These sentences, taken from the only publication ever made by Lee on the subject of the Gettysburg campaign, express guardedly, but distinctly, his designs. He aimed to draw General Hooker north of the Potomac, clear the Valley, induce the enemy to send troops in other quarters to the assistance of the main Federal army, and, when the moment came, attack General Hooker, defeat him if possible, and thus end the war. That a decisive defeat of the Federal forces at that time in Maryland or Pennsylvania, would have virtually put an end to the contest, there seems good reason to believe. Following the Southern victories of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, a third bloody disaster would, in all human probability, have broken the resolution of the Federal authorities. With Lee thundering at the gates of Washington or Philadelphia, and with the peace party encouraged to loud and importunate protest, it is not probable that the war would have continued. Intelligent persons in the North are said to have so declared, since the war, and the declaration seems based upon good sense.
Before passing from this necessary preface to the narrative of events, it is proper to add that, in the contemplated battle with General Hooker, when he had drawn him north of the Potomac, Lee did not intend to assume a tactical offensive, but to force the Federal commander, if possible, to make the attack. [Footnote: "It had not been intended to fight a general battle at such a distance from our base, unless attacked by the enemy."—Lee's Report] From this resolution he was afterward induced by circumstances to depart, and the result is known.
What is above written will convey to the reader a clear conception of Lee's views and intentions in undertaking his last great offensive campaign; and we now proceed to the narrative of the movements of the two armies, and the battle of Gettysburg.
THE CAVALRY-FIGHT AT FLEETWOOD.
Lee began his movement northward on the 3d day of June, just one month after the battle of Chancellorsville. From this moment to the time when his army was concentrated in the vicinity of Gettysburg, his operations were rapid and energetic, but with a cautious regard to the movements of the enemy.
Pursuing his design of manoeuvring the Federal army out of Virginia, without coming to action, Lee first sent forward one division of Longstreet's corps in the direction of Culpepper, another then followed, and, on the 4th and 5th of June, Ewell's entire corps was sent in the same direction—A.P. Hill remaining behind on the south bank of the Rappahannock, near Fredericksburg, to watch the enemy there, and bar the road to Richmond. These movements became speedily known to General Hooker, whose army lay north of the river near that point, and on the 5th he laid a pontoon just below Fredericksburg, and crossed about a corps to the south bank, opposite Hill. This threatening demonstration, however, was not suffered by Lee to arrest his own movements. Seeing that the presence of the enemy there was "intended for the purpose of observation rather than attack," and only aimed to check his operations, he continued the withdrawal of his troops, by way of Culpepper, in the direction of the Shenandoah Valley.
A brilliant pageant, succeeded by a dramatic and stirring incident, was now to prelude the march of Lee into the enemy's territory. On the 8th of June, the day of the arrival of Lee's head of column in Culpepper, a review of Stuart's cavalry took place in a field east of the court-house. The review was a picturesque affair. General Lee was present, sitting his horse, motionless, on a little knoll—the erect figure half concealed by the short cavalry-cape falling from his shoulders, and the grave face overshadowed by the broad gray hat—while above him, from a lofty pole, waved the folds of a large Confederate flag. The long column of about eight thousand cavalry was first drawn up in line, and afterward passed in front of Lee at a gallop—Stuart and his staff-officers leading the charge with sabres at tierce point, a species of military display highly attractive to the gallant and joyous young commander. The men then charged in mimic battle the guns of the "Stuart Horse-Artillery," which were posted upon an adjoining hill; and, as the column of cavalry approached, the artillerists received them with a thunderous discharge of blank ammunition, which rolled like the roar of actual battle among the surrounding hills. This sham-fight was kept up for some time, and no doubt puzzled the enemy on the opposite shore of the Rappahannock. On the next morning—either in consequence of a design formed before the review, or to ascertain what this discharge of artillery meant—two divisions of Federal cavalry, supported by two brigades of "picked infantry," were sent across the river at Kelly's and Beverley's Fords, east of the court-house, to beat up the quarters of Stuart and find what was going on in the Southern camps.
The most extensive cavalry-fight, probably, of the whole war, followed. One of Stuart's brigades, near Beverley's Ford, was nearly surprised and resolutely attacked at daylight by Buford's division, which succeeded in forcing back the brigade a short distance toward the high range called Fleetwood Hill, in the rear. From this eminence, where his headquarters were established, Stuart went to the front at a swift gallop, opened a determined fire of artillery and sharp-shooters upon the advancing enemy, and sent Hampton's division to attack them on their left. Meanwhile, however, the enemy were executing a rapid and dangerous movement against Stuart's, rear. General Gregg, commanding the second Federal cavalry division, crossed at Kelly's Ford below, passed the force left in that quarter, and came in directly on Stuart's rear, behind Fleetwood Hill. In the midst of the hard fight in front, Stuart was called now to defend his rear. He hastened to do so by falling back and meeting the enemy now charging the hill. The attack was repulsed, and the enemy's artillery charged in turn by the Southerners. This was captured and recaptured two or three times, but at last remained in the hands of Stuart.
General Gregg now swung round his right, and prepared to advance along the eastern slope of the hill. Stuart had, however, posted his artillery there, and, as the Federal line began to move, arrested it with a sudden and destructive fire of shell. At the same time a portion of Hampton's division, under the brave Georgian, General P.M.B. Young, was ordered to charge the enemy. The assault was promptly made with the sabre, unaided by carbine or pistol fire, and Young cut down or routed the force in front of him, which dispersed in disorder toward the river. The dangerous assault on the rear of Fleetwood Hill was thus repulsed, and the advance of the enemy on the left, near the river, met with the same ill success. General W.H.F. Lee, son of the commanding general, gallantly charged them in that quarter, and drove them back to the Rappahannock, receiving a severe wound, which long confined him to his bed. Hampton had followed the retreating enemy on the right, under the fire of Stuart's guns from Fleetwood Hill; and by nightfall the whole force had recrossed the Rappahannock, leaving several hundred dead and wounded upon the field. [Footnote: The Southern loss was also considerable. Colonel Williams was killed, Generals Lee and Butler severely wounded—the latter losing his foot—and General Stuart's staff had been peculiarly unfortunate. Of the small group of officers, Captain Farley was killed, Captain White wounded, and Lieutenant Goldsborough captured. The Federal force sustained a great loss in the death of the gallant Colonel Davis, of the Eighth New-York Cavalry, and other officers.]
This reconnoissance in force—the Federal numbers probably amounting to fifteen thousand—had no other result than the discovery of the fact that Lee had infantry in Culpepper. Finding that the event of the fight was critical, General Lee had moved a body of infantry in the direction of the field of action, and the gleam of the bayonets was seen by the enemy. The infantry was not, however, engaged on either side, unless the Federal infantry participated in the initial skirmish near Beverley's Ford, and General Lee's numbers and position were not discovered.
We have dwelt with some detail upon this cavalry combat, which was an animated affair, the hand-to-hand encounter of nearly twenty thousand horsemen throughout a whole day. General Stuart was censured at the time for allowing himself to be "surprised," and a ball at Culpepper Court-House, at which some of his officers were present several days before, was pointed to as the origin of this surprise. The charge was wholly unjust, Stuart not having attended the ball. Nor was there any truth in the further statement that "his headquarters were captured" in consequence of his negligence. His tents on Fleetwood Hill were all sent to the rear soon after daylight; nothing whatever was found there but a section of the horse-artillery, who fought the charging cavalry with sabres and sponge-staffs over the guns; that Fleetwood Hill was at one time in the hands of the enemy, was due not to Stuart's negligence, but to the numbers and excellent soldiership of General Gregg, who made the flank and rear attack while Stuart was breasting that in front.
These detached statements, which may seem unduly minute, are made in justice to a brave soldier, who can no longer defend himself.
THE MARCH TO GETTYSBURG.
This attempt of the enemy to penetrate his designs had not induced General Lee to interrupt the movement of his infantry toward the Shenandoah Valley. The Federal corps sent across the Rappahannock at Fredericksburg, still remained facing General Hill; and, two days after the Fleetwood fight. General Hooker moved up the river with his main body, advancing the Third Corps to a point near Beverley's Ford. But these movements were disregarded by Lee. On the same day Ewell's corps moved rapidly toward Chester Gap, passed through that defile in the mountain, pushed on by way of Front Royal, and reached Winchester on the evening of the 13th, having in three days marched seventy miles.
