Duty and Honor: Part 2
January 28, 2013 8 Comments
A couple of notes are in order, this was the series of battles where Colonel Dan Butterfield wrote a piece of music which has become iconic to Americans, it’s called “Taps”, I also want to note that McClellan was actually a pretty fair officer, he had a failing in that he had trouble keeping in mind that his mission was more important than his men, a trait that endeared him to his men till the end of their lives but was detrimental (as it always is) to the war effort. He was also very badly served by his intelligence officer, Allen Pinkerton, who had him convinced that he was badly outnumbered when he in fact outnumbered the Confederates nearly 2 to 1. That water is far and away under the bridge by now but the intelligence failure would haunt the Army for quite a while.
While Lee was finishing up the Peninsula Campaign, John Pope was maneuvering around, trying to reinforce McClellan with his Army of the James. Lee apparently didn’t have a lot of respect for Pope since the orders he sent to Stonewall Jackson were to suppress him. Jackson didn’t quite accomplish that feat although he did rather thoroughly beat him. As McClellan evacuated his base and shipped back to Washington, Lee moved and joined Jackson.
Moving on they invaded Maryland. Lee separated his forces to accomplish several tasks, Jackson was sent to Harper’s Ferry, to grab whatever he could at the Arsenal there, while the rest of the troops scattered out some for ease of movement and to live off the land. In a stroke of bad luck that should have doomed his army, a copy of Lee’s campaign orders (wrapped around three cigars) were found by a union sergeant, and were soon in McClellan’s hand. Nobody knows what happened to the cigars but, McClellan now had the complete order of battle and timing for the Army of Northern Virginia.
If he could move fast enough he had a very good chance to get between the elements of Lee’s Army before they could reunite. But it was not to be. McClellan was still operating under the impression that he was outnumbered, and he always had what was often called the slows. The result was the Battle of Antietam, this was a costly battle in casualties that has come down to us as Artillery Hell because of the havoc wreaked by the Union artillery. The battle was a draw but Lee had to retreat into Virginia. This was the cue for Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. It also cost McClellan his job. He was replaced by Ambrose Burnside, whose main claim to fame is that his name (reversed) became the name for sideburns. He led the army to the horror of Fredericksburg where Union troops gallantly attacked the Confederates, entrenched on Marye’s Heights with absolutely no chance to carry the day, they were completely exposed for most of a half mile to Confederate rifle fire. It was upon this occasion that General Lee declared, “It is well that war is so terrible, else we should grow to fond of it.”
This bloody fiasco cost Burnside his job being replaced by Joseph Hooker who didn’t want the command, feeling he wasn’t well suited to it. He was right. By the way, Hooker is the reason that prostitutes became known as hookers. Early in 1863 he tried to get started early on the fighting season, and got just about the entire army stuck in the mud. Once they got out they went back to camp. When they got going a few weeks later, he demonstrated in front of Mary’s heights again, while he moved the rest of the army across the Rappahannock to Chancellorsville.
This move went well, he was on Lee’s flank. But his luck ran out, not least because of Lee’s daring. Lee sent Jackson’s corps marching across (pretty much within hearing) the entire front of the Union army, and got away with that. He then attacked the XI Corp (which was a known weak corp, that’s why it was there) on Hooker’s right flank. It was while reconnoitering this battlefield that Stonewall Jackson was mortally wounded by friendly fire. Lee’s comment was that he had lost his right arm was not far wrong. To give him the benefit of the doubt, it is said that Hooker was stunned by a cannonball that hit a pillar of the house he was using as headquarters but, in any case the Federals retreated.
And so now we come to it. The penultimate campaign of the Civil War. For Lee determines to bet the fate of his country on the next campaign, and he again invades the north, through Maryland and into Pennsylvania. The Confederates hear a rumor that there are shoes in a little Pennsylvania town that is the junction of several roads. Shoes are something they are short of, so they gravitate there.
Incidentally this is about the time that American ingenuity was revolutionizing shoe manufacturing with an unheard of innovation. Shoes were beginning to be factory made, and something else; they were being made in pairs, one for the left foot and one for the right. It was an idea that caught on.
That town was and is Gettysburg, of course. When the first Confederates reached it, they ran into Yankee Cavalry, under John Buford, armed with another innovation, repeating carbines. This was not enough although they inflicted heavy casualties while sending for help from two nearby corps, before retreating through the town. Jubal Early‘s corp had come into town through Pennsylvania militia until they ran into the Iron Brigade, leading to the cry “Taint no militia boys, it’s those damned Black Hat Boys”, The brigade was known for their Kossuth hats. Over night the armies concentrated, thus setting up what may be the most famous of American battles.
On the second day Lee launched attacks first on the right and then on the left, which were repulsed. And so now on 3 July 1863, we get down to it, the high point of the Confederacy, the very last chance for it to survive. And so.
Shortly after noon, the Confederate guns fell silent. In that silence was heard the sound of Confederate bugles and then the regimental drums. And so for the very last time is displayed the awesome pomp and terrible circumstance of war. Lee has ordered General Pickett to assault the center of the Union line. Soon will be seen the mile and a half wide line of Pickett’s Division, in close order with bayonets fixed, across the valley. For the very last time in history, here in the rolling Pennsylvania hills will be seen that spectacle of war going back through Waterloo, the Plains of Abraham, Blenheim, and all the others all the way to Gaugamela and Thermopylae as the disciplined ranks of infantry, led by their mounted officers with naked sabers, mount the assault.
If this charge succeeds, Washington and Philadelphia will be cut off, and perhaps occupied, most likely recognition will be obtained from Britain and France, and the Confederate States of America will take its place amongst the nations of the world, if it fails, the cause, always barring a miracle, is lost. Those are the stakes that General Lee was facing on this day, as he ordered the charge. As the serried ranks of the Confederates emerged from the treeline the Federals paused in awe at the spectacle, knowing even then that they were witnessing history on this July day. But soon the new-fangled rifled guns started firing, soon after the rest of the artillery, and not long after the rifled muskets of the infantry, which doomed the charge. But all was done that courage could do. The charge reached the guns, with General Armistead of Texas mortally wounded shortly after placing his hand on a Federal gun.
And so in a few months an American President would say a few words on perhaps the most famous of American battlefields.
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
We’ll finish tomorrow.
- Duty And Honor (nebraskaenergyobserver.wordpress.com)
- “In his attempt to make his army an irresistible force McClellan turned it into a nearly immovable object.” (vtpanther.typepad.com)
- City Room: In a Wartime Telegram, a Look at a Frustrated Lincoln (cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Book Review: Rise to Greatness, by David Von Drehle (historynet.com)
- Historian points to the Military losses derived of political gain: Civil War (waronterrornews.typepad.com)
- When we assumed the Soldier, we did not lay aside the Citizen… George Washington (sesquicentenary.wordpress.com)