Letter from Theodore S. Garnett to George W. Wingate, May 31, 1892 on the Shelling of Carlisle, July 1, 1863

    Source citation
    Reprinted in George W. Wingate, History of the Twenty-Second Regiment of the National Guard of the State of New York ... (New York: Edwin W. Dayton, 1896), 221-225
    Date Certainty
    John Osborne
    Transcription date
    The following text is presented here in complete form, as it originally appeared in print. Spelling and typographical errors have been preserved as in the original.
    Norfolk, Va., May 31, 1892.
    Gen. George W. Wingate, New York.
    Dear General—In response to your request, as contained in your letter of the twenty-seventh instant, I proceed to give you an account of the advance upon Carlisle, Pennsylvania, made by General J. E. B. Stuart, with three brigades of cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia, on the evening of July 1, 1863.
    It was Gen. Stuart's purpose to pass through the gap in the mountains west of Hanover, and debouch into the Gettysburg Valley; but on approaching Hanover, the Second North Carolina Cavalry (Lieut.-Col. W. H. Payne) encountered Farnsworth's Brigade, of Kilpatrick's Division, and had a sharp little fight in the town; but not being supported in time, was driven back, having its colonel captured, and losing upwards of 106 other prisoners.
    In the fight which ensued, Kilpatrick's Division must have been roughly handled, as he admits a loss of 197. At dusk, Gen. Stuart withdrew, with all his troops and trains, through Jefferson, towards York, Pa., hoping to hear from the right wing of the Army of Northern Virginia, then believed to be operating towards the Susquehanna.
    It was surprising that no news had reached us of the position of the Army, and now it became essential to know what was Gen. Lee's plan of concentration.
    Arrived at Dover, Pa., on the morning of July 1, Gen. Stuart sent off one of his staff—Major Venable—on the trail of Early's troops; and, later in the day, Capt. Henry Lee, of Gen. Fitz Lee's staff, was sent towards Gettysburg. But before either of these officers could return, Gen. Stuart had reached the suburbs of Carlisle, in the afternoon of July 1.
    You will pardon this long preface, but it was given in answer to your inquiry as to the route by which we reached Carlisle.
    And now in regard to our strength actually present at Carlisle. Fitz Lee's Brigade alone invested Carlisle. The brigade of Gen. Hampton came no farther than Dillsburg, at which point, on the evening of July 1, it was turned off, with orders to march ten miles on the road to Gettysburg. The brigade of W. H. F. Lee was between Dillsburg and Carlisle, but took no part in the attack. So that there were present at Carlisle only about 1,500 men of Stuart's Cavalry, and, I think, only four of the guns of the Stuart Horse Artillery'.
    Perhaps I may indulge here in some personal reminiscence, and as memory is apt to lay hold of the insignificant details of any affair, I would state that I believe I was about the first of Stuart's men to enter the city limits of Carlisle. As I rode around the corner of a yard or enclosure, where the street makes a right-angle as it enters the town, I observed a few skirmishers approaching and taking position behind a stone wall in the edge of the town, and two horsemen advanced at a canter. When they had approached within pistol range I fired once at them, and they wheeled and disappeared. At the same moment, the skirmishers let me have it from their stone breastworks, and I quickly retreated to the angle I had just passed.
    Others of our command, chiefly couriers of Gen. Stuart, and then the General himself, rode up and received a few shots from the skirmishers, Not wishing to bring on an engagement, and not seeing any force in town, Gen. Stuart directed us to prepare a flag of truce.
    One of our Signal Corps flags—a white flag with a red square in the centre—was made to do duty as a flag of truce, by pinning something white over the red square, and one of our couriers was sent with an officer into the town to demand its immediate surrender.
    The flag was detained unusually long, and Gen. Stuart, becoming impatient, sent in another messenger requesting that the women and children be removed, and stating that unless the town was surrendered it would be shelled in three minutes. Both flags were returned with a positive refusal to surrender, but stating that the women and children would be removed. Immediately upon the receipt of this reply, our artillery was brought up and opened fire upon the place. Two guns were posted near the angle I have mentioned, and two others upon higher ground behind them and several hundred yards distant. By this time it had gotten dark and the lieutenant in charge of the guns on the hill, mistaking the guns close to the town for a hostile battery, planted his first two shells right among our own men, and would have done more mischief if the order, "Cease firing," had not been promptly given. No attempt was made by us to storm the place, and but little skirmishing went on. The artillery fire was not severe, and, I presume, very little damage was done.
