Cemetery & Culp’s Hill Pt 4

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I have just gotten back from another trip with my students to Gettysburg, 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+

robert-rodes

Major General Robert Rodes, C.S.A.

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

However as with most of the Confederate offensive actions of the battle this too fell apart as Rodes division provided no support to Early’s attack. Edwin Coddington explained that Rodes “did not give himself enough time to get his big division into formation for the attack. By the time he had completed the complicated maneuver of wheeling his brigades forty-five degrees to the left and advancing them half a mile to a good place from which to charge up Cemetery Hill the battle was over.” [1] However, this explanation gives Rodes too much of a pass, although he indeed failed to properly prepare for the attack, he decided not to attack based on the discretion given to him in Ewell’s orders.

Rodes’s division had lost about forty percent of its strength in the disastrous attack on Oak Ridge on July 1st. “Perhaps still shaken from the near disaster the day before, Rodes displayed a lack of diligence and energy which was untypical of his career, civilian or as a soldier.” [2] Robert Rodes was under general instructions from Ewell to support the attacks, which gave him some latitude in decided when and where to do so. As a result he “had been very careful and cautious in marching his men out of Gettysburg and into line across from the northwest corner of Cemetery Hill.” [3] Likewise, he “seems to have greatly underestimated how long it would take to move his five brigades out of Gettysburg and deploy them to the west of the town for an assault.” [4] His two leading brigades, those of Stephen Ramseur and George Doles which had distinguished themselves the previous day, “had covered about half an mile toward the enemy’s line when, in dusk, the two young brigadiers got a good and very sobering look at the Federal position.” [5] Rodes had given tactical command of the advance, and the final say in deciding on the attack, to Ramseur, an aggressive officer “who nonetheless paled when he saw the strength of the enemy defenses.” [6] When his brigade “came within six hundred feet of the Union line, the moonlight was apparently strong enough for Ramseur to observe the great strength of the position: batteries ready to pour “direct, cross, and enfilade fires” upon his lines, and two supporting rows of infantry well protected by stone walls and breastworks.” [7] Alfred Iverson, who had contributed to the disaster the day before claimed “we were advancing to our destruction.” [8]

This was enough for Ramseur who consulted with George Doles and Iverson, and told Rodes of their findings. “When Doles concurred with Ramseur in this report, Rodes cancelled the attack,” [9] and “deferring the attack until daylight.” [10] As the time was past when he could support Early, whose brigades had now ceased their attack, Rodes decided “it would be useless sacrifice of life to go on.” [11]

Despite the failure of Latimer’s barrage, and Rodes’s decision not to attack, “Johnson and Early rushed their men into action as if relieved that the tension of the long wait was over,” [12] and both would meet with bloody failure.

Storm on Cemetery Hill: Early’s Attack

Like the rest of Second Corps, Jubal Early’s division had waited throughout the day for the word to advance. Early had placed the brigades of Colonel Isaac Avery, who was commanding Hoke’s brigade, and Brigadier General Harry Hay’s Louisiana brigade, “in a protected position north of the town, from which they could easily storm cemetery Hill.” [13] He also moved John Gordon’s brigade into a supporting position while leaving “Extra Billy” Smith’s brigade to cover the Confederate rear along the York Road.

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Assault on Cemetery Hill

It was Early’s division which came the closest to breaking the Union line and seizing the all-important position on Cemetery Hill. His line, with Avery left and Hays on the right, “some 3,500 men in all, stretched east from the town across the fields to within a short distance from Rock Creek. As Johnson closed in on Culp’s Hill around eight o’clock. Early began to whip his men into motion.” [14] Early put Hays in tactical command of the two brigades Hays exhorted his men, including the famed Louisiana Tigers, with the challenge that Early had ordered “the Louisianans and …North Carolinians to take the guns on the hill.” [15] But some of his officers, including Lieutenant Warren Jackson, “who had been on the skirmish line most of the day was not assured; he felt as though his fate had been sealed.” [16]

But some Union troops along the line had become complacent, assuming that the defeat of Latimer’s artillery at Brenner’s Hill meant that the threat had passed. One Union soldier wrote, “We did not expect any assault,” and “could not have been more surprised if the moving column had raised up out of the ground amid the waving timothy grass of the meadow.” [17]

From their starting positions outside Gettysburg, Early’s forces had to make a giant wheel to their right to strike the Federal line on East Cemetery Hill. Hays’s Louisiana regiments “extended out from the pivot of the wheel. Isaac Avery’s three North Carolina regiments, on the outer edge of the wheel had longer to march.” [18] The two brigades began their advance and were immediately assailed by the massed Federal artillery batteries on Cemetery Hill. Charles Wainwright wrote that the Hays’s Confederates “marched straight out of the town, and then facing to their right rushed for the hill.” [19] A Federal artilleryman described the advance, “When they came into full view in Culp’s meadow our artillery…opened on them with all the guns that could be brought to bear. But on, still on, they came, moving steadily to the assault, soon the infantry opened fire, but they never faltered.” [20]

