The Lee Monument (statue by Mercie) at Richmond, Va.
General Robert E. Lee.
(Photograph taken immediately after the surrender.)
LEE OF VIRGINIA.
GENERAL LEE occupied the lull after Chancellorsville (May 1863) in reorganising the Army of Northern Virginia. He divided it now into three corps of three divisions each, instead of two corps of four divisions each — the ninth division being formed by taking two brigades from the division of A. P. Hill, and uniting them with Longstreet’s two brigades, which were brought back, under their distinguished commander, from below the James. These two brigades were all the reinforcement the army had, from Chancellorsville to Gettysburg. The three corps were commanded respectively by Longstreet, Ewell, and A. P. Hill. General Richard S. Ewell, a brave and eccentric Virginian, was thought to have succeeded to some of Stonewall Jackson’s battle spirit, as well as to the command of three of that lost leader’s old divisions. The artillery consisted 182 of fifteen battalions of four batteries each (six and twelve pound howitzers, together with a fair proportion of Parrott, Napoleon, Whitworth, and Armstrong guns, which had been acquired gradually, by capture and by foreign purchase), and the horse artillery. The battalions, each under its own chief, were assigned to the various infantry corps; and all the reserve artillery was under the charge of General Pendleton,* chief of that arm.
At the end of May 1963 General Lee commanded an army numbering “present for duty” 54,356 infantry, 9,536 cavalry, an 4,460 artillery; or a total of 68,352, with over two hundred guns. The Army of Northern Virginia had reached the high noon of its existence, and was in efficiency and morale worthy of its great chief, who had led it from victory to victory in ever-ascending scale. Now it was ready and eager for yet mightier enterprises, the occasion of which it did not have long to await.
General Hooker could not be attacked where he was — at Falmouth, on the Rappahannock — so General Lee determined to move north of the Potomac again, and draw him from his position. This movement involved also the expulsion of the Federal troops under Milroy from the Valley.
Before quitting the banks of the Rappahannock, on June 4th, Lee had planned his campaign of Pennsylvania — had even, it is asserted, designated Gettysburg or its vicinity as the probable field of a decisive battle. In the invasion of Pennsylvania he designed to leave the Virginian farmers free to tend and gather their crops, and had in immediate view the sore straits of the Confederate commissariat. A successful battle fought there might relieve the beleaguered city of Vicksburg in the south-west, open the gates of Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, — perhaps end the war with a recognition of the Confederacy abroad and at home.
Leaving Hill’s corps in front of Hooker at Fredericksburg, Lee went to Culpeper with Ewell’s and Longstreet’s corps and Stuart’s cavalry. Hooker could only conjecture what these movements might mean. While he was trying to find out, Ewell started for the Valley, and on June 14th stormed and took Winchester, the headquarters of the Union general, Milroy, capturing four thousand prisoners and twenty-eight pieces of artillery, together with small arms, waggons, horses, and stores in large quantities. Then he proceeded into Maryland, and captured Martinsburg from General Tyler.
All this time Hill, with less than twenty thousand troops, was waiting to follow up Hooker’s departure from the Rappahannock. This was the situation that prompted President Lincoln’s famous dispatch to Hooker, couched in quaintly humorous terms, yet not without an undertone of ironical reproach:
“If the head of Lee’s army is at Martinsburg, and the tail of it on the plank road between Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, the animal must be very slim somewhere. Could you not break him?”
General Hooker’s relations with Washington had been strained since the battle of Chancellorsville, and now — complicated, it is said, by the politics incident to an approaching Presidential campaign — they became more and more difficult. Finally, towards the end of June, and after he had followed Lee into Maryland, he was, at his own request, relieved of command.
General Lee crossed the Potomac west of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and Hooker moved in a parallel line, east of the mountains; while Stuart, with the 183 Confederate cavalry, followed instructions (rather freely construed by himself), and crossed east of Hooker’s point, between the latter and Washington, capturing a waggon-train within a very few miles of the Federal capital.
Seminary Ridge (north and west of the town of Gettysburg).
