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Chapter 11:

  • The battle of the 2d and 3d of July
  • -- the position of the Third Corps -- action on July 2 -- Participation of the Fifth and Sixth -- position of the Second and Twelfth Corps -- action on July 3 -- reminiscences

Examine now the map, ‘vicinity of Gettysburg.’ Note the position of the town. Observe the long, irregular, curved ridge south of it; the east and short arm of this curvilinear range is Culp's Hill. At the apex of the angle formed by the intersection of Culp's Hill with the longer arm of the range, is Cemetery Hill. South, along the long arm of the ridge, where the crossroad passes from the Baltimore pike to the Emmetsburg road, is Little Round Top. South of this, and the base of the map, is Round Top. The crest of this aptly termed, ‘fish-hook shaped ridge’ was the Federal position on the 2d and 3d of July. Now with the town again for the point of view, observe west of it another ridge overlooking the village and extending by it from north to south. This is Oak or Seminary Ridge. On its crest and on the plain east of it, even into the village, was fought the disastrous battle of the 1st of July. From this elevation descended the Confederate force on the 2d of July, to attempt to turn the Union left near Little Round Top. From this ridge on the same day, they made the futile attempt to storm Cemetery Hill. From this same position at one P. M. on the 3d of July, their 150 guns belched forth their awful thunder, making the air demoniacal for two hours. This concentration of artillery fire upon Cemetery Ridge was intended, doubtless, to demoralize its defenders before the grand charge of their 18,000 infantry up its side. Back upon this Seminary Hill the remnant of the Confederate force retired after their repulse upon the 3d of July, and on this ground they were attacked by Meade, late in the afternoon of that day. Finally, from this ridge they retreated to Virginia.

On the 2d of July the Third Corps (Gen. Sickles), which had arrived during the previous evening, with a part of the First [122] Corps, occupied the left of the Union position, forming an advanced line extending through the Devil's Den, along the Emmetsburg road, across Plum Run to the spur of Round Top. This advanced line, Sickles's first position, has been the subject alike of adverse criticism and approval by military authorities. It was to turn this line and obtain possession of Little Round Top, the key of the Federal position, that Longstreet made the memorable assault, early in the afternoon, upon the lines of Sickles and Doubleday. The Third Corps was the extreme left, its infantry in front and behind it artillery,—several Massachusetts batteries, among them Bigelow's and Phillips's, and several companies under Capt. McGilvry of Maine. Later, the Fifth Corps arrived and were in position, and afterward the left wing was further reinforced by the infantry of the Sixth Corps. Before this line was a ravine, and beyond the ravine, sloping down to a stone-wall, was a wheatfield.

There was a skirmish at noon near the Emmetsburg road, for the possession of some cattle. This brought on the engagement of the day.

Nothing could exceed the vim, the terrible energy of the Confederate attack. Between two and three o'clock their legions, with that yell whose echo was infernal, poured over the wheatfield, over the stone-wall, past the ravine, striking with direful effect the divisions of the Third Corps, who fought with a valor never surpassed, realizing that a repulse at this point would result in yielding to the enemy the key of the Federal position—the Round Tops. Here Gen. Sickles lost his right leg while holding the heroic Third to the awful task that had devolved upon it and its associate corps. For two hours the conflict raged in this quarter, two divisions of the Fifth Corps having meanwhile arrived, and having been engaged upon the right of the Third. But the lines were scattered and driven back; several thousand arms had been lost. A little after five o'clock, a Confederate charge upon the First Division of the Third Corps on the extreme left, drove back the Federal infantry and threatened the batteries to which we have alluded as being behind the divisions of the Third Corps. Orders were sent to Capt. Bigelow of Massachusetts, whose battery was upon the extreme left, to hold his position at all hazards until two other batteries should be sent to support [123] him. As the Confederates charged upon his guns, he opened with double charges of grape and canister, but he did not break their line, for they continually closed up their gaps and pressed on. After his canister was exhausted, he fired spherical case at short range. The enemy approach within six paces of his guns. He remembers the imperative order, and holds his place. They spring upon his carriages and shoot his horses; then Bigelow's cannoneers and he seize two of the guns and drag them by hand from the front line back to the position of the caissons, five out of six of which were saved. So the enemy fell upon Phillips's battery, its horses were shot down, its guns were drawn off by hand.

