Lee was up and at breakfast before daylight on July 2, and soon he had his officers scurrying off to make reconnaissance for the attack. Captain Samuel R. Johnston of the Engineers was sent at 4 o'clock to examine the ground over which the assault was to be made.1 Colonel Long and General Pendleton were directed to see that the artillery was well placed.2
Then Lee rode out to a post of observation on Seminary Ridge to answer for himself the question on which the probability of defeat or success hung — the question of how heavily the Federals had reinforced their troops on Cemetery Ridge during the night.
Eagerly Lee put his glasses to his eyes and studied in the growing light the long hillside in front of him. He could not have asked for a better prospect than that which greeted him. The Federals were still on Cemetery Hill, but so far as he could see, nearly all the ridge south of the hill was bare! The two corps that had been defeated the previous afternoon had not yet been strengthened. Ewell had intercepted a message during the night showing that Sykes's V Corps had been •four miles east of Gettysburg at 12:30 A.M. and was to march at 4 o'clock. As this dispatch had been addressed to Major General H. W. Slocum, commanding the XII Corps, it was to be assumed that Slocum's men were close at hand also.3 But neither corps was up yet — and if Longstreet was ready to attack, the ridge could be taken and the remnant of the I and XI Corps destroyed.
Lee turned and looked for Longstreet's veterans, who, by this time, should be shaping their gray lines along the slope from p87 which they were to advance. But they were not there, not a man of them. Although their commander had been ordered the previous afternoon to hasten his march, when one division was then only •about six miles away,4 there was not a sign of the approach of the leading brigade.
Was the opportunity to be lost because of Longstreet's slowness? Would the V and XII Corps reach Cemetery Ridge before McLaws and Hood arrived opposite them? What could be done? Could Ewell attack meantime, and if not, would it be wise to revert to the plan formulated and rejected the previous day, and to bring the Second Corps to the right, in case Longstreet delayed so long that the full strength of the army would be required to drive from the heights the Federals who would soon occupy them? Feeling that the golden minutes were slipping through his fingers, Lee hurried Major Venable off to Ewell to inquire what his prospects were, and to tell him that the question was whether all the troops should be transferred to the right.5
Soon after Venable had ridden off, General Longstreet arrived on the ridge.6 The head of his column was not far behind, but the start had been most leisurely and the two divisions were spread out for a long distance on the Chambersburg road. Longstreet not only was late but was in a bad humor besides. As soon as he saw that the Federals were still in position on Cemetery Hill, he renewed his argument for a turning movement to get between the enemy and Washington. The fact that Lee had informed him the previous afternoon of his intention to attack Cemetery Ridge did not deter him from again insisting that his own plan was better.7 Lee listened courteously, but continued unshaken in his belief that a battle had become in a measure inevitable, and p88 that an instant offensive might yield so decisive a victory as to justify the risks.8
As Longstreet argued and Lee waited for the arrival of McLaws and Hood, Federal reinforcements began to file into position on Cemetery Ridge. Minute by minute their strength increased until it soon was apparent that instead of occupying the ridge without resistance, Lee had to reshape his plans so as to take it in the face of the enemy's opposition, and with the least interference from Cemetery Hill. As he studied the terrain, he observed that there were two excellent positions on the Emmitsburg road, which ran for part of its length on high ground between the two main ridges. One of these positions was directly west of Round Top and the other at a peach orchard on the farm of J. Want. Lee reasoned that if he extended his right until he was opposite Round Top, he would get beyond the Federal left. Then, by advancing up the Emmitsburg road, he could seize the peach orchard, plant his artillery there and cover an attack on that section of the ridge occupied by the foe. In this way he would be able to escape an enfilade from the guns on Cemetery Hill for much of the distance of advance. If his move up the ridge did not drive the Federals from that position, he might have to make a frontal attack on the upper end of the ridge. This might be subject to enfilade from the hill, but if, meantime, he was astride the lower end of the ridge he would have an enfilade of his own against the left flank of the Federals who were opposing a direct attack from Seminary Ridge. If Ewell could advance and seize Cemetery Hill, he could stop all Federal flank fire.
To ponder this plan, Lee left Longstreet and walked alone among the trees. As he paced back and forth, engrossed in his thoughts, still more Federals arrived on Cemetery Ridge and disappeared behind the fences that covered its sides. More eyes and more field glasses were fixed on them now, for numbers of Lee's officers were coming up to report. Hill was there. So was Heth, his head bound up from a wound received the previous day. The foreign observers were intent witnesses. Two of them were perched in a tree, studying the Federal position.9 Soon General Hood arrived, ahead of his troops, and sought out Lee. p89 "The enemy is here," Lee told him, "and if we do not whip him, he will whip us." Hood interpreted this to mean that Lee was anxious to attack forthwith, but Longstreet, who must have overheard the remark, hastened to say privately to Hood, "The General is a little nervous this morning; he wishes me to attack; I do not wish to do so without Pickett. I never like to go into battle with one boot off."10 This was an admission that Longstreet, in the face of Lee's known wishes, desired to delay the action indefinitely, for there was no certainty concerning the hour of Pickett's arrival.
