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John Reynolds Gives Battle: Gettysburg Day One

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I want to take it easy the next few days so for today and the next two days I will re-post sections of my text on the Battle of Gettysburg. This particular text deals with General John Reynold’s and his decision to give battle as the cavalrymen of John Buford fought a delaying action against the Confederate forces of A.P. Hill and Harry Heth at McPherson’s Ridge. 

I hope that you enjoy.

Peace

Padre Steve+

On the night of June 30th John Reynolds was awash in reports, some of them conflicting and even though he was without Meade’s course of action for the next day “concluded that Lee’s army was close by and in force.” [1] He spent the night at his headquarters “studying the military situation with Howard and keeping in touch with army headquarters.” [2] Howard noted Reynolds anxiety and “received the impression that Reynolds was depressed.” [3] After Howard’s departure Reynolds took the opportunity to get a few hours of fitful sleep before arising again at 4 a.m. on July 1st.

When morning came, Reynolds was awakened by his aide Major William Riddle with Meade’s order to “advance the First and Eleventh Corps to Gettysburg.” [4] Reynolds studied the order and though he expected no battle that morning, expecting “only moving up to be in supporting distance to Buford” [5] took the prudent and reasonable precautions that his Confederate opponents A.P. Hill and Harry Heth refused to take as they prepared to move on Gettysburg.

His troops were in fine spirits that morning even though it had been busy. After a breakfast of hardtack, pork and coffee the troops moved out. An officer of the Iron Brigade noted that the soldiers of that brigade were “all in the highest spirits” while Lieutenant Colonel Rufus Dawes of the “placed the fifes and drums at the head of the Sixth Wisconsin and ordered the colors unfurled” as the proud veterans marched forward into the sound of the raging battle to the tune of “The Campbell’s are Coming.” [6]

Though Reynolds was not expecting a fight he organized his march in a manner that ensured if one did happen that he was fully prepared. The precautionary measures that he took were those that any prudent commander having knowledge that strong enemy forces were nearby would take. Reynolds certainly took to heart the words of Napoleon who said “A General should say to himself many times a day: If the hostile army were to make its appearance in front, on my right, or on my left, what should I do?”[7]

This was a question that A.P. Hill and Harry Heth seemed not to consider on that warm and muggy July morning when Heth was committing Lee’s army to battle on his own authority. Reynolds was also about to commit the Army of the Potomac to battle, but unlike Heth who had no authority to do so, Reynolds “had at least been delegated the authority for making such a decision” [8] by his army commander George Meade. Though Meade was unaware of what was transpiring in the hills beyond Gettysburg he implicitly trusted the judgement of Reynolds, and Meade been with the advanced elements of Reynold’s wing he too “probably would have endorsed any decision he made.” [9]

Reynolds placed himself with the lead division, that of Wadsworth, and “directed Doubleday to bring up the other divisions and guns of the First Corps and had ordered Howard’s Eleventh Corps up from Emmitsburg.” [10] Reynold’s also understood the urgency of the situation and “wanted all the fighting troops to be up front, so he instructed Howard not to intermingle his supply wagons with his infantry. Similar instructions had been given to Abner Doubleday; to ensure that the First Corps wagons would wait until the Eleventh Corps foot soldiers had passed.” [11]

Instead operating in the normal fashion of rotating units on the march, Reynolds opted to save time. Since Wadsworth’s First Division was further advanced than his other First Corps divisions, Reynolds instructed it to move out first with Cutler’s brigade in the lead followed by the Iron Brigade under Brigadier General Solomon Meredith. In doing so Reynolds countermanded the order of the acting corps commander Doubleday who had ordered Wadsworth’s division to allow the other divisions of First Corps to pass his before advancing. Reynolds told Wadsworth that Doubleday’s order “was a mistake and that I should move on directly.” [12]

He went forward with Wadsworth’s division and gave Doubleday his orders for the coming engagement. Doubleday later recalled that when Reynolds arrived to discuss the situation that Reynolds:

“read to me the various dispatches he had received from Meade and Buford, and told me that he should go at once forward with the leading division – that of Wadsworth – to aid the cavalry. He then instructed me to draw in my pickets, assemble the artillery and the remainder of the corps and join him as soon as possible. Having given me these orders, he rode off at the head of the column, and I never saw him again.” [13]

Reynolds ordered Howard’s Eleventh Corps to follow First Corps and according to Doubleday directed an aid of Howard to have Howard “bring his corps forward at once and form them on Cemetery Hill as a reserve.” [14]Howard received the order and since his troops were ready to move out “no time was lost in setting them in motion.” [15] While some writers believe that Reynolds directed Oliver Howard to prepare Cemetery Hill as a fallback position [16] there is more evidence that points to Howard selecting the that commanding hill himself. [17] Regardless of which is correct the result was that both Reynolds and Howard recognized the importance of the position and took action to secure it.

Likewise Reynolds ordered Sickles’ III Corps to come up from Emmitsburg where that corps had bivouacked the previous night. [18] Sickles had heard the guns in the distance that morning and sent his senior aide, Major Henry Tremain to find Reynolds. Reynolds told Tremain “Tell General Sickles I think he had better come up” but the order left Sickles in a quandary. He recalled “he spend an anxious hour deciding what to do” [19] for he had “been ordered by Meade to hold his position at Emmitsburg” [20] and Sickles sent another rider to Reynolds and awaited the response of his wing commander instead of immediately advancing to battle on 1 July and it would not be until after 3 P.M. that he would send his lead division to Gettysburg.

According to Doubleday Reynolds’s intention was “to fight the enemy as soon as I could meet him.” [21] Reynolds rode forward with some of his staff into the town as the infantry of the First Corps and the Eleventh Corps moved advanced. As they rode through the town Reynolds and his party were met by “a fleeing, badly frightened civilian, who gasped out the news that the cavalry was in a fight.” [22] When he came to the Lutheran Seminary he came across Buford. It was a defining moment of the Civil War, a moment that shaped the battle to come. It has been recounted many times and immortalized on screen in the movie Gettysburg, a time “when the entire battle would come down to a matter of minutes getting one place to another.” [23]

As the rough and tumble Kentuckian, Buford, and Reynolds, the dashing Pennsylvanian, discussed the situation they had to know that odd that they were facing. With close to 32,000 rebels from the four divisions of Hill’s and Ewell’s corps closing in from the west and the north and with only about 18,000 men of First Corps, Eleventh Corps and Buford’s cavalry division to meet them, the odds were not in his favor, but unlike other battles that the army of the Potomac faced, this time the army and its commanders were determined not to lose the battle and not to retreat and for the first time John Reynolds “led the advance” and for the first time in the war “might have some say about fighting.” [24]

Reynolds and Buford committed their eighteen thousand men against Lee’s thirty-two thousand in a meeting engagement that develop into a battle that would decide the outcome of Lee’s invasion. Likewise it was a battle for the very existence of the Union. Abner Doubleday noted the incontestable and eternal significance of the encounter to which Buford and Reynolds were committing the Army of the Potomac on July 1st 1863:

“The two armies about to contest on the perilous ridges of Gettysburg the possession of the Northern States, and the ultimate triumph of freedom or slavery….” [25]

Even though they understood that they were outmanned and outgunned by the advancing Confederates, both Buford and Reynolds knew that this was where the battle must be waged. It was here on this spot, for the ground gave them an advantage that they would not have elsewhere; but only if they could hold on long enough for the rest of the army to arrive. As Alan Nolan wrote: “this Pennsylvania ground – was defensible, and behind it, through the town, loomed Cemetery Hill, another natural point of defense if the battle at Seminary Ridge went against the Federals.” [26]

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                                              Reynolds vs. Heth July 1st

When John Buford saw Reynolds infantry advancing as the Confederates increased the pressure on his outnumbered cavalry, he remarked to a staff member “now we can hold this place.” [27] Buford was not mistaken, when Reynolds rode up to the scene of the battle on Seminary Ridge he greeted Buford, who was in the cupola of the seminary. He called out “What’s the matter John?” to which Buford replied “The devil’s to pay” before he came down to discuss the tactical situation with Reynolds. [28] Buford explained the situation noting that “I have come upon some regiments of infantry…they are in the woods…and I am unable to dislodge them.” [29]

Reynolds needed no other convincing. He asked Buford if he could hold and quickly sent off a number of messages. One officer wrote: “The Genl ordered Genl Buford to hold the enemy in check as long as possible, to keep them from getting into town and at the same time sent orders to Genl Sickles…& Genl Howard to come as fast as possible.” [30]Additionally, Reynolds sent a message to Meade stating: “The enemy are advancing in strong force. I fear they will get to the heights beyond the own before I can. I will fight them inch by inch, and if driven into the town, I will barricade the streets and hold them back as long as possible.” [31] He directed Major Weld of his staff to take it to Meade with all haste as Weld recalled: “with the greatest speed I could, no matter if I killed my horse.” [32] When Meade received the report he was concerned, but with great confidence in Reynolds’s ability he remarked “Good!…That is just like Reynolds; he will hold on to the bitter end.” [33]

After dictating his instructions and sending off his messengers, Reynolds then did what no senior Confederate commander did during the entirety of the battle, he rode back and took personal charge of the movements of his troops to hurry them forward. Unlike Heth who so badly misjudged the tactical situation, he had taken note of the ground and recognized from Buford’s reports that “the Confederates were marching only on that single road and thus would not be able to push their forces to the front any faster than Reynolds could reach the battlefield with his First Corps divisions.”[34] It was a key observation on his part which again allowed him to make appropriate decisions as to how he shaped the battle.

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Reynolds leadership at this point might be considered reckless by the standards of our day when senior commanders control battles from miles away with the help of real time intelligence and reporting, including live video feeds, or even the standards of the Second World War. But then in the Civil War a commander in combat could only really control the actions of troops that he could see and because of the time that it took to get messages to subordinate commanders, and the real possibility that verbal orders could be badly misinterpreted in the heat of battle.

Reynolds exercised command directing infantry formations into battle and assisting his artillery battery commanders in the placement of their guns. This was far different than the way that most senior Confederate leaders, including Lee, Longstreet, Hill and Ewell directed their units during the battle of Gettysburg. But such action such action was in keeping with Reynolds’s character, especially in the defense of his home state. Reynolds’ philosophy of command regarding volunteer troops was that they “were better led than driven” [35] and as such he led from the front and Abner Doubleday noted that Reynolds was “inflamed by at seeing the devastation of his native state, was most desirous of getting at the enemy as soon as possible.” [36]

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                    “For God’s Sake Forward!” McPherson’s Ridge

John Reynolds recognized that time was of the essence if his forces were to hold the ground west of the town selected a shortcut around the town for First Corps. Those forces were directed across the fields near the Condori farm toward the back side of Seminary Ridge, with Reynolds’ staff helping to remove fences to speed the advance. [37] It was not an easy advance as the troops had to move across the farm fields at an oblique and have to “double-quick for a mile and a quarter in the thick humidity just to reach the seminary.” [38]One member of the corps recalled “I never saw men more willing to fight than they were at Gettysburg.” [39]

Recognizing that “after two full hours of fighting, Buford’s troopers”fighting on McPherson’s Ridge, were “at the limits of their endurance,”Reynolds ordered Wadsworth’s brigades “to bolster the cavalry and oppose the rebel infantry coming at them.” [40]

As troops arrived Reynolds directed them into position. He directed the artillery of Captain James Hall’s 2nd Maine Battery to McPherson’s Ridge instructing Hall “I desire you to damage their artillery to the greatest possible extent, and to keep their fire from our infantry until they are deployed….” [41]

The leading infantry of First Corps was Major General James Wadsworth’s understrength division containing just two brigades, just over 3000 soldiers, its losses from Chancellorsville not being made good and as the result of the loss of regiments discharged because their enlistments had expired. [42] Wadsworth was not a professional soldier, but like many generals on both sides was a political general who despite his lack of military experience was a natural leader of men. Wadsworth was “a vigorous white-haired old man who had been a well-to-do gentleman farmer in New York State before the war” [43] and he “had interrupted his service in the war to run for and lose his state’s governorship the preceding fall.” [44] He ran against the anti-war, anti-administration and frequently pro-Southern Copperhead Horatio Seymour, but he did not leave the army in order return to the state to mount a personal campaign “on the ground that it did not befit a soldier.” [45]

“What the gray haired general lacked in experience and skill, he compensated with a fighting spirit.” [46] Oliver Howard of Eleventh Corps said that Wadsworth was “always generous and a natural soldier” [47]and while Wadsworth was no professional but he performed admirably on July 1st 1863. Wadsworth was beloved by his men because he demonstrated true concern and care for their living conditions and training and on that morning Wadsworth was commanding his division leading it into action with “an old Revolutionary War saber in his hand.” [48] The gallant Wadsworth would be mortally wounded ten months later leading a division of Gouverneur Warren’s Fifth Corps in the opening engagements of the Wilderness. Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles noted in his diary when Wadsworth died that Wadsworth “should, by right and fair-dealing, have been at this moment Governor of New York…No purer or single-minded patriot than Wadsworth has shown himself in this war. He left home and comforts and wealth to fight the battles of the Union.” [49]

With their gallant commander at their head the division may not have had much in force in the way of numbers, but the units of the division were “good ones,”composed of hardened combat veterans that went into battle with an eye to victory. In the van was Brigadier General Zylander Cutler’s brigade of New Yorkers and Pennsylvanians, the “celebrated Bucktails.” [50] When they were mustered into service the soldiers of the 13th Pennsylvania had adopted a “bucktail” attached to their service caps as a distinctive insignia, a practice that spread to other regiments of the brigade and for which the brigade became known throughout the army.

Cutler had spent much of his early life in Maine working in a number of fields and businesses. He made a fortune several times and lost it, first when his mill burned down, but he rebuilt his businesses and diversified and “as a leading businessman, Cutler was elected to the Maine senate, college trusteeships and a railroad directorship, but he was financially ruined by the panic of 1866 and moved to Milwaukee to start his career over again.” [51] The tough-minded Cutler had some previous military experience fighting Indians as a member of the Maine militia and was made Colonel of the 6th Wisconsin. Cutler was described by one of his soldiers as “being as “rugged as a wolf” and was “a tenacious fighter, a trait that endeared him to the tough-minded Gibbon.” [52] After Antietam Gibbon recommended Cutler for promotion to Brigadier General and command of the Iron Brigade, but Cutler had been wounded at the bloody Battle of Brawner’s Farm and Solomon Meredith gained a promotion and command of that celebrated brigade. However, in on November 29th 1862 having recuperated from his wounds Cutler was promoted to brigadier general and received command of his Bucktails in March of 1863. The brigade saw only minor action at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg would be the fierce brigadier’s first chance since being wounded to command in combat.

This fine brigade was followed by Brigadier General Solomon Meredith’s “Iron Brigade” composed of westerners in their distinctive black “Jefferson Davis” or “Hardie” hats. The brigade had been initially commanded by Major General John Gibbon, now commanding a division in Winfield Scott Hancock’s Second Corps. Gibbon turned the brigade into one of the finest in the army. At the Battle of Turner’s Gap on South Mountain during the Antietam campaign, the brigade earned its name.

After that bloody battle George McClellan exclaimed “They must be made of Iron!” and Hooker replied, “By the Eternal, they are iron! If you had seen them at Bull Run as I did, you would know them to be iron.”[53] In the fierce battle at South Mountain the brigade had lost over a quarter of its strength, but had gained a share of immortality among the ranks of the United States Army. “The Western soldiers immediately seized on this as their title, and the reputation of the brigade and its new name were soon broadcast around Federal campfires.” [54] The regiments of the brigade rivalled many Regular Army units in effectiveness and discipline and “the black hats became their trademark.” [55] Often committed to the fiercest battles the brigade had been decimated, but now along with the Bucktails it advanced up down Seminary Ridge and up the back side of McPherson’s Ridge. A member of an artillery battery who saw the Bucktails and the Iron Brigade advance recalled:

“No one…will ever again see those two brigades of Wadsworth’s Division – Cutler’s and the Iron Brigade – file by as they did that morning. The little creek made a depression in the road, with a gentle ascent on either side, so that from our point of view the column, as it came down the slope and up the other, had the effect of huge blue billows of men topped with a spray of shining steel, and the whole spectacle was calculated to give nerve to a man who never had one before.” [56]

Reynolds directed Cutler’s Bucktails to proceed north of the Cashtown Pike and then “called the Iron Brigade into action on the south side” [57]leading the hearty Westerners himself. Reynolds directed then Wadsworth to take change of the action on the north side of the road while he looked after the left. [58] When Reynolds made that decision he made another. He ordered the 6th Wisconsin of the Iron Brigade into reserve, leaving the Iron Brigade a regiment short but giving him the advantage of having a ready reserve which “permitted them to take full advantage of their interior lines, shift their strength about, and apply it where most needed.” [59]

At about 10:30 the 2nd Wisconsin advanced into the woods Reynolds urged them forward: “Forward men, for God’s sake and drive those fellows out of those woods….” [60] As he looked around toward the seminary to see the progress of reinforcements, Reynolds was struck in the back of the neck by a bullet and fell dead. “Had it come a short time earlier, Reynolds’s death might have thrown the I Corps into fatal confusion.” [61] But Doubleday, who command now fell was up to the task on that sultry July morning.

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Cutler’s brigade moved north and engaged Davis’ men near the railroad cut. Here the Cutler’s line was “hardly formed when it was struck by Davis’s Confederate brigade on its front and right flank.” [62] His troops were heavily outnumbered by the advancing Confederates and Davis’ troops initially had the upper hand. In a savage fight they inflicted massive casualties on Cutler’s regiments which outnumbered and being flanked were ordered to withdraw by Wadsworth in order to save them, with the exception of one regiment, the 147th New York nicknamed the Ploughboys which “did not get the order” [63] and though isolated held its ground, “with the support of a fresh six-gun battery whose gunners simply refused to quit.” [64]This was the 2nd Maine Battery under the command of Captain James Hall. Though caught in a cross fire of Rebel artillery and assailed by skirmishers Hall’s artillerymen gamely continued the fight withdrawing by sections, “fighting a close canister range and suffering severely.” [65] The New Yorkers and Hall’s battery battled the Mississippians and the “Ploughboys fell “like autumn leaves; the air was full of lead.” [66]

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The inexperienced Davis and his green troops were buoyed by this “gratifying local success” [67] and attempted to exploit it. At this point the Confederates were fatigued by the long march and the fighting and the troops of the 2ndMississippi and 55th North Carolina “were all jumbled together without regiment or company.” [68] Davis attempted to use the unfinished railroad cut “as cover for getting on the enemy’s flank without exposure.” [69]It was a decision that Davis lived to regret. As his troops his units crowed into it, the two regiments of Cutler’s brigade south of the turnpike, the 14th Brooklyn and the 95th New York turned to meet them and were joined by the reserve regiment of the Iron Brigade, the 6nd Wisconsin under Lieutenant Colonel Rufus Dawes. Dawes ordered an immediate advance and called out to Major Edward Pye of the 95th “Let’s go for them Major.” The 6th Wisconsin and the New Yorkers took the Confederates in the flank with enfilade fire, “it was like shooting fish in a barrel.” [70] Dawes’ men slaughtered many of those unfortunate soldiers, and the battle soon became a hand to hand struggle as North Carolinians and Mississippians struggled with the Wisconsin men and New Yorkers.

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The melee in and around the cut did not last long:

“for the Confederates were unable to resist their attackers….From the brow of the cut Dawes shouted down to the Confederates below him: “Where is the colonel of this regiment?” A Confederate field officer heard him and replied, “Who are you?” Dawes answered, “I command this regiment. Surrender or I will fire.” [71] Dawes’s men took over 200 prisoners, [72] and the battle flag of the 2ndMississippi. [73]

The charge had last but minutes yet had shattered Joe Davis’s brigade. Davis was wholly unprepared for this reverse and signaled his forces to pull back convinced that “a heavy force was…moving rapidly to our right.” [74] However, the cost to the 6th Wisconsin was great, “Dawes estimated that 160 men of the 6th fell, not including the brigade guard, whose casualties he did not know.” [75]

Brigadier General Solomon Meredith’s Iron Brigade, which had been brought forward by Doubleday hit Archer’s brigade in the front in the woods on McPherson’s Ridge. Meredith was an unmarried North Carolina Quaker who had moved to Indiana in 1840 owning little more than the clothes that he was wearing. He became a farmer but found politics more to his liking and was elected as a county sheriff and to the state legislature. When the war came he was serving as the Clerk of Wayne County. Meredith, like so many volunteer officers on both sides owed much of his advancement in the army to his political connections. In Meredith’s case this was to Meredith’s friend Governor Oliver Morton. Critics of Meredith decried his appointment as Colonel of the 19thIndiana as “a damnable swindle.” [76] Yet Meredith commanded the regiment effectively and received command of the brigade in November 1862. John Gibbon, the regular officer who initially commanded the brigade was critical of Meredith’s appointment but the soldiers appreciated their kind, six-foot seven-inch tall commander who they affectionately knew as “Long Sol.”But despite the carping of his political enemies and the opposition of Gibbon, Meredith like so many others like him who, “extroverted and ambitious by nature, accustomed to asserting themselves, these men did the best that they could, for themselves and their responsibilities, and they somehow sufficed” [77] though they had no formal military training or experience.

As the Iron Brigade advanced toward McPherson’s Ridge and engaged the enemy, Doubleday “urged the men…to hold it all hazards.” Doubleday later wrote that the troops of the brigade, “full of enthusiasm and the memory of their past achievements they said to me proudly, “If we can’t hold it, where will you find men who can?” [78]

Animated by the leadership of Reynolds and now Doubleday they “rushed to the charge, struck successive heavy blows, outflanked and turned the enemy’s right, captured General Archer and a large portion of his brigade, and pursued the remainder across Willoughby Run.”[79] The effect was dramatic as the Iron Brigade overwhelmed Archer’s brigade, whose soldiers now realized they were facing “the first team.” Members of the Iron Brigade recalling the voices of Confederate soldiers exclaiming “Here are those damned black-hat fellers again…’Taint no militia-that’s the Army of the Potomac.” [80] As they attempted to withdraw they piled up at a fence near Willoughby Run and were hit in the flank by “a Michigan regiment that had worked its way around through the woods to the south.” [81] Archer’s Confederates were unable to resist the assault of the Iron Brigade, “Some fled; others threw down their arms and trembling asked where they should go, while others simply dropped their rifles and ducked through the Union formations to the Union rear.”[82]

As for their commander, Archer the ignominy only got worse. “A muscular Irish private in the 2nd Wisconsin ran forward and seized General Archer bodily and made a prisoner of him.” [83] Coddington wrote: “It was a bad moment for the Army of Northern Virginia, and Archer gained the unenviable distinction of being the first of its general officers to be captured after Lee took command.” [84] Doubleday, who knew Archer from the old army, wrote of meeting Archer after that very angry general after had been taken prisoner and roughed up by the aforementioned Private Maloney. Doubleday greeted his old comrade saying: “Archer! I’m glad to see you,” and reached out his hand to greet his friend, to which Archer replied “Well, I’m not glad to see you by a damn sight” and refused to shake Doubleday’s hand. [85]

With the Archer’s brigade whipped and Davis’s in flight Solomon Meredith pulled back the brigade and “was reforming his lines when a shell exploded near him.” [86] Meredith’s horse was killed and fell on him and the tall general was struck in the head by a shell fragment which fractured his skull and rendered him hors d ’combat for the rest of the battle.

