James Ford Rhodes (18481927). History of the Civil War, 18611865. 1917.
CHANCELLORSVILLE demonstrated Hookers incompetence to command a large army and would have justified his removal. That he was kept in his place by an intrigue of Chase and his Radical followers has (I think) little evidence to support it. It is true that Chase was devoted to the general but, if Lincoln was to be swayed by advice, Hallecks on a military matter would have carried the greater weight, and it is notorious that the General-in-Chief lacked confidence in Hookera feeling that was probably shared by the Secretary of War. Hookers steadfast friend was the President himself. He visited the army soon after the battle and, taking the view that no one was to blame and it was a disaster that could not be helped, so cheered up Hooker that the general came to feel secure in his position and to show apparent unconcern at the prevalent distrust in which he was held by the army. Hooker is safe, I think, wrote Meade, from the difficulty of finding a successor and from the ridiculous appearance we present of changing our generals after each battle.1 The President, wrote Welles in his Diary, has a personal liking for Hooker and clings to him when others give way.2 Reynolds, when in Washington, was informed by a friend that he was being talked of for the head of the Army of the Potomac; he immediately went to the President and told him he did not want the command and would not take it. But during the interview he spoke freely of Hookers defects, whereupon Lincoln replied, I am not disposed to throw away a gun because it missed fire once.3
After the Battle of Chancellorsville, Lee gave his troops a rest of some weeks. He employed this time in reorganization, dividing the army into three corps of three divisions each, commanded respectively by Longstreet,4 Ewell and A. P. Hill. Believing that nothing was to be gained by his army remaining quietly on the defensive, he decided on the invasion of Pennsylvania. In any case this movement, by threatening Washington and drawing Hooker in pursuit of the invading force, would relieve Virginia of the presence of a hostile army. But after such victories as Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, he would have been modest past belief had not his expectations gone far beyond so simple an achievement. He hoped to fight the Army of the Potomac on favorable conditions. With his own well-disciplined troops in high spirits and full of confidence in their leader, he could hardly have doubted that the result of such a battle would be other than a Confederate victory; he might even destroy the Union Army, in which case Washington would be at his mercy and he could conquer a peace on Northern soil. Nothing at this time so perturbed the Southern high councils as the operations of Grant against Vicksburg. More than one project was proposed to save it from capture, but no diversion in its favor could be so effectual as the taking of the Federal capital. If ever an aggressive movement with so high an object were to be made, now was the time. Not only was there the flush of Confederate success to be taken advantage of, but on the other hand the South by delay would lose in efficiency for the offensive. Our resources in men are constantly diminishing, wrote Lee to Davis, and the disproportion in this respect between us and our enemies, if they continue united in their efforts to subjugate us, is steadily augmenting. Lees extraordinary industry and attention to detail included a constant and careful reading of Northern newspapers; from the mass of news, comment and speculation he drew many correct inferences and seldom lost sight of any of the conditions which were material to the Confederates conduct of the war. He meditated on the weariness of the contest so largely felt at the North and on the growing Democratic strength since Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. We should neglect no honorable means of dividing and weakening our enemies, he wrote to Davis. We should give all the encouragement we can, consistently with the truth, to the rising peace party of the North.5
On June 3, Lee began to move his army from the vicinity of Fredericksburg, and one week later put Ewells corps in motion for the Shenandoah Valley. Ewell drove the Union troops from Winchester and Martinsburg, and on the 15th a portion of his corps crossed the Potomac, the remainder soon following. Hill and Longstreet moved forward and by June 26 their corps had passed over the river and were in Maryland.
When Lees northward movement became well defined, Hooker broke up his camps on the Rappahannock and marched to the Potomac, keeping to the east of the Blue Ridge and covering Washington constantly; in this manuvre he managed his army well. Ewell, waiting at Hagerstown, Maryland, received orders on June 22, permitting him to move forward. If Harrisburg comes within your means, wrote Lee, capture it. Advancing into Pennsylvania and halting one day at Chambersburg to secure supplies, Ewell reached Carlisle on June 27 and sent Early with one division to seize York. On the formal surrender of the town by the chief burgess and a deputation of citizens, Early laid it under contribution, receiving 1000 hats, 1200 pairs of shoes, 1000 socks, three days rations of all kinds and $28,600 United States money. Having already burned the railroad bridges on the way to York, he now sent an expedition to take possession of the Columbia bridge over the Susquehanna, a wooden structure on stone pillars, one mile and a quarter long and bearing the railroad, a wagon-road and a tow-path for the canal. He intended to march his division across this bridge, cut the line of the Pennsylvania railroad, take Lancaster, lay it under contribution and attack Harrisburg in the rear while the remainder of Ewells corps assailed it from the front. But a regiment of Pennsylvania militia, in fleeing before the Confederates, set fire to the bridge and Earlys men found it impossible to arrest the flames.
Ewell, meanwhile, through requisitions and search of shops, had secured ordnance, medical and other valuable stores; had collected near 3000 head of cattle and located 5000 barrels of flour. In the course of a reconnaissance his cavalry, supported by a section of artillery, approached to within three miles of Harrisburg and engaged the pickets of the militia forces assembled under General Couch for its defence. By June 29, he had everything ready and purposed moving on Harrisburg. Two days earlier Longstreet and Hill had reached Chambersburg and Lee was there in command. His whole army numbering 75,000 was on Pennsylvania soil.
