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.
It is difficult to reconcile these facts with the reports
put out after his death by members of his family and of his staff, and
post-bellum champions, that indicate his later efforts to find points by which
to so work up public opinion as to shift the disaster to my shoulders.
It does not appear, even at this late day, that Cemetery
Ridge, if the Confederates had carried it, could have been as favorable for
future military operations as was the position they occupied about Seminary
Some of the statements of the members of the staff have been
referred to. General Fitzhugh Lee claims evidence that General Lee said that he
would have gained the battle if he had had General Jackson with him. But he had
Jackson in the Sharpsburg campaign, which was more awkward than that of
Gettysburg(¹). In another account Fitzhugh Lee wrote of
" He told the father of the writer, his brother, that he was
Controlled too far by the great confidence he felt in the fighting qualities of
his people, and by assurances of most of his higher officers."
No assurances were made from officers of the First Corps,
but rather objections. The only assurances that have come to light, to be
identified, are those of General Early, who advised the battle, but from the
other end of the line from his command, which should have given warning that it
did not come from the heart of a true soldier.
And this is the epitome of the Confederate battle. The army
when it set out on the campaign was all that could be desired, (except that the
arms were not all of the most approved pattern), but it was despoiled of two of
its finest brigades, Jenkins's and Corse's of Pickett's division, and was
fought out by detail. The greatest number engaged at any one time was on the
first day, when twenty-six thousand engaged twenty thousand of the First and
part of the Eleventh Corps. On the afternoon of the second day about seventeen
thousand were engaged on the right, and at night about seven thousand on the
left; then later at night about three thousand near the centre. On the third
day about twelve thousand were engaged at daylight and until near noon, and in
the afternoon fifteen thousand, -all of the work of the second and third days
against an army of seventy thousand and more of veteran troops in strong
position defended by field-works.
General Lee was on the field from about three o'clock of the
afternoon of the first day. Every order given the troops of the First Corps on
that field up to its march on the forenoon of the 2d was issued in his
presence. If the movements were not satisfactory in time and speed of moving,
it was his power, duty, and privilege to apply the remedy, but it was not a
part of a commander's duty or privilege to witness things that did not suit
him, fail to apply the remedy, and go off and grumble with his staff-officers
about it. In their efforts to show culpable delay in the movements of the First
Corps on the 2d, some of the Virginia writers endeavor to show that General Lee
did not even give me a guide to lead the way to the field from which his battle
was to be opened. He certainly failed to go and look at it, and assist in
selecting the ground and preparing for action.
Fitzhugh Lee says of the second day, " Longstreet was
attacking the Marye's Hill of the position." At Fredericksburg, General
Burnside attacked at Marye's Hill in six or more successive assaults with some
twenty or thirty thousand against three brigades under McLaws and Ransom and
the artillery; he had about four hundred yards to march from his covered ways
about Fredericksburg to Marye's Hill. When his last attack was repulsed in the
evening, he arranged and gave his orders for the attack to be renewed in the
morning, giving notice that he would lead it with the Ninth Corps, but upon
reports of his officers abandoned it. General Lee's assaulting columns of
fifteen or twenty thousand had a march of threefourths of a mile to attack
twice their number, better defended than the three Confederate brigades at
Marye's Hill who drove back Burnside. The enemy on Cemetery Hill was in a
stronger position than the Confederates at Marye's Hill.
Fitzhugh Lee writes in the volume already quoted,
" Over the splendid scene of human courage and human
sacrifice at Gettysburg there arises in the South an apparition, like Banquo's
ghost at Macbeth's banquet, which says the battle was lost to the Confederates
because some one blundered."
Call them Bauquo, but their name is Legion. Weird spirits
keep midnight watch about the great boulders, while unknown comrades stalk in
ghostly ranks through the black fastnesses of Devil's Den, wailing the lament,
"Someone blundered at Gettysburg! Woe is me, whose duty was to die!"
Fitzhugh Lee makes his plans, orders, and movements to suit
his purpose, and claims that they would have given Gettysburg to the
Confederates, but he is not likely to convince any one outside of his coterie
that over the heights of Gettysburg was to be found honor for the South.
General Meade said that the suggestion to work towards his
line of communication was sound " military sense." That utterance has been
approved by subsequent fair judgment, and it is that potent fact that draws the
spiteful fire of latter-day knights.