The march of the Confederate army through Maryland, and subsequently into Pennsylvania, was of such an orderly character as to be favourably contrasted to the credit of General Lee, by friend and foe alike, with the conduct of Federal troops pushing through the same region — to say nothing of what the latter did in Virginia. Directly the Army of Northern Virginia crossed the Potomac, its commander issued his memorable address, calling upon his men to refrain from pillage and depredations of any kind, and enjoining his officers scrupulously to enforce this order. Two or three weeks later, when the Pennsylvania line was crossed, he published his General Orders No. 73, dated at Chambersburg, Pa., June 27th, and containing this passage: —
“The commanding general considers that no greater disgrace could befall the army, and through it our whole people, than the perpetration of the barbarous outrages upon the innocent and defenceless, and the wanton destruction of private property, that have marred the course of the enemy in our own country. Such proceedings not only disgrace the perpetrators and all connected with them, but are subversive of the discipline and efficiency of the army, an the destruction of the ends of our present movements. It must be remembered that we make war only upon armed men, and that we cannot take vengeance for the wrongs our people have suffered without lowering ourselves in the eyes of all whose abhorrence has been excited by the atrocities of our enemy, and offending against Him to whom vengeance belongeth, and without whose favour and support our efforts must all prove in vain.”184
As Lee’s army marched through the town of Chambersburg, a patriotic young northern girl was seen waving a Federal flag from a window overlooking the narrow highway along which the columns passed. The men of the South were taking this demonstration much amiss, calling “Take in the gridiron!” when General Lee rode up. Comprehending the situation at a glance, he smiled, and raising his hat saluted the Stars and Stripes, under which he had served for thirty-two years. “All honour to the old flag!” he exclaimed. There was a moment’s pause, and some one told the young lady who had addressed her. Her arm fell motionless, and the flag lay limp across the window-sill. Again General Lee spoke reassuringly, saying, “Let it wave, daughter, wave it on! No one shall disturb you.” But the demonstration was not recommenced; heart and will had been conquered by the native nobleness that war could not change nor the authority of command render rude.
Approaching Gettysburg, we are confronted by the historic Lee-Longstreet quarrel, — a one-sided contention entirely, as regards the principals, since the magnanimous Lee never wrote or uttered a word in censure of his eminent lieutenant; while it was not until long after Lee’s death that General Longstreet’s strictures were called forth and appeared in print. The dispute is one which, like the Meade-Sickles-Gettysburg affair in the Federal army, can never be authoritatively settled, though individual partisans, according to their sympathies, may draw widely differing conclusions from the same sequence of undisputed facts.
It must be apparent, however, from any point of view, that General Longstreet’s position and tone throughout are in painful contrast to the dignified conduct of his commander. The author of “From Manassas to Appomattox” is a South Carolinian; and from the outset, in that book, he is noticeably chary of praise, not only towards Lee and Jackson, but towards the Virginian officers generally. He stands self-accused, in his own report, of that indifference to or dissension from the views and the orders of his chief, which cost the Confederacy dearly at Gettysburg, as well as in some earlier battles. From first to last, as soldier, he stands at about the stature which impartial critics have almost unanimously accorded him — a splendid leader of division or wing in action, but too deliberate for a brilliant coup of the Stonewall Jackson kind, and not broad enough to enter into the plans of a master strategist like Lee with the confident enthusiasm so essential to their consummation.
With regard to Gettysburg, General Longstreet is at great pains to inform us that, upon rejoining Lee after Chancellorsville — in which battle he had not participated, and which he appears to hold in but slight appreciation as a strategic victory — he had “accepted his (Lee’s) proposition to make a campaign into Pennsylvania, provided it should be offensive in strategy but defensive in tactics, forcing the Federal army to give us battle when we were in strong position and ready to receive them.” Therefore, when Lee unexpectedly encountered the Federal army, and saw his opportunity, or at least the necessity, to strike it, he should have refrained from making the attack because he had promised Longstreet to pursue a different line of tactics! That is why Longstreet “baulked” at Gettysburg, and, having contributed to the disaster which he had predicted, invites us to look upon Lee as an impetuous blunderer, who only spoke the literal truth when he said to his soldiers, returning from their heroic but unsupported charge, “It is all my fault.”
