Little has been written of the stubborn fight which took place on the 3d of July, 1863, on the right of the Union
line at Gettysburg
, between the cavalry command of General David McM. Gregg
, and that of the Confederate Chief of Cavalry
, General J. E. B. Stuart
In an article published in the weekly times of March 31st, 1877, entitled, “The Union cavalry in the Gettysburg campaign
,” by General Gregg
, it is stated:
On the 3d, during that terrific fire of artillery which preceded the gallant but unsuccessful assault of Pickett's Division on our line, it was discovered that Stuart's cavalry was moving to our right with the evident intention of passing to the rear to make a simultaneous attack there.
What the consequence of the success of this movement would have been, the merest tyro in the art of war will understand.
When opposite our right, Stuart was met by General Gregg with two of his brigades (Colonels McIntosh and Irvin Gregg) and Custer's Brigade of the Third Division; and, on a fair field, there was another trial between two cavalry forces, in which most of the fighting was done in the saddle, and with the trooper's favorite weapon-. the sabre.
Without entering into the details of the fight, it need only be added that Stuart advanced not a pace beyond where he was met; but, after a severe struggle, which was only terminated by the darkness of the night, he withdrew, and on the morrow, with the defeated army of Lee, was in retreat to the Potomac.
In reply to this, Major I. B. McClellan
, who was Assistant Adjutant General
on the staff of General Stuart
, writes in the same paper, October 20th, 1877:
I would remind General Gregg that the last charge in the cavalry battle at Gettysburg was made by the Southern cavalry; that by this charge his division was swept behind the protection of his artillery, and that the field remained in the
undisputed possession of Stuart, save that from the opposite hills a fierce artillery duel was maintained until night.1
Let us examine by the light of the official reports of the commanding officers
of the contending forces these conflicting statements, and discover where the victory really remained, or who was defeated-Gregg or Stuart
, in his official report, dated July 25th, 1863, to Lieutenant Colonel A. J. Alexander
, Assistant Adjutant General
Cavalry Corps, says:
At twelve M. I received a copy of a dispatch from the commander of the Eleventh Corps to the Major General commanding the Army of the Potomac, that large columns of the enemy's cavalry were moving towards the right of our line.
At the same time I received an order from Major General Pleasonton, through an aide-de-camp, to send the First Brigade of the Third Division to join General Kilpatrick on the left.
The First Brigade of my division was sent to relieve the brigade of the Third Division.
This change having been made, a strong line of skirmishers displayed by the enemy was evidence that the enemy's cavalry had gained our right, and were about to attack with the view of gaining the rear of our line of battle.
The importance of stubbornly resisting an attack at this point, which, if successful, would have been productive of the most serious consequences, determined me to retain the brigade of the Third Division until the enemy were driven back.
General Custer, commanding the brigade, satisfied of the intended attack, was well pleased to remain with his brigade.
Then follows a description of the disposition of his troops and the arrangement of his line of battle.
The report then proceeds:
At this time the skirmishing became very brisk on both sides, and an artillery fire was begun by the enemy and ourselves.
During the skirmish of the dismounted men the enemy brought upon the field a column for a charge.
The charge of this column was met by the (Seventh) Michigan cavalry of the First Brigade, Third Division, but not successfully.
The advantage gained in this charge was soon wrested from the enemy by the gallant charge of the First Michigan, of the same brigade.
This regiment drove the enemy back to his starting point.
Other charges were made by the columns of the enemy, but in every instance were they driven back.
Defeated at every point, the enemy withdrew to his left, and in passing the wood in which the First New Jersey Cavalry was posted, that regiment gallantly and successfully charged the flank of his column.
Heavy skirmishing was still maintained by the Third Pennsylvania Cavalry with the enemy, and was continued until nightfall.
During the engagement, a portion of this regiment made a very handsome and, successful charge upon one of the enemy's regiments.
The enemy retired his columns behind his artillery, and at dark withdrew from his former position.
At this time I was at liberty to relieve the First Brigade, Third Division, which was directed to join its division.
Our own and the enemy's loss, during this engagement, was severe.
Ours, one officer killed, seventeen officers wounded, and one officer missing; enlisted men killed, thirty-three; wounded, forty; missing, one hundred and three.
On the morning of the 4th, I advanced to the enemy's position, but found him gone.
Following toward Hunterstown, I found many of his wounded abandoned.
From these we learned that the enemy had been severely punished and his loss heavy.
One general officer of the enemy was seriously wounded.
It will be seen that General Gregg
fought a defensive fight.
