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The Meade-Sickles controversy.1

I. A letter from General Meade.

headquarters, military division of the Atlantic, Philadelphia, March 16th, 1870.

[Colonel] G. G. Benedict, Burlington, Vt.

dear Sir: I am in receipt of your letter of the 13th inst., as also the copies of the “Free press,” with editorials and comments on the address of Colonel [W. W.] Grout before the Officers' Society and Legislature of the State.2

I have carefully read your articles and feel personally under great obligations to you for the clear and conclusive manner in which you have vindicated the truth of history. I find nothing to correct in your statements except a fact you mention, which is a misapprehension.

I did not invite General Humphreys to be my chief-of-staff till after the battle, because I did not see him after assuming command till I met him on the field, and besides I relied on him as a mainstay in handling the Third Corps, and did not wish to withdraw him from that position.3

I did ask General [Seth] Williams to assume the duties in addition to those of adjutant-general, but he declined. I also asked General Warren, then my chief-of-engineers, to act temporarily as chief-of-staff, but he also declined taking on himself additional duties. Under these circumstances I asked General Butterfield to remain till I had time to make permanent arrangements [see p. 243]. On the third day General Butterfield, having been disabled by being struck with a fragment of a spent shell, left the army, and a few days afterward General Humphreys accepted my invitation.

My defense against the charges and insinuations of Generals Sickles and Butterfield is to be found in my testimony before the Committee on the Conduct of the War. I have avoided any controversy with either of these officers-though both have allowed no opportunity to pass unimproved which permitted them to circulate their ex-parte statements, and, as you justly say, to distort history for their purposes. Both perfectly understand what I meant by my ante-battle order, referring to Pipe Creek, also my instructions to Butterfield on the morning of the 2d, which he persists in calling an order for retreat, in the face of all my other acts, and of the fact that I did not retreat when I could have done so with perfect ease at any moment. Longstreet's advice to Lee [to move from his right upon General Meade's communications] was sound military sense; it was the step I feared Lee would take, and to meet which and be prepared for which was the object of my instructions to Butter-field, which he has so misrepresented. Now, let me tell you another historical fact. Lieutenant-General Ewell, in a conversation held with me shortly after the war, asked what would have been the effect if at 4 P. M. on the 1st he had occupied Culp's Hill and established batteries on it. I told him that in my judgment, in the condition of the Eleventh and First corps, with their morale affected by their withdrawal to Cemetery Ridge with the loss of over half their numbers in killed, wounded, and missing (of the 6000 prisoners we lost in the field nearly all came from these corps

Monument in the Gettysburg Cemetery.

in the first day), his occupation of Culp's Hill, with batteries commanding the whole of Cemetery Ridge, would have produced the evacuation of that ridge and the withdrawal of the troops there by the Baltimore Pike and Taneytown and Emmitsburg roads. He then informed me that at 4 P. M. on the 1st he had his corps, 20,000 strong, in. column of attack, and on the point of moving on Culp's Hill, which he saw was unoccupied and commanded Cemetery Ridge, when he received an order from General Lee directing him to assume the defensive and not to advance; that he sent to General Lee urging to be permitted to advance with his reserves, but the reply was a reiteration of the [414] previous order. To my inquiry why Lee had restrained him, he said our troops coming up (Slocum's) were visible, and Lee was under the impression that the greater part of my army was on the ground and deemed it prudential to await the rest of his — as you quote from his report.

But suppose Ewell with 20,000 men had occupied Culp's Hill, and our brave soldiers had been compelled to evacuate Cemetery Ridge and withdraw on the roads above referred to, would the Pipe Creek order have been so very much out of place?

That order was to meet the very contingency here in question, to wit: A part of my army, overwhelmed by superior numbers, compelled to fall back, and a line of battle, formed to the rear of my most advanced position, thus necessitated.

