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“The Glory of Fighting” The Anticlimactic Clash of Cavalry at Gettysburg, July 3rd 1863

4 RCuster leads his Michigan Brigade  on July 3rd

Robert E. Lee’s prodigal son had finally returned. On the evening of July 2nd 1863 with the attacks of Longstreet now finished and Ewell’s abortive battle for Culp’s Hill reaching its bloody Lieutenant General J.E.B. Stuart finally arrived at Robert E Lee’s headquarters on Seminary Ridge. The meeting was brief and unwitnessed by anyone but the participants.

Apparently the meeting between Lee and his Cavalry division commander was short “abrupt and frosty.” Porter Alexander noted that Lee only said “Well General, you are here at last” and Stuart’s aide Major Henry McClellan reported that Stuart “regarded the incident as painful beyond description.” (1) In his official report of the battle “Lee would allude to Stuart with but a single pejorative sentence: “The movements of the Army preceding the Battle of Gettysburg had been much embarrassed by the absence of the cavalry.” (2) In Stuart’s defense it needs to be re-emphasized that Lee had four brigades of cavalry at his disposal but did not use them effectively.

Stuart left as quickly as he arrived and in his official report he noted that his new orders were to take up a position “on the left wing of the Army of Northern Virginia.” (3) For a man like Stuart whose soldierly skills as a cavalry commander and leader were only matched by his vanity the incident was humiliating, he had failed Robert E Lee.


Lee’s plan for Stuart the next day was that Stuart Stuart moved four of his brigades the following morning to the north and east. The plan was for his forces to be in position to assist the exploitation of any breakthrough made by Pickett’s attack. Stuart hoped to cover his movement from Federal observation but he was discovered and his movement reported back to Meade. Stuart blamed the discovery on the trail brigades of Hampton and Fitzhugh Lee who had “debouched onto open ground and disclosed his presence.” (4)

david-greggBrigadier General David Gregg

Brigadier General David Gregg commanding the Second Cavalry Division received word of Stuart’s approach and prepared to intercept him and in the process relieve the Michigan Brigade of the newly minted Brigadier General George Custer so it could rejoin Jusdon Kilpatrick’s division.

300_2631176Brigadier General George Armstrong Custer

Upon his arrival Gregg realized that he would be outnumbered and that Stuart posed “a serious threat to the Federal rear.”(5) Custer indicated that he thought Gregg would soon have a battle and Gregg replied “in that case he would like to have the assistance of his Michigan brigade.” (6) Custer indicated his agreement and without bothering to consult the Cavalry Corps Commander Alfred Pleasanton Gregg ordered Custer to remain with him and “willingly risked his military career and reputation in his anxiety to protect the Federal rear.” (7)

Gregg’s action was yet another of the superior judgements executed by a Federal commander during the battle. It was an outstanding example of how Federal commanders on the whole recognized the overall tactical situation and used their judgement to take action when waiting for a superior could prove fatal to the army. In our modern understanding it would be an example of how Mission Command is to work.

During the battle Stuart displayed little of his normally sharp tactical leadership and took little part in the battle leaving the conduct of it to his subordinates. Though the Federal Horse Artillery was outnumbered Gregg used the two batteries he had far more effectively than Stuart used his. Additionally Gregg had two brigade commanders willing to take the fight to the Confederates.

The main battle took place after Three PM when Pickett’s attack was battling for its life during its assault on Cemetery Hill. There were a number of charges and counter charges and the battle was tactically a draw but a victory for Gregg who had forced Stuart to enter a battle “in which the Confederates gained nothing except the “glory of fighting” (8) and had stopped Stuart from his objective of disrupting the Federal rear and aiding Pickett’s assault.

Stuart’s aid Major Henry McClellan wrote of the battle:

“The result of this battle shows that there is no possibility that Stuart could successfully have carried out his intention of attacking the rear of the Federal right flank, for it was sufficiently protected by Gregg’s command. As soon as General Gregg was aware of Stuart’s presence he wisely assumed the aggressive and forced upon Stuart a battle…while Gregg himself performed the paramount flank of protecting the right flank of the Federal Army.” (9)

McClellan’s analysis is both succinct and accurate. As Stuart’s forces retired and Pickett’s shattered command withdrew the Battle of Gettysburg was effectively over.

1. Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg A Mariner Book, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York 2003. pp.257-258

2. Taylor, John M. Duty Faithfully Performed: Robert E Lee and his Critics Brassey’s Dulles VA 1999 p.150

3 Trudeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Books New York 2001 p.316 

4 Coddinton, Edwin B. Gettysburg: A Study in Command. A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster, New York 1968 pp.520-521

5. Ibid. p.521

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid. p.522

8. Ibid. p.523

9. McClellan, Henry Brainerd The Life and Campaigns of Major General J.E.B. Stuart Commander of the Cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia 1885. Digital edition copyright 2011 Strait Gate Publications, Charlotte NC location 6516 of 12283

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The Forgotten Hero: Brigadier General George Sears Greene at Culp’s Hill: Night of July 2nd and 3rd 1863

220px-George_S._GreeneBrigadier General George Sears Greene

On the night of July 1st 1863 Dick Ewell’s Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac on Cemetery and Culp’s Hill prepared for another day of battle. Despite a significant amount of success Lee’s Army had failed to drive the lead elements of the Army of the Potomac off of Cemetery Hill. As the evening progressed more Federal troops in the form of Henry Slocum’s XII Corps began to take up positions on Cemetery Hill as well as Culp’s Hill which Oliver Howard and Winfield Scott Hancock recognized to be vital to holding the Federal position.

The three brigades of Geary’s division entered the line to the east of Wadsworth’s division of I Corps along the northern and eastern face of Culp’s Hill. Key to the position was the placement of the brigade of Brigadier General George S. Greene one of the oldest, if not the oldest Union officer on the field. Greene’s brigade took a position next to the remnants of the Iron Brigade which had fought so hard along Seminary Ridge earlier in the day.

Greene had been born in 1801 and had graduated from West Point as an artillery officer some six years before Robert E. Lee. He graduated second in his class at West Point in 1823 and after 13 years left the army in 1836 to enter civilian life as an engineer. Greene missed the Mexican War but when the call came for volunteers in 1861 he was appointed to command the 60th New York Volunteer Infantry. Promoted to Brigadier General in 1862 he commanded his brigade and served as an acting division commander at Antietam. He was a descendent of Nathaniel Greene and his son Lieutenant Dana Greene USN was the Executive officer of the USS Monitor at the Battle of Hampton Roads against the CSS Virginia.

culps hill map

As the Federal units on Culp’s Hill took their positions they began to do something that was not yet commonplace in either army. They began to construct field fortifications and breastworks. Working through the night with the ample materials at hand they dug in and linked their positions with each other as well as Brigadier General Thomas Kane’s brigade to Greene’s right. The line of fortifications took advantage of the natural terrain which on its own made the ground good for the defense, but when fortified made it nearly impregnable to assault.

During the day of July second little happened on Ewell’s front. Though he had persuaded General Lee to leave his troops in place Ewell remained mostly inactive on July second with the exception of some skirmishing and a battle between the Stonewall Brigade and Gregg’s division of Federal Cavalry on Brinkerhoff’s Ridge about two and a half miles east of the town.

It would not be until the evening of the 2nd that Ewell’s troops went into action against the now very well entrenched Federal Forces on Cemetery and Culp’s Hill. The assaults began on Cemetery Hill where Jubal Early’s division attacked forces along the north and east section of the hill to be supported by Robert Rodes’ division on the west.

However as with most of the Confederate offensive actions of the battle this too fell apart as Rodes division gave little support to Early’s attack as due to both Rodes’ and Ewell’s indecisiveness Rodes “did not give himself enough time to get his big division into formation for the attack. By the time he had completed the complicated maneuver of wheeling his brigades forty-five degrees to the left and advancing them half a mile to a good place from which to charge up Cemetery Hill the battle was over.” [1]

Though Early achieved some success his division was repulsed and the threat to the Union gun line on Cemetery Hill was ended. One author noted of Early’s attack: Courage and determination could not offset superior numbers and fresh troops. With no help coming and enemy units swarming around them, all those Rebels who were still under some command and control began to fall back.” [2]

Longstreet’s attack on the Federal left forced George Meade to pull troops from his quiet sector along Culp’s Hill in order to reinforce his forces in the Peach Orchard, the Wheat Field and along the southern extension of Cemetery Ridge. According to most accounts Meade directed Slocum to send “at least one division” to the threatened sector which weakened the forces deployed on Culp’s Hill considerably.

