Tag Archives: the Peach Orchard

Controversy and Glory: Dan Sickles Part Six

Daniel_Edgar_Sickles

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am taking a break for the past week or so to read and reflect. As such I am re-posting some articles from my Gettysburg text dealing with a man that I consider one of the most fascinating , salacious, scandalous, heroic, and incredible figures ever to grace and disgrace American history, Congressman, and Civil War General Daniel E. Sickles.

I hope that you enjoy,

Peace

Padre Steve+

LongstreetJ_main

Lieutenant General James Longstreet C.S.A.

President John F. Kennedy paraphrased the words of the Roman Emperor Tacitus after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, Kennedy told a journalist, “victory has 100 fathers and defeat is an orphan.” The problem in doing a proper analysis of Longstreet’s assault is the fact that many of the men involved on both sides made the battle personal, issuing scathing denunciations of one another, fudging the facts to their advantage, and by making the fight political a political football in the South and in the North.

The Confederate attacks had been badly directed and uncoordinated. In the end though McLaws’ and Hood’s divisions had succeeded in thrashing Sickles’ Third Corps in the exposed salient they were unsuccessful at breaking the Federal line. The disjointed nature of their attacks and the lack of active command and control by Lee and Longstreet had much to do with the outcome. Lee’s presence was needed on the south end of the Confederate line, but he left Longstreet to his own devices.

There was much blame to go around on the Confederate side, Longstreet placed much of the blame for the defeat on Lee, which earned him the everlasting enmity of many Confederates. But Lee’s Warhorse also met with criticism, especially for his performance on July 2nd 1863. Some of the most withering came not years later, but in the days following the battle. The harshest came from Lafayette McLaws, his old friend, who had been a favorite of Longstreet. McLaws blamed his corps commander for the defeat, writing his wife, “I think that the attack was unnecessary and the whole plan of battle a very bad one. Genl Longstreet is to blame for not reconnoitering the ground and for persisting in ordering the assault when his errors were discovered. During the engagement he was very excited [,] giving contrary orders to every one, and exceedingly overbearing. I consider him a humbug – a man of small capacity, very obstinate, not at all chivalrous, exceedingly conceited, and totally selfish….” [1]

One of Longstreet’s biographers wrote “Longstreet’s performance during the morning deserves criticism…. Had he attended to the details that were his responsibility and not allowed his disagreement with Lee to affect his judgment and effort, the afternoon assault would have begun sooner, but not several hours earlier.” [2] That historian believes that had Sickles not moved forward that Longstreet’s attack, even if made earlier would have met success, something echoed by Porter Alexander who wrote, “There seems no doubt that Longstreet’s attack on the 2nd been materially sooner, we would have gained a decided victory.” [3]

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. Had Lee “duplicated the active role taken by his counterpart, George Meade, the outcome might have been different.” [4] But this too is speculation born of perfect 20/20 hindsight. One of Lee’s biographer’s wrote “Longstreet was disgruntled, Ewell was inept and Hill was unwell.” [5] To make matters worse, throughout the day, Robert E. Lee did not assert himself and even his most devoted biographer Douglas Southall Freeman would write that on July 2nd 1863 “the Army of Northern Virginia was without a commander.” [6]

general-george-meade

Major General George Meade U.S. Army

On the Federal side most of the controversy has to do with Sickles’ decision to move the Third Corps forward from Cemetery Hill to the Peach Orchard and so it is appropriate to close this chapter discussing Dan Sickles. The matter has been a long subject of controversy, especially because of the way that Sickles politicized his actions in the press and in the Congressional hearings that followed. Many generals on both sides blundered at Gettysburg.

One can speculate that had Sickles remained in the position dictated by Meade that the Confederate assault might have gone down to an even more disastrous defeat. That being said the line that Sickles would have occupied with his 10,600 troops was long and he could not have held it in great strength, even Little Round Top would have been lightly occupied, and Meade might not have been forced to reexamine his line. It is fully possible that “had Longstreet attacked there with the same headlong fury, it is possible that the Confederates would have broken through not merely into Sickles’ rear, but into the entire Union rear and that disaster would have been the result.” [7] However, Sickles, even though he thought he was justified, was wrong in not informing Meade of the move, and leaving his army commander ignorant of the position of his left.

Sickles action, though an error, was something that could have been rationally addressed by him and Meade long before the Confederate attack began. Had the two men “worked in tandem – that is had the line taken by the Third Corps been shared by the Fifth, and had command matters been resolved and fallback plans established – Longstreet’s troops would have been hard pressed to achieve any of their goals.” [8] One historian put the matter of Sickles’s decision and the subsequent controversies into perspective:

“The entire episode has been clouded since 1863 by issues of politics and personality that hinder unbiased analysis. It is time to put aside such extraneous issues. When Sickles’s scandalous prewar behavior, postwar bombast, and special pleading are discounted and the case is considered solely on its merits, the results of the Third Corps advance speak for themselves. Dan Sickles was not perfect on July 2, 1862, but neither was he the military buffoon so often portray.” [9]

In his after action report Meade criticized Sickles and did so again before the Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War, that latter in regard to comments made by Sickles and his supporters both to the committee and in the press. Meade not only had to deal with the diversions created by Sickles, he also had the real problem of Abraham Lincoln’s disappointment with his failure to catch and destroy the Army of Northern Virginia before it escaped across the Potomac. Dan Sickles did not have to worry about that, and “he could play the role that politicians play best: critic and second guesser.” [10]With the press on his side the former disgraced Congressman was now a one legged war hero, and Sickles attempted to use his redemption and status of a hero “to have Meade removed from command in disgrace.” [11] Many generals on both sides blundered at Gettysburg. Had Sickles taken the high road after the battle rather than attempting to torpedo the name and reputation of George Meade, his action might have provoked less controversy, and “Dan Sickles the historical figure has paid a permanent price for this, overshadowing the laudable work he did as an early force in establishing the Gettysburg National Memorial Park.” [12]

That was most unfortunate, for it has poisoned the discussion of the battle for over 150 years. Unlike Lee, Meade was constantly leading from the front on this long and brutal afternoon. Meade fought a magnificent defensive battle and recovered from the surprise of Sickles movement even as Sickles and his soldiers fought hard greatly impeded the Confederate plan. Sickles was praised in the press and even by long term enemies such as George Templeton Strong, who wrote, “I suppose Sickles… with his one leg, among our best volunteer officers. His recuperative powers are certainly wonderful. Four years ago he was a ruined man in every sense, a pariah whom to know was discreditable.” [13]

“The whole damned field is my memorial”

The Excelsior Brigade Monument at Gettysburg

But the continuing controversy which always seemed to swirl around him prevented him from being honored on the battlefield where he lost his leg. Alone of all the Union Corps commanders at Gettysburg Sickles has no memorial on the battlefield. When asked about the lack of a monument, Sickles, in his typical manner is reported to have said that “The whole damned field is my memorial.” [14]Despite the controversy surrounding his life, and those that swirled in the fighting and refighting of the Battle of Gettysburg, in true fashion Dan Sickles went on to further glory and scandal. Ulysses Grant never allowed him to command troops in the field, Sickles commanded the Military Department of South Carolina, the Department of the Carolinas, and the Department of the South, where was a strong proponent of Reconstruction. Teresa died of tuberculosis in 1866

He was retired as a Major General in the Regular Army in 1869 and went on to serve as Minister to Spain where he carried on an affair with the deposed Queen Isabella, a nymphomaniac who long before she ever Sickles had conducted a myriad of high profile affairs. The affair with the former queen was open and offensive to many people, but neither seemed to mind. In a sense they were kindred spirits. A Paris newspaper dubbed the one-legged General “the Yankee King of Spain.” [15]The affair with Isabella eventually burned itself out and Sickles married Senorita Caroline de Creagh, the daughter of a Spanish Minister, who bore him two children. To do this he converted to Roman Catholicism, something that he had never done when Teresa was alive. After his service in Spain was ended Sickles remained in Paris for four years, where he was widely admired and “received the office of Commander of the Legion of Honor.” [16]

Though a Democrat he supported Republican Presidential candidates Ulysses S. Grant and Rutherford Hayes, the latter against a long time Democratic rival from New York. As he got older Gettysburg became an increasing part of his life and in 1892 he ran for Congress in order to spearhead efforts to preserve the battlefield. He was elected and it was in large part due to his efforts that what we now know as the Gettysburg National Military Park exists. In 1893, Sickles met James Longstreet at a Gathering in Gettysburg, and the two men became lifelong friends. Since the war both men had been refighting the battle and the controversies that hung over their decisions that July 2nd like a pall. Longstreet, for his actions on the battlefield, and his decision to become a Republican and serve in the post-war Reconstruction efforts was a pariah in much of the South. That “unpopularity was painful to him, and he was glad to find a sympathetic ally in Sickles. Each of the two generals agreed that the other had moved with blameless skill that day,” [17] and both would defend the other in the succeeding years. As the continuing battle of Gettysburg was fought in the press and in histories written by various participants, Longstreet wrote of Sickles, “I believe it is now conceded that the advanced position at the peach orchard, taken by your Corps and under your orders, saved that battlefield for the Union cause.” [18]

Sickles was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1897, the citation stating, “Displayed most conspicuous gallantry on the field vigorously contesting the advance of the enemy and continuing to encourage his troops after being himself severely wounded.”

