|How They Met…1
The First Day…1
The Second Day…2
Little Round Top…3
The 1st Minnesota…4
The 3rd Day…4
How They Met
After the battle of Chancellorsville General Robert E. Lee decided to divide his army under three generals: James Longstreet, Richard Stoddert Ewell, and Ambrose Powell Hill.
Lee had a plan to invade Pennsylvania attacking Harrisburg and Philadelphia, hoping that his plan would force Grant, who was attacking Vicksburg, to defend Washington. Lee also hoped that if his plan worked that it might persuade France and Britain into joining the Confederate cause and help win the war.
On the Union side General Hooker was no longer the commanding general, General George E. Meade was promoted by Lincoln to command the Union army.
The First Day
On June 30, 1863 Confederate troops, on their way to Gettysburg to get some new shoes, noted that Union troops under General Meade had moved to intercept the Confederate army. On July 1, General Hill's brigades clashed with General John Buford's Union cavalry where Hill encountered stubborn resistance. While both sides sent couriers off for reinforcements, Buford held his ground.
"People are running here and there," recalled a Gettysburg woman named Sallie Broadhead, "screaming that the town would be shelled. No one knew where to go or what to do. My husband went to the garden and picked a mess of beans… for he declared the Rebels should not have one."
The fighting was going nowhere until General Ewell arrived with reinforcements in the afternoon. The Confederates then forced the Union troops to retire up to Cemetery and Culp's Hill, southeast of Gettysburg. A sign near the arched gateway to the graveyard that gave the ridge its name read: "ALL PERSONS FOUND USING FIREARMS IN THESE GROUNDS WILL BE PROSECUTED WITH THE UTMOST RIGOR OF THE LAW."
The fighting was heavy on both sides, but the North suffered more casualties. More than 4,000 Union soldiers were taken prisoner by the Confederates, and General Reynolds was killed in action. The North captured Confederate General Archer, the first Confederate general to be captured since Lee was in command of the Southern army. General Ewell didn't attack the Union troops but waited for General Longstreet to reinforce the outnumbered Confederates, and they still awaited the arrival of Jeb Stuart.
The Second Day
On July 2, Meade formed his army into the shape of a horseshoe. The Union army stretched from Culp's Hill to the hills of Little Round Top and Big Round Top. The Confederates were formed into a long, thin line with General Longstreet and General Ewell on the flanks and General Hill in the center.
That morning the Federals had 85,000 troops and the Confederates had 65,000 troops.
General Lee wanted Little and Big Round Top taken so he would have the high ground. He wanted Ewell to go for Culp's Hill and Longstreet to attack the Round Tops.
Meade, in command of the Army of the Potomac for just five days, was no less determined to hold his ground and issued stern instructions to his officers: "Corps and other commanders are authorized to order the instant death of any soldier who fails in his duty at this hour."
Longstreet spent almost all morning and afternoon shifting two divisions into position to attack the Union's left flank. As Longstreet was moving his troops Jeb Stuart, the eyes and ears of the Confederate army, rode in ahead of his troops.
Stuart and Lee discussed why he was late, and then they discussed what Lee wanted Stuart to do.
General Daniel Sickles was assigned to hold the Confederates at the left. He spent all morning disobeying orders by moving his troops from Cemetery Ridge to the Peach Orchard, leaving the Round Tops and the Union left undefended. Meade ordered him to move his troops back but before he could do so, at four o'clock Longstreet attacked Sickles left.
Little Round Top
As the Confederates started their attack the 15th Alabama raced up Big Round Top. Colonel William C. Oates wanted to haul guns onto Little Round Top and blow the Federal lines apart.
General Gouverneur K. Warren, holding Little Round Top, sent for reinforcements. Four regiments moved in, the last of them was the 20th Maine under command of Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. Chamberlain's orders were to hold Little Round Top. His 350 men formed lines behind as much cover as possible in less then ten minutes. Oates started to attack before Chamberlain was finished, and Chamberlain assumed they would be annihilated. The 20th Maine held the Alabamians off the fist time and the second, but each time Oates seemed to be getting farther left, and threatened to slip around the Union left. Chamberlain saw this and told his men to drop back and reform at right angles to the rest of the regiment, and to fire at the same time.
The Alabamians drove the 20th Maine away five times. Five times the Maine men fought their way back again. Then it sounded like the Confederates were coming from behind and surrounding the 20th Maine. Chamberlain's men were running out of ammunition. Chamberlain decided to advance with bayonets. When they advanced it looked like a swinging door, because the right side of the regiment stayed still while the left closed inward. It worked and the Confederates gave up the advance on Little Round Top.
Chamberlain received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his good thinking. One third of his men fell, 130 out of 386.
