J. B. (Joseph Benjamin) Polley.

Hood's Texas brigade, its marches, its battles, its achievements online

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Northern Virginia, save the brigades of Robertson and Im-
boden, began a ride that, whatever its aim and hope, served
only to detach his command from the army and deny to Gen-
eral Lee early and accurate information of the movements of
the Federal army. Not until June 29th did General Lee learn,
and then only through a scout traveling on foot, that General
Hooker had led the Union army to the north side of the Po-
tomac, and was marching it toward Gettysburg. This news
called for an immediate change of plan. Ewell's corps, then
far to the north on the march to Harrisburg, the capital of
Pennsylvania, was recalled, and A. P. Hill's corps was sent
across South Mountain to Cashtown, a little town on the turn-
pike leading from Chambersburg to Gettysburg, eight miles
east of the latter.

The topographic features of the country around Cashtown
were peculiarly favorable for a defensive battle, and for draw-
ing supplies from the fertile Cumberland valley west of South
Mountain. The presence there of the Confederate army
threatened not only Washington and Baltimore, but as well,
Philadelphia, and so seriously, that General Lee could safely
count on drawing the enemy to his front and thus relieving
his rear from danger. Therefore, he proposed to concentratt
his army there, and that he might have ample time for that,
his express orders both to Hill and Ewell were, that they
should not bring on a general engagement until the concen-
tration was effected. Whether it was Hill that was at fault,
or General Pettigrew, the commander of a brigade in Heth's
division, need not be argued, the fact remaining that instead
of halting at Cashtown, Pettigrew, whose brigade led Hill's



advance on the 30th of June, moved his command beyond, to-
ward Gettysburg, in search of shoes for his men. In the
vicinity of Gettysburg the brigade encountered Buford's Fed-
eral cavalry, and after a hot skirmish with those troopers,
hastened back to Cashtown, somewhat the worse for wear.

Pettigrew's report of the mishap that had befallen his com-
mand, excited General Hill's curiosity " to discover what was
in his front," and setting at naught the positive instructions
of the commander-in-chief, he ordered the divisions of Heth
and Pender forward, next morning, to Gettysburg. Near the
town they were confronted not alone by cavalry, but by two
largely outnumbering corps of Federal infantry. In the en-
gagement that ensued, the Confederates soon got the worst
of it, and knowing that Ewell was approaching Cashtown, Hill
appealed to him for aid. Changing the course of his march,
Ewell took position north of Gettysburg, nearly at right
angles to the line occupied by Heth and Pender, and falling
upon the right flank and rear of the Federals, soon had them
in rapid and confused retreat.

Meantime, having ordered Ewell and Hill to Cashtown, Gen-
eral Lee remained at Chambersburg. There was no need of
hurry, he thought, and hence, he delayed putting Longstreet's
coi'ps in motion toward the rendezvous, until the morning of
July 1st. Even then he ordered only the divisions of Hood
and McLaws' forward — Pickett's division being left at Cham-
bersburg, and Law's brigade, of Hood's division, at New Guil-
ford, to perform services cavalry should have been there to
undertake. Lee himself rode across the mountain with Long-
street. He had gone but a few miles when he overtook the
head of Longstreet's column, and ordered it to halt and await
the passage of Ewell's fourteen-mile long wagon train and
the division of infantry, Johnson's, that guarded it. Then he
and Longstreet rode on up the mountain side, and having
gained the summit. General Lee, writes a Virginian historian,
" heard with amazement the noise of the battle which Plill had
begun that day at Gettysburg, at sunrise; for his express or-
ders had been, both to Hill and to Ewell, that they should not
bring on a general engagement until after the concentration
of his army at Cashto^v^l, and now Hill was engaged, at the
very beginning of the day, in hot contention eight miles away


from Lee's selected defensive position where ' the strength of
the hills' would have been his, in the open country about
Gettysburg, where mere numbers would have greatly the ad-
vantage in an engagement."

