Southern Historical Society Papers/Volume 01/June/Strength of Lee's Army in the Seven Days Battles—Marshall, Johnston and Early
Strength of General Lee's Army in the Seven Days Battles Around Richmond.
[For obvious reasons, our Confederate generals did not publish during the war detailed statements of the strength of their armies.
The Federal authorities and Federal writers have almost invariably exaggerated our strength, our own people have been in profound ignorance of our real numbers, and there has been among some of our most distinguished leaders honest differences of opinion as to our strength at different periods.
The following discussion, as to General Lee's numbers during the seven days battles, has excited great attention, not only on account of the interest in the questions involved, but also because of the standing of the distinguished soldiers who were parties to it. We have been several times urged, by those whose opinions are entitled to weight, to give the discussion a place in our Papers, in order that it may be preserved. We do so without note or comment, leaving our readers to draw their own conclusions.]
Extract from an Address of Colonel Charles Marshall, Private Secretary and A. D. C. to General R. E. Lee before the Virginia Division of the Army of Northern Virginia.
It is not fourteen years since our war began, and yet, who on either side of those who took part in it is bold enough to say that he knows the exact truth, and the whole truth, with reference to any of the great battles in which the armies of the North and South met each other?
Was not Mr. Sumner censured by the Legislature of Massachusetts because, prompted in part at least, let us hope, by the love of truth, he renewed in the Senate of the United States after the war a resolution which in substance he had previously brought forward?
Resolved, That * * * it is inexpedient that the names of victories obtained over our own fellow-citizens should be placed on the regimental colors of the United States."
This resolution would erase from the colors of the United States army such names as those of Cold Harbor, Manassas, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, which you have seen inscribed upon captured flags. Now we believe that we won those fights, and we wonder why a resolution of Congress should be necessary to blot them from the list of Union victories recorded on the standards of its armies.
We think that we know something about the second battle at Manassas, and yet is not General Fitz John Porter, who fought us so stubbornly at the first battle of Cold Harbor, now in disgrace, because it was proved to the satisfaction of a Federal court-martial that half the Confederate army was not where we all know it was on the morning of August 29th, 1862? And on our side, have we not read General Joseph E. Johnston's "Contribution of materials for the use of the future historian of the war between the States," and has any one risen from the perusal of that interesting book, without the conviction that its distinguished author is mistaken as to some of his statements, or that all contemporaneous history is in error?
I will venture to present only two of the perplexities in which "the future historian of the war between the States" will find himself involved when he comes to compare the "material" contributed by General Johnston with the other "material" contributed by official records and documents, which General Johnston seems not to have seen, or not to have consulted:
General Johnston says—on p. 145 of his "Narrative"—"The authors of Alfriend's life of Jefferson Davis, and some other biographies, represent, to my disparagement, that the army with which General Lee fought in the 'Seven Days' was only that which I had commanded. It is very far from the truth. General Lee did not attack the enemy until the 26th of June, because he was employed from the 1st until then in forming a great army, by bringing to that which I had commanded, fifteen thousand men from North Carolina, under Major-General Holmes; twenty-two thousand men from South Carolina and Georgia, and above sixteen thousand men from the 'Valley,' in the divisions of Jackson and Ewell, which the victories of Cross Keys and Port Republic had rendered disposable."
General Johnston states in a note the sources of his information.
He says "General Holmes told me, in General Lee's presence, just before the fight began on the 31st (of May) that he had that force (15,000 men) ready to join me when the President should give the order." He then refers to other evidence, which he says is in his possession, going to show that the reinforcements brought by General Holmes to General Lee, and which took part in the "Seven Days" battles, amounted to 15,000 men.
As to the 22,000 from South Carolina and Georgia, General Johnston says:
"General Ripley gave in this number. He brought the first brigade, five thousand men. General Lawton told me that his was six thousand; General Drayton that his was seven thousand. There was another brigade, of which I do not know the strength."
Now the "future historian" ought not lightly to doubt the accuracy of any statement of General Johnston, and upon that high authority he would record that before the battles of the "Seven Days," General Lee received from three of the sources mentioned by General Johnston, reinforcements to the number of thirty-seven thousand men, who took part in those engagements which resulted in dislodging General McClellan from his position on the Chickahominy.
And yet how hard the "future historian" will be put to it to reconcile "Johnston's narrative" with the official reports made at the time. In the first volume of the official reports of the operations of the Army of Northern Virginia, published by authority of the Confederate Congress, at page 151, will be found General Holmes' statement of the number of men brought by him to take part in the battles around Richmond during the "Seven Days."
General Holmes there says: That upon crossing the James river he was joined on the 30th June by General Wise with two regiments of seven hundred and fifty-two bayonets and two batteries of artillery, and adds: "The effective force under my orders thus amounted to six thousand infantry and six batteries of artillery," being less by nine thousand infantry General Johnston's "narrative" assigns to General Holmes. General Johnston says that Ripley's brigade was five thousand strong, and that General Ripley so informed him.
There may have been that number of men borne upon the rolls of the brigade, but we have General Ripley's official report of the number of troops under his command that actually took part in the battles around Richmond.
