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Chapter 24: battle of Gettysburg.

Having ascertained, after I left General Ewell on the night of the 30th, that the road from my camp to Hunterstown was a very circuitous and rough one on the morning of the 1st of July I moved to Heidlersburg, for the purpose of following the road from that point to Gettysburg until I reached the Mummasburg road. After moving a short distance for Heidlersburg on the Gettysburg road, I received a dispatch from General Ewell, informing me that Hill, who had crossed the mountain, was moving towards Gettysburg against a force of the enemy, which had arrived at that place and pushed out on the Cashtown road, and that Rodes' division had turned off from Middletown towards Gettysburg by the way of Mummasburg, and ordering me to move on the direct road from Heidlersburg to the same place. I therefore moved on until I came in sight of Gettysburg.

Hooker had been supplanted in the command of the Federal Army by Major General Meade, and the advance of that army, consisting of the 1st corps under Reynolds, the 11th corps under Howard, and Buford's division of cavalry, had reached Gettysburg; the cavalry on the 30th of June, and the infantry early on the morning of the 1st of July. The cavalry had moved, on the morning of the 1st, out on the Cashtown road and was there encountered by Hill's troops, two of his divisions only having as yet crossed the mountain. The enemy's infantry then moved out to support his cavalry, and a heavy engagement ensued between it and Hill's two divisions. While this was progressing Rodes' division came up on the left of Hill, on the Mummasburg road, and immediately engaged the enemy.

When I arrived in sight of Gettysburg I found the [267] engagement in progress on the Cashtown and Mummasburg roads, the enemy's troops being advanced out from that town on both roads for about a mile. Rodes had opposed to him a very large force which overlapped his left, and seemed to be pressing back that flank. On the hill in rear of Gettysburg, known as Cemetery Hill, was posted some artillery so as to sweep all the ground on the enemy's right flank, including the Heidlersburg or Harrisburg road, and the York pike. I could not discover whether there was any infantry supporting this artillery, as the hill was much higher than the ground on which I then was.

Moving on the Heidlersburg road and on Rodes' left, I came up on the enemy's right flank. I immediately ordered the artillery forward and the brigades into line. Gordon's brigade being in front formed first in line on the right of the road, then Hays', with Smith's in rear of Hoke's, and thrown back so as to present a line towards the York pike. Jones' battalion was posted in a field immediately in front of Hoke's brigade, so as to open on the enemy's flank, which it did at once with effect, attracting the fire of the enemy's artillery on Cemetery Hill and that in front of the town on the enemy's right flank. Between us and the enemy on the northeast of the town ran a small stream, called Rock Creek, with abrupt and rugged banks.

On the opposite bank of this creek in front of Gordon was a heavy force of the enemy, on a low ridge partially wooded, with a part of it in line moving against the left of Rodes' division held by Doles' brigade, so as to compel it to fall back, while the right flank of this advancing line was protected and supported by another in position along the crest of the ridge. While the brigades of Hays and Hoke were being formed, as Doles' brigade was getting in a critical condition, Gordon charged rapidly to the front, passing over the fences and Rock Creek and up the side of the hill, and engaged the enemy's line on the crest, which, after a short but [268] obstinate and bloody conflict, was broken and routed. The right flank of the force advancing against Doles became thus exposed to Gordon's fire, and that force endeavored to change front, but Gordon immediately attacked it and drove it from the field with heavy slaughter, pursuing towards the town and capturing a number of prisoners, among them being General Barlow, commanding a division of the 11th corps, severely wounded.

While Gordon was engaged, Hays' and Hoke's brigades were advanced in line to Rock Creek, Smith's brigade being ordered to follow, supporting the artillery as it advanced in rear of the other brigades. By the time Hays and Avery had reached Rock Creek, Gordon had encountered a second line just outside of the town in a strong position behind some houses, and halted his brigade behind the crest of a low ridge in the open field. I then rode to Gordon's position and, finding that the line confronting him extended beyond his left across the Heidlersburg road, I ordered him to remain stationary while Hays and Avery advanced on his left. The latter were then ordered forward, and advancing while exposed to a heavy artillery fire of shell and canister, encountered the second line and drove it back in great confusion into the town, capturing two pieces of artillery and a large number of prisoners.

Hays encountered a portion of the force falling back on his right, on which he turned some of his regiments and entered the town fighting his way, along the left end of a street running through the middle of the town. Avery, after reaching the outskirts of the town, moved to the left, and crossed the railroad into the open fields, on the left of the town, while exposed to a heavy fire from the batteries on Cemetery Hill, and took a position confronting the rugged ascent to the hill, his men being placed in a depression under cover of a low ridge, so as to protect them from the fire of the enemy's artillery. A very large number of prisoners were taken in the [269] town, where they were crowded in confusion, the number being so great as really to embarrass us and stop all further movement for the present.

