Battle Anniversary 9: In natura tranquillitatis est

There is something about the tranquility of the Battlefield in the darkening of an evening. There are few places around anymore that show as many stars, and viewed from the Wheatfield, a full moon rising over Little Round Top is superior to any thunderous dawn of Kipling’s. In the summer, after the visitors go, the park’s non-human inhabitants come out – deer anywhere around the park, fox kits playing at the intersection of Hancock and Pleasanton Avenues, bobcats screaming up and down both Round Tops. In natura tranquillitatis est.

No one can prepare you for the first time you drive up Hancock Avenue on a mid-July evening, and as you pass the copse of trees, if you look to your left, you see them: thousands of gun flashes in the fields over which Pickett’s, Pettigrew’s and Trimble’s men strode in their crouching walk into the face of death. You know, finally that they are only fireflies, but for a moment…

On those very quiet nights, when only the insects sing, you can sometimes park in the old Cyclorama parking lot and roll down your windows, and catch something extra in the air. You listen to the cycle of the cicadas, and once in a while they synchronize and you hear him, “…come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this… poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated…”

In a gushing storm you can hear the crash of the artillery with every thunderclap, and the roar of the muskets in the teeming rain, and as the wind swirls faster, you hear the rising moan of the wounded.

And in the shimmering light of a full moon you see the men standing silent guard in their line of battle – monuments not men, but monuments erected by the men who fought here and survived. There was something very, very special about these fields, and hills. It was so special, the men were drawn back to these grounds, and they came, every five years for almost a century until none were left. They were no longer enemies, but brothers who had experienced Hell and came away from the maelstrom with their lives.

When they returned they chased out the gamblers, the prostitutes, the trolley line, and the commercial ventures, and they did so out of their own pockets, buying up small parcels of ground, some not much bigger than a 12 foot square, as that was all they could afford. In such measures they bought the land on which the trolley ran, and then evicted it…not without a court fight, but the government took that up with the trolley operators. It was the second time they paid for this land. In their minds, and in their hearts, they already owned it, not for themselves, but for this nation, under God.

These men, who’s lives were measured by fate on those three days in July, these men came back, and as long as they could they made sure proper respect was paid to the ground that had soaked up so much blood, theirs, their messmates, their friends, brothers, cousins, and tens of thousands of men they never knew, never saw, nor would they ever meet.

It was these men who crafted the permanent memorial that is this park, this Battlefield. First with their sweat and blood, and later with whatever dollars they could spare, and sometimes with dollars they could not spare. And every five years they’d come back, and erect another monument and pair of flank markers, and some of them would speak, and men who were never here would speak bold and inspiring words, and there would be that sad feeling that every time they came back there were fewer still. But it was an inner drive, a duty to perform as long as one of them survived, to keep coming back here to honor and pay tribute to all who fought here, that this nation might live.

Those of us who were never there at that time, and that is all of us, every single person on the face of this planet, and all to come, have no recourse but to stand and try to imagine — a fruitless exercise, but to try to imagine the enormity of it all. It cannot be honestly done for we have nothing in our experience, any of us, to compare with what they experienced here. Movies and reenactments can give us a sense of it, but no one can possibly know what it was like. D-Day in 1944 where the Allies had 150,000 men engaged, lost about 10,000. At Gettysburg, the Confederates had approximately 65-75,000 men and had over 28,000 casualties, while the Army of the Potomac with somewhere around 90,000 men lost over 23,000.

From 8 AM on July 1st, to approximately 8 PM on July 3rd, a period of 60 hours, the combined average loss rate was 850 men every hour, 14 men every minute — every single hour. That is a man down every four seconds.

Numbers like that are incomprehensible, not only in total, but in trying to get a grasp in one’s mind, to understand the enormity of it by trying to break it into little pieces, as the men themselves broke this Battle into smaller pieces. The Seminary, Barlow’s Knoll, The Wheatfield (where the fighting was probably as bad as, and perhaps more dreadfully efficient than the fighting during Pickett’s Charge), The Peach Orchard, Devil’s Den, Little Round Top, Seminary Ridge, Culp’s Hill, East Cemetery Hill, Cemetery Ridge, Benner’s Hill, Powers Hill, and the farms, Rose, Weikert, Sherfy, McPherson, Culp, Benner, Codori and Trostle. All those names, each in their own nook on the Battlefield – names that will live in American history as places where a nation was re-forged, where its course was corrected, and a wrong was righted.

Where once the sound was so immense and terrifying, and sights presented before the eyes that the mind could not swallow, now it is a somber, and reverent field, a field that drains a million tears in a small brook called Plum Run – a field on which those men gave the last full measure of devotion.

In natura tranquillitatis est – in nature there is tranquility.


[Reposted with permission from GettysBLOG]


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Battle Anniversary 8: The Cleansing, July 4-5

The Cleansing, July 4-5

After the fighting ended on that 3rd day of July, 1863, and after the smoke had cleared, some 125,000 men stared blankly across the slope separating Seminary Ridge from Cemetery Ridge, and wondered what version of Hell would next present itself. A small group of soldiers ventured out from Union lines on Cemetery Ridge, in front of the artillery pieces that were now cooling and silent. They went forward and worked to put out the blaze in front of those guns, where grass, and clothing and bodies themselves had caught fire from the intense heat of the furious blasts.

If you had not been present for the battle, but had happened on it just at this time, you would have heard the moaning, and screams of thousands of wounded and dying who were laying on that slope, and around those guns. Those that had partaken of the battle, who had fired their guns in as rapid a fashion as they could, and had defended those cannons from the enemy, heard only the ringing in their ears. In some cases it would be days before they could hear normally, in other cases, they never would.

Ambulance attendants, hospital orderlies, and work crews from all the regiments that were able to muster them, on both ridges, began to move forward to collect, first the wounded, then later, the dead. As they had the night before, the bands of all the regiments, brigades, divisions and corps, began to play along Taneytown Road, to mask the sounds coming from the hospitals in the rear. Down the western slope of Seminary Ridge, the Confederate bands played. Because of that gun-deafness, few who were in the front lines could hear the bands. It was a good thing, perhaps, for it meant they were the lucky few who could not hear the screaming and the low, steady moaning sound that came from the hospitals, not quite hidden by the music.

Officers busied themselves scurrying along the regimental and company fronts, straightening their lines, checking their men, making sure they had all gotten fresh ammunition, and water. The sergeants would be along later with some food, hardtack most likely, and perhaps some salt beef from a commissary barrel someone was actually able to locate.

Out on the slope, frequent shots rang out as a wounded horse or mule was found and its misery ended.

As the twilight deepened into full night, one could look across the slope between the ridges and see lanterns moving about on the field, as the removal process continued. For once, neither side had the stomach to take the other under fire. For once exhaustion and a surfeit of bloodletting forced humanity upon them.

Lee had his troops dig in along Seminary and Oak Ridges during the night and early morning, expecting a counter attack from Meade. But none came. A late afternoon probe by Meade turned up little.

After a hazy dawn, a prisoner exchange was requested by General Robert E. Lee, and declined by Major General George G. Meade. It was Union policy that prisoner exchanges cease, because the Confederacy refused to treat captured United States Colored Troops, and their white officers the same as white troops, and their white officers; and because the United States was winning a war of attrition against the Confederacy, and the return of Confederate prisoners who would fight again after parole, would only help prolong the war.

Sometime in the early afternoon hours of July 4th, 1863, it began to rain. All day in the fog and the rain, the recovery continued. Some wounded would lay there for days before being discovered and taken to hospitals. Many who searched for Confederate dead and wounded were their slaves, looking for their masters. As many as 10,000 had accompanied the Army of Northern Virginia on the campaign. Now, as it became obvious that the Rebels had suffered a setback, many of the slaves were running from the army, and into the freedom of the Pennsylvania countryside – behind Union lines.

Lee ordered a few units to build rather large fires along Seminary Ridge after nightfall on the 4th to cover for the departing units. Indeed, he had sent his main supply train, some twenty miles in length, back toward the Potomac River earlier in the day, complete with the wounded, and the prisoners Meade refused to exchange. They went west, initially toward Chambersburg, but only to turn south once over the crest of South Mountain. Now it was time for the Army to go. They headed southwest toward Hagerstown by way of Fairfield, and Waynesboro.

By evening the rain had increased its intensity. Cavalry troopers pursuing the retreating Confederates over South Mountain near the village of Monterey on the evening of the 4th, slogged up the steep mountain road, fighting not only the mud and the Confederates, but the driving rain, and the rushing torrents that drained down from the crest of the mountain. The terrain on either side of the road was so treacherous that the Confederates needed to place only one artillery piece in the road, aiming it down at the men of Brigadier General George A. Custer’s Michigan Cavalry Brigade. Custer’s men knew they were close and eventually carved out a five mile long section of Major General Richard S. Ewell’s Corps supply train, which was approximately 17 miles long. The Battle of Monterey Pass could be heard, and the gun flashes seen miles to the west in Waynesboro.

Back at the battlefield, the teeming rains continued to wash the blood from the ground, and rocks. The rains kept up for days, and why not? Had there not been so much blood spilled that the rains would need time to do the cleansing? During this time, a few militia troops, and many civilian volunteers once again scoured the battlefield for wounded, and buried the dead upon which they stumbled.

To see the weather, one need only look at the photographer’s images, those in particular of Alexander Gardner, the Scotsman hired by Matthew Brady to come to America in 1857, or Timothy O’Sullivan, both of whom were part of a group of about 20 that Brady sent out across the country to photograph the Civil War. Anything in the distance in any of the views is shrouded in fog and mist.

They arrived sometime on July 5th. They started taking pictures immediately, trying to capture the dead, and get an image of the numbers of the dead. It had been the dead of the September, 1862, Battle of Antietam, that had both repulsed and enthralled the visitors to Brady’s New York gallery. It brought the human price of the war home to all who viewed those images.

By the time Gardner and O’Sullivan arrived, most of the Union dead had been removed from the fields. What we are left with is the view of row upon row of Confederate dead, and soldier after soldier, now a cold photographic subject that was once a warm and breathing human being. Pictures of the dead made money, so pictures of the dead is what Brady got from his photographers.

Harvest of Death 1Two of the most famous photos, The Harvest of Death (above), and its opposite view (below), which purport to be the only photographs showing Union dead on the Battlefield, are, to this day, still a mystery as to the location on the Gettysburg Battlefield where they were taken. We favor the theory that these men are the dead of the 5th New Jersey, killed by Barksdale’s Mississippi Brigade on July 2nd while on picket duty stretched between the Spangler Farm and the Sherfy Farm.

Harvest of Death 2One can see the weather when the photographs were taken.

It rained, it poured, for days. Some have ventured to guess that a hurricane slowly moved through the area, dumping tropical rains on the Pennsylvania countryside.

The three days of killing on the fields surrounding the town of Gettysburg had made for very hot work. By day, the sun burned through the hazy humidity warming the air into the mid to upper 80s, and by night, it likely never went below the upper 60s. And coming a mere ten days after the summer solstice, those hot days allowed for maximum daylight hours – hours that could be used for the butchery of battle. It was rarely wasted, with most fights going from the afternoon, into the evening, and sometimes continuing all night long. It was hot, all three days…hot and dry.