At page 234, volume 1 of the official report already referred to, General Ripley says:
"The aggregate force which entered into the series of engagements on the 26th of June was twenty-three hundred and sixty-six, including pioneers and the ambulance corps."
The "Narrative" puts the force under General Lawton at six thousand men, but before the "historian of the war" ventures to make use of this contribution to his materials, he will do well to look at the official reports, at page 270 of the first volume, where he will find that General Lawton gives the force which he carried into the battle of Cold Harbor, on the 27th June, 1862, as thirty-five hundred men.
I have not been able to find General Drayton's report of the part taken by his command in the battles around Richmond—if he did take part in them—and therefore cannot compare the number assigned to General Drayton in those engagements by General Johnston's "narrative" with any official documents, but if the reports of Holmes, Lawton and Ripley be correct, they brought less than 11,866 men to participate in those battles, instead of 26,000 as stated by General Johnston.
Ripley and Lawton, according to their reports, had 5,866 men in the "Seven Days" battles, instead of 11,000 according to Johnston's narrative.
It follows, therefore, that Drayton's brigade, and the other, whose strength General Johnston says he does not know, must have made up the rest of the twenty-two thousand men who we are informed came to General Lee from South Carolina and Georgia to aid in driving McClellan from the Chickahominy—that is, those two brigades, Drayton's and the unknown, must have numbered about sixteen thousand men.
General Johnston says that General Drayton told him his brigade was seven thousand strong, so that the unknown brigade must have numbered nine thousand to make up the twenty-two thousand from South Carolina and Georgia.
It may have been so. There may have been a brigade in General Lee's army nine thousand strong, but in speaking about it before you, I think it safer to refer to it as the "unknown brigade." And in this connection let me suggest to the future historian of the war that before he writes Drayton's brigade down as contributing seven thousand men to the army around Richmond in the "Seven Days" battles, it will be well for him to inquire whether that brigade joined the army at all until after McClellan had been driven from the Chickahominy, and the army had marched northwards upon a new campaign.
He will find no trace of this brigade in the reports of the Seven Days battle, although they are so much in detail as to include the reports of captains of companies.
A Confederate brigade, seven thousand strong, would probably have taken some part worth reporting, and its name ought to appear in the official account.
Drayton's command will be found mentioned in the official reports of subsequent operations of the army at Manassas and in Maryland.
As to the "unknown brigade," that I think will turn out to be a small command under General Evans, of South Carolina, who did not join the army until after it moved from Richmond.
GENERAL JOHNSTON'S REPLY TO COLONEL MARSHALL.
Savannah, December 31, 1874
To the Virginia Division of the Association
of the Army of Northern Virginia:
In the oration delivered by Colonel Marshall at your fourth annual meeting, I am accused of assailing the fame of General Lee in three passages of a book published by me last spring. As a Virginian by birth, and especially as a Southern soldier who once served in the Army of Northern Virginia, I am not disposed to leave uncontradicted such an accusation, made to such an audience. Press of business and sickness made me unable to defend myself until now.
[General Johnston's reply to two other points made by Colonel Marshall is omitted as not bearing on the discussion concerning General Lee's numbers.]
The third passage assailed by Colonel Marshall is, with the two notes included by him, on pages 145—6—viz:
"General Lee did not attack the enemy until the 26th of June, because he was employed from the first till then in forming a great army by bringing to that which I had commanded 15,000 men from North Carolina, under General Holmes; 22,000 from South Carolina and Georgia, and above 16,000 from the 'Valley,' in the divisions of Jackson and Ewell, which the victories of Cross Keys and Port Republic had rendered disposable."
I made these statements from confidence in General Lee's military wisdom, and on the testimony of the officers enumerated above. Colonel Marshall impugns such authority.
I asserted, and now maintain, that General Lee postponed his attack until June 26th, to strengthen his army to his utmost before doing so, and acted like a wise general in bringing to it the troops enumerated. Colonel Marshall, on the contrary, gives the impression that he was idle almost four weeks, while McClellan was increasing his numbers and fortifying his positions. I assert that General Lee employed the twenty-six days in question like a general, by greatly reducing the enemy's numerical superiority. Colonel Marshall's effort to discredit my statements indicate that General Lee had little object in the delay, or accomplished very little by it.
Colonel Marshall says, on the evidence of subsequent returns, that the troops of Holmes, Ripley and Lawton, amounted to but 11,866 men. This is not evidence to be put against the statements of those officers. And, besides, it is not to be supposed that General Lee permitted two such unwieldy bodies to remain so in an army in which the average strength of brigades did not much exceed 2,500. It is much more probable that their numbers were reduced by transfers to the weaker brigades than that their commanders were grossly ignorant of them. Of the 11,866 men estimated by Colonel Marshall, General Ripley's 2,300, and 3,000 of General Holmes', reached Richmond before General Lee commanded. According to this our zealous and vigorous leader kept his army inactive twenty-six days waiting for 6,500 men, while his enemy was receiving 19,000 (see McClellan's return of June 20th, volume 1, page 337, Report of the Committee on the Conduct of the War)—Dix's and McCall's divisions—and covering his front south of the Chickahominy with entrenchments. According to Colonel Marshall's representation the delay to attack was greatly to our disadvantage by enabling McClellan to increase the odds in his favor. According to the obnoxious passage in my narrative, General Lee made that delay advantageous to us by greatly reducing the Federal superiority of numbers, and thus increasing our chances of success.
I claim, then, that it is your orator, not I, who detracts from the just fame of the great Virginian.
Your obedient servant,
J. E. Johnston.
REPLY OF GENERAL J. A. EARLY TO GENERAL JOHNSTON.
Richmond, February 8, 1875.
Editors of the Dispatch:
Having received from General Johnston a copy of his reply to Colonel Marshall's address, with the request that it be filed along with the address in the archives of the Association of the Army of Northern Virginia, I took occasion to write him a communication in regard to the matters in dispute between himself and Colonel Marshall. As the subject is one of much historic importance, and of very great interest to the survivors of the Army of Northern Virginia at least, I send you a copy of my communication to General Johnston, with the request that you publish it in your paper. In a letter to myself, which is published by the Rev. J. William Jones in his recent book, General Lee said: "It will be difficult to get the world to understand the odds against which we fought." And this has proved to be the case. In a late criticism by the London Times, of the biography of General Lee by Mr. Childe, of Paris, that paper, while speaking very favorably of the biography in other respects, takes occasion to discard as utterly incredible the statement of the numbers of the opposing armies as given by Mr. Childe; and yet I am informed—for I have not seen his book—that if he errs in that respect it is in overestimating General Lee's numbers. Perhaps it is very natural that officers of the United States army should disbelieve that they were so long baffled by such small numbers as were really opposed to them, and we know that the Government at Washington has invariably refused all access by Confederate officers to the Confederate records and returns on file in the archive office; but there is a very simple process, and that is by the rule of three, by which we can form a correct estimate of the relative strength of the two armies.
The entire white population of all the States that composed the Confederacy, even nominally, was a little more than 7,000,000, but the actual white population upon which the Confederate Government had to depend to fill the ranks of its armies was under 5,000,000, while the Washington Government had a white population of more than 20,000,000 to draw its soldiers from, besides unlimited facilities for recruiting in foreign countries. I take no account of the colored troops, for, notwithstanding we are told they "fought bravely," and though I decidedly prefer the negro to the carpet-bagger or scalawag, "socially, morally, and politically," and "without regard to race, color, or previous condition of servitude," I do not believe that he "saved the Union."
If, with the means in the power of the two Governments respectively, the Confederate Government was able to raise, arm, equip, and put into the field armies bearing a greater proportion to the population upon which it was dependent than that of the armies of the United States Government to its population, it shows that the former Government displayed much the superior energy and efficiency of the two.
If the army with which General Lee made the attack on McClellan in 1862 was what General Johnston's estimates would make it, then I concede that he and his subordinate commanders were responsible for the failure of our struggle; and I think any survivor of the Army of Northern Virginia would coincide with me. But I believe that the Confederate Government did its duty in our struggle as well as was possible in the condition of the country; and I do know that General Lee did all for the success of our cause that it was possible for mortal man to do with the means at his command. I know that the odds against him were always very large—much larger than many of our own people have believed.
I now challenge the most critical examination of the estimate I have given of the strength of the army which drove McClellan from the siege of Richmond in 1862; and in regard to the figures furnished by General Johnston on the authority of the officers named by him, I am willing to abide the result of a personal appeal to the survivors of them, having already the assurance of one of them that General Johnston misapprehended him, and that his official report (to which I have referred) is right, and shows the effective strength he brought to Virginia.
Disclaiming all purpose of imputing to General Johnston any unworthy motive in promulgating his estimate of General Lee's strength, and intending in what I have written only to vindicate the truth of history,
|I am, very respectfully,|
|Your obedient servant,||
J. A. Early.
Richmond, Va., February 4, 1875.
General—Colonel Marshall's address was delivered before the Virginia Division of the Association of the Army of Northern Virginia, of which General Fitz. Lee was then and General Pickett is now president. I am president of the association at large, which has never met since its organization, but there is a provision in the constitution for divisions in each one of the States that had troops in the Army of Northern Virginia. Your reply to Col. Marshall has been filed with his address among the archives of the Southern Historical Society, of which I am president.
You have certainly been led into error in your estimates of General Lee's strength, and of the number of troops brought to the army after Seven Pines. You have either misapprehended the information given you by the officers you mention, or they were themselves greatly mistaken, as I think I can demonstrate to you. In the first place, I must say that we have General Longstreet's official report of the Battle of Seven Pines, which has been furnished to the Southern Historical Society by General E. P. Alexander, who undertook to write the history of Longstreet's brigade, division and corps, at his instance. It is in two forms—first, in hisbook, in which all his reports were copied, and then in a separate copy made from the book; and the following is the statement of the losses sustained by the wing of the army he commanded, as given at the close of the report:
LIST OF KILLED, WOUNDED AND MISSING.
|Headquarters Right Wing, June 11, 1862.|
|To Major Thomas G. Rhett, A. A. General.|
You will perceive that he makes the loss in the portion of the troops commanded by him in the battle 1,851 more than you give it in your book. You give the loss in Longstreet's and D. H. Hill's divisions at 3,000; yet General Hill, in his report, which we also have, says: "Appended is a list of killed and wounded. From this it appears that of less than 9,000 taken into action nearly 3,000 were struck down." Take Longstreet's statement of his loss and your statement of G. W. Smith's loss (1,223) and your total loss appears to have been at least 6,074. It appears from the reports of Pickett and Wilcox, which we also have, that a portion of this loss was sustained on the second day. It also appears from Hill's and Pickett's reports that Mahone and Armistead's brigades, of Huger's division, were seriously engaged on the second day, but whether Longstreet includes Huger's loss in his statement does not clearly appear.
