Letter from Colonel J. B. Walton.
New Orleans, October 15th, 1877.
Rev. J. Wm. Jones, D. D.,
Secretary Southern Historical Society, Richmond, Va.
Dear Sir: My attention has been directed to the letter of Col. E. P. Alexander, of date of 17th March, 1877, on the subject of "Causes of Confederate Defeat at Gettysburg," published in the September No. of Southern Historical Society Papers, in which ,occurs the following statement by Colonel Alexander: "My rank and position during that campaign was colonel of artillery, commanding a battalion of six batteries attached as reserve to Longstreet's corps; and on the field at Gettysburg, I was placed by Gen. Longstreet in command of all his artillery on the field, as chief of artillery for the action."
I am at a loss to comprehend how it could be stated by Colonel Alexander that he was "placed by General Longstreet in command of all his artillery on the field as chief of artillery for the action" at Gettysburg, for I had been for more than a year before, was during the battle and after the battle of Gettysburg, Chief of Artillery of the First Army Corps, under Lieutenant General Longstreet, and caused all the batteries in the grand bombardment of the 3d July to be placed in position from right to left, placing the Washington Artillery, under Major Eshleman, in the centre as nearly as could be. During the entire engagement I was present in person on the field, directing and superintending the batteries in action. Colonel Alexander commanded one of the battalions, composed of six batteries of the First corps; all the artillery of that corps being under my command, as chief of artillery, commanding.
On the 20th June, 1862, General Order No. 28, right wing Army Northern Virginia, I was
announced as follows:
Colonel J. B. Walton, of the battalion Washington Artillery, having reported for duty with this command, he is announced as Chief of Artillery. He will be obeyed and respected accordingly.
By command of Major-General Longstreet.
G. M. Sorrel,
And on the 15th August, 1862, the following order was published to battery commanders:
Headquarters, Taylor's House,
Near Gordonsville, August 15th, 1862.
General Order No. 32.
II. Colonel J. B. Walton, of the battalion Washington Artillery, is announced as Chief of Artillery of this command, and will be obeyed and respected accordingly.
III. Battery commanders will report to him without delay, to be disposed of in such camp or camps as may be selected; making their regular reports to him, for consolidation and transmission to this office.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
By command of Major-General Longstreet.
G. M. Sorrel,
To Colonel J. B. Walton, Commanding, &c.
And on the 4th June, 1863 (one month before the battle of Gettysburg), after the artillery of the
Army of Northern Virginia had been reorganized by battalions and assigned to the three corps of
the army, General Lee announced the appointments of commanders of the artillery of the several
corps as follows:
Headquarters Department of Northern Virginia,
June 4th, 1863.
Extract Special Order No. 151.
In accordance with the recommendation of the Chief of Artillery, made under par. II of General Order No. 69, current series, from these headquarters, the following named officers are assigned to the command of the artillery under the recent organization: Colonel J. B. Walton, of the First corps; Colonel V. Crutchfield, of the Second corps; Colonel R. L. Walker, of the Third corps.
By command of General Lee.
W. H. Taylor.,
To Colonel J. B. Walton.
On the 23d June, 1863, General Longstreet directed to "Col. J.B. Walton, Chief of Artillery First
corps, commanding" the following, as the order of march for Hagerstown viaBerryville:
1st. Pickett's division.
2d. Walton's Reserve Artillery (Alexander and Washington Artillery).
3d. Hood's division.
4th. McLaws' division.
During the march to Hagerstown, Md., and thence to Gettysburg, all orders from General Lee or General Longstreet were communicated to me officially as Chief of Artillery, First corps.
On the night of the 30th June, I encamped near Greenwood, on the road to Gettysburg, with the two battalions composing the reserve artillery of the artillery of the First corps of the army Alexander's battalion and the Washington Artillery. It had rained all day in torrents, greatly impeding our progress, and in consequence, the two battalions were not as well advanced as they other wise would have been. We remained halted at Greenwood all day of the first of July.
At about ten o'clock at night, July 1st, a courier came to my camp and delivered to me the
following, from General Longstreet's headquarters:
Headquarters, Near Gettysburg, Pa.,
July 1st, 5:30 P. M., 1863.
Colonel: The Commanding-General desires you to come on tonight as far as you can, without distressing your men and animals. Ewell and Hill have sharply engaged the enemy to-day, and you will be wanted for to-morrow's battle. The action to-day has been vigorous and successful. The enemy was driven two or three miles and out of Gettysburg, without hesitation. General Rodes now occupies the town. The enemy's loss in prisoners and casualties considerable--ours light. Major-General Heth wounded, not dangerously.
I am, very respectfully,
G.M. Sorrel, Assist. Adjt. General.
To Colonel J. B. Walton,
Chief Artillery, Commanding.
The following is Adjutant W. M. Owen's statement of what was done from the moment of the
receipt of the note above recited until the two battalions reported on the field on the morning of
the 2d July:
I carried the order to Colonel Alexander, commanding one of the battalions of artillery attached to
the reserve, (all under Col. Walton, chief of artillery,) at about 10:30 to 11 o'clock, at night. At
12 o'clock Alexander's battalion and the Washington Artillery were stretched out on the road to
Gettysburg. A long delay then occurred in starting, on account of an immense wagon-train
passing, said to belong to Johnson's division. At 2:30 A. M., July 2d, we took the road, (both
battalions,) and by an easy march reached the neighborhood of Gettysburg about sun-up; halting
in an open field, the command got breakfast, and I was sent to report the presence of the artillery
reserve of Longstreet's corps on the field and ready for battle. I found General Longstreet on
Seminary Hill with General Lee and Generals Heth and A. P. Hill, and Doctors Cullen and Maury,
surgeons. Upon making my report, Gen. Longstreet ordered that the battalions be kept where
they were until further orders.
