The Battle of Gettysburg - The Second Day


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THE SECOND DAY AT GETTYSBURG

By the Chief of Artillery of the Army of the Potomac.

On June 30th General Meade at Taneytown received information that the enemy was advancing on Gettysburg, and corps commanders were at once instructed to hold their commands in readiness to march against him. The next day, July 1st, Meade wrote to Reynolds that telegraphic intelligence from Couch, and the movements reported by Buford, indicated a concentration of the enemy's army either at Chambersburg, or at some point on a line drawn from that place through Heidlersburg to York. Under these circumstances, Meade informed Reynolds that he had not yet decided whether it was his best policy to move to attack before he knew more definitely Lee's point of concentration. He seems, however, soon to have determined not to advance until the movements or position of the enemy gave strong assurance of success; and that if the enemy took the offensive, he would withdraw his own army from its actual positions and form line of battle behind Pipe Creek, between Middleburg and Manchester. The considerations probably moving him to this are not difficult to divine. Examination of the map will show that such a line would cover Baltimore and Washington in all directions from which Lee could advance and that Westminster, his depot, would be immediately behind him, with short railroad communication to Baltimore. It would, moreover, save much hard marching, and restore to the ranks the thousands of stragglers who did not reach Gettysburg.

From Westminster -- which is in Parr's Ridge, the eastern boundary of the valley of the Monocacy -- good roads led in all directions, and gave the place the same strategic value for Meade that Gettysburg had for Lee. The new line could not be turned by Lee without imminent danger to his own army, nor could he afford to advance upon Baltimore or Washington, leaving the Army of the Potomac intact behind and so near him; -- that would be to invite the fate of Burgoyne. Meade then could safely select a good ``offensive-defensive line'' behind Pipe Creek and establish himself there, with perfect liberty of action in all directions. Without magazines or assured communications, Lee would have to scatter his army, more or less, in order to subsist it, and so expose it to Meade; or else keep it united, and so starve it, and Meade could compel the latter alternative by simple demonstrations. There would then be but two courses for Lee, -- either to attack Meade in his chosen position or to retreat without a battle. The latter, neither the temper of his army nor that of his Government would probably permit. In case of a defeat Meade's line of retreat would be comparatively short, and easily covered, whilst Lee's would be for two marches through an open country before he could gain the mountain passes. As Meade believed Lee's army to be at least equal to his own, all the elements of the problem were in favor of the Pipe Creek line. But Meade's orders for July 1st, drawing his corps towards the threatened flank, carried Reynolds to Gettysburg, and Buford's report hastened this movement. Reynolds, who probably never received the Pipe Creek circular, was eager for the conflict, and his collision with Heth assuming the dimension of a battle, caused an immediate concentration of both armies at Gettysburg. Prior to this, the assembling of Meade's army behind Pipe Creek would have been easy, and all fears of injuring thereby the morale of his troops were idle; the Army of the Potomac was of ``sterner stuff'' than that implies. The battle of July 1st changed the situation. Overpowered by numbers, the First and Eleventh corps had, after hard fighting and inflicting as well as incurring heavy losses, been forced back to Cemetery Hill, which they still held. To have withdrawn them now would have been a retreat, and might have discouraged the Federal, as it certainly would have elated the Confederate troops; especially as injurious reports unjust to both the corps named had been circulated. It would have been to acknowledge a defeat when there was no defeat. Meade therefore resolved to fight at Gettysburg. An ominous dispatch from General Halleck to Meade, that afternoon, suggested that whilst his tactical arrangements were good, his strategy was at fault, that he was too far east, that Lee might attempt to turn his left, and that Frederick was preferable as a base to Westminster, probably confirmed Meade in this decision.

In pursuance of his instructions, I had that morning (July 1st) reconnoitered the country behind Pipe Creek for a battle-ground. On my return I found General Hancock at General Meade's tent. He informed me that Reynolds was killed, that a battle was going on at Gettysburg, and that he was under orders to proceed to that place. His instructions were to examine it and the intermediate country for a suitable field, and if his report was favorable the troops would be ordered forward. Before the receipt of Hancock's written report from Cemetery Hill, which was not very encouraging, General Meade had received from others information as to the state of affairs at the front, set his troops in motion towards Gettysburg, afterwards urged them to forced marches, and under his orders I gave the necessary instructions to the Artillery Reserve and Park for a battle there. The move was, under the circumstances, a bold one, and Meade, as we will see, took great risks. We left Taneytown towards eleven P.M., and reached Gettysburg after midnight. Soon after, General Meade, accompanied by General Howard and myself, inspected our lines so far as then occupied, after which he directed me to examine them again in the morning, and to see that the artillery was properly posted. He had thus recognized my ``command'' of the artillery; indeed, he did not know it had been suspended. I resumed it, therefore, and continued it to the end of the battle.

