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A Spirit of Unbelief: Confederates Before Gettysburg

Lieutenant General A. P. Hill

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I’m hoping to take a few days off from writing about current events and spend a few days reposting some of my writings about the Battle of Gettysburg.


Padre Steve+

When Robert E. Lee learned of the Army of the Potomac’s presence north of the Potomac River he ordered his widely dispersed army concentrate near Cashtown and Gettysburg. It was a complicated movement that involved at least five major operations: the shift of the bulk of Ewell’s Second Corps from its planned attack on Harrisburg, the redirection of Early’s division east from its position on the Susquehanna to the west, the movement of Hill’s Third Corps from the area around Cashtown to a position east of Gettysburg, Longstreet’s First Corps north to Chambersburg and Cashtown and the cavalry brigades of Beverly Robertson, Grumble Jones and John Imboden which were to join the army in Pennsylvania. The movement “would take at least two days – the 29th and the 30th of June – and perhaps more…the complete its concentration, especially since the rains had “made the roads very muddy,” forcing “the infantry” to march off the roads….” [1]

Lieutenant General A.P. Hill’s Third Corps that was nearest of Lee’s major units to Cashtown and Gettysburg. Major General Harry Heth’s division led the corps and arrived at Cashtown on June 29th. His division was followed by that of Major General Dorsey Pender which arrived on the 30th. Hill ordered his last division under the command of Major General Richard Anderson to remain behind at “Fayetteville until July 1, when he would join the rest at Cashtown.” [2]

Cashtown was important as a road junction and because it “was situated at one of the few gaps in the Pennsylvania Mountains” and because one of the roads emanating from it “snaked eight miles to another community called Gettysburg.” [3] However the order to concentrate the army at Cashtown presented its own problems. First was the matter of forage. There was not enough room for all the units ordered to Cashtown to have adequate areas to forage, as:

“each division would (by the standard required of nineteenth-century armies) require a circle twelve and a half miles around its encampments to forage (for water, firewood, and feed for men and horses); one single regiment could denuded an acre of woodland just for firewood every three days.” [4]

Likewise, because of the limited road network, Cashtown was becoming a choke point which as his units closed in slowed their movement and created massive traffic problems and confusion. Hill ordered Heth’s division to take the lead and advance to Cashtown on the 29th. The units of Hill’s corps had to endure heavy rains on the 29th which slowed their march and Heth halted at Cashtown knowing that the army would concentrate there while Pender’s division moved into the area his division had vacated.

Early in the morning of June 30th Harry Heth decided to undertake a foraging expedition to Gettysburg to “search the town for army supplies (shoes especially), and to return the same day.” [5] It was the first in a series of miscalculations that brought Lee’s army into a general engagement that Lee wished to avoid and it is hard to comprehend in light of Lee’s orders not to precipitate a fight.

However, the expedition had taken a toll on the soldiers, especially in terms of shoes, clothes and equipment. The “long march over the hard macadam roads of the North had played havoc with the scraggly foot coverings of Lee’s men.” [6] After muster on the morning of June 30th Heth ordered Johnston Pettigrew’s “brigade to Gettysburg in search of supplies, especially badly needed shoes, which were badly needed by his the men of his division.” Heth, for a reason he never elaborated on decided that there must be shoes in Gettysburg. Perhaps he did not know that the town had been picked clean by John Gordon’s brigade of Jubal Early’s division just a few days before, but for whatever reason he believed this to be the case.

Hill’s Third Corps had been formed as part of the reorganization of the army following Stonewall Jackson’s death after the Battle of Chancellorsville. Hill had a stellar reputation as a division commander; his “Light Division” had distinguished itself on numerous occasions, especially at Antietam where its timely arrival after a hard forced march from Harper’s Ferry helped save Lee’s army late in the battle. At Chancellorsville Hill briefly succeeded Jackson until he too was wounded.

Hill was recommended for promotion to Lieutenant General and command of the new Third Corps by Lee on May 24th 1863. He was promoted over the heads of both Harvey Hill and Lafayette McLaws. The move displeased Longstreet who considered Lafayette McLaws “better qualified for the job.” Likewise there were others who felt that the command should have gone to Harvey Hill, now commanding the Department of North Carolina who’s “record was as good as that of Stonewall Jackson…but, not being a Virginian, he was not so well advertised.” [7]

Ambrose Powell Hill was slightly built and high strung. “Intense about everything” Hill was “one of the army’s intense disbelievers in slavery.” [8] Hill was an 1847 graduate of West Point and briefly served in Mexico but saw no combat. He spent some time in the Seminole wars but due to frequent bouts of ill-health he spent much of his career in garrison duty along the East Coast. Since he was prone to sickness he was assigned to the office of Coastal Survey, a Navy command from 1855 through 1861. Despite pleas from his superiors and his own opposition to secession and slavery, Hill resigned his commission just before Virginia’s secession.

At the outbreak of the war he “received his commission as colonel, and soon trained one of Johnston’s best regiments in the Valley.” [9] He commanded a brigade under Longstreet on the Peninsula and was promoted to Major General and command of the Light Division in May 1862, leading it with distinction, especially at Antietam where his march from Harper’s Ferry and timely arrival on the afternoon of September 17th saved the army of Northern Virginia from utter and complete destruction. He was plagued by health problems which had even delayed his graduation from West Point, health issues that would arise on the first day at Gettysburg.

Hill’s Third Corps was emblematic of the “makeshift nature of the reorganization of the whole army.” [10] It was composed of three divisions. His best and most experienced division was that of the recently promoted and hard fighting Major General Dorsey Pender. Pender’s division was built around four excellent brigades from Hill’s old “Light Division” one of which Pender had commanded before his promotion. Hill had strongly recommended Pender’s promotion during the reorganization, a proposal which was accepted by Lee. Pender, though a fierce fighter and excellent leader, found command of a division to be a heavy burden. He was “an intelligent, reflective man, deeply religious and guided by a strong sense of duty….” [11]

Hill’s second experienced division was that of Major General Richard Anderson. This division had been transferred from Longstreet’s First Corps during the reorganization. Longstreet resented losing the division to Hill, with who he had previously run afoul and this was yet another issue which failed to endear Hill to Longstreet. [12]

The unassuming Anderson had distinguished himself as a brigade and division commander in Longstreet’s corps, but in “an army of prima donnas, he was a self-effacing man, neither seeking praise for himself nor winning support by bestowing it on others.” [13] At Chancellorsville Anderson fought admirably and Lee wrote that Anderson was “distinguished for the promptness, courage and skill with which he and his division executed every order.” [14] With four seasoned brigades under excellent commanders it was a good addition to the corps, although the transition from Longstreet’s stolid and cautious style of command to Hill’s impetuous style introduced “another incalculable of the reshuffled army.” [15]

Major General Harry Heth’s division was the final infantry division assigned to Third Corps. The division was new and had was cobbled together from two brigades of Hill’s old Light Division and “the two new brigades that Jefferson Davis had forced on an already disrupted army organization.” [16] The organization of this division as well as its leadership would be problematic in the days to come, especially on June 30th and July 1st 1863. The hasty and makeshift organization under leaders who had not served together, many of who were new to command, as well as units which had not fought together spelled trouble.

Harry Heth, like Dorsey Pender was also newly promoted to his grade and the action at Gettysburg would be his first test in division command. Heth was a native Virginian. He came from a family that well connected both socially and politically. He had a social charm had “many friends and bound new acquaintances to him” readily. [17] Heth was a cousin of George Pickett. He was a West Point graduate and classmate of Hill. At West Point Heth had an undistinguished academic career and graduated last in the class of 1847. His career in the ante-bellum army was typical of many officers, he served “credibly in an 1855 fight with Sioux Indians” but his real claim to fame was in authoring the army’s marksmanship manual which was published in 1858. [18]

Major General Harry Heth

Heth’s career with the Confederate army serving in western Virginia was undistinguished but he was a protégé of Robert E. Lee who recommended him as a brigade commander to Jackson before Chancellorsville. Tradition states that of all his generals that Heth was the only one “whom Lee called by his first name.” [19] A.P. Hill when writing Lee about the choice of a successor for the Light Division noted that Heth was “a most excellent officer and gallant soldier” but in the coming campaign “my division under him, will not be half as effective as under Pender.” [20] Douglas Southall Freeman noted that Heth was “doomed to be one of those good soldiers…who consistently have bad luck.” [21]

Heth’s division was composed of two depleted brigades from the Light Division which had taken heavy casualties at Chancellorsville. One brigade, commanded by the hard fighting former regular army officer Brigadier General James Archer. Archer was from Maryland and a graduate of Princeton University who had given up a law practice to join the army. Described as a “little gamecock” who “had no sense of fear” [22] Archer had saved the Confederate line at Fredericksburg leading a desperate counterattack at Prospect Hill. The brigade was composed of four veteran regiments, but was now down to barely 1200 soldiers in the ranks by the time it arrived at Cashtown. However, the brigade which was recruited from Alabama and Tennessee was “well led and had a fine combat reputation.”

But the second brigade was more problematic. This was the Virginia brigade under the command of “the plodding, uninspiring Colonel John Brockenbrough.” [23] Brockenbrough was an “1850 of the Virginia Military Institute and a farmer,” who had “entered the Confederate service as Colonel of the 40th (Virginia) in May 1861.” [24] The brigade had once been considered one of the best in the army had deteriorated in quality following the wounding of its first commander Brigadier General Charles Field. Heth took command of it at Chancellorsville where both he and the brigade performed well. The brigade had taken very heavy casualties and now was reduced to under 1000 effectives. When Heth was promoted the lack of qualified officers left it under the command of its senior colonel, John Brockenbrough.[25] Lee did not consider Brockenbrough “suited for promotion” but “could be counted on to keep together a command sadly reduced in numbers.” [26]

Heth’s  third brigade came from Mississippi and North Carolina and was commanded by the “stuffy and ambitious” [27] Brigadier General Joe Davis.  Davis’s uncle was President Jefferson Davis. Davis served on his uncle’s staff for months during the early part of the war but had no combat experience, never leading as much as a company. [28] One author noted that Davis’s promotion to Brigadier General was  “as unadulterated an instance of nepotism as the record of the Confederacy offers.” [29] Davis’s subordinate commanders were no better; one of them, William Magruder was so incompetent that J.E.B. Stuart suggested that “he have his commission revoked.” In Magruder’s outfit only one of the nine field grade officers in his brigade had military training, and that was because he was a graduate of the Naval Academy, hardly fitting for service in the infantry. [30] This brigade was also a makeshift operation with two veteran regiments including the 11th Mississippi which had “gone through blood and fire together on the Peninsula through Antietam.” [31] After Antietam, these units were then paired with two new regiments and a new politically connected commander and sent to the backwater of North Carolina where they saw no action. The veteran regiments “mistrusted not only their commander, but the reliability of its yet untested units.” [32]

Brigadier General Johnston Pettigrew

Heth’s largest brigade was new to the army. Commanded by the North Carolina academic Brigadier General Johnston Pettigrew it had no combat experience. Pettigrew himself was considered a strong leader. He had been badly wounded at Seven Pines and thinking his wound mortal “he refused to permit his men to leave the ranks to carry him to the rear.” [33] He was captured but later paroled and returned to the army to command a brigade later in the year.

