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So much for Sickles's advance. It could not well have been more ill-timed and useless. But his gallant work of the coming night and morrow, when Hooker left him almost alone to resist the fierce assaults of our victorious and elated foe, was ample compensation for his subordinate share in the triviality and fatal issue of Saturday's maneuvring. Nor can blame fall upon him in as full measure as upon Hooker; although he seems illy to have construed what was transpiring in his front, and what he reported may have seriously misled his chief.
THE CONDUCT OF THE ELEVENTH CORPS.
HERE can be no attempt to gainsay that the Elev
enth Corps, on this luckless Saturday, did not do its whole duty. That it was panic-stricken, and that it decamped from a field where as a corps it had not fought, is undeniable. But portions of the corps did fight, and the entire corps would doubtless have fought well under favorable circumstances. It is but fair, after casting upon the corps the aspersion of flight from before the enemy, to do it what justice is possible, and to palliate the bad conduct of the whole by bearing testimony to the good conduct of some of its parts.
It has been called a German corps. This is not quite exact. Of nearly thirteen thousand men in the corps, only forty-five hundred were Germans. But it must be admitted that so many officers high in rank were of that nationality, that the general tendency and feeling were decidedly unlike the rest of the army. Moreover, there is not wanting testimony to show that there were some who wore shoulder-straps in the corps who gave evidence of having taken up the profession of arms to make money, and not to fight.
The artillery of the corps did well. Those general officers who most severely rebuke the conduct of the corps, all say a word in favor of the service of the guns. Dilger, on the road, just at Buschbeck's line, fired with his own hands from his last gun a round of canister when the Confederates were within a dozen yards. Most of the guns had been well served, but had been sent to the rear in time to save them from capture.
The reserve artillery did its duty, nor limbered up until the Confederate line had outflanked its position, rendered it useless, and jeopardized its safety.
All the guns that were saved were put into action an hour later, and did effective service on the Fairview crest, in company with the artillery of the Third and Twelfth Corps.
At the time of the attack, which was made by Jackson without an advance of skirmishers, Devens's reserve regiments were ordered up to support von Gilsa. There appears to have been something like a stand attempted ; but the left wing of the Confederate line speedily enveloped von Gilsa's front, and showed in rear of his right flank, when his regiments melted away.
Devens states in his report that a new line might have been formed on Gen. Schurz's division, if the latter had maintained his ground, but acknowledges that the fallingback of his own troops “must undoubtedly have added to the difficulties encountered by the command of that officer.” Schurz's report is very clear and good.
nd good. This is partly attributable to the avalanche of abuse precipitated upon his division by the press, which called forth his detailed explanation, and an official request for permission to publish his report. There existed a general understanding that Schurz held the extreme right; and the newspapermen, to all appearance, took pleasure in holding a German responsible, in their early letters, for the origin of the panic. This error, together with the fact of his having discussed the situation during the day with Gen. Howard, and of his having remained of the opinion that an attack on our right was probable, accounts for the care exhibited in his statements. That he did harbor such fears is proved by his having, of his own motion, after the attack of three o'clock, placed the Fifty-Eighth New York, Eighty-Second Ohio, and Twenty-Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers, near Hawkins's farm, in the north part of the Dowdall clearing, and facing west. Still Schurz's report is only a careful summary of facts otherwise substantiated. He deals no more in his own opinions than a division commander has a right to do.
Schurz states that he strongly advised that the entire corps should take up the Buschbeck line, not considering the woods a reliable point d'appui. For they were thick enough to screen the manœuvring of the enemy, but not, as the event showed, to prevent his marching through them to the attack.
When the onset came, it was impossible quickly to change front. Schurz's regiments were all hemmed in between the rifle-pits before them and the woods in their rear. Still, more than half of the regiments of this division appear to have maintained their credit, and the testimony would tend to show that the men burned from five to thirty rounds each. But without avail. They were telescoped. Their defences were rendered useless. The enemy was on both sides of and perpendicular to them. It is an open question whether, at that time, any two divisions of the army could have changed front and made a good defence under these circumstances. Later in the war our soldiers were more habituated, particularly in the West, to fighting on either side of their breastworks. But these were raw troops. And this was not the first, nor was it the last, panic in the Army of the Potomac. But the corps had, as ill-luck willed it, nothing in its rear to repair or conceal its discomfiture.
Buschbeck's brigade had better opportunities, and acted correspondingly better. It had time to occupy the rifle-pits facing west before the enemy had completed the destruction of the first and third divisions. Buschbeck's stand covered a full half-hour. He was re-enforced by. many fragments of broken regiments, holding together under such officers as had escaped utter demoralization. The troops remained behind these works until outflanked on right and left, for Jackson's front of over two miles easily enveloped any line our little force could form.
During the early part of the attack, Colquitt's brigade ran across the pickets of Devens's and Schurz's south front, which there had been no time to call in. Instead of joining in the advance, Colquitt remained to engage these latter, deeming it essential to protect Jackson's right. This was the nucleus of one of the many detached engagements of this day. Several bodies of Union troops thus isolated were captured en masse.