The position of the Southern army now exposed it to very serious danger, and at first sight seemed to indicate a deficiency of soldiership in the general commanding it. In face of an enemy whose force was at least equal to his own,[Footnote: General Hooker stated his "effective" at this time to have been diminished to eighty thousand infantry.] Lee had extended his line until it stretched over a distance of about one hundred miles. When Ewell came in sight of Winchester, Hill was still opposite Fredericksburg, and Longstreet half-way between the two in Culpepper. Between the middle and rear corps was interposed the Rapidan River, and between the middle and advanced corps the Blue Ridge Mountains. General Hooker's army was on the north bank of the Rappahannock, well in hand, and comparatively massed, and the situation of Lee's army seemed excellent for the success of a sudden blow at it.
It seems that the propriety of attacking the Southern army while thus in transitu, suggested itself both to General Hooker and to President Lincoln, but they differed as to the point and object of the attack. In anticipation of Lee's movement, General Hooker had written to the President, probably suggesting a counter-movement across the Rappahannock, somewhere near Fredericksburg, to threaten Richmond, and thus check Lee's advance. This, however. President Lincoln refused to sanction.
"In case you find Lee coming to the north of the Rappahannock," President Lincoln wrote to General Hooker, "I would by no means cross to the south of it. I would not take any risk of being entangled upon the river, like an ox jumped half over a fence, and liable to be torn by dogs, front and rear, without a fair chance to gore one way or kick the other"
Five days afterward the President wrote: "I think Lee's army, and not Richmond, is your true objective point. If he comes toward the Upper Potomac, fight him when opportunity offers. If he stays where he is, fret him and fret him."
When intelligence now reached Washington that the head of Lee's column was approaching the Upper Potomac, while the rear was south of the Rappahannock, the President wrote to General Hooker: "If the head of Lee's army is at Martinsburg, and the tail of it on the plank road between Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, the animal must be very slim somewhere—could you not break him?"
General Hooker did not seem to be able to determine upon a decisive course of action, in spite of the tempting opening presented to him by Lee. It would seem that nothing could have been plainer than the good policy of an attack upon Hill at Fredericksburg, which would certainly have checked Lee's movement by recalling Longstreet from Culpepper, and Ewell from the Valley. But this bold operation did not appear to commend itself to the Federal authorities. Instead of reenforcing the corps sent across at Fredericksburg and attacking Hill, General Hooker withdrew the corps, on the 13th, to the north bank of the river, got his forces together, and began to fall back toward Manassas, and even remained in ignorance, it seems, of all connected with his adversary's movements. Even as late as the 17th of June, his chief-of-staff, General Butterfield, wrote to one of his officers; "Try and hunt up somebody from Pennsylvania who knows something, and has a cool enough head to judge what is the actual state of affairs there with regard to the enemy. My impression is, that Lee's movement on the Upper Potomac is a cover for a cavalry-raid on the south side of the river.... We cannot go boggling around until we know what we are going after."
Such was the first result of Lee's daring movement to transfer military operations to the region north of the Potomac. A Northern historian has discerned in his plan of campaign an amount of boldness which "seemed to imply a great contempt for his opponent." This is perhaps a somewhat exaggerated statement of the case. Without "boldness" a commander is but half a soldier, and it may be declared that a certain amount of that quality is absolutely essential to successful military operations. But the question is, Did Lee expose himself, by these movements of his army, to probable disaster, if his adversary—equal to the occasion—struck at his flank? A failure of the campaign of invasion would probably have resulted from such an attack either upon Hill at Fredericksburg, or upon Longstreet in Culpepper, inasmuch as Ewell's column, in that event, must have fallen back. But a defeat of the combined forces of Hill and Longstreet, who were within supporting distance of each other, was not an event which General Hooker could count upon with any degree of certainty. The two corps numbered nearly fifty thousand men—that is to say, two-thirds of the Southern army; General Hooker's whole force was but about eighty thousand; and it was not probable that the eighty thousand would be able to rout the fifty thousand, when at Chancellorsville less than this last number of Southerners had defeated one hundred and twenty thousand.
There seems little reason to doubt that General Lee took this view of the subject, and relied on Hill and Longstreet to unite and repulse any attack upon them, while Ewell's great "raiding column" drove forward into the heart of the enemy's territory. That the movement was bold, there can certainly be no question; that it was a reckless and hazardous operation, depending for its success, in Lee's eyes, solely on the supposed inefficiency of General Hooker, does not appear. These comments delay the narrative, but the subject is fruitful in suggestion. It may be pardoned a Southern writer if he lingers over this last great offensive movement of the Southern army. The last, it was also one of the greatest and most brilliant. The war, therefore, was to enter upon its second stage, in which the South was to simply maintain the defensive. But Lee was terminating the first stage of the contest by one of those great campaigns which project events and personages in bold relief from the broad canvas, and illumine the pages of history.
Events were now in rapid progress. Ewell's column—the sharp head of the Southern spear—reached Winchester on the 13th of June, and Rodes, who had been detached at Front Royal to drive the enemy from Berryville, reached the last-named village on the same day when the force there retreated to Winchester. On the next morning Early's division attacked the forces of Milroy at Winchester, stormed and captured their "Star Fort," on a hill near the place, and so complete was the rout of the enemy that their commander, General Milroy, had scarcely time to escape, with a handful of his men, in the direction of the Potomac.
For this disaster the unfortunate officer was harshly criticised by General Hooker, who wrote to his Government, "In my opinion, Milroy's men will fight better under a soldier."
After thus clearing the country around Winchester, Ewell advanced rapidly on Martinsburg, where he took a number of prisoners and some artillery. The captures in two days had been more than four thousand prisoners and twenty-nine cannon, with four hundred horses and a large amount of stores. Ewell continued then to advance, and, entering Maryland, sent a portion of his cavalry, under General Imboden, westward, to destroy the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and another body, under General Jenkins, in advance, toward Chambersburg. Meanwhile, the rest of the army was moving to join him. Hill, finding that the enemy had disappeared from his front near Fredericksburg, hastened to march from that vicinity, and was sent forward by Lee, on the track of Ewell, passing in rear of Longstreet, who had remained in Culpepper. The latter was now directed by Lee to move along the eastern side of the Blue Ridge, and, by occupying Ashby's and Snicker's Gaps, protect the flank of the column in the Valley from attack—a work in which Stuart's cavalry, thrown out toward the enemy, assisted.
Such was the posture of affairs when General Hooker's chief-of-staff became so much puzzled, and described the Federal army as "boggling around," and not knowing "what they were going after." Lee's whole movement, it appears, was regarded as a feint to "cover a cavalry-raid on the south side of the river"—a strange conclusion, it would seem, in reference to a movement of such magnitude. It now became absolutely necessary that Lee's designs should be unmasked, if possible; and to effect this object Stuart's cavalry force, covering the southern flank, east of the Blue Ridge, must be driven back. This was undertaken in a deliberate manner. Three corps of cavalry, with a division of infantry and a full supply of artillery, were sent forward from the vicinity of Manassas, to drive Stuart in on all the roads leading to the mountain. A fierce struggle followed, in which Stuart, who knew the importance of his position, fought the great force opposed to him from every hill and knoll. But he was forced back steadily, in spite of a determined resistance, and at Upperville a hand-to-hand sabre-fight wound up the movement, in which the Federal cavalry was checked, when Stuart fell back toward Paris, crowned the mountain-side with his cannon, and awaited a final attack. This was not, however, made. Night approaching, the Federal force fell back toward Manassas, and on the next morning Stuart followed them, on the same road over which he had so rapidly retreated, beyond Middleburg.
Lee paid little attention to these operations on his flank east of the mountains, but proceeded steadily, in personal command of his infantry, in the direction of the Cumberland Valley. Ewell was moving rapidly toward Harrisburg, with orders to "take" that place "if he deemed his force adequate," General Jenkins, commanding cavalry, preceding the advance of his infantry. He had thus pierced the enemy's territory, and it was necessary promptly to support him. Hill and Longstreet were accordingly directed to pass the Potomac at Shepherdstown and Williamsport. The columns united at Hagerstown, and on the 27th of June entered Chambersburg.
[Footnote 1: This statement of Lee's orders is derived by the writer from Lieutenant-General Ewell.]
