July 1 1863

The engagement was sharp and at close range, lasting several hours. The Union cavalrymen were pushed back toward

Gettysburg, but Buford's men, who had been fighting mostly on foot, took a stand along McPherson's Ridge. Then, just as General Heth was ready to launch an all-out attack with a pair of Rebel brigades, the Union soldiers reached the scene all at once and drove the Confederates back. The battle ended with the retreat of the Rebels from the field and the capture of the Confederates' Brigadier General James J. Archer.

At the opening of the action, both sides had sent messengers to inform their larger armies of the enemy's presence. By mid-afternoon, nearly 40,000 men were present on the field northwest of Gettysburg. Then, Confederate lieutenant general Richard S. Ewell's men attacked the Union 11th Corps, under the command of Major General Oliver Howard. The Confederates outnumbered the Yankees this time, and they pushed the Federals back to Cemetery Hill, south of the Pennsylvania town. Here, major generals Howard and Winfield S. Hancock reorganized their men to take their stand, even as they sent other forces east to occupy Culp's Hill. These positions were important, as both the South and North knew. Cemetery Hill and Culp's Hill were the high ground south of Gettysburg. If there were to be a larger fight over the next several days, these were the best positions. Despite the late hour of the day, some of the officers under Ewell's command wanted to continue the attack and try to dislodge the Federals from Cemetery Hill. But Ewell chose not to. His decision may have cost the Confederates the victory at Gettysburg.

Throughout the day, Lee and Meade rushed their forces forward to the new battlefield. Late in the day, Lee had enough forces in position to launch another attack, which he decided against doing. He had moved during the day to place his new headquarters where the Chambersburg Pike crosses Seminary Ridge, just to the west of Gettysburg. His 3rd Corps had not seen action that day, and Lee might have sent them forward toward Seminary Ridge, where they probably could have removed the thinly spread Union force. He hesitated, however, since he had not heard back from General Stuart and his cavalry. Lee had entered a battle without a key tool he generally expected to have: information about the positions and strength of his enemy. With Stuart still out in the field somewhere, the Confederate general had been fighting blind.

JULY 2, 1863

By the morning of July 2, both armies were in position along Culp's Hill and Cemetery Hill. Lee's men had no choice but to attack directly against the Federal line. Meade, who had been in command of the Army of the Potomac for only five days, knew the importance of the battle that would soon stretch up and down his defense lines. He put out an order to the soldiers under his command, as noted by historian Geoffrey Ward: "Corps and other commanders are authorized to order the instant death of any soldier who fails in his duty at this hour."

Lee was determined to make his attack against the Northern line because of his limited success of the previous day. Lee's battle plan was to send forward his most experienced officer, Lieutenant General James Longstreet of the 1st Corps, in command of the divisions of major generals John Hood and LaFayette McLaws of his corps. He also meant to send in Major General Richard Anderson's division, which was part of the 3rd Corps. The plan was to assault the Union left flank.

Unfortunately for Lee, he was wrong about the position of the Union. It was the fault of poor spying information. He thought the main Union positions were along Emmitsburg Road, instead of Cemetery Ridge. His source for this poor information was Captain Sam Johnston, the army's chief engineer, whom Lee had sent out that morning. Johnston and his unit returned to Lee around 8:30 that morning and reported that the Union line did not extend very far to the south. Lee ordered Longstreet to deliver his men across the road beyond the Union left flank and push against it hard. At the same time, General

General George Meade (center, with beard) replaced Hooker after the devastating Union loss at the Battle of Chancellorsville. /4s the new commanding officer of the Federal Army, Meade set out to find and destroy General Robert E. Lee's forces. North and South would meet in a climactic battle at Gettysburg.

General George Meade (center, with beard) replaced Hooker after the devastating Union loss at the Battle of Chancellorsville. /4s the new commanding officer of the Federal Army, Meade set out to find and destroy General Robert E. Lee's forces. North and South would meet in a climactic battle at Gettysburg.

Ewell's corps was to deliver a second punch against the Federal right flank at Culp's Hill.

