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Chapter 17: Gettysburg: second day

  • The situation.
  • -- Lee decides to attack. -- the attack to be on our right. -- Longstreet's flank march. -- Sickles's advance. -- Meade foresees Sickles's defeat. -- progressive type of battle. -- Hood proposes flank movement. -- formation and opening. -- Hood's front line. -- fight on little Round Top. -- Hood's second line. -- McLaws badly needed. -- Kershaw and Semmes. -- artillery fighting. -- Barksdale and Wofford. -- Anderson's division. -- Wilcox's brigade. -- Wilcox asks help. -- why no help was given. -- Lang's brigade. -- Wright's brigade. -- Wright carries the Stone wall. -- Wright's retreat. -- reinforcements for Sickles. -- Ayres's division. -- Confederate situation. -- the artillery engaged. -- ten more brigades in sight. -- Crawford's advance. -- Ewell's Cooperation. -- the afternoon cannonade. -- Johnson's assault. -- Early's attack. -- Federal account. -- Rodes's failure to advance. -- Rodes's New position. -- Rodes's summary, second day.

Longstreet, riding ahead of his approaching troops, met Lee upon Seminary Ridge about dawn on July 2. Daylight disclosed the enemy in his position overlooking the town, and it was apparent that he was intrenched and was offering us the privilege of taking the offensive. Lee was far from disposed to decline the offer. Col. Long, of his staff, reports that he advised Lee during the night, —
‘At present only two or three corps of the enemy are up, and it seems best to attack before they are greatly strengthened.’

But, as a matter of fact, 43 of the 51 Federal brigades of infantry were upon the ground at 8 A. M. and occupying the strong position already described. Four of Lee's 37 infantry brigades were absent; four more (Johnson's division), were out of position east of Culp's Hill, and the lack of cavalry required the use of part of his remaining infantry upon each flank to protect from surprise. When, at nine o'clock, the arrival of Longstreet's reserve artillery was reported, it must be admitted that there was little to be hoped for from any immediate attack then possible. [391]

Lee however had decided to make one. He had said to Hood soon after the latter's arrival: ‘The enemy is here. If we don't whip him he will whip us.’ He had sent staff-officers to each flank and was awaiting their reports. Longstreet's only suggestion had been a turning movement, and taking a position threatening the enemy's rear. Lee seems to have doubted that this would force the enemy to attack. He feared being manoeuvred out of position, and perhaps forced back across the Potomac without any opportunity of fighting. It was a reasonable fear, now that the Federal army had drawn near, and could much restrict his foraging for supplies. This was a risk inseparable from campaigns of invasion, and it evidently seemed a much greater one now, than when the campaign was being decided upon. Not fully appreciating the strength of the enemy's position, and misled by the hope that a large fraction of the Federal army was out of reach, Lee had determined to strike, and only hesitated as to the best point to attack. About nine o'clock, he rode to the left and conferred again with Ewell and Early, who again discouraged attack in their own front, and urged that it be by Longstreet on the right. About 10 he returned, and presently received the report from Long and Pendleton who had reconnoitred on the right.

About 11 A. M., his orders were issued. Anderson's division of Hill's corps was directed to extend Hill's line upon Seminary Ridge to the right, while Longstreet with Hood's and McLaws's divisions should make a flank march to the right and pass beyond the enemy's flank, which seemed to extend along the Emmitsburg road. Forming then at right angles to this road, the attack was to sweep down the enemy's line from their left, being taken up successively by the brigades of Anderson's division as they were reached. Ewell's corps, holding the extreme left, was to attack the enemy's right on hearing Longstreet's guns. Longstreet was directed, in his march, to avoid exposing it to the view of a Federal signal station on Little Round Top Mountain.

Meanwhile, on the arrival of Longstreet's reserve artillery in the vicinity of the field, I had been placed in charge of all the artillery of his corps, and directed to reconnoitre the enemy's left and to move some of the battalions to that part of the field. [392] This had been done by noon, when three battalions, — my own, Cabell's and Henry's—were located in the valley of Willoughby Run awaiting the arrival of the infantry. Riding back presently to learn the cause of their non-arrival, the head of the column was found halted, where its road became exposed to the Federal view, while messages were sent to Longstreet, and the guide sought a new route. The exposed point had been easily avoided by our artillery, by turning out through a meadow, but after some delay there came orders to the infantry to countermarch and take a road via ‘Black Horse Tavern.’ This incident delayed the opening of the battle nearly two hours. It is notable, both as illustrating the contingencies attending movements over unfamiliar ground, and also the annoyance which may be caused an enemy by the use of balloons to overlook his territory. It hardly seems probable, however, that in this instance the delay influenced the result of the battle. The same may be said, too, of a preliminary delay in Longstreet's beginning his march to the left after Lee's order at 11 A. M. Longstreet's official report says,—

‘Fearing that my force was too weak to venture to make an attack, I delayed until Gen. Law's brigade joined its division.’

The history of the battle seems to justify this delay (Longstreet calls it 30 minutes), as without Law's brigade our first attack must have been dangerously weak.

Meanwhile, an important change had occurred in the enemy's position. Until noon, their main line had run nearly due south from Cemetery Hill to Little Round Top, while a strong skirmish-line only was held upon the Emmitsburg Pike, for about a mile from Cemetery Hill, to a cross-road at the Peach Orchard. About noon, the movements of the Confederates toward the Federal left were noted, and Sickles, whose corps held that flank, sent forward from the Peach Orchard a small reconnoitring force. It encountered Wilcox's brigade, and was driven back with severe loss, but not before it had discovered the approach of Longstreet's column. This being reported to Sickles, he unwisely ordered an advance of his whole corps to hold the ground about the Peach Orchard. He probably had in mind the advantage [393] given the Confederates at Chancellorsville in allowing them the occupation of the Hazel Grove plateau. But it was, nevertheless, bad tactics. It exchanged strong ground for weak, and gave the Confederates an opportunity not otherwise possible. They would be quite sure to crush the isolated 3d corps. If their attack was properly organized and conducted, it might become possible to rush and carry the Federal main line in the pursuit of the fugitives.

