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Causes of the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg.

[continued from August no.]

We present our readers this month several other papers of our Gettysburg series, and feel quite sure that their deep interest and great historic value will be appreciated by all seekers after the truth. We hope to give soon other papers on this campaign which have been promised us, and that yet others of our ablest soldiers will be induced to tell what they know of the great battle.

Letter from General E. P. Alexander, late Chief of artillery First corps, A. N. V.

Montgomery, Ala., March 17th, 1877.
Rev. J. Wm. Jones, Secretary:
Dear Sir: I have your favor of the 27th ult., enclosing copy of letter from ---- , giving an outline of his views of the campaign and battle of Gettysburg, and inviting my comments thereon. I take great pleasure in giving them in the same frank spirit in which they are asked, and asking no one to accept them to whom they do not commend themselves, and not pretending to know every thing about it.

ASy rank and position during that campaign was colonel of artillery, commanding a batallion of six batteries attached as reserve to Longstreet's corps; and on the field of Gettysburg I was placed by General Longstreet in command of all of his artillery on the field as chief of artillery for the action. As I had belonged to the United States Engineer Corps before the war, and as General Longstreet at that time had no engineer officers on his staff, I was frequently called on, also, daring the campaign, as an [98] engineer officer. I mention these facts only that you may form an idea of my personal opportunities of observation and information.

And now as to the questions of----in their order:

First. Was the invasion a mistake? The proof of the pudding is the eating, and that test has certainly condemned it. I must also say frankly that my recollection is, that while the whole army went across the Potomac in the highest spirits, they were due more to confidence in General Lee than to an entire accordance of all of the prominent officers in the wisdom of the invasion. I remember conversations on the matter while on the march with one of the most gallant major-generals of the army-General Hood--in which he suggested all of the very grave considerations against it which are so forcibly put by---- . General Longstreet has also stated to me since (although during the campaign I do not remember a word or sign from him indicating any doubt in its success) that he urged similar considerations, very earnestly, upon General Lee, when the campaign was being discussed, and was only persuaded out of them by the understanding that we were not to deliver an offensive battle, but to so manoeuvre that Meade would be forced to attack us. Remember, in this connection, one of Stonewall Jackson's last speeches: “Our men sometimes fail to drive the enemy out of their positions, but they always fail to drive us.” Such a confidence on General Lee's part would probably not have been misplaced, for he carried the best and largest army into Pennsylvania that he ever had in hand. The morale and spirit of the men was simply superb, as shown by the fight they made and the orderly and successful retreat after the battle. General Lee, in his report, has given the reasons which led him to plan the invasion. Whether he then fully appreciated all of the objections to it which can now be pointed out I do not know, but, even if he did, I can imagine his confidence in defeating the enemy in a decisive battle, by forcing them to attack us, as so great, and as based on such reasonable grounds, as to fully justify the movement. For it must be remembered that there were great objections to be found to his standing still and allowing the enemy to take the initiative.

Second question. I fully agree as to the necessity to General Lee of defeating the Federal army, and perhaps that army would fight better on its own soil than in Virginia, and would, therefore, be [99] easier to defeat in Virginia; but bear in mind that the great condition to assure its defeat was to force it to attack General Lee. Moreover, he did manoeuvre in Virginia inviting an attack, but in vain-at least he gave Hooker opportunities which were not availed of, and no disposition shown to act on them during the few days they remained open. It is also very certain that General Lee could never have established his army in Pennsylvania with his communications open so as to get supplies, even of ammunition; but yet I think he could easily have so manoeuvred as to force Meade to attack him. A position covering Fairfield would have given him the Valley to support himself himself on, and would have been so threatening to Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Harrisburg that public clamor would have forced Meade to try and dislodge him. We had ammunition enough for one good fight, and in a victory would capture enough for the next. If Lee was to cross the Potomac at all, I don't think the crossing should necessarily have been dependent on a previous victory. A subsequent one would have answered all purposes, and in all human probabilities it was nearly as certain.

They could have been forced to attack us, and they never had driven us from a field since the war began. Excellent positions also were to be found every where in that section, which was a lime-stone country, well cleared and abounding in long parallel ridges like the Seminary ridge or Cemetery ridge at Gettysburg. So much for the general plan of the campaign; and before proceeding to the next questions of ----, relating more to the incidents of the battle itself, it is in order to inquire why the original plan was changed and an offensive battle delivered. And, on this subject, I know little or nothing that is not contained in General Lee's report. My general recollection is that we considered the enemy very slow in moving upon us, and took our time every where to give him opportunities to attack, if he desired, and that the concentration which was ordered at Gettysburg was intended as an offer of battle to him. In making this concentration Hill's corps unexpectedly came in collision with Reynolds' corps, and the thing began. Reynolds' corps was not expected there, and our information of the enemy's movements was incomplete on account of the absence of all of the cavalry, or nearly all, with General Stuart, who, instead of being between us and the enemy, was on [100] a raid around him. In this way the action began, and the first day's success stimulated the second day's effort. This effort should have been successful, and would have been, but for delays and faults of detail in its execution. These have been the subject of much crimination and recrimination among survivors as to the greater or less responsibility for them, but, to history, of course the general commanding is the responsible party. I will write frankly all that I know about them personally further on. It is sufficient to say here that, as I have already implied, the battle was lost by them, and, in fact, under the conditions existing when the actual conflict was joined, success was almost impossible.

Even after the second day's battle, in my humble judgment, it was possible to have withdrawn from the offensive and taken the defensive, and forced Meade to assault us, and to have given him a crushing defeat. I may be mistaken, and I do not by any means set up as a military critic in general, but, as we did offer battle on the 4tb, and again for several days near Hagerstown, on the retreat (while waiting to construct a bridge over the Potomac), and as Meade did at last feel bound to attack us, but just a day too late to do it, I think a similar course might have been successfully pursued after the action of the second. Whether it was discussed I do not know, but I do know that Longstreet was very averse to the assault by Pickett's division on the third. He only expressed his opinion about it, so far as I know, after the division was launched, but the circumstances which I will detail presently led me to infer that he had discussed the matter fully with General Lee. And now I will give what details of the battle itself fell uDder my personal observation, which may assist in an understanding of the whole matter, and I will be very careful to give nothing unqualifiedly of which I am not personally certain.

