The cavalry battle near Gettysburg.
by William E. Miller, Captain, 3D Pennsylvania cavalry.
Monument on the field of the cavalry fight between the forces of Gregg and Stuart.
From a photograph. |
The 3d Pennsylvania Cavalry, after participating in the different cavalry engagements from Brandy Station
, was the last regiment to cross the Potomac
by the pontoon-bridge at Edwards's Ferry, except McCandless
's brigade of the Pennsylvania Reserves.
Well do the men of Gregg
's cavalry command remember the evening of the 27th of June, 1863, while they were drawn up on the slope of the northern bank of the Potomac
awaiting the crossing of McCandless
's infantry, which was somewhat delayed on the opposite side.
As soon as the band of McCandless
's brigade placed foot on the bridge it began to play “Maryland
, my Maryland
The men took up the refrain, and it was echoed back by the cavalrymen on the northern hillside.
The scene was beautiful and touching beyond description, and formed one of the happy incidents that broke the monotony of the long and weary march from Falmouth
About dusk “to horse” was sounded, and the division again put in motion.
A tedious night's march along a road blockaded with wagons and other impediments brought us to Monocacy Junction
, on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, between which place and Frederick
we halted on Sunday morning, the 28th.
A reorganization of the cavalry there took place.
, who had commanded the Second Brigade of Gregg
's division, was promoted to the command of Stahel
's division, which was then added to the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac as the Third Division, and Colonel Pennock Huey
, with the 8th Pennsylvania Cavalry, was transferred from Buford
's division to the Second Brigade of the Second Division, Huey
in command of the brigade.
[For organization, see p. 437.]
Before leaving Frederick
the 1st Pennsylvania Cavalry was ordered to report to General Meade
's headquarters, where it remained until after the battle of Gettysburg
; it did not rejoin its brigade before the 12th of July, at Boonsboro
‘. The 1st Massachusetts was also sent on detached service.
While we were halted near Frederick
it was discovered that Stuart
was making a detour around our army and had crossed the Potomac
below Edwards's Ferry.
Our cavalry was sent out on all the roads leading from Frederick
to the north and east to prevent his gaining information, and to push him as far away as possible, so that he might be delayed in communicating with his chief.
On the evening of the 28th McIntosh
's brigade was sent eastward on the Baltimore pike
, and passing New Market
it halted at Ridgeville
, and from there scouting parties were sent in every direction.
On the morning of the 29th a portion of the 3d Pennsylvania was sent to Lisbon
and from there one squadron went northward to Woodbine
, on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.
It was ascertained that Stuart
was tearing up the tracks near Hood's Mill
, the next station east of Woodbine
, and that he was moving northward.
Information was sent to headquarters, and by 4 o'clock P. M. Gregg
's division was concentrated at Mount Airy
, north of Ridgeville
, where it was supplied with a scanty allowance of rations and forage.
Five o'clock found it on the march for Westminster
, with the 3d Pennsylvania of McIntosh
's brigade in advance.
Having been on almost continuous duty, night and day, since the battle of Brandy Station
, on the 9th, the prospect of another night march was, to say the least, discouraging.1
Our march to Westminster
was one of unusual severity, for the night was very dark and both men and horses were worn out. The men fell asleep in their saddles, and whenever the column halted the horses would fall asleep too. As the officers were responsible for keeping the column closed up, they had to resort to all sorts of expedients to keep awake, such as pinching themselves, pounding their heads, and pricking themselves with pins.
When within about five miles of Westminster
was discovered that the left of the line was not up. A halt was ordered, and, on sending back, the fact was disclosed that the artillerymen and battery horses were sound asleep, and that, whilst the portion of the column in front of them had been moving on, that in the rear was standing still.
As soon as the latter was brought up the whole command moved forward, and at day-light on the 30th the advance, under Captain Charles Treichel
, of the 3d Pennsylvania, charged into Westminster
and captured a lot of Stuart
Here we met with a cordial reception.
The majority of the houses were thrown open, and the women, standing on their door-steps and at the windows, waved their handkerchiefs and cheered the old flag.
It was noticed, however, that some of the houses remained closed, and upon inquiry it was
ascertained that these had in a similar manner been open the day before for the reception of Stuart
and his men.
a halt of a few hours was made, during which the men consumed what was left of the rations procured at Mount Airy
, gave their horses the last grain of feed they had with them, and obtained a little sleep.
Mounting again we moved north along the Carlisle pike
for half a mile, and then by the Grove Mill
road to Hanover Junction
, Pennsylvania, on the Northern Central Railroad, where we arrived during the forenoon of July 1st.
Our movements at this place illustrate to some extent the uncertainties of the campaign.
After a short delay General Gregg
received an order to proceed south toward Baltimore
Scarcely was the division drawn out on the road when a second order came directing him to turn about and move north as rapidly as possible toward York
Just as we were starting in the latter direction the final order came to send Huey
's brigade back to Manchester, Maryland
, and to march with McIntosh
's and Irvin Gregg
's brigades west-ward to Gettysburg
After losing some valuable time in consequence of these conflicting orders, we (McIntosh
's and Gregg
's brigades) advanced over a crooked road to Hanover
, where we went into bivouac.
we found the streets barricaded with boxes, old carriages and wagons, hay, ladders, barbers' poles, etc., the marks of Kilpatrick
's encounter with Stuart
on the previous day, for the Third Division, while we were making the detour on the right flank, had taken the direct road from Frederick
, and at Hanover
had intercepted the line of march of the Confederate cavalry while we had been following it up.