Few can read between the lines of General Longstreet’s book, particularly the Gettysburg chapters, without feeling, with Lord Wolseley, that “there is something unspeakably pathetic about the picture of Lee — that man alike of marvellous 185 modesty and marvellous genius, who by his skill and daring was then exciting the admiration of all that world from which he was cut off — thus closeted with his carping lieutenant.”
The Two Round Tops.
It is not necessary to maintain that General Lee was infallible — that h never made mistakes. He was a man and a soldier. Warfare is, in a sense, a series of mistakes and their consequences. The greatest mistakes are made by the greatest generals. The difference between a blunder and a stroke of genius is adventitious rather than radical, and often turns upon a very slight pivot of fortune. The fate of Gettysburg was decided, from first to last, less by what the Federal army, with all its bravery, achieved, than by what the Confederate army tried and fell short of accomplishing. These shortcomings are plainly apparent now: what behoves us is to inquire discreetly into their causes and their excuses. In reviewing this or any other battle, we must estimate the actions of the combatants therein, not in the light of our after-knowledge of what happened, but according to their chances, as they were enabled to see them from the information at hand, and the spirit in which they accepted the hazards of war.
Gettysburg, destined to become suddenly famous in military annals as the scene of one of the decisive battles of the world, is a small, old-fashioned town and agricultural centre of southern Pennsylvania, not far from the Maryland line, and a few miles east of the South Mountain Range, which forms the eastern wall of the Cumberland valley. Topographically the place was marked as a strategic point for the concentration of the two armies, being the hub of converging high roads from all directions — from Carlisle, Harrisburg, and York on the north and east; Baltimore, Taneytown, and Emmitsburg on the south; Millersburg and 186 Chambersburg on the west. The country around Gettysburg is traversed by hilly ridges, running uniformly north and south. The town lies on a gentle rolling plain between two of these parallel ridges, the one on the west being called Seminary Ridge, from the location there of a Lutheran theological seminary, and that on the east bearing the name of Cemetery Ridge, because it is the site of the village cemetery, where “the rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep.” Behind this latter ridge, and a little to the south-east of the town, is a wooded elevation known as Culp’s Hill; while two miles farther south rise the rocky heights of Round Top and Little Round Top, the latter spur being the farther north and consequently the nearer to Gettysburg.
The section of ground covered by the three days’ fighting is something like twenty-five square miles. It is an ideal natural arena for a Cyclopean struggle. So theatrically impressive is the mere scene, as the meeting-place of two mighty armies, that the poet may well exclaim:
“God lives and reigns! He built and lent
Those heights for Freedom’s battlement,
Where floats her flag in triumph still.”
General Hooker’s successor, and the fifth commander of the Army of the Potomac, was Major-General George Gordon Meade, an able and gallant officer, who was suddenly called from the command of the Fifth Corps to the head of the Army as late as June 28th. With but a hasty knowledge of Hooker’s plans, he knew that a great struggle was imminent, and moved in to Pennsylvania determined to force Lee to give battle before he could cross the Susquehanna River.
On June 30th both armies were concentrating, — Meade’s on the line of Pipe Creek, a dozen miles to the southward of Gettysburg, and Lee’s at Cashtown, about the same distance to the north-west. The Confederate army was groping its way with extreme caution, being deprived of its “eyes and ears.” In other words, the whole of the cavalry was off on its “wild raid” with Stuart, who had not been heard from since crossing the Potomac. As a matter of fact, he did not turn up until towards the close of the second day’s fight. Meade, not knowing then where Lee was, issued an order of march for July 1st, directing his First and Eleventh Corps, under General Reynolds, to Gettysburg, the other five Union corps being respectively at points from fifteen to thirty miles distant from that town. Had Lee been informed of the defensive position of Gettysburg, and divined what was going to happen there, he might have occupied it in force on July 1st, long ahead of Meade. But neither desired to precipitate a battle, nor to have it out on that particular ground. Chance cast the die.
