The cavalry battle at Gettysburg, 3rd July, 2.30 p.m.

The cavalry battle at Gettysburg, 3rd July, 2.30 p.m.

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The cavalry battle at Gettysburg, 3rd July, 2.30 p.m.

Map showing the cavalry battle at Gettysburg, 3rd July, 2.30 p.m.

Map taken from Battles and Leaders of the Civil War: III: Retreat from Gettysburg, p.400

Gettysburg: The Last Invasion, Allen C. Guelzo .An excellent account of the Gettysburg campaign, illustrated by a splendid selection of eyewitness accounts. Focuses on the actions of individual commanders, from Meade and Lee down to regimental commanders, with a focus on the corps commanders and their activities and attitudes. Supported by plenty of accounts from further down the command chain and from civilians caught up in the fighting. [read full review]

Stars in Their Courses: Gettysburg Campaign, Shelby Foote, 304 pages. Well researched and written by one of the best known historians of the Civil War, this work is taken from his longer three volume work on the war, but does not suffer from that.

Return to: Battle of Gettysburg - Gettysburg Map Collection

The Battle of Gettysburg

As the right wing of Kershaw's brigade attacked the stony hill west of the Wheatfield, its left wing wheeled left against that portion of Sickles's line between the Peach Orchard and the Wheatfield. Thirty cannons from the Third Corps and the Artillery Reserve held this sector. The attacking South Carolinians braved infantry volleys from the Peach Orchard and canister from all along the line. A South Carolina sergeant saw comrades fall at his side and felt his face "fanned time and time again by the deadly missiles." Yet success seemed within their grasp until someone shouted a false command that turned them right from the guns toward the Wheatfield and allowed the batteries to rake their exposed flank. Kershaw lamented, "Hundreds of the bravest and best men of Carolina fell, victims of this fatal blunder."

In the meantime McLaws's two left brigades, Brig. Gen. William Barksdale's, followed by Wofford's, charged directly at the Union position at the Peach Orchard. Barksdale's hard-driving Mississippians broke the weak Union line just north of the Peach Orchard their left wing then wheeled left against the troops posted along the Emmitsburg Road at the Sherfy buildings while its right and Wofford's men dealt with the defenders of the orchard. The Third Corps troops in the orchard had little chance to make a good fight. Some had been facing south firing into Kershaw's brigade and had to change front to meet Barksdale's attack. As the 2nd New Hampshire Regiment swung back to meet the 21st Mississippi, the trees in the orchard broke its line. The 2nd gave the Mississippians a ragged volley, then backed over the crest and dressed its line with care. It swapped fire there with the Mississippians until its colonel saw Wofford's line coming by his left. Fearing to be cut off, he ordered the 2nd back. Twenty-one of its twenty-four officers and nearly half of its men had been shot, and its dead marked the lines it had held.


As Col. Henry J. Madill of the 141st Pennsylvania walked back from the orchard with twenty of the regiment's survivors and its colors, he met General Sickles. Sickles asked, "Colonel! For God's sake can't you hold on?" Madill looked at the corps commander with tear-filled eyes and replied simply, "Where are my men?"

The Union batteries in the orchard fell back in the face of the Confederate onslaught, and when the Confederates seized the high ground there, the twenty guns along the Wheatfield Road to the east had to fall back also. Captain John Bigelow's 9th Massachusetts battery on the left of the line, pressed from the front and threatened on the right, fell back from the road, its six Napoleons dragged by their prolonges and firing all the while. When they reached the lane by the Trostle house, they prepared to limber up and leave but were told to stay where they were until a line of guns could be set up behind them on Cemetery Ridge. The battery put up a stout fight until the Mississippians overran it and captured three of its guns.

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At 6 P.M. the Confederate brigades of Barksdale and Wofford advanced upon the Peach Orchard. After overwhelming the Union defenders, Barksdale advanced in a northeast direction as far as the Trostle farm. Wofford advanced due east down the Wheatfield Road and drove Union troops off Stony Hill and out of the Wheatfield.

General Barksdale, his white hair appearing above the battle smoke "like the white plume of Navarre," urged his left regiments against the Union line by the Sherfy house, rolled it up, and shouting, "Crowd them," drove toward the left of Brig. Gen. Andrew A. Humphreys's Third Corps division along the Emmitsburg Road. Brig. Gen. Cadmus M. Wilcox's brigade of Anderson's division advanced on Barksdale's left and with Col. David Lang's Florida Brigade struck Humphreys's front and right. Humphreys's two brigades fought alone and outnumbered and could not hold their position. Humphreys, who loved battle, commanded his troops from horseback on the battle line. Through personality and profanity, he held his men to their work so that a good portion of them fell back slowly and firing. He wrote his wife, "Twenty times did I [bring] my men to a halt and face about. forcing the men to it." And many obeyed.


Thirty-six-year-old Colonel David Wyatt Aiken commanded the 7th South Carolina Infantry. He wrote this letter to his wife from near Hagerstown, Maryland. on July 11, 1863. The 7th South Carolina fought on the Rose Farm near the infamous Wheatfield on July 2.

Well my dearest wife, I wrote you a hurried note in pencil about three days ago, but doubt if it has ever yet crossed the Potamac, & even if it has, I know your joy in seeing my handwriting once more will be such, that you will willingly read a reiteration of the contents of my former letter. Well, to begin anew at our first crossing of the Potomac. This was done in the rain on the 26" June. And by the way, this is the only dry day we have had since, or the only day we have not had either heavy dews or rains. We marched reasonably along through Hagerstown, Middleburg, Greencastle, Chambersburg, here taking the right to Cashtown thence to Gettysburg, where we first met the enemy, 1 1/2 miles before reaching the city. Our army, as I wrote you, moved left in front, Ewell's Corps leading the way, and going north from Chambersburg, towards Harrisburg, as far as Carlisle, while Hill & Longstreet went towards Gettysburg. On the 1st July Hill met the enemy, fought & whipt him, driving him two miles beyond Gettysburg to some very high hills or barren mountains, as formidable as Gibraltar. The next night & day Ewell swung around South East marching towards Gettysburg & we (Longstreet) moved to the right of Hill, all the army being in line of battle by noon of the 2d, confronting the enemy with a line running almost due North & South, and perhaps 15 or more miles long. About noon the cannonading began, & by 2 PM we were ordered to advance with the infantry, which we did in fine stile directly in front of the cannon not 1000 yds distant, which immediately began playing on Kershaws Brig, the most exposed, having to advance from behind the stone wall just in the edge of the woods through a large level clover field. Just before we moved a shell struck my color guard, killing two men & wounding three. We moved up though quietly not able to shoot a gun for some time. Presently we came upon the Infantry, the artillery retiring, and then we went at it in earnest. We fought for half hour or more, and drove the enemy for half a mile perhaps, and during my experience I have never seen so much damage done both parties in so short a space of time. I had 18 men killed, several mortally wounded, and about 100 more or less wounded, some twenty only stunned by shells who have already reported for duty. My Regt suffered about as all the other Regts in the Brigd. Sixteen of my men have lost arms or legs. That night we lay on the Battle field, and next morning by daylight were ordered to advance amid the groans of the wounded enemy (our's had been moved back) and over the dead of both parties. We found the enemy had retired to the sides of the rocky mountain, in our front, & had themselves so fortified we could do nothing with infantry. During the fight of the two days we captured about 11,000 prisoners. On the morning of the 3d Genl Lee ordered Genl Picket (a Virg Division that had not been engaged) to attack the most vulnerable portion of the enemy's line, while he shelled their entire line with artillery. Our general line of infantry were then withdrawn to the woods from which we had driven the enemy, about midway between the enemy's and our line. Here we lay down when the cannonading began. We opened 175 cannon at one time, & the enemy replied with perhaps half as many. Some shells badly aimed wounded a few of our infantry (2 of my men,) and I know killed & wounded hundred, if not thousands of the enemy. That night we were withdrawn to our original line of battle, after Lee found he could not dislodge the enemy. Pickett made several brilliant charges, but failed in driving the enemy from their walls. During the 4th everything was comparatively quiet except a cavalry fight on our right & in our sight, which kept McLaws Division under arms in line of battle all day. About 3 PM it closed, and then the gentle rain which had been falling just poured down, all the evening. About 10 PM we got orders to march & in the rain by daylight had only gone 5 miles. All day Sunday, the 5", we were standing about in the rain & mud, getting our waggons in line of march, & sending the wounded back to Williamsport & the prisoners on to the same point. The enemy at the same time fell back but where to I have no idea. We came by way of Fairfield & on directly to Hagerstown. The enemy made several attempts to capture our waggon train, & did destroy a few, but paid dearly for it. We invariably whipt them off, or captured some of their men. We all arrived hereabouts on Tuesday & have been here since. What we are to do next, no one but Genl Lee can tell. I learn he says he intends to fight them again north of the Potomac. I don't know, & hope not, fir I think a fair calculation, will stretch his loss since he crossed the Potomac on the 26" to about 18 or 20,000 men. The enemy's loss must be vastly larger, for we captured 11000 prisoners. The Potomac is swimming & I imagine we will remain here till it falls, & then cross again into Virg., but can not tell. I am sick of Maryland, and never want to come this side of the river again. As a Yankee prisoner told one of my men, we have found a great difference between invading the North & defending the South.

But what of Sickles? When the battle was at its height, he sat his horse at his headquarters' site near the Trostle barn. A Confederate shot, probably fired at a battery along the Emmitsburg Road, whistled in and flicked his right knee. Staff members helped him from his horse, put a tourniquet on his leg, and stretcher bearers bore him to an ambulance that carried him from the field. As he passed back among his retreating men, he puffed on a cigar, raised himself on the stretcher so that they could see him, and urged them to stand firm. That night surgeons amputated his leg.

The Battle of Gettysburg

General Meade, at his headquarters at Taneytown, Maryland, nine miles south of Gettysburg, must have received information on the battle throughout the afternoon of July 1 for before receiving Hancock's recommendation to make a stand there, he had ordered his far-flung army to that field. The Twelfth Corps arrived tardily from nearby Two Taverns as the fighting ended, the Third Corps reached the field from Emmitsburg that evening, the Second bivouaced nearby, and the Fifth would arrive over the road from Hanover early on July 2. Only the large Sixth Corps, at Manchester, Maryland, over thirty miles away, would not be at hand on the morning of July 2. Meade himself reached Cemetery Hill at 11:30 P.M. on July 1 and set to work at once to locate positions for his seven corps of infantry. The result was a hook-shaped position about three miles long. Cemetery Hill at the south edge of the town was at its curve. Culp's Hill to the right rear of Cemetery Hill was at the barb of the hook, low Cemetery Ridge running south of Cemetery Hill two miles to Little Round Top was the shank, and Little Round Top the eye. The Confederates occupied Seminary Ridge, high ground paralleling Cemetery Ridge a mile to the west. It ran south from Oak Hill, by the Lutheran seminary, and continued south beyond the Emmitsburg Road. Ewell's Corps was in the town and along the Hanover Road to the east. Meade feared that Lee would attack before his troops were in place, but his fears proved groundless. Meade contemplated making an attack from his right but gave it up because he learned that it was not feasible to do so.


Lee had his own problems. He had several courses of action to consider. He could establish a position on Seminary Ridge and invite an attack, he could adopt Longstreet's recommendation and try to move south to an advantageous position where the enemy might be forced to attack him, he could retire to the passes of South Mountain and await developments, or he could remain at Gettysburg and take the offensive. Lee believed that he had to retain the initiative, but he knew that as hours passed the enemy would become stronger as his army weakened. He knew also that without more information on the enemy and a cavalry screen he could not manuever his army at will in the presence of the Army of the Potomac. He decided that his best alternative was to continue the attack at Gettysburg. To this end he would make an early assault with Longstreet's Corps against the Union left, particularly at the Peach Orchard 600 yards east of Seminary Ridge, and to the north on the high ground along the Emmitsburg Road. Longstreet would attack with the divisions of Maj. Gens. Lafayette McLaws, and John B. Hood, and Maj. Gen. Richard H. Anderson's division of Hill's Corps would strike the Union center on Cemetery Ridge. At the same time Ewell's Corps would demonstrate against the Union forces on Cemetery Hill and Culp's Hill and convert their feint into an all-out assault if warranted.

As it happened, Meade had directed that the two divisions of the Union Third Corps be placed on Cemetery Ridge about 0.7 of a mile east of the Peach Orchard. The left of the corps would be anchored on Little Round Top, a hill that rose 150 feet above Plum Run at its base and dominated the lower end of Cemetery Ridge. Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Sickles commanded the Third Corps. Sickles was a bumptious fellow who had been a lawyer and a Tammany Hall politician he had limited experience in militia affairs before the war and was a friend of President and Mrs. Lincoln. He and Meade had little in common except a love for the Union and a mutual distrust of each another.

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JULY 2, 1863, 3 P.M.
General Longstreet has marched the divisions of Hood and McLaws by a concealed route to the right of the Confederate army. His command and Anderson's division are now poised to launch an attack to crush the Union left flank. On the Confederate left, Ewell has Johnson and Early ready to attack the Union right if opportunity offers. Union General Sickles has advanced his 3rd Corps, without orders, beyond its assigned position to occupy the high ground around the Peach Orchard and Emmitsburg Road.

Sickles did not like his assigned position and on the morning of July 2 sought to have it changed. He believed that much of it was dominated by the high ground along the Emmitsburg Road and feared an attack against his left flank. (We know today that his fear of a flank attack was groundless.) At about 10:30 A.M. Sickles's alarm increased when Buford's cavalry, which had been screening his front, left the field and through error was not replaced. He then sent a reconnaissance force, including sharpshooter companies, to Seminary Ridge. It met Confederates extending their line south. Col. Hiram Berdan, who was in command of the reconnaissance party, later claimed wrongly that they had met and delayed Longstreet's approach. Instead, it was Wilcox's brigade of Anderson's division. Yet this finding seemed to confirm Sickles's fears. By this time he had placed a heavy skirmish line along the Emmitsburg Road and Brig. Gen. Charles K. Graham's brigade 500 yards in front of Cemetery Ridge to support it. Shortly afternoon, on learning that there were Confederates in Pitzer's Woods and not getting satisfaction from army headquarters, Sickles took the bit in his teeth and moved his corps to a position far in front of the sector assigned him on Cemetery Ridge. Instead of manning Little Round Top, he posted his left at Devil's Den, a mass of elephantine boulders that spilled from a low ridge 500 yards to the front of the foot of Little Round Top. From there his new line ran northwest through Rose's Woods and by the Wheatfield to the Emmitsburg Road at the Peach Orchard south of its intersection with the Wheatfield Road. It extended north from the Peach Orchard along the Emmitsburg Road about 0.7 of a mile to a point less than 400 yards from the Codori farm buildings. Although the line had certain advantages and numerous batteries of artillery posted along it, its flanks were in the air, and it was too long for Sickles's small corps to hold alone. In his rashness Sickles had exposed his corps to a drubbing and forced Meade to change his battle plan.



