THE SHARPSHOOTER 1862-1864
--In the Civil War, a Texican fights for The Union at the Battles of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville--

Story-Lee and Gettysburg

 

 

 

 

 

 


LEE , LONGSTREET, AND GETTYSBURG

by Charles Phillips

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Charles D. Phillips © 2013


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Baldwin, Harris,  and Associates, LLP

Attorneys at Law

(Founded in Lexington in 1880)

 

September 16, 1960

 

Professor Robert E. Brown, III

Washington and Lee University

School of Law

Sydney Lewis Building

Lexington, Virginia 24450

 

Dear Rob:

It was with great sorrow that we learned of your father’s death.  He was a dear friend and a client of this firm for all of his adult life.  Please let us know if there is any way that we might be of assistance to you in this distressing time. 

Your grandfather was also a client of an earlier generation of attorneys at Baldwin and Harris.  As part of a will written by my grandfather, the senior Mr. Brown placed the enclosed material in trust with this firm.  His instructions to the trustees was to relay it, unopened, to his first grandson, on the death of his own son, if your father was preceded in death by your grandmother.  Failing that, we were to provide the letter to you on the death of your grandmother. 

            Your signature on the postal form reflecting the delivery of this material by certified mail represents the fulfillment of our obligation to your grandfather, a man for whom my grandfather and my father had the highest regard. 

 

With deepest sympathy, your friend

Reynolds

Reynolds Baldwin, LLB

 

Baldwin, Harris, and Associates

126 E. Nelson

Lexington, VA 24450

(540) 555-1880

 

 

 

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September 16, 1940

 

My Dearest Robbie,

     I am so sorry for your loss.  I know that you will only receive this letter after the death of both your grandmother and your father.  Do what you can to think about the special things those wonderful people gave you, not what you have lost with their passing. 

     This letter is, I think, the most difficult letter I have ever written. My cowardice kept me from revealing my secret while I lived. My shame kept me from writing this letter to either my wife or my son. I could not bear thinking about the pain it would have caused them and how it would transform me in their eyes. However, I do have enough honor remaining to feel that someone must know what I have done. I have chosen you, my first grandson, to bear this burden for me and the other members of our family.

     I joined the library staff in early 1895.  I began to work in the archives soon after that.  My tasks were the most menial of the menial.  I spent my time poring over documents at least a quarter century old and attempting to determine if they held some rich vein of history that might be mined by my betters.

     I began my work in my last two years of my college work here.  I knew that I wanted to be an archivist, and the position offered was likely to be the only one available for years. I took the full-time, really more than full-time, job despite my need to finish my degree. 

     The Archivist at the time was Mr. Steadman, a devotee of efficient management. His concern for those in my station was the number of documents reviewed.  Of course, he expected 100 percent accuracy, at the same time he expected super-human production.  All of us had our own ways of dealing with his unreasonable demands. By far the most common was to skim the early pages of a document, write a reasonable note, and move on to the next piece of work.

     It was only at the time of Mr. Steadman’s death, when I was appointed Acting Archivist, that the issue arose. The United Daughters of the Confederacy provided important financial support for the Archives.  When I was the Acting Archivist they made a request for a document review, and they demanded a response very quickly.  As a result I assisted some of my staff with the review of the Archive’s holdings for the specific period covered by their request.

     This is how I came across, in 1915, the document of which you will find a transcription accompanying this letter. My initial cursory review all those years ago had been a tragic blunder. I had blithely pigeon-holed an extraordinarily important document in what amounted to the Archive’s trash bin. Had I been more courageous, I would have simply admitted my youthful error and provided important insights into one of the enduring questions in the history of our insurrection.

     Such an act would also have ended any hope I might have had of ascending to the position of Head Archivist, and it might have so badly blighted my book as to make me unemployable in the field that was my truest calling. I was also by that time a family man with a wife and children dependent on my for sustenance.  I was not courageous or honorable enough to take that step.