Now, though, the great cleansing had begun. The armies had moved off, and Nature was doing its best to cleanse itself from this great killing that occurred over these beautiful rocky fields, and through these woods and orchards. It was as if it was eager to remove the scars of an insult, but even for Nature it was too late. The ground had been hallowed by blood, and by blood its hallowing would remain. And nothing, ever, would sully that hallowing.


[Reposted with permission from GettysBLOG]


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Independence Day, 1863

The 87th anniversary of the founding of the United States of America was a day that marked the turning point in the Civil War.

While the fighting had barely stopped at Gettysburg, major operations and troop movements were not underway for the first time in weeks. The men from both sides were out in open ground finding the wounded and shooting wounded horses and mules.

General Lee asked for a prisoner exchange and was turned down by General Meade. Lee started to send his supply train west toward South Mountain on the Chambersburg Pike. With the supplies went hundreds of Union prisoners destined for places like Belle Isle, Castle Thunder, Libby Prison, and Salisbury Prison Camp.

The men on both sides, exhausted, hungry and thirsty, warily awaited the next iteration of Hell on Earth…but it was not to be…not today, and not here.

That night, in a heavy rain, Lee had a few soldiers stay behind and tend large bonfires on the west side of Seminary Ridge that was supposed to make the Army of the Potomac believe the Army of Northern Virginia was still encamped there. In reality, as Lee’s troops moved southwest on the Hagerstown Pike [Fairfield Road] and climbed South Mountain in the Fairfield Gap and Monterey Gap, the men in blue were well aware of Lee’s departure. At Monterey, General George A. Custer and his cavalry troopers caught up to the retreating troops and captured a large portion of General Richard Ewell’s supply train.

After months of hard marching, hard fighting, and maneuvering, General Ulysses S. Grant received the surrender of the city of Vicksburg, Mississippi, and its defenses from Confederate General John C. Pemberton. The effort had started seven months earlier in the first phase of operations designed to wrest control of the Mississippi River away from the Confederates.

For Grant’s men, it had been a miserable campaign over miserable terrain, slogging and fighting their way through bayous and swamps, crossing and recrossing rivers and streams, even building a canal. And Grant got an enormous effort from the United States Navy throughout the campaign, from gunboats that were simply floating artillery platforms to transports that ferried Grant’s Army where it needed to go and got it there when it needed to get there. Grant made ample use of the Navy throughout the war, and it paid dividends.

This July 4th, the effort that began the previous December finally came to a victorious end for Grant and his Army, and for Admiral David Farragut and his fleet of Naval ships and boats.

President Lincoln, on hearing of the surrender of Vicksburg, commented, “The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea.”

The residents of Vicksburg would not celebrate Independence Day until 1941.

Washington – July 7
President Lincoln did not receive news of Grant’s victory until July 7, which prompted a celebration in Washington, and a speech from Lincoln.

“Fellow-citizens: I am very glad to see you to-night. But yet I will not say I thank you for this call. But I do most sincerely thank Almighty God for the occasion on which you have called. [Cheers.] How long ago is it? Eighty odd years since, upon the Fourth day of July, for the first time in the world, a union body of representatives was assembled to declare as a self-evident truth that all men were created equal. [Cheers.]

“That was the birthday of the United States of America. Since then the fourth day of July has had several very peculiar recognitions. The two most distinguished men who framed and supported that paper, including the particular declaration I have mentioned, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, the one having framed it, and the other sustained it most ably in debate, the only two of the fifty-five or fifty-six who signed it, I believe, who were ever President of the United States, precisely fifty years after they put their hands to that paper it pleased the Almighty God to take away from this stage of action on the Fourth of July. This extraordinary coincidence we can understand to be a dispensation of the Almighty Ruler of Events.

“Another of our Presidents, five years afterwards, was called from this stage of existence on the same day of the month, and now on this Fourth of July just past, when a gigantic rebellion has risen in the land, precisely at the bottom of which is an effort to overthrow that principle “that all men are created equal,” we have a surrender of one of their most powerful positions and powerful armies forced upon them on that very day. [Cheers.] And I see in the succession of battles in Pennsylvania, which continued three days, so rapidly following each other as to be justly called one great battle, fought on the first, second and third of July; on the fourth the enemies of the declaration that all men are created equal had to turn tail and run. [Laughter and applause.]

“Gentlemen, this is a glorious theme and a glorious occasion for a speech, but I am not prepared to make one worthy of the theme and worthy of the occasion. [Cries of “go on,” and applause.] I would like to speak in all praise that is due to the the [sic] many brave officers and soldiers who have fought in the cause of the Union and liberties of this country from the beginning of this war, not on occasions of success, but upon the more trying occasions of the want of success. I say I would like to speak in praise of these men, particularizing their deeds, but I am unprepared. I should dislike to mention the name of a single officer, lest in doing so I wrong some other one whose name may not occur to me. [Cheers.]

“Recent events bring up certain names, gallantly prominent, but I do not want to particularly name them at the expense of others, who are as justly entitled to our gratitude as they. I therefore do not upon this occasion name a single man. And now I have said about as much as I ought to say in this impromptu manner, and if you please, I’ll take the music. [Tremendous cheering, and calls for the President to reappear.]*

As reprinted in the Washington Evening Star of July 8, 1863. Posted in an online article, Abraham Lincoln’s Independence Day Address of July 7, 1863, Researched by James R. Heintze.

Independence Day…so many reasons to celebrate it!


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Battle Anniversary 7: “The Men Lay in Heaps”, July 3, 1863 – Morning & Afternoon

Gettysburg Pennsylvania. July 3, 1863

The Bliss Farm
On the morning of July 3, 1863, the small farm belonging to William Bliss was the focus of entirely too much attention. Situated some 100 yards west of the Emmitsburg Road, the farmhouse, and barn, and the orchard behind the buildings, were providing cover for men of both sides. The Confederates of General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, holding Seminary Ridge about a third of a mile farther west sent skirmishers and sharpshooters to the Bliss Farm buildings to use them as cover while they sent sniper fire up the slope onto Cemetery Ridge, and, to the left, up the western and southern slopes of Cemetery Hill. The large barn, situated on some of the highest ground in the area, was of stone and brick construction, with the lower level German style overhang facing the road. From the five cattle doors on the lower eastern side, and from the slits in the side of the upper story Confederate sharpshooters were wreaking havoc with the Union troops on Cemetery Ridge, and Cemetery Hill, and the Union skirmishers along the Emmitsburg Road.

The 14th Connecticut Infantry Regiment was sent forward to drive the ‘Johnnies’ off the Bliss Farm. They eventually did so, at some cost. While in possession of the farm buildings, couriers arrived from Cemetery Ridge bearing orders to burn the buildings to deny the Confederates use of the cover. Gathering up his men, Major Theodore G. Ellis ordered them to stack hay in the barn, furniture and bedding in the house and to set the piles ablaze after evacuating all the wounded from both buildings. Once the fires were going in earnest, Ellis and his men withdrew to the main Union line on Cemetery Ridge under cover of the thick smoke issuing from the blaze. As the building began to collapse, the pickets along Emmitsburg Road set up a cheer.

The Cannonade
Sometime around 1 PM, two ‘Napoleons’ from the Washington Artillery of Louisiana fired a single round apiece, as a signal to the rest of the artillery: “Commence Firing”. Lined up in an arc from the Peach Orchard in the south, curving through the fields west of the Emmitsburg Road, to Seminary Ridge and all the way up to the Lutheran Seminary itself in the north, over 100 guns opened up, directing most of their fire at the top of Cemetery Ridge, and the west and north side of Cemetery Hill. To a soldier in the 14th Connecticut, “It seemed as if all the Demons in Hell were let loose and were howling through the air.” For the next hour, Confederate artillery pounded away at Cemetery Ridge and Cemetery Hill. Here, an artillery caisson full of ammunition was hit, exploding in a ball of flame, and eliciting cheers from the Confederate gunners, and from the Infantry waiting in the woods behind them. There a section of stone wall was breached, and more cheers went up. The Yankee artillery fired back for a while, and then, one by one, the Union guns fell silent, on orders from their Chief of Artillery, General Henry Hunt. Hunt wanted the Confederates to think their cannonade was effectively taking out the artillery batteries arrayed along Cemetery Ridge, so he ordered them to cease fire one at a time and to pull back off the west slope of the ridge and out of danger. The Confederates took the bait.

Colonel E. Porter Alexander was in command of the cannonade for the Confederates. At about 1:40 PM, he sent a message to Major General George E. Pickett, the man designated to Command the advance of some 12,000 infantrymen across the mile of open ground between Seminary Ridge and Cemetery Ridge. The note said, “The 18 guns have been driven off. For God’s sake come on quick or we cannot support you ammunition nearly out.”

Brigadier General Henry Hunt was a practical thinking genius. He was innovative: he had developed a method of bringing ammunition to the gunline in a fast manner by using the ambulances of the Army of the Potomac to haul ammunition forward, and to bring wounded back.

[His management of the artillery throughout the three day battle was simply magnificent, and a large factor in the eventual outcome. As good as the Union Artillery was at Gettysburg, for the most part, the Confederate Artillery was that bad. It was not that they lacked the skill, but they lacked the manufacturing capacity in the South to make uniform fuses for the shells.]

Pickett’s men moved out of the woods on Seminary Ridge and formed a line a mile long. About 2 PM, as the artillery fire slackened, they moved forward, the regiments in their brigades, formed in line abreast, two or more ranks deep.  One officer from the 12th New Jersey later wrote that it was, “the grandest sight I ever witnessed.” A Sergeant from the 14th Connecticut said, “It was a glorious sight to see, Rebels though they were.” A Union artillery officer offered the more sobering outlook, “Our chances for Kingdom Come, or Libby Prison were good.”

The previously withdrawn artillery units were quickly returned to their locations on the west crest of Cemetery Ridge, and immediately began a deliberate, and steady fire into the ranks of the advancing Confederates.

The Men
From time to time, segments of the long Confederate line would disappear from sight, having marched into a swale. Some were forced to climb the sturdy split rail fences that partitioned off the land into separate lots on both sides of the Emmitsburg Road. At such times they were particularly vulnerable to Union fire. Finally, they reached the Emmitsburg Road, and climbed the fence on the west side, and using that sunken road as cover for a brief respite from the angry shelling, buzzing rifle minié balls, and whirring shards of artillery shells, they dressed their lines once more for the final assault, and climbed the fence on the east side of the road, taking up the advance.

As Pickett’s three brigades maneuvered across the fields, angling north from the Codori Farm, three regiments from George Stannard’s Vermont Brigade stepped out and down the western slope of Cemetery Ridge where two of them took Pickett’s men under fire on the flank. The Vermonters stayed out in front of the Union lines and when Pickett’s men swung in toward the Copse of Trees, the Vermonters struck their right flank a second time.

8th Ohio
On the Union right, the doughty and seasoned veterans of the 8th Ohio Regiment advanced along a sunken lane parallel to the Confederate assault’s northern-most Brigade, that of Colonel John Brockenborough’s Virginians. The Ohio men advanced from the lane and struck the left flank of the Virginians, forcing them to withdraw in some disarray.

