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

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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,

Peace

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]

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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]

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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]

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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]

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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]

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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.

Notes

[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 http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/gett/gettysburg_seminars/5/essay4.htm#52

[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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Hell at the Peach Orchard

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Today is another visitation of the Battle of Gettysburg. This too is part of my Gettysburg text, and in the next couple of months I plan on revising, editing and adding to this section. However, since I have recently posted the more recent revisions to parts of that text I have I have tried to avoid repeating those and instead posting this. The Battle of the Peach Orchard, Devil’s Den and the Wheat Field were some of the bloodiest and most confusing battles not only of July 2nd at Gettysburg, but of any during the Civil War. 

Though this is pretty much an unedited version of past work that I will be updating I do hope that you will find it interesting as well as informative.

Peace

Padre Steve+

12 pound napoleon

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.

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 XII Corps under the command of Major General Henry Slocum held Culp’s Hill. The battered remnants of I and XI Corps under the command of Oliver Howard and Abner Doubleday held Cemetery Hill while Winfield Scott Hancock’s crack II Corps extended the line down Cemetery Ridge. To II Corps right was Dan Sickles’ III Corps with George Sykes V Corps in Reserve. John Sedgwick’s VI Corps was still enroute, marching up the Baltimore Pike.

corby

Father Corby gives General Absolution to the Irish Brigade on July 2nd 

It was a solid and well laid out position which commanded the battlefield. 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.”[1]

There was one notable problem, Dan Sickles did not like the position assigned to his corps. His corps which joined the left flank of II Corps was to extend down Cemetery Ridge to Devil’s Den and Little Round Top. 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 no avail. Sickles was disturbed because John Buford’s Cavalry division which has been deployed on the Federal left had been moved to the rear by Pleasanton the Cavalry Corps commander and not replaced.

GeneralBarksdale_zps3678f799

Hunt who had accompanied Sickles back to his corps pointed out that the position was too exposed and too expansive for the number of troops Sickles had in his corps. He advised Sickles not to advance and assured Sickles that he would discuss Sickles’ concerns with Meade. [2]

To remedy the situation he sent out four companies of Sharpshooters supported by the 3rd Maine Infantry to make a reconnaissance. Those troops ran into a large force of advancing Confederate Infantry near Seminary Ridge and withdrew, Colonel Brenden of the Sharpshooters informing Sickles of the Confederate advance.

sickles

Major General Dan Sickles 

Sickles now felt that the Union line was about to be turned as it had been at Chancellorsville and without consulting Meade or Hancock took it upon himself to save the situation. It was an act of brazen insubordination, but typical of the mercurial, vain and scandal plagued man who “wore notoriety like a cloak” and “whether he was drinking, fighting, wenching or plotting, he was always operating with the throttle wide open.”[3]

About mid-afternoon Sickles advanced III Corps forward in a “mile long line of battle with waving flags and rumbling batteries rolling west into the afternoon sunlight.” [4] The sight confused other commanders such as John Gibbon commanding a division in II Corps who watched in amazement from his vantage point on Cemetery Ridge. Sickles advanced nearly a mile in front of his previous position opening a gap between III Corps and II Corps. He attempted to hold a new line that was longer and more exposed than the number of troops that he had available. 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 he ran out of troops.

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.[5] It was also about to be hit by the full fury and power of Hood’s and McLaws’ divisions of Longstreet’s First Corps supported by Alexander’s 46 well placed artillery pieces [6] all about to open fire on Sickles badly deployed corps.

About 3 PM Meade broke from a planned commander’s conference to investigate what had happened to Sickles and III Corps, accompanying Meade was Warren. Warren who was most familiar with that part of the battlefield noted that III Corps was “very badly disposed on that part of the field.” [7]

Confronting Sickles in the Peach Orchard Meade was visibly perturbed. Meade informed Sickles that “General I am afraid that you are too far out” [8] attempting to control his temper. Sickles disagreed and said 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…” [9] 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.” [10]

Sickles offered to withdraw 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 [withdraw]…but those people will not permit it.”[11]Another account states that Meade told Sickles “You cannot hold this position but the enemy will not let you get away without a fight.” [12]

Since Sedgwick’s powerful VI Corps had just arrived Meade ordered it into reserve. He then ordered Sykes V Corps from its reserve position and one division of II Corps to support the dangerously exposed III Corps around the Peach Orchard and Wheat Field. He then told Sickles “if you need more artillery call on the reserve!” [13] It was an action that very likely saved the day, another example of Meade taking control of a bad situation preventing it from becoming even worse.

For Lee and Longstreet the morning had been spent disagreeing on a plan to crush Meade. Though his army was operating on exterior lines with his corps having no way to effectively coordinate their actions and still lacking Stuart’s Cavalry, Pickett’s Infantry division and Law’s brigade of Hood’s division Lee insisted that Longstreet and First Corps make a frontal attack on the Union left. Longstreet demurred and tried to convince Lee of turning the Union flank to the south of the Round Tops. Longstreet 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.” [14]

Lee did not believe that such a move could succeed without the assistance of Stuart’s cavalry and Longstreet did not believe that with Pickett’s division that his corps had the combat power to successfully complete the mission. Hood objected to the attack pleading with 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.” [15]

The debate between Longstreet and Hood continued as Hood objected and Longstreet reiterated Lee’s insistence on the planned attack. Hood pleaded for freedom of maneuver believing 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.” [16] 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.” [17]

However in addition to his contention with Lee and Hood Longstreet had to deal with Lee jumping the chain of command. With Longstreet in earshot order McLaws to make an attack on the Peach Orchard and ignored McLaws repeated requests to make a further reconnaissance before launching the attack. 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. The senior commanders of the Army of Northern Virginia had functioned poorly throughout the day but when the attack began it was like a violent storm as Confederate troops fell upon the exposed Federal III Corps.

When the attack was launched McLaws division and the left wing of Hood’s division struck the exposed positions of III Corps. Sickles was severely wounded by a bouncing cannon ball which shattered a leg and knocked him out of the fight. Hood too was badly wounded early in the action leaving command of his division to Brigadier General Evander Law. Law whose brigade had just arrived on the battlefield after a long march from New Guilford in the Cumberland Valley continued to command his own brigade in the assault leaving the rest of the division to fend for themselves and Robertson took the initiative to bring up the rest of the division. [18]

McLaws’ and Hood’s soldiers hit Sickles Corps hard shattering it. Despite fierce resistance from the Federal forces Sickles’ corps was forced to retreat. The reinforcements ordered to the sector from V Corps, II Corps and the artillery reserve arrived piecemeal and also sustained heavy casualties but eventually helped to stem the Confederate tide. III Corps was wrecked and effectively out of the battle but the actions of Meade, Hancock, Warren, Gibbon, Sykes and Hunt to respond to Sickles folly kept the Confederates from sweeping the field.

Law, Robertson’s and Benning’s brigades opened Hood’s attack toward Devil’s Den and Little Round Top. Fierce fighting ensued at Devil’s Den where the Federal line, occupied by Colonel A. Van Horn Ellis’ 124th New York and 4 guns of Smith’s artillery battery put up a stiff resistance. Ellis’s small regiment numbered but 18 officers and 220 men when it entered the fight but it held off several charges of the Texans and even conducted a counter-attack before being overwhelmed by fresh troops from Benning’s brigade.

During the fight Ellis mounted his horse noting that “The men must see us today.” [19] Ellis died in the action as did many of his brave soldiers. In the valley between Devil’s Den and the Round Tops the 4th Maine and Smith’s 2 remaining guns fought large numbers of Hood’s troops and as the outnumbered Federals fell back the Texan’s of Robertson’s brigade and Law’s Alabamians surged toward the rocky hill.

Brigadier General William Barksdale’s Mississippi brigade had distinguished itself at Fredericksburg now stormed the Federal positions. The Mississippians broke through the salient and drove forward driving broken Federal regiments and batteries before them. 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.” [20]

willard

George Willard 

As the brigade reached the lower portion of Cemetery Ridge a fresh Federal brigade commanded by Colonel George Willard 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 fresh and full of fight fell upon the Mississippians who were spent and disorganized having reached their culminating point. Barksdale continued to urge on his men but was mortally wounded and his troops driven back by the New Yorkers. Willard did not live long to savor the redemption as he was hit by a cannon ball and killed instantly.

To the north of the salient Anderson’s division of Hill’s corps attacked toward Cemetery Ridge meeting heavy resistance. 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 telling Covill: “Colonel, do you see those colors?…Then take them.” [21] Between 170-178 of the Minnesotans fell in the counter-attack but they succeeded in blunting Wilcox’s attack and Wilcox seeing no help or support withdrew from Cemetery Ridge.

The First Minnesota

The Charge of Willard’s Brigade 

By the evening fresh Federal troops directed by Meade, Hancock and Hunt poured into the sector. By the end of the day despite sustaining massive casualties the Federal Army held its ground in large part thanks to the active role played by Meade, Hancock, Warren and Hunt in anticipating danger and bringing the appropriate forces to bear.