At the close of July 1st, Johnson's and Anderson's divisions of the Confederate army were up. Ewell's corps now covered our front from Benner's Hill to the Seminary, his line passing through the town -- Johnson on the left, Early in the center, Rodes on the right. Hill's corps occupied Seminary ridge, and early next morning extended its line from the Seminary south nearly to the Peach Orchard on the Emmettsburg road, Trimple -- vice Pender, wounded -- on the left, Anderson on the right, Pettigrew -- vice Heth, wounded -- in reserve. Of Longstreet's corps, McLaws's division and Hood's -- except Law's brigade not yet up -- camped that night on Marsh Creek, four miles from Gettysburg. His Reserve Artillery did not reach Gettysburg until nine A.M. of the 2nd. Pickett's division had been left at Chambersburg as rear-guard, and joined the corps on the night of the 2nd.

It had not been General Lee's intention to deliver a general battle whilst so far from his base unless attacked, but he now found himself by the mere force of circumstances committed to one. If it must take place, the sooner the better. His army was now nearly all on the ground, and delay, whilst it could not improve his own position, would certainly better that of his antagonist. Longstreet, indeed, urged General Lee instead of attacking to turn Meade's left, and by interposing between him and Washington, and threatening his communications, to force him to attack the Confederate army in position; but General Lee probably saw that Meade would be under no such necessity; would have no great difficulty in obtaining supplies, and -- disregarding the clamor from Washington -- could play a waiting game which it would be impossible for Lee to maintain in the open country. He could not advance on Baltimore or Washington with Meade in his rear, nor could his army subsist itself in a hostile region which would soon swarm with additional enemies. His communications could be cut off, for his recommendation to assemble even a small army at Culpepper to cover them and aid him had not been complied with.

A battle was a necessity to Lee, and a defeat would be more disastrous to Meade, and less so to himself, at Gettysburg than at any point east of it. With the defiles of the south Mountain range close in his rear, which could be easily held by a small force, a safe retreat through the Cumberland Valley was assured, so that this army, once through these passes, would be practically on the banks of the Potomac, at a point already prepared for crossing. Any position east of Gettysburg would deprive him of these advantages. It is more probable that General Lee was influenced by cool calculation of this nature than by hot blood, or that the opening success of a chance battle had thrown him off his balance. Whatever the reasons, he decided to accept the gage of battle offered by Meade, and to attack as soon as practicable. Ewell had made arrangements to take possession of Culp's Hill in the early morning, and his troops were under arms for the purpose by the time General Meade had finished the moonlight inspection of his lines, when it was ascertained by a reconnoitering party sent out by Johnson, that the hill was occupied and its defenders on the alert; and further, from a captured dispatch from General Sykes to General Slocum, that the Fifth Corps was on the hanover road only four miles off, and would march at four A.M. for Culp's Hill. Johnson thereupon deferred his attack and awaited Ewell's instructions.

General Lee had, however, during the night determined to attack the Federal left with Longstreet's corps, and now instructed Ewell, so soon as he heard Longstreet's guns, to make a diversion in his favor, to be converted, if opportunity offered, into a real attack.

Early on the morning of July 2nd, when nearly all the Confederate army had reached Gettysburg or its immediate vicinity, a large portion of the Army of the Potomac was still on the road. The Second Corps and Sykes, with two divisions of the Fifth, arrived about seven A.M., Crawford's division not joining until noon; Lockwood's brigade -- two regiments from Baltimore -- at eight; De Trobriand's and Burling's brigades of the Third Corps, from Emmettsburg, at nine, and the Artillery Reserve and its large ammunition trains from Taneytown at 10:30 A.M. Sedgewick's Sixth Corps, the largest in the army, after a long night march from Manchester, reached Rock Creek at four P.M. The rapidity with which the army was assembled was creditable to it and to its commander. the heat was oppressive, the long marches, especially the night marches, were trying and had caused much straggling.

