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[347] Meade, remarking, however, that he (General Sickles) would doubtless receive orders immediately.

Two P. M. came, and yet no orders. Why was this? Other orders than those expected by General Sickles were, it appears, in preparation at headquarters. It has since been stated, upon unquestionable authority, that General Meade had decided upon a retreat, and that an order to withdraw from the position held by our army was penned by his Chief of Staff, General Butterfield, though happily its promulgation never took place. This order is probably on record in the Adjutant-General's office.

Meanwhile the enemy's columns were moving rapidly around to our left and rear. These facts were again reported to headquarters, but brought no response. Buford's cavalry had been massed on the left, covering that flank with outposts, and videttes were thrown forward on the Emmetsburgh Road. While awaiting the expected orders, Sickles made good use of his time in levelling all the fences and stone walls, so as to facilitate the movements of his troops and to favor the operations of the cavalry. What, then, was the surprise of Sickles to see of a sudden all the cavalry withdrawn, leaving his flank entirely exposed! He sent an earnest remonstrance to General Meade, whose reply was that he did not intend to withdraw the cavalry, and that a part of this division (Buford's) should be sent back. It never returned. Under these circumstances, Sickles threw forward three regiments of light troops as skirmishers and for outpost duty. The critical moment had now arrived. The enemy's movements indicated their purpose to seize the Roundtop Hill; and this in their possession, General Longstreet would have had easy work in cutting up our left wing. To prevent this disaster, Sickles waited no longer for orders from General Meade, but directed General Hobart Ward's brigade and Smith's battery (Fourth New-York) to secure that vital position, and at the same time advancing his line of battle about three hundred yards, so as to hold the crest in his front, he extended his left to support Ward and cover the threatened rear of the army.

These dispositions were made in the very face of the enemy, who were advancing in columns of attack, and Sickles dreaded lest the conflict should open before his dispositions were completed. At this juncture he was summoned to report in person at headquarters to attend a council of corps commanders. His preparations were of such moment and the attack so near that General Sickles delayed attending the council, while giving all his attention to the carrying out of his orders. A second peremptory summons came from General Meade, and, leaving his unfinished task to the active supervision of General Birney and General Humphreys, Sickles rode off to the rear to headquarters. Before he had reached there, the sound of cannon announced that the battle had begun. Hastening rapidly on, he was met by General Meade at the door of his quarters, who said: “General, I will not ask you to dismount; the enemy are engaging your front; the council is over.” It was an unfortunate moment, as it proved, for a council of war. Sickles, putting spurs to his horse, flew back to his commad, and, finding that Graham's brigade was not advanced as far as he desired, he was pushing that brigade and a battery forward about a hundred yards, when General Meade at length arrived on the field. The following colloquy ensued, which I gathered from several officers present: “Are you not too much extended, General?” said Meade. “Can you hold this front?” “Yes,” replied Sickles, “until more troops are brought up; the enemy are attacking in force, and I shall need support.” General Meade then let drop some remark, showing that his mind was still wavering as to the extent of ground covered by the Third corps. Sickles replied: “General, I have received no orders. I have made these dispositions to the best of my judgment. Of course I shall be happy to modify them according to your views.” “No,” said Meade, “I will send you the Fifth corps, and you may send for support from the Second corps.” “I shall need more artillery,” added Sickles. “Send for all you want,” replied Meade, “to the artillery reserve. I will direct General Hunt to send you all you ask for.” The conference was then abruptly terminated by a heavy shower of shells, probably directed at the group, and General Meade rode off. Sickles received no further orders that day. There is no doubt, I may venture to add, that Sickles's line was too much extended for the number of troops under his command; but his great aim was to prevent the enemy getting between his flank and the Roundtop alluded to. This was worth the risk, in his opinion, of momentarily weakening his lines. The contest now going on was of the most fierce and sanguinary description. The entire right wing of the enemy was concentrated on the devoted Third corps; for the object of Lee, as he states, was “to carry” the ground which Sickles occupied, and which both generals evidently regarded as of the highest importance. While this terrific combat was raging on our left, Lee ordered Ewell “to attack” our right wing, and Hill “to threaten” our centre, both with the object, as he says in his report, to divert reenforcements from reaching our left, which, as we have seen, Longstreet was “directed to carry.” Well may General Meade, in his report, say, “The Third corps sustained the shock most heroically;” for they fought like lions, against tremendous odds, for nearly an hour before the Fifth corps came up under Sykes, who was immediately put in position by General Sickles to the left of the Third corps, and General Sykes was desired to relieve Ward's brigade and Smith's battery on the Roundtop, and hold the line from thence to Birney's left, (First division, Third corps.) Strange to say, this movement was not promptly carried out, and there was imminent danger of losing the Roundtop, for Longstreet was making desperate exertions to “carry it.” Fearing this result, Sickles sent orders to General Crawford, of the Fifth

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Sickles (18)
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