Four Years With General Lee, by Walter H. Taylor, Chapter 8

Four Years With General Lee

The Pennsylvania Campaign.—The Battle of Gettysburg.—Strength of the Opposing Armies.

FROM the very necessities of the case, the general theory upon which the war was conducted on the part of the South was one of defense. The great superiority of the North in men and material made it indispensable for the South to husband its resources as much as possible, inasmuch as the hope of ultimate success which the latter entertained, rested rather upon the dissatisfaction and pecuniary distress which a prolonged war would entail upon the former—making the people weary of the struggle—than upon any expectation of conquering a peace by actually subduing so powerful an adversary.

Nevertheless, in the judgment of General Lee, it was a part of a true defensive policy to take the aggressive when good opportunity offered; and by delivering an effective blow to the enemy, not only to inflict upon him serious loss, but at the same time to thwart his designs of invasion, derange the plan of campaign contemplated by him, and thus prolong the conflict.

The Federal army, under General Hooker, had now reoccupied the heights opposite Fredericksburg, where it could not be attacked except at a disadvantage. Instead of quietly awaiting the pleasure of the Federal commander in designing and putting into execution some new plan of campaign, General Lee determined to manœuvre to draw him from his impregnable position and if possible to remove the scene of hostilities beyond the Potomac. His design was to free the State of Virginia, for a time at least, from the presence of the enemy, to transfer the theatre of war to Northern soil, and, by selecting a favorable time and place in which to receive the attack which his adversary would be compelled to make on him, to take the reasonable chances of defeating him in a pitched battle; knowing full well that to obtain such an advantage there would place him in position to attain far more decisive results than could be hoped for from a like advantage gained in Virginia . But even if unable to attain the valuable results which might be expected to follow a decided advantage gained over the enemy in Maryland or Pennsylvania, it was thought that the movement would at least so far disturb the Federal plan for the summer campaign as to prevent its execution during the season for active operations.1

In pursuance of this design, early in the month of June, General Lee moved his army northward by way of Culpeper, ,and thence to and down the Valley of Virginia to Winchester.

The army had now been reorganized into three army-corps, designated the First, Second, and Third Corps, and commanded respectively by Lieutenant-Generals Longstreet, Ewell, and A. P. Hill.

The Second Corps was in advance, and crossed the branches of the Shenandoah, near Front Royal, on the 12th of June. Brushing aside the force of the enemy under General Milroy, that occupied the lower Valley most of which was captured and the remnant of which sought refuge in the fortifications at Harper’s Ferry[2] General Ewell crossed the Potomac River with his three divisions in the latter part of June, and, in pursuance of the orders of General Lee, traversed Maryland and advanced into Pennsylvania.

General A. P. Hill, whose corps was the last to leave the line of the Rappahannock, followed with his three divisions in Swell’s rear. General Longstreet covered these movements with his corps; then moved by Ashby’s and Snicker’s Gaps into the Valley and likewise crossed the Potomac River, leaving to General Stuart the task of holding the gaps of the Blue Ridge Mountains with his corps of cavalry.

The Federal commander had meanwhile moved his army so as to cover Washington City; and, as soon as he was thoroughly informed, by Ewell’s rapid advance, of the real intention of his adversary, he too crossed into Maryland.

On the 27th of June General Lee was near Chambersburg with the First and Third Corps, the Second being still in advance, but within supporting distance.

With the exception of the cavalry, the army was well in hand. The absence of that indispensable arm of the service was most seriously felt by General Lee. He had directed General Stuart to use his discretion as to where and when to cross the river—that is, he was to cross east of the mountains, or retire through the mountain-passes into the Valley and cross in the immediate rear of the infantry, as the movements of the enemy and his own judgment should determine but he was expected to maintain communication with the main—column, and especially directed to keep the commanding general informed of the movements of the Federal army.

The army continued to advance. On the 1st of July General Lee reached Cashtown and stopped to confer with General A. P. Hill, whose corps was concentrating at that point, and who reported that the advance of Heth’s division had encountered the cavalry of the enemy near Gettysburg. Instructions had been sent to General Heth to ascertain what force was at Gettysburg, and, if he found infantry opposed to him, to report the fact immediately, without forcing an engagement.

No tidings whatever had been received from or of our cavalry under General Stuart since crossing the river; and General Lee was consequently without accurate information of the movements or position of the main Federal army.[3] An army without cavalry in a strange and hostile country is as a man deprived of his eyesight and beset by enemies; he may be never so brave and strong, but he cannot intelligently administer a single effective blow.

The sound of artillery was soon heard in the direction of Gettysburg. General Hill hastened to the front. General Lee followed.

On arriving at the scene of battle, General Lee ascertained that the enemy’s infantry and artillery were present inconsiderable force. Heth’s division was already hotly engaged, and it was soon evident that a serious engagement could not be avoided.

Orders had previously been sent to General Ewell to recall his advanced divisions, and to concentrate about Cashtown. While en route for that point, on the morning of the 1st of July, General Ewell learned that Hill’s corps was moving toward Gettysburg, and, on arriving at Middletown, he turned the head of his column in that direction. When within a few miles of the town, General Rodes, whose division was in advance, was made aware, by the sharp cannonading, of the presence of the enemy in force at Gettysburg, and caused immediate preparations for battle to be made.