Hill was under the impression that Meade’s army was still miles away, having just come from meeting Lee who assured him that “the enemy are still at Middleburg,” (Maryland) “and have not yet struck their tents.” [34] With that assurance Heth decided to use June 30th to send Pettigrew’s brigade on the foraging expedition to Gettysburg. An officer present noted that Heth instructed Pettigrew “to go to Gettysburg with three of his regiments present…and a number of wagons for the purpose of collecting commissary and quartermaster stores for the use of the army.[35]

However Heth did instruct Pettigrew in no uncertain terms not to “precipitate a fight” should he encounter “organized troops” of the Army of the Potomac. [36] Heth was specific in his report that “It was told to Pettigrew that he might find in the town in possession of a home guard,…but if, contrary to expectations, he should find any organized troops capable of making resistance., or any part of the Army of the Potomac, he should not attack it.” [37]

That in mind anyone with the slightest experience in handling troops has to ask the question as to why Heth would employ “so many men on a long, tiring march, especially as without a cavalry escort he took the risk of sending them into a trap” when his “objects hardly justified” using such a large force. [38] Edwin Coddington is particularly critical of Heth in this regard.

Likewise it has to be asked why the next day in light of Lee’s standing orders not to provoke an engagement that Hill would send two divisions, two thirds of his corps on what was supposedly reconnaissance mission. Some have said that Hill would have had to move to Gettysburg on July 1st anyway due to forage needs of the army, [39] but this is not indicated in any of Hill or Heth’s reports.

As his troops neared Gettysburg Pettigrew observed the Federal cavalry of Buford’s 1st Cavalry Division as they neared the town. He received another report “indicating that drumming could be heard in the distance – which might mean infantry nearby, since generally cavalry generally used only bugles.” [40] He then prudently and in accordance with his orders not to precipitate a fight “elected to withdraw rather than risk battle with a foe of unknown size and composition.” [41] His troops began their retrograde at 11 a.m. leaving Buford’s cavalry to occupy the town at ridges. One Confederate wrote “in coming in contact with the enemy, had quite a little brush, but being under orders not to bring a general engagement fell back, followed by the enemy.” [42]

Upon returning Pettigrew told Hill and Heth that “he was sure that the force occupying Gettysburg was a part of the Army of the Potomac” but Hill and Heth discounted Pettigrew’s report. [43] “Heth did not think highly of such wariness” and “Hill agreed with Heth” [44] Hill believed that nothing was in Gettysburg “except possibly a cavalry vedette.” [45] Hill was not persuaded by Pettigrew or Pettigrew’s aide Lieutenant Louis Young who had previously served under both Hill and Pender. Young reported that the “troops that he saw were veterans rather than Home Guards.” [46] Hill reiterated to both that he did not believe “that any portion of the Army of the Potomac was up” but then according to Young Hill “expressed the hope that it was, as this was the place he wanted it to be.” [47] 

Part of the issue was related to the fact that Pettigrew, though highly intelligent, and who had been an observer of wars in Europe was not a professional soldier. Likewise, since had was new to the Army of the Northern Virginia he was an unknown to both Hill and Heth. As such they dismissed his report. In their casual dismissal of Pettigrew’s report, the West Point Graduates Hill and Heth may have manifested an often typical “distain for citizen soldiers…a professional questioning a talented amateur’s observations” [48]

Pettigrew was “aghast at Hill’s nonchalant attitude” [49] while Young was dismayed and later recalled that “a spirit of unbelief” seemed to cloud the thinking of Hill and Heth. [50] In later years Young wrote that the “blindness in part seems to have come over our commanders, who slow to believe in the presence of an organized army of the enemy, thought that there must be a mistake in the report taken back by General Pettigrew.” [51]

Since neither man believed Pettigrew’s report, Heth asked Hill “whether Hill would have any objection to taking his division to Gettysburg again to get those shoes.” Hill replied “none in the world.” [52] It was to be a fateful decision, a decision that brought about a series of events which in turn led to the greatest battle even fought on the American continent.

Lee’s biographer and apologist Douglas Southall Freeman wrote “On those four words fate hung” [53] and in “that incautious spirit, Hill launched Harry Heth’s division down the Chambersburg Pike and into battle at Gettysburg.” [54]


[1] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.128

[2] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command A Touchstone Book, Simon and Shuster New York 1968 p.194

[3] Robertson, James I. Jr. General A.P. Hill: The Story of a Confederate Warrior Random House, New York 1987

[4] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.128

[5] Ibid. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command p. 263

[6] Ibid. Robertson A.P. Hill p.205

[7] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.453

[8] Ibid. Dowdy, Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.79

[9] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command p.109

[10] Ibid. Dowdy, Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.88

[11] Ibid. Dowdy, Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.85

[12] Ibid. Dowdy, Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.86

[13] Ibid. Dowdy, Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.86

[14] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command p.512

[15] Ibid. Dowdy, Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.86

[16] Ibid. Dowdy, Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.87

[17] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command p.527

[18] Krick, Robert K. Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge: Failures of Brigade Leadership on the First Day of Gettysburg in The First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gallagher, Gary W. Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 1992 p.96

[19] Ibid. Krick. Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.96

[20] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command p.527

[21] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command p.46

[22] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.134

[23] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p.55

[24] Pfanz Harry W. Gettysburg: The First Day University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London 2001 p.118

[25] Ibid. Dowdy, Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.87

[26] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command p.529

[27] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.133

[28] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command p.533

[29] Ibid. Krick. Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.99

[30] Ibid. Krick. Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.101

[31] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.134

[32] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.134

[33] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command p.136

[34] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.131

[35] Trudeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.128

[36] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.136

[37] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.129

[38] Ibid. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command p. 263

[39] Ibid. Guelzo. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.131 This argument does have merit based on the considerations Guelzo lists but neither Hill, Heth or Lee make any mention of that need in their post battle reports.

[40] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.130

[41] Gallagher, Gary. Confederate Corps Leadership on the First Day at Gettysburg: A.P. Hill and Richard S. Ewell in a Difficult Debut in The First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gallagher, Gary W. Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 1992 p.42

[42] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.135

[43] Ibid. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command pp. 263-264

[44] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.465

[45] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.27

[46] Ibid. Gallagher, Gary. Confederate Corps Leadership on the First Day at Gettysburg p.42

[47] Ibid. Pfanz. Gettysburg: The First Day p.27

[48] Ibid. Gallagher, Gary. Confederate Corps Leadership on the First Day at Gettysburg p.42

[49] Ibid. Guelzo. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.131

[50] Ibid. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command p. 264

[51] Ibid Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.27

[52] Ibid. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command p. 264

[53] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command p. 563

[54] Ibid. Krick. Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.94



Filed under civil war, Gettysburg, History, leadership, Military, us army

Confederate Artillery Organization 1861-1865


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yes, indeed, another of my articles dealing with Civil War artillery. Geeks, wonks, and buffs rejoice.

Until tomorrow,


Padre Steve+

At the beginning of the war the Confederacy hastily formed an artillery service. As in the Union army the basic unit was the battery, and these batteries were initially assigned to infantry brigades. As such, the Confederate organization had the same problems as their Union counterparts. Infantry commanders with little or no understanding in the use and deployment of their artillery frequently interfered with their artillerymen. Since the Confederates had very little field artillery to begin the war and most was concentrated in the east, Confederate tactical and organizational developments began with the Army of Northern Virginia and were later introduced to other commands.

The artillery was assigned to brigades, but Confederate divisions did have an artillery chief, however, these officers had “difficulty supervising the batteries. The brigade commanders resented the artillery chief’s intervention, and the entire system created divided authority and responsibility.” [1] Like the Army of the Potomac, the Confederates formed an artillery reserve under Brigadier General William Pendleton a graduate of West Point where he graduated a year behind Robert E. Lee and classmate of Joseph Johnston. Pendleton organized and commanded a battery at First Manassas. Joseph Johnston recognized his administrative ability, thus a personal relationship as well as “circumstance and a certain aptitude for organization give him an advancement to the post chief of artillery.” [2] When Lee took command of the army outside of Richmond Pendleton found himself busy. “With Lee’s encouragement…Pendleton, culled the unattached artillery around Richmond, with a view of transferring guns to field batteries.” [3] Lee retained Pendleton as artillery chief after the Seven Days even though his “performance in the campaign had revealed his serious shortcoming as an artillery commander,” [4] as well as in the organization of the Army’s artillery.

In June 1862 Lee had Pendleton revise the regulations governing the artillery. These regulations “centralized all batteries under a chief of artillery for each division.” [5] This was a step forward but effectiveness was undercut by the brigade commanders who had operational control once they were attached. Likewise, while the organization gave great flexibility to the artillery, the “parochialism of the division itself now became the problem. There was no mechanism to mass guns from more than one division except by drawing on the reserve.” [6]

Pendleton’s lack of ability was demonstrated at both Antietam and Chancellorsville and as artillery chief he was slow to introduce organizational changes to improve the effectiveness of the artillery. Lee treated Pendleton with deference and although he recognized Pendleton “could not compare with Alexander or a handful of other officers in the artillery in ability and execution. Lee understood that and slowly pushed Pendleton into roles of decreasing importance and responsibility.” [7] After the Seven Days, Porter Alexander wrote: “Our artillery, too, was even in worse need of reorganization. A battery was attached, or supposed to be, to every brigade of infantry. Besides these, a few batteries were held in reserve under old General Pendleton. Naturally our guns & ammunition were far inferior to the enemy’s, & this scattering of the commands made it impossible ever to mass our guns in effective numbers. For artillery fire loses effect if scattered.” [8]


Brigadier General William Pendleton, CSA

One are that the Confederates advanced more rapidly than the Union was in the appointment of field grade officers in the artillery. The first Confederate Secretary of War Judah P. Benjamin, successfully urged the Confederate Provisional Congress to authorize the appointment of “officers of artillery above the rank of captain, without reference to the number of batteries under the actual command of the officers so appointed, not to exceed in number, however, one brigadier general for every eighty guns, and one major for every sixteen guns.” Additional officers of the rank of captain and first lieutenant (not to exceed eighty) were authorized in April 1862.” [9] This gave the Confederates a good sized corps of field grade artillery officers from which they would need to eventually staff artillery battalions in 1863. Among these officers were Porter Alexander, Thomas Rosser, Stapleton Crutchfield, and John Pelham.


Brigadier General Edward Porter Alexander 

During the winter of 1862-1863 Pendleton belatedly complained to Lee about the organizational weaknesses and limitations of the artillery arm of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. That process had begun during the summer of 1862 and Pendleton “delegated reorganization to Alexander and Col. Stapleton Crutchfield, Jackson’s chief.” [10] Alexander and Crutchfield developed “the first modern battalion system in artillery organization.” [11] Pendleton, Crutchfield, and Alexander “recommended consolidating every four batteries into a battalion, with one battery assigned to each division.” [12] The commander of the artillery battalion supporting each division became the chief of the divisional artillery. Each corps had its own senior artillery staff officer, usually a Colonel or Lieutenant Colonel, however as Alexander noted, at first the chief “was little more than the title given to the ranking battalion commander. But in battle he occupied himself principally with his own battalion.” [13] In addition to the battalions attached to each division, “each corps had two battalions, which it could employ in conjunctions with divisions for heavy, concentrated fire.” [14]

Lee approved the changes on February 16th 1863, in time for the coming spring and summer campaigns, and “completed the reorganization during the winter when he assigned a field grade officer to each battalion and reduced the artillery reserve to six batteries.” [15]

After Chancellorsville all of the batteries that had been Lee’s artillery reserve were reassigned to the various corps. Pendleton’s duties were now restricted to advising Lee on artillery matters while remaining Lee’s spiritual adviser, and unofficial enforcer of morality in the Army of Northern Virginia. While this was a great step forward to give Lee’s Corps commanders control of their artillery gave took, the reorganization took away any flexibility that Lee might need to send artillery where it was needed in the Gettysburg campaign of 1863, and Pendleton, although having no command authority interfered with the Confederate artillery preparations for Pickett’s Charge by redeploying artillery batteries that Alexander had designated for the mission and removing the artillery train to the rear without Alexander’s knowledge, thus ensuring that Alexander could not resupply his caissons or guns during that fateful attack.