In your book you state that your army at Seven Pines was composed of 27 brigades, and they were as follows: 6 in Longstreet's division, 6 in A. P. Hill's division, 4 in D. H. Hill's division, 6 in Magruder's command (composed of 3 divisions of 2 brigades each), 3 in Huger's division, and 2 in Whiting's division—in all, 27. General Lee had 39 brigades of infantry under his command in the battles around Richmond—to wit: 6 in Longstreet's division, 6 in A. P. Hill's division, 5 in D. H. Hill's division, including Ripley's brigade; 6 in Magruder's command, 4 in Huger's division, including Ransom's brigade from Holmes' command; 3 in Holmes' division, including Wise's small brigade, and 9 under Jackson, including his own division of 3 brigades, Ewell's of 3 brigades, Whiting's 2 brigades, and Lawton's brigade—the twelve brigades added after Seven Pines being Ripley's, Lawton's, Ransom's, J. G. Walker's, Daniel's, Wise's (2 regiments), and the 6 brigades of Jackson and Ewell—making the twelve. All of this appears from the official reports contained in the first volume of the Reports of theof the Army of Northern Virginia for 1862. Ripley's was the first brigade that arrived, and in his report (page 234) he says: "The aggregate force which entered into the series of engagements on the 26th of June was twenty-three hundred and sixty-six, including pioneers and the ambulance corps." But you suggest that the large brigades may have been divided, and a portion of them distributed in other brigades. Ripley says: "In conclusion, I beg to remark that the troops of this brigade, arriving at Richmond just after the Battle of Seven Pines, were ordered immediately to the front, and performed picket and out-post duty, with slight intermission, until the march towards Mechanicsville. Two of the regiments—the First and Third North Carolina—had been some time in service, but not in action. The Forty-fourth and Forty-eighth Georgia were new troops, and it is perhaps to be regretted, as the whole were engaged for the first time, that some further opportunity could not have been afforded for perfecting their organization and discipline as a brigade."
The fair inference from this statement is, that the four regiments mentioned constituted the whole of his brigade when he brought it to Richmond, and his report shows that the whole of them were still in the brigade. The next brigades that came were Holmes' three—to wit: Ransom's, J. G. Walker's and Daniel's. Ransom says, on page 365: "On the 24th ultimo the brigade left Petersburg for Richmond, with orders to report to General Lee. About 10 o'clock at night I reached Richmond, with the Twenty-fifth North Carolina volunteers (Colonel Rutledge), the Twenty-fourth, Thirty-fifth and Forty-ninth having preceded, the Twenty-sixth and Forty-eighth being left to follow." This, then, was his whole brigade, and on page 368 he repeats the enumeration of his regiments, stating that the Forty-eighth North Carolina was absent on duty with the brigade of Walker. He says: "The effective force present was about three thousand." He had in some previous skirmishes lost about 130 men in killed and wounded. Taking the average for the strength of the absent regiment, and we make the whole force brought by him about 3,700. On page 325 Colonel Manning, commanding Walker's brigade, says: "The brigade, composed of the Third Arkansas, Thirtieth Virginia, Fifty-seventh Virginia, Twenty-seventh North Carolina and Fifty-sixth North Carolina regiments, and the Second Georgia battalion, Captains French's and Branch's light batteries, and Captain Goodwin's cavalry company—in all amounting to about four thousand men and officers—crossed the pontoon bridge and reached General Huger about 12 o'clock M. on Friday the 27th of June." The Fifty-seventh Virginia was subsequently transferred to Armistead's brigade, and in its place was put the Forty-eighth North Carolina. On page 151, Holmes says the brigade returned to him on the 29th of June, with 3,600 effective men and two batteries. On page 322 Daniel says his brigade, composed of the Forty-fifth, Forty-third and Fiftieth North Carolina regiments, two batteries of artillery and a battalion of cavalry, "in all about seventeen hundred effective men," left Drury's Bluff on the 29th of June and crossed the river at the pontoon bridges.