At length, when General McLaws rode up to report his column nearby, Lee sent for him and explained his tactical plan of extending the Confederate right across the Emmitsburg road, beyond the Federal left flank so that he could sweep up the ridge. "General," he said, "I wish you to place your division across this road," indicating the place on the map, and then pointing to it across open country. "And I wish you to get there if possible without being seen by the enemy. Can you do it?"
"I know of nothing to prevent me," said McLaws, "but I will take a party of skirmishers and go in advance and reconnoitre."
"Major Johnston of my staff," Lee continued, "has been ordered to reconnoitre the ground, and I expect he is about ready."
"I will go with him," McLaws said.
Longstreet, who had been stalking up and down, came up at this juncture and broke in, "No, sir," he said to General McLaws, "I do not wish you to leave your division." Pointing to the map, he said, "I wish your division placed so." He apparently thought Lee intended a frontal assault on Cemetery Ridge, for he indicated a line in a direction perpendicular to that Lee had traced.
"No, General," said Lee, quietly, "I wish it placed just opposite."
McLaws noticed that Longstreet was "irritated and annoyed," but he did not presume to ask the reason. Instead, he repeated his request to reconnoitre with Johnston. Longstreet peremptorily refused. Lee said nothing further, and McLaws, somewhat bewildered, went off to put his division temporarily under cover.11
What was Lee to do in the face of such temper and antagonism? p90 Had he been Jackson, he would of course have relieved Longstreet of command without further ado and would himself have directed the operations of the First Corps. But that was not Lee's method of dealing with his lieutenants. Never in his whole career did he order a general officer under arrest. It was his practice to make the best of their shortcomings, to reason with them when possible, and to appeal to their better impulses. In this instance, if he felt any resentment, he did not show it. Instead, he assumed that Longstreet would do his duty. He simply ignored the insubordination. And, indeed, had he been stirred by any other impulse, what could he have done with a battle imminent? He had no one to replace Longstreet. Already two of his three corps were under new commanders. Had Longstreet been relieved, the First Corps would have passed under the control of General McLaws, whose lack of dash at Salem Church was a warning of what might be expected if heavier responsibilities were placed on him. Costly as were Longstreet's delay and stubborn self-opinion, it was better to shove him into battle, knowing that he would fight well when actually engaged, than to risk the lives of 15,000 good troops under a less capable leader.
Lee's handling of an awkward situation seemed justified by the immediate reaction. Soon after the colloquy, Colonel Alexander came up and reported that the artillery of the First Corps was arriving on Seminary Ridge. Longstreet at once gave him instructions, in Lee's hearing, to place the batteries where Lee wished them stationed.12
In the expectation that Longstreet would recover his balance and dispose his troops for an immediate attack, Lee now left him and rode over toward Gettysburg to see the situation on Ewell's front. Captain Justus Scheibert, the Prussian observer, who had been with Lee at Chancellorsville and had noticed his quiet demeanor on that field, remarked after the war that "in the days at Gettysburg, this quiet self-possessed calmness was wanting." Lee, he said, "was not at his ease, but was riding to and fro, frequently changing his position, making anxious inquiries here and there, and looking careworn."13 Longstreet also insisted that Lee "lost the matchless equipoise that usually characterized p91 him."14 There were those who disputed this and maintain that Lee was "never quicker in his perception or clearer in his judgment."15 But if there was any relaxation in Lee's self-mastery, who could have wondered greatly at it in the remembrance of what he had encountered in the way of obstinacy, tardiness, and irresolution since he had reached Gettysburg? Something was amiss with the reorganized army, especially with the corps command, the most important part of the whole military mechanism.
It must have been about 9 o'clock when Lee reached Ewell's headquarters in the outskirts of Gettysburg.16 He found that Ewell was out reconnoitring his front with Colonel Venable, whom Lee had sent to him earlier in the morning. General Trimble was at hand, however — for he had not executed his threat to quit Ewell — and when Lee asked to be taken to some point from which he could get a good view of the enemy's position, Trimble conducted him to the cupola of the almshouse. Thence, as he looked, Lee could see that the Federals on Cemetery Hill had improved their ground greatly during the night. "The enemy have the advantage of us in a short and inside line," he said to Trimble, "and we are too much extended. We did not or could not pursue our advantage of yesterday and now the enemy are in a good position."
Descending from his lookout, he soon met Ewell and repeated to him what he had said to Trimble. As he encountered other officers, his language was the same. Trimble noticed how Lee kept repeating the words, "we did not or could not pursue our advantage." It seemed to Trimble that Lee was expressing in this manner his regret that his first plan of crushing the advanced guard of the enemy had not been executed. More probably this was Lee's diplomatic manner of suggesting that, though the Second Corps had failed to do all that it might have done on the 1st, it must not fail in decision and co-ordination now.17
p92 Lee found no change in Ewell's position, except that Johnson's division was in line of battle far to the left, opposite Culp's Hill. Nothing had happened to better the prospects of an attack on the left.18 Colonel Long, who came to Ewell's post in a short time, after having made a careful survey of the artillery positions from the centre to the left, had discovered no opening.