By this time we had become a sorry-looking body of men, having been in the saddle day and night almost continuously for over three weeks, without a change of clothing or an opportunity for a general wash; moreover we were much reduced by short rations and exhaustion, and mounted on horses whose bones were plainly visible to the naked eye.2
at 3 o'clock on the morning of July 2d we had proceeded along the Littlestown
road for two miles when Dr. T. T. Tate
, one of the assistant surgeons
of the 3d Pennsylvania Cavalry, who was a citizen of Gettysburg
and familiar with the country, advised General Gregg
that the shortest route to Gettysburg
was by way of the Bonaughtown
or Hanover road. The doctor piloted the column across the fields and we reached the Bonaughtown road at McSherrystown.
On reaching Geiselman
's Woods, Colonel McIntosh
, who had been suffering from exhaustion, became very sick.
The column was halted, and Dr. Tate
took him to Mr. Geiselman
's house, where with careful medical attention he was in a short time restored and again
Map 19: cavalry battle July 3d, 2:30 P. M.|
Map 20: cavalry battle July 3d, 3:30 P. M.|
made his appearance at the head of his command.
Resuming the march we arrived at the intersection of the Low Dutch
(or Salem Church) and Hanover roads about noon on July 2d.
The regiments were closed up, and we halted in a field to allow the men and horses some much-needed rest.
About 3 o'clock the 10th New York cavalry of the Third Brigade was ordered forward and directed to occupy Brinkerhoff's Ridge and relieve some infantry of the Eleventh Corps, who were in possession of the ridge and were keeping up a skirmish fire with the enemy in their front.
took two guns, a section of Battery H, 3d Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery, Captain W. D. Rank
(serving as Light Artillery), and placed them on the Hanover
road opposite the leever house, about three miles east of Gettysburg
Near 6 o'clock some mounted men, who seemed to be making observations, appeared in the road on the top of Brinkerhoff
Ridge, about three-fourths of a mile distant, whereupon Gregg
ordered Rank to send them a “feeler,” which he did in the most approved style — the two shells bursting in their midst and scattering the party like chaff in a wind storm.
The First Brigade was now ordered forward, and on passing beyond Rank's guns the 3d Pennsylvania, being in the advance, was ordered into Cress
's Woods, on the right of the road.
The squadron of Captain Hess
and my own were directed to dismount and advance across Cress's Run to the top of Brinkerhoff's Ridge — Hess on the left, with his left resting on the road and deployed to the right, and Miller
[the writer] deployed to the right of Hess
On the left side of the road, connecting with Hess
, two battalions of the 1st New Jersey, under Major Janeway
and Captain Boyd
, and Duvall
's Maryland troop were deployed — the whole supported by the Third Battalion of the 1st New Jersey, under Major Beaumont
After crossing Cress's Run and gaining the elevated ground beyond, it was discovered that a stone fence ran along the crest of the ridge, and that some Confederate infantry were advancing from the opposite direction.
“Double quick” was ordered, and a race for the fence ensued.
The men seeing the importance of the position quickened their steps and arrived at the wall about twenty paces in advance of the enem y. As soon as our men reached the wall they opened fire with their carbines, and drove back their opponents.
They punched holes through the wall with their carbines, and behind this formidable breastwork they were enabled, though repeatedly charged, to hold their position until daylight disappeared.
Rank's guns in the meantime kept up a lively fire and did effective work.
After dark a charge was made against our right which was driven in, but the men, not being discouraged, made a counter-charge and regained their position.
Our opponents proved to be Walker
's brigade, of Johnson
's division, of Ewell
's corps, and it was our good fortune to hold them in check long enough to prevent them from participating in the assault on Culp's Hill
About 10 o'clock the whole division was withdrawn and moved over a country cross-road to the Baltimore pike
, where it bivouacked for the night along White Run
Between 9 and 10 o'clock on the morning of the 3d “to horse” was sounded, and we were again in the saddle.
Retracing our steps, we resumed our position on the right, but with a more extended line.
connected with the right of the infantry line near Wolf's Hill and stretched his line to the Hanover
road, while McIntosh
moved to and halted at the crossing of the Low Dutch
and Hanover roads. Custer
's brigade occupied the ground to the right and front of McIntosh
After some delay McIntosh
moved forward to relieve Custer
, who had been ordered to report to his division commander (Kilpatrick
) in the vicinity of Round Top
. The 3d Pennsylvania and 1st Maryland were drawn up in column of squadrons in a clover-field in front of and across the road from Lott's house, while the 1st New Jersey was sent to relieve Custer
's men on outpost.
General J. E. B. Stuart
, who was in command of the Confederate cavalry, now occupied what is known as Cress's Ridge, about three-fourths of a mile
north of Lott's house.
On the south-eastern slope of the ridge there were cultivated fields, while its summit was covered with heavy timber.
North of this ridge there were open fields, almost surrounded by woods, through which ran a country cross-road leading from the York pike
to the Low Dutch road.
The place was most admirably adapted to the massing and screening of troops.