On reaching the scene of conflict, General Rodes made his dispositions to assail the force with which Hill’s troops were engaged, but no sooner were his lines formed than he perceived fresh troops of the enemy extending their right flank, and deploying in his immediate front. With this force he was soon actively engaged. The contest now be came sharp and earnest. Neither side sought or expected a general engagement; and yet, brought thus unexpectedly in the presence of each other, found a conflict unavoidable.

The battle continued, with varying success, until perhaps 3 P.M., when General Early, of Ewell’s corps, reached the field with his division, moved in on Rodes’s left, and attacked the enemy with his accustomed vigor and impetuosity. This decided the contest. The enemy’s right gave way under Early’s assault. Fender’s division, of Hill’s corps, had mean while been advanced to relieve that of Heth; and Rodes, observing the effect of Early’s attack, ordered his line forward. There resulted a general and irresistible advance of our entire line; the enemy gave way at all points, and were driven in disorder through and beyond the town of Gettysburg, leaving over five thousand prisoners in our hands.

In this action the force engaged on the Confederate side, as already stated, consisted of the divisions of Heth and Fender, of Hill’s corps, and those of Early and Rodes, of Ewell’s corps. On the side of the Federals there was the First Corps, embracing the divisions of Wads worth, Doubleday, and Robinson; the Eleventh Corps, embracing the divisions of Schurz, Barlow, and Steinwehr; and the cavalry force under General Buford. The infantry force on each side was about the same,[4] and the preponderance in numbers was with the Federals, to the extent of General Buford’s cavalry command.

General Lee witnessed the flight of the Federals through Gettysburg and up the hills beyond. He then directed me to go to General Ewell and to say to him that, from the position which he occupied, he could see the enemy retreating over those hills, without organization and in great confusion, that it was only necessary to press “those people” in order to secure possession of the heights, and that, if possible, he wished him to do this. In obedience to these instructions, I proceeded immediately to General Ewell and delivered the order of General Lee; and, after receiving from him some message for the commanding general in regard to the prisoners captured, returned to the latter and reported that his order had been delivered.

General Ewell did not express any objection, or indicate the existence of any impediment, to the execution of the order conveyed to him, but left the impression upon my mind that it would be executed. In the exercise of that discretion, however, which General Lee was accustomed to accord to his lieutenants, and probably because of an undue regard for his admonition, given early in the day, not to precipitate a general engagement, General Ewell deemed it unwise to make the pursuit. The troops were not moved forward, and the enemy proceeded to occupy and fortify the position which it was designed that General Ewell should seize.

Major-General Edward Johnson, whose division reached the field after the engagement, and formed on the left of Early, in a conversation had with me, since the war, about this circumstance, in which I sought an explanation of our inaction at that time, assured me that there was no hinderance to his moving forward; but that, after getting his command in line of battle, and before it became seriously engaged or had advanced any great distance, for some unexplained reason, he had received orders to halt. This was after General Lee’s message was delivered to General Ewell.

Such was the condition of affairs when darkness veiled the scene on the evening of the first day. The prevailing idea with General Lee was, to press forward without delay; to follow up promptly and vigorously the advantage already gained. Having failed to reap the full fruit of the victory before night, his mind was evidently occupied with the idea of renewing the assault upon the enemy’s right with the dawn of day on the second. The divisions of Major-Generals Early and Rodes, of Swell’s corps, had been actively engaged, and had sustained some loss, but were still in excellent condition, and in the full enjoyment of the prestige of success and a consequent elation of spirit, in having so gallantly swept the enemy from their front, through the town of Gettysburg, and compelled him to seek refuge behind the heights beyond. The division of Major-General Edward Johnson, of the same corps, was perfectly fresh, not having been engaged. Anderson’s division, of Hill’s corps, was also now up. With this force General Lee thought that the enemy’s position could be assailed with every prospect of success; but, after a conference with the corps and division commanders on our left, who represented that, in their judgment, it would be hazardous to attempt to storm the strong position occupied by the enemy, with troops some what fagged by the marching and fighting of the first day; that the ground in their immediate front furnished greater obstacles to a successful assault than existed at other points of the line, and that it could be reasonably concluded, since they had so severely handled the enemy in their front, that he would concentrate and fortify with special reference to resisting a further advance just there, he determined to make the main attack well on the enemy’s left, indulging the hope that Longstreet’s corps would be up in time to begin the movement at an early hour on the 2d. He instructed General Ewell to be prepared to coöperate by a simultaneous advance by his corps. General Longstreet was unexpectedly detained, however, as will best appear from the following extract from his report of the Gettysburg campaign. In speaking of his movements on the 1st day of July, he says:

Our march on this day was greatly delayed by Johnson’s division, of the Second Corps, which came into the road from Shippensburg, and the long wagon-trains that followed him. McLaws’s division, however, reached Marsh Creek, four miles from Gettysburg, a little after dark, and Hood’s division got within nearly the same distance of the town about twelve o clock at night. Law’s brigade was ordered forward to its division during the day, and joined about noon on the 2d.

