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8-08-2015, 23:40

Eastern Maneuvers

WHILE ULYSSES S. GRANT grappled with the complexities of approaching Vicksburg, Abraham Lincoln grappled with the problem of the Army of the Potomac, and more specifically, with the matter of its commander. Ideally, this should not have been the president's concern; ideally, this question should be resolved by Henry Halleck. But Halleck had already demonstrated that he was not the overall commander Lincoln had sought; he could administer, he could plan, he could write memorandums, but he was a better, and happier, military secretary than he was a general. For Lincoln, therefore, there was no one but himself to fill the command vacuum; he, after all, was the commander in chief, and until he could find a soldier who was capable of doing what had to be done, he must keep on with his search. It was a horribly expensive matter of trial and error, the price paid in time, money, and above all blood, but there was no way around it. After Fredericksburg, the issue became ever more pressing. No one had any confidence in Ambrose Burnside, not his corps commanders, or his army, or the political men in Washington—indeed, not even Burnside himself; he knew he had risen beyond his capacity, and though he was loath to admit it, he was eventually content to go off as commander of the Department of the Ohio. So the difficulty lay not in getting rid of him, but rather in deciding who should replace him. By now the army had developed some very capable men, at one level or another, but it had also developed some vicious internal antagonisms and some long memories. John Pope, in the most celebrated example, had preferred charges against Fitz John Porter after Second Bull Run; Porter was relieved of his corps command after Antietam and courtmartialed for disloyalty, disobedience, and misconduct in the face of the enemy. The trial was highly political, and it was not really aimed at Porter at all, but rather at his hero, George McClellan. Secretary Stanton, agreeing with Radical Republican pressure in Congress, stacked the court with anti-McClellan officers, and Porter was found guilty and dismissed from the service. The Army of the Potomac was becoming like the Royal Navy, where, as Voltaire remarked, "they shoot an admiral from time to time to encourage the others." Finding a new commander, therefore, was a touchy proposition; not only the army itself, but the politicians in Washington all had axes to grind and scores to settle. Burnside, during his short and unhappy tenure, had divided his army into three "grand divisions," under Generals Franklin, Sumner, and Hooker, so these three were the chief candidates for the army command. William B. Franklin was a classmate of Ulysses Grant; in fact, he was first in the class of 1843, while Grant was twenty-fifth. He had done well up to Fredericksburg, and had handled his Left Grand Division effectively there. But he had refused Burnside's order to renew the attack on Jackson, and Burnside subsequently wanted to courtmartial him. Indeed, it was this quarrel that led to Burnside's dismissal, but he carried Franklin down with him. Though he was not tried, he was passed over for the higher command, and spent the rest of the war in sideshows. Edwin Vose Sumner was the oldest corps commander in the U.S. Army. Nicknamed "Bull Head," usually shortened to "Bull," because a musket ball was once said to have bounced off his skull, Sumner had had an active career to this point. He had not shone in the Peninsula, but then few had; at Antietam he was criticized for deploying his troops improperly and for leading from the front, like a boy colonel instead of the old general he was. He was not really a contender now; quickly passed over, he asked to be relieved from his corps command. He was reassigned out west, and ironically and sadly, died before he got there. Thus, almost by default, the command went to Fighting Joe Hooker. Another West Pointer, Hooker had done well in the Mexican War, then resigned in the fifties, and went to California, where he failed as a farmer. He returned to the army at the beginning of the war, and earned an odd reputation in the Peninsula. A newspaper correspondent filed a story under the heading "Fighting—Joe Hooker;" this was gar- bled over the telegraph wires and came out "Fighting Joe Hooker," and he was stuck with it. A loud, brash, intemperate man, Hooker had many friends and as many enemies. He was touted to replace McClellan after Antietam, but Lincoln chose Burnside instead. After Fredericksburg, Burnside wanted to fire Hooker, but it was his turn now. Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase liked him, and so did the Radical Republicans, though it was whispered about Washington that his chief claims were that he looked like a general ought to look, and that Chase knew he was not a political rival. When Lincoln appointed him, he did so with such misgivings that he wrote him a very stern cautionary letter, counseling good behavior, temperate speech, and above all the winning of victories. To almost everyone's surprise, Hooker turned out to be a good administrator. The army had grown slack and sullen after Fredericksburg; soldiers always know when their officers are squabbling, for armies have few secrets. Morale was down, desertion was up, drill and dress were sloppy, field punishments were frequent and necessary, and it was obvious the Army of the Potomac had lost tone. Hooker took rapid and effective steps to restore order, authority, and confidence. He improved administration, rations, and delivery of equipment. Where McClellan had had thousands of men simply wandering off on extended leaves, Hooker instituted a rational furlough system. He made newspaper correspondents sign their dispatches, to stop irresponsible reporting. He cleaned up the army's rear areas, making one contribution to the vocabulary: "hooker" became a synonym for a prostitute because of his tolerance of them in the army's trains. Surprisingly quickly, the Army of the Potomac came out of its sulk and began to look like a real army once more. Hooker also reorganized the army's