The Life and Campaigns of General Lee, by Edward Lee Childe, Chapter 13

The Life and Campaigns of General Lee, by Edward Lee Childe


BUT the great struggle had already commenced. The fortuitous meeting of the two advanced-guards had brought about a collision which soon assumed the dimensions of a great battle. Lee was driven to an unwonted course by a combination of unforeseen circumstances. He had no more wish to fight than General Meade; unless, at least, on a ground of his own choosing, and yet now, these two commanders, in spite of themselves, for neither had a design of selecting Gettysburg as the place of their rencontre, were about to measure their strength with each other, and commit to the hazard of an unforeseen battle, the destinies of their respective causes.

Gettysburg is a small town in Pennsylvania, situated in a valley where several roads cross. A short distance off, south of the town, rises a height, running north and south, but inclining suddenly to the east on approaching Gettysburg. On its summit is a cemetery; whence it bears the name of Cemetery Hill. Opposite and to the west of the town, another flight of hills extends, parallel to the former, but lower, named Seminary Ridge. Further still to the west, in a country somewhat uneven, flows a little water-course, Willoughby Run. In the same direction, nearly ten miles distant, the blue peaks of South Mountain branch off. On the morning of July 1st, General Lee had just emerged from these mountains by the village of Cashtown, marching direct on Gettysburg, when Hill, who commanded the van, found himself suddenly in the presence of the hostile columns at Willoughby Run. it was the cavalry of General Buford, who preceded the 1st corps of Federal infantry. Hill had no difficulty in driving it before him to the first houses in Gettysburg. At 10 o’clock, a.m., General Reynolds marched his cavalry to Buford’s assistance, and occupied Seminary Ridge. A ball struck him as he was ranging his men in order of battle. In him Meade lost one of his best and most energetic division generals. His soldiers, led by General Doubleday, avenged the death of their commander by a well-conducted charge, making the Southern General Archer a prisoner, together with a part of his brigade.

Hill, however, coming to the succour of his side, put in line 14,000 men, and drove back the Unionists. To both parties reinforcements flowed in. Howard, with the Federal 11th corps, arrived on the ground at midday, and took the command. The Federals had at least 20,000 infantry. Ewell, who was coming from Carlisle, hastened forward at the report of cannon, and emerged on the ground from the north, shortly after noon, with Rodes’s division; Early’s followed. The arrival of these reinforcements increased the Confederates to 22,000 men. Rodes assaulted the Federal flank, and the combat was very sharp. Hill at the same moment attacked the enemy’s front. It already began to waver when Early appeared, and, by a magnificent charge, completed the work, as regarded the 11th corps, the whole Federal line being thrown into disorder. Howard was driven through and beyond the village. The general had had the prudence to leave one of his divisions in reserve on the top of Cemetery Hill. Thanks to this intact nucleus he could rally his troops; and thanks in particular to the falling night the battle ceased.

Against Early’s opinion, who wished to take the heights without losing a moment, Ewell and Hill judged it most prudent to await the morning. Johnson and Anderson’s divisions, each forming one-third of their respective corps, had not yet come; the positions occupied by the enemy seemed formidable, and it was not known whether there were any reserves behind the Federal troops they had just fought. Further, the success they had gained in the conflict had cost them dear.

They resolved, therefore, to be content with having completely defeated two corps of the Union army, with having taken 5000 prisoners and several guns. It is easy for us, after the event, and with our knowledge of all that had passed, to see that they let their one great opportunity escape. But having only the facts under their eyes to guide them, the resolution they came to was wise and sensible.

General Lee had sent orders to Hill to continue the pursuit; but when he arrived in person he found Hill had left off, and recalled his troops; the general-in-chief, therefore, at that advanced hour was compelled to postpone any further movement till the next day.

As for General Meade, he had just ordered a concentration on Pipe Creek, when he heard of the Confederate attack on Gettysburg and the death of Reynolds. He at once sent General Hancock to take the command, enjoining him to let him know whether, in his opinion, the Gettysburg position was one in which to accept battle. Hancock arrived on the spot after the fight had ended. He placed his troops, examined the position, and sent Meade a report counselling him to concentrate all his army at Gettysburg. Truth to speak, after what had just happened, there was nothing else to do, except he chose to give up the palm of victory to his adversary without further resistance. Generals Sickles and Slocum arrived on the ground at night, and occupied the positions there assigned them, while Meade hastened the arrival of the rest of his army in the night between the 1st and 2nd of July, and in the morning of the and.