Contrary to the reports of many of the Confederates involved, stating that they were outnumbered, some of which have achieved nearly mythic status in some accounts of the battle, the forces engaged were relatively evenly matched. [87]Clifford Dowdey says that the Iron Brigade “heavily outnumbered the one brigade they met. Archer’s….” [88] Such accounts are usually based on the reports of Heth and other confederate commanders. Heth in his after action report wrote that “Archer, encountered heavy masses in his front, and his gallant little brigade, after being almost surrounded by overwhelming forces in front and on both flanks, was forced back….” [89]

However, such was not the case. The reason for this repulse was not that the Union forces had “overwhelming forces” or “greatly superior numbers.” Instead the Archer’s brigade and the Iron Brigade were fairly evenly matched with Archer having about 1,130 men and the Iron Brigade 1,400 while Davis outnumbered Cutler nearly two to one having between 2,400 and 2,600 men in the battle to Cutler’s 1,300. [90]

Following the repulse of Archer and Davis’s brigades by Reynolds’s First Corps, Heth withdrew his badly mauled brigades back to Herr’s Ridge in order to reform them and bring up the brigades of Brockenbrough and Pettigrew before he could resume his attack. In his next assault he would also be supported by Pender’s fresh division which was now coming up.

Coddington notes that the outcome of the opening engagement came down to leadership and “the superior tactical skills of the Northern generals,”who “created a reserve force” with one regiment of the Iron Brigade which “permitted them to take full advantage of their interior lines, shift their strength about, and apply it where most needed.” [91] It was a “calculated risk,” for it assumed that the depleted Iron Brigade could handle Archer’s brigade effectively with only four of their five assigned regiments. [92]Again, even with the loss of Reynolds it was a case of Harry Heth being out-generaled, this time by Abner Doubleday. Heth “had not exercised the close field command by means of which Doubleday had won the brief, furious action.” [93]

death of reynolds

                                               The Death of Reynolds

Reynolds was dead, but the series of command decisions reached by Reynolds under the pressure of a meeting engagement “where neither side held an immediate advantage” [94] were critical to the army. Likewise, because he had effectively communicated his intent to his subordinate commanders they were able to continue the fight despite his death, and his superiors and successors were able to effectively continue the battle that he had initiated. When he went into action he had “barely a third of his corps available, and confronting a force of unknown size, he had put himself at the head of his troops to lead them in a vigorous attack.” [95]

Though shaken by Reynolds’ loss, the Union troops fought on at McPherson and Seminary Ridge under the command of Doubleday until the assault of Ewell on their left and the arrival of Pender’s fresh division forced them from their positions. However Reynolds’s death was a major blow for the Federal forces for it “removed from the equation the one person with enough vision and sense of purpose to manage this battle.” [96] Despite this Reynolds, by pushing forward with his troops on McPherson’s Ridge ensured that Howard was able to secure Cemetery Hill and Cemetery Ridge, without which Gettysburg would have been lost.

The contrast between Reynolds and his opponents was marked. Hill was ten miles away from the action. Heth was too far to the rear of his troops to direct their advance when they ran into trouble and did not begin to take control until after the brigades of Davis and Archer had staggered “back up the ravine, with Davis’s temporarily wrecked.” [97] In contrast to Heth, Reynolds “hurried to the front, where he was able to inspirit the defense and throw troops into the decisive zone.” [98] At every point in the brief encounter John Reynolds showed himself superior to his opponents as he directed the battle. “Dedicated to an aggressive forward defense in the vanguard of the entire Army of the Potomac, Reynolds, at the cost of his own life had blunted the Rebel thrust and bought valuable time that permitted the balance of Meade’s army to take possession of the coveted high ground….” [99]

Though he paid for his efforts with his life but his sacrifice was not in vain. Reynolds’s tactics “gave the First Corps room for maneuver in front of Gettysburg and upset General Hill’s timetable.” [100] Harry Hunt noted: “…by his promptitude and gallantry he had determined the decisive field of the war, and he opened brilliantly a battle which required three days of hard fighting to close with a victory.” [101]

                                                            Notes

[1] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.48

[2] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.261

[3] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.48

[4] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.261

[5] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 158

[6] Nolan, Alan T. The Iron Brigade: A Military History Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN, 1961 and 1994 pp.233-234

[7] Napoleon Bonaparte, Military Maxims of Napoleon in Roots of Strategy: The Five Greatest Military Classics of All Time edited by Phillips, Thomas R Stackpole Books Mechanicsburg PA 1985 p.410

[8] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 165

[9] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.49

[10] Ibid. Nolan The Iron Brigade p.233

[11] Trudeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.159

[12] Ibid. Trudeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.156

[13] Doubleday, Abner Chancellorsville and Gettysburg: Campaigns of the Civil War VI Charles Scribner’s Sons, Bew York 1882 pp.70-71

[14] Ibid. Doubleday Chancellorsville and Gettysburg p.71

[15] Carpenter, John A. Sword and Olive Branch: Oliver Otis Howard Fordham University Press, New York 1999 p.51

[16] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.76

[17] Green, A. Wilson. From Chancellorsville to Gettysburg: O. O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership in The First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gallagher, Gary W. Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 1992 p. 70

[18] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 158

[19] Keneally, Thomas American Scoundrel: The Life of the Notorious Civil war General Dan Sickles Anchor Books, a Division of Random House, New York 2003 p.275

[20] Swanberg, W.A. Sickles the Incredible Copyright by the author 1958 and 1984 Stan Clark Military Books, Gettysburg PA 1991 p.202

[21] Ibid. Trudeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.156

[22] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 165

[23] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.142

[24] Ibid. Nichols Toward Gettysburg p.200

[25] Ibid. Doubleday Chancellorsville and Gettysburg p.68

[26] Ibid. Nolan The Iron Brigade p.235

[27] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.142

[28] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 172

[29] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.143

[30] Ibid. Trudeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.172-173

[31] Schultz, Duane The Most Glorious Fourth: Vicksburg and Gettysburg July 4th 1863. W.W. Norton and Company New York and London, 2002 p.202

[32] Ibid. Trudeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.173

[33] Huntington, Tom Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of GettysburStackpole Books, Mechanicsburg PA 2013 p.154

[34] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 166

[35] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.277

[36] Doubleday, Abner. Chancellorsville and Gettysburg: Campaigns of the Civil War – VI Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York 1882 p.68

[37] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.75

[38] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.145

[39] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.275

[40] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.469

[41] Gottfried, Bradley The Artillery of Gettysburg Cumberland House Publishing, Nashville TN 2008 pp.28-29

[42] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 34 Sears notes that in between Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, First Division of I Corps had lost a full brigade due to the expiration of enlistments.

[43] Catton, Bruce The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road Doubleday and Company, Garden City New York, 1952 p.270

[44] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 34

[45] Ibid. Catton The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road p.271

[46] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.275

[47] Ibid. Howard Autobiography of Oliver Otis Howard 5995 of 9221

[48] Ibid. Catton The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road p.271

[49] Girardi, Robert I. The Civil War Generals: Comrades, Peers, Rivals in Their Own Words Zenith Press, MBI Publishing, Minneapolis MN 2013 p.184

[50] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 34

[51] Ibid. Nolan The Iron Brigade p.16

[52] Tagg, Larry The Generals of Gettysburg: The Leaders of America’s Greatest Battle Da Capo Press Cambridge MA 1998 Amazon Kindle Edition p.19

[53] Hebert, Walter H. Fighting Joe Hooker University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London 1999. Originally published by Bobbs-Merrill, New York 1944 p.137

[54] Ibid. Nolan The Iron Brigade p.130

[55] Ibid. Nolan The Iron Brigade p. 54

[56] Ibid. Nolan The Iron Brigade p. 234

[57] Ibid. Catton The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road p.271

[58] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day pp.75-76

[59] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.275

[60] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.271

[61] Longacre, Edward G. John Buford: A Military Biography Da Capo Press, Perseus Book Group, Cambridge MA p.194

[62] Ibid. Hunt, The First Day at Gettysburg in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume III, The Tide Shifts p.277

[63] Ibid. Catton The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road p.272

[64] Dowdy, CliffordLee 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.96

[65] Ibid. Hunt, The First Day at Gettysburg in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume III, The Tide Shifts p.277

[66] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.86

[67] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.96

[68] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.104

[69] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.96

[70] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.97

[71] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.112

[72] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.153

[73] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 178

[74] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.153

[75] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.109

[76] Ibid. Nolan The Iron Brigade p.20

[77] Ibid. Nolan The Iron Brigade p.173

[78] Ibid. Doubleday Chancellorsville and Gettysburg p.73

[79] Hunt, Henry. The First 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.277

[80] Ibid. Catton The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road p.273

[81] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 pp.470-471

[82] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.99

[83] Ibid. Catton The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road p.274

[84] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.271

[85] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.470

[86] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.17

[87] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.469 Even Foote in his account of Archer’s brigade makes the comment “Staggered by the ambush and outnumbered as they were….”

[88] DowdyLee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.95

[89] Luvaas, Jay and Nelson Harold W editors. The U.S. Army War College Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg South Mountain Press, Carlisle PA 1986 p.9

[90] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.274

[91] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.274

[92] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.274

[93] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.97

[94] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 168

[95] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.277

[96] Ibid. Trudeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.171

[97] Ibid. DowdyLee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.97

[98] Krick, Robert K. Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge: Failures of Brigade Leadership on the First Day of Gettysburg in The First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gallagher, Gary W. Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 1992 p.113

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

[100] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.277

[101] Ibid. Hunt, The First Day at Gettysburg in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume III, The Tide Shifts p.277

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John Reynolds Gives Battle: Gettysburg Day One

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

This is another section of my text on the Battle of Gettysburg dealing with General John Reynold’s and his decision to give battle as the cavalrymen of John Buford fought a delaying action against the Confederate forces of A.P. Hill and Harry Heth. 

I hope that you enjoy.

Peace

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On the night of June 30th Reynolds was awash in reports, some of them conflicting and even though he was without Meade’s course of action for the next day “concluded that Lee’s army was close by and in force.” [1] He spent the night at his headquarters “studying the military situation with Howard and keeping in touch with army headquarters.” [2] Howard noted Reynolds anxiety and “received the impression that Reynolds was depressed.” [3] After Howard’s departure Reynolds took the opportunity to get a few hours of fitful sleep before arising again at 4 a.m. on July 1st.

When morning came, Reynolds was awakened by his aide Major William Riddle with Meade’s order to “advance the First and Eleventh Corps to Gettysburg.” [4] Reynolds studied the order and though he expected no battle that morning, expecting “only moving up to be in supporting distance to Buford” [5] took the prudent and reasonable precautions that his Confederate opponents A.P. Hill and Harry Heth refused to take as they prepared to move on Gettysburg.

His troops were in fine spirits that morning even though it had been busy. After a breakfast of hardtack, pork and coffee the troops moved out. An officer of the Iron Brigade noted that the soldiers of that brigade were “all in the highest spirits” while Lieutenant Colonel Rufus Dawes of the “placed the fifes and drums at the head of the Sixth Wisconsin and ordered the colors unfurled” as the proud veterans marched forward into the sound of the raging battle to the tune of “The Campbell’s are Coming.” [6]

Though Reynolds was not expecting a fight he organized his march in a manner that ensured if one did happen that he was fully prepared. The precautionary measures that he took were those that any prudent commander having knowledge that strong enemy forces were nearby would take. Reynolds certainly took to heart the words of Napoleon who said “A General should say to himself many times a day: If the hostile army were to make its appearance in front, on my right, or on my left, what should I do?”[7]

This was a question that A.P. Hill and Harry Heth seemed not to consider on that warm and muggy July morning when Heth was committing Lee’s army to battle on his own authority. Reynolds was also about to commit the Army of the Potomac to battle, but unlike Heth who had no authority to do so, Reynolds “had at least been delegated the authority for making such a decision” [8] by his army commander George Meade. Though Meade was unaware of what was transpiring in the hills beyond Gettysburg he implicitly trusted the judgement of Reynolds, and Meade been with the advanced elements of Reynold’s wing he too “probably would have endorsed any decision he made.” [9]

Reynolds placed himself with the lead division, that of Wadsworth, and “directed Doubleday to bring up the other divisions and guns of the First Corps and had ordered Howard’s Eleventh Corps up from Emmitsburg.” [10] Reynold’s also understood the urgency of the situation and “wanted all the fighting troops to be up front, so he instructed Howard not to intermingle his supply wagons with his infantry. Similar instructions had been given to Abner Doubleday; to ensure that the First Corps wagons would wait until the Eleventh Corps foot soldiers had passed.” [11]

Instead operating in the normal fashion of rotating units on the march, Reynolds opted to save time. Since Wadsworth’s First Division was further advanced than his other First Corps divisions, Reynolds instructed it to move out first with Cutler’s brigade in the lead followed by the Iron Brigade under Brigadier General Solomon Meredith. In doing so Reynolds countermanded the order of the acting corps commander Doubleday who had ordered Wadsworth’s division to allow the other divisions of First Corps to pass his before advancing. Reynolds told Wadsworth that Doubleday’s order “was a mistake and that I should move on directly.” [12]

He went forward with Wadsworth’s division and gave Doubleday his orders for the coming engagement. Doubleday later recalled that when Reynolds arrived to discuss the situation that Reynolds:

“read to me the various dispatches he had received from Meade and Buford, and told me that he should go at once forward with the leading division – that of Wadsworth – to aid the cavalry. He then instructed me to draw in my pickets, assemble the artillery and the remainder of the corps and join him as soon as possible. Having given me these orders, he rode off at the head of the column, and I never saw him again.” [13]

Reynolds ordered Howard’s Eleventh Corps to follow First Corps and according to Doubleday directed an aid of Howard to have Howard “bring his corps forward at once and form them on Cemetery Hill as a reserve.” [14]Howard received the order and since his troops were ready to move out “no time was lost in setting them in motion.” [15] While some writers believe that Reynolds directed Oliver Howard to prepare Cemetery Hill as a fallback position [16] there is more evidence that points to Howard selecting the that commanding hill himself. [17] Regardless of which is correct the result was that both Reynolds and Howard recognized the importance of the position and took action to secure it.

Likewise Reynolds ordered Sickles’ III Corps to come up from Emmitsburg where that corps had bivouacked the previous night. [18] Sickles had heard the guns in the distance that morning and sent his senior aide, Major Henry Tremain to find Reynolds. Reynolds told Tremain “Tell General Sickles I think he had better come up” but the order left Sickles in a quandary. He recalled “he spend an anxious hour deciding what to do” [19] for he had “been ordered by Meade to hold his position at Emmitsburg” [20] and Sickles sent another rider to Reynolds and awaited the response of his wing commander instead of immediately advancing to battle on 1 July and it would not be until after 3 P.M. that he would send his lead division to Gettysburg.

According to Doubleday Reynolds’s intention was “to fight the enemy as soon as I could meet him.” [21] Reynolds rode forward with some of his staff into the town as the infantry of the First Corps and the Eleventh Corps moved advanced. As they rode through the town Reynolds and his party were met by “a fleeing, badly frightened civilian, who gasped out the news that the cavalry was in a fight.” [22] When he came to the Lutheran Seminary he came across Buford. It was a defining moment of the Civil War, a moment that shaped the battle to come. It has been recounted many times and immortalized on screen in the movie Gettysburg, a time “when the entire battle would come down to a matter of minutes getting one place to another.” [23]

As the rough and tumble Kentuckian, Buford, and Reynolds, the dashing Pennsylvanian, discussed the situation they had to know that odd that they were facing. With close to 32,000 rebels from the four divisions of Hill’s and Ewell’s corps closing in from the west and the north and with only about 18,000 men of First Corps, Eleventh Corps and Buford’s cavalry division to meet them, the odds were not in his favor, but unlike other battles that the army of the Potomac faced, this time the army and its commanders were determined not to lose the battle and not to retreat and for the first time John Reynolds “led the advance” and for the first time in the war “might have some say about fighting.” [24]

Reynolds and Buford committed their eighteen thousand men against Lee’s thirty-two thousand in a meeting engagement that develop into a battle that would decide the outcome of Lee’s invasion. Likewise it was a battle for the very existence of the Union. Abner Doubleday noted the incontestable and eternal significance of the encounter to which Buford and Reynolds were committing the Army of the Potomac on July 1st 1863:

“The two armies about to contest on the perilous ridges of Gettysburg the possession of the Northern States, and the ultimate triumph of freedom or slavery….” [25]

Even though they understood that they were outmanned and outgunned by the advancing Confederates, both Buford and Reynolds knew that this was where the battle must be waged. It was here on this spot, for the ground gave them an advantage that they would not have elsewhere; but only if they could hold on long enough for the rest of the army to arrive. As Alan Nolan wrote: “this Pennsylvania ground – was defensible, and behind it, through the town, loomed Cemetery Hill, another natural point of defense if the battle at Seminary Ridge went against the Federals.” [26]

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Reynolds vs. Heth July 1st

When John Buford saw Reynolds infantry advancing as the Confederates increased the pressure on his outnumbered cavalry, he remarked to a staff member “now we can hold this place.” [27] Buford was not mistaken, when Reynolds rode up to the scene of the battle on Seminary Ridge he greeted Buford, who was in the cupola of the seminary. He called out “What’s the matter John?” to which Buford replied “The devil’s to pay” before he came down to discuss the tactical situation with Reynolds. [28] Buford explained the situation noting that “I have come upon some regiments of infantry…they are in the woods…and I am unable to dislodge them.” [29]

Reynolds needed no other convincing. He asked Buford if he could hold and quickly sent off a number of messages. One officer wrote: “The Genl ordered Genl Buford to hold the enemy in check as long as possible, to keep them from getting into town and at the same time sent orders to Genl Sickles…& Genl Howard to come as fast as possible.” [30]Additionally, Reynolds sent a message to Meade stating: “The enemy are advancing in strong force. I fear they will get to the heights beyond the own before I can. I will fight them inch by inch, and if driven into the town, I will barricade the streets and hold them back as long as possible.” [31] He directed Major Weld of his staff to take it to Meade with all haste as Weld recalled: “with the greatest speed I could, no matter if I killed my horse.” [32] When Meade received the report he was concerned, but with great confidence in Reynolds’s ability he remarked “Good!…That is just like Reynolds; he will hold on to the bitter end.” [33]

After dictating his instructions and sending off his messengers, Reynolds then did what no senior Confederate commander did during the entirety of the battle, he rode back and took personal charge of the movements of his troops to hurry them forward. Unlike Heth who so badly misjudged the tactical situation, he had taken note of the ground and recognized from Buford’s reports that “the Confederates were marching only on that single road and thus would not be able to push their forces to the front any faster than Reynolds could reach the battlefield with his First Corps divisions.”[34] It was a key observation on his part which again allowed him to make appropriate decisions as to how he shaped the battle.

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Reynolds leadership at this point might be considered reckless by the standards of our day when senior commanders control battles from miles away with the help of real time intelligence and reporting, including live video feeds, or even the standards of the Second World War. But then in the Civil War a commander in combat could only really control the actions of troops that he could see and because of the time that it took to get messages to subordinate commanders, and the real possibility that verbal orders could be badly misinterpreted in the heat of battle.

Reynolds exercised command directing infantry formations into battle and assisting his artillery battery commanders in the placement of their guns. This was far different than the way that most senior Confederate leaders, including Lee, Longstreet, Hill and Ewell directed their units during the battle of Gettysburg. But such action such action was in keeping with Reynolds’s character, especially in the defense of his home state. Reynolds’ philosophy of command regarding volunteer troops was that they “were better led than driven” [35] and as such he led from the front and Abner Doubleday noted that Reynolds was “inflamed by at seeing the devastation of his native state, was most desirous of getting at the enemy as soon as possible.” [36]

iron brigade forward

“For God’s Sake Forward!” McPherson’s Ridge

John Reynolds recognized that time was of the essence if his forces were to hold the ground west of the town selected a shortcut around the town for First Corps. Those forces were directed across the fields near the Condori farm toward the back side of Seminary Ridge, with Reynolds’ staff helping to remove fences to speed the advance. [37] It was not an easy advance as the troops had to move across the farm fields at an oblique and have to “double-quick for a mile and a quarter in the thick humidity just to reach the seminary.” [38]One member of the corps recalled “I never saw men more willing to fight than they were at Gettysburg.” [39]

Recognizing that “after two full hours of fighting, Buford’s troopers”fighting on McPherson’s Ridge, were “at the limits of their endurance,”Reynolds ordered Wadsworth’s brigades “to bolster the cavalry and oppose the rebel infantry coming at them.” [40]

As troops arrived Reynolds directed them into position. He directed the artillery of Captain James Hall’s 2nd Maine Battery to McPherson’s Ridge instructing Hall “I desire you to damage their artillery to the greatest possible extent, and to keep their fire from our infantry until they are deployed….” [41]

The leading infantry of First Corps was Major General James Wadsworth’s understrength division containing just two brigades, just over 3000 soldiers, its losses from Chancellorsville not being made good and as the result of the loss of regiments discharged because their enlistments had expired. [42] Wadsworth was not a professional soldier, but like many generals on both sides was a political general who despite his lack of military experience was a natural leader of men. Wadsworth was “a vigorous white-haired old man who had been a well-to-do gentleman farmer in New York State before the war” [43] and he “had interrupted his service in the war to run for and lose his state’s governorship the preceding fall.” [44] He ran against the anti-war, anti-administration and frequently pro-Southern Copperhead Horatio Seymour, but he did not leave the army in order return to the state to mount a personal campaign “on the ground that it did not befit a soldier.” [45]

“What the gray haired general lacked in experience and skill, he compensated with a fighting spirit.” [46] Oliver Howard of Eleventh Corps said that Wadsworth was “always generous and a natural soldier” [47]and while Wadsworth was no professional but he performed admirably on July 1st 1863. Wadsworth was beloved by his men because he demonstrated true concern and care for their living conditions and training and on that morning Wadsworth was commanding his division leading it into action with “an old Revolutionary War saber in his hand.” [48] The gallant Wadsworth would be mortally wounded ten months later leading a division of Gouverneur Warren’s Fifth Corps in the opening engagements of the Wilderness. Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles noted in his diary when Wadsworth died that Wadsworth “should, by right and fair-dealing, have been at this moment Governor of New York…No purer or single-minded patriot than Wadsworth has shown himself in this war. He left home and comforts and wealth to fight the battles of the Union.” [49]

With their gallant commander at their head the division may not have had much in force in the way of numbers, but the units of the division were “good ones,”composed of hardened combat veterans that went into battle with an eye to victory. In the van was Brigadier General Zylander Cutler’s brigade of New Yorkers and Pennsylvanians, the “celebrated Bucktails.” [50] When they were mustered into service the soldiers of the 13th Pennsylvania had adopted a “bucktail” attached to their service caps as a distinctive insignia, a practice that spread to other regiments of the brigade and for which the brigade became known throughout the army.

Cutler had spent much of his early life in Maine working in a number of fields and businesses. He made a fortune several times and lost it, first when his mill burned down, but he rebuilt his businesses and diversified and “as a leading businessman, Cutler was elected to the Maine senate, college trusteeships and a railroad directorship, but he was financially ruined by the panic of 1866 and moved to Milwaukee to start his career over again.” [51] The tough-minded Cutler had some previous military experience fighting Indians as a member of the Maine militia and was made Colonel of the 6th Wisconsin. Cutler was described by one of his soldiers as “being as “rugged as a wolf” and was “a tenacious fighter, a trait that endeared him to the tough-minded Gibbon.” [52] After Antietam Gibbon recommended Cutler for promotion to Brigadier General and command of the Iron Brigade, but Cutler had been wounded at the bloody Battle of Brawner’s Farm and Solomon Meredith gained a promotion and command of that celebrated brigade. However, in on November 29th 1862 having recuperated from his wounds Cutler was promoted to brigadier general and received command of his Bucktails in March of 1863. The brigade saw only minor action at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg would be the fierce brigadier’s first chance since being wounded to command in combat.

