Chapter 16: Gettysburg
- Lee without his cavalry -- the battle, when and where fought, an accident -- the Army of Northern Virginia in splendid condition -- Gordon on black Auster -- a Fistic encounter at the crisis of the great battle -- “limber to the rear” -- a great disappointment -- a desperate ride -- dead enemies more to be Dreaded than living ones -- the Dutch woman's Ankles.
Gettysburg, generally regarded as the pivotal battle of our great civil war, has been more studied and discussed than any other, and much unpleasant feeling between prominent actors in the drama on the Confederate side and their adherents and partisans has been brought out in the discussion. The writer has his own opinions upon most or all of the disputed points; but, while resting upon grounds satisfactory to himself, these opinions are not based upon such a thorough study of the battle as would alone justify the effort to influence the views of others, if indeed such an effort could be regarded as properly within the scope of such a work as this. As usual with great battles, it was not the plan or purpose of either side to fight this one when and where it was fought. Meade, who had succeeded Hooker, had selected a position on Pipe Clay Creek, where he would have concentrated his army-but for the capture of President Dayis' message to General Lee, revealing the fact that he feared to uncover Richmond by detaching Beauregard to threaten Washington as Lee had advised-and Lee had ordered the concentration of his army at Cashtown; but there was this great difference between the circumstances of the two armies. The battle was brought on by the advance of the Federal cavalry, in the discharge of its legitimate work of developing our forces and  positions and gathering information for the Federal commander. The Confederate leader, on the other hand, was, in great measure, without his cavalry; no information whatever had been received by him, since crossing the Potomac, of or from General Stuart or his troopers. His army was, therefore, in the condition of a blind man surrounded by enemies endowed with vision and making full use of it. It is fair to Stuart to say that it had been left to his discretion when and where he should cross the river-whether east of the mountains, or in the track of the infantry at the mouth of the Valley; but Colonel Taylor says: “He was expected to maintain communication with the main column, and especially directed to keep the commanding general informed of the movements of the Federal army.” Did his one besetting weakness betray him again? Was he too much absorbed and infatuated with the fun of seeing how near his eastern sweep could approach the fortifications of Washington, or how far his bursting shell could terrorize the Federal capital? On the eve of Gettysburg the Army of Northern Virginia, with the exception of the cavalry, was well in hand and in the finest possible plight. Of course its equipment was not perfect, though better, I think, than I remember to have seen it at any other time, while the physical condition and the spirit of the men could not have been finer. The way in which the army took the death of Jackson was a striking test of its high mettle. I do not recall having talked with a man who seemed to be depressed by it, while the common soldiers spoke of it in wondrous fashion. They seemed to have imbibed, to a great extent, the spirit of Lee's order announcing Jackson's death. They said they felt that his spirit was with us and would be throughout the campaign. It seemed to be their idea that God would let his warrior soul leave for a time the tamer bliss of Heaven that it might revel once more in the fierce joy of battle. The Third Corps, A. P. Hill's, the last to leave the line of the Rappahannock, was the first to become engaged in the great fight. On the 29th of June, Hill, who was at Fayetteville, between Chambersbtrg and Gettysburg, under general orders  to co-operate with Ewell in menacing the communication of Harrisburg with Philadelphia, sent Heth's division to Cashtown, following it on the 30th with Pender's, and on the 1st of July with Anderson's division. On the 1st, Heth sent forward Pettygrew's brigade toward Gettysburg, where it encountered a considerable Federal force, how considerable Pettygrew could not determine; but it consisted in part at least of cavalry, and this information was at once sent, through Heth and Hill, to the commanding general, who directed Heth to ascertain if possible what force was at Gettysburg, and if he found infantry to report at once, but not to force an engagement. He did find infantry, a large body of it, and finding himself unable to draw away from it, soon became hotly engaged. The sound of artillery hurried Hill to the front and he put in Pender's division in support of Heth. Anderson did not get up in time to take part in this fight. But the Second Corps, Ewell's, to which I was attached, or rather two divisions of it, Early's and Rodes', which were already en route for Cashtown, hearing at Middletown that Hill was concentrating at Gettysburg, turned toward that point, and Rodes, who was in the advance, gathering from the cannonading that a sharp engagement was in progress, hurried forward and made his dispositions for battle. But before he could form his