Whatever may have been Lee’s original plan, he was now in the presence of all the Federal army, and had come to blows with it. It was hardly possible to refuse battle. To withdraw from it would have been to leave to the enemy all the moral results of a victory. To beat a retreat before an enemy superior in numbers was not an easy thing; to maintain his stand and feed his army in a hostile country, without getting the mastery of so formidable an adversary, presented great dangers. On the other hand, the Northern Virginian army had never been in a better condition: the struggle of the preceding day, which had destroyed the fourth of the Federal forces, appeared to augur favourably, and in case of a decisive triumph the fruits of victory promised to be greater than ever. The North and its great cities would be at the mercy of the conqueror, who would thus neutralise the Federal successes in the west, and throw the Washington Government into a state of consternation. There was no room to hesitate; he must fight.

During this evening and the following night, Lee made use of all the means at his disposal to get an account of Meade’s force and the positions he occupied. Unfortunately, Stuart and his cavalry had not yet come. To the south of Gettysburg, where the last houses end, and overhanging the little town, the ground rises abruptly, and stretches in a southern direction, terminating suddenly with a height called Round Top. The cemetery on the elevation nearest Gettysburg has given its name to this range of hills. Just where it touches the village the elevated ground turns sharply west, nearly at right angles to its former direction. On this part of the heights, termed Cap Hill, the Federal right was drawn up. The 12th corps there took position, then the 1st and 11th corps behind the town. On their left were the 5th, 2nd, and 3rd corps. The 6th did not appear till late next day. These positions were taken by Meade in the order in which his troops arrived on the battle-field, in the night between July 1st and 2nd, and in the morning of the latter day. His army numbered 100,000 fighting-men.

The Confederate commander was joined, during the night, by Johnson’s division, which he placed to the extreme left of Ewell’s corps, and facing Slocum’s. Ewell’s corps, forming the Confederate left, was prolonged through the village, and was to assist Hill in the centre; Anderson’s division was on Hill’s right. Beyond came Longstreet’s corps, with the divisions of MacLaws and Hood, forming the right of Lee’s army. Stuart, who at length arrived from Carlisle with his cavalry, had to station himself on the left.

More than half of July 2nd had passed before Lee had finished all his preparations. During the morning nothing of importance took place, except an artillery duel towards the left, between Johnson and the troops opposed to him. Neither of the two adversaries cared to begin the attack. Lee had said in his report that, unless attacked, he would not deliver battle so far from his base. Meade has since confessed that he wished to remain on the defensive. But the Federals had this great advantage—an easy communication with the rest of the country, while Lee was surrounded by a hostile population, at a distance from his magazines, and the districts whence he drew his supplies. He must therefore attack or retreat. The latter course, as already indicated, was inadmissible. He saw himself, therefore, compelled to attack.

General Meade, it would appear, thought of taking the offensive against the Confederate left, but gave up this idea on the advice of Generals Warren and Slocum. On the Confederate right Longstreet was preparing to attack. On this side the Federal lines were posted in advance, 1100 yards at the most, beyond Cemetery Ridge, and occupied heights less elevated than the principal chain. Here was stationed Sickles’s corps, the 3rd; it thus formed the Federal left. Longstreet, supported by a part of Hill’s corps, made on it a vigorous assault. The conflict was sharp, and, although Sickles was supported by Hancock on his right, and Sykes, with the 5th corps, on his left, he was compelled to yield, and retire with great loss. Sykes, however, was able to maintain his ground at Round Top, while Meade, hastily summoning the 6th corps, with detachments from the 1st and 12th, re-formed his line on the crest of the principal chain, and arrested Longstreet’s progress.

The whole Federal left had been driven from its position, which the Confederates occupied. Meanwhile, Ewell, with the left wing, was preparing to make a vigorous onset on the enemy fronting him, but the attack came too late to hinder Slocum sending reinforcements to Sickles. Thus it happened that, for want of united action, the Confederates obtained no serious advantage, although the fight did not end till night, when Johnson had carried a part of the hostile works by assault, and Early had driven the Federal lines to Cemetery Hill.

Darkness overtook the two armies, and though Lee’s successes were not so marked this day as he evening before, they were still considerable. A wing of the Federal army had been driven back with immense loss; his own troops were actually placed so as to be able to attack the principal positions of the enemy, the very key of he field of battle, and if they became masters of it, the Federals were done for. His own loss, though great, had in nowise weakened his soldiers’ moral force. General Meade has confessed that in those two days he had already lost 20,000 men. The Confederate loss amounted to 12,000 at the most. Everything seemed to indicate that the Southerners would finally triumph, notwithstanding the strong position held by he Northern army, its numerical superiority, and its much more powerful artillery. The best proof of this is, that that same night the Federal commander held a council of war, in which the question was seriously discussed whether or not to retreat. Several members of the council voted for retreat, and General Butterfield testifies that Meade was far from approving the decision of the majority, who voted for the maintenance of their position, at the risk of having to renew the conflict on the morrow.