Previous to his joining I received instructions from the commanding general to move with the portion of my command that was up around to gain the Emmettsburg road on the enemy’s left. The enemy, having been driven back by the corps of Lieutenant-Generals Ewell and A. P. Hill the day previous, had taken a strong position extending from the hill at the cemetery along the Emmettsburg road.

Fearing that my force was too weak to venture to make an attack, I delayed until General Law’s brigade joined its division. As soon after his arrival as we could make our preparations, the movement was begun.

Engineers, sent out by the commanding general and myself, guided us by a road which would have completely disclosed the move. Some delay ensued in seeking a more concealed route. McLaws’s division got into position opposite the enemy’s left about 4 P.M. Hood’s division was moved on farther to our right, and got into position, partially enveloping the enemy’s left.

General Longstreet here explains the cause of the delay in bringing up his troops on the first day; but, notwithstanding this, the divisions of Hood and McLaws (with the exception of Law’s brigade) encamped within four miles of Gettysburg at midnight of the 1st of July. He then received instructions to move with the portion of his command that was then up, to gain the Emmettsburg road on the enemy’s left; but fearing that his force was too weak to venture to make an attack, he delayed until Law’s brigade joined its division, about noon on the 2d.

In this, General Longstreet clearly admits that he assumed the responsibility of postponing the execution of the orders of the commanding general. Owing to the causes assigned, the troops were not in position to attack until 4 P.M. One can imagine what was going on in the Federal lines meanwhile. Round Top, the key to their position, which was not occupied in the morning, they now held in force, and another corps (Sedgwick’s) had reached the field.

Late as it was, the original plan was adhered to. The two divisions of Longstreet’s corps gallantly advanced, forced the enemy back a considerable distance, and captured some trophies and prisoners.

Ewell’s divisions were ordered forward, and likewise gained additional ground and trophies.

On Cemetery Hill the attack by Early’s leading brigades was made with vigor. They drove the enemy back into the works on the crest, into which they forced their way, and seized several pieces of artillery; but they were compelled to relinquish what they had gained, from want of expected support on their right, and retired to their original position, bringing with them some prisoners and four stands of colors. In explanation of this lack of expected support, General Rodes, who was on General Early’s right, states in his report that after lie had conferred with General Early, on his left, and General Lane, on his right, and arranged to attack in concert, he proceeded at once to make the necessary preparations; but as he had to draw his troops out of the town by the flank, change the direction of the line of battle, and then traverse a distance of twelve or fourteen hundred yards, while General Early had to move only half that distance, without change of front, it resulted that, before he drove in the enemy’s skirmishers, General Early had attacked, and been compelled to withdraw.

The whole affair was disjointed. There was an utter absence of accord in the movements of the several commands, and no decisive result attended the operations of the second day.

It is generally conceded that General Longstreet, on this occasion, was fairly chargeable with tardiness, and I have always thought that his conduct, in this particular, was due to a lack of appreciation on his part of the circumstances which created an urgent and peculiar need for the presence of his troops at the front.

As soon as the necessity for the concentration of the army was precipitated by the unexpected encounter on the 1st of July with a large force of the enemy near Gettysburg, General Longstreet was urged to hasten his march, and this, perhaps, should have sufficed to cause him to push his divisions on toward Gettysburg, from which point he was distant but four miles, early on the 2d; but I cannot say that he was notified, on the night of the 1st, of the attack proposed to be made on the morning of the 2d, and the part his corps was to take therein. Neither do I think it just to charge that he was alone responsible for the delay in attacking that ensued after his arrival on the field. I well remember how General Lee was chafed by the non-appearance of the troops, until he finally became restless, and rode back to meet General Longstreet, and urge him forward; but, then, there was considerable delay in putting the troops to work after they reached the field, and much time was spent in discussing what was to be done, which, perhaps, could not be avoided. At any rate, it would be unreasonable to hold General Longstreet alone accountable for this.

Indeed, great injustice has been done him in the charge that he had orders from the commanding general to attack the enemy at sunrise on the 2d of July, and that he disobeyed these orders. This would imply that he was in position to attack, whereas General Lee but anticipated his early arrival on the 2d, and based his calculations upon it. I have shown how he was disappointed, and I need hardly add that the delay was fatal. In this connection, I submit the following correspondence:

NEW ORLEANS, LA., April 20, 1875.

MY DEAR COLONEL: Upon reading an address by Mr. Pendleton, published in the December number of the Southern Magazine, I saw for the first time that General Lee had ordered me to attack the left of the Federal army at “sunrise,” on the second day of the battle of Gettysburg.

It occurs to me that if General Lee had any such idea as an attack at sunrise, you must surely be advised of it. Right sure am I that such an order was never delivered to me, and it is not possible for me to believe that he ever entertained an idea that I was to attack at that hour. My two divisions, nor myself, did not reach General Lee until 8 A.M. on the 2d, and if he had intended to attack at sunrise he surely would have expressed some surprise, or made some allusion to his orders.

Please do me the favor to let me know what you know of this sunrise attack. . . .

I remain very respectfully and truly yours,


Colonel W. H. TAYLOR, Norfolk, Virginia.

NORFOLK, VA., April 28, 1875.