Meade, however, having seen Hooker's movement, at once visited the ground, and, after conferring with Sickles, ordered his return to his original position. Before the movement could be begun, however, Longstreet's guns had opened, and it was unwise to attempt a withdrawal under fire. Meade saw the danger, and with military foresight prepared to meet it with every available man. There was not during the war a finer example of efficient command than that displayed by Meade on this occasion. He immediately began to bring to the scene reinforcements, both of infantry and artillery, from every corps and from every part of his line. As will be seen in the account of the fighting, he had engaged, or in hand on the field, fully 40,000 men by the time that Longstreet's assault was repulsed.

On the other hand, it must be said that the management of the battle on the Confederate side during this afternoon was conspicuously bad. The fighting was superb. But there appears to have been little supervision, and there was entire failure everywhere to conform to the original plan of the battle, as it had been indicated by Lee. Offensive battles are always more difficult of control than defensive, and there were two special difficulties on this occasion. First, was the great extent of the Confederate lines, about five miles — and their awkward shape, making intercommunication slow and difficult. Second, was the type or character of the attack ordered; which may be called the echelon, or progressive type, as distinguished from the simultaneous. The latter should be the type for any battle in the afternoon. Battles begun by one command and to be taken up successively by others, are always much prolonged. We had used this method on four occasions, —at Seven Pines, Gaines Mill, Frazier's Farm or [394] Glendale, and Malvern Hill, —and always with poor success. Our effort this afternoon will be seen to be a monumental failure. General instructions were given to each corps commander, but much was left to their discretion in carrying them out. More than one fell short in performance.

It was about 3 P. M. when Hood's division, in the advance, crossed the Emmitsburg road about 1000 yards south of the Peach Orchard. The enemy's artillery had opened upon us as soon as our approach was discovered, and we presently replied. Hood's division crossed the road and formed in two lines, Robertson and Law in front, with Law on the right; Anderson and Benning 200 yards in rear, with Benning on the right.

While this formation was taking place, scouts reported that Big Round Top Mountain was unoccupied and that an open farm road around it led to unguarded supply trains and hospitals. Hood and Law earnestly urged upon Longstreet that instead of making the direct attack, he should pass around the 3d corps, seize Big Round Top, and fall upon the trains. Longstreet replied that Lee had ordered the direct attack, and it must be made without delay.

It is not likely that the movement proposed by Hood would have accomplished much. Already our line was dangerously extended, and to have pushed one or two divisions past the 3d corps and around the mountain would have invited their destruction. Had our army been more united and able to follow up the move in force, it might have proved a successful one. Not by assaulting the enemy in his chosen position where his whole army stood, as it were, in a circle back to back, but by threatening his communications while covering our own. It might easily have resulted in our being able to secure a position which would force the enemy to take the aggressive. Had Johnson's division been brought back from its isolated position, and had Lee been present to hear the report brought by Hood's scouts, the whole subsequent history of the battle might have been changed.

Meanwhile, McLaws's division had been formed, west of and parallel to the Emmitsburg road, with Kershaw on the right supported by Semmes, and Barksdale on the left supported by Wofford. In front of Kershaw, Cabell's battalion of artillery [395] was engaged with 18 guns; and in front of Barksdale were 18 of my own battalion. Ten guns, also of Henry's battalion, were engaged across the Emmitsburg road. The remaining 8 guns of my own battalion were held close by, to follow the infantry promptly in any advance, and the Washington artillery with 10 guns, by Longstreet's order, were held in reserve in rear.

Thus, about 3.45 P. M., 36 guns were in action against the Peach Orchard, and the enemy's adjacent lines and 10 guns against the enemy's left. The ranges were generally between 500 and 700 yards. After this cannonade had continued for perhaps 30 minutes, Hood received the order to advance.

Following the initiative prescribed by Lee, Longstreet, Hood, and McLaws all made progressive attacks. Hood at first advanced only his front line. McLaws was about to advance upon Hood's left very soon after, when Longstreet halted him. He was held back for about an hour, during which Hood's second line was sent in, and both lines suffered severely. Then McLaws advanced both lines of his right wing, Kershaw and Semmes; and, after a further interval of at least 20 minutes (long enough to cause severe loss to Kershaw's exposed left), Barksdale and Wofford followed. There were thus four partial attacks of two brigades each, requiring at least an hour and a half to be gotten into action; where one advance by the eight brigades would have won a quicker victory with far less loss.

When Hood's first line commenced the advance, Law, on the right, overlapped the Federal left. On the left Robertson was greatly overlapped by the Federal line. Law, obliquing still farther to his right, hoping to turn the Federal flank, a gap opened between Robertson and himself. The 4th and 5th Tex., on Robertson's right, trying to dress upon Law, were drawn entirely away from Robertson, and attached themselves to Law's brigade. This brigade became divided, in the rough ground it traversed, into two bodies. The two regiments on the right, the 15th and 47th Ala. with a few of the 4th and 5th Tex., swung still farther to the right, meeting no enemy, and, crossing Plum Run, they ascended the side of Big Round Top. Then, wheeling to the left, they crossed the depression between Big and Little Round Top and finally found the enemy in position on the [396] top of the latter. Quite a sharp action ensued, which may be described here, out of its order in time, as it was entirely isolated.

