Cemetery & Culp’s Hill Pt 5

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I am catching up from  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+

greene monument

When the divisions Alpheus Williams and John Geary marched away to meet the threat to Cemetery Ridge, only George Greene’s brigade remained to defend Culp’s Hill. In addition to his own position, Greene found his brigade “guarding nearly half a mile of Twelfth Corps works.” [1] Much like Joshua Chamberlain on the extreme left of the Union line, “Greene ended up with a much-thinned single-rank battle line without reserves.” [2] Greene only had between 1,300 and 1,400 men and one battery of artillery, but he made the most of them taking advantage of the natural terrain features as well as the entrenchments which his men and the other Twelfth Corps units had prepared. He “formed his brigade in a single line, with spaces between the men, regiments moving to the right as the line lengthened.” [3] In addition he sent out his smallest regiment, the 78th New York “The Cameron Highlanders” down the hillside to act as skirmishers where they joined with men of the 60th New York.

culp's hill

Allegheny Johnson and his division drew the toughest assignment on this warm summer evening. Since it arrived on the battlefield the previous night it was sheltered to the rear of Brenner’s Hill about a mile east of Gettysburg north of the Hannover Road, where with the exception of sending some skirmishers to Rock Creek, “Johnson kept his infantry concealed and quiet throughout the day.” [4] His four brigades, one of Louisianans under the Colonel Jesse Williams, and the brigades of Brigadier Generals John M. Jones, George “Maryland” Steuart, and James Walker, were primarily Virginians. His four brigades had sat inactive the entire day and impatiently awaited orders to attack, with one staff officer “prudently “conducting religious services…the men gladly joining the solemn exercises.” [5]

When Latimer’s battered artillery battalion withdrew from Brenner’s Hill, Ewell gave orders for the attack to begin. At about seven o’clock Johnson ordered his troops forward, but unlike Early’s troops who were well deployed in a position where they could immediately attack Cemetery Hill, John’s brigades had to make a march over bad, obstacle strewn ground in order to get to their attack positions, and the advance did not go according to plan. James Walker’s “Stonewall” Brigade had to be left behind “to settle accounts with aggressive skirmishers from General Gregg’s cavalry division who had persisted in harassing his left flank and rear.” [6] This stubborn fight of the Union Cavalry troopers prevented “the entire Stonewall Brigade from taking its place in Ewell’s assault column” as Walker “was so flustered by the resistance that he encountered that he deferred his movement to Culp’s Hill, fearing to uncover Ewell’s left to Union observers.” [7] This deprived the Confederates of a quarter of their strength before the attack even began.

ewells-attack-on-culps-hill

As the remaining brigades of the division, “Jones, Williams, and Steuart, in that order, reached Rock Creek, they discovered waist-deep water that would take time to negotiate.” [8] In addition to the high water the far back was very steep and “infested with Yankee soldiers ready to contest any passage.” The officer commanding the skirmishers wrote, “We held this point with the briskest fire we could concentrate…. I decided to…sweep them as the crossed the brook.” [9] The delay cost the Confederates another half hour and the Union troops slowly withdrew up the slope continuing to maintain fire as they withdrew “using “the heavy timber” to make “every tree and rock a veritable battlefield.” [10] As the New Yorkers withdrew, the brigades of Jones and Williams had to make the assault up the steep and rugged slope of Culp’s Hill, and by now it was dark. The main part of Culp’s Hill, where these brigades attack “with its steep, rock strew slopes broken here and there by cliffs fifteen to twenty feet high, afforded great protection to its defenders,” [11] who as previously noted had worked hard to fortify the already imposing ground. Johnson himself was concerned about the effect of the terrain on the advance as “the Confederate infantry halted from time to time, waiting for its advance to clear the way.” [12]