The half-barefooted Confederates needed shoes, and Heth, of Hill’s corps, went with his division to Gettysburg in quest of them. He found the Federal advance, consisting of Buford’s cavalry division, already there, dismounted, with pickets out to the north and west of the town, from which direction the Confederates were approaching. Heth knew that Hill, with Pender’s division, was behind him, and promptly took up the gage of combat. Besides, he wanted those shoes.
So began, on the morning of July 1st, 1863, the battle of Gettysburg. It raged for six hours that day, growing from the first exchange of shots by the skirmish lines to a fierce engagement, in which fifty thousand men, divided in about equal forces, fought among the woods and hills, and along the railroad cut to the north of the town. On the Federal side, the whole of the First Corps, and subsequently the Eleventh, came to Buford’s assistance; while the Confederates 187 were reinforced successively by Pender’s division, and Rodes’ and Early’s divisions under Ewell. The distinguished Union General Reynolds was killed almost at the beginning of the engagement, which turned in favour of the soldiers in gray. When General Lee in person reached the field, about the middle of the afternoon, he saw the Union troops in full retreat. Heth, Pender and Early had driven them from the town and over the hills to the south, and the Confederate boys had got their shoes.
Cemetery Hill (Federal position).
This was the critical moment when, as everybody now sees, though it was not so apparent then, a vigorous advance might have secured to the Confederates the formidable Cemetery Heights and Culp’s Hill, the key to the Federal right. Lee, indeed — having been induced by his victorious generals to reconsider his disinclination to fight at pitched battle at Gettysburg — desired to follow up the success of his troops; but not until Longstreet should join him, as the enemy’s force was not known. Meanwhile, he sent to Ewell, whose line was drawn up in front of Culp’s Hill, discretionary instructions to pursue the enemy and secure that position “if practicable.” In the absence of positive orders, Ewell did not deem it prudent to make the assault. Had he done so, one or the other of these results must have ensued: either the routed Union corps would have fallen back on the main body of their army, and the great battle would not have been fought out at Gettysburg, but probably on Pipe Creek; or else Ewell would have been held at bay by the Federal right, which was already strong in the vicinity of Culp’s Hill, and defeated by the two fresh corps (Slocum’s and Sickles’) which arrived on the field before dark.
Whatever Lee may subsequently have decided to do or not to do, it cannot be doubted that then, on the afternoon of July 1st, up to the hour of the arrival and 188 dissension of Longstreet, he meant to order a general attack the next morning at sunrise. In his own report of that first day, General Lee says: —
“It had not been intended to fight a general battle at such distance from our base, unless attacked; but, finding ourselves unexpectedly confronted by the Federal army, it became a matter of difficulty to withdraw through the mountains with our large trains. . . . A battle thus became in a measure unavoidable. . . . Encouraged by the successful issue of the first day, it was thought advisable to renew the attack.”
It has been charged against Lee by hostile critics that, flushed with past successes, he was, at Gettysburg, over-confident and reckless. Certainly, he had abounding faith in his army — the finest that ever marched on this continent, and now in the high tide of its victorious career. Lee was never reckless; but in an emergency he was not liable to err on the side of hesitancy and caution.
Longstreet, anxiously awaited, finally arrived at Gettysburg late in the afternoon of the 1st, and in advance of his troops, the foremost division of which was not yet in sight. Longstreet joined Lee on Seminary Ridge, and (this is General Longstreet’s own account) said to him:
“We could not call the enemy to a position better suited to our place. All that we have to do is to file around his left, and secure a good ground between him and his capital. Finding our object is Washington, or their army, the Federals will be sure to attack us. When they attack us, we shall beat them.”
“No,” said Lee, striking the air with his fist in the direction of the enemy. “If he is there to-morrow I will attack him.”
“If he is there to-morrow,” ventured Longstreet, “it will be because he wants you to attack him”; and he added, “If that height has become the objective, why not take it at once?”
This latter proposition sounds well, but its author knows that, when he made it, not a single regiment of his troops, so badly wanted by Lee, was as yet within reach.
