STUART'S CAVALRY IN THE GETTYSBURG
A Reply to the Letter of Col. John S. Mosby, Published in
the Richmond, Va., Times-Dispatch, January 30, 1910.
By Col. T. M. R. TALCOTT, Major and Aide-de-Camp to General R. E.
Lee, 1862 and 1863, and later Colonel, First Regiment
Engineer Troops, A. N. V.
Richmond, Va., March 7, 1910.
Editor of The Times-Dispatch:
The avowed purpose of Colonel Mosby's book was to prove that General Stuart was not in any way responsible for the failure of the Gettysburg Campaign, and to do this it was necessary that he should prove that the movements of General Stuart were in accordance with his instructions.
General Lee states, in his official reports of the Gettysburg Campaign, that he was embarrassed by the unexpected absence of the cavalry under General Stuart, from which it is inferred that Stuart did not act in accordance with General Lee's instructions to him; and to meet this difficulty Colonel Mosby denies the authenticity of the reports, and holds them up to ridicule as the productions of a staff officer, to which General Lee affixed his signature without reading or having them read to him.
After all of his contention that General Stuart "obeyed orders," Colonel Mosby, in assailing the
accuracy of General Lee's reports, practically gives up his case when he says in his publication in
your issue of January 30th:
"There is not a word in the instructions to Stuart, although the report says so, about his being left
to guard the passes of the mountain, or harass and impede the enemy, should he attempt to cross
the Potomac, for the plain reason that he was expected to cross in advance of the enemy and
move on into Pennsylvania with Ewell." (Italics mine.)
Colonel Mosby here admits that Stuart was to cross the Potomac with three brigades, "in advance of the enemy and move into Pennsylvania with Ewell," and not, as he has heretofore insisted, "to move into Pennsylvania and join Ewell on the Susquehanna."
What Stuart understood to be his instructions with reference to the two brigades left in Virginia can best be seen by referring to the orders he transmitted to the commanding officer of these brigades, which were as follows: "Your object will be to watch the enemy; deceive him as to our designs, and harass his rear if you find him retiring. Be always on the alert; let nothing escape your observation, and miss no opportunity to damage the enemy. After the enemy has moved beyond your reach, leave pickets in the mountain gaps, withdraw to the west side of the Shenandoah, cross the Potomac and follow the army, keeping on its right and rear."
Stuart himself says that General Lee directed him, "after crossing to proceed with all dispatch to join the right of the army in Pennsylvania."
These two statements from General Stuart himself show clearly what he was instructed to do, but did not do with the cavalry, and fully justify General Lee in saying that "it was expected that as soon as the Federal Army should cross the Potomac General Stuart would give notice of its movements; and nothing having been heard from him since our entrance into Maryland, it was inferred that the enemy had not left Virginia." General Lee had a right to expect that he would be advised as soon as the enemy crossed the Potomac, and that all of Stuart's brigades would then be in the positions assigned them by his orders. Instead of that, Stuart and three of his best brigades were lost for the whole week, and, for all General Lee knew, were captured or destroyed; and the two brigades which should have been on his "right and rear" in Pennsylvania assured him by their absence that the enemy was still in their front, until July 1st, by which time Hill was fighting the head of Meade's Army at Gettysburg.
Colonel Mosby says that General Stuart left two brigades with Lee and Longstreet, and that therefore Lee had all the cavalry he needed in the absence of Stuart; but such was not the case. Stuart instructed them to take position on the right and rear of the army when the enemy left Virginia, which they failed to do; and in the light of events it cannot be doubted that Stuart erred in leaving General Robertson in command in Virginia, notwithstanding General Longstreet's suggestion that General Hampton should be left in command, and report to him. (See Longstreet's letter to Stuart of June 22d.) General Heth says "the eyes of the giant were out," but it was worse than that as regards the cavalry left in Virginia; for that visual organ of General Lee's Army made him see the enemy in Virginia, when they were not there.