Anderson's division, the force discovered by Berdan's men in Pitzer's Woods, had its right in the woods's north end. It ran north from there in a single line along Seminary Ridge for a mile and was opposite the Union center on Cemetery Ridge. At noon as Anderson's five brigades took their positions, Hood's and McLaws's divisions of Longstreet's Corps were beginning a circuitous, tiring, and controversial march that they tried to conceal—especially from Union signalmen they could see on Little Round Top. It began on Herr Ridge near the scene of the July 1 battle and ended at their jumping-off points on Seminary Ridge opposite the Peach Orchard and Little Round Top. When they reached these positions at about 4 P.M., each division formed in a double line. Lee's orders stipulated that they were to wheel left from there and advance up the axis of the Emmitsburg Road against the Union left, which he believed was at the Peach Orchard. But a disgruntled Longstreet saw that the Union line continued beyond the orchard into the woods near Little Round Top and Round Top, the higher hill to the south.



General Hood asked for a change in orders, but time was running out, and Longstreet, who later wrote that the matter had already been discussed with General Lee, refused. Longstreet would have Hood's division wheel left from the ridge line and attack with its left along the Emmitsburg Road. McLaws's division on Hood's left would drive straight ahead against the Peach Orchard and the Emmitsburg Road and then wheel left Anderson's men would assault the Union center on Cemetery Ridge. That was the plan.

Meanwhile, Meade finally appreciated that things had gone awry in Sickles's sector. He rode there and saw the peril of the new position. Since the enemy was in the Third Corps's front and preparing to attack, Meade believed that it was too late for Sickles to return his corps to Cemetery Ridge. Therefore, he ordered Maj. Gen. George Sykes's Fifth Corps from the rear to bolster Sickles's line. Fortunately, the van of the Sixth Corps had reached the field, and it could serve as the army's reserve.


Cemetery Hill overlooks the main downtown area of Gettysburg from the south, at 503 feet (153 m) above sea level, 80 feet (24 m) above the town center, about 100 feet (30 m) above Winebrenner's Run at its base. Its crest extends in a southwest-northeast direction for about 700 yards (640 m). A shallow saddle on the crest about 150 yards (140 m) from its northeast slope is the point where the Baltimore Pike crosses the hill and separates East Cemetery Hill from the remainder. The slopes to the north and west rise gradually on East Cemetery Hill, the rise is steeper. [1] The hill is crossed by the Baltimore Pike and the Emmitsburg Road, with the Taneytown Road between them. [2]

The 1858 south boundary for the Gettysburg borough extended southeast from the Emmitsburg Road to the Cemetery Hill summit on the Taneytown Rd, then northeast across the Baltimore Pike summit to the hill's base, then northward to Winebrenner Run. [3] On the south slope of Cemetery Hill (originally named Raffensperger's Hill, after farmer Peter Raffensperger, who owned over 6 acres (24,000 m 2 ) on the eastern slope [4] ) is the 1854 Evergreen Cemetery and its 1855 gatehouse used as a headquarters during the battle.

On June 26, 1863, prior to the Battle of Gettysburg, Lt. Col. Elijah V. White's Confederate cavalry occupied the hill and captured several horses hidden by local citizens, then departed to York County, Pennsylvania. The Gettysburg Railroad Station telegraph was subsequently moved to Cemetery Hill. The hill remained essentially free of military forces until the arrival of the Army of the Potomac.

Battle of Gettysburg, First Day Edit

On July 1, 1863, Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard left infantry and artillery to hold the hill in case the army needed to fall back from its positions north and west of Gettysburg. Cemetery Hill became the rallying point for retreating Union troops of the I Corps and XI Corps (from fighting north and northwest of town). One of the great controversies of the battle was the failure of Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell, and his subordinate, Brig. Gen. William "Extra Billy" Smith, to attack and capture Cemetery Hill. [5] Smith thought Union troops were approaching from the east, which caused Early to delay his attack on the hill to defend against the supposed threat. There proved to be no significant Union troop movements from the east, and Smith was the only brigadier general not commended by Early after the battle. [6]

Battle of Gettysburg, Second Day Edit

On July 2, Confederate General Robert E. Lee ordered attacks on both ends of the Union line. Lt. Gen. James Longstreet attacked with his First Corps on the Union left (Little Round Top, Devil's Den, Wheatfield). Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell and the Second Corps were assigned the mission of launching a simultaneous demonstration against the Union right, a minor attack that was intended to distract and pin down the Union defenders against Longstreet. Ewell was to exploit any success his demonstration might achieve by following up with a full-scale attack at his discretion. [7]

Ewell began his demonstration at 4 p.m. upon hearing the sound of Longstreet's guns to the south. For three hours, he chose to limit his demonstration to an artillery barrage from Benner's Hill, about a mile (1,600 m) to the northeast. Although the Union defenders on Cemetery Hill received some damage from this fire, they returned counterbattery fire with a vengeance. Cemetery Hill is over 50 feet (15 m) taller than Benner's Hill, and the geometry of artillery science meant that the Union gunners had a decided advantage. Ewell's four batteries were forced to withdraw with heavy losses, and his best artillerist, 19-year-old Joseph W. Latimer, the "Boy Major", was mortally wounded. [8]

Around 7 p.m., as the Confederate assaults on the Union left and center were petering out, Ewell chose to begin his main infantry assault. He sent three brigades from the division of Maj. Gen. Edward "Allegheny" Johnson across Rock Creek and up the eastern slope of Culp's Hill against a line of breastworks manned by the XII Corps brigade of Brig. Gen. George S. Greene. Greene's men held off the Confederate attack for hours, although the attackers were able to establish a foothold in some abandoned Union rifle pits. The fighting on Culp's Hill would resume the following day. [9]

Not long after the assault on Culp's Hill began, as dusk fell around 7:30 p.m., Ewell sent two brigades from the division of Maj. Gen. Jubal A. Early against East Cemetery Hill from the east, and he alerted the division of Maj. Gen. Robert E. Rodes to prepare a follow-up assault against Cemetery Hill proper from the northwest. The two brigades from Early's division were commanded by Brig. Gen. Harry T. Hays: his own Louisiana Tigers Brigade and Hoke's Brigade, the latter commanded by Col. Isaac E. Avery. They stepped off from a line parallel to Winebrenner's Run, a narrow tributary of Rock Creek to the southeast of town. Hays commanded five Louisiana regiments, which together numbered only about 1,200 officers and men. Avery had three North Carolina regiments totaling 900. The brigade of Brig. Gen. John B. Gordon was in support behind Hays and Avery but did not participate in the fighting. [10]

Defending East Cemetery Hill were the two brigades (Cols. Andrew L. Harris and Leopold von Gilsa) of Brig. Gen. Francis C. Barlow's division (now commanded by Brig. Gen. Adelbert Ames) of the XI Corps. Both had seen heavy action on July 1 and they consisted of, respectively, 650 and 500 officers and men. Harris's men were stationed at a low stone wall on the northern end of the hill and wrapped around onto Brickyard Lane at the base of the hill. (Brickyard Lane was also known at the time as Winebrenner's Lane and today is named Wainwright Avenue.) Von Gilsa's brigade was scattered along the lane as well as on the hill. Two regiments, the 41st New York and the 33rd Massachusetts, were stationed in Culp's Meadow beyond Brickyard Lane in expectation of an attack by Johnson's division. More westerly on the hill were the divisions of Maj. Gens. Adolph von Steinwehr and Carl Schurz. Col. Charles S. Wainwright, nominally of the I Corps, commanded the artillery batteries on the hill and on Stevens Knoll. The relatively steep slope of East Cemetery Hill made artillery fire difficult to direct against infantry because the gun barrels could not be depressed sufficiently, but they did their best with canister and double canister fire. [11]

The Confederate attack began with a Rebel yell against the Ohio regiments at the stone wall. Just beforehand, Ames had sent the 17th Connecticut from its place on the left of the line to a position in the center. This left a gap, which Hays's Louisianans exploited, and they bounded over the stone wall. Other troops exploited other weak spots in the line, and soon some of the Confederates had reached the batteries at the top of the hill, while others fought in the darkness with the four remaining Union regiments on the line behind the stone wall. On the crest of the hill, the gunners of Captain Michael Wiedrich's New York battery and Captain R. Bruce Ricketts's Pennsylvania battery engaged in hand-to-hand combat against the invaders. Major Samuel Tate of the 6th North Carolina wrote afterward: [12]

75 North Carolinians of the Sixth Regiment and 12 Louisianians of Hays's brigade scaled the walls and planted the colors of the Sixth North Carolina and Ninth Louisiana on the guns. It was now fully dark. The enemy stood with tenacity never before displayed by them, but with bayonet, clubbed musket, sword, pistol, and rocks from the wall, we cleared the heights and silenced the guns.

Harry Pfanz provides an alternative view that contrasts with Tate's: "Although the Confederates wrote and spoke of occupying the crest of the hill and capturing the batteries there, Union accounts concede less Confederate success. The sparse accounts of Wiedrich's battery say that the Confederates attacked suddenly and violently and entered the battery's position but insist that they were there only briefly." [13] The collapse of "Cemetery Hill, the keystone of the Union line," [14] "would have certainly required Meade to at least abandon his position" [15] at Gettysburg, but the following day, artillery anchored here aided the repulse of the famous attack by Pickett, Pettigrew, Trimble, Wilcox & Lang.

Generals Howard and Schurz heard the commotion and rushed the 58th and 119th New York of Col. Włodzimierz Krzyżanowski's brigade from West Cemetery Hill to the aid of Wiedrich's battery. Howard's lines were getting thin, so he sent for help to Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock of the II Corps. Hancock ordered one of his brigades under Col. Samuel S. Carroll to rush from Cemetery Ridge and assist the defenders. They arrived at the double-quick, charging through the dark from the cemetery, just as the Confederate attack was starting to ebb. Carroll's men secured Ricketts's battery and swept the North Carolinians down the hill. Over at Wiedrich's battery, Krzyżanowski led his men to sweep the Louisiana attackers down the hill until they reached the base and "flopped down" for Wiedrich's guns to fire canister at the retreating Confederates. [17]

Defending East Cemetery Hill would have been much more difficult had the overall attack been better coordinated. To the northwest, Maj. Gen. Robert Rodes's division was not ready to attack until Early's fight was almost over. It had filed west from the town and into the fields along the dirt path that is now Long Lane, where it stopped after advancing a short distance in the darkness. Brig. Gen. Dodson Ramseur, the leading brigade commander, saw the futility of a night assault against two lines of Union troops behind stone walls, backed up by significant artillery. Rodes's after-battle report also expressed concern about a lack of cooperation from the adjoining division on A.P. Hill's left flank. Maj. Gen. William Dorsey Pender had been wounded by a shell that afternoon and Brig. Gen. James H. Lane was in command of Pender's division. Ewell sent a staff officer to speak with Lane, who explained that his orders were to attack if a "favorable opportunity presented." When Ewell informed Lane that his attack was starting and requested cooperation, Lane sent back no reply. [18]

Losses on both sides were severe among the casualties was Col. Avery, who was struck in the neck by a musket ball, felling him from his horse, where he was discovered after the charge by several of his soldiers and Major Tate of the 6th North Carolina. Unable to speak from his mortal wound, Avery scribbled a simple note for Tate: "Major, tell my father I died with my face to the enemy. I. E. Avery." He died the following day. [19]

Battle of Gettysburg, Third Day Edit

On July 3, there was no infantry attack on Cemetery Hill the primary Confederate attacks were on Culp's Hill and on the lower portion of Cemetery Ridge. Union cannons on Cemetery Hill counter fired on the Confederate artillery barrage that preceded Pickett's Charge and provided antipersonnel support fire during the Confederate infantry attack. [20] National Park Service historian Troy Harman has written that Robert E. Lee's ultimate objective for the assaults by Longstreet on July 2 and July 3 was actually Cemetery Hill, rolling the Union left flank up Cemetery Ridge. [21]

Aftermath Edit

Post-battle, East Cemetery Hill was occupied for several weeks by state militiamen, who established a tented camp site to maintain a military presence, secure the battlefield from looters and curiosity seekers, collect remaining military weapons, and provide manpower and services for the area's hospitals. Elizabeth C. Thorn (pregnant wife of the keeper of Evergreen Cemetery who was at war), her parents, and hired hands dug 105 graves for soldiers killed at or near Cemetery Hill. [22]

Postbellum history Edit

The 1867 National Homestead at Gettysburg [23] operated as an orphanage at the north foot of the hill, and an 1878 wooden observation tower [24] of 40 ft (12 m) East Cemetery Hill had been built near the monument for Battery B, Pennsylvania Light Artillery. [25] The 1893–1917 Gettysburg Electric Railway was on several sides of the hill, and the 1921–2008 Gettysburg National Museum operated on the west side of Cemetery Hill along the Taneytown Road. The areas on the northern and western slopes of the hill are now largely occupied by tourist-related businesses (hotels, restaurants, gift shops, battlefield tour agencies, private museums, etc.). The military importance of the heights is not as evident today since the once commanding view has been blocked by this sprawl. [ citation needed ]

Battle of Gettysburg

This most famous and most important Civil War Battle occurred over three hot summer days, July 1 to July 3, 1863, around the small market town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. It began as a skirmish but by its end involved 160,000 Americans.

Before the battle, major cities in the North such as Philadelphia, Baltimore and even Washington were under threat of attack from General Robert E. Lee's Confederate Army of Northern Virginia which had crossed the Potomac River and marched into Pennsylvania.

The Union Army of the Potomac under its very new and untried commander, General George G. Meade, marched to intercept Lee.

On Tuesday morning, June 30, an infantry brigade of Confederate soldiers searching for shoes headed toward Gettysburg (population 2,400). The Confederate commander looked through his field glasses and spotted a long column of Federal cavalry heading toward the town. He withdrew his brigade and informed his superior, Gen. Henry Heth, who in turn told his superior, A.P. Hill, he would go back the following morning and "get those shoes."

Wednesday morning, July 1, two divisions of Confederates headed back to Gettysburg. They ran into Federal cavalry west of the town at Willoughby Run and the skirmish began. Events would quickly escalate. Lee rushed 25,000 men to the scene. The Union had less than 20,000.

After much fierce fighting and heavy casualties on both sides, the Federals were pushed back through the town of Gettysburg and regrouped south of the town along the high ground near the cemetery. Lee ordered Confederate General R.S. Ewell to seize the high ground from the battle weary Federals "if practicable." Gen. Ewell hesitated to attack thereby giving the Union troops a chance to dig in along Cemetery Ridge and bring in reinforcements with artillery. By the time Lee realized Ewell had not attacked, the opportunity had vanished.

