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First day on left at Gettysburg. From Richmond, Va., Times-dispatch, February 19, 1905.

General Early's Advice—An oft-repeated incident corroborated by a witness who was there.

Major James McDowell Carrington tells a thrilling story of thrilling deeds.

The article below is from the excellent pen of Major James McDowell Carrington, who in the battle of Gettysburg was captain of the Charlottesville Artillery, and is now a distinguished lawer of Washington city. The Major's statements confirm the close presence of General Early and Ewell on the field the first day at Gettysburg, and gives evidence as to one of the occasions upon which General Early advised an assault on Cemetery Hill that afternoon. Colonel Harry Gilmore, of Maryland, in his book, ‘Four Years in the Saddle,’ tells almost identically the same story as Major Carrington.

John G. Williams, Esq., a respected lawyer of high standing at Orange Courthouse, writes to the same effect on this topic, and I myself, was a personal witness of the fact, which I recall as if it were yesterday, of the message sent in my presence by General Early to General A. P. Hill before he met General Ewell, telling him that in his opinion assault should not be delayed, and that if General Hill would put in his corps, he, Early, would take the responsibility of joining the assault without waiting. The witnesses on this subject are so numerous and so reliable and General Early's own repeated testimony found in his book and in his historical papers which have been published, make the fact as plain as any fact about the war that Early was close upon the field in troops and both advised and urged an immediate assault. The account given by General Gordon in his book of this day's operations is erroneous when it refers to General Early, and it contains many errors which I suppose later to show with the proofs thereof. The time at [327] which General Gordon speaks in his book of being commanded to halt was just at that time when Hay's and Hoke's Brigade (under Colonel Avery), and Captain Carrington's Artillery was being brought forward by Early on Gordon's left to capture Heckman's battery and to repulse the troops of General Custar, who were very troublesome at that juncture. The gallant Louisianians and North Carolinians did capture the guns and hurled back Custar's troops, but are not given even a scant reference by General Gordon in his book, although they were the adjacent troops of the division to which he belonged; nor does he give his division commanded any credit for the rapid and vigorous movement by which he accomplished this result. While Major-General Rodes, his comrade on many fields, and Brigadier-General Hayes, of Louisiana, likewise his comrade on many fields, fought gallantly and effectively on that day, the one to the right and the one to the left of him, so far as General Gordon's book is concerned, one would not know that these men ever existed. General Gordon had at that time, according to his report, which is in the war records, only about 800 men present with him on the field after his charge was over. Yet he speaks of my command ‘as if it were an army corps.’ If he alone could have captured the Federal works and driven away the Federal army from the summit of Cemetery Hill as his book intimates, he would have done with this handful of soldiers, had he not been halted, he and his brigade had better have been detailed to fight the war out by themselves for the rest of the Confederate army would have been a surplus quantity. I do not suppose that any general ever thought of assigning that job to one brigade. The truth is, no one ever had an idea that Gordon's brigade could have accomplished it, and at the time he was halted there was war-like business enough on hand immediately to his left (though probably not in his sight because of the undulating ground), that gave abundant occupation to two brigades of Early's division in their successful assault to which he makes no reference whatever.

Major Carrington does not refer to the intervening facts which induced General Ewell to advance his corps on the afternoon of the first against Cemetery Hill. That fact was the message that came from our left that the enemy were there appearing, [328] and of this in all probability Major Carrington was not apprised at the time of the battle. Circumstances of the incident have often been related and it is needless to repeat them here. Major Carrington's article presents certain phases of the first day's fight accurately, and ably; and with a high spirit of comradeship and good grace, which are worthy of that officers's brave and honorable career.

