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 Battle of Gettysburg: Day 1
Day 1: July 1, 1863 - The Battle Begins
 
The first Confederate troops to enter the vicinity of Gettysburg were BG James Archer's and BG Joseph Davis' (the nephew of Confederate President Jefferson Davis) Brigades of MG Heth's Division (General A.P. Hill's Corps). At approximately 8 AM, Heth reached the crest of Herr Ridge and surveyed the approach to Gettysburg. Observing minimal resistance, Heth ordered his two Brigades (Archer and Davis) to march southeast along Chambersburg Pike and occupy Gettysburg. Heth decided to deploy Archer to the south and Davis to the north of the pike.

But, unknown to Heth (pronounced "Heeth"), Union BG John
Buford's cavalry held the town with two Brigades. In fact, Gamble and Devin's Brigades were deployed just east of Willoughby Run, northwest of town and supported by Lt. John Calef's horse artillery).  The battle began when Gamble's dismounted skirmishers (who were armed with Sharps' breech-loading carbines) were attacked by Archer's Infantry Brigade.  They managed to hold off the Confederate advance for over an hour, but eventually, Buford was gradually forced to retreat.

At the same time of
Buford's retreat, BG Meredith's Brigade (known as the "Iron Brigade") and BG Cutler's Brigade arrived to relieve Buford's cavalry Brigades and occupy McPherson Ridge. General Reynolds (the Commander of I Corps), the senior officer on the field, saw the initial Confederate troops and sent word to the other nearest Corps (XI Corps and III Corps), to move towards Gettysburg at once.

Reynolds' MonumentWhile personally positioning
Cutler and Meredith's Brigades
on horseback, Reynolds was shot and killed (see photo to the left).  This left Doubleday (who had arrived just moments previously), as the senior officer on the field.

Archer's Brigade now continued on the attack down Herr Ridge,
across Willoughby Run, and up McPherson's Ridge. But, not knowing that Meredith's Brigade had now taken up the position that Gamble had vacated, the Brigade (Archer) marched straight into the fresh infantry Brigade. Meredith's Brigade surprised Archer and forced his Brigade to retreat back across Willoughby Run, but not before the capture of Archer and much of his Brigade. Despite Meredith's success, Cutler's Brigade (which was in the process of positioning along Chambersburg Pike and the railroad cut) was attacked hard by Davis' Brigade and soon found itself outflanked. Wadsworth (the Division commander) seeing that he was being outflanked on the right, ordered Cutler's three Regiments north of the Pike to retreat and reform along Seminary Ridge. Unfortunately, the runner tasked with this message was killed and was not able to deliver the order. Instead, Cutler's Regiments along the railroad sustained heavy casualties and were only then forced to retreat. Davis' Brigade, seeing Cutler's collapsed right flank, broke ranks in pursuit, but quickly lost its fighting integrity. At this time, the 6th Wisconsin Regiment (held up to this point in reserve and later supported by the 84th and 95th NY), was sent by Doubleday against Davis' pursuing Brigade. Davis' Brigade, disorganized and out of ranks, was forced to seek the protection of the unfinished railroad cut. Despite occupying the ideal defensiveRailroad Cut position, Davis' Brigade was charged by the Wisconsin 6th Regiment and the two New York regiments. Despite heavy casualties, Wisconsin 6th surrounded more than half of Davis' Brigade and took them prisoner. The remainder of Davis' Brigade now retreated to Herr Ridge where the remnants of Archer's Brigade had retreated earlier.

The retreating Confederates were forced to reevaluate their approach to Gettysburg. 11 AM approached, but Heth was still determined to occupy Gettysburg, especially after receiving word that Pender's Division was moving to support the approaches from the northwest.


Day 1: July 1, 1863 - Rodes Arrives
 
After Heth's failed attack, Rodes' division approached Gettysburg from the northeast along Harrisburg Road. Early's division shortly followed behind Rodes. Upon nearing Gettysburg, Rodes headed southwest towards Oak Ridge where he observed Cutler's brigade preparing for an attack from Heth. Approaching unhindered, Rodes placed 16 guns of LtC Thomas Carter's artillery battalion upon Oak Hill and commenced to shell Cutler's startled troops.

