Edited by Gerald Boerner
Commentary will be added shortly... GLB
These Introductory Comments are copyrighted:
Copyright©2011 — Gerald Boerner — All Rights Reserved
[ 3285 Words ]
Quotations Related to GETTYSBURG:
“My dead and wounded were nearly as great in number as those still on duty.”
— William C. Oates
“Up, men, and to your posts! Don’t forget today that you are from Old Virginia!”
— George E. Pickett
“It ain’t so hard to get to that ridge – The hell of it is to stay there.”
— Confederate soldier
“The truth will be known in time, and I leave that to show how much of the responsibility of Gettysburg rests on my shoulders.”
— James Longstreet
“We entered Gettysburg in the afternoon, just in time to meet the enemy entering the town, and in good season to drive him back before his getting a foothold.”
— John Buford
“In great deeds something abides. On great fields something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear, but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls.”
— Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain
“After this urgent protest against entering into battle at Gettysburg according to instructions – which protest is the first and only one I ever made during my entire military career – I ordered my line to advance and make the assault.”
— John B. Hood
“Rations were scarcely issued, and the men about preparing supper, when rumors that the enemy had been encountered that day near Gettysburg absorbed every other interest, and very soon orders came to march forthwith to Gettysburg.”
— Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain
Gettysburg — Day 1: Union Troops Retreat to High Ground…
The First Day of the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War took place on July 1, 1863, and began as an engagement between isolated units of the Army of Northern Virginia under Confederate General Robert E. Lee and the Army of the Potomac under Union Maj. Gen. George G. Meade. It soon escalated into a major battle which culminated in the outnumbered and defeated Union forces retreating to the high ground south of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
The first-day battle proceeded in three phases as combatants continued to arrive at the battlefield. In the morning, two brigades of Confederate Maj. Gen. Henry Heth’s division (of Lt. Gen. A.P. Hill’s Third Corps) were delayed by dismounted Union cavalrymen under Brig. Gen. John Buford. As infantry reinforcements arrived under Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds of the Union I Corps, the Confederate assaults down the Chambersburg Pike were repulsed, although Gen. Reynolds was killed. By early afternoon, the Union XI Corps had arrived, and the Union position was in a semicircle from west to north of the town. The Confederate Second Corps under Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell began a massive assault from the north, with Maj. Gen. Robert E. Rodes’s division attacking from Oak Hill and Maj. Gen. Jubal A. Early’s division attacking across the open fields north of town. The Union lines generally held under extremely heavy pressure, although the salient at Barlow’s Knoll was overrun.
The third phase of the battle came as Rodes renewed his assault from the north and Heth returned with his entire division from the west, accompanied by the division of Maj. Gen. W. Dorsey Pender. Heavy fighting in Herbst’s Woods (near the Lutheran Theological Seminary) and on Oak Ridge finally caused the Union line to collapse. Some of the Federals conducted a fighting withdrawal through the town, suffering heavy casualties and losing many prisoners; others simply retreated. They took up good defensive positions on Cemetery Hill and waited for additional attacks. Despite discretionary orders from Robert E. Lee to take the heights "if practicable," Richard Ewell chose not to attack. Historians have debated ever since how the battle might have ended differently if he had found it practicable to do so.
[ Part 2 of 2 — Battle of Gettysburg, Day 1]
[ Continued from Part 1 of 2 — Battle of Gettysburg, Day 1 ]
Early attacks XI Corps
Carl Schurz of the XI Corps had a difficult defensive problem. He had only four brigades to cover the wide expanse of featureless farmland north of town. He deployed the division of Brig. Gen. Alexander Schimmelfennig on the left and Francis C. Barlow on the right. From the left, the brigades were Schimmelfennig’s (under Col. George von Amsberg), Col. Włodzimierz Krzyżanowski, Brig. Gen. Adelbert Ames, and Col. Leopold von Gilsa.
Making things more difficult, Barlow advanced much farther north than Schimmelfennig’s division, occupying a 50-foot (15 m) elevation above Rock Creek named Blocher’s Knoll (ever since the battle known as Barlow’s Knoll). This turned out to be a serious misjudgment because it created a salient in the line that could be assaulted from multiple sides. Barlow’s justification was that he wanted to prevent Doles’s Brigade, of Rodes’s division, from occupying it and using it as an artillery platform against him.