While Hays and Avery were driving the enemy so handsomely, I saw a large force to the right of Gordon, falling back in comparatively good order, before Rodes' advancing brigades, around the right of the town, towards the hills in the rear, and I sent for a battery of artillery to be brought up so as to open on this force, and on the town from which a fire was being poured on Hays' and Avery's then advancing brigades, but before the battery reached me, Hays had entered the town and the enemy's retreating columns had got out of reach, their speed being very much accelerated and their order considerably disturbed by Rodes' rapid advance. At the same time I had sent for the battery, an order had been sent for the advance of Smith's brigade to the support of Hays and Avery, but, a report having been brought to General Smith that a large force of the enemy was advancing on the York road on our then rear, he thought proper to detain his brigade to watch that road.

As soon as I saw my men entering the town, I rode forward into it myself, having sent to repeat the order to Smith to advance, and when I had ascertained the condition of things, I rode to the right of it to find either General Ewell, General Rodes, or General Hill, for the purpose of urging an immediate advance upon the enemy, before he could recover from his evident dismay and confusion. Bodes' troops were then entering the town on the right and all plains on that flank had been cleared of the enemy. The enemy, however, held the houses in the edge of the town on the slope of Cemetery Hill with sharpshooters, from which they were pointing an annoying fire into Hays' left, and along the streets running towards the hill.

The ascent to the hill in front of Avery was very rugged, and was much obstructed by plank and stone [270] fences on the side of it, while an advance through the town would have had to be made along the streets by flank or in columns so narrow as to have been subjected to a destructive fire from the batteries on the crest of the hill, which enfiladed the streets. I, therefore, could not make an advance from my front with advantage, and thought it ought to be made on the right.

General Hill's troops had not advanced to the town, but remained on or beyond Seminary ridge, more than a mile distant, and before I could find either General Ewell or General Rodes, General Smith's aide came to me with a message from the General that the enemy was advancing a large force of infantry, artillery, and cavalry on the York road, menacing our left flank and rear. Though I believed this an unfounded report, as it proved to be, yet I thought it best to send General Gordon with his brigade out on that road, to take command of both brigades, and to stop all further alarms from that direction.

Meeting with a staff officer of General Pender's I requested him to go and inform General Hill that if he would send a division forward we could take the hill to which the enemy had retreated. Finding General Ewell shortly afterwards in the town, I communicated to him my views, and he informed me that Johnson's division, which had moved from Shippensburg, by the way of Greenwood Gap, was coming up, and he determined to move it to a wooded hill on the left of Cemetery Hill, which seemed to command the latter hill and to be the key to the position on that flank. This hill was on the right or southwestern side of Rock Creek, and seemed to be occupied by the enemy.

Johnson's division was late in arriving and when it came, it was further delayed by a false report that the enemy was advancing on the York road, so that it became dark in the meantime, and the effort to get possession of the wooded hill was postponed until morning, by which time it had been occupied and fortified [271] by the enemy. My division went into this action about three o'clock P. M. and at the close of the day a brilliant victory had been achieved, between six and seven thousand prisoners and two pieces of artillery falling into our hands, a considerable portion of which had been captured by Rodes' division.

Perhaps that victory might have been made decisive, so far as Gettysburg was concerned, by a prompt advance of all the troops that had been engaged on our side against the hill upon and behind which the enemy had taken refuge, but a common superior did not happen to be present, and the opportunity was lost. The only troops engaged on our side were Hill's two divisions and Ewell's two divisions, the rest of the army not being up.

Late in the evening, when it had become too dark to do anything further, General Lee came to General Ewell's headquarters, and after conferring with General Ewell, General Rodes and myself, we were given to understand that, if the rest of the troops could be got up, there would be an attack very early in the morning on the enemy's left flank, and also on the right, at the wooded hill before named.

During the night, Hays' brigade was moved to the left into the open ground on that side, and placed in front of the left end of the town, under cover from the artillery and in a position to advance upon Cemetery Hill when a favorable opportunity should offer, his line connecting with Avery's right. In this position the two brigades were behind a low ridge close to the base of Cemetery Hill.

Gordon was still retained on the York road with his own and Smith's brigades, as constant rumors were reaching us that the enemy was advancing on that road. Johnson's division had been moved to the left and posted in the valley of Rock Creek, confronting the wooded hill.

During the night a large portion of Meade's army [272] came up and the rest arrived in the course of the next day before the battle opened.

The general attack was not made in the morning of the 2nd because there was great delay in the arrival of Longstreet's corps, and on the left Rodes' and my divisions remained in position until late in the afternoon, waiting for the preparations on the right. Johnson, however, had some heavy skirmishing during the day.

During the morning General Ewell and myself rode to a ridge in rear of Johnson's position for the purpose of posting some artillery and several batteries were placed in position there to fire upon Cemetery Hill and the wooded hill.

I made an attempt to get possession of the wooded hill in the morning, but found it occupied by the enemy in force behind breastworks of felled trees.

The enemy's position consisted of a low range of hills extending off to the southwest from Cemetery Hill to what was called Round Top Mountain, and on the right of it, confronting Johnson's division and my two brigades, was an elbow almost at right angles with the other part of the line, and terminating with the wooded hill or range of hills in Johnson's front, which extended beyond his left, the town of Gettysburg being located just in front of the salient angle at the elbow.

