Battle of Gettysburg (first day)

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Battle of Gettysburg
DeathofReynolds.jpg
Began:

July 1, 1863

Ended:

July 3, 1863

Location:

Adams County, Pennsylvania

Theater:

Eastern Theater

Campaign:

Gettysburg Campaign, June-August 1863

Outcome:

Union victory US flag.gif

33 star flag.png
Combatants
2nd National Flag.png

Army of the Potomac

Army of Northern Virginia

Commanders

George G. Meade
Major General, USA

Robert E. Lee
General, CSA

Strength

93,921[1]

71,699[2]

Casualties

23,055
Killed: 3,155
Wounded: 14,531
Missing or captured: 5,369

23,231
Killed: 4,708
Wounded:12,693
Missing or captured: 5,830

  

The Battle of Gettysburg took place from July 1 to July 4, 1863, with the Union Army of the Potomac under the command of Major General George G. Meade against the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia under General Robert E. Lee. In three days of fighting nearly 50,000 casualties would be claimed in the largest battle ever fought in the Civil War.

Throughout the war the Confederates had fewer soldiers and resources than the north, and they knew that without outside aid they could never finally win their independence. The Confederate government had attempted to gain the aid of the British, but up to this point they had failed, the British abstaining from aiding the South as they were not convinced that the Confederacy would win the war. The northern invasion which ended at Gettysburg was an attempt to prove to the world that the Confederate States of America was a legitimate country and that they were capable of finally winning their freedom from the Union.

Up until Gettysburg the Confederate army had generally been successful, although they were always outnumbered in men and supplies. While Lee was used to fighting with inferior numbers he was also severely handicapped by the recent loss of his best general, Stonewall Jackson, as well as the absence of his famed cavalry commander JEB Stuart, who he usually counted on for reconnaissance. Another problem was the new division of the Confederate Army by General Lee. There were originally two corps, one under General James Longstreet, and Jackson's corp, now divided into two: one under General Richard S. Ewell, the other under A.P. Hill. Lee moved north through Maryland and into Pennsylvania, close to a small town called Gettysburg.[3]

Lee moves north

General Robert E. Lee was not ready to sit idle and wait for the next Union thrust after Chancellorsville. He had communicated with Richmond for several months on his desire to make another invasion of the North and by late May saw an opportunity to take the initiative while Union forces appeared to be in disarray. Lee's objectives were quite simple: take the war out of Virginia so that the land could recover, a necessary measure to provide relief to farms and farmland devastated by battle and foraging armies, and to gather supplies for his hungry army. His army's movement north of the Potomac River would not only force the Union Army out of Virginia, but hopefully also draw Union troops away from the ongoing siege of Vicksburg. Once his army had raided northern territory, he could gather his troops for battle in an area to his liking where advantages of position could force the Union to attack and Lee counterattack as opportunities were presented. Politically, Lee reasoned a conclusive victory on northern soil would add weight to the growing Northern peace movement, apply pressure to the Lincoln administration to end the war and sue for peace, and provide sufficient reason for official recognition of the Confederacy by European powers. Only the political diplomacy of the Lincoln administration had kept England and France from recognizing the southern government as an independent nation. Lee's argument was reasonable to Jefferson Davis and though the Confederate president was nervous about Richmond not being fully protected by Lee's forces, he approved the plan.

While Lee's army made preparations to march, the Army of the Potomac rested in their old winter camps opposite Fredericksburg while its commander, Major General Joseph Hooker, wrestled with innumerable predicaments. Not only were Lee's intentions perplexing Hooker, his relationship with War Department officials in Washington had become almost hostile. The flamboyant Hooker had rebuilt morale and discipline in the army after the disastrous "Mud March" in the winter of 1863, and in late April brilliantly moved the bulk of his forces around Lee's army concentrated at Fredericksburg. Despite the Union advantage, Lee and his top general "Stonewall" Jackson, countered Hooker's strategy and soundly defeated him. Hooker's bluster and bravado before the campaign meant nothing after his miserable failure at the Battle of Chancellorsville. Many in the War Department had lost faith in the general's abilities, including President Lincoln who soon believed Hooker unsuited to contend with Lee.

