Why Ewell Did Not Attack – Part 2

July 1, 1863

After an all-day fight that started about 8:30 in the morning, when General Harry Heth’s Division of General Ambrose Powell Hill’s 2nd Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia began the assault from the west on General John Buford’s dismounted Cavalry on McPherson’s Ridge.  Buford’s cavalry division was replaced in line by Reynolds First Corps of the Army of the Potomac about mid-late morning.  In the afternoon, the combined forces of Brigades from Hill’s Corps, and two divisions of men under Ewell assaulting from the north of town, pushed the battered remnants of the 1st and 11th Corps of the Army of the Potomac off Seminary Ridge and south from just above town, back to the southeast to Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill as evening approached.  While the victorious Rebels celebrated as much as they could after a long march and a long fight, the Union Army troops reformed and began digging in on the two hills.

The Army of the Potomac

Arriving on the field in mid-afternoon, Major General Winfield Scott Hancock, commander of the Union Army’s 2nd Corps, was now also the commander of the left wing of the Army of the Potomac, replacing Major General John F. Reynolds killed in the mid-morning fight.  Hancock had been dispatched by the newly appointed Army of the Potomac commander, Major General George Gordon Meade.  Hancock met with Major General Oliver Otis Howard, the one-armed commander of the 11th Corps.  Together, the two Generals worked out a plan that drew from the day’s fight, as laid out by General Buford the night before and seconded by General Reynolds shortly before his death.  The idea was simple – delay the Confederate forces west and north of town long enough for the remaining 5 corps of the Army of the Potomac to arrive and occupy the high ground southeast of town, notably, Cemetery Hill and Cemetery Ridge, and Culp’s Hill.  The Union Line thus would be centered on Baltimore Street, leaving an avenue of escape if necessary and a sheltered route for supplies and reinforcements should they remain in place.

Despite the fact that the Union forces had been driven off the fields west and north of town by the somewhat celebratory Confederates, the strategic victory on the first day went to the Army of the Potomac for meeting its stated objective: deny the elevations southeast of town to the Confederates.

After the scramble through town, Hancock and Howard went about getting the two battered corps reorganized, and properly and quickly aligned.

The 11th Corps was spread across Cemetery Hill on three sides. [Gottfried, pp. 305, 322-323, 340, 344]

The 1st Corps took up positions on Cemetery Hill before moving to the northwest side of Culp’s Hill and down in front of Stevens Knoll on the right of the 11th Corps.  [Gottfried, pp. 39, 61, 86, 95, 98]

The rest of the Union Army began to arrive:

  • 12th Corps, William’s 1st Division, arrived about 4 PM and assaulted a small force of Confederates on the east slope of Benner’s Hill along Hanover Road, until recalled to Baltimore Street.  [Gottfried p. 350, Coddington, p. 314]
  • 3rd Corps began arriving around 5:30 PM [Birney’s 1st Division except deTrobriand] and took position on Munshower’s Knoll just north of Little Round Top.]  [Gottfried, pp. 185, 187]
  • Geary’s 12th Corps troops arrived about 5:30 PM and fell into line on Birney’s left, in other words, on Little Round Top.  [Gottfried p. 376]
  • 2nd Corps Bivouacked about three miles from town on the night of the 1st.  They arrived on the battlefield the next morning at about 7 AM.  [Gottfried, p. 110]

 The Army of Northern Virginia

General Robert E. Lee had ordered General Hill to send a division forward to ‘feel for the enemy’, a term that meant find  out where the enemy was, and if possible what units and how many, and do so without bringing on a general engagement.  General Henry Heth, Lee’s nephew, then proceeded to bring on the general engagement that Lee wanted to avoid.  He began assaulting Buford’s dismounted Cavalry troopers sometime around 8:30 AM.  By mid-morning, his brigades had finally broken down the fence on both sides of the Chambersburg Pike and spread out into a line of battle.  Heth’s men fought the Union 1st Corps, which had replaced Buford’s Cavalry brigades, all day until about 4 PM when General Rodes’ Division of Ewell’s Corps broke through on the left and began pushing the Union troops off of Seminary Ridge and back through the town.  While that was happening, General Jubal Early’s division of Ewell’s Corps burst from the woods north of town and struck the right flank of the Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg, overrunning General Francis Channing Barlow’s 1st Division of the 11th Corps, spread across the knoll and the flat floor of the plain north of town.  The rout was on.

