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[74]

Review of the Gettysburg campaign.

By One Who Participated Therein.

I have frequently been asked by friends and members of my family to write something of my experiences during the great Civil War.

The pressure of a busy professional life has left me little in the way of leisure to gratify this request, and I have always felt that personal experiences were difficult to recall, and at best interested but few people.

I have not been unmindful, too, of Max Muller's caution that he doubted whether any historian would accept a statement made thirty years after the event, without independent confirmation. In writing his autobiography, he says, ‘All that I can vouch for is, that I read my memory as I should read the leaves of an old manuscript, from which many letters, nay whole words and lines have vanished, and when I am often driven to decipher as a palimpsest what the original uncial writing may have been, I am the first to confess there may be flaws in my memory, there may be before my eyes that magic azure which surrounds the distant past, but I compromise that there shall be no invention, no Dichtung, instead of Wahrich, but always as far as in me lies, truth.’

An occasional visit to the battlefields of Gettysburg in these latter years has served to revive my interest in the scenes, some of which I witnessed nearly fifty years ago.

I have been led to read again some of the discussions which were so rife after the war as to the causes of General Lee's failure. These again caused me to review the whole campaign in the light of the official reports and correspondence which have since been published, and the result of these investigations in connection with the facts of which I was personally cognizant are embodied in the following pages.

Popular interest in the battle of Gettysburg has suffered no abatement from the lapse of time. In popular imagination the shouts of the contending hosts, and the echoes of musketry and [75] artillery still resound through the valleys and linger upon the opposing heights. While the battle is not accounted as sanguinary as Sharpsburg, and not as picturesque in its setting as Fredericksburg, and while there was no brilliant coup de main like that of Jackson's at Chancellorsville, yet, as marking the turning point in the fortunes of the war, and repelling the tide of Southern invasion, it is by common consent regarded as the most momentous of all the struggles waged between the army of the Potomac and the army of Northern Virginia.

To the military student of the campaign, the tactical movements on either side, the manner in which the troops were brought into action, the nature of the ground, the strength of the several positions, and how each of them bore on the final result, furnish on a large scale rich material for the study of the art of war. Notwithstanding the volumes which have been devoted to the subject, no writer has yet appeared, able to paint the picture in all its fullness, tracing with bold sweep the general outlines, and deftly filling in its multitudinous details.

Historical truth evolves itself slowly. In the diary of the Hon. Gideon Wells, Secretary of the Navy, now being published, he records that Mr. Lincoln was extremely dejected at Lee's escape after the battle, and much displeased that Meade did not press Lee vigorously. The average Northerner, however, while he failed, as did Mr. Lincoln, to realize how close the Union army had been to defeat, was quite willing when success was assured to forget the panic which swept the country ahead of Lee's invading army when it made its swift march to the Susquehanna, and was too elated over the result to care to go much into the inquiry how it all came about. This feeling to some extent, affected the subsequent investigation before a Committee of Congress upon the conduct of the war. Everyone could afford to be generous when there was so much cause for mutual congratulation.

In the South it was different; the increasing exigencies of the Confederate government and its narrowing resources, left it no time during the remainder of its existence, to institute inquiries into the cause of Lee's failure, and at the conclusion of hostilities, the people were too much engaged in their efforts to repair the waste of war, to think of the past and its mistakes. [76] Still, with the army of Northern Virginia and among its officers and men, from the day their faces were turned again to the Potomac, the causes of the failure have been a theme of repeated, and sometimes angry, discussion.

When the magnanimity of General Lee prompted him, at the end of the third day, to assume the responsibility for the disaster, it allayed for the time any disposition to fix the responsibility elsewhere, and so long as he lived, his influence was felt in restraining heated discussions, which he discouraged as productive of no good, and the effect of which would be to alienate from each other those who had been comrades in arms.

The subject, however, was of such a nature, its discussion could not be finally suppressed. The Gettysburg failure touched too keenly the pride of the army and the reputation of General Lee, to permit silence on the part of his followers when it was believed by many that the responsibility rested upon other shoulders than his own. As time passed the discussion widened, and it became more and more apparent that General Lee's broad and generous mantle had covered the shortcomings of more than one of his lieutenants. One of the contemporary criticisms was directed against General Stuart, the cavalry leader, who was charged with having not only committed a fatal blunder, but with violating his instructions in detaching himself from the army when the Potomac was crossed, and failing to furnish the Commander-in-Chief with the information which it was essential for him to possess. Stuart's brilliant service afterwards, and his death in battle disarmed any disposition to emphasize whatever error he may have committed; but it remained for some of the general staff afterwards to point out and lay stress upon this feature of the campaign. This view was endorsed by General Longstreet, to whom Stuart was reporting immediately before the passage of the Potomac. Colonel John S. Mosby in his book recently published, entitled, ‘Stuart's Cavalry in the Gettysburg Campaign,’ and in his letters to the press, has undertaken to refute these charges, and to show that Stuart not only acted within his instructions, but that his detour between Hooker's army and the city of Washington, was justified by the result, and that had he been with Lee on the march he could have rendered no special [77] service, and his presence at Gettysburg would have been practically useless.

The most serious controversy, however, growing out of the campaign has been over the conduct of General Longstreet on the second and third days of the battle, and his alleged tardiness and failure to co-operate cordially with the Commander-in-Chief. In his book ‘From Manassas to Appomattox,’ and in various publications given to the press, General Longstreet has vigorously defended himself, and adopting the old Roman method has sought to carry the war into Africa, and made counter charges, sometimes with an exhibition of temper which his best friends must regret.

Now, that nearly all the chief actors in the memorable struggle have passed away, certainly those whose feelings were most enlisted in the controversies growing out of it, it is not inopportune to attempt in a dispassionate way a brief historical sketch of the campaign, tracing the movements of the two armies from the time they left the neighborhood of Fredericksburg, Va., noting the objects had in view by the Confederate leaders, and pointing out the causes of General Lee's failure at Gettysburg.

Mr. Davis in his work entitled ‘The Rise and Fall of the Confederacy,’ has put himself on record, that the main purpose of the movement across the Potomac, was to free Virginia from the presence of the enemy. ‘If (he says) beyond the Potomac, some opportunity should be offered so as to enable us to defeat the army on which our foe most relied, the measure of our success would be full; but if the movement only resulted in freeing Virginia from the presence of the hostile army, it was more than could be fairly expected from awaiting the attack which was clearly indicated.’

General Lee's own view of the situation is set forth in a confidential letter, written by him to Mr. Seddon, the Confederate Secretary of War, on June 8, 1863, in which he points out that nothing could be gained by his army remaining quiet on the defensive, which it would have to do unless reinforced, that it was difficult to take the aggressive with so large an army in his front, intrenched behind a river where it could not be advantageously attacked, ‘and that unless it can be drawn out in a position to [78] be assailed, it will take its own time to prepare and strengthen itself to renew its advance upon Richmond, and force this army back within the intrenchments of that city.’ At the date of this letter General Longstreet, with two divisions of his corps, was absent from the army, having been detached after the battle of Fredericksburg and sent to the south side of the James to cooperate in the capture of Suffolk. Mr. Davis says that in anticipation of General Hooker's advance in May, instructions were sent to General Longstreet to hasten his return to the army with his two divisions, and notwithstanding the instructions I were ‘repeated with urgent insistence, has movements were so delayed that though the battle of Chancellorsville did not occur until many days after he was expected to join, his force was absent when it occurred.’

Some explanation of this apparent reluctance on

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