General Hooker had followed, crossing the Potomac, opposite Leesburg, at about the moment when Lee's rear was passing from Maryland into Pennsylvania. The direction of the Federal march was toward Frederick, from which point General Hooker could move in either one of two directions—either across the mountain toward Boonsboro, which would throw him upon Lee's communications, or northward to Westminster, or Gettysburg, which would lead to an open collision with the invading army in a pitched battle.
At this juncture of affairs, just as the Federal army was concentrating near Frederick, General Hooker, at his own request, was relieved from command. The occasion of this unexpected event seems to have been a difference of opinion between himself and General Halleck, the Federal general-in-chief, on the question whether the fortifications at Harper's Ferry should or should not be abandoned. The point at issue would appear to have been unimportant, but ill feeling seems to have arisen: General Hooker resented the action of the authorities, and requested to be relieved; his request was complied with, and his place was filled by Major-General George G. Meade.
General Meade, an officer of excellent soldiership, and enjoying the repute of modesty and dignity, assumed command of the Federal army, and proceeded rapidly in pursuit of Lee. The design of moving directly across the South Mountain on Lee's communications, if ever entertained by him, was abandoned. The outcry from Pennsylvania drew him perforce. Ewell, with one division, had penetrated to Carlisle; and Early, with another division, was at York; everywhere the horses, cattle, and supplies of the country, had been seized upon for the use of the troops; and General Meade was loudly called upon to go to the assistance of the people thus exposed to the terrible rebels. His movements were rapid. Assuming command on June 28th, he began to move on the 29th, and on the 30th was approaching the town of Gettysburg.
[Footnote 1: The movements of the Federal commander were probably hastened by the capture, about this time at Hagerstown, of a dispatch from President Davis to General Lee. Lee, it seems, had suggested that General Beauregard should be sent to make a demonstration in the direction of Culpepper, and by thus appearing to threaten Washington, embarrass the movements of the Northern army. To this suggestion the President is said to have replied that he had no troops to make such a movement; and General Meade had thus the proof before him that Washington was in no danger. The Confederacy was thus truly unfortunate again, as in September, 1862, when a similar incident came to the relief of General McClellan.]
LEE IN PENNSYLVANIA.
Lee, in personal command of the corps of Hill and Longstreet, had meanwhile moved on steadily in the direction of the Susquehanna, and, reaching Chambersburg on the 27th of June, "made preparations to advance upon Harrisburg."
At Chambersburg he issued an order to the troops, which should find a place in every biography of this great soldier. The course pursued by many of the Federal commanders in Virginia had been merciless and atrocious beyond words. General Pope had ravaged the counties north of the Rappahannock, especially the county of Culpepper, in a manner which reduced that smiling region wellnigh to a waste; General Milroy, with his headquarters at Winchester, had so cruelly oppressed the people of the surrounding country as to make them execrate the very mention of his name; and the excesses committed by the troops of these officers, with the knowledge and permission of their commanders, had been such, said a foreign writer, as to "cast mankind two centuries back toward barbarism."
Now, the tables were turned, and the world looked for a sudden and merciless retaliation on the part of the Southerners. Lee was in Pennsylvania, at the head of an army thirsting to revenge the accumulated wrongs against their helpless families. At a word from him the fertile territory of the North would be made to feel the iron pressure of military rule, proceeding on the theory that retaliation is a just principle to adopt toward an enemy. Fire, slaughter, and outrage, would have burst upon Pennsylvania, and the black flag, which had been virtually raised by Generals Pope and Milroy, would have flaunted now in the air at the head of the Southern army.
Instead of permitting this disgraceful oppression of non-combatants, Lee issued, at Chambersburg, the following general order to his troops:
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA,
CHAMBERSBURG, PA., June 27, 1863.
The commanding general has observed with much satisfaction the conduct of the troops on the march, and confidently anticipates results commensurate with the high spirit they have manifested. No troops could have displayed greater fortitude, or better performed the arduous marches of the past ten days. Their conduct in other respects has, with few exceptions, been in keeping with their character as soldiers, and entitles them to approbation and praise.
There have, however, been instances of forgetfulness, on the part of some, that they have in keeping the yet unsullied reputation of the army, and that the duties exacted of us by civilization and Christianity are not less obligatory in the country of the enemy than in our own.
The commanding general considers that no greater disgrace could befall the army, and, through it, our whole people, than the perpetration of the barbarous outrages on the innocent and defenceless, and the wanton destruction of private property, that have marked the course of the enemy in our own country. Such proceedings not only disgrace the perpetrators, and all connected with them, but are subversive of the discipline and efficiency of the army, and destructive of the ends of our present movements. It must be remembered that we make war only upon armed men, and that we cannot take vengeance for the wrongs our people have suffered without lowering ourselves in the eyes of all whose abhorrence has been excited by the atrocities of our enemy, without offending against Him to whom vengeance belongeth, without whose favor and support our efforts must all prove in vain.
The commanding general, therefore, earnestly exhorts the troops to abstain, with most scrupulous care, from unnecessary or wanton injury to private property; and he enjoins upon all officers to arrest and bring to summary punishment all who shall in any way offend against the orders on this subject.
R.E. LEE, General.
The noble maxims and truly Christian spirit of this paper will remain the undying glory of Lee. Under what had been surely a bitter provocation, he retained the calmness and forbearance of a great soul, saying to his army: "The duties exacted of us by civilization and Christianity are not less obligatory in the country of the enemy than in our own.... No greater disgrace could befall the army, and through it our whole people, than the perpetration of outrage upon the innocent and defenceless.... We make war only upon armed men, and cannot take vengeance for the wrongs our people have suffered without offending against Him to whom vengeance belongeth, without whose favor and support our efforts must all prove in vain."
Such were the utterances of Lee, resembling those we might attribute to the ideal Christian warrior; and, indeed, it was such a spirit that lay under the plain uniform of the great Virginian. What he ordered was enforced, and no one was disturbed in his person or property. Of this statement many proofs could be given. A Pennsylvania farmer said to a Northern correspondent, in reference to the Southern troops: "I must say they acted like gentlemen, and, their cause aside, I would rather have forty thousand rebels quartered on my premises than one thousand Union troops." From the journal of Colonel Freemantle, an English officer accompanying the Southern army, we take these sentences:
"In passing through Greencastle we found all the houses and windows shut up, the natives in their Sunday clothes, standing at their doors regarding the troops in a very unfriendly manner. I saw no straggling into the houses, nor were any of the inhabitants disturbed or annoyed by the soldiers. Sentries were placed at the doors of many of the best houses, to prevent any officer or soldier from getting in on any pretence.... I entered Chambersburg at 6 P.M.... Sentries were placed at the doors of all the principal houses, and the town was cleared of all but the military passing through or on duty.... No officer or soldier under the rank of a general is allowed in Chambersburg without a special order from General Lee, which he is very chary of giving, and I hear of officers of rank being refused this pass.... I went into Chambersburg again, and witnessed the singularly good behavior of the troops toward the citizens. I heard soldiers saying to one another that they did not like being in a town in which they were very naturally detested. To any one who has seen, as I have, the ravages of the Northern troops in Southern towns, this forbearance seems most commendable and surprising."
A Northern correspondent said of the course pursued by General Jenkins, in command of Ewell's cavalry: "By way of giving the devil his due, it must be said that, although there were over sixty acres of wheat and eighty acres of corn and oats in the same field, he protected it most carefully, and picketed his horses so that it could not be injured. No fences were wantonly destroyed, poultry was not disturbed, nor did he compliment our blooded cattle so much as to test the quality of their steak and roast."
Of the feeling of the troops these few words from the letter of an officer written to one of his family will convey an idea: "I felt when I first came here that I would like to revenge myself upon these people for the devastation they have brought upon our own beautiful home—that home where we could have lived so happily, and that we loved so much, from which their vandalism has driven you and my helpless little ones. But, though I had such severe wrongs and grievances to redress, and such great cause for revenge, yet, when I got among these people, I could not find it in my heart to molest them."
Such was the treatment of the people of Pennsylvania by the Southern troops in obedience to the order of the commander-in-chief. Lee in person set the example. A Southern journal made the sarcastic statement that he became irate at the robbing of cherry-trees; and, if he saw the top rail of a fence lying upon the ground as he rode by, would dismount and replace it with his own hands.
CONCENTRATION AT GETTYSBURG.
