previous next

Gettysburg, battle of.

On the day when General Meade took command of the Army of the Potomac, June 28, 1863, Lee was about to cross the Susquehanna at Harrisburg and march on Philadelphia. The militia of Pennsylvania, who had shown great apathy in responding to the call for help, now, when danger was [69] at their door, turned out with considerable spirit; and Lee, observing this, and hearing that the augmented Army of the Potomac was in Maryland and threatening his rear and flanks, immediately abandoned his scheme for further invasion, and ordered a retrograde movement. On the same day, Stuart, with a large force of cavalry, crossed the Potomac, pushed on to Westminster, at the right of the Nationals, crossed over to Carlisle, encountering Kilpatrick and his cavalry, and followed Ewell in his march towards Gettsyburg. Longstreet had been ordered to cross the South Mountain range, and press on through Gettysburg to Baltimore to keep Meade from cutting Lee's communications. Lee hoped to crush Meade, and then March in triumph on Baltimore and Washington; or, in case of failure, to secure a direct line of retreat into Virginia. Meanwhile Meade was pushing towards the Susquehanna with cautious movement, and on the evening of June 30 he discovered Lee's evident intention to give battle at once. On the day before, Kilpatrick and Custer's cavalry had defeated some of Stuart's a few miles from Gettysburg. Buford's cavalry entered Gettysburg; and on the 30th the left wing of Meade's army, led by General Reynolds, arrived near there. At the same time the corps of Hill and Longstreet were approaching from Chambersburg, and Ewell was marching down from Carlisle in full force. On the morning of July 1 Buford, with 6,000 cavalry, met the van of Lee's army, led by General Heth, between Seminary Ridge (a little way from Gettysburg) and a parallel ridge a little farther west, when a sharp skirmish ensued. Reynolds, who had bivouacked at

Position of the Northern and Confederate armies, sunset, June 30, 1863.

Marsh Creek, a few miles distant, was then advancing with his own corps, followed by Howard's, having those of Sickles and Slocum within call. The sound of fire-arms quickened his pace, and he marched rapidly to the relief of Buford, who was holding the Confederates in check. While Reynolds was placing some of his troops on the Chambersburg road, the Confederates made an attack, when a volley of musketry from the 56th Pennsylvania led by Col. J. W. Hoffman, opened the decisive battle of Gettysburg.

Meredith's “Iron brigade” then charged into a wood in the rear of the Seminary, to fall upon Hill's right, under General Archer. The Nationals were pushed back, but other troops, under the personal direction of Reynolds, struck Archer's flank, and captured that officer and 800 of his men. At the moment when this charge was made, the bullet of a Mississippi sharp-shooter pierced Reynolds's neck, when he fell forward and expired. General Doubleday had just arrived, and took Reynolds's place, leaving his own division in charge of General Rowley. Very soon the Mississippi brigade, under General Davis, was captured, and at noon the whole of the 1st Corps, under General Doubleday, was well posted on Seminary Ridge, and the remainder of Hill's corps was rapidly [70] approaching. Meanwhile, the advance division of Ewell's corps had taken a position on a ridge north of the town, connecting with Hill, and seriously menacing the National right, held by General Cutler. Doubleday sent aid to Cutler, when a severe struggle ensued for some time, and three North Carolina regiments were captured. Now the battle assumed far grander proportions. Howard's corps, animated by the sounds of battle on its front, pressed rapidly forward, and reached the field of strife at a little past noon. He left Steinwehr's brigade on Cemetery Hill, placed General Schurz in temporary charge of the corps, and, ranking Doubleday, took the chief command of all the troops in action. The Confederate numbers were continually augmented, and, to meet an expected attack from the north and west, Howard was compelled to extend the National lines, then quite thin, about 3 miles, with Culp's Hill on the right, Round Top on the left, and Cemetery Hill in the centre, forming the apex of a redan. At about three o'clock in the afternoon there was a general advance of the Confederates, and a terrible battle ensued, with heavy losses on both sides. The Nationals were defeated. They had anxiously looked for reinforcements from the scattered corps of the Army of the Potomac. These speedily came, but not

Where the battle began.

until the preliminary engagement in the great battle of Gettysburg was ended.

General Meade was at Taneytown, 13 miles distant, when he heard of the death of Reynolds, and he ordered General Hancock, Howard's junior, to leave his corps with Gibbons and take the chief command at Gettysburg. He arrived just as the beaten forces were hurrying towards Cemetery Hill. He reported to Meade that he was satisfied with Howard's disposition of the troops. The latter had called early upon Slocum and Sickles, and both promptly responded. Sickles joined the left of the troops on Cemetery Hill that night. Hancock had gone back; and, meeting his own corps, posted it a mile and a half in the rear of Cemetery Hill. Meade had now given orders for the concentration of his whole army at Gettysburg, and he aroused them at one o'clock in the morning of July 2, when only the corps of Sykes and Sedgwick were absent. Lee, too, had been bringing forward his troops as rapidly as possible, making his headquarters on Seminary Ridge. On the morning of the 2d a greater portion of the two armies confronted each other. Both commanders seemed averse to taking the initiative of battle. The Nationals had the advantage of position, their lines projecting in wedge-form towards The Confederate centre, with steep rocky acclivities along their front. It was late in the afternoon before a decided movement was made. Sickles, on the left, between Cemetery Hill and Round Top, expecting an attack, had advanced his corps we11 towards the heaviest columns of the Confederates. Then Lee attacked him with Longstreet's corps. There was first a severe struggle for the possession of the rocky eminence on Meade's extreme left, where Birney was stationed. The Nationals won.

