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James Louis Petigru,

The life and character of.

The lives of successful and distinguished lawyers are always interesting. Success at the bar in a high degree, involves and implies mental activity and diligent research. There must be preliminary preparation both of an academic and a professional nature. Assuming a fair degree of the first we may enlarge a little on the second. The great exponent and apostle of the law, Sir William Blackstone, has to be studied. The principles which he discusses and elaborates have to be read, digested, and stored away in the mind. The student has to familiarize himself with Story and Adam's Equity, Smith's Mercantile Law, or some other work of like nature, has to be mastered. The statute law of the State has to be learned, works of pleading and practice must be perused and made part of the mental equipment. This preparation and these books necessitate the exercise of the intellectual faculties—their expansion and development. Practice of the profession calls for more. Cases have to be studied. Principles of the law as they have been expounded and adjudicated in the courts, have to be learned. Nice discriminations of thought have to be traced through their various ramifications and followed out to their logical conclusions and their application to facts. And then there must be a wide range of general knowledge, a familiarity with practical business, and a deep insight into human nature. One must know how to unravel sophistries, to detect truth from falsehood, and to read character from the lineaments of the face. A mind developed amid such environments as these, must itself be an object of interest. How interesting therefore, must a lawyer be who has a training such as that set forth above, and who has clothed and armed himself with a vast array of facts, illustrations, and incidents! [56] You can hardly touch upon a phase of any subject but what he has a case at hand to illustrate the idea, or an example embodying the principle involved. At one time he is going down to the fountain sources of the law and there imbibing its first principles and cardinal doctrines. At another, he is standing before a jury of his countrymen and with flowers of poesy and beauties of rhetoric in language terse and bold, he is battling for the right and vindicating injured innocence. At another you would suppose him a medical expert as he discusses some disease and elaborates upon its cause, its nature, and the remedies therefor. At still another, you find him engaged upon some principle of finance, and its application to practical business. The life of Mr. Petigru comes up to these demands, fulfills all these requirements, and has woven around it an interest far above the average. He was admitted to be the foremost lawyer of South Carolina by his profession and the public generally. If I were to say that he was the foremost lawyer of the South, I do not believe the statement would be challenged. As a practitioner in Charleston, South Carolina, as Solicitor of his circuit, and as Attorney General of his State, he fairly earned and richly deserved the designation, a great lawyer.

Mr. Petigru was born in a fortunate period in his country's history. He first saw the light in May, 1789. At that time, the foremost minds of America were studying constitutional questions, and the underlying principles of government. No wonder that this bright young Carolina lawyer should have become interested in affairs of State, formed a definite line of politics and settled for himself the question whether he would assume the role of demagogue or plant himself upon the high plane of statesmanship. He was fortunate too in the place of his birth. Abbeville county, South Carolina, was the home of his nativity and the place of his childhood. It was and is a county prolific of great men. She can rightly claim as her children, either by birth or adoption, John C. Calhoun, George McDuffie, Judge Cheves, Dr. Geddings, Judge James Calhoun, George and Aleck Bowie, Dr. John T. Pressly, the two Wardlaws, and many others whom I might mention. Genius thrives best when it finds kindred spirits around it. If I wanted an illustration of this fact, I would cite Boston with its long list of eminent men. Mr. Petigru received his primary and academic education in his native county, at the school of the celebrated teacher, Rev. Dr. Moses Waddell. He was as fortunate in having such a teacher as Dr. Waddell to start him off as he was in being born of Scotch-Irish parentage mingled with the French. [57]