DEAR GENERAL: I have received your letter of the 20th inst. I have not read the article of which you speak, nor have I ever seen a copy of General Pendleton’s address; indeed, I have read little or nothing of what has been written since the war: in the first place, because I could not spare the time; and, in the second, because, of those of whose writings I have heard, I deem but very few entitled to any attention whatever.

I can only say that I never before heard of the “sunrise attack” you were to have made, as charged by General Pendleton. If such an order was given you, I never knew it, or it has strangely escaped my memory. I think it more than probable that, if General Lee had had your troops available the evening previous to the day of which you speak, he would have ordered an early attack; but this does not touch the point at issue.

I regard it as a great mistake on the part of those who, perhaps because of political differences, now undertake to criticise and attack your war record. Such conduct is most ungenerous, and I am sure meets the disapprobation of all good Confederates with whom I have the pleasure of associating in the daily walks of life.

Yours very respectfully and truly,


General JAMES LONGSTREET, New Orleans.

Since the date of this correspondence, several communications have appeared in the public prints, from the pen of General Longstreet, in reference to the battle of Gettysburg. He claims that General Lee gave battle there in spite of his remonstrances. Had such been the fact, it would work no discredit to General Lee, though at variance with his usual propensity to defer to such objections on the part of his lieutenants; but I never heard of it before, neither is it consistent with General Longstreet’s assertion to Mr. Swinton, since made, that at the time in question “the Army of Northern Virginia was in condition to undertake anything.” In this opinion he but expressed the sentiment of the whole army; an overweening confidence possessed us all. Now, in a retrospective view of the results attained, it is easy to conclude that it would have been well not to have attacked the third day. But did we accomplish all that could have been reasonably expected? And if we failed to attain results reasonably to be expected of an army in condition to undertake anything, how did it happen?

General Lee determined to renew the attack upon the enemy’s position on the 3d day of July. In his report of the campaign, in speaking of the operations of the second day, he says:

The result of this day’s operations induced the belief that, with proper concert of action, and with the increased support that the positions gained on the right would enable the artillery to render the assaulting columns, we should ultimately succeed; and it was accordingly determined to continue the attack.

The general plan was unchanged. Longstreet, reënforced by Pickett’s three brigades, which arrived near the battle-field during the afternoon of the 2d, was ordered to attack the next morning; and General Ewell was directed to assail the enemy’s right at the same time.

General Longstreet’s dispositions were not completed as early as was expected; it appears that he was delayed by apprehensions that his troops would be taken in reverse as they advanced. General Ewell, who had orders to coöperate with General Longstreet, and who was, of course, not aware of any impediment to the main attack arranged to be made on the enemy’s left, having reënforced General Johnson, whose division was upon our extreme left during the night of the 2d, ordered him forward early the next morning.

In obedience to these instructions, General Johnson be came hotly engaged before General Ewell could be informed of the halt which had been called on our right.

After a gallant and prolonged struggle, in which the enemy was forced to abandon part of his intrenchments, General John son found himself unable to carry the strongly-fortified crest of the hill. The projected attack on the enemy’s left not having been made, he was enabled to hold his right with a force largely superior to that of General Johnson, and finally to threaten his flank and rear, rendering it necessary for him to retire to his original position about 1 P.M.[5]

General Lee then had a conference with General Longstreet, and the mode of attack and the troops to make it were thoroughly debated. I was present, and understood the arrangement to be that General Longstreet should endeavor to force the enemy’s lines in his front. That front was held by the divisions of Hood and McLaws. To strengthen him for the undertaking, it was decided to reënforce him by such troops as could be drawn from the centre.

Pickett’s division, of Longstreet’s corps, was then up, fresh and available. Heth’s division, of Hill’s corps, was also mentioned as available, having in great measure recuperated since its active engagement of the first day; [6] so also were the brigades of Lane and Scales, of Fender’s division, Hill’s corps; and as our extreme right was comparatively safe, being well posted, and not at all threatened, one of the divisions of Hood and McLaws, and the greater portion of the other, could be moved out of the lines and be made to take part in the attack. Indeed, it was designed originally that the two divisions last named, reënforced by Pickett, should make the attack; and it was only because of the apprehensions of General Longstreet that his corps was not strong enough for the movement, that General Hill was called on to reënforce him.

Orders were sent to General Hill to place Heth’s division and two brigades of Pender’s at General Longstreet’s disposal, and to be prepared to give him further assistance if requested.

The assault was to have been made with a column of not less than two divisions, and the remaining divisions were to have been moved forward in support of those in advance. This was the result of the conference alluded to as understood by me.

Lieutenant-General A. P. Hill appears to have had the same impression, for he says in his report of the operations of his corps at this time: “I was directed to hold my line with Anderson’s division and the half of Fender’s, now commanded by General Lane, and to order Heth’s division, commanded by Pettigrew, and Lane’s and Scales’s brigades, of Pender’s division, to report to Lieutenant-General Longstreet as a support to his corps, in the assault on the enemy’s lines.”

General Longstreet proceeded at once to make the dispositions for attack, and General Lee rode along the portion of the line held by A. P. Hill’s corps, and finally took position about the Confederate centre, on an elevated point, from which he could survey the field and watch the result of the movement.