Wilcox and Lang
Back on the Confederate right, a late starting force of two Brigades under Brigadier General Cadmus Wilcox, and Colonel David Lang surged forward over the same ground they had the day before, only to have been ambushed by Union artillery and the valiant 1st Minnesota Infantry Regiment. Today’s results would be worse. The 13th Vermont faced south and struck the left of David Lang’s Brigade emerging from the ravine below the Codori Farm in the same place Wilcox’s Alabamans had been ambushed the day before. Wilcox bore the brunt of Colonel Freeman McGilvery’s artillery brigade firing from hidden ground on Cemetery Ridge. Wilcox and Lang turned their men and withdrew.

The High Water Mark of the Confederacy
At last, approximately twenty minutes after they stepped off, the Confederate line reached the main Union defenses on Cemetery Ridge: a low stone wall behind which several brigades of infantry waited. From a range of about 30 yards, both sides stood in line and blazed away at each other with rifle fire. In places, artillery blasted gaping holes in the Confederate lines. To keep the line of fire clear for the cannons, Union troops stayed out of the way, and thus, gaps in the line of infantry appeared. A breakthrough was made in front of the guns of Lieutenant Alonzo Cushing’s Battery A, 4th United States Artillery. Brigadier General Lewis Armistead, one of Pickett’s brigade commanders, climbed over the wall, holding his hat impaled on his upright sword, and yelled, “Who will follow me?!” A few dozen actually did, before being swept away by Cushing’s guns, as he fired the last round before succumbing to his many wounds. Infantry reserves stepped forward to plug gaps, and to keep other units in front of them from breaking and running. Conspicuous for his courage and leadership was Brigadier General Alexander Webb, commanding a brigade of Pennsylvanians assigned to the area known as ‘The Angle’. Before long, the fight was over, and the long walk back to Seminary Ridge began for the survivors.

Near sundown, Captain Benjamin Thompson of the 111th New York Infantry gazed to the west from the crest of Cemetery Ridge. He later recorded, “No words can depict the ghastly picture. The track of the great charge was marked by the bodies of men in all possible positions, wounded bleeding, dying, and dead. Near the line where the final struggle occurred, the men lay in heaps, the wounded wiggling and groaning under the weight of the dead among whom they were entangled.”

Custer sensed them coming, again. So did his temporary boss, Major General David M. Gregg, to whom Custer had been loaned from Kilpatrick’s Division of Cavalry on the south end of the Battlefield. Custer and Gregg both figured that Stuart would be trying to get behind the Union center, so they waited for him to show up at some farms about three miles east of town. Sometime in the mid afternoon, Stuart appeared, just as expected. Custer rode out in front of his 7th Michigan Cavalry Regiment and called to them, “Come on, you wolverines!” There followed a large noise, some describe it as sounding like two trains crashing head on, as the two bodies of horsemen closed on each other south of the Rummel farm, colliding with their cavalry sabers drawn.

The fight at what is now called East Cavalry Field lasted several hours, and Custer was far from being the only Union hero…there were many. And in the end, Stuart retreated back to Gettysburg, defeated three times in four days by the 23 year old Custer. [Custer would be Stuart’s nemesis for nearly another year, until Michigan troops killed Stuart at the Battle of Yellow Tavern].

The toll was excruciatingly high. In Pickett’s Division, there were 2,653 casualties – killed, wounded, captured, or missing. It is estimated that the Confederates, who began the day with a fight on Culp’s Hill, and ended it with Pickett’s Charge (and a few later small engagements), lost approximately 10,000 men on July 3.

The Toll
During all three days of the Battle of Gettysburg, Union casualties are estimated at 23,049 (3,155 killed, 14,529 wounded, 5,365 missing). The Confederate losses were worse: 28,063 (3,903 killed, 18,735 wounded, 5,425 missing).

That is a total of 51,112.

Historian Jeffry D. Wert writes in his stunning and riveting book Gettysburg: Day Three,  “By nightfall on July 3, forty thousand officers and men from both armies, the dead and wounded, lay either on the battlefield or in makeshift field hospitals. The enormity of the numbers awed the survivors and moved them to write of it.” One artilleryman wrote, “I have seen many a big battle, most of the big ones of the war, and I never saw the like.” One of Colonel David Lang’s Floridians wrote, “I never saw the like of dead.”

As President Abraham Lincoln put it when dedicating the Soldiers National Cemetery at Gettysburg four months later, “…we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.”

Gettysburg: Day Three, by Jeffry D. Wert, Simon & Schuster, New York 2001. ISBN 0-684-85914-9.
[Statistics, facts, and quotations used in this essay have come from Wert’s book. In the estimation of this blogger, it is the best comprehensive one day battle book written about the Battle of Gettysburg, if not the entire Civil War. It is highly recommended to all as an essential part of any serious student of history’s library, as the author deeply examines the “why” behind the events.]


[Reposted with permission from GettysBLOG]


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Battle Anniversary 6: “My Poor Boys. My Poor Boys.”, July 2, 1863 – Night

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. July 2, 1863. Evening and night.

General Edward “Allegheny” Johnson’s Division of Ewell’s Second Corps, Army of Northern Virginia was ready. They were on the east side of Rock Creek waiting to hear Longstreet’s assault commence. Johnson was uncomfortable, however, in that he was lacking his largest brigade, the fabled Stonewall Brigade, under Brigadier General James A. Walker. Walker’s Brigade had been occupied since that morning by the pesky dismounted cavalry troopers of the 10th New York and 3rd Pennsylvania Cavalry Regiments. Because their presence on the left flank of the Army of Virginia likely signaled the presence of an even larger force behind it, Johnson took no chances and left the Stonewall Brigade behind when he advanced, with orders to the effect that when he felt the situation had eased, and he could safely move up to the rest of the Division without endangering the army, Walker was to do so.

Suddenly there was a roar from a distance slightly left of directly ahead. That was Longstreet’s men going into action on the other end of the line, and the signal for Johnson to order his men forward.

But Johnson waited while details of his men cleared the fences along Rock Creek out of the way for his Division to cross and begin their assault. He was also waiting for Walker to come up with the Stonewall Brigade.

[Culp’s Hill is actually two hills, a high crest on the north and a much lower one, more of a short ridge, to the south, with a saddle in between of even lower ground.]

Brigadier General George Sears Greene, 2nd of 35 in his West Point class of 1823 – forty years earlier, commanded a Brigade of New York troops on the upper crest of Culp’s Hill. At 62 years of age, he was arguably the oldest officer in the Army of the Potomac. Perhaps Brigadier General Isaac Trimble, West Point class of 1822 was the oldest on the Confederate side.

Greene commanded five New York regiments. Earlier in the day, Greene had prevailed upon his Division Commander, Brigadier General John Geary to allow defensive works, something Geary was unwilling to do initially, but Geary had been ordered to remove two brigades earlier in the day to help stem the tide on Cemetery Ridge, so Greene got his works.

Greene’s men built trenches three feet deep, with header logs over the rims, providing maximum protection for his men. They were ready.

It was growing dark when Johnson began to move. To his surprise, Johnson’s men began the climb up the lower slope of Culp’s Hill virtually unopposed. Finding the Union works empty, they slipped in and waited. After midnight, Geary’s brigades began to filter back into their lines, only to be fired upon. It took a while to get their tired minds straight on who was shooting at them as they initially thought they were being fired upon by friendly forces in the darkness. Once the realization set in that the Confederate were in their works, a concerted effort was made to move them out.

Meanwhile, Jones’ Brigade of Virginians, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Robert H. Dungan, and Williams’ Brigade of Louisiana Troops, and Steuart’s Brigade (Virginia, North Carolina, and Maryland) began the climb up the face of Culp’s Hill, in an effort to take it by frontal assault.

It began in the wee hours of the morning of July 3.

Greene’s regiments took turns in the trenches with the header logs, firing for almost an hour, then being replaced by a rested regiment. As the rested men went forward to enter the works, they would cheer. The regiments being replaced would hurry down to a hollow in the ground and rest, get water, clean their weapons, and draw fresh ammunition. After a short rest, they would cycle back into the works, cheering.

This tactic enabled Greene to keep a steady fire up around the clock, and to keep his men fresh, and their weapons working. The result was several regimens of Louisiana troops, and some Virginia regiments from Johnson’s Division pinned down on the hill unable to move forward, or back, doing their best to make themselves small, or to find a rock or tree to hide behind.

Toward sunrise Geary sent four fresh regiments to Greene, who simply added them to the rotation. It was a tactic that was perfect for the defenders, and it worked exceptionally well under Greene’s direction. The old campaigner was a touch commander, but his men respected him. They respected him even more for giving them cover from which to fight.

There were losses, however. As the regiments swapped in and out, they were briefly targets for the Confederates laying below the works. And more than one Confederate minié ball found its way into the gap between the header logs inflicting a head or shoulder wound.

Brigadier General George H. Steuart, West Point class of 1848, where he graduated 37th out of 38, commanded the last of the attacks on Culp’s Hill in mid-morning of July 3. It was an absolute blood bath, and Steuart was in tears when the survivors returned from the effort. As he watched them, Steuart tearfully repeated “My poor boys. My poor boys.”


[Reposted with permission from GettysBLOG]


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Battle Anniversary 5: “My God! Are These All The Troops We Have here?” July 2, 1863 – Early Evening

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, July 2, 1863. Late Afternoon-Early Evening.

Major General George Meade had ridden south to check on the disposition of Sickles troops. Major General Daniel Sickles had moved his troops almost a mile out in front of the Union lines, and Meade was there to get him moved back. He was patiently explaining to Sickles the folly of his move when Sickles offered to move his two Divisions back to Cemetery Ridge. Suddenly, artillery opened up from Warfield Ridge, and Meade was forced to accept the situation. He said to Sickles, “I wish to God you could, but the enemy won’t let you.”

In the late afternoon of July 2nd, 1863, the 114th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment, of Brigadier General Charles K. Graham’s 1st Brigade, 1st Division (under Brigadier General David B. Birney) was in a line of battle in front of the Wentz House, at the intersection of Wheatfield Lane and the Emmitsburg Road. Collis’ Zouaves, as the 114th was known, was enduring a savage shelling by Confederate artillery located only a few hundred yards to the west on Warfield Ridge. For two hours they lay there under the barrage.

To their left, across the Wheatfield Lane, the 68th Pennsylvania stood in line of battle among the trees of the Peach Orchard, their right joined to the Zouaves left, in the road. To the right of the Zouaves, stood the 57th and 105th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiments, all forming a line north along the east side of the Emmitsburg Road. Behind them, down the slope toward the Trostle Farm, was Clark’s Battery B, First New Jersey Light Artillery, supported by the 141st Pennsylvania Infantry. Bucklyn’s Battery E, First Rhode Island Light Artillery (Randolph’s Battery) was placed at the edge of the Emmitsburg Road in front of the infantry, where the battery immediately engaged Confederate artillery on Warfield Ridge.

Major General Lafayette McLaws sent his four brigades forward in a staggered formation from right to left. Semmes, Kershaw, Wofford, Barksdale. Kershaw went straight across, reaching the Emmitsburg Road south of the Peach Orchard, and at the end of the lane entering the Rose Farm. Two of Kershaw’s regiments went south of the farm, one, with Kershaw, went through the farm yard, and two went north of the farm, coming under fire from the 68th Pennsylvania and the artillery from the Peach Orchard. Those two regiments then turned to the north and assaulted the artillery located along the Wheatfield Road east of the Peach Orchard. In one of the incidents of the “fog of war”, Kershaw sent a messenger to his two regiments south of the farm to hurry into the woods belonging to the Rose farm. Instead, the messenger went to the two regiments north of the farm and repeated the order from Kershaw. They immediately stopped their assault, just at the point where they had driven the gunners off their guns, and wheeled to the right to continue their advance into the woods west of the Wheatfield. The Union gunners re-manned their guns and took a heavy toll on the South Carolina regiments south of the Rose farm – the ones Kershaw intended to hurry forward into the woods for protection.

At about 5 PM, the enemy began his advance. Coming at them was the storied Mississippi brigade of Brigadier General William Barksdale, a white-haired man who, once engaged in combat, became a figure of fury, wading into the enemy with everything he had. Such abandon would cost him his life later in the day.

In response, the Zouaves moved forward across the Emmitsburg Road. They entered the farm yard of John and Mary Sherfy. Firing from between the house and the barn, the Zouaves repeatedly fired into the advancing Mississippians, who were also firing, advancing, firing, and advancing. Eventually, the weight of numbers began to tell. The Union line fell back east of the Emmitsburg Road and reformed. Barksdale maneuvered his large regiments to overlap and flank the men of Graham’s Brigade, concentrating on the location where the Zouaves and the 68th met.

There was nothing to do but fall back. In a magnificently executed fighting withdrawal, the 114th, in small groups, fired, and withdrew, first north along the Emmitsburg Road, and then east toward Cemetery Ridge, where General Hancock had ordered forward Willard’s New York brigade to cover the withdrawal. By this method, the surviving Zouaves finally reformed their line, and were able to come off the field with their colors. They were badly mauled. During their withdrawal, many of their wounded were left lying in the fields and the road. Confederates carried many of them to the Sherfy House and barn. Later, however, during the continued artillery shelling, both buildings were burned to the ground. The remains of those who perished in the fires, were surrounded by those who perished in the intense fighting around those buildings. About 100 of the Zouaves had been killed. Many more were taken prisoner by the rapidly advancing Confederates. However, they gave, perhaps, better even than they took. One Mississippi private from the 17th Mississippi, the unit that assaulted the junction of the 67th and 114th Pennsylvania on Wheatfield Lane, reported 223 men of his regiment killed or wounded, 29 in his own company.

5th New Jersey
The 221 men (206 enlisted, 15 officers) of the 5th New Jersey Infantry were stretched out on an angle in front of the rest of Humphreys’ Division stretched north along the Emmitsburg Road from Graham’s Brigade. The New Jersey troops were on perhaps the most hazardous duty of the civil war, skirmishers. Their left was nearly to the Sherfy farm houses, while their right was farther north at the Spangler farm. The regiment was spread pretty thin. Sometime before 5 PM they came under heavy fire from Confederate Artillery. Stationed as they were in the open fields, they had no choice but to hug the ground. There was nothing to hide behind. And after nearly an hour, the artillery eased. As the men stood up they saw a horrific sight: Barksdale’s Mississippi Brigade had begun to move forward. While the right of Barksdale’s Brigade struck Collis’ Zouaves at the Sherfy Farm, Barksdale’s left struck the thin New Jersey line. All of Humphreys’ line began to fall back and as they did so, so did Graham’s Brigade. The withdrawal was not an orderly one. For the most part, the men made for the promise of safety on Cemetery Ridge. At muster that evening, the 5th New Jersey counted 99 of their 221 as killed, wounded or captured.

Major General John Bell Hood had a dilemma. All day he had been nagging at Longstreet to allow him to swing to the right and go around the south side of Big Round Top to surprise the Union reserves and supply wagon trains parked behind the hill. All day long Longstreet had replied that he had already had that discussion with General Lee and there was nothing to do but to get moving as ordered.

But if he did that, he would march right into the right flank of McLaws’ Division, which had abandoned any attempt to align and proceed as Lee had ordered, moving instead straight ahead and across the Emmitsburg Road.

Hood had no choice. He had to move, so he angled to the right, placing his right regiment on a track that would take it up and over Big Round Top. The rest of Law’s Brigade of Alabamans would swing across the western slope of the hill. Robertson’s Texans and the Arkansas troops would proceed up the low ground where Plum Run flowed. His left would move through the Slyder and Bushman Farms, and angle in toward the lower part of Houck’s Ridge. He really had nowhere else to go, and he had to support McLaws.

From mid-afternoon on Major General Winfield Scott Hancock, 15th of 25 in his West Point class of 1844, was working hard, riding up and down his lines, shifting men from his 2nd Corps to the Wheatfield to help plug the gaping hole Sickles left in his line, and now Hancock had to deal with the hasty retreat of Humphreys and Graham’s men. He was forced to shift men from 5th Corps there as well. Now came news that General Sickles was down, losing his leg. Major General David Birney would succeed him as 3rd Corps Commander. Hancock was concerned that there simply would not be enough manpower to stop the two large divisions Longstreet had sent his way. He ordered a brigade of New Yorkers under Colonel George Willard forward to set up a line that would allow the fleeing men of Third Corps to pass through and then slow the advance of the Mississippi and Georgia brigades of Barksdale and Wofford. It worked.

Realizing that Longstreet’s men would not be coming past their position, Brigadier General Cadmus M. Wilcox, 54th out of 59 in the West Point class of 1846, ordered his Alabama Brigade forward from their position on the south end of Seminary Ridge. Along side of him was Perry’s Florida Brigade, under the command of Colonel David Lang. The two brigades marched forward up the rise to Emmitsburg Road in time to watch the collapse of Humphrey’s line as Barksdale sliced through one end and the other saw Wilcox coming. As the two brigades crested the higher ground, they began a slow, gradual descent into the defile where Plum Run begins. It was deep enough to hide both brigades from view.

Colonel William Colvill, Jr. commanded what was left of the 1st Minnesota Regiment. There were approximately 330 men left of the regiment, although about 15% were absent on different assignments. But at this hour, they were literally all that was standing between Cadmus Wilcox and the Taneytown Road just east of Cemetery Ridge. Seeing their advance, Major General Hancock rode quickly to the Minnesotans, and seeing their small number, exclaimed, “My God! Are these all the troops we have here?!”

Colonel Colvill replied, “Yes sir!”

Hancock then asked if the Colonel, “Do you see those colors?”, pointing to the advancing brigades of Wilcox and Lang.

Again the Colonel responded, “Yes sir!”

“Well, take them!” Hancock yelled over his shoulder as he spurred his horse away.

Colvill formed his men up and advanced them, 262 in number. They marched forward to the defile in which Wilcox and Perry paused their troops. As they advanced up the eastern slope, they came almost face to face with the 1st Minnesota. Colvill gave the order to fire. Artillery fired from behind the Minnesotans and to their left as Colonel Freeman McGilvery’s artillery Battalion fired into the Alabama and Florida Troops. Soon the fighting was hand-to-hand, and the Minnesotans were surrounded. McGilvery could no longer fire into the Confederates for fear of hitting the Minnesotans. Wilcox soon had enough of this fight and ordered his men, and those of Colonel Lang to withdraw. The surviving Minnesotans slowly walked back to Cemetery Ridge, carrying as many of their wounded as they could. They would fetch the rest, and the dead later. So many officers killed and wounded, including the gallant Colonel Colvill, shot through the shoulder and the foot [he would spend almost six months recuperating at the home of the Pierce family on Baltimore Street in Gettysburg. Command devolved all the way down to Captain Henry. C. Coates, who wrote in his after action report, “Our loss of so many brave men is heartrending, and will carry mourning into all parts of the state. But they have fallen in a holy cause, and their memory will not soon perish. Our loss is 4 commissioned officers and 47 men killed; 13 officers and 162 men wounded, and 6 men missing, – total 232…”. Thirty men answered the roll call that evening.

The next brigade north of Lang and Wilcox was the Georgians of Ambrose Wright. They made their way unsupported across the fields from Seminary Ridge to the Emmitsburg Road and across, just above the Codori farm. They kept right on going, routing the skirmish line posted along the road, and rolling right over and capturing an artillery battery. As they approached the crest of Cemetery Ridge, merely three hundred yards from Taneytown Road, they were met by the Pennsylvania Brigade of Brigadier General Alexander Webb, 13th of 34 in his West Point class of 1855. The Pennsylvanians pushed the spent Georgians back over the crest of Cemetery Ridge and down the hill to Emmitsburg Road, retaking the artillery pieces the Georgians had captured on their advance. Webb halted his brigade on the west side of the road so they could take pot shots at the retreating Georgians.

Brigadier General Ambrose Wright was fit to be tied. His men had just fought their way across a mile of open ground and across Cemetery Ridge only to be driven all the way back by a brigade of Pennsylvanians. If he had had any support on either side, on his right from Wilcox and Lang, and on his left from Posey and Mahone, they’d be rolling up the flank of the Union troops on Cemetery Ridge right now, and maybe even digging in on Cemetery Hill! But Wilcox and Lang had been repulsed by a single regiment, and Posey got turned around in the peach orchard of the Bliss Farm! Even worse, “Fighting Billy” Mahone apparently didn’t have any “Fighting” in him this day – he never moved at all!

Early in the fight Major General John Bell Hood would be wounded severely, losing most of the use of his left arm. [It was the first of the catastrophic wounds the courageous fighter would receive in his career: he would lose his right leg while fighting at the Battle of Chickamauga just two months after Gettysburg. Late in the war he had to be strapped into his saddle, and the pain-killing drug of laudanum affected his judgement. He ordered a suicidal assault on the scale of Pickett’s Charge at the Battle of Franklin, and wound up without an army to command. It was not the John Bell Hood who fought so courageously at Gettysburg.].

Brigadier General Evander M. Law was an 1856 graduate of the South Carolina Military Academy, and was a teacher in Alabama before the war, helping to establish a Military High School in Tuskegee. He was commanding a brigade of Alabama troops when General Hood went down. Law was unaware that he was now in Command of Hood’s Division. It was just as well, as he had his hands full with his own brigade.

Five regiments of Alabama troops were spread from Plum Run east to the summit of Big Round Top. The regiment on the crest of the high hill was the 15th Alabama commanded by Colonel William C. Oates. Stretching downward to the west, the Alabama line was broken by the presence of the 4th and 5th Texas Infantry Regiments from Brigadier General Jerome Robertson’s Brigade. They were separated from the remainder of that brigade by two of Law’s Alabama Regiments coming up the Plum Run gorge. The rest of Robertson’s men were assaulting Graham’s Brigade on the west side of Houck’s Ridge.

While the two Texas Brigades were successful in getting up into the position recently vacated by the 16th Michigan on Little Round Top, now other units were as successful.

The Alabama men from the 15th Infantry under Oates ran into the stubborn Down Easters in the 20th Maine, led by Lieutenant Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. Shocked by a bayonet charge as they were preparing to withdraw back over Big Round Top, many of the 15th fell into the hands of the 20th Maine.

