In this Section. I take liberties and in the spirit of the (IMHO) extremely realistic and engaging trilogy of novels written by Newt Gingrich and associate. I speculate on how MG Reynold’s 1st Corps could have gone on the offensive and eventually captured Robert E. Lee.But first a diversion to Day 3 and LTC Chamberlain.
Gettysburg Day 3; a bit of historical fiction
LTC Joshua Laurence Chamberlain was a frightful sight. He was dragging himself across and down the slope of Cemetery Ridge. Behind him was a trail of blood on the grass, leaking out of his boot. Some 16 hours ago as he stood on a boulder directing his defense of the Union Army’s left flank, a ricocheting bullet sliced between the sole and upper of his boot. How did he know it was a ricocheting bullet? If it were directly fired, it would have shattered the bones of his foot.
Behind him was GEN Meade’s HQ near which he had just reported to his division commander MG Sykes that his regiment – or rather its 100 survivors – was present for duty. He was stopped in his tracks by an assault on his senses. He smelled strong coffee and boiled chicken coming from a cluster of trees just up the slope from where he stood. There LTG Hancock, Commander of the Union Second Corps, had established his HQ. The reason he felt assaulted was that he hadn’t eaten in 48 hours. He also hadn’t shaved in 3 days nor had a bath in week. He hardly knew how frightful he looked. Literally from head to toe he was a mess. He had lost his hat somewhere on Little Round Top. His split-tailed blue coat was splattered with mud and streaked with blood. Fortunately, that blood wasn’t his but that of the soldiers he had helped to drag off the firing line. The blood on the ground, however, was his. He had ignored the wound as long as he could. It wasn’t until well after his bold bayonet charge had cleared the slope of Round Top and sent the exhausted rebels running, that he was able to tend to it. But first he had to climb the rocky slope of Big Round Top where he was ordered to establish a presence on its summit. He had managed to wedge himself between two boulders and remove his boot. The wound was superficial but ran almost the length of his right foot. He sliced off his left sleeve and bound the wound before slipping the boot back on. At that point, exhausted and depleted, he fell asleep; more likely, he lapsed into unconsciousness. He was roused in the morning by a MAJ from MG Sykes staff who was there to guide his men back to join the division at the far end of the Union line. The MAJ promised him a quiet day in that little action was expected.
Chamberlain’s highest priority when reporting his presence to the general was to procure rations for his men who had had almost no food and little water from over 24 hours – and neither had he. The general beckoned a LT to set to that task. Now as he headed back to join his men, Chamberlain was almost overwhelmed by the smell of fresh coffee. But he stood there immobile. As a LTC, he was too junior to approach LTG Hancock’s HQ and help himself. On the other hand, as commander of his regiment, he was too senior to have too much direct contact with his men. Thank goodness, his brother Tom was serving with him.
Chamberlain was startled out of his reverie by a voice: “Colonel, colonel are you OK?” As he went to return the salute of a lieutenant standing almost too close in front of him, he realized that he had his sword in his right hand and had been using it as walking stick as he traversed the slope. He grabbed for his scabbard with his left hand, only to remember that he has lost that too. He awkwardly slid his sword into his belt and haphazardly returned the salute. “Can I get you anything, sir?”, the LT said as he continued toward Hancock’s HQ. He had no idea what the LT’s name was but he had been the one who guided the 20th Maine to their post at the far left of the Union line. Chamberlain could not fail to be impressed by the freshness of the LT’s uniform and his energy in bounding up the slope. He could only stand there as if rooted in place. He was scanning the logistical area below him, trying to locate his regiment – or the 100 of the 300 who had survived yesterday’s battle. “Colonel!” he heard; it was the LT again. He was clutching a dirty cloth which he offered to Chamberlain. “You look like you could use this.” Without exchanging salutes this time, Chamberlain accepted the offering. Upon opening he found three pieces of boiled chicken. The LT disappeared again. He devoured the largest piece almost in one bite; dropping the bone absentmindedly on the ground.
Just as he did so, one of his regimental lieutenants appeared. He enthusiastically announced that morning rations had just arrived for the men. Chamberlain silently thanked the general for being good to his word.
The slight burst of energy that the chicken provided fell short of his needs. Knowing his men were taken care of, he collapsed to his knees and rolled over to where he was sitting with his back to a low stone wall. Even though he was still out in the open under the late morning sun, he could feel the coolness of the stone. Once again, he lapsed into unconsciousness.
He was jostled awake when something hit his shoulder. It was his brother, who had thrown himself down next to him in a boyish move. As Chamberlain regained his focus, he saw that Tom was offering him a canteen of water. He downed half its contents in one long gulp! He then poured some over his head and face and wiped away days of dust and grime with his rough coat sleeve. Tom then said that he had bad news. “I just came back from the field hospital and the news isn’t good. SGT Kilrain is gone.”
SGT Buster Kilrain was the oldest man in the 20th Maine. He was a career soldier whose assignments had him criss-crossing the country twice. He was the regiment’s senior sergeant and one of the two people Chamberlain could have a real conversation with. Kilrain had been hit early in yesterday’s battle. The wound high on his right shoulder slowed him down but didn’t stop him from rallying his charges or firing his carbine – however ineffectively. He had the misfortune to be wounded again a bit later, this time in his right armpit. Again the wound was rather superficial but bled profusely. He spent most of the battle propped up against the same boulder that Chamberlain was standing on when he was wounded. He had last seen Kilrain as he was evacuated as the regiment left their position to move to Big Round Top. Tom related that other wounded men had told him that Kilrain had been treated and the surgeon didn’t think he would lose the arm even if it might not function as before. The regiment’s wounded tended to him through the night but towards morning he took a downward turn. When the doctor finally arrived, Kilrain was dead. The doctor suggested that his old heart just couldn’t handle the insult of the massive blood loss. Kilrain was gone!
Chamberlain was glad that he had poured the water on his face and had ineffectively wiped it away. That way, Tom couldn’t see the tears streaming down his cheeks. This emotional drain added to his physical exhaustion, both he and Tom – propped shoulder to shoulder – fell asleep.
They were startled awake when they were pelted by rain drops. As they gained awareness of where they were, they both realized that it was not rain but dirt and pebbles that had hit them. A cannon ball had landed just up the slope and cut a furrow in the ground spraying dirt on them. Then came the screaming! It was combination of the whine of projectiles flying through the air and of the wounded as the fused rounds were exploding behind the pair over the wall. Without really thinking both of them threw themselves over the wall to put it between them and the rebel cannons. It was only then that they realized that it was a meaningless gesture. The explosive rounds were now in front of them. To their left, rounds were hitting the hospital where Kilrain’s body lay. To their immediate front a tent was on fire; either a cooking stove or a furrier’s forge had been knocked over. A short distance off to their right, an ammunition wagon exploded in a black-powder-fueled ball of fire. A panicked horse, missing part of its front leg, ran past them and bounded over the wall. The landscape at their feet was in chaos. Cooks, clerks, wagon-masters, horse handlers, all essentially non-combatants, found themselves out in the open and under siege. This was a condition that they were not used to. They were usually some distance back from the fighting. But here at Gettysburg, they were clustered in a tight valley enclosed by the J-shaped Union lines. As mistaken as it was, it was like shooting fish in a barrel. Some of the main casualties of that morning were hundreds of horses, harnessed or tied up among the wagons.
Meanwhile, on the crest of the Cemetery Ridge, the infantry was both elated and bewildered. Why would the Rebels be bombarding the rear area rather than targeting them? Even LTG Hancock was confused by the development. He had mounted his horse and was riding up and down his Corps line entreating the men to hold their ground, not to run. When in fact they were happy to lie there behind their own stone wall and watch the projectiles fly over them rather than explode on top of them as they would have expected. No one was thinking of running to the rear, into the barrage.
From the top of Seminary Ridge, artilleryman MAJ Alexander had a limited view of what was happening. Earlier that morning as he was forging his attack plan for the day, GEN Lee had told him to place as many cannons as he could muster along the ridge. Just before giving his final orders to Generals Longstreet and Pickett, Lee went to Alexander and pointed to a cluster of trees in the center of the Union line on Cemetery Ridge. He instructed him to range his artillery on those trees and when so ordered to decimate the center of the Union line there. Of course, Lee had no way of knowing that Hancock had established his HQ in the shade of those same trees. But more importantly and unfortunately, neither Lee nor Alexander had any insight as to how futile this effort would be.
A few months earlier, the main Confederate Armory in Richmond has suffered a large and fatal explosion. It was fatal to many of the women who assembled artillery fuses and rounds there and now it would be fatal to the Confederacy itself. Logisticians had quickly let contracts in a number of other cities to produce those fuses. What no one understood was that the gun powder being supplied to these contractors was of inferior quality. This meant that the fuses would burn slower than the setting on the fuse indicated. Subsequently, the rounds would fly farther than intended and explode behind the point where they were targeted.