This would have been less serious if Stuart had crossed the Potomac "in advance of the enemy," as Colonel Mosby says was expected of him, and taken position on Ewell's right. On the other hand, if Robertson's two bridges had been where they should have been, on the "right and rear" of the army in Pennsylvania, the absence of Stuart would have been, to some extent, compensated for, but the absence of both left General Lee without any cavalry between him and the enemy at the critical moment of the campaign, when General Meade changed the plans of General Hooker and was advancing rapidly towards Gettysburg. It was under these circumstances that, as General Heth says, General Lee showed great anxiety to know what had become of his cavalry.
Dr. McKim, in his address published in your issue of February 12th, has very ably met Colonel
Mosby's denial of the authenticity of General Lee's reports and his denial of statements in them;
but whether it is believed that his reports were authentic or not, there can be no question that
General Lee did attribute the failure of the Gettysburg Campaign in part to the absence of his
cavalry, for in a letter to William S. McDonald, in April, 1863, which was published in the
Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. VII, page 446, General Lee accounts for the failure at
Gettysburg and refers him to the official accounts, which is an assurance of the correctness of his
official reports, as follows:
"As to the Battle of Gettysburg, I must again refer you to the official accounts. Its loss was
occasioned by a combination of circumstances. It was commenced in the absence of correct
intelligence. It was continued in the effort to overcome the difficulties by which we were
surrounded, and it would have been gained could one determined and united blow have been
delivered by our whole line. As it was, victory trembled in the balance for three days, and the
battle resulted in the infliction of as great an amount of injury as was received and in frustrating
the Federal campaign for the season."
The evidence already before your readers is probably sufficient to enable them to determine the
truth for themselves; but there are several statements in Colonel Mosby's articles of January 30th
and February 27th that I cannot allow to pass unnoticed.
Colonel Mosby says:
"Colonel Taylor depends upon his imagination for his facts. I defy him to point out one word in
General Lee's letter to Stuart about keeping General Lee 'informed of the movements of the
It seems to me that this is a mere quibble on the part of Colonel Mosby, for the order to keep Ewell informed meant that he was to keep General Lee informed through Ewell, who was in command of the column with which he was ordered to move. He had been reporting through Longstreet south of the Potomac, and received Lee's instructions of June 22d through Longstreet, and he was to report through Ewell after he crossed the Potomac. The necessity for this was obvious. It kept the commander of the nearest troops informed of the enemy's movements as well as the Commanding General.
Colonel Mosby invites a similar challenge when he says: "On June 22d, General Lee had written Stuart to leave two brigades with him and to cross into Maryland with three brigades." Here Colonel Mosby interpolates into General Lee's instructions to Stuart the words "with him," for they cannot be found in the record. General Lee's instructions required that these two brigades should join him in Pennsylvania as soon as the enemy left Virginia; and it was unfortunate that these instructions were not complied with.
Colonel Stribling calls attention to the fact that it was the want of prompt information of this
change of plan by the Federal commander that caused Lee to fall back from before Harrisburg, for
"But on the 28th, General Hooker was displaced and General Meade placed in command of the
army. He immediately drew back the corps from Middletown to Fredericktown, so that they
might be prepared to join in the general advance of the whole army towards the Susquehanna, on
the east side of the mountain range, which advance was to be put in motion on the morning of the
29th. Of this change of arrangement, General Lee had no intimation until the two armies came
into collision near Gettysburg. Had he known that General Meade had withdrawn the corps from
Middletown on the 28th, as he should have known if his cavalry had been watching those gaps,
and was advancing as rapidly as possible east of the mountains as it advanced, the probabilities are
that he would not have ordered the concentration of his army east of the mountain, for he so
distinctly states: 'To deter him from advancing further west and intercepting our communications
with Virginia, it was determined to concentrate the army east of the mountains.'"
