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The Largest Cavalry Battle in North America: The Battle Of Brandy Station

Cav Fight at Brandy Station

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I continue my rest so I can read and relax. take a look back at the battle of Brandy Station, the largest cavalry battle every fought on the North American continent. This is a section of my draft Gettysburg campaign text.

Have a great day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

Movement to attain operational reach and maneuver are two critical factors in joint operations. In the time since the American Civil War the distances that forces move to engage the enemy, or maneuver to employ fires to destroy his forces have greatly increased. Movement may be part of an existing Campaign Plan or Contingency Plan developed at Phase 0; it also may be part of a crisis action plan developed in the midst of a campaign. Lee’s movement to get to Gettysburg serves as an example of the former, however, since his forces were already in contact with the Army of the Potomac along the Rappahannock and he was reacting to what he felt was a strategic situation that could not be changed but by going on the offensive that it has the feel of a Crisis Action Plan. Within either context other factors come into play: clarity of communications and orders, security, intelligence, logistics and even more importantly the connection between operational movement and maneuver; the Center of Gravity of the enemy, and national strategy. Since we have already discussed how Lee and the national command authority of the Confederacy got to this point we will now discuss the how that decision played in the operational and tactical decisions of Lee and his commanders as the Army of Northern Virginia began the summer campaign and the corresponding actions of Joseph Hooker and the his superiors in Washington.

“One of the fine arts of the military craft is disengaging one’s army from a guarding army without striking sparks and igniting battle.” [1] On June 3rd 1863 Robert E. Lee began to move his units west, away from Fredericksburg to begin his campaign to take the war to the North. He began his exfiltration moving Second Corps under Richard Ewell and First Corps under James Longstreet west “up the south bank of the Rappahannock to Culpepper, near which Hood and Pickett had been halted on their return from Suffolk.” [2]Rodes’ division of Second Corps followed on June 4th with Anderson and Early on June 5th. Lee left the three divisions of A.P. Hill’s Third Corps at Fredericksburg to guard against any sudden advance by Hooker’s Army of the Potomac toward Richmond. Lee instructed Hill to “do everything possible “to deceive the enemy, and keep him in ignorance of any change in the disposition of the army.” [3]

The army was tremendously confident as it marched away from the war ravaged, dreary and desolate battlefields along the Rappahannock “A Captain in the 1st Virginia averred, “Never before has the army been in such a fine condition, so well disciplined and under such complete control.” [4]Porter Alexander wrote that he felt “pride and confidence…in my splendid battalion, as it filed out of the field into the road, with every chest & and ammunition wagon filled, & and every horse in fair order, & every detail fit for a campaign.” [5] Another officer wrote to his father, “I believe there is a general feeling of gratification in the army at the prospect of active operations.” [6]

Lee’s plan was to “shift two-thirds of his army to the northwest and past Hooker’s flank, while A.P. Hill’s Third Corps remained entrenched at Fredericksburg to observe Hooker and perhaps fix him in place long enough for the army to gain several marches on the Federals.” [7] In an organizational and operational sense that Lee’s army after as major of battle as Chancellorsville “was able to embark on such an ambitious flanking march to the west and north around the right of the army of the Potomac….” [8]

However, Lee’s movement did not go unnoticed; Hooker’s aerial observers in their hot air balloons “were up and apparently spotted the movement.” [9] But Hooker was unsure what it meant. He initially suspected that “Lee intended to turn the right flank of the Union army as he had done in the Second Bull Run Campaign, either by interposing his army between Washington and the Federals or by crossing the Potomac River.” [10] Lee halted at Culpepper from which he “could either march westward over the Blue Ridge or, if Hooker moved, recontract at the Rappahannock River.” [11]

Hooker telegraphed Lincoln and Halleck on June 5th and requested permission to advance cross the river and told Lincoln that “I am of opinion that it is my duty to pitch into his rear” [12]possibly threatening Richmond. Lincoln ordered Hooker to put the matter to Halleck, with whom Hooker was on the worst possible terms. Hooker “pressed Halleck to allow him to cross the Rappahannock in force, overwhelming whatever rebel force had been left at Fredericksburg, and then lunging down the line of the Virginia Central toward an almost undefended Richmond.” [13] On the morning of June 6th Hooker ordered pontoon bridges thrown across the river and sent a division of Sedgwick’s VI Corps to conduct a reconnaissance in force against Hill.

Lincoln and Halleck immediately rejected Hooker’s request. Lincoln “saw the flaw in Hooker’s plan at once” [14] and replied in a very blunt manner: “In one word,” he wrote “I would not take any risk of being entangled upon the river, like an ox jumped half over a fence and liable to be torn by dogs front and rear, without a fair chance to gore one way or kick another.” [15] Halleck replied to Hooker shortly after Lincoln that it would “seem perilous to permit Lee’s main force to move upon the Potomac [River] while your army is attacking an intrenched position on the other side of the Rappahannock.” [16] Lincoln, demonstrating a keen regard for the actual center of gravity of the campaign, told Hooker plainly that “I think Lee’s army and not Richmond, is your objective point.” [17]

The fears of Lincoln and Halleck were well founded. In stopping at Culpepper Lee retained the option of continuing his march to the Shenandoah and the Potomac, or he could rapidly “recall his advanced columns, hammer at Hooker’s right flank, and very possibly administer another defeat even more demoralizing than the one he suffered at Chancellorsville.” [18] Hooker heeded the order and while Hooker maintained his bridgehead over the Rappahannock he made no further move against Hill’s well dug in divisions.

Meanwhile, J.E.B. Stuart and his Cavalry Corps had been at Brandy Station near Culpepper for two weeks. Culpepper in June was a paradise for the cavalry, and with nearly 10,000 troopers gathered Stuart ordered a celebration, many dignitaries were invited and on June 4th Stuart hosted a grand ball in the county courthouse. On the 5th Stuart staged a grand review of five of his brigades. Bands played as each regiment passed in review and one soldier wrote that it was “One grand magnificent pageant, inspiring enough to make even an old woman feel fightish.” [19] The review ended with a mock charge by the cavalry against the guns of the horse artillery which were firing blank rounds. According to witnesses it was a spectacular event, so realistic and grand that during the final charge that “several ladies fainted, or pretended to faint, in the grandstand which Jeb Stuart had had set up for them along one side of the field.” [20]That was followed by an outdoor ball “lit by soft moonlight and bright bonfires.” [21] Stuart gave an encore performance when Lee arrived on June 8th, minus the grand finale and afterward Lee wrote to his wife that “Stuart was in all his glory.” [22]

Hooker received word from the always vigilant John Buford, of the First Cavalry Division on the night of June 6th that “Lee’s “movable column” was located near Culpepper Court House and that it consisted of Stuart’s three brigades heavily reinforced by Robertson’s, “Grumble” Jones’s, and Jenkins’ brigades.” [23] Hooker digested the information and believed that Stuart’s intent was to raid his own rear areas to disrupt the Army of the Potomac’s logistics and communications. The next day Hooker ordered his newly appointed Cavalry Corps Commander, Major General Alfred Pleasanton to attack Stuart.

After Chancellorsville, Hooker had reorganized the Union cavalry under Pleasanton into three divisions and under three aggressive division commanders, all West Pointers, Brigadier General John Buford, Brigadier General David Gregg and Brigadier General Judson Kilpatrick. While Stuart conducted his second grand review for Lee Pleasanton quietly massed his cavalry “opposite Beverly Ford and Kelly’s Ford so as to cross the river in the early morning hours of June 9th and carry out Hooker’s crisp orders “to disperse and destroy” the rebel cavalry reported to be “assembled in the vicinity of Culpepper….”[24] Pleasanton’s cavalry was joined by two mixed brigades of infantry “who had the reputation of being among the best marchers and fighters in the army.” [25] One brigade, commanded by Brigadier General Adelbert Ames consisted of five regiments drawn from XI Corps, XII Corps, and III Corps was attached to Buford’s division. The other brigade, under the command of Brigadier General David Russell was composed of seven regiments drawn from I Corps, II Corps and VI Corps. [26]

Stuart’s orders for June 9th were to “lead his cavalry division across the Rappahannock to screen the northward march of the infantry.” [27] The last thing that Stuart expected was to be surprised by the Federal cavalry which he had grown to treat with distain. Stuart who was at his headquarters “woke to the sound of fighting” [28] as Pleasanton’s divisions crossed the river and moved against the unsuspecting Confederate cavalry brigades.

The resultant action was the largest cavalry engagement of the war. Over 20,000 troopers engaged in an inconclusive see-saw battle that lasted most of the day. Though a draw “the rebels might have been swept from the field had Colonel Alfred N. Duffie, at the head of the Second Division acted aggressively and moved to the sounds of battle.” [29] The “Yankees came with a newfound grit and gave as good as they took.” [30]Porter Alexander wrote that Pleasanton’s troopers “but for bad luck in the killing of Col. Davis, leading the advance, would have probably surprised and captured most of Stuart’s artillery.” [31]Stuart had lost “over 500 men, including two colonels dead,” [32] and a brigade commander, Fitzhugh “Rooney” Lee, General Lee’s son, badly wounded. While recuperating at his wife’s home a few weeks later Lee “was captured by the enemy.” [33]Stuart claimed victory as he lost fewer troops and had taken close to 500 prisoners and maintained control of the battlefield.

But even Confederate officers were critical. Lafayette McLaws of First Corps wrote “our cavalry were surprised yesterday by the enemy and had to do some desperate fighting to retrieve the day… As you will perceive from General Lee’s dispatch that the enemy were driven across the river again. All this is not true because the enemy retired at their leisure, having accomplished what I suppose what they intended.” [34] Captain Charles Blackford of Longtreet’s staff wrote: “The fight at Brandy Station can hardly be called a victory. Stuart was certainly surprised, but for the supreme gallantry of his subordinate officers and men… it would have been a day of disaster and disgrace….” The Chief of the Bureau of War in Richmond, Robert H.G. Kean wrote “Stuart is so conceited that he got careless- his officers were having a frolic…” [35] Brigadier General Wade Hampton had the never to criticize his chief in his after action report and after the war recalled “Stuart managed badly that day, but I would not say so publicly.” [36]

The Confederate press was even more damning in its criticism of Stuart papers called it “a disastrous fight,” a “needless slaughter,” [37]and the Richmond Examiner scolded Stuart in words that cut deeply into Stuart’s pride and vanity:

The more the circumstances of the late affair at Brandy Station are considered, the less pleasant do they appear. If this was an isolated case, it might be excused under the convenient head of accident or chance. But the puffed up cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia has twice, if not three times, surprised since the battles of December, and such repeated accidents can be regarded as nothing but the necessary consequences of negligence and bad management. If the war was a tournament, invented and supported for the pleasure of a few vain and weak-headed officers, these disasters might be dismissed with compassion, But the country pays dearly for the blunders which encourage the enemy to overrun and devastate the land, with a cavalry which is daily learning to despise the mounted troops of the Confederacy…” [38]

But the battle was more significant than the number of casualties inflicted or who controlled the battlefield at the end of the day. Stuart had been surprised by an aggressively led Union Cavalry force. The Union troopers fought a stubborn and fierce battle and retired in good order. Stuart did not appreciate it but the battle was a watershed, it ended the previous dominance of the Confederate Cavalry arm. It was something that in less than a years’ time would cost him his life.

Notes 

[1] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg, Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York, 2003 p.59

[2] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.436

[3] Trudeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.25

[4] Wert, Jeffry D. A Glorious Army: Robert E. Lee’s Triumph 1862-1863 Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2011 p.218

[5] 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.221

[6] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.219

[7] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.60

[8] Korda, Michael. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2014 p.530

[9] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.436

[10] Wert, Jeffry D. The Sword of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2005 p.260

[11] Dowdy, Clifford. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation Skyhorse Publishing, New York 1986, originally published as Death of a Nation Knopf, New York 1958 p.37

[12] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.61

[13] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.50

[14] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.260

[15] Fuller, J.F.C. Decisive Battles of the U.S.A. 1776-1918 University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln 2007 copyright 1942 The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals p.223

[16] Ibid Trudeau Gettysburg a Testing of Courage p.26

[17] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.50

[18] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.53

[19] Davis, Burke J.E.B. Stuart: The Last Cavalier Random House, New York 1957 p.304

[20] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.437

[21] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.63

[22] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.221

[23] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.54

[24] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.64

[25] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.54

[26] Petruzzi, J. David and Stanley, Steven The Gettysburg Campaign in Numbers and Losses: Synopses, Orders of Battle, Strengths, Casualties and Maps, June 9 – July 1, 1863 Savas Beatie LLC, El Dorado Hills CA 2012 p.7

[27] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.64

[28] Ibid. Davis JEB Stuart p.306

[29] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.261

[30] Wert, Jeffry D. General James Longstreet The Confederacy’s Most Controversial Soldier, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster, New York and London 1993 p. 251

[31] Ibid. Alexander Fighting for the Confederacy p.223

[32] Ibid. Davis JEB Stuart p.310

[33] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.221

[34] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.59

[35] Ibid. Davis JEB Stuart p.310

[36] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.60

[37] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.57

[38] Ibid. Davis JEB Stuart p.311-312

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“I Will Live and Die under the Flag of the Union.” John Buford, Hero of Gettysburg

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

As I noted yesterday I am going to be posting about the Battle of Gettysburg for the next few days. All of these articles have appeared on my blog before and are part of my text on the Battle of Gettysburg which my agent is shopping to various publishers. This article is about the Union Cavalry commander, General John Buford who would lead a masterful delaying action against Confederate forces far superior to his small division on July 1st 1863. 

Buford is a fascinating character, played to perfection by Sam Elliott in the movie Gettysburg he was one of the officers whose extraordinary leadership denied Lee a victory at Gettysburg, preserved the Union and led to the defeat of the Confederacy. I hope you enjoy this little piece about a most amazing man. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

buford

“He was decidedly the best cavalry general we had, and was acknowledged as such in the army, though being no friend to newspaper reporters…In many respects he resembled Reynolds, being rough in the exterior, never looking after his own comfort, untiring on the march and in the supervision of all the militia in his command, quiet and unassuming in his manners.” Colonel Charles Wainwright on Buford (Diary of Battle, p.309)

John Buford was born in Kentucky and came from a family with a long military history of military service, including family members who had fought in the Revolutionary War and War of 1812. In fact according to some the family military pedigree reaches back to England’s War of the Roses.

Buford’s family was well off with a spacious plantation near Versailles on which labored forty-five slaves, and his father also established a stage line which carried “passengers and freight between Frankfort and Lexington.”His father divested himself of his property, selling his home, business and slaves and moved to Stephenson Illinois in 1838. [1] The young Buford developed an interest in military life which was enlivened by his half-brother Napoleon Bonaparte Buford who graduated from West Point in 1827, and his brother would be influential in helping John into West Point, which he entered in 1844.

Buford graduated with the class of 1848 which included the distinguished Union artilleryman John Tidball, and the future Confederate brigadier generals “Grumble Jones and “Maryland” Steuart. Among his best friends was Ambrose Burnside of the class of 1847. He did well academically but his conduct marks kept him from graduating in the top quarter of his class.

Upon graduation he was commissioned as a Brevet Second Lieutenant of Dragoons, however too late to serve in Mexico. Instead he was initially assigned to the First United States Dragoons but less than six months after joining was transferred to the Second Dragoons when he was promoted to full Second Lieutenant.

Instead of going to Mexico Buford “spent most of the 1850s tracking and fighting Indians on the Plains.” [2] During this period, the young dragoon served on the Great Plains against the Sioux, where he distinguished himself at the Battle of Ash Creek and on peacekeeping duty in the bitterly divided State of Kansas and in the Utah War of 1858.

His assignments alternated between field and staff assignments and he gained a great deal of tactical and administrative expertise that would serve him well. This was especially true in the realm of the tactics that he would employ so well at Gettysburg and on other battlefields against Confederate infantry and cavalry during the Civil War. Buford took note of the prevailing tactics of the day which still stressed a rigid adherence to outdated Napoleonic tactics which stressed mounted charges and “little cooperation with units of other arms or in the taking and holding of disputed ground.” [3] While he appreciated the shock value of mounted charges against disorganized troops he had no prejudice against “fighting dismounted when the circumstances of the case called for or seemed to justify it.” [4] Buford’s pre-war experience turned him into a modern soldier who appreciated and employed the rapid advances in weaponry, including the repeating rifle with tremendous effect.

Despite moving to Illinois Buford’s family still held Southern sympathies; his father was a Democrat who had opposed Abraham Lincoln. Buford himself was a political moderate and though he had some sympathy for slave owners:

“he despised lawlessness in any form – especially that directed against federal institutions, which he saw as the bulwark of democracy…..He especially abhorred the outspoken belief of some pro-slavery men that the federal government was their sworn enemy.” [5]

After the election of Abraham Lincoln, the officers of Buford’s regiment split on slavery. His regimental commander, Colonel Philip St. George Cooke, a Virginian and the father-in-law of J.E.B. Stewart announced that he would remain loyal to the Union, others like Beverly Robertson who would command a brigade of cavalry during the Gettysburg campaign resigned their commissions.

For many officers, both those who remained loyal to the Union and those who joined the Confederate cause the decision was often difficult, and many anguished over their decisions as they weighed their allegiance to the Union against their loyalty to home and family. Buford was not one of them.

