The Battle of Gettysburg - The Third Day


Gettysburg Main Page

Gettysburg - Day One

Gettysburg - Day Two

Gettysburg - Day Three


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

In view of the successes gained on the second day, General Lee resolved to renew his efforts. These successes were:

1st. On the right, the lodgment at the base of the Round Tops, the possession of Devil's Den and its woods, and the ridges on the Emmettsburg road which gave him the coveted positions for his artillery.

2nd. On the left, the occupation of part of the intrenchments of the Twelfth Corps with an outlet to the Baltimore pike, by which all our lines could be taken in reverse.

3rd. At the center, the partial success of three of Anderson's brigades in penetrating our lines, from which they were expelled only for lack of proper support.

It was thought that better concert of action might have made good a lodgment here also. Both armies had indeed lost heavily, but the account in that respect seemed in favor of the Confederates, or at worst balanced. Pickett's and Johnson's divisions were fresh, as were Posey's and Mahone's brigades of Anderson's, and Smith's brigade of Early's division. These could be depended upon for an assault; the others could be used as supports, and to follow up a success. The artillery was almost intact. Stuart had rejoined with his cavalry, excepting the brigades of Jones and Robertson, guarding the communications; and Imboden had also come up. General Lee, therefore, directed the renewal of operations both on the right and left. Ewell had been ordered to attack at daylight on July 3rd, and during the night reinforced Johnson with Smith's, Daniel's, and O'Neal's brigades. Johnson had made his preparations, and was about moving, when at dawn William's artillery opened upon him, preparatory to an assault by Geary and Ruger for the recovery of their works. The suspension of this fire was followed by an immediate advance by both sides. A conflict ensued which lasted until near eleven o'clock, during which the Confederates were driven out of the Union intrenchments by Geary and Ruger, aided by Shaler's brigade of the Sixth Corps. They made one or two attempts to regain possession, but were unsuccessful, and a demonstration to turn Johnson's left caused him to withdraw his command to Rock Creek. The scene of this conflict was, at the close of the war, covered by a forest of dead trees, leaden bullets proving as fatal to them as to the soldiers whose bodies were thickly strewn beneath them.

Longstreet's arrangements had been made to re-attack Round Top, and his orders issued with a view to turning it, when General Lee decided that the assault should be made on Cemetery Ridge by Pickett's and Pettigrew's divisions, with part of Trimble's. Longstreet formed these in two lines -- Pickett on the right, supported by Wilcox; Pettigrew on the left, with Lane's and Scales's brigades under Trimble in the second line. Hill was ordered to hold his line with the remainder of his corps, -- six brigades, -- give Longstreet assistance if required, and avail himself of any success that might be gained. Finally a powerful artillery force, about one hundred and fifty guns, was ordered to prepare the way for the assault by a cannonade. The necessary arrangements caused delay, and before notice of this could be received by Ewell, Johnson, as we have seen, was attacked, so that the contest was over on the left before that at the center was begun. The hoped-for concert of action in the Confederate attacks was lost from the beginning.