Lee was hoping that Longstreet would soon open the attack, and as the minutes passed in silence all along the front,19 he began to get restless. After a time he reiterated his orders to Ewell: The Second Corps was to make a demonstration when Longstreet attacked and was to assume the offensive if it found an opportunity.20 Then, visibly chafing at Longstreet's continued delay in advancing, he started back with Long toward the centre, in order to make a closer reconnaissance of Cemetery Ridge. When he reached a point where he could get something of a view of the high ground, he found that the enemy was rapidly strengthening his position, and that the chances of a successful attack were fast slipping away. "What can detain Longstreet!" he exclaimed toward 10 o'clock. "He ought to be in position now."21
As Lee rode on toward Seminary Ridge he came to one of the gun positions of Colonel R. Lindsay Walker, chief of artillery of the Third Corps. Observing Major W. T. Poague with Walker, he reprimanded him sharply for not hurrying with his batteries to the right. When Poague explained that he was attached to the Third Corps, not to the First, Lee apologized and asked eagerly, "Do you know where General Longstreet is?" Walker replied that he thought he knew where Longstreet was and offered to guide Lee. "As we rode together," Walker has recorded, "General Lee manifested more impatience than I ever saw him exhibit on any other occasion; seemed very much disappointed and worried that the attack had not opened earlier, and very anxious for Longstreet to attack at the very earliest possible moment. He even, for a little while, placed himself at the head of one of the brigades to hurry the column forward."22
p93 When Lee at last located Longstreet it was 11 o'clock or later.23 One glance was enough to show Lee he had been disappointed in his expectation that Longstreet would act to carry out his wishes. The commander of the First Corps had done nothing except to dispose his artillery and to deploy McLaws's division closer at hand.24 Although most of Longstreet's troops, by his order, had delayed their start until after sunrise, their march had been only •four or five miles, and the last of them had now been at hand, or close in rear, for more than three hours. During all that time the Federals had been visibly increasing in number on Cemetery Ridge. And Longstreet had been content to wait in the face of the known wishes of the commanding general that he attack as early as practicable! It was incredible but it was the fact, and it left Lee no alternative to ordering the attack it was manifest Longstreet was endeavoring to delay. Lee therefore told Longstreet in plain terms what he wanted him to do and directed him to move against the enemy with the troops he then had on the field.25
Still assuming, despite the delay, that his positive orders would be carried out, Lee did not wait to see them executed, but rode off again to make a further reconnaissance, this time on the right, where a small Federal column was reported to be holding a position in the woods near Anderson's front.26 Soon, however, he met General Pendleton and learned that the enemy had been driven out by Wilcox's brigade, which had extended its front and was ready to co-operate in the attack Longstreet was to make.27 By this time, noon had passed. Still seeing nothing of Longstreet's p94 deployment, Lee turned his horse's head once more and sought Longstreet out. He found that the columns had at last begun to move to the right. The reason for this further delay, it developed, was that although Lee had specifically ordered Longstreet to move with the troops then on the field, that officer had seen fit to wait about forty minutes for Law's brigade to come up.28
Longstreet's mood now changed: he was determined to carry out orders literally and thereby to put on the commanding general all the responsibility for the failure he anticipated. At the outset, when the march commenced, he remembered that Lee had told him Captain Johnston was to conduct the column to the right, by a route which he had reconnoitred. If Johnston was to do it, let him do it! "As I was relieved for the time from the march," Longstreet later wrote, unabashed, "I rode near the middle of the line."29 Captain Johnston had received no orders from Longstreet and, of course, had been given none by Lee after he had been placed at the disposal of Longstreet. He only knew that he was expected to conduct the column by a concealed route, if possible, to the positions he had reconnoitred early in the morning. He set out, quite unconscious that the commander of the First Corps had temporarily delegated to him the leading of the troops who were to open the decisive attack in what might be the most important battle of the war.30
Lee rode with Longstreet, as he often did when he wished to hurry him along. The afternoon was now at its hottest, and the soldiers were suffering for lack of water,31 but now, as always, they wound their way cheerfully along the by-ways and over the fields. It was not theirs to know — such are the crimes of war — that some hundreds of them were to be slain needlessly before the fiery sun had set, because the pique of one man had thrown away the advantage that an early assault would have given them p95 in wrestling with an adversary who was crowding the unseen ridge with his brigades. As they tramped along, an officer came up from the right and reported to Lee that the enemy was moving troops toward Round Top, the great natural bastion on the left of the Federal line. From the nearest high ground, Lee focussed his glasses on that eminence, but soon lowered them. It was true, as reported: The enemy was extending his left. "Ah, well," said Lee, "that was to be expected. But General Meade might as well have saved himself the trouble, for we'll have it in our possession before night."32 The record of the army seemed to justify words that otherwise would have been boastful.
