Monthly Archives: February 2016

The Peach Orchard: July 2nd at Gettysburg Pt.6


Friends of Padre Steve’s World

For those that have followed my writing for some time you know that I teach military history and ethics at the Joint Forces Staff College. One of the great joys that I have is leading the Gettysburg Staff Ride, which is an optional event for students that want to participate. When I took the position here I took some of my older writings on Gettysburg and put them into a student study guide and text. That was two years ago. Then the text was about 70 pages long. It is now about 925 pages long and eventually I hope to get it published. When and if that happens I expect it to become two, and possibly three books.

This is the sixth of a series of articles that I will be posting potions of a chapter that I have rewritten about the critical battles on the south side of the battlefield on July 2nd 1863, the battle for Devil’s Den, the Wheatfield, the Peach Orchard, and the final repulse on Cemetery Ridge.

As you read this don’t just look at the events, but look at the people, and their reaction to the what they encountered on the battlefield, for that understanding of people is where we come to understand history.

So even if you are not a Civil War buff, or even a history buff, take the time to look at the people, their actions, and the things that made them who they were, and influenced what they did. History is about people.

So please enjoy,


Padre Steve+

It was now time for Longstreet to commit the last brigades of McLaws’ division, the Georgians of William Wofford, and the Mississippians of William Barksdale. These units had been waiting west of the Peach Orchard, and the delay of Barksdale’s brigade getting into the fight had greatly chagrinned Joseph Kershaw when his South Carolinians made their attack without the Mississippi brigade supporting their left. “Longstreet never fully explained how he timed his order for Barksdale’s advance, nor did he specify why he allowed Kershaw to attack without Barksdale’s support.” [1] However, the delay was not easy on McLaws, or his brigade commanders, “particularly William Barksdale, whose thirst for glory was as sharp in Pennsylvania as it had been on his great day at Fredericksburg, where Lee to his delight had let him challenge the entire Yankee army.” [2]During the seemingly endless wait, the aggressive Barksdale plead with both McLaws and Longstreet to be allowed to attack, telling Longstreet, “I wish you would let me go in General!” “Wait a little,” answered Longstreet, “we are all going in presently.” [3] In the acrimonious post-war feud between the Confederate generals, Longstreet blamed McLaws for the delay, and Lafayette McLaws blamed Alexander’s slowness in bringing up his artillery for it, and while Alexander complained of “four partial attacks of two brigades each [in Hood and McLaw’s divisions], requiring each an hour and a half to be gotten into action; where one advance by the eight brigades would have won a quicker victory with far less loss.” [4]

However, McLaws was now ready, and Longstreet gave the order to attack. Porter Alexander’s massed artillery opened the battle for the Peach Orchard opening fire on the Federal troops with fifty-four guns which were drawn up to within five hundred yards of the Federal position. Henry Hunt saw the Confederate build-up and brought up more artillery and by four o’clock and they went “into battery not a minute too soon, the Rebel artillery that Hunt had spied moving into position let loose with a converging fire” [5] against Sickles’ troops. The Confederate artilleryman “hoped, with my 54 guns & close range, to make it short, sharp, and decisive. At close ranges there was less inequality in our guns, & especially in our ammunition, & I thought if I could ever overwhelm & crush them I would do it now.” [6]

The effect the barrage was dramatic as the Confederate guns blasted away at the men of Graham’s brigade of Birney’s division who held the angle of the Federal salient. Even so, Henry Hunt had managed to get “an impressive array of ordnance totaling thirty-two guns ready to take on the looming Confederate attack.” [7] By the time McLaws’s infantry attacked, “the three batteries in the Peach Orchard area had been increased to seven. A virtual solid line of forty Federal guns extended south from the Sherfy house to the Peach Orchard and east from there along the Wheatfield Road to Trostle’s Woods and the stony hill.” [8] Exposed to the massed fire of Alexander’s batteries the Federal artillery replied furiously and with more effects than Alexander or the other Confederate commanders expected. Alexander recalled that “they really surprised me, both in the number of guns that they developed, & the way they stuck to them. I don’t think that there ever in our war a hotter, harder, sharper artillery afternoon than this.” [9] In the artillery slugfest Alexander reported losing 144 men and 116 horses to the Federal batteries, He wrote, “So accurate was the enemy’s fire, that two of my guns were fairly dismounted, and the loss of men so great that I had to ask General Barksdale, whose brigade was lying down close to the wood, for help to handle the heavy 24-pounder howitzers of Moody’s battery.” [10] He noted that it was a higher toll than the artillery had suffered at Antietam during the entire battle. Henry Hunt’s gunners tenaciously held on to their exposed positions and with “waves of gray rolling all around them, some of the batteries in the forefront of the line went under, sucked into the vortex of death and devastation. Yet despite the opposition and the ninety-two-degree heat…other batteries held one stubbornly, hurling single and double charges of canister at their opponents, determined to seal up the holes in Meade’s line created by Dan Sickles’s impetuosity.” [11]


Leading the assault now was the battle-hardened Mississippi brigade of Brigadier General William Barksdale, a former congressional colleague of Sickles whose time in Congress was not without a journey or two into infamy. Barksdale was born in Smyrna Tennessee in 1822. He was a Mississippi lawyer, newspaper editor and politician. Barksdale served in Mexico as a quartermaster officer of a militia unit, but though he was an administrator he did not shy away from battle. He “frequently appeared at the front during heavy fighting, often coatless and carrying a large sword.” [12]

While most of the former Regular Army Confederate officers supported and defended the institution of slavery and secession, many were less than passionate about either and would have preferred that the Union had been preserved. However, Barksdale was one of the few generals serving in Lee’s Army who in the decade leading up to the war had become “violently pro-slavery and secessionist.” [13] But his views regarding secession had evolved since he had first entered politics. When Barksdale entered Mississippi politics he was not a proponent of secession. In fact he was solidly against it and in one debate remarked that “no occasion for the right of [secession] existed.” [14] However, over time he became a reluctant supporter of secession and eventually “came to passionately embrace the Southern dream of an independent nation.” [15]

Barksdale was a passionate and sometimes violent man. As a state legislator and Congressman Barksdale was involved in a number of violent altercations with political opponents. In an 1853 incident at Vicksburg he was attacked and stabbed a number of times before knocking his assailant, his former commander during the War with Mexico out with one punch.

However, the incident for which Barksdale became most famous was an altercation which occurred when Representative Preston Brooks nearly killed Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner in the Senate chamber. During that brawl Representative Elihu Washburne of Illinois landed a blow on Barksdale that sent Barksdale and his previously unsuspected wig flying. Someone snatched the wig from the floor and “waved it about like a captured flag.” When Barksdale finally recaptured the hairpiece he “and plopped it on his head wrong side out, the absurdity of the scene giving the combatants pause.” [16] As the scrum broke up Barksdale was left “sputtering about his shame.” [17]

At the outbreak of the war Barksdale volunteered for service and enlisted as a private. Shortly thereafter he was elected Colonel of the 13th Mississippi Infantry Regiment. Barksdale took command of the Mississippi Brigade during the Seven Days Battles at Malvern Hill and he was promoted to Brigadier General in August 1862.

At Antietam, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville he and his Mississippi brigade were always in the thick of the fight. “He possessed a “thirst for battle glory” wrote one Mississippian….Inspiring by example, Barksdale was a leader who dared to go where many other high-ranking officers would not go in a crisis situation.” [18] He had a strong bond with his soldiers which made them willing to follow him anywhere, one soldier wrote “of the comfort of his men he was most considerate, would tolerate no neglect of denial of their rights, or imposition of anyone.” [19]

The other brigade commander of McLaws’s division final strike was Brigadier General William Wofford. Wofford was the newest of McLaws’ brigade commanders, and in many respects was Barksdale’s opposite in temperament and politics, particularly in regard to secession. Wofford was born in Habersham County, Georgia in 1824. Educated a local schools “he studied law, was elected to the bar, and began a practice in Cassville, Georgia.” [20] In addition to his law practice Wofford served as the editor for the Cassville Standard newspaper, and was a respected leader in his community. Though he had no military education Wofford volunteered to serve during the Mexican War, as a Captain of “a battalion of Georgia mounted volunteers” [21] where he experienced a great deal of fighting.

Wofford was considered a man of “high moral bearing…of the strictest sobriety, and, indeed of irreproachable moral character.” [22] Demonstrating the political tensions of the day Wofford was a “staunch Unionist Democrat” who “opposed secession and voted against it at the Georgia secession convention.” [23]

Despite his opposition to secession, Wofford, like others, considered loyalty to his state a higher ideal than to the Union, and when Georgia seceded he volunteered for service and was “elected colonel of the first Georgia regiment to volunteer for the war.” [24] Despite the contradiction of volunteering to serve his home state, Wofford “was a decided Union man from first to last during the whole war” and saw “with exceptional prescience…the certain fatality” of secession, but once the deed was done, he closed ranks…” [25] This may seem hard to comprehend in our present day, to to men like Wofford it was not. When he went to war Wofford served well as the regimental commander of the 18th Georgia regiment, and served as an acting brigade commander during the Seven Days, Second Manassas, Antietam and Fredericksburg. Now the able and experienced the Georgia Unionist was promoted to the rank of brigadier general in January 1863 and given command of the brigade of Thomas Cobb who had been mortally wounded at Fredericksburg.

These two men would lead Longstreet’s final attack of July 2nd 1863. The fiery Mississippian and the pragmatic Georgian would lead their devoted soldiers in one of the fiercest charges of the war, one which pushed their Federal opponents to the limit before it was repulsed on the southern end of Cemetery Ridge.

When the order to attack was relayed to Barksdale by McLaws’ aide-de-camp, Captain G.B. Lamar reported, when I carried him [Barksdale] the order to advance, his face was radiant with joy. He was in front of his brigade, his hat off, and his long white hair reminded me of ‘the white plume of Navarre.’” [26] Barksdale told his regimental commanders “The line before you must be broken – to do so let every office and man animate his comrades by his personal presence in the front line.” [27]

As McLaws division attacked, Barksdale’s Mississippians broke through Federal salient, “charged straight through a picket fence, knocking it down by sheer impact, and they shot and stabbed a Pennsylvania regiment that was dug in behind it, and after a flurry of hand-to-hand fighting under the shattered peach trees the Union defenders turned and ran and the peach orchard was gone.” [28] Porter Alexander wrote, “McLaws’s division charged past our guns, and the enemy deserted their line in confusion. Then I believed that Providence was indeed “taking the proper view,” and that the war was very nearly over.” [29] But like many that day Alexander’s instinct was wrong.

Barksdale’s Mississippians drove forward through the Peach Orchard, through the men of Graham’s brigade, cheering and making the rebel yell, continuing to Plum Run, driving broken Federal regiments and batteries before them. “The Mississippi brigade drove forward at the double-quick and “literally rushed the goal,” tipping the rebel yell “with the savage courage of baited bulls” [30] Barksdale continued to lead his brigade forward though it had suffered significant casualties and was losing cohesion. Barksdale insisted on continuing to advance and would not stop to take time to reform his lines shouting at one of his regimental commanders “No! Crowd them – we have them on the run. Move your regiments.” [31] General Graham, attempted to rally his men and rode forward where he had his mount shoot out from under him. He then encountered Barksdale’s Mississippians who called on him to surrender. Graham, who had taken his adjutant’s mount replied “I won’t surrender. I’m a Brigadier General, and I won’t surrender.” [32] Undeterred the Mississippians shot his second mount out from under him and took him prisoner. “Graham had followed Sickles from their old days together in New York all the way to the Peach Orchard, and now would spend the next several months in captivity as his reward.” [33] As the Mississippians drove the remnants of Graham’s brigade to the rear, “the shattered line was retreating in separate streams[,] artillerists heroically clinging to their still smoking guns, and brave little infantry squads assisting their endangered cannon over soft ground…” [34]

As the Third Corps line collapsed the Trostle farm where Sickles had made his headquarters became hot to remain in. At about six-thirty P.M. Sickles was riding up to a hill just above the Trostle barn which would allow him a better view of his troops, the General was stuck by a Confederate round shot which stuck him in his right leg while leaving his mount unharmed. Sickles wrote:

“I never knew I was hit. I was riding the lines and was tremendously interested in the terrific fighting which was going on along my front. Suddenly I was conscious of dampness along the lower part of my right leg, and I ran my hand down the leg of my high-top boots and pulling it out I was surprised to see it dripping with blood. Soon I noticed the leg would not perform its usual functions. I lifted it carefully over my horse’s neck and slid to the ground. Then I was conscious of approaching weakness, and the last thing I remembered was designating the surgeons of my staff who should examine the wound and treat it. They found that the knee had been smashed, probably by a piece of shell, and that the leg had been broken above and also below the knee; but while all this damage had been done I had not been unhorsed, and never knew exactly what hurt had been received.” [35]


Sickles ordered Major Tremain to find General Birney and said “Tell General Birney he must take command.” [36] as a tourniquet was placed on his leg and his soldiers prepared to evacuate him to the rear, thinking that his wound might well be mortal. When the stretcher bearers arrived the wounded general, never missing a chance to build upon his legacy, “had an NCO light his cigar, and that was how he was carried away, cap over his eyes, cigar in mouth, hands folded on chest.” [37] Sickles was taken to the rear by ambulance where his leg was amputated in a field hospital that night. A soldier of the 17th Maine wrote, “Our last sight of him in the field ambulance is one we shall long remember….He was sitting in an ambulance smoking and holding his shattered limb and appeared as cool as though nothing had happened.” [38] His surgeon was using a new method of amputation and he had read that “the Army Medical Museum in Washington was advertising for samples, and so, instead of throwing the limb into a heap, he had it wrapped in a wet blanket and placed in a small coffin for shipment to Washington.” [39] In the years following Sickles paid his leg many visits and it can still be viewed along with a round shot similar to the one that wounded him at National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington D.C.

The disaster that engulfed Sickles’ Third Corps now threatened the Federal center. Meade and Hancock rushed reinforcements in the form of Fifth Corps and much of Second Corps. The tip of the Sickle’s salient at Sherfy’s Peach Orchard manned by Graham’s brigade of David Birney’s division was overwhelmed and retreated in disorder. Once “the angle had been breached, the lines connecting to it on the east and north were doomed.” [40] This exposed the left of Humphrey’s division and it too was forced to retreat under heavy pressure sustaining heavy casualties. The final collapse of Humphrey’s division a large gap opened in the Federal lines between the elements of Fifth Corps fighting along Devil’s Den and Little Round Top and Second Corps along the central portion of Cemetery Ridge.

The Battle on the Plum Run Line July 2nd

When Meade realized the seriousness of the situation he gave Sickles’ free reign to call for reinforcements from Harry Hunt’s Artillery Reserve as III Corps had only batteries organic to it. Those five batteries were in the thick of the fighting providing invaluable support to Sickles’ hard pressed and outnumbered corps. Firing canister and grapeshot they cut swaths of death and destruction through the massed ranks of wildly cheering Confederates of Kershaw and Semmes and Barksdale’s brigades of McLaws’ division. Kershaw recalled:

“The Federals…opened on these doomed regiments a raking fire of grape and canister, at short distance, which proved most disastrous, and for a time destroyed their usefulness. Hundreds of the bravest and best men of Carolina fell….” [41]


Lieutenant Colonel Freeman McGilveryThis Fiery Line

The Confederates believed that they had cut the Union line in half and advanced through the Peach Orchard and across the Wheat Field toward Cemetery Ridge. But they were to befall another furiously conducted defense, this by artillery hastily collected along what is known as the Plum Run Line.

Among the artillery called into action was the First Volunteer Brigade under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Freeman McGilvery. McGilvery was a Maine native and a former sea captain who had left the high seas to volunteer to serve the Union cause, and it was fortunate for the Union that this officer, knew how to inspire his artillerymen feats many thought unattainable in combat. On obtaining his commission as a Captain of Maine Volunteers, McGilvery organized and commanded the 6th Battery of the 1st Maine Volunteer artillery in January 1862.

McGilvery commanded that unit with distinction in a number of engagements. At the Battle of Cedar Mountain on August 9th 1863, “During the battery’s baptismal fire, McGilvery and his Maine cannoneers, in one general’s opinion, had “saved the division from being destroyed or taken prisoners.” [42] A few days later, operating without infantry support yet again, “The battery performed spectacularly during the Second Manassas campaign, bringing recognition to its salty commander.” [43] He was promoted to Major in early 1863 and assumed command of the brigade during the Chancellorsville campaign. Following Chancellorsville McGilvery was given command of the newly formed First Volunteer Brigade of the Artillery Reserve. Barley a month later as the Army of the Potomac pursued Lee’s Army through Virginia and into Maryland he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.

