The Gettysburg Letterbook

Documents of the Army of Northern Virginia


The night before the surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, a fire purportedly destroyed General Lee’s headquarters wagon, containing the records of the Army’s operations over the four years of the war. Whether this fire was intentionally set, in order to keep from public view messages not available through other sources, such as the War Department’s records which Sherman captured at Goldsboro, is not known. What is known is that several letterbooks, telegraph books, plus general and special order books, were preserved and can be found today in various depositories across the East Coast. All of this material came to the depositories through the Lee family, slowly down the generations; the process of disclosure still going on. The most important of the letterbooks—besides the books covering the Sharpsburg Campaign—is the letterbook containing copies of certain communications General Lee appears to have had with President Davis, JEB Stuart, and Richard Ewell, in June 1863.

The Gettysburg Letterbook covers the period June 7, 1862 to October 12, 1864. It was in the possession of General Lee at the time of his death, in 1870. Apparently, his eldest son, Custis Lee, passed possession of the letterbook to Charles Marshall, one of Lee’s staff officers. During his lifetime, Marshall wrote a manuscript, using the letterbook as a source. He did not publish the manuscript, however. Several years after his death, in 1922, a British general, Sir. Frederick Maurice, at the invitation of  one of Marshall’s sons, took possession of the manuscript, edited it, and caused it to be published in book form as Charles Marshall, Aide de Camp to General Lee. In his manuscript, Marshall constructed a story about how the Battle of Gettysburg came to happen, using as its basis the letterbook and his uncorroborated recollections of conversations with General Lee.

The Gettysburg Letterbook, today, is in the possession of the Virginia Historical Society, a private organization, previously known as the Southern Historical Society. In the 1880s, as Union Brigadier-General, Marcus Wright, was compiling the Official Records of the Rebellion, it appears Marshall reluctantly allowed Wright to copy the contents of the letterbook; and, in 1889, the letters in the book were published in Vol 27, Parts I-III of the Official Records of the Rebellion.

According to correspondence the Virginia Historical Society possesses, by 1906 the letterbook was in the possession of Colonel W.E. Cutshaw of Richmond, Virginia. Cutshaw was then the “Chairman of the Committee on Lee’s Papers.” He passed the papers to William Gordon McCabe (1841-1920), a schoolmaster and resident of the city with connections to the war and to the Lee family. McCabe then prepared a list describing the contents of the letterbook, matched the contents to what Wright had published in the OR and returned the book, along with 166 loose letters, reports and telegrams to Cutshaw. It is unclear when, precisely, the letterbook came into the hands of the Southern Historical Society.

The story constructed by generations of scholars and civil war writers, about General Lee’s intention in moving his army into Pennsylvania, and his plan of operation thereafter, depends largely on a single message recorded in the letterbook by Lee’s aide de camp, Charles Venable. 

Harrison Appears at Lee’s Headquarters

The standard story of what caused General Lee to order concentration in front of Gettysburg begins with the appearance of the scout known as Harrison, who is supposed to have arrived at Lee’s headquarters near Chambersburg around 10 o’clock the night of June 28, 1863, bringing the news to Lee that Hooker’s army had crossed the Potomac and was then concentrated between Frederick, Maryland, and the South Mountain. Hearing this, Lee is supposed to have immediately decided to concentrate his army corps on the east side of the Cashtown Gap in the direction of Gettysburg, because, as Charles Marshall put it in a public address he made in January 1896, Lee thought Hooker meant to move the Union army into the Cumberland Valley and cut his communications with Virginia. (See, 1896 Address of Charles Marshall: Events Leading Up to Gettysburg, Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. 23, pages 205-229.)

Versions of Harrison’s arrival, and Lee’s reaction to Harrison’s information, by precipitant witnesses, can be found in Longstreet’s 1896 autobiography, From Manassas to Appomattox, Walter Taylor’s Four Years With General Lee, A.L. Long’s Memoirs of General Lee (as edited by Marcus Wright, Long being blind), and Frederick Maurice’s edition of Charles Marshall’s  manuscript. Longstreet was the first to disclose the fact that Harrison appeared at Chambersburg.