When it was over, the victorious Confederate troops were cheering from Seminary Ridge as they watched the Yanks ‘skedaddle’ through town to Cemetery Hill.

Lee and his trusted 1st Corps Commander, Lieutenant General James Longstreet, met on the grounds of the Seminary and discussed the day, and what lay next.  Longstreet had elicited a concurrence from Lee on the march north that the army should find itself some good ground and invite an attack.  In other words, fight a defensive battle and let the Union troops waste themselves in assault waves.  Longstreet reminded Lee of that.  Lee was caught up in the moment, apparently, and a tension formed between the two men that lasted throughout the battle.  Longstreet wanted to pull back to high ground on South Mountain, and dig in, or continue maneuvering to get around Meade and the Army of the Potomac, to a more favorable position in which to invite attack.  Lee insisted that Meade was here, and here was where he would fight him.

Lee arranged his army, such that was present, in an arc straddling the town, with A. P. Hill’s 3rd Corps holding Seminary Ridge, and Ewell’s 2nd Corps just east of town near the approaches to Cemetery and Culp’s Hill.

All of Longstreet’s three divisions were still in the Cumberland Valley.  Johnson’s Division, the first of Ewell’s divisions to start south from between Carlisle and Camp Hill [just across the Susquehanna River from Pennsylvania’s state Capital, Harrisburg], had not arrived yet.  Initially, Lee ordered Ewell to concentrate his forces on Chambersburg, and Major General Edward “Allegheny” Johnson started his division in that direction.  Almost immediately, Ewell received a second order from Lee changing the concentration point to Gettysburg.  Johnson was too far down the road to bring back so Ewell simply sent his other two divisions, Rodes’ and Early’s, south from Carlisle directly to Gettysburg.

  • McLaws’ Division arrived at bivouac on Marsh Creek around midnight July 1/2.  [Gottfried, p. 402]
  • Hood’s Division followed Johnson’s Division and supply trains into the area finally arriving near Seminary Ridge at around 9 AM on the 2nd. [Gottfried, p. 427]
  • Pickett’s Division began its march to Gettysburg from Chambersburg at 2 AM on the 2nd, and the arrival time was about 2 PM, west of town.  [Gottfried p. 454]
  • Johnson’s Division did not reach the Battlefield until 7:30 PM, and its bivouac east of town until about 9:00 PM on the 1st.  “…Pressing on in the heat, the men could hear the sounds of battle just prior to reaching Cashtown.  The march was a difficult one because of the slow pace and frequent halts caused by the wagon train in front of them.  The division reached the battlefield about 7:30 PM, after a long twenty-five mile march.  Filing into the field on the left of Chambersburg Pike, they skirted the town to the north and eventually stopped at the railroad depot.  All around them during this march were the grisly results of the army’s first day’s fight with the 1st Corps and, farther on, the fight with the 11th Corps.  After resting in Gettysburg for at least an hour, the division continued to march along the railroad, finally stopping northeast of town, where the men rested for the night.  Unbeknownst to most of them, a drama was being played out.  Ewell ordered the division to secure Culp’s Hill that night, but not liking the foreboding look of the steep hill, Johnson first sent scouts up to determine if it was occupied by Federal Soldiers.  Only one Federal regiment was nearby, the 7th Indiana [Cutler’s Brigade, Wadsworth’s Division, 1st Corps], and, as fate would have it, the two forces made contact.  As a result, Johnson decided to wait until morning to take the hill.  By that time the hill was fully occupied, and Johnson was ordered to wait.” [Gottfried p.549]

[Note:  Many of the supply trains supporting the Confederate troops traveled well behind their assigned units.  Mention is made in Gottfried and Coddington that Johnson’s Division was slowed not only by his extended route, but also because Ewell’s entire train preceded his troops at least to a point between Cashtown and Gettysburg, This places Ewell’s supply train arrival to be late in the evening on July 1st or in the early hours of July 2nd, thus having a major influence on Ewell’s decision to attack Culp’s and Cemetery Hills.]

About wgdavis

Mr. Davis is an historical researcher and NPS Volunteer living in the Gettysburg area.
This entry was posted in Battle Decisions, Ewell Does not attack and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *