In an army full of contentious generals and prima donnas at every level of command, "Dick" Anderson was notable for his modesty, amiability, and unselfishness. Tall, strong, and from a distinguished South Carolina family, he did not fit the "firebrand" stereotype of the aristocrat from the "Cradle of the Rebellion." He never indulged in any of the boastfulness that came naturally to many of his fellow officers. Neither did he ever argue over authority or show rebelliousness toward his superiors. He had no inclination to advertise or advance himself by courting newspapermen and politicians, as many did. His easy-going ways, combined with his competence and professionalism, made him one of the most well-liked officers in the Army of Northern Virginia. His deficiencies could be seen as the flip side of the same coin: Anderson lacked the strong, magnetic personality with which the best officers inspired their men in that romantic era. Also, his lack of self-promotion caused some disgruntlement among his officers when he failed in his reports to call attention to the gallantry and achievements of organizations and individuals under his command.
Forty-two years old at Gettysburg, he was a career soldier in his twenty-first year of Army service after graduating from West Point in 1842 (along with Lieut. Gen. James Longstreet and Maj. Gen. Lafayette McLaws). He was distinguished in the Mexican War, receiving a sword afterward from the state of South Carolina for his "gallant conduct." He then served as a captain of dragoons out West for the next thirteen years before resigning in March 1861 to enter the Confederate service. He had already been made colonel of the First South Carolina in Charleston before the bombardment of Fort Sumter in April. When Beauregard left for Virginia, Anderson remained and took command of Confederate forces in the harbor, and was promoted to brigadier general in July 1861. He was then transferred to Pensacola, where a musket ball broke his left arm on October 9 in an attack at Santa Rosa Island. After convalescing in Pensacola, he joined the Virginia army in February 1862, when he was put in command of a South Carolina brigade that had fought at First Manassas the summer before.
Of Anderson's service in Lee's army, Longstreet's observant chief of staff, Moxley Sorrel, wrote, "His courage was of the highest order, but he was indolent. His capacity and intelligence were excellent, but it was hard to get him to use them. Withal, of a nature so true and lovable that it goes against me to criticize him." Sorrel added that Longstreet could get "a good deal out of him, more than any one else." Sorrel's charge of indolence, however, is refuted by an examination of Anderson's record with the army in the fifteen months before Gettysburg.
On the Peninsula in the spring of 1862--at Williamsburg, then again at Seven Pines--he directed not only his own brigade but parts of others, and executed difficult assignments with professional sureness. Maj. Gen. D.H. Hill and Longstreet praised him, and army commander Gen. Joe Johnston suggested his promotion. In the Seven Days' Battles at the climax of the Peninsula Campaign, he took charge of Longstreet's entire division at Frayser's Farm while that officer directed the battle. In Longstreet's report on Gaines' Mill and Frayser's Farm, "Dick" Anderson's name was the first on his list of officers deserving praise. (Anderson, surely to his officers' dismay, filed no report of the campaign.) Two weeks later, in mid-July, Anderson was promoted to major general and given command of Huger's division after that general was "weeded out" by Lee after a poor showing in the Peninsula battles. Anderson's promotion was doubtless on Longstreet's recommendation, as a reward for consistent soldierly service in every engagement from Williamsburg to Frayser's Farm. Anderson's new division was attached to Longstreet's corps.
At Second Manassas in August, Anderson and his brigades joined the Confederate army on the evening of the first day of battle, and almost blundered into the Union lines. Anderson made up for his carelessness the next day by hitting hard in the furious attack that sent the Union army reeling back to Washington.
At Sharpsburg in September, Anderson was in command at the Bloody Lane when he was hit in the thigh and knocked from his horse. From that moment, his division ceased to act as a unit: without his leadership, it lost its drive and striking power, and took heavy casualties before abandoning the position in a headlong retreat which momentarily threatened the Confederate center. This episode showed how much the efficiency of his division was due to Anderson's personal influence.
Recovering quickly from his wound, Anderson was back with his brigades by November, in time for the Battle of Fredericksburg, where his command was not heavily engaged. It was at the army's next battle, Chancellorsville, that Anderson showed that he belonged in the highest rank of Confederate commanders. Acting without the presence of Longstreet, "Fighting Dick" demonstrated considerable tactical sophistication in fighting the Federal army to a standstill in the first clash, then holding the Confederate right while Jackson struck on the left, and finally adding his division's weight to the attack on the Union Sixth Corps which ended the battle. His reward was high praise from Lee himself after the battle. Though he was much too modest and reserved to think of asking for it, Anderson, a professional soldier and an extremely able division commander who had experience with his division in every one of the army's battles over the previous year, was one of the five or six generals considered for the post of corps commander in the reorganization of the army that followed Chancellorsville.
Promotion would have to wait, as it turned out, and in the reorganization Anderson's division was removed from Longstreet's corps and placed in Lieut. Gen. A.P. Hill's new Third Corps. Anderson had never worked with Hill, and a period of adjustment could be expected--Longstreet had been blunt and firm, and Hill was less forceful and more erratic.
| Anderson's division was still in Fayetteville on the morning of July 1,
the farthest west of Hill's three divisions and the farthest (18 miles) from
Gettysburg. Soon after daylight, Hill ordered Anderson east over South
Mountain to join Pender and Heth. After a slow, stop-and-start march,
Anderson's men filed into Cashtown between 10 and 11 o'clock in the morning.