“The Orange Blossoms”
Colonel A. Van Horne Ellis commanded the 124th New York Infantry Regiment, raised in Orange County, New York, and fondly referred to by Colonel Ellis as “my Orange Blossoms”. They were facing west on the south end of Houck’s Ridge, with the lower west slope of Big Round Top in ther rear across the jumble of rocks called Devil’s Den, and the small brook called Plum Run. Over their right shoulders loomed the rocky west face of Little Round Top, where the 5th United States Light Artillery, Battery D, commanded by Lieutenant Charles Hazlett was booming away at the approaching enemy, and at the Confederate troops in the Wheatfield two hundred yards through the woods on the right. It was a comforting sound. On the left of the 124th were four guns of the Captain James E. Smith’s 4th New York Light Artillery, with the other section of two guns on the floor of the Plum Run Valley firing downstream. Ellis had his men manning the rock wall which was the base of a triangular shaped field, with the base at the top of the field and the point at the bottom where a small rise was located. Suddenly, the 1st Texas Infantry appeared on the rise at the bottom of the field and proceeded to march up the hill toward the “Orange Blossoms”. About half way up the fire of the New Yorkers stopped the Texans who did an about face, and proceeded to march back down toward the bottom.

Major Cromwell, one of the regiment’s officers, rode to Colonel Ellis, exclaiming, “We have them on the run, Colonel, let’s go get ‘em!”. Cromwell then jumped his horse over the wall, and called for his men to join him. Ellis jumped his horse over the wall as well. The regiment quickly formed a line inside the wall and started to advance down the hill after the Texans.

The Texans were just finishing reloading on the march. They did another about face, and because they were cramped on both sides, bunched up in the middle. They presented arms and fired into the New Yorkers. The concentrated fire hit the regiment like a wide steel bar, cutting men in half on a broad front, decimating the regiment. Ellis and Cromwell were among the dead. The regiment was shattered, the life driven from it. They gathered their dead and wounded, and withdrew from the battle.

The Wheatfield
The first unit across the Wheatfield was the Reserve Brigade of Colonel P. Regis de Trobriand, of Birney’s Division. They went forward to stop Kershaw’s men from entering the field from the western side by way of the Rose Woods. What they were not aware of was the presence of Brigadier General G. T. Anderson’s Brigade, behind a low stone wall hidden in the edge of the woods at the southwest corner of the Wheatfield. De Trobriand’s regiments were marching through the waist-high wheat when Anderson’s men opened on them with a fearful fire.

Over the next two hours, all the brigades sent by Hancock from his 2nd Corps, the entire 1st Division of Brigadier General John C. Caldwell went through that Wheatfield. The brigades of Colonels Edward Cross, Patrick Kelly, John Brooke, and Brigadier General Samuel Zook were spent on those fields.

Some estimates of the fighting in the Wheatfield describe it as being “in the whirlwind”, and the casualties were as high, if not higher than those of the Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble assault of the next day – somewhere over seven thousand men went down there.

Finally, Brigadier General Samuel Wiley Crawford, commanding the two brigades of the Pennsylvania Reserves Division swept down the northwest face of Little Round Top, and pushed across Plum Run, forcing the exhausted Confederates of Kershaw’s and Wofford’s brigades back over the north end of Houck’s Ridge, through the tree line on the east side of the Wheatfield, and across into the trees on the west side of the field. From then on, an uneasy truce existed.


[Posted with permission from GettysBLOG]


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Battle Anniversary 4: ” He seemed So Full of Hope,” July 2, 1863 – Afternoon

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. July 2, 1863. Morning and Afternoon.

Major General John Bell Hood, West Point class of 1853, 44th in his class of 52, was one of the true hard fighters of the war. Admired by all, he was an excellent leader, and one of the best division commanders in the Army of Northern Virginia.

About 5 AM on the morning of July 2 he stood near the Seminary observing General Robert E. Lee, who was anxiously awaiting the return of his Chief Topographical Engineer from the morning scouting mission Lee had ordered earlier. Hood remembered later, “He seemed full of hope, yet at times, buried in deep thought.”

During the 9 o’clock morning officer’s call, General Robert E. Lee’s Chief Topographical Engineer, Captain Samuel R. Johnston, had reported being on the hill just south of Cemetery Ridge, called Little Round Top, and had seen no sign of the enemy as of approximately 5:30 AM. He also reported being held up coming back by Union cavalry patrols on the Emmitsburg Road.

Lee quickly decided to go with the plan he had conceived the night before, an attack upon the left flank of the Army of the Potomac. He called Lieutenant Generals Longstreet and Hill to him, and ordered them to prepare for such an assault, with Longstreet sending two of his divisions as the main attack force. Lee’s plan was to have Longstreet move south to a position opposite the two elevations to the south of Cemetery Ridge, now known as Big and Little Round Top.

[The terrain at Gettysburg is such that two ridges proceed south from the south edge of town, one on the west side, Seminary Ridge, now in the hands of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, and one on the east side, Cemetery Ridge, now manned by the Union Army of the Potomac. Seminary Ridge actually stretched to the north just west of town, as far as the Lutheran Theological Seminary, scene of most of the previous day’s fighting. There it joined Oak Ridge, continuing north to Oak Hill, on which the decisive Confederate forces had emerged from the woods the previous day. Southward, Seminary Ridge ended and Warfield Ridge, named for the local Black family that had a blacksmith shop and home on the ridge, angled eastward as it stretched to the south. Seminary Ridge was about a mile from Cemetery Ridge at its farthest point. Cemetery Ridge was a higher elevation, meaning a walk from Seminary Ridge to Cemetery Ridge would generally be uphill all the way. At the southern end of Cemetery Ridge, was a hill with a boulder strewn crest, called little Round Top. On its south side was a connection with an even higher hill, Big Round Top, the connection being a saddle of ground perhaps fifty yards across at the crest. At the north end of Cemetery Ridge the ridge climbed directly to Cemetery Hill, located at the southeast corner of the town, so named because of the Evergreen Cemetery on its eastern flank. On the southern end of East Cemetery Hill was a knoll (Stevens’ Knoll as it is now known), connecting it to Culp’s Hill. The Union line extended from its right, on the south slope of Culp’s Hill, around the knoll and north along the east side of Cemetery Hill, which was heavy with artillery, and around to the western slope of Cemetery Hill where it joined with Cemetery Ridge. At that location was a large grove of trees known as Ziegler’s Grove. Finally, between the two ridges south of town running roughly halfway in between was the Emmitsburg Road, which angled closer to Cemetery Ridge as it entered the town. Between the road and Cemetery Ridge was a small stream that ran down from a gulch below the surrounding ground, where it bubbled up from the ground. It was called Plum Run, and it flowed south in the flat ground all the way past the Round Tops. As it flowed past the Round Tops, it entered a large field of boulders before making its way farther south, past a farm owned by the Slyder Family. As it entered this boulder field, it ran in a narrow defile between the foot of Big Round Top (the southernmost of the elevations, and the southern end of a 400 yard long low ridge called Houck’s Ridge. The jumble of boulders at that southern end of Houck’s Ridge would become known as Devil’s Den.]

Lee believed the Union left flank was located about 600 yards south of Ziegler’s Grove along Cemetery Ridge, making it about 1,000 yards north of Little Round Top. He ordered Longstreet to move his two divisions south behind Seminary Ridge and bringing them up to the crest of Warfield Ridge, then forward to form an oblique across the Emmitsburg Road. He wished to have the division of Major General Lafayette McLaws form with his right angled across the road about a third of the way, and the Division of Major General John Bell Hood to follow by about 500 yards, with his force angled across the road about two thirds of the way. They would march straight ahead on the oblique angle using the road as their guide, the right flanks of their divisions moving ever closer to Cemetery Ridge. They would strike the Union left flank where Lee Believed it to be, in a staggered formation, with the left of McLaws’ lead division engaging at Ziegler’s Grove, and with Hood poised to have his right come in below the end of the Union line to envelope that flank and “roll it up” from south to north. Lee then ordered Lieutenant General Ambrose Powell Hill to have his division commanded by Major General Richard H. Anderson, advance by brigades under Brigadier Generals Cadmus Wilcox (Alabama), Ambrose R. Wright (Georgia), Carnot Posey (Mississippi), William “Fighting Billy” Mahone (Virginia), and Col. David Lang, commanding Perry’s Florida Brigade. They were to march forward and align on the same oblique angle as McLaws and Hood were on, and fill in “en echelon” just after Hood passed them. They would envelope the north end of the Cemetery Hill. The objective was to seize Cemetery Hill.

With that order given, Lee rode off to meet with Lieutenant General Richard Ewell, Commander of the Second Corps, Army of Northern Virginia, whose headquarters were located on the other side of town.

Lieutenant General James Longstreet, 54th out of 56 in his West Point class of 1842, was very upset. He was upset with his superior, General Robert E. Lee. Longstreet was considered to be Lee’s most capable commander, and part of the early-war team of two with Lieutenant General Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson. Jackson, the hammer to Longstreet’s anvil on the battlefield, had been killed by friendly fire in May at the Battle of Chancellorsville, necessitating a reorganization of the Army. Lee re-arranged the brigades and divisions from two corps into three, giving command of the Second Corps to Richard Ewell, and the Third Corps to Ambrose Powell Hill. At Gettysburg, both men were untested in their roles as corps commanders. Lee was forced to rely upon them and based on what he had seen so far, Longstreet was not happy. Yesterday’s debacle west of the Seminary was a costly one, and one that was full of blunders. Heth should not have brought on the general engagement, that cost him the capture of General Archer and most of his brigade, and the near capture of General Davis and part of his brigade, both in morning engagements in which they were handily repulsed by the Union Infantry of the 1st Corps under Reynolds. A. P. Hill had done little more than point the way to Gettysburg for the advancing men of his Third Corps. He had done no ‘generalling” yesterday. Further, Major General Richard Ewell had exercised little control over his divisional commanders, allowing Major General Robert Rodes, usually a steady officer, to launch attacks piecemeal against the right flank of the Union First Corps, attacks that cost him part of Iverson’s Brigade, and part of O’Neal’s Brigade, when both those officers failed to lead their men. Further, Rodes had done no scouting. Later, Ewell had passed up an opportunity to take Culp’s Hill, which would have forced a Union withdrawal from Gettysburg.

The previous evening Longstreet and Lee had argued loudly about the conduct of operations. Longstreet’s scouts had reported that there was little Union presence behind the two Round Tops, and he argued that Lee should simply go around Meade’s army and proceed toward Baltimore and Washington, and pick a spot to invite an attack. Or, he argued, pull back to South Mountain and dig in, inviting Meade to attack him…in other words, fight a defensive battle, which is more advantageous than offering your troops up in costly attacks on an entrenched enemy. Maybe Lee was fooled into thinking he had won a great victory the previous day, but Longstreet was not. Maybe Lee thought all he had to do was administer the coup de grace to what was left of the Army of the Potomac after yesterday’s battles, but whatever the explanation, nothing Longstreet said was enough to convince Lee that his plan to attack Meade’s army on the heights across the way was a bad move.