However within XII Corps there was much confusion and in addition to William’s division Geary had pulled two of his brigades out of line leaving only George Greene’s brigade to defend Culp’s Hill “guarding nearly half a mile of Twelfth Corps works.”[3] Neither Slocum nor Williams realized the danger and before the units which had left the hill could return Allegheny Johnson’s division of Ewell’s corps which had sat inactive and impatiently awaiting orders to attack all day jumped off.

culp's hill149th New York Volunteer Infantry on Culp’s Hill

The Confederate attack began around Seven PM and continued through the night. Johnson sent some 4,700 men to attack Greene’s 1,300 dug in veterans. “That kind of manpower edge would have likely been decisive elsewhere on the field that day, but against Pop Greene’s providential and well-constructed breastworks the odds leveled out.” [4]Greene’s men fought hard as Greene directed them and requested reinforcements from I Corps and XI Corps who in turn sent units including the Iron Brigade to help. However, the six regiments that arrived had been reduced to fractions of their former strength by the first day’s battle “increased Greene’s force only by about 755 men.” [5]Additionally, Hancock who heard the battle raging “sent two regiments to the relief of Slocum as well.”[6] Greene’s report of the battle noted:

“we were attacked on the whole of our front by a large force few minutes before 7 p.m. The enemy made four distinct charges between 7 and 9.30 p.m., which were effectually resisted. No more than 1,300 were in our lines at any one time. The loss of the enemy greatly exceeds ours.”[7]

As the night wore on Confederate attacks continued and in the darkness other Federal units arrived, including those from XII Corps which had gone earlier in the day. By mid-morning Johnson’s assault was done. His units had suffered severe casualties and his division had been drained of all attacking power by the time Lee needed it on the morning of July 3rd to support Pickett’s attack. “This division, formed by Stonewall Jackson was never the same again. Its glories were in the past.”[8] In the end the Army of the Potomac still held both Cemetery and Culp’s Hill, in large part due to the actions of the old soldier, George Greene who’s foresight to fortify the hill and superb handling of his troops and those who reinforced him kept Johnson’s division from rolling up the Federal right.

Ewell’s troops would play no further role in the battle. In the end his presence around Cemetery and Culp’s Hill diminished the resources that Lee needed to support his other assaults on the second and third day of battle. In effect it left Lee without one third of his forces. The result was the sacrifice of many troops with nothing to show for it. Ultimately Lee is to blame for not bringing Ewell’s forces back to Seminary Ridge where they and their artillery may have had a greater effect on the battle.

greene monumentMonument to General George S Greene on Culp’s Hill

The real hero of Culp’s Hill was Greene. But Greene in many ways is a forgotten hero, he was not given much credit in Meade’s after action report though Slocum attempted to rectify this and Meade made some minor changes to his report. But it was in later years that Greene was began to receive recognition for his actions. James Longstreet gave Greene credit for saving the Union line on the night of July 2nd and said that “there was no better officer in either army” at the dedication of the 3rd Brigade monument on Culp’s Hill in 1888. Greene died in 1899 having been officially retired from the Army in 1893 as a First Lieutenant, his highest rank in the Regular Army. A monument to Greene stands on Culp’s Hill looking east in the direction of Johnson’s assault.

Until tomorrow,


Padre Steve+


[1] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster Ne5w York, 1968 pp.429-430

[2] Tredeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.409

[3] Pfanz, Harry W. Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill NC 1993 p. 204

[4] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p.326

[5] Ibid. Coddington p.431

[6] Jordan, David M. Winfield Scott Hancock: A Soldier’s Life Indian University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis 1988 p.94

[7] Luvaas, Jay and Nelson Harold W. editors. The U.S. Army War College Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg South Mountain Press, Carlisle PA 1986 pp. 159-160

[8] Dowdy, Clifford. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation Skyhorse Publishing, New York 1986, originally published as Death of a Nation Knopf, New York 1958 p.262

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Gettysburg Day Two: The Peach Orchard, Wheat Field and Devil’s Den


“Mission command is the conduct of military operations through decentralized execution based upon mission-type orders. Successful mission command demands that subordinate leaders at all echelons exercise disciplined initiative, acting aggressively and independently to accomplish the mission. Essential to mission command is the thorough knowledge and understanding of the commander’s intent at every level of command.” From the Mission Command White Paper and JP 3-31

As on the first day of battle and throughout the Gettysburg campaign issues of command and control would be of paramount importance. On the second day the glaring deficiencies of Robert E Lee and his corps commanders command and control at Gettysburg would again be brought to the fore while the exemplary command of the Army of the Potomac by George Meade, Winfield Scott Hancock, staff artillery officer Henry Hunt and staff engineer Gouverneur Warren exemplified the best aspects of what we now define as Mission Command.

On the morning of July 2nd the Army of the Potomac was mostly assembled on the high ground from Culp’s Hill to Cemetery Hill and along Cemetery Ridge. In the north XII Corps under the command of Major General Henry Slocum held Culp’s Hill. The battered remnants of I and XI Corps under the command of Oliver Howard and Abner Doubleday held Cemetery Hill while Winfield Scott Hancock’s crack II Corps extended the line down Cemetery Ridge. To II Corps right was Dan Sickles’ III Corps with George Sykes V Corps in Reserve. John Sedgwick’s VI Corps was still enroute, marching up the Baltimore Pike.

It was a solid and well laid out position which commanded the battlefield. Major General Gouverneur Warren the Army’s Staff Engineer Officer who had been sent by Meade to assist Hancock the night of the first wrote his wife that morning: “we are now all in line of battle before the enemy in a position where we cannot be beaten but fear being turned.” (1)

sicklesMajor General Dan Sickles

There was one notable problem, Dan Sickles did not like the position assigned to his corps. His corps which joined the left flank of II Corps was to extend down Cemetery Ridge to Devil’s Den and Little Round Top. All morning he had been lobbying Meade, through Meade son and Aide-de-Camp Captain George Meade, the Artillery Reserve Commander Henry Hunt, Warren and even Meade himself to no avail. Sickles was disturbed because John Buford’s Cavalry division which has been deployed on the Federal left had been moved to the rear by Pleasanton the Cavalry Corps commander and not replaced.

Hunt who had accompanied Sickles back to his corps pointed out that the position was too exposed and too expansive for the number of troops Sickles had in his corps. He advised Sickles not to advance and assured Sickles that he would discuss Sickles’ concerns with Meade. (2)

To remedy the situation he sent out four companies of Sharpshooters supported by the 3rd Maine Infantry to make a reconnaissance. Those troops ran into a large force of advancing Confederate Infantry near Seminary Ridge and withdrew, Colonel Brenden of the Sharpshooters informing Sickles of the Confederate advance.

Sickles now felt that the Union line was about to be turned as it had been at Chancellorsville and without consulting Meade or Hancock took it upon himself to save the situation. It was an act of brazen insubordination, but typical of the mercurial, vain and scandal plagued man who “wore notoriety like a cloak” and “whether he was drinking, fighting, wenching or plotting, he was always operating with the throttle wide open.” (3)

About mid-afternoon Sickles advanced III Corps forward in a “mile long line of battle with waving flags and rumbling batteries rolling west into the afternoon sunlight.” (4) The sight confused other commanders such as John Gibbon commanding a division in II Corps who watched in amazement from his vantage point on Cemetery Ridge. Sickles advanced nearly a mile in front of his previous position opening a gap between III Corps and II Corps. He attempted to hold a new line that was longer and more exposed than the number of troops that he had available. He placed Humphrey’s division along the Emmitsburg Road and extended Birney’s division through the Peach Orchard, a wheat field down to Devil’s Den where he ran out of troops.


Sickles had formed an exposed and vulnerable salient which was too thinly manned for its length. It was open to attack on three sides, had little depth, no reserves and no place to fall back to as an alternate position. (5) It was also about to be hit by the full fury and power of Hood’s and McLaws’ divisions of Longstreet’s First Corps supported by 46 well placed artillery pieces (6) all about to open fire on Sickles badly deployed corps.

About 3 PM Meade broke from a planned commander’s conference to investigate what had happened to Sickles and III Corps, accompanying Meade was Warren. Warren who was most familiar with that part of the battlefield noted that III Corps was “very badly disposed on that part of the field.”7

Confronting Sickles in the Peach Orchard Meade was visibly perturbed. Meade informed Sickles that “General I am afraid that you are too far out” (8) attempting to control his temper. Sickles disagreed and said with support he could hold the position because it was higher ground than what he had previously occupied. Meade then pointed out the obvious stating “General Sickles this is in some respects higher ground than that to the rear, but there is still higher in front of you…” (9) As the conversation progressed Meade told Sickles that “this is neutral ground, our guns command it as well as the enemy’s. The reason you cannot hold it applies to them.”(10)

Sickles offered to withdraw but as he did so the Confederate cannonade began signaling the beginning of Longstreet’s attack. Meade told Sickles “I wish to God you could [withdraw]…but those people will not permit it.” (11) Another account states that Meade told Sickles “You cannot hold this position but the enemy will not let you get away without a fight.”(12)

Since Sedgwick’s powerful VI Corps had just arrived Meade ordered it into reserve. He then ordered Sykes V Corps from its reserve position and one division of II Corps to support the dangerously exposed III Corps around the Peach Orchard and Wheat Field. He then told Sickles “if you need more artillery call on the reserve!” (13) It was an action that very likely saved the day, another example of Meade taking control of a bad situation preventing it from becoming even worse.