    Exhausted by the march and nearly dead for want of sleep, I dismounted near the battery and fell asleep, undisturbed by the music of the guns.
    Within an hour or two I was aroused by the glare of the burning of Carlisle barracks off to the right, and in another moment I found we were leaving by the road we came. Turning to the right we took the road to Gettysburg, marching all night, and arriving there on July 2, just in time to repel an attack of Federal cavalry on our left and rear.
    The cause of Gen. Stuart's attack on Carlisle is given in his official report. (See Official Records. Series I., Vol. XXVII., Part II., page 696.) He says:
    "I arrived before that village, by way of Dillsburg, in the afternoon. Our rations were entirely out. I desired to levy a contribution on the inhabitants for rations, but was informed before reaching it that it was held by a considerable force of militia (infantry and artillery), who were concealed in the buildings, with the view to entrap me upon entrance into the town. They were frustrated in their intention, and although very peaceable in external aspect, I soon found the information I had
    received was correct. I disliked to subject the town to the consequences of an attack; at the same time it was essential to us to procure rations. I therefore directed Gen. Lee to send in a flag of truce, demanding unconditional surrender or bombardment. This was refused. I placed artillery in position commanding the town, took possession of the main avenues to the place, and repeated the demand. It was again refused, and I was forced to the alternative of shelling the place.
    Although the houses were used by their sharpshooters while firing on our men, not a building was fired, except the United States cavalry barracks, which were burned by my orders, the place having resisted my advance, instead of peaceable surrender, as in the case of Gen. Ewell. Gen. Fitz Lee's Brigade was charged with the duty of investing the place, the remaining brigades following, at considerable intervals, from Dover. Maj.-Gen. W. F. Smith was in command of the forces in Carlisle. The only obstacle to the enforcement of my threat was the scarcity of artillery ammunition.
    The whereabouts of our army was still a mystery; but during the night I received a dispatch from Gen. Lee (in answer to one sent by Maj. Venable, from Dover, on Early's trail), that the army was at Gettysburg, and had been engaged on this day (July i) with the enemy's advance. I instantly dispatched to Hampton to move ten miles that night on the road to Gettysburg, and gave orders to the other brigades, with a view to reaching Gettysburg early the next day, and started myself that night.
    My advance reached Gettysburg, July 2, just in time to thwart a move of the enemy's cavalry upon our rear, by way of Hunterstown, after a fierce engagement, in which Hampton's Brigade performed gallant service, a series of charges compelling the enemy to leave the field and abandon his purpose. I took my position that day on the York and Heidelsburg roads, on the left wing of the Army of Northern Virginia. "
    The situation of affairs in Carlisle during the bombardment is rather briefly described by Gen. Wm. F. Smith in his official report. (Official Records, Vol. XXVII., Pt. II., p. 220); and on page 224 he gives a few additional details. Gen. Smith states that we fired 134 shots, and that his battery (Landis') replied with only three.
    This firing was very wild. He states our force at 3.300 men, with an interrogation mark (?). It was scarcely half of that number, as our other two brigades took no part in the investment.
    Gen. Stuart commented in his official report—and, it would seem, with good reason—on Gen. Early's omitting to leave word for him at York, or to send him some intimation of his march to Gettysburg on the thirtieth June. He heard our guns in the fight at Hanover, and, as Gen. Stuart says, "rightly conjectured whose they were." A word from Early to Stuart would have saved us the long march to Carlisle and back to Gettysburg, and would have placed Stuart's three brigades on the field in time for the fight of the first July. And it is not improbable that if Stuart had been there that evening, Hancock would not have been given the chance to rally the retreating lines of the first and eleventh corps on Cemetery Hill.
    Chief among the reasons assigned by Confederate generals for the repulse of Gen. Lee's army at Gettysburg is this one: the absence of Gen. Stuart from his accustomed place in front of the army.
    This absence was in no just sense imputable to any fault or delay on his part. He carried out his orders to the very letter, and nothing but the change in Gen. Lee's point of concentration, made necessary by a singular accident, prevented Stuart from joining the right wing at Carlisle. It was there, he had every right to expect, would be fought the battle of the century. 
    I have the honor to be,
    Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

    Theodore S. Garnet, Late Aide-de-Camp to Gen. J. E. B. Stuart. 
    How to Cite This Page: "Letter from Theodore S. Garnett to George W. Wingate, May 31, 1892 on the Shelling of Carlisle, July 1, 1863," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College, https://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu/index.php/node/40274.