Meade arrived at the scene and thought it was an ideal place to do battle with Lee's Army. Meade anticipated reinforcements totaling up to 100,000 men to arrive and strengthen his defensive position.

Confederate General James Longstreet saw the Union position as nearly impregnable and told Lee it should be left alone. He argued that Lee's Army should instead move east between the Union Army and Washington and build a defensive position thus forcing the Federals to attack them instead.

But Lee believed his own army was invincible and he was also without his much needed cavalry which served as his eyes and ears during troop movements. Cavalry leader Jeb Stuart had gone off with his troops to harass the Federals. Stuart's expedition would turn out to be for the most part a wild goose chase which left Lee at a disadvantage until he returned.

Lee decided to attack the Union Army's defensive position at the southern end of Cemetery Ridge which he thought was less well defended.

About 10 a.m. the next morning, Thursday, July 2, Gen. Longstreet was ordered by Lee to attack. But Longstreet was quite slow in getting his troops into position and didn't attack until 4 p.m. that afternoon thus giving the Union Army even more time to strengthen its position.

When Longstreet attacked, some of the most bitter fighting of the Civil War erupted at places now part of American military folklore such as Little Round Top, Devil's Den, the Wheat Field and the Peach Orchard. Longstreet took the Peach Orchard but was driven back at Little Round Top.

About 6:30 p.m. Gen. Ewell attacked the Union line from the north and east at Cemetery Hill and Culp's Hill. The attack lasted into darkness but was finally unsuccessful at Cemetery Hill, although the Rebels seized some trenches on Culp's Hill.

By about 10:30 p.m., the day's fighting came to an end. The Federals had lost some ground during the Rebel onslaught but still held the strong defensive position along Cemetery Ridge.

Both sides regrouped and counted their causalities while the moaning and sobbing of thousands of wounded men on the slopes and meadows south of Gettysburg could be heard throughout the night under the blue light of a full moon.

Generals from each side gathered in war councils to plan for the coming day. Union commander Meade decided his army would remain in place and wait for Lee to attack. On the Confederate side, Longstreet once again tried to talk Lee out of attacking such a strong position. But Lee thought the battered Union soldiers were nearly beaten and would collapse under one final push.

Lee decided to gamble to win the Battle of Gettysburg and in effect win the Civil War by attacking the next day at the center of the Union line along Cemetery Ridge where it would be least expected. To do this he would send in the fresh troops of Gen. George Pickett. Along with this, Gen. Ewell would renew the assault on Culp's hill.

But as dawn broke on Friday, July 3, about 4:30 a.m., Lee's timetable was undermined as Union cannons pounded the Rebels on Culp's Hill to drive them from the trenches. The Rebels did not withdraw, but instead attacked the Federals around 8 a.m. Thus began a vicious three hour struggle with the Rebels charging time after time up the hill only to be beaten back. The Federals finally counter attacked and drove the Rebels off the hill and east across Rock Creek. Around 11 a.m. the fighting on Culp's Hill stopped. An eerie quiet settled over the whole battlefield.

Once again Lee encountered opposition to his battle plan from Longstreet. Lee estimated about 15,000 men would participate in the Rebel charge on Cemetery Ridge. Longstreet responded, "It is my opinion that no 15,000 men ever arrayed for battle can take that position." But Lee was unmoved. The plan would go on as ordered.

Throughout the morning and into the afternoon amid 90° heat and stifling humidity the Rebels moved into position in the woods opposite Cemetery Ridge for the coming charge. Interestingly, some Union troops were moved away from Cemetery Ridge on Meade's orders because he thought Lee would attack again in the south. Several hours before, Meade had correctly predicted Lee would attack the center, but now thought otherwise. He left only 5,750 infantrymen stretched out along the half-mile front to initially face the 15,000 man Rebel charge.

Lee sent Jeb Stuart's recently returned cavalry to go behind the Union position in order to divert Federal forces from the main battle area. Around noon, Union and Confederate cavalry troops clashed three miles east of Gettysburg but Stuart was eventually repulsed by punishing cannon fire and the Union cavalry led in part by 23 year old Gen. George Custer. The diversion attempt failed.

Back at the main battle site, just after 1 p.m. about 170 Confederate cannons opened fire on the Union position on Cemetery Ridge to pave the way for the Rebel charge. This was the heaviest artillery barrage of the war but many of the Rebel shells missed their targets and flew harmlessly overhead.

The Federals returned heavy cannon fire and soon big clouds of blinding smoke and dust hung over the battlefield. Around 2:30 p.m. the Federals slowed their rate of fire, then ceased, to conserve ammunition and to fool the Rebels into thinking the cannons were knocked out - exactly what the Rebels did think.

Pickett went to see Longstreet and asked, "General, shall I advance?" Longstreet, now overwhelmed with emotion, did not respond, but simply bowed his head and raised his hand. Thus the order was given.

"Charge the enemy and remember old Virginia!" yelled Pickett as 12,000 Rebels formed an orderly line that stretched a mile from flank to flank. In deliberate silence and with military pageantry from days gone by, they slowly headed toward the Union Army a mile away on Cemetery Ridge as the Federals gazed in silent wonder at this spectacular sight.

But as the Rebels got within range, Federal cannons using grapeshot

As they got very close, the Rebels stopped and fired their rifles once at the Federals then lowered their bayonets and commenced a running charge while screaming the Rebel yell.

A fierce battle raged for an hour with much brutal hand to hand fighting, shooting at close range and stabbing with bayonets. For a brief moment, the Rebels nearly had their chosen objective, a small clump of oak trees atop Cemetery Ridge. But Union reinforcements and regrouped infantry units swarmed in and opened fire on the Rebel ranks. The battered, outnumbered Rebels finally began to give way and this great human wave that had been Pickett's Charge began to recede as the men drifted back down the slope. The supreme effort of Lee's army had been beaten back, leaving 7,500 of his men lying on the field of battle.

Lee rode out and met the survivors, telling them, "It is all my fault." And to Pickett he said, "Upon my shoulders rests the blame." Later when he got back to headquarters Lee exclaimed, "Too bad. Too bad! Oh, too bad!" The gamble had failed. The tide of the war was now permanently turned against the South.

Confederate causalities in dead, wounded and missing were 28,000 out of 75,000. Union casualties were 23,000 out of 88,000.

That night and into the next day, Saturday, July 4, Confederate wounded were loaded aboard wagons that began the journey back toward the South. Lee was forced to abandon his dead and begin a long slow withdrawal of his army back to Virginia. Union commander Meade, out of fatigue and caution, did not immediately pursue Lee, infuriating President Lincoln who wrote a bitter letter to Meade (never delivered) saying he missed a "golden opportunity" to end the war right there.

On November 19, President Lincoln went to the battlefield to dedicate it as a military cemetery. The main orator, Edward Everett of Massachusetts, delivered a two hour formal address. The president then had his turn. He spoke in his high, penetrating voice and in a little over two minutes delivered the Gettysburg Address, surprising many in the audience by its shortness and leaving others quite unimpressed.

Over time, however, the speech and its words - government of the People, by the People, for the People - have come to symbolize the definition of democracy itself.

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Military situation

Shortly after the Army of Northern Virginia won a major victory over the Army of the Potomac at the Battle of Chancellorsville (April 30 – May 6, 1863), Robert E. Lee decided upon a second invasion of the North (the first was the unsuccessful Maryland campaign of September 1862, which ended in the bloody Battle of Antietam). Such a move would upset the Union's plans for the summer campaigning season and possibly reduce the pressure on the besieged Confederate garrison at Vicksburg. The invasion would allow the Confederates to live off the bounty of the rich Northern farms while giving war-ravaged Virginia a much-needed rest. In addition, Lee's 72,000-man army [6] could threaten Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, and possibly strengthen the growing peace movement in the North. [19]

Initial movements to battle

Thus, on June 3, Lee's army began to shift northward from Fredericksburg, Virginia. Following the death of Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, Lee reorganized his two large corps into three new corps, commanded by Lt. Gen. James Longstreet (First Corps), Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell (Second), and Lt. Gen. A.P. Hill (Third) both Ewell and Hill, who had formerly reported to Jackson as division commanders, were new to this level of responsibility. The Cavalry Division remained under the command of Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart. [20]

The Union Army of the Potomac, under Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker, consisted of seven infantry corps, a cavalry corps, and an Artillery Reserve, for a combined strength of more than 100,000 men. [5]

The first major action of the campaign took place on June 9 between cavalry forces at Brandy Station, near Culpeper, Virginia. The 9,500 Confederate cavalrymen under Stuart were surprised by Maj. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton's combined arms force of two cavalry divisions (8,000 troopers) and 3,000 infantry, but Stuart eventually repelled the Union attack. The inconclusive battle, the largest predominantly cavalry engagement of the war, proved for the first time that the Union horse soldier was equal to his Southern counterpart. [21]

By mid-June, the Army of Northern Virginia was poised to cross the Potomac River and enter Maryland. After defeating the Union garrisons at Winchester and Martinsburg, Ewell's Second Corps began crossing the river on June 15. Hill's and Longstreet's corps followed on June 24 and 25. Hooker's army pursued, keeping between Washington, D.C. and Lee's army. The Union army crossed the Potomac from June 25 to 27. [22]

Lee gave strict orders for his army to minimize any negative effects on the civilian population. [23] Food, horses, and other supplies were generally not seized outright, although quartermasters reimbursing Northern farmers and merchants with Confederate money were not well received. Various towns, most notably York, Pennsylvania, were required to pay indemnities in lieu of supplies, under threat of destruction. During the invasion, the Confederates seized some 1,000 northern African Americans. A few of them were escaped fugitive slaves, but most were freemen all were sent south into slavery under guard. [16] [17] [18] [24]

On June 26, elements of Maj. Gen. Jubal Early's division of Ewell's Corps occupied the town of Gettysburg after chasing off newly raised Pennsylvania militia in a series of minor skirmishes. Early laid the borough under tribute, but did not collect any significant supplies. Soldiers burned several railroad cars and a covered bridge, and destroyed nearby rails and telegraph lines. The following morning, Early departed for adjacent York County. [25]

Meanwhile, in a controversial move, Lee allowed J.E.B. Stuart to take a portion of the army's cavalry and ride around the east flank of the Union army. Lee's orders gave Stuart much latitude, and both generals share the blame for the long absence of Stuart's cavalry, as well as for the failure to assign a more active role to the cavalry left with the army. Stuart and his three best brigades were absent from the army during the crucial phase of the approach to Gettysburg and the first two days of battle. By June 29, Lee's army was strung out in an arc from Chambersburg (28 miles (45 km) northwest of Gettysburg) to Carlisle (30 miles (48 km) north of Gettysburg) to near Harrisburg and Wrightsville on the Susquehanna River. [26]

In a dispute over the use of the forces defending the Harpers Ferry garrison, Hooker offered his resignation, and Abraham Lincoln and General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, who were looking for an excuse to rid themselves of him, immediately accepted. They replaced Hooker early on the morning of June 28 with Maj. Gen. George Gordon Meade, then commander of the V Corps. [27]

On June 29, when Lee learned that the Army of the Potomac had crossed the Potomac River, he ordered a concentration of his forces around Cashtown, located at the eastern base of South Mountain and eight miles (13 km) west of Gettysburg. [28] On June 30, while part of Hill's Corps was in Cashtown, one of Hill's brigades, North Carolinians under Brig. Gen. J. Johnston Pettigrew, ventured toward Gettysburg. In his memoirs, Maj. Gen. Henry Heth, Pettigrew's division commander, claimed that he sent Pettigrew to search for supplies in town—especially shoes. [29]

When Pettigrew's troops approached Gettysburg on June 30, they noticed Union cavalry under Brig. Gen. John Buford arriving south of town, and Pettigrew returned to Cashtown without engaging them. When Pettigrew told Hill and Heth what he had seen, neither general believed that there was a substantial Union force in or near the town, suspecting that it had been only Pennsylvania militia. Despite General Lee's order to avoid a general engagement until his entire army was concentrated, Hill decided to mount a significant reconnaissance in force the following morning to determine the size and strength of the enemy force in his front. Around 5 a.m. on Wednesday, July 1, two brigades of Heth's division advanced to Gettysburg. [30]


The Army of the Potomac, initially under Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker (Maj. Gen. George Meade replaced Hooker in command on June 28), consisted of more than 100,000 men in the following organization: [31]

    , commanded by Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds, with divisions commanded by Brig. Gen. James S. Wadsworth, Brig. Gen. John C. Robinson, and Maj. Gen. Abner Doubleday. , commanded by Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock, with divisions commanded by Brig. Gens. John C. Caldwell, John Gibbon, and Alexander Hays. , commanded by Maj. Gen. Daniel Sickles, with divisions commanded by Maj. Gen. David B. Birney and Maj. Gen. Andrew A. Humphreys. , commanded by Maj. Gen. George Sykes (George G. Meade until June 28), with divisions commanded by Brig. Gens. James Barnes, Romeyn B. Ayres, and Samuel W. Crawford. , commanded by Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick, with divisions commanded by Brig. Gen. Horatio G. Wright, Brig. Gen. Albion P. Howe, and Maj. Gen. John Newton. , commanded by Maj. Gen. Oliver Otis Howard, with divisions commanded by Brig. Gen. Francis C. Barlow, Brig. Gen. Adolph von Steinwehr, and Maj. Gen. Carl Schurz. , commanded by Maj. Gen. Henry W. Slocum, with divisions commanded by Brig. Gens. Alpheus S. Williams and John W. Geary.
  • Cavalry Corps, commanded by Maj. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton, with divisions commanded by Brig. Gens. John Buford, David McM. Gregg, and H. Judson Kilpatrick.
  • Artillery Reserve, commanded by Brig. Gen. Robert O. Tyler. (The preeminent artillery officer at Gettysburg was Brig. Gen. Henry J. Hunt, chief of artillery on Meade's staff.)

During the advance on Gettysburg, Maj. Gen. Reynolds was in operational command of the left, or advanced, wing of the Army, consisting of the I, III, and XI Corps. [32] Note that many other Union units (not part of the Army of the Potomac) were actively involved in the Gettysburg Campaign, but not directly involved in the Battle of Gettysburg. These included portions of the Union IV Corps, the militia and state troops of the Department of the Susquehanna, and various garrisons, including that at Harpers Ferry.