For Lee and Longstreet the morning had been spent disagreeing on a plan to crush Meade. Though his army was operating on exterior lines with his corps having no way to effectively coordinate their actions and still lacking Stuart’s Cavalry, Pickett’s Infantry division and Law’s brigade of Hood’s division Lee insisted that Longstreet and First Corps make a frontal attack on the Union left. Longstreet demurred and tried to convince Lee of turning the Union flank to the south of the Round Tops. Longstreet told Hood “The General is a little nervous this morning; he wishes me to attack; I do not wish to do so without Pickett. I never like to go into battle with one boot off.” (14)

Lee did not believe that such a move could succeed without the assistance of Stuart’s cavalry and Longstreet did not believe that with Pickett’s division that his corps had the combat power to successfully complete the mission. Hood objected to the attack pleading with Longstreet that it was “unwise to attack up the Emmitsburg Road, as ordered” and requested that he be allowed to “turn Round Top and attack the enemy flank and rear.”(15)

HD_hoodJB1Major General John Bell Hood

The debate between Longstreet and Hood continued as Hood objected and Longstreet reiterated Lee’s insistence on the planned attack. Hood pleaded for freedom of maneuver believing that an attack up the rocky hills was doomed and later noted “it seemed to me that the enemy occupied a position so strong- I may say impregnable – that independently of their flank fire, they could easily repulse our attack by merely throwing or rolling stones down the mountainside as we approached.”(16) Despite his objections to the plan Longstreet ordered Hood to attack as Lee planned and after a fourth attempt by Hood to persuade Longstreet to change the plan Longstreet told his subordinate “We must obey the orders of General Lee.” (17)

However in addition to his contention with Lee and Hood Longstreet had to deal with Lee jumping the chain of command. With Longstreet in earshot order McLaws to make an attack on the Peach Orchard and ignored McLaws repeated requests to make a further reconnaissance before launching the attack. By the time Hood and McLaws divisions were in place along with Anderson’s division from Hill’s Third Corps it was nearly four o’clock. The senior commanders of the Army of Northern Virginia had functioned poorly throughout the day but when the attack began it was like a violent storm as Confederate troops fell upon the exposed Federal III Corps.

mclawsMajor General Lafayette McLaws

When the attack was launched McLaws division and the left wing of Hood’s division struck the exposed positions of III Corps. Sickles was severely wounded by a bouncing cannon ball which shattered a leg knocking him out of the fight, Hood too was badly wounded early in the action leaving command of his division to Brigadier General Evander Law, whose brigade had just arrived on the battlefield after a long march from New Guilford in the Cumberland Valley. Though now in command Law continued to command his own brigade in the assault and Robertson took the initiative to bring up the rest of the division. (18)

McLaws and Hood’s soldiers hit Sickles Corps hard shattering it. Despite fierce resistance from the Federal forces Sickles’ corps was forced to retreat. The reinforcements ordered to the sector from V Corps, II Corps and the artillery reserve arrived piecemeal and also sustained heavy casualties but eventually helped to stem the Confederate tide. III Corps was wrecked and effectively out of the battle but the actions of Meade, Hancock, Warren, Gibbon, Sykes and Hunt to respond to Sickles folly kept the Confederates from sweeping the field.


Law, Robertson’s and Benning’s brigades opened Hood’s attack toward Devil’s Den and Little Round Top.
Fierce fighting ensued at Devil’s Den where the Federal line, occupied by Colonel A. Van Horn Ellis’ 124th New York and 4 guns of Smith’s artillery battery put up a stiff resistance. Ellis’s small regiment numbered but 18 officers and 220 men when it entered the fight but it held off several charges of the Texans and even conducted a counter-attack before being overwhelmed by fresh troop’s from Benning’s brigade. During the fight Ellis mounted his horse noting that “The men must see us today.”(19) Ellis died in the action as did many of his brave soldiers. In the valley between Devil’s Den and the Round Tops the 4th Maine and Smith’s 2 remaining guns fought large numbers of Hood’s troops and as the outnumbered Federals fell back the Texan’s of Robertson’s brigade and Law’s Alabamians surged toward the rocky hill.

Col. Van Horne Ellis, 124th N.Y. InfColonel Augustus Van Horn Ellis

Brigadier General William Barksdale’s Mississippi brigade which had distinguished itself at Fredericksburg stormed the Federal positions breaking through the salient and driving forward. He led his brigade forward though it had suffered significant casualties and was losing cohesion. Barksdale insisted on continuing to the advance and not taking time to reform his lines shouting at one of his regimental commanders “No! Crowd them- we have them on the run. Move your regiments.” (20 )

GeneralBarksdale_zps3678f799willardBarksdale and Willard (below)

As the brigade reached the lower portion of Cemetery Ridge a fresh Federal brigade commanded by Colonel George Willard struck the Mississippians. Willard’s brigade was seeking redemption having been one of the units forced to surrender at Harpers Ferry the previous September. His troops fresh and full of fight fell upon the Mississippians who were spent and disorganized having reached their culminating point. Barksdale continued to urge on his men but was mortally wounded and his troops driven back by the New Yorkers. Willard did not live long to savor the redemption as he was hit by a cannon ball and killed instantly.

The First MinnesotaFirst Minnesota attacks Wilcox’s Brigade

To the north of the salient Anderson’s division of Hill’s corps attacked toward Cemetery Ridge meeting heavy resistance. Cadmus Wilcox’s brigade advanced unsupported up to Cemetery Ridge which due to the dispatch of troops to the Peach Orchard was only lightly defended. When Hancock saw the threat he ordered the 1st Minnesota commanded by Colonel William Covill, all of 262 men to charge the advancing Confederates telling Covill: “Colonel, do you see those colors?…Then take them.” 21 Between 170-178 of the Minnesotans fell in the counter-attack but they succeeded in blunting Wilcox’s attack and Wilcox seeing no help or support withdrew from Cemetery Ridge.

By the evening fresh Federal troops directed by Meade, Hancock and Hunt poured into the sector. By the end of the day despite sustaining massive casualties the Federal Army held its ground in large part thanks to the active role played by Meade, Hancock, Warren and Hunt in anticipating danger and bringing the appropriate forces to bear.

The fighting around the Peach Orchard, the Wheat field and Devil’s Den was confusing as units of both sides became mixed up and cohesion was lost. Both sides sustained heavy casualties but Lee’s Army could ill afford to sustain such heavy losses. By the end of the evening both McLaws and Hood’s divisions were spent having lost almost half of their troops as casualties. Hood was severely wounded early in the fight, and many other Confederate commanders were killed or mortally wounded including the irrepressible Barksdale. Combined with the repulse at Little Round Top the Confederate troops consolidated their positions.

In the end though McLaws’ and Hood’s divisions had succeeded in thrashing Sickles’ exposed salient they were unsuccessful at breaking the Federal line. Casualties were heavy on both sides but the attack had failed and it had failed because because of senior leadership of Lee and his corps commanders. One of Lee’s biographer’s wrote “Longstreet was disgruntled, Ewell was inept and Hill was unwell.” (22) To make matters worse Lee did not assert himself and even his most devoted biographer Douglas Southall Freeman would write that on July 2d “the Army of Northern Virginia was without a commander.” (23)

Until the next installment,


Padre Steve+

1 Jordan, David M. Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren Indiana University Press, Bloomington Indiana 2001 p.89

2 Foote, Shelby The Civil War, A Narrative: Fredericksburg to Meridian. Vintage Books, a Division of Random House, New York 1963 p.495 

3 Catton, Bruce The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road Doubleday and Company, Garden City New York, 1952 pp.150-151

4 Ibid p.288 

5 Ibid. Foote p.496

6 Ibid. p.289

7 Ibid. Jordan p.90 

8 Ibid. Foote p.496

9 Schultz, Duane The Most Glorious Fourth: Vicksburg and Gettysburg July 4th 1863. W.W. Norton and Company New York and London, 2002 p.251

10 Sears, Stephen Gettysburg Houghton Mifflin Company Boston and New York 2004 p.263

11 Ibid. 

12 Ibid. Sears p.263

13 Ibid. Foote p.497

14 Pfanz, Harry W. Gettysburg the Second Day University of North Carolina Press, Charlotte and London, 1987 p.112 

15 Ibid. Foote p.499

16 Ibid. 

17 Ibid.

18 Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign a Study in Command A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster, New York 1968 pp.402-403

19 Ibid. Pfanz p.293

20 Truedeau, Noah Andre Gettysburg a Testing of Courage Perennial Books, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.368

21 Ibid. p.393

22 Taylor, John M. Duty Faithfully Performed: Robert E Lee and His Critics Brassey’s, Dulles VA 1999 p.149

23 Freeman, Douglas S. R.E. Lee volume 3 Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York 1935 p.150



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Remembering Gettysburg and the New Birth of Freedom


I am always humbled when I travel to Gettysburg as I did this weekend.  It is hard to believe in that now peaceful pastoral setting that over 157,000 Americans, almost 82,000 Union and 75,000 Confederate met in a three day battle. In those three days over 28,000 Confederates and 23,000 Union soldiers were killed, wounded, missing or captured. It was the greatest number of casualties inflicted in one battle on American soil in history.

