The stars were shining brightly on the morning of the 2d when I reported at General Lee's head-quarters and asked for orders. After a time Generals McLaws and Hood, with their staffs, rode up, and at sunrise their commands filed off the road to the right and rested. The Washington Artillery was with them, and about nine o'clock, after an all-night march, Alexander's batteries were up as far as Willoughby's Run, where he parked and fed, and rode to head-quarters to report.
As indicated by these movements, General Lee was not ready with his plans. He had not heard from his cavalry, nor of the movements of the enemy further than the information from a despatch captured during the night, that the Fifth Corps was in camp about five miles from Gettysburg, and the Twelfth Corps was reported near Culp's Hill. As soon as it was light enough to see, however, the enemy was found in position on his formidable heights awaiting us.
The result of efforts during the night and early morning to secure Culp's Hill had not been reported, and General Lee sent Colonel Venable of his staff to confer with the commander of the Second Corps as to opportunity to make the battle by his left. He was still in doubt whether it would be better to move to his 'far-off right. About nine o'clock he rode to his left to be assured of the position there, and of the general temper of affairs in that quarter. After viewing the field, he held conference with the corps and division commanders. They preferred to accept his judgment and orders, except General Early, who claimed to have learned of the topographical features of the country during his march towards York, and recommended the right of the line as the point at which strong battle should be made. About ten o'clock General Lee returned to his head-quarters, but his engineer who had been sent to reconnoitre on his right had not come back. To be at hand for orders, I remained with the troops at his head-quarters. The infantry had arms stacked; the artillery was at rest.
The enemy occupied the commanding heights of the city cemetery, from which point, in irregular grade, the ridge slopes southward two miles and a half to a bold outcropping height of three hundred feet called Little Round Top, and farther south half a mile ends in the greater elevation called Round Top. The former is covered from base to top by formidable boulders. From the cemetery to Little Round Top was the long main front of General Meade's position. At the cemetery his line turned to the northeast and east and southeast in an elliptical curve, with his right on Culp's Hill.
At an early hour of the 2d the Union army was posted: the Twelfth Corps at Culp's Hill, extending its left to Wadsworth's division of the First; on Wadsworth's left the Eleventh Corps; on the left of the Eleventh the other troops of the First; on their left the Second, and left of that to Little Round Top the Third Corps; the Fifth Corps stood in reserve across the bend from the right of the Twelfth to the left of the Second Corps. Thus there was formed a field of tremendous power upon a convex curve, which gave the benefit of rapid concentration at any point or points. The natural defences had been improved during the night and early morning. The Sixth Corps was marching from Manchester, twenty-two miles from Gettysburg. Its first order, received near Manchester before night of the 1st, was to march for Taneytown, but after passing the Baltimore pike the orders were changed, directing a prompt march to Gettysburg. The march has been variously estimated from thirty to thirty-five miles, but the distance from Manchester via Taney-town to Gettysburg is only twenty-nine miles, and as the ground for which the corps marched was three miles east of Gettysburg, the march would have been only twenty-six miles via Taneytown; as the corps marched back and took the Baltimore pike, some distance must have been saved. It was on the field at three o'clock of the afternoon,--the Union cavalry under General Pleasonton in reach.
The Confederate left was covering the north and east curve of the enemy's line, Johnson's division near Culp's Hill, Early's and Rodes's extending the line to the right through Gettysburg; Pender's division on the right of Rodes's; the other divisions of the Third Corps resting on Seminary Ridge, with McLaws's division and Hood's three brigades near general head-quarters; Pickett's brigades and Law's of Hood's division at Chambersburg and New Guilford, twenty-two and twenty-four miles away. Law had received orders to join his division, and was on the march. The cavalry was not yet heard from. The line so extended and twisted about the rough ground that concentration at any point was not possible.
It was some little time after General Lee's return from his ride to the left before he received the reports of the reconnoissance ordered from his centre to his right. His mind, previously settled to the purpose to fight where the enemy stood, now accepted the explicit plan of making the opening on his right, and to have the engagement general. He ordered the commander of the Third Corps to extend the centre by Anderson's division, McLaws's and Hood's divisions to extend the deployment to his right. Heth's division of the Third was drawn nearer the front, and notice of his plans was sent the commander of the Second Corps.