Holmes says the infantry of Daniel's brigade was 1,570 strong. On page 319 Wise put his infantry at 814 and his artillery at 147—aggregate, 961. This brigade properly belonged or had belonged to Huger's division, and did not constitute a part of the troops brought by Holmes to the army. Holmes says the battalion of cavalry numbered 130 men; and on page 470 is a return by Colonel Deshler, showing in the four batteries with Walker's and Daniel's brigades, an effective force of 296. Taking the foregoing figures—to wit: 3,700 infantry in Ransom's brigade, 3,600 in Walker's, 1,570 in Daniel's, 961 infantry and artillery in Wise's, 130 cavalry and 296 artillerymen, and we have 10,257 as the whole force added to the army from Holmes' command, including Wise's, and without the latter, 9,296. This latter number constituted the whole force brought by Holmes from his department after Seven Pines, even if the cavalry and artillery belonged to it. On page 270, in speaking of the charge of his brigade, the first it had been in, Lawton says: "A continuous line of thirty-five hundred men moving forward in perfect order into the wood, and at once opening fire along its entire length (chiefly armed with Enfield rifles), made a decided impression, and promptly marked the preponderance of musketry sound on our side, as was observed by other commanders on the field." Lawton's brigade was composed of six regiments, and its organization was never changed. It may have had near six thousand men on paper, but the above is the effective strength with which it came to Virginia. By inquiring of him you will find that I am correct. From the Battle of Sharpsburg it was in the division commanded by me, and it never after that time reached 3,000 men. Drayton's brigade did not come to Virginia until after the battles around Richmond. It was composed of the Fifteenth South Carolina and the Fiftieth and Fifty-first Georgia regiments and Third South Carolina battalion. A part, if not all of it, was engaged in the fight at Secessionville, South Carolina, on the 16th of June, 1862. Its first engagement in Virginia was on the Rappahannock, the 25th of August, 1862. After Sharpsburg it was so small that it was distributed among some other brigades in Longstreet's corps. In a roster of Longstreet's corps, published in the Banner of the South, by General Alexander, the history of the regiments composing Drayton's brigade is given. Coming to Virginia after the Seven Days Battles it, of course, had no effect in increasing General Lee's numbers at these battles. There is some strange mistake on your part, or that of General Drayton, about the brigade. If it had 7,000 men in it when it came here, then the three regiments and the battalion composing it must have averaged 1,750 men each. It lost only 93 men at Second Manassas, and 541 at South Mountain and Sharpsburg—in all, 634. Yet it was in a division of six brigades, commanded by D. R. Jones at Sharpsburg, and in his report (page 219, 2d volume, Reports,) he says that in his six brigades there were only 2,430 men on the morning of the 17th of September, 1862. Evans' brigade arrived from South Carolina in July, 1862, and its strength was 2,200. This must have been the brigade which you could not name, as no others than those mentioned came from the South during that summer. There was a new brigade formed after the battles out of some Louisiana regiments, which before were in other brigades. General Lee had forty brigades of infantry at Sharpsburg, Daniel's having returned to North Carolina, Wise's being left near Richmond, and Drayton's, Evans' and the new Louisiana brigade making up the forty. From the foregoing statement it will appear, then, that the troops received by General Lee from the South after Seven Pines, and before the Seven Days Battles, consisted of those brought by Holmes (9,296), Ripley's brigade (2,366), and Lawton's (3,500) in all 15,162, instead of the 37,000 you make out by your estimate. I must add that five companies of the First North Carolina cavalry, which had previously been with the army, returned from North Carolina after the commencement of the battles.
It remains now to inquire into the strength of the divisions of Jackson and Ewell, which came from the Valley, and which you put at 16,000. There were three brigades in each division—in Jackson's, the Stonewall (Winder's), Taliaferro's, and J. R. Jones's; and in Ewell's, Elzey's, Trimble's, and Taylor's (Louisiana). These brigades had gone through a very active and harassing campaign in the Valley, Jackson's having fought at Kernstown, McDowell, Middletown, Winchester, and Port Republic, and Ewell's having fought at Front Royal, Middletown, Winchester, Cross Keys, and Port Republic; and all of them having done very rapid and extensive marching. In Jackson's three brigades there were 11 regiments and a battalion, and in Ewell's, including the Maryland regiment, there were 16 regiments and a battalion, equivalent in all to 28 regiments. Your estimate would give an average of more than 2,600 to each brigade, and of about 570 to each regiment. Can you think it possible that those brigades and regiments could have numbered that many in the field after the service they had gone through? Longstreet had six brigades in division, and they had seen nothing like as hard service as Jackson's and Ewell's; yet the report of the strength of his six brigades, including a battery of artillery with each, and the Washington Artillery, as furnished by General Alexander, shows an effective force of only 9,051 on the 26th of June, 1862. Let us see how the facts stand on the reports: Winder, in command of the Stonewall brigade, states, in his report of Port Republic, that "the total strength of the brigade was one thousand three hundred and thirty-four, rank and file." There were five regiments in that brigade, and only six and a battalion in the other two brigades of the division. The loss in the brigade was 199 at Port Republic, leaving only 1,135 in it. That was the largest