The Second Battle of Manassas -- A Reply to General Longstreet
Southern Historical Society Papers
Vol. VI. Richmond, Va, August, 1878. No. 2
By General S.D. Lee.
In the June number of the Southern Historical Society Papers for the present year is General Longstreet's second paper on Gettysburg, and an extract of his official report of the second battle of Manassas. It is the first time these papers have been seen by me, and I deem it proper for Historical accuracy and in vindication of a gallant and efficient artillery command that I notice them.
General Longstreet, in his Gettysburg article, in endeavoring to explain his official relations with General R.E. Lee, brings up the battle of second Manassas, and writes as follows:
"The next day the Federals advanced against General Jackson in very heavy force. They soon made the battle so severe for him that he was obliged to call for reinforcements. At about 3 P.M., while the battle was raging fiercely, I was riding to my front when I received a note from Generals Hood and Evans, asking me to ride to a part of the field where they were standing. I changed my course and hurried to the point indicated. I found them standing upon a high piece of ground, from which they had full view of the battle being made against Jackson. We could see the solid masses of the Federals forming for a charge against Jackson's weakening lines. They were gathered in immense force, and it seemed impossible that Jackson's thin line could withstand the onset. The Federals moved forward steadily, surging on in solid blocks, headed directly for Jackson's lines. Just then a courier arrived in great haste with orders from General Lee for me to hurry to the assistance of Jackson. It was in the very crisis of the battle. I had very serious doubts about being able to reach General Jackson in time to be of any service to him. I had no doubt, however, that I could impede or paralyze the immense mass of men that was pressing steadily to his overthrow. We were standing on the flank of the advancing columns. They swept on at right angles to our line of vision. They were within easy artillery range, and I felt certain that a heavy enfilading fire, poured unexpectedly into their charging columns. would disconcert and check them. Instead of moving to reinforce Jackson, therefore, I sent dispatches for batteries to hurry to where I was. In an exceedingly short time Captain Wiley's six gun battery came dashing up at full gallop, the horses covered with foam, and the men urging them forward. They were wheeled into position and directed against the moving flank of the enemy. The range was fair, and as the six guns flashed the heavy shot went plowing through the solid flank of the Federals, doing terrible damage.
The result was as anticipated. The line faltered for an instant, started again, hesitated, reformed and pressed forward, and then as a rear broadside was poured into them, broke ranks and retired, slowly, sullenly and doggedly. General Jackson did not pursue, and the Federals halted after moving back a short distance, and arranged to reform their ranks and renew the charge. As soon as they started, however, they were obliged to face against General Jackson. This exposed them of course to our enfilading fire. We now had several batteries in position, and as soon as the lines had taken shape and started on their second assault we poured a perfect hail of balls into their flanks and scattered them again. Although discomfited they were not broken, but retired with their slow, angry, sullen step. When they had gone beyond the fair range of our batteries they halted, and tried to form again for the third assault. I now determined to end the matter, feeling that I had an easy victory in my grasp. I therefore ordered every battery to be in readiness, and drew my men up for a charge, designing to throw them into the broken ranks of the enemy as soon as my artillery had dispersed them. The Federals moved forward once more. When they were fairly in range every gun was opened upon them, and before they had recovered from the stunning effect, I sprang every man I had to the charge, and swept down upon them like an avalanche. The effect was simply magical. The enemy broke all to pieces. I pushed my men forward with pell-mell pursuit, hoping to reach the main Federal lines at the same time with their retreating forces. We succeeded in this, and drove the enemy back, pursuing them till fully 10 o'clock at night."
In the above General Longstreet states that about 3 P.M. he went to the position where Generals Hood and Evans had sent for him; that the battle was then being made against Jackson; that the masses of Federals, surging in solid blocks, headed directly against Jackson's lines; that he could not possibly get to Jackson in time to be of service to him, but that he could paralyze the attack by using artillery unexpectedly to the enemy, to enfilade the column of attack; that he did use this artillery -- first, Wiley's six gun battery, and afterwards several batteries, and this claim is distinctly made that these batteries crushed the column of attack against Jackson. He, however, says the range of these batteries was fair, and speaks of the Federals being beyond the range at one time. He also speaks of throwing his men into the broken ranks of the enemy, as they recoiled before the artillery, intimating that his troops moved directly on these discomfited troops hurled from Jackson's right flank.