At the time of the battle of Gettysburg, I was captain of what was known as ‘The Charlottesville Artillery.’ and commanded it in that momentous struggle. This battery was one of four which composed Jones' Battalion, the other three being Courtney Artillery, Captain W. A. Tanner; Louisiana Guard Artillery, Captain C. A. Green, and the Staunton Artillery, Captain A. W. Garber. This battalion composed the artillery of Early's Division. Permit me to say just here that I think I knew General Early as well as could be expected of a young officer of my rank. I knew of him before the war; he was quite an intimate friend of my father, General Edward C. Carrington, Sr., and was major of the First Virginia Regiment in Mexico, in which my brother, General Edward C. Carrington, Jr., commanded the first company. I always entertained great respect for General Early. Like the rest of humanity, he had some weaknesses, but he was undoubtedly a brave man and skillful soldier. Eminent as a patriot, and intensely devoted to his native State, few men had stronger convictions, and dared to maintain them with more courage. He was kind and considerate to his subordinate officers, and was always ready to defend and advise them. He had a quaint humor, and a good deal of sarcasm, but with it all he was kindhearted and magnamimous. The termination of his splendid career as a soldier on account of the odds against him and the disadvantages under which he labored in his last valley campaign, was touching and pathetic.

I am disposed to do anything in my humble way to prevent any aspersion of his memory or any unjust criticism upon him. I had also great respect for General Gordon, and admiration for that distinguished officer. I believe he was the best citizen [329] soldier of the war. If he had been educated at West Point, great as his achievements were, there is no telling what more he might have accomplished in the military line. He was daring and absolutely fearless in battle, and a most thorough and accomplished gentleman.

General Early's enforced contribution.

When we went into Pennsylvania, of course, my battery moved with Early's Division, and we finally, on June 2, 1863, landed in the Fair Grounds of York, without any incident worthy of mention here. In that city we were treated with much kindness by many of its citizens, and there I met friends and acquaintances who were cordial and hospitable. General Gordon, in his article in Scribner's of July 1903, refers to the fact that General Early levied a contribution upon the citizens of York to satisfy the urgent necessities of his men; but I do not know that he ‘contracted to pay for these things some time after the independence of the Confederacy.’ It sounds a little characteristic of the old general, and like one of his jokes. Perhapes he had faith in the ultimate independence of the Confederacy, and considered he was making an honest contract. Maybe it was attributed to him as many jokes were attributed to Mr. Lincoln without any foundation. However, I think it was a fact that his men were more comfortable when they left York than when they entered.

On the morning of June 30th, we left York and moved along the turnpike towards Heddlersburg. After resting that night near that village, Early's Division, with Lieutenant-Colonel Hilary P. Jones' Battalion of Artillery accompanying it, marched toward Gettysburg, which was south of us, and near which we could hear the roar of the battle, in which Lieutenant-General Hill's corps had become engaged. On reaching a position, from which Gettysburg came in view, about a mile distant, we could see the battle raging on our right. My battery was halted in the road, somewhat further in the direction of Gettysburg, and on the north side of Rock Creek, an open undulating field lying between us and the suburbs of Gettysburg, which was situated on the slope approaching Cemetery Hill, and was about twelve hundred or fourteen hundred yards distant. [330]

The other three batteries of Jones' Battalion had been ordered a short distance to the left of the road and immediately went into action, firing at Federal batteries that were coming into position over the northern side of Rock Creek and other side of Gettysburg. These Federal batteries responded almost simultaneously with the firing of our own, and it was at this point that the remarkable incident occurred of a solid shot from one of the enemy's guns entering and lodging in the muzzle of one of the guns of Garber's Battery. I suppose this is the only occurrence of the kind on record. While these batteries were thus engaged, I and my men became a little impatient, and General Early passed by towards the front. He paused for a moment, and I playfully stated this to him. He replied to me good-naturedly that I need not be impatient, that there would be plenty for me to do after a while. Now, this undoubtedly locates General Early on the northern side of the creek at that moment. He rode off, and I suppose an interval of ten or fifteen minutes elapsed, when I saw Gordon's men on the southern side of the creek gallantly advancing towards the enemy in the open field I have described. General Gordon in leading them presented a splendid picture of gallantry, there being nothing to obstruct the view. In a few moments an order came to me to move across the bridge in front of me over Rock Creek, and follow up Gordon's men. My recollection is General Early gave me this order in person, because I remember it seemed to be very hazardous, and I hesitated as to the best method of doing it. The enemy's batteries were throwing occasional shells at the bridge, and, if any of my horses had been knocked down, it would have blocked the way. The order was peremptory, and it was suggested that I should take one piece across at a time. This was done, and this order was given by some person in authority; and while I am not certain, I think it was no less a person than General Early himself. I did obey this order, and in a short time had my entire battery across safely.