Forty thousand men, unsupported as we were, could not have
carried the position at Gettysburg. The enemy was there. Officers and men knew
their advantage, and were resolved to stay until the hills came down over them.
It is simply out of the question for a lesser force to march over broad, open
fields and carry a fortified front occupied by a greater force of seasoned
Referring to the proposed move around the Union left to cut
the line of communication, a parallel in the FrancoGerman war is appropriate.
When the manoeuvres of the campaign had pushed Marshal MacMahon's army back to
the road between Paris and Metz, the latter fortified and occupied by the army
under Marshal Bazaine, MacMahon hesitated between Paris and Metz, and was
manoeuvred out of position to a point north of the line. Von Moltke seized the
opportunity and took position on the line, which gave him shorter routes east
and west. So that MacMahon, to reach either point, must pass the German forces
under Von Moltke. He made a brave effort to reach Metz, and Von Moltke, to
maintain his advantage, was called to skilful manoeuvre and several gallant
affairs, but succeeded in holding his advantage that must call MacMahon to
general engagement or surrender. Out generalled, and with a demoralized army,
he thought the latter his proper alternative.
The relative conditions of the armies were similar. The
Union army, beaten at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, and drawn from its
aggressive campaign to defensive work in Pennsylvania, had met disaster in its
battle of the 1st. If it had been outgeneralled, and dislodged of position
without further attack, it would have been in poor condition to come in
aggressive battle against its adversary in well-chosen defensive grounds.
Again, in our own war, when the Union army carried the
Confederate works west of Petersburg on the 2d of April, 1865, General Meade
got his army together and was about to march east to finish his work by the
capture of Petersburg. General Grant objected, - that the Confederates would
retreat during the night; at Petersburg he would be behind them; in his then
position he would be alongside of them, and have an even start, with better
prospect to strike across their march and force them to general battle or
surrender; and he ordered arrangements for the march west at daylight.
Even Napoleon Bonaparte, the first in the science and
greatest in the execution of the art of war, finally lost grasp of his grandest
" In war men are nothing; a man is everything."
The Confederate chief at Gettysburg looked something like
Napoleon at Waterloo.
Fitzhugh Lee quotes evidence of Governor Carroll, of
Maryland, that General Lee said, " Longstreet is the hardest man to move in my
It does not look like generalship to lose a battle and a
cause and then lay the responsibility upon others. He held command and was
supported by his government. If his army did not suit him, his word could have
changed it in a minute. If lie failed to apply the remedy, it was his fault.
Some claim that his only fault as a general was his tender, generous heart. But
a heart in the right place looks more to the cause intrusted to its care than
for hidden ways by which to shift its responsibility to the shoulders of those
whose lives hang upon his word.
When he set out on his first campaign (Chickahominy) with
the army, the key of the campaign was intrusted to General Jackson, who named
the hour for the opening and failed to meet his own appointment. At the time he
appointed, A. P. Hill's, D. H. Hill's, and Longstreet's commands were in
position, waiting. About eight hours after his time he was up, but deliberately
marched past the engagement and went into camp, half a mile or more behind the
hot battle. He remained in his camp next morning, and permitted the enemy,
dislodged of his position of the day before, to march by him to a strong
position at Gaines's Mill. When his column reached that position, his leading
division (D. H. Hill's) engaged the enemy's right without orders. He called the
division off and put his command in position to intercept the enemy's retreat
towards the Pamunkey, from which he was afterwards called to his part in the
general engagement. The next day he had the cavalry and part of his infantry in
search of the enemy's next move. At my head-quarters were two clever young
engineers who were sent to find what the enemy was about. They were the first
to report the enemy's retreat towards James River. Orders were given for
Jackson to follow on the direct line of retreat, also Magruder and Huger. My
command was ordered around through the outskirts of Richmond by the Darbytown
road to interpose between McClellan's army and the James River, about twenty
miles; the other troops marching by routes of about nine miles. We were in
position on the evening of the 29th of June, and stood in front of the enemy
all of the 30th, fighting a severe battle in the afternoon. Magruder and Huger
got up after night, and Jackson on the morning of the 1st. After the battle of
the 1st, Jackson, Magruder, and Huger were ordered in direct pursuit along the
route of retreat, my command by the longer route of Nance's Store. Jackson's
column and mine met on the evening of the 3d near Westover, the enemy's new
At the Second Manassas my command relieved the pressure
against Jackson. He called on me for relief by a route that would have taken an
hour or an hour and a half. A way was found by which he was relieved in about
thirty minutes. When relieved, he left the battle on my hands. I was at
Sharpsburg all day; Jackson only about two and a half hours. At Fredericksburg,
anticipating the move against him, half of my command was ordered to swing off
from my right and join in his battle.