After a heavy artillery fire along the entire line, and at a given signal, the movement began, but the plan agreed on was not carried out. The only troops that participated in the attack were the divisions of Pickett (First Corps) and Heth (Third Corps)—the latter, since the wounding of General Heth, commanded by General Pettigrew—and the brigades of Lane, Scales, and “Wilcox. The two divisions were formed in advance—the three brigades as their support. The divisions of Hood and McLaws (First Corps) were passive spectators of the movement.

To one who observed the charge, it appeared that Pettigrew’s line was not a continuation of that of Pickett, but that it advanced in échelon. It would seem that there was some confusion in forming the troops, for Captain Louis G. Young, of General Pettigrew’s staff, says:

On the morning of the 3d of July, General Pettigrew, commanding Heth’s division, was instructed to report to General Longstreet, who directed him to form in the rear of Pickett’s division, and support his advance upon Cemetery Hill, which would be commenced as soon as the fire from our artillery should have driven the enemy from his guns and prepared the way for attack. And I presume that it was in consequence of this having been the first plan settled on, that the erroneous report was circulated that Heth’s division was assigned the duty of supporting that of Pickett. But the order referred to was countermanded almost as soon as given, and General Pettigrew was instructed to advance upon the same line with Pickett, a portion of Pender’s division acting as supports.

Wilcox’s brigade was ordered to support Pickett’s right flank, and the brigades of Lane and Scales acted as supports to Heth’s division.

General Lane, in Ins report, says:

General Longstreet ordered me to form in rear of the right of Heth’s division, commanded by General Pettigrew. Soon after I had executed this order, putting Lowrance on the right, I was relieved of the command of the division by Major-General Trimble, who acted under the same orders that I had received. Heth’s division was much longer than Lowrance’s brigade and my own, which constituted its only support, and there was, consequently, no second line in rear of its left.

The assaulting column really consisted of Pickett’s division—two brigades in front, and one in the second line as a support[7]—with the brigade of “Wilcox in rear of its right to protect that flank; while Heth’s division moved forward on Pickett’s left in échelon, or with the alignment so imperfect and so drooping on the left as to appear in échelon,[8] with Lane’s and Scales’s brigades in rear of its right, and its left without reserve or support, and entirely exposed.

Thus the column moved forward. It is needless to say a word here of the heroic conduct of Pickett’s division; that charge has already passed into history as “one of the world’s great deeds of arms.” While, doubtless, many brave men of other commands reached the crest of the height, this was the only organized body that entered the works of the enemy.[9] Much can be said in excuse for the failure of the other commands to fulfill the task assigned them. As a general rule, the peculiarly rough and wooded character of the country in which our army was accustomed to operate, and which in some respects was unfavorable for the manœuvres of large armies, was of decided advantage to us; for, in moving upon the enemy through bodies of woods, or in a broken, rolling country, not only was the enemy at a loss how to estimate our strength, but our own men were not impressed with that sense of insecurity which must have resulted from a thorough knowledge of their own weakness.

It was different here. The charge was made down a gentle slope, and then up to the enemy’s lines, a distance of over half a mile, denuded of forests, and in full sight of the enemy, and perfect range of their artillery. These combined causes produced their natural effect upon Pettigrew’s division and the brigades supporting it, caused them to falter, and finally retire. Then Pickett’s division continuing the charge without supports, and in the sight of the enemy, was not half so formidable or effective as it would have been had trees or hills prevented the enemy from so correctly estimating the strength of the attacking column, and our own troops from experiencing that sense of weakness which the known absence of support necessarily produced. In spite of all this, it steadily and gallantly advanced to its allotted task. As the three brigades under Garnett, Armistead, and Kemper, approach the enemy’s lines, a most terrific fire of artillery and small-arms is concentrated upon them; but they swerve not—there is no faltering; steadily moving forward, they rapidly reduce the intervening space, and close with their adversaries: leaping the breastworks, they drive back the enemy, and plant their standards on the captured guns, amid shouts of victory—dearly won and short-lived victory.

No more could be exacted, or expected, of those men of brave hearts and nerves of steel; but where are the supports to reap the benefit of their heroic efforts, and gather the fruits of a victory so nobly won? Was that but a forlorn hope, on whose success, not only in penetrating the enemy’s lines, but in maintaining its hold against their combined and united efforts to dislodge it, an entire army was to wait in quiet observation? Was it designed to throw these few brigades—originally, at the most, but two divisions—upon the fortified stronghold of the enemy, while, full half a mile away, seven-ninths of the army in breathless suspense, in ardent admiration and fearful anxiety, watched, but moved not? I maintain that such was not the design of the commanding general. Had the veteran divisions of Hood and McLaws been moved forward, as was planned, in support of those of Pickett and Pettigrew,[10] not only would the latter division, in all probability, have gained the enemy’s works, as did that of Pickett, but these two would have been enabled, with the aid of Hood and McLaws, to resist all efforts of the enemy to dislodge them. The enemy closing in on Pickett’s brigades, concentrating upon that small band of heroes the fire of every gun that could be brought to bear upon them, soon disintegrated and overpowered them. Such as were not killed, disabled, and made captive, fell back to our lines.

