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A reply to General Longstreet.

by William Allan, Colonel, C. S. A.
General Longstreet's account of Gettysburg [see pp. 244, 339] is notable for its mistakes as well as for its attitude toward General Lee and others.

First. The statement that General Lee passed over more deserving officers from other States in order to give the command of his corps to Virginians is an unworthy attack upon a man who was as singularly free from such prejudices as he was from self-seeking, either during the war or after it. Lee said in a letter to President Davis, October 2d, 1862, at the close of the Antietam campaign:

In reference to commanders of corps with the rank of lieutenant-general, of which you request my opinion, I can confidently recommend Generals Longstreet and Jackson, in this army. My opinion of the merits of General Jackson has been greatly enhanced during this expedition. He is true, honest, and brave; has a single eye to the good of the service, and spares no exertion to accomplish his object. Next to these two officers I consider General A. P. Hill the best commander with me. He fights his troops well and takes good care of them. At present I do not think that more than two commanders of corps are necessary for this army.

This was Lee's judgment after a campaign in which both the Hills and McLaws had served, and long before there was any question of making either of them a lieutenant-general. It would be about as just to accuse Lee of undue partiality to Georgia in making Longstreet his senior lieutenant, as it is to accuse him of partiality to Virginia in selecting A. P. Hill rather than D. H. Hill or McLaws for the command of his Third Corps.

Second. In regard to the battle of Gettysburg: The first day's fight was brought on unexpectedly to Lee. In the absence of Stuart he was not aware of the proximity of the Federal army. The first day's operations were very successful. Two of the seven infantry corps of the Federal army were virtually demolished, having been defeated and driven in disorder completely from the field, leaving many killed and wounded and several thousand prisoners to the victors.

Third. It was at the close of this day's work that General Lee, in view of its results, and of the indications it gave of the position of the Federal army, decided to follow up the fight. General Longstreet advised a movement across Meade's front to threaten his left and rear. Such a movement would have been difficult in the absence of Stuart; it could not have been executed in the position then occupied by the army with sufficient promptness to surprise Meade; and if successful it simply would have forced the Federal army back to some position nearer Baltimore and Washington where the issue of battle was still to be tried. General Longstreet begs the question when he assumes that Meade would then have been obliged to attack at a disadvantage. General Lee decided that this plan did not promise as good results as to follow up the partial victory already gained. More than one-fourth of the Federal army was beaten. (Of the First and Eleventh corps that had numbered 20,931 on June 30th, not 5700 were in line on July 2d.) That army was not concentrated, and hours must elapse before its full strength could be marshaled for battle. The absent portions would reach the field jaded by forced marches, to meet the depressing news of the defeat of their comrades. Doubt and uncertainty would prevail, increased perhaps by the fact that the present Federal commander was so new in his place. Lee's troops were much more nearly up, only Pickett's division and Law's brigade being out of reach. Not to press the Union army was to lose the greater part of the advantage of the first day's victory. The Federals would soon recover from their depression if not pressed, and his own troops would be disappointed. Lee believed if he could attack early on the second day he would have but part of the Federal army to deal with, and that if he could repeat his success of the first day the gain would be great. He therefore determined upon attack. On the night of the 1st (not on the forenoon of the 2d, as General Longstreet has it) he decided, after a conference with Ewell and his division commanders, to make the attack early next day from his right with Longstreet's two divisions that were within reach, this attack to be supported by Hill and Ewell. (See Ewell's and Early's reports: Early's paper in “Southern Historical Society papers,” Vol. IV., p. 214; and Long's Memoirs of Lee. )