In reaction to the death of Lt. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson after Chancellorsville, Lee reorganized his Army of Northern Virginia (75,000 men) from two infantry corps into three. [33]

    , commanded by Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, with divisions commanded by Maj. Gens. Lafayette McLaws, George Pickett, and John Bell Hood. , commanded by Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell, with divisions commanded by Maj. Gens. Jubal A. Early, Edward "Allegheny" Johnson, and Robert E. Rodes. , commanded by Lt. Gen. A. P. Hill, with divisions commanded by Maj. Gens. Richard H. Anderson, Henry Heth, and W. Dorsey Pender. , commanded by Maj. Gen. J. E. B. Stuart, with brigades commanded by Brig. Gens. Wade Hampton, Fitzhugh Lee, Beverly H. Robertson, Albert G. Jenkins, William E. "Grumble" Jones, and John D. Imboden, and Col. John R. Chambliss.

Herr Ridge, McPherson Ridge and Seminary Ridge

Anticipating that the Confederates would march on Gettysburg from the west on the morning of July 1, Buford laid out his defenses on three ridges west of the town: Herr Ridge, McPherson Ridge and Seminary Ridge. These were appropriate terrain for a delaying action by his small cavalry division against superior Confederate infantry forces, meant to buy time awaiting the arrival of Union infantrymen who could occupy the strong defensive positions south of town at Cemetery Hill, Cemetery Ridge, and Culp's Hill. Buford understood that if the Confederates could gain control of these heights, Meade's army would have difficulty dislodging them. [34]

Confederate General Henry Heth's division advanced with two brigades forward, commanded by Brig. Gens. James J. Archer and Joseph R. Davis. They proceeded easterly in columns along the Chambersburg Pike. Three miles (5 km) west of town, about 7:30 a.m. on July 1, the two brigades met light resistance from vedettes of Union cavalry, and deployed into line. According to lore, the Union soldier to fire the first shot of the battle was Lt. Marcellus Jones. [35] Lt. Jones later returned to Gettysburg, in 1886 erecting a monument marking the spot where he fired the first shot. [36] Eventually Heth's men encountered dismounted troopers of Col. William Gamble's cavalry brigade. The dismounted troopers resisted stoutly, delaying the Confederate advance by firing their breechloading carbines from behind fences and trees. [37] Still, by 10:20 a.m., the Confederates had pushed the Union cavalrymen east to McPherson Ridge, when the vanguard of the I Corps (Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds) finally arrived. [38]

North of the pike, Davis gained a temporary success against Brig. Gen. Lysander Cutler's brigade but was repelled with heavy losses in an action around an unfinished railroad bed cut in the ridge. South of the pike, Archer's brigade assaulted through Herbst (also known as McPherson's) Woods. The Union Iron Brigade under Brig. Gen. Solomon Meredith enjoyed initial success against Archer, capturing several hundred men, including Archer himself. [39]

General Reynolds was shot and killed early in the fighting while directing troop and artillery placements just to the east of the woods. Shelby Foote wrote that the Union cause lost a man considered by many to be "the best general in the army." [40] Maj. Gen. Abner Doubleday assumed command. Fighting in the Chambersburg Pike area lasted until about 12:30 p.m. It resumed around 2:30 p.m., when Heth's entire division engaged, adding the brigades of Pettigrew and Col. John M. Brockenbrough. [41]

As Pettigrew's North Carolina Brigade came on line, they flanked the 19th Indiana and drove the Iron Brigade back. The 26th North Carolina (the largest regiment in the army with 839 men) lost heavily, leaving the first day's fight with around 212 men. By the end of the three-day battle, they had about 152 men standing, the highest casualty percentage for one battle of any regiment, North or South. [42] Slowly the Iron Brigade was pushed out of the woods toward Seminary Ridge. Hill added Maj. Gen. William Dorsey Pender's division to the assault, and the I Corps was driven back through the grounds of the Lutheran Seminary and Gettysburg streets. [43]

As the fighting to the west proceeded, two divisions of Ewell's Second Corps, marching west toward Cashtown in accordance with Lee's order for the army to concentrate in that vicinity, turned south on the Carlisle and Harrisburg roads toward Gettysburg, while the Union XI Corps (Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard) raced north on the Baltimore Pike and Taneytown Road. By early afternoon, the Union line ran in a semicircle west, north, and northeast of Gettysburg. [44]

However, the Union did not have enough troops Cutler, whose brigade was deployed north of the Chambersburg Pike, had his right flank in the air. The leftmost division of the XI Corps was unable to deploy in time to strengthen the line, so Doubleday was forced to throw in reserve brigades to salvage his line. [45]

Around 2 p.m., the Confederate Second Corps divisions of Maj. Gens. Robert E. Rodes and Jubal Early assaulted and out-flanked the Union I and XI Corps positions north and northwest of town. The Confederate brigades of Col. Edward A. O'Neal and Brig. Gen. Alfred Iverson suffered severe losses assaulting the I Corps division of Brig. Gen. John C. Robinson south of Oak Hill. Early's division profited from a blunder by Brig. Gen. Francis C. Barlow, when he advanced his XI Corps division to Blocher's Knoll (directly north of town and now known as Barlow's Knoll) this represented a salient [46] in the corps line, susceptible to attack from multiple sides, and Early's troops overran Barlow's division, which constituted the right flank of the Union Army's position. Barlow was wounded and captured in the attack. [47]

As Union positions collapsed both north and west of town, Gen. Howard ordered a retreat to the high ground south of town at Cemetery Hill, where he had left the division of Brig. Gen. Adolph von Steinwehr in reserve. [48] Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock assumed command of the battlefield, sent by Meade when he heard that Reynolds had been killed. Hancock, commander of the II Corps and Meade's most trusted subordinate, was ordered to take command of the field and to determine whether Gettysburg was an appropriate place for a major battle. [49] Hancock told Howard, "I think this the strongest position by nature upon which to fight a battle that I ever saw." When Howard agreed, Hancock concluded the discussion: "Very well, sir, I select this as the battle-field." Hancock's determination had a morale-boosting effect on the retreating Union soldiers, but he played no direct tactical role on the first day. [50]

General Lee understood the defensive potential to the Union if they held this high ground. He sent orders to Ewell that Cemetery Hill be taken "if practicable." Ewell, who had previously served under Stonewall Jackson, a general well known for issuing peremptory orders, determined such an assault was not practicable and, thus, did not attempt it this decision is considered by historians to be a great missed opportunity. [51]

The first day at Gettysburg, more significant than simply a prelude to the bloody second and third days, ranks as the 23rd biggest battle of the war by number of troops engaged. About one quarter of Meade's army (22,000 men) and one third of Lee's army (27,000) were engaged. [52]

Defense of Little Round Top

Warren Statue atop Little Round Top Rob Shenk

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain Library of Congress

Late in the afternoon of July 2, 1863, on a boulder-strewn hillside in southern Pennsylvania, Union Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain dashed headlong into history, leading his 20th Maine Regiment in perhaps the most famous counterattack of the Civil War. The regiment’s sudden, desperate bayonet charge blunted the Confederate assault on Little Round Top and has been credited with saving Major General George Gordon Meade’s Army of the Potomac, winning the Battle of Gettysburg and setting the South on a long, irreversible path to defeat.

For many years, historians and writers have given the lion’s share of the credit for the 20th’s dramatic action on Little Round Top to Chamberlain. Numerous books and even the popular movie Gettysburg have helped fuel adulation for the Union officer. But did Chamberlain really deserve the credit he received? Or, to put it another way, did he deserve all the credit? Answering that question adequately requires taking another look at the Battle of Gettysburg and the hell-raising fighting that occurred among the scattered stones of Little Round Top.

On June 3, 1863, Confederate General Robert E. Lee began the Army of Northern Virginia’s second invasion of the North. Lee’s main objective was to move across the Potomac River and try to separate the Union forces from Washington. When the Army of the Potomac’s commander, Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker, belatedly became aware of the Confederates’ movement, he began to force-march his army north, trying to keep Lee to the west and screen Washington from the Rebel troops. On June 28, as the bulk of the Federal troops enjoyed a brief respite near Frederick, Md., Meade replaced Hooker as commander of the Army of the Potomac.

General Henry Heth (Library of Congress)

Meade faced a daunting task. By June 30 Lee’s forces, including those of corps commanders Lt. Gens. James ‘Pete Longstreet and Ambrose P. Hill, were marching on the Chambersburg Road in southern Pennsylvania, while Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell was leading his corps westward from York. Major General J.E.B. Stuart, directing Lee’s cavalry, had not returned to the main Southern column from his screening mission around the Union forces. In fact, Stuart would not return until July 2, a crucial error in judgment.

Lacking adequate intelligence from his scouting forces, Lee directed his army to gather at Gettysburg. The general did not want to fight at Gettysburg, but alert Union horsemen had reached the area — a fact that would put a wrinkle in Lee’s plans. When Confederate Brig. Gen. James J. Pettigrew approached the town leading a 2,584-man brigade that was part of Maj. Gen. Henry Heth’s division, he became aware of the Union cavalry force positioned there. Pettigrew withdrew his troops and then reported back to Heth. The next day, July 1, Heth headed toward Gettysburg with four brigades of infantry to drive off the reported Union troopers and secure the town.

To Heth’s surprise, waiting for him was Union Brig. Gen. John Buford, who had dismounted and deployed his cavalry on McPherson’s Ridge, west of Gettysburg. Buford’s forces fired first, temporarily halting Heth’s force and starting the Battle of Gettysburg. Both sides sent dispatches to inform their superiors of the confrontation. Meade reinforced his Union position with the I Corps, which was now led by Maj. Gen. Abner Doubleday since Maj. Gen. John Reynolds had been mortally wounded earlier that day. Additional Union reinforcements came from Maj. Gens. Henry W. Slocum’s XII Corps and Daniel Sickles’ III Corps. Throughout the morning, Confederate pressure continued to build against the Union line.

Although spread thinly, the Union troopers held their ground with repeating carbines. As the fighting intensified, both sides added more infantry divisions to the battle. The Confederates managed to exploit weaknesses in the Federals’ deployment, and their attacks caused heavy losses to the Union troops, who were forced to retreat. Confederate General Ewell’s failure to carry out his orders and attack Cemetery Hill on the afternoon of July 1 wasted a golden opportunity for a quick, decisive victory. The Union had lost 4,000 men by that time — and the town of Gettysburg itself — but Meade quickly moved reinforcing divisions onto the high ground south of Gettysburg. The two armies spent a restless night.

The Union defensive line on aptly named Cemetery Ridge resembled an inverted fishhook, extending from Culp’s Hill on the north, down Cemetery Ridge and southward toward Big and Little Round Tops. Although the 650-foot-high Little Round Top was overshadowed by its larger neighbor, its position was more important because much of the hill was cleared of trees and it could better accommodate troops. Strategically, Little Round Top held the key to the developing battle. If the Southern troops could take and hold the hill, they could theoretically roll up the entire Union line.

On the morning of July 2, Little Round Top proper held perhaps just a handful of Federal soldiers. Pennsylvania native Brig. Gen. John W. Geary’s division was aligned just north of the hill and was the largest Union force in the immediate area. Geary was ordered to rejoin the rest of his XII Corps at Culp’s Hill after elements of Sickles’ III Corps took his place. In the confusion of shifting troops, however, Geary pulled his men out too soon, before Sickles’ men had moved to replace them. Little Round Top was left uncovered. Later, when Sickles’ infantry did arrive, the controversial general moved his men, without orders, westward toward the Emmitsburg Road. Once again Little Round Top went wanting for protectors in blue.

Warren Statue atop Little Round Top Rob Shenk

Robert E. Lee, with his eerie sense of a battlefield, was hastily assembling a force to attack the Union left, but it would take him the greater part of the day to get his men ready to strike. Meanwhile, Meade also sensed something significant about the two adjacent hills to his left. That afternoon he sent his chief of engineers, Brig. Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren, to assess the situation. To his utter chagrin, Warren found Little Round Top completely undefended. He hastily sent messengers to Meade and Sickles, requesting immediate assistance. Sickles, by that time hotly engaged with elements of Longstreet’s corps, had none to spare. But Colonel Strong Vincent, who commanded the 3rd Brigade of Brig. Gen. Charles Griffin’s 1st Division of the V Corps, received word from a harried courier about the threat to Little Round Top and led his men to the hill at the double-quick. Vincent’s brigade included the 44th New York, 16th Michigan, 83rd Pennsylvania and the 358-man 20th Maine under Joshua L. Chamberlain.

The 34-year-old Chamberlain was one of the most interesting figures in the Civil War. A highly cultured, somewhat sedentary professor of modern languages at Maine’s exclusive Bowdoin College, he had sat out the first year of the war on Bowdoin’s stately campus. But in July 1862, sensing perhaps that the war was going to last a good deal longer than he had first believed, Chamberlain offered his services to the Union cause. I have always been interested in military matters, he informed Maine Governor Israel Washburn, and what I do not know in that line, I know how to learn. He was given command of the newly formed 20th Maine, a unit comprised of extra men left over from other new regiments. It was not, Chamberlain noted, one of the state’s favorite fighting units — No county claimed it no city gave it a flag and there was no send-off at the station.

Colonel Strong Vincent

The 20th Maine had been organized under President Abraham Lincoln’s second call for troops on July 2, 1862. The regiment initially fielded a total complement of 1,621 men, but by the time of the Battle of Gettysburg the stress of campaigning had reduced the regiment’s ranks to some 266 soldiers, and the 20th was considered a weak link in Vincent’s brigade. Fortune, however, was to smile on Chamberlain’s regiment in the form of unexpected reinforcements.

On May 23, 1863, 120 three-year enlistees from the 2nd Maine Infantry were marched under guard into the regimental area of the 20th Maine. The 2nd Maine men were in a state of mutiny and refused to fight, angry because the bulk of the regiment — men with only two-year enlistments — had been discharged and sent home, and the regiment had been disbanded. The mutineers claimed they had only enlisted to fight under the 2nd Maine flag, and if their flag went home, so should they. By law, however, the men still owed the Army another year of service.

Chamberlain had orders to shoot the mutineers if they refused duty. Fortunately for the men of the 2nd Maine, Chamberlain was born and grew up in Brewer, the twin city to Bangor across the Penobscot River where the 2nd Maine regiment was recruited. The mutineers were not just soldiers but also Chamberlain’s childhood neighbors. Instead of shooting them, Chamberlain wisely distributed the 2nd Maine veterans evenly to fill out the 20th Maine’s ranks and integrate experienced soldiers among the untested 20th Maine. He sympathized with the mutineers and wrote to Maine Governor Abner Coburn, asking that he write to the men personally about the mix-up in three-year versus two-year contracts they had signed. On Little Round Top the 120 experienced combat veterans from the 2nd Maine brought the 20th’s ranks up to 386 infantrymen and helped hold Chamberlain’s wobbling line together.