I left on Friday with students from our Staff College and returned home this evening. It was my first time leading a Staff Ride like this though I have participated in them at other battlefields and led less extensive visits to Gettysburg when I was stationed at Fort Indiantown Gap Pennsylvania in 1997-1998. I have a good group of students, Army, Navy and Air Force Officers of much experience. In addition to simply examining the battlefield and telling the story of the battle, I have been working over the past two months to build a foundation that enables them to learn the enduring and timeless lessons of leadership, command, control, communication, the linkage between national strategy objectives, the operational art, operational objectives and tactical objectives.  Unlike other visits I added a final stop at the Gettysburg Soldiers’ Cemetery where President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address.


The places that the battle was fought have become legendary, for they are “hallowed ground” as Lincoln so eloquently put it. The places, McPherson’s and Herr’s Ridge, Seminary Ridge, the Railroad Cut, Barlow’s Knoll, Cemetery Hill, Culp’s Hill, The Wheat Field, Devil’s Den, the Peach Orchard, Little Round Top, Cemetery Ridge, the Apse of Trees, the Angle and the High Water Mark are in a sense holy, or hallowed. They were consecrated by those who struggled there, those who lived and those who gave the last full measure of devotion to their country.

I think about those men of both sides and how they came to serve. In 1863 the majority of those who fought were volunteers. Some were motivated by their convictions, fully convinced of the rightness of their cause. Other went to war with mixed feelings. Some fought for family, or their homes, or because they felt that they could do no otherwise, and some even fought against the cause that their families or states believed in.


But no matter what their reason for going to war they  That being said when I go there though my family predominantly fought for the Confederacy my heart is drawn to those men who remained loyal to the Union and those who answered the call of Abraham Lincoln to serve in a cause greater than their own interests, the great and the small alike.


Lincoln was a masterful orator who managed to rally the Union and bring hundreds of thousands of men volunteer before Gettysburg. They came for an ideal an ideal which Lincoln’s oratory was probably the most effective at articulating in a way that men would volunteer to suffer hardship, fight and die to bring about. It was well put in the movie Gettysburg where Colonel Joshua Chamberlain said:

“This is a different kind of army. If you look at history you’ll see men fight for pay, or women, or some other kind of loot. They fight for land, or because a king makes them, or just because they like killing. But we’re here for something new. This has not happened much, in the history of the world: We are an army out to set other men free. America should be free ground, all of it, from here to the Pacific Ocean. No man has to bow, no man born to royalty. Here we judge you by what you do, not by who your father was. Here you can be something. Here is the place to build a home. But it’s not the land. There’s always more land. It’s the idea that we all have value, you and me. What we’re fighting for, in the end… we’re fighting for each other…”


On November 19th 1863 Lincoln delivered a “few words” at Gettysburg which were in all practical aspects a benediction at the dedication of the battlefield cemetery. Lincoln was the second speaker at the ceremony following former Pennsylvania Congressman Edward Everett who spoke for more than two hours, a typical speech from the period. The 270 words of Lincoln’s address are perhaps the most important of any speech or document in American history save the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.

The speech was so powerful that Everett wrote Lincoln the next day:

“Permit me also to express my great admiration of the thoughts expressed by you, with such eloquent simplicity & appropriateness, at the consecration of the Cemetery. I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”


The speech is short, but it’s eloquence is unmatched. Lincoln wrapped ideas, concepts and ideals that men have written volumes about into a speech so powerful that many have memorized it.

But few realize the context that it must be placed. Though the Union had defeated Lee’s Army at Gettysburg and Grant had taken Vicksburg to cut the Confederacy in half the North was growing war weary. There were those in the North, the Copperheads who were willing even after Gettysburg and Vicksburg to end the war on terms favorable to the Confederacy, even granting Confederate independence and the continuation of slavery. Likewise Lincoln was sick when he delivered the address having what was mostly likely a mild form of Smallpox when he gave the address. Thus the tenor, simplicity and depth are even more remarkable. It is a speech given in the manner of Winston Churchill’s “Blood sweat toil and tears” address to Parliament upon being appoint Prime Minister in 1940.

In a time where many are wearied by the foibles and follies of our politicians, even wondering about our form of government can survive Lincoln’s words matter. Dr Allen Guelzo, Professor of Civil War Studies at Gettysburg College wrote in the New York Times on the 150th anniversary of the Address:

“The genius of the address thus lay not in its language or in its brevity (virtues though these were), but in the new birth it gave to those who had become discouraged and wearied by democracy’s follies, and in the reminder that democracy’s survival rested ultimately in the hands of citizens who saw something in democracy worth dying for. We could use that reminder again today.”


Dr Guelzo is quite correct. Many people in this country and around the world are having grave doubts about our democracy. I wonder myself, but I am an optimist. I do believe that we will recover because for the life of me I see no nation anywhere else with our resiliency and ability to overcome the stupidity of politicians, pundits and preachers.
The amazing thing was that in spite of everything the Union survived. Lincoln was a big part of that but it was the men who left lives of comfort and security like Joshua Chamberlain and so many others who brought about that victory.

Gettysburg Address

Throughout the war, even to the end Southern political leaders failed to understand that Union men would fight and die for an ideal, something greater than themselves, the preservation of the Union and the freedom of an enslaved race. For those that volunteered it was not about personal gain, loot or land,it was about something greater. It was about freedom.
Now I for one do not think that we are currently living up to the ideals enunciated by Lincoln that day at Gettysburg. I can understand the cynicism disillusionment of Americans as well as those who have for over 200 years looked to us and our system as a “city set on a hill.” That being said, when I read these words and walk that hallowed  ground I am again a believer that we can realize the ideal.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

In the hope that we again realize those ideals and help bring about “a new birth of freedom,” I wish you a good night.

Padre Steve+

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An Evening at Gettysburg


Today was a really good day conducting our Staff College Gettysburg Staff Ride.

This is an optional event for our students and it is the first time that I have conducted it. My predecessor had done it 80 times in the last 20 years. I can only hope that I get that chance.

Today we covered the events of the first two days of the battle examining them in the light of the concepts or command and control, intelligence and mission command. What we discussed today was linked with concepts that we discussed before the trip. These included linking national and military strategy with the operational art and from there to tactics.

Though what occurred at Gettysburg happened over 150 years ago the concepts are timeless because they deal with the human aspects of leadership, communications and command.

Weapons and tactics may change but the human side remains the same. That it is why it is so important, especially in an era where STEM (Science, Math, Engineering and Technology) are exalted above the humanities.

We finished this afternoon at Little Round Top where Grouvenor Warren, Strong Vincent and Joshua Chamberlain kept the Confederate Army from turning the Union flank and quite possibly winning a decisive victory.

Tomorrow we will continue our Staff Ride with the events of July 3rd 1863 on Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Ridge.

This evening I spent with seven of our officers having a nice dinner and a nightcap.

Until tomorrow,


Padre Steve+

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Counting the Cost: Gettysburg in Flesh and Blood


“It is well that war is so terrible. We should grow too fond of it.” Robert E Lee

Too often we look at distant battles and campaigns in terms of strategy, operations, tactics, leadership and the weaponry employed. Likewise we might become more analytical and look at the impact of the battle or campaign in the context of the war it was fought,  or in the manner in which the tactics or weapons used revolutionized warfare. Sometimes in our more reflective moments we might look at individual bravery or sacrifice, often missing in our analysis is the cost in flesh and blood.

The words of Guy Sager in his classic work The Forgotten Soldier about World War Two on the Eastern front is lost on many that study war:

“Too many people learn about war with no inconvenience to themselves. They read about Verdun or Stalingrad without comprehension, sitting in a comfortable armchair, with their feet beside the fire, preparing to go about their business the next day, as usual…One should read about war standing up, late at night, when one is tired, as I am writing about it now, at dawn, while my asthma attack wears off. And even now, in my sleepless exhaustion, how gentle and easy peace seems!”

In an age where so few have served in the military and even few have seen combat in some way shape or form many who study war are comfortable experts who learn about war with no inconvenience to themselves. When I hear men and women, the pundits, politicians and preachers, that Trinity of Evil who constantly urge on others to go to war for causes, places or conflicts that they have little understanding of from the comfort of their living rooms or television studios I grow weary.

As a historian who also is a military chaplain who has seen war I struggle with what Sager said. Thus when I read military history, study and write about particular battles or engagements, or conduct staff rides as I will this weekend at Gettysburg the human cost is always present in my mind. The fact that I still suffer the effects of PTSD including night terrors and chronic insomnia keeps what I do in good focus, and prevents me from being a comfortable expert. Thus to do a staff ride, to walk the battlefield, especially in somewhat uncomfortable weather is a good thing. It connects us more in at least a small way to the men that fought there.

To walk a battlefield where tens of thousands of men were killed and wounded is for me a visit to hallowed ground. I have felt that at Waterloo, Verdun, Arnhem, Normandy, the West Wall, the Shuri Line, Antietam, Chancellorsville and of course the battlefield which I have visited more than any in my life, Gettysburg. There are times when I walk these fields that I am overcome with emotion. This I think is a good thing, for as an American who has family ties to the Civil War, Gettysburg in particular is hallowed ground.