Behind the woods Stuart
, who had come out from the direction of Gettysburg
along the York pike
, concentrated his forces on what was known as the Stallsmith farm
's troops were not so favorably situated.
Occupying a line about three miles long from Wolf's Hill to Lott's house, through an open country, they were in full view of the enemy.
[See maps, pp: 344, 400.]
A party of Confederate skirmishers thrown out in front of Stuart
's center occupied the Rummel farm
buildings, which were situated in the plain about three-fourths of a mile north-west of the Lott house
, and near the base of Cress's Ridge.
About 2 o'clock McIntosh
, who well understood Stuart
's tactics, and had correctly discerned his position, dismounted the 1st New Jersey and moved it forward under Major Beaumont
in the direction of Rummel
's. To meet this advance the Confederates
pushed out a line of skirmishers and occupied a fence south of Rummel
's. The 1st New Jersey soon adjusted their line to correspond with that of their antagonists, and firing began.
At the same time a Confederate battery appeared on the top of the ridge and commenced shelling.
Lieutenant A. C. M. Pennington
's battery (M, 2d U. S. Artillery), in position in front of Spangler's house on the Hanover
road, instantly replied.
The 3d Pennsylvania was ordered forward, and two squadrons under Captains Treichel
were moved across to Little's Run
(which flowed southward from Rummel
's spring-house) and placed to the left of the 1st New Jersey, while Duvall
's troop was extended to their left.
were ordered out the Low Dutch road beyond Lott
's woods, with instructions to hold the position and protect the right.
My squadron was deployed along the edge of the woods north of Lott's house (near where the cavalry shaft now stands) and extended to the cross-roads running toward Stallsmith's, facing north-west.
It will thus be seen that the 3d Pennsylvania was divided--one-half being on the left of the line, whilst the other occupied the right.
The 1st Maryland was posted near the Lott house
and held in reserve.
Captain A. M. Randol
's battery (E, 1st U. S. Artillery), stationed across the road from the Howard house
, was also ordered forward, and a section under Lieutenant Chester
placed in position a little south-west of Lott's house.
soon silenced th e Confederate battery, and finding Rummel
's barn filled with sharp-shooters, who were picking off our men, they turned their guns on it and drove them out. In the meantime our front line was advanced and we drove back that of the Confederates
, occupying their position.
A lull in the firing now ensued, during which Custer
's brigade returned.
After the engagement had opened McIntosh
had discovered that the force in his front was too strong for his command, and consequently he had sent word to General Gregg
to that effect, requesting that Irvin Gregg
's brigade be forwarded to his support.
As this brigade was some distance to the rear, and therefore not immediately available,
Battle between the Union cavalry under Gregg and the Confederate cavalry under Stuart.
From a sketch made at the time. |
, meeting Custer
, who was about to begin his march in the opposite direction, had ordered him to return, and at the same time had sent word to Irvin Gregg
to concentrate as much of his command as possible in the vicinity of Spangler's house.
, eager for the fray, had wheeled about and was soon on the field.
Gregg at this juncture appeared and took command in person.
, as soon as he arrived, extended the left of the line along Little's Run
with a portion of the 6th Michigan, dismounted, and at the same time Randol
placed in position to the left and rear of Chester
the second section of his battery under Lieutenant Kinney
At this stage the ammunition of that portion of the 3d Pennsylvania which was on the left, and of the 1st New Jersey, began to run short, and the 5th Michigan was ordered to relieve them.
The latter was dismounted, and whilst it was moving to the front a dismounted regiment from W. H. F. Lee
's brigade came to the support of the Confederate
A heated contest followed, in which the 1st New Jersey and the 3d Pennsylvania remained to take part.
After the firing abated these regiments attempted to withdraw, but they were followed up so closely that they were obliged to face about and resume the conflict.
However, they soon drove the enemy back, inflicting severe punishment.
The short supply of ammunition of the 5th Michigan having by this time given out, and Major Noah H. Ferry
, who was in command of the line, having been killed, the whole line was driven in. Improving this opportunity, Fitz. Lee
sent forward the 1st Virginia, which charged our right and center.
The 7th Michigan at once moved forward from the direction of the Reever house
in close column of squadrons and advanced to the attack.
The right of the 5th Michigan swung back, and the 7th pressed forward to a stone-and-rail fence and opened fire with their carbines.
1st Virginia advanced with steadiness, and soon the two regiments were face to face, the fence alone separating them.
My squadron, which occupied the right center and which up to this time had not been engaged, opened a flank fire on the Virginians, which aided materially in holding them in check.
The 1st North Carolina Cavalry and the Jeff Davis Legion
coming up to their support, they crowded the 7th Michigan back, and it was obliged to give way, the Confederates
following in close pursuit.
A more determined and vigorous charge than that made by the 1st Virginia it was never my fortune to witness.
But they became scattered by the flank fire they received, together with the shells from our artillery, and were in the end o bliged to fall back on their main body.
About half a mile distant from the last-mentioned fence, where the crossroad passes through the woods on the Stallsmith farm
, there appeared moving toward us a large mass of cavalry, which proved to be the remaining portions of Hampton
's and Fitzhugh Lee
They were formed in close column of squadrons and directed their course toward the Spangler house
A grander spectacle than their advance has rarely been beheld.