As he arrived on Little Round Top, Colonel Vincent chose a line of defense that started on the west slope of the hill. When the first regiments reached the rocky outcrops in that area, Vincent put them into line. The 16th Michigan took up a position on the right flank, and the 44th New York and 83rd Pennsylvania held the center. Later in life, Chamberlain wrote that his regiment was the first in line, but it actually took up its position last, curving its line back around to the east and forming the Union Army’s extreme left flank.

The last thing Vincent told Chamberlain was: This is the left of the Union line. You are to hold this ground at all costs! Chamberlain ordered the regiment to go on line by file. He deployed Company B, recruited from Piscataquis County and commanded by level-headed Captain Walter G. Morrill of Williamsburg, forward to the regiment’s left front flank as skirmishers. Company B, with its 44 men, was subsequently cut off by a flanking attack by the enemy, leaving the 20th with only 314 armed men on the main regimental line.

Also helping to defend Little Round Top were Major Homer R. Stoughton’s 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters, armed with .52-caliber breechloading rifles. These sharpshooters’ skirmishing abilities were unequaled in the Union Army, and a 14-man squad was attached to Company B. The men took up a position in a ravine east of Little Round Top.

Shortly after the Federals had taken up their positions, the 824 men of the 4th and 5th Texas regiments of Maj. Gen. John B. Hood’s division hammered up the slope of Little Round Top, pushing toward the center and right of Vincent’s line. During that assault, Captain James H. Nichols, the commander of the 20th Maine’s Company K, ran to alert Chamberlain that the Confederates seemed to be extending their line toward the regiment’s left. Chamberlain called his company commanders together and told them his battle plans. With the new information from Nichols, Chamberlain ordered a right-angle formation, extending his line farther to the east.

Meanwhile, Colonel Vincent tried to rally his 3rd Brigade as the 16th Michigan staggered under the heavy assault by the 4th and 5th Texas. Just when the Federals were on the verge of collapse, Colonel Patrick O’Rorke led the 140th New York Zouaves into the gap to save Vincent’s brigade. Both Vincent and O’Rorke paid with their lives for their heroism.

Elements of Hood’s division, the 15th and 47th Alabama, then began to smash into the Maine troops. Hood ordered these regiments, led by Colonel William C. Oates, to find the Union left, turn it and capture Round Top.

Little Round Top (Library of Congress)

Twenty-five-year-old Color Sgt. Andrew J. Tozier of the 2nd Maine quickly emerged as an unlikely hero, and he was later awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery. It had been Chamberlain’s idea to elevate Tozier to the post of color sergeant for the 20th Maine, a move designed to instill a new esprit de corps in the mutineers. Color sergeant was a dangerous but coveted position in Civil War regiments, generally manned by the bravest soldier in the unit. As the 20th Maine’s center began to break and give ground in the face of the Alabama regiments’ onslaught, Tozier stood firm, remaining upright as Southern bullets buzzed and snapped in the air around him. Tozier’s personal gallantry in defending the 20th Maine’s colors became the regimental rallying point for Companies D, E and F to retake the center. Were it not for Tozier’s heroic stand, the 20th Maine would likely have been beaten at that decisive point in the battle.

When their ammunition had almost run out, Chamberlain decided to fix bayonets and charge down into the two Alabama regiments. Chamberlain later said he communicated his decision to counterattack to Captain Ellis Spear, the acting battalion commander of the unit’s left flank. Spear, however, claimed he received no such orders.

Corporal Elisha Coan, a member of the 20th Maine’s color guard, claimed that 1st Lt. Holman S. Melcher, the acting commander of Company F, actually conceived the idea to advance the colors and that Colonel Chamberlain initially hesitated, fearing that it would be extremely hazardous. Coan said other officers joined Melcher in urging a forward movement.

Chamberlain — whose right foot had been pieced by a shell fragment or a stone chip — then limped along the regimental line giving instructions to align the left side of the regiment with the right. After Chamberlain returned to the regimental center, Melcher asked permission to retrieve his wounded from the front. Chamberlain replied, Yes, I am about to order a right wheel forward of the whole regiment. (Chamberlain himself claimed later to have said, yes, sir, in a moment! I am about to order a charge.)

Chamberlain ordered a right-wheel maneuver and took up a place behind Tozier. There is some disagreement about exactly what Chamberlain said to order the bayonet charge. One story is that he screamed: Bayonet! Forward to the right! Chamberlain claimed later that one word — Bayonet! — was enough and that it was vain to order Forward because no one could hear it over the noise. Nor was there time. Right wheel or Bayonet! Forward to the right was perhaps someone’s post-war idea of what Chamberlain would have said if time permitted. The state-appointed Maine commission that later gathered facts regarding Maine’s contribution to the Battle of Gettysburg maintained that Melcher sprang forward as Chamberlain yelled, Bayonet! and that Chamberlain himself was abreast of the colors.

With all the confusion and noise on Little Round Top that day, if anything other than bayonet had been said it probably would not have mattered, anyway. An infantryman who is out of ammunition, faced with being cut down on the next enemy charge, and hearing the metal-to-metal sound of bayonets being put on en masse knows the intent of the upcoming order without actually hearing it. In all likelihood Lieutenant Melcher conceived the idea to advance the colors to retrieve the wounded, but Chamberlain expanded upon the idea, deciding to have the whole regiment conduct a bayonet attack. In doing so, Chamberlain exercised effective battle command.

The 20th Maine Monument at Little Round Top Rob Shenk

After Chamberlain ordered Bayonet, the Union line hesitated until Melcher sprang out in front of the line with his sword flashing. Captain Spear said he never received a formal order to charge — he charged only after he saw the colors start forward.

The Rev. Theodore Gerrish, then a private in Company H, stated that Melcher led the men down the slope when the enemy was only 30 yards away. Corporal Coan said the men hesitated when Melcher ordered them forward because they were not sure if the colonel had sanctioned the attack. Chamberlain claimed there was no hesitation and said that the line quivered for the start. Captain Nichols wrote in 1882 that Company K never hesitated. Perhaps Company H did hesitate on the left because they were taking heavy fire when the charge started. Company K probably did not delay since the right side of the regiment was not experiencing heavy fire at the time. Most evidence indicates that Chamberlain ordered the charge, and Melcher was the first officer down the slopes. Melcher was an inspiration to the tiring regiment as he sprang a full 10 paces to the front with his sword glittering in the sunlight.

Another crisis soon faced the Maine soldiers when the left side of the regiment drew even with the right, short of its planned position. Melcher broke this momentary disruption by running down the slope screaming: Come on! Come on boys! with Tozier beside him and Chamberlain not far behind.

Great responsibility also fell upon Captain Spear, whose flank was to start the attack — otherwise the charge would not pivot and work to its fullest potential. But Spear gets curiously little credit for marshaling and organizing the tactics of the left flank of the 20th. Spear literally controlled half the regiment during the climactic counterattack. The lack of credit perhaps helped create the rift that later developed between him and Chamberlain.

During the charge, a second enemy line of the 15th and 47th Alabama tried to make a stand near a stone wall. For a moment it looked as though the Confederates might succeed in halting the Unionists and breaking their momentum. But, using the classic element of surprise, Captain Morrill’s Company B rose up from behind a stone wall and fired a volley into the Confederates’ rear, breaking the will of the enemy troops. Confederate reports showed that the Union company had been magnified into two regiments. According to Confederate Colonel Oates, it was the surprise fire of Company B that caused the disastrous panic in his soldiers. Chamberlain, for his part, wrote incorrectly to his wife that his regiment had been attacked by a whole brigade.

Line of the 20th Maine - Little Round Top Rob Shenk

Chamberlain seemed to have been blessed with both good timing and luck. He not only had made the right command decisions but also had managed to survive when by all rights he should have been dead. An Alabama soldier twice failed to pull the trigger of his rifle because he had second thoughts about killing the brave colonel. Then a pistol aimed and fired by a Southern officer misfired only a few feet from Chamberlain’s face.

Without the private stand of Sergeant Tozier inspiring others to close up and bolster the sagging middle of the regiment, the Confederate attacks could have eliminated the 20th Maine as a fighting force. Tozier’s bravery sparked the 20th Maine and changed the course of the engagement. Without Tozier, there would not have been an opportunity for Chamberlain to attack.

Spear, who would later become a brevet brigadier general, believed that all the officers at Little Round Top shared in the battle fully and honorably, but that the bayonet charge was a success largely due to the spirit of the enlisted men. He was convinced that only the tenacity of the 358 Maine men had enabled Chamberlain to defeat Oates’ two Alabama regiments.

Captain Howard L. Prince, former 20th Maine quartermaster-sergeant, considered Captain Morrill the coolest man in the regiment — a man who had no superior on the skirmish line. Morrill led his unit at the decisive point of the bayonet charge without orders. His contingent created the impression of two regiments rushing through the woods, though it consisted only of 44 Company B soldiers and 14 U.S. Sharpshooters. It was this group that Oates believed caused panic in his men. Without Morrill’s up-front leadership, Chamberlain’s attack probably would have been spoiled and pushed back.

Others who merited more credit than they received were Gouverneur Warren, who conducted one of the best reconnoitering jobs of the war, and Strong Vincent, who unhesitatingly put his brigade on Little Round Top and rallied that brigade under intense fire until he fell mortally wounded. Colonel Patrick O’Rorke was also one of the heroes, as his 140th New York reinforced Vincent’s brigade and saved it from early defeat. Both Vincent and O’Rorke gave their lives at Gettysburg, and if not for those two men and others, Chamberlain probably would be remembered today as only a minor figure in a major Union disaster.

Ellis Spear later suggested somewhat bitterly that the abundance of articles written by Chamberlain himself indirectly led to Chamberlain receiving sole credit for the victory. Much of the primary information about Little Round Top does come directly from Chamberlain, who published 25 separate writings on the battle. Chamberlain also was a member of the official Maine at Gettysburg Commission and wrote the organization’s chapter on the 20th Maine.

The problem with becoming a legend is that deeds may become distorted inadvertently due to commercial profits, hero worship and the sheer passage of time. Many American junior officers still look up to Chamberlain. Some take his deeds out of context, however, and mythologize him.

Rob Shenk

Chamberlain’s vivid personality overshadows the regiment that made him famous — even though it was the regiment that saved the day. There is a Chamberlain museum in Brunswick, Maine Chamberlain Pale Ale produced in Portland, Maine and a Chamberlain Bridge exists in Bangor, Maine — yet no commercial product commemorates the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry. Chamberlain overshadows the 20th Maine in the way that George S. Patton overshadows the U.S. Third Army in World War II.

The valorous defense of Little Round Top will always belong to the 20th Maine Infantry and to Joshua L. Chamberlain as the regimental commander. But after weighing all the evidence, it seems fair to say that without the contributions of the 2nd Maine Infantry, Andrew J. Tozier, Company B and Holman Melcher, Chamberlain clearly and convincingly would have been defeated. Strong Vincent, Patrick O’Rorke and Ellis Spear also deserve greater recognition for their contributions. Joshua Chamberlain deserves much acclaim, but not to the exclusion of many others whom history has so far — and so unfairly — underrated.

Bvt. Lt. Col. William Wallace Rogers, forgotten cavalryman

Capt. William W. Rogers, post-war

Today, we have a forgotten cavalrymen post on Capt. William Wallace Rogers by his descendant, Capt. John Nesbitt, III, formerly of the U.S. Army. Rogers served with honor in the Civil War and in the post-war Regular Army.

Captain William Wallace Rogers descended from William and Ann Rogers who immigrated to Wethersfield, Connecticut by way of Virginia in the mid-1630s, and then to Long Island, where they were early settlers of Southampton (the Southampton Historical Museum is housed in the Rogers’ mansion built on the Rogers’ homestead by a descendent of Obadiah Rogers, a son of William and his wife). William is also considered a founder of Huntington, L.I., having been one of the men who negotiated the purchase of the land for Huntington with the Native Americans. From there, their son Noah went back across Long Island Sound as an early settler of Branford, Connecticut where Captain Rogers’ ancestors resided for almost 200 years before migrating to Pennsylvania. Captain Rogers’ great-grandfather was Samuel Rogers, Jr. who served three times as a Private in the Connecticut militia in the Revolution – twice volunteering and once conscripted. This story as supported by Private Rogers’ request for his pension, and related family stories, surly was passed down to Captain Rogers as a boy, as it was to this writer and descendent of Samuel Rogers, Jr. by his grandmother a niece of Captain Rogers who was born in 1890, the year Captain Rogers died.

Captain Rogers was born in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, November 15, 1832, the eldest son of Minor and Elizabeth (Fretz/Fratts/Fratz) Rogers. The personal “Record of Service of William W. Rogers, Captain 9th Infantry United States Army.” dated September 24, 1883 and written down at Fort Bridger, Wyoming, says of his Civil War military service that he “Enlisted as private in Company B. 3rd Penna., Cavalry , (60th Pennsylvania Volenteers (sic)) July 23, 1861.” This was in Philadelphia. And, further, that he was “Promoted-2nd Lieutenant, Company “C” 3rd Penna., Calvalry (sic). December 31, 1861. 1st Lieutenant Company “C” 3rd Penna., Cavalry July 17, 1862.” and “Captain Company “L” 3rd Penna., Cavalry May 1, 1863.” About the time of the latter date, and before the Battle of Gettysburg, the Union Army changed the designation Companies to Squadrons for the basic assignment and maneuver elements within the cavalry battalions.

Captain Rogers further writes that he: “Served with the 3rd Penna. Cavalry in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania from July 23, 1861 until February 6, 1864-and participated in the following named engagements.