Sickles long to outlived George Meade who died in 1872 and all of the other Corps commanders of the Army of the Potomac, not to mention most of his friends and enemies. His father George Sickles died in 1887 leaving Dan an estate of nearly five million dollars. His daughter by Teresa, Laura, whose life had been so scarred by the events of 1859 died alone and estranged from her father. In 1896, disgusted by the nomination of William Jennings Bryant as the Democratic Presidential nominee, the one-legged Sickles went to work with his old Gettysburg comrade, the one-armed Oliver Otis Howard to campaign for the Republican William McKinley. They were quite a pair, the religious Howard, and the libertine Sickles, but they helped McKinley defeat Bryant, and McKinley remained grateful to them until his death by an assassin’s bullet.

In 1913 he attended the fiftieth anniversary ceremonies at Gettysburg where he watched the white haired survivors of Pickett’s Charge hobble across the wide battlefield into the arms of their former opponents on Cemetery Ridge. Helen Longstreet, James Longstreet’s second wife and widow quoted the words of a poet named Horatio King, for the event for a southern newspaper.

I see him on that famous field,

The bravest of the brave,

Where Longstreet’s legions strove to drive

The Third Corps to its grave

The fight was bloody, fierce and long,

And Sickles’ name shall stay

Forever in the hall of fame

As he who saved the day [19]

While Helen Longstreet’s claim that Sickles was “forever in the hall of fame” is a tad farfetched, there is no doubt that scoundrel had found redemption. When Sickles died in 1914 at the age of 94, his funeral was held at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York and he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, with full military honors, his flag-draped casket carried on an artillery caisson accompanied by a rider-less horse and artillery salutes. His funeral, in a military cemetery among other soldiers was “proof that he was no longer an attorney, politician, or even the murderer of Barton Key,” [20] he was a soldier. His tombstone simply reads:

Daniel E. Sickles

Medal of Honor

Maj. Gen. U.S. Army

May 3 1914

sickles grave

The New York Times made a comment that no one, be they an admirer or enemy could deny. “He was a truly adventurous spirit.” [21]

Notes

[1] Ibid. Oeffinger A Soldier’s General p.197

[2] Ibid. Wert General James Longstreet p.279

[3] Ibid. Alexander Fighting for the Confederacy p.278

[4] Ibid. Wert General James Longstreet p.279

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

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

[7] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.235

[8] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg, the Testing of Courage p.421

[9] Robertson, William Glenn The Peach Orchard Revisited: Daniel E. Sickles and the Third Corps on July 2, 1863 in The Second Day at Gettysburg: Essays on Confederate and Union Leadership edited by Gary W. Gallagher, The Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio and London, 1993 p.56

[10] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p. 244

[11] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.235

[12] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p. 401

[13] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg pp.244-245

[14] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.390

[15] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.321

[16] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.339

[17] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.367

[18] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.341

[19] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.353

[20] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p. 385

[21] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.390

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Filed under civil war, Gettysburg, historic preservation, History, Military

Talking About Bad Ground: Walking the Gettysburg Battlefield, Devil’s Den, Little Round Top, the Wheat Field and more…


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday I wrote about my walk around the areas of the Battle of Gettysburg which transpired on the afternoon of July 1st 1863. Today was my crack at doing my best to experience walking the areas of the battlefield that were contested on July 2nd 1863 when Robert E. Lee ordered James Longstreet to assault the Federal left on the basis of Dick Ewell and Jubal Early’s intransigence in ordering a follow up assault on the Federal right, coupled with inaccurate information Lee had about where the end of the Federal line was. The result was the attacks by Longstreet’s divisions which came perilously close to succeeding but which after some of the bloodiest fighting during any three and a half hour period of the war were repulsed by Union troops the Third, Second, and Fifth Corps.


The engagements of that afternoon and evening are etched in our national conscience. Devil’s Den, Little around Top, the Bloody Wheat Field, and the Peach Orchard, not to mention the fights along Rose’s Woods, the Stoney Ridge, Trostle Farm, and Plum Run are each microcosms of the battle, each with heroes, villains, and tactical geniuses and idiots. But my purpose tonight is not to dissect those battles, I am doing that in a text about the Battle of Gettysburg. Instead it is to reflect upon military history and what the men who fought the battle endured.

If you want to understand military history and want to do so without having actually been to war or having taken the time to try to see and walk the ground the soldiers trod firsthand make a critical mistake, especially in campaigns where the soldiers had to walk into combat. As Guy Sager, who endured the Russian Front as an infantryman in the Second World War wrote in his book The Forgotten Soldier:

“Too many people learn about war with no inconvenience to themselves. They read about Verdun or Stalingrad without comprehension, sitting in a comfortable armchair, with their feet beside the fire, preparing to go about their business the next day, as usual…One should read about war standing up, late at night, when one is tired, as I am writing about it now, at dawn, while my asthma attack wears off. And even now, in my sleepless exhaustion, how gentle and easy peace seems!”


Like yesterday I walked. I left my car at my hotel and put on my boots and my three-day pack from Iraq. I ate a biscuit with a little bit of gravy, and had a small cup of coffee at the hotel before I set off. Since the hotel didn’t serve hardtack it was the closest I could get to a Civil War breakfast. From the hotel it is about a two mile walk to get to General Lee’s HQ on Seminary Ridge. Since Longstreet’s advanced elements were about that far back from Lee’s HQ on that morning I thought that it would approximate the march of some of his troops while understanding that some of his Corps had to march far more just to get there before beginning their movement to the south part of the battlefield.

Upon reaching Seminary Ridge I began walking down what would have been the areas occupied by A.P. Hill’s Third Corps that Longstreet’s troops would have passed as they moved south. The distance that they covered was about five miles as the crow flies, but due to bad staff work and coordination most of the men of John Bell Hood and Lafayette McLaws divisions had to go further just to get to their start point for the attack. In the case of Evander Law’s brigade of Hood’s division which had the mission of being the furthest south of the attacking Confederates, they had marched over twenty miles before beginning their attack on Little Round Top. When I reached the area that they did I had only walked about seven and a half miles as opposed to the men of Evander Law’s brigade who had marched over twenty miles to get into their attack positions, but as a mater of fact they were almost all a couple of decades or more younger than me.


When I got to the point of the Confederate attack I walked a path that intersected with the soldiers of Law’s brigade and Robertson’s Texas brigade, both of Hood’s division. Hood had vigorously protested the attack to Longstreet due to the bad ground that his troops would have to traverse to reach their objectives. As I wrote in my draft book on the battle:

Hood was never one to hesitate to attack, but when he saw the situation that faced First Corps, he objected to the attack. “For the first time in his army career Hood suggested a change of orders to his commanding general,” and pleaded with Longstreet to change it. “From his own observations and those of his scouts he concluded that the attack would be futile and result in wanton wage of life.” The fierce Texan “recognized that the battle order, written more than two miles away on mistaken information…did not fit existing conditions.” His objections included the rocky terrain which he believed would break up his battle formations, as well as “the concave character of the enemy’s line from the north end of Cemetery Ridge to Big Round Top would expose his division to a “destructive fire in flank and rear, as well as in front” if his men attacked it obliquely.” He told 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.

Meanwhile, the debate between Longstreet and Hood continued as Hood objected and Longstreet reiterated Lee’s insistence on the planned attack. McLaws noted that Hood “found that the enemy were strongly posted on two rocky hills, with artillery and infantry…” and he pleaded for freedom of maneuver. He believed 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.”


One can look at the ground and one can study it on maps, but until you walk that bad ground, even without doing it while subjected to enemy fire you won’t understand how bad it is. I made my way down a walking path and then tried to move off of it in order to get to Devil’s Den. It was awful, reeds, thrushes, a stream, boulders, and heavy brush prevented me from moving forward. So I went back, followed a trail to Big Round Top and then headed over to Devil’s Den. General Hood was right, the ground to use the words that he spoke to Longstreet after he was wounded “it was the worst ground I ever saw” is not an exaggeration. But the diversion allowed me to find the part of the battle where Brigadier General Elon Farnsworth, after having unsuccessfully resisted orders from Brigadier General Judson Kilpatrick was forced to attack the well dug in Confederate infantry of Lafayette McLaw’s division on July 3rd.


From Devil’s Den I worked my way to Little Round Top. Most of the front slope is inaccessible due to the National Park Service doing a reclamation project, but there is a trail that leads up to it that many of the Confederates would have used. It was steep, and the ground was rugged. By the time I reached the top near the New York Monument I was exhausted. Despite having been in combat and being shot at I cannot imagine how the Confederate soldiers threw themselves up that hill facing small arms and artillery fire at point blank range. Their cause may have been wrong but they were valiant and tough soldiers. The fact that I am 30 to 40 years older than most of them is irrelevant, that ground was a bitch.


After that I went back over to the part of the battlefield occupied by the famous 20th Maine Infantry under the command of Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, and then followed their counter-attack down the hill. From there I went back across the rear slope of Devil’s Den to Houck’s Ridge where heavily outnumbered Union Regulars held their own against Hood and McLaw’s soldiers. From there I went over to the Bloody Wheat Field. Like the Bloody Corn Field at Antietam this was a killing ground which exchanged hands several times during the battle, about 30% of the 20,000 or so soldiers engaged there became casualties. When on looks it the field it is hard to imagine that so many men were killed and wounded in such a short amount of time. Walking across the ground I could not help thinking about the thousands of souls who suffered and died there.


From there I continued through Rose’s Woods and the Stoney Ridge where still more Union and Confederate soldiers fell in desperate fights before walking back west to the Peach Orchard. This was another bloody contest in which General Dan Sickles of the Union Third Corps surprised both the Confederates and his own Commander, General George Meade by moving his corps into an exposed position. The battle there cost many lives and apologists for Sickles, Meade, and the Confederates have used for their own benefit. Sickles is claimed to have nearly lost the battle for the Union, but Longstreet said that his movement and defense of the Peach Orchard was key to the Union victory. Again my purpose in this article is not to take a side in that controversy but to imagine the carnage of the battlefield as well as the bravery of the soldiers on it. It is hard to imagine being a Third Corps Soldier at the Peach Orchard as Confederate artilleryman Porter Alexander’s guns swept their positions, nor being one of McLaw’s infantrymen who were being slaughtered by the experienced Union artillerymen of Third Corps and the Artillery Reserve.


By the time I got to the Peach Orchard I was hungry, thirsty, exhausted, and my feet were hurting. I had a choice. I could simply walk up the Emmitsburg Road and head back to the hotel or I could continue to follow the route of the Confederate advance spearheaded by General Barksdale’s brigade. I went back across Excelsior Field and to the Trostle Farm where Sickles fell wounded, before crossing Plum Run and heading up Cemetery Ridge where the Confederate advance was halted. I then walked back to the hotel via Cemetery Ridge, the Taneytown Road and the Soldiers Cemetery, before making a brief stop on East Cemetery Hill.

Since I was exhausted and darkness and rain were beginning to close in I decided not to do my walk around the Culp’s Hill battlefield. That will have to wait for another time. Since the rain is expected to continue into the morning and I hate getting wet I’ll put off my walk around Culp’s Hill until another time.

Tomorrow I will head home early to help Judy do some work around our house. My friend Bill who met me last night had take care of a business emergency call from one of his customers in the Shenandoah Valley this morning and since it’s just me I figure I can head back home. Lord willing there is always tomorrow right?


But as a closing commentary:

In the past couple of months I have walked nearly 50 miles across two of the nation’s bloodiest battlefields, Antietam and Gettysburg. Honestly I don’t know a lot of people in policy making positions who do things like that. The tragedy of the American Civil War and the nearly three quarters of a million soldiers of both sides who died during it seems to me to have been forgotten or relegated to the realm of myth by too many Americans, including the President and many of his advisers and supporters. If we forget the cost and meaning of the Civil War, the validation of the proposition of the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal then we do a grave injustice to those who fell in that war, unless we want to support Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens who said that slavery was the Cornerstone of the Confederate nation. The costs to our nation are too great to let the the lessons of our Civil War be relegated to myth or exploited to reimagine a recreated Confederacy dominating the rest of the country are too great to allow the President, who has called violent neo-Confederates and White Supremacists “very fine people” or to fail to resist theocratic people from imposing their religious beliefs on others as did the Southern clergy who helped break the bonds of the Union beginning in their own denominations in the 1840s.

Since I have now eaten and had a few beers  I will take my 57 year old body to bed and get ready to head home in the morning.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil war, Gettysburg, History, Military, Political Commentary

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]

general-barksdale

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]

fig23

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]

mcgilvery

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]

fig20

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]

fig22

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

A Grand Sight to Witness: July 2nd at Gettysburg Pt. 2

sickles peach orchard

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 second 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+

sickles as brigadier

The Problem of Dan Sickles and Third Corps

In the early morning hours of July 2nd 1863, George Meade had instructed Dan Sickles’ Third Corps “to go into position on the left of the Second corps [so] that his right was to connect with the left of the Second Corps, [and] he was going to prolong the line of that corps occupying the position that general Geary held the night before,” [1] that is the area of South Cemetery Ridge and Little Round Top. However during the night and early morning hours Sickles had not done so. However, Sickles was not comfortable with the position of his corps, especially in relation to the high ground that lay in front of him.

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 adjust the line held by his corps to no avail. Sickles had posted some of Birney’s division to the west of Plum Run near the Peach Orchard as pickets. His left, which should have rested on Little Round Top was located at Devil’s Den while Berdan’s Sharpshooters pushed further west as a skirmish line along with a few regiments of Birney’s division and a few squadrons of cavalry.

Sickles ordered Berdan to lead about one hundred of his sharpshooters into the woods west of the Warfield farm where they engaged part of Cadmus Wilcox’s brigade and noticed “three columns in motion in the rear of the wood, changing direction… by the right flank.” [2] The troops were those of Hood and McLaws divisions moving to their start positions from which they would assault the federal left. Berdan reported the Confederate troop movements to Sickles. Additionally, Sickles was also concerned because John Buford’s Cavalry division which has been deployed on the Federal left, had just “been pulled to the rear to be refitted, but not replaced. The horsemen had been supplying him with vital information about rebel dispositions; with mobile reconnaissance now gone, Sickles felt naked and vulnerable.” [3] He believed that it was absolutely vital that he move troops onto the Peach Orchard, and to a hill known as Stony Hill, Houck’s Ridge, and another known by local children by the sinister name of Devil’s Den.

Sickles decided to voice his concerns to Meade and sent his aide de camp, Major Henry Tremain, to report those concerns at Meade’s headquarters. Tremain explained the positions of the Third Corps, as well as the skirmishers, and reminded Meade “that there were no troops on the left of Third Corps, and told him that Sickles had sent General Graham to bring up the two brigades left at Emmitsburg.” [4] Apparently Meade was not concerned and paid little attention to Sickles concerns. Later in the morning Sickles had Tremain take him to Meade’s headquarters where Sickles complained about the position. He noted that “the Ridge dipped slightly just before meeting Little Round Top,” [5] and that there was higher ground in front. Sickles “spoke of his concerns, the poor position assigned to his corps, the advantages of holding the high ground at the Peach Orchard, and his fear of an assault from his front.” [6] Meade seemed unconcerned and Sickles pressed Meade to see the ground for himself. Meade curtly refused to do so, so Sickles asked if “Meade would at least send his chief engineer, Gouverneur K. Warren? The answer was even more curt: no” [7]

Meade was most concerned about another Confederate assault on his right, and paid little attention to the concerns of the political general. Sickles also asked the army commander “if he was authorized to post his corps in a manner he “should deem the most suitable.” Meade replied, “Certainly, within the limits of the general instructions I have given you; any ground within those limits you choose to occupy I leave to you.” [8] Finally after some discussion Sickles was able to convince Meade to send his artillery chief, Henry Hunt to come with him to examine potential artillery positions for his corps. Had Meade not been so concerned about his right he might have paid more attention to the reports of the Signal Corps station on Little Round Top which as early as noon were reporting the Confederate troop movements being reported by Sickles and Berdan. Scoffing at Sickles Meade allegedly said, “Generals are all apt to look for the attack to be made where they are.” [9]

Hunt accompanied Sickles back to his corps and made a reconnaissance of the ground that Sickles was determined to hold. While Hunt believed that it had some advantages that those advantages were cancelled out by several factors, including the fact that the position would be a salient exposed to enemy attacks from multiple sides, and that the Third Corps “was not strong enough with only two divisions instead of the three possessed by most corps) to hold the new line and also connect Hancock’s flank in the north.”[10] Though Hunt sympathized with Sickles predicament, and recognized the inadequacies along the southern sector of Cemetery Ridge near Little Round Top, he would not authorize the insistent Knickerbocker to advance. He “suggested that Sickles talk further with headquarters, and he now advised Meade to examine the position for himself.” [11] Hunt then left Sickles in order to check on his other artillery dispositions along Cemetery Ridge.