command structure. The grand division system had not worked very well. He now divided the army up definitively into the corps structure first introduced, by Lincoln, for the Peninsula. Now there were seven infantry corps in the Army of the Potomac, and it was Hooker who formalized the practice of giving each corps a distinctive badge, furthering the concept of unit cohesion. Hooker's major contribution, however, was the creation of a separate Cavalry Corps. Up until this time the Union cavalry had been parceled out in driblets and used for odd jobs, one reason why it was always qualitatively inferior to its Confederate opponents. The horsemen were so happy with the new dispensation that they actually accomplished something. All winter Union lines had been harassed by the Confederate cavalry. Now, in March, Brigadier General William Averell took a whole cavalry division across the Rappahannock and chased off a Confederate cavalry division commanded by Fitzhugh Lee, Robert E. Lee's nephew. The Confederates were outnumbered, but even so, it was practically the first time in the war a Union horse soldier had seen gray backs, so it was a heartening event. So as spring warmed the ground in northern Virginia and the blossoms burst along the little rivers, the Army of the Potomac was ready once again to try its hand against its old, familiar foe. The Army of Northern Virginia needed far less tinkering than its opponent. General Lee was perfectly happy with his command structure, and unlike the Federals, he enjoyed the unstinting confidence of his political masters. Where the Federal difficulty lay in its higher officers, the Confederate difficulty lay in the mundane matter of numbers and supply. The war was beginning to tell now, and as the Union war machine kept on growing with apparently undiminished vigor, the Confederacy was increasingly feeling the pinch. News that a Federal corps was loading aboard transports at the mouth of the Chesapeake forced President Davis and General Lee into a realignment, and Lee detached Longstreet and a corps of two whole divisions to guard the coast south along the Carolinas. This left only some 53,000 men in northern Virginia to face Hooker when he advanced with almost double that number. If weak in numbers, the Confederates nevertheless enjoyed the advantage of good position. It was the same equation as had faced Burnside. Lee defended the line of the Rappahannock River, with his army still concentrated around Fredericksburg, and with strong patrols out and all the fords upstream well covered. Lee was considering an offensive in the Shenandoah Valley; he invariably thought in terms of the offensive, and seizing the initiative, and by now he had achieved such moral ascendancy over his opponents that neither he nor anyone in his army was unduly fazed by the Federals' numerical superiority. If the Confederates wanted to split their army, or send half of it off on a raid, they felt perfectly confident in doing so. In late April, Hooker's cavalry began to move, and the bickerings of the patrols as they bumped into each other were a sure portent that something was up. Lee put his Shenandoah ideas to rest while he waited to see what was happening. Hooker had decided to leave two fifths of his army, under the able command of General John Sedgwick, in front of Fredericksburg, threatening a crossing there. Meanwhile he would move upstream with the stronger portion of his force, 53,000 men, carry the various fords, and come down on Lee's left flank. Sedgwick could force his way across at Fredericksburg as Lee necessarily moved to meet this threat, and the Confederates would be caught between Hooker's hammer and Sedgwick's anvil. Sending his cavalry out to cover and hide his moves, Hooker started his army in motion on April 27. Three corps, V under Meade, XI under Oliver O. Howard, and XII under Henry Slocum, marched by a long route northwest toward Kelly's Ford on the upper Rappahannock, which they forced on the 29th. Swinging south, they pushed across the Rapidan River as well, the south branch of the Rappahannock, at Germanna Ford, and then turned southeast, moving through Wilderness Tavern toward a little spot called Chancellorsville, an otherwise insignificant crossroads boasting one brick house. Meanwhile, on the afternoon of the 30th, Hooker began a second, closer, flanking move with Darius Couch's II Corps and Daniel Sickles's III, crossing the Rappahannock at United States ford, just below the point where the Rapidan and that river joined. While all this was in progress, Sedgwick pushed two corps across the river just below Fredericksburg, making as much noise and attracting as much attention as possible. Lee was somewhat at a loss to figure out just what his enemy was up to, but it soon became clear that the Federals were attempting some sort of turning movement to his left. He pulled in a couple of divisions from his right, kept Stuart and his cavalry off at arm's length covering to the west. Nonetheless, by late afternoon of the 31st, Hooker had done his work well, and he had the better part of his army around Chancellorsville. Having done this much, he called it a day. A lesser man than Lee, caught between two armies, each the strength of his own, might have retreated in a hurry. Lee thought only of which of his two enemies he could more profitably attack. He and Jackson looked over Sedgwick's position, and decided it was too strong, so they must take on Hooker. Lee left a mere 10,000 men, under Jubal Early, to face off Sedgwick, and marched with his remaining 43,000 west to meet the new threat. While they did so, Hooker lost the drive that had so far served him well. On the morning of May 1, his army had a leisurely breakfast, and slowly got organized to move east from Chancellorsville. This dawdling was fraught with consequences, for Chancellorsville was in a large patch of territory known generally as the Wilderness, scrub pine and stunted hardwoods all cut up with little lanes and meandering streams, sudden ditches and tangled secondgrowth copses. In it it was difficult to deploy and control infantry, and nearly impossible to handle guns or cavalry. Early in