At the intimation that the battle would be opened on the right by part of the First Corps, Colonel Alexander was asked to act as director of artillery, and sent to view the field in time to assign the batteries as they were up. It was eleven o'clock when General Lee's order was issued, but he had ordered Law's brigade to its division, and a wait of thirty minutes was necessary for it to get up. Law had received his orders at three in the morning, and had marched twenty-three miles. The battle-ground was still five miles off by the route of march, but Law completed his march of twenty-eight miles in eleven hours,-the best marching done in either army to reach the field of Gettysburg.
The battle was to be opened on the right by two divisions of the First Corps, supported on their left by four of the brigades of Anderson's division; the opening to be promptly followed on Lee's left by the Second Corps, and continued to real attack if the opportunity occurred; the Third (centre) Corps to move to severe threatening and take advantage of opportunity to attack; the movements of the Second and Third Corps to be prompt, and in close, severe co-operation, so as to prevent concentration against the battle of the right. The little cavalry that was with the army was kept on the extreme left. Not so much as one trooper was sent us.
General Lee ordered his reconnoitring officer to lead the troops of the First Corps and conduct them by a route concealed from view of the enemy. As I was relieved for the time from the march, I rode near the middle of the line. General Lee rode with me a mile or more. General Anderson marched by a route nearer the enemy's line, and was discovered by General Sickles, who commanded the Third Corps, the left of the Union line. A little uncomfortable at his retired position, and seeing that the battle was forming against him, General Sickles thought to put the Third Maine Regiment and the Berdan Sharpshooters on outpost in a bold woodland cover, to develop somewhat of the approaching battle, and presently threw his corps forward as far as the Peach Orchard, half a mile forward of the position assigned to it in the general line. The Tenth Alabama Regiment was sent against the outpost guard, and, reinforced by the Eleventh Regiment, drove it back, and Anderson's division found its place in proper line.
General Birney's account of the affair at the outpost puts it at twelve o'clock, and the signal accounts, the only papers dated on the field, reported,–
"The enemy's skirmishers advancing from the west one mile from here–11.45."
"The rebels are in force; our skirmishers give way–12.55."
There is no room for doubt of the accuracy of these reports, which go to show that it was one o'clock in the afternoon when the Third Corps, upon which the First Corps was to form, was in position.
Under the conduct of the reconnoitring officer, our march seemed slow,–there were some halts and countermarches. To save time, I ordered the rear division to double on the front, and we were near the affair of Anderson's regiments with the outpost guard of Sickles. Anderson's division deployed,–Wilcox's, Perry's, Wright's, Posey's, and Mahone's brigades from right to left.
General Hood was ordered to send his select scouts in advance, to go through the woodlands and act as vedettes, in the absence of cavalry, and give information of the enemy, if there. The double line marched up the slope and deployed,--McLaws on the right of Anderson, Hood's division on his right, McLaws near the crest of the plateau in front of the Peach Orchard, Hood spreading and enveloping Sickles's left. The former was readily adjusted to ground from which to advance or defend. Hood's front was very rugged, with no field for artillery, and very rough for advance of infantry. As soon as he passed the Emmitsburg road, he sent to report of the great advantage of moving on by his right around to the enemy's rear. His scouting parties had reported that there was nothing between them and the enemy's trains. He was told that the move to the right had been proposed the day before and rejected; that General Lee's orders were to guide my left by the Emmitsburg road.
In our immediate front were the divisions of the Third Corps under Generals Humphreys and Birney, from right to left, with orders for supports of the flanks by divisions of the Second and Fifth Corps. The ground on the left of Birney's division was so broken and obstructed by boulders that his left was dropped off to the rear, forming a broken line. In rear of the enemy, and between his lines and Little Round Top, was a very rough elevation of' eighty feet formed by upheavals that left open passage deep down Devil's Den. Smith's battery was on Birney's left, Winslow's between the right and next brigade. Other batteries in position were Clark's, Ames's, Randolph's, Seeley's, and Turnbull's.
As McLaws's division came up on line, Barksdale's brigade was in front of a battery about six hundred yards off. He appealed for permission to charge and capture it, but was told to wait. On his right was Kershaw's brigade, the brigades of Semmes and Wofford on the second line. Hood's division was in two lines,--Law's and Robertson's brigades in front, G. T. Anderson's and Benning's in the second line. The batteries were with the divisions,--four to the division. One of G. T. Anderson's regiments was put on picket down the Emmitsburg road.
General Hood appealed again and again for the move to the right, but, to give more confidence to his attack, he was reminded that the move to the right had been carefully considered by our chief and rejected in favor of his present orders.
The opportunity for our right was in the air. General Halleck saw it from Washington. General Meade saw and was apprehensive of it. Even General Pendleton refers to it in favorable mention in his official report. Failing to adopt it, General Lee should have gone with us to his right. He had seen and carefully examined the left of his line, and only gave us a guide to show the way to the right, leaving the battle to be adjusted to formidable and difficult grounds without his assistance. If he had been with us, General Hood's messengers could have been referred to general head-quarters, but to delay and send messengers five miles in favor of a move that he had rejected would have been contumacious. The opportunity was with the Confederates from the assembling on Cemetery Hill. It was inviting of their preconceived plans. It was the object of and excuse for the invasion as a substitute for more direct efforts for the relief of Vicksburg. Confederate writers and talkers claim that General Meade could have escaped without making aggressive battle, but that is equivalent to confession of the inertia that failed to grasp the opportunity.
Beaten in the battle of the 1st, dislodged of position, and outgeneralled, the Union army would have felt the want of spirit and confidence important to aggressive battle; but the call was in the hands of the Confederates, and these circumstances would have made their work more facile, while the Union commander would have felt the call to save his capital most imperative. Even as events passed it was thought helpful to the Union side to give out the report that General McClellan was at hand and would command the army.
Four of the brigades of Anderson's division were ordered to advance in echelon in support of my left.
At three o'clock the artillery was ordered to open practice. General Meade was then with General Sickles discussing the feasibility of withdrawing his corps to the position to which it was originally assigned, but the opening admonished him that it was too late. He had just sent a cipher telegram to inform General Halleck, commander-in-chief, that in the event of his having no opportunity to attack, and should he find the Confederates moving to interpose between him and Washington, he would fall back on his supplies at Westminster.(*) But my right division was then nearer to Westminster, and our scouting parties of infantry were within rifle range of the road leading to that point and to Washington. So it would have been convenient, after holding our threatening attitude till night, to march across his line at dark, in time to draw other troops to close connection before the next morning.
Prompt to the order the combat opened, followed by artillery of the other corps, and our artillerists measured up to the better metal of the enemy by vigilant work. Hood's lines were not yet ready. After a little practice by the artillery, he was properly adjusted and ordered to bear down upon the enemy's left, but he was not prompt, and the order was repeated before he would strike down. (+)
In his usual gallant style he led his troops through the rocky fastnesses against the strong lines of his earnest adversary, and encountered battle that called for all of his power and skill. The enemy was tenacious of his strong ground; his skilfully-handled batteries swept through the passes between the rocks; the more deadly fire of infantry concentrated as our men bore upon the angle of the enemy's line and stemmed the fiercest onset, until it became necessary to shorten their work by a desperate charge. This pressing struggle and the cross-fire of our batteries broke in the salient angle, but the thickening fire, as the angle was pressed back, hurt Hood's left and held him in steady fight. His right brigade was drawn towards Round Top by the heavy fire pouring from that quarter, Benning's brigade was pressed to the thickening line at the angle, and G. T. Anderson's was put in support of the battle growing against Hood's right.
I rode to McLaws, found him ready for his opportunity, and Barksdale chafing in his wait for the order to seize the battery in his front. Kershaw's brigade of his right first advanced and struck near the angle of the enemy's line where his forces were gathering strength. After additional caution to hold his ranks closed, McLaws ordered Barksdale in. With glorious bearing he sprang to his work, overriding obstacles and dangers. Without a pause to deliver a shot, he had the battery. Kershaw, joined by Semmes's brigade, responded, and Hood's men, feeling the impulsion of relief, resumed their bold fight, and presently the enemy's line was broken through its length. But his well-seasoned troops knew how to utilize the advantage of their grounds and put back their dreadful fires from rocks, depressions, and stone fences, as they went for shelter about Little Round Top.
That point had not been occupied by the enemy, nor marked as an important feature of the field. The broken ranks sought shelter under its rocks and defiles as birds fly to cover. General Hood fell seriously hurt, and General Law succeeded to command of the division, but the well-seasoned troops were not in need of a close guiding hand. The battle was on, and they knew how to press its hottest contention.
