However late Stuart was in arriving, the Army of Northern Virginia was still glad to see him. As he rode along the York Pike in Gettysburg, “such joyful shouts as rent the air I never heard” and “the cavalry for once was well received.” Lee, however, had grown increasingly “uneasy & irritated by Stuart’s conduct,” recalled George Campbell Brown and “had no objection to [Brown] hearing of it,” which was surprising for “a man of Lee’s habitual reserve.” In time, descriptions of an epic confrontation between Lee and Stuart surfaced, mostly for the purpose of showing that Robert E. Lee himself pointedly held Stuart responsible for the Gettysburg battle. But there is no contemporary description of such a meeting, despite its inflation in subsequent retellings to a level with the return of the Prodigal Son. Although it is safe to say that Stuart may have reported directly to Lee after his arrival in the late afternoon of July 2nd, the few descriptions we have of Stuart that evening place him “at the vidette-post nearest” the “Infantry” or Ewell’s corps, near Rock Creek. As for Henry McClellan, Stuart’s chief of staff, his only comment on Stuart’s arrival in Gettysburg (in his 1893 biography of Stuart) was to describe, laconically, how “for eight days and nights, the troops had been marching incessantly,” on “on the ninth night they rested within the shelter of the army, and with a grateful sense of relief which words cannot express. (pp. 362-63)
Still making my way through Allen Guelzo’s Gettysburg: The Last Invasion. Here is how Guelzo sums up Confederate assaults on July 2 led by James Longstreet and Jubal Early.
So much of the fighting ended in agonizingly near misses for the Army of Northern Virginia–the within-an-inch failure to capture Little Round Top…the last-minute blunting of Barksdale and Wilcox by George Willard’s “Cowards” and the charge of the 1st Minnesota…Ambrose Wright’s bitter moment of abandonment, just shy of Cemetery Ridge..Harry Hays’ Tigers having victory (not to mention captured Federal artillery) snatched from their hands by Samuel Carroll’s helter-skelter counterattack by the Evergreen Cemetery gatehouse and left without support by Rodes’ intertia…and finally the failure to overrun just one Union brigade on Culp’s Hill–that it has become almost a matter of habit to speak of Longstreet’s attack or Early’s assault on east Cemetery Hill purely in the mordant tones of failure. This is not really true. In the first place, although James Longstreet’s corps failed to turn Dan Sickles’ collapse into a complete rout, this was no more of a failure than Stonewall Jackson’s famous flank attack at Chancellorsville on May 2nd. Jackson, like Longstreet, achieved a great initial success; but Jackson’s attack also like Longstreet’s, fell far short of dislodging the entire Federal army (that work had to be completed by Lee on May 3rd). Jackson, like Longstreet, had begun his attack so late that darkness forced him to halt substantially short of their goal. Yet no one has ever suggested that Jackson’s descent on the Union right flank at Chancellorsville was a failure–or at least not in the way Longstreet’s descent on the Union left at Gettysburg would be described. (p. 351)
First, do you agree with Guelzo’s comparison of Longstreet’s assault with that of Jackson’s at Chancellorsville? To the extent that you do agree, does this make it more difficult to talk in counterfactual terms about what Jackson would have done had he been at Gettysburg? In other words, if Longstreet did everything that Jackson accomplished at Chancellorsville than why do we need to imagine his presence at Gettysburg?
It’s been interesting following some of the early reactions to Allen Guelzo’s new book from within that small, but devoted community of Gettysburg buffs on various social media channels. I am not an expert on the battle. I’ve read a bit and only in the last year or so have I been able to find my way around on the field with little difficulty. If I am lucky enough to be on the field with an expert I give them my full attention and trust
I am about half way through and I am thoroughly enjoying the book. That said, for a book this size I have no doubt that there are factual mistakes. How can there not be. The battle is a major event that has been poured over by historians. There are people who have devoted years of study to the battle as a whole and/or to various moments during the battle.
As a result it should come as no surprise that this book will be picked apart tooth and nail, by folks whose understanding of specific aspects of the battle outstrip Guelzo’s. I am not suggesting that it should not be. Who is going to deny that getting the facts right is important? The author may, indeed, have mistakenly placed Two Taverns on the Taneytown Road or referenced Jubal Early as commanding three brigades instead of four. Like I said, there are factual mistakes in just about every history book.