McGilvery’s battalion was directed by Brigadier general Tyler of the Artillery Reserve to assist Sickles, and Henry Hunt met them on the road and directed them into position. McGilvery’s batteries arrived in the sector between 3:30 and 4:00 p.m. and “he was told by Sickles to examine the ground and pace the guns where he saw fit.” [44] He placed his four batters, some twenty-two guns in the Peach Orchard to support the artillery of Third Corps. Three batteries were placed in the Orchard itself near the Emmitsburg Road, and the fourth, the 9th Massachusetts under the command of Captain John Bigelow was deployed near the Trostle Farm. Without infantry support “It would be their job to hold the road down to the stony ridge by themselves.” [45] “Though hurt by enfilading fire from some of Alexander’s batteries, McGilvery’s guns in company with others from the reserve and the Third Corps had exchanged blow for blow with Confederate artillerymen for about two hours and had broken up the movements of some enemy infantry columns.” [46] These batteries were key in the first repulse of Kershaw and Semmes’ brigades at the stony ridge and which mortally wounded Semmes. McGilvery wrote:

“At about 5 o’clock a heavy column of rebel infantry made its appearance in a grain field, about 850 yards in front, moving at quick time toward the woods on our left, where infantry fighting was going on (front of the Round Tops). A well directed fire from all the batteries was brought to bear on them, which destroyed their order of march and drove many back into the woods on the right… In a few minutes another and larger column appeared, at about 750 yards, presenting a slight left flank to our position. I immediately trained the entire line of guns upon them and opened fire with various kinds of ammunition. The column continued to move on at double quick until it reached a barn and farm house immediately in front of my left battery (Bigelow’s) about n450 years distant. When it came to a halt (a shot had killed its commanding officer) I gave them canister and solid shot with such good effect, that, I am sure that several hundred were put hors du combat in a short time….” [47]

The Union batteries continued a destructive fire against various Confederate regiments and brigades but suffered from Confederate artillery fire and close in infantry assaults. Finally, “the pressure of the rebels became too great, and all of McGilvery’s batteries except Bigelow’s retired from this part of the field.” [48] Bigelow wrote, “No friendly supports of any kind were in sight…but Johnnie Rebs in great numbers. Bullets were coming in to our midst from many directions and a Confederate battery added to our difficulties.” [49]

McGilvery rode into the maelstrom of the retreating Third Corps soldiers and guns broken by Alexander’s withering fire. As he rode to and from each battery his horse was hit four times by enemy fire, but the salty artilleryman remained unwounded despite “exposing himself to enemy missiles on all parts of the field from Cemetery Ridge to the Peach Orchard.” [50] As he surveyed the scene he realized that there was no infantry in the immediate area that could plug the gap in the line. Taking the initiative, McGilvery acted instantly on his own authority to make a decision that in all likelihood saved the Union line.

In the confusion of the Third Corps disintegration, with soldiers fighting their way back to Cemetery Ridge and small groups and batteries attempting to keep their guns from being captured, McGilvery rode up to Bigelow and his 9th Massachusetts battery, which now stood alone at the Trostle farm. McGilvery told Bigelow, who was starting to make preparations to withdraw back to Cemetery Ridge, that he and his battery must “hold at all hazards.” [51]

Bigelow later explained that McGilvery told him that “for 4 or 500 yards in my rear there were no Union troops.” He was then instructed by McGilvery “For heavens [sic] sake hold that line…until he could get some other batteries in position…” [52] In another account Bigelow recorded “Captain Bigelow…there is not an infantryman back of you along the whole line which Sickles moved out; you must remain where you are and hold your position at all hazards, and sacrifice your battery if need be, until at least I can find some batteries to put in position and cover you.” [53]

The order could have been considered suicidal, the 21st Mississippi was nearly upon them and they were but one battery and barely one hundred troops. Bigelow did not hesitate to obey; he brought his guns into line at the Trostle house “facing one section slightly to the southwest and the other two sections directly into the path of the oncoming Confederates.” [54]

Henry Hunt described the action, “Bigelow’s 9th Massachusetts made a stand close by the Trostle house in the corner of the through which he had withdrawn with prolonges fixed. Although already much cut up he was directed by McGilvery to hold that point until a line of artillery could be formed in front of the wood beyond Plum Run; that is, on what we now call the “Plum Run line.” [55]


Bigelow’s Drawing of the action at Trostle Farm

Bigelow’s artillerymen fought like demons he described the effect of his fire on Kershaw’s South Carolinians “the Battery immediately enfiladed them with a rapid fire of canister, which tore through their ranks and sprinkled the field with their dead and wound, until they disappeared in the woods on our left, apparently a mob.” [56] They poured a merciless stream of fire into the advancing Confederates until “they had exhausted their supply of canister and the enemy began to close in on his flanks.” [57] A German born gunner noted “we mowed them down like grass, but they were thick and rushed up.” [58] A hand to hand fight ensued among the guns but the Massachusetts men escaped losing 28 of its 104 men engaged,[59] their brave commander Bigelow was wounded and nearly captured but one of his men helped him to the rear.

Their sacrifice was not in vain. They bought McGilvery an additional half an hour to set up a new line of guns along Plum Run, it was a masterful exercise of improvisation under incredible pressure. “This line was formed by collecting the serviceable batteries, that were brought off, with which, and with Dow’s Maine battery fresh from the reserve, the pursuit was checked. Finally some twenty-five guns formed a solid mass, which unsupported by infantry held this part of the line, aided General Humprheys’s movements, and covered by its fire the abandoned guns until the could be brought off, as all were, except perhaps one. When, after accomplishing its purpose, all that was left of Bigelow’s battery was withdrawn.” [60] Hunt praised the effort of Bigelow’s men to give McGilvery the necessary time to form his new gun line. “As the battery had sacrificed itself for the safety of the line, its work is specially noticed as typical of the service that artillery is not infrequently called to render, and did render in other instances at Gettysburg besides this one.”[61]

Barksdale’s brigade did not pause and continued in their relentless advance towards Cemetery Ridge, sweeping Union stragglers up as they moved forward led by their irrepressible Colonel. Before them was McGilvery’s new line, hastily cobbled together from any batteries and guns that he could find. Initially the line was composed of about fifteen guns of four different batteries and McGilvery was he was joined by two more batteries. This gave him a total of about twenty-five guns on the new line. Subjected to intense Confederate artillery fire and infantry attacks McGilvery’s batteries held on even as their numbers were reduced until only six guns remained operational. “Expertly directed by McGilvery a few stouthearted artillerymen continued to blaze away and keep the low bushes in front of them clear of lurking sharpshooters. Although they had no infantry supports, they somehow managed to create the illusion that the woods to their rear were filled with them, and they closed the breach until the Union high command could bring up reinforcements.” [62]

However, it was McGilvery who recognized the emergency confronting the line and on his own took responsibility to rectify the situation. He courageously risked “his career in assuming authority beyond his rank” [63] and without his quick action, courage under fire and expert direction of his guns Barksdale’s men might have completed the breakthrough that could have won the battle for General Lee despite all of the mistakes committed by his senior leaders that day.

It was another example of an officer who had the trust of his superiors who did the right thing at the right time. It is an example of an officer used the principles of what we today call Mission Command to decisively impact a battle. McGilvery rose higher in the Federal service and was promoted to Colonel and command of the artillery of Tenth Corps. He was slightly wounded in a finger at the battle of Deep Bottom in August 1864. The wound did not heal properly so surgeons decided to amputate the finger. However, during the operation they administered a lethal dose of chloroform anesthesia to the brave colonel and he died on September 9th 1864. When he died the Union lost one its finest artillerymen. His body was returned to his native Maine and buried. However, he was not forgotten. In 2001 Maine legislature designated the first Saturday in September as Colonel Freeman McGilvery Day.

As Barksdale’s Mississippians advanced, Wofford’s Georgians moved forward on their right. It was the advance of Wofford’s men that caused Crawford’s men to pull back from the stony hill and the Wheatfield. That brigade “drove into the gap between the Peach Orchard and de Trobriand’s old position on Stony Hill. The Georgians were an especially welcome sight to Kershaw’s weary South Carolinians, trying to sort themselves out on Rose’s farm.” [64] The remnants of Kershaw’s brigade joined in the advance to the right of Wofford and forced the survivors of Zook, Kelly, and Sweitzer’s brigades from the stony hill. The Confederates advanced driving the Union troops before them and plunged into the valley at the base of Little Round Top. Here that were met by the fresh division of the Pennsylvania Reserves which launched a counterattack, “driving the Southerners back across the ridge and into the Wheatfield…and the fighting on that section of the battlefield on that section abated into deadly sharpshooting.” [65] Longstreet, knowing that nothing more could be done in the sector ordered his troops back.

Barksdale’s advance also affected the Humphrey’s division which up to this point had not been severely engaged and had acquitted itself well against elements of Richard Anderson’s division of A.P. Hill’s corps. When Sickles was wounded he turned command of the Third Corps over to Birney. In spite of being flanked by Barksdale and pressed by Anderson, Humphreys planned to counter attack, but Birney order him back to Cemetery Ridge. One of Humphreys’ aides recalled the scene, “The crash of artillery and the tearing rattle of our musketry was staggering, and added to the noise on our side, the advancing roar & cheer of the enemy’s masses, coming on like devils incarnate.” [66] Pressed hard, Humphreys pulled his troops back in a delaying action and the division suffered about 1,200 casualties, “but it came out intact with morale sound and still full of fight.” [67]


The High Water Mark

Led by their exuberant commander the brigade pushed past the Trostle farm and into the Plum Run Valley, continuing to take casualties from the stubborn survivors of Third Corps. Now unsupported Barksdale continued to press forward toward cemetery Ridge, a soldier of the 13th Mississippi “recalled the sight of the mounted Barksdale encouraging the boys onward, yelling, “Forward through the brushes.” [68] Barksdale believed that he and his Mississippians could still wrest victory from defeat and he kept urging his decimated brigade forward in spite of the odds.

However, the tide was about to shift for the last time, as Barksdale’s survivors reached the lower portion of Cemetery Ridge a fresh Federal brigade arrived. Commanded by Colonel George Willard this brigade, 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 were fresh and full of fight fell upon the Mississippians. “Taking advantage of the downhill grade, they charged headlong into the right flank of Barksdale’s brigade.” [69] As they did so the New Yorkers shouted, “Remember Harper’s Ferry! Remember Harpers Ferry!” “A short but terrible contest ensured in the bushes in the swale” and the Mississippians; “fire slackened and they began to give back.” As they did, “large numbers of them, staring at “the very points of our bayonets,” surrendered and “lay down in ranks.” [70]

The attack by Willard’s brigade broke the Mississippians who had swept so many others before them, but now Barksdale’s troops were spent and disorganized having reached their culminating point of their attack. When the two sides collided in the swale, “the New Yorkers were at the peak of their frenzy, while the Mississippians had spent theirs.” [71] Barksdale “in his gold-braided roundabout jacket, was “almost frantic with rage” at the repulse of his brigade, and “was riding at the front of his troops” and trying to make his men stand.” [72] He was now a conspicuous target and the men of 125th and 126th New York opened fire on him, hitting him “in the chest, puncturing a lung, and in his left leg fracturing a bone.” [73] The gallant officer fell from his horse, mortally wounded as his troops driven back by the New Yorkers. A party of Union soldiers recovered him and took him to a Federal field hospital where he “told his minders “tell my wife I fought like a man and I will die like one.” [74] The former Congressman died the next “morning, his thirst for glory slaked at last.” [75] His final opponent, Colonel George Willard did not live long to savor the redemption that he and his brigade won that afternoon as he was hit “full in the face by a fragment of a shell and died instantly.” [76]

To the north of the salient Anderson’s division of Hill’s corps made a disjointed and uncoordinated attack at toward Cemetery Ridge. Due to apparently garbled orders from Anderson, neither Carnot Posey’s or “Little Billy” Mahone’s brigades advanced. Ambrose Wright’s troops went forward, but his claims to have breached the Federal line are romantic fiction at best, and David Lang’s tiny Florida brigade made only a desultory advance before retiring. 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. Hancock told Covill: “Colonel, do you see those colors?…Then take them.” [77] Second Lieutenant Lochran of the regiment remembered the moment “Every man realized in an instant what that order meant, – death or wounds to us all; the sacrifice of the regiment to gain a few minutes time to save the position, and probably the battlefield…” [78] Covill’s tiny force “of a little over three hundred men tore into Wilcox’s right and stopped it cold.” [79] But the cost to the regiment was high, “Covill and all but three of his officers were killed or wounded, together with 215 of his men.” [80] Covill’s gallant troops bought time for Hancock to bring up Gibbon’s division which forth a heavy fire of musketry and were joined by the artillery which just minutes before had ravaged Barksdale’s Mississippians Wilcox, now staggered Wilcox’s regiments. Having taken a fair number of casualties he saw that he had no help or support from the rest of Anderson’s division, and reluctantly he withdrew his brigade from Cemetery Ridge .He later reported, “With a second supporting line the heights could have been carried. Without support on either my right or my left, my men were withdrawn to prevent their entire destruction or capture.” [81]

By the evening fresh Federal troops directed by Meade, Hancock and Hunt poured into the sector. Dan Sickles’ impetuous gamble was a near disaster for the Army of the Potomac, but the cool determination of his soldiers, the outstanding work of the Federal artillery, and the active leadership provided by Meade, Hancock, Warren, and Hunt enabled the army to repulse the Confederate assault. But it had been “another close call, staving off another Chancellorsville through unscripted decisions and split second timing.” [82] By the end of the day despite sustaining massive casualties the Federal Army held its ground and the Confederates, with the exception of their lodgment at Devil’s Den returned to their start positions.

The fighting around the Peach Orchard, the Wheatfield 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 and Paul Semmes of McLaws’ division.

Amid the carnage there were acts of kindness shown towards one another by men who not long before had been mortal enemies. Private John Coxe of the 2nd South Carolina wrote:

“I felt sorry for the wounded enemy, but we could do little to help them. Just before dark I passed a Federal officer sitting on the ground with his back resting against a large oak tree. He called me to him, and when I went he politely asked me to give him some water. There was precious little in my canteen, but I let him empty it. His left leg was crushed just above the ankle, the foot lying on the ground sidewise. He asked me to straighten it up, and as I did so I asked him if the movement hurt him. “There isn’t much feeling in it now,” he replied quietly. Then before leaving him I said, “Isn’t this war awful?” “Yes, yes,” said he, “and all of us should be in a better business….” [83]

That evening the exhausted Confederate troops consolidated their positions on the few places where they had made lodgments in near the Federal line, tending to their wounded and seeking shelter among the rocks, trees and the dead. The Federal troops tended to the wounded around their lines while Henry Hunt’s artillerymen repaired their batteries as the night fell and their generals took counsel.