This was the position of the great adversaries in the last days of June. Lee was at Chambersburg, in the Cumberland Valley, about to follow Ewell, who was approaching Harrisburg. Early had captured York; and the Federal army was concentrating rapidly on the flank of the Southern army, toward Gettysburg.
Lee had ordered the movement of Early upon York, with the object of diverting the attention of the Federal commander from his own rear, in the Cumberland Valley. The exact movements and position of General Meade were unknown to him; and this arose in large measure from the absence of Stuart's cavalry. This unfortunate incident has given rise to much comment, and Stuart has been harshly criticised for an alleged disobedience of Lee's plain orders. The question is an embarrassing one. Lee's statement is as follows: "General Stuart was left to guard the passes of the mountains" (Ashby's and other gaps in the Blue Ridge, in Virginia), "and observe the movements of the enemy, whom he was instructed to harass and impede as much as possible should he attempt to cross the Potomac. In that event, General Stuart was directed to move into Maryland, crossing the Potomac east or west of the Blue Ridge, as in his judgment should be best, and take position on the right of our column as it advanced."
This order was certainly plain up to a certain point. Stuart was to harass and embarrass the movements of the enemy, in case they attempted to cross to the north bank of the Potomac. When they did cross, he also was to pass the river, either east or west of the Blue Ridge, "as in his judgment should seem best." So far the order was unmistakable. The river was to be crossed at such point as Stuart should select, either on the lower waters, or in the Valley. Lee added, however, that this movement should be made in such a manner as to enable Stuart to "take position on the right of our column as it advanced"—the meaning appearing to be that the cavalry should move between the two armies, in order to guard the Southern flank as it advanced into the Cumberland Valley. Circumstances arose, however, which rendered it difficult for Stuart to move on the line thus indicated with sufficient promptness to render his services valuable. The enemy crossed at Leesburg while the Southern cavalry was near Middleburg; and, from the jaded condition of his horses, Stuart feared that he would be unable, in case he crossed above, to place his column between the two armies then rapidly advancing. He accordingly took the bold resolution of passing the Potomac below Leesburg, designing to shape his course due northward toward Harrisburg, the objective point of the Southern army. This he did—crossing at Seneca Falls—but on the march he was delayed by many incidents. Near Rockville he stopped to capture a large train of Federal wagons; at Westminster and Hanovertown he was temporarily arrested by combats with the Federal cavalry; and, ignorant as he was of the concentration of Lee's troops upon Gettysburg, he advanced rapidly toward Carlisle, where, in the midst of an attack on that place, he was recalled by Lee.
Such were the circumstances leading to, and the incidents attending, this movement. The reader must form his own opinion of the amount of blame to be justly attached to Stuart. He always declared, and asserted in his report of these occurrences, that he had acted in exact obedience to his orders; but, on the contrary, as appears from General Lee's report, those orders were meant to prescribe a different movement. He had marched in one sense on "the right" of the Southern column "as it advanced;" but in another sense he had not done so. Victory at Gettysburg would have silenced all criticism of this difference of construction; but, unfortunately, the event was different, and the strictures directed at Stuart were natural. The absence of the cavalry unquestionably embarrassed Lee greatly; but, in his report, he is moderate and guarded, as usual, in his expressions. "The absence of cavalry," he says, "rendered it impossible to obtain accurate information" of General Meade's movements; and "the march toward Gettysburg was conducted more slowly than it would have been had the movements of the Federal army been known."
To return now to the movements of Lee's infantry, after the arrival of the main body at Chambersburg. Lee was about to continue his advance in the direction of Harrisburg, when, on the night of the 29th, his scouts brought him intelligence that the Federal army was rapidly advancing, and the head of the column was near the South Mountain. A glance at the map will indicate the importance of this intelligence. General Meade would be able, without difficulty, in case the Southern army continued its march northward, to cross the South-Mountain range, and place himself directly in Lee's rear, in the Cumberland Valley. Then the Southern forces would be completely intercepted—General Meade would be master of the situation—and Lee must retreat east of the mountain or cut his way through the Federal army.
A battle was thus clearly about to be forced upon the Southern commander, and it only remained for him to so manoeuvre his army as to secure a position in which he could receive the enemy's attack with advantage. Lee accordingly put his column in motion across the mountain toward Gettysburg, and, sending couriers to Ewell and Early to return from Harrisburg and York toward the same point, made his preparations to take position and fight.
On the morning of the 1st day of July, this was then the condition of affairs. General Meade was advancing with rapidity upon the town of Gettysburg, and Lee was crossing the South Mountain, opposite Chambersburg, to meet him.
When the heads of the two columns came together in the vicinity of Gettysburg, the thunders of battle began.
THE FIRST DAY'S FIGHT AT GETTYSBURG.
The sanguinary struggle which now ensued between the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac continued for three days, and the character of these battles, together with their decisive results, have communicated to the events an extraordinary interest. Every fact has thus been preserved, and the incidents of the great combat, down to the most minute details, have been placed upon record. The subject is, indeed, almost embarrassed by the amount of information collected and published; and the chief difficulty for a writer, at this late day, is to select from the mass such salient events as indicate clearly the character of the conflict.
This difficulty the present writer has it in his power to evade, in great measure, by confining himself mainly to the designs and operations of General Lee. These were plain and simple. He had been forced to relinquish his march toward the Susquehanna by the dangerous position of General Meade so near his line of retreat; this rendered a battle unavoidable; and Lee was now moving to accept battle, designing, if possible, to secure such a position as would give him the advantage in the contest. Before he succeeded in effecting this object, battle was forced upon him—not by General Meade, but by simple stress of circumstances. The Federal commander had formed the same intention as that of his adversary—to accept, and not deliver, battle—and did not propose to fight near Gettysburg. He was, rather, looking backward to a strong position in the direction of Westminster, when suddenly the head of his column became engaged near Gettysburg, and this determined every thing.
A few words are necessary to convey to the reader some idea of the character of the ground. Gettysburg is a town, nestling down in a valley, with so many roads centring in the place that, if a circle were drawn around it to represent the circumference of a wheel, the roads would resemble the spokes. A short distance south of the town is a ridge of considerable height, which runs north and south, bending eastward in the vicinity of Gettysburg, and describing a curve resembling a hook. From a graveyard on this high ground it is called Cemetery Hill, or Ridge. Opposite this ridge, looking westward, is a second and lower range called Seminary Ridge. This extends also north and south, passing west of Gettysburg. Still west of Seminary Ridge are other still lower ranges, between which flows a small stream called Willoughby Run; and beyond these, distant about ten miles, rise the blue heights of the South Mountain.
Across the South Mountain, by way of the village of Cashtown, Lee, on the morning of the 1st of July, was moving steadily toward Gettysburg, when Hill, holding the front, suddenly encountered the head of the enemy's column in the vicinity of Willoughby Run. This consisted of General Buford's cavalry division, which had pushed on in advance of General Reynolds's infantry corps, the foremost infantry of the Federal army, and now, almost before it was aware of Hill's presence, became engaged with him. General Buford posted his horse-artillery to meet Hill's attack, but it soon became obvious that the Federal cavalry could not stand before the Southern infantry fire, and General Reynolds, at about ten in the morning, hastening forward, reached the field. An engagement immediately took place between the foremost infantry divisions of Hill and Reynolds. A brigade of Hill's, from Mississippi, drove back a Federal brigade, seizing upon its artillery; but, in return, Archer's brigade was nearly surrounded, and several hundred of the men captured. Almost immediately after this incident the Federal forces sustained a serious loss; General Reynolds—one of the most trusted and energetic lieutenants of General Meade—was mortally wounded while disposing his men for action, and borne from the field. The Federal troops continued, however, to fight with gallantry. Some of the men were heard exclaiming, "We have come to stay!" in reference to which, one of their officers afterward said, "And a very large portion of them never left that ground."
[Footnote 1: General Doubleday: Report of Committee on the Conduct of the War, Part I., p. 307.]
