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MAJ.-GEN. LAFAYETTE M'LAWS.
Services in the United States Army.-Appointed a Brigadier-General in the Confed.
erate States Army, September, 1861.--Promoted in front of Richmond.—His part in the capture of Harper's Ferry.--His glorious and bloody work at Fredericksburg.—The East Tennessee campaign, 1863.--Gen. McLaws opposes the assault on Knoxville.--Extraordinary reply of Gen. Longstreet.-Defective reconnoisances of the enemy's works.Why the assault failed.-Gen. McLaws court-martialed, and triumphantly acquitted.-A remarkable peculiarity of his military career.
LAFAYETTE McLaws is a Georgian by birth. His ancestors on his father's side were Scotch; on that of his mother, French Huguenot.
After passing a year at the University of Virginia, he received the appointment of Cadet at West Point, from which institution he graduated in 1842. His first service was at Fort Gibson, in the Cherokee country; and he afterwards, until the commencement of hostilities between the United States and Mexico, served at Pensacola, from which place he sailed, early in 1846, to join the army of occupation at Corpus Christi, under Gen. Taylor. He was in Fort Brown during the eleven days' bombardment of that place by the enemy, and shared with his regiment (the 7th Infantry) the perils and privations attending the famous siege of Monterey. His regiment having been ordered to join Gen. Scott, he was present at the bombardment and surrender of Vera Cruz and the Castle of San Juan d'Ulloa. His health failed at this time, and he returned to the United States on recruiting service. After the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, he was appointed Adjutant-General in the department of New Mexico, in which capacity he continued to act for two years. Promoted to a captaincy, he was subsequently stationed at various posts on the western frontier. As Captain of the 7th United States Infantry, he served, under Sidney Johnston, in the expedition against the Mormons, and remained in the Territory of Utah more than two years. Thence he was ordered to New Mexico, and intrusted with an important command against the Navajo Indians. Those familiar with the ability, skill, and success exhibited by him in this expedition, award him great credit; and his valuable services would doubtless have been honourably acknowledged by the War Department at Washington, had not all the minor events of the times been swallowed up by the great political revolution then just declaring itself.
This busy record in the Federal army had already made for Capt. McLaws a considerable reputation. He was marked as one of the most promising officers in the regular service, and was distinguished for his coolness, self-possession, gallantry, and good conduct. His display of personal qualities attested the thorough gentleman; and he was known in the army for his unselfish disposition, and his utter detestation of all unmanly rivalries for promotions and favours, in a service which appears more than any other to provoke the envy and jealousy of men.
When Georgia seceded from the Union, McLaws resigned the Federal service, and offered his sword to the State, before the Confederate compact had been executed, and when she was already busy in organizing troops for her defence. He subsequently entered the Confederate army, and took command of the 10th Georgia regiment. After his appointment as colonel of this regiment, which contained some of the best fighting stock in the army, he was stationed near Williamsburg, Virginia, and was for some time in command of a brigade. In September, 1861, he was appointed a Brigadier-General, and ordered with his command to Young's Mill. Here, and afterwards at Lee's Mill, he displayed such judgment, ability, and energy in administering the affairs of his command, and in strengthening his position against the enemy, that he soon drew the notice of his superiour officers, and was designated for important and critical services.
When Gen. Johnston arrived on the Peninsula, to direct the campaign there, McLaws' command was increased by some other brigades; and in an affair with the enemy at Dam No. 1, near Lee's Mill, he greatly distinguished himself. Soon followed the retreat to Richmond, and the battle of Williamsburg, in which
McLaws was engaged. After the arrival of the army at Richmond, Gen. Johnston recommended the promotion of McLaws, and he was at once made a Major-General. His division, consisting of Kershaw's and Semmes' brigades, was engaged in the battles of Savage Station and Malvern Hill. When the Confederate army afterwards took up its line of march in pursuit of the braggart Pope, the divisions of Smith, D. H. Hill and McLaws were left to watch the movements of the enemy at Harrison's Landing. They were, however, soon afterwards called to follow, but were only able to rejoin their gallant companions in arms in time to enter Maryland.
Arriving at Frederick, Gen. McLaws was placed in command of a corps, consisting of his own and Gen. R. H. Anderson's divisions, and, in pursuance of orders from Gen. Lee, advanced upon Harper's Ferry, by way of Pleasant Valley, his object being to capture Maryland Heights. His part, which was designed to complete the investment of Harper's Ferry, and compel the surrender of this stronghold of the enemy, involved the severest labour, and was crowned with signal success. It was not only necessary to drive the enemy from Maryland Heights, but to get cannon to the summit. The latter task was accomplished by a road which had to be constructed up the rugged and precipitous sides of the mountain; and when the rifle guns of Reed's and Carlton's batteries opened on the enemy, keeping time with the Confederate artillery thundering on the other side, and from Loudoun Heights, they announced the fate of Harper's Ferry, and in a brief afternoon decided its surrender. In this victory, McLaws had the greatest credit next to Stonewall Jackson, and the troops engaged in the attack and capture of Maryland Heights obtained especial commendation. They had been laboriously employed for two days and one night along the summit of Elk Ridge, constantly working their way under fire during the day, and at night resting in position; all this time without water, as none could be obtained but from the valley beneath; and at the close of the contest there was not a straggler from the command.
Worn down with hunger and fatigue, McLaws' division marched through Harper's Ferry, and as night fell snatched a few hours for rest and refreshment. Aroused again after midnight, the men resumed their march, and continued until the field of Sharpsburg
was reached. The battle destined to be known in history as the best fought of the war—an action which shed extraordinary lustre on the Confederate arms, considering the great disparity of numbers and the jaded condition of the Southern troops—had just commenced as McLaws arrived on the ground. He was ordered into the fight by the direction of Gen. Hood; and his line of battle, consisting of four brigades—Cobb's, Kershaw's, Barksdale's and Semmes'-drove the enemy from a piece of woods, and, although unable to continue its advance, it held until the close of the day the position it had gained against a force of the enemy, apparently treble, supporting numerous batteries, which crossed fire over every portion of the ground.
The defence of Fredericksburg (December, 1862), and the story of Marye's Hill, constitute a chapter of fearful interest in the history of the war, and for many generations to come will inspire the poetry and eloquence of the country. Glimpses of the ghastly tragedy enacted on the slopes of this now famous hill have already been afforded in other parts of this work. It was here that McLaws did his bloodiest work, and achieved that part of his reputation most familiar to the public. His name is indissolubly connected with this glorious and terrible memory of the war, and will be known as long as the story of Marye's Hill and its stone wall and its fringed fires of death is recited. In his official report of the memorable conflict, Gen. McLaws writes: “The Federals advanced with fresh columns to the attack, at intervals of not more than fifteen minutes; but they were repulsed with ease, and driven back with much loss on every occasion. This continued until about half-past four, P.M., when the enemy ceased in their assaults for a time, and posting some artillery in front of the town, on the left of the telegraph road, opened on our position, doing but little damage. The batteries of Colonel Walton, on Marye's Hill, were at this time silent, having exhausted their ammunition, and they were being relieved by others from Colonel Alexander's battalion. Taking advantage of the hill, the 15th South Carolina (Colonel De Saussune) was brought forward from the cemetery, and posted behind the stone wall, supporting the 2nd South Carolina regiment. The enemy, in the meanwhile, formed a strong column of attack, and advanced under cover of their own artillery, and, no longer impeded by ours, came forward along our whole
front, in the most determined manner, but they were repulsed at all points. The firing ceased as night came on. The body of one man, believed to be an officer, was found within about thirty yards of the stone wall, and other single bodies were scattered at increased distances. The main mass of the dead lay thickly strewn over the ground at something over one hundred yards off, and extending to the ravine, commencing at the point where our men would allow the enemy's column to approach before opening fire, and beyond which no organized body of men was able to pass.”
Upon the latter part of Gen. McLaws' military life--his campaign with Longstreet in East Tennessee, 1863—a cloud was cast, through an unhappy controversy with his superiour officer; but a courtmartial to which he was summoned developed the true history of the failure of the assault on Knoxville, acquitted McLaws, and indicated a bad temper and a petulant spirit on the part of Gen. Longstreet in accusing his subordinates. The facts of the failure at Knoxville have been brought out in a judicial record, which may be taken as the equivalent of history, and which not only exculpates Gen. McLaws, but does him honour for the rare and excellent judgment he displayed at the council board, as well as for his precise obedience of orders on the field.
It appears that when Gen. Longstreet arrived in front of Knoxville he hesitated for some time in attacking the fortifications of the enemy, and twice recalled the orders for an assault. When he at last determined upon this risk, Gen. McLaws had the independence of judgment to oppose it, and for peculiar reasons. Some news had been imperfectly obtained of Gen. Bragg's disaster at Missionary Ridge; and it was calculated by Gen. McLaws that if such a disaster had taken place the communication of Longstreet's army should be made with Virginia, as it could not combine again with Gen. Bragg, even if it should be successful in an assault on Knoxville. The advice was repulsed by Gen. Longstreet, and the following sharp and almost insulting letter left Gen. McLaws no alternative but to prepare his command for the desperate enterprise of assaulting Fort Saunders, the main work of the enemy:
HEADQUARTERS, Nov. 28, 1863. GENERAL:—Your letter is received. I am not at all confident that Gen. Bragg has had a serious battle at Chattanooga, but there is