the afternoon, as they began to get out of the Wilderness on its eastern edge, the advancing Federals ran into some of Jackson's divisions, Anderson, McLaws, and Rodes. Firefights sprung up in the clearings, and either side put in little charges where they could, or clung to clumps of cover. No one could be quite sure what was happening, but the Federals had the weight, and slowly, the Rebels gave ground. Indeed, on some of the roads leading east, the bluecoats marched blithely along, with nothing at all in front of them. After two or three hours of this, Hooker was in substantial danger of winning a battle almost by default. But he simply could not believe his luck, and more important, he just could not figure out a picture of what was happening. Beset by doubts, he hesitated. Late in the afternoon he sent out orders to disengage, and fall back around Chancellorsville. His corps commanders were alternately incredulous and furious, but it made little difference; Hooker ordered them back, then, after their formations were all mixed up, changed his mind, and then changed it again. By dark the army took up defensive positions, throwing up abatises and breastworks in a long arc, stretching five and a half miles from the bank of the Rappahannock southwest toward Chancellorsville and then west along the Turnpike Road toward Wilderness Tavern. Meade was on the left, Howard's XI Corps on the right, the rest of the army bunched in the center. The Rebels could hardly believe their luck, but as always, Lee was not disposed to rest content with that. As night came down, he and Jackson looked over their maps and tried to find an advantage. They knew that if Sedgwick moved strongly, Early must give way in their rear; if Hooker attacked vigorously from his left, they would be hard pressed to stop him. Thus there was little profit in a defensive battle. Yet to attack the Federals in even hastily prepared positions would be more costly than they could afford. Then Stuart came in, to report that the Federal right flank, Howard's corps, hung in the air. At that far end of the Union line was . . . nothing. Immediately Lee and Jackson made their plans; they would split the army yet again. Jackson would take the main force, 26,000 men, and by a long roundabout route of fourteen miles he would hit Howard's open flank. Meanwhile Lee, with a mere 17,000, must hold back the entire Federal army until Jackson could strike. Jackson's men started their march at sunrise on the morning of the 2nd. The Federals watched them go. All morning the long gray columns filed off toward the southwest, and for much of that time, the Union army rested on its arms. Eventually General Dan Sickles got grudging permission to push out from the Union center with some troops, but the Rebels were already thinning out on his front, and all he succeeded in doing was further isolating Howard's corps. Oliver Howard was a Maine man whose reputation, for some reason, was stronger than his record. He had lost an arm at Seven Pines, and he had commanded the XI Corps for less than a month. This corps was largely made up of German regiments, and had been under Franz Sigel until Howard's appointment. He did not particularly care for his new assignment, and his new corps did not particularly care for him, either. Ordered by Hooker to fortify his position, Howard thoroughly neglected his right flank, and throughout the midday, he simply refused to believe his officers' reports that a strong enemy force was marching past his line. Independently, his right-flank brigade refused its flank and put up some flimsy breastworks, but that was about all they could manage. By mid-afternoon Jackson's men were in position, but in the scrub and tangle, it took them another two hours to get properly deployed perpendicular to the Union line. Finally, with a mere two hours of daylight remaining, they struck, 26,000 Rebels charging due east, rolling up an enemy line that faced due south. Howard's corps may not have been the best in the army, but it made no difference; the best men God ever made could not have stood to those odds. The Union regiments broke, piled up, tried to form, broke again, rallied, died, and broke again. For a full mile the Confederates drove them, with a bow wave of blue washing before their charge. But Bushbeck's brigade bought a half hour in well-placed rifle pits, and gradually, as the sun went down, the Confederates ran out of steam. Sickles's corps got back into its original line, and Hooker put troops together, and as twilight came, the drive flickered out. With little thanks to its commanders, the Army of the Potomac had lived to fight another day. As the darkness settled, no one knew quite what was going on. Units wandered through the tangled battlefield, stray cavalry blundered here and there, officers tried to sort out their units. General Jackson and some of his staff rode forward to get some sense of the land; all unaware, they got beyond their own lines, and when they turned to come back, mounted shadows in the night, they were challenged, and fired upon. Wounded in the arm, Jackson was carried off the battlefield. Later his arm had to be amputated, and he then contracted pneumonia, from which he died on May 10. On the morning of May 3, the Union army still possessed advantages, in spite of Jackson's brilliant maneuver. Its position was that of a long fishhook with the bend around Chancellorsville and the shank running back to the Rappahannock. But Reynolds's corps had come up in support, the Federals still had a two-to-one superiority, and the Confederate army was still split in two, almost beyond mutual supporting distance, and somewhat disarranged by Stuart replacing Jackson in command of half of it. Hooker might still seize the initiative if he chose. But he did not choose. He remained essentially on the defensive, and when Stuart attacked, skillfully, fiercely, and at last with some artillery support, Hooker did little. When a cannonball struck his headquarters, he was stunned by concussion, and as the Confederates made some headway, he ordered the army to maintain itself as best it might. Meanwhile Lee, deciding that Hooker's position