Such was the unpromising beginning of an interview which lasted until seven o’clock that evening, at which hour Longstreet lefts his commander in a “desperate mood,” his plans for the morrow not settled. It is not strange if Lee’s plans were unsettled, considering Longstreet’s attitude. If Stonewall Jackson had been there!
But Lee has lost his “right arm,” and it was replaced by a wooden member not responsive to his will, and difficult to move at all.
As for the proposed movement around Meade’s left, that would have been most hazardous, even with the “great flanker” and the cavalry available for its execution. Both of these essential factors were wanting at Gettysburg. If Lee had undertaken it, and occupied “a good ground between Meade and his capital,” the change of base would have jeopardised his lines of communication; while, caught between the Army of the Potomac and the thirty or forty thousand troops defending Washington, he could only have escaped destruction by a miracle.
So much for General Longstreet’s ideas as to how the battle of Gettysburg should have been fought. Our present concern is mainly with how it was fought. But before proceeding with the review of its principal features, let us quote the final sentence of General Longstreet’s chapter on the first day’s occurrences, a sentence which, applied to Lee, of all men, shows conclusively the bias of him who wrote it: —
“That he was excited and off his balance was evident on the afternoon of the 1st, and he laboured under that oppression until enough blood was shed to appease him.”
The next day, July 2nd, surely “enough blood” was shed — alas! to little purpose. Lee was on the field at daybreak, when Longstreet, reported to him, not 189 to receive orders for the desired attack, but to renew the discussion of the day before. His corps had come up during the night, and was now in readiness. General Hood and General McLaws were both aware that Lee was anxious for an attack at sunrise, but have also borne witness to the disagreement which delayed the issuing of the order. Lee said, “The enemy is there, and if we don’t whip him he will whip us.”
A portion of the Federal line at Round Top..
General Meade and General Hancock had arrived on the field, the latter taking command of the Federal right. The enemy was indeed there, in force increasing every moment, on his formidable line of defence, which has been compared in outline to a fish-hook, the point and curve being from below Culp’s Hill around to the upper or town end of Cemetery Ridge, and the stem extending southward along that ridge for three miles to the “Little” and “Big” Round Top spurs. This convex formation afforded the Union commander safe and rapid communication from flank to flank of his army, along the Baltimore road and other interior lines. The Confederate line was a larger fish-hook, enveloping the Union convex in a much longer circuit. Lee’s left (Johnson’s, Early’s, and Rodes’ divisions, Ewell’s corps) formed the curve, and extended through the town; Hill’s corps held the centre, along Seminary Ridge; then came Longstreet’s, stretching south, on the right, opposite the Peach Orchard and the Round Tops.
In view, doubtless, of Longstreet’s reluctance to start the attack from the right, Lee at sunrise sent Colonel Venable, of his staff, and afterwards went in person, to Ewell, to see if the assault could not be opened from his (the left) flank; but Meade had anticipated such a move, and was massed there in readiness. Finally, after reconnoitring, Longstreet was ordered, at eleven o’clock, to move to the right, and 190 attack “up the Emmittsburg road,” in the direction of the Round Tops and the Peach Orchard ridge, where Lee wanted to plant some artillery. Longstreet obeyed at 11:45, and complains that he had to march his troops four miles to put them in position; yet he had had all the forenoon to do it in. General Fitz Lee is of the opinion that this attack ought to have been made, and could have been made, at seven or eight o’clock a.m., “with all the chances for success.”
Little Round Top Hill — Key-point of Federal left.
As it was, when the two divisions of Longstreet’s corps were finally gotten into action, they made a splendid fight of it, but were finally beaten back at dark, with a loss estimated at six thousand, and without gaining anything like compensating advantages. The Federal “salient” of Sickles’ corps, extending out to the Peach Orchard on the Emmittsburg Road, was cut up and driven back; but the Confederates were just too late to seize that key-point, Little Round Top, nor did they gain possession of its bigger namesake, which overtops it, a little to the south. Meantime, at the left, Johnson, Early, and Rodes stormed Culp’s Hill and the Cemetery; while Anderson’s division of Hill’s corps struck at the Federal centre. The unconcerted fighting at this end continued far into the night, and at some points the attack had fitful spells of success. But the morning of the 3rd found Meade’s rock-ribbed iron-bound line still intact.