This fine brigade was followed by Brigadier General Solomon Meredith’s “Iron Brigade” composed of westerners in their distinctive black “Jefferson Davis” or “Hardie” hats. The brigade had been initially commanded by Major General John Gibbon, now commanding a division in Winfield Scott Hancock’s Second Corps. Gibbon turned the brigade into one of the finest in the army. At the Battle of Turner’s Gap on South Mountain during the Antietam campaign, the brigade earned its name.

After that bloody battle George McClellan exclaimed “They must be made of Iron!” and Hooker replied, “By the Eternal, they are iron! If you had seen them at Bull Run as I did, you would know them to be iron.”[53] In the fierce battle at South Mountain the brigade had lost over a quarter of its strength, but had gained a share of immortality among the ranks of the United States Army. “The Western soldiers immediately seized on this as their title, and the reputation of the brigade and its new name were soon broadcast around Federal campfires.” [54] The regiments of the brigade rivalled many Regular Army units in effectiveness and discipline and “the black hats became their trademark.” [55] Often committed to the fiercest battles the brigade had been decimated, but now along with the Bucktails it advanced up down Seminary Ridge and up the back side of McPherson’s Ridge. A member of an artillery battery who saw the Bucktails and the Iron Brigade advance recalled:

“No one…will ever again see those two brigades of Wadsworth’s Division – Cutler’s and the Iron Brigade – file by as they did that morning. The little creek made a depression in the road, with a gentle ascent on either side, so that from our point of view the column, as it came down the slope and up the other, had the effect of huge blue billows of men topped with a spray of shining steel, and the whole spectacle was calculated to give nerve to a man who never had one before.” [56]

Reynolds directed Cutler’s Bucktails to proceed north of the Cashtown Pike and then “called the Iron Brigade into action on the south side” [57]leading the hearty Westerners himself. Reynolds directed then Wadsworth to take change of the action on the north side of the road while he looked after the left. [58] When Reynolds made that decision he made another. He ordered the 6th Wisconsin of the Iron Brigade into reserve, leaving the Iron Brigade a regiment short but giving him the advantage of having a ready reserve which “permitted them to take full advantage of their interior lines, shift their strength about, and apply it where most needed.” [59]

At about 10:30 the 2nd Wisconsin advanced into the woods Reynolds urged them forward: “Forward men, for God’s sake and drive those fellows out of those woods….” [60] As he looked around toward the seminary to see the progress of reinforcements, Reynolds was struck in the back of the neck by a bullet and fell dead. “Had it come a short time earlier, Reynolds’s death might have thrown the I Corps into fatal confusion.” [61] But Doubleday, who command now fell was up to the task on that sultry July morning.

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Cutler’s brigade moved north and engaged Davis’ men near the railroad cut. Here the Cutler’s line was “hardly formed when it was struck by Davis’s Confederate brigade on its front and right flank.” [62] His troops were heavily outnumbered by the advancing Confederates and Davis’ troops initially had the upper hand. In a savage fight they inflicted massive casualties on Cutler’s regiments which outnumbered and being flanked were ordered to withdraw by Wadsworth in order to save them, with the exception of one regiment, the 147th New York nicknamed the Ploughboys which “did not get the order” [63] and though isolated held its ground, “with the support of a fresh six-gun battery whose gunners simply refused to quit.” [64]This was the 2nd Maine Battery under the command of Captain James Hall. Though caught in a cross fire of Rebel artillery and assailed by skirmishers Hall’s artillerymen gamely continued the fight withdrawing by sections, “fighting a close canister range and suffering severely.” [65] The New Yorkers and Hall’s battery battled the Mississippians and the “Ploughboys fell “like autumn leaves; the air was full of lead.” [66]

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The inexperienced Davis and his green troops were buoyed by this “gratifying local success” [67] and attempted to exploit it. At this point the Confederates were fatigued by the long march and the fighting and the troops of the 2ndMississippi and 55th North Carolina “were all jumbled together without regiment or company.” [68] Davis attempted to use the unfinished railroad cut “as cover for getting on the enemy’s flank without exposure.” [69]It was a decision that Davis lived to regret. As his troops his units crowed into it, the two regiments of Cutler’s brigade south of the turnpike, the 14th Brooklyn and the 95th New York turned to meet them and were joined by the reserve regiment of the Iron Brigade, the 6nd Wisconsin under Lieutenant Colonel Rufus Dawes. Dawes ordered an immediate advance and called out to Major Edward Pye of the 95th “Let’s go for them Major.” The 6th Wisconsin and the New Yorkers took the Confederates in the flank with enfilade fire, “it was like shooting fish in a barrel.” [70] Dawes’ men slaughtered many of those unfortunate soldiers, and the battle soon became a hand to hand struggle as North Carolinians and Mississippians struggled with the Wisconsin men and New Yorkers.

fightforthecolors2la

The melee in and around the cut did not last long:

“for the Confederates were unable to resist their attackers….From the brow of the cut Dawes shouted down to the Confederates below him: “Where is the colonel of this regiment?” A Confederate field officer heard him and replied, “Who are you?” Dawes answered, “I command this regiment. Surrender or I will fire.” [71] Dawes’s men took over 200 prisoners, [72] and the battle flag of the 2ndMississippi. [73]

The charge had last but minutes yet had shattered Joe Davis’s brigade. Davis was wholly unprepared for this reverse and signaled his forces to pull back convinced that “a heavy force was…moving rapidly to our right.” [74] However, the cost to the 6th Wisconsin was great, “Dawes estimated that 160 men of the 6th fell, not including the brigade guard, whose casualties he did not know.” [75]

Brigadier General Solomon Meredith’s Iron Brigade, which had been brought forward by Doubleday hit Archer’s brigade in the front in the woods on McPherson’s Ridge. Meredith was an unmarried North Carolina Quaker who had moved to Indiana in 1840 owning little more than the clothes that he was wearing. He became a farmer but found politics more to his liking and was elected as a county sheriff and to the state legislature. When the war came he was serving as the Clerk of Wayne County. Meredith, like so many volunteer officers on both sides owed much of his advancement in the army to his political connections. In Meredith’s case this was to Meredith’s friend Governor Oliver Morton. Critics of Meredith decried his appointment as Colonel of the 19thIndiana as “a damnable swindle.” [76] Yet Meredith commanded the regiment effectively and received command of the brigade in November 1862. John Gibbon, the regular officer who initially commanded the brigade was critical of Meredith’s appointment but the soldiers appreciated their kind, six-foot seven-inch tall commander who they affectionately knew as “Long Sol.”But despite the carping of his political enemies and the opposition of Gibbon, Meredith like so many others like him who, “extroverted and ambitious by nature, accustomed to asserting themselves, these men did the best that they could, for themselves and their responsibilities, and they somehow sufficed” [77] though they had no formal military training or experience.

As the Iron Brigade advanced toward McPherson’s Ridge and engaged the enemy, Doubleday “urged the men…to hold it all hazards.” Doubleday later wrote that the troops of the brigade, “full of enthusiasm and the memory of their past achievements they said to me proudly, “If we can’t hold it, where will you find men who can?” [78]

Animated by the leadership of Reynolds and now Doubleday they “rushed to the charge, struck successive heavy blows, outflanked and turned the enemy’s right, captured General Archer and a large portion of his brigade, and pursued the remainder across Willoughby Run.”[79] The effect was dramatic as the Iron Brigade overwhelmed Archer’s brigade, whose soldiers now realized they were facing “the first team.” Members of the Iron Brigade recalling the voices of Confederate soldiers exclaiming “Here are those damned black-hat fellers again…’Taint no militia-that’s the Army of the Potomac.” [80] As they attempted to withdraw they piled up at a fence near Willoughby Run and were hit in the flank by “a Michigan regiment that had worked its way around through the woods to the south.” [81] Archer’s Confederates were unable to resist the assault of the Iron Brigade, “Some fled; others threw down their arms and trembling asked where they should go, while others simply dropped their rifles and ducked through the Union formations to the Union rear.”[82]

As for their commander, Archer the ignominy only got worse. “A muscular Irish private in the 2nd Wisconsin ran forward and seized General Archer bodily and made a prisoner of him.” [83] Coddington wrote: “It was a bad moment for the Army of Northern Virginia, and Archer gained the unenviable distinction of being the first of its general officers to be captured after Lee took command.” [84] Doubleday, who knew Archer from the old army, wrote of meeting Archer after that very angry general after had been taken prisoner and roughed up by the aforementioned Private Maloney. Doubleday greeted his old comrade saying: “Archer! I’m glad to see you,” and reached out his hand to greet his friend, to which Archer replied “Well, I’m not glad to see you by a damn sight” and refused to shake Doubleday’s hand. [85]

With the Archer’s brigade whipped and Davis’s in flight Solomon Meredith pulled back the brigade and “was reforming his lines when a shell exploded near him.” [86] Meredith’s horse was killed and fell on him and the tall general was struck in the head by a shell fragment which fractured his skull and rendered him hors d ’combat for the rest of the battle.

Contrary to the reports of many of the Confederates involved, stating that they were outnumbered, some of which have achieved nearly mythic status in some accounts of the battle, the forces engaged were relatively evenly matched. [87]Clifford Dowdey says that the Iron Brigade “heavily outnumbered the one brigade they met. Archer’s….” [88] Such accounts are usually based on the reports of Heth and other confederate commanders. Heth in his after action report wrote that “Archer, encountered heavy masses in his front, and his gallant little brigade, after being almost surrounded by overwhelming forces in front and on both flanks, was forced back….” [89]

However, such was not the case. The reason for this repulse was not that the Union forces had “overwhelming forces” or “greatly superior numbers.” Instead the Archer’s brigade and the Iron Brigade were fairly evenly matched with Archer having about 1,130 men and the Iron Brigade 1,400 while Davis outnumbered Cutler nearly two to one having between 2,400 and 2,600 men in the battle to Cutler’s 1,300. [90]

Following the repulse of Archer and Davis’s brigades by Reynolds’s First Corps, Heth withdrew his badly mauled brigades back to Herr’s Ridge in order to reform them and bring up the brigades of Brockenbrough and Pettigrew before he could resume his attack. In his next assault he would also be supported by Pender’s fresh division which was now coming up.

Coddington notes that the outcome of the opening engagement came down to leadership and “the superior tactical skills of the Northern generals,”who “created a reserve force” with one regiment of the Iron Brigade which “permitted them to take full advantage of their interior lines, shift their strength about, and apply it where most needed.” [91] It was a “calculated risk,” for it assumed that the depleted Iron Brigade could handle Archer’s brigade effectively with only four of their five assigned regiments. [92]Again, even with the loss of Reynolds it was a case of Harry Heth being out-generaled, this time by Abner Doubleday. Heth “had not exercised the close field command by means of which Doubleday had won the brief, furious action.” [93]

death of reynolds

The Death of Reynolds

Reynolds was dead, but the series of command decisions reached by Reynolds under the pressure of a meeting engagement “where neither side held an immediate advantage” [94] were critical to the army. Likewise, because he had effectively communicated his intent to his subordinate commanders they were able to continue the fight despite his death, and his superiors and successors were able to effectively continue the battle that he had initiated. When he went into action he had “barely a third of his corps available, and confronting a force of unknown size, he had put himself at the head of his troops to lead them in a vigorous attack.” [95]

Though shaken by Reynolds’ loss, the Union troops fought on at McPherson and Seminary Ridge under the command of Doubleday until the assault of Ewell on their left and the arrival of Pender’s fresh division forced them from their positions. However Reynolds’s death was a major blow for the Federal forces for it “removed from the equation the one person with enough vision and sense of purpose to manage this battle.” [96] Despite this Reynolds, by pushing forward with his troops on McPherson’s Ridge ensured that Howard was able to secure Cemetery Hill and Cemetery Ridge, without which Gettysburg would have been lost.

The contrast between Reynolds and his opponents was marked. Hill was ten miles away from the action. Heth was too far to the rear of his troops to direct their advance when they ran into trouble and did not begin to take control until after the brigades of Davis and Archer had staggered “back up the ravine, with Davis’s temporarily wrecked.” [97] In contrast to Heth, Reynolds “hurried to the front, where he was able to inspirit the defense and throw troops into the decisive zone.” [98] At every point in the brief encounter John Reynolds showed himself superior to his opponents as he directed the battle. “Dedicated to an aggressive forward defense in the vanguard of the entire Army of the Potomac, Reynolds, at the cost of his own life had blunted the Rebel thrust and bought valuable time that permitted the balance of Meade’s army to take possession of the coveted high ground….” [99]

Though he paid for his efforts with his life but his sacrifice was not in vain. Reynolds’s tactics “gave the First Corps room for maneuver in front of Gettysburg and upset General Hill’s timetable.” [100] Harry Hunt noted: “…by his promptitude and gallantry he had determined the decisive field of the war, and he opened brilliantly a battle which required three days of hard fighting to close with a victory.” [101]

Notes

[1] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.48

[2] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.261

[3] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.48

[4] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.261

[5] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 158

[6] Nolan, Alan T. The Iron Brigade: A Military History Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN, 1961 and 1994 pp.233-234

[7] Napoleon Bonaparte, Military Maxims of Napoleon in Roots of Strategy: The Five Greatest Military Classics of All Time edited by Phillips, Thomas R Stackpole Books Mechanicsburg PA 1985 p.410

[8] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 165

[9] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.49

[10] Ibid. Nolan The Iron Brigade p.233

[11] Trudeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.159

[12] Ibid. Trudeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.156

[13] Doubleday, Abner Chancellorsville and Gettysburg: Campaigns of the Civil War VI Charles Scribner’s Sons, Bew York 1882 pp.70-71

[14] Ibid. Doubleday Chancellorsville and Gettysburg p.71

[15] Carpenter, John A. Sword and Olive Branch: Oliver Otis Howard Fordham University Press, New York 1999 p.51

[16] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.76

[17] Green, A. Wilson. From Chancellorsville to Gettysburg: O. O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership in The First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gallagher, Gary W. Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 1992 p. 70

[18] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 158

[19] Keneally, Thomas American Scoundrel: The Life of the Notorious Civil war General Dan Sickles Anchor Books, a Division of Random House, New York 2003 p.275

[20] Swanberg, W.A. Sickles the Incredible Copyright by the author 1958 and 1984 Stan Clark Military Books, Gettysburg PA 1991 p.202

[21] Ibid. Trudeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.156

[22] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 165

[23] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.142

[24] Ibid. Nichols Toward Gettysburg p.200

[25] Ibid. Doubleday Chancellorsville and Gettysburg p.68

[26] Ibid. Nolan The Iron Brigade p.235

[27] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.142

[28] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 172

[29] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.143

[30] Ibid. Trudeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.172-173

[31] Schultz, Duane The Most Glorious Fourth: Vicksburg and Gettysburg July 4th 1863. W.W. Norton and Company New York and London, 2002 p.202

[32] Ibid. Trudeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.173

[33] Huntington, Tom Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of GettysburStackpole Books, Mechanicsburg PA 2013 p.154

[34] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 166

[35] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.277

[36] Doubleday, Abner. Chancellorsville and Gettysburg: Campaigns of the Civil War – VI Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York 1882 p.68

[37] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.75

[38] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.145

[39] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.275

[40] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.469

[41] Gottfried, Bradley The Artillery of Gettysburg Cumberland House Publishing, Nashville TN 2008 pp.28-29

[42] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 34 Sears notes that in between Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, First Division of I Corps had lost a full brigade due to the expiration of enlistments.

[43] Catton, Bruce The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road Doubleday and Company, Garden City New York, 1952 p.270

[44] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 34

[45] Ibid. Catton The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road p.271

[46] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.275

[47] Ibid. Howard Autobiography of Oliver Otis Howard 5995 of 9221

[48] Ibid. Catton The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road p.271

[49] Girardi, Robert I. The Civil War Generals: Comrades, Peers, Rivals in Their Own Words Zenith Press, MBI Publishing, Minneapolis MN 2013 p.184

[50] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 34

[51] Ibid. Nolan The Iron Brigade p.16

[52] Tagg, Larry The Generals of Gettysburg: The Leaders of America’s Greatest Battle Da Capo Press Cambridge MA 1998 Amazon Kindle Edition p.19

[53] Hebert, Walter H. Fighting Joe Hooker University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London 1999. Originally published by Bobbs-Merrill, New York 1944 p.137

[54] Ibid. Nolan The Iron Brigade p.130

[55] Ibid. Nolan The Iron Brigade p. 54

[56] Ibid. Nolan The Iron Brigade p. 234

[57] Ibid. Catton The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road p.271

[58] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day pp.75-76

[59] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.275

[60] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.271

[61] Longacre, Edward G. John Buford: A Military Biography Da Capo Press, Perseus Book Group, Cambridge MA p.194

[62] Ibid. Hunt, The First Day at Gettysburg in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume III, The Tide Shifts p.277

[63] Ibid. Catton The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road p.272

[64] Dowdy, CliffordLee 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.96

[65] Ibid. Hunt, The First Day at Gettysburg in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume III, The Tide Shifts p.277

[66] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.86

[67] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.96

[68] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.104

[69] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.96

[70] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.97

[71] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.112

[72] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.153

[73] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 178

[74] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.153

[75] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.109

[76] Ibid. Nolan The Iron Brigade p.20

[77] Ibid. Nolan The Iron Brigade p.173

[78] Ibid. Doubleday Chancellorsville and Gettysburg p.73

[79] Hunt, Henry. The First 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.277

[80] Ibid. Catton The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road p.273

[81] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 pp.470-471

[82] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.99

[83] Ibid. Catton The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road p.274

[84] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.271

[85] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.470

[86] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.17

[87] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.469 Even Foote in his account of Archer’s brigade makes the comment “Staggered by the ambush and outnumbered as they were….”

[88] DowdyLee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.95

[89] Luvaas, Jay and Nelson Harold W editors. The U.S. Army War College Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg South Mountain Press, Carlisle PA 1986 p.9

[90] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.274

[91] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.274

[92] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.274

[93] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.97

[94] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 168

[95] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.277

[96] Ibid. Trudeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.171

[97] Ibid. DowdyLee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.97

[98] Krick, Robert K. Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge: Failures of Brigade Leadership on the First Day of Gettysburg in The First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gallagher, Gary W. Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 1992 p.113

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

[100] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.277

[101] Ibid. Hunt, The First Day at Gettysburg in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume III, The Tide Shifts p.277

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Gettysburg Day One: Abner Doubleday’s Finest Day

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am pre-posting a number of articles to run this Independence Day weekend so I can work on the article that I place on posting July 4th. These are articles from my Gettysburg text that deal with events of July 1st, 2nd, and 3rd 1863 during the Battle of Gettysburg. They have all appeared on this site before in different forms, but the Battle of Gettysburg still matters, what was done there on the behalf of freedom cannot be allowed to be forgotten. .

Have a great weekend.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Doubleday Takes Command

As the initial Confederate attacks were driven back by the actions of Reynolds, Doubleday and their subordinate commanders, Harry Heth’s battered brigades fell back and regrouped to prepare for another assault. As Heth reorganized his division he was bolstered by the arrival Major General Dorsey Pender’s Division powerful division.

With John Reynolds dead and Oliver Howard moving his Eleventh Corps into position on Cemetery Hill and to the north of Gettysburg, Major General Abner Doubleday had assumed command of First Corps on McPherson and Seminary Ridge and successfully parried Heth’s initial attacks, in the process shattering the brigades of James Archer and Joseph Davis.

abner-doubleday

Major General Abner Doubleday, United States Army

Doubleday was an experienced soldier but did not enjoy a stellar reputation in the Army of the Potomac, despite the fact that he was the senior division commander in First Corps. Doubleday came from a prominent New York family; his grandfather had fought in the American Revolution and had fought at Bunker Hill. His father served four years in Congress. By the time he was admitted to West Point Doubleday had worked for two years as a civil engineer. Doubleday graduated 24th in a class of 52 in the West Point Class of 1842 along with future Gettysburg commanders “Longstreet, McLaws, Richard Anderson and John Newton.” [1] After his graduation he served a rather uneventful career as an artillery officer, including service in Mexico and on the frontier. Shortly before the war he was transferred to South Carolina where he was second in command at Fort Sumter when the Confederates opened fire on the fort and began the Civil War.

Doubleday was definitely an unusual character by the standards of the ante-bellum army officer corps. The “mustachioed, barrel-chested Doubleday considered himself a thoroughly modern man, unencumbered by the cheap affections of honor and chivalry with which so many officers bedecked themselves.” [2] He had few real friends in the army. He was a rather vocal abolitionist “which endeared him to few of the army’s socially conservative generals” [3] and he allowed his political opinions to infringe on his relationships with other officers. In the days before the war at Fort Sumter “he relished being hissed in the streets as a “Black Republican” when his official duties took him over the water to downtown Charleston.” [4]

Doubleday fired the first shot on the Union side at Fort Sumter, and with the expansion of the army to meet the rebellion he “expected that his anti-slavery credentials would guarantee a rise to the top of Lincoln’s army.” [5] However, he was to be disappointed. While promotion came to him it was not to the top of the army. Doubleday had the “reputation of being a cautious, deliberate plodder,” [6] and the artillery commander of First Corps, the somewhat curmudgeonly but honest, Colonel Charles Wainwright noted “Doubleday knows enough, but he is entirely impractical, and so slow at getting an idea through his head.” [7] Likewise, the new army commander George Meade had formed an unfavorable opinion of Doubleday’s leadership ability, when both served as division commanders in First Corps. Meade considered Doubleday “slow and pedantic.” [8]

Doubleday was somewhat portly and his physical appearance did little to inspire his soldiers or officers, and some of his troops nicknamed him “Old Forty-Eight Hours” for his deliberate, even slothful style.” [9] His promotion in the wartime army was rather typical for a career officer. He was “promoted to Brigadier General in February 1862 and commanded a brigade at Second Bull Run and a division at South Mountain and in later battles.” [10] As a brigade commander his best work was at Brawner’s Farm on the eve of Second Manassas, where Doubleday on his own initiative threw “two of his regiments into line to bolster Brig. Gen. John Gibbon’s brigade against a larger Confederate force…together the fought a superior force to a standstill.” [11] He was promoted to Major General in November 1862 and received command of the First Division Third Division of First Corps. At Antietam Doubleday led the division “into the carnage of the Cornfield and West Woods, and one colonel described him as a “gallant officer…remarkable cool and at the very front of battle.” [12] He led the division again at Fredericksburg, but the division saw little action. After the reorganization of the army following Fredericksburg he was given command of Third Division of First Corps at Chancellorsville, but again saw no action.

At Gettysburg Doubleday went into battle “stiff and pompous, still wearing his laurels as an “old Sumter hero” [13] and complaining about the Henry Slocum to command Twelfth Corps, even though he was senior to Slocum. That being said, Doubleday’s actions in the wake of Reynolds’s death demonstrated that he was capable of quick thinking and leadership from the front and in the next few hours Doubleday “had his best command hours of the war.” [14]

A Brief Lull

After the initial repulse of the Heth’s division, Doubleday continued to organize his defenses. He could see Heth’s division reforming its lines on Herr’s Ridge and Pender’s division as it arrived and deployed to Heth’s left. Doubleday had no directions from Reynolds as to that General’s defensive plan but be believed was that the ridges could be a redoubt and his instinct was “to hold on to the position until ordered to leave it,” an officer of the 149th Pennsylvania heard Doubleday say that “all he could do was fight until he got sufficient information to form his own plan.” [15] Doubleday wrote in his after action report, “to fall back without orders from the commanding general might have inflicted lasting disgrace upon the corps, and as general Reynolds, who was high in the confidence of General Meade, had formed his lines to resist the entrance of the enemy into Gettysburg, I naturally supposed that it was the intention to defend the place.” [16] Wadsworth’s division, bloodied but unbeaten remained in place in McPherson’s woods and across the Cashtown Road where Cutler’s brigade had fought the Confederates to a standstill at the Railroad Cut. During the lull these brigades had their ammunition replenished by his recently arrived ammunition trains.

