Col. John S. Mosby's Defense of the Great Cavalry Leader.


San Francisco, Cal., January 28, 1896.

To the Editor of the Dispatch:

I have just read in the Post the report of Colonel Charles Marshall's speech at the celebration of the anniversary of General Lee's birthday. It is the argument of an astute advocate and sophist, and utterly destitute of judicial candor. I shall briefly notice and answer the charge he makes that General Stuart, the Chief of Cavalry, violated General Lee's order in the Gettysburg campaign. Fortunately, in this case, the truth does not lie at the bottom of a well:

1. General Lee expressly says in his report that he gave Stuart authority to cross the Potomac in the rear of the enemy, which is the route he took. Colonel Marshall was a staff-officer of General Lee's, and, of course, knew this fact; yet he did not mention it.

2. He states that Stuart was ordered to place himself on Ewell's right flank, and did not do it. Any one reading the speech would infer that at the date of the instruction Ewell was with General Lee in the Shenandoah Valley, and that Stuart was in default in this respect. He ignores the important fact that Ewell was then several days' march in advance of General Lee, in Pennsylvania. Of course, Stuart could not be at the same time with General Lee in Virginia and with Ewell in Pennsylvania. He says that Stuart's instructions were to cover the Confederate right as the enemy moved northward. No such instructions were given, but just the reverse. At 5 P. M. June 23d, General Lee wrote to Stuart, who was then east of the Blue Ridge, in Loudoun county:

"If General Hooker's army remains inactive, you can leave two brigades to watch him, and withdraw with the three others; but should he not appear to be moving northward I think you had better withdraw this side of the mountain to-morrow night, cross at Shepherdstown next day (25th), and move over to Frederickstown. 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 either case, after crossing the river you must move on and feel the right of Ewell's troops, collecting information, provisions," etc.

At that time Longstreet's Corps was the rear guard of the army, and Lee's instructions to Stuart were sent through him. On the day before Longstreet had forwarded a similar letter from General Lee, and urged Stuart to go to Ewell by the route around the rear of the enemy. So far from Stuart having been ordered to wait until the enemy moved northward, he was told to go immediately, if they were not moving northward. At that time Hooker was waiting quietly on General Lee; all of his movements had been subordinate to Lee's. He had moved in a circle pari passu with Lee from the Rappahannock to the Potomac so as to cover Washington. When Lee crossed the river, of course Hooker would cross and maintain the same relative position. General Lee knew that it was physically impossible for Stuart to pass the enemy's rear and keep up communication with him; he knew that it would be equally impossible if he crossed the river west of the Blue Ridge at Shepherdstown, and then (in accordance with his orders) moved on over the South Mountain and joined the right of Ewell's column. How could Stuart be on the Susquehanna and at the same time watch and report Hooker's movements on the Potomac?


On June 22d General Lee had written Stuart, "One column of Ewell's army (under Early) will probably move toward the Susquehanna by the Emmettsburg route--another by Chambersburg." So it was immaterial so far as giving information of Hooker's movements was concerned whether Stuart crossed the Potomac east or west of the Ridge. In either event after crossing he was required to go out of sight of Hooker, and to sever communication with General Lee. Stuart took the most direct route to join the right of Ewell's column, marching continuously day and night to do so. When he reached York he found that Early had been ordered back to Cashtown, the appointed rendezvous of the army. About all this Colonel Marshall says nothing.

3. Colonel Marshall leaves the impression on the reader that Stuart took the whole cavalry corps with him. He knew that Stuart left two brigades of cavalry with Longstreet.

4. Colonel Marshall says that General Lee, at Chambersburg, not having heard from Stuart since he left Virginia, thought that Hooker was still south of the Potomac, until on the night of the 28th he learned through a spy that Hooker was moving northward. This is equivalent to saying that General Lee had lost his head, for no rational being could have supposed that Hooker would remain on the south bank of the Potomac while the Confederates were foraging in Pennsylvania. He might as well have disbanded his army. When General Lee passed Hagerstown on the 26th he knew that the bulk of Hooker's army was north of the river and holding the South Mountain passes. If Hooker had still been in Virginia there would have been nothing to prevent General Lee from marching direct to Baltimore and Washington. If General Lee had supposed (as Colonel Marshall says he did) that the way was open to capture those cities, he would have marched east, and not north to Chambersburg. General Lee never committed any such military blunder. The spy, therefore, only told General Lee what he knew before.