Battle was now joined in earnest between the two heads of column, and on each side reenforcements were sent forward to take part in this unexpected encounter. Neither General Lee nor General Meade had expected or desired it. Both had aimed, in manoeuvring their forces, to select ground suitable for receiving instead of making an attack, and now a blind chance seemed about to bring on a battle upon ground unknown to both commanders. When the sound of the engagement was first heard by Lee, he was in the rear of his troops at the headquarters which Hill had just vacated, near Cashtown, under the South Mountain. The firing was naturally supposed by him to indicate an accidental collision with some body of the enemy's cavalry, and, when intelligence reached him that Hill was engaged with the Federal infantry, the announcement occasioned him the greatest astonishment. General Meade's presence so near him was a circumstance completely unknown to Lee, and certainly was not desired by him. But a small portion of his forces were "up." Longstreet had not yet passed the mountain, and the forces of General Ewell, although that officer had promptly fallen back, in obedience to his orders, from the Susquehanna, were not yet in a position to take part in the engagement. Under these circumstances, if the whole of General Meade's army had reached Gettysburg, directly in Lee's front, the advantage in the approaching action must be largely in favor of the Federal army, and a battle might result in a decisive Confederate defeat.
No choice, however, was now left General Lee. The head of his advancing column had come into collision with the enemy, and it was impossible to retire without a battle. Lee accordingly ordered Hill's corps to be closed up, and reenforcements to be sent forward rapidly to the point of action. He then mounted his horse and rode in the direction of the firing, guided by the sound, and the smoke which rose above the tranquil landscape.
It was a beautiful day and a beautiful season of the year. The fields were green with grass, or golden with ripening grain, over which passed a gentle breeze, raising waves upon the brilliant surface. The landscape was broken here and there by woods; in the west rose the blue range of the South Mountain; the sun was shining through showery clouds, and in the east the sky was spanned by a rainbow. This peaceful scene was now disturbed by the thundering of artillery and the rattle of musketry. The sky was darkened, here and there, by clouds of smoke rising from barns or dwelling-houses set on fire by shell; and beneath rose red tongues of flame, roaring in response to the guns.
Each side had now sent forward reinforcements to support the vanguards, and an obstinate struggle ensued, the proportions of the fight gradually increasing, until the action became a regular battle. Hill, although suffering from indisposition, which the pallor of his face indicated, met the Federal attack with his habitual resolution. He was hard pressed, however, when fortunately one of General Ewell's divisions, under Rodes, debouched from the Carlisle road, running northward from Gettysburg, and came to his assistance. Ewell had just begun to move from Carlisle toward Harrisburg—his second division, under Early, being at York—when a dispatch from Lee reached him, directing him to return, and "proceed to Gettysburg or Cashtown, as his circumstances might direct." He promptly obeyed, encamped within about eight miles of Gettysburg on the evening of the 30th, and was now moving toward Cashtown, where Johnson's division of his corps then was, when Hill sent him word that he needed his assistance. Rodes was promptly sent forward to the field of action. Early was ordered to hurry back, and Rodes soon reached the battle-field, where he formed his line on high ground, opposite the Federal right.
The appearance of this important reenforcement relieved Hill, and caused the enemy to extend his right to face Rodes. The Federal line thus resembled a crescent, the left half, fronting Hill, toward the northwest; and the right, half-fronting Rodes, toward the north—the town of Gettysburg being in rear of the curve. An obstinate attack was made by the enemy and by Rodes at nearly the same moment. The loss on both sides was heavy, but Rodes succeeded in shaking the Federal right, when Early made his appearance from the direction of York. This compelled the Federal force to still farther extend its right, to meet the new attack. The movement greatly weakened them. Rodes charged their centre with impetuosity; Early came in on their right, with Gordon's brigade in front, and under this combined attack the Federal troops gave way, and retreated in great disorder to and through Gettysburg, leaving the ground covered with their dead and wounded to the number of about five thousand, and the same number of prisoners in the hands of the Confederates.
The first collision of the two armies had thus resulted in a clear Southern victory, and it is to be regretted that this important success was not followed up by the seizure of the Cemetery Range, south of the town, which it was in the power of the Southern forces at that time to do. To whom the blame—if blame there be—of this failure, is justly chargeable, the writer of these pages is unable to state. All that he has been able to ascertain with certainty is the following: As soon as the Federal forces gave way, General Lee rode forward, and at about four o'clock in the afternoon was posted on an elevated point of Seminary Ridge, from which he could see the broken lines of the enemy rapidly retreating up the slope of Cemetery Range, in his front. The propriety of pursuit, with a view to seizing this strong position, was obvious, and General Lee sent an officer of his staff with a message to General Ewell, to the effect that "he could see the enemy flying, that they were disorganized, and that it was only necessary to push on vigorously, and the Cemetery heights were ours." [Footnote: The officer who carried the order is our authority for this statement.] Just about the moment, it would seem, when this order was dispatched—about half-past four—General Hill, who had joined Lee on the ridge, "received a message from General Ewell, requesting him (Hill) to press the enemy in front, while he performed the same operation on his right." This statement is taken from the journal of Colonel Freemantle, who was present and noted the hour. He adds: "The pressure was accordingly applied, in a mild degree, but the enemy were too strongly posted, and it was too late in the evening for a regular attack." General Ewell, an officer of great courage and energy, is said to have awaited the arrival of his third division (Johnson's) before making a decisive assault. Upon the arrival of Johnson, about sunset, General Ewell prepared to advance and seize upon the eastern terminus of the Cemetery Range, which commanded the subsequent Federal position. At this moment General Lee sent him word to "proceed with his troops to the [Confederate] right, in case he could do nothing where he was;" he proceeded to General Lee's tent thereupon to confer with him, and the result was that it was agreed to first assault the hill on the right. It was now, however, after midnight, and the attack was directed by Lee to be deferred until the next morning.
It was certainly unfortunate that the advance was not then made; but Lee, in his report, attributes no blame to any one. "The attack," he says, "was not pressed that afternoon, the enemy's force being unknown, and it being considered advisable to await the arrival of the rest of our troops."
The failure to press the enemy immediately after their retreat, with the view of driving them from and occupying Cemetery Heights, is susceptible of an explanation which seems to retrieve the Southern commander and his subordinates from serious criticism. The Federal forces had been driven from the ground north and west of Gettysburg, but it was seen now that the troops thus defeated constituted only a small portion of General Meade's army, and Lee had no means of ascertaining, with any degree of certainty, that the main body was not near at hand. The fact was not improbable, and it was not known that Cemetery Hill was not then in their possession. The wooded character of the ground rendered it difficult for General Lee, even from his elevated position on Seminary Ridge, to discover whether the heights opposite were, or were not, held by a strong force. Infantry were visible there; and in the plain in front the cavalry of General Buford were drawn up, as though ready to accept battle. It was not until after the battle that it was known that the heights might have been seized upon—General Hancock, who had succeeded Reynolds, having, to defend them, but a single brigade. This fact was not known to Lee; the sun was now declining, and the advance upon Cemetery Hill was deferred until the next day.
When on the next morning, between daybreak and sunrise, General Lee, accompanied by Hill, Longstreet, and Hood, ascended to the same point on Seminary Ridge, and reconnoitred the opposite heights through his field-glass, they were seen to be occupied by heavy lines of infantry and numerous artillery. The moment had passed; the rampart in his front bristled with bayonets and cannon. General Hancock, in command of the Federal advance, had hastened back at nightfall to General Meade, who was still some distance in rear, and reported the position to be an excellent one for receiving the Southern attack. Upon this information General Meade had at once acted; by one o'clock in the morning his headquarters were established upon the ridge; and when Lee, on Seminary Hill opposite, was reconnoitring the heights, the great bulk of the Federal army was in position to receive his assault.
The adversaries were thus face to face, and a battle could not well be avoided. Lee and his troops were in high spirits and confident of victory, but every advantage of position was seen to be on the side of the enemy.
THE TWO ARMIES IN POSITION.
The morning of the 2d of July had arrived, and the two armies were in presence of each other and ready for battle. The question was, which of the great adversaries would make the attack.
General Meade was as averse to assuming the offensive as his opponent. Lee's statement on this subject has been given, but is here repeated: "It had not been intended to fight a general battle," he wrote, "at such a distance from our base, unless attacked by the enemy." General Meade said before the war committee afterward, "It was my desire to fight a defensive rather than an offensive battle," and he adds the obvious explanation, that he was "satisfied his chances of success were greater in a defensive battle than an offensive one." There was this great advantage, however, on the Federal side, that the troops were on their own soil, with their communications uninterrupted, and could wait, while General Lee was in hostile territory, a considerable distance from his base of supplies, and must, for that reason, either attack his adversary or retreat.