Hooker approved a plan to probe Lee's defenses and on June 9, the army's cavalry under General Alfred Pleasanton made a surprise attack on General "JEB" Stuart's cavalry camps near Brandy Station, Virginia. Pleasanton's troopers surprised Stuart, but withdrew when Confederate infantry were sighted approaching the battlefield. From this information, Hooker realized that Lee's forces were no longer concentrated in front of him at Fredericksburg. Yet, indecision seemed to strike General Hooker again. He waited for nearly a week before ordering his troops to break camp and then marched cautiously northward, keeping his army between Washington and the suspected Confederate route of march. By this time, Lee's troops had already defeated a Union force at Winchester, Virginia, and crossed the Potomac River into Maryland.

Despite the loss of Jackson, the Army of Northern Virginia was never stronger both in manpower and high morale than in the summer of 1863. "It was an army of veterans," recalled A.H. Belo, Colonel of the 55th North Carolina Infantry, "an army that had in two years' time made a record second to none for successful fighting and hard marching." In mid-June, Lee's soldiers crossed the Potomac River and stepped into a rich land barely touched by the war. Except for some persistent Union cavalry units, the southerners tramped along unopposed as militia units retreated from their path leaving the land and its residents to the mercy of the Confederates.

For Lee's men who had been living for months on reduced rations, Maryland and Pennsylvania were bursting with plenty. "I can hardly believe that a rebel army has actually left poor Virginia for a season," wrote Major Eugene Blackford of the 5th Alabama Infantry. "Of course there is no end of milk and butter which our soldiers enjoy hugely." Encounters with the civilian population of Maryland and Pennsylvania made for good subject matter in letters home such as that of Private William McClellan of the 9th Alabama Infantry, who described Pennsylvanians as, "the most ignorant beings of the world. They don't care how long the war lasts so they are not troubled." Like many of his comrades, McClellan especially detested the females who, "would not look at a Rebel, they would turn up their nose and toss their heads to one side as contemp(t)uously as if we were high way Robers."

"There's hardly any sickness or straggling in the army," added Private Eli Landers, 16th Georgia Infantry. "We have a large army now in Pennsylvania and it is good and in fine spirits. We intend to let the Yankey Nation feel the sting of the War as our borders has ever since the war began." Despite the feelings of retribution that Landers and his fellow soldiers had, on June 21, General Lee issued Order No. 72, which forbade the seizure or theft of private property. Federal property was another matter. Confederate quartermasters used their authority to seize Federal stores found in government warehouses, post offices, and railroad depots. Anything that was of use to the southern army was quickly inventoried and carried away, much to the dismay of Federal authorities. Quartermasters also purchased needed supplies from merchants and privately owned storehouses. Soldiers begged for food from civilians and were often rewarded by farmers too frightened to refuse the Confederate money handed them in payment. Apart from some minor infractions, the Confederates obeyed General Lee's order and respected civilian property.

Yet, northern store owners found themselves in a quandary when their shops were suddenly filled with armed men who helped themselves to boots and shoes before inspecting other goods the owner may have in stock. Cloth, hats, canned foods and other groceries were in high demand. Much to the storekeeper's dismay, the Confederates paid in southern script that was worthless above the Mason-Dixon Line. But most accepted the Confederate paper hoping that it could be eventually exchanged for Federal notes. Many more were careful to hide some of their inventory before the Confederates arrived or be strangely absent with shop doors bolted when the dusty column of Confederates entered a town whose civilian population was already on edge from rumors of rampant thievery and towns burned to the ground. Many of these wild rumors centered around the feared "Louisiana Tigers", rumored by many Northeners to be the toughest southern soldiers and the most lawless. Such was the case when the first Confederate column, commanded by General Jubal Early entered Gettysburg, demanding supplies and money. "After matters had been satisfactorily arranged between our Burgess and the Rebel officers," recalled Fannie Buehler who resided on Baltimore Street, "the men settled down and the citizens soon learned that no demands were to be made upon them and that all property would be protected. Some horses were stolen, some cellars broken open and robbed, but so far as could be done, the officers controlled their men. The 'Louisiana Tigers' were left and kept outside of town."

