July 1, 1863
On the night of the first day of the battle at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, we find Generals Longstreet and Lee still in dispute over the strategy of the ensuing battle.
Michael Shaara’s skillful novel The Killer Angels provides a good foundational outline to the thoughts and mindset of the men and generals on that day. In his fifth chapter of the first day of battle, we find Longstreet sullen after his meeting with Lee, and having gotten no further in the advancement of his idea to move to the south of the Federal line. He sees destruction in Lee’s imminent attack, and he falls into a depression heightened by the loss of his children that winter.
Longstreet meets the British tourist Colonel Fremantle in the night and the two proceed to discuss matters of war. Fremantle mentions that he has not seen cavalry from his perch over the battlefield that day, nor had he seen a “hollow square.” This term was in reference to the battlefield tactic in which divisions are organized into a square pattern, with supplies and headquarters in the center. The pattern enables one to know “where everyone is” as Fremantle put it. No doubt this comment arose because no one knew where Stuart’s cavalry was – perhaps the greatest failure of the battle.
Fremantle then expresses his opinions on Lee and his Confederate officers. They are expressly English in their manner, he contends. Having come to the States expecting backwater barbarians, Fremantle is surprised by the morals and dignity of the army, and of Lee’s association with the Church of England.
Longstreet responds with agreement on his fellow soldiers’ old-fashioned sense of life, the odd dignity and Christianity of the army, and remarks upon certain significant characters – “Stonewall” Jackson, Dick Garnett, A.P. Hill, among others. Longstreet is not sympathetic to Jackson, seeing him as decidedly mad. Yet the man Jackson was much more complex than Longstreet lets on, and his absence in this monumental battle perhaps contributed to its failure, as his subordinates took the reins of his army and interpreted Lee’s orders in a different light than perhaps Jackson would have. (See footnote for additional response to Shaara’s depiction.)
The end of chapter 5, the first day, of Shaara’s novel describes Longstreet as the epitome of the modern soldier trapped behind his times. Shaara makes this very clear: In conversation with Fremantle, he distances himself from the old school ideas of honor and from old school tactics of war. “Honor without intelligence is a disaster,” he says, then embarks on a lengthy explanation on how modern technology has made the old style of approach practically obsolete, as new long-range rifles enable one man to take out three at a time.
He then leaves Fremantle, his soul in a state of despair over the absurdity of the sequence of events unfolding around him.
Meanwhile, General Lee is greeted by whoops of celebration at Ewell’s headquarters beyond Gettysburg. Lee is silently irritated that Ewell did not attack the hill that night; Ewell, meanwhile, is delighted at the day’s victories. When asked why he did not attack, Ewell explains that his army has had a long march and his orders were tentative. Early says that Federals were threatening from the north, A.P. Hill was unavailable in the west, and Johnson was still behind them. Lee wonders if Cemetery Hill can still be attacked in the morning. Each commander knows how fortified it will soon be. But Longstreet’s corps have not been fought recently. Perhaps he could assist by attacking from the west, while Ewell strikes from the north to take the hill. When Lee mentions Longstreet’s defensive route, Ewell and Early are shocked: “To move this entire corps, in the face of a fortified enemy?” asks Early. Morale would suffer, they contend.
Lee knows there are a limited number of actions available to him: Withdraw, as per Longstreet’s plan, maneuver, or attack. But morale would suffer with a withdraw, and the great unknown of the Federal position, abetted by J.E.B. Stuart’s timely absence, makes maneuver questionable. Lee’s fate is sealed.
Continuing Shaara’s narrative, we find Lee riding into the night towards Seminary Ridge and his headquarters, only to meet Isaac Trimble, who relates his passionate despair against Ewell’s refusal to give him forces to take Culp’s Hill. Lee is hesitant to acknowledge the sober truth that “many a good boy will die taking that hill.”
Lee has no rest, even at headquarters. Generals, aides, and reporters stream past him. Lee orders a squad of men to find Stuart, who he fears may be dead. Lee decides that attack must be the option. He calls for Ewell and the latter reports that Johnson’s troops are finally in place. Ewell seems more confident, hoping to attack Cemetery and Culp’s Hill the next day. He then quietly apologizes for not having taken the hill earlier. Lee is moved and forgives him. He had won a victory, Lee comforts.