Again Colonel Mosby says:
"The letter of June 22d was sent to Longstreet, to be forwarded if he thought 'Stuart can be
spared from my (his) front.' Longstreet did forward the instructions, and, referring to General
Lee, said, 'He speaks of your leaving via Hopewell Gap (the Bull Run Mountain) and passing by
the rear of the enemy.' At the same time, Longstreet, who was at Millwood, wrote to General
Lee, 'Yours of 4 o'clock this afternoon received. I have forwarded your letter to General Stuart
with the suggestion that he pass by the enemy's rear if he thinks he may get through.' This was
notice to Lee of the route Stuart was to go. So the cavalry movements around Hooker's rear had
the approval in advance of both General Lee and General Longstreet."
Here again, as in his book, Colonel Mosby ignores General Lee's final instructions to General
Stuart of June 23d, when, as Dr. McKim has explained, the reason for Longstreet's suggestion
that Stuart should cross the Potomac, east of the Blue Ridge, no longer existed. In his letter to
The Richmond Dispatch of January 28, 1896, Colonel Mosby based his defense of General Stuart
on the instructions of General Lee of June 23d, and no reference was then made by him to any
previous instructions. Now again he quotes General Lee's letter of the 23d, to the omission of
which from his book his attention was called by me, and as to General Lee's final instructions to
Stuart, he says:
"They gave Stuart the alternative of coming over the ridge the next day, crossing the Potomac at Shepherdstown and then moving on over the South Mountain to Fredericktown; or he could pass around Hooker's rear.
"No discretion was given to Stuart to remain with the army in Virginia or join Ewell in
Pennsylvania, but discretion was given him to go by Shepherdstown, or cross in Hooker's rear at
Seneca. No matter which route he went he would be equally out of sight of the enemy and out of
communication with General Lee."
This statement is incomprehensible in view of the fact that had Stuart crossed at Shepherdstown on the 25th of June, as indicated by General Lee, he would have been with Ewell, who was never out of communication with General Lee; and if he had turned back when he encountered the enemy at Haymarket, he would, as Colonel Mosby says, have been at Shepherdstown on the evening of June 27th, within twenty-two miles of General Lee, who was at Chambersburg, and within fifty-five miles of Ewell, who was at Carlisle, and the way open to both places.
I have scrutinized very carefully General Lee's letters to General Stuart of the 22d and 23d of June, with a view to see how they should have been construed by General Stuart.
On June 22d General Lee wrote: "If you find that he (General Hooker) is moving northward, and that two brigades can guard the Blue Ridge and take care of your rear, you can move with the other three into Maryland and take position on General Ewell's right." In this letter it is clearly stated that Stuart's crossing into Maryland was required only in case the enemy was moving northward.
On the evening of June 23d, General Lee had evidently decided that it was time to send Stuart, with three brigades, to join Ewell, whether the Federal Army was moving northward or not, and he amended his instructions of the 22d as follows: "If General Hooker's army remains inactive you can leave two brigades to watch him, and withdraw with the three others."
Taking these two orders together we see that Stuart was instructed, on June 23d, to join Ewell with three brigades of cavalry without further delay, and without reference to whether General Hooker was or was not moving northward.
In his letter of June 23d, after giving General Stuart instructions to move at once to join General Ewell, General Lee further says: "But should he (General Hooker) not appear to be moving northward I think you had better withdraw this side of the mountain to-morrow night (June 24th), to cross at Shepherdstown next day, and move over to Fredericktown."
These were General Lee's final instructions to Stuart, but General Lee then goes on to say: "You will, however, be able to judge whether you can pass around their army without hindrance(italics mine), 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."
If I am right in this construction of General Lee's final instructions to him, General Stuart was going contrary to them when he left Rectortown on the night of June 24th, in his attempt to pass through Hooker's army while it was still inactive.