The description as given by General Longstreet is vivid, and so far as the scene of the assaulting column striking Jackson is concerned, is generally correct. He is, however, in error as to the efficiency of his artillery and the enfilading fire taking the enemy unexpectedly, as other and nearer artillery was playing on the assaulting Federals, and far more effectually, because of shorter range and more suitable position and calibre. He is in error, too, as to striking the discomfited troops in front of Jackson when he started his advance. His extreme left may possibly have encountered some of these troops, but it is not at all probable. He is again in error in saying Jackson did not pursue the enemy. But we will leave these points for the present. General Longstreet's Gettysburg article is of recent date. Let us see what he says in his official report, written soon after the second battle of Manassas, when everything was fresh in his memory. He there says, in alluding to his riding to the position occupied by Hood and Evans and his determination to use artillery on the columns assaulting General Jackson's right: "Two batteries were ordered for the purpose, and one placed in position immediately and opened. Just as the fire began, I received a message from the Commanding General, informing me of General Jackson's condition and his wants. As it was evident that the attack against General Jackson could not be continued ten minutes under the fire of these batteries, I made no movement with my troops. Before the second battery could be placed in position, the enemy began to retire, and in less than ten minutes the ranks were broken and that portion of his army put to flight. A fair opportunity was offered me, and the intended diversion was changed into an attack. My whole line was rushed forward at a charge. The troops sprang to their work and moved forward with all the steadiness and firmness that characterize war worn veterans. The batteries, continuing their play upon the confused masses, completed the work of this portion of the enemy's line, and my attack was therefore made against the forces in my front. The order for the advance had scarcely been given, when I received a message from the Commanding General, anticipating some such emergency, and ordering the move which was then going on, at the same time offering me Major General Anderson's division. The Commanding General soon joined me, and a few minutes after Major General Anderson arrived with his division. The attack was led by Hood's brigades, closely supported by Evans. These were rapidly reinforced by Anderson's division from the rear, Kemper's three brigades, and D.R. Jones' division from the right, and Wilcox's brigade from the left. The brigades of Brigadier Generals Featherston and Pryor became detached, and operated with a portion of General Jackson's command. The attacking columns moved steadily forward, driving the enemy from his different positions as rapidly as he took them."
We see that in this extract from his official report he does not claim so much. Instead of several batteries, he here mentions only two. Both of these batteries were ordered up after his joining Hood and Evans, and in the crisis of the assault. One was soon at work, and, according to his report, the enemy began to retire before the second could be put in position, and in ten minutes after the second was put in position, he says that portion of the army of the Federals was put to flight. Further along he mentions these batteries as playing upon the confused masses. Here he states that he moved against the enemy in his front, and does not lead one to infer, as in the Gettysburg article, that he pursued and followed up the crushed column, already defeated in front of Jackson. I here remark that the distance of these batteries used by General Longstreet from the enemy was too great for the magical service claimed for them during the necessarily short time they were engaged. They no doubt did good service -- as good service as any batteries could have done at their distance, but all the honor of crushing that terrible onslaught on Jackson by the surging masses, so vividly described by Longstreet, does not belong to them. Jackson and eighteen other pieces of artillery, much nearer, are entitled to that honor, which, as indicated by General Longstreet, was the turning point of the battle. It was the moment when, as he states, he saw an easy victory in his grasp. These eighteen guns were between Longstreet and Jackson, on the ridge separating them. They were placed about dawn in position by Colonel S.D. Lee, upon consultation with General J.B. Hood; but before sunrise Colonel Lee had reported their position to General Lee, and he sent word -- "you are just where I wanted you -- stay there." Now, as to official facts to substantiate the above, the following official report of Colonel S.D. Lee, made to Colonel R.H. Chilton, General Lee's Adjutant General, is offered. This report was made to General Lee, because Colonel Lee commanded a battalion of reserve artillery, reporting directly to General Lee, and in no way connected with either Generals Longstreet or Jackson, both of whom had their own artillery with their respective commands. The report reads thus, and is copied freely, as it gives an artillerist's description of ground, distances, &c.:
Headquarters Battalion of Light Artillery,
Camp Near Winchester, Va., October 2, 1862.