To counter the Confederate move to his right he deployed his own small Third Division under the acting command of Brigadier General Thomas Rowley. He placed Rowley’s brigade to the left of the Iron Brigade to extend the line to the south and the brigade of Colonel Roy Stone to occupy the area around the McPherson House and Barn which had been left open when Cutler’s brigade advanced to the railroad cut.

When the Second Division under the command of Brigadier General John Cleveland Robinson arrived Doubleday placed it in reserve around the Lutheran Seminary where they and some of John Buford’s dismounted troopers began to set up a hasty “barricade of fence rails and fieldstone on the seminary’s west side.” [17] Doubleday and Wadsworth deployed every artillery piece of that the Corps had available to support their infantry, sometimes over the objections of the Corps artillery commander Colonel Charles Wainwright. Wainwright “had no confidence in Doubleday, and felt that he would be a weak reed to lean upon,[18] and on his own initiative deployed most of his batteries on Seminary Ridge where he believed that they could affect the battle but not be torn to pieces by Confederate artillery or shredded by close range musket fire. Despite the “pleas from infantry officers along the rise, Wainwright would send guns forward only under peremptory orders to do so.” [19] Wainwright was hesitant to risk his guns in exposed positions along McPherson’s Ridge and deployed most of his available artillery near the seminary in good defensive positions and stationed his limbers not far off so in the event of a retreat that he might have the opportunity to save his guns.

About Two o’clock Major General Oliver Howard, commander of the Eleventh Corps who was now the senior officer on the field made his way to seminary ridge where he met with Doubleday. Howard had already been working to support First Corps by ordering Schurz, who was now in acting command of Eleventh Corps to move north of the town to connect with Doubleday’s flank and securing Cemetery Hill as a natural redoubt and fallback position. While little is known what was said between the two commanders it is certain that Howard notified Doubleday of the locations of his corps headquarters and that of his divisions. Howard asked Doubleday “to continue his work of protecting the left of the Union position, while he would take care of the right…..Before leaving, Howard, repeated the instructions he had given Wadsworth, to hold the position as long as he could and then retire.” [20] Doubleday asked Howard for reinforcements, but there were none available, the best that either man could hope was that Henry Slocum’s Twelfth Corps, now about five miles distant could arrive soon. “If Slocum could make Gettysburg in the next hour and a half, Howard could post the 12th Corps on the right flank of his own corps and firm up the defensive arc that now stretched north and west of Gettysburg.” [21] However, despite the repeated requests of Howard, Slocum never came and did not advance toward Gettysburg until about three-thirty in the afternoon. Howard’s aid Captain Daniel Hall who delivered the messages and briefed Slocum on the situation at Gettysburg later stated that Slocum’s “conduct on that occasion was anything but honorable, soldierly, or patriotic.” [22]

With his troops under heavy artillery fire and Heth and Pender’s divisions advancing, a new threat emerged from the north. Messengers from Gamble’s cavalry scouts of Buford’s division to the north of town reported the arrival of Ewell’s Second Corps. To meet the threat Doubleday was obliged to send Robinson’s division north to occupy the extension of Seminary Ridge known as Oak Ridge. His lead brigade was under the command of Brigadier General Henry Baxter, and it advanced to the end of the ridge near the Mummasburg Road where it was joined by Brigadier General Gabriel Paul’s brigade.

Unlike the relatively small brigades of Third Division whose command structures were disrupted by Reynold’s death and Doubleday’s acting command of the corps, these brigades were comparatively large and powerful units and very well led. Their commander, Robinson “an old regular whose flowing beard lent him the look of a biblical prophet, had seen considerable fighting but was yet to be tested as a division commander.” [23] During this battle he more than met the test of an effective division commander. As the advance regiments of the division moved into position on Oak Ridge and the Mummasburg road they were greeted by a few of Gamble’s cavalrymen who told them “You stand alone between the Rebel army and your homes. Fight like hell!” [24] Upon their arrival Robinson refused the line in order to connect to the advance elements of Eleventh Corps which were arriving to the north of Gettysburg.

Enter Second Corps

On June 30th Rodes’ division marched about twenty miles and bivouacked at Heidlersburg where he met with his corps commander Ewell, fellow division commander Jubal Early and Isaac Trimble who was accompanying Second Corps where they puzzled over Lee’s orders as to the movement of Second Corps the following day, which indicated that Ewell should march to Gettysburg or Cashtown “as circumstances may dictate.” [25] Neither Rodes nor Early gave favorable opinions of the order and Ewell asked the rhetorical question “Why can’t a commanding General have someone on his staff who can write an intelligible order?” [26]

Ewell assumed that Cashtown was the desired junction of the army ordered his to march from on the morning of July 1st 1863 toward Cashtown to join with Hill’s corps. His choice of routes was good as it gave him the opportunity to turn south towards Gettysburg “as circumstances” dictated in compliance with Lee’s rather vague order of the day before.[27]

Rodes’s division was at Middletown (modern Biglerville) when Ewell received A.P. Hill’s message that he was moving on Gettysburg between eight and nine in the morning. Ewell immediately directed Rodes onto the “Middletown-Gettysburg road and instructed Early to march directly toward Gettysburg on the Heidlersburg road.” [28] As he did so he sent a note to Lee informing him of the situation and about noon he received Lee’s response that Lee “did not want a general engagement brought on till the rest of the army came up.” [29] But by the time Ewell received that instruction events were beginning to spiral out of control on his front just as they had on Harry Heth front just a few hours before.

robert-rodes

Major General Robert Rodes, C.S.A.

Although Ewell was closer to Rodes than Hill was to Heth at the beginning of the battle, Rodes like Heth was also operating somewhat independently as Ewell “preferred to ride near the tail of his column in his buggy.” [30] Like Heth when confronted with the opportunity for battle, he ignored the instruction “to avoid a general engagement, if practicable.” [31] The operation was Rodes’ first as a Major General and he like his fellow division commanders, Jubal Early and Allegheny Johnston, the young and aggressive Rodes was operating independently “as Ewell preferred” until the corps was reunited in the evening. [32] During the early part of the march to Gettysburg he had performed well but July 1st 1863 “would never be remembered as a great day for Robert Rodes.” [33] As he moved his division south he, like Ewell was unaware that a battle was developing to their front and both were surprised when they heard the sound of artillery about four miles north of the town. Rodes later wrote that “to my surprise, the presence of the enemy there in force was announced by the sound of a sharp cannonade, and instant preparations for battle were made.” [34]

Rodes deployed his infantry brigades and “posted Lt.Col. Thomas H. Carter’s battalion of artillery along the nose of the ridge, where it opened with “fine effect” on the Union line stretched across McPherson’s Ridge.” [35] As Rodes set about deploying his troops for his assault on Oak Ridge, Ewell could see Robinson’s division moving up to Oak Ridge and the Mummasburg road facing his troops. He also observed the advance of the two divisions of Eleventh Corps which Carl Schurz was moving into position north of the town. Seeing the developments to his front and right Ewell considered Lee’s order obsolete and noted that “it was already too late to avoid an engagement without abandoning the position already taken up…and I determined to push the attack vigorously.” [36] Likewise he sent an aide to contact Jubal Early and enjoin that General to move to battle.

Rodes’s Division and His Commanders

Robert Rodes was new to commanding a division. The big, blond and charismatic Rodes was one of the most popular leaders in the Army of Northern Virginia. Rodes had a great ability to inspire his subordinates. This was in large part due to his handsome physical appearance which made him look “as if he had stepped from the pages of Beowulf” [37] but also due to his “bluff personality featuring “blunt speech” and a tincture of “blarney.” [38]

Rodes graduated at the age of 19 from the Virginia Military Institute and remained at the school as an assistant professor for three years. He left VMI when Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson received the full professorship he desired and became a successful civil engineer working with railroads in Alabama. He had just been appointed a full professor at VMI as the war was declared. [39]

His career had been remarkable. Rodes was “tough, disciplined and courageous; he was one of those unusual soldiers who quickly grew into each new assignment.” [40] In just two years he had “risen from captaining a company of “Warrior Guards” in Alabama in 1861 to earning the equivalent of a battlefield promotion to major general for the fight he made at Chancellorsville.” [41] As a brigadier he had shown remarkable leadership on the battlefield and off, taking care of the needs of his soldiers and worked to have “at least one company per regiment to drill on a field gun and to keep up that training from time to time, so that his men could service a cannon in a crisis.” [42]

With the coming of war Rodes abandoned his academic endeavors returned to his recent home of Alabama where he was appointed Colonel of the 5th Alabama regiment of infantry. Early in the war Rodes distinguished himself as the commander of that regiment and later as brigade commander of Ewell’s former brigade, a promotion that Ewell recommended. His brigade was one of the spearheads of Jackson’s attack on Eleventh Corps at Chancellorsville, where he “was a brilliant presence on the field, exhorting his men with mustache flying. Jackson personally congratulated him on his gallant performance.” [43] He took acting command of Major General D. H. Hill’s former division during that battle and handled that unit well. Following Chancellorsville, Rodes was recommended for promotion to Major General and permanent command the division by Stonewall Jackson. The act was one of Jackson’s last acts before his untimely death from pneumonia while recovering from his wounds sustained at Chancellorsville. With his appointment Rodes became the first non-West Point graduate to command a division in the Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

Rodes’s division was the largest in the army with five brigades and approximately 8,000 soldiers present at Gettysburg, almost as many as the First Corps of the Army of the Potomac. His brigade commanders were a mixed bag, ranging from the excellent to the incompetent. Among the former he had George Doles, Stephen Ramseur and Junius Daniel. However, Rodes was saddled with two commanders of dubious quality, Brigadier General Alfred Iverson, who was hated by his men and Colonel Edward O’Neal, a leading secessionist politician “who had absolutely no military experience before the war” [44] and who had been ineffective as an acting brigade commander when he took over for Rodes at Chancellorsville. However, Lee was forced to leave O’Neal at the head of his brigade for lack of other senior leaders over Rodes’ objections. It would be a mistake that would come to haunt him.

However, Rodes was fortunate to have Brigadier Generals Stephen Ramseur and George Doles in command of two of his brigades. Both had led their units well at Chancellorsville under Rodes direction, and would fight well in Gettysburg and subsequent actions. [45] Brigadier General Junius Daniel, though an experienced West Point graduate with a solid record was new to the Army of Northern Virginia, unfamiliar with his commander, while and his brigade was untested in combat.

Brigadier General George Doles commanded a brigade. Doles was not a professional soldier but a former Georgia militia where he commanded a company, “the Baldwin Blues,” one of the oldest and best-trained military units in the state.” [46] As a Colonel he “had shown fiber and vigor” [47] as commander of the 4th Georgia regiment which he commanded at South Mountain and Antietam. Doles was promoted to Brigadier General after Antietam, and commanded the brigade at Chancellorsville. At Chancellorsville his brigade was part of Jackson’s attack against the Federal XI Corps and in the thick the action throughout the battle. Doles was noted for his leadership and valor. By Gettysburg he had a reputation for “being among the Southern army’s most daring, hard fighting brigadiers.” [48]

Stephen Ramseur was the youngest General in the Army of Northern Virginia, he had graduated from West Point in 1861, immediately resigned to join the Confederate cause and within seven months he would be a Brigadier General. He was elected captain of the Ellis Light Artillery of Raleigh North Carolina, and became colonel of the 49th Alabama in 1862. He led the regiment “with distinction during the Seven Days.” [49] While leading his troops at Malvern Hill he was severely wounded. Ramseur was noted for “being a fighter and for his skill in handling troops in battle.” [50]

The young Colonel was promoted to Brigadier General in November 1862 following the Battle of Antietam. He led a North Carolina brigade with great daring at Chancellorsville where he was wounded in the shin by a shell fragment. Along with his division commander Robert Rodes, the still injured Ramseur was “one of the brightest lights in Lee’s army as it approached the field at Gettysburg.” [51]

Junius Daniel was an 1851 graduate of West Point who served seven years before resigning to run his family plantation in 1858. When war came he Daniel volunteered for service and was appointed commander of the 14th North Carolina. He had much brigade command time but little combat experience, as his brigade had been posted in North Carolina and the Virginia Tidewater, thus, not sharing in the Army of Northern Virginia’s year of glory and slaughter. “Daniel’s brigade joined Rodes division in Virginia as a result of the army’s reorganization after Chancellorsville and in time for it to take part in the invasion of Pennsylvania.” [52] Despite his lack of combat experience Junius Daniel was well respected and “had the essential qualities of a true soldier and successful officer, brave, vigilant, honest…gifted as an organizer and disciplinarian, skilled in handling troops.” [53] At Gettysburg he “proved himself a valiant soldier and capable leader….” [54]

This left Rodes with two brigades under questionable leadership, and both would cause him immense grief on the morning of July 1st 1863.

One North Carolina brigade was commanded by Brigadier General Alfred Iverson. Iverson who was considered a “reliable secession enthusiast” was appointed to command the North Carolina troops whose political steadiness and loyalty was questioned by Richmond. [55] Because of this Iverson became “embroiled in bitter turmoil with his North Carolinians.” [56] Iverson had served in the Mexican War and in the army of the 1850s. However, he owed his appointments in both the U.S. Army and that of the Confederacy to political patronage, his father being a prominent U.S. Senator.

Though Iverson was from Georgia he helped raise the 20th North Carolina regiment of infantry and became its first Colonel. However he was constantly at war with his officers and his regiment never bonded with him. As a regimental commander he did see a fair amount of action but his leadership was always a question mark. After he took command of the brigade Iverson “sent an aide to the camp of his former regiment to arrest all twenty-six of its officers.” [57] Those officers responded in kind and “retained a powerful bevy of counsel including…Colonel William Bynum who would later become a member of the Supreme Court.” [58] Iverson then refused promotions to any officer who had opposed him. One of the aggrieved officers of the 20th North Carolina “wrote an outraged letter home insisting that resistance to Iverson was every reasonable man’s duty and asserting that he would oppose him again “with great pleasure” if the occasion offered.” [59] In his previous action at Chancellorsville Iverson “had not distinguished himself.” [60] After Chancellorsville he had “been stigmatized for his conspicuous absence at the height of the fighting.” [61]

Rodes’s old brigade was in the worst hands all. Due to the lack of qualified officers it was commanded at Gettysburg by its senior regimental commander Colonel Edward A. O’Neal. O’Neal was another political animal, who unlike Iverson had no prior military training and nothing he had done before the war “had prepared him for command at any level.” [62] As an Alabama lawyer O’Neal was however well connected politically which gained him rapid rank and seniority over other officers, this eventually led to his command of the 26th Alabama which was a part of Rodes brigade. Rodes had reservations about O’Neal’s ability to command the brigade and recommended two other officers, John Gordon and John T. Morgan who instead were assigned to command other brigades. [63] The Confederate War Department in Richmond forwarded a commission to Lee for O’Neal to be promoted to Brigadier General before Gettysburg, but Lee, who had serious reservations about O’Neal’s capabilities blocked the promotion. [64]

The Confederate Disaster at Oak Ridge

The arrival of Rodes’s division as on the field in the van of the Confederate Second Corps was decisive in turning the tide of the battle toward the Confederates that afternoon. When Rodes arrived with Ewell, the Federal First Corps was facing west against Heth and Pender’s divisions and its line only extended about a quarter mile north of the Railroad Cut.

The Union First Corps and Buford’s cavalry division had fought Heth’s poorly coordinated and led attacks to a standstill, but when Rodes arrived he found “a golden opportunity spread before him.” [65] From his position at Oak Ridge he saw the opportunity to take the Federal troops opposing Hill in the flank though his position did not “provide him as comprehensive view as he thought.” [66] His desire was to advance south along Oak Ridge using it to screen his movements in order to execute an attack on the Federal right flank. But before he could do this “the First Corps Generals had made preparations to oppose him.” [67] Robinson’s two brigades under Baxter and Paul deployed and “hurried in line stone and wood fences approximately at right angles to Rodes proper line of advance.” [68] Rodes could see the deployment but the fences obscured the exact positions of Robinson’s troops from him. Seeing the advance of the First Corps units as well as the emergence of Schurz’s troops from Eleventh Corps advancing out of the town the aggressive Confederate commander decided to launch an immediate attack.

Carter’s artillery, which had deployed in the open and was had “opened an enfilading fire all along the line to the Fairfield road” [69] now drew the fire of Captain Hubert Dilger’s Battery I First Ohio Artillery from Howard’s XI Corps which had just arrived near Oak Ridge. Dilger commanded one of the best artillery units in the army. He was a German immigrant and professional artilleryman who had served in the Grand Duke of Baden’s Horse Artillery. He came to the United States at beginning of the war at the invitation of a distant uncle, to “practice the war-making he had only previously rehearsed.” [70] Dilger was “blunt and a bit arrogant…loved by his men but not by his superiors.” At Chancellorsville he and his battery had helped save the Federal right “when it used a leapfrogging technique to keep the victorious Confederate infantry at bay.” [71] At Gettysburg Dilger again displayed his talent.

Upon its arrival Dilger’s battery opened “a storm of counter-battery fire” [72] on Carter’s battalion as well as the infantry brigade of O’Neal which was near it. The effect of Dilger’s fire on Carter’s artillery disrupted its operation and was successful in blowing up several caissons and guns causing significant numbers of casualties among the men. [73] Seeing the carnage to one battery that he had not placed, Carter “accosted Rodes and asked, “General, what fool put that battery up yonder?” Only to realize after an “awkward pause and a queer expression on the face of all Rodes’ staffers that Rodes himself had placed it there.” [74] In response, the chastised division commander replied “You had better take it away, Carter.” [75] Throughout the rest of the engagement Dilger’s battery would make itself known, shattering Confederate infantry assaults and damaging Southern artillery batteries.

The young division commander was overconfident as he ordered the attack. Thinking he had an adequate grasp of the situation he did not order a reconnaissance before launching the attack, nor did the commanders of the brigades spearheading the attack put out skirmishers, the normal precaution when advancing in the face of the enemy. [76] Rodes deployed his troops over the rough ground of the ridge as quickly as he could and dashed off a note to Jubal Early stating “I can burst through the enemy in an hour.” [77] He was to be badly mistaken, and “like Heth in the south, he paid in disproportionate blood for the ready aggressiveness which in the past had been the hallmark of the army’s greatest victories, but now seemed mere rashness and the hallmark of defeat.” [78]

Rodes deployed George Doles’ excellent brigade to guard his left against the advancing Eleventh Corps units until Early’s division could arrive, something he expected momentarily. Doles and his brigade conducted this task admirably until the arrival of Jubal Early’s division, which enabled it to join the attack on Eleventh Corps divisions north of the town. Initially the movement of the brigade opened a potentially dangerous gap between Doles brigade and O’Neal’s brigade to its right, but this could not be exploited by the Federals. To hold this gap between Doles and O’Neal Rodes pulled one regiment, the 5th Alabama from O’Neal.

To make his main attack Rodes initially deployed his division on a one brigade front as they arrived on the battlefield in line-of-march. As the leading elements of the division neared the Federal positions Rodes, made what appeared to be a simple change of plan to “attack on a two brigade front, sending in O’Neal’s and Iverson’s men simultaneously, then following up with Daniel’s brigade in echelon on the right.” [79] Ramseur’s brigade was held in close reserve. In theory it was a sound plan, but everything is more complicated when bullets start flying. The execution of this change in plan was “bungled right at the start.” [80] None of “the three brigade commanders was sure what the signal for the advance would be” [81] and since Rodes had made no reconnaissance, and none of the brigades put out skirmishers the direction of the attack was faulty, units were mingled and a gap developed between O’Neal and Iverson. [82] The attack “though vigorous, was a disaster” [83] and the plan floundered due to the stout resistance of Robinson’s troops and the “nicely matched incompetence of O’Neal and Iverson” [84] neither of who advanced with their assaulting troops.

O’Neal’s brigade became disoriented and “went in with only three regiments and at an angle different from that indicated by Rodes. Instead of leading his troops in the attack O’Neal remained in the rear with the Fifth Alabama, a reserve regiment,” [85] the regiment Rodes had left behind to guard the gap between O’Neal and Doles’s brigades. The last regiment, the Third Alabama had been aligned on the flank of Doles’s brigade and since Rodes had moved it “evidently concluded…that it was no longer his to direct.” [86] When Rodes discovered this he had to send a staff officer to ensure that the regiment was properly attached to Daniel’s brigade. That regiment was thus left out of the initial advance. The attack stalled almost immediately when O’Neal’s three attacking regiments were fired upon by Union troops of Robinson’s division who had been hidden by a wall which had obscured them from Rodes’s view.

Striking O’Neal’s advancing troops at the oblique, Robinson’s battle hardened Union troops slaughtered the unsuspecting Confederates. Though they were outnumbered the Union men were solid veterans from Baxter’s brigade who were aided by Dilger’s artillery which delivered “effective canister fire at O’Neal’s brigade.” [87] The combined fire of Baxter’s troops as well as Dilger’s artillery “killed or wounded about half of the advancing men with a series of point blank volleys pumped directly into their flank.” [88] O’Neal’s decision to remain back with his reserve regiment rather than “going forward to direct the advancing regiments” [89] caused further problems because there was no officer on the spot to direct the action of the three regiments.

Rodes noted in his after action report that O’Neal’s three attacking regiments “moved with alacrity (but not in accordance with my orders as to direction)” and that when he ordered the 5th Alabama up to support “I found Colonel O’Neal, instead of personally superintending the movements of his brigade, had chosen to remain with his reserve regiment. The result was that the whole brigade was repulsed quickly and with loss….” [90] As O’Neal’s troops fell back in confusion they exposed Iverson’s brigades flank to the Federal fire.

As Rodes’s continued bad luck would have it, Iverson, like O’Neal on his right did not advance simultaneously with O’Neal or on the same axis, but instead waited to see O’Neal’s advance. [91] When it advanced, the brigade “about 1,450 strong, kept on under artillery fire through the open field “as evenly as if on parade.” Then its alignment became faulty, and without Iverson on hand to correct it, the brigade with strange fatality began to bear left toward the stone wall…” [92] As a result the brigade drifted right it’s exposed left was subject to attack from Baxter’s and Paul’s brigades of Robinson’s division still hidden behind the stone wall.

When the Confederates got within fifty yards of Baxter’s troops they were overwhelmed by a fierce resistance from the concealed Federal troops. The commander of the 83rd New York, the Swiss born lieutenant Colonel Joseph A. Moesch, shouted: “Up men, and fire.” Moesch rode behind his line cheering his men on, but they needed no urging. In the words of one of one, “The men are no longer human, they are demons; a curse from the living here, a moan from the dying there. ‘Give them —- shouts one.’ See them run’ roars another.” [93] The well concealed veterans of Baxter regiments slaughtered them as they had O’Neal’s men just minutes before. “One regiment went down in such a neat row that when its survivors waves shirt tails, or any piece of cloth remotely white, Iverson thought that the whole regiment of live men were surrendering.” [94] As the Confederate attack collapsed some “of the regiments in Robinson’s division changed front again, charged, and captured nearly all the men who were left unhurt in three of Iverson’s regiments.” [95] Official Confederate reports list only 308 missing but that number differs from the Union reports, Robinson reporting 1000 prisoners and three flags and Baxter’s brigade nearly 400. [96] As Robinson’s troops smashed the brigades of O’Neal and Iverson, they were joined by the remnants of Cutler’s brigade which changed its face from west to north to deliver more devastating fire into the Confederates.