Neither General Lee nor General Longstreet seem to have contemplated Stuart's passing through
Hooker's army while it remained inactive; for they wrote only of his going around in rear of it, as
Stuart finally did. Was not this because they were hourly expecting Hooker's army to begin
moving northward, closing the gaps between the several corps, which would make an attempt to
pass through it abortive and cause the delay which actually occurred? for when Stuart
encountered Hancock's Corps at Haymarket, he first moved back to Buckland and then made a
wide detour through Fairfax County, which caused serious delay.
"Colonel Talcott also says that Hill and Heth did not know that the enemy held Gettysburg. If he
will read their reports he will see that they say they knew it."
What I said was that Colonel Mosby claimed "that Hill and Heth should bear the blame because they precipitated the battle by an unexpected collision with the enemy," and that "this might have been avoided if they had been informed of the movements of the Federal Army, of which they were ignorant because the cavalry were absent."
Since then we have seen in your Confederate Column, General Heth's account of how the collision occurred; and Colonel Mosby's reply thereto, in which he says that "Heth's story is contradicted by A. P. Hill, the Commander of the corps."
Here is what General A. P. Hill says in his official report:
On the morning of the 29th of June, the Third Corps, composed of the divisions of
Major-Generals Anderson, Heth and Pender, and five battalions of artillery, under the command
of Colonel R. L. Walker, was encamped on the road from Chambersburg to Gettysburg, near the
village of Fayetteville. I was directed to move on this road in the direction of York, and to cross
the Susquehanna, menacing the communications of Harrisburg with Philadelphia, and to
co-operate with General Ewell, acting as circumstances might require. Accordingly, on the 29th I
moved General Heth's division to Cashtown, some eight miles from Gettysburg, following on the
morning of the 30th with the division of General Pender, and directing General Anderson to move
in the same direction on the morning of the 1st of July. On arriving at Cashtown, General Heth,
who had sent forward Pettigrew's brigade to Gettysburg, reported that Pettigrew had encountered
the enemy at Gettysburg, principally cavalry, but in what force he could not determine. A courier
was then dispatched with this information to the General commanding, and to start Anderson
early; also to General Ewell, informing him, and that I intended to advance the next morning and
discover what was in my front."
The direct route between Cashtown and York was through Middletown, about eight miles, and Heidlesburg, about ten miles north of Gettysburg; and whether Hill was advancing toward York or Early was returning therefrom by this route, it was important to know what forceof the enemy was on their flank at Gettysburg. That a force was there was disclosed by Pettigrew's attempt to get shoes for his men. In the absence of the cavalry, the only way to find this out was to make reconnaisance in force; and Hill would have been unfit to command an army corps if he had not attempted to do this.
In order to understand the situation on the 30th, when General Pettigrew found the enemy in
Gettysburg, it will be necessary to locate General Ewell's corps, which we can do from his report
and Early's. General Ewell says:
"On the night of June 30th, Rodes' division, which I accompanied, was at Heidlesburg with
Colonel Brown's reserve artillery between Green Village and Scotland. At Heidlesburg I received
orders from the General commanding to proceed to Cashtown or Gettysburg, as circumstances
might dictate (italics mine), and a note f rom General A. P. Hill, saying he was at Cashtown.
Next morning I moved with Rodes' division towards Cashtown, ordering Early to follow by
General Early says in his report:
"On the afternoon of the 29th I received through Captain Elliott, Aide to General Ewell, a copy of
a note from General Lee, and also verbal instructions which required me to move back and rejoin
the rest of the corps on the western side of the South Mountain, and, accordingly at daylight, on
the morning of the 30th, I put my whole command in motion, taking the route with the main body
through Weigalstown and East Berlin in the direction of Heidlesburg, from which place I could
move either to Shippensburg or Greenwood by the way of Arendtsburg, as circumstances might
require. I at the same time sent Colonel White's cavalry on the turnpike from York towards
Gettysburg, to ascertain if any force of the enemy was on that road. At East Berlin a small squad
of the enemy's cavalry was seen and pursued by my cavalry advance, and I received information at
this point from Colonel White, by a messenger, that a cavalry and infantry force had been on the
York and Gettysburg road at Abbotstown, but had moved south towards Hanover. A courier
from General Ewell met me here with a dispatch, informing me of the fact that he was moving
with Rodes' division by the way of Petersburg to Heidlesburg and directing me to move in that
direction. I encamped that afternoon about three miles from Heidlesburg, and rode to see General
Ewell at that point, where I found him and Rodes' division, and was informed that the object was
to concentrate the corps at or near Cashtown, and I received direction to move next day to the
latter point. I was informed that Rodes would move by the way of Middletown and Arendtsville,
but it was arranged that I should go by the way of Hunterstown and Mummasburg."
