Primary Source Material
on the Soldiers and the Battles
Home The Armies The Soldiers The Battles Civilians Articles Sources About Us
If this website has been useful to you, please consider making a Donation.

Your support will help keep this website free for everyone, and will allow us to do more research. Thank you for your support!

Battle of Gettysburg, PA
in the American Civil War

Union Battle Summary

Gettysburg, Pa., July 1-3, 1863. Army of the Potomac. After the battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville the opinion became prevalent through the South that Lee's Army of Northern Virginia was more than a match for the Federal Army of the Potomac, and a clamor arose for an aggressive movement. There were at this time potent reasons why Lee should assume the offensive. An invasion of Maryland and Pennsylvania would have a tendency to draw troops from Grant at Vicksburg and Rosecrans in Tennessee to repel the invaders, thus relieving the pressure on the Confederate forces under Pemberton, Johnston and Bragg. If the invasion should prove to be successful European nations might be persuaded to recognize the Confederacy, loans could be obtained, and probably aid secured to open the Southern ports, then in a state of blockade. All these reasons and possibilities were carefully weighed and toward the last of May Lee decided to make the invasion. Since the battle of Chancellorsville he had been lying at Fredericksburg, recruiting and reorganizing his army, which on June 1 numbered, according to Confederate reports, 88,754 men. It was divided into three corps, as follows: the 1st, commanded by Lieut.-Gen. James Longstreet, was composed of the divisions of McLaws, Pickett and Hood, and the reserve artillery under Col. J.B. Walton. The n2d, under the command of Lieut.-Gen. Richard S. Ewell, included the divisions of Early, Johnson and Rodes, the reserve artillery being in charge of Col. J.T. Brown. The 3rd, commanded by Lieut.-Gen. Ambrose O. Hill, consisted of the divisions of Anderson, Heth and Pender, and the reserve artillery under Col. R.L. Walker. In addition to these three corps was the cavalry under the command of Maj.-Gen. J.E.B. Stuart, and consisting of the brigades of Fitzhugh Lee, W.H.F. Lee, Hampton, Jenkins, W.E. Jones and Imboden, and six batteries of horse artillery under the command of Maj. R.F. Beckham.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notwithstanding Lee's order on the evening of the 1st to "attack the enemy in the morning as early as practicable," the greater part of the day was spent in maneuvering for position. Longstreet did not want to attack until the arrival of Pickett's division. As a matter of fact Pickett did not come up in time to take any part in the second days' battle, and Law's briade of Hood's division did not arrive on the field until noon on the 2nd. Considerable delay was incurred in moving the artillery so as to keep out of sight of the Union signal station on Little Round Top, so that it was the middle of the afternoon before the Confederates were in position to begin the general assault on Meade's flanks according to Lee's plans. This delay cost them dear in the end, as Meade's different commands were hurrying to the front, and when the attack did come there was an opposition too strong to be overcome. As soon as possible after his arrival Meade looked over the ground and at dawn he commenced the formation of his lines for an attack on the Confederate left. The 12th corps was sent to the right of Wadsworth on Culp's hill, but Slocum and Gen. G.K. Warren, who had served as chief engineer under Hooker, and now held that position on Meade's staff, advised against such a movement. Meade, however, was determined to fight aggressively and began to arrange his troops for an assault on the enemy's left. Some time was necessarily spent in the preparations and before they were completed Lee attacked both ends of the Union line, thus forcing Meade to assume the defensive, which finally proved to be to his advantage. The Union line was formed as follows: Slocum on the extreme right; Wadsworth's division on Cemetery hill, with the other two divisions of the 1st corps at the base; Hancock's corps, which had come up during the night, next on the left; then Sickles; Sykes on the extreme left, while Sedgwick, who had made a march of 35 miles, arriving just before the attack commenced, was stationed in reserve on the Taneytown road behind the Round Tops, where he could rest his men until called on to strengthen some part of the line.