Lee made but little change in his order of battle for July 3rd. Pickett’s division of Longstreet’s corps, having arrived during the night, brought him 4000 soldiers who had not yet been engaged. The Confederate line was of great extent, which rendered it difficult to make an assault of all the combined forces on the Federal positions. The absence of unity had already prevented Lee, on the 2nd, from seizing the victory which seemed within his reach. He therefore directed all his efforts and took all precautions to hinder the same thing from being reproduced on the morrow, but, as the event proved, with little success. The enemy occupied Round Top, and thus his flank was strongly protected. Consequently, Longstreet’s attack was to be directed against that part of the heights between Round Top and Cemetery Hill, which formed the left centre of Meade’s position. It was there that Hancock commanded. Meanwhile, Ewell was to pursue the advantage gained by Johnson on the right flank of the Federals. Heth’s division, and two brigades under Wilcox, from Hill’s corps, were directed to support Longstreet, while to the rest of the Confederate forces was confided the care of engaging the attention of those troops of the enemy facing them.

At dawn, Ewell was to follow up his success of the previous evening by attacking the Federal right anew. But he was anticipated. The troops detached the evening before from Slocum’s corps, to go to the help of Sickles and Sykes, returned during the night, and fell on the advanced works of which Johnson had become master the day previously. An eager contest ensued, and lasted several hours. Johnson repulsed their assaults without being able to subdue the enemy. Twice he charged the Federal line, and twice he had to recoil.

While this was being transacted on the left, where the combat went on till noon, nothing was stirring anywhere else along the line. This unlocked for assault on Ewell undoubtedly deranged Lee’s plan, according to which the two wings were to attack simultaneously. Longstreet unfortunately had not yet finished his preparations for the assault, and the artillery was being massed on Seminary Ridge. It was a fine July day, the weather was warm and bright, and as the fire ceased in the front of Johnson’s division, everything became tranquil. It was difficult, when glancing over this valley and village, so peaceful, both inundated with sunlight, to believe that the quiet was but the precursor of a sanguinary tempest which would render this obscure place imperishably renowned.

Seeing the impossibility of succeeding against the Federal right, Lee changed his plan, and resolved to attack the enemy’s centre. Between one and two o’clock everything was at length ready. One hundred and fifteen guns covered Seminary Ridge. Pickett’s division, which Lee constituted the nucleus of his column of attack, was in position. At a given signal the artillery opened fire on the opposite heights. Meade, for want of room, had been able to bring into line only 70 or 80 cannon; but, having more than 200 in reserve, as one piece was dismounted it was easy for him to replace it by another. This artillery duel lasted incessantly for two hours. Gradually on the Federal side the fire slackened, till it ceased entirely. At this moment Lee gave the signal to attack.

General Pickett’s division, supported on the left by Heth’s division under the orders of General Pettigrew, and on the right by General Wilcox with two brigades, was charged to take the Federal positions. Pickett’s division was composed of the élite of the veterans of Virginia. The attacking column altogether counted 13,000 bayonets. Thirteen hundred yards of plain and hill separated it from the hostile lines. The advance was made with admirable firmness. When the columns of attack reached the Emmetsburg road, the Confederate batteries in the bottom of the valley became silent, so as not to fire on their own infantry. The enemy received them with repeated discharges of grape-shot, which carried off entire ranks of the Confederates. Without wavering, without hesitating, the line continued to advance, forcing, even from their enemies, cries of admiration. Suddenly, when they touched the summit of he heights, all the line of Federal infantry fired. Pettigrew’s division, in spite of all the efforts of its chief, left the ranks, and its officers were powerless to rally the men. Disorder also began to appear in Wilcox’s brigades, so that Pickett’s division found itself alone, its flanks exposed to an oblique fire from right to left, and the head of its columns torn by bombshells and grape-shot. But nothing could arrest it. Its commander, unceasingly exciting his men by voice and gesture, led them through this shower of cannon-balls right on the enemy’s works. The Federal line was broken, the guns taken, and the troops that had defended them routed. Cries of triumph announced to their comrades that they had swept all before them. In the midst of clouds of smoke, General Lee, with his telescope, could distinguish the blue flag of Virginia floating over Cemetery Ridge.