Once the bombardment was unleashed, Alexander had no ability to make any adjustments to his orders. He had accurately calculated the distance to the Union line and had determined the fuse settings to have the rounds explode over the infantry as they waited for the Rebels next move. The black powder of the era created a tremendous amount of smoke around the cannons as they fired. Alexander was essentially blinded to the effects of his efforts. He had no way of seeing or knowing that his rounds were not exploding where he had intended. His aiming point was the cluster of trees. The effect was being felt far behind. Hancock’s infantry awaiting Lee’s attack was essentially unscathed. The fused, exploding shells were not the only ones being fired, but they were the majority. Some of the solid iron cannon balls were finding their targets on the front side Cemetery Ridge but these were having little effect compared to the elation the soldiers felt that the other rounds were not exploding in their midst.
As it turned out, the softening up barrage that Lee and Alexander unleashed on 3 July 1863 was the largest (and loudest) artillery bombardment ever seen in the New World. It would stand as the largest in history for 50 or so years until a much different type of artillery was employed in World War I.
Lee’s intention was that this bombardment would decimate and demoralize the Union soldiers. It would be followed by an attack of about fifteen thousand soldiers led by MG Pickett and LTG Longstreet. They, too, were directed towards the clearly visible cluster of trees and had hoped to split the Union forces in two, right at their center. Lee knew that this was the area occupied by LTG Hancock and that even a decimated force under his lead would fight hard, but Lee had convinced himself that Meade had sacrificed the center of his line to re-enforce the flanks against a repeat of the Day 2 attacks. He was oh so wrong. Meade had a substantial number of troops aligned along the inside base of Cemetery Ridge, ready to be shifted into action as needed. One of those units was Chamberlain’s 20th Maine Infantry Regiment.
Gettysburg Day 1; a bit of historical fiction (part 1)
Late in the evening of June 30th, BG Buford was meeting with his senior commanders. They were sitting on campstools around a cooking fire beside the Lutheran Seminary building, drinking coffee and eating boiled chicken. Even dipping the hardtack in the chicken broth hardly made it more palatable. He was reviewing with them the flag signals that would convey his orders as the ambush developed in the morning. The first command would unleash the cannon salvo that would initiate the ambush. The next would order his advance line of skirmishers to open fire. A short time later he would order them to withdraw back to the main defensive line. At that point, the battle would be in the hands of his unit commanders. There would be little Buford could do to influence its outcome. The final command would be one of desperation. If things did not go well, if reinforcements failed to arrive, he would order them to break contact and assemble at the foot of the cemetery. From there the survivors would withdraw down the Baltimore Pike. Plan B at that point would be to occupy and defend the cemetery. This would only be an option if Lee’s cavalry were in the fray. The infantry would have no hope of pursuing his cavalrymen, but Stuart’s cavalry, if they arrived, could be a major problem.
Buford dismissed his staff and walked a short way from the campfire, while his junior staff finished off the remaining food. He slouched down against a tree. He was in desperate need of sleep, but his brain kept playing various scenarios of defeat. He could foresee that his men might be outnumbered 10-12 to 1 in some cases. Could they hold? Was his hope of stopping Lee’s advance realistic? Did Meade get his message outlining his plan? Did Meade agree? Would he dispatch reinforcements? Would they arrive before his command was overrun and destroyed by the Rebels? Had he doomed his men by his overly ambitious plan? By this time tomorrow would he be dead or a prisoner? It was too late to change his plan now. His men were in place, his orders explained. He was resigned to his fate. Despite the caffeine coursing through his veins, he drifted off to sleep, alone in the dark.
He was awakened just before dawn by a light rain. His entire command was being dampened by that rain since there were no tents for them to sleep under. They were all out in the open hiding from view as best they could. Gulping down more strong coffee, Buford climbed back into the copula of the Seminary building to survey the landscape. His 3-gun artillery section was just below him. His main line of defense was nearly invisible as his men lay prone in the creek bed or behind the low hills running south to north just west of the city. The far north end of that line was enveloped in ground fog. It would prove to be a hot, humid, still day. He turned his binoculars westward and could only find a few of his advance line as they crouched behind rail fences and a low stone wall that marked the limits of a pasture. But he knew that everything and everyone was in place, waiting for the Rebels to appear. It wasn’t until after 7AM that he could make out the distant but distinct sound of a band playing cadence. Lee’s army had no reason to move stealthily. It was a further reassurance that they still did not know he was waiting in their path. Less than an hour later the first men emerged through the gap in the tree line. He prayed silently that his men would await his commands and not reveal their presence prematurely. There was a steady flow of men down the Chambersburg Road. He allowed a few hundred to emerge, then gave the signal for his opening artillery salvo. He couldn’t let the Rebels get close enough to his skirmishers to discover them. As hoped, the artillery rounds exploding in the roadway just in front of the marchers sent a wave of panic through those men. Chaos erupted as men scattered in all directions. Most went north or south to get off the road. Those farther west ran for cover into the forest they had emerged from. At this point, he ordered his advanced line to open fire. The accuracy and volume of their fire only increased the chaos.
It wasn’t too long, however, before the officers and NCOs of MG Heth’s lead brigade reformed and gained control of their units. Soon they were returning fire. Buford sent the signal for his skirmishers to withdraw. They mounted their horses and galloped east. Soon they had assumed their assigned position on the south (left) flank of the main line of defense. In order, Heth’s regiments, brigades and finally his entire division had assembled in their attack formation to the north of roadway.
As MG Pender’s division began to emerge from the tree line, they were directed south of the road. Between them and Union line on McPherson’s Ridge at the base of Seminary Ridge was Herbst’s forest: a small but dense grove of trees. As Heth’s division began a slow, steady but cautious march across the open fields, Pender’s lead brigade under BG Archer began to probe into the forest trying to find the Union line. With 2 full divisions aligned against them Buford’s 1,500 cavalrymen were greatly outnumbered, especially on his left flank where just a few hundred men south of the road faced off against a few thousand.
Fighting erupted in the north first. As Heth’s lead brigade under BG Davis found the right flank of Buford’s formation. Once again, terrain and technology prevailed in favor of the cavalrymen. Lying prone behind the low hills running south to north just west of the town, their thin line was well concealed. Their breech-loading carbines allowed them to fire 3-5 times faster than the muzzle-loaders carried by all the Confederate troops. Reports flowed back from Heth to his corps commander, LTG A.P. Hill, and then back to Lee himself, that a large Union force, probably a division or more, lay in their path. They were over-estimating by a factor of 5! Thinking that they were more evenly matched, Heth’s division proceeded cautiously across open terrain until they came under withering fire from McPherson’s Ridge. Over the next two hours, the Confederate’s launched probing attacks all along the Union line looking for a weakness. They never seemed to figure out that Buford’s men were spread very thinly, yards apart lying on that ridge. The breech-loading technology continued to mask their real numbers.
Hill had sent his artillery forward into the tree line were they remained protected but could support his attacking divisions, but they found few targets. Early on, Buford’s artillery had been driven from their hilltop by accurate counter-battery fire. They no longer played any significant role in the battle. Once the Union line was located, the artillery began to target the ridge but the sparseness of distribution of the cavalrymen lessened the effectiveness of their fire. No one seemed to notice that many of the fused shells were flying well past the ridge, some finding their way into the west edge of the town causing some damage but no casualties. Hill had also halted the advance of his column. There was simply no more room on the battle field for more troops. Lee’s army began to jam up behind them. Buford’s main objective – to stall Lee’s advance – had been achieved!
As the morning wore on, however, Buford’s level of self-doubt rose higher and higher. Could his thin line hold? At what point should he call for their retreat? Were reinforcements on their way? Would they arrive in time? Had he sacrificed his men for nothing? He watched and listened to the fighting from his place in the Seminary’s copula, knowing that he himself could do nothing to truly influence the outcome, except to accept defeat and order a withdraw. Almost in desperation, he pivoted to the south and trained his binoculars down the Emmittsburg Road. There he spotted a dense cloud of dust which announced the movement of troops. As he watched in amazement, a small group of horsemen emerged from that cloud and galloped towards him. He watched as they leapt over a rail fence and ascended the slope of Seminary Ridge.
For his part, LTG Reynolds had spotted Buford’s command flag flying high up from the top of the Seminary building. Understanding that things might be turning desperate for Buford’s cavalrymen, he raced ahead of his First Union Corps to meet Buford. Buford descended from the copula and met Reynolds with a salute as he dismounted. The salute was followed by a hug between combat veterans. Explaining that his men were nearing exhaustion and were very low on ammunition, Buford led Reynolds back up to the copula to view the battlefront. Reynolds immediately grasped the seriousness of the situation. He dispatched a LT to tell his lead brigade to double-time the rest of the way to their position. Finally, Buford directed his attention eastward to the cemetery and its adjacent hills. Reynolds agreed that that was a “good place to win a war”. Whatever happened through the rest of the afternoon, by evening, the First Union Corps needed to occupy and be prepared to defend the area around the cemetery.