The Confederate line was in the form of a concave. Longstreet on the left was opposite the Round Tops; Hill in the center occupied Seminary ridge; Ewell on the right held the town and the ridges east of Rock creek. Along the north side of Little Round Top ran a road which crossed the Emmitsburg road almost at right angles near the center of the open country lying between the two lines. On the south side of this road and east of the Emmitsburg road was a large peach orchard, to the east of which was a wheatfield. Sickles moved his corps to the cross roads, forming Humphrey's division along the Emmitsburg road and Birney's in the peach orchard and on a ridge south of the cross-road, Ward's brigade being thrown forward to the Devil's Den. As this position was some distance in advance of the main line, and subsequently proved to be untenable, there has been some controversy as to whether Sickles occupied it by order of the commanding general or selected it himself. It is not the province of this work, however, to settle responsibilities, but to tell what happened. Birney's skirmishers were engaged almost from the time his line was formed until the main attack of the Confederates about 4 p.m. When that attack was opened Longstreet directed a severe artillery fire against the two sides of the angle formed by Sickles' line, and this was followed by a fierce assault on Ward, who was overlapped by the enemy's line and compelled to retire. The attack was then extended toward the peach orchard and some of the enemy's batteries secured positions from which an enfilading fire was poured into the two lines forming the angle. Humphreys sent a brigade and later a regiment to the assistance of Birney, but soon afterward his own line was vigorously assailed by Barksdale's brigade on the north and Kershaw's on the west, making it impossible to render any further aid to Birney, who was now hard pressed. Graham's brigade was driven from the orchard, Sickles had lost a leg and Graham was wounded and a prisoner in the hands of the enemy. The Federal batteries, commanded by Maj. McGilvery, and which was stationed on the cross-road below the orchard, met the Confederate advance by an effective fire, but in vain. One of the batteries was captured by Kershaw's men, but the 141st Pa. made a gallant charge and recaptured the guns, bringing them off by hand. Still the Confederates pressed on, and as a last resort McGilvery ordered Biglow to sacrifice his battery to save the rest. With the courage born of desperation he obeyed the order, fighting until the enemy approached within a few feet, when he managed to withdraw, but with severe loss. This left the orchard in the hands of the enemy, which brought them on Humphrey's flank and Birney's right. Reinforcements were called for and Hancock sent in Caldwell's division, but it was compelled to fall back after losing heavily in killed and wounded, two brigade commanders, Cross and Zook, being among the killed. Ayres' division next went in, and, although he struck the enemy on the flank, doubled up their line and forced them back, he was in the end compelled to make a hurried retreat to save his command from annihilation.

This fight on the left was a struggle for the possession of Little Round Top. About the time that Ward was outflanked Warren rode over to the signal station there to obtain a better view of what was going on. Seeing the importance of the position, which was then undefended, he assumed the responsibility of ordering Vincent's brigade of Barnes' division to occupy the crest, at the same time notifying Meade of what he had done and asking for a force sufficient to hold it. As Ward retired the Confederates made a rush for the hill, but were met on the top by Vincent's men, who repulsed the first assault with the bayonet. The 140th N.Y., belonging to Weed's brigade of Barnes' division, and Hazlet's battery were then sent to the aid of Vincent. Having failed in the first attempt to carry the position, the enemy next made an effort to turn the left, but were met by the 20th Me., under Col. Chamberlain. At first the Unionists were forced back by the main strength of superior numbers, but Sykes hurried a brigade to the relief of Chamberlain, and a brigade of the Pennsylvania reserves arriving about the same time, the Confederates were driven from the hill with a loss of 500 captured and 1,000 stands of arms taken, besides a large number in killed and wounded. After the 3rd corps had been driven from the peach orchard the enemy began to form in front of the wheatfield for another assault on Little Round Top. McCandless' brigade of Crawford's division, led by Crawford himself, charged and drove them to the farther side of the wheatfield, where they found shelter behind a stone fence. In the meantime two brigades - Eustis' and Nevin's - of Sedgwick's corps had come forward and during the time of Crawford's charge took a position in front of the ridge. The sight of these fresh troops had a discouraging effect on the Confederates and they withdrew from the contest.