Since Buford’s family had longstanding ties to Kentucky, the pro-secession governor of Kentucky, Beriah Magoffin offered Buford a commission in that states’ militia. At the time Kentucky was still an “undeclared border slave state” and Buford loyal to his oath refused the governor’s offer. He wrote a brief letter to Magoffin and told his comrades that “I sent him word that I was a Captain in the United States Army and I intend to remain one.” [6]Around the same time the new provisional government of the Confederacy “offered Buford a general officer’s commission, which reached him by mail at Fort Crittenden.” [7] According to Buford’s biographer Edward Longacre “a well-known anecdote has him wadding up the letter while angrily announcing that whatever future had in store he would “live and die under the flag of the Union.” [8]

However Buford’s family’s southern ties, and lack of political support from the few remaining loyal Kentucky legislators initially kept him from field command. Instead he received a promotion to Colonel and an assignment to the Inspector General’s Office, although it was not the field assignment that he desired it was of critical importance to the army in those early days of the war as the Union gathered its strength for the war. Buford was assigned to mustering in, and training the new regiments being organized for war. Traveling about the country he evaluated each unit in regard to “unit dress, deportment and discipline, the quality and quantity of weapons, ammunition, equipment, quarters, animals and transportation; the general health of the unit and medical facilities available to it; and the training progress of officers and men.” [9] Buford was a hard and devastatingly honest trainer and evaluator of the new regiments. He was especially so in dealing with commanding officers as well as field and company officers. Additionally he was a stickler regarding supply officers, those he found to be incompetent or less than honest were cashiered.

Buford performed these duties well but desired command. Eventually he got the chance when the politically well-connected but ill-fated Major General John Pope who “could unreservedly vouch for his loyalty wrangled for him command of a brigade of cavalry.” [10] After Pope’s disastrous defeat at Second Bull Run in August 1862 Buford was wounded in the desperate fighting at Second Manassas and returned to staff duties until January 1863 when he was again given a brigade. However, unlike many of the officers who served under Pope, Buford’s reputation as a leader of cavalry and field commander was increased during that campaign.

Buford was given the titular title of “Chief of Cavalry of the Army of the Potomac” by George McClellan, a title which sounded impressive but involved no command during the Antietam campaign. Following that frustrating task he continued in the same position under his old West Point friend Ambrose Burnside during the Fredericksburg campaign. Buford lost confidence in his old friend and was likely “shocked by his friend’s deadly ineptitude, his dogged insistence on turning defeat into nightmare.” [11]

When Burnside was relieved and Fighting Joe Hooker appointed to command the army, Buford’s star began to rise. While he was passed over by Hooker for command of the newly organized First Cavalry division in favor of Alfred Pleasanton who was eleven days his senior, he received command of the elite Reserve Brigade composed of mostly Regular Army cavalry regiments. When Major General George Stoneman was relieved of command following the Chancellorsville campaign, Pleasanton was again promoted over Buford.

In later years Hooker recognized that Buford “would have been a better man for the position of chief” [12] but in retrospect Buford’s pass over was good fortune for the Army of the Potomac on June 30th and July 1st 1863. Despite being passed over for the Cavalry Corps command, Buford, a consummate professional never faltered or became bitter. Despite the Pleasanton’s interference and “lax intelligence-gathering” [13]   During the Gettysburg campaign he led his brigade well at Brandy Station as it battled J.E.B. Stuart’s troopers, after which he was recommended for promotion and given command of the First Cavalry division of the Cavalry Corps. [14]

Following Brandy Station Buford led his troopers aggressively as they battled Stuart’s troopers along the Blue Ridge at the battles of Aldie, Philmont, Middleburg and Upperville. It was at Upperville while fighting a hard action Confederate Brigadier general “Grumble Jones’s brigade that Buford’s troopers provided Hooker with the first visual evidence that Lee’s infantry was moving north into Maryland and Pennsylvania.

burford reynolds monuments

When Hooker was relieved on the night of June 27th and 28th George Meade gave Buford the chance at semi-independent command without Pleasanton looking over his shoulder. Meade appreciated Pleasanton’s administrative and organizational expertise and took him out of direct field command. Meade had his Cavalry Corps commander “pitch his tent next to his own on almost every leg of the trip to Pennsylvania and rarely let him out of sight or earshot.” [15]

One of Meade’s staff officers, Theodore Lyman gave this description of Buford:

“He is one of the best of the officers…and is a singular looking party. Figurez-vous a compactly built man of middle height, with a tawny mustache and a little, triangular gray eye, whose expression is determined, not to say sinister. His ancient corduroys are tucked into a pair of ordinary cowhide boots, his blue blouse is ornamented with holes; from which one pocket thereof peeps a huge pipe, while the other is fat with a tobacco pouch. Notwithstanding this get-up he is a very soldierly looking man. Hype is of a good natured disposition, but is not to be trifled with.” [16]

When he was ordered to screen the army as it moved into Pennsylvania, Buford was confident about his troopers and their ability and he and his men performed their duties admirably. On June 29th Buford’s men skirmished with two of Harry Heth’s regiments near the town of Fairfield, which Buford promptly reported to Meade and John Reynolds after ascertaining their size and composition.

The Battle of Gettysburg would be the zenith of Buford’s career. His masterful delaying action against Harry Heth’s division on July 1st 1863 enabled John Reynold’s wing of the army to arrive in time to keep the Confederates from taking the town and all of the high ground which would have doomed any union assault against them. Following Gettysburg Buford continued to command his cavalry leading his division in a number of engagements. In early November the worn out cavalryman who had been in so many actions over the past year came down with Typhoid. In hopes that he would recover he was told that he would be appointed to command all the cavalry in the West, however his health continued to decline. He was officially promoted to Major General of Volunteers by President Lincoln, over the objection of Secretary of War Stanton who disliked deathbed promotions. “Upon learning of the honor. Buford is supposed to have whispered, “I wish I could have lived now.” [17] He died later that evening, the last words warning his officers “patrol the roads and halt fugitives at the front.” [18]

John Pope wrote of Buford:

“Buford’s coolness, his fine judgment, and his splendid courage were well known of all men who had to do with him… His quiet dignity, covering a fiery spirit and a military sagacity as far reaching as it was accurate made him…one of the best and most trusted officers in the service.” [19]

Sam Elliot as Buford

Buford was buried at West Point and he is immortalized in the monument dedicated to him on McPherson’s Ridge at Gettysburg where he with binoculars in hand looks defiantly west in the direction of the advancing Confederates. The monument is surrounded by the gun tubes of four Union 3” Rifles, three of which were part of Lieutenant John Calef’s Battery which he directed on the fateful morning of July 1st 1863. He was portrayed masterfully portrayed by Sam Elliott in the movie Gettysburg.

Notes

[1] Longacre, Edward G. John Buford: A Military Biography Da Capo Press, Perseus Book Group, Cambridge MA p.17

[2] Ibid. Guelzo. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.121

[3] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.36

[4] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.36

[5] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.54

[6] Ibid. Guelzo. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.121

[7] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.70

[8] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.70

[9] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.78

[10] Ibid. Guelzo. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.121

[11] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.122

[12] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command p.44

[13] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.173

[14] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command p.64

[15] Longacre, Edward G. The Cavalry at Gettysburg: A Tactical Study of Mounted Operations during the Civil War’s Pivotal Campaign, 9 June-14 July 1863 University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London 1986 p.168

[16] Girardi, Robert I. The Civil War Generals: Comrades, Peers, Rivals in Their Own Words Zenith Press, MBI Publishing, Minneapolis MN 2013 p.38

[17] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.245

[18] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.246

[19] Ibid. Girardi The Civil War General p.38

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

Tragic Heroes of Little Round Top

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

As I mentioned I am going to be publishIng some of my revised sections of my Gettysburg text this week. I am focusing some of the men who fought at Little Round Top on July 2nd 1863, as well as their families.

I hope that you find this thought provoking when you consider the sacrifice made by these Union men who were either killed or wounded in order to both maintain the Union and to set others free, as well as the cost born by their families. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

chamberlain lrt

Iconic yet Incomplete: Chamberlain at Little Round Top (Mort Kunstler)

July 2nd 1863 was to be a pivotal day in the history of the United States, a day of valor, courage and carnage; a day where nearly 20,000 Americans were killed, wounded or missing fighting fellow Americans. It was a day where the fate of the Union and the Confederacy were in the balance. On the afternoon of that day, three volunteers rose to the challenge.

However, when we tell the story of Gettysburg or for that matter any other battle we often neglect the human costs endured by the soldiers as well as their families off the battlefield. In fact, what we know of the heroes of these battles is of their battlefield heroism as well other military or governmental service. The pictures we have of them are often the polished versions of their heroics, sometimes bordering on hagiography, criticism, if any is leveled at all, is confined to battlefield decisions or campaign plans. We mythologize them, we turn them into idols, icons and somehow, even as important and inspiring as the myths may be, we ignore their basic humanity. When we do this we often miss the more important things about their lives; those things that make them much more real, much more human, much more like us.

Sadly, the unvarnished accounts of then lives of heroes often only show up in biographies, and are seldom mentioned in the more popular accounts of battles. But the pain and suffering that these men and their families endured during and after war is sadly neglected, much to the detriment of those who idolize them.

Yes, there were many more heroes on Little Round Top that day; far too many to be covered in depth in any one work. However, these three Colonels, Strong Vincent, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and Patrick “Paddy” O’Rorke along with Brigadier General Gouverneur Warren were instrumental in securing the Union victory. They were all unlikely heroes. Of these men only O’Rorke was a professional soldier, albeit a very young one, but all took to soldiering and leading soldiers as if it were second nature. They were men who along with others “who stepped out of themselves for a moment and turned a corner at some inexpressibly right instant.” [1]

vincent

Colonel Strong Vincent

Colonel Strong Vincent was a 26 year old Harvard graduate and lawyer from Erie Pennsylvania. He was born in Waterford and attended school in Erie. Growing up, he worked in his father’s iron foundry, where the work helped make him a man of great physical strength. He studied at Trinity College in Hartford Connecticut and transferred to Harvard. There are various explanations for why he left Trinity, but the most interesting and probably the most credible is that during his sophomore year which was recorded by Trinity alumnus Charles F. Johnson who wrote that:

“He went calling on Miss Elizabeth Carter, a teacher at Miss Porter’s school in Farmington, ten miles west of Hartford. At some point a guard or watchman voiced a comment that impinged the lady’s virtue, and, as Johnson so aptly phrases it, Vincent “responded to the affront with the same gallantry and vigor that he was to display in the Civil War.” McCook’s account indicated that the man was repeatedly pummeled, which effectively rendered him unconscious.” [2]

Long after the war Dr. Edward Gallaudet, the president of Trinity responded to an enquiry of the circumstances leading to Vincent’s early departure from Trinity. Gallaudet responded to the request in a terse manner:

“Replying to yours of yesterday, I must say that I do not think it would be wise to make public the story I told of Strong Vincent’s escapade at Farmington & its consequences. Certainly not in the lifetime of Mrs. Vincent.” [3]

Evidently the incident resulted in Vincent leaving Trinity and the next year he entered Harvard. Vincent graduated from Harvard in 1859, ranking 51st in a class of 92. However, he was not an outstanding student and “earned admonishments on his record for missing chapel and smoking in Harvard Yard.” [4]

Returning home he studied law with a prominent lawyer and within two years had passed the bar, and he was well respected in the community. When war came and the call went out for volunteers, Vincent enlisted in a 30 Day regiment, the Wayne Guards as a private and then was appointed as a 1st Lieutenant and Adjutant of the regiment because of his academic and administrative acumen.

He married Elizabeth, the same woman whose virtue he had defended at Trinity that day. Vincent like many young northerners believed in the cause of the Union undivided, and he wrote his wife shortly after the regiment went to war on the Peninsula:

“Surely the right will prevail. If I live we will rejoice in our country’s success. If I fall, remember you have given your husband to the most righteous cause that ever widowed a woman.” [5]

When the Wayne Guards were disbanded at the end of their enlistment, Vincent helped to raise the 83rd Pennsylvania and was commissioned as a Lieutenant Colonel in it on September 14th 1861. The young officer learned his trade well and was considered a “strict disciplinarian and master of drill.” [6] That being said one enlisted man remarked that “no officer in the army was more thoughtful and considerate of the health and comfort of his men.” [7] Vincent assumed command of the regiment when the commander was killed during the Seven Days in June of 1862 where he learned lessons that he would help impart to his fellow officers as well as subordinates, including Chamberlain. At Fredericksburg any doubters about the young officer’s courage and leadership ability were converted where they observed his poise “with sword in hand” he “stood erect in full view of the enemy’s artillery, and though the shot fell fast on all sides, he never wavered or once changed his position.” [8]

By the time of the Battle of Gettysburg, the 26 year old Vincent was the youngest brigade commander in the army. He was noted for his intelligence, leadership, military acumen and maturity. One friend wrote “As a general thing his companions were older than himself….Among his associates were men of the highest rank. He could adapt himself to all, could talk with the politician on questions of history, with a general officer on military evolutions, or with a sporting man on the relative merits of horses,-and all respected his opinion.” [9]

His promotion was well earned, following a bout with a combination of Malaria and Typhoid, the “Chickahominy Fever” which almost killed him; Vincent took command of the regiment after its commander was killed at Gaines Mill. He commanded the regiment at Fredericksburg and was promoted to command the 3rd Brigade after the Battle of Chancellorsville following the resignation of its commander, Colonel T.W.B. Stockton on May 18th 1863.

Vincent was offered the chance to serve as the Judge Advocate General of the Army of the Potomac by Joseph Hooker in the spring of 1863 after spending three months on court-martial duty. But Vincent refused the offer in so that he might remain in the fight commanding troops. [10] He told his friends “I enlisted to fight.” [11]

Vincent, like Chamberlain who admired him greatly had “become a kind of model of the citizen soldier.” [12] As a result of his experience in battle and the tenacity of the Confederate army he became an advocate of the tactics that William Tecumseh Sherman would later employ during his march to the sea in 1864. He wrote his wife before Chancellorsville:

“We must fight them more vindictively, or we shall be foiled at every step.  We must desolate the country as we pass through it, and not leave a trace of a doubtful friend or foe behind us; make them believe that we are in earnest, terribly in earnest; that to break this band in twain is monstrous and impossible; that the life of every man, yea, of every weak woman or child in the entire South, is of no value whatever compared with the integrity of the Union.” [13]

Unlike most other brigade commanders, Vincent was still a Colonel, and he, like many others would in his place hoping for a General’s star. He remarked that his move to save Sickles’ command “will either bring me my stars, or finish my career as a soldier.” [14] On July first, Vincent, a native Pennsylvanian came to Hanover and learning that battle had been joined, ordered “the pipes and drums of the 83rd Pennsylvania to play his brigade through the town and ordered the regiments to uncover their flags again….” [15] As the brigade marched through the town, Vincent “reverently bared his head” and announced to his adjutant, “What death more glorious can any man desire than to die on the soil of old Pennsylvania fighting for that flag?” [16]

Vincent was known for his personal courage and a soldier of the 83rd Pennsylvania observed: “Vincent had a particular penchant for being in the lead….Whenever or wherever his brigade might be in a position to get ahead…, he was sure to be ahead.” [17] That courage and acumen to be in the right place at the right time was in evidence when he led his brigade into battle on that fateful July second.

On July 2nd Barnes’ division of V Corps, which Vincent’s brigade was a part was being deployed to the threat posed by the Confederate attack of McLaws’ division on the Peach Orchard and the Wheat Field to reinforce Sickles’ III Corps. While that division marched toward the Peach Orchard, Vincent’s 3rd Brigade was the trail unit. When Gouverneur Warren’s aide, Lieutenant Randall Mackenzie [18] came toward the unit in search of Barnes, he came across Vincent and his brigade near the George Weikert house on Cemetery Ridge awaiting further orders. [19]

Vincent intercepted him and demanded what his orders were. Upon being told that Sykes’ orders to Barnes were to “send one of his brigades to occupy that hill yonder,” [20] Vincent defied normal protocol assuming that Barnes had hit the bottle and was drunk [21] and told Mackenzie “I will take responsibility of taking my brigade there.” [22] Vincent immediately went into action and ordered Colonel James Rice, his friend and the commander of the 44th New York “to bring the brigade to the hill as quickly as possible,” and then turned on his horse and galloped off toward Little Round Top.” [23]

It was a fortunate thing for the Union that he did. His quick action to get his brigade, clear orders to his subordinate commanders and skilled analysis of the ground were a decisive factor in the Union forces holding Little Round Top. After ordering Colonel Rice to lead the brigade up to the hill, he and his aide went forward to scout positions accompanied by the brigade standards. Rice brought the brigade forward at the double quick “across the field to the road leading up the north shoulder of the hill” with Chamberlain’s 20th Maine in the lead. [24]

Vincent and his orderly made a reconnaissance of the south and east slope of the hill which adjoined a small valley and a rocky outcrop called Devil’s Den, which was occupied by the 124th New York and which was the end of Sickles’ line. Near the summit of the southern aspect of the hill, they came under Confederate artillery fire and told his orderly “They are firing at the flag, go behind the rocks with it.” [25]

Vincent dismounted, leaving his sword secured on his horse, carrying only his riding crop. He continued and “with the skill and precision of a professional had reconnoitered and decided how to best place his slim brigade of 1350 muskets.” [26] He chose a position along a spur of the hill, which now bears his name, running from the northwest to the southeast to place his regiments where they could intercept the Confederate troops of Hood’s division which he could see advancing toward the hill.

