Causes of the Defeat of Gen. Lee's Army at the Battle of Gettysburg-
Opinions of Leading Confederate Soldiers.
In February last the Secretary received a letter from a distinguished foreign military critic propounding a series of questions as to the causes of the failure of the Confederate army to win the battle of Gettysburg, and requesting us to obtain the opinions of leading Confederates who were participants in that great battle. We at once had twenty copies of the letter made, and sent them to representatives of every corps and division and every arm of the service of the Army of Northern Virginia. We have received a number of replies, and have the promise of several others, and we are sure that our readers will agree with us that the series of papers form the most valuable contribution to the history of that great campaign which has yet been published.
As the letter of our distinguished correspondent was not intended for publication, we suppress both the letter and the name of the writer. But we would be recreant to the cause of truth did we withhold the able, interesting and valuable papers which we have received in response to this letter.
There are, as will be seen, honest differences of opinion between the writers of these papers in reference to certain points; but we shall publish them without alteration, just as they are received from the accomplished soldiers who have prepared them.
We print the papers also in the order in which they have been received :
Letter from Gen. J. A. Early.
Lynchburg, Va., March 12th, 1877.
A copy of your letter to Mr. Jones, the Secretary, of the Southern Historical Society, in which you express a desire to have my opinion upon certain propositions suggested by you in regard to the Pennsylvania campaign of 1863, and the battle of Gettysburg, has been forwarded to me, and I take pleasure in giving my views on the several mooted questions.
In the first place, I must say that you are mistaken in assuming that the Army of Northern Virginia was more powerful when it undertook the invasion of Pennsylvania than it had ever been before. I believe that you receive our publications entitled "Southern Historical Society Papers," and if so, by referring to the July number for 1876, you will find a paper by me in regard to the relative strength of the armies of Generals Lee and Grant, in which is embodied, on page 16, a table of returns of the forces in the Department of Northern Virginia at the end of each month from February, 1862, to February, 1865, inclusive, except for the months of June and August, 1862, April and June, 1863, and May and September, 1864. This table was made out by Mr. Swinton, author of the "History of the Army of the Potomac," from the Confederate returns in the Archive Office at Washington, and is indisputably correct, except where, in the absence of the official returns, Mr. Swinton has substituted his own estimates or conjectures for the months of June and August, 1862, and June, 1863. You will observe that, at the close of May, 1863, the whole force for duty in the Department of Northern Virginia consisted of 68,352 men and officers. The Department of Northern Virginia embraced all that portion of eastern Virginia and the Valley north of James river, and included all the troops within it. Of course, the movable army was less than the whole force in the department, as some troops had to be left guarding depots, &c. There were no accessions to the army after the returns showing 68,352 for duty, prior to the movement towards Pennsylvania, which begun on the 4th Of June. Even some of the movable troops had to be left behind, and among them were two brigades of cavalry, Robertson's and Jones', as you will see from Gen. Lee's report in the same number of the Society Papers, pages 44-5. Those brigades arrived at Gettysburg on the 3d of July, too late to be of any service, except in guarding the trains on the retreat. The force with which Gen. Lee invaded Pennsylvania was really under 60,000 effective, as I have stated in the address embodied in Mr. Jones' "Personal Reminiscences," a separate copy of which I now send you. Gen. Lee's force against McClellan, in June, 1862, was between 75,000 and 80,000--a fact I think I have demonstrated in a communication which you will find in the June number of the Society Papers for 1876, page 413. The table before referred to shows the force for duty in the Department of Northern Virginia, at the close of July, 1862, just before the commencement of the campaign against Pope, was 69,559, and the force for duty at the close of November, 1862, just before the battle of Fredericksburg, was 73,554. There is no return at the close of April, 1863, just before Chancellorsville, for the enemy had then begun his movement by crossing the river in our front, and the steps necessary to oppose him rendered it impracticable to make returns. The force present, however, was not as large as it was at the close of May following, for two divisions of Longstreet's corps were absent south of James river, though the army in the aggregate was larger than it was at the beginning of the movement into Pennsylvania, by reason of the loss at Chancellorsville and at Fredericksburg at the same time. No reliance whatever is to be placed in the conjectural estimate of our strength for June of that year made by Mr. Swinton, nor in the statements of any of the writers on the Federal side as to our strength at Gettysburg.
You will perceive, therefore, that our army was numerically smaller at the time of the commencement of the Pennsylvania campaign than it had been at the commencement of any of the previous campaigns; though in one sense it may be said to have been more powerful than it had previously been, for it was elated with the victory over Hooker, and bouyant with the prospect of carrying the war into the enemy's country--in fact it had come to regard itself as invincible.
From your first proposition, that "it was a mistake to invade the Northern States at all," I entirely dissent. The Trans-Mississippi Department was then practically severed from the Confederacy by the investment of Vicksburg and Port Hudson. To have confined our efforts east of the Mississippi to an entirely defensive policy would have exposed us to a certain, though slow process of exhaustion. We would have had not only to defend our northern frontier, on a line from the Chesapeake bay, up the Rappahannock and Rapidan rivers, across the Upper Valley of the Shenandoah, and through Western Virginia, Middle Tennessee, and Northern Alabama and Mississippi, but also the entire coasts of Chesapeake bay and the Atlantic, on the east, from the mouth of the Rappahannock, south, and of the Gulf of Mexico on the south, with the enemy firmly in possession of a number of ports and harbors on said coasts, as well as a line in the west, parallel to and east of the Mississippi, with the enemy in possession of or besieging all of the towns on that river. This in fact would have required us to defend a line extending entirely around the States east of the Mississippi, with very inadequate resources. If we had had troops and resources in money, provisions, and munitions of war enough to defend this entire line, we might have accomplished "the pecuniary exhaustion of the North," which you think should have been our policy; but our men, our resources, and, above all, our faith would have been exhausted long before we could have accomplished the desired result.
Mr. Lincoln had announced his purpose to "keep a-pegging," until the "rebellion" was suppressed, and Gen. Grant subsequently announced the same policy in rather different language, to-wit: "To hammer continuously against the armed force of the enemy and his resources, until, by mere attrition, if by nothing else, there should be nothing left to him but an equal submission with the loyal section of our common country to the constitution and laws of the land." Under this pegging-hammer process, we must inevitably have succumbed, if we had remained on the defensive entirely, just as it is said the constant dropping of water will wear away the hardest stone.
Let us look at the condition of affairs at the close of May, 1863. The Federal forces held possession of Fortress Monroe, Yorktown and Norfolk in Virginia, with the control, by means of gunboats, of the Chesapeake, York river, and James river up to the mouth of the Appomattox-- of the entire coast of North Carolina, except the mouth of Cape Fear river--of Port Royal and Beaufort island on the coast of South Carolina, with Charleston harbor blockaded and the city of Charleston besieged--of Fort Pulaski, at the mouth of the Savannah river, in Georgia--of the mouth of the St. John's river, Key West and Pensacola, in Florida--of the lower Mississippi, New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Memphis, with Vicksburg and Port Hudson besieged, the fall of which latter towns was all that was necessary to give complete possession of the Mississippi river--of West Tennessee; the northern portion of Middle Tennessee, all of Kentucky, northwestern Virginia, including the Valley of the Kanawha, the lower Valley of Virginia, and all of eastern Virginia north of the Rappahannock. At the same time the entire coasts of the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico were so rigidly blockaded and patrolled by war vessels, that it was a mere chance when the blockade was evaded.
