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Battle of Gettysburg: Day 2
Day 2: July 2, 1863 - Sickles Advances
 
G
eneral Lee awoke early July 2nd and surveyed the Union line from Seminary Ridge. He observed that the Union line, anchored at Cemetery Hill, did not extend very far south along Cemetery Ridge. Seizing upon the opportunity, Lee ordered General Longstreet (who was just arriving on the field) to move on the left flank of the Union line. Lee's suspicions were confirmed when Captain Johnston returned from a recon and reported that the Little Round Top and Big Round Top along with a sizable southern stretch of Cemetery Ridge were unoccupied (there is actually considerable debate as to whether Johnston actually reached these heights).

The plan called for Longstreet (who had arrived from the northwest along Chambersburg Pike) to march his two divisions (Hood and McLaws ) south and then to
attack
northeast up Emmitsburg Road to strike the southern Union flank on Cemetery Ridge. A.P. Hill's Corps would then follow with an attack on the Union center. Finally, Ewell's Corps was to assault Cemetery Hill and Culp's Hill from the north once Longstreet began the fight. Longstreet's movement needed to go undetected and called for a circuitous route. He had to first march back up Chambersburg Pike to the northwest and then turn south behind Seminary Ridge. By the time Longstreet had reached his destination in Biesecker's Woods opposite Emmitsburg Road, it was already 15:30. Longstreet placed Hood on the right facing Big Round Top and McLaws on the left facing Cemetery Ridge. Longstreet expected the ridge to be relatively vacant, but found General Daniel Sickles' III Corps had positioned itself along Emmitsburg Road.

Earlier that morning,
Meade had ordered Sickles' III Corps to take position on the Union's left flank along Cemetery Ridge. Upon arrival, Sickles noticed that the ridge was little more than a slight incline and very vulnerable. He realized that a small elevation about 1/2 mile to the west on which stood a peach orchard, provided a better position. Sickles, unsure of the awkward position, requested for Meade to take a look and provide his opinion. Instead, Meade sent BG Henry J. Hunt (the army's artillery chief) to survey the position and offer advice to Sickles. Hunt agreed with Sickles that the small hill (the Peach Orchard) and the ridge stretching to the north would be very beneficial to the enemy - all the more reason to occupy it. Hunt went on further to suggest Sickles to send out skirmishers to determine if Confederates occupied the woods (Pitzer's Woods) across Emmitsburg Pike. Probing the woods, Sickles' men immediately ran up against a sizable force (General Cadmus Wilcox's brigade of A.P. Hill's Corps - Longstreet's Corps had yet to arrive). Seizing the opportunity, Sickles ordered III Corps to march and occupy the Peach Orchard before the Confederates could seize it. General Hancock, II Corps commander, realized that Sickles had actually exposed himself by marching 1/2 mile in front of the Union line.

Meade finally realized that the immediate threat lay to the south when he heard the sounds of enemy artillery. Meade ordered V Corps (which had been held in reserve) to support III Corps' position. The VI Corps would then be held in reserve in its place. Sensing the vulnerability of III Corps, Meade departed for Sickles' position. Upon arriving, Meade approached Sickles and questioned him as to why he occupied such an awkward position. Sickles replied that he had gained the favorable higher ground, but Meade angrily countered, "General Sickles, this is in some respects higher ground than that of the rear, but there is still higher in front of you, and if you keep on advancing you will find constantly higher ground all the way to the mountains!" By this time, it was too late to withdraw the III Corps.

McLaws and Hood arrived to find
Sickles' III Corps occu
pying the Peach Orchard to the northeast and extending to the Devil's Den. Hood reasoned that since the situation had changed, he would instead swing up and around the Round Tops and attack the Union rear along Cemetery Ridge. Hood disobeyed strict orders to attack along Emmitsburg Road (where Lee and Longstreet believed there were minimal Union troops).

Day 2: July 2, 1863 - Round Tops and Devil's Den
 
Hood came upon the Union's southern flank only to find Sickles' III Corps in force along Emmitsburg Road. The Union's southern flank had been anchored in Devil's Den - this left the two Round Tops unoccupied. Hood sent word to Longstreet to press a change of orders and swing around further to the south. Instead, Longstreet replied that Lee's orders were clear and called for Hood to attack up Emmitsburg Road. Twice again Hood asked Longstreet to reconsider the situation - the third time officially protesting the order (something he had never done in his career), but every time he was denied. Given to common sense, but in complete disregard of orders, Hood ignored Longstreet and marched eastward to attack Devil's Den and up the Big Round Top.

