Robert E. Lee
Philip Alexander Bruce


PERHAPS it was not unnatural that, after the great victory at Chancellorsville, Mr. Davis should have been sanguine that Mr. Lincoln would be compelled by the triumph of the peace party at the North, or by the active intervention of foreign powers, to recognize the independence of the Southern states. In reality, this victory weakened the determination of the Northern war party less than had Fredericksburg, simply because the Federal prospects in the West were at this time far more promising. Vicksburg was now threatened with capture, and should it fall, the Confederacy would be split in two, and its principal field for recruits and provisions lost.

Lee apparently never hoped that the South would succeed by standing permanently on the defensive; and he was as sure of this after the battle of Chancellorsville as he had been before. Nothing but Longstreet’s absence, as we have seen, prevented him from crossing the Potomac before that battle was fought; and hardly had the smoke rolled away from the field when he resumed his purpose, all the stronger now that his troops had been encouraged to the highest pitch by a succession of victories. He felt confident that, could he repeat the triumph of Chancellorsville on Northern soil, the impression which it would make on the Northern people would be far more disheartening than that caused by any disaster in the previous course of the war. He also expected, by a march that would threaten Washington, Baltimore, and Philadelphia all at once, to force the transfer to the East of a large proportion of the troops then besieging Vicksburg; and finally, by moving into the fertile regions of Pennsylvania, where his army could easily find subsistence, he would relieve the drain upon the over-run fields of Virginia.

Lee’s general plan of campaign was to cross the Blue Ridge to the Shenandoah Valley, and having forded the Potomac, to march down the Cumberland Valley perhaps as far north as Harrisburg and then wheel toward the East. By holding the passes of the South Mountain, he would be able to check the enemy’s attempts to break his line of communication. His army, now that Longstreet’s detachment had again joined him, consisted of some 57,000 foot and 9,000 horse, supported by 250 guns. The infantry had recently been reorganized into three corps, under Longstreet, Ewell, and A. P. Hill respectively; Pendleton was in charge of the artillery arm, and Stuart of the cavalry.

Stuart had shown great capacity as Jackson’s successor at Chancellorsville, and in the pending campaign the Confederacy would have been far better served had he been in command of the First Corps, for, if not the ablest, he was certainly the most energetic of all Lee’s remaining lieutenants. Ewell was an officer of experience, but not of great talent; Hill had experience and talent, but was disposed to be rash, a trait that brought on the battle of Gettysburg prematurely; while Longstreet, though a brave and vigorous officer when actually engaged, had qualities that entirely unfitted him to act as Lee’s chief subordinate in such a campaign as was now contemplated. He was known even to his own soldiers as “Peter the Slow.” In nearly every great movement of the Army of Northern Virginia previous to the invasion of Pennsylvania, this characteristic of his had been exhibited: for instance, in the march to Seven Pines; in the march from the Rappahannock to Gainesville; in the march from the neighborhood of Hagerstown to Boonesboro; and again after Gettysburg, in the march from Gordonsville to the Wilderness, where he was wounded and practically ended his military career, though he was present during the retreat to Appomattox. But a more unfortunate trait still, as bearing upon his usefulness in the approaching campaign, was a tendency to be opinionative to the point of insubordination.

By June 12th, the Confederate army was strung out between Fredericksburg and the Valley. Forty miles intervened between the different corps; Ewell was near Winchester and Longstreet at Culpeper Court-House, while Hill still held his ground at Fredericksburg in order to watch Hooker’s movements. Lee was fully aware that, with Ewell in position to march upon Washington from Harper’s Ferry, Mr. Lincoln would never permit the Federal army to undertake a campaign against Richmond; and this anticipation proved correct, for its commander, on June 13th, fell back toward Manassas and Centreville in order to protect the capital. Hill at once broke camp and followed in Longstreet’s track, while Stuart, after an engagement at Brandy Station, marched forward east of the Blue Ridge toward the Bull Run Mountains to screen the advance of the Confederate infantry. As soon as the Federals occupied Leesburg, he withdrew to the spurs of the Blue Ridge. By this time, Ewell had entered the Cumberland Valley, but it was not until Lee saw that Hooker would be content with simply keeping between him and Washington, without assuming the offensive, that he finally decided to lead the rest of his army over the Potomac and to move slowly northward.

Lee had urged Mr. Davis to form a second army, under Beauregard, for the purpose of threatening Washington, as he knew that this would cause Mr. Lincoln to diminish Hooker’s force, and thus increase the chance of Confederate victory on the soil of Pennsylvania. But Mr. Davis declined to follow these counsels, on the ground that, should Richmond’s defenses be weakened by the home-guard’s reduction, it would be liable to invasion from Fortress Monroe,—an error of judgment that was to have important consequences.

An error of judgment not less serious was committed by Stuart, who had been empowered to cross the Potomac either at Shepherdstown on the west side of the Blue Ridge, or at some point on the east side, but in the rear of the Federal army. He was, however, expected to keep his force between that army and Lee’s, so as to serve as a screen. No doubt, Lee would have given Stuart more specific instructions had not that great cavalry leader acted with such prudence and sagacity in the use of his horsemen just before the battle of Chancellorsville began; but unfortunately for the Confederate cause, he was now to prove himself the Stuart of the Chickahominy rather than the Stuart of the Rappahannock. Instead of placing himself between Lee and Hooker, and serving as the eyes of the Confederate army, he allowed the spirit of mere adventure to carry him within three miles of Washington, and then had to ride as far north as Carlisle in order to pass the barrier of the Federal army, now interposed between him and Lee. He arrived on the field of Gettysburg too late to change the course of events; and it was due to his absence up to the night of the second day’s battle that the original plan of campaign was entirely disarranged.