While there was some anxiety for Washington and Baltimore it was in the Cumberland Valley of Pennsylvania that the presence of the enemy was actually and painfully felt. Yet the Confederates under Lees immediate command committed little or no depredation or mischief. In his order of June 21, he enjoined a scrupulous respect for private property and in that of the 27th, after he had reached Chambersburg, he made known his satisfaction with the troops for their general good behavior, but mentioned that there had been instances of forgetfulness and gave warning that such offenders should be brought to summary punishment. This attitude of Lees was prescribed alike by considerations of military discipline, mercy and by the desire to do everything possible to promote the pacific feeling at the North. It is true that payment for supplies was made in Confederate money, which proved worthless in the end, but in estimating his motives it must be remembered that he paid with the only currency he had, a currency which bade fair to have a considerable value, should his confident expectation of defeating the Union Army on Pennsylvania soil be realized.6
No matter how mercifully war may be carried on it is at the best a rude game. As Lees army advanced in the Cumberland Valley alarm and distress ruled. The whole region was alive with wild rumors. Men, women and children fled before the enemy and their horses were driven out of the path of the invader. The Yanks, wrote Pickett, have taken into the mountains and across the Susquehanna all the supplies they could, and we pay liberally for those which we are compelled to take, paying for them in money which is paid to us, our own Confederate script.7 The refugees deemed themselves and their property safe once they had crossed the broad Susquehanna. The bridge over the river, the communication between the Cumberland Valley and Harrisburg, was thronged with wagons laden with furniture and household goods. Negroes fled before the advancing host, fearing that they might be dragged back to slavery. On June 26, Curtin, the Governor of Pennsylvania, issued a proclamation calling for 60,000 men to come forward promptly to defend their soil, their families and their firesides. Harrisburg, the capital of the State, was indeed in danger, as was realized by the authorities and the citizens. Thirty regiments of Pennsylvania militia, besides artillery and cavalry and nineteen regiments from New York were assembled under the command of General Couch, who disposed his forces to the best advantage, assigning a large portion of them to the defence of Harrisburg. In that city all places of business were closed, and citizens labored on the fortifications with the pick and the spade. Men were enrolled by wards and drilled in the park and on the streets. The railroad station presented a scene of great excitement, owing to the continuous arrival of volunteers and the departure of women and frightened men. The progress of the enemy was pretty accurately known. Reports ran that he was twenty-three miles from the city, then eighteen; on June 28, cannonading was heard for two hours, and everyone knew that the Confederates were within four miles of the Capitol. On that evening a rumor circulated in Philadelphia that the Confederates were shelling Harrisburg. Chestnut and Market streets were filled with thousands of men eager for news. The next day two prominent citizens telegraphed to the President that they had reliable information to the effect that the enemy in large force was marching upon Philadelphia. Other men of influence desired him to give the general in command authority to declare martial law. Business stopped. Merchants, iron manufacturers, proprietors of machine shops and coal operators held meetings, and offered inducements to their workmen to enlist for the defence of the State. The members of the Corn Exchange furnished five companies. A meeting of the soldiers of the War of 1812 and another of clergymen were held to offer their services for home defence. It was said that bankers and merchants were making preparations to remove specie and other valuables from the city. Receipts and shipments on the Pennsylvania Railroad were suspended. Notwithstanding the acute apprehension and general derangement of affairs, there was nothing resembling panic. The excitement was at its height from June 27 to July 1. On July 1 the sale of government five-twenties for the day amounted to $1,700,000. Few trains were running on the eastern division of the Pennsylvania Railroad and it was expected that the track would in many places be destroyed, yet the shares of this company sold in Philadelphia at 61.75 on June 27 and at 60 on July 1 on a par basis of 50a record as noteworthy as Livys story that the ground on which Hannibal was encamped three miles from Rome, happening at that very time to be sold, brought a price none the lower on account of its occupation by the invader. Although gold advanced in New York there was no panic in the stock market.
While the alarm at the invasion of Pennsylvania was at its height, when the Northerner took up his morning newspaper with dread in his heart or watched with grave misgivings the periodical bulletins of the day, the intelligence came that there had been a change in commanders of the Army of the Potomac. Those in authority depended for the salvation of Harrisburg, Baltimore and Washington on this army which the public with its half-knowledge of the situation also felt to be their mainstay.
On account of a difference with Halleck, Hooker asked to be relieved from his position [June 27]. His request came at a fortunate moment, since only the day before, as Welles records in his Diary, The President in a single remark betrayed doubts of Hooker to whom he is quite partial. We cannot help beating them, he said, if we have the man. How much depends in military matters on one master mind! Hooker may commit the same fault as McClellan and lose his chance. We shall soon see but it appears to me he cant help but win.8
Hookers request for relief was received at three oclock in the afternoon of June 27 and referred to the President, who quickly made up his mind and sent an officer to the Army of the Potomac with an order relieving Hooker and appointing in his place George G. Meade.
Although at this time the merit and experience of two men, Reynolds and Meade, clearly pointed them out for the command, it is nevertheless to Lincolns credit that he resisted the strong pressure on the one side for McClellan and on the other for Frémont and chose wisely. Reynolds being eliminated by his own refusal, the choice fell upon Meade. Three days previously in a letter to his wife Meade discussed the possibility of his own appointment to the command with attractive modesty but with insufficient comprehension of Lincolns wisdom in a great emergency. Replying to hypothetical criticism, Meade wrote, It is notorious no general officer, not even Fighting Joe himself, has been in more battles, or more exposed than my record evidences. The only thing that can be said, and I am willing to admit the justice of the argument, is that it remains to be seen whether I have the capacity to handle successfully a large army. I do not stand however any chance, because I have no friends, political or others, who press or advance my claims or pretensions, and there are so many others who are pressed by influential politicians that it is folly to think I stand any chance upon mere merit alone.9
Meade can best tell the story of his promotion. It has pleased Almighty God, he wrote to his wife on June 29, to place me in the trying position that for sometime past we have been talking about. Yesterday morning at 3 A.M. I was aroused from my sleep by an officer from Washington entering my tent, and after waking me up, saying he had come to give me trouble. At first I thought it was either to relieve or arrest me. He handed me a communication to read, which I found was an order relieving Hooker from the command and assigning me to it. As it appears to be Gods will for some good purposeat any rate as a soldier, I had nothing to do but accept and exert my utmost abilities to command success. I am moving at once against Lee. A battle will decide the fate of our country and our cause. Pray earnestly, pray for the success of my country (for it is my success besides).
Frank Haskell, a staff officer in the Second Corps, who wrote during July, 1863 a graphic account of the Battle of Gettysburg, recorded his belief that the Army in general, both officers and men, had no confidence in Hooker, in either his honesty or ability. When the change of command became known, he wrote: We breathed a full breath of joy and of hope. The Providence of God had been with usGeneral Meade commanded the Army of the Potomac. The Army brightened and moved on with a more elastic step.10 Reynolds at once went to see Meade and assured him of his hearty support.11
The President conferred upon his general full power. Meade advanced northward in his aim to find and fight the enemy. He had been prompt to command, his subordinates zealous to obey. The officers, sinking for the moment all their rivalries and jealousies, were careful and untiring in their efforts, while the soldiers showed extraordinary endurance in their long and rapid marches in the hot sun and sultry air of the last days of June.