It was not amazement alone that Lee must have felt it

was also^ indignation and apprehension. It was a grave and
unique situation for the commander of an army, to be in an
enemy's territory without cavalry at hand— his positive orders
disobeyed, two corps of his army, Hill's and Ewell's, out of
place, and the other, Longstreet's, neither in place nor near
enough to be available either as an attacking or reserve force,
a fierce battle in progress miles distant from where he had
planned it, and himself without more information as to the
whereabouts and movements of the enemy than had been se-
cured, two days ago, from a scout who traveled on foot. It is
but natural that, taking it for granted, the battle had been
forced on Hill and Ewell, resolved to make the best of it,
knowing his imperative and immediate need of correct infor-
mation concerning the enemy, and remembering that he had
enjoined upon his cavalry chief to keep constantly in touch
with his right wing, his first expression should be of wonder
where Stuart was, of fear that he had met with disaster.

General Lee reached Cashtown shortly before noon, and
there awaited reports from the battle-field. A call for assist-
ance came from Hill, and Lee rode rapidly on to Gettysburg,
arriving there in time to witness Ewell's advance, the driving of
the Federals through the streets of the town, and the capture
of alaout 5000 prisoners — the beginning of a struggle which,
continued with spirit and determination that day, would have
secured for the Confederate army the identical position south
of the town that was that night and early next day occupied
by the Union army. Observing the confusion of the enemy
as they broke into retreat from this and that point, and aware
of the importance of seizing upon Cemetery Ridge and Gulp's
Hill before General Meade, then in command of the Federals,
could arrive with his main army, Lee ordered Ewell to " press
these people, and secure the hill if possible."

But neither the ridge nor the hill was secured. Early and
Ewell each called on Hill for support, and Hill would assist
neither. All that General Lee could do was to urge Long-


street to hurry forward the divisions of Hood and McLaws,
neither of which was at that hour — 5 p. m. — within ten miles
of the scene of contention, and again say to Ewell that he
would support his advance as soon as he could, and that he
wished Ewell to use whatever opportunity he had to advance
and hold the ground in his front. Early pushed his men for-
ward ; Ewell delayed to re-form his lines on the left of Early ;
Early's command, Gordon's brigade leading, had the enemy
again on the run. At that moment, when Confederate victory
needed but a last rush foi*ward to clinch it, Early halted Gor-
don's brigade, and although, as he confesses in his official
report, he had no faith in a report that a large force of the
enemy was advancing on the York Road, ordered it to march
to the relief of General Smith, then far back in the rear. The
pursuit by other troops at once halted — Ewell desiring to
have Gordon's brigade on the firing line, and to have Johnson's
division, then guarding Ewell's wagon train, on the ground
to extend his line to the eastward, scale Gulp's Hill and turn the
Federal right. It was after sundown when Johnson's division
came on the field, and too late for another advance. But for
the untimely and absolutely unnecessary withdrawal of Goi'-
don's brigade, success must have crowned the efforts of the
day, and Lee must have won the heights of Gettysburg. As
it was, at nightfall of July 1st, the Federal army held Ceme-
tery Ridge and Gulp's Hill, and these advantages more than
counterbalanced its losses during the day.

After nightfall of July 1 General Lee conferred with Gen-
erals Ewell, Early and Rodcs. To his proposal that Ewell
attack the enemy at daylight next morning, that officer de-
murred, saying it would be better to make a gradual approach
on the Federal position for the westward. After a moment's
thought, Lee said : " Perhaps I had better draw you arounjj
to my right, as the line will be very long and thin if 3^ou re-
main here, and the enemy may come down and break through
it." But while advising the approach from the westward,
Ewell was not willing to make it, and when he declared that he
could not only hold the ground then in his possession but
could also, next morning, capture Gulp's Hill, Lee began to
consider the advisability of making an attack on the enemy's
left from the westward, simultaneous with that of Ewell on


his right, and finally observed : " Well, if I attack the enemy's
left, Longstreet will have to make the attack." Then he
added, musingly : " Longstreet is a very good fighter when
he gets in position and gets everything ready, but he is so

Following this conference, Lee had another with Hill and
Longstreet. The latter urged the withdrawal of the army
from before Gettysburg and the placing of it between Meade's
army and Washington, thus forcing the Federal commander
to offer battle or expose the capital city of the Union to
speedy capture. This was an enlargement of Lee's sugges-
tion that Ewell should move around to the right. Relying,
however, on Ewell's promise and assurance that on the morrow
he would capture Gulp's Hill, and arguing it unsafe, in the
absence of Stuart and his cavalry, to march eastward. Gen-
eral Lee decided against Longstreet's contention, and resolving
to make a contemporaneous attack on both flanks of the
enemy, ordered Longstreet to bring up his two divisions then
on the way as quickly as possible, and next day, at as eai'ly an
hour as practicable, assault the Federal left.

