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Chapter 25: retreat to Virginia.

During the night of July 3rd, Ewell's corps was withdrawn from its position in and to the left of Gettysburg, and moved to the right, to the Cashtown road, where it took position on Seminary Hill, the other corps retaining their positions. My brigades were withdrawn from Gettysburg to the new position at two o'clock in the morning of the 4th and were formed in line in rear of Seminary Hill, Rodes' and Johnson's divisions occupying the front line on the crest of the hill across the road.

During the battle our line had encircled that of the enemy, thus extending our army, which was much smaller than his own, over a very long line.

We remained in position confronting the enemy during the whole of the 4th, being subjected in the afternoon to a very heavy shower of rain. The enemy showed no disposition to come out, but hugged his defences on the hills very closely.

General Lee sent a flag of truce on the morning of this day to General Meade proposing an exchange of prisoners, but he declined to accede to the proposition.

Before day on the morning of the 5th our army commenced retiring from before Gettysburg.

The loss in my division in the battle, beginning with the first and ending with the last day, was in killed 154, wounded 799, and missing 227, total 1,180, of which Hays' and Hoke's brigades lost in the assault at the close of the day of the 2nd, in killed 39, wounded 246, and missing 149, total 434. 194 of my command were left in hospitals near Gettysburg, the rest being carried off. The loss of our army was heavy, as was that of the enemy.

I have before stated the size of General Lee's army when this campaign was commenced. The army had [277] received no accessions, but had been diminished by the march, from straggling, exhaustion, and sickness. My own division had been reduced from 7,226, its strength when it left Culpeper, to 5,611 when I crossed the Potomac, those numbers representing the strength in officers and men, and not muskets. A similar loss extended to the whole army, and I can venture to affirm that it was as small in my division as in any other. Besides this we were in the enemy's country, and our large trains had necessarily to be guarded. I think it may be assumed, therefore, that General Lee's infantry at this battle did not exceed 55,000 officers and men, and that his whole force engaged, and in support of that part engaged, was smartly under 60,000, the cavalry not being employed at all except in watching the flanks and rear. His artillery numbered less than 150 guns.

Meade, in his testimony before the Congressional Committee, states that his strength, in all arms, was a little under 100,000, about 95,000, making a greater reduction from Hooker's force than I have allowed for General Lee's for similar cause, and that he had but little under three hundred guns. The odds, therefore, were not very far from two to one. Hooker had conceded the fact that he outnumbered our army, yet Meade, who succeeded Hooker, taking up the old idea of superior numbers, thinks General Lee now outnumbered him by some 10,000 or 15,000 men. The figures which I give I think fully cover our force, and the probability is that it was less.

It will be seen, therefore, what difficulties we had to encounter in attacking the enemy in his strong position. That position fought the battle for him. It is exceedingly probable that, if we had moved promptly upon Cemetery Hill after the defeat of the enemy on the 1st, we would have gained the position, and thereby avoided the battle at that point. What might have been the result afterwards it is impossible to conjecture. The battle would have had to be fought [278] somewhere else, and it may or may not have resulted differently.

The fight on the 1st had not been contemplated by General Lee, and he was not, therefore, on the ground until it was over, and the time had passed for accomplishing anything further when he arrived. This fight had been brought on by the movement of Buford's cavalry in the direction of Cashtown and the attack on it by Hill's two divisions, which brought up the two corps of the enemy. General Ewell had moved to the support of Hill, but there was no communication between them during the engagement, as they were on separate roads, and each force went into action under its own commander, without there being a common superior to direct the whole. This want of concert existed after the defeat of the enemy, and the consequence was that the opportunity was not improved.

This battle of Gettysburg has been much criticised, and will continue to be criticised. Errors were undoubtedly committed, but these errors were not attributable to General Lee. I know that he was exceedingly anxious to attack the enemy at a very early hour on the morning of the 2nd, for I heard him earnestly express that wish on the evening previous, but his troops did not arrive in time to make the attack. Why it was so I cannot tell. In the assaults which were made on the enemy's position, there was not concert of action, but that was not General Lee's fault.