Finally, the air is clear and calm. Lee considers his men, the ones who are no more, and the ones who will fill out his army come morning. His closing thoughts pertain to Stuart, and he has a sudden sharp fear that victory cannot be won without cavalry in the rear.
In truth, much more had transpired on the night of July 1 than Shaara’s version lets on. Stephen H. Spears, prominent Civil War historian, expounds in detail in his book Gettysburg that Ewell himself alone did not fail to take Culp’s Hill; the blame, it seems, rests individually on no one, but partially on Lee, Ewell, Early, and Johnson. Before the meeting of the South’s northern forces (Lee with Ewell and his subordinates Rodes and Early [Johnson not yet up]), Ewell had observed the ground before him with Early and determined to carry on the day’s victory by taking Cemetery Hill. Rodes had endured 25,000 casualties and could not assist the venture, but Early was more than willing to commence an attack. Advancing through Gettysburg’s narrow streets would be suicidal, but flanking maneuvers would certainly succeed – if A. P. Hill’s help (from the west) could be procured.
Further complicating matters was Lee’s present order to take the hill “if practicable” and a reported sighting of a Federal column from the northeast on York Pike. Because Stuart was absent (a most significant absence), Ewell had to investigate the matter himself to determine if he should indeed deploy against possibly oncoming forces.
Lee, meanwhile, was behaving oddly. He did not give Ewell any of A. P. Hill’s corps, despite its entire Third Corps being available. To be fair, the infantry from that corps were in no shape to fight, but its artillery was almost unscathed. Lee instead kept them as reserve, “in case of disaster” (qtd. Sears, p. 229). Lee then ordered Ewell to take the hill “if it were possible” with his own forces. The Confederate general appears to have been stalling the full outbreak of battle, waiting for Longstreet’s trusted corps, coupled with the hesitancy to stage the final battle on an unexpected and (because of Stuart’s absence) unknown force.
Meanwhile, Ewell had adjusted his attention from Cemetery to nearby Culp’s Hill and adjusted his plan in response to Lee’s denial of help. He told Early to attack, to be soon supported by Johnson, who at the moment was to delayed by obstacles up north. But Early’s earlier exuberance oddly reversed, citing his mens’ condition, and Ewell erred in humoring his subordinate’s wishes. This created the delay that so defined the end of the first day of battle. When Johnson finally arrived after sunset, Ewell made a tentative command of his own, telling the general to take Culp’s Hill if it was unoccupied. Then Ewell left to meet Lee (as we find in Shaara’s scene), leaving Johnson to his own devices.
By the time Lee met with Ewell and his men, he had already given up on taking Cemetery Hill. Lee’s proposed possibility to “draw you around towards my right” was met with a chorus of negatives: morale, care for the wounded, and attainment of booty from the fled Yankees are listed as reasons to remain in Gettysburg. There is no mention of Longstreet specifically, although the report (from the one witness, Early) is slanted in Early’s favor. Lee leaves Ewell and his men to victory celebrations, but these are suddenly interrupted by an order from Lee to pull out and move to the Confederate right (an unusually Longstreet-inspired move). Shocked, Ewell intercedes personally with Lee, saying, with more gusto than previously, that he can take Cemetery Hill if given a chance to take Culp’s Hill with Johnson. Lee concedes.
Ewell returns to his headquarters and checks with Johnson. Then comes the third failure of the day: Johnson somehow did not carry out Ewell’s orders. Captured intelligence revealed that a Federal presence was imminent at the scene south of Gettysburg. Ewell realized the opportunity was lost. “Day was now breaking, and it was too late for any change of place” (p. 233).
Lee’s evening, meanwhile, was not quite the way Shaara envisioned it. He had in fact received word from Stuart – with a report that his cavalry was at least a day away. And in fact, “General Lee did not reject Longstreet’s schemes out of hand,” for he “certainly had them in mind when he sent … orders to evacuate Gettysburg and bring the Second Corps around to the army’s right” (p. 236). Longstreet knew an attack was to be made the next day, but no orders were given that night, and Longstreet only waited for the movement of the attack – either in his proposed direction, or Lee’s.
Yet Lee, according to Sears in his book, was consumed by a desire to maintain the offensive. Although this was good ground for a defensive position, Lee was much too “committed to the great invasion of the enemy’s country … for such a conservative tactic” (p. 237). Throughout the evening, he was visibly distressed – anger working out of oblique insubordination and the blindness with which he entered this unexpected battle. Somehow, Shaara has a way of making the vast omission of data seem factual, for somehow his summations are about the same as the actual events’ conclusions.