Longstreet put the story out first, in 1879: “On the night of the 29th, information was received by which the whole plan of the campaign changed. Harrison gave information that the enemy had crossed the Potomac, marched northwest, and that the head of his column was at Frederick. General Lee had already issued orders that we were to advance toward Harrisburg. I sent Harrison to Lee. The next morning I met with Lee. Lee said he had already issued orders changing the direction of Ewell’s march.” (Annuals of War, Philadelphia Weekly Times, 1879.)

Five years later, in 1884, in an article in the Century Magazine, Longstreet said this: “My scout straggled in (walking or riding Longstreet doesn’t say) on the night of the 28th. He fell in with the Union army before reaching Frederick—his plan being to walk at night and stop during the day in the neighborhood of the troops. He said there were three corps near Frederick when he passed there. . . . Meade was then in command of the army.” (If this last sentence is meant as a statement of fact, Longstreet is in error. Meade was not in command of the army when, according to Longstreet’s statement, Harrison was walking through Frederick. (It had to be the 27th, or early morning of the 28th at the latest, to reach Chambersburg (presumably on horseback) by the night of the 28th.)

The Routes to Chambersburg  Available to Harrison

Longstreet’s third version of the Harrison story was published with his biography, in 1896, the same year Charles Marshall made his public address laying the blame for Lee’s failure at Gettysburg on Stuart. Now Longstreet wrote: “Harrison walked through the lines of the Union army during the night of the 27th and 28th, secured a mount at dark of the latter day [and] brought information [that] Hooker had crossed the Potomac on the 25th and 26th, [that] on the 27th he had posted two corps at Frederick, and two others near South Mountain, as he escaped their lines a little after dark of the 28th.” (Longstreet, here, does not say Harrison brought the news that Meade was in command.) (Walter Taylor, in his book Four Years With General Lee. Published in 1879, said nothing about what happened between June 28 and June 30, starting his story on the morning of July 1 as Lee meets Hill at Cashtown. Therefore, it appears that Longstreet was the first to reveal the appearance of Harrison.)

James Longstreet During the War

Certainly, the available evidence is strong that, in fact, Harrison did appear at Lee’s headquarters on the night of  June 28, and that he did inform Lee that the Union army was across the Potomac taking position at Frederick. This, given all the circumstance of the case, is exactly what Lee had to expect would happen, as the direct result of his moving his army through the Cumberland Valley and throwing out Ewell’s corps toward the Susquehanna. The strategic key, here, is, of course, Early’s division moving to York and Wrightsville, sending cavalry to Hanover, destroying railroad bridges in all three directions. Lee knew that Ewell’s presence near Carlisle and Early’s at York would be reported to Washington and thence to the Union army commander in the field. Given the rebel presence on the Susquehanna as far east as York and Hanover, Baltimore, if not Washington, was clearly threatened, and Lincoln could be expected to insist that the Union army cover both places. Which meant there was no chance that Hooker would be allowed to move the army west of South Mountain to threaten Lee’s presumed communications. Indeed, the evidence is equally strong that Lee had no intention of maintaining his communications with Virginia. Had he intended this, he would have had to detach infantry all along the route, with regiments and artillery batteries posted at Williamsport and Hagerstown. As he informed President Davis, by letter on the 25th as he crossed the Potomac with Longstreet, he did not have the men to do this and therefore had “to abandon [his] communications.”

Charles Marshall Leads Lee’s Staff in Constructing a False Picture of Lee’s Intent

In Moving On Gettysburg

Given the objective record that exists, regarding the actions, as opposed to the words, of Richard Ewell, Edward Johnson and Jubal Early, two of Ewell’s division commanders, it seems reasonably clear that, in fact, Harrison did arrive in Chambersburg the night of June 28th , and did report to Lee the fact that Hooker was concentrating at Frederick, fifty miles due south of the line Chambersburg—Cashtown—Gettysburg. It is also clear, by the same measure, that General Lee ordered part of his army—Hill’s corps—to draw nearer to Cashtown at that time. What orders he sent to Ewell, however, are mired in confusion, a confusion, it seems reasonably clear, Lee intentionally created.