lines so as to most effectively aid Hill's two divisions, he found fresh Federal troops deploying in his own front and soon became engaged with these. Meanwhile, our division (Early's) was subjected to one of the most straining of the experiences of the soldier-approaching a field of battle, invisible as yet, and played upon by the cadence and the swell of the fire. I well recall the scene as, about three o'clock in the afternoon, our column left the road and deployed out into line upon an elevated plateau, from which we had a full view of the field and of the drawn battle trembling in the balance in our front. Every experienced soldier, particularly if he is a man of sensitive nature and pictorial memory, will appreciate my saying that two strongly contrasted figures are almost  equally prominent in my recollections of this scene. One is Old Jube, as with consuming earnestness he connected his right with Rodes' left and gave the order to advance-his glossy black ostrich feather, in beautiful condition, seeming to glisten and gleam and tremble upon the wide brim of his gray-brown felt hat, like a thing of life; and the other, a dwarfish, dumpy little fellow, of the division pioneer corps, who at this moment came running up to his command, just as I was leaving it to take my place with the artillery, carrying under each arm a great, round, Dutch loaf of bread about the size of a cart wheel, giving him, upon a side view, such as I had of him, the appearance of rolling in on wheels. Early's attack was one of great impetuosity, especially that of Gordon's brigade, and while, even after his two brigades --Hayes' and Gordon's-entered the fight, the preponderance in numbers was still with the Federal side, yet they broke almost immediately in front of Early; whereupon our entire line-the two divisions of our corps and the two of Hill'smade a simultaneous advance, and the whole Federal force, consisting of the First and Eleventh Corps, of three divisions each, and Buford's cavalry, gave way in utter rout. The Charlottesville battery followed immediately in rear of Gordon, and I was in charge of one of their pieces. We drove the enemy pell-mell over rolling wheat fields, through a grove, across a creek, up a little slope and into the town itself. The pursuit was so close and hot that, though my gun came into battery several times, yet I could not get in a shot. Gordon was the most glorious and inspiring thing I ever looked upon. He was riding a beautiful coal-black stallion, captured at Winchester, that had belonged to one of the Federal generals in Milroy's army — a majestic animal, whose “neck was clothed with thunder.” From his grand joy in In Scribner's for June, 1903, General Gordon mentions this horse, describing him very much as I have done. He adds that he only rode him in one battle; that he behaved well at first under artillery fire, but later, encountering a fierce fire of musketry, he turned tail and bolted to the rear a hundred yards or more. I am glad I did not witness this disgraceful fall. Nothing could have been more superb than his bearing so long as he was under my eye. In  battle, he must have been a direct descendant of Job's horse, or Bucephalus, or Black Auster. I never saw a horse's neck so arched, his eye so fierce, his nostril so dilated. He followed in a trot, close upon the heels of the battle line, his head right in among the slanting barrels and bayonets, the reins loose upon his neck, his rider standing in his stirrups, bareheaded, hat in hand, arms extended, and, in a voice like a trumpet, exhorting his men. It was superb; absolutely thrilling. I recall feeling that I would not give so much as a dime to insure the independence of the Confederacy. The loss of the enemy was terrific. General Butterfield, chief of staff of the Federal army, testifying before the Committee on the Conduct of the War, puts the total Federal force engaged in this fight at twenty-two to twentyfour thousand, and Swinton estimates their loss at “near ten thousand men.” Our loss, at least in Gordon's brigade, was slight. I distinctly remember, in a momentary pause, calling out to Gordon, “General, where are your dead men?” and his reply: “I haven't got any, sir; the Almighty has covered my men with His shield and buckler!” Later in the war General Ewell said to me that he believed Gordon's brigade that evening put hors de combat a greater number of the enemy in proportion to its own numbers than any other command on either side ever did, from the beginning to the end of the war; but he added that he would not be misunderstood as awarding this gallant brigade credit in like proportion, because it simply turned the scale of a theretofore evenly-balanced battle. I cannot forbear telling how, a few months later, this heroic scene was brought again vividly to my mind. Happening to be in Richmond for a few hours, I went down to a train to aid in getting off some wounded men, and was helping to ease down from a box-car a Georgia soldier very badly shot. With some difficulty we managed to get him on a litter and then to lower him to the platform, without a jar; when, as he was resting a moment, I asked the universal soldier question, “What command do you belong  to?” His pained and pallid face lit up with a glow of pride as he answered: “I belong