Lee reached Chambersburg on June 27th, and here he issued a proclamation sternly prohibiting the destruction or appropriation without compensation, of private property on any pretext whatever. “It must be remembered,” he said, “that we make war only on armed men.” That this order was fully obeyed by the troops is proven by the testimony of foreign officers who accompanied the Confederate army. “I saw no straggling into the houses,” records Colonel Freemantle, of England, “nor were any of the inhabitants disturbed or annoyed by the soldiers.” This action was the more remarkable in the light of the feeling of acute resentment which prevailed among the Southern people at this time: one influential section urged that the North should now suffer retaliation for the terrible losses and privations caused by the invasion of Southern soil; while another declared that the devastation of Pennsylvania would be as fully justified by the necessities of war, supposed or real, as the confiscation of their slaves by the Emancipation Proclamation. But General Lee took a different view: be intended, he said, to conduct the war in harmony with Christian principles, and no wrongs committed by individual enemies would excuse any departure from those principles; be, therefore, deliberately set his face against the indulgence of a spirit of revenge now that he had the power to ravage one of the most fertile parts of the North.

As soon as Hooker heard that Lee’s entire army had passed the Potomac, he crossed that stream himself, and advanced in a northeasterly direction. His object was not simply to keep his army between Lee and the Federal capital; he was also watching for an opportunity to strike at the Confederate line of communication, a matter of vital importance to his opponents at that great distance from their base. As he marched, be spread out the bulk of his troops in the shape of a fan, with the outer circle facing westward, while he dispatched Slocum to discover a vulnerable point in the Confederate rear. These plans, however, were reversed as soon as Meade was nominated to the chief command: Slocum was called back to the main army, which halted at a point where it could easily bar the road to Philadelphia, should Lee continue to more northward; or to Baltimore, should he wheel sharply to the east.

Lee, apprehensive lest a further advance toward Harrisburg should endanger his communications, ordered his three corps, now widely separated, to concentrate at Cashtown, situated on the east side of the South Mountain range not far from Gettysburg. Ewell at this time was in the vicinity of Carlisle. Cashtown was chosen because, in case of a repulse, the wagon trains could be safely transferred through the gap at that point to the Cumberland Valley, and the passage closed against the enemy.

Meade also had selected his ground for the approaching battle; this lay on the line of Pipe Creek, twelve miles southeast of Gettysburg, a position of great natural strength. Had Stuart been present with Lee at this critical hour, the Confederates would certainly have been able to choose the time, but not so certainly the place of conflict, for it was not likely that Meade would have abandoned Pipe Creek and advanced against his opponent, awaiting him at Cashtown. The wisest policy, as he knew, was to remain where he was, since time was a factor of no importance to him stationed in his own country, in easy reach of supplies, and occupying an entrenched position between the enemy and Washington. Moreover, he justly anticipated that Lee’s energetic character would prompt him ultimately to seek his antagonist and fight rather than withdraw to Virginia without a battle.

Cashtown and Pipe Creek were separated by a distance of twenty miles. It was merely by accident that the two armies came into collision at a point nearly equi-distant from each of these two previonsly selected positions. On June 30th, Pettigrew’s brigade, leaving Cashtown, marched toward Gettysburg in the hope of obtaining there a much needed supply of shoes; but, unknown to them, that town was already in the possession of a detachment of Federal cavalry. Pettigrew, after a sharp brush with the enemy, fell back and rejoined A. P. Hill, who, somewhat rashly, determined next day to reconnoitre, without anticipating, as he should have done, that such a movement might lead to the violation of General Lee’s orders not to bring on a battle until all the Confederate army was up. The concentration in the neighborhood of Cashtown was still incomplete. Heth, who was sent forward, struck, not far from Gettysburg, a division of the First Corps, which had been moved up from the Federal main army as soon as Meade was informed of the presence of Confederate troops in the vicinity of that town. Pender soon joining Heth, the combination gave their side the preponderance. Reynolds, the Federal commander, was killed. By one o’clock in the afternoon, two divisions of the Federal Eleventh Corps had arrived on the field, while its third was left to hold Cemetery Ridge, a strong position situated immediately south of Gettysburg. A sharp combat was in progress when Ewell, who, with two divisions, had soon come up to reinforce Pender and Heth, attacked the left flank of the Eleventh Corps and drove it back, a stroke that exposed the First Corps’ right wing, which, in consequence, finding itself in imminent danger of being cut off from its line of retreat to Cemetery Ridge, retired upon that point in a state of great confusion.

During the course of these events, Hancock, who had been sent forward to report on the advisability of concentrating the entire Federal army at Gettysburg, reached Cemetery Heights, and one of his first acts was to take possession of Culp’s Hill, southwest of the town, a position commanding Cemetery Heights from that side. Had Ewell pressed on with energy, he could easily have seized the latter before night fell, for, at that time, the Federal force holding it did not exceed 6,000 men. Lee, who had come up in the afternoon, observing through his field glass the enemy retreating in confusion over the hills behind the town, sent Ewell a verbal order to advance and capture the Ridge, if “he deemed it practicable,” but to avoid bringing on a general battle, as Longstreet’s corps was still many miles away. In his cavalry’s absence, Lee had been unable to ascertain whether the Federal troops engaged in the light just ended were isolated detachments, or detachments in touch with the main Federal army.

