Edited by Gerald Boerner
Commentary will be added shortly. GLB
These Introductory Comments are copyrighted:
Copyright©2011 — Gerald Boerner — All Rights Reserved
[ 3619 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…
During 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 1 of 2 — Battle of Gettysburg, Day 2 ]
Lee’s Plan and Movement to Battle
By the morning of July 2, six of the seven corps of the Army of the Potomac had arrived on the battlefield. The I Corps (Maj. Gen. John Newton, replacing Abner Doubleday) and the XI Corps (Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard) had fought hard on the first day, and they were joined that evening by the XII Corps (Maj. Gen. Henry W. Slocum), III Corps (Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Sickles), and II Corps (Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock), and on the morning of July 2 by the V Corps (Maj. Gen. George Sykes). The VI Corps (Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick) was still 30 miles (50 km) away in Manchester, Maryland, on that morning. They assumed positions in a fish hook shape about three miles (5 km ) long, from Culp’s Hill, around to Cemetery Hill, and down the spine of Cemetery Ridge. The Army of Northern Virginia line was roughly parallel to the Union’s, on Seminary Ridge and on an arc northwest, north, and northeast of the town of Gettysburg. All of the Second Corps (Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell) and Third Corps (Lt. Gen. A.P. Hill) were present, and the First Corps (Lt. Gen. James Longstreet) was arriving from Cashtown; only Longstreet’s division under George E. Pickett did not participate in the battle on July 2.
Robert E. Lee had several choices to consider for his next move. His order of the previous evening that Ewell occupy Culp’s Hill or Cemetery Hill "if practicable" was not realized, and the Union army was now in strong defensive positions with compact interior lines. His senior subordinate, Longstreet, counseled a strategic move—the Army should leave its current position, swing around the Union left flank, and interpose itself on Meade’s lines of communication, inviting an attack by Meade that could be received on advantageous ground. Longstreet argued that this was the entire point of the Gettysburg campaign, to move strategically into enemy territory but fight only defensive battles there. Lee rejected this argument because he was concerned about the morale of his soldiers having to give up the ground for which they fought so hard the day before. He wanted to retain the initiative and had a high degree of confidence in the ability of his army to succeed in any endeavor, an opinion bolstered by their spectacular victories the previous day and at Chancellorsville. He was therefore determined to attack on July 2.
Lee wanted to seize the high ground south of Gettysburg, primarily Cemetery Hill, which dominated the town, the Union supply lines, and the road to Washington, D.C., and he believed an attack up the Emmitsburg Road would be the best approach. He desired an early-morning assault by Longstreet’s Corps, reinforced by Ewell, who would move his Corps from its current location north of town to join Longstreet. Ewell protested this arrangement, claiming his men would be demoralized if forced to move from the ground they had captured. And Longstreet protested that his division commanded by John Bell Hood had not arrived completely (and that Pickett’s division had not arrived at all). Lee compromised with his subordinates. Ewell would remain in place and conduct a demonstration (a minor diversionary attack) against Culp’s Hill, pinning down the right flank of the Union defenders so that they could not reinforce their left, where Longstreet would launch the primary attack as soon as he was ready. Ewell’s demonstration would be turned into a full-scale assault if the opportunity presented itself.
Lee ordered Longstreet to launch a surprise attack with two divisions straddling, and guiding on, the Emmitsburg Road. Hood’s division would move up the eastern side of the road, Lafayette McLaws’s the western side, each perpendicular to it. The objective was to strike the Union Army in an oblique attack, rolling up their left flank, collapsing the line of Union corps onto each other, and seizing Cemetery Hill. The Third Corps division of Richard H. Anderson would join the attack against the center of the Union line on Cemetery Ridge at the appropriate time. This plan was based on faulty intelligence because of the absence of J.E.B. Stuart and his cavalry, leaving Lee with an incomplete understanding of the position of his enemy. He believed that the left flank of the Union army was on Cemetery Ridge, and an early-morning scouting expedition seemed to confirm that. However, he did not account for the initiative of Union Gen. Sickles.