[1] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.193

[2] Ibid. Foote The Stars in Their Courses p.136

[3] Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command, One volume abridgment by Stephen W Sears, Scribner, New York 1998 p.580

[4] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.193

[5] Ibid. Longacre The Man Behind the Guns p.165

[6] Ibid. Alexander Fighting for the Confederacy p.239

[7] Ibid. Gottfried The Artillery at Gettysburg p.119

[8] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg, the Second Day p. 312

[9] Ibid. Alexander Fighting for the Confederacy p.239

[10] Alexander, Edward Porter. The Great Charge and the Artillery Fighting at Gettysburg, in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume III The Tide Shifts Edited by Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel Castle, Secaucus NJ p.360

[11] Ibid. Longacre The Man Behind the Guns p.167

[12] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg pp.217-218

[13] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.217

[14] Tucker, Phillip Thomas. Barksdale’s Charge: The True High Tide of the Confederacy at Gettysburg, July 2nd, 1863 Casemate Publishers, Philadelphia and Oxford 2013 p.14

[15] Ibid. Tucker Barksdale’s Charge p.15

[16] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.144

[17] Freehling, William. The Road to Disunion Volume II: Secessionists Triumphant 1854-1861 Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2007 p.140

[18] Ibid. Tucker Barksdale’s Charge p.18

[19] Ibid. Tucker Barksdale’s Charge p.17

[20] Warner, Ezra J. Generals in Gray: Lives of Confederate Commanders Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge 1959, 1987 p.343

[21] Ibid. Warner. Generals in Gray p.343

[22] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.296

[23] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.221

[24] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.297

[25] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion pp.296-297

[26] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Army at Gettysburg p.221

[27] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p. 193

[28] Ibid. Catton Glory Road p.295

[29] Ibid. Alexander The Great Charge and the Artillery Fighting at Gettysburg p.360

[30] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg, the Last Invasion p.308

[31] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg a Testing of Courage p.368

[32] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg, the Last Invasion p.310

[33] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p. 202

[34] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg, the Testing of Courage p.368

[35] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p. 202

[36] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.217

[37] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.288

[38] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p. 207

[39] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.289

[40] Trudeau, Noah Andre Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage Harper Collins, New York 2002 p.368

[41] Ibid. Kershaw Kershaw’s Brigade at Gettysburg p.335

[42] Ibid. Tucker Barksdale’s Charge p.188

[43] Ibid. Gottfried The Artillery at Gettysburg p.97

[44] Ibid. Gottfried The Artillery at Gettysburg p.97

[45] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg p.307

[46] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign a Study in Command p.415

[47] Bigelow, John The Peach Orchard Gettysburg, July 2nd 1863, Explained by Official Reports and Maps. Primary Source edition., Originally published by Kimball-Storer Co. Minneapolis 1910 p.20

[48] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign a Study in Command p.416

[49] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg a Testing of Courage p.384

[50] Coco, Gregory A. A Concise Guide to the Artillery at Gettysburg Colecraft Industries, Orrtanna PA 1998 p.31

[51] Hunt, Henry Proceeded to Cemetery Hill in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Bradford, Ned editor, Meridian Books, New York 1956 p.378

[52] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg p.314

[53] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg a Testing of Courage p.385

[54] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg a Testing of Courage p.385

[55] Hunt, Henry. The Second Day at Gettysburg in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume III, The Tide Shifts. Edited by Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel Castle, Secaucus NJ p.310

[56] Bigelow, The Peach Orchard, 54; History of the Fifth, 638 retrieved from WE SAVED THE LINE FROM BEING BROKEN: Freeman McGilvery, John Bigelow, Charles Reed and the Battle of Gettysburg by Eric Campbell

[57] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.416

[58] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg the Last Invasion pp.314-315

[59] Ibid. Hunt Proceeded to Cemetery Hill p.379

[60] Ibid. Hunt The Second Day at Gettysburg p.310

[61] Ibid. Hunt Proceeded to Cemetery Hill p.379

[62] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.417

[63] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.417

[64] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.302

[65] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.262

[66] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg, the Testing of Courage p.379

[67] Nofi, Albert A. The Gettysburg Campaign June – July 1863 Third Edition Combined Publishing, Conshohocken, PA 1986 p.128

[68] Ibid. Tucker Barksdale’s Charge p.221

[69] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign a Study in Command p.417

[70] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg, the Last Invasion p.325

[71] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg, the Testing of Courage p.388

[72] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg, the Last Invasion p.325

[73] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.262

[74] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg, the Last Invasion p.325

[75] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative: Fredericksburg to Meridian p.509

[76] Ibid. Tucker Barksdale’s Charge p.231

[77] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg, the Testing of Courage p.393

[78] Ibid. Gragg The Illustrated Gettysburg Reader p.222

[79] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign a Study in Command p.423

[80] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative: Fredericksburg to Meridian p.509

[81] Ibid. Luvaas and Nelson Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg p.128

[82] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg, the Last Invasion p.334

[83] Ibid. Gragg The Illustrated Gettysburg Reader p.205


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July 2nd at Gettysburg Pt. 5: The Wheatfield


Friends of Padre Steve’s World

For those that have followed my writing for some time you know that I teach military history and ethics at the Joint Forces Staff College. One of the great joys that I have is leading the Gettysburg Staff Ride, which is an optional event for students that want to participate. When I took the position here I took some of my older writings on Gettysburg and put them into a student study guide and text. That was two years ago. Then the text was about 70 pages long. It is now about 925 pages long and eventually I hope to get it published. When and if that happens I expect it to become two, and possibly three books.

This is the fifth of a series of articles that I will be posting potions of a chapter that I have rewritten about the critical battles on the south side of the battlefield on July 2nd 1863, the battle for Devil’s Den, the Wheatfield, the Peach Orchard, and the final repulse on Cemetery Ridge.

As you read this don’t just look at the events, but look at the people, and their reaction to the what they encountered on the battlefield, for that understanding of people is where we come to understand history.

So even if you are not a Civil War buff, or even a history buff, take the time to look at the people, their actions, and the things that made them who they were, and influenced what they did. History is about people.

So please enjoy,


Padre Steve+

To the left of Benning, “Tige” Anderson’s brigade and two of Robertson’s orphaned regiments assaulted the remaining elements of Hobart Ward’s brigade along the western section of Houck’s Ridge and Rose’s Woods. Ward had been assigned by his division commander, David Birney to defend the left flank of Sickles over-extended line. To do so he had already placed the men of the 124th New York and the 4th Maine on his left, while those remaining took position on Houck’s Ridge and in Rose’s Woods. Like the other units of Third Corps, these troops were all veterans led by veteran officers and they would not give ground without a fight. However, Ward’s troops had not taken the time to erecting any hasty fortifications or breastworks, as one “veteran remembered it, “we had not yet learned the inestimable value of breastworks, and instead of spending time rolling the loose stones into a bullet-proof line, we lounged about on the grass and rocks.” [1] But when the Confederate assault began, these men took advantage of the nature terrain features which made it formidable even without such efforts.

As the Confederates moved against Ward’s troops on the ridge and in Rose’s Woods their left flank made contact with the adjoining brigade of Regis de Trobriand, the leftmost regiment of which, the 17th Maine was posted at the southwest corner of the Wheatfield. As the Union infantry regiments braced for the attack, the Confederate formations were shredded by the shells of the Federal artillery which crashed upon them. “I could hear bones crash like glass in a hail storm,” asserted a Georgian. Colonel Dudley M. DuBose of the 15th Georgia avowed, “I never saw troops move on more steadily & in better order than these did on that occasion.” [2] Despite the carnage the Georgians continued on, and when they got within seventy-five yards of the 17th Maine opened a blistering fire which “slowed Anderson’s brigade’s assault but certainly did not stop it.” [3] Lieutenant Colonel Charles Merrill of the 17th Maine wrote:

“We opened fire on the enemy, then within 100 yards of us. The contest became very severe, the enemy at times being driven back by our line, then by superior numbers compelling us in turn to give way. The ground was hotly contested, but we held our position till, finding the right of my regiment outflanked and exposed to murderous fire from the enemy’s reinforcements, I was obliged to form a new line, changing the right wing of the regiment into position at a right angle to the left. This movement was executed in good order, under a heavy fire from the advancing foe. In this position we continued to fight, checking the enemy till, receiving orders to retire, we fell back across a wheat-field in our rear to the edge of the woods.” [4]

Anderson’s Confederates continued their attack and as they advanced Anderson was wounded and Colonel W.W. White took command, and while the Georgians had succeeded in taking some ground and inflicted heavy casualties on the Federal troops, the brigade was spent. Attesting to the severity of the fight Colonel White wrote, “From the exhausted condition of the men, together with the fact that the enemy were pouring in large re-enforcements on the right, it was deemed impractical to follow him further… The brigade retired in good order across the ravine, and went into bivouac for the night…. The loss of the brigade was heavy…. 105 killed, 512 wounded, and 146 missing.” [5]

The fight in Rose’s Woods and the Wheatfield between Birney’s division and the men of Benning and Anderson’s brigades drew in other units and McLaws’ division entered the fight and the men of Caldwell’s division of the Federal Fifth Corps entered the battle. Initially, the Union infantry was outnumbered but it had the support of the artillery that Henry Hunt had rushed into the fight. The brigades to the right of the woods on the rocky hill commanded by Tilton and Sweitzer were rapidly becoming isolated as the Confederates advanced to their rear and Kershaw’s South Carolina brigade “appeared through the smoke” like a malevolent fury, “moving with shout, shriek, curse, and yell…loading and firing with deliberation as they advanced, begrimed and dirty-looking fellows in all sorts of garb, some without hats, some without coats, none apparently in the real dress or uniform of a soldier.” [6]

Joseph Kershaw was one of the few Confederate commanders without a legacy to protect to write in detail about the battle in the Wheatfield. Kershaw was a lawyer and politician who had served in the Mexican-American War with the Palmetto Regiment. After the war he went back to civilian life and served as a member of the South Carolina State Senate. When South Carolina seceded from the Union, Kershaw volunteered for service and was made Colonel of the 2nd South Carolina Volunteer Infantry which he commanded at Fort Sumter, Bull Run, and on the Peninsula. “Natural leadership and applied intelligence had advanced him to brigades command, and he was tabbed for future material for division command.” [7] As a brigade commander he distinguished himself during the Seven days, Second Bull, Run, Antietam, and Fredericksburg. Kershaw was an natural leader and displayed an ability for “quick and rational decisions, and he never endangered his men rashly” [8] His division commander, Lafayette McLaws had a tremendous amount of trust and respect for his subordinate. “Pious, intelligent, a clear blond of high bred, clean-cut features, he had the bearing of command and a clear voice that seemed to inspire courage when it was raised in battle.” [9] Kershaw was “probably the most popular brigade commander in the entire Army of Northern Virginia. His South Carolinians – the 2,100 men of the 2nd, 3rd, 7th, 8th, and 15th South Carolina, along with the seven companies that made up the 3rd South Carolina Battalion – adored him as “a very fine man and good officer” who is liked by everyone.” Actually, this forty-one-year-old lawyer from Camden…was a chronic depressive, unhappily married, and “intensely lonely” [10] That did not diminish the love of his men for him, and His brigade had been the lead unit of the First Corps’ disastrous movement to contact that afternoon, and he had watched the contra-temps between Longstreet’s and McLaws during the march and counter-march that morning and afternoon, and upon the discovery of Sickles’ troops in the Peach Orchard. His brigade, a unit of battle-hardened veterans may not have looked like soldiers due to the wear and tear of constant campaigning and the lack of new uniforms or equipment but they were among the toughest and most disciplined brigades on either side.

Kershaw’s brigade as well as the Georgia brigade of Brigadier General Paul Semmes, the brother of Rafael Semmes, the Captain of the raider CSS Alabama, formed the right flank of Lafayette McLaws’ attack on the Peach Orchard and the Wheatfield. Kershaw understood from his discussions with McLaws and Longstreet that his attack was supposed to be coordinated with that of Hood’s division on his right, which was “sweep down the Federal line in a direction perpendicular to our line of battle.” [11] and with Barksdale’s brigade on his left. However, as his troops prepared to jump off to start their attack Kershaw “got his first unpleasant surprise when he observed Hood’s brigades moving “independently against Round Top,” a departure from the plan that meant they would not “directly participate in the joint attack.” [12] Without Hood’s support on his right Kershaw was now completely dependent on Barksdale’s brigade on his left to hit the Peach Orchard to protect his left flank from the massed Federal artillery on that height.

When Kershaw received word to advance his troops moved off followed by Semmes’ brigade while Longstreet accompanied the brigade until it reached the Emmitsburg Road. Kershaw made a tactical decision which made sense but which had a major impact on his attack. “All field and staff officers were dismounted on account of the many obstacles in the way.” [13] Kershaw chose to move with his right regiments and being dismounted this diminished his ability to see what was going on with his left, and limited his ability to provide command and control. This was not a mistake, it was a sound tactical move due to the terrain and the exposure of mounted officers to sharpshooters and artillery directed specifically at them.

As Kershaw’s men advanced he looked for Barksdale’s brigade, and only then “heard Barksdale’s drums beat the assembly, and I knew then that I should have no immediate support on my left, about to be squarely presented to the heavy force of infantry and artillery at and in the rear of the Peach Orchard.[14] Without Barksdale on his flank Kershaw was forced to improvise, he divided his regiments with “two going straight toward the stony hill, he sent two to their left to take the Union batteries in the back of the peach orchard.” [15] Porter Alexander, commanding Longstreet’s artillery noted that “Barksdale’s delay “ was especially unfortunate in this case, because advancing Kershaw without advancing Barksdale would expose Kershaw to enfilade by troops who Barksdale would easily drive off. Few battlefields can furnish examples of worse tactics.” [16]

Up to the point of crossing the Emmitsburg Road, Kershaw’s regiments had a relatively easy advance, but as Kershaw feared, they were hit from the front and flank by rifle fire, and by artillery fire. “We saw plainly that their artillerists were loading their guns to meet our assault, while their mounted officers went dashing wildly from gun to gun, to be sure that all were ready,” recalled one soldier of the 2nd South Carolina, and when they opened fire, “every Federal cannon let fly at us” with solid shot and canister.” [17] The effect on Kershaw’s troops was devastating. Scores of his troops were cut down as they advanced, even so they continued to move forward. Private William Shumate of the 2nd South Carolina described the effect of the massed Union artillery fire on Kershaw’s troops. “Kershaw’s brigade moved…in perfect order and with the precision of brigade drill, while upon my right and left comrades were stricken down by grape and canister which went crashing through our ranks. It did not seem to me that none could escape.” [18] Kershaw’s left regiments were now approaching the Federal artillery and Kershaw had lost contact with them. As they approached the Union guns, those batteries ceased fire and prepared to withdraw.

Victory seemed assured and then the unthinkable happened, as it so often does in the confusion of battle and the fog of war; an order was issued by an unknown officer to change the direction of the attack. Evidently someone misunderstood “Kershaw’s orders or his intent and with this false order aborted the attack.” [19] The change of direction resulted in those regiments making a right flank and presenting their exposed left to the Federal artillery men, who now remained their guns and opened a devastating and merciless fire into the flank of the South Carolinians. Kershaw was livid and later wrote:

“The Federals returned to their guns and opened on these doomed regiments a raking fire of grape and canister, at short distance, which proved most disastrous, and for a time destroyed their usefulness. Hundreds of the bravest and best men of Carolina fell, victims of this fatal blunder.” [20]

A Massachusetts infantryman walked the field after the charge and noted, “Masses of Kershaw’s and Wofford’s brigades had been swept from the muzzles of the guns, which had been loaded either with double-shotted, or spherical case, with fuses being cut to one second, to explode near the muzzles. They were literally blown to atoms. Corpses strewed the ground at every step. Arms, heads, legs and parts of dismembered bodies were scattered all about, and sticking among the rocks and against the trunks of trees, hair, brains, entrails, and shreds of human flesh still hung, a disgusting, sickening, heart-rending spectacle to our young minds.” [21]

While his left regiments were being manhandled by the Federal artillery due to the errant order, Kershaw’s right regiments continued their attack on troops of De Trobriand, Sweitzer, and Tilton, on the stony hill. This landmark was in the process of being cut off from the rest of the Federal army as Anderson’s troops gained control of the Wheatfield.

On the surface it seems that the three brigades should have been enough to hold the stony hill, although this is not entirely clear from contemporary accounts or from the histories published since. But, there is one overriding opinion that comes through in most of the accounts, which is that there was a problem with Federal command and control on this section of the battlefield. When the Fifth Corps units of Barnes’ division began arriving in the Third Corps section, Sickles and Birney assumed that these troops were subordinated to their command, but Meade had given contrary orders to Sykes who assumed that the changed orders “relieved his troops from “any call from the commander of the Third Corps.” [22] Whether this was Meade’s plan, Sykes’ interpretation of his orders, or Sickles’ seeking to shift some of the blame for the near disaster to someone else depends on which account one reads.

