Battle History



                                                                                                  

                                        GETTYSBURG, PA.
                                      JULY 1ST - 3RD, 1863

                   Gettysburg, Pa., July 1-3, 1863.  Army of the Potomac.
                After the battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville the
                opinion became prevalent through the South that Lee's Army of
                Northern Virginia was more than a match for the Federal Army
                of the Potomac, and a clamor arose for an aggressive movement.
                There were at this time potent reasons why Lee should assume
                the offensive.  An invasion of Maryland and Pennsylvania would
                have a tendency to draw troops from Grant at Vicksburg and
                Rosecrans in Tennessee to repel the invaders, thus relieving
                the pressure on the Confederate forces under Pemberton,
                Johnston and Bragg.  If the invasion should prove to be
                successful European nations might be persuaded to recognize
                the Confederacy, loans could be obtained and probably aid
                secured to open the Southern ports, then in a state of
                blockade.  All these reasons and possibilities were carefully
                weighed and toward the last of May Lee decided to make the
                invasion.  Since the battle of Chancellorsville he had been
                lying at Fredericksburg, recruiting and reorganizing his army,
                which on June 1, numbered, according to Confederate reports,
                88,754 men.  It was divided into three corps, as follows: The
                1st, commanded by Lieut.-Gen. James Longstreet, was composed
                of the divisions of McLaws, Pickett and Hood, and the reserve
                artillery under Col. J. B. Walton.  The 2nd, under the command
                of Lieut.-Gen. Richard S. Ewell, included the divisions of
                Early, Johnson and Rodes, the reserve artillery being in
                charge of Col. J. T. Brown.  The 3rd, commanded by Lieut.-Gen.
                Ambrose P. Hill consisted of the divisions of Anderson, Heth
                and Pender, and the reserve artillery under Col. R. L. Walker.
                In addition to these three corps was the cavalry under the
                command of Maj.- Gen. J. E. B. Stuart, and consisting of the
                brigades of Fitzhugh Lee, W. H. F. Lee, Hampton, Jenkins, W.
                E. Jones and Imboden, and six batteries of horse artillery
                under the command of Maj. R. F. Beckham.