WILLIAMSBURG, VA, May 6, 1862. FAIR OAKS, VA, June 15, 1862. Horse Killed and received injury by his falling upon my leg. SAVAGE STATION, VA, June 29, 1862. CHARLES CITY, CROSS ROADS, VA, June 30, 1862. MALVERN HILL, VA, July 1, 1862. RAPPAHANOCH STATION, VA, February 15, 1863. KELLYS FORD, VA, March 17, 1863. RAPIDAN STATION, VA, April 9, 1863. ELYS FORD, VA, May 1863. BRANDY STATION, VA, June 9, 1863. BEVERLY FORD, VA, June 1863. ALDIE, VA, June, 1863. GETTYSBURG, PA, July 2nd and 3rd, 1863. Received gun shot wounds through right breast and left shoulder, July 3, 1863. OAK HILL, VA, October, 1863. BRISTOL STATION, VA, October 14, 1863. NEW HOPE CHURCH, VA, November, 1863. PARKERS’ STORE, VA, November, 1863. (capitalization of actions are this writers for emphasis and clarity

Of the initial engagement, the battlefield of Williamsburg, May 4 & 5, 1863, Captain Rogers wrote his father in a letter of May 17, 1862 that “I saw them wounded in every imaginable manner. Some shot in the mouth, in the head, in the stomach, feet torn off and gashed in the thighs, or body, or arm with pieces of shell. Being shot myself the sight of their sufferings was awful. I soon got over it however and could look at the surgeons take off arms and legs and pile them in the field.” and described the action as follows, “Advance the charge yelling like demons or stand and receive a charge of the rebel infantry who also fought like heroes in these conflicts between infantry of both sides, the batteries would cease and yells would take the place of the thunder of guns and in this way it continued during the whole day in which regiments were nearly torn to pieces.” (Source: Curt Harley, copies of W.W. Rogers letters home to his father originally in the possession of Curt’s father Rogers Harley)

Rogers with other officers of the 3rd Pennsylvania Cavalry

My interest in the Civil War goes back many years, to the mid-1950s, and was at least partially inspired by my grandmothers’ stories of the “thirteen Rogers relatives” who served in the Union Army “from a thirteen year old drummer boy,” thorough a Rogers “who was shot but the bullet could not be removed and who died in the 1870s when the bullet reached his heart,” to Captain William Wallace Rogers the oldest sibling of my grandmother’s mother and her twin sister who married George Harley. Even though I learned from her of Captain Rogers’ Civil War service and heroism at the Battle of Gettysburg, as well as his service among the Indian’s “out west” in the 1870s and 80s, I didn’t have any real substance to the story or his service until I came upon a newsstand copy of Blue & Grey Magazine for October, 1988. It was an “Anniversary Issue” and featured the article “Gettysburg: Cavalry Operations June 27-July 3, 1863,” by Ted Alexander.” Therein, pages 32, and 36-39, it was related as to the action on the “East Cavalry Field” that:

At 1 p.m. ”…the artillery barrage that preceded “Pickett’s Charge” began and was distinctly heard by all the troopers.

“At 2 p.m., (John B.) McIntosh (commanding the 3rd Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry) decided to probe his front in order to determine the strength of his opponent. A dismounted skirmish line from the 1st New Jersey moved out about half a mile toward the Rummel farm. This prompted a counter movement by the Confederates at the Rummel farm and soon a brisk fight was underway as the opposing lines shot it out from behind parallel fence lines. Soon the Jerseymen were reinforced by two squadrons of the 3rd Pennsylvania (one of which, “L”, was commanded by Captain Rogers) and the Purnell Legion, all of which were dismounted and held the left,”

Reading on it is reported, “Reinforcements should have meant Colonel J. Irvin Gregg’s brigade, but that would take time since it was several miles away. Custer (newly promoted Gen. George A. Custer) was nearer but heading south to join Kilpatrick near the Round Tops. Therefore, General David McM. Gregg overrode Custer’s marching orders and sent him to help McIntosh take on the Rebels at Rummel’s farm. Custer, sensing this was where the action was, did not protest.”

And that, “A little after 3 p.m., the Federals noticed sunlight reflecting off something in the distance along Cress Ridge. It shone from the drawn sabers of (Wade) Hampton’s and (Fitzhugh) Lee’s brigades, massed in attack formation…Lieutenant William Brooke-Rawle of the 3rd Pennsylvania recalled, “In close columns of squadrons, advancing as if in review, with sabres (sic) drawn and glistening like silver in the bright sunlight, the spectacle called forth a murmur of admiration. It was indeed a memorable one.”

Then, “As the gray riders advanced, Gregg personally ordered Colonel Charles Town to take his 1st Michigan out to meet them.” And, Town being quite ill, “…Custer rode up to lead them. The gait of both columns increased as they drew nearer, first at a trot then a gallop.”

When, “The front rank of the 1st Michigan wavered for a moment, then Custer yelled, “Come on you Wolverines!” and the entire regiment spurred ahead.”

Gregg’s troops, and in particular Custer’s Wolverines, were outnumbered by General J.E.B. Stuart’s charging legions, and, “Although the Wolverines numbered less than 500 against more than six times that many, their wedge-like penetration parted Hampton’s formation.”

Fortunately, help was close at hand, “While the 1st Michigan slugged it out with Hampton, who by now was supported on the flanks by Lee and (John R.) Chambliss, additional bodies of Federals that had been scattered about the field rallied and struck the Confederates on the flanks. Among them were two squadrons of the 3rd Pennsylvania, under Captain Charles Treichel and Lieutenant William Rogers (should be Captain), who struck the Confederate right. Even Colonel McIntosh and about 20 officers and men from his headquarters group charged in to assist Treichel and Rogers.”

With the support of squadrons of the 3rd Pennsylvania also coming in from the Confederate left flank, the charge of Stuart’s brigades was turned back, in spite of the fact that, “Stuart had over 6000 men, a large proportion of them which he committed to the fight. Gregg had about 5000 men but only about 3000 saw action.”

Captain Rogers returned to service with the 3rd PA Cavalry following his recovery from his wounds September 28, 1863. February 6, 1864 he was appointed a Captain in the Veterans Reserve Corps serving in Washington, D.C. He was promoted for his gallant and meritorious service at the Battle of Gettysburg, his highest brevet rank being Lt. Col. as of March 13, 1865.

Curt Harley, a cousin of this reporter, wrote in 2006 that Captain Rogers was an officer of the honor guard for President Lincoln both at his 2nd inauguration and while he lay in state. He also says: that Captain Rogers was in command of the cavalry detail at Ford Theater and was one of the first to notice that Lincoln was shot that he was a good friend of Custer and, that he was also a friend of Buffalo Bill Cody. Captain Rogers, in his own report of his service of 1883, writes that he served in Washington, D.C. during 1864 and until 1867, including in the Office of the Military Governor of Washington, D.C.

He continued in the Army for the rest of his career, 1867 until 1869 in Tennessee in charge of troops during the Reconstruction Era with the 45th Infantry and the 14th Infantry respectively, and then in April, 1870 at Crow Creek Agency, Dakota as Acting Assistant Quartermaster and A.C.S. (Acting or Assistant Chief of Staff) and subsequently commanding Company B, 14th Infantry.

Now Regular Army First Lieutenant Rogers’ personally written “Record of Service” records that “5/22/1871 On duty with Company G. 9th Inf. 1st Lieut. A.C.S. Fort D.A. Russell Wyo.” The formal certificate of his appointment as an officer in the Regular Army, of which I have a copy from Rogers Harley, reads “…William W. Rogers, I have nominated, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, do appoint him First Lieutenant in the Ninth Regiment of Infantry in the service of the United States: to rank as such from the twenty second day of May eighteen hundred and seventy one,…” and is signed by the Secretary of War and President U.S. Grant. Over the next sixteen years Captain Rogers and his family served with the Ninth Infantry on posts in Nebraska and Wyoming- the overall command being called the Department of the Platt.

Florence Rogers, circa 1869

From “Nov. 28, 1875 to Sept. 12, 1876” Lieutenant Rogers writes in his personal “Record of Service” of September 24, 1883 that he was “Commanding Camp Sheridan, Neb., and Company F. 9th Infantry.” This conforms to the History of the Ninth Infantry: 1799-1909, by Capt. Fred R. Brown, Adjutant, Ninth Infantry (1909), page 116 where it is recorded as follows:

“Company F left post (i.e. Camp Sheridan, Neb.) on May 8th, under command of First-Lieutenant W. W. Rogers, Ninth Infantry, to scout the country between the post and Custer City, with Company K. Second Cavalry. The company returned from Custer City via Camp Robinson, Nebraska, on the 29th of May. Distance marched, 418 miles.”

On a driving trip to visit western U.S. National Parks, including in the Black Hills and the Little Bighorn Battlefield, my wife and I recently visited those locations where Lieutenant, and later, Captain Rogers served in the Department of the Platt in the 1870s and 80s where there are still structures and such to visit. The Camp Sheridan site lies east of Chadron and north of Hay Springs in Nebraska, and south of Oglala which is due north in South Dakota, but nothing remains of the camp to visit. We followed Nebraska Route 20, the Crazy Horse Memorial Highway, east from Fort Robinson turning onto Highway 385 north, the Gold Rush Highway, heading for Custer City, South Dakota just before reaching Chadron. For more background, the role of Camp Sheridan and its relationship to Fort Robinson in the 1870’s is described below:


About ten miles north are the sites of Spotted Tail Agency and Camp Sheridan. Named for Brule Sioux Chief Spotted Tail, the agency was built in 1874 to supply treaty payments, including food, clothing, weapons, and utensils, under the terms of the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty. The army established Camp Sheridan nearby to protect the agency. A similar arrangement prevailed for the Ogalala Sioux at Red Cloud Agency and Camp Robinson forty miles west.

Spotted Tail Agency was generally quiet and peaceful throughout the Indian War of 1876-77. Crazy Horse surrendered there on September 4, 1877, after fleeing Red Cloud Agency. He was stabbed to death the next evening while being imprisoned at Camp Robinson, but his parents returned his body to Camp Sheridan for burial.

On October 29, 1877, Spotted Tail’s Brules were moved to present South Dakota. In 1878 they occupied the Rosebud Agency, where they live today. Camp Sheridan, with a peak garrison of seven companies of soldiers, was abandoned on May 1, 1881.

I had been wondering why Lieutenant Rogers’ “…scout (of) the country between the post (Camp Sheridan) and Custer City…” of May, 1876 received such specific attention in the History of the Ninth Infantry: 1799-1909, by Capt. Fred R. Brown (1909) supra. It is not the case for that work to give a routine “scout” such detailed attention. At the same time I was just finishing Thom Hatch’s recently published, early in 2015 by St. Martins Press, The Last Days of George Armstrong Custer, subtitle “The True Story of the Battle of the Little Bighorn.” When I connected the dots so to speak as I was finalizing this manuscript, I realized that Lieutenant Rogers, Co. F of the 9th Infantry and Company K, 2nd U.S. Cavalry weren’t just on a routine “scout”, but were undertaking what we would term today a Reconnaissance in Force. The reason, to be sure that the territory south of the Black Hills was secure from “hostile Indians” as the three prong approach into southeastern Montana of U.S. forces got underway in May of that year. This involved General Crook moving up the Rosebud Creek from northeast Wyoming, General Terry and Lt. Col. Custer coming from Fort Abraham Lincoln in the Dakota Territory and moving due west and Colonel Gibbons coming from Fort Ellis to the west in Montana along the Yellowstone River. The objective, to find and destroy “hostile Indians” who would not peacefully return to their assigned reservations, and ultimately to converge on the confluence of the Rosebud and the Yellowstone in Montana. This was an opening phase of the Indian War of 1876-1877. General Crook would fight the Battle of the Rosebud and turn back. Lt. Col. Custer and five companies, of his men of the 7th Cavalry, Companies C, E, F, I and L, would go on to lose their lives in the Battle of the Little Bighorn of that June 25, 1876. For most in the Army and of the country, the death of Custer and his men at the Little Bighorn came as a shock, and logically this would have been even more so for Lieutenant Rogers. The man of then modern legend who he had fought in support of at Gettysburg on that hot and pivotal July day in 1863, who by family tradition he considered a good friend as they crossed paths “out west on the great plains” in the early years of the 1870s, and, as has been pass down in our family, had discussed going into business ventures together when they eventually retired from the service was not only defeated, but was killed. It had to be one of the great shocks of his life, though not on a par with the loss of his little Floe and two years later his wife Elizabeth.

But change was coming for Lieutenant Rogers and his command. By his own record, he was less than three months from returning east. By “September 12, 1876” he was “On duty at Fort Lavaunio (hand corrected to Fort Laramie), Wyo., Comd’y. Co., F. 9th Inf.”

While it seems rather a fast trip, Lieutenant Rogers and Helen King Dewey, a relative of Admiral Dewey, were married on September 19, 1876 at Unity Church, Chicago by the Reverend Robert Collyer. Interestingly, General L. P. Bradley who married one of Helen’s three sisters had been Lieutenant Colonel of the 9th Infantry Regiment (source: manuscript Pvt, Dewey Rogers 1881-1900: Co. “G”-9th Infantry U.S. Army by Rogers S. Harley (1991)). The newlyweds then went on to New York and other locations in the east where Lieutenant Rogers’ duties focused on recruiting for the Ninth Infantry.

Lieutenant Rogers and Helen then went west again, where he continued with the 9th Infantry, with which he would remain. As of “Dec. 16, 1878” he was “En-route to join Company F. 9th Infantry at Fort McKinney, Wyo.”, west of Buffalo, WY. By “March 31, 1880” he was “On duty at Fort Sidney, Neb., as Capt. Co., B. 9th Infantry.” Until “April 22, 1880” when he was “Enroute with Company B. 9th Infantry from Fort Sidney, Neb. to Fort Niobrara Neb., engaged in building the New post.” Helen and Captain Rogers’ only child, Dewey, was born July 22, 1881 at Ft. Niobrara, Nebraska where they served through April 13, 1883. By “Aug. 17, 1883” Captain Rogers and his family were at Fort Bridger, where he further writes in his personal “Record of Service”: “With Company engaged in repairing wagon road from Fort Bridger, Wyo., to Fort Thoruburg (sic, should be Thornburg)), Utah.” Regarding Fort Thornburg, During the summer of 1881 the military troops were established in Ashley Canyon for protection against Indians. Moving to Fort Thornburgh in December, 1881. The fort was abandoned in 1884 and part of the supplies taken to Fort Bridger”. (source: on-line copy of marker for Fort Thornburg).

In 1886 the 9th Infantry was reassigned to the Department of Arizona. This was very much hardship duty given the sever conditions of the climate and terrain. In 1887, for whatever reason, Captain Rogers requests and receives written official confirmation that he was wounded twice in action on July 3, 1863 (of which the family has a copy). Question: Was his health already declining and he was looking ahead to retiring for medical reason, and/or possibly the memories of the young of the day about the Battle of Gettysburg and his service a quarter of a century on needed such written documentation? Today we would say that he was at the least entitled to the Purple Heart medal. He retired from the service because of severe illness in 1889, and he, Helen and Dewey settled in Chicago. Due to his illness, Captain Rogers went to California hoping it would be helpful to his health. He died there in San Diego, December 14, 1890. In Brown, Supra, page 145, it is reported that “As indicating the severity of service, discomforts , and exhausting climate conditions in Arizona from 1886 to 1891, the regiment lost: Five Captains by retirement for disability, (one of whom died soon after): Two Captains by death, and one First Lieutenant by retirement for disability:…” and the list goes on. It would seem quite probable that the Captain who died soon thereafter is a reference to the death of Captain Rogers.

Thanks to Captain Nesbitt for his contribution, and thanks also to him for providing the images that appear here.

Here’s to Bvt. Lt. Col. William Wallace Rogers, forgotten cavalryman.