After waiting there for an hour or two, listening to the sound of guns to the
east, Anderson had a short meeting with Lee, then was ordered forward toward
the fighting. After a mile march, the division halted again due to all the
congestion on the Chambersburg Pike. Once more Anderson hurried his men toward
the sound of battle, and shook his men out into a line of battle on Herr Ridge.
Soon, however, he received a message from Lee to stop and go into bivouac.
Surprised at being held back from the fighting line, Anderson rode forward to
meet with Lee himself, who told him that the army was not all up, and that he
wanted to keep Anderson's men back as the army's reserve. This was around 4 or
5 o'clock in the afternoon, at a time when every available Confederate might
have been rushed forward to assault Cemetery Hill.|
On the morning of July 2, Hill ordered Anderson forward along Chambersburg Pike to take a position on Pender's right, facing east on Seminary Ridge from McMillan's Woods through Spangler's Woods to Pitzer's Woods. Once in place, the brigades were posted, from left to right: Mahone's, Posey's, Wright's, Lang's, and Wilcox's. The enemy line was in plain view 1,200 yards away on Cemetery Ridge. Anderson rode with Wilcox's brigade, and bent it back to protect his (and at this point, the army's) right flank. Here, at about noon, Wilcox's men had a short but fierce fight with a reinforced elite Yankee regiment--Berdan's Sharpshooters--sent forward by Maj. Gen. Dan Sickles to scout the Union Third Corps front. It was the first serious fighting of the day. Shortly afterward, Anderson learned that Lee's plan for the afternoon called for Longstreet to deploy on his right and attack with two divisions. After Longstreet went in, Anderson was to continue the attack, which was intended to progress up the Emmitsburg Road toward Gettysburg and drive in the Union left flank.
In mid-afternoon Longstreet's men filed south behind Anderson's division, deployed, and started their echelon attack from the far right about 4:30 P.M. About 5:30 P.M. McLaws's division on Anderson's immediate right sprang ahead with a shout and crushed the Yankee line in the Peach Orchard. It was now Anderson's turn. Wilcox swept forward, then Lang advanced, hitting Humphreys's Union division in their front and driving it back. Wright's brigade was next, and the Georgians started forward toward Cemetery Ridge, which was now vulnerable, having been denuded of Union troops in a desperate attempt to stem the Confederate tide in the direction of the Round Tops. Wright penetrated farther than any Confederate brigade that day, and for a moment stood on Cemetery Ridge. However, Posey had advanced only piecemeal on his left, and on Posey's left Mahone remained idle on Seminary Ridge. Wilcox, Lang, and Wright were all savagely counterattacked and forced to retire for lack of support, and as the tired Confederates fell back sullenly toward their starting positions, they knew that on the cusp of victory, and after having lost 40% of their number in casualties, they had been betrayed by a breakdown in the division's communications. Posey had not gone forward because Mahone declined to do so. Mahone in turn said he had orders from Anderson to stay where he was.
Unfortunately for the Confederate cause, Anderson on this afternoon had born out Moxley Sorrel's charge of "indolence." Anderson had made his headquarters in a blind ravine in the rear of Seminary Ridge, with no view of what was happening to his brigades. A messenger from Wilcox's staff had found Anderson's horse tied to a tree and his aides stretched out on the ground as though nothing was happening. (Anderson accepted the blame after the battle, manfully admitting that his brigades advanced--or did not advance--according to his orders.) Further, Anderson's plan of attack was flawed by a lack of depth: with his division deployed in one thin line, it was hard to see how any of his brigades could have continued to hold any portion of the enemy line they gained.
On July 3, Anderson's division remained on Seminary Ridge until Pickett's Charge crashed against the Union defensive line on Cemetery Ridge. Then, instructed to take advantage of any success by that assault, Anderson advanced two brigades, Wilcox's and Lang's. There was much repetition of command--Anderson's was the only division under Hill's command that day, and when Wilcox received the order for his brigade to move forward, he received it from three different aides, no doubt at least one from both Hill and Anderson. Lang followed orders to conform to Wilcox's movements. Both were soon driven back to Seminary Ridge. Although there would continue to be some cavalry fighting in the fields east of the town, the Battle of Gettysburg was over.
There is no note of admiration of Anderson in the report of Hill, his new immediate superior. Gettysburg was a curious break in a string of well-fought battles by Anderson. It was not held against him, however, perhaps because so many other able Confederate generals were similarly afflicted. Anderson was so esteemed, in fact, he was given command of Longstreet's Corps when Longstreet was wounded the next May at the Battle of the Wilderness, and soon after Anderson was promoted to lieutenant general. When Longstreet returned in October, Anderson was given command of a newly formed Fourth Corps. This he directed until it was virtually destroyed in the Appomattox campaign at the War's end.
For further reading:
Elliott, Joseph C. Lieutenant General Richard Heron Anderson: Lee's Noble Soldier. Dayton, 1985
Hassler, William W. "'Fighting Dick' Anderson." Civil War Times 12, Feb 1974
Walker, C. Irvine. The Life of Lieutenant General Richard Heron Anderson. Charleston, SC, 1917