Johnson sent some 4,700 men up Culp’s Hill to attack Greene’s 1,300 dug in veterans. “That kind of manpower edge would have likely been decisive elsewhere on the field that day, but against Pop Greene’s providential and well-constructed breastworks the odds leveled out.” [13] The Confederate troops continued to move up the slope battling the persistent skirmishers the entire way when they discovered another unpleasant surprise. Greene had concealed his men, even hiding the colors below the barricades to disguise his positions and he waited until the Confederates were almost upon his positions and had stopped to dress the line, before opening “a general open fire “like chain lightening” from his brigade.” [14] The fire had a devastating effect on the Confederate’s, whose line wavered. A captain of the 44th Virginia remembered that “all was confusion and disorder.” Private Benjamin Jones of the 44th remembered the enemy’s works as “a ditch filled with men firing down on their heads.” [15] The volleys of Greene’s men from “in front and the abattis behind trapped John Marshall Jones’ Virginia brigade “scarcely thirty yards from the enemy’s breastworks,” [16] forcing them to take cover for nearly fifteen minutes while their officers figured out what to do. Finally they rose up and stormed the works. They charged four times, and General Jones was wounded in the leg, forcing him to turn over command of his brigade. The attacks of Jones and William’s brigades “were bloody disasters. The steep pitch of the hill and the darkness of the hour, compounded by the rocks and brush that everywhere hindered movement, rendered any sort of coherent assault an impossibility.” [17] Finally, the Confederates withdrew to the base of the hill where they established a foothold and tried to regroup.

Greene’s men fought hard but Greene was not ready to rest on his laurels. He requested reinforcements from First and Eleventh Corps on his left. Despite being under attack himself, James Wadsworth, who had fought his division so well at McPherson’s and seminary Ridge the previous day, “promptly sent two regiments, the 6th Wisconsin and the 84th New York. Howard, in response to Greene’s call had Schurz hurry over the 82nd Illinois, the 45th New York, the 157th New York, and the 61st Ohio.” [18] However, the six regiments that arrived had been reduced to fractions of their former strength by the first day’s battle “increased Greene’s force only by about 755 men.” [19]Additionally, Hancock who heard the battle raging “sent two regiments to the relief of Slocum as well.”[20] Greene’s after action report noted:

“we were attacked on the whole of our front by a large force few minutes before 7 p.m. The enemy made four distinct charges between 7 and 9.30 p.m., which were effectually resisted. No more than 1,300 were in our lines at any one time. The loss of the enemy greatly exceeds ours.”[21]

Further south, “Maryland” Steuart’s brigade entered the area of the Federal line which had been vacated by Geary and Williams’s divisions where it posed a brief threat. However, Steuart’s brigade fared no better as it hit the Federal line. Two of his regiments “got ahead of the rest of their command and hooked onto the right flank of the Louisiana troops. This had the unpleasant effect of funneling them into a deadly cul de sac, with unfriendly fire in their front and on both flanks” [22] His left regiments faced little resistance and began to look for a way around Green’s flank in the darkness.

As the night wore on Confederate attacks continued and in the darkness other Federal units arrived, including those from XII Corps which had gone earlier in the day. By mid-morning Johnson’s assault was done. His units had suffered severe casualties and his division had been drained of all attacking power by the time Lee needed it on the morning of July 3rd to support Pickett’s attack. “This division, formed by Stonewall Jackson was never the same again. Its glories were in the past.”[23] In the end the Army of the Potomac still held both Cemetery and Culp’s Hill, in large part due to the actions of the old soldier, George Greene who’s foresight to fortify the hill and superb handling of his troops and those who reinforced him kept Johnson’s division from rolling up the Federal right. However, Greene had refused his right and had occupied the traverse trench line that he had constructed earlier as a fallback position. From here, Colonel David Ireland’s 137th New York conducted a private war with them. Ireland’s men were joined by three companies of the 149th New York, and the 14th Brooklyn, recently arrived from First Corps as well as Rufus Dawes 6th Wisconsin of the Iron Brigade. Steuart wrote “The left of the brigade was the most exposed at first, and did not maintain its position in line of battle. The right, thus in advance, suffered very severely, and, being unsupported, waved, and the whole line fell back in good order. The enemy’s position was impregnable, attacked by our small force, and any further effort to storm it would have been futile, and attended with great disaster, if not total annihilation.” [24] Late in the night the leading elements of the Twelfth Corps units which had went to Cemetery Ridge fought a brisk fight the rest of the night and into the morning with Steuart’s men to regain their trench lines. The fight of the 137th New York until it could be reinforced was instrumental to Union success, but “the cost was high; that night Colonel Ireland lost a third of his men.” [25] As the night wore on across the hill scattered musketry attended the night and the Confederate attacks ceased.