Lieutenant Colonel R.H. Chilton, Adjutant General, A.N.V.:
Colonel; -- I have the honor to make the following report of the part taken by the battalion of artillery under my command in the battle of Manassas Plains, August 30,1862.
The battalion received orders on the evening of the 29th near Thoroughfare Gap to march to the front during the night, and after a tedious march, encamped about dawn on the morning of the 30th on the pike leading from Gainesville to Stone bridge, and about two miles from Gainesville. Soon after daylight, I found that our bivouac was on the battle field of the previous evening, and near an advanced division on picket. The enemy showing every disposition to attack us, upon consultation with Brigadier General J.B. Hood, and at his suggestion I placed my batteries (four) on a commanding ridge immediately to his left and rear. In the general line of battle this ridge was about the center; Jackson's corps being immediately on my left and Longstreet's on my right. It was an admirable ridge of over a quarter of a mile, generally overlooking the ground in front of it for two thousand yards. This ground was occupied by several farms, with cornfields, orchards, fences, &c., making it much desired by the enemy for their skirmishers, the ground being quite undulating. Opposite the left of the ridge, and distant about one thousand three hundred yards, was a strip of timber with quite a fall of ground behind it. Between this strip and General Jackson's right (along an old railroad excavation) was an open field.
* * * * * *
During the morning the enemy had massed his infantry behind the timber before mentioned, with a view to turn our left, and about 4 P.M. marched from out these woods in heavy lines of attack on General Jackson's position. The left of the ridge was held by Eubank's battery of four smooth bores, who opened on the enemy as soon as he discerned their advance. At the same time I shifted to his assistance with two howitzers of Parker's battery, two of Rhett's battery and one of Jordan's battery. At the same time I directed nine other pieces, mostly rifles on the right of the ridge under Captains Jordan and Taylor, to change their position so as to fire on the enemy in flank, and on the woods containing their reserves. With eighteen (18) guns a continuous fire was kept up on the enemy during his attack, which lasted only about half an hour. His reserves moved twice out of the woods to the support of the attacking column, and twice were they repulsed by the artillery and driven back to the woods. After the reserves failed to reach the front or attacking columns, they were repulsed and attempted to rally in the open field, but the range of every part of the field was obtained and a few discharges broke them in confusion and sent them back to the woods. Finding that my batteries were troubling them they attempted to charge them, three regiments starting for them. They were repulsed, some of their dead being within two hundred yards of the guns. While firing on the infantry, two batteries of the enemy were firing at us, but generally overshot us. Our position was an admirable one, and the guns were well served. Two of my batteries were firing for the first time, but did remarkably well. I cannot speak in too high terms of the conduct of officers and men -- all behaved well, exhibiting coolness and courage. * * * * * * * * * * *
Col. Art'y C.S.A., Comd'g Batt'n Light Artillery.
From the above report it appears that the artillery battalion of Colonel S.D. Lee was on the ridge between Jackson and Longstreet, and that this ridge was over a quarter of a mile long; that from the left of this ridge (where Colonel Lee had nine howitzers) to the strip of woods from which the Federals moved across the open field on Jackson's right flank (posted in the old railroad excavations) was thirteen hundred yards. Before the Federal column left the woods, the nine rifle pieces towards the right of the ridge and the four guns of Eubank's were playing on it. The howitzers shifted to Eubank's assistance only had to move about 150 yards to get in position, and these guns fired on the Federal front lines before they got across the open field and engaged Jackson's men in that terrible infantry struggle at the railroad excavation, and which lasted about fifteen or twenty minutes. Thus it will be seen eighteen guns of Lee's battalion, within easy ranges were playing on the Federal masses during the entire assault. As these masses moved out of the woods on Jackson, they exposed their flanks directly to Colonel Lee's guns, as they moved to his left on Jackson. As they moved into the field every step brought them in closer range, exposing the more their flank. The railroad cut occupied by the right of Jackson's line was directly to the left and rear of the ridge -- retired about 100 yards.
