The history of the Army of the Potomac in the Gettysburg campaign
has never been written.
That army was unfortunate in having two commanders, General Hooker
having been relieved at Frederick City, Maryland, about a week before the battle of Gettysburg
, by General Meade
. General Meade
's report of the campaign embraces only the time he was in command, and, as a consequence, the operations of the army up to Frederick City are not recorded, except in subordinate reports.
As the commander of the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac, I occupied the same personal relations to the commanders of that army-Generals Hooker
--that General Longstreet
held with General Lee
I, therefore, feel constrained to review the campaign of Gettysburg
, as presented by General Longstreet
, to enable the public to arrive at a proper understanding of the relative merits of the armies of the North and South in that campaign.
states that on the 3d of June, 1863, the movement of General Lee
's army from Fredericksburg
commenced, and that on the 8th two full corps and Stuart
's cavalry were concentrated at Culpepper Court-House.
He further says: “That on the 9th of June, a large force of Federals, cavalry and infantry, had been thrown across the Rappahannock
, and sent to attack Stuart
They were encountered at Brandy Station
, on the morning of the 9th, and repulsed.”
also expresses the opinion that if there was an occasion which justified General Lee
in departing from his plan of campaign, viz., offensive strategy and defensive tactics, it was at this battle of Beverly ford
and that Lee
should have fallen upon this command with his whole force and crushed it.
Now for the facts on our side.
, having received reports from different sources early in June, 1863, that General Lee
was quietly withdrawing his army from Fredericksburg
toward Culpepper Court-House, wanted positive information on the subject; so he directed me to make a reconnoissance in force toward Culpepper
, to attack the enemy, if necessary, and force him to display his infantry; but not to return without positive information of Lee
My command consisted at this time of two divisions of cavalry and six batteries of horse artillery, and I suggested to General Hooker
, in view of what he required, that I should be reinforced with some infantry.
The General told me to take what infantry I wanted, but not to fail, as he considered the information to be obtained of the utmost importance to the coming campaign.
I selected three thousand infantry, under Generals Ames
and D. A. Russell
On the 8th of June, I directed General Gregg
to cross the Rappahannock
at Kelly's ford
, at daylight on the morning of the 9th, with the Second Division of cavalry and Russell
's infantry, while I would cross with Buford
's Division of cavalry and Ames
' infantry, and join him at Brandy Station
The two fords were about eight miles apart, Brandy Station
being nearly in the apex of the triangle, three miles south of the river, and a good position from which to operate on Culpepper
, in case it became necessary to move in that direction.
The movement was a reconnoissance in force to gain information.
It was my duty not to seek a fight and not to avoid one--to distribute my force in such manner as to give the best opportunities for obtaining the information desired; at the same time to be within supporting distance in case of an action, and to withdraw and report to General Hooker
as soon as my task was accomplished.
The evening of the 8th of June a heavy rain laid the dust and enabled me to place the command near Beverly ford without attracting the notice of the enemy.
To my surprise, General Lee
had no pickets on the north side of the Rappahannock
I ordered my command to bivouac without fires, and be ready at four o'clock in the morning.
The next morning, with Colonel Davis
, of the Eighth New York Cavalry, who was to lead the advance, I reconnoitred the ford, and found the circumstances favorable for a surprise of the enemy on the opposite side, in case he was there in force.
The north bank of the river commanded the southern, and, with the exception of a few cavalry pickets, scattered up and down the river, nothing was to be seen.
The roaring of the water over the
dam just above the ford would prevent the sound of cavalry from being heard in making the passage of the river, while a dense fog on the river, extending some distance on the other side to the position occupied by the enemy's mounted pickets, would screen from observation any body of troops while crossing.
It was decided, therefore, to attack immediately, and, if possible, capture the enemy's-pickets and supports before the main body could be notified of the movement.
Accordingly, at five o'clock, Colonel Davis
gallantly led the Eighth New York Cavalry through the ford, and, charging the reserve of the pickets, took them by surprise, and, after a short resistance, they were overpowered.
Most unfortunately, at that moment the captain of the picket rode up to Colonel Davis
and shot him through the head, but was immediately killed by Davis
The death of Colonel Davis
caused a temporary delay; but, hearing of it, I crossed the river, and was soon to the front.