Here reasonable certainty ends and myth begins, the myth rising from the fact that Marshall, supported more or less by Walter Taylor and A.L. Long, pushed the story into the public mind after the war that Lee did not enter Pennsylvania with the intent to attack the Union army. In his 1879 book, Taylor laid the first building block of the myth, by writing: “The necessity for concentration was precipitated by the unexpected encounter on July 1st with a large force of the enemy near Gettysburg.” This is patently untrue, for the evidence plainly shows that Buford’s Union cavalry division of  two brigades rode to Gettysburg, by way of Fairfield on the 30th. At Fairfield, Buford encountered two Mississippi regiments occupying the place with a battery of artillery. He reported this to Meade who had Reynolds face his corps toward that place, expecting an advance by Lee eventually to materialize from that direction. Arriving at Gettysburg, Buford found Pettigrew’s brigade advancing, then withdrawing, leaving pickets and skirmishers behind. Given these encounters between the contending forces, Lee certainly had enough intelligence to know the Union army was conforming to his apparent movement toward the Susquehanna, by moving north, probably, as was the case, moving north and northeast as opposed to west.

In his 1896 address, Charles Marshall fleshed out Taylor’s statement with a presentation based solely on his credibility. Beginning the address with, “I think it proper I should state the means of information I possess,” Marshall informed his audience that “It was my duty to compile Lee’s official reports,” that he had all of the reports by subordinates, that he spoke with Ewell, Hill, and Stuart about their reports, and that he “had all General Lee’s private correspondence with the officers of his army, his orders, public and confidential, and the full and frank explanations by Lee of his own plans and purposes.” As the evidence shows, however, Marshall did not have all of General Lee’s relevant orders; in fact, he had none of them.

Having set himself up as the key percipient witness to what caused Lee to order concentration at Gettysburg, Marshall launched into his explanation: “The true standard,” he said, “is to compare the Pennsylvania campaign as it might have been, and as General Lee had reason to believe it would be.” Here, Marshall reads from the Gettysburg Letterbook, which had been published in 1889 in the OR, the three letters sent to Stuart on June 22 and 23. (The two dated June 22 are written in Marshall’s hand, the one of the 23rd in Taylor’s.)—to make the case that Lee expected Stuart to cross the Potomac in such a manner that he could immediately place himself between the Union army and Lee’s, rather than place himself in rear of it. Lee expected this, Marshall argued, because he needed Stuart to give him intelligence of the positions of the Union corps as they advanced into Maryland. Marshall claimed that, as he was preparing Lee’s “official” report, he spoke to Stuart. “I called to his attention the fact that the great object of having his cavalry on the right was to keep us informed of the enemy’s movements [and] pointed out to him the disastrous consequence of our being without cavalry to get information for us, and the fact, that, not hearing from him, Lee had been led to believe that Hooker had not crossed. Lee was compelled to march. . . eastward without the slightest knowledge of the enemy’s movements, except that brought by the scout.”

What had Lee thought the campaign would be? Marshall put what he says he knows Lee thought several ways: “It had not been his intention to deliver battle north of the Potomac if it could be avoided, except on his own terms.” “It had not been intended to deliver a general battle (Marshall here is reading from Lee’s report) so far from our base unless attacked, but coming unexpectedly upon the whole Federal army (hardly) to withdraw through the mountains would have been difficult and dangerous.” “At the same time we were not able to await an attack, as the country was unfavorable for collecting supplies in the presence of the enemy.” (For five days Ewell had been collecting supplies throughout the Cumberland Valley and sending them back to Chambersburg.) “A battle had become in a measure unavoidable.” (italics added)There is some truth to Marshall’s rendition of Lee’s supposed intent, but the truth lies not in what Lee actually had intended from the start to do, but what he was constrained by political pressure to say he would do.