These scenes transpired in front and west of the ridge. Now from a new position on the slope, these batteries, and several that had reinforced them again, opened fire; the enemy, coming to attack these, were exposed to enfilading fires from the centre; whenever they came within this position, their punishment was terrible. Now the leading division of the Fifth Corps arrived to the aid of the left, advancing in line, Gen. Crawford leading, bearing the colors, as fugitives were rushing through his ranks. Crawford ordered a charge. Forward launched the division, pouring volley after volley into the Confederate ranks, which were driven back across the ravine, over the stone-wall and across the grainfield. The lost ground and quantities of arms were regained. Now arrived the other divisions of the Fifth and the infantry of the Sixth, strengthening the left and centre. On a dozen crests, points in the curved line extending from Round Top to our right centre, were batteries comprising, among others, all of the reserve artillery of the Army of the Potomac, whose fires crossed and murderously raked the paths of the advancing columns of the enemy, now turning his attention to the centre, breaking and shattering them, rendering their capture easy; and during the last hour of the combined effort of the Third, Fifth, and Sixth on the left and centre, it is said more prisoners were captured than in the whole previous time.


The Sixth Corps was within supporting distance at two o'clock on the 2d of July, after its all-night march, and reaching the road which leaves the Baltimore pike on the west (see map), moved along this way to Little Round Top, ready to take part in [124] the action. The infantry was immediately ordered in at this place. But the reserve artillery having already entered the conflict, the artillery of our corps, for the time being, became the reserve.


On the Union right, extending along the ridge over Cemetery Hill to Culp's Hill, were the Second Corps (Gen. Hancock arriving on the previous afternoon, ‘giving strength to the position and confidence to the forces by his presence’), the Twelfth Corps (Gen. Slocum having arrived in the evening of the 1st of July, being at that moment the senior general), the Eleventh Corps and Wadsworth's division of the First. Hill's Confederate corps, which was the centre of Lee's army, confronted the Second Corps and part of the Eleventh; while the Confederate left, Ewell's corps, was opposed to a part of the Eleventh and Wadsworth's division. The remainder of the First was on the left of our army, on the 2d of July, as, late in the afternoon, was the Twelfth, it having been despatched to the aid of the weakened Third.

Here Hill's corps made a vain attempt to storm Cemetery Hill, and Ewell gained some slight advantage toward Rock Creek. These movements commenced about six P. M., and continued into the evening, the moon having risen while the struggle continued. Ewell's movement developed to him the fact that our extreme right had been somewhat weakened, the Twelfth Corps, as has already been stated, having gone to the aid of the Union left, and he was able to make a slight lodgement on Culp's Hill. But when the strife ceased, upon the night of the 2d of July, all along the line, it may be said that the advantage lay decidedly with the Federals, for the left occupied an impregnable position, that which the commanding general first designed that it should hold, and on the right Ewell was dislodged on the morrow.

In the profound silence of this midsummer night there was no slumber for Gen. Meade and his lieutenants. The commander is even said to have contemplated a change in his plan of movements. In the council of war, however, the advice of his generals seems generally to have been in favor of maintaining the position held at dusk, as incomparably superior to any other that might be selected. Moreover, despatches from Richmond, which had been found upon a captured courier, showed that Lee could hope for no more reinforcements. [125]

The short summer night sped, and at daylight, Gen. Slocum's corps having returned to the right, and with their return commenced the operation of dislodging the Confederates from Culp's Hill, this was accomplished before ten o'clock, by Gen. Slocum's troops and Wadsworth's division of the First Corps. Gen. Lee now withdrew his sharpshooters and all his infantry from the town. The retirement of these troops to Seminary Ridge was doubtless intended to allure Meade from his advantageous position. The stratagem failed. The Confederate retreat from the town was quickened by some parting shots from a knoll north of the cemetery. At noon the frightened and bewildered inhabitants who were yet in the town, creeping out to ascertain the meaning of the silence, saw the Confederates falling back to the seminary.

