Abner Doubleday’s Finest Day: July 1st at Gettysburg

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I am getting ready to take another group of students from the Staff College up to Gettysburg this weekend, so for the next few days I will be putting out excepts of a chapter that I have been working on dealing with the fight conducted by Abner Doubleday and First Corps following the death of John Reynolds.

I hope you enjoy,

Peace

Padre Steve+

fw-baseball-doubleday

Major General Abner Doubleday

As the initial Confederate attacks were driven back by the actions of Reynolds, Doubleday and their subordinate commanders, Harry Heth’s battered brigades fell back and regrouped to prepare for another assault. As Heth reorganized his division he was bolstered by the arrival Major General Dorsey Pender’s Division powerful division.

With John Reynolds dead and Oliver Howard moving his Eleventh Corps into position on Cemetery Hill and to the north of Gettysburg, Major General Abner Doubleday had assumed command of First Corps on McPherson and Seminary Ridge and successfully parried Heth’s initial attacks, in the process shattering the brigades of James Archer and Joseph Davis.

Doubleday was an experienced soldier but did not enjoy a stellar reputation in the Army of the Potomac, despite the fact that he was the senior division commander in First Corps. Doubleday came from a prominent New York family; his grandfather had fought in the American Revolution and had fought at Bunker Hill. His father served four years in Congress. By the time he was admitted to West Point Doubleday had worked for two years as a civil engineer. Doubleday graduated 24th in a class of 52 in the West Point Class of 1842 along with future Gettysburg commanders “Longstreet, McLaws, Richard Anderson and John Newton.” [1] After his graduation he served a rather uneventful career as an artillery officer, including service in Mexico and on the frontier. Shortly before the war he was transferred to South Carolina where he was second in command at Fort Sumter when the Confederates opened fire on the fort and began the Civil War.

Doubleday was definitely an unusual character by the standards of the ante-bellum army officer corps. The “mustachioed, barrel-chested Doubleday considered himself a thoroughly modern man, unencumbered by the cheap affections of honor and chivalry with which so many officers bedecked themselves.” [2] He had few real friends in the army. He was a rather vocal abolitionist “which endeared him to few of the army’s socially conservative generals” [3] and he allowed his political opinions to infringe on his relationships with other officers. In the days before the war at Fort Sumter “he relished being hissed in the streets as a “Black Republican” when his official duties took him over the water to downtown Charleston.” [4]

Doubleday fired the first shot on the Union side at Fort Sumter, and with the expansion of the army to meet the rebellion he “expected that his anti-slavery credentials would guarantee a rise to the top of Lincoln’s army.” [5] However, he was to be disappointed. While promotion came to him it was not to the top of the army. Doubleday had the “reputation of being a cautious, deliberate plodder,” [6] and the artillery commander of First Corps, the somewhat curmudgeonly but honest, Colonel Charles Wainwright noted “Doubleday knows enough, but he is entirely impractical, and so slow at getting an idea through his head.” [7] Likewise, the new army commander George Meade had formed an unfavorable opinion of Doubleday’s leadership ability, when both served as division commanders in First Corps. Meade considered Doubleday “slow and pedantic.” [8]

Doubleday was somewhat portly and his physical appearance did little to inspire his soldiers or officers, and some of his troops nicknamed him “Old Forty-Eight Hours” for his deliberate, even slothful style.” [9] His promotion in the wartime army was rather typical for a career officer. He was “promoted to Brigadier General in February 1862 and commanded a brigade at Second Bull Run and a division at South Mountain and in later battles.” [10] As a brigade commander his best work was at Brawner’s Farm on the eve of Second Manassas, where Doubleday on his own initiative threw “two of his regiments into line to bolster Brig. Gen. John Gibbon’s brigade against a larger Confederate force…together the fought a superior force to a standstill.” [11] He was promoted to Major General in November 1862 and received command of the First Division Third Division of First Corps. At Antietam Doubleday led the division “into the carnage of the Cornfield and West Woods, and one colonel described him as a “gallant officer…remarkable cool and at the very front of battle.” [12] He led the division again at Fredericksburg, but the division saw little action. After the reorganization of the army following Fredericksburg he was given command of Third Division of First Corps at Chancellorsville, but again saw no action.

At Gettysburg Doubleday went into battle “stiff and pompous, still wearing his laurels as an “old Sumter hero” [13] and complaining about the Henry Slocum to command Twelfth Corps, even though he was senior to Slocum. That being said, Doubleday’s actions in the wake of Reynolds’s death demonstrated that he was capable of quick thinking and leadership from the front and in the next few hours Doubleday “had his best command hours of the war.” [14]

A Brief Lull

After the initial repulse of the Heth’s division, Doubleday continued to organize his defenses. He could see Heth’s division reforming its lines on Herr’s Ridge and Pender’s division as it arrived and deployed to Heth’s left. Doubleday had no directions from Reynolds as to that General’s defensive plan but be believed was that the ridges could be a redoubt and his instinct was “to hold on to the position until ordered to leave it,” an officer of the 149th Pennsylvania heard Doubleday say that “all he could do was fight until he got sufficient information to form his own plan.” [15] Doubleday wrote in his after action report, “to fall back without orders from the commanding general might have inflicted lasting disgrace upon the corps, and as general Reynolds, who was high in the confidence of General Meade, had formed his lines to resist the entrance of the enemy into Gettysburg, I naturally supposed that it was the intention to defend the place.” [16] Wadsworth’s division, bloodied but unbeaten remained in place in McPherson’s woods and across the Cashtown Road where Cutler’s brigade had fought the Confederates to a standstill at the Railroad Cut. During the lull these brigades had their ammunition replenished by his recently arrived ammunition trains.