Lee and Longstreet did not agree on whether the battle should unfold at all, given the superior positions of the Union side. Longstreet thought they should leave and let Meade pursue the Confederates until they found a field position that was to their advantage. But Lee, sick with repeating bouts of dysentery and tired of the war in general, would not listen. According to historian Edwin Bearss, he told his right-hand general: "The enemy is there, and I am going to attack him." Longstreet responded: "If he is there in the morning that means he wants you to attack him—a good reason for not doing so." Lee's reply was steadfast, even stubborn: "I am going to whip them, or they are going to whip me." The Battle of Gettysburg was one fought by choice for Lee. It would prove to be one of his worst decisions of the war.

Longstreet had some delays that morning that remain controversial even today. It was past noon by the time he had moved his men forward. In the meantime, General Stuart finally arrived, having been away from Lee for more than a week. Lee was angry with Stuart, telling him, as recalled by historian Ward: "I have not heard from you for days, and you the eyes and ears of my army." Stuart could only inform Lee that he had captured 125 Union wagons and their teams, to which Lee responded: "Yes, and they are an impediment to me now."

As the Confederates prepared to attack, a general along the Union line changed his position. Major General Daniel E. Sickles was assigned to hold the Union left against Longstreet's 3rd Corps along the lower end of Cemetery Ridge and Little Round Top. Against orders from Meade, Sickles moved his men forward, a grave mistake. By pushing forward and out of position, he could not mount a strong defense.

With Longstreet's men finally on the march, it was Meade's chief engineer, Major General Gouverneur K. Warren, who realized that Sickles had left his position on Little Round Top. He and a young lieutenant named Washington Roebling, who would one day design the Brooklyn Bridge, reached the unprotected hill. However, they found only signalmen in position there. Warren quickly sent a brigade of the 5th Corps to hold the rock outcropping. By now, Sickles and his men were under fire, pinned down in the Peach Orchard. According to historian Geoffrey Ward, Roebling later remembered: "One glance sufficed to note the head of Hood's Texans coming up the rocky ravine which separates Little and Big Round Top. I ran down, told General Warren, he came up with me and saw the necessity of immediate action."

It was then that General Warren ordered Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and his 20th Maine to secure the peak of Little Round Top. With only minutes to spare, Chamberlain and his few hundred troops scrambled up the hill and spent the following hours fighting, vastly outnumbered. Chamberlain ordered the men on his left to fall back and form again at a right angle to the remainder of his regiment, all the time firing their guns. As noted by historian Geoffrey Ward, one of Chamberlain's men, Private Gerrish, later wrote: "Imagine, if you can, nine small companies of infantry, numbering perhaps three hundred men, in the form of a right angle, on the extreme flank of an army of eighty thousand men, put there to hold the key of the entire position against a force at least ten times their number. . . . Stand firm, ye boys from Maine."

The fight raged on, with the Alabama men pushing the Maine men from their hilltop positions five times, only to have Chamberlain's men fight their way back to the top again. The fighting was extremely close, so close a man could almost reach out and touch his opponent. After a prolonged engagement, the men of the 20th Maine reached into their cartridge boxes and found little left. A desperate Chamberlain ordered his men to fix bayonets and charge down the hill. They caught the Confederates by surprise. Many Rebels turned and ran, while others surrendered immediately.


Sickles and his men fought furiously, but Sickles paid for his error in judgment when a Confederate cannonball struck him and destroyed his right leg. As noted by historian Ward, a Union captain saw it all:

I was within a few feet of General Sickles when he received the wound by which he lost his leg. A terrific explosion seemed to shake the very earth . . . instantly followed by another. I . . . noticed that [his] pants and drawers at the knee were torn clear off to the leg, which was swinging loose. . . . He was carried from the field, coolly smoking a cigar.

Sickles's corps was nearly destroyed by Longstreet's men. By the time the battle ended that evening, the Federals still held the field. They had, however, been pushed back to their original positions along Cemetery Ridge and Little Round Top, where Meade had placed them earlier in the day. The fighting in the orchard, out in the Wheatfield, at Devil's Den, and at a site called the Valley of Death was some of the most ferocious of the battle. One Confederate Texan claimed there were so many bullets in the air that one could have held up his cap and filled it. According to historian Ward, a Massachusetts private referred to the battle as "a perfect hell on earth, never, perhaps to be equaled, certainly not to be surpassed, nor ever to be forgotten in a man's lifetime."