     Instead, I scheduled the original document for re-filing in what we might call the Archive’s trash bin of papers never accessed and secretly retained a copy of the typed transcript.  I have already explained why I place the burden of my bad behavior on you.  I can only apologize and hope that you will, when or if you have your own family, more clearly understand my actions and allow the memory of me to remain gently in your heart.

What you decide to do with this transcript and this letter is the burden I so sadly leave to you.

Your loving grandfather,
Robert Early Brown, Sr

 


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ARCHIVES OF WASHINGTON AND LEE UNIVERSITY

ROBERT E. LEE COLLECTION

NOTES

(SIGNATURE AND DATE REQUIRED FOR ALL NOTES)

MAY 14, 1915

REVIEWED ORIGINAL AND PREVIOUS NOTES AS THE RESULT OF A REQUEST BY UNITED DAUGHTERS OF THE CONFEDERACY FOR A REVIEW OF ARCHIVE MATERIAL FROM 1870 IN SEARCH OF DETAIL ON THE ILLNESSES OF MARY LEE. MY CURRENT CONCLUSIONS SUPPORT THE INITIAL JUDGMENT FROM 1896. THE ORIGINAL IS NOW ALMOST TOTALLY ILLEGIBLE DUE TO DAMAGE. NO RESTORATION IS POSSIBLE. NO SUPPORTING OR FURTHER DOCUMENTATION IS AVAILABLE.  THE ORIGINAL, TRANSCRIPT, AND NOTES TO BE RE-FILED UNDER  HUXTON, J. (CORRESPONDENCE, DAMAGED AND ILLEGIBLE)

R. EARLY BROWN, M.L.S., HEAD ARCHIVIST (ACTING)REB


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ARCHIVES OF WASHINGTON AND LEE UNIVERSITY

ROBERT E. LEE COLLECTION

 

SIGNATURE AND DATE NEEDED FOR ALL NOTATIONS

November 24, 1896

TYPED TRANSCRIPT OF HAND-WRITTEN LETTER DATED FEBRUARY 20, 1870. NO EVIDENCE OF MAILING.  DIFFERENCES IN PAPER AND INK IN ORIGINAL DOCUMENT IMPLY LETTER WAS WRITTEN IN AT LEAST THREE DIFFERENT SESSIONS, WITH THE FIRST OF THESE ON FEBRUARY 20, 1870. FROM R. E. LEE TO “JAMES”THE DISCUSSION OF PUBLICATION MIXED WITH CONSIDERABLE PERSONAL DETAIL IMPLY THAT “JAMES” IS JAMES HUXTON (B. LINVILLE, VA, 1825), A PERSONAL FRIEND OF R.E. LEE.  HUXTON’S CAREER INVOLVED EDITORSHIPS AT A NUMBER OF SMALL SOUTHERN NEWSPAPERS IN ANTEBELLUM VIRGINIA.  IN THE POST-WAR ERA, HE AUTHORED SEVERAL EARLY, SHORT BIOGRAPHIES OF CSA LEADERS. LETTER IS POSSIBLY RELATED TO A PLANNED BOOK ON THE ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA.  NO RECORD OF SUCH A WORK, IF EVER COMPLETED, REMAINS. HUXTON’S PAPERS ARE HELD IN THE CIVIL WAR ARCHIVES AT THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA. CROSS-REFERENCED WITH HUXTON, J.

REVIEWED AND INDEXED BY ROBERT E. BROWN, STUDENT  ASSISTANT ARCHIVIST Robert Brown


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SHELF #02-20-1870                    FILE-CORRESPONDENCE (UNSENT)-#6

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My Dear James, I hope my letter [ILLEGIBLE] well.  I was pleased to provide you with the material you requested for your book.  Many of my papers and records were destroyed at one point or another. But, I hope you received the remains in good condition and that they will be of help to you.  It seems that I shall never write the history of our Army that I had hoped to produce.  So, I will have no use for those papers myself.  I leave them in your trusted hands.  I know you will put them to the best possible use.  Also, I [ILLEGIBLE] a certain lack of enthusiasm at this point in my life to relive those terribly troubled times. 