But this dearly-bought success was as short as glorious. The Federals, thrown back on their second line, re-formed there, and rained down on the works just snatched from them a terrible fire. Pickett at this supreme moment was alone; the divisions which should have supported him were not at their post. Had he at that instant been supported and seconded, this day would have added another disaster to those already so numerous of the army of the Potomac. But this heroic charge had been in vain. General Hancock displayed great courage and rare ability in repairing his repulse. He hurled on the two flanks of Pickett’s division all the troops available, while on the front of this devoted band he kept up an incessant fire. The struggle was short, but terrible. All that the courage of despair could do was done. Of the three brigade-generals: Garnett was slain, Armistead mortally wounded, Kemper wounded and taken prisoner. Of fourteen superior officers, one only returned. Nearly three-fourths of the division had fallen, and Pickett at length was compelled to think about saving the rest. He sounded a retreat, and the remnants of this heroic column slowly retired within the Confederate lines. General Wilcox, who had not sufficiently supported Pickett’s charge, marched in his turn to take the heights, but his men were also repulsed with loss.

The Federals likewise had dearly paid for their victory; many of their generals, among others, Hancock and Gibbon, were wounded and several thousands of their men were disabled.

From Seminary Ridge, where he was, Lee had followed the charge. At the sight of his soldiers driven back from the heights he bit the ends of his fingers, the only sign of anxiety he ever gave. Then, an instant after, feeling the importance of the crisis, he went personally into the midst of the soldiers in disorder, to rally them, addressing to them words of encouragement and affection, without the least display of temper, without despondency.

“All this,” said he, “will come right in the end. We’ll talk it over afterwards, but in the meantime all good men must rally.” He inquired of the wounded what were their injuries. He encouraged those who were only slightly grazed to bandage their sores, and seize a rifle at so critical a moment. Nearly all responded to this appeal, and resumed their places in the ranks with cries of enthusiasm. Many of the more seriously wounded cheered him as he passed.

“Even in this moment of anguish,” said Colonel Fremantle, who took part in the battle, “with one voice the magnificent charge of Pickett was admired, and the soldiers did not cease to assure me of their unshaken faith in their general-in-chief. ‘We have not lost confidence in our old man!’ ‘This day’s work will do him no harm!’ ‘Uncle Robert will get us into Washington yet—you bet he will!’—such were some of the exclamations which I heard round me.”

The Confederate soldiers returned in a mob, pursued by the growling of hostile cannon, which swept all the valley and the slopes of Seminary Ridge with balls and shells. Although exposing himself with the utmost indifference, Lee advised Colonel Fremantle, the English officer already cited, to get under cover, adding: “This has been a sad day for us, Colonel—a sad day—but we can’t always expect to gain victories.”

But when General Wilcox announced to him that he also had been repulsed, Lee showed himself truly sublime. The former could scarce speak, so much moved was he in giving an account of his losses. Lee, taking him by the hand, said sweetly, so as to console him: “Never mind, General; all this has been my fault. It is I that have lost this fight, and you must help me out of it in the best way you can.” His composure, his even temper, did not fail him a moment. This imperturbable serenity communicated itself to the soldiers, who were lying under shelter from the fire, arranged in order of battle, on the reverse side of the hill, in an edge of the wood, where Lee placed them as they arrived.

Foreseeing the possibility of an attack by the Federals, Longstreet, whose two divisions, those of MacLaws and Hood, had not been engaged, held himself ready to receive them. “The preparations were made,” said Colonel Fremantle, “with less noise and confusion than at a review.”

But General Meade, although he had successfully repulsed the assault on his lines, had suffered too much in the battle of the 3rd, as well as in the struggles of the two preceding days, to push his advantage further. In spite of the opinion of many of his best officers, he abstained from all offensive movement, and he did well: for Longstreet awaited him with his two divisions and numerous guns, all ready to receive him. The Confederates earnestly hoped that Meade would advance against them, but he did nothing of the kind. The rest of the 3rd passed quietly, and at night the Federals were content to occupy the lines they had held all the day.

The Confederate army had suffered much the last day, and, when Pickett’s assault was repulsed, Lee did not wish to risk an attack on the Federal positions. During the night Ewell’s corps retired from the town and posted itself on Seminary Ridge, where, next day, all the Confederate forces were reunited. Lee thus remained on the 4th of July, hoping his adversary would attack him. But Meade kept on the defensive, and the Southern chief had leisure to occupy himself in the transport of his wounded, the collection of arms left on the field of battle, and the despatch of his trains and baggage, as well as his 4000 prisoners, towards the Potomac. Not wishing to hazard a new assault on the Federal lines, feeling how difficult it would be for him to feed his men in a hostile country, in the presence of an enemy superior in number, and his ammunition beginning to fail, Lee determined to beat a retreat. In the night of the 4th the Confederate troops began to defile towards the Potomac. On the 6th and 7th they reached Hagerstown.