As to General Sickles having by his advance brought on an attack, and thus compelled the battle which decided the war, you have completely answered — and it is a very favorite theory with the partisans of this officer. But these gentlemen ignore the fact that of the 18,000 men killed and wounded on the field during the whole battle more than two-thirds were lost on the second day, and but for the timely advance of the Fifth Corps and the prompt sending a portion on Round Top, where they met the enemy almost on the crest and had a desperate fight to secure the position — I say but for these circumstances, over which Sickles had neither knowledge nor control, the enemy would have secured Round Top, planted his artillery there, commanding the whole battle-field, and what the result would have been I leave you to judge. Now, when: I wrote my report of the battle I honestly believed General Sickles did not know where I wished him to go, and that his error arose from a misapprehension of my orders; but I have recently learned from General Geary, who had the day before been sent by Hancock to hold the left, and who in doing so had seen the great importance of Round Top, and posted a brigade on it, that on the morning of the 2d, when he received my order that he would be relieved by the Third Corps and on being relieved would rejoin his own corps (Twelfth) on the right, after waiting for some time to be relieved he sent to General Sickles a staff-officer with instructions to explain the position and its importance, and to ask, if troops could not be sent to relieve him, that General Sickles would send one of his staff to see the ground, and to place troops there on their arrival. He received for reply that General Sickles would attend to it in due time. No officer or troops came, and after waiting till his patience was exhausted General Geary withdrew and joined his corps. Now my first orders to General Sickles were to relieve the Twelfth Corps division (Geary's ) and occupy their position. Here is evidence that he knew the position occupied by Geary's division, or could have known, and yet failed to occupy it. Furthermore, when he came to my headquarters at about noon and said he did not know where to go, I answered, “Why you were to relieve the Twelfth Corps.” He said they had no position; they were massed, awaiting events. Then it was I told him his right was to be Hancock's left, his left on Round Top, which Ipointed out. Now his right was three-quarters of a mile in front of Hancock's left and his left one-quarter of a mile in front of the base of Round Top, leaving that key-point unoccupied, which ought to have been occupied by Longstreet before we could get there with the Fifth Corps. Sickles's movement practically destroyed his own corps, the Third, caused a loss of 50 per cent. in the Fifth Corps, and very heavily damaged the Second Corps; as I said before, producing 66 per cent. of the loss of the whole battle; and with what result?--driving us back to the position he was ordered to hold originally. These losses of the first and second day affected greatly the efficiency and morale of the army and prevented my having the audacity in the offense that I might otherwise have had.

If this is an advantage — to be so crippled in battle without attaining an object — I must confess I cannot see it.

Pardon my writing with so much prolixity, but your generous defense and the clear view you have taken of the battle have led me to wander thus far. Very truly yours,

Ii. Reply. By Daniel E. Sickles, Major-General, U. S. A.4

Only a cursory perusal of General Meade's letter suggests the reason why he wished it treated as confidential. It must have been written without deliberation, without revision, and without comparison with the official records. It contradicts his own official report of the battle made in October, 1863, and his testimony before the Committee on the Conduct of the War, in March, 1864.

General Meade is altogether mistaken in speaking of charges and insinuations and attacks upon him made by me. I have never spoken of his conduct at Gettysburg except in my testimony before the Committee on the Conduct of the War, in February, 1864. General Meade's testimony was given in the following month and with full knowledge of all my statements, none of which were contradicted by him when he testified. The report of the Committee on the Conduct of the War justified me and censured General Meade.

It must not be supposed that General Meade had a controversy with me only. Other corps commanders made protests when I was silent. I will only speak now of one or two as examples. Immediately after General Meade's report of the battle of Gettysburg, Major-General Slocum, commanding the right wing of the Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg, in an official communication to General Meade, arraigned him for a series of inaccuracies, to use the mildest phrase, in General Meade's official report of Gettysburg, by which [415] grave injustice was done to Major-General Slocum and the corps under his command. After reciting so much of General Meade's report as relates to the operations of his command, General Slocum says: “Yet the facts in the case are very nearly the reverse of the above in every particular, and directly in contradiction to the facts as set forth in the reports of General Geary and General Williams.”