Meades advance northward caused Lee to concentrate his army east of the mountains; he called Ewell back from his projected attack on Harrisburg to join the army at Cashtown or Gettysburg as circumstances might require.12 In the meantime Hill and Longstreet had been ordered to Cashtown, which was eight miles west of Gettysburg. Both Lee and Meade hoped and expected to fight a defensive battle and their manuvres were directed to this end.
The circumstances that led to a collision at Gettysburg on July 1 between a number of the Confederates and Reynolds commanding the left wing need not be detailed. Reynolds was killed and afterwards his troops met with a serious reverse. When Meade heard of his death, which was for him as great a disaster as the loss of Stonewall Jackson had been to Lee, he sent forward to take command, Hancock, who restored order out of the existing confusion. Nevertheless, the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg was a decided Confederate success.
By six oclock on the afternoon of July 1, Meade had arrived at the opinion that a battle at Gettysburg is now forced on us;13 and he issued orders to all of his corps to concentrate at that point. He himself arrived on the battle-field about midnight, pale, tired-looking, hollow-eyed and worn out from loss of sleep, anxiety and the weight of responsibility.
At about eight oclock on the morning of July 2, accompanied by a staff-officer and orderly, he rode forth on a visit to his right wing. Schurz, who spoke with him on this occasion, was struck with his long-bearded, haggard face, his care-worn and tired look, as if he had not slept that night. His mind was evidently absorbed by a hard problem, Schurz went on. But this simple, cold, serious soldier with his business-like air did inspire confidence. The officers and men as much as was permitted crowded around and looked up to him with curious eyes and then turned away not enthusiastic but clearly satisfied. With a rapid glance he examined the position of our army and nodded seemingly with approval. After the usual salutations I asked him how many men he had on the ground. I remember his answer well, In the course of the day I expect to have about 95,000enough I guess for this business. After another sweeping glance over the field, he added, as if reflecting something to himself, Well we may fight it out here just as well as anywhere else.14
By the afternoon of July 2, Lee and Meade had their whole forces on the field,. Lee mustering 70,000, Meade 93,000,15 less the losses of the first day, which had been much greater on the Union than on the Confederate side. The armies were about a mile apart, the Confederates occupying the eminence concave in form called Seminary Ridge, whilst the Federals were posted in a convex line on Cemetery Ridgea position admirably adapted for defence. Meade decided to await attack, and if he had studied closely the character and record of his energetic adversary, he must have been almost certain that it would come. Longstreet, however, differed with his commander. In a conversation at the close of the first days fight, he expressed his opinion that their troops should be thrown round Meades left; they would then be interposed between the Union Army and Washington and Meade would be forced to take the offensive. Lee, in the anxiety and excitement of the moment, was somewhat irritated at this suggestion of a plan contrary to the one he had already determined and said, No the enemy is there and I am going to attack him. From the beginning of his invasion he had made no secret of the poor esteem in which he held his foe. While recognizing in Meade a better general than Hooker, he believed that the change of commanders at this critical moment would counterbalance the advantage in generalship; and impressed as he was by the rapid and efficient movements of the Army of the Potomac since Meade had taken command, he must on the other hand have felt that he and his army were almost invincible,a confidence shared by nearly all his officers and men, for his success on his own soil had been both brilliant and practically unbroken. There were never such men in an army before, Lee said. They will go anywhere and do anything if properly led.16
Lee was up betimes on the morning of July 2, but, owing to the slow movements of his soldiers, he lost much of the advantage of his more speedy concentration than Meades. He did not begin his attack until the afternoon was well advanced when the last of the Union Army, the Sixth Corps, was arriving after a march of thirty-two miles in seventeen hours. He told accurately the result of the tremendous fighting and heavy loss that afternoon on both wings of each army. We attempted to dislodge the enemy, and, though we gained some ground, we were unable to get possession of his position.17 The Confederate assaults had been disjointed: to that mistake is ascribed their small success.
Meade claimed the victory. The enemy attacked me about 4 P.M. this day, he telegraphed to Halleck on July 2, and after one of the severest contests of the war was repulsed at all points.18 That Meade in this despatch was not consciously resorting to the time-honored device in war by stretching the claim beyond the fact is to be inferred from the note to his wife written at 8:45 on the following morning, We had a great fight yesterday, the enemy attacking and we completely repulsing them: both armies shattered.19
From the reports of the several corps commanders at the council of war which Meade called on the night of July 2, it was evident that the Union Army, having incurred a loss of 20,000 men, was indeed seriously weakened, but the generals had not lost spirit and all voted to stay and fight it out. As the council broke up, Meade said to Gibbon, who was in temporary command of the Second Corps, If Lee attacks to-morrow it will be in your front. Why, asked Gibbon. Because he has made attacks on both our flanks and failed, and, if he concludes to try it again it will be on our centre. I hope he will, replied Gibbon. If he does we shall defeat him.20
In the early morning of July 3, there was fighting on the Union right. At it again, wrote Meade to his wife, with what result remains to be seen. Army in fine spirits and everyone determined to do or die.21 On the other side, after Lee and Longstreet had made a reconnaissance of the Union position, Lee said that he was going to attack the enemys centre. Great God, said Longstreet, Look, General Lee, at the insurmountable difficulties between our line and that of the Yankeesthe steep hills, the tiers of artillery, the fences, the heavy skirmish lineand then well have to fight our infantry against their batteries. Look at the ground well have to charge over, nearly a mile of that open ground there under the rain of their canister and shrapnel. The enemy is there, General Longstreet, and I am going to strike him, said Lee in his quiet, determined voice.22
All the events of the past monthinvasion and answering manuvre, marching and countermarching, the fighting of two dayswere the prelude to a critical episode; three or four terrible hours were now imminent which should go far toward deciding the issue of the war. From 11 A.M. until 1 P.M. there was an ominous stillness.23 Suddenly from the Confederate side came the reports of two signal guns in quick succession. A bombardment from one hundred and fifty cannon commenced and was replied to by eighty guns24 of the Union Army whose convex line, advantageous in other respects, did not admit of their bringing into action a large part of their artillery. The Confederate fire was chiefly concentrated upon the Second Corps where Hancock had resumed command. It was, he wrote in his report, the heaviest artillery fire I have ever known. But it did little damage. The Union soldiers lay under the protection of stone walls, swells of the ground and earthworks and the projectiles of the enemy passed over their heads, sweeping the open ground in their rear. Hancock with his staff, his corps flag flying, rode deliberately along the front of his line and, by his coolness and his magnificent presence, inspired his men with courage and determination. One of his brigadiers, an old neighbor, said to him, General the corps commander ought not to risk his life in that way. Hancock replied, There are times when a corps commanders life does not count.25 For an hour and a half this raging cannonade was kept up, when Meade, knowing that it was preliminary to an assault and desiring to lure the Confederates on, gave the order to cease firing, in which action he had been anticipated by Hunt, chief of the Union artillery, because his ammunition was running low.26
