Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation

Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation

by Clifford Dowdey

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781628730906
Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing
Publication date: 09/01/2011
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 207,407
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Clifford Dowdey (1904–1979) was an American writer, best known for his fascination with the Civil War and southern American history. A native of Richmond, Virginia, Dowdey lived and worked in almost every region of the United States before returning back to his home state. He published his first bestseller, Bugles Blow No More, in 1937 and would write over thirty-five books throughout his career. He died in Richmond in 1979.
Clifford Dowdey (1904–1979) was an American writer, best known for his fascination with the Civil War and southern American history. A native of Richmond, Virginia, Dowdey lived and worked in almost every region of the United States before returning back to his home state. He published his first bestseller, Bugles Blow No More, in 1937 and would write over thirty-five books throughout his career. He died in Richmond in 1979.

Read an Excerpt


Rendezvous with Disaster

The substantial market town of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, seemed unusually quiet, even for a Sunday, after the noisy passage of troops of the Army of Northern Virginia during the week. The houses and stores were shuttered, and the front doors of the Franklin Hotel were locked. Citizens dressed for the Sabbath moved with wary curiosity about the streets.

They were hostile but not apprehensive, as the Confederate soldiers had not committed acts of vandalism or abused the inhabitants. On the contrary, the troops had been highly good-humored in the face of taunts and insults.

Despite the good-humor of the soldiers and the strict discipline maintained by their officers, Lee's army had levied heavily on the storekeepers and the citizens of the bountiful Pennsylvania countryside. They had been orderly about it, all very businesslike, giving scrip in their own money for everything they confiscated. These items included boots, suits, shoe leather, horseshoes, bacon, flour, coffee, sugar, sauerkraut, and neat's-foot oil. The list was endless.

The enemy troops seemed in need of every necessity for living, and the enlisted men displayed a passion for stealing hats which defied the most rigid supervision. The soldiers would put up with anything — patches, ill-matching clothes, broken shoes or none — except the absence of a hat. Marching through the Northern towns, the men became very adept at snatching hats from the heads of civilians standing on the sidewalk. They would quickly ball the hats up and tuck them under their arms. Even if an officer tried to recover the property of an outraged civilian, he could not well stop several miles of soldiers to search under each arm.

The Chambersburg citizens had also seen hundreds of cattle and horses that, by their silkiness in comparison to the Confederates' animals, they recognized as having belonged to their own people.

Yet in Chambersburg all had not been taken. As the requisitioning officers had been courteous, the citizens surrendered only what was visible, and stores still remained in locked cellars. The natives knew from rumors that the last of the enemy troops had passed through the town.

Six divisions of infantry were now camped outside of Chambersburg on farms along the roads to the north and northeast. There the hard-bitten troops were taking their own Sunday ease — bathing their sore feet in the creek, mending their poor clothes, and eating more heartily than they had in months. They carried very little equipment, far less than the civilians had seen on any of their own soldiers. Some carried only a canteen and knapsack stenciled with the faded letters of VERMONT, MASS., or N.J. — relics of old battlefields. Filling their knapsacks from the quartermaster wagons, the lean men looked very unwarlike, and no stranger coming upon their cheerful camps would have suspected them of being an invading army in the enemy's country.

Closer to town, their headquarters camp was pitched informally in the roadside grove called Shetter's Woods, where picnics and Fourth-of-July celebrations were held in the shade. Canvas-topped wagons marked "U.S." were parked without order beside a group of tents. The picketed horses of the staff officers, better mounts and in better condition than those in the cavalry that had come through town, foraged for grass. To and from one of the tents, indistinguishable from the others, officers and couriers came and went all through that warm Sunday of June 28, 1863.