Hood's division consisted of four brigades (BG Jerome B. Robertson supported by BG George T. Anderson on the left, with BG Evander Law supported by BG Henry L. Benning on the right). Law's 15th Alabama and the 47th Alabama Regiments were charged with clearing Big Round Top of Union troops. Earlier, Sickles had positioned the Union 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters at the foot of Big Round Top and this same unit contested the Confederate approach. After climbing and hard fighting, Colonel William C. Oates' 15th Alabama Regiment forced the 2nd U.S. to retreat up and over the hill. After finally reachin the top, Oates surveyed his position and let his men rest for a few minutes. Oates' position was 305 feet above the battlefield and provided excellent coverage of the immediate area. Oates noticed very few Union troops on Little Round Top except a small number of Union signalmen who were observing Confederate troops movements.

As his men rested, Captain L.R. Terrell of Law's staff arrived (to Oates' surprise, he had somehow managed to climb the hill on horseback). Terrell brought news that General Hood had been wounded and BG Law was now in command. Law's orders were to immediately assault Little Round Top and secure a foothold in the Union's southern flank. Oates moved to occupy Little Round Top and encountered no resistance at all and in fact was joined by Law's 4th Alabama and Robertson's 4th and 5th Texas Regiments. To Law's left, Benning and Anderson attacked Devil's Den. But, just as Oates began to climb Little Round Top's southern slope, it came under what Oates recalled as "the most destructive fire I ever saw."

Law's Brigade came upon Colonel Strong Vincent's and Weed's Brigades who had arrived just 10 minutes earlier. Oates' Regiment had ran up against Colonel Joshua Chamberlain's 20th Maine. (These two regiments are focused because they are the absolute anchor of both army's flank - to turn Chamberlain's Regiment would be to lose Little Round Top and possibly the Union's left flank). Chief engineer Gouverneur Warren (who had been sent by Meade to survey the area) ordered Captain James Smith's 4th NY Battery above the Devil's Den to fire a shell into the area just north of Big Round Top. As Warren stated, "The motion revealed to me the glistening of gun barrels and bayonets of the enemy's line of battle, already formed and far outflanking the position of any of our troops." Warren now realized that the key lie with Little Round Top and immediately requested troops to be positioned on the hill. Sickles, at this time, was being attacked by McLaws and could not spare any extra units, but Meade had ordered Sykes' V Corps to reinforce Sickles' position. Lt. Ranald S. Mackenzie (an aid of Warren) finally found Sykes and notified him of the impending catastrophe. Sykes ordered BG James Barnes' Division to occupy Little Round Top. At the front of Barnes' Division was Colonel Vincent's Brigade followed by Hazlett's Brigade. Chamberlain's 20th Maine of Vincent's Brigade would be awarded the Medal of Honor for his following actions.

[Little Round Top - July 2, PM 1963] Oates' Regiment ascended Little Round Top at nearly the same time that Chamberlain's Regiment began positioning itself. When Chamberlain's Regiment first observed Oates, the 20th Maine opened fire and sent the 15th Alabama scurrying for cover. Then, Oates regrouped and ordered a rush up the hill towards Chamberlain's position. Oates managed to threaten to Chamberlain's left flank, so the 20th Maine left flank was ordered to withdraw so that the Regiment formed a "V". Over and over Oates rushed Chamberlain's position and threatened to overwhelm the Regiment. But, as the 20th Maine's men were expending their last ammunition, Chamberlain ordered to fix bayonets and prepare to charge. Before the Confederates were able to assess the situation, Chamberlain's Regiment came charging down Little Round Top and overwhelmed Oates' Regiment. Oates, unable to maintain his position, ordered a retreat off the hill. BG Stephen H. Weed's Brigade soon reinforced the Union position on Little Round Top and forced the Confederate attackers off the hill.

View from Little Round TopThe Confederates were now able to attack Little Round Top from the southwest, but Vincent's men (reinforced by Stephen H. Weed's Brigade) were able to secure the hill. The Union had suffered 780 casualties (over 34%).