To counter the Confederate move to his right he deployed his own small Third Division under the acting command of Brigadier General Thomas Rowley. He placed Rowley’s brigade to the left of the Iron Brigade to extend the line to the south and the brigade of Colonel Roy Stone to occupy the area around the McPherson House and Barn which had been left open when Cutler’s brigade advanced to the railroad cut.

When the Second Division under the command of Brigadier General John Cleveland Robinson arrived Doubleday placed it in reserve around the Lutheran Seminary where they and some of John Buford’s dismounted troopers began to set up a hasty “barricade of fence rails and fieldstone on the seminary’s west side.” [17] Doubleday and Wadsworth deployed every artillery piece of that the Corps had available to support their infantry, sometimes over the objections of the Corps artillery commander Colonel Charles Wainwright. Wainwright “had no confidence in Doubleday, and felt that he would be a weak reed to lean upon,[18] and on his own initiative deployed most of his batteries on Seminary Ridge where he believed that they could affect the battle but not be torn to pieces by Confederate artillery or shredded by close range musket fire. Despite the “pleas from infantry officers along the rise, Wainwright would send guns forward only under peremptory orders to do so.” [19] Wainwright was hesitant to risk his guns in exposed positions along McPherson’s Ridge and deployed most of his available artillery near the seminary in good defensive positions and stationed his limbers not far off so in the event of a retreat that he might have the opportunity to save his guns.

About Two o’clock Major General Oliver Howard, commander of the Eleventh Corps who was now the senior officer on the field made his way to seminary ridge where he met with Doubleday. Howard had already been working to support First Corps by ordering Schurz, who was now in acting command of Eleventh Corps to move north of the town to connect with Doubleday’s flank and securing Cemetery Hill as a natural redoubt and fallback position. While little is known what was said between the two commanders it is certain that Howard notified Doubleday of the locations of his corps headquarters and that of his divisions. Howard asked Doubleday “to continue his work of protecting the left of the Union position, while he would take care of the right…..Before leaving, Howard, repeated the instructions he had given Wadsworth, to hold the position as long as he could and then retire.” [20] Doubleday asked Howard for reinforcements, but there were none available, the best that either man could hope was that Henry Slocum’s Twelfth Corps, now about five miles distant could arrive soon. “If Slocum could make Gettysburg in the next hour and a half, Howard could post the 12th Corps on the right flank of his own corps and firm up the defensive arc that now stretched north and west of Gettysburg.” [21] However, despite the repeated requests of Howard, Slocum never came and did not advance toward Gettysburg until about three-thirty in the afternoon. Howard’s aid Captain Daniel Hall who delivered the messages and briefed Slocum on the situation at Gettysburg later stated that Slocum’s “conduct on that occasion was anything but honorable, soldierly, or patriotic.” [22]

With his troops under heavy artillery fire and Heth and Pender’s divisions advancing, a new threat emerged from the north. Messengers from Gamble’s cavalry scouts of Buford’s division to the north of town reported the arrival of Ewell’s Second Corps. To meet the threat Doubleday was obliged to send Robinson’s division north to occupy the extension of Seminary Ridge known as Oak Ridge. His lead brigade under the command of Brigadier General Henry Baxter advanced to the end of the ridge near the Mummasburg Road and were joined by Brigadier General Gabriel Paul’s brigade.

Unlike the relatively small brigades of Third Division whose command structures were disrupted by Reynold’s death and Doubleday’s acting command of the corps, these brigades were comparatively large and powerful units and very well led. Their commander, Robinson “an old regular whose flowing beard lent him the look of a biblical prophet, had seen considerable fighting but was yet to be tested as a division commander.” [23] During this battle he more than met the test of an effective division commander. As the advance regiments of the division moved into position on Oak Ridge and the Mummasburg road they were greeted by a few of Gamble’s cavalrymen who told them “You stand alone between the Rebel army and your homes. Fight like hell!” [24] Upon their arrival Robinson refused the line in order to connect to the advance elements of Eleventh Corps which were arriving to the north of Gettysburg.

Notes

[1] Pfanz Harry W. Gettysburg: The First Day University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London 2001 p.121

[2] Goodheart, Adam 1861: The Civil War Awakening Vintage Books a division of Random House, New York 2011 p.5

[3] Wert, Jeffry D. The Sword of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2005 p.276

[4] Ibid. Goodheart 1861 p.5

[5] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books, a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.30

[6] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p.181

[7] Wainwright, Charles S. A Diary of Battle: The Personal Journal of Colonel Charles S. Wainwright 1861-1865 edited by Allan Nevins, Da Capo Press, New York 1998 p.172

[8] Cleaves, Freeman Meade of Gettysburg University of Oklahoma Press, Norman and London 1960 p.143

[9] Tagg, Larry The Generals of Gettysburg: The Leaders of America’s Greatest Battle Da Capo Press Cambridge MA 1998 Amazon Kindle Edition p.25

[10] Ibid. Pfanz Harry Gettysburg: The First Day p.122

[11] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.26

[12] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.26

[13] Catton, Bruce The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road Doubleday and Company, Garden City New York, 1952 p.273

[14] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.181

[15] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.161

[16] Trudeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.206

[17] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.162

[18] Ibid. Wainwright A Diary of Battle p.233

[19] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.200

[20] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.282

[21] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.162

[22] Melton, Brian C. Sherman’s Forgotten General: Henry W. Slocum University of Missouri Press, Columbia and London 2007 p.121

[23] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.34

[24] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.206

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