The fighting around the Peach Orchard, the Wheat field 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. Combined with the repulse at Little Round Top the Confederate troops consolidated their positions.

In the end though McLaws’ and Hood’s divisions had succeeded in thrashing Sickles’ exposed salient they were unsuccessful at breaking the Federal line. Casualties were heavy on both sides but the attack had failed and it had failed because of senior leadership of Lee and his corps commanders. One of Lee’s biographer’s wrote “Longstreet was disgruntled, Ewell was inept and Hill was unwell.” [22] To make matters worse Lee did not assert himself and even his most devoted biographer Douglas Southall Freeman would write that on July 2d “the Army of Northern Virginia was without a commander.” [23]

mcgilvery

Freeman McGilvery

This Fiery Line” Lieutenant Colonel Freeman McGilvery and the Artillery at the Trostle Farm and Plum Run

The disaster that engulfed Sickles’ III Corps now threatened the Federal center. Meade and Hancock rushed reinforcements in the form of V Corps and much of II 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.” [24] 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 V Corps fighting along Devil’s Den and Little Round Top and II Corps along the central portion of Cemetery Ridge.

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….” [25]

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.

fig23

Among the artillery called into action was the First Volunteer Brigade under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Freeman McGilvery. McGilvery, a Maine native was a former sea captain who had organized and commanded the 6th Maine Battery at the beginning of the war. He commanded it with distinction in a number of engagements. Promoted to Major in early 1863 he assumed command of the Brigade and fought at Chancellorsville and was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in June as the Army of the Potomac pursued Lee’s Army.

McGilvery rode into the maelstrom of the retreating III Corps soldiers and broken guns. His horse was hit four times but he remained unwounded despite “exposing himself to enemy missiles on all parts of the field from Cemetery Ridge to the Peach Orchard.” [26] He noted that there was no infantry anywhere that could plug the gap and acted instantly on his own authority to make a decision that likely saved the Union line.

fig20

Bigelow’s Artillery

In the confusion of III Corps disintegration three of his batteries had withdrawn leaving Captain John Bigelow’s 9th Massachusetts battery alone at the Trostle farm telling them they must “hold at all hazards.” [27] Bigelow later explained that McGilvery said 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…” [28] 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.” [29]

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.” [30]

barksdales_charge_lg

Barksdale’s Charge

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.” [31] 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.” [32] A German born gunner noted “we mowed them down like grass, but they were thick and rushed up.” [33] A hand to hand fight ensued among the guns but the Massachusetts men escaped losing 28 of its 104 men engaged,[34] the 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 30 minutes to set up a line of guns along Plum Run. Hunt praised the battery “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.”[35]

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 composed of 13-15 guns of four different batteries he was joined by two more batteries giving him about 25 guns in all. Subjected to intense Confederate artillery fire and infantry attacks his guns 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.” [36]

The reinforcements came in the form of Colonel George Willard’s “Harper’s Ferry” Brigade which was looking for revenge and redemption. This unit hit Barksdale’s now disorganized force which had reached its cumulating point hard. Willard was killed and Barksdale mortally wounded and captured in the violent clash which spelled the end of one of the greatest threats to the Union line of the entire battle. Philip Tucker in his book Barksdale’s Charge: The True High Tide of the Confederacy at Gettysburg, July 2, 1863 refers to Barksdale’s charge as the real “high water mark of the Confederacy.”

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” [37] 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 X Corps. He was slightly wounded in a finger at the battle of Deep Bottom in August 1864. The wound did not heal properly so surgeon’s decided to amputate the finger. However they administered a lethal dose of chloroform anesthesia and he died on September 9th, the Union losing one its finest artillerymen. He was buried in his native Maine and the State legislature designated the first Saturday in September as Colonel Freeman McGilvery Day in 2001.

Notes

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

[2] Foote, Shelby The Civil War, A Narrative: Fredericksburg to Meridian. Vintage Books, a Division of Random House, New York 1963 p.495

[3] Catton, Bruce The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road Doubleday and Company, Garden City New York, 1952 pp.150-151

[4] Ibid p.288

[5] Ibid. Foote p.496

[6] Ibid. p.289

[7] Ibid. Jordan p.90

[8] Ibid. Foote p.496

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

[10] Sears, Stephen Gettysburg Houghton Mifflin Company Boston and New York 2004 p.263

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid. Sears p.263

[13] Ibid. Foote p.497

[14] Pfanz, Harry W. Gettysburg the Second Day University of North Carolina Press, Charlotte and London, 1987 p.112

[15] Ibid. Foote p.499

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign a Study in Command A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster, New York 1968 pp.402-403

[19] Ibid. Pfanz p.293

[20] Trudeau, Noah Andre Gettysburg a Testing of Courage Perennial Books, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.368

[21] Ibid. p.393

[22] Taylor, John M. Duty Faithfully Performed: Robert E Lee and His Critics Brassey’s, Dulles VA 1999 p.149

[23] Freeman, Douglas S. R.E. Lee volume 3 Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York 1935 p.150

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

[25] 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.335

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

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

[28] Guelzo, Allen C Gettysburg, The Last Invasion Vintage Books, a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.314

[29] Ibid. Trudeau p.385

[30] Ibid.

[31] 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 http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/gett/gettysburg_seminars/5/essay4.htm#52

[32] Coddington, Edwin. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command Touchstone Books, New York 1960 p.416

[33] Ibid. Guelzo pp.314-315

[34] Ibid Hunt p.379

[35] Ibid. Hunt. P.379

[36] Ibid. Coddington p.417.

[37] Ibid. Coddington.

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“Our Army Would Be Invincible If…” Pt.4 A.P. Hill’s Third Corps

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

This is the fourth part of my re-written chapter on the leadership of Army of Northern Virginia at Gettysburg. Today is a look at the leaders of Lieutenant General A.P. Hill’s Third Corps. This like the following sections of this chapter of my Gettysburg text is interesting because it shows the complexities of the lives and personalities of the men leading these units. Professional soldiers, volunteers with little military experience, soldiers, lawyers, engineers and politicians they are an interesting collection of personalities; some surrounded in myth and others practically unknown. I think it is important for anyone studying a war, a campaign, or a battle to at least look at the lives of the men who planned and fought it. In doing so, even those that oppose what they did in rebelling against the United States can find in them some measure of humanity, and sometimes even gain a sense of empathy for some of them.   

That is why when we look at the lives of soldiers, we have to take the time to at least try to understand the nuance, the contradictions, their strengths and weaknesses as leaders, as well as a measure of their character.

In the coming week I will be doing Stuart’s Cavalry Division. I will then get to work on a similar chapter for the Army of the Potomac.

Have a great night

Peace

Padre Steve+

general_a_p_hill

Lieutenant General Ambrose Powell “A.P.” Hill, C.S.A.

The newly created Third Corps under Lieutenant General A.P. Hill was thought to be in good hands. Hill had commanded his large; six brigade “Light Division” with distinction, though having serious conflicts with both Longstreet and Jackson. At Antietam Hill’s hard marching from Harpers Ferry which allowed the Light Division to arrive on the battlefield in a nick of time, had saved the Army of Northern Virginia from destruction.

Hill was a graduate of West Point, class of 1847. He would have been part of the illustrious class of 1846, but the young cadet had a certain proclivity for women and a certain amount of debauchery lost a year of study after contracting “a case of gonorrhea, followed by complications, which were followed by lingering prostatitis” [1] afflictions which caused many other ailments that would plague him the rest of his life. At West Point Hill roomed with and became a longtime friend of a refined cadet from Philadelphia, George McClellan. His delayed graduate put him in the class of 1847 where along with his roommate Julian McAllister and friends Harry Heth and Ambrose Burnside were the social leaders of the class, due to their “practical jokes and boisterous conduct.” [2]

Hill graduated fifteenth in his class and was assigned to the artillery. The young Second Lieutenant accompanied Brigadier General Joseph Lane’s brigade to Mexico where he saw limited action at the end of the war and mainly served on occupation duty. In Mexico and in the following years he was stricken with various fevers including typhoid and yellow fever, as well as recurrences of his prostatitis which so limited his ability to serve in the field with the artillery that he requested a transfer to a desk job. This he was granted by Secretary of War Jefferson Davis who detailed him “for special duty in the United States Coast Survey offices in Washington D.C.” [3]

The assignment to the Coast Survey offices was unusual, especially for Hill’s era of service, for they were a part of the Department of the Navy. Despite much political support Hill could not get promoted to captain, likely due to the fact that he was working for the Navy. As war drew near Hill married Kitty Morgan McClung. His friends at the Coastal Survey attempted to convince him to remain with the Union as serving in their office he would have little chance of taking up arms against Virginia.

Hill was torn, he hated slavery and the depreciations visited on blacks; having in 1850 responded to the lynching of a young black man in his home town of Lynchburg: “Shame, shame upon you all, good citizens…Virginia must crawl unless you vindicate good order or discipline and hang every son of a bitch connected with this outrage.” [4] Likewise he was not in favor of secession, but he, like so many other Southern officers felt a stronger connection to family and his Virginia heritage than to the Union, and resigned his commission on February 26th 1861.