By this time at least three regiments were over — a sufficient force to hold the position until the entire command should cross.
On the north side I had placed three batteries in a position which commanded our flanks, and the crossing was completed.
It was at this time a trooper fired a blank cartridge from a battery in their rear, and this roused the sleeping soldiers of Stuart
's headquarters were not more than a quarter of a mile from the ford, and we pushed our advance with such vigor that we captured it, with a copy of his orders and other important papers indicating the campaign Lee
intended to make.
In obedience to his orders, Stuart
was to have crossed Beverly ford that morning to destroy the railroad to Alexandria
, for the purpose of delaying the Army of the Potomac in its movement north; while that Lee
intended to cross the Potomac
in the neighborhood of Poolesville
and the Monocacy
, from the other communications captured, was evident.
, stung at being surprised, soon had his command in action, and did some splendid fighting that day to recover his position.
The whole of my line was engaged at once, and for a time it was charge and counter-charge.
Nothing could have been finer than the gallantry displayed by the troops on both sides; but my command knew they had gained an advantage, and they were determined to keep it. The desperate attacks of Stuart
could not move them.
I had sufficient information, after the capture of Stuart
's headquarters, to have authorized the withdrawal of my command to the north side of the river, but hearing General Gregg
's guns in the direction of Brandy Station
, and knowing he would expect me to connect with him in that vicinity, I directed General Buford
to advance his right, while
the left was extended in the direction of Brandy Station
The enemy's cavalry, well supplied with artillery, fought with great stubbornness, and it was one o'clock in the day before I made any communication with Gregg
He informed me that he had been actively engaged all day; that the enemy were running trains full of infantry from Culpepper
to Brandy Station
, and massing them in the woods near the residence of John Minor Botts
was then directed to withdraw and recross the river at the railroad bridge, which he did without difficulty.
I held my position, covering Beverly ford, until Gregg
's crossing was assured, and then withdrew.
The last gun was fired at seven in the evening.
Such was the action of Beverly ford, which General Longstreet
calls Brandy Station
It was a roconnoissance in force, in which some of the hardest fighting of the war had to be done.
It accomplished more than was expected, by not only establishing the fact that Lee
was at Culpepper
in force, but it apprised General Hooker
of General Lee
's intention to invade the North
In reporting to General Hooker
the result of my reconnoissance, I stated I was of the opinion that Stuart
was not now likely to cross the river.
The General, however, thought it best for my command to remain in the vicinity of Warrenton Junction until the 16th of June, and Stuart
never made any attempt to cross the river during that time.
Such, then, was one result of the attack on the 9th.
A second result was to change the direction of Lee
's army toward the Shenandoah
, instead of attempting to cross the Potomac
, forcing that army to operate on an exterior line.
The third result was to give the Army of the Potomac the initiative, based on the knowledge of General Lee
Did General Lee
know that Stuart
's papers had been lost?
Did he or Stuart
suppose they were in my possession?
At all events, General Longstreet
's experienced military sagacity impressed him with the necessity of changing the plan of campaign, and with their whole force make a determined effort to crush me. No ordinary attack, which had been repulsed, would have been considered by Longstreet
as worthy of any such distinguished attention.
I claim, therefore, that the services of the nine thousand splendid soldiers of my command could not have been more brilliant or more important to the army and the country in their results.
On the evening of the 16th of June, the cavalry corps encamped near Manassas
, the Army of the Potomac occupying positions between that point and Fairfax Court-House.
After consultation with General Hooker
it was decided that I should proceed by the
way of Aldie
, through the Bull Run mountains
, into Loudon Valley, to ascertain if Lee
's army or any portion of it were in that vicinity.
I started early on the 17th, made a long march of twenty-five miles, and about five o'clock in the afternoon, shortly after we had entered the pass, met the enemy's cavalry coming through.
After a hard fight for several hours, we drove them back to the west side of the mountains.
On the 18th and 19th, we were again engaged, and forced them beyond Middleburg
, about nine miles from Aldie
, and on the 21st, advancing with Buford
on the road to Union, and Gregg
on the Upperville
road, we swept the Loudon Valley
to the base of the Blue Ridge
, fighting our way the whole distance.
the fighting was severe, several brigades, on each side, being engaged in charging each other; but such was the dash and spirit of our cavalry that the enemy could not withstand it, and retreated through Ashby
's gap badly worsted.