This first encounter was not without a bloody mishap. A small squad from the 21st Pennsylvania Emergency Cavalry was chased out of town and Private George Sandoe was shot and killed, the first official casualty of the coming battle. Early did not tarry for long in Gettysburg, but moved on toward York and Columbia where he was stopped by Pennsylvania militia that burned the bridge over the Susquehanna River. Meanwhile other Confederate forces had occupied a large area of south central Pennsylvania and some had even closed on Harrisburg, threatening the state capitol.

The slow pursuit of Lee by the Army of the Potomac not only alarmed War Department officials but shocked governors of northern states who clamored for something to be done to stop the rebel invasion. Political pressure on the Lincoln administration added to the tug of war between General Hooker and the US War Department, which finally ended on June 28 as the Army of the Potomac concentrated at Frederick, Maryland. Completely frustrated by the mistrust and lack of support from War Department officials, General Hooker requested to be relieved of command, which was quickly granted.

Major General George G. Meade was ordered to take command of the army. "I have been tried and condemned", the surprised general remarked after receiving word of his appointment. Using traces of information known on Lee's whereabouts and objectives, Meade decided to send the army north to feel for the enemy and draw Lee into battle on a defensive line he wanted to establish on Pipe Creek, Maryland. The very next day, the Army of the Potomac marched out of their camps to search for the Confederates in Pennsylvania.

The Opening Shots

On June 30, Confederate troops left their camps at Cashtown and marched toward Gettysburg in search of supplies. Upon reaching the edge of Gettysburg, scouts spied a column of Union cavalry south of town, closing fast. Under orders not to initiate a battle, the Confederates returned to Cashtown where they reported the encounter to their commander, Lt. General A.P. Hill. Hill agreed to send two divisions of his corps toward Gettysburg the next day to investigate the arrival of the mystery cavalrymen and the stage was set for the opening of the battle on July 1st, 1863.

The First Day

On the morning of June 30, a Confederate column under Brigadier General James J. Pettigrew approached Gettysburg on the Chambersburg Road. Halting his men outside of town, the general rode ahead to Seminary Ridge from which he had a clear view of Gettysburg and the land around it. Within a few minutes he was startled by the report of a blue-clad column approaching Gettysburg from the south. Were these men just more bothersome Yankee militia or troopers from their old nemesis the Army of the Potomac? Under strict orders not to engage in any fighting, he ordered his troops to reverse their course, back toward Cashtown, Pennsylvania. What to do about this column of soldiers would be the decision of his corps commander, General A.P. Hill to whom Pettigrew would report that afternoon.

The commander of the mystery column was Brig. General John Buford, whose troops were not "Yankee militia" but a full division of veteran cavalry. His horsemen were the advance of one wing of the Army of the Potomac, moving north from the vicinity of Frederick, Maryland. General Buford also had unanswered questions as he watched the southern column march away- had they found what may be a large portion of the Confederate army then raiding south-central Pennsylvania? Buford's instinct told him these Confederates would return and he decided to keep his troops positioned around Gettysburg. Headquarters were soon established in the Globe Hotel in Gettysburg, where Buford issued orders for his troopers to picket the roads west, north and east of town. He then penned a message to General John Reynolds, commander of the First Corps, camped at Marsh Creek eight miles south of Gettysburg. Reynolds received the report, which outlined Buford's intention of resisting any southern advance toward Gettysburg. Reynolds replied that he would march to the cavalry officer's support at first light.

Meanwhile, Confederate commanders met at Cashtown eight miles west of Gettysburg, to discuss their course of action. Under orders from General Lee not to get involved in a full scale battle, Hill and his officers obviously believed that only troublesome militia were in their way. General Hill received Pettigrew's report of his encounter and decided to send a larger force toward Gettysburg the next day to investigate the Union troops seen there and, if time allowed, look for supplies. Showers and light rain that evening would also help keep down the dust and dirt on the roads, making for a pleasant march.