The large army under Grant, besieging Vicksburg and Port Hudson could very readily have been brought against one or the other of our armies in the field on the fall of the beleaguered towns, which was a mere question of time, as Gen. Johnston was unable to concentrate a force large enough to relieve them. Our main Western army, under Bragg, was confronted in southern Tennessee by a much larger army under Rosecrantz, while the Army of Northern Virginia was confronted on the Rappahannock by one of nearly, if not quite double its numbers, under Hooker. In this condition of things, it was very apparent that unless we could break through the cordon that was gradually closing and tightening around us, we must infallibly be crushed as a victim in the coils of a boa-constrictor. To set down and content ourselves with a mere defensive policy, would be to await an inevitable collapse of our cause, sooner or later, by the gradual process of attrition and exhaustion. The only hope for us, then, was to strike such a blow as would alarm the North and shake its faith in the financial credit of the Federal government, and its ability to conduct the war to a successful issue.
Bragg's army was not in a condition to strike such a blow, and the issue of the Kentucky campaign of the previous year would not have warranted its employment for such a purpose, if other things had been favorable. The Army of Northern Virginia was the only one that could be relied on to under take the difficult task, and its recent success at Chancellorsville had inspired the whole of that army with a spirit that gave promise of success.
There were but three plans that presented themselves for our adoption, if we were to take the aggressive. The first was to attack Hooker's army in position, and endeavor to destroy it; the second, to draw it out into the open field and defeat it, which could only be done by threatening Washington or the States north of the Potomac; and the third was to undertake an invasion of the latter States, pure and simple.
If we had awaited a renewal of the attacks of the Army of the Potomac, we might have repulsed it again and again; but from the nature of the ground occupied by the two armies respectively, with a wide, low plain on the south bank of the Rappahannock between the heights occupied by us and the river, while the commanding heights on the north bank were close upon the river, and crowned with an immense armament of heavy guns, it was always practicable for the Army of the Potomac to recross to its position of safety after a repulse. The result, therefore, must have been, as we always feared it would be, that that army, heavily reinforced under some new and more sagacious commander, would have been transported, by way of the Potomac, Chesapeake, and James river, to the position Grant was finally forced to take on the south of the James, when a siege of Richmond and Petersburg would have ensued, and the fall of those cities would have been only a question of time.
As to the alternatives presented, if we took the aggressive, it was impossible for us to have attacked the Army of the Potomac in its position on the north of the Rappahannock, except at great disadvantage. If you examine the map of that part of Virginia, and take into consideration the fact that the Rappahannock, between the two armies, and below, and for some distance above, could be crossed only on pontoon bridges; that from the nature of the ground we could not have forced the passage if we had the bridges, and that if we had undertaken to cross above, at some point where bridges were not necessary, we would have had to make a wide circuit and cross two rivers, the Rapidan and Rappahannock, you can understand the difficulties we would have had to encounter in making the attack. If you knew the exact topography of the country, you would perceive the difficulties more clearly.
Unless, therefore, we had made up our minds to perish by degrees, it was necessary to adopt one of the other alternatives. Of course, Hooker would not have undertaken another forward movement until his army was sufficiently recruited to supply the loss incurred at Chancellorsville, and the diminution from the expiration of the terms of service of a portion of his troops, which was rapidly approaching, and to draw him out from his position of safety before that happened, it was necessary for us to threaten Washington or the States north of the Potomac. To have moved directly on Washington would have been idle, for Hooker would have moved back into the defenses of that city on the south, and if we could have entered them we would then have had to cross the Potomac, which would have been an impossibility.
To threaten Washington, therefore, it was necessary to pass through the lower valley and cross the Potomac into Maryland, which amounted to an invasion.
General Lee adopted a plan, which was a combination of the last two plans mentioned, as open to us, to-wit: to draw Hooker out from his position, and transfer the scene of hostilities north of the Potomac, as you will perceive from the succinct but very clear statement of his purposes contained in his report. Hooker hugged too closely the defenses of Washington for us to attack him south of the Potomac, and hence we crossed that stream without fighting him.
If we could have gained a decided victory north of the Potomac, it would have done more to produce a financial crisis at the North and secure our independence than a succession of victories on the soil of Virginia. I have always been and still am firmly convinced that, if General Lee's plans and orders had been promptly and strictly carried out, we would have gained such a victory at Gettysburg. I am, therefore, of opinion that the invasion of Pennsylvania, when undertaken, was a wise and judicious movement, notwithstanding the fate that attended it. It is true that it may be looked upon as somewhat of the nature of a forlorn hope, but it was our best chance for success, and we should have taken it.
I also dissent from your second proposition, that "If the invasion was to be undertaken, only raiding parties should have been sent." My observation during the war led me to the conviction that raiding parties generally resulted in more damage to the raiders than to the opposite side. Such was undoubtedly the case with Stuart's famous raid around McClellan's army, through Maryland and Pennsylvania, in October, 1862. The Dutch farmers and housewives in Pennsylvania were probably very badly frightened, but the loss in disabled cavalry horses, which were left behind in exchange for useless Dutch farm horses, was not compensated by any damage to the enemy. So, Morgan's celebrated raid across the Ohio proved disastrous to his command, without the possibility of any compensating damage to the enemy. Most of the raids undertaken by the Federal cavalry also proved disastrous to the commands engaged in them.
It is true that Stuart's raid around McClellan, when he was on the Chickahominy in 1862, resulted in obtaining valuable information for Gen. Lee, but it also served to convince McClellan of the necessity of a change of his base to James river, which for us was the most dangerous position for him to occupy. Some of Forrest's raids also, in the west, were attended with valuable results in the destruction of stores and the interruption of the enemy's lines of communication; but, as a general thing, the raids, unless when undertaken with a specific object, as for the purpose of obtaining information or the destruction of some depot of stores, or the cutting of a line of communication, and then with a force adequate to the purpose, were mere annoyances to the opposite side without serious damage, while the raiders came out badly worsted, at least in horse flesh; which latter was a very important consideration on our side. When undertaken merely for the purpose of harrying a particular section of country, they were too apt to degenerate into mere marauding parties, and almost always came to grief. These remarks apply equally to the partisan corps employed on our side. They annoyed without weakening the enemy, just as a spiteful insect may worry and enrage a huge bull, without doing, him any serious hurt. Really they did a vast deal more damage to our own cause, by the demoralization caused in the army from a desire upon the part of many to share in the captures, which the partisan corps appropriated to their own use, which induced quite a number to desert their colors for the sake of plunder. I have been struck with the force of a remark contained in Gen. Sheridan's report of his operations in the Valley of Virginia in 1861, where, in speaking of the partisan corps, which he calls "guerrilla bands," he says: "I had constantly refused to operate against these bands, believing them to be, substantially, a benefit to me, as they prevented straggling and kept my trains well closed up, and discharged such other duties as would have required a provost guard of at least two regiments of cavalry." He is here speaking of the principal corps of that kind that operated in Virginia. I am of opinion that mere raiding parties sent north of the Potomac would have done much to arouse and excite the population to a stronger support of the war, without any compensating damage to the enemy or benefit us.
I must here admonish you not to confound my expedition Maryland, and up to the fortifications of Washington, with what were merely raids. That expedition, though frequently called a raid, was not undertaken as such, but Gen. Lee's real purpose in sending me on it was to induce the withdrawal of troops from Grant's army, and eventually the abandonment of the siege of Richmond, which he saw was inevitable, and would result in the final capture of the city, unless a diversion was made. It was a forlorn hope, it is true, but I think it is unquestionable that it had a very considerable effect in prolonging the contest before Richmond by the detention in the Valley until the close of the year, not only of the troops that belonged to the Department of West Virginia, but also of two corps of infantry and two divisions of cavalry that had been sent from Grant's army.