They marched with well-aligned fronts and steady reins.
Their polished saber-blades dazzled in the sun. All eyes turned upon them.
Chester on the right, Kinney
in the center, and Pennington
on the left opened fire with well-directed aim. Shell and shrapnel met the advancing Confederates and tore through their ranks.
Closing the gaps as though nothing had happened, on they came.
As they drew nearer, canister was substituted by our artillerymen for shell, and horse after horse staggered and fell.
Still they came on. Our mounted skirmishers rallied and fell into line; the dismounted men fell back, and a few of them reached their horses.
The 1st Michigan, drawn up in close column of squadrons near Pennington
's battery, was ordered by Gregg
, who was near, placed himself at its head, and off they dashed.
As the two columns approached each other the pace of each increased, when suddenly a crash, like the falling of timber, betokened the crisis.
So sudden and violent was the collision that many of the horses were turned end over end and crushed their riders beneath them.
The clashing of sabers, the firing of pistols, the demands for surrender and cries of the combatants now filled the air. As the columns were drawing nearer to each other McIntosh
sent his adjutant-general, Captain Walter S. Newhall
, to the left with orders to Treichel
to mount and charge, and also sent Captain S. C. Wagner
, of his staff, to rally the headquarters staff, buglers, and orderlies, whilst he himself rode to the Lott house
for the 1st Maryland.
, when he first arrived and looked over the field, had moved the 1st Maryland over to the Low Dutch road, just north of the Hanover
road, in order to strengthen his right, and so failing to find this regiment where he had expected, McIntosh
gathered up what loose men he could, joined them to his headquarters party and charged.
My squadron was still deployed along the edge of Lott
Standing in company with Lieutenant William Brooke
on a little rise of ground in front of his command, and seeing that the situation was becoming critical, I turned to him
and said: “I have been ordered to hold this position, but, if you will back me up in case I am court-martialed for disobedience, I will order a charge.”
The lieutenant, always ready to “pitch in,” as he expressed it, with an energetic reply convinced me that I would not be deserted.
I accordingly directed him to close in the left and Sergeant Heagy
the right, while the former should select the proper place for the attack.
As soon as his line had rallied, the men fired a volley from their carbines, drew their sabers, sent up a shout, and “sailed in,” striking the enemy's left flank about two-thirds down the column.
, of the 1st New Jersey, whose squadron was in the woods on my left, soon followed, but directed his charge to the head of the enemy's column.
, when he reached Treichel
, joined them in their charge, which struck the right flank of the enemy's column, near the color-guard.
The standard-bearer, seeing that Newhall
was about to seize the colors, lowered his spear, which caught his opponent on the chin, tearing and shattering his lower jaw, and sending him senseless to the earth.
Every officer of the party was wounded.
My command pressed through the Confederate
column, cut off the rear portion and drove it back.
In the charge my men became somewhat scattered.
A portion of them, however, got into Rummel
's lane, in front of the farm-buildings, and there encount ered some of Jenkins
's men, who seemed stubborn about leaving.3 Breathed
's battery, unsupported, was only one hundred yards away, but my men were so disabled and scattered that they were unable to take it back.
These flank attacks demoralized the Confederate
, whose tenacity had kept the head of the column at bay, now got the advantage.
Many of the enemy had fallen, Wade Hampton
was wounded, and at length the enemy turned.
Their column was swept back to its starting-point, and the field was ours.
After the repulse of the enemy's grand charge, McIntosh
took the 1st New Jersey and part of the 3d Pennsylvania and Duvall
's troop, and established a skirmish line along Little's Run
, by Rummel
's spring-house and along his lane toward the cross-road, the field of the hand-to-hand contest thus remaining in our possession.
The Confederates established their line along the edge of the woods on the summit of Cress's Ridge.
Some artillery firing and light skirmishing was kept up until after dark.
In the meantime Custer
's brigade was relieved and sent to its division.4
With the exception of the Rummel farm
buildings, the Confederates
held virtually the same line at dark that they held in the morning, but this did not include the field of the main engagement.
This was no mere reconnoissance to develop the position or movements of the enemy.
had with him the main strength and the flower of the Confederate cavalry, led by their most distinguished commanders.
His force comprised 4 brigades with 20 regiments and battalions and 4 batteries.
His avowed object was to strike the rear of the Federal
army in cooperation with Pickett
's grand attack upon its center.
For this movement he succeeded in attaining a most commanding position, and, according to the surmise of Major H. B. McClellan
's adjutant-general, gave to Lee
the preconcerted signal for the attack.
The field of this cavalry fight was south of the Rummel buildings
To this field Stuart
advanced his whole force, engaged in an obstinate and desperate struggle with the Federal
cavalry, was driven back out of the field and forced to retire to his original position.
At the opening of the engagement Gregg
's outposts were on the southern side of the battle-field; at its close they were advanced to its northern side.
The losses on both sides show the importance and determined character of the fight.5
by Francis A. Walker, Brevet Brigadier-General, U. S. V.
There is probably no other battle of which men are so prone to think and speak without a conscious reference to the commanding general
of the victorious party, as they are regarding Gettysburg
For this there are several reasons.
First, General Meade
had been in command of the army but three days when the action began.
the collision of the two armies on the 1st of July took place while headquarters were at a distance.
the battle, on the Union
side, was a defensive one.
