A LIFE OF GEN. ROBERT E. LEE.
BY JOHN ESTEN COOKE.
"Duty is the sublimest word in our language."
"Human virtue should be equal to human calamity." LEE. 1876
CHANCELLORSVILLE AND GETTYSBURG.
XIV. Concentration at Gettysburg
This was the position of the great adversaries in the last days of June. Lee was at Chambersburg, in the Cumberland Valley, about to follow Ewell, who was approaching
Harrisburg. Early had captured York; and the Federal army was concentrating rapidly on the flank of the Southern army, toward Gettysburg.
Lee had ordered the movement of Early upon York, with the object of diverting the attention of the Federal commander from his own rear, in the Cumberland Valley. The exact movements and position of
General Meade were unknown to him; and this arose in large measure from the absence of Stuart's cavalry. This unfortunate incident has given rise to much comment, and Stuart has been harshly criticised for an alleged disobedience of Lee's plain orders. The question is an embarrassing one. Lee's statement is as follows: "General Stuart was left to guard the passes of the mountains" (Ashby's and other gaps in the Blue Ridge, in Virginia), "and observe the movements of the enemy, whom he was instructed to harass and impede as much as possible should he attempt to cross the Potomac. _In that event, General Stuart was directed to move into Maryland, crossing the Potomac east or west of the Blue Ridge, as in his judgment should be best, and take position on the right of our column as it advanced._"
This order was certainly plain up to a certain point. Stuart was to harass and embarrass the movements of the enemy, in case they attempted to cross to the north bank of the Potomac. When they did cross, he also was to pass the river, either east or west of the Blue Ridge, "as in his judgment should seem best." So far the order was unmistakable. The river was to be crossed at such point as Stuart should select, either on the lower waters, or in the Valley. Lee added, however, that this movement should be made in such a manner as to enable Stuart to "take position on the right of our column as it advanced"--the meaning appearing to be that the cavalry should move _between_ the two armies, in order to guard the Southern flank as it advanced into the Cumberland Valley. Circumstances arose, however, which rendered it difficult for Stuart to move on the line thus indicated with sufficient promptness to render his services valuable. The enemy crossed at Leesburg while the Southern cavalry was near Middleburg; and, from the jaded condition of his horses, Stuart feared that he would be unable, in case he crossed above, to place his column between the two armies then rapidly advancing. He accordingly took the bold resolution of passing the Potomac _below_ Leesburg, designing to shape his course due northward toward Harrisburg, the objective point of the Southern army. This he did--crossing at Seneca Falls--but on the march he was delayed by many incidents. Near Rockville he stopped to capture a large train of Federal wagons; at Westminster and Hanovertown he was temporarily arrested by combats with the Federal cavalry; and, ignorant as he was of the concentration of Lee's troops upon Gettysburg, he advanced rapidly toward Carlisle, where, in the midst of an attack on that place, he was recalled by Lee.
Such were the circumstances leading to, and the incidents attending, this movement. The reader must form his own opinion of the amount of blame to be justly attached to Stuart. He always declared, and asserted in his report of these occurrences, that he had acted in exact obedience to his orders; but, on the contrary, as appears from General Lee's report, those orders were meant to prescribe a different movement. He had marched in one sense on "the right" of the Southern column "as it advanced;" but in another sense he had not done so. Victory at Gettysburg would have silenced all criticism of this difference of construction; but, unfortunately, the event was different, and the strictures directed at Stuart were natural. The absence of the cavalry unquestionably embarrassed Lee greatly; but, in his report, he is moderate and guarded, as usual, in his expressions. "The absence of cavalry," he says, "rendered it impossible to obtain accurate information" of General Meade's movements; and "the march toward Gettysburg was conducted more slowly than it would have been had the movements of the Federal army been known."
[Illustration: Map--Battle of GETTYSBURG]
To return now to the movements of Lee's infantry, after the arrival of the main body at Chambersburg. Lee was about to continue his advance in the direction of Harrisburg, when, on the night of the 29th, his scouts brought him intelligence that the Federal army was rapidly advancing, and the head of the column was near the South Mountain. A glance at the map will indicate the importance of this intelligence. General Meade would be able, without difficulty, in case the Southern army continued its march northward, to cross the South-Mountain range, and place himself directly in Lee's rear, in the Cumberland Valley. Then the Southern forces would be completely intercepted--General Meade would be master of the situation--and Lee must retreat east of the mountain or cut his way through the Federal army.
A battle was thus clearly about to be forced upon the Southern commander, and it only remained for him to so manoeuvre his army as to secure a position in which he could receive the enemy's attack with advantage. Lee accordingly put his column in motion across the mountain toward Gettysburg, and, sending couriers to Ewell and Early to return from Harrisburg and York toward the same point, made his preparations to take position and fight.
On the morning of the 1st day of July, this was then the condition of affairs. General Meade was advancing with rapidity upon the town of Gettysburg, and Lee was crossing the South Mountain, opposite Chambersburg, to meet him.
When the heads of the two columns came together in the vicinity of Gettysburg, the thunders of battle began.