Iverson was badly shaken by the slaughter and “went to pieces and became unfit for further command,” [97] after being just close enough to the action to observe it. He panicked and notified Rodes that one of his regiments had surrendered in masse though Iverson later retracted that in claim in his official report where he noted “when I found afterward that 500 of my men were left lying dead and wounded on a line as straight as a dress parade, I exonerated …the survivors.” [98] His brigade had lost over two-thirds of its strength in those few minutes, one regiment the 23rd North Carolina lost 89 percent of those it took into battle, and at the end of the day would “count but 34 men in its ranks.” [99] Iverson’s conduct during the battle was highly criticized by fellow officers after it. Accused of cowardice, drunkenness and hiding during the action he was relieved of his command upon the army’s return to Virginia “for misconduct at Gettysburg” [100] and sent back to Georgia. Some complained after the war that Iverson was helped by politicians once he returned to Richmond and instead of facing trial “got off scot free & and had brigade of reserves given to him in Georgia.” [101]

With the center of his attacking forces crushed the brigades of Junius Daniels and Stephen Ramseur entered the fray to the right of Iverson’s smashed brigade. These capable officers achieved a link up with the battered brigades of Harry Heth at the Railroad cut after Daniel’s brigade had fought a fierce battle with Culter’s and Stone’s brigades in the area [102] and allowed the Confederates of A.P. Hill and Dick Ewell’s Corps to form a unified front from which they were able to resume their attack in even greater numbers against the battered remnants of First Corps.

To the east Doles’s brigade advanced with Jubal Early’s division smashed the outnumbered and badly spread out divisions of Oliver Howard’s Eleventh Corps. The timely arrival of that division coupled with the skillful work of Daniel and Ramseur saved Rodes from even more misfortune on that first day of battle, but Rodes’ plan “to burst through the enemy” with his division had evaporated. [103] By the end of the day his division had lost nearly 3000 of the 8000 that it had begun the afternoon.

The battle at Oak Ridge was a series of tactical debacles within a day of what appeared to be a “Confederate strategic bonanza.” [104] Despite the mistakes Rodes never lost his own self-control. He recovered from each mistake and continued to lead his division. He “kept his men on the ridge driving forward until with Hill, and on the flats left joined Early’s right to form a continuous line into Gettysburg.” [105] It was a hard lesson for the young Major General, but one that he learned from. Rodes continued to serve with distinction as a division commander would be killed in action while leading a counterattack by his division against Philip Sheridan’s army at the Third Battle of Winchester on September 19th 1864.

Abner Doubleday’s Best Performance and Disgraceful Treatment

On the other hand Abner Doubleday proved himself as a capable commander who was able to provide effective leadership during a crisis situation. Although he is one of the most underappreciated Union commanders at Gettysburg he “ably rose to the occasion, as did divisional commanders James Wadsworth and John Robinson.” [106] Though his abilities were suspect, especially by George Meade and Colonel Wainwright, the Corps artillery commander Doubleday managed to hold off superior Confederate forces, and even inflicted a significant defeat on the divisions of Harry Heth and Robert Rodes. During the fighting against ever increasing numbers of Confederates, First Corps inflicted massive casualties on their opponents. “Seven of the ten Southern brigades incurred casualties from 35 to 50 percent, and the total for all brigades came to an estimated 6,300 officers and men, or about 40 percent of their strength.” [107] Doubleday’s troops held on long enough to support the left flank of Eleventh Corps as it was being assaulted by Early’s division.

When Winfield Scott Hancock arrived on Meade’s behest to take command at Gettysburg Oliver Howard informed him that First Corps “had given way at first contact” [108] implicitly blaming Doubleday for the collapse of the Federal line. Hancock delivered the report in a note to Meade which said “Howard says that Doubleday’s command gave way” [109] This false report fixed in Meade’s mind that his doubts about Doubleday’s ability were correct. To Doubleday’s amazement Meade then cancelled his order appointing Doubleday to command First Corps and ordered John Newton, a division commander, far junior to Doubleday in Sedgwick’s Sixth Corps to replace Doubleday. A badly disappointed Doubleday resumed command of his division. In large part Meade’s appointment of Newton over Doubleday was also political. Doubleday’s fellow abolitionist division commander in First Corps, James Wadsworth said that “Meade’s “animosity” toward Doubleday rested in a “past political difference.” [110] Doubleday, the abolitionist Republican was not acceptable to Meade, the conservative Unionist Democrat and ally of Gorge McClellan. The fact that Newton “was not regarded as daring or brilliant” [111] and was regarded by many as a “pet” of Meade, did not matter. Meade’s volcanic temper and temptation to allow politics to cloud his military judgement meant that “Newton was the only other major general he could trust politically.” [112] When Doubleday formally protested to Meade he was dismissed from Army of the Potomac.

He left the Army of the Potomac never held a field command during the war, however, he was brevetted in the Regular Army to both brigadier and major general. Doubleday served in administrative capacities in Washington D.C. until the end of the war and testified against Meade during the politically charged hearings of the Committee on the conduct of the War. Doubleday remained bitter toward Meade and he “was never reconciled to Meade’s relieving him as acting commander of First Corps in Favor of Maj. Gene. John Newton, who was his junior in rank and the reproach that it implied.” [113] After the war Doubled reverted to his rank as a Colonel in the Regular Army and was made Colonel of the 35th U.S. Infantry in San Francisco. From 1871 until his retirement in 1873 Doubleday commanded the African American “Buffalo Soldier” 24th Infantry Regiment in Texas. He died in New York on January 25th 1893, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Among the members of the honor guard at his funeral in New York was a man named Abraham Mills who would play a major role in Doubleday’s future fame.

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A Myth and Legend Greater than Gettysburg: Abner Doubleday and Baseball

Interestingly enough Doubleday, who was unappreciated as a general became linked forever to the game known as America’s national pastime and to Cooperstown New York, the home of Baseball’s Hall of Fame. As such he is probably better known to most Americans, particularly baseball fans than any Union general who fought at Gettysburg.

Like the Civil War, Baseball too is filled with myths which connect it to our culture, and one “is the myth that Abner Doubleday invented the sport one fine day in 1839 at the farmer Phinney’s pasture at Cooperstown.” [114] It was early American baseball star Albert G. Spaulding who linked the creation of baseball to the Civil War and in particular to Abner Doubleday by way of an apocryphal story of one of Doubleday’s childhood friends, years after Doubleday’s death. In 1907, Spaulding worked with Abraham G. Mills the fourth President of the National League, the same man who had served in Doubleday’s funeral honor guard to conclude that “that the first scheme for playing it, according to the best evidence obtained to date, was devised at Cooperstown New York, in 1839.” [115] But this is simply myth and the underappreciated hero of the first day of battle at Gettysburg is much better known for something that he did not do.

The ironies of history and myth are fascinating. Interestingly Mills paid homage to Doubleday noting, “in the years to come, in the view of hundreds of thousands of people who are devoted to baseball, Abner Doubleday’s fame will rest evenly, if not quite so much that he was its inventor…as upon his brilliant and distinguished career as an officer in the Federal Army.” [116]

Notes

[1] Pfanz Harry W. Gettysburg: The First Day University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London 2001 p.121

[2] Goodheart, Adam 1861: The Civil War Awakening Vintage Books a division of Random House, New York 2011 p.5

[3] Wert, Jeffry D. The Sword of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2005 p.276

[4] Ibid. Goodheart 1861 p.5

[5] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books, a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.30

[6] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p.181

[7] Wainwright, Charles S. A Diary of Battle: The Personal Journal of Colonel Charles S. Wainwright 1861-1865 edited by Allan Nevins, Da Capo Press, New York 1998 p.172

[8] Cleaves, Freeman Meade of Gettysburg University of Oklahoma Press, Norman and London 1960 p.143

[9] Tagg, Larry The Generals of Gettysburg: The Leaders of America’s Greatest Battle Da Capo Press Cambridge MA 1998 Amazon Kindle Edition p.25

[10] Ibid. Pfanz Harry Gettysburg: The First Day p.122

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

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

[13] Catton, Bruce The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road Doubleday and Company, Garden City New York, 1952 p.273

[14] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.181

[15] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.161

[16] Trudeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.206

[17] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.162

[18] Ibid. Wainwright A Diary of Battle p.233

[19] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.200

[20] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.282

[21] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.162

[22] Melton, Brian C. Sherman’s Forgotten General: Henry W. Slocum University of Missouri Press, Columbia and London 2007 p.121

[23] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.34

[24] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.206

[25] Ibid Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.148

[26] Ibid Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.149

[27] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.160

[28] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.281

[29] Gallagher, Gary. Confederate Corps Leadership on the First Day at Gettysburg: A.P. Hill and Richard S. Ewell in a Difficult Debut in The First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gallagher, Gary W. Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 1992 p.49

[30] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.472

[31] Ibid Freeman, Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command p.564

[32] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Twop.472

[33] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.138

[34] Luvaas, Jay and Nelson Harold W editors. The U.S. Army War College Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg South Mountain Press, Carlisle PA 1986 p.35

[35] Pfanz, Donald. Richard S. Ewell: A Soldier’s Life University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London 1998 p.305 Pfanz credits Ewell for this but nearly every other source lists Rodes as having placed Carter’s artillery battalion on Oak Hill.

[36] Ibid. Pfanz, Donald Richard S. Ewell p.305

[37] Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command, One volume abridgement by Stephen W Sears, Scribner, New York 1998 p.39

[38] Krick, Robert K. Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge: Failures of Brigade Leadership on the First Day of Gettysburg in The First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gallagher, Gary W. Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 1992 p.115

[39] 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.123

[40] Glatthaar, Joseph T. General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse The Free Press, Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2008 p.243

[41] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg p.53

[42] Ibid. Glatthaar General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse p.244

[43] Gwynne, Samuel C. Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson Scribner, a Division of Simon and Schuster New York 2014 p.537

[44] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.299

[45] Ibid. Krick Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.117

[46] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.287

[47] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.386

[48] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.288

[49] Ibid. Warner Generals in Gray p.251

[50] Pfanz Harry W. Gettysburg: The First Day University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London 2001

[51] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.290

[52] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.179

[53] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.292

[54] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.21

[55] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.25

[56] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.53

[57] Ibid. Krick Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.129

[58] Ibid. Krick Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.131

[59] Ibid. Krick Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.130-131

[60] Ibid Freeman, Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command p.564

[61] Ibid. Trudeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.145

[62] Ibid. Krick Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.120

[63] Ibid. Krick Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.123

[64] Ibid. Pfanz Harry Gettysburg: The First Day p.162 Also see Krick pp.123-124 Following Gettysburg Lee continued to block O’Neal’s promotion and that officer went to extraordinary lengths to obtain a General’s commission using every political ally he had in Alabama and in Richmond. Finally Lee settled the matter before the Wilderness campaign writing that he made “more particular inquiries into his capacity to command the brigade and I cannot recommend him to the command.” Krick pp.123-124

[65] Ibid. Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.472

[66] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.170

[67] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.286

[68] Ibid. Krick Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.119

[69] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.286

[70] Ibid Trudeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.208

[71] Gottfried, Bradley The Artillery of Gettysburg Cumberland House Publishing, Nashville TN 2008 pp.59-60 Dilger was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions at Chancellorsville in 1893, part of the citation stating that Dilger: “fought his guns until the enemy were upon him, then with one gun hauled in the road by hand he formed the rear guard and kept the enemy at bay by the rapidity of his fire and was the last man in the retreat.”

[72] Ibid. Krick Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.118

[73] Ibid Trudeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.210

[74] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.170

[75] Ibid. Gottfried The Artillery of Gettysburg p.61

[76] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.170

[77] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.170

[78] Ibid. Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.473

[79] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.197

[80] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.197

[81] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.170

[82] Ibid Freeman, Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command p.565

[83] Ibid. Pfanz, Donald Richard S. Ewell p.305

[84] Ibid. Krick Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.120

[85] Ibid. Pfanz, Donald Richard S. Ewell p.305

[86] Ibid. Krick Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.124

[87] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.198

[88] Ibid. Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.473

[89] Ibid Freeman, Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command p.565

[90] Ibid Luvaas The U.S. Army War College Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg p.36

[91] Ibid. Krick Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.132

[92] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.289

[93] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.172

[94] Ibid. Dowdy, Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.134

[95] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.290

[96] Ibid Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.175

[97] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.290

[98] Ibid Luvaas The U.S. Army War College Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg p.37

[99] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.201

[100] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.173

[101] Ibid. Krick Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.136

[102] Ibid. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.292

[103] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.173

[104] Ibid. Krick Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.138

[105] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.138

[106] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.245

[107] Ibid. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.307

[108] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.294

[109] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.224

[110] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.294

[111] Ibid. Cleaves Meade of Gettysburg p.143

[112] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.224

[113] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.355

[114] Will, George F Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball Harper Collins Publishers, New York 1990 p.294

[115] Kirsch, George B. Baseball in Blue and Gray: The National Pastime in the Civil War Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford, 2003 p.xiii

[116] Ibid.. Kirsch Baseball in Blue and Gray p.xii

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

A Christian & an Enthusiast: General Oliver O. Howard

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

A change of pace as I get ready for a new class and a section of my Gettysburg Text about Major General Oliver O. Howard. Howard is interesting because alone of senior Union generals his Christian Faith guided his actions and he was maligned by some for that faith. 

This section is only biographic sketch before his Eleventh Corps went into action at Gettysburg. Likewise it does not discuss his very successful command of a corps and army in the West under William Tecumseh Sherman, nor his post war service. I think that he makes an interesting character study; after all, the one constant in history is humanity. We learn from men like Howard and that is important.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Oliver-Otis-Howard-9345101-1-402

Major General Oliver O. Howard, U.S. Army

With John Reynolds dead and Abner Doubleday directing First Corps in its defense west of Gettysburg Major General Oliver O. Howard, commander of Eleventh Corps assumed command of the Federal forces around Gettysburg. Howard was one of the more unusual characters in the senior leadership of the Army of the Potomac, and later when he served under William Tecumseh Sherman’s command in the west, mostly because of his strong Evangelical Christian religious convictions and the fact that he did not drink. Sherman remarked to a group of generals who were mocking Howard’s temperance, “Let Howard alone! I want one officer who don’t drink!” [1]

“A Christian and an Enthusiast”

The thirty-three year old Howard was from Maine, his father had died when he was ten and in 1846 at the age of sixteen he entered Bowdoin College. He graduated from Bowdoin in 1850 near the top of his small class, and education, far from being something simply to prepare himself for a career was important of itself, and he told his mother, “Education is my first aim…. I seek not money, but a cultivated and enlightened mind, becoming & corresponding with the age in which we live.” [2] During his time at Bowdoin Howard was introspective and frequently mused on his own shortcomings and failures. He also showed little interest in world or national events, including the war with Mexico, but in his first year at Bowdoin he did take an interest in the cousin of a classmate, Elizabeth Ann Waite, or Lizzie who eventually became his wife.

While he was finishing his time at Bowdoin he was still uncertain of what he would do. It was then that his uncle, Congressman John Otis who had help to raise him following the death of his father secured for him an appointment to West Point. He did very well academically but at times struggled with some of his fellow students, some of who considered him “priggish, self-righteous, and opinionated.” [3] This was most likely due to a number of reasons, first his moderate abolitionist views, which were unpopular with many cadets, his active participation in the Bible class, which some classmates ridiculed, and his high academic standing, which provoked the jealousy of others. Howard was also resented by some for his friendship with Sergeant Warren Lothrop, a Mexican War veteran, a childhood friend who was “the son of a close friend of his own father” [4] as well as maintaining a friendship with a cadet “who had been “cut” – shunned – by the corps.” [5] While he stood by the cadet, he was forbidden to maintain the friendship by the Commandant of Cadets due to rules on fraternization, but in the eyes of some classmates, the damage had been done. One cadet who never accepted Howard was Custis Lee, an academic rival and the son of Robert E. Lee.

Despite a rough start Howard became friends with many cadets, including some who had shunned him early in his West Point experience. However, one friend who stood by Howard throughout was a cadet from Virginia named J.E.B. Stuart, who he knew from the Bible class. Howard wrote of that friendship, “I can never forget the manliness of J.E.B. Stuart…. He spoke to me, he visited me, and we became warm friends, often, on Saturday afternoons, visiting the young ladies of the post together.” [6] Howard’s friends included cadets from north and south, and never appeared to let political or ideological differences influence his choice of friends.

He graduated fourth in the class of 1854 and commissioned as a Brevet Second Lieutenant in the highly technical Ordinance Corps. He married Lizzie the following year and held a number of assignments in his corps before being assigned to Florida at the tail end of the Seminole Wars where as an Ordinance officer he saw no action. However, during his time in Florida he experienced his conversion to Evangelical Christianity, following his attendance of a number of Methodist revival meetings and his future life would bear evidence of the influence of the founder of Methodism, John Wesley. His faith became a facet of his life that he would never waver from incurring the praise as well as the criticism of various contemporaries. He wrote Lizzie:

“I then bore hat the text above in mind, & said in my heart oh! My Saviour, I know that thou canst save me! I made an effort to fully believe that my sins were washed in the blood of the Lamb, that my dear Saviour had actually saved me at that moment, i.e. had pardoned all my transgressions of the laws of God, & all the wickedness of a corrupt heart – The fullness of the glow of happiness came into my heart, the tugging & burning left me – the choking sensation was gone…my mind is as clear as when making out an Ordinance Return…” [7]

Following his conversion he led prayers and Bible studies, had enlisted me to his quarters for morning devotions and even considered leaving the army for the ministry. It was fortunate for Howard that his commander, an elderly Colonel, Gustavus Loomis, was a devout Christian who had first taken him to the Methodist revival meetings, for many other senior officers would have not approved of such overtly evangelical behavior.

Howard was transferred back to West Point in September of 1857 where now as a First Lieutenant he was assigned as an instructor in Mathematics, and was able to again be with Lizzie and their children. At West Point he continued his religious activities, leading Bible studies and became the superintendent of a Sunday school for the children of enlisted men and briefly explored the possibility of entering the ministry with a local Episcopal priest and even studied Hebrew for a time.

During his time as an instructor at West Point the young officer, like many devout converts to any religion, wrestled with his faith. Always introspective Howard became even more so, do much soul-searching and with two issues that he recognized in himself, vanity and pride. He wrote: “the pride & haughtiness of my heart is more than pen can tell, but I believe God will so school me, by failures when I act without Christ, by disappointments & afflictions, as to bring my miserably foolish soul into full subjection to himself…. I fear if God would give me success with my heart as it is now, that I would be puffed up with pride & thus lose the countenance of my blessed Saviour.” [8] That struggle to harmonize the tension between his desire to excel in the army and life, with his concerns for his soul should he become consumed by ambition and vanity would become more pronounced within a few very short years.

As he had for most of his life Howard took little interest in political questions and the growing movement toward secession. This was not surprising because Howard, whose religious commitment was continuing to grow was planning to take a leave of absence from the army to attend Bangor Theological Seminary, where his brother, Charles was already a student. However, when Fort Sumter was fired on Howard “abandoned the plan to enter the ministry and determined to stay as a regular or volunteer until the war was over.” [9]

As the officers who made their choice to remain loyal to the Union were now confronted with the decision to remain in the Regular Army or join the new volunteer regiments being formed by Northern states. For many, loyalty and the desire to fight to protect the Union was mixed with a certain amount of pragmatic ambition. Remaining in the relatively small Regular Army might leave them in the position of assisting the training of new volunteer units, or involved with the administration or organizing and equipping them, possibly with limited promotion opportunity while taking a volunteer commission could lead to rapid promotion, command of a regiment or even a brigade.

But initially “the was “a prevalent opposition to regular officers accepting commissions in the volunteers,” [10] but soon the reality that the Regular army was insufficient to bring the rebellious states back into the Union caused the army to allow officers to serve with the volunteers. Howard’s fellow Mathematics instructor, Lieutenant Gouverneur Warren was one of the first young officers at West Point to accept a volunteer commission in the Fifth New York Infantry, the Duryea Zouaves. Howard wrote to Maine’s governor, Israel Washburne offering his services to the State, and after an initial rebuff was offered command of the Third Maine Volunteer Infantry. When he received the offer from Maine Howard took it to Lieutenant Colonel John Reynolds, the Commandant of Cadets and told Reynolds of the offer and asked, “I’ve had the tender, or what amounts to it, of a Maine Regiment. What answer would you give, colonel?’ Reynolds replied, “You’ll accept, of course, Howard,” [11] and then preceded to give the young officer a lesson on what colonels needed to know.

One thing Howard had settled in his mind was the legitimacy of war. As a cadet at West Point he had studied the works of Henry Wager Halleck, who wrote one of the first comprehensive books on strategy by an American and who included in his work a synopsis of the traditional Just War Theory. Halleck, like Howard, was a devout Christian and in his book he wrote “The prevention and punishment of crime causes much human suffering; nevertheless the good of the community requires that crime should be prevented and punished. So, as a nation, we employ military officers to man our ships and forts, to protect our property and our persons, and to repel and punish those who seek to rob us of our life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness…” [12] When Fort Sumter was attacked and other Federal installations in the South being overrun Howard believed that “it was a citizen’s duty to defend his country just as a father would defend his wife and children from an assassin.” [13] When the regiment arrived in New York on its way to Washington it was presented a flag by patriotic Maine citizens living there. Upon receiving it, Howard thanked them and his words reflected his thoughts about war and duty, as well as his religious faith: “I was born in the East, but I was educated by my country. I know no section; I know no party; I never did. I know only my country to love it, and my God who is over my country. We go forth to battle in defense of righteousness and liberty, civil and religious. We go strong in muscle, strong in heart, strong in soul, because we are right…” [14]

Howard’s faith would be a source of personal strength throughout the war and while some like Joseph Hooker ridiculed his faith saying “He was always taken up with Sunday Schools and the temperance cause. Those things are all very good, you know, but have little to do with commanding an army corps. He would command a prayer meeting with a good deal more ability than he would an army.” [15] Likewise his “reputation as a Christian “hampered his acceptance by both fellow officers and enlisted men.” [16] Despite this, many soldiers and officers in every unit Howard commanded came to admire him

Despite this Howard did eventually succeed and became the only officer of his West Point class of 1854 to become a Major General in the Regular Army of the United States. It was not always an easy road, but Howard displayed a resiliency in the face difficulty and even defeat, a resiliency that enabled him to grow as an officer and commander as the war went on.