There was no air of urgency about their visits. Inside the tent, the gray-bearded general received the messengers calmly and talked with apparent good cheer. He was a powerfully built man in his mid-fifties, dressed neatly in a long gray jacket that had seen its best day, dark trousers in high black boots, and a medium-brimmed light-gray hat. There was no ornamentation on the simple uniform, and only the three stars of gold braid embossed on his collar suggested anything military. He wore neither sword nor revolver. His handsome, classically carved face was characterized by dignity and a vast composure, and there was in his presence an unmistakable bearing of leadership. Any stranger would have recognized Robert E. Lee on sight.

Captain James Power Smith, a staff officer who visited Lee's headquarters, said: "He was a kingly man whom all men who came into his presence expected to obey." Lee's young son Robert added to that: "I always knew it was impossible to disobey my father."

Shortly after noon the sound of axes on hardwood dimly reached the general's camp. Under orders of his chief commissary officer, soldiers were breaking down the locked doors to the Chambersburg cellars, to levy on the secreted caches of supplies. Lee did not like to do things this way. But his people needed the food, especially for the sick, and Federal troops had ravaged his country until their own cupboard was bare. The enemy's people would have to suffer some, too. General Lee stepped outside the stuffy tent, as if attracted by the crashing noises from town.

Colonel Charles Marshall, his bespectacled aide, watched him intently. He knew the signs of worry beneath the general's air of calm. For two days Lee had been concealing his anxiety over the absence of any news from his cavalry. Lee's army was farther north than any Confederate army had ever come, farther from any base, and for the first time since he assumed command General Lee had lost contact with his cavalry — the "eyes" of his army.

Thirty-year-old J. E. B. Stuart, a cadet at West Point when Lee was superintendent there, had served the Army of Northern Virginia as no other cavalry leader had served an army during the war. Skillful, meticulous, and aggressive in reconnaissance, Stuart, Lee said, had never brought him a piece of wrong information, and his screening of the army was flawless. Perhaps Stuart liked fighting for its own sake a little too much, and a tendency to vainglory led him occasionally into rather gaudy exploits, but he was a dedicated Confederate and an instinctive soldier, and he knew his role in this desperate invasion.

Lee had marched his three corps of thirty-seven brigades, with over 250 guns and miles of wagons, widely strung out, west of the mountains that ran from Virginia across Maryland into Pennsylvania. As cavalry chief, it was Stuart's job to learn what the enemy was doing east of the obscuring mountains, and to prevent Federal troops from popping through any of the passes to surprise Lee. Stuart's orders had been clear. Although some discretion had been allowed him, as was natural in operating with a trained and zealous cavalryman, there was nothing to explain Stuart's disappearance, leaving Lee to grope blindfolded through a hostile country.

All other units were accounted for. Part of Ewell's corps was at Carlisle, thirty-odd miles north, preparing to take Harrisburg. Jenkins's cavalry, a group of raiders borrowed for the invasion, were already at the capital of Pennsylvania. Early's division of Ewell's corps, paralleling his line of march thirty miles to the east, were entering York. A. P. Hill's corps, having passed through Chambersburg, were camped on the road to Cashtown, and Longstreet's veteran corps were camped on the farms outside Chambersburg.

Lee could feel that all his lieutenants were accounted for — except the one from whom he most longed to hear. His own army was under his watchful eye, but only Stuart could tell him where the enemy was.

General Joseph Hooker, commanding the Union army that Lee had defeated at Chancellorsville two months earlier, was an aggressive leader not likely to sit idly in middle Virginia while Lee's army moved North. In the soaring confidence that victory had given Lee's subordinates, the younger officers regarded General Hooker very lightly, and some of them assumed that the Union Army of the Potomac had indeed remained inactive far behind them. With the sole responsibility of the invasion burdening him, the rapidly aging Lee could assume nothing. He did not know whether he was the hunter or the hunted.


The sound of axes in Chambersburg ceased, to be replaced by the thinner sounds of barrels rolling onto wagons. The commissary officers had got a poor yield from the cellars — chiefly molasses and whisky for their sick.

In his tent, Lee was asked by an aide if he would receive a Chambersburg lady who had come on an urgent mission about bread. She wanted to see the commanding general personally. Although Lee had been in command of the Army of Northern Virginia little more than a year, the one successful Confederate force had become known to the world as "Lee's army." Having grown up in Virginia's patriarchal, aristocratic tradition, he understood the impulse of individuals who wanted to see only the chief, and his innate courtesy demanded that the lady be admitted to his tent, where she was seated on a campstool.

Mrs. Ellen McLellan had come because the prominent men of the town were in hiding, fearful that Lee's soldiers might make reprisals in Pennsylvania for the desolation brought to Southern homes. She told the general simply that a number of families faced starvation because of the levying on provisions by his troops. The general appeared astounded that anyone could suffer in such a fertile countryside. She reminded him that the grain was some weeks from harvest and that General Ewell — the first of the Confederates to pass through — had done a thorough job in his polite requisitioning Lee said: "We requisitioned to provide food for our troops, so that the men could be kept from coming into your houses themselves. God help you if I permitted them to enter your houses." He did not add: "as your people entered ours," but each knew what the general meant. Then he suggested that a miller come and tell his commissary officers the amount of flour required for the emergency, and he promised to have it provided.

Thanking him, Mrs. McLellan arose and then paused, studying, as she said, "the strength and sadness" in his face. Impulsively she asked for his autograph.

"Do you want the autograph of a Rebel?" he asked.

"General Lee," she replied, "I am a true Union woman, and yet I ask for bread and your autograph."

Murmuring that it might be dangerous for her to have his autograph, he wrote "R. E. Lee" on a scrap of paper and passed it to her. Then, mentioning the cruel thing that the war was, he said: "My only desire is that they will let me go home and eat my own bread in peace."

Late in the Sunday afternoon all sounds ceased in Chambersburg. Long shadows fell across the diamond-shaped public square. Confederate sentries shifted restlessly at their posts, protecting the houses against soldiers who might slip the cordon and steal into town to forage on their own. On the farms outside the town, colored cooks began to prepare mess fires, grumbling at the forbearance of Lee in refusing to allow his soldiers to bring retaliation on the enemy for the ravages in the South. The Negroes had looked forward to a continual feast, but Lee's published order had read: "It must be remembered that we make war only upon armed man, and we can not take vengeance for the wrongs our people have suffered without ... offending against Him to whom vengeance belongeth...."

At Lee's camp, his personal servant prepared his skimpy supper — the cornbread flavored by the confiscated molasses — and served it with a certain flair on the pewter dishes from the camp chest. When supper was over, dusk was deepening. Officers began to visit back and forth. In some of the camps, bands began to play "Nellie Gray" and "Lorena" and "Home, Sweet Home."

Perhaps the songs reminded the silently worrying Lee of Sweeney, the banjo-player who used to ride with Jeb Stuart, when Stuart's golden voice would join with those of young Pelham and Lee's own son Rooney and nephew Fitzhugh in singing "Kathleen Mavourneen." Now young Pelham was dead; Lee's son Rooney, wounded at Brandy Station just before they started north, had been left behind; and nephew Fitz and his brigade were off somewhere with the missing cavalry.

With the coming of night, the camp sounds faded. For a while candles stuck into bayonet loops flickered over scraps of paper as soldiers cramped all the words possible on the limited space in letters home. In A. P. Hill's corps a newly promoted division commander, twenty-nine-yearold Dorsey Pender, was writing his wife in North Carolina. A reflective and religious man, Pender wrote: "I am tired of invasion, for although they have made us suffer all that people can suffer, I cannot get my resentment to that point to make me indifferent to what goes on here."

Then the candles began to be snuffed out, and lanterns went out in the tents. In the commanding general's tent the lantern burned on. Uneasy, Lee could not go to bed in this alien land.

His apprehension over Stuart's absence had not yet been generally perceived. In one of the tents in his headquarters group, Walter Taylor, his good-looking young assistant adjutant general, was writing: "With God's help, we expect to take a step or two toward an honorable peace."