Without commenting on the assault from right of our line, which I did not witness,--for that part of the battle was entirely excluded from my view, I will say that I believe that if the attack which was made by Johnson on the extreme left, and my two brigades on his right, at the close of the second day, had been supported by an attack by the divisions to the right of us, Johnson would have gained all of the enemy's works in front of him, Cemetery Hill would have been carried, and the victory would have been ours. [279]

So far as the fighting itself was concerned, the battle of Gettysburg was a drawn battle, but under the circumstances a drawn battle was a failure on our part and a success for the enemy. We were far away from our supplies of ammunition, and he was in his own country and in easy communication with his depots of supplies of all kinds. We were then in a part of the country by no means abounding in provisions and there was a mountain at our back, which limited the area from which we could draw food for our men, a most difficult task always, under the most favorable circumstances, in a hostile country, and rendered doubly so by the immediate presence of a large army in our front, with its numerous cavalry to aid the citizens in resisting the demands of our foraging parties.

We were, therefore, under the necessity of retreating, not because our army had been demoralized by a defe%+, but because our supply of ammunition had become short, and it was difficult to subsist our troops. That retreat was made deliberately and in perfect order, and the enemy did not venture to attack us, but was content to follow us with a corps of observation at a respectable distance. We carried off a very large proportion of our wounded, but many were left because their condition would not admit of their transportation. We carried off some captured guns, and a large number of prisoners, after having paroled some three or four thousand. The enemy had none of our guns and he had in his hands fewer prisoners than we had taken.

My division with the rest of Ewell's corps was moved from its position on the Cashtown road at two o'clock on the morning of the 5th, arriving at the Fairfield road after sunrise. The withdrawal of the other corps was then progressing, and Ewell's corps, being ordered to bring up the rear, was here halted for several hours, waiting for the others to clear the road, and confronting the enemy's position, which was still in our view, by a line of battle. [280]

The enemy seemed to be very cautious about coming out, but finally ran out a few pieces of artillery and opened at long range, without doing any damage. My division was ordered to constitute the rear guard of the army, and White's battalion of cavalry was ordered to accompany me. I waited on the Fairfield road until it had been cleared by the rest of the army, including the other two divisions of Ewell's corps, and then in the afternoon moved off slowly in rear of the army and all the trains, Gordon, followed by White's battalion, bringing up my rear.

On arriving in sight of Fairfield, which is situated near the eastern base of South Mountain on a wide low plain or valley surrounded by commanding hills, I found the wagon trains blocked up at the village. While waiting for the road to be cleared of the wagons in front, Colonel White sent me information that a force of the enemy was advancing in my rear, and being on the plain where I would be exposed to a fire of artillery from the surrounding hills, I sent to hasten forward the trains, but as they did not move off I was preparing to fire a blank cartridge or two for the purpose of quickening their speed, when the advance of the pursuing column of the enemy appeared on a hill in my rear with a battery of artillery supported by infantry, and I opened with shell on it. The enemy's battery replied to mine, and Fairfield was soon cleared of wagons, as the teamsters and wagon masters found it more convenient to comply with this inducement to travel than my orders and solicitations.

Gordon deployed his brigade and sent out the 26th Georgia Regiment as skirmishers to dislodge the enemy's advance, which it did after a sharp skirmish, and a loss of seven wounded. This regiment was then ordered to be withdrawn, and I moved the division in line gradually through Fairfield to a favorable position for making a defence, and here waited the enemy's advance, but he moved very cautiously, sending forward only a party of skirmishers, which kept at a respectful distance. [281]

It was now night, and my division was formed in line, a little nearer the base of the mountain, so as to cover our trains that were packed on its side and at its base. In this position my men lay on their arms all night without molestation from the enemy.

At light on the morning of the 6th, the trains moved forward, and General Rodes, whose division was to constitute the rear guard that day, relieved my skirmishers in front, his division being formed in line just at the base of the mountain, and I moved past him to take the front of the corps; when, pursuing the road over South Mountain past Monterey Springs, I descended to the western base near Waynesboro, and bivouacked a little beyond the town, covering it on the north and west with my brigades. The other corps were found already on this side near the base of the mountain, and the rest of Ewell's corps reached the same vicinity with mine. The force following us proved to be the 6th corps under Sedgwick, acting as a corps of observation. It gave Rodes no trouble and did not come beyond Fairfield.