He decided to attack. To this decision he seems to have been impelled, in large measure, by the extraordinary spirit of his troops, whose demeanor in the subsequent struggle was said by a Federal officer to resemble that of men "drunk on champagne." General Longstreet described the army at this moment as able, from the singular afflatus which bore it up, to undertake "any thing," and this sanguine spirit was the natural result of a nearly unbroken series of victories. At Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and in the preliminary struggle of Gettysburg, they had driven the enemy before them in disorder, and, on the night succeeding this last victory, both officers and men spoke of the coming battle "as a certainty, and the universal feeling in the army was one of profound contempt for an enemy whom they had beaten so constantly, and under so many disadvantages."
[Footnote 1: Colonel Freemantle. He was present, and speaks from observation.] Contempt of an adversary is dangerous, and pride goes before a fall. The truth of these pithy adages was now about to be shown.
General Lee, it is said, shared the general confidence of his troops, and was carried away by it. He says in his report "Finding ourselves unexpectedly confronted by the Federal army, it became a matter of difficulty to withdraw through the mountain with our large trains; at the same time, the country was unfavorable for collecting supplies while in the presence of the enemy's main body, as he was enabled to restrain our foraging-parties by occupying the passes of the mountains with regular and local troops. A battle thus became in a measure unavoidable." But, even after the battle, when the Southern army was much weaker, it was found possible, without much difficulty, to "withdraw through the mountains" with the trains. A stronger motive than this is stated in the next sentence of General Lee's report:" Encouraged by the successful issue of the engagement of the first day, and in view of the valuable results that would ensue from the defeat of the army of General Meade, it was thought advisable to renew the attack." The meaning of the writer of these words is plain. The Federal troops had been defeated with little difficulty in the first day's fight; it seemed probable that a more serious conflict would have similar results; and a decisive victory promised to end the war.
General Meade, it seems, scarcely expected to be attacked. He anticipated a movement on Lee's part, over the Emmetsburg road southward. [Footnote: Testimony of General Meade before the war committee.] By giving that direction to his army, General Lee would have forced his adversary to retire from his strong position on Cemetery Hill, or come out and attack him; whether, however, it was desirable on General Lee's part to run the risk of such an attack on the Southern column in transitu, it is left to others better able than the present writer to determine.
This unskilled comment must pass for what it is worth. It is easy, after the event, for the smallest to criticise the greatest. Under whatever influences, General Lee determined not to retreat, either through the South Mountain or toward Emmetsburg, but marshalled his army for an attack on the position held by General Meade.
The Southern lines were drawn up on Seminary Ridge, and on the ground near Gettysburg. Longstreet's corps was posted on the right, opposite the Federal left, near the southern end of Cemetery Ridge. Next came Hill's corps, extending along the crest nearly to Gettysburg. There it was joined by Ewell's line, which, passing through the town, bent round, adapting itself to the position of the Federal right which held the high ground, curving round in the shape of a hook, at the north end of the ridge.
The Federal lines thus occupied the whole Cemetery Range—which, being higher, commanded Seminary Ridge—and consisted, counting from right to left, of the troops of Generals Howard, Hancock, Sickles, Sykes, and Sedgwick; the two latter forming a strong reserve to guard the Federal left. The position was powerful, as both flanks rested upon high ground, which gave every advantage to the assailed party; but on the Federal left an accidental error, it seems, had been committed by General Sickles. He had advanced his line to a ridge in front of the main range, which appeared to afford him a better position; but this made it necessary to retire the left wing of his corps, to cover the opening in that direction. The result was, an angle—the effect of which is to expose troops to serious danger—and this faulty disposition of the Federal left seems to have induced General Lee to direct his main attack at the point in question, with the view of breaking the Federal line, and seizing upon the main ridge in rear. "In front of General Longstreet," he says, "the enemy held a position from which, if he could be driven, it was thought that our army could be used to advantage in assailing the more elevated ground beyond." In order to cooeperate in this, the main attack, Ewell was ordered at the same time to assail the Federal right toward Gettysburg, and Hill directed to threaten their centre, and, if there were an opening, make a real attack. These demonstrations against the enemy's right and centre, Lee anticipated, would prevent him from reenforcing his left. Longstreet would thus, he hoped, be "enabled to reach the west of the ridge" in rear of the Federal line; and General Meade afterward said, "If they had succeeded in occupying that, it would have prevented me from holding any of the ground which I subsequently held at the last"—that is to say, that he would have been driven from the entire Cemetery Range.
Such was the position of the two adversaries, and such the design of Lee, on the 2d of July, when the real struggle was about to begin.
THE SECOND DAY.
Throughout the forenoon of the day about to witness one of those great passages of arms which throw so bloody a glare upon the pages of history, scarcely a sound disturbed the silence, and it was difficult to believe that nearly two hundred thousand men were watching each other across the narrow valley, ready at the word to advance and do their best to tear each other to pieces.
During all these long hours, when expectation and suspense were sufficient to try the stoutest nerves, the two commanders were marshalling their lines for the obstinate struggle which was plainly at hand. General Meade, who knew well the ability of his opponent, was seeing, in person, to every thing, and satisfying himself that his lines were in order to receive the attack. Lee was making his preparations to commence the assault, upon which, there could be little doubt, the event of the whole war depended.
From the gallantry which the Federal troops displayed in this battle, they must have been in good heart for the encounter. It is certain that the Southern army had never been in better condition for a decisive conflict. We have spoken of the extraordinary confidence of the men, in themselves and in their commander. This feeling now exhibited itself either in joyous laughter and the spirit of jesting among the troops, or in an air of utter indifference, as of men sure of the result, and giving it scarcely a thought. The swarthy gunners, still begrimed with powder from the work of the day before, lay down around the cannon in position along the crest, and passed the moments in uttering witticisms, or in slumber; and the lines of infantry, seated or lying, musket in hand, were as careless. The army was plainly ready, and would respond with alacrity to Lee's signal. Of the result, no human being in this force of more than seventy thousand men seemed to have the least doubt.
Lee was engaged during the whole morning and until past noon in maturing his preparations for the assault which he designed making against the enemy's left in front of Longstreet. All was not ready until about four in the afternoon; then he gave the word, and Longstreet suddenly opened a heavy artillery-fire on the position opposite him. At this signal the guns of Hill opened from the ridge on his left, and Ewell's artillery on the Southern left in front of Gettysburg thundered in response. Under cover of his cannon-fire, Longstreet then advanced his lines, consisting of Hood's division on the right, and McLawe's division on the left, and made a headlong assault upon the Federal forces directly in his front.
The point aimed at was the salient, formed by the projection of General Sickles's line forward to the high ground known as "The Peach Orchard." Here, as we have already said, the Federal line of battle formed an angle, with the left wing of Sickles's corps bending backward so as to cover the opening between his line and the main crest in his rear. Hood's division swung round to assail the portion of the line thus retired, and so rapid was the movement of this energetic soldier, that in a short space of time he pushed his right beyond the Federal left flank, had pierced the exposed point, and was in direct proximity to the much-coveted "crest of the ridge," upon the possession of which depended the fate of the battle. Hood was fully aware of its importance, and lost not a moment in advancing to seize it. His troops, largely composed of those famous Texas regiments which Lee had said "fought grandly and nobly," and upon whom he relied "in all tight places," responded to his ardent orders: a small run was crossed, the men rushed up the slope, and the crest was almost in their very grasp.
Success at this moment would have decided the event of the battle of Gettysburg, and in all probability that of the war. All that was needed was a single brigade upon either side—a force sufficient to seize the crest, for neither side held it—and with this brigade a rare good fortune, or rather the prompt energy of a single officer, according to Northern historians, supplied the Federal commander. Hood's line was rushing up with cheers to occupy the crest, which here takes the form of a separate peak, and is known as "Little Round Top," when General Warren, chief-engineer of the army, who was passing, saw the importance of the position, and determined, at all hazards, to defend it. He accordingly ordered the Federal signal-party, which had used the peak as a signal-station, but were hastily folding up their flags, to remain where they were, laid violent hands upon a brigade which was passing, and ordered it to occupy the crest; and, when Hood's men rushed up the rocky slope with yells of triumph, they were suddenly met by a fusillade from the newly-arrived brigade, delivered full in their faces. A violent struggle ensued for the possession of the heights. The men fought hand to hand on the summit, and the issue remained for some time doubtful. At last it was decided in favor of the Federal troops, who succeeded in driving Hood's men from the hill, the summit of which was speedily crowned with artillery, which opened a destructive fire upon the retreating Southerners. They fell back sullenly, leaving the ground strewed with their dead and wounded. Hood had been wounded, and many of his best officers had fallen. For an instant he had grasped in his strong hand the prize which would have been worth ten times the amount of blood shed; but he had been unable to retain his hold; he was falling back from the coveted crest, pursued by that roar of the enemy's cannon which seemed to rejoice in his discomfiture.