During the whole of the 4th, Meade showed no sign of disquieting his adversary. Truth to tell, the Federal army was not in a state to undertake anything. Its losses during the three days amounted to 23,190 men. The Confederates had lost from 18,000 to 20,000, killed, wounded, and prisoners; among the latter many were wounded. But while the official Federal reports acknowledge a loss of 23,190 men, killed, wounded, and prisoners, their army was so demoralized and dispersed by this three days’ struggle, that the commanders of corps, at a council of war held by Meade on the night of the 4th, asserted that the army scarcely presented 52,000 efficient soldiers. One of the questions discussed at this council was, whether the Federal army should beat a retreat; and General Biney testifies that it was decided to wait twenty-four hours longer, merely to collect the fullest information as to Lee’s movements. And yet Gettysburg has been called a Confederate Waterloo! Lee was not vanquished, bu the had not succeeded, and so far only was Gettysburg a Federal victory.

Though diminished in number, the Southern army had lost nothing of its moral energy. The proof of this is that Lee waited upwards of thirty hours before retiring, thus showing that he was ready to recommence if the enemy took the offensive.

No one can pretend to say what would have happened if the Federals had assaulted the Confederate positions, but to conclude that Lee’s army would have been put to flight appears to us more than hazardous. Far from being downcast or discouraged, the Confederate soldiers burned to take an immediate revenge. Several foreign officers who took part in the battle testify that the behaviour of the soldiers was all that could be desired. Longstreet was strong enough, at the head of his two divisions, supported by his powerful artillery, to deal the enemy, should he attack, as terrible a blow as that which General Pickett had just experienced. For that matter, General Meade’s own testimony confirms our view of the case. When he appeared before the war-committee he said: “My opinion is, now, that General Lee evacuated that position, not from the fear that he would be dislodged from it by any active operations on my part, but that he was fearful that a force would be sent to Harper’s Ferry to cut off his communications. . . . That was what caused him to retire.”

On the question being asked: “Did you discover, after the battle of Gettysburg, any symptoms of demoralization in Lee’s army?” Meade replied: “No, sir, I saw nothing of the kind.” To us, indeed, there is no reason why Lee should have had any serious fears on the subject of his army, which, after all its losses, still numbered 50,000 men, who for the most part had served several campaigns, and at whose head, as experience had proved, he could hold his own against any Federal army whatever. At Chancellorsville he had defeated an army more numerous than that of Meade with less men. It was the failure of supplies which constrained the Southern chief to retire, and especially the want of ammunition. The three days’ conflict at Gettysburg had nearly exhausted his stock of powder, cartridges, and balls. The difficulty of re-victualling was becoming very great, for the enemy was approaching on all sides, and threatened his rear.

All these motives contributed to the determination which Lee took. The Confederate troops passed the evening and night of the 3rd, as well as the day of the 4th of July, drawn up in battle array on Seminary Ridge, to await the Federal attack with firm foot. They employed this time in burying their dead, gathering up arms and débris, and sending on in advance their carnages, waggons, and wounded. On the night of the 4th, the retreat commenced by two roads, those of Fairfield and Chambersburg, without any haste, disorder, or confusion. The rear-guard did not leave Gettysburg till the morning of the 5th.

In spite of the dust which covered them, of the bandages which enveloped their wounds, of their fatigue, the soldiers of Lee marched resolutely, still full of fire and dash, ready, at the first order from their chief, to face about, and cross swords again with the adversary, animated by the same ardour as when they advanced as conquerors.

The task before the Southern chief was nevertheless very difficult. His army was inferior in number to that of his enemy. The Government of the North had under its control the railways coming from the East, which led to the Upper Potomac, and could thus, independently of Meade’s army, place a considerable force across the line of the Confederate retreat. Further, his march was encumbered by 4,000 prisoners, and a long file of provision and ammunition waggons extending over fourteen miles. The road he had to travel was long; there was a fear that Meade would try to intercept him from the river. To lead his army through all these dangers, and conduct it safely back to the soil of Virginia, not only required very great skill, but also great moral courage. Happily the soldiers’ confidence in their illustrious commander did not weaken; and, as long as they knew he was at their head, they felt assured of issuing safe and sound out of all trials.

On the morning of the 5th, as soon as Meade discovered Lee’s retreat, Sedgwick’s corps was sent in pursuit. The bulk of the army took the Frederick road. But Sedgwick stopped at Fairfield without pushing on further, Meade not wishing to run any risk. The Confederates slowly defiled through Cashtown and Fairfield, preceded by their conveyances, and reached Hagerstown without being disquieted. Meanwhile the Federal general-in-chief, who had been joined by several thousand new troops, fresh arrived from Washington, followed Lee at a distance by the roundabout way of Frederick, and on the 12th appeared before the Confederate positions.