What Vincent saw when he arrived was a scene of disaster. Confederate troops had overwhelmed the 124th New York and were moving on Little Round Top, “Devil’s Den was a smoking crater,” and the ravine which separated Devil’s Den from Little Round Top “was a whirling maelstrom.” [27] Seeing the threat Vincent began to deploy his brigade but also sent at messenger back to Barnes telling him “Go tell General Barnes to send reinforcements at once, the enemy are coming against us with an overwhelming force” [28]

The 16th Michigan, the smallest regiment in his brigade with barely 150 soldiers in line [29] was placed on the right flank of the brigade. As it moved forward, its adjutant, Rufus W. Jacklin’s horse was hit by a cannon ball which decapitated that unfortunate animal and left it “a mass of quivering flesh.” [30] A fierce Confederate artillery barrage fell among the advancing Union troops and splintered trees, causing some concern among the soldiers. The 20th Maine’s Chaplain, Luther French, saw the “beheading of Jacklin’s horse and ran to Captain Atherton W. Clark, commanding the 20th’s Company E, babbling about what he had seen. Clark interrupted French abruptly and shouted: “For Christ sake Chaplain, if you have any business attend to it.” [31]

That section of the line was located on massive boulders that placed it high above the valley below, making it nearly impregnable to frontal attack. On the summit Vincent deployed the 83rd Pennsylvania and 44th New York to their left at the request of Rice who told him “In every battle that we have engaged the Eighty-third and Forty-fourth have fought side by side. I wish that it might be so today.” [32] The story is probably apocryphal but the regiments remained side by side with the 16th Michigan on the right and the 20th Maine on the left. The two regiments were deployed below the crest among the large number of boulders; the 83rd was about two-thirds of the way down the way down the slope where it joined the right of the 44th, whose line angled back up the slope to the southeast. A historian of the 83rd Pennsylvania noted that “Each rock”… “was a fortress behind which the soldier[s] instantly took shelter.” [33] The soldiers were determined to do their duty as they now were fighting on home ground.

Vincent deployed the 20th Maine on his extreme left of his line, and in fact the extreme end of the Union line. Vincent knew that if this flank was turned and Chamberlain overrun that it would imperil the entire Union position. Vincent came up to Chamberlain who remembered that Vincent said “in an awed, faraway voice: “I place you here….This is the left of the Union line. You understand. You are to hold this ground at all costs.” [34] Chamberlain acknowledged his understanding of the order and since the regiment lacked field grade officers, Chamberlain “assigned Captain Atherton Clark of company E to command the right wing, and acting Major Ellis Spear the left.” [35]

chamberlain

Colonel Joshua Chamberlain following his Promotion to Brigadier General

While Colonel Joshua Chamberlain’s story is much better known than his brigade commander, Strong Vincent, he was another of the citizen soldiers whose performance and leadership on Little Round Top saved the Union line that hot July evening. Chamberlain was a graduate of Bowdoin College and Bangor Theological Seminary. Fluent in nine languages other than English, he remained at Bowdoin as Professor of Rhetoric and was deeply unhappy at missing the war even as his students left and were commissioned as officers in newly raised regiments.

In June of 1862 Chamberlain wrote to Governor Israel Washburn requesting an appointment in a newly raised Maine Regiment without consulting either the college or his wife Fannie, who was “shocked, hurt, and alarmed by the decision he had made without consulting her…She remonstrated, she raised her voice, and quite possibly wept over the injustice he had done to both by this unilateral act that threatened to send their world careening in all directions.” [36]

As far as Bowdoin went, Chamberlain actually deceived the college by requesting a “scholarly sabbatical when in fact he had applied to the governor of Maine in the new 20th Maine Infantry in the late summer of 1862.” [37] When the faculty of Bowdoin found out of Chamberlain’s action many of them “were livid over what they considered his duplicity, and some shunned him during the brief period that he remained in Brunswick before reporting to training camp. [38]

The letter that Chamberlain wrote to Governor Israel Washburn details Chamberlain’s desire to serve and in some ways shows his considerable political skill in presenting his case to join the army:

“For seven years past I have been Professor in Bowdoin College. I have always been interested in military matters, and what I do not know in that line I know how to learn.

Having been lately elected to a new department here, I am expecting to have leave, at the approaching Commencement, to spend a year or more in Europe, in the service of the College. I am entirely unwilling, however, to accept this offer, if my Country needs my service or example here.

Your Excellency presides over the Educational as well as the military affairs of our State, and, I am well aware, appreciates the importance of sustaining our Institutions of Learning. You will therefore be able to decide where my influence is most needed.

But, I fear, this war, so costly of blood and treasure, will not cease until the men of the North are willing to leave good positions, and sacrifice the dearest personal interests, to rescue our Country from Desolation, and defend the National Existence against treachery at home and jeopardy abroad. This war must be ended, with a swift and strong hand; and every man ought to come forward and ask to be placed at his proper post.

Nearly a hundred of those who have been my pupils, are now officers in our army; but there are many more all over our State, who, I believe, would respond with enthusiasm, if summoned by me, and who would bring forward men enough to fill up a Regiment at once. I can not free myself from my obligations here until the first week in August, but I do not want to be the last in the field, if it can possibly be helped.” [39]

Chamberlain’s pre-war experiences gave no indication that he would emerge as a military hero. His father, a veteran of the War of 1812 had named him after Captain James Lawrence, the commanding officer of the frigate USS Chesapeake in the War of 1812 who uttered the famous words “Don’t give up the ship” as he lay mortally wounded when that ship was defeated by the HMS Shannon off Boston Harbor in 1813. However, Chamberlain’s mother added the name Joshua as his first name in the town’s books. While his father hoped that the young Chamberlain would pursue a military career, his mother earnestly desired that he would pursue a ministerial career. Chamberlain did become a licensed minister but had no desire to become a pastor, and was never ordained. This was reinforced by Fannie, who though the daughter of a minister was “too much a free thinker” and “did not share the devotion her father and Chamberlain held for organized religion.” [40]

Chamberlain debated attending West Point after graduation, a path that his classmate Oliver O. Howard took. Instead he attended Bangor Theological Seminary and following graduation took up his academic career at Bowdoin. It was during this time that he met, fell in love with, pursued, courted and finally married Frances Caroline Adams, who played the organ at the local Congregational Church that he attended. Known by most as “Fannie,” she was the adopted daughter of the eminent Congregationalist minister, Dr. George Adams who served as pastor. Fannie had a strong independent streak and was as an accomplished musician and artist.

The couple was an interesting match. Chamberlain was impressed by Fannie’s “artistic gifts. Fannie had talent not only in music but in poetry and, especially; art…” [41] but he ignored potential areas of conflict that would create difficulties throughout their marriage. However, Fannie was beset by numerous fears, as well as a desire not to be dominated by any man. Chamberlain pursued her with abandon but for a time she resisted, until her widowed father married a woman not much older than herself. She desired to pursue the study of music and went away to New York to do so, but in 1852 she decided that she was in love with him. “Yet she harbored doubts about her ability to return his feelings for her measure for measure.” [42]

Fannie suffered from depression and a constant worry about her eyesight which began failing her and an early age. It was a malady that eventually left her completely blind by then turn of the century. Compounding her struggles was that fact that her new husband struggled with his own doubts and depression, a depression that only seamed to lift during the war years.

“During most of his life, Chamberlain struggled with bouts of deep depression and melancholy. But not during the war years. It was as if the war and soldiering had made a new man out of him.” [43]

Chamberlain was offered command of the 20th Maine but asked Governor Washburn that he was appointed as a Lieutenant Colonel, which he was in August 1862. He fought with the regiment at Fredericksburg and was named commander of it when Colonel Adelbert Ames, his commander was transferred to preform staff duties prior to obtaining a brigade command in Oliver Howard’s XI Corps following the debacle at Chancellorsville.

Chamberlain at his heart, through his association with abolitionists and other prior to the war was a staunch Unionist. Before going into the army he wrote:

“We have this war upon is & we want to stop it. It has cost us already too much precious blood. It has carried stagnation, starvation & grief in to too many villages of our fair land – brought death to too many noble hearts that we could ill afford to lose. But the only way to stop this war, is first to show that we are strongest…I feel that we are fighting for our country – for our flag- not as so many Stars and Stripes, but as the emblem of a good & powerful nation – fighting to settle the question whether we are a nation or a basket of chips. Whether we shall leave our children the country we have inherited – or leave them without a country – without a name – without a citizenship among the great nations of the earth – take the chief city of the rebels. They will have no respect for us unless we whip them & and I say it in all earnestness….” [44]

Like Vincent, Chamberlain was also a quick student or military science and rapidly adapted to being a soldier, officer and commander of troops in combat. He spent as much time studying the art of war under the supervision of Colonel Ames including Henri Jomini’s Art of War which he wrote to Fannie “The Col. & I are going to read it. He to instruct me, as he is kindly doing everything now.” [45] He excelled at his studies under Ames, but since most of the manuals that he studied were based on Napoleonic tactics and had not incorporated the changes brought about by the rifled musket, Chamberlain like so many others would have to learn the lesson of war the hard way.

Chamberlain was with the regiment at Antietam, but it saw no action. He was in the thick of the fighting at Fredericksburg and Burnside’s subsequent “Mud March” which were both disastrous for the army.

He took command of the regiment in late April after Ames left on detached duty before assuming a brigade command. As the new commander of the regiment, Chamberlain and the 20th Maine missed the Battle of Chancellorsville as the regiment had been quarantined due to an epidemic of smallpox, which they had probably received from “poorly prepared serum with which the regiment was vaccinated” [46] in April.

From the regiment’s quarantined location Chamberlain and his men could hear the sound of battle. One of his soldiers wrote “We could hear the firing plain but there we lay in glorious idleness without being able to lift a finger or fire a gun.” [47] In frustration Chamberlain rode to Major General Joseph Hooker’s headquarters and asked Hooker’s Chief of Staff Dan Butterfield for the chance to enter the fight. Refused the chance Chamberlain told Butterfield “If we couldn’t do anything else we would give the rebels the smallpox!” [48] The regiment spent the battle guarding a telegraph line must to Chamberlain and his soldier’s disgust.

On the march up to Gettysburg, Chamberlain was ordered to take a number of veterans of the 2nd Maine who had signed three year, rather than two year enlistment contracts and were angry at remaining in the army when the regiment was mustered out. The men were angry and Chamberlain was given permission by Meade to fire on them “if they refused to do duty. The new colonel realized he had a crisis on his hands.” [49] The soldiers were bitter but Chamberlain treated them graciously and “almost all of them agreed to take up their muskets again the service of the 20th Maine.” [50] Chamberlain later remarked of how these men “we’re afterward among my best men, worthy of the proud fame of the 2nd, and the hard earned laurels of the 20th.” [51]

On receiving his orders from Vincent, Chamberlain deployed his small regiment halfway down the southern slope facing the small valley between Little Round Top and Big Round Top. By the time he arrived at Gettysburg he had become “a great infantry officer, and among his valuable qualities was [understanding] where an attack would come….” [52]

Since Chamberlain’s account is so important I will forgo a discussion of his tactics and instead quote the sections of his after action report that explains his actions. Chamberlain wrote:

“On reaching the field at about 4 p.m. July 2d, Col. Vincent commanding the Brigade, placing me on the left of the Brigade and consequently on the extreme left of our entire line of battle, instructed me that the enemy were expected shortly to make a desperate attempt to turn our left flank, and that the position assigned to me must be held at every hazard.

I established my line on the crest of a small spur of a rocky and wooded hill, and sent out at once a company of skirmishers on my left to guard against surprise on that unprotected flank.

These dispositions were scarcely made when the attack commenced, and the right of the Regt. found itself at once hotly engaged. Almost at the same moment, from a high rock which gave me a full view of the enemy, I perceived a heavy force in rear of their principal line, moving rapidly but stealthily toward our left, with the intention, as I judged, of gaining our rear unperceived. Without betraying our peril to any but one or two officers, I had the right wing move by the left flank, taking intervals of a pace or two, according to the shelter afforded by rocks or trees, extending so as to cover the whole front then engaged; and at the same time moved the left wing to the left and rear, making a large angle at the color, which was now brought to the front where our left had first rested.

This hazardous maneuvre [sic] was so admirably executed by my men that our fire was not materially slackened in front, and the enemy gained no advantage there, while the left wing in the meantime had formed a solid and steady line in a direction to meet the expected assault. We were not a moment too soon; for the enemy having gained their desired point of attack came to a front, and rushed forward with an impetuosity which showed their sanguine expectations.

Their astonishment however was evident, when emerging from their cover, they met instead of an unsuspecting flank, a firm and ready front. A strong fire opened at once from both sides, and with great effect, the enemy still advancing until they came within ten paces of our line, where our steady and telling volleys brought them to a stand. From that moment began a struggle fierce and bloody beyond any that I have witnessed, and which lasted in all its fury, a full hour. The two lines met, and broke and mingled in the shock. At times I saw around me more of the enemy than of my own men. The edge of conflict swayed to and fro -now one and now the other party holding the contested ground. Three times our line was forced back, but only to rally and repulse the enemy. As often as the enemy’s line was broken and routed, a new line was unmasked, which advanced with fresh vigor. Our “sixty rounds” were rapidly reduced; I sent several messengers to the rear for ammunition, and also for reinforcements. In the mean time we seized the opportunity of a momentary lull to gather ammunition and more serviceable arms, from the dead and dying on the field. With these we met the enemy’s last and fiercest assault. Their own rifles and their own bullets were turned against them. In the midst of this struggle, our ammunition utterly failed. The enemy were close upon us with a fresh line, pouring on us a terrible fire. Half the left wing already lay on the field. Although I had brought two companies from the right to its support, it was now scarcely more than a skirmish line. The heroic energy of my officers could avail no more. Our gallant line withered and shrunk before the fire it could not repel. It was too evident that we could maintain the defensive no longer. As a last desperate resort, I ordered a charge. The word “fix bayonets” flew from man to man. The click of the steel seemed to give new zeal to all. The men dashed forward with a shout. The two wings came into one line again, and extending to the left, and at the same time wheeling to the right, the whole Regiment described nearly a half circle, the left passing over the space of half a mile, while the right kept within the support of the 83d Penna. thus leaving no chance of escape to the enemy except to climb the steep side of the mountain or to pass by the whole front of the 83d Penna. The enemy’s first line scarcely tried to run-they stood amazed, threw down their loaded arms and surrendered in whole companies. Those in their rear had more time and gave us more trouble. My skirmishing company threw itself upon the enemy’s flank behind a stone wall, and their effective fire added to the enemy’s confusion. In this charge we captured three hundred and sixty eight prisoners, many of them officers, and took three hundred stand of arms. The prisoners were from four different regiments, and admitted that they had attacked with a Brigade.” [53]

Colonel William Oates of the 15th Alabama gave Chamberlain and his regiment the credit for stopping his attack. Oates wrote: “There have never been harder fighters than the Twentieth Maine and their gallant Colonel. His skill and persistency and the great bravery of his men saved Little Round Top and the Army of the Potomac from defeat.” [54]

As with any firsthand account, aspects of Chamberlain’s accounts are contested by others at the scene. But in another way Chamberlain’s accounts of battle have to be carefully examined, because they often reflect his romanticism, because he was not always a realist. Unlike Major Ellis Spear who played such an important role on the hill that day, a realist who “saw things plainly and remembered them clearly, in stark, unadorned hues. Joshua Chamberlain was a romanticist; even when describing the horrors of bloodbath his prose could be colorful, lyrical, even poetic.” [55]

Oates wrote that he ordered the retreat and that there were not as many prisoners taken. One of Chamberlain’s company commanders disputes the account of the order of the bayonet charge, however the fact is that Chamberlain, who was outnumbered nearly two to one by the 4th 15th and 47th Alabama regiments “offset this superiority with strength of position, iron determination and better tactics.” [56]Also a factor was the fatigue of the Confederates, these regiments and their parent unit, Law’s brigade of Hood’s division, which had conducted a grueling 28 mile march to get to the battlefield and were exhausted and dehydrated by the time that they arrived, something that their commander, Colonel Oates believed “contributed largely to our failure at Little Round Top.” [57]

Vincent was mortally wounded while leading the defense of the hill. As the men of Robertson’s Texas brigade rushed the hill and threatened to crack “the stout 16th Michigan defense…” [58] Vincent rushed to bolster the defenders. He was standing on a large boulder with a riding crop as the men of the 16th Michigan were beginning to waiver. Fully exposed to enemy fire he attempted to drive the retreating men back into the fight. Brandishing the riding which he cried out: “Don’t yield an inch now men or all is lost,” [59] and moments later was struck by a “minié ball which passed through his left groin and lodged in his left thigh. He fell to the ground and as he was being carried from the field, “This is the fourth or fifth time they have shot at me…and they have hit me at last.” [60]

o'rorke

Colonel Patrick “Paddy” O’Rorke

To Vincent’s right another hero emerged, Colonel Patrick “Paddy” O’Rorke; the young 27 year old Colonel of the 140th New York. O’Rorke was born in County Cavan, Ireland in 1836. His family immigrated to the United States, settling in Rochester, New York during the great wave of Irish immigration between 1838 and 1844. There the young O’Rorke worked hard to overcome the societal prejudices against Irish Catholics. After he completed his secondary education, he worked as a marble cutter before obtaining an appointment to West Point in 1857. He was the only foreign born member of his class at the academy from which he graduated first in his class in 1861. “Aggressive and bold, there was also something that implied gentility and tenderness…Beneath the mettle of a young professional soldier was a romantic heart that could croon a ballad before wielding the sword.” [61] O’Rorke married his childhood, schoolmate, fellow parishioner and childhood sweetheart, Clarissa Wadsworth Bishop, in the summer of 1862 and shortly thereafter accepted a commission as colonel of the 140th New York Infantry.

