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“four years with General Lee” --a Review by General C. M. Wilcox.

[There will necessarily be honest differences of opinion among actors in our great struggle as to details of the campaigns and battles of the war; but when those differences are courteously expressed, we never hesitate to publish them, without comment of our own, leaving our readers to sift the evidence and form their own conclusions.]

A brief notice will be made of inaccuracies in the book, Four years with General Lee, recently published by Colonel Taylor, the Adjutant-General of the Army of Northern Virginia.

Page 50. Referring to reinforcements that joined General Johnston after he had reached the vicinity of Richmond, May, 1862, says: “He was reinforced by Huger's division, consisting of three brigades under Generals Mahone, Armistead and Wright.” One of Huger's brigades, preceding and including Seven Pines, was commanded by General Blanchard. This brigade may have been subsequently known as Wright's brigade.

Page 71. Enumerating the Confederate forces engaged at Sharpsburg, says: “The command of General Longstreet at that time embraced six brigades under D. R. Jones, the two under General Hood and one unattached under General Evans. His other three brigades were temporarily detached under General R. H. Anderson.” There were six brigades so detached under Anderson. His own (Anderson's) division of three brigades and the three brigades of Wilcox, Featherston and Pryor, that I commanded; these were assigned to General Anderson the afternoon he marched from near Frederick City for Harper's Ferry, and subsequently formed a portion of his division.

Page 75. Crouch's division, Fourth corps, Army of the Potomac, should be Couch's division.

Page 85. Detailing the operations embracing Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg and the Plank Road, &c.: “Meantime, Sedgwick had forced Early out of the heights at Fredericksburg,” &c., &c. While this is true, the impression made may be a little variant from the truth. The heights when captured by Sedgwick were held by Barksdale's brigade of McLaws' division; this, however, was at the time under General Early.

Page 98. Second day's battle at Gettysburg on the right, and late in the afternoon: “The two divisions of Longstreet's corps gallantly advanced, forced the enemy back a considerable distance [72] and captured some trophies and prisoners.” True; but there were three brigades of Anderson's division of Hill's corps that were engaged, and as conspiciously as any of Longstreet's, and accomplished as much in proportion to their strength as was claimed to have been done by his two divisions — the right brigade of the three being in contact, or nearly so, the greater part of the time with his left. In fact, these three brigades were the only troops that reached the Cemetery ridge that afternoon, according to a recent article in the Philadelphia Weekly Times, written by General Humphreys, Chief Engineer of the army.

Page 127. “In addition to the force Hill had so successfully resisted the previous day” --May 5th, in the Wilderness--“a fresh division of the Fifth corps under General Wadsworth had secured position on his flank, and co-operated with the column assaulting in front.” This division had gotten on Hill's left flank late in the afternoon of the 5th and became partially engaged (see note, page 426, Swinton). This division, and also Stephenson's division of the Fourth corps, took part in the engagement the morning of the 6th (Swinton, page 451). Leasure's brigade of the Fourth corps also engaged on the 6th (note on 435, Swinton) Getty's division, engaged on the 5th, was held in reserve after Wilcox's division was forced back the morning of the 6th.

Same page. “After a short contest the divisions of Heth and Wilcox, who had expected to have been relieved and were not prepared for the enemy's assault, were overpowered and compelled to retire just as the head of Longstreet's column reached the ground.” It was Wilcox's division alone that was forced back; Heth's division was not engaged on the Plank road before the arrival of Longstreet. Cooke's life of General Lee, page 390, says, of this fight early in the morning of the 6th, it “raged in this quarter with great fury for some time.” Swinton, page 430: “And after an hour's severe contest,” &c., &c.

Same page. Reinforcement having arrived, “General Longstreet, taking in the situation at a glance, was prompt to act; immediately caused his divisions to be deployed in line of battle, and gallantly advanced to recover the lost ground.” This might make the impression that General Longstreet became engaged almost instantly upon reaching the field. As the head (Kershaw's division) of Longstreet's column arrived, I met it and ordered it to file to the right as rapidly as possible into the woods, so as to form line of battle speedily, less my division, then being forced back, might be [73] driven on to it before it should form. Less than a brigade of Kershaw had filed into the woods when Longstreet appeared on the field. I pointed out to him where General Lee could be found; he was within two hundred yards of us. My division was not forced back upon Kershaw; the enemy halted some three hundred yards short, and it was not until after 9 A. M., according to Swinton, page 431, that Hancock renewed the advance. He says over two hours were in this manner lost, leaving Longstreet ample time to form line of battle.