Brigadier-General Williams, commanding the Twelfth Corps, in an official communication to Major-General Slocum, dated December 26th, 1863, points out four serious misstatements in General Meade's official report relating to the operations of the Twelfth Corps on the 2d of July. The character of these complaints will be understood when I quote from General Williams that they consist. in wholly ignoring the operations of the First Division “and” in repudiating most of the material statements of my report as temporary commander of this army corps “; also in ignoring the splendid conduct of Greene's brigade, which held our intrenched line on the right,” and in giving credit for Greene's fight to Geary's division, which was not in the fight at all, but got lost on the road to Two Taverns. General Williams concludes his protest in these words, referring to General Meade's official report of Gettysburg: “I confess to have read that part of his official report relating to the Twelfth Corps with a mixed feeling of astonishment and regret.” 5

I could amplify similar proofs, showing the characteristic inaccuracy of General Meade in his official reports of his military operations, but will not now trespass upon your space in that direction. General Meade knew nothing of Gettysburg. He so stated to the Committee on the Conduct of the War. He speaks of Gettysburg in these words: “A place I had never seen in my life and had no more knowledge of than you have now” (addressing the committee). This is not said censoriously, for General Meade had only been in command three days and had already chosen another battle-field, on the line of Pipe Clay Creek, twenty miles distant. General Meade was drawn to Gettysburg in spite of his plans, because Lee had chosen Gettysburg as his place of concentration, and because Buford and Reynolds had accepted battle there, forcing General Meade to give up his Pipe Creek line and come to Gettysburg. I assisted in this, first, by moving my corps twelve miles from Emmitsburg to Gettysburg, on the afternoon of July 1st, to help Howard after Reynolds fell; also by my letter to General Meade, written at Gettysburg at 9 o'clock on the night of July 1st, asking his approval of my march, made without orders, and urging him to come to Gettysburg with his army, describing it as “a good place to fight a battle,” and pointing out to him that its weak place would be “on his left,” as it proved to be the next day, when I was unsupported for two hours in resisting Longstreet's assault. After General Meade had brought his forces up to Gettysburg and had reconnoitered the position, he was dissatisfied, and frequently spoke of it, during the 2d, as “no place to fight a battle.” He so expressed himself in the council of war held on the night of the 2d. After this council had decided to stay and fight it out, General Slocum thus describes what took place: General Meade said, “Well, gentlemen, the question is settled; we will remain here; but I wish to say that I consider this no place to fight a battle.” This was after the combats of the 1st and 2d of July, and after twenty thousand Union soldiers had fallen on that field.

General Meade seemed to manifest resentment against every corps commander who had been instrumental in the choice of Gettysburg as our battle-field. He owed his splendid position there to Buford, Reynolds, and Howard, and the divisions of Wadsworth, Doubleday, and Robinson. Yet all of these officers, except Reynolds, who was killed, suffered marks of his displeasure or were mentioned with the scantiest recognition of their heroic conduct. In Howard's case Congress interposed to do him justice, when he received its formal vote of thanks for his choice of our position on Cemetery Ridge, the Gibraltar of Gettysburg. Nevertheless, neither Howard nor Slocum was welcome in Meade's army, and they sought service in the West, under Sherman, where both gained much distinction.

General Meade was surprised by the attack of Longstreet, on the Union left, on the afternoon of the 2d of July. No preparations whatever were made by the commanding general to meet Longstreet's assault. There was no order of battle. General Meade had not personally reconnoitered the position, though frequently solicited by General Hunt, General Meade's chief of artillery, General Warren, his chief of engineers, and myself, to do so. This appears in the testimony of General Hunt and in the report of General Tremain, my senior aide-de-camp. Not only was no preparation made by General Meade to meet the attack upon his left,--the position I held,--but he deprived me and himself of the most effective support he had on his left flank by the unaccountable withdrawal of Buford's division of cavalry, which held the Emmitsburg road and covered our left flank, including Round Top, until a late hour on the morning of the 2d. Geary's division of infantry had been withdrawn from the left very early in the morning of the 2d. These dispositions imposed upon me, thus weakened by the withdrawal of two divisions, the sole responsibility of resisting the formidable attack of General Lee upon our left flank. The first support that reached me was Barnes's division of the Fifth Corps; it got into position after 5 o'clock in the afternoon, two hours after the battle opened.

The Comte de Paris, in his critical history of the war, incomparably the ablest yet written, thus speaks of the withdrawal of Buford's division:

One of those blunders that frequently occur on the battle-field was the means of compromising the safety of the Federal line just in that part which will be the first to be menaced.