Lt. Marcellus Jones of the 8th Illinois Cavalry, was in charge of a picket line that intersected the Chambersburg Road three miles west of Gettysburg. Dawn was just breaking on the morning of July 1, 1863, when, in the distance, cavalrymen in the main post on the road could discern the sound of hushed conversations, the clink of metal cups and canteens, and the shuffle of boots and shoes on the road surface. A sergeant ran to find Lt.Jones, who had just returned to the reserve position with bread and butter purchased from a nearby farm. Jones immediately rode with the sergeant to the post and peering through the early morning haze, he spotted a gray column of soldiers, lazily swinging down the road toward him. Borrowing a carbine from his sergeant, the lieutenant took aim at a mounted figure in front of the column and fired. The column abruptly stopped and the horseman pointed out the Yankee picket post. Behind him, a wisp of wind revealed a red banner. There was no doubt who these men were- Confederates! Jones handed a brief message to a courier, instructing him to ride as fast as possible to General Buford. Seconds later a cannon ball bounded down the road, scattering the Union troopers as Southern bullets whined overhead. The Battle of Gettysburg had begun.

The battle begins

The southerners spotted by Jones' picket post were veteran troops of Major General Henry Heth's division, leading the march toward Gettysburg that morning. Well-liked by General Lee, (Heth was the only Confederate officer Lee addressed by his first name), the plucky general was uncertain of what lay ahead of him, be it Pennsylvania militia or troops from the Army of the Potomac, so he ordered his lead unit to deploy in a skirmish line and drive away the blue-clad troopers. The job was given to the 5th Alabama Infantry Battalion, which advanced in good order and quickly encountered groups of cavalrymen who fired on them from the protection of fences and trees. Three miles away at Gettysburg, General Buford calmly awaited the report knowing full well that a thin line of cavalrymen were no match against solid ranks of infantry. Though Reynolds' corps had started toward town that morning, Buford had to wonder if they would arrive in time before he was forced to retreat.

The skirmishing continued for over an hour, the troops passing over a series of rolling ridges farm fields until Buford's men reached Willoughby Run, a shallow stream that bordered the Edward McPherson Farm on the Chambersburg Pike. Through the center of the farm is north-south ridge that lies parallel to the run, and was a good position from which to cover the bridge that spans it. From the observatory of the Lutheran Seminary on Seminary Ridge, Buford watched his horsemen gather on McPherson's Ridge and knew that time was running out. His men had been lucky up to this point- the Confederates had only advanced as skirmishers and not pushed forward in solid battle lines. But southern pressure was steadily growing and the clouds of dust rising from the pike were an obvious sign of more Confederates troops moving toward Gettysburg. Confederate artillery was just then pulling into line on Herr's Ridge west of Willoughby Run, which meant the Confederate commander was done with skirmishing and an infantry attack was sure to follow. General Heth had indeed discovered how slender the Union line was and having arrived at Herr's Ridge, decided it to be the perfect point from which to launch an attack and drive away these pesky Union soldiers once and for all. With his artillery unlimbered and ready to fire, Heth ordered his two lead infantry brigades under Brig. General James Archer and Brig. General Joseph Davis to go forward. With red battle flags unfurled, Archer's and Davis' Confederates set out toward McPherson's Ridge.

Arrival of Reynolds

From his post in the observatory of the Seminary roof, General Buford was intently observing the fighting when he was startled by a familiar voice calling from below: "How goes it, John?" Buford immediately recognized his old friend Reynolds. "The devil's to pay!", he replied and rushed down to meet with the infantry commander. The two officers quickly discussed the situation and rode together to McPherson's Ridge. Reynolds chose the ridge as the best location to establish an artillery and infantry battle line, but southern pressure on Buford's men was mounting and Reynolds knew his men would have to move fast. With a casual salute, Reynolds rode off to hurry his troops forward. It was the last time Buford would see the general alive.

Within a half-hour, the vanguard of Reynolds' corps arrived near the Seminary and moved toward the McPherson Farm, while more soldiers filed into the field west of the school building. By this time, the advance of General Archer's brigade had reached the woods and field south of McPherson's farm and turned their attention to the blue-clad infantry forming in their front. This was the famous "Iron Brigade", which had won its reputation on the battlefields of Second Manassas, Antietam, and Fredericksburg, and was commanded by Brigadier General Solomon Meredith. Meredith had just ordered the first regiment of the brigade, the 2nd Wisconsin Infantry, to deploy into battle line when the first volley from Archer's men struck them from the edge of the woods. The black-hatted Wisconsin soldiers had not even had a chance to load their rifles, but with bayonets fixed and little more encouragement required, the 2nd Wisconsin lunged into the woods. Caught off guard by the sudden counterattack, the Confederates fired a few scattered shots and then retreated in disorder through the woods and across Willoughby Run, with the Union soldiers in hot pursuit. A number of southerners found themselves cut off and were taken prisoner including General Archer, grappled from the southern ranks by Private Patrick Maloney of the 2nd Wisconsin Infantry.