Page 130. Spotsylvania Courthouse.--“Upon an examination of the lines, General Lee had detected the weakness of that portion known as ‘the salient,’ to the right of the point assailed on the 10th, to which I have just alluded, and occupied by the division of General Edward Johnson (Ewell's corps), and had directed a second line to be constructed across its base, to which he purposed to move back the troops occupying the angle. These arrangements were not quite completed when he thought he saw cause to suspect another flank movement by General Grant; and, on the night of the 11th, ordered most of the artillery at this portion of the line to be withdrawn, so as to be available to take part in the counter-movement. Towards the dawn of day on the 12th, General Johnson discovered indications of an impending assault upon his front. He sent immediate orders for the return of the artillery, and caused other preparations for defence to be made,” &c., &c. In rear of the salient, less than two hundred yards, was a partially constructed line, which, if extended in the two directions, would have intersected its faces. Following along the right face of the salient, in front of it was an open field, and the surface declining to the right for five or six hundred yards; then came two small streams, separated by a wet flat of one hundred yards; the surface then rose somewhat pronounced, and two hundred yards beyond, on a ridge, was a rifle-pit several hundred yards in length, making an angle to the rear of near forty-five degrees. General Lane's brigade of my division had been ordered to this part of the line during the 11th, and with the view of connecting his left with the right of Steuart's brigade, whose left connected with the right of Jones' brigade — thus holding the salient — threw forward his left down the slope and across the two little streams and connected with it on the open slope beyond. These two short unfinished lines were the only rear or second line near the salient or its right face the night of the 11th. [74]

On the right of our lines, as they were the afternoon of the 11th, was a brick church. From the upper windows of this the enemy could be seen off to the left and front, over fields and more than two miles distant. They were believed to be moving away, and some thought they were marching for Fredericksburg. This was reported to General Lee, and was the cause, probably, of the order to withdraw the artillery from Johnson's front. It was withdrawn in the early part of the night, and soon after, Johnson's videttes reported the enemy massing in his front. He selected and sent to the front his most reliable scouts; these returned soon and confirmed the report previously made. General Johnson reported at once the condition of affairs in his front, and made a request, both to his corps commander and to a colonel of artillery, to have the artillery returned. It was promised. It was not brought back, however, till near daylight, and was then not the same, but different batteries, whose officers were ignorant of the newly made paths leading through the dense woods to the different positions prepared for them. General Johnson was present on his lines, and had remained there from the time he reported the massing of the enemy and requested the artillery to be returned, and was superintending the posting of the artillery when the attack was made his lines carried and he himself captured. The enemy crossed the lines without being incommoded by the fire of artillery, and he believed then and subsequently that had his guns been in position his lines would have been held. What has been stated with reference to the withdrawal of the artillery and its return, is General Johnson's own version as given to me by himself on two different occasions.

Page 131. The salient having been taken, “There occurred the most remarkable musketry fire of the war. From the sides of the salient in possession of the Federals and the new line forming the base of the triangle, occupied by the Confederates, poured forth, from continuous lines of hissing fire, an incessant, terrific hail of deadly missiles. No living man or thing could stand in the doomed space enclosed within those angry lines; even large trees were felled, their trunks cut in twain by the bullets of the small arms.1 The Federal assault, which threatened such serious consequences, was effectually checked, and the advantage to the enemy limited to the possession of the narrow space of the salient and the capture [75] of the force which had occupied it.” The author is mistaken. The long protracted musketry fight occurred on the left face of the salient, which was held by the Confederates, after its recapture early in the morning, until 4 o'clock at night, when the troops near the salient were withdrawn to a line that was constructed while the fight was going on and mainly after dark. When the salient was captured, the enemy, in a confused mass, surged along the right face, swept up Steuart's brigade, and had gotten somewhat in rear of the left of Lane's brigade, when it was withdrawn promply to the short, unfinished line on the crest in rear. The enemy was caught in the angle between the two lines, and after being subjected to a close and sharp fire in flank and somewhat in enfilade, were expelled from this part of the lines with serious losses in killed and wounded. Lane was reinforced with Thomas' and Scales' brigades of my division, but after he had driven the enemy out of the lines. Two brigades of Anderson's division (Perrin's and Harris') and McGowan's brigade of my division were sent to recapture the salient. The first to reach the vicinity of the salient was the Alabama brigade of Perrin. This was rushed ahead under a terrible fire of musketry, drove the enemy from the short, unfinished line in rear of the salient, and General Perrin fell shot dead from his horse as he leaped the unfinished breastwork. The Adjutant-General of the brigade, Captain Walter E. Winn, was wounded near the same place. The Mississippi brigade (Harris') was the next to follow. It also reached the front line under a heavy fire, much of it from the salient, the enemy occupying traverses at and near it. The South Carolina brigade (McGowan's) was the next to reach the main or front line. It had to cross under a heavy fire also. Its commander, General McGowan, was seriously wounded, and did not personally reach the front line. Colonel Brockmar, Thirteenth South Carolina, senior colonel of the brigade, was killed before reaching the front or outer line. General Harris was the senior officer of these three brigades from early in the morning until they were withdrawn, about 4 A. M.