The latter, arriving at Hagerstown on the 7th, found themselves stopped by a new obstacle. The drenching rains of the last few days had so increased the waters of the Potomac that it was not fordable. The bridges had been carried away by the current, or destroyed by flying squadrons of the enemy’s cavalry. Being unable to cross the river, Lee selected a strong position, his right resting on the Potomac at Falling Waters, and his left at Hagerstown, so as to cover the fords at Williamsport and Falling Waters. From the 7th to the 13th, his position was critical. Ammunition failed him, and the provisions brought back from Pennsylvania were coming to an end. The rise of the waters hindered the arrival of anything from Virginia, while Meade’s whole army was approaching. On the 12th the Federals appeared in sight. That day, and the next, Lee expected to be attacked. But far from that, Meade only thought of throwing up earthworks and intrenching himself, so redoubtable seemed Lee to him. At that critical moment, however anxious he might be, and there was much to be troubled about, Lee let no emotion appear. Having behind him a river that had overflowed, before him a foe to whom reinforcements incessantly came, his position was becoming truly perilous. But the Southern chief lost neither his own self-reliance nor the confidence inspired in him by his soldiers, but appeared ready for every event.

While Meade hesitated, Lee reconstructed his pontoons, and, the waters having abated and the river become fordable on the 13th, the artillery and conveyances crossed the Potomac in the night between that day and the 14th. The state of the roads was so execrable that the troops did not arrive at the bridge till after sunrise on the 14th. It was an hour past noon before they had all crossed and the last bridge was broken. During all the long hours the defile lasted, Lee, on horseback, under a deluge of rain, sometimes galloping from the ford to the bridge, sometimes returning, sometimes motionless, watched over everything; he himself remained impassive. But these days of extreme fatigue, these nights of watching and anxiety, ended by exhausting him. When the greater part of the rear-guard had, without accident, crossed the bridge, shaken by the current, on which, for a long time, he had fixed an anxious gaze, he could not suppress a cry of relief, as if a great weight were lifted from his heart. Noticing his exhaustion, General Stuart offered him a little coffee. Lee drank it at a draught. “Never,” said he, returning the glass, “have I drank anything so delicious.”

The enemy in no way opposed the passage, which was successfully accomplished without any loss, except two cannon which stuck fast in the mud, and which had to be left for want of horses, and some tardy stragglers.

On the 12th, General Meade had submitted it to a council of war, whether or not to attack the Confederate army. Although General French with 8000 men, besides various corps of new levies, had reinforced the army, the council nearly unanimously pronounced against an attack, a decided proof of the state in which the Northern troops were. On the morning of the 14th, seeing the Southern works abandoned, Meade sent his cavalry in pursuit, but without result, some insignificant skirmishes excepted.

Great was the irritation in the North, when it was known that the Southern army had re-crossed into Virginia; there had been no doubt that Meade would succeed in destroying the Confederates: hence the reaction against those charged with the conduct of the campaign was very passionate.

Lee, after having passed the Potomac, halted near Winchester, where he gave his men several days’ rest. On the 17th a strong detachment of hostile cavalry crossed the river at Harper’s Ferry, and advanced into the neighbourhood of Martinsburg. General Fitz-Lee attacked it at Kearneysville, and drove it to the other side of the Potomac, inflicting on it great loss.

In consequence of Meade’s movements, who had crossed the river at Berlin some days after, and marched along the eastern side of the Blue Ridge, Lee led his army through Front Royal towards the line of the Rappahannock. This retreat happened without striking incidents, except an attempt made by a strong column of the enemy to surround the Confederate rear-guard, by suddenly penetrating into the Valley through Manassas Gap. But it had not the desired success, and, Meade finally abandoning a harassing course, the Confederates reached the Rappahannock on August 1st.

Shortly after, President Davis decreed, all over the country, a day of humiliation and public prayer. Lee, on this occasion, published the following beautiful order of the day:

Head-quarters, Army of Northern Virginia,
August 13th, 1863.


The President of the Confederate States has, in the name of the people, appointed the 21st day of August as a day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer. A strict observance of the day is enjoined upon the officers and soldiers of this army. All military duties, except such as are absolutely necessary, will be suspended. The commanding officers of brigades are requested to cause divine service, suitable to the occasion, to be performed in their respective commands.

Soldiers! we have sinned against Almighty God. We have forgotten His signal mercies, and have cultivated a revengeful, haughty, and boastful spirit. We have not remembered that the defenders of a just cause should be pure in His eyes, that our times are in His hands, and we have relied too much on our own arms for the achievement of our independence. God is our only refuge and our strength. Let us humble ourselves before Him. Let us confess our many sins, and beseech Him to give us a higher courage, a purer patriotism, and more determined will; that He will convert the hearts of our enemies; that He will hasten the time when war, with its sorrows and sufferings, shall cease, and that He will give us a name and a place among the nations of the earth.