Riding behind the 2nd Wisconsin, General Reynolds cheered the men on as they scrambled into the woods. The general turned toward Seminary Ridge to see what troops and officers were following, when he suddenly slumped in his saddle. A staff officer rushed to the general's side as he toppled from his horse. Cradling the general, the officer felt blood on the back of Reynolds' head and turning him over saw that a bullet had cleanly struck the general in the right temple, killing him instantly. John Reynolds was the highest ranking officer of either side to lose his life at Gettysburg and was the general who had recommended General Meade to replace General Hooker in command of the Army of the Potomac. The general's body was borne from the field in an ambulance, escorted by his heartbroken staff officers. He was buried in his hometown of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, barely 40 miles away from the battleground where he had lost his life.

McPherson's Farm

Fighting also erupted in fields north of the McPherson Farm, where Davis' Brigade of Mississippi and North Carolina regiments routed part of General Lysander Cutler's Union brigade. When success seemed within their grasp, Davis' regiments were thrown back in confusion by a rapid Union infantry charge and accurate artillery fire. Taking refuge in the bed of an unfinished railroad, Davis' troops desperately fought back as Union troops formed in their front and then charged the southerners. At the center of the charge was Lt. Colonel Rufus Dawes whose 6th Wisconsin Infantry, also from the Iron Brigade, successfully trapped many of the Confederates in the deepest section of the railroad cut. Sgt. Frank Waller wrested the colors of the 2nd Mississippi Infantry from the flag bearer in the railroad bed during the short, deadly struggle. There was no escape for the southerners in the cut soon covered by members of the 6th Wisconsin, 95th New York and the 14th Brooklyn (84th New York), which threw troops across the railroad bed west of the cut. Mercifully the Union troops held their fire and called for the Confederates to surrender. Over 200 men from Davis' brigade were now prisoners.

A lull in the battle ensued as both sides withdrew to restore order and wait for the arrival of additional troops and artillery. Casualties in this early contest were severe for both sides and though the Union army had lost one of its most distinguished generals, the Confederates had suffered more than their Union counterparts. General Archer was captured and the better part of two brigades were knocked out of action for the remainder of the day. Realizing that he was facing more than Pennsylvania militia, General Heth wisely decided to wait for the remainder of his division and artillery to arrive on the battlfield, and then to ask permission of General Hill to continue the attack. General Abner Doubleday, having assumed command of the First Corps upon the death of General Reynolds, arranged his troops in a defensive line starting on McPherson's Ridge. He used troops of General Robinson's Division to extend the line northward on Oak Ridge, which is the northern extension of Seminary Ridge, and then sent an aide to find General Howard to report his position.

Major General Oliver Otis Howard, commander of the Eleventh Corps, arrived on the battlefield that morning at approximately the same time that Reynolds was killed. Howard climbed to the roof of a building in Gettysburg where he spotted some Union troops break through the woods on Seminary Ridge and run toward town. Believing that the First Corps had broken and was in retreat, Howard fired off a desperate message to General Meade at Taneytown, Maryland, that the situation was bad and reinforcements were needed. (The message had unfortunate consequences for General Doubleday, whose generalship on July 1 would later be called into question.) Howard ordered General Carl Schurz to take command of the Eleventh Corps as he assumed command of all Union troops on the field, vice Reynolds and Doubleday, and then sent the Eleventh Corps into the fields north of Gettysburg to bolster the First Corps right flank. One division of the corps was placed on Cemetery Hill just south of town as a reserve force. This proved to be a very important decision that day, securing what was to be a vital position for the Union army.

General Meade was still at Taneytown when he received Howard's disturbing message that included news of Reynolds' death. Though shaken at the loss of one of his closest friends in the army, Meade immediately decided to send another trusted corps commander, Major General Winfield Scott Hancock, north to Gettysburg to investigate the situation and take charge of the troops there. Hancock immediately set out for the battlefield.