For proof of the point, Longstreet becomes the witness. James Longstreet was an arrogant man, a man all full of himself. Reading his biography and articles it is impossible to miss his character trait for claiming the merit for every single action Lee took, from Gaines Mill, to Manassas, to Gettysburg and to the end. At every turn, when Lee is considering his next move, it is Longstreet suggesting this and Longstreet suggesting that, which Lee adopts as the course of action. Regarding the Gettysburg campaign this trait of Longstreet becomes laughable. In his first public offering, published in the Annual of War in 1879, about the time Taylor’s book was published, Longstreet informs us of this:

  “At Federicksburg, he asked me if I did not think an invasion of Pennsylvania. . . and I replied that [such a] movement would be too hazardous. I soon discovered that he had determined that he would make some forward movement, and I finally assented that the Pennsylvania campaign might be brought to a successful issue if he could make it offensive in strategy but defensive in action. This point was urged with great persistency. I suggested that we should choose a strong position and force the Federals to attack us. I suggested that public clamor in the North would force the Government to attempt to drive us out. . . . I was never persuaded to yield my argument against the Gettysburg campaign, except with the understanding that we were not to deliver an offensive battle, but to so maneuver that the enemy should be forced to attack us. Upon this understanding my assent was given.  

It’s as if Longstreet thought of  himself as controlling Lee’s actions, that he thought of himself as Lee’s equal: two men collaborating instead of it being Lee the commanding general and Longstreet the subordinate.

Longstreet did, however, have political connections with the Richmond government, and no doubt was aware that the majority of politicians were leery of Lee taking the army away into Pennsylvania to engage the Union army in a pitched battle. In order to quiet them, making life easier for President Davis, who most certainly understood what Lee meant to happen, Lee gave out the impression that Longstreet’s view of things matched his own intentions. Later, returning to Virginia, Gettysburg being counted as a failure by the politicians, Lee was compelled by the politics of the situation to take the position that the battle was forced upon him by circumstance.

The proof of this lies in Marshall’s recitation of  his role in drafting movements orders for the army, the night of the 28th, and the inference that must be drawn of Lee’s true intent from the evidence, or lack thereof, in the Gettysburg Letterbook.

In his 1896 address, Marshall claimed that, on the night of the 28th before Harrrison arrived, he “was directed by General Lee to order Ewell to move directly upon Harrisburg, and to inform him that Longstreet would move the next morning (the 29th) to his support. A.P. Hill was directed to move eastward to the Susquehanna, and, crossing the river below Harrisburg, seize the railroad between Harrisburg and Philadelphia, it being supposed that. . . there would be such alarm created by these movements that the Federal government would be obliged to withdraw its army from Virginia.”

This is a great deal of hogwash sprinkled with a simple fact of truth. The truth is that, indeed, Lee expected that the enemy would withdraw its army from Virginia, compelled to do so by the movement of his army toward the Susquehanna—a movement that had begun two days earlier, on the 26th, when Ewell marched Rodes’s and Johnson’s divisions to Carlisle and Early marched his to York and Wrightsville. This is the movement that, in fact, induced Hooker to cross the Potomac on the 25th and 26th, and induced Meade to move the army from its concentrated position at Frederick, on the 28th, toward the Mason-Dixon line, stretching his corps over a twenty-mile front as far as Manchester.

The idea that, on the night of the 28th, Lee actually intended to march Hill’s entire corps east, to cross the Susquehanna, is ridiculous by any intelligent standard of military strategy, much less by reference to the practical realities: by then the Wrightsville bridge was burned and the river was too deep to ford. And it would have taken Hill two days of marching to reach the river. Even if Hill or Early could have crossed it, the reason why Lee would want to is silly in the extreme; the distance between Harrisburg and Columbia, opposite Wrightsville, being 28 miles. (Early, in his report, suggested he would have found thousands of horses to mount his men and ride there!) Yet these are the orders Marshall expected his audience to believe he drafted and sent to Ewell and Hill before Harrison arrived. (Marshall left out of his story the writing of orders to Longstreet.)

