Archive for Live

Gettysburg Live 150 – 4:30pm – South Cavalry Field

After the failure of Pickett’s Charge, the Union cavalry decided to try their own flanking movement just about now, 150 years ago.

The brigades of newly-appointed Generals Elon Farnsworth and Wesley Merritt, under the over-all command of Brig. General Judson Kilpatrick, would probe to find the Confederate right flank.

Merritt’s men would be on the left of the advance, fighting dismounted up the Emmitsburg Road. Determined fighting from the Confederates of Law’s division, and sufficient reinforcements on their side, meant that this attack stalled.

On the right, Farnsworth’s men were in the woods on Bushman’s Hill. They would charge through the rocky forest on horseback – not the best choice. The attack would become disjointed, and the young Brig. General Farnsworth would pay for Kilpatrick’s poor plan with his life.

The Confederate flank would not be turned, and with no frontal assault coming from Cemetery Ridge, the Confederates were safe for the night.

———————————————————–

With the failure of this Union attack, the combat at Gettysburg was over. In 3 days, nearly 170,000 men had fought here, and 51,000 became casualties. It is the bloodiest battle ever fought by Americans in any war, and the largest and bloodiest ever to take place in the western hemisphere.

The massive numbers of dead (over 8,000) will lead to the creation of the first National Cemetery here in the coming months. On November 19, 1863, at the dedication ceremony for that cemetery, Abraham Lincoln will give one of the greatest speeches in American history. His “appropriate remarks” will bring meaning to the devastation, and a purpose to finishing the war.

Gettysburg Live 150 – 3:50pm – Pickett’s Retreat

Not enough men broke through the Union defenses. There was no follow-up, no support, and (most importantly) no shattered Union army.

By this time 150 years ago, the men who were going to make it back from the failed attack did. General Lee was concerned that there’d be a Union counter attack, but none came. General Meade wasn’t about to abandon his good defensive position to stumble into what might be a trap.

Lee didn’t know that of course, and he had to make preparations. He went to Maj. General Pickett and asked him to move to a defensive posture and ready his division for a possible Union offensive. Pickett famously stared at Lee with a blank look and simply said, “I have no division.”

Pickett wasn’t too far off. The attack had been a complete disaster. The units that made the charge took 50% casualties. Every field officer in Pickett’s division was a casualty. All three of his brigade commanders were lost.

Pickett himself was never the same after this, and he never forgave Lee for doing this to his troops. For his viewpoint, he was ostracized after the war by the rest of the southern generals. Calling out Lee was absolutely forbidden.

For his part, Lee took full responsibility himself. He realized that his over confidence had led to this tragedy. Under Lee’s leadership, the Confederates would lick their wounds and begin the retreat back to Virginia.

Gettysburg Live 150 – 2:30pm – Pickett’s Charge

The barrage had done as much as it could do. Longstreet didn’t like the idea of this attack at all – he spent much of the afternoon trying to avoid giving the order to