The day dawned red with portent. There lay Meade’s army, awaiting attack, on its five-mile horseshoe line, extending from Culp’s Hill to the Round Tops — a position now rendered well-nigh impregnable by the arrival of all the seven corps, commanded respectively by Slocum, Howard, Newton, Hancock, Sickles, Sykes, and Sedgwick, together with the cavalry under Gregg and Kilpatrick, guarding the flanks. The Army of the Potomac numbered at this time something over a hundred 191 thousand, officers and men. The Comte de Paris estimates the force actually on the field (including the Sixth Corps, sixteen thousand men, which was held in reserve throughout the battle) at eighty-two thousand. According to Colonel Walter Taylor, Lee’s adjutant-general, and the best authority on Confederate numbers, the Army of Northern Virginia numbered only sixty-two thousand.
Looking west from the summit of Little Round Top — Bronze Statue.
All of Lee’s divisions, together with the cavalry under Stuart, had arrived on Seminary Ridge by nightfall on the second. The results of that day’s fighting had, in the Southern commander’s mind, “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 supporting columns, we should ultimately succeed, and it was accordingly determined to continue the attack.”
The prospect for the desired “concert of action” was hardly promising, considering General Longstreet’s opposition to the whole plan. That officer says he was “disappointed” when ordered by Lee to attack the enemy’s left centre, while General Ewell was directed to assail the enemy’s right at the same time. “General Longstreet’s dispositions were not completed as early as expected,” Lee writes uncomplainingly. The result was that at noon a Federal attack brought on an engagement at Ewell’s end of the line, and General Johnson failed in a gallant struggle there, because the projected attack on the Federal left had not yet been made. Later, this mishap on the Confederate left prevented co-operation with the right from that quarter. About noon the Federal cavalry advanced upon Longstreet’s flank, but were repulsed by the infantry divisions of McLaws and Hood.
Meanwhile, under Lee’s direction, the column was formed for the grand assault of the day. It consisted of Pickett’s division of three brigades, with Garnett on 192 the left, Kemper on the right, and Armistead in rear of the centre; six thousand or seven thousand of Hill’s troops; four brigades of Heth’s division, under Pettigrew, on Pickett’s left; Lane’s and Scales’ brigades under Trimble; and Wilcox’s division on the right flank. The entire force thus massed to attack an army fortified behind battlements of the eternal hills was somewhat less then fourteen thousand. Was it with this column, alone and unsupported, that General Lee expected to break through the Federal line at its left centre, destroy it in detail, and gain the Baltimore and Washington highway? Surely not! He meant to “hurl half his army on that hill,” and that intention was generally understood amongst his officers and men. Three of his most trusted and best known staff-officers — Colonel Taylor, Colonel Venable, and General Long — who were with him on the field, have unanimously declared and put on record that the plan of assault involved an attack by Longstreet’s whole corps, supported by half or all of Hill’s, as might be required.
But the commander of an army cannot be ubiquitous, nor do the actual marching and fighting of his troops. Lee did only what was fitting and proper in leaving the details of the attack to the officer who was to make it, — Longstreet. Having given his orders to his corps commanders — verbally, not in writing — General Lee took up his position at a point above and behind the Confederate centre, and watched the battle.
At one o’clock the guns opened — one hundred and thirty-seven on Seminary ridge, to which the Federals on the opposite heights replied with eighty. For nearly two hours, earth and air trembled with the concussions of the most stupendous artillery firing ever witnessed on the American continent. The damage done was not proportionate to the noise, though the small frame house on the Baltimore Road, which had served as General Meade’s headquarters, was riddled with shot and shell, and the horses of most of his staff were killed; while along the ridge and among the gravestones of the cemetery there was great havoc, with some loss of life, before the surprised soldiers could get out of the range of the Confederate guns. General Hunt, the Federal chief of artillery, surmised that all this cannonading was the prelude to an attack of another kind; wherefore, in anticipation of Meade’s orders to the same effect, he eased up on his firing to replenish his batteries and let the guns cool.