The Confederate artillery organization remained the same throughout the remainder of the war, its battalion structure was very similar to the later Union organization of the artillery brigades which were assigned to divisions, despite the difference in nomenclature. The pioneering work in organizing artillery battalions and brigades that were for practical purposes assigned to the same division would be the basis of modern artillery organization and would be adopted by the European armies of Britain, France, Austria, and Prussia in the years following the war.


[1] Ibid. McKenny The Organizational History of Field Artillery 1775-2003 p.59

[2] Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command, One volume abridgement by Stephen W Sears, Scribner, New York 1998 p.35

[3] Glatthaar, Joseph T. General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse The Free Press, Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2008 p.131

[4] Wert, Jeffry D. A Glorious Army: Robert E. Lee’s Triumph 1862-1863 Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2011 p.64

[5] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.131

[6] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.132

[7] Ibid. Glatthaar General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse 2008 p.340

[8] Ibid. Alexander Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander p.104

[9] Ibid. McKenny The Organizational History of Field Artillery 1775-2003 p.61

[10] Golay, Michael. To Gettysburg and Beyond: The Parallel Lives of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and Edward Porter Alexander, Crown Publishers, New York 1994 p.135

[11] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.132

[12] Ibid. Glatthaar General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse 2008 p.249

[13] Ibid. Alexander Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander p.168

[14] Ibid. Golay To Gettysburg and Beyond: The Parallel Lives of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and Edward Porter Alexander p.249

[15] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.132


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Filed under civil war, History, Military

The Road to Gettysburg: An Army Confident But Blind


Lee Confers with his Commanders en-route to Gettysburg 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

For those that have followed my writing for some time you know that I teach military history and ethics at the Joint Forces Staff College. One of the great joys that I have is leading the Gettysburg Staff Ride, which is an optional event for students that want to participate. When I took the position here I took some of my older writings on Gettysburg and put them into a student study guide and text. That was two years ago. Then the text was about 70 pages long. It is now about 870 pages long and eventually I hope to get it published. When and if that happens I expect it to become two, and possibly three books.

Over the next few days I will be posting potions of a chapter that I have rewritten about the surprises that various commanders experienced on June 28th 1863. The lessons for today are that war, any war, is the realm of chance, as such, surprises always happen. It is said that no plan survives first contact with the enemy, but some plans don’t survive that long. As you read this don’t just look at the events, but look at the people, and their reaction to the surprises that they encountered, for that is where we come to understand history.

So even if you are not a Civil War buff, or even a history buff, take the time to look at the people, their actions, and the things that made them who they were, and influenced what they did. History is about people.

So please enjoy,


Padre Steve+

If you were an ordinary soldier in either the Army of the Potomac or Army of Northern Virginia June 28th 1863 would not have been much different than any of the previous days. In fact the day was relatively “uneventful for men in the ranks.” [1] By now, both armies had been on the march for over three weeks, the soldiers enduring blazing summer heat, as well as torrential rains as the moved north. While there had been cavalry clashes at Brandy Station and along the Blue Ridge, and Ewell had successfully overrun and Milroy’s command at Winchester, the vast bulk of the men in either army had yet to engage in combat.

By the evening of June 27th both the Confederate and Union armies were across the Potomac. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was now mostly in Pennsylvania. Dick Ewell’s Second Corps was preparing to attack Harrisburg, A.P. Hill’s Third Corps was near Cashtown and James Longstreet’s First Corps was gathering in the vicinity of Chambersburg.

As the Confederate troops advanced into Pennsylvania morale was high, one soldier wrote “Never did soldiers appear more buoyant and cheerful than Lee’s army.” [2] Dorsey Pender commanding a division in Hill’s Third Corps wrote his wife “I never saw troops march as ours do; they will go 15 or 20 miles a day without leaving a straggler and hoop and yell on occasions.” [3]

Unit Quartermasters, acting under Lee’s orders to forage “scoured the countryside in search of foodstuffs, livestock and anything usable.” [4] That bounty was considerable, and “included twenty-six thousand cattle and twenty-thousand sheep” [5] which were promptly driven back to Virginia. In addition to “officially” sanctioned foraging soldiers and officers did some of their own. Some of Dick Ewell’s staff took the opportunity to purchase items hard to come by in the South for their families, one bought “china buttons, calico dress patterns, soaps, and spices for his mother and sister.” [6] In spite of Lee’s prohibition of looting many soldiers took the opportunity to plunder, one soldier wrote “We press every thing that we think that will be beneficial to our cause and cuntry.” [7]

With Lee in Pennsylvania the bulk of the Army of the Potomac, still under the command of Joe Hooker was concentrated in the vicinity of Frederick, Maryland. Despite a slow start and his disagreement with Lincoln and Halleck regarding an attack across the Rappahannock into Lee’s rear, Hooker had handled the army skillfully in its pursuit of Lee. One decision that he made early, based on the recommendation of Major General Henry Slocum, commander of XII Corps, was to pre-stage pontoon bridges near the Potomac in case he had to cross that river. So swift was his movement and he had “completed its crossing only twenty-four hours after the last of Lee’s infantry had crossed, and the whole of it was in Maryland before either Stuart or Lee knew that the crossing had even begun.” [8]

The morale of the soldiers of the Army of Northern Virginia was high, and reflected Lee’s own attitude toward the campaign. One officer recalled that “Lee’s army was never in better spirits than in the days leading up to Gettysburg.” [9] Colonel Eppa Hunton of the 8th Virginia recalled that Lee told him that “the invasion of Pennsylvania would be a great success, and if so, it would end the war, or we would have rest for some time to come.” Hunton added, “General Lee was so enthusiastic about the movement that I threw away my doubts and became as enthusiastic as he was.” [10]

Like its commander the Army of Northern Virginia was superbly confident as it marched north. A Virginian observing the army as it marched through Maryland recalled: “The health of the troops was never better and above all the morale of the army was never more favorable for offensive or defensive operations….Victory will inevitably attend our arms in any collision with the enemy.” [11] Another soldier later recalled “no one ever admitted the possibility of defeat across the Potomac.” [12]

Lee was uneasy regarding his lack of knowledge of the location of the Army of the Potomac or Hooker’s intentions, but he was not overly concerned. Though he had not heard anything from J.E.B. Stuart since June 23rd, when Stuart had begun his ride, Lee was still confident in the success of his operation and the prospects of battle. John Bell Hood, Lee’s companion from his days in Texas visited Lee at Chambersburg and “found the commanding general in “buoyant spirits.” Lee told his former Lieutenant “Ah! General, the enemy is a long time in finding us; if he does not succeed soon, we must go in search of him.” [13] On the night of June 27th Lee “still assumed that the mounted forces were doing their full duty and that all was well; but there was uneasiness, almost exasperation, over the failure of the cavalry to send in any information of the enemy’s movements.” [14]

Not knowing the location of the Federal army Lee met with Major General Isaac Trimble on the evening of June 27th at his headquarters near Chambersburg. Though Trimble had been slated to command to division now commanded by Allegheny Johnson, he had been slow to recover from a leg wound incurred in 1862 and could not take command. A supernumerary Major General without a command, Trimble had caught up with the army as it moved north into Maryland. Trimble told Lee that he “could recruit a division of troops from the ranks of his native Marylanders.” [15] as Lee did not want to lose “the services of so hard a fighter as this veteran of all the Second Corps victories from First through Second Manassas.” [16] That being said Trimble soon became a nuisance to Lee and “after just two days Lee sent him on to Ewell.” [17]

However, Trimble recorded the atmosphere in Lee’s headquarters and just how confident Lee appeared in spite of not knowing the location or the intent of the Army of the Potomac:

“Our army is in good spirits, not overly fatigued, and can be concentrated on any point in twenty-four hours or less. I have not yet heard that the enemy have crossed the Potomac, and I am waiting to hear from General Stuart….They will come up, probably through Frederick, broken down with hunger and hard marching….I shall throw up an overwhelming force on their advance, crush it, follow up the success, [and] drive one corps back on another…create a panic and virtually destroy the enemy.” [18]

Trimble noted that he was “stirred” by Lee’s words and that told Lee that he did “not doubt of the outcome of such a confrontation, especially because the moral of the Army of Northern Virginia had never been higher than it was now.” [19] Lee agreed and “as Trimble rose to go, Lee laid his hand on the map and pointed to a little town east of the mountains, Gettysburg by name, from which roads radiated like so many spikes. “Hereabout,” he said, “we shall probably meet the army and fight a great battle, and if God gives us the victory, the war will be over and we shall achieve the recognition of our independence.” [20]


[1] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command A Touchstone Book, Simon and Shuster New York 1968 p. 180

[2] Wert, Jeffry D. A Glorious Army: Robert E. Lee’s Triumph 1862-1863 Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2011 p.229

[3] Robertson, James I. Jr. General A.P. Hill: The Story of a Confederate Warrior Random House, New York 1987 p.204

[4] Glatthaar, Joseph T. General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse The Free Press, Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2008 p.271

[5] Goldfield, David. America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation Bloomsbury Press, New York 2011 p.284

[6] Pfanz, Donald. Richard S. Ewell: A Soldier’s Life University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London 1998 p.298

[7] Ibid. Glatthaar General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse p.272

[8] Catton, Bruce The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road Doubleday and Company, Garden City New York, 1952 p.255

[9] Taylor, John M. Duty Faithfully Performed: Robert E Lee and His Critics Brassey’s, Dulles VA 1999 p.139

[10] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.226

[11] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.67

[12] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.455

[13] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.230

[14] Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command, One volume abridgement by Stephen W Sears, Scribner, New York 1998 p.551

[15] Ibid. Pfanz Richard S. Ewell p.300

[16] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.445

[17] Ibid. Pfanz Richard S. Ewell pp.300-301

[18] Taylor, John M. Duty Faithfully Performed: Robert E Lee and His Critics Brassey’s, Dulles VA 1999 p.140

[19] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.446

[20] Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee an abridgment by Richard Harwell, Touchstone Books, New York 1997 p.320

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The Most Lovable of All Lee’s Generals: A.P. Hill


Lieutenant General Ambrose Powell Hill

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I am continuing to periodically intersperse and publish short articles about various commanders at Gettysburg on the site. These all are drawn from my student text and will likely become a book in their own right when I finish the chapter on the Union commanders.  The reason is I am going to do this is because I have found that readers are often more drawn to the lives of people than they are events. As I have noted before that people matter, even deeply flawed people, and we can learn from them. Sometimes good and even honorable people serve malignant causes, while bad or even wicked people support good causes, usually for selfish reasons, but that is the constant quandary that human beings find themselves.