Three companies of the 47th Ala. were detached and left on picket at the foot of the mountain. The remaining force was but about 500 men under the command of Col. Oates of the 15th Ala. The mountain had been partially occupied in the morning by the 3d corps, but was vacated when they moved to the front. About 4 P. M., Gen. Warren, seeing the deployment of our lines, had brought up Vincent's brigade of Barnes's division of the 5th corps. Swinton has written that a foot-race occurred for the commanding position, and that a desperate hand-to-hand fight with bayonets and clubbed muskets took place for a half-hour between ‘Hood's Texans’ and Vincent's men.

None of the official reports on either side are consistent with this story. There was some sharp fighting and Vincent was killed, but Oates's small and isolated force was soon outflanked and compelled to retreat to the foot of the mountain. It was not pursued, and, at the foot, it built breastworks of rocks which it held all night and part of the next day. The total casualties reported for the battle by the 15th Ala. were: 17 killed, 54 wounded, and 90 missing, total 161. Maj. Campbell of the 47th reported ‘about one-third of his whole number of men were killed and wounded.’ The losses of Vincent's brigade for the battle were 352.

Hood's front line had, meanwhile, been reduced, by Oates's divergence to Big Round Top, to less than seven regiments in two isolated bodies. Law, on the right, had the 4th, 44th, and 48th Ala., and parts of the 4th and 5th Tex. Robertson, on the left, had only the 1st Tex. and 3d Ark. His left flank, too, was in the air, and was much overlapped by the Federal line. It could make no progress, but maintained a position under very severe fire of artillery and infantry, which, within the first half-hour, severely wounded Hood. Law succeeded to the command of the division.

His part of the brigade had made more progress, but already reinforcements sent by Meade were reaching the enemy and Law's advance was checked. He ordered in the second line, using Benning's brigade to reinforce his own, and Anderson to [397] extend Robertson on his left. Law thus describes the advance of his reenforced line in an article in Battles and leaders:—

The ground was rough and difficult, broken by rocks and boulders, which rendered an orderly advance impossible. Sometimes the Federals would hold one side of the huge boulders on the slopes until the Confederates occupied the other. In some cases my men, with reckless daring, mounted to the top of the large rocks in order to get a better view and to deliver their fire with greater effect. . . .

‘In less than an hour from the time we advanced to the attack, the hill by Devil's Den, opposite our centre, was taken with three pieces of the artillery that had occupied it. The remaining piece was run down the opposite slope by the gunners, and escaped capture.’

During all this time, however, McLaws's division was standing idle, though Barksdale was begging to be allowed to charge, and McLaws was awaiting Longstreet's order. Even when prolonged by Anderson's Georgians, the Texans' line was still so overlapped by the Federals that it could not advance. Law, placing his two brigades on the defensive on the captured hill, now came to the left and made a strong appeal to Kershaw for help. This was referred to McLaws and probably to Longstreet, for now the order was given for the advance of Kershaw supported by Semmes. But, by some unaccountable lack of appreciation of the situation, Barksdale, Wofford, and all the brigades of Anderson's division are still left idle spectators of the combat, while Hood's division is wearing itself out against superior numbers in strong position. Lee seems not to have been near. This was unfortunate, for his whole field of battle had been waiting all day and was still waiting for Longstreet's battle to be developed; and here it was being begun, in the progressive manner which had been ordered, but with unwise deliberation. Longstreet, of course, is responsible, but every commanding officer takes great risks when he leaves such important movements without supervision. It was especially unfortunate in this case, because advancing Kershaw without advancing Barksdale would expose Kershaw to enfilade by the troops whom Barksdale would easily drive off. Few battle-fields can furnish examples of worse tactics.

Kershaw was put in motion by a signal. Cabell's guns, in his front, were ordered to pause in their firing, and then to fire three [398] guns in rapid succession. At the signal the men leaped the wall in their front and were promptly aligned by their company officers. Kershaw writes, in Battles and leaders: —

The brigade moved off at the word with great steadiness and precision, followed by Semmes with equal promptness. Longstreet accompanied me in this advance on foot as far as the Emmitsburg road. All the field and staff officers were dismounted on account of the many obstacles in the way.

‘When we were about the Emmitsburg road I heard Barksdale's drums beat the assembly and knew then that I should have no immediate support on my left about to be squarely presented to the heavy force of infantry and artillery at and in rear of the Peach Orchard.’

As such a position would be speedily ruinous, Kershaw directed the three regiments on his left to wheel to the left and to charge the batteries in rear of the Orchard, while with the right wing he continued the movement to the aid of Hood's division. Thus this brigade was also separated into two parts. Kershaw moved with the right wing, and presently, finding his right regiment, the 7th S. C., beginning to overlap one on its left, he halted his line and ordered the 7th to move by the right flank. By some misunderstanding the order was shouted to the left, and was overheard by the left wing, who supposed it was an order for themselves to move by the right flank.

Kershaw's narrative continues:—

‘After passing the building at Rose's, the charge of the left wing was no longer visible from my position, but the movement was reported to have been magnificently conducted until the cannoneers had left their guns and the caissons were moving off, when the order was given by some unauthorized person to “move by the right flank,” and was immediately obeyed by the men. The Federals returned to their guns and opened on these doomed regiments a raking fire of grape and canister at short distance which proved most disastrous, and for a time destroyed their usefulness. Hundreds of the bravest and best men of Carolina fell victims of this fatal blunder.’