It is said, that, on this eventful Friday, 3d of July, Gen. Lee did not desire to attack the Federal position; he saw its superiority, but he yielded to the appeals of his lieutenants.

At one P. M. the Confederate commander opened with 150 guns upon the eminence held by the Federals. For two hours the air was alive with shells. This was the tremendous artillery fire designed to demoralize the Federal troops before the grand charge of Longstreet's grand division.


Our command, having been held in reserve, was, we believe, one of the last batteries to enter the conflict. But on this day, about two o'clock, passing in near Little Round Top, then running the gauntlet of the Confederate fire, we succeeded in relieving the First New Hampshire Battery, on Cemetery Ridge, and there did honorable service. Every shell from Seminary Hill seemed to be thrown at the cemetery. Amidst this terrible Confederate cannonade, scarcely a Federal shot was heard: the cannoneers with their implements lay low in the little ditches dug behind their guns.

Artillerymen declared that they had precisely the range of the ridge occupied by the enemy. One of our boys evidently thought differently, since he discharged one of our Napoleons. This brought hither an aid, for there had been no orders to fire. ‘I am directed to ask why that gun was fired,’ he said. H., who had held the lanyard and pulled the string, heard his chief of section reply, that the gunner was ‘getting the range.’ [126]

Our infantry, with loaded guns, awaited the charge. At three o'clock the cannonade lulled; from among the rocks and the stunted woods of Seminary Hill arose an interminable, hideous yell. The tried soldiers upon the opposite ridge knew well what would be its sequel. In every portion of the line cannon were directed toward the valley in front of the cemetery. Down from Seminary Ridge swept the Confederate double battle line, over a mile long, skirmishers in front, the spectacle provoking the admiration of their foes. The yell had ceased. Silently and with military precision, 18,000 men moved through the valley toward the slope of the opposite ridge.

Now, a hundred guns tore gaps in their front. Volleys were poured into them, breaking their line. Yet on they came. Grape, canister, and spherical case fell thick among them. Still they pushed forward. They planted their battle-flags on the outer line of works. Thousands of Confederates rushed across, into the works and up to the cemetery. They were shouting and screaming. The Confederate shells flew over the field upon the Union gunners on the hill, and the latter directed all their fire upon the surging mass of desperate assailants. Every available piece upon Cemetery Hill, and every gun to the right and to the left, poured shot and shell into the valley. Still the indefatigable foe pushed up the hill. They fought hand to hand with the Federal infantry. The contest was terrible —so close that the exploding powder scorched their clothes. One moment the Confederates would beat the railings of the cemetery, then a Federal rally and rush would send them back to the base of the hill; then with a yell they would return, and there would be a fierce battle among the tombstones. Now upon this surging mass, the Union troops closed from every point. Here was the hardest fight of the day. Hundreds were slain there. Out of that terrible fire a swarm of prisoners rushed into our lines. The Confederate repulse was complete, absolute. They retired upon their own hill.


Now Gen. Meade determined to drive the Confederates out of the seminary. His troops were marshalled. They charged down the hill, into the town, through the streets, and ascended the hill toward the seminary, under a heavy fire from that quarter. This [127] portion of the Confederate line had evidently been much weakened. After some resistance, they abandoned the hill and retreated from the seminary. The Federals did not pursue. During the night the Confederates retreated still further, abandoning their entire line of battle. It is a coincidence worthy of note and remembrance, that, at the moment the last Confederate charge was being repelled at Gettysburg, Grant was receiving Pemberton's sword at Vicksburg.


Accounts of this battle have been singularly silent in regard to the influence of the Sixth Army Corps upon the fortunes of the campaign. After a march unsurpassed in military annals, our three divisions arrived at just the instant when the Confederates, spurred by success, were penetrating our lines to the right of Round Top. In three parallel lines then advanced our infantry. Gen. Wright, then commanding our First Division, he who was, during the Shenandoah campaign, and thence to the close of the war, the able and honored chief of the corps, says: ‘The volley from our front line was perhaps the heaviest I ever heard; and it had the effect, not only of checking the enemy's triumphant advance, but of throwing his ranks into the utmost confusion.’