Thus when pressure began to build on the stony hill as Kershaw’s troops advanced from the front and Anderson’s worked their way to the rear, Barnes or Tilton apparently gave orders to Tilton and Sweitzer, whose “brigades had put up a brief but determined fight along their end of the stony ridge” [23] to withdraw from their position. Like the other controversies of this day this too played out in the media long after the battle was over, however, Sweitzer “clearly reported that he did not retreat until after Tilton’s brigade had fallen back, and then fell back by Barnes’ order.” [24] What appeared to have happened was that the renewed advance of Kershaw’s troops had intimidated Barnes and Tilton, and Barnes, watching the advance with anxiety “issued a precautionary order for withdraw. It seems in retrospect that caution had gone beyond prudence to pessimism.” [25] De Trobriand, who had been encouraged by the arrival of the two brigades was stunned when he saw them withdraw and wrote, “I saw these troops rise up and fall back hurriedly at the command of their officers.” [26] He realized that his position was now untenable noting, “I found myself in danger of being surrounded, and fell back out of the woods” and reforming his lines kept “the enemy at bay until the arrival of sufficient reinforcements from the Second Corps allowed us to be relieved when our ammunition was just exhausted.” [27] The end result was that Kershaw’s troops, despite the heavy casualties that they had suffered now gained the summit of the stony hill and joined forces with Anderson’s brigade. “This success, coupled with the eviction of Ward’s brigade from its position at Devil’s Den, meant that the whole left wing of Sickles’s line had been smashed and that its right wing along the Emmitsburg Road was in jeopardy.” [28]


The arrival of the four brigades of John Caldwell’s division of Winfield Scott Hancock’s Second Corps occurred in a nick of time for the men along Sickles’ beleaguered line along the Wheatfield. One of these brigades was the Irish Brigade formerly commanded by Dan Sickles’ friend, and former defense attorney, Thomas Meagher, and now commanded by Colonel Patrick Kelly of the 88th New York. The Irish Brigade had been decimated in fight after fight, “now numbering only about five hundred men. Indeed, as one Irish Brigade officer noted, they “were a brigade in name only.” [29] When it became clear that the brigade was about to go into action, the brigade’s chaplain and after the war, the President of Notre Dame University, Father William Corby, realized that his duties “included the lifting the burden of sin from his flock through the act of conditional absolution.” [30] What followed was one of the most remembered events of the battle. Colonel Kelly:

“called the brigade to attention and commanded it to “Order Arms.” Father Corby stepped up on a boulder about three feet high, explained what he was about to do, and ended his remarks with the observation that the “Catholic church refuses Christian burial to the soldier who turns his back on the foe or deserts his flag.” The men of the brigade knelt, each man on his right knee, head uncovered, hat in left hand, rifle in right, and head bowed, while Chaplain Corby, raised his right hand and pronounced the Latin words of absolution.” [31]

When Father Corby pronounced the words “Dominus nos Jesus Christus vos absolvat” they were made more poignant by the sound of the guns and echoing explosions to their south. The commander of the 116th Pennsylvania noted that even General Hancock, a Protestant noted for his frequent blasphemy, was “watching from his horse, removed his hat and bowed his head. It was, as Corby later declared, an absolution for them all – Catholics and Protestants, northerners and southerners, all “who were susceptible of it who were about to appear before their judge.” [32] An observer wrote “The service was more than impressive, it was awe-inspiring.” [33]

Upon receiving his orders Caldwell moved his division forward crossing Plum Run and moving toward the Wheatfield at the double-quick. Colonel Edward Cross’s brigade was on the right. When Hancock saw him he remarked “Colonel Cross, this day will bring you a star.” Colonel Cross, looking up at Hancock, shook his head and replied gravely, “No General, this is my last battle.” [34] Cross normally wore a red bandana to allow his troops to recognize him in battle, but today he wore a black scarf on his head. As his troops advanced he called out to them, “Boys, you know what’s before you…give ’em hell.” [35] His brigade was followed by Kelly’s Irish Brigade and Brigadier General Samuel Zook’s brigade and that John Brooke. When Caldwell’s division struck it struck with fury, but was met with terrific resistance by Anderson’s men in the Wheatfield and Kershaw’s on the stony hill. Cross’s brigade was stopped before it could break through the Confederate line, with their commander being mortally wounded in the attack. Cross was hit in the abdomen and realizing his wound was mortal said “I hope that peace will be restored to our distressed country. I think that the boys will miss me. Say goodbye to all.” [36]


Zook’s brigade came next, taking its direction from Dan Sickles. The brigade “deployed near the Trostle farm, and advanced against Kershaw’s men on the stony hill.” [37] There they were met by withering fire, and Zook leading his men from the front was mortally wounded, his brigade suffering massive casualties even as they continued to advance and many “of the companies…came out commanded by sergeants.” [38] A survivor of the brigade remembered it, “the firing became terrific and the slaughter frightful. We were enveloped in smoke and fire, not only in our front, but on our left, and even at times on our right….Our men fired promiscuously, steadily pressing forward, but the fighting was so mixed, rebel and union lines so close together, and in some places intermingled, that a clear idea of what was going on was not readily obtainable.” [39] These stalwart men were followed by Kelly’s Irish Brigade and Brooke’s brigade, Caldwell’s last available unit, which moved through the Wheatfield and up the slope of the stony hill.

These brigades, as well as Sweitzer’s, which had been commandeered by Caldwell finally wrested control of the Wheatfield from Anderson and the stony hill from Kershaw. As the Irish advanced a South Carolina officer remarked “Isn’t that a magnificent sight.” [40] Kershaw later wrote that “the fighting was general and desperate all along the time and so continued for some time….I feared the brave men around me would be surrounded by the large force of enemy constantly increasing in numbers and all the while enveloping us. In order to avoid such a catastrophe, I ordered a retreat to the buildings at Rose’s.” [41] Major St. Clair Mulholland, commanding the 116th Pennsylvania of the Irish Brigade recalled the fight for the hill:

“Having entered a dense woods, we began to ascend a hill, where large bowlders of rocks impeded our progress, notwithstanding which we advanced in good order. We soon came within sight of the enemy, who occupied the crest of the hill, and who immediately opened fire at our approach. Our brigade returned the fire with good effect. After firing for about ten minutes, the order was given to advance, which the brigade did in excellent style, driving the enemy from their position, which we at once occupied….We found the position which our enemy had occupied but a few moments before thickly strewn with the dead and wounded.” [42]

For a time the mixed units that the Federals had committed to the fight for the Wheatfield and the stony hill, along with Sykes’s division of Regulars which had moved up to their left flank stabilized the Federal line. For a time it “appeared that the Rebel effort to overwhelm the Federal flank had failed, save for Devil’s Den. But the situation was changing quickly…”[43]. But the conduct of the battle, “in large part to Sickles, and with help from Longstreet’s execution of the attack, the situation was proving to be a bloody mess on both sides.” [44] The Federal occupation of the stony hill lasted barely twenty minutes when a new threat arose from the direction of the Peach Orchard, Caldwell’s success had placed the division in an exposed position and he had no reserves left to counter any Confederate move on his right flank.

To be continued…


[1] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.164

[2] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.259

[3] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg, the Second Day p.247

[4] Ibid. Luvaas and Nelson Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg p.105

[5] Ibid. Luvaas and Nelson Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg p.108

[6] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg, the Last Invasion p.286

[7] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.197

[8] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.214

[9] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg, The Second Day p.151

[10] Ibid Guelzo Gettysburg, The Last Invasion p.282

[11] Ibid. Kershaw Kershaw’s Brigade at Gettysburg p.333

[12] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg, a Testing of Courage p.351

[13] Ibid. Kershaw Kershaw’s Brigade at Gettysburg p.334

[14] Ibid. Kershaw Kershaw’s Brigade at Gettysburg pp.334-335

[15] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.222

[16] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.181

[17] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg, the Last Invasion p.287

[18] Gottfried, Bradley The Artillery of Gettysburg Cumberland House Publishing, Nashville TN 2008 p.125

[19] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.285

[20] Ibid. Kershaw Kershaw’s Brigade at Gettysburg p.335

[21] Ibid. Gottfried The Artillery of Gettysburg p.126

[22] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign a Study in Command p.399

[23] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg, the Last Invasion p.286

[24] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.187

[25] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg, The Second Day p.259

[26] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.286

[27] Ibid. Luvaas and Nelson Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg p.114

[28] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg, The Second Day pp.264-265

[29] Bruce, Susannah Ural The Harp and the Flag: Irish American Volunteers and the Union Army, 1861-1865 New York University Press, New York and London 2006 p.160

[30] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg, a Testing of Courage p.303

[31] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg, The Second Day p.268

[32] Ibid. Bruce The Harp and the Flag p.165

[33] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg, a Testing of Courage p.303

[34] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg, The Second Day p.269

[35] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg, the Last Invasion p.291

[36] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg, The Second Day p.273

[37] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg, a Testing of Courage p.363

[38] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg, the Last Invasion p.295

[39] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.290

[40] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg, a Testing of Courage p.363

[41] Ibid. Kershaw Kershaw’s Brigade at Gettysburg pp.336-337

[42] Ibid. Luvaas and Nelson Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg p.117

[43] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg, a Testing of Courage p.367

[44] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.192

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July 2nd at Gettysburg Pt. 4: The Confederate Storm at Devil’s Den

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

For those that have followed my writing for some time you know that I teach military history and ethics at the Joint Forces Staff College. One of the great joys that I have is leading the Gettysburg Staff Ride, which is an optional event for students that want to participate. When I took the position here I took some of my older writings on Gettysburg and put them into a student study guide and text. That was two years ago. Then the text was about 70 pages long. It is now about 925 pages long and eventually I hope to get it published. When and if that happens I expect it to become two, and possibly three books.

This is the fourth of a series of articles that I will be posting potions of a chapter that I have rewritten about the critical battles on the south side of the battlefield on July 2nd 1863, the battle for Devil’s Den, the Wheatfield, the Peach Orchard, and the final repulse on Cemetery Ridge.

As you read this don’t just look at the events, but look at the people, and their reaction to the what they encountered on the battlefield, for that understanding of people is where we come to understand history.

So even if you are not a Civil War buff, or even a history buff, take the time to look at the people, their actions, and the things that made them who they were, and influenced what they did. History is about people.

So please enjoy,


Padre Steve+


Fix bayonets my brave Texans

The delays had taken a toll on the Confederate plan. 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. Throughout the day the senior commanders of the Army of Northern Virginia had made a thorough mess of their chances for success, but when the attack began it blew into the Federal forces like a violent storm as the Confederate troops fell upon the soldiers of Sickles Third Corps.

However, the Confederate assault was marred by still more command and control issues, the most important which happened in Hood’s division.. “Contrary to orders Hood had moved his division away from the Emmitsburg road for the purpose of taking Little Round Top and outflanking the Union position on the heights of Devil’s Den.” [1] Riding in front of his old Texas brigade, Hood called out “Fix bayonets my brave Texans…forward and take those heights.” His loyal troops responded to their former commander, and cheered his words in response: “Follow the Lone Star Flag to the Top of the mountain!” Cried the lieutenant colonel of the 1st Texas, and there “arose such a wild indescribable battle yell that no one having heard ever forgot.” [2]

McLaws had waited until Hood’s troops advanced across the rough ground that separated his division from “Smith recalled that his guns “tore gap after gap in the ranks of the Confederate foe.” Robertson agreed, reporting that as his brigade advanced through the intervening fields, “for half a mile we were exposed a heavy and destructive fire of canister, grape, and shell” [3] Little Round Top and Devil’s Den. As Hood’s division moved forward it came under artillery fire from the four 10 pound Parrot Rifles of Captain James Smith’s 4th New York Independent Battery on Houck’s Ridge above Devil’s Den and it began to sustain casualties. . Among the earliest to fall was John Bell Hood who was badly wounded when a shell “exploded above his head, and one of the fragments tore into his left arm.” The arm would have to be amputated and as he was taken away by stretcher-bearers recalled that he experienced “deep distress of mind and heart at the inevitable fate of my brave fellow-soldiers, who formed one of the greatest divisions of that world-renown army….” [4]

The absence of Hood would create a leadership void in his division as it made its attack on Devil’s Den and Little Round Top as his successor Evander Law was deeply engaged in leading his brigade in its epic fight at Little Round Top, and not able to influence or coordinate the attacks of the remaining brigades of the division. Coordination “between the brigades soon dissolved. Regiments in Law’s Alabama brigade veered apart, and a gap formed in the center of Jerome Robertson’s Texas Brigade. While these units angled toward the Round Tops, behind them, moving towards Rose’s Woods and Devil’s Den came the pair of Georgia brigades under Henry Benning and George T. Anderson.” [5] Order broke down, and soon control was at the company commander level or lower, “Every fellow was his own general,” a Texan later wrote. “Private soldiers give commands as loud as officers, nobody paying attention to either. [6] In the absence of Hood, Brigadier, and feeling the pressure of the situation, General J.B. Robertson commanding the Texas Brigade on Law’s left, took the initiative and sent couriers to Henry Benning and George Anderson “urging them to hurry their brigades to his support.” [7]

As Law’s brigade and two of Robertson’s regiments assaulted Little Round Top, the remainder of Robertson’s brigade as well as those of Benning and Anderson attacked the Federal position on Devil’s Den. There a fierce fight ensued as the badly outnumbered troops of the 124th New York under the command of Colonel Augustus Van Horn Ellis, and the four guns of Smith’s 4th New York Independent Battery refused to yield the hill to Robertson and Benning’s troops.


The 124th New York was raised in Orange County New York, and a veteran unit, but it had taken many casualties and during the afternoon of July 2nd 1863 it went into action with just 18 officers and 220 men, in a position just to the left rear of Smith’s battery. The left flank of the 124th was protected by the tiny 4th Maine Infantry and the two remaining guns of Smith’s battery. Captain Smith whose battery had already expended its supply of case shot called out, “Give them she’ll! Give them solid shot! Damn them, give them anything!” [8]

Led by their gallant commander, who against the advice of a number of officers, mounted his horse and further exposed himself to enemy fire, the New Yorkers of the 124th were aware of their critical place on the battlefield. Looking at his Major Cromwell, Ellis remarked “the men must see us today.” [9] Cromwell cried out the order to charge the advancing Texans, and “the New Yorkers rushed down the west face of Houck’s Ridge at the double-quick. The 1st Texas reeled back some 200 yards under the surprise onslaught. “The conflict at this point defied description,” wrote an officer of e 124th. “Roaring cannon, crashing rifles, screeching shots, bursting shells, hissing bullets, cheers, shouts, shrieks and groans….” [10] A Confederate soldier wrote that the battle “was more like Indian fighting…than anything I experienced in the war.” [11] A reporter from the Savannah Republican accompanying Benning’s brigade wrote, “Down the plunging shot came…bursting before and around and everywhere tearing up the ground in a terrific rain of death….[As Benning’s brigade] approached the [Yankee] guns, the rain of grape and canister began! Mingling their sharp cries with the shrill whistle of the mad minnie balls which seemed to come in showers.” [12] The gallant regiment held off several attacks by Robertson’s Texans, and Ellis was killed by a bullet, as was Major Cromwell, and many of their gallant soldiers. “In the savage hand-to-hand fighting among the rocks, men shot at one another from the opposite side of the same Boulder, sometimes so close that clothing caught fire from the blaze of an enemy’s rifle. The high-pitched Rebel yell and the full-throated Federal huzzahs echoed through the rocks as first one side and then the other gave way…” [13]

In his after action report, Henry Benning wrote:

“When my first line reached the foot of the peak, I found there a part of the First Texas, struggling to make the ascent… The part of the First Texas…falling in with my brigade, the whole line commenced ascending the rugged…steep [incline] and, on the right, crossing the gorge. The ground was difficult – rocks in many places presenting, by their precipitous sides, insurmountable obstacles, while the fire of the was very heavy and very deadly. The progress was, therefore, not very rapid, but it was regular and uninterrupted….” [14]

With their supporting infantry considerably weakened, Smith’s guns were in danger. Some of Robertson’s troops had reached the base of the hill and taken cover behind a stone wall where they could take Smith’s artillery men under fire. Smith “could no longer depress his guns sufficiently to hit the Rebels. Occupying the low ground and using boulders for cover, the Confederates began to pick off Smith’s gunners. Smith “saw it would be impossible…to hold my position without assistance” and fell back…but the loss of artillery support was the beginning of the collapse of Sickles left flank.” [15] To the left in the Plum Run Valley, which later became known as the Valley of Death, the 4th Maine and Smith’s remaining guns fought off attacks by Robertson and Benning’s brigades before being forced to retreat. With his left now threatened Brigadier General Hobart Ward dispatched the 99th Pennsylvania to protect it, thinning his lines to do so. The Pennsylvanians of the 99th as well as men from the 124th New York, and the 4th Maine launched a counter-attack which succeeded in regaining the lower section of Houck’s Ridge. A soldier of the 99th recalled the moment his unit entered the fight, “Above the crack of the rifle, the scream of shells and the cries of the wounded, could be heard the shout of for “Pennsylvania and our homes…” [16] The cost had been great, but the ridge had been retaken from it the Union men rained fire down on the Alabamians below them in the Valley of Death. Hood’s men occupied Devil’s Den and secured a small lodgment on Houck’s Ridge which enabled the assault on Little Round Top to continue.

In a sense the fight at Devil’s Den was a victory for the Confederates as they had forced Ward’s troops from the position, but the human cost had been high among the men of the assaulting regiments. Robertson was wounded and had to be carried from the field, and most of the field officers of the Texas brigade were either killed or wounded leading their troops in the fight. Historian Harry Pfanz wrote, “The hard fighting at Devil’s Den, together with the sinister character of the spot, gave it a hallowed place in American history that might actually exceed its actual significance.” [17]

Robertson’s Texans and some of Law’s Alabamians surged up the slope of Little Round Top. But the sacrifice of the New Yorkers and Maine men was not in vain, they had helped buy the needed minutes for the soldiers of Colonel Strong Vincent’s brigade to arrive at the summit of Little Round Top, and Confederate casualties had been very heavy even before they attempted to scale the heights of Little Round Top.