My observation did not lead me to the conclusion, at which you seem to have arrived, that, on Northern soil, the Army of the Potomac "fought ten times better than in Virginia." I did not observe that the fighting at Gettysburg by that army was in any way superior to what I had seen it do before. You must make some allowance for the "poetic license" which writers and speakers on the Northern side have taken in describing the deeds of Meade's soldiers at Gettysburg, and in putting dramatic exclamations into their months. Those writers and speakers were not there to witness and hear what they have undertaken to record; and you can readily understand that, in the dreadful shock of battle, men have not the leisure or the calmness to frame pretty speeches, nor are they exactly in the condition to recollect what any of their comrades may have given utterance to. I am as incredulous about dramatic speeches and ejaculations in time of battle as about "real bayonet charges."
Our failure to carry the position at Gettysburg was not due so much to the superior fighting of Meade's army in position as to the failure to support according to General Lee's instruction the several attacks made on the 2d and 3d, and the delay in making those attacks. Meade did not select the position at Gettysburg; but that position was forced on him by the engagement which took place unexpectedly on the 1st. He had previously selected another position, behind Pipe creek, for his battle-ground, and even on the 2d, after his arrival at Gettysburg, deliberated about withdrawing to the former position, and was probably prevented from doing so by the attack on our part.--See the testimony, of himself and others before the Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War, contained in the 1st vol. (2d series) of its report.
Your third proposition, that "the way in which the fights of the 2d of July were directed does not show the same coordination which ensured the success of the Southern arms at Gaines' Mill and Chancellorsville"--in which I understand you to mean by "co-ordination," co-operation and concert of action--has more of soundness in it. In the first place, it was intended by General Lee that the attack from his right flank on the enemy's left should commence at a very early hour on the morning of the 2d; that Hill should threaten the center with two of his divisions, and co-operate in Longstreet's attack with his right division; while Ewell was to make a demonstration upon the enemy's right, to be converted into a real attack should opportunity offer--that is, should success attend the attack on the enemy's left. That attack was not made until late in the afternoon, and, as a natural consequence, there could not be that co-operation that would have taken place had the attack been promptly made at the time expected. When Johnson, later in the day, attacked the enemy's right flank, and two of my brigades advanced to the crest of Cemetery Hill and got possession of the enemy's batteries, the divisions on my right that were to have co-operated did not move, and the enemy sent reinforcements from the part of the line against which those divisions ought to have advanced, which rendered it necessary for my brigades to retire. I have always thought that, if at the time Johnson's division and my two brigades became engaged the two divisions on m right had advanced promptly, we would have secured a lodgment on Cemetery Hill that would have ensured us the victory.
Again: On the 3d the attack from our right was to have been made at a very early hour by Pickett and the other two divisions of Longstreet's corps, while a simultaneous attack was to have been made from our left. Johnson, heavily reinforced for the purpose, begun the attack from our left at the proper time, but Longstreet again delayed until in the afternoon, and there was once more a failure of co-operation.
In regard to your fourth proposition, that General Lee, after the fight on the 2d, having found Meade's position very strong ought to have attempted "to turn it by the south, which was its weakest place, by extending his right so as to endanger Meade's communications with Washington," I have this to say: It would have been an exceedingly hazardous movement at best, in which we would have been exposed to attack under great disadvantage, as we would have had to move by flank on, I believe, but one road in the narrow strip of country between South mountain and Meade's position; and there would have been great danger of the capture or destruction of a large part of our trains. Look at the map of the country, if you have one, and recollect that we were on the north and west of Meade's position, which was really between us and Washington. In order to get near enough to Meade's line of communications with Washington to threaten it, we would have had to make a wide circuit, while he had the inner and shorter line. If we had undertaken to get between him and Washington, he could have retired to Westminster, from whence there was a railroad to Baltimore, or to some point on the Northern Central railroad, and have run into Washington by rail before we could have gotten half way there, if he had desired to do so. Or, taking a bolder course, he might have moved down by the way of Emmettsburg to Frederick, Md., where he would have been joined by 10,000 men under French, taken possession of the passes of South mountain, and thus been on the line of our communications. If we had moved on Washington, we would have been followed on our heels, and while we had the strong fortifications of that city in our front, we would have had Meade's army in our rear. In any event, we would have been in a most hazardous position, with no prospect of escape in case of a defeat, for we could not have gotten near enough to Meade's line of communications to endanger them without crossing the Monocacy and going at least as far as Taneytown, where we would have been out of reach of the passes of South mountain. This idea about our being able to threaten Meade's communications by extending our right on the Emmettsburg road, has grown out of an entire misapprehension of the topography of the country.
Your fifth proposition, that "The heroic but foolish attack of Pickett on the 3d, should never have been attempted," may now appear very plain in the light of what actually happened. We have in our country a homely saying of some backwoodsman, that, "If a man's foresight was as good as his hindsight he wouldn't so often go wrong," which has a vast deal of sound practical philosophy in it. You and I, with a full knowledge of the facts and circumstances attending any military movement, acquired by subsequent developments, may be able to perceive where mistakes were made; but how would it have been if we had been called on to direct that movement with only the knowledge possessed by him who did direct it?
I was at Gettysburg and participated in the first day's action--in fact, it was the arrival of my division, at an opportune moment, that made the defeat of the enemy so signal. This fight was not anticipated by General Lee, who had ordered the concentration of his army at the eastern base of the South mountain. The fight was brought on by the movement of two of A. P. Hill's divisions towards Gettysburg, for the purpose of ascertaining the strength of the enemy's force reported to be there, which was supposed to consist entirely of cavalry. Hill's divisions having become engaged, Ewell went to his assistance with his two divisions that were in reach, and the result was a brilliant success for our arms.
General Lee reached the part of the field where Hill was about the close of the action. Upon ascertaining the facts, and seeing a brilliant and decisive victory within his grasp, as all of us thought, he determined to give battle at that point. To have withdrawn without fighting would have been exceedingly dispiriting to the troops that had been engaged; and I venture to affirm that not a man of the entire force present lay down that night with any other expectation than that the next day would witness a crushing defeat of Meade's army. It was Gen. Lee's purpose to begin the battle at a very early hour next morning; but, by some untoward management on the part of the commander of the troops that were to open the attack, it did not begin until very late in the afternoon. It is very manifest to my mind, that if the attack from our right flank had been made at an early hour on the morning of the 2d, or, in fact, at any time in the forenoon of that day, we would have achieved the anticipated victory, for Meade's whole army had not then arrived, and the position on his left, which was assailed at 4 P. M., was not occupied by his troops until about 3 P.M. Nevertheless we gained advantages which produced the conviction that, by concerted action next day, we could still win the victory, and General Lee determined to make the attempt. There was good reason at the time to anticipate success from the proposed attack, if made at the time and in the manner designed.
You will observe from General Lee's report, already referred to, that the attack was to have been made by the whole of Longstreet's corps, and Ewell was to have assailed the enemy's right at the same time, for which latter purpose Johnson had been reinforced by two brigades from Rodes' division and one from mine. Johnson did become engaged about daybreak, the time, Ewell says, that had been designated for the combined attack. Had Longstreet's three divisions moved to the attack at the same time, while Hill had his three divisions ready to support that attack, I verily believe that it would have been successful; but there was again a great delay on our right, and the attack there did not begin until after 2 P. M. In the meantime, Johnson had been compelled to retire from the attack made by him, on account of the accumulation of forces against him, which ought to have been employed by the attacking force from our right. When the attack was made by Pickett's division, and the division and two brigades from Hill's corps, the victory for sometime hung in the balance, and our troops got into the enemy's lines, but were repulsed by reinforcements brought from the enemy's right, which could not have been spared if the attack had been simultaneous with that of Johnson. If this failure of co-operation had been anticipated, of course it would have been injudicious to order the attack; but there was no good reason at the time to expect any such failure. When any movement of any kind is attended with failure, it is a very easy thing to condemn it, and declare that it should never have been made; but in order to judge of the propriety of making the attacks on the 2d and 3d, we should consider the circumstances and conditions under which those attacks were ordered, and not merely their failure from other circumstances and conditions beyond the control of the Commander-in-Chief.