Sisters of Charity on the Battlefield

The past few weeks I have been doing a lot of reading and writing on Gettysburg as part of my preparation for the staff ride. In my position as a Chaplain who also teaches Ethics and will be teaching more military history I cannot be a cheerleader. I try to be dispassionate in how I teach and while dealing with big issues that my students need to face as Joint Staff Officers. Some of these men and women will probably become Flag or General Officers. Thus I do feel a certain responsibility to teach not only the strategy and other important military aspects, but also the cost in human lives and ethical considerations. I take my work seriously. Like James Longstreet I have to ask “Why do men fight who were born to be brothers?”

As the sun set on the evening of July 3rd 1863 the battered Army of Northern Virginia and the battered but victorious Army of the Potomac tended their wounds, buried their dead and prepared for what might happen next.


Following the disastrous attack aimed at the Union center, what is commonly called “Pickett’s Charge” Lee and his surviving commanders prepared for an expected Union counter attack. However, George Meade, the commander of the Army of the Potomac who had correctly anticipated Lee’s assault decided not to gamble on a counter attack, though it was tempting. He knew too well the tenacity and skill of the Confederate commanders and soldiers on the defense and did not want to risk a setback that might give Lee another chance.


The dead and wounded littered the battlefield. Field hospitals, little more than butcher shops where arms and legs were amputated by overworked surgeons and attendants while those with abdominal wounds that could not be easily repaired were made as comfortable as possible. Triage was simple. If a casualty was thought to have a reasonable chance at survival he was treated, if not they were set aside in little groups and allowed to die as peacefully as possible. Chaplains made their way around, Protestant’s ensuring that their soldiers “knew Jesus” and Catholics administering the Last Rites.

Corporal Horatio Chapman of the 20th Connecticut Volunteers wrote about the the July 3rd:

But in front of our breastworks, where the confederates were massed in large numbers, the sight was truly awful and appalling. The shells from our batteries had told with fearful and terrible effect upon them and the dead in some places were piled upon each other, and the groans and moans of the wounded were truly saddening to hear. Some were just alive and gasping, but unconscious. Others were mortally wounded and were conscious of the fact that they could not live long; and there were others wounded, how bad they could not tell, whether mortal or otherwise, and so it was they would linger on some longer and some for a shorter time-without the sight or consolation of wife, mother, sister or friend. I saw a letter sticking out of the breast pocket of one of the confederate dead, a young man apparently about twenty-four. Curiosity prompted me to read it. It was from his young wife away down in the state of Louisiana. She was hoping and longing that this cruel war would end and he could come home, and she says, “Our little boy gets into my lap and says, `Now, Mama, I will give you a kiss for Papa.’ But oh how I wish you could come home and kiss me for yourself.” But this is only one in a thousand. But such is war and we are getting used to it and can look on scenes of war, carnage and suffering with but very little feeling and without a shudder.”

Colonel William Oates of the 15th Alabama whose brave troopers assaulted Little Round Top on July 2nd wrote:

“My dead and wounded were nearly as great in number as those still on duty. They literally covered the ground. The blood stood in puddles in some places on the rocks; the ground was soaked with the blood of as brave men as ever fell on the red field of battle.”

Another Confederate soldier describe the scene west of the town on July 4th:

“The sights and smells that assailed us were simply indescribable-corpses swollen to twice their size, asunder with the pressure of gases and vapors…The odors were nauseating, and so deadly that in a short time we all sickened and were lying with our mouths close to the ground, most of us vomiting profusely.”

Elon Farnsworth

Among the killed and wounded were the great and the small. John Reynolds who died on day one, Winfield Scott Hancock, the valiant commander of the Union II Corps wounded during Pickett’s Charge, “Mad” Dan Sickles, who had nearly brought disaster on the Federal lines by advancing to the Peach Orchard on July 2nd had a leg amputated. The Army of the Potomac lost a large number of brigade and regimental commanders including Strong Vincent, the young and gallant brigade commander who helped save Little Round Top, and young Elon Farnsworth, who had been promoted from Captain to Brigadier General just days before his death on the Cavalry field to the east of the town.

The Confederates suffered grievous losses. Divisional commanders like Dorsey Pender and Johnston Pettigrew were mortally wounded, John Bell Hood was severely wounded, Isaac Trimble, wounded and captured while Harry Heth was wounded. Casualties were even higher for commanders and the brigade and regiment level. The toll of brigade and regimental commanders  that were killed or wounded was fearful. In Picket’s division alone all three brigade commanders, Kemper, Armistead and Garnett were killed or wounded while 26 of 40 Field Grade officers were casualties. 46% (78 of 171) of the regiments of the Army of Northern Virginia suffered casualties at the command level. The Confederate casualties, especially among the best leaders were irreplaceable and Lee’s Army never recovered from the loss of seasoned leaders who were already in short supply.

Wesley Culp

For some like Private Wesley Culp of the 2nd Virginia it was a final trip home. Culp had grown up in Gettysburg and took a job prior to the war in Virginia. In 1861 he enlisted to serve among his friends and neighbors. He was killed on the morning of July 3rd on Culp’s Hill on property owned by his uncle where he grew up and had learned to hunt.

One witness, Frank Haskell looked in at a field hospital in the Union II Corps area and wrote:

“The Surgeons with coats off and sleeves rolled up…are about their work,… “and their faces and clothes are spattered with blood; and though they look weary and tired, their work goes systematically and steadily on- how much and how long they have worked, the piles of legs, arms, feet, hands, fingers…partially tell.” (Gettysburg by Stephen W Sears, Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Company Boston, New York 2004 p.466)

All told between 46,000 and 51,000 Americans were killed or wounded during the three days of Gettysburg. Busey and Martin’s Regimental Strengths and Losses at Gettysburg lists the following casualty figures, other accounts list higher numbers. One also has to remember that many of the missing were killed but their bodies were simply never found.

Killed          wounded         missing         total
Union                    3,155          14,531             5,369           23,055
Confederate         4,708          12,693             5,830            23,231
Total                     7,863           27,224            11,199          46,286

To provide a reference in 8 years of war in Iraq the United States suffered fewer casualties than during the three days of Gettysburg. It was the bloodiest single battle in American history.

At the end of the war, Joshua Chamberlain, the hero of Little Round Top who was well acquainted with the carnage of war asked the most difficult questions:

“…men made in the image of God, marred by the hand of man, and must we say in the name of God? And where is the reckoning for such things? And who is answerable? One might almost shrink from the sound of his own voice, which had launched into the palpitating air words of order–do we call it?–fraught with such ruin. Was it God’s command that we heard, or His forgiveness that we must forever implore?”

May we pray for peace that such an event never take place again.


Padre Steve+

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The Frustrations of General Lee at Gettysburg: Mistakes, Miscommunication and Misunderstanding, the Confederate Failure on July 2nd


On the morning of July 2nd 1863 General Robert E Lee appeared to be angry and anxious. Many who had traveled with him over the course of the last year of campaigning noted that “Lee was not at his ease…” and “more anxious and ruffled than I have ever seen him before…”[i]

One can understand Lee’s frustration. He was angry. He was angry at General Stuart for failing to follow his directions, although his orders to Stuart were vague and confusing and had opened the door for Stuart’s absence.  Stuart had left Lee without his best cavalry commanders and units and those that Lee had were unavailable because of how Lee had deployed them. Lee was also displeased with Harry Heth for “disobeying his instructions, not to bring on a general engagement and equally displeased with corps commander Powell Hill for letting it happen.”[ii]

Lee was also frustrated with Ewell, Rodes and Early of Second Corps. They had resisted Lee’s suggestion of renewing the main attack in their sector. They also objected to leaving their positions around Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill feeling that to give up hard won ground would demoralize their troops. Instead they offered to “support” an attack on the right when it started, but Lee left no exact instructions for them to do so. Lee was beset by a situation he had never found himself in before. It was as if “the attitude of these high-ranking officers…was strangely out of keeping with the aggressive spirit of the Army of Northern Virginia…Instead of offering their commander hearty cooperation and eagerness to respond positively to his suggestions, they gave him objections and reasons why they should not do certain things.”[iii]

But even more importantly Lee was frustrated by the attitude and actions of his “Old War Horse” Pete Longstreet of First Corps. Longstreet was vehemently opposed to Lee’s plan to attack. Lee had told him the previous night “If the enemy is there tomorrow, we must attack him.” Longstreet’s reply “If he is there… it will be because he is anxious that we should attack him-a good reason, in my judgment for not doing so,”[iv] failed to deter Lee from his plans. Lee became even more anxious when returning from a visit to Ewell at mid-morning to find neither that Hood nor McLaws’ divisions of Longstreet’s had yet to step off to the attack.

There is much controversy in what happened as no copy of a plan of attack exists and there are conflicts in how the key participants remembered the meetings. Lee obviously believed that Longstreet would mount an early attack. Longstreet claimed that no order was given to attack until Lee returned from his trip to Ewell.