It appears that General Longstreet deemed it necessary to defend his right flank and rear with the divisions of McLaws and Hood. These divisions, as before stated, constituted all of the Confederate line held by Longstreet’s troops, and it is not apparent how they were necessary to defend his flank and rear. The nearest infantry force of the enemy to our right occupied the hills—Round Top and Little Hound Top—and the only force that could be said to have threatened our flank and rear consisted of a few brigades of cavalry, so posted as to protect the enemy’s left.

It is not my purpose here to undertake to establish the wisdom of an attack on the enemy’s position on the third day, which General Longstreet contends was opposed by his judgment, and of which, he says, he would have stayed the execution, had he felt that he had the privilege so to do; nor do I propose to discuss the necessities of his position, which he represents to have been such as to forbid the employment of McLaws’s and Hood’s divisions in the attack; neither do I seek any other than a just explanation of the causes of our failure at that time; but well recalling my surprise and disappointment when it was ascertained that only Pickett’s division and the troops from Hill’s corps had taken part in the movement, and with positively distinct impressions as to the occurrences just related, I deem it proper to record them for confirmation or refutation as the undisputed facts of the case, and the testimony of others, may determine.[11]

After the assault on the enemy’s works on the 3d of July, there was no serious fighting at Gettysburg. The 4th passed in comparative quiet. Neither army evinced any disposition to assail the other. Notwithstanding the brilliant achievements of Ewell and Hill on the first day, and the decided advantage gained by Longstreet on the second, the failure of the operations of the third day, involving, as they did, but two divisions of the army, deprived us of the prestige of our previous successes, and gave a shadow of right to our adversary’s claim of having gained a victory. Their exultation, however, should be tempered with moderation, when we consider that, after one day of absolute quiet, the Confederates withdrew from their front without serious molestation, and with bridges swept away, and an impassable river in rear, stood in an attitude of defiance until their line of retreat could be rendered practicable, after which they safely recrossed into Virginia. Then, again, so serious was the loss visited upon the Federals in the engagements of the first and second days, and so near success was the effort to storm their position on the third day, that they were themselves undecided as to whether they should stand or retreat. In discussing several councils or conferences held by General Meade with his corps-commanders, General Sickles testified, before the Committee on the Conduct of the War, that the reason the Confederates were not followed up was on account of differences of opinion whether or not the Federals should themselves retreat, as “it was by no means clear, in the judgment of the corps-commanders, or of the general in command, whether they had won or not.”[12]


It appears from the official returns on file in the War Department, that on the 31st of May, 1863, the Army of Northern Virginia numbered: infantry, fifty-four thousand three hundred and fifty-six; cavalry, nine thousand five hundred and thirty-six; and artillery, four thousand four hundred and sixty; of all arms, sixty-eight thousand three hundred and fifty-two effective. This was immediately before the invasion of Pennsylvania, and may be regarded as representing the maximum of General Lee’s army in the Gettysburg campaign.

At the time of that return the army was divided into but two corps or wings, one under Longstreet, and the other—Jackson’s old corps—under A. P. Hill. The former embraced the divisions of McLaws, Anderson, Pickett, and Hood; and the latter those of A. P. Hill, Early, Rodes, and Johnson. Immediately after the date of this return, the army was reorganized into three corps, as follows: Longstreet’s (First Corps), embracing the divisions of McLaws, Pickett, and Hood; Swell’s (Second Corps), embracing the divisions of Early, Rodes, and Johnson; and Hill’s (Third Corps), embracing the divisions of Anderson, Heth, and Pender.

The last two divisions of Hill’s corps were formed by adding Pettigrew’s brigade, which joined the army just at that time, and J. R. Davis’s brigade (formed for him by taking scattered Mississippi regiments from mixed brigades), to the six which constituted A. P. Hill’s old division, and dividing the eight into two divisions of four brigades each. The army remained the same as to brigades, with the exception of the one additional under General Pettigrew. General Corse was left with his brigade of Pickett’s division, and a North Carolina regiment,[13] at Hanover Junction, and took no part in the Pennsylvania campaign; his command offset the brigade brought to the army by General Pettigrew, and I therefore assume that the army return just now quoted shows General Lee’s maximum strength in that campaign.

On the 20th of July, 1863, after the return of General Lee to Virginia, his army numbered forty-one thousand three hundred and eighty-eight effective, exclusive of the cavalry corps, of which no report is made in the return of the date last mentioned; allowing seven thousand six hundred and twelve, a fair estimate for the cavalry, the effective total of the army, on the 20th of July, was forty-nine thousand. It appears, therefore, that General Lee’s loss in the Pennsylvania campaign was about nineteen thousand.