For some distance on the right of Gettysburg the ground in front of the line was open and ascended to the crest of the ridge by a gradual slope. On the left of the town, the ascent was very steep and rough, and this was much the strongest part of the line and the most difficult of approach.

The enemy had during the previous night and the fore part of this day strengthened their position by entrenchments.

Having been informed that the attack would begin on the enemy's left at four o'clock P. M., I directed General Gordon to move his brigade to the railroad on the left of the town, and take position on it in rear of Hays [273] and Avery, Smith's brigade being left with General Stuart's cavalry to guard the York road. At or a little after four o'clock P. M. our guns on the right opened on the enemy's left, and those on the ridge in rear of Johnson's division opened on that part of the line confronting them, and a very heavy cannonading ensued. After this cannonading had continued for some time the attack was begun by Longstreet on the right, two of whose divisions had only arrived, and during its progress I was ordered by General Ewell, a little before sunset, to advance to the assault of the hills in front of me as soon as Johnson should become engaged on my left, being informed at the same time that the attack would be general, Rodes advancing on my right and Hill's division on his right.

I ordered Hays and Avery to advance, as soon as Johnson was heard engaged, immediately up the hill in their front, and Gordon to advance to the position then occupied by them in order to support them. Before Johnson was heard fairly engaged it was after sunset, and Hays and Avery then moved forward on the low ridge in their front and across a hollow beyond to the base of the hill, while exposed to a severe fire from the enemy's batteries. They then commenced ascending the steep side of the hill in gallant style, going over fences and encountering bodies of infantry posted in front of the main line on the slope of the hill behind stone fences which they dislodged, and continuing their advance to the crest of the hill, when by a dash upon the enemy's works Hays' brigade and a portion of Hoke's succeeded in entering them and compelling the enemy to abandon his batteries.

In the meantime Johnson was heavily engaged on the left, but no fire was heard on the right, Rodes' division had not advanced nor had the left division of Hill. Colonel Avery, commanding Hoke's brigade, had fallen mortally wounded near the crest of the hill, and the portion of the force that had engaged the enemy's works [274] found itself unsupported, and paused for a moment, it being now nearly dark.

During the attack on the left of the enemy's line, a portion of his troops had been withdrawn from this part of the line, but that attack had now ceased and in a few minutes a heavy force in several lines was concentrated on Hays' brigade, and that part of Hoke's which had entered the enemy's works, and finding themselves unsupported and about to be overwhelmed by numbers, they were compelled to retire, which they did with comparatively slight loss, considering the nature of the ground, and the difficulties by which they were surrounded. Hoke's brigade fell back to the position from which it had advanced to bring off its wounded commander, and was then re-formed by Colonel Godwin of the 57th North Carolina. Hays' brigade fell back to a position on the slope of the hill, where it remained for some time awaiting a further advance, and was then drawn back, bringing off four battle flags captured on Cemetery Hill. Gordon's brigade had advanced to the position from which the two brigades had moved, for the purpose of following up their attack when the divisions on the right moved, but finding that they did not advance, it was not ordered forward, as it would have been a useless sacrifice, but was retained as a support for the other brigades to fall back upon.

During the advance of my two brigades I had ascertained that Rodes was not advancing, and I rode to urge him forward. I found him getting his brigades into position so as to be ready to advance, but he informed me that there was no preparation to move on his right, and that General Lane, in command of Pender's division, on his immediate right, had sent him word that he had no orders to advance, which had delayed his own movement. He, however, expressed a readiness to go forward if I thought it proper, but by this time I had been informed that my two brigades were retiring, and I told him it was then too late. He did not advance, and the [275] fighting for the day closed-Johnson's attack on the left having been ended by the darkness, leaving him possession of part of the enemy's works in the woods.

Before light next morning Hays and Godwin, who had taken position on Gordon's left and right, respectively, were withdrawn to the rear and subsequently formed in line on the street first occupied by Hays, Gordon being left to hold the position in front. During the night, by directions of General Ewell, Smith was ordered to report by daylight next day to General Johnson on the left and did so. Longstreet, supported by a part of the right of Hill's corps, had been very heavily engaged with the enemy's left, in the afternoon of the 2nd, gaining some advantages, and driving a part of the enemy's force from an advanced line, but at the close of the fight the enemy retained his main positions.

On the morning of the 3rd, the enemy made an attack on Johnson to dislodge him from that part of the works which he had gained the morning before, and very heavy fighting ensued, continuing at intervals throughout the day, in which Smith's three regiments were engaged under General Johnson's orders, the enemy finally regaining his works. The rest of my command did not become at all engaged on this day.

On the right, Pickett's division of Longstreet's corps having arrived, the attack on the enemy was renewed in the afternoon after a very heavy cannonading of all parts of his line, and a very sanguinary fight ensued during which the enemy's line was penetrated by Pickett's division, but it was finally repulsed, as were the supporting forces, with very heavy loss on both sides.

This closed the fighting at the battle of Gettysburg. Meade retained his position on the heights, and our army held the position it had assumed for the attack, while both armies had sustained very heavy losses in killed and wounded, as well as prisoners.

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