Sickles spurs ahead of his staff to inspect the front lines of his threatened
III Corps at the tip of the Peach Orchard salient. Confederates can be seen
massing for an attack by the fringe of trees in the distance. Painting
(The battle of Gettysburg) by Edwin Forbes.
When Sickles arrived with his III Corps, General Meade instructed him to take up a position on Cemetery Ridge that linked up with the II Corps on his right and anchored his left on Little Round Top. Sickles originally did so, but after noon he became concerned about a slightly higher piece of ground 0.7 miles (1,100 m) to his front, a peach orchard owned by the Sherfy family. He undoubtedly recalled the debacle at Chancellorsville, where the high ground ("Hazel Grove") he was forced to give up was used against him as a deadly Confederate artillery platform. Acting without authorization from Meade, Sickles marched his corps to occupy the Peach Orchard. This had two significant negative consequences: his position now took the form of a salient, which could be attacked from multiple sides; and he was forced to occupy lines that were much longer than his two-division corps could defend. Meade was furious about this insubordination, but it was too late to do anything about it—the Confederate attack was imminent.
Longstreet’s attack was delayed, however, because he first had to wait for his final brigade (Evander M. Law‘s, Hood’s division) to arrive, and then he was forced to march on a long, circuitous route that could not be seen by Union Army Signal Corps observers on Little Round Top. It was 4 p.m. by the time his two divisions reached their jumping off points, and then he and his generals were astonished to find the III Corps planted directly in front of them on the Emmitsburg Road. Hood argued with Longstreet that this new situation demanded a change in tactics; he wanted to swing around, below and behind, Round Top and hit the Union Army in the rear. Longstreet, however, refused to consider any modifications to Lee’s order.
Partly because of Sickles’s unexpected location, Longstreet’s assault did not proceed according to Lee’s plan. Instead of wheeling left to join a simultaneous two-division push on either side of the Emmitsburg Road, Hood’s division attacked in a more easterly direction than intended, and McLaws’s and Anderson’s divisions deployed brigade by brigade, in an en echelon style of attack, also heading more to the east than the intended northeast.
Longstreet’s attack commenced with a 30-minute artillery barrage by 36 guns that was particularly punishing to the Union infantry in the Peach Orchard and the troops and batteries on Houck’s Ridge. Maj. Gen. John Bell Hood’s division deployed in Biesecker’s Woods on Warfield Ridge (the southern extension of Seminary Ridge) in two lines of two brigades each: at the left front, Brig. Gen. Jerome B. Robertson’s Texas Brigade (Hood’s old unit); right front, Brig. Gen. Evander M. Law; left rear, Brig. Gen. George T. Anderson; right rear, Brig. Gen. Henry L. Benning.
At 4:30 p.m., Hood stood in his stirrups at the front of the Texas Brigade and shouted, "Fix bayonets, my brave Texans! Forward and take those heights!" It is unclear to which heights he was referring. His orders were to cross the Emmitsburg Road and wheel left, moving north with his left flank guiding on the road. This discrepancy became a serious problem when, minutes later on Slyder’s Lane, Hood was felled by an artillery shell bursting overhead, severely wounding his left arm and putting him out of action. His division moved ahead to the east, no longer under central control.
There were four probable reasons for the deviation in the division’s direction: first, regiments from the III Corps were unexpectedly in the Devil’s Den area and they would threaten Hood’s right flank if they were not dealt with; second, fire from the 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters at Slyder’s farm drew the attention of lead elements of Law’s Brigade, moving in pursuit and drawing his brigade to the right; third, the terrain was rough and units naturally lost their parade-ground alignments; finally, Hood’s senior subordinate, Gen. Law, was unaware that he was now in command of the division, so he could not exercise control.