Today’s article is about Confederate Lieutenant General A.P. Hill. Hill is an interesting character to me, a man of a lot of contradictions both on and off the battlefield. He was gallant and reckless at the same time plagued with ill-health, some of which was certainly real, but at some times may have been stress induced. He made lasting friendships with men who he would later oppose in battle. He fought for a cause that he found repugnant for he hated slavery and the maltreatment of blacks, even condemning the actions of the people of his home town before the war in that regard. In an army filled with highly religious officers, even some who might be termed fanatical in terms of their beliefs, Hill was a skeptic who had little appreciation for those like Stonewall Jackson who he believed were fanatics.

So anyway, tomorrow I will be writing about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, one of the darkest days in our history.


Padre Steve+

Ambrose Powell Hill was born about ten miles from Culpepper Court House Virginia in 1825. He was the youngest son of a “a highly esteemed, merchant, farmer, and politician….noted for his courage, famed for his hospitality and beloved for his character.” [1] The young Powell Hill was a good student and gifted horseman who loved the outdoors. His mother was introverted and a hypochondriac who seldom left the house and through her he acquired a love of reading.

As a child Hill attended Black Hills Seminary, a private school for well to do families and though he was a good student was not fond of the significant religious overtones of the school. In addition his mother, who had been raised Episcopalian became caught up in a Baptist revival which swept Northern Virginia in 1840. His mother embraced the austere faith of her new church. Soon “dancing, boisterous conduct, card-playing, and all forms of theatrics were banned in the Main Street home.” [2] From that time on the young Hill “spurned religion” and “always looked with disapproval on anyone who – like Stonewall Jackson, for instance- practiced religion with excessive intensity.” [3]

With his father’s approval and his mother approbation Hill sought admission to West Point and was accepted in 1842. Hill had little problem with the academics of the academy, but conduct was another matter. Hill entered the West Point with a good number of men who would become famous over the next two decades including George McClellan, Thomas Jackson, Cadmus Wilcox, Darius Couch and George Pickett. Hill would have been part of the illustrious class of 1846, but the young cadet had a certain proclivity for women and a certain amount of debauchery, causing him to lose a year of study after contracting “a case of gonorrhea, followed by complications, which were followed by lingering prostatitis.” [4] These afflictions caused many other ailments that would plague him the rest of his life. At West Point, Hill roomed with George McClellan, a refined cadet from Philadelphia, and became a longtime friend. His delayed graduation put him in the class of 1847 where along with his new roommate Julian McAllister and friends Harry Heth and Ambrose Burnside were the social leaders of the class due to their later “practical jokes and boisterous conduct.” [5]

Hill graduated fifteenth in his class and was assigned to the artillery. The young Second Lieutenant accompanied Brigadier General Joseph Lane’s brigade to Mexico where he saw limited action at the end of the war and mainly served on occupation duty. In Mexico and in the following years he was stricken with various fevers including typhoid and yellow fever, as well as recurrences of his prostatitis which so limited his ability to serve in the field with the artillery that he requested a transfer to a desk job. This he was granted by Secretary of War Jefferson Davis who detailed him “for special duty in the United States Coast Survey offices in Washington D.C.” [6]

The assignment to the Coast Survey offices was unusual, especially for Hill’s era of service, for they were a part of the Department of the Navy. Despite much political support, Hill could not get promoted to captain, most likely due to the fact that he was working for the Navy. Hill was generally unlucky at love being twice engaged and twice rejected, the latter time when his fiancée’s parents learned that he had had gonorrhea.

But Hill eventually found a bride as war drew near, Kitty Morgan McClung. She was a young and well off widow who was the sister of Confederate Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan. The two had a happy marriage and were nearly insuperable, Hill affectionately called her Dolly. They had four daughters, only two of who reached adulthood the last born three months after Hill’s death at Petersburg. During the war Dolly had a hard time remaining away from her husband. “She appeared to be impervious to danger and repeatedly ignored Hill’s admonitions to stay away from the front.” [7] Legend has it that she was nearly captured when attempting to spy on Union General Philip Sheridan.

When war came Hill’s friends at the Coastal Survey attempted to convince him to remain with the Union, as serving in their office he would have little chance of taking up arms against Virginia. The now happily settled and married Virginian was torn. He hated slavery and the depreciations visited on blacks; having in 1850 responded to the lynching of a young black man in his home town of Lynchburg: “Shame, shame upon you all, good citizens…Virginia must crawl unless you vindicate good order or discipline and hang every son of a bitch connected with this outrage.” [8] Likewise he was not in favor of secession, but he, like so many other Southern officers felt a stronger connection to family and his Virginia heritage than to the Union, and resigned his commission on February 26th 1861.

Hill was appointed as a Colonel of infantry in May 1861 to organize and command the 13th Virginia Infantry regiment. He commanded the regiment in the Valley and western Virginia as well as at First Manassas. By February 1862 he was a Brigadier General commanding Longstreet’s old Virginia brigade on the Peninsula where he distinguished himself against McClellan at Williamsburg. On May 26th 1862 he was promoted to Major General and given command of the very large so called “Light Division.” He emerged from the fighting on the Peninsula, the battles around Richmond and the Seven Days “with the reputation of being one of the best combat officers that Lee had.” [9] However, his success on the battlefield, like so many commanders, came at great cost. In those battles his division suffered nearly 5,500 casualties. “Six colonels and three majors were killed; two brigadiers (Anderson and Pender), eleven colonels and six lieutenant colonels wounded.” [10]

Hill had an earned reputation as a brilliant division commander with the Light Division. Despite his clashes with Longstreet, and especially with Jackson, who had Hill arrested twice and attempted to have him court-martialed, Lee recommended him to take command of Third Corps. Lee sang his praise of Hill and his abilities to Jefferson Davis noting that Hill was “the best soldier of his grade with me.” [11] However, Hill had never commanded more than one division in action, except for the confused hour after Jackson had been struck down. Hill, however, was devoted, prompt, and energetic, and deserved promotion.” [12]

Hill’s reputation as a superb division commander was well earned. At Antietam when Lee’s army was in danger of destruction, he “drove his men at a killing pace toward the sound of distant gunfire….” [13] Hill’s “Light Division’s remarkable march from Harper’s Ferry- seventeen miles in less than eight hours- rivaled the best marks by Jackson’s famous foot cavalry.” [14] Upon his arrival “instantly recognized the military situation, Kyd Douglas wrote, “and without waiting for the rest of the division and without a breathing spell he threw his columns into line and moved against the enemy, taking no note of their numbers.” [15] Hill’s march saved the Army of Northern Virginia from destruction as he dealt reverses to his old friends McClellan and Burnside. “Lee’s reference to him in his official Sharpsburg report, “And then A.P. Hill came up,” had become a byword in the army.” [16] There were other times, notably at Second Manassas and Fredericksburg where “he was sometimes careless on the battlefield,” and in both instances “his defensive postings were poor and nearly proved very costly.” [17]

Hill was a “nervous wiry man with a persistent chip of underappreciation [sic] on his shoulders and a bevy of chronic illnesses when under stress.” [18] He had an “impetuous streak and fiery temperament that matched his red beard, traits that at times had brought him trouble on the battlefield and off…” [19] Despite this, Hill exhibited a fondness and care for the welfare of his men that earned their respect and admiration. One officer called him “the most lovable of all Lee’s generals,” while “his manner so courteous as almost to lack decision.” [20]

Hill detested Jackson, who he referred to as “that old Presbyterian fool.” [21] His poor relations with Jackson’s confidants at Second Corps ensured that Ewell took Second Corps when Lee reorganized the army after Chancellorsville.

Lee appointed Hill to command Third Corps of which “half of the troops had been with him all along” [22] in the Light Division. Lee liked Hill’s aggressiveness and command instincts, which mirrored his own. Lee hoped that Hill’s aggressive instincts as a division commander would translate into success at the corps level. Longstreet was not in favor of Powell Hill’s appointment, most likely due to his altercation with him the previous year and lobbied for the promotion of D.H. Hill.

In his letter recommending the promotion of A.P. Hill and Ewell to serve as corps commanders, Lee wrote to Davis:

“I wish to take advantage of every circumstance to inspire and encourage…the officers and men to believe that their labors are appreciated, and that when vacancies occur that they will receive the advantages of promotion….I do not know where to get better men than those I have named.” [23]

But the decision to promote Ewell and Hill, both Virginians, stirred some dissent among those that believed that Lee was “favoring Virginians over officers from other states. The promotion of A.P. Hill, as previous noted was “made over the head of two Major Generals more senior than Hill- North Carolinian D.H. Hill and Georgian Lafayette McLaws.” [24] There is some validity to this perception, as Longstreet’s biographer Jeffry Wert noted:

“While the bulk of the troops hailed from outside the Old Dominion, two of the three corps commanders, six of the ten division commanders – including Jeb Stuart with the cavalry – and sixteen of forty-seven brigade commanders were natives of Virginia, along with the army commander and the chief of artillery.” [25]

As a Corps commander Hill enjoyed the confidence of many of his commanders, “the affection of his staff and the admiration of his men.” [26] He ceases to engage in conflict with other officers but “after advancement to corps command, Hill – the victim of what now seems to be a psychosomatic ailment – performed somewhat unevenly and was often incapacitated.” [27] For whatever reason, ill-health or the added responsibility Hill “is not the same man who impetuously led the fighting Light division.” [28]

His sickness did not mean that he was either shirking duty or a coward. During the final agony of the Army of Northern Virginia Hill, who was very sick, left his sick bed against the advice of his doctor to resume command of his decimated Third Corps at Petersburg. On April 1st he was shot through the heart by a Union infantryman of the 138th Pennsylvania as he attempted to ascertain the situation his broken corps faced as the Confederate lines collapsed.

His pregnant wife was told of his death and in the chaos of the fall of Richmond and the Confederate retreat it took several days before Hill’s body was buried. Dolly remarried in 1870, one of her daughters noted that “she was very averse to talking of anything connected with the war…” and nothing, not even a pardon from the Federal government “softened Dolly’s bitterness over the struggle that had taken her husband’s life.” [29] That bitterness also made her refuse “to support any of the “Lost Cause” sentiments that sprouted up during this time.” [30] She died in Lexington Kentucky in 1920.


[1] Robertson, James I. Jr. General A.P. Hill: The Story of a Confederate Warrior Random House, New York 1987 p.5

[2] Ibid. Robertson General A.P. Hill p.6

[3] Ibid. Robertson General A.P. Hill pp.6-7

[4] Waugh, John C. The Class of 1846: From West Point to Appomattox, Stonewall Jackson, George McClellan and their Brothers Ballantine Books, New York 1994 p.166

[5] Ibid. Robertson General A.P. Hill p.13

[6] Ibid. Robertson General A.P. Hill p.26

[7] Ibid. Wilson and Clair They Also Served p.91

[8] Ibid. Robertson General A.P. Hill p.22

[9] Ibid. Robertson General A.P. Hill p.95

[10] Ibid. Robertson General A.P. Hill p.95

[11] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.526

[12] Ibid. Freeman Lee p.304

[13] Ibid. Robertson, General A.P. Hillp.143

[14] Sears, Stephen W. Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam Houghton-Mifflin Company, Boston and New York 1983 p.285

[15] Ibid. Robertson General A.P. Hill p.144

[16] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.301

[17] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.45

[18] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.22

[19] Ibid. Sears Landscape Turned Red p.285

[20] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.301

[21] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.22

[22] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.434

[23] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.526

[24] Ibid. Taylor, John Duty Faithfully Performed p.290

[25] Ibid. Wert General James Longstreet p.249

[26] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.35

[27] Ibid. Warner Generals in Gray p.135

[28] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.35

[29] Ibid. Robertson General A.P. Hill p.321

[30] Ibid. Wilson and Clair They Also Served p.91

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“We Are All Americans” Surrender at Appomattox

appomattox surrender

One hundred and fifty years ago on the 9th and 10th of April 1865, four men, Ulysses S Grant, Robert E. Lee, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and Ely Parker, taught succeeding generations the value of mutual respect and reconciliation. They would do so after a bitter and bloody war that had cost the lives of over 600,000 Americans which had left hundreds of thousands others maimed, shattered or without a place to live, and seen vast swaths of the country ravaged by war and its attendant plagues.