With another exchange of salutes, Reynolds officially took command of the battle. Buford could withdraw to the foot of the cemetery and await the arrival of his men as they were relieved of their positions along the ridge. His battle was over. He had successfully stalled Lee’s advance. Now responsibility shifted to the Union First Corps.
Reynolds rode down the slope with him and joined his lead brigade. He led them around the north end of Seminary Ridge and turned south to relieve the cavalrymen on the left flank. He stopped to have a quick command conference with his staff: stack each arriving unit from south to north along McPherson’s Ridge; by nightfall occupy and defend at the cemetery. This latter command was to be passed down to each man so whatever occurred they knew when to assemble as individuals or units. Fortunately for the Union Army and the nation as a whole, his commands were clear and concise. Reynolds was barely at the front for an hour before he was shot in the back of the head by a Confederate sharpshooter and was dead before he hit the ground. Command of the corps was assumed by MG Doubleday (Yes Abner of baseball fame!) but he had little to do as Reynolds’ staff executed his commands.
Gettysburg Day 1; a bit of historical fiction (part 2)
LTG Reynolds was killed on the battlefield as he was positioning his lead brigade at the south end of the Union line along McPherson’s Ridge. That brigade was known as the Iron Brigade for two reasons. Most of them were iron miners from Michigan or Wisconsin; secondly they were renowned for their courage in battle. They wore a distinctively large black felt hat ( a Hardie hat) that was clearing visible at a distance. BG Archer’s men in the Herbst’s forest immediately recognized who was taking up positions in front of them. Even though they still outnumber the Union brigade by 2-3 to 1, they knew that the tide had turned in the Union’s favor at least for the moment. Whereas the cavalrymen were aligned yards apart over the two miles or so of the Union line, the First Corps was essentially shoulder-to-shoulder along that same line.
Throughout the next few hours, the Confederates attacked repeatedly along the full length of the Union Line. They were repulsed each time. Occasionally, the Union troops would surge forward off the ridge to pursue the retreating Rebels, only to return their original positions. In some cases, the same land changed hands multiple times, leaving Rebel and Union dead and wounded intermingled across the pasture land. Hill’s 2 divisions and the First Union Corps fought each other to a virtual standoff. That is until the arrival of Rodes’ division of Ewell’s Corps.
Rodes had departed early in the morning from Carlisle in the north. Lee had sent word to Ewell to rendezvous with the main body at Gettysburg before Buford had launched his ambush. Rodes was more than a bit surprised to find a battle raging in front of him when he arrived at about 2PM. Since most of his division was still behind him on the road, he decided to bring up his artillery to soften up the Union line while his 3 brigades formed up to attack. This, however, did little more than alert the Union commanders to his presence. He was beginning occupy the low ridge that ran just north of the town’s edge. He was looking down on the exposed right flank of the Union line. But swift and decisive actions on part of the Union Brigade commanders allowed them to shorten the line and shift men so that they were facing north directly at Rodes’ division. Fortunately for them, Rode’s attacks were uncoordinated and disorganized. Each brigade was repulsed in turn. It wasn’t until Rodes managed to coordinate with Heth’s left flank and attack with 4 brigades aimed at the angle of the Union line, that the Union line broke. And then, MG Early hit them from the east!
The Union troops aligned west to east abandoned their positions – some abandoning their weapons as well. They fell back in a rout into the north end of the city. They were pursued by some of the Rebels units as they tried to navigate through the city to reach the cemetery as per Reynold’s earlier orders. Many of these soldiers’ lives were saved by Union sharpshooters who had been deployed early in the afternoon to interdict any Rebel advance into the city.
As the north end of the Union line crumbled, the line unzipped north to south. Sometimes as individuals, sometimes as units, the Union troops began to fall back to the south. Some spirited fighting took place in the avenues and alleys of Gettysburg. Pettigrew’s men watched as the Iron Brigade formed up and marched off the battlefield as calmly as they had arrived. Since they were the closest, they reached the Cemetery first and began to prepare fortifications. They welcomed other First Corps units throughout the evening and individuals from the north throughout the night. Spent from hours of fighting, Hill’s two divisions halted in place and set up camp for the night.
While all this was occurring some important developments were taking place to the east of the city. MG Early’s division had marched past Rodes just to the east of Gettysburg. There they encountered the lead elements of the Union 11th Corps who had taken up positions on some low hills south and east of the city. But they soon realized that they were facing an entire division and were heavily outnumbered and largely unsupported with reserves. After some token resistance, they withdrew to join the main body of the Eleventh that was working to fortify the cemetery.
At about the time Rodes’ attack was breaking the back of the Union line in the north, Lee arrived at the battlefront for the second time. Earlier, he had viewed the battle with Heth and Hill from the edge of the western tree line. He had decided that they had the battle well in hand and he withdrew to consult with LTG Longstreet. Now, as he stood in the copula of the Seminary, he got his first look at the cemetery and its adjacent hills. From the forest earlier, his view of that area had been blocked by Seminary Ridge. He began to appreciate the beauty of Buford’s plan to delay his advance. He could see the black hats of the Iron Brigade working to fortify the cemetery and evidence of activity off to their south and east. He immediately sent word to Early – through Ewell – to occupy Culp’s Hill “if practicable”.
When Ewell had moved ahead of Lee’s main body a week or so ago, Lee’s order was for them to avoid a major engagement. As Early marched to the east of the city, he was isolated and had no way of knowing how “major” the battle was off to the west. Still following those orders, he chose to encamp east of the city so his men could rest and have a meal after their full day’s march.
When he finally received Lee’s new order in the early evening, he sent a scouting party to assess the situation on Culp’s Hill and the Cemetery. They correctly identified Eleventh Corps in the cemetery and the First Corps now on Culp’s Hill. Between them there appeared to be a gap which Early might be able to exploit. But night assaults were not part of the tactics of the era and Early elected to wait for morning before taking any further action. Another report added to Early’s dilemma. A different scouting party reported Union troops approaching from the east. To counter this, Early sent one of his three brigades to block the Hanover Road to his east. But the scouts had confused the terrain and had apparently seen the last of the Eleventh Corps units moving up the Baltimore Pike not down the Hanover Road!
Near midnight, Lee rode through Gettysburg and met up with Ewell who had joined both Rodes and Early at Early’s camp. Although Lee was initially unhappy with Early’s lack of action, he conceded that Early had been following his earlier order of caution in engaging any Union troops. Together they agreed that Ewell’s third division under MG Johnson would be maneuvered past Early and take up a position east of Culp’s Hill facing west. Lee informed Ewell that he should meet Lee at his HQ in a farm house just below the Seminary in the morning and Lee would inform him of the plans for the day.
Meanwhile, BG Buford and the surviving members of his brigade had returned down the Baltimore Pike against the flow of troops. He was apparently received warmly by Meade who assigned him the duty of protecting the right flank of the Pike. They still had no idea where J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry was and so they remained a potential threat to the units pushing north to Gettysburg.
Lee Captured (in 8 Parts)
This was my first attempt at reprising Newt Gringrich’s ALT Hx trilogy:
Let’s reset the stage on 30 June 1863. Hill’s Corps is on the highway between Cashtown and Gettysburg, with Heth’s division only a short march from the Balto Pike. Two of Ewell’s divisions are near Carlisle, but have been ordered to rendezvous back to Gettysburg. Longstreet’s nearest division (Hood) is still the better part of a day’s march away near Chambersburg to the west. Pickett is the rear guard, nearly 2 days away. Strung out between Hill and Longstreet are hundreds of wagons of supplies lightly guarded by rather second-rate cavalry units.
On the Union side, Reynolds’ First Corp is just north of Emmittsburg with Howard’s Eleventh just to his south. Sickles’ two division Third Corps is between Emmittsburg and Taneytown, en route to join Reynolds’.
Part 1 Laying the trap
Now let’s rebuild history such that Buford is either repulsed by Stuart or simply decides to do his job and not expand his authority to concoct the ambush. He returns to inform Reynolds that he has pin-pointed the vanguard of Lee’s Army near Gettysburg.
Meade had given Reynolds command or the three Corps left wing and the authority to act accordingly. This ALT Hx scenario starts when Reynolds decides to interdict Lee’s movements. He looks at a map and without knowing all the details feels that he can ensnare Hill’s Corps in a trap. There was definitely a country lane if not an actual road that linked Fairfield to Cashtown. Reynolds decides to swing his Corps west and make for Cashtown. He directs Howard to march north directly to Gettysburg. Sickles will occupy Emmittsburg as a reserve force. He is hoping to trap some or all of Hill’s Corps between his two units. He is aware that Ewell is north at Carlisle but he has no idea where Longstreet is – nor Lee for that matter.