brigade in Jackson's division, and, indeed, the other two were so small that they were not carried into action around Richmond, though present with the division. In Ewell's division, Elzey's brigade numbered seven regiments. It had lost 243 before Malvern Hill, and when I took command of it on the 1st of July, near Malvern Hill, there were only 1,050 officers and men in it, as reported to me by regimental commanders. One regiment (the Forty-fourth Virginia) had just 44 men present—the precise number of the regiment. Trimble's and Taylor's brigades were smaller than Elzey's, having four regiments each and an extra battalion in Taylor's; though there is a strange inconsistency in General Trimble's reports, which, doubtless, is the result of an error in copying or printing. In his report of Cross Keys, page 80, volume I., he says: "My three regiments [Fifteenth Alabama, Sixteenth Mississippi, and Twenty-first Georgia], counting 1,348 men and officers, repulsed the brigade of Blenker three times." His other regiment (the Twenty-first North Carolina) was not engaged, and his loss was 54. In his report of Cold Harbor, page 311, he says: "The Fifteenth Alabama and Twenty-first Georgia, numbering 1,315 men, stood under a destructive fire for an hour or more,"—&c. and: "The Sixteenth Mississippi and Twenty-first North Carolina, numbering one thousand and two hundred and forty-four men, passed under as hot a fire an equal distance in fifteen minutes," &c. If the statements in both reports be true, then, without taking into consideration the loss at Port Republic, there could only have been thirty-five men and officers in the Sixteenth Mississippi, and there must have been one thousand two hundred and nine in the Twenty-first North Carolina, which would be preposterous. It is evidently a mistake. The latter statement would give two thousand five hundred and fifty-nine in his brigade, and yet when the Sixteenth Mississippi (only thirty-five?) was subsequently taken from him, one of my regiments was taken to supply its place, and make his brigade something like equal to the others, though the largest number I had been able to get together in my brigade was about one thousand eight hundred. The Second Virginia cavalry came with Jackson, and the fact is that the whole command that came from the Valley, including the artillery, the regiment of cavalry, and the Maryland regiment and a battery, then known as the "Maryland Line," could not have exceeded eight thousand men. With Whiting's two brigades, and Lawton's brigade, which came with Jackson, the entire force of the latter may have been in the neighborhood of 16,000; but Whiting's command constituted a part of the army when you left it, and Lawton's brigade has already been counted with the troops brought from the South. So that the whole force received by General Lee from all sources was about 23,000—about 30,000 less than your estimate.
Now, let us see if we cannot arrive at a true estimate of General Lee's strength in another way. Four of Longstreet's brigade commanders give their strength in their reports, and Alexander gives the strength of the whole, including Walton's battalion of Washington Artillery, at 9,051—Alexander's statement corresponds precisely with those of the brigade commanders who give their strength, and he supplies the deficiency as to the other two and the Washington Artillery. General D. H. Hill says in his report, page 187: "The following list of killed and wounded will show that we lost 4,000 out of 10,000 taken into the field." This includes Ripley's brigade.
General Magruder says, on page 190: "I was in command of three divisions—those of Major-General McLaws, Brigadier-General D. R. Jones, and my own, each consisting of two brigades, the numerical strength being about 13,000 men." General Holmes, on page 151, gives his strength of all arms at 6,573. This, of course, is exclusive of Ransom, who was with Huger. Of Huger's division, Ransom gives his strength at 3,000, which, with the 130 previously lost, makes 3,130. Mahone puts his strength (page 371) at 1,800. Armistead only states his strength partially, but shows that after getting the Fifty-seventh Virginia from Walker's brigade, his own brigade was very small. Wright puts his strength at 2,000 (page 385). Give Armistead 2,000, which is a very liberal estimate, and Huger's strength will be 8,930. Of A. P. Hill's division, Pender says (page 255): "The brigade left camp on the evening of the 25th with between twenty-three and twenty-four hundred, including Andrews' battery." Archer says, page 256: "I have the honor to report that on the evening of the 26th of June, by direction of Major-General Hill, I marched my brigade, 1,228 strong, into Mechanicsville." The other brigade commanders do not give their strength. Field's brigade was a small one, Gregg's not large, and Anderson's and Branch's were perhaps about the size of Pender's. Give the latter 2,500 each, and Field and Gregg 2,000 each, and we have for A. P. Hill's strength 12,628—say 13,000. Lawton's brigade was 3,500. Whiting's strength is not given, but his brigades were small—give 2,000 for each; and then, with Jackson's and Ewell's 8,000, we will have: Longstreet, 9,051; D. H. Hill, 10,000; Magruder, 13,000; Holmes, 6,573; Huger, 8,930; A. P. Hill, 13,000; Whiting, 4,000; Lawton, 3,500; Jackson and Ewell, 8,000. Aggregate, 76,054.
Stuart had six regiments of cavalry, two small commands called "Legions," and there were five companies of the First North Carolina cavalry. One of the regiments is shown to have numbered only 200 present, and 2,500 would be a large estimate for the whole. Pendleton had four reserve battalions of artillery, the other artillery being counted with the brigades to which it was attached; 1,500 for the reserve artillery would be high. Add the whole together, and we have 80,000, covering the whole of General Lee's strength. This estimate is probably too large by several thousand; and Holmes' division really was of very little avail in the battles.