This was my front. The Count continues:

Buford alone covered this flank. Meade only learned this fact at 1 o'clock. He immediately directed Pleasonton [416] not to strip him entirely, but it is too late. Buford is gone; Merritt, who is coming from Emmitsburg, is still far away, and Sickles has therefore only the skirmishers of his infantry to watch the movements of the enemy, whose numerous indications reveal his presence in force on that side. . . . when, shortly after, Sickles, being apprised of the untimely departure of Buford, decided, in order to ward off all surprise, to replace him by causing his whole line of skirmishers to advance as far as the Emmitsburg road. This general, whose military instinct has fathomed the enemy's intentions, justly suspecting that Lee's main effort would shortly be directed against that portion of the Federal line which has been intrusted to him, . . . has charged Colonel Berdan to push forward a reconnoissance. . . . This . . . has revealed the presence of a numerous enemy, who is masking his movements and seems disposed to turn the Federal left. In the meanwhile Sickles, thinking only of the attack with which he believes himself menaced, has requested Meade to send him fresh instructions: . . . receiving no reply, he repairs to headquarters for the purpose of obtaining them. . . . he immediately requests his chief either to ascertain for himself the necessity for making this movement, or to send General Warren to settle the matter in his place. Meade, being under the impression, no doubt, that the attack of the enemy would not be aimed at his left, . . . declined either to leave his headquarters or to separate himself from General Warren.

Unfortunately, General Meade's whole attention, tactically, was fixed upon his right flank. He did not believe that the enemy would attack his left, although Hancock and myself had both of us pointed out that his left was his vulnerable point for attack. Apart from this tactical preoccupation on his right, General Meade, as I have already said, did not like Gettysburg as a battle-field and wanted to get away from it. Hence we can understand, and in another way, the withdrawal of Geary and Buford from the left and his failure to send timely reenforcements to the almost uncovered left flank. At 3 o'clock in the afternoon of July 2d, a few moments before Longstreet opened his assault, Meade telegraphed to Halleck: “If satisfied the enemy is endeavoring to move to my rear, I shall fall back to my supplies at Westminster.” He had already sent Buford there, two hours before. General Meade's chief-of-cavalry, Major-General Alfred Pleasonton, states that in the afternoon of the 2d of July General Meade “gave me the order to get what cavalry and artillery I could as soon as possible, and take up a position in the rear to cover the retreat of the army from Gettysburg. I was thus occupied until 10 o'clock at night, when I was recalled by an order from General Meade.”

Meanwhile, although General Meade had no order of battle, although his chief-of-artillery, General Hunt, as he states in his testimony, knew nothing of the intentions of his commanding general, whether to stay or to go, or whether his tactics were offensive or defensive if he staid; while his left flank was being stripped of cavalry and of infantry vital to its protection; while the commander of the Third Corps, General Sickles, was left unsupported and without definite instructions, all was different on the side of the enemy. From earlydawn on the morning of the 2d General Lee, with his lieutenants and his staff, was in the saddle carefully reconnoitering our left and making elaborate preparations for the assault made at a later hour. General Lee promulgated his order of battle. He placed his infantry and his artillery in position. He designated the divisions of his center and left to support Longstreet's assault. These dispositions made by General Lee were disclosed by reconnoissances made by General Birney, one of the greatest soldiers produced by Pennsylvania. Birney commanded my left division. To his vigilance and unerring military intuition General Meade owed the timely warnings, again and again repeated by myself and General Tremain, my senior aide, of the enemy's movements imperiling the left flank of our army. All admonitions were unheeded, derided. General Meade declined to accept any suggestion that his left was in danger of attack.

It is a significant fact, never contradicted, that at the moment when the battle of the 2d began, General Meade was in consultation with his corps commanders, a consultation which I was called away from my front to attend. Finding myself in the presence of the enemy, I asked to be excused from attending the council of war. I was at once peremptorily ordered to repair to General Meade's headquarters. The report of my aide-de-camp that I was momentarily expecting to be engaged with the enemy was disregarded, and the order to leave my command and report to headquarters was made imperative. While I was on my way to headquarters the battle began on my front. General Meade met me at the door of his house, excused me from dismounting, authorized me to return to my command, and said he would follow immediately. This broke up the council, and the corps commanders repaired to their commands. This was at 3 in the afternoon. General Meade soon afterward met me at the front and witnessed the dispositions which I was making, and which he did not modify. And from that hour until 6 o'clock, when I was wounded, I did not receive any order or instruction whatever from General Meade as to the conduct of the battle.