remained formidable, turned his attention to Sedgwick's belated advance. The latter had finally forced Early's men off their heights behind Fredericksburg, and was advancing cautiously toward Lee's army and its own colleagues, twelve miles away. On the 4th, then, Lee hurried to meet Sedgwick, leaving Stuart with a mere 25,000 men to watch Hooker's 75,000. Again the Confederates were nearly, but not quite, clear winners. Late on the afternoon of the 4th they hit Sedgwick, but he was a careful, competent fighter, and he threw up a defensive line and beat off their uncoordinated attacks, one after another, before withdrawing through Fredericksburg and across the river during the night. Hooker made no attempt whatever to help him. Lee, having chased Sedgwick back the way he had come, countermarched yet once more, preparing to destroy Hooker's army. But Hooker at last stirred himself, and his corps commanders conducted a skillful retreat under pressure, getting the army safely back on the north side of the river by May 6. Chancellorsville, Robert E. Lee's "absolute masterpiece," demonstrated several points: First and most obvious, it demonstrated Lee's genius. Secondly, it showed the utter confidence and skill of his instrument, the Army of Northern Virginia. Here were master and men in perfect synchronization. Yet Confederate casualties were 13,000, a bill they could afford far less than the 17,000 Union losses. In terms of percentages, Confederate casualties were nearly twice those of their opponents. And most important of all, with every command advantage except size, the winners had not destroyed the losers. A week after the battle, the Army of the Potomac was as ready to fight as was the Army of Northern Virginia. Colonel Freemantle, a visiting observer from the British army, thought the Confederates were magnificent, "unbeatable"; demonstrating that point, Chancellorsville should also have caused more sober reflection. While Chancellorsville was being fought, Grant was crossing the Mississippi below Vicksburg, so he had not yet developed the campaign that would free the river. In Richmond, then, there was no bad news from the west to offset the euphoria induced by Lee's great triumph. The Confederate capital was full of optimism, even if that feeling was restrained by the universal grief and mourning over the loss of the incomparable Stonewall. Surely now the North must recognize that the Confederacy was an established fact, and that its armies were invincible. But the wretched Yankee hirelings refused to do any such thing. The two armies sat on their opposite sides of the river, and the pickets surreptiously traded coffee for tobacco, sending toy boats back and forth across the stream with their illicit cargoes. Lee reorganized his army; Longstreet came back from the Carolinas, and Richard Ewell, "Old Baldy" to his West Point classmates, got Jackson's old corps; Lee then created a third corps, and gave it to Ambrose Powell Hill, over the heads and the protests of men senior to him. Lee's problems were more in the area of supply than of command structure, and, as was his usual response to difficulties, he soon began to consider how he might best take the offensive. On the Union side, there were plenty of supplies, and plenty of men, but the primary question remained: Who would or could command them? Though he tried to blame it on others, Hooker could hardly hide the fact that he had been whipped by Lee; indeed, the army gen- erally believed that it was Hooker alone who had been defeated. The soldiers knew they had fought well, and that they had been mishandled. Letters home after Chancellorsville are full of remarks about what a waste the campaign had been, and what a shame it was that good men should die so that lesser men might learn their business. Such expressions were not confined to the soldiers, either. Though Lincoln was at first disposed to retain Hooker, largely for lack of a credible alternative, he was soon visited by several of the corps commanders, who told him frankly that Hooker must go. Go he would, if a suitable replacement could be found, but who might that be? Darius Couch told Lincoln that he did not want the job; John Reynolds said he would do it, but only on condition that he be given an absolutely free hand to direct the army as he saw fit. There was a surprising residual fondness for George McClellan, and only a small clique favored Hooker's retention, but Lincoln had had enough of the former, and so for the time being he was stuck with the latter. This condition lasted for several weeks, until late June, when the ominous news came in: Lee was on the move again. The Confederates were faced with several problems, and some opportunities. Grant was now closing in on Vicksburg; in middle Tennessee, Rosecrans outnumbered Bragg almost two to one; and along the seaboard, the Federals were slowly tightening the blockade. General Longstreet, in discussions with Lee, suggested transferring troops from Virginia to Tennessee, and hitting Rosecrans in overwhelming force, which ought to result in dislocation of Union plans all along the line. Lee, however, remained preoccupied with his own theater of operations. He and Hooker faced each other across the Rappahannock still, Hooker now with about 115,000 men. Conscription and high-powered recruiting had brought Lee up to 76,000, the greatest strength he would ever enjoy. Hooker was too strong, and too numerous, to be attacked in his prepared positions. But if Lee were to launch a major offensive, all sorts of vistas opened up. The Army of Northern Virginia was badly in need of supplies, and the territory it held was exhausted by two years of heavy campaigning. Just across the Potomac lay the fat fields of Maryland, and a couple of days' march beyond that, the brimming barns and storehouses of Pennsylvania. An invasion of the Northern states would solve the army's supply difficulties; it would force Hooker out into the open to be fought and of course beaten; it would throw the North into a well-deserved panic, and it might indeed bring the war to a successful, glorious conclusion. It all depended upon achieving a victory, but at this