To be continued…


[1] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.402

[2] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg, the Last Invasion p.256

[3] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.166

[4] Ibid. Pfanz The Second Day at Gettysburg pp.172-173

[5] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.259

[6] Ibid. Foote The Stars in Their Courses p.128

[7] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign a Study in Command p.402

[8] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.273

[9] Ibid. Pfanz The Second Day at Gettysburg p.293

[10] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg pp.273-274

[11] Ibid. Foote The Stars in Their Courses p.128

[12] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg, A Testing of Courage p.342

[13] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.211

[14] Luvaas, Jay and Nelson, Harold W. Editors The U.S. army War College Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg, South Mountain Press Incorporated, Carlisle PA 1986 p.99

[15] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.166

[16] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg, A Testing of Courage p.345

[17] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg, the Second Day

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Hallowed Ground: A Weekend at Gettysburg

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Once again I am leading a group of my students on a Staff Ride at Gettysburg. We left the Staff College later than I like to but even so we made much better time getting up here than we usually do, only a little traffic to slow us down on I-495 on the way out of Washington D.C. This got us into Gettysburg earlier than I expected so after getting my stuff in my hotel room I took a walk around Cemetery Hill and through the Soldiers Cemetery.

As always I was astounded and humbled as I walked the ground. This really is hallowed ground. I think that Abraham Lincoln, who spoke “a few words” at the dedication of the Soldiers Cemetery said it the best:

“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…”

As I walked around Cemetery Hill and through the Soldiers Cemetery I felt the presence of the men that fought and died to preserve this remarkable Union. But when I got to the Masonic Memorial on the western slope of the hill was touched by an image of one of the more human things that happened on the battlefield. That image is a statue of a Union officer, a Captain Bingham rendering aid to Confederate General Lewis Armistead as the latter lay mortally wounded after leading his troops to the High Water Mark of the Confederacy. The story of Armistead is tragic, I have written about it before and it was movingly portrayed by Richard Jordan in the movie Gettysburg.

But when I come up here it is always Lincoln’s words, as well as the gallantry of the soldiers of the Army of the Potomac that inspire me more than anything. Please don’t get me wrong, while I admire the bravery and many of the cities of the Conferate soldiers, I despise the cause that they died for, and no, it is not the myth of states rights. It is the reality that Confederate leaders seceded because they had failed in Congress and at the ballot box to expand slavery outside of where it was legal.

I guess that is why Lincoln’s conclusion of the address resonates with me so much, “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.”

So anyway, I hope that you are enjoying my latest Gettysburg posts.


Padre Steve+q

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July Second at Gettysburg Pt.3: Confederate Deployments


Lieutenant General James Longstreet C.S.A.

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

For those that have followed my writing for some time you know that I teach military history and ethics at the Joint Forces Staff College. One of the great joys that I have is leading the Gettysburg Staff Ride, which is an optional event for students that want to participate. When I took the position here I took some of my older writings on Gettysburg and put them into a student study guide and text. That was two years ago. Then the text was about 70 pages long. It is now about 925 pages long and eventually I hope to get it published. When and if that happens I expect it to become two, and possibly three books.

This is the third of a series of articles that I will be posting potions of a chapter that I have rewritten about the critical battles on the south side of the battlefield on July 2nd 1863, the battle for Devil’s Den, the Wheatfield, the Peach Orchard, and the final repulse on Cemetery Ridge.

As you read this don’t just look at the events, but look at the people, and their reaction to the what they encountered on the battlefield, for that understanding of people is where we come to understand history.

So even if you are not a Civil War buff, or even a history buff, take the time to look at the people, their actions, and the things that made them who they were, and influenced what they did. History is about people.

So please enjoy,


Padre Steve+

But Sickles’ deployment of his Corps had a number of lasting effects, “for all of Dan Sickles’ many faults,, he was correct on one point: the primary Confederate attack would occur on his front…” and “by moving forward into the Peach Orchard, he occupied one of the Key objectives of the Confederate attack plan.” [1] In fact, Longstreet had done “exactly what Sickles had thought he would do – wheeled around and come in from the South.” [2]

Lee and Longstreet the morning had been spent disagreeing on a plan to crush Meade’s army. Though Lee’s army was operating on exterior lines with his corps having no way to effectively coordinate their actions, Lee still desired to attack. Complicating matters was the fact that Lee was still lacking Stuart’s Cavalry with which to do a proper reconnaissance of the Federal positions. Likewise, Longstreet’s First Corps did not have Pickett’s Infantry division, Law’s brigade of Hood’s division when Lee insisted that Longstreet and his First Corps make a frontal attack on the Union left. Longstreet, as he had the night prior and earlier in the morning demurred, and tried to convince Lee of moving the army to the south and turning the Union flank the south of the Round Tops. Lee rejected Longstreet’s argument sand Longstreet reportedly 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.” [3]

Part of the conflict was that Lee did not believe that Longstreet proposed move could succeed without the assistance of Stuart’s cavalry, while Longstreet did not believe that his First Corps had the combat necessary combat power to successfully complete the mission without Pickett’s division. Lee would hear no more of Longstreet’s objections and ordered the attack, and Lee in his after action report noted, “Longstreet was directed to place the divisions of McLaws and Hood on the right of Hill, partially enveloping the enemy’s left, which he was to drive in.” [4] Instead of leaping into action, Longstreet “allowed his disagreement with Lee’s decision to affect his conduct. One the commanding general determined to assail the enemy, duty required Longstreet to comply with the vigor and thoroughness that had previously characterized his generalship.” [5] This he did not do, he sought further delay, and though he could not force Lee to wait until Pickett arrived he did ask and get permission “to wait until Hood’s division was completed by the arrival of Law’s brigade.” [6] This unit arrived about forty-five minutes later and Longstreet finally began to move his divisions to their starting positions.


Major General Lafayette McLaws C.S.A.

Leading the advance division was Major General Lafayette McLaws. McLaws was “a capable soldier without flair, who steady performance never produced a high moment. His reliability and dogged tenacity rubbed off on his men, however, and made them as hard to dislodge as any in the army.” [7] He had put together as solid of a record as a division commander and led the division for almost two years. During his time in command his exceptional care for the welfare of his men had endeared him to them. He and his division were excellent in the defense, and McLaws was very deliberate “but his attention to his men made him and his division a reliable command.” [8]

Porter Alexander noted that in the defense “McLaws was about the best in the army…being very painstaking about details, & having an eye for good ground.” [9] But there was a drawback, for all of his solidness and fortitude “he lacked a military imagination,” and was “best when told exactly what to do and closely supervised by superiors.” [10] McLaws’ solid division was typical of many of the units in Longstreet’s First Corps, “outstanding on defense and led by a competent soldier, they were thoroughly dependable. With the reliance of old pro’s, they did what they were told, stood up under heavy casualties, and produced tremendous firepower.” [11]

The two divisions began their march which “soon became a comedy of errors such as one might expect of inexperienced commanders and raw militia, but not of Lee’s War Horse” and his veteran troops.” [12] In part this was due to a lack of well trained staff officers to help guide the movements and ensure that the divisions reached their assigned position on the battlefield with a minimum of friction. Longstreet, who was still upset about Lee overriding his course of action, Longstreet “chose this moment to be more than punctilious in complying with army protocol. Since Lee had ordered Johnson to lead and guide the head of the column, which was McLaws’ division, Longstreet decided to regard him as Lee’s special representative who during the march possessed greater authority over these troops than he.” [13] Longstreet’s decision was questionable at best, for he ceded command of an approach to contact to a relatively inexperienced engineering officer who had no experience leading large numbers of troops and dropped back, accompanying Hood’s division.

Colonel Porter Alexander, who observed the Confederate infantry’s movements and who had successfully navigated the terrain not long before, wrote:

“This is just one illustration of how time may be lost in handling troops, and the need of an abundance of competent staff officers by the generals in command. Scarcely any of our generals had half of what they needed to keep a constant & close supervision on the execution of important orders. And that always ought to be done. An army is like a great machine, and in putting it into battle it is not enough for its commander to merely issue the necessary orders. He should have a staff ample to supervise the execution of each step, & to promptly report any difficulty or misunderstanding. There is no telling the value of the hours which were lost by that division that morning.” [14]

Since Longstreet, wisely wanted his movements to be out of sight of the enemy, the two divisions had to pick their way across bad ground, over stone walls, and wooden fences which had to be torn down, which combined with the miserably hot weather slowed their advance. Eventually, just passed the Black Horse Tavern the head of McLaws’ division came upon a clear piece of high ground that was in clear view of the Union signal station on Little Round Top and halted. Longstreet came riding up to find the reason for the delay and going with McLaws, he snapped “Why this won’t do,… Is there any way to avoid it?” [15]

Brigadier General Joseph Kershaw, whose brigade led the march, and who has to be considered one of the most objective officers in the controversy that continued long after the battle, recalled what happened.

“At length General McLaws ordered me to move by a flank, get under the cover of the hill and move along Marsh Creek toward the enemy, taking care to keep out of their view. In executing this order we passed the Black Horse Tavern and followed a road leading from that point to the Emmitsburg pike, until the head of the column reached a point where the road passed over the top of a hill from which our movement would be plainly visible from the Federal signal station on Little Round Top. Here we were halted by General McLaws in person, while he and General Longstreet rode forward to reconnoiter.” [16]

The countermarch became a muddled mess. The halt had snarled the divisions of Hood and McLaws, “quickest way to countermarch was simply to about face the troops, but McLaws had been assigned specifically by lee to lead the column into attack position and he felt obliged to hold that place.” [17] With McLaws insisting on maintaining his position, the whole column had to double back on itself. As such the initial halt and the subsequent countermarch further slowed the Confederate deployment as McLaws and Hood’s divisions became entangled and had to be separated. To reach their positions the Longstreet’s troops “followed a farm lane to Fairfield Road, marched north a short distance before striking a road along Willoughby Run, and angled southeast, shielded by Seminary Ridge. At Pitzer’s Schoolhouse they struck Millerstown Road, turned east, and approached the ridge’s crest,[18] where they were met by an astounding sight. Instead of finding the open ground along the Emmitsburg Road as they expected, Longstreet and McLaws discovered the high ground of the Peach Orchard full of Dan Sickles’ Third Corps infantry and artillery.

In the time it had taken for Longstreet to move his corps to its start positions, the situation on the ground had changed. While Sickles move jeopardized the Federal line, it also “disrupted Confederate Battle plans. Should the Sickles salient be attacked or outflanked?” [19] Lee had developed his plan on the assumption that First Corps would not encounter enemy opposition as they moved up the Emmitsburg Road. Years later McLaws wrote, “The view presented astonished me…” [20] “as the enemy was massed in my front and extended to my left and right as far as I could see.” [21]and to his wife he wrote about it a few days later, “On arriving at the vicinity of the Orchard, the enemy were discovered in greater force than we supposed, and two of my brigades were deployed to face the enemy, and the other two in the rear as reserve…” [22] The presence of Third Corps necessitated that Longstreet either notify Lee of the change and ask for new orders, or to adjust in the fly and redeploy his troops to meet the new situation. While informing Lee would have been the optimal course of action, Longstreet, who had been rebuffed by Lee on several occasions in the last day, and probably was in no mood to again go toe-to-toe with the general commanding, rigidly held to the attack, and chose the latter course of action.

Instead of deploying perpendicular to the Emmitsburg Road in order to roll up the flank of the Federal positions, but “for Longstreet to attack at the angle Lee had specified would expose him to enfolding fire.” [23] To meet the new situation, Longstreet and McLaws deployed parallel to the road to make a frontal attack on the salient presented by Third Corps, while Hood’s division was ordered further south in order to take Little Round Top, while McLaws wrote that he “was directed not to assault until General Hood was in position.” [24] the movement took about another hour as Hood attempted to mask the movement of his troops from Federal observers by remaining in the wood line.

Porter Alexander, whose ever-insightful observations provide an alarming commentary on the Confederate senior leadership and their preparation for the assault the Federal left: “I never remember hearing of any conference or discussions among our generals at this time as to the best formations & tactics in making our attacks, & our method on this occasion struck me as peculiar even then, & I don’t think it was the best.” [25]


Major General John Bell Hood C.S.A.

Hood was never one to hesitate to attack, but when he saw the situation that faced First Corps, he objected to the attack. “For the first time in his army career Hood suggested a change of orders to his commanding general,” [26] and pleaded with Longstreet to change it. “From his own observations and those of his scouts he concluded that the attack would be futile and result in wanton wage of life.” [27] The fierce Texan “recognized that the battle order, written more than two miles away on mistaken information…did not fit existing conditions.” [28] His objections included the rocky terrain which he believed would break up his battle formations, as well as “the concave character of the enemy’s line from the north end of Cemetery Ridge to Big Round Top would expose his division to a “destructive fire in flank and rear, as well as in front” if his men attacked it obliquely.” [29]He told 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.” [30]

Lafayette McLaws “believed that if Lee had known of the changed conditions that he would have called off the attack.” [31] While this might have been the case, Lee was now over two miles away on his way back to his headquarters after pushing Longstreet to force the attack. From his other decisions to force the attack on both July 2nd and 3rd McLaws’ opinion can be debated. But Longstreet had consulted with Lee and while Lee “was already fretting over the delay which had occurred,” and even if it was no longer possible to launch an attack that wheeled up the Emmitsburg Road, he certainly was not going to call the whole thing off.” [32]

Meanwhile, the debate between Longstreet and Hood continued as Hood objected and Longstreet reiterated Lee’s insistence on the planned attack. McLaws noted that Hood “found that the enemy were strongly posted on two rocky hills, with artillery and infantry…” [33] and he pleaded for freedom of maneuver. He believed 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.” [34]

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.” [35] In defending his decision to launch the attack despite his own misgivings after the war Longstreet wrote, “that the move to the right had been proposed the day before and rejected.” [36] However, Longstreet’s explanation, made years after the battle and in the midst of a long running dispute with Jubal Early on who was at fault for the defeat at Gettysburg, was somewhat disingenuous.

Longstreet was referring to Lee’s rejection of Longstreet’s plan for an operational movement by the army to position itself between the Army of the Potomac and Washington, in order to fight a defensive battle, not the tactical adjustment to the plan of attack that Hood proposed. Clifford Dowdy argued that, “In basing his rejection of Hood’s extemporized plan on the rejection of his own strategy, Longstreet revealed the depth of the wound to his own ego and the consequent undermining of his judgement.” [37] This is an argument that has some merit, and it seems to be born out by Longstreet’s repeated rejections and dismissals of Hood’s repeated proposals to attempt to flank the Federal left. However, in light of the arrival of John Sedgwick’s Sixth Corps on the battlefield about the time of the assault it is quite possible that Hood’s division could have been completely separated from the rest of the Confederate army, surrounded and destroyed had Longstreet yielded to his subordinate’s request.

To be continued…


[1] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.134

[2] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.213

[3] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg the Second Day p.112

[4] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.192

[5] Ibid. Wert General James Longstreet p.268

[6] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.192

[7] Tagg, Larry The Generals of Gettysburg: The Leaders of America’s Greatest Battle Da Capo Press Cambridge MA 1998 Amazon Kindle Edition pp.208-209

[8] Ibid. Wert General James Longstreet p.209

[9] Ibid. Alexander Fighting for the Confederacy: p.170

[10] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.209

[11] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.176

[12] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign a Study in Command p.378

[13] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign a Study in Command pp.378-379

[14] Ibid. Alexander Fighting for the Confederacy p.236

[15] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.258

[16] Kershaw, J.B. Kershaw’s Brigade at Gettysburg in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume III, The Tide Shifts. Edited by Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel Castle, Secaucus NJ p.331

[17] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.259

[18] Wert, Jeffry D. A Glorious Army: Robert E. Lee’s Triumph 1862-1863 Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2011 pp.256-257

[19] Taylor, John M.Duty Faithfully Performed: Robert E. Lee and His Critics, Brassey’s Dulles Va 1999 p.148

[20] Ibid. Wert “General James Longstreet p.271

[21] Foote, Shelby The Stars in Their Courses: The Gettysburg Campaign June-July 1863 Modern Library, a division of Random House New York 1994 p.124

[22] Oeffinger, John C. Editor. A Soldier’s General: The Civil War Letters of Major General Lafayette McLaws, University of North Carolina Press 2009 p.196

[23] Ibid. Taylor Duty Faithfully Performed p.148

[24] Ibid. Oeffinger A Soldier’s General p.196

[25] Ibid. Alexander Fighting for the Confederacy p.238

[26] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.205

[27] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.382

[28] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.204

[29] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.382

[30] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative: Fredericksburg to Meridian p.499

[31] Ibid. Taylor Duty Faithfully Performed p.148

[32] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg, the Last Invasion p.254

[33] Ibid. Oeffinger A Soldier’s General p.196

[34] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative: Fredericksburg to Meridian p.499

[35] Ibid. Foote The Stars in Their Courses p.126

[36] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.206

[37] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.206


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A Grand Sight to Witness: July 2nd at Gettysburg Pt. 2

sickles peach orchard

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

For those that have followed my writing for some time you know that I teach military history and ethics at the Joint Forces Staff College. One of the great joys that I have is leading the Gettysburg Staff Ride, which is an optional event for students that want to participate. When I took the position here I took some of my older writings on Gettysburg and put them into a student study guide and text. That was two years ago. Then the text was about 70 pages long. It is now about 925 pages long and eventually I hope to get it published. When and if that happens I expect it to become two, and possibly three books.