to Gordon's old brigade, Cap'n. Did you ever see the Gin'ral in battle? He's most the prettiest thing you ever did see on a field of fight. It'ud put fight into a whipped chicken just to look at him.” My gun had come again into battery in the outskirts of the town. No enemy was in sight in our front; but in anticipation of a sudden rush I had the piece loaded and several rounds of canister taken from the ammunition chest and put down hard by the gaping muzzle, ready to sweep the street in case they should turn upon us. At this moment little George Greer, a chubby boy of sixteen, rode on by further into the town. George was General Early's clerk and a favorite with Old Jube, just because more fond of riding courier for him and of driving spurs into the flanks of a horse than of driving pen across paper. I shouted a caution to him as he passed, but on he went, disappearing in the smoke and dust ahead. In a few moments a cloud of blue coats appeared in the street in front of us, coming on, too, at a run. I was about to order the detachment to open fire, when beyond and back of the men in blue I noticed little Greer, leaning forward over the neck of his horse, towering above the Federals, who were on foot; and with violent gesticulations and in tones not the gentlest, ordering the “blue devils” to “double quick to the rear of that piece,” which they did in the shortest time imaginable. There must have been over fifty of them. I am aware this statement sounds incredible, but the men had thrown away their arms and were cowering in abject terror in the streets and alleys. Upon no other occasion did I see any large body of troops, on either side, so completely routed and demoralized as were the two Federal corps who were beaten at Gettysburg the evening of July ist. And this one reminds me of other incidents of those tremendous moments when our fate hung in the balance. There was an Irishman named Burgoyne in the Ninth Louisiana,--Harry Hayes' brigade,--a typical son of the Emerald Isle, over six feet high in his stockings (when he had any), broad-shouldered and muscular, slightly bowged,  and springy as a cat; as full of fire and fight and fun as he could hold; indeed, often a little fuller than he could hold, and never having been known to get his fill of noise and scrimmage. Whenever the Ninth supported Hilary Jones, if the musketry fire slackened while the artillery was in action, Burgoyne would slip over to the nearest gun and take someone's place at the piece. Seeing us unlimber in the street, as above related, he had come over now for this purpose, seized the sponge-staff and rammed home the charge, and was giving vent to his enthusiasm in screams and bounds that would have done credit to a catamount. Standing on the other side of the gun, with his arms folded, was a Federal Irishman, a prisoner just captureda man even taller than Burgoyne and somewhat heavier in frame, altogether a magnificent fellow. Catching Burgoyne's brogue, he broke out- “Hey, ye spalpane! say, what are yez doing in the Ribil army?” Quick as a flash, Burgoyne retorted:
Be-dad, ain't an Irishman a freeman? Haven't I as good right to fight for the Ribs as ye have to fight for the ---Yanks?“O, yes!” sang out the Federal Irishman, “I know ye, now you've turned your ougly mug to me. I had the plizure of kicking yez out from behind Marye's wall, that time Sedgwick lammed yer brigade out oa there!” “Yer a --liar,” shouted our Pat, “and I'll jist knock yer teeth down yer ougly throat for that same lie,” and suiting the action to the word, he vaulted lightly over the gun, and before we had time to realize the extreme absurdity of the thing, the two had squared off against each other in the most approved style and the first blow had passed, for the Federal Irishman was as good grit as ours. Just as the two giants were about to rush to close quarters, but before any blood had been drawn in the round, I noticed that the right fist of the Federal gladiator was gory, and the next movement revealed the stumps of two shattered fingers, which he was about to drive full into Burgoyne's face.  “Hold!” I cried; “your man's wounded!” On the instant Burgoyne's fists fell. “You're a trump, Pat; give me your well hand,” said he. “We'll fight this out some other time. I didn't see ye were hurt.” Just as this intensest climax of the great battle was happily avoided, a member of General Early's staff — I thought it was Major Daniel, but he says not-galloped by, and shouted, “Lieutenant, limber to the rear!” “To the front, you mean, Major!” “No,” came the answer, “to the rear!” “All right, boys,” said I, “I reckon the town's barricaded, and we'll just pass round it to the front.” But, no. Back, back, we went, for perhaps a mile or more, and took position on a hill from which, next morning, we gazed upon the earthworks which had sprung up in the night on Cemetery Ridge, and the tide, which taken at the flood might have led on to overwhelming victory and even to independence, had ebbed away forever. So it looked to me then, and nothing I have read or heard since has altered the impressions of that moment. It is my nature to be reverential toward rightful authority and not to question the wisdom of its decisions; but on this occasion I chafed and rebelled until it almost made me ill. I