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Appendix W: testimony of General Meade before the Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War relating to the battle of Gettysburg and subsequent movements. See page 176, Vol. II

Testimony of Major-General George G. Meade

Washington, March 5, 1864.
Major General George G. Meade sworn and examined. By the Chairman:
Question: What is your rank and position in the service?

Answer: I am a major general of volunteers, commanding the army of the Potomac.

Question: When were you invested with the command of that army? Answer: I think it was the 28th of June, 1863. Question: Where was the army at that time? Answer: It was lying around and near Frederick, Maryland.

Question: You superseded General Hooker? [355]

Answer: I relieved General Hooker.

Question: Will you give a statement, in your own way, of the battle of Gettysburg, and the disposition of your troops there?

Answer: When I assumed the command of the army of the Potomac, on the morning of the 28th of June, it was mostly around Frederick, Maryland; some portions of it, I think, were at that time at Middletown; one or two corps were the other side of a range of mountains between Frederick and Middletown. I had no information concerning the enemy beyond the fact that a large force under General Lee, estimated at about 110,000 men, had passed through Hagerstown, and had marched up the Cumberland valley; and through information derived from the public journals I had reason to believe that one corps of the rebel army, under General Ewell, was occupying York and Carlisle, and threatening the Susquehanna at Harrisburg and Columbia.

My predecessor, General Hooker, left the camp in a very few hours after I relieved him. I received from him no intimation of any plan, or any views that he may have had up to that moment. And I am not aware that he had any, but was waiting for the exigencies of the occasion to govern him, just as I had to be subsequently.

Under this existing state of affairs I determined, and so notified the general-in-chief, that I should move my army as promptly as possible on the main line from Frederick to Harrisburg, extending my wings on both sides of that line as far as I could consistently with the safety and the rapid concentration of that army, and I should continue that movement until I either encountered the enemy, or had reason to believe that the enemy was about to advance upon me; my object being at all hazards to compel him to loose his hold on the Susquehanna and meet me in battle at some point. It was my firm determination, never for an instant deviated from, to give battle wherever and as soon as I could possibly find the enemy, modified, of course, by such general considerations as govern every general officer—that when I came into his immediate neighborhood some manoeuvres might be made by me with a view to secure advantages on my side in that battle, and not allow them to be secured by him.

On the morning of the 29th of June the army was put in motion. On the night of the 30th, after the army had made two days marches, I had become satisfied, from information which I had received from different sources, that the enemy was apprised of my movement; that he had relinquished his hold on the Susquehanna; that he was concentrating his forces, and that I might expect to come in contact with him in a very short time; when and where, I could not at that moment tell. Under those circumstances, I instructed my engineers with such information as we had in our possession, from maps and from such knowledge of the country as we could obtain from individuals, to look about and select some general ground, having a general reference to the existing position of the army, by which, in case the enemy should advance on me across the South mountain, I might be able, by rapid movement of concentration, to occupy this position, and be prepared to give him battle upon my own terms. With this view the general line of Pipe-clay creek, I [356] think, was selected; and a preliminary order, notifying the corps commanders that such line might possibly be adopted, and directing them, in the event of my finding it in my power to take such a position, how they might move their corps and what their positions should be along this line. This order was issued, I think, on the night of the 30th of June, possibly on the morning of the 1st of July, certainly before any positive information had reached me that the enemy had crossed the mountain and were in conflict with any portion of my force.

On the 1st of July, my headquarters being at Taneytown, and having directed the advance of two corps the previous day to Gettysburg, with the intention of occupying that place, about 1 or 2 o'clock in the day, I should think, I received information that the advance of my army, under Major General Reynolds, of the 1st corps, on their reaching Gettysburg, had encountered the enemy in force, and that the 1st and 11th corps were at that time engaged in a contest with such portions of the enemy as were there. The moment I received this information I directed Major General Hancock, who was with me at the time, to proceed without delay to the scene of the contest; and, having in view this preliminary order which I had issued to him, as well as to other corps commanders, I directed him to make an examination of the ground in the neighborhood of Gettysburg and to report to me, without loss of time, the facilities and advantages or disadvantages of that ground for receiving battle. I furthermore instructed him that in case, upon his arrival at Gettysburg—a place which I had never seen in my life, and had no more knowledge of than you have now—he should find the position unsuitable and the advantages on the side of the enemy, he should examine the ground critically as he went out there and report to me the nearest position in the immediate neighborhood of Gettysburg where a concentration of the army would be more advantageous than at Gettysburg.