Sickles, who lived with the vision of being ordered off of Hazel Grove by Hooker at Chancellorsville and who had seen what had happened to Howard’s Eleventh Corps when it had its flank rolled up by Jackson, now felt that history was about to repeat itself. Though his requests to Meade and Hunt had been met with a “no,” and while Hunt’s answer might have been more ambiguous, but the answer was still no, unless Meade changed his mind. That did not happen. Hunt made his report to Meade and told Meade that “the proposed line [by Sickles] was a good one in itself; that it offered favorable positions for artillery, but that its relations to other lines were such that I could not advise it, and suggested that he examine it himself before ordering occupation.” [12]

With Hunt gone, and Sickles having heard what he wanted to hear from Meade and the artillery chief, Sickles acted on his own. Sickles was determined not to be victimized a second time by Robert E. Lee and “he was not going to let his men suffer the fate of the Eleventh Corps.” [13] As he continued to get reports from Berdan’s skirmishers of the Confederate build up just to the west of the Peach Orchard, he “took it to mean that the Peach Orchard line that he coveted was about to be occupied by the enemy. At 2:00 P.M., without authorization from Meade, without even informing Meade, he ordered Third Corps forward.” [14]

It was an act of brazen insubordination, but typical of him, and while historians still debate what Sickles did, his action was not entirely without justification. Some of this is directly attributed to George Meade, whose apparent lack of empathy for Sickles’ plight as the commander on the scene, and for “the situation on his front, and so Sickles had taken the bit in his teeth and abandoned the position ordered by General Meade for one that he believed better. He defended his decision and action afterward – aggressively, if not always credibly and honorably – until his dying day, half a century later.” [15] Sickles later wrote: “Impossible to wait any longer without giving the enemy serious advantages in his attack, I advanced my line toward the highest ground to my front, occupying the Emmitsburg Road at the very point where Longstreet hoped to cross it unopposed.” [16] But Sickles, while he certainly believed that he was making the correct move, did not see the second, third, and fourth order effects of his decision on the Union defensive plan. Admittedly, had Meade paid more attention to Sickles’ pleas earlier in the day and not been consumed with concern for the Federal right, the situation might not have come to this. But like in any real world situation the clash between Sickles and Meade was not simply a matter of a disagreement in tactics, but of a profound distrust for one another. Meade, the professional, had little regard for and loathed Sickles the political general, while Sickles, ever the politician, believed that Meade was doing what he could to set him up for failure, and “that Meade had deliberately left him alone in the path of a Confederate landslide, with no cavalry screen and no supports within easy distance.” [17] Some of Sickles’ officers in Third Corps saw the situation in a similar manner. Lieutenant Colonel Rafferty “argued that no attention was paid to Sickles’ concerns and “General Sickles has one sterling quality of a good soldier, – he was equal to an emergency; and left as he was now to the exercise of his own judgement, he was prompt to act.” [18]

About mid-afternoon Sickles advanced Third Corps forward in a “mile long line of battle with waving flags and rumbling batteries rolling west into the afternoon sunlight.” [19] It was a magnificent sight that was inspiring to watch, and perplexing to other commanders Frank Haskell, wrote, “It was magnificent to see those ten or twelve thousand men – the were good men- with their batteries and some squadrons of cavalry upon the left flank, all in battle order in several lines with flags streaming, sweep steadily down the slope, across the valley, and up the next ascent towards their destined position! From our position we could see it all.” [20] Others were equally impressed with the sight that they beheld.

“The eye beheld” wrote an officer of Carr’s brigade, “battery and brigade extended from point to point,” full of “moving columns and gay banners.” It was “a grand sight to witness this little corps of two divisions gallantly move on the advance,” and despite what was taking place on what was after all a battlefield, it all “appeared to be a peaceful review….” [21]

Another wrote, “The sun shone brilliantly on their waving colors, and flashed in scintillating rays from their burnished arms, as with well aligned ranks and even steps they moved proudly across the field. Away to the right, along cemetery Ridge, the soldiers of the Second Corps, leaving their coffee and their cards, where they gazed with soldierly pride and quickened pulse on the stirring scene.” [22] As the troops advanced “the fifteen-piece brass band of the 114th Pennsylvania (Collis’ Zouaves) thumped away to mark the time.” [23] Chaplain Joseph Twitchell who had been with the Excelsior Brigade from the beginning wrote, “with a firm step with colors flying the bravest men in the army marched in the open field. It was a splendid sight.” [24] The sight inspired the men, and it was remember by witnesses long after other memories had faded into time.

Sickles advance confused John Gibbon, who watched in amazement from his vantage point on Cemetery Ridge “commanding Hancock’s Second Division on Cemetery Ridge, looked out in amazement and wondered if a general order to advance upon the enemy had somehow missed him.” [25] Gibbon’s Corps commander Winfield Scott Hancock saw it too and wrote: “I recollect looking on and admiring the spectacle, but I did not know the object of it.” He “quietly” remarked to his staff, “Gentlemen, that is a splendid advance” and “beautiful to look at.” But he could not imagine that Meade had sanction this parade, and he predicted that “those troops will be coming back again very soon.” [26]

The movement to the Peach Orchard placed the Third Corps nearly a mile in front of his previous position, and opened up a significant gap between his corps and Hancock’s Second Corps. Sickles was now attempting to hold a new line that was nearly twice as long as the position that Meade had designated. By advancing Sickles had “put his corps out of alignment with the rest of the army and exposed his flanks.” [27] The line Meade had prosed was essentially a straight line, only about 1,600 yards long with its left flank anchored on Little Round Top and its right tied in to the line of Second Corps on Cemetery Ridge. It was a manageable front for a small corps of less than 11,000 soldiers. The new front which Sickles occupied was some 2,700 yards long and he did not have enough men to fill it out, or extend it to Little Round Top. Instead he had to anchor his left flank on Devil’s Den, some 500 yards to the front of Little Round Top. Sickles “wanted to hold the road and the peach-orchard hill and to bend the rest of the line back to the Round Tops, and he did not have enough men for it.” [28] The line Sickles created formed a salient, which protruded toward the Confederate line, and it “would be dangerously exposed to attack from two directions – the west and the south simultaneously.” [29] Humphrey’s Second Division aligned itself on the Emmitsburg road facing west and northwest, while “Birney’s division crammed the little orchard with men and guns and extended its line back to the southeast.” [30]

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 Birney ran out of troops. Birney had barley 5,000 soldiers to hold the ground assigned, which stretching in an irregular pattern from the east side of the Peach Orchard, down the Stoney Hill, to Houck’s Ridge and Devil’s Den, “Charles Graham’s brigade on the right, at the Orchard, Regis de Trobriand’s in the center, and Hobart Ward’s on the right…. At the literal end of the line – the extreme left of the Army of the Potomac – was Captain James E. Smith’s New York 5th Independent Battery, posted on Houck’s Ridge overlooking devil’s Den.” [31] The position on the ridge was so tight that Smith could only deploy four of his six guns on it and was forced to place the other two in the Plum Run Valley, later known as the “Valley of Death,” between Devil’s Den and Little Round Top. Despite his good intentions, 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.[32]

While Sickles was deploying his Corps, George Meade called for a conference of his corps commanders at the Leister House. Unable to see Sickles movement as his headquarters was behind and below the crest of Cemetery Ridge, Meade was consulting with various staff members and sending messages to Washington regarding his plans. As such Meade was one of the last to find out about Sickles’ advance.

