Saturday, April 29, 2017

Diary of 1st Lieutenant Lemuel A. Abbott: Monday, September 19, 1864 – Part 14

Who but Sheridan, as at Cedar Creek, Va., Oct. 19, 1864, just a month to a day after his splendid victory at Opequan Creek, Sept. 19, 1864, or Winchester, Va., as now more properly known, could have rallied a defeated and routed army en route to the front and after and so enthused it in the act, simply by dashing, alert and crafty through its broken ranks after a twenty mile race with time from Winchester, with flashing eyes, bared head and waving hat, on a spirited foaming horse, shouting to his men: “Get back into line, men! Get into line, quick! We can lick ’em! We can lick h--1 out of ’em yet!” and do it almost at once, even as brilliantly so as at Winchester a month previous? How often are such things done? Such a man outclasses all others in military history, not excepting Wellington or Marlborough, for such a man as Sheridan is without a peer as a field marshal in the annals of warfare; and had he been found sooner and given greater responsibilities he would not only have surely proved it, but would have more fully electrified the world than he did and have been its idol as a military genius and hero for all time.

He or Grant would never have used such woefully poor judgment as to have assaulted an army equally as valiant, splendidly posted, fully as large, if not larger than their own, across an open, level space without cover quite a mile in extent, as Lee did at Gettysburg on July 3, 1864. If that act showed ability, good judgment, or a military genius, then I am lacking in mature sound judgment, and my lifetime of military training, including my three years and threescore battles or more in the Civil War and in Indian wars, has been in vain. This would be equally true even though the armies had been equal in numbers. General Longstreet's suggestion to Lee to place his army on General Meade's flank between him and Washington would have been a splendid substitute for Pickett's forlorn charge.1 It was abler and just what Grant did with Lee hardly a year later, successfully and repeatedly and forced Lee back to Richmond and Petersburg, as the world now knows, which indicates superior generalship both on Grant's part as well as Longstreet's.

Would either Grant or Sheridan have lost their cavalry for several days, as Lee did, when on such a campaign in an enemy's country or anywhere else?2 Would either, with three such splendid cavalry divisions as Meade, not have used a part of one division if necessary to have patrolled barely seventy-five miles between York, Pa., or the Susquehanna, and the Potomac river, in order to detect any movement by the enemy on Washington? Would this have made the Union Commander, whoever he might have been, timid about moving to any point where battle was offered, fearing a fake attack by Lee in order to cover a movement on Washington or Baltimore? One brigade would have established a line of patrol posts less than a quarter of a mile apart of six men each, which would have detected at once any movement south by Lee, or if preferred, posts one-eighth of a mile apart of three men each.

Would Grant or Sheridan have remained so near a great battle as at Gettysburg, July 1, 1864, and not have furnished an opportunity for another soul-stirring poem like “Sheridan’s Ride”? When they were informed that the enemy had attacked their forces barely three hours’ ride away, would they have loitered a whole day away like dullards, as both army commanders did at Gettysburg?3 Aye! either would have made the ride in two hours or even less, and even though their steeds were as black as night, on their arrival at Gettysburg they would have been as white as snow or as foam could have made them; and, still better, they would not only have known, too, through their cavalry, spies, etc., for we were at home among friends, where Lee's army corps were, but when each broke camp to concentrate at Gettysburg, and their own corps close by them would have been there in season to have met the enemy in at least equal numbers, instead of being outnumbered all day July 1, two to one, as was the case.4 If necessary, too, as at Opequan Creek, Sept. 19, 1864, the different corps would have marched at 2 o'clock instead of 8 o’clock A. M. or even earlier if thought necessary.

