BATTLE OF GETTYSBURG
James L. Walker
Our tale tonight begins just after the Battle of Chancellorsville, where "Marse Robert" defeated "Fighting Joe" Hooker against some pretty incredible odds. The Chicago Tribune published the following quote about Hooker after that battle; "Under the leadership of 'fighting Joe Hooker' the glorious Army of the Potomac is becoming more slow in its movements, more unwieldy, more of a football to the enemy, and less an honor to the country than any army we have yet raised." So much for media coverage. Immediately following his victory there, "Marse Robert" went to Richmond and received the "blessing" of his government to invade the North. Lee, fueled by his continuous string of successes, hoped an invasion north would "provide steam" to the northern peace movement and at least disrupt the Union war effort. After the loss of Lee's "right arm", Stonewall Jackson, the Army of Northern Virginia, 75,000 strong, were reorganized into three army corps under Longstreet, Ewell, and A.P. Hill, with a cavalry division belonging to J.E.B. Stuart. Less than one month after Chancellorsville, on 3 June 1863, advance troops of this Confederate "host" left their camps near Fredericksburg and marched west toward that old, familiar pipeline to the North, the Shenandoah Valley.
The 95,000-strong Federal Army of the Potomac, under "Fighting Joe", didn't have "a clue" in the beginning what "Bobby Lee" was up to. So, on the 9th of June, Hooker ordered his cavalry general Alfred Pleasonton to "run a reconnaissance" with 11,000 men across the Rappahannock River toward Brandy Station. Pleasonton ran "smack dab" into Stuart's cavalry, and the largest cavalry battle of the war "exploded" into being, right then. The overall result was a standoff, but the Federals now had "their clue" to the Confederate army's movements, and whereabouts. In reality, the main Confederate body had been 5 to 10 miles further west of Stuart at Brandy Station. Ewell and Longstreet again split into two columns, with Ewell going further west and up toward Winchester and Longstreet going up the Shenandoah River on the western slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
By June 13,
leading elements of Ewell's corps appeared before Winchester. On that
same day, "Fighting Joe" decided it was time to leave Fredericksburg and
moved the Army of Potomac north. On June 14 and 15, Ewell attacked the
9,000-strong Federal Garrison at Winchester under General Robert Milroy,
and routed them, inflicting heavy losses and capturing much valuable and
needed war material. Following Winchester, "Marse Robert" and his
army moved unchecked up into the Cumberland Valley of Pennsylvania.
On the 25th of June, Lee agrees to let Stuart take three brigades of
cavalry across the Potomac east of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and cut
across the rear of the Federal army. Stuart's drive runs across
frequent delays and is forced to detour many times because of an
increasingly aggressive Federal cavalry, which prohibits Stuart from
rejoining Lee until July 2nd; the second day of Gettysburg.
By June 28, Longstreet and Hill's corps were at Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. Divisions of Ewell's corps had moved on and crossed the mountains to York and Carlisle, and were preparing to move against the capital, Harrisburg. The day before (27 June), having just left Hagerstown, Maryland and crossing the "Mason and Dixon's Line," Lee and Maj. General Isaac Trimble were conversing. On the approach to Gettysburg, Lee said; "Hereabouts we shall probably meet the enemy and fight a great battle, and if God gives us the victory, the war will be over and we shall achieve the recognition of our independence." The next day, following that statement, "Marse Robert" finds out that the Federal army is at Frederick, Maryland, and that “Fighting Joe" had been replaced by General Meade. Learning that, Lee decides to swing his army east of the mountains and offer battle. At the same time, only 30 miles behind and to the west of "Marse Robert," Meade moves north along the eastern flank of the Catoctin Mountains. In two days, these two armies will converge on Gettysburg and the battle, which would be the turning point of the war. The First Day at Gettysburg begins.
On June 30, the Confederates learn that Brigadier General John Buford's division of Federal cavalry, are at Gettysburg. They immediately send the divisions of Maj. General Henry Heth and Maj. General William Pender of A.P. Hill's corps, southeast down the Chambersburg Road to drive Buford off and settle in Gettysburg themselves. As "Marse Robert" approaches Gettysburg, he says to General R.H. Anderson; "In the absence of reports from him [Stuart] I am in ignorance of what we have in front of us here. It may be the whole Federal Army, or it may be only a detachment. If it is the whole Federal force, we must fight a battle here."
Now, I want
to draw a mental picture for you before we get into the fighting of the
first day. Think of a rectangle with the two short sides being two
miles long and the two longer sides being four miles long. Now
turn the rectangle so that the two short sides are on the top and bottom
and the long sides are on the left and right. On the top of the
rectangle in the very center is the town of Gettysburg, and that entire
side will be the Hagerstown Road. Now, in the semi-circle above
our rectangle are a number of roads coming into Gettysburg. From
the upper left (northwest) is the Chambersburg Road; to the right of
that is the Mumasberg Road; down the center is the Carlisle Road; and to
the right again, half way between the Carlisle Road and the Hagerstown
Road (on the top of our rectangle), is the Harrisburg Road. About
halfway between the top left corner and the center of the rectangle
(Gettysburg) is the northern most spur of Seminary Ridge, which runs to
the south and slightly west for little over a mile.
If you then draw a line from the top center at Gettysburg to the very bottom left corner of the rectangle, that will be the Emmitsburg Road. Now go back to the top center (Gettysburg) and draw a line straight south until it intersects the bottom of the rectangle and that will be the Taneytown Road. Over on the top right of the rectangle is Benner's Hill and about one mile south down the right side of the rectangle is Culp's Hill.
Now picture a big "fishhook" with the tip of the barb at Culp's Hill and the curve of the hook going back toward Gettysburg and then curving around until it hits the Taneytown Road and the shank of the hook lying on the Taneytown Road going south. With Culp's Hill on the tip of the barb, then up along the curved portion is Cemetery Hill, and then once we hit Taneytown Road we are on Cemetery Ridge with the crest running
about ten yards west of and parallel to the Taneytown Road.