The truth is, that while he was a great general, a pro-
found and wily strategist, a consummate master of the art of
war, Robert E. Lee, the commander of the Army of Northern
Virginia, was in temperament a game cock. The mere pres-
ence of an enemy aroused his pugnacity, and was a challenge
he found it hard to dechne, and at Gettysburg, impossible.
In his official report of the battle of Gettysburg, he says:
" It had not been intended to deliver a general battle so far
from our base unless attacked. But coming unexpectedly
upon the whole Federal army, to withdraw through the moun-
tains with our extensive trains would have been difficult and
dangerous." Acting in direct disobedience to the orders he
had received, Hill and Ewell had brought on a general engage-
ment ; it was fairly in progress ; the pugnacity inherited from
a long line of fighting ancestors thrilled the nerves of the Con-
federate commander and dominated an ordinarily cool judg-
ment; the enemy invited and challenged a contest, and contest
he should have.

Hood's division. Law's Brigade excepted, said a regretful
good-by to its camp near Chambersburg, at 2 p. m. of July 1,


and, falling behind McLaws' already moving division, began
the march across South Mountain to Gettysburg — the Texas
Brigade, too heavily burdened, inside and out, with the extra
rations supplied by the citizenship of the country to make
active exercise a pleasure, but still able to keep going. But
a short distance was covered, when from an intersecting road
Ewell's long wagon-train, under protection of Johnson's divi-
sion, came into the Chambersburg and Gettysburg turnpike,
ahead of McLaws' leading regiment. Just then General Lee
and General Longstreet rode up, and, aware of the confu-
sion and delay sure to result should the train and two columns
of infantry attempt to move, side by side, along the turnpike,
General Lee, himself, ordered McLaws to halt his column and
await the passage of the train and its guard.

Four hours, at least, were consumed by this delay. The
length of the train, guess-work, neither division, brigade, nor
regimental commanders could say when the way would be
clear, and we could only wait, sitting and standing by the
roadside. And when, finally, we began to move on in the wake
of the last wagon, it was to go a hundred yards or so, and
then stop and stand still, not daring to sit down, for five, ten
or twenty minutes at a time. Nothing is so wearing on in-
fantry as such halting progress, and when, at 2 a. m. of July
2, near Cashtown, the Texas Brigade was allowed to rest
secure from interruption, the boys lost no time in divesting
themselves of their accouterments, stretching themselves out
on the bare ground and falling asleep.

At 4 p. M. the men of the Texas Brigade were awakened
from their deep slumber, and within ten minutes were on their
way to Gettysburg. Falling into a swinging route step, they
made the distance without a halt, amving near the head-
quarters of General Lee, on Seminary Ridge, not later than
an hour after sunrise. Held here for perhaps an hour and a
half, they then moved a mile or more to the south and east,
into a little valley where water and fuel were easily accessible.
Here they were notified that rations would be issued as soon
as the commissary wagons could be brought up, and as about
that time the skillet wagon drove up and unloaded each regi-
ment's share of cooking utensils, fires were built and skillet lids
put on to heat, preparatory to cooking the flour that was to


be issued. While his comrades attended to culinary affairs,
Ferdinand Hahn, of the Fourth Texas, strolled to the top of
a nearby elevation, and edged up as near as he dared to a
group of general officers and their staffs. Among the gen-
erals were Longstreet, Hood, and Lee, with each of whom he
had a personal acquaintance acquired prior to the war, while
he was a clerk at the Menger Hotel in San Antonio, and they
its guests. He remained in hearing distance of the group,
probably, half an hour. Returning then to his company, he
said :

" You might as well quit bothering with those skillet lids,
boys — it'll not be twenty minutes before we are on the move

"What have you heard, H'ahn — what have you heard?" a
dozen voices eagerly inquired.