, on the right, sent some parties to the top of the Blue Ridge
, and they reported large masses of infantry and camps in the Shenandoah Valley toward Winchester
There being no infantry in the Loudon Valley
, it was evident General Lee
did not intend to cross the Potomac
lower down than Shepherdstown
These facts were reported to General Hooker
on the night of the 21st of June, and he shortly after set the army in motion for the vicinity of Frederick City, Maryland, Buford
's Division of cavalry taking up a position at Middletown
, to the west of Frederick City.
I desire, here, to call attention to General Longstreet
's statement, in which he ignores all the operations of Stuart
's cavalry from the 17th to the 21st of June. General Longstreet
states that he was occupying Ashby's and Snicker's gaps at that time with his corps, and communicated with General Stuart
He knew, therefore, that General Stuart
had been most actively engaged from the 17th of June, attempting to push through the Bull Run mountains
, in order to ascertain the whereabouts of General Hooker
had been doing his best to execute General Lee
's orders, which were “to harass the enemy, and to impede him as much as possible should he attempt to cross the Potomac
Such were General Lee
's orders to Stuart
, and to execute them it was his first duty to find out where the Army of the Potomac was located.
This he was doing when he attempted to pass the Bull Run mountains
; but, unfortunately for Stuart
, the enemy harassed him so much, and drove him back into Ashby
's gap in such condition that he was unable to reach the Potomac
in time to see the enemy cross.
, at Ashby
's gap on the 21st
of June, was as ignorant of the position of Hooker
's army as were Generals Lee
, on the 27th of June, at Chambersburg
should have hurried on to Chambersburg
under such conditions, is best explained by the ancient adage : “Whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad.”
lay great stress on the absence of Stuart
's cavalry as one of the principal causes of failure of the campaign on their side.
I have shown that the two divisions of the cavalry corps of the Army of the Potomac had effectually prevented Lee
's cavalry from obtaining any information in Virginia
with reference to the movements of that army.
Now, on arriving at Frederick City, Maryland, my corps was reinforced by a third division, commanded by Kilpatrick
, and Farnsworth
, and it is assuming nothing to assert that what had been done by my two divisions in Virginia
could be accomplished by three divisions with more ease and certainty in Maryland
Two days after I arrived at Frederick City, General Meade
relieved General Hooker
of the command of the Army of the Potomac.
On assuming the command, General Meade
sent for me, and in strong terms deprecated the change in commanders with a battle so near at hand, acknowledged his ignorance with regard to the army in general, and said he would be obliged to depend a great deal upon me to assist him. Our relations were of the most cordial and friendly character, and I soon gave him to understand my views, for we then knew that Lee
's army was moving toward Chambersburg
I told him that Lee
would make for Gettysburg
, and that if he seized that position before we could reach it we should have hard work to get him out, and that to prevent his doing so would depend more on the cavalry than anything else.
I called his attention to a division of cavalry near Frederick City, which he might place under my command, and I would like to have officers I would name specially assigned to it, as I expected to have some desperate work to do. The General assented to my request, and upon my naming the officers, he immediately telegraphed to have them appointed brigadier generals.
This was his first dispatch to Washington
, and in the afternoon he received the reply making the appointments, and directing the officers to be assigned at once.
They were Custer
, and Farnsworth
; all three young captains, and two of them, Custer
, my aides-de-camp.
While the General
and myself were in conversation in reference to the campaign a second dispatch was brought him, stating that Stuart
, with his cavalry, were making a raid near Washington City
, and had cut the wires, so that we had no
I laughed at this news, and said Stuart
has served us better than he is aware of; we shall now have no instructions from the aulic council until we have a battle.
, however, took the matter very seriously; thought I should take all the cavalry and capture Stuart
;. that the government would expect him to do so. I assured him that Lee
was of more importance to us than Stuart
; the latter was in a false position and useless to Lee
, and that it was a maxim in war never to interfere with the enemy when he was making a false move.
could only join Lee
by recrossing the Potomac
, which would occupy so much time as to prevent his being in the next battle; or he must pass round to the north of our army, in which event I should have the cavalry so placed that he would not be able to escape us. General Meade
then decided to leave the affair with me, and, as I expected, three or four days after, near a place called Hanover
's Division met Stuart
's command loaded down with plunder, which was recaptured, and, after a severe fight, Stuart
was compelled to make such a detour that he only joined Lee
on the second day of the battle, July 2d.