Down at the bottom of Taneytown Road where it crosses our rectangle, Big Round Top is 1/4 mile to the west. Coming up Taneytown Road toward Gettysburg we see Little Round top just to the left of the road about 1/4 mile north of Big Round Top and the Devil's Den sits right in the western run-off of those two hills. All of that area is densely wooded. Now stand on Little Round Top and look straight west toward the Emmitsburg Road. About a mile back this way from Emmitsburg Road is the Wheat Field with Plum Run creek running right in the middle. A little further to the right, next to the Emmitsburg Road lies the Peach Orchard. So, that is what lies inside our little two mile by four mile rectangle. 95% of the Battle of Gettysburg was fought in the right half of that rectangle; just four square miles. Think about that awhile; in those four square miles 170,000 men fought for 3 solid days and between 45,000 to 50,000 died there.
Now, let's go back and find Heth and Pender as they move down the Chambersburg Road from the northwest to Gettysburg. At 5:30am on the 1st of July, the first shots were exchanged across Marsh Creek on the Chambersburg Road. In the face of Buford's pressure, Heth pushes on cautiously until he reaches a point about two miles west of Gettysburg. At this point Heth spreads out two brigades in line (Archer and Davis) and keeps pressing toward Gettysburg down the Chambersburg Road. It is now 10am. On the Federal side, General John F. Reynolds, commanding the I Corps arrives on the field and immediately has a "go" at Heth. He orders his I Corps and Maj. General Oliver O. Howard's XI Corps to march into Gettysburg. Just after 10:30am, the Federal I Corps arrives and slams into Heth's two divisions at McPherson's Farm about a mile from Gettysburg, west up the Chambersburg Road. At 11:30am, Meredith's Iron Brigade turns back Archer's troops and Archer is captured. Heth's two divisions are badly "mauled" and forced to retreat back up the Chambersburg Road to Herr Ridge, however Reynolds has been killed in the action and the field command has passed to Howard. It grew quite now for a while as both sides regrouped and brought up reinforcements.
Gen. Howard deployed the Federal I Corps to defend the western approaches to Gettysburg along the Chambersburg Road, while the XI Corps formed up north of Gettysburg to cover the Mumasberg and Carlisle Roads, and left one division in reserve on Cemetery Hill. Buford's cavalry, who had arrived first covered their flanks. Howard's strategy was simple; hold the Confederates off until the rest of the Federal army could catch up.
General Lee arrived on the field about noon. He had fervently hoped to avoid a general confrontation, since Stuart was still absent and he didn't have a clue of the enemy strength, in addition to being unfamiliar with the terrain around Gettysburg. However, the battle progressed on its own, as Rhodes' Division of Ewell's Corps arrived just after noon down the Mumasberg Road and immediately veered to the right and attacked the right of the Federal I Corps. At 2:00pm, Heth's Division returned and hit the Federal I Corps down the Chambersburg Road again. Upon hearing of Reynolds death that morning, General Meade sends Hancock up from Taneytown to replace Reynolds. At 3:00pm Jubal Early's Division of Ewell's Corps comes down the Harrisburg Road, and slams into the Federal XI Corps' right flank, crushing it. At the same time Early was engaged with the XI Corps, Pender attacks through Heth, who has been wounded, into the Federal I Corps, now along Seminary Ridge. By 4:00pm both Federal Corps' were in retreat back through Gettysburg to Cemetery Hill.
The Federals lost slightly over 9,000, including some 3,000 captured, while the Confederates lost about 6,500. A Union gunner in Meredith's Iron Brigade said; "For seven or eight minutes ensued probably the most desperate fight ever waged between artillery and infantry at close range with a particle of cover on either side, bullets hissing, humming and whistling everywhere; cannon roaring; all crash on crash and peal on peal, smoke, dust, splinters, blood, wreck and carnage indescribable." The Union casualties on the first day were terrible; the 24th Michigan infantry lost 399 of it's 496 men. In total, the I Corps had lost nearly 5,700 men. The Confederate losses were nearly as numerous. This first day at Gettysburg is very real to me as my Great Great Grandfather, William Lee Edwards was with Heth's Division in the 47th North Carolina Infantry, Company K, under Pettigrew and somehow survived this carnage.
This ends our story of The First Day at Gettysburg. We will continue with the second and third days in upcoming weeks. Thanks for your attention and patience. :)
Welcome to our Fireside Chat on the Second Day of Gettysburg. Make yourselves comfortable. You might want to move closer to the fire... it's a bit nippy tonight. Early on the morning of July 2nd, 1863, Lee met with General James Longstreet who continued to press for a wide swing around the enemy's left. But Lee, concerned about the absence of J.E.B. Stuart's Cavalry, refuted Longstreet's suggestion. A.P. Hill and Henry Heth shortly joined the two, and immediately thereafter, Major Gen. John Bell Hood arrived on the scene. Close behind Hood was Maj. Gen. Lafayette McLaws' division. Still to arrive was the division under Maj. Gen. George E. Pickett. It was very apparent to the newly arrived commanders that things were not well between Longstreet and Lee.
About this time, Confederate scouts returning to camp, reported that Federal pickets were stationed at the southern portion of Cemetery Ridge and that the Round Tops were unmanned. Lee ordered Longstreet to march his two divisions south and advance them along the Emmitsburg Road to the northeast, toward Cemetery Ridge. : After overtaking the Federal left, he would attack Cemetery Hill from the south. Meanwhile, A.P. Hill, with the divisions of Major Generals Anderson and Pender, would attack from the west. It was to be a group assault with each Brigade moving in behind the other and striking back to back. Meanwhile, Ewell's Corps in Gettysburg was facing Federal positions to the south. If the opportunity presented itself, he was to make a full scale assault on Cemetery Hill and Culp's Hill. At about 10 a.m., Lee ordered Longstreet off to carry out his attack plans. But after a while, when he didn't hear any skirmishing taking place, Lee became concerned. Added to his obvious impatience with his leading General, was Lee's physical ailment. It is now believed that he was suffering severe pain and discomfort from the progressing heart disease that would take his life only two years after the war's end. When he finally communicated with Longstreet, he discovered that Longstreet had not wanted to begin his march until Law's Brigade had arrived as his back-up.