This was the moment seized by the Confederate generals for delivering the magnificent assault destined to go down to fame as “Pickett’s charge.”
Colonel E. P. Alexander, who was directing the artillery fire of Longstreet’s corps, had been instructed by that commander to watch the effect of his fire upon the enemy’s batteries, and at what should seem to him the proper time, to notify Pickett to lead out with his division. Alexander rose to the fearful responsibility, and, just before the Federal guns subsided, sent word to Pickett: “If you are coming at all, you must come at once, or I cannot give you proper support; but the enemy’s fire has not slackened.”
Pickett rode up to Longstreet, saluted, and said, “General, shall I go forward?” The commander bowed affirmatively: he could not speak, he says; he felt that the attack was foredoomed to disaster. Pickett, on the contrary, “seemed very sanguine, and thought himself in luck to have the chance.” He leaped on his white charger, and rode gaily to his command.
A Plutarchian detail is furnished by Colonel “Jack” Garnett (a cousin of the brigadier-general of the same name, who was killed in this action), commanding a battalion of artillery in Longstreet’s corps. As Pickett passed General Wilcox, who was to support the right flank of his column, the latter said, 193 proffering a flask, “Pickett, take a drink with me. In an hour you’ll be in hell or glory.”
Scene of Pickett’s Charge.
It was about four o’clock, on that afternoon of July 3rd, 1863, when Pickett swept out grandly from the wooden ridge, disclosing the full length of his bright-bayoneted line, stretching to his left, under Pettigrew, for fully two miles. War has seldom presented so thrilling a sight. Both armies for a moment rested in spellbound admiration, as the heroic hosts in gray descended upon the superb arena of battle. They had to march a mile, across the Emmittsburg road, and over gently rolling fenced fields, under concentrated and converging battery fire, and a thousand yards in full front of long-range musketry. A few of the guns, that had most ammunition, supported them for a time; but, as whole, the Confederate artillery failed them at the critical moment.
The assaulting line bore slightly to the left, making for the Federal left centre (Hancock’s Second Corps) at a point indicated by the “copse of oaks,” and thus exposing Pickett’s right flank to an enfilade fire from the batteries of Little Round Top. Screaming shells, canister, and shrapnel mowed down the gray ranks like a harvester’s scythe; yet the blood-crested wave rolled steadily on.
“The brave went down! Without disgrace
They leaped to Ruin’s red embrace;
They only heard Fame’s thunder wake,
And saw the dazzling sunburst break
In smiles on Glory’s bloody face.”
Pickett’s veterans — all that were left of them — struck the advance defensive lines 194 at the stone wall† below Cemetery Hill, charged over it with bayonets, and captured the guns of Webb and Cushing. All three of their brigade commanders fell. Armistead was killed a hundred feet within the lines, and Garnett at the stone wall, while Kemper was desperately wounded and taken prisoner. To the left, the four brigades under Pettigrew and Trimble moved up gallantly, until “suddenly a terrific fire from every available gun on Cemetery Ridge burst upon them. Their graceful lines underwent an instantaneous transformation in a dense cloud of smoke and dust; arms, heads, blanket, guns, and knapsacks were tossed in the air, and the moan from the field was heard amid the storm of battle.”
General George E. Pickett.
It was the death-cry of the lost cause. The Southern wave had indeed broken through the staunch blue line, but only to fall, spent and powerless, at the base of Cemetery Hill. The other corps and divisions, which had been expected to support the charge, remained motionless a mile to the rear, “like the fixed stars in the heavens,” as General Fitzhugh Lee says. Stuart’s cavalry was at the moment engaged with Gregg in an indecisive affair behind the Federal centre.
But all was over, and the smoke rolled away from the battle-field like a gray ghost, as Pickett brought back the survivors of his noble division, less fully half their original number.
Lee in person helped to rally and re-form his troops, cheering them with commendation of their bravery, and declaring, “It is all my fault.” There was much less noise, fuss, or confusion of orders, testifies a distinguished English officer who was present, than at any ordinary field-day.