Richard Ewell’s second division, under Jubal Early, swept down the Harrisburg Road, deployed in a battle line three brigades wide, almost a mile across (1,600 m) and almost half a mile (800 m) wider than the Union defensive line. Early started with a large-scale artillery bombardment. The Georgia brigade of Brig. Gen. John B. Gordon was then directed for a frontal attack against Barlow’s Knoll, pinning down the defenders, while the brigades of Brig. Gen. Harry T. Hays and Col. Isaac E. Avery swung around their exposed flank. At the same time the Georgians under Doles launched a synchronized assault with Gordon. The defenders of Barlow’s Knoll targeted by Gordon were 900 men of von Gilsa’s brigade; in May, two of his regiments had been the initial target of Stonewall Jackson’s flanking attack at Chancellorsville. The men of the 54th and 68th New York held out as long as they could, but they were overwhelmed. Then the 153rd Pennsylvania succumbed. Barlow, attempting to rally his troops, was shot in the side and captured. Barlow’s second brigade, under Ames, came under attack by Doles and Gordon. Both Union brigades conducted a disorderly retreat to the south.
On the left flank of the XI Corps, the attack focused on Gen. Schimmelfennig’s division. They were subjected to a deadly artillery crossfire from Rodes’s and Early’s batteries, and as they deployed they were attacked by Doles’s infantry. Early’s troops were able to employ a flanking attack and roll up the division from the right, and they fell back in confusion toward the town. A desperate counterattack by the 157th New York from von Amsberg’s brigade was surrounded on three sides, causing it to suffer 307 casualties (75%).
Gen. Howard, witnessing the disaster, sent forward an artillery battery and an infantry brigade from von Steinwehr’s reserve force, under Col. Charles Coster. Coster’s battle line just north of the town in a brickyard was overwhelmed by Hays and Avery. He did provide some valuable cover for the retreating soldiers, but at a high price: of Coster’s 800 men, 313 were captured, as were two of the four guns from the battery.
The collapse of the XI Corps was completed by 4:00 p.m., after a fight of less than an hour. They suffered 3,200 casualties (1,400 of them prisoners), about half the number sent forward from Cemetery Hill. The losses in Gordon’s and Doles’s brigades were under 750.
Rodes and Pender Break Through
Rodes’s original faulty attack at 2:00 had stalled, but he launched his reserve brigade, under Ramseur, against Paul’s Brigade in the salient on the Mummasburg Road, with Doles’s Brigade against the left flank of the XI Corps. Daniel’s Brigade resumed its attack, now to the east against Baxter on Oak Ridge. This time Rodes was more successful, mostly because Early coordinated an attack on his flank.
In the west, the Union troops had fallen back to the Seminary and built hasty breastworks running 600 yards (550 m) north-south before the western face of Schmucker Hall, bolstered by 20 guns of Wainwright’s battalion. Dorsey Pender’s division of Hill’s Corps stepped through the exhausted lines of Heth’s men at about 4:00 p.m. to finish off the I Corps survivors. The brigade of Brig. Gen. Alfred M. Scales attacked first, on the northern flank. His five regiments of 1,400 North Carolinians were virtually annihilated in one of the fiercest artillery barrages of the war, rivaling Pickett’s Charge to come, but on a more concentrated scale. Twenty guns spaced only 5 yards (4.6 m) apart fired spherical case, explosive shells, canister, and double canister rounds into the approaching brigade, which emerged from the fight with only 500 men standing and a single lieutenant in command. Scales wrote afterwards that he found "only a squad here and there marked the place where regiments had rested."
The attack continued in the southern-central area, where Col. Abner M. Perrin ordered his South Carolina brigade (four regiments of 1,500 men) to advance rapidly without pausing to fire. Perrin was prominently on horseback leading his men but miraculously was untouched. He directed his men to a weak point in the breastworks on the Union left, a 50-yard (46 m) gap between Biddle’s left-hand regiment, the 121st Pennsylvania, and Gamble’s cavalrymen, attempting to guard the flank. They broke through, enveloping the Union line and rolling it up to the north as Scales’s men continued to pin down the right flank. By 4:30 p.m., the Union position was untenable, and the men could see the XI Corps retreating from the northern battle, pursued by masses of Confederates. Doubleday ordered a withdrawal east to Cemetery Hill.