Left to his own decision, and alarmed by the reported approach of a large Federal force, a piece of news turning out to be false, Ewell decided to await the arrival of one of his divisions which had not yet come up; but when this division at last appeared, it was six o’clock, and the Twelfth Federal Corps, supported by a part of the Third, had arrived on Cemetery Heights and taken position near their comrades. Had Hill, whose corps had suffered most severely in the day’s battle, been willing to attack at once in coöperation with Ewell, the Heights might still have been captured before nightfall; but he preferred to remain inactive until Anderson’s division should join him, and when this occurred, it was too dark to advance in force.

If Hill and Ewell had moved forward and seized the Ridge, no further fighting would have taken place at Gettysburg; Meade would have simply drawn his entire army back to Pipe Creek. The morale of his troops, however, would have been sensibly lowered by their ill success. The Confederates’ failure to pursue led Hancock, who saw the defensive possibilities of Cemetery Ridge, to urge the Federal army’s immediate concentration on those heights, advice justified by the issue, but not in itself wise, as the Federal commander would have discovered, had the Confederate army taken advantage of the unexampled opportunity which the movement presented to strike their opponents in detail. Meade arrived on the ground late at night, and, though he adopted his lieutenant’s advice, did not do so with confidence.

By twelve o’clock the same night (July 1st), the three Confederate corps were encamped either at Gettysburg, or within four miles of the town, in a position where, if they should act with promptness and energy, they could throw themselves upon the enemy by the first sign of dawn, before which hour it would not be possible for all the Federal corps to reach the Ridge; “in fact, they would be strung out all the way from Pipe Creek and beyond to Gettysburg. When the first streak of light appeared in the sky on the morning of July 2d, there were posted on Cemetery Ridge the remnants of the defeated First and Eleventh Corps, a part of the Third, and the whole of the fresh Twelfth Corps. Four miles away was the Second, which did not arrive until seven o’clock; nine miles away was the Fifth; and twenty-five miles away was the Sixth, the largest and finest of all. Had the Confederate army attacked at any time before seven o’clock, which was entirely feasible, it would have found itself confronted by not more than one-half its number. These, expelled from their entrenchments, would have been pressed back upon the advancing Second Corps, who, in all probability, would have been thrown into confusion by their retreating comrades, and the whole body driven back upon the forward columns of the Fifth and Sixth Corps.

Could Lee have dictated the position of his opponents, he could hardly have done so to greater advantage to himself. The absence of his cavalry, instead of proving a perilous drawback, had led to a combination of circumstances for more favorable to his wishes than anything which could have occurred had that cavalry been present. Who was responsible for the loss of the greatest opportunity ever presented to the Confederate army to defeat the enemy in detail?

After sunset on July 1st, Lee held a conference with Ewell and his two division commanders, Early and Rodes. As their troops were on the ground, while Longstreet had bivouacked four miles away, Lee was anxious that they should begin the attack next morning with an assault on the Federal right extending as far as Gulp’s Hill; but they urged that the weak point in the Federal line lay on the left, and that against this, the first movement should be directed. Lee received the suggestion with evidences of disapproval, not because he thought it unsound from a military point of view, but because the officer who would have to carry it out was then four miles distant from the scene of proposed action, and was notoriously the most dilatory of all his lieutenants. “Longstreet is a very good fighter when he gets into position,” he remarked thoughtfully in weighing the suggestion, “but he is so slow.” Finally, however, in an evil moment for the Confederacy, Lee adopted it. When the conference broke up, it was clearly understood that Longstreet was to attack the Federal left at the earliest moment practicable next morning, and the sound of his cannon was to be the signal for Ewell to hurl his corps against the Federal right, and for Hill, to move against the Federal centre.

General Pendleton, chief of the artillery, a clergyman whose integrity was never seriously questioned by any one who knew him, states that Lee, in an interview with Longstreet the same night, held while he himself was present, ordered an advance against the Federal left at sunrise,—an entirely practicable movement, as Longstreet’s corps was then encamped only four miles from Gettysburg. Longstreet denied that he received such instructions, but whether he received them or not (they were precisely those, it may be asserted parenthetically, which a commander even of ordinary alertness would have given), no one was more clearly aware than himself that by celerity alone the opportunity presented to the Confederates to overwhelm the foe in detail could be seized and used. “Time on this occasion,” as he himself admitted, “was more than cannon balls.” Unfortunately for the Southern cause, no specific orders in writing were drawn up for his direction, for it was General Lee’s habit to give verbal orders, and allow his officers to be guided largely by circumstances in carrying them out. This was well with such a soldier as Jackson; it was not well with such a soldier as Longstreet, brave and vigorous though he always was in action. Students of Jackson’s career can easily imagine what that incarnation of energy would have done had he been in Longstreet’s place on the night of July 1st. No orders to march at daybreak would have been needed by him; by dawn, his corps would have been confronting Cemetery Hill ready to advance up its slopes at the first sound of the bugle.