Now, Longstreet was getting pressure from his two division commanders that were up with the Army, Hood and McLaws, that the way around the Union left was still open and relatively unopposed. (Major General George Pickett’s Division was still on the other side of South Mountain, 20 miles away. Longstreet had sent for him, but they were a day away.)

It was to no avail. He had to make the attack, even while knowing how much it would cost him, the army, and the Confederacy. Longstreet was a good soldier, and he reluctantly did his duty as ordered.

The march south was a minor catastrophe. The two divisions marched two miles west along the Hagerstown (Fairfield) Pike to Blackhorse Tavern, and then south along Blackhorse Tavern Road. At one point it was realized they could be seen from the Union Signal Station on Little Round Top. So the column was counter marched by turning the head and marching it back past the rest of the column, and on returning to Black Horse Tavern, turning east toward town. [Indeed, the Union observers there saw the movement and reported that the retreat of Lee’s army had begun.]

A mile back the Hagerstown Pike was Willoughby Run Road, and Hood’s Division turned onto it and headed south. Just east of that by 200 yards was the run itself, and McLaws men turned south along the stream. By 4:30 both Divisions were in position. But there was a problem.

Major General Daniel Sickles, one of President Abraham Lincoln’s political appointments (Sickles was a Democratic Congressman from New York) who had fared well as a leader of men. This day, however, his leadership would not fall into question, but his judgement would. Sickles was supposed to form his corps anchored on a large knoll just north of Little Round Top, and join his right with the left of the Union 2nd Corps (under Major General Winfield Scott Hancock) north along Cemetery Ridge.

Instead, he moved his two divisions almost a mile forward to the Emmitsburg Road. First Division, under command of Major General David Birney left a brigade under Brigadier General J. H. Hobart Ward on top of the rocks of Devil’s Den and then posting Brigadier General Charles K. Graham’s Brigade with its left in the Peach Orchard at the intersection of Emmitsburg Road and the Wheatfield Lane, and stretching up the Emmitsburg Road north toward town. In between those two brigades was a half-mile stretch of open ground. Sickles tried to cover the gap with the few artillery pieces he had left. He kept his Third Brigade in reserve north of Wheatfield Road across from the Wheatfield which gave the road its name. It was not nearly enough.

He then placed his other division, under command of Brigadier General Andrew A. Humphreys on the right of Graham’s Brigade, and further north towards town. They reached up as far as the farm of Nicholas Codori.

Leading his Division up the west slope of Warfield Ridge along Millerstown Road (which became the Wheatfield Lane on the east side of Emmitsburg Road), Major General Lafayette McLaws was concerned. Rumors of Union troops in advanced positions had him worried he would not be able to form his line as General Lee had insisted. As he rode forward he became more alarmed, uttering an oath in dismay over the sight that greeted him: the Peach Orchard at the intersection was bristling with cannons and infantry. The line of blue stretched up along the Emmitsburg Road for nearly a quarter mile. He would be unable to form his men across the road at an oblique angle as General Lee had ordered. So, he began issuing orders to form a line across the Millerstown Road, with Brigadier General William Barksdale’s Mississippi Brigade on the left, and then Brigadier General William Wofford’s Georgia Brigade. On the south side of the Millerstown Road he positioned Brigadier General Joseph Kershaw’s South Carolina Brigade, and on the right, the Georgia Brigade of Brigadier General Paul Semmes, brother of Confederate Naval Captain Raphael Semmes, Captain of the CSS Alabama. McLaws also ordered the artillery battalion under Colonel H. C. Cabell forward into the fields in front of the Brigade line, and ordered them to open fire on the enemy as soon as possible.

Major General Hood led his division cross country until he arrived at the top of Warfield Ridge approximately a half mile south of McLaws. He formed his brigades two in front, and two behind, staggered en echelon. And he proceeded to wait. While he was waiting he watched as McLaws spread his men in line of battle parallel to the Emmitsburg Road. He looked north along the road and saw the Peach Orchard with the guns arrayed there. He now understood that his men would not be proceeding up the Emmitsburg Road, but instead would turn in from it, and begin an assault that would take his right flank just west of the two Round Tops. He waited.

Major General Edward “Allegheny” Johnson, West Point class of 1838, where he was graduated 32nd in his class of 45, was an old campaigner. He was a veteran of the Seminole Wars, and the Mexican War. It is understandable that this very capable officer would advance rather quickly in rank and command a Division.

Earlier in the day, Robert E. Lee and Richard S. Ewell had ridden to Johnson’s headquarters at the Daniel Lady Farm on the east slope of Benner’s Hill, along the Hanover Road. There, Johnson had received orders to advance about a mile at 4:30 PM, and on hearing the firing of Longstreet’s men as they made their assault, Johnson was to order his brigades forward across Rock Creek and assault the Union positions on Culp’s Hill’s eastern flank. In essence, he was to “demonstrate” an assault, and if there was any initial success, press the assault. At 4:30 he moved forward. But he was worried. His largest brigade, the fabled Stonewall Brigade once commanded by Stonewall Jackson, and later by A. P. Hill, and now commanded by Brigadier General James A. Walker, had been kept busy all day long by a pesky but serious fight with dismounted Union cavalry. Men of the 2nd Virginia Infantry, under the command of Colonel John Quincy Adams Nadenbousch, skirmished all day with elements of the 10th New York Cavalry and the 3rd Pennsylvania Cavalry on the slope of Brinkerhoff’s Ridge. The ridge was the next elevation east of Benner’s Hill over which the Hanover Pike ran. Walker’s Brigade was the left flank of the Army of Northern Virginia. The flank had to be protected at all costs, so nuisance that it was, Walker’s Brigade had to remain behind to protect it.

Brigadier General George Armstrong Custer could sense the enemy when they drew near. It was an innate ability to know in advance not only where the enemy was, but their avenue of approach. It was uncanny. Riding through Hunterstown, a small village about five miles northwest of Gettysburg, Custer and Farnsworth were searching for Confederate Cavalry. Custer turned his men south on the Hunterstown Road leading back to Gettysburg. He found his way blocked by skirmishers from Major General Wade Hampton’s Cavalry Brigade, specifically, Cobb’s Legion from Georgia. At the Felty Farm, perhaps a half-mile south of Hunterstown, Custer set his trap. He placed marksmen in the barn, and others across the road. His artillery was perhaps 300 yards to the rear in the edge of some woods on a ridge overlooking the farm. Custer then took his men down the road about a half mile until they spotted Cobb’s main body. The daring Custer led a charge right at them, losing his horse shot out from under him, and getting another, and at the last minute, wheeling around to dash back the way he came. His men were right behind him. So was Cobb’s Legion. Back towards Hunterstown Custer and his men raced, followed closely by the Georgia Troopers. As the last of Custer’s men cleared the Felty Farm, the troopers in the barn and across the road opened up a murderous fire on Cobb’s men. So did the artillery. Realizing the trap he had ridden into, Cobb wheeled his column around and fled south, leaving more than a few bodies behind.

It was a portent of what was yet to come on this day.

[Posted with permission from GettysBLOG]


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Battle Anniversary 3: “The Most Terrible Struggle of the War”, July 1, 1863 – Early Afternoon

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. July 1, 1863 – Afternoon

Major General Oliver Otis Howard, 4th in his class of 46 cadets who graduated from West Point in 1854, commanded the 11th Corps in the Army of the Potomac. Howard was wounded severely in 1861 while leading a brigade in the Union 2nd Corps at the Battle of Fair Oaks. He lost his right arm there. Howard remained with the army after recuperation, and eventually was placed in command of the 11th Corps, succeeding Major General Franz Sigel. The 11th Corps had a reputation of being poor soldiers, especially in combat. Howard’s appointment was not popular with the men who favored Major General Carl Schurz. Sigel and Schurz were both German immigrants.

[The 11th Corps was comprised of about 50% German immigrants, which immediately made it a target of some scorn as there was a good bit of anti-immigrant sentiment in American Society at the time. Their record was not a particularly bad one, but because of their immigrant-heavy make-up, they were unfairly blamed for many of the negatives that occurred in the Army of the Potomac. Their last battle, at Chancellorsville, did not help. Stonewall Jackson’s incredible night march around the Army of the Potomac’s encampment led them to burst from the woods and right into the 11th Corps Camp while the men were cooking their meals. The whole Corps was routed, and the commanding General, Major General Joseph Hooker grew very timid and ordered a retreat, even after the Army had rallied and driven back Jackson. The resulting blame was attached quite unfairly to the Germans of the 11th Corps. At Gettysburg, they would fare even worse.]

On the arrival of the men of the 11th Corps, Howard posted two of his divisions, one under Brigadier General Francis Channing Barlow, and the other under Major General Carl Schurz, just north of town, and kept the third division, a small one under Brigadier General Adolph von Steinwehr on the north and western side of Cemetery Hill, located on the southeastern corner of town.

Major General Abner Doubleday, 24th in the class of 1842 at West Point, took over command of the 1st Corps on his arrival at the front lines shortly after the death of Major General John Fulton Reynolds. Doubleday proceeded to organize the resistance to the Confederate push as the early afternoon wore on.

Eventually, the remainder of the 1st Corps arrived on the field to join Wadsworth’s 1st Division: the Second Division under Brigadier General John C. Robinson filed to the right of Wadsworth, and the Third Division under Brigadier General Thomas A. Rowley would join on Wadsworth’s left.

Shortly after making these dispositions west of town, Doubleday was shocked to see Confederates coming out of the woods a mile away on his right flank. Suddenly, two brigades of Confederate Infantry begin to advance. The first one, under Colonel Edward A. O’Neal, was quickly repulsed by the Union Brigade under Brigadier General Henry Baxter, on the side of Oak Ridge [Oak Ridge is an extension of Seminary Ridge to the north, leading to Oak Hill, site of the Eternal Peace Light Memorial] leading down to the valley north of town. Within minutes, Baxter’s brigade is forced to change fronts and turned toward the second Confederate brigade, Commanded by Brigadier General Alfred Iverson, opening fire on them in the middle of a field, whereupon many of them surrendered, and were soon gathered up as prisoners.

It was the last Union victory of the day.

Two more brigades issued forth from the woods on the Union 1st Corps right, and the line began to collapse. Additional pressure from Heth’s Division pushed the center and left of the Union 1st Corps back among the buildings of the Lutheran Seminary on Seminary Ridge, where a short sharp fight ensued.

Brigadier General Francis Channing Barlow stood on the small knoll just north of the Alms House complex, and turned to the west at the foot of Oak Ridge where Doles’ four regiments of Georgians held the focus of nearly everyone in the 11th Corps. Barlow’s brigade was the extreme right flank of the 11th Corps, and was very exposed in its advanced position. It was while watching Doles do his cat-and-mouse moves that Barlow heard a sound that he was waiting for, but it was coming from the wrong direction. He had been watching Doles since the brigade came down off Oak Hill, to the right of the end of the Union 1st Corps line. He had watched while a second brigade had advanced across the slope of the ridge from right to left in an assault on the right end of the 1st Corps line. Now he suddenly turned to his right and saw the cannon rounds landing around his position. At the edge of the woods 200 yards north of his position, Barlow could make out several thousand Confederate soldiers, bayonets fixed, and starting to move right at him.

Within minutes, the right flank of the 11th Corps, was quickly overrun.

Thousands of Union troops from the retreating 11th Corps went tearing south through the streets of Gettysburg, and thousands more were streaking east from Seminary Ridge as the 1st Corps line collapsed. The Confederates were in hot pursuit, but they were flagged from the long march and hard fighting. Hundreds of Union troops were gathered up as prisoners, and others went into hiding in the basements and attics of Gettysburg. One union general from the 11th Corps, Alexander Schimmelfennig, hid out in the back yard of a house between the pig sty and the swill barrels, for three days.

Cemetery Hill
Those who made it to Cemetery Hill were greeted by officers who directed them to their new positions, “1st Corps to the left, 11th Corps go to hell!” The 11th Corps line had held for a very short time before being overrun.

Lutheran Theological Seminary
General Robert E. Lee stood at the Lutheran Seminary and gazed across the low ground where the town of Gettysburg was situated at the high ground on the other side of the town. Occasionally, a Union artillery shell would come whizzing overhead. It angered the men of A. P. Hill’s Third Corps, because they were the very same artillery batteries that they had just chased off the ridge where they were now standing.

Except for some light skirmishing and some artillery shelling, the fight was over for the day. Lee and his men were exuberant, having taken on two Union corps, and dispatched them, though not without a tough, day-long fight.

But the Union troops had achieved their tactical objective: to slow the advance of the Army of Northern Virginia in order to allow the rest of the Army of the Potomac to arrive in the area and occupy Culps Hill, Cemetery Hill, and Cemetery Ridge, all high ground southeast of town.

Northern newspapers would later announce this to be “The Most Terrible Struggle of the War.”

[For insights into critical decision making immediately after the events described above, try this link:

Why Ewell Did Not Attack – Part 3 ]


[Reposted with permission from GettysBLOG]


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Battle Anniversary 2: “Them Damned Black Hats Again!” – July 1, 1863, Morning

July 1, 1863. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Morning.

Major General Henry “Harry” Heth was anxious to get his men going in the pre-dawn hours of July 1. Camped along the Chambersburg Road near Cashtown, his force for the morning’s march to Gettysburg would use only two of his brigades, Archer’s and that of Joseph Davis, totaling about 3,000 men. Behind them would come an additional 3,500 men in Brockenborough’s and Pettigrew’s Brigades. At the head of Heth’s column was young Major Willie Pegram’s Artillery battalion, five batteries – twenty guns in all, and 400 men. This unusual line of march was through admitted carelessness on the part of Heth. The infantry should have been in the lead.

[In the Confederate Army, the standard artillery battery was four guns, in two sections of two guns. In the Union Army, the standard arrangement was six guns, in three sections of two guns. There were exceptions, and in many Confederate batteries, gun types were often mixed, Napoleons, Howitzers, etc. This was also true in the Union Artillery, though not nearly to the extent of the Confederates. Each gun would generally have a team of horses to pull the gun and a limber chest, and another team to pull linked caissons full of ammunition and powder.]

As the artillery followed by Archer’s and Davis’s infantry filed down the road toward Gettysburg, they passed the bivouac of Brigadier General J, Johnston Pettigrew about two miles west of Marsh Creek, where it had stopped the day before after turning back from Gettysburg. As the last of Davis’s Mississippians filed past, Pettigrew ordered his men to join the march. Back in Cashtown, Brockenbrough Brigade finally got on the road.

Just days ago Major General John Fulton Reynolds of nearby Lancaster, Pennsylvania, had been offered command of the Army of the Potomac by President Lincoln. The popular and capable officer was the senior officer left after Hooker was relieved of the command. But Reynolds prevailed upon the President to allow him to remain in Field Command, to be with the troops. Lincoln then asked who Reynolds would recommend, and he replied that George Meade, of Philadelphia would be his choice. Steady, and a tough fighter, Meade, commanding the 5th Corps, had broken through Stonewall Jackson’s lines at the Battle of Fredericksburg the previous December. Lacking support on his flanks, and lacking a second wave of troops from reserves behind him, Meade was forced to fight his way back out of his salient.

And so it was that on this morning Reynolds was awakened early at his overnight Headquarters in Moritz Tavern by a messenger from the new Commander of the Army of the Potomac, Major General George G. Meade. The message contained marching orders for the entire army, all to proceed via various routes to eventually concentrate on Gettysburg.

Reynolds, commanding the 1st Corps, and in charge of the left wing of the army (his own 1st Corps and the 3rd and 11th Corps), would lead the way, marching straight up the Emmitsburg Pike.

Brigadier General John Buford had placed his vedettes (small units of cavalry posted in advance of their own lines) forward across Willoughby Run about a mile west of Herr’s Ridge. His two brigades of cavalry were dismounted and waiting behind a fence on McPherson’s Ridge, waiting for the Confederates to come marching down the Chambersburg Pike into their waiting lines. The stiff and sturdy five rail fences on either side of the road would force the Confederates to advance up the road in a tight column. Once under fire, it would take them a while to knock down the fences and spread out in any sort of line of battle to confront Buford’s men. During that whole time, the 2,000 men of Buford’s two brigades that were on the line would be pouring in a rapid fire using their breech-loading rifles.

[Cavalry generally carried carbines and the Sharps or other varieties were much easier to load and fire than the muzzle loading rifles of the infantry. They could put out as much as 3-5 times the rate of fire as a muzzle loaded weapon. The troopers, fighting in Dragoon style (ride to battle, fight dismounted) were reduced numbers because every fourth man, nearly 500 in Buford’s division, would be in the rear holding his own horse and those of three other men.]

It was not long before the vedettes began firing on the advancing Confederate skirmishers. The fight was soon on in earnest. Starting about 8:00 AM, the Confederate artillery under Major Pegram spread out along Herr’s Ridge just above Willoughby Run, and began firing on Buford’s men, and the four guns of Calef’s Battery located on either side of the Chambersburg Pike at the crest of McPherson’s Ridge, and the other two guns of his battery located at the corner of the McPherson barn.

Buford was at the front line, encouraging his men, and directing the defense. Heth sent Archer to his right, and Davis to his left, and ordered them to break through. The cavalry held them off. For the next hour and a half it was a slugfest of almost toe-to-toe combat, sometimes a mere fifteen yards separated the ranks of blue and gray. Several times, during a lull in the action, Buford went to the Seminary and climbed the stairs and ladders into the cupola on the roof, where he would first search the southwest for signs of Reynolds and his First Corps infantry.

About 10:30 Buford spotted the line of blue snaking its way cross country toward the Seminary, and the relief of his men.

Shortly thereafter, Reynolds rode up with his staff. He shouted up to Buford in the cupola, “What’s the matter John?”

Buford responded, “There’s the Devil to pay!”

“Let’s go take a look,” replied Reynolds. Buford began his climb to the ground, and the men then rode the quarter mile to where Gamble’s Brigade was having a tough time holding his ground. Returning to the Seminary after Reynolds was well satisfied at what Buford had mapped out and was carrying out, the two men greeted the First Brigade, First Division, First Corps of the Army of the Potomac, the fabled Iron Brigade. Hastening forward at the double quick, Reynolds directed them into Herbst’s woodlot south of the Chambersburg Pike, and south of the McPherson Farm, where Gamble’s boys were about to be outflanked by Archer’s Brigade.

Brigadier General James Archer lined his men up in a meadow on the west bank of Willoughby Run, and ordered them forward across the small stream and up into the woodlot belonging to the Herbst Farm. After climbing the steep east bank, the men from Tennessee and Alabama advanced through the woods. Suddenly, there was shouting all along the line, “Yanks!”, and after a minute, the word was passed down the line, “It’s them damned ‘Black Hats’ again!”. They were referring to the distinctive tall black hats worn by the Midwesterners of the Iron Brigade. Firing rippled up and down the line. Somewhere in the woods, a marksman took aim on a prominent target…

John Fulton Reynolds was urging his men on into the woods, moving with them as they began to engage Archer’s men. Suddenly, the shooting flared up as the two units became engaged. Riding along with the ranks of Black Hats, Reynolds shouted out, “Forward! For God’s Sake Forward!” Suddenly he lurched from the saddle, dead as he hit the ground, from a shot that struck him behind his ear. The men of the Iron Brigade pressed forward, driving the Tennessee and Alabama regiments back through the woods and down the hill to the stream. Still they pressed forward, until the men of Archer’s Brigade fell exhausted in the field where they had formed up. The Iron Brigade members encircled them and took them prisoner, including James Archer.

Lieutenant Colonel Rufus Dawes was in temporary command of the Sixth Wisconsin Infantry Regiment. At the moment, the Sixth was being held as the reserve of the Iron Brigade, and was idle along the south side of the Chambersburg pike. Suddenly, the regiment came under fire from somewhere on the north side of the road. A quick check revealed that the enemy had gotten into the sunken roadbed of an under construction railroad about 200 yards north of their position. Ahead of Dawes and the 6th Wisconsin were two regimens from the brigade of Brigadier General Lysander Cutler, the 14th Brooklyn (84th New York Regiment), and the 95th New York.

In concert with each other even though they were from two separate brigades, the three regiments turned to form a line of battle facing north on the south side of the road. They began to advance, climbing the five-rail fence on the south side. As they hovered at the top of the fence, swinging their legs to the other side, men began to fall, hit by fire from the enemy regiments in the railroad cut. They pressed on. Across the road, they climbed the fence, again hovering at the top, this time taking more hits, as the enemy kept up its fire. Once over the fence on the north side of the road, they men took a moment to dress their ranks, and then raced forward to the edge of the cut. In a wild melee, they poured fire down on the men in the railroad cut, most of whom were getting out on the other side and running for the trees three hundred yards to the northwest.

Suddenly it was over. Dawes received the colors of the 2nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment and the swords of six of their officers. When the survivors of the 2nd returned to Herr’s Ridge, they numbered about 18 men. [They were given a fresh set of colors the next day and continued to fight as the 2nd Mississippi.]

For the next two hours, there was little fighting. In the early afternoon that would change. But while the two sides regrouped and caught their breath, the Union still held the ground west and north of town [where the 11th Corps was formed in a line that stretched across the valley north of the town and the college.]


[Reposted with permission from GettysBLOG]


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Battle Anniversary 1: “Fight like the Devil” – June 30, 1863

June 30, 1863, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

The sight that greeted Sarah Broadhead as she looked out her window on the west side of Gettysburg on the morning of June 30th, 1863 caused her to draw a sharp breath. There had been rumors, but the view of the Seminary and the ridge on which it stands was complicated by a large group of men, and the Confederate flags they were carrying. She would later write, “We had a good view of them from our house, and every moment we expected to hear the booming of cannon, and thought they might shell the town. As it turned out they were only reconnoitering.” She was looking at three North Carolina Infantry Regiments, some 1,800 men constituting most of a brigade under the command of Brigadier General James Johnston Pettigrew. Pettigrew, the highly educated and well lettered graduate of the University of North Carolina was the pride of his state.

Ordered forward on a supply gathering expedition, Pettigrew and his staff were anxiously searching the town and its environs for signs of Union troops. Numerous civilians questioned as to the presence of Union troops in the area gave a variety of answers, most of them based on rumors, but one thing became evident: there were many Union troops close by. It did not take long for their field glasses and telescopes to find the body of blue moving towards town from the south on the Emmitsburg Road. Mistaking a column of cavalry for infantry, Pettigrew turned his column around, 3 regiments of infantry, an artillery battery, and 27 empty wagons that were to have hauled the shoes, hats, and food back to their divisional camp near Cashtown on South Mountain. Instead, they returned almost empty-handed.

On his return to Cashtown, Pettigrew reported to his superior, Henry J. Heth, that there were large bodies of troops in and around Gettysburg and more were arriving all the time. Heth took Pettigrew to see their Corps Commander, General Ambrose Powell Hill. Neither Hill, nor Heth believed the report. Both graduates of the United States Military Academy, they had a disdain for the civilian soldier’s abilities, and Pettigrew was just that. Even though he was a battle-tested, wounded veteran of many engagements who had fought his regiments well, he was, and always would be, a civilian soldier, and not “one of them”, an Academy graduate. Hill and Heth graduated from West Point in the same class, 1847. Hill was 15th in his class of 38, and Heth was dead last. It did not matter. Heth was the nephew of General Robert E. Lee.

[Heth’s Division was not the advanced element of the Army of Northern Virginia, as that honor belonged to Lieutenant General Richard S. Ewell’s Second Corps, which passed through Gettysburg a week earlier on its way to York, and then north to Harrisburg. But Hill’s Third Corps was the lead of the main body of Lee’s army, which included Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s First Corps, still situated in the Cumberland Valley west of Hill’s advanced position at Cashtown.]

In a similar predicament to Pettigrew’s were his fellow brigade commanders in Heth’s Division. Brigadier General James J. Archer was a Mexican War veteran who joined the US Army before the war, and now commanded a brigade of Tennessee and Alabama troops. As such, he was a notch above Pettigrew professionally, as was Colonel John M. Brockenbrough, who was a graduate of Virginia Military Institute. Not so the fourth brigade commander under Heth, Brigadier General Joseph R. Davis, the nephew of Confederate General Jefferson Davis, and a pre-war politician in Mississippi.

[It was the same in the Union Army. Political and civilian officers were awarded commissions early in the war usually for raising a regiment, or at least a company. Major political figures such as Benjamin Butler, a Massachusetts Democrat, and his political and law student, Daniel Sickles, commander of the Third Corps, Army of the Potomac, and a key figure in the Battle of Gettysburg were exceptions to the rule. For the most part, the war was taken over by 1863 by the West Point graduates, and the civilian and political generals were relegated to side areas, or out of the army altogether. The West Point officers on both sides generally were much better all around officers, and had made the learning transition on maneuver and logistics concerning large armies, as the prewar US Army in which they served had, at most, 20,000 men…the size of a large sized Civil War corps.]

Pettigrew’s report was disbelieved. When forwarded to Lee, the report was also disbelieved based on the intelligence information Lee had at the time. Even so, the cautious Lee ordered Hill to advance on Gettysburg the next day and “feel” for the enemy. He was ordered not to bring on a general engagement. Hill ordered Heth to undertake the task and passed on Lee’s admonition to avoid spurring a large fight.

John Buford, Brigadier General, West Point ’48, commanding officer of the First Division, Cavalry Corps, Army of the Potomac, led his men up the Emmitsburg Road from Maryland into Pennsylvania and a few miles later, Gettysburg in the late morning of June 30. It was Buford’s command that Pettigrew had spotted from a long distance and mistaken them for infantry. At the time, the long column of blue-uniformed troopers may have been dismounted and marching by leading their horses, something cavalry did on the march to give both riders and horses a break while continuing to move.

Buford rode at the head of two of his three brigades. First Brigade, under Colonel William Gamble, comprised of the 8th and 12th Illinois Cavalry, and the 3rd Indiana, and 8th New York, was with him, as was the Second Brigade, under the feisty Colonel Thomas Devin. Devin commanded the 6th and 9th New York Cavalry, the 3rd West Virginia, and the 17th Pennsylvania. Buford’s Reserve Brigade, under newly promoted Brigadier General Wesley Merritt was left south of the area guarding the southwestern approaches to Gettysburg.

[Merritt, along with Elon J. Farnsworth, was promoted from Captain to Brigadier General (skipping Major, Lieutenant Colonel, and Colonel!) two days earlier in a last minute reorganization of the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac by Major General Alfred Pleasonton, Corps Commander. Along with Merritt and Farnsworth, a young First Lieutenant was also springboarded to Brigadier General, and given command of the Michigan Brigade in Judson Kilpatrick’s Third Division of the Cavalry Corps. His name was George Armstrong Custer, last in his West Point class of 1861 in everything but equitation.]

Riding through Gettysburg just before noon Buford’s troopers were serenaded by the people of the town, particularly the young ladies and children. Showered with patriotic songs, some stopped to have flowers pinned on their dusty coats.

[These men were no longer the laughingstock of the Army. In the first two years of the war, the Union Cavalry had been ill used, poorly commanded, and severely abused when they came in contact with Major General James Ewell Brown (JEB) Stuart’s Cavalry Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia. In fact, an early war sentiment among the infantry was that “nobody ever saw a dead cavalryman.” But recently, with better commanders of the Army of the Potomac, and with a Corps Commander who excelled at the administrative side of running a cavalry unit, the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps distinguished themselves in battles along the gaps and passes leading into the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, and at such places as Aldie, Middleburg and Upperville. Finally, a surprise attack launched by Army Commander Joseph Hooker on June 9th caught Stuart at a very vulnerable moment. Attacking across the Rappahannock River while Stuart was conducting a grand review for General Lee and assorted visiting dignitaries, Pleasonton’s forces, backed up by a corps of infantry interrupted the review and fought a series of pitched battles around a place called Brandy Station. Eventually Pleasonton grew timid and withdrew his forces back across the river, but not before serving notice that his cavalry had matured into an outstanding fighting unit capable of standing toe-to-toe with the vaunted Stuart. It was a lesson that was ignored by Stuart and Lee, and thus to be repeated throughout the Gettysburg Campaign.]

Buford moved his men through town ordering Devin to bivouac his brigade north of the college in the open fields above town, and Gamble to set up his brigade camp west of the Seminary on the Chambersburg Pike.

Buford’s long years of experience as an Indian fighter out west before the war had taught him to be an excellent judge of terrain. Indeed, he was the man who initially decided the opening strategy of the Battle of Gettysburg, and how it would eventually play out. He reasoned that if he could hold the Confederates off west of town long enough for the Infantry to arrive and occupy the high ground southeast of town, he would have accomplished his goal and given the Infantry a large advantage in high ground, well suited for defensive positions, from Culp’s Hill, north around the upper reach of Cemetery Hill, and then south along the west side of Cemetery Hill and down Cemetery Ridge. He would need help, however, and later that evening he sat down near the Lutheran Seminary and wrote a letter to Union First Corps Commander Major General John Fulton Reynolds, telling him just that.

James Ewell Brown “JEB” Stuart, 13th of 46 in his West Point class of 1854, where he was first exposed to Robert E. Lee. Lee was superintendent of the Military Academy, and Stuart was one of his prize cadets. Later, in 1859, after a few years fighting Indians out west, and dealing with the unrest in ‘Bleeding Kansas’ Stuart acted as Colonel Robert E. Lee’s aide during the suppression of John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry.

At the start of the Civil War, Stuart, a young Virginian with piercing dark eyes and a large beard, was commissioned a Captain of Virginia Cavalry. In little more than a year he was promoted to Major General commanding the Confederate Cavalry Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia.

Stuart’s early war exploits after taking command are legendary. He led his entire command unhindered on rides around the Army of the Potomac – twice! He was a skilled commander, and a trusted officer serving under his old mentor, Lee. At the Battle of Chancellorsville, he temporarily took command of Stonewall Jackson’s Second Corps after Jackson was wounded by friendly fire. He fought Jackson’s men with skill the next day. By the time of the Gettysburg Campaign his reputation as a dashing and daring commander was encased in the lore of the South. It was about to come undone.

Ordered by Lee to screen the movement of the Army of Northern Virginia north into Pennsylvania, Stuart proceeded to go on an extensive raid through Maryland, capturing several large wagon trains full of food and supplies belonging to the Army of the Potomac. These wagon trains seriously slowed his movements north and he lost touch with the Infantry he was supposed to be screening.

Late in June, he found his route north into Pennsylvania at Littlestown blocked by Union Cavalry (Kilpatrick), which forced him to move east to Hanover, in southern York County, just above the Mason Dixon Line.

As Stuart was heading toward Hanover, intent on occupying the town, some of his units were skirmishing with Union Cavalry – elements of the 18th Pennsylvania Cavalry, stationed on a line southwest of Hanover and northward, screening the town from any advance on it by Stuart. The 18th was struck by two regiments of Stuart’s cavalry in two separate places, sending them reeling back through Hanover. Stuart then entered the town along with his advanced units (Chambliss’ Brigade) and some of his Horse Artillery, which he quickly got into play by targeting the retreating 18th Pennsylvania.

As this was occurring, more Union Cavalry under newly promoted Brigadier General Elon J. Farnsworth appeared suddenly on a large farm at the south edge of Hanover, and Stuart moved to attack. Nearly surrounded, Stuart made his escape by riding his horse like a steeplechase, leaping the hedgerows that divided up the fields, and at one point leaping a 15 foot ditch. Regrouping in town, he awaited developments. Farnsworth moved his forces into town and forced Stuart to withdraw to the west and south.

Judson Kilpatrick heard the sounds of the fight and raced south to Hanover. Custer took up a position northwest of town, and in the late afternoon, began an advance on the Brigade of Fitzhugh Lee. Ordering 600 men from the 6th Michigan to dismount, Custer led them through the brush, part way on hands and knees, to get within three hundred yards of the Confederate line and its artillery that was shelling the town. Custer’s men opened up and drove off the cavalry support defending the guns. A second, similar attack followed on and convinced the Confederates that they must disengage and move out to York after darkness fell.

Gettysburg:                                                                                                             Buford had laid out his plan well. He had Gamble’s Brigade astride the Chambersburg Pike just east of the steep defile through which Willoughby Run flowed. Gamble’s men were in position on the next high ground east of the stream, now called McPherson’s Ridge, so named for the farm that sat on the ridge along the south side of the road. The road itself was lined on both sides with stout five-rail fence, and almost parallel to the road on the north side, a sunken railroad bed, still under construction and without rails ran about one to two hundred yards from the road. Devin’s men were formed on Gamble’s right, and extended north to the Mummasburg Road.

When he visited Devin that evening, Devin was in a high mood, and began predicting how easily they would dispense with the Rebels the next day. Buford rounded on him and angrily exclaimed, “No you won’t! They will attack in the morning and they will come booming—skirmishers three deep. You will have to fight like the Devil to hold your own until supports arrive. The enemy must know the importance of this position and will strain every nerve to secure it, and if we are able to hold it we will do well.”


[Reposted with permission from GettysBLOG]


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