THE DEVIL'S DEN

View of Devil's DenThe Devil's Den was an enormous collection of boulders and rocks that were occupied by Captain James E. Smith's 4th NY Battery and BG Hobart Ward's Brigade. Hood attacked Devil's Den with Benning's and Anderson's Brigades. The 1st Texas and 15th Georgia charged Smith's Battery and nearly overwhelmed it when the 124th NY under command of Major James Cromwell led a counterattack. Cromwell was instantly killed and relieved by Col. Augustus Van Horne Ellis who was also killed. The fighting in the Devil's Den was confused and desperate as both sides struggled to occupy the mass of boulders. Eventually, the Confederates managed to capture three of Smith's guns and occupy the Den and the ridge above.

Day 2: July 2, 1863 - The Wheatfield
 
For more detailed information on the Wheatfield visit The Wheatfield and Stony Hill

View of the WheatfieldStarting at 16:30, after Hood's Brigades took over Devil's Den, Kershaw and Anderson attacked along Rose's Woods and the Wheatfield. The Union III Corps supported by the V Corps defended the Peach Orchard and along Emmitsburg Road. Anderson, Kershaw, and Semmes Divisions attacked along the Peach Orchard and the Wheat Field. The V Corps, realizing that they were being outflanked, withdrew to the Wheatfield Road. At this point, Capt. George Winslow's NY Battery held off the Confederate advance for several minutes. The fighting was fierce and three brigade commanders, Col. Edward E. Cross and BG Samuel K. Zook of Caldwell's Division, and BG Paul Semmes of McLaw's Division were killed in the fighting.

General
Meade had earlier specified that BG John C. Caldwell's Division of the II Corps to be sent to reinforce Sykes' position. At about 17:30, Caldwell arrived just as the Confederates drove the III and the V Corps from their positions. Caldwell's Division had barely arrived to reinforce the position (in fact the division arrived with with the rear ranks forward) when it came under heavy attack. It was enough to drive the Confederates temporarily back.

The Confederates soon counter-attacked - led by BG William T. Wofford 's GA Brigade. The Confederates broke the Union line at the Peach Orchard and began attacking down Wheatfield Road - outflanking
Caldwell's Division which now now fell back in disorder. As the Confederates continued their attack, Col. Jacob B. Sweitzer's Brigade was sent into the Wheatfield to halt the Confederate advance. Fierce hand-to-hand fighting resulted but Sweitzer was unable to hold the Wheatfield.

As
Sweitzer's men were forced to retreat, two brigades of BG Romeyn B. Ayres' Division entered east of the Wheatfield. They sought to delay the Confederates long enough so that the retreating Union could set up defensive positions on the ridge line just north of Little Round Top (the same ridge where Sickles should've been placed to begin with). In delaying the Confederates, the Union brigades took over 800 casualties. The Confederates reached Plum Run at the base of Little Round Top, but were unable to advance any further. A brigade of PA Reserves charged the Confederates and drove them back across the Wheatfield, but by this time it was dark.

[The Peach Orchard - July 2, PM 1863] At about 17:00, Kershaw's SC Brigade attacked the Stony Hill (located between the Peach Orchard and the Wheatfield). Thirty cannons of the Union III Corps and the Artillery Reserve were tasked with holding this section and were positioned along Wheatfield Road. Barnes' Division had set itself on the Stony Hill facing westward. As Kershaw's Brigade neared the line and while taking heavy fire, someone erroneously ordered the Brigade to parallel the Union position - exposing its flanks to the Union line.

View of the Peach Orchard Meanwhile, BG William Barksdale's Brigade followed by Wofford's Brigade, comprised of McLaw's left flank. The two brigades charged directly into the Union position at the Peach Orchard and along Emmitsburg Road. Barkdale's Brigade broke through just north of the Peach Orchard, while Wofford's Brigade attacked the Peach Orchard. The III Corps defenders in the Orchard had been facing south firing into Kershaw's Brigade when Wofford attacked. Realizing the exposed position, the 2nd NH Regiment was ordered to retreat, but only after staggering casualties (21 of its 24 officers and nearly half of its men were casualties).

[Confederate attack loses momentum - July 2, PM 1863] The artillery placed in the Peach Orchard were forced to limber and retreat along with the guns placed behind Wheatfield Road. The pieces were unlimbered near the Trostle House and ordered to hold on until Union artillery could be placed on Cemetery Ridge. These guns were also soon overrun and had 3 of its guns captured.