Shortly after Longstreet began his advancing march, J.E.B. Stuart finally showed up in camp. He and his men had been on a foray that began on June 25th. Instead of doing the prudent thing and riding back westward to keep in touch with Lee, he chose to ride around Hancock's Federal Corps. In doing so, he placed himself in a precarious position of being unable to communicate with Lee's right flank. Continuing on his trek, he decided to pursue and capture a Federal Wagon Train which he would offer to Lee when he finally showed up at Gettysburg on the 2nd. Lee's initial response at the site of his long lost Cavalry Commander was that of anger. Yet, almost as quickly as the anger had set in, it was gone and Lee asked Stuart for his help remarking: "We shall not discuss this matter further."
Meanwhile, Longstreet was marching west on the Chambersburg Pike, turning off on a side road and heading towards Black Horse Tavern on the Hagerstown Road. At the same time, Brig. General Joseph B. Kershaw, leading McLaws' Brigade, marched east toward the Emmittsburg Road. When he came to Herr's Ridge, he realized he could not advance any farther without being seen by the enemy and when Longstreet realized this, he ordered his whole force back, continuing them toward the Chambersburg Pike, and down another route along Willoughby Run. This delay cost him two very valuable hours. It wasn't until approximately 3:30 p.m., that his Corps began falling into place west of the Emmitsburg Road. Hood's Division was on the right facing the Round Tops and McLaws' on the left opposite Cemetery Ridge. The overwhelming number of Federal troops that McLaws found in front of him were men from Gen. Daniel Sickles' III Corps.
George Gordon Meade was a graduate of West Point and had served as an Army Engineer in the Mexican War. On June 28th, just days before the historic events at Gettysburg, he was placed in charge of the Army. When he attempted to refuse, he was informed that it was an order, not a request. Now, at Gettysburg, he appeared "careworn and tired."
Through the night and early morning of the 2nd, Federal troops, totaling approximately 95,000, came marching into the small hamlet. By 9 a.m., most of the Army of the Potomac had been deployed in the irregular shape of a horseshoe. The right consisted of Slocum's XII Corps which held a line along the rocky slope that extended southeast from Culp's Hill along Rock Creek. The curve of the horseshoe was covered by Wadsworth's battle-worn I Corps on Culp's Hill and Howard's XI Corps on Cemetery Hill. At Cemetery Hill, the line bent south, with Hancock's II Corps extending down Cemetery Ridge. Sickles' III Corps was ordered to position itself beyond Hancock on the extreme Federal left. The V Corps under Maj. General George Sykes was placed in reserve on the Baltimore Pike behind Cemetery Hill. Still to arrive was Maj. General John Sedgwick's VI Corps.
Unbeknownst to Meade, on the morning of July 2nd, the every important Round Tops were undefended. The night before, the bulk of General John W. Geary's division of the XII Corps had been ordered to move south on Cemetery Ridge. Two of his regiments had spent the night on Little Round Top but were ordered off to Culp's Hill the morning of the 2nd. He was supposed to be relieved on Cemetery Ridge by Sickles' III Corps. Geary was quite aware of the strategic importance of Little Round Top. Before he left, he sent two separate notes to Sickles explaining the necessity of manning that position. Sickles ignored them both. Unable to wait any longer, Geary left and Little Round Top was left unmanned... a fact soon reported to General Lee. Sickles instead decided to place his troops a half mile north of the Round Tops. He believed that the high ground, which consisted of a Peach Orchard and situated about a half-mile to the west was more of a threat, especially if the enemy were to set their guns there. In an attempt to locate any Confederate troops in the area of Pitzer's Woods, he sent out skirmishers... four companies of the lst U.S. Sharpshooter's under Col. Hiram Berdan. Across the Emmitsburg Road, they ran into Confederate skirmishers. After a brief fight, Berdan withdrew and reported to Sickles that the woods were indeed full of Rebels. In reality, there were only three regiments of General Cadmus Wilcox's Alabama brigade, the far right of Hill's Corps.
Sickles decided to advance toward the Emmitsburg Road and at 3 p.m., the III Corps pushed forward toward the Peach Orchard and the woods. Meade was unaware of any such advance and when he heard the sound of gunfire, he instructed General Sykes and his V Corps up from the Baltimore Pike in support of Sickles. The VI Corps would then move up into Sykes' position. Riding out on the field with Brig. General Gouveneur K. Warren, Meade saw first hand the horrific scene: The right flank consisting of the divisions of Brig. Generals Andrew A. Humphreys and David B. Birney were totally exposed. Meade's anger at Sickles' poor deployment would have to wait and he made a mental note to deal with his commander at a later time.
If tensions were high between the Union commanders, things weren't much different between the Confederates. Upon realizing his plan of advancement was thwarted by Sickles' Corps, McLaws immediately sent word several times to Longstreet about his plight. Longstreet's only reply was that when the time came, he (McLaws) must attack...no matter what! At the same time, Hood on the far right, was undergoing similar problems. From his position in Pitzer's Woods, Hood could see Birney's Troops, supported by a second Georgia Brigade commanded by Brig. Gen. George T. Anderson. U. S. Sharpshooters on the lower slope of Big Round Top opened fire on the 15th Alabama, stationed on the far right of Law's line. In an attempt to clean them out, the 15th and 47th Alabama charged up the hill. It was a tough struggle up the craggy and thickly wooded slopes of the hill but eventually, with the enemy retreating, the Alabama troops set foot on the top of Big Round Top. No sooner had he gotten to the top than Colonel William B. Oates was told that Gen. Hood had been wounded and that Law was now in command. Law's first order was for Oates to leave his hard-won spot on Big Round Top and take Little Round Top.