About half-way down the front, at the lane leading into the farm of E. Pitzer, General Lee turned his horse to the left and bade farewell to Longstreet, into whose unwilling hands he committed the opening attack. Riding along the lane and through the woods, he joined Hill on the eastern edge of Seminary Ridge, opposite the Codori house.33 Thence, north and south, he could survey the Federal position. Save for the dispute of skirmishers and the occasional crack of a sharpshooter's rifle, it was, at first glance, as calm a scene as ever had met the gaze of a phlegmatic farmer who had paused on the hill to rest a complaining plough horse. But the landscape took on a sinister cast when field glasses searched it. There in Gettysburg, •a mile and a half to the left, Rodes's division was waiting. Along the ridge, the blue of Federal uniforms blended into the green of the foliage, and the yawning barrel of many a fieldpiece could be seen in the shade. Behind the stone fences was a constant stirring, vague but ominous. Directly south of Lee's position, the peach orchard was now crowded with something else besides trees. Still farther to the south, shimmering in the heat that radiated from jutting boulders, were the wooded heights of Round Top, still apparently deserted, in spite of the report that the Federals were occupying it. To the left of that eminence was Little Round Top, where the Federal signal station was working busily. How far the infantry line extended toward these towering positions, it was impossible to discern, but the occupied front was long and bristling — a very p96 different sight from what it had been when Lee had observed it at dawn.
LITTLE ROUND TOP AFTER THE CONFEDERATE ATTACK OF July 3, 1863
It was 2 o'clock when McLaws's troops filed past Wilcox's brigade on the right of R. H. Anderson's division of the Third Corps.34 Soon Longstreet's men would be in position south of Hill, outflanking the extreme left of the Federal line, as Lee hoped. Then they were to attack astride the Emmitsburg road. If their advance reached a point opposite Anderson's division, without driving the Federals, Hill understood that he was to attack frontally. As the battle swept northward on Hill's front, Ewell was to await a favorable opportunity and, if he found it, was to storm the sides of Cemetery Hill. It was a difficult plan, and of such doubtful issue that there was small wonder that Lee's face took on "an expression of painful anxiety."35
As Lee waited, Heth came up, to bear his commander company in the hour of contest;36 Long remained at hand; Hill did not leave; the ubiquitous Colonel Fremantle was watching vigilantly, lest he lose a single scene of the pageant he had crossed the ocean to observe. Now Lee would watch Round Top through his glasses; now he would chat with Long or with Hill; but most of the time he sat alone on a stump, waiting and waiting for Longstreet to send his infantry forward. Soon the artillery opened, along a wide front, like the drums of a stirring overture to an opera that told of the struggle of demigods and heroes, and then, as if to remind the angry deities that human love and mortals' hope were stakes in the coming combat, a band in Rodes's division, from a ravine on the left, began to play lively polkas and waltzes.37
But the drama did not open immediately. Some of the performers had been delayed once more in reaching the stage. When the head of the First Corps was within •a mile and a half of the ground where Hood's division finally deployed, Captain Johnston notified Longstreet that if the troops continued along the road, they would pass over the crest of a hill where their presence would be disclosed to the enemy. At the same time, Johnston pointed out a shorter, concealed route across a nearby field. But p97 Longstreet insisted that Johnston go on. When the head of the column reached the top of the hill, whence the signal station on Little Round Top could be seen, Longstreet halted it and, after a conference with General McLaws, decided to countermarch and seek a better route. Hood, however, was so close on McLaws's rear that the two divisions overlapped and became confused when the attempt was made to retrace their steps. Much time was lost while Hood went on by one route and McLaws by another. Longstreet subsequently explained this curious incident by saying that he did not feel at liberty to interfere with McLaws's advance, as Lee had told him Johnston was to lead that column, but he considered himself free to move Hood, of whom Lee had said nothing.38
As the column approached its destination, Longstreet asked McLaws how he proposed to attack. McLaws replied that this would depend on what he found when he reached his position. "There is nothing in your front," Longstreet answered. "You will be entirely on the flank of the enemy." But no sooner was McLaws in sight of the ridge, about 3:30 o'clock, than he perceived that the Federal line extended far beyond his right.39 It was manifest then that in all the time that had elapsed after Lee had signified his intention of attacking on the right, Longstreet had done nothing to verify the reconnaissance made early in the morning. Because of the lack of information, the Confederate right had to be extended still farther, and Hood had to be deployed beyond McLaws with his right flank directly opposite Round Top. All the while, Longstreet's apathy was so pronounced that even his own adjutant general subsequently confessed it.40
Soon Hood learned from scouts sent out by Law that he could p98 work his way around the southern end of Round Top and take it in flank and rear.41 Law insisted that this would be a far less costly line of advance than up the Emmitsburg road, as Lee's orders contemplated. Hood agreed and sent back a messenger to acquaint Longstreet with the facts and to ask permission to turn Round Top. But Longstreet's strange mood hung over him. Willing as he had been during the morning to delay all action, in the hope of forcing Lee to adopt his strategy, he was stubborn now in adhering to the absolute letter of his instructions. Quickly he sent word back to Hood: "General Lee's orders are to attack up the Emmitsburg road." Right or wrong, it was Lee's battle, not his, and he did not propose to modify the commanding general's plan, no matter how the situation had changed. Again Hood asked permission to flank Round Top and to avoid a costly struggle on its stony sides. Again Longstreet refused in the same words. A third time Hood besought him to permit the easier move; a third time Longstreet refused and sent one of his staff officers to repeat Lee's orders.42 "If [Lee] had been with us," Longstreet wrote, thirty years later, "General Hood's messengers could have been referred to general headquarters, but to delay and send messengers •five miles in favor of a move that he had rejected would have been contumacious."43 He had forgotten, apparently, when he wrote, that he had left Lee opposite the Pitzer house, and that Lee was then •less than two miles off, easily available.
