the First and Eleventh corps on the other, till about four P. M., when General Howard was compelled to yield to the superior numbers of the enemy and fall back, losing many prisoners — nearly four thousand--to the south side of Gettysburgh. His position was eminently critical, when, to the great relief of both the General and our valiant troops, a division of the Third corps, under the immediate command of General Sickles, arrived, and the fighting for that day was at an end. It should be mentioned that the Third corps was stationed at Emmettsburgh, by order of General Meade, with a view to protect that important point; but information continuing to reach General Sickles that the First and Eleventh corps were in great danger,1 he decided to assume the grave responsibility of moving to their relief without orders. Leaving two brigades at Emmettsburgh, he made a forced march of ten miles, in spite of the heat and dust, in three hours, and had the satisfaction to be hailed by General Howard on his reaching the field with the flattering phrase, “Here you are, General — always reliable, always first!” --a generous tribute from one soldier to another. General Slocum, of the Twelfth corps, had arrived a short time before; but his corps was then some four miles distant. In the early part of the evening (Wednesday) a conference of the leading generals took place, when some insisted on falling back toward Taneytown, while others urged the expediency of maintaining their present position as offering rare advantages for the inevitable and decisive contest that must occur on the following day. It appears that General Meade had issued a circular (of which I saw seval copies) on the morning of Wednesday, July first, to all his corps commanders, stating that his advance had accomplished all the objects contemplated — namely, the relief of Harrisburgh and Philadelphia — and that he would now desist altogether from the offensive. He proposed to post the whole army in line of battle on Pipe Creek, the right flank resting on Manchester and the left on Middleburgh, involving an entire change of front, and there await the movements of the enemy. The position which General Meade had selected for the final struggle between the two armies was some fifteen miles distant from Gettysburgh, where fate willed that it should occur. Whether this important circular ordering him to fall back reached the lamented Reynolds before he became engaged at Gettysburgh it is difficult to say. It could not have failed to reach General Sickles; but he happily determined to push on to the rescue of the First and Eleventh corps, already engaged. It is strange that General Meade should make no mention in his report of this singular and most important fact: that he issued a plan of campaign on Wednesday, July first, directing his whole army to retire and take up the defensive on Pipe Creek almost at the moment that his left flank was fiercely struggling with the right wing of the enemy. This proves how often the plans of a general are frustrated by unlooked — for contingencies. General Meade broke up his quarters at Taneytown, as he states, at eleven P. M. on Wednesday, and reached Gettysburgh at one A. M. Thursday, July second. Early in the morning he set to work examining the position of the various army corps. It is hardly true to say that he imitated the example of all prudent commanders on the eve of a battle, and made a complete survey of the ground he occupied. It was on these occasions that the genius of the First Napoleon revealed itself; for at a glance he saw the advantages of his own position and the assailable point of the enemy. It seems that General Lee was somewhat more astute than Meade in this; for in his report he states what he deemed “the most favorable point” for his attack. “In front of General Longstreet,” (opposite our left wing,) Lee remarks, “the enemy held a position from which, if he could be driven, it was thought our army could be used to advantage in assailing the more elevated ground beyond, and thus enable us to reach the crest of the ridge. That officer, then, was directed to carry this position.” It is plain enough that Lee regarded the point where our left was posted as the key to our position, and if that could be taken from us our defeat was inevitable. It is not to be supposed that General Meade refused to see this; but as he makes no mention of it in his report, I propose, for the sake of the future historian of the battle, to tell what I know about it. Near this important ground was posted the valiant Third corps, and its commander, General Sickles, saw at once how necessary it was to occupy the elevated ground in his front toward the Emmettsburgh road, and to extend his lines to the commanding eminence known as the Roundtop, or Sugarloaf Hill. Unless this were done, the left and rear of our army would be in the greatest danger. Sickles concluded that no time was to be lost, as he observed the enemy massing large bodies of troops on their right, (our left.) Receiving no orders, and filled with anxiety, he reported in person to General Meade and urged the advance he deemed so essential. “Oh!” said Meade, “generals are all apt to look for the attack to be made where they are.” Whether this was a jest or a sneer Sickles did not stop to consider, but begged Meade to go over the ground with him instantly; but the Commander-in-Chief declined this on account of other duties. Yielding, however, to the prolonged solicitations of Sickles, General Meade desired General Hunt, Chief of Artillery, to accompany Sickles and report the result of their reconnaissance. Hunt concurred with Sickles as to the line to be occupied — the advance line from the left of the Second corps to the Roundtop Hill — but he declined to give any orders until he had reported to General
This text is part of:
Table of Contents:
Doc . 3 .-attack on the defences of Mobile .
Surrender of Fort Powell .
Battle of Olustee .
Battle of Pleasant Hill .
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.
An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.