The Confederates faced a fusillade of artillery fire from the guns of First and Eleventh Corps. Captain Michael Wiedrich’s Battery I, 1st New York, “closest to the Louisianans, went to canister almost immediately. Before long all the batteries were firing canister, then double canister. When they ran out of canister they fired case shot without fuzes, the missiles exploding as they left the muzzles.” [21]  However, much of the fire had little effect as the guns could not be depressed enough and many rounds went over the heads of the Confederates, protecting them from an even greater slaughter. Avery’s North Carolina troops suffered worse as they had more open ground to cover and Avery himself was killed early in the advance.

The hill “was ascended through the wide ravine between Cemetery and Culp’s hills,” and “a line of infantry on the slopes was broken,” [22] and “Hays’s men moved straight up the hill, taking three successive positions.” [23] The Union troops in this section of the line were the survivors of Barlow’s division now commanded by Adelbert Ames who manned a thin line along a stone wall near the base of the hill. Numbering just over 1,000 men the division held a line along the base of the hill along the Brickyard lane. The thin line was quickly overwhelmed in many places after a brief fight, while many accused the Germans of fleeing at the first sight of the enemy, some units gave a good account, the 17th Connecticut and 75th Ohio on the right of Harris’s Brigade occupied a spot of high ground from which they were not moved by the Confederates. However, the 107th and 25th Ohio occupying a salient at the extreme north of the Union line were overwhelmed after a brief but fierce fight. Soon “Ames’s brigades were dissolving into an uncontrollable spray of fugitives or inconsequential knots of resistance in the lane, as the rebel tide flowed beyond them.” [24]

cemetery hill

Soon the Louisiana Tigers were among the Federal artillery batteries and fierce hand to fighting raged among the guns and the Union gunners refused to withdraw. The Germans of Wiedrich’s and Rickett’s batteries went toe to toe with the Louisianans and North Carolinians who had gain the summit, and “Wiedrich’s men defended their guns with courage.” [25] As one of “Hay’s Louisiana Tigers confidently threw himself onto the muzzle of a Napoleon, he shouted, I take command of this gun! A German gunner with the piece’s lanyard in his hand replied, Du sollst sie haben (it was a line from a German birthday song – you can have it) and blew the rebel to smoking bits.”  [26] The German gunners fought with such tenacity that Charles Wainwright, a frequent critic of the German units wrote, “the men of “I” Battery, also Germans, fought splendidly, sticking to their guns and finally driving the rebs out with their hand spikes and fence rails.” [27] So it went along the gun line as the Union gunners fought the Confederate infantry matching pikes, rammers, pistols and sabers against the Confederate riflemen, but soon the guns were silent and it appeared “for one incredible moment, as Hays reported, “every piece of artillery which had been firing on us was silenced,” and two Confederate brigades possessed the enemy stronghold.” [28] But the apparent triumph would not last long.

“In the crisis the performance of Howard and Schurz showed up well.” [29] Seeing the chaos on Cemetery Hill, Oliver Howard and Carl Schurz reacted to this with alacrity and ordered Colonel Wladimir Krzyzanowski to take the 119th and 58th New York regiments “at double quick the short distance across the Baltimore Pike to Wiedrich’s battery…. The 119th New York, less than 200 strong…made a “vigorous rush” against the Louisiana interlopers and swept them down the hill. When they reached the base, Krzyzanowski’s men flopped down and Wiedrich’s guns belched canister at the fleeing Confederates.” [30] Howard also had the foresight to ask “for supporting troops from the Second Corps,” a request “Hancock had anticipated by sending out Carroll with most of his brigade, but with “no precise orders” about where he was to go.” [31] Hancock had heard the sound of heavy firing Hancock reacted, he recalled “I heard the crack of musketry on Howard’s front…. Recognizing the importance to the whole army of holding the threatened positions, I directed General Gibbon to send a brigade instantly to Gen’l Howard’s assistance.” [32] The sense of both Generals to order this movement as a precaution proved to be a decision that ensured that Cemetery Hill would remain in Union hands.

220px-Samuel_S_Carroll

Colonel Samuel Carroll

The brigade was commanded by Colonel Samuel Carroll, it was a crack unit, known as the Gibraltar Brigade, aside from the Iron Brigade, the only “Western” brigade in the Army of the Potomac. Carroll was one of the best brigade commanders in the Army of the Potomac. Carroll graduated near the bottom of the West Point class of 1856 and spent four years on the frontier before being assigned as a quartermaster at West Point and took command of the 8th Ohio in the fall of 1861. He soon was a brigade commander but at Gettysburg was still a Colonel, despite this he was a man of action and rapidly moved the brigade exactly where with was needed the most. Carrol had a full head of brick-red hair, which garnered him the name Old Brick Top. His personality and leadership style was such that it “often reminded people of his manic-aggressive division commander, Alex Hays, and this occasion was no exception.” [33]

Coming over from the west side of Cemetery Ridge the brigade appeared in the moonlight to Hays as a shadowy indistinguishable mass. Since Hays expect that Rodes’s troops might be moving in from the west, or Longstreet’s from the south. He was unsure of who the advancing troops were, and how many were advancing towards him. He wrote in his after action report, “I reserved my fire, from the uncertainty of this being a force of the enemy or of our own men, as I had been cautioned to expect friends both in front, to the right and to the left.” [34]

With little direction form either Hancock or Howard, “Carroll trotted him men in column…. He skillfully positioned his men in the dark for the attack, facing obliquely to the left and uphill. The debris of early fighting made it difficult to advance on a wide front, so Carroll placed the 14th Indiana in the advance and stacked up the other two regiments (the 7th West Virginia and 4th Ohio) behind it.” [35] Carroll had a booming voice and he called out to his troops “in a voice that was heard all over East Cemetery Hill: “Halt! Front Face! Charge bayonets! Forward, double-quick! March! Give them Hell!” [36]

The brigade charged the Confederates and “struck Hoke’s brigade and pushed it back. At the same moment some men from Hays’s brigade opened a brisk fire on his left flank from behind a stone wall. Carroll quickly had the 7th West Virginia change from and drive the Louisianans away.” [37] Even so the fight was fierce, “there was a confused sound of pounding feet and colliding human bodies, grunts, yells and curses and a crackling of rifle fire – and the last of the Confederates were driven out.” [38]

Though Early achieved some success his division was repulsed and the threat to the Union gun-line on Cemetery Hill was ending. “Hays, already staggered by three unanswered volleys – the third was especially destructive, delivered at such close range – gave the order at last for his men to return the fire.” [39] His troops fought back but he realized that no help was coming either from Rodes, or Gordon, whose brigade was withheld by Early when he realized that Rodes was not attacking, believing that it “would been a useless sacrifice.” [40] Without support and threatened by more Federal troops, Hays gave the order to withdraw. As one author noted, “Courage and determination could not offset superior numbers and fresh troops. With no help coming and enemy units swarming around them, all those Rebels who were still under some command and control began to fall back.” [41]

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Early’s attack which had been so promising ended in failure and would be the subject of controversy after the battle and after the war. Rodes’s failure to support his attack on Cemetery Hill, “angered Jubal Early, and he did not mince words about it. In his report, Early complained: “No attack was made on the immediate right, and not meeting with support from that quarter, these brigades could not hold the position that they had attained.” [42]

Whether the Confederates could have taken the position had Rodes delivered his attack is another matter which can only be speculative in nature. Had Rodes and Gordon supported the attack, had Ewell better coordinated with A.P. Hill in order to have Pender’s division support the attack, it might have succeeded Like the earlier Confederate failures of the past two days the issue came down to command and control, coordination, and vague orders. “Ewell had no control over his corps. Three division commanders were coordinating without a central control – and one failed.” [43] Likewise, there is no question that “if Rodes had been able to mount an attack in conjunction with Early, which under the circumstances would have been a miracle of generalship, the defenders of Cemetery Hill would have had a hard time of it.” [44] But the failure of Ewell and his division commanders to coordinate the attack speaks volumes about “the uncoordinated command style that had become Robert E. Lee’s habit, and for the paralyzing evaporation of initiative that crept over the senior generals of the Army of Northern Virginia the longer and deeper they remained in the unfamiliar environment of Pennsylvania.” [45]

Notes

[1] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command pp.429-430

[2] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.237

[3] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.407

[4] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg  p.341

[5] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.238

[6] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.407

[7] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.439

[8] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.344

[9] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg  p.341

[10] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.439

[11] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.238

[12] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.233

[13] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.430

[14] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.435

[15] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.339

[16] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.236

[17] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.339

[18] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg  p.334

[19] Ibid. Wainwright A Diary of Battle p.245

[20] Ibid. Gottfried  The Artillery of Gettysburg p.169

[21] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg  p.334

[22] 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.312

[23] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.235

[24] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.340

[25] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.269

[26] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.342

[27] Ibid. Wainwright A Diary of Battle pp.246-246

[28] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.236

[29] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.437

[30] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.272

[31] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.437

[32] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg  p.339

[33] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.343

[34] Luvaas, Jay and Nelson Harold W. editors. The U.S. Army War College Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg South Mountain Press, Carlisle PA 1986 p.163

[35] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.56

[36] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg  p.339

[37] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.437

[38] Catton, Bruce The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road Doubleday and Company, Garden City New York, 1952 p.303

[39] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.519

[40] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg  p.340

[41] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.409

[42] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.281

[43] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.239

[44] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.440

[45] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.344

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