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Gettysburg-The Second Day
By Harry W. Pfanz
The University of North Carolina Press Copyright © 1998 University of North Carolina Press
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Chapter One From the Potomac to Pennsylvania
GENERAL ORDERS, } WAR DEPARTMENT, ADJT. GEN.'S OFFICE No. 194 Washington, June 27, 1863. By Direction of the President, Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker is relieved from command of the Army of the Potomac, and Maj. Gen. George G. Meade is appointed to the command of that army, and of the troops temporarily assigned to duty with it.
By order of the Secretary of War: E. D. TOWNSEND, Assistant Adjutant-General
Maj. James A. Hardie, an officer from the War Department in Washington, delivered General Order 194 to General Meade in Meade's tent near Frederick, Maryland, before dawn on 28 June 1863. It was an hour of destiny for both Meade and the Army of the Potomac. Four army commanders-Maj. Gens. George B. McClellan, John Pope, Ambrose E. Burnside, and Joseph Hooker-had battled Gen. Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia, had been found wanting, and had been relieved of command. Meade had not sought the appointment; it was thrust upon him. Other candidates were allowed to decline or were considered less qualified. Meade protested the appointment to Hardie, but Hardie assured him that his protests had been anticipated and would be denied. Meade then telegraphed his response to the order to the general-in-chief, Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck: "As a soldier, I obey it, and to the utmost of my ability will execute it".
As a professional soldier Meade must have found some satisfaction in his new assignment, but he had no cause to rejoice. Few Americans have so unexpectedly received as heavy a burden as the command of the Army of the Potomac on 28 June 1863. It was an awesome responsibility. The fate of the nation was in Meade's hands and might be decided in a single impending battle that was almost certainly to be fought within hours or days. The Army of the Potomac was near Frederick; Hooker had brought it there shadowing Lee's Army of Northern Virginia as the Confederates crossed the Potomac River and marched north into Maryland and Pennsylvania. General Hooker had fought his magnificent army poorly at Chancellorsville in May, and President Lincoln and General-in-Chief Halleck lost confidence in him. Political considerations and difficulties in selecting a successor had delayed Hooker's removal from command, but the opportunity to relieve him came on 27 June. On that day Hooker protested that he would be unable to comply with instructions to cover both Harpers Ferry and Washington with the forces at his disposal while confronting an army thought to be larger than his own. He asked to be relieved. The president quickly accepted his resignation, and without delay Halleck ordered General Meade to take command.
Meade faced a dilemma. The Army of Northern Virginia had crossed the Potomac without opposition, had taken Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and was threatening Harrisburg. Only the Army of the Potomac could bring it to bay. If the Federal army engaged the Confederate host in battle and defeated it, all might be well; but a defeat of the Army of the Potomac might result in the Confederate seizure of Washington, Baltimore, or even Philadelphia and could conceivably create a political climate that would lead to an independent Confederacy. The situation was critical.
General Meade was a capable, aggressive, and prudent officer. At age forty-seven he was tall, thin, and balding. Whitelaw Reid, the correspondent "Agate," saw him at his headquarters later and described his appearance there as "tall, slender, not ungainly, but certainly not handsome or graceful, thin-faced, with grizzled beard and mustache, a broad and high but retreating forehead, from each corner of which the slightly-curling hair recedes, as if giving a premonition of baldness ... altogether a man who impresses you rather as a thoughtful student than a dashing soldier-so General Meade looks in his tent."
George Gordon Meade was no man on horseback, and though a member of a prominent Philadelphia family, he lacked the charisma associated with public heroes. But he was a thorough professional who would fight, and at Fredericksburg it was his division that almost shattered Stonewall Jackson's line. Col. Philip Regis de Trobriand, a brigade commander in the Third Corps, later wrote that prior to Gettysburg General Meade's "services had not been so brilliant as to eclipse those of his rivals. He was, besides, more reserved than audacious, more modest than presumptuous, on which account he treated his corps commanders rather as friends than as inferiors." Another Third Corps officer wrote at the time of Meade's appointment that he knew little of the general, but that Meade appeared to be an "earnest, patient man." He might have been wrong in his estimate of Meade's capacity for patience, but he went on to observe that he anticipated no great disasters or great victories under Meade's command. Somewhat significantly he observed that Meade was not liked within the Third Corps and especially not by Maj. Gen. David B. Birney, Meade's fellow Philidelphian. After serving as Meade's commander in the last year of the war, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant described him as a brave, conscientious subordinate but with a temper that could rise beyond his control. Col. Theodore Lyman saw him as a "thin old gentleman, with a hooked nose and a cold blue eye," who, though irascible, was a magnanimous man. Gen. Henry J. Hunt, his chief of artillery, though never his close friend, was pleased to have him as a commander because, in Hunt's opinion, Meade was a gentleman.