The Army of the Potomac was in motion by the 28th of June, moving north from Frederick City.
In arranging the line of march of the different corps, I was impressed with the idea that General Meade
considered that General Lee
would move toward Harrisburg
and cross the river in that vicinity.
He spoke of it to me more than once.
I could not believe it, although General Longstreet
states that, at one time, General Lee
did entertain that idea.
The general line of march of the army was too much to the east for a rapid concentration on Gettysburg
, and believing that General Lee
understood the advantages of that position as well as I did, I was determined to occupy it first.
I, therefore, ordered Buford
, with the first division of cavalry, to move from Middletown
by the way of Emmettsburg to Gettysburg
, and to hold that position at all hazards until the army could support him. In obedience to these orders, Buford
arrived at Gettysburg
on the afternoon of June 30th, and obtaining information that Lee
was in force on the Cashtown
road, he moved out on that road some four miles beyond Gettysburg
, and encamped for the night.
Early next morning General A. P. Hill
attacked him in force, but the nature of the ground was such that Buford
, with his splendid fighting, restrained the superior force against him until Reynolds
and others came up, and saved the position to the Army of the Potomac. General Longstreet
states that this rencontre “was totally unexpected on both sides.”
The above statement
shows that the General
is mistaken in supposing the rencontre was unexpected on our side.
's judgment in believing he would be attacked in heavy force on the morning of the 1st of July, and going out four miles to meet it the night before, was what saved to us the position.
Had he waited an attack at Gettysburg
, he would have been driven from the place before any support could have arrived.
had his headquarters on the 1st of July at a place called Taneytown
, about eighteen miles to the east of Gettysburg
It was about noon of that day I received a dispatch from General Buford
, stating the enemy had attacked him in force early that morning four miles from Gettysburg
; that he had fought them desperately for several hours to retard their progress; that Howard
, with the Eleventh Corps, and Reynolds
, with the First Corps, had arrived on the field; that Reynolds
had been killed while bringing his corps into action; there appeared to be no directing head, and if General Meade
expected to secure that position, the sooner he marched the army there the better.
I immediately showed this dispatch to General Meade
, when he decided to move on Gettysburg
, and sending for General Hancock
, whose corps was nearest to Gettysburg
, he ordered him to proceed at once to that point, directing his corps to follow him, and to take command of the forces engaged.
At the same time orders were sent to the different corps of the army to march on Gettysburg
The time occupied in making these arrangements detained General Meade
until after dark, when we proceeded to Gettysburg
, and arrived at General Howard
's headquarters on Cemetery Hill
At daylight on the morning of the 2d of July, General Meade
requested me to ride over the position with him, and we were engaged in that duty until ten o'clock, by which time the disposition of the different corps, as they should arrive, had been decided.
In examining the position, General Meade
was strongly impressed that our right was our weakest place, and on both the 2d and 3d of July he gave it his attention.
On the 3d, during the artillery combat on our left, he took a position on a high mound between the right and left flanks, watching our right, and expecting a heavy attack in that direction.
I had six batteries of horse artillery in reserve, and in case our right had given way, these batteries were to be sent to its support.
But finding our right could not hold its own, and our batteries on the left had suffered, these splendid batteries were placed in position on the left in time to meet General Pickett
I am not, therefore, surprised when General Longstreet
states, “That when the smoke cleared away Pickett
's Division was
gone,” and “that mortal man could not have stood that fire.”
I do not propose to follow General Longstreet
through the details of the battle of Gettysburg
The charges of the Southern
soldiers on the 2d and 3d of July were magnificent, and did them the highest honor.
But this was not war. Napoleon I. laid down the maxim that a general who disregards the principles of war at the commencement of a campaign, finds himself overwhelmed by the consequences when the crisis of battle arrives.
The campaign of Gettysburg
is a good illustration of the truth of this maxim.
violated the principles of strategy, and the results forced him to disregard those of tactics, and when after the repulse of his troops on the third day, he said, “it was all my fault,” he nobly declared the true verdict in the case.