stage, who could doubt that the Confederacy would win? Lee has been criticized for a narrowness of strategic view, but from the perspective of June of 1863, his plan was about as likely to work as Longstreet's idea, and he was more comfortable with it. He began sidling his units off upstream to the northwest. Hooker soon discerned what was in the wind, and he proposed a couple of plans to Washington to upset Lee's intentions, but both were vetoed. He then demanded reinforcements, though he had earlier admitted he had all the troops he could handle. As the campaign began, the Union general and his superiors were thoroughly at odds with each other. Yet Lee did not have it all his own way. He had ordered Stuart's large cavalry division to move out from its bivouacs around Brandy Station on June 10, but the day before, early in the morning of the 9th, General Alfred Pleasanton arrived with the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac, and for a whole day the two sides, each about 10,000 strong, whirled and charged at each other, sabers twinkling and carbines cracking, regiments and squadrons galloping and reforming, until finally the Union horsemen drew off in good order, and Stuart, thoroughly humiliated by his surprise, was left to claim what he could of a victory. Brandy Station was the biggest cavalry battle in American history, though the casualties, 500 Confederate and about 900 Union, suggest how much less deadly a day of cavalry action was than infantry combat. Brandy Station, all agreed, made the Union cavalry at last. More important immediately, it confirmed for Hooker that Lee was now on the move, and heading northwest. So he was, and over the next ten days, the long columns stretched out, Ewell's corps, then Longstreet, then finally Hill moving off as the Federals too began to slide to the north. Up the Rappahannock they went, then over the Blue Ridge and into the beautiful Shenandoah, where the farmwives came out with pails of milk and loaves of bread. At night they lay under the canopies of orchards, men wrapped in their threadbare blankets but comfortable in the June weather. And as they marched, they joked, and sang, and thought of home or, grimmer, how they were going to win this war once and for all. At mid-month, Ewell's corps crossed the Potomac not far from Antietam, and they kept on through Maryland and toward the Pennsylvania line, under strict march discipline now, but eyeing the barns and the fat cows in the fields, stared at by a people who had not yet seen war up close. The North was in a near panic. By the third week of June, Lee's whole army was north of the Potomac, and half of it in Pennsylvania itself, while Hooker's advance was a good thirty miles southeast of Lee's rear guard. The Army of the Potomac was a poor instrument for a stern chase, dragging all its trains and impedimenta, so unless Lee turned east, there was not much hope there. The governors of Pennsylvania and New Jersey and New York called out the militia, who drilled and dug trenches around Harrisburg, and hoped the storm would pass them by; one hesitates to think what Lee's veterans would have done to state militia. Hooker in fact was not doing badly. His army was well concentrated, and he had kept it between Lee and Washington, and by the 27th he had it around Frederick, Maryland, moving north toward Lee. Yet he was not a happy man, and he and Stanton and Halleck and Lincoln were all at odds. He began claiming that he was seriously outnumbered— as if he were possessed by the spirit of George McClellan — and the telegrams back and forth grew increasingly acrimonious. Finally, on the evening of the 27th, Hooker had had enough; he asked to be relieved. The War Department granted his request with practically indecent haste. A special courier was sent to find General George Meade, commander of V Corps. Awakened at three in the morning of the 28th, Meade stumbled out of his tent and asked, "Am I under arrest?" No, was the answer, you are in command of the Army of the Potomac. Few generals who have served as prominently as George Meade have been as neglected by historians. A West Pointer who had spent almost all of his military career as an engineer, Meade had shown himself a steady, reliable performer through all of the Army of the Potomac's learning years, and he had gradually risen to corps level. Nonetheless, he was still relatively junior, and for him to be offered the army command, Couch had to be transferred out, and both John Sedgwick and Henry Slocum, as Meade's seniors, had to agree to serve under him; it says something for his reputation that they agreed to do so. He inherited a thoroughly confused situation, with very little time to get it under control. On the 28th, Lee had his army in Pennsylvania, spread out in a long thin arc from Chambersburg in the west, north and east past Carlisle to York. Ewell was near the latter, and Longstreet and A. P. Hill near and around the former. Meade's army was about thirty miles south of them, around Frederick, Maryland. In the center of the rough circle that all the forces made was a little town called Gettysburg. There was an added complication in all this, however, that vexed both sides. When he moved out, Lee had left Jeb Stuart to cover the rear and confuse the Federals. That job done, Stuart was given loose orders to rejoin Lee as he thought best. Stuart interpreted these as a license to go on another of his wide-ranging jaunts, and thus, as he had in the Peninsula, he rode around the Army of the Potomac. Crossing the Potomac River just above Washington, he rode north between Frederick and Baltimore. In the early stages of his march, he caught a few Federal wagon trains, but beyond that he did nothing much except get Union newspapers excited, and deprive Lee of desperately needed cavalry scouting. He did not rejoin until Lee had stumbled blindly into battle. Meanwhile, as June became July, Lee decided to concentrate his forces around the little village of Cashtown, about halfway between Chambersburg and Gettysburg. Ewell pulled in from the north and east, and A. P. Hill moved his troops to the eastwards. Cashtown offered a good defensive