The truth is that when I was summoned to Headquarters at 3 o'clock in the afternoon to attend this council of war, I had become weary of so many visits to headquarters during the day. Besides my own repeated requests made in person to General Meade for instructions, General Tremain and Colonel Moore, my aides, had been sent again and again to General Meade with reports of the enemy's movements on his left and with urgent representations from me of the necessity of proper dispositions and of reinforcements.

General Meade states in his confidential letter to Colonel Benedict: “When Sickles came to my headquarters about noon and said he did not know where to go I answered, ‘Why, you were to relieve the Twelfth Corps.’ He said they had no position; they were massed awaiting events.” To this I answer from the record: First, that the Twelfth Corps was never at any time, until the very close of the battle on the 2d of July, in position on the left. The position of the Twelfth Corps during all the day of the 2d was on the right flank, miles away from the left — as far away as Culp's Hill is from Round Top; second, that Geary's division of the Twelfth Corps was ordered by General Hancock, on the evening of July 1st, “to the high [417] ground to the right of and near Round Top mountain, commanding the Gettysburg and Emmitsburg road, as well as the Gettysburg and Taneytown road, to our rear” (see Hancock's Official Report); third, that Birney, “under orders from Major-General Sickles, relieved Geary's division and formed a line resting its left on the Sugar Loaf Mountain (Round Top), and the right thrown in a direct line toward the Cemetery, connecting on the right with the Second Division of this corps. My picket line was in the Emmitsburg road with sharp-shooters some three hundred yards in advance.” (See Official Report of Major-General Birney, commanding First Division, Third Corps.)

These citations from the official reports of Hancock and Birney prove that only one division (Geary's) of the Twelfth Corps was temporarily on the left; that this division was ordered there by Hancock; that, pursuant to my orders, Birney relieved Geary's division and occupied a position identical with that indicated by Hancock,--to wit, “to the right of and near Round Top mountain, commanding the Gettysburg and Emmitsburg road,” etc.

General Meade is as unfortunate in dealing with the Twelfth Corps, in his letter to Benedict seven years after the battle, as he was in dealing with the Twelfth Corps' movements in his official report of Gettysburg. I have already quoted General Williams, commanding the Twelfth Corps, when he exclaimed: “I have read General Meade's report of the operations of the Twelfth Corps with astonishment and regret.” I may be permitted to share General Williams's astonishment and regret when I read General Meade's report of the operations of the Third Corps, my own.

General Meade proceeds in his confidential statement to Colonel Benedict: “Then it was I told him his right was to be Hancock's left; his left on Round Top, which I pointed out.” To this I answer: First, that this statement is contradicted by General Meade's official report of the battle, and by his testimony before the Committee on the Conduct of the War; second, it is contradicted by the report of his chief-of-artillery, General Hunt; third, it is absurd, topographically and tactically; fourth, my testimony before the Committee on the Conduct of the War, in February, 1864, presented the facts, which are wholly different from General Meade's statement in the Benedict letter, and which were not denied by him when he testified in the following month. My statement in regard to the operations of the Third Corps at Gettysburg from the beginning to the end was never publicly contradicted by General Meade, so far as I have been informed. Certainly it was never contradicted by him or any one else officially. The War Department records have been ransacked and searched in vain for testimony to uphold these assertions of General Meade in regard to the position of the Third Corps. Failing to find any testimony from the records contradicting my declarations at Gettysburg on the 2d of July last, this confidential letter of General Meade, written in 1870, is brought to light, most imprudently, I think, to uphold a contention absolutely unsupported by anything in the official records of the battle.

