Confederate Flag of Truce on July 4

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Tom Elmore

2nd Lieutenant
Member of the Year
Jan 16, 2015
At daylight on July 4, after the Confederate army had consolidated along the Seminary Ridge line, north to Oak Hill, elements of the Eleventh Corps cautiously entered the southern end of the town of Gettysburg. They were not able to proceed very far on the western side of town, due to Confederate pickets stationed out as far as Stevens’ Run, about 600 yards west of the town square.

Lieutenant Albert W. Peck of Company D, 17th Connecticut wrote the following article which appeared in The National Tribune (July 28, 1892, p. 4): “I was on picket in front of Seminary Ridge, near the Chambersburg Pike, with a detail from my regiment on July 4, 1863. A squad of rebel cavalry came out from behind the railroad cut bearing a flag of truce and advanced about half way between the picket lines and halted. In a short time a squad of Union cavalry approached and a short conference was held. During the truce the Johnnies came out from behind the railroad cut as thick as bees from a hive and returned to cover as soon as the truce was over. If this truce was witnessed by other comrades, will someone kindly inform me through The National Tribune what was the object of the truce and what it accomplished. While the truce was taking place the Johnnies were busy in making piles of rails for protection from our firing.”

The answer to Lieutenant Peck’s question might lie in the following message sent by Maj. Gen. Meade to Gen. Lee, as recorded in the Official Reports (series 1, vol. 27, pt. 3, p. 514):

Headquarters Army of the Potomac, July 3 [4], 1863 – 8:25 a.m.
General R. E. Lee, Commanding Army of Northern Virginia:
I have the honor to acknowledge receipt of your communication of this date, proposing to make an exchange at once of the captured officers and men in my possession, and have to say, most respectfully, that it is not in my place to accede to the proposed arrangement.
Very respectfully, etc.,
Geo. G. Meade
Major-General, Commanding

Gen. Lee, like a good poker player, conveyed no hint in his request that he was preparing to retreat. The Confederates fired off a few artillery rounds early in the day, which reminded the Federals that they were still present. Whether intentional or not, that message was reinforced by the number of Confederate infantrymen who showed themselves to Lt. Peck and his detail while the flag of truce was in effect.

I cannot put my finger on the source, but under this same flag of truce or a separate one, the Confederates reportedly threatened to shell the town if the Federals tried to advance on them from that direction. Taken together, it almost seems as if these events were crafted by Lee to distract and hold back his opponent until his wagon trains could get a head start on the retreat.
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Sergeant Major
Nov 27, 2018
Chattanooga, Tennessee
It would almost seem impossible, to me, that Lee could do anything without being observed by Union spies or Cavalrymen. It stands to reason someone would send a force to reconnoiter what was going on beyond Cashtown, doesn't it?
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