At ten o'clock that night a worn and dirty civilian appeared out of the shadows and approached the Confederate camp. Challenged by a sentry, the bearded man said wearily that he brought an important message for General Longstreet, commander of Lee's First Corps. The sentry summoned the provost marshal, who immediately arrested the stranger. Under the man's urgent protestations, the provost sent an orderly to the tent of Colonel Moxley Sorrel, Longstreet's chief of staff, who was already asleep. Rousing himself, Sorrel recalled a civilian scout named Harrison whom Long-street had sent out from middle Virginia just as the invasion was starting, and he left his tent to interview the civilian.

The travel-stained man was of middle height, muscular and well-formed except for a stoop in his shoulders, and beneath the signs of hard wear his clothing indicated an unpretentious respectability. His beard and hair were brown, and his hazel eyes belonged to a man of action. He had come, Harrison told Sorrel in his tired voice, all the way from Frederick, Maryland, more than fifty miles distant beyond the mountains. He had hurried because the Union army, rapidly following Lee from Virginia, was at Frederick and headed for the mountain passes.

Not waiting to hear more, Sorrel hurried the man to Longstreet's tent. At once Longstreet decided that the news should go directly to the commanding general. Curiously, he sent the information to Lee's headquarters by an aide, Major Fairfax.

Lee, fully dressed, answered the tap on his tent pole, and Fairfax blurted out the spy's information.

Lee listened skeptically. "I have no confidence in any scout," he said.

Yet, troubled, the general asked Fairfax what he thought of this Harrison. The major did not presume to offer an opinion, and Lee dismissed him.

Lee brooded over the irregular report. In his anxiety about the lack of information through regular channels, he decided to question Harrison personally. Twenty-five-year-old Colonel Sorrel escorted the weary spy into Lee's tent. Harrison, originally recommended to Longstreet by War Secretary Seddon, told his story again.

With the gold provided him by Longstreet, Harrison said, he had frequented the Washington saloons, striking up casual intimacies with Union officers, from whom he had learned that Hooker's army had crossed the Potomac. Although most spies were suspect because the gold of both sides looked the same to them, this doughty Harrison proved that his loyalty had been bought at least for the duration of the current campaign. From Washington he had walked the roads at night in order to mingle by day with the Union troops converging on Frederick. It was in Frederick that he, a supposed innocent, had quite casually learned that Lee's army was at Chambersburg. That part of his story had to be accurate.

On his way to Chambersburg, Harrison added, he had learned that two Union corps were close to the mountains. Then, as an afterthought, Harrison mentioned that General Meade had replaced Hooker in command of the Union army.

This was more ominous news to Lee than the proximity of the enemy. Lee never minded pugnacious blusterers such as Hooker. They could be counted on to defeat themselves. But General George Gordon Meade, an old friend from the regular army and husband of a girl with Virginia connections, was of a different breed.

"General Meade will make no blunder in my front," Lee said and prophetically added: "and if I make one he will make haste to take advantage of it."

To Harrison and Sorrel the middle-aged gentleman showed only his usual composure, though he had questioned and listened with the most concentrated attention. Convinced that Harrison was telling the truth, Lee did not reveal even this conviction. However, as soon as Colonel Sorrel had left with the spy of good faith, the general summoned his staff officers.


Excerpted from "Lee and His Men at Gettysburg"
by .
Copyright © 2011 Carolyn Dunaway.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

I Rendezvous with Disaster 3

II The Opening Phase 14

III "We Must all Do More Than Formerly" 29

IV "All is Vanity" 51

V "And Then A. P. Hill Came Up" 77

VI "The Good Soldier" 119

VII "Lee's Warhorse" 163

VIII "Pickett's Charge" 247

A Note On Sources and Selected Bibliography 353

Appendix 375

Index 385

Maps Guy Fleming)

1 The Campaign

2 The Scene of Battle

3 The First Day: July 1,1863

4 The Second Day: July 2,1863

5 The Third Day: July 3,1863

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