Cavalry forces played a significant role at Gettysburg only on the first and third days of the battle. On the first day (July 1, 1863), the Union cavalry division of Brig. Gen. John Buford successfully delayed the Confederate infantry forces under Maj. Gen. Henry Heth until Union infantry could arrive on the battlefield. By the end of the day, Buford's troopers had retired from the field. [1]

On the Confederate side, most of Maj. Gen. Stuart's cavalry division was absent from the battlefield until late on the second day. Possibly misunderstanding orders from General Robert E. Lee, Stuart had taken his three best brigades of cavalry on a pointless ride around the right flank of the Union Army of the Potomac and was out of touch with the main body of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia since June 24, depriving Lee of critical intelligence information and of screening services. Stuart arrived from Carlisle at General Lee's headquarters shortly after noon on July 2, and his exhausted brigades arrived that evening, too late to affect the planning or execution of the second day's battle. Hampton's Brigade camped to the north, following the relatively minor clash with Union cavalry at Hunterstown that afternoon. [2]

Lee's orders for Stuart were to prepare for operations on July 3 in support of the Confederate infantry assault against the center of the Union line on Cemetery Ridge. Stuart was to protect the Confederate left flank and attempt to move around the Union right flank and into the enemy's rear. If Stuart's forces could proceed south from the York Pike along the Low Dutch Road, they would soon reach the Baltimore Pike, which was the main avenue of communications for the Army of the Potomac, and they could launch devastating and demoralizing attacks against the Union rear, capitalizing on the confusion from the assault (Pickett's Charge) that Lee planned for the Union center. [3]

Confederate cavalry forces under Stuart for this operation consisted of the three brigades he had taken on his ride around the Union Army (commanded by Brig. Gen. Wade Hampton, Brig. Gen. Fitzhugh Lee, and Colonel John Chambliss) and the brigade of Col. Albert G. Jenkins (under the command of Col. Milton J. Ferguson following Jenkins's wounding on July 2). Although these four brigades should have amounted to approximately 5,000 troopers, it is likely that only 3,430 men and 13 guns saw action that day. [4] And following their nine-day ride around Maryland and Pennsylvania, they and their horses were weary and not in prime condition for battle. [5]

Union cavalry forces were from the corps of Maj. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton, who did not participate directly in the command of any cavalry actions during the Battle of Gettysburg. Since most of Buford's division had retired to Westminster, Maryland (with the exception of his reserve brigade under Brig. Gen. Wesley Merritt, which was deployed directly south of Gettysburg), only two divisions were ready for action. Stationed near the intersection of the Hanover Road and the Low Dutch Road—directly on Stuart's path—was the division of Brig. Gen. David McM. Gregg. Gregg had two brigades present at Gettysburg, under Col. John B. McIntosh and Col. J. Irvin Gregg (David Gregg's cousin), but the latter was stationed on the Baltimore Pike. David Gregg's one-brigade command was supplemented by the newly formed "Michigan Brigade" of Brig. Gen. George Armstrong Custer. Custer was assigned to the division of Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick but happened to be on loan to David Gregg and requested permission from Gregg to join his fight. Altogether, 3,250 Union troopers opposed Stuart. The other brigade from Kilpatrick's division, commanded by Brig. Gen. Elon J. Farnsworth, was stationed to the southwest of the Round Top mountain, the area now known informally as South Cavalry Field. [6]

Principal commanders of cavalry at Gettysburg, July 3

The cavalry battle at Gettysburg, 3rd July, 2.30 p.m. - History

By Arnold Blumberg

In late July 1863, after the conclusion of the Gettysburg campaign, the Union Army of the Potomac, under Maj. Gen. George G. Meade, and the Army of Northern Virginia, under General Robert E. Lee, settled exhaustedly into their respective camps. The Federal troops bivouacked on the north bank of the Rappahannock River near the village of Warrenton, Virginia, while the Confederates took up positions south of the river near Culpeper.

Having won a major defensive victory—however narrowly—at Gettysburg, Meade considered going over to the offensive. He confided to Union General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck on July 28 that he was “making every effort to prepare the army for an advance.” But before any forward movement could be undertaken, Meade first had to discover the enemy’s exact location. To that end, he sent out a large reconnaissance force spearheaded by Brig. Gen. John Buford’s 1st Cavalry Division and supported by the infantry in Maj. Gen. John Newton’s I Corps.

Lee Along the Rappahannock

On August 1, Buford’s 3,500 troopers splashed across the Rappahannock and started down the line of the Orange & Alexandria Railroad to Culpeper. At 10 am, the bluecoats came into contact with Confederate horsemen guarding the area, Brig. Gen. Wade Hampton’s 1,000-man brigade, temporarily commanded by Colonel Pierce M.B. Young. As Union horsemen curled around both his flanks, Young conducted a grudging four-mile fighting withdrawal to Brandy Station. A further retreat brought the contending forces within three miles of Culpeper. At 4 pm, Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart, commander of the Army of Northern Virginia’s cavalry corps, appeared on the scene with reinforcements. Soon Buford’s men were surrounded by a welter of saber-wielding Confederate cavalry and quickly arriving infantry. Not wanting to bring on a general engagement, Buford moved northeast toward the Rappahannock River. By nightfall he made contact with the II Corps, which had passed to the south of the waterway. Outnumbered better than 2-to-1, the Confederates broke off the action and marched back to Culpeper.

Between August 3 and 9, Confederate cavalry skirmished repeatedly with Buford’s division, which continued to hold a bridgehead on the south shore of the Rappahannock near Rappahannock Station. The purpose of the brawls was to determine what Federal strength was on the south bank of the river and if Meade intended to bring his entire army across or retire to the north shore. The answer came on August 9 when Meade, concerned about his supply situation, withdrew all his soldiers to the north bank.

Robert E. Lee, guarding against an enemy turning movement that could trap him between the Rappahannock and Rapidan Rivers, transferred his army south of the Rapidan. By the last days of August, Lee had 60,000 men concentrated on the south side of the lower Rappahannock near Fredericksburg. As always, his thoughts tended toward taking the offensive. Writing to I Corps commander Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, Lee observed, “I can see nothing better to be done than to endeavor to bring General Meade out and use our efforts to crush his army while in its present condition.” Ever the gambler, Lee formulated a plan to cross the Rappahannock somewhere between Fredericksburg and the junction of the Rappahannock and Rapidan and hit Meade from the rear. However, events in another arena of the war caused the stratagem to be shelved.

In a brilliant campaign of maneuver, Union Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans’ Army of the Cumberland had driven its opponent, the Army of Tennessee, entirely out of Middle Tennessee that summer. This deprived the Confederacy of a vast stretch of territory that supplied the Southern military with manpower, horses, and foodstuffs. The loss of the vital area moved the war to the outskirts of Chattanooga, Tennessee, the gateway to northern Georgia.

The crisis in northern Georgia prompted the Richmond government in early September to detach Longstreet’s corps of 14,000 men from the Army of Northern Virginia to stabilize the situation in the West. This left Lee with only 46,000 troops to face Meade’s 97,000 soldiers, presenting Lee with no real opportunity to bring the fight to the Army of the Potomac with any real chance of success.

76,000 Federals vs 46,000 Confederates

The Federal commander did not feel so constrained. Meade had been contemplating an advance on Richmond that would start at Fredericksburg and consist of an overland campaign from there to the Confederate capital. But first he had to confirm whether the rumor of Longstreet’s departure from Virginia was true. To that end, he initiated another reconnaissance in force over the Rappahannock River on September 13, using his entire cavalry corps: Buford’s 1st Division, the 2nd Cavalry Division under Brig. Gen. David M. Gregg, and Brig. Gen. Hugh J. Kilpatrick’s 3rd Cavalry Division. The II Infantry Corps under Maj. Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren was assigned to support the cavalry effort.

After the Union cavalry traversed the Rappahannock and joined forces at Brandy Station on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad seven miles northeast of Culpeper, Kilpatrick tangled with 1,000 troopers and an attached horse artillery battery under Colonel Lunsford Lomax. The Confederate mounted brigade of Brig. Gen. William H.F. “Rooney” Lee, Robert E. Lee’s son, joined the fray in a number of clashes south of Culpeper before Stuart withdrew his horsemen to the Rapidan River. Casualties for the opposing forces were light, the most notable being the wounding in the leg of Union Brig. Gen. George A. Custer, which knocked him out of action for the next three weeks.

Brigadier General David Gregg’s Federal troops skirmish with Confederates under Colonel Lunsford Lomax during one of several reconnaissances in force on September 13, 1863. Cavalry commander J.E.B. Stuart withdrew his own forces rather than provoke a larger attack.

For the next 10 days, the Federal cavalry sought in vain to discover a path across the Rapidan in the face of the defensive front put up by Confederate infantry along the river. On September 21, in an attempt discover a way to flank the enemy position on the Rapidan by way of a move to the west, Buford’s and Kilpatrick’s cavalry embarked on an extended scout around the Confederate left flank at the Robertson River.

The next day, eight miles south of where the Federals crossed the Robertson, at a place called Jack’s Shop, Buford ran into Stuart. While Buford pinned Stuart from the north, Kilpatrick circled around to strike the Confederates from the south. Surrounded, Stuart was forced to fight his way out to the south toward Gordonsville. On the 23rd, the Federals retraced their steps and recrossed to the north side of the Rapidan.

Buford’s successful foray across the Robertson River portended an advance by Meade around Lee’s left, but that was not to be as the pendulum of war swung once more. In the West, Braxton Bragg’s forces defeated Rosecrans at the Battle of Chickamauga (September 19-20), resulting in the siege of the Army of the Cumberland inside Chattanooga. Rushing to succor the beleaguered Federal force, the Lincoln administration sent the 20,000 men of the XI and XII Corps to Tennessee on September 25. With the disparity in enemy numbers somewhat reduced (76,000 troops to Lee’s 46,000), and with the knowledge that Longstreet would not be returning to Virginia for some time—he had been detailed to conduct what turned out to be a fruitless campaign in East Tennessee after the victory at Chickamauga—Lee was determined to strike a blow. His determination to attack included his hope of bringing on a successful battle at his advantage, forcing the enemy to abandon areas of northern Virginia before the harvest season ended and preventing further detachments of Union forces from going to Tennessee.

The Bristoe Station Campaign Begins

Lee’s operational plan was reminiscent of his campaign against Maj. Gen. John Pope in August 1862. He envisioned a rapid move by his army around the Union right and into its rear. Then Meade’s army, like Pope’s the year before, hemmed in between the Rappahannock and Rapidan Rivers, would be forced to fight Lee on ground of the Southerner’s choosing. Scheduled to commence on October 10, the Confederate advance would see the foot soldiers of Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell’s II Corps jumping off from Madison Court House, forming an inner arc circling around Meade’s right. At the same time, Lt. Gen. Ambrose Powell Hill’s III Corps, also starting from Madison Court House, would constitute another but wider curve around the enemy’s right flank.

Eagle-eyed Union Signal Corps officers watch General Robert E. Lee’s army in camp from an observation stand on Pony Mountain near Culpeper, Virginia, in September 1863.

Shielding the turning movements of the 38,000 Confederate infantry from prying eyes fell to Hampton’s cavalry division, 2,500 sabers strong, directly commanded by Stuart. While the bulk of the army went forward, Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry division and some infantry brigades, 7,000 fighters in all, were tasked with pinning down the opposing army along the Rapidan River, 20 miles away.

Lee hoped that his movement would come as a surprise to Meade. It would not. On October 6, four days before the Confederates rolled out of Madison Court House, Union signal corpsmen on Pony Mountain, eight miles southwest of Culpeper, intercepted Confederate messages disclosing the imminence of the Confederate offensive. On October 9, signal men from the same height spotted the enemy concentrating at Madison Court House.

Misinterpreting his enemy’s redeployment as the precursor of a Confederate retreat toward Richmond, Meade got his army in motion and planned to send infantry and cavalry under Buford across the Rapidan on Lee’s right flank and capture Orange County Court House, an important supply base for Lee’s army. Hedging his bets in case Lee’s movement turned out to be against his army’s right, Meade stationed Kilpatrick’s cavalry and some infantry, 8,000 men in all, at the village of James City on his right, northeast of Madison Court House, as a blocking force.

At 6:30 am on October 10, the Bristoe Station campaign started when cavalry under Stuart stormed over the Robertson River at Russell’s Ford, overwhelming Union horsemen stationed there. Three hours later, Stuart and the two brigades of cavalry accompanying him found themselves stalled in front of James City by tenacious fighting on the part of Kilpatrick’s troopers and infantry from Brig. Gen. Henry Prince’s 2nd Division, III Corps. Behind Stuart the infantry columns of Ewell and Hill labored over poor roads and numerous swollen creeks. They entered camp that evening after having covered only 10 miles.

Battle of Brandy Station

By midafternoon, Meade had concluded that the Army of Northern Virginia was not withdrawing but was moving to outflank him. In response, he rearranged his various corps. The II Corps moved to strengthen the right wing, with III Corps to the II’s left and V Corps positioned near Culpeper to act as a central reserve. By day’s end, three-fifths of the Federal army’s infantry and one-third of its cavalry were near James City facing Lee’s oncoming battalions.

On Sunday, October 11, the full impact of the Confederate advance was felt by the Army of the Potomac. One of Meade’s aides, Lt. Col. Theodore Lyman, witnessed the army “all busy, packing and striking tents. All the wagons went ahead, the 1st & 6th Corps followed on the south side of the railroad [the Orange & Alexandria] and the 2nd and 5th [Corps] on the north, while the 3rd [Corps] went more to the north still, crossing at Freeman’s Ford [on the Rappahannock River].” Meade had pulled his army back from the Rapidan and set it in motion for the north bank of the Rappahannock. Meanwhile, Buford, who had been on reconnaissance below the Rapidan River, after brisk fighting with Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry near Morton’s Ford, slipped away from his Confederate pursuers and rejoined the main army.

Marching briskly in formation, veteran infantry from the Army of the Potomac cross Broad Run on October 14, 1863, before the Battle of Bristoe Station.

Abandoning James City that morning, Kilpatrick fled to Culpeper. As Stuart closed on the south side of the Rappahannock while his opponents scrambled to reach its north bank, a large cavalry battle occurred at Brandy Station in the late afternoon. At one point both mounted forces, on parallel routes, raced for the high ground around the station. The Federals, under Buford, barely won the race. Regardless, Kilpatrick’s men found themselves cut off from their comrades, and only a bold charge led by Custer and his brigade allowed the isolated troopers to join their friends on the hill. By nightfall, the Union cavalry had safely escaped across the river.

While the opposing cavalry fought at Brandy Station on the 11th, Ewell’s and Hill’s footsloggers were able to cover only another 10 miles that day. Meanwhile, the Federal infantry corps completed their crossing of the Rappahannock and spread out to cover the river from just below White Sulphur Springs, where Gregg’s cavalry was on guard, south to Kelly’s Ford.