Gen. Longstreet's long delay on the 3d seems to have been based mainly on the idea that his right flank was in danger from a body of troops on the enemy's extreme left. By examining the testimony of Gen. Pleasanton before the Committee on the Conduct of the War, pages 359-60, same volume of the report already referred to, you will find that the troops threatening Longstreet's right were really only two brigades of cavalry, which were posted there to prevent Meade's left from being turned. Two divisions of infantry were used to keep off that force, when one brigade ought to have been amply sufficient.
From some communications made to Mr. Swinton by Gen. Longstreet after the war, and contained in the book of the former, you will find that Gen. Longstreet was strongly opposed to the attack on the enemy's position at Gettysburg, and foreboded the worst results from it. He did not, therefore, enter into those attacks with that spirit of confidence so necessary to success.
I have discussed the causes of our failure to achieve a victory at Gettysburg at length in a controversy that arose last year between Gen. Longstreet and myself, which was produced by an article published by him. I think I have pointed out in my replies to him the real causes of our failure, and will not now repeat the arguments used, but send you copies of my two articles. I regret that I have not also copies of his articles to send you, but the quotations I give from them will fully indicate the points at issue between us. You will observe that in my articles there is some causticity of expression, which was provoked by the character of the articles I was replying to. I now sincerely regret the necessity which called for the personal strictures contained in my replies, and would be glad if they could be eliminated. The facts, however, on which I rely are historic, and the arguments based on them are legitimate. I send you also a manuscript copy of a letter from Gen. A. L. Long, who was on Gen. Lee's staff at Gettysburg, received subsequently to the controversy between Longstreet and myself. The facts stated by Gen. Long tend very strongly to sustain my positions.
I must here take occasion to declare that I have never had and do not now have any suspicion of a want of fidelity on the part of Gen. Longstreet to the cause of the Confederacy at Gettysburg or at any other period of the war. I am willing to accord to him great merit as a fighter, but I think his efficiency on such an occasion as that at Gettysburg was materially impaired by a constitutional inertia, mental and physical, that very often delayed his readiness to fight. When once ready, and in the fight, he always fought well, and sometimes most brilliantly.
You may ask, if I am right in my view of the causes of our failure at Gettysburg, why it was that General Lee did not speak out and place the responsibility where it properly belonged? My reply would be, that it is difficult for one who did not know him personally to understand the wonderful magnanimity of character which induced General Lee often to take the chances of incurring censure himself rather than run the risk of doing possible injustice to another. Hence it was that he preferred to let the entire responsibility for the battle of Gettysburg and its failure rest on his shoulders, rather than attempt to screen himself by casting it upon one or more subordinates, for whose soldierly qualities he had respect, notwithstanding their short-comings on that occasion.
In connection with the battle of Gettysburg, I send you, besides the address and articles before mentioned, the official reports of Generals Longstreet and Ewell, as well as my own, in regard to that battle.
In conclusion, I must say that I do not regard the campaign in Pennsylvania as having resulted in such disastrous consequences to our arms as you seem to think attended them. It is true that we failed to win a great battle on the soil of Pennsylvania, but all the enemy's plans for the campaign in Virginia for that year were thwarted, and our army retired across the Potomac self-relying and defiant. When it confronted Meade for several days, near Hagerstown, Maryland, on the retreat he dared not attack it.
In the following autumn General Lee was able to detach one corps from the army, two divisions of which were sent to the assistance of Bragg's army in the southwest, and contributed materially to the victory of Chickamauga.
In the ensuing spring the Army of Northern Virginia was able to meet and cope with an army under Grant, originally of nearly if not quite thrice its numbers, which was also constantly receiving heavy reinforcements during a campaign of unsurpassed length and brilliancy. It finally succumbed, solely from exhaustion, resulting from the mere process of attrition, caused by constant contact with overwhelming numbers.
But for the simultaneous disasters in the southwest, the campaign in Pennsylvania would not have materially impaired the chances for success of the Confederacy.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully,
Your obedient servant,
J. A. Early.
Charlottesville, April 5th, 1876.
General J. A. Early:
Dear Sir: General Lee and staff arrived on the field at Gettysburg near the close of the battle on the afternoon of July 1st--soon after Anderson's division arrived, but too late to participate in the action. About the same time Longstreet arrived in person, leaving his troops a few miles behind.
The only troops that were on the ground were four divisions, which had just been engaged, and Anderson's division, which, in addition to a day's march, had just made a forced march from Cashtown.
While discussing the question of renewing the battle, General Lee directed me to reconnoitre the position to which the enemy had retired.
I found Cemetery Hill occupied by a considerable force, a part strongly posted behind a stone fence near its crest, and the rest on the reverse slope.
In my opinion an attack at that time, with the troops then at hand, would have been hazardous and of very doubtful success. After making my report no mention was made of a renewal of the attack that evening. The plan of battle was then decided upon for the ensuing day. I believe Longstreet was still on the field when I delivered my report. Two of his divisions bivouaced that night in four miles of the position he was to occupy the next day. When I sought my bivouac for the night, it was with the firm belief that the battle would be renewed early the next morning. As an evidence that General Lee anticipated an early commencement of the battle, he breakfasted and was in the saddle before it was fairly light. At that early hour, on visiting Hill's headquarters, every thing exhibited signs of preparation for action.
General Lee directed me to assist Colonel Walker in disposing of the artillery of Hill's corps, and afterward to examine and correct, if necessary , the position of the artillery on other parts of the line. I understood the plan of battle to be, that Longstreet, on the right, should commence the attack, while Hill, in the center, and Ewell, on the left, should cooperate by a vigorous support.
On reaching Hill's position, about sunrise, I discovered that there had been considerable accession to the enemy's force on Cemetery Hill during the night; but it was chiefly massed to his right, leaving much of his center and almost his entire left unoccupied.
When calling the attention of Colonel Walker to the importance of occupying a ridge springing obliquely from the right of Hill's position, and extending in a direct line towards Round Top mountain, General Pendleton offered his services to Walker; and I proceeded to our left, more than a mile, on the opposite side of Gettysburg. As I examined the position of the artillery on the left, I momentarily expected to hear the guns on the right announce the opening of the battle. As the morning advanced I became anxious lest the delay might lose us the opportunity of defeating the enemy in detail.
When returning to the right, I found General Lee at Ewell's headquarters, on the outskirts of Gettysburg, and accompanied him through the town anal along Hill's line. On arriving at the point where I left Walker a few hours before, the ridge to which his attention had been called in the morning was still unoccupied; but as this ground was to be the position of Longstreet's corps, and as the withdrawal of troops for its occupation from the corps already in position would change the order of battle, and might produce disastrous consequences by precipitating the attack before the arrival of Longstreet's troops, its occupation was therefore delayed until the occurrence of that event. It was now about ten o'clock, and the Federals had considerably increased in numbers and extended their left.
