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[250]

The artillery at Second Manassas--Rejoinder of General S. D. Lee to General Longstreet.

In the November number of the Southern Historical Society Papers is the following letter of General Longstreet's, supplemented by one from Colonel J. B. Walton, claiming to be a reply to my article in the August number touching the artillery used at the battle of second Manassas:

Gainesville, Georgia, September 6th, 1878.
Southern Historical Society, Richmond, Virginia:
In your issue of last month a paper appears from the pen of General S. D. Lee, claimed to be a reply to a part of my official report of the second battle of Manassas as published in an article on the Gettysburg campaign by myself.

No part of my official report of second Manassas was published in any of my writings upon Gettysburg. In my last I gave an account of the leading features of second Manassas, as connected with my command and myself, but distinctly announced in that paper that my sole purpose was to illustrate, as well as might be, the official as well as personal relations between General R. E. Lee and myself.

General S. D. Lee seems to have started from erroneous premises, therefore, and may mislead some of your readers.

The inclosed account of the artillery combat of second Manassas from Colonel J. B. Walton, commander of the Washington artillery of New Orleans upon that field, seems to meet the only real point of issue made by General S. D. Lee. I have to ask, therefore, that you give it a place in your Papers whenever it may be convenient.

I am, very respectfully, your most obedient servant,


The above letter, including Colonel Walton's, does not at all meet the issue I raised in my article in the August number of the Historical Society Papers, but is a clear ignoring and evasion of that issue.

The point raised in my article was that my eighteen (18) guns consisting of the batteries of Eubank, Jordan, Parker, Rhett, and a section of Grimes' battery under Lieutenant Cakum (to use the words of General R. E. Lee's official report), posted “in a position a little in advance of Longstreet's left,” together with General Jackson's infantry, had something to do with the repulse of the enemy on the 30th August, 1862, in their desperate and gallant assault on General Jackson's position. [251]

General Longstreet, with his letter, sends a letter from Colonel J. B. Walton, in which he (Colonel W.) labors to prove that he first discovered the ground on which my artillery was posted and fought on the 30th of August; that he (Colonel W.) had occupied this same ground with his own artillery on the previous day, 29th of August, and was engaged in a severe artillery fight: a proposition I never for a moment denied, but, on the contrary, quoted from General Longstreet's official report to establish the fact and show that my eighteen guns were on Longstreet's left, “between himself and Jackson, in a commanding position,” while the two batteries Longstreet put in position to my right--and for which he claims the sole credit of the repulse of the Federals--had to fire across my entire front from a less advanced position.

Moreover, what has Colonel Walton's account of his artillery fight on the 29th of August, and his selection of position, to do. with the battle on the 30th August, after he had withdrawn from that position?

Colonel Walton's letter establishes this fact, viz: that at 3.30 P. M. on the 29th of August he withdrew all his batteries for repairs and to refill his chests, and he did not return, thereby leaving a gap open of over a quarter of a mile between General Longstreet and General Jackson, and that it was this identical gap which my artillery of eighteen guns filled at dawn on the 30th of August, upon consultation with and at the suggestion of General J. B. Hood.

Longstreet did not put me there. General R. E. Lee approved of my position, and ordered me to stay there when I reported it to him — a most fortunate circumstance, as it made an almost continuous line of battle, and filled the ugly gap on the high and advanced ridge made by the withdrawal of General Longstreet's artillery under Colonel Walton the day before.

General Longstreet is in error in saying that in my previous article I claim to reply to “a part of his official report of the second battle of Manassas as published in an article on the Gettysburg campaign by himself” --as a more careful perusal will show him. I state that in the June number of the Historical Papers, for the first time, I saw his Gettysburg article, and also an extract from his official report. The article itself treats only of his allusions to second Manassas and to the official extract.

It is the misfortune of General Longstreet, if in trying to explain “his official and personal relations with General R. E. Lee” by giving “an account of the leading features of second Manassas” as [252] connected “with himself and his command,” he should make erroneous and unreasonable statements — such statements as the truth of history, and justice to participating commands, renders it necessary to be corrected and exposed.