On the Federal side Hancock's corps held Cemetery Ridge with Robinson's division, First Corps, on Hays's right in support, and Doubleday's at the angle between Gibbon and Caldwell. General Newton, having been assigned to the command of the First Corps, vice Reynolds, was now in charge of the ridge held by Caldwell. Compactly arranged on its crest was McGilvery's artillery, forty-one guns, consisting of his own batteries, reinforced by others from the Artillery Reserve. Well to the right, in front of Hays and Gibbon, was the artillery of the Second Corps under its chief, Captain Hazard. Woodruff's battery was in front of Ziegler's Grove; on his left, in succession, Arnold's Rhode Island, Cushing's United States, Brown's Rhode Island, and Rorty's New York. In the fight of the preceding day the last-named batteries had been to the front and suffered severely. Lieutenant T. Fred Brown was severely wounded, and his command devolved on Lieutenant Perrin. So great had been the loss in men and horses that they were now of four guns each, reducing the total number in the corps to twenty-six. Daniels's battery of horse artillery, four guns, was between Hazard and McGilvery at the angle. In addition, some of the guns on Cemetery Hill, and Rittenhouse's on Little Round Top, could be brought to bear, but these were offset by batteries similarly placed on the flanks of the enemy, so that on the Second Corps line, within the space of a mile, were seventy-one guns to oppose nearly one hundred and fifty. They were on an open crest plainly visible from all parts of the opposite line. Between ten and eleven A.M., everything looking favorable at Culp's Hill, I crossed over to Cemetery Ridge, to see what might be going on at other points. Here a magnificent display greeted my eyes. Our whole front for two miles was covered by batteries already in line or going into position. They stretched -- apparently in one unbroken mass -- from opposite the town to the Peach Orchard, which bounded the view to the left, the ridges of which were planted thick with cannon. Never before had such a sight been witnessed on this continent, and rarely, if ever, abroad. What did it mean? It might possibly be to hold that line whilst its infantry was sent to aid Ewell, or to guard against a counter-stroke from us, but it most probably meant an assault on our center, to be preceded by a cannonade in order to crush our batteries and shake our infantry; at least to cause us to exhaust our ammunition in reply, so that the assaulting troops might pass in good condition over the half mile of open ground which was beyond our effective musketry fire. With such an object the cannonade would be long and followed immediately by the assault, their whole army being held in readiness to follow up a success. From the great extent of ground occupied by the enemy's batteries, it was evident that all the artillery on our west front, whether of the army corps or the reserve, must concur as a unit, under the chief of artillery, in the defense. This is provided for in all well-organized armies by special rules, which formerly were contained in our own army regulations, but they had been condensed in successive editions into a few short lines, so obscure as to be practically worthless, because, like the rudimentary toe of the dog's paw, they had become, from lack of use, mere survivals; unintelligible except to the specialist. It was of the first importance to subject the enemy's infantry, from the first moment of their advance, to such a cross-fire of our artillery as would break their formation, check their impulse, and drive them back, or at least bring them to our lines in such condition as to make them an easy prey. There was neither time nor necessity for reporting this to General Meade, and beginning on the right, I instructed the chiefs of artillery and battery commanders to withhold their fire for fifteen or twenty minutes after the cannonade commenced, then to concentrate their fire with all possibly accuracy on those batteries which were most destructive to us -- but slowly, so that when the enemy's ammunition was exhausted, we should have sufficient left to meet the assault. I had just given these orders to the last battery on Little Round Top, when the signal gun was fired, and the enemy opened with all his guns. From that point the scene was indescribably grand. All their batteries were soon covered with smoke, through which the flashes were incessant, whilst the air seemed filled with shells, whose sharp explosions, with the hurtling of their fragments, formed a running accompaniment to the deep roar of the guns. Thence I rode to the Artillery Reserve to order fresh batteries and ammunition to be sent up to the ridge so soon as the cannonade ceased; but both the reserve and the train were gone to a safer place. Messengers, however, had been left to receive and convey orders, which I sent by them, and then returned to the ridge. Turning into the Taneytown pike, I saw evidence of the necessity under which the reserve had ``decamped,'' in the remains of a dozen exploded caissons, which had been placed under cover of a hill, but which the shells had managed to search out. In fact, the fire was more dangerous behind the ridge than on its crest, which I soon reached at the position occupied by General Newton behind McGilvery's batteries, from which we had a fine view, as all our guns were now in action.

Most of the enemy's projectiles passed overhead, the effect being to sweep all the open ground in our rear, which was of little benefit to the Confederates -- a mere waste of ammunition, for everything here could seek shelter. And just here an incident already published may be repeated, as it illustrates a peculiar feature of civil war. Colonel Long, who was at the time on General Lee's staff, had a few years before served in my mounted battery expressly to receive a course of instruction in the use of field artillery. At Appomattox we spent several hours together, and in the course of conversation I told him I was not satisfied with the conduct of this cannonade which I had heard was done under his direction, inasmuch as he had not done justice to his instruction; that his fire, instead of being concentrated on the point of attack, as it ought to have been, and as I expected it would be, was scattered over the whole field. He was amused at the criticism and said: ``I remembered my lessons at the time, and when the fire became so scattered, wondered what you would think about it!''