On his way back down the hill, Oates was joined by the 4th Alabama and the 4th and 5th Texas who had been skirmishing around Devil's Den and the western base of Big Round Top. Not seeing any Union troops, they made their way across to the base of Little Round Top and began to ascend the hill. Suddenly from behind the rocks in front of them came an overwhelming fire.
In reality, the Federals had only minutes before fallen into place. Had it not been for the sound wisdom of Gen. Warren, who had found Little Round Top unmanned and requested troops be moved forward, the hill would have belonged to the Confederates. In support, General Sykes sent portions of his V Corps to assist in holding the hill. Brig. General James Barnes was ordered to send a brigade to assist, but when Barnes could not be found, Colonel Strong Vincent, commanding the lead brigade stepped forward and responded to the request for deployment to Little Round Top. The last of Vincent's Regiments to climb the hill was the 20th Maine. Addressing its Commander, Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Vincent made it clear that the 20th Maine was the extreme left of the Union line. "You understand. You are to hold this ground at all costs."
Within minutes of these men arriving on the hill, Oates and his Confederates began their assault. Hiding behind the natural rocks, Chamberlain's troops methodically rose and fired...sending the Confederates reeling back. Undaunted, they charged again and again, only to be repulsed again and again. For an hour and a half, the battle waged on. When Chamberlain realized that his men were down to their last cartridges, he ordered them to fix bayonets and charge before the Rebels had a change to regroup. Down the hill they came, yelling and screaming, brandishing their bayonets and taking the Rebels totally by surprise. Although the 20th Maine had lost 130 of its 386 men during the assault, it had won a very important battle. They had retained control of Little Round Top and had captured many Confederate prisoners to boot.
On the far right, Vincent's Brigade wasn't so lucky. The 16th Michigan was falling apart under the severe attack of the 4th and 5th Texas. While trying to rally his men, Colonel Vincent had been mortally wounded and all seemed lost. But, thanks once more to Gen. Warren, who came to the rescue with reinforcements, the day was saved. Standing on the top of Little Round Top, one could see the savage fighting going on in Devil's Den and Plum Run Valley, which for obvious reasons would be renamed "The Valley of Death." Stationed on a ridge nearby were regiments from New York, Pennsylvania, Maine and Indiana as well as artillery guns from the 4th New York Battery. It had been a shell from one of these guns that had shattered Hood's arm.
Confederate troops from Texas and Arkansas stormed into Devil's Den and the Valley of Death and were immediately picked off by Union troops on Little Round Top. Rebel soldiers were in the meantime, involved in a desperate struggle to unman the guns above Devil's Den. The battle swayed back and forth and eventually, the Confederates overtook the ground and captured three of the Union's guns. During this time, the struggle at the Peach Orchard with Birney's line continued.
At about 5:30 p.m., Longstreet allowed McLaws' division to move up and assist Anderson in his assault on the Federal line at the Wheatfield. Also assisting were several regiments from Kershaw's Brigade and a George Brigade under the command of Paul J. Semmes, cousin of Raphael Semmes. The Federals stood long and hard at the Wheatfield, but when Brig. General James Barnes mistakenly ordered a withdrawal, he ended up leaving a large gap in the Union line. This forced the rest of the Union troops in the Wheatfield to pull back. More Federal units came up to take their place and the battle for control of the Wheatfield went back and forth, with the battlefield changing hands several times. Finally, when a fresh V Corps division moved in, they were able to restore Birney's line between the Wheatfield and the Devil's Den.
Meanwhile the Peach Orchard had been under severe attack from the men of Mississippi, commanded by Gen. William Barksdale. With 1600 men, Barksdale had managed to push through the Federal line and force the Yankees to retreat. During the Peach Orchard battle, General Sickles received his now famous wound. He had been on horseback near the Trostle farm when a solid shot hit his right leg, totally destroying it from the knee down. The leg was later amputated and he would outlive most of the commanders from both North and South.
With the III Corps line broken, the remainder of the Federal lines became vulnerable and so Meade ordered reinforcements to move up. To Little Round Top, he sent two V Corps Brigades. From Culp's Hill came the bulk of the XII Corps. As well, Abner Doubleday's and John Robinson's Brigades of the I Corps came along with Sedgwick's VI Corps. Hancock remained at Cemetery Ridge with the II Corps. At the Trostle Farm, Union Batteries appeared to be in danger of being overrun by Barksdale's men, who had continued on their assault from the Peach Orchard. Lt. Colonel Freeman McGilvery of Maine was instrumental in getting the 9th Massachusetts Battery in place to hold this line against the Confederates until reinforcements could arrive. Help came from the XII Corps and struck the center of Barksdale's Brigade forcing them back.
In the North, at Cemetery Ridge, a gap had occurred when one of the Divisions had moved off to the Wheatfield. Now, Wilcox's Confederate Brigade was threatening that spot. Hancock immediately ordered the lst Minnesota to attack and attack they did. With bayonets drawn, they hurled themselves down at the Rebels, forcing them to withdraw. This left only one Confederate Brigade on the field, that of Ambrose Wright. When they attempted to gain the crest of Cemetery Ridge, they found their advancement blocked by newly arrived Federal troops.