Of all this, of course, Lee knew nothing. During the whole afternoon, he received only one message and sent only one.44 He had no intimation of the difficulties Longstreet had encountered on the march or of the situation that Hood had found on the flank. His first assurance that the troops were in position came about 4 o'clock when Hood's right brigade, that of Law, went p99 forward under a floating cloud of smoke.45 The troops were so far off that even with his glasses Lee probably could see little of their movements, though the speedy outburst of firing from the vicinity of Round Top showed that the Confederate right was clambering over the rocky shoulder of that eminence. The advance was difficult, but progress was steady.46 Soon, on the left of Law, Robertson's brigade became heavily engaged. As it pushed toward the rocky position known as Devil's Den, north of Round Top, G. T. Anderson and Benning threw the remaining units of the division in support. But instead of moving up the Emmitsburg road, with their right flank on the ridge, as Lee had hoped, Hood's men were forced to fight their way directly toward the ridge and, where they could mount it, to turn to the left. It was desperate going, and the volume and direction of the fire showed they were encountering the stiffest resistance.47
By this time, from the northeast, there swelled the roar of Ewell's artillery. Evidently he had heard Longstreet's guns and was making the demonstration required by his orders; but of the effect of his cannonade Lee could tell nothing. No infantry fire was audible from that direction.48 On Lee's right, however, the battle was now drawing closer to him and was partially visible through the smoke. About 5:30 McLaws's right brigade, under Kershaw, advanced skillfully against a very difficult position in its front. Behind him Semmes's brigade moved quickly. Then, on McLaws's left, Barksdale's Mississippians followed their leader across the field, his white hair streaming in the afternoon sun. Their charge was against the peach orchard, and their advance was made with a dash and precision that won the praise of soldiers who had witnessed some of the most desperate assaults of the war. Directly before them was a strong picket fence, the crossing of which was expected to cause the Mississippi troops much trouble, but the impact of their charge broke down p100 the fence in an instant, and they were soon beyond it, working havoc among the red-breeched zouaves who had defend it.49 A few minutes more and nearly everywhere Longstreet's men were gaining ground. Law's troops were over the shoulder of Round Top, fighting like demons around the foot of Little Round Top. Devil's Den was taken; Robertson and G. T. Anderson were hammering by the side of Law's weary Alabama soldiers. Back of the Rose house, •half a mile northwest of Devil's Den, the resistance of the Federals was stubborn, and the Confederate line had not advanced more than •about a quarter of a mile east of the Emmitsburg road. At the peach orchard, Barksdale's men were in a fair way of driving the Federals out, despite heavy reinforcements and a wicked artillery fire.
If the advantage was to be pursued, Hill must now take up the fight. As the general direction of the Emmitsburg road is from the southwest to northeast, Hill's right division, that of R. H. Anderson, would have to cover a much greater distance than had been traversed by McLaws's division in reaching the road. The ground, moreover, was cleared and exposed to a sweeping artillery fire. On the highway, opposite Anderson, the Federals had an infantry force and some guns. East of the road, the ground dipped to a little ravine and then rose to Cemetery Ridge.50 The whole stretch from Anderson's position to the opposite ridge was •1400 yards — all of it directly under Lee's eyes. But Anderson's four brigades were chafing at the delay and ready for the attempt, though the afternoon sun was waning fast and the hour was now past 6. At the word of command, the soldiers with whom Wilcox had so gallantly held the line at Salem Church two months before, sprang to the charge, followed quickly on their left by Perry's brigade. They brushed aside the skirmish line; they reached the road; in a quick exchange of volleys, they drove the Federals back. Then down the slope they dashed to the ravine and, under a steadily increasing fire, began to mount the heights, only to be met by a new Federal line, advancing to meet them. Here, for nearly half an hour, Wilcox's men met charge after charge, though separated on their right from McLaws.51 Perry's men, on Wilcox's left, fought with p101 equal valor. Neither had any support, as Anderson's division had been deployed in a single line.52
While these two brigades of Hill's corps were fighting to hold their ground east of the Emmitsburg road, Wright's Georgians moved forward on the left of Perry. Before he reached the road, which was defended by a small Federal force. Wright observed that Posey's brigade, which was to cover his left, was not advancing. He halted his men and sent back word to Anderson, who assured him that Posey would follow. Wright thereupon ordered the advance to continue. His troops hurled back the Federals in the road, crashed through their main line, captured a number of guns, and then almost without a pause, dashed up the ridge. While Lee looked on with admiring eye, they reached the crest and found themselves among the Federals' massed artillery. Firing fast, they forced the Federals from the high ground, which was narrow at this point, and drove them down into the gorge to the east. The grip of the Federals on the ridge was now broken. If Wright could get support enough to extend the position he had so gallantly captured, the day would be won!