The brief noon-time lull in infantry movement gave commanders on both sides time to plan and augment their battle lines. Union troops followed a jagged line extending northward from the McPherson Farm along Oak Ridge and then east to a small knoll near the county Alms (Poor) House. Confederate forces were arrayed against this line in heavier numbers with more troops expected to arrive at any moment. Though the Union infantry was outnumbered, the First Corps artillery, commanded by Colonel Charles Wainwright, did have an advantage in positions where they could sweep the routes of Confederate attacks with shell and canister.

General Hill did not accompany Heth's troops that morning, so was unaware of his dilemma near Gettysburg. Shortly before noon a small entourage of mounted officers arrived at his headquarters, led by a stern-faced General Lee. The generals were discussing the location of Hill's corps and possible enemy sightings when they were interrupted by the boom of cannon coming from the direction of Gettysburg. Concerned, Lee chose to ride ahead toward the sound of the guns accompanied by Hill and both staffs. It was on the Cashtown-Gettysburg Road where they met a courier from General Heth, bearing news that a large Union force had been encountered and stating confidence they could be driven off. Lee hurried on toward the battle that he was not yet ready to give on Union soil.

The battle renewed

Heth renewed his attack against the Union positions on the McPherson Farm between 1:30 and 2 o'clock. Supported by Maj. General William Pender's division, Heth sent his two remaining brigades forward to hit a re-enforced line posted behind strong farm fences and in the woods above Willoughby Run. Doubleday's line was stretched thin, but his division and brigade commanders shifted troops around to strengthen weak areas of the line. Determined to stand their ground. the Union troops would not budge no matter how much pressure the Confederates applied. On the McPherson Farm and adjacent Herbst Farm, the Iron Brigade fought toe to toe with Brig. General James J. Pettigrew's North Carolina Brigade. At one point in the battle, opposing lines blazed into one another barely twenty paces apart. Two regiments were especially hard hit- the 24th Michigan Infantry and the 26th North Carolina Infantry both suffered losses of 70%. Twenty one year-old Colonel Henry Burgwyn Jr., commanding the 26th North Carolina, was mortally wounded while leading one of the last charges against the 24th Michigan, shot, "through both lungs. He fell with the colors (of the 26th) wrapped around him."

Spread out between York and Carlisle, Pennsylvania, Lt. General Richard S. Ewell's Corps had been ordered to consolidate in the Gettysburg area on July 1. Setting out early that morning, Ewell's 8,500 troops closed in on Gettysburg from the north and northeast. Maj. General Robert Rodes' Division was the first to arrive and attacked the right flank of the Union First Corps on Oak Ridge, the northern extension of Seminary Ridge. The Union troops on Oak Ridge were from a division commanded by Brig. General John C. Robinson, of the First Corps. Robinson only had Colonel Henry Baxter's brigade of New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania regiments at his disposal and observing the disjointed southern attack, shifted his men to meet each threat upon his position. One by one Baxter's troops repulsed the Confederate assaults and annihilated the North Carolina brigade commanded by Brig. General Alfred Iverson. Iverson's soldiers marched into an open field unsupported, not realizing the strength of the Union position behind the stone wall that lay ahead on Oak Ridge. Over 1,100 Union soldiers rose and fired into the southerners from less than 100 feet away. Few escaped the terrible fire unscathed. Many surrendered to Baxter's men as they rushed into the field to take prisoners and capture flags from their fallen bearers.

With Baxter's regiments running low on ammunition, General Robinson called in Brig. General Samuel Paul's brigade, which replaced Baxter's troops just before General Rodes renewed his attack. Paul's men were soon fighting for their lives as Rodes shifted regiments from other commands into the attack. General Paul was horribly wounded when a bullet struck him in the face, passing through both eyes. Remarkably, he survived this horrific wound. Ammunition began to run out. A Confederate brigade succeeded in reaching woods behind Paul's regiments, threatening to cut them off from the rest of the First Corps. A retreat was ordered to follow Oak Ridge and rejoin the corps. The brigade withdrew, all except for one regiment, the 16th Maine Infantry. The Maine soldiers stubbornly held onto their corner of the stone wall and did not leave until the last moment. Many of the regiment were taken prisoner, including its commander Colonel Tilden. So that their flag would not be taken, the 16th's soldiers ripped the standard into small pieces, each of which were taken by the men.