Barksdale swung left to attack the remaining Union units under the command of BG Andrew A. Humphreys. Humphreys' Division had been left exposed and saw the line all around it disappear. BG Cadmus M. Wilcox's Brigade of Anderson's Division followed on Barksdale's left and attacked Humphreys' right. Humphreys' Brigade was unable to hold its position and was also forced to retreat towards Cemetery Ridge.

Sickles had watched the battle from horseback near the Trostle farm when a stray cannonball grazed his right knee. His leg was later amputated.

Day 2: July 2, 1863 - Culp's Hill
 
[Ewell attacks Culp's Hill - July 2, PM 1863]At 16:00, Ewell opened fire with artillery from batteries near the Seminary and atop Benner's Hill. These were soon silenced by the overwhelming Union artillery presence on Cemetery Hill and Culp's Hill. MG Henry W. Slocum's XII Corps was positioned on Culp's Hill and had spent considerable time erecting breastworks there. During the fighting on Cemetery Hill, Meade ordered most of the XII Corps except BG George S. Greene's Brigade from Culp's Hill to reinforce the position. (Actually, most of XII Corps never arrived to the fighting).

The attack began at 20:00 as Johnson 's Division attacked from the east.
Greene's Brigade stretched from Culp's Hill and then southward to the lower portion of the hill. The Union brigade faced eastward against Johnson's 3 Brigades who had forded Rock Creek and began ascended the hill. BG George Steuart's Brigade comprised the left flank of the attack and occupied the unoccupied breastworks on the lower hill. Darkness fell and Steuart's men fumbled their way toward Greene's right flank. Greene was in a very precarious position until reinforcements were rushed from I Corps which had been positioned on the western slope of the hill and XI Corps units from Cemetery Ridge.

Throughout the darkness, Johnson's Division was unable to determine the force they were opposing. Unknown to Johnson ,
Greene's Brigade was the only unit on the Union's right.

Day 2: July 2, 1863 - Cemetery Hill
 
Soon after the fighting began on Culp's Hill, BG Harry T. Hays' and Col. Isaac Avery's Brigades of Early's Division attacked Cemetery Hill from Winebrenner's Run just south of town. The advance took place at dusk, just as the sun began to set. Cemetery Hill was defended by Col. Andrew L. Harris' and Col. Leopold von Gilsa's Bridages of Barlow's Division.

The artillery that had been amassed on Cemetery Hill and Culp's Hill opened fire as the Confederates approached. The ground that the Confederates had to cross was especially difficult and took over an hour to cross. Despite heavy fire from the Union Batteries, the Confederates continued their climb upward - routing a Federal line that had positioned itself near the base. As the Confederates ascended the hill and the angle steepened, they found that the Union Batteries could not lower their guns to take aim. With this respite, Avery 's men charged forward and attacked
von Gilsa's Brigade who became overwhelmed and was sent fleeing.

Schurz, who was nearby and witnessing the fleeing units, immediately dispatched two Regiments to plug the gap that appeared near the top. The Confederates had nearly overrun the Union Batteries and were in hand-to-hand combat with the gunners themselves. Outnumbered and exposed, the remaining Confederates retreated down the hill.

Since
Schurz had pulled the two reinforcing Regiments from his line, it left a gap exposing the PA Battery of Capt. Bruce Ricketts. This gap was exploited by Hays' Brigade and soon much of the Brigade poured through. Several guns of Ricketts' battery were captured and Hays found himself temporarily contesting the heights. Since darkness had fallen, Hays could not tell which units were around him. A unit had fired upon his Brigade, but he was reluctant to return fire. Only after the third volley did Hays realize that the units were Col. Samuel Sprigg Carroll's Brigade of the Union's II Corps.

Carroll's Brigade, under orders of Hancock, had marched through the night towards the sounds of battle. As Carroll approached, he fired into Hays' Brigade. By the time Hays had realized the threat, it was too late. Cut off and exposed, Hays' men were forced to retreat back down the hill.

Rodes ' Division had tried to participate in the attack, but by the time it had finished maneuvering, darkness had completely engulfed the battle. Once the fighting ended,
Williams' and Geary's Divisions of XII Corps returned to Culp's Hill to halt the Confederate advance.

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Copyright © 2007 Brian Williams.

Last Modified: 02/10/2007.
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