It was not to be. Perry's brigade had given ground on the right; on the left, Posey had not succeeded in reaching the road.53 Soon Wright found the Federals massing heavily for a counterattack, and he had to make his way back from the ridge as best he could, with heavy losses. Wilcox was forced to retire about the same time. The valor of the attacking brigades had been above reproach, but the divisional command had been negligent, orders had been confused, and Mahone's brigade had not stirred.54
Had Ewell been able to achieve more? Lee had heard nothing from him during the afternoon. The artillery fire from that quarter had diminished after 6 o'clock, and in the din of the action it had been impossible to tell whether the infantry of the Second Corps had been engaged. Just before darkness fell on the field, Rodes's men deployed west of Gettysburg and moved to the p102 southeast, but they halted and ere long withdrew. Lee did not know that this was the last phase of a tragedy in faulty co-ordination. At 6 o'clock, when the Confederate artillery had been almost silenced by the overpowering Union guns, Ewell had ordered Johnson's division forward against Culp's Hill. The sun set before the troops began to climb the steep incline from the crest of which the Federals awaited their attack, but Johnson's advance was steady, despite the tangle on the hillside. As Johnson fought his way upward, Early threw two brigades into action against East Cemetery Hill. Their attack was furious and as the distance they had to cover was short, they were soon within the Federal lines. But here, as with Wilcox and Wright, when they looked about for support, Early's men found none. Rodes's division, which was expected to join in the attack, moving on the right of Early, had been slow in deploying and had more ground to cover. Once the column was stopped while a report was sent to the division commander. Rodes himself was concerned because he had no assurance of support on his right. When at length he was in position to attack, Early was giving ground. The whole of the three days' battle produced no more tragic might-have‑been than the twilight engagement on the Confederate left. For Early's right regiment had been within •400 feet of the flank of the Federal batteries commanding the approaches to the hill from Rodes's right. Had Rodes's 5000 men been at hand to support Early for even an hour, the Federal guns could have been captured and turned on the enemy. Cemetery Hill would have been cleared, and the ridge to the south could have been so enfiladed that the Federals would have been compelled to evacuate it. As it was, Early's men fell back in bitterness of heart; Rodes took an intermediate position. On the whole left wing of the army Steuart's brigade of Johnson's division alone held the position it had stormed, and that command occupied only some rude trenches that had been abandoned by the enemy.55
Approximate positions of the infantry divisions of the Army of Northern Virginia, 8 A.M. and 9 P. M., July 2, 1863. Johnson's evening position, except for that of Steuart's brigade, is not certain. Hood's division had advanced farther but withdrew during the evening to the indicated front.
p103 It was now night, sultry and oppressive,56 and the moon had risen above the grim ridge the Confederates had attacked.57 The skirmishers kept up an intermittent fire, but the hot guns of the weary artillerists were silent at last. The dead and wounded covered the ground, many of them where burial or succor could not be given. The casualties among the general officers had been high. Hood had been wounded in the arm,58 Pender had been very seriously injured by a shell and was doomed to die.59 Barksdale had been killed in the brilliant charge of his brigade; Semmes had received mortal hurt; Colonel Isaac C. Avery, who had been leading Hoke's brigade of Early's division, had been killed; J. M. Jones and G. T. Anderson had received lesser wounds.60 On Cemetery Ridge the Federals believed that Longstreet himself had been slain and that his body was within their lines.61
"The whole affair," Colonel Walter Taylor wrote subsequently, "was disjointed. There was an utter absence of accord in the movements of the several commands."62 It was a failure, yet not altogether a failure, and not a failure that reflected on the valor of the men in the ranks. They, at least, had done their full part, however much their leaders had erred. In the face of the most stubborn resistance the Army of the Potomac as a whole had ever offered, Hood's men had achieved the seemingly impossible in taking Devil's Den and in threatening Little Round Top, Wright and Wilcox had reached the main Federal positions, and Early had been within sight of victory.
Troops that had achieved this much, despite Longstreet's delay and Ewell's failure to co-ordinate his attacks, could be counted on to do still more if the whole strength of the army could be employed the next day. Lee's confidence in his men, at the end p104 of the second day, was as great as it had ever been. Then, too, favorable ground had been gained. The right seemed well anchored. Steuart's gains on the left might be enlarged. Above p105 all, the peach orchard was in Southern hands, and, as Lee saw it, could be utilized to cover an assault on the position that Wright had shown was not impregnable.63
Enough troops were at hand for a supreme effort on the morning of the 3d. Pickett's division had arrived within striking distance during the afternoon and its commander had been told by Lee to rest his men for the morrow.64 Johnson's division was comparatively fresh; so was Pender's; Smith's brigade of Early's division, and Mahone and Posey of the Third Corps had not suffered heavily.65 Imboden's cavalry was in support. And Stuart, the wandering, much-missed Stuart, whose absence had caused so much embarrassment, had arrived on the left, with two of his brigades, before sunset.66 Two more brigades of cavalry would be up before daybreak. Jenkins, also, would be available again. The casualties of July 1 and 2 would thus be made good, temporarily, by reinforcements.