On the southern flank, the North Carolina brigade of Brig. Gen. James H. Lane contributed little to the assault; he was kept busy by a clash with Union cavalry on the Hagerstown Road. Brig. Gen. Edward L. Thomas’s Georgia Brigade was in reserve well to the rear, not summoned by Pender or Hill to assist or exploit the breakthrough.
The sequence of retreating units remains unclear. Each of the two corps cast blame on the other. There are three main versions of events extant. The first, most prevalent, version is that the fiasco on Barlow’s Knoll triggered a collapse that ran counterclockwise around the line. The second is that both Barlow’s line and the Seminary defense collapsed at about the same time. The third is that Robinson’s division in the center gave way and that spread both left and right. Gen. Howard told Gen. Meade that his corps was forced to retreat only because the I Corps collapsed first on his flank, which may have reduced his embarrassment but was unappreciated by Doubleday and his men. (Doubleday’s career was effectively ruined by Howard’s story.)
Union troops retreated in different states of order. The brigades on Seminary Ridge were said to move deliberately and slowly, keeping in control, although Col. Wainwright’s artillery was not informed of the order to retreat and found themselves alone. When Wainwright realized his situation, he ordered his gun crews to withdraw at a walk, not wishing to panic the infantry and start a rout. As pressure eventually increased, Wainwright ordered his 17 remaining guns to gallop down Chambersburg Street, three abreast. A.P. Hill failed to commit any of his reserves to the pursuit of the Seminary defenders, a great missed opportunity.
Near the railroad cut, Daniel’s Brigade renewed their assault, and almost 500 Union soldiers surrendered and were taken prisoner. Paul’s Brigade, under attack by Ramseur, became seriously isolated and Gen. Robinson ordered it to withdraw. He ordered the 16th Maine to hold its position "at any cost" as a rear guard against the enemy pursuit. The regiment, commanded by Col. Charles Tilden, returned to the stone wall on the Mummasburg Road, and their fierce fire gave sufficient time for the rest of the brigade to escape, which they did, in considerably more disarray than those from the Seminary. The 16th Maine started the day with 298 men, but at the end of this holding action there were only 35 survivors.
For the XI Corps, it was a sad reminder of their retreat at Chancellorsville in May. Under heavy pursuit by Hays and Avery, they clogged the streets of the town; no one in the corps had planned routes for this contingency. Hand-to-hand fighting broke out in various places. Parts of the corps conducted an organized fighting retreat, such as Coster’s stand in the brickyard. The private citizens of Gettysburg panicked amidst the turmoil, and artillery shells bursting overhead and fleeing refugees added to the congestion. Some soldiers sought to avoid capture by hiding in basements and in fenced backyards. Gen. Alexander Schimmelfennig was one such person who climbed a fence and hid behind a woodpile in the kitchen garden of the Garlach family for the rest of the three-day battle. The only advantage that the XI Corps soldiers had was that they were familiar with the route to Cemetery Hill, having passed through that way in the morning; many in the I Corps, including senior officers, did not know where the cemetery was.
As the Union troops climbed Cemetery Hill, they encountered the determined Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock. At midday, Gen. Meade was nine miles (14 km) south of Gettysburg in Taneytown, Maryland, when he heard that Reynolds had been killed. He immediately dispatched Hancock, commander of the II Corps and his most trusted subordinate, to the scene with orders to take command of the field and to determine whether Gettysburg was an appropriate place for a major battle. (Meade’s original plan had been to man a defensive line on Pipe Creek, a few miles south in Maryland. But the serious battle underway was making that a difficult option.)
When Hancock arrived on Cemetery Hill, he met with Howard and they had a brief disagreement about Meade’s command order. As the senior officer, Howard yielded only grudgingly to Hancock’s direction. Although Hancock arrived after 4:00 p.m. and commanded no units on the field that day, he took control of the Union troops arriving on the hill and directed them to defensive positions with his "imperious and defiant" (and profane) persona. As to the choice of Gettysburg as the battlefield, Hancock told Howard "I think this the strongest position by nature upon which to fight a battle that I ever saw." When Howard agreed, Hancock concluded the discussion: "Very well, sir, I select this as the battle-field." Brig. Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren, chief engineer of the Army of the Potomac, inspected the ground and concurred with Hancock.