Was there any excuse for the Confederates not driving the Union forces from the field in a rout on July first? They would have done so, too, except that their forces were fought in detail, its reserves not even being brought into action when needed.5 Did Ewell take the best advantage of his opportunities? The enemy outnumbered us quite two to one the first day from first to last after the battle commenced, but still at the first dash of two brigades of our Infantry — Wadsworth's Division — against two brigades of the enemy, when Reynolds was killed, we placed hors de combat over half of each of their brigades and captured Archer, a brigade commander; and still the enemy had two brigades in immediate reserve as support, but they were not used.6 This is what I call fighting an army in detail, a total waste of material. In case Sheridan hadn't thrown his support or reserve — Russell's division — into the fight at the right moment at Winchester, Va., Sept. 19, 1864, his results would have been equally as ignominious as his victory was brilliant, because he did use his reserve correctly on that occasion; and so it would have been with the enemy at Gettysburg had it used its reserve. It would probably have captured many of our men and driven the balance of them from the field in a rout, as Sheridan did Early at Winchester, Sept. 19, 1864; there was nothing to prevent it.

Does Lee deserve being classed among the greatest field marshals of modern times for such field marshalship as was displayed at the first day’s fighting at Gettysburg? But, says the incompetent critic who forms his conclusions from gush, policy, favoritism, sentiment, or weakly otherwise, instead of for the sake of truth and correct history, Lee wasn't there! Aye! but wasn't it an alert Commander's—a genius's —business to have been there? What was he in Pennsylvania for or selected and paid for handling such an important matter to the Confederacy for? Who gave the order to concentrate for battle at Gettysburg but he?7 Does not every experienced soldier know that under such circumstances no one can tell exactly at what moment a battle will commence? And would not an alert, sagacious commander have made a forced night ride in order to have been with the first of his forces on the field? Lee knew he was going to fight if the enemy would fight him, but Meade didn't; hence Lee knew exactly what to do.8 A great field marshal would have been more alert — on hand — it seems to me.

Lee commanded in person the second day at Gettysburg, and not only failed to attack early in the morning, when he should, but, as usual, when he did, fought his army in detail using Longstreet's corps largely against two of our corps in turn which, being overwhelmed by numbers, and Meade failing to reinforce them, as he should or not have sent them where he did, they were of course forced back to their proper positions onto the correct line of battle beyond which they should never have been advanced, and with a sagacious, alert, competent commander would not have been except the whole army advanced together in a general assault which it should have done anyway after Wright's brigade was repulsed.9

From first to last in the battle of Gettysburg, I fail to see anything to commend on the enemy's part in any of its generals except in Longstreet; nor on the Union side so far as Meade was concerned, but do in many others, and especially Buford, Reynolds, Doubleday and Howard, each of whom in turn successively commanded our forces in the order mentioned without being routed, against great odds under exceedingly trying circumstances owing to Meade's failure apparently, to fully grasp the situation fourteen miles away. It shows what splendid fighters Buford, Reynolds, Doubleday and Howard's men were to stand off double their number for an entire day, with what help they got from Schurz's men.

That Lee did not grasp the situation is evident or else he would have assaulted our lines early on the morning of July second before Meade's forces arrived on the field. It is said he did give the order to do so, but if he had been a great military genius wouldn't he have seen that it was done? Instead of this owing largely probably, to Meade's lack of alertness and enterprise, Lee from lack of sagacity became apparently dizzy and unbalanced, as was most of his command, because of his apparently misunderstood partial successes, of the first and second days' fights, and was so criminally lacking in good judgment on the third day as to be led into the mistake of ordering Pickett's charge which, for obvious reasons, could only result in calamity to the Southern cause.10 This even an amateur soldier of ordinary judgment should have been able to have foreseen.

1 See Burrage, “Gettysburg and Lincoln,” pp. 29-30.
2 See Burrage, “Gettysburg and Lincoln,” p. 12.
3 See Burrage, “Gettysburg and Lincoln,” pp. 16-17.
4 See Burrage, “Gettysburg and Lincoln,” pp. 19-33.
5 See Burrage, “Gettysburg and Lincoln,” pp. 19-33.
6 See Burrage, “Gettysburg and Lincoln,” pp. 19-33.
7 See Burrage, “Gettysburg and Lincoln,” p. 57.
8 See Burrage, “Gettysburg and Lincoln,” pp. 52-3.
9 See Burrage, “Gettysburg and Lincoln,” pp. 34-45.
10 See Burrage, “Gettysburg and Lincoln,” pp. 34-45.

SOURCE: Lemuel Abijah Abbott, Personal Recollections and Civil War Diary, 1864, p. 197-203

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