Go to WTJ Information Page Go to WTJ Portal Go to WTJ War Series Go to WTJ Archives Go to WTJ Articles Go to WTJ Gaming Go to WTJ Store Go to WTJ Home Page
Longstreet: From Manassas to Appomattox
Chapter 28c - Gettysburg - Third Day.
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 -Ridge.

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 General Lee,-

" 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 troops.

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 thought:

" 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 army."

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 position.

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 force.

The casualties were:

First Corps 7,539
Second Corps 5,937
Third Corps 6,735
Cavalry 1,426
Aggregate 21,637
First Corps 6,059
Second Corps 4,369
Third Corps 4,211
Fifth Corps 2,187
Sixth Corps 242
Eleventh Corps 3,801
Twelfth 1,082
Cavalry 1,094
Aggregate 23,049

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

  Copyright © 1996-2003 by The War Times Journal at www.wtj.com. All rights reserved.