The men were all very different, Lee was a Southern aristocrat and career army officer, Grant, the officer of humble means who had struggled with alcoholism and failed in his civilian life before returning to the army when war began. Chamberlain, was the professor of rhetoric and natural and revealed religion, the hero of Little Round Top, who helped exemplify the importance of citizen soldiers in peace and war. Finally there was Parker, a full-blooded Seneca Indian; a professional engineer, a man who was barred from being an attorney because as a Native American he was never considered a citizen. Although he had been rejected from serving in the army for the same reason, his friend Grant had obtained him a commission and kept him on his staff.

On the morning of the 9th Confederate General Robert E. Lee replied to an entreaty of Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant requesting that he and his Army of Northern Virginia be allowed to surrender. Lee wrote to Grant:


Lieut. Gen. U.S. GRANT:

I received your note of this morning on the picket-line, whither I had come to meet you and ascertain definitely what terms were embraced in your proposal of yesterday with reference to the surrender of this army. I now ask an interview in accordance with the offer contained in your letter of yesterday for that purpose.

R.E. LEE, General.

The once mighty Army of Northern Virginia which had won so many victories was now a haggard but proud force of about 15,000 soldiers. For Lee to continue the war now would mean that they face hopeless odds against a vastly superior enemy. Grant recognized this and wrote Lee:

I am equally anxious for peace with yourself, and the whole North entertains the same feeling. The terms upon which peace can be had are well understood. By the South laying down their arms they will hasten that most desirable event, save thousands of human lives, and hundreds of millions of property not yet destroyed. Seriously hoping that all our difficulties may be set-tied without the loss of another life, I subscribe myself, &c.,

Since the high water mark at Gettysburg, Lee’s army had been on the defensive. His ill-fated offensive into Pennsylvania being one of the two climactic events that sealed the doom of the Confederacy. The other was Grant’s victory at Vicksburg which fell to him a day after Pickett’s Charge.

The bloody defensive struggle lasted through 1864 as Grant bled the Confederates dry during the Overland Campaign, leading to the long siege of Petersburg. Likewise the armies of William Tecumseh Sherman had cut a swath through the Deep South and were moving toward Virginia from the Carolinas.

With each battle following Gettysburg the Army of Northern Virginia became weaker and finally after the nine month long siege of Petersburg ended with a Union victory there was little else to do. On the morning of April 9th a final attempt to break through the Union lines by John Gordon’s division was turned back by vastly superior Union forces.

grant 1

Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, United States Army

On April 7th Grant wrote a letter to Lee which began the process of ending the war in Virginia. He wrote:

General R. E. LEE:

The result of the last week must convince you of the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia in this struggle. I feel that it is so, and regard it as my duty to shift from myself the responsibility of any further effusion of blood, by asking of you the surrender of that portion of the C. S. Army known as the Army of Northern Virginia.

U.S. GRANT, Lieutenant-General

Lee was hesitant to surrender knowing Grant’s reputation for insisting on unconditional surrender, terms that Lee could not accept. He replied to Grant:


I have received your note of this date. Though not entertaining the opinion you express on the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia, I reciprocate your desire to avoid useless effusion of blood, and therefore, before considering your proposition, ask the terms you will offer on condition of its surrender.

R.E. LEE, General.

The correspondence continued over the next day even as the Confederates hoped to fight their way out of the trap that they were in. But now Robert E. Lee, who had through his efforts extended the war for at least six months knew that he could no longer continue. Even so some of his younger subordinates wanted to continue the fight. When his artillery chief Porter Alexander recommended that the Army be released, “take to the woods and report to their state governors” Lee replied:

“We have simply now to face the fact that the Confederacy has failed. And as Christian men, Gen. Alexander, you & I have no right to think for one moment of our personal feelings or affairs. We must consider only the effect which our action will have upon the country at large.”

Lee continued:

“Already [the country] is demoralized by the four years of war. If I took your advice, the men would be without rations and under no control of their officers. They would be compelled to rob and steal in order to live…. We would bring on a state of affairs it would take the country years to recover from… You young fellows might go bushwhacking, but the only dignified course for me would be to go to General Grant and surrender myself and take the consequences of my acts.”

Alexander was so humbled at Lee’s reply he later wrote “I was so ashamed of having proposed such a foolish and wild cat scheme that I felt like begging him to forget he had ever heard it.” When Alexander saw the gracious terms of the surrender he was particularly impressed with how non-vindictive the terms were, especially in terms of parole and amnesty for the surrendered soldiers.

Abraham Lincoln had already set the tone for the surrender in his Second Inaugural Address given just over a month before the surrender of Lee’s army. Lincoln closed that speech with these words of reconciliation:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”


General Robert E. Lee, CSA

Lee met Grant at the house of Wilmer McLean, who had moved to Appomattox in 1861 after his home near Manassas had been used as a Confederate headquarters and was damaged by artillery fire. Lee was dressed in his finest uniform complete with sash, while Grant was dressed in a mud splattered uniform and overcoat only distinguished from his soldiers by the three stars on his should boards. Grant’s dress uniforms were far to the rear in the baggage trains and Grant was afraid that his slovenly appearance would insult Lee, but it did not. It was a friendly meeting, before getting down to business the two reminisced about the Mexican War.

Grant provided his vanquished foe very generous surrender terms:

“In accordance with the substance of my letter to you of the 8th inst., I propose to receive the surrender of the Army of N. Va. on the following terms, to wit: Rolls of all the officers and men to be made in duplicate. One copy to be given to an officer designated by me, the other to be retained by such officer or officers as you may designate. The officers to give their individual paroles not to take up arms against the Government of the United States until properly exchanged, and each company or regimental commander sign a like parole for the men of their commands. The arms, artillery and public property to be parked and stacked, and turned over to the officer appointed by me to receive them. This will not embrace the side-arms of the officers, nor their private horses or baggage. This done, each officer and man will be allowed to return to their homes, not to be disturbed by United States authority so long as they observe their paroles and the laws in force where they may reside.”

When Lee left the building Federal troops began cheering but Grant ordered them to stop. Grant felt a sense of melancholy and wrote “I felt…sad and depressed, at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people has fought.” He later noted: “The Confederates were now our countrymen, and we did not want to exult over their downfall.”

In the hours before and after the signing of the surrender documents old friends and classmates, separated by four long years of war gathered on the porch or around the house. Grant and others were gracious to their now defeated friends and the bitterness of war began to melt away. Some Union officers offered money to help their Confederate friends get through the coming months. It was an emotional reunion, especially for the former West Point classmates gathered there:

“It had never been in their hearts to hate the classmates they were fighting. Their lives and affections for one another had been indelibly framed and inextricably intertwined in their academy days. No adversity, war, killing, or political estrangement could undo that. Now, meeting together when the guns were quiet, they yearned to know that they would never hear their thunder or be ordered to take up arms against one another again.”

Grant also sent 25,000 rations to the starving Confederate army waiting to surrender. The gesture meant much to the defeated Confederate soldiers who had had little to eat ever since the retreat began.

The surrender itself was accomplished with a recognition that soldiers who have given the full measure of devotion can know when confronting a defeated enemy. Major General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the heroic victor of Little Round Top was directed by Grant to receive the final surrender of the defeated Confederate infantry on the morning of April 12th.

It was a rainy and gloomy morning as the beaten Confederates marched to the surrender grounds. As the initial units under the command of John Gordon passed him, Chamberlain was moved with emotion he ordered his soldiers to salute the defeated enemy for whose cause he had no sympathy, Chamberlain honored the defeated Rebel army by bringing his division to present arms.

chamberlian gordon appomattox

John Gordon, who was “riding with heavy spirit and downcast face,” looked up, surveyed the scene, wheeled about on his horse, and “with profound salutation returned the gesture by lowering his saber to the toe of his boot. The Georgian then ordered each following brigade to carry arms as they passed third brigade, “honor answering honor.”


Major General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, U.S. Army

Chamberlain was not just a soldier, but before the war had been Professor of Natural and Revealed Religions at Bowdoin College, and a student of theology before the war. He could not help to see the significance of the occasion. He understood that he would be criticized by some for offering the salute. However, Chamberlain, unlike some, understood the value of reconciliation. Chamberlain was a staunch abolitionist and Unionist who had nearly died on more than one occasion fighting the defeated Confederate Army, and he understood that no true peace could transpire unless the enemies became reconciled to one another.

He noted that his chief reason for doing so:

“The momentous meaning of this occasion impressed me deeply. I resolved to mark it by some token of recognition, which could be no other than a salute of arms. Well aware of the responsibility assumed, and of the criticisms that would follow, as the sequel proved, nothing of that kind could move me in the least. The act could be defended, if needful, by the suggestion that such a salute was not to the cause for which the flag of the Confederacy stood, but to its going down before the flag of the Union. My main reason, however, was one for which I sought no authority nor asked forgiveness. Before us in proud humiliation stood the embodiment of manhood: men whom neither toils and sufferings, nor the fact of death, nor disaster, nor hopelessness could bend from their resolve; standing before us now, thin, worn, and famished, but erect, and with eyes looking level into ours, waking memories that bound us together as no other bond;—was not such manhood to be welcomed back into a Union so tested and assured? Instructions had been given; and when the head of each division column comes opposite our group, our bugle sounds the signal and instantly our whole line from right to left, regiment by regiment in succession, gives the soldier’s salutation, from the “order arms” to the old “carry”—the marching salute. Gordon at the head of the column, riding with heavy spirit and downcast face, catches the sound of shifting arms, looks up, and, taking the meaning, wheels superbly, making with himself and his horse one uplifted figure, with profound salutation as he drops the point of his sword to the boot toe; then facing to his own command, gives word for his successive brigades to pass us with the same position of the manual,—honor answering honor. On our part not a sound of trumpet more, nor roll of drum; not a cheer, nor word nor whisper of vain-glorying, nor motion of man standing again at the order, but an awed stillness rather, and breath-holding, as if it were the passing of the dead!”

The next day Robert E Lee addressed his soldiers for the last time. Lee’s final order to his loyal troops was published the day after the surrender. It was a gracious letter of thanks to men that had served their beloved commander well in the course of the three years since he assumed command of them outside Richmond in 1862.

General Order
No. 9

After four years of arduous service marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude, the Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources.

I need not tell the survivors of so many hard fought battles, who have remained steadfast to the last, that I have consented to the result from no distrust of them.

But feeling that valour and devotion could accomplish nothing that could compensate for the loss that must have attended the continuance of the contest, I have determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those whose past services have endeared them to their countrymen.

By the terms of the agreement, officers and men can return to their homes and remain until exchanged. You will take with you the satisfaction that proceeds from the consciousness of duty faithfully performed, and I earnestly pray that a merciful God will extend to you his blessing and protection.