At Gettysburg, O’Rorke was with Weed’s brigade when Gouverneur Warren found him as he attempted to get any available troops to the summit of Little Round Top. When Warren found O’Rorke, who had been one of his students at West Point, he ordered him to follow him up the hill, saying “Paddy…give me a regiment.” [62] When O’Rorke said that Weed expected him to be following him, Warren took the responsibility telling O’Rorke “Bring them up on the double quick, and don’t stop for aligning. I’ll take responsibility.” [63] O’Rorke followed with his gallant regiment with the rest of the brigade under Weed following behind them.

The 140th New York’s entrance onto the summit of Little Round Top must have been dramatic. Dressed in new Zouave uniforms that they had been issued in early June “the men were “jaunty but tattered” in baggy blue trousers, red jackets, and fezzes.” [64] O’Rorke’s New Yorkers entered the battle to the right of the Vincent’s 16th Michigan, which was being swarmed by the 4th and 5th Texas and 4th Alabama, who thought that victory was at hand. O’Rorke did not even take time to form his men for battle but drew his sword and yelled :“Down this way boys!” [65] His troops responded magnificently slamming into the surprised Texans and Alabamians and “at once the Confederate assault began to dissolve” [66]

O’Rorke’s troops smashed into the surging Rebel ranks, stopping the Confederate assault in its tracks and taking over two-hundred prisoners. As O’Rorke “valiantly led his men into battle, surging down the hill toward the shelf of rock so recently vacated by the right wing of the 16th Michigan, he paused for a moment to cheer his men on and wave them forward. When he did, he was struck in the neck by an enemy bullet….O’Rorke, killed instantly slumped to the ground.” [67] But his regiment “had the initiative now. More and more men piled into a sloppy line, firing as fast as they could reload. Their dramatic appearance breathed renewed life into the other Union regiments on the hill, which now picked up their firing rates.” [68] The gallant young Irish colonel was dead, but he and his regiment had saved Vincent’s right flank. The regiment had suffered fearfully, “with 183 men killed or wounded, but they had managed to throw back the Texans. The adjutant of the 140th estimated that they came within sixty seconds of losing the top of the hill.” [69] O’Rorke’s soldiers were enraged by the death of their beloved colonel and picked out the Confederate who had killed him. One of the soldiers wrote “that was Johnny’s last shot, for a number of Companies A and G fired instantly.” It was said that this particular Johnny was hit, by actual count, seventeen times.” [70] Now led by company commanders the 140th stayed in the fight and solidified and extended the Federal line in conjunction with the rest of Weed’s brigade to their right.

The actions of Chamberlain’s, Vincent’s, and O’Rorke’s soldiers shattered Hood’s division. “Casualties among the Alabamians, Texans, and Georgians approached or exceeded 2,000. In the Texas Brigade commander Robertson had been wounded, three regimental commanders had fallen killed or wounded, and nearly all of the field officers lay on the ground.” [71]

The badly wounded Strong Vincent was taken to a field hospital at the Weikert farm where he lingered for five days before succumbing to his wounds. In the yard lay the body of Paddy O’Rorke whose regiment had saved his brigade’s right flank. Vincent knew that he was dying and he requested that a message be sent to Elizabeth for her to come to Gettysburg. It did not reach her in time. Though he suffered severe pain he bravely tried not to show it. Eventually he became so weak that he could no longer speak. “On July 7, a telegram from President Lincoln, commissioning Vincent a brigadier general, was read to him, but he could not acknowledge whether he understood that the president had promoted him for bravery in the line of duty.” [72] He died later that day and his body was transported home to Erie for burial. Ten weeks after his death his wife gave birth to a baby girl. The baby would not live a year and was buried next to him.

Colonel Rice, who led the 44th New York up the hill and took command of the brigade on Vincent’s death, memorialized his fallen commander in his general order to the brigade on July 12th:

“The colonel commanding hereby announces to the brigade the death of Brig. Gen. Strong Vincent. He died near Gettysburg, Pa., July 7, 1863, from the effects of a wound received on the 2d instant, and within sight of that field which his bravery had so greatly assisted to win. A day hallowed with all the glory of success is thus sombered by the sorrow of our loss. Wreaths of victory give way to chaplets of mourning, hearts exultant to feelings of grief. A soldier, a scholar, a friend, has fallen. For his country, struggling for its life, he willingly gave his own. Grateful for his services, the State which proudly claims him as her own will give him an honored grave and a costly monument, but he ever will remain buried in our hearts, and our love for his memory will outlast the stone which shall bear the inscription of his bravery, his virtues, and his patriotism.

While we deplore his death, and remember with sorrow our loss, let us emulate the example of his fidelity and patriotism, feeling that he lives but in vain who lives not for his God and his country. “[73]

Vincent’s wife Elizabeth never married again and was taken in by the Vincent family. Vincent’s younger brother became an Episcopal Priest and Bishop and later provided a home for her. She became a tireless worker in the church working with charitable work for young women and children. This led to an interest in sacred art and she wrote two books: Mary, the Mother of Jesus and The Madonna in Legend and in Art. She also translated Delitzch’s Behold the Man and A Day in Capernaum from the German. [74] Elizabeth Vincent passed away in April 1914 and was buried beside her husband and daughter.

After the battle, as the army looked to replace the casualties in the ranks of senior leadership and “when Colonel Rice, in charge of 3rd Brigade after Vincent fell, was promoted to brigadier general and given another command” the new division commander Major General Charles Griffin, “insisted on having Chamberlain, for the 3rd Brigade.” [75]

Chamberlain survived the war to great acclaim being wounded three times, once during the siege of Petersburg the wound was so severe that his survival was in doubt and General Ulysses S. Grant promoted him on the spot. It was the only promotion that Grant gave on the field of battle. Grant wrote:

“He had been several times recommended for a brigadier-generalcy for gallant and meritorious conduct. On this occasion, however, I promoted him on the spot, and forwarded a copy of my order to the War Department, asking that my act might be confirmed without any delay. This was done, and at last a gallant and meritorious officer received partial justice at the hands of his government, which he had served so faithfully and so well.” [76]

He recovered from the wound, and was promoted to Major General commanding a division and awarded the Medal of Honor. He received the surrender of John Gordon’s division of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox on April 9th 1865. When he did he ordered his men to present arms in honor of their defeated foe as those haggard soldiers passed his division. It was an act that helped spur a spirit of reconciliation in many of his former Confederate opponents.

Chamberlain’s accolades were certainly earned but others on that hill have been all too often overlooked by most people. This list includes Gouverneur Warren who was humiliated by Phillip Sheridan at Five Forks, Strong Vincent who died on of wounds suffered on Little Round Top and Paddy O’Rorke, the commander of the 140th New York of Weed’s Brigade on Vincent’s right who was mortally wounded that day.

After the war like most citizen soldiers, Chamberlain returned to civilian life, and a marriage that was in crisis in which neither Joshua nor Fannie seemed able to communicate well enough to mend. The troubled couple “celebrated their tenth wedding anniversary on December 7, 1865. He gave her a double banded gold-and-diamond bracelet from Tiffany’s, an extravagant gift that only temporarily relieved the stresses at work just below the surface of their bland marriage. Wartime separation had perhaps damaged it more than Chamberlain knew.” [77]

When he came home Chamberlain was unsettled. Fannie quite obviously hoped that his return would reunite them and bring about “peaceful hours and the sweet communion of uninterrupted days with the husband that had miraculously survived the slaughter” [78] and who had returned home, but it was not to be. Army life had given him a sense of purpose and meaning that he struggled to find in the civilian world. He was haunted by a prediction made by one of his professors. A prediction that “he would return from war “shattered” & “good for nothing,” [79] Chamberlain began to search for something to give his life meaning. He began to write a history of V Corps and give speeches around the northeast, and “these engagements buoyed his spirit, helping him submerge his tribulations and uncertainties in a warm sea of shared experience. [80] In his travels he remained apart from Fannie, who remained with the children, seldom including her in those efforts. She expressed her heart in a letter in early 1866:

“I have no idea when you will go back to Philadelphia, why dont you let me know about things dear?….I think I will be going towards home soon, but I want to hear from you. What are you doing dear? are you writing for your book? and how was it with your lecture in Brunswick- was it the one at Gettysburg? I look at your picture when ever I am in my room, and I am lonely for you. After all, every thing that is beautiful must be enjoyed with one you love, or it is nothing to you. Dear, dear Lawrence write me one of the old letters…hoping to hear from you soon…I am as in the old times gone bye Your Fannie.” [81]

In those events he poured out his heart in ways that seemed impossible for him to do with Fannie. He accounted those wives, parents, sons and daughters at home who had lost those that they loved, not only to death:

“…the worn and wasted and wounded may recover a measure of their strength, or blessed by your cherishing care live neither useless nor unhappy….A lost limb is not like a brother, an empty sleeve is not like an empty home, a scarred breast is not like a broken heart. No, the world may smile again and repair its losses, but who shall give you back again a father? What husband can replace the chosen of your youth? Who shall restore a son? Where will you find a lover like the high hearted boy you shall see no more?” [82]

Chamberlain set his sights on politics, goal that he saw as important in championing the rights of soldiers and their well treatment by a society, but a life that again interrupted his marriage to Fannie and brought frequent separation. Instead of the one term that Fannie expected, Chamberlain ended up serving four consecutive one year terms as Governor of Maine, and was considered for other political offices. Fannie’s “protracted absence from the capital bespoke her attitude toward his political ambitions.” [83]absence from the capital. Eventually Chamberlain returned home and. “For twelve years following his last term as governor, he served as president of Bowdoin College, his alma mater. [84]

He became a champion of national reconciliation admired by friend and former foe alike, but he returned with bitterness towards some in the Union who he did not believe cared for his comrades or their families, especially those who had lost loved ones in the war. While saluting those who had served in the Christian and Sanitary Commissions during the war, praising veterans, soldiers and their families he noted that they were different than:

Those who can see no good in the soldier of the Union who took upon his breast the blow struck at the Nation’s and only look to our antagonists for examples of heroism- those over magnanimous Christians, who are so anxious to love their enemies that they are willing to hate their friends….I have no patience with the prejudice or the perversity that will not accord justice to the men who have fought and fallen on behalf of us all, but must go round by the way of Fort Pillow, Andersonville and Belle Isle to find a chivalry worthy of praise.” [85]

Chamberlain’s post-war life, save for the times that he was able to revisit the scenes of glory and be with his former comrades was marred by deep personal and professional struggles and much suffering. He struggled with the adjustment to civilian life, which for him was profoundly difficult. He “returned to Bowdoin and the college life which he had sworn he would not again endure. Three years of hard campaigning however, had made a career of college teaching seem less undesirable, while his physical condition made a permanent army career impossible.” [86] The adjustment was more than even he could anticipate, and the return to the sleepy college town and monotony of teaching left much to be desired.

fannychamberlain1

Joshua and Fannie Chamberlain (Dale Gallon)

These are not uncommon situations for combat veterans to experience, and Joshua Chamberlain, the hero of Little Round Top who was well acquainted with the carnage of war, suffered immensely. His wounds never fully healed and he was forced to wear what would be considered an early form of a catheter and bag. In 1868 he was awarded a pension of thirty dollars a month for his Petersburg wound which was described as “Bladder very painful and irritable; whole lower part of abdomen tender and sensitive; large urinal fistula at base of penis; suffers constant pain in both hips.” [87] Chamberlain struggled to climb out of “an emotional abyss” in the years after the war. Part was caused by his wounds which included wounds to his sexual organs, shattering his sexuality and caused his marriage to deteriorate.

He wrote to Fannie in 1867 about the “widening gulf between them, one created at least in part by his physical limitations: “There is not much left in me to love. I feel that all too well.” [88] Chamberlain’s inability to readjust to civilian life following the war, and Fanny’s inability to understand what he had gone through during it caused great troubles in their marriage. Chamberlain “felt like hell a lot of the time, morose in mood and racked with pain.” [89] His wounds would require more surgeries, and in “April 1883 he was forced to have extensive surgery on his war wounds, and through the rest of the decade and well into the next he was severely ill on several occasions and close to death once.” [90]

By 1868 the issues were so deep that Fannie threatened him with divorce and was accusing Joshua of domestic abuse, not in court, but among her friends and in town; a charge which he contested. It is unknown if the abuse actually occurred and given Chamberlain’s poor physical condition it is unlikely that he could have done what she claimed, it is actually much more likely, based on her correspondence as well as Fannie’s:

“chronic depression, her sense of being neglected of not abandoned, and her status as an unappreciated appendage to her husband’s celebrated public career caused her to retaliate in a manner calculated to get her husband’s attention while visiting on him some of the misery she had long endured.” [91]

The bitterness in their relationship at the time was shown in his offer to her of a divorce; a condition very similar to what many combat veterans and their families experience today. After he received news of the allegations that Fannie was spreading among their friends around town, Chamberlain wrote to her:

“If it is true (as Mr. Johnson seems to think there is a chance of its being) that you are preparing for an action against me, you need not give yourself all this trouble. I should think we had skill enough to adjust the terms of a separation without the wretchedness to all our family which these low people to whom it would seem that you confide your grievances & plans will certainly bring about.

You never take my advice, I am aware.

But if you do not stop this at once it will end in hell.” [92]

His words certainly seem harsh, especially in our time where divorce, be it contested or uncontested does not have the same social stigma it did then. Willard Wallace writes that the letter “reflects bewilderment, anger, even reproof, but not recrimination; and implicit throughout is an acute concern for Fanny, who did not seem to realize the implications of legal action. The lot of a divorcee in that era in a conservative part of the country was not likely to be a happy one.” [93]This could well be the case, but we do not know for sure his intent. We can say that it speaks to the mutual distress, anger and pain that both Joshua and Fannie were suffering at the time.

The marriage endured a separation which lasted until 1871 when his final term of office expired they reconciled, and the marriage did survive, for nearly forty more years. “Whatever differences may have once occasionally existed between Chamberlain and Fanny, the two had been very close for many years.” [94] The reconciliation could have been for any number of reasons, from simple political expedience, in that he had been rejected by his party to be appointed as Senator, and the realization that “that politics, unlike war, could never stir his soul.” [95] Perhaps he finally recognized just how badly he had hurt her over all the years of his neglect of her needs. But it is just as likely that deep in his heart he really did love her despite his chronic inability for so many years to demonstrate it in a way she could feel. Fannie died in 1905 and Chamberlain, who despite all of their conflicts loved her and grieved her, a grief “tinged with remorse and perhaps also with guilt.” [96] The anguished widower wrote after her death:

“You in my soul I see, faithful watcher, by my cot-side long days and nights together, through the delirium of mortal anguish – steadfast, calm, and sweet as eternal love. We pass now quickly from each other’s sight, but I know full well that where beyond these passing scenes you shall be, there will be heaven!”

Chamberlain made a final trip to Gettysburg in May of 1913. He felt well enough to give a tour to a delegation of federal judges. “One evening, an hour or so before sunset, he trudged, alone, up the overgrown slope of Little Round Top and sat down among the crags. Now in his Gothic imagination, the ghosts of the Little Round Top dead rose up around him….he lingered up the hillside, an old man lost in the sepia world of memory.” [97] He was alone.

Chamberlain died on a bitterly cold day, February 24th 1914 of complications from complications of the ghastly wound that he received at Petersburg in 1864. The Confederate minié ball that had struck him at the Rives’ Salient finally claimed his life just four months shy of 50 years since the Confederate marksman found his target.

Sadly, the story of the marriage of Joshua and Fannie Chamberlain is all too typical of many military marriages and relationships where a spouse returns home changed by their experience of war and struggles to readjust to civilian life. This is something that we need to remember when we encounter those changed by war and the struggles of soldiers as well as their families; for if we have learned nothing from our recent wars it is that the wounds of war extend far beyond the battlefield, often scarring veterans and their families for decades after the last shot of the war has been fired.