The sword is ever of higher honor than the shield.
the fact that the Union
army occupied a convex line, broke up the battles of the 2d and 3d of July into a series of actions, regarding which it was inevitable that attention should be fixed especially upon those who commanded at the points successively assaulted.
the fact that so many eminent officers were killed or severely wounded during the action, had a tendency to concentrate interest upon them.
, the commander of the left wing, was killed at the first onset.
, the commander of the left center; Sickles
, the commander of the Third Corps, and Gibbon
, commanding, in Hancock
's absence, the Second, were desperately wounded.
Such an unusual succession of casualties could not fail to have an effect in distracting attention from the commander-in-chief
the people of the North
have ever loved to think of Gettysburg
as a soldier's battle.
In a great measure the wish has been father to the thought.
But, indeed, there was something in the
change of tone in the Army of the Potomac, as it turned from the gloomy region of Fredericksburg
to throw itself in the path of the invading army, which justifies that view.
much of the effect we are considering was due to General Meade
's disinclination to assert himself against hostile criticism.
He did, indeed, show a proper resentment of the blame thrown upon him for allowing the retreat of Lee
; but during the years of life which remained he took little pains to vindicate himself against aspersion and disparagement, or even to put upon record the orders and dispositions of the battle.
It is my purpose to show that at Gettysburg
the Army of the Potomac had a commander in every sense; that, in spite of misadventures and miscarriages, the action was fought according to his plans and under his direction as nearly as usually happens in war; and that his presence and watchful care, his moral courage and tenacity of purpose, contributed largely to the result.
When, on the 28th of June, 1863, General Meade
relieved General Hooker
, who, since the 13th, had been moving northward, interposing the Army of the Potomac continually between the Confederate forces and Washington
, the right wing of that army lay at Frederick, Maryland
, while the left occupied Boonsboro
' and Middletown
, and held the passes of the South Mountain
. One corps, however, had been detached, but was returning to Frederick
It is in the disposition General Meade
made of this corps that we find the chief difference between his conception of the strategy suitable to the campaign then approaching its culmination and that which had been entertained by his predecessor.
The absent corps was the Twelfth, under Slocum
, which had been pushed toward Harper's Ferry
, with a view to advancing thence upon Lee
's line of supply, and even following up the rear of the Confederate army.
This corps Hooker
had desired to reenforce by the large garrison of Harper's Ferry
, abandoning that post as useless for strategic purposes.
This General Halleck
, at Washington
, positively refused to permit.
ordered the Twelfth Corps back, and requested to be relieved.
When, however, Meade
had been placed in command, Halleck
conceded to him the power of diminishing the garrison at Harper's Ferry
to any extent consistent with holding that post.
The new commander was thus in a position to prosecute the contemplated enterprise in Lee
Instead of doing so, he included the Twelfth Corps in his plan for a forward movement of the whole army directly northward, to be undertaken on the 29th and pushed with the utmost vigor till the encounter should take place.
This abandonment of the projected movement against Lee
's line of communication has been severely criticised by General Doubleday
That writer assumes that it was intelligence of Slocum
's enterprise which caused Lee
to loose his hold upon the Susquehanna
and concentrate his forces at Gettysburg
He adds the opinion that “if he (Lee
) had known that Meade
was about to withdraw all the troops acting against his line of retreat, he would probably have gone on and taken Harrisburg
Whatever General Lee
might have thought of the projected enterprise under Slocum
, had he known of it, he, in fact, knew nothing whatever concerning it. The only intelligence that reached him was that the Union
army had crossed the Potomac
on the 25th, at Edwards's Ferry, moving toward Frederick
‘. It was this, and only this, which determined his march upon Gettysburg
More remains to be said.
's movement northward from Frederick
, with his whole army, was a severer threat to Lee
than a persistence in Hooker
The movement against the Confederate
communications through Harper's Ferry
was correct enough, provided the bulk of the army was to remain at Frederick
; but had the army moved northward while Slocum
followed up Lee
's rear, on the other side of the river and the mountains, there would have been every reason to anticipate essentially the same result as that which followed Hooker
's division of his forces at Chancellorsville
On the other hand, Meade
, by marching northward, did not relinquish the opportunity of moving to the west against Lee
's communications, which could at any time have been done through Mechaniestown (to Hagerstown
) just as effectively as from Harper's Ferry
[See map, p. 246.]
How far Meade
's better choice was a mere matter of military judgment; how far it was due to the accident that the new commander was himself a Pennsylvanian it is difficult to say. There can, I think, be no doubt that the special instincts of local patriotism had much to do with bringing on and fighting through to a successful conclusion the battle of Gettysburg
It is remarkable that, in the one Pennsylvania
battle of the war, the men of that State should have borne so prominent a part.
It was a Pennsylvanian who directed the movement on Gettysburg
and commanded there in chief.
It was a Pennsylvanian who hurried the left wing into action and lost his life in determining that the battle should be fought at Gettysburg
, and not on any line more remote.