About a mile to the north of the Peach Orchard and the Wheatfield, another unit of Alabama troops broke a hold in the Cemetery Ridge line, close to its center. The gap had been created by Sickles's unapproved advance into the orchard earlier in the day. Here, the line was in the hands of General Winfield Scott Hancock's 2nd Corps. At that point in the line, however, Hancock had only eight companies of one regiment available to immediately meet the Confederate breakthrough. These men belonged to the 1st Minnesota, which had participated in every major battle of the war to that date since First Bull Run.

The 1st Minnesota numbered only 262, but they were all Hancock had, so he ordered them forward into the face of 1,600 Alabamians. He gave them orders to slow the enemy down to provide time for reinforcements to arrive. The Minnesota men moved quickly, fixing bayonets and charging down the hill into the mouth of the enemy. They forced the Confederates back, but at an extraordinary cost. Only 47 of the Minnesotans survived their counterattack without being wounded or killed. That is an 82 percent casualty rate, which took place in less than five minutes. Historian Geoffrey Ward notes that their losses were "the highest percentage of casualties taken by any Union regiment in the war."

Elsewhere along the Union line of defense, the fighting had unfolded less intensely than on the Union left flank. Lee had ordered Ewell to advance toward Culp's Hill on the Union right, but his men had accomplished little. Near the end of the day, a division of Ewell's 2nd Corps, Major General Edward Johnson's division, did move against Culp's Hill. Meade had only earlier ordered Major General Henry W. Slocum's 12th Corps off the hill to provide support for his left flank. But Slo-cum had asked to keep one brigade in position on Culp's Hill. It was that brigade that held the hill against Ewell's men until the shroud of darkness brought an end to the fighting there. Even after nightfall, Major General Early's Confederate division of Ewell's 2nd Corps launched an attack on Cemetery Hill and managed to reach Federal positions before they were pushed back. Two days of fighting had taken place, and Meade was still in control of Cemetery Ridge, Culp's Hill, and the two Round Tops. The day ended with each side having suffered about 9,000 casualties, bringing the total for two days of fighting to almost 35,000.


During the night of July 2 to 3, General Slocum returned with his 12th Corps (minus one brigade that had been left behind) to Culp's Hill only to find General Johnson's division of the 2nd Corps hugging the southeastern rim of the hill. The 12th was determined to drive off the Rebels. At 4:30 in the morning on July 3, Union artillery opened up on the Confederates. But 15 minutes later, the Rebels were attacking up Culp's Hill. The

General Daniel E. Sickles (center) lost his leg during the Battle of Gettysburg. The damaged bone was later sent to the Army Medical Museum in Washington, D.C., accompanied by a note: "With compliments of Major General D.E.S." Sickles would continue to visit his leg in the museum for years to come.

General Daniel E. Sickles (center) lost his leg during the Battle of Gettysburg. The damaged bone was later sent to the Army Medical Museum in Washington, D.C., accompanied by a note: "With compliments of Major General D.E.S." Sickles would continue to visit his leg in the museum for years to come.

assault went on for the next five hours, but it ended in failure for the Confederates, who did not manage to remove the Federals.

While the Confederates were attacking Culp's Hill, Lee hoped to move most of his troops to his own center, having tried to remove the Union men from both their flanks the previous day. He ordered Longstreet to manage the attack. Once again, Longstreet did not cooperate.

According to Lee's plan, the infantry assault was to be preceded by a massive artillery barrage designed to soften up the enemy. He hoped that cannon fire would crush the Union center, leaving that portion of the line weak in the face of a massive attack. He ordered 164 cannons lined up opposite the Federal center and placed them under the command of the 1st Corps artillery commander, Colonel E. Porter Alexander. Lee let Alexander decide whether an infantry attack should follow his artillery barrage. But the artillery commander knew that he only had enough ammunition for a single, full-scale bombardment, after which there would be no more shells. This meant that the infantry would have to be sent forward regardless.