The two lead brigades split their advances into two directions, although not on brigade boundaries. The 1st Texas and 3rd Arkansas of Robertson’s brigade and the 44th and 48th Alabama of Law’s brigade headed in the direction of Devil’s Den, while Law directed the remaining five regiments toward the Round Tops.
Devil’s Den was the extreme left of the III Corps line, manned by the large brigade (six regiments and two companies of sharpshooters, 2,200 men in all) of Brigadier General J. H. Hobart Ward, in Maj. Gen. David B. Birney’s division. It was the southern end of Houck’s Ridge, a modest elevation on the northwest side of Plum Run Valley, made distinctive by piles of huge boulders. These boulders were not the direct avenue of approach used by the Confederates. The 3rd Arkansas and the 1st Texas drove through Rose Woods and hit Ward’s line head-on. His troops had lacked the time or inclination to erect breastworks, and for over an hour both sides participated in a standup fight of unusual ferocity. In the first 30 minutes, the 20th Indiana lost more than half of its men. Its colonel, John Wheeler, was killed and its lieutenant colonel wounded. The 86th New York also lost its commander. The commander of the 3rd Arkansas fell wounded, one of 182 casualties in his regiment.
Meanwhile, the two regiments from Law’s brigade that had split from the column advancing to the Round Tops pushed up Plum Run Valley and threatened to turn Ward’s flank. Their target was the 4th Maine and the 124th New York, defending the 4th New York Independent artillery battery commanded by Captain James Smith, whose fire was causing considerable disruption in Law’s brigade’s advance. The pressure grew great enough that Ward needed to call the 99th Pennsylvania from his far right to reinforce his left. The commander of the 124th New York, Colonel Augustus Van Horne Ellis, and his major, James Cromwell, decided to counterattack. They mounted their horses despite the protests of soldiers who urged them to lead more safely on foot. Maj. Cromwell said, "The men must see us today." They led the charge of their "Orange Blossoms" regiment to the west, down the slope of Houck’s Ridge through a triangular field surrounded by a low stone fence, sending the 1st Texas reeling back 200 yards (180 m). But both Colonel Ellis and Major Cromwell were shot dead as the Texans rallied with a massed volley; and the New Yorkers retreated to their starting point, with only 100 survivors from the 283 they started with. As reinforcements from the 99th Pennsylvania arrived, Ward’s brigade retook the crest.
The second wave of Hood’s assault was the brigades of Henry Benning and George "Tige" Anderson. They detected a gap in Birney’s division line: to Ward’s right, there was a considerable gap before the brigade of Régis de Trobriand began. Anderson’s line smashed into Trobriand and the gap at the southern edge of the Wheatfield. Trobriand wrote that the Confederates "converged on me like an avalanche, but we piled all the dead and wounded men in our front." The Union defense was fierce, and Anderson’s brigade pulled back; its commander was wounded in the leg and was carried from the battle.
Two of Benning’s Confederate regiments, the 2nd and 17th Georgia, moved down Plum Run Valley around Ward’s flank. They received murderous fire from the 99th Pennsylvania and Hazlett’s battery on Little Round Top, but they kept pushing forward. Capt. Smith’s New York battery was under severe pressure from three sides, but its supporting infantry regiments were suffering severe casualties and could not protect it. Three 10-pound Parrott rifles were lost to the 1st Texas, and they were used against Union troops the next day. … [MORE]
Little Round Top
The Confederate assaults on Little Round Top were some of the most famous of the three-day battle and the Civil War. Arriving just as the Confederates approached, Col. Strong Vincent’s brigade of the V Corps mounted a spirited defense of this position, the extreme left of the Union line, against furious assaults up the rocky slope. The stand of the 20th Maine under Col. Joshua L. Chamberlain against the 15th Alabama (Col. William C. Oates) is particularly storied, but heroes such as Strong Vincent, Patrick "Paddy" O’Rorke, and Charles E. Hazlett also made names for themselves.