Meanwhile there was a fierce contest near the centre, between Little Round Top and Cemetery Hill. While yet there [71]

Battle-ground of little round top.

was strife for the former, General Crawford, with six regiments of Pennsylvania reserves, swept down its northwestern side with tremendous shouts, and drove the Confederates through the woods to the Emmettsburg road, making 300 of them prisoners. Generals Humphreys and Graham were then in an advanced position, the former with his right on the Emmettsburg road, when Hill, advancing in heavy force from Seminary Ridge, fell upon him and pushed him back, with a loss of half his men and three guns. In this onset Sickles lost a leg, and Birney took command of the corps. Elated by this success, the Confederates pushed up to the base of Cemetery Hill and its southern slope, throwing themselves recklessly upon supposed weak points. In this contest Meade led troops in person. Finally Hancock, just at sunset, directed a general charge, chiefly by fresh troops under Doubleday, who had hastened to his assistance from the rear of Cemetery Hill. These, with Humphreys's shattered regiments, drove the Confederates back and recaptured four guns. The battle ended on the left centre at twilight. Then the battle was renewed on the National right, where General Slocum was in chief command. Ewell had attacked him with a part of his corps at the time Longstreet assailed the left. The assault was vigorous. Up the northern slopes of Cemetery Hill the Confederates pressed in the face of a murderous fire of canister and shrapnel to the muzzles of the guns. Another part of Ewell's corps attempted to turn the National right by attacking its weakened part on Culp's Hill. The Confederates were repulsed at the right centre; and, after a severe battle on the extreme right of the Nationals, the Confederates there were firmly held in check. So ended, at about ten o'clock at night, the second day's battle at Gettysburg, when nearly 40,000 men of the two armies, who were “effective” thirty-six hours before, were dead or wounded.

The advantage seemed to be with the Confederates, for they held the ground in advance of Gettysburg which the Nationals had held the previous day. During the night Meade made provision for expelling the Confederate intrusion on the National right by placing a heavy artillery force in that direction. Under cover of these guns a strong force made an attack, and for four hours Geary's division [72] kept up a desperate struggle. Then the Confederates fell back, and the right was made secure. Now Ewell was repulsed on the right, and Round Top, on the left, was impregnable; so Lee determined to strike Meade's centre with a force that should crush it. At noon (July 3) he had 145 cannon in battery along the line occupied by Longstreet and Hill. All night General Hunt, of the Nationals, had been arranging the artillery from Cemetery Hill to Little Round Top, where the expected blow would fall. Lee determined to aim his chief blow at Hancock's position on Cemetery Hill. At 1 o'clock P. M. 115 of his cannon opened a rapid concentrated fire on the devoted point. Fourscore National guns replied, and for two hours more than 200 cannon shook the surrounding country with their detonations. Then the Confederate infantry, in a line 3 miles in length, preceded by a host of skirmishers, flowed swiftly over the undulating plain. Behind these was; a heavy reserve. Pickett, with his Virginians, led the van, well supported, in a charge upon Cemetery Hill. In all, his troops were about 15,000 strong. The cannon had now almost ceased thundering, and were succeeded by the awful roll of musketry. Shot and shell from Hancock's batteries now made fearful lanes through the oncoming Confederate ranks. Hancock was wounded, and Gibbons was. placed in command. Pickett pressed onward, when the divisions of Hayes and Gibbons opened an appalling and continuous fire upon them. The Confederates gave way, and 2,000 men were made prisoners, and fifteen battle-flags became trophies of victory for Hayes. Still Pickett moved on, scaled Cemetery Hill, burst through Hancock's line, drove back a portion of General Webb's brigade, and planted the Confederate flag on a stonewall.

But Pickett could go no farther. Then

General Pickett at Cemetery Hill.


View from little round top.

Stannard's Vermont brigade of Doubleday's division opened such a destructive fire on Pickett's troops that they gave way. Very soon 2,500 of them were made prisoners, and with them twelve battleflags, and three-fourths of his gallant men were dead or captives. Wilcox supported Pickett, and met a similar fate at the hands of the Vermonters. Meanwhile Crawford had advanced upon the Confederate right from near Little Round Top. The Confederates fled; and in this sortie the whole ground lost by Sickles was recovered, with 260 men captives, 7,000 small-arms, a cannon, and wounded Unionists, who had lain nearly twenty-four hours uncared for. Thus, at near sunset, July 3, 1863, ended the battle of Gettysburg. During that night and all the next day Lee's army on Seminary Ridge prepared for flight back to Virginia. His invasion was a failure; and on Sunday morning, July 5, his whole army was moving towards the Potomac.

This battle, in its far-reaching effects, was the most important of the war. The National loss in men, from the morning of the 1st until the evening of the 3d of July, was reported by Meade to be 23,186, of whom 2,834 were killed, 13,709 wounded, and 6,643 missing. Lee's loss was probably about 30,000. The battle-ground is now the National Soldiers' Cemetery, nearly all of the Confederate dead having been removed to Southern cemeteries. The battle-field is now studded with State and regimental monuments marking the most important spots in the three-days' battle. Near the centre of the battle-field stands a national monument of gray granite, erected at a cost of $50,000, and also a bronze statue of General Reynolds.

Almost immediately after the battle the government determined to acquire and set apart the battle-field for a National Soldiers' Cemetery. On Nov. 19, 1863, the field, which then contained the graves of 3,580 Union soldiers, was dedicated by President Lincoln, who delivered the following memorable speech:

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final restingplace for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot [74] hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little

The soldiers' monument at Gettysburg.

note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us, that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion, that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

See Adams, Charles Francis; Everett, Edward.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
July 3rd (2)
November 19th, 1863 AD (1)
July 3rd, 1863 AD (1)
June 30th, 1863 AD (1)
June 28th, 1863 AD (1)
July 5th (1)
July 2nd (1)
July 1st (1)
June 30th (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: