The Stroke of Arms that shook the
Continent-Longstreet opposed the Attack as planned and made-The Confederate
Column of Assault-It was weak in Numbers but strong in Spirit-Tremendous
Artillery Combat begins the Day's Fighting-Charge of Generals Pickett, Trimble,
and Pettigrew-Armistead falls by the Side of the Federal Guns-The Federal
Cavalry Charge of General Farnsworth-The Commander falls with Five Mortal
Wounds-Could the Assaulting Column have been safely augmented from Longstreet's
Right?-Testimony as to that Point-Where rested the Responsibility for
Disaster?-Criticism of the Battle as a whole-Cemetery Hill stronger than
Marye's Hill at Fredericksburg-Controverted Points -Casualties of the Three
Days' Fight-Organization of the Forces engaged.
Colonel Latrobe was sent to General Trimble to have his men
fill the line of the broken brigades, and bravely they repaired the damage. The
enemy moved out against the supporting brigade in Pickett's rear. Colonel
Sorrel was sent to have that move guarded, and Pickett was drawn back to that
contention. McLaws was ordered to press his left forward, but the direct fire
of infantry and cross-fire of artillery was telling fearfully on the front.
Colonel Fremantle ran up to offer congratulations on the apparent success, but
the big gaps in the ranks grew until the lines were reduced to half their
length. I called his attention to the broken, struggling ranks. Trimble mended
the battle of the left in handsome style, but on the right the massing of the
enemy grew stronger and stronger. Brigadier Garnett was killed, Kemper and
Trimble were desperately wounded; Generals Hancock and Gibbon were wounded.
General Lane succeeded Trimble, and with Pettigrew held the battle of the left
in steady ranks.
Pickett's lines being nearer, the impact was heaviest upon
them. Most of the field officers were killed or wounded. Colonel Whittle, of
Armistead's brigade, who had been shot through the right leg at Williamsburg
and lost his left arm at Malvern Hill, was shot through the right arm, then
brought down by a shot through his left leg.
General Armistead, of the second line, spread his steps to
supply the places of fallen comrades. His colors cut down, with a volley
against the bristling line of bayonets, he put his cap on his sword to guide
the storm. The enemy's massing, enveloping numbers held the struggle until the
noble Armistead fell beside the wheels of the enemy's battery. Pettigrew was
wounded, but held his command.
General Pickett, finding the battle broken, while the enemy
was still reinforcing, called the troops off. There was no indication of panic.
The broken files marched back in steady step. The effort was nobly made, and
failed from blows that could not be fended. Some of the files were cut off from
retreat by fire that swept the field in their rear. Officers of my staff, sent
forward with orders, came back with their saddles and bridles in their arms.
Latrobe's horse was twice shot.
Looking confidently for advance of the enemy through our
open field, I rode to the line of batteries, resolved to hold it until the last
gun was lost. As I rode, the shells screaming over my head and ploughing the
ground under my horse, an involuntary appeal went up that one of them might
take me from scenes of such awful responsibility; but the storm to be met left
no time to think of one's self. The battery officers were prepared to meet the
crisis, no move had been made for leaving the field. My old acquaintance of
Sharpsburg experience, Captain Miller, was walking up and down behind his guns,
smoking his pipe, directing his fire over the heads of our men as fast as they
were inside of the danger-line; the other officers equally firm and ready to
defend to the last. A body of skirmishers put out from the enemy's lines and
advanced some distance, but the batteries opened severe fire and drove it back.
Our men passed the batteries in quiet walk, and would rally, I knew, when they
reached the ridge from which they started.
General Lee was soon with us, and with staff-officers and
others assisted in encouraging the men and getting them together.
As the attack failed, General Kilpatrick put his cavalry
brigade under General Farnsworth on the charge through the infantry detachment
in rear of my right division. The regiments of G. T. Anderson's brigade had
been posted at points in rear as guards against cavalry, and the First Texas,
Fourth and Fifteenth Alabama, and Bachman's and Reilly's batteries were looking
for that adventure. Farnsworth had a rough ride over rocks and stone fences,
but bore on in spite of all, cutting and slashing when he could get at the
skirmishers or detachments. He made a gallant ride along the rear of our right,
but was obliged to come under the infantry and artillery fire at several
points. He fell, pierced, it is said, by five mortal wounds. Calls for him to
surrender were made, but the cavalry were not riding for that. The command lost
heavily, but claimed captives equal to their loss.