With an unceasing admiration of your constancy and devotion to your Country, and a grateful remembrance of your kind and generous consideration for myself, I bid you an affectionate farewell. — R. E. Lee, General

The surrender was the beginning of the end. Other Confederate forces continued to resist for several weeks, but with the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia led by the man that nearly all Southerners saw as the embodiment of their nation the war was effectively over.

Lee had fought hard and after the war was still under the charge of treason, but he understood the significance of defeat and the necessity of moving forward as one nation. In August 1865 Lee wrote to the trustees of Washington College of which he was now President:

“I think it is the duty of every citizen, in the present condition of the Country, to do all in his power to aid the restoration of peace and harmony… It is particularly incumbent upon those charged with the instruction of the young to set them an example of submission to authority.

It is a lesson that all of us in our terribly divided land need to learn regardless of or political affiliation or ideology. After he had signed the surrender document, Lee learned that Grant’s Aide-de-Camp Colonel Ely Parker, was a full-blooded Seneca Indian. He stared at Parker’s dark features and said: “It is good to have one real American here.”


Brigadier General Ely Parker, United States Army

Parker, a man whose people had known the brutality of the white man, a man who was not considered a citizen and would never gain the right to vote, replied, “Sir, we are all Americans.” That afternoon Parker would receive a commission as a Brevet Brigadier General of Volunteers, making him the first Native American to hold that rank in the United States Army. He would later be made a Brigadier General in the Regular Army.

I don’t know what Lee thought of that. His reaction is not recorded and he never wrote about it after the war, but it might have been in some way led to Lee’s letter to the trustees of Washington College. I think with our land so divided, ands that is time again that we learn the lessons so evidenced in the actions and words of Ely Parker, Ulysses Grant, Robert E. Lee and Joshua Chamberlain, for we are all Americans.

Sadly, I think that there is a portion of the population who will not heed these words and will continue to agitate for policies and laws similar to those that led to the Civil War, and which those the could not reconcile defeat instituted again during the Post-Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras.

But I still maintain hope that in spite of everything, that we can overcome.


Padre Steve+



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Jubal Early: The Unreconstructed Rebel


Lieutenant General Jubal Early, the Propagandist of the Lost Cause

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

There are some people in history who have a major and sometimes malevolent impact on history who are little known to most people. One of these men is Confederate Lieutenant General Jubal A. Early. You may not have ever heard of him but his influence is still strong today in certain parts of the Republican Party, the Tea Party, the Christian Right and neo-Confederate organizations. Early is a complex, brilliant but malevolent character whose post Civil War activities, and writings influenced how generations of Americans embraced the myth of the Lost Cause as historic truth and why so  many people today support an ideology that is little more than a re-baptized Lost Cause in their fight against supposed liberals, progressives, gays, and minority groups. People who they believe threaten their place in society. 

This article is part of one of the chapters of my Gettysburg which I will continue to periodically publish here. Have a great night.


Padre Steve+ 

Jubal Early was an unusual character. He is described similarly by many to Dick Ewell in his gruffness and eccentrics. Unlike his corps commander, Ewell, who was modest and charitable, Early was “ambitious, critical, and outspoken to the point of insubordination. Under certain circumstances he could be devious and malevolent.” [1] James Longstreet’s aide Moxey Sorrel wrote of him: “Jubal Early….was one of the ablest soldiers in the army. Intellectually he was perhaps the peer of the best for strategic combinations, but he lacked the ability to handle troops effectively in the field….His irritable disposition and biting tongue made him anything but popular.” [2] Despite this, Early had proved himself as a brigade commander and acting division commander and Lee referred to him affectionately as “my bad old man.” [3]

Early was the son of a tobacco planter in Franklin County Virginia. He was born in 1816 who had served in the Virginia legislature and was a Colonel of militia. Growing up he had an aptitude for science and mathematics. He was accepted into West Point in 1833 at the age of seventeen. He was a good student, but had poor marks for conduct and graduated in the eighteenth of fifty cadets in the class of 1837. His fellow students included Joe Hooker, John Sedgwick, Braxton Bragg, and John Pemberton, later, the doomed defender of Vicksburg. Also in the class was Lewis Armistead, with whom the young Early had an altercation that led to Armistead breaking a plate over his head in the mess hall. For the offense Armistead was dismissed from the academy.

He was commissioned into the artillery on graduation in 1837. However, after experiencing life in the active duty army, including service in the in the Seminole War, Early left the army and became a highly successful lawyer and active Whig politician. He served in the Mexican war as a Major with Virginia volunteers. Unlike some of his classmates, and later contemporaries in the Civil War, Early, and his men did not see combat, instead, serving on occupation duty. In Mexico Zachary Taylor made Early the “military governor of Monterrey, a post that he relished and filled with distinction.” [4]

After his service in Mexico, Early returned to Virginia where he returned to his legal practice, serving as a prosecuting attorney. He also entered local politics where he served as a Whig in the Virginia legislature.

During his time in Mexico, Early contracted rheumatic fever, which left him with painful rheumatoid arthritis for the rest of his life. Due to it he “stooped badly and seemed so much older than his years that his soldiers promptly dubbed him “Old Jube” or Old Jubilee.” [5]

Jubal Early was “notoriously a bachelor and at heart a lonely man.” Unlike many Confederate officers he had “no powerful family connections, and by a somewhat bitter tongue and rasping wit” isolated himself from his peers.[6]

Likewise, in an army dominated by those with deep religious convictions, Early was avowedly irreligious and profane, though he did understand the importance of “the value of religion in keeping his soldiers’ spirits up” and as commander of the Army of the Valley, issued orders for a stricter keeping of the Sabbath. [7] Lee’s adjutant Walter Taylor wrote of him “I feared our friend Early wd not accomplish much because he is such a Godless man. He is a man who utterly sets at defiance all moral laws & such a one heaven cannot favor.” [8] That being said Porter Alexander praised Early and noted that his “greatest quality perhaps was the fearlessness with which he fought against all odds & discouragements.” [9]

Early was a Whig, and a stalwart Unionist who opposed Virginia’s secession, voting against it because he found it “exceedingly difficult to surrender the attachment of a lifetime to that Union which…I have been accustomed to look upon (in the language of Washington) as the palladium of the political safety and prosperity of the country.” [10] Nonetheless, like so many others he volunteered for service after Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to crush the rebellion.

Robert E. Lee “appreciated Early’s talents as a soldier and displayed personal fondness for his cantankerous and profane Lieutenant …who only Stonewall Jackson received more difficult assignments from Lee.” [11] Early was the most influential of Ewell’s division commanders, and his “record in battle prior to Gettysburg was unsurpassed.” [12]

After Gettysburg Early remained in command of his division and when Dick Ewell was relieved in 1864 assumed command of the Second Corps. With the corps he conducted operations in the Shenandoah Valley as well as a raid which briefly threatened Washington D.C. in 1864. Early became “a much maligned figure in the Confederacy after his army suffered utter defeat against Philip H. Sheridan’s forces in the Shenandoah Valley during the fall and winter of 1864-65.” [13] The clamor for his relief was so great that Lee relieved Early of command on March 30th 1865, “and sent him home to await orders.” [14] However Lee handled the matter with gentleness that made ensured Early’s undying devotion. Lee wrote:

“while my own confidence in your ability, zeal, and devotion to the cause in unimpaired…I nevertheless felt that I could not oppose what seems to be the current opinion, without injustice to your reputation and injury to the service.” [15]

After the war Early went into voluntary exile until 1869, unable to reconcile life in the United States following defeat. Travelling from Cuba to Mexico and on to Canada his bitterness grew, and for the embittered General it was about honor. For Early, who had fought so hard against secession, now took the opposing view. For him, “honor resided intact in the defeated cause of Southern independence. It was now distilled, for him, in the issue of states’ rights and white supremacy.” [16]

In his efforts Early sought to “elevate Lee above any other Civil War chieftains, and to promote the idea that the South had not been defeated, only compelled to surrender against overwhelming odds.” [17] Early’s hatred for anything to do with the North was demonstrated when he “refused even to donate funds to a monument to Robert E. Lee in Richmond when he learned that the pedestal would be carved from Maine granite.” [18]

Early’s hatred a blacks grew as he got older, and “became particularly virulent when they were involved in anything connected to the war on the Confederacy.” [19] While serving as Governor, James Kemper, who was so grievously wounded during Pickett’s Charge found Early’s views so dangerous that he begged Early not to attend the unveiling of a monument to Stonewall Jackson in 1875. He wrote to Early, “for the sake of public peace and harmony, I beg, beseech and implore you, for God’s sake stay at home.” [20]

Upon his return from his voluntary exile he was sought after by Lee to help in preparation of a memoir that would explain his decisions during the war. In addition to championing Lee and writing polemics against any former Confederate officer who dared to criticize his chief. As such those writing their own memoirs were usually careful to avoid anything that might provoke Early’s wrath, or submitted their work for his imprimatur before going to publication. He shameless attacked James Longstreet and William Mahone for their post war reconciliation with the hated Yankees, as well as Longstreet’s criticism of Lee.

Early was very intelligent and he knew that the controversy surrounding his defeat in the Valley did not enhance his own reputation, so instead “It was on Lee’s credibility that Early built his postwar career.” [21] Over the course of:

“the last twenty-five years of his life the bitter General sought to get his impressions of the war on record. He took an active role in publishing the Southern Historical Papers….and achieved as a leading arbiter of questions concerning relating to Confederate military history.” [22]

Early was immensely successful in this long term effort. The results of Early’s efforts was the successful propagation of the myth of the Lost Cause and its prominence throughout many of the books, journals and other publications published after the war, even Winston Churchill’s history of the Civil War is filled with Early like lost cause images and language in his works. Referring to Southern honor, that concept that Early held so dear Churchill, echoing Early wrote “The South knew they had lost the war, and would be conquered and flattened. It is one of the enduring glories of the American nation that this made no difference to the Confederate resistance.” [23] The idea that Churchill espoused, that Confederate “honor” was one of the enduring glories of  the American nation” is nothing more than myth which promotes everything wrong with the Confederacy.

In February 1894 Lee’s “old bad man” took a fall on the way out of the Lynchburg Post Office. He resisted treatment though he appeared to be in shock and was both mentally and physically unwell. He attempted to continue his business but got worse and he died in Lynchburg on March 2nd 1894.

Sadly, Early’s ideas live on in the minds of many Americans, who like him have not reconciled with the results of the war and who are susceptible to his message. Early set the example for them:

“Like an Old testament prophet, Jubal supported the message by his own extreme example – his “constancy” and intransigence, his unremitting hatred for Grant (even after Jefferson Davis had forgiven the Illinoisan), his refusal to be pardoned or reconstructed or to regard the North, at least in the abstract, as anything but an evil empire.” [24]

Jubal Early’s words and actions read almost as if they come out of current Republican and Christian Right talking points. Instead of Lincoln and the Black Republicans, the enemy is Obama and the Black, Gay and Liberal Democrats. I find it chilling to read about Early and his transformation for an anti-secession Whig to an unreconstructed Rebel whose nearly pathological hatred for the Union that he had once served reminds me of people I know.