All this morning Meade was busily engaged personally or by his staff in rectifying his lines, assigning positions to the commands as they came up, watching the enemy, and studying the field, parts of which we have described in general terms, and now refer the reader to the map to aid our further description of some necessary even if tedious details. Near the western base of Cemetery Hill in Ziegler's Grove. From this grove the distance nearly due south to the base of Little Round Top is a mile and a half. A well-defined ridge known as Cemetery Ridge follows this line from Ziegler's for nine hundred yards to another small grove, or clump of trees, where it turns sharply to the east for two hundred yards, then turns south again, and continues in a ``direct line'' towards Round Top, for seven hundred yards, to ``George Weikert's.'' So far the ridge is smooth and open, in full view of Seminary ridge opposite, and distant from fourteen hundred to sixteen hundred yards. At Weikert's, this ridge is lost in a large body of rocks, hills, and woods, lying athwart the ``direct line'' to Round Top, and forcing a bend to the east in the Taneytown road. This rough space also stretches for a quarter of a mile or more west of this ``direct line,'' towards Plum Run. Towards the south it sinks into low marshy ground which reaches to the base of Little Round Top, half a mile or more from George Weikert's. The west side of this broken ground was wooded through its whole extent from north to south. Between this wood and Plum Run is an open cleared space three hundred yards wide -- a continuation of the open country in front of Cemetery Ridge; Plum Run flows south-easterly towards Little Round Top, then makes a bend to the south-west where it receives a small stream or ``branch'' from Seminary Ridge. In the angle between these streams is Devil's Den, a bold rocky hill, steep on its eastern face, and prolonged as a ridge to the west. It is five hundred yards due west of Little Round Top, and one hundred feet lower. The northern extremity is composed of huge rocks and bowlders, forming innumerable crevices and holes, from the largest of which the hill derives its name. Plum Run valley is here marshy but strewn with similar bowlders, and the slopes of the Round Tops are covered with them. These afforded lurking-places for a multitude of sharp-shooters whom, from the difficulties of the ground, it was impossible to dislodge, and who were opposed by similar methods on our part; so that at the close of the battle these hiding-places, and especially the ``Den'' itself, were filled with dead and wounded men. this kind of warfare was specially destructive to Hazlett's battery on Round Top, as the cannoneers had to expose themselves in firing, and in one case three were shot in quick succession, before the fourth succeeded in discharging the piece. A cross-road between the Taneytown and Emmettsburg roads runs along the northern base of Devil's Den. from its Plum Run crossing to the Peach Orchard is eleven hundred yards. For the first four hundred yards of this distance, there is a wood on the north and a wheat-field on the south of the road, beyond which the road continues for seven hundred yards to the Emmettsburg road along Devil's Den ridge, which slopes on the north to Plum Run, on the south to Plum ``Branch.'' From Ziegler's Grove the Emmettsburg road runs diagonally across the interval between Cemetery and Seminary ridges, crossing the latter two miles from Ziegler's Grove. From Peach Orchard to Ziegler's is nearly a mile and a half. For half a mile the road runs along a ridge at right angles to that of Devil's Den, which slopes back to Plum Run. The angle at the Peach Orchard is thus formed by the intersection of two bold ridges, one from Devil's Den, the other along the Emmettsburg road. It is distant about six hundred yards from the wood which skirts the whole length of Seminary ridge and covers the movements of troops between it and Willoughby Run, half a mile beyond. South of the Round Top and Devil's Den ridge the country is open, and the principal obstacles to free movement are the fences -- generally of stone -- which surround the numerous fields.

As our troops came up they were assigned to places on the line: the Twelfth Corps, General A.S. Williams, -- vice Slocum, commanding the right wing, -- to Culp's Hill, on Wadsworth's right; Second Corps to Cemetery Ridge: Hays's and Gibbon's divisions, from Ziegler's to the clump of trees, Caldwell's to the short ridge to its left and rear. This ridge had been occupied by the Third Corps, which was now directed to prolong Caldwell's line to Round Top, relieving Geary's division, which had been stationed during the night on the extreme left, with two regiments at the base of Little Round Top. The Fifth Corps was placed in reserve near the Rock Creek crossing of the Baltimore pike; the Artillery Reserve and its large trains were parked in a central position on a cross-road from the Baltimore pike to the Taneytown road; Buford's cavalry, except Merritt's brigade at Emmettsburg, was near Round Top, from which it was ordered that morning to Westminster, thus uncovering our left flank; Kilpatrick's and Gregg's divisions were well out on the right flank, from which, after a brush with Stuart on the evening of the 2nd, Kilpatrick was sent next morning to replace Buford, Merritt being also ordered up to our left.

The morning was a busy and in some respects an anxious one; it was believed that the whole Confederate army was assembled, that it was equal if not superior to our own in numbers, and that the battle would commence before our troops were up. There was a gap in Slocum's line awaiting a division of infantry, and as some demonstrations of Ewell about daylight indicated an immediate attack at that point, I had to draw batteries from other parts of the line -- for the Artillery Reserve was just then starting from Taneytown -- to cover it until it could be properly filled. Still there was no hostile movement of the enemy, and General Meade directed Slocum to hold himself in readiness to attack Ewell with the Fifth and Twelfth, so soon as the Sixth Corps arrived. After an examination Slocum reported the ground as unfavorable, in which Warren concurred and advised against an attack there. The project was then abandoned, and Meade postponed all offensive operations until the enemy's intentions should be more clearly developed. In the mean time he took precautionary measures. It was clearly now to his advantage to fight the battle where he was, and he had some apprehension that Lee would attempt to turn his flank, and threaten his communications, just what Longstreet had been advising. In this case it might be necessary to fall back to the Pipe Creek line if possible, or else to follow Lee's movement into the open country. In either case, or in that of a forced withdrawal, prudence dictated that arrangements should be made in advance, and General Meade gave instructions for examining the roads and communications, and to draw up an order of movement which General Butterfield, the chief of staff, seems to have considered an order-absolute for the withdrawal of the army without a battle.

These instructions must have been given early in the morning, for General Butterfield states that it was on his arrival from Taneytown, which place he left at daylight. An order was drawn up accordingly, given to the adjutant-general, and perhaps prepared for issue in case of necessity to corps commanders; but it was not recorded, nor issued, nor even a copy of it preserved. General Meade declared that he never contemplated the issue of such an order unless contingencies made it necessary; and his acts and dispatches during the day were in accordance with his statement. There is one circumstance pertaining to my own duties which to my mind is conclusive, and I relate it because it may have contributed to the idea that General Meade intended to withdraw from Gettysburg. He came to me that morning before the Artillery Reserve had arrived, and, therefore, about the time that the order was in course of preparation, and informed me that one of the army corps had left its whole artillery ammunition train behind it and that others were so deficient, notwithstanding his orders on that subject. He was very much disturbed, and feared that, taking into account the large expenditure of the preceding day by the First and Eleventh Corps, there would not be sufficient to carry us through the battle. This was not the first nor the last time that I was called upon to meet deficiencies under such circumstances, and I was, therefore, prepared for this, having directed General Tyler, commanding the reserve artillery, whatever else he might leave behind, to bring up every round of ammunition in his trains, and I knew he would not fail me. I had, moreover, on my own responsibility, and unknown to General Hooker, formed a special ammunition column, attached to the Artillery Reserve, carrying twenty rounds per gun, over and above the authorized amount, for every gun in the army, in order to meet such emergencies. I was therefore able to assure General Meade that there would be enough ammunition for the battle, but none for idle cannonades, the besetting sin of some of our commanders. He was much relieved, and expressed his satisfaction. Now, had he had at this time any intention of withdrawing the army, the first thing to get rid of would have been this Artillery Reserve and its large trains, which were then blocking the roads in our rear; and he would surely have told me of it.

Still, with the exception of occasional cannonading, and some skirmishing near the Peach Orchard, the quiet remained unbroken, although Lee had determined upon an early attack on our left. He says in his detailed report that our line extended ``upon the high-ground along the Emmettsburg road, with a steep ridge [Cemetery] in rear which was also occupied''; and in a previous ``outline'' report he says: ``In front of General Longstreet the enemy held a position [the salient angle at the Peach Orchard] from which, if he could be driven, it was thought our artillery could be used to advantage in assailing the more elevated ground beyond, and thus enable us to gain the crest of the ridge.'' It would appear from this that General Lee mistook the few troops on the Peach Orchard ridge in the morning for our main line, and that by taking it, and sweeping up the Emmettsburg road under cover of his batteries, he expected to ``roll up'' our lines to Cemetery Hill. That would be an ``oblique order of battle,'' in which the attacking line, formed obliquely to its opponent, marches directly forward, constantly breaking in the end of his enemy's line and gaining his rear. General Longstreet was ordered to form the divisions of Hood and McLaws, on Anderson's right, so as to envelop our left and drive it in. These divisions were only three miles off at daylight, and moved early, but there was great delay in forming them for battle, owing principally to the absence of Law's brigade, for which it would have been well to substitute Anderson's fresh division, which could have been replaced by Pettigrew's, then in reserve. There seems to have been no good reason why the attack should not have been made by eight or nine A.M. at the latest, when the Federal Third Corps was not yet all up, nor Crawford's division, nor the Artillery Reserve, nor the Sixth Corps, and our lines still very incomplete. This is one of the cheap criticisms, after all the facts on both sides are known; but it is apt for its purpose, as it shows how great a risk Meade took in abandoning his Pipe Creek line for Gettysburg, on the chances of Lee's army not being yet assembled; and also, that there was no lack of boldness and decision on Meade's part. Indeed his course, from the hour that he took command, had been marked by these qualities.


Gettysburg - Day Two, Continued