What would have been the final result of the second day's contest had the Sixth Army Corps failed to reach the field at that critical moment? Did it do but little fighting on that day? It did all that was necessary for it to do.


Roster. Sixth Army Corps.

Engaged at Gettysburg, July 2 and 3, 1863. Sixth Corps.—Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick, Commanding.

First Division.

Brig. Gen. Horatio G. Wright, Commanding.

First Brigade.—Brig. Gen. A. T. A. Torbert, Commanding. 1st New Jersey, Lieut. Col. Wm. Henry, Jr.; 2d New Jersey, Col. Samuel L. Buck; 3d New Jersey, Col. Henry W. Brown; 15th New Jersey, Col. Wm. H. Penrose.

Second Brigade.—Brig. Gen. J. J. Bartlett, Commanding. 5th Maine, Col. Clark S. Edwards; 121st New York, Col. Emory Upton; 95th Pennsylvania, Lieut. Col. Edward Carroll; 96th Pennsylvania, Lieut. Col. Wm. H. Lessig.

Third Brigade.—Brig. Gen. D. A. Russell, Commanding. 6th Maine, Col. Hiram Burnham; 49th Pennsylvania, Col. Wm. H. Irvin; 119th Pennsylvania, Col. P. E. Ellmaker; 5th Wisconsin, Col. Thos. S. Allen.

Second Division.

Brig. Gen. A. P. Howe, Commanding.

Second Brigade.—Col. L. A. Grant, Commanding. 2d Vermont, Col. J. H. Walbridge; 3d Vermont, Col. T. O. Seaver; 4th Vermont. Col. E. H. Stoughton; 5th Vermont, Lieut. Col. Jno. R. Lewis 6th Vermont, Lieut. Col. E. L. Barney.

Third Brigade.—Brig. Gen. T. A. Neill, Commanding. 7th Maine, Lieut. Col. Selden Connor; 49th New York, Col. D. D. Bidwell; 77th New York, Col. J. B. McKean; 43d New York, Col. B. F. Baker; 61st Pennsylvania, Maj. Geo. W. Dawson.


Third Division.

Brig. Gen. Frank Wheaton, Commanding.

First Brigade.—Brig. Gen. Alexander Shaler, Commanding. 65th New York, Col. J. E. Hamblin; 67th New York, Col. Nelson Cross; 122d New York, Lieut. Col. A. W. Dwight; 23d Pennsylvania, Lieut. Col. Jno. F. Glinn; 82d Pennsylvania, Col. Isaac Bassett.

Second Brigade.—Col. H. L. Eustis, Commanding. 7th Massachusetts, Lieut. Col. F. P. Harlow; 10th Massachusetts, Lieut. Col. J. M. Decker; 37th Massachusetts, Col. T. Ingraham; 2d Rhode Island, Lieut. Col. A. W. Corliss.

Third Brigade.—Col. David Nevin, Commanding. 62d New York, Lieut. Col. T. B. Hamilton; 102d Pennsylvania, Col. J. W. Patterson; 93d Pennsylvania, Col. J. M. McCarter; 98th Pennsylvania, Maj. J. B. Kohler; 139th Pennsylvania, Lieut. Col. W. H. Moody.

Artillery Brigade.

Col. Chas. H. Tompkins, Commanding. Battery A, 1st Massachusetts, Capt. Wm. H. McCartney; Battery D, 2d United States, Lieut. E. B. Williston; Battery F, 5th United States, Lieut. Leonard Martin; Battery G, 2d United States, Lieut. G. H. Butler; Battery C, 1st Rhode Island, Capt. Richard Waterman; Battery G, 1st Rhode Island, Capt. G. W. Adams; 1st New York, Capt. Andrew Cowan; 3d New York, Capt. Wm. A. Harn.

Cavalry Detachment.

Capt. Wm. L. Craft, Commanding. H, 1st Pennsylvania; L, 1st New Jersey.

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