Meade's instructions from Halleck were simple enough. Halleck reminded him that "no one ever received a more important command" and that his was the "covering army" of Washington as well as the "army of operation" against the Rebels. He was to maneuver it to cover Washington and Baltimore insofar as circumstances would permit, and should Lee move on either of these cities, he was to give battle.
General Meade responded to Halleck's instructions with a statement of his intentions. He would advance his army toward the Susquehanna River, an apparent Confederate objective, keeping Baltimore and Washington well covered. If he "checked" the enemy from crossing the river or if the Confederates turned towards Baltimore, he would give battle. To his wife he wrote on 30 June that though Confederate cavalry was rampaging in his rear, hoping to cause him to turn back, "I shall not do it-I am going straight at them-and will settle this thing one way or the other."
On the night of 28 June, as Meade settled into his new assignment, a tired man in soiled civilian clothing picked his way through a bivouac area of the Army of Northern Virginia near Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. He searched for the headquarters of Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, commander of the Army of Northern Virginia's First Corps. He was Henry Harrison, a Mississippian and a spy, sent by Longstreet a fortnight before to get information on the Army of the Potomac. Lt. Col. G. Moxley Sorrel of Longstreet's staff received Harrison and took his report. Sorrel hurried him to Longstreet, who talked with the spy and then sent him at once to General Lee. He was not known to General Lee, but Longstreet vouched for him. Harrison had just come from the Army of the Potomac and reported that that mighty host had crossed the Potomac at Edwards Ferry and was concentrated around Frederick, Maryland. Furthermore, it had a new commander, because George G. Meade had replaced Joseph Hooker just that day. This was startling news indeed, but General Lee heard the report with "composure and minuteness."
General Lee had attained the reputation of a great commander. He was fifty-six years old in 1863, a graduate in West Point's class of 1829. In his thirty-two years of military service he spent time constructing fortifications and other engineering works, earned three brevets as an engineering officer on Gen. Winfield Scott's staff in Mexico, and served as superintendent of West Point, lieutenant colonel of the Second Cavalry Regiment, and, briefly, colonel of the First Cavalry Regiment. He had served the Confederacy in western Virginia, in South Carolina and Georgia, and in Richmond on President Davis' staff. He had commanded the Army of Northern Virginia for about a year.
General Lee was 5 feet 10 1/2 inches tall and weighed about 165 pounds. His complexion was florid; his once dark hair and beard were gray. Lee was handsome and distinguished in appearance, a man of kindly bearing and gentle charm. Women sometimes begged for locks of his hair, and one flag-waving Unionist woman in Chambersburg exclaimed as he passed, "Oh, I wish he was ours." He wore a long gray jacket, a black felt hat, and blue trousers that he tucked into his Wellington boots. He was neat in dress and appearance, as befitting an officer and a gentleman, and always looked clean-no easy task, even for a general, on a campaign.
General Lee had always been robust and until March 1863 had avoided serious illness. Then he suffered a sore throat that brought on an attack of pericarditis that incapacitated him for several weeks. He recovered, however, in time to outgeneral Hooker at Chancellorsville. If his pericarditis had any lasting effect, it seems not to have been in evidence during the Gettysburg campaign. However, he might have been slowed somewhat by a more common camp ailment-Capt. William W. Blackford, of Maj. Gen. James E. B. Stuart's staff, wrote that when he visited army headquarters on the night of 2 July, he learned that the general was suffering from diarrhea. If so, that disorder could have been a handicap.
If not greatly influenced by physical problems, General Lee was greatly affected by other things. One of these was his optimism based on the previous successes of the Army of Northern Virginia. It caused him to believe that his army was close to invincible, and that conviction engendered over-confidence. As if to balance this optimism, he had a well-founded feeling of anxiety. General Stuart and much of his cavalry were away, out of contact, Lee knew not where, and their absence left him all but blind. Further, though he knew General Longstreet well as an experienced corps commander, General Lee had not worked closely with Lt. Gens. Richard S. Ewell and Ambrose Powell (A.P.) Hill. It remained to be seen whether, as commanders of the army's Second and Third corps, they could replace the fallen Stonewall Jackson.
A spy's report was no way for the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia to learn that the enemy, the Army of the Potomac, was near at hand. This news ought to have been provided by his absent cavalry. General Lee pondered the report's credibility. He could not confirm it, but it was too dangerous to ignore. There was no alternative but to take the information at face value and act on it without delay. Lee sent off a courier to General Ewell, whose corps was moving toward the Susquehanna in the army's van. Ewell was to halt his march to the east and concentrate his corps east of South Mountain in the Gettysburg-Cashtown area. A concentration there would draw the Federals to Lee's army and away from the Cumberland Valley and the Army of Northern Virginia's line of communication and supply back to Virginia. So ended the first phase of the Gettysburg campaign that carried the Army of Northern Virginia to the Susquehanna River and the outskirts of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania's capital.