For these reasons — because the morale of the army was still superb, because much ground had been taken, because admirable artillery positions had been won, and because reinforcements had arrived — Lee determined to renew the battle on the third day.67 He ordered the artillery made ready to open all along the line as early as possible68 to cover the advance, and he directed Ewell to renew his attack at daylight.69 Longstreet did not ride to Lee's headquarters to report, contrary to his custom, but, still sulking, contented himself with sending a verbal account of what had happened on his front.70 Lee replied with orders for Longstreet p106 to attack the next morning.71 That assault would be decisive: Either Meade would be beaten and the road to Baltimore and Philadelphia would be opened, or . . .
1 2 S. H. S. P., 183.
3 For the capture of the dispatch from Sykes to Slocum, see O. R., 27, part 2, p446; for the text, see ibid., part 3, p483. No report seems to have reached Lee at sunrise on the morning of July 2 that the III Corps had arrived (see O. R., 27, part 1, p369).
4 33 S. H. S. P., 145.
5 Venable in Annals of the War, 438. General Early (4 S. H. S. P., 291), cited Venable's statement as proof that Lee had become satisfied on the morning of the 2d that Longstreet was averse to attacking and that he had to devise a substitute plan, but it seems almost certain that Longstreet did not arrive until after Venable had left. Ewell's reference to his orders in O. R., 27, part 2, p446, indicated that he confused the message Venable brought him with the instructions Lee gave later in the morning.
7 Annals of the War, 422; 3 B. and L., 340. In his third narrative of the battle, From Manassas to Appomattox, 362‑63, Longstreet said nothing about his advocacy of his own plan on the morning of the 2d. He there represented himself as ready to execute orders Lee was not ready to issue.
9 Owen, 244; Ross, 49; Fremantle, 257.
10 Hood, 57.
11 McLaws in 7 S. H. S. P., 68. McLaws quoted Lee as styling Johnston "major," but actually Johnston did not attain that rank as an engineer until March 17, 1864.
13 5 S. H. S. P., 92.
14 Annals of the War, 433.
15 Wilcox in 6 S. H. S. P., 123‑24.
16 Trimble in 26 S. H. S. P., 125; Longstreet, 363; Long, 281, and Long in 4 S. H. S. P., 67. Longstreet (Annals of the War, 422) stated that Lee remained on Seminary Ridge only a short time after sunrise, but he corrected this in his last version. He is confirmed in this correction by other witnesses. Doctor Cullen stated (Annals of the War, 439) that he saw Lee and Longstreet together on Seminary Ridge after sunrise and that they were still there when he returned, some two hours later.
17 26 S. H. S. P., 125. Trimble added that Lee held a consultation and determined to move Ewell to the extreme right. In this, however, it is manifest that Trimble confused the events of the evening of July 1 with those of the morning of July 2.
18 Cf. Venable in Annals of the War, 438.
19 Cf. Cooke, 310.
20 Long, 281.
21 Long, 281. Taylor, in Four Years, 99, verified Long's statement that Lee was disturbed over Longstreet's tardiness.
22 5 S. H. S. P., 181.
23 Long, 281‑82, said that Lee searched until 1 o'clock for Longstreet, but he was certainly mistaken in this. Longstreet (From Manassas to Appomattox, 353) affirmed that it was 10 o'clock when Lee returned and 11 o'clock when he gave the order for the advance, but there are abundant witnesses that Lee was at Ewell's headquarters about 9 A.M. The incidents that are known to have occurred before Lee's return could hardly have consumed less than two hours. In Annals of the War, 422, Longstreet stated that Lee returned from the Confederate left at 9 A.M. — an impossibility.
24 Cf. Fremantle, 257. Longstreet (From Manassas to Appomattox, 363) indirectly gave as his chief reason for delay the alleged fact that the "engineer who had been sent to reconnoiter" had not returned. His reference is either to Captain Johnston or to General Pendleton, more probably to the former; but Johnston had completed his reconnaissance early and had reported to Longstreet at 9 A.M. (4 S. H. S. P., 183). General Pendleton had already communicated both to Lee and to Longstreet his opinion that the enemy's positions on the right could be stormed (Pendleton's report, O. R., 27, part 2, p350).
25 Longstreet, op. cit., 364‑65, with the intimation that Lee had only decided at 11 o'clock where the attack should be delivered.
26 In rear of the house of H. Spangler.
28 Longstreet claimed (op. cit., 382) that he delayed because Lee had ordered him to attack with his two divisions, which would not be complete until the arrival of Law. He completely overlooked the fact that in his official report (O. R., 27, part 2, p358), he had said: "Previous to his [Law's] joining, I received instructions from the commanding general to move, with the portion of my command that was up, around to gain the Emmitsburg road, on the enemy's left." See Early, 5 S. H. S. P., 182; Taylor's Four Years, 97‑98; Long, 283.