Marshall tells us next that he was “just returning to my tent when I was sent for by Lee. I found him with Harrison.” Lee inferred from Harrison’s information that the advance of the enemy “had turned westward from Frederick, to enter the Cumberland Valley and obstruct our communications. Lee considered it of great importance that the enemy should be kept east of the mountains and, consequently, he determined to move his own army east, so as to threaten Washington and Baltimore, and detain the enemy on that side of the mountains to protect those cities.” One has to wonder how stupid Marshall took his audience. What did he think Lee’s purpose was in sending Ewell to Carlisle and Early to York, if not to trigger this reaction in the minds of Lincoln and his generals?

Now, Marshall tells us that he was “directed to countermand the orders to Ewell and Hill, and to order the latter to move eastward on the road through Cashtown and Gettysburg, and Ewell to march form Carlisle, so as to form a junction with Hill either at Cashtown or Gettysburg.” And Longstreet was ordered (by Lee not Marshall) to prepare to move the next morning, following Hill.” Again, Marshall’s presentation is muddled: Hill’s first alleged orders hardly required much countermanding as all he had been told to do was stop at Cashtown. And, again, Marshall avoids linking Longstreet to his order-writing.

Here, any intelligent trial lawyer worth his salt, would shatter Marshall’s story to pieces by opening the Gettysburg letterbook and asking Marshall to explain why the two sets of orders he says he wrote at Lee’s behest the night of  June 28 are not recorded in the letterbook. Indeed, though there are eleven letters recorded in the letterbook, between June 22 and June 25 (two to Ewell, four to Davis, three to Stuart, one to Imboden, commanding the cavalry advancing with Ewell, and one to Isaac Trimble, a general without a command wanting to return to duty), there are none written in the letterbook between the time Lee crossed the Potomac on June 25 and the unstated time on July 1, when Lee wrote to Imboden to replace Pickett’s division at Chambersburg—except one and that one Marshall failed to mention in both his 1896 address and in his manuscript published after his death. Here is the dagger the lawyer drives through Marshall’s story, destroying its credibility.

Charles Venable’s “Sketch”

On the night of the 28th, Lee knew that the enemy must have been moving in the direction of the Cashtown-Gettysburg-York line, because by then the enemy had to know his forces were in position to threaten not only Harrisburg but Baltimore. The enemy had no choice but to do one of two things in such circumstance:. Like Longstreet hope to meet the enemy’s advance in a defensive position, or advance and concentrate for battle where the enemy appeared to be strongest. Which choice to take, required a decision and that would depend upon the character and mind of the Union commanding general.

The evidence is strong that General Lee planted Venable’s “sketch” as the means of  leaving an ambiguous record of his actions, after he learned the results of the first day’s battle. Between June 22, the day Ewell’s corps began crossing the Potomac, and June 25, the day Lee crossed with Longstreet’s corps, he had allowed his staff officers—Charles Marshall, Walter Taylor, and Charles Venable—to copy eleven letters into his letterbook. Between the time he crossed the Potomac, on June 25, and July 1, the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, a time period of five days, Lee allowed his staff to record only one letter into the letterbook—and for this one, instead of having Marshall write it, who claimed he was the principal person Lee looked to write such letters, Lee assigned the task to Charles Venable, a shadowy character in the hierarchy of Lee’s staff..

Because the script Venable wrote is dated June 28 at 7:30 a.m., and begins with, “I wrote you last night that Hooker was reported to have crossed the Potomac,” the supposition of the scholars is that Venable wrote the wrong date by mistake since Harrison did not arrive at Lee’s HQ until the night of the 28th. Thus, the civil war writers treat the message text as if Lee’s message to Ewell “of last night” was transmitted the night of the 28th, (one of Marshall’s unrecorded orders) after Harrison arrived, and they treat the current message dated June 28th as if it were transmitted the morning of June 29th..)