Meanwhile our own artillery fire had been kept up without intermission for what seemed more than two hours, though I know of no one who timed it. The range was very close, and the ground we occupied gave little shelter except at few points for the limbers and caissons. Our losses both of men and horses [399] were the severest the batteries ever suffered in so short a time during the war. Moody's battery had four 24-Pr. howitzers and two 12-Pr. guns on a rocky slope, and the labor of running the guns up after each recoil presently became so exhausting that, with Barksdale's permission, eight volunteers from a Miss. regiment were gotten to help the cannoneers. Two of this detachment were killed and three severely wounded. Fickling's battery of four 12-Pr. howitzers had two of them dismounted, and forty cannoneers killed or wounded.

At last the 10 guns of Jordan and Woolfolk which had been held in reserve were sent for, but just as they arrived Barksdale's brigade made its advance, and was soon followed by Wofford's, which Longstreet also accompanied in person. While the infantry was passing, my four batteries, which had been engaged in the cannonade, were gotten ready, and the whole six followed the charge of the infantry, and came into action in and about the Peach Orchard.1

Barksdale's brigade advanced directly upon the Peach Orchard. Wofford's inclined somewhat to the right and went to the assistance of Kershaw and Semmes, striking the flank of the Federals opposing them. The enemy was driven back with severe loss and followed across the Wheat Field and on to the slopes of Little Round Top. Barksdale had made an equal advance upon our left. But by this time the reinforcements which Meade was hurrying from every part of the Federal line began to swarm around our mixed — up brigades. Barksdale was killed, Semmes mortally wounded, and our lines were slowly forced back. Another partial attack had spent its energy upon a task impossible for so small a force.

Under the orders, Anderson's division was to take up the attack next after McLaws, so that the delay in starting Barksdale delayed also Wilcox's brigade on his left. Wilcox's report states that ‘the cannonading continued until 6.20 P. M. when McLaws's [400] troops advanced to the attack.’ There was again much delay, due to the fact that Wilcox had not been previously located at the position from which his charge should be made. This required a flank movement to the left of 400 or 500 yards over ground obstructed by stone and plank fences. The 8th Ala. was even hurried into the charge in column of fours. Proper preparation of the line during the long delay might have saved much time and permitted Wilcox's brigade to cover Barksdale's exposed left.

Wilcox made a brilliant charge, and was soon followed in echelon on the left by Perry's brigade under Lang, and Lang was similarly followed by Wright's brigade. These two charges followed with the least delay of any during the affair. But each brigade was formed in a single line and without support, each advanced with its left flank in the air, intervals of time and space intervened even between these attacks, and each was finally and separately repulsed with severe loss. The two remaining brigades of the division, Posey's and Mahone's, were withheld from the assault. I will describe briefly the action of each brigade.

Wilcox first encountered skirmishers in front of the Emmitsburg pike with a line of infantry and batteries along the pike. These fell back before his musketry fire, leaving in the road two guns whose horses had been killed. Beyond the pike the ground sloped gradually some 600 yards to a ravine fringed with small trees in rocky ground. Beyond the ground rose rapidly some 200 yards to a ridge, crowned with numerous batteries and held by the enemy in force. Wilcox's report gives his strength as about 1200, and thus describes his advance: —

When my command crossed the pike and began to descend the slope they were exposed to an artillery fire from numerous pieces both from the front and from either flank. Before reaching the ravine at the foot of the slope two lines of infantry were met and broken, and driven pell-mell across the ravine. A second battery of six pieces here fell into our hands. From the batteries on the ridge above referred to, grape and canister were poured into our ranks. This stronghold of the enemy, together with his batteries, were almost won when still another line of infantry descended the slope in our front, at a double quick, to the support of their fleeing comrades, and for the defence of the batteries. [401]

‘Seeing this contest so unequal I despatched my adjutant-general to the division commander to ask that support be sent to my men, but no support came. Three several times did this last of the enemy's lines attempt to drive my men back and were as often repulsed. This struggle at the foot of the hill on which were the enemy's batteries, though so unequal, was continued for some 30 minutes. With a second supporting line the heights could have been carried. Without support on either my right or my left my men were withdrawn to prevent their entire destruction or capture. The enemy did not pursue, but my men retired under a heavy artillery fire, and returned to their original position in the line, and bivouacked for the night, pickets being left on the pike. . . . In the engagement of this day I regret to report a loss of 577 men killed, wounded, and missing.’

Soon after this battle a newspaper correspondent, ‘P. W. A.,’ described Wilcox's charge and his sending in vain to Anderson for reenforcements, and stated that Anderson had Posey's and Mahone's brigades idle, and that the battle was lost for lack of their support. Anderson replied, admitting the facts, but stating that he was under orders from Hill to hold two brigades in reserve, and that when Wilcox's call for help was received he was unable to find Hill and refer the matter to him.

Next on Wilcox's left was our lone Fla. brigade, Perry's, now under Lang. It had but three small regiments, and mustered about 700 bayonets. Lang reports as follows: —

At 6 P. M., Wilcox having begun to advance I moved forward, being met at the crest of the first hill with a murderous fire of grape, canister, and musketry. Moving forward at the double quick, the enemy fell back beyond their artillery, where they were attempting to rally, when we reached the crest of the second hill. Seeing this the men opened a galling fire upon them, thickly strewing the ground with their killed and wounded. This threw them into confusion when we charged them with a yell, and they broke and fled into the woods and breastworks beyond, leaving four or five pieces of cannon in my front, carrying off, however, most of the horses and limbers.