At 1:07 p.m. on July 3, Alexander ordered his gunners to open fire. For the following 45 minutes, according to historian Steven Woodworth, Confederate guns created "the heaviest artillery bombardment ever heard on the North American continent." In the meantime, Union gunners held their fire to conserve ammunition. Unfortunately for the Confederates, much of Alexander's artillery barrage did not accomplish its goals. As the cannons were fired again and again, the repeated rocking of their wheels created ruts that caused the artillery to overshoot their targets. As a result, many shells landed harmlessly in back of the Union center.

Union cannons eventually answered the Rebel shot and shell. As many as 80 Federal guns were fired in response to the Confederate barrage, but the Yankee artillery units held back. They sometimes waited 15 minutes between barrages to keep saving shot. When the Union guns were fired, they were more deadly than the Confederates'. Several Federal cannons were not used at all but instead were held back to use against the Rebel assault that was certain to come. After half an hour of firing, the Union chief of artillery, Brigadier General Henry J. Hunt, ordered all his guns silenced. He hoped to convince the Rebels that their artillery attack had hit their marks. It was then that General Alexander told General George Pickett that it was the moment for the infantry assault.

Then, about 13,000 Confederate infantry began marching out of the woods toward the Union center, which lay 1,200 yards (1 km) in the distance. There was nothing but gently sloping and open ground between the two lines. As the Union men watched the Confederates moving bravely in unison across the field, they could not help but be impressed. All three divisions marched toward the Union center.

During the first 900 yards (820 m) of the Rebel march, long-range Union artillery on both flanks opened up, causing moderate casualties. In front of the Confederates, the Federal guns remained silent to help lure the enemy forward. Their cannons were loaded with short-range canister shot. At about 240 yards (220 m) from the Union line, Emmitsburg Road cut the field in front of the advancing Rebels at an angle. In several places along the road, the Confederates reached zigzag wooden fences that they had to climb over.

At that moment, the short-range cannons finally opened fire, delivering a wall of leaden death. Rebel troops began to fall in large numbers. At 200 yards (180 m), infantry units, including those from Vermont, Ohio, and New York, opened up on the Rebels. Several of Pickett's troops continued to advance and actually managed to reach the low stone wall that was protecting Union troops in the center of their line. But as they arrived at the wall, they were pushed back. One Confederate officer, General Lewis A. Armistead, managed to break the Union line and place his hand on the barrel of a Yankee cannon, but he was then shot down.

What became known as Pickett's Charge ended in absolute disaster. Of the 13,000 Confederates who had marched across the open ground toward the Union center, barely half of them returned to their comrades' lines. Pickett lost 2 out of every 3 of his men. Three of his brigadier generals and all 13 of his colonels were either killed or wounded. Those who managed to stumble back to their lines were met by General Lee on his horse, riding back and forth in their path. According to historian James McPherson, he told his men, "It's all my fault. It is I who have lost this fight, and you must help me out of it the best way you can. All good men must rally." Some did rally, as Lee

Egyptane Pyramidy

Hoping to demoralize Union forces, General Robert E. Lee led his men into the Battle of Gettysburg. After two days of intense fighting, however, the South began to lose ground and Lee ordered one final push against the Union front. This desperate maneuver, known as Pickett's Charge (above), was one of the most devastating military orders of the Civil War.

and Longstreet prepared for the counterattack they believed Meade would launch at their weakened center.

But Meade did not attack. The general had been in command for only six days, and he could not make himself order an attack. He was uncertain just how severely damaged the Rebels in front of him actually were. Lee was beaten. On July 2, Lee had attacked the Union flanks and failed, and on the afternoon of July 3, striking at the Union middle, the results were the same.

Across the North, news of the victory at Gettysburg was delivered up and down the nation's telegraph lines. But the victory at Gettysburg came at a high cost of manpower. Through three days of fighting, more than 50,000 casualties had fallen, including 23,000 on the Union side and 28,000 among the Rebels. The Southern forces had not only taken higher casualties by number and as a percentage of their total number of men, but lost soldiers were also becoming increasingly difficult to replace. From the beginning, the Civil War had always been a fight in which available men slowly shrank in number. The South had a limited number of men to draw from for its armies. By the summer of 1863, a gap was widening to the point of breaking: It was the gap between the number of troops the Confederacy needed to continue its fight against the Yankees and the number of men actually available.

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