Two other Confederate Brigades under William Mahone and Dorsey Pender failed to advance and Lee's opportunity at Cemetery Ridge came to an end at 8 p.m. General Ewell and his troops had been ordered to pin down the Federal forces on Culp's and Cemetery Hill and keep them from going to the aid of the other units under attack. All day long, his Divisions sat and waited for the word from him to attack. The Federals in the meantime had the whole day to fortify their positions. For some unknown reason, Ewell had not heard the opening shots of Longstreet's attack and when he did finally hear it, instead of moving forward with Infantry, Ewell chose to fire Artillery shells at Culp's Hill and Cemetery Ridge for the next two hours.
When at last he had decided to launch his attack, it was just about sunset and he had failed in his orders of pining down the Federals, for almost half of the units on Cemetery Ridge had left to reinforce the line from the Peach Orchard to Devil's Den. : One of his Brigades was to strike Culp's Hill and the two remaining Brigades would attack Cemetery Ridge from different directions. What happened next was no different than what had happened continuously throughout the day...Federal reinforcements would arrive just in time to fill the gaps and in doing so, they would check the advancement of the oncoming enemy and hold their positions. By 10:30 p.m. all was quiet and the Confederates were pulling back. A short while later, General Meade called a meeting with his commanding Generals. The general consensus was to stay and fight and as the meeting closed, Meade predicted that if Lee were to attack on the next day, that it would be on the center of the Federal line. At that time, he didn't realize just how prophetic that statement would be. : So ends the story of the 2nd Day of Gettysburg.
Some of the sources I used in putting this together were:
1. Time Life Series: The Civil War, "Gettysburg."
2. "High Tide at Gettysburg by Glenn Tucker.
3. "Gettysburg: A Journey in Time," by William A. Frassanito.
4. "They Met at Gettysburg," by General Edward J. Stackpole.
Also used were several of the Morningside Publications of their "Gettysburg" magazine.
(Day 3)Well, just Welcome to all of you tonight. ) The fire is burning bright, and the Apple Cider is in the Pot and its just starting to steam, so help yourself, and get comfortable.
This is our third and final Fireside on the Battle of Gettysburg. To bring all of you up to this day, I'll back up a bit. Marse Robert had pulled a pretty incredible victory at Chancellorsville over Hooker and the Federals against almost impossible odds. Hooker had tried to trap Lee and his Confederates by pulling all the classical moves he knew to do it, but Lee didn't do anything that was "classic" and drove the Federals from Chancellorsville. The cost had been very high, though, losing 14,000 Confederates and the Federals losing 17,000. Marse Robert had lost something greater though, as "Stonewall" died on the 10th of May just 4 days after the battle was over.
Marse Robert wasted no time though. With permission of his government in Richmond, Lee gathered his army and headed north. The Federals had no idea where Lee was and went out to hunt for him. They found Stuart and his Calvary at Brandy Station on the 9th of June and following the largest Cavalry Battle of the entire war, they knew that Lee was headed north again.
Fighting their way through Winchester, Virginia on the west side of the Blue Ridge Mountains Marse Robert and the Army of Northern Virginia crossed the Potomac and moved on up into the Cumberland Valley of Pennsylvania. Five days after the Cavalry Battle at Brandy Station, Hooker pulls the Federal Army out of Fredericksburg and retreats north. As Hooker and the Federals reach Frederick, Maryland, still moving north behind and about 40 miles to the east, Hooker is relieved of command and replaced by Meade. Meade continues to move the Federal army north until after a cavalry skirmish at Hanover, Pennsylvania on 30 Jun 1863, Meade orders Reynolds to occupy Gettysburg. Brigadier General John Buford's Federal Cavalry Division occupies Gettysburg late on the 30th and is discovered there by flankers of the long, strung-out Confederate Army. That night Lee sends out orders for all his commanders to turn and converge on Gettysburg.
July 1st dawns and the 1st day at Gettysburg begins. General Buford has told his commanders to hold the Confederates off until General Reynolds can get the rest of his Federal Corps into position. Federals and Confederates first meet northwest of Gettysburg on the Chambersburg Road about 8 am. The Federals hold out until about 3:30 in the afternoon, when the combined push by Pender, Heth, Ewell and Early force the Federals south through Gettysburg to Culp's and Cemetery Hills. Buford's desire and fervent wish has come true. The Federal's have the "High Ground".
Through the night and early morning of July 1 and 2, the Army of Northern Vi continue coming in and occupy Gettysburg and spread out west and south down Seminary Ridge all the way to the Emmitsburg Road, while the Federal army moves up the Baltimore Pike and Taneytown Road until six of its seven corps' line Cemetery Ridge, Cemetery Hill and Culp's Hill.
As the sun rises on the 2nd day of Gettysburg all the Federal forces except the VI Corps which will arrive in the afternoon after a 36 mile forced march and Confederate forces except Picket's division and Stuart's cavalry are assembled . Starting at the far Union left, the two armies seem to fold together rippling up from south to north. It begins in Devil's Den below Little Round Top and folds together up through the Wheat Field, which changes hands four times that day, up through the Peach Orchard, and on up to the southern part of Cemetery Ridge. The whole southern half of both wish armies are locked together from 4pm until after dusk, with no letup. About 6:30 p.m. the Confederates assault the northern edge of the Union line on Culp's Hill and Cemetery Hill. Both armies lost 9,000 men each on this day.
Now, for the final day of this story about Gettysburg, I want to shift the focus in the telling from an overall view as if we were sitting on a hill watching down on the events, and move down into the ranks of the men (north and south) that actually did the fighting. What a difference it is just in shifting that perspective. So, grab your stuff an climb onto this supply wagon and we'll take off.
While we're heading over to Seminary Ridge early on the 3rd of July, I'll light this lantern and read you an excerpt from an unknown southern soldier's journal.
"Few and short were the prayers we said;
And we spoke not a word of sorrow,
As we steadfastly gazed on the face of the dead,
And bitterly thought on the morrow".