Perceiving the great value of time, General Lee's impatience became so urgent that he proceeded in person to hasten the movement of Longstreet. He was, however, met on the way with the welcome tidings that Longstreet's troops were in motion. Finding a convenient point, General Lee waited a reasonable time for Longstreet to reach his destination, and then set out to meet him, but, on arriving at the point of action, it was found that Longstreet was still absent. While waiting a Federal sergeant was captured, who was found, on examination, to belong to a division which had taken position in the peach orchard at the further end of the ridge before mentioned.
It was now apparent that the advantage of position had been lost by delay, and the enemy had been permitted to concentrate a greater part of his forces. It was now after one o'clock, and General Lee's impatience again urged him to go in quest of Longstreet. After proceeding about a mile, we discovered Hood's division at a halt; it was said, waiting for McLaws, whose division had taken a wrong direction. It was four o'clock before Longstreet was in position to attack.
I here conclude a brief and I hope impartial statement, from which you may make your own deductions.
Very respectfully, &c.,
(Signed) A. L. Long.
Letter from General Fitz. Lee.
Richland, Stafford Co., Va.,
March 5th, 1877.
Rev. J. Wm. Jones,
Secretary Southern Historical Society:
My Dear Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter enclosing a copy of a communication from ---- in which he requests information to be used in a forthcoming work, upon certain points connected with the battle of Gettysburg.
Upon them he expresses his convictions is follows: "At present, as far as my studies of this period go, my opinion on the question is this: The mistakes which brought upon the Confederate arms the repulse at Gettysburg, with its fatal consequences, were the following:
"1st. It was a mistake to invade the Northern States at all, because it stirred up their military spirit. The best chance of the Confederacy was the pecuniary exhaustion of the North, and not the exhaustion of its resources in men. The invasion was the death blow to what has been called the Copperhead party. It called under arms thousands of men who would never have enrolled otherwise, and who became experienced soldiers in '64'; and, moreover, it diminished for one or two years the resisting powers of the Confederate army.
"2d. If the invasion was to be undertaken, only raiding parties should have been sent until the Army of the Potomac should have been defeated. It was a great mistake to bring her on the Northern soil, where she fought ten times better than in Virginia. A real invasion, viz: the establishment of the Confederate army in Pennsylvania, with its communications well secured, was an impossibility as long as the Federal army was not crushed. The proof is, that as soon as the latter began to move, Lee, who had undertaken nothing but a raid on a too large scale, found himself so much endangered, that he was obliged to fight an offensive battle on the ground where Meade chose to wait for him. He ought to have manoeuvred in Virginia so as to bring, on a battle before crossing the Potomac.
"3d. The way in which the fights of the 2d of July were directed does not show the same co-ordination which insured the success of the Southern arms at Gaines' Mill and Chancellorsville.
"4th. I do not understand why Lee, having gained some success on the 2d, but found the Federal position very strong, did not attempt to turn it by the south, which was its weak place, by extending his right so as to endanger Meade's communications with Washington.
"5th. The heroic but foolish attack of Pickett on the 3d should never have been made. Longstreet seems to think that it was imposed upon him against his will by Lee. General Early says distinctly, in a paper published by the Southern Historical Society that Longstreet deferred it so long that the Second corps could not co-operate with it as it would have done had the attack taken place early in the morning. I hesitate very much between these two opinions."
I respond seriatim, and as concisely as I can, to his questions.
To the first and second, I may say, as far as I know and believe, the invasion of the North, at the time referred to resulted from four reasons, viz: 1st. The difficulties lying in the path of an attack upon the Federal arm in its chosen position in this (Stafford) county after Chancellorsville. 2d. The desire to manoeuvre it to a safer distance from the Confederate capital. 3d. The knowledge that a decisive battle fought in Maryland or Pennsylvania would in all probability have given us the former State with large accessions to our ranks from a sympathizing population, while Washington, the capital of our opponents, would have necessarily fallen--a prize the moral effect of which cannot be overestimated. I believe it was General Lee's original plan to strike the Federal army at the most favorable point as soon as he heard they had crossed the Potomac, and not so far from his base as Gettysburg; indeed he said so, but the absence of his cavalry, under Stuart, prevented its movements and the time of its crossing from being definitely known to him. In the language of the official report of the Commander of our army, we find it stated that "'the movements of our army preceding the battle of Gettysburg had been much embarrassed by the absence of cavalry." And again: "It had not been intended to deliver a general battle so far from our base unless attacked, but coming unexpectedly upon the whole Federal. army, to withdraw through the mountains with our extensive trains would have been difficult and dangerous." Finally, in the fourth place: The great relief to this country the withdrawal of the Federal army would have caused, as well as the immense relief given to the Commissary of the Confederate States, by the absence of the Army of Northern Virginia from the soil of Virginia--the question of supplies for man and beast being even at that time a troublesome one.
I fully agree with ---- in his opinion, expressed in his third declaration, as to a want of co-operation during the battle of the 2d July, 1863. I am decidedly of the opinion that the failure of co-operative effort, so visible upon that day, was the result of the different degrees of promptness with which General Lee's orders for attack were carried out by his subordinate commanders. It is difficult to conceive why, with two out of the three army corps of the Army of Northern Virginia in close contact with the enemy's position on the night of the 1st July, and two thirds of the remaining corps in camp only four miles in rear, an attack upon the Federal force, not yet wholly concentrated on the 2d, but whose numbers were hourly growing stronger and whose position was hourly rendered more impregnable by the work of thousands of men, should have been delayed until 4 P. M.
I am satisfied that any military man, reading the sworn testimony of the leading Federal participants in that battle, before the Committee of Congress on the Conduct of War, would agree in the conclusion I have reached, that an attack made upon the Federal position at Gettysburg, any time before 12 o'clock on the morning of July 2d, 1863, would have embraced many elements of success; and from all I have heard and believe, such an attack was ordered.
In noticing, the fourth and fifth proposition submitted, I begin by quoting Gen. Lee's official report, in which he says: "The result of this day's (2d) operations induced the belief that with proper concert of action (rather a confession of its absence the day before) and with the increased support that position gained on the right would enable the artillery to render the assaulting columns, we should ultimately succeed, and it was accordingly determined to continue the attack."
The general plan of that attack was unchanged. Ewell, commanding on the extreme left, promptly attacked the enemy's right on the morning of the 3d, with Johnson's division of his corps, reinforced with two of Rodes', and one of Early's brigades, but was driven back and forced to retire to his original position about one in the afternoon; and here I quote General Lee's report: "The projected attack on the enemy's left not having been made, he was enabled to hold his right with a force largely superior to General Johnson's." General Lee adds, though, that this attack "was delayed by a force occupying the high rocky hill on the enemy's extreme left." When at last it was made, the attacking column consisted of Pickett's and Heth's divisions, the latter under Pettigrew, (Heth having been wounded two days before). Behind Pickett's right marched Wilcox's brigade, and Pettigrew's support consisted of Lane's and Scales', brigadiers under General Trimble. This force moved to the attack some two hours after the cessation of the attempt by Ewell upon the enemy's right, and not coexistent with it, as contemplated. It has been said by military critics that General Lee did not make this assault in a column--charging beneath the eyes, as it were, of two armies, upon which their fate and the fate of their respective nations trembled--strong enough. Without going into that, I may say, the point in the enemy's lines to be seized was most admirably selected, and could it have been successfully held their line would undoubtedly have been forced back, General Meade, the Federal commander, admitting it was the key to his position. The prosecution of the attack on our part upon the 3d, was not in accordance, I believe, with the sound judgment of General Lee, though he admits a belief that it might have succeeded. He told the father of the writer (his brother) that he was controlled too far by the "great confidence felt in the splendid fighting qualities of his people,' and who begged simply "to be turned loose," and the assurances of most of his higher officers, who believed the position in his front could be carried.