Let us take another mode of testing the result that has been reached. General Lee's losses in the battles were as follows: In Longstreet's division, 4,429—page 128; in A. P. Hill's division, 3,870—page 179; in Jackson's command, composed of his own division, including Lawton's brigade, Ewell's division, Whiting's division and D. H. Hill's division, 6,727—page 307. [In the statement furnished on the page referred to, the loss in Elzey's brigade (afterwards my own) is put for that in Ewell's entire division. Correcting this according to Ewell's statement on page 189, and then adding the loss in Ripley's brigade at Mechanicsville before Jackson got up, and we have the entire loss in the troops that were under his command as above stated.] In Magruder's command, McLaws gives his loss at 654—pages 160 to 164; D. R. Jones gives his loss at 832—page 172; but Magruder fails to give the loss in his own division; taking the average for it, and it may be put at 750, which will give a total loss of 2,236. In Huger's division, Ransom gives his loss at 630—pages 365 and 370; Wright's was 634, pages 386 and 397, and Mahone's loss was 415, pages 371 to 377. Armistead gives only a partial statement of his loss—taking it at 450 and we will have the loss in Huger's division 2,129. The loss in Holmes' division was 51, in Stuart's cavalry 71, and in the reserve artillery 44. The whole loss sums up as follows: Longstreet's division, 4,429; A. P. Hill's division, 3,870; Huger's division, 2,129; Jackson's command, 6,727; Magruder's command, 2,236; Holmes' division, 51; Stuart's cavalry, 71; reserve artillery, 44. Total, 19,557.
Mr. Swinton, the author of the "History of the Army of the Potomac," examined the Confederate returns in the Archive Office at Washington, and in June, 1876, published an abstract from them showing the strength of our armies at various times. His statement shows that there were present for duty in the Department of Northern Virginia at the end of July, 1862, 69,559 men and officers. This included not only all the commands which had been at the battles around Richmond, except Daniel's brigade of a little over 1,500 men, which had gone back, but also the brigade of Evans, which had arrived, and Drayton's if it had arrived, as well as the Forty-seventh and Forty-eighth Alabama regiments, which had arrived and been attached to Taliaferro's brigade; Robertson's cavalry brigade of three regiments, which had come from the Valley; all the wounded at Williamsburg, Seven Pines, in the Valley, and the Seven Days battles, who had returned to duty; convalescents returned from hospitals, and prisoners who may have been exchanged under the cartel then recently adopted. Add the effective force for duty the last of July to the killed, wounded, and missing in the battles, and we have an aggregate of 89,116. Certainly General Lee's army, at the beginning of the battles, could not have exceeded this number; and from the various sources mentioned it is very certain that more than 10,000 men had come to the army after those battles.
I think this exhibit ought to establish conclusively, to any candid mind, that General Lee's army, at the beginning of the battles, was under 80,000 effectives. In your reply to Colonel Marshall you say: "Colonel Marshall says, on the evidence of subsequent returns, that the troops of Holmes, Ripley, and Lawton, amounted to but 11,866 men. This is not evidence to be put against the statements of those officers." Now, the returns which Colonel Marshall refers to, which are the same I have cited, are the contemporaneous reports of those officers themselves, made under circumstances which imposed on them the very highest obligations to be accurate. Certainly you must admit that their statements in writing, made when the events were fresh in their minds, are of higher authority than oral statements when they did not speak from the record. The pamphlet copy of Colonel Marshall's address, which I send you, explains, in a note, the facts in regard to Holmes' command, and shows, I think, how you might have been led into error in regard to his force. You are likewise mistaken in assuming that McClellan's army was increased by 19,000 after Seven Pines. His report, page 11, shows that on the 30th of April, 1862, he had 4,725 officers and 104,610 men for duty—in all 109,335; and that on the 26th of June he had 4,665 officers and 101,160 men—in all 105,825 for duty. Dix's command never joined him. It was the same command which Wool had at Fortress Monroe when we were at Yorktown. The only change made in its status was the assignment of Dix to the command, on the 1st of June, 1862, in the place of Wool, with orders to report to McClellan; but no part of Dix's command joined McClellan. The only accession McClellan had after Seven Pines and before the battles was McCaul's division, 9,514 strong; and it did not make up for the losses in battle and by sickness. General Lee certainly received accessions, including Jackson's command, to the extent of about 23,000 men; and when the Seven Days' battles began, the disparity between the forces had been diminished, as well by the decrease of McClellan's army as by the increase of General Lee's.
One strong reason why the attack could not be made sooner, was because Jackson could not be withdrawn from the Valley sooner. He came as soon after Port Republic as was practicable, it being necessary so to baffle and deceive the enemy as to prevent the union of McDowell's force with that of McClellan. In showing, therefore, that the accession to General Lee's army was not as great as you suppose, there can be no imputation upon his capacity as a general. On the other hand, at least one writer has seized hold of your estimate of General Lee's force and endeavored to prove that he was incompetent to command a great army in the field. He assumes from the data given by you that General Lee's army numbered at least 108,000 men, while McClellan had only 105,000. Certainly, if that were true, it would detract very much from the credit generally accorded the great commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, for the relief of the Confederate capital from the siege of 1862. If General Lee had more men than McClellan had, it would be impossible to explain why he did not destroy the army of the latter. Hence it is that we, who were so long connected with that army, feel it incumbent on us to place the real facts before the world whenever they are incorrectly stated. In doing so we feel that we are doing no wrong to any, for the fame of all our armies and their commanders must rest upon their own deeds, and that of none can be enhanced by depreciating others, or diminished by giving credit to those who are deserving of it. Every soldier of the Army of Northern Virginia who has not proved a renegade, feels that he has a personal interest in the fame of its great commander, and when error is propagated in regard to his campaigns and his history, we all feel that we have a right, nay, that there is a solemn duty incumbent on us to challenge it, from however high a source it may come, or by whatever motives it may be prompted. In cherishing such sentiments in regard to him we so long followed, we still can and do feel a just pride in the fame of those who preceded him, and there is no true soldier of the Army of Northern Virginia who would desire to pluck one leaf from the chaplets that adorn the brows of our comrades of the other Confederate armies or their leaders. I accept most readily and cheerfully the assurance given in your reply to Colonel Marshall, as well as in your private letter to me, of your regard for the fame of General Lee and of the absence of all desire to diminish it. I know that he reciprocated most heartily the sentiments of esteem you express, and I am sure that, if among us, he would frown most indignantly upon any effort to enhance his own reputation at the expense of yourself or any one else.