A Soldier's Poem
At two a.m. on July 3, the New Orleans Washington Artillery wheeled their guns into position and pointed them roughly toward the middle of the Federal line up on Cemetery Ridge. The ground around them was scattered with Union dead, mostly from Sickles' impetuous deployment the previous day. As they rolled their cannon and caissons into place, one of the lumps they passed over emitted a mournful wail. "Jesus, Willy, watch out," a soldier hollered at the driver. "You just ran over a live one." "What do you expect? It ain't lit up like Bourbon Street out here."
The battery had been traveling hard all day and into the night, and hadn't eaten anything in two days. A gaunt sergeant with glistening eyes approached the battery command. "Cap'n, I'd like permission to take a party foraging." "Foraging? Have you lost your mind? Where are you going to forage in the middle of the night?" The sergeant pointed toward the lifeless heaps on the field. "Out there."
The buglers sounded reveille for Picket's division at three a.m.. The men rose, yawning, stiff-limbed after the long forced march in the beating sun the day before. They had snatched a few hours' sleep in a copse off the Chambersburg Pike, about three miles from the battlefield. They totaled fifteen regiments, all Virginians, a young army, average age nineteen. Many had never been under fire. They had been held in reserve at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, and the fighting was over before they had arrived on those battlefields. As they formed up to march out to the Chambersburg Pike, they formed a gray, blind snake a mile long. John Dooley felt a light, bodiless sensation overtake him again. How can I not fear death, he wondered. In every battle I see, it takes us in unexpected forms, and mutilations. I am terrified to have survived and then to face it again. But, an unthinking momentum propelled him.
As they swung onto the road, Dooley saw in the faint light of dawn the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, alone, watching the men stream from the woods. Robert E. Lee sat athletic, erect in the saddle. From a distance he looked a man of forty. Up close, the snow white beard and patriarchal expression aged him beyond his fifty-six years. As they filed past, Lee, it seemed to Dooley, lacked the serenity that always seemed to possess him on the eve of victory.
Over on the far right of the Federal line at Culp's Hill, each side faced the other, waiting only for a glimmer of daylight to illuminate the enemy. All through the night the sounds echoing through the trees on Culp's Hill had suggested a logging camp. Union soldiers chopped down trees, piled the trunks into stout breastworks, and dammed every ravine, gully, and rock formation that offered shelter. They would need that protection. The troops across from there were the vaunted "Stonewall Brigade". By four a.m. Culp's Hill was ablaze with flaming cannon and slashing muskets.
The Union cannoneers met the first Rebel infantry advance with shot and canister. The Federal guns ripped off parts of men and flung them around the hillside. The blows stunned and stopped the rebels. They reformed and charged again. Checked again; but each fresh advance was launched a little further up the hillside than the previous one.
The men of the 150th New York found war a swift school. Twenty-four hours before, they had quailed at the sight of one bloodied arm. Now they loaded and fired oblivious to comrades dropping beside them. They knew their foe. The enemy now stalled before them was the Stonewall Brigade. That they had met the Confederacy's finest and stood fast emboldened them.
Repelled three times, the officers of the Stonewall Brigade now called for a fourth charge. The men ordered to make it were numbed, mute beasts. No sentient being would have yielded to these repeated invitations to die. As a wild-eyed young lieutenant yelled "One more time men. One more time'll do it;" they began moving straight up the hillside. No thought of seeking protective rocks or trees, stumbling forward, scraping legs on jagged rock, stepping on lifeless comrades, climbing toward the gun flashes. They crashed against an unforgiving wall of fire and fell back.
On this hill the greatest bloodletting thus far at Gettysburg had taken place. The slain lay in great mounds. Here the blood of brother was mixed with brother and neighbor with neighbor. In the early days of the war, each side had recruited regiments from the same part of bitterly divided Maryland. Now a perverse fate had thrown the Marylanders from both armies at each other here on a small Pennsylvania hillside. By eleven a.m., seven hours after the first cannon had barked, it was quiet on the battlefield. Lee's hope for a coordinated assault by Ewell in the north and Longstreet upon the Union center had vanished. The fighting on the Confederate left had ended. The fighting in the center had yet to begin.
P.H. Taylor of the 1st Minnesota, out in fields before Cemetery Ridge, could hear the fighting over on Culp's Hill. But it was not his war today. He was busy writing an inscription on the headboards of his brother Isaac's grave.
I.L. Taylor, 1st Minn. Vols
Buried at 10 o'clock a.m., July 3rd, 1863
by his brother Sgt. P. H. Taylor
Co. "E" 1st Minn. Vols.
Over on Baltimore Street, in Gettysburg, a sharpshooter's bullet struck a kitchen door with a splintering crash. A baby shrieked. Mrs. Wade rushed to the kitchen "Georgia!" she screamed above the baby's wailing. "Your sister! Your sister! She's shot!" Jennie Wade lay on the floor, her hands still powdery after changing the baby, a red spot swelling beneath her body.
Following Lee's commanders meeting at a place called "point-of-the-woods", Longstreet was sick with hopelessness. He tried one last time to alter General Lee's plan. "You know, I can't commit two of my divisions to this assault. I've already got Hood and McLaws cheek by jowl with the Federals. There's no pulling them out without my right collapsing." Lee responded, "You will have some of Hill's people to compensate. I'll detach men from Heth's and Pender's divisions to your command for the assault." Longstreet didn't respond. As finally determined, the charge against the center of the Federal line would be mounted by one division of Longstreet's corps under Picket, one full division from Hill's corps, and two brigades from another of Hill's divisions.