So plain was the course to be pursued on the morning of July 2d, that not even Longstreet, slow as he was, would have failed to carry it out had not another unfortunate characteristic come into play. As has already been stated, he was extremely opinionative, and he took it into his head (apparently in a desire to bear to Lee the peculiar executive relation in flank movements which Jackson had borne) that Cemetery Hill should not be assaulted from in front, but the whole position of the enemy turned. Nor would he yield when Lee offered strong reasons to show the inadvisability of such a manœuvre. The first of these reasons was that, in the cavalry’s absence, it would be a very perilous step to penetrate farther into a region occupied in force by the Federals. A flank march, to be successful even under the most favorable circumstances, must be made with great rapidity and with more or less secrecy. How could the infantry advance swiftly without horsemen when they themselves would have to reconnoitre on all sides at once, and when the head of the column might be crushed at any moment by an unexpected assault of the
enemy? Secondly, even if Lee should be able to thrust himself between Meade and Washington or Baltimore, the Federal army’s line of communication would not really be cut, for one part of the North would still be open behind it; Meade could still stand quietly on the defensive, or what would be worse, strike at Lee’s base of supply, already jeopardised by the forward movement.

Nor could Lee take a position on Seminary Ridge, opposite Cemetery Heights and await an assault, since he was absolutely dependent on the country behind him for food, and that country had already been depleted by the passage of his army. It would not at best furnish a support for more than four or five days, should he remain stationary; nor could he afford to disperse his troops far afield in order to collect provisions. Moreover, the longer the two armies stood face to face, the more reinforcements
Meade was certain to receive, until, finally, the preponderance in his favor would be so enormous that, like Grant later at Petersburg, he could, with ease, sweep around his antagonist’s flank at the very hour he assailed that antagonist’s front.

The character of the entire situation justified Lee in ordering Longstreet to march against Cemetery Ridge at the earliest practicable moment on the morning of July 2d. But that officer, instead of entering heartily into his commander’s plan as soon as his own was overruled for sound reasons, acted as if his principal object was to prove what an excellent prophet he was. Had he gone deliberately to work to thwart Lee’s purposes, he could not have done so more successfully. Had not his conduct on the second and third days at Gettysburg been of a piece with his conduct at Seven Pines and Fair Oaks, he might justly be suspected of disaffection to the Southern cause. It is no exaggeration to say that the fate of the Confederacy turned absolutely on what he should do between the hours of 4:30 and 7 A.M. on July 2d. Promptness in concentrating in front of Cemetery Hill during those fateful one hundred and fifty minutes, would have enabled Lee to defeat the enemy in detail. A triumph at Gettysburg might not, after all, owing to the capture of Vicksburg, have led to Southern independence; but, in looking back on the war, there seems just reason to think that the only hope of that independence lay in a great victory won on this field. Had Longstreet advanced to battle at 4:30, the hour of dawn at this season, he would have found immediately in his front Geary’s division alone; had he advanced at five o’clock, he would have found the Federal position on the left of the First Corps entirely undefended. By seven o’clock, the Second Corps had readied the Ridge, but even with this reinforcement the Federal entrenchments were still assailable. Round Top and Little Round Top, in command of the Federal line in reverse, could still have been seized without difficulty—being then unoccupied—and permanently held, a fact which would ultimately have forced Meade to retire to Pipe Creek.

It was not until 8 A.M., nearly three hours after the sun had risen, that the main body of Longstreet’s corps arrived at Gettysburg, although they had only four miles to traverse. Lee, who had been on horseback since daybreak, and chafing under the delay, had been forced to look on helplessly as reinforcements poured into the Federal entrenchments. By that hour, two additional corps had joined the four already on the ground, and 65,000 men looked down upon the Confederate army. These new bodies of troops had come up from a greater distance than Longstreet’s. Instead of marching forward at once, this officer further inflamed his chief’s impatience by renewing his arguments in favor of a flank movement, although they had been fully canvassed and rejected the night before. “The enemy is here,” exclaimed Lee; “if we don’t whip him, he will whip us.” In a sinister moment for his cause, he permitted himself so far to be influenced by his lieutenant’s reluctance as to send Colonel Venable, of his staff, to find out whether Ewell, now that he had been able to examine by daylight the enemy’s line in front of him, still thought it inadvisable to begin the battle by an assault on the Federal right. Ewell reported that the position was now too strong to be assailed with any prospect of success, and this conclusion was confirmed by Lee himself, who rode over and inspected it in person.

Returning to Longstreet, he, at eleven o’clock, gave that officer a positive order to advance. It was then, perhaps, too late to dislodge the combined corps posted on Cemetery Ridge before the remaining ones could come up; but the two Round Tops could still have been captured, and Meade’s position thus rendered in the end untenable. Law’s brigade not yet having joined Longstreet, the latter assumed the responsibility of disobeying the command for an immediate attack until that brigade should appear, although he must have known that additional time thus offered the enemy to hurry up the absent corps, was certain only to increase the disproportion between the Confederates and the Federals, even after Law’s arrival. For every one hundred men Longstreet could obtain by waiting, the Federals would obtain two hundred, or even more, and the last numerical disparity of the opposing forces would necessarily be greater than the first.