Given the text of the message, there is only one logical reason Lee (through Venable) inserted into the note of the morning, reference to the note of the evening before. According to the diaries of soldiers in Edward Johnson’s division (This division was camped on the 28th within three miles of Carlisle), Johnson’s division began to countermarch from the Carlisle area at 1:00 p.m. on the 29th. The rear, now the front, of Johnson’s column, marched five miles and camped in front of Shippensburg; presumably the rear closed up on that place the night of the 29th. This movement can only be explained by reference to the fact that, in Venable’s sketch, Lee is supposed to have “directed” Ewell in the missing message of the night before “to move [his forces] to this point;” i.e. to Greenwood. Of course, this conflicts with Marshall’s story, as he says nothing about orders issued the night of the 28th, or any earlier night, telling Ewell to march back toward Chambersburg. And Ewell, in his report, states that on the morning of the 29th, he was about ready to “Start for Harrisburg” when Lee’s message came telling him to move on Heidlersburg to concentrate at or near Cashtown. An order Ewell did not execute until the morning of the 30th.

Ewell Sent Johnson 20 Miles Out of the Way

Still, the evidence does show that Lee did transmit a message to Ewell, unwittingly or not, either the night of the 27th, or the morning of the 28th before Harrison arrived. (It may have been a verbal message delivered to Ewell by Isaac Trimble)

On June 28, 29, and 30, Jubal Early was at York. He does not tell us precisely when he received it, but he does tell us that he received a dispatch from Ewell dated June 28 and timed as sent at 2:00 p.m. It is 43 miles from Carlisle to York. Assuming a courier started from Carlisle for York at 3:00 p.m., riding at 4 miles an hour on average, he would arrive at York around 1:00 a.m. to 3:00 a.m. on the 29th, a few hours before Johnson’s countermarch south on the turnpike between Carlisle and Chambersburg began.

According to Early, Ewell’s message to him reads: “General Lee has a heavy force (`tight corps’) toward Gettysburg—General Trimble saw him last night, Gen. Lee, on the subject of burning bridges on the York RR where you went. I notified Gen. Lee that you had gone there. Gen. Lee seems inclined to concentrate about Chambersburg so that I don’t know whether I move towards Harrisburg or not. So it is important that I hear from you to give you the latest line of march.”

This evidence suggests, most reasonably, that Lee did not, as Venable’s sketch states, direct Ewell to move Rodes’s and Johnson’s divisions to Chambersburg. Given what Early states Ewell’s message to him said, it is logical to conclude that, having heard from Trimble what Lee was “inclined” to do, Ewell took it upon himself to order Johnson to begin moving back toward Chambersburg. When Early left Ewell at Chambersburg, on the 25th, moving east toward York, he left his division trains behind. These trains, along with Johnson’s and Rodes, were on the road between Shippensburg and Carlisle. Ewell naturally would be concerned about their safety and probably wanted to get them closer to Chambersburg, anticipating Lee would be calling his forces back. This is the only rational explanation the available evidence affords in a trial court.

The rest of the text of Venable’s sketch relates to what Lee directed Ewell to do the next morning, presumably the morning of the 29th:

  If you have not already progressed on the (Chambersburg) road, and if you have no good reason against it, I desire you to move in the direction of Gettysburg, via Heidlersburg. . . , and you can join your other divisions to Early’s. . . . I think it preferable to keep on the east side of the mountains. When you come to Heidlersburg, you can either move directly on Gettysburg (11 miles away) or turn down to Cashtown. Your trains and heavy artillery you can send, if you think proper on the road to Chambersburg. But if the roads which your troops take are good, they had better follow you.”  