After reaching the southern side, turned to the right and got into the field I have described, and there it is certain that General Early joined me and rode with me slowly at the head of my battery, in the direction of Gordon's troops and the town, General Early was silent as we rode together, most of the time, [331] his attention being absorbed by what was going on in front. He was perfectly cool, but manifested the deepest interest. He stated to me very briefly in substance, that if anything happened to Gordon's men, he wanted me to unlimber my battery immediately; I suppose, as a rallying point, in case such a thing became necessary. When we got about the middle of the field, General Early suddenly turned his horse towards me and in quick sharp tones, ordered me to prepare my battery for action. My six guns were soon in line and unlimbered. General Early standing by when we executed the movement. Just then there seemed to be some halt or cessation, momentary in General Gordon's fire, which I did not understand. General Early then rode slowly in the direction of the town, and stopped for a few moments. I rode up, stopping my horse near him. My battery was then probably fifty yards in the rear of us, unlimbered and ready for action.

While in this position one of my sergeants rode up to me and stated that a wounded Federal officer was lying near the battery, and had expressed a wish to see me. General Early heard this, and in a kind manner said to me: ‘Go back and see what he wants.’ I did so, found lying between one of my caissons and a gun, a Federal officer in the uniform of a lieutenant-colonel. I got off my horse, told him I was captain of the battery, and wished to know what he wanted. He stated to me in a manly way that he was helpless from the effect of his wound, and asked me to remove him to a place of safety. I immediately said to him: ‘Certainly, Colonel, that shall be done.’ Four of my men took him up and laid him in the corner of the fence near by. I rode over to where he was, and had some conversation with him. I raised his head and placed his overcoat under it to make him more comfortable. At this he expressed much surprise, and intimated that he did not expect such kindness from a Confederate soldier. I remonstrated with him for such a sentiment. He had on a handsome pair of field glasses, which he offered to me. At first I declined them, reminding him of General Lee's strict orders in regard to such things. He insisted, however, that I should take them, saying that they would be a temptation on account of their value for some Federal or Confederate who might pass by, to knock him [332] in the head. I at last accepted the glasses as a present. Some years afterwards I was in Gettysburg and related this incident. It got to the ears of Colonel Batchelder, who was in command there. He informed me that the officer was Lieutenant-Governor Lee, of Ohio. I have never heard personally from Governor Lee since. I then rode back to General Early. I suppose all of this consumed perhaps ten minutes. I had hardly reached the General when he suddenly and hurriedly started off, telling me to remain where I was until further orders. During all this time I do not remember any member of his staff, not even the courier, speaking to the General. I suppose they were all occupied elsewhere.