Shaara closes the second day of battle with a chapter from John Buford’s eyes. He hears the men digging in on Cemetery Hill and he wanders into Federal headquarters looking for a man to give him orders. There is much laughter, smoking, and disorder. These men have seen nothing of the battlefield. Two men in particular are contending for the top spot: Generals Howard and Hancock. Hancock was appointed by General Meade to take command, but Howard, who ranks him, is not giving up command yet. But Hancock is skilled, and takes the authority into his hand after a brief contention.
Buford gets word that several of Meade’s forces are converging. Howard is complaining about Buford’s not having supported his right. He is using Buford as the scapegoat for the blame of the day’s loss. Buford rages inside and cannot stand the faces, smoke, and speeches going on inside headquarters. He escapes outside where Hancock finds him. Buford reports Reynold’s death. Hancock is surprised how involved Buford was in the day’s battle.
The anger in Buford subsides. Meade arrives and Buford wanders into the night and looks up at the stars. Amidst all the rigamarole of headquarters, the senseless complexion of high command, Buford knows what is really important. “Well, John,” he says, “we held the ground.”
That Jackson was eccentric cannot be disputed, but the extent to which is a point of contention. Cadets at his Virginia Military Institute called him “Tom Fool Jackson,” yet Shaara’s depiction leaves much to be explored. Jackson’s tendency to suck lemons, for example, resulted from care for his health, which demanded a healthy, fruit-filled diet. Wartime correspondence perused after the war reveal an honest, quiet man, whose primary interests were “Biblical theology and Christian discipleship” (Gragg, 1991, p. 218), explaining his departure from ordinary worldly pursuits. Yet it is equally true that he “live[d] by the New Testament and [fought] by the Old” (Freeman, McPherson, Sears, 2001, p. 30). He appeared as some a reincarnated Joshua, and yet of war, he said, “I have seen enough of it to make me look upon it as the sum of all evils” (Jackson, 1891, p.141).
Popular writers are oddly fond of giving one-dimensional images of the famed “Stonewall,” and Shaara is no exception. Jackson was a most remarkable, valuable soldier, whom Lee called irreplaceable and whose absence in the Battle of Gettysburg was indeed significant. His life is much more complex than he is given credit for.
On “Stonewall” Jackson and a penchant for lemons, we find this from his Virginia Military Institute:
“Although he enjoyed almost every variety of fruit, he had no special fondness for lemons; in fact, peaches were his favorite. Civil War historian James I. Robertson, Jr., Jackson’s biographer, states that “no member of Jackson’s staff, no friend, not even his wife ever mentioned Jackson had a particular penchant for lemons,” and refers to the “lemon myth.” It is true that Jackson was observed eating lemons on several occasions during the war; this was due only to the fact that he ate whatever fruit was available. When the Confederates captured a Union camp, lemons were sometimes among the food stores that they confiscated; the Union soldiers received lemons and other fruits more frequently than did their Confederate counterparts. Despite the historical inaccuracy, the story remains popular.”
Virginia Military Institute. Stonewall Jackson: Popular questions. Retrieved 18 Jan. 2012, http://www.vmi.edu/archives.aspx?id=3761
Bevin, A. (2004). Lost victories: The military genius of Stonewall Jackson. Excerpt retrieved from http://bevinalexander.com/excerpts/civil-war/stonewall-jackson-character.htm
Catton, B. (1982). Gettysburg: The final fury. New York, NY: Berkley. (Original work published 1974)
Freeman, D. S., James M. McPherson, Stephen W. Sears. (2001). Lee’s lieutenants third volume abridged: A study in command. Retrieved from http://books.google.com
Gragg, R. (1991). The illustrated Confederate reader. New York: Harper Perennial.
Jackson, M. A. (1891). Life and letters of General Thomas J. Jackson (Stonewall Jackson). New York: Harper & Brothers. Retrieved from http://books.google.com
Sears, S. W. (2003). Gettysburg. New York: Houghton Mifflin.
The previous entry is a part of a series of Gettysburg posts recounting Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels and the actual battle of Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863. The complete list of entries can be found at the page The Killer Angels.