In writing the narrative, which relates to the decisive campaign which freed the Northern States from invasion, it may not be out of place to state what facilities I have had for observation in the fulfillment of so important a task. I can only say that I was, to a considerable extent, an actor in the scenes I describe, and knew the principal leaders on both sides, in consequence of my association with them at West Point, and, subsequently, in the regular army. Indeed, several of them, including Stonewall Jackson...
In writing the narrative, which relates to the decisive campaign which freed the Northern States from invasion, it may not be out of place to state what facilities I have had for observation in the fulfillment of so important a task. I can only say that I was, to a considerable extent, an actor in the scenes I describe, and knew the principal leaders on both sides, in consequence of my association with them at West Point, and, subsequently, in the regular army. Indeed, several of them, including Stonewall Jackson and A. P. Hill, were, prior to the war, officers in the regiment to which I belonged. As commander of the Defences of Washington in the spring of 1862, I was, owing to the nature of my duties, brought into intimate relations with the statesmen who controlled the Government at the time, and became well acquainted with President Lincoln. I was present, too, after the Battle of Gettysburg, at a very interesting Cabinet Council, in which the pursuit of Lee was fully discussed; so that, in one way and another, I have had better opportunities to judge of men and measures than usually fall to the lot of others who have written on the same subject.
I have always felt it to be the duty of every one who held a prominent position in the great war to give to posterity the benefit of his personal recollections; for no dry official statement can ever convey an adequate idea to those who come after us of the sufferings and sacrifices through which the country has passed. Thousands of men—the flower of our Northern youth—have gone down to their graves unheralded and unknown, and their achievements and devotion to the cause have already been forgotten. It is, therefore, incumbent upon us, who were their comrades in the field, to do all in our power to preserve their deeds from oblivion.
And yet it is no easy task to relate contemporaneous events. Whoever attempts it must be prepared for severe criticism and the exhibition of much personal feeling. Some of this may be avoided, it is true, by writing a colorless history, praising everybody, and attributing all disasters to dispensations of Providence, for which no one is to blame. I cannot, however, consent to fulfill my allotted task in this way, for the great lessons of the war are too valuable to be ignored or misstated. It is not my desire to assail any of the patriotic men who were engaged in the contest, but each of us is responsible for our actions in this world, and for the consequences which flow from them; and where great disasters have occurred, it is due both to the living and the dead that the causes and circumstances be justly and properly stated.
Richelieu once exclaimed, upon giving away a high appointment: "Now I have made one ingrate and a thousand enemies." Every one who writes the history of the Great Rebellion will often have occasion to reiterate the statement: For the military critic must necessarily describe facts which imply praise or censure. Those who have contributed to great successes think much more might have been said on the subject, and those who have caused reverses and defeats are bitter in their denunciations.
Nevertheless, the history of the war should be written before the facts have faded from the memory of living men, and have become mere matters of tradition.
In a narrative of this kind, resting upon a great number of voluminous details, I cannot hope to have wholly escaped error, and wherever I have misconceived or misstated a fact, it will give me pleasure to correct the record.