General
Robinson ordered Baxter's brigade to position north against Rodes' approaching division. Also, Howard's XI Corps had begun to arrive from the south and started deploying to the east. Rodes, sensing his advantage evaporate, decided to immediately attack. Unfortunately, the attack was poorly coordinated and ran into problems. Iverson's and O'Neal's brigades were ordered to advance along Oak Ridge and attack Baxter's newly acquired position. Instead, Iverson delayed the attack so that the artillery atop Oak Hill could inflict more damage upon Baxter. The left O'Neal in front alone and approaching Baxter who was positioned behind a stone wall along Mummasburg Road. Baxter made short work of O'Neal and inflicted over 40% casualties (both O'Neal and Iverson themselves amazingly did not accompany their brigades). Iverson now followed along the western slope of Oak Ridge (on what would've been to O'Neal's right). Now that O'Neal had retreated, Iverson's left flank was completely exposed. With O'Neal out of the way, Baxter was able to shift its complete attention to Iverson. Iverson's brigade marched blindly into Baxter's awaiting brigade with devastating results. An amazing 70% of the brigade were either captured or became casualties. These two Rodes' brigades had effectively been destroyed.

Rodes then ordered Daniel and Ramseur into the battle. Daniel planned to march southward along the western slope of the ridge, out of range of
Robinson's brigades and swing around to attack Cutler's left flank. But, as it approached Chambersburg Pike, it encountered Stone's brigade which had been positioned along the railroad cut. Despite heavy casualties on both sides, Stone managed to hold the cut. Ramseur on the other hand, marched along Iverson's previous route following Oak Ridge. By this time, Robinson had reinforced Baxter's position at Mummasburg Road with Paul's brigade. This time, Ramseur attacked Baxter and Paul until they ran low on ammunition and slowly forced to retreat with heavy casualties.

The remaining stretched in anticipation of Early's soon arrival. Sensing a good vantage point, part of Doles ' brigade attempted to occupy a small knoll to the west of Harrisburg Road.
Barlow also eyed this knoll and sent Van Gilsa forward to extend the Union right flank. In order to compensate for Barlow's advance position, Schurz ordered Schimmelfennig forward to align with Van Gilsa and Paul. Barlow and Schurz had barely positioned their divisions when Early's division approached from the northeast along Harrisburg Road. BG Gordon's brigade led the attack and charged Van Gilsa while BG Hays and Col Avery attacked Ames' right flank. Barlow's forward position was exposed and could not be held (in fact, his men began running as soon as Gordon attacked). Doles, seizing on the opportunity, attacked Schurz and soon both Union divisions were sent retreating towards town.

Day 1: July 1, 1863 - AP Hill at McPherson's Ridge
 
At about 2:30 PM, General Lee arrived from the northwest in time to see Ewell's assault. He immediately gave A.P. Hill permission to join the attack. A.P. Hill sent BG James Johnston Pettigrew's brigade (over 2,550 men) to attack Meredith's brigade who had positioned along McPherson Ridge. Because of its size, Pettigrew's brigade was able to flank Meredith on the left and despite heavy casualties on both sides, forced Meredith to retreat towards the Seminary. Biddle's brigade defended an exposed section of McPherson Ridge and was attacked by Archer and also unable to hold its position. Stone's position was particularly vulnerable because it was formed to face northwest against Heth's division and northeast along Chambersburg Pike to face Rodes' approaching division. It too found itself in an untenable position;  attacked from two directions, and also retreated toward the Seminary. Heth's division took a heavy beating as it attacked the Union units on McPherson Ridge, but it managed to force a Union retreat from the ridge to the Seminary. Meredith's Iron Brigade suffered an enormous 1,153 casualties (out of 1,829 men) while Heth lost about 1,500 of his 7,000-man division.

