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Sunday, December 11, 2005

Historical Perspective on Conducting War


General Lee did not return to his headquarters until 1 o’clock on the morning of July 4. Brigadier General John Imboden, commanding an irregular band of cavalry that had been liberally foraging the countryside to the west, was waiting there for him. Lee dismounted and, Imboden wrote, “threw his arm across the saddle to rest, and fixing his eyes upon the ground leaned in silence and almost motionless upon his equally weary horse,” Imboden commiserated: “General, this has been a hard day for you.”

“Yes, it has been a sad, sad day to us,” Lee replied, and then (Imboden recalled) “relapsed into his thoughtful mood and attitude.” But suddenly he roused himself to speak vigorously of the battle just fought. “I never saw troops behave more magnificently than Pickett’s division of Virginians did today in that grand charge,” he said. But, he went on, they were not supported as they were to have been—“for some reason not yet fully explained to me”—else “we would have held the position and the day would have been ours.”

Thus, if General Imboden’s account can be accepted, some nine hours after the event Robert E. Lee had convinced himself that his plan for Pickett’s Charge was perfectly sound. Only its execution had been flawed.”

The task assigned to Imboden was to organize and lead a train of wagons and ambulances to carry the army’s wounded to the Williamsport crossing of the Potomac. His route was to be westward through the Cashtown Gap in South Mountain, then a southward turning to reach Greencastle and the Williamsport Pike to the Potomac, some forty-two miles all told. In addition to the 2,100 troopers of his so-called Northwestern Brigade, Imboden was given two batteries of artillery and the assurance that the cavalry of Wade Hampton and Fitz Lee would protect his rear. As General Lee put it in his instructions, Imboden’s watchwords must be secrecy, promptness, and energy. A citizen of Greencastle who watched this army of wounded pass by put it more simply: “Hurry was the order of the day.”

Beginning about 1 p.m. on the 4th a steady, pounding rain increased Imboden’s problems manyfold, yet by 4 o’clock that afternoon he had the journey under way. He estimated this “vast procession of misery” stretched for seventeen miles. It bore between 8,000 and 8,500 wounded men, many in constant, almost unendurable agony as they jolted over the rough and rutted roads. One particularly bad stretch was known locally as the Pine Stump Road. The teamsters had strict orders: no halts for any cause whatsoever. “Of all the nights that I spent during the war I think this was the saddest,” wrote one of the escorting cavalrymen. Another trooper remembered that “the cries of the wounded and dying were awful.”

2 Comments:

Anonymous Marc said...

Interesting story! Where did you find this ?I dont remember having read it before.Is there more personal accounts like this?

3:55 PM  
Anonymous Sallyann said...

It's an excerpt out of Stephen W. Sears book "Gettysburg". Lar is always saying "listen to this Sal" and then he'll read me an excerpt out of one of the Civil War books he's reading. Well, he read me the one I posted last night. I thought it so interesting I had to post it. I'll continue to post accounts of the Civil War.

9:20 AM  

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