I think our trouble was in not making proper allowance for the great natural strength of the Federal position, immeasurably increased by the thousands of hands unweariedly working with but short intervals from the night of the 1st to the afternoon of the 3d, and defended by an army outnumbering ours by some 30,000 soldiers. I am inclined to the opinion that after the 2d no assault we could have made would have succeeded, however wisely the dispositions for it were executed--however gallantly performed. I do not see either, how, in such close proximity to a largely superior force--skirmish line against skirmish line--" General Lee could have extended his right so as to endanger Meade's communications with Washington," as suggested by ----. He would have exposed himself to an attack in turn which might have proved fatal--an examination of military history showing such moves can be rarely made, save when superior to your enemy in numbers and protected by favorable ground. After the night of the 2d the alternatives presented to General Lee were to await an attack by the enemy, to attack him, or withdraw from his immediate front in the direction of his own rear.
And now, having answered the questions asked, I hope you will pardon me if I go further and say that if I should he asked "to what can the failure of that campaign on our part be properly attributed," I should answer: 1st. The absence of General Stuart's cavalry from the army. 2d. The non-occupation of the hills south of Gettysburg by General Ewell on the afternoon of the 1st July, 1863. 3d. To the delay in the attack upon the 2d.
Let me turn your mind briefly to the two first, the third having already been commented upon. It is evident that General Stuart was ordered to give information of the enemy's crossing the Potomac, or why did General Lee loiter after crossing his army and wait to hear from him? Without orders it was his duty to do so as commander of his cavalry. The advance of the Army of Northern Virginia, under Ewell, entered Pennsylvania on the 22d of June. The Federal army crossed the Potomac on the 25th and 26th.
General Lee heard of that event on the night of the 28th June through a scout. Up to that period he thought their army was still in Virginia, because he had heard nothing from Stuart. Knowing as I do Stuart's strict attention to forwarding all species of information, I am bound to believe he did not fail to send the notice of this important fact. It may have miscarried. It has been charged that Stuart disobeyed orders in crossing his command at a lower point on the Potomac than that at which the Federals crossed, and making the circuit which interposed the army of the enemy between his command and the force of General Lee. I deny that. I know that he was left to the exercise of his own discretion. Indeed, Gen. Lee says in his report, that "in the exercise of the discretion given him, when Longstreet and Hill crossed into Maryland, General Stuart determined to pass around the rear of the Federal army with three brigades and cross the Potomac between it and Washington."
Free to act, I think the move selected was not the best under the circumstances. As soon as the Federal army began to cross the river, he should have marched to the west side of the Blue Ridge, crossed also, and moving rapidly to General Lee's front, have placed himself at once in direct communication with him. His bold activity would have developed the enemy's position, which, General Lee being no longer in ignorance of, could then have made his plans accordingly. In that event the battle would not in all probability have taken place at Gettysburg,
In justice to Stuart, it may be said that he had calculated upon the brigade of Jenkins and White's battalion of cavalry, which accompanied Generals Ewell and Early, and Jones' and Robertson's brigades, which were left to guard the passes of the Blue Ridge, and were to rejoin General Lee as soon as the enemy crossed the river, to do all that was necessary. The brigade of General Jenkins, Stuart estimated at 3,800 troopers when leaving Virginia, and, referring to the complaint of the Commanding-General of a want of cavalry upon that occasion, says: "Properly handled such a command should have done every thing requisite." In reference to the second point I have taken, there is evidence that a staff officer of General Lee carried an order to General Ewell on the afternoon of the 1st of July, that from where he, General Lee, was, he could see the enemy flying over the heights; to push on and occupy them. But in his official report of the operations of that day, General Lee says: "General Ewell was instructed to carry the hill occupied by the enemy if he found it practicable, but to avoid a general engagement until the arrival of the other divisions of the army;" and that Ewell "decided to wait for Johnson's division," of his corps, to get up, which had been left behind to guard the trains, and "did not reach Gettysburg until a late hour," and "in the meantime the enemy occupied the point which General Ewell designed seizing." At the beginning of the war I occupied the position of chief of star to General Ewell, and bear too much love for his heroic memory to say more than that I believe a little more marching, perhaps a little more fighting, would have given us the coveted position, and that in such an event the battle of Gettysburg would have had another name, and possibly another result--who knows?
It must be borne in mind, however, that at the time of these operations, I was only a general officer of cavalry, serving under Stuart. My brigade accompanied his movement, and I did not reach Gettysburg until the afternoon of the 2d July, going into line on the extreme left of our army, and fighting the enemy's cavalry in my front on the third.
My personal knowledge of these events, which I fear I have criticized too freely, is not worth much. As a soldier and a graduate of the United States Military Academy, I have, however, formed my own opinions upon the important battle of Gettysburg, based upon conversations with other officers, including the Commanding-General himself, and the perusal of official reports and histories of both sides.
Among the soldiers now living, and who are accessible, and who know most about that campaign on our side, are Lieutenant-Generals Longstreet, Hood, Anderson and Early, and Major-Generals McLaws, Heth, Wilcox and Trimble; General Pendleton, chief of artillery; Generals Kemper, Lane and Scales; and Colonels Taylor, Marshall and Venable, of General Lee's staff.
Were I writing history, I should like to have the opinions of these officers upon this subject, from which, with the official reports in my possession, I would of course draw and write my own conclusions.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Letter from Colonel William Allan, of Ewell's Staff.
Owings' Mill, Baltimore County, MD.,
April 26th, 1877.
Rev. J. W. Jones, D. D.
My Dear Sir: The questions asked in the letter of ---- of January 21st, 1877, in regard to Gettysburg, are more or less fully discussed in my article on Gettysburg in the Southern Review, April, 1868. The views therein expressed as to the motives, policy, conduct and results of that campaign, I have reason to know agreed substantially with those of General Lee. I have procured a copy of the Review, corrected the errors and misprints, and sent it to ----, through the address in Philadelphia you gave me. I will add a few notes here:
1st. ---- thinks it was "a mistake to invade the Northern States at all" in 1863. There were undoubted evils in such a course as ---- clearly states, but he leaves out of view the fact that only a "choice of evils" existed for an army greatly inferior in numbers and resources in the presence of a powerful adversary--an adversary severely checked, it is true, at Chancellorsville, but with ample means of quickly repair in his losses, with absolute command of the water, and the consequent power to penetrate Virginia in half a dozen places whenever he chose to do so. It was impossible to attack Hooker at Fredericksburg, when he was only 10 or 12 miles from his base on the water. As Lee moved northward Hooker kept his forces in front of Washington, and so near it as to offer no opportunity to his antagonist. It was only after Lee had crossed the Potomac and excited apprehension in regard to one or more of the large Northern cities that he could get the Federal army far enough away from its base, or from fortified lines, to attack it. His march diverted their campaign from a movement against Richmond to the defense of Washington, and at the same time brought him within reach of ample supplies. But suppose Lee had remained at Fredericksburg on the strict defensive. This was to lose the results of the advantages gained at Chancellorsville. It was to yield a large part of the best grain producing portions of Virginia to the enemy. In a few weeks the Federal army would have been ready to move against him. His position could be easily turned because of the Federal command of the water. It was possible for the Federal army at anytime to establish itself by means of the James or York rivers within a few miles of Richmond, as Grant did subsequently, and by the operations of a siege, slowly, but surely, to compass the downfall of the Confederate capital. The Federal army had been twice beaten in attempting to advance from Fredericksburg. It was not probable that they would try that again, and Lee would probably have soon been forced to the vicinity of Richmond. The question is not whether there were serious objections to crossing the Potomac, but whether these were greater than those to remaining inactive on the Rappahannock.