was well nigh frenzied by what appeared to me to be the folly, the absolute fatuity of delay. One point must be cleared up. It has been suggested that General Lee himself was responsible; that, coming late upon the field, he forbade the advance which his lieutenant would have made. Mr. Swinton goes so far as to say unqualifiedly that “Ewell was even advancing a line against Culp's Hill when Lee reached the field and stayed the movement.” Nothing could be less like Lee and nothing further from the truth. Colonel Taylor makes this full and explicit statement: General Lee witnessed the flight of the Federals through Gettysburg and up the hills beyond. He then directed me to go to General Ewell and say to him that, from the position which he occupied, he could see the enemy retreating over those hills, without organization and in great confusion; that it was only necessary to press “those people” in order to  secure possession of the heights, and that, if possible, he wished him to do this. In obedience to these instructions I proceeded immediately to General Ewell and delivered the order of General Lee; and after receiving from him some message for the commanding general in regard to the prisoners captured, returned to the latter and reported that his order had been delivered. At this time I admired General Ewell as a soldier; later I loved him as a man, and he treated me with more informal and affectionate kindness than any other of our leading generals ever did. But the truth must be told, and Ewell was the last man on earth to object to this. Colonel Taylor speaks of the discretion General Lee always accorded to his lieutenants. In the exercise of this discretion, Ewell probably decided it best not to press his advantage on the evening of July 1st. Why, we do not know; at least I do not recall any statement from him on the subject, and his lips are now sealed. I ask no judgment against him, but only that General Lee's skirts should be cleared of responsibility for the failure to go right on that evening and occupy the heights. It is also undeniably true, that Lee desired and purposed to renew the attack, in full force, at daylight next morning, the morning of July 2d, but was again thwarted by lack of prompt and vigorous co-operation among his generals. This book being in the main a record of personal reminiscence, I do not care to go into the details of these various and desultory movements and failures to move, until some time, I think early in the afternoon of the second, when I was brought again in personal touch with the matter and ultimately into one of the most tremendous experiences of my life. As I remember, about the time mentioned, two of Early's brigades, Gordon's being one, were sent off to watch the York road and a suspicious-looking body of troops which had appeared and disappeared in that direction, say two miles to the left, and which threatened the left flank and rear of Edward Johnson's division, which was our extreme left, and under orders to take part in a general advance against the enemy. Gordon was in command of this little  army of observation, and as I was mounted and relished the idea of a scout and the prospect of adventure, I joined the expedition. When we reached our objective we readily satisfied ourselves that no danger boded from this direction, and that the troops we had regarded with suspicion were not hostile. We did not come into absolute contact with them,--we could not wait for that,--but my recollection is that they proved to be the advance of Stuart's cavalry, which had just come up, and were really doing just what we had come to do, that is, guarding our left flank and rear. After making this discovery, the point was to get word to Johnson at the earliest possible moment, that he could press on, feeling no uneasiness about his flanks. Not a member of Gordon's staff was with him-all were off on various errands. Captain Mitchell came up at the moment, but both he and his horse were exhausted, utterly unfit for such a ride as this. The General called for volunteers, mounted officers, to take the message-two, I think; one to go around a longer and safer way, but one to cut right across, or rather, as his course would be after the first quarter of a mile, directly in the teeth of the artillery fire, which was sweeping the approaches to the Federal position from our left. I offered to take this latter ride and do my best to get word to General Johnson promptly. The General thanked me, and off I dashed, braced, as I thought, for anything, yet little dreaming what the ride would really be. For the first few hundred yards, as above suggested, the configuration of the ground was such that the fire was entirely cut off — not so much as even one stray shell whistled above my head. But in a few moments, as I rose a hill and my course veered to the left, I struck a well-defined aerial current, a meteoric stream, of projectiles and explosions, and I felt my little horse shudder and squat under me, and then he made one frantic effort to turn and fly. I pulled him fiercely back against the iron torrent until he breasted it squarely and then, seeming to realize the requirements of the position, he elongated and flattened himself as much as possible, while I lay as close to him as I could, and we fairly devoured the way.  