On the morning of the third of July, at day-light, the batteries of the First corps were all in position, extending from Hood, in front of the "Round Top," to and beyond the peach orchard. At this point General Longstreet sent for me, accompanied by Adjutant Owen. I rode to the rear of the line, where we found Gen. Longstreet in consultation with the general officers. He gave me then my final instructions, and informed me of the plan of battle. At a given signal, to be arranged by myself, all the guns on the line were to open simultaneously on the enemy's batteries. The signal fixed was two guns in quick succession by the Washington Artillery . Upon returning to the front I dispatched Adjutant Owen along the entire line, to notify each of the artillery commanders, and to give them their orders, which he did and returned to me.
It was understood that Colonel Alexander had been charged with the duty of observing the effect of the fire of the batteries upon the enemy's lines, and to give the signal for General Pickett to advance to the assault.
Everything was in readiness--no firing on either side--when, at a few minutes after one o'clock, P.
M., while in rear of the Washington Artillery, near the peach orchard, I received by a courier, the
following in General Longstreet's hand-writing.
Headquarters, in the Field,
July 3d, 1863.
Colonel: Let the batteries open. Order great care and precision in firing. If the batteries at the peach orchard cannot be used against the point we intend attacking, let them open upon the rocky hill.
To Colonel Walton.
Major Eshleman, in command of the Washington Artillery, was ordered to fire the signal gun, when instantly from the right to the extreme left of the line, as had been arranged by order of General Longstreet, the guns of every battery opened the tremendous cannonade.
On the 4th of July, at 1 o'clock A. M., I received the following, addressed to me as Chief of
Artillery, First corps: "General Longstreet directs that you have your artillery in readiness to resist
an attack by daylight, remembering you have no ammunition to spare except for the enemy's
infantry," etc., and the following order before day on the 4th July:
Headquarters First Army Corps,
July 4th, 1863.
Colonel: The Lieutenant-General directs that such of your wagons as can be spared from your command be sent to Cashtown during the day as quietly as possible, reporting to Colonel Corley and Major Mitchell about dark. Let there be as little confusion as possible. Have the wagons which are to accompany the troops parked on the Fairfield road, so that they can file in with the column as it passes.
Will you please send Colonel Alexander to see the General at this point at light.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
To Colonel Walton, Commanding Artillery, &c.
Enough has been written to show that Colonel Alexander has made a mistake in the assertion that he was in command of all the artillery of the First corps on the field, "as chief of artillery for the action." Certainly, I was chief of artillery of the First corps before the action, commanded in the action directly under General Longstreet's orders on the field, fired the signal guns, as agreed with General Longstreet, to commence the bombardment, and I never was relieved from nor did I at any time relinquish my command of all the artillery of the First corps, until long after General Longstreet was ordered to Tennessee; and I was subsequently appointed by the Secretary of War, "Inspector-General of Field Artillery," in March or April, 1864.
I really regret that, in justice to myself and to the responsible, and I may say distinguished position, I had the honor to fill at the battle of Gettysburg, I find myself compelled, for the first time since the war, to present myself in print.
If my poor services on that sanguinary and trying field were of any value or of any merit, such as they were, I have the pride to wish to preserve the record of them as dear to me and to my friends.
Your obedient servant,
J. B. Walton,
Late Chief of Artillery, First Corps, A.N.V., Comd'g.
Letter from General Longstreet.
Gainesville, Ga., November 6th, 1877.
Colonel J. B. Walton, New Orleans:
My Dear Sir: I find in my account of Gettysburg just published, ambiguous remarks about our artillery officers.
The paragraph beginning "Our artillery," etc., should read: On the 2d, Colonel Alexander's battalion being at the head of the column, he was ordered to assign the batteries to positions and to general supervision, pending the absence of Colonel Walton, chief of artillery.
On the 3rd, Colonel Alexander being an officer, of unusual promptness, sagacity, and intelligence, and being more familiar with the ground to be occupied by the artillery, was directed to see that the batteries were posted to the best advantage.
I beg to assure you that the idea of interfering with your prerogatives, or authority or fitness for your position, did not enter my mind. Your duties were such as to take you away from headquarters, and often render it difficult to find you just at the right moment, particularly when the entire corps was not together, as was the case on the 2d.
On the 3rd, Colonel Alexander's special service, after seeing that the batteries were most advantageously posted, was to see that field artillery was ready to move with General Pickett's assault, and to give me the benefit of his judgment as to the moment the effect of the artillery
combat would justify the assault.
I regard Colonel Alexander's position on the 3d as that of an engineer staff officer, more than one exercising any authority in a manner calculated to place you in an improper light.
My account of Gettysburg was put together rapidly, to meet the call of the newspapers, as you will see. Supposing that I should review it after it was copied, I had made a note of explanation of the apparent anomalous position of artillery officers; but the papers were sent to press before I had an opportunity to read and correct this point.
I remain, very truly yours,
(Source: Southern Historical Society, Vol. 5, pages 47-53)