That “the importance of stubbornly resisting
an attack at this point, which, if successful, would have been productive of the most serious consequences,” determined him “to retain the brigade of the Third Division until the enemy were driven back.”
This, then, was all that he strove to accomplish — to drive the enemy back in case he should attack.
's report says: “Other charges were made by the columns of the enemy, but in every instance were they driven back
. Defeated at every point the enemy withdrew to his left,” etc. If, then, Gregg
succeeded in resisting the attack made upon him by Stuart
, it is evident that the victory belongs to and was properly claimed by him.
Let us now turn to the official report of General Stuart
, which is dated August 20th, 1863, and is addressed to Colonel R. H. Chilton
, Army of Northern Virginia.
The report, after detailing the movements of Stuart
's forces prior to his arrival in the vicinity of Gettysburg
, gives the following account of his operations during the battle :2
My advance reached Gettysburg July 2d, just in time to thwart a move of the enemy's cavalry3 upon our rear by way of Hunterstown, after a fierce engagement, in which Hampton's Brigade performed gallant service, a series of charges compelling the enemy to leave the field and abandon his purpose.
I took my position that day on the York and Heidelburg roads, on the left wing of the Army of Northern Virginia.
On the morning of the 3d of July, pursuant to instructions from the commanding general (the ground along our line of battle being totally impracticable for cavalry operations), I moved forward to a position to the left of General Ewell's left, and in advance of it, where a commanding ridge completely controlled a wide plain of cultivated fields stretching toward Hanover on the left, and reaching to the base of the mountain spurs, among which the enemy held position.
My command was increased by the addition of Jenkins' Brigade, who, here, in the presence of the enemy, allowed themselves to be supplied with but ten rounds of ammunition, although armed with the most approved Enfield muskets.
I moved this command and W. H. F. Lee's secretly through the woods to a position, and hoped to effect a surprise upon the enemy's rear.
But Hampton's and Fitz Lee's brigades, which had been ordered to follow me, unfortunately debouched into open ground, disclosing the movement, and causing a corresponding movement of a large force of the enemy's cavalry.
Having been informed that Generals Hampton and Lee were up, I sent for them to come forward, so that I could show them, at a glance, from the elevated ground I held, the situation, and arrange for further operations.
My message was so long in finding General Hampton that he never reached me, and General Lee remained, as it was deemed inadvisable, at the time the message was delivered, for both to leave their commands.
Before General Hampton had reached where I was, the enemy had deployed a heavy line of sharpshooters, and were advancing towards our position, which was very strong.
Our artillery had, however, left the crest, which it was essential for it to occupy, on account of being too short range to compete with the longer-range guns of the enemy; but I sent orders for its return.
Jenkins' Brigade was chiefly employed dismounted, and fought with decided effect until the ten rounds were expended, and then retreated, under circumstances of difficulty and exposure, which entailed the loss of valuable men. The left, where Hampton's and Lee's brigades were, by this time became heavily engaged as dismounted skirmishers.
My plan was to employ the enemy in front with sharpshooters, and move a command of cavalry upon their left flank from the position lately held by me, but the falling back of Jenkins' men (that officer was wounded the day previous, before reporting to me, and his brigade was commanded by Colonel Ferguson, Sixteenth Virginia Cavalry) caused a like movement of those on the left, and the enemy, sending forward a squadron or two, were about to cut off and capture a portion of our dismounted sharpshooters.
To prevent this, I ordered forward the nearest cavalry regiment (one of W. H. F. Lee's) quickly to charge this force of cavalry.
It was gallantly done, and about the same time a portion of General Fitz Lee's command charged on the left, the First Virginia Cavalry being most conspicuous.
In these charges the
impetuosity of these gallant fellows, after two weeks of hard marching and hard fighting on short rations, was not only extraordinary, but irresistible.
The enemy's masses vanished before them like grain before the scythe, and that regiment elicited the admiration of every beholder, and eclipsed the many laurels already won by its gallant veterans.
Their impetuosity carried them too far, and the charge being very much prolonged, their horses, already jaded by hard marching, failed under it. Their movement was too rapid to be stopped by couriers, and the enemy perceiving it, were turning upon them with fresh horses.
The First North Carolina Cavalry and Jeff Davis Legion were sent to their support, and gradually this hand-to-hand fighting involved the greater portion of the command, till the enemy was driven from the field, which was now raked by their artillery, posted about three-quarters of a mile off, our officers and men behaving with the greatest heroism throughout.
Our own artillery commanding the same ground, no more hand-to-hand fighting occurred, but the wounded were removed and the prisoners (a large number) taken to the rear.
The enemy's loss was unmistakably heavy-numbers not known.