An obstinate struggle was meanwhile taking place in the vicinity of the Peach Orchard, where the left of Hood and the division of McLaws had struck the front of General Sickles, and were now pressing his line back steadily toward the ridge in his rear. In spite of resolute resistance the Federal troops at this point were pushed back to a wheat-field in the rear of the Peach Orchard, and, following up this advantage, Longstreet charged them and broke their line, which fell back in disorder toward the high ground in rear. In this attack McLaws was assisted by Hill's right division—that of Anderson. With this force Longstreet continued to press forward, and, piercing the Federal line, seemed about to inflict upon them a great disaster by seizing the commanding position occupied by the Federal left. Nothing appears to have saved them at this moment from decisive defeat but the masterly concentration of reenforcements after reenforcements at the point of danger. The heavy reserves under Generals Sykes and Sedgwick were opposite this point, and other troops were hastened forward to oppose Longstreet. This reenforcement was continuous throughout the entire afternoon. In spite of Lee's demonstrations in other quarters to direct attention, General Meade—driven by necessity—continued to move fresh troops incessantly to protect his left; and success finally came as the reward of his energy and soldiership. Longstreet found his weary troops met at every new step in advance by fresh lines, and, as night had now come, he discontinued the attack. The Federal lines had been driven considerably beyond the point which they had held before the assault, and were now east of the wheat-field, where some of the hardest fighting of the day had taken place, but, in spite of this loss of ground, they had suffered no serious disaster, and, above all, Lee had not seized upon that "crest of the ridge," which was the keystone of the position.
Thus Longstreet's attack had been neither a success nor a failure. He had not accomplished all that was expected, but he had driven back the enemy from their advanced position, and held strong ground in their front. A continuance of the assault was therefore deferred until the next day—night having now come—and General Longstreet ordered the advance to cease, and the firing to be discontinued.
During the action on the right, Hill had continued to make heavy demonstrations on the Federal centre, and Ewell had met with excellent success in the attack, directed by Lee, to be made against the enemy's right. This was posted upon the semicircular eminence, a little southeast of Gettysburg, and the Federal works were attacked by Ewell about sunset. With Early's division on his right, and Johnson's on his left, Ewell advanced across the open ground in face of a heavy artillery-fire, the men rushed up the slope, and in a brief space of time the Federal artillerists and infantry were driven from the works, which at nightfall remained in Ewell's hands.
Such had been the fate of the second struggle around Gettysburg. The moon, which rose just as the fighting terminated, threw its ghastly glare upon a field where neither side had achieved full success.
Lee had not failed, and he had not succeeded. He had aimed to drive the Federal forces from the Cemetery Range, and had not been able to effect that object; but they had been forced back upon both their right and left, and a substantial advantage seemed thus to have been gained. That the Confederate success was not complete, seems to have resulted from the failure to seize the Round-Top Hill. The crisis of the battle had undoubtedly been the moment when Hood was so near capturing this position—in reference to the importance of which we quoted General Meade's own words. It was saved to the Federal army by the presence of mind, it seems, of a single officer, and the gallantry of a single brigade. Such are the singular chances of battle, in which the smallest causes so often effect the greatest results.
General Lee, in company with General Hill, had, during the battle, occupied his former position on Seminary Ridge, near the centre of his line—quietly seated, for the greater portion of the time, upon the stump of a tree, and looking thoughtfully toward the opposite heights which Longstreet was endeavoring to storm. His demeanor was entirely calm and composed. An observer would not have concluded that he was the commander-in-chief. From time to time he raised his field-glass to his eyes, and rising said a few words to General Hill or General Long, of his staff. After this brief colloquy, he would return to his seat on the stump, and continue to direct his glass toward the wooded heights held by the enemy. A notable circumstance, and one often observed upon other occasions, was that, during the entire action, he scarcely sent an order. During the time Longstreet was engaged—from about half-past four until night—he sent but one message, and received but one report. Having given full directions to his able lieutenants, and informed them of the objects which he desired to attain, he, on this occasion as upon others, left the execution of his orders to them, relying upon their judgment and ability.
A singular incident occurred at this moment, which must have diverted Lee, temporarily, from his abstracted mood. In the midst of the most furious part of the cannonade, when the air was filled with exploding shell, a Confederate band of music, between the opposing lines, just below General Lee's position, began defiantly playing polkas and waltzes on their instruments. The incident was strange in the midst of such a hurly-burly. The bloody battle-field seemed turned into a ballroom.
With nightfall the firing sunk to silence. The moon had risen, and the pale light now lit up the faces of the dead and wounded of both sides.
Lee's first great assault had failed to secure the full results which he had anticipated from it.
THE LAST CHARGE AT GETTYSBURG.
The weird hours of the moonlit night succeeding the "second day at Gettysburg" witnessed a consultation between Lee and his principal officers, as to the propriety of renewing the attack on the Federal position, or falling back in the direction of the Potomac. In favor of the latter course there seemed to be many good reasons. The supplies, both of provisions and ammunition, were running short. The army, although unshaken, had lost heavily in the obstinately-disputed attack. In the event of defeat now, its situation might become perilous, and the destruction of the Army of Northern Virginia was likely to prove that of the Southern cause. On the other hand, the results of the day's fighting, if not decisive, had been highly encouraging. On both the Federal wings the Confederates had gained ground, which they still held. Longstreet's line was in advance of the Peach Orchard, held by the enemy on the morning of the second, and Ewell was still rooted firmly, it seemed, in their works near Gettysburg. These advantages were certainly considerable, and promised success to the Southern arms, if the assault were renewed. But the most weighty consideration prompting a renewal of the attack was the condition of the troops. They were undismayed and unshaken either in spirit or efficiency, and were known both to expect and to desire a resumption of the assault. Even after the subsequent charge of Pickett, which resulted so disastrously, the ragged infantry were heard exclaiming: "We've not lost confidence in the old man! This day's work won't do him no harm! Uncle Robert will get us into Washington yet!" Add to this the fact that the issue of the second day had stirred up in Lee himself all the martial ardor of his nature; and there never lived a more thorough soldier, when he was fully aroused, than the Virginian. All this soldiership of the man revolted at the thought of retreating and abandoning his great enterprise. He looked, on the one hand, at his brave army, ready at the word to again advance upon the enemy—at that enemy scarce able on the previous day to hold his position—and, weighing every circumstance in his comprehensive mind, which "looked before and after," Lee determined on the next morning to try a decisive assault upon the Federal troops; to storm, if possible, the Cemetery Range, and at one great blow terminate the campaign and the war.
The powerful influences which we have mentioned, cooeperating, shaped the decision to which Lee had come. He would not retreat, but fight. The campaign should not be abandoned without at least one great charge upon the Federal position; and orders were now given for a renewal of the attack on the next morning. "The general plan of attack," Lee says, "was unchanged, except that one division and two brigades of Hill's corps were ordered to support Longstreet." From these words it is obvious that Lee's main aim now, as on the preceding day, was to force back the Federal left in front of Longstreet, and seize the high ground commanding the whole ridge in flank and reverse. To this end Longstreet was reenforced, and the great assault was evidently intended to take place in that quarter. But circumstances caused an alteration, as will be seen, in Lee's plans. The centre, thus weakened, was from stress of events to become the point of decisive struggle. The assaults of the previous day had been directed against the two extremities of the enemy; the assault of the third day, which would decide the fate of the battle and the campaign, was to be the furious rush of Pickett's division of Virginian troops at the enemy's centre, on Cemetery Hill.