Hill was appointed as a Colonel of infantry in May 1861 to organize and command the 13th Virginia Infantry regiment. He commanded the regiment in the Valley and western Virginia as well as at First Manassas. By February 1862 he was a Brigadier General commanding Longstreet’s old Virginia brigade on the Peninsula where he distinguished himself against McClellan at Williamsburg. On May 26th 1862 he was promoted to Major General and given command of the very large so called “Light Division.” He emerged from the fighting on the Peninsula, the battles around Richmond and the Seven Days “with the reputation of being one of the best combat officers that Lee had.” [5] However, his success on the battlefield, like so many commanders came at great cost. In those battles his division suffered nearly 5,500 casualties. “Six colonels and three majors were killed; two brigadiers (Anderson and Pender), eleven colonels and six lieutenant colonels wounded.” [6]

Hill had an earned reputation as a brilliant division commander with the Light Division. Despite his clashes with Longstreet, and especially with Jackson, who had Hill arrested twice and attempted to have him court-martialed, Lee recommended him to take command of Third Corps. Lee sang his praise of Hill and his abilities to Jefferson Davis noting that Hill was “the best soldier of his grade with me.” [7] However, Hill had never commanded more than one division in action, except for the confused hour after Jackson had been struck down. Hill, however, was devoted, prompt, and energetic, and deserved promotion.” [8]

Hill’s reputation as a superb division commander was well earned, at Antietam where when Lee’s army was in danger of destruction, he “drove his men at a killing pace toward the sound of distant gunfire….” [9] Hill’s “Light Division’s remarkable march from Harper’s Ferry- seventeen miles in less than eight hours- rivaled the best marks by Jackson’s famous foot cavalry.” [10] Upon his arrival “instantly recognized the military situation, Kyd Douglas wrote, “and without waiting for the rest of the division and without a breathing spell he threw his columns into line and moved against the enemy, taking no note of their numbers.” [11] Hill’s march saved the Army of Northern Virginia from destruction as he dealt reverses to his old friends McClellan and Burnside. “Lee’s reference to him in his official Sharpsburg report, “And then A.P. Hill came up,” had become a byword in the army.” [12] There were other times, notably at Second Manassas and Fredericksburg where “he was sometimes careless on the battlefield,” and in both instances “his defensive postings were poor and nearly proved very costly.” [13]

Hill was a “nervous wiry man with a persistent chip of underappreciation on his shoulders and a bevy of chronic illnesses when under stress.” [14] He had an “impetuous streak and fiery temperament that matched his red beard, traits that at times had brought him trouble on the battlefield and off…” [15] He Despite that Hill exhibited a fondness and care for the welfare of his men that earned their respect and admiration. One officer called him “the most loveable of all Lee’s generals,” while “his manner so courteous as almost to lack decision.” [16]

Hill detested Jackson, who he referred to as “that old Presbyterian fool.” [17] His poor relations with Jackson’s confidants at Second Corps ensured that Ewell took Second Corps when Lee reorganized the army after Chancellorsville.

Lee appointed Hill to command Third Corps of which “half of the troops had been with him all along” [18] in the Light Division. Lee liked Hill’s aggressiveness and command instincts, which mirrored his own. Lee hoped that Hill’s aggressive instincts as a division commander would translate into success at the corps level. As such Lee, promoted him over the head of D.H. Hill and Lafayette McLaws who were both senior to him. Longstreet was not in favor of Hill’s appointment, most likely due to his altercation with Hill the previous year and lobbied for the promotion of D.H. Hill.

Regarding the promotion of A.P. Hill and Ewell, Lee wrote to Davis:

“I wish to take advantage of every circumstance to inspire and encourage…the officers and men to believe that their labors are appreciated, and that when vacancies occur that they will receive the advantages of promotion….I do not know where to get better men than those I have named.” [19]

But the decision to promote the Ewell and Hill, both Virginians stirred some dissent among those that believed that Lee was “favoring Virginians over officers from other states. The promotion of A.P. Hill, as previous noted was “made over the head of two Major Generals more senior than Hill- North Carolinian D.H. Hill and Georgian Lafayette McLaws.” [20] There is some validity to this perception, as Longstreet’s biographer Jeffry Wert noted:

“While the bulk of the troops hailed from outside the Old Dominion, two of the three corps commanders, six of the ten division commanders – including Jeb Stuart with the cavalry – and sixteen of forty-seven brigade commanders were natives of Virginia, along with the army commander and the chief of artillery.” [21]

Hill’s corps, like those of Longstreet and Ewell was composed of three divisions, and even more so than Ewell his division suffered a want of senior leaders who had served at the grade they were now expected to serve.

Anderson’s Division

Richard_H._Anderson

Major General Richard Anderson, C.S.A.

The most stable division in Third Corps was Richard Anderson’s, transferred from First Corps. Under Longstreet the division and its commander had served well. Anderson was an 1842 graduate of West Point and classmate of Longstreet and Lafayette McLaws. He served as in the Dragoons on the frontier, in Mexico and again on the frontier, throughout the 1840s and 1850s. He was promoted to Captain in 1855 and stationed in Nebraska when his home state of South Carolina seceded from the Union.

“Tall, strong, and of fine background, Anderson never was disposed to quibble over authority or to indulge in any kind of boastfulness.” [22] He began the war commanding the 1st South Carolina Infantry, and was soon a brigadier. He fought well on the Peninsula and was promoted to Major General and given command of Benjamin Huger’s former division in July of 1862. He commanded the division at Second Manassas and at Antietam, where he was wounded in the vicious fighting at the Bloody Lane. The division saw little action at Fredericksburg, but in “the Battle of Chancellorsville, he and his men fought extremely well.” [23] Lee commented that at Chancellorsville that Anderson was “distinguished for the promptness, courage, and skill with which he and his division executed every order.” [24]

Lee considered Anderson a “capable officer”…and had marked him for future higher command.” [25] Anderson was noted for his modesty and unselfishness, “his easy going ways, combined with his competence and professionalism made him one of the most well liked officers in the Army of Northern Virginia.” [26]

However, there was an incalculable thrown into the equation. During the reorganization of the army, Anderson’s division was detached from Longstreet’s First Corps and assigned to Hill’s new Third Corps. Hill had not yet established his methods of operation as a corps commander, and Anderson, used to “Longstreet’s methodical insistence that everything be just so before he would venture into action” contrasted with Hill’s “tendency to leap before he looked.” [27]

Anderson’s division was composed of five brigades commanded by a mixed lot of commanders, none of whom were professionals.

Wilcox

Brigadier General Cadmus Wilcox was a no-nonsense graduate of the illustrious West Point class of 1846. Hailing from Tennessee, Wilcox was outgoing and popular, and before the end of his first year “had made friends of every member of the class. It was said that no cadet of his time had so many friends and was so universally esteemed.” [28] He kept those friends throughout the years, friends who remained his friends, even though they had to fight against him. Harry Heth said of him “I know of no man of rank who participated in our unfortunate struggle on the Southern side, who had more warm and sincere friends, North and South.” [29]

Wilcox graduated near the bottom of the class fifty-fourth of fifty-eight and was commissioned as an infantry officer. Wilcox served in the Mexican War where he was in the thick of the fight at Chapultepec, on the frontier, and taught tactics for five years at West Point. Following that assignment he studied for two years in Europe. Wilcox is an expert rifleman and instructor. He “wrote a manual, Rifle and Infantry Tactics, and translated an Austrian manual on infantry tactics.” [30]

When war came he resigned his commission and became Colonel of the 9th Alabama Infantry, and by October 1861 he was promoted to Brigadier General and given command of a brigade. He had served with distinction as a brigade commander at Williamsburg, Seven Pines and the Seven Days Battles, and was given acting command of small division at Second Manassas. However, after an uneven performance he is passed over for command of a division which instead was given to his classmate, George Pickett. Wilcox was disgruntled and upset at being “passed over for advancement in favor of a junior officer.” [31] “Restless, sore, and disposed to go to another Confederate army where he will have a chance,” [32] Wilcox asked Lee for a transfer to another army, but “Lee could not afford to lose such an experienced brigadier, and refused to transfer” him. [33]

At Chancellorsville the delaying action of his brigade at Salem’s Church had helped save the army. Sedgwick’s Sixth Corps had succeeded in crossing the Rappahannock and was marching on Lee’s rear areas. On May third with the fate of the army in the balance, Wilcox “reasoned intelligently and promptly when he should leave Banks’ Ford. Then, instead of joining Early, he took his chance on being destroyed in order that he might delay the enemy on the Plank Road.” [34] Wilcox and his troops, supported by other units of McLaws’ division which came up in support thrashed the Union troops, inflicting 1523 casualties for the loss of 674 men. [35] In his post-battle report Lee noted that Wilcox was “entitled to especial praise for the judgment and bravery displayed “in impeding Sedgwick “and for the gallant and successful stand at Salem’s Church.” [36] Three months later he will get his promotion to Major General and command of a division.