My command, with the greater portion of Longstreet's corps, was in camp at Chambersburg from Saturday, June 27th, to Tuesday, June 30th, and on the latter date we moved in direction of Gettysburg, about 10 miles, and about 2 P. M. encamped at a small village called Greenwood. General Lee was in camp very near us during the same afternoon. On Wednesday, July 1st, we (the reserve artillery) remained in camp all day, and heard nothing of the battle which was begun at Gettysburg until about dark, when orders were received to march at 2 A. M. on the 2d for Gettysburg. [101] Pickett's division of infantry had been left behind at Chambersburg, Hood's and McLaws' divisions had marched before us, and when we took the road at 2 A. M. (my batallion, 26 guns, and the Washington Artillery, 10 guns, I think, forming the artillery reserve,) we had a clear road and bright moonlight, and saw nothing of the infantry. About 8 or 9 A. M. we reached the vicinity of the field, and the guns were halted in a wood, and I reported in person to Generals Lee and Longstreet, who were together on a hill in rear of our lines. I was told that we were to attack the enemy's left flank, and was directed to take command of my own batallion-Cabell's batallion (with McLaws' division), 18 guns; Henry's batallion (with Hood's), 18 guns-leaving the Washington Artillery in reserve, and to reconnoitre the ground and co-operate with the infantry in the attack. I was especially cautioned in moving up the guns to avoid exposing them to the view of a signal station of the enemy's on Round Top mountain. I do not remember seeing or hearing any thing at this time of Longstreet's infantry, nor did I get the impression that General Lee thought there was any unnecessary elay going on. I had just arrived, and knew nothing of the situation, and my instructions were to reconnoitre the flank to be attacked, and choose my own positions and means of reaching them. This duty occupied me, according to the best of my recollection, one or two hours, when I rode back, and in person conducted my own batallion to the school-house on Willoughby run. At one point the direct road leading to this place came in sight of the enemy's signal station, but I turned out of the road before reaching the exposed part, and passing through some meadows a few hundred yards, regained the road without coming in sight. I then went about hunting up the other batallions which were attached to the infantry in order to give them all their positions for opening the attack. While thus engaged I came upon the head of an column, which I think was Hood's division, standing halted in the road where it was in sight of Round Top. They had been instructed to avoid being seen, and finding that the road on which they had been sent came at this point in full view of the signal station, they had halted, in finding themselves already exposed, and sent back to General Lee or Longstreet for orders. For some reason, which I cannot now recall, they would not turn back and follow the tracks of my [102] guns, and I remember a long and tiresome waiting; and at length there came an order to turn back and take another road around by “Black horse Tavern,” and I have never forgotten that name since. My general recollection is that nearly three hours were lost in that delay and countermarch, and that it was about 4 P. M. when Hood became engaged heavily on our extreme right flank, with Henry's batallion aiding him, while, with 18 guns of my own batallion and Cabell's 18, I attacked Hooker's corps at the Peach Orchard. McLaws' division was, during this, in the woods in our rear, our batteries firing from the edge next the Peach Orchard-my own probably 500 yards and Cabell's 700 yards distant. We were so engaged probably for an hour, when McLaws charged and carried the Peach Orchard, my batteries following him closely and going into action in and around the Orchard, and the firing was kept up thence till after dark.

Note.-I have just found copy of a brief dairy kept by Colonel G. Moxley Sorrel, Adjutant-General of Longstreet's corps, from which I copy the following entries, showing movements of the infantry divisions more accurately:

June 30TH.-Moved (from Chambersburg) for Greenwood, where we camped at night, Pickett being left back at Chambersburg.

July St.--oved out from Greenwood on the Gettysburg road, passing through Cashtown and New Salem; arrive within two miles of Gettysburg; during the day A. P. Hill's corps is sharply engaged; also Ewell on the left. The enemy is driven steadily back, and the lines occupied by Rodes' division. McLaws, Hood, and the artillery are now moving up and Pickett is ordered from Chambersburg.

July 2D and 3D.-See Battle Reports of General Longstreet.

July 4TH.-After the disasters of yesterday the morning opens very quietly, our troops occupying their original positions. There is not even the usual light skirmishing. Both armies appear thoroughly exhausted. Preparations are apparant for a backward movement by the right. The wagons are sent to Cashtown. The movement begins at dark, A. P. Hill leading and our corps following him in the order-1st. Reserve artillery; 2d. Pickett; 3d. McLaws; 4th. Hood. The troops move all night and the next day (5), when they camp in the afternoon near Monterey Springs. The retirement of our forces is not molested by the enemy. They evidently believed in building a golden bridge for a flying enemy.

Before daylight on the morning of the 3d I received orders to post the artillery for an assault upon the enemy's position, and [103] later I learned that it was to be led by Pickett's division and directed on Cemetery Hill. Some of the batteries had gone back for ammunition and forage, but they were all brought up immediately, and by daylight all then on the field were posted. Dearing's batallion (with Pickett's division) reported sometime during the morning. The enemy fired on our movements and positions occasionally, doing no great damage, and we scarcely returned a shot. The morning was consumed in waiting for Pickett's division, and possibly other movements of infantry. While forming for the attack, I borrowed from General Pendleton, General Lee's chief of artillery, seven 12 pounder howitzers, belonging to the Third corps, under Major Richardson, which I put in reserve in a selected spot, intending them to accompany Pickett's infantry in the charge to have the advantage of fresh horses and men and full chests of ammunition for the critical moment, in case the batteries engaged in the preliminary cannonade should be so cut up and exhausted as to be slow in getting up. About 11 A. M. the skirmishers in A. P. Hill's front got to fighting for a barn in between the lines, and the artillery on both sides gradually took part until the whole of Hill's artillery in position, which I think was 63 guns, were heavily engaged with about an equal number of the enemy's guns for over a half hour, but not one of the 75 guns which I then had in line was allowed to fire a shot, as we had at best but a short supply of ammunition for the work laid out. In this connection note that the number of rounds which is carried with each piece in its limber and caisson is, including canister, about 130 to 150-about enough for one hour and a half of rapid firing. I am very sure that our ordnance trains did not carry into Pennsylvania a reserve supply of more than 100 rounds per gun additional, and I don't believe they had over 60 rounds to a gun. I have never seen the figures, but I was myself chief of ordnance of the army from August, 1861, to November, 1862, and was very familiar with the extent and capacity of the ordnance trains. When nearer Richmond we seldom had a reserve of over 50 rounds per gun, the difficulty of transportation always limiting us to the utmost economy in its use, and in the trains devoted to its carriage. Gradually the cannonade just referred to died out as it began, and the field became nearly silent, but writers have frequently referred to “the cannonade preceding the assault” as [104] having begun at 11 o'clock and lasted for some hours, being misled by this affair. About 12 M. General Longstreet told me that when Pickett was ready, he would himself give the signal for all our guns to open (which was to be two guns from the Washingington Artillery, near the center of our line), and meanwhile he desired me to select a suitable position for observation, and to take with me one of. General Pickett's staff, and exercise my judgment in selecting the moment for Pickett's advance to begin. Complying, I selected the advanced salient angle of the wood in which Pickett's line was now formed, just on the left flank of my line of 75 guns. While occupying this position and in conversation with General A. R. Wright, commanding a Georgia brigade in A. P. Hill's corps, who had come out there for an observation of the position, I received a note from General Longstreet, which I copy from the original still in my possession, as follows:

Headquarters, July 3rd, 1863.
If the artillery fire does not have the effect to drive off the enemy or greatly demoralize him so as to make our efforts pretty certain, I would prefer that you should not advise General Pickett to make the charge. I shall rely a great deal on your good judgment to determine the matter, and shall expect you to let General Pickett know when the moment offers.


J. Longstreet, Lieut.-General. To Colonel E. P. Alexander, Artillery.

This note at once suggested that there was some alternative to the attack, and placed me on the responsibility of deciding the question. I endeavored to avoid it by giving my views in a note, of which I kept no copy, but of which I have always retained a vivid recollection, having discussed its points with General A. R. Wright as I wrote it. It was expressed very nearly as follows:

I will only be able to judge of the effect of our fire on the enemy by his return fire, for his infantry is but little exposed to view and'the smoke will obscure the whole field. If, as I infer from your note, there is any alternative to this attack, it [105] should be carefully considered before opening our fire, for it will take all the artillery ammunition we have left to test this one thoroughly, and, if the result. is unfavorable, we will have none left for another effort. And even if this is entirely successful it can only be so at a very bloody cost.

Very respectfully, &c.,

E. P. Alexander, Colonel Artillery.

To this note I soon received the following reply — the original still in my possession:

Headquarters, July 3rd, 1863.
The intention is to advance the infantry if the artillery has the desired effect of driving the enemy's off, or having other effect such as to warrant us in making the attack. When that moment arrives advise General P., and of course advance such artillery as you can use in aiding the attack.


J. Longstreet, Lieut.-General, Commanding. To Colonel Alexander.

This letter again placed the responsibility upon me, and I felt it very deeply, for the day was rapidly advancing (it was about 12 M., or a little later), and whatever was to be done was to be done soon. Meanwhile I had been anxiously discussing the attack with General A. R. Wright, who said that the difficulty was not so much in reaching Cemetery Hill, or taking it — that his brigade had carried it the afternoon before-but that the trouble was to hold it, for the whole Federal army was massed in a sort of horse-shoe shape and could rapidly reinforce the point to any extent, while our long, enveloping line could not give prompt enough support. This somewhat reassured me, as I had heard it said that morning that General Lee had ordered “every brigade in the army to charge Cemetery Hill,” and it was at least certain that the question of supports had had his careful attention. Before answering, however, I rode back to converse with General Pickett, whose line was now formed or forming in the wood, and without telling him of the question I had to decide, I found out that he was entirely sanguine of success in the charge, and was only congratulating himself on the opportunity. I was convinced that to make [106] any half-way effort would insure a failure of the campaign, and that if our artillery fire was once opened, after all the time consumed in preparation for the attack, the only hope of success was to follow it up promptly with one supreme effort, concentrating every energy we possessed into it, and my mind was fully made up that if the artillery opened Pickett must charge. After the second note from General Longstreet, therefore, and the interview with Pickett, 1 did not feel justified in making any delay, but to acquaint General Longstreet with my determination. I wrote him a note, which I think I quote verbatim, as follows: “General: When our artillery fire is doing its best I shall advise General Pickett to advance.” It was my intention, as he had a long distance to traverse, that he should start not later than fifteen minutes after our fire opened. About this time, too, to be sure that Richardson with his seven 12-pounder howitzers should be promptly on hand, I sent for him to come up through the woods and be ready to move ahead of Pickett's division in the advance. To my great disappointment I learned just as we opened fire, and too late to replace him, that General Pendleton had sent four of his guns, without my knowledge, to some other part of the field, and the other three had also moved off and could not be found. Probably, however, the presence of guns in the head of this column would only have resulted in their loss, but it would have been a brilliant opportunity for them, and I always feel like apologizing for their absence.

It was 1 P. M. by my watch when the signal guns were fired, the field at that time being entirely silent, but for light picket firing between the lines, and as suddenly as an organ strikes up in a church, the grand roar followed from all the guns of both armies. The enemy's fire was heavy and severe, and their accounts represent ours as having been equally so, though our rifle guns were comparatively few and had only very defective ammunition. As an illustration, I remember that the casualties in my own battalion (26 guns) were about 147 men and 116 horses in the two days actions, and about 80 per cent. of the wounds were from artillery fire. General A. S. Webb, U. S. A., who commanded a brigade on Cemetery Hill, told me, after the war, that a Federal battery, coming into action on the Hill, lost from our artillery fire 27 out of 36 horses in about ten minutes. Average distances I should suppose were about 1,400 yards. We had some casualties [107] from canister. I had fully intended giving Pickett the order to advance as soon as I saw that our guns had gotten their ranges, say, in ten or fifteen minutes, but the enemy's fire was so severe that when that time had elapsed I could not make up my mind to order the infantry out into a fire which I did not believe they could face, for so long a charge, in such a hot sun, tired as they already were by the march from Chambersburg. I accordingly waited in hopes that our fire would produce some visible effect, or something turn up to make the situation more hopeful; but fifteen minutes more passed without any change in the situation, the fire on neither side slackening for a moment. Even then I could not bring myself to give a peremptory order to Pickett to advance, but feeling that the critical moment would soon pass, I wrote him a note to this effect: “If you are coming at all you must come immediately or I cannot give you proper support; but the enemy's fire has not slackened materially, and at least 18 guns are still firing from the Cemetery itself.”