When on June 30th General Hill decided to advance on Gettysburg next morning, he was at Cashtown, with Heth's and Pender's divisions of his corps, eight miles west of Gettysburg, and his other division (Anderson's) was about nine miles west of that place, near Fayetteville, under orders to follow next day.
General Ewell, with Rodes' division, was at Heidlesburg, ten miles northeast of Gettysburg; Early's division was three miles east of that joint, on the road from York, and Johnson's division of Ewell's corps was between Green Village and Fayetteville, probably ten or twelve miles west of Cashtown.
Two divisions of Longstreet's corps reached Greenwood, about eight miles west of Cashtown, at 2 P. M. on the 30th, Pickett's division having been left to guard the rear at Chambersburg.
On the morning of July 1st, Ewell, in pursuance of orders, was still moving towards Cashtown,
when he says in his report:
"Before reaching Middletown, I received notice from General Hill that he was advancing upon
Gettysburg, and turned the head of Rodes' column towards that place by the Middletown Road,
sending word to Early to advance directly on the Heidlesburg road. I notified the General
commanding of my movement, and was informed that in case we found the enemy's force very
large, he did not want a general engagement brought on until the rest of the army came up. By
the time this message reached me, General A. P. Hill had already been warmly engaged, and had
been repulsed, and Carter's artillery battalion of Rodes' division had opened on the flank of the
enemy with fine effect. The enemy were rapidly preparing to attack me while fresh masses were
moving into position on my front. It was too late to avoid an engagement without abandoning the
position taken up. I determined to push the attack vigorously."
General Early was on the road from Heidlesburg to Gettysburg when ordered to the latter place.
In his report he says:
"Having ascertained that the road from my camp to Hunterstown was a very rough and circuitous
one, I determined next morning (July 1st,) to march to Heidlesburg, and thence on the Gettysburg
road to the Mummasburg road. After passing Heidlesburg a short distance, I received a note
from yourself (Major A. S. Pendleton, A. A. G.), written by order of General Ewell, informing me
that General A. P. Hill was moving towards Gettysburg against the enemy, and that Rodes'
division had turned off at Middletown and was moving towards the same place, and directing me
to move directly for Gettysburg. I therefore continued on the road I was then on, and on arriving
in sight of the town I discovered that Rodes' division was engaged with the enemy to my right on
both sides of the Mummasburg road."
On June 30th, when General Hill decided to advance the next morning and find out what force was before him at Gettysburg and on the flank of General Ewell, a part of whose corps was to pass within four miles of that place the next day, General Lee was not ready for a general engagement, for in the absence of his cavalry, he was not informed as to the disposition of Meade's Army, and his own troops were not up; but there is no evidence that at that or any subsequent time he disapproved of General Hill's proposed advance on Gettysburg. On the contrary, as soon as he was informed of General Hill's intention, he instructed General Ewell, who was then at Heidlesburg, ten miles northeast of Gettysburg, "to proceed lo Cashtown or Gettysburg as circumstances might dictate."
General Ewell left Heidlesburg with these instructions on the morning of July 1st, and before reaching Middletown (four miles distant from Heidlesburg) he received notice from General Hill that he was advancing upon Gettysburg, changed the direction of Rodes' column towards Gettysburg, sent word to Early to advance to that place,.and notified General Lee that he was going to the support of General Hill.