Padre Steve+


[1] Ibid. Pfanz Richard S. Ewell p.268

[2] Ibid. Girardi. The Civil War Generals p.206

[3] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.155

[4] Ibid. Osborne Jubal p.28

[5] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.83

[6] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.33

[7] Ibid. Osborne Jubal p.385

[8] Ibid. Girardi. The Civil War Generals p.207

[9] Alexander, Edward Porter. Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander edited by Gary Gallagher University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1989 p.397

[10] Ibid. Osborne Jubal p.50

[11] Gallagher, Gary W. Jubal A. Early, the Lost Cause, and Civil War History: A Persistent Legacy; Frank L Klement Lecture, Alternate Views of the Sectional Conflict Marquette University Press Marquette WI 2003 p.11

[12] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.256

[13] Ibid. Gallagher Jubal A. Early, the Lost Cause, and Civil War History p.8

[14] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.769

[15] Ibid. Gallagher Jubal A. Early, the Lost Cause, and Civil War History p.11

[16] Ibid. Osborne Jubal p.416

[17] Ibid. Pryor Reading the Man p.469

[18] Guelzo Allen C. Fateful Lightening: A New History of the Civil War Era and Reconstruction Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2012 p.526

[19] Ibid. Osborne Jubal p.418

[20] Ibid. Osborne Jubal p.418

[21] Ibid. Osborne Jubal p.476

[22] Ibid. Gallagher Jubal A. Early, the Lost Cause, and Civil War History p.15

[23] Ibid. Gallagher Jubal A. Early, the Lost Cause, and Civil War History p.15

[24] Ibid. Osborne Jubal p.476

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Fighting Joe Hooker: Part One



Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Another biographic vignette from my Gettysburg text, the first part of a section dealing with Major General Joseph Hooker who almost commanded the Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg. This section of the text deals with Hooker and his command of the Army leading up to the Battle of Chancellorsville. I find him to be one of the most complex and intriguing commanders of the Civil War. He was vain, profane and ambitious, as well as a gifted administrator who actually cared about the welfare of his soldiers. At the same time as a division and corps commander he was outstanding. As the commander of the army he was singularly unsuccessful in battle, but what he had done in the months between his appointment and the disaster at Chancellorsville he turned the Army of the Potomac around. The improvements that he made to the army were very important when it won the Battle of Gettysburg under the command of George Gordon Meade. What Hooker’s legacy shows me is that some men have different talents. Had Hooker been successful at Chancellorsville he would be hailed and what he did before the battle to care for his troops and improve the army would be used as examples of how one should lead. Since he lost and eventually was relieved by Lincoln days before Gettysburg, what he did to make the Army of the Potomac a fighting machine is largely forgotten.


Padre Steve+


“Fighting Joe” Hooker had been in command of the Army of the Potomac about five months, assuming command from Burnside, who Lincoln had relieved following the crushing defeat at Fredericksburg, and after that general had demanded the wholesale firing of ten generals from the army of the Potomac, including Hooker. Hooker was a graduate of West Point, class of 1837 and veteran of the Mexican War. During that war he was brevetted three times for bravery acting as Chief of Staff to General Pillow and his division, and as well as the commander of a mixed infantry-cavalry regiment known as the Voltiguers. He received his third brevet of the war to Lieutenant Colonel at Chapultepec. General Winfield Scott “mentioned him prominently in his report on the capture of Mexico, and Pillow testified that he was distinguished by his extraordinary activity, energy and gallantry.” [1]

However, by 1863 he was not well regarded by some of his peers and one very important superior, Major General Halleck, who he had run afoul of in California. “While on Garrison duty in California in the 1850s, he cultivated “bad habits and excesses”- too much liquor, and too many women. He left the army, failed at business, and amassed gambling debts and legal problems.” [2] Hooker, like many contemporaries, finding advancement slow and pay bad resigned from the army in February 1853, and engaged in a series of less than successful business operations in Northern California, and also became active in California politics. However in 1858 Hooker was the recipient of a political plum, and “was appointed Superintendent of Military Roads in Oregon” and in 1859 was appointed a Colonel in the California State Militia. [3]

When war came Hooker managed to obtain an appointment as a Brigadier General of volunteers over the objections of General Winfield Scott from McClellan. Hooker was a “capable commander and brave soldier” [4] and became an excellent brigade commander. He combined strict training and discipline with care and concern for his troops. He “made himself accessible to officers and men who had complaints to air or favors to ask. He also took care that his brigade received its rightful share of rations, clothing and other supplies. He early struck upon the right balance of discipline and paternalism which marks those generals who gain the good will of their men.” [5]

But Hooker had a dark side, his unchecked ego and boundless ambition which were unconstrained by ethical considerations or loyalty to superiors and peers. He worked shamelessly against previous army commanders, including George McClellan, to whom he owed his appointment as a Brigadier General in the Regular Army.

In appearance, Hooker was “a strikingly handsome man” with “erect soldierly bearing…” but he was also “arrogant and stubborn, more than willing to work behind the scenes to advance himself, and reputed to have a headquarters that Charles Francis Adams Jr. described as “a combination barroom and brothel.” [6] The commander of XII Corps, Henry Slocum had “no faith whatever in Hooke’s ability as a military man, in his integrity or honor,” [7] a sentiment echoed by many other officers. However, George Meade was more circumspect, and wrote to his wife “He is a very good soldier, capital general for an army corps, but I am not prepared to say as to his abilities for carrying out a campaign and commanding a large army. I should fear his judgment and prudence…” [8]

Hooker genuinely believed in his abilities and much of the “criticism which he so freely bestowed on his superiors came simply because his professional competence was outraged by the blunders that he had to witness[9] on battlefields such as Second Manassas, Antietam and Fredericksburg. But his enemies, and “there would be a host of them- regarded him as “thoroughly unprincipled.” Hooker was driven by an “all consuming” ambition and undoubted self-confidence…. War intoxicated hi m and offered salvation for a troubled life. As a gambler he liked the odds.” [10]

During the war Hooker was what we would call now “media savvy.” He used the press of his day to shamelessly promote his image and “deliberately played up to the press to swell his image as a stern, remorseless campaigner, and he reveled in the nickname the newspapers happily bestowed on him, “Fighting Joe.” [11] However, he would later express his “deep regret that it was ever applied to him. “People will think that I am a highwayman or bandit,” he said; when in fact he was one of the most kindly and tender-hearted of men.” [12]

But Hooker was not just disrespectful of his military superiors, but also those in the Lincoln administration, including Abraham Lincoln himself. Hooker told reporters after Fredericksburg that Lincoln “was an imbecile for keeping Burnside on but also in his own right, and that the administration itself “was all played out.” What the country needed was a dictator….” [13] Hooker was an intriguer for sure but unlike many generals who did so anonymously. Hooker was quite open and public going before the “Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War investigating Fredericksburg” [14] where he not only provided damning testimony against Burnside, but against potential rivals, and after Fredericksburg the press clamored for Hooker to be named commander. One paper wrote:

We have in the Army of the Potomac, however, a General of the heroic stamp. A general who feels the enthusiasm of a soldier and who loves battle from an innate instinct for his business. The cry is universal, Hooker to the command.” [15]

After the failure at Fredericksburg Burnside had to contend with a “General’s Revolt” within the army. Numerous senior officers were involved, some speaking to the media, others to the high command in Washington and still others to influential congressmen, among these was Hooker.

After the infamous “mud march” Ambrose Burnside, now tired of Hooker and his other subordinates machinations drew up General Order Number 8 in which he planned to relieve seven generals, “two of his three Grand Division chiefs (along with the third Grand Division’s chief of staff), one corps commander, two division commanders, and one brigade commander.” [16] At the insistence of personal friends and staff who pointed out that only Lincoln had that authority, Burnside requested a meeting with the President during which he showed the order to Lincoln and also his letter of resignation if Lincoln refused to back him against his generals. The order stated in part:

“General Joseph Hooker…having been found guilty of unjust and unnecessary criticisms of the actions of his superior officers, and of the authorities, and having, by the general tone of his conversations, endeavored to create distrust in the minds of officers who have associated with him, by having, by omissions and otherwise, made reports and statements that were calculated to create incorrect impressions, and habitually speaking in disparaging terms of other officers, is hereby dismissed from the service of the United States as a man unfit to hold an important commission, during a crisis like the present…” [17]

Burnside was fed up with Hooker and since he did not have the authority to dismiss senior officers from the service he took the matter to Lincoln. Meeting the President at the White House Burnside “confronted Lincoln with this order and his own resignation, either the dissident generals had to go, he said, or he would. Lincoln agreed- and accepted Burnside’s resignation.” [18]

Much to Burnside’s dismay, Lincoln appointed Hooker, Burnside’s nemesis, to command the Army of the Potomac and sent Burnside west to command a corps. As far as the other conspirators of the Generals Revolt, none gained profit of honor from their machinations, and most, with the exception of Hooker ended the war in obscurity or out of the army.

Hooker Appointed to Command

Lincoln knew Hooker’s unsavory side, but the President “considered him an aggressive, hard fighting general…and hoped that Hooker could infuse that spirit into the army,” [19] which now was at its nadir. When Lincoln appointed Hooker to the command of the Army of the Potomac, he gave his new army commander a letter that is unique in American military history. In the letter, Lincoln lectured Hooker as to his conduct while under the command of Burnside, “and just how much he disapproved of the unbounded ambition Hooker had displayed in Undercutting Burnside.” [20] In the letter and during his meeting with Hooker Lincoln laid out his expectations, as well as concerns that he had for him in his new command:

“you may have taken counsel of your ambition, and thwarted him as much as you could, in which you did a great wrong to the country.” Continuing: “I have heard, in such a way as to believe it, of your recently saying that both the Army and the government needed a Dictator. Of course it was not for this, but in spite of it, that I have given you command. Only those generals who gain successes, can set up dictators. What I ask now is military success, and I will risk dictatorship.” [21] However, Lincoln pledged his support to Hooker saying “The government will support you to the utmost of its ability” but warned “I much fear the spirit which you have aided to infuse into the army, of criticizing their commander and withholding confidence in him, will now turn upon you. I shall assist you as far as I can to put it down. Neither you, nor Napoleon, if he were alive again, could get any good out of an army while such a spirit prevails in it.” [22]

Never before or since has an officer been given such responsibility by a President who recognized the man’s qualities, in this case a fighting spirit, as well as his personal vices and shortcomings in character. In fact, the letter can be viewed as “a model for a leader dealing with a flawed, willful, but energetic and useful subordinate.” [23] Lincoln finished the latter to Hooker with the admonition “And now, beware of rashness. Beware of rashness, but with energy and sleepless vigilance go forward and give us victories.” [24] Hooker believed the last comment was due to the way he was portrayed in the press, the “Fighting Joe Hooker” moniker had stuck.

The letter “engendered neither resentment nor misunderstanding” [25] and Hooker’s reaction to the letter was an interesting commentary to say the least. He recalled a few days later that, when he read it, he “informed him personally of the great value I placed on the letter notwithstanding his erroneous views of myself, and that sometime I intended to have it framed and posted in some conspicuous place for the benefit of those who might come after men.” [26] He read it to a number of others and told a journalist “It is a beautiful letter…and, although I think he was harder on me than I deserved, I will say that I love the man who wrote it.” [27] Hooker was certainly sincere in this as he not only preserved it but ensured that it was published after the war was over.

The Positive Contributions of Hooker to the Army of the Potomac

Despite the misgivings of the President and many of his peers, Hooker began a turnaround in the army that changed it for the better. At the beginning of his tenure he inspired confidence among his troops. He reorganized the Cavalry Corps and instituted many other reforms. Hooker discarded Burnside’s failed “Grand Division” organization and returned to the corps system. He was aided by experienced Corps commanders who had earned their promotions in combat and not due to political patronage, even the political animal Dan Sickles of III Corps had shown his abilities as a leader and commander, gone were the last remnants of McClellan’s regime.