Although on the night of July 1st, Longstreet was encamped only four miles from the battle-field; although, by eight o’clock, he had got the whole of his corps, with the exception of one brigade, in front of Cemetery Ridge, it was not until one in the afternoon that he put his troops in motion; and it was not until four that he was in a position to make the attack which should have been made at least eleven hours earlier. At that moment, a Federal corps, which, when its march began, was thirty-four miles from Gettysburg, had reached the field, and the whole Federal army was now ready to repel assault. It was no longer in Lee’s power to defeat the enemy in detail. Even if he could carry Cemetery Ridge by storm, his troops would be too fatigued and broken to undertake a rapid march upon Washington and Baltimore. By his slowness and practical disloyalty to his chief, Longstreet had created a condition, which, had it existed in the morning, would have caused Lee to adopt a flank movement in spite of the perils that would have accompanied it. If Longstreet had had such an object secretly in view, it was now too late to realize it, for the two armies were in actual touch, and it was less dangerous to attack than to retreat.

The Federal position was very strong naturally,
and had been made still stronger by art. It was shaped like a rude fish hook. The head of the prong, bent southeast, consisted of Culp’s Hill; the shaft, of the Ridge itself; and the barb, of two small mountains known as Round Top and Little Round Top. The capture of Culp’s Hill would have weakened the Federal hold on Cemetery Heights, because it would have exposed the Federal rear; while the capture of the Round Tops would have enabled the Confederates to bombard the Heights in reverse, which, besides doing deadly execution in itself, would have given powerful support to a frontal attack. On its western side, Cemetery Ridge fell gradually to an undulating valley, and then the ground as gradually again rose, until it formed Seminary Ridge about a mile distant, where the main body of the Confederate army was posted. Ewell’s corps, on the extreme left, faced Culp’s Hill, or the top of the fish hook; Hill’s corps, in the centre, the main Ridge or the middle of the shaft; and Longstreet, on the extreme right, the Round Tops, or the two barbs.

When the battle began, the Federals were not occupying Round Top, although a corps was stationed in its rear. Little Round Top, likewise unoccupied, was somewhat better protected by an angle in the Federal position, which made that part, as was soon shown, highly vulnerable to attack. This angle, which was really a mile in front of the Federal army’s main line, was held by Sickles’ corps, and the ground he stood upon was known as the Peach Orchard. Lee was not aware when Longstreet assailed this advanced body of troops, a movement which opened the battle, that the Fifth Corps, entrenched behind them, really formed that section of the enemy’s main line. The convex shape of the Federal position gave Meade the advantage of operating on interior lines about two and a half miles long, a fact that enabled him to hurry forward reinforcements to any threatened point in much less time than could the Confederates, who operated on exterior lines, five miles in extent. The latter, indeed, could move only along a circumference, as the roads in their front were exposed to the Federal artillery fire. The length of their lines, held as they were by only 60,000 men, made the establishment of a reserve impracticable, and it also rendered a concerted movement from one end to the other almost impossible. It was not a position which Lee would have taken had his cavalry been present before the fighting began.

Longstreet was ordered to open the battle by attacking the corps posted in the Peach Orchard, and having turned its flank, to roll it back along the Emmittsburg Road, skirting the orchard, until the whole was pressed in confusion on the Federal centre. While this movement was in progress, Ewell was to assail the Federal right, and, if possible, roll this wing back on that point also.

About four o’clock in the afternoon, these two projected assaults began simultaneously. Ewell’s was only partially successful; Johnson’s division was able to seize and hold one of the Federal lines of entrenchment on Culp’s Hill, but the other two divisions accomplished nothing. In the meanwhile, Longstreet had deployed in front of the Peach Orchard. The brigade on his extreme right was posted not far from Round Top. It was reported to its general by a small force sent forward to reconnoitre, that this height as well as Little Round Top was unoccupied. The general promptly in person informed his division commander of this fact, and earnestly demonstrated the ease with which the Federal left might be turned from that point. An aide-de-camp was dispatched to Longstreet, but although General Lee could have been quickly communicated with, that officer merely returned the reply that he had been ordered to advance against the enemy down the Emmittsburg Road (which was in the opposite direction) and that these instructions must be obeyed. Thus the opportunity of seizing the two Tops was lost by the action of a subordinate who, in the morning, had not hesitated to assume the responsibility of violating Lee’s command to move into battle at once; and who now, when a similar use of his discretion would have been of extraordinary advantage to the Southern cause, preferred to play the part of an unthinking machine in carrying out orders which Lee would have been the first to modify, had he been informed at once of the divisional commander’s report.

The sharp fight at a later hour for the same general position, when, by Warren’s promptness in assuming to act on his own judgment, Little Round Top had been occupied by the Federals, would seem to show that Longstreet fully understood the vital relation it bore to Confederate success. With the two Round Tops in his possession, the whole of the Federal left wing, as soon as Sickles was defeated, could have been pressed back on the centre.

While Longstreet was assailing Sickles’ left. Hill was assailing his right. Humphreys’ division, in changing front, was forced back to the Ridge, and the battle was restored for the Federals at that point only by the forward rush of reinforcements. Wright’s brigade, after piercing the Federal centre, succeeded in penetrating as far as the Ridge, but were compelled to relinquish their hold by a vigorous charge of the foe. Wilcox’s brigade actually reached the crest, but, like their comrades, were finally driven back. Had these two brigades been firmly supported by Pender’s and Anderson’s, also of Hill’s Corps, it is not improbable that the Federal centre would have been permanently split in two. Hill’s management of the operations in his section of the field was marked by neither promptness nor energy, and the ground gained there was soon lost by his feeble action. Both on the Confederate left and centre, the excellent opportunity existing or created for the enemy’s defeat in their front was permitted by Hill’s weakness and Longstreet’s perversity to pass unused.