In ten or fifteen minutes perhaps, some of Hay's Brigade made their appearance upon our left, and on their left Hoke's Brigade soon came up. In a few moments afterwards the fight began again, in which Gordon's, Hoke's and Hay's brigades participated, and, I think, a part of General Hill's corps, on our right. The wild Confederate yell was soon heard by us, indicating victory. I rode a little further with my battery, and it seemed to me, as a youthful soldier, in the confusion, that the whole Federal army was routed. Such an impression speedily grew among my men and those about us. Much to my delight and that of my company, an order came to me to advance into the town. I had not advanced perhaps over four hundred yards into the main street. I think, of Gettysburg, when I received an order to halt. I did so, of course, and seeing the confusion ahead of me in the street, and not knowing what would turn up, I unlimbered three of my pieces and ordered my men to get several rounds of canister from the caisons and place them near the muzzle of the guns. I notice General Ewell says, in his report of the battle: ‘So far as I can learn, no other troops than those of this corps entered the town at all.’ I can add to that that no other Confederate battery entered and unlimbered in the streets of Gettysburg except the Charlottesville Battery, which I had the honor to command. I remained in this position for perhaps twenty minutes or half an hour, when I saw General Early ride up, and then General Gordon and several other officers, to join General in the field I had just left. I could not resist the temptation to ride up myself to see what was the matter, [333] and why the battle had so suddenly stopped. I naturally and modestly held my horse a little back from this distinguished group, but caught portions of the conversation, but too indistinctly to attempt to repeat it at this late day; but I think I cannot be mistaken when I say that both General Early and General Gordon were earnestly urging an immediate and further advance. I could not hear General Ewell's language, but evidently General Ewell's manner indicated resistance to their appeal. We did not hear of General Lee's appearance about our lines, I should think, for an hour and a half or two hours after this. Then it became rumored amongst us that General Lee was on the grounds. Of course, I knew nothing of the interview General Gordon spoke about in the red barn, as he says that occurred at 2 o'clock at night, and at that hour I and my men and horses were enjoying much needed rest.

I do not know that General Gordon had any knowledge of what I have just written in regard to my movements with my company and General Early. I never made any report of it, and I do not know that General Early did; and General Gordon's attention, of course, was directed to the front. My battery was not engaged at all on the 2nd and 3rd. I was ordered back to a certain point on the railroad. My instructions were to remain there and guard that point. I do not know the object; and it turned out I had nothing to do. The consequence was that my horses and men were rested and in good condition, and I was ordered by General Early to carry up the rear of his division in the retreat.

I think it was very near daylight the next morning when I left Gettysburg. There appeared to be no hurry or confusion. My recollection is that Colonel White's battalion of cavalry remained between me and the enemy during the day, and acted as a sort of escort for me, though I had to unlimber several times to make a show against the enemy's advance, nothing of consequence occurred until we reached a place called Fairfield, on July 5th, when they brought up a battery upon the hills in the rear of us and killed several of my horses, and broke the tongue of one of my pieces. This blocked the road for a few moments, but it was not five minutes before General Early was [334] by my side telling me not to leave the piece. I soon got fresh horses, moved into a field near by, ready for action; General Early moved off, and in a very few moments several of his brigade, if not the whole of his division, was in line of battle, ready to meet the enemy. This was done with wonderful quickness and skill, but the enemy did not advance upon us. There were no other incidents that I remember worthy of mention during the day.

Gordon, Early, Ewell (?), Longstreet and Lee.

I do not think General Gordon ever intended in his book, to say anything that might reflect upon the memory or reputation of his two distinguished comrades, Generals Ewell and Early, for it would be directly in opposition to the spirit indicated in his article, where he speaks of General Longstreet, and says:

‘It is a source of profound regret that he and his friends should have been into such unprofitable and ill tempered controversy with the friends of our immortal chieftain.’

He does, however, speak as follows:

‘On the first day neither General Early nor General Ewell could possibly have been fully cognizant of the situation at the time I was ordered to halt.’

Then General Gordon goes on and describes the scene, and says further:

‘It is not surprising, from the full realization of the consequences of disobedience even then, but for the fact that the order to halt was accompanied by an explanation that General Lee was several miles away, and did not wish to give battle at Gettysburg.’

