Gettysburg: Cemetery & Culp’s Hill Pt 1

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I am traveling with my students to Gettysburg this weekend and happen to be posting my newest additions to my text, these dealing with the battles for Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill which occurred on the night of July 2nd and early morning of July 3rd 1863. I hope you enjoy.


Padre Steve+

culp's hill

On the night of July 1st 1863 Dick Ewell’s Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac on Cemetery and Culp’s Hill prepared for another day of battle. Despite a significant amount of success on July 1st, Lee’s Army had failed to drive the lead elements of the Army of the Potomac off of Cemetery Hill, which Oliver Howard had wisely placed Steinwehr’s division and his artillery, and which both he and Winfield Scott Hancock recognized had to be held if the Confederates were to be defeated. As the darkness fell over the battlefield that night more Federal troops in the form of Major General Henry Slocum’s Twelfth Corps began to take up positions on Cemetery Hill as well as Culp’s Hill alongside the battered brigades of Oliver Howard’s Eleventh Corps, and Abner Doubleday’s First Corps.

At first Slocum and many of his officers seemed to “have had much apprehension that the Confederates would attempt a head-on attack on Culp’s Hill…or troubled enough by the likelihood of rebel movements to give any orders to improve their hillside positions by digging trenches or chopping down enough trees to form rough protective walls.” [1] The three brigades of Geary’s division of the Twelfth Corps entered the line to the east of the remnants of Wadsworth’s Second division of First Corps along the northern and eastern face of Culp’s Hill.

The commander of the Twelfth Corps was Major General Henry Slocum. Slocum was from upstate New York and entered West Point in 1848 at the age of twenty having already earned a teacher’s certificate at the age of seventeen. “Ability and activity had marked his whole life.” [2] One of his closest friends and roommate at West Point was Philip Sheridan who described the New Yorker as “a cadet whose education was more advanced than mine, and whose studious habits and willingness to aid others benefitted me greatly.” [3] Slocum graduated seventh in the class of 1852 which included George Crook who distinguished himself in the Civil War under the command of Sheridan, as well as Silas Casey, an engineer “whose later architectural achievements would include both the Washington Monument and the Library of Congress.” [4]

Slocum was commissioned in 1852 as a Brevet Second Lieutenant of Artillery and first served in Florida with the First Artillery, and then at Fort Moultrie in Charleston South Carolina. There he was promoted to First Lieutenant and began to study law. Slocum was an abolitionist but he was in favor of gradual abolition, and understood the mood of the South as the fires of disunion and secession over the issue of slavery smoldered. However, due to chronic illnesses that he and his wife suffered in the hot, humid, and fever-ridden climate of the Carolina Low Country, he resigned his commission and returned to New York in late 1856. There he passed the bar, went into the slat business and became relatively well off. He also became active in the Republican Party where he was elected to the State assembly in 1858. As an assemblyman he avoided the schemes that were pressed on him by other members, and maintained a well-earned reputation for honesty. During the time he also became very active in the New York State Militia where he served as a Colonel of Artillery. The governor refused Slocum’s request to raise artillery units instead desiring him to remain as his military adviser at Albany. This was not to Slocum’s liking and he earnestly sought command of an infantry regiment, which he finally obtained when he was appointed as commander of the newly raised 27th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment.

“Slocum was above medium height, with long, wavy brown hair that he combed behind his ears, a heavy brown mustache and sparkling brown eyes…. He seemed especially disposed to order and discipline and was attentive to details that he sought to master.” [5] As a regimental commander known as a disciplinarian, but also a commander who cared for and defended his troops, making sure that they were adequately led, trained, fed, and billeted. Sadly, the training regimen was cut short and the unit thrown into action at the Battle of Bull run where Slocum was severely wounded in the leg attempting to rally it when it was caught in the flank by Wade Hampton’s South Carolinians. While the regiment’s performance was uneven, it performed about as well as most other Federal units at Bull Run, however, “Slocum’s own conduct was solid and presaged his battlefield demeanor for the rest of the war.” [6]