This note (which, though given from memory, I can vouch for as very nearly verbatim) I sent off at 1:30 P. M., consulting my watch. I afterwards heard what followed its receipt from members of the staff of both Generals Pickett and Longstreet, as follows: Pickett on receiving it galloped over to General Longstreet, who was not far off, and showed it to General L. The latter read it and made no reply. (General Longstreet himself, speaking of it afterwards, said that he knew the charge had to be made, but could not bring himself to give the order.) General Pickett then said: “General, shall I advance?” Longstreet turned around in his saddle and would not answer. Pickett immediately saluted, and said: “I am going to lead my division forward, sir,” and galloped off to put it in motion; on which General L. left his staff and rode out alone to my position. Meanwhile, five minutes after I sent the above note to Pickett, the enemy's fire suddenly slackened materially, and the batteries in the Cemetery were limbered up and were withdrawn. As the enemy had such abundance of ammunition and so much better guns than ours that they were not compelled to reserve their artillery for critical moments (as we almost always had to do), I knew that they must have felt the punishment a good deal, and I was a good deal elated by the sight. But to make sure that it was a withdrawal for good, and not a [108] mere change of position or relieving of the batteries by fresh ones, I waited for five minutes more, closely examining the ground with a large glass. At that time I sent my courier to Pickett with a note: “For God's sake come quick; the 18 guns are gone” ; and, going to the nearest guns, I sent a lieutenant and a sergeant, one after the other, with other messages to same effect. A few minutes after this, Pickett still not appearing, General Longstreet rode up alone, having seen Pickett and left his staff as above. I showed him the situation, and said I only feared I could not give Pickett the help I wanted to, my ammunition being very low, and the seven guns under Richardson having been taken off. General Longstreet spoke up promptly: “Go and stop Pickett right where he is, and replenish your ammunition.” I answered, that the ordnance wagons had been nearly emptied, replacing expenditures of the day before, and that not over 20 rounds to the gun were lefttoo little to accomplish much-and that while this was being done the enemy would recover from the effect of the fire we were now giving him. His reply was: “I don't want to make this charge; I don't believe it can succeed. I would stop Pickett now, but that General Lee has ordered it and expects it,” and other remarks, showing that he would have been easily induced, even then, to order Pickett to halt. It was just at this moment that Pickett's line appeared sweeping out of the wood, Garnett's brigade passing over us. I then left General Longstreet and rode a short distance with General Garnett, an old friend, who had been sick, but, buttoned up in an old blue overcoat, in spite of the heat of the day, was riding in front of his line. I then galloped along my line of guns, ordering those that had over 20 rounds left to limber up and follow Pickett, and those that had less to maintain their fire from where they were. I had advanced several batteries or parts of batteries in this way, when Pickett's division appeared on the slope of Cemetery Hill, and a considerable force of the enemy were thrown out, attacking his unprotected right flank. Meanwhile, tdo, several batteries which had been withdrawn were run out again and were firing on him very heavily. We opened on these troops and batteries with the best we had in the shop, and appeared to do them considerable damage, but meanwhile Pickett's division just seemed to melt away in the blue musketry smoke which now covered the hill. Nothing but stragglers came [109] 109 back. As soon as it was clear that Pickett was “gone up,” I ceased firing, saving what little ammunition was left for fear of an advance by the enemy. About this time General Lee came up to our guns alone and remained there a half hour or more, speaking to Pickett's men as they came straggling back, and encouraging them to form again in the first cover they could find. While he was here Colonel Fremantle, of the Coldstream Guards, rode up, who afterwards wrote a very graphic account of the battle and of incidents occurring here, which was published in Blackwood's Magazine. A little before this, Heth's division, under Pettigrew, had been advanced also, but I cannot recall the moment or the place where I saw them, but only the impression on my mind, as the men passed us, that the charge must surely be some misapprehension of orders, as the circumstances at the moment made it utterly impossible that it could accomplish any thing, and I thought what a pity it was that so many of them were about being sacrificed in vain. It was intended, I believe, that Pettigrew should support Pickett's right flank, but the distance that had to be traversed in the charge got such an interval between the two that Pickett's force was spent and his division disintegrated before Pettigrew's got under close fire. I have always believed that the enemy here lost the greatest opportunity they ever had of routing General Lee's army by a prompt offensive. They occupied a line shaped somewhat like a horse shoe. I suppose that the greatest diameter of the horse shoe was not more than one mile, and the ground within was entirely sheltered from our observation and fire, with communications by signals all over it, and they could concentrate their whole force at any point in a very short while and without our knowledge. Our line was an enveloping semi-circle, over four miles in development, and communication from flank to flank even by courier was difficult, the country being well cleared and exposed to the enemy's view and fire, the roads all running at right angles to our lines, and some of them at least broad turnpikes which the enemy's guns could rake for two miles. Is it necessary now to add any statement as to the superiority of the Federal force or the exhausted and shattered condition of the Confederates for a space of at least a mile in their very center, to show that a great opportunity was thrown away? I think that General Lee himself was quite apprehensive that the enemy would [110] “ri poote,” and that it was that apprehension which brought him alone out to my guns where he could observe all the indications.

Note.-In Fremantle's account he tells of General Lee's reproving an artillery officer for spurring his horse severely when it shied at the bursting of a shell. The officer was my ordnance officer and acting adjutant, Lieutenant F. M. Colston, now of Baltimore, and the shying was not at the bursting of a shell, but, just at that time there was a loud cheering in the enemy's line, a little on our right, and General Lee requested Colston to ride towards it and discover if it indicated an advance, Colston's horse cut up because it did not want to leave my horse, the two being together a great deal on the march and in the camp. General Lee then spoke to him, as Fremantle narrates; and the cheering turned out to be given to some general officer riding along the Federal line.