Through some miscalculation Ewell did not begin his attack on the Federal right until after Longstreet's repulse. The plan of attack here was for Johnson to move against Culp's hill, and as soon as he was fairly engaged Early and Rodes were to assault the works on Cemetery hill. When the fight commenced on the left Ewell opened with his artillery and kept up the fire for about an hour before making any further movement against the Union lines. In this time Meade, under the impression that the demonstration on his right was merely a feint, withdrew from that portion of his line all of the 12th corps except Greene's brigade, and sent it to the support of Sykes. About 5 p.m. Johnson crossed Rock creek and advanced against Greene and Wadsworth. Greene held out until he was reinforced, when the enemy was driven from his front, though Johnson occupied the intrenchments that had been abandoned by the 12th corps, giving him a strong position on the right flank of the Union army. While this was taking place Early sent the brigades of Hays and Hoke, the latter commanded by Col. Avery, up the valley between Culp's and Cemetery hills to assault the Federal position on the latter. The advance was somewhat impetuous, driving back Von Gilsa's and Ames' brigades, which were stationed at the foot of the hill. In the rear of this infantry line were Wiedrich's and Ricketts' batteries, which were next attacked, the former being captured and 2 guns of the latter spiked. Farther up the hill were the batteries of Stevens, Reynolds and Stewart, the officers of which had orders from Col. Wainright to "fight the guns to the last." As the enemy advanced in the face of these guns they were met by a storm of canister, Stevens' battery especially doing effective work. Hancock voluntarily sent Carroll's brigade to the support of the batteries, which were also reinforced by the 106th Pa. and a detachment from Schurz' command. The arrival of these troops carried dismay into the enemy's lines, which had not been properly supported, although Gordon's brigade had been assigned to that duty, and a retreat was ordered. As they fell back they were followed by a shower of canister from the batteries, which killed and wounded a large number and threw the line into some confusion. It is said that the Confederate organization known as the "Louisiana Tigers," went into this fight with 1,750 men, of whom only 150 returned unscathed. Rodes was delayed in making his attack, havig to move out of Gettysburg by the flank, then change front and march some distance. By the time he was in position to cooperate with Early the latter had met defeat. The day closed with the Union forces still in possession of the ridge, though the enemy had gained some advantage on the right, as Johnson still held the intrenchments of the 12th corps, which threatened the safety of Meade's army by cutting off the line of retreat if such a movement became necessary. This victory, meager as it was, offered Lee sufficient incentive to continue the contest the next morning. That night a council of war was held, at which it was unanimously decided to "stay and fight it out." It is said that Meade was somewhat displeased at the decision, because he wanted to retire to the ground previously selected at Pipe creek. However this may have been he acquiesced in the judgement of his corps commanders, and preparations were immediately commenced looking to the coming engagement.

Lee's general plan of battle for the 3rd was similar to that of the preceding day. Ewell was to open the fight by pressing the advantage already gained on the extreme right, and after his attack was well under way the main assault was to be made on the center. Johnson was reinforced by three brigades and instructed to begin his attack at daybreak. But a disagreeable surprise was in store for him. Geary returned to Culp's hill about midnight and learned that his intrenchments were in the hands of the enemy. He took a position with Greene and began making arrangements to recover his works at the earliest opportunity the next morning. Batteries were brought up during the remaining hours of darkness and stationed at all the points bearing on Johnson, and as soon as it was light enough to distinguish objects the guns opened fire. Johnson was without artillery, so he determined to risk all on a charge. The charge was gallantly made, but it was bravely met by Kane's brigade of Geary's division, and a severe contest was waged for several hours. Williams' division, now commanded by Col. Thomas H. Ruger, came up and gained a position where it could strike Johnson on the flank, and about the same time Shaler's brigade of Newton's division joined Kane, when Johnson, finding the conflict an unequal one, withdrew to Rock creek, leaving Geary and Ruger in possession of their old line. This part of the third day's battle was ended long before Lee's troops were in position to assault Cemetery hill, and again that concert of action, so essential to Confederate success, was lost.