When John Sedgwick’s Sixth Corps arrived Meade sent a message to Halleck informing him “The Sixth Corps is just coming in, very much worn out. I have…awaited the attack of the enemy, I having a strong position for the defensive…. He has been moving on both my flanks apparently. Expecting battle, I have ordered my trains to the rear.” [33] With Sedgwick now on the field, Meade called for a meeting of his corps commanders, sending a circular to each. Sickles received his copy and asked “to be excused, stating that the enemy was in great force on his front and preparing to attack.” [34] Meade refused to let Sickles off the hook and ordered his recalcitrant general to report to the Leister house.

Before Sickles arrived, Gouverneur Warren told Meade that Sickles’ corps was not in position, and the army commander’s volcanic tempter erupted just as Sickles rode up. An engineering officer at the headquarters wrote, “I never saw General Meade so angry if I may call it.” When Meade saw Sickles he ordered him to “retire his line to the position he had been instructed to take.” [35] Meade told Sickles to get back to Third Corps immediately, Sickles recalled that “General Meade met me just outside the headquarters and excused me from dismounting”…. He said that I should return at once and that he would follow soon.” [36] Meade soon followed after he instructed General Sykes of Fifth Corps to shift it “from its reserve position toward the left with all speed, “and hold it at all hazards.” [37] Riding with Warren, the two men saw the empty positions on Cemetery Ridge where Third Corps should have been and saw where Sickles had placed them in front of the line. Warren, most familiar with the section of the line, noted that Third Corps “was very badly disposed on that part of the field,” [38] commented to Meade, “Here is where our line should be,” and “Meade replied grimly, “it is too late now.” [39] Meade later explained, that he was, “wholly unprepared to find it [Sickles’ corps] advanced beyond the line of Second Corps. It’s lines were over a mile and a half out to the front, to the Emmitsburg Road, entirely disconnected with the rest of the army, and beyond supporting distance.” [40]

Meade had been surprised by his subordinate’s unauthorized move, and his “staff served him poorly with respect to the Third corps activities,” [41] the at times crotchety Pennsylvanian did not lose his composure. While Meade went forward to meet Sickles, he sent Warren to check what was happening at Little Round Top and authorized Warren to attend to it and would help save the exposed left flank of the army when he discovered that Little Round Top was undefended.

About the time that Meade arrived at the Peach Orchard, Sickles corps was about to be hit by the full fury and power of Hood’s and McLaws’ divisions of Longstreet’s First Corps. The Confederate infantry was supported by Porter Alexander who had situated 46 well placed artillery pieces in a perfect position to open fire on Birney and Humphrey’s Third Corps divisions in the Peach Orchard Salient. [42]

When he confronted Sickles in the Peach Orchard, George Meade was visibly perturbed. Looking at Sickles’ dispositions, Meade informed the New Yorker, “General I am afraid that you are too far out” [43] as he attempted to control his temper. Sickles disagreed and said that “if supported, the line could be held; and in my judgement it was the best one.” [44] 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…” [45] 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.” [46]

Sickles now offered to withdraw, and reportedly told Meade, “General, I have received no orders. I have made these dispositions to the best of my judgement. Of course I shall be happy to modify them according to your views.” [47] 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,” said Meade, “but the enemy won’t let you.” [48] Another account states that Meade told Sickles “You cannot hold this position but the enemy will not let you get away without a fight, & it may begin at any time now.” [49] Meade later wrote about the encounter, “Having found Major-General Sickles, I was explaining to him that he was too far in advance, and discussing with him the propriety of withdrawing, when the enemy opened fire on him with several batteries in his front and on his flank, and immediately brought forward columns of infantry and made a most vigorous assault.” [50] For Sickles and Meade their exchange in the Peach Orchard on the afternoon of July 2nd 1863 would develop into an acrimonious lifelong feud, with both men and their supporters bending the truth, and sometimes repeating outright lies to defend their actions before Congress, and in the press.

Since John Sedgwick’s powerful Sixth Corps had just arrived Meade ordered it into reserve to replace Sykes’ Fifth Corps which he had ordered, along with division of Winfield Scott Hancock’s Second Corps to support Sickles’ Third Corps around the Peach Orchard and Wheat Field. Meade told Sickles, “I will send you the Firth Corps, and you may send for support from the Second Corps.” [51] Meade, acting decisively then told Sickles “if you need more artillery call on the reserve!” [52] Henry Hunt heard the conversation and immediately went to work to get as many guns as possible up to support Sickles. It was an action that very likely saved the day, example of Meade taking control of a bad situation, albeit one that he might have prevented by paying more attention to Sickles, but, even so, preventing it from becoming even worse. General Tyler, commander of the Artillery Reserve, “had already sent up the first two batteries Hunt had ordered; now, on his own initiative, the Reserve commander dispatched McGilvery’s First Volunteer Brigade to the scene; Hunt met it on the road and was extremely relieved by its presence.” [53] The guns that Hunt and Tyler had rushed to the front were about to be put to good use in the impending fight.

To be continued…

Notes

[1] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg a Testing of Courage p.294

[2] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg The Last Invasion p.246

[3] Longacre, Edward G. The Man Behind the Guns: A Military Biography of General Henry J. Hunt, Chief of Artillery, Army of the Potomac Da Capo Press, Perseus Book Group, Cambridge MA 2003 p.163

[4] Ibid. Pfanz The Second Day at Gettysburg p.90

[5] Ibid. Cleaves Meade of Gettysburg p.145

[6] Ibid. Pfanz The Second Day at Gettysburg p.93

[7] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg The Last Invasion p.247

[8] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.250

[9] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg The Last Invasion p.247

[10] Ibid. Longacre The Man Behind the Guns p.162

[11] Ibid. Cleaves Meade of Gettysburg p.146

[12] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.120

[13] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign a Study in Command p.45

[14] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.252

[15] Ibid. Pfanz The Second Day at Gettysburg p.103

[16] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.279

[17] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg The Last Invasion p.246

[18] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.132

[19] Ibid. Catton Glory Road p.288

[20] Oates, William C. and Haskell, Frank A. Gettysburg: The Confederate and Union Views of the Most Decisive Battle of the War in One Volume Bantam Books edition, New York 1992, originally published in 1905 p.168

[21] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg The Last Invasion pp.250-251

[22] Ibid. Pfanz The Second Day at Gettysburg p.145

[23] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg The Last Invasion p.250

[24] Ibid. Pfanz The Second Day at Gettysburg p.145

[25] Ibid. Catton Glory Road p.288

[26] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg The Last Invasion p.251

[27] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign a Study in Command p.355

[28] Ibid. Catton Glory Road p.288

[29] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.117

[30] Ibid. Catton Glory Road p.288

[31] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.265

[32] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative: Fredericksburg to Meridian p.496

[33] Ibid. Cleaves Meade of Gettysburg p.147

[34] Ibid. Pfanz The Second Day at Gettysburg p.139

[35] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.263

[36] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.319

[37] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.263

[38] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is not My Companion p.90

[39] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.320

[40] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.146

[41] Ibid. Pfanz The Second Day at Gettysburg p.141

[42] Ibid. Catton Glory Road p.289

[43] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative: Fredericksburg to Meridian p.496

[44] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.325

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

[46] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.263

[47] Ibid. Pfanz The Second Day at Gettysburg p.143

[48] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.263

[49] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.326

[50] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg pp.146-148

[51] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg The Last Invasion p.252

[52] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative: Fredericksburg to Meridian p.497

[53] Ibid. Longacre The Man Behind the Guns pp.163-164

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Filed under civil war, Gettysburg, History, Military

July 2nd at Gettysburg: Part 1, Preparations

The Enemy is There

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 first 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+

Preparations

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.

The definition of mission command as currently defined in American doctrine helps us in some ways to understand what happened on July 2nd 1863. Without imposing current doctrine on the leaders at Gettysburg, the definition describes the timeless aspect of leadership in battle and the importance of the human dynamic in war.

“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.” [1]

It is with this in mind that we look at the actions of various commanders during the critical second day of the battle of Gettysburg, and as we do so we also try to examine their lives and in a sense try to bring them to life. It is important because the actions of a number of commanders, including Robert E. Lee, George Meade, James Longstreet, Dan Sickles, and to a lesser degree A.P. Hill would be the subject of a great amount of controversy and partisan bickering that still lingers a century and a half later.

Confederate Consternation

Before the sun rose on July 2nd James Longstreet took stock of the situation. The burly commander of First Corps was now working to bring the divisions of McLaws and Hood from their bivouac sites west of Herr’s Ridge and onto the battlefield. While his divisions moved out, Longstreet met with Lee to again express his opposition to taking the offensive. He again brought up the subject of making a “broad turning movement around the enemy’s left flank that would place the Confederate army between the Federal capital and George Meade’s army.” [2] As he did the previous night, Lee again rebuffed Longstreet’s suggestion and apparently frustrated by Longstreet’s continued resistance to his decision Lee “walked off by himself, away from the conflict.” [3] Lee then left Longstreet and went to confer with Dick Ewell to discuss the possibility of attacking the Federal right, and he sent his staff topographical engineer, Captain Samuel Johnson to reconnoiter the Federal left.

