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Heth intended to cover his error.

Colonel John S. Mosby gives his version of New chapter in Lee-Stuart controversy.

By Colonel John S. Mosby.
The Times-Dispatch of February 20, at the request of Colonel T. M. R. Talcott publishes a letter written by General Heth over thirty years ago in reference to the manner in which he brought on the battle of Gettysburg without order from General Lee. Heth's letter was published in the Southern Historical Society Papers; but they did not publish my reply. This is the way that history is manufactured in Richmond.

I refer in my book, ‘Stuart's Cavalry in the Gettysburg Campaign,’ to Heth's letter and quote it on pages 150-151-152-154.

Heth gives an entirely different account in this letter of the way the battle was precipitated against orders by A. P. Hill and himself from both his own and Hill's official reports to General Lee. The latter says they went on July 1st after shoes: both reports say they went to make a reconnaissance and do not say they went after shoes; nor do they pretend they went under orders. Heth's motive in writing his letter was to create a diversion from himself and to put historians on a false scent.

What Records show.

He says that the letter was written to give information to the Count of Paris. He succeeded in fooling the Count. According to Heth's letter only his division went after shoes. The Records show that A. P. Hill took Pender's and Heth's divisions and two battalions of artillery to make what he calls in his report to cover his blunder, a reconnaissance; but which it is clear he intended as nothing but a foray. In my book (page 152) I say,

Now Heth's story is contradicted by A. P. Hill, the commander of the [370] corps, whose report says that he put Pender's division in to support Heth's that was in distress, and that about 2:30 in the afternoon, Ewell with Early and Rodes' divisions came in and formed a right angle to his line and the field was won.

Just as true an account of the battle as Heth's letter can be found in the Pickwick Papers. Rodes' report shows that Heth's story is a fable. The truth is that when Heth, early in the morning went into action, General Lee was ten miles away west of the mountain, Heth tries to make it appear that Lee was on the field.

Other reports on the movement.

Pendleton's report says they heard the firing when they were on the western slope of the mountain and that General Lee did not understand it. When Rodes arived on the field Heth's division was in fragments. Heth says he “stumbled” into the fight; he ought to have said he blundered into it. He says that had the cavalry been in position, General Lee would have known of Reynold's approach to Gettysburg and would have occupied the place and made it impregnable. But the absence of cavalry was no reason for Heth's going there on a raid; it might have been a good reason for his staying in camp. This statement assumes that Gettysburg was Lee's objective point; it was not. Lee was as willing for Meade to be at Gettysburg as anywhere else; he had no idea of going there himself before he heard the firing. He went to the rescue of A. P. Hill and Heth.’

General Lee had known for a week that Meade was moving North from Frederick and that he must be in the vicinity of Gettysburg. As a cavalry division was already there, he knew without being told that Meade's army must be near. He selected and held Cashtown Pass as his point of concentration because nature made it impregnable. He would have a mountain-wall to cover his flank and the rich Cumberland Valley behind him.

If he had ordered the army to Gettysburg he would have been with the leading division and would have occupied the place several days before, instead of halting Hill's corps at Cashtown.

There was more reason for censuring Lee for being absent from the field than Stuart. [371]

It is impossible to believe that General Lee ever professed the ignorance of the movements of Stuart that Heth, Long, and his staff-officers have attributed to him. If he had done so, it would have been affectation. He knew that his and Longstreet's orders would carry Stuart for a while into a state of eclipse; around the enemy, out of sight, and out of communication with him.

Heth delivered the judgment in his letter that “the failure to crush the Federal army in Pennsylvania can be expressed in five words—the absence of cavalry; ” I would rather say it was due to the “presence of Heth.” ’

The much-mooted letter-book.

In another letter in the Philadelphia Times of December 27, 1877, Heth professes to have read in General Lee's letter-book his instructions to Stuart to keep in close contact and communication with Longstreet. Now the contents of the letter-book have since been published and I have read the original copies. Heth's account of what he read in the book is pure fiction. Instead of ordering Stuart to keep on Longstreet's flank, he ordered him to leave Longstreet in Virginia, cross the Potomac, and join Ewell on the Susquehanna—a hundred miles away.

It was all the same to Lee at what ford Stuart crossed the Potomac.

Heth's letter was written to give information to the Count of Paris. It is the origin of his criticism of Stuart in his History of the War.

‘As for cavalry there were as many with Ewell as there were with Reynolds that day. Buford fought his two brigades dismounted in the morning when Heth attacked him. There were no cavalry charges on either side. If there had existed any necessity to make a reconnaissance Lee's headquarters were near and so were Ewell's cavalry. The order should have come from the commander-in-chief. Hill and Heth never informed him of the exploit they meditated. He would never have sanctioned it.’

Now Heth says that if our cavalry had been there there would have been no battle at Gettysburg. He does not say how cavalry could have kept him and Hill away; he unconsciously pays a [372] high tribute to the commander of the cavalry and criticizes General Lee. Stuart was away by Lee's orders. If anybody was to blame for the absence of the cavalry it was General Lee.

Stuart could have done no more.

All that Stuart could have done if he had been there would have been to tell Hill and Heth that if they went to Gettysburg they would be sure to precipitate a battle before the army was concentrated and where Lee did not intend to fight one.

A body of cavalry could have done no more. But Hill and Heth were not blind — they knew the enemy held Gettysburg; so they did not need cavalry to tell them. They evidently expected to bag a few thousand Yankees, return to Cashtown, and present them to General Lee that evening. But to use a common expression ‘they bit off more than they could chaw.’ They left Cashtown at 5 in the morning in as gay spirits as John Gilpin's when he started off to Edmonton to have a wedding feast.

It was after all not much of a feast.

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