Gen. Lee also understood the defensive potential to the Union army if they held the high ground of Cemetery Hill. He sent orders to Ewell to "carry the hill occupied by the enemy, if he found it practicable, but to avoid a general engagement until the arrival of the other divisions of the army." In the face of this discretionary, and possibly contradictory, order, Ewell chose not to attempt the assault. One reason posited was the battle fatigue of his men in the late afternoon, although "Allegheny" Johnson’s division of Ewell’s Corps was within an hour of arriving on the battlefield. Another was the difficulty of assaulting the hill through the narrow corridors afforded by the streets of Gettysburg immediately to the north. Ewell requested assistance from A.P. Hill, but that general felt his corps was too depleted from the day’s battle and General Lee did not want to bring up Maj. Gen. Richard H. Anderson’s division from the reserve. Ewell did consider taking Culp’s Hill, which would have made the Union position on Cemetery Hill untenable. However, Jubal Early opposed the idea when it was reported that Union troops (probably Slocum’s XII Corps) were approaching on the York Pike, and he sent the brigades of John B. Gordon and Brig. Gen. William "Extra Billy" Smith to block that perceived threat; Early urged waiting for Johnson’s division to take the hill. After Johnson’s division arrived via the Chambersburg Pike, it maneuvered toward the east of town in preparation to take the hill, but a small reconnaissance party sent in advance encountered a picket line of the 7th Indiana Infantry, which opened fire and captured a Confederate officer and soldier. The remainder of the Confederates fled and attempts to seize Culp’s Hill on July 1 came to an end.
Responsibility for the failure of the Confederates to make an all-out assault on Cemetery Hill on July 1 must rest with Lee. If Ewell had been a Jackson he might have been able to regroup his forces quickly enough to attack within an hour after the Yankees had started to retreat through the town. The likelihood of success decreased rapidly after that time unless Lee were willing to risk everything.
Coddington’s Critique, The Gettysburg Campaign
Lee’s order has been criticized because it left too much discretion to Ewell. Numerous historians and proponents of the Lost Cause movement (most prominently Jubal Early, despite his own reluctance to support an attack at the time) have speculated how the more aggressive Stonewall Jackson would have acted on this order if he had lived to command this wing of Lee’s army, and how differently the second day of battle would have proceeded with Confederate artillery on Cemetery Hill, commanding the length of Cemetery Ridge and the Federal lines of communications on the Baltimore Pike. Stephen W. Sears has suggested that Gen. Meade would have invoked his original plan for a defensive line on Pipe Creek and withdrawn the Army of the Potomac, although that movement would have been a dangerous operation under pressure from Lee.
Most of the rest of both armies arrived that evening or early the next morning. Johnson’s division joined Ewell and Maj. Gen. Richard H. Anderson’s joined Hill. Two of the three divisions of the First Corps, commanded by Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, arrived in the morning. Three cavalry brigades under Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart were still out of the area, on a wide-ranging raid to the northeast. Gen. Lee sorely felt the loss of the "eyes and ears of the Army"; Stuart’s absence had contributed to the accidental start of the battle that morning and left Lee unsure about enemy dispositions through most of July 2. On the Union side, Meade arrived after midnight. The II Corps and III Corps took up positions on Cemetery Ridge, and the XII Corps and the V Corps were nearby to the east. Only the VI Corps was a significant distance from the battlefield, marching rapidly to join the Army of the Potomac.
The first day at Gettysburg—more significant than simply a prelude to the bloody second and third days—ranks as the 23rd biggest battle of the war by number of troops engaged. About one quarter of Meade’s army (22,000 men) and one third of Lee’s army (27,000) were engaged. Union casualties were almost 9,000, Confederate slightly more than 6,000.
Please take time to further explore more about American_Civil_War, Gettysburg,
Pennsylvania, Battle of Gettysburg, and the Gettysburg Battlefield by accessing the
Wikipedia articles referenced below. In most cases, the text in the body of this post
has been selectively excerpted from the articles; footnotes and hyperlinks have
been removed for readability…
Background information is from Wikipedia articles on:
Wikipedia: Gettysburg, Pennsylvania…
Wikipedia: Battle of Gettysburg…
Wikipedia: Battle of Gettysburg, First Day…
Wikipedia: Gettysburg Battlefield…
Brainy Quote: GETTYSBURG Quotes…
A Proud Table: BATTLE OF GETTYSBURG Quotes…
Other Posts on related Topics:
Prof. Boerner’s Exploration: Robert E. Lee and the Battle of Gettysburg…
Prof. Boerner’s Exploration: Civil War: Battle of Brandy Station in 1863…