One of the horrors of the thing, during a large part of the ride, was that I could see almost every shell that passed, as they were coming straight toward me, and their propulsive force was pretty well exhausted. As I approached the points at which the fire was directed, while I could not see so large a proportion of the shells, and this strain was of course diminished, yet the number of projectiles and explosions increased-until at last there was absolutely no separation between the reports, but the air was rent by one continuous shriek of shell and roar of explosion, and torn with countless myriads of hurtling fragments. When a man is undergoing an experience like this he does not think-his entire conscious being is concentrated upon the one point of endurance. But unconsciously, inadvertently, he may receive powerful impressions and bear away with him vivid and unfading mental photographs. I have borne with me ever since, in my recollections of this ride, three pictures. The first is a silhouette of my little horse and me as we sped on our perilous way. I put him first because he did it, I only endured. After his first shy he never shrank or swerved again, but held to his course straight and swift as a greyhound; nay, as an arrow flies. He seemed to be possessed, whether intelligently or instinctively, of the double purpose of making himself small and getting there. His figure was that of a running hare-low to the ground, with her ears laid flat and every limb stretched; while I was nothing but the smallest possible projection above his back and along his flanks. I am not satisfied whether this is purely a mental and inferential picture, or whether, as I incline to think, my eye, in an involuntary sidelong glance, caught our shadow as we flew. But of this I am satisfied-that, in all the years since, the battle of Gettysburg has never obtruded itself upon my mental vision that this strange figure, of horse and man blent together into one by the terrible tension, has not been the frontispiece. The next picture is of Latimer's Battalion, which, with splendid pluck but little judgment, had engaged in a most unequal artillery duel with the Federal batteries massed upon Cemetery Ridge and Culp's Hill. Never, before or after,  did I see fifteen or twenty guns in such a condition of wreck and destruction as this battalion was. It had been hurled backward, as it were, by the very weight and impact of metal from the position it had occupied on the crest of a little ridge, into a saucer-shaped depression behind it; and such a scene as it presented-guns dismounted and disabled, carriages splintered and crushed, ammunition chests exploded, limbers upset, wounded horses plunging and kicking, dashing out the brains of men tangled in the harness; while cannoneers with pistols were crawling around through the wreck shooting the struggling horses to save the lives of the wounded men. I said the little horse did not again swerve from his course. He was compelled to do so at this point, as it was impracticable to ride through the battalion, which lay directly in our track; but we had a full view of it as we followed the higher ground from which it had been driven. The third and last picture connected with my desperate ride is of the finish and of the doughty division commander in whose behalf I had taken it. He was sometimes called “Alleghany Johnson” and “Fence-rail Johnson,” because of his having been wounded at the battle of Alleghany, and, in consequence, walking with a very perceptible limp and aiding the process with a staff about as long as a rail and almost as thick as the club of Giant Despair. He was a heavy, thick-set man, and when I saw him was on foot and hobbling along with the help of this gigantic walking-cane. It was toward the gloaming and I did not see him very distinctly, but remember that when I gasped out the message I bore from Gordon, he simply growled back, “Very well, sir” --and, my responsibility discharged, I dropped from the saddle to the ground, the last thing I remember being my little horse standing over me, his sides heaving and panting and his head drooping and sinking until his muzzle almost touched my body. How long I lay and he stood there, or where we went after we recovered breath and motion, I have not the faintest recollection. Johnson's attack was made not long before dark, but it was not vigorously supported, except by two of Early's brigades, and it failed to accomplish any important result.  I was not in any way personally connected with the main operations of the next day, July 3d, the last day of the great battle. That was a matter primarily of Longstreet's corps, a part of Hill's acting as support to his attack. I shall, therefore, not enter into the hotly-debated question of responsibility for the failure of the Confederate assault, nor indulge in any heroics over its gallantry. Nor shall I discuss the question which side is entitled to claim the victory. It is clear that the Confederates retired first from the field, but they did not do so until the 5th of July, the rear guard leaving late on that day, and even then they were not pursued. General Sickles, before the Committee on the Conduct of the War, testified that the reason the Confederates were not followed up was a difference of opinion among the Federal generals whether their army should not retreat; that “it was by no means clear, in the judgment of the corps commanders, or of the general in command, whether they had won or not.” There is but one other scene of the battle-field which I care to mention, and that only for a reason already touched upon in a like connection, namely, to give to those who had no actual experience of war some approximate conception of the variety and extravagance of horrors which the soldier is called upon, from time to time, to undergo. On the 4th of July, in readjusting and straightening our lines, the guns of Hilary Jones' battalion were put in position on a part of the field which Hill's corps had fought over on the 1st, and upon which the pioneer corps and burying parties had not been able to complete their work; so that the dead bodies of men and horses had lain there putrefying under the summer sun for three days. The sights and smells that assailed us were simply indescribable-corpses swollen to twice their original size, some of them actually burst asunder with the pressure of foul gases and vapors. I recall one feature never before noted, the shocking distension and protrusion of the eyeballs of dead men and dead horses. Several human or unhuman corpses sat upright against a fence, with arms extended in the air and faces hideous with  something very like a fixed leer, as if taking a fiendish pleasure in showing us what we essentially were and might at any moment become. The odors were nauseating, and so deadly that in a short time we all sickened and were lying with our mouths close to the ground, most of us vomiting profusely. We protested against the cruelty and folly of keeping men in such a position. Of course to fight in it was utterly out of the question, and we were soon moved away; but for the rest of that day and late into the night the fearful odors I had inhaled remained with me and made me loathe myself as if an already rotting corpse. While a prisoner at Johnson's Island, in the spring of 1865, I became much interested in one of my fellow-prisoners, a Major McDaniel, of Georgia. He did not at first strike one as an impressive man. Indeed, if I recollect rightly, he had somewhat of an impediment in his speech and was not inclined to talk much; but there was a peculiar pith and point and weight in what he did say, and those who knew him best seemed to regard him as a man of mark and to treat him with the greatest respect. The impression he made upon me was of simplicity and directness, good sense and good character, dignity, gravity, decorum. They told me this surprising story of him: He was seriously wounded at Gettysburg, and, of course, in the hospital. His friends who had been captured and were about to be marched off to prison, came in to bid him goodby; but he declared he would not be left behind, that he could and would go with them. Both his comrades and the Federal surgeons and nurses, who were kind and attentive, protested that this was absolutely out of the question — that he would die on the road. “Very good,” said McDaniel, “I'll die then. I am certainly going, and if you don't bring a litter and put me on it and carry me, then I will simply get up and walk till I drop.” Finally the surgeons yielded, saying that, in his condition, it would be as fatal to confine him forcibly in bed as to lift him out and attempt to transport him; that either course was certain death. So the litter was brought, he was placed  upon it, his friends sadly took hold of the bearing poles and started, feeling that the marching column of prisoners was really McDaniel's funeral procession. The journey would have been trying enough, even for a sound, strong man, but for one in McDaniel's condition it was simply fearful. Why he did not die they could not see, yet he did seem to grow weaker and weaker, until at last, as the column halted in a little Pennsylvania town and his bearers put the litter gently down in the shade, his eyes were closed, his face deadly pale, and the majority of those about him thought he was gone. The whole population was in the streets to see the Rebel prisoners go by, and some stared, with gaping curiosity, at the dead man on the stretcher. His most intimate friend, Colonel Nesbit, stood nearest, keeping a sort of guard over him, and just as he made up his mind to examine and see if it was indeed all over, Mc-Daniel opened his eyes, and then beckoned feebly for Nesbit to come close to him. As he reached his side and bent over him, McDaniel took hold upon the lapel of Nesbit's coat and drew him yet closer down, until their faces well nigh touched, and then, with a great effort and in a voice scarcely audible, McDaniel whispered his name-“Nesbit!” Nesbit says he confidently expected some last message for his family, or some tender farewell to his friends, when, with extreme difficulty, his supposed-to-be-dying friend, pointing with trembling finger, uttered just these words:
Nesbit, old fellow! Did you ever see such an ungodly pair of ankles as that Dutch woman standing over there on that porch has got?Of course such a man could not be killed and would not die; and it was not a matter of surprise to me when, a few years later, he. was elected Governor of Georgia by a hundred thousand majority.