Kilpatrick's mistake was in not putting Farnsworth in on
Merritt's left, where he would have had an open ride, and made more trouble
than was ever made by a cavalry brigade. Had the ride been followed by prompt
advance of the enemy's infantry in line beyond our right and pushed with vigor,
they could have reached our line of retreat. General Meade ordered his left,
but delay in getting the orders and preparing to get through the rough grounds
consumed time, and the move was abandoned. The Fifth and Sixth Corps were in
convenient position, and would have had good ground for marching after getting
out of the rocky fastnesses of Round Top.
As we had no cavalry on our right, the Union cavalry was
held on their right to observe the Confederates under Stuart, except
Kilpatrick's division (and Custer's brigade of that division was retained on
their right). A little while after the repulse of our infantry column, Stuart's
cavalry advanced and was met by Gregg's, and made one of the severest and most
stubborn fights of cavalry on record. General Wade Hampton was severely
wounded. The Union forces held the field.
When affairs had quieted a little, and apprehension of
immediate counter-attack had passed, orders were sent the divisions of McLaws
and Hood to draw back and occupy the lines from which they had advanced to
engage the battle of the second. Orders sent Benning's brigade by the division
staff were not understood, and Benning, under the impression that he was to
relieve part of McLaws's division, which he thought was to be sent on other
service, ordered the Fifteenth Georgia Regiment to occupy that position. When
he received the second order he sent for his detached regiment. Meanwhile, the
enemy was feeling the way to his front, and before Colonel DuBose received his
second order, the enemy was on his front and had passed his right and left
flanks. The moment he received the final order, Colonel DuBose made a running
fight and escaped with something more than half his men.
In regard to this, as to other battles in which the First
Corps was concerned, the knights of peaceful later days have been busy in
search of points on which to lay charges or make innuendoes of want of conduct
of that corps. General Early has been a picturesque figure in the combination,
ready to champion any reports that could throw a shadow over its record, but
the charge most pleasing to him was that of treason on the part of its
commander. The subject was lasting, piquant, and so consoling that one is
almost inclined to envy the comfort it gave him in his latter days.
Colonel Taylor and members of the staff claim that General
Lee ordered that the divisions of McLaws and Hood should be a part of the
assaulting column. Of this General Lee says,
" General Longstreet, was delayed by a force occupying the
high, rocky bill on the enemy's extreme left, from which his troops could be
attacked from reverse as they advanced. His operations had been embarrassed the
day previously from the same cause, and he now deemed it necessary to defend
his flank and rear with the divisions of Hood and McLaws. He was therefore
reinforced by Heth's division and two brigades of Pender's, to the command of
which Major-General Trimble was assigned. General Hill was directed to hold his
line with the rest of the command, to afford General Longstreet further
assistance if required, and to avail himself of any success that might be
Colonel Taylor says,-
" As our extreme right was comparatively safe, being well
posted, and not at all threatened, one of the divisions of Hood and McLaws, and
a greater part of the other, could be moved out of the lines and be made to
take part in the attack."
On this point I offer the evidence of General Warren before
the Committee of Investigation:
" General Meade had so arranged his troops on our left
during the third day that nearly one-half of our army was in reserve in that
position. It was a good, sheltered position, and a convenient one from which to
reinforce other points of the line, and when the repulse of the enemy took
place on that day, General Meade intended to move forward all the forces he
could get in hand and assault the enemy in line. He ordered the advance of the
Fifth Corps, but it was carried so slowly that it did not amount to much, if
General Hancock's evidence on that point is:
" General Meade told me before the fight that if the enemy
attacked me, he intended to put the Fifth and Sixth Corps on the enemy's
From which it is evident that the withdrawal of the
divisions of my right, to be put in the column of assault, would have been
followed by those corps swinging around and enveloping the assaulting columns
and gaining Lee's line of retreat.