Confederate Cavalry Cross the Rappahannock

On October 12, Lee planned to move his army to the right of the enemy and cross the Rappahannock after that it would move to Meade’s rear at Warrenton. Again, Ewell would take the inner and more direct route toward the enemy right, moving along the Culpeper-Warrenton Turnpike. A late start, muddy roads, and slow-moving divisional trains allowed for only eight miles that day. Hill’s men, moving farther to the west and hampered by miserable roads, managed barely 12 miles, which nevertheless brought them to within seven miles of Meade’s right flank by day’s end.

Meanwhile, Meade, intent on locating Lee’s infantry, decided to send a combined cavalry and infantry force made up of Buford’s division and the II, V, and VI Corps under Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick south of the Rappahannock. Sedgwick moved to Brandy Station and took the high ground there.

As the Federal army commander pushed half his army to Brandy Station, Lee, with Stuart’s troopers in the lead and the rest of his army in trail, made for the Union right. The Confederate advance was held up by cavalry of Gregg’s division at the village of Jeffersonton, two miles from the Rappahannock. It was not until 4 pm that Confederate cavalry cleared the area of Federals and moved on to the river. A Southern cavalry charge at the Fauquier White Sulphur Springs bridge secured the crossing point two hours later, sending the Union defenders of Gregg’s command fleeing. Confederate infantry from Ewell’s corps immediately reinforced their cavalry brethren on the north bank.

As Gregg’s men fell back eight miles to Fayetteville, they uncovered the Union III Corps’ right flank at Freeman’s Ford, farther to the south. Stuart pushed on that evening with two brigades of cavalry and occupied the town of Warrenton, which lay six miles northeast of the Rappahannock and six miles behind the Army of the Potomac’s right. Lee did not move his infantry over the river that day since he did not know the full extent of the enemy’s dispositions in the region.

Union forces at Bristoe Station occupied an easily defensible flat plain between Broad Run and the Orange & Alexandria Railroad.

The Fighting at Auburn

Learning of his opponent’s advance on his flank late that night, Meade issued orders for Sedgwick to pull back from Brandy Station and cross to the north bank of the Rappahannock. On the 13th, I, II, and III Corps were ordered to proceed to the vicinity of Warrenton V and VI Corps proceeded to Warrenton Junction, 10 miles southeast of Warrenton, to form a reserve. That same day, Buford was tasked with guarding the divisional, corps, and army trains, a total of 27,000 wagons and other vehicles, while Gregg’s and Kilpatrick’s units were posted to watch the army’s right and rear.

As the Army of the Potomac prepared to move east, the Confederate infantry of Ewell and Hill managed only 13 miles for the day, bringing them close to Warrenton by nightfall. The afternoon of the 13th saw the Federal army move from around Warrenton Junction toward Bristoe Station, 22 miles from the Rappahannock River. The army marched in two columns.

General Gouverneur Warren.

As the Federals trudged on, Lee, seeking intelligence on the whereabouts of the enemy, sent Stuart with three mounted brigades on a scout from Warrenton to Catlett’s Station, 10 miles to the southeast and three miles north of Warrenton Junction. The cavalry leader started before noon. Nearing his objective, he unknowingly placed himself in a position between the two roving columns of the Army of the Potomac: Kilpatrick’s and Gregg’s cavalry divisions and the II and III Corps traveling north five miles south of Warrenton, and Buford’s men, the I, V, and VI Corps moving along the Orange & Alexandria Railroad five miles farther south of the northernmost Federal column. The army was heading for the secure position on the heights at Centreville, 20 miles from Washington.

At 4 pm, Lomax’s cavalry brigade ran into Maj. Gen. William French and his III Corps near Auburn, five miles south of Warrenton. Lomax attacked but was driven off and retired to Warrenton. Meanwhile, Stuart and his 3,000 troopers near Catlett Station found themselves trapped between the two Union forces making their way toward Bristoe Station. Stuart hid his command in a wood below Auburn and spent the night no more than 300 yards from Warren’s II Corps’ burning campfires.

At dawn on the 14th, Lee ordered Ewell’s corps, then near Warrenton, to march to Stuart’s rescue. At 6 am, Ewell’s leading division under Maj. Gen. Robert E. Rodes came in contact with the Union II Corps division led by Brig. Gen. John C. Caldwell and some Federal cavalry. At the same time, Stuart ordered his horse artillery to fire on Caldwell. This in turn prompted Brig. Gen. Alexander Hays’ II Corps division to attack Stuart’s newly discovered position. Stuart then ordered a successful break though the Federal lines to the southeast.

General David Gregg.

As Caldwell battled Rodes and then Maj. Gen. Jubal Early’s infantry along with Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry, the other infantry units of the Federal II Corps made their way from Auburn to Catlett’s Station. Four hours after the fight began, both sides disengaged and proceeded to their assigned targets for the day: the II Corps to Catlett’s and Bristoe Stations, while Ewell’s Confederates marched to Greenwich on the northern margin of the Union army. The unwanted combat at Auburn had cost the combatants about 100 casualties each.

“I Will Face My Men About and Cut My Way Out”

While Ewell fought at Auburn, A.P. Hill, with some of Fitzhugh Lee’s troopers in the van, marched his three infantry divisions east on the Warrenton and Alexandria Turnpike, pushing retreating units of the Federal III Corps before them until the Union forces outpaced their pursuers. At midmorning near Buckland Mills, Lee’s cavalry engaged in a series of running fights with Kilpatrick’s men, who had been assigned by Meade to block the turnpike leading east to Centreville. This was important since the Confederate cavalry fell behind Hill’s advancing infantry as the latter approached Bristoe Station, eight miles up the railroad from Catlett’s Station. The absence of Southern cavalry at Bristoe Station meant that Hill would go into battle without knowing about the presence of Warren’s corps nearby. It proved to be a deadly mistake.

By noon most of Meade’s army and its enormous trains were near Centreville and safely out of Lee’s reach. The sole exception was the army’s rear guard, Warren’s and Gregg’s formations, just departing Catlett’s Station. Warren marched along the rail line with Brig. Gen. Alexander Webb’s 2nd Infantry Division and two artillery batteries on the north side of the right of way Hays’ 3rd Division marched parallel with Webb on the south side, and Caldwell’s 1st Division and the corps trains followed Hays and Webb on both sides of the tracks. The two brigades of Gregg’s cavalry division guarded the marching infantry, Colonel John P. Taylor’s 1st Brigade shielding Warren’s left, while Colonel J. Irvin Gregg’s 2nd Brigade took up the rearguard position.

General A.P. Hill.

About 1 pm, Warren’s nearest support, Maj. Gen. George Sykes’ V Corps, had just pulled back over Broad Run Creek two miles to the north of Bristoe Station, mistakenly believing Warren was out of danger of being cut off. In fact, at that time Hill’s Confederates were closer to the Broad Run Creek crossing than Warren was. Hill, seeing the last of Sykes’ men crossing to the west side of the creek, determined to attack at once. “No time must be lost,” he told aides.

With two of his three divisions not yet up, Hill ordered the only unit readily available, Maj. Gen. Henry Heth’s division, to form a line of battle half a mile north of Bristoe Station and one mile west of the village of Milford on Broad Run Creek. Brig. Gen. John R. Cooke’s brigade formed on the right, with Brig. Gen. W.W. Kirkland’s men to Cooke’s left and Brig. Gen. Henry H. Walker’s brigade behind Kirkland. The Confederate strike force numbered 4,700 men. Hill decided to keep Heth’s remaining two brigades in reserve.

The area the battle was fought over consisted of open fields studded with patches of thick pine trees, heavy undergrowth, and low ridges that were perfect for concealment of troops. The terrain was well suited for defense. “Well, I will advance,” said Cooke, “and if they flank me, I will face my men about and cut my way out.” He would soon have the opportunity to prove his words.

Advancing Into a Trap

Soon after Hill gave Heth the order to advance, a column of men was seen approaching the Confederate right. Hill assumed that this was the lead regiment of Anderson’s division. In fact, it was the leading unit of Warren’s corps, Colonel Francis E. Heath’s 1st Brigade. At 2:15 pm, elements of Heath’s command supported by Lieutenant T. Fred Brown’s Battery B, 1st Rhode Island Artillery, moved across Broad Run at the railway bridge. Once on the east side of the stream, the gunners went into battery to confront the Confederates coming from the north. The Union infantry fell back to the west side of the creek, where they took a defensive stance in a railway cut facing the enemy. Minutes later, Heath was joined on his left by Webb’s 3rd Brigade under Colonel James E. Mallon.

General John R. Cooke (J.E.B. Stuart’s brother-in-law). Cooke was wounded in the battle.

Distracted by the fire from Heath and Mallon, Cooke and Kirkland veered toward the entrenched Federals. At 2:30 pm, Hill directed the units to ignore the enemy in the rail cut and advance toward Broad Run. Cooke chose to disobey Hill’s command and led his and Kirkland’s men toward the point of greatest danger, the massed Union troops under Heath and Mallon. Hidden from his view, Walker missed Cooke’s and Kirkland’s new march route and continued southeast toward Broad Creek. At this juncture Anderson appeared and Hill immediately ordered him to send two brigades south to aid the Confederate attack.

At 2:30 pm, reinforcements from Colonel Joshua T. Owens’ Third Infantry Brigade, Hays’ division, and Captain William A. Arnold’s Battery A, 1st Rhode Island Artillery arrived to bolster the Union position. These were soon joined by Batteries F and G, 1st Pennsylvania Light Artillery, under Captain R. Bruce Ricketts. The Union forces, about 3,000 infantry and 20 cannons including the battery across the creek, were augmented by the arrival of Colonel Thomas A. Smyth’s 2nd Brigade of Hays’ division.

At the same time, Cooke and Kirkland, not realizing the strength of the enemy position in the railroad cut, moved across an open field. Private John A. Sloan of the 27th North Carolina, one of Cooke’s regiments, described the ground across which the Confederates advanced. “The space between us and the railroad was a barren, open field, descending with a gradual declivity to the railroad embankment,” he recalled. “Across and beyond the railroad about 300 yards, upon a considerable elevation, were extensive woods and thickets here the enemy had posted their artillery. In front of these woods, and on the face of the hill descending to the railroad embankment, was posted what we supposed was the enemy’s skirmish line.”

In fact, the onrushing Confederates were heading straight into a trap prepared for them by Gouverneur Warren. His deployment behind the embankment and at right angles to the ford created a deadly enfilade. It was, said an admiring Union officer, “as fine a trap as could have been devised in a month’s engineering.” For a few minutes the Confederates stopped and exchanged rifle volleys with their adversaries in the cut. Both Cooke and Kirkland went down wounded. Despite men falling by the score from enemy fire, the arrival of a friendly artillery battery, which lent close support, motivated the Confederates to charge forward.

“We Were Mowed Down Like Grain Before a Reaper”

As the butternut wave hit the blue line, the latter’s close-range musket fusillades brought down dozens of the attackers just 40 yards in front of their positions. “We were mowed down like grain before a reaper,” said one Tarheel. In the 27th North Carolina alone, three color bearers went down in quick succession as they grabbed the falling colors. The Federals suffered too. Webb’s horse was shot from under him, and Mallon was mortally wounded. Parts of Mallon’s and Heath’s line on the Union right were pierced by Kirkland’s men, if only momentarily. The Confederates crossed to the south of the railway and poured small arms fire into Heath’s right rear and engaged in some close-quarter bayonet fighting. A deadly fire from Brown’s four guns across Broad Run forced the exultant attackers back north of the tracks.

On the Union extreme left, Smyth had no sooner reached his position at 3:15 pm, when he was attacked by two brigades from Anderson’s division. At the height of Anderson’s assault, which carried them into the rail road cut, men and cannons from Caldwell’s formation came up and repelled the surging Confederates. By 4 pm, the rest of Caldwell’s division appeared and anchored the Union left. Part of one brigade crossed Broad Creek to support Brown’s little battery.

At the same time, Cooke’s and Kirkland’s badly beaten units had fallen back 600 yards from the Federal front. Hill formed a new battle line. Ewell’s corps had arrived on the field, and the fresh units formed the new Confederate right nestling against Kettle Run, a stream half a mile west of Bristoe Station. The opposing artillery opened on each other for half an hour, but little damage was done to either side. An hour later, supported by two batteries, Rodes’ division took the bridge over Kettle Run on the Union left but was not strong enough to deliver a decisive attack against the foe in that quarter.

A Blow to Lee’s Confidence in Hill

Darkness ended the Battle of Bristoe Station at 6:30 pm. Under cover of night, Warren silently moved his men safely east of Broad Run Creek. The largest infantry encounter of the campaign had cost Lee’s army 1,300 killed, wounded, or missing, with another 433 taken prisoner, as well as five artillery pieces captured. Warren’s losses amounted to 586 men.

Another battlefield drawing from Alfred Waud’s sketchbook of the action at Bristoe Station shows a Rhode Island artillery battery firing on Maj. Gen. Henry Heth’s advancing Confederates.

Cooke’s brigade was hit hardest, losing 700 men, including the general himself. Kirkland’s losses amounted to 602 casualties, half of whom had surrendered rather than run the gauntlet of fire back to their own lines. To a man, the North Carolinians were furious at their corps commander. “Hill is a fool & woeful blunderer,” wrote one officer. Said another survivor, “A worse managed affair than this did not take place during the war.” Hill, to his credit, accepted full blame for the fiasco. “I am convinced,” he wrote in his official report, “that I made the attack too hastily.”

His commanding general agreed with that assessment. After the battle, Lee was reported to be in a “very ill humor when it came to General Hill,” and some sharp words were exchanged between the two concerning Hill’s conduct of the battle. When Hill attempted to explain what happened at Bristoe Station, the ordinarily polite Lee cut him off abruptly. “Well, general,” he said, looking at the dead North Carolinians littering the ground below them, “bury these poor men and let us say no more about it.” The relationship between Hill and Lee was strained until Hill’s death at Petersburg in 1865.

After the battle, Meade assumed a strong position near the old Bull Run battlefield, and Lee gave up his hope of turning his opponent out of it. With his own lines of communication broken with the destruction by the Federals of the Orange & Alexandria Railroad, Lee elected to withdraw south of the Rappahannock.

The autumn campaign had done little to alter the war’s strategic situation. No Federal troops were hurried back to Virginia from the West Lee could not hold the territory he marched through north of the Rappahannock and the Army of Northern Virginia did not inflict any serious damage on the Army of the Potomac. On the contrary, Lee had suffered losses in men and horses that he could ill afford and found himself significantly weakened for future offensive activities. Looming in the future was the figure of the Union Army’s new commanding general—Ulysses S. Grant—who would not give Lee time to breathe, much less recuperate.

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