The general result of the second day’s operations over the whole field, however, was not unfavorable to the Confederate cause. Taking it in connection with the first day’s victory, Lee was justified in thinking that the courage of the Federal army was so shaken that a vigorous, concerted attack on its lines the following morning stood such a chance of success as to warrant its being made; and he was the more convinced of this because the positions gained on the right along the Emmittsburg Road would enable his artillery to render the assaulting columns more assistance than they had previously. Ewell, as we have seen, had captured a portion of Culp’s Hill on the extreme left, which would be of great advantage in continuing the attack in that section of the field. Early, on that side, and Wright and Wilcox in the centre, would have been able to hold the positions on the Ridge which they had reached, had they been promptly supported in force. Stuart’s cavalry had arrived, and Pickett’s division, consisting of 5,000 fresh troops, had also come up.

What point in the Federal line should be first assailed on the following morning? Such was the question presented to Lee on the night of the 2d, Not the extreme Federal left, for that was peculiarly strong, owing to the possession of little Round Top. Moreover, success in that quarter would not seriously interfere with Meade’s road for retreat in case he was expelled from the Ridge. Lee soon saw that the Federal centre was the real point to be attacked. His plan was to drive one half of his army like a wedge through this section of the Federal position; then, with a part of the same forces wheel sharply to the left, and, if possible, annihilate the Federal right wing, thus closing the line of Federal withdrawal toward Baltimore; and when this had been accomplished, turn to assist the other part of the wedge, which had been ordered to hold the Federal left wing at bay.

The entire movement would be both bold and hazardous, but had it been carried out with the vigor and concert shown at Gaines’ Mill and Chancellorsville, its triumphant consummation was far from impossible. At this moment, Lee recognized as clearly as he had always done that the only hope of Southern independence lay in the delivery of an overwhelming stroke, and that in delivering such a stroke, great risks must be taken. Even a second Chancellorsville might, by following so soon upon two other defeats, tend to weaken the North’s determination to continue the war. Lee knew that he was now too close to his opponent to make a successful flank march with the view of cutting his communications; nor could he retreat without such a confession of failure as would destroy the whole moral effect of the invasion.

To Pickett’s and Pettigrew’s (Heth’s) divisions was assigned the duty of forming the sharp end of the wedge to be driven through the Federal centre. These troops were to be backed up by Anderson’s division, while Hill was to hold other reinforcements in readiness to march to their assistance at once. Hood and McLaws, of Longstreet’s corps, were directed to make a demonstration against the extreme left, and at the right moment join in the attack on the centre. As the assaulting column advanced, its front was to be protected by the overhead fire of Hill’s and Longstreet’s batteries, and also of a part of Ewell’s, while its flanks were to be supported by artillery pushed forward as the troops pressed on. This artillery was to be propelled into the expected breach and to aid in widening it. During the progress of these operations on the right and in the centre, Ewell, on the extreme left, was to be assaulting the Federal line immediately in his front.

Unfortunately for the Confederacy, Lee, on the third day as on the second, was forced to rely principally upon Longstreet for the achievement of his main purpose. On the second day, as we have seen, that officer had disconcerted his chief’s plans by his slowness in reaching the battle-field; by his paralyzing opposition to that chiefs wishes; by his disregard of the command to move at eleven o’clock; and, finally, by his machine-like loyalty to an order which Lee would have extolled him for modifying on his own responsibility. On the third day, Longstreet was to exhibit an even more insubordinate spirit; and by his obstinacy and perversity, to deprive the South of what was to be its last but greatest chance of winning its independence.

At daybreak, on July 3d, the third day of the battle, the Federals anticipated a portion of Lee’s plan by assaulting his left wing. As Ewell’s partial hold on Culp’s Hill threatened their line of retreat in case of repulse, and also exposed their reserve artillery to capture, it was of vital importance that the position occupied by the Confederates should be retaken; and this, after a sharp contest, the Federals were able to do. This success, by securing Meade’s line of withdrawal, reduced the chances of an overwhelming disaster, should Lee drive his antagonist from his entrenchments on Cemetery Ridge.

At 9 A.M., three hours before the struggle on the Confederate left ceased, the column which was to make the assault on the Federal centre was lying behind Seminary Ridge ready to move forward at the first signal. It was necessary that the advance should begin while the enemy opposite the Confederate left were engaged with Ewell; but it was not until after one o’clock in the afternoon, when the fighting in that part of the field had ended, leaving the Federals there free to strengthen their centre, that Pickett and Pettigrew received the signal to charge. The heavy cannonade preceding the movement had served only to exhaust the Confederates’ ammunition without really demoralizing the enemy. Instead of advancing under the supporting fire of their own batteries on Seminary Ridge, the assaulting column swept on, with the guns on the heights in their rear silent.

The distance to be traversed spread over about fourteen hundred yards. First, the column descended a slope of Seminary Ridge, and having crossed the narrow undulating valley at its foot, began to ascend the gentle slope of Cemetery Heights. About half way, the Federal artillery in front started to play with fatal effect on the breasts of the approaching ranks, while the batteries on Little Round Top poured an equally deadly fire into their flanks. Owing to the waste of powder in the cannonade, only some fifteen or eighteen guns could be sent forward with the column to protect it on each side, and thus these brave men were practically unsupported by artillery.