Whether the substance of this message reached Ewell the morning of the 29th , or earlier, does not really matter. What matters is that, even if Ewell had started Johnson’s division moving south on the west side of the mountains before the message was received, given the diaries of Johnson’s soldiers, it is obvious Ewell could have easily rescinded the order. Johnson had not moved far on the 29th, according to the soldiers’ diaries, so that he could have been ordered to countermarch and follow Rodes around the northern end of the mountains, which was just south a few miles from Carlisle; and, with the trains, follow Rodes to Heidlersburg, twenty-two miles away. Instead, according to the diaries, Johnson’s soldiers were up at 3:00 a.m. on the 30th, at Shippensburg, and marching at 5:00 a.m. toward Green Village and Scotland where they camped the night of the 30th: This is the great blunder of the Gettysburg campaign.

Whatever instructions Lee transmitted to Ewell the morning of the 29th, Ewell sent a courier riding to Early at York that day, the courier, according to Early, arriving there “the night of the 29th. Ewell’s dispatch included a note written in Lee’s hand directed to him, and the courier relayed verbal instructions from Ewell in addition. Early stated what he received this way: “I received the information that the enemy was moving northward, accompanied with the order to move west of the mountains; i.e., toward Carlisle to join Ewell which had been the plan between Ewell and Early, formed when they conferred at Chambersburg on the 25th. (See Stuart’s Ride Around Hooker) Early says he “was not informed until the night of the 30th at Heidlersburg that it was the plan to concentrate at Cashtown.” (Early received a third dispatch from Ewell while he was marching west from York on the 30th.)

In fact, on the 29th, Meade was holding his seven army corps stationary behind Pipe Creek along a twenty-five mile front, stretching from near Emmitsburg to Manchester in the east. Rodes was stationary near Carlisle. Early was stationary at York. Hill was moving toward Cashtown, showing force at the mouth of the gap on the 30th, sending infantry force toward Fairfield. Johnson moved five miles and camped near Shippensburg. Only on the 30th, did Ewell, with Rodes, and Early move toward Heidlersburg as Hill’s advance division showed Buford a brigade, and Meade, late that night, ordered Reynolds to be prepared to fall back from Emmitsburg to behind Pipe Creek. All this time, Lee is waiting, waiting, for the enemy to advance to encounter him in front of the Cashtown Gap. And Meade is procrastinating at Pipe Creek, hoping Lee would come to him, instead of him having to go meet Lee.

That this is the true factual situation the two armies were in the night of  June 30 is plain from the evidence. Indeed, Marshall, himself, so eager to protect the myth of Lee’s intention in moving on Gettysburg, reveals the truth of the matter in this statement: “It would have been entirely within the power of Lee to have met the enemy while they were moving between Frederick and Gettysburg.” “The army moved very slowly and there would have been no difficulty whatever in having the whole of it at Gettysburg the morning of July 1.”

Of course Marshall is right about this. It is the whole point. Had he wanted to, Lee could have had Hill’s corps in line of battle out in front of Cashtown waiting for Meade’s advance to show its face, with Longstreet’s first and second divisions poised to move to Hill’s support immediately. Had John Reynolds seen this situation as he approached at the head of Doubleday’s long infantry column, stretching back over ten miles to Emmitsburg, he would probably had done what Meade expected him to do in any event: Retreat toward Taneytown, to take position in the center of Meade’s defensive line at Pipe Creek and await Lee’s advance.

The slowness of Hill’s movement east, and the showing beyond the gap of only Heth’s division, was intended by Lee to induce the Union advance to think it had a fair chance of holding its own in front of Gettysburg long enough for Meade to make a decision to bring the entire army up. Lee was gambling on a chance to destroy the resistance of the Union advance, force it to retreat in a panic into the Pipe Creek line, and move immediately to turn it by way of Fairfield and the Emmitsburg Road. This intent, necessarily revealed in Lee’s messages to his corps commanders, explains why there is nothing recorded in his letterbook, except Venable’s mystifying sketch.


Joe Ryan



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About the author:
Joe Ryan is a Los Angeles trial lawyer who has traveled the route of the Army of Northern Virginia, from Richmond to Gettysburg several times.



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