the will of God that we should succeed. And, when I try to understand the ultimate cause of our failure, I am led to the conclusion that it was not the will of the Great Ruler of events that the destinies of the Anglo-Saxon race on the American continent should be left in the hands of those who were then our enemies. The Southern people were necessary then, they are necessary now for the accomplishment of the designs of Providence. The Lord could not trust the North to fulfill His great purposes on this continent without the aid of the Southern people. Their sanity, their conservatism, their true Americanism were necessary elements in working out the great future of the race in this western land.
In closing let me call attention to the sublime self abnegation of General Lee. When this battle
was over he wrote to the President of the Confederacy these words: "I have no fault to find with
anyone but myself." Was there ever in all the annals of time a more splendid example of
magnanimity than was thus exhibited by our great commander, our peerless leader--ROBERT E.
GENERAL CRAIGHILL'S TESTIMONY.
Bishop Lucien Lee Kinsolving gives me the following record of a conversation with that officer:
General Wm. P. Craighill's conversation with me was as follows:
"Have you never stood at High Water Mark at Gettysburg and seen how near that wedge came to
splitting this country in two parts? Whenever I stand there I catch my breath at the thought of it."
When I said that I had heard it stated that there were forces in reserve to support the fierce charge
of Pickett, General Craighill replied: "Had that charge been properly supported, as General Lee
had planned, it would have gone through. That is my opinion as a military engineer."
November 5, 1915.
Dr. R. H. McKim,
Washington, D. C.
You ask me to write you of my conversation with Captain Fitzhugh of the Federal Artillery, who was in the battle of Gettysburg, and took part at the most critical point in that engagement on the third day.
I met Captain Fitzhugh, whose initials I have forgotten, in Pittsburgh many years ago. He asked me why it was that Pickett's charge was not supported. I told him Mahone's and Posy's brigades were formed, behind where Longstreet was sitting, but for some reason were not sent to the support of the brigades which took part in this famous attack. I then asked him what would have been the result if the two brigades had been thrust into the gap made by Armistead. He said he thought there would have been little resistance, because the men for a quarter of a mile near where Armistead fell, were retiring from the field. He said General Hunt, who commanded the Federal Artillery, sent for him to bring his battery. He rode on in front and when he looked over the field, he said to General Hunt, "If I put my guns in there, I will lose them." General Hunt thereupon ordered him to put them in and take the risk. He said the charge of Pickett's division had completely paralyzed the part of the line near what was known as the "high water mark." He said he put his guns in action, and the Confederate line, for some unaccountable reason, withdrew, retiring to the position from which they had charged. Captain Fitzhugh was an officer in the regular army of the United States.
R. P. Chew.
STRENGTH OF THE OPPOSING ARMIES AT GETTYSBURG.
Major-General Meade, commander of the Army of the Potomac, in his testimony before the Congressional Committee, (1866) stated that in his opinion, General Lee's army was about 10,000 or 15,000 larger than his own. Asked "what was your strength upon that battlefield?" his reply was, "Including all arms of Service, my strength was a little under 100,000 men--about 95,000. I think General Lee had about 90,000 infantry, from 4,000 to 5,000 artillery, and 10,000 cavalry.--I. p. 337.
Major Steele, "American Campaigns," says: "The returns of June 30, 1863, give the strength of the Army of the Potomac as 115,256 officers and men, with 362 guns," (p. 354), and he puts the strength of Lee's army, May 31, 1863, as 76,224 officers and men, and 272 guns. (p.353).
To these Federal authorities, I add that of Colonel Walter Taylor, of Lee's staff, who puts the strength of Lee's army, May 31, as 74,451 effectives, but shows that its strength was much less on the eve of the campaign one month later, when it was, in his opinion, from 67,000 to 68,000 men. The estimate given above, by General Meade, would not be supported to-day by any competent expert authority.
Major-General Humphreys, who became Chief of Staff on the 9th of July, testified before the
Congressional Committee (page 395), "that he thought the enemy's infantry superior in number to
the Union infantry," and Major-General Butterfield stated that in his opinion (page 420), Lee had
91,000 infantry, 12,000 cavalry, and 235 pieces of artillery. He also testified that on the 10th of
June, General Hooker had 78,245 infantry, and that before the battle additions had been made
numbering 7,500 infantry, besides Stannard's brigade. If we estimate this brigade at 2,500, then
the Federal infantry under Meade in the battle of Gettysburg should have numbered 88,245 men,
not counting the 10,000 men under General French, who were ordered from Harpers Ferry to
Frederick, and were under General Meade's command.