Notwithstanding this fact, Pickett’s division carried the enemy’s first line, and a small company, led by General Armistead, rushing forward, seized several cannon planted between it and the second line; but, with the fall of that gallant officer, they were soon driven back behind the shelter of the stone wall which had served as a breastwork for the first. This was the moment when, according to General Lee’s plan, not less than 20,000 additional men were to advance from the Confederate side. With these reinforcements pressing on toward the breach, or keeping the wings of the Federal army from converging upon it; and with the entire artillery arm at play, either in widening the breach itself, or in diverting assistance from the Federals at that point, there was no reason why the wedge should not have penetrated far enough to split the Federal centre, and throw it to right and left in confusion. But neither troops nor guns came to the column’s support. Pettigrew was soon foiled; and Pickett, who had lost 3,395 men killed, wounded or captured in a total of 4,500, had no alternative but to fall back to the Confederate main line.

Why had Pickett and Pettigrew been left to fight an entire army without assistance? Although Longstreet had been empowered to send forward the whole of Anderson’s division, only two brigades participated in the battle; and with equal supineness, he had used but two of Pender’s division of Hill’s corps. Hood’s and McLaws’s divisions, instead of first demonstrating against the Federal left, and then vigorously assaulting it or the centre at the critical moment, had been entirely occupied in protecting their wagon train from a dash of a few brigades of Federal cavalry. In the presence of 60,000 men looking quietly on, as if at some grand military review, Longstreet had sent 15,000 men to death or capture, without really attempting to give them the strong and prompt support called for by General Lee’s express orders, and by the dictates of common sense.

As soon as the remnants of the assaulting column straggled back, Lee exerted himself in person to reform his lines at that point, and in a very short time, the Confederate right and centre were prepared to resist with vigor a counterstroke, had one been made. Meade, however, was satisfied merely to throw his cavalry on his opponent’s flank in order to cut down the infantry, should they show signs of confusion; but the horsemen were so firmly received that they were forced to withdraw.

It was not until the second night after the final struggle that Lee set his trains in motion. Meade was so convinced that this was the first step toward a flank march for the purpose of drawing him away from Cemetery Heights, that he instructed his subordinates not to bring on another battle. Not until the morning of the 5th did the retreat of the rearguard begin. The withdrawal of the army was due to no loss of morale; had it remained on Seminary Ridge, it would have been entirely lacking in ordinary supplies, while its communications with Harper’s Ferry, upon which it depended for ammunition, would have been in danger of severance. It was not until the 6th that Meade, abandoning his entrenchments, followed in Lee’s track; but the pursuit was so feeble that there was little effort to attack even the rear-guard. A rise in the waters of the Potomac forced Lee, before crossing, to take up a position in order to repel an assault, should one be made; but without serious molestation, he, on the 13th, withdrew into Virginia.

Thus ended the Gettysburg campaign. The losses during the three days’ battle amounted in various ways to 21,451 men on the Confederate side, and to 23,003 on the Federal. Four Federal general officers and five Confederate were killed, and thirteen Federal and nine Confederate wounded. Excepting the third day’s struggle, when only about one-fifth of the Confederate army was engaged, the result as a whole had not been unfavorable to the Southern cause; that army had at least inflicted as much damage as it had received, and had then safely retreated at its leisure. In its larger aspects, however, the battle of Gettysburg was a heavy blow to Southern hopes, as, for the second time, the invasion of the North had terminated in failure. The Army of Northern Virginia, justly regarded as the Confederacy’s chief instrument for winning its independence, had, for a time at least, been completely balked in its attempt to win that independence by a single stroke when all the circumstances appeared highly auspicious. The fall of Vicksburg, by isolating so vast a section of Confederate territory, undoubtedly gave to the issue of this great battle, a gloomier significance than it deserved. From the Southern point of view, its most depressing feature after all was, not that it compelled Lee to retreat across the Potomac for the second time, but that it revealed his entire lack of a lieutenant upon whom he could rely, as he had relied upon Jackson, for the prompt and skilful execution of his plans. All the apprehensions raised by that general’s death were confirmed by this campaign, although the disconcerting part played by Longstreet was not fully known at the time. Careful observers had now only too much reason to expect that subsequent campaigns would illustrate the same deficiency to an even more conspicuous degree.

General Lee’s moral greatness was exhibited as strikingly at Gettysburg as at Chancellorsville. At Chancellorsville, as we have seen, he attributed to Jackson all the credit of the victory; at Gettysburg, be assumed all the discredit of the defeat. “It is all my fault,” he exclaimed to Pickett when that gallant officer returned to the lines on Seminary Ridge, outraged to tears by the failure to support his division. “It is all my fault, and you must help me out of it the best you can.”