It was a Pennsylvanian who came up to check the rout and hold Cemetery Hill
for the Union
arms, who commanded the left center in the great battle of the second day, and on the third received and repelled the attack of Pettigrew
For one, I entertain no doubt that the military
judgment of General Meade
, which dictated his decision on the 28th of June to adopt the direct and more effective plan of moving straight northward from Frederick
, instead of persisting in the division of the army which Hooker
had initiated, was largely influenced by that intensity of feeling which actuated him as a Pennsylvanian.
At such a crisis, stress of feeling drives the intellect to its highest work.
So long as moral forces enter into the conduct of war, can we doubt that it was fortunate for the Union
arms that they so largely were Pennsylvanians who hurried forward the troops in their long and painful marches northward, and who threw the veteran corps of the Potomac
upon the invading army?
Widely spread as the Confederate army was when General Meade
took command of the Union
,--it was a matter of course that the serious collision should be a surprise to one or the other party, and that accident should determine which should encounter its antagonist with the advantage in concentration.
It turned out that the collision was a surprise to both commanders, and chance gave the advantage of greater concentration to the Confederates
, leaving Frederick
on the 29th, moved rapidly northward, extending his wings sufficiently to cover alike the road by which Lee
might attempt to move to Washington
and that by which he might march to Baltimore
He could not conjecture where, amid the fiery cloud of Southern raiders extending from the Cumberland Valley
to the Susquehanna
, was to be found the real nucleus of that formidable army; nor had the Confederate
commander furnished any indication of his purpose.
But on the same day, General Lee
, having the evening before learned of the crossing of the Potomac
, recalled his advanced divisions from Carlisle
, and threw forward Hill
, with a view to a concentration at Gettysburg
During the 30th the two armies continued rapidly to approach each other, until, on the morning of the 1st of July, a stunning collision took place between the heads of Lee
's columns and our left wing under Reynolds
In the two days that had passed, the Union
forces had made nearly twice as long marches as the Confederates
The risk that one of Meade
's columns would somewhere encounter the enemy in greater force, was an inevitable incident of so impetuous a forward movement.
But while Meade
intended, by his rapid advance, to compel Lee
to loose his hold upon the Susquehanna
, he had wisely determined to fight a defensive battle, and had selected the line of Pipe Creek
as that most suitable for covering Washington
It was the noble impetuosity of Reynolds
, pushing forward to support Buford
's hard-pressed but stubborn cavalry, which transformed the movement of the left wing from a reconnoissance into an attack upon Lee
's advancing columns, and committed the Union
army to battle at Gettysburg
The reports which, at noon of the 1st of July, reached the new commander at Taneytown
, brought news that Reynolds
had fallen, together with intimations of disaster to his adventurous column.
The first act of General Meade
, as commander-in-chief in the immediate presence of the enemy, was one which exhibited moral courage, insight into character, and rapidity of decision.
This was to dispatch Hancock
to the front,8
with full powers to take command and do whatever might be necessary to save the day, and with instructions to report upon the nature of the position.
It is difficult for us, now, to appreciate what this decision meant, on the part of Meade
Himself but three days at the head of the army, he was sending an officer, who had but three weeks before left his division, to assume commandc of three corps, over two officers who were his seniors.
When one remembers how strong is the respect for rank among the higher officers, and how greatly the oldest commander is subject to the public sentiment of his army,--when one recalls that even Grant
's claim to command at the Mine
,--this act of General Meade
becomes one of the boldest in the history of our war. That it was also one of the most judicious, is abundantly established.
No other man except, perhaps, Sheridan
, arriving on that field of disaster, could have done what Hancock
did in checking the rout, in establishing order, in restoring confidence, and in making the dispositions which caused Lee
to postpone his contemplated assault on Cemetery Hill
The further news of the opening battle brought upon General Meade
the necessity for a choice which might well have caused deep anxiety and protracted doubt to a veteran commander.
The Fifth and Sixth corps were still far distant from the field; the former about twenty, the latter more than thirty miles away.
The fighting of the day had shown the superior concentration of Lee
's forces; and all night long his fast-marching divisions would, doubtless, be pressing down the roads leading to Gettysburg
, and wheeling into their places in the Confederate
Two of the
Union corps, the First and Eleventh, had been put nearly hors de combat.
With only three corps in fair fighting condition which could be upon the ground at daybreak, should the risks of an early morning battle be taken?
's decision was here as brave as it proved fortunate; and his inspired rashness, like that of Reynolds
in the morning, was of the kind which wins battles and saves states.
In his dispositions to meet the enemy's attack, on the 2d of July, it seems probable that General Meade
, who had come upon the ground after midnight, and, in the cemetery, had met and conferred with Howard
, anticipated that the weight of the Confederate
force would be thrown upon Cemetery Hill
, or else that the enemy would work around our right in order to get possession of the Baltimore pike
The fighting of the previous day had given undue emphasis to the importance of this end of the line.
I am disposed to believe that General Meade
's somewhat vague orders to Sickles
, and his failure personally to inspect the left of the line after daybreak in the morning,9
were the result of a conviction that the battle was to be fought upon the center and right.
I have spoken of the orders to Sickles
as some-what vague.
It would be more correct to speak of them as lacking emphasis rather than distinctness.
Those orders were explicit enough to have been obeyed without difficulty, had proper care been taken to observe them.
They were, that Sickles
should take up the position from which Geary
's division was to withdraw, in order to rejoin its own corps, the Twelfth, on the extreme right.