In the above narrative I have given all the light I can throw on the subjects of enquiry in the 4th and 5th questions of--'s letter, the 1st and 2d having been previously discussed. The 3d question relates to the lack of co-ordination between the attacks of the 2d July; and a similar lack of co-ordination is equally patent in the attacks on the 3d. I attribute it partially to the fact that our staff organizations were never sufficiently extensive and perfect to enable the Commanding-General to be practically present every where and to thoroughly handle a large force on an extended field, but principally it was due to the exceedingly difficult shape in which our line was formed, the enemy occupying a center and we a semi-circumference, with poor and exposed communications along it. I believe it was simply impossible to have made different attacks from the flanks and center of the line we occupied and over the different distances which would have to be traversed and which should be so simultaneous that the squeeze would fall on the enemy at all points at the same time. And in this connection, I think that the very position which we took and every feature of the three days conflict shows the absurdity of a story told by Swinton, who is generally very fair and above giving anecdotes suitable only for the marines. He says that some of our brigades were encouraged to the charge by being told that they were to meet only Pennsylvania militia, but on getting very near the enemy's line they “recognized the bronzed features of the veterans of the Army of the Potomac,” (I quote from memory) [111] and were at once panic-struck. Such stories are not only absurb, but, in a history, are in bad taste, having a tendency to provoke retorts. The above has been written in piece-meal in leisure moments during the past month, and with scarcely the opportunity to read it over, which must be my apology for its deficiencies; but as a narrative of what fell under my personal knowledge, it may assist--- in understanding some of the points of his enquiries, and is at your service for that or any other purpose.

Very respectfully, yours,

Letter from General C. M. Wilcox.

Baltimore, Md., March 26th, 1877.
Dear Sir: The Rev. J. Wm. Jones, Secretary of the Southern Historical Society, has favored me with a copy of your letter of January 21st, 1877, and at his request I give you such facts as I have personal knowledge of connected with the battle of Gettysburg, together with those derived from official reports of the same. I beg to assure you that it is with much pleasure that I contribute in a small way to aid in your commendable efforts to get at the truth, believing, as I do, that few of the historians of our late war, or of the writers of biographies of officers, more or less distinguished on either side, have written with that laborious painstaking care indicative of intelligent or conscientious historians.

To begin, you err in stating that the Army of Northern Virginia in its invasion of Pennsylvania was “more powerful than it had ever been before.” In numbers it was at its maximum in 1862, when contending with the Army of the Potomac, then commanded by your old chief and my friend, General McClellan, having at that time between 80,000 and 90,000 of all arms, while at Gettysburg it did not exceed 60,000.

I may add that our invasion of the North in 1863 could scarcely be characterized as “disastrous.” It certainly was unfortunate in that we did not remain longer on Northern soil and detain the Army of the Potomac there, thus relieving Virginia of a great [112] and too grievous burden. It was a question of the commissariat, to a very great extent, that carried the Army of Northern Virginia across the Potomac. This was so palpably the case that many believe it to have been the main or sole object of the expedition. There was no loss of morale on the Confederate side, for every one knew that in two of the three days collisions it had the advantage, and while our losses were serious and such that we could ill afford, the Federals were so weakened that we were permitted to retrace our steps with little or no annoyance, and military operations in Virginia were so feeble that General Lee, although closely confronting Meade's army, detached Longstreet and sent him to Georgia, where he aided in winning the brilliant victory of Chickamauga, and did not return to Virginia till March, 1864.

It is known to those who are well informed that accident rather than design brought the two armies in contact at Gettysburg. General Stuart, in command of the cavalry, remained on the east side of the Blue Ridge, holding the passes, while the main army marched down the Valley on the west side to the Potomac. He was instructed to place his command on the right of our army as soon as the Federals should cross the river and move north, and ordered to lose no time in doing so, and he was expected to give notice as soon as Hooker crossed the Potomac. As no report had been made it was believed that Hooker was still in Virginia, and, under this impression, orders were issued to move on Harrisburg. Ewell, with two of his divisions, Johnson's and Rodes', had reached Carlisle June 27th. The other division, Early's, was moving towards York. On the same day Longstreet and Hill had marched through Chambersburg and halted at Fayetteville, six miles east of it, on the Gettysburg pike.

During the night of the 28th a scout reported that Hooker had crossed the Potomac and was moving north and towards South mountain. Without his cavalry, General Lee could not divine the purpose of the enemy, but he determined, with the view of guarding his communications with Virginia and to check the advance west, to concentrate his forces east of the mountains.

Heth's division, of Hill's corps, was moved over the mountain to Cashtown, eight miles west of Gettysburg, on the 29th. The next day Pender's division, of the same corps, followed, and one [113] of Heth's brigades, ordered to Gettysburg to get supplies, finding the enemy there and not knowing his strength, returned. Report of this was made by General Hill to both Generals Lee and Ewell. Anderson's division, of Hill's corps, and Longstreet, with Hood's and McLaws' divisions, moved July 1st towards Gettysburg. The Union cavalry, under General Buford, reached Gettysburg the forenoon of the 30th, passed through, crossed Seminary Ridge and threw out pickets on roads leading to Gettysburg from the southwest, west and northwest, to the west as far as Marsh creek, three miles of the town.

The night of the 30th Hill, with two of his divisions, lay at Cashtown, eight miles west of Gettysburg, Buford's cavalry between his command and the town. At Emmettsburg, ten miles southeast of Gettysburg, bivouacked the First and Eleventh corps of Hooker's army; and an infantry division of the Federal army camped at Fairfield, twelve miles southwest of Gettysburg. At 5 A. M., July 1st, Hill advanced towards Gettysburg, and at 8 A. M. the two Federal corps moved forward from Emmettsburg towards the same point-these hostile forces being ignorant of the designs and proximity of each other. Had the cavalry been with the Army Hill would have known the condition of affairs in his front and would have pushed Buford back and reached Gettysburg before the First and Eleventh corps moved from their camp at Emmettsburg. As Hill moved forward he met Buford's cavalry, drove them back to within less than two miles of the town, when infantry came to their support, and a fierce battle ensued.