Many of his killed and wounded fell into our hands.
That brave and distinguished officer, Brigadier General Hampton, was seriously wounded twice in this engagement.
Among the killed was Major Connor, a gallant and efficient officer of the Jeff Davis Legion.
Several officers and many valuable men were killed and wounded, whose names it is not now in my power to furnish, but which, it is hoped, will be ultimately furnished in the reports of regimental and brigade commanders.
Notwithstanding the favorable results obtained, I would have preferred a different method of attack, as already indicated, but I soon saw that entanglement, by the force of circumstances narrated, was unavoidable, and determined to make the best fight possible.
General Fitz Lee was always in the right place, and contributed his usual conspicuous share to the success of the day. Both he and the gallant First Virginia begged me, after the hot encounter, to allow them to take the enemy's battery, but I doubted the practicability of the ground for such a purpose.
During this day's operations I held such a position as not only to render Ewell's left entirely secure, where the firing of my command, mistaken for that of the enemy, caused some apprehension, but commanded a view of the routes leading to the enemy's rear.
Had the enemy's main body been dislodged, as was confidently hoped and expected, I was in precisely the right position to discover it, and improve the opportunity.
I watched keenly and anxiously the indications in his rear for that purpose; while in the attack which I intended, (which was forestalled by our troops being exposed to view,) his cavalry would have separated from the main body, and gave promise of solid results and advantages.
After dark I directed a withdrawal to the York road, as our position was so far advanced as to make it hazardous at night, on account of the proximity of the enemy's infantry.
During the night of the 3d of July, the commanding general withdrew the main body to the ridges west of Gettysburg, and sent word to me to that effect, but his messenger missed me. I repaired to his headquarters during the latter part of the night, and received instructions as to the new line, and sent, in compliance therewith, a brigade (Fitz Lee's) to Cashtown to protect our trains congregated there.
My cavalry and artillery were somewhat jeopardized before I got back to my command by the enemy's having occupied our late ground before my command could be notified of the change.
None, however, were either lost or captured.
During the 4th, which was quite rainy, written instructions were received from the commanding general as to the order of march back to the Potomac.
It appears, then, according to his own narrative, that General Stuart
moved his command and W. I. F. Lee
's secretly through the woods to a position, “and hoped to effect a surprise upon the enemy's rear
Did he accomplish his object Stuart
further says: “My plan was to employ the enemy in front with sharpshooters, and move a command of cavalry upon their left flank from a position lately held by me.”
But in the next sentence, he proceeds to state the reasons why this plan was not successful, and further on in the report he squarely acknowledges his failure:
Notwithstanding the favorable results obtained, I would have preferred a different mode of attack, as already indicated, but I soon saw that entanglement by the force of circumstances narrated, was unavoidable, and determined to make the best fight possible.
... Had the enemy's main body been dislodged, as was confidently hoped and expected, I was in precisely the right position to discover it and improve the opportunity.
I watched keenly and anxiously the indications in his rear for that purpose; while in the attack which I intended, which was forestalled by our troops being exposed to view, his cavalry would have separated from the main body, and gave promise of solid results and advantages.
After dark I directed a withdrawal * * * My cavalry and artillery were somewhat jeopardized before I got back to my command by the enemy's having occupied our late ground.
A nice discrimination is not required to detect throughout Stuart
's report a desire to explain why his attack upon Gregg
First, his column debouched
into the open ground, and gave notice of his intended attack to his enemy; next, the rout of Jenkins
' Brigade caused a like movement to those on the left; then the impetuosity of the First Virginia carried them too far, and their horses failed under it, and finally, a withdrawal to the York
road was directed by Stuart
, because his advanced position was hazardous on account of the proximity of the enemy's infantry.
The two reports are harmonious in that one (Gregg
's) claims to have successfully resisted an attack, and the other (Stuart
's) admits that he was not successful in his operations against the right and rear of the Union
The reports seem to conflict somewhat in their statements regarding the result of the charges made by certain contending regiments, but an analysis of the statements made by each, will go far toward harmonizing them, and the truth may easily be eliminated.
It should be borne in mind that it is a weakness of human nature to cover up our failures, as far as possible, and to set forth our successes prominently.
Especially is this true when we feel and know that everything has been done to insure success that a more than ordinary prudence, ability, and bravery could dictate.
There can be but one opinion of the fighting qualities of General Stuart
's command at Gettysburg
Those who opposed his attempt to reach the rear of the Union
lines, have every reason to remember the valor and intrepidity of his troopers.