Meades ruse was successful. Longstreet was inclined to think that the Confederate fire had been effective,27 and Alexander, who commanded the Confederate artillery, felt sure that the enemy was feeling the punishment.28 Pickett, who was to lead the attack, rode up to Longstreet for orders. I found him, Pickett wrote, like a great lion at bay. I have never seen him so grave and troubled. For several minutes after I had saluted him he looked at me without speaking. Then in an agonized voice he said: Pickett, I am being crucified at the thought of the sacrifice of life which this attack will make. I have instructed Alexander to watch the effect of our fire upon the enemy, and when it begins to tell he must take the responsibility and give you orders, for I cant.29
Alexander had confidence in the attack because Lee had ordered it, although he shrank from the responsibility now thrust upon him; yet, having seen Pickett and found him cheerful and sanguine, he played his part. And when he dared wait no longer he sent a note to Pickett, who was still with Longstreet: For Gods sake come quick. Come quick or my ammunition will not let me support you properly. Pickett read it, handed it to Longstreet and asked, Shall I obey and go forward? Longstreet, so Pickett wrote, looked at me for a moment, then held out his hand. Presently clasping his other hand over mine, without speaking, he bowed his head upon his breast. I shall never forget the look in his face nor the clasp of his hand when I said, Then, General, I shall lead my division on.30
My brave boys, wrote Pickett, were full of hope and confident of victory as I led them forth, forming them in column of attack [at about 3:15] though officers and men alike knew what was before them. Over on Cemetery Ridge the Federals beheld an army forming in line of battle in full view, under their very eyes.31 Hancock, who expected the attack and was prepared to meet it, wrote in his report, The enemys lines were formed with a precision and steadiness that extorted the admiration of the witnesses of that memorable scene.32
Picketts 15,000 had nearly a mile to go across the valley;33 with banners flying they marched forward with the steadiness of a dress parade. Haskell of the Second Corps, against which the charge was directed, wrote: Every eye could see the enemys legions, an overwhelming resistless tide of an ocean of armed men sweeping upon us! Regiment after regiment and brigade after brigade move from the woods and rapidly take their places in the line forming the assault. Picketts proud division  with some additional troops hold their right. The first line at short intervals is followed by a second, and that a third succeeds; and columns between support the lines. More than half a mile their front extends; more than a thousand yards the dull gray masses deploy, man touching man, rank pressing rank and line supporting line. The red flags wave, their horsemen gallop up and down; the arms of eighteen thousand men [15,000], barrel and bayonet, gleam in the sun, a sloping forest of flashing steel. Right on they move, as with one soul, in perfect order, without impediment of ditch or wall or stream, over ridge and slope, through orchard and meadow and cornfield, magnificent, grim, irresistible.34 The Union artillery, which had been put in entire readiness to check such an onset, opened fire upon the advancing column at 700 yards and continued until it came to close quarters.35 Still the Confederates advanced steadily and coolly. Their artillery had reopened over their heads in an effort to draw the deadly fire directed at them from Cemetery Ridge; but the Union guns made no change in aim and went on mowing down Picketts men. A storm of canister came. The slaughter was terrible; but, nothing daunted, the remnant of Picketts division of 5000 pressed on in the lead. The other brigades followed. Now the Union infantry opened fire36 and the Confederates replied. General Garnett, just out of the sick ambulance and commanding a brigade in Picketts division, rode immediately in the rear of his advancing line with great coolness and deliberation, and endeavored, so wrote Major Peyton, to keep his line well closed and dressed. He was shot from his horse while near the center of the brigade within about 25 paces of the stone wall. But our line much shattered still kept up the advance until within about twenty paces of the wall when, for a moment, it recoiled under the terrific fire that poured into our ranks both from their batteries and from their sheltered infantry. At this moment General Kemper came up on the right and General Armistead in rear, when the three lines joining in concert, rushed forward with unyielding determination and an apparent spirit of laudable rivalry to plant the Southern banner on the walls of the enemy. Armistead, wrote Colonel Aylett, was conspicuous to all. Fifty yards in advance of his brigade, waving his hat upon his sword, he led his men upon his enemy with a steady bearing. Far in advance of all he led the attack till he scaled the works of the enemy and fell wounded in their hands, but not until he had driven them from their position and seen his colors planted over their fortifications. The enemys strongest and last line was gained, wrote Major Peyton; the Confederate battle flag waved over his defences and the fighting over the wall became hand to hand and of the most desperate character; but more than half having already fallen, our line was found too weak to rout the enemy.37 The advancing mass was so deep and wide as to raise doubt whether the Union line could stand against its weight and momentum, but a brief contact with bayonets crossed and muskets clubbed solved this doubt. The Confederates threw down their arms as if they simultaneously realized that the battle was lost. Many surrendered while others who escaped the pursuing shots fled across the field to Seminary Ridge.38
I have never seen a more formidable attack, wrote Hancock to Meade on the day of the battle, with worse troops I should certainly have lost the day.39 Haskells detailed account confirms this judgment, as does the study of Colonel Thomas L. Livermore, who was in the battle. Meade, his face very white, the lines marked and earnest and full of care, rode up to Haskell and asked in a sharp eager voice, How is it going here? I believe, General, the enemys attack is repulsed, was the reply. What! Is the assault already repulsed? It is, sir. Thank God! exclaimed Meade.40
Lee, entirely alone, rode forward to encourage and rally his broken troops. His earlier excitement had passed and he betrayed no bitterness in his disappointment; his composure was really extraordinary and the spirit in which he spoke of the disaster was nothing short of sublime. All this has been my fault, he said. It is I that have lost this fight.41
Again he said, this has been a sad day for us, a sad day.42 The fate of two of Picketts brigadiers has been recorded; the third, Kemper, was desperately wounded.43 Seven of my colonels were killed, wrote Pickett, and one was mortally wounded. Nine of my lieutenant colonels were wounded and three were killed. Only one field officer of my whole command was unhurt and the loss of my company officers was in proportion.44 Two of the three brigades were under the command of majors when the battle was over. The casualties of the division of 5000 were nearly 2900.