Mahone

Brigadier General William “Little Billy” Mahone was a diminutive graduate of VMI with no prior military experience.. Barely five foot five inches tall and weighing just 125 pounds the brigadier was described by Moxie Sorrel as “Very small in height and frame, he seemed a mere atom with little flesh.” [37] There was so little substance to his body that when his wife heard that he had “he had taken a flesh wound at Second Manassas…she knew it had to be serious, she said, “for William has no flesh whatsoever.” [38]

Instead Mahone was an engineer who had “established himself as a resourceful construction engineer for railroads.” [39] When Virginia seceded he was “president, chief engineer and superintendent of the new Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad, which he succeeded in constructing across the bottomless Dismal Swamp.” [40] Hard driven, he had dreams of connecting his railroad with others and linking the Virginia Tidewater with the Mississippi and the Pacific.

Mahone was an ardent secessionist and when Virginia seceded he took leave of his railroad and became Colonel of the 6th Virginia Infantry, with which he occupied Norfolk when Federal forces evacuated it. He was soon a brigadier and his skill in engineering was put to good use at Drewry’s Bluff before Richmond.

He commanded his brigade with reasonable effectiveness before Gettysburg. As a brigadier “he is not lacking in diligence, but he is not without special distinction.” [41] As a brigade commander fought competently at Chancellorsville and by Gettysburg had established himself as a “competent and experienced brigade leader.” [42] His actions at Gettysburg would be controversial, but he rose to fame as the war went on and became one of the hardest fighting division commanders in the Army of Northern Virginia during the Wilderness, Petersburg and to the end of the war where he “one of Lee’s most conspicuous – and trusted – subordinates.” [43]. Following the war Mahone expands the Norfolk and Western Railway system, and entered politics, where won election as a Republican to the U.S. Senate in 1880.

Wright

Brigadier General Ransom “Rans” Wright was a Georgia lawyer who had grown up dirt poor and between hard work and study had made a name for himself. He was a “very gifted man, a powerful writer, an effective orator, and a rare lawyer.” [44]

He had strong Unionist sentiments, something that gained him little popularity in a secession minded state, he was the brother in law of Stephen Douglas’s running mate Herschel Johnson and supported the pro-Union ticket of John Bell and Edward Everett.

Despite his sentiments Wright volunteered when Georgia seceded and despite his lack of military experience was named Colonel of the 3rd Georgia Infantry. He took command of his brigade as a Colonel and was promoted to Brigadier General in June 1862. By the time of Gettysburg he “was considered a well-tested combat veteran.” [45] Despite his earned reputation as a solid brigade commander, Wright “did not endear himself to the Virginia elite in the Army of Northern Virginia.” [46] In 1864 the Governor of Georgia requested that he be detached from the Army of Northern Virginia to serve in that state where he was promoted to Major General.

Posey

Brigadier General Carnot Posey was a highly successful plantation planter and lawyer who had served as a “lieutenant under Col. Jefferson Davis, and suffered a slight wound at the Battle of Buena Vista” [47] in the Mexican War. After the war he returned to his legal practice and was appointed as a United States District Attorney by President Buchanan, a position that he held until Mississippi seceded from the Union. At the outset of the war he organized a company named the “Wilkinson Rifles.” That company became part of the 16th Mississippi Infantry and Posey became its first Colonel. He was badly wounded at Cross Keys in the Valley campaign.

He fought well at Second Manassas and took acting command of Featherston’s brigade at Antietam. Despite a poor showing there by the brigade which collapsed in confusion after doomed counter-attack on the Sunken Road, he was promoted to brigade command prior to Chancellorsville where he and his brigade gave a strong performance under fire. He was mortally wounded at Bristoe Station on October 14th 1863.

Lang

Colonel David Lang commanded the Florida Brigade the smallest in the army. Just twenty-five years old, the graduate of the Georgia Military Institute inherited brigade command when Brigadier General Edward Perry came down with typhoid fever after Chancellorsville. He had only fought in three battles, two as a captain “and he had never led a brigade in combat.” [48] After Gettysburg when Perry returned to the brigade Lang returned to command his regiment, finally taking command of a brigade at Petersburg at the end of the war, without a promotion to Brigadier General.

Pender’s Division

William_Dorsey_Pender

Major General Dorsey Pender, C.S.A

Hill’s old Light Division was divided into two divisions. Major General William Dorsey Pender commanded the old Light Division which now consisted of four rather than six brigades.

Pender was a “pious, serious North Carolinian” [49]and a graduate of West Point when he graduated nineteenth of forty-six in that class. Prior to the war he served on the frontier and in California with the artillery and dragoons. During the secession crisis he “offered his services to the Confederacy even before most of the states, including his own, had seceded.” [50]

Pender was “only seven years out of West Point” [51] in 1863 when he was promoted to Major General and given command of his division, he was only twenty-nine years old, and the “youngest of that rank in the army.” [52] The young general was deeply loyal to Powell Hill and a partisan of the Light Division. However, he had risen “on first rate ability, steadfast ambition and a headlong personal leadership in battle which gave a driving force to his brigade” [53] which he considered “the best brigade of the best division” [54] in the army.

Lee praised him as “a most gallant officer” and was deeply sensitive about keeping Pender with the troops that found him so inspiring noting “I fear the effect upon men of passing him over in favour of another not so identified with them.” [55] Pender was an “intelligent, reflective man, deeply religious and guided by a strong sense of duty.” [56]

Pender’s four veteran brigades were commanded by three experienced officers and one new to brigade command, but the young general would not get to lead them into action for long as he was mortally wounded by a shell fragment before the division was to go into action on July 2nd at Gettysburg. His division would be led by Brigadier General James Lane on July 2nd and turned over to Major General Isaac Trimble shortly before Pickett’s Charge.

Perrin

Colonel Abner Perrin from South Carolina was the least experienced of Pender’s brigade commanders. He had prior Regular Army experience. He enlisted in the army at the age of nineteen and served as a lieutenant in Mexico. He resigned his commission in 1848 and became a successful lawyer. When secession came he volunteered and served as a company commander in the 14th South Carolina. Perrin took command of the regiment after Fredericksburg. He led the regiment in action for the first time at Chancellorsville. Lee named him to command the brigade when his brigade commander, Samuel McGowan, was wounded. He was not promoted to Brigadier General, but despite his inexperience he remained in command of the veteran South Carolina brigade, “whose leadership had been decimated” and had “devolved to lieutenant colonels, majors and captains.” [57] His brigade performed well on the first day, and his leadership earned him his promotion. He was killed in action in the “counterattack at the Bloody Angle at the Battle of Spotsylvania on May 12th, 1864. Just before the battle he promised to emerge a live major general or a dead brigadier.” [58]

Lane

Brigadier General James Lane was an academic. He graduated second in his class at VMI in 1854 and received a degree in science from the University of Virginia three years later. He returned to VMI as an assistant professor then became a professor of natural philosophy at the North Carolina Military Institute. [59]

He led many of his cadets to war when he was commissioned as a major in the 1st North Carolina Volunteer Infantry. He took command of it in September 1861 and was promoted to brigade command in October 1862 after Antietam.

Lane proved himself an able commander at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. During the Battle of Chancellorsville his brigade led Jackson’s assault against the Union right, suffering 909 casualties. That night he had the misfortune to be part of one of the saddest episodes of the Confederate war when one of his units mortally wounded Stonewall Jackson on the night of May 2nd 1863. Despite this “he and his men could be counted on to do the right thing when the bullets started to fly.” [60] He was badly wounded at Cold Harbor and missed most of the rest of the war. Following the war he returned to academics and was a professor of civil engineering at the Alabama Polytechnic Institute when he died in 1907.

Thomas

Brigadier General Edward Thomas was a plantation owner from Georgia. He was not completely without military experience having served as a lieutenant of Georgia mounted volunteers in the Mexican War. He was offered a commission in the Regular Army after the war, but he turned it down and returned home.

He became colonel of the 35th Georgia Infantry in October 1861 and led it as part of Pettigrew’s brigade. When Pettigrew was wounded at Seven Pines the regiment was shifted to Joseph Anderson’s brigade of the Light Division. Thomas assumed command of that brigade when Anderson was wounded at Frayser’s Farm and returned to Richmond to “resume direction of the important Tredegar Iron Works.” [61] He commanded it in the thick of the fighting at Second Manassas, and at Fredericksburg helped stop Meade’s advance with a fierce counterattack. He continued to command it at Chancellorsville. Thomas could always be counted on to deliver “a solid, if unspectacular performance.” [62] He remained in command of the brigade through the end of the war and surrendered with Lee at Appomattox.

Scales

Brigadier General Alfred Scales was new to brigade command. A “forty-five year old humorless politician…a duty driven public official-turned-warrior.” [63] Scales had served in the U.S. House of Representatives and left politics when the war began. Since he had no military experience he chose, unlike so many other men of stature, to enlist as a private when North Carolina seceded.