The ridge inclined to the front from Jackson's position, and Longstreet's line of battle inclined a little to the front from the ridge occupied by Colonel Lee's artillery. We thus readily see that the woods and the field were all the time thoroughly commanded by Colonel Lee's artillery. The distance of the woods from the rifle pieces on the right could not have been less than 1,600 or 1,700 yards. There was considerable space to the right of Colonel Lee's artillery forwards the pike unoccupied. As this ridge was over a quarter of a mile long, and Longstreet's two batteries were not near Colonel Lee's, but considerably to his right, it necessarily follows that the range of his batteries must have been, to say the least, over twenty five hundred yards. The claim in his Gettysburg article of a heavy enfilading fire being "poured unexpectedly into their charging column" can't be sustained, for when he got to where Generals Hood and Evans were, the front lines of the enemy had swept across the field and were desperately engaged fighting Jackson's infantry, and Colonel Lee's guns were concentrated on the supporting lines moving out of the woods and trying to cross the field. According to Colonel Lee's report these supporting columns only moved out of the woods twice, and each time were driven back, and when not in the field they were in the woods, never out of the range of either Colonel Lee's smooth bores or rifles, as Longstreet states was the case with his batteries at one time. Another evidence of the distance of Longstreet's two batteries is established by the fact that he did not see, certainly not speak of Colonel Lee s artillery, for he claims all the glory of crushing the assaulting columns on Jackson. He seems to know nothing of the terrible infantry struggle at the railroad excavation, which Jackson carried on unsupported by even Colonel Lee's batteries, for they even could not stop the front lines from crossing the field. Colonel Lee thinks, however, he prevented any reinforcements going up, which fact prevented the front lines from being supported, and Jackson, as usual, soon disposed of those close at hand engaging him. And when he did hurl them back and they tried to rally in the open field, the eighteen guns of Colonel Lee (the nine howitzers not five hundred yards distant) played terrible havoc in their disordered ranks, and finally swept them from the field. Jackson, true to his soldierly instincts, was pursuing. Both the Federals and Jackson's men had near exhausted their ammunition, and the writer saw the Louisiana brigade of Jackson's command tearing the cartridge boxes off the fallen Federals as they passed over them, while others with stones were actually pelting them as they pressed forward. The artillery had to slacken its fire to keep from injuring Jackson's pursuing infantry. Jackson's men did pursue, and followed the Federals into the woods and disappeared with them.
The time occupied by this assault on Jackson is also significantly and does not sustain General Longstreet in his assumptions. General Jackson and Colonel Lee both state in their official reports that the assault occurred about 4 P.M. Colonel Lee states that the entire assault only occupied about half an hour. There was almost a complete stillness on the entire field when the terrible and well arranged assault burst like a thunderbolt on Jackson. After it commenced, Generals Hood and Evans sent for General Longstreet at a convenient, "high piece of ground," for him to have a good view of the battle raging against General Jackson. After his arrival there he had to order up two batteries. In his official report he says: "Two batteries were ordered for this purpose, and one placed in position immediately and opened," -- while in his Gettysburg article he says: "In an exceedingly short time Captain Wiley's six gun battery came dashing up at a full gallop, the horses covered with foam, and the men urging them forward." Of course, it took some time for him to get where Generals Hood and Evans were, and also some time to get these batteries up and in position, and though Captain Wiley came promptly, he yet must have had to come some distance, for his horses were "covered with foam." In this half hour of the assault much time was lost necessarily before even the first battery opened, and certainly before the second; and in the meantime, General Longstreet had determined not to move to Jackson's assistance, because he saw from the nature of the assault he could not get there in time. He determined to move forward aggressively to his front and in that way relieve the pressure on General Jackson. All this took time, and that half hour of assault was far advanced and nearly completed. Nor could his two batteries have played long on the confused masses, as they would have played on the battle flags of Jackson's infantry moving to the front and waving back to Colonel Lee's artillery to slacken and stop his fire. All this in about a half an hour.