THE CONFLICT ON CULP'S HILL.
In a letter written soon after the battle. I said:
"The crest of the hill to the right was still more difficult to approach, and from it the enemy were able to enfilade our whole line. * * * The struggle for the hill now became more and more fierce. The enemy endeavored to drive us out of the works. They attacked us in front and in flank, and opened a terrific cannonading upon us from a battery posted about 500 yards off. * * * On the right and left flank, where our lines were almost perpendicular to the front line, there were no breastworks, and the struggle was very fierce and bloody. Our men maintained their position, however, and received reinforcements." The Third North Carolina was on the right, and suffered most heavily during this part of the battle, so that but a handful were left to participate in the final charge.
"As soon as we were unmasked, a most terrific fire opened upon us, from three directions. In front, on a rising ground heavily wooded, the enemy were posted in two lines behind breastworks, one above the other, so that both lines fired upon us at once. On the left was a piece of woods, from which the enemy's sharpshooters opened a very galling fire, raking our whole line. This decided the failure of our attempt to storm their works, for the regiments on the left first halted (while the right of the line advanced), and then fell back. * * * Still we pressed on. General Steuart, Captain Williamson, and I were all on the right-center, where was the Second Maryland and, eight men of the Third North Carolina. Ob! it was a gallant band. We had our sabres drawn, and were cheering on the men, but there was little need of it. Their gallantry did not avail, and their noble blood was spilled in vain.* * * It was, as if the sickle of Death had passed along the line and mown down the noblest and the bravest. Major Goldsborough fell (as we supposed), mortally wounded. That brave officer and noble gentleman, Captain Murray, fell dead. Friends dropped all around me, and lay writhing on the ground. * * * It was more than men could endure, and reluctantly they commenced falling back. Then our task was to prevent a rout, for the brigade was terribly cut up and the men much demoralized. Behind some rocks we rallied the scattered regiments and made a stand. Finally we took our old position behind the breastworks, supported by Daniel's brigade. Here we lay for about an hour under the most furious infantry and artillery fire I have ever experienced, but without much loss." (Extract from a letter describing the battle.) I give it just as I find it, adding that if the tattered battle-flag of the Third North Carolina was followed by only a handful, was because they had already suffered more heavily than any other regiment.
"The end soon came. We were beaten back to the line from which we had advanced with terrible loss in much confusion, but the enemy did not make a counter charge. By the strenuous efforts of the officers of the line and of the staff order was restored, and we reformed in the breastworks from which we had emerged, there to be again exposed to an artillery fire exceeding in violence that of the early morning. I, remains only to say that, like Pickett's men later in the day, this single brigade was hurled unsupported against the enemy's works. Daniel's brigade remained in the breastworks during and after the charge, and neither from that command nor from any other had we any support. Of course it is to be presumed that General Daniel acted in obedience to orders. We remained in this breastwork after the charge about an hour before we finally abandoned the Federal entrenchments and retired to the foot of the hill. The Federal historians say we were driven from our position. Thus Swinton affirms that "it was carried by a charge of Geary's division." This statement I deny as an eyewitness and sharer in the conflict to the close, and as one of the staff who assisted in carrying out the order withdrawing the troops to the base of the hill. It was down a steep hill in the face of the enemy, and I have a vivid recollection of our apprehensions of the result of such a movement. But it was done, not before a charge of the enemy, but in obedience to orders, and we were not pursued, nor were the works occupied by the Federals until we reached Rock Creek, at the base of the hill.
A few of our men on our left, rather than incur the danger of retiring down the hill under that very
heavy fire, remained behind in the entrenchments and gave themselves up. The base of the hill
reached, skirmishers were thrown out, and we remained on the west side of Rock Creek till 11:30
P. M., when we retired silently and unmolested. I find the following record in my diary, referring
to the time when we retired to the foot of the hill: "New troops were brought on, and fighting
continued until now (5 P. M.)." This must refer to picket fighting.
Bates, the Federal historian, thus describes the scene on Culp's Hill:
"What a field was this! For three hours of the previous evening, and seven of the morning, had the most terrible elements of destruction known to modern warfare been wielded with a might and dexterity rarely if ever paralleled. The woods in which the battle had been fought was torn and rent with shells and solid shot, and pierced with innumerable minnie balls. Trees were broken off and splintered, and that entire forest, where the battle raged most furiously, was, on the following year, leafless, the stately but mute occupants having yielded up their lives with those whom they overshadowed."--Bates' Gettysburg, p.145.