Fourth. General Longstreet would have us infer that he was not ordered by General Lee to attack early on the second day; but that his memory is at [356] fault on this point has been abundantly shown by Generals Fitz Lee, Pendleton, Early, Wilcox, and many others. No testimony on this point is more direct and conclusive than that of General A. L. Long, then military secretary to General Lee. He says in his recently published “Memoirs of R. E. Lee” (page 277), that on the evening of the 1st, when General Lee had decided not to renew the attack on Cemetery Hill that day, he said (in Long's presence) to Longstreet and Hill: “Gentlemen, we will attack the enemy in the morning as early as practicable.” Long continues: “In the conversation that succeeded he [Lee] directed them to make the necessary preparations and be ready for prompt action the next day.” Long shows plainly that General Lee's design was to attack the troops in front before the whole Federal army could get up, and he described graphically the impatience Lee showed next morning, as early as 9 A. M., at Longstreet's delay. General Longstreet is wrong, too, in giving the impression that his divisions were fifteen or twenty miles away on the night of the 1st, for in his official report he says that “McLaws's division . . . reached Marsh Creek, four miles from Gettysburg, a little after dark, and Hood's division [except Law's brigade] got within nearly the same distance of the town about 12 o'clock at night.” Hood says he was with his staff “in front of the heights of Gettysburg shortly after daybreak” on the 2d, and his troops were close behind. Kershaw (of McLaws's division) says in his official report that on the 1st of July they “marched to a point on the Gettysburg road some two miles from that place, going into camp at 12 P. M.”

General Longstreet, to explain his delay, besides the above reasons scrapes together a number of others,--such as the presence of some Federal scouts and pickets west of the Emmitsburg road, the movement of Sickles's rear-guard along that road, the presence of one of General Lee's engineers (who had been sent to give information, not to command his corps). No time need be wasted on these. The fact is that General Longstreet, though knowing fully the condition of things on the night of the 1st, knowing that Lee had decided to attack that part of the Federal army in his front, knowing that every hour strengthened Meade and diminished the chances of Confederate success, and knowing that his corps was to open the battle and deliver the main assault, consumed the time from daylight to nearly 4 P. M., on July 2d, in moving his troops about four miles, over no serious obstacle, and in getting them into battle. Meantime on the Federal side Hancock's corps, which had camped three miles from Gettysburg, reached the field by 6 or 7 A. M.; Sickles's two brigades that had been left at Emmitsburg came up by 9 A. M.; the rear of the Fifth Corps by midday, and the Sixth Corps, after a march of thirty-two miles in thirty hours, by 2 P. M. Had Longstreet attacked not later than 9 or 10 A. M., as Lee certainly expected, Sickles's and Hancock's corps would have been defeated before part of the Fifth and the Sixth corps arrived. Little Round Top (which, as it was, the Fifth Corps barely managed to seize in time) would have fallen into Confederate possession; and even if nothing more had been done this would have given the field to the Confederates, since the Federal line all the way to Cemetery Hill was untenable with Round Top in hostile hands.

Fifth. That Longstreet's attack when made was poorly seconded by the other corps may be true, and thus another chance of winning a complete victory on July 2d was lost, but this does not change the fact that the first and great opportunity of that day for the Confederates was lost by Longstreet's delay.

Sixth. Victory on the third day was for the Confederates a far more difficult problem than on the second, but it was still within their reach. But one need not be surprised at the failure of Pickett's attack after reading of the hesitation, the want of confidence and hearty cooperation, with which General Longstreet directed it. Lee never intended that Pickett, Pettigrew, and Trimble should fight unsupported by the remainder of the army. He expected “that with proper concert of action . . . we should ultimately succeed.” (Lee's report.) Longstreet was directed to use his whole corps, and when he felt embarrassed by the Federal forces on or near the Round Tops he was given a division and a half from A. P. Hill's corps, with power to call for more. General Long says: “The original intention of General Lee was that Pickett's attack should be supported by the divisions of McLaws and Hood, and General Longstreet was so ordered.” ( “Memoirs of Lee,” p. 294. See also statements of Colonels Venable and Taylor, Four years with General Lee, p. 108.) Lee's efforts for a concerted attack were ineffectual. Pickett was overwhelmed not by troops in front but by those on his flanks, especially by those on his right flank, where Wilcox was sent forward too late to be of use, and where he was too weak to have effected much at best. Yet Longstreet did not use any part of Hood's and McLaws's divisions to support Pickett, or to make a diversion in his favor, or to occupy the troops on his flank which finally defeated him. These divisions were practically idle, except that one of Hood's brigades was occupied in driving off the Federal cavalry which made a dash on that flank. Longstreet, in a word, sent forward one-third of his corps to the attack, but the remainder of his troops did not cooperate. And yet he reproaches Lee for the result!

McDonogh, Md., February 16th, 1887. [357]

Charge of Alexander's artillery. See page 360.

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