His fellow soldiers elected to a captaincy in Pender’s 3rd North Carolina Volunteers. When Pender was transferred, Scales succeeded him in command of the regiment. He commanded that regiment on the Peninsula and during the Seven Days. From that time Scales’ career was “one of consistent stout service in Pender’s hard fighting brigade.” [64] Scales served as acting commander of the brigade when Pender was wounded at Fredericksburg and “met the test.” [65] He distinguished himself with the 13th at Chancellorsville where he was wounded in the thigh. Scales service with Pender’s brigade “had been one of consistent stout service.” [66]

When Pender was promoted to division command “it was a forgone conclusion that his replacement in brigade command would be Scales.” [67] He had served with the brigade, was known to its soldiers and though inexperienced as a brigade commander he “and the brigade were one, for he had shared its fortunes, was proud of it, and was confident of victory as he led it to Gettysburg.” [68]

Heth’s Division

heth

Major General Harry Heth, C.S.A. 

Hill’s remaining division was commanded by the newly minted Major General Harry Heth. It was composed of the two remaining brigades of the Light Division and two brigades that had recently joined to the army for the offensive.

Harry Heth was a graduate of West Point who had a “high reputation personally and professionally.” [69] He was a cousin of George Pickett and joined Pickett as one of the hell raising cadets of the academy. Their reunion at the academy “developed into a three-year effort to see how much illicit merriment they could initiate without getting booted out.” [70] Heth graduated no higher in his class than Pickett did his the previous year, finishing at the bottom in the forty-five member class of 1847. Heth wrote of his West Point years later admitting that his academic record was

“abominable. My thoughts ran in the channel of fun. How to get to Benny Havens occupied more of my time than Legendre on Calculus. The time given to study was measured by the amount of time necessary to be given to prevent failure at the annual examinations.” [71]

Heth spent fourteen years in the old army, rising to the rank of Captain and spending most of his time on the frontier. Heth came from a family with long ties dating back to the American Revolution where his grandfather had, fought and the War of 1812 where his father had served. He was “well liked for his social graces, and Powell Hill held him in great respect.” [72]

Lee had a high regard for Heth who “had a solid record as Lee’s quartermaster general in the early days of Virginia’s mobilization for war.” [73] Lee considered him a friend and somewhat a protégé, however his regard “cannot be based on any substantive achievements by Heth, whose antebellum career and war experience had been similarly unremarkable.” [74] The appointment would prove to be a mistake. “Heth had little experience under fire, and an earlier petition for Heth’s promotion had been turned down by the Confederate Senate.” [75] When he recommended Heth for command of the new division he assured Jefferson Davis that he had “a high estimate of Genl. Heth.” [76] Heth did know his own deficiencies and candidly “admitted his own weaknesses and resisted the temptation to take himself too seriously.” [77]

Clifford Dowdy wrote that Heth was an example of a “soundly trained soldier of perennial promise. Always seemingly on the verge of becoming truly outstanding” but “never lived up to the army’s expectations.” [78] Heth became a brigade commander in Hill’s division prior to Chancellorsville after having served in Western Virginia and in the West.

Heth was new to command of the newly formed division which was a hastily put together force. In a new division where experienced leadership was needed, Heth had the weakest collection of brigade commanders in the Army of Northern Virginia at Gettysburg. Ironically, it would be the division that stumbled into combat against the Buford’s Cavalry and Reynold’s First Corps at Herr, McPherson and Seminary Ridge on July 1st 1863. After Gettysburg he retained command of his division “with steadfastness and some competence until the final surrender.” [79]

Pettigrew

Newest to the division was Brigadier General Johnston Pettigrew whose North Carolina brigade was one of the largest in the army. This was one of the new brigades provided to Lee by Davis, and “it had no appreciable experience.” [80] Pettigrew was a renaissance man, “the most educated of all Confederate generals.[81] He was a graduate of the University of North Carolina. He was “proficient in French, German, Italian and Spanish, with a reading knowledge of Greek, Hebrew and Arabic.” [82]

Pettigrew had spent a good amount of time abroad on diplomatic service before returning to his law practice in Charleston. He had “even spent time as a volunteer aid with the French and Italian forces against the Austrians in 1859.” [83] He was elected to the state legislature in 1856 when he “sensed the oncoming of hostilities and was named colonel of the 1st Regiment of Rifles, a Charleston militia outfit.” [84] Pettigrew was “one of those natural leaders of a privileged background who, without military ambitions, had been advanced on the application of native intelligence and contagious courage.” [85]

Davis

Brigadier General Joseph Davis, the nephew of President Jefferson Davis commanded a newly raised Mississippi brigade. Davis was “a congenial and conscientious officer,” but “he had never led troops in battle.”[86] Davis owed his appointment to his relationship with the President. He was “entirely without combat experience.[87] Robert Krick wrote that Davis’s “promotion to the rank of brigadier general seems to be as unadulterated an instance of nepotism as the record of the Confederacy offers.” [88] Davis survived Gettysburg and after a bout with typhoid fever returned to command his brigade and “served solidly, though unspectacularly, until the end of the war with Lee’s army.” [89]

Most of the war he had been spent on his uncle’s staff in Richmond and in his new appointment he was not with officers of any experience as “No one serving on Joe Davis’s staff showed strong signs of having the background, experience, and ability that might help the brigadier meet his responsibilities.” [90] Likewise the nine field grade officers assigned to the regiments of his brigade were similarly ill-equipped for what they would face in their first test of combat.

Archer

Heth did have the experienced mixed Alabama-Tennessee brigade of Brigadier General James Archer under his command, but despite its experience and “fine reputation” [91] the brigade was seriously understrength after seeing heavy combat at Chancellorsville.

The brigade commander James Archer was a native of Bel Air Maryland, one of two Maryland officers serving in the Army of Northern Virginia. Archer was graduate of the University of Maryland who practiced law before entering the Regular army as a Captain during the Mexican War. During the war he was brevetted for gallantry at the Battle of Chapultepec. He left the army after the war and then returned to it in 1855 as an infantry Captain and was serving in Walla Walla Washington as the secession crisis deepened.

He resigned his commission in March 1861 and was commissioned in the new Confederate army. He received command of the 5th Texas Regiment “who thought him a tyrant.” [92] Though he had no battle experience he was promoted to Brigadier General and took command of a Tennessee brigade at Seven Pines when its commander was killed. Like the Texans the Tennesseans did not take to him and dubbed him “The Little Game Cock.” [93]

Initially, Archer was not well liked in any of his commands, the Texans considered him a tyrant and he was “very non-communicative, the bearing and extreme reserve of the old army officer made him, for a time, one of the most hated of men.” [94] After being joined to the Light Division Archer transformed his reputation among his men and had “won the hearts of his men by his wonderful judgment and conduct on the field.” [95] He distinguished himself at Antietam, and though quite ill led his brigade solidly. At Fredericksburg Archer helped save the Confederate line by leading a counter-attack following the Union breakthrough at Telegraph Hill.

Brockenbrough

The last brigade of Heth’s division was the small Virginia brigade of the “plodding, uninspiring” [96] Colonel John Brockenbrough. Brockenbrough was a “wealthy, but rough- looking Virginia planter.” [97] He was an 1850 graduate of VMI.

He entered “entered service as colonel of the 40th [Virginia Infantry] in May 1861.” [98] The brigade when it had been commanded by Charles Field had been considered one of the best in the army. Brockenbrough took command of it in 1862 when Field was wounded, but he “had never managed the brigade well, especially at Fredericksburg, and Lee returned him to regimental command.” [99]

Brockenbrough again assumed the command of the brigade after Chancellorsville when Heth was promoted. Lee did not deem him suited for promotion, but believed that Brockenbrough “could be counted on to keep together a command sadly reduced in numbers.” [100] Like Archer’s brigade the brigade was “sadly reduced in numbers” and in morale…” [101] His performance at Gettysburg was dreadful and five days after the battle Lee relived him of command of the brigade, returning to his regiment with lower ranking subordinate in command of the brigade. He resigned from the army in 1864.