Pickett's division, which had not yet been engaged, was selected to lead the charge against the Union center. Longstreet, in his report, thus describes the arrangement of troops and plan of the assault: "Orders were given to Maj.-Gen. Pickett to form his line under the best cover that he could get from the enemy's batteries, and so that the center of the assaulting column would arrive at the salient of the enemy's position, Gen. Pickett's line to be the guide and to attack the enemy's defenses, and Gen. Pettigrew, in command of Heth's division, moving on the same line as Gen. Pickett, was to assault the salient at the same moment. Pickett's division was arranged, two brigades in the front line, supported by his third brigade, and Wilcox's brigade was ordered to move in rear of his right flank, to protect it from any force that the enemy might attempt to move against it. Heth's division, under command of Brig.-Gen. Pettigrew, was arranged in two lines, and these supported by part of Maj.-Gen. Pender's division, under Maj.-Gen. Trimble. All of the batteries of the 1st and 3rd corps, and some of those of the 2nd, were put into the best positions for effective fire upon the point of attack and the hill occupied by the enemy's left. Col. Walton, chief of artillery of the 1st corps, and Col. Alexander had posted our batteries and agreed with the artillery officers of the other corps upon a signal for the batteries to open."

At 1 p.m. two cannon shots were heard in quick succession. This was the signal for the Confederate batteries to open fire, and immediately 150 guns commenced their deadly work. The object was to silence the Union guns, and when this was accomplished Pickett was to move forward to the grand assault which was to decide the fate of the battle. Owing to the convex form of the Federal position only 80 guns could find room on the ridge to respond to the enemy's fire. That number was already in position and for two hours was waged an artillery duel seldom if ever equaled in the annals of wars. The enemy's fire was very effective, although many of the shells went high and exploded in the open ground to the rear of the ridge, forcing the artillery reserve to move to a better protected position. Meade was compelled to change the location of his headquarters, a number of guns were disabled, though they were quickly replaced by others brought up from the reserve, about a dozen caissons were blown up and after each of these explosions the exultant yells of the Confederates could be heard along their entire line. During this time Pickett's men were in the wood on Seminary ridge, waiting for the command to move forward across the 1,400 yards of open ground in their endeavor to pierce the Union center. The Union generals knew that this fierce artillery fire was but the prelude to a charge and placed their commands in position to receive the shock. About 3 o'clock Hunt ordered the guns to cease firing, partly to replenish his supply of ammunition, and partly to see what the enemy would do. Thinking that the batteries were silenced, Pickett emerged from the woods and began his advance, his men marching with such even step that for a little while the whole Union line stood in silent admiration of this display of heroism on the part of men who were marching to certain death. But when about half of the open space had been crossed the Federal batteries again opened with telling effect. Great gaps were torn in Pickett's line by the shot and shell, but they were quickly closed up as the line pressed forward. When the Confederates crossed the Emmitsburg road canister came into use, and at the same time McGilvery's guns on Little Round Top opened a destructive, enfilading fire on the advancing lines. Still on they came. Hancock's skirmishers near the Emmitsburg road were driven back like chaff before the wind. The enemy had now come within musket range and Hays' division poured volley after volley into the left, causing it to waver so that it fell behind the main column. Before Pickett's first line reached the stone wall, behind which the main line of Meade's army was posted, Stannard found an opportunity to make a flank attack with his Vermont brigade. Quickly changing front with two of his three regiments, he brought them perpendicular to the enemy's line and sent in a volley that forced Kemper's brigade staggering back on the center. This was closely followed up by Col. Gates, of the 20th N.Y. militia, throwing Pickett's left into confusion and causing many to surrender, while others threw away their arms and took to their heels.

