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Appendix O

Second newspaper article signed ‘Historicus,’ attack on General Meade, mentioned in letter of April 8,
1864. see page 188, Vol. II

(For first article signed ‘Historicus,’ see Appendix J. For article by General Barnes, see Appendix L. For article by ‘A Staff Officer of the Fifth Corps,’ see Appendix K)

(New York Herald, April 4, 1864) the battle of Gettysburg

In reply to General Barnes and the staff officers of the Second and Fifth Corps. The evidence before the Committee on the Conduct of the War, &C.

To the editor of the Herald.
In your journal of the 12th ult. I gave an impartial and conscientious sketch of the battle of Gettysburg. Regarding it as the decisive battle of the war, I thought it wise to put its main features on record while the facts were familiar and the principal actors at hand.

I challenged criticism; and three replies have appeared, accusing me, not only of inaccuracy, but downright misstatement. This induced me to redouble my researches, as my only motive was to aid the future historian of this great event.

To my satisfaction more than to my surprise, I find that not only was the outline of my picture correct but nearly every detail and incident exact. I stated, it may be remembered, that the left wing of our army, under the command of General Sickles was selected by General Lee as his report shows for the main point of his attack. I stated, also, that whilst this formidable attack was preparing all the morning of Thursday, July 2, General Sickles was left without orders, in spite of his urgent entreaties to the Commander-in-Chief, General Meade. I stated, likewise, that during this fearful interval, instead of being occupied with the steady advance of the enemy, General Meade was entirely engrossed with the plans for a retreat that General Butterfield, his Chief of Staff, was employed in drawing up, and that just at the moment the general order for retreat was prepared, the cannon of Longstreet opened on our left wing, under Sickles. I stated, further, that, as retreat was now hopeless, General Meade galloped up to our left flank and inspected the dispositions General Sickles had made on his own responsibility to repel the enemy, when the following colloquy ensued, which I repeat in epitome:—‘Are your lines not too extended, General Sickles?’ said the Commander-in-Chief. ‘Can you hold this front?’ ‘Yes,’ replied Sickles, ‘till more troops are sent up.’ ‘I will send you the Fifth corps and a division of the Second corps and you can have all the [338] artillery you need.’ I stated finally, that the Third corps, constituting our left wing at the beginning of the battle, withstood ‘heroically,’ to use General Meade's expression, the furious onset of Longstreet for nearly an hour before the reinforcements promised to Sickles, by the Commander-in-Chief arrived and took their part in the dreadful fray. Now, I appeal to your readers when I ask what one of these statements, describing the beginning of the action, or any other portraying the contest of Friday, July 3, as well as the inglorious failure of General Meade to profit by his victory in pursuing and destroying the enemy, has been disproved or controverted by the anonymous communications published in reply? Not one. Allow me briefly to notice them.

The first evidently emanates from a champion of the Second corps, whose task was gratuitous; for it was far from my intention to disparage by a single word, the valiant troops of the Second corps or their gallant commander. The writer in question is deeply offended that General Sickles figured so conspicuously in the fight of July 2; but that is no fault of mine. The blame, if any, is to be attributed to the eagerness and activity of General Sickles. The said writer, however, makes one charge so grave that it demands refutation. He declares that Sickles advanced his corps so far away from his supports, on his right and left, as to cost the lives of these three thousand men to extricate him. He calls this a ‘sad error and an unaccountable one.’ Yes, it would have been an error for which General Sickles would have been immediately cashiered if he had committed it, the aspersion is preposterous. What General Sickles did do was to make a simple manoeuvre which the movements of the enemy required. He changed his front to the left by wheeling forward the centre and right wing of his corps so as to confront the flank attack of Longstreet. No military critic would call this an advance. If he had not done this he would have been cut to pieces by an enfilading fire, and the safety of the army might have been compromised. Furthermore, it would have been difficult for General Sickles, at the moment in question, to abandon the support on his left for the obvious reason that he had none; for the Fifth corps, which afterwards took up position on his left, was not there when he changed front. So much for ‘Another Eye-Witness.’

The second reply which appeared in your columns is signed by a ‘Staff Officer of the Fifth Corps’ and he indulges in a series of such reckless assertions as to show that neither his temper any more than his memory, if he was at the battle, qualified him for the task of rectification. He first denies that General Sykes reported to General Sickles on the field. Then General Sykes failed in his duty; for he was ordered by General Meade to do so. Let me vindicate Sykes, however; for he did report, and Sickles requested him to take position on his left, and also to relieve General Ward's brigade and Smith's Battery on the Little Roundtop Mountain. Again, the ‘Staff Officer’ asserts that the Third corps never had a soldier on the Roundtop. This is true enough for Ward's Brigade and Smith's Battery (Third corps was posted on the Little Roundtop, adjoining the Big Roundtop Mountain). This is a [339] mere quibble and unworthy of the gravity of the subject. I reassert that it was nearly an hour after the battle began before the Fifth corps reached the Big Roundtop; and it required all this time to march the distance. The desperate valor of the troops of this corps in defence of their position not only covers them with honor but sheds glory on the army and country. Three accomplished officers—Vincent, Weed and Hazlett, of the Fifth corps—consecrated the spot by their heroic deaths. With a view to mislead the public the ‘Staff Officer’ coolly asserts that Barnes' division of the Fifth corps, was posted in front of a portion of Sickles' corps, but, forgetting this, he soon afterward states that ‘the left of Third corps (Sickles') was far in advance of the Roundtop,’ occupied by the Fifth corps. This is a ludicrous contradiction I will not dwell on; nor is it necessary to waste time on the blunders of the ‘Staff Officer.’

A third letter and a long one, has appeared in your columns signed ‘James Barnes, Brigadier General, United States Volunteers commanding 1st division, Fifth corps, at the battle of Gettysburg,’ which denies in obstreperous language the unpleasant charge I felt myself obliged to make in my first letter. I narrated that Barnes' Division suddenly fell back and left a gap in the line of battle, and that General Birney by desire of General Sickles remonstrated at his conduct, but that Barnes refused to return to his position. I further declared that Zook's Brigade, which came up gallantly to supply the defection of Barnes, marched over his troops, who were ordered to lie down for this purpose. As General Barnes denies all this roundly, under his own signature, it is proper I should give the names of those who cheerfully came forward to corroborate in every point the facts I stated. I refer General Barnes, first to the letter of General de Trobriand, in the Herald of March 29, where he states that a portion of Barnes' division fell back and took position in his rear, and that in spite of his remonstrance they finally withdrew altogether without being engaged. This confirms what I alleged; but I have positive testimony in a private letter from General Birney, which he will not object I am sure, to my using. When he saw Barnes withdrawing his troops before they had received a shot, he remonstrated at Barnes' leaving a dangerous gap in his line, as well as abandoning the good position. It was of no avail, for Barnes retired. I copied the following from General Birney's letter:—

‘He (Barnes) moved to the rear from three to four hundred yards, and formed in the rear of the road which passed from the Emmettsburg Road to the Round Top. When Zook's Brigade, the first one brought to me, came up, Barnes' troops (being in the way) were, at my request, ordered to lie down, and the Brigade from the Second corps passed over their prostrate bodies into the fight, under my command, relieving de Trobriand's left. A portion of the troops of Barnes were afterwards detached and fought splendidly under another commander. I mentioned the conduct of General Barnes to his corps commander General Sykes, and also to General Sedgwick, that night, after the Council; and Sykes told me that Colonel Sweitzer who commanded one of Barnes' Brigades, had reported the same thing.’ [340]

This extract must be regarded as conclusive. In final confirmation, I may add that General Barnes was relieved of his command after the battle and now has been reduced from the commander of a division to a brigade. I regret to place General Barnes in so mortifying a position, but it is well that both officers and soldiers should know that the eye of the country follows them to the battlefield, and that while it sparkles with joy at their heroism it is dimmed with sorrow at the want of it. In fine, I defy my three assailants to deny that the invincible resistance of the Third corps under Sickles, to the determined flank attack of Longstreet, until the reinforcements arrived, saved the army from imminent danger; and no better proof of this is wanted than that it finally took the united efforts of the Third, Fifth and four brigades of the Second corps to defeat this grand manoeuvre of the enemy, and the result was still doubtful until the reserve (the Sixth corps) under General Sedgwick, came up.

It is only due to myself to say that my narrative of the battle of Gettysburg, published on the 12th ult. will be fully sustained by the concurrent testimony of all the generals who have recently appeared before the Committee on the Conduct of the War. The evidence of General Butterfield, Chief of Staff to General Meade, is known to be so ruinous to the reputation of the Commander of the Army of the Potomac that it will be a singular indifference to public opinion on the part of the government if he is allowed to remain longer in that important post. It has been most conclusively proved that nothing was easier than to force Lee's whole army to an unconditional surrender at Williamsport, where he was without ammunition or subsistence, and the swollen Potomac preventing his escape. It was stated that our army was so humiliated at the vacillation and timidity of General Meade on this occasion that many of them shed tears and talked of throwing down their arms. Yet General Meade still commands this noble army, and not only that, but he has lately ventured to break up, under shallow pretexts two of its finest corps, and dismiss some of its most heroic officers, Pleasanton, Sykes and others. It will be an important inquiry for the Committee on the Conduct of the War to ascertain by whose influence General Meade exercises such arbitrary power. This vital and dangerous act was carried out without any consultation with General Grant and may we not hope, that for his own sake and the country's sake he will wield the authority which belongs to him, else the worst is to be feared.


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