He completed his education at the South Carolina College, graduating therefrom in 1809 with the highest honor of his class. We frequently hear people speak disparagingly of first honor men. I am sure the facts do not warrant any such characterization. If you will study the history of the alumni of any institution, you will be surprised to learn how many of the more distinguished graduates were first honor men. If, however, to win the first honor is a misfortune and a burden to carry in after life, Mr. Petigru had no harder fate than many others, among whom I may name Judge David L. Wardlaw, Dr. J. H. Thornwell and Hugh S. Legare, each of whom merits the designation, clarum et venerabile nomen. Mr. Pettigru was well versed in literature. He was familiar with the poets and with all the great masters of literature. When a boy he was fond of reading Pope and Dryden, and as the years glided swiftly by he found his interest in them continuing as strong as ever. There have been a great many lawyers in Carolina who have affected literature and at the same time excelled in their chosen profession, notably: the silver tongued orator, William C. Preston, and the accomplished man of letters, Hugh S. Legare. The latter was fortunate enough to enjoy almost every advantage afforded by education and travel, and he did not fail to embrace and improve his opportunities. It was a mooted question in that day, and it has never been settled yet, whether it is best, or even good, for a lawyer to be known as dabbling much in literature. Mr. Legare was afraid that it hurt himself. Judge Story has presented some strong arguments on the other side. He maintains that literature benefits and improves the very means which a lawyer uses to attain success. It sharpens the wit. It enlarges and improves the diction. It broadens the mind and widens the scope of vision. It cultivates and develops the powers of analysis and discrimination. Stimulates the imagination and strengthens the memory. On the other hand, it is argued that literature unfits one for practical life. It tends to make one shun the aggressive, bustling world, and to long for quiet and repose. The drift of opinion and the force of example in this country, perhaps, tend to sustain this better view, while in England the opposite is the case. Again, Mr. Petigru excelled as a conversationalist. He was noted for his wit and repartee, and many of his bright sayings have been handed down to us and pass current yet, no doubt considerably exaggerated. His home in Charleston and the up-country was the favorite resort of those who wanted to be entertained with ideas, experiences and incidents that were fresh, sparkling and vivacious. He was very [58] hospitable, and practically kept open house. As a host, he was generous, liberal and free. We can't help but admire such a character. No one likes a man who is close, mean and stingy. No one likes the company of a man who is sullen, morose and taciturn. We are delighted to meet a warm-hearted, whole-souled, halefellow-well-met style of man like Mr. Petigru.

In his home life Mr. Petigru was in every way a model. He was devoted to his mother, wife and other members of his household, and in return received their warmest love and affection. His wife was for many years an invalid, and it is touching to see how delicate and tender he was in his attention to her. Oftentimes he himself would go to the market to procure something suited to her taste.

We have reserved for the last the great, over-shadowing feature of Mr. Petigru's character, namely, his politics and stand on public questions. Here he stands out conspicuously in his devotion to principle and duty. He was no time-server. He did not trim his sails to catch the popular breeze. He had the courage of his convictions. He believed in doing right, let the consequences be what they may. He was no demagogue. He would not condescend to lower his standard to gain office. He would not pander to the public taste, and he was far above appealing to the prejudices and lower elements of our nature. He was all his life on the minority side of politics. He was a Union man and was opposed to nulification and secession. In Carolina at that time his was an exceedingly unpopular stand to take. Indeed South Carolina was the leader in both these movements. Our people had but little sympathy for those who entertained opposite ideas on these subjects. And yet there were a few men in the State who, especially in the secession movement, dared to run counter to the prevailing sentiment, cost what it might. Among them I may name Gov. B. F. Perry, Judge J. B. O'Neal, Gov. James L. Orr and Mr. Petigru. These constituted in several respects a remarkable group of men. In the first place they were beginning to reach the shady side of life, with the exception of Mr. Orr, who was then in his prime. In the second place they were calm, cool-headed men, and conservative in their ideas and views. In the third place they were men of high character, wide experience and more than average ability. They loved South Carolina. She was their native State and was as dear to them as the apple of the eye. Around and about her were centered their affections and interests. They well knew that their own fate was united and interwoven with the destiny of their beloved commonwealth. They knew [59] too that it was suicidal to attempt to stem the public current. To face the issue to brave public opinion would cost them much in political and possibly in social life. But they loved the Union and loved it with the supremest affection. From early childhood they had learned to sing its praises, to study the lives and emulate the example of its long line of illustrious men, and no less distinguished women. To point with pride to its star spangled banner, its battlefields and long list of heroes and heroines, and with an enthusiastic ardor which knew no bounds to proclaim its greatness and boast of its grand and glorious past. And yet they were devoted to their State. To them secession was not simply a bitter pill, it was a grievous mistake and a national calamity. Grave, earnest, serious, sad men were these. They turned their faces skyward and read in the stars gloomy auguries. They came before the people and foretold war, ruin and desolation, and only too true did their prophecies prove. And they asked the people over and over again the question, why secede? What cause for separation exists? Having done the best they could to stem the tide, but in vain, they quietly and sadly determined to share the fate of their people whatever that fate might be.