Rodes left Heidlersburg and Early left Berlin, three miles further east, under orders for Cashtown; but Ewell, on getting Hill's report of the enemy being at Gettysburg, changed their destination for that place. Rodes came upon the field at 2:30 P. M. and attacked the enemy, now greatly reinforced. He was soon reinforced by Early, and after severe fighting the Union troops were driven back at 4 P. M., with serious losses in killed and wounded, and in much disorder, through the town, losing over 5,000 prisoners. The losses in the four Confederate divisions were heavy. Such was the first day's battle.

Anderson's division, of Hill's corps, reached the field after the fighting ceased, and halted on the ground held by Pender when the battle began. One brigade of this division, Wilcox's, and a [114] battery were placed on picket one and a quarter miles below or south of the Chambersburg pike, at a mill on Marsh creek, reaching this point before sundown. Johnson's division, of Ewell's corps, came up a little before dark; McLaws' and Hood's, of Longstreet's corps, after dark, and bivouacked east of Marsh creek. These four divisions had not been engaged. All of General Lee's infantry was now at hand, except Pickett's division, of three brigades. One corps of the Union army arrived at 7 A. M. on the 2d and another late in the afternoon, at the end or near the close of the battle of the next day. Our troops, from their success, were in fine spirits. The reverse of this, it was reasonable to suppose, was the condition of the enemy.

It was the natural order of things that the attack should be renewed the next morning, and the earlier the better. There can be but little doubt, if the first collision had been made with a full or a more perfect knowledge of the enemy, the victory would have been more complete, and it is probable there would not have been a second collision, certainly not at the same place.

It has been asserted that General Longstreet was ordered to attack at daylight or early the next morning. Of this I have no knowledge personally, but am inclined to believe that he was so ordered. The attack could have been made easily by 9 or 10 A. M., as will appear. Wilcox's brigade was recalled from picket duty, leaving its post after sunrise, moved back to the Chambersburg pike, then on it towards Gettysburg for about a mile, bore off then to the right, passed through troops whose arms were stacked, was informed they were McLaws' and Hood's divisions; continuing the march over undulating fields and wooded crests nearly in a straight line, till at length, from an elevated point, its commander was ordered to let its right rest against a piece of woods threefourths of a mile in front and to the right, the left connecting with other brigades of the division. In this wood were two Union regiments on picket. A regiment sent to explore the woods came upon them suddenly, and it was a sharp fight to drive them out. This was about 9 A. M., and at 4 P. M. McLaws formed in these same woods, and moved forward to the attack about 6 P. M.

General Longstreet in his report refers to his orders on this occasion, but is not definite as to time. [115]

Law's brigade was ordered forward to his division during the day, and joined it about noon on the 2d. Previous to his joining I received instructions from the Commanding-General to move, with the portion of my command that was up, around to gain the Emmettsburg road on the enemy's left. Fearing that my force was too weak to venture to make an attack, I delayed until General Law's brigade joined its division.” The order, it is seen, was given for him to move with the portion of his command that was up. He does not give the time the move was to begin, but when the order was given it was known to General Lee that his whole corps was not present. “As soon after Law's arrival as we could make our preparations the movement was begun. Engineers sent out by the Commanding-General and myself guided us by a road which would have completely disclosed the move, and some delay ensued in seeking a more concealed route. McLaws' division got into position, opposite the enemy's left, about 4 P. M. Hood's division was moved further to our right, and got into position partially enveloping the enemy's left.”

Wilcox's brigade reached the woods in which McLaws subsequently formed without being seen, but the collision that took place made the presence of Confederates in it known to the enemy, and it may have been this knowledge that caused Sickles to advance his line so as to rest its right along the Emmettsburg pike. McLaws was opposite Sickles' right; the left of his corps rested at Round Top, a mile or more to our right, and near the left of the Union army, its right being to the east and north of Culps' Hill. McLaws advanced about 6 P. M., and while engaged in a close musketry fight with Sickles, two brigades of AndersOn's division, Wilcox's and Perry's, assailed him in flank and rear, breaking his line at once, and forcing it back with loss and in confusion. Further to the right he fared no better, and his entire corps was driven back to the Ridge in rear. He had been in the meantime heavily reinforced, but all were driven back. The Sixth corps came upon the field at the close of the battle; but one of its brigades became engaged. Longstreet's attack, as all must admit was made too late in the day. Had it taken place at any time before 12 M. it would probably have been a success, and there would have been no battle on the 3d. [116]

In the battle of the 3d there was a want of concert of action on the part of the Confederates, as the following extract from General Lee's report will show: “General Longstreet's dispositions were not completed as early as was expected, but before notice could be sent to Ewell, Johnson had already become engaged, and it was too late to recall him. After a gallant and prolonged struggle, in which the enemy was forced to abandon a part of his entrenchments, General Johnson found himself unable to carry the strongly fortified crest of the bill. The projected attack on the enemy's left not having been made, he was enabled to hold his right with a force largely superior to that of General Johnson, and finally to threaten his flank and rear, rendering it necessary for him to retire to his original position about 1 P. M.” It was near this hour that Longstreet's attack commenced, with a heavy cannonade of nearly an hour, to be speedily and thoroughly repulsed. In his report he says: “Orders were given to Major-General Pickett to form his line under the best cover he could get from the enemy's batteries, and so that the center of the assaulting column could arrive at the salient of the enemy's position, General Pickett's line to be the guide, and to attack the line of the enemy's defences, and General Pettigrew, in command of HIeth's division, moving on the same line as Pickett, was to assault the salient at the time. Pickett's division was arranged two brigades in the front line, supported by his third brigade, and Wilcox's brigade was ordered to move in rear of his right to protect it from any force that the enemy might attempt to move-against it.” Wilcox's brigade had lost seriously in the engagement the evening beforelittle over 500 out of 1,600-but was ordered at daylight to move to the front to support artillery, then being placed in position on and near the Emmettsburg pike, on ground won from the enemy. This brigade lay in line parallel with the pike and 150 yards in rear of it. About 10 A. M. Pickett's division arrived and formed in line nearly parallel with the pike, his center brigade directly in rear of Wilcox's brigade.