From the larger point of view, General Lee was right in attributing the defeat to himself, for it was principally due to his habit of showing an almost excessive consideration for the feelings, wishes, and opinions of his corps commanders that at least one of them ventured upon liberties of action, which he would not have indulged in had his chief insisted more sternly on his own supremacy. Several observers who stood close to Lee during the war testify that, out of sheer kindness of heart and amiability of temper, he was too gentle in dealing with incompetent or perverse subordinates. Had Jackson, a man always intolerant of inefficiency, and permitting no departure from his instructions, or even a show of opposition, been Longstreet’s commander at Gettysburg, no time would have been wasted by him in arguing with his opinionative and procrastinating lieutenant on the morning of July 2d. There would have been but one order—“March,”—which would have been received and carried out without question. Only one council of war was ever summoned by Jackson, and it would have been better for the Confederacy had Lee also acted so exclusively on his own judgment that his most self-complacent officers would have recognized the hopelessness of trying to alter his resolution. Leaving his balking lieutenant and riding off to find out whether Ewell could not, after all, make the first attack (Federal reinforcements, in the meanwhile, streaming into the entrenchments on Cemetery Hill), Lee presents a spectacle well calculated to lower his reputation as a determined and energetic leader of men. Longstreet was clearly entitled to his own opinion, but that he should have permitted this opinion, after it had been overruled, to govern his conduct throughout the battle was an act of disloyalty which even he, with all his self-esteem, would not have committed had he been serving under a chief of more unbending temper.

Aware that Longstreet did not enter heartily into his plans, why did Lee rely upon him for the performance of so vital a task? As we have seen, on the night of July 1st, Lee was anxious for Ewell to begin the attack next morning, simply because Longstreet, whose corps was then four miles away, “was so slow.” He consented to be overruled only when he was convinced that the first assault should be directed against Cemetery Ridge from the right and not from the left. Longstreet arrived on the battle-field last, and it was due to this characteristic fact that he had to be posted in the position from which the first advance against the enemy was to be made. Moreover, when he had once entered a fight, no one struck with greater determination and pertinacity, and he showed this admirable quality at the Peach Orchard on the second day of the battle. Hill, on the other hand, exhibited there decided feebleness. On the third day, Lee was again compelled by the mere force of circumstances to rely upon Longstreet. The practical insubordination as well as the slowness marking his conduct before the battle of the second day began, was, doubtless, not forgotten by Lee; but the vigorous assault on Sickles had naturally modified the unfavorable impressions caused by those acts. Ewell was stationed at the other end of the field, and Hill, who was nearer at hand, was known to be inferior to Longstreet in skill and experience in handling large bodies of troops. Neither, therefore, could be considered for the task of the third day.

Had Longstreet been a Federal officer, and had he supported that side at Gettysburg as he supported the Confederate, he would have been tried for disobedience and incompetence, and dropped from the roll. Such was the fate which overtook Burnside, Porter and Franklin for offenses far less serious; such was the fate which also overtook Warren until he was reinstated by Grant. But Lee, if he ever really thought of court-martialing his refractory lieutenant, of which there is no proof, shrank from doing so, because he was assured of Longstreet’s loyalty to the South, appreciated his valuable services in the past, and recognized that his degradation would arouse resentment in his corps, and perhaps, in some measure, alienate the support of Georgia, the state justly claiming him as one of its most distinguished citizens. Nothing was to be gained by sowing dissension, now that it was so urgent that all should act as one for the advancement of a cause whose prospects had suddenly darkened.

If distrustful of Longstreet, why did not Lee assume personal charge of the operations assigned to that officer? And why did he show so much less tactical ability at Gettysburg than he had at Sharpsburg? As we have seen, the position at Sharpsburg was taken after a careful examination of the ground with a special view to its tactical advantages. At Gettysburg, on the other hand, he had no choice; the battle began by accident, and he was forced to arrange his troops in the field as he found it, a condition which compelled him to shape his lines in a, manner that greatly hampered concert of action, even if it did not render such concert impracticable. When once a commander has given his general orders in battle, he has to rely on his lieutenants’ intelligence and energy to execute them. He cannot personally execute his own orders. Should a subordinate show a lack of judgment, skill and spirit, then it is rarely in his commander’s power to remedy the deficiency. And if that subordinate also undertakes to question the wisdom of his superior’s general directions, and, in consequence, to act with a supineness and half-heartedness tantamount to insubordination, as Longstreet did at both Fair Oaks and Gettysburg, not to mention the first day at Second Manassas, it is not often that the situation can be saved by the commander’s personal intervention, simply because the opportunity for striking a successful blow during the actual operations on the battle-field is so soon lost. Not even Napoleon himself could always hold
his lieutenants in hand, as Waterloo revealed; nor could McClellan at Sharpsburg, nor Lee at Gettysburg, in some respects the two most momentous battles ever fought on our western continent.

It is a fact of singular interest that, after Gettysburg, both Lee and Meade were influenced by the course of events to offer their resignations as the commanders of their respective armies: Meade because Mr. Lincoln was dissatisfied at the safe retreat of the Confederate forces; Lee because the tone of the Southern press seemed to intimate that the failure of the campaign had shaken the public confidence in his military capacity. In a very touching letter to Mr. Davis, he expressed his willingness to transfer the command to some “younger and abler man.” “I know,” he added, “he will have as gallant and brave an army as ever existed to second his efforts, and it will be the happiness of my life to see at its head a worthy leader, one who can perform more than I can hope to perform, and all that I have wished.” He complained of no one but himself. “My eyesight is not perfect,” he said, “and I am so dull that, in attempting to use the eyes of others, I find myself often misled.” Mr. Davis replied that “to request him to find some one more fit for command, or who possessed more of the confidence of the army or of the reflecting men of the country, was to demand an impossibility.” And such was the universal opinion of the Southern people.

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