Having decided to undertake an offensive movement, Lee chose a route along the eastern base of the Blue Ridge, from which he could at any time threaten Washington or Baltimore, hoping by this means to detain the Union army in a position to defend the national capital, or failing in that to draw it after him and into a general engagement on a field of his own selection. He accordingly began the concentration of his army at Culpeper leaving Hill at Fredericksburg to keep up a show of force there in order to keep Hooker from ascertaining what was going on until it was too late for him to interfere. Through the medium of dispatches captured in the affair at Brandy Station on June 9, Hooker learned that the major part of Lee's army was at Culpeper. He proposed to cross over the river and attack Hill, but the movement was forbidden by Gen. Halleck. He then suggested a movement against Richmond to force Lee to recall his army in that direction, but this, too, was forbidden, though either might have been successful. Hooker then sent the 3rd and 5th corps to guard the fords on the Rappahannock, to prevent the Confederates from crossing, and on the night of the 13th, moved his forces northward to Manassas Junction and Thoroughfare gap. This compelled Lee to change his plans and select the longer route through the Shenandoah Valley. The Federal force at Winchester, commanded by Gen. Milroy, was driven out on the 15th, Ewell pursuing across the Potomac and occupying Hagerstown and Sharpsburg. About the same time the Union troops at Harper's Ferry and Martinsburg were withdrawn to Maryland heights, thus leaving the valley open to Lee, who crossed the Potomac at Williamsport and Shepherdstown on the 24th and 25th, united his columns at Hagerstown, and pushed on toward Chambersburg, Pa. On the 25th and 26th, Hooker crossed the Potomac at Edwards' ferry and the next day Reynolds, with three corps, occupied the passes of South mountain, thus forestalling any attempt of Lee to pass to the eastward. To cut the enemy's communications with Virginia, Hooker ordered the 12th corps, then near Harper's Ferry, to march to that place, where it would be joined by the forces under Gen. Kelley on Maryland heights, and then, in connection with Reynolds, operate on Lee's rear. Again Halleck interposed an objection, deeming it inadvisable to abandon Harper's Ferry, and Hooker asked to be relieved from command of the army. He was succeeded by Maj.- Gen. George G. Meade on June 28. The Army of the Potomac was then organized as follows: Maj.-Gen. John F. Reynolds, formerly commanding the 1st corps, was placed in command of the left wing, Maj.-Gen. Abner Doubleday taking command of the corps, which consisted of three divisions under Brig.-Gen. James S. Wadsworth, John C. Robinson and Thomas A. Rowley, and the artillery brigade commanded by Col. Charles S. Wainright. The 2nd corps, commanded by Maj.-Gen. Winfield S. Hancock, embraced the three divisions under Brig.-Gen. John C. Caldwell, John Gibbon and Alexander Hays, and the artillery brigade of Capt. John G. Hazard. The 3rd corps, Maj.-Gen. Daniel E. Sickles, was made up of the divisions of Maj.-Gen. David B. Birney and Brig.-Gen. Andrew A. Humphreys, and the artillery brigade commanded by Capt. George E. Randolph. The 5th corps, Maj.-Gen. George Sykes, was composed of the three divisions of Brig.-Gen. James Barnes, Romeyn B. Ayres and Samuel W. Crawford, and the artillery brigade of Capt. A. P. Martin. The 6th corps, Maj.-Gen. John Sedgwick, embraced the divisions of Brig.-Gen. Horatio G. Wright, Brig.-Gen. Albion P. Howe and Maj.-Gen. John Newton, and the artillery brigade of Col. Charles H. Tompkins. The 11th corps, Maj.-Gen. Oliver O. Howard, included the divisions of Brig.-Gen. Francis C. Barlow and Adolph von Steinwehr, Maj.-Gen. Carl Schurz, and the artillery brigade commanded by Maj. Thomas W. Osborn. The 12th corps, Maj.-Gen. Henry W. Slocum was composed of the two divisions of Brig.-Gen. Alpheus S. Williams and John W. Geary, and the artillery brigade under command of Lieut. E. D. Muhlenberg. The cavalry corps, Maj.-Gen. Alfred Pleasonton, included the three divisions commanded by Brig.-Gen. John Buford, David McM. Gregg and Judson Kilpatrick, and the horse artillery under Capt. James M. Robertson. Altogether the army had 65 batteries numbering 370 guns. Of these 212 were with the infantry, 50 with the cavalry, and an artillery reserve of 108 under the command of Brig-Gen. Robert O. Tyler, Brig.-Gen. Henry J. Hunt being the chief of artillery. Meade took command in the midst of a campaign, and when the army was preparing to move through a region with which he was but little acquainted. For the time he decided to follow Hooker's plans, the only departure there from being to recall Slocum's corps from the Confederate rear, with orders to join the main column. Without consulting Halleck he ordered the troops at Maryland heights, now under the command of Gen. French, to move up to Frederick, where they were to act as a reserve when the army moved forward. Such information as he could obtain regarding the enemy's movements located Longstreet at Chambersburg, Ewell at Carlisle and York, where he was preparing to attack Harrisburg, and Hill in the vicinity of Cashtown. Conjecturing that Harrisburg was Lee's objective point, Meade determined to move directly toward that place and if possible strike the enemy before he could cross the Susquehanna. Orders to that effect were issued to the various corps commanders on the evening of the 28th and early the next morning the army was in motion.

Stuart's cavalry had been sent on a raid around the Union army, in the hope that by threatening its rear he could delay the crossing of the Potomac until Lee could capture Harrisburg. But he encountered Federal troops in so many unexpected places that his raid was prolonged to such an extent he did not arrive at Gettysburg until the battle was almost over. Being thus deprived of his cavalry, Lee had no way of obtaining information of the movements of the Federals, and up to the 28th, supposed them to be still on the south side of the Potomac. On the afternoon of that day he ordered Hill and Longstreet to join Ewell for an advance on Harrisburg. Late that night a scout came to Lee's headquarters with the information that Hooker had been superseded by Meade, that the Union army was north of the Potomac and in a position to seriously menace the Confederate line of communications. These tidings changed the whole situation. In his report Lee says: "In the absence of the cavalry, it was impossible to ascertain his intentions, but to deter him from advancing farther west, and intercepting our communication with Virginia, it was determined to concentrate the army east of the mountains." Instructions were hurried to Hill and Longstreet to move to Cashtown, 8 miles northwest of Gettysburg, Ewell was recalled from Carlisle, and Pickett was left at Chambersburg to guard the rear until relieved by Imboden. Owing to rainy weather these movements were performed somewhat leisurely, but Heth's division reached Cashtown on the afternoon of the 29th. That evening the Union army was in position just south of the state line, with the right at New Windsor and the left at Emmitsburg. Buford's cavalry division was on the extreme left, with his advance well toward Gettysburg. Buford sent Merritt's brigade to Mechanicstown to guard the trains and issued orders for Gamble's and Devin's brigades to move early on the following morning to Gettysburg, where he expected to find some of Kilpatrick's cavalry. The two brigades entered the town about noon, and found a detachment of the enemy within half a mile of the place. This was Pettigrew's brigade of Heth's division, which had been sent from Cashtown to procure supplies, but finding the town in possession of the Union forces hurriedly fell back on the main body of the division. Scouting parties were sent out in all directions, bringing in information showing that the Confederates were unquestionably aiming to concentrate in the vicinity of Gettysburg, and Buford so notified Meade that evening. Pickets were thrown out toward Cashtown and Hunterstown, and the ridges west of the town occupied in anticipation of an attack the next day.

