Cemetery & Culp’s Hill Pt 3

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.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Brigadier General Alpheus William, U. S. Army

What happened next is one of the more complicated and confusing issues of the day. During the morning Meade had considered a spoiling attack against Ewell’s Second Corps using Twelfth Corps and other units on the Federal right. In order to facilitate this he allowed Henry Slocum to persist in believing that he was still an acting wing commander for the troops of Twelfth Corps in what was the Union right wing on the march up to Gettysburg, and the now cancelled Pipe Creek Circular. In the process, Slocum appointed Alpheus Williams of his First Division to head the corps. However, “Meade cancelled the attack but failed to explicitly rescind the entire order, expecting Slocum to return command of the Twelfth Corps by default. He did not. Instead, Slocum assumed that the attack had been cancelled that he still commanded the right wing.” [1] This led to a situation where Meade was unaware of who was actually commanding the corps, and created confusion about what the series of events that happened next. Without direct orders from Meade to relinquish command of the non-existent wing, Slocum chose “to cast himself in the more important role, leaving the tactical handling of the Twelfth Corps to Alpheus Williams.” [2]

In fairness “George Meade was so preoccupied with by his struggle to contain Hill’s and Longstreet’s efforts against his left flank,” [3] that he permitted this nearly catastrophic situation to develop. Longstreet’s attack on the Federal left, supported by the brigades of Rans Wright and Cadmus Wilcox forced Meade to pull troops from all along the Federal line. The Second Corps and Fifth Corps went in and as Longstreet’s attack progressed Meade ordered in reinforcements from John Sedgwick’s Sixth Corps and Slocum’s Twelfth Corps to reinforce his forces in the Peach Orchard, the Wheat Field and along the southern extension of Cemetery Ridge, “but the summons could not have come at a worse time for Slocum, who was growing convinced that Culp’s Hill was about to receive its own attack.” [4] The issue was how much of Twelfth Corps did Meade order Slocum to send to Cemetery Ridge?

Since a copy of Meade’s actual order does not exist we are left with accounts of the various commanders and staff officers. According to some accounts Meade directed Slocum to send “at least one division” to the threatened sector, an assertion also made by Meade’s son who served as his aide during the battle. Partisans of Meade and Slocum have argued about this since the battle, and historians tend to take the side of either general depending on how they interpret the numerous and often conflicting accounts of the evening.

Slocum clearly interpreted the order as a “request for his entire corps. He discussed the matter with Williams in his assumed role as commander of the Twelfth Corps. Both of them expected Meade to amend the order when made aware of the situation on Culp’s Hill.” [5] His actions support that assertion. After the war Slocum insisted that Meade had ordered his to “remove the entire 12th Corps from its position on the right, to one on the left.” [6] But Slocum did not immediately comply with Meade’s order to send the entire corps, if that indeed was what Meade had ordered. Williams later wrote that Slocum ordered him to “detach all I could spare – at least one division on Culp’s Hill.” [7] While Williams dispatched Ruger’s division to the south he retained Geary’s division on the hill.

Meanwhile, after consulting with Williams, Slocum sent an aide to Meade “to convey his opinion that at least a division should be kept on Culp’s Hill.” [8] The aide, Colonel Hiram Rodgers, returned with “Meade’s permission to keep one brigade rather than a division on the right.” [9] It was fortunate that Meade relented, and allowed Slocum to keep a brigade, but “Slocum’s appeal also demonstrates that Meade gave him no initiative, despite what some historians have alleged. Slocum tried to amend the order, Meade insisted. He clearly gave Slocum no choice in the matter.” [10] When John Geary got the order to take two brigades to the south he obeyed, leaving George Sears Greene to defend Culp’s Hill, “leaving some 1,400 men to hold a sector previous occupied by almost 10,000.” [11]

Greene was ordered by Slocum to “occupy the breastworks as thrown up by the corps.” [12] He immediately set to the task of having his brigade redeploy to meet the demands of the new situation. He had a difficult choice to make, he could extent the line to occupy as much of the fortifications that he could, which would leave the line perilously thin, or he could occupy a shorter section that would allow him to better concentrate his firepower. “Greene elected to do the latter. He filled the abandoned trenches for a distance of three regiments, kept to more back to cover his original position, and sent a fifth forward to stiffen the picket line…. Even to hold what he had selected, Greene had to take the risk of nearly doubling the front of each regiment.” [13]

While Greene adjusted his brigade to meet the new situation Geary marched his troops into deepening night following Ruger. However in another unexplainable mistake, he and his division lost their way in the dark and marched south, away from the battle and stopped halted near Rock Creek where it formed a line. Thus, two brigades of the division were out of the battle for four critical hours, leaving Greene and his brigade to make the best of the situation on Culp’s Hill. Blame can be assigned to Geary for not sending out messengers to find Slocum, and to Slocum for losing track of the division which had marched past his headquarters on Powers Hill as they moved south. Part of the reason for this might have been that Slocum assumed that Geary was operating under the orders of Williams who he had appointed to command the corps, and “some hours would pass before everyone realized that Geary had marched off the game board and needed to be recalled to Culp’s Hill.” [14] Thankfully for the Army of the Potomac the march cost nothing in a strategic or tactical sense, but it easily could have.  “Slocum referred to Geary’s march as “an unfortunate and unaccountable mistake…. And the historian of the 2d Massachusetts concluded that “it did not show much of a soldier’s instinct to take a road leading to the rear and follow it for two miles before halting.” [15]

Notes

[1] Ibid. Melton C. Sherman’s Forgotten General p.130

[2] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.395

[3] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.394

[4] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.347

[5] Ibid. Melton Sherman’s Forgotten General p.131

[6] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.194

[7] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.194

[8] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.395

[9] Ibid. Greene “A Step All-Important and Essential Element of Victory” p.114

[10] Ibid. Melton Sherman’s Forgotten General p.133

[11] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.395

[12] Greene, George Sears. 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.317

[13] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage pp.395-396

[14] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.399

[15] Ibid. Greene “A Step All-Important and Essential Element of Victory” p.120

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