General Warren, chief engineer of the Federal army, was sent at the critical moment to Little Round Top, and found that it was the citadel of the field. He called for troops to occupy it. The Fifth Corps (Sykes's) was hurried to him, and General Hancock sent him Caldwell's division of the Second Corps. At the Brick House, away from his right, General Sickles had a detachment that had been reinforced by General Hancock. This fire drew Anderson's brigade of direction (Wilcox) a little off from support of Barksdale's left. General Humphreys, seeing the opportunity, rallied such of his troops as he could, and, reinforced by Hays's division (Willard's brigade) of Hancock's corps, came against Barksdale's flank, but the latter moved bravely on, the guiding spirit of the battle. Wright's Georgia and Perry's Florida brigades were drawn in behind Wilcox and thrown against Humphreys, pushing him off and breaking him up.
The fighting had by this time become tremendous, and brave men and officers were stricken by hundreds. Posey and Wilcox dislodged the forces about the Brick House.
General Sickles was desperately wounded!
General Willard was dead!
General Semmes, of McLaws's division, was mortally wounded!
Our left relieved, the brigades of Anderson's division moved on with Barksdale's, passed the swale, and moved up the slope. Caldwell's division, and presently those of Ayres and Barnes of the Fifth Corps, met and held our strongest battle. While thus engaged, General Sykes succeeded in putting Vincent's and Weed's brigades and Hazlett's battery on the summit of Little Round Top, but presently we overreached Caldwell's division, broke it off, and pushed it from the field. Of his brigade commanders, Zook was killed, and Brooke and Cross were wounded, the latter mortally. General Hancock reported sixty per cent. of his men lost. On our side, Barksdale was down dying, and G. T. Anderson wounded.
We had carried Devil's Den, were at the Round Tops and the Wheat-Field, but Ayres's division of regulars and Barnes's division were holding us in equal battle. The struggle throughout the field seemed at its tension. The brigades of R. H. Anderson's division could hold off other troops of Hancock's, but were not strong enough to step to the enemy's lines. When Caldwell's division was pushed away, Ayres's flank and the gorge at Little Round Top were only covered by a sharp line of picket men behind the boulders. If we could drive in the sharp-shooters and strike Ayres's flank to advantage, we could dislodge his and Barnes's divisions, occupy the gorge behind Sykes's brigades on Round Top, force them to retreat, and lift our desperate fighters to the summit. I had one brigade--Wofford's--that had not been engaged in the hottest battle. To urge the troops to their reserve power in the precious moments, I rode with Wofford. The rugged field, the rough plunge of artillery fire, and the piercing musket-shots delayed somewhat the march, but Alexander dashed up with his batteries and gave new spirit to the worn infantry ranks. By a fortunate strike upon Ayres's flank we broke his line and pushed him and Barnes so closely that they were obliged to use most strenuous efforts to get away without losing in prisoners as well as their killed and wounded. We gained the Wheat-Field, and were so close upon the gorge that our artillery could no longer venture their fire into it. We were on Little Round Top grappling for the crowning point. The brigade commanders there, Vincent and Weed, were killed, also the battery commander, Hazlett, and others, but their troops were holding to their work as firmly as the mighty boulders that helped them. General Meade thought that the Confederate army was working on my part of the field. He led some regiments of the Twelfth Corps and posted them against us, called a division of Newton's corps (First) from beyond Hancock's, and sent Crawford's division, the last of the Fifth Corps, splitting through the gorge, forming solid lines, in places behind stone fences, and making steady battle, as veterans fresh in action know so well how to make. While Meade's lines were growing my men were dropping; we had no others to call to their aid, and the weight against us was too heavy to carry. The extreme left of our lines was only about a mile from us across the enemy's concentric position, which brought us within hearing of that battle, if engaged, and near enough to feel its swell, but nothing was heard or felt but the clear ring of the enemy's fresh metal as he came against us. No other part of our army had engaged! My seventeen thousand against the Army of the Potomac! The sun was down, and with it went down the severe battle. I ordered recall of the troops to the line of Plum Run and Devil's Den, leaving picket lines near the foot of the Round Tops. My loss was about six thousand, Meade's between twelve and fourteen thousand; but his loss in general and field officers was frightful. When General Humphreys, who succeeded to Barksdale's brigade, was called back to the new line, he thought there was some mistake in the orders, and only withdrew as far as a captured battery, and when the order was repeated, retired under protest.
General Stuart came down from Carlisle with his column of cavalry late in the afternoon of the 2d. As he approached he met a cavalry force of the enemy moving towards the Confederate left rear, and was successful in arresting it. He was posted with Jenkins's three thousand cavalry on the Confederate left.