The 8th Ohio were down close to the Emmitsburg Road. Lt. Galwey and his company were patrolling a dismantled fence. Thirty yards ahead of them a concealed Rebel sharpshooter called out from a lone tree. "Don't fire Yanks!" As Lt. Galwey's company peered over the rails, the Rebel sharpshooter, his musket now slung over his shoulder, swung from a low-hanging branch and dropped to the ground. Twenty Union rifles trained on him. The sharpshooter held up a canteen and walked half the distance to them. He knelt beside a wounded Union soldier lying in no man's land and tipped his canteen to the Yankee's mouth. The Union skirmishers stood up for a better look. A private hollered out, "Bully for you, Johnny." Now all the Rebel skirmishers were standing too. All shooting stopped. the sharpshooter finished his errand and went back to the tree. He turned toward the Union line and shouted, "All right, Yanks, y'all get back down, now. We're gonna start shooting again." They instantly obeyed.
Over east of the peach orchard, Private Garth Johnson of the 18th Mississippi, was startled by the well-booted feet strolling casually among his prostrate comrades. As bullets sang through the air, Private Johnson, heard Lee tell Longstreet, "You'll mass your artillery behind that hill. At the signal, bring the guns to the top of it and turn them loose." "Hear that?", Garth whispered to his neighbor. The skirmishers immediately began scooping the ground with bayonets, with sticks, with anything that would move dirt. the Yankee artillery would surely begin to return the bombardment they had just heard Lee order. And just as surely, the shot would land where they lay, unprotected and exposed.
Longstreet had deployed 176 heavy guns, mostly brass, smooth-bore 12-pound Napoleons. The gun crews worked furiously building up piles of solid shot, spherical case, hollow projectiles, and canister around the guns. The Federals confronted this Confederate power with fewer cannon. From Cemetery Hill to Little Round Top, 103 guns pointed toward Seminary Ridge. Of the 176 rebel guns, 102 of them were trained on a virtual pinpoint, the clump of trees on Cemetery Ridge. This object of Rebel attention was defended by only 31 Union guns.
Along Cemetery Ridge, stretching south, a low stone wall seamed the ground like an ancient scar tissue. It started at a stand of trees called Ziegler's Grove, ran south several hundred feet, then made a right angle and ran west in the direction of the Rebel lines for 230 feet before it bent southward again and finally petered out in a few scattered stones. At the southern tip, the men scratched the stony earth with bayonets, boards, and sticks. They piled up earth a foot high, stacked up rocks and fence rails, and filled knapsacks with dirt to thicken their meager barricade. In one unprotected section the men did nothing. The had heard their commander tell another officer. "There's no Reb fool enough to charge up here."
Cushing, a twenty-two-year-old West Pointer, commanded battery A, 4th U.S. Artillery, a unit of six guns. Those six guns were positioned between the clump of trees and the angle in the stone wall.
Over on Seminary Ridge, Colonel Walton of the New Orleans Washington Artillery signaled Captain Buck Miller to give the order to fire. The gunner jerked the lanyard on Number One, and flame and smoke burst from the barrel. The gunner yanked the lanyard on Number Two. Nothing! Number Three fired clean. Its discharge unleashed the most deafening thunder ever heard on the North American continent as the remaining 173 artillery pieces poured out their "death".. Back over on Cemetery Ridge, the cry of "Down! Down!" echoed along the line as heat-dazed Yankees leaped to life, dove for cover, and hugged the earth. A shell exploded in the cemetery and flung twenty-seven bodies in all directions, left men hanging grotesquely on burial monuments and pitched them into open graves. A solid shot burrowed into the ground directly in front of a Union soldier and he sank safely into the excavation. A near-identical hit burrowed under another man, the force flinging his body into the air and spinning it about helplessly. He fell dead to the ground without a mark on him.
On Little Round Top, General Hunt, the Union artillery chief was all too aware that the Confederate cannonade would precede an infantry attack. So to amass as much firepower as he could when the inevitable gray tide came rolling in, he ordered his battery commanders to hold their fire. However, understanding Hunt's reasoning, General Hancock, seeing the frightened Union troops crouched behind the stone wall taking punishment, unresisting, he became concerned they would become demoralized and ordered Hunt to open fire. The seemingly unsurpassable din of the Confederate batteries was now almost doubled. Gettysburg was a vast, shoreless, sea of sound. A "quirk" of fate during the artillery activity was that the Confederate artillerymen had logically assumed that most of the Union forces would be taking shelter on the reverse side of the slope, and so cut their fuses for this range. But many of the Union infantry were crouched behind the stone wall on the forward slope of the ridge, toward the enemy. Therefore the Confederate cannonade largely overshot its target and instead rained is fury down on the rear-echelon troops. The noise became so constant, that many of the Union soldiers were put to sleep.
Running out of ammunition after over an hour of non-stop cannon fire, Alexander, empowered by Longstreet, sent word to Picket that it was now or never. Just prior to Alexander's message to Picket, General Hunt, commanding the Union artillery called a cease fire to conserve ammunition, giving Alexander the mistaken belief, that he had driven the Union artillery back. Fifteen minutes after the cease-fire, at 3:15 p.m., Picket's charge commenced. 2,800 strong, six layers deep and a mile long, they started for the clump of trees in the middle of Cemetery Ridge, led by General's Kemper, Garnett, and Armistead. Their lines were in perfect order until they had to climb over the fence at Emmitsburg Road. Then they began to break up.
When the charge reached that ideal artillery range, General Hunt gave the order for the Union guns to open up again with canister only. The result was instantly evident as large green patches of ground became visible. When the Rebel charge came within 250 yards of the stone wall, the Union Infantry opened up and fired as fast as they could. Soon after that, the 8th Ohio started firing and advancing into the Confederate right flank from the south. A single shot from the 8th advance would frequently pass through three to four Confederate soldiers at a time, causing the entire Confederate right to shift toward the center. Further up on the Confederate right, the Vermonters seeing, what the 8th Ohio was doing, starting firing and advancing. Again with the same devastating effect. The result had squeezed the Confederate advance from a line to a column lined up heading straight into the angle of the stone wall. Sensing he still had a chance to punch through, General Armistead stepped out in front of the column and charged with 200 men straight toward the wall. The Rebels had advanced well into the Federal line and were into the defenses when the Massachusetts men finally became unrooted and charged down on the stalled Confederates. Disarmed men wrestled and beat their enemies' heads against the stone wall.