Concerning the strength of the Federal army, General Meade testified as follows before the Committee on the Conduct of the War (second series, vol. i., p. 337): “Including all arms of the service, my strength was a little under one hundred thousand men—about ninety-five thousand. I think General Lee had about ninety thousand infantry, four thousand to five thousand artillery, and about ten thousand cavalry.” Again he testifies: —I think the returns showed me, when I took command of the army, amounted to about one hundred and five thousand men: included in those were the eleven thousand of General French.— In this latter matter the evidence is against General Meade. General Hooker, on the 27th of June, 1863, telegraphed to General Halleck, from Poolesville, “My whole force of enlisted men for duty will not exceed one hundred and five thousand (105,000).” This would make his total effective (officers and men) fully one hundred and twelve thousand. This dispatch[14] was received by General Halleck at 9 A.M. On reaching Sandy Hook, subsequently, on the same day, General Hooker telegraphed as follows concerning the garrison at Harper’s Ferry under General French: “I find ten thousand men here in condition to take the field. Here they are of no earthly account. They cannot defend a ford of the river; and, as far as Harper’s Ferry is concerned, there is nothing of it. As for the fortifications, the work of the troops, they remain when the troops are withdrawn. No enemy will ever take possession of them for them. This is my opinion. All the public property could have been secured to-night, and the troops marched to where they could have been of some service.” This dispatch was received by General Halleck at 2.55 P.M.[15]

It is evident that the garrison at Harper’s Ferry was not embraced in the returns alluded to by General Hooker, in his first dispatch. Although General Halleck refused these troops to General Hooker, they were immediately awarded to General Meade on his assuming command when General Hooker was relieved.

Without more accurate returns of the two armies at Gettysburg, we are left to form our conclusions as to their strength from the data given above. I put the Army of the Potomac at one hundred and five thousand, and the Army of Northern Virginia at sixty-two thousand of all arms—fifty thousand infantry, eight thousand cavalry, and four thousand artillery—and believe these figures very nearly correct.

In this estimate, I adopt the strength of the Federal army as given by its commander on the 27th of June, but four days before the first encounter at Gettysburg, excluding all consideration of the troops at Harper’s Ferry, although General Meade, on assuming command, at once ordered General French to move to Frederick with seven thousand men, to protect his communications,[16] and thus made available a like number of men of the Army of the Potomac, who would otherwise have been detached for this service.

On the side of the Confederates, the entire cavalry corps is included. That portion which General Stuart accompanied made a complete circuit of the Federal army, and only joined General Lee on the evening of the second day; and the brigades under Generals Jones and Robertson, which had been left to guard the passes of the Blue Ridge, did not rejoin the army until the 3d of July; only the commands of Generals Imboden and Jenkins had been with the army from the time of crossing the Potomac, and they accompanied General Ewell. “General Stuart had several skirmishes during his march, and at Hanover quite a severe engagement took place with a strong force of cavalry, which was finally compelled to withdraw from the town. The ranks of the cavalry were much reduced by its long and arduous march, repeated conflicts, and insufficient supplies of food and forage.”[17] I have deducted from the strength of General Lee’s army, at the opening of the campaign, one month previous to the battle, only a reasonable allowance for losses by sickness and straggling, casualties in the encounters with the enemy under General Milroy and in the constant skirmishing of the cavalry before and after leaving Virginia, and the detachments left to guard our communications, to protect captured property, and to escort prisoners taken on the Virginia side of the river.


1 General Lee’s “Report.”

[2] “These operations resulted in the expulsion of the enemy from the Valley, the capture of four thousand prisoners, with a corresponding number of small-arms, twenty-eight pieces of superior artillery, including those taken by General Rodes and General Hays, about three hundred wagons and as many horses, together with a considerable quantity of ordnance, commissary, and quartermaster’s stores.”—General Lee’s “Report of the Pennsylvania Campaign.”

[3] “On the morning of the 29th of June the Third Corps, composed of the divisions of Major-Generals Anderson, Heth, and Pender, and five battalions of artillery, under command of Colonel R. L. Walker, was encamped on the road from Chambersburg to Gettysburg, near the village of Fayetteville. I was directed to move on this road in the direction of York, and to cross the Susquehanna, menacing the communications of Harrisburg with Philadelphia, and to coöperate with General Ewell, acting as circumstances might require. Accordingly, on the 29th I moved General Heth’s division to Cashtown, some eight miles from Gettysburg, following on the morning of the 30th with the division of General Pender, and directing General Anderson to move in the same direction on the morning of the 1st of July. On arriving at Cashtown General Heth, who had sent forward Pettigrew’s brigade to Gettysburg, reported that Pettigrew had encountered the enemy at Gettysburg, principally cavalry, but in what force he could not determine. A courier was then dispatched with this information to the general commanding.”—Extract from A. P. Hill’s “Report,” “Southern Historical Society Papers,” November, 1876.

[4] The four divisions of Confederates had an average strength of six thousand when General Lee started on this campaign, reduced at this date to about five thousand five hundred, as will be shown later in this narrative; making the total engaged in the action of the first day twenty-two thousand. It could not have exceeded twenty-four thousand. General Butterfield, chief of staff of the Army of the Potomac, testified before the Committee on the Conduct of the War (“Report,” second series, p. 428) that on the 10th of June the First Corps had eleven thousand three hundred and fifty, and the Eleventh Corps ten thousand one hundred and seventy-seven, present for duty; and that previous to the battle of Gettysburg the First Corps was increased by the addition of Stannard’s Vermont Brigade. It would appear, then, that the First and Eleventh Corps, at the time of the engagement, had a total strength of from twenty-two to twenty-four thousand. Mr. Swinton puts the loss sustained by these two corps at “near ten thousand men.”

[5] Extract from General Lee’s “Report.”