Notwithstanding the supreme order of the day for general battle, and the reinforcement of the cavalry on our left, the Second and Third Corps remained idle during all of the severe battle of the Confederate right, except the artillery, and the part of that on the extreme left was only in practice long enough to feel the superior metal of the enemy, when it retired, leaving a battery of four guns in position. General Early failed to even form his division in battle order, leaving a brigade in position remote from the line, and sending, later, another to be near Stuart's cavalry. The latter returned, however, before night.
At eight o'clock in the evening the division on our extreme left, E. Johnson's, advanced. The brigades were J. M. Jones's, Nicholls's, Steuart's, and Walker's. Walker's was detached, as they moved, to look for a detachment of the enemy reported threatening the far away left. When the three brigades crossed Rock Creek it was night. The enemy's line to be assaulted was occupied by Greene's brigade of the Twelfth Corps. It was reinforced by three regiments of Wadsworth's division and three from the Eleventh Corps. After brave attack and defence, part of the line was carried, when the fight, after a severe fusillade between the infantry lines, quieted, and Walker's brigade returned to the division. Part of the enemy's trenches, east of the point attacked (across a swale), vacated when the corps moved over to the left, General Johnson failed to occupy.
Before this, General Rodes discovered that the enemy, in front of his division, was drawing off his artillery and infantry to my battle of the right, and suggested to General Early that the moment had come for the divisions to attack, and drew his forces from entanglements about the streets to be ready. After E. Johnson's fight on our extreme left, General Early ordered two brigades under General Harry T. Hays to attack. Hays had with his Louisiana brigade Hoke's North Carolina brigade under Colonel Avery. He made as gallant a fight as was ever made. Mounting to the top of the hill, he captured a battery, and pushed on in brave order, taking some prisoners and colors, until he discovered that his two brigades were advancing in a night affair against a grand army, when he found that he was fortunate in having night to cover his weakness, and withdrew. The gallant Colonel Avery, mortally wounded and dying, wrote on a slip of paper, "Tell father that I died with my face to the enemy." When Rodes was prepared, Hays had retired, and the former did not see that it was part of the order for general engagement to put his division in night attack that could not be supported.
Thus the general engagement of the day was dwarfed into the battle of the right at three o'clock, that on the left at eight by a single division, and that nearer the centre at nine o'clock by two brigades.
There was a man on the left of the line who did not care to make the battle win. He knew where it was, had viewed it from its earliest formation, had orders for his part in it, but so withheld part of his command from it as to make co-operative concert of action impracticable. He had a pruriency for the honors of the field of Mars, was eloquent, before the fires of the bivouac and his chief, of the glory of war's gory shield; but when its envied laurels were dipping to the grasp, when the heavy field called for bloody work, he found the placid horizon, far and away beyond the cavalry, more lovely and inviting. He wanted command of the Second Corps, and, succeeding to it, held the honored position until General Lee found, at last, that he must dismiss him from field service.
General Lee ordered Johnson's division of his left, occupying part of the enemy's trenches about Culp's Hill, to be reinforced during the night of the 2d by two brigades of Rodes's division and one of Early's division. Why the other brigades of those divisions were not sent does not appear, but it does appear that there was a place for them on Johnson's left, in the trenches that were vacated by the Federal Twelfth Corps when called over to reinforce the battle of Meade's left. Culp's Hill bore the same relations to the enemy's right as Little Round Top did to his left. General Fitzhugh Lee quotes evidence from General Meade that had Culp's Hill been occupied, in force, by Confederates, it would have compelled the withdrawal of the Federal troops.(*)
General Meade, after the battle of his left, ordered the divisions of his Twelfth Corps back to their trenches, to recover the parts occupied by the Confederate left. It was night when the First Division approached. General Ruger, commanding, thought to feel his way through the dark by a line of skirmishers. He found the east end of his trenches, across the swale, unoccupied, and took possession. Pressing his adventure, he found the main line of his works occupied by the Confederates in force, and disposed his command to wait for daylight. The Second Division came during the night, when General Williams, commanding the corps, posted it on the left of the First, and the division commanders ordered batteries in proper positions.
During the night, General Meade held a council, which decided to fight it out. So it began to look as if the vicissitudes of the day had so worked as to call General Meade from defensive to aggressive battle for Culp's Hill. But the Confederates failed to see the opportunity and force the issue as it was presented.
In General Meade's evidence before the Committee on the Conduct of the War, he puts his losses of the first and second days at twenty thousand, and assigns two-thirds of these to the battle of the 2d. As the fighting against the three brigades of our left after night, and two brigades, later in the night, from our centre, could not have been very severe, I claim that his loss in the battle of his left was from twelve to fourteen thousand.