While Rodes dealt with Baxter and Paul on Oak Ridge, Brig. George Doles' brigade of Georgia troops sparred with Schurz's Eleventh Corps positioned in the fields north of Gettysburg. Though he was outnumbered, Doles' superb generalship kept the Yankee troops, who appeared shaky from the beginning, off guard. Poor morale, exhaustion, and the exposed position of the Eleventh Corps troops, many who were German and Polish immigrants, contributed to the disaster about to befall them. Another division of Ewell's infantry under Brig. General Jubal Early, arrived via the Harrisburg Road at approximately 3 P.M. Understanding the advantage of his position, Early deployed his troops and artillery so that he could sweep behind the Union line.

A thunderous roar of artillery announced his arrival as ranks of southern infantry set out across Rock Creek. Seeing his opportunity, General Doles sent his brigade forward and the two wings of the Confederate column came together around "Barlow's Knoll". Though some regiments fought with determination, the Confederate attack broke the line and retreat turned into a panicked rush into Gettysburg. A single Union brigade under Colonel Wladimir Kryzanowski, a Polish immigrant, attempted to make a stand, but were swept aside by overwhelming numbers. Victorious Confederates overran the remaining feeble resistance, a small brigade of Union troops under Colonel Charles Coster, and entered Gettysburg.

West of town, General Doubleday and his First Corps were also in deep trouble. After several hours of fighting marked by great gallantry on both sides, casualties had whittled down the corps' effective force to less than half of the Confederates who seemed to continually be sending in fresh troops. Doubleday withdrew his command into a consolidated position on Seminary Ridge where the men threw down fence rails for a barricade and waited as the Confederates formed on McPherson's Ridge for a final assault. But driving Doubleday's command from Seminary Ridge proved more deadly than Hill and his division officers had planned. The initial Confederate attack met a storm of concentrated artillery and musketry fire that nearly destroyed General Alfred Scales' North Carolina brigade and severely crippled part of a South Carolina brigade commanded by Colonel Abner Perrin. Outnumbered, low on ammunition and with his rear threatened, there was nothing more Doubleday could achieve by holding Seminary Ridge. There was no alternative but to retreat through Gettysburg to Cemetery Hill.

The Union line collapses

Despite a severe cross fire and heavy casualties suffered during their charge, Colonel Perrin's South Carolinians exploited a narrow gap in the Union line and raced onto Seminary Ridge just as the Union officers ordered their men to pull out. Perrin ordered two of his regiments to pursue the retreating Federals and the incensed South Carolinians raced after the refuges in blue, taking prisoners and shooting down those who refused to surrender. What began as an orderly retreat soon turned into a confused race through Gettysburg as soldiers trotted through unfamiliar streets and alleys while other lost souls ploughed into the crowd from intersecting streets. Adding to the chaos was the lack of orders to direct the refugees to Cemetery Hill, the Union rallying point. Lost soldiers ran from one street to another to find themselves confronted by armed Confederates. Others took refuge in cellars and buildings, only to be rooted out and taken prisoner. Wounded soldiers collapsed in doorways and churches where Gettysburg civilians, such as 21 year-old Sallie Myers, tried to tend to their wounds. Terrified civilians took to their cellars while above them the floors creaked with the heavy sounds of boots. Rifle shots echoed through the streets. Peering from his cellar window, one man was horrified by the sight of a Union soldier shot down in the street in front of his home. Everywhere there were Confederate soldiers with rifles and fixed bayonets, looking for Yankees who had not made their escape.

Christ Lutheran Church on Chambersburg Street was one of the first churches in Gettysburg to be used as a hospital. Wounded were laid on boards set on top of church pews while operations took place in one of the front rooms. The monument in front of the church is to Chaplain Thomas Howell of the 90th Pennsylvania Infantry. Confronted by Confederate soldiers during the Union retreat, Howell refused to surrender his sword and was shot dead on the church steps.