This is the second of a series of articles that I will be posting potions of a chapter that I have rewritten about the critical battles on the south side of the battlefield on July 2nd 1863, the battle for Devil’s Den, the Wheatfield, the Peach Orchard, and the final repulse on Cemetery Ridge.

As you read this don’t just look at the events, but look at the people, and their reaction to the what they encountered on the battlefield, for that understanding of people is where we come to understand history.

So even if you are not a Civil War buff, or even a history buff, take the time to look at the people, their actions, and the things that made them who they were, and influenced what they did. History is about people.

So please enjoy,


Padre Steve+

sickles as brigadier

The Problem of Dan Sickles and Third Corps

In the early morning hours of July 2nd 1863, George Meade had instructed Dan Sickles’ Third Corps “to go into position on the left of the Second corps [so] that his right was to connect with the left of the Second Corps, [and] he was going to prolong the line of that corps occupying the position that general Geary held the night before,” [1] that is the area of South Cemetery Ridge and Little Round Top. However during the night and early morning hours Sickles had not done so. However, Sickles was not comfortable with the position of his corps, especially in relation to the high ground that lay in front of him.

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 adjust the line held by his corps to no avail. Sickles had posted some of Birney’s division to the west of Plum Run near the Peach Orchard as pickets. His left, which should have rested on Little Round Top was located at Devil’s Den while Berdan’s Sharpshooters pushed further west as a skirmish line along with a few regiments of Birney’s division and a few squadrons of cavalry.

Sickles ordered Berdan to lead about one hundred of his sharpshooters into the woods west of the Warfield farm where they engaged part of Cadmus Wilcox’s brigade and noticed “three columns in motion in the rear of the wood, changing direction… by the right flank.” [2] The troops were those of Hood and McLaws divisions moving to their start positions from which they would assault the federal left. Berdan reported the Confederate troop movements to Sickles. Additionally, Sickles was also concerned because John Buford’s Cavalry division which has been deployed on the Federal left, had just “been pulled to the rear to be refitted, but not replaced. The horsemen had been supplying him with vital information about rebel dispositions; with mobile reconnaissance now gone, Sickles felt naked and vulnerable.” [3] He believed that it was absolutely vital that he move troops onto the Peach Orchard, and to a hill known as Stony Hill, Houck’s Ridge, and another known by local children by the sinister name of Devil’s Den.

Sickles decided to voice his concerns to Meade and sent his aide de camp, Major Henry Tremain, to report those concerns at Meade’s headquarters. Tremain explained the positions of the Third Corps, as well as the skirmishers, and reminded Meade “that there were no troops on the left of Third Corps, and told him that Sickles had sent General Graham to bring up the two brigades left at Emmitsburg.” [4] Apparently Meade was not concerned and paid little attention to Sickles concerns. Later in the morning Sickles had Tremain take him to Meade’s headquarters where Sickles complained about the position. He noted that “the Ridge dipped slightly just before meeting Little Round Top,” [5] and that there was higher ground in front. Sickles “spoke of his concerns, the poor position assigned to his corps, the advantages of holding the high ground at the Peach Orchard, and his fear of an assault from his front.” [6] Meade seemed unconcerned and Sickles pressed Meade to see the ground for himself. Meade curtly refused to do so, so Sickles asked if “Meade would at least send his chief engineer, Gouverneur K. Warren? The answer was even more curt: no” [7]

Meade was most concerned about another Confederate assault on his right, and paid little attention to the concerns of the political general. Sickles also asked the army commander “if he was authorized to post his corps in a manner he “should deem the most suitable.” Meade replied, “Certainly, within the limits of the general instructions I have given you; any ground within those limits you choose to occupy I leave to you.” [8] Finally after some discussion Sickles was able to convince Meade to send his artillery chief, Henry Hunt to come with him to examine potential artillery positions for his corps. Had Meade not been so concerned about his right he might have paid more attention to the reports of the Signal Corps station on Little Round Top which as early as noon were reporting the Confederate troop movements being reported by Sickles and Berdan. Scoffing at Sickles Meade allegedly said, “Generals are all apt to look for the attack to be made where they are.” [9]

Hunt accompanied Sickles back to his corps and made a reconnaissance of the ground that Sickles was determined to hold. While Hunt believed that it had some advantages that those advantages were cancelled out by several factors, including the fact that the position would be a salient exposed to enemy attacks from multiple sides, and that the Third Corps “was not strong enough with only two divisions instead of the three possessed by most corps) to hold the new line and also connect Hancock’s flank in the north.”[10] Though Hunt sympathized with Sickles predicament, and recognized the inadequacies along the southern sector of Cemetery Ridge near Little Round Top, he would not authorize the insistent Knickerbocker to advance. He “suggested that Sickles talk further with headquarters, and he now advised Meade to examine the position for himself.” [11] Hunt then left Sickles in order to check on his other artillery dispositions along Cemetery Ridge.

Sickles, who lived with the vision of being ordered off of Hazel Grove by Hooker at Chancellorsville and who had seen what had happened to Howard’s Eleventh Corps when it had its flank rolled up by Jackson, now felt that history was about to repeat itself. Though his requests to Meade and Hunt had been met with a “no,” and while Hunt’s answer might have been more ambiguous, but the answer was still no, unless Meade changed his mind. That did not happen. Hunt made his report to Meade and told Meade that “the proposed line [by Sickles] was a good one in itself; that it offered favorable positions for artillery, but that its relations to other lines were such that I could not advise it, and suggested that he examine it himself before ordering occupation.” [12]

With Hunt gone, and Sickles having heard what he wanted to hear from Meade and the artillery chief, Sickles acted on his own. Sickles was determined not to be victimized a second time by Robert E. Lee and “he was not going to let his men suffer the fate of the Eleventh Corps.” [13] As he continued to get reports from Berdan’s skirmishers of the Confederate build up just to the west of the Peach Orchard, he “took it to mean that the Peach Orchard line that he coveted was about to be occupied by the enemy. At 2:00 P.M., without authorization from Meade, without even informing Meade, he ordered Third Corps forward.” [14]

It was an act of brazen insubordination, but typical of him, and while historians still debate what Sickles did, his action was not entirely without justification. Some of this is directly attributed to George Meade, whose apparent lack of empathy for Sickles’ plight as the commander on the scene, and for “the situation on his front, and so Sickles had taken the bit in his teeth and abandoned the position ordered by General Meade for one that he believed better. He defended his decision and action afterward – aggressively, if not always credibly and honorably – until his dying day, half a century later.” [15] Sickles later wrote: “Impossible to wait any longer without giving the enemy serious advantages in his attack, I advanced my line toward the highest ground to my front, occupying the Emmitsburg Road at the very point where Longstreet hoped to cross it unopposed.” [16] But Sickles, while he certainly believed that he was making the correct move, did not see the second, third, and fourth order effects of his decision on the Union defensive plan. Admittedly, had Meade paid more attention to Sickles’ pleas earlier in the day and not been consumed with concern for the Federal right, the situation might not have come to this. But like in any real world situation the clash between Sickles and Meade was not simply a matter of a disagreement in tactics, but of a profound distrust for one another. Meade, the professional, had little regard for and loathed Sickles the political general, while Sickles, ever the politician, believed that Meade was doing what he could to set him up for failure, and “that Meade had deliberately left him alone in the path of a Confederate landslide, with no cavalry screen and no supports within easy distance.” [17] Some of Sickles’ officers in Third Corps saw the situation in a similar manner. Lieutenant Colonel Rafferty “argued that no attention was paid to Sickles’ concerns and “General Sickles has one sterling quality of a good soldier, – he was equal to an emergency; and left as he was now to the exercise of his own judgement, he was prompt to act.” [18]

About mid-afternoon Sickles advanced Third Corps forward in a “mile long line of battle with waving flags and rumbling batteries rolling west into the afternoon sunlight.” [19] It was a magnificent sight that was inspiring to watch, and perplexing to other commanders Frank Haskell, wrote, “It was magnificent to see those ten or twelve thousand men – the were good men- with their batteries and some squadrons of cavalry upon the left flank, all in battle order in several lines with flags streaming, sweep steadily down the slope, across the valley, and up the next ascent towards their destined position! From our position we could see it all.” [20] Others were equally impressed with the sight that they beheld.

“The eye beheld” wrote an officer of Carr’s brigade, “battery and brigade extended from point to point,” full of “moving columns and gay banners.” It was “a grand sight to witness this little corps of two divisions gallantly move on the advance,” and despite what was taking place on what was after all a battlefield, it all “appeared to be a peaceful review….” [21]

Another wrote, “The sun shone brilliantly on their waving colors, and flashed in scintillating rays from their burnished arms, as with well aligned ranks and even steps they moved proudly across the field. Away to the right, along cemetery Ridge, the soldiers of the Second Corps, leaving their coffee and their cards, where they gazed with soldierly pride and quickened pulse on the stirring scene.” [22] As the troops advanced “the fifteen-piece brass band of the 114th Pennsylvania (Collis’ Zouaves) thumped away to mark the time.” [23] Chaplain Joseph Twitchell who had been with the Excelsior Brigade from the beginning wrote, “with a firm step with colors flying the bravest men in the army marched in the open field. It was a splendid sight.” [24] The sight inspired the men, and it was remember by witnesses long after other memories had faded into time.

Sickles advance confused John Gibbon, who watched in amazement from his vantage point on Cemetery Ridge “commanding Hancock’s Second Division on Cemetery Ridge, looked out in amazement and wondered if a general order to advance upon the enemy had somehow missed him.” [25] Gibbon’s Corps commander Winfield Scott Hancock saw it too and wrote: “I recollect looking on and admiring the spectacle, but I did not know the object of it.” He “quietly” remarked to his staff, “Gentlemen, that is a splendid advance” and “beautiful to look at.” But he could not imagine that Meade had sanction this parade, and he predicted that “those troops will be coming back again very soon.” [26]

The movement to the Peach Orchard placed the Third Corps nearly a mile in front of his previous position, and opened up a significant gap between his corps and Hancock’s Second Corps. Sickles was now attempting to hold a new line that was nearly twice as long as the position that Meade had designated. By advancing Sickles had “put his corps out of alignment with the rest of the army and exposed his flanks.” [27] The line Meade had prosed was essentially a straight line, only about 1,600 yards long with its left flank anchored on Little Round Top and its right tied in to the line of Second Corps on Cemetery Ridge. It was a manageable front for a small corps of less than 11,000 soldiers. The new front which Sickles occupied was some 2,700 yards long and he did not have enough men to fill it out, or extend it to Little Round Top. Instead he had to anchor his left flank on Devil’s Den, some 500 yards to the front of Little Round Top. Sickles “wanted to hold the road and the peach-orchard hill and to bend the rest of the line back to the Round Tops, and he did not have enough men for it.” [28] The line Sickles created formed a salient, which protruded toward the Confederate line, and it “would be dangerously exposed to attack from two directions – the west and the south simultaneously.” [29] Humphrey’s Second Division aligned itself on the Emmitsburg road facing west and northwest, while “Birney’s division crammed the little orchard with men and guns and extended its line back to the southeast.” [30]

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 Birney ran out of troops. Birney had barley 5,000 soldiers to hold the ground assigned, which stretching in an irregular pattern from the east side of the Peach Orchard, down the Stoney Hill, to Houck’s Ridge and Devil’s Den, “Charles Graham’s brigade on the right, at the Orchard, Regis de Trobriand’s in the center, and Hobart Ward’s on the right…. At the literal end of the line – the extreme left of the Army of the Potomac – was Captain James E. Smith’s New York 5th Independent Battery, posted on Houck’s Ridge overlooking devil’s Den.” [31] The position on the ridge was so tight that Smith could only deploy four of his six guns on it and was forced to place the other two in the Plum Run Valley, later known as the “Valley of Death,” between Devil’s Den and Little Round Top. Despite his good intentions, 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.[32]

While Sickles was deploying his Corps, George Meade called for a conference of his corps commanders at the Leister House. Unable to see Sickles movement as his headquarters was behind and below the crest of Cemetery Ridge, Meade was consulting with various staff members and sending messages to Washington regarding his plans. As such Meade was one of the last to find out about Sickles’ advance.

When John Sedgwick’s Sixth Corps arrived Meade sent a message to Halleck informing him “The Sixth Corps is just coming in, very much worn out. I have…awaited the attack of the enemy, I having a strong position for the defensive…. He has been moving on both my flanks apparently. Expecting battle, I have ordered my trains to the rear.” [33] With Sedgwick now on the field, Meade called for a meeting of his corps commanders, sending a circular to each. Sickles received his copy and asked “to be excused, stating that the enemy was in great force on his front and preparing to attack.” [34] Meade refused to let Sickles off the hook and ordered his recalcitrant general to report to the Leister house.

Before Sickles arrived, Gouverneur Warren told Meade that Sickles’ corps was not in position, and the army commander’s volcanic tempter erupted just as Sickles rode up. An engineering officer at the headquarters wrote, “I never saw General Meade so angry if I may call it.” When Meade saw Sickles he ordered him to “retire his line to the position he had been instructed to take.” [35] Meade told Sickles to get back to Third Corps immediately, Sickles recalled that “General Meade met me just outside the headquarters and excused me from dismounting”…. He said that I should return at once and that he would follow soon.” [36] Meade soon followed after he instructed General Sykes of Fifth Corps to shift it “from its reserve position toward the left with all speed, “and hold it at all hazards.” [37] Riding with Warren, the two men saw the empty positions on Cemetery Ridge where Third Corps should have been and saw where Sickles had placed them in front of the line. Warren, most familiar with the section of the line, noted that Third Corps “was very badly disposed on that part of the field,” [38] commented to Meade, “Here is where our line should be,” and “Meade replied grimly, “it is too late now.” [39] Meade later explained, that he was, “wholly unprepared to find it [Sickles’ corps] advanced beyond the line of Second Corps. It’s lines were over a mile and a half out to the front, to the Emmitsburg Road, entirely disconnected with the rest of the army, and beyond supporting distance.” [40]

Meade had been surprised by his subordinate’s unauthorized move, and his “staff served him poorly with respect to the Third corps activities,” [41] the at times crotchety Pennsylvanian did not lose his composure. While Meade went forward to meet Sickles, he sent Warren to check what was happening at Little Round Top and authorized Warren to attend to it and would help save the exposed left flank of the army when he discovered that Little Round Top was undefended.

About the time that Meade arrived at the Peach Orchard, Sickles corps was about to be hit by the full fury and power of Hood’s and McLaws’ divisions of Longstreet’s First Corps. The Confederate infantry was supported by Porter Alexander who had situated 46 well placed artillery pieces in a perfect position to open fire on Birney and Humphrey’s Third Corps divisions in the Peach Orchard Salient. [42]

When he confronted Sickles in the Peach Orchard, George Meade was visibly perturbed. Looking at Sickles’ dispositions, Meade informed the New Yorker, “General I am afraid that you are too far out” [43] as he attempted to control his temper. Sickles disagreed and said that “if supported, the line could be held; and in my judgement it was the best one.” [44] 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…” [45] 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.” [46]

Sickles now offered to withdraw, and reportedly told Meade, “General, I have received no orders. I have made these dispositions to the best of my judgement. Of course I shall be happy to modify them according to your views.” [47] 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,” said Meade, “but the enemy won’t let you.” [48] Another account states that Meade told Sickles “You cannot hold this position but the enemy will not let you get away without a fight, & it may begin at any time now.” [49] Meade later wrote about the encounter, “Having found Major-General Sickles, I was explaining to him that he was too far in advance, and discussing with him the propriety of withdrawing, when the enemy opened fire on him with several batteries in his front and on his flank, and immediately brought forward columns of infantry and made a most vigorous assault.” [50] For Sickles and Meade their exchange in the Peach Orchard on the afternoon of July 2nd 1863 would develop into an acrimonious lifelong feud, with both men and their supporters bending the truth, and sometimes repeating outright lies to defend their actions before Congress, and in the press.

