The Battle of Gettysburg - The South's Greatest Victory
A Memoir by Lt. Gen. Thomas J. Jackson, Confederate Army
There were many things that occured on those three days. So many things. Things could have gone better for us, and they definitely could have gone better for the Yanks. But, as always, it appears that God, as usual, was, and still is, on our side. Still, things happened in those days that should not have.
I remember clearly how things started. There was one factor that made this campaign unforgettable, more so than any other; The heat - the Pennsylvania Summer is unbearably hot, especially while wearing these damned uniforms. I saw men drop from their ranks while marching. Minutes later, they were dead from heat exhaustion. But, I suppose this is my philosophy in action - "Better to lose one man from marching than 5 men from fighting".
Things formally began when a friend of Longstreet's - also a Scout, his name being Henry Harrison - found information on enemy troop movements. He spotted a large column of Infantry with supporting Cavalry moving north-west from Washington, informing Longstreet that the entire Federal force was marching towards the divided Confederate forces. Longstreet informed Lee, whom quickly called a council of war. From there, we formed a plan - Longstreet and Hill would converge on the town from the North and West. My Corps would act as a reserve, ready to send a massive shock into the enemy lines if needed. Stuart, meanwhile, would send scouts and foraging parties in every possible direction that the Federals could approach, taking all the food possible and gathering information on the terrain.
As our troops converged on the town, and eventually took the heights beyond, a messenger from General Stuart informed Lee that, indeed, we had chosen the right time to take this town. Our advanced element, consisting of the divisions of Anderson and Heth of Hill's Corps, were under attack from the combined forces of Two Federal Corps; Reynolds and Hancock, a combined force of over 23,000 men compared to the 16,000 men of Heth and Anderson's divisions. Our men held the line, and held it well; The fact that our men were on high ground probably helped. Just to be safe, two batteries were sent forward, and started firing canister and shrapnel shot point blank into the Federal ranks.
The two corps soon retreated with heavy loss. Hill and Longstreet, at that point, committed both of their entire forces to holding the high ground. I put my boys in a longer line just behind, so as to provide cover of the first line and to counter a breakthrough wherever one occured, if there ever was one. This would prove useful the next day.
The second day began with the sound of heavy artillery fire coming from the ground below us. Federal Howitzers and Rifled Guns were pounding our positions for hours on end. We had our troops lie down on the reverse slopes of the ridges so as to keep them out of harm's way. One of my reserve brigades, stationed more to the south near the bottom of Cemetary Ridge, near a Peach Orchard, saw what was happening; The bombardment was a diversion.
Coming through the gap between two large hills and the ridge, an entire Federal Corps was marching through in an attempt to outflank us. I hastily ordered General Rodes' Division to move south to meet them. Rodes outnumbered them slightly, and hit them as they came up; Eventually, they had taken heavy losses and were disorganized, so they withdrew to the top of the smaller hill. Rodes reformed his men and sent them after the Federal Corps, but the absolutely apalling terrain caused greivous casualties for his Division. This is one of the flaws in the battle. Had we simply brought up a few batteries of Artillery, we could have pushed them off with Shell and Shrapnel shot. But instead, we pushed them back and lost a quarter of Rodes' division for it.
However, if the attack itself was a disaster, the result was much more favorable; With the two hills(known as the Little- and Big-Round-Tops) taken, we had an excellent vantage point for Artillery. Stuart sent one of his brigades to dismount and hold the ground, while Rodes' Division assisted. His Division's Artillery, meanwhile, fired counterbattery and destroyed several Federal Guns. The Federals sent countless attacks to try to retake the two hills, at one point even surrounding the hill and "tightening the noose"; moving their entire surrounding force forward in a mass attack.
Our men held out. Barely. But eventually, the division of General Johnson moved to the hills and counterattacked. The Stonewall Brigade and the Louisiana Tigers, both of these brigades in Johnson's division, drove the Federals back with a fierocity that I have never seen, and never wish to see again in my life.
The second day had ended. Federal casualties were much higher than those of our army, and Lee decided that, with the Federals exhausted and demoralized, that we would attack tomorrow. In the night, preparations were made; walkways made from planks and logs. Artillery brought up to support the attack. Stuart's Cavalry riding around behind the Federals to trap them. The plan was ready. The Federals had better have slept tight, for the next day would be one they would never forget.
On the final day, the Federals were awakened at 5:30 in the morning with deafening roars and explosions. Men died in their sleep. Men were awakened to find they had severed limbs. The bombardment continued for hours on end until 9:00, when over 35,000 of our Infantry stepped out off the high ground and began the long descent down the hill, some aiming to fire as they walked. The Federals were being attacked from two sides. They fired back for as long as their morale would allow, and then they broke and ran. But they ran right into Stuart's 7,000 Cavalrymen, who charged into the Federal lines, killing and capturing many Yankees.
The combined Infantry and Cavalry assault captured all of the Federal Generals, tens of thousands of Infantry, and about three-quarters of the Federal Colors involved. The Army of the Potomac simply ceased to exist in the space of three days. This battle persuaded the British to come in on our side, and within a month, Washington itself was beseiged by over 60,000 Confederates and 55,000 British. Washington fell 3 weeks later, and our independence won.
At Gettysburg, the Federals sustained over 52,000 casualties; 2,500 Killed, 12,500 Wounded, and 37,000 Captured or Missing. By contrast, we suffered 7,000 casualties; 500 Killed, 6,000 Wounded, and 500 Missing. That battle was the spark that lit the torch of independence for the South.