The Battle for Little Round Top which is so legendary in our collective history and myth was in the end something more than a decisive engagement in a decisive battle. It was something greater and larger than that, it is the terribly heart wrenching story of ordinary, yet heroic men like Vincent, Chamberlain and O’Rorke and their families who on that day were changed forever. As Chamberlain, ever the romantic, spoke about that day when dedicating the Maine Monument in 1888; about the men who fought that day and what they accomplished:

“In great deeds, something abides. On great fields, something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls… generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream; and lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls.” [98]

Notes

[1] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.462

[2] Nevins, James H. And Styple What Death More Glorious: A Biography of General Strong Vincent Belle Grove Publishing Co, Kearny N.J. 1997 p.16

[3] Ibid. Nevins What Death More Glorious p.17

[4] Ibid. LaFantasie, Glenn W. Twilight at Little Round Top: p.105

[5] ________. Erie County Historical Society http://www.eriecountyhistory.org/wp-content/uploads/2008/10/strongvincent.pdf retrieved 9 June 2014

[6] Golay, Michael. To Gettysburg and Beyond: The Parallel Lives of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and Edward Porter Alexander Crown Publishers Inc. New York 1994 p.129

[7] Nevins, James H. and Styple, William B. What Death More Glorious: A Biography of General Strong Vincent Belle Grove Publishing Company, Kearney NJ 1997 p.29

[8] Ibid Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.262

[9] Ibid. Nevins, What Death More Glorious p.54

[10] Leonardi, Ron Strong Vincent at Gettysburg in the Barringer-Erie Times News retrieved June 9th 2014 from http://history.goerie.com/2013/06/30/strong-vincent-at-gettysburg/

[11] Ibid. Nevins What Death More Glorious p.55

[12] Wallace, Willard. The Soul of the Lion: A Biography of Joshua L. Chamberlain Stan Clark Military Books, Gettysburg PA 1960 p.91

[13] Ibid. Nevins What Death More Glorious p.57

[14] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.264

[15] Pfanz, Harry F. Gettysburg: The Second Day. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1987 p.51

[16] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage p.159

[17] Trudeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.305

[18] Some such as Guelzo believe this may have been Captain William Jay of Sykes staff

[19] Ibid. Trudeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.327

[20] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage p.262

[21] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage p.262

[22] Ibid. Trudeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.327

[23] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.108

[24] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.389

[25] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.109

[26] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.390

[27] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage p.270

[28] Ibid. Nevins What Death More Glorious p.75

[29] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p.292

[30] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.109

[31] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.109

[32] Ibid. Pfanz, Gettysburg: The Second Day. p.213

[33] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.111

[34] Ibid. Golay, To Gettysburg and Beyond p.157

[35] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.111

[36] Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain p.52

[37] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top pp.44-45

[38] ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain p.52

[39] Chamberlain, Joshua Lawrence Letter From Joshua L. Chamberlain to Governor [Israel] Washburn, Brunswick, July 14, 1862 retrieved from Bowdoin College, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain Documents http://learn.bowdoin.edu/joshua-lawrence-chamberlain/documents/1862-07-14.html 8 November 2014

[40] Longacre, Edward Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the Man Combined Publishing Conshohocken PA 1999 p.39

[41] Ibid. Longacre, Edward Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the Man p.28

[42] Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the Man p.30

[43] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.45

[44] Smith, Diane Monroe Fanny and Joshua: The Enigmatic Lives of France’s Caroline Adams and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain Thomas Publications, Gettysburg PA 1999 p.120

[45] Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain p.80

[46] Ibid. Wallace The Soul of the Lion p.66

[47] Ibid. Golay, To Gettysburg and Beyond p.132

[48] Ibid. Wallace The Soul of the Lion p.66

[49] Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain p.116

[50] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.45

[51] Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain p.117

[52] Ibid. Wallace The Soul of the Lion p.94

[53] Chamberlain, Joshua Lawrence. Official Narrative of Joshua Chamberlain of July 6th 1863, Maine Military Historical Society, Inc., Augusta, Maine, copyright 1989 U.S. Army Combat Studies Institute Reprint, retrieved from http://usacac.army.mil/cac2/cgsc/carl/download/csipubs/chamberlain.pdf June 15th 2014

[54] Oates, William C. and Haskell, Frank A. Gettysburg Bantam Books edition, New York 1992, originally published in 1905 p.98

[55] Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain p.94

[56] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.393

[57] Ibid. Oates and Haskell Gettysburg p.87

[58] Ibid. Wallace The Soul of the Lion p.95

[59] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage p.272

[60] Ibid. Trudeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.361

[61] LaFantasie, Glenn W. Twilight at Little Round Top: July 2, 1863 The Tide Turns at Gettysburg Vintage Books, a Division of Random House, New York 2005 pp.61-62

[62] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.93

[63] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.504

[64] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The Second Day p.228

[65] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The Second Day p.228

[66] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.153

[67] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.154

[68] Ibid. Trudeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.327

[69] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.93

[70] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.294

[71] Wert, Jeffry D. A Glorious Army: Robert E. Lee’s Triumph 1862-1863 Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2011 p.260

[72] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.207

[73] Ibid. Nevins What Death More Glorious p.86

[74] Ibid. Nevins What Death More Glorious pp.87-88

[75] Ibid. Wallace The Soul of the Lion p.115

[76] Ibid. Wallace The Soul of the Lion pp.134-135

[77] Ibid. Golay, To Gettysburg and Beyond p.282

[78] Ibid. Smith Fanny and Joshua p.182

[79] Ibid. Smith, Fanny and Joshua p.180

[80] Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain p.260

[81] Ibid. Smith, Fanny and Joshua pp.178-179

[82] Ibid. Smith, Fanny and Joshua p.181

[83] Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain p.

[84] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.245

[85] Ibid. Smith, Fanny and Joshua p.180 It is interesting to note that Chamberlain’s commentary is directed at Northerners who were even just a few years after the war were glorifying Confederate leader’s exploits. Chamberlain instead directs the attention of his audience, and those covering the speech to the atrocities committed at the Fort Pillow massacre of 1864 and to the hellish conditions at the Andersonville and Belle Isle prisoner of war camps run by the Confederacy.

[86] Ibid. Wallace The Soul of the Lion p.203

[87] Ibid. Golay, To Gettysburg and Beyond p.289

[88] Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the Man p.259

[89] Ibid. Golay, To Gettysburg and Beyond p.288

[90] Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the Man p.285

[91] Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the Man p.268

[92] Chamberlain, Joshua L. Letter Joshua L. Chamberlain to “Dear Fanny” [Fanny Chamberlain], Augusta, November 20, 1868 retrieved from Bowdoin College, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain Documents http://learn.bowdoin.edu/joshua-lawrence-chamberlain/documents/1868-11-20.html 8 November 2014

[93] Ibid. Wallace The Soul of the Lion p.227

[94] Ibid. Wallace The Soul of the Lion p.297

[95] Ibid. Golay To Gettysburg and Beyond p.290

[96] Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the Man p.290

[97] Ibid. Golay To Gettysburg and Beyond PPP.342-343

[98] Chamberlain, Joshua Lawrence. Chamberlain’s Address at the dedication of the Maine Monuments at Gettysburg, October 3rd 1888 retrieved from http://www.joshualawrencechamberlain.com/maineatgettysburg.php 4 June 2014

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Filed under civil war, History, leadership, marriage and relationships, Military

The Best Cavalry General We Had: John Buford


Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I am at Gettysburg this weekend leading my students on our spring “staff ride.” Since the morning begins with the delaying action fought by General John Buford’s Union cavalry I have included one of my short biographic articles about the leaders who fought at Gettysburg, this one about an amazing patriot and military leader who when push came to shove remained loyal to the Union, and whose military abilities as a modern leader were unmatched in his day. 

I hope you enjoy this little piece about a most amazing man. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

buford

“He was decidedly the best cavalry general we had, and was acknowledged as such in the army, though being no friend to newspaper reporters…In many respects he resembled Reynolds, being rough in the exterior, never looking after his own comfort, untiring on the march and in the supervision of all the militia in his command, quiet and unassuming in his manners.” Colonel Charles Wainwright on Buford (Diary of Battle, p.309)

John Buford was born in Kentucky and came from a family with a long military history of military service, including family members who had fought in the Revolutionary War and War of 1812. In fact according to some the family military pedigree reaches back to England’s War of the Roses.

Buford’s family was well off with a spacious plantation near Versailles on which labored forty-five slaves, and his father also established a stage line which carried “passengers and freight between Frankfort and Lexington.” His father divested himself of his property, selling his home, business and slaves and moved to Stephenson Illinois in 1838. [1] The young Buford developed an interest in military life which was enlivened by his half-brother Napoleon Bonaparte Buford who graduated from West Point in 1827, and his brother would be influential in helping John into West Point, which he entered in 1844.

Buford graduated with the class of 1848 which included the distinguished Union artilleryman John Tidball, and the future Confederate brigadier generals “Grumble Jones and “Maryland” Steuart. Among his best friends was Ambrose Burnside of the class of 1847. He did well academically but his conduct marks kept him from graduating in the top quarter of his class.

Upon graduation he was commissioned as a Brevet Second Lieutenant of Dragoons, however too late to serve in Mexico. Instead he was initially assigned to the First United States Dragoons but less than six months after joining was transferred to the Second Dragoons when he was promoted to full Second Lieutenant.

Instead of going to Mexico Buford “spent most of the 1850s tracking and fighting Indians on the Plains.” [2] During this period, the young dragoon served on the Great Plains against the Sioux, where he distinguished himself at the Battle of Ash Creek and on peacekeeping duty in the bitterly divided State of Kansas and in the Utah War of 1858.

His assignments alternated between field and staff assignments and he gained a great deal of tactical and administrative expertise that would serve him well. This was especially true in the realm of the tactics that he would employ so well at Gettysburg and on other battlefields against Confederate infantry and cavalry during the Civil War. Buford took note of the prevailing tactics of the day which still stressed a rigid adherence to outdated Napoleonic tactics which stressed mounted charges and “little cooperation with units of other arms or in the taking and holding of disputed ground.” [3] While he appreciated the shock value of mounted charges against disorganized troops he had no prejudice against “fighting dismounted when the circumstances of the case called for or seemed to justify it.” [4] Buford’s pre-war experience turned him into a modern soldier who appreciated and employed the rapid advances in weaponry, including the repeating rifle with tremendous effect.

Despite moving to Illinois Buford’s family still held Southern sympathies; his father was a Democrat who had opposed Abraham Lincoln. Buford himself was a political moderate and though he had some sympathy for slave owners:

“he despised lawlessness in any form – especially that directed against federal institutions, which he saw as the bulwark of democracy…..He especially abhorred the outspoken belief of some pro-slavery men that the federal government was their sworn enemy.” [5]

After the election of Abraham Lincoln, the officers of Buford’s regiment split on slavery. His regimental commander, Colonel Philip St. George Cooke, a Virginian and the father-in-law of J.E.B. Stewart announced that he would remain loyal to the Union, others like Beverly Robertson who would command a brigade of cavalry during the Gettysburg campaign resigned their commissions.

For many officers, both those who remained loyal to the Union and those who joined the Confederate cause the decision was often difficult, and many anguished over their decisions as they weighed their allegiance to the Union against their loyalty to home and family. Buford was not one of them.

Since Buford’s family had longstanding ties to Kentucky, the pro-secession governor of Kentucky, Beriah Magoffin offered Buford a commission in that states’ militia. At the time Kentucky was still an “undeclared border slave state” and Buford loyal to his oath refused the governor’s offer. He wrote a brief letter to Magoffin and told his comrades that “I sent him word that I was a Captain in the United States Army and I intend to remain one.” [6] Around the same time the new provisional government of the Confederacy “offered Buford a general officer’s commission, which reached him by mail at Fort Crittenden.” [7] According to Buford’s biographer Edward Longacre “a well-known anecdote has him wadding up the letter while angrily announcing that whatever future had in store he would “live and die under the flag of the Union.” [8]

However Buford’s family’s southern ties, and lack of political support from the few remaining loyal Kentucky legislators initially kept him from field command. Instead he received a promotion to Colonel and an assignment to the Inspector General’s Office, although it was not the field assignment that he desired it was of critical importance to the army in those early days of the war as the Union gathered its strength for the war. Buford was assigned to mustering in, and training the new regiments being organized for war. Traveling about the country he evaluated each unit in regard to “unit dress, deportment and discipline, the quality and quantity of weapons, ammunition, equipment, quarters, animals and transportation; the general health of the unit and medical facilities available to it; and the training progress of officers and men.” [9] Buford was a hard and devastatingly honest trainer and evaluator of the new regiments. He was especially so in dealing with commanding officers as well as field and company officers. Additionally he was a stickler regarding supply officers, those he found to be incompetent or less than honest were cashiered.

Buford performed these duties well but desired command. Eventually he got the chance when the politically well-connected but ill-fated Major General John Pope who “could unreservedly vouch for his loyalty wrangled for him command of a brigade of cavalry.” [10] After Pope’s disastrous defeat at Second Bull Run in August 1862 Buford was wounded in the desperate fighting at Second Manassas and returned to staff duties until January 1863 when he was again given a brigade. However, unlike many of the officers who served under Pope, Buford’s reputation as a leader of cavalry and field commander was increased during that campaign.

Buford was given the titular title of “Chief of Cavalry of the Army of the Potomac” by George McClellan, a title which sounded impressive but involved no command during the Antietam campaign. Following that frustrating task he continued in the same position under his old West Point friend Ambrose Burnside during the Fredericksburg campaign. Buford lost confidence in his old friend and was likely “shocked by his friend’s deadly ineptitude, his dogged insistence on turning defeat into nightmare.” [11]

When Burnside was relieved and Fighting Joe Hooker appointed to command the army, Buford’s star began to rise. While he was passed over by Hooker for command of the newly organized First Cavalry division in favor of Alfred Pleasanton who was eleven days his senior, he received command of the elite Reserve Brigade composed of mostly Regular Army cavalry regiments. When Major General George Stoneman was relieved of command following the Chancellorsville campaign, Pleasanton was again promoted over Buford.

In later years Hooker recognized that Buford “would have been a better man for the position of chief” [12] but in retrospect Buford’s pass over was good fortune for the Army of the Potomac on June 30th and July 1st 1863. Despite being passed over for the Cavalry Corps command, Buford, a consummate professional never faltered or became bitter. Despite the Pleasanton’s interference and “lax intelligence-gathering” [13]   During the Gettysburg campaign he led his brigade well at Brandy Station as it battled J.E.B. Stuart’s troopers, after which he was recommended for promotion and given command of the First Cavalry division of the Cavalry Corps. [14]

Following Brandy Station Buford led his troopers aggressively as they battled Stuart’s troopers along the Blue Ridge at the battles of Aldie, Philmont, Middleburg and Upperville. It was at Upperville while fighting a hard action Confederate Brigadier general “Grumble Jones’s brigade that Buford’s troopers provided Hooker with the first visual evidence that Lee’s infantry was moving north into Maryland and Pennsylvania.

burford reynolds monuments

When Hooker was relieved on the night of June 27th and 28th George Meade gave Buford the chance at semi-independent command without Pleasanton looking over his shoulder. Meade appreciated Pleasanton’s administrative and organizational expertise and took him out of direct field command. Meade had his Cavalry Corps commander “pitch his tent next to his own on almost every leg of the trip to Pennsylvania and rarely let him out of sight or earshot.” [15]

One of Meade’s staff officers, Theodore Lyman gave this description of Buford:

“He is one of the best of the officers…and is a singular looking party. Figurez-vous a compactly built man of middle height, with a tawny mustache and a little, triangular gray eye, whose expression is determined, not to say sinister. His ancient corduroys are tucked into a pair of ordinary cowhide boots, his blue blouse is ornamented with holes; from which one pocket thereof peeps a huge pipe, while the other is fat with a tobacco pouch. Notwithstanding this get-up he is a very soldierly looking man. Hype is of a good natured disposition, but is not to be trifled with.” [16]

When he was ordered to screen the army as it moved into Pennsylvania, Buford was confident about his troopers and their ability and he and his men performed their duties admirably. On June 29th Buford’s men skirmished with two of Harry Heth’s regiments near the town of Fairfield, which Buford promptly reported to Meade and John Reynolds after ascertaining their size and composition.

The Battle of Gettysburg would be the zenith of Buford’s career. His masterful delaying action against Harry Heth’s division on July 1st 1863 enabled John Reynold’s wing of the army to arrive in time to keep the Confederates from taking the town and all of the high ground which would have doomed any union assault against them. Following Gettysburg Buford continued to command his cavalry leading his division in a number of engagements. In early November the worn out cavalryman who had been in so many actions over the past year came down with Typhoid. In hopes that he would recover he was told that he would be appointed to command all the cavalry in the West, however his health continued to decline. He was officially promoted to Major General of Volunteers by President Lincoln, over the objection of Secretary of War Stanton who disliked deathbed promotions. “Upon learning of the honor. Buford is supposed to have whispered, “I wish I could have lived now.” [17] He died later that evening, the last words warning his officers “patrol the roads and halt fugitives at the front.” [18]

John Pope wrote of Buford:

“Buford’s coolness, his fine judgment, and his splendid courage were well known of all men who had to do with him… His quiet dignity, covering a fiery spirit and a military sagacity as far reaching as it was accurate made him…one of the best and most trusted officers in the service.” [19]

Sam Elliot as Buford

Buford was buried at West Point and he is immortalized in the monument dedicated to him on McPherson’s Ridge at Gettysburg where he with binoculars in hand looks defiantly west in the direction of the advancing Confederates. The monument is surrounded by the gun tubes of four Union 3” Rifles, three of which were part of Lieutenant John Calef’s Battery which he directed on the fateful morning of July 1st 1863. He was portrayed masterfully portrayed by Sam Elliott in the movie Gettysburg.

Notes

[1] Longacre, Edward G. John Buford: A Military Biography Da Capo Press, Perseus Book Group, Cambridge MA p.17

[2] Ibid. Guelzo. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.121

[3] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.36

[4] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.36

[5] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.54

[6] Ibid. Guelzo. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.121

[7] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.70

[8] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.70

[9] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.78

[10] Ibid. Guelzo. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.121

[11] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.122

[12] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command p.44

[13] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.173

[14] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command p.64

[15] Longacre, Edward G. The Cavalry at Gettysburg: A Tactical Study of Mounted Operations during the Civil War’s Pivotal Campaign, 9 June-14 July 1863 University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London 1986 p.168

[16] Girardi, Robert I. The Civil War Generals: Comrades, Peers, Rivals in Their Own Words Zenith Press, MBI Publishing, Minneapolis MN 2013 p.38

[17] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.245

[18] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.246

[19] Ibid. Girardi The Civil War General p.38

 

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

Gettysburg: The Opening Engagement

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

The latest major chapter revision to my Gettysburg text, this one about the opening of the battle and two men, Confederate Major General Harry Heth and Union Major General John Buford whose actions that morning set in motion the greatest battle ever fought on the American Continent.

Peace

Padre Steve+

burford june 30th

The principles found in Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff’s “Desired Leader Attributes” are something that we can learn about from both practical experience and history. The study of commanders and leaders throughout the Gettysburg campaign provide historical examples of commanders and other leaders that the best and the worst examples of some of those concepts. One of these is the ability to “anticipate and adapt to surprise and uncertainty.” The meeting engagement on the morning of July 1st 1863 between Harry Heth’s division of A.P. Hill’s corps and John Buford’s First Cavalry Division shows a very clear example of a commander, Heth, not anticipating or adapting to surprise and uncertainty. Heth was surprised by the presence of experienced Federal cavalry on his front and the uncertainty of not knowing what lay just beyond McPherson and Seminary Ridge.