Although the two ends of the line were badly disorganized by these flank attacks, the center kept bravely on to the stone wall. Gen. Armistead, whose brigade was in this portion of the line, was on of the first to gain the wall. Placing his hat on the point of his sword he waved it above his head and shouted: "Give 'em the cold steel, boys!" His example was speedily followed and with fixed bayonets the Confederates came pouring over the wall. One of the batteries was captured, the enemy's flag floated for a few brief moments over the Federal works, while the "rebel yell" resounded on all sides. But their triumph was of short duration. The place where the Union line was broken was directly in front of Webb's brigade of Gibbon's division. Webb rallied the 72nd Pa. and led it against the enemy; part of the 71st Pa. gained a position behind a stone wall on the right, from which they poured a murderous fire into Armistead's flank; the remainder of this regiment and the 69th Pa. found shelter in a clump of trees and sent a storm of leaden hail into the ranks of the assailants. Col. Hall, commanding Gibbon's 3rd brigade, made a dashing charge with two regiments of his own command, the 15th Mass., the 1st Minn., and the 19th Me. of the 1st brigade, that drove the enemy from the works and turned defeat into victory. Back across the open space, over which they had marched with heroic determination but a short time before, the Confederates now fled in the wildest disorder. Of Pickett's three brigade commanders Armistead and Garnett were killed and Kemper severely wounded. Nearly three-fourths of his command were either killed, wounded or captured. As the enemy retreated, Stannard, who had held his position during the action, repeated his flank movement and captured a large part of Wilcox's brigade, which was coming up to Pickett's support. Lee's grand coup de main had failed.

While the main battle was in progress in the center there were sharp cavalry engagements on both flanks. On the left part of Kilpatrick's division made a charge through the woods near Devil's Den, against the infantry and artillery stationed there. In this action Kilpatrick lost a number in killed and wounded, among the former being Gen. Farnsworth. The affair on the right was of greater magnitude. Four of Stuart's brigades were ordered to cover Ewell's left, and to make a demonstration to divert attention from the main attack. Then, if Pickett's charge proved successful, he was to fall on the rear of the Federals or harass their retreat. stuart planted several batteries on the hills commanding the Baltimore pike and made other preparations to attack the minute he heard that Pickett had carried the works on Cemetery hill. Custer's brigade of Kilpatrick's division became engaged, although he was under orders to join his command on the left, and continued the fight until he was relieved by McIntosh's brigade of Gregg's division. One of Stuart's batteries was posted near the buildings of the Rummel farm and McIntosh undertook to drive it away. He soon encountered a strong body of skirmishers and sent back for reinforcements. Randol's and Pennington's batteries were moved to the front and soon silenced the enemy's batteries, when McIntosh moved up and occupied the position. W.H. Lee's brigade now came up to the support of the skirmish line and succeeded in repulsing the 1st N.J., whose ammunition was exhausted. The 7th Mich. was also driven back and it began to look dark for McIntosh, when the 5th Mich. made a charge on Lee and soon had him on the retreat. Just then Hampton's brigade, which had been kept in reserve by Stuart, came up and again turned the tide in favor of the Confederates. although Custer had been relieved he had not yet left the field. Seeing the Union troops about to be overpowered he placed himself at the head of the 1st Michigan and shouting "Come on, you Wolverines!" charged with such impetuosity that Hampton's line was temporarily thrown into confusion. Custer's timely action put new courage into those already engaged, and for a few minutes every saber was busy, officers and privates fighting side by side. Capt. Hart next brought up a squadron of the 1st N.J. and the Confederates gave way.

Beaten at every point the Confederates fell back to a strong position on Seminary ridge, where the army lay all day on the 4th anxiously expecting and dreading an attack from Meade, who was content to hold his position on Cemetery ridge. some skirmishing occurred during the day and that night Lee's army, broken and dispirited, began its retreat into Virginia. The decisive battle of the Civil War had been fought and won by the Federals, and the days of the Confederacy were numbered.

The Union losses at Gettysburg were 3,155 killed, 14,529 wounded and 5,365 missing. The Confederate reports give Lee's losses as being 2,592 killed, 12,709 wounded and 5,150 missing, but the records of prisoners of war in the office of the adjutant-general of the United States army bear the names of 12,277 Confederates who were captured at the battle of Gettysburg.

Source: The Union Army, Volume 5, Cyclopedia of Battles A - Helena , 1908


Copyright 2010-2011 by
A Division of