Shortly after the Third Maine joined the army at Washington Howard was made a brigade commander. His brigade was involved in the final attack at Bull Run were it was caught up in the disaster that overtook the army of Irvin McDowell. He was promoted to brigadier general and commanded a brigade during McClellan’s inept Peninsular Campaign and “at Fair Oaks on June 1, he was hit twice in the right arm while leading a charge; a second bullet shattered the bone near the elbow, and the arm had to be amputated.” [17] Howard’s bravery in the face of the enemy was noted, especially after having received the first wound he continued to lead his men despite having three horses shot from under him. One of his regimental commanders wrote, “The General was the only Brigadier that I saw on the field who led his men into battle & handled them there – He acted with a bravery bordering on rashness & nobly sustained his reputation as a brave and efficient officer.” [18]

Within two months Howard was back with the army, his former officers writing McClellan to recommend that Howard be given command of a division. He did not immediately get that, but was given command of a brigade of Pennsylvania Reserves, the Philadelphia Brigade in John Sedgwick’s division. He took command of that division when Sedgwick was wounded at Antietam. He commanded the division when it was thrown into General Ambrose Burnside’s ill-advised and doomed assault of Marye’s Heights at the Battle of Fredericksburg. Though his division could not break the Confederate line he was commended by Major General Charles Sumner and Major General Darius Couch for his actions. Sumner noted Howard’s “judicious disposition” in driving the Confederates from Fredericksburg” while “Couch, in speak of the corps losses, stated: “Howard, coming up late, lost 700 men, besides 150 on the 11th. He did well in the part assigned to him.” [19]

During the winter following Burnside’s relief and the appointment of Major General Joseph Hooker to command the Army of the Potomac, Howard remained in command of his division. The vanity that he wrestled with in his spiritual life got the better of him when Daniel Sickles, a political general with no formal military training was appointed to command the Third Corps. Howard, who was senior to Sickles protested to Hooker and was promised the newly arrived Eleventh Corps. The corps, which had just become part of Hooker’s army was never “accepted as a true part of the Army of the Potomac,” where it was viewed as a “foreign contingent,” [20] “and was looked upon by the older units with some distain, despite its having seen considerable action.” [21] The previous Corps commander, Major General Fritz Sigel had just left the army after a disagreement regarding not receiving a larger command during the reorganization of the army. When he left many of the corps’ soldiers remained very loyal to their old commander, and “thought Howard was being advanced at Sigel’s expense.” [22]

But Hooker had created a problem for himself. Eleventh Corps was the only large unit in the Federal Army with a high concentration of Germans. Many of the soldiers had enlisted to serve under men that they knew and trusted, Fritz Sigel and Carl Schurz. When Sigel left command Hooker could have appointed Carl Schurz to command the corps, but “Hooker had little use for Schurz’s generalship,” [23] and bluntly told Secretary of War Stanton that he would not appoint Schurz to corps command. For Howard, this was not good, for “in his anxiety to receive a command commensurate with his rank he had failed to consider all the consequences.” [24]

Howard took command of Eleventh Corps barely a month before Hooker launched his offensive against Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, which culminated in the Battle of Chancellorsville. Howard struggled to gain the acceptance of the German soldiers of his new command, many of whom were resentful of having to serve under a non-German officer who did not understand them. Howard’s overtly Evangelical Christian approach to command and stress on temperance, which included the distribution of religious tracts did not endear him to the Germans, many of who were Catholics, free-thinkers and beer drinkers. While Howard’s piety was appreciated many soldiers of English and Scottish descent with Protestant roots, the “Germans of the Eleventh Corps, many of whom were freethinkers, the activities of “Old Prayer Book” were not welcome…. The Eleventh Corps would go on campaign under a general it neither liked nor trusted, and Howard was marching quite out of step with his command.” [25] Some understood this, Colonel Charles Wainwright, commander of the First Corps artillery wrote, “Howard, who succeeds Sigel in the Eleventh is brave enough, and a most perfect gentleman. He is a Christian and an enthusiast, as well as a man of ability, but there is some doubt as to his having snap enough to manage the Germans, who require to be ruled with a rod of iron.” [26]

In the ensuing battle Howard’s Eleventh Corps was taken in the flank by Stonewall Jackson’s troops which outnumbered his badly situated corps by nearly three-to-one, his only reserve brigade having been taken by Hooker to support Sickle’s Third Corps. The ensuing action was a disaster as regiment after regiment was rolled up by the rapidly advancing Confederate phalanx.

Blame could be assigned to both Hooker and Howard, Hooker for leaving Eleventh Corps unsupported and isolated on the flank without a reserve, and Howard for not taking better precautions to secure his right flank from a surprise attack. Neither Howard, nor his senior division commander Brigadier general Charles Devens “personally investigated any of the reports of Rebel activity on their front, and Howard compounded his negligence by leaving his command for two critical hours.” [27] Only Carl Schurz took any action to protect the corps flank and rear by quietly facing three of his regiments west. When the night was over Howard admitted “I wanted to die…. That night I did all in my power to remedy the mistake, and I sought death everywhere I could find an excuse to go to the field.” [28] However, Jackson’s victory was more tactical than strategic and as one historian noted “the corps had generally acquitted itself well in a nearly hopeless situation and delayed Confederate progress until dark,” [29]at which time the Confederates experienced the loss of Stonewall Jackson who was mortally wounded in the darkness by his own troops as he tried to push his corps forward.

However, the morale of the Eleventh Corps was crushed and it would not get a chance to redeem itself during the rest of the Chancellorsville campaign. When Hooker lost his nerve, refused to counter-attack, and then decided to withdraw he was opposed by Howard, George Meade, Darius Couch and John Reynolds who advocated a renewal of the offensive against Lee who they knew to have taken heavy casualties and had to be outnumbered by the Army of the Potomac.

The ever insightful Charles Wainwright wrote, “Some of the papers are very severe on Hooker, and insist upon that he was drunk, which I do not believe. Others go quite as far the other way, and try to screen him from all blame, seeking to throw it on one or the other of his subordinates. The attacks on General Howard are outrageous. He had been in command of the Eleventh Corps but a month before the fight, and was previously unknown to its officers and men…. He is the only religious man of high rank I know in this army, and, in the little intercourse I have had with him, shewed himself the most polished gentleman I have met. I know that he was very anxious to attack Lee on Monday, and together with Couch, Reynolds, and Meade was decidedly opposed to our withdraw on Wednesday night…” [30]

But the damage to the Eleventh Corps had been done. In the search for blame the old line prejudice and sentiment of the “Know nothings” against the immigrant Germans was once again unleashed. Inside and outside the Army of the Potomac, the Eleventh Corps was given the derisive nickname of “the flying Dutchmen” despite the fact that approximately half of its soldiers were of old line Yankee stock. The Eleventh Corps was not without good soldiers or good leaders, the real issue came from “the prejudice of Americans and the defensive attitude of the Germans…” [31] The soldiers of the corps had to endure the mocking of soldiers of other units and the scorn of the press, which “spoke of the “unexampled conduct” of the Eleventh Corps and how “the whole failure of the Army of the Potomac was owing to [its] scandalous poltroonery.” [32] In defense of the Corps Brigadier General Alexander Schimmelpfennig wrote “It would seem a nest of vipers had but waited for an auspicious moment to spit out their poisonous slanders upon this heretofore honored corps…. I have been proud to command the brave men in this brigade; but I am sure that unless these infamous falsehoods be retracted and reparations made, their good will and soldierly spirit will be broken…” [33]

Like his army commander, Fighting Joe Hooker, Howard never “conceded that he was in any way negligent, but he once hinted that at Chancellorsville he was inexperienced and that he had learned a lesson. “When I was a lad, a larger boy gave me a drubbing, but I grew in size and strength till he could do it no longer. The war experience of some of us was like that.” [34] To his credit, Howard did learn from his mistakes and never was surprised again as Eleventh Corps commander or the Commander of the Army of Tennessee under the command of William Tecumseh Sherman. However, Hooker, not only refused to take any blame, but proceeded to blame “squarely upon three of the army’s eight corps commanders…” [35] Howard, John Sedgwick and cavalry corps commander George Stoneman.

The troops were discouraged and resentful of their treatment; one officer wrote of the corps’ withdraw from Chancellorsville “I recrossed with a heavy heart, and… I felt tears rolling down my cheeks. I was ashamed of the battle, and deplored the sad experience of the Eleventh Corps…” while Howard noted, “there was no gloomier period during the great war than the month which followed the disasters at Chancellorsville.” [36] Carl Schurz wrote “The spirit of this corps is broken, and something must be done to revive it.” [37] It was in this depressed environment, commanding a corps that was defeated and demoralized that Oliver Howard advanced into Gettysburg on July 1st 1863.

Notes

[1] Hebert, Walter H. Fighting Joe Hooker University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London 1999. Originally published by Bobbs-Merrill, New York 1944 p.178

[2] Carpenter, John A. Sword and Olive Branch: Oliver Otis Howard Fordham University Press, New York 1999 p.3

[3] Thomas, Emory M. Bold Dragoon: The Life of J.E.B. Stuart University of Oklahoma Press, Norman OK 1986 and 1999 p.24

[4] Ibid. Carpenter Sword and Olive Branch p.8

[5] Ibid. Thomas Bold Dragoon p.24

[6] Ibid. Thomas Bold Dragoon p.25

[7] Ibid. Carpenter Sword and Olive Branch p.17

[8] Ibid. Carpenter Sword and Olive Branch p.20

[9] Ibid. Carpenter Sword and Olive Branch p.21

[10] Jordan, David M. Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren Indiana University Press, Bloomington Indiana 2001 p.34

[11] Howard, Oliver O. Autobiography of Oliver Otis Howard, Major General, U.S. Army Volume 1 The Baker and Taylor Company, New York 1907 Made available by the Internet Achieve through Amazon Kindle location1627 of 9221

[12] Halleck, Henry Wager. Elements of Military Art and Science Or, Course Instruction In Strategy, Fortification Tactics of Battles, &c. Embracing the Duties of Staff, Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery, and Engineers, Adapted for the Use of Volunteers and Militia Third Edition D. Appleton & Company, New York and London 1862 Amazon Kindle edition location 149 of 6332

[13] Ibid. Carpenter Sword and Olive Branch p.21

[14] Ibid. Howard Autobiography of Oliver Otis Howard location 1983 of 9221

[15] Girardi, Robert I. The Civil War Generals: Comrades, Peers, Rivals in Their Own Words Zenith Press, MBI Publishing, Minneapolis MN 2013 p.92

[16] Ibid. Carpenter Sword and Olive Branch p.25

[17] Tagg, Larry The Generals of Gettysburg: The Leaders of America’s Greatest Battle Da Capo Press Cambridge MA 1998 Amazon Kindle Edition p. 121

[18] Ibid. Girardi The Civil War Generals: Comrades, Peers, Rivals in Their Own Words p.91

[19] Ibid. Carpenter Sword and Olive Branch p.41

[20] Ibid. Hebert Fighting Joe Hooker p.178

[21] Ibid. Carpenter Sword and Olive Branch p.43

[22] Ibid. Hebert Fighting Joe Hooker p.178

[23] Sears, Stephen W. Chancellorsville Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 1996 p.64

[24] Ibid. Carpenter Sword and Olive Branch p.43

[25] Ibid. Sears Chancellorsville p.65

[26] Wainwright, Charles S. A Diary of Battle: The Personal Journal of Colonel Charles S. Wainwright 1861-1865 edited by Allan Nevins, Da Capo Press, New York 1998 p.183

[27] Ibid. Sears Chancellorsville p.270

[28] Ibid. Sears Chancellorsville p.286

[29] Greene, A. Wilson. From Chancellorsville to Gettysburg: O. O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership in The First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gallagher, Gary W. Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 1992 p.57

[30] Ibid. Wainwright A Diary of Battle p.210

[31] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.306

[32] Ibid. Green From Chancellorsville to Gettysburg: O. O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership p.58

[33] Ibid. Green From Chancellorsville to Gettysburg: O. O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership p.58

[34] Ibid. Carpenter Sword and Olive Branch p.49

[35] Sears, Stephen W Gettysburg Houghton Mifflin Company, New York 2003 pp.193-194 and Coddington p.20

[36] Ibid. Green From Chancellorsville to Gettysburg: O. O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership p.57

[37] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.37

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I Will Fight Them: John Reynolds at Gettysburg

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

This is another part of my Gettysburg text Chapter on John Reynolds. I have divided it up into three sections. The first was the biographic section, the second, published yesterday was about Kate Hewitt, the girl he left behind.  Today is an expanded version of what was the original chapter which focused almost exclusively on Reynolds’s and his actions at Gettysburg on the morning of July 1st 1863.

I hope that you enjoy.

Peace

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On the night of June 30th Reynolds was awash in reports, some of them conflicting and even though he was without Meade’s course of action for the next day “concluded that Lee’s army was close by and in force.” [1] He spent the night at his headquarters “studying the military situation with Howard and keeping in touch with army headquarters.” [2] Howard noted Reynolds anxiety and “received the impression that Reynolds was depressed.” [3] After Howard’s departure Reynolds took the opportunity to get a few hours of fitful sleep before arising again at 4 a.m. on July 1st.

When morning came, Reynolds was awakened by his aide Major William Riddle with Meade’s order to “advance the First and Eleventh Corps to Gettysburg.” [4] Reynolds studied the order and though he expected no battle that morning, expecting “only moving up to be in supporting distance to Buford” [5] took the prudent and reasonable precautions that his Confederate opponents A.P. Hill and Harry Heth refused to take as they prepared to move on Gettysburg.

His troops were in fine spirits that morning even though it had been busy. After a breakfast of hardtack, pork and coffee the troops moved out. An officer of the Iron Brigade noted that the soldiers of that brigade were “all in the highest spirits” while Lieutenant Colonel Rufus Dawes of the “placed the fifes and drums at the head of the Sixth Wisconsin and ordered the colors unfurled” as the proud veterans marched forward into the sound of the raging battle to the tune of “The Campbell’s are Coming.” [6]

Though Reynolds was not expecting a fight he organized his march in a manner that ensured if one did happen that he was fully prepared. The precautionary measures that he took were those that any prudent commander having knowledge that strong enemy forces were nearby would take. Reynolds certainly took to heart the words of Napoleon who said “A General should say to himself many times a day: If the hostile army were to make its appearance in front, on my right, or on my left, what should I do?” [7]

This was a question that A.P. Hill and Harry Heth seemed not to consider on that warm and muggy July morning when Heth was committing Lee’s army to battle on his own authority. Reynolds was also about to commit the Army of the Potomac to battle, but unlike Heth who had no authority to do so, Reynolds “had at least been delegated the authority for making such a decision” [8] by his army commander George Meade. Though Meade was unaware of what was transpiring in the hills beyond Gettysburg he implicitly trusted the judgement of Reynolds, and Meade been with the advanced elements of Reynold’s wing he too “probably would have endorsed any decision he made.” [9]

Reynolds placed himself with the lead division, that of Wadsworth, and “directed Doubleday to bring up the other divisions and guns of the First Corps and had ordered Howard’s Eleventh Corps up from Emmitsburg.” [10] Reynold’s also understood the urgency of the situation and “wanted all the fighting troops to be up front, so he instructed Howard not to intermingle his supply wagons with his infantry. Similar instructions had been given to Abner Doubleday; to ensure that the First Corps wagons would wait until the Eleventh Corps foot soldiers had passed.” [11]

Instead operating in the normal fashion of rotating units on the march, Reynolds opted to save time. Since Wadsworth’s First Division was further advanced than his other First Corps divisions, Reynolds instructed it to move out first with Cutler’s brigade in the lead followed by the Iron Brigade under Brigadier General Solomon Meredith. In doing so Reynolds countermanded the order of the acting corps commander Doubleday who had ordered Wadsworth’s division to allow the other divisions of First Corps to pass his before advancing. Reynolds told Wadsworth that Doubleday’s order “was a mistake and that I should move on directly.” [12]

He went forward with Wadsworth’s division and gave Doubleday his orders for the coming engagement. Doubleday later recalled that when Reynolds arrived to discuss the situation that Reynolds:

“read to me the various dispatches he had received from Meade and Buford, and told me that he should go at once forward with the leading division – that of Wadsworth – to aid the cavalry. He then instructed me to draw in my pickets, assemble the artillery and the remainder of the corps and join him as soon as possible. Having given me these orders, he rode off at the head of the column, and I never saw him again.” [13]

Reynolds ordered Howard’s Eleventh Corps to follow First Corps and according to Doubleday directed an aid of Howard to have Howard “bring his corps forward at once and form them on Cemetery Hill as a reserve.” [14] Howard received the order and since his troops were ready to move out “no time was lost in setting them in motion.” [15] While some writers believe that Reynolds directed Oliver Howard to prepare Cemetery Hill as a fallback position [16] there is more evidence that points to Howard selecting the that commanding hill himself. [17] Regardless of which is correct the result was that both Reynolds and Howard recognized the importance of the position and took action to secure it.

Likewise Reynolds ordered Sickles’ III Corps to come up from Emmitsburg where that corps had bivouacked the previous night. [18] Sickles had heard the guns in the distance that morning and sent his senior aide, Major Henry Tremain to find Reynolds. Reynolds told Tremain “Tell General Sickles I think he had better come up” but the order left Sickles in a quandary. He recalled “he spend an anxious hour deciding what to do” [19] for he had “been ordered by Meade to hold his position at Emmitsburg” [20] and Sickles sent another rider to Reynolds and awaited the response of his wing commander instead of immediately advancing to battle on 1 July and it would not be until after 3 P.M. that he would send his lead division to Gettysburg.

According to Doubleday Reynolds’s intention was “to fight the enemy as soon as I could meet him.” [21] Reynolds rode forward with some of his staff into the town as the infantry of the First Corps and the Eleventh Corps moved advanced. As they rode through the town Reynolds and his party were met by “a fleeing, badly frightened civilian, who gasped out the news that the cavalry was in a fight.” [22] When he came to the Lutheran Seminary he came across Buford. It was a defining moment of the Civil War, a moment that shaped the battle to come. It has been recounted many times and immortalized on screen in the movie Gettysburg, a time “when the entire battle would come down to a matter of minutes getting one place to another.” [23]

As the rough and tumble Kentuckian, Buford, and Reynolds, the dashing Pennsylvanian, discussed the situation they had to know that odd that they were facing. With close to 32,000 rebels from the four divisions of Hill’s and Ewell’s corps closing in from the west and the north and with only about 18,000 men of First Corps, Eleventh Corps and Buford’s cavalry division to meet them, the odds were not in his favor, but unlike other battles that the army of the Potomac faced, this time the army and its commanders were determined not to lose the battle and not to retreat and for the first time John Reynolds “led the advance” and for the first time in the war “might have some say about fighting.” [24]

Reynolds and Buford committed their eighteen thousand men against Lee’s thirty-two thousand in a meeting engagement that develop into a battle that would decide the outcome of Lee’s invasion. Likewise it was a battle for the very existence of the Union. Abner Doubleday noted the incontestable and eternal significance of the encounter to which Buford and Reynolds were committing the Army of the Potomac on July 1st 1863:

“The two armies about to contest on the perilous ridges of Gettysburg the possession of the Northern States, and the ultimate triumph of freedom or slavery….” [25]

Even though they understood that they were outmanned and outgunned by the advancing Confederates, both Buford and Reynolds knew that this was where the battle must be waged. It was here on this spot, for the ground gave them an advantage that they would not have elsewhere; but only if they could hold on long enough for the rest of the army to arrive. As Alan Nolan wrote: “this Pennsylvania ground – was defensible, and behind it, through the town, loomed Cemetery Hill, another natural point of defense if the battle at Seminary Ridge went against the Federals.” [26]

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Reynolds vs. Heth July 1st

When John Buford saw Reynolds infantry advancing as the Confederates increased the pressure on his outnumbered cavalry, he remarked to a staff member “now we can hold this place.” [27] Buford was not mistaken, when Reynolds rode up to the scene of the battle on Seminary Ridge he greeted Buford, who was in the cupola of the seminary. He called out “What’s the matter John?” to which Buford replied “The devil’s to pay” before he came down to discuss the tactical situation with Reynolds. [28] Buford explained the situation noting that “I have come upon some regiments of infantry…they are in the woods…and I am unable to dislodge them.” [29]

Reynolds needed no other convincing. He asked Buford if he could hold and quickly sent off a number of messages. One officer wrote: “The Genl ordered Genl Buford to hold the enemy in check as long as possible, to keep them from getting into town and at the same time sent orders to Genl Sickles…& Genl Howard to come as fast as possible.” [30] Additionally, Reynolds sent a message to Meade stating: “The enemy are advancing in strong force. I fear they will get to the heights beyond the own before I can. I will fight them inch by inch, and if driven into the town, I will barricade the streets and hold them back as long as possible.” [31] He directed Major Weld of his staff to take it to Meade with all haste as Weld recalled: “with the greatest speed I could, no matter if I killed my horse.” [32] When Meade received the report he was concerned, but with great confidence in Reynolds’s ability he remarked “Good!…That is just like Reynolds; he will hold on to the bitter end.[33]

After dictating his instructions and sending off his messengers, Reynolds then did what no senior Confederate commander did during the entirety of the battle, he rode back and took personal charge of the movements of his troops to hurry them forward. Unlike Heth who so badly misjudged the tactical situation, he had taken note of the ground and recognized from Buford’s reports that “the Confederates were marching only on that single road and thus would not be able to push their forces to the front any faster than Reynolds could reach the battlefield with his First Corps divisions.” [34] It was a key observation on his part which again allowed him to make appropriate decisions as to how he shaped the battle.

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Reynolds leadership at this point might be considered reckless by the standards of our day when senior commanders control battles from miles away with the help of real time intelligence and reporting, including live video feeds, or even the standards of the Second World War. But then in the Civil War a commander in combat could only really control the actions of troops that he could see and because of the time that it took to get messages to subordinate commanders, and the real possibility that verbal orders could be badly misinterpreted in the heat of battle.

Reynolds exercised command directing infantry formations into battle and assisting his artillery battery commanders in the placement of their guns. This was far different than the way that most senior Confederate leaders, including Lee, Longstreet, Hill and Ewell directed their units during the battle of Gettysburg. But such action such action was in keeping with Reynolds’s character, especially in the defense of his home state. Reynolds’ philosophy of command regarding volunteer troops was that they “were better led than driven” [35] and as such he led from the front and Abner Doubleday noted that Reynolds was “inflamed by at seeing the devastation of his native state, was most desirous of getting at the enemy as soon as possible.” [36]

iron brigade forward

“For God’s Sake Forward!” McPherson’s Ridge

John Reynolds recognized that time was of the essence if his forces were to hold the ground west of the town selected a shortcut around the town for First Corps. Those forces were directed across the fields near the Condori farm toward the back side of Seminary Ridge, with Reynolds’ staff helping to remove fences to speed the advance. [37] It was not an easy advance as the troops had to move across the farm fields at an oblique and have to “double-quick for a mile and a quarter in the thick humidity just to reach the seminary.” [38] One member of the corps recalled “I never saw men more willing to fight than they were at Gettysburg.” [39]

Recognizing that “after two full hours of fighting, Buford’s troopers” fighting on McPherson’s Ridge, were “at the limits of their endurance,” Reynolds ordered Wadsworth’s brigades “to bolster the cavalry and oppose the rebel infantry coming at them.” [40]

As troops arrived Reynolds directed them into position. He directed the artillery of Captain James Hall’s 2nd Maine Battery to McPherson’s Ridge instructing Hall “I desire you to damage their artillery to the greatest possible extent, and to keep their fire from our infantry until they are deployed….” [41]

The leading infantry of First Corps was Major General James Wadsworth’s understrength division containing just two brigades, just over 3000 soldiers, its losses from Chancellorsville not being made good and as the result of the loss of regiments discharged because their enlistments had expired. [42] Wadsworth was not a professional soldier, but like many generals on both sides was a political general who despite his lack of military experience was a natural leader of men. Wadsworth was “a vigorous white-haired old man who had been a well-to-do gentleman farmer in New York State before the war” [43] and he “had interrupted his service in the war to run for and lose his state’s governorship the preceding fall.” [44] He ran against the anti-war, anti-administration and frequently pro-Southern Copperhead Horatio Seymour, but he did not leave the army in order return to the state to mount a personal campaign “on the ground that it did not befit a soldier.” [45]

“What the gray haired general lacked in experience and skill, he compensated with a fighting spirit.” [46] Oliver Howard of Eleventh Corps said that Wadsworth was “always generous and a natural soldier” [47] and while Wadsworth was no professional but he performed admirably on July 1st 1863. Wadsworth was beloved by his men because he demonstrated true concern and care for their living conditions and training and on that morning Wadsworth was commanding his division leading it into action with “an old Revolutionary War saber in his hand.” [48] The gallant Wadsworth would be mortally wounded ten months later leading a division of Gouverneur Warren’s Fifth Corps in the opening engagements of the Wilderness. Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles noted in his diary when Wadsworth died that Wadsworth “should, by right and fair-dealing, have been at this moment Governor of New York…No purer or single-minded patriot than Wadsworth has shown himself in this war. He left home and comforts and wealth to fight the battles of the Union.” [49]

With their gallant commander at their head the division may not have had much in force in the way of numbers, but the units of the division were “good ones,” composed of hardened combat veterans that went into battle with an eye to victory. In the van was Brigadier General Zylander Cutler’s brigade of New Yorkers and Pennsylvanians, the “celebrated Bucktails.” [50] When they were mustered into service the soldiers of the 13th Pennsylvania had adopted a “bucktail” attached to their service caps as a distinctive insignia, a practice that spread to other regiments of the brigade and for which the brigade became known throughout the army.