At this point Lee had not yet decided where to attack. Again he conferred with Ewell about the possibility of attacking the Federal right, but Ewell again dissuaded him from doing so. Ewell insisted that a “daylight attack on Culp’s Hill or Cemetery Hill would be costly and of doubtful success.” [4] For a second time Lee brought up the possibility of Ewell redeploying his corps from its positions around the “fishhook” of the Federal line to the west where they could better support an assault on the Federal left, but as he had the previous night “Ewell persuaded the general commanding to leave his corps where it was.” [5] In doing so Ewell promised to create a demonstration on the Federal right when he heard Longstreet’s attack commence. But, “according to Fitzhugh Lee, He decided to turn Meade’s left with Longstreet’s corps, demonstrate against his centre and right with Hill’s and Ewell’s corps, and then convert this demonstration into a real attack directly Longstreet’s attack succeeded.” [6] Ewell’s corps was to be the “anvil against which Longstreet would smash whatever was left of the 1st and 11th Corps, or any other Union reinforcements might have arrived overnight.” [7] However, the position of Second Corps around the fishhook was a poor position. “It greatly extended the army’s lines, and confronted the most defensible part of the Federal lines.” [8] Likewise, the position offered little advantage for Ewell’s artillery.

By the time Lee returned to his headquarters the divisions of Hood and McLaws, with the exception of Law’s brigade of Hood’s division, “which had been “left by Hood on picket” below the pike stretching back to Chambersburg, and was far behind the others” [9] were marching onto the field and halted just west of Seminary Ridge while the Confederate leaders conferred. But Longstreet was also troubled by the absence of George Pickett’s division of Virginians, which due to the lack of cavalry had been left at Chambersburg to guard the Confederate supply trains and would not be available for action until late in the evening.

Captain Johnson returned to the headquarters following his reconnaissance of the Federal left. He reported that the Federal left was weakly held and that there were no Federal troops on the Round Tops. But Johnson’s reconnaissance was not nearly as thorough or accurate as he reported. Johnson made “no detailed sketches of the hazardously rough ground at the southern end of the Federal line” and gave “an inadequate picture of the obstacles to mass troop movement.”[10] Despite getting up to the Round Tops he did not observe the large number of Union troops from Sickles’ Third Corps in the woods to the north and northwest of Little Round Top. The latter omission appears to be more to bad timing, lack of attention, Johnson’s lack of familiarity with the terrain and lack of experience in conducting a reconnaissance that should have been undertaken by cavalry scouts.

Johnson arrived with his report as Lee was conferring with Hill and Longstreet. He traced his route on the map. Johnson’s replies to Lee’s questions satisfied Lee that the Federal left was again up in the air and unprotected as it had been at Chancellorsville. However, this was not the case. First, had Johnson taken the route that he described he “would have come upon the encampments of the Third Corps, located north and west of Little Round Top. He would have also encountered trouble from John Buford’s cavalry vedettes, some of whom were posted about Sherfy’s peach orchard.” [11] Johnson claimed to have gotten up to Little Round Top, and if he did the only way he could not have seen Federal troops was if he had gotten there “just after the guarding troops of the night had been withdrawn and just before their replacements had arrived.” [12] Even if that was the case it would have been hard for Johnson to miss the Third Corps troop bivouacs. The Federals might have been obscured from the Captain’s view by the morning mist, but “Johnson should have detected the noise of men and animals, drums and bugles.” [13] A more likely scenario is that the inexperienced Johnson went further south and scaled Big Round Top from which his report of seeing no troops would have been completely accurate, but the inaccuracies of Johnson’s report were to cause serious complications and consequences for Lee’s plan.

Johnson’s report convinced Lee of the soundness of his plan to roll up the Federal left. He again conferred with Longstreet and announced his intention to attack Meade’s left flank with Hood and McLaws divisions. Lee went directly to McLaws and described his plan. He desired McLaws division to move south to a position perpendicular to the Emmitsburg Road south of the Peach Orchard. McLaws said it was possible but wanted to make a personal reconnaissance and Longstreet objected to the position that Lee indicated for McLaws division. Longstreet said “No, sir, I do not want wish for you to leave your division,” and tracing with his finger a line perpendicular to that drawn on the map, said, “I wish your division placed so.” “No, General,” Lee objected, “I wish it placed just so.” [14] Lee’s statement ended the conversation and after another consult with Ewell, Lee returned to lay out his plan. As he left for his division McLaws recalled that “General Longstreet appeared if he was irritated and annoyed,… but the cause I did not ask.” [15]

The divisions of Hood and McLaws were still about a mile and a half to the rear of the Confederate line. As soon as those divisions were in position they would march south while attempting to remain unseen by Federal troops on the high ground to the east, and then wheel left and come up the Emmitsburg Road into what Lee believed was the rear of the Federal position. After his brief consultation with Ewell regarding the security of his left flank, Lee returned to check the progress of Longstreet. Longstreet had not been completely inactive. He had already sent out his artillery led by Porter Alexander to find a suitable position to support the impending attack, but he did not make any further consultations with Hood of McLaws, nor send any officers to make a further reconnaissance until receiving definitive orders from Lee to launch the attack. For some reason, perhaps his misunderstanding with Lee concerning the nature of the campaign, or Lee’s rejection of his course of action, Longstreet did not demonstrate his usual energy and the careful preparation that he showed in previous actions. His biographer, Jeffry Wert noted “He allowed his disagreement with Lee to affect his conduct….The concern for detail, the regard for timely information, and the need for preparation were absent. Or, as Moxley Sorrell admitted, “there was apparent apathy in his movements. They lacked the fire and point of his usual bearing on the battlefield.” [16]

Like all movements to contact made by large armies was fraught with logistical complications and irritating, yet unavoidable delays in moving large numbers of troops over unfamiliar terrain. Even if Longstreet had acted with greater alacrity, and if the Confederates at all levels had been more efficient managers, “it would take several hours for to march them a distance of four miles or more to the place where they would be deployed for battle.” [17] Lee desired for McLaws division to lead the assault. However, McLaws division was trailing Hood’s troops on the Chambersburg Pike west of town, and would have to pass around Hood’s division to take up its position in the Confederate van. Another delay occurred when Longstreet requested additional time for Law’s brigade of Hood’s division, marching up from Guilford to rejoin Hood before he began his movement. Lee acquiesced to Longstreet and Law’s men reached Hood about an hour later.

Lee’s plan required that Anderson’s division of Hill’s Corps would have to move first to take up a supporting position along Seminary Ridge so it could launch a supporting attack as Longstreet’s corps advanced up the Emmitsburg Road. However, elements of Anderson’s division had become embroiled in a firefight at the Bliss farm which delayed his movement to reach his start position for the attack. But in addition to this, lee complicated matters by not removing Anderson from Hill’s command and giving Longstreet operational control. Instead Lee, possibly to avoid hurting the “sensitive Hill by removing a division that had not yet fought with his corps, and yet allow Longstreet to call on Anderson without going through Hill, Lee instructed Anderson “to cooperate…in Longstreet’s attack.” [18] It was another example of Lee’s vague orders which plagued the campaign, as one historian observed, “This order was the vaguest he ever gave. He did not specify whether Anderson was to act under the orders of Longstreet, or of Hill. His new corps commander, or Lee’s own. He seemed to be reverting to the loose structure of his early days in command.” [19]

But even more importantly it was an offensive that required “careful coordination and expert timing. If his plan was sound, which is debatable, there was still the question of whether the army was equal to the task.” [20]

As the various Confederate commands struggled to get in position to attack, without being observed, the Army of the Potomac readied itself for action. After the near disaster of July 1st, the army had recovered its “operational balance, setting in place the systems necessary for command and control.” [21] Meade and his subordinates had chosen a strong position from which they could maximize their strengths, and in addition to this they ensured that each corps had established headquarters and reported their position to the army staff. Wireless was set up to allow Meade to communicate directly to Washington, while the army’s Signal Corps detachments set up observation points on every bit of high ground under Federal control, including Little Round Top, which allowed them communicate with Meade’s headquarters by semaphore. Meanwhile, Henry Hunt had brought up the reserve artillery and began refitting damaged guns while supervising the emplacement of newly arrived batteries along the Federal line. Even more importantly, unlike Lee whose exterior lines refusal to use semaphore created undue delays in communications, Meade’s little headquarters at the Leister house was “almost up to the line of battle and little time would be wasted in the transmittal of orders.” [22]

general-george-meade

Meade’s Defensive Preparation

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 and east, the Twelfth Corps under the command of Major General Henry Slocum held Culp’s Hill and protected the Federal right. His troops began fortifying the already formidable position as soon as they arrived on the night of July 1st and continued to strengthen their positions throughout the day.