In my previous article, therefore, I cannot mislead the readers of the Historical Society Papers (as suggested by General Longstreet), for I make a direct issue with him as to the correctness of his statements. I show that he not only did great injustice to General Jackson, but to a gallant artillery battalion immediately to his left and between himself and the assaulting enemy; that it was preposterous for his two batteries, only engaged a short time and under less favorable circumstances, to have done the magical work claimed for them.

To any unprejudiced reader, in the quotations given in my former article from General Longstreet's pen, he clearly lays claim to the entire credit of the victory at second Manassas, to the detriment of General R. E. Lee, Jackson or any command on the field.

The Gettysburg article and his official report are not the only two instances on record where he makes the claim of routing the Federals with his artillery. In a letter in the Atlantic Monthly of September to General F. J. Lippett, of the Federal army, dated July 30th, 1870, is the following: “His forces massed against Jackson, you will readily perceive that a slight advance of my batteries gave me an enfilade fire upon his masses that no troops could live under, and this with but little exposure to me. Of course I seized the opportunity--my batteries broke the masses in about five minutes, that appeared about a moment before as formidable and resistless as an avalanche. My command being fully prepared for the emergency, was sprung to the charge as the Federal masses melted away.” Here the claim is again made. Had Colonel Lee's artillery and Jackson's infantry only been included, the above is substantially correct, except as to the five minutes, which conflicts with his Gettysburg article and his official report also.

Colonel Lee's battalion, however, from Longstreet's account, is supposed to have remained idle and not fired a gun during the battle in the evening. It was a battalion of reserve artillery, not attached permanently to Longstreet's corps. Could this have had anything to do with the matter? Would the same omission have occurred had Colonel Walton kept Longstreet's artillery in the same position it occupied on the 29th?

The fact is, General Longstreet has made a great mistake in his [253] report and his writings, which, after being pointed out to him, he evades. He can't get around the fact of Lee's battalion of artillery being between himself and Jackson, and the position and space they occupied was just the one for artilery to have done the good service he claimed for his two batteries. There is no doubt of the fact that the artillery, playing on the Federal column had a great deal to do with its signal repulse; and before General Longstreet's version of the battle can pass into history, he must establish the fact that Colonel Lee's battalion took no part in the action, and in considering the ground over which the Federals moved, he must overcome the distance made necessary by Colonel Lee's command between himself and the enemy.

My position between General Longstreet and General Jackson necessarily placed me nearer the enemy than General Longstreet's position, and gave me a full view of the battle. The Federal assault was beautiful and gallant in the extreme. The first two lines of battle leaving the woods opposite the left of my position, and in front of Jackson, swept across an open field of fourteen hundred yards immediately to my left and front, under the concentrated fire of Jackson's infantry in their immediate front, posted behind a railroad embankment, and the rapid fire of my four batteries at close range. These two lines never faltered; they went across and lodged on the embankment; nothing could stop them. The supporting lines twice moved out of the woods, and advanced a considerable distance into the open field, passing over their dead comrades; but the deadly fire of the artillery upon them, to use Longstreet's language, was such “that no troops could live under it,” and they had to retire. When they were driven back the two front lines at the embankment had to retrace their bloody steps, pursued by Jackson's infantry, and under the crushing fire of our artillery Longstreet's two batteries no doubt played on the reserves, but they never fired a shot at the front lines, and they did as good service as any artillery could do at their distance, for there was no better artillery in the army than in Longstreet's corps. It is a slander on those gallant Federal troops, who lost over one-third of their number, to say that General Longstreet's two distant batteries routed them, and it should not pass into history as a fact.

This Federal assault, too, was repulsed, and Jackson's infantry was pursuing and did follow the enemy into the woods before Longstreet's troops moved in their magnificent advance. This I am certain of, for I was about moving my artillery forward, yet hesitated to do [254] so, as it would have exposed my right flank. But just at that moment Longstreet moved, and one of General Jackson's batteries, which had reported to me, was moved to the front, as it was found that my guns had but a few rounds left, so rapid and continuous had been their firing during the half hour that the assault lasted.

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