Buford’s cavalry takes the lead and enters Cashtown from the west. The town is brimming with wagons, all facing away from him. In a brief clash he routs the Rebel cavalry and sets about taking prisoners. Chaos ensues with spooked (some wounded) horses and mules running amuck in the streets. Over-turned wagons soon block any organized effort to leave the town. Reynolds now has a beachhead.
The first infantry to arrive is the division lead by BG Wadsworth which includes the fabled Iron Brigade. Reynolds has them align astride the road facing east and begin a cautious movement to contact to find Hill’s rear area. Then BG Robinson’s division moves to the west side of town and sets up a blocking position in case Longstreet is nearby.
Unaware of the pending Union attack, early on the morning of 1 July, Heth’s division had moved to occupy the point where the Balto Pike enters Gettysburg. Immediately behind him is Pender’s division that moves down the pike and establishes a bivouac area just beyond Culp’s Hill which is occupied by Heth’s men. Hill’s third division under Anderson is lagging behind but marching towards the city.
Meanwhile Howard’s lead division under BG Barlow is advancing up the valley between Seminary and Cemetery Ridges on the Emmittsburg Road. There are no Rebel troops to be seen. He spots the Seminary building and sends a staff officer to get a look at the countryside. From the cupola, he can see Rebel soldiers off to the east at the Pike, but nothing else. His view to the west and Anderson is blocked by the dense woods. Howard positions his men in much the same way that Buford did in the actual battle; astride the Chambersburg Road and the rail-cut ditch. He places one brigade facing east to warn of any Rebel movement from that direction.
As he had hoped, Reynolds now had Anderson’s division ensnared between his two main units. But the best is yet to come.
Part 2 Lee’s capture
A short distance east of Cashtown, Lee is asleep in a farmer’s cabin. He had been “feeling poorly” for the past 2 days. He was actually suffering mild angina that would plague him the rest of his life. His staff had decided not to wake him, to allow him to get as much sleep as possible. So there they were unguarded and exposed as some of Wadsworth’s men approached. Lee’s staff had no choice but to simply surrender. A fire fight might have endangered Lee’s life. COL Wm Hoffman’s 56th Pennsylvania troops had claimed the biggest prize of the war to date!
Messengers raced off to find Reynolds who was soon on the scene to claim Lee’s sword if only figuratively. Reynolds then sat down to try to come to an agreement as to how they would proceed. Of course, Lee was unaware as to how much of Hill’s Corps was inside the trap. Noting the time of day, he assumed (but never stated) that Heth and possibly Pender were already in Gettysburg and therefore out of harm’s way. Also knowing that he had recalled Ewell, he decided to stall for time to see if that Corps could break the trap.
Wadsworth located the rear of Anderson’s division and stopped to await orders from Reynolds as to whether or not to attack. Was Howard in place to the east to prevent Anderson from escaping? So noon arrives and the fight has not yet started. Lee is hoping that the first of Ewell’s units to arrive will recognize the situation and act accordingly. Meanwhile, the third division of First Corps has moved into a blocking position on the north side of Cashtown to interdict any escape or Rebel movement from the north. They had no way of knowing that Johnson’s division was headed straight for them, but wouldn’t be arriving until late afternoon.
Part 3 Ewell arrives
At this point the scenario becomes more complicated. Longstreet is still too far west to be involved. The key to what happens next is based on what Rodes does as he arrives from the north at about 14:00. Within an hour, Early will also arrive from the east.
Howard’s scouts and pickets would certainly have noted Rodes approach but likely would not have revealed themselves. Rodes would have three routes to choose from. He could follow the road directly into the city, in which case he’d met up with Hill and Pender but without encountering any Union forces. Likewise, he could march around the eastside of town, his maps would tell him that the rendezvous point was on the SE corner of the town. His least likely approach would be down the western edge of the city where Howard was waiting.
Whichever of the first two choices Rodes made, by late afternoon Early would also march down the east side of the city and establish his camp just north of Culp’s Hill (exactly as he would do in the actual battle event). At this point, late in the day, Howard was feeling kind of vulnerable so he called for Sickles to send at least a brigade if not an entire division to bolster his position. He was now in an arc with an anchor position inside the cemetery (chosen as the most defensible piece of ground in the area). He had troops facing north towards Oak Ridge, but the bulk of his rifles and cannons were aimed west where Anderson might try a breakout.
For his part, Anderson had come to realize his entrapped situation. As he moved towards Gettysburg, his scouts reported a large Union force blocking the road. He halted and went to consult with Hill. They soon learned that Reynolds was moving in strength from the Cashtown area. They had no word as to Lee’s position or predicament. They also had no means to communicate with Hill’s lead elements in the city. They were indeed trapped. The best they could do was hunker down and await Reynolds’ attack.
So by nightfall, there were 4 Confederate divisions enjoying themselves in the city, blissfully unaware of the fate of their comrades and commanders. They had fulfilled their mission and simply assumed that Anderson had halted on the west side of the city. The only thing out of place was the fact that LTG Hill had not joined them.
Howard had nervously (and stealthfully so as not to give away his presence) watched this concentration of forces in what amounted to his rear area. Sickles arrived with Birney’s division late in the afternoon and agreed to take up position along Cemetery Ridge facing east. From there he could quickly move to interdict any Rebel attempt to move west to attack Eleventh Corps. He also sent orders to have Humphrey join him in the morning.
Part 4 Meade reacts
Farther south at Taneytown, Meade was informed of Reynolds’ bold move and needed to decide how to support it. His only real battle plan was to invoke Hooker’s Pipe Creek Directive. At about noon, Hancock had arrived at his HQ. His Second Corps was still the better part of a half-day’s march south of Gettysburg. Meade directed him to move north to just outside Gettysburg and to overnight there while awaiting further orders.
By late afternoon, Meade got word of Reynolds and Howard’s relative positions and of the capture of Lee. Reynolds had moved him back into Cashtown but had yet to induce him to issue a surrender order to his army. Meade sent orders to Hancock to proceed cautiously to Gettysburg in the morning (by way of the Taneytown Road) wary that the Confederate forces might also be moving south. So the sun set on 1 July without an actual battle but with a major development. As an added precaution against any Rebel movement, Meade ordered Fifth and Twelfth Corps to prepare to proceed north along the Balto Pike in the morning. He also recalled Sixth Corps from their mission to shadow Early’s (now aborted) advance to York.
For his part. Lee spent the night in the Cashtown jail, hoping that Longstreet’s arrival on Thursday (2 July) would break the stalemate and force a Union withdrawal. Reynolds would be ‘trapped’ between Longstreet and whatever part of Hill’s Corps Reynolds had ensnared.
Part 5 Confusion on 2 July
As 2 July dawned over Gettysburg, there was widespread confusion among the 4 divisions of troops on the east side of the city. Where were Hill and Lee? Why hadn’t Anderson closed on their position? Why were there simply no orders at all? As the senior officer, LTG Ewell was in technical command. But it must be remembered that this was his first campaign as a Corps commander – having just replaced the deceased Stonewall Jackson. He had some huge shoes to fill and was clearly uncertain as to how exactly to proceed. He dispatched what little cavalry he had to return west to locate Anderson, Hill &/or Lee. They returned literally in minutes with news of a large Union presence (Howard) on the west side of the city and no direct means to reach Rebel units beyond them.
As he was want to do, and had done so on the actually 2 July, Sickles wasn’t content to sit and wait for the Rebels to decide his fate. Before dawn, he sent skirmishers to the east to locate whatever Rebel forces were there. From the SE slopes of Culp’s Hill they noted at least two divisions of troops encamped along the Pike (Heth & Pender). Moving to the top of the hill, they spotted move activity to the NE (Rodes and Early). In an effort to thwart any attack on his position, Sickles shifted Humphrey’s division east off of the ridge and onto the flat ground bounded by Culp’s Hill. Birney would stay on the crest as the main defense.
Ewell was perplexed as to how to react to this unexpected situation. He knew that Lee’s plan was to initiate a movement to contact to find the Union Army to the south. Should he proceed with that plan? Should he initiate an attack on whatever Federal force stood off to his west? Why hadn’t he heard a word from Johnson?
For his part, Johnson was in something of a similar situation. He had been sent down the road from Carlisle that would have taken him into Cashtown. Having had no contact nor orders of any kind since leaving Carlisle, he halted his march just north of Cashtown to await new orders in the morning. He, too, was blissfully unaware of the developments in and around Cashtown. He was amazed and perplexed when his scouts reported that Cashtown appeared to be in Union hands! He did not wishing to provoke a fight with an unknown sized unit. Remember Lee’s standing order was that he did not want to engage the enemy until the Army of Northern Virginia was consolidated. Johnson, therefore, instituted a retrograde movement that took him north and east around the top edge of the city to find Ewell. On this path, he bypassed all of the Union forces as well. By mid-morning, his was the fifth division under Ewell’s command. His report of the Union occupation of Cashtown was greatly disturbing to his comrade generals. What exactly had happened in their wake. Where were Lee, Hill and even Longstreet?
Longstreet had been alerted to the Union attack on Cashtown by wagon-masters who had escaped to the west. As the most experienced Corps commander and Lee’s confidant, he halted his advance in that direction early in the afternoon of the First, expecting that he’d receive orders from Lee as to how to proceed. He, too, was perplexed when he heard nothing what so ever. He ordered Hood to proceed cautiously towards Cashtown to assess the situation. Hood’s troops encountered more wagoneers who relayed the rumors of Lee’s capture. Longstreet was furious – and was also technically the new Commander of the Army of Northern Virginia – assuming the rumors were true. He huddled with Hood and McLaws and sent word for Pickett to ride ahead of his division and join them. The impulsive Hood wanted to charge into Cashtown and break the Union’s hold on the town, but Longstreet was more cautious, he needed to know more about the Union strength and position. Where would Lee be held if indeed he were a prisoner? Could he be freed? He also knew of the plan to consolidate the Army for a strike south using the Balto Pike. So he dispatched a small group of cavalrymen to ride a looping route around to the north of Cashtown and Gettysburg to try to locate either Hill or Ewell. Otherwise, he decided to wait to see what would develop.
Ewell, too, was in a wait-and-see mode. He did not want to begin a move southward leaving Union forces to his rear. So he decided to move Heth’s division up further onto Culp’s Hill as a guard against any Federal movement on his left flank. Once again, he and his generals were startled by the reports of a substantial Union force – a division at least – immediately west and south of Culp’s Hill. At least, for the moment Heth had the high ground looking down on them. It was time to wrangle as much artillery as he could up those steep wooded slopes.
Reynolds and Howard were able to communicate via messengers skirting around Anderson’s salient. Knowing that there was a large Rebel presence to Howard’s east, they were loath to initiate an attack to squeeze Anderson. Pending the outcome of Reynolds “negotiations” with Lee, they were content to wait it out as well. Reynolds had also received word that Meade had four other Corps converging on Gettysburg and that Meade himself was en route to Cashtown to confront Lee.
Part 6 Longstreet assumes command
It took Longstreet’s cavalrymen all day to elude the Union pickets and find Ewell’s HQ. They returned after nightfall, with Ewell’s reports of a massive Union presence just south and west of Gettysburg. They also included the observation that Anderson, Hill and Lee were also MIA!
For their part, Anderson and Hill now knew from their pickets’ reports that they were surrounded by First Corps soldiers who had moved to their north overnight. They were in dire straits, low on food, if not other basic supplies. At the risk of diluting his force, Howard had pushed a brigade west closer to Anderson’s encircled troops. His greatest vulnerability was the possibility of a Rebel advance using the Emmittsburg Road to attack his flank, but (ironically given the actual battle scenario) Sickles was –hopefully – protecting that flank.
Meade’s arrival at Cashtown did little to persuade Lee to acquiesce to a surrender. He was still holding on to hope that Longstreet could evoke a miracle and undo this situation. Of course, he had been isolated from any news as to how his army was faring. Had there actually been a battle? Who was the victor? How bad were his losses? Meade saw fit to clarify. It wasn’t like Lee could act on this knowledge. Anderson was surrounded. Longstreet was still to the west but faced a substantial blocking force (a slight exaggeration). Four Union Corps were converging on whatever forces were massed to the east of the city. Sickles was in a stand-off with Heth. Meade hoped that this picture would induce Lee to agree to a cease-fire order, if not an outright surrender. Lee was inclined to stall for more time for their new commander Longstreet to devise a rescue plan.
Part 7 Facing off
Back at Cashtown, Robinson’s division on the west and Rowley’s to the north were in the most vulnerable positions. Each was in a position to support the other, but they knew that they’d likely be facing Longstreet’s three divisions – each somewhat larger than their own. Fortunately, they had had two days to construct parapets and trenches. Reynolds has also allotted Robinson as much of the reserve artillery as he thought he could spare. The rest was aimed at Anderson.
By noon (2 July) Hancock had linked up with Sickles. As the senior officer, Hancock assumed command of the east wing of the Army: his, Howard’s and Sickles’ Corps. He sent a cavalry unit to locate Sykes’ Fifth Corps and have them halt along the Pike in a blocking position. Twelfth Corps would be to their south. He ordered Sykes to assume overall command of those two Corps and Sedgwick’s Sixth when it arrived (late on the Second) from the east.
Reynolds was still in the most precarious position. The other Corps were much too far east to offer any direct support. Howard was fairly close but with Anderson sandwiched between them he couldn’t shift to offer any support. Reynolds had thinned his east-facing troops as much as he dared and shifted regiments west to bolster that blocking position, but he knew that Longstreet had a huge force to the west. It was only a matter of time before Longstreet could ascertain that a relatively small force was facing off with him.
Meade agreed that this west flank was much too vulnerable. He sent an order thru Howard to have Hancock shift Twelfth Corps over to Cashtown. That movement would take at least a day because it would mostly be cross country since all the roads in that area ran north-south and none east-west. Even with a long forced march, the Twelfth wouldn’t be in place before mid-day on the Third.
Part 8 The End
Meade sat with Reynolds to try to figure out a plan of action. Although slightly outnumbered, the combined 4 Corps in the east (II, III, V and VI) could launch an attack on Ewell, but to what end? He could order Howard to try to wipeout Anderson, but to what end? Wasn’t it best to wait to see what Longstreet would do while trying to convince Lee that his bold strike into the north had failed and that he needed to surrender before thousands died due to his reticence?
Sitting in the jail cell in Cashtown, Lee was fretting endlessly about the fate of his command. He had little confidence in Ewell’s ability to command a Corps much less to initiate a battle plan in the complete absence of orders and knowledge of the status of the remainder of the army, to say nothing of Lee himself. How much of Hill’s Corps were trapped? He had much more confidence that Longstreet would devise a viable attack plan, perhaps even with the expectation of freeing him.
But would any of this accomplish his underlying intent for invading the north in the first place? Could he force Lincoln to the negotiating table? With his Army of Northern Virginia now chopped into three pieces, the answer was clearly NO!
In the evening of 2 July, Lee sent word he wished to talk to Meade. He came clean with his intention and expectations of what the outcome of the invasion would be and that all hopes of success were now dashed. Lee agreed to send a surrender order to his three Corps Commanders. He knew that if Hill were still alive, it would come as a great relief to both he and Ewell not to have to fight without Lee’s overall guidance. Lee also hoped – and he was correct – that Longstreet would simply ignore the surrender order and withdraw back to Virginia with as many of the wagon-loads of supplies that he could salvage.
Lee had intended the invasion to end the war. It had, however, only ended his involvement and that of 2/3 of his Army.
As far as American History is concerned, the war continued in about the same way as reality. The greatest exception is that there were tens of thousands of soldiers who did not die at Gettysburg.
To avoid any attempts to free an imprisoned Robert E Lee, he was “deported” (paroled) to England. He returned in some ignominious status after the war and did indeed become president of Washington College (later Washington and Lee University). In that position, he supported reconciliation between North and South. Lee accepted “the extinction of slavery” provided for by the Thirteenth Amendment, but opposed racial equality for African Americans.
Reprising Newt’s ALT HX novels; a poor imitation
narrative only; I don’t do dialogue well.
The capture of Bobby Lee
June 30th had been a long day in the saddle, plodding along mostly in silence behind their leader. A couple of times they had seen him waiver in the saddle, his somnolence broken by the sudden shift of his body as he nearly fell from the horse. As they passed through Cashtown, they had urged him to stop and seek overnight refuge in one of the town’s larger houses. Without speaking, he had simply waved them all forward. The sun had just dropped behind South Mountain, when he agreed to dismount.
It had been a very uncomfortable day for GEN Robert E. Lee. Ever since he awakened, he had a lingering pulsing pain in his chest and left arm. He’d had this type of pain before, but never for this long. As he swung his leg over and dismounted, his knees buckled and if he hadn’t been hold firmly to the saddle and reins, he’d undoubtedly have fallen. He tried to pass it off, as he leaned in and patted Traveler on the head. He passed the reins to an aide and trudged heavily onto the porch of the small farm house that his staff had coaxed him to stop at for the night. Their added incentive was that the farmer’s wife had prepared a chicken stew. The aroma of that stew almost made him nauseous as he passed through the door and dropped into the waiting rocking chair.
The staff knew him well enough not to fawn over him or even enquire as to his health. He had ridden all day in virtual silence and so that is how they took their cue. He removed his hat tossed it onto the rough hewn table and ran his fingers through his hair as he almost reluctantly accepted the bowl of aromatic stew.
Just as he was finishing, slowly and without the enthusiasm that one would expect for a home-cooked meal after days of salt-pork and hard-tack, MG Hill arrived. Lee only acknowledged his salute with a wave of his hand. Hill had come to report that BG Heth’s division would be ready to move into Gettysburg first thing in the morning. Looking over the hand-drawn map, he and Lee discussed how his Corps would establish a bridge-head on the south edge of the town where the Baltimore Pike and the road to Taneytown entered the city. From there. Hill would allow his men to enjoy the delights that the town had to offer, while they awaited the arrival of LTG Ewell’s Corp from the north. Lee once again cautioned Hill that there was to be no looting or other misbehavior. Rations could be gathered but plundering was not to be tolerated. All items and services would be paid for, even if it was in CSA script which here in the north was all but worthless.
Hill’s other task of the day was to find a suitable place – likely one of the many hotels in this crossroads town – for Lee to establish his HQ for a few days as they waited for LTG Longstreet’s Corp to arrive.
Next they discussed Lee’s command that there should be no sustained engagement with the enemy until the Army of Northern Virginia was consolidated in place around Gettysburg. The clash between MG Stuart’s and BG Buford’s cavalry, indicated to them that MG Reynolds’ First Union Corps was in the area but likely no closer than Emmittsburg. The lack of any Union forces in or around the city when BG Early’s division had passed through earlier suggested that there would be no opposition to Hill’s movements on 1 July.
Satisfied that they had a plan for the next day, Hill departed. Lee continued to sit in silence, his elbows on the table and occasionally with his forehead cradled in his hands. While the remainder of his staff sat around a campfire polishing off the stew, one officer stationed himself just outside the open door, keeping an eye and ear on the Commander. Lee light his customary evening cigar and slumped back into the chair with a blanket over his lap and legs. The officer watched as the cigar rolled out of Lee’s limp hand as he fell deeply asleep. The only non-natural sounds that reached the small farm house were the rattle and chatter of the supply wagons that trailed Hill’s infantry, but they were a short distance to the north over a slight rise and just out of sight.
As the first rays of the morning sun broke above the horizon, Lee’s staff were huddled around the fire. Not even the strong aromatic smell of the chicory-laden coffee breeched Lee’s slumber. Given what they had observed, they had decided among them that they would not awaken him as usual. He would never admit it but he needed a prolonged sleep to regain his strength.
In point of fact, Lee’s angina had first occurred months ago. As per the era, he simply wrote it off as heartburn related to his monotonous and unsavory diet. But for the past hours, since he awoke on Tuesday, it had been worse than ever. Some historians, who tried to reconstruct his health history, go so far as to suggest that on 30 June 1863, Lee was experiencing his first, albeit mild, heart attack.
The rotating officers who kept watch from the doorway as Lee slept noted no overt changes in him and were glad that he was finally able to fall deeply asleep. As a group, they agreed not to awaken him but to allow him to decide when to awaken.
It was well past 8 AM, when Sgt Bill Baxter sighted the farm house. He was leading a skirmish line of 30 soldiers tasked with probing to find the rear of Hill’s Corps. In a move that had surprised everyone, LTG Reynolds had marched his First Union Corps hard and had occupied Cashtown. At the same time, LTG Oliver Howard’s Eleventh Corps was marching up the road out of Emmittsburg to take up position west of Gettysburg. Without knowing it Howard has placed his corps across the path of Heth and Pender’s divisions who had marched over to the east side of the city just hours earlier. Trapped between Howard and Reynolds was MG Anderson’s division and LTG Hill himself.
Baxter’s men were slowly making their way east walking in the protection of a tree line. Between them and the Chambersburg Road was a cherry orchard and a large cornfield. The smell of smoke and the clatter of cookware alerted him to the presence of troops so he halted his men to better grasp the situation. He was approaching from the rear of the cabin and could not yet see any troops. He moved stealthfully through the woods to get a look at the front of the cabin. A group of 12-15 men in Rebel uniforms were milling about and cooking breakfast. Because of their position deep in the rear of Hill’s Corps they had seen no reason to post any guards. It was Corporal Dalton, who first spotted it. He tapped Baxter on the shoulder and drew his attention to the fence where a line of horses were tethered. There in that line was the unmistakable white-grey mare: GEN Robert E. Lee’s Traveler!
Hastily, but with all due caution, Baxter sent 10 men farther east telling them to keep out of sight in the trees but to be prepared to move in if the group decided to break camp. He then sent a runner back to find their regimental Commander and request him to come forward. The runner found COL William Hoffman, commander of the 56th Pennsylvania Regiment belonging to BG Lysander Culter’s Second Brigade of BG James Meredith’s First Division of LTG Reynolds’ First Union Corps. The 56th PA comprised the extreme right flank of the division which was now astride the Chambersburg Road.
COL Hoffman was just finishing off his second cup of coffee when the excited runner approached with a request that he proceed immediately east; the story contained something about a horse but the details were unclear. He gave orders to form the regiment and he mounted up with his SgtMaj in tow to see what all the fuss was about on this fine summer morning. Had Sgt Baxter found Hill’s Corps already? Hoffman slowly entered the corn field with a company of infantry in trail.
Not having had to travel very far, the runner returned to tell Sgt Baxter that Hoffman should be there within the half-hour. Baxter then took 10 men and carefully approached using the cabin to shield their movement. He waved the men to his left and right and stepped around the right side of the cabin with his musket leveled at the waist. He shouted for the men crouched around the campfire to stop moving. “Gentlemen, you are my prisoners” he said as ten more rifles were leveled at them. He warned that any man going for a weapon would be the death of them all. As they slowly stood with arms in the air, a few of the Union soldiers moved forward to gather their pistols and swords. He then ordered the prisoners to kneel facing away from the cabin. CPL Dalton replaced the Rebel officer at the door and gave a thumbs-up signal that there was another person in the cabin and motioned that he seemed still to be fast asleep.
As Baxter heard the tell-tale sounds of cups and kit clanking in the cornfield behind him, he ran back to make his report. He snapped a salute to COL Hoffman and waved him down off his horse. Almost in a stage whisper, he said to Hoffman “Sir, you are not going to believe this.” He led Hoffman around the left side of the cabin and up to the open door. He silently motioned for him to enter. Hoffman stepped into the cabin and stopped to let his eyes adjust to the muted darkness. He could just make out the figure sitting fully awake and upright in the rocking chair, but still with a blanket covering his lap. When the reality of the situation dawned on him, he snapped to attention and rendered the best salute he could muster. “General Lee, sir, you are my prisoner” was all he could think of to say. Slowly and silently, Lee stood, returned the salute and moved into the daylight. Hoffman reached over and retrieved Lee’s hat and handed it to him as Lee paused on the porch and waved a signal to his men to remain quietly in place.
Sgt Baxter was waiting with Traveler and another horse for himself. He wanted to be there when COL Hoffman delivered the prize of all prizes to LTG Reynolds. The three of them rode slowly back into the cornfield where 100 Union troops stood in awe and cheering the sight. The SgtMaj of the 56th took control of Lee’s staff.
The trio of COL Hoffman, Sgt Baxter and GEN Lee soon arrived back at Hoffman’s HQ area. There Hoffman’s small staff joined the procession. Hoffman had one of his soldiers cut a hole in a blanket and place it over Lee’s head. This would disguise his uniform and hopefully prevent any accidents as they made their way to Cashtown. Hoffman dispatched a number of riders to locate LTG Reynolds’ HQ. Rather than ride over-land, they wheeled their horses right and moved over to the Chambersburg Road. The roadway had been cleared but parked nose-to-tail were hundreds of Hill’s supply wagons; their wagon masters squatting in small groups beside the road under guard.
The blanket disguised Lee’s uniform but nothing could disguise Traveler. Every Confederate soldier and most of the Union ones would recognize the pair on sight. Most of them ignored the small procession walking slowing down the road. But an observant few, ever loyal to their commander slowly stood erect, removed their caps and stood at attention but heads bowed as Lee passed. He was loathe to acknowledge their silent salute for fear of inciting an incident that could come of no good result.
The procession hadn’t gone too far when one of the messengers returned saying that he had located LTG Reynolds’ HQ and would lead them back. Lee rode in dejected silence, his head down but his hand steady on the reins. After about a half-hour ride, the messenger pointed to a church steeple on a slight rise as Reynolds’ HQ. He stepped aside and rejoined the end of the small escort group. Sgt Baxter spurred his horse ahead of the group and alerted the guards around the HQ that a VIP was coming to see LTG Reynolds. He requested that they show respect but remain silent as the small escort group passed by.