You have not the space to give me for citations from the testimony of Meade, Hunt, and Sickles before the Committee on the Conduct of the War, nor for extracts from the official reports of Generals Meade, Birney, and Humphreys. It is enough for me to state distinctly, and this can be verified by any one who chooses to consult the record, that General Meade nowhere pretends in his official report, or in his testimony before the Committee on the Conduct of the War, that I was to occupy Round Top. He states that he expected me to occupy Geary's position. Hancock's report proves that Geary was ordered to the right of Round Top,--precisely the ground I held, extending my left to the Devils Den and my right toward the Emmitsburg road. General Tremain, my aide-de-camp, in compliance with my instructions, pointed out to General Meade, during the morning of the 2d, the importance of Round Top and the need of troops to occupy it; likewise the importance of the Emmitsburg road and the intersecting roads leading to our left, all of which positions, including Round Top, had been stripped of defense by the removal of Buford and his division of cavalry. Against this abandonment of Round Top and the Emmitsburg road I personally protested to General Meade at his headquarters, and so testified to the Committee on the Conduct of the War, uncontradicted by General Meade.

General Meade's statement, I repeat, is absurd, tactically and topographically, because it designates a line and positions for the Third Corps which it could not have occupied by reason of the great extension of the line and the number of troops required to hold Round Top. The distance from Hancock's left to Round Top is stated by the Comte de Paris to be a mile and a quarter, that is to say, 2200 yards. The front of the Second Corps, Hancock's, which was stronger than mine, was only twelve hundred yards, so that my line, if taken according to General Meade's confidential letter, from Hancock's left to and including Round Top, and the necessary force to hold that natural fortress, would have been a mere skirmish line utterly incapable of resisting assaulting columns. Moreover, the direct line from Hancock's left to Round Top was a line through swale, morass, swamp, bowlders, and forest and tangled undergrowth, unfit for infantry, impracticable for artillery, and hopelessly dominated by the ridge in front, which I would have surrendered to Lee without a blow if I had attempted to execute the impossible order General Meade confidentially states to his correspondent that he gave me. Nay, more, if I had occupied the line General Meade represents in 1870 that he told me to take, I would have had no positions whatever for my artillery over one half of my line, and would have surrendered to Lee the positions for his artillery which he states in his official report it was the object of his movement to gain. In other words, the line indicated by General Meade in his confidential letter is one that would have abandoned to the enemy all the vantage-ground he [418] sought and had to fight for all the afternoon. And this vantage-ground, by which I mean the Emmitsburg road ridge, the Devil's Den, the Emmitsburg road itself, and the intersecting roads leading to our left, once in possession of the enemy without loss, would have enabled him to deliver his assault upon me in the position indicated by General Meade, three hours before it was delivered, and with advantage of position and force that would have given Lee the victory.

General Meade proceeds: “Now, his right was three-quarters of a mile in front of Hancock's left and his left one-quarter of a mile in front of the base of Round Top, leaving that key-point unoccupied, which ought to have been occupied by Longstreet before we could get there with the Fifth Corps.” To this I answer: First, that I was in the right place to defend Round Top when I put myself in front of it, and I staid there until after 5 o'clock, giving General Meade time to bring up the Fifth Corps from the right, where he had kept it all day; second, that if I had not put my troops in position in front of Round Top, Longstreet would have occupied it at any time during the two hours that elapsed before the Fifth Corps was brought over from the right to occupy it; third, my line was a good one, but there were not troops enough at hand early in the day to hold that line, or any other line, against the forces employed by Lee in the attack. If the reinforcements which came up from 5 o'clock to 6 :30 had arrived three hours earlier, Longstreet's assault on the second would have been repulsed as promptly and decisively as on the third day; fourth, look at the ground occupied by my corps, and then compare its advantages over Meade's line, extending from Cemetery Ridge to Round Top,--and the discussion will not last long.