A preliminary conflict, brought on by the Federal commander, took place early in the morning. Ewell had continued throughout the night to hold the enemy's breastworks on their right, from which he had driven them in the evening. As dawn approached now, he was about to resume the attack; and, in obedience to Lee's orders, attempt to "dislodge the enemy" from other parts of the ridge, when General Meade took the initiative, and opened upon him a furious fire of cannon, which was followed by a determined infantry charge to regain the hill. Ewell held his ground with the obstinate nerve which characterized him, and the battle raged about four hours—that is, until about eight o'clock. At that time, however, the pressure of the enemy became too heavy to stand. General Meade succeeded in driving Ewell from the hill, and the Federal lines were reestablished on the commanding ground which they had previously occupied.
This event probably deranged, in some degree, General Lee's plans, which contemplated, as we have seen, an attack by Ewell contemporaneous with the main assault by Longstreet. Ewell was in no condition at this moment to assume the offensive again; and the pause in the fighting appears to have induced General Lee to reflect and modify his plans. Throughout the hours succeeding the morning's struggle, Lee, attended by Generals Hill and Longstreet, and their staff-officers, rode along the lines, reconnoitring the opposite heights, and the cavalcade was more than once saluted by bullets from the enemy's sharp-shooters, and an occasional shell. The result of the reconnoissance seems to have been the conclusion that the Federal left—now strengthened by breastworks, behind which powerful reserves lay waiting—was not a favorable point for attack. General Meade, no doubt, expected an assault there; and, aroused to a sense of his danger by the Confederate success of the previous day, had made every preparation to meet a renewal of the movement. The Confederate left and centre remained, but it seemed injudicious to think of attacking from Ewell's position. A concentration of the Southern force there would result in a dangerous separation of the two wings of the army; and, in the event of failure, the enemy would have no difficulty in descending and turning Lee's right flank, and thus interposing between him and the Potomac.
The centre only was left, and to this Lee now turned his attention. A determined rush, with a strong column at Cemetery Hill in his front, might wrest that point from the enemy. Then their line would be pierced; the army would follow; Lee would be rooted on this commanding ground, directly between the two Federal wings, upon which their own guns might be turned, and the defeat of General Meade must certainly follow. Such were, doubtless, the reflections of General Lee, as he rode along the Seminary Range, scanning, through his field-glass, the line of the Federal works. His decision was made, and orders were given by him to prepare the column for the assault. For the hard work at hand, Pickett's division of Virginian troops, which had just arrived and were fresh, was selected. These were to be supported by Heth's division of North Carolina troops, under General Pettigrew, who was to move on Pickett's left; and a brigade of Hill's, under General Wilcox, was to cover the right of the advancing column, and protect it from a flank attack.
The advance of the charging column was preceded by a tremendous artillery-fire, directed from Seminary Ridge at the enemy's left and centre. This began about an hour past noon, and the amount of thunder thus unloosed will be understood from the statement that Lee employed one hundred and forty-five pieces of artillery, and the enemy replied with eighty—in all two hundred and twenty-five guns, all discharging at the same time. For nearly two hours this frightful hurly-burly continued, the harsh roar reverberating ominously in the gorges of the hills, and thrown back, in crash after crash, from the rocky slopes of the two ridges. To describe this fire afterward, the cool soldier, General Hancock, could find no other but the word terrific. "Their artillery-fire," he says, "was the most terrific cannonade I ever witnessed, and the most prolonged.... It was a most terrific and appalling cannonade—one possibly hardly ever paralleled."
While this artillery-duel was in progress, the charging column was being formed on the west of Seminary Ridge, opposite the Federal centre on Cemetery Hill. Pickett drew up his line with Kemper's and Garnett's brigades in front, and Armistead's brigade in rear. The brigade under General Wilcox took position on the right, and on the left was placed the division under Pettigrew, which was to participate in the charge. The force numbered between twelve and fifteen thousand men; but, as will be seen, nearly in the beginning of the action Pickett was left alone, and thus his force of about five thousand was all that went forward to pierce the centre of the Federal army.
The opposing ridges at this point are about one mile asunder, and across this space Pickett moved at the word, his line advancing slowly, and perfectly "dressed," with its red battle-flags flying, and the sunshine darting from the gun-barrels and bayonets. The two armies were silent, concentrating their whole attention upon this slow and ominous advance of men who seemed in no haste, and resolved to allow nothing to arrest them. When the column had reached a point about midway between the opposing heights the Federal artillery suddenly opened a furious fire upon them, which inflicted considerable loss. This, however, had no effect upon the troops, who continued to advance slowly in the same excellent order, without exhibiting any desire to return the fire. It was impossible to witness this steady and well-ordered march under heavy fire without feeling admiration for the soldiership of the troops who made it. Where shell tore gaps in the ranks, the men quietly closed up, and the hostile front advanced in the same ominous silence toward the slope where the real struggle, all felt, would soon begin.
They were within a few hundred yards of the hill, when suddenly a rapid cannon-fire thundered on their right, and shell and canister from nearly fifty pieces of artillery swept the Southern line, enfilading it, and for an instant throwing the right into some disorder. This disappeared at once, however. The column closed up, and continued to advance, unmoved, toward the height. At last the moment came. The steady "common-time" step had become "quick time;" this had changed to "double-quick;" then the column rushed headlong at the enemy's breastworks on the slope of the hill. As they did so, the real thunder began. A fearful fire of musketry burst forth, and struck them in the face, and this hurricane scattered the raw troops of Pettigrew as leaves are scattered by a wind. That whole portion of the line gave way in disorder, and fled from the field, which was strewed with their dead; and, as the other supports had not kept up, the Virginians under Pickett were left alone to breast the tempest which had now burst upon them in all its fury.
They returned the fire from the breastworks in their front with a heavy volley, and then, with loud cheers, dashed at the enemy's works, which they reached, stormed, and took possession of at the point of the bayonet. Their loss, however, was frightful. Garnett was killed; Armistead fell, mortally wounded, as he leaped on the breastworks, cheering and waving his hat; Kemper was shot and disabled, and the ranks of the Virginians were thinned to a handful. The men did not, however, pause. The enemy had partially retreated, from their first line of breastworks, to a second and stronger one about sixty yards beyond, and near the crest; and here the Federal reserve, as Northern writers state, was drawn up "four deep." This line, bristling with bayonets and cannon, the Virginians now charged, in the desperate attempt to storm it with the bayonet, and pierce, in a decisive manner, the centre of the Federal army. But the work was too great for their powers. As they made their brave rush they were met by a concentrated fire full in their faces, and on both flanks at the same moment. This fire did not so much cause them to lose heart, as literally hurl them back. Before it the whole charging column seemed to melt and disappear. The bravest saw now that further fighting was useless—that the works in their front could not be stormed—and, with the frightful fire of the enemy still tearing their lines to pieces, the poor remnants of the brave division retreated from the hill. As they fell back, sullenly, like bull-dogs from whom their prey had been snatched just as it was in their grasp, the enemy pursued them with a destructive fire both of cannon and musketry, which mowed down large numbers, if large numbers, indeed, can be said to have been left. The command had been nearly annihilated. Three generals, fourteen field-officers, and three-fourths of the men, were dead, wounded, or prisoners. The Virginians had done all that could be done by soldiers. They had advanced undismayed into the focus of a fire unsurpassed, perhaps, in the annals of war; had fought bayonet to bayonet; had left the ground strewed with their dead; and the small remnant who survived were now sullenly retiring, unsubdued; and, if repulsed, not "whipped."
Such was the last great charge at Gettysburg. Lee had concentrated in it all his strength, it seemed. When it failed, the battle and the campaign failed with it.
LEE AFTER THE CHARGE.
The demeanor of General Lee at this moment, when his hopes were all reversed, and his last great blow at the enemy had failed, excited the admiration of all who witnessed it, and remains one of the greatest glories of his memory.
Seeing, from his place on Seminary Ridge, the unfortunate results of the attack, he mounted his horse and rode forward to meet and encourage the retreating troops. The air was filled with exploding shell, and the men were coming back without order. General Lee now met them, and with his staff-officers busied himself in rallying them, uttering as he did so words of hope and encouragement. Colonel Freemantle, who took particular notice of him at this moment, describes his conduct as "perfectly sublime." "Lee's countenance," he adds, "did not show signs of the slightest disappointment, care, or annoyance," but preserved the utmost placidity and cheerfulness. The hurry and confusion of the scene seemed not to move him in any manner, and he rode slowly to and fro, saying in his grave, kindly voice to the men: "All this will come right in the end. We'll talk it over afterward, but in the mean time all good men must rally. We want all good and true men just now."