Early in the evening of July 1, I should suppose about 6 or 7 o'clock, I received a report from General Hancock, I think in person, giving me such an account of a position in the neighborhood of Gettysburg, which could be occupied by my army, as caused me at once to determine to fight a battle at that point; having reason to believe, from the account given to me of the operations of July 1, that the enemy were concentrating there. Therefore, without any reference to but entirely ignoring the preliminary order, which was a mere contingent one, and intended only to be executed under certain circumstances which had not occurred, and therefore the order fell to the ground—the army was ordered immediately to concentrate, and that night did concentrate, on the field of Gettysburg, where the battle was eventually fought out.

I dwell particularly upon the point of this order, in consequence of its having been reported on the floor of the Senate that an order to retreat had been given by me. No order to retreat was at any time given by me. But, as I have already stated, a preliminary order, a copy of which is herewith furnished (see copy appended to this deposition), was issued by me before I was aware that the enemy had crossed the mountain, and that there was any collision between the two forces. That preliminary [357] order was intended as an order of manoeuvre, based upon contingencies which did not occur, and therefore the order was not executed. Such an order was given, as I have already acknowledged.

On the next day, July 2, the army was got into position at Gettysburg. Early in the morning it had been my intention, as soon as the 6th corps arrived on the ground—it having a distance of nearly thirty-two miles to march—and a preliminary order had been issued, to make a vigorous attack from our extreme right upon the enemy's left, the command of which was to be given to Major General Slocum, who commanded the 12th corps on the right. The attacking column was to be composed of the 12th, 5th, and 6th corps. Major General Slocum, however, reported that the character of the ground in front was unfavorable to making an attack; and the 6th corps, having so long a distance to march, and leaving at nine o'clock at night, did not reach the scene until about two o'clock in the afternoon. Under these circumstances I abandoned my intention to make an attack from my right, and, as soon as the 6th corps arrived, I directed the 5th corps, then in reserve on the right, to move over and be in reserve on the left. About three or half past 3 o'clock in the afternoon—it having been reported to me about two o'clock that the 6th corps had arrived—I proceeded from my headquarters, which were about the centre of the line, and in rear of the cemetery, to the extreme left, in order to see as to the posting of the 5th corps, and also to inspect the position of the 3d corps, about which I was in doubt.

I had sent instructions in the morning to General Sickles, commanding the 3d corps, directing him to form his corps in line of battle on the left of the 2d corps, commanded by General Hancock, and I had indicated to him, in general terms, that his right was to rest upon General Hancock's left; and his left was to extend to the Round Top mountain, plainly visible, if it was practicable to occupy it. During the morning I sent a staff officer to inquire of General Sickles whether he was in position. The reply was returned to me that General Sickles said there was no position there. I then sent back to him my general instructions which had been previously given. A short time afterwards General Sickles came to my headquarters, and I told him what my general views were, and intimated that he was to occupy the position that I understood General Hancock had put General Geary in the night previous. General Sickles replied that General Geary had no position, as far as he could understand. He then said to me 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 instructions 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 General Sickles and examine and inspect such positions as General Sickles thought good for artillery, and to give General Sickles the benefit of his judgment. [358]

In consequence of these several messages to General Sickles, and this conversation with him, as soon as I heard that the 6th corps had arrived, and that the 5th corps was moving over to the left, I went out to the left for the purpose of inspecting General Sickles's position, and to see about the posting of the 5th corps. When I arrived upon the ground, which I did a few minutes before 4 o'clock in the afternoon, I found that

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