" Only this," he replied . " I got up pretty close to General
Lee, and old Longstreet and Hood, a while ago, and while I
stood there, an officer rode up, and adressing General Lee, re-
ported that the Yankees were moving troops on to Round Top.
General Lee at once turned his glasses in that direction, and
after looking through them a minute or two, said : ' Ah, well,
that was to be expected. But General Meade might as well
have saved himself the trouble, for we'll have it in our pos-
session before night.' That means, of course, that we'll have
to take it, and to do it, we'll have to move from here as soon
as Hood can send orders."

Sure enough, not ten minutes elapsed before the brigade was
called to attention and marched toward the position from
which, later, it advanced against Round Top — not six hours
had passed before it was fighting, its men bleeding and dying,
in the rocky fastnesses of Devil's Den and under the lofty, pre-
cipitous cliffs that guarded the approach from the west to the
crest of Cemetery Ridge and the Round Tops.

The movement now made was but preparatory. While still
adhering to his resolve to deliver battle, General Lee had not
yet decided from what line Longstreet's troops should advance.
If at this hour he betrayed anger and disappointment, it was
not at the failure of Longstreet's command to be up sooner —
it was because of Ewell's failure to seize Gulp's Hill, or even to
attack the Federals there with promising vigor: if he raani-


fested anxiety and impatience, it was not due to the slowness
and deliberation with which Longstreet moved his troops, for
this he had expected — it was due to the delay of the officers
he had sent out, at daylight, to reconnoiter the ground. Not
until they reported to him, which was close on to mid-day, did
he announce his plan to Longstreet. Previous to that time,
though, he himself rode to his left wing and instructed HiJl and
Ewcll to lead their commands forward as soon as they heard
Longstreet's guns open.

In this connection the testimony of Longstreet is relevant.
In his book, " From Manassas to Appomattox," he says :

" It was some little time after General Lee's return .from
his ride to the left before he received the reports of the recon-
noissance ordered from his center to his right. His mind, pre-
viously settled to the purpose to fight where the enemy stood,
now accepted the explicit plan of making the opening on his
right, and to have the engagement general."

The following excerpt from " Confederate Military His-
tory " is also relevant. The incident related occurred at the
time General Lee was instructing Longstreet and his division
commanders concerning their movements :

" Lee pointed out to McLaws, on the map, the position on
the Emmitsburg road, at right angles to that near the peach
orchard, that he desired him to occupy, telling him to gain
that, if possible, without being seen by the enemy. Long-
street interposed, directing McLaws to place his line parallel
to the turnpike. Lee promptly made reply : ' No, General,
no : I want his position perpendicular to the Emmitsburg road,'
thus clearly indicating his design to move squarely upon the
Federal left."

To enable the reader to understand the relative positions of
the two contending armies on July 2, 1863, an attempt at
description is necessary. Cemetery Ridge, occupied that day
by the Federal army, runs first northward, then, with a sharp
curve, eastward, and then, again bending, southward for a
short distance. In shape, it is not unlike a fish-hook — Round


Top Mountain at the southern end of the stem — Little Round
Top half a mile further north — Cemetery Hill in the bend —
the town of Gettysburg in a valley, a mile north of Cemetery
Hill — Gulp's Hill at the barb of the hook. From Little Round
Top to Cemetery Hill is barely three miles, while from Culp's
Hill — at the barb of the hook — measuring straight across the
curve is scarcely a half mile. Owing to the curvature at the
end of the hook of the Federal line, that line was scant three
miles long, and no part of it was over an hour's march from
another. In half an hour, the Federals could concentrate two-
thirds of their entire force at any given point on it.

About a mile west of Cemetery Ridge, running parallel with
it but extending further northward, lies Seminary Ridge. On
July 2 the Confederate line stretched along the crest of Sem-
inary Ridge, from a point opposite Round Top to another
opposite the town of Gettysburg: here turning eastward, it
followed around the curve of Cemetery Ridge, and, bending
with that curve to the southward, terminated at a point oppo-
site and east of Culp's Hill — its shape being also much like
that of a fish-hook. Because of its length — seven miles, at the
least — and because, also, there could be no cutting across
bends, it would have required hours for the Confederates to
concentrate a heavy force at any given point.