413px-Gettysburg_Battle_Map_Day2

The battered remnants of the First and Eleventh Corps held Cemetery Hill where they had made their final stand on the night of July 1st. Oliver Howard retained command of Eleventh Corps, while Meade returned Doubleday to command of his division and brought John Newton from Sixth Corps to command the remnants of the battered First Corps. Winfield Scott Hancock’s crack Second Corps extended the line down southward down Cemetery Ridge. To Second Corps right was Dan Sickles’ Third Corps. George Sykes Fifth Corps was in reserve just to the north and east of Little Round Top, while John Sedgwick’s massive Sixth Corps was still enroute, marching up the Baltimore Pike. “The convex character of the Union line facilitated the rapid movement of troops to reinforce any threatened section.” [23] Unlike Lee’s troops who had to make long marches to support each other, the Union men “never had to march more than two and half miles, usually less.” [24]This would provide Meade with a vital advantage during the viscous battle that was to ensue on July 2nd and as the ever observant Porter Alexander noted, “Communication between our flanks was very long – roundabout & slow while the enemy were practically all in one convenient sized bunch. Reinforcements from their extreme right marched across in ample time to repulse our attack on their extreme left. But Ewell’s men could hardly have come to our help in half a day – & only under view & fire.” [25]

The Army of the Potomac now occupied a solid and well laid out position which commanded the battlefield. Meade and Warren were worried that Lee might attempt to turn them out of their position by moving south, as Longstreet was begging Lee to do, but in reality there was little threat. Even so, 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.” [26]

There was one notable problem, the commander of the Third Corps, Major General Dan Sickles did not like the position assigned to his corps on the south end of Cemetery Ridge.

To be continued…

Notes

[1] __________ Mission Command White Paper and JP 3-31

[2] Wert, Jeffry D. General James Longstreet The Confederacy’s Most Controversial Soldier, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster, New York and London 1993 pp. 260-261

[3] Thomas, Emory Robert E. Lee W.W. Norton and Company, New York and London 1995 p.297

[4] Pfanz, Donald. Richard S. Ewell: A Soldier’s Life University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London 1998 p.315

[5] Sears, Stephen Gettysburg Houghton Mifflin Company Boston and New York 2004 p.256

[6] Fuller, J.F.C. Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship, Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN 1957 p.197

[7] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.236

[8] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.256

[9] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg The Last Invasion p.237

[10] Dowdy, Clifford. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation Skyhorse Publishing, New York 1986, originally published as Death of a Nation Knopf, New York 1958 p.186

[11] Trudeau, Noah Andre Gettysburg a Testing of Courage Perennial Books, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.289

[12] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.186

[13] Ibid. Wert General James Longstreet p.262

[14] Pfanz, Harry W. Gettysburg the Second Day University of North Carolina Press, Charlotte and London, 1987 p.110

[15] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg a Testing of Courage p.290

[16] Ibid. Wert General James Longstreet p.268

[17] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign a Study in Command A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster, New York 1968 p.376

[18] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.193

[19] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.193

[20] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.384

[21] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg a Testing of Courage p.292

[22] Cleaves, Freeman Meade of Gettysburg University of Oklahoma Press, Norman and London 1960 p.142

[23] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign a Study in Command p.332

[24] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign a Study in Command p.332

[25] Alexander, Edward Porter. Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander edited by Gary Gallagher University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1989 p242

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

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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]

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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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“This Fiery Line” The Triumph of Lieutenant Colonel Freeman McGilvery and the Artillery at Plum Run, Gettysburg July 2nd 1863

12 pound napoleon

Artillery at the Trostle Farm

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.” [1] This exposed the left of Humphery’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.

fig20

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 think of the fighting providing invaluable support to Sickles’ hard pressed and outnumbered corps. Firing canister they cut swaths of death and destruction through the massed ranks of wildly cheering Confederates of Kershaw and Semmes and Barkdale’s brigades of McLaws’ division.

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.

mcgilvery

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.” [2] 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. 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.” [3] 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…” [4] 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.” [5]

fig22

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.” [6]

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.” [7] 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.” [8] A German born gunner noted “we mowed them down like grass, but they were thick and rushed up.” [9] A hand to hand fight ensued among the guns but the Massachusetts men escaped losing 28 of its 104 men engaged,[10] 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.”[11]

fig23

Bigelow’s Map of the Action at Trostle Farm

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.” [12]

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.”

fig19

Plum Run Line

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” [13] 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.

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

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

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

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

[5] Ibid. Trudeau p.385

[6] Ibid.

[7] 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

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

[9] Ibid. Guelzo pp.314-315

[10] Ibid Hunt p.379

[11] Ibid. Hunt. P.379

[12] Ibid. Coddington p.417.

[13] Ibid. Coddington.

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

barksdales_charge_lg

“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.

fig33

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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Remembering Gettysburg and the New Birth of Freedom

reynoldsmemorial

I am always humbled when I travel to Gettysburg as I did this weekend.  It is hard to believe in that now peaceful pastoral setting that over 157,000 Americans, almost 82,000 Union and 75,000 Confederate met in a three day battle. In those three days over 28,000 Confederates and 23,000 Union soldiers were killed, wounded, missing or captured. It was the greatest number of casualties inflicted in one battle on American soil in history.

I left on Friday with students from our Staff College and returned home this evening. It was my first time leading a Staff Ride like this though I have participated in them at other battlefields and led less extensive visits to Gettysburg when I was stationed at Fort Indiantown Gap Pennsylvania in 1997-1998. I have a good group of students, Army, Navy and Air Force Officers of much experience. In addition to simply examining the battlefield and telling the story of the battle, I have been working over the past two months to build a foundation that enables them to learn the enduring and timeless lessons of leadership, command, control, communication, the linkage between national strategy objectives, the operational art, operational objectives and tactical objectives.  Unlike other visits I added a final stop at the Gettysburg Soldiers’ Cemetery where President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address.

irishbrigadememorial

The places that the battle was fought have become legendary, for they are “hallowed ground” as Lincoln so eloquently put it. The places, McPherson’s and Herr’s Ridge, Seminary Ridge, the Railroad Cut, Barlow’s Knoll, Cemetery Hill, Culp’s Hill, The Wheat Field, Devil’s Den, the Peach Orchard, Little Round Top, Cemetery Ridge, the Apse of Trees, the Angle and the High Water Mark are in a sense holy, or hallowed. They were consecrated by those who struggled there, those who lived and those who gave the last full measure of devotion to their country.

I think about those men of both sides and how they came to serve. In 1863 the majority of those who fought were volunteers. Some were motivated by their convictions, fully convinced of the rightness of their cause. Other went to war with mixed feelings. Some fought for family, or their homes, or because they felt that they could do no otherwise, and some even fought against the cause that their families or states believed in.

devilsden

But no matter what their reason for going to war they  That being said when I go there though my family predominantly fought for the Confederacy my heart is drawn to those men who remained loyal to the Union and those who answered the call of Abraham Lincoln to serve in a cause greater than their own interests, the great and the small alike.

highwatermark

Lincoln was a masterful orator who managed to rally the Union and bring hundreds of thousands of men volunteer before Gettysburg. They came for an ideal an ideal which Lincoln’s oratory was probably the most effective at articulating in a way that men would volunteer to suffer hardship, fight and die to bring about. It was well put in the movie Gettysburg where Colonel Joshua Chamberlain said:

“This is a different kind of army. If you look at history you’ll see men fight for pay, or women, or some other kind of loot. They fight for land, or because a king makes them, or just because they like killing. But we’re here for something new. This has not happened much, in the history of the world: We are an army out to set other men free. America should be free ground, all of it, from here to the Pacific Ocean. No man has to bow, no man born to royalty. Here we judge you by what you do, not by who your father was. Here you can be something. Here is the place to build a home. But it’s not the land. There’s always more land. It’s the idea that we all have value, you and me. What we’re fighting for, in the end… we’re fighting for each other…”

joshua_l-1._chamberlain_at_little_round_top

On November 19th 1863 Lincoln delivered a “few words” at Gettysburg which were in all practical aspects a benediction at the dedication of the battlefield cemetery. Lincoln was the second speaker at the ceremony following former Pennsylvania Congressman Edward Everett who spoke for more than two hours, a typical speech from the period. The 270 words of Lincoln’s address are perhaps the most important of any speech or document in American history save the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.