It is again significant that a Federal brigade of three regiments moved directly against Colonel Lee's guns to divert and distract their fire from the assaulting columns; as also that the Federal dead lay within two hundred yards of his guns.
Having now examined Longstreet's Gettysburg article and the extract from his official report, as also Colonel S.D. Lee's official report -- in which he treats of distances, so necessary for an intelligent handling of artillery -- we will now see what General R.E. Lee says in his official report:
"About 3 P.M. the enemy having massed his troops in front of General Jackson, advanced against his position in strong force. His front line pushed forward until engaged at close quarters by Jackson's troops, when its progress was checked, and a fierce and bloody struggle ensued. A second and third line of great strength moved up to support the first, but in doing so came in easy range of a position a little in advance of Longstreet's left. He immediately ordered up two batteries, and two others being thrown forward about the same time by Colonel S.D. Lee, under their well directed fire the supporting lines were broken, and fell back in confusion. These repeated efforts to rally were unavailing, and Jackson's troops, being thus relieved from the pressure of overwhelming numbers, began to press steadily forward, driving the enemy before them. He retreated in confusion, suffering severely from our artillery, which advanced as he retired. General Longstreet, anticipating the order for a general advance, now threw his whole command against the Federal center and left; Hood's two brigades, followed by Evans, led the attack. R.H. Anderson's division came gallantly to the support of Hood, while the three brigades of Wilcox moved forward on his left, and those of Kemper on his right. D.R. Jones advanced on the extreme right, and the whole line swept steadily on, driving the enemy with great carnage from each successive position until 10 P.M., when darkness put an end to the battle and pursuit."
From this extract we see that General Lee says "a second and third line of great strength moved up to the support of the first, but in doing so came in easy range of a position a little in advance of Longstreet's left." This was the position occupied by Colonel S.D. Lee's four batteries of eighteen guns on the ridge to the left of Longstreet, and as General R.E. Lee says "in advance of Longstreet's left;" and these eighteen guns were so far to the left and in advance of Longstreet's six gun battery, that he never saw them, never even heard them; and according to Colonel Lee's report of distances and the known line of battle, Longstreet's guns must have been nearer 3,000 yards from the Federals than 2,500, as already stated. General Lee, however, says "he immediately ordered up two batteries, and two others being thrown forward about the same time by Colonel S.D. Lee, under their well directed fire, the supporting lines were broken, and fell back in confusion." It would seem from this that General Lee thought Colonel Lee's artillery was entitled to some credit; and it shows more, that as he described the position in advance of Longstreet's left, which he says was in easy range, that he thought the guns in this position were the ones that did the work, but he had to mention Longstreet's six gun battery, and the other one, as he claimed so much even then. He did not then think of the great claims -- growing claims -- that Longstreet would bring to light after his death, and the appearance of his Gettysburg articles, when the two batteries mentioned in his official report would grow to several, &c.; and also state that Jackson did not pursue when almost every man in the army knew that he did. Longstreet himself clearly shows that in the half hour of the assault his first battery was only used a short time, and the second a shorter time, and the way he brings in the ten minutes twice shows that the assault was of short duration. These are stubborn facts in the way of General Longstreet and from official sources, and he will have trouble in sustaining his unreasonable claims.
Let us see if there are other authorities to sustain the official data.
Dabney in his Life of Jackson, in speaking of the fire of Colonel Lee's batteries at second Manassas, says: "Colonel Lee had opened upon them with all his war dogs at once, and the writer of these lines has never, during his whole experience, witnessed such handling of artillery. The fiery stone was directed with astonishing accuracy, and the brigades which were led to the charge were almost annihilated by the shot and shell which burst before, behind, above, to the right, to the left, raking and tearing them to pieces; they were swept away before this horrible fire like leaves in the wind, and disappeared, broken and flying, in the woods, to be immediately succeeded however by another brigade charging as before. Again the iron storm crashed through their ranks, and again they broke and ran. A third force, heavier than before, now advanced with mad rapidity, and in the midst of the awful fire of our batteries threw themselves upon Jackson and engaged him with desperation."