Reynolds’ staff officers were milling about in front of the church, a small chapel actually. One by one they came to realize what was approaching. Baxter had preceded the group and asked that COL Hoffman be the one to present his conquest to the commander. A hundred yards in front of the chapel, Hoffman stopped and suggested that Lee remove the blanket. Lee had a trouble holding the reins and pushing the blanket over his head; his left arm was still hurting. Hoffman reached out and took the reins from Lee’s hand freeing him to use his right hand to shed the disguise. The group moved slowly forward Hoffman leading Traveler. The messenger, last in line, dismounted and retrieved the blanket from the side of the road. It would become his claim to fame if he lived to return home; his war souvenir!
A Major wearing the insignia of a legal officer stepped forward and took the reins from COL Hoffman as he and Lee dismounted. He whispered to Hoffman with a wry smile that Reynolds had been informed of the arrival of a distinguished visitor but not his identity. COL Hoffman and Sgt Baxter stood side-by-side as an aide opened the chapel door and announced their arrival. Reynolds was sitting in the center of the aisle behind a field desk. He waved them into the room. The duo stepped just inside the door way and came to attention and offered a formal salute. “COL William Hoffman, 56th PA Volunteers, reporting sir! This is Sgt Baxter. We wish to present you with a gift, sir!” They stepped aside and exposed GEN Lee silhouetted in the door way. Reynolds looked up for the first time and seemed a bit confused as to the “distinguished visitor” whom he could not actually see clearly with the sun behind him. Lee took a firm step forward and entered the chapel his hat in his hands. Reynolds rose from behind his desk and leaned forward in disbelief. All he could think to say was: “GEN Lee, I presume.”
The initial shock of the moment passed quickly and Reynolds motioned the trio to seats on the pews next to his desk. Hoffman and Baxter went left; Lee right and took their seats. “GEN Lee, sir, I trust that you have been treated appropriately.” Lee simply nodded acknowledgement. In fact, over the past hour he has nary uttered a word. He wasn’t about to change that. Reynolds turned to his men and said “I assume that you two have quite the story to tell; let’s hear it. But first may I offer you coffee?” He called for an orderly to bring coffee. “Gentlemen, let’s hear it.” Hoffman deferred to Baxter to relate the tale of finding an unguarded cabin as he sought Hills’ rear guard. Baxter had just gotten to the part where CPL Dalton had found Lee asleep in the chair when the orderly returned with a pot and 4 metal cups. He filled each to the brim and handed one to Lee. Lee took a deep whiff of the aromatic brew. Union coffee was always much more robust than the chicory-diluted brew his army had.
Hoffman took over the narrative as they each sipped the hot liquid. Hoffman completed the story with “….and so we brought him straight to you.” Reynolds turned to Lee and said “You probably don’t remember but we have met briefly when you were Commandant of the Academy [West Point]. I had passed through in ’53 or ’54.” Lee simply nodded in acknowledgement with confirming or denying that encounter.
After a brief but pregnant pause, Reynolds said: “So, General, shall we discuss the terms of the surrender of your Army?” Lee finished his coffee, placed the cup on the desk and leaned back crossing his arms: “Sir, you may have me but it does not appear as if you have my Army!” It was the first sentence he had uttered since his capture.
Hoffman and Baxter looked at each other and realized that their role in this play has come to an end. They rose in unison, silently saluted and headed for the door. “Well done, gentlemen!” Reynolds said as they withdrew.
Outside, Hoffman announced that he needed to return to the regiment. He suggested that Baxter stay on and over-see Lee’s status. Baxter was already squatting by the fire regaling the staff officers of how he had single-handedly obtained the biggest prize of the war.
Reynolds decided to spur on Lee with a bit of news. He assumed that if Lee had been asleep at the time of his capture he was unaware of developments. Reynolds stretched the truth (as he knew it) telling Lee that LTG Howard’s Corps was at Gettysburg and that they had Hill’s corps trapped between them.
Given the conversation that he had had with Hill last night, Lee assumed (hoped) that at least Heth’s division and possibly Pender’s had eluded Howard’s arrival and they were now in possession of Gettysburg itself with Howard somewhere outside the city. In his mind he ticked off the elements of his Army, wondering how each Corps commander would react in the absence of orders from him.
Lee leaned back in silence, not reacting to the news that Reynolds had hoped would provoke action on Lee’s part.
Reynolds quickly ascertained Lee’s game. He was going to be uncommunicative and uncooperative until he knew the status of his army and the chance that he’d be rescued. Lee was running through numerous scenarios in his mind as he sat in the pew across from his captor. Would Longstreet realize that he was now in command of the Army of Northern Virginia? How would he react? What was Ewell’s status? How much of Hill’s corps was entrapped? Would Heth or Pender attack Howard? Where in the hell was JEB Stuart?
Reynolds was also largely in the dark. He had yet to hear from Howard as to precisely what was the status of forces near Gettysburg. How much of Hill’s Corps had escaped the pincer movement? Would they, had they already, attacked? Was Meade shifting the rest of the Army of the Potomac north?
Reynolds saw no need to have a guard on Lee. For his part, Lee slouched in the pew and then, using his hat as a pillow, laid down and fell asleep. He seemed a bit too at ease for being a POW. Throughout the afternoon, dispatches were handed to Reynolds, but most were negative reports of contact. There seemed to be no Rebel activity what so ever.
At about 4PM that changed. At first there was just a low rumble that could have been thunder. It was distant and indistinct, but then there was a reply. Clouds don’t argue, it had to be the sound of cannons exchanging fire, but where? A dispatch rider came galloping up to the chapel, his horse knackered. It was a message from BG Rowley of the Third Division north of the town. He was exchanging artillery fire with a Rebel unit approaching from the north, but they seemed willing to stand-off and no direct infantry engagement had yet occurred.
A few miles north of Cashtown, MG Johnson’s division of Ewell’s corps was approaching Cashtown from Carlisle. Ewell had sent him on this parallel route so as not to crowd the direct road from Carlisle to Gettysburg that Rodes was using. Obviously the presence of Union soldiers in his path was a complete surprise. He expected to find Hill’s supply train, not Union artillery at Cashtown. He halted his advance and brought up cannons to answer back, but had no intention of making any attack. He was still under the order to avoid any major engagement until the Army was consolidated. He kept most of his division out of artillery range and sent messengers to find Ewell, who was following Rodes on the main route to Gettysburg. He also dispatched messengers west to find LTG Longstreet to see what his assessment was of this unexpected Union encounter.
At his HQ in Chambersburg, LTG Longstreet was also trying to make sense of this new development. First some cavalrymen then escaping wagon masters were making the same reports: BG Buford’s cavalry division had attacked and split the supply train; capturing hundreds of wagons and much of their cavalry escort. Infantry arrived on his heels and took possession of Cashtown. They’d now been there only about 12 hours but they undoubtedly would have some defensive breastworks erected. Longstreet had Hood’s full division at Chambersburg but McLaws’ was still straggling in and Pickett was the better part of a day’s march away. Two Confederate divisions would outnumber a Union Corps – if Reynolds had even brought his full corps to Cashtown. Should he risk a counter-attack with just 2 divisions against a smaller number of soldiers that must be facing in three different directions. They had to know that Ewell was to their north and Hill to their east. The messengers from Johnson confirmed this suspicion that the Union force facing him astride the main road was no more than one division. They’d need one other facing north and the last facing east. But he still knew nothing of any other parts of the Union Army. How many men were en route to re-enforce Reynolds? He sent scouts to probe and fix the Union line but was not inclined to act until he had more information. Was there any way that Lee could get orders around Cashtown to tell him what he wanted him to do?
The news of the arrival of a rebel division from the north came as no great surprise to Reynolds but it meant that each of his three divisions was now facing an enemy force that out-numbered them. He had yet to ascertain which Rebel division it was (Johnson’s) but a division would be the smallest Rebel force that would travel independently. With the most imminent danger coming from the north, he sent Buford’s cavalry to act as a reserve for Rowley. The reports from BG Meredith in the west were still devoid of any rebel movement from that direction. Likewise, whatever portion of Hill’s corps was over to the east seemed content to dig in and wait. In a short time, their major problem was going to be food. He had most of that parked along the road; the wagon masters his prisoners. As the sun set on 1 July 1863, Reynolds’ last orders to his commanders was to post maximum guards and to dig in against a possible counter-attack.
While GEN Lee slept away the afternoon, Sgt Baxter took it upon himself to find more suitable quarters for his new ‘friend’. It didn’t take him long to determine that Cashtown did indeed have a Sheriff’s Office with a small holding cell. When he informed the elderly sheriff who he wished to ‘check-in to the hotel’, the sheriff eagerly accompanied him back to the chapel. Baxter timidly knocked on the chapel door and informed LTG Reynolds that he had found suitable accommodations for GEN Lee. He asked permission to escort him to the jail. Reynolds agreed that Lee would be safer there as well as easier to guard deeper into the town. He assigned a contingent of his personal cavalry guard to escort Baxter and Lee.