A body of the enemy's cavalry had previously come upon that part of our trains that had preceded the army in the retreat, but was repulsed by a few guards accompanying the trains without being able to accomplish any damage of consequence. Early on the morning of the 7th we moved towards Hagerstown by the way of Leitersburg, my division following Rodes' and Johnson's bringing up the rear. The corps was established on the north and northeast of Hagerstown, and my division took position on the Chambersburg pike about a mile north of Hagerstown. In this position we remained until the 10th, when the corps was moved to the south of Hagerstown, the other corps being already there.

The enemy's troops had now commenced arriving on the western side of the mountain, and we took position on the south and southeast of Hagerstown to await his attack-Longstreet's corps being on the right, Ewell's on the left and Hill in the centre, and our line covering the road to the Potomac at Williamsport and Falling [282] Waters, a few miles below, where a pontoon bridge was being constructed in the place of one previously destroyed by the enemy's cavalry. The advance of the enemy resulted in a sharp engagement between a portion of our cavalry and a part of his troops on the Boonsboro road.

In the position near Hagerstown, my division was posted across the Cumberland road on the southwest of the town, but on the next day it was moved further to the right so as to rest its right on the Hagerstown and Williamsport road, where it remained until just before dark on the 12th. In the meantime Meade's army, now reinforced by some twelve or fifteen thousand fresh troops, according to his own statement, had moved up and taken position in our front, but did not attack.

Two of my absent regiments, the 54th North Carolina and 58th Virginia, had returned by this time, after having been engaged in repelling an attack, made by the enemy's cavalry at Williamsport on the 6th, on an ordnance train coming up with a supply of ammunition. Besides these, General Lee received no other reinforcements, but our army was not at all demoralized, and calmly awaited the attack of the enemy. My own division was buoyant and defiant, for it felt that it had sustained no defeat, and though diminished in numbers it was as ready to fight the enemy as at Gettysburg.

As night was setting in, on the 12th, my division was taken out of the line and moved to the right, to the rear of Hill's position, for the purpose of supporting his corps, in front of which a very large force of the enemy had accumulated. In this position it remained during the 13th, but no attack was made. The Potomac had been very much swollen by the previous rains, and after subsiding a little was again threatened with another rise from a rain that commenced on the 13th, and it was therefore determined to recross that river so as not to have an impassable stream at our back, when we had but one bridge and that not yet fully completed, and which, [283] being laid on pontoons, hastily constructed by our pioneer and engineer parties, was liable to be washed away. Accordingly our army commenced retiring after dusk on the night of the 13th, Longstreet's and Hill's corps going to Falling Waters and Ewell's to Williamsport to ford the river.

My division brought up the rear of Ewell's corps, and the river being found too high for the passage of artillery, Jones' battalion, under the escort of Hays' brigade, was moved down the river to Falling Waters, where it crossed during the morning of the 14th. The rest of the division forded the river, in rear of the other two divisions, after sunrise on the morning of the 14th to a little above Williamsport, with the water nearly up to the armpits of the men, who had to hold their guns and cartridge boxes above their heads to keep them out of the water. The regular ford was too swift to allow of a crossing there, and we had therefore to cross in the deeper water above.

The crossing at Williamsport was effected without any molestation whatever, but at Falling Waters there was considerable delay because of the greater number of troops crossing there and the passage of the artillery at that point, where there was but one bridge. The enemy's cavalry came by surprise upon a portion of Hill's corps covering the bridge, and succeeded in capturing some prisoners and in getting two pieces of artillery which were stuck in the mud, the surprise being caused by a mistaken opinion that the front was watched by some of our cavalry.

Our army remained in the neighborhood of Haynesville that night, near which place my division camped, and now for the first time since I moved from Greenwood, on the 26th of June, we had the benefit of our baggage wagons. On the next day we moved through Martinsburg, and on the 16th my division reached Darkville, where it went into camp and remained until the 20th, in which neighborhood the whole of Ewell's corps [284] was concentrated, the other corps taking positions further up towards and covering Winchester. In the meantime, Meade made preparations for crossing the Potomac below Harper's Ferry, and threw his army into Loudoun, while General Lee prepared to intercept his march by crossing his army over the Blue Ridge into Culpeper.