"Personne," one of the most graphic and reliable writers of the time, and an eye witness, says of Colonel Lee and his batteries:
"As the fight progressed, Lee moved his batteries to the left, until reaching a position only four hundred yards distant from the enemy's lines, he opened again. The spectacle was now magnificent. As shell after shell burst in the wavering ranks, and round shot plowed broad gaps among them, you could distinctly see through the rifts of smoke the Federal soldiers flying and falling on every side. With the explosion of every bomb, it seemed as if scores dropped dead or writhed in agony upon the field. Some were crawling upon their hands and knees; some were piled up together, and some were scattered around in every attitude that imagination could conceive."
Can it be possible that the shot and shell here spoken of may have formed a part of the "perfect hail of balls into their flanks" spoken of by General Longstreet in describing his several batteries in the Gettysburg article?
Another writer says: "Suddenly, at 4 P.M., regiment after regiment of infantry were thrown out of the woods upon our left, and advanced in very good order for the purpose of driving out our pickets and taking our batteries on the left flank. In an instant, Colonel Lee, always cool and self possessed, ordered every howitzer to the left, and then such a blaze of artillery as I never heard. The guns, from the nature of the ground, were close together, and it was almost impossible to distinguish the discharge of the guns in our own from those in other batteries. It was clear that the next thirty minutes would determine the fate of our batteries. At the same time the enemy made his infantry advance, he commenced a most furious cannonading. * * * The shells burst above, around, beneath us. Every man is at his post; no talking, no ducking of heads now. All intense, silent earnestness. It was an hour big with every man's history. It was a struggle for life. * * * It seemed that the very heavens were in a blaze, or like two angry clouds, surcharged with electricity, and wafted by opposing winds, had met in terrific battle."
(The above was written by Dr. Parker, one of the most respected physicians now in Richmond, who was a captain of artillery in this battle.)
Esten Cooke, in his history of Jackson, places Colonel Lee's artillery on Jackson's right, and between Jackson and Longstreet on the ridge, and vividly describes Colonel Lee's use of his batteries.
Last, but not least, President Davis, in a speech to the Mississippi Legislature in Jackson, Mississippi, December, 1862, thus speaks of General S.D. Lee, who commanded the batteries on the ridge between Jackson and Longstreet at second Manassas: "And I have reason to believe that at the last great conflict on the field of Manassas he served to turn the tide of battle and consummate the victory."
It is evident the turning point of the second battle of Manassas was in crushing the supporting lines -- the reserves -- of the Federals, and preventing their reaching the front lines already fighting Jackson at the railroad excavation.
From the facts presented the historian must judge who crushed these reserves. General Longstreet's claims cannot be sustained, and (no doubt unintentionally) has done injustice to a noble battalion of artillery, which made its mark first at the second battle of Manassas; next at Sharpsburg (when it lost about one third of its men and horses), and which afterwards, under General E.P. Alexander, sustained its reputation to the close of the war. Its efficient service at Manassas is too generally conceded for even General Longstreet to assail it. General R.E. Lee concedes it; President Davis through its commander concedes it.
Longstreet won sufficient glory at second Manassas for him to permit others to share with him their well earned laurels.
NOTE. -- Since the above was in type it has been deemed best to add several other quotations from General Longstreet's official report.
General Longstreet says in his official report, speaking of the 30th: "During the day Colonel S.D. Lee with his reserve artillery was placed in the position occupied the day previous by Colonel Walton, and engaged the enemy in a very severe artillery combat. The result was, as the day previous, a success." Now let us see where Colonel Walton was the day previous (29th). His report says: "Colonel Walton placed his batteries in a commanding position between my line and that of General Jackson, and engaged the enemy for several hours in a severe and successful artillery duel."
It is thus shown by General Longstreet's report that Colonel Lee's artillery was to his left and between himself and General Jackson in a "commanding position." It is therefore reasonable to suppose that Colonel Lee's artillery did something to aid in crushing the column assaulting Jackson, as it was to Longstreet's left and considerably nearer than Captain Wiley's battery and the other one mentioned by General Longstreet. It must be borne in mind, too, that the assaulting column moved to Lee's left, and that the batteries placed by General Longstreet were some distance to the right of Colonel Lee's position.
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