What I am wondering about, however, is whether the release of a new book on the battle of Gettysburg is simply another opportunity to run through a checklist of facts and accepted profiles of the standard list of characters. Is there room for interpretation in a battle where there is so much emphasis placed on such excruciating factual minutiae? Is the history of Gettysburg more than a collection of facts?
Included in Allen Guelzo’s new book, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion, is a brief examination of the size of both armies. In looking at the Army of Northern Virginia Guelzo includes a few sources that estimate the number of slaves, who performed various roles as personal servants and impressed workers. One particular account by English-born Confederate artilleryman, Thomas Caffey, published in 1864 stood out in particular. The source is available online and includes and incredibly detailed, but self serving picture of the role and motivation of slaves in the Confederate army. Here are a few excerpts, but I encourage you to read the section in its entirety, which runs from pp. 278 to 285.
In our whole army there must be at least thirty thousand colored servants who do nothing but cook and wash—nine tenths of the ditching falls to our share—yet in all these thousands I have yet to hear of more than one hundred who have run away from their owners! This is true, although they are continually moving about with ‘passes’ at all hours, and ten times more frequently than masters: what greater opportunities could be presented for escape? They are roaming in and out of the lines at all times, tramping over every acre of country daily, and I have not heard of more than six instances of runaways in our whole brigade, which has a cooking and washing corps of negroes at least one hundred and fifty strong! ….
Did you ever remark our servants on a march? They make me laugh. Soon as the word ‘march’ is whispered abroad, these fellows bundle up their traps, and get them into the wagons, by some sort of sleight of hand, for I know that my baggage, with ‘little tricks’ added, far outweighs the authorized sixty pounds — a captain’s allowance. After safely stowing away all they can, the cooks shoulder some large bundle of curiosities of their own, and with a saucepan, skillet, or frying pan, all march some fifty yards in front of the band, whistling and singing, forming in regular or irregular files, commanded by some big black rogue who, with a stick and a loud voice, enforces discipline, among his heavy-heeled corps. And thus they proceed far ahead, monopolizing all attention as we pass through towns and villages, grinning and singing as they go, and frequently dressed up in the full regimentals of some unfortunate Yankee or other. They scour the country far and wide for chickens, milk, butter, eggs, and bread, for which they pay little or nothing; always stoutly swearing they have expended all ‘massa’gave them, and unblushingly asking for more….
There was a very old, gray-haired cook in an Alabama regiment,” Jenkins remarked, “who would follow his young master to the war, and had the reputation of a saint among the colored boys of the brigade; and as he could read the Bible, and was given to preaching, he invariably assembled the darkeys on Sunday afternoon, and held meetings in the woods. He used to lecture them unmercifully, but could not keep them from singing and dancing after ‘tattoo.’ Uncle Pompey, as he was called, was an excellent servant, and an admirable cook, and went on from day to day singing hymns among his pots round the camp-fire, until the battle of ‘Seven Pines’ opened, when the regiment moved up to the front, and was soon engaged.
Caffey wrote this before the Gettysburg campaign kicked off, but it is not a stretch to imagine such numbers accompanying the Army of Northern Virginia as it moved through the slave state of Maryland and into free Pennsylvania. We know that as it did the state’s free and formerly enslaved blacks fled, some of who ended up trapped and sent south by invading Confederates. The Army of Northern Virginia operated, in large part, around the work of slaves. As an institution the army’s reliance on slave labor ought to be seen in line with the operations of southern railroads, industrial centers such as Tredegar and, of course, large plantations. All of them relied on the forced labor of slaves.
And for a brief moment in the summer of 1863 this system of labor, that was so important to the pre-war South and by extension, the Confederacy, was introduced into free Pennsylvania by the Army of Northern Virginia.
In his review, Greene cites a reference by Guelzo to the likely reception of his book among his fellow academics.
Guelzo, the Henry C. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era at Gettysburg College, belongs to that class of academic historians who, Guelzo accurately notes, consider studies that deal with battles as possessing “a reputation close to pornography” (xvi). His Acknowledgments serve primarily as fair warning to his scholarly colleagues that they are unlikely to approve of this book because it dares to commit almost purely military history.
I think such a concern is misplaced unless Guelzo is referring to the academic world beyond his colleagues in Civil War/Southern studies. My guess is that many, if not most, of his academic colleagues are going to devour this book even if they don’t admit so in polite company. And those who don’t will certainly not hold it against him. Continue reading “Another Gettysburg Book? What Will the Buffs Say?”→