Major General Henry Slocum

After Bull Run Slocum earned rapid promotion for his performance. While he was recovering from his wound he was promoted to Brigadier General and made a brigade commander. When the Sixth Corps was formed in 1862 he was given command of its First Division. He “led that division with distinction in the maelstrom of Gaines Mill” [7] during McClellan’s mismanaged Peninsular Campaign. At the Battle of South Mountain during the Antietam Campaign, Slocum and his division distinguished themselves, in an attack that “routed the enemy and captured for battle flags.” [8]  Following that he was promoted to Major General and took command of Twelfth Corps when its commander, Joseph Mansfield was killed at Antietam. His rise had been rapid, nearly meteoric, even though his generalship style was described as similar to John Sedgewick: “competent, careful, cautious, and entirely without military imagination.” [9] He was now the second youngest officer in the army to attain that rank, despite having served just two years as a Lieutenant in the Regular Army, a few months as a Colonel of Volunteers and under two years as a General. He ranked second in the Army of the Potomac to Joe Hooker and was senior to every other corps commander including Reynolds and Meade. Like most volunteer officers he “probably had some political backing, but, if so, it was not particularly blatant according to the standards of the time.” [10]

He commanded Twelfth Corps at Chancellorsville where it was in the fighting and fought well suffering over 3,000 casualties. Slocum was highly critical of Hooker’s performance and was an early advocate for Meade assuming command of the Army of the Potomac. Slocum, who had no desire to command the army went to Lincoln himself to have Hooker removed.

At Gettysburg Slocum was served by two solid division commanders, Brigadier General Alpheus Williams, who though a volunteer officer was considered one of the best division commanders in the army, and Brigadier General Joseph Geary. Joseph Geary was another battle hardened volunteer who had fought with the Pennsylvania volunteers in Mexico and was wounded five times in the assault on Chapultepec. “After this exploit, he was named the regiment’s colonel and returned home a war hero.” [11] He went to California in 1849 was elected as the first mayor of San Francisco. A strong anti-slavery man, Geary was appointed to the unenviable position of Governor of the Kansas Territory where he had vetoed the Lecompton Constitution, earning him the enmity of President James Buchanan.


Brigadier General George Sears Greene, U.S. Army

One of Geary’s brigades was commanded by Brigadier General George Sears Greene. Greene was “the oldest general in the army, though he was far from doddering or ineffectual. He was a hardy war-horse, a man who spent most of his time in the saddle, an officer who insisted on hard drilling and discipline in camp and hard fighting on the battlefield.” [12] He was “described as a strict disciplinarian and an officer with a rigid sense of justice,” [13] who did not win immediate affection from his troops, “but those under his command soon learned to appreciate his ability,” [14] his troops nicknaming him “pap” “pop” or “pappy.” Greene led his brigade up Culp’s Hill where it took a position next to the remnants of the Iron Brigade on the eastern face of the rugged edifice.

Greene was born in Warwick Rhode Island in 1801 and graduated from West Point second in a class of thirty five. He was commissioned as an artillery officer some six years before Robert E. Lee. He was a descendent of Revolutionary War General Nathaniel Greene.  His son Lieutenant Dana Greene United States Navy, was the Executive officer of the ironclad warship USS Monitor which fought the Confederate ironclad CSS Virginia at the Battle of Hampton Roads, the first battle between fully steam-powered armored warships in the history of the world. Dana Greene distinguished himself in the battle when he took command of the Monitor when its commander was wounded.

He had graduated second in his class at West Point in 1823, a full six years before Robert E. Lee, and after 13 years of garrison and instructor duty as an artillery officer, left the army in 1836 to enter civilian life as an engineer. After Greene left the army he spent most of his time overseeing the construction of railroads in the rapidly growing nation, as well as designing “sewage and water systems for Washington, Detroit, and several other cities. The Central Park reservoir in New York City was his handiwork, along with the enlarged High Bridge over the Harlem River.” [15]

Greene did not serve in the Mexican War and when the call came for volunteers in 1861 he waited to join up. In January 1862 he resigned from work on the Croatan Reservoir in New York City and was appointed to command the 60th New York Volunteer Infantry, a unit composed of men from the northern reaches of the state along the Saint Lawrence Seaway. Greene was promoted to Brigadier General in 1862 he commanded his brigade and served as an acting division commander at Antietam, where he was one of the few Federal General Officers not to fail the courage of his men in the heat of that bloody action. He commanded the division with skill, and audacity in the fierce fighting around the Dunker Church, the Cornfield and the Eastern Woods, which was “the one bright spot in the abruptly dismal Union picture.” [16] Despite his excellent performance he requited command of the Division to Geary, “who had returned to the army after being wounded at Cedar Mountain. Geary outranked Greene. (Geary’s appointment to brigadier general predated Greene’s by three days), and “Old Man Greene” went back to leading his brigade.” [17] During the battle of Chancellorsville he would again take acting command of the division when Geary was incapacitated during some of the heaviest fighting. During the fight where Twelfth Corps was attacked from multiple directions, Greene saved his brigade “by having them clear a 200-foot-wide space in front of their position and digging in with bayonets, tin cups, and canteen-halves.” [18] Following the battle he again returned to command his brigade of New Yorkers. By the time of Gettysburg the old general “was a seasoned veteran with enough battle experience at or above brigade level to allow his superiors to feel confident in his abilities.” [19]