That General Lee expected Ewell and Hill to ascertain what force the enemy had at Gettysburg is clearly indicated by his reply as quoted by General Ewell, "that in case we found the enemy's force very large, he did not want a general engagement brought on until the rest of the army came up."
General Ewell says that by the time this message reached him, the enemy were rapidly advancing to attack him, and it was too late to avoid an engagement without abandoning his position. He therefore determined to attack vigorously.
By referring to the accompanying map it will be seen that General Ewell acted wisely, for with General Heth's division repulsed, and Early advancing from Heidlesburg, if Rodes' division, which was between them on the road from Mummasburg, had been withdrawn or driven back, Early's division would have been in jeopardy.
General Lee must have been on the field at this time, for General Heth says General Rodes was heavily engaged when he first asked General Lee's permission to renew his attack, and got this reply: "No; I am not prepared to bring on a general engagement to-day. Longstreet' is not up," and it was shortly after this that, as General Heth says, General Lee gave him permission to attack.
Captain Stockton Heth says that it was about 12 or 1 o'clock that General Heth's division became engaged with General Reynolds' corps, and that it was about one and a half hours later that he went for an ambulance to carry his brother off the field, and General Lee spoke to him, General Ewell and General Hill being with him. Captain Heth also says that as he passed, returning, General Pender's division rushed forward with a rebel yell, and this would seem to fix the time of Pender's charge at 12:30 P. M., which is consistent with other evidence. Yet Colonel Mosby tries to make it appear that General Heth's account is pure fiction; that General Lee was not on the field, and knew nothing of Hill's advance on Gettysburg.
As it was, the reconnaisance in force inaugurated by General Hill and supported by General Ewell not only removed all doubts as to the enemy's force at Gettysburg, but inflicted on them severe loss by the capture of 6,000 prisoners with five pieces of artillery, and the killing of the commander of Meade's First Army Corps, which, as General Hill says, was almost annihilated.
General Lee was already concentrating his forces at Cashtown, and, encouraged by this success, decided to deliver a crushing blow while his army was elated by victory and the enemy were weakened by losses, discouraged by defeat and depressed by the death of General Reynolds. Their reinforcements hurried to their support were arriving on the field, weakened in numbers and wearied by forced marching, and had our attack been made promptly on the morning of July 2d, instead of being delayed until the afternoon of that day, the destruction of the Federal Army then on the field would have been inevitable; for at that time the Army of Northern Virginia (with the exception of Pickett's division and one brigade of Hood's division of Longstreet's corps) was concentrated before Gettysburg, elated by the success of the previous day's fighting. The delay of our attack until 4 o'clock P. M. gave the enemy twelve hours for concentration, and lost all of our advantage of numbers on the field in the morning. General Longstreet fought Federal troops in the evening, when he attacked, who were twenty-two miles from the field in the morning.
The question raised by Colonel Mosby as to whether I was present at Gettysburg, and therefore qualified or not to discuss these matters, is apart from the case. We know more now about the Battle of Waterloo than the commanders on the field, and we will know more about the Battle of Gettysburg in the future than the commanders on that field. I feel sure that in the sifting and discussion of the evidence on the movements of the forces on that historic field, it will never appear that the absence of Stuart's great cavalry force of five brigades, under its famous leader, did not contribute to the failure at Gettysburg. What General Lee said in 1868 forbids such a conclusion.
Never in his career did General Lee exhibit his greatness of soul in a stronger light than when, in agony at the miscarriage of his just hopes and plans, seconded as they were by the rank and file in heroic effort and sacrifice, he assumed the blame for the failure of others.
At this date to have this pure gentleman charged with neglect of his duty and carelessness in not
even reading his own reports, makes the "gorge rise," and it is imperative that notice should be
taken of so monstrous an accusation by some one, whether he was on the field or not.
(Source: Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. 38, pages 197-210)