The 1st Minnesota
Union Reinforcements, racing to the Wheat Field, left a gap on Cemetery Ridge, and the Confederates hurried to get through it. General Winfield Hancock saw this and sent the 1st Minnesota, a regiment of 262 men, to fill in the gap. The small regiment raced down the ridge with fixed bayonets. The 1,600 Confederates advancing, surprised by the move, fell back. Only 47 of the Minnesotans survived unhurt. 82% of them fell in less than 5 minutes, the highest percentage of casualties taken by any Union regiment in the war.
As the day ended the Union left and right still held. The Confederates were already preparing for Picket's charge that night. General Meade had a meeting with his generals, and they decided not to retreat.
General Daniel Sickles had gotten the bottom part of his leg blown off so that it was just barely hanging. He gave it to the Army Medical Museum in Washington, DC, where visited it periodically the rest of his life.
The Third Day
The third day started badly for General Lee. Ewell's troops were driven off of Culp's Hill. General Stuart was supposed to get behind the Union line and attack from behind, but Union cavalry, under General George Armstrong Custer, stopped him before he could.
Everything now depended upon General Longstreet's attack upon Cemetery Ridge. General Meade saw it coming. General John Gibbon, commander of the 2nd Corps at the center, was alerted of the soon to come attack on his troops.
Lee assigned General George E. Picket to attack the Union center on Cemetery Ridge. Picket's men lined up in the woods and waited, while the South fired an army of cannons at 1 o'clock to soften up the Union troops.
General Meade had just left his commanders finishing their lunch when the cannons started to be fired. As an orderly served them butter a shell hit him and split him in two
Taking Union shells took a fierce toll of the Confederate infantry, still in the woods waiting for General Picket to give them the signal to attack. At the time, about 250 guns were firing at once.
After an hour or so, the federal guns stopped, to save ammunition for the attack Meade knew Picket was going to make, and to lure some Southerners onto the open fields between the two armies. It worked. The Confederates thought that they had destroyed all of the Union's artillery.
A little after three, General Picket gave the order to attack. Three divisions-thirteen thousand men-started their attack out of the woods toward the union center at Cemetery Ridge, at a pace of about one hundred yards a minute. They were very quiet as they marched, forbidden to give the Rebel yell until they were on top of the enemy.
Union guns on Little Round Top and Cemetery Ridge opened fire on the right of the advancing Confederate line. The Union men held their fire until General Alexander Hays ordered them to fire. Imagine eleven cannons and seventeen hundred muskets firing at the same time.
The Confederates, led by General Lewis A. Armistead, reached the Union line at just one place, a crook in the wall that became know as "The Angle". Armistead took his hat off, put it on the tip of his sword and waved it around as he jumped over the stone wall. He seized a Union battery before he was shot down. Hancock and Armistead had known each other well before the war; now it was Armistead's dying wish that his old friend send his personal effects home to his family.
When it seemed like the Union line might break, officers rallied their men. One Vermont regiment made a dazzling maneuver, company after company firing as they wheeled in line to direct their gunfire towards the Confederates, first on one side, then on another. The fighting was as furious as any fighting seen during the war. All the Confederates that made it over the wall were killed or captured. The gap in the Union line closed. The Confederates started to retreat and surrender.
Thirty-eight Confederate battle flags had fallen to the ground and were left behind. Union officers tied them behind their horses and dragged them in the dust to taunt the fleeing southerners.3
Lee rode back to his men coming from Seminary Ridge urging them to reform their lines. He told them it was his fault and that he wanted to attack one more time, but there was nothing else they could do that day.
Picket watched the battle in horror: 6,500 men had fallen or been captured, half of them marched out of the woods. All fifteen regimental commanders had been hit; so had sixteen of the seventeen field officers, three brigadier generals and eight colonels. Every single man of the University Greys had been killed or wounded.4
When Lee told Picket to rally his division together Picket answered "I have no division." He never forgave Lee for what happened to his men at Gettysburg.
Gettysburg was the bloodiest battle in the war. About one third of those engaged-51,000 men- were lost. The North had 23,000 casualties, but the South suffered 28,000 casualties, five thousand more than the North.
The 2,400 citizens of Gettysburg were left with ten times that many dead and wounded to tend to. The wounded were brought to houses and laid side-by-side in the halls and rooms. Carpets, walls and books that were used as pillows were stained with the red color of blood.
The Confederates couldn't afford such a loss. All hope of invading the North was lost. The next day Lee packed up his troops and headed back to Virginia in a sudden downpour of rain that washed the blood from the grass and pelted the wounded Confederate soldiers in the wagons heading home.
Geoffrey C. Ward, The Civil War, (American Documentaries, Inc.,1990), pg. 214-237
Richard O'Shea, Battle Maps or the Civil War, (Smithmark Publishers Inc., 1992), pg. 105-113
Champ Clark, Gettysburg, The Confederate High Tide; (Time-Life Books Inc., 1985), the whole book
Microsoft, Encarta 98, (Microsoft Corporation, 1993-97), search: Battle of Gettysburg
George E. Meade
Winfield S. Hancock
Robert E. Lee