I now rode along the ridge to inspect the batteries. The infantry were lying down on its reverse slope, near the crest, in open ranks, waiting events. As I passed along, a bolt from a rifle-gun struck the ground just in front of a man of the front rank, penetrated the surface and passed under him, throwing him ``over and over.'' He fell behind the rear rank, apparently dead, and a ridge of earth where he had been lying reminded me of the backwoods practice of ``barking'' squirrels. Our fire was deliberate, but on inspecting the chests I found that the ammunition was running low, and hastened to General Meade to advise its immediate cessation and preparation for the assault which would certainly follow. The headquarters building, immediately behind the ridge, had been abandoned, and many of the horses of the staff lay dead. Being told that the general had gone to the cemetery, I proceeded thither. He was not there, and on telling General Howard my object, he concurred in its propriety, and I rode back along the ridge, ordering the fire to cease. This was followed by a cessation of that of the enemy, under the mistaken impression that he had silenced our guns, and almost immediately his infantry came out of the woods and formed for the assault. On my way to the Taneytown road to meet the fresh batteries I had ordered up, I met Major Bingham, or Hancock's staff, who informed me that General Meade's aids were seeking me with orders to ``cease firing''; so I had only anticipated his wishes. The batteries were found and brought up, and Fitzhugh's, Cowan's, and Parsons's put in near the clump of trees. Meantime the enemy advanced, and McGilvery opened an oblique destructive fire, reinforced by that of Rittenhouse's six rifle-guns from Round Top, which were served with remarkable accuracy, enfilading Pickett's lines. The Confederate approach was magnificent, and excited our admiration; but the story of that charge is so well known that I need not dwell upon it, further than concerns my own command. The steady fire from McGilvery and Rittenhouse, on their right, caused Picket's men to ``drift'' in the opposite direction, so that the weight of the assault fell upon the positions occupied by Hazard's batteries. I had counted on an artillery cross-fire that would stop it before it reached our lines, but, except a few shots here and there, Hazard's batteries were silent until the enemy came within canister range. They had, unfortunately, exhausted their long-range projectiles during the cannonade, under the orders of their corps-commander, and it was too late to replace them. Had my instructions been followed here, as they were my McGilvery, I do not believe that Pickett's division would have reached our line. We lost not only the fire of one-third of our guns, but the resulting cross-fire which would have doubled its value. The prime fault was in the obscurity of our army regulations as to the artillery, and the absence of all regulations as to the proper relations of the different arms of service to each other. On this occasion it cost us much blood, many lives, and for a moment endangered the success of the battle. Soon after Pickett's repulse, Wilcox's, Wright's, and Perry's brigades were moved forward, but under the fire of the batteries in Gibbon's front and the fire of McGilvery's and Rittenhouse's guns, they soon fell back. The losses in the batteries of the Second Corps were very heavy. Rorty and Cushing were killed and Woodruff mortally wounded at their guns. So great was the destruction of men and horses, that Cushing's and Woodruff's United States and Brown's and Arnold's Rhode Island batteries were consolidated to form two serviceable ones.

The advance of the Confederate brigades to cover Pickett's retreat showed that the enemy's line opposite Cemetery Ridge was occupied by infantry, our own line on the ridge was in more or less disorder as the result of the conflict, and in no condition to advance a sufficient force for a counter assault. The largest bodies of organized troops available were on the left and General Meade now proceeded to Round Top and pushed out skirmishers to feel the enemy in its front. An advance to the Plum Run line of the troops behind it would have brought them directly in front of the numerous batteries which crowned the Emmettsburg Ridge, commanding that line and all the intervening ground; a further advance, to the attack, would have brought them under additional heavy flank fires. McCandless's brigade, supported by Nevin's, was, however, pushed forward, under cover of the woods, which protected them from the fire of all these batteries; it crossed the Wheat-field, cleared the woods, and had an encounter with a portion of Benning's brigade, which was retiring. Hood's and McLaw's divisions were falling back under Longstreet's orders to their strong position, resting on Peach Orchard and covering Hill's line. It needs but a moment's examination of the official map to see that our troops on the left were locked up. As to the center, Pickett's and Pettigrew's assaulting divisions had formed no part of A.P. Hill's line, which was practically intact. The idea that there must have been ``a gap of at least a mile'' in that line, made by throwing forward these divisions, and that a prompt advance from Cemetery Ridge would have given us the line itself, or at least the artillery in front of it, was a delusion. A prompt counter-charge after a combat between two small bodies of men is one thing; the change from the defensive to the offensive of an army, after an engagement at a single point, is quite another. This was not a ``Waterloo defeat'' with a fresh army to follow it up, and to have made such a change to the offensive, on the assumption that Lee had made no provision against a reverse, would have been rash in the extreme. An advance of twenty thousand men from Cemetery Ridge in the face of the hundred and forty guns then in position would have been stark madness; an immediate advance from any point, in force, was simply impracticable, and before due preparation could have been made for a change to the offensive, the favorable moment -- had any resulted from the repulse -- would have passed away.