Pickett was unhurt and no one of his staff appears in the list of killed and wounded. He set forth at the head of his troops but did not go forward to the Union line; he stopped part way. The words he wrote to his betrothed on the following day have the ring of sincerity, Your soldier lives and mourns and but for you, he would rather, a million times rather, be back there with his dead to sleep for all time in an unknown grave.45 Nevertheless the question was naturally raised in the South whether he might share in the glory won by his division that day. History answering must follow the judgment of General Lee, who knew all the circumstances and was a preëminently truthful and impartial man. On July 9 Lee wrote to Pickett, No one grieves more than I do at the loss suffered by your noble division in the recent conflict or honors it more for its bravery and gallantry. In a later, undated letter, he said, You and your men have crowned yourselves with glory.46
Picketts charge, though a hazardous enterprise, was by no means a hopeless one and might well have succeeded had not Meade and Hancock been thoroughly prepared for it and had they not shown generalship of a high order. With Hooker in commandthe irresolute Hooker of Chancellorsvillethere would have been a different story to relate. A comparison of the management of the two battles will confirm Hallecks judgment that Hooker would have lost the army and the capital.47
Moreover, Lee had to decide between an attack and an inglorious retreat. Divided, his army could live upon the country, but during a prolonged concentration it could not be fed. His decision was in keeping with his aggressive disposition, and his mistake seems to have been in underrating Meades ability and in overestimating both the physical and moral damage done by his artillery fire. If the Confederates, who made the breach in the Union line could have held on, adequate support would undoubtedly have been given and Lees idea of one determined and united blow48 delivered by his whole line might have been realized. And if he could have thoroughly beaten the Army of the Potomac, Baltimore and Washington would have been at his mercy. Perhaps the risk was worth taking.
Whether Meade should at once have made a counter-charge across the valley, or attacked the Confederate right before dark on July 3, or occupied Lees line of retreat that afternoon and made a general advance early next morning are questions frequently discussed by military writers. Meades own idea is disclosed in these words of July 5 to his wife. The Confederates awaited one day expecting that flushed with success, I would attack them when they would play their old game of shooting us from behind breastworks.49
Under the cover of the night and heavy rain of July 4, Lee began his retreat. Meade followed. The strain on a commanding general during such a campaign is shown by these words to his wife on July 8: From the time I took command till to-day, now over ten days, I have not changed my clothes, have not had a regular nights rest and many nights not a wink of sleep and for several days did not even wash my face and hands, no regular food and all the time in a great state of mental anxiety. Indeed I think I have lived as much in this time as in the last thirty years. In this letter, which was written from Frederick, he said, I think we shall have another battle before Lee can cross the river.50
The heavy rains and resultant high water prevented Lee from crossing the Potomac at once and, by July 11, Meade in his pursuit had come within striking distance of the Confederate Army. While proceeding with great caution, he had determined to make an attack on July 13; but as he was wavering in mind and feeling oppressed by his great responsibility he called a council of war. Five out of six of his corps commanders were opposed to the projected attack, which caused him to delay giving the orders for it. Meade devoted July 13 to an examination of the enemys position, strength and defensive works; and the next day, advancing his army for a reconnaissance in force, or an assault if the conditions should be favorable, he discovered that the Confederate army had crossed the Potomac in the night. The escape of Lees army without another battle has created great dissatisfaction in the mind of the President, telegraphed Halleck [July 14]. Meade asked to be relieved of the command of the army: his application was refused.
During July 12 and 13, Lincoln was anxious and impatient and when, about noon of the 14th, he got word that Lee and his army were safely across the Potomac he was deeply grieved. And that, my God, is the last of this Army of the Potomac! he said. Meade has been pressed and urged, but only one of his generals was for an immediate attack, was ready to pounce on Lee; the rest held back. What does it mean, Mr. Welles? Great God! what does it mean?51 We had them within our grasp, he said. We had only to stretch forth our hands and they were ours. And nothing I could say or do could make the army move.52 In a later private letter he developed this opinion. I was deeply mortified, he said, by the escape of Lee across the Potomac, because the substantial destruction of his army would have ended the war and because I believed such destruction was perfectly easy. Perhaps my mortification was heightened because I had always believedmaking my belief a hobby possiblythat the main rebel army going north of the Potomac could never return, if well attended to; and because I was so greatly flattered in this belief by the operations at Gettysburg.53
No one should accept this judgment of Lincolns without considering Meades defence. Had I attacked Lee the day I proposed to do so, the General wrote, and in the ignorance that then existed of his position, I have every reason to believe the attack would have been unsuccessful and would have resulted disastrously. This opinion is founded on the judgment of numerous distinguished officers after inspecting Lees vacated works and position. I had great responsibility thrown on me. On one side were the known and important fruits of victory, and, on the other, the equally important and terrible consequences of a defeat.54
In the end it was Lincoln himself who suggested the sanest possible view of the episode. In a letter of July 21 he wrote, I am now profoundly grateful for what was done without criticism for what was not done [at Gettysburg]. General Meade has my confidence as a brave and skilful officer and a true man. The change in Northern sentiment between July 1 and 4 reveals unmistakably the sense of a great deliverance.55
Although indeed a great deliverance, the victory at Gettysburg had been gained by an army acting on the defensive, whilst the nature of the conflict required that the North should wage an aggressive war. And fortunately the aggressive leader had at last been found. On January 20, 1863, Grant had assumed the immediate command of the expedition against Vicksburg.