On the morning of June 28th, at Frederick, Hooker was superseded by Meade. His army remained there that day. Instead of threatening General Lee's communications, as Colonel Marshall says, Meade withdrew the two corps that were holding the mountain passes when General Lee passed through Maryland, and moved his army the next day to the east so as to cover Washington and Baltimore. There was never any interruption of Lee's communications.

5. Colonel Marshall says that General Lee took his army to Gettysburg simply to keep Meade east of the mountain and prevent a threatened movement against his communications. This statement is contradicted by the record. General Lee attached no such importance to his communications--if he had any. The road was open to the Potomac, but it was not a line of supply; his army lived off the country, and took with it all the ammunition it expected to use. On June 25th, after crossing the river, he wrote Mr. Davis: "I have not sufficient troops to maintain my communications, and therefore have to abandon them."

According to Colonel Marshall he broke up his whole campaign trying to save them. The fact was they were not even threatened, and General Lee knew it. There was continued passing between the army and the river.

6. I deny that General Lee ever ordered his army to Gettysburg, as Colonel Marshall says, or had any intention of going there before the battle began. In an article published in Belford's Magazine (October and November, 1891) I demonstrated this fact from the records. Colonel Marshall ought to study them before he makes another speech.


On the morning of June 29th General Lee ordered a concentration of the army at Cashtown, a village at the eastern base of the mountain, Hill's Corps was in advance; he reached Cashtown June 30th. That night Hill and Heth heard that there was a force of the enemy at Gettysburg; early the next morning Hill, without orders, with Heth's and Pender's Divisions, started down the Gettysburg pike. General Lee was then west of the mountain with Longstreet. Buford's Cavalry was holding Gettysburg as an outpost. Heth was in advance, and soon ran against Buford. There was a pretty stiff fight with the cavalry until Reynolds, who was camped some six miles back, came to his support. Heth says:

"Archer and Davis were now directed to advance, the object being to feel the enemy; to make a forced reconnoissance, and determine in what force the enemy were--whether or not he was moving his forces on Gettysburg. Heavy columns of the enemy were soon encountered."

Davis's and Archer's Brigades were soon smashed, and Archer, with a good many of his men, made prisoners. "The enemy," says General Heth, "had now been felt and found to be in heavy force. The division was now formed in line of battle," etc.

The object of a reconnaissance is to get information; after getting the information the attacking force retires. It seems that General Heth ought now to have been satisfied that the enemy was in force, and should have returned to Cashtown--i.e., if he only went to make a reconnaissance. Hill now put in Pender's and Heth's divisions, and says they drove the enemy until they came upon the First and Eleventh corps that Reynolds had brought up. He says that he went to Gettysburg "to find out what was in my front." He had now found it. Hill would have been driven back to Cashtown if Ewell had not come to his support. With Rodes's and Early's divisions, he had camped the night before a few miles north of Gettysburg, and had started to Cashtown when he received a note from Hill telling him he was moving to Gettysburg. The battle had then begun. Ewell, not understanding Hill's object in going to Gettysburg, bearing the sound of battle, and no doubt supposing the army was assembling there, turned the head of his column and marched toward Gettysburg. He came up just in time to save Hill.


General Lee was still west of the mountain when he heard the firing. He did not understand it, and rode forward at full speed to the battle. He arrived on the field just at the close. The battle had been brought on without his knowledge, and without his orders, and lasted from early in the morning until 4 o'clock in the evening. It is clear that Hill took the two divisions to Gettysburg just for an adventure. When General Lee arrived on the field he found about half of his army there. He had been so compromised that he was compelled to accept battle on those conditions, and ordered up the rest of his forces. That morning every division of his army was on the march, and converging on Cashtown. That night the whole army--infantry, cavalry, and artillery--would have been concentrated at Cashtown, or in supporting distance, if this rash movement on Gettysburg had not precipitated a battle. A British officer--Colonel Freemantle-- was present as a spectator, and spent the night of July 1st at General Longstreet's headquarters. In his diary he says:

"I have the best reason for supposing that the fight came off prematurely, and that neither Lee nor Longstreet intended that it should have begun that day. I also think that their plans were deranged by the events of the 1st."

The record shows who is responsible for the loss of the campaign, and that it was not Stuart. There were no orders to make a reconnoissance on July 1st, and no necessity for making one.

The success of the first day, due to the accident of Ewell's arrival on the field when he was not expected, was a misfortune to the Southern army. It would have been far better if Ewell had let Hill and Heth be beaten. They had put the Confederates in the condition of a fish that has swallowed a bait with a hook to it.

John S. Mosby.

(Source: Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. 23, pages 348-353)