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Some of the secret history of Gettysburg.

By Colonel Ed. A. Palfrey, of New Orleans.
Owing to the generally received opinion that the battle of Gettysburg was the decisive action of our late civil war, the turning point in the great contest between the North and South, it has evoked far more comment and criticism than has any other battle during that long and bloody struggle. While the accidental, unpremeditated collision which brought on the fight, the unfortunate absence of Stuart's cavalry, the failure of Ewell to attack Cemetery Heights after having whipped Reynolds' and Howard's corps and captured the town, the alleged sluggishness displayed by Longstreet in bringing his troops on the field, the want of prompt and harmonious co-operation between the corps and [522] division commanders of the Confederate army in attacking the enemy, the comparative numbers engaged on either side, have all been the themes of elaborate discussion and somewhat acrimonious criticism; there is a circumstance connected with the battle, and with Lee's invasion of Pennsylvania, to which scarcely any allusion has been made, and which is involved in a maze of mystery.

It will be remembered that at the close of the second day's fighting, Meade's army had been forced back on both flanks — by Longstreet driving Sickles from the peach orchard on the left, and by Ewell obtaining a foothold within the exterior entrenchments of the Federal army on the extreme right. Notwithstanding these advantages gained by the Confederates, the enemy's main line along the heights had received no material injury, and his numerous batteries in unbroken front, still frowned menacingly upon Lee's gallant “boys in gray.” Such being the position at the close of that bloody day, it was with surprise and incredulity that reports were received about midnight from the pickets in advance of Ewell's line that the enemy were retiring. This, on investigation, was found to be seemingly true, the rumbling of heavy wheels betokening, by the receding sounds, the withdrawal of Meade's artillery from our front There are men now in this city who will bear testimony to the correctness of this statement. For some unexplained reason this retrogade movement was checked, the guns were returned to their former positions, and the dawn of the third of July disclosed Meade's army in full array, presenting the same bold, defiant and formidable front that it had done on the previous evening.

The writer had a circumstance related to him a few months after the war which possibly may throw some light on these mysterious movements in Meade's army. He is induced to recall it at this time on account of having recently come in possession of certain official documents of the Confederate government which have a bearing on the subject.

Ulrich Dahlgren — the same who, as the leader of one of the raiding parties which had for their object the sacking and burning of Richmond, was killed in the vicinity of that city — was badly wounded in the leg in (if our memory serves us right) a cavalry skirmish a few days after the battle of Gettysburg, and carried to Washington, where his limb was amputated. During his confinement in his father's (the Admiral's) house, our informant, a man who was prominent in social and professional circles in that city, paid daily visits to the wounded officer. He was surprised to see that young Dahlgren was the recipient of special and extraordinary courtesies and attentions from the highest magnates of the land. President Lincoln, Secretary Stanton, the most [523] prominent leaders in Congress, high officials of the army and navy, frequently visited him and showed an interest in his welfare which his rank — that of lieutenant — and the nature and extent of his military services did not seem to justify. One day when Dahlgren had reached an advanced stage of convalescence, our friend found him in an abnormal condition of elation and excitement, and on asking the cause, was shown a document signed by President Lincoln, appointing Lieutenant Ulrich Dahlgren to be a colonel of cavalry in the United States army, and authorizing him to raise a regiment in that arm of the service, and to appoint his own subordinate officers. Our friend expressed his surprise at this sudden and remarkable elevation in rank, and the bestowal by the President on a mere youth of twenty years of such unusual honors and privileges, who, though he had lost a leg in battling for the preservation of the Union, had not seemingly performed any great or signal services, incidentally alluding to the marked and frequent attentions paid him by the most distinguished officials of the government. To this Dahlgren replied that, accidentally, he had been an humble contributor to the success of Meade at Gettysburg; that on the evening of the 2d of July, while returning with ten men from a scouting expedition, he had captured on the Emmettsburg road a Confederate scout, and taken from him, after much trouble, a dispatch from Adjutant-General Cooper to General Lee, informing the latter that President Davis, owing to the exposed position of Richmond and the landing of Federal troops at City Point, could not send forward any more reinforcements, and that the assemblage of an auxiliary army at Culpeper Court-house to attack Washington, so soon as General Lee had drawn Hooker's (Meade's) army sufficiently far north into Pennsylvania to be out of supporting distance, was impossible of accomplishment. Dahlgren stated that on discovering the purport of the dispatch and appreciating its importance he rode as fast as his horse could carry him to General Meade's headquarters in front of Gettysburg. On arriving there shortly after midnight he found that the General had been consulting with his corps commanders, and had resolved to withdraw his army to Pipe creek, the position that had been previously selected by General Warren, his chief of engineers, and in pursuance of that plan was then engaged in retiring his heaviest pieces of artillery from the front. A perusal of the dispatch captured and presented by Dahlgren wrought a sudden change in Meade's plans, and the artillery was quickly ordered back to the positions from which it had been withdrawn, and the Federal army made ready to recommence the battle on the following morning. [524]