Those who did find their way to Cemetery Hill were confronted by General Winfield Scott Hancock, sent to Gettysburg by General Meade to assume command after the death of Reynolds. Galloping onto Cemetery Hill at 4:30, Hancock beheld a depressing sight: streets filled with masses of Union troops without order, lathered teams of horses pulling artillery limbers forcing their way through the crowd, and wounded soldiers limping or staggering along as if drunk. For all purposes the entire Union force at Gettysburg had been routed. Joined by General Howard, Hancock rode into the center of the Baltimore Pike and immediately barked orders for officers to rally their commands and find shelter on the hillside. Hancock's commanding presence and stern demeanor was enough for most of the exhausted soldiers to search for their regiments and fall into ranks. Hancock paused just long enough to send a report to General Meade before returning to the task of establishing a strong center for the remainder of the Union line to form upon. By nightfall, reorganized regiments had established a line of defenses from Cemetery Ridge to Culp's Hill with Cemetery Hill at the fortified center.

Once he arrived on the battlefield that afternoon, General Lee appreciated the advantages gained by the sweat and toil of his troops and gave his consent for the attack to continue. He entered Gettysburg on the trail of his soldiers, very concerned with the growing Union strength on Cemetery Hill and the adjacent Culp's Hill. Lee sent a message to General Ewell to take the hills "if practicable"; but Ewell was unable to consolidate his forces to attack before nightfall and the battered Union troops remained undisturbed throughout the evening. Additional Union troops arrived to bolster the Union defenses, followed by General Meade who reached the field around midnight. Thanking Hancock for his services, Meade set about planning for the next day's battle. Though two corps had been defeated and thrown back, their heroic stance had bought time for the remainder of the Army of the Potomac to close on Gettysburg and camp on a position so strong that Lee would be hard pressed to break it. Whether he was fully ready or not, Lee had been drawn into battle and Meade was prepared to fight it to the finish at Gettysburg.

General Lee's headquarters tent was pitched near the Thompson home on the Chambersburg Pike, an ideal location adjacent to the Lutheran Seminary building where the general could utilize the rooftop observatory. Seating himself by the light of a candle in his tent, Lee pondered the day's events. Though his soldiers had driven the Union forces from the field in disarray and captured the town, he certainly had not won the battle necessary to accomplish all of his objectives in Pennsylvania. Losses in Heth's and Rodes' Divisions had been staggering, but the remainder of his army was within a day's march, defiantly confident and fit to fight for another day at least. Against his desires, the ground for the great battle had been chosen and the growing strength of the Union position on Cemetery Hill and Culp's Hill concerned him. More fighting clearly lay ahead and Lee had to satisfy himself that the hills would be taken the following day. If only he knew more of where the rest of the Union army was located and how close they were to Gettysburg. That had been "Jeb" Stuart's job and Lee had not heard from him for almost two weeks.

In more than twelve hours of fighting, approximately 16,000 soldiers were killed, wounded or captured during the first day of battle.

Continues

References

  1. Busey and Martin, p. 125. "Engaged strength" at the battle was 93,921.
  2. Busey and Martin, p. 260. "Engaged strength" at the battle was 71,699. McPherson, p. 648, lists the strength at the start of the campaign as 75,000.
  3. the American History of the Civil War, by Bruce Catton, MetroBooks, 2001, p. 304.

Books for Further Reference

  • Busey, John W., and Martin, David G., Regimental Strengths and Losses at Gettysburg, 4th Ed., Longstreet House, 2005, ISBN 0-944413-67-6.
  • Coddington, Edwin B., The Gettysburg Campaign; a study in command, Scribner's, 1968, ISBN 0-684-84569-5.
  • Pfanz, Harry W., Gettysburg - The First Day, University of North Carolina Press, 2001, ISBN 0-8078-2624-3.
  • Pfanz, Harry W., Gettysburg - The Second Day, University of North Carolina Press, 1987, ISBN 0-8078-1749-X.
  • Pfanz, Harry W., Gettysburg: Culp's Hill and Cemetery Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 1993, ISBN 0-8078-2118-7.
  • Wert, Jeffry D., Gettysburg: Day Three, Simon & Schuster, 2001, ISBN 0-684-85914-9.

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