Page images
PDF
EPUB

from Hill's — Wilcox's, Perry's, and Pettigrew's. The whole formed a mass of about ten thousand men. If they broke the Federal line in two, then every supporting Confederate was to follow, while the rest turned the flanks. If they failed, then the battle must be lost.

Hour after hour passed by. But it was not till well past one that Longstreet opened fire with a hundred and forty guns. Hunt had seventy-seven ready to reply. But after firing for half an hour he ceased, wishing to reserve his ammunition for use against the charging infantry. This encouraged the Confederate gunners, who thought they had silenced him. They then continued for some time, preparing the way for the charge, but firing too high and doing little execution against the Federal infantry, who were lying down, mostly under cover. Hunt's guns were more exposed and formed better targets; so some of them suffered severely: none more than those of Battery A, Fourth U. S. Artillery. This gallant battery had three of its limbers blown up and replaced. Wheels were also smashed to pieces and guns put out of action, till only a single gun, with men enough to handle it, was left with only a single officer. This heroic young lieutenant, Alonzo H. Cushing (brother to the naval Cushing who destroyed the Albemarle), then ran his gun up to the fence and fired his last round through it into Pickett's men as he himself fell dead.

Pickett advanced at three o'clock, to the breathless admiration of both friend and foe. He had a mile of open ground to cover. But his three lines marched forward as steadily and blithely as if the occasion was a gala one and they were on parade. The Confederate bombardment ceased. The Federal guns and rifles held their fire. Fate hung in silence on those gallant lines of gray. Then the Federal skirmishers down in the valley began fitfully firing; and the waiting masses on the Federal slopes began to watch more intently still. “Here they come! Here comes the infantry!” The blue ranks stirred a little as the men felt their cartridge boxes and the sockets of their bayonets. The calm warnings of the officers could be heard all down the line of Gibbon's magnificent division, which stood straight in Pickett's path. “Steady, men, steady! Don't fire yet!”

For a very few, tense minutes Pickett's division disappeared in an undulation of the ground. Then, at less than point-blank range, it seemed to spring out of the very earth, no longer in three lines but one solid mass of rushing gray, cresting, like a tidal

mus

[ocr errors][merged small]

men will always differ. The numbers present, the
behavior of subordinates, the tactics employed,
were, and still are, subjects of dispute. Above all,
there is the vexed question of what Lee should
or should not have done. We have little space
to spare for any such discussions. We can only
refer inquirers to the original evidence (some of
which is most conflicting) and give the gist of what
seems to be indubitable fact. The numbers were a
good seventy thousand Confederates against about
eighty thousand Federals. But these are the ap-
proximate grand totals; and it must be remem-
bered that the Confederates, having the start, were
in superior numbers during the first two days.
On each side there was an aggrieved and aggriev-
ing subordinate general, Sickles on the Federal
side, Longstreet on the other. But Sickles was by
far the less important of the two. In tactics the
Federals displayed great judgment, skill, and reso-
lution. The Northern people called Gettysburg
a soldiers' battle; and so, in many ways, it was; for
there was heroic work among the rank and file on
both sides. But it most emphatically was not a
soldiers' battle in the sense of its having been won
more by the rank and file than by the generals in
high command; for never did so many Federal

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

chiefs show to such great advantage. No less than five commanded in succession between morning and midnight on the first day, each meeting the crisis till the next senior came up. They were Buford, Reynolds, Howard, Hancock, Meade. Hunt also excelled in command of the artillery; and this in spite of much misorganization of that arm at Washington. Warren was not only a good com

mander of the engineers but a good all-round genv eral, as he showed by seizing, on his own initiative,

the Little Round Top, without which the left flank could never have been held.

Finally, there is the great vexed question of what Lee should or should not have done. First, it seems clear that (like Farragut and unlike Grant and Jackson) he lacked the ruthless power of making every subordinate bend or break in every time of crisis: otherwise he would have bent or broken Longstreet. Next, it may have been that he was not then at his best. Concludingly, it may be granted to armchair (and even other) critics that if everything had been something else the results might not have been the same.

Lee, having invaded the North by marching.com northeast under cover of the mountains and

wheeling southeast to concentrate at Gettysburg, found Buford's cavalry suddenly resisting him, as they formed the northwest outpost of Meade's army, which was itself concentrating round Pipe Creek, near Taneytown in Maryland, fifteen miles southeast. Gettysburg was a meeting place of many important roads. It stood at the western end of a branch line connecting with all the eastern rails. And it occupied a strong strategic point in the vitally important triangle formed by Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Washington. Thus, like a magnet, it drew the contending armies to what they knew would prove a field decisive of the whole campaign.

The Federal line, as finally held on the third of July, was nearly five miles long. The front faced west and was nearly three miles long. The flanks, thrown back at right angles, faced north and south. Near the north end of the front stood Cemetery Hill, near the south the Devil's Den, a maze of gigantic bowlders. Along the front the ground was mostly ridged, and even the lower ground about the center was a rise from which a gradual slope went down to the valley that rose again to the opposite heights of Seminary Ridge, where Lee had his headquarters only a mile away. The so-called hills

« PreviousContinue »