Little Round Top
, which forms a natural bastion, enfilading the low “curtain” known as Cemetery Ridge
, strongly attracted the attention of Hancock
on the afternoon of the 1st, and he dispatched that division, the first of the Twelfth Corps to arrive, with instructions to take position on the left of the First Corps and extend its own left to the hill.
These instructions Geary
had intelligently carried out, some of his regiments passing the night on Little Round Top
. The slow development of Sickles
had allowed Geary
, in pursuance of his own orders, to withdraw from his position of the night without being actually relieved therein; but a very little of good staff work would have sufficed to show where the line had been.
Troops do not occupy ground without leaving palpable evidence of their presence.
Meanwhile, the Second Corps had come up and taken position on Cemetery Ridge
; the First Corps had been concentrated on the right; and Sickles
's orders were repeated to him, by General Meade
in person, to extend his command from the left of the Second Corps over the ground previously held by Geary
Those instructions should have sufficed; and yet the presence of General Meade
for but a few moments, at that time, upon that part of the line, would have added an assurance that his plans were being carried out. As it proved, it was left to Meade
to ascertain, in the crisis of the battle, that Little Round Top
was unoccupied and uncovered.
The promptitude and energy of that brilliant young officer, General G. K. Warren
, and his instantaneous acceptance of grave responsibility in detaching troops of the Fifth Corps on a hurried march to reenforce Sickles
, finally secured that vitally important position.
It does not come within the scope of this paper, nor is it necessary, to comment on the action of General Sickles
in advancing his troops to the Emmitsburg
road, breaking connection with Hancock
on the right, and leaving Little Round Top
undefended on his left and rear.
There can be no question that he both made a mistake in point of judgment and failed properly to subordinate his views and acts to the instructions of his commander.
That he defended the position he had taken with courage and address, and that his splendid troops exhibited unsurpassed gallantry and resolution, must be admitted by even the severest critic.
, who had sought to withdraw the Third Corps from its false position, was compelled to desist when the roar of musketry told that the conflict had begun, and had to content himself with reenforcing the widely extended lines and hastily stopping the gaps through which the Confederates
streamed in continually swelling numbers.
Few commanders ever showed more resolution in fighting a seemingly lost battle, advanced their reserves more promptly, or stripped other parts of their lines with less hesitation.
The Fifth Corps was instantly sent forward; Caldwells division and Willard
's brigade, of the Second Corps, were thrown into the furious fight; General Meade
himself brought up the reenforcements from the First and Twelfth corps, which finally completed the new line behind Plum Run
, from which the exhausted Confederates fell back at nightfall.
If one will compare the energy in which this action was conducted by General Meade
with previous experiences of the Army of the Potomac, especially remembering the manner in which Porter
was left to be overwhelmed at Gaines's Mill
, the disconnected and desultory fighting at Antietam
, and the conduct of affairs at Chancellorsville
, one cannot fail to acknowledge that never before had the divisions of that army so closely supported each other or been so unreservedly thrown into the fight when and whe re most needed.11
The fall of night found the Potomac army in a situation that demanded the most grave and serious
Monument to the 1st Massachusetts cavalry, on the site of Sedgwick's headquarters.
From a photograph. |
We had repulsed the last assaults ; but nearly twelve thousand men had fallen in the desperate battle of the afternoon; our whole left had been beaten back to the position assigned it in the morning; the two corps chiefly engaged, the Third and Fifth, had been shockingly depleted; the enemy had taken advantage of the absence of the greater portion of the Twelfth Corps to push around our right and seize a part of our line, holding, thus, an open gateway through which their troops could be advanced to seize the Baltimore pike
It was, indeed, a gloomy hour when General Meade
assembled his corps commanders to consult upon the situation and to frame plans for the morrow.
Fortunately, the spirit of the army was high and stern; the corps commanders were unanimous in the opinion that the battle should be fought out on existing lines; and the commander-in-chief remained resolute in the face of the terrible responsibilities confronting him.
It has been alleged, with much of circumstance, that General Meade
sought to retreat from Gettysburg
, and he carried to his grave this arrow rankling in his breast.
Had that charge been substantiated it would have answered the double purpose of diminishing the fame of the commander-in-chief
, and of giving to the advance upon the left the high credit of a movement which held the army at Gettysburg
and brought about the conflict from which its commander was disposed to slink away.
The day of the 2d of July divides itself, for the present purpose, into three periods: before, during, and after the battle of the afternoon.
Regarding the first period, General Butterfield
declares that General Meade
directed him, as chief-of-staff, to prepare plans for the withdrawal of the army.
Were this admitted, it would prove nothing, since every general is bound to consider the contingency of defeat.
Moreover, at Gettysburg
there was an especial reason for being prepared for a sudden movement to the rear, inasmuch as the position which the army occupied was liable to be turned on the left.
There was another weakness of the position calling for special precautions, viz.: the roads by which the Union
army would have had to retreat, if beaten, ran back from the line of battle at an acute angle.
's statement was directly contradicted by General Meade
than whom no man was more truthful.
It is, moreover, inconsistent with the dispatch sent to Halleck
at 3 o'clock in the afternoon: “I have delayed attacking, to allow the Sixth Corps and parts of other corps to reach this place and rest the men. Expecting a battle, I ordered all my trains to the rear.
If not attacked, and I can get any positive information of the position of the enemy which will justify me in so doing, I shall attack.”
The charge that General Meade
the battle of the afternoon, actually undertook to retreat from the presence of the enemy, is founded upon a statement of General Pleasonton
, dated October 16th, 1865, that at 5 o'clock, which was before Sickles
's line had given way, he was directed to collect what cavalry he could and prepare to cover a retreat.
This, again, if admitted, would amount to no more than a measure of precaution.
But that statement is not only wholly uncorroborated by the official reports of the battle, Pleasonton
's included, but it is inconsistent with Pleasonton
's own testimony before the Committee
on the Conduct of the War
, in March, 1864, in the course of which, on being asked whether he knew of General Meade
“ever having had any idea of retreating from Gettysburg
,” he replied that he “did not
What is the degree of probability that a chief of cavalry, who had, on so important an occasion as this, been engaged from 5 until 12 o'clock in bringing up and disposing his troops to cover the retreat of his army, should, first, have omitted to mention it in his official report, and, secondly, have failed to remember it nine months later, in reply to a specific and highly suggestive inquiry?
That on the evening of the 2d, after the battle, General Meade
was disinclined to await further attacks in his position, is an imputation which rests upon much higher authority, for it has the word of General Slocum
, an officer of honor, dignity of character, and firmness of purpose.
Referring to the council of war, General Slocum
, in a letter dated February 19th, 1883, makes the following statement: “When each officer had expressed his views General Meade
said: ‘ Well, gentlemen, the question is settled; we will remain here, but I wish to say I consider this no place to fight a battle.’
I would not speak lightly of any word of General Slocum
, but it is far more probable that, at such a distance of time, he was mistaken, than that General Sedgwick
had forgotten the incidents of the council when he wrote, on March 10th, 1864, “At no time, in my presence, did the general commanding insist upon or advise a withdrawal of the army.”
On the same point, General Gibbon
wrote: “I never heard General Meade
say one word in favor of a retreat, nor do I believe that he did so.”
General A. S. Williams
testified: “I heard no expression from him which led me to think he was in favor of withdrawing the army from before Gettysburg
At a later date, General Howard
wrote to Colonel George Meade
, “I did not hear your father utter a word which made me think that he then favored a withdrawal of his troops.”
Certainly, if General Meade
had such a momentary feeling as General Slocum
understood him to express, it was in direct contradiction to his acts and words and bearing throughout those three memorable days.
At all other times his spirit was bold and martial.
From first to last he bore himself as one who came to fight, who wanted to fight, and who could not have too much fighting on equal terms.
Whatever opinion men may hold as to the grade of Meade
's generalship, those do him a gross injustice who represent him as ever, in any case, timid, vacillating, or reluctant to encounter the enemy.
On the contrary, he was a man in whom high military scholarship and a serious sense of responsibility were often in conflict with “4 creature pugnacity” and stubbornness of temper.
Of the battle of the third day, the purpose of this paper requires us to say but little.
When the lines had been rectified upon the left, and the Round Tops
had been made secure, when the positions of the troops had been readjusted to secure due strength in every part, when all the points from which effective artillery fire could be obtained had been occupied, and when the intruding enemy upon the right had been driven out in the early morning by the energetic attack of the Twelfth Corps, reenforced from the Sixth,--when all this had been done, little remained but to await the assault which it was known General Lee
must needs deliver, whether to prosecute his enterprise or to excuse his retreat.
All that long morning, amid the dread silence, no man in the Potomac army could conjecture where that assault would be delivered; but no man in all that army doubted that it was to come.
At last the blow fell.
As the spear of Menelaus
pierced the shield of his antagonist, cut through the shining breastplate, but spared the life, so the division of Pickett
, launched from Seminary Ridge
, broke through the Union
defense, and for the moment thrust its head of column within our lines, threatening destruction to the Army of the Potomac; then the broken brigades fled, with the loss of more than half their numbers, across the plain, which was shrieking with the fire of a hundred guns, and Gettysburg
had been fought and won for the Union
Into the questions, whether Meade
should not have followed up the repulse of Pickett
with a general advance of his own line, or, failing this, have attacked Lee
at Falling Waters
, on the 13th of July, we have no call to enter.
was here entirely within his competence as the commander of an army.
Any officer who is fit to be intrusted with such a charge is entitled to the presumption that, for decisions such as these, he had good and sufficient reasons, whatever may, at the time, have been the opinion of subordinates on whom did not rest the final responsibility of success or failure; yet in fact, in both these decisions General Meade
was supported by a preponderance of authoritative opinion among his corps commanders and the staff-officers of greatest reputation.
I believe that, as time goes on and the events of the last days of June and the first days of July, 1863, are more and more carefully studied, in the light of all the facts, and with an impartial and dispassionate spirit, the weighty judgment of the illustrious chief of the Union
artillery, General Henry J. Hunt
will be more and more fully approved.
“He was right in his orders as to Pipe Creek
; right, in his determination under certain circumstances to fall back to it; right, in pushing up to Gettysburg
after the battle commenced; right, in remaining there; right, in making his battle a purely defensive one; right, therefore, in taking the line he did; right, in not attempting a counter-attack at any stage of the battle; right, as to his pursuit of Lee