My health has been failing for the last while and allows me only the energy to do the tasks demanded of me.  Despite my health and my wishes, raising money for the college and civic duties to my beloved Virginia keep me too often on the move.  This is especially troublesome because Mary’s rheumatism flares up so badly at times.  The girls are here, of course, but I still hate to be away.  Mary has fallen in the past, and it is a worry.  But, she is, as always, in good spirits. 

When I told [ILLEGIBLE] write you, she demanded I admonish you for not having come to see us since we settled in. Our house in Lexington is finally finished, and I hope you will grace us with your presence in the coming months.

The girls do quite well.  The young men of the College find them a bit too appealing for my taste.  I almost have to take a broom to sweep them out of the parlor at ten o’clock.  But, the girls enjoy the attention immensely, and it is some compensation for the conditions they faced during the war. 

Fitzhugh is now a gentleman farmer in Stark County, ground we all know too well for the worst of reasons.  Rob is living at Romancock and pursuing business opportunities, since it seems impossible for him to coax the grounds of Romancock to yield to his enthusiastic, but not terribly successful, husbandry. Custis is now a professor at VMI.  I take no small pleasure in that he follows in the tradition of General Jackson, and I think he does as well.

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My own [ILLEGIBLE]

[ILLEGIBLE]

[ILLEGIBLE]

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[ILLEGIBLE]

[ILLEGIBLE]

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[ILLEGIBLE]

I see our old comrades on occasion, though most of my time is taken up with the College and family.  But, I have begun to see the sons of some of our fellow officers [ILLEGIBLE].  They have come to the College for their education.  Beauregard’s two sons are on campus.  I am sure that you would appreciate them more than you ever did their father. Of course, that is, as they say, a low fence for a horse to jump.  But, you may be assured that they are upstanding young men. 

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I know these last years have seen you move away from many of our old warriors.  Some now see you as a traitor to the cause.  But that was a cause that you fought for with courage and vigor unsurpassed by others.  We are again one nation.  That issue is resolved, and you now use that courage and vigor [ILLEGIBLE].  Unlike many of those around me, it is not something that I can ever or will ever hold against you. 

I am sorry that I could not provide you with a letter of support during the last election for the dominant party and their policies.  It might have soothed some tempers, but it was not in my heart.  I see the ill effects of their policies each day.  I fear I may be unreasonable in this matter.  We saw how many dreadful mistakes drove our nation down a path to so costly a civil war.  I expect that one [ILLEGIBLE] when knitting it back together follows such a twisted path of trial and error. But, I can only hope that we will all follow our true Saviors’ teachings.  For now, General, that seems a faint hope, but I am sure even these wounds will heal over in time, and the scars fade.

[ILLEGIBLE]

[ILLEGIBLE]

But, our story is one that must be told, and who better to do it?  Who can tell the tale with more truth and knowledge than my other generals or my pony (given my respect for Traveller, you know that is high praise indeed)? 

You disagreed with me often, but you never failed in your duty to me or to our cause.  You may have wondered why I never discussed Gettysburg with you.  During the conflict, nothing would have been gained by it.  Since the surrender, we have had little time together.  But I feel that I must finally

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write to you of that last day at Gettysburg.  I think it especially true since others seem to be prepared to heap on your head the weight of a defeat in which we came so close to victor only because of your efforts.  It is best that I clear the air, while I can.  I have never blamed anyone other than myself for the outcome of those three days of battle. 