The battle of Gettysburg
was over, and in speaking of the subsequent events of the campaign, I do so with reluctance.
I was in the position to form a correct opinion of the failure of the army to follow General Lee
, having been the constant companion of General Meade
from the time he assumed the command at Frederick City.
In justice to the General
, I can state he did not desire the command, and considered it hazardous to change commanders at that time, and his position was far more difficult than it would have been had he been assigned the command at the commencement of the campaign.
Personally very brave, an excellent corps commander, General Meade
had not that grasp of mind, when thrown into a new and responsible position, to quickly comprehend and decide upon important events as they occurred.
He required time to come to a decision, and this indulgence an active campaign never allows to a commanding general.
From the time he assumed command of the army until after the battle of Gettysburg
, the most important events were occuring with such rapidity, and with such resistless force, that his decisions were the consequences of these events rather than the operations of his individual intelligence.
From the suddenness of the repulse of the last charge on July 3d, it became necessary for General Meade
to decide at once what to do. I rode up to him, and, after congratulating him on the splendid conduct of the army, I said: “General, I will give you half an hour to show yourself a great general. Order
the army to advance, while I will take the cavalry, get in Lee
's rear, and we will finish the campaign in a week.”
He replied: “How do you know Lee
will not attack me again; we have done well enough.”
I replied that Lee
had exhausted all his available men; that the cannonade of the two last days had exhausted his ammunition; he was far from his base
of supplies; and, by compelling him to keep his army together, they must soon surrender, for he was living on the country.
To this the General
did not reply, but asked me to ride up to the Round Top
with him; and as we rode along the ridge for nearly a mile, the troops cheered him in a manner that plainly showed they expected the advance.
When we reached the Round Top
everything was still in Lee
's position with the exception of a single battery which was firing upon some of our skirmishers to prevent their advancing.
I was so impressed with the idea that Lee
was retreating that I again earnestly urged General Meade
to advance the army; but instead of doing so, he ordered me to send some cavalry to ascertain the fact.
's Division of cavalry started soon after, and at eight o'clock the next morning I received his report, stating that he was twenty-two miles on the Cashtown
road, and that the enemy was not only retreating, but it was a rout, the road being encumbered with wounded and wagons in the greatest confusion.
On this report the two other divisions of cavalry were sent to intercept and harass Lee
in crossing the Potomac
; but the Army of the Potomac did not leave Gettysburg
for four or five days after, and then passed by the way of South Mountain
to the Antietam creek
In consequence of heavy rains the Potomac river
was so much swollen that Lee
could not cross, and the two armies were again brought face to face for two days. General Meade
declined to attack, and Lee
's army escaped.
The cavalry rendered important service after the battle of Gettysburg
, in pursuit.
They captured large trains of wagons, many prisoners, and were in such position that, had General Meade
on the 4th of July, the surrender of Lee
would have been unavoidable.
The two great objective points of the war were Washington
's army captured Washington
and held it, the South
would have been recognized by the nations of Europe
, and the war would have been continued by the North
under the greatest disadvantages.
When the army of the Potomac entered Richmond
, the Southern
cause was considered lost in Europe
, and the South
The recognition of the South
by foreign governments entered largely into the political and military operations of the government at Richmond
; and the invasion of Pennsylvania
by General Lee
, in 1863, cannot properly be explained by military seasons alone.
The attempt to do this is the weak point of General Longstreet
's defense of that campaign.
The chances of that campaign from a military point of view were so much against General Lee
, and the General
himself was so conscious of them, that his effort to prosecute
it can only clearly be understood when it is assumed the necessities of the South
were so great as to compel the government at Richmond
to direct the movement in order, if possible, to hasten their recognition by France
In the first place, Lee
's army was not in a condition to make that campaign a success.
A month before, at Chancellorsville
, he had lost his ablest lieutenant, Stonewall Jackson
, and the flower of his army.
His army never recovered from that blow.
It caused General Longstreet
to say, “Such was the terrible sacrifice, that half a dozen such victories would have ruined us.”
The battle of Chancellorsville
was properly the beginning of the Gettysburg campaign
, and should be so considered in reviewing the military operations of the two armies.