But in Gregg
, he had “a Roland for his Oliver
,” and in a fair fight, in an open field, with no surprise on the one side or the other, he was, in plain language, simply defeated in all that he undertook to accomplish-and the more one seeks for the truth on this subject the more certainly must he come to this conclusion.
I was not aware, until I had read Major McClellan
's article, before alluded to, that there had been a claim to a victory over Gregg
, at Gettysburg
, made by Stuart
The results of the battle were so overwhelmingly on the side of Gregg
, it would seem, that the blindest prejudice alone could construe the victory to his opponent.
describes the charge of one of W. H. F. Lee
's regiments and a portion of Fitz Lee
's command, including the First Virginia Cavalry, as very successful-“the enemy's masses vanished before them like grain before the scythe;” but he adds, “their impetuosity carried them too far,” “their horses, already jaded,” “failed under it.”
“The First North Carolina Cavalry and Jeff Davis Legion were sent to their support, and gradually this hand-to-hand fighting involved the greater portion of the command,” etc. Here is a half hidden acknowledgment that after the first charge, which Gregg
admits was not successfully met by the Seventh Michigan Regiment, the attacking column was obliged to retire before the charge of the First Michigan Regiment.
The difference between the reports of the two commanders here being that Stuart
mentions the repulse in the mildest language, while Gregg
writes of it in glowing terms: “The advantage gained in this charge was soon wrested from the enemy by the gallant charge of the First Michigan Cavalry of the same brigade.
This regiment drove the enemy back to his starting point.”
There remains only to consider the statement made by each general that his opponent was in the end obliged to withdraw.
says: “Defeated at every point, the enemy withdrew to his left.”
“Heavy skirmishing was still maintained by the Third Pennsylvania Cavalry with the enemy, and was continued until nightfall.”
“The enemy retired his columns behind his artillery, and at dark withdrew from his former position;” and on this subject Stuart
writes: “Gradually this hand-to-hand fighting involved the greater portion of the command, till the enemy was driven from the field, which was now raked by their artillery, posted about three-quarters
of a mile off.”
“Our own artillery commanding the same ground, no more hand-to-hand fighting occurred, but the wounded were removed, and the prisoners (a large number) taken to the rear.”
's artillery commanding the same ground as Gregg
's, no more hand-to-hand fighting occurred; in other words, Stuart
's forces were withdrawn from the attack, the attempt to carry Gregg
's position having utterly failed.
These words admit of no other construction.
's was the attacking force.
had been driven from the field, why did not Stuart
carry out his confessedly intended plan, and march to the rear of the Federal
line of battle?
The sentence which follows the statement that no more hand-to-hand fighting occurred, “but the wounded were removed and the prisoners taken to the rear,” is a quasi
confession that we were repulsed, but we succeeded in removing our prisoners and wounded.
So that, even in these apparently opposite statements, we find sufficient in Stuart
's report to prove the correctness of Gregg
The facts summed up, then, are these: Stuart
, on the 3d of July, attempted to reach the rear of the Federal
line of battle, but, encountering Gregg
's command, after a stubborn fight, in which the first mounted charge of Stuart
's troopers was partially successful, he was utterly and entirely defeated, and, under cover of night, retreated from his position before his successful antagonist.
A word as to one or two facts.
states that the last charge in the cavalry battle at Gettysburg
was made by Southern cavalry, and that by this charge his (Gregg
's) division was swept behind the protection of his artillery, and that the field remained in the undisputed possession of Stuart
, save that an artillery duel was maintained until night.
In each of these statements Major McClellan
has fallen into error.
The last charge was not made by the. Southern cavalry, unless it can be said that a repelling charge is not a charge.
Every charge made by Stuart
's cavalry on that day was met, and met successfully, by a counter-charge.
Nor were Gregg
's troops at any time on that day swept behind the protection of his artillery.
The Seventh Michigan Regiment was driven about half way across the open field in which the charge of the First Virginia and the other troops mentioned in Stuart
's report was made, but before it reached General Gregg
's artillery the attacking column was in flight, pursued by the First Michigan and portions of the Third Pennsylvania and First New Jersey Cavalry.
The field did not remain in Stuart
After the mounted charges had ceased, no part of Stuart
's command occupied any portion of the field except the line of skirmishers, which was
deployed a short distance in front of the crest mentioned in his report, and immediately after dark General Stuart
withdrew his command.
occupied the field of the hand-to-hand fight and held possession of it during the night.
, in his official report, writes: “We held possession of the field until dark, during which time we collected our dead and wounded.”
It was true, then, that “Stuart
advanced not a pace beyond where he was met,” and the victory remained with General Gregg