Before and during the war the Mississippi river possessed, as a channel of communication and commerce, a great importance, which has steadily diminished with the development of the railroad system of the West. The importance of gaining control of it was appreciated at the North from the first; such control being regarded in the East as a military advantage, whilst by the people of the Western States it was deemed indispensable to their existence, as providing an outlet for their products and an artery for their supply. The free navigation of the Mississippi were words to conjure with, not only in the Southwest, but everywhere west of the Alleghanies, except in the region directly tributary to the Great Lakes.56 Lincoln, owing to the geographical situation of his home, had been brought up with this sentiment; in manhood his mind was thoroughly impregnated with it; and throughout the great crisis he never lost sight of its military and commercial significance. The capture of Forts Henry and Donelson and the resulting operations had freed the Mississippi north of Vicksburg; the capture of New Orleans had given the Union its mouth. But the Confederates were still in virtual possession of the two hundred miles of river between their two strong fortresses of Vicksburg and Port Hudson, thereby maintaining communication between Louisiana and Texas on the one side and the rest of the Confederacy on the other. Louisiana supplied them with sugar, while the great State of Texas furnished quantities of grain and beef, besides affording, through its contiguity to Mexico, an avenue for munitions of war received from Europe at the Mexican port of Matamorasa consideration of much weight, since the ports of the Southern States were now pretty effectually sealed by the Federal blockade. Of the two fastnesses, Vicksburg was by far the more important and the desire in the Confederacy to keep it was keen.
From the Union point of view the three most important strategic points in the South were Richmond, Vicksburg and Chattanooga. Vicksburg ranked second, for its capture would give the United States the control of the Mississippi River and cut the Confederacy asunder. An attempt had been made to take it by the navy, another by the army; both had failed.
Vicksburg, built for the most part upon a bluff two hundred feet above high-water mark of the river, presented a natural stronghold, strengthened by art and unassailable from the front. The problem was to reach the high ground on the east bank of the river so that it might be attacked or besieged from the side or rear. Many devices of artificial channels connecting natural water-courses were tried; apparently, indeed, every experiment was made that engineering skill or military initiative could suggest. Nearly two months were spent in such operations, all of which failed.
It had been a winter of heavy and continuous rains. The river had risen to an unusual height and in places the levees had given way. The whole country was covered with water. Troops could scarcely find dry ground on which to pitch their tents. Malarial fevers, measles and small-pox broke out among the men.57 From newspaper correspondents, from letters which the soldiers wrote to their kinsmen and friends at home, from reports of visitors to the camps, the people of the North came to know in detail of the many attempts and failures, of the exceeding discomfort of the army and of the sickness which prevailed. Having in mind the Grant of Shiloh rather than the Grant of Donelson, they were prone to consider his operations in a fault-finding spirit and to believe the stories of his intemperance which were now in large measure revived. Nevertheless, Lincoln stood by his general faithfully.
Grants despatches and letters at this time are evidently the work of a cool brain; his actions betoken a sound judgment and unflagging energy. Since the Battle of Shiloh [April 6, 7, 1862] he had, most of the time, had a responsible command, but had done nothing to attract public attention. His usefulness had been mainly in his capacity of commander of a Department, for his service in the field had been small and inconspicuous; but in these ten months he had observed and thought much about the conflict that tore his country. He was not a reader of military books, nor a close student of the campaigns of the great masters of his art, nor was he given to conning the principles of strategy and the rules of tactics; yet in his own way and within certain lines he was a deep thinker. Rebellion, he wrote, has assumed that shape now that it can only terminate by the complete subjugation of the South or the overthrow of the government. He must have believed that, if the chance should come, he could show the good stuff that was in him; and in organizing and taking command of the expedition against Vicksburg, he created such an opportunity. But fortune and the elements were at first against him and he must waste two months in fruitless efforts. Sensitive as he was to detraction, he felt keenly the calumnies that were propagated at the North. Said Lincoln, I think Grant has hardly a friend left except myself.58
The failure of the engineering expedients to turn or to supplement the courses of the waters and the realization that he must therefore accommodate himself to the natural features of the country and to the channel of the great river, left Grant in a state of grave perplexity. What should be tried next? The strategical way according to the rule, he wrote, would have been to go back to Memphis; establish that as a base of supplies and move from there along the line of the railroad. This was the advice of Sherman, his ablest and most trusted lieutenant. But, reasoned Grant, that is a backward movement and gravely objectionable, because it will intensify the discouragement with the war prevailing at the North. There was nothing left to be done, he said, but to go forward to a decisive victory.59 Without a council of war, without even consulting any of his able officers, he formed his plan, and hoped for approval from Washington after he had begun to carry it out. He revealed it to his government in his despatches to Halleck, all of which are marked by courtesy and respect. From the confident and masterly tone of his communications, we may imagine with what satisfaction they were read by the President who, before the news of any signal success was received, authorized a despatch which gave Grant full and absolute authority to enforce his own commands and bore this further assurance, He has the full confidence of the government.60
On March 23, Grant ordered the concentration of his army at Millikens Bend. On the 29th, the roads having dried up somewhat although still intolerably bad, he directed McClernands corps to march to New Carthage, while Sherman and McPherson with their corps were in due time to follow. The movement was slow, for the transportation of supplies and ammunition and the progress of the artillery were exceedingly difficult. For the success of the enterprise, the coöperation of the navy was necessary and from acting-Admiral Porter Grant received efficient and generous support. Gunboats and other craft were needed for service below Vicksburg, more rations were required than could be hauled over a single, narrow and almost impassable road; hence gunboats and transports must run the batteries from a point above the town. On the night of April 16, such a movement was successfully made, and again, on the night of the 22d, six steamers towing twelve barges loaded with hay, corn and provisions steamed and drifted past Vicksburg, bringing an abundance of supplies to the army south of it.