Cutler had spent much of his early life in Maine working in a number of fields and businesses. He made a fortune several times and lost it, first when his mill burned down, but he rebuilt his businesses and diversified and “as a leading businessman, Cutler was elected to the Maine senate, college trusteeships and a railroad directorship, but he was financially ruined by the panic of 1866 and moved to Milwaukee to start his career over again.” [51] The tough-minded Cutler had some previous military experience fighting Indians as a member of the Maine militia and was made Colonel of the 6th Wisconsin. Cutler was described by one of his soldiers as “being as “rugged as a wolf” and was “a tenacious fighter, a trait that endeared him to the tough-minded Gibbon.” [52] After Antietam Gibbon recommended Cutler for promotion to Brigadier General and command of the Iron Brigade, but Cutler had been wounded at the bloody Battle of Brawner’s Farm and Solomon Meredith gained a promotion and command of that celebrated brigade. However, in on November 29th 1862 having recuperated from his wounds Cutler was promoted to brigadier general and received command of his Bucktails in March of 1863. The brigade saw only minor action at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg would be the fierce brigadier’s first chance since being wounded to command in combat.

This fine brigade was followed by Brigadier General Solomon Meredith’s “Iron Brigade” composed of westerners in their distinctive black “Jefferson Davis” or “Hardie” hats. The brigade had been initially commanded by Major General John Gibbon, now commanding a division in Winfield Scott Hancock’s Second Corps. Gibbon turned the brigade into one of the finest in the army. At the Battle of Turner’s Gap on South Mountain during the Antietam campaign, the brigade earned its name.

After that bloody battle George McClellan exclaimed “They must be made of Iron!” and Hooker replied, “By the Eternal, they are iron! If you had seen them at Bull Run as I did, you would know them to be iron.” [53] In the fierce battle at South Mountain the brigade had lost over a quarter of its strength, but had gained a share of immortality among the ranks of the United States Army. “The Western soldiers immediately seized on this as their title, and the reputation of the brigade and its new name were soon broadcast around Federal campfires.” [54] The regiments of the brigade rivalled many Regular Army units in effectiveness and discipline and “the black hats became their trademark.” [55] Often committed to the fiercest battles the brigade had been decimated, but now along with the Bucktails it advanced up down Seminary Ridge and up the back side of McPherson’s Ridge. A member of an artillery battery who saw the Bucktails and the Iron Brigade advance recalled:

“No one…will ever again see those two brigades of Wadsworth’s Division – Cutler’s and the Iron Brigade – file by as they did that morning. The little creek made a depression in the road, with a gentle ascent on either side, so that from our point of view the column, as it came down the slope and up the other, had the effect of huge blue billows of men topped with a spray of shining steel, and the whole spectacle was calculated to give nerve to a man who never had one before.[56]

Reynolds directed Cutler’s Bucktails to proceed north of the Cashtown Pike and then “called the Iron Brigade into action on the south side” [57] leading the hearty Westerners himself. Reynolds directed then Wadsworth to take change of the action on the north side of the road while he looked after the left. [58] When Reynolds made that decision he made another. He ordered the 6th Wisconsin of the Iron Brigade into reserve, leaving the Iron Brigade a regiment short but giving him the advantage of having a ready reserve which “permitted them to take full advantage of their interior lines, shift their strength about, and apply it where most needed.” [59]

At about 10:30 the 2nd Wisconsin advanced into the woods Reynolds urged them forward: “Forward men, for God’s sake and drive those fellows out of those woods….” [60] As he looked around toward the seminary to see the progress of reinforcements, Reynolds was struck in the back of the neck by a bullet and fell dead. “Had it come a short time earlier, Reynolds’s death might have thrown the I Corps into fatal confusion.” [61] But Doubleday, who command now fell was up to the task on that sultry July morning.

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Cutler’s brigade moved north and engaged Davis’ men near the railroad cut. Here the Cutler’s line was “hardly formed when it was struck by Davis’s Confederate brigade on its front and right flank.” [62] His troops were heavily outnumbered by the advancing Confederates and Davis’ troops initially had the upper hand. In a savage fight they inflicted massive casualties on Cutler’s regiments which outnumbered and being flanked were ordered to withdraw by Wadsworth in order to save them, with the exception of one regiment, the 147th New York nicknamed the Ploughboys which “did not get the order” [63] and though isolated held its ground, “with the support of a fresh six-gun battery whose gunners simply refused to quit.” [64] This was the 2nd Maine Battery under the command of Captain James Hall. Though caught in a cross fire of Rebel artillery and assailed by skirmishers Hall’s artillerymen gamely continued the fight withdrawing by sections, “fighting a close canister range and suffering severely.” [65] The New Yorkers and Hall’s battery battled the Mississippians and the “Ploughboys fell “like autumn leaves; the air was full of lead.” [66]

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The inexperienced Davis and his green troops were buoyed by this “gratifying local success” [67] and attempted to exploit it. At this point the Confederates were fatigued by the long march and the fighting and the troops of the 2nd Mississippi and 55th North Carolina “were all jumbled together without regiment or company.” [68] Davis attempted to use the unfinished railroad cut “as cover for getting on the enemy’s flank without exposure.[69] It was a decision that Davis lived to regret. As his troops his units crowed into it, the two regiments of Cutler’s brigade south of the turnpike, the 14th Brooklyn and the 95th New York turned to meet them and were joined by the reserve regiment of the Iron Brigade, the 6nd Wisconsin under Lieutenant Colonel Rufus Dawes. Dawes ordered an immediate advance and called out to Major Edward Pye of the 95th “Let’s go for them Major.” The 6th Wisconsin and the New Yorkers took the Confederates in the flank with enfilade fire, “it was like shooting fish in a barrel.” [70] Dawes’ men slaughtered many of those unfortunate soldiers, and the battle soon became a hand to hand struggle as North Carolinians and Mississippians struggled with the Wisconsin men and New Yorkers.

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The melee in and around the cut did not last long:

“for the Confederates were unable to resist their attackers….From the brow of the cut Dawes shouted down to the Confederates below him: “Where is the colonel of this regiment?” A Confederate field officer heard him and replied, “Who are you?” Dawes answered, “I command this regiment. Surrender or I will fire.” [71] Dawes’s men took over 200 prisoners, [72] and the battle flag of the 2nd Mississippi. [73]

The charge had last but minutes yet had shattered Joe Davis’s brigade. Davis was wholly unprepared for this reverse and signaled his forces to pull back convinced that “a heavy force was…moving rapidly to our right.” [74] However, the cost to the 6th Wisconsin was great, “Dawes estimated that 160 men of the 6th fell, not including the brigade guard, whose casualties he did not know.” [75]

Brigadier General Solomon Meredith’s Iron Brigade, which had been brought forward by Doubleday hit Archer’s brigade in the front in the woods on McPherson’s Ridge. Meredith was an unmarried North Carolina Quaker who had moved to Indiana in 1840 owning little more than the clothes that he was wearing. He became a farmer but found politics more to his liking and was elected as a county sheriff and to the state legislature. When the war came he was serving as the Clerk of Wayne County. Meredith, like so many volunteer officers on both sides owed much of his advancement in the army to his political connections. In Meredith’s case this was to Meredith’s friend Governor Oliver Morton. Critics of Meredith decried his appointment as Colonel of the 19th Indiana as “a damnable swindle.” [76] Yet Meredith commanded the regiment effectively and received command of the brigade in November 1862. John Gibbon, the regular officer who initially commanded the brigade was critical of Meredith’s appointment but the soldiers appreciated their kind, six-foot seven-inch tall commander who they affectionately knew as “Long Sol.” But despite the carping of his political enemies and the opposition of Gibbon, Meredith like so many others like him who, “extroverted and ambitious by nature, accustomed to asserting themselves, these men did the best that they could, for themselves and their responsibilities, and they somehow sufficed” [77] though they had no formal military training or experience.

As the Iron Brigade advanced toward McPherson’s Ridge and engaged the enemy, Doubleday “urged the men…to hold it all hazards.” Doubleday later wrote that the troops of the brigade, “full of enthusiasm and the memory of their past achievements they said to me proudly, “If we can’t hold it, where will you find men who can?” [78]

Animated by the leadership of Reynolds and now Doubleday they “rushed to the charge, struck successive heavy blows, outflanked and turned the enemy’s right, captured General Archer and a large portion of his brigade, and pursued the remainder across Willoughby Run.” [79] The effect was dramatic as the Iron Brigade overwhelmed Archer’s brigade, whose soldiers now realized they were facing “the first team.” Members of the Iron Brigade recalling the voices of Confederate soldiers exclaiming “Here are those damned black-hat fellers again…’Taint no militia-that’s the Army of the Potomac.” [80] As they attempted to withdraw they piled up at a fence near Willoughby Run and were hit in the flank by “a Michigan regiment that had worked its way around through the woods to the south.” [81] Archer’s Confederates were unable to resist the assault of the Iron Brigade, “Some fled; others threw down their arms and trembling asked where they should go, while others simply dropped their rifles and ducked through the Union formations to the Union rear.” [82]

As for their commander, Archer the ignominy only got worse. “A muscular Irish private in the 2nd Wisconsin ran forward and seized General Archer bodily and made a prisoner of him.” [83] Coddington wrote: “It was a bad moment for the Army of Northern Virginia, and Archer gained the unenviable distinction of being the first of its general officers to be captured after Lee took command.” [84] Doubleday, who knew Archer from the old army, wrote of meeting Archer after that very angry general after had been taken prisoner and roughed up by the aforementioned Private Maloney. Doubleday greeted his old comrade saying: “Archer! I’m glad to see you,” and reached out his hand to greet his friend, to which Archer replied “Well, I’m not glad to see you by a damn sight” and refused to shake Doubleday’s hand. [85]

With the Archer’s brigade whipped and Davis’s in flight Solomon Meredith pulled back the brigade and “was reforming his lines when a shell exploded near him.” [86] Meredith’s horse was killed and fell on him and the tall general was struck in the head by a shell fragment which fractured his skull and rendered him hors d ’combat for the rest of the battle.

Contrary to the reports of many of the Confederates involved, stating that they were outnumbered, some of which have achieved nearly mythic status in some accounts of the battle, the forces engaged were relatively evenly matched. [87] Clifford Dowdey says that the Iron Brigade “heavily outnumbered the one brigade they met. Archer’s….” [88] Such accounts are usually based on the reports of Heth and other confederate commanders. Heth in his after action report wrote that “Archer, encountered heavy masses in his front, and his gallant little brigade, after being almost surrounded by overwhelming forces in front and on both flanks, was forced back….” [89]

However, such was not the case. The reason for this repulse was not that the Union forces had “overwhelming forces” or “greatly superior numbers.” Instead the Archer’s brigade and the Iron Brigade were fairly evenly matched with Archer having about 1,130 men and the Iron Brigade 1,400 while Davis outnumbered Cutler nearly two to one having between 2,400 and 2,600 men in the battle to Cutler’s 1,300. [90]

Following the repulse of Archer and Davis’s brigades by Reynolds’s First Corps, Heth withdrew his badly mauled brigades back to Herr’s Ridge in order to reform them and bring up the brigades of Brockenbrough and Pettigrew before he could resume his attack. In his next assault he would also be supported by Pender’s fresh division which was now coming up.

Coddington notes that the outcome of the opening engagement came down to leadership and “the superior tactical skills of the Northern generals,” who “created a reserve force” with one regiment of the Iron Brigade which “permitted them to take full advantage of their interior lines, shift their strength about, and apply it where most needed.” [91] It was a “calculated risk,” for it assumed that the depleted Iron Brigade could handle Archer’s brigade effectively with only four of their five assigned regiments. [92] Again, even with the loss of Reynolds it was a case of Harry Heth being out-generaled, this time by Abner Doubleday. Heth “had not exercised the close field command by means of which Doubleday had won the brief, furious action.” [93]

death of reynolds

The Death of Reynolds

Reynolds was dead, but the series of command decisions reached by Reynolds under the pressure of a meeting engagement “where neither side held an immediate advantage” [94] were critical to the army. Likewise, because he had effectively communicated his intent to his subordinate commanders they were able to continue the fight despite his death, and his superiors and successors were able to effectively continue the battle that he had initiated. When he went into action he had “barely a third of his corps available, and confronting a force of unknown size, he had put himself at the head of his troops to lead them in a vigorous attack.” [95]

Though shaken by Reynolds’ loss, the Union troops fought on at McPherson and Seminary Ridge under the command of Doubleday until the assault of Ewell on their left and the arrival of Pender’s fresh division forced them from their positions. However Reynolds’s death was a major blow for the Federal forces for it “removed from the equation the one person with enough vision and sense of purpose to manage this battle.” [96] Despite this Reynolds, by pushing forward with his troops on McPherson’s Ridge ensured that Howard was able to secure Cemetery Hill and Cemetery Ridge, without which Gettysburg would have been lost.

The contrast between Reynolds and his opponents was marked. Hill was ten miles away from the action. Heth was too far to the rear of his troops to direct their advance when they ran into trouble and did not begin to take control until after the brigades of Davis and Archer had staggered “back up the ravine, with Davis’s temporarily wrecked.” [97] In contrast to Heth, Reynolds “hurried to the front, where he was able to inspirit the defense and throw troops into the decisive zone.” [98] At every point in the brief encounter John Reynolds showed himself superior to his opponents as he directed the battle. “Dedicated to an aggressive forward defense in the vanguard of the entire Army of the Potomac, Reynolds, at the cost of his own life had blunted the Rebel thrust and bought valuable time that permitted the balance of Meade’s army to take possession of the coveted high ground….” [99]

Though he paid for his efforts with his life but his sacrifice was not in vain. Reynolds’s tactics “gave the First Corps room for maneuver in front of Gettysburg and upset General Hill’s timetable.” [100] Harry Hunt noted: “…by his promptitude and gallantry he had determined the decisive field of the war, and he opened brilliantly a battle which required three days of hard fighting to close with a victory.” [101]

Notes

[1] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.48

[2] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.261

[3] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.48

[4] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.261

[5] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 158

[6] Nolan, Alan T. The Iron Brigade: A Military History Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN, 1961 and 1994 pp.233-234

[7] Napoleon Bonaparte, Military Maxims of Napoleon in Roots of Strategy: The Five Greatest Military Classics of All Time edited by Phillips, Thomas R Stackpole Books Mechanicsburg PA 1985 p.410

[8] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 165

[9] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.49

[10] Ibid. Nolan The Iron Brigade p.233

[11] Trudeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.159

[12] Ibid. Trudeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.156

[13] Doubleday, Abner Chancellorsville and Gettysburg: Campaigns of the Civil War VI Charles Scribner’s Sons, Bew York 1882 pp.70-71

[14] Ibid. Doubleday Chancellorsville and Gettysburg p.71

[15] Carpenter, John A. Sword and Olive Branch: Oliver Otis Howard Fordham University Press, New York 1999 p.51

[16] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.76

[17] Green, A. Wilson. From Chancellorsville to Gettysburg: O. O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership in The First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gallagher, Gary W. Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 1992 p. 70

[18] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 158

[19] Keneally, Thomas American Scoundrel: The Life of the Notorious Civil war General Dan Sickles Anchor Books, a Division of Random House, New York 2003 p.275

[20] Swanberg, W.A. Sickles the Incredible Copyright by the author 1958 and 1984 Stan Clark Military Books, Gettysburg PA 1991 p.202

[21] Ibid. Trudeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.156

[22] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 165

[23] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.142

[24] Ibid. Nichols Toward Gettysburg p.200

[25] Ibid. Doubleday Chancellorsville and Gettysburg p.68

[26] Ibid. Nolan The Iron Brigade p.235

[27] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.142

[28] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 172

[29] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.143

[30] Ibid. Trudeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.172-173

[31] Schultz, Duane The Most Glorious Fourth: Vicksburg and Gettysburg July 4th 1863. W.W. Norton and Company New York and London, 2002 p.202

[32] Ibid. Trudeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.173

[33] Huntington, Tom Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg PA 2013 p.154

[34] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 166

[35] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.277

[36] Doubleday, Abner. Chancellorsville and Gettysburg: Campaigns of the Civil War – VI Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York 1882 p.68

[37] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.75

[38] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.145

[39] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.275

[40] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.469

[41] Gottfried, Bradley The Artillery of Gettysburg Cumberland House Publishing, Nashville TN 2008 pp.28-29

[42] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 34 Sears notes that in between Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, First Division of I Corps had lost a full brigade due to the expiration of enlistments.

[43] Catton, Bruce The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road Doubleday and Company, Garden City New York, 1952 p.270

[44] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 34

[45] Ibid. Catton The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road p.271

[46] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.275

[47] Ibid. Howard Autobiography of Oliver Otis Howard 5995 of 9221

[48] Ibid. Catton The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road p.271

[49] Girardi, Robert I. The Civil War Generals: Comrades, Peers, Rivals in Their Own Words Zenith Press, MBI Publishing, Minneapolis MN 2013 p.184

[50] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 34

[51] Ibid. Nolan The Iron Brigade p.16

[52] Tagg, Larry The Generals of Gettysburg: The Leaders of America’s Greatest Battle Da Capo Press Cambridge MA 1998 Amazon Kindle Edition p.19

[53] Hebert, Walter H. Fighting Joe Hooker University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London 1999. Originally published by Bobbs-Merrill, New York 1944 p.137

[54] Ibid. Nolan The Iron Brigade p.130

[55] Ibid. Nolan The Iron Brigade p. 54

[56] Ibid. Nolan The Iron Brigade p. 234

[57] Ibid. Catton The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road p.271

[58] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day pp.75-76

[59] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.275

[60] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.271

[61] Longacre, Edward G. John Buford: A Military Biography Da Capo Press, Perseus Book Group, Cambridge MA p.194

[62] Ibid. Hunt, The First Day at Gettysburg in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume III, The Tide Shifts p.277

[63] Ibid. Catton The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road p.272

[64] 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.96

[65] Ibid. Hunt, The First Day at Gettysburg in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume III, The Tide Shifts p.277

[66] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.86

[67] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.96

[68] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.104

[69] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.96

[70] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.97

[71] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.112

[72] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.153

[73] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 178

[74] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.153

[75] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.109

[76] Ibid. Nolan The Iron Brigade p.20

[77] Ibid. Nolan The Iron Brigade p.173

[78] Ibid. Doubleday Chancellorsville and Gettysburg p.73

[79] Hunt, Henry. The First 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.277

[80] Ibid. Catton The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road p.273

[81] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 pp.470-471

[82] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.99

[83] Ibid. Catton The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road p.274

[84] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.271

[85] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.470

[86] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.17

[87] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.469 Even Foote in his account of Archer’s brigade makes the comment “Staggered by the ambush and outnumbered as they were….”

[88] Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.95

[89] Luvaas, Jay and Nelson Harold W editors. The U.S. Army War College Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg South Mountain Press, Carlisle PA 1986 p.9

[90] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.274

[91] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.274

[92] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.274

[93] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.97

[94] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 168

[95] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.277

[96] Ibid. Trudeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.171

[97] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.97

[98] Krick, Robert K. Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge: Failures of Brigade Leadership on the First Day of Gettysburg in The First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gallagher, Gary W. Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 1992 p.113

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

[100] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.277

[101] Ibid. Hunt, The First Day at Gettysburg in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume III, The Tide Shifts p.277

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Gettysburg Day One: John Reynolds’ Finest Hour

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While A.P. Hill and Harry Heth ignored warnings and launched their troops towards Gettysburg, Buford believing an engagement was in the offing sought out good ground to give battle and hold back the enemy until the army could arrive. This he found on the ridges west of Gettysburg. The choice of ground is always important and in this battle was paramount to the success of the Army of the Potomac. Buford alerted Major General John Reynolds and the cavalry corps commander Alfred Pleasanton to the location of the approaching Confederates on the night of June 30th. However, Buford’s warning, and that of the intelligence bureau came too late for Reynolds or Meade to take action on them that evening, nor give Meade “to dictate the choice of giving or accepting battle.” [1]

The Army of the Potomac had the good fortune of having Reynolds in this key position on the morning of July 1st 1863. John Reynolds was one of the finest commanders on either side during the Civil War. He graduated from West Point in 1841 and served in the artillery. He fought during the war with Mexico serving in Braxton Bragg’s battery winning fame and two brevet promotions for bravery, [2] to Captain at Monterrey and Major at Buena Vista. Following the war he remained in the army. He served in field and coastal batteries and like John Buford had “participated in the Utah Expedition.” [3] In 1860 he was appointed as Commandant of the Corps of Cadets at West Point and served there until June of 1861 when he was appointed as Lieutenant Colonel of the 14th U.S. Infantry regiment. [4]

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However, he was soon promoted to Brigadier General and he commanded a brigade of Pennsylvania volunteers during the Peninsula Campaign. He was captured on June 28th as McClellan began his withdraw from the gates of Richmond but was released in a prisoner exchange on August 15th 1862. [5] He returned to command a division at Second Bull Run where his division held firm as much of the army retreated, but missed the battle of Antietam as he was called to “the fruitless and frustrating task of trying to organize Pennsylvania’s militia” [6] by Governor Curtain. He commanded I Corps at Fredericksburg and again at Chancellorsville and was reportedly offered command of the Army of the Potomac by Lincoln, something that he recounted to his artillery chief Colonel Wainwright that he “refused it because he would have been under the same constraints as Burnside and Hooker.” [7]

The Army of the Potomac’s senior leadership had been the source of much political consternation during 1862 and 1863 for Abraham Lincoln. It was split among Lincoln’s supporters and detractors, Radical Republican abolitionists and moderate Democrats some of its leaders including McClellan, Hooker and Sickles had their own aspirations for the presidency. However, Reynolds was of a different character than some of his fellow commanders. He was a moderate Pennsylvania Democrat and no supporter of Lincoln, once comparing him to a “baboon.” But he “was also a serious unbending professional, who unlike McClellan, actually lived by the principle of “obedience to the powers that be.” [8] “Universally respected” in the army “for his high character and sterling generalship” [9] it was noted that unlike others Reynolds had a policy of holding back “stoutly aloof from all personal or partisan quarrels, and keeping guardedly free from any of the heart-burnings and jealousies that did so much to cripple the usefulness and endanger the reputation of many gallant officers.” [10]

On the night of June 30th Reynolds was awash in reports, some of them conflicting and without Meade’s course of action for the next day “concluded that Lee’s army was close by and in force.” [11] He spent the night at his headquarters “studying the military situation with Howard and keeping in touch with army headquarters.” [12] Howard noted Reynolds anxiety and “Howard received the impression that Reynolds was depressed.” [13] After Howard’s departure Reynolds took the opportunity to get a few hours of fitful sleet before arising again at 4 a.m. on July 1st.

When morning came, Reynolds was awakened by his aide Major William Riddle with Meade’s order to “advance the First and Eleventh Corps to Gettysburg.” [14] Reynolds studied the order and though he expected no battle that morning, expecting “only moving up to be in supporting distance to Buford” [15] took the reasonable precautions that Confederate commanders had not done.