These four brigades lay in position during the cannonading that preceded the attack. Pickett's right brigade-Kemper's-lost near 200, the other brigades much less. From these four brigades the enemy's line directly in front was some 700 or 800 yards. Beyond the Emmettsburg pike it converged upon the pike towards [117] the town and touched it near the Cemetery, or came within a very short distance of it. The Cemetery was near a mile from Pickett's left. As Pickett's left was to be the center of the column of attack, the difficulty, if not impossibility, of executing his orders is obvious, the salient being the Cemetery.

When the order to advance was given Pickett's center brigade marched over Wilcox's men, who lay down for that purpose. They then changed direction to the left by a wheel. This threw one brigade in rear. The enemy's artillery opened fire on them before they had gone 100 yards. They had moved forward several hundred yards when Wilcox was ordered to advance, and on Pickett's right. He moved at a double-quick step so as to be uncovered by Pickett's men as speedily as possible, so as to draw upon his own command a portion of the very heavy and destructive fire then directed solely on the former. The changed direction to the left, made by Pickett's brigades, exposed them, after they had gone some distance, to a fire somewhat in flank. Wilcox had got within 100 yards of the enemy's line, when Pickett and the troops on his left were repulsed. tis brigade then fell back to its original position, having lost about 200 men. These details are given to show that, in addition to the attack being made too late, the position from which Pickett advanced was not well selected.

I believe I have brought to your notice the causes of our want of complete success at Gettysburg: 1st. Absence of the cavalry, and failure to report promptly when the Federal army had crossed the Potomac, and the line of direction of their march; 2d. Longstreet's late attack in the afternoon of the 2d; and 3d. Want of concert the last day. We might have, even on this day, by making a united and well directed and prompt effort, won the field.

Few army commanders have been more fortunate than General Lee in the matter of chief of cavalry. General Stuart was ever faithful, untiring, vigilant, energetic, brave, quick to conceive, clear in his judgment, and in the execution, either of his own previously determined plans, or the orders of a superior, to whom he was devotedly attached, rarely equalled.

Very respectfully and truly,


Letter from General A. L. Long, military Secretary to General R. E. Lee.

Charlottesville, Va., April, 1877.
Rev. J. Wm. Jones, D. D., Secretary Southern Historical Society:
The questions of-- , in relation to the invasion of Pennsylvania and the battle of Gettysburg, I will notice in the order in which they are propounded; 1st. “It was a mistake to invade the Northern States at all, because it stirred up their military spirit. The best chance of the Confederacy was the pecuniary exhaustion of the North, and not the exhaustion of its resources in men. The invasion of the North was the deathblow to what has been called the ‘Copperhead’ party. It called under arms thousands of men who would never have enrolled otherwise, and who became experienced soldiers in 1864; and, moreover, it diminished for one or two years the resisting powers of the Confederate army.”

Since there was never a deficiency of men in the Northern army, it may be justly inferred that the stimulant of our invasion was not needed to arouse the military spirit of the North.

In regard to the Copperhead influence in the prosecution of the war, seems to adhere to the same fallacy that was entertained by many prominent Confederates at the commencement of hostilities, but which was speedily dissipated by subsequent events. The fruit of the first battle of Manassas was lost partly on account of the opinion that the capture of Washington and the invasion of Maryland would unite the political parties of the North and obliterate the hope of a speedy termination of the war; for it was soon demonstrated that the mortifying defeat of the Federal army at Manassas, July, 1861, as firmly united the political parties of the North as an invasion would have done.

Again,---- seems oblivious of the fact that while there was a pecuniary diminution of one per cent. in the North there were ten in the South. ---- is mistaken in his opinion that the resisting power of the South was materially impaired by the invasion of Pennsylvania. This is clearly shown by the subsequent movements of the Army of Northern Virginia, for it will be remembered that on the retreat from Gettysburg the Federal army [119] was held in check at Williamsport until the passage of the Potomac could be safely effected, without any greater diminution of strength than the loss of ten or twelve thousand men — the result of the battle of Gettysburg. These losses were soon replaced, and it was again in a position to assert its strength with effect against the Federal army on the Orange and Alexandria railroad and in the Wilderness of Spotsylvania. Therefore, on the above grounds,----'s opinions in regard to the invasion of Pennsylvania are erroneous. Many of the Northern writers on the War between the States seem to have taken but little pains to extend their search for information much beyond the Federal lines.

Before deciding upon the merits of a military movement it is necessary to understand the motives which dictated it.

2d. “If the invasion was to be undertaken, only raiding parties should have been sent until the Army of the Potomac should have been defeated. It was a great mistake to bring her on the Northern soil, where she fought ten times better than in Virginia. A real invasion, viz: the establishment of the Confederate army in Pennsylvania, with its communications well secured, was an impossibility as long as the Federal army was not crushed. The proof of this is, that as soon as the latter began to move, Lee, who had undertaken nothing but a raid on too large a scale, found himself so much endangered that he was obliged to fight an offersive battle on the ground and where Meade chose to wait for him. He ought to have manoeuvred in Virginia so as to bring on a battle before crossing the Potomac.”

The answer to these questions requires a brief reference to the circumstances which dictated the movement into Pennsylvania.

Shortly after the battle of Chancellorsville the Army of Northern Virginia had, by the return of absentees and the divisions of Longstreet, been increased to sixty-five thousand men, and its recent victories, with the care bestowed on its reorganization, equipment and discipline, made its spirit and efficiency unsurpassed by any army of modern times. This result was chiefly due to the unaided exertions of General Lee.

While the army was in admirable condition, the country at large was beginning to sink into despondency from the want of a reliable financial system, and the rapid diminution of its military resources. [120]

As no relief was afforded by judicious legislation, bold and successful military operations were necessary to rouse the drooping spirits of the Confederacy.

Since the battle of Chancellorsville the Army of the Potomac, though dispirited, maintained a threatening attitude; its ranks had been filled to its original numbers, and Richmond was still its objective point.