Following them rapidly I arrived behind a small eminence at the foot of the heights, where, the brigade having become much scattered, I halted for the purpose of re-forming, and allowing the men to catch their breath before the final assault upon the heights.

‘While re-forming, an aid from the right informed me that a heavy force had advanced upon Wilcox's brigade and was forcing it back. At the same time a heavy fire of musketry was poured upon my brigade from the woods 50 yards in front, which was gallantly met and handsomely replied [402] to by my men. A few moments later another messenger from the right informed me that Wilcox had fallen back and the enemy was then some distance in rear of my right flank. Going to the right I discovered that the enemy had passed me more than 100 yards and were attempting to surround me. I immediately ordered my men back to the road some 300 yards to the rear. Arriving there I found there was no cover under which to rally and continued to fall back, rallying and re-forming upon the line from which we started. . . . In this charge the brigade lost about 300 killed, wounded, and missing.’

Next came Wright's Ga. brigade about 1800 strong. Wright, in his report, describes the ground over which his advance was to be made, the distance to be traversed under fire increasing toward the left.

‘I was compelled to pass for more than a mile across an open plain, intersected by numerous post and rail fences, and swept by the enemy's artillery, posted along the Emmitsburg road, and upon the crest of the heights a little south of Cemetery Hill.’

He noted that Posey's brigade upon his left was not advancing, and fearing that with his left flank in the air he would be involved in serious difficulty, he sent an aid to Anderson with a message on the subject. Anderson ordered Posey to send forward two regiments as skirmishers. Later Posey speaks of supporting his skirmishers with his remaining regiments; but as his casualties in the whole campaign were but 12 killed and 71 wounded, evidently his brigade was not seriously engaged, and the whole attack was allowed to terminate with that of Wright. Neither Hill nor Anderson give any explanation. Hill had still unengaged and close at hand Mahone's brigade and Heth's division in reserve.

Wright's report is of special interest as his advance was over the same ground covered the next day by the charge of Pickett's division. His report thus describes it after he had carried the enemy's advanced line, capturing several guns, crossed the pike, and approached the stone wall marking Pickett's farthest advance in his charge on the 3d.

We were now within less than 100 yards of the crest of the heights, which were lined with artillery, supported by a strong body of infantry under protection of a stone fence. My men, by a well-directed fire, soon drove the cannoneers from their guns, and leaping over the fence charged [403] up to the top of the crest, and drove the enemy's infantry into a rocky gorge on the eastern slope of the heights, and some 80 or 100 yards in rear of the enemy's batteries.

We were now complete masters of the field, having gained the key, as it were, of the enemy's whole line. Unfortunately, just as we had carried the enemy's last and strongest position, it was discovered that the brigade upon our right had not only not advanced across the turnpike, but had actually given way and was rapidly falling back to the rear, while on our left we were entirely unprotected, the brigade ordered to our support having failed to advance. . . .

We were now in a critical condition. The enemy's converging lines were rapidly closing upon our rear; a few moments more and we would be completely surrounded; still no support could be seen coming to our assistance, and with painful hearts we abandoned our captured guns, faced about, and prepared to cut our way through the closing lines in our rear. This was effected in tolerable order, but with immense loss. The enemy rushed to his abandoned guns as soon as we began to retire and poured a severe fire of grape and canister into our thinned ranks as we retired slowly down the slope into the valley below. I continued to fall back until I reached a slight depression a few hundred yards in advance of our skirmish line of the morning, when I halted, re-formed my brigade, and awaited the further pursuit of the enemy . . . .

‘In this charge my loss was very severe, amounting to 688 in killed, wounded, and missing, including many valuable officers. I have not the slightest doubt that I should have been able to have maintained my position on the heights and secured the captured artillery if there had been a protecting force on my left, or if the brigade on my right had not been forced to retire. We captured over 20 pieces of artillery, all of which we were compelled to abandon.’

Is there anywhere a sadder story of the war than this? In all the reports of all the battles of the war there is no one more eloquent of fine conduct, but of poor handling of splendid troops. And presently we shall see in sharp contrast, in the Federal army, during this same afternoon, perhaps the best example which the war produced of active supervision and efficient handling of a large force on the defensive.

This action of Wright's ended Longstreet's battle of the afternoon. Three of Anderson's five brigades had attacked in progressive order and in single lines. They had been defeated and driven back, one at a time, in the order of their advance. No better demonstration could be asked of the evils of progressive attacks. The three brigades could just as easily have attacked [404] simultaneously with McLaws, and several other brigades of Hill's corps could have supported and advanced with them. The temporary success of each brigade in a single and isolated line puts it beyond doubt that such an attack would have had better result.

It has been told that Meade, being on the left with Sickles at the time of Longstreet's attack, had at once begun to bring up reenforcements. It is interesting to note the number thus brought forward before the fighting ceased at dark.

The first help sent Sickles, when his six brigades were attacked by Longstreet's eight, was Barnes's division of the 5th corps, three brigades, — Tilton's, Sweitzer's, and Vincent's. Vincent fought Oates on Little Round Top and repulsed him, Vincent, however, being killed. Tilton and Sweitzer attacked Law and Anderson, but were themselves soon driven back.

The losses of this division were: Vincent's, 352; Tilton's, 125; Sweitzer's, 427; total, 904. As Barnes retreated, Caldwell's division of the 2d corps came up, with four brigades under Cross, Kelley, Zook, and Brook. The battle seesawed, but Caldwell was driven back with the loss of half his division. Cross and Zook were killed and Brook wounded. The brigade losses were: Cross, 330; Kelley, 198; Brook, 389; Zook, 358; total, 1275.