Despite the many positives gained during the reorganization, Hooker made one significant mistake during the reorganization which hurt him at Chancellorsville, this was in regard to the artillery. Before that battle decided to “strip General Hunt of command of the artillery and restrict him to purely administrative duties…he had restored Hunt to command the night of May 3 after the Confederates had driven him out of Chancellorsville.” This act ensured that “The advantages traditionally possessed by the Union artillery in the quality of its material and cannon disappeared in this battle through Hooker’s inept handling of his forces.” [28]

When Hooker took command many of the men in the army were “disheartened, homesick, in poor health and without confidence in their officers. Thousands died in their quarters from lack of proper care or medicines for which there was no excuse.” [29] Hooker became immensely popular with the men as he conducted reforms which improved their lives. “He took immediate steps to cashier corrupt quartermasters, improve food, clean up the camps and hospitals, grant furloughs, and instill unit pride by creating insignia badges for each corps…Sickness declined, desertions dropped, and a grant of amnesty brought back many AWOLs back into the ranks.” [30] Additionally “paydays were reestablished and new clothing issued…. Boards of inspection searched out and dismissed incompetent officers.[31] Soldiers sang a ditty about him:

“Joe Hooker is our leader, he takes his whisky strong-” [32]

The most important thing that Hooker did was inspire his troops, both to them and for the cause of the nation was the way he saw that the troops were cared for, no previous Union commander had made troop welfare a priority. Hooker’s “sober, unimaginative, routine work of eternally checking up on rations, clothing, hospitals, living quarters, and other little details which in the long run make all the difference.” [33]

But nothing impacted morale more that his order that “soft bread would henceforth be issued to the troops four times a week. Fresh potatoes and onions were to be issued twice a week, and desiccated vegetables once a week.” [34] The most singularly important accomplishment of Joe Hooker as commander of the army was to demonstrate that he actually cared for his soldiers. It was radically different than Burnside, and even an improvement over the days of McClellan. Such actions made a huge difference in army morale. One officer wrote home “His ‘soft bread’ order reaches us in a tender spot….” [35] Regimental commanders were ordered to ensure that “regular company cooks went to work, and if there were no company cooks they were instructed to create some, so that the soldier could get some decent meals in place of the intestine-destroying stuff he cooked for himself.” [36] Hooker announced “My men shall eat before I am fed, and before my officers are fed” and he clearly meant it.” [37] Hooker’s actions to supply his troops with better food and living conditions as well as his attitude that the welfare of his troops came above his own and his officers was a remarkable example of leadership by example. These very concrete actions of Hooker “did more than anything else to enhance his popularity.” [38] One veteran recalled:

“From the commissary came less whisky for the officers and better rations, including vegetables for the men. Hospitals were renovated, new ones built, drunken surgeons discharged, sanitary supplies furnished, and the sick no longer had to suffer and die without proper care and attention. Officers and men who from incompetence or disability could be of no further use to the service were allowed to resign or were discharged, and those who were playing sick in the hospitals were sent to their regiments for duty.” [39]

Additionally Hooker reformed training in the army. He knew that bored soldiers were their own worst enemy, and instituted a stringent training regimen that paid dividends on the battlefield. “From morning to night the drill fields rumbled with the tramp of many feet. Officers went to school evenings and the next day went out to maneuver companies, regiments, brigades, and divisions in the tactics just studied.” [40] Fitzhugh Lee noted of Hooker that “it must be admitted his preliminary steps toward reorganization and the promotion of the battle power of his army were well taken.” [41] Not only did Hooker mandate such training he frequently showed up and observed the training as well as spent time visiting isolated pickets along the Rappahannock.

Hooker ridded himself of the last vestiges of McClellan’s reliance on the Pinkerton detective agency, and for his uncoordinated use of spies, cavalry and balloons while no “coordinated bureau compiled this information.” [42] Hooker consolidated intelligence operations and created a new staff office in the army, the “Bureau of Military Intelligence, led by Colonel George Sharpe” who “built a network of spies, who soon supplied Hooker with accurate information on Lee’s numerical strength and the unit composition of the Confederate army.” [43] Additionally Hooker helped quash key sources of information relied on by Lee, the local residents along the Rappahannock and Union newspapers. In regard to the former he restricted the movement of civilians along his lines, and cleared out Confederate partisans. As far as the newspapers he “found it expedient to ask Stanton to take action against certain Northern newspapers which were publishing revealing information about the army and offsetting his efforts to retain some secrecy.” [44]

Hooker also reorganized and systematized the Medical Department of the army, and “placed it under the supervision of the competent medical director Dr. Jonathan Letterman.” [45] Under Letterman’s direction and Hooker’s supervision “new hospitals were built and old ones renovated,” [46] this attention to the health of his soldiers paid dividends. Within weeks, “sick rolls had been reduced, and by April, scurvy had virtually disappeared. A veteran contended that Hooker “is a good man to feed an army for we have lived in the best since he took command that we ever did since we have been in the army.” [47]

Hooker worked to combat the vast number of desertions which were plaguing the Army of the Potomac which when he took command were averaging an estimated 200 per day. Tens of thousands of soldiers, some 85,000 according to Hooker’s estimate were absent from the army when he took command. In addition to his work to improve living conditions and the lives of his soldiers in camp Hooker revitalized the office of the Inspector General and used it aggressively to monitor conditions in the camps. One of Hooker’s first initiatives was to systematize “the granting if leaves of absences…..In those regiments lacking discipline, inspection reports were used as a basis for canceling leaves and furloughs, while leaves were increased for those units earning high commendations.” [48]

It was a remarkable turnaround which even impressed his soldiers, his critics, and enemies and his enemies alike. Darius Couch of Second Corps, who later resigned and became Hooker’s arch-enemy, wrote that Hooker had, “by adopting vigorous measures stopped the almost wholesale desertions, and infused new life and discipline into the army.” [49]

The actions of Hooker in the three months between his assumption of command and Chancellorsville were some of the most important of any Federal commander during the war. One senior officer who was not fond of Hooker noted “The Army of the Potomac never spent three months to better advantage.” [50]

The Crisis in Command: Hooker, Lincoln, and Halleck

Hooker had gone into the Battle of Chancellorsville with high hopes and great confidence, but the disaster at Chancellorsville Hooker was not the same. During that battle it was as if he was two persons, the first supremely confident and competent and the second lost and out of his league. During the campaign Hooker had: “planned his campaign like a master and carried out the first half with great skill, and then when the pinch came he simply folded up. There had been no courage in him, no life, no spark; during most of the battle the army had to all intents and purposes had no commander at all.” [51]

The defeat had a lasting effect on Hooker, the connection with his soldiers which he prized was broken. The general who had “once been so popular, was no longer well received in the camps – “there was something in the air of the men which said: ‘We have no further use for you.’” [52] In the immediate aftermath of the battle “Hooker had been deeply depressed… he told Meade that he “almost wished that he had never been born.” [53] However, it was a visit from Lincoln which helped revive him as “Lincoln let it be known that he blamed no one for the defeat.” [54] Henry Halleck who accompanied Lincoln told the President afterward that “Hooker was so dispirited that he offered to reign his command. Not surprisingly, Halleck thought Lincoln should accept the resignation, but the President disagreed. He wanted to give Hooker another chance to show his mettle.” [55]

After Lincoln’s visit he did begin to recover some his self-confidence. Hooker, a slave to his vanity who had little capacity for reflection and blamed various corps commanders including Oliver Howard, John Sedgwick and cavalry commander George Stoneman for the defeat. Unlike the unpopular Ambrose Burnside who after Fredericksburg, had “taken responsibility for the defeat on his shoulders,” [56] Hooker refused to take any responsibility for it. Years later, Hooker when asked about the defeat, “knew a rare moment of humility and remarked, “Well, to tell the truth, I just lost confidence in Joe Hooker.” [57]


[1] Hebert, Walter H. Fighting Joe Hooker University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London 1999. Originally published by Bobbs-Merrill, New York 1944 p.33

[2] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.74

[3] Ibid. Hebert Fighting Joe Hooker p.42

[4] Jordan, David M. Winfield Scott Hancock: A Soldier’s Life Indian University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis 1988 p.67

[5] Ibid. Hebert Fighting Joe Hooker p.53

[6] Marszalek, John F. Commander of All of Lincoln’s Armies: A Life of General Henry W. Halleck The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 2004 p.165

[7] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.331

[8] Huntington, Tom Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg PA 2013 p.127

[9] Catton, Bruce The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road Doubleday and Company, Garden City New York, 1952 p.7

[10] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln pp.74-75

[11] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.331

[12] Bates, Samuel P. Hooker’s Comments on Chancellorsville in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume III, The Tide Shifts. Edited by Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel Castle, Secaucus NJ p.217

[13] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.136

[14] Sears, Stephen W. Controversies and Commanders Mariner Books, Houghton-Mifflin Company, Boston and New York 1999 p.150

[15] Ibid. Hebert Fighting Joe Hooker p.165

[16] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.154

[17] Ibid. Hebert Fighting Joe Hooker p.165

[18] McPherson, James M. Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief Penguin Books, New York and London 2008 p.162

[19] Ibid. McPherson Tried by War p.162

[20] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.157

[21] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.219

[22] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two pp.132-133

[23] Cohen, Elliot A. Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesman and Leadership in Wartime The Free Press, New York 2002 p.20

[24] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.133

[25] Ibid. Cohen Supreme Command p.20

[26] Sears, Stephen W. Chancellorsville Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 1996 p.62

[27] Godwin, Doris Kearns Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln Simon and Shuster, New York and London 2005 p.514

[28] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.31

[29] Ibid. Hebert Fighting Joe Hooker p.179

[30] McPherson, James. The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1988 p.133

[31] Ibid. Sears. Chancellorsville p.73

[32] Ibid. Catton Glory Road p.141

[33] Ibid. Catton Glory Road pp.141-142

[34] Ibid. Sears Chancellorsville p.73

[35] Ibid. Sears Chancellorsville p.73

[36] Ibid. Catton Glory Road p.143

[37] Ibid. Sears Chancellorsville p.73

[38] Ibid. Hebert Fighting Joe Hooker p.179

[39] Ibid. Catton Glory Road p.143

[40] Ibid. Catton Glory Road p.145

[41] Girardi, Robert I. The Civil War Generals: Comrades, Peers, Rivals in Their Own Words Zenith Press, MBI Publishing, Minneapolis MN 2013 p.89

[42] Ibid. Hebert Fighting Joe Hooker p.180

[43] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.229

[44] Ibid. Hebert Fighting Joe Hooker p.181

[45] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.225

[46] Ibid. Hebert Fighting Joe Hooker p.179

[47] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln pp.225-226

[48] Ibid. Hebert Fighting Joe Hooker p.179

[49] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.157

[50] Ibid. Hebert Fighting Joe Hooker p.184

[51] Ibid. Catton Glory Road p.210

[52] Cleaves, Freeman Meade of Gettysburg University of Oklahoma Press, Norman and London 1960 p.114

[53] McPherson, James M. Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief Penguin Books, New York and London 2008 p.177

[54] Ibid. Marszalek, Commander of All of Lincoln’s Armies p.171

[55] Ibid. Marszalek, Commander of All of Lincoln’s Armies p.171

[56] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.158

[57] Ibid. Catton Glory Road p.211


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