To the credit of Carolinians be it said they honored and respected these noble old men to the last. It was no new thing for Mr. Petigru, however, to find himself upon the unpopular side of politics. That was usually his fate. But under all circumstances throughout his life, though generally on the minority, he boldly avowed his views and had at least the consciousness of knowing that he had his own self-respect.

And as I have already said, he commanded the respect of his people to the last. He was appointed to codify the laws of the State. He was made President of the South Carolina Historical Society, and at the time of his death he was also an honorary member of the Massachusetts' Historical Society.

But Mr. Petigru was not perfect. He too had his faults. He was fond of joking, and his jokes were sometimes too coarse and broad in their character. And then too, like George Washington, he would occasionally swear, both to his own hurt and that of his reputation. These were blemishes upon his character. A great man cannot be too careful in his conduct. Others will observe him closely and oftentimes follow in his footsteps.

And now that we have reached a conclusion, how shall we sum up his life? Judge Samuel McCowan, formerly a member of the Su- [60] [61] [62] Federal army, having crossed the Potomac, was advancing northward, and that the head of the column had reached the South Mountain. As our communications with the Potomac were menaced, it was resolved to prevent his further progress in that direction by cencentrating our army on the east side of the mountains. Accordingly, Longstreet and Hill were directed to proceed from Chambersburg to Gettysburg, to which point General Ewell was also instructed to march from Carlisle.

The advance arrested.

Again, in his later and more carefully considered report, after the reports from all the different parts of the army had been received by him, he writes (p. 316): ‘The advance upon Harrisburg was arrested by intelligence received from a scout on the night of the 28th, to the effect, that the army of General Hooker had crossed the Potomac, and was approaching the South Mountain. In the absence of the cavalry it was impossible to ascertain his intentions; but to deter him from advancing further west and intercepting our communications with Virginia, it was determined to concentrate the army east of the mountains.’

Acting under the impression produced by the scout's information, that the Union army was moving westward towards Hagerstown, on the line of his communications with Virginia, it must have been a great surprise to him, when his leading divisions approached Gettysburg, to find Meade's advance was there ahead of him.

It had evidently been General Lee's plan to operate west of the South Mountain range, and keep General Meade east of it, as the sending Early east of it to threaten Baltimore clearly indicates. In case the Union army crossed over in spite of his manoeuvres to prevent it, he relied upon the fact that the concentration of his army at Gettysburg would place him nearer to Baltimore than it, and unless his move was quickly responded to by it, he could interpose his army between Baltimore and Washington on the one side and the Union army on the other. He was in error in supposing that contingency had arisen, though it appears from the fact on the morning of the 28th, three of the seven corps of the Union army were in the Catoctin Valley, near Middleton, and one other at Knoxville, with the passes in the South Mountain heavily guarded, that it was Hooker's purpose to have crossed over as General Lee supposed he was doing.


Was not informed.

But, on the 28th, General Hooker was displaced and General Meade placed in command of the army. He immediately drew back the corps from Middleton to Frederickstown, so that they might be prepared to join in the general advance of the whole army towards the Susquehannah on the east side of the mountain range, which advance was to be put in motion early on the morning of the 29th. Of this change of arrangement, General Lee had no intimation until the two armies came into collision near Gettysburg. Had he known that General Meade had withdrawn the corps from Middleton on the 28th, as he should have known if his cavalry had been watching those gaps, and was advancing as rapidly as possible east of the mountains as it advanced, are that he would not have ordered the concentration of his army east of the mountain, for he so distinctly states: ‘To deter him from advancing further west and intercepting our communications with Virginia, it was determined to concentrate the army east of the mountains.’