2d. ---- thinks Hooker should have been defeated on the south side of the Potomac, before the Confederates crossed that river. This would have been better, of course, had it been practicable; but the Federal General was able to concentrate nearly 100,000 men at Gettysburg, while it retained 36,000 for the defense of Washington, and as many more, under Schenck, with headquarters at Baltimore. Half of these last commands might have been made available in case of necessity, and new levies were being brought in rapidly. How was General Lee, with a force of under 70,000 in his entire department, to defeat Hooker so long as the latter remained in the vicinity of Washington? To wait was to allow him to gather all the strength he wished. The movement northward was never intended as a permanent invasion. One of its objects was to so embarrass the Federal army by threatening not merely one city but several, as to obtain opportunities for partial blows.
3d. ---- says that the fights of July 2d does not show the same co-ordination which insured to the Confederates success at Gaines' Mill and Chancellorsville. This is entirely true. For some reason, or perhaps from a combination of reasons, the Confederate attacks at Gettysburg on the 2d and 3d days were all halting and partial. The Confederate line was a long one, and the perfect co-operation in the attack needed to prevent Meade, whose line was short, from using the same troops at more than one point, was difficult of attainment.
Two of the corps commanders (Ewell and Hill) were new in their place. Longstreet's attack on the Federal left on the 2d was delayed beyond the expected time, and was not promptly seconded by Hill and Ewell when made. Ewell's divisions were not made to act in concert-- Johnson, Early, Rodes attacking in succession. It is difficult to decide where the weight of responsibility for these failures rests, and I shall not attempt it. General Lee always expressed the strongest conviction that if the Confederate corps had attacked General Meade simultaneously on either day, he would have succeeded in overthrowing the Federal army. He declared that "victory trembled in the balance" up to the final repulse of Pickett, and that a united effort, at any hour, would have secured it. He said once to me that he had used every effort to obtain the necessary concert of action, but had failed. He said that he consulted Ewell, and told him if he could not carry his part of the line, he would move his corps to the right of Longstreet and threaten the Federal communications with Baltimore, but upon the statement of Generals Ewell and Ed. Johnson that the positions in their fronts could be carried, he did not chance his plan. Assured of his ability to carry the Federal lines, and having gained decided successes on both the 1st and 2d days, it is easy to see why Lee, instead of drawing off and changing his mode of attack, should devote all his energies to a supreme effort with his entire army. He urged concert of action on the 3d; but Johnson's division fought and suffered in the morning alone, and Pickett's attack in the afternoon was unsupported. There was nothing "foolish" in Pickett's attack had it been executed as designed. Pickett carried the works before him. Had Pettigrew and Wilcox moved with him, and Hill and Ewell vigorously seconded this onset, General Lee never doubted that the Federal army would have been ruined. It was this great prize, which he believed within his grasp, that induced him to fight the battle as he did, and not to adopt the more cautious plan of merely manoeuvreing Meade away from his position by threatening his communications. General Lee did not consider the Federal position at Gettysburg stronger than many others that army had occupied; and the testimony of Butterfield and others shows that General Meade did not rate it highly. The notion of its great strength has grown up since the battle.
It should not be forgotten that a general battle was not in Lee's design in going into Pennsylvania. He repeatedly stated that in consequence of the absence of Stuart with the cavalry he was unaware of the near proximity of the Federal army, and when Hill reported a large force of infantry in his front on July 1st, did not believe it. It was only the fight of that afternoon that convinced him that Meade was near at hand, and he then deemed it injudicious to decline battle. The Confederates would probably have been successful:
1st. Had Ewell and Hill pushed Howard's broken troops over the top of Cemetery Hill on the first day.
2d. Had Longstreet reached the field earlier on the second day and secured and held "Round Top."
3d. Had Ewell made his attack in the afternoon of the second at same time as Longstreet, instead of later,.and then not "piecemeal," so that Early was beaten back before Rodes was ready to support him.
4th. Had Longstreet and Hill attacked early on the third, as was first designed, while Ewell was engaged.
5th. Had Ewell and Hill made one prompt and determined effort in support of Pickett at the
Very truly yours,
Memorandum by Colonel Walter H. Taylor, of General Lee's Staff.
---- shares the opinion that the Confederate cause was not a lost cause from the beginning, and seeks with great care to find out why it did not succeed.
The solution to this point, in my judgment, is summed up in the simple sentence: Paucity of men and of resources. Other considerations are involved in a determination of the question, could the war have been further prolonged? but given an earnest determination on the part of a united North to prosecute the war to a successful issue, and ultimate success was certain. Consider the census of the United States, 1860. Excluding Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri, the States that entered the Confederacy had a white population of a little over 5,000,000; whereas those that sustained the United States Government had 19,000,000. Then reflect that the South had no navy, its ports were blockaded, and intercourse with the outside world interdicted. Under such circumstances it is remarkable that the South maintained itself so long as it did.
---- asserts that the Army of Northern Virginia when it invaded Pennsylvania was more powerful than it had ever been before. As a question of numbers, this is an error. The field returns of the army of the 31st May, 1863, show General Lee's total effectives to have been a few hundred over sixty-eight thousand (68,000).
I have a copy of this return, which I made from the original now in the war office at Washington. He received no reinforcements, and this was the maximum of General Lee's strength in the Pennsylvania campaign.
Ewell's corps had some fighting with Milroy in the Valley; the cavalry had considerable skirmishing east of the mountains before crossing the Potomac; made the circuit of the Federal army on the other side; had more fighting and incessant hard riding until the evening of the 2d of July, second day's fight, when it joined General Lee. The infantry was reduced by the guards left on the Virginia side to protect captured property and escort prisoners, and of all arms General Lee had not at Gettysburg over 62,000 men. On his return to Virginia he had but 49,000, showing, a loss of 19,000 from all causes and in the whole campaign.--See return of 20th July, 1863.
The argument of ----, that it was a mistake to invade the Northern States "because it stirred up the military spirit of the people, was a deathblow to the Copperhead party, and diminished the resisting powers of the South," is plausible enough, since we lacked success at Gettysburg; but had we accomplished as much as was reasonably hoped for, how different it would have been! Looking to the pecuniary exhaustion of the North, spoken of by ----, a decided success for the Confederates in Pennsylvania would have exerted a powerful influence on the Federal finances. Then, again, even as matters resulted, so far from diminishing, the resisting powers of the South for one or two years, it freed Virginia of the presence of the Federals for a time and threw them back one year.
General Grant found the Army of the Potomac in May, 1864, pretty much where it was in the spring of the previous year.
The design of General Lee in invading the Northern States was to free Virginia of the presence of the enemy--to transfer the theatre of war to the enemy's country, and to take the reasonable chance of defeating his adversary there--knowing full well that to obtain an advantage there over the enemy would operate more powerfully in our favor than to discomfit him in Virginia.
He sought an encounter with his opponents but upon his own terms as to time and place. He justly felt great confidence in his army, and hoped to select a favorable position, where he could receive the attack which the enemy would be compelled to make, and from which, if successful, he could seriously threaten the Federal capital. The condition of the army at this time was excellent; never was I so impressed by its morale as when the two corps of Hill and Longstreet passed through Chambersburg.