General Lee had conceived this thrust into the North soon after his victory at Chancellorsville. That brave effort had stopped a Federal movement toward Richmond and enhanced his army's reputation, but it had been costly. Stonewall Jackson had been the most prominent of the Army of Northern Virginia's irreplaceable casualties. Yet, after its defeat the Army of the Potomac remained on Stafford Heights opposite Fredericksburg, where Lee could not get at it, poised for another strike. Something had to be done.
General Lee's first task was to compensate for the loss of Jackson. He sought to do this, in part, by reorganizing his army. Its two corps of eight infantry divisions became three corps of three divisions each (see Appendix). Two divisions, those of Maj. Gens. Robert E Rodes and Richard H. Anderson, each had five brigades, while the other seven divisions each had four. The brigades were composed of five or so regiments and numbered in the area of 1,500 to 1,700 men apiece. Each division except Anderson's had the direct support of a four-battery battalion of artillery, and each corps had two additional artillery battalions as a corps reserve. Unfortunately, though most batteries had four guns, some batteries often had two or more types of guns, each requiring its own type of ammunition. General Stuart continued to command the army's cavalry, a division of six brigades.
Dependable, stubborn James Longstreet, who with Jackson had been a corps commander prior to Chancellorsville, continued to command the First Corps. This corps had divisions led by Maj. Gens. John B. Hood, Lafayette McLaws, and George E. Pickett. Much of Jackson's old corps went to General Ewell, an excellent officer, who was reporting back to duty after having lost a leg at Groveton (Second Manassas) less than a year before. Ewell's corps had divisions commanded by Maj. Gens. Robert E. Rodes, Jubal A. Early, and Edward Johnson, and it was Rodes's and Early's divisions that had led the army into Pennsylvania. Lt. Gen. Ambrose Powell Hill, an impetuous, contentious officer, who had won a fine reputation as commander of the Light Division, had the newly created Third Corps. His division commanders were Maj. Gens. Richard H. Anderson, Henry Heth, and William Dorsey Pender. Although both Hill and Ewell had rendered outstanding service as division commanders, neither general had commanded a corps or had worked directly under General Lee. As a result, they were not accustomed to his style of command. In addition, in an army brimming with individualists, each corps commander had a distinct personality, and there were strained relations between Hill and Longstreet. In the reorganization Longstreet had retained an advantage: his three division commanders had experience in their assignments. Of the other six division commanders only Rodes, Anderson, and Early had commanded divisions before the reorganization.
In his report made after the campaign, Lee stated that three objectives lay behind it. First, he wished to disrupt Federal operations for the 1863 campaigning season, not only in Virginia but elsewhere as far as the effects of the invasion might be felt. Second, he felt that the Confederacy could gain little if his army remained on the Defensive and allowed the Federals to occupy Virginia's farms while they prepared for the next onslaught. Better that the Army of Northern Virginia should draw the enemy from the Old Dominion and permit its farmers to harvest their crops for the Confederacy. Furthermore, the land beyond the Potomac had been virtually untouched by war, and it teemed with supplies enough to delight any Confederate quartermaster. Lee felt a great need for these supplies in 1863. Third, Lee realized there was a pressing need for a decisive victory. Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville had won only plaudits and time at great cost but obviously had not gained independence and peace. The Army of the Potomac continued to menace Virginia, and satellite forces continued to occupy the lower Shenandoah Valley and western Virginia and nibble away at the Atlantic coastline. Although Longstreet and others urged direct assistance to the armies in Tennessee and Mississippi, General Lee showed little positive interest in such detachments. He would aid armies elsewhere by winning a decisive victory in the East, where its shock waves might crumble the entire Federal effort.
To this end, on 3 June General Lee began to shift his 75,000 man army from Fredericksburg northwest to Culpeper and around Hooker's right. Ewell's corps led the way, followed by Longstreet's, while Stuart's cavalry, 10,000 strong, guarded the roads and the Rapidan River fords that led to the resting foe. An attack by Federal cavalry supported by infantry surprised Stuart's brigades at Brandy Station on 9 June, but after a confused fight, the Federals were repulsed. This cavalry brawl was the only blemish up to that point on an otherwise masterful move. Ewell's corps crossed into the Shenendoah Valley and on 13-15 June gobbled up the Federal force at Winchester along with its ordnance and supplies. Longstreet's corps edged northeast of the Blue Ridge to face the Army of the Potomac as Ewell made for the Potomac crossings. On 15 June, when it became clear that the Army of the Potomac was moving north from Fredericksburg in response to the Confederate move, Hill's corps left Fredericksburg and moved north behind Longstreet and after Ewell.
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