There are things about my thinking at Gettysburg that I have shared with ever few. They include, of course, my beautiful Mary and my faithful colt, Traveller. Both have remained silent on the matter.  But, I will now dust off those old thought and share them with you.  I must admit to you that some of my decisions at Gettysburg, which you found inexplicable, were aimed more at the conflict in its broader sense than at the specifics of the single day at Gettysburg.  I know that you may feel [ILLEGIBLE]

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and probably [ILLEGIBLE] You may believe that my allegiance that day should have been solely to the men on that battlefield, not to some unknown future.  I know you too well.   You win wars, you never hesitated to tell me, by killing more of the enemy than he does of your troops. 

I remember our exultation on Marye’s Heights at Fredericksburg.  You wanted Burnside to send the entire Army of the Potomac up those heights into your artillery and muskets so you could kill them all, march on Washington, and end the war.  In another war in another time, you might have been correct.

The unfortunate reality is that we could never have killed them all. We lacked the men and materiel that the Union could , and had already begun to, produce in enormous quantities. We defeated the Union Generals, whom we both recognize were of modest capabilities, by ignoring at crucial times the books of tactics we all read together and some of us taught from at West Point. 

But, I was certain it was only a matter of time until Lincoln found a General who would use that surplus of men and materiel, like the war club it truly was, to beat us into submission. Grant had done well in the Mexican War.  He also prevailed in the West. I never suspected that either he or Sherman had the heart of hungry wolves bent on devouring all they could reach, no matter what the costs. They ripped the belly out of our country and then burned the remains.

We thought we knew all our enemies because of our past associations. Sometimes that was true. McClellan was the timid commander and politician in training that we all suspected.  None of us knew that Grant’s heart was a dark rock he would callously washed in the blood of his troops.

It is not the type of war any of us planned to fight, but at times I dare to consider the possibility that it was the only way Grant could have forced us into so complete a surrender.  Even in late ’64, those sturdy firebrands, whose war involved sitting on their verandas and watching their slaves work, remained happy to send our hungry, barefoot, and unendingly loyal boys to fight and die facing clearly superior forces.

But, back to Gettysburg, you saw the land we traversed in Maryland and Pennsylvania.  It was as rich as Virginia had become poor.  Foraging there for our poor boys was like turning children loose in a candy shop.  For [ILLEGIBLE] fat pigs, cows heavy with milk, and fruit pies.

We ended up in Gettysburg because General Heth heard there were shoes to be had there.  We fell into the deciding battle of the war lead by one of my General’s lust for shoe leather for his barefoot heroes.  It is both too absurd and too telling for words.

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I know that we planned a defensive campaign.  A defensive campaign would certainly have killed more Union troops, as well as many of our own men.  But, seeing that Cornucopia in Pennsylvania

solidified my thoughts and feelings.  In both my heart and mind, I finally accepted the truth of what it would take to end the war.

We would never truly defeat the Union Army.  I know those words may raise your ire.  They are hard to write, even now.  We would win battles, but in the end they would wear us down to a nub.  We would lead proud men to slaughter, stumbling along with sunken bellies, torn feet, and empty cartridge boxes.  

I knew we would only defeat the Union by turning the tide of Northern opinion.  Large portions of the Northern populace had always been uneasy about the war.  Our victories in Virginia made them even more uneasy.  Those in the Capitol were continually terrified that we would sweep through the city.  Old Jubal Early gave them quite a scare when he tested the Capitol’s defenses after his victory at Monocracy.  Then, of course, he managed at Cedar Creek to stolidly snatch bloody defeat from the jaws of victory. Well, I am unkind and unfair, something I pray nightly to avoid. I certainly have no right to cast the first stone at Old Jub. I suspect my prayers tonight will be especially devoted to my continuing striving for humility. The [ILLEGIBLE]

[ILLEGIBLE]

[ILLEGIBLE]

[ILLEGIBLE]

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The only thing that would suffice was for The Army of Northern Virginia to decisively and soundly defeat The Army of the Potomac.  Northern newspapers [ILLEGIBLE] elevate us to the heights of magical figures out of the old tales of Camelot.  Unionist needed to see every man in butternut as a warrior fierce as Lancelot, though hopefully of somewhat stronger moral fiber.  The Union citizenry needed to fear us like they feared the pox. 