While Caldwell was in the stress of action, Sykes advanced Ayres's division of three brigades, sending Weed to the left to the aid of Vincent; and the two brigades of regulars, under Day and Burbank, to the left of Caldwell's division. Here their right was exposed by the retreat of Caldwell, and they were compelled to cut their way back to the main Federal line upon the crest of the ridge, closely pursued and severely punished by the Confederates. Weed, supporting Vincent at a critical juncture, had been himself killed. Between Weed and Vincent, however, Oates's force had been driven to the base of the mountain, where it remained unpursued. Day and Burbank, when driven back, formed upon Weed's left upon the crest. Weed's losses were 200; Day's, 382; Burbank's, 447; total, 1029.

Most of this fighting was taking place about midway between Little Round Top, which was the left flank of the Federal line, and the Peach Orchard on the Emmitsburg road. In the [405] disputed arena was a wheat field nearly surrounded by woods on the west of Plum Run, here running south through marshy ground. The tide of battle rolled back and forth across this field several times, and when Ayres's regulars were driven back and pursued, Sykes ordered forward his last division, Crawford's, called the Pa. Reserves, two brigades under McCandless and Fisher. Crawford formed in two lines, the second massed on the first, and his report thus describes the scene as he approached it:—

‘Our troops in front, after a determined resistance, unable to withstand the force of the enemy, fell back, and some finally gave way. The plain to my front was covered with fugitives from all divisions, who rushed through my lines and along the road to the rear. Fragments of regiments came in disorder, and without their arms, and for a moment all seemed lost. The enemy's skirmishers had reached the foot of the rocky ridge (Little Round Top) and his columns were following rapidly.’

One is tempted to pause for a moment to contemplate the really hopeless situation of the Confederate battle. Already Sickles's six brigades had been reenforced by 10 brigades which had been defeated one, two, or three at a time, with losses to the reenforcements alone of 3108 men and five generals. The eight Confederate brigades had themselves suffered terribly and lost four generals. All had marched fully 20 miles within 24 hours, and the attack, much of it through woods and over rugged ground, had mingled commands and broken ranks. Infantry can never deliver their normal amount of fire except in regular ranks, shoulder to shoulder. When ranks are broken the men interfere with and mask each other. To say nothing of probable need of ammunition at this stage of the action, one must recognize that now, as the 11th and 12th brigades of the Federal reenforcements approach, the Confederate need of at least a fresh division is great. There are not only no reenforcements on the way, but none within two miles.

Both Hill and Ewell have orders to cooperate with Longstreet's battle, but they are limiting their cooperation to ineffective cannonading of the enemy's intrenchments in their front, while the enemy is stripping these of infantry and marching fresh divisions to concentrate upon Hood and McLaws, and the three brigades of Wilcox, Perry, and Wright, which had [406] supported them. But when these had carried the lines in their front (Carr's, Brewster's, and Burling's brigades of the 3d corps), Hancock had brought up Harrow's and Hall's brigades of Gibbon's division; and Willard's of Hays's division. One at a time, the three Confederate brigades were driven back with losses, already stated, amounting to 1565 men. The six Federal brigades had lost as follows: Harrow's, 768; Hall's, 377; Willard's, 714, Willard being killed; Carr's, 790; Brewster's, 778; Burling's, 513; total, 3940.2

It would be tedious to attempt to follow the artillery reenforcements which came to the aid of Sickles's corps, but Hunt, Chief of Artillery, in his report, mentions 11 batteries with 60 guns being engaged from his general reserve. In addition to these the 2d, 3d, and 5th corps had 80 guns engaged. Against these 140 guns, Longstreet had but 62 guns on the field, and Anderson's division but seven. The artillery on both sides suffered severely in men and horses. A number of Federal batteries were captured, and held temporarily, but only two or three guns could be brought off the field. Hunt's report says:—

‘The batteries were exposed to heavy front and enfilading fires and suffered terribly, but as rapidly as any were disabled they were retired and replaced by others.’

Besides the reenforcements of 12 brigades already mentioned (including Crawford's Pa. reserves), Meade had followed them with Robinson's and Doubleday's divisions of the 1st corps, five brigades (taken from the lines in front of Hill's corps), and with Williams's division, three brigades of the 12th corps. Two more brigades, Candy's and Cobham's, of Geary's division of the 12th corps, were also withdrawn from the intrenchments upon Culp's Hill, and ordered to the left, but they missed their road and did not reach the scene of action in time. These withdrawals left of the 12th corps but a single brigade, Greene's, holding the intrenchments upon Culp's Hill in front of Johnson's division of Ewell's corps, who had been all day under [407] orders to attack at the sound of Longstreet's guns. What they did will be told presently.

All of these reenforcements did not become engaged. A part of Stannard's brigade recaptured six of the Federal guns, which the Confederates had overrun but could not remove. Part of Lockwood's brigade of the 12th corps, who were raw troops, were led into action by Meade in person, and also retook a captured battery. Most of these reenforcements came into view upon the crest, from the lower slopes of which Crawford's division now advanced in a counter-stroke to the Confederate charge which had routed and pursued Ayres's division. The mere sight of the long lines and solid blue masses which appeared to the Confederates as they cleared the woods and scanned the opposite slopes, was calculated to paralyze the advance. Ten fresh brigades were in position before them, besides the remnants of the 13 brigades which had been driven back. About 75 guns were in action supporting this huge force. To this day there survive stories showing how the Confederates were impressed by this tremendous display. One, still told by guides at Gettysburg, is that a cry was heard in the Confederate ranks, ‘Have we got all creation to whip?’ And another of the time was that the Federal commander was heard to give his orders: ‘Attention, Universe! Nations into line! By Kingdom! —Right wheel.’

Fortunately for the Confederates, the Federal counter-stroke was confined to a very moderate advance by Crawford's division. Our disorganized lines made a show of resistance, but it only led to the loss of perhaps 200 prisoners from Anderson's brigade, which unwisely prolonged its fire. The enemy, however, only advanced to the eastern edge of the Wheat Field, and the Confederates retreated no farther than the western edge. From those positions the firing was kept up until darkness brought a welcome end. For in our worn-out condition and isolated position we were in a very dangerous situation. Had Meade now ordered an advance he would have found Longstreet's left flank in the air, and the whole line of McLaws's and Hood's divisions much exhausted and but poorly supplied with ammunition. The ground on the left was open and the moon was full. There was certainly a great opportunity offered the [408] Federal commander, with his large force of fresh troops in hand near the field, and only needing the word to go.

It is now time to see how Lee's orders were being interpreted and carried out upon the left. The official reports are a painful record of insufficient comprehension of orders and inefficient attempts at execution, by officers each able to shift the blame of failure upon other shoulders than his own. Between the lines the apparent absence of supervision excites constant wonder. But everywhere that the troops fought their conduct was admirable.

Ewell, as before told, was ordered to attack with Johnson's division when he heard the sound of Longstreet's guns. Ewell says that later his instructions were modified into ‘making a diversion,’ but Lee's report does not recognize such modification. Ewell interpreted his orders as calling only for a cannonade. It must be admitted that any serious attack by Johnson would have been suicidal. The enemy's lines were of exceptional strength, which is noted in the Federal reports. Ruger, for instance, thus describes the position of his division.

‘Breastworks were immediately constructed of logs, rocks, and earth along the whole line, and at the gap in the line caused by the swale, so as to give cross fire in front of gap. In rear of breastworks of 1st brigade, about 75 yards and nearly parallel therewith, was a stone wall, behind which the second line of the brigade was placed. In front of the line of the 3d brigade Rock Creek was from four to six feet deep, with muddy bottom, caused by a dam near the turnpike. The whole position was covered with rocks. . . .’

Added to these difficulties was the fact that there was but a single position where the Confederates could plant guns to fire upon this line, and that an inferior one, giving little shelter and exposed to an enfilade fire. It was so contracted that with difficulty 14 guns were crowded upon it, within about 1000 yards of the enemy. It might have been foreseen that this battery, exposed to the fire of double its number of guns, would soon be put out of action. That was what happened: its commander, an especially gallant ‘Boy Major,’ Latimer (under 21 years), being killed. Besides these guns Ewell's diversion embraced six rifles, in rear of Latimer at a range of 2000 yards; [409] and 12 more, on Seminary Ridge to the left of Hill's artillery at a range much over a mile. Hill's artillery comprised 55 guns on Seminary Ridge. So the whole assistance given to Longstreet's attack between 4 P. M. and darkness by the other two corps was confined to an artillery duel by 32 guns of Ewell and 55 of Hill, mostly at extreme ranges. But the value of this duel as assistance to Longstreet was absolutely nothing, for it did not prevent the enemy from withdrawing troops from every corps in his line to repel our assault.

This cannonading was maintained for about two hours, after which it gradually diminished until dark. Meanwhile, about six o'clock, Ewell had sent orders to each of his division commanders to attack the enemy's lines in his front. This involved for Johnson an attack upon Culp's Hill. The division had not been pushed close to the hill in preparation for an assault, although one had been contemplated all day. It now had a full mile to advance and Rock Creek had to be crossed. This could only be done at few places and involved much delay. Only three of Johnson's four brigades moved to the attack. His official report says: —

I then advanced my infantry to the assault of the enemy's strong position — a rugged and rocky mountain, heavily timbered and difficult of ascent; a natural fortification rendered more formidable by deep intrenchments and thick abattis — Jones's brigade in advance, followed by Nichols's and Steuart's. Gen. Walker was directed to follow, but reporting to me that the enemy were advancing upon him, from their right, he was ordered to repulse them as soon as possible. . . . Gen. Walker did not arrive in time to participate in the assault that night.

‘By the time my other brigades had crossed Rock Creek and reached the base of the mountain, it was dark. His skirmishers were driven in, and the attack made with great vigor and spirit. It was as successful as could have been expected under the circumstances. Steuart's brigade, on the left, carried a line of breastworks which ran perpendicular to the enemy's main line, captured a number of prisoners and a stand of colors, and the whole line advanced to within short range and kept up a heavy fire until late in the night.’

As has been told, the whole of the 12th corps had been withdrawn from the lines except Greene's brigade. This brigade was being extended when its advance was met by Steuart, who [410] got possession only of empty trenches. Johnson's other brigades found the trenches in front of their approach held by Greene's thin line, but in the darkness of the woods, the steep and rocky ground, and the abattis and obstructions in front, Johnson's line was halted at irregular distances, and the attack resolved itself into a random and ineffective musketry fire. Nothing more was possible. And even had they found more trenches vacant and occupied them, Meade could at will concentrate ample force to drive them out. The more one studies the situation, the more strange it seems that Lee abandoned his first purpose to withdraw Johnson from his false position.

Early's attack is next to be described. It, too, was isolated, inadequate, and unsupported. It necessarily failed. Both attacks were in progress at the same time, but Longstreet's, which they were intended to support, had already ceased. Like Johnson's division, Early was also short of one brigade, Smith's having been sent to guard the rear from the direction of York. Gordon also was not engaged, as Early soon realized that the attack was an isolated one and would be quickly repulsed.

Early's report gives the following details: —

. . . As soon as Johnson became warmly engaged, which was a little before dusk, I ordered Hays and Avery to advance and carry the works on the height in front. These troops advanced in gallant style to the attack, passing over the ridge in front of them under a heavy artillery fire, and then crossing a hollow between that and Cemetery Hill and moving up this hill in the face of at least two lines of infantry posted behind stone and plank fences; but these they drove back, and passing over all obstacles they reached the crest of the hill and entered the enemy's breastworks crowning it, getting possession of one or two batteries.

‘But no attack was made on the immediate right, as was expected, and not meeting with support from that quarter, these brigades could not hold the position they had attained, because a very heavy force of the enemy was turned against them from that part of the line which the divisions on the right were to have attacked, and these brigades had, therefore, to fall back, which they did with comparatively slight loss, considering the nature of the ground over which they had to pass, and the immense odds opposed to them, and Hays's brigade brought off four stands of captured colors. Gen. Rodes did not advance for reasons given in his report.’

The maps show that Hays's brigade on the right had only [411] about 500 yards to advance over ground exposed to the enemy's fire. Avery's brigade on the left had a somewhat greater distance.

Hays reports his casualties in this affair as 181. Avery was killed. The casualties of his brigade for the three days were 345, of which at least two-thirds were suffered in this charge.

Howard's report gives the story from the Federal side:—

‘The attack was so sudden and violent that the infantry in front of Ames was giving way. In fact, at one moment the enemy had gotten within the batteries. A request for assistance had already gone to headquarters, so that promptly a brigade of the 2d corps under Col. Carroll moved to Ames's right, deployed, and went into position just in time to check the enemy's advance. At Wiedrich's battery, Gen. Ames, by extraordinary exertions, arrested a panic, and the men with sponge staffs and bayonets forced the enemy back. At this time he received support from Gen. Schurz. Effective assistance was also rendered at this time by a portion of Gen. Steinwehr's command at points where the enemy was breaking through. This furious onset was met and withstood at every point, and lasted less than an hour.’

It only remains to show why Rodes failed to cooperate with Early and Johnson as Ewell had ordered. The fault was with Ewell himself. We have already seen that he had allowed Johnson's division to remain all day so far from the position which he was to attack that, when ordered to advance, darkness fell upon him before he could reach it. Similarly Ewell had allowed both of his other divisions to locate themselves far out of reach of the places where they were likely to be needed. Of his own motion, however, Early had advanced half of his division at dawn to the Federal skirmish line, and these two brigades were ready to advance when ordered.

Rodes had remained about the northwestern edge of the town, near where the fighting of the first day had ended, and was still there when the orders came to attack. He was already preparing to advance, having seen both infantry and artillery withdrawn by the enemy from his front to resist Longstreet's pressure upon their left. But his location was so unfortunate that, in spite of this warning, both Johnson's and Early's attacks were begun and finished before Rodes had reached the enemy's skirmish line.

Finding then his opportunity gone he wisely desisted. But [412] as Lee and his staff during the morning had visited Ewell's lines, it is strange that such faulty locations escaped notice and correction. Rodes's report not only shows the badness of his original position, but tells of an excellent one for the attack, which so far had entirely escaped the recognition of any Confederate reconnoitring officer. His report says:—

‘Having to draw my troops out of town by the flank, change the direction of the line of battle, and then to traverse a distance of 1200 to 1400 yards, while Gen. Early had to move only half that distance without change of front, the result was that before I drove the enemy's skirmishers in, Gen. Early had attacked and been compelled to withdraw. . . . But instead of falling back to the original line, I caused the front line to assume a strong position in the plain to the right of the town along the hollow of an old road-bed. This position was much nearer the enemy, was clear of the town, and was one from which I could readily attack without confusion.’

Rodes's description of his new position is of special interest. Taken in connection with his statement of the distance to be traversed by Early's charge, it shows the existence of far more favorable ground for an attack upon Cemetery Hill than is to be found elsewhere upon the Federal line of battle from Culp's Hill to Little Round Top. It was open to our occupation from the afternoon of the first day, when Ewell stopped the pursuit, and it must ever remain a grave reflection upon the Confederate conduct of the battle that the weakest part of the Federal position was the only portion which was not attacked. It will be more fully described in the account of the action on the 3d.

Thus ended the second day, and one is tempted to say that thus ended the battle of Gettysburg. For of the third (lay it must be said, as was said of the charge of the Six Hundred at Balaklava, ‘Magnificent, but not War!’

The first day had been won by 17 Confederate brigades of infantry attacking 13 Federal. The victory was fruitless because Ewell stopped the pursuit in full tide.

On the second day, Longstreet, with 11 brigades, in seven piecemeal attacks, drives back six Federal brigades, which, being gradually reenforced by 18 fresh brigades, check the Confederate advance, and recover part of the lost ground, before [413] night ends the conflict. Cooperative attacks by Ewell and Hill, ordered by Lee, fail to be effective because both Ewell and Hill had failed to have their divisions in proper positions for the charge long before the moment arrived, although each had had ample time.

1 As we advanced we saw a number of prisoners being sent to the rear, passing a rail fence across our path. Maj. Dearing, commanding the battalion attached to Pickett's division was with us, and he shouted an order to the prisoners to ‘move those rails.’ Never was an order executed with more alacrity. Every prisoner seemed to seize a rail, and the fence disappeared as if by magic.

2 The Federal losses stated are from the official returns which include the losses of all three days, but most of the brigades mentioned suffered the greater part of their losses during the afternoon of the 2d.

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