Since John Sedgwick’s powerful Sixth Corps had just arrived Meade ordered it into reserve to replace Sykes’ Fifth Corps which he had ordered, along with division of Winfield Scott Hancock’s Second Corps to support Sickles’ Third Corps around the Peach Orchard and Wheat Field. Meade told Sickles, “I will send you the Firth Corps, and you may send for support from the Second Corps.” [51] Meade, acting decisively then told Sickles “if you need more artillery call on the reserve!” [52] Henry Hunt heard the conversation and immediately went to work to get as many guns as possible up to support Sickles. It was an action that very likely saved the day, example of Meade taking control of a bad situation, albeit one that he might have prevented by paying more attention to Sickles, but, even so, preventing it from becoming even worse. General Tyler, commander of the Artillery Reserve, “had already sent up the first two batteries Hunt had ordered; now, on his own initiative, the Reserve commander dispatched McGilvery’s First Volunteer Brigade to the scene; Hunt met it on the road and was extremely relieved by its presence.” [53] The guns that Hunt and Tyler had rushed to the front were about to be put to good use in the impending fight.

To be continued…


[1] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg a Testing of Courage p.294

[2] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg The Last Invasion p.246

[3] Longacre, Edward G. The Man Behind the Guns: A Military Biography of General Henry J. Hunt, Chief of Artillery, Army of the Potomac Da Capo Press, Perseus Book Group, Cambridge MA 2003 p.163

[4] Ibid. Pfanz The Second Day at Gettysburg p.90

[5] Ibid. Cleaves Meade of Gettysburg p.145

[6] Ibid. Pfanz The Second Day at Gettysburg p.93

[7] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg The Last Invasion p.247

[8] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.250

[9] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg The Last Invasion p.247

[10] Ibid. Longacre The Man Behind the Guns p.162

[11] Ibid. Cleaves Meade of Gettysburg p.146

[12] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.120

[13] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign a Study in Command p.45

[14] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.252

[15] Ibid. Pfanz The Second Day at Gettysburg p.103

[16] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.279

[17] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg The Last Invasion p.246

[18] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.132

[19] Ibid. Catton Glory Road p.288

[20] Oates, William C. and Haskell, Frank A. Gettysburg: The Confederate and Union Views of the Most Decisive Battle of the War in One Volume Bantam Books edition, New York 1992, originally published in 1905 p.168

[21] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg The Last Invasion pp.250-251

[22] Ibid. Pfanz The Second Day at Gettysburg p.145

[23] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg The Last Invasion p.250

[24] Ibid. Pfanz The Second Day at Gettysburg p.145

[25] Ibid. Catton Glory Road p.288

[26] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg The Last Invasion p.251

[27] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign a Study in Command p.355

[28] Ibid. Catton Glory Road p.288

[29] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.117

[30] Ibid. Catton Glory Road p.288

[31] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.265

[32] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative: Fredericksburg to Meridian p.496

[33] Ibid. Cleaves Meade of Gettysburg p.147

[34] Ibid. Pfanz The Second Day at Gettysburg p.139

[35] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.263

[36] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.319

[37] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.263

[38] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is not My Companion p.90

[39] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.320

[40] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.146

[41] Ibid. Pfanz The Second Day at Gettysburg p.141

[42] Ibid. Catton Glory Road p.289

[43] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative: Fredericksburg to Meridian p.496

[44] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.325

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

[46] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.263

[47] Ibid. Pfanz The Second Day at Gettysburg p.143

[48] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.263

[49] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.326

[50] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg pp.146-148

[51] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg The Last Invasion p.252

[52] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative: Fredericksburg to Meridian p.497

[53] Ibid. Longacre The Man Behind the Guns pp.163-164

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July 2nd at Gettysburg: Part 1, Preparations

The Enemy is There

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

For those that have followed my writing for some time you know that I teach military history and ethics at the Joint Forces Staff College. One of the great joys that I have is leading the Gettysburg Staff Ride, which is an optional event for students that want to participate. When I took the position here I took some of my older writings on Gettysburg and put them into a student study guide and text. That was two years ago. Then the text was about 70 pages long. It is now about 925 pages long and eventually I hope to get it published. When and if that happens I expect it to become two, and possibly three books.

This is the first of a series of articles that I will be posting potions of a chapter that I have rewritten about the critical battles on the south side of the battlefield on July 2nd 1863, the battle for Devil’s Den, the Wheatfield, the Peach Orchard, and the final repulse on Cemetery Ridge.

As you read this don’t just look at the events, but look at the people, and their reaction to the what they encountered on the battlefield, for that understanding of people is where we come to understand history.

So even if you are not a Civil War buff, or even a history buff, take the time to look at the people, their actions, and the things that made them who they were, and influenced what they did. History is about people.

So please enjoy,


Padre Steve+


On July 2nd 1863 as on the first day of battle and throughout the Gettysburg campaign issues of command and control would be of paramount importance to both armies. 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. Likewise 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.

The definition of mission command as currently defined in American doctrine helps us in some ways to understand what happened on July 2nd 1863. Without imposing current doctrine on the leaders at Gettysburg, the definition describes the timeless aspect of leadership in battle and the importance of the human dynamic in war.

“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.” [1]

It is with this in mind that we look at the actions of various commanders during the critical second day of the battle of Gettysburg, and as we do so we also try to examine their lives and in a sense try to bring them to life. It is important because the actions of a number of commanders, including Robert E. Lee, George Meade, James Longstreet, Dan Sickles, and to a lesser degree A.P. Hill would be the subject of a great amount of controversy and partisan bickering that still lingers a century and a half later.

Confederate Consternation

Before the sun rose on July 2nd James Longstreet took stock of the situation. The burly commander of First Corps was now working to bring the divisions of McLaws and Hood from their bivouac sites west of Herr’s Ridge and onto the battlefield. While his divisions moved out, Longstreet met with Lee to again express his opposition to taking the offensive. He again brought up the subject of making a “broad turning movement around the enemy’s left flank that would place the Confederate army between the Federal capital and George Meade’s army.” [2] As he did the previous night, Lee again rebuffed Longstreet’s suggestion and apparently frustrated by Longstreet’s continued resistance to his decision Lee “walked off by himself, away from the conflict.” [3] Lee then left Longstreet and went to confer with Dick Ewell to discuss the possibility of attacking the Federal right, and he sent his staff topographical engineer, Captain Samuel Johnson to reconnoiter the Federal left.

At this point Lee had not yet decided where to attack. Again he conferred with Ewell about the possibility of attacking the Federal right, but Ewell again dissuaded him from doing so. Ewell insisted that a “daylight attack on Culp’s Hill or Cemetery Hill would be costly and of doubtful success.” [4] For a second time Lee brought up the possibility of Ewell redeploying his corps from its positions around the “fishhook” of the Federal line to the west where they could better support an assault on the Federal left, but as he had the previous night “Ewell persuaded the general commanding to leave his corps where it was.” [5] In doing so Ewell promised to create a demonstration on the Federal right when he heard Longstreet’s attack commence. But, “according to Fitzhugh Lee, He decided to turn Meade’s left with Longstreet’s corps, demonstrate against his centre and right with Hill’s and Ewell’s corps, and then convert this demonstration into a real attack directly Longstreet’s attack succeeded.” [6] Ewell’s corps was to be the “anvil against which Longstreet would smash whatever was left of the 1st and 11th Corps, or any other Union reinforcements might have arrived overnight.” [7] However, the position of Second Corps around the fishhook was a poor position. “It greatly extended the army’s lines, and confronted the most defensible part of the Federal lines.” [8] Likewise, the position offered little advantage for Ewell’s artillery.

By the time Lee returned to his headquarters the divisions of Hood and McLaws, with the exception of Law’s brigade of Hood’s division, “which had been “left by Hood on picket” below the pike stretching back to Chambersburg, and was far behind the others” [9] were marching onto the field and halted just west of Seminary Ridge while the Confederate leaders conferred. But Longstreet was also troubled by the absence of George Pickett’s division of Virginians, which due to the lack of cavalry had been left at Chambersburg to guard the Confederate supply trains and would not be available for action until late in the evening.

Captain Johnson returned to the headquarters following his reconnaissance of the Federal left. He reported that the Federal left was weakly held and that there were no Federal troops on the Round Tops. But Johnson’s reconnaissance was not nearly as thorough or accurate as he reported. Johnson made “no detailed sketches of the hazardously rough ground at the southern end of the Federal line” and gave “an inadequate picture of the obstacles to mass troop movement.”[10] Despite getting up to the Round Tops he did not observe the large number of Union troops from Sickles’ Third Corps in the woods to the north and northwest of Little Round Top. The latter omission appears to be more to bad timing, lack of attention, Johnson’s lack of familiarity with the terrain and lack of experience in conducting a reconnaissance that should have been undertaken by cavalry scouts.

Johnson arrived with his report as Lee was conferring with Hill and Longstreet. He traced his route on the map. Johnson’s replies to Lee’s questions satisfied Lee that the Federal left was again up in the air and unprotected as it had been at Chancellorsville. However, this was not the case. First, had Johnson taken the route that he described he “would have come upon the encampments of the Third Corps, located north and west of Little Round Top. He would have also encountered trouble from John Buford’s cavalry vedettes, some of whom were posted about Sherfy’s peach orchard.” [11] Johnson claimed to have gotten up to Little Round Top, and if he did the only way he could not have seen Federal troops was if he had gotten there “just after the guarding troops of the night had been withdrawn and just before their replacements had arrived.” [12] Even if that was the case it would have been hard for Johnson to miss the Third Corps troop bivouacs. The Federals might have been obscured from the Captain’s view by the morning mist, but “Johnson should have detected the noise of men and animals, drums and bugles.” [13] A more likely scenario is that the inexperienced Johnson went further south and scaled Big Round Top from which his report of seeing no troops would have been completely accurate, but the inaccuracies of Johnson’s report were to cause serious complications and consequences for Lee’s plan.

Johnson’s report convinced Lee of the soundness of his plan to roll up the Federal left. He again conferred with Longstreet and announced his intention to attack Meade’s left flank with Hood and McLaws divisions. Lee went directly to McLaws and described his plan. He desired McLaws division to move south to a position perpendicular to the Emmitsburg Road south of the Peach Orchard. McLaws said it was possible but wanted to make a personal reconnaissance and Longstreet objected to the position that Lee indicated for McLaws division. Longstreet said “No, sir, I do not want wish for you to leave your division,” and tracing with his finger a line perpendicular to that drawn on the map, said, “I wish your division placed so.” “No, General,” Lee objected, “I wish it placed just so.” [14] Lee’s statement ended the conversation and after another consult with Ewell, Lee returned to lay out his plan. As he left for his division McLaws recalled that “General Longstreet appeared if he was irritated and annoyed,… but the cause I did not ask.” [15]

The divisions of Hood and McLaws were still about a mile and a half to the rear of the Confederate line. As soon as those divisions were in position they would march south while attempting to remain unseen by Federal troops on the high ground to the east, and then wheel left and come up the Emmitsburg Road into what Lee believed was the rear of the Federal position. After his brief consultation with Ewell regarding the security of his left flank, Lee returned to check the progress of Longstreet. Longstreet had not been completely inactive. He had already sent out his artillery led by Porter Alexander to find a suitable position to support the impending attack, but he did not make any further consultations with Hood of McLaws, nor send any officers to make a further reconnaissance until receiving definitive orders from Lee to launch the attack. For some reason, perhaps his misunderstanding with Lee concerning the nature of the campaign, or Lee’s rejection of his course of action, Longstreet did not demonstrate his usual energy and the careful preparation that he showed in previous actions. His biographer, Jeffry Wert noted “He allowed his disagreement with Lee to affect his conduct….The concern for detail, the regard for timely information, and the need for preparation were absent. Or, as Moxley Sorrell admitted, “there was apparent apathy in his movements. They lacked the fire and point of his usual bearing on the battlefield.” [16]

Like all movements to contact made by large armies was fraught with logistical complications and irritating, yet unavoidable delays in moving large numbers of troops over unfamiliar terrain. Even if Longstreet had acted with greater alacrity, and if the Confederates at all levels had been more efficient managers, “it would take several hours for to march them a distance of four miles or more to the place where they would be deployed for battle.” [17] Lee desired for McLaws division to lead the assault. However, McLaws division was trailing Hood’s troops on the Chambersburg Pike west of town, and would have to pass around Hood’s division to take up its position in the Confederate van. Another delay occurred when Longstreet requested additional time for Law’s brigade of Hood’s division, marching up from Guilford to rejoin Hood before he began his movement. Lee acquiesced to Longstreet and Law’s men reached Hood about an hour later.

Lee’s plan required that Anderson’s division of Hill’s Corps would have to move first to take up a supporting position along Seminary Ridge so it could launch a supporting attack as Longstreet’s corps advanced up the Emmitsburg Road. However, elements of Anderson’s division had become embroiled in a firefight at the Bliss farm which delayed his movement to reach his start position for the attack. But in addition to this, lee complicated matters by not removing Anderson from Hill’s command and giving Longstreet operational control. Instead Lee, possibly to avoid hurting the “sensitive Hill by removing a division that had not yet fought with his corps, and yet allow Longstreet to call on Anderson without going through Hill, Lee instructed Anderson “to cooperate…in Longstreet’s attack.” [18] It was another example of Lee’s vague orders which plagued the campaign, as one historian observed, “This order was the vaguest he ever gave. He did not specify whether Anderson was to act under the orders of Longstreet, or of Hill. His new corps commander, or Lee’s own. He seemed to be reverting to the loose structure of his early days in command.” [19]

But even more importantly it was an offensive that required “careful coordination and expert timing. If his plan was sound, which is debatable, there was still the question of whether the army was equal to the task.” [20]

As the various Confederate commands struggled to get in position to attack, without being observed, the Army of the Potomac readied itself for action. After the near disaster of July 1st, the army had recovered its “operational balance, setting in place the systems necessary for command and control.” [21] Meade and his subordinates had chosen a strong position from which they could maximize their strengths, and in addition to this they ensured that each corps had established headquarters and reported their position to the army staff. Wireless was set up to allow Meade to communicate directly to Washington, while the army’s Signal Corps detachments set up observation points on every bit of high ground under Federal control, including Little Round Top, which allowed them communicate with Meade’s headquarters by semaphore. Meanwhile, Henry Hunt had brought up the reserve artillery and began refitting damaged guns while supervising the emplacement of newly arrived batteries along the Federal line. Even more importantly, unlike Lee whose exterior lines refusal to use semaphore created undue delays in communications, Meade’s little headquarters at the Leister house was “almost up to the line of battle and little time would be wasted in the transmittal of orders.” [22]


Meade’s Defensive Preparation

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 and east, the Twelfth Corps under the command of Major General Henry Slocum held Culp’s Hill and protected the Federal right. His troops began fortifying the already formidable position as soon as they arrived on the night of July 1st and continued to strengthen their positions throughout the day.


The battered remnants of the First and Eleventh Corps held Cemetery Hill where they had made their final stand on the night of July 1st. Oliver Howard retained command of Eleventh Corps, while Meade returned Doubleday to command of his division and brought John Newton from Sixth Corps to command the remnants of the battered First Corps. Winfield Scott Hancock’s crack Second Corps extended the line down southward down Cemetery Ridge. To Second Corps right was Dan Sickles’ Third Corps. George Sykes Fifth Corps was in reserve just to the north and east of Little Round Top, while John Sedgwick’s massive Sixth Corps was still enroute, marching up the Baltimore Pike. “The convex character of the Union line facilitated the rapid movement of troops to reinforce any threatened section.” [23] Unlike Lee’s troops who had to make long marches to support each other, the Union men “never had to march more than two and half miles, usually less.” [24]This would provide Meade with a vital advantage during the viscous battle that was to ensue on July 2nd and as the ever observant Porter Alexander noted, “Communication between our flanks was very long – roundabout & slow while the enemy were practically all in one convenient sized bunch. Reinforcements from their extreme right marched across in ample time to repulse our attack on their extreme left. But Ewell’s men could hardly have come to our help in half a day – & only under view & fire.” [25]

The Army of the Potomac now occupied a solid and well laid out position which commanded the battlefield. Meade and Warren were worried that Lee might attempt to turn them out of their position by moving south, as Longstreet was begging Lee to do, but in reality there was little threat. Even so, 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.” [26]

There was one notable problem, the commander of the Third Corps, Major General Dan Sickles did not like the position assigned to his corps on the south end of Cemetery Ridge.