Colonel Venable thinks it a mistake to have put Heth's
division in the assaulting column. He says,
" They were terribly mistaken about Heth's division in this
planning. It had not recuperated, having suffered more than was reported on the
But to accept for the moment Colonel Taylor's premises, the
two divisions referred to would have swelled the columns of assault to
twenty-three thousand men. We were alone in the battle as on the day before.
The enemy had seventy-five thousand men on strong ground, with well-constructed
defences. The Confederates would have had to march a mile through the blaze of
direct and cross fire and break up an army of seventy-five thousand
well-seasoned troops, well defended by field-works!
A rough sketch of the positions of the forces about my right
and rear will help to show if it " was comparatively safe, and not at all
General Gibbon's testimony in regard to the assaulting
columns of the 3d:
" I was wounded about the time I suppose the enemy's second
line got into our batteries, -probably a little before that. As described to me
afterwards, the result, I think, will carry out my idea in regard to it,
because the enemy broke through, forced back my weakest brigade under General
Webb, got into our batteries, and the men were so close that the officers on
each side were using their pistols on each other, and the men frequently
clubbed their muskets, and the clothes of men on both sides were burned by the
powder of exploding cartridges. An officer of my staff, Lieutenant Haskell, had
been sent by me, just previously to the attack, to General Meade with a message
that the enemy were coming. He got back on the top of the hill hunting for me,
and was there when this brigade was forced back, and, without waiting orders
from me, he rode off to the left and ordered all the troops of the division
there to the right. As they came up helterskelter, everybody for himself, with
their officers among them, they commenced firing upon these rebels as they were
coming into our lines."
Had the column been augmented by the divisions of my right,
its brave men might have penetrated far enough to reach Johnson's Island as
prisoners; their return to General Lee by any other route is unlikely.
When engaged collecting the broken files after the repulse,
General Lee said to an officer who was assisting, "It is all my fault."
A letter from Colonel W. Al. Owen assures me that General
Lee repeated this remark at a roadside fire of the Washington Artillery on the
5th of July. A letter from General Lee during the winter of 1863-64 repeated it
Colonel T. J. Goree, of Texas, says upon the subject:
"I was present, however, just after Pickett's repulse, when
General Lee so magnanimously took all the blame of the disaster upon himself.
Another important circumstance, which I distinctly remember, was in the winter
of 1863-64, when you sent me from East Tennessee to Orange Court-House with
some despatches to General Lee. Upon my arrival there, General Lee asked me
into his tent, where be was alone, with two or three Northern papers on the
table. He remarked that he had just been reading the Northern reports of the
battle of Gettysburg; that he had become satisfied from reading those
reports that if he had permitted you to carry out your plan, instead of making
the attack on Cemetery Hill, he would have been successful."
Further testimony comes from another source:
"In East Tennessee, during the winter of 1863-64, you
called me into your quarters, and asked me to read a letter just received from
General Lee in which he used the following words: " Oh, general, had I but
followed your advice, instead of pursuing the course that I did, how different
all would have been!' You wished me to bear this language in mind as your
correspondence might be lost.
ORANGE COUNTY, VA."
A contributor to Blackwood's Magazine reported,
"But Lee's inaction after Fredericksburg was, as we have
called it, an unhappy or negative blunder. Undoubtedly the greatest positive
blunder of which he was ever guilty was the unnecessary onslaught which he
gratuitously made against the strong position into which, by accident, General
Meade fell back at Gettysburg. We have good reason for saying that during the
five years of calm reflection which General Lee passed at Lexington, after the
conclusion of the American war, his maladroit manipulation of the Confederate
army during the Gettysburg campaign was to him a matter of ceaseless
" 'If,' I said he, on many occasions, 'I had taken General
Longstreet's advice on the eve of the second day of the battle of Gettysburg,
and filed off the left corps of my army behind the right Corps, in the
direction of Washington and Baltimore, along the Emmitsburg road, the
Confederates would to-day be a free people.' "