General Lee remained in position for twenty-four hours, awaiting an attack which Meade was too exhausted to make. Then he withdrew his army and trains to the Potomac River, where he was caught and feebly attacked while waiting for the swollen waters to subside, but finally crossed in safety to Virginia. General Meade, being censured from Washington for thus allowing the Southern army to 195 escape, tendered his resignation. At the same time Lee sensitive to the unjust and severe comment of Southern newspapers, wrote to President Davis asking that he might be replaced by “a younger and abler man.” Neither commander was taken at his word by the respective chief executives.
General Wade Hampton
South Carolina Cavalry.
Gettysburg deservedly ranks among the great battles of history, not only from the importance of the issues decided by it, but also on account of the casualties in proportion to the numbers engaged. In both these respects it may be compared to Waterloo. The combined total of the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia being one hundred and sixty thousand, Meade’s aggregate loss in killed, wounded, and missing was twenty-three thousand, and that of Lee about twenty-one thousand. This included, on the Federal side, four general officers killed, — Reynolds, Vincent, Weed, and Zook, — and thirteen wounded; on the Confederate side, five general officers killed, — Pender, Garnett, Armistead, Barksdale and Semmes, — and nine wounded.
General Longstreet, in his self-vindicatory memoirs, makes capital of the fact that, during the remainder of the war and subsequently, “the kindest relations” were maintained between General Lee and himself. But whom did Lee ever quarrel with or censure? He was wholly above seeking or making use of a scapegoat. It is only through an understanding of his singularly exalted serenity of character and Christian knighthood that an explanation can be found of his failure to cause at least one official decapitation after Gettysburg.
Simple, Spartan-like, unassuming, and untheatrical, sharing all the privations of his men and none of their indulgences, Lee was to them a veritable demigod. “Not that he seemed without sympathy, but that he had so conquered his own weaknesses as to prevent the confession of others before him.” It used to be a common saying among his soldiers that “every man had his weakness — even General Lee.” “What weakness has General Lee?” would come the instant challenge. “Why, he parts his hair behind.”
But his real weakness — a grave one, no doubt, in his military character — was a kind of chivalrous good-nature, which overbalanced his judicial faculty in cases where incompetent officers should have been dealt with severely. The discipline administered by Jackson to Garnett at Kernstown, or by Sheridan to Warren at Winchester, would have been impossible to Lee.
Gettysburg was not a Waterloo, any more than Appomattox was a Sedan. Lee failed in Pennsylvania in a bold attempt which, as planned by him, had as many elements of success in it as others where previously he had been victorious. He was not beaten. He never was beaten; for, being without resources or hope of reinforcement, a single decisive defeat of his small army would have meant destruction. Lee had to be, and always was, superior to his opponent.
Simultaneously with Gettysburg, Vicksburg on the Mississippi fell, and there thirty thousand Confederate soldiers laid down their muskets. For the succeeding 196 campaign in Virginia, General Grant took command of the Federal forces, with Sheridan as his chief of cavalry, and deliberately started, with the absolutely unlimited support tendered him, to “hammer” at Lee’s army until it should be worn out by sheer force of attrition. No longer had Lee scope for his magical genius of strategy. He was obliged to become a mere tactician, fighting not only destiny itself, in the form of “overwhelming numbers and resources,” but at the same time against a commander of stubborn and formidable quality, fortified with success, and who was his equal in tactics and plain fighting. After a year of the most effective defensive warfare on record, during which he put hors du combat more than twice as many of his opponent’s men as his own entire army contained, the Army of Northern Virginia, worn down to a “frazzle,” gave up the ghost at Appomattox, on April 9th, 1865. With all lost save honour, General Lee sheathed his stainless sword, rode for the last time among his faithful veterans in gray, and from a full heart bade them his touching farewell:—
“Men, we have fought through the war together. I have done my best for you.”
General Lee’s Headquarters, near Cashtown.
* The Rev. Dr. W. N. Pendleton, for forty-five years the comrade and fellow-soldier of General Lee, whom he survived, and at whose funeral he read the burial service.
† Marked to-day by Federal monuments as “the high-water line of the Rebellion.” See illustration.