Meade's chief objects had been to force Lee to forego his intention of crossing the Susquehanna, and to bring on an engagement at the first opportunity. The field selected for such an engagement was along the banks of Pipe creek, a little stream 15 miles south of Gettysburg. With a view to meeting Lee at this point the different commands were so placed as to be easily concentrated along Pipe creek, while at the same time they were held in readiness to move elsewhere as the occasion might demand. On the evening of June 30, the 1st corps was at Marsh creek, about halfway between Emmitsburg and Gettysburg; the 2nd and 3rd were in the vicinity of Taneytown, the 5th was at Union Mills, southeast of Taneytown, the 6th was at Manchester, still farther east; the 11th was near Emmitsburg, Kilpatrick's cavalry was at Hanover, and Gregg's at Westminster. The information received from Buford caused a change in Meade's plans. Reynolds was ordered to move the 1st, 3rd and 11th corps to the support of Buford, Sickles relieving the last at Emmitsburg, and the other corps commanders instructed to move toward Gettysburg.

The town of Gettysburg is located about 7 miles from the Maryland line, and some 10 miles east of South mountain. It is in a valley, surrounded by broken granite ridges. On one of these, about half a mile west of the town, stood the Lutheran seminary, the elevation being known as Seminary ridge. It was covered with an open woods and at the north end is a knoll called Oak hill. South is a chain of hills beginning about 3 miles from town and running almost due north for a distance of 2 miles when it makes a curve to the east. At the south end of this chain is Round Top, just east of this is a smaller hill called Little Round Top; at the curve is Cemetery hill, while at the eastern extremity of the range is Culp's hill. About 500 yards west of Little Round Top, in the forks of Plum creek is a hill known as the Devil's Den. It is steep and rocky on the eastern side sloping away gradually to the west and is about 100 lower than Little Round Top. The summits of nearly all the ridges were covered with huge boulders, forming a natural protection to sharpshooters, etc. Near the western base of Cemetery hill was Ziegler's grove, and along the base of the ridge farther south were the Weikert and Trostle houses. Roads enter the town from almost every direction. Through the valley between the Round Tops and Seminary ridge ran the Emmitsburg road; along the eastern side of the ridge was the road to Taneytown, running southeast, between Cemetery and Culp's hills, was the Baltimore pike. These three roads came together near the cemetery and entered the town from the south. The Fairfield and Chambersburg roads diverged at the west side of town, the former running southwest and the latter northwest over Seminary ridge. From the north came the Harrisburg, Carlisle and Middletown roads, and Black's turnpike, while the Oxford and Bonaughton roads entered the town from the east. On the east side of town is Rock creek and west of Seminary ridge is Willoughby run, both flowing southward.

At daybreak on July 1, Buford held the roads and ridges to the west of Gettysburg with Devin's and Gamble's brigades, his vedettes being thrown out far enough to give timely warning of the enemy's approach. About 8 a.m. the scouts reported the enemy advancing in force from the direction of Cashtown. This was Heth's entire division, which had been sent forward to occupy Gettysburg. Gamble's brigade was formed on the left from the Fairfield road to the railroad cut, with one section of Calef's battery near the left and the rest of it on the Chambersburg pike. Devin formed on the right, extending the line to Oak hill, a portion of the men being dismounted and thrown forward as skirmishers. Heth advanced on the Chambersburg road, with Archer's brigade to the right and Davis, to the left of the pike, and the brigades of Pettigrew and Brockenbrough in support. About 9 o'clock Buford had three cannon shots fired as a signal for his skirmishers to open fire on the advancing Confederates, and the battle of Gettysburg was begun. Buford had been notified that Reynolds was coming to his support and determined to hold his ground until the reinforcements arrived. When the sound of the firing reached Reynolds his advance, Wadsworth's division, was within a mile of the town. This command was hurried forward across the fields, Reynolds riding ahead to Seminary ridge, where he met Buford and learned the positions of the contending forces. As soon as Wadsworth arrived three regiments of Cutler's brigade were formed north of the railroad cut and the other two south of the pike, Hall's battery relieving Calef's, which had almost exhausted its supply of ammunition. Meredith's "Iron Brigade" was sent against Archer on the left, and Devin's brigade of cavalry was faced north to meet Ewell, who was known to be coming up from Heidlersburg. Cutler's line had barely been formed when it was struck on the front and right by Davis. Col. Fowler who was in command of the two regiments south of the road, changed front, drove Davis from the field, and took possession of the railroad cut, capturing the two regiments which occupied it. Reynolds sent word to Howard to hurry forward the 11th corps, and then rode over to where Meredith and Archer were contending for a piece of timber, known as McPherson's woods, on the east side of Willoughby run. While directing the movements of this brigade Reynolds was killed by a shot from a Confederate sharpshooter, and Meredith was wounded by the explosion of a shell in front of his horse. Col. Morrow, of the 24th Mich., then took command, charged into the woods, captured Archer and about 800 of his men, and forced the rest to retire across the creek. By this time all of the 1st corps was on the field. Stone's brigade of Rowley's division was sent to the left of the pike, where it drove out the enemy's skirmishers and took position behind a ridge, being partly sheltered by a stone fence. Biddle's brigade was posted on the left of McPherson's wood, with Cooper's battery on the right, while Robinson's division was stationed in reserve on Seminary ridge. Reynolds' battery relieved Hall's and Calef's again joined Gamble's cavalry, which was also in reserve.