General Meade proceeds: “Sickles's movement practically destroyed his own corps, the Third; caused a loss of 50 per cent. in the Fifth Corps, and very heavily damaged the Second Corps, producing 66 per cent. of the loss of the whole battle.” To this I answer: First; that the losses of the Fifth Corps in the entire Gettysburg campaign, killed, wounded, captured, and missing, were 2187, out of an aggregate of 12,000, by which it appears — I speak from the official record — that General Meade confidentially more than doubled the loss of the Fifth Corps, an inexcusable disregard of fact with the record before him; second, when General Meade says that the Third Corps was practically destroyed on the 2d of July he is contradicted by the two division commanders, Humphreys and Birney, and by Graham and Carr, and by De Trobriand, Ward, Burling, and Brewster. Not to weary the readers with extracts from the reports of all these distinguished Third Corps commanders, I will cite an example from the report of General Joseph B. Carr. General Carr, in his official report, states: “Notwithstanding my apparently critical position I could and would have maintained it but for an order received direct from Major-General Birney, commanding the corps, to fall back to the crest of the hill in my rear.” This was between 6 and 7 o'clock in the evening, after I had been wounded. General Carr proceeds: “At that time I have no doubt I could have charged on the rebels and driven them in confusion, for my line was still perfect and unbroken and my troops in the proper spirit for the performance of such a task. After I had reached the position designated by General Birney, the brigade was rallied by my assistant adjutant-general and aides and moved forward, driving the enemy and capturing many prisoners. I continued to advance until I again occupied the field I had a few moments before vacated. Here my command remained until morning.” This was the right of my line.

General Meade declares that my movement produced “66 per cent. of the loss of the whole battle, and with what result? Driving us back to the position he [Sickles] was ordered to hold originally.” To this I answer: First, that the position of the troops on our left at the close of the battle on the 2d of July, was not in any particular, in any part of the line on the left, as General Meade confidentially informs Colonel Benedict. On my extreme right, as I have just proved from Carr's report, the Third Corps held its advanced position. On my left, that is to say, on the left flank of the army, General Crawford's splendid division of Pennsylvania Reserves held my advanced position to the stone wall, south of the wheat-field, in advance of Round Top. The other divisions of the Fifth Corps occupied both Round Tops, Little and Big, with the Sixth Corps--the strongest corps in the army, under Sedgwick — in reserve to our left, and the Twelfth Corps, under Williams, brought over from the right, and the First Corps, under Newton, in support; making a total of over 40,000 infantry in position on the left to protect that flank against the assault which General Meade intimates he expected the Third Corps to repel alone. Second, General Meade, in his exaggerated estimate of his losses on July 2d, which he represents as 66 per cent. of the entire loss of his army during the three days of conflict, would seem to hold me not only responsible for the losses in my own corps and for the other corps moved up to save the left and rear of his army, but also for the losses on the right at Culp's Hill. In other words, General Meade's statement is difficult to reconcile with the respect due to his high position and the ample means of information always accessible to him.

The losses on the 2d of July, although large and serious, were inevitable. So far as my observation enabled me to judge, and I was on the line of battle until I was wounded, our losses are attributable only to the assaults, vigorous, persistent, and prolonged, from 3 o'clock until dark, of an ably led enemy, one who had staked everything upon the issue; and the official Confederate reports show that Lee's losses on the 2d of July, especially in the divisions of Hood, McLaws, and Anderson, and in their artillery, were quite as large as ours, and perhaps larger. As I have already shown, if I had received this assault in the position General Meade says he designed I should take, then indeed would my corps have been virtually destroyed and the enemy in possession of our left flank and rear before the troops I have enumerated could have been brought up. [419]

In conclusion allow me to show that General Meade's letter, so far as it relates to the orders and instructions therein alleged to have been given to me, is flatly contradicted by his own official report of the battle and by his sworn testimony before the Committee on the Conduct of the War. In his official report General Meade says that “the Second and Third corps were directed to occupy the continuation of the Cemetery Ridge on the left of the Eleventh Corps.” That is the only statement in General Meade's official report to indicate the position of the Third Corps. No mention is made of the occupation of Round Top, which is a mile and more from Cemetery Ridge and in advance of it. Now we will see how guardedly he speaks of it in his testimony: “About 3 or 3:30 o'clock in the afternoon I proceeded from my headquarters to the extreme left in order to see to the posting of the Fifth Corps, also to inspect the position of the Third Corps, about which I was in doubt. General Sickles had said to me earlier in the day that there was in the neighborhood of where his corps was some very good ground for artillery, and that he should like to have some staff-officer of mine go out there and see as to the posting of artillery. He also asked me whether he was not authorized to post his corps in such manner as in his judgment he should deem the most suitable. I answered General Sickles: ‘Certainly, within the limits of the general instruction I have given you. Any ground within those limits you choose to occupy I leave to you,’ and I directed Brigadier-General Hunt, my chief-of-artillery, to accompany Sickles and examine and inspect such positions as General Sickles thought good for artillery, and to give General Sickles the benefit of his judgment.”