Still remained the problem how to get on the high ground on the east bank of the river. McClernands and McPhersons corps were set in motion for Hard Times, part of them in the steamers and barges, the others afoot. It was necessary to proceed farther south, but the fortifications of Grand Gulf blocked the way of the transports and an assault of the gunboats failed to silence their batteries. Grant disembarked the troops that were on the transports at Hard Times and all marched to a point below, whence they were ferried across to Bruinsburg, high ground on the east bank of the Mississippi [April 30]. This point was selected in accordance with information supplied by a negro who had told Grant that there was a good road thence to Port Gibson. When the landing was seen to be feasible, Grant telegraphed to Halleck, I feel that the battle is now more than half won.61 Yet all natures obstacles had not been overcome. The country with its bayous, swamps and ravines, its timber, undergrowth, and almost impenetrable canebrakes and trailing shrubs rendered offensive operations difficult and hazardous. But the general exhorted and the soldiers pressed on. By two oclock in the morning of May 1, while on the road to Port Gibson, they were in touch with the Confederates, whom they outnumbered. Skirmishing began, developing as it grew light into a general battle. The fighting continued all day, said Grant, and until after dark, over the most broken country I ever saw. The enemy were driven from point to point. They were sent in full retreat. Next day he had Port Gibson and the Confederates evacuated Grand Gulf. From that fort, Grant wrote a long despatch to Halleck, giving an account of his success. This army is in the highest health and spirits, he said. Since leaving Millikens Bend they have marched as much by night as by day, through mud and rain, without tents or much other baggage and on irregular rations without a complaint and with less straggling than I have ever before witnessed.62 Could the army have transmitted a collective despatch, they might have said, Our general has been subject to the same discomforts as we; he has shared all our hardships.
Grant, with his force of 43,000, had a secure base of supplies at Grand Gulf but he did not continue to supply his army from that point. Stopping only long enough to arrange for the transport of his ammunition and to get up what rations he could of hard bread, coffee and salt, he cut loose from his base and lived upon the country, where he found a sufficiency of beef, mutton, poultry, bacon, molasses and forage. Opposed to him were Pemberton, with probably 40,000 in Vicksburg and along the line of the railroad, and Joseph E. Johnston with nearly 15,000 in Jackson. Moving with extraordinary rapidity and throwing upon each detachment of the Confederates a superior force, Grant defeated them in detail and cleared the way to his final objective point. In nineteen days,63 he had crossed the great river into the enemys territory, had marched one hundred and eighty miles through a very difficult country, skirmishing constantly, had fought and won five distinct battles, inflicting a greater loss upon the enemy than he himself sustained and capturing many cannon and field-pieces, had taken the capital of the State and destroyed its arsenals and military manufactories, had been for ten days without communication with any base or his government,64 and was now in the rear of Vicksburg. As Sherman, in company with Grant, rode up to the long-coveted, dry, high ground behind Vicksburg, looked down upon the Confederate fort and then upon the Federal fleet within easy supporting distance, and realized that they had secured a base of supplies which had safe and unobstructed communication with the North,as he perceived the full force of what they had gained and recalled the time when he had panted for this position, he gave vent to his enthusiasm in boundless terms, while Grant, imperturbable, thought and smoked on. To find a parallel in military history to the deeds of those eighteen days (or nineteen), wrote John Fiske, a good authority on both events, we must go back to the first Italian campaign of Napoleon in 1796.65
Grant made two unsuccessful attempts to carry the Confederate works by storm, after which he settled down to a regular siege. Mining, countermining and sapping went on as usual.66 We are now approaching with pick and shovel, wrote General Sherman to his brother. We shell the town a little every day and keep the enemy constantly on the alert, said Grant in his despatch of June 3.67 After the exciting active campaign, the siege operations were slow, heavy and exacting work which during the extreme hot weather of June induced a feeling of lassitude and depression among both officers and men.68 Even Grant felt it and, on one occasion, yielded to his appetite for drink. On this occasion he invited Charles A. Dana to go with him to Satartia and the two went up the Yazoo river on a small steamboat. Grant fell ill and went to bed. When within two miles of Satartia, two gun-boats were met, whose officers came aboard and said that the General would run the risk of capture if he should proceed farther. Dana awakened Grant who, being too ill to decide, left the decision to Dana who ordered the steamer round-about. The next morning, as Dana related the story, Grant came out to breakfast fresh as a rose, clean shirt and all, quite himself. Well, Mr. Dana, he said, I suppose we are at Satartia now. No, general, was the reply, we are at Hayness Bluff,69 the point from which they had started on the steamer, the day before.
This river excursion took place on June 6; at one A.M. of that day, John A. Rawlins, Grants chief of staff, wrote a remarkable letter to his general. The great solicitude I feel for the safety of this army leads me to mention what I had hoped never again to doRawlins wrote, the subject of your drinking. To-night I find you where the wine bottle has just been emptied, in company with those who drink and urge you to do likewise, and the lack of your usual promptness of decision and clearness in expressing yourself in writing tended to confirm my suspicions. You have the full control of your appetite and can let drinking alone. Had you not pledged me the sincerity of your honor early last March that you would drink no more during the war and kept that pledge during your recent campaign, you would not to-day have stood first in the worlds history as a successful military leader. Your only salvation depends upon your strict adherence to that pledge. You cannot succeed in any other way.70
That same day Rawlins removed a box of wine from the front of Grants tent that had been sent to him to celebrate his prospective entrance into Vicksburg, and next morning he searched every suspected tent for liquor and broke every bottle he found over a near-by stump.71
How much depends in military matters on one master mind! said Lincoln when Lee was invading Pennsylvania and Hooker was still in command of the Army of the Potomac.72 A thorough study of the operations against Vicksburg brings the conviction that Grant alone of the Union generals could have conducted that brilliant campaign, discomfiting two Confederate Armies and establishing his own on the high ground behind Vicksburg, and that he alone could have prosecuted the siege to its successful conclusion. He was a greater general than Stonewall Jackson but he might have been still greater could he have said with Jackson, changing only the name of Federal to Confederate, I love whiskey but I never use it; I am more afraid of it than of Confederate bullets.