position, and Lee had some thought that he might entice the Federals piecemeal into battle there. He was not sure exactly where they were, but they did not seem to be doing a great deal. On the 30th, some of A. P. Hill's troops moved toward Gettysburg, looking for a supply of shoes reported to be there. They bumped into two brigades of Union cavalry, under the able John Buford. After a sharp little fight, both sides recoiled. Buford went back toward Gettysburg. When the matter was reported to Hill, he, believing there could be no Federal infantry anywhere in the vicinity, ordered the march resumed in the morning. This is the genesis of the oft-quoted remark that Gettysburg was fought over a pair of shoes. Hill was wrong, for Meade, though he was increasingly uncertain what was going on, was in fact keeping his army well together and moving it by stages up to the Pennsylvania line. As Buford fell back, reporting the presence of Confederate infantry and preparing to hold Gettysburg, Reynolds's I Corps, 10,000 of the best infantry in any army, was a mere six miles away, and the rest of the army only half a day's march behind it. Buford had a cavalryman's eye for terrain and position; he had de- cided right away that Gettysburg must be held. The town was a pleasant little place, but its importance derived from the fact that several roads met there, and it was thus in a controlling position. The town itself was dominated by two low ridges, Seminary Ridge, so named for a Lutheran school located on it, to the west, and to the south a feature that looked like a fishhook or a reverse question mark, called Cemetery Ridge. The southern end of this was two isolated knobs, called Round Top and Little Round Top. It then ran north, more a gentle slope than a real ridge, for a couple of miles, before curving east just below the town, and then culminating in another more or less isolated rise called Culp's Hill. Between Seminary and Cemetery ridges, running south from the town, was the Emmitsburg Road, passing a peach orchard and a wheat field about two miles south-southwest of town, and the valley between the two ridges was a half mile to a mile wide. All in all, it was a peaceful spot, full of enchanting vistas, with just enough variation in the landscape to make it interesting, rich, rolling farm country where a man or a woman might live out a quiet and fulfilling life. But on the morning of July 1, 1863, John Buford's troopers were deploying west of the town, past Seminary Ridge, and north of it up the Carlisle Road, getting ready to buy time with their carbines and their lives. Sure enough, about eight, Henry Heth's division of A. P. Hill's corps came marching east along the road, followed by Dorsey Pender's troops. The cavalry spoke up, and Heth's men deployed and started working their way forward. But Buford's men had breechloading weapons, enormously multiplying their firepower, and it took the Confederates two whole hours to push them aside. When they did, they started toward Seminary Ridge, only to see infantry taking up position through the smoke and the trees. Push on, their officers cried, it's only a few militia. But it was not. As they got closer, and the rifles spoke up, the Rebels could see black slouch hats and frock coats: "Militia, hell! That's the Iron Brigade!" It was John Reynolds and I Corps of the Army of the Potomac. These opening hours set the pattern of the battle. For once, for practically the first time in the war, it was the Confederates who reached each successive stage just a few minutes too late. Buford had appealed to Reynolds, and Reynolds to Howard's XI Corps and Sickles's III; so it went, Federal units heading for the sound of the guns, a magnet drawing ever more men into the growing fight. Reynolds's men shored up Buford's, and the fight spread along the north end of Seminary Ridge, and then lapped out the Carlisle Road as Ewell's men came down from the north. As Reynolds rode forward, deploying the 2nd Wisconsin, he was shot from his horse and killed instantly. Command went to his senior divisional officer, Abner Doubleday, and he managed to keep his troops going until the Confederate pressure mounted from the west and the north, and pushed the remains of I Corps, and Howard's XI, back through the town. Grudgingly the bluecoats fell back and up the low rise of Cemetery Ridge. As Ewell rode through the streets of Gettysburg, his aides heard a loud whack! and looked at him in alarm; Ewell quipped, "I'm better off than you; it don't hurt a bit to get shot in a wooden leg!" Union command now devolved upon Howard, he of the infamous right flank at Chancellorsville, and he took up the position on Cemetery Ridge. Both I and XI Corps had already lost half their effectives, and the hill was clogged with men; but the artillery was in good shape, and gradually some order emerged. Then General Hancock appeared; commander of II Corps, he had been sent forward by Meade to take over the field. Howard was his senior, but few men argued with "Hancock the Superb" when his blood was up. He sent the remnants of the Iron Brigade east to hold Culp's Hill, and strengthened the positions around the top of Cemetery Ridge. In late afternoon one more push by Ewell's tired men might still have carried the day and broken the Union lines, but Ewell did not make it. Dusk brought Slocum's XII Corps, then Sickles's III—another 21,000 men—and whatever chance there had been was gone, while in the gathering dark the commanders took stock and the soldiers settled down for what little rest they could get. In spite of its heavy casualties for those units engaged, the first day of Gettysburg was merely a preliminary to the next two, an encounter battle that turned into a sorting out of the battlefield. Over the night further Union units came in, and on the other side, Lee developed his view of how the battle should proceed. The Federal army was occupying the top portion of the fishhook of Cemetery Ridge, and extending down it for some distance. As Hancock's II Corps came up, he posted it south along the shank of the ridge, and then gradually that shank was extended by Sickles's III Corps, with George Sykes's