Gettysburg_Battle_Map_Day2Gettysburg Day Two- Map by Hal Jesperson

Early in the morning Lee still was unaware of the location of most of the Federal army or where its flanks were. He knew that the Federal army occupied favorable ground and had good interior lines. He also knew that his forces were spread out over a wide arc which made it hard for each of his corps to render support to the others.  Likewise he had no cavalry with him to make a reconnaissance and the officers that he dispatched to make a reconnaissance gave him faulty information indicating that there were no Federal troops between him and the Round Tops.

His battle plan for July second hinged on factors that he did not control. First it depended on his scout’s report that there were no Federal troops between Cemetery Ridge and the Round Tops and that the Round Tops were undefended. Theoretically had the information that he received about the Federal positions been accurate it would have been a good plan. Longstreet’s Corps attacking en echelon with McLaws leading supported by Hood and Anderson’s division from Hill’s Corps. His second assumption based on the scouting report was that “General Meade lacked either the troops or the intellect to anchor his left flank properly.”[v] Meade proved him wrong on both counts. Likewise, though Lee explained the concept of attack to McLaws, none of the other commanders, Longstreet, Porter, Hood or Anderson recounted being given those instructions.

Despite that Lee was determined to take the offense and categorically rejected any possibility of going over to a defensive posture. With his senior commanders each causing him trouble Lee “dug in his heels. In order to assert his authority, he would not- increasingly he could not- alter his plan.”[vi]  Thus Lee went ahead and forced the reluctant and recalcitrant Longstreet to attack, even when it became apparent that Federal troops occupied the ground that he was planning to attack in strength.

Lee’s intent was again garbled, though Lee explained his concept of attack to McLaws, none of the other commanders, Longstreet, Porter, Hood or Anderson recounted being given those instructions.  As such the coordinated attack en echelon never took place, and this was compounded by Longstreet’s failures in leading the attack that day.


Once again the Confederate onslaught appeared that it might sweep the field but again it fell short at great cost of life. The Confederate attacks were uncoordinated, corps commanders did not control division commanders and division commanders operating independently of each other failed to coordinate their attacks. As a result all failed, despite the gallantry and initiative exercised by Confederate soldiers, who according to some Confederate commanders was the best they had ever fought.

Lee was a burdened man. The war had aged him greatly. Though he was still “only” the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia he also had on his mind what was going on in other theaters. He was burdened by the knowledge that the South was depending on him for victory, and he had forced the issue of invading the North.

The crux of the matter was that after the loss of Jackson Lee never altered his manner of command. Lee exercised “his command of the Army of Northern Virginia through his corps commanders. Each was expected to understand the overall plan and his specific role within it. Once he conveyed his intentions, Lee assumed the role of observer.”[vii] Although he knew almost all of his senior commanders, including their strengths and limitations as commanders he did not adjust his command style to those factors. One has said quite correctly that Lee “did not think of his general’s suitability to the nature of his their assignments.”[viii] This was critical. He depended on Longstreet to act with the swiftness of Jackson, of Hill to control his corps, Stuart to maintain contact and Ewell to support his course of action. In each case he failed to grasp how each man needed a different leadership style and did not effectively communicate his directions to them.

lee and longstreet 10709161246_9f5baf6452_o

There were chances to win the day had Lee or any of his commanders exercised proper command and control of their units. Men who had seldom failed Lee over the past year made mistakes and acted in manners contradictory to their previous performance of duty. Perhaps in some cases this was due to their inexperience in working directly for Lee, or in others lack of sensitivity to the nuance of Lee’s command style that Jackson understood so well.

This compounded the mistakes that Lee made in returning to the offensive and leaving Ewell’s command in a place where it could not lend its weight to his attack. In the end Lee’s “toleration of the shortcomings of his subordinates that day lessened the chances of Confederate success.”[ix]

Lee conducted the battle in manner that had to be his worst performance of the war. His loose style of command coupled with the extended lines of his army was insufficient, unlike Meade, Hancock and others on the Federal side Lee took little personal role in the events of the day receiving only one report and issuing one order after the battle was joined.[x] He was joined in this by his senior commanders especially Hill and Ewell, though Longstreet did venture in and take control of the fighting in the Peach Orchard. Porter Alexander described what he saw as “the utter absurdity” of the Confederate position which made it “preposterous to hope to win a battle when so strung out & separated that cooperation between the three corps was impossible except by a miracle.” [xi]He observed that “comparatively little pains was exercised to bring it about either.”

Porter Alexander’s comments go to the heart of what went wrong on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg. Lee assumed that his subordinates would act as Jackson would and he ignored his own best advice. In the end it set hi  up for disaster on July 3rd as he still continued to believe that he could take the Federal position and with that win the war.


Padre Steve+

[i] Sears, Stephen. Gettysburg Houghton and Mifflin Company, Boston and New York, 2003 pp.237-238

[ii] Ibid. p.237

[iii] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.365

[iv] DeWert, Jeffry D. General James Longstreet The Confederacy’s Most Controversial Soldier, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster, New York and London 1993 p.257

[v] Ibid. Sears p.264

[vi] Ibid. Sears, p.238

[vii] Tredeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.315

[viii] Dowdy, Clifford. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation Skyhorse Publishing, New York 1986, originally published as Death of a Nation Knopf, New York 1958 p.173

[ix] Pfanz, Harry F. Gettysburg The Second Day. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1987 p. 427

[x] Ibid. DeWert. pp.278-279

[xi] Ibid. DeWert. p.267


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The Tragedy of Friends at War; Lewis Armistead and Winfield Scott Hancock on Cemetery Ridge



“Armistead at Gettysburg” by Keith Rocco

The bonds of friendship forged by soldiers are some of deepest and long lasting that are formed anywhere.  For American military professionals those bonds are formed in the small rather closed society that is the regular United States military.  They are formed in war and peace, and are marked by years of deployments, isolated duty and combat.  They are part of a culture that is often quite different than that of civilian society. That is the case now as it was in 1860.

When the Southern States seceded from the Union men who had spent much of their adult lives serving together discovered had to say goodbye and prepare to fight each other. Most did so with a heavy heart even though many had strong convictions about the rightness of their region’s cause. Those who left the army to serve the Confederate states were often torn by doubt and questions of where their loyalty lay. They wrestled with their oath of office and the costs of perhaps having to face their dearest friends on future battlefields.

They were different from the mass levies of civilian volunteers who rallied to the flags of the Union and Confederacy in 1861. The volunteers, most of whom did not have the deep and abiding friendships of the professionals were often motivated by ideological, sectional or religious hatred of the other and went to war with great aplomb.

The American Civil War has many such tales. One of the most remembered is that of Union General Winfield Scott Hancock and Confederate General Lewis Armistead. It was key story line in Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Killer Angels was immortalized in the movie Gettysburg which is based on Shaara’s novel.

hancockMajor General Winfield Scott Hancock USA 

Hancock was from Pennsylvania. He was a career soldier and Infantry officer, a graduate of West Point Class of 1844. He served in Mexico and held numerous positions. In 1861 he was stationed in California as a Quartermaster under the command of Colonel (Brevet Brigadier General) Albert Sidney Johnston. One of his fellow officers was Captain Lewis Armistead, a twice widowed Virginian who also served as a commander of the New San Diego Garrison under Johnston’s command. Hancock and his wife Almira became fast friends with the widowed Virginian.

Armistead was a nephew of the officer who defended Fort McHenry from the British in the War of 1812. Armistead had academic and personal difficulties at West Point including an altercation with Jubal Early in which he broke a plate over Early’s head.  Between his academic difficulties and the fight with Early he resigned from the Academy. However, his father helped him obtain a commission as an Infantry officer in 1839. Armistead’s career from that point on was similar to many other officers of his day. He served with distinction in Mexico, the Great Plains, Kansas, Utah and California.

As the war clouds built and various southern states seceded from the Union numerous officers from the South were torn between their oath, their friendships and their deep loyalty to their home states and families. In the end most Southern officers resigned their commissions, many with mixed feelings and quite often sadness. A minority of southern born officers remained loyal to the Union. The most prominent of these men were General Winfield Scott and Major General George Thomas, the “Rock of Chickamauga.” Likewise Union Brigadier General John Buford’s family in Kentucky supported the Confederacy.

For those southern officers who remained loyal to the Union to was often at a great personal cost. Thomas’s action cost him his relationship with his immediate family who deemed him to be a traitor. He and others were pilloried and demonized in the basest ways by many in the South. Some Southerners who served the Union were executed when they were captured. George Pickett, who called for his fellow Virginian Thomas’ death ordered 22 North Carolinians who he captured fighting for the Union in Kinston North Carolina to be executed and he was not alone.