To achieve that end, we needed to defeat a more numerous and seemingly invincible Union force in a truly glorious manner.  Of course, we could not let them choose the ground they wished to defend.  Gettysburg was chosen for both armies by the mysterious hand of fate.  It was there that came our chance to send Northern support for the war swirling downward like a feather going over a waterfall. 

I know [ILLEGIBLE], but what better time could there have been?  Lincoln’s freeing of the slaves, as meaningless as it was, turned England, France, and all of Europe even colder to our requests for alliances and support.  Our men were rested and well-fed for the first time in an age.  Their spirits were high. They would [ILLEGIBLE]

In the end, it was a near thing. July 1 was ours.  Reynolds’s was a truly fine soldier.  His I Corps delayed us, but General Early’s men turned the flank of Howard’s XI Corps (how he remained in command after Chancellorsville has always been an unfathomable mystery to me), and we pushed them all back through Gettysburg to Cemetery Ridge, making I Corps a shell of its former self. 

The second day was not as positive, but even on that day your men decimated Sickles’s III Corps.  We [ILLEGIBLE] left.  We had tried the right.  On that faithful third day, General Ewell was to strike the left and pursue his attack, making Meade believe we were attempting to revisit the victories of our first day.

Alexander’s artillery was to decimate the forces in our path and then form a moving shield that followed our men as they swept across that open ground. Your men on that day were to ram the Stars and Bars through the cemetery and open up the Union center.  But, we both know those things never came to pass. Our artillery killed more horses on the backside of the ridge than soldiers manning the barricades, and we ran short of munitions even before the main attack began. At the time, I did not really grasp the fact that the umbrella of iron and fire with which I planned to protect your advancing Corps never truly opened.

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[ILLEGIBLE] prevailed, I cannot help but truly believe the Union would have sued for peace.  We would have shown them that their numbers, their fortifications, and their cannon meant nothing to The Army of Northern Virginia.  We would have shown them that we could march into the mouth of the dragon and choke it on our valor.  It was our finest chance. We were as strong as we would ever be, at the top of the mountain, where any false step would push us downward.

Had we won the day we could have won the war [ILLEGIBLE] without doubt prolonged it.  I felt that Almighty God had shown me that the third day was the day on which it all would be decided.  HE made that clear to me.  I thought light from heaven shown down on our men, and our Lord and Saviour was showing me the foreshadowing of a golden victory. 

Instead, he was showing me how he, in his golden and merciful grace, would clasp our dead sons to his loving breast. At times, I wonder if our Lord and Saviour didn’t lead me to that defeat as the quickest path to end the war.  But, those may just be the mutterings of a man weighed down by the memory with too many deaths.

I know that this letter will not raise my stature in your eyes.  But, I understand (yes, I do hear the gossip) that you feel I was possessed by an aggressive temperament in Pennsylvania that blocked my view of solid tactical thinking.  It was not so.  What you saw was my excited recognition that our fate would be decided on that one day and my joyful belief the day would be ours.  It was not the fever

[ILLEGIBLE]

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To end this difficult letter on a more cheerful note, I recently visited Petersburg and was greeted with great warmth.  They have done a magnificent job of recovery.  As you know, I have always been troubled by the way the good people of that city, who treated us so well, lost so much while we gained nothing and left them to their fate.  Of course, all is not perfectly well, but both their progress and attitudes are most impressive and refreshing. 

My friend, this letter has gone on long enough it seems that I might have done better to have written that book I forswore.  But, we have been through too much together for me not to clarify this for you.  I had always hoped for the perfect time.  Now, it seems I must be grateful simply for the time, as imperfect as it may be.

With best wishes for you health and happiness and my most kind regards to Mrs. Longstreet and your children.

I am, with great regard, very truly and sincerely yours,

R. E. Lee

 


 

 

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