Lutheran SeminaryJust as Heth's division ran out of effectiveness, Pender 's fresh troops resumed the attack against the rallying remnants of
I Corps at the Seminary. The Union barely had time to begin construction of breastworks at the Seminary when Pender's Division attacked up Seminary Ridge. Lt. James Stewart's artillery battery had been placed on the ridge and managed to hold off the Confederate assault for several minutes. But, the Union found itself overwhelmed by the sheer number of Pender's men and once again was in full retreat. I Corps now lost cohesion and was sent retreating towards Gettysburg and Cemetery Ridge. XI Corps was also retreating through town from the north towards Cemetery Hill. The retreat was carried out in somewhat confusion and several units were slowed because of congestion in the town or were captured when their retreat was cut-off. Despite the near rout situation, the Confederates had taken heavy casualties and lacked the strength to pursue vigorously.

Fortunately,
Howard had left Adolph von Steinwehr's division on Cemetery Hill with orders to hold the position at all costs. Von Steinwehr had spent several hours erecting breastworks and created a formidable defensive position. At about 4:30 PM, MG Winfield Hancock arrived at Cemetery Hill and assumed overall command (under orders of Meade, though Howard was senior to Hancock) just as Howard and Doubleday were trying to rally their units. Hancock realized he had an excellent defensive position, but he also knew his forces would be stretched thin to cover the needed area. MG Daniel E. Sickles' III Corps and MG Henry W. Slocum's XII Corps were arriving from the south, but Hancock did not know when. Hancock ordered part of remaining I Corps to occupy Culp's Hill. Doubleday protested, but then sent the remnants of Meredith's Iron Brigade to secure the hill.

Surveying from Seminary Ridge, Lee requested A.P. Hill to continue the assault. But, Hill's Corps had been heavily battered and was nearly out of ammunition. Lee immediately sent word to Ewell to "secure possession of the heights...if practicable". Also, at this time, LG James Longstreet arrived and conferred with Lee. Longstreet wished to take a more defensive posture and place the army between the Union army and Washington. His rationale was to force the Union army into attacking a strong Confederate position. Lee, on the other hand, believed that he must confront the Union army and bring the fight to the Federals.

Ewell had always served under General Stonewall Jackson (who died at Chancellorsville) and this was the first time directly under Lee. Ewell, who had taken heavy casualties and could not count on A.P. Hill's support, hesitated. He was further confused by Lee's "if practicable" order. After waiting over an hour for the attack to begin, Lee personally rode towards Ewell's headquarters to find out why there was a delay. By the time Lee arrived at Ewell 's headquarters,
Slocum and Sickles' Corps were deploying along Cemetery Ridge and the opportunity for attack had all but disappeared.
 
Day 1: July 1, 1863 - Union Reinforcements Arrive
 
G
eneral Meade's headquarters throughout the first day's battle was nine miles to the south of Gettysburg at Taneytown, Maryland. While there, he had received word from Hancock that Gettysburg would be the location to make a stand against the ANV. XII Corps arrived shortly after the fighting ended, in addition to the two corps (I Corps and XI Corps) that were already on the field. III Corps shortly followed later that evening, while II Corps was closeby. The larger VI Corps was over 30 miles away and would not arrived until later next afternoon. General Meade arrived at Cemetery Hill at about 23:30 on July 1 and began positioning his corps into defensive positions.

Meanwhile, Johnson's division (of Ewell's Corps) arrived from the northeast and Longstreet Corps joined from the northwest. Longstreet's Corps consisted of the divisions of Hood and McLaws. Anderson's Division (the remaining division of A.P. Hill) also arrived on the field from the northwest.

The terrain surrounding Gettysburg consisted mostly of ridges and hills to the south of the town. The most prominent features were Cemetery Hill (which received its name from Evergreen Cemetery on Baltimore Pike) which rises about 80 feet above the town and Culp's Hill to the east which stands about 100 feet higher. Cemetery Hill was relatively clear, while Culp's Hill was significantly covered with woods and large boulders. Cemetery Ridge stretched some two miles to the south and ended at Little Round Top and Big Round Top. At some places near the center, Cemetery Ridge barely rose above ground level.

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Copyright © 2007 Brian Williams.

Last Modified: 02/10/2007.
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