On the morning of 3 July, Cavalry officers from Buford’s division set out under flags of truce to deliver Lee’s surrender order to his 3 Corps Commanders plus JEB Stuart. LTG Hill was the least surprised and was more than willing to comply knowing that he was facing the annihilation of Anderson’s division should Meade give an order to attack. Waiting just to the east of Cashtown was a wagon train of food and water to be delivered to that beleaguered and surrounded division.
Scouts had alerted LTG Ewell of the approach of the small group under truce and he had had time to gather the 5 Division CDRs with him to receive whatever news or ultimatum it was. He did not expect it to be a surrender order. He requested that he be given a short time with his commanders to formulate their reply. The hand-written order was relatively brief – Lee had always been rather taciturn – but it included enough information to convince them that, where not as dire as Hill and Anderson, their position of the east side of town was quite untenable. Sadly, they all agreed to comply.
The cavalrymen seeking LTG Longstreet and MG Stuart were somewhat less successful. They never found Stuart’s cavalry as he had already swung around to join Longstreet. MG Hood intercepted the surrender order and promised to deliver it post-haste to Longstreet so the Union contingent never got close to him.
By afternoon, Buford’s cavalrymen had a second truce-flag meeting at which they delivered rather hastily printed copies of Lee’s order to be distributed throughout his Army. Copies were also delivered to local newspapers and telegraphed far and wide! One could almost hear the cries of anguish as officers read the order to the men formed in ranks and then began the process of dis-arming them. Once the initial disarmament of weapons and ammunition was accomplished wagons festooned with US flags arrived to carry them away.
On the morning of 4 July, in an ironic twist of ALT Hx, 50,000 or so men were herded off the Balto Pike and into the natural prison formed by the contiguous hills south of the Gettysburg town cemetery. MG Sickles’ 2 divisions were assigned the task of manning those hills and guarding the prisoners. Although it was discussed by many, the idea of escape was futile. They were too deep in Union territory and by uniform and accent they would stand out too starkly not to be quickly rounded up. By evening, Anderson’s division was marched in through the saddle at the base of Culp’s Hill.
Only their weapons had been confiscated. Each man was allowed to keep his personal gear and kit. Those wagons – basic supplies, medical and food service – that normally travelled with the combat troops were also allowed to stay. Officers were permitted to keep their side-arms, swords and horses – for now at least. It was reasoned that it would allow them to maintain some level of command authority. By nightfall, a thriving bivouac site had been established with medical tents and consolidated cook centers distributed across the valley.
Utilizing the seldom used rail line that linked York to Gettysburg, BG Haupt, the Army of the Potomac’s senior railway officer, began to funnel supplies into the area. Basic foodstuffs were then delivered to the prisoners: grain, flour, the occasional emaciated cow or horse. But the Rebels were responsible for cooking and distributing their own food. Water was supplied by some small springs. There was enough for drinking and cooking but none for bathing. Collection and distribution also fell to the prisoners.
As the trains unloaded their supplies (also the prisoners’ duty), they were not leaving empty. In groups of a few hundred, the Rebels were marched into town and loaded into freight cars or chained onto open flat-bed rail cars. Only a few people knew the destination of those trains. As they reached York, switches were thrown and they were channeled north. Up through the Susquehanna Valley and into New Jersey then New York. Once past the city, some went west others continued north. Their ultimate destination was the Canadian border! The Rebels were being ‘paroled’ but far from home.
As they reached the border, the former soldiers were met by local militia who herded them off the trains and pointed them north. The more reluctant ones felt the butt of a musket or the tip of a bayonet. Because of the multiple endpoints, it took the Canadian government a while to piece together what was happening. But within a few weeks they realized that there were now 60,000-plus Southerners chasing their women, eating their bacon and drinking their ale!
As the soldiers were being funneled out of the makeshift prison, their officers were separated and taken to the Gettysburg town square. They were relieved of their side-arms, swords and horses and marched through the town in small groups to a newly constructed enclosure. Once the transfer of the parolees was complete the hundreds of officers and a few of the more senior NCOs were marched north to Carlisle where a hastily prepared fenced compound was constructed around warehouses and barracks where they would serve out their “sentence” as POWs. There were more than a few tearful reunions among former West Point classmates and roommates as the former Confederate officers departed Gettysburg.
The fate of Lee and his senior commanders was somewhat different if not better. They boarded a rather comfortable carriage of one of the first trains and were delivered to Philadelphia. There they were met by GEN Halleck – the senior officer of the Union Army – who presented them with an order directly from President Lincoln. They, too, were now paroled and were being immediately deported to England. Should they seek to return, they would be fugitives subject to summary execution.
Back in WASHDC, Lincoln was rather furious that both Longstreet and Stuart chose to ignore Lee’s surrender order and withdrew back to Virginia. He was only slightly less furious that Meade had chosen not to pursue them. But in reality, Meade’s main strength was too far east to make any attempt to chase after Longstreet with a force large enough to be effective. They would likely never get closer than a full day’s march.
As the POW population dwindled, Meade ordered the bulk of his Army to begin the long march back to northern Virginia from which they had departed. Once there, they would begin the hunt for the now tiny Army of Northern Virginia and its newly appointed commander, GEN James Longstreet.
As I read those historical novels, I can only ponder what a real author (not an amateur dabbler like me) could do with the ‘negotiations’ that would have taken place between LTG Reynolds and then GEN Meade with GEN Lee.
Maybe, some way or another, a real writer will steal my ideas and write them into a best seller!
HA, Ha, ha………
One more feeble attempt at an ALT Hx narrative
The Climax of the Pipe Creek Attack
The morning of 6 July 1863 saw two armies licking their wounds. Lee’s forces had withstood all that Meade could muster against him and held, tenuously, to the bluffs overlooking Pipe’s Creek. Lee’s army was in a tight formation straddling the Taneytown Road and arcing east across the Balto Pike then it turned south so that part of Longstreet’s Corps was facing east towards Manchester supplemented by Anderson division. Lee was holding Pender’s Division as his reserve. He had moved Stuart’s Cavalry up to help protect Longstreet’s right flank.
The Fifth, Second and Twelfth Unions Corps had borne the brunt of the previous day’s fighting and were wounded but not out of the fight. On their right flank, was Sickles Third Corps whose flank attack had broken Ewell’s defense at Taneytown and caused their withdrawal. Ewell’s Corps now occupied the series of connected hills straddling the Taneytown Road as the left flank of Lee’s force. Over near Manchester, Eleventh Corps had moved past the Sixth and First and was now digging in on Longstreet’s left flank. It had not engaged on the prior day so was at full strength (less its losses on Day 1). Behind it, on the outskirts of Manchester, was Seventh Corps and First Corps had moved south to straddle the Pike nearest Westminster.
Meade’s Engineer and Artillery Chiefs had scouted the area south of Taneytown. There they found a series of hills less well situated than those along Pipe’s Creek but suitable, none the less for a strong point from which to act. The Artillery Chief, BG Hunt, had begun to align every cannon he could muster on those hilltops barely a mile from the Confederate line. At dawn on 6 July, they began a prolonged bombardment. Similarly, LTG Howard commanding the Union left flank was aligning his artillery to soften up the Rebel right near Manchester.
Throughout the day (6 July) Meade conducted a series of moves to strengthen his position. In a rather uncharacteristic maneuver, Meade had his cavalry make a lightening attack on Ewell’s left flank. In actuality, this was a feint to mask the shift of Third Corps which moved a bit west then south to establish itself on that flank. Sickle’s HQ was now near Middleburg, LTG Howard commanding three corps was at Manchester and Meade had his three remaining Corps on the hills south of Taneytown. All the while, the Union artillery was trying to attrite the Rebel numbers. Since the Rebel forces were fairly well concentrated along their defensive line, the Union artillery began to take its toll. While under constant, if not concentrated fire, the Rebels continued to improve their defensive line with deeper and better ditches strung along the bluffs.
But as Meade assessed Lee’s rather compact defensive line on the bluffs above the creek, he was reluctant to attack them head on. He had rather effectively bottled them up. His cavalry was able to strike in and out between the creek and Westminster, preventing Lee from freely moving supplies to his troops. They were effectively on an island and could only be supplied under cover of darkness, but that was slow and dangerous. Meade was content to sit and maintain pressure without making a serious attack. For his part, he also sent telegrams to Lincoln informing him that Lee was all but encircled. He asked for re-enforcements from the Union Corps that were still guarding WASH and Lincoln allowed one to be sent by train. They dis-embarked south of the city (at the point where the bridges had been burned) and were easily able to re-establish Union control. Once again, the cached supplies were fed to the Union soldiers.
Once surrounded and cut off from re-supply, Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia on 17 July.
Since Vicksburg had fallen in the first week of July, fighting east of the Mississippi was all but over except for the area around and south of Atlanta.
Mop up operations across the remainder of the Confederacy were complete by 1 Nov = the Civil War ended!