V Corps, formerly Meade's own command, in reserve. The top of the ridge was held by John Newton, who succeeded Reynolds in command of I Corps, then Howard, and then Henry Slocum around Culp's Hill and back down on the east side. As Lee eyed the Union position from his own command post on Seminary Ridge, he decided on a classic approach. Over the next two days he employed essentially the same battle strategy as Marlborough had used at Blenheim, or Napoleon at Austerlitz: concentrate on the enemy's flanks until he had weakened his center by drawing off reserves, and then push right through that center to victory. Unfortunately for Lee, and for the Army of Northern Virginia, he was uncertain exactly what or how much he faced. He had in addition command problems. First of all, he himself was not entirely well, and there is the sense that his hitherto sure touch was a bit off in the Gettysburg operation. Secondly, he was still poorly informed; Stuart did not appear in time to have any real effect on the battle, so Lee fought, as it were, in the dark. Perhaps most important of all, however, was the matter of personalities. Lee's three corps commanders, Longstreet, A. P. Hill, and Ewell, were all able men, and Longstreet at least was an exceptionally competent general, so much so that Lee once referred to him as "my wheel horse." But none of the three enjoyed the synchronicity of mind that Lee and Jackson had had. Lee's command style was a modest one; he preferred suggesting to ordering. With Jackson, who was if anything even more aggressive than Lee, this worked fine. But on the evening of the first day of Gettysburg, for example, Lee suggested Ewell make one more push, and Ewell decided not to do it. Longstreet, able as he was, had more caution in his makeup than either Lee or Jackson; he was often the anvil of the Army of North Virginia; he was a bit less successful as the hammer. Confederate apologists, who would never admit Lee might possibly have made a mistake, would subsequently blame Longstreet for the loss of Gettysburg, and ultimately even the loss of the war, but that ridiculous charge was a matter of post-war politics and fingerpointing. On the morning ofJuly 2, Lee intended to roll up the Federal flanks. Longstreet's corps would attack the southern end of their position, and when he was rolling, Ewell would then come in and crush the northern end. Lee wanted to start the battle early in the morning, but he did not get his orders issued until nearly noon, and then it took the usual while to sort out the troops detailed for the task. When they finally moved, after a couple of wrong turns, their approach march got all tangled up. Longstreet, who had wanted to stand on the defensive and let the Federals attack, was not happy. He tried to maneuver his divisions so they were out of sight of a small Federal signal station on Little Round Top, and with one thing and another, it was midafternoon before his guns opened up and his infantry went into the attack. In one sense, the delay worked to the Confederate advantage, for while they were milling about, the Union commander facing them, Daniel Sickles of III Corps, advanced against orders and took up a position in a salient in the peach orchard along the Emmitsburg Road. He placed his two divisions at virtually right angles, one facing south, the other west, and it was this angle that Longstreet's gunners hit when they opened up. Behind the flood of shot and shells came the Rebel infantry, John Bell Hood's Texans and Lafayette McLaws's Alabamians and Mississippians. Sickles's people, men who deserved a far better general than they had, fought hard but were utterly swept away, the entire corps ultimately destroyed. Hearing the roar of the battle, Meade moved south along the ridge to see what was going on. Appalled at Sickles's position, but realizing it was too late to do anything about it, he began feeding Sykes's corps in to save the line. Sedgwick and VI Corps were just arriving, after a thirty-five-mile march, and these too were hustled along. But Hood's men were already climbing the slopes of the Little Round Top, and if they got there, they would flank the entire Union line. On top of the rise was only that little signal station, and one man, Gouverneur K. Warren, chief engineer of the Army of the Potomac. Though Warren had no command status, he quickly saw what was necessary, and sent for help. The help was two of Sykes's brigades, and most immediately, Colonel Joshua Chamberlain and the 20th Maine. The Yankees won the race to the top by a few yards, just enough to throw together a firing line. Hood's men came on again and again, until, out of ammunition, Chamberlain ordered his men to fix bayonets. At the climactic moment, his thin line leaped up, yelling like madmen, and charged down the hill, springing from rock to rock, and driving the exhausted Rebels before them, saving the position and the day. With the careful feeding in of reserves, Longstreet's attack was contained and finally sputtered out, leaving behind it a vast field of misery. On the northern end of the battle, Ewell had opened his attack when he heard Longstreet's guns, but in spite of several gallant attempts, he could not break the Union position there, and though Jubal Early's soldiers actually reached the top of Culp's Hill, they were quickly driven off. The day thus ended with the Union forces everywhere, at great cost, holding their positions. During the night both commanders sought counsel as to what to do next. On the Federal side, the decision was to stay and fight it out, or at least to stand on the defensive and see what Lee might do. For the Confederates, the problem was a bit more complicated. Longstreet wanted to maneuver around the Federal left flank, and force them into the open and retreat. But Lee believed he was low on supplies, and wanted to finish off the job at hand. His view was that he had hit the left and the right, he knew he had used up Federal reserves, and therefore the center must be weak. He decided that Longstreet should coordinate a grand attack that would punch right through the Union position. Meanwhile, Stuart, arrived and under command