I beg, General, that you will not regard me as one who has officiously volunteered in a dispute in which he has no interest.
Having, in an address delivered at Lexington on the 19th of January, 1872, undertaken to establish what was the strength of our army around Richmond in June, 1862, and Mr. Jones having done me the honor of promulgating that address to the world (in his "Personal Reminiscences of General Lee"), I have felt that it was incumbent on me to vindicate the correctness of my estimates, which are so much at variance with your own. In doing so I have intended to be entirely respectful and courteous to you, and I trust you will so understand me.
With the assurance of my highest esteem, I am, very respectfully and truly, your obedient servant,
J. A. Early.
General Joseph E. Johnston.
- Note.—It is proper to remark that the army around Richmond received a larger reinforcement from North Carolina than the number given in General Holmes' official report.
General Holmes had under his command in North Carolina four brigades, which afterwards came to Virginia, and which are no doubt the troops referred to by General Johnston as comprising the 15,000 men that joined General Lee after the battle of Seven Pines.
These brigades were commanded by General Branch, General Ransom and General J. G. Walker, and a fourth known as the Third North Carolina brigade was commanded during its service at Richmond by Colonel Junius Daniel.
Of these, Branch's brigade joined the army at Richmond before the battle of Seven Pines. It was engaged with the enemy near Hanover Junction on the 26th May, and afterwards formed part of A. P. Hill's division. General Ransom's brigade consisted of six regiments, one of which, the Forty-eight North Carolina, was transferred to Walker's brigade. Ransom's five regiments numbered about 3,000, though his effective force was somewhat less. It was attached to Huger's division on the 25th June, and is counted in that division.
Walker's brigade, as reported by Colonel Manning, who succeeded General Walker after the latter was disabled on the 1st July, was about four thousand strong, and the third brigade under Colonel Daniel, was about 1,700, according to the latter officer. (See Reports of Army of Northern Virginia, volume 1, p. 322 and 325). These last two commands composed the force mentioned by General Holmes in his report.
General Johnston's statement that fifteen thousand men came from North Carolina, under General Holmes, is therefore calculated to give an erroneous idea of the actual increase of the army under General Lee between the battle of Seven Pines and the battles around Richmond. Branch's brigade should not be included in the troops that came from North Carolina, under Holmes, because that brigade was with the army before General Johnston was wounded, and for the further reason that as it afterwards formed part of A. P. Hill's division, it would be counted twice if to be treated also as part of the troops brought by General Holmes. A similar error would be likely to occur with reference to Ransom's brigade, which is counted as part of Huger's division, and should be excluded from the troops under Holmes.
In fact I have seen an estimate of General Lee's forces in the Seven Days battles, based upon the statement of General Johnston, above referred to, in which General Holmes' command is put down as 15,000 strong, while Ransom's and Branch's brigades are at the same time counted as part of the divisions of Huger and A. P. Hill, thus doubling the strength of those brigades.
It should also be observed in connection with the statement of General Johnston as to the number of troops that came from South Carolina and Georgia, that there is danger of a like error. Among those troops was Lawton's brigade. Now Lawton did not come directly to Richmond from the South.
When he reached Burkeville, on his way to Richmond, General Lee was about to cover the contemplated movement against General McClellan, by creating the impression that Jackson was to be reinforced, so as to resume the offensive in the Valley. For this purpose, Lawton was sent from Burkeville, by way of Lynchburg, to join Jackson near Staunton, and Whiting's division, of two brigades, was detached from the army before Richmond. Both Lawton and Whiting joined Jackson, and formed part of the command with which he came to Richmond and engaged in the Seven Days battle. (See Jackson's Report, volume 1, p. 129, Reports of Army of Northern Virginia, where it will be seen that Lawton was attached to Jackson's division.) This fact should be borne in mind in estimating the strength of General Lee's army, because General Johnston's narrative counts the force under Jackson as composing part of the reinforcements received by General Lee. (See narative, p. 146.) Lawton must be counted as part of the 22,000. or as part of Jackson's command. Whiting should not be counted among the reinforcements, because he belonged to the army under General Johnston.
- General Holmes told me in General Lee's presence, just before the fight began on the 31st, that he had that force ready to join me when the President should give the order. I have also the written testimony of Colonel Archer Anderson, then on General Holmes' staff, that he brought that number into General Lee's army.
- General Ripley gave me this number. He brought the first brigade—5,000 men. General Lawton told me that his was 6,000; General Drayton that his was 7,000. There was another brigade, of which I do not know the strength.