R. E. LEE, General.

In fact, the campaign was finished. For several weeks the two armies remained stationary, observing each other, on the two banks of the Rappahannock. In September, Lee had to detach Longstreet with one-third of the army to carry help to General Bragg in Tennessee. Meade likewise sent a part of the Federal troops into South Carolina.

Although the Federal army by this means was weakened, it still remained much superior in numbers to Lee’s. Nevertheless, the latter resolved to strike a blow, the effect of which would be to drive back the enemy beyond the line of the Rappahannock, till the season of military operations was past. To this end he endeavoured so to manœuvre as to turn the right wing of his adversary, and place his own army between the Federals and their capital. He sought, according to his own words. to compel Meade to measure his strength with him in a pitched battle, but it was important to each, before coming to blows, to have the advantage in position.

Rapid though Lee’s movements were, an affair between the outposts on the 10th of October, at Culpepper Court House, revealed to the Federal chief the danger he ran. On the 11th he abandoned the line of he Rappahannock, and his cavalry, under Buford, was driven back by Fitz-Lee’s division to Brandy Station. General Lee followed Meade to Warrenton, where he concentrated his forces on the 13th. Meade’s movements betrayed embarrassment and hesitation. For a moment he thought of disputing the passage of the Upper Rappahannock at Warrenton Springs and Freeman’s Ford, but gave it up. Meanwhile, Lee kept advancing. Ewell chased the Federals before him, and drove General Warren across Cedar Run, then he hastened, by going through Auburn to join Hill at Bristoe Station. Lee thus hoped to forestall Meade and seize on the railway, and so bar the road to Washington. But the Northern commander, by marching all the 14th, arrived at Centreville, where he reckoned on delivering battle, having, should fortune not smile on him, the further resource of easily taking shelter within the lines of the capital. At Bristoe, Hill found only the Federal rear-guard. Too feeble, in Longstreet’s absence, to attack positions so strong as those of Centreville, and perceiving no advantage in making a demonstration on one of the Federal flanks, the only result of which would have been to cause Meade to retire within the lines of Washington, with no profit to the Confederates, Lee, on the 18th, withdrew, and, first destroying the railway, returned to his old positions on the Rappahannock.

On the 7th of November, Meade re-appeared on the northern bank of the river; but Lee, having no wish to engage in a pitched battle, retired behind the Rapidan, and thus Meade took again his old positions. His army amounted to from 60,000 to 70,000 men, that of the Confederates from 30,000 to 33,000 men, many of them having neither shoes, nor blankets, nor cloaks, notwithstanding the inclemency of the month of December, as Lee pointed out in a letter to the minister of war. He complained bitterly of the destitution in which his brave soldiers were left.

On the 26th of November, Meade renewed his efforts to deal the Confederate army a decisive blow. Lee’s troops were dispersed over a somewhat large extent of country. The impoverishment of all this district, and the difficulty of feeding an army, had rendered such a dispersion necessary. Nevertheless, all precautions had been taken to concentrate the scattered detachments rapidly, in case of danger. Strong intrenchments had been raised in places naturally strong on the Mine Run, a tributary of the Rapidan, flowing from south to north.

It was the first time Lee had made use of a system of parapets, formed of trunks of felled trees, behind which earth was heaped up; the whole being impenetrable to cannon-balls. This system of defence became celebrated.

At the news that the enemy was preparing to cross this river suddenly, in the hope of surprising him, Lee rapidly executed his movement of concentration, and when Meade, after some skirmishes sufficiently sanguinary, found himself abruptly stopped at the passage of the Mine Run, he perceived that Lee’s position was impregnable. The provisions brought by his soldiers were nearly exhausted, and the rainy season, so disastrous to an army in Virginia, was approaching. There was nothing for it, therefore, but to beat a retreat. This he did on the night of the 1st of December. The Confederates, next morning, pursued him to the Rapidan, making some prisoners. This was the end of military operations in 1863.

Such is a recapitulation of the campaign of Gettysburg. Lee’s object at its commencement has been as much misunderstood as the after consequences have been exaggerated. We have mentioned the causes which led to its conception. It has been proved that General Lee, at the beginning of the year, was necessarily compelled either to advance, or permit his adversary, after filling up the gaps in his army, to profit by the experience gained at the cost of two defeats, to throw himself on one or other of his flanks, and so repeat the campaign of the year preceding. The ever-increasing inequality between the forces of the combatants, General Hooker receiving two men for every one that came to range himself under the Confederate standards, rendered inaction dangerous. The success gained at Chancellorsville could not produce all its results unless Lee assumed a vigorous offensive.