All along the rebel front, handkerchiefs and bits of white cloth fluttered. The clatter of falling muskets sounded all along the line as hundreds of Confederates gratefully chose Yankee captivity over death. Less than forty minutes after the Confederates had stepped smartly from Seminary Ridge, the charge had been crushed.
The remaining Confederates began streaming back across the valley to Seminary Ridge. On the following day, July 4, Lee had assembled the remnants and was headed back to Virginia. Meade could have possibly ended the war at this point if he had chosen to send his unused 5th and 6th corps after the Confederates, but he didn't. Gettysburg had produced the greatest bloodletting to that point on the North American Continent. 5,664 men had died in three days. Over 27,200 men were wounded, thousands of whom would die of their wounds. Over 10,400 were missing or were prisoners. Ten generals were killed, four Union and six Confederate. At least one out of every four of the 170,000 men on the field became a casualty. The total loss for 72 hours, for both sides, dead, wounded, missing, was over 43,000. Some 6,000 horses died at Gettysburg, unwitting conscripts to the violence of men.
To close this tale, tonight, in my ramblings through Civil War writings, journals, and poems, I came across a local tale that Samuel Clemens writing as Mark Twain put in his "Autobiography". It is called "The War Prayer" and even though he wrote this as another war was in progress, the "point" here is that all wars are the same war. You decide:
"THE WAR PRAYER"
It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bands playing, the pistols popping, the bunched firecrackers hissing and spluttering; on every hand and far down the receding and fading spread of roofs and balconies a fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun; daily the young volunteers marched down the wide avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms, the proud fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheering them with voices choked with happy emotion as they swung by; nightly the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to patriot oratory which stirred the deepest deeps of their hearts, and which they interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclones of applause, the tears running down their cheeks they while; in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country, and invoked the God of Battles beseeching His aid in our good cause in outpourings of fervid eloquence which moved every listener. It was indeed a lad and gracious time, and the half dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straightway got such stern and angry warning that for their persona; safety's sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offended no more in that way.
Sunday morning came -- next day the battalions would leave for the front; the church was filled; the volunteers were there, their young faces alight with martial dreams -- visions of the stern advance, the gathering momentum, the rushing charge, the flashing sabers, the flight of the foe, the tumult, the enveloping smoke, the fierce pursuit, the surrender! Then home from the war, bronzed heroes, welcomed, adored, submerged in the golden seas of glory! With the volunteers sat their dear ones, proud, happy and envied by the neighbors and friends who had no sons and brothers to send forth to the field of honor, there to win for the flag, or, failing, die the noblest of noble deaths. The service proceeded; a war chapter from the Old Testament was read; the first prayer was said; it was followed by an organ burst that shook the building, and with one impulse the house rose, with glowing eyes and beating hearts, and poured out that tremendous invocation
"God the all-terrible! Thou who ordainest! Thunder thy clarion and lightning thy sword!"
Then came the "long" prayer. None could remember the like of it for passionate pleading and moving and beautiful language. The burden of its supplication was, that an ever-merciful and benignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young soldiers, and aid, comfort and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless them, shield them in the day of battle and the hour of peril, bear them in His mighty hand, make them strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset; help them to crush the foe, grant to them and to their flag and country imperishable honor and glory -----
An aged stranger entered and moved with slow and noiseless step up the main aisle, his eyes fixed upon the minister, his long body clothed in a robe that reached to his feet, his head bare, his white hair descending in a frothy cataract to his shoulders, his seamy face unnaturally pale, pale even to ghastliness. With all eyes following him and wondering, he made his silent way; without pausing, he ascended to the preacher's side and stood there waiting. With shut lids the preacher, unconscious of his presence, continued with his moving prayer, and at last finished it with the words, uttered in fervent appeal, "Bless our arms, grant us the victory, O Lord our God, Father and Protector of our land and flag.!"
The stranger touched his arm, motioned him to step aside -- which the startled minister did -- and took his place. Durning some moments he surveyed the spellbound audience with solemn eyes, in which burned an uncanny light; then in a deep voice he said:
"I come from the Throne -- bearing a message from Almighty God !" The words smote the house with a shock; if the stranger perceived it he no attention. "He has heard the prayer of His servant your shepherd, and will grant it if such shall be your desire after I, His messenger, shall have explained to you it's import -- that is to say, its FULL import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of -- except he pause and think."
"God's servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two -- one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him Who heareth all supplications, the spoken and they unspoken. Ponder this -- keep it in mind. If you would beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor's crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it."
"You have heard your servant's prayer -- the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it -- that part which the pastor -- and also you in your hearts -- fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant this it was so! You heard these words: 'Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!' That is sufficient, the WHOLE of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow a victory -- MUST follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!"
"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; ....... help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun's flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it -- for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen"
After a Pause
"Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits!"
It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said......
The story of Gettysburg should never be diminished and always passed on from generation to generation, that we as a nation should never do this again......
My sources for this Fireside are:
"My Enemy, My Brother" by Joseph E. Persico;
"The Atlas of the Civil War" by James M. McPherson;
the four Volume Series, "Battles and Leaders of the Civil War"; and
"The Civil War Day by Day" by E.B. and Barbara Long.
And finally, upon occasion, a "Wee Small Voice" in my ear :)
I hope these talks of the 3 Days of Gettysburg have been of worth :), as that is our only goal!
As the ole Scottish "Senechies", the tellers of Oral History did in the long past, "So Do We" with a "Glow" in our hearts and a "Glint" in the eye pass it on.....
This be the end of our Tale..... Thank you for your patience and your attention.