Despite the warnings of Brigadier General Johnston Pettigrew, Major General Harry Heth and his corps commander Lieutenant General A.P. Hill decided that they would advance into Gettysburg. Hill and Heth dismissed Pettigrew’s warnings out of hand. Pettigrew should have been listened to, he was “was one of those natural leaders of a privileged background who, without military ambitions, had been advanced on the application of native intelligence and contagious courage.” [1] To help state his case Pettigrew brought Captain Louis G. Young of his staff, who had served under Hill and was a professional soldier “with the hope that his testimony as to Union numbers might be more convincing.” [2] Young “insisted that the troops he saw were veterans rather than Home Guards,” [3] but Hill refused to believe telling Young and Pettigrew “I still cannot believe that any portion of the Army of the Potomac is up,” he declared. Then he added: “I hope that it is, for this is the place I want it to be.” [4] Hill told Heth and Pettigrew that “I am just from General Lee, and the information he has from his scouts corroborates what I have received from mine – that is, the enemy is still at Middleburg and have not yet struck their tents.” [5]

How Hill could make such a statement neither knowing the ground nor the location and strength of the Federal troops to his front is stunning. How Hill’s “scouts” could miss the massive force heading their way is beyond belief and indicates that Hill wanted to believe what he wanted to believe and disregarded any evidence to the contrary, especially that which came from a subordinate that he did not know who was not a professional soldier. Hill’s attitude also demonstrates the profound lack of respect given to the Army of the Potomac by Hill and many other Confederate commanders.

Hill sent a message to Lee, as well as Ewell of Second Corps telling them that “I intended to advance the next morning and discover what was in my front.” [6] He also sent word of the discovery of cavalry to Lee’s headquarters, but his warning apparently gave Lee little cause for concern as Lee believed that “Meade’s army was still some distance to the south.” [7] Likewise, Hill sent a courier to Richard Anderson instructing him to bring up his division on July 1st and instructed Heth that “Pender’s division also would be ordered through Cashtown as a reserve to be available if Heth ran into serious trouble.” [8]

During the night the actions of A.P. Hill show a commander who confused and uncertain. The confidence that he and Heth showed in rejecting Pettigrew and Young’s reports of Federal troops in Gettysburg had left “most, if not all the commanding officers in Hill’s corps…unprepared for what happened.” [9] Lieutenant Lewis Young wrote “I doubt if any of the commanders of brigades, except General Pettigrew, believed that we were marching to battle, a weakness on their part which rendered them unprepared for what was about to happen.” [10]

A major part of Hill’s uncertainly can be laid on his and his subordinate commander’s lack of experience at their current level of command. “Pettigrew new to the army, Heth to division command, and Hill to corps command.” [11] One could not ask for such an untested chain-of-command as the army advanced blindly forward not knowing what lay before it. James Longstreet said “The army…moved forward, as a man might walk over strange ground with his eyes shut.” [12]

Lieutenant Colonel Porter Alexander noted that on the night of June 30th that he visited Lee’s headquarters and found conversation to be “unusually careless & jolly. Certainly there was no premonition that the next morning was to open a great battle of the campaign.” [13] The attitude that all exhibited according to Alexander was “when all our corps were together what could successfully attack us? So naturally we were all in good spirits.” [14] The Confederates believed that they were invincible. Walter Taylor of Lee’s staff admitted “An overweening confidence possessed us all.” [15] Clifford Dowdey wrote:

“Considering their unprecedented assignment to act, in the absence of cavalry, as reconnaissance troops in a country they had never seen, the men were unrealistically relaxed – from the privates of the 1st South Carolina, the oldest unit in point of organization, to the corps commander.” [16]

The British observer, Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Fremantle wrote in his diary: “The universal feeling in the army was one of profound contempt for an enemy whom they had beaten so consistently, and under so many disadvantages.” [17] That contempt would cost Lee’s army dearly in the coming battle.

Harry Heth arose on the morning of July 1st 1863 and formed his division for its march to Gettysburg. He had been ordered by Hill to “be ready to march at 5:00 A.M; and by an unusual directive from the corps commander, each man who wanted an issue of whisky at that early hour was to receive one.” [18] Heth should have spent the night making detailed plans for his advance but since neither he, nor any other senior officer in Hill’s corps “anticipated real action in the immediate area, Harry Heth kept uppermost in his mind the quartermaster aspects of the invasion,” [19] thus his overriding concern to get the shoes that supposedly were there in abundance, rather than “all the little details involved in an operation as tricky as a reconnaissance in force.” [20] The lack of attention to detail became evident the first thing that morning and that brought about an inauspicious start to a very bad day for Heth and his division. His troops were up early with the sunrise but somehow orders had not gotten to them to begin the advance at 5 a.m. and as a result “there was haste to the early morning’s preparations that caught some off guard” even regimental commanders. [21]

Several critics have made this point, among them Major John Mosby, the Confederate cavalry leader and guerrilla fighter who wrote: “Hill and Heth in their reports, to save themselves from censure, call the first day’s action a reconnaissance; this is all an afterthought….They wanted to conceal their responsibility for the defeat.” [22] A more contemporary writer, Jennings Wise, noted that Hill’s orders “were specific not to bring on an action, but his thirst for battle was unquenchable, and…he rushed on, and…took the control of the situation out of the hands of his commander-in-chief.” [23]

Years later Heth made an unsubstantiated claim that “A courier came from Gen. Lee, with a dispatch ordering me to get those shoes even if I encountered some resistance.” [24] That appears unlikely as Mosby noted that no one ordered Hill to advance and Lee “would never have sanctioned it.” [25] The ever judicious Porter Alexander who had been in Lee’s headquarters the night of June 30th wrote that: “Hill’s movement to Gettysburg was made on his own accord, and with knowledge that he would find the enemy’s cavalry in possession.” [26]

The advance to contact was marred by Heth’s inexperience compounded by the illness of A.P. Hill which caused Hill to be absent at the critical point where contact was made with the Federal forces. Hill “awakened feeling very ill, too sick to mount his horse…although no diagnosis was made, he was probably suffering from overstrained nerves.” [27] While it is possible that Hill’s “malady could have been upset stomach, diarrhea, simple exhaustion or a flair up of the old prostate problem” [28] his history of illness at critical times throughout the war lends credence to the possibility that whatever he was suffering could have been brought about by his emotional state. The result was that Hill’s “disability made it impossible for him to assume personal responsibility on July 1, 1863.” [29]

Hill gave Heth the responsibility to lead the advance, not based on experience or command ability, but because his division was closest to Gettysburg. However, during the night Hill decided to augment Heth’s division by ordering Dorsey Pender’s division to support Heth, and thus committed two thirds of his corps to what was supposedly a reconnaissance mission to find shoes. Since a reconnaissance is normally conducted by small elements of one’s force, the fact that Hill committed his two divisions present to such a mission demonstrated his “own confusion and uncertainty” [30] regarding the nature of what he might face and to his own understanding of the mission that he was assigning Heth. Whatever Hill’s intentions “he ordered Pender to support Heth while he awaited Anderson in Cashtown.” [31]

Disregarding the only solid intelligence he had, Hill put the majority of his corps into a “reconnaissance” which he would not be able to lead, instead turning over command to Heth. Hill gave Heth strict instructions not to bring on an engagement. The admonition was clear: “Do not bring on an engagement.” [32]

Likewise it is distinctly possible that Heth, despite orders to the contrary “may have had more on his mind than shoes and information when he made his advance towards Gettysburg.” [33] This is the allegation of Confederate cavalryman John Singleton Mosby who: “charged Hill with planning a “foray” and calling it a “reconnaissance.” Both Hill and Heth, Mosby asserted “evidently expected to bag a few thousand Yankees, return to Cashtown, and present them to General Lee that evening. But…”they bit off more than they could chew.” [34] Mosby’s claim does lend some explanation as to why Hill committed such a large force to his “reconnaissance” however, since Hill was killed in the closing days of the war and because Mosby was a partisan of J.E.B. Stuart. Mosby’s claim, even if true cannot be verified. But the fact remains that Hill’s force “was too large for a reconnaissance mission…and too large of force to back away from any Yankee challenge.” [35]The result was that Hill’s large force “if opposed, might well commit Lee’s army to battle on a field that Lee had not seen and before his army was assembled.” [36]

Hill’s absence left Heth, an inexperienced division commander “without any sage counsel” [37] and Heth began to commit a series of costly errors. Hill’s instructions to Heth to aggressively execute the mission but at the same time to avoid a major action put his subordinate in a hard place that even more experienced commanders might have struggled to find the appropriate balance. However, Heth was not at the level of experience or battlefield savvy.

Heth stated after the war that he understood from Hill that his mission was a job that normally would be assigned to cavalry and the restraints that he was employ: “to ascertain what force was at Gettysburg, and if he found infantry opposed to him, to report the fact immediately, without forcing an engagement.” [38] However, when the action began Heth did not heed those instructions.

Heth advanced without the caution of a commander who had been told that enemy forces were likely opposing him. Even though Heth disbelieved the reports made by Pettigrew the previous day, some amount of judicious caution on his part should have been indicated. Instead, for reasons unknown Heth had his men advance as if it was a routine movement. “Rather than placing his strongest brigades in the lead, Heth simply determined order of march based on where the troops had bivouacked along the road the previous night.” [39]

Heth “pushed out his four brigades in routine deployment for contact. In taking elementary precautions, Heth gave no indication of sensing an impending clash of any consequence.” [40] He placed Archer’s veteran but depleted brigade and Davis’s newly organized and inexperienced brigade in the lead of the advance. They were accompanied by the division’s artillery battalion commanded by Major William Pegram. Behind the lead units came the brigades of Pettigrew and Brockenbrough.

It was a curious order of march, for it left Johnston’s Pettigrew’s brigade behind both Archer and Davis’s brigades despite the fact that it was closer to Gettysburg than any other brigade. Likewise it was the only unit in the division that had recent eyes on contact with the enemy and knew the ground and what was ahead of them. It is hard to understand why Heth did this but one can speculate that it might have been because of Pettigrew’s insistence of the type of Federal forces in their front the previous day which caused Heth to do this.

The attitude of the soldiers was good, but most of the soldiers and their leaders “assumed that this morning’s movement was simply one more part in the army’s overall concentration of forces” [41] and the troops many expected to meet were those of Ewell or Stuart, Colonel John Brockenbrough told the commander of the 55th Virginia that “we might meet some of Ewell’s command or Stuart’s. [42] No one, with the possible exception of Johnston Pettigrew seemed to believe that experienced Federal troops lay before them, and Pettigrew had been ignored. This “spirit of unbelief” seemed to cloud the thinking of most, if not all of the commanding officers in Hill’s corps and left them unprepared for what happened.” [43]

Heth’s infantry brigades were deployed alongside the road and were led by several lines of skirmishers while the artillery battalion rumbled down the road between the infantry brigades, few expected any battle. Gunners from Pegram’s four-gun Fredericksburg battery leading his battalion’s advance recalled “We moved forward leisurely smoking and chatting as we rode along, not dreaming of the proximity of the enemy.” [44] Heth should have better anticipated the situation based on Pettigrew’s reports of the previous day and should have prepared his troops to expect combat. He demonstrated why one author called him “an intellectual lightweight.” [45] After the war when Heth told an officer from the Army of the Potomac “I did not know any of your people were north of the Potomac.” [46]

While Archer was highly experienced and had the advantage of commanding experienced veteran troops during this advance he was not well. Though he led his troops into combat “on that morning he was suffering from some debilitating ailment.” [47] The other commander leading the Confederate advance was the inexperienced Joseph Davis. Davis’s inexperience caused him to put the new and untested 42nd Mississippi and 55th North Carolina in the van of his advance and left his veteran regiments the 2nd and 11th Mississippi in the rear guarding army stores. [48] It was an unfortunate choice, the 11th Mississippi was seasoned and had “fought with distinction” [49] as part of the Army of Northern Virginia over the previous year.

The advance of the brigades of Archer and Davis was uneventful until they reached Marsh Creek they encountered the cavalry vedettes or pickets of the 8th Illinois Cavalry of John Buford’s First Cavalry Division posted on the high ground just east of the creek. [50] Despite the fact that Pettigrew had repeatedly warned Heth and Hill about the presence of Union cavalry, the discovery of these forces was unanticipated by the Confederates leading the column. Early in the morning Pettigrew attempted to warn Archer of the topography of the area and the presence of Union troops. Lieutenant Young recorded that Pettigrew “told General Archer of a ridge some distance west of Gettysburg on which he would probably find the enemy, as this position was favorable for defense.” [51] Pettigrew also warned Archer of “a certain road which the Yankees might use to hit his flank, and the dangers of McPherson’s Ridge. Archer listened, believed not, marched on unprepared…” [52]

Enter John Buford

If Heth was inexperienced and knew little of the Federal forces arrayed before him and what forces were moving towards Gettysburg, his opponent Brigadier General John Buford was his opposite in nearly every respect. Buford was born in Kentucky and like Heth, came from a family with a long military history of military service, including family members who had fought in the Revolutionary War and War of 1812. His family was well off with a spacious plantation near Versailles on which labored forty-five slaves, and his father also established a stage line which carried “passengers and freight between Frankfort and Lexington.” His father divested himself of his property, selling his home, business and presumably his slaves and moved to Stephenson Illinois in 1838. [53] The young Buford developed an interest in military life which was enlivened by his half-brother Napoleon Bonaparte Buford who graduated from West Point in 1827, and his brother would be influential in helping John into West Point, which he entered in 1844.

Buford graduated with the class of 1848 which included the distinguished Union artilleryman John Tidball, and the future Confederate brigadier generals William “Grumble” Jones, with whose troops he would do battle during the Gettysburg campaign and George “Maryland” Steuart. Among Buford’s best friends was Ambrose Burnside of the class of 1847. He did well academically but his conduct marks kept him from graduating in the top quarter of his class.

Upon graduation he was commissioned as a Brevet Second Lieutenant of Dragoons, however this came too late to serve in Mexico. Instead he was initially assigned to the First United States Dragoons but less than six months after joining was transferred to the Second Dragoons when he was promoted to full Second Lieutenant.

Instead of going to Mexico Buford “spent most of the 1850s tracking and fighting Indians on the Plains.” [54] During this period, the young dragoon served on the Great Plains against the Sioux, where he distinguished himself at the Battle of Ash Creek and on peacekeeping duty in the bitterly divided State of Kansas and in the Utah War of 1858.

His assignments alternated between field and staff assignments and he gained a great deal of tactical and administrative expertise that would serve him well. This was especially true in the realm of the tactics that he would employ so well at Gettysburg and on other battlefields against Confederate infantry and cavalry during the Civil War. Buford took note of the prevailing tactics of the day which still stressed a rigid adherence to outdated Napoleonic tactics which stressed mounted charges and “little cooperation with units of other arms or in the taking and holding of disputed ground.” [55] While he appreciated the shock value of mounted charges against disorganized troops he had no prejudice against “fighting dismounted when the circumstances of the case called for or seemed to justify it.” [56] Buford’s pre-war experience turned him into a modern soldier who appreciated and employed the rapid advances in weaponry, including the breech loading carbine and repeating rifle with tremendous effect.

Despite moving to Illinois Buford’s family still held Southern sympathies; his father was a Democrat who had opposed Abraham Lincoln. Buford himself was a political moderate and though he had some sympathy for slave owners:

“he despised lawlessness in any form – especially that directed against federal institutions, which he saw as the bulwark of democracy…..He especially abhorred the outspoken belief of some pro-slavery men that the federal government was their sworn enemy.” [57]

After the election of Abraham Lincoln, the officers of Buford’s regiment split on slavery. His regimental commander, Colonel Philip St. George Cooke, a Virginian and the father-in-law of J.E.B. Stuart announced that he would remain loyal to the Union, others like Beverly Robertson who would command a brigade of cavalry during the Gettysburg campaign resigned their commissions.

For many officers, both those who remained loyal to the Union and those who joined the Confederate cause the decision was often difficult, and many anguished over their decisions as they weighed their allegiance to the Union against their loyalty to home and family. Buford was not one of them.

Since Buford’s family had longstanding ties to Kentucky, the pro-secession governor of Kentucky, Beriah Magoffin offered Buford a commission in that states’ militia. At the time Kentucky was still an “undeclared border slave state” and Buford loyal to his oath refused the governor’s offer. He wrote a brief letter to Magoffin and told his comrades that “I sent him word that I was a Captain in the United States Army and I intend to remain one.” [58] Around the same time the new provisional government of the Confederacy “offered Buford a general officer’s commission, which reached him by mail at Fort Crittenden.” [59] According to Buford’s biographer Edward Longacre “a well-known anecdote has him wadding up the letter while angrily announcing that whatever future had in store he would “live and die under the flag of the Union.” [60]

However Buford’s family’s southern ties, and lack of political support from the few remaining loyal Kentucky legislators initially kept him from field command. Instead he received a promotion to Colonel and an assignment to the Inspector General’s Office, although it was not the field assignment that he desired it was of critical importance to the army in those early days of the war as the Union gathered its strength for the war. Buford was assigned to mustering in, and training the new regiments being organized for war. Traveling about the country he evaluated each unit in regard to “unit dress, deportment and discipline, the quality and quantity of weapons, ammunition, equipment, quarters, animals and transportation; the general health of the unit and medical facilities available to it; and the training progress of officers and men.” [61] Buford was a hard and devastatingly honest trainer and evaluator of the new regiments. He was especially so in dealing with commanding officers as well as field and company officers. Additionally he was a stickler regarding supply officers, those he found to be incompetent or less than honest were cashiered.