[6] NOTE BY COLONEL VENABLE. u They were terribly mistaken about Heth’s division in this planning. It had not recuperated, having suffered more than was reported on the first day. Heth had suffered heavily on the 1st, before Pender and Rodes got up. He had gone almost into Gettysburg. Rodes found dead Mississippians on the wooded hill just above the town.”—C.S.V.

[7] Pickett had but three brigades at Gettysburg: Corse had been left with his brigade at Hanover Junction.

[8] “It was formed in echelon a hundred yards in rear.”C. S. VENABLE.

[9] “The troops moved steadily on under a heavy fire of musketry and artillery, the main attack being directed against the enemy’s left centre. His batteries reopened as soon as they appeared. Our own, having nearly exhausted their ammunition in the protracted cannonade that preceded the advance of the infantry, were unable to reply, or render the necessary support to the attacking party. Owing to this fact, which was unknown to me when the assault took place, the enemy was enabled to throw a strong force of infantry against our left, already wavering under a concentrated fire of artillery from the ridge in front, and from Cemetery Hill on the left. It finally gave way, and the right, after penetrating the enemy’s lines, entering his advance-works, and capturing some of his artillery, was attacked simultaneously in front and on both flanks, and driven back with heavy loss.”—Extract from General Lee’s “Report,” “Southern Historical Society Papers,” July, 1876, p. 44.

In justice to the gallant men and officers of Heth’s division, I here append the testimony of Captain Louis G. Young, aide to General Pettigrew, who, in describing the part taken in the third day’s fight by the division, says: “Under this fire from artillery and musketry, the brigade on our left, reduced almost to a line of skirmishers, gave way. Pettigrew’s and Archer’s brigades advanced a little farther, and in perfect continuation of Pickett’s line, which arrived at the works before we did, only because they jutted out in his front, and because his had to move over a considerably shorter distance. The right of the line, formed by Archer’s and Pettigrew’s brigades, rested on the works, while the left was, of course, farther removed, say forty to sixty yards. Subjected to a fire even more fatal than that which had driven back the brigade on our left, and the men listening in vain for the cheering commands of officers, who had, alas! fallen, our brigade gave way likewise, and, simultaneously with it, the whole line.”

[10] “As they were ordered to do by General Lee, for I heard him give the orders when arranging the fight; and called his attention to it long afterward, when there was discussion about it. He said, ‘I know it! I know it!’”—Colonel C. S. VENABLE.

[11] The following correspondence explains itself, and is submitted, without comment, in connection with the assertions of fact just made:

NORFOLK, VA., January 29, 1877.

General JAMES LONGSTREET, New Orleans.

DEAR GENERAL: I have been anxious to ascertain definitely the relative strength of the two opposing armies during the war, and, after devoting my odd moments to an investigation of the matter for a long time past, I have at last succeeded in reaching a satisfactory result. In putting these matters in shape, and in order to give continuity and connection to the notes, I have touched upon the more important incidents in General Lee’s career, placing on record my recollection of facts, and sustaining myself as much as possible by the contemporaneous testimony of those who participated in the several events.

In regard to the third day’s operations at Gettysburg, according to my recollection, General Lee had a conference with you as to the attack to be made that day, when it was determined that an assault should be made on your front, by your corps, reënforced by Heth’s division and two brigades of Pender’s. My recollection is distinct in that all of your divisions were to take part in the assault, and I never did understand why Hood and McLaws were never ordered forward. Colonel Venable agrees with me entirely in this particular.

I write, therefore, to say that if you differ from me, or care to present any explanation of the non-action of Hood and McLaws, I should be pleased to have any statement you may make accompany that which I propose to present in my notes.

My desire is to do what I can toward eliminating the truth from the mass of contradictory evidence that exists, and particularly anxious am I to avoid doing injustice to any one, especially to one who dealt such vigorous blows for the South, and whom I learned, during the war, to esteem so highly as yourself.

Yours respectfully,

NEW ORLEANS, LA., February 2, 1877.

Colonel W. H. TAYLOR, Norfolk, Va.

MY DEAR SIR: I have your esteemed favor of the 29th ult, and have noted its contents.

In reply to your inquiry for a statement in regard to the supposed orders of General Lee in reference to the battle of the third day, I have only to say that General Lee gave no orders for placing the divisions of McLaws and Hood in the column of attack on that day. I cannot, therefore, have any explanation to make at this time why these divisions were not in that column.

In putting your notes upon the events of the war together for publication, it seems to me that care should be had that undue influences should not give shape or tone to them. Least of all should you omit items that you may deem essential to General Lee’s vindication, upon account of kindly feelings that may have subsisted between us. Nor do I know of good reasons why a report of your views upon matters of public history should interrupt personal relations.

I have the privilege of giving my account afterward, and am quite willing to have a minute investigation of Gettysburg, and to have the world know my connection with it from the inception of the campaign to its close.

I remain, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

[12] “Report on the Conduct of the War,” second series, vol. i., p. 302, 1865.

[13] The Forty-fourth North Carolina, of Pettigrew’s brigade.

[14] “Report on the Conduct of the War,” second series, vol. i., p. 291.

[15] “Report on the Conduct of the War,” second series, vol. i., p. 292.

[16] Ibid., p. 335.

[17] General Lee’s “Report of the Pennsylvania Campaign.”

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