The relative condition of the opposing armies early in June suggested to General Lee the advantage of a departure from a strictly defensive system, and of casting the defence of Richmond on a bold offensive campaign.

Immediately on this decision the Army of Northern Virginia was put in motion for the invasion of the North.

After this brief explanation I will return to the enquiries of .Small raiding parties always infested the line of the Potomac when not occupied in force by the Federal army. The raiding corps, under Colonels Mosby and White, were conspicuously known for their bold raids and dashing onslaughts upon trains and unsuspecting parties on both sides of the Potomac. Raiding parties of a more formidable character, under Stuart and others; were also projected across the lines, creating in the body politic of the North as little sensation as sticking pins in the hide of the rhinoceros. In continuation of the answer to the 2d question, I will repeat in substance the remarks of General Lee, when the invasion of the North was under consideration: “Should we defeat General Hooker in a general engagement south of the Potomac any where in the vicinity of Washington, his shattered army would find refuge within the defences of that city, as two Federal armies have previously done, and the fruits of victory would again be lost. But should we draw him far away from the defenses of his capital, and defeat him on a field of our own choosing, his army would be irretrievably lost, and the victory would be attended with results of the utmost importance.” Gettysburg and York were designated as points suitable for such a battle. With such prospects in the range of possibility, any commander might be willing to risk for a time his communications, especially when the theatre of operations abounds in supplies and the invading army is accompanied by a powerful cavalry. Such were the prospects of General Lee when he crossed the Potomac on his [121] advance into Pennsylvania. He was sure of being able to supply his army should his communications be interrupted, and did not doubt his ability to open them whenever circumstances should require him to need them, as he subsequently did, without difficulty.

The chance of increasing the fighting qualities of the enemy by drawing him on his own soil was not considered by General Lee when he was forming his plan of invasion. Neither from history nor experience have I been able to learn that the fighting of a regular army is influenced by locality or country. I have been taught to believe that quality to be derived from its commander. It was not discovered that Federal troops fought better at Boonesboroa, Sharpsburg and Gettysburg than they did at Gaines' Mill, Malvern Hill and Fredericksburg. Could the French troops have fought better in France than they did at the Pyramids, Marengo or Austerlitz? or did the English display less valor in Spain or in the Crimea than they would have done in England under their favorite leaders?

3d. “The way in which the fights of the second of July were directed does not show the same co-ordination which ensured the success of the Southern arms at Gaines' Mill and Chancellorsville.”

4th. “I do not understand why Lee, having gained some success on the second, but found the Federal position very strong, did not attempt to turn it by the south, which was its weak place, by extending his right so as to endanger Meade's communications with Washington.”

5th. “The heroic but foolish attack of Pickett on the third should never have been attempted. Longstreet seems to think that it was imposed upon him against his will by Lee. General Early says distinctly, in a paper published by the Southern Historical Society, that Longstreet deferred it so long that the Second corps could not co-operate with it as it would have done if the attack had taken place early in the morning.”

Since the battle of Gettysburg has been the theme of so much discussion, and is still the subject of enquiry, I will narrate some of the circumstances relative to that event, believing that the information sought by the above questions can be best imparted in that way. [122]

While preparing for his campaign in Pennsylvania General Lee carefully considered every contingency that could mar success, except the possibility of tactical blunders of those who had always maintained his confidence by a prompt and intelligent execution of instructions. When, however, he had crossed the Potomac, the absence of his cavalry, caused by the fatal blunder of Stuart, which separated it from the army at the most critical time, obliged him to grope his way in the dark, and precipitated him, by the want of timely notice, into a premature engagement with the enemy. While waiting for information at Chambersburg, the first intelligence received of the movements of the enemy was his arrival at Emmettsburg. As had been previously concerted, General Lee ordered a rapid concentration of his forces at Gettysburg. Early in the forenoon of the first of July two Federal corps arrived at that place, and almost simultaneously the head of the Confederate columns arrived, and an engagement immediately ensued, which continued with great spirit until about four o'clock in the afternoon, when the Federal corps were signally defeated, and almost annihilated. General Lee arrived on the field near the close of the action. Perceiving the utter prostration of two Federal corps, and being aware that General Meade could not bring up all his forces before the afternoon of the next day, he determined to cast the fate of the campaign on the chance of an immediate battle.

By the close of the day all of Hill's and Ewell's corps had come up, and Longstreet's was only a few miles in rear.

Having formed his plan of attack, Hill and Ewell were put at once in position, while Longstreet bivouacked about four miles from the field of battle. The order was that Longstreet, on the right, should begin the attack as early as practicable on the second, and Ewell and Hill were to afford him vigorous co-operation. On the morning of the second Meade's position on Cemetery Ridge was not fully occupied, and, as had been expected, a large portion of his forces was still on the march.

If a vigorous attack had then been made, by all the chances of war, victory would have crowned the Confederate arms. But another blunder intervened, and the attack was delayed until four o'clock in the afternoon, when, after desperate fighting, a position was gained, which a few hours before could have been occupied [123] without a blow. The blunder of a lieutenant who had never before failed him, being unexpected, could not be averted in time to prevent the evil consequences that followed. I think enough has been said to explain the causes of the failure of the Confederates on the second at Gettysburg.

From the nature of the country, the absence of cavalry and the proximity of an uncrippled enemy, the flank movement referred to'was simply an absurdity. The attack of Pickett's division on the third has been more criticised, and is still less understood, than any other act of the Gettysburg drama. General Longstreet did not enter into the spirit of it, and consequently did not support it with his wonted vigor. It has been characterised as rash and objectless, on the order of The charge of the light brigade; nevertheless it was not ordered without mature consideration, and on grounds that presented fair prospects of success. By extending his left wing west of the Emmettsburg road General Meade weakened his position by presenting a weak center, which, being penetrated, his wings would be isolated and paralyzed, so far as regarded supporting each other. A glance at a correct sketch of the Federal position on the third will sufficiently corroborate this remark, and had Pickett's division been promptly supported when it burst through Mleade's center, a more positive proof would have been given than the features of the country, for his right wing would have been overwhelmed before the left could have disengaged itself from the woods and mountains and come to its relief.

Very respectfully, A. L. Long, Military Secretary to General R. E. Lee.


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