Buford performed these duties well but desired command. Eventually he got the chance when the politically well-connected but ill-fated Major General John Pope who “could unreservedly vouch for his loyalty wrangled for him command of a brigade of cavalry.” [62] After Pope’s disastrous defeat at Second Bull Run in August 1862 Buford was wounded in the desperate fighting at Second Manassas and returned to staff duties until January 1863 when he was again given a brigade. However, unlike many of the officers who served under Pope, Buford’s reputation as a leader of cavalry and field commander was increased during that campaign.

Buford was given the titular title of “Chief of Cavalry of the Army of the Potomac” by George McClellan, a title which sounded impressive but involved no command during the Antietam campaign. Following that frustrating task he continued in the same position under his old West Point friend Ambrose Burnside during the Fredericksburg campaign. Buford lost confidence in his old friend and was likely “shocked by his friend’s deadly ineptitude, his dogged insistence on turning defeat into nightmare.” [63]

When Burnside was relieved and Fighting Joe Hooker appointed to command the army, Buford’s star began to rise. While he was passed over by Hooker for command of the newly organized First Cavalry division in favor of Alfred Pleasanton who was eleven days his senior, he received command of the elite Reserve Brigade composed of mostly Regular Army cavalry regiments. When Major General George Stoneman was relieved of command following the Chancellorsville campaign, Pleasanton was again promoted over Buford.

In later years Hooker recognized that Buford “would have been a better man for the position of chief” [64] but in retrospect Buford’s pass over was good fortune for the Army of the Potomac on June 30th and July 1st 1863. Despite being passed over for the Cavalry Corps command, Buford, a consummate professional never faltered or became bitter. Despite the Pleasanton’s interference and “lax intelligence-gathering” [65]   During the Gettysburg campaign he led his brigade well at Brandy Station as it battled J.E.B. Stuart’s troopers, after which he was recommended for promotion and given command of the First Cavalry division of the Cavalry Corps. [66]

Following Brandy Station Buford led his troopers aggressively as they battled Stuart’s troopers along the Blue Ridge at the battles of Aldie, Philmont, Middleburg and Upperville. It was at Upperville while fighting a hard action Confederate Brigadier general “Grumble” Jones’s brigade that Buford’s troopers provided Hooker with the first visual evidence that Lee’s infantry was moving north into Maryland and Pennsylvania.

When Hooker was relieved on the night of June 27th and 28th George Meade gave Buford the chance at semi-independent command without Pleasanton looking over his shoulder. Meade appreciated Pleasanton’s administrative and organizational expertise and took him out of direct field command. Meade had his Cavalry Corps commander “pitch his tent next to his own on almost every leg of the trip to Pennsylvania and rarely let him out of sight or earshot.” [67]

The result was that when ordered to screen the army as it moved into Pennsylvania Buford was confident of his troopers and their ability and he and his men performed their duties admirably. On June 29th Buford’s men skirmished with two of Harry Heth’s regiments near the town of Fairfield, which Buford promptly reported to Meade and John Reynolds after ascertaining their size and composition. The following morning Buford and his troopers arrived in Gettysburg and were greeted by the townspeople who “thronged the streets, waving, shouting, and singing patriotic songs as Buford’s advance pushed through.” [68] Marching through the town they took up positions on the ridges west of the town. As they moved west the advance elements of Buford’s brigade discovered the presence of Johnston Pettigrew’s North Carolina brigade which promptly withdrew when it discovered that it was facing regular Federal cavalry.

Despite the welcome of the townsfolk, Buford’s troopers were tired from the weeks of incessant marching and combat. Their horses needed fodder, which was barely adequate, and most needed to be reshod, but because Early’s division had “seized nearly every shoe and nail”…”he had neither materials nor facilities for reshoeing them.” [69] Despite their fatigue Buford’s men had one distinctive advantage over the Confederates that they would face, this was in their weaponry. With few exceptions the Union cavalry at Gettysburg went into battle with “the finest equipment and arms obtainable. The troopers in almost every regiment carried breech-loading carbines (usually Sharp’s singe shot) hitched to their belts; they also carried revolvers (usually Colt army) and cavalry sabers.” [70] Though outnumbered their weapons gave them an edge in maintaining a heavy fire against the Confederate infantry which was armed with a variety of muzzle-loaded rifled muskets.

Based on all the intelligence available to him, that of George Sharpe’s Bureau of Military Information and that of his own scouts Buford “gathered that the whole of Hill’s Corps was “massed back of Cashtown” to the west, but there was also clear indication that Ewell’s Corps was “coming over the mountains from Carlisle,” to the north.” [71] Buford sent that news to Reynolds and to Meade by way of Pleasanton by mounted courier the evening of June 30th. The report caused Reynolds to realize the importance of Gettysburg and he immediately sent orders for Buford “to hold onto it to the last.” If Buford could buy enough time, he might get his infantry into line “before the enemy could seize the point.” [72]

Since Buford suspected that Ewell’s troops might also arrive he posted forces a few miles to the north of Gettysburg to provide warning and to delay them if needed, however since Buford determined that “Hill represented the more immediate threat, Buford resolved to concentrate most of his strength west of the town along MacPherson’s Ridge.” [73]

 buford

Brigadier General John Buford U.S.A.

On the night of June 30th Buford prepared for battle. Unlike Hill and Heth he understood exactly what he was facing. He met with “reliable men” most likely from the Bureau of Military Intelligence operated by David McConaughy as to the composition of Lee’s forces. [74] Buford knew his business; he took the time to reconnoiter the ridges west of Gettysburg and posted videttes as far was as Marsh Creek. He deployed one brigade under Colonel Thomas Devin to the north and west of the town, Colonel William Gamble’s brigade was deployed to the west, its main line being on McPherson’s Ridge.

As he deployed his forces Buford formulated his plan. Riding with his brigade commanders and staff “Buford, puffing away on his pipe, peering through field glass, studied the road network and lay of the land. He calculated distance to physical landmarks and tried to determine how long it would take those Confederates massing behind South Mountain to come within carbine range.” [75] Buford’s composure and confidence inspired his troopers as well as local civilians who observed him as he surveyed the ground on which the greatest battle ever waged on American soil would be fought.

Considering that he had fewer than three-thousand troopers available at Gettysburg because the Reserve Brigade was still further south guarding the army’s trains, and that he was facing a foe many times larger, it was a bold plan. Buford seems to have convinced himself that “he could pull off something never achieved in this war: a defense in depth by dismounted cavalry against a force of foot soldiers with full artillery support.” [76] As such the crafty Buford planned “a defense in depth, fighting his men dismounted, using the series of ridgelines west of Gettysburg to hamper and delay the Rebel infantry he was certain would come “booming along” the Chambersburg Pike in the morning.” [77]

Noting that the ground was favorable to defense and giving battle Buford sent messages to Reynolds as to the situation. He warned Reynolds that “A.P. Hill’s corps is massed just back of Cashtown, about 9 miles from this place.” He also noted the location of Confederate pickets “only four miles west of Gettysburg.” [78] Devin’s troops also identified elements of Ewell’s corps north of the town. Buford had accurately informed his superiors of what was before him, information that they needed for the day of battle.

Buford set up his headquarters at the Eagle Hotel in Gettysburg where he spent the night and according to his signals officer was “anxious, more so than I ever saw him” [79] Buford discussed the tactical situation with Colonel Devin, commanding the brigade on Herr’s and McPherson’s Ridge. Devin did not yet believe that the Confederates would move on Gettysburg in the morning. Devin thought if there were any threats that “he could handle anything that could come up in the next 24 hours.” [80] Buford rejected Devin’s argument and told him bluntly “No you won’t…. They will attack you in the morning and they will come booming – skirmishers three deep. You will have to fight like the devil to hold your own.” [81]

In preparation for the Confederate advance Buford deployed about seven hundred of his men in videttes, or pickets several miles in advance of the main force of his division. These videttes stretched from the Blackhorse Tavern south and west of Gettysburg, across the Mummasburg and Carlisle Roads, ending east of town on the York Pike. The center of this line was along the Chambersburg or Cashtown Pike along Marsh Creek about five miles west of Gettysburg. These videttes were critical in ascertaining the direction and composition of any advancing Confederate forces.

Reynolds immediately saw the importance of the position elected to fight. He “ordered Buford to hold onto it to the last” believing that if Buford could “buy enough time, he might get his infantry into line “before the enemy should seize the point.” [82] Buford knew that against the odds he would face that he would only be able to hold for a few hours at best and since by “refusing to flee from Lee’s path, by committing himself to fight in an advanced position however favorable, he risked not only his division’s annihilation but the disarranging of Meade’s plans” [83] to fight a defensive battle along the Pipe Creek line. Buford and Reynold’s bold decisions on that last night of June 1863 committed the Army of the Potomac to battle Lee’s hearty veterans at Gettysburg.

gburg delaying action

Buford’s Delaying Action July 1st

For Buford’s troopers the night and morning of June 30th and July 1st 1863 was spent in grim anticipation that they would meet a good portion of Lee’s army in battle. “It was a jumpy night, and the lowering clouds “poured down a drenching rain” [84] even as Buford’s advanced videttes observed the camp fires of the advanced Confederate outposts left by Pettigrew on the 30th   of June.

As the over-confident and lackadaisical Confederates advanced in the pre-dawn early morning mist they had a hard time determining what lay ahead of them and they “halted as they got to the swampy land fringing Marsh Creek, beyond which the ground angled up into a single swell to a ridge line.” [85] Pegram’s artillerists surveyed the ground to their front and noted mounted troops, but the limited visibility made it impossible to identify them, some even thought that they might belong to Longstreet’s corps, however Pegram knowing Longstreet’s corps was well the west, stopped his advance and unlimbered is guns. This caused the commander of Archer’s lead brigade, Colonel Birkett D. Fry of the 13th Alabama to ask Pegram what was going on and why he had stopped his advance. Upon seeing the artillery readying for action Fry “rode back to the color bearer and ordered him to uncase the colors.” [86] This was the first indication that the enemy was near and Fry quickly ordered his regiment to establish a skirmish line.

With the sun coming up the Union troops saw the now uncased colors of the Confederate battle flags to their front. Lieutenant Marcellus Jones of the 8th Illinois, commanding one of the detachments along Marsh Creek, expecting such rode to one of his advanced posts. He took a carbine from one of his sergeants and said “Hold on George, give me the honor of opening this ball” and at about 7:30 a.m. Jones fired the first shot of the battle of Gettysburg. [87]

Heth had wanted to advance in column as long as possible “but the Yankee cavalry’s stiff resistance had ended that hope.” [88] Heth rode forward and ordered Archer and Davis’s troops to advance skirmishers with the support of Pegram’s artillery. This slowed the Confederate advance considerable and Heth wrote in his after action report that “it became evident that there were infantry, cavalry and artillery in and around the town.” [89] At this point, Heth should have stopped and sought guidance on what to do next, however, instead of “feeling out the enemy” as directed by Hill, Heth “ordered Archer and Davis “to move forward and occupy the town.” [90] A chaplain in Brockenbrough’s brigade reported that one of Heth’s aide’s came up and reported “General Heth is ordered to move on Gettysburg, and fight or not as he wishes.” The chaplain heard one of the officers near him say “We must fight them; no division general will turn back with such orders.” [91]

Heth obviously expected small detachments of cavalry to give way at the sight of massed infantry, but Buford and his men had other plans. Instead of withdrawing the small cavalry detachments dismounted and used trees, bushes and fence lines for cover and poured forth a rapid fire with their Sharps carbines. This forced Heth’s skirmishers to advance slowly and deliberately, and forced the main body of his advanced brigades to deploy into battle formation supported by Pegram’s artillery.

About 8:00 A.M. Colonel Gamble who commanded the Buford’s First Brigade to which the videttes belonged “received a report that a strong enemy force was driving in his pickets.” [92] Gamble promptly reported this to Buford who in turn directed Gamble to deploy his “1,600 troopers to form a battle line on Herr’s Ridge a mile west of the seminary” [93] from which Buford was now directing his division. Likewise Buford ordered Devin’s Second Brigade to take up positions north of the Pike. He likewise order Lieutenant John Calef who commanded Battery “A” Second United States Horse Artillery to deploy his six three inch rifles along the ridge. However, instead of deploying them in an orthodox manner Buford ordered Calef to “spread his pieces wide apart to deceive the enemy into thinking his battery was actually two artillery units.” [94]

Everything that Buford did served to further confuse Heth, who now because of the heavy volume of fire his troops were receiving and his inability to see the horses of the dismounted cavalry believed that he was facing Federal infantry and artillery for Buford’s troopers “surely acted like infantry.” [95] Captain Amasa Dana of Company E. of the 8th Illinois “ordered his men to “throw up their carbine sights and [we] gave the enemy the benefit of long range practice [;] the firing was rapids from our carbines, and at the distance induced the enemy to the belief of four times our number actually present….” [96]

Instead of driving the cavalry out by force of numbers the Confederates had to advance deliberately to drive out the Union troopers, forcing Archer’s men to “undertake the time-consuming task of fixing the enemy in place, and then working parties around its flanks or any other chinks they could find.” [97] As they did this the veteran Union troopers withdrew and formed again, each time forcing the Confederates to slow their advance on Gettysburg.

Buford’s defense in depth was unlike anything that the Confederates had experienced at the hands of the Army of the Potomac. At each position Gable’s troopers continued to hold and his “carbineers continued to blast away as fast as they could reload, Calef’s shells thundering over their heads to burst in the fields beyond.” [98] That defense gave Buford an extra two hours and at 9:00 he directed his brigades to fall back to the next line of defense that of McPherson’s Ridge, where Buford’s troopers established another line.

Seeing the enemy before him Harry Heth committed yet another error. He was not going to let the Federal force stop him from reaching Gettysburg. On Herr’s Ridge he made a fateful decision. He spend over half an hour, from 9:00 until just past 9:30 deploying Archer’s Brigade in line of battle “and extending its left flank with the next brigade in line, that of Brigadier General Joseph R. Davis.” [99] Once that was accomplished Heth ordered Archer and Davis’s brigades forward toward Buford’s troops. It was a deadly mistake for Heth had no idea that the advance elements of John Reynold’s First Corps were rapidly moving to support Buford and that his troops were about to experience a fight like which they had never seen or expected. Despite this the Confederates pushed on and were threatening to force Buford’s troops from McPherson’s Ridge and “victory seemed to be at hand, but as the 13th Alabama climbed from the Willoughby Run ravine into a field south of McPherson Wood’s its men saw a Union line of battle a hundred yards to the front.” [100] John Reynold’s First Corps led by the famous Iron Brigade of Abner Doubleday’s First Division had arrived on the field.

The fight that Harry Heth and A.P. Hill had been directed not to precipitate was now on. Heth’s inexperience was more than matched by the cunning and brilliant Buford, whose troopers had fought a masterful delaying action, one which prefigured the later use of cavalry and eventually armored cavalry and motorized reconnaissance in later wars. Buford’s masterful defense along Marsh Creek, and Herr’s and McPherson’s Ridge enabled Reynolds’s infantry to come up before the Confederates could seize the key high ground to the west of Gettysburg.

Notes

[1] Dowdy, Clifford. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation Skyhorse Publishing, New York 1986, originally published as Death of a Nation Knopf, New York 1958 p.78

[2] Robertson, James I. Jr. General A.P. Hill: The Story of a Confederate Warrior Random House, New York 1987 p.206

[3] 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.44

[4] Ibid Robertson General A.P. Hill p.206

[5] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p. 137

[6] Ibid. Gallagher Confederate Corps Leadership on the First Day at Gettysburg p.44

[7] Ibid Robertson General A.P. Hill p.206

[8] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.92

[9] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command A Touchstone Book, Simon and Shuster New York 1968 p.264

[10] Pfanz Harry W. Gettysburg: The First Day University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London 2001 p.51

[11] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.79

[12] Pryor, Elizabeth Brown. Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters Penguin Books, New York and London 2007 p.352

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

[14] 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.230

[15] Wert, Jeffry D. A Glorious Army: Robert E. Lee’s Triumph 1862-1863 Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2011 p.234

[16] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.90

[17] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.234

[18] Ibid Robertson General A.P. Hill pp.206-207

[19] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.91

[20] Trudeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.147

[21] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.153

[22] Ibid. Gallagher Confederate Corps Leadership on the First Day at Gettysburg p.32

[23] Ibid. Gallagher Confederate Corps Leadership on the First Day at Gettysburg p.32

[24] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.153

[25] Ibid. Gallagher Confederate Corps Leadership on the First Day at Gettysburg p.32

[26] Alexander, Edward Porter Military Memoirs of a Confederate: A Critical Narrative 1907 republished 2013 by Pickle Partners Publishing, Amazon Kindle Edition location 7342 of 12968

[27] Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation pp.91-92

[28] Ibid Robertson General A.P. Hill p.206

[29] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.92

[30] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.153

[31] Ibid. Gallagher Confederate Corps Leadership on the First Day at Gettysburg p.44

[32] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.153

[33] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command p.274

[34] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command p.274

[35] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p. 161

[36] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.52

[37] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.153

[38] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.131

[39] Ibid Robertson General A.P. Hill p.207

[40] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.93

[41] Ibid. Guelzo. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.135

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

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

[44] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p. 162

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

[46] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p. 162

[47] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.93

[48] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.156

[49] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.93

[50] Pfanz. Gettysburg: The First Day p.53

[51] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.158

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

[53] Longacre, Edward G. John Buford: A Military Biography Da Capo Press, Perseus Book Group, Cambridge MA p.17

[54] Ibid. Guelzo. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.121

[55] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.36

[56] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.36

[57] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.54

[58] Ibid. Guelzo. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.121

[59] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.70

[60] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.70

[61] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.78

[62] Ibid. Guelzo. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.121

[63] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.122

[64] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command p.44

[65] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.173

[66] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command p.64

[67] Longacre, Edward G. The Cavalry at Gettysburg: A Tactical Study of Mounted Operations during the Civil War’s Pivotal Campaign, 9 June-14 July 1863 University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London 1986 p.168

[68] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.181

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

[70] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command p.258

[71] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.142

[72] Ibid. Guelzo. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion pp.122-123

[73] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, pp.142-143

[74] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.141

[75] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.184

[76] Ibid. Longacre The Cavalry at Gettysburg p.185

[77] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p. 157

[78] Ibid. Guelzo. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.122

[79] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p. 157

[80] Catton, Bruce The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road Doubleday and Company, Garden City New York, 1952 p.266

[81] Ibid. Guelzo. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.123

[82] Ibid. Guelzo. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion pp.122-123

[83] Ibid. Longacre The Cavalry at Gettysburg p.185

[84] Ibid. Guelzo. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.132

[85] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.158

[86] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, pp.158-159

[87] Pfanz. Gettysburg: The First Day p.53

[88] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p. 163

[89] Luvaas, Jay and Nelson Harold W editors. The U.S. Army War College Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg South Mountain Press, Carlisle PA 1986 p.7

[90] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p. 165

[91] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.163

[92] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command p.266

[93] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command p.266

[94] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.191

[95] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p. 164

[96] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.162

[97] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.162

[98] Ibid. Longacre The Cavalry at Gettysburg p.187

[99] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.191

[100] Ibid. Pfanz. Gettysburg: The First Day p.68

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

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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.