Brigadier General Lewis Armistead CSA

However, for most it was different. As talk of secession and war heated up officers stationed on the frontier debated the issues and asked each other what they would do if war came. In California Armistead and other officers asked Hancock, who was a Democrat and not openly hostile to the South, advice on what he would do if war came. Hancock’s reply was simple. I shall not fight upon the principle of state-rights, but for the Union, whole and undivided” 

The parting came in 1861. When it was apparent that many officers would be resigning and heading home to join their state’s forces the Hancock’s hosted a going away party for their friends. Almira Hancock wrote of the party that “Hearts were filled with sadness over the surrendering of life-long ties.” Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston’s wife Eliza went to a piano and sang the popular Irish song Kathleen Mavourneen:

“Mavourneen, mavourneen, my sad tears are falling, To think that from Erin and thee I must part!

It may be for years, and it may be forever, Then why art thou silent, thou voice of my heart?…”

The parting was especially emotional for Armistead who had been a friend of the Hancock’s for 17 years. They had helped in following the death of both of his wives and children. He was tearful. He put his arm on his friend’s shoulder as he said: “Hancock, good-by; you can never know what this has cost me, and I hope God will strike me dead if I am ever induced to leave my native soil, should worse come to worse.”

Armistead led his brigade during the Peninsula campaign and battles around Richmond and his brigade was decimated in Lee’s failed assault on prepared Federal positions at Malvern Hill. Armistead did not endear himself to many of the volunteer officers who served in the Confederate ranks. One of his Colonels resigned over Armistead’s supposedly harsh treatment to which Armistead replied: “I have felt obliged to speak to him as one military man would to another and as I have passed nearly all my life in camps my manner may not be understood or appreciated by one who has been all his life a civilian.” Armistead’s words can easily be understood by military professionals whose lives have been shaped in a different manner than their civilian counterparts.

At Gettysburg Armistead spoke his fears to his comrades. One was Brigadier General Dick Garnett, another of Armistead and Hancock’s comrades from the California days on the night of July 2nd. The next afternoon Armistead and Garnett led their brigades of Pickett’s Division against Hancock’s II Corps which was defending Cemetery Ridge.

During the engagement Garnett was killed just before reaching the Union lines and Hancock gravely wounded. Armistead, lead the remnants of his decimated brigade to the Stone Wall, near the Copse of Trees. He rallied his troops fearing that some were faltering calling out: “Come on boys, give them the cold steel! Who will follow me?”

His troops breached the Union line and his black hat atop his sword led his troops forward. It was then that he met more Federal troops who unleashed a volley of musket fire that cut down many of the survivors. Armistead was wounded in the right arm and shoulder and fell near one of the Union artillery pieces, a point now known as “The High Water Mark” of the Confederacy.

As Armistead lay wounded he was approached by Major Bingham of Hancock’s staff. Bingham, a Mason noticed that Armistead was making a Masonic sign of distress. When Bingham told Armistead of Hancock’s injury Armistead was grieved and told Bingham to “Tell General Hancock for me that I have done him and you all an injury which I shall regret the longest day I live.”  The meaning of those words is debated, especially by Southerners who cherish the myth of the Lost Cause. However, based on Armistead’s conduct and behavior in the time before he left California, it is not unreasonable to assume that as he lay dying he truly regretted what he had done. He gave Bingham a wrapped Bible and Prayer book to give to Almira Hancock, inscribed were the words “Trust in God and fear nothing.” 

hancock minnesota forward

“Minnesota Forward” Hancock directing the Defense by Dale Gallon

Armistead died from infections caused by his wounds which were initially not thought to be life threatening. A Union surgeon described him as: “seriously wounded, completely exhausted, and seemingly broken-spirited.”

Hancock’s injuries were severe, but he recovered. He would go on to continued fame and be one of the most admired and respected leaders of the Army during and after the war. He was gracious as a victor and spoke out against reprisals committed against Southerners after the war.


In 1880 Hancock was the Democratic nominee for President. He lost a close election to James Garfield, losing the popular vote by fewer than 40,000 votes. It was an era of great political corruption and Hancock was one of the few major public figures viewed favorably for his integrity. Even his political opponents respected him for his integrity and honesty. Former President Rutherford B Hayes said:

“if when we make up our estimate of a public man, conspicuous both as a soldier and in civil life, we are to think first and chiefly of his manhood, his integrity, his purity, his singleness of purpose, and his unselfish devotion to duty, we can truthfully say of Hancock that he was through and through pure gold.” 

A few years after his death Republican General Francis A Walker, lamenting the great corruption of the time said:

“Although I did not vote for General Hancock, I am strongly disposed to believe that one of the best things the nation has lost in recent years has been the example and the influence of that chivalric, stately, and splendid gentleman in the White House. Perhaps much which both parties now recognize as having been unfortunate and mischievous during the past thirteen years would have been avoided had General Hancock been elected.”


The story of Hancock and Armistead is one that reminds us of the depth of friendships that many military professionals develop and cherish. It is also a story that reminds us of how hardened ideologues can divide a nation to the point of civil war. It is a story that should give pause to any political or spiritual leader that incites people to war against their neighbor and uses their ideology to slander, demean or even enslave and brutalize their political opponents.

The blood of the approximately 50,000 soldiers that were killed or wounded during the three days of the Battle of Gettysburg is ample reminder of the tragedy of war, especially war that forces the dearest of friends to fight and even kill one another.


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“Don’t Give an Inch” The Engineer and the Professors on the Hill, Major General Gouverneur Warren and Colonels Strong Vincent and Joshua Chamberlain


The Confederate Onslaught

“In great deeds, something abides. On great fields, something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls… generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream; and lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls.” ― Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

The Federal Army at Gettysburg had a wide variety of officers. Many senior officers were graduates of West Point but in the expansion of the Army and the call of up militia from the various states other officers were political appointments. Many had no prior military service and at times that lack of experience was tragic. However some of the time those volunteers were the men who by their service helped save the Union.

413px-Gettysburg_Battle_Map_Day2Gettysburg Day Two Overview: Map by Hal Jespersen 

On July 2nd 1863 the situation at Gettysburg was precarious. Robert E Lee had ordered an attack to seize a hill at the far end of the Federal line, Little Round Top and turn the Union flank. General Meade had ordered III Corps under Major General Dan Sickles to extend it’s line to defend the southern section of his line on Cemetery Ridge. Unfortunately Sickles, without permission moved his Corps several hundred yards west forming a vulnerable salient at the Peach Orchard leaving the southern flank in the air.

gkwarrenMajor General Gouverneur Warren

When Meade saw the developing situation he sent his Chief Engineer, Major General Gouverneur Warren to take charge on the flank. When Warren arrived he found the hill undefended and he dispatched staff officers to get assistance from any units in the area. Major General George Sykes of V Corps responded sending a messenger to the commander of his 1st Division. The messenger encountered the commander of the division’s 3rd Brigade Colonel Strong Vincent who immediately took the initiative and ordered his four regiments up Little Round Top without waiting for permission.

gkwarren_roundtopWarren at Little Round Top

Vincent and his regiments arrived in a nick of time. He deployed his regiments, along the spur running to the south if the top of the hill. The 16th Michigan on the right with the 44th New York, 83rd Pennsylvania at his center and the 20th Maine under the Command of Colonel Joshua Chamberlain on the extreme left of the line. Vincent ordered to Chamberlain to “hold at all costs.” Chamberlain led his regiment skillfully and when nearly out of ammunition led a charge down the slope of Little Round Top which ended the Confederate chances of gaining the hill and turning the flank of Meade’s Army.

little_round_top2Little Round Top-Map by Hal Jespersen 

Warren was a West Point graduate and had been a topographical engineer for most of his pre-war career and saw combat against the Sioux at the Battle of Ash Grove in 1855. When the war began Warren was a mathematics instructor at West Point. He helped raise a militia regiment in New York and was appointed to Lieutenant Colonel. As a regimental commander and later brigade commander he saw much combat and was wounded at the Battle of Gaines Mill during the Seven Days.  When the Army was reorganized in February 1863 he was named Chief Engineer of the Army of the Potomac by Major General Joseph Hooker. When Major General Meade relieved Hooker on June 28th he retained Warren.

colstrong_vincentThe 26 year old Colonel Strong Vincent

Colonel Strong Vincent was a 26 year old Harvard graduate and lawyer from Erie Pennsylvania. He was appointed as a 1st Lieutenant and Adjutant of the Erie Regiment and married his wife Elizabeth the same day.  He wrote her before his death “if I fall, remember you have given your husband to the most righteous cause that ever widowed a woman.”

Vincent was commissioned as a Lieutenant Colonel in the 83rd Pennsylvania September 14th 1861. He assumed command of the regiment when the commander was killed during the Seven Days in June of 1862. He commanded the regiment at Fredericksburg in December 1862 and was promoted to command the 3rd Brigade when its commander was killed at Chancellorsville in May 1863.

joshua_chamberlain_-_brady-handyJoshua Chamberlain

Colonel Joshua Chamberlain was a graduate of Bowdoin College and Bangor Theological Seminary. Chamberlain was fluent in 9 languages other than English. He was Professor of Rhetoric at Bowdoin before seeking an appointment in a Maine Regiment without consulting either the college or his family. He was offered command of the 20th Maine but asked to be appointed as a Lieutenant Colonel which he was in August 1862. He fought at Fredericksburg and was named commander of the regiment when Colonel Adelbert Ames, his commander was promoted following Chancellorsville.

vincentdont-give-an-inch-up-5-smaller“Don’t Give and Inch!”