As Greene’s brigade took their positions on Culp’s Hill, Greene had them do something that was not yet commonplace in either army. They began to construct field fortifications and breastworks. This occurred after he met Geary to discuss the defense of the hill. Geary told Greene that “he personally opposed building breastworks,” as “the men became less than stalwart in the open field. But he would leave the matter to his brigadiers.” [20] Greene replied and told Geary that “the saving of lives was more useful than such theories and that his men would build them if they had time to do so.” [21] With Geary’s blessing Greene ordered his troops to start building the types of fortifications that had helped save them at Chancellorsville.

Working through the night with the ample materials at hand they dug in, an officer wrote “Right and left the men felled the trees, and blocked them up into a close log fence. Piles of cordwood which lay near were appropriated. The sticks, set slanting on end against the outer face of the logs made excellent battening.” [22]  Likewise, “any pioneer details “which had spades and picks” set up a battening of earth over the felled logs.” [23] They linked their positions with each other such as the Iron Brigade on its left, as well as Brigadier General Thomas Kane’s brigade to Greene’s right, “which extended Greene’s line down the southeastern slope, its members imitated their comrades.” [24] The line of fortifications took advantage of the natural terrain which on its own made the ground good for the defense, but when fortified made it nearly impregnable to assault. Greene’s old regiment, the 60th New York, was particularly valuable as “it was largely composed of men accustomed to woodcraft, and they fell in to construct log breastworks with unaccustomed heartiness. All instinctively knew that a life-and-death struggle was impending, and that every help should be used.” [25] Since the Hill was actually two peaks connected by a lower “saddle” which fell at the juncture of his and Kane’s brigades, Greene felt it prudent to “take the additional precaution of having his men construct a short traverse at the lower end of their sector, providing an emergency line facing the saddle.” [26] By noon the fortifications were completed and the Federal troops rested and waited behind their creation for the coming attack. Greene described his position:

“Our position on the front were covered with a heavy growth of timber, free from undergrowth, with large ledges of rock projecting above the surface. These rocks and trees offered good cover for marksmen. The surface was very steep on our left, diminishing to a gentle slope on our right. The Second Brigade was on our right, thrown forward at a right angle to conform with the crest of the hill.” [27]


Greene’s decision to fortify the hill was emulated by the rest of the division as well as some of Wadsworth’s troops, and the Greene’s actions was fortuitous would have a profound effect on the coming struggle for Culp’s Hill.

[1] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.345

[2] Tagg, Larry The Generals of Gettysburg: The Leaders of America’s Greatest Battle Da Capo Press Cambridge MA 1998 Amazon Kindle Edition p.143

[3] Melton, Brian C. Sherman’s Forgotten General: Henry W. Slocum University of Missouri Press, Columbia and London 2007 p.14

[4] Ibid. Melton Sherman’s Forgotten General p.15

[5] Pfanz, Harry W. Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill NC 1993 p.91

[6] Ibid. Melton Sherman’s Forgotten General p.51

[7] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg  p.143

[8] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg  p.144

[9] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p.38

[10] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.91

[11] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg  p.155

[12] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg  p.162

[13] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.211

[14] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.162

[15] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.162

[16] Sears, Stephen W. Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam Houghton-Mifflin Company, Boston and New York 1983 p.231

[17] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.162

[18] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.346

[19] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.162

[20] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg  p.325

[21] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.114

[22] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg  p.325

[23] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.346

[24] Trudeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.287

[25] Jones, Jesse H. The Breastworks at Culp’s Hill 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.316

[26] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.287

[27] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.116

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Filed under civil war, Gettysburg, History, leadership, Military

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