Culp's Hill dominated Cemetery Hill and the ridge to the
south as completely as did either of the Round Tops. That
in the possession of the Confederates, the Federal position
would have been untenable. Aware of this, of how easily the
Federals could concentrate, and of how difficult concentration
would be to the Confederates, General Lee planned for a simul-
taneous assault by all of his troops. If at all points of their
line the Union troops were kept busy repelling attack, success
would depend on pluck and endurance, and not simply on po-
sition and numbers. Assailed at all points with the vigor and
determination characteristic of the Army of Northern Vir-
ginia, the elect of which was then at hand " to do or die," the
facilities of the enemy for rapid shifting of forces would be of
small avail.

The Federal commander intended, and so ordered, that his
lines should be formed along the crest of Cemetery Ridge,
north of Round Top. But mistaking a wooded hill, west of


the crest a short distance, for the main ridge, the Federal Gen-
eral Sickles took position on that, slightly in rear of the peach
orchard, the position McLaws was enjoined by General Lee
to gain. To connect with Hancock on his right, and to rest
his left on Round Top, Sickles faced Bimey's division south-
westward, Humphrey's northwestward. The Emmitsburg road
ran southwest from the town of Gettysburg, diagonally across
the valley between Cemetery and Seminary ridges. It skirted
the base of Cemetery Hill and passed just west of the peach
orchard. This orchard is northwest and nearly a mile from
Little Round Top. Between it and the mountain, and beyond
a skirt of timber, was a wheat field. South of the wheat field,
and in the space between the two little branches that form
what is known as Plum Run, and which come together at a
point about opposite the center of the depression between the
Round Tops, is Devil's Den. Beneath its tall timber, and be-
tween the abundance of large, irregularly-shaped boulders that
covered full}"^ half its surface, grew an almost impenetrable
thicket of shrubs, vines, and small timber. East of it rose
the frowning, precipitous cliffs which marked the western
boundary of Cemetery Ridge, and which extended along the
west bases of the two Round Tops. The slope of Round Top
to the south, although rough, was not precipitous, and the
ground south of that mountain was comparatively open and

In preparation for the battle of the 2d, Hill was ordered to
extend his line further to the right, Anderson's division being
chosen for the purpose. This division met such opposition
from the Federals that it was not until 1 p. m. that it got
into position. In the meantime Law's brigade joined its divi-
sion. Hood's. Anderson's division in line of battle. General
Pendleton was ordered by General Lee to conduct Longstreet's
command to its position by a route concealed from the enemy.
McLaws' division was to form on the right of Anderson's —
Hood's on the right of McLaws'. In the effort to conceal the
movement much time was occupied, and it was 3 p. m. before
the troops were in position.

General Hood made no ofBcial report of the operations of
his division at Gettysburg. June 28, 1875, though, he for-
warded an account of them to General Longstreet — the ac-


count embracing all that was done up to the time he (Hood)
was wounded. The letter containing the account was pub-
lished by Hood in his book, " Advance and Retreat," begin-
ning on page 55. He says:

" Whilst lying in camp, not far distant from Chambersburg,
information was received that Ewell and Hill were about to
come in contact with the enemy near Gettysburg. My troops,
together with McLaws' division, were put in motion upon the
most direct road to that point, which, after a hard march, we
reached before, or at sunrise on the 2nd of July. So imper-
ative had been the orders to hasten forward with all possible
speed, that on the march my troops were allowed to halt and
rest only about two hours, during the night from the 1st to
the 2nd of July.

" I arrived with my stafF in front of the heights of Gettys-
burg shortly after daybreak, as I have already stated, on the
morning of the 2nd of July. My division soon commenced
filing into an open field near me, where the troops were allowed
to stack arms and rest until further orders. A short distance
in advance of this point, and during the early part of the
same morning, we were both engaged, in company with Gen-
erals Lee and A. P. Hill, in observing the position of the Fed-
erals. General Lee — with coat buttoned to the throat, saber-
belt buckled around the waist, and field-glasses pending at his
side — walked up and down in the shade of the large trees near
us, halting now and then to obsen^e the enemy. He seemed
full of hope, yet, at times, buried in deep thought. Colonel
Freemantle, of England, was ensconced in the forks of a tree,
not^ far off, with glass in constant use, examining the lofty
position of the Federal army.

"General Lee was, seemingly, anxious you should attack
that morning. He remarked to me : * The enemy is here, and

Online LibraryJ. B. (Joseph Benjamin) PolleyHood's Texas brigade, its marches, its battles, its achievements → online text (page 14 of 32)