Book IV:—Third winter.
N the evening of July 4th the two armies present near Gettysburg
have already had time to review their situation and to estimate the extent of their losses.
Including prisoners, the Confederate infantry has been reduced by more than one-third, the Federal infantry by over one-fourth.
On both sides the officers exposed themselves gallantly, and the most adventurous chiefs were struck.
Moreover, the Army of the Potomac, in addition to its positive losses, is still further reduced by the absence of from twelve to fifteen thousand men who did not answer to their names at the morning roll-call on the 4th.
The retreat of the Confederate army is begun; Lee
's plan is decided on. His objective is the ponton bridge left by him on the Potomac
at Falling Waters
, four miles below the ford at Williamsport
To recruit his strength before risking further battles, his army must again set foot on the friendly soil of Virginia
Still, as we have said, Meade
cannot as yet realize the full extent of his own success.
He hesitates, and wishes to wait twenty-four hours before deciding what course to pursue.
This first fault will be followed by many another which will entail upon the Army of the Potomac the loss of part of the advantages which its victory ought to have secured.
Indeed, the recollection of the check experienced by the Confederates
in their ineffectual assaults upon the Unionist positions will haunt the mind of Meade
so long as he will find himself alone confronting Lee
. He will think of nothing but obliging Lee
to renew those assaults; he will constantly avoid assuming the offensive when he finds Lee
posted in his front; and, as the Southern
general is above all anxious to be sparing of his troops,
battles will be followed by evolutions.
The Army of the Potomac, which since its arrival at Fort Monroe
has fought eleven pitched battles in sixteen months, is now going to remain ten months without renewing those great contests.
But that will not be for want of marching or for not feeling its adversary's pulse.
A result so important for the Confederate
cause is almost sufficient to justify the campaign, highly imprudent in other respects, which was unexpectedly interrupted at Gettysburg
As we said, Lee
, with about forty thousand men on Seminary Hill
, was covering the two roads of Fairfield
One large train has taken the latter.
Another, composed principally of the wagons of the Second corps, follows the first, which is shorter, and on which it precedes the army.
will reconnoitre on its flank toward Emmettsburg, and Robertson
will protect it in the defiles of South Mountain
As soon as the sun is down Hill
's corps begins its march.
That of Longstreet
, which follows, is guarding the four thousand Federal prisoners; Pickett
's division will conduct them as far as Williamsport
, without allowing itself to be turned aside by the strategic movements which may be prescribed to the remainder of the First corps.
The Second, by its position, the most remote from the Fairfield
road, closes the line of march.
Each corps is followed by quite a considerable number of wagons and by its artillery, and Early
's division, having charge of the rear-guard, which left its bivouac at two in the morning, sees the sun rising above the heights of Gettysburg
without being able to advance on the encumbered road: the Confederate army seems to regret leaving these heights, at the base of which so many valiant soldiers lie. Early's position is perilous, for, Stuart
having started with three brigades for Emmettsburg, a mere curtain of cavalry covers the retreat of the former, and the Federal
signal corps on Round Top
have for some time past been signalling his movements.
Fortunately for him, Meade
, as yet, has given no order.
Before proceeding any further we must indicate rapidly the configuration of the country which the two armies are about to cross in order to reach the banks of the Potomac
We have already said that South Mountain
, a prolongation of the Blue Ridge
, separates the fertile Cumberland Valley
from the undulating plain which lies between the Potomac
on the south, the Susquehanna
on the north, and Chesapeake Bay
on the east.
It was by the Cumberland Valley
: he had gone out of it to march on Gettysburg
; he returned to it to resume the road to Virginia
Besides the railroad which from Harrisburg
is extended through Chambersburg
as far as Hagerstown
, the Cumberland Valley
is furrowed by several great roads and numerous ways, all practicable in summer-time.
A flourishing agriculture spares the ancient forests only on the mountainsides and in soil naturally poor.
Everywhere else the cultivation of the cereals alternates with pasturage which feeds numerous herds of cattle.
The country is consequently open, although it is unfavorable to military evolutions, as it opposes to manoeuvres in line the obstacle of frequent fences either of wood or stone.
During the previous year, before the battle of Antietam
had defended the crest of South Mountain
But this crest is very long, its passages are very numerous, and paths which scale the summit allow of the principal gaps being turned.
For this reason the Southern
general did not think it would be possible for him the day after a defeat to pause on that line.
Full of confidence, doubtless, in the slowness of his adversaries, he did not even think of availing himself of such an obstacle if they should venture to cross the river in his rear.
By reason of the course of the Potomac
and Harper's Ferry
, he hoped to be able to cross over into Virginia
came up with him. At Hancock
, the most northerly point of the river, it almost reaches the boundary-line of Pennsylvania
; at Williamsport
it receives, by the Conococheague, the greater part of the waters of the Cumberland Valley
; then, as it nears Harper's Ferry
before passing the mountains, it winds between the smaller heights which run parallel to the principal chain and furrow the plain.
its course is east-south-east; from that point to Harper's Ferry
it gradually inclines to the south.
The country situated on the left bank of the river in this latter part of its course is much more undulating and less fertile than the remainder of the Cumberland Valley
It is intersected by an important stream, the Antietam
, and by rivulets that are very
marshy and which are swollen by the first rainfall, enclosed by hills the sides of which are generally wooded.
directed his course toward Williamsport
, because it is the point on the Potomac
the least remote from Gettysburg
The angle formed by the river at this place offered another advantage for the crossing of the Confederate army.
followed that army step by step, the two branches of the angle protected both its flanks as soon as the passage should be effected, and the army could then descend by the right bank as far as Harper's Ferry
fully covered by the river; for the fear of exposing Washington
from penetrating Virginia
For the same reason he could not cross the Potomac
in advance of his adversary, and if he sought the passage of South Mountain
in order to return from there on Williamsport
, he would make a detour which would give Lee
abundant time to pass into Virginia
The pontons on which Longstreet
had crossed the river were at Falling Water, inside of a bend near which runs the turnpike road from Martinsburg
To reach this last point Lee
could avail himself of a high road which was all the better because it had not as yet been travelled by either of the two armies.
This road, which begins at