Lafayette McLaws arranged his division on Warfield Ridge similar to Hood’s on his right—two lines of two brigades each: left front, facing the Peach Orchard, the brigade of Brig. Gen. William Barksdale; right front, Brig. Gen. Joseph B. Kershaw; left rear, Brig. Gen. William T. Wofford; right rear, Brig. Gen. Paul Jones Semmes.
Lee’s original plan called for Hood and McLaws to attack in concert, but Longstreet held back McLaws while Hood’s attack progressed. Around 5 p.m., Longstreet saw that Hood’s division was reaching its limits and that the enemy to its front was fully engaged. He ordered McLaws to send in Kershaw’s brigade, with Barksdale’s to follow on the left, beginning the en echelon attack—one brigade after another in sequence—that would be used for the rest of the afternoon’s attack. McLaws resented Longstreet’s hands-on management of his brigades. Those brigades engaged in some of the bloodiest fighting of the battle: the Wheatfield and the Peach Orchard.
The area known as the Wheatfield had three geographic features, all owned by the John Rose family: the 20 acre (8 ha) field itself, Rose Woods bordering it on the west, and a modest elevation known as Stony Hill, also to the west. Immediately to the southeast was Houck’s Ridge and to the south Devil’s Den. The fighting here, consisting of numerous confusing attacks and counterattacks over two hours by eleven brigades, earned the field the nickname "Bloody Wheatfield."
The first engagement in the Wheatfield was actually that of Anderson’s brigade (Hood’s division) attacking the 17th Maine of Trobriand’s brigade, a spillover from Hood’s attack on Houck’s Ridge. Although under pressure and with its neighboring regiments on Stony Hill withdrawing, the 17th Maine held its position behind a low stone wall with the assistance of Winslow’s battery, and Anderson fell back. Trobriand wrote, "I had never seen any men fight with equal obstinacy."
By 5:30 p.m., when the first of Kershaw’s regiments neared the Rose farmhouse, Stony Hill had been reinforced by two brigades of the 1st Division, V Corps, under Brig. Gen. James Barnes, those of Cols. William S. Tilton and Jacob B. Sweitzer. Kershaw’s men placed great pressure on the 17th Maine, but it continued to hold. For some reason, however, Barnes withdrew his understrength division about 300 yards (270 m) to the north—without consultation with Birney’s men—to a new position near the Wheatfield Road. Trobriand and the 17th Maine had to follow suit, and the Confederates seized Stony Hill and streamed into the Wheatfield. (Barnes’s controversial decision was widely criticized after the battle, and it effectively ended his military career.)
Earlier that afternoon, as Meade realized the folly of Sickles’s movement, he ordered Hancock to send a division from the II Corps to reinforce the III Corps. Hancock sent the 1st Division under Brig. Gen. John C. Caldwell from its reserve position behind Cemetery Ridge. It arrived at about 6 p.m. and three brigades, under Cols. Samuel K. Zook, Patrick Kelly (the Irish Brigade), and Edward E. Cross moved forward; the fourth brigade, under Col. John R. Brooke, was in reserve. Zook and Kelly drove the Confederates from Stony Hill, and Cross cleared the Wheatfield, pushing Kershaw’s men back to the edge of Rose Woods. Both Zook and Cross were mortally wounded in leading their brigades through these assaults, as was Confederate Semmes. When Cross’s men had exhausted their ammunition, Caldwell ordered Brooke to relieve them. By this time, however, the Union position in the Peach Orchard had collapsed (see next section), and Wofford’s assault continued down the Wheatfield Road, taking Stony Hill and flanking the Union forces in the Wheatfield. Brooke’s brigade in Rose Woods had to retreat in some disorder. Sweitzer’s brigade was sent in to delay the Confederate assault, and they did this effectively in vicious hand-to-hand combat. The Wheatfield changed hands once again. … [MORE]
[ Continued on in Part 2 of 2 — Battle of Gettysburg, Day 2 ]
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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…