Southern Historical Society Papers/Volume 01/May/Review of Bates' Gettysburg

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Southern Historical Society Papers: Volume 1, Number 5  (1876)  by William Allan
Review of Bates' Gettysburg
Southern Historical Society Papers, May 1876

Review of Bates' Battle of Gettysburg.


[In a brief notice of Bates' history of the battle of Gettysburg, we intimated a purpose of returning to the subject again. The following letter from Colonel Wm. Allan, late Chief of Ordnance of Second Corps, Army Northern Virginia, spares us any further, trouble. We happen to know that Colonel Allan is thoroughly familiar with the history of the Army of Northern Virginia, and that some of the most valuable military criticisms that have appeared in late years, have been from his facile pen.]

McDonough School, Maryland, April 1, 1876.

Rev. J. W. Jones,Secretary Southern Historical Society:

It is to be regretted that at this time, more than ten years after the close of the war, the feelings that were natural enough during its progress have still sufficient force to discolor the facts of history. The book of Dr. Bates, recently published, possesses merit as a clear and readable account of the battle of Gettysburg, and shows labor and research in its compilation, but is wide of the truth in many of its statements. The errors least excusable, are those in regard to the numbers engaged and the losses sustained.

General Meade stated, under oath, that his strength on that battlefield was, "including all arms of the service, a little under 100,000 men, say about 95,000." He thought that General Lee had about 90,000 infantry, 4,000 to 5,000 artillery, and 10,000 cavalry. Now General Meade's estimate of the Confederate force was of course nothing but a guess, but his statement as to his own force actually on the field must be supposed to be substantially correct. Dr. Bates assumes, in the face of General Meade's statement, that the above numbers were those borne on the rolls, and not those "in the field," and on the basis of an estimate of General Doubleday of the strength of the First Corps on July 1st (which shows a decrease of about 25 per cent. from General Butterfield's return of the same corps on June 10th), proceeds to reduce the total strength of the Federal army to 72,000. The infantry corps subsequently engaged in the battle numbered, according to General Butterfield, on June 10th 76,255. Between that date and the battle, he states, new commands joined General Meade, which added 9,500 infantry to his army. Add the cavalry at Dr. Bates' estimate of 12,000, and we have nearly 100,000 men. Deduct rear and train guards, and we see that General Meade's statement is borne out. Does Dr. Bates think it credible that the Federal army, between June 10th and July 1st, without any severe battles or marches, while it was slowly swinging around Washington and Baltimore as a pivot, so as to present a front to General Lee in his Northward march, and while every effort was being made to recruit it and hurry up to the front the absentees, dwindled from 100,000 to 72,000 effectives?

Again, General Meade's official report, as quoted by Dr. Bates, of his losses at Gettysburg, makes them in the aggregate 23,186. The estimates of the Federal infantry corps commanders on July 4th, the day after the battle, give 51,514 (see General Butterfield's testimony) as the effective force of infantry then remaining. This taken from say 85,000 infantry, the force present on July 1st, leaves over 33,000 as the Federal loss. The excess of 10,000 thus shown over the official report, consisted no doubt of the stragglers and absentees, produced by the losses and demoralization of the battle, and who subsequently returned to duty. It was undoubtedly this state of facts which prevented General Meade from attacking General Lee at Gettysburg, and induced the Federal council of war to vote with only two dissenting voices, on July 12th, against attacking him at Hagerstown, where he had an impassable river behind him.

But if Dr. Bates has dealt unfairly with the Federal reports of strength and losses at Gettysburg, he has hardly deigned to notice the Confederate sources of information at all. His estimate of General Lee's force is derived entirely from the guesses of Generals Hooker and Meade. General Hooker says, according to Dr. Bates: "With regard to the enemy's force, I had reliable information. Two Union men had counted them as they passed through Hagerstown, and in order that there might be no mistake, they compared notes every night, and if their counts differed, they were satisfactorily adjusted by compromise. In round numbers, Lee had 91,000 infantry and 280 pieces of artillery; marching with that column were about 6,000 cavalry." He adds that Stuart's cavalry, which crossed the Potomac at Seneca, "numbered about 5,000 men." Such information as this may have been useful to a commander before a battle, who was very anxious not to underrate his enemy, but is altogether valueless to the historian. General Meade's estimate given above, puts General Lee's force at nearly the same. In addition to these estimates, which he assumes as true, Dr. Bates on the authority of Swinton, reports General Longstreet as saying "that there were at Gettysburg 67,000 bayonets, or above 70,000 of all arms." The only attempt at using Confederate information on a point in regard to which they alone could give accurate information, is thus a second-hand statement from General Longstreet, which conflicts (as will be shown) with all the other Confederate authorities, and is certainly erroneous. The attempt of Dr. Bates to reconcile the estimate of Hooker and Meade, with the alleged statement of Longstreet, leads to an amusing calculation. Having ciphered the Federal army from 95,000 to 72,000, by comparing Butterfield's report of Reynolds' corps for June 10th, and Doubleday's estimate of it on July 1st, he applies the same arithmetic to Lee's army, and states that "we may therefore fairly conclude that Lee crossed the Potomac with something over 100,000 men, and actually had upon the field in the neighborhood of 76,300."