29 Longstreet, 366.
30 Major Johnston in 5 S. H. S. P., 183‑84.
32 Polley: Hood's Texas Brigade, 155.
33 Longstreet, 365‑66, 380n; Fremantle, 259‑60. The Bachelder map for July 2 shows the spot.
35 W. F. Dunaway: Reminiscences of a Rebel, 89‑90.
36 4 S. H. S. P., 159.
37 Fremantle, 259‑60.
38 There is confusion, if not a direct conflict of testimony here. In his official report (O. R., 27, part 2, p358), Longstreet wrote: "Engineers, sent out by the commanding general and myself, guided us by a road which would have completely disclosed the move. Some delay ensued in seeking a more concealed route." Similarly, in Annals of the War, 422‑23, Longstreet put the whole blame of the delay on Johnston. That officer, however, gave a very different version of the march in 4 S. H. S. P., 183‑84, and McLaws still another account in 7 ibid., 69‑70. In his last narrative, op. cit., 366, Longstreet modified his earlier statements and passed over the incident in a few words. He contended in his final publication that he moved with alacrity and promptness after having received his orders.
39 McLaws in 7 S. H. S. P., 69‑70.
40 Sorrel, 164: "As Longstreet was not to be made willing and Lee refused to change or could not change, the former failed to conceal some anger. There was apparent apathy in his movements. They lacked the fire and point of his usual bearing on the battlefield."
42 Hood, 58‑59; John W. Fairfax to W. H. Taylor, March 31, 1896, Fairfax MSS. In 1910, William Youngblood, one of Longstreet's couriers, published in 38 S. H. S. P., 312‑18, an account of an interview in which he alleged Lee, Longstreet, and Hood participated. He stated that Hood then reported that he could turn Round Top, and that Lee declined, saying he believed the position could be taken by direct assault. Longstreet and Hood, in their narratives, make it plain that the information regarding a turning movement against Round Top reached Longstreet after he had left Lee, and that he did not forward it to him.
43 Longstreet, 368.
44 Fremantle, 259‑60.
45 Cf. J. C. West, 94‑95.
47 Hunt suggested (3 B. and L., 300) that Lee mistook the position in the peach orchard for the Federal main line, but Lee's report, as already indicated, shows that his advance was made on the supposition that if the Union troops could be driven from the high ground along the road, this elevation could be used advantageously by the artillery to cover the assault on the stronghold of the ridge (see supra, p88.)
49 Captain G. B. Lamar, Jr., quoted by McLaws in 7 S. H. S. P., 73‑74.
53 O. R., 27, part 2, pp623‑24. Wilcox in 6 S. H. S. P., 102‑3, pointed out a minor error in Lee's report where it was stated that Posey participated in the attack. Posey's own report (O. R., 27, part 2, pp633‑34), explained that he failed to advance because the troops on his left, Mahone's brigade, did not support him.
55 Ewell's report (O. R., 27, part 2, pp446‑47) gave the main facts; Early's report (ibid., 470) is elaborated in his autobiography, Early, 278, and in 4 S. H. S. P., 277; Rodes's account is in O. R., 27, part 2, p556. Lane in his report (ibid., 666) explained his efforts to support Rodes. General Lee's report (ibid., 319) contained a mild censure of Rodes for failing to advance. Marshall (op. cit., 237) said: "If General Rodes had prepared his troops to advance on the right of General Early the latter would not have been compelled to withdraw from a successful attack, and the position on Cemetery Hill (p103)would have been held. The capture of that hill would have enabled General Early to have enfiladedº the Federal troops opposed to those of General Longstreet, and the effect of such fire at that time might have changed the result of the day."
56 E. R. Rich: Comrades Four, 75.
57 Cooke, 317.
58 Hood, 59.
62 Taylor's Four Years, 99.
67 President Davis (op. cit., 2, 448) thought Lee should have retreated at the end of the second day's fight. Hunt (3 B. and L., 369) was of opinion that the situation justified Lee in renewing the action.
70 Annals of the War, 429; Longstreet, 385. Speaking that night to Captain Ross, Longstreet said: "We have not been so successful as we wished," and expressed the belief that this was due to the wounding of Hood and the death of Barksdale. Ross, who was an experienced soldier, added his own opinion in recounting the conversation: "Perhaps," said he, "if the attack had been made a little earlier in the day it would have been more successful" (Ross, 54).
71 In O. R., 27, part 2, p320, is Lee's own statement to this effect. It never was contradicted by General Longstreet in any of his writings until the appearance of From Manassas to Appomattox, in which (385) he said Lee did not give or send him orders "for the morning of the third day."
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
Robert E. Lee
US Park Service
John's Military History
American Civil War.com
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY if its URL has a total of one *asterisk. If the URL has two **asterisks, the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use. If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.
See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 22 Sep 21