Now as to the battle itself. The first great disadvantage experienced by General Lee was the unexpected absence of his cavalry. Certain discretionary power had to be left with General Stuart as to where he would cross the Potomac. It was arranged that the movements of the enemy and his own judgment should determine this, but he was to connect at once with General Lee, keep on his flank. and advise him of the enemy's movements. After crossing the river General Stuart consumed some time in pursuing and capturing a train of wagons, and when he turned to join the main column of the army, he found that General Hooker had interposed between him and General Lee, and so was compelled to make the circuit of the Federal Army. He did not join General Lee until the evening of the second of July. On approaching Gettysburg, where General Lee had directed a concentration of his army, a force of the enemy was encountered near that town by the advance of Hill's corps on the 1st of July. This was the first intimation that General Lee received of the proximity of the enemy's infantry. The first encounter was unexpected. Hill's troops became engaged; Ewell, whose orders were to concentrate at Cashtown or Gettysburg, heard the firing and turned towards Gettysburg. His advanced divisions--Rodes' and Early's--became engaged. The engagement now involved two of Hill's divisions and two of Ewell's--all of both corps then up. The result was a success of no small proportions to the Confederates. On the side of the enemy two corps were then eased besides Buford's cavalry. The forces were about balanced in strength as to infantry--22,000 to 24,000 each. The -maximum average of Lee's divisions was 6,000 each--24,000--but at this date the four divisions had not over 22,000 present. *(*Chief of Staff, Army of the Potomac.) General Butterfield testified that the First and Eleventh Federal corps had 24,000 on 10th of June.--Page 428, vol. 1, Conduct of the War.
General Lee directed close pursuit. We should have occupied the heights that evening. I took the order to General Ewell to press the enemy and secure the heights if possible.
Later, General Lee rode over to General Ewell's front and conferred as to the future movements. He wanted to follow up the success gained; thought that with Johnson's division, then up, that General Ewell could go forward at dawn next day. Ewell, Early and Rodes thought it best to await Longstreet's arrival, and make the main attack on the enemy's left. This was determined on. Longstreet was then about four miles off, with two of his divisions. He was expected early on the morning, of the 2d. Orders were sent him to move up to gain the Emmettsburg road. He did not reach the field early, and his dispositions were not completed for attack until four o'clock in the afternoon. In his report, General Longstreet says he received orders to move with the portion of his command that was then up, to gain the Emmettsburg road on the enemy's left, but fearing that he was too weak to attack, he delayed until one of his brigades (Laws') joined its division, and that he begun the movement as soon after its arrival as his preparations could be made. It seemed impossible to get the co-operation of the commanders along the line. When Longstreet did attack, he did it in handsome style--drove the enemy and captured prisoners, artillery and other trophies.
So far we had succeeded in every encounter with the enemy. It was thought that a continuance of the attack as made by Longstreet offered promise of success. He was ordered to renew the fight early on the 3d; Ewell was to co-operate. Ewell ordered Johnson to attack at an early hour, anticipating that Longstreet would do the same. Longstreet delayed. He found that a force of the enemy, occupying high ground on their left, would take his troops in reverse as they advanced.
Longstreet was then visited by General Lee, and they conferred as to the mode of attack. It was determined to adhere to the plan of attack by Longstreet; and to strengthen him for the movement, he was to be reinforced by Heth's division and two brigades of Pender's, of Hill's corps. These, with his three divisions, were to attack. Longstreet made his dispositions and General Lee went to our centre to observe movements. The attack was not made as designed. Pickett's division, Heth's division, and two brigades of Pender's division advanced. Hood and McLaws were not moved forward. There were nine divisions in the army; seven were quiet, while two assailed the fortified line of the enemy. A. P. Hill had orders to be prepared to assist Longstreet further if necessary. Anderson, who commanded one of Hill's divisions, was in readiness to respond to Longstreet's call, made his dispositions to advance, but General Longstreet told him it was of no use--the attack had failed.
Had Hood and McLaws followed or supported Picket, and Pettigrew and Anderson have been advanced, the design of the Commanding-General would have been carried out--the world would not be so at a loss to understand what was designed by throwing forward, unsupported, against the enemy's stronghold, so small a portion of our army. Had General Lee known what was to happen, doubtless he would have manoeuvred to force General Meade away from his strong position by threatening his communications with the east, as suggested by ----; but he felt strong enough to carry the enemy's lines, and I believe success would have crowned his plan had it been faithfully carried out.
As previously stated, I obtained access to the Archives of the War Department, U. S. A., and have taken copies of the original returns of our army. On the 31st May our effective strength as 68,352; but one brigade, Pettigrew's, joined the army after this, and to offset Pettigrew, Corse's brigade, of Pickett's division, with one regiment of North Carolina troops (of Pettigrew's brigade), remained at Hanover Junction.
Pickett had but three of his brigades at Gettysburg. I am sure that the causes already mentioned reduced General Lee's effective strength at Gettysburg, including Stuart's cavalry, to sixty-two thousand (62,000) men. Perhaps I had better go more into detail. The return alluded to is the nearest to the invasion--indeed made but a few days before the army advanced. The strength of the several arms was as follows: Infantry, 54,356; cavalry, 9,536; artillery, 4,460; of all arms, 68,352.
At the time of that return the army was divided into but two corps or wings--one under Longstreet, and the other--Jackson's old corps--under A. P. Hill. The former embraced four divisions--McLaws', Anderson's, Pickett's and Hood's; and the latter the same number, viz: A. P. Hill's, Early's, Rodes' and Johnson's.
Just before we advanced the army was reorganized into three corps--the First, under Longstreet; Second, under Ewell; and Third, under A. P. Hill. The First corps embraced the divisions of McLaws, Pickett and Hood; the Second those of Early, Rodes and Johnson; and the Third those of Anderson, Heth and Pender.
The last two divisions of Hill's corps were formed by adding Pettigrew's brigade, which had just then joined the army, and Davis' Mississippi brigade (formed for him by bringing together Mississippi regiments from mixed brigades), to the six which constituted A. P. Hill's old division, and dividing the eight into two divisions of four brigades each. The army remained the same as to brigades, except Pettigrew's, as before mentioned, and received no additional reinforcements from any source. On the 20th July, 1863, after our return, the army numbered 41,388 effective, exclusive of the cavalry, of which no report is made in the return last mentioned. Allowing 7,612 a fair estimate for the cavalry, and the effective total of the army on the 20th July, 1863, was 49,000--showing a loss of 19,000 in the campaign.
Concerning the strength of the Federal army, General Meade testified before the Committee on the Conduct of the War that he had a little under 100,000 men in action. He also said that when he assumed command of the army, from returns, showed him, he ascertained its strength to be 105,000, including the 10,000 under General French at Harper's Ferry. General Hooker, who was relieved but a few days before the battle, on the 27th of June telegraphed to General Halleck: "My whole force of enlisted men for duty will not exceed 105,000." This would make his effective total (officers and men) fully 112,000. This communication was sent to General Halleck by wire, and received at 9 o'clock A. M. Later in the day he telegraphed from Sandy Hook concerning the troops at Harper's Ferry: "I find 10,000 men here in condition to take the field," &c. This dispatch was received by General Halleck at 2:55 P. M. It is evident that General Meade was in error in supposing that the returns showing the 105,000 enlisted men of the Army of the Potomac included the 10,000 at Harper's Ferry. Including the latter, General Meade had 115,000 to 122,000 men under his command. He ordered General French to Frederick with 7,000 men from Harper's Ferry to protect his communications, and thus made available a like number of the Army of the Potomac who would otherwise have been detached for this service. I put the Army of Northern Virginia at *62,000 (*Infantry, 50,000; Cavalry, 8,000; Artillery, 4,000--62,000.), and the Army of the Potomac at 105,000, effective, at Gettysburg, and believe these figures nearly correct.
Walter H. Taylor,
Late Adj't-Gen'l of the Army of Northern Va., C. S. A.
(Source: Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. 4, pages 49-87)