Page 139. “The Federal loss in the battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Courthouse, North Anna, Cold Harbor,” is put at “above sixty thousand men” by Mr. Swinton in his History of the Army of the Potomac, and the author of Four years with General Lee probably intends this to be his estimate of Federal losses during that period. The report of the Surgeon-General of the army, and which must be regarded as official, states the losses [76] at the Wilderness, May 5th and 6th, to have been 37,737--and if to this prisoners be added they would exceed 40,000--and from the 8th to the 18th, at Spotsylvania Courthouse, 26,441, or an aggregate of 64,178. There were several collisions at Spotsylvania after the 18th; the affair at Jericho ford on North Anna on the 23d; heavy cavalry fight at Hawes' shop on the 28th; a sharp infantry skirmish on the Totopotomy on the 29th; a heavy infantry fight not far from Shady Grove church on the 30th; and one, more destructive, near Bethesda church, June 2d. If to these various losses be added the heavy losses of June 3d at Cold Harbor, the, entire loss will not fall much, if at all, under one hundred thousand men.

Page 139. Recapitulating various successes in the vicinity of Petersburg: “The very successful attack on Hancock at Reams' station by Heth's division and a portion of Wilcox's on the 25th of August, under the direction of General A. P. Hill.” The force engaged was McGowan's, Lane's and Scales' brigades of my division,. and Anderson's brigade of Field's division, attached to my command, two batteries of Pegram's battalion of artillery, and the brigades of Generals Cooke and McLean of Heth's division. These were the only infantry engaged. The cavalry under Hampton were present, and did good service, capturing many of the prisoners. My report of this battle was published over two years ago by the Southern Historical Society.

On page 164 is a return of the army then commanded by General Johnston, endorsed “Army near Richmond, Department of Northern Virginia, May 21, 1862.” This return is supposed to give the strength of the army as at that time. It was given by divisions. There were four divisions. Two of these, Longstreet's and Magruder's, had each six brigades; the other two, G. W. Smith's and A. P. Hill's, had, according to this return, each five brigades. My brigade was of Longstreet's division, and numbered by this return 2,616. Colston's brigade was the weakest, and it had 1,750; the next weakest was R. H. Anderson's, 2,168. My brigade at the time was composed of four regiments: all had volunteered for the war. Up to about the 25th of March, 1862, it had been composed of five regiments, with a four-gun battery attached. A few days after the army had reached the Rapidan, in March, 1862, the brigade was ordered to Goldsboroa, North Carolina. The Thirty-eighth Virginia, belonging to it, a twelve months regiment, was at the time being reorganized, remained behind and never rejoined. [77]

If the strength of the brigade is correctly given on the 21st of May, it should have been stronger the latter part (29th) of March when it joined General Magruder on the Peninsula. The morning of May 3d the brigade was moved to the front, and took position at various points along the line--one regiment, or the greater portion of it, being at Mulberry Point, on the James river, and a portion of one at the redoubts near Yorktown. I reported to General Magruder that morning that I had brought him 2,200 men. This number included, if remembered correctly, the Thomas artillery, a four-gun battery. The 2,616 must have been the aggregate present and absent. The present with the army, including detached and sick, would not have reached the numbers given in the return. In my report of the battle of Gaines' Mill, June 27th, 1862, the strength of the brigade--four regiments — was given at 1,850. At the battle of Seven Pines only four companies of one regiment were engaged the first day, and these lost heavily; the second morning, three of the regiments were under fire, in a dense woods, probably twenty minutes,--loss small. The brigade in this battle was about 2,000, whilst in the battle of Williamsburg, May 5th, it was between 1,200 and 1,400. In this battle one entire regiment--Eleventh Alabama--was absent, and four full companies detached under a major, and ten men and an officer from each company detached to aid the artillery and wagons over the wretched roads.

According to this return the total strength of all arms in the army was 53,688, and this will be supposed by most people to have been its fighting strength at the time, whilst all who have had experience with armies in active field operations know that the returns are always largely in excess of the fighting numbers.

1 There were two oak trees, one nineteen and the other twenty-two inches in diameter, cut down just in rear of the Confederate line by the continued striking of musket-balls from Federal infantry. These trees were measured by Major Joe A. Englehard, Acting Adjutant-General of the division, and Lieutenant M. M. Lindsay, one of my aids.

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