It having been ascertained that a force had moved from Cumberland in Maryland to the mouth of Back Creek west of Martinsburg, on the afternoon of the 20th, my division was ordered to move across North Mountain and then down Back Creek for the purpose of intercepting that force, while another division should hold it in front. We moved that night to the foot of the mountain at Guardstown, and crossing early next morning (the 21st) through Mills' Gap, marched down Back Creek to the rear of Hedgesville, where we found that the force had made its escape by retiring the night before. The division was then moved across the mountain through Hedgesville and camped. During the night I received orders to move up the valley for the purpose of crossing the Blue Ridge, and next day (the 22nd) I marched to Bunker Hill.

On the 23rd I passed through Winchester to the Opequon on the Front Royal road, being joined that day by the 13th Virginia Regiment. General Ewell, who had preceded me with Rodes' and Johnson's divisions, had that day been engaged with a heavy force which came through Manassas Gap, which he moved out to meet, near the Gap, as he was moving past Front Royal, and he sent at night to inform me that he would retire up the Luray Valley for the purpose of crossing at Thornton's Gap, and to order me to cross to the Valley pike so as to move up by the way of New Market, and across from there to Madison Court-House, as the enemy was in very heavy force in Manassas Gap. The Shenandoah was then high and a pontoon bridge had been laid near Front Royal below the forks, which he ordered [285] to be taken up during the night, and to be transported up the Valley pike under my protection.

Accordingly I moved by the way of Cedarville next day to get the pontoon train, and then crossed to the Valley pike, following the route taken by General Jackson's corps the fall before and arriving at Madison Court-House on the 28th, in the neighborhood of which I found the other divisions which had come through Thornton's Gap and by the way of Sperryville. I had to use the pontoon train for crossing the Shenandoah, as that river was up, and I then sent it up the Valley to Staunton.

After remaining near Madison Court-House until the 31st I moved to the vicinity of the Robinson River, near the road from Liberty Mills to Culpeper Court-House, and the next day I crossed the Robinson just above its mouth into Culpeper and then the Rapidan at the railroad station, and encamped near Pisgah Church about four miles from the station, the other divisions moving to the same neighborhood.

Longstreet's and Hill's corps had preceded Ewell's corps across the Blue Ridge through Chester Gap, and while Meade was moving his army up into Manassas Gap to attack Ewell, they moved into Culpeper and waited until Meade's army had moved to the vicinity of Warrenton and the Rappahannock and halted without indicating any purpose to advance further; when, after a body of the enemy's cavalry had been driven back, these two corps moved to the south of the Rapidan and took position near Orange Court-House, leaving Stuart's cavalry to occupy the county of Culpeper.

This was the close of all the operations resulting from the campaign into Pennsylvania.

There have been various opinions as to the utility of this campaign into Pennsylvania. Undoubtedly we did not accomplish all that we desired, but still I cannot regard the campaign in the light of a failure. If we had remained on the Rappahannock confronting Hooker's [286] army, we would have been compelled to fight one or more battles, and perhaps a series of them, during the summer, which would probably have resulted in a much heavier loss to us than we sustained at Gettysburg, though the enemy might have been repulsed. Situated as we were, it was simply a matter of impossibility for us to have attacked the opposing army in its then position, for we did not have the means of forcing a passage of the river — the advantage in that respect being all on the other side. We should, therefore, have been compelled to await the enemy's attack, which could only have resulted in his repulse, in the most favorable aspect for us.

We were in a country entirely devoid of supplies and of forage, for Fredericksburg had been occupied the previous summer by a Federal army, and no crops of any consequence had been made in all that region. By moving into Pennsylvania, we transferred the theatre of the war for a time into the enemy's country. Our army was supplied from that country and from stores captured from the enemy for more than a month and this gave a breathing spell to our commissary department, which had been put to great straits. We had been living the previous winter on very limited rations of meat, only 1/4 of a pound of bacon to the ration, with few or no vegetables, and a change of diet was actually necessary for our men.

When we came back, though we had lost many valuable lives, our army was reinvigorated in health, and the transfer of the two armies to the upper waters of the Rappahannock and the Rapidan was a decided advantage to us. The campaign into Pennsylvania certainly defeated any further attempt to move against Richmond that summer and postponed the war over into the next year. Could the most brilliant victories which it was in our power to gain in Virginia have accomplished more? I think not.

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