If the Army of the Potomac had crossed over the South Mountain at the passes in Maryland, as General Lee supposed it was doing, and approached him from that direction, occupying his line of communication and taking possession of the gaps in the mountain as it advanced, a prompt concentration of his whole army east of the mountains, alone could prevent Meade from soon occupying the gaps between him and Gettysburg, and thus forcing him to turn back and make the attack with all the strong strategic and tactical positions occupied by his adversary. Thus, it was not what Meade did, but what General Lee thought he was doing that caused him to fall back from before Harrisburg. Just enough information to mislead, brought on the battle of Gettysburg. When the army crossed the Potomac, it was expected of the cavalry to furnish reliable informamation of the movements of the Army of the Potomac. I can find nothing in the records that throws any light upon what it was that detained the two brigades under Robertson in Virginia until July 1st, when they crossed the river at Williamsport. The Army of the Potomac had been withdrawn from Loudoun—the last of the cavalry crossing the river on the 27th, and the positions taken up that night. General Jones, commanding one of the brigades, takes up his report on the 29th, with his command at Snickersville, Loudoun county. There were no reports from the other brigade, and it appears there [64] were no reports from either of them to General Lee at the time of the movements of the enemy.

Would not have crossed.

What General Lee would have done, had he known the facts fully instead of being compelled to act upon the imperfect information of the scout, is a question open to speculation, for General Lee never disclosed what were his plans in contingencies that never arose. But had he known that Meade's army was moving—the left wing, composed of three corps—through Emmetsburg to Gettysburg, and the other four moving on lines east of that route and kept within easy supporting distance, the 12th and 2d Corps directed upon Gettysburg, the 5th upon Hanover, and the 6th to Manchester, to be a general reserve to the whole, it is almost positively certain that he would not have crossed his army over the mountain.

The Union correspondence may throw some light to guide the speculations of those inclined to construct a theory based upon probabilities.

General Couch, commanding in that department, with headquarters at Harrisburg, wrote to the Secretary of War June 29th (page 407): ‘I hold from Altoona along the Juniata and Susquehannah to Conowingo bridge above Havre-de-Grace (a distance of more than 200 miles). My whole force organized is, perhaps, 16,000 men. 5000 regulars can whip them all to pieces in an open field. I am afraid they will ford the river in its present state.’ Again, on the same day, to General Meade: ‘I have only 15,000 men, such as they are, on my whole line—say 9,000 here.’

Lieutenant Thomas, Adjutant-General, wrote to Secretary E. M. Staunton from Harrisburg July 1st (page 478): ‘This is a difficult place to defend, as the river is fordable both above and below,’ and proceeds to comment upon the ‘want of artillery and especially of practiced artillerists,’ and the deficiency of cavalry, and concludes: ‘The excitement here is not so great as I found it in Philadelphia, and the people begin to understand that the fate of this city depends entirely upon the results of the operations of the Army of the Potomac.’

Federal apprehension.

Simon Cameron to Mr. Lincoln from Harrisburg June 29th (409): ‘Let me impress upon you the absolute necessity of action by Meade to-morrow, even if attended with great risk, because if Lee [65] gets his army across the Susquehannah and puts our army on the defensive on that line, you will readily comprehend the disastrous results that must follow to the country.’

Secretary E. M. Stanton to General Dana in command at Philadelphia, dated War Department, June 29th (408): ‘It is very important that machinery for manufacturing arms should not fall into the hands of the enemy, and that it should be preserved for the use of the government. In case of imminent danger to the works of Alfred Jenks & Son, of Philadelphia, who is manufacturing arms for the government, you are authorized and directed to impress steam tugs, barges or any description of vessels to remove the gun-manufacturing machines beyond the reach of the enemy.’

These extracts indicate what the highest officials of the United States Government thought were some of the possibilities before General Lee, and also that Harrisburg would not have attempted to resist an attack by Ewell. It is presumed that General Lee knew something of these conditions, for he had always heretofore kept himself well-informed in regard to the conditions he had to encounter. He must have known something of the quality of the militia, for Early's cavalry had come upon a full regiment of this militia at Gettysburg, which had dispersed so quickly that Jenkins could not get in sight of it. York had been abandoned by the military, and the municipal officers met Early several miles from the city to treat for its surrender. Again, at Wrightsville, 1,200 militia had retreated across the bridge and set fire to it, before Gordon could get his brigade in position to attack. General Early writes (p. 467): ‘I regretted very much the failure to secure the bridge, as, finding the defenseless condition of the country generally, and the little obstacle likely to be afforded by the militia to our progress, I had determined, if I could get possession of the Columbia bridge, to cross my division over the Susquehannah.’