Peace

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.

Notes

[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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I Enlisted to Fight: Colonel Strong Vincent

vincent

Colonel String Vincent

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 may become a book in their own right.  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.

Today’s article is about the youngest brigade commander in the Army of the Potomac, Colonel Strong Vincent a twenty-six year old Harvard graduate and citizen soldier. His story is fascinating as well as well as a reminder of the tragic losses brought about by war. His actions  and decisions on July 2nd 1863 were instrumental in the Union holding Little Round Top and turning back the Confederate Tide.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Colonel Strong Vincent was a 26 year old Harvard graduate and lawyer from Erie Pennsylvania. He was born in Waterford and attended school in Erie. Growing up, he worked in his father’s iron foundry, where the work helped make him a man of great physical strength. He studied at Trinity College in Hartford Connecticut and transferred to Harvard. There are various explanations for why he left Trinity, but the most interesting and probably the most credible is that during his sophomore year which was recorded by Trinity alumnus Charles F. Johnson who wrote that:

“He went calling on Miss Elizabeth Carter, a teacher at Miss Porter’s school in Farmington, ten miles west of Hartford. At some point a guard or watchman voiced a comment that impinged the lady’s virtue, and, as Johnson so aptly phrases it, Vincent “responded to the affront with the same gallantry and vigor that he was to display in the Civil War.” McCook’s account indicated that the man was repeatedly pummeled, which effectively rendered him unconscious.” [1]

Long after the war Dr. Edward Gallaudet, the president of Trinity responded to an enquiry of the circumstances leading to Vincent’s early departure from Trinity. Gallaudet responded to the request in a terse manner:

“Replying to yours of yesterday, I must say that I do not think it would be wise to make public the story I told of Strong Vincent’s escapade at Farmington & its consequences. Certainly not in the lifetime of Mrs. Vincent.” [2]

Evidently the incident resulted in Vincent leaving Trinity and the next year he entered Harvard. Vincent graduated from Harvard in 1859, ranking 51st in a class of 92. However, he was not an outstanding student and “earned admonishments on his record for missing chapel and smoking in Harvard Yard.” [3]

Returning home he studied law with a prominent lawyer and within two years had passed the bar, and he was well respected in the community. When war came and the call went out for volunteers, Vincent enlisted in a 30 Day regiment, the Wayne Guards as a private and then was appointed as a 1st Lieutenant and Adjutant of the regiment because of his academic and administrative acumen.

He married Elizabeth, the same woman whose virtue he had defended at Trinity that day. Vincent like many young northerners believed in the cause of the Union undivided, and he wrote his wife shortly after the regiment went to war on the Peninsula:

“Surely the right will prevail. If I live we will rejoice in our country’s success. If I fall, remember you have given your husband to the most righteous cause that ever widowed a woman.” [4]

When the Wayne Guards were disbanded at the end of their enlistment, Vincent helped to raise the 83rd Pennsylvania and was commissioned as a Lieutenant Colonel in it on September 14th 1861. The young officer learned his trade well and was considered a “strict disciplinarian and master of drill.” [5] That being said one enlisted man remarked that “no officer in the army was more thoughtful and considerate of the health and comfort of his men.” [6] Vincent assumed command of the regiment when the commander was killed during the Seven Days in June of 1862 where he learned lessons that he would help impart to his fellow officers as well as subordinates, including Chamberlain. At Fredericksburg any doubters about the young officer’s courage and leadership ability were converted where they observed his poise “with sword in hand” he “stood erect in full view of the enemy’s artillery, and though the shot fell fast on all sides, he never wavered or once changed his position.” [7]

By the time of the Battle of Gettysburg, the 26 year old Vincent was the youngest brigade commander in the army. He was noted for his intelligence, leadership, military acumen and maturity. One friend wrote “As a general thing his companions were older than himself….Among his associates were men of the highest rank. He could adapt himself to all, could talk with the politician on questions of history, with a general officer on military evolutions, or with a sporting man on the relative merits of horses,-and all respected his opinion.” [8]

His promotion was well earned, following a bout with a combination of Malaria and Typhoid, the “Chickahominy Fever” which almost killed him; Vincent took command of the regiment after its commander was killed at Gaines Mill. He commanded the regiment at Fredericksburg and was promoted to command the 3rd Brigade after the Battle of Chancellorsville following the resignation of its commander, Colonel T.W.B. Stockton on May 18th 1863.

Vincent was offered the chance to serve as the Judge Advocate General of the Army of the Potomac by Joseph Hooker in the spring of 1863 after spending three months on court-martial duty. But Vincent refused the offer in so that he might remain in the fight commanding troops. [9] He told his friends “I enlisted to fight.” [10]

Vincent, like Chamberlain who admired him greatly had “become a kind of model of the citizen soldier.” [11] As a result of his experience in battle and the tenacity of the Confederate army he became an advocate of the tactics that William Tecumseh Sherman would later employ during his march to the sea in 1864. He wrote his wife before Chancellorsville:

“We must fight them more vindictively, or we shall be foiled at every step.  We must desolate the country as we pass through it, and not leave a trace of a doubtful friend or foe behind us; make them believe that we are in earnest, terribly in earnest; that to break this band in twain is monstrous and impossible; that the life of every man, yea, of every weak woman or child in the entire South, is of no value whatever compared with the integrity of the Union.” [12]

Unlike most other brigade commanders, Vincent was still a Colonel, and he, like many others would in his place hoping for a General’s star. He remarked that his move to save Sickles’ command “will either bring me my stars, or finish my career as a soldier.” [13] On July first, Vincent, a native Pennsylvanian came to Hanover and learning that battle had been joined, ordered “the pipes and drums of the 83rd Pennsylvania to play his brigade through the town and ordered the regiments to uncover their flags again….” [14] As the brigade marched through the town, Vincent “reverently bared his head” and announced to his adjutant, “What death more glorious can any man desire than to die on the soil of old Pennsylvania fighting for that flag?” [15]

Vincent was known for his personal courage and a soldier of the 83rd Pennsylvania observed: “Vincent had a particular penchant for being in the lead….Whenever or wherever his brigade might be in a position to get ahead…, he was sure to be ahead.” [16] That courage and acumen to be in the right place at the right time was in evidence when he led his brigade into battle on that fateful July second.

On July 2nd Barnes’ division of V Corps, which Vincent’s brigade was a part was being deployed to the threat posed by the Confederate attack of McLaws’ division on the Peach Orchard and the Wheat Field to reinforce Sickles’ III Corps. While that division marched toward the Peach Orchard, Vincent’s 3rd Brigade was the trail unit. When Gouverneur Warren’s aide, Lieutenant Randall Mackenzie [17] came toward the unit in search of Barnes, he came across Vincent and his brigade near the George Weikert house on Cemetery Ridge awaiting further orders. [18]

Vincent intercepted him and demanded what his orders were. Upon being told that Sykes’ orders to Barnes were to “send one of his brigades to occupy that hill yonder,” [19] Vincent defied normal protocol assuming that Barnes had hit the bottle and was drunk [20] and told Mackenzie “I will take responsibility of taking my brigade there.” [21] Vincent immediately went into action and ordered Colonel James Rice, his friend and the commander of the 44th New York “to bring the brigade to the hill as quickly as possible,” and then turned on his horse and galloped off toward Little Round Top.” [22]

It was a fortunate thing for the Union that he did. His quick action to get his brigade, clear orders to his subordinate commanders and skilled analysis of the ground were a decisive factor in the Union forces holding Little Round Top. After ordering Colonel Rice to lead the brigade up to the hill, he and his aide went forward to scout positions accompanied by the brigade standards. Rice brought the brigade forward at the double quick “across the field to the road leading up the north shoulder of the hill” with Chamberlain’s 20th Maine in the lead. [23]

Vincent and his orderly made a reconnaissance of the south and east slope of the hill which adjoined a small valley and a rocky outcrop called Devil’s Den, which was occupied by the 124th New York and which was the end of Sickles’ line. Near the summit of the southern aspect of the hill, they came under Confederate artillery fire and told his orderly “They are firing at the flag, go behind the rocks with it.” [24]

Vincent dismounted, leaving his sword secured on his horse, carrying only his riding crop. He continued and “with the skill and precision of a professional had reconnoitered and decided how to best place his slim brigade of 1350 muskets.” [25] He chose a position along a spur of the hill, which now bears his name, running from the northwest to the southeast to place his regiments where they could intercept the Confederate troops of Hood’s division which he could see advancing toward the hill.

What Vincent saw when he arrived was a scene of disaster. Confederate troops had overwhelmed the 124th New York and were moving on Little Round Top, “Devil’s Den was a smoking crater,” and the ravine which separated Devil’s Den from Little Round Top “was a whirling maelstrom.” [26] Seeing the threat Vincent began to deploy his brigade but also sent at messenger back to Barnes telling him “Go tell General Barnes to send reinforcements at once, the enemy are coming against us with an overwhelming force” [27]

The 16th Michigan, the smallest regiment in his brigade with barely 150 soldiers in line [28] was placed on the right flank of the brigade. As it moved forward, its adjutant, Rufus W. Jacklin’s horse was hit by a cannon ball which decapitated that unfortunate animal and left it “a mass of quivering flesh.” [29] A fierce Confederate artillery barrage fell among the advancing Union troops and splintered trees, causing some concern among the soldiers. The 20th Maine’s Chaplain, Luther French, saw the “beheading of Jacklin’s horse and ran to Captain Atherton W. Clark, commanding the 20th’s Company E, babbling about what he had seen. Clark interrupted French abruptly and shouted: “For Christ sake Chaplain, if you have any business attend to it.” [30]

That section of the line was located on massive boulders that placed it high above the valley below, making it nearly impregnable to frontal attack. On the summit Vincent deployed the 83rd Pennsylvania and 44th New York to their left at the request of Rice who told him “In every battle that we have engaged the Eighty-third and Forty-fourth have fought side by side. I wish that it might be so today.” [31] The story is probably apocryphal but the regiments remained side by side with the 16th Michigan on the right and the 20th Maine on the left. The two regiments were deployed below the crest among the large number of boulders; the 83rd was about two-thirds of the way down the way down the slope where it joined the right of the 44th, whose line angled back up the slope to the southeast. A historian of the 83rd Pennsylvania noted that “Each rock”… “was a fortress behind which the soldier[s] instantly took shelter.” [32] The soldiers were determined to do their duty as they now were fighting on home ground.

Vincent deployed the 20th Maine on his extreme left of his line, and in fact the extreme end of the Union line. Vincent knew that if this flank was turned and Chamberlain overrun that it would imperil the entire Union position. Vincent came up to Chamberlain who remembered that Vincent said “in an awed, faraway voice: “I place you here….This is the left of the Union line. You understand. You are to hold this ground at all costs.” [33]

Vincent was wounded while leading the defense of the hill. As the men of Robertson’s Texas brigade rushed the hill and threatened to crack “the stout 16th Michigan defense…” [34] Vincent rushed to bolster the defenders. He was standing on a large boulder with a riding crop as the men of the 16th Michigan were beginning to waiver. Fully exposed to enemy fire he attempted to drive the retreating men back into the fight. Brandishing the riding which he cried out: “Don’t yield an inch now men or all is lost,” [35] and moments later was struck by a “minié ball which passed through his left groin and lodged in his left thigh. He fell to the ground and as he was being carried from the field, “This is the fourth or fifth time they have shot at me…and they have hit me at last.” [36]

Mortally wounded, Vincent was taken to a field hospital at the Weikert farm where he lingered for five days before succumbing to his wounds. In the yard lay the body of Paddy O’Rorke whose regiment had saved his brigade’s right flank. Vincent knew that he was dying and he requested that a message be sent to Elizabeth for her to come to Gettysburg. It did not reach her in time. Though he suffered severe pain he bravely tried not to show it. Eventually he became so weak that he could no longer speak. “On July 7, a telegram from President Lincoln, commissioning Vincent a brigadier general, was read to him, but he could not acknowledge whether he understood that the president had promoted him for bravery in the line of duty.” [37] He died later that day and his body was transported home to Erie for burial. Ten weeks after his death his wife gave birth to a baby girl. The baby would not live a year and was buried next to him.

Colonel Rice, who led the 44th New York up the hill and took command of the brigade on Vincent’s death, memorialized his fallen commander in his general order to the brigade on July 12th:

“The colonel commanding hereby announces to the brigade the death of Brig. Gen. Strong Vincent. He died near Gettysburg, Pa., July 7, 1863, from the effects of a wound received on the 2d instant, and within sight of that field which his bravery had so greatly assisted to win. A day hallowed with all the glory of success is thus sombered by the sorrow of our loss. Wreaths of victory give way to chaplets of mourning, hearts exultant to feelings of grief. A soldier, a scholar, a friend, has fallen. For his country, struggling for its life, he willingly gave his own. Grateful for his services, the State which proudly claims him as her own will give him an honored grave and a costly monument, but he ever will remain buried in our hearts, and our love for his memory will outlast the stone which shall bear the inscription of his bravery, his virtues, and his patriotism.

While we deplore his death, and remember with sorrow our loss, let us emulate the example of his fidelity and patriotism, feeling that he lives but in vain who lives not for his God and his country. “[38]

Vincent’s wife Elizabeth never married again and was taken in by the Vincent family. Vincent’s younger brother became an Episcopal Priest and Bishop and later provided a home for her. She became a tireless worker in the church working with charitable work for young women and children. This led to an interest in sacred art and she wrote two books: Mary, the Mother of Jesus and The Madonna in Legend and in Art. She also translated Delitzch’s Behold the Man and A Day in Capernaum from the German. [39] Elizabeth Vincent passed away in April 1914 and was buried beside her husband and daughter.

[1] Nevins, James H. And Styple What Death More Glorious: A Biography of General Strong Vincent Belle Grove Publishing Co, Kearny N.J. 1997 p.16

[2] Ibid. Nevins What Death More Glorious p.17

[3] Ibid. LaFantasie, Glenn W. Twilight at Little Round Top: p.105

[4] ________. Erie County Historical Society http://www.eriecountyhistory.org/wp-content/uploads/2008/10/strongvincent.pdf retrieved 9 June 2014

[5] Golay, Michael. To Gettysburg and Beyond: The Parallel Lives of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and Edward Porter Alexander Crown Publishers Inc. New York 1994 p.129

[6] Nevins, James H. and Styple, William B. What Death More Glorious: A Biography of General Strong Vincent Belle Grove Publishing Company, Kearney NJ 1997 p.29

[7] Ibid Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.262

[8] Ibid.Nevins, What Death More Glorious p.54

[9] Leonardi, Ron Strong Vincent at Gettysburg in the Barringer-Erie Times News retrieved June 9th 2014 from http://history.goerie.com/2013/06/30/strong-vincent-at-gettysburg/

[10] Ibid. Nevins What Death More Glorious p.55

[11] Wallace, Willard. The Soul of the Lion: A Biography of Joshua L. Chamberlain Stan Clark Military Books, Gettysburg PA 1960 p.91

[12] Ibid. Nevins What Death More Glorious p.57

[13] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.264

[14] Pfanz, Harry F. Gettysburg: The Second Day. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1987 p.51

[15] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage p.159

[16] Trudeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.305

[17] Some such as Guelzo believe this may have been Captain William Jay of Sykes staff

[18] Ibid. Trudeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.327

[19] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage p.262

[20] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage p.262

[21] Ibid. Trudeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.327

[22] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.108

[23] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.389

[24] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.109

[25] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.390

[26] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage p.270

[27] Ibid. Nevins What Death More Glorious p.75

[28] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p.292

[29] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.109

[30] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.109

[31] Ibid. Pfanz, Gettysburg: The Second Day. p.213

[32] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.111

[33] Ibid. Golay, To Gettysburg and Beyond p.157

[34] Ibid. Wallace The Soul of the Lion p.95

[35] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage p.272

[36] Ibid. Trudeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.361

[37] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.207

[38] Ibid. Nevins What Death More Glorious p.86

[39] Ibid. Nevins What Death More Glorious pp.87-88

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