Hill’s Third Corps was the least prepared command to go into battle at Gettysburg. While some leaders, particularly Richard Anderson, Dorsey Pender and Cadmus Wilcox were excellent commanders, the corps was led by too many untried, inexperienced, or in some cases incompetent leaders to be committed to an offensive campaign so shortly after it was constituted. Likewise, some of its formations were just shells of what they had been before Chancellorsville and had not been reconstituted

[1] Waugh, John C. The Class of 1846: From West Point to Appomattox, Stonewall Jackson, George McClellan and their Brothers Ballantine Books, New York 1994 p.166

[2] Robertson, James I. Jr. General A.P. Hill: The Story of a Confederate Warrior Random House, New York 1987 p.13

[3] Ibid. Robertson General A.P. Hill p.26

[4] Ibid. Robertson General A.P. Hill p.22

[5] Ibid. Robertson General A.P. Hill p.95

[6] Ibid. Robertson General A.P. Hill p.95

[7] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.526

[8] Ibid. Freeman Lee p.304

[9] Ibid. Robertson, General A.P. Hillp.143

[10] Sears, Stephen W. Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam Houghton-Mifflin Company, Boston and New York 1983 p.285

[11] Ibid. Robertson General A.P. Hill p.144

[12] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.301

[13] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.45

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

[15] Ibid. Sears Landscape Turned Red p.285

[16] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.301

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

[18] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.434

[19] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.526

[20] Ibid. Taylor, John Duty Faithfully Performed p.290

[21] Ibid. Wert General James Longstreet p.249

[22] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.108

[23] Ibid. Glatthaar General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse p.343

[24] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.512

[25] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.86

[26] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.306

[27] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg pp.86-87

[28] Ibid. Waugh The Class of 1846 p.69

[29] Ibid. Waugh The Class of 1846 p.498

[30] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.310

[31] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.310

[32] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.46

[33] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.310

[34] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.512

[35] Sears, Stephen W. Chancellorsville Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 1996 p.385

[36] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.512

[37] Trudeau, Noah Andre, The Last Citadel: Petersburg, Virginia, June 1864-April 1865 Little Brown and Company, Boston, Toronto, London 1991 p.117

[38] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.55

[39] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.243

[40] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.314

[41] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.48

[42] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.315

[43] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.243

[44] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.328

[45] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.317

[46] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.328

[47] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.319

[48] ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.322

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

[50] ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.325

[51] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.85

[52] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.47

[53] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.85

[54] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.45

[55] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.47

[56] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.85

[57] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.331

[58] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.332

[59] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg pp.332-333

[60] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.334

[61] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.282

[62] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.337

[63] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.338-339

[64] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.421

[65] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.421

[66] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.421

[67] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.338

[68] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.306

[69] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.46

[70] Ibid. Longacre Pickett p.13

[71] Ibid. Longacre Pickett p.13

[72] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.88

[73] Ibid. Robertson General A.P. Hill p.178

[74] Ibid. Krick, Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge: p.96

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

[76] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.47

[77] Ibid. Robertson General A.P. Hill p.178

[78] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.87

[79] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.342

[80] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.50

[81] Ibid. Robertson General A.P. Hill p.196

[82] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.343

[83] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.129

[84] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.343

[85] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.78

[86] Ibid. Robertson General A.P. Hill p.196

[87] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.553

[88] Krick, Robert K. Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge: Failures of Brigade Leadership on the First Day of Gettysburg in The First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gallagher, Gary W. Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 1992

[89] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.354

[90] Ibid. Krick Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.101

[91] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.87

[92] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.349

[93] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.350

[94] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.349

[95] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.350

[96] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.55

[97] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.134

[98] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.118

[99] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.134

[100] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.529

[101] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.134

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“Our Army Would be Invincible if…” The Problem of Senior Leadership in the Army of Northern Virginia Part Two, The Third Corps

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This is the second part of an article that I posted yesterday which is part of my Gettysburg series. This focuses on the Third Corps commanded by Lieutenant General A.P. Hill. The link to the first article is here: https://padresteve.com/2014/07/28/our-army-would-be-invincible-if-the-problem-of-senior-leadership-in-the-army-of-northern-virginia-june-1863-part-one-first-and-second-corps/

The newly created Third Corps under Lieutenant General A.P. Hill was thought to be in good hands. Hill had commanded his large; six brigade “Light Division” with distinction, though having serious conflicts with both Longstreet and Jackson. At Antietam Hill’s hard marching from Harpers Ferry had saved the Army of Northern Virginia from destruction. Hill was a graduate of West Point who had served in the topographic engineers most of his U.S. Army career. He had an earned reputation as a brilliant division commander, and despite his clashes with Longstreet and Hill Lee recommended him to take command of Third Corps who sang his praise to Jefferson Davis “the best soldier of his grade with me.” [1] Hill was a “nervous wiry man with a persistent chip of underappreciation on his shoulders and a bevy of chronic illnesses when under stress.” [2] Hill detested Jackson, who he referred to as “that old Presbyterian fool” [3] and his poor relations with Jackson’s confidants at Second Corps ensured that Ewell took Second Corps. Lee appointed Hill to command Third Corps of which “half of the troops had been with him all along” [4] in the Light Division. Lee liked Hill’s aggressiveness and command instincts, something that he hoped would translate into success at the corps level, and promoted him over the head of D.H. Hill and Lafayette McLaws who were both senior to him. Regarding the promotion of Hill and Ewell Lee wrote to Davis:

“I wish to take advantage of every circumstance to inspire and encourage…the officers and men to believe that their labors are appreciated, and that when vacancies occur that they will receive the advantages of promotion….I do not know where to get better men than those I have named.” [5]

But the decision to promote the Ewell and Hill, both Virginians stirred some dissent among those that believed that Lee was “favoring Virginians over officers from other states. The promotion of A.P. Hill, as previous noted was “made over the head of two Major Generals more senior than Hill- North Carolinian D.H. Hill and Georgian Lafayette McLaws.” [6]

Hill’s corps, like those of Longstreet and Ewell was composed of three divisions, and even more so than Ewell his division suffered a want of senior leaders who had served at the grade they were now expected to serve.

The most stable division in Third Corps was Richard Anderson’s, transferred from First Corps. Under Longstreet the division and its commander had served well. Lee considered Anderson a “capable officer”…and had marked him for future higher command.” [7] Anderson was noted for his modesty and unselfishness, “his easy going ways, combined with his competence and professionalism made him one of the most well liked officers in the Army of Northern Virginia.” [8] However, there was an incalculable thrown into the equation. Hill had not yet established his methods of operation as a corps commander, and Anderson, used to “Longstreet’s methodical insistence that everything be just so before he would venture into action” contrasted with Hill’s “tendency to leap before he looked.” [9]

Anderson’s division was composed of five brigades commanded by a mixed lot of commanders, none of whom were professionals.

Brigadier General Cadmus Wilcox was a no-nonsense graduate of West Point; he served in the Mexican War and taught tactics for five years at West Point. He had served with distinction as a brigade commander, but Wilcox was disgruntled, he “is restless, sore, and disposed to go to another Confederate army where he will have a chance.” [10] Wilcox had been passed over for promotion to Major General in favor of George Pickett and requested transfer from Lee’s army, which was refused for lack of qualified leaders. At Chancellorsville the delaying action of his brigade at Salem’s Church had helped save the army.

Brigadier General William Mahone was a graduate of VMI and was superintendent of the new Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad when the war Virginia seceded from the Union and served with reasonable effectiveness before Gettysburg. As a brigadier “he is not lacking in diligence, but he is not without special distinction.” [11] He fought competently at Chancellorsville and by Gettysburg had established himself as a “competent and experienced brigade leader.” [12]

Brigadier General Ransom Wright had no military training or experience prior to the war, but was a successful lawyer and by Gettysburg he “was considered a well-tested combat veteran.” [13] He had Unionist sentiments, was a no-nonsense individual and though he had no military was named colonel of the 3rd Georgia in 1861 and became a brigade commander during the Seven Days.

Brigadier General Carnot Posey was a highly successful plantation planter and lawyer who had served as a “lieutenant under Col. Jefferson Davis, and suffered a slight wound at the Battle of Buena Vista” [14] in the Mexican War, after which he returned home as was appointed as a United States District Attorney by President Buchanan. Posey commanded the 16th Mississippi and was promoted to brigade command prior to Chancellorsville where he gave a strong performance under fire.

Colonel David Lang commanded the Florida Brigade the smallest in the army. Just twenty-five years old, the graduate of the Georgia Military Institute inherited brigade command when Brigadier General Edward Perry came down with typhoid fever after Chancellorsville. He had only fought in three battles, two as a captain “and he had never led a brigade in combat.” [15]

Hill’s old Light Division was divided into two divisions. Major General William Dorsey Pender commanded the old Light Division which now consisted of four rather than six brigades. Pender was only 29 years old, the “youngest of that rank in the army.” [16] Pender was “only seven years out of West Point” [17] and was deeply loyal to Powell Hill and a partisan of the Light Division. However, he had risen “on first rate ability, steadfast ambition and a headlong personal leadership in battle which gave a driving force to his brigade” [18] which he considered “the best brigade of the best division” [19] in the army. Lee praised him as “a most gallant officer” and was deeply sensitive about keeping Pender with the troops that found him so inspiring noting “I fear the effect upon men of passing him over in favour of another not so identified with them.” [20] Pender was an “intelligent, reflective man, deeply religious and guided by a strong sense of duty.” [21]

Pender’s four veteran brigades were commanded by three experienced officers and one new to brigade command.