That this story was not the mere figment of the brain of a vain and ambitious young man, seems to be proved by contemporaneous reports published in the prominent journals of the North. One of these is a dispatch from Harrisburg, Pa., which appeared in the New York Herald, dated July 6, 1863, in which is announced the capture of a man on the morning of the second instant, who declared himself a member of Longstreet's staff, and announced that “he was on his way to Culpeper to ascertain what had become of Beauregard's army.” A Washington “special” telegram to the New York Tribune, on the third of July, 1863:

The intercepted dispatches from Jeff. Davis, and his renegade adjutant-general, to General Lee, are a more important acquisition than the brief paragraphs that profess to give the substance of their contents would indicate. They reveal the plan of Lee's campaign, wherein and wherefore it was not carried out, the points to which the rebel government is sending reinforcements, and the precarious condition in which it considers its capital to be. The object of the campaign was the capture of Washington, which was to be effected in this wise: Lee was to draw Hooker into Pennsylvania sufficiently far to uncover Washington, which Beauregard, with 30,000 men, to be concentrated at Culpeper Court-house, was then to attack and take. But, as further appears from these dispatches, Jeff. Davis felt unable to spare Beauregard's 30,000 men, or any number of men, to co-operate with Lee.

From the otherwise unaccountable retiring of Meade's artillery on the night of the 2d of July, the statement made by Dahlgren, and the telegraphic reports published in the New York papers, no other conclusion dan be arrived at than that General Meade had received intercepted information from Richmond that a part of the plan of General Lee's invasion of Pennsylvania was the concentration of an army at Culpeper to co-operate with the Army of Northern Virginia.

The following is a dispatch from General S. Cooper, Adjutant-General of the Confederate States army, captured by Lieutenant Dahlgren, and which quieted the fears of General Meade concerning the movement from Culpeper against Washington:

Richmond, June 29, 1863.
General R. E. Lee, Commanding Army of Northern Virginia, Winchester, Virginia:
General — While with the president last night, I received your letter of the twenty-third instant. After reading it he was embarrassed to understand that part of it which refers to the plan of assembling an army at Culpeper Court-house under General Beauregard. This is the first intimation he has had that such a plan was ever in contemplation, [525] and taking all things into consideration, he cannot perceive how it can by any possibility be carried into effect.

You will doubtless learn, before this reaches you, that the enemy has again assembled in force on the peninsula, estimated between 20,000 to 30,000 men, from 6,000 to 10,000 of whom are reported to be in the vicinity of the White House, the remainder at Yorktown. It is impossible to say whether this estimated number is correct, as the several accounts vary, and are not deemed altogether reliable. But the estimate, making due allowances for errors, is quite near enough to satisfy even the most incredulous that the enemy is in the vicinity in sufficient force in cavalry, artillery and infantry, to do much harm, whether his purpose be to make a demonstration on Richmond, or to confine himself to raids in breaking up your communication and devastating the country. His efforts in the last case may prove more successful than the first, if we may judge by what took place at Hanover only two days ago, where about 1000 or 1200 of his cavalry suddenly appeared there, and did some execution in breaking the railroad to some extent, and in burning a bridge, some buildings, public stores, etc. It is unfortunate that this raid took place only about two days after General Corse's brigade had left there for Gordonsville. Had it remained at Hanover Junction, it is reasonable to suppose that most of the enemy's cavalry would have been either destroyed or captured, and the property saved from injury.

Every effort is being made here to be prepared for the enemy at all points, but we must look chiefly to the protection of the capital; in doing this we may be obliged to hazard something at other points. You can easily estimate our strength here, and I would suggest for your consideration, whether in this state of things you might not be able to spare a portion of your force to protect your line of communication against attempted raids by the enemy.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

S. Cooper, Adjutant and Inspector General.

The following is the letter from General Lee which brought forth the above response from President Davis, through General Cooper:

headquarters army of Northern Virginia, June 23d, 1863.
General S. Cooper, Adjutant and Inspector General, Richmond, Va.:
General — Upon leaving Fredericksburg a regiment of General Pettigrew's brigade was sent to relieve General Corse's brigade at Hanover Junction, to enable the latter to rejoin his division.

General Corse was subsequently ordered to remain at the Junction, and I have not heard whether he has yet been sent forward or not. If not, I think the regiment will suffice for a guard at that point, and wish Corse's brigade to be ordered to rejoin its division, under General Pickett, as soon as possible.

He will march by Culpeper Court-house, and thence through [526] Chester Gap to Winchester, where he will be instructed by what route to proceed. I wish to have every man that can be spared, and desire that Cooke's brigade may be sent forward by the same route, if it is not needed at Richmond. I think there will be no necessity for keeping a large number of troops at that place, especially if the plan of assembling an army at Culpeper Court-house, under General Beauregard, be adopted.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

R. E. Lee, General.

[Note.--We have certified copies of the above letters from Colonel R. N. Scott, of the War Records Office, Washington. The “plan of assembling an army at Culpeper Court-house, under General Beauregard,” raises questions of curious interest. Had General Lee suggested such a plan in a previous letter, which failed to reach Richmond? or did he put in that last sentence in the expectation that the letter would be captured, and the enemy thus deceived? We would be glad to hear from any one who can throw light on the subject.]

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