The Army of the Potomac never was in finer order than in June, when it moved from Fredericksburg
, and it was ably handled throughout the campaign, and until after the battle of Gettysburg
The army had three roads to concentrate on Gettysburg
, viz.: the Emmettsburg road, the Taneytown
road, and the Baltimore pike
, and could naturally arrive there before Lee
's army, coming from Chambersburg
, on a single road through Cashtown
On the night of the 1st of July, we had more troops in position than Lee
, and from that time victory was assured to us. Had Lee
attacked on the morning of the 2d, he would have been repulsed, as he was when he did attack.
The failure of Lee
to make any impression on our right, which General Meade
expected on both days, the 2d and 3d of July, showed that General Lee
was either too weak, or did not have his army well in hand.
As to General Lee
maneuvring to our left, the supposition shows the ignorance existing of our position and the nature of the country.
I had two divisions of cavalry, one in rear of our position, and one on Lee
's right flank.
This cavalry would have held Lee
in check in any such movement, while the Army of the Potomac from Cemetery Hill
would have swept down and turned Gettysburg
into an Austrelitz.
It would have been far better for General Lee
and his army if they could have realized that the Army of the Potomac possessed generals fully equal to their own; that the mobility of the army for marching and maneuvring was equal, if not superior, to theirs, and that, in point of equipment, endurance, and tenacity, they were their superiors.
It is one of the wisest maxims of war, “Never to hold air enemy in contempt.”
The South suffered for the violation of this rule the most bitter mortification and suffering, and none more so than the gallant men who strove to wring victory from despair at Gettysburg
Three serious blunders deprived the Army of the Potomac of
the best fruits of their labors.
The first of these was the change of commanders a few days before the battle.
This delayed the movements of the army, and was near losing us the position at Gettysburg
It was singular that a government that claimed “never to swap horses while crossing a stream” should have done so in the most important crisis of the war. The second blunder was the neglect of the government to send fifty thousand of the seventy thousand men around Washington
, by the way of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, to the south of the Potomac
, to oppose the crossing of Lee
. With the Army of the Potomac in his rear, and fifty thousand men to oppose his crossing, the war in Virginia
would have ended in 1863, instead of 1865.
The third blunder was the refusal of General Meade
to follow the enemy after the repulse on the 3d of July.
This lost the army all the advantages for which they had toiled and struggled for many long and weary days; but it could not detract from the glorious distinction and honor of the gallant soldiers who had humbled the best and proudest army the South
ever put into the field.
The campaign of Gettysburg
was the best campaign of the war on the Northern
it was conducted on the truest principles of war, as established by the greatest masters, viz.: to separate the enemy from his base while securing your own base of operations.
That the results of the campaign did not include the surrender of Lee
's army, was due to the action and inaction of the government at Washington
, and is another illustration of the matchless equipoise of great minds disturbed by unparalleled conditions, so graphically described by General Longstreet
in his instance of General Lee
While our Southern friends are discussing their campaign of Gettysburg
, I would call their attention to a notable circumstance, viz.: that in the campaign of General Grant
, from Culpepper
, General Lee
pursued the same strategy and same tactics adopted by the Army of the Potomac in the campaign of Gettysburg
While General Grant
is open to the severest criticism, in a military point of view, for operating on an exterior line, and leaving his adversary secure in his communications and bases of supplies (precisely the blunder committed by Lee
in his Gettysburg campaign
's reputation as a general rests on the splendid defense of Richmond
, which he conducted in the years 1864 and 1865.
The immense loss of life in General Grant
's campaign against Richmond
was due to his violation of the principles of war. The two campaigns are good illustrations that neither governments or generals can disregard the fundamental principles of
war, without suffering immense sacrifices and with uncertain results of success.
To close as I began, that justice had not been done to the cavalry in the campaign of Gettysburg
, the above review, in my opinion, clearly shows it. I can say they had greater opportunities for distinction than their companions in arms, and they so fully availed themselves of these advantages that, without their services, the record of the campaign would be like the play of Hamlet
with the part of Hamlet
left out. Further, the renown for all that is great and glorious in cavalry warfare they established for themselves in that campaign, made them the peers of the famous troopers of the Great Frederick, and the splendid horsemen who swept over the plains of Europe
led by the white plume of the dashing Murat