Though Reynolds was not expecting a fight he organized his march in a manner that ensured if one did happen that he was fully prepared. They were precautionary measures that any prudent commander knowing that strong enemy forces were nearby would take. Reynolds certainly took to heart the words of Napoleon who said “A General should say to himself many times a day: If the hostile army were to make its appearance in front, on my right, or on my left, what should I do?” [16] It was a question that A.P. Hill and Harry Heth seemed not to consider on that warm and muggy July morning, where Heth was committing Lee’s army to battle on his own authority, Reynolds was about to do the same, but unlike Heth, he “had at least been delegated the authority for making such a decision.” [17]

Reynolds “wanted all the fighting troops to be up front, so he instructed Howard not to intermingle his supply wagons with his infantry. Similar instructions had been given to Abner Doubleday; to ensure that the First Corps wagons would wait until the Eleventh Corps foot soldiers had passed.” [18] Likewise, instead operating in the normal fashion of rotating units on the march, Reynolds opted to save time. Since the First Division under the command of James Wadsworth was further advanced than other I Corps divisions, Reynolds instructed it to move first. In doing so he countermanded the order of the acting corps commander Doubleday telling Wadsworth that Doubleday’s order “was a mistake and that I should move on directly.” [19] He went forward with Wadsworth’s division and ordered Doubleday to “assemble the artillery and the remainder of the corps, and join him as soon as possible.” [20] He ordered Howard’s XI Corps to follow and Sickles’ III Corps to come up through Emmitsburg. [21] Reynolds’ intention according to Doubleday was “to fight the enemy as soon as I could meet him.” [22]

Reynolds rode forward with some of his staff into the town as the infantry of I Corps and XI Corps moved advanced. In the town they were met by “a fleeing, badly frightened civilian, who gasped out the news that the cavalry was in a fight.” [23] When he came to the Lutheran Seminary he came across Buford. It was a defining moment of the Civil War, a moment that shaped the battle to come. It has been recounted many times and immortalized on screen in the movie Gettysburg, a time “when the entire battle would come down to a matter of minutes getting one place to another.” [24]

450px-Gettysburg_Day1_1000

When Buford saw Reynolds infantry advancing he remarked “now we can hold this place.” [25] Reynolds greeted Buford, who was in the cupola of the seminary calling out “What’s the matter John?” to which Buford replied “The devil’s to pay” before coming down to discuss the matter with Reynolds. [26] Buford explained the situation noting that “I have come upon some regiments of infantry…they are in the woods…and I am unable to dislodge them.” [27]

Reynolds needed no other convincing. He asked Buford if he could hold and quickly sent off a number of messages. One officer wrote: “The Genl ordered Genl Buford to hold the enemy in check as long as possible, to keep them from getting into town and at the same time sent orders to Genl Sickles…& Genl Howard to come as fast as possible.” [28] He also sent a message to Meade stating: “The enemy are advancing in strong force. I [Reynolds] fear they will get to the heights beyond the own before I can. I will fight them inch by inch, and if driven into the town, I will barricade the streets and hold them back as long as possible.” [29] He directed Major Weld to take it to Meade with all haste “with the greatest speed I could, no matter if I killed my horse.” [30]

After dictating his instructions Reynolds then did what no senior Confederate commander did, he rode back and took personal charge of the movements of his troops to hurry them forward. Unlike Heth, he had taken note of the ground and recognized from Buford’s reports that “the Confederates were marching only on that single road and thus would not be able to push their forces to the front any faster than Reynolds could reach the battlefield with his First Corps divisions.” [31]

Reynolds, recognizing that time was of the essence if his forces were to hold the ground west of the town selected a shortcut around the town for I Corps. Those forces were directed across the fields near the Condori farm toward the back side of Seminary Ridge, with Reynolds’ staff helping to remove fences to speed the advance. [32] It was not an easy advance as the troops had to move across the farm fields at an oblique and have to “double-quick for a mile and a quarter in the thick humidity just to reach the seminary.” [33]

As troops arrived Reynolds directed them into position. He directed the artillery of Captain James Hall’s 2nd Maine Battery to McPherson’s Ridge instructing Hall “I desire you to damage their artillery to the greatest possible extent, and to keep their fire from our infantry until they are deployed….” [34] The leading infantry of I Corps was James Wadsworth’s understrength division containing just two brigades, its losses from Chancellorsville not being made good and as the result of the loss of regiments discharged because their enlistments had expired.

However these units were “good ones,” composed of hardened combat veterans. Brigadier General Zylander Cutler led his brigade of New Yorkers and Pennsylvanians up first followed by the six foot seven inch tall Quaker, Brigadier General Solomon Meredith’s “Iron Brigade” of westerners following in their distinctive black hats. Reynolds directed Cutler’s brigade north of the Cashtown Pike and “called the Iron Brigade into action on the south side” [35] Reynolds directed Wadsworth to take change on the north side of the road while he looked after the left. [36] It is also believed by some writers that he directed Oliver Howard to prepare Cemetery Hill as a fallback position [37] however; there is more evidence that points to Howard selecting the site himself. [38]

Cutler’s brigade moved north and engaged Davis’ men near the railroad cut, with Davis’ troops initially having the upper hand, inflicting massive casualties Cutler’s regiments. But in a fierce engagement Cutler’s men pushed the unsupported Confederates back into the Railroad Cut where they slaughtered many of those unfortunate soldiers, taking over 200 prisoners and a battle flag. [39]

The Iron Brigade, brought forward by Doubleday hit Archer’s brigade in the front at Herbst Woods on McPherson’s Ridge. As the unit went into action Doubleday “urged the men…to hold it all hazards.” He recalled that the troops, “full of enthusiasm and the memory of their past achievements they said to me proudly, “If we can’t hold it, where will you find men who can?” The effect was dramatic as the Iron Brigade overwhelmed that unit, whose soldiers now realized they were facing “the first team.” Members of the Iron Brigade recalling the voices of Confederate soldiers exclaiming “Here are those damned black-hat fellers again…’Taint no militia-that’s the Army of the Potomac.” [40] As they attempted to withdraw they piled up at a fence near Willoughby Run and were hit in the flank by “a Michigan regiment that had worked its way around through the woods to the south.” [41]

Coddington writes “It was a bad moment for the Army of Northern Virginia, and Archer gained the unenviable distinction of being the first of its general officers to be captured after Lee took command.” [42] As the 2nd Wisconsin advanced into the woods Reynolds urged them forward: “Forward men, for God’s sake and drive those fellows out of those woods….” [43] As he looked around toward the seminary to see the progress of reinforcements Reynolds was struck in the back of the neck by a bullet and fell dead with Doubleday taking command of the First Corps to the west of the town.

death_of_reynolds_gettysburg

Reynolds was dead, but the series of command decisions reached by Reynolds under the pressure of a meeting engagement “where neither side held an immediate advantage” [44] were critical to the army. Though shaken by his loss the Union troops fought on at McPherson and Seminary Ridge until the assault of Ewell on their left and the arrival of Pender’s fresh division forced them from their positions.

The contrast between Reynolds and his opponents was marked. Hill was ten miles away from the action, Heth too far to the rear of his troops to direct their advance when they ran into trouble. However, Reynolds “hurried to the front, where he was able to inspirit the defense and throw troops into the decisive zone.” [45] At every point John Reynolds showed himself superior to his opponents as he directed the battle and reacted to circumstances. He paid with his life but his sacrifice was not in vain. Harry Hunt noted: “…by his promptitude and gallantry he had determined the decisive field of the war, and he opened brilliantly a battle which required three days of hard fighting to close with a victory.” [46]

 Notes

[1] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p. 159

[2] Pfanz Harry W. Gettysburg: The First Day University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London 2001pp.47-48

[3] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.48

[4] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.48

[5] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume One Fort Sumter to Perryville Random House, New York 1958 p.493

[6] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.48

[7] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 40-42

 

[8] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 pp.29-30

[9] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 34

[10] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.30

[11] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.48

[12] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.261

[13] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.48

[14] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.261

[15] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 158

[16] Napoleon Bonaparte, Military Maxims of Napoleon in Roots of Strategy: The Five Greatest Military Classics of All Time edited by Phillips, Thomas R Stackpole Books Mechanicsburg PA 1985 p.410

[17] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 165

[18] Tredeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.159

[19] Ibid. Tredeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.156

[20] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.142

[21] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 158

[22] Ibid. Tredeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.156

[23] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 165

[24] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.142

[25] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.142

[26] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 172

[27] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.143

[28] Ibid. Tredeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.172-173

[29] Schultz, Duane The Most Glorious Fourth: Vicksburg and Gettysburg July 4th 1863. W.W. Norton and Company New York and London, 2002 p.202

[30] Ibid. Tredeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.173

[31] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 166

[32] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.75

[33] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.145

[34] Gottfried, Bradley The Artillery of Gettysburg Cumberland House Publishing, Nashville TN 2008 pp.28-29

[35] Catton, Bruce The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road Doubleday and Company, Garden City New York, 1952 p.271

[36] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day pp.75-76

[37] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.76

[38] Green, A. Wilson. From Chancellorsville to Gettysburg: O. O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership in The First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gallagher, Gary W. Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 1992 p. 70

[39] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.153

[40] Ibid. Catton The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road p.273

[41] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 pp.470-471

[42] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.271

[43] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.271

[44] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 168

[45] Krick, Robert K. Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge: Failures of Brigade Leadership on the First Day of Gettysburg in The First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gallagher, Gary W. Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 1992 p.113

[46] Hunt, Henry. The First 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

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Gettysburg Day One: A Breakdown in Leadership, Disaster at Oak Ridge

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Major General Robert Rodes

Major General Robert Rodes was new to commanding a division. The big, blond and charismatic Rodes was one of the most popular leaders in the Army of Northern Virginia. Rodes had a great ability to inspire his subordinates, in part due to his physical appearance which was “as if he had stepped from the pages of Beowulf[1] but also due to his “bluff personality featuring “blunt speech” and a tincture of “blarney.” [2]

Rodes graduated at the age of 19 from the Virginia Military Institute and remained at the school as an assistant professor for three years. He left VMI when Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson received the full professorship he desired and became a successful civil engineer working with railroads in Alabama. He had just been appointed a full professor at VMI as the war was declared. [3]

With the coming of war Rodes abandoned his academic endeavors and was appointed Colonel of the 5th Alabama regiment of infantry. Early in the war Rodes distinguished himself as the commander of that regiment and later as a brigade commander. He took acting command of Major General D. H. Hill’s former division at Chancellorsville and handled that unit well. Following Chancellorsville Rodes was recommend for promotion to Major General and permanent command the division by Stonewall Jackson, in one of his last acts before his untimely death from pneumonia as that remarkable commander recovered from wounds sustained at Chancellorsville. With his appointment Rodes was the first non-West Point graduate to command a division in the Army of Northern Virginia.

Rodes’ division was the largest in the Army of Northern Virginia. Composed of five brigades and numbering around 8000 men it was a powerful force. All of its brigades save one had seen action before, but that large brigade of 2200 men was well trained and commanded by West Point graduate Junius Daniel [4] and was expected to perform well despite its inexperience.

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The despite Gettysburg campaign was to be Rodes first command as a Major General and his brigade commanders were an uneven lot. Following the heavy losses in senior officers at Chancellorsville experienced and competent officers were becoming harder to come by. As a result some brigades were commanded by officers either not experienced or competent in their new commands.

Rodes was fortunate to have Brigadier Generals Stephen Ramsuer and George Doles in command of two of his brigades. Both had led their units well at Chancellorsville under Rodes direction, and would fight well in Gettysburg and subsequent actions. [5] Brigadier General Junius Daniel, though experienced was new to the Army of Northern Virginia and his brigade untested.

iverson

Brigadier General Alfred Iverson

This left two brigades under questionable leadership. One brigade from North Carolina was commanded by Brigadier General Alfred Iverson. Iverson who was considered a “reliable secession enthusiast” was appointed to command the North Carolina troops whose political steadiness and loyalty was questioned by Richmond. [6] Because of this Iverson became “embroiled in bitter turmoil with his North Carolinians.” [7] Iverson both in the Mexican War, the 1850s and in his service to the Confederacy owed his position to political appointments and patronage. Though he was from Georgia he helped raise the 20th North Carolina regiment of infantry and became its first Colonel. However he was constantly at war with his officers and his regiment never bonded with him. As a regimental commander he did see a fair amount of action but his leadership was always a question mark. After he took command of the brigade Iverson “sent an aide to the camp of his former regiment to arrest all twenty-six of its officers.” [8] Those officers responded in kind and “retained a powerful bevy of counsel including…Colonel William Bynum who would later become a member of the Supreme Court.” [9] Iverson then refused promotions to any officer who had opposed him. One of the aggrieved officers of the 20th North Carolina “wrote an outraged letter home insisting that resistance to Iverson was every reasonable man’s duty and asserting that he would oppose him again “with great pleasure” if the occasion offered.” [10] In his previous action at Chancellorsville Iverson “had not distinguished himself.” [11] After Chancellorsville he had “been stigmatized for his conspicuous absence at the height of the fighting.” [12]

o'neal

Colonel Edward A. O’Neal

The last brigade to mention is the brigade which Rodes had commanded prior to taking command of the division at Chancellorsville. Due to the lack of qualified officers it was commanded by its senior regimental commander Colonel Edward A. O’Neal. O’Neal was another political animal, who unlike Iverson had no prior military training and nothing he had done before the war “had prepared him for command at any level.” [13] As an Alabama lawyer O’Neal was however well connected politically which gained him rapid rank and seniority over other officers, this eventually led to his command of the 26th Alabama which was a part of Rodes brigade. Rodes had reservations about O’Neal’s ability to command the brigade and recommended two other officers, John Gordon and John T. Morgan who instead were assigned to other brigades and both of whom became General Officers, [14] Gordon finish the war as a Lieutenant General and commander of Second Corps. Richmond forwarded a commission to Lee for O’Neal to be promoted to Brigadier General but Lee, obviously with reservations about O’Neal’s capabilities blocked the promotion. [15]

On June 30th Rodes’ division marched about twenty miles and bivouacked at Heidlersburg where he met with his corps commander Ewell, fellow division commander Jubal Early and Isaac Trimble who was accompanying Second Corps where they puzzled over Lee’s orders as to the movement of Second Corps the following day, which indicated that Ewell should march to Gettysburg or Cashtown “as circumstances may dictate.” [16] Neither Rodes nor Early gave favorable opinions of the order and Ewell asked the rhetorical question “Why can’t a commanding General have someone on his staff who can write an intelligible order?” [17]

Ewell who assumed that Cashtown was the desired junction of the army ordered his to march from on the morning of July 1st 1863 toward Cashtown to join with Hill’s corps. His choice of routes was good as it gave him the opportunity to turn south towards Gettysburg “as circumstances” dictated.[18] Rodes division was at Middletown (modern Bilgerville) when Ewell was informed that Hill’s troops were in action against Federal cavalry outside of Gettysburg. Ewell then ordered his divisions south to support Hill’s corps in its attack even though he was not clear on what the strength or composition of the Federal forces. [19]

Like Heth to his west Rodes was also operating somewhat independently and like Heth when confronted with the opportunity for battle ignored the instruction “to avoid a general engagement, if practicable.” [20] The operation was Rodes’ first as a Major General and he like the other commanders in Second Corps was operating independently “as Ewell preferred.” [21] About four miles north of the town Rodes wrote that “to my surprise, the presence of the enemy there in force was announced by the sound of a sharp cannonade, and instant preparations for battle were made.” [22]

The arrival of Rodes’ division as well as Early’s division was decisive in turning the tide of the battle toward the Confederates that afternoon. The Union I Corps and Buford’s cavalry division had fought Heth’s poorly coordinated and led attacks to a standstill, but when Rodes arrived he found “a golden opportunity spread before him.” [23] From his position at Oak Ridge he saw the opportunity to take the Federal troops opposing Hill in the flank though his position did not “provide him as comprehensive view as he thought. [24] He also saw the divisions of Howard’s XI Corps advancing out of Gettysburg and moving north.

Rodes brought up Carter’s artillery battalion and ordered it to fire on the Union positions. This and the reports from Devin’s brigade of Buford’s cavalry division deployed north of the town alerted the commanders of I Corps who turned to meet the new threat from their north.

dilger

Captain Hubert Dilger

Carter’s artillery, deployed in the open immediately drew the fire of Captain Hubert Dilger’s Battery I First Ohio Artillery from Howard’s XI Corps. Dilger commanded one of the best artillery units in the army, a German immigrant and artilleryman serving in the Grand Duke of Baden’s Horse Artillery at the beginning of the war arrived in the United States at the invitation of a distant uncle, to “practice the war-making he had only previously rehearsed.” [25] Dilger was “blunt and a bit arrogant…loved by his men but not by his superiors.” At Chancellorsville he and his battery had helped save the Federal right “when it used a leapfrogging technique to keep the victorious Confederate infantry at bay.” [26] The effect of Dilger’s fire was blasted carter’s artillery blowing up several caissons and guns causing casualties among the men. [27]

dilgersbatteryDilger’s Battery goes into action

Thinking he had an adequate grasp of the situation Rodes did not order a reconnaissance before launching his attack, nor did the brigades assigned to it put out skirmishers, a normal precaution when advancing to the attack. [28] Rodes deployed his troops over the rough ground of the ridge as quickly as he could and dashed off a note to Jubal Early stating “I con burst through the enemy in an hour.” [29] He was to be badly mistaken.

Rodes deployed Doles’ excellent brigade to guard his left against the advancing XI Corps units a task which it conducted admirably until the arrival of Jubal Early’s division and after which it too joined the attack on XI Corps. Initially this opened a gap between Doles and the rest of the division but this could not be exploited by the Federals.

His division initially deployed on a one brigade front. As they neared the Federal positions Rodes developed a relatively simple plan to “attack on a two brigade front, sending in O’Neal’s and Iverson’s men simultaneously, then following up with Daniel’s brigade in echelon on the right.” [30] It was a sound plan, but in execution it was “bungled right at the start.” [31] Direction was faulty, units were mingled and a gap developed between O’Neal and Iverson. [32]

O’Neal’s brigade had stalled almost immediately when fired upon by Union troops who had been hidden by a wall which had obscured them from Rodes’ view. Striking the O’Neal’s advancing troops at the oblique the Union troops wreaked havoc on the unsuspecting Confederates. These men were solid veterans from Baxter’s brigade of Robinson’s division as well as Dilger’s artillery which delivered effective canister fire at O’Neal’s brigade” [33] which “killed or wounded about half of the advancing men with a series of point blank volleys pumped directly into their flank.” [34] To further complicate matters O’Neal had chosen to remain back with his reserve regiment rather than “going forward to direct the advancing regiments.” [35] Rodes noted in his after action report that O’Neal’s three attacking regiments “moved with alacrity (but not in accordance with my orders as to direction)” and when he ordered the 5th Alabama up to support “I found Colonel O’Neal, instead of personally superintending the movements of his brigade, had chosen to remain with his reserve regiment. The result was that the whole brigade was repulsed quickly and with loss….” [36]

As Rodes bad luck would have it Iverson on O’Neal’s right did not advance simultaneously or on the same axis, but in waited to see O’Neal’s advance. Like O’Neal, Iverson did not advance with or direct his advancing troops. [37] As a result the brigade drifted right and its exposed left was subject to attack from Baxter’s, Paul’s and Hook’s brigades of Robinson’s division. Like O’Neal’s brigade it too blundered into the path of well concealed veterans who like they did with O’Neal’s Alabamians and slaughtered them. The Federals advanced into the broken ranks of the North Carolina regiments they captured many. Official Confederate reports list only 308 missing but that number differs from the Union reports, Robinson reporting 1000 prisoners and three flags and Baxter’s nearly 400 alone. [38]

88thPAchargeThe 88th Pennsylvania Charges Iverson’s Brigade

Iverson was badly shaken by the slaughter and “went to pieces and became unfit for further command,” [39] being just close enough to observe it. He panicked and notified Rodes that one of his regiments had surrendered in masse though he later retracted that in his official report where he noted “when I found afterward that 500 of my men were left lying dead and wounded on a line as straight as a dress parade, I exonerated …the survivors.” [40] His brigade had lost over two-thirds of its strength in those few minutes, one regiment the 23rd North Carolina lost 89 percent of those it took into battle, and at the end of the day would “count but 34 men in its ranks.” [41] Iverson’s conduct during the battle was highly criticized by fellow officers after it. Accused of cowardice, drunkenness and hiding during the action he was relieved of his command upon the army’s return to Virginia “for misconduct at Gettysburg” [42] and sent back to Georgia. Some complained after the war that Iverson was helped by politicians once he returned to Richmond and instead of facing trial “got off scot free & and had brigade of reserves given to him in Georgia.” [43]

With the center of his attacking forces crushed the brigades of Junius Daniels and Stephen Ramseur entered the fray to the right of Iverson’s smashed brigade. These capable officers achieved a link up with the battered brigades of Harry Heth at the Railroad cut after Daniel’s brigade had fought a fierce battle with Culter’s and Stone’s brigades in the area [44] and allowed the Confederates a unified front with which they pressed east. To the east Doles’ brigade advanced with Jubal Early’s division smashed the outnumbered and badly spread out divisions of Oliver Howard’s XI Corps. The timely arrival of that division coupled with the skillful work of Daniel and Ramseur saved Rodes from even more misfortune on that first day of battle, but Rodes’ plan “to burst through the enemy” with his division had evaporated. [45] Rodes’ division lost 3000 of its 8000 men present killed, wounded or captured in those few short hours on July 1st 1863.

The battle at Oak Ridge was a series of tactical debacles within a day of what appeared to be a “Confederate strategic bonanza.” [46] Despite the mistakes Rodes never lost his own self-control. He recovered from each mistake and continued to lead his division. He “kept his men on the ridge driving forward until with Hill, and on the flats left joined Early’s right to form a continuous line into Gettysburg.” [47] It was a hard lesson for the young Major General, but one that he learned from. He would be killed at killed at the Third Battle of Winchester on September 19th 1864.
Notes:

[1] Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command, One volume abridgement by Stephen W Sears, Scribner, New York 1998 p.39

[2] Krick, Robert K. Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge: Failures of Brigade Leadership on the First Day of Gettysburg in The First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gallagher, Gary W. Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 1992 p.115

[3] 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.123

[4] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p.53

[5] Ibid. Krick Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.117

[6] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books, a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.25

[7] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.53

[8] Ibid. Krick Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.129

[9] Ibid. Krick Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.131

[10] Ibid. Krick Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.130-131

[11] Ibid Freeman, Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command p.564

[12] Tredeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.145

[13] Ibid. Krick Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.120

[14] Ibid. Krick Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.123

[15] Pfanz Harry W. Gettysburg: The First Day University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London 2001 p.162Also see Krick pp.123-124 Following Gettysburg Lee continued to block O’Neal’s promotion and that officer went to extraordinary lengths to obtain a General’s commission using every political ally he had in Alabama and in Richmond. Finally Lee settled the matter before the Wilderness campaign writing that he made “more particular inquiries into his capacity to command the brigade and I cannot recommend him to the command.” Krick pp.123-124

[16] Ibid Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.148

[17] Ibid Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.149

[18] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.160

[19] Ibid Tredeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.169-170

[20] Ibid Freeman, Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command p.564

[21] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.472

[22] Luvaas, Jay and Nelson Harold W editors. The U.S. Army War College Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg South Mountain Press, Carlisle PA 1986 p.35

[23] Ibid. Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.472

[24] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.170

[25] Ibid Tredeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.208

[26] Gottfried, Bradley The Artillery of Gettysburg Cumberland House Publishing, Nashville TN 2008 pp.59-60 Dilger was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions at Chancellorsville in 1893, part of the citation stating that Dilger: “fought his guns until the enemy were upon him, then with one gun hauled in the road by hand he formed the rear guard and kept the enemy at bay by the rapidity of his fire and was the last man in the retreat.”

[27] Ibid Tredeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.210

[28] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.170

[29] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.170

[30] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.197

[31] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.197

[32] Ibid Freeman, Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command p.565

[33] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.198

[34] Ibid. Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.473

[35] Ibid Freeman, Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command p.565

[36] Ibid Luvaas The U.S. Army War College Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg p.36

[37] Ibid. Krick Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.132

[38] Ibid Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.175

[39] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.290

[40] Ibid Luvaas The U.S. Army War College Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg p.37

[41] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.201

[42] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.173

[43] Ibid. Krick Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.136

[44] Ibid. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.292

[45] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.173

[46] Ibid. Krick Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.138

[47] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.138

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