Colonel Abner Perrin from South Carolina was the least experienced. He was a successful lawyer who had served as a lieutenant in the Regular army in Mexico, served as a company commander in the 14th South Carolina which he took command of after Fredericksburg. He led the regiment at Chancellorsville and took command of the brigade when the brigade commander was wounded. Despite his inexperience he remained in command of the veteran South Carolina brigade, “whose leadership had been decimated” and had “devolved to lieutenant colonels, majors and captains.” [22]

Brigadier General James Lane was an academic. He graduated second in his class at VMI in 1854 and received a degree in science from the University of Virginia three years later. He returned to VMI as an assistant professor then became a professor of natural philosophy at the North Carolina Military Institute. [23] He was commissioned as a major in the 1st North Carolina and took command of it in September 1861 and promoted to brigade command after Antietam. Lane proved himself an able commander at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, at the latter his brigade led Jackson’s assault against the Union right, suffering 909 casualties and had the misfortune of when one of his units mortally wounded Jackson on the night of May 2nd 1863. Despite this “he and his men could be counted on to do the right thing when the bullets started to fly.” [24]

Brigadier General Edward Thomas was a plantation owner from Georgia who had served as a lieutenant in the Mexican War. Offered a commission in the Regular army he turned it down and returned home. He became colonel of the 35th Georgia Infantry in October 1861 and led it as part of Pettigrew’s brigade and after Pettigrew was wounded at Seven Pines the brigade was shifted to Joseph Anderson’s brigade of the Light Division, assuming command of that brigade when Anderson was wounded at Frayser’s Farm. He commanded it in the thick of the fighting at Second Manassas and at Fredericksburg helped stop Meade’s advance with a fierce counterattack, and commanded it again at Chancellorsville. Thomas could always be counted on to deliver “a solid, if unspectacular performance.” [25]

Brigadier General Alfred Scales was new to brigade command. A “forty-five year old humorless politician” [26] who had served in the U.S. House of Representatives with no military experience Scales enlisted as a private when North Carolina seceded. He was elected to a captaincy in Pender’s regiment and when Pender was transferred Scales succeeded him in command of the 13th North Carolina. He commanded that regiment on the Peninsula and during the Seven Days, served as acting commander of the brigade when Pender was wounded at Fredericksburg and distinguished himself with the 13th at Chancellorsville. Scales service with Pender’s brigade “had been one of consistent stout service.” [27] When Pender was promoted to division command “it was a forgone conclusion that his replacement in brigade command would be Scales.” [28] He had served with the brigade, was known to its soldiers and though inexperienced as a brigade commander he “and the brigade were one, for he had shared its fortunes, was proud of it, and was confident of victory as he led it to Gettysburg.” [29]

Hill’s remaining division was commanded by the newly minted Major General Harry Heth. It was composed of the two remaining brigades of the Light Division and two brigades recently joined to the army for the offensive.

Harry Heth was a graduate of West Point who has a “high reputation personally and professionally” [30] in the army, despite finishing 38th in a 45 member class at West Point. Lee had a high regard for Heth and considered him a friend and somewhat a protégé, however his regard “cannot be based on any substantive achievements by Heth, whose antebellum career and war experience had been similarly unremarkable.” [31] Heth was an example of a “soundly trained soldier of perennial promise. Always seemingly on the verge of becoming truly outstanding” but “never lived up to the army’s expectations.” [32] Heth became a brigade commander in Hill’s division prior to Chancellorsville after having served in Western Virginia and in the West. Hill was new to command of a newly formed division and had the weakest collection of brigade commanders in the army at Gettysburg.

Newest to the division was Johnston Pettigrew whose North Carolina brigade was one of the largest in the army. This was one of the new brigades provided to Lee by Davis, Pettigrew was a renaissance man, and was a graduate of the University of North Carolina he was “proficient in French, German, Italian and Spanish, with a reading knowledge of Greek, Hebrew and Arabic.” [33] Pettigrew had spent a good amount of time abroad on diplomatic service before returning to his law practice in Charleston. He had “even spent time as a volunteer aid with the French and Italian forces against the Austrians in 1859.” [34] Elected to the state legislature in 1856 he “sensed the oncoming of hostilities and was named colonel of the 1st Regiment of Rifles, a Charleston militia outfit.” [35] Pettigrew was “one of those natural leaders of a privileged background who, without military ambitions, had been advanced on the application of native intelligence and contagious courage.” [36]

Brigadier General Joseph Davis, the nephew of President Jefferson Davis commanded a newly raised Mississippi brigade. Davis owed his appointment to his relationship with the President. He was “entirely without combat experience.[37] Most of the war he had spent on his uncle’s staff in Richmond and in his new appointment he was not with officers of any experience as “No one serving on Joe Davis’s staff showed strong signs of having the background, experience, and ability that might help the brigadier meet his responsibilities.” [38] Likewise the nine field officers assigned to his regiments were similarly ill-equipped.

Heth did have the experienced mixed Alabama-Tennessee brigade of Brigadier General James Archer. Despite its experience and “fine reputation” [39] the brigade was seriously understrength after seeing heavy combat at Chancellorsville. The brigade commander Archer was a graduate of the University of Maryland who practiced law before entering the Regular army as a Captain during the Mexican War where he was breveted for gallantry at the Battle of Chapultapec. He left the army after the war and then returned to it in 1855. He commanded the 5th Texas Regiment and took command of a Tennessee brigade at Seven Pines. Initially Archer was not well liked by any of his commands, the Texans considered him a tyrant and he was “very non-communicative, the bearing and extreme reserve of the old army officer made him, for a time, one of the most hated of men.” [40]After being joined to the Light Division Archer transformed his reputation among his men and had “won the hearts of his men by his wonderful judgment and conduct on the field.” [41]

The last brigade of Heth’s division was the small Virginia brigade of the “plodding, uninspiring” [42] Colonel John Brockenbrough. Brockenbrough was an 1850 graduate of VMI and “entered service as colonel of the 40th [Virginia Infantry] in May 1861.” [43] The brigade when it had been commanded by Charles Field had been considered one of the best in the army. Brockenbrough took command of it in 1862 when Field was wounded and “had never managed the brigade well, especially at Fredericksburg, and Lee returned him to regimental command.” [44] He reassumed the command of the brigade after Chancellorsville when Heth was promoted. Like Archer’s brigade it was “sadly reduced in numbers” and in morale…” [45]

Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia would go into the Gettysburg Campaign with two new and untried corps commanders. Of nine infantry division commanders three were new to command and another who had never commanded a division in combat. Of the infantry brigade commanders First Corps was in the best shape with ten of eleven assigned commanders having experience in command at that level, and most were of sound reputation. Second Corps was worse off, with six of thirteen assigned brigade commanders new to command, and two of the experienced brigade commanders were not competent to command at that level. Third Corps had nine of its thirteen commanders who had experience as brigade commanders; however, one of them, Brockenbrough was of little value despite being experienced.

Had the army had more time to exercise the new commanders before going into action Lee might have had a better result, but as he told Hood “this army would be invincible if….” As we know, if is the biggest two letter word in the English language, and these men, as Barbara Tuchman noted would be “made bold by the moment, some irresolute, some carefully judicious, some paralyzed and powerless to act.”

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Notes

[1] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.526

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

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

[4] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.434

 

[5] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.526

[6] Ibid. Taylor, John Duty Faithfully Performed p.290

[7] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.86

[8] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.306

[9] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg pp.86-87

[10] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.46

[11] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.48

[12] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.315

[13] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.317

[14] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.319

[15] ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.322

[16] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.47

[17] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.85

[18] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.85

[19] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.45

[20] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.47

[21] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.85

[22] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.331

[23] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg pp.332-333

[24] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.334

[25] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.337

[26] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.338

[27] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.421

[28] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.338

[29] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.306

[30] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.46

[31] Krick, Robert K. Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge: Failures of Brigade Leadership on the First Day of Gettysburg in The First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gallagher, Gary W. Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 1992 p.96

[32] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.87

[33] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.343

[34] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.129

[35] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.343

[36] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.78

[37] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.553

[38] Ibid. Krick Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.101

[39] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.87

[40] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.349

[41] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.350

[42] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.55

[43] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.118

[44] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.134

[45] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.134

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Gettysburg Day Two: The Peach Orchard, Wheat Field and Devil’s Den

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“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.” From the Mission Command White Paper and JP 3-31

As on the first day of battle and throughout the Gettysburg campaign issues of command and control would be of paramount importance. 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 while 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.

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 XII Corps under the command of Major General Henry Slocum held Culp’s Hill. The battered remnants of I and XI Corps under the command of Oliver Howard and Abner Doubleday held Cemetery Hill while Winfield Scott Hancock’s crack II Corps extended the line down Cemetery Ridge. To II Corps right was Dan Sickles’ III Corps with George Sykes V Corps in Reserve. John Sedgwick’s VI Corps was still enroute, marching up the Baltimore Pike.

It was a solid and well laid out position which commanded the battlefield. 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.” (1)

sicklesMajor General Dan Sickles

There was one notable problem, Dan Sickles did not like the position assigned to his corps. His corps which joined the left flank of II Corps was to extend down Cemetery Ridge to Devil’s Den and Little Round Top. 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 no avail. Sickles was disturbed because John Buford’s Cavalry division which has been deployed on the Federal left had been moved to the rear by Pleasanton the Cavalry Corps commander and not replaced.

Hunt who had accompanied Sickles back to his corps pointed out that the position was too exposed and too expansive for the number of troops Sickles had in his corps. He advised Sickles not to advance and assured Sickles that he would discuss Sickles’ concerns with Meade. (2)

To remedy the situation he sent out four companies of Sharpshooters supported by the 3rd Maine Infantry to make a reconnaissance. Those troops ran into a large force of advancing Confederate Infantry near Seminary Ridge and withdrew, Colonel Brenden of the Sharpshooters informing Sickles of the Confederate advance.