The battle of Little Round Top is one of the most famous of all Civil War battles. Chamberlain along with Vincent are immortalized in the film Gettysburg which is based on Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Killer Angels. Vincent was mortally wounded while leading the defense of the hill. When killed he was standing on a large boulder with a riding crop ordering the men of the 16th Michigan who were beginning to waiver “don’t give an inch.” Two months later his wife gave birth to a baby girl. The baby would not live a year and was buried next to him

Warren became a distinguished Corps commander until he ran afoul of the fiery General Phillip Sheridan in 1865. Sheridan relieved Warren of command of V Corps following the Battle of Five Forks where Sheridan believed that Warren’s Corps had moved too slowly in the attack. The relief was brutal and ruined his career.  Warren resigned his commission as a Major General after the war and returned to his permanent rank as a Major of Engineers. He served another 17 years doing engineering  duty being promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1879. He sought a Court of Inquiry to exonerate himself but this was refused until President Grant left office. The Court eventually exonerated him but he died before the results were published. Embittered he directed that he be buried in civilian clothes and without military honors.

Chamberlain was awarded the Medal of Honor for his valor at Little Round Top in 1893. He was gravely wounded during the siege of Petersburg in June of 1864 while commanding a brigade and promoted to Brigadier General. He returned to duty later in the year as commander of the 1st Brigade, 1st Division V Corps and was again wounded at Petersburg in a skirmish at Quaker Road and was promoted to Brevet Major General by Abraham Lincoln.

Chamberlain was given the unique honor to receive the surrender of Lee’s decimated Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox. He would go on to serve as a four term Governor of Maine and remained active with the Grand Army of the Republic veteran’s organization. He remained active as an educator and as the President of Bowdoin College. He founded the Maine Institute for the Blind which is now known as the Iris Foundation. He died of complications from his wartime wounds on February 24th 1914.

These three men acted with great courage and alacrity on the afternoon of July 2nd 1863. Warren for his immediate action to call for assistance when he discovered that the hill was undefended and the line exposed, Vincent for his swift taking of responsibility and getting his brigade up the hill before the Confederates could gain the summit and Chamberlain for his dogged refusal to yield against repeated assaults.

DSCN8806Only one of the three, Warren was a professional soldier. Unfortunately as a topographic engineer he was an outsider to many in the army and not fully appreciated by Grant or Sheridan who destroyed his career. The youthful Vincent died of his wounds days after the battle. He was recommended for promotion to Brigadier General by Meade but the promotion was never confirmed by the Senate. Chamberlain is still one of the revered commanders of the Civil War.

It is easy for those enamored with military history to forget the stories behind the men that fought the battles of war. It is easy to isolate and analyze a commander’s actions in battle and ignore the rest of their lives.  I think that this does a great disservice to the men themselves. I say this because everyone who serves in the military has their reasons for serving. Some noble and some base and many a combination of many motives. Likewise everyone who dons the uniform in time of war gives up something of themselves and sometimes even heroes are destroyed by the institutions that they serve. That is a warning to all who serve. Chamberlain wrote:

“It is something great and greatening to cherish an ideal; to act in the light of truth that is far-away and far above; to set aside the near advantage, the momentary pleasure; the snatching of seeming good to self; and to act for remoter ends, for higher good, and for interests other than our own.”

In the hopes that we all will strive to cherish that ideal, that truth and to set aside all that keeps us from it.


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“For God’s Sake Forward!” John Reynolds at Gettysburg


Iron Brigade Forward! Battle of Gettysburg, PA – July 1, 1863 by Mark Maritato

“…by his promptitude and gallantry he had determined the decisive field of the war, and he opened brilliantly a battle which required three days of hard fighting to close with a victory.” Major General Harry Hunt, Chief of Artillery, Army of the Potomac on the actions of Major General John F Reynolds at Gettysburg

Major General John Reynolds was one of the finest commanders on either side during the Civil War. He graduated in the middle of his class at West Point in 1841 and served in the artillery. He fought during the war with Mexico and was promoted for bravery twice, to Captain at Monterrey and Major at Buena Vista. Following the war he remained in the army serving in the west and as Commandant of the Corps of Cadets at West Point from 1860 to June of 1861 when he was appointed as Colonel of the 14th U.S. Infantry regiment. However before he could take command of that unit he was promoted to Brigadier General.

Reynolds commanded a brigade of Pennsylvania volunteers on the Peninsula and was captured on June 27th but was released in a prisoner exchange on August 15th. He fought as a Division commander at Second bull Run where his Division held firm as much of the army retreated. He missed Antietam as he was called to train Pennsylvania militia when Lee invaded Maryland. he commanded I Corps at Fredericksburg and again at Chancellorsville.

Reynolds now held command of his troops on his home soil. A native of Lancaster Pennsylvania  Reynolds was the senior Corps commander in the Army of the Potomac. Considered by his peers and superiors to be the best commander in the Army he had been given command of a wing of the Army, his own I Corps, Oliver Howard’s XI Corps and John Sedgewick’s III Corps. He also had John Buford’s 1st Cavalry Division under his command.

Early in June Abraham Lincoln had offered command of the Army of the Potomac to Reynolds. However according to some credible reports Reynolds set a condition which Lincoln in the political climate of the time could not grant. Reynolds insisted he would be free from the political interference which had beset previous Army commanders. Both Reynolds’ request and Lincoln’s response are understandable.

Reynolds was not a fan of Major General Joseph Hooker and opposed Hooker’s decision to retreat at Chancellorsville. When Hooker was relieved of command of the Army by Lincoln, Major General George Meade, commander of V Corps another Pennsylvanian took his place. Reynolds, a friend of Meade supported the decision and Meade, who trusted Reynolds’ judgement and abilities kept him in his key role as commander of the Left Wing.

Reynolds’ wing of three Infantry corps and Buford’s Cavalry division acted as the advance elements of the Army. Late in the afternoon of June 30th Buford’s troops observed Johnston Pettigrew’s brigade of Harry Heth’s division near Gettysburg. Pettigrew on detecting Buford’s cavalry refused to engage. Buford chose to take the good high ground west of Gettysburg and hold it. He sent word to Reynolds that he would hold the ground to give Reynolds time to arrive.


The Death of Reynolds (Waud)

Buford sent messages late in the evening to both Reynolds and the Union Calvary Corps commander, Major General Alfred Pleasanton describing the situation. Reynolds’ units were south of Emmitsburg moving north. Early on the morning of the 1st of July Reynolds brought his troops up as Buford and his cavalry troopers engaged Heth’s division in a very successful delaying action.

Reynolds rode ahead and briefly met Buford at the Lutheran Seminary where Buford ensured Reynolds that his troopers could hold. With that Reynolds ordered his First Corps and the lead division under the command of Abner Doubleday to advance to the action at the double-quick. Reynolds sent a message to Meade through a staff officer stating “Tell the General that we will hold the heights to the south of the town, and that I will barricade the streets of the town if necessary.” Reynolds had an acute eye for the situation and rapidly brought his corps as well as Howard’s XI Corps to the field.

GenJFRenyoldsAs his units arrived into an already raging battle Reynolds directed them to key areas of the battlefield. With Confederate troops moving toward the high ground Reynolds directed the “Iron Brigade” into position in Herr’s (McPherson’s) Woods. Reynolds exhorted the men forward.“Forward! men, forward! for God’s sake, and drive those fellows out of the woods!” As he said these words he was struck by a bullet at the base of his skull and died instantly.

The Federal troops, I Corps under the command of Doubleday and XI under Major General Oliver Howard withdrew through Gettysburg to Cemetery Hill, where Howard had wisely placed two brigades as well as a significant amount of artillery earlier in the day. Reynolds’ old friend Major General Winfield Scott Hancock of II Corps arrived on the field to take command on the order of George Meade.

Hill’s troops entered the town but did not attempt to take the hill, he did not believe that his exhausted and disorganized troops were in a position to combat fresh troops in good defensive positions. Likewise Ewell passed on an opportunity to take nearby Culp’s Hill as his corps was not fully up and the divisions which had been in action were now in disarray and he recognized the strong position occupied by the Federal forces.

DSCN8774Monuments to Buford and Reynolds at McPherson’s Ridge

The first day ended with the Army of the Potomac holding the high ground in an easily defensible position on interior lines. Lee’s Army was spread out and the defense mounted by Buford and Reynolds had disrupted Hill’s Corps causing significant casualties to the Confederates and denying them the opportunity to take the high ground.

Buford is to be given much of the credit for choosing the ground of the battle and fighting a stellar delaying action against superior forces. But had Reynolds not brought his units up in the expeditious manner in which he did and then all of Buford’s efforts might have been in vain. The two men, bound by their professionalism and commitment to duty and their oath helped save the Union on that first day of July 1863.


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