But General Lee's assertion seems to refer to the operations
at Gettysburg, after Jackson had found his Happy Home. Let us see how far this
assertion is supported by events. General Lee reported, -
" The advance of the enemy to the latter place (Gettysburg)
was unknown, and, the weather being inclement, the march was conducted with a
view to the comfort of the troops."
When, on the forenoon of the 2d, he decided upon his plan,
the Second Corps was deployed in the immediate front of the enemy's line on our
left, except two brigades sent off by General Early. One division of the Third
was close on the right of the Second, all within thirty minutes' march of the
enemy's lines. Two divisions of the Third Corps and two of the First were on
Seminary Ridge. When the order was announced the divisions on Seminary Ridge
had to find their positions and deploy to the right. By the route ordered for
the march it was five or six miles to the point at which the battle was to be
opened. The troops of the Third had a shorter route. The march of the First was
made in time for prompt deployment on the right of the Third.
We were left to our own resources in finding ground upon
which to organize for battle. The enemy had changed position somewhat after the
march was ordered, but as we were not informed of his position before the
march, we could not know of the change. The Confederate commander did not care
to ride near us, to give information of a change, to assist in preparing for
attack nor to inquire if new and better combinations might be made.
Four brigades of the right of the Third Corps were assigned
as part of my command. The engagement was to be general. My artillery combat
was opened at three p.m., followed in half an hour by the infantry, and I made
progressive battle until sundown. A division of the Second Corps attacked on
our left at nightfall, and later two brigades. Other parts of the Second and
Third Corps did not move to the battle.
On the 3d I was ordered to organize the column of assault,
the other corps to cooperate and assist the battle. There was an affair on the
Confederate left before the assaulting columns were organized, brought on by
attack of the enemy. The assaulting force marched at one p.m. Its work has been
described, but it is important to note that neither of the other corps took
part in the battle while the Southern chief stood in view of the attack and
near the rear of those corps. So it looks as if the commander of the First
Corps was easier to move than any one in his army, rather than harder, and his
chief left him to fight the battles alone.
After the retreat, and when resting on the south banks of
the Rapidan, reading of the progress of the march of General Rosecrans's army
towards Georgia, it seemed sinful to lie there idle while our comrades in the
West were so in need of assistance, and I wrote the Secretary of War suggesting
that a detachment should be sent West -from the idle army. General Lee
objected, but the suggestion was ordered to be executed. In this instance the
subordinate was easier to move than his chief, though the interests of the
cause depended largely on the movement of the latter.
The forces engaged at Gettysburg were:
CONFEDERATE - According to the latest official accounts, the
Army of Northern Virginia, on the 31st of May, numbered 74,468. The detachments
that joined numbered 6400, making 80,868. Deducting the detachments left in
Virginia,-Jenkins's brigade, Pickett's division, 2300;Corse's brigade,
Pickett's division, 1700: detachments from Second Corps and of cavalry, 1300,
in all 5300, - leaves the actual aggregate 75,568.
UNION. - According to the reports of the 30th of June and
making allowance for detachments that joined in the interim in time to take
part in the battle, the grand aggregate was 100,000 officers and men.
The Confederates lost many men after the battle, and before
they recrossed the Potomac, from the toils of the march and the continuous and
severe harassment of the enemy's cavalry, which followed closely and in great
The casualties were:
¹ - At Sharpsburg, General Jackson left the field at
seven o'clock in the morning and did not return until four o'clock in the
afternoon, when he was ordered with his command and the cavalry to turn and
strike down against the Union right. He started to execute the order, then gave
it up without even asking permission. He made a brave and gallant fight in the
morning, losing 1601 officers and men. But D. H. Hill was there from the first
to the last gun, losing from his division 1872 officers and men. Jackson had
the greater part of two divisions. But Hill was not a Virginian, and it would
not do to leave the field for refreshments. The figures include Jackson's
losses at Harper's Ferry and Sharpsburg; Hill's at South Mountain and
Sharpsburg. RETURN TO TEXT