Ewells possibilities.

General Ewell reached Carlisle on the 27th, and writes (p. 443): “From Carlisle I sent forward my engineer, Captain H. B. Richardson, with Jenkins' cavalry, to reconnoitre the defences of Harrisburg and was starting on the 29th for that place, when ordered by the General commanding to join the main body of the army at Cashtown, near Gettysburg.” General Rodes writes (p. 552): ‘On the arrival at Carlisle, Jenkins' cavalry advanced towards Harrisburg [66] and had, on the 29th, made a thorough reconnoisance of the defenses of the place, with the view of our advance upon it, a step which every man in the division contemplated with eagerness, and which was to have been executed on the 30th.’ Ewell, therefore, must have known that the river was fordable above and below the city, and something of the number and quality of the troops defending it.

With these lights to guide us, it seems probable that General Lee, with his communications safe, would not have called off Ewell from before Harrisburg, but rather pressed him forward to its capture, and after the capture, it may be to turn back to the assistance of Hill, possibly to cross over the river and meet Meade on the line of the Susquehannah, a condition that appeared so alarming to Senator Cameron, or even to hasten to the capture of Philadelphia, trusting to his ability, with the two corps of Longstreet and Hill, to hold Meade's army in check in the mountain passes—an expectation that does not appear so unreasonable, since he, with but little more than two-thirds of his present army, at Chancellorsville, had defeated the Army of the Potomac, stronger in numbers and morale than at this time. General Meade could not possibly have moved upon the gap in rear of Cashtown before July 1st, and he states that he proposed to make that a day of rest and to bring up his supply there. On the 29th, Hill was at Fayetteville, on the road from Chambersburg to Cashtown, and in his report, writes (p. 606): ‘I was directed to move on this road in the direction of York, and to cross the Susquehannah, menacing the communications of Harrisburg with Philadelphia, and to co-operate with General Ewell, acting as circumstances might require. Accordingly, on the 29th, I moved Heth's division to Cashtown, some eight miles from Gettysburg, following on the morning of the 30th with the division of Pender.’ This order, under which Hill was acting, was evidently the one for the general advance upon Harrisburg and the line of the Susquehannah, issued on the 28th, under the impression that the army of the Potomac was still in Virginia.

Not unfavorable conditions.

It so happened that Hill was just where he should have been to observe the movements of Meade's army and to guard the passes through the mountains. Longstreet at Chambersburg, midway between the two wings, was in easy supporting distance of either of them. Stuart, with his three brigades of cavalry, would have rejoined [67] the army on July 1st, for on the morning of that day he reached Dover and in the afternoon Carlisle. It must have been, however, with great reluctance that General Lee would adopt a line of action predicated upon Stuart, for it might be for aught he knew that he had met with a disaster, or been driven back into Virginia.

Because General Lee preferred to operate with his army in Pennsylvania until compelled to accept defensive battle with the Army of the Potomac, it by no means follows that an aggressive battle, in which he attacked the enemy as they were assembling, must be unsuccessful, or even that the conditions were necessarily favorable to the enemy. The results of the first and second days' fighting establish this fact; for, though lacking the important qualities of rapidity of movements and promptness of action, they were so favorable to General Lee as to warrant the belief that the third day would result in the total defeat of the enemy. By the light of facts now known from the records, reasonable promptness of action and better co-ordination between the two wings of the army would have secured a complete victory on the second day. The responsibility for the (as it proved to be) fatal delays has led to much crimination and recrimination. The third day's fighting on the right was a miserable failure, because it was so conducted that, in fact, it was divided into two separate and distinct battles, the first fought by artillery without any infantry, and the second by infantry without any artillery. And yet, in spite of the unnecessary delays and want of co-operation on the second day, and the gross mismanagement of the fighting on the third day, the killed, wounded and missing on the Confederate side were not as great as that on the Union side, and the disparity between the numbers in the two armies at the beginning had been almost obliterated by the fighting, for General Meade reported July 4th that the strength of his army (infantry and artillery), equipped, was only 55,000, and General Lee's numbers could not have been much less.

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