General Meade's “general instructions” to me were all verbal and extremely vague and indefinite. As I have said, he was wholly preoccupied with his right flank. None of his instructions contemplated the probability of an attack on his left. The only definite instruction that reached me from General Meade before the battle opened on July 2d was that I should relieve Geary's division, which he had ordered over to the right. I at once reported to him that I found no troops on the left, except Buford's cavalry; that Geary's division had not been in position at all; that it was massed to the right of Round Top during the night of the 1st of July, and had moved over to Culp's Hill before I had received his instructions to relieve it. In fact this was the only instruction, general or particular, the only order of any nature or kind, that I had received from General Meade on the 2d of July from daybreak in the morning until 6 o'clock in the evening, when I was wounded. I had no communication from General Geary whatever. He had left the field, and there was no staff-officer or representative of General Geary to indicate his position, and for obvious reasons, because he was not in position. He had bivouacked for the night on the left, and when his corps, under Slocum, went into position on Culp's Hill on the right he followed it.

I am persuaded that Generals Slocum, Howard, Pleasonton, Doubleday, Robinson, Howe, and Williams, and other corps and division commanders of the Army of the Potomac would agree with me in the observation that General Meade was very imperfectly informed as to the movements and operations of his corps, divisions, and brigades of the army, during the first and second days of July, 1863. I am unwilling to attribute to General Meade an intention to do injustice to any of the troops under his command, yet much, very much, injustice was done. No adequate recognition was accorded to the First and Eleventh corps, by whose sacrifices and by the sagacity of whose leaders we seized from the enemy the impregnable position of Cemetery Ridge. The heroic stand made by John Buford on the Cashtown road on the morning of the 1st of July; the brilliant deployments of his cavalry, holding the enemy in check for hours until Reynolds came up with his leading division under Wadsworth, are barely mentioned. In truth the cavalry under Pleasonton and Buford and Gregg and Kilpatrick, to which General Meade owed so much of his success, and the artillery under General Hunt, equally brilliant in its service, received no adequate appreciation. I have already given examples in which whole corps and divisions of infantry are placed in positions by General Meade, in his report, other than those they occupied, so that it will be seen that it is by no means myself alone who complain of injustice at the hands of General Meade. In. my belief the forced march I made of twelve miles over a difficult road in the heat of a July afternoon, with troops which had been without rest from the Rappahannock to the heart of Pennsylvania, a march made without orders, on my own responsibility, to help the overtasked troops of Howard — in my belief this was a soldierly act that deserved recognition at the hands of the commanding general. Yet it is not mentioned either in General Meade's official report or in his con fidential letter. Why is it that General Meade is so unwilling to praise where praise might be bestowed, and is so lavish of censure where censure might be more gracefully suppressed, even if an error of judgment had been committed by an officer who paid dearly enough for the zeal which exposed himself and his command to the shock of the enemy's assaults? “I am of the opinion,” says General Meade in his testimony before the Committee on the Conduct of the War, “that General Sickles did what he thought was for the best, but I differed from him in judgment.” Here is no question of orders disobeyed or of instructions disregarded, and here I leave the issue where General Meade puts it. Military critics more competent than I will decide whether General Meade's judgment or my judgment was correct.

1 see also the preceding article.--editors.

2 The substance of these editorials in the Burlington Free press will be found in the appendix to the second edition of Colonel Benedict's work, “Vermont at Gettysburg.”--editors.

3 According to General A. A. Humphreys's statement to the Committee on the Conduct of the War, General Meade, on assuming command of the army at Frederick, expressed his desire to appoint General Humphreys his chief-of-staff, but that officer wishing to retain command of his division in the Third Corps during the impending battle, the decision was postponed.--editors.

4 from the New York times of August 14th, 1886. revised by General Sickles for this work, June 26th. 1888.--editors.

5 See foot-note, p. 316.--editors.

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