And speaking of the state of the hill on the fourth, he continues: "We came upon numberless
forms, clad in grey, either stark and stiff or else weltering in their blood.* * * Turning whichever
way we chose, the eye rested upon human forms lying in all imaginable positions. * * * We were
surprised at the accuracy, as well as the bloody results of our fire. It was indeed dreadful to
witness."--Id. p. 145.
FAILURE TO SEIZE CEMETERY HILL, JULY 1ST.
In the opinion of Col. Fiebiger and Major Steele, the only opportunity of decisive victory was lost when Ewell failed to seize Cemetery Hill, July 1, P. M. It could have been taken had the Union troops been vigorously pursued. Yet Fiebiger thinks Ewell was probably right (p. 135)in not attacking.
Major Steele: "Possession of Cemetery Hill was decisive of victory." 'Twas an error not to follow up the victory on 1st. That was the only chance to take the Hill. "Thus Lee's only chance of victory was thrown away."
Captain Smith: "Early and Rodes desired Lee to be informed they could go forward and take the hill if they were supported on their right."
General Hancock: "If the Confederates had continued the pursuit of General Howard, they would have driven him over and beyond Cemetery Hill."
Colonel Batchelder, historian of Gettysburg: "There is no question but what a combined attack on Cemetery Hill made within an hour would have been successful; at the end of an hour the troops, had been rallied, occupied strong positions &c., and would have held the positions against any attack from the troops then up. The great mistake of the battle was failure to follow the Union forces and attack them on Cemetery Hill before they could reform.
General Early has written an able and generous, but not convincing defense of his corps commander. He says he has changed his mind as to the probability of success, had Ewell advanced against Cemetery Hill. He even goes so far as to say, "There is nothing in the idea that we lost a great opportunity by not going in, the afternoon of the 1st."--S. Hist. Papers, 1877, Vol. IV, 260.
He urges further, that the possession of the Hill would not have been of any particular value. At best, it would only have thrown Meade back to the line on Pipe Creek, already selected ;and fortified.
As I have said, I am unable to agree with General Early's later conclusion on this point, but must think Ewell's failure to seize Cemetery Hill. a great error. Nor is this the only error he committed. General Lee desired to move Ewell's corps to the right on the evening of July 1st; but General Ewell pointed out the great importance of seizing Culp's Hill, which dominated Cemetery Hill, and persuaded him to leave his corps on the left, that he might seize that eminence, (So. Hist'l. Papers 1877, Vol. IV, p. 276), which he said he could do, without a fight. And yet he did not seize it, as he might have done, for Geary's troops did not begin to occupy it until 3 A.M. Of July 2d; and the last Of William's division was not in position until 8 A. M. (Jesse B. Young's "Battle of Gettysburg," p. 208.)
It is true that Johnson was ordered to venture through the darkness and occupy it. But he reported that it was already occupied by a superior force of the enemy. In fact, it was only a small reconnoitering party. But suppose the report had been true? Why could not General Edward Johnson's division have assaulted it that same evening? The prospect of success then, when it could not have been fortified, was far better than it was on the following night when it wasassaulted after the Federals had made it almost impregnable by strong breastworks.
And, in fact, had it been attacked the evening of July 1st, it would have been captured almost without firing a shot.
Lieutenant Jesse B. Young, in his valuable book, (p. 207), says that Ewell lost a great opportunity in not seizing Culp's Hill that evening.
He was deterred from attack by a report that it was occupied, but he was not deterred from assaulting it 24 hours later, when he knew it had been skillfully fortified.
Johnson's Division marched round Gettysburg, and was in position before Culp's Hill a little after sundown, on July 1st.
In a letter from General Meade, addressed to G. G. Benedict, Burlington, Vt., and dated Philadelphia, March 16, 1870, Major General Meade says that, in a conversation he had with Lieutenant-General Ewell shortly after the war, that officer "informed me that at four P. M. on the 1st, he had his corps, 20,000 strong, in column of attack, and on the point of moving on Culp's Hill, which he saw was unoccupied and commanded Cemetery Ridge, when he received an order from General Lee, directing him to assume the defensive, and not to advance; that he sent to General Lee, urging to be permitted to advance with his reserve, but the reply was a reiteration of the previous order." (Life and Letters of General G. G. Meade, Vol. 2. Page 353).
This statement is in conflict with all the evidence in the case. It contradicts Colonel Walter
Taylor, and General J. B. Gordon, and other general officers. The fact it alleges is not mentioned
by General Ewell in his report of the battle, though it would have completely vindicated his
inaction if it had been true. Either General Meade misunderstood General Ewell, or General
Ewell's memory (or his own) was at fault.
(Source: Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. 40, pages 253-300)