To be continued…


[1] __________ Mission Command White Paper and JP 3-31

[2] Wert, Jeffry D. General James Longstreet The Confederacy’s Most Controversial Soldier, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster, New York and London 1993 pp. 260-261

[3] Thomas, Emory Robert E. Lee W.W. Norton and Company, New York and London 1995 p.297

[4] Pfanz, Donald. Richard S. Ewell: A Soldier’s Life University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London 1998 p.315

[5] Sears, Stephen Gettysburg Houghton Mifflin Company Boston and New York 2004 p.256

[6] Fuller, J.F.C. Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship, Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN 1957 p.197

[7] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.236

[8] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.256

[9] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg The Last Invasion p.237

[10] 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.186

[11] Trudeau, Noah Andre Gettysburg a Testing of Courage Perennial Books, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.289

[12] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.186

[13] Ibid. Wert General James Longstreet p.262

[14] Pfanz, Harry W. Gettysburg the Second Day University of North Carolina Press, Charlotte and London, 1987 p.110

[15] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg a Testing of Courage p.290

[16] Ibid. Wert General James Longstreet p.268

[17] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign a Study in Command A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster, New York 1968 p.376

[18] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.193

[19] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.193

[20] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.384

[21] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg a Testing of Courage p.292

[22] Cleaves, Freeman Meade of Gettysburg University of Oklahoma Press, Norman and London 1960 p.142

[23] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign a Study in Command p.332

[24] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign a Study in Command p.332

[25] Alexander, Edward Porter. Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander edited by Gary Gallagher University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1989 p242

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

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Filed under civil war, Gettysburg, History, Loose thoughts and musings, Military

The Slow Integration of Major League Baseball

Jackie Robinson Shaking Branch Rickey's Hand

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Back in 1947 Branch Rickey told Jackie Robinson, “Jackie, we’ve got no army. There’s virtually nobody on our side. No owners, no umpires, very few newspapermen. And I’m afraid that many fans will be hostile. We’ll be in a tough position. We can win only if we can convince the world that I’m doing this because you’re a great ballplayer, a fine gentleman.”

My friends, last week pitchers and catchers reported to their teams for the 2016 Baseball Spring Training, and it is time to reflect again on how Branch Rickey’s signing of Jackie Robinson helped advance the Civil Rights of Blacks in the United States. What Rickey did was a watershed, and though it took time for every team in the Major Leagues to integrate, the last being the Boston Red Sox in 1959, a dozen years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier.

Branch Rickey shook the foundations of America when he signed Jackie Robinson to a Major League deal in 1947, a year before President Truman desegregated the military and years before Jim Crow laws were overturned in many states.

Robinson and the early pioneers of the game did a service to the nation. They helped many white Americans see that Blacks were not only their equals as human beings, and as it was note about Ernie Banks and others that soon “little white boys wanted to grow up and be Ernie Banks.” 


Charles Thomas

But for Rickey the crusade to integrate baseball began long before 1947. In 1903, Rickey, then a coach for the Ohio Wesleyan University baseball team had to console his star player, Charles Thomas when a hotel in South Bend Indiana refused him a room because he was black. Rickey found Thomas sobbing rubbing his hands together and repeating “Black skin. Black skin. If only I could make them white.” Rickey attempted to console his friend saying “Come on, Tommy, snap out of it, buck up! We’ll lick this one day, but we can’t if you feel sorry for yourself.”

Thomas, encouraged by Rickey was remembered by one alumnus who saw a game that Thomas played in noted that “the only unpleasant feature of the game was the coarse slurs cast at Mr. Thomas, the catcher.” However, the writer noted something else about Thomas that caught his eye: “But through it all, he showed himself far more the gentleman than his insolent tormentors though their skin is white.”

Baseball like most of America was not a place for the Black man. Rickey, a devout Christian later remarked “I vowed that I would always do whatever I could to see that other Americans did not have to face the bitter humiliation that was heaped upon Charles Thomas.”

In April 1947 Rickey, now the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers had one African-American ballplayer at the Dodgers’ Spring Training site in Daytona Beach Florida. The South was still a hotbed of racial prejudice, Jim Crow was the law of the land and Blacks had no place in White Man’s baseball. That player was Jackie Robinson.

The Dodgers had been coming to Florida for years. Rickey moved the Dodgers from Jacksonville to Daytona Beach in 1947 after Jacksonville had refused to alter its segregation laws to allow an exhibition game between the Dodgers International League affiliate the Montreal Royals, for whom Robinson starred.

That was the year that Rickey signed Robinson to a minor league contract with the Royals.  When Rickey called up Robinson 6 days prior to the 1947 season, it was  Robinson broke the color barrier for the Dodgers and Major League Baseball. However it would take another 12 years before all Major League teams had a black player on their roster.


It is hard to imagine now that even after Jackie Robinson had broken the color barrier that other teams did not immediately sign black players. However Rickey and Robinson broke the color barrier a year before Harry Truman had integrated the Armed Forces and seven years before the Supreme Court ruled the segregation of public schools illegal. But how could that be a surprise? The country was still rampant with unbridled racism. Outside of a few Blacks in the military and baseball most African Americans had few rights. In the North racism regulated most blacks to ghettos, while in the South, Jim Crow laws and public lynching of progressive or outspoken Blacks.

But Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey helped bring about change, and soon other teams were following suit.


Roy Campenella

The Cleveland Indians under their legendary owner Bill Veeck were not far behind the Dodgers in integrating their team. They signed Larry Doby on July 5th 1947. Doby would go on to the Hall of Fame and was a key player on the 1948 Indian team which won the 1948 World Series, the last that the storied franchise has won to this date.

The St. Louis Browns signed Third Baseman Hank Thompson 12 days after the Indians signed Doby. But Thompson, Robinson and Doby would be the only Blacks to play in that inaugural season of integration. They would be joined by others in 1948 including the immortal catcher Roy Campanella who signed with the Dodgers and the venerable Negro League pitcher, Satchel Paige who was signed by the Indians.


Willie Mays and Monte Ervin


It was not until 1949 when the New York Giants became the next team to integrate. They brought up Monte Irvin and Hank Thompson who they had acquired from the Browns. In 1951 these men would be joined by a young, rookie Willie Mays to become the first all African-American outfield in the Major Leagues. Both Mays and Irvin would enter the Hall of Fame and both are still a key part of the Giants’ story. Despite their age have continued to be active in with the Giants and Major League Baseball.

The Boston Braves were the next to desegregate calling up Samuel “the Jet” Jethroe to play Center Field. Jethroe was named the National League Rookie of the Year in 1950. In 1951 the Chicago White Sox signed Cuban born Minnie Minoso who had played for Cleveland in 1949 and 1951 before signing with the White Sox. Minoso would be elected to 9 All-Star teams and win 3 Golden Gloves awards during his illustrious career.


Ernie Banks

The Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Athletics integrated at the end of the 1953 season. The Cubs signed Shortstop Ernie Banks who would go on to be a 14 time All-Star, 2 time National League MVP and be elected to the Hall of Fame in 1977 on the first ballot and sadly he died a year ago. The Athletics called up pitcher Bob Trice from their Ottawa Farm team where he had won 21 games. Trice only pitched in 27 Major League games over the course of three seasons with the Athletics.

Four teams integrated in 1954. The Pittsburgh Pirates acquired Second Baseman Curt Roberts from Denver of the Western League as part of a minor league deal. He would play 171 games in the Majors.  He was sent to the Columbus Jets of the International League in 1956 and though he played in both the Athletics and Yankees farm systems but never again reached the Majors. The St. Louis Cardinals, the team that had threatened to not play against the Dodgers and Jackie Robinson in 1947 traded for First Baseman Tom Alston of the Pacific Coast League San Diego Padres. Alston would only play in 91 Major League games with his career hindered by bouts with depression and anxiety. The Cincinnati Reds brought up Puerto Rican born First Baseman Nino Escalera and Third Baseman Chuck Harmon. Harmon had played in the Negro Leagues and had been a Professional Basketball player in the American Basketball League. Harmon who was almost 30 when called up played just 4 years in the Majors. Both he and Escalera would go on to be Major League scouts. Escalera is considered one of the best First Baseman from Puerto Rico and was elected to the Puerto Rican Baseball Hall of Fame. Harmon’s first game was recognized by the Reds in 2004 and a plaque hangs in his honor. The Washington Senators called up Cuban born Center Fielder Carlos Paula from their Charlotte Hornets’ farm team in September 1954. Paula played through the 1956 season with the Senators and his contract was sold to the Sacramento Salons of the Pacific Coast League. He hit .271 in 157 plate appearances with 9 home runs and 60 RBIs. He died at the age of 55 in Miami.


Elston Howard

In April 1955 the New York Yankees finally integrated 8 years after the Dodgers and 6 years after the Giants. They signed Catcher/Left Fielder Elston Howard from their International League affiliate where he had been the League MVP in 1954. Howard would play 13 years in the Majors with the Yankees and later the Red Sox retiring in 1968. He would be a 12-time All Star and 6-time World Series Champion as a player and later as a coach for the Yankees. He died of heart disease in 1980.  His number 32 was retired by the Yankees in 1984.

The Philadelphia Phillies purchased the contract of Shortstop John Kennedy from the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League at the end of the 1956 season. Kennedy played in just 5 games in April and May of 1957.

In 1958 the Detroit Tigers obtained Dominican born Utility Player Ozzie Virgil Sr. who had played with the Giants in 1955 and 1956. Virgil would play 9 seasons in the Majors with the Giants, Tigers, Athletics and Pirates and retire from the Giants in 1969. He later coached for 19 years in the Majors with the Giants, Expos, Padres and Mariners.

The last team to integrate was the Boston Red Sox who signed Infielder Pumpsie Green. Green made his debut on 21 July 1959 during his three years with the Red Sox was primarily used as a pinch runner. He played his final season with the New York Mets in 1963. He was honored by the Red Sox in 2009 on the 50th anniversary of breaking the Red Sox color barrier.


It took 12 years for all the teams of the Major Leagues to integrate, part of the long struggle of African Americans to achieve equality not just in baseball but in all areas of public life.  These men, few in number paved the way for African Americans in baseball and were part of the inspiration of the Civil Rights Movement itself.  They should be remembered by baseball fans, and all Americans everywhere for their sacrifices and sheer determination to overcome the obstacles and hatreds that they faced. It would not be until August of 1963 that Martin Luther King Jr. would give his I Have a Dream speech and 1964 that African Americans received equal voting rights.

Spring training for the 2016 season is about to begin in Florida and Arizona, in what are called the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues. It is hard to believe that only 68 years ago that only one team and one owner dared to break the color barrier that was, then, and often today is still a part of American life.

However in those 69 years despite opposition and lingering prejudice African Americans in baseball led the way in the Civil Rights Movement and are in large part responsible for many of the breakthroughs in race relations and the advancement of not only African Americans, but so many others.

We can thank men like Charles Thomas, Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey for this and pray that we who remain, Black and White, Asian, and Latin American, as well as all others who make up our great nation will never relinquish the gains that have been won at such a great cost.

Today we have a Black President who has the same kind of racial epitaphs thrown at him every day by whites who as they did to Charles Thomas, Jackie Robinson and so many other pioneers, Frankly such behavior can only be called what is it, unrepentant, unabashed, and evil racism. The fact is that such people don’t think that any Black man should hold such high an office, just as they did not think that Blacks should be allowed to play integrated baseball. It is anathema to them, and that is why their unabashed hatred for Obama runs so deep. They may disagree with his policies, but I guarantee if Obama was white, their opposition to him would be far more civil and respectful. But because he is half-black, and has a funny name they hate him with a passion, a passion that scares me, because words and hateful beliefs can easily become actions.

Racism still exists, but one day thanks to the efforts of the early ball-players as well as pioneers like President Obama, and the undying commitment of decent Americans to accept people regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, or even sexual orientation, we will see a new birth of freedom.


Padre Steve+

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Atticus v. Antonin: Farewell Harper Lee


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Last week we lost a number of people who made a real difference. One of them never held elective office, and she remained a part and parcel of the town that she was born and raised in, that was Harper Lee, the author of the classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird.

In that book she wrote these words:

“We know all men are not created equal in the sense some people would have us believe- some people are smarter than others, some people have more opportunity because they’re born with it, some men make more money than others, some ladies make better cakes than others- some people are born gifted beyond the normal scope of men. But there is one way in this country in which all men are created equal – there is one human institution that makes a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller, the stupid man the equal of an Einstein, and the ignorant man the equal of any college president. That institution, gentlemen, is a court.”

A few days before she died, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia passed away, alone, while at an exclusive hunting lodge in Texas. In a way he too was a prophet, but not of equality before the law, his judicial opinions almost always favored the rich, the elites, those of white European ancestry, as well as those who shared his religious views on the limited rights of women and gays. In fact, Scalia believed in the inherent inequity of people, and his opinions for the most part echoed that idea, for Scalia, law remained fixed in time and could not change, except when he wanted to change it.

I do not read a lot of novels, but this is one that I did, of course after I saw the film by the same name. Harper Lee was an amazing writer as well as a gifted prophet, if you will. She was able to see through the cultural, religious, and racial prejudices of her times and write a novel that echoes though the decades, and will probably remain a classic of literature for centuries to come.

Harper Lee demonstrated something that Scalia, a legal giant by all measure never understood. She actually believed that all people should be equal before the law. Scalia, for all of his brilliance, never really understood that. He held to an interpretation of law and the Constitution that existed before the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments.

Scalia called himself an “Originalist” in his understanding of the Constitution. He viewed the Constitution in the same way as Roger Taney, the author of the Dred Scott decision, and the Court members who wrote the majority opinion in Plessy v. Fergusson that enshrined Jim Crow as law. Scalia, for all of his oratory, and legal brilliance, honestly believed that not everyone was equal in the eyes of the law, and it showed in opinion after opinion that he wrote from the bench. He never understood the words of Thomas Jefferson who wrote, “I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.” 

Admittedly there are a lot of people who share the opinions of the late Justice Scalia, but I am not one of them. To use the idea of Jefferson that we cannot “as a civilized society remain under the regimen of our barbarous ancestors.” That is the essence of Scalia’s “Originalism,” it is an argument that assumes, much like Fundamentalist religion that there is a point when law is fixed in time and thus immutable, even when the proponents of such views have no problem changing law or religious doctrine to suit their needs, so long as it is done in the name of some kind of faux conservatism.


I would agree with the words spoke by Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird in regard to the opinions of others like the late Justice Scalia and his disciples, “They’re certainly entitled to think that, and they’re entitled to full respect for their opinions… but before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”

I am glad that I encountered the work of Harper Lee, and I mourn her passing. I do hope that many others, inspired by her writing will be the prophets of a new era.

Have a great Monday.


Padre Steve+


Filed under History, laws and legislation, News and current events

Rites of Spring: Spring Training and Faith


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Sharon Olds wrote, “Baseball is reassuring. It makes me feel as if the world is not going to blow up.”

This week was the true beginning of spring. I know that spring does not actually begin until March, but even so amid the continuing winter, spring is showing its first sign of dawning as pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training. As Bill Veeck once said, “That’s the true harbinger of spring, not crocuses or swallows returning to Capistrano, but the sound of a bat on a ball.”

I grew up with a love for baseball that was cultivated by my late father, we didn’t always agree on much, but he imparted to me a love for the game that knows no bounds.

For me that is true. From the day the World Series ends I wait in anticipation for the beginning of Spring Training and I can agree with the great Rogers Hornsby who said, “People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.” Now don’t get me wrong I like Hockey, Soccer, and Football, but in the end they are merely sports and entertainment, were Baseball is a refuge with profoundly religious meaning to me. As Bryant Gumbel once said, “The other sports are just sports. Baseball is a love.”

I think that unlike so many other sports and entertainment that it has a healing quality that is good for society. Walt Whitman wrote, “I see great things in baseball. It’s our game — the American game. It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism. Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set. Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.”

In a society like ours, wracked by political division, social turmoil, and economic uncertainty, that is important. It can teach us a lot about ourselves, as Saul Steinberg wrote, “Baseball is an allegorical play about America, a poetic, complex, and subtle play of courage, fear, good luck, mistakes, patience about fate, and sober self-esteem.”

When I came back from Iraq the ballpark was one of the very few places that I could go and feel absolutely safe. There is something comforting in looking out over that beautiful diamond, smelling the freshly cut grass, the carefully manicured infield, and taking it all in. In fact for me tit still is one of my few truly safe refuges where war, terrorism, political and religious hatred, and the endless ideological battles of conservative and liberal pundits and politicians take a back seat, and as they fade away I find a peace that I seldom find anywhere else, and that includes most churches where for the life of me I find neither peace, nor God. Maybe that’s why I believe in the Church of Baseball.

I guess that is why it baseball matters so much to me, and why in spite of all the craziness of this week, that the seemingly insignificant act of pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training means so much.


Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, faith