Sickles now felt that the Union line was about to be turned as it had been at Chancellorsville and without consulting Meade or Hancock took it upon himself to save the situation. It was an act of brazen insubordination, but typical of the mercurial, vain and scandal plagued man who “wore notoriety like a cloak” and “whether he was drinking, fighting, wenching or plotting, he was always operating with the throttle wide open.” (3)

About mid-afternoon Sickles advanced III Corps forward in a “mile long line of battle with waving flags and rumbling batteries rolling west into the afternoon sunlight.” (4) The sight confused other commanders such as John Gibbon commanding a division in II Corps who watched in amazement from his vantage point on Cemetery Ridge. Sickles advanced nearly a mile in front of his previous position opening a gap between III Corps and II Corps. He attempted to hold a new line that was longer and more exposed than the number of troops that he had available. 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 he ran out of troops.

gettysburg-peach-orchard

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. (5) It was also about to be hit by the full fury and power of Hood’s and McLaws’ divisions of Longstreet’s First Corps supported by 46 well placed artillery pieces (6) all about to open fire on Sickles badly deployed corps.

About 3 PM Meade broke from a planned commander’s conference to investigate what had happened to Sickles and III Corps, accompanying Meade was Warren. Warren who was most familiar with that part of the battlefield noted that III Corps was “very badly disposed on that part of the field.”7

Confronting Sickles in the Peach Orchard Meade was visibly perturbed. Meade informed Sickles that “General I am afraid that you are too far out” (8) attempting to control his temper. Sickles disagreed and said 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…” (9) 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.”(10)

Sickles offered to withdraw 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 [withdraw]…but those people will not permit it.” (11) Another account states that Meade told Sickles “You cannot hold this position but the enemy will not let you get away without a fight.”(12)

Since Sedgwick’s powerful VI Corps had just arrived Meade ordered it into reserve. He then ordered Sykes V Corps from its reserve position and one division of II Corps to support the dangerously exposed III Corps around the Peach Orchard and Wheat Field. He then told Sickles “if you need more artillery call on the reserve!” (13) It was an action that very likely saved the day, another example of Meade taking control of a bad situation preventing it from becoming even worse.

For Lee and Longstreet the morning had been spent disagreeing on a plan to crush Meade. Though his army was operating on exterior lines with his corps having no way to effectively coordinate their actions and still lacking Stuart’s Cavalry, Pickett’s Infantry division and Law’s brigade of Hood’s division Lee insisted that Longstreet and First Corps make a frontal attack on the Union left. Longstreet demurred and tried to convince Lee of turning the Union flank to the south of the Round Tops. Longstreet 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.” (14)

Lee did not believe that such a move could succeed without the assistance of Stuart’s cavalry and Longstreet did not believe that with Pickett’s division that his corps had the combat power to successfully complete the mission. Hood objected to the attack pleading with 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.”(15)

HD_hoodJB1Major General John Bell Hood

The debate between Longstreet and Hood continued as Hood objected and Longstreet reiterated Lee’s insistence on the planned attack. Hood pleaded for freedom of maneuver believing 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.”(16) 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.” (17)

However in addition to his contention with Lee and Hood Longstreet had to deal with Lee jumping the chain of command. With Longstreet in earshot order McLaws to make an attack on the Peach Orchard and ignored McLaws repeated requests to make a further reconnaissance before launching the attack. 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. The senior commanders of the Army of Northern Virginia had functioned poorly throughout the day but when the attack began it was like a violent storm as Confederate troops fell upon the exposed Federal III Corps.

mclawsMajor General Lafayette McLaws

When the attack was launched McLaws division and the left wing of Hood’s division struck the exposed positions of III Corps. Sickles was severely wounded by a bouncing cannon ball which shattered a leg knocking him out of the fight, Hood too was badly wounded early in the action leaving command of his division to Brigadier General Evander Law, whose brigade had just arrived on the battlefield after a long march from New Guilford in the Cumberland Valley. Though now in command Law continued to command his own brigade in the assault and Robertson took the initiative to bring up the rest of the division. (18)

McLaws and Hood’s soldiers hit Sickles Corps hard shattering it. Despite fierce resistance from the Federal forces Sickles’ corps was forced to retreat. The reinforcements ordered to the sector from V Corps, II Corps and the artillery reserve arrived piecemeal and also sustained heavy casualties but eventually helped to stem the Confederate tide. III Corps was wrecked and effectively out of the battle but the actions of Meade, Hancock, Warren, Gibbon, Sykes and Hunt to respond to Sickles folly kept the Confederates from sweeping the field.

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Law, Robertson’s and Benning’s brigades opened Hood’s attack toward Devil’s Den and Little Round Top.
Fierce fighting ensued at Devil’s Den where the Federal line, occupied by Colonel A. Van Horn Ellis’ 124th New York and 4 guns of Smith’s artillery battery put up a stiff resistance. Ellis’s small regiment numbered but 18 officers and 220 men when it entered the fight but it held off several charges of the Texans and even conducted a counter-attack before being overwhelmed by fresh troop’s from Benning’s brigade. During the fight Ellis mounted his horse noting that “The men must see us today.”(19) Ellis died in the action as did many of his brave soldiers. In the valley between Devil’s Den and the Round Tops the 4th Maine and Smith’s 2 remaining guns fought large numbers of Hood’s troops and as the outnumbered Federals fell back the Texan’s of Robertson’s brigade and Law’s Alabamians surged toward the rocky hill.

Col. Van Horne Ellis, 124th N.Y. InfColonel Augustus Van Horn Ellis

Brigadier General William Barksdale’s Mississippi brigade which had distinguished itself at Fredericksburg stormed the Federal positions breaking through the salient and driving forward. He led his brigade forward though it had suffered significant casualties and was losing cohesion. Barksdale insisted on continuing to the advance and not taking time to reform his lines shouting at one of his regimental commanders “No! Crowd them- we have them on the run. Move your regiments.” (20 )

GeneralBarksdale_zps3678f799willardBarksdale and Willard (below)

As the brigade reached the lower portion of Cemetery Ridge a fresh Federal brigade commanded by Colonel George Willard 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 fresh and full of fight fell upon the Mississippians who were spent and disorganized having reached their culminating point. Barksdale continued to urge on his men but was mortally wounded and his troops driven back by the New Yorkers. Willard did not live long to savor the redemption as he was hit by a cannon ball and killed instantly.

The First MinnesotaFirst Minnesota attacks Wilcox’s Brigade

To the north of the salient Anderson’s division of Hill’s corps attacked toward Cemetery Ridge meeting heavy resistance. 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 telling Covill: “Colonel, do you see those colors?…Then take them.” 21 Between 170-178 of the Minnesotans fell in the counter-attack but they succeeded in blunting Wilcox’s attack and Wilcox seeing no help or support withdrew from Cemetery Ridge.

By the evening fresh Federal troops directed by Meade, Hancock and Hunt poured into the sector. By the end of the day despite sustaining massive casualties the Federal Army held its ground in large part thanks to the active role played by Meade, Hancock, Warren and Hunt in anticipating danger and bringing the appropriate forces to bear.

The fighting around the Peach Orchard, the Wheat field 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. Combined with the repulse at Little Round Top the Confederate troops consolidated their positions.

In the end though McLaws’ and Hood’s divisions had succeeded in thrashing Sickles’ exposed salient they were unsuccessful at breaking the Federal line. Casualties were heavy on both sides but the attack had failed and it had failed because because of senior leadership of Lee and his corps commanders. One of Lee’s biographer’s wrote “Longstreet was disgruntled, Ewell was inept and Hill was unwell.” (22) To make matters worse Lee did not assert himself and even his most devoted biographer Douglas Southall Freeman would write that on July 2d “the Army of Northern Virginia was without a commander.” (23)

Until the next installment,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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

2 Foote, Shelby The Civil War, A Narrative: Fredericksburg to Meridian. Vintage Books, a Division of Random House, New York 1963 p.495 

3 Catton, Bruce The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road Doubleday and Company, Garden City New York, 1952 pp.150-151

4 Ibid p.288 

5 Ibid. Foote p.496

6 Ibid. p.289

7 Ibid. Jordan p.90 

8 Ibid. Foote p.496

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

10 Sears, Stephen Gettysburg Houghton Mifflin Company Boston and New York 2004 p.263

11 Ibid. 

12 Ibid. Sears p.263

13 Ibid. Foote p.497

14 Pfanz, Harry W. Gettysburg the Second Day University of North Carolina Press, Charlotte and London, 1987 p.112 

15 Ibid. Foote p.499

16 Ibid. 

17 Ibid.

18 Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign a Study in Command A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster, New York 1968 pp.402-403

19 Ibid. Pfanz p.293

20 Truedeau, Noah Andre Gettysburg a Testing of Courage Perennial Books, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.368

21 Ibid. p.393

22 Taylor, John M. Duty Faithfully Performed: Robert E Lee and His Critics Brassey’s, Dulles VA 1999 p.149

23 Freeman, Douglas S. R.E. Lee volume 3 Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York 1935 p.150

 

 

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