The anxiety of the President and his advisers over the Vicksburg campaign was intense and their dominant idea as expressed by a confidential friend of Stantons was, If we keep Grant sober we shall take Vicksburg. Rawlins was a potent factor in the final success and he had the intelligent and sympathetic support of two men who fully comprehended the situationLieutenant-Colonel James H. Wilson, of Grants staff, and Charles A. Dana. Dana had been sent to the army by Stanton, with of course the Presidents consent, to watch Grant; known as the eyes of the government, he proved a faithful and considerate watchman. He estimated correctly not only Grant but acting-Admiral Porter, Sherman and McPherson; he seems to have won their confidence and did not abuse it. His despatches, written in the terse English of which he was a master, furnish an excellent history of the progress of the campaign.73
The rest of the story may be told briefly. Grant invested Vicksburg closely, maintaining at the same time a sufficient force to repel any attack that might be made on his rear. But Johnson was unable to relieve in any way the beleaguered garrison which was rapidly declining in efficiency through fatigue, illness and lack of food. Grants army increased by reënforcements to 72,000,74 he steadily and grimly closed about the city and made ready for an attempt to take it by storm. Pemberton, thinking that he could not repel such an assault, gave up Vicksburg. At 10:30 on the morning of July 4, in the self-same hour when Lincoln announced to the country the result at Gettysburg, Grant sent this word to his government, The enemy surrendered this morning. The number of prisoners taken was 29,491, while the Confederate loss up to that time had probably reached 10,000. Moreover, 170 cannon and 50,000 small arms were captured. The muskets, being of an improved make recently obtained from Europe, were used to replace the inferior arms of many regiments in the Union Army. The result had been gained at small cost; Grants loss during his whole campaign was 9362.
Of what occurred when the Federal troops took possession of the city and the Confederates marched out, accounts differ in detail but agree in essence. Grant wrote, Not a cheer went up, not a remark was made that would give pain. A Confederate officer of high rank recollects a hearty cheer from a division of the Union Army, but it was given for the gallant defenders of Vicksburg.75
General Sherman wrote nearly ten years after the close of the Civil War, The campaign of Vicksburg in its conception and execution, belonged exclusively to General Grant, not only in the great whole, but in the thousands of its details.76
When the news of the victory reached Port Hudson, the Confederate commander surrendered it to General Banks who had invested it with his army. On July 16 the steamboat Imperial, which had come directly from St. Louis, landed its commercial cargo on the levee at New Orleans. As Lincoln said, The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea.77
Since the first of January the eyes of the North had been on Vicksburg. Hopes had been crushed, then had risen anew, only to meet with fresh disappointment; elation over Grants May campaign and a false report that the fortress had fallen was followed by a period of weary suspense brightened withal by the glow of confident anticipation. When the final triumph was announced, the wave of gladness that swept the country ran all the higher for having been so long repressed; moreover, it was swelled by the coincidence of Gettysburg, especially as the popular mind might associate both victories with the Fourth of July, the day of the nations birth. With Gettysburg and Vicksburg the war should have come to an end.78 While the North took courage in that a great military leader had arisen to give aim to its resources, the South was profoundly depressed over her defeat in the two campaigns. Because of the failure of the invasion into Pennsylvania and the expressions of discontent in the public journals at the result of the expedition and the fear that such a feeling might extend to the soldiers, Lee earnestly requested Davis to supply his place as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia with a younger and abler man; but this request was promptly refused.79
Note 30. Picketts Letters, 98. I have made up this account from Picketts letter of July 4 and Alexanders recollections, which differ slightly from Longstreets report of July 27. Alexander (423) sent two notes to Pickett. I have used the second as fitting better Picketts account. [back]
Note 33. Longstreet sent forward Picketts division of his corps and eight brigades of Hills corps, numbering about 14,300 effectives, against about a mile of the Union line, which was held by about 10,100 effectives.T. L. Livermore, Milt. Hist. Soc., XIII, 536. [back]
Note 35. T. L. Livermore, Milt. Hist. Soc., XIII, 536. The whole distance that the Confederates had to go was about 1400 yards. [back]
Note 36. The fire of the Union infantry which with great coolness was withheld for close work was opened from different parts of the line at 200 to 70 yards. Unfaltering under the destructive fire, the Confederates marched in such order and with such courage as to win the admiration of their opponents.T. L. Livermore, Milt. Hist. Soc., XIII, 537. [back]
Note 37. The citations are from the only printed reports (so far as I know) of officers in Picketts divisions, O. R., XXVII, Pt. II, 385, 999. They are dated respectively July 9, 12. Major Peyton was in Garnetts, Col. Aylett in Armisteads, brigade. Pickett made a report but, at the suggestion of General Lee, destroyed it, O. R., XXVII, Pt. III, 1075; Picketts Letters, 100, 213. [back]
Note 55. Authorities: O. R., XXVII, Pt. I, II, III; General Meade; Frank Haskell; C. W., 1865, I; Picketts Letters; W. R. Livermore; T. L. Livermore, Milt. Hist. Soc., XIII; IV; B. & L., III; Longstreet; Alexander; Welless Diary; Schurz, Reminiscences; Pickett and his Men, L. S. Pickett; Picketts Men, Harrison; Francis A. Walker; Pennypacker; Fitzhugh Lee; Fremantle; Hosmers Appeal; Swinton, Army of the Potomac. [back]
Note 56. California and Oregon are manifestly excepted from this general statement. [back]
Note 64. Charles A. Dana wrote in his Reminiscences that the isolation of the army was complete for ten days. The gap in his despatches is between May 10 and 20. James H. Wilson in his Life of C. A. Dana (225) wrote, Communication had been broken just ten days, during which time the army was operating without any base whatever. May 14, 15 Grant sent two despatches via Memphis to Halleck which reached him. O. R., XXIV, Pt. 1, 36. [back]
Note 78. See authorities cited, IV, 320, note; Richard Taylor, Destruction and Reconstruction, 230; O. R., IV, II, 664. Gen. Wayne, C. S. A., son of Justice Wayne, said to Maj. H. L. Higginson in 1866, After Vicksburg and Gettysburg most men, well-informed, knew that the contest was useless and wicked. Jo. Johnston held that opinion. But Davis and Lee disagreed with it and were much blamed on that account. Letter of H. L. Higginson, Feb. 16, 1905. [back]
Note 79. Mrs. J. Davis, II, 393; O. R., XXIX, Pt. II, 639. Authorities for the Vicksburg campaign O. R., XXIV, Pts. I, III; IV; Grant; W. Sherman; W. R. Livermore; same Milt. Hist. Soc., IX; Welless Diary, I; N. & H., VII; Wilsons Dana; Wilsons Under the Old Flag; Wilsons Life of Rawlins, M. S.; Danas Recollections; W. F. Smith; John Fiske; Grants private letters; Wisters Grant; Garlands Grant; Vilas, The Vicksburg Campaign. [back]