General Lee had crossed the Potomac but ten days before; had marched unopposed and at his leisure through a hostile country into central Pennsylvania; had concentrated his entire force except Stuart's cavalry (which did not cross the Potomac with the main army) and Imboden's small command—at Gettysburg; and yet under these circumstances was, according to Dr. Bates, able to bring but three men out of four to the battle-field. Dr. Bates thinks the Confederate commander lost the use of over 20,000 men in this time by straggling! At this rate it was great waste of blood for General Meade to fight at all. Had he allowed General Lee to march about in Pennsylvania for a month longer the whole Confederate army would have melted away, and all the advantages of Gettysburg been won without the sacrifices.

The truth is this : General Lee left Culpeper on his march northward, June 10th, with not over 60,000 effective troops of all arms. He had some severe cavalry fighting east of the Blue Ridge, and dispersed or captured Milroy's force at Winchester. At this last place he was joined by a small body of cavalry, a battalion of infantry and a battery. This addition did not compensate for the losses in battle, the detachment left to guard the prisoners taken from Milroy, and to protect communication to the Potomac. So that General Lee "crossed the Potomac" with under 60,000 men, including his cavalry. From 55,000 to 58,000 (counting all the cavalry) of this number were probably at Gettysburg.

The foregoing accords with General Lee's statement to the writer, since the war, of his forces in the Pennsylvania campaign. It is confirmed by other information.

1. In the Historical Magazine of August, 1867, is re-published an article from the New York Tribune, containing what purports to be a copy of the returns of the Confederate armies, taken from the captured archives at Washington. Where the returns were defective, the author (Mr. Swinton) has interpolated his own estimates. These are very inaccurate, but the copied returns contain valuable information. In this paper the whole force for duty in the "Department of Northern Virginia" in May, 1863, is given at 68,352. This comprised all the troops under General Lee's command, and embraced, besides the main army lying on the Rappahannock, detached bodies at various points in the State. It would be a very moderate estimate to allow 8,000 or 8,500 men for the number of troops not with the main army of invasion, and yet included in the Department of Northern Virginia.

2. The Confederate army, at the time mentioned, consisted of three corps of infantry, besides artillery and cavalry. The army was divided into these three corps in May, and Longstreet, Ewell and Hill commanded them. They did not differ much in strength. Each corps contained three divisions. General Early commanded one of the divisions of Ewell's corps. In his report of this campaign, published in the Historical Magazine for April, 1873, he gives the field return of his division on June 20th. From it we have—

Officers present for duty 514
Enlisted men present for duty  5,124
 Total 5,638

He says: "My division, notwithstanding the absence of three small regiments, was fully an average one in our army." This report agrees with my own recollection. My position in the army at that time made it my duty to know the strength of Ewell's corps. It contained on the 1st of June, just before we set out on the campaign fifteen thousand and a few hundred muskets. Longstreet's was somewhat stronger, but the difference was slight. This would make the Confederate infantry at the beginning of the campaign about 50,000 men. An addition of 10,000 for artillery and cavalry is liberal.

3.But Dr. Bates has in his own book the refutation of his estimates. It appears, from his roster of the two armies, that there were 239 Union and 163 Confederate regiments of infantry present at the battle. As a unit of organization the regiment was the same in both armies; and it is a well known fact that the Confederate regiments, except when newly formed, were never so full as the Federal ones. This was but the natural result of the more abundant facilities for recruiting on the one side than on the other. Now the Federal regiments—if the above enumeration be correct—must have averaged about 350 men, and the Confederate about 300 men, according to estimates made by each commander of his own force. This is a large estimate of the average strength of the Confederate regiments. But Dr. Bates' estimate would require them to have been over 460 strong(!) and the Federal only 300(!), a result absurd on its face. In regard to the Confederate losses, we have fuller data than as to their strength. The reports of Generals Longstreet and Ewell have both been published (though Dr. Bates seems unaware of it, as well as of the publication of General Lee's final report of the battle—Southern Magazine, August, 1872). The official report of losses by Longstreet (Southern Magazine, April, 1874) is—total killed, wounded and missing (including loss in artillery attached to the corps), 7,515, General Ewell reports his total losses while in Pennsylvania (Southern Magazine, June, 1873) at "6,094 aggregate." General Hill's report has not been published (so far as I know), but as his corps did not suffer more than the others, the average of the above, or 6,800 men, would be a full allowance. The entire Confederate loss did not exceed 21,000 men.

There are many other points deserving notice, but this letter is already too long.

Very truly yours,

W. Allan.