Edited by Gerald Boerner




Commentary will be added shortly. GLB

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Copyright©2011 — Gerald Boerner — All Rights Reserved

[ 2977 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 2: The Union Lines Hold the High Ground…


Gettysburg_Battle_Map_Day2_thumb3During the Second Day of the Battle of Gettysburg, on July 2, 1863, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee attempted to capitalize on his first day’s success. He launched the Army of Northern Virginia in multiple attacks against the flanks of the Union Army of the Potomac, commanded by Maj. Gen. George G. Meade.

The Union line ran from Culp’s Hill southeast of the town, northwest to Cemetery Hill just south of town, then south for nearly two miles (3 km) along Cemetery Ridge, terminating just north of Little Round Top. Most of the XII Corps was on Culp’s Hill; the remnants of I and XI Corps defended Cemetery Hill; II Corps covered most of the northern half of Cemetery Ridge; and III Corps was ordered to take up a position to its flank. The shape of the Union line is popularly described as a "fishhook" formation. The Confederate line paralleled the Union line about a mile (1,600 m) to the west on Seminary Ridge, ran east through the town, then curved southeast to a point opposite Culp’s Hill. Thus, the Federal army had interior lines, while the Confederate line was nearly five miles (8 km) long.

Lee’s battle plan for July 2 called for Longstreet’s First Corps to position itself stealthily to attack the Union left flank, facing northeast astraddle the Emmitsburg Road, and to roll up the Federal line. The attack sequence was to begin with Maj. Gens. John Bell Hood’s and Lafayette McLaws’s divisions, followed by Maj. Gen. Richard H. Anderson’s division of Hill’s Third Corps. The progressive en echelon sequence of this attack would prevent Meade from shifting troops from his center to bolster his left. At the same time, Maj. Gen. Edward "Allegheny" Johnson’s and Jubal Early’s Second Corps divisions were to make a demonstration against Culp’s and Cemetery Hills (again, to prevent the shifting of Federal troops), and to turn the demonstration into a full-scale attack if a favorable opportunity presented itself.

[ Part 2 of 2 — Battle of Gettysburg, Day 2 ]


( Continued from Battle of Gettysburg, Day 2a )

Peach Orchard

While the right wing of Kershaw’s brigade attacked into the Wheatfield, its left wing wheeled left to attack the Pennsylvania troops in the brigade of Brig. Gen. Charles K. Graham, the right flank of Birney’s line, where 30 guns from the III Corps and the Artillery Reserve attempted to hold the sector. The South Carolinians were subjected to infantry volleys from the Peach Orchard and canister from all along the line. Suddenly someone unknown shouted a false command, and the attacking regiments turned to their right, toward the Wheatfield, which presented their left flank to the batteries. Kershaw later wrote, "Hundreds of the bravest and best men of Carolina fell, victims of this fatal blunder."

Meanwhile, the two brigades on McLaws’s left—Barksdale’s in front and Wofford’s behind—charged directly into the Peach Orchard, the point of the salient in Sickles’s line. Gen. Barksdale led the charge on horseback, long hair flowing in the wind, sword waving in the air. Brig. Gen. Andrew A. Humphreys’s division had only about 1,000 men to cover the 500 yards (460 m) from the Peach Orchard northward along the Emmitsburg Road to the lane leading to the Abraham Trostle farm. Some were still facing south, from where they had been firing on Kershaw’s brigade, so they were hit in their vulnerable flank. Barksdale’s 1,600 Mississippians wheeled left against the flank of Humphreys’s division, collapsing their line, regiment by regiment. Graham’s brigade retreated back toward Cemetery Ridge; Graham had two horses shot under from under him. He was hit by a shell fragment, and by a bullet in his upper body. He was eventually captured by the 21st Mississippi. Wofford’s men dealt with the defenders of the orchard.

As Barksdale’s men pushed toward Sickles’s headquarters near the Trostle barn, the general and his staff began to move to the rear, when a cannonball caught Sickles in the right leg. He was carried off in a stretcher, sitting up and puffing on his cigar, attempting to encourage his men. That evening his leg was amputated, and he returned to Washington, D.C. Gen. Birney assumed command of the III Corps, which was soon rendered ineffective as a fighting force.

The relentless infantry charges posed extreme danger to the Union artillery batteries in the orchard and on the Wheatfield Road, and they were forced to withdraw under pressure. The six Napoleons of Capt. John Bigelow’s 9th Massachusetts battery, on the left of the line, "retired by prolonge," a technique rarely used in which the cannon was dragged backwards as it fired rapidly, the movement aided by the gun’s recoil. By the time they reach the Trostle house, they were told to hold the position to cover the infantry retreat, but they were eventually overrun by troops of the 21st Mississippi, who captured three of their guns.