He then goes on with the old story of what General Lee is said to have said about what would have occurred if Jackson had been there. General Gordon continues and says that he longed for the presence of General Jackson, &c. ow this does imply that he, though the order coming to him, either from Ewell or Early was so ill-time, that he, as a subordinate officer, [335] was inclined not to obey it, and he only obeyed it because he thought it was in accordance with General Lee's wishes.

With the memory of this great event before him, and the gallant and conspicuous part he had acted in it, I think General Gordon is pardonable for speaking in this enthusiastic way, without intending to accuse him of any reflection upon his departed comrades.

Now, on the other hand, what did General Early say about the matter? He delivered an address before the Washington and Lee University in 1875 or 76, I think (if you have not a copy of this, you can find it in the Congressional Library), in which he uses this language:

‘There was a time, as it appears now, immediately after the enemy was driven back, when, if we had advanced vigorously, the heights of Gettysburg would possibly have been taken. But that was not then apparent. I was in favor of the advance, but I thing it doubtful whether it would have been resulted in any greater advantage that to throw back the two routed corps on the main body of the army, and cause the great battle to be fought on other grounds. Moreover, it is not improbable that the arrival of two fresh corps may have turned the fate of the day against our troops.’

Now, that shows that General Early was in favor of the advance, but not apparently enthusiastic about it, and he is magnanimous enough to give his views about it, in order to shield General Ewell from adverse criticism.

Now, what does General Ewell say about it? ‘I notified the general commanding of my movements, and was informed by him that in case we found the enemy's force very large, he did not want a general engagement brought on until the rest of the army came up.’ Evidently there was a good deal for General Ewell to think about. In another part of his report he says: ‘The enemy had fallen back to a commanding position known as Cemetery Hill, south of Gettysburg, and quickly showed a formidable front there. On entering the town I received a message from the commanding general to attack this hill if I could [336] do so to advantage. I could not bring artillery to bear upon it, and all the troops with me were jaded by a number of hours of marching and fighting, and I was notified that General Johnston's division (the only one of my corps that had not been engaged), was close to the town.’ Now, that is General Ewell's reasons assigned for not pushing the advantage of the first day. I am not military man enough to express an opinion as to their sufficiency. There are many different opinions upon the subject.

General Ewell defended.

But what does General Lee say? ‘General Ewell was therefore instructed to carry the hill occupied by the enemy, if he found it practicable; but to avoid a general engagement until the arrival of the other divisions of the army, which were ordered to hasten forward. He decided to await Johnston's division, which had marched from Carlisle by the road west of the mountains to guard the trains of his corps, and consequently did not reach Gettysburg until a late hour.’ Now, General Lee left ie entirely to the discretion of his subordinate, when he might have given a peremptory order. Of course, that grand man is to magnanimous to blame him for the way he exercised this discretion. The responsibility placed upon General Ewell was tremendous. Instead of blaming him, for he says: ‘It was ascertained from the prisoners that we had been engaged with two corps of the army formerly commanded by General Hooker, and the remainder of that army, under General Meade, was approaching Gettysburg. Without information as to its proximity, the strong position which the enemy had assumed could not be attacked without danger of exposing the four divisions present, already weakened and exhausted by a long and bloody struggle, to overwhelming numbers of fresh troops.’

General Hill says: ‘My own two divisions being exhausted by six hours hard fighting, prudence led me to be content with what had been gained, and not push forward troops exhausted and necessarily disordered, probably to encounter fresh troops of the enemy.’

Now, with such testimony as this, I coudl never never see the [337] justice of the criticisms upon General Ewell. In fact, I think they are unjust, and I am inclined to believe that it was not entirely magnanimity upon the part of General Lee and General Ewell was very much influenced by their views. I am not one of those of the Army of Northern Virginia who is disposed to criticise the conduct of our brave comrades, who are not here to defend themselves. No man will doubt that Ewell and Early attempted to do, and did do, their duty as experienced, brave, patriotic soldiers should do, and it is temerity upon the part of any one who attempts to criticise at this late day these heroic soldiers.

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