The enemy had also received heavy reinforcements, Pender's division coming up from Cashtown and Ewell's corps from Carlisle. Heth reformed his division south of the Chambersburg road, with Pender in support, and nine batteries stationed on commanding points west of Willoughby run. Lee had notified Ewell not to bring on a general engagement until the entire army was brought up, but on arriving on the field and finding Hill's corps already engaged he ordered Rodes' division to take position on Seminary ridge and Carter's battalion of artillery to occupy Oak hill. It was now nearly 2 p.m., when the batteries on Oak hill opened upon the Union lines an enfilading fire that forced Wadsworth to retire Cutler to Seminary ridge, where he was joined by Robinson's whole division to resist the advance of Rodes, who was following along the ridge with O'Neal's and Doles' brigades on the eastern slope and Iverson's, Daniel's and Ramseur's on the western. At 2:30 Rodes gave the order to attack. Iverson was confronted by Paul's brigade and O'Neal by Baxter's. O'Neal was soon repulsed and Baxter went to the assistance of Paul. At the same time Cutler swung his line around so as to attack Iverson on the right flank. Baxter's men from the shelter of a stone fence fired a volley at short range into the Confederate ranks, leaving 500 of Iverson's command dead and wounded on the field, and the rest surrendered. About 1,000 prisoners and 3 regimental colors were taken in this part of the engagement. Howard had arrived with the 11th corps about noon and assumed command. Shurz took command of the corps and Brig.-Gen. Alexander Schimmelfennig of the 3rd division. This division and Barlow's were thrown forward on the right to check Ewell's advance, leaving Steinwehr's, with two batteries, as a reserve and rallying point on Cemetery hill.

Upon hearing of the death of Reynolds Meade ordered Hancock to proceed from Taneytown to Gettysburg and assume command of the left wing. Hancock arrived about 3 p.m. and found the Union troops retiring before the vastly superior numbers of the enemy. Early's division had secured a position on the flank and rear of the 11th corps, the artillery on the hills east of Rock creek enfilading its entire line. Up to this time the assaults of the enemy had been made without concert at various points along the line, giving the Federals an opportunity to repulse one before the next was commenced. But about 4 o'clock the whole Confederate line advanced-50,000 against probably 15,000. The odds were too great and orders were issued to fall back to Cemetery hill. The men retired in good order, fighting as they went, the only confusion being that which resulted by crowding the narrow streets of the town. Wadsworth's division was sent to occupy Culp's hill and skirmishers were thrown forward to the west side of the town to hold the Confederates in check until the new line of battle could be formed. About 5 o'clock Williams' division of the 12th corps came up and was stationed on the right and rear of Wadsworth. Geary's division arrived soon afterward and was sent to occupy Little Round Top and the ridge running toward Cemetery hill, in a position commanding the Emmitsburg and Taneytown roads. Stannard's brigade of Rowley's division also came up and joined the command, but too late to participate in the fight. These reinforcements greatly encouraged those who had borne the brunt of the battle all day, and the trains were sent to the rear out of the way to prepare for the action which was to come on the morrow. As the day drew to a close and it became evident that the enemy did not intend to renew the attack, Hancock turned over the command to Slocum and set out for Meade's headquarters at Taneytown. Orders were given for all the different commands to march at once to Gettysburg, Meade set out for the scene of action, and about 1 a.m. on the 2nd reached the field.

End of Report

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