Humphreys’s fate was sealed when the Confederate en echelon attack continued and his front and right flank began to be assaulted by the Third Corps division of Richard H. Anderson on Cemetery Ridge.

Anderson’s assault

The remaining portion of the en echelon attack was the responsibility of Maj. Gen. Richard H. Anderson’s division of A.P. Hill’s Third Corps, and he attacked starting at about 6 p.m. with five brigades in line, commencing on the right with Brig. Gen. Cadmus M. Wilcox, followed by Perry’s Brigade (commanded by Col. David Lang), Brig. Gen. Ambrose R. Wright, Brig. Gen. Carnot Posey, and Brig. Gen. William Mahone.

The brigades of Wilcox and Lang hit the front and right flank of Humphreys’s line, dooming any chance for his division to maintain its position on the Emmitsburg Road and completing the collapse of the III Corps. Humphrey displayed considerable bravery during the attack, leading his men from horseback and forcing them to maintain good order during their withdrawal. He wrote to his wife, "Twenty times did I [bring] my men to a halt and face about … forcing the men to it."

On Cemetery Ridge, Generals Meade and Hancock were scrambling to find reinforcements. Meade had sent virtually all of his available troops (including most of the XII Corps, who would be needed momentarily on Culp’s Hill) to his left flank to counter Longstreet’s assault, leaving the center of his line relatively weak. There was insufficient infantry on Cemetery Ridge and only a few artillery pieces, rallied from the debacle of the Peach Orchard by Lt. Col. Freeman McGilvery.

The long march from Seminary Ridge had left some of the Southern units disorganized, and their commanders paused momentarily at Plum Run to reorganize. Hancock led the II Corps brigade of Col. George L. Willard to meet Barksdale’s brigade as it moved toward the ridge. Willard’s New Yorkers drove the Mississippians back to Emmitsburg Road. Barksdale was wounded in his left knee, followed by a cannonball to his left foot, and finally was hit by another bullet to his chest, knocking him off his horse. His troops were forced to leave him for dead on the field, and he died the next morning in a Union field hospital. Willard was also killed, and Confederate guns drove back Willard’s man in turn.

As Hancock rode north to find additional reinforcements, he saw Wilcox’s brigade nearing the base of the ridge, aiming at a gap in the Union line. The timing was critical, and Hancock chose the only troops at hand, the men of the 1st Minnesota, Harrow’s Brigade, of the 2nd Division of the II Corps. They were originally placed there to guard Thomas’s U.S. Battery. He pointed to a Confederate flag over the advancing line and shouted to Col. William Colvill, "Advance, Colonel, and take those colors!" The 262 Minnesotans charged the Alabama brigade with bayonets fixed, and they blunted their advance at Plum Run but at horrible cost—215 casualties (82%), including 40 deaths or mortal wounds, one of the largest regimental single-action losses of the war. Despite overwhelming Confederate numbers, the small 1st Minnesota, with the support of Willard’s brigade on their left, checked Wilcox’s advance and the Alabamians were forced to withdraw.

The third Confederate brigade in line, under Ambrose Wright, crushed two regiments posted on the Emmitsburg Road north of the Codori farm, captured the guns of two batteries, and advanced toward a gap in the Union line just south of the Copse of Trees. (For a time, the only Union soldiers in this part of the line were Gen. Meade and some of his staff officers.) Wright’s Georgia brigade may have reached the crest of Cemetery Ridge and beyond. Many historians have been skeptical of Wright’s claims in his after-action report, which, if correct, would mean he passed the crest of the ridge and got as far as the Widow Leister’s house before being struck in the flank and repulsed by Union reinforcements (Brig. Gen. George J. Stannard’s Vermont brigade). Others believe his account was plausible because he accurately described the masses of Union troops on the Baltimore Pike that would have been invisible to him if he had been stopped earlier. Furthermore, his conversations with General Lee that evening lend support to his claim. It is possible that Lee derived some false confidence from Wright about the ability of his men to reach Cemetery Ridge the following day in Pickett’s Charge.

Wright told Lee that it was relatively easy to get to the crest, but it was difficult to stay there. A significant reason Wright could not stay was his lack of support. Two brigades were on Wright’s left and could have reinforced his success. Carnot Posey’s brigade made slow progress and never crossed the Emmitsburg Road, despite protestations from Wright. William Mahone’s brigade inexplicably never moved at all. Gen. Anderson sent a messenger with orders to Mahone to advance, but Mahone refused. Part of the blame for the failure of Wright’s assault must lie with Anderson, who took little active part in directing his division in battle.


Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill

Richard Ewell’s orders from Lee had been to launch a demonstration, or minor diversionary attack, on the Union right flank. He started the attack at 4 p.m. with an artillery bombardment from Benner’s Hill, which caused little damage to the Union lines, but the counterbattery fire returned upon the lower hill was murderous. Ewell’s best artillerist, 19-year-old Joseph W. Latimer, the "Boy Major", was killed. Ewell did not launch a conventional infantry attack until after 7 p.m., after Anderson’s assault on Cemetery Ridge had crested.

The division of Edward "Allegheny" Johnson assaulted the lone XII Corps brigade of Brig. Gen. George S. Greene behind strong breastworks on Culp’s Hill and suffered severe casualties. They were able to occupy only the portions of the Union line that had been vacated under orders that afternoon by Gen. Meade to reinforce the left flank of his line against Longstreet.

At around 8 p.m., two brigades of Jubal Early’s division assaulted East Cemetery Hill, reaching the crest and the numerous Union artillery batteries placed there, but Union reinforcements arrived and drove them from the hill.


Council of War

The battlefield fell silent around 10:30 p.m., except for the cries of the wounded and dying. Gen. Meade telegraphed to Washington:

The enemy attacked me about 4 p.m. this day and, after one of the severest contests of the war, was repulsed at all points. … I shall remain in my present position to-morrow, but am not prepared to say, until better advised of the condition of the army, whether my operations will be of an offensive or defense of character. 
George G. Meade, Telegraph to Halleck, July 2, 1863

Gettysburg_Council_of_War_thumb3Meade and his generals in the council of war, engraving by James E. Kelly.

Meade made his decision late that night in a council of war that included his senior staff officers and corps commanders. The assembled officers agreed that, despite the beating the army took, it was advisable for the army to remain in its present position and to await attack by the enemy, although there was some disagreement about how long to wait if Lee chose not to attack. There is some evidence that Meade had already decided this issue and was using the meeting not as a formal council of war, but as a way to achieve consensus among officers he had commanded for less than a week. As the meeting broke up, Meade took aside Brig. Gen. John Gibbon, in command of the II Corps, and predicted, "If Lee attacks tomorrow, it will be in your front. … he has made attacks on both our flanks and failed and if he concludes to try it again, it will be on our center."

There was considerably less confidence in Confederate headquarters that night. The army had suffered a significant defeat by not dislodging their enemy. A staff officer remarked that Lee was "not in good humor over the miscarriage of his plans and his orders." But in Lee’s report, he showed more optimism:

The result of this day’s operations induce the belief that, with proper concert of action, and with the increased support that the positions gained on the right would enable the artillery to render the assaulting columns, we should ultimately succeed, and it was accordingly determined to continue the attack. … The general plan was unchanged.
Robert E. Lee, Official Report on battle, January 1864.

Longstreet wrote, years after the battle, that on July 2 the men of his corps had done the "best three hours’ fighting done by any troops on any battle-field." That night he continued to argue for his recommendation of a strategic movement around the Union left flank, but Lee would hear none of it. He sent orders to Richard Ewell to "assail the enemy’s right" at daylight, and he ordered Jeb Stuart (who had finally arrived at Lee’s headquarters early that afternoon) to operate on Ewell’s left and rear.

On the night of July 2, all of the remaining elements of both armies had arrived: Stuart’s cavalry, George Pickett’s division, and John Sedgwick’s VI Corps. The stage was set for the bloody climax of the three-day battle.

Lee’s actual plan for July 3 is disputed by historians. What history does record is that Meade’s prediction was correct; Lee struck near the Union center on Cemetery Ridge in a disastrous attack, Pickett’s Charge.

Casualty figures for the second day of Gettysburg are difficult to assess because both armies reported by unit after the full battle, not by day. One estimate is that the Confederates lost approximately 6,000 killed, missing, or wounded from Hood’s, McLaws’s, and Anderson’s divisions, amounting to 30–40% casualties. Union casualties in these actions probably exceeded 9,000. An estimate for the day’s total (including the Culp’s and Cemetery Hill actions) by historian Noah Trudeau is 10,000 Union, 6,800 Confederate. This is in comparison to approximately 9,000 Union and 6,000 Confederate casualties on the first day, although there were much larger percentages of the armies engaged the second. It is a testament to the ferocity of the day’s battle that such high casualties figures resulted even with much of the fighting not occurring until late in the afternoon and thereafter lasting about six hours. By comparison, the Battle of Antietam—known famously as the bloodiest single day in American military history with nearly 23,000 casualties—was an engagement that lasted twelve hours, or about twice as long.




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Prof. Boerner’s Exploration: Robert E. Lee and the Battle of Gettysburg…

Prof. Boerner’s Exploration: Civil War: Battle of Brandy Station in 1863…