As events of the battle of the 2d passed, it seems fair to claim that with Pickett's brigades present at the moment of Wofford's advance for the gorge at Little Round Top, we could have had it before Crawford was there.
Under ordinary circumstances this account of the second day, made from the records, would be complete and conclusive; but the battle of Gettysburg, which may be called the epitome of the war, has been the subject of many contentions of words. Knights of the quill have consumed many of their peaceful hours in publishing, through books, periodicals, and newspapers, their plans for the battle, endeavoring to forestall the records and to find a scapegoat, and their representations may be given, though they do not deserve it, a word of reply.
General W. N. Pendleton led off when making a lecturing tour through the South for a memorial church for General Lee. He claims that he made a reconnoissance on the afternoon of the 1st of July, and that upon his reporting it, General Lee ordered General Longstreet to attack at sunrise the next day. He did not venture to charge that the Second and Third Corps, that were on the field and had had a good night's rest, were part of the command ordered for the early battle, for the commanders, both Virginians, and not under the political ban, could have brought confusing evidence against him; nor did he intend to put General Lee in the anomalous position, inferentially, of ordering part of the First Corps--that should march through the night and all night--to make the battle alone. The point of battle was east of the Emmitsburg road; to find it, it was necessary to cross that road, but General Sickles was moving part of his corps over the road during that afternoon, and rested there the latter part of the day and during the night. So, to make the reconnoissance, General Pendleton passed the Union troops in Confederate uniform--he was military in his dress--and found the point of battle. Giving him credit, for the moment, for this delicate work and the mythical order, let us find the end to which it would lead.
The only troops that could come under the order were McLaws's division, part of Hood's, and the artillery,--about ten thousand men. These, after a hurried all-night's march, reached General Lee's head-quarters about sunrise of the 2d, and by continued forced march could have reached the point of battle, about five miles away, by seven o'clock, where they would have encountered a division of the Third Corps (Birney's); presently the Second and Fifth Corps under Hancock and Sykes; then the First, Eleventh, and Twelfth under Newton, Howard, and Slocum; then the balance of the Third coming in on our rear along the Emmitsburg road,--making sixty thousand men and more. There was reason to be proud of the prowess of the troops of the First Corps, but to credit a part of it with success under the circumstances was not reasonable.
That the Confederate Second Corps did not have orders for the alleged sunrise battle is evidenced by the report of its commander, who, accounting for his work about Culp's Hill during the night of the 1st and morning of the 2d, reported of the morning, "It was now daylight, and too late," meaning that it was too late for him to attack and carry that hill, as General Lee had authorized and expected him to do during the night before. If he had been ordered to take part in the sunrise battle, he would have been in the nick of time. That the Third Corps was not to be in it is evidenced by the position of the greater part of it on Seminary Ridge until near noon of the 2d. So General Lee must have ordered a position carried, at sunrise, by ten thousand men, after it had gathered strength all night,--a position that he would not assault on the afternoon of the 1st with forty thousand men, lest they should encounter "overwhelming numbers."
As the other corps, after receiving their orders for the afternoon battle of the 2d, failed to engage until after nightfall, it is not probable that they would have found the sunrise battle without orders.
General Pendleton's official report is in conflict with his memorial lecture. In the former he makes no reference to the sunrise-battle order, but mentions a route by which the left of the enemy could be turned.
Letters from the active members of General Lee's staff and from his military secretary, General A. L. Long, show that the sunrise battle was not ordered, and a letter from Colonel Fairfax shows that the claim that it was so ordered was set up after General Lee's death. (+)
(+) Following are the essential portions of the letters referred to, affording unquestionable and overwhelming testimony against the claim that General Longstreet was ordered to give battle "at sunrise":
"NORFOLK, VA., April 28, 1875.
"DEAR GENERAL,–... I can only say that I never before heard of the ' sunrise attack' you were to have made, as charged by General Pendleton. If such an order was given you I never knew of it, or it has strangely escaped my memory. I think it more than probable that if General Lee had had your troops available the evening previous to the day of which you speak, he would have ordered an early attack, but this does not touch the point at issue. I regard it as a great mistake on the part of those who, perhaps because of political differences, now undertake to criticise and attack your war record. Such conduct is most ungenerous, and I am sure meets the disapprobation of all good Confederates with whom I have had the pleasure of associating in the daily walks of life.
"Yours, very respectfully,
"W. H. TAYLOR.''
"UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA, May 11, 1875. "
GENERAL JAMES LONGSTREET:
"DEAR GENERAL,–. . . I did not know of any order for an attack on the enemy at sunrise on the 2d, nor can I believe any such order was issued by General Lee. About sunrise on the 2d of July I was sent by General Lee to General Ewell to ask him what he thought of the advantages of an attack on the enemy from his position. (Colonel Marshall had been sent with a similar order on the night of the lst.) General Ewell made me ride with him from point to point of his lines, so as to see with him the exact position of things. Before he got through the examination of the enemy's position, General Lee came himself to General Ewell's lines. In sending the message to General Ewell, General Lee was explicit in saying that the question was whether he should move all the troops around on the right and attack on that side. I do not think that the errand on which I was sent by the commanding general is consistent with the idea of an attack at sunrise by any portion of the army.
"Yours, very truly,
"CHARLES S. VENABLE."
"BALTIMORE, MD., May 7, 1875.
"DEAR GENERAL,–. . . I have no personal recollection of the order to which you refer. It certainly was not conveyed by me, nor is there anything in General Lee's official report to show the attack on the 2d was expected by him to begin earlier, except that he notices that there was not proper concert of action on that day ....
"BIG ISLAND, BEDFORD, VA., May 31, 1875.
"DEAR GENERAL,–. . . I do not recollect of hearing of an order to attack at sunrise, or at any other designated hour, pending the operations at Gettysburg during the first three days of July, 1863 ....
"A. L. LONG."
"FREESTONE P. O., PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY, VA.,
"November 12, 1877.
"MY DEAR GENERAL LONGSTREET,–. . . The winter after the death of General Lee I was in Lexington, visiting my sons at the V. M. I. General Pendleton called to see me at the hotel. General Custis Lee was in my room when he came in. After General Lee left, General Pendleton asked me if General Longstreet was not ordered to attack on the 2d of July at Gettysburg at six o'clock in the morning, and did not attack until four o'clock in the evening. I told him it was not possible. When he left me I was under the impression I had convinced him of his mistaken idea. I told General Pendleton that you and General Lee were together the greater part of the day up to about three o'clock or later; that you separated at the mouth of a lane not long thereafter. You said to me, ' Those troops will be in position by the time you get there; tell General Hood to attack.' When I gave the order to General Hood he was standing within a step or two of his line of battle. I asked him to please delay his attack until I could communicate to General Longstreet that he can turn the enemy,--pointing to a gorge in the mountain, where we would be sheltered from his view and attack by his cavalry. General Hood slapped me on the knee and said, 'I agree with you,--bring General Longstreet to see for himself.' When I reported to you, your answer was, ' It is General Lee's order; the time is up,-attack at once.' I lost no time in repeating the same to General Hood, and remained with him to see the attack, which was made instantly. We had a beautiful view of the enemy's left from Hood's position, which was close up to him. He gave way quickly. General Hood charged, and I spurred to report to you; found you with hat in hand cheering on General McLaws's division ....
"Truly your friend,
" JOHN W. FAIRFAX."
In a published account, General Long mentions my suggestion on the afternoon of the 1st for the turning march around the enemy's left, which he says, after consideration, was rejected.
Colonel Taylor claims that the attack by the Confederate right should have been sooner, and should have met the enemy back on his first or original line, and before Little Round Top was occupied. But Little Round Top was not occupied in force until after my battle opened, and General Sickles's advance to his forward lines was made in consequence of the Confederate threatening, and would have been sooner or later according as that threatening was made. He calls the message of General Lee to General Ewell on the afternoon of the 1st an order. General Lee says,–
"The strong position which the enemy had assumed could not be attacked without danger of exposing the four divisions present, exhausted by a long and bloody struggle, to overwhelming numbers of fresh troops. General Ewell was thereupon instructed to carry the hill occupied by the enemy if he found it practicable."
It is the custom of military service to accept instructions of a commander as orders, but when they are coupled with conditions that transfer the responsibility of battle and defeat to the subordinate, they are not orders, and General Ewell was justifiable in not making attack that his commander would not order, and the censure of his failure is unjust and very ungenerous.
The Virginia writers have been so eager in their search for a flaw in the conduct of the battle of the First Corps that they overlook the only point into which they could have thrust their pens.
At the opening of the fight, General Meade was with General Sickles discussing the feasibility of moving the Third Corps back to the line originally assigned for it, but the discussion was cut short by the opening of the Confederate battle. If that opening had been delayed thirty or forty minutes the corps would have been drawn back to the general line, and my first deployment would have enveloped Little Round Top and carried it before it could have been strongly manned, and General Meade would have drawn off to his line selected behind Pipe Creek. The point should have been that the battle was opened too soon.
Another point from which they seek comfort is that Sedgwick's corps (Sixth) was not up until a late hour of the 2d, and would not have been on the field for an earlier battle. But Sedgwick was not engaged in the late battle, and could have been back at Manchester, so far as the afternoon battle was concerned. And they harp a little on the delay of thirty minutes for Law's brigade to join its division. But General Lee called for the two divisions, and had called for Law's brigade to join his division. It was therefore his order for the division that delayed the march. To have gone without it would have justified censure. As we were not strong enough for the work with that brigade, it is not probable that we could have accomplished more without it.
Colonel Taylor says that General Lee urged that the march of my troops should be hastened, and was chafed at their non-appearance. Not one word did he utter to me of their march until he gave his orders at eleven o'clock for the move to his right. Orders for the troops to hasten their march of the 1st were sent without even a suggestion from him, but upon his announcement that he intended to fight the next day, if the enemy was there.(*)
(*) Upon the various matters of this momentous day, which have been subject of controversy, the following testimony from J. S. D. Cullen is interesting and important:
"RICHMOND, VA., May 18, 1875.
"GENERAL JAMES LONGSTREET:
"DEAR GENERAL,–. . . It was an astounding announcement to the survivors of the First Army Corps that the disaster and failure at Gettysburg was alone and solely due to its commander, and that had he obeyed the orders of the commander-in-chief Meade's army would have been beaten before its entire force had assembled, and its final discomfiture thereby made certain. It is a little strange that these charges were not made while General Lee was alive to substantiate or disprove them, and that seven years or more were permitted to pass by in silence regarding them. You are fortunate in being able to call upon the adjutant-general and the two confidential officers of General Lee's staff for their testimony in the case, and I do not think that you will have any reason to fear their evidence. They knew every order that was issued for that battle, when and where attacks were to be made, who were slow in attacking, and who did not make attacks that were expected to be made. I hope, for the sake of history and for your brave military record, that a quietus will at once be put on this subject. I distinctly remember the appearance in our head-quarters camp of the scout who brought from Frederick the first account that General Lee had of the definite whereabouts of the enemy; of the excitement at General Lee's head-quarters among couriers, quartermasters, commissaries, etc., all betokening some early movement of the commands dependent upon the news brought by the scout. That afternoon General Lee was walking with some of us in the road in front of his head-quar-ters, and said, ' To-morrow, gentlemen, we will not move to Harrisburg as we expected, but will go over to Gettysburg and see what General Meade is after.' Orders had then been issued to the corps to move at sunrise on the morning of the next day, and promptly at that time the corps was put on the road. The troops moved slowly a short distance when they were stopped by Ewell's wagon-trains and Johnson's division turning into the road in front of them, making their way from some point north to Cashtown or Gettysburg. How many hours we were detained I am unable to say, but it must have been many, for I remember eating a lunch or dinner before moving again. Being anxious to see you, I rode rapidly by the troops (who, as soon as they could get into the road, pushed hurriedly by us also), and overtook you about dark at the hill this side of Gettysburg, about half a mile from the town. You had been at the front with General Lee, and were returning to your camp, a mile or two back. I spoke very exultingly of the victory we were thought to have obtained that day, but was surprised to find that you did not take the same cheerful view of it that I did, and presently you remarked that it would have been better had we not fought than to have left undone what we did. You said that the enemy were left occupying a position that it would take the whole army to drive them from and then at a great sacrifice. We soon reached the camp, three miles, perhaps, from Gettysburg, and found the column near by. Orders were issued to be ready to march at 'daybreak,' or some earlier hour, next morning. About three o'clock in the morning, while the stars were shining, you left your head-quarters and rode to General Lee's, where I found you sitting with him after sunrise looking at the enemy on Cemetery Hill"
"I am yours, very truly,
"J. S. D. CULLEN."
That he was excited and off his balance was evident on the afternoon of the 1st, and he labored under that oppression until enough blood was shed to appease him.
Join t Fight
Donate today to preserve Civil War battlefields and the nation’s history for generations to come.