at last, would maneuver far out around the Union right, ready to launch a pursuit once the Federals were broken and driven. The 3rd was another beautiful, sunny, very hot summer day. All morning, while the sun climbed slowly in the sky, Longstreet marshaled his guns, 159 of them, along Seminary Ridge pointing east across the gentle valley. All morning long the Confederate brigades mustered and marched, men with tattered uniforms but bright records and even braver histories: George Pickett's Virginia division, with Kemper's, Garnett's, and Armistead's brigades, and Anderson's and Heth's divisions of Hill's corps, men of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and North Carolina. Ironically, though the event has gone down in history as "Pickett's Charge," most of the men were not his and he did not in fact lead it; he formed the attacking units on Seminary Ridge, and led down into the valley, but his brigadiers, properly, were the ones to take it from there. While all this was going on, and the Federal forces on Cemetery Ridge were adjusting and forming up their lines, Ewell tried again, and failed, to take Culp's Hill, in a fierce attack that has been overshadowed by the events elsewhere. But by noon the armies were ready and waiting, and a curious hiatus came over the field. General John Gibbon, succeeding temporarily to II Corps command when Hancock was busy elsewhere, even had a little picnic with some of his officers, just at the point Longstreet had designated for the axis of the attack. The Confederate guns opened up at one o'clock, with a tremendous crash, and for an hour they bombarded the Union lines, not very effectively, as much of their fire went over the ridge without doing any real damage to the troops in the front line. Nonetheless, it was an incredible noise, and unnerving enough to the recipients. The Union artillery replied with spirit, but after three quarters of an hour stopped to conserve ammunition and let the guns cool. By two, the Confederates were running low on ammunition themselves, and if the charge were to be launched, it had better be soon. Longstreet, despairing, gave the order. Colonel Freemantle, the British observer, remarked that he would not miss the sight for the world, and Longstreet answered, "I would like to have missed it very much!" By brigades they came out of the trees and through the gun line, Pickett's men on the right, Anderson's on the left, row after row, brass and steel twinkling in the sun, the Rebel battle flags flapping bravely in the breeze. Some of the Virginians, relatively new to war, even had their bands there, to play them in. Down the little slope, while Longstreet watched, sick at heart. Pickett rode by, jauntily, Garnett buttoned up in his old overcoat, just out of hospital and too ill to march. In the open they paused to dress ranks and pick up their bearing, Archer's brigade providing the guide, its aiming point a clump of trees visible on Cemetery Ridge. The whole battlefield paused to watch; this was what war was supposed to be all about, and men would carry the proud memory of that scene with them for the rest of their lives. At last they were all ready; the words of command rang out, and off they went. It was only a few hundred yards, farther for the right-hand regiments than for the left. Down the slope and across the Emmitsburg Road, losing alignment as they bunched or straggled to cross the road and the fences. The Union artillery spoke up, and the shells burst over them, and the lines thinned and wavered, and dressed again, and came on, leaving little trails of gray and red behind them. As they came up the other rise, the guns changed to canister and blew large holes in the ranks. The Rebels began to shake, and then to break into a run, screaming the Rebel yell as they came. But they were aiming not at a weakened Federal center, but rather at Hancock's II Corps, some of the toughest soldiers in the entire army. The 8th Ohio lapped out around the Rebel left flank and poured in sweeping volleys, and three big Vermont regiments did the same from the Bloody Angle on their other side. Men went down in heaps; some started back. But the majority came on, and as the Union guns fell silent they hit the infantry line, where Webb's Pennsylvanians stood up to meet them with bayonets and rifle butts; Alonzo Cushing died as his battery fired its last shot in the faces of the charging Rebels and the whole dissolved into a huge welter of cursing and dying men. For a moment it looked as if the charge might actually succeed, but only for a moment. Armistead, the leading brigadier, put his hat on his sword point, shouted "Boys, give 'em cold steel!" leaped a stone wall, and fell mortally wounded. A few hundred Confederates followed him, but they were hit in front by the Pennsylvanians, and on both flanks by Webb's supports, and it was just too much to ask of any soldiers. Sullenly they went back, pounded front and flank, until, from across the valley, the repulse was obvious. It was the crisis of the battle, and Meade and his men had won it. The broken regiments came straggling back up Seminary Ridge, men wounded and dragging comrades, weeping and exhausted, and Robert E. Lee rode out among them and said that it was all his fault. Away out to the north, Stuart won his cavalry fight, but that made no difference; the battle of Gettysburg had been won and lost on Cemetery Ridge. More than 160,000 men had been engaged in the three days' fighting, 75,000 Confederates and 88,000 Federals, and Lee had casualties of 28,000 and Meade of 23,000. At last the Union had found a general who would at least try to utilize all the troops he had. But it still had not found one who would launch a relentless pursuit. On the 4th, Lee remained in position, inviting an attack which the Federals were too exhausted to make. It began to rain late in the afternoon, a hard soaking downpour, and under cover of it, Lee pulled out and headed back to Virginia. He might have been trapped against a flooded Potomac, but Meade let him go. Ten days after the battle, the great invasion of the North was over.

 

 

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