The speech was so powerful that Everett wrote Lincoln the next day:

“Permit me also to express my great admiration of the thoughts expressed by you, with such eloquent simplicity & appropriateness, at the consecration of the Cemetery. I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

gburgaddressmemorial

The speech is short, but it’s eloquence is unmatched. Lincoln wrapped ideas, concepts and ideals that men have written volumes about into a speech so powerful that many have memorized it.

But few realize the context that it must be placed. Though the Union had defeated Lee’s Army at Gettysburg and Grant had taken Vicksburg to cut the Confederacy in half the North was growing war weary. There were those in the North, the Copperheads who were willing even after Gettysburg and Vicksburg to end the war on terms favorable to the Confederacy, even granting Confederate independence and the continuation of slavery. Likewise Lincoln was sick when he delivered the address having what was mostly likely a mild form of Smallpox when he gave the address. Thus the tenor, simplicity and depth are even more remarkable. It is a speech given in the manner of Winston Churchill’s “Blood sweat toil and tears” address to Parliament upon being appoint Prime Minister in 1940.

In a time where many are wearied by the foibles and follies of our politicians, even wondering about our form of government can survive Lincoln’s words matter. Dr Allen Guelzo, Professor of Civil War Studies at Gettysburg College wrote in the New York Times on the 150th anniversary of the Address:

“The genius of the address thus lay not in its language or in its brevity (virtues though these were), but in the new birth it gave to those who had become discouraged and wearied by democracy’s follies, and in the reminder that democracy’s survival rested ultimately in the hands of citizens who saw something in democracy worth dying for. We could use that reminder again today.”

GAFac1

Dr Guelzo is quite correct. Many people in this country and around the world are having grave doubts about our democracy. I wonder myself, but I am an optimist. I do believe that we will recover because for the life of me I see no nation anywhere else with our resiliency and ability to overcome the stupidity of politicians, pundits and preachers.
The amazing thing was that in spite of everything the Union survived. Lincoln was a big part of that but it was the men who left lives of comfort and security like Joshua Chamberlain and so many others who brought about that victory.

Gettysburg Address

Throughout the war, even to the end Southern political leaders failed to understand that Union men would fight and die for an ideal, something greater than themselves, the preservation of the Union and the freedom of an enslaved race. For those that volunteered it was not about personal gain, loot or land,it was about something greater. It was about freedom.
Now I for one do not think that we are currently living up to the ideals enunciated by Lincoln that day at Gettysburg. I can understand the cynicism disillusionment of Americans as well as those who have for over 200 years looked to us and our system as a “city set on a hill.” That being said, when I read these words and walk that hallowed  ground I am again a believer that we can realize the ideal.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

In the hope that we again realize those ideals and help bring about “a new birth of freedom,” I wish you a good night.
Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil war, History, leadership, Political Commentary

A New Birth of Freedom: The Gettysburg Address at 150

mkholrt

I am always humbled when I travel to Gettysburg as I did just two weeks ago. It is hard to believe in that now peaceful pastoral setting that over 157,000 Americans, almost 82,000 Union and 75,000 Confederate met in a three day battle. In those three days over 28,000 Confederates and 23,000 Union soldiers were killed, wounded, missing or captured. It was the greatest number of casualties inflicted in one battle on American soil in history.

The places that the battle was fought have become legendary, for they are “hallowed ground” as President Abraham Lincoln so eloquently put it. The places, McPherson’s and Herr’s Ridge, Seminary Ridge, the Railroad Cut, Barlow’s Knoll, Cemetery Hill, Culp’s Hill, The Wheat Field, Devil’s Den, the Peach Orchard, Little Round Top, Cemetery Ridge, the Apse of Trees, the Angle and the High Water Mark are in a sense holy, or hallowed, consecrated by those who struggled there, those who lived and those who gave the last full measure of devotion to their country.

gal9vfvf1

I think about those men of both sides, fully convinced of the rightness of their cause who fought valiantly in the struggle. That being said when I go there though my family predominantly fought for the Confederacy my heart is drawn to those men who remained loyal to the Union and those who answered the call of Abraham Lincoln to serve in a cause greater than their own interests, the great and the small alike.

DSCN8774

Lincoln was a masterful orator who managed to rally the Union and bring hundreds of thousands of men volunteer before Gettysburg. They came for an ideal an ideal which Lincoln’s oratory was probably the most effective at articulating in a way that men would volunteer to suffer hardship, fight and die to bring about. It was well put in the movie Gettysburg where Colonel Joshua Chamberlain said:

“This is a different kind of army. If you look at history you’ll see men fight for pay, or women, or some other kind of loot. They fight for land, or because a king makes them, or just because they like killing. But we’re here for something new. This has not happened much, in the history of the world: We are an army out to set other men free. America should be free ground, all of it, from here to the Pacific Ocean. No man has to bow, no man born to royalty. Here we judge you by what you do, not by who your father was. Here you can be something. Here is the place to build a home. But it’s not the land. There’s always more land. It’s the idea that we all have value, you and me. What we’re fighting for, in the end… we’re fighting for each other…”

images-61

On November 19th 1863 Lincoln delivered a “few words” at Gettysburg which were in all practical aspects a benediction at the dedication of the battlefield cemetery. Lincoln was the second speaker at the ceremony following former Pennsylvania Congressman Edward Everett who spoke for more than two hours, a typical speech from the period. The 270 words of Lincoln’s address are perhaps the most important of any speech or document in American history save the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.

The speech was so powerful that Everett wrote Lincoln the next day:

“Permit me also to express my great admiration of the thoughts expressed by you, with such eloquent simplicity & appropriateness, at the consecration of the Cemetery. I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

The speech is short, but it’s eloquence is unmatched. Lincoln wrapped ideas, concepts and ideals that men have written volumes about into a speech so powerful that many have memorized it.

18640903.nashcartoon

But few realize the context that it must be placed. Though the Union had defeated Lee’s Army at Gettysburg and Grant had taken Vicksburg to cut the Confederacy in half the North was groining war weary. There were those in the North, the Copperheads who were willing even after Gettysburg and Vicksburg to end the war on terms favorable to the Confederacy, even granting Confederate independence and the continuation of slavery. Likewise Lincoln was sick when he delivered the address having what was mostly likely a mild form of Smallpox when he gave the address. Thus the tenor, simplicity and depth are even more remarkable. It is a speech given in the manner of Winston Churchill’s “Blood sweat toil and tears” address to Parliament upon being appoint Prime Minister in 1940.

cropped-dscn88191.jpg

In a time where many are wearied by the foibles and follies of our politicians, even wondering about our form of government can survive Lincoln’s words matter. Dr Allen Guelzo, Professor of Civil War Studies at Gettysburg College wrote in the New York Times today:

“The genius of the address thus lay not in its language or in its brevity (virtues though these were), but in the new birth it gave to those who had become discouraged and wearied by democracy’s follies, and in the reminder that democracy’s survival rested ultimately in the hands of citizens who saw something in democracy worth dying for. We could use that reminder again today.”

Dr Guelzo is quite correct. Many people in this country and around the world are having grave doubts about our democracy. I wonder myself, but I am an optimist. I do believe that we will recover because for the life of me I see no nation anywhere else with our resiliency and ability to overcome the stupidity of politicians, pundits and preachers.

The amazing thing was that in spite of everything the Union survived. Lincoln was a big part of that but it was the men who left lives of comfort and security like Joshua Chamberlain and so many others who brought about that victory. Throughout the war, even to the end Southern political leaders failed to understand that Union men would fight and die for an ideal, something greater than themselves, the preservation of the Union and the freedom of an enslaved race. For those that volunteered it was not about personal gain, loot or land,it was about something greater. It was about freedom.

GAFac1

Now I for one do not think that we are currently living up to the ideals enunciated by Lincoln that day at Gettysburg. I can understand the cynicism disillusionment of Americans as well as those who have for over 200 years looked to us and our system as a “city set on a hill.” That being said, when I read these words and walk that hallowed  ground I am again a believer that we can realize the ideal.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

dscn0061

In the hope that we again realize those ideals and help bring about “a new birth of freedom,” I wish you a good night.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under civil war, History, leadership, Political Commentary