Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 04.djvu/289
Causes of Lee's Defeat at Gettysburg. 281
He should have recollected that an army in battle array is like a complicated machine, in which, when the motoi that starts the whole fails to obey the control and guidance of the engineer, all the parts are powerless or are thrown out of joint.
It is a little remarkable that there is such an industrious search after causes for our failure to achieve a great victory at Gettys- burg, when there is an all-sufficient cause staring us in the face r patent and palpable, which fully explains and accounts for that failure namely, the most extraordinary procrastination and delay in carrying out the orders for the attacks on the 2nd and 3rd days, upon which the whole battle hinged. To be hunting for other causes in the miscarriage of dependent and minor operations, is like examining an engine to ascertain whether some of its parts are out of order, when the piston-rod fails to move on opening the valve that lets on the steam, because the fireman has omitted to kindle his fires; or looking into the delicate machinery of a watch with a microscope to discover whether some of the cogs are bro- ken, or dust impedes their working, when the hands cease to move because the main-spring is broken.
J. A. EARLY.
NOTE. When William the Conqueror invaded England, he was compelled to sustain his army by foraging or pillaging, which he did by spreading his army over the country adjacent to the coast. When Harold assembled his army to meet that of the invader, instead of attacking the latter, he moved near enough to William to check his ravages, and took position on the hill of Jenlac, near Hastings, and strongly entrenched his army. This covered London and compelled William to concentrate his army to insure its safety, and it has been well re- marked, that "with a host subsisting by pillage, to concentrate is to starve, and no alterna- tive was left to William but a decisive victory or ruin." William, therefore, decided to attack at once, and after a bloody battle the victory of Hastings resulted in securing to him and his descendants the throne of England, while it placed him among the foremost captains of the World. General Lee's army in Pennsylvania was in some respects in the same condition of William's. It had to subsist entirely by foraging on the country, which it could do only by spreading over it, and concentration with it meant starvation. When, therefore, Meade moved his army near enough to General Lee's to render concentration necessary, the only alternative left the latter was a battle or a retreat. He realized that fact, and after speaking in his report of the difficulty of withdrawing through the mountains, he says : "At the same time we were unable to wait an attack, as the country was unfavorable for collecting supplies in the presence of the enemy, who could restrain our foraging parties by holding the moun- tain passes with local and other troops." It would have been the merest folly for Meade to attack us, whether we took position on the heights of Gettysburg or by moving around his left, at some other point. Time would have accomplished all he desired, and the idea of a campaign on ".the offensive-strategical but defensive-tactical plan" of General Longstreet, for an invading army subsisting on the country, was a simple absurdity.