Eventually, Johnson had to settle for the lodgment that he made at the base of the hill and with Steuart’s occupation of the Union trenches. He hoped that the following day, reinforced he might take the hill. Reinforced by troops from Rodes’s division, Allegheny Johnson made a maximum effort in the morning despite the objections of various brigade and regimental commanders, including George Doles and Maryland Steuart. The commanding officer of the 1st Maryland Battalion exclaimed “it was nothing less than murder to send men into that slaughter pen.” [26] The attack was a disaster, Johnson’s division suffered over 2,000 casualties, the supporting units suffered over 1,000 more.

Ewell’s troops would play no further role in the battle. In the end his presence around Cemetery and Culp’s Hill diminished the resources that Lee needed to support his other assaults on the second and third day of battle. In effect it left Lee without one third of his forces. The result was the sacrifice of many troops with nothing to show for it. Ultimately Lee is to blame for not bringing Ewell’s forces back to Seminary Ridge where they and their artillery may have had a greater effect on the battle.

Ewell’s attack was a costly mistake marked by the constant inability of the Confederate commanders to coordinate their attacks. Of the Confederate commanders, only Johnson led his troops into the fight, Ewell remained well behind the lines, Early gave tactical command of the cemetery Hill assault to Hays, and Rodes demurred to the caution of Ramseur and Doles. On the Union side, the splendid work by George Greene helped undo what could have been a disaster when Williams and Geary’s divisions were sent to Cemetery Ridge. Hancock and Howard responded quickly to all danger sending in reinforcement when and where they were needed the most. The stand of the artillery on Cemetery Hill and the counter-attack of Carroll’s Gibraltar Brigade to drive off Hays’s men also were decisive.

The real hero of Culp’s Hill was Greene. But Greene in many ways is a forgotten hero, he was not given much credit in Meade’s after action report though Slocum attempted to rectify this and Meade made some minor changes to his report. But it was in later years that Greene was began to receive recognition for his actions. James Longstreet gave Greene credit for saving the Union line on the night of July 2nd and said that “there was no better officer in either army” at the dedication of the 3rd Brigade monument on Culp’s Hill in 1888. Greene died in 1899 having been officially retired from the Army in 1893 as a First Lieutenant, his highest rank in the Regular Army. A monument to Greene stands on Culp’s Hill looking east in the direction of Johnson’s assault.

Notes

[1] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p. 204

[2] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg  p.326

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

[4] Ibid. Greene “A Step All-Important and Essential Element of Victory” p.121

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

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

[7] Longacre, Edward G. The Cavalry at Gettysburg: A Tactical Study of Mounted Operations during the Civil War’s Pivotal Campaign, 9 June-14 July 1863 University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London 1986 p.212

[8] Ibid. Greene “A Step All-Important and Essential Element of Victory” p.123

[9] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.400

[10] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.348

[11] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command  p.431

[12] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.348

[13] Ibid. Sears  Gettysburg p.326

[14] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.348

[15] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p. 216

[16] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.348

[17] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.400

[18] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command  p.431

[19] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command  p.431

[20] Jordan, David M. Winfield Scott Hancock: A Soldier’s Life Indian University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis 1988 p.94

[21] Ibid. Luvaas and Nelson The U.S. Army War College Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg pp. 159-160

[22] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.400

[23] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.262

[24] Ibid. Luvaas and Nelson The U.S. Army War College Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg p.155

[25] Ibid. Sears  Gettysburg p.328

[26] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.447

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