After the strategic movements which forced Hooker to fall back at first on the line of the Rappahannock, then on that of the Potomac, the end which the Confederate army proposed to itself in penetrating to the heart of Pennsylvania has been indicated. There, in consequence of the absence of his cavalry, the Southern chief found himself unawares in the presence of the Union army, and almost compelled to give battle. The third day’s assault at Gettysburg having been repulsed, the successes of the two preceding days were neutralized, and a retreat into Virginia was necessitated. As to the army of the North, it had suffered too much to pursue its advantage: it was satisfied to post itself for observation on the Rappahannock, while Lee detached a third of his forces to the help of the Confederates in the West.

This campaign, far from being the critical moment of the war, far from having a decisive influence on the result of the struggle, decided nothing. Its importance has been exaggerated, in consequence of the very natural effect of the consternation produced by Lee’s invasion of Pennsylvania. The North for some days was the prey of a universal panic, the South gave itself up to exaggerated hopes. To those who were hourly expecting to see Baltimore, Philadelphia, or even New York, succumb to the invader, the news that he had experienced a check at Gettysburg seemed to announce the downfall of Confederate power. Both views, in fact, were equally false. Lee’s want of success at Gettysburg caused his army to suffer serious losses, cut short the summer campaign in Pennsylvania, and calmed the anxiety which the North felt on the subject of its great towns. But, in fine, it is no less true that, in weighing the advantages acquired by the two belligerents, the greater part was retained by the Confederates. The loss inflicted on the Federal army reduced it to inaction for the remainder of the year, permitted Lee to maintain himself without disquiet on the Rapidan, and that with only a part of his army, and hindered the execution of the projected movement on Richmond. The invasion of the North kept the enemy’s troops from Virginian soil during the harvest, relieved for a time the weight of charges under which its inhabitants groaned, and brought back a comparative abundance to the badly-provided commissariat of the Confederates.

The resources and number of the two armies, as well as the positions occupied by them, did not materially differ on the 1st of August from what they were on the 1st of June; but the campaign against Richmond, which Hooker was preparing to undertake when Lee assumed the offensive, was no longer possible, and this for the South, was a positive gain of one year. If, on the contrary, Lee had remained on the defensive, he could not have reaped the same advantages. Without speaking of the dangers resulting from inaction, and the difficulty of providing for his army, very poorly indeed, and in an exhausted country, the Federals would only have had to turn its position in order to compel it either to deliver battle in the plain, or retire to a more distant line of defence. Had he succeeded in a second battle of Chancellorsville, the situation would have been the same as after Lee’s return to the Rappahannock, with this difference, that a large part of the most fertile lands of Virginia would have remained in the hands of the enemy, who would further have had leisure to disturb the Confederates at other points of the territory.

Although thus the results of Gettysburg were indecisive, it might have been otherwise. If Lee had succeeded in his bold attempt, and overthrown the Federal army, taking its many guns on Cemetery Hill, such a success would have been attended with immense consequences as regards the Confederates. With Pennsylvania and Baltimore in the power of the enemy, the Federal Government must have recalled General Grant from the West. The campaign so fortunately inaugurated in the South-west by the Federals would have been interrupted, and this course of events, the opposite of what happened, would probably have given a marked predominance to the peace part in the North, whence serious embarrassment for the administration of President Lincoln would have arisen. Such fruits would have resulted from a victory, and undoubtedly the thought of them influenced Lee’s mind when the conflict occurred to him. For three long summer days victory oscillated in the balance, and fortune would have inclined in his favour had he once been able to make a simultaneous attack with all his forces on the Federal position.

If Gettysburg were, as certain Northern writers affirm, a veritable Waterloo for the Southern cause, how did it happen that General Meade, at the head of his victorious army, did not pursue and crush the Confederate army? Was he not receiving continual reinforcements? Was he not, thanks to the many forces filling the intrenched camp at Washington, repairing his losses unceasingly? Why did he not, by river and by sea, of both of which he was master, penetrate to the heart of Virginia, and terminate the war by the capture of the Confederate capital?

It was to be otherwise: the colossal strife which for three years the army of Northern Virginia sustained against all the power of the North, with means so insufficient, and soldiers ever decreasing in number, was destined to offer another and final spectacle of incomparable grandeur. The two adversaries, exhausted at Gettysburg, took breath for a moment; then the deadly combat began anew. The eminent man whose talents had so valiantly supported the Confederate cause in the East was to give a further and greater proof of his superiority, and offer, in the marvellous campaign of 1864–65, a model of military skilfulness.

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