Whilst the main battle was raging, a sharp cavalry combat took place on our right between Stuart's command of four and Gregg's of three brigades; but Jenkins's Confederate brigade was soon thrown out of action from lack of ammunition, and two only of Gregg's were engaged. Stuart had been ordered to cover Ewell's left and was proceeding towards the Baltimore pike, where he hoped to create a diversion in the aid of the Confederate infantry, and in case of Pickett's success to fall upon the retreating Federal troops. From near Cress's Ridge, two and a half miles east of Gettysburg, Stuart commanded a view of the roads in rear of the Federal lines. On its northern wooded end he posted Griffin's battery, and took possession of the Rummel farm buildings, a few hundred yards distant. Hampton and Fitzhugh Lee were on his left, covered by the wood, Jenkins and Chambliss on the right, along the ridge. Half a mile east on a low parallel ridge, the southern part of which bending west towards Cress's Ridge furnished excellent positions for artillery, was the Federal brigade of McIntosh, who now sent a force towards Rummel's, from which a strong body of skirmishers was thrown to meet them, and the battery opened. McIntosh now demanded reinforcements, and Gregg, then near the Baltimore pike, brought him Custer's brigade and Pennington's and Randol's batteries. The artillery soon drove the Confederates out of Rummel's, and Griffin's Confederate battery from its position. Both sides brought up reinforcements and the battle swayed from side to side of the interval. Finally the Federals were pressed back, and Lee and Hampton, emerging from the wood, charged, sword in hand, through a destructive artillery fire, for the falling back of the Federals had uncovered their batteries. They were met by Custer's and such other mounted squadrons as could be thrown in; a melee ensued, in which Hampton was severely wounded and the charge repulsed. Breathed's and McGregor's Confederate batteries had replaced Griffin's, a sharp artillery duel took place, and at nightfall each side held substantially its original ground. Both sides claim to have held the Rummel house. The advantage was decidedly with the Federals, who had foiled Stuart's plans. Thus the battle of Gettysburg closed as it had opened, with a very creditable cavalry operation.

General Lee now abandoned the attempt to dislodge Meade; intrenched a line from Oak Hill to Peach Orchard; started all his impedimenta to the Potomac in advance, and followed with his army on the night of July 4, via Fairfield. This compelled Meade to take the circuitous routes through the lower passes; and the strategic advantage to Lee and disadvantage to Meade of Gettysburg, were made manifest.

General Meade has been accused of slowness in the pursuit. The charge is not well founded; he lost no time in commencing nor vigor in pushing it. On the morning of the 4th he ordered French at Frederick to seize and hold the lower passes, and put all the cavalry except Gregg's and McIntosh's brigades in motion to harass the enemy's anticipated retreat, and to destroy his trains and bridges at Williamsport. It stormed heavily that day, and the care of the wounded and burial of the dead proceeded, whilst the enemy's line was being reconnoitered. So soon, on the 5th, as it was certain that Lee was retreating, Gregg was started in pursuit on the Chambersburg pike, and the infantry -- now reduced to a little over forty-seven thousand effectives, short of ammunition and supplies -- by the lower passes. The Sixth Corps taking the Hagerstown road, Sedgwick reported the Fairfield pass fortified, a large force present, and that a fight could be had; upon which, on the 6th, Meade halted the rest of the infantry and ordered two corps to his support, but soon learning that although the pass could be carried it would cause too much delay, he resumed the march, leaving McIntosh and a brigade of the Sixth Corps to follow the enemy through the Fairfield pass. On the evening of the 4th Kilpatrick had a sharp encounter with the enemy in Monterey pass, and this was followed by daily cavalry combats on the different routes, in which much damage was done to trains and many captures of wagons, caisons, and prisoners effected. On the 5th French destroyed the pontoon bridge at Falling Waters. On the 6th Buford attacked at Williamsport and Kilpatrick toward Hagerstown, on his right, but as Imboden's train guard was strong, Stuart was up, and Longstreet close by, they had to withdraw. The enemy proceeded to construct a new bridge, and intrench a strong line covering Williamsport and Falling Waters. There were heavy rains on the 7th and 8th, but the infantry corps reached Middletown on the morning of the 9th, received supplies, crossed the mountains that day, and at its close the right was at Boonsboro', and the left at Rohrersville, on the roads to Hagerstown and Williamsport. The river was now greatly swollen and unfordable, and Halleck on the 10th advised Meade to postpone a general battle until his army was concentrated and his reinforcements up; but Meade, fully alive to the importance of striking Lee before he could cross the Potomac, advanced on that day and the 11th; and on the 12th pushed forward reconnoissances to feel the enemy. After a partial examination, made by himself and his chiefs of staff and of engineers, which showed that its flanks could not be turned, and that the line, so far as seen by them, presented no vulnerable points, he determined to make a demonstration in force on the next morning, the 13th, supported by the whole army, and to attack if a prospect of success offered. On assembling his corps-commanders, however, he found their opinion so adverse that he postponed it for further examination, after which he issued the order for the next day, the 14th. On advancing that morning, it was found that the enemy had abandoned his line and crossed the river, partly by fording, partly by a new bridge.

A careful survey of the enemy's intrenched line after it was abandoned justified the opinion of the corps-commanders against an attack, as it showed that an assault would have been disastrous to us. It proved also that Meade in overriding that opinion did not shrink from a great responsibility, notwithstanding his own recent experience at Gettysburg, where all the enemy's attacks on even partially intrenched lines had failed. If he erred on this occasion it was on the side of temerity.

But the hopes and expectations excited by the victory of Gettysburg were as unreasonable as the fears that had preceded it; and great was the disappointment that followed the ``escape'' of Lee's army. It was promptly manifested, too, and in a manner which indicates how harshly and unjustly the Army of the Potomac and its commanders were usually judged and treated; and what trials the latter had to undergo whilst subjected to the meddling and hectoring of a distant superior, himself but too often the mere mouthpiece of an irresponsible clique and from which they were not freed until the general-in- chief accompanied it in the field. That same day, before it was possible that all the circumstances could be known, three telegraphic despatches passed between the respective headquarters.

First. Halleck to Meade:

"I need hardly say to you that the escape of Lee's army without another battle has created great dissatisfaction in the mind of the President, and it will require an active and energetic pursuit on your part to remove the impression that it has not been sufficiently active heretofore.''

Second. Meade to Halleck:

``Having performed my duty conscientiously and to the best of my ability, the censure of the President (conveyed in you dispatch of one P.M. this day) is in my judgment so undeserved, that I feel compelled most respectfully to ask to be immediately relieved from the command of this army.''

Third. Halleck to Meade:

``July 14th my telegram stating the disappointment of the President at the escape of Lee's army was not intended as a censure, but as a stimulus to an active pursuit. It is not deemed a sufficient cause for your application to be relieved.''

The losses of both armies were very large. The revised returns show for the Army of the Potomac: killed, 3063; wounded, 14,492; missing, 5435, -- total, 22,990; and for the Army of Northern Virginia: killed, 2592; wounded, 12,706; missing, 5150, -- total, 20,448. But the returns for the latter army are not complete; some commands are not reported, and in others the regimental show larger losses than do the brigade returns from which the foregoing numbers are compiled.

As to the comparative strength of the two armies on the field of battle, we have no satisfactory data. The last Confederate return was for May 31st, showing ``Present for duty, under arms,'' 59,484, infantry. The morning report of the Army of the Potomac for June 30th shows ``Present for duty, equipped,'' 77,208, infantry. Neither return is worth much except as a basis for guessing; the long marches, followed by the forced ones of July 1-2, of the Army of the Potomac, left thousands of stragglers on the roads. These totals are of little importance; they would have been of some significance had the larger army been defeated; but it was not. At the ``points of contact'' the Confederates were almost always the stronger. On July 1st, eighteen thousand Federal combatants contended against at least twenty-five thousand Confederates, and got the worst of it. On July 2d, Longstreet's fifteen thousand overcame Sickles's ten thousand, and had to halt when a larger force was opposed to them. William's Twelfth Corps retook its works from a larger body of Ewell's troops, as at the contested point they were opposed by an inferior number; and then held them, for Johnson's superior force was as much hampered here by the nature of the ground as was Meade's on the left, the evening before. In many respects the Confederates had the advantage: they had much better ground for their artillery; they were fresher; they were all veterans; they were better organized; they were commanded by officers selected for their experience and abilities, and in whom they had implicit confidence. These were enormous advantages, sufficient to counterbalance the difference of numbers; and whilst all the Confederate army, except here and there a brigade, were fought to the utmost, the strongest Federal corps (the Sixth) was hardly in action, the total loss of its eight brigades being but two hundred and forty-two killed, wounded, and missing. But the Southerners were subjected here to the disadvantages that the Northerners had to contend with in Virginia; they were surrounded by enemies, not friends who supplied them with aid and information; and they were not by choice, but necessity, the assailants on the chosen ground of their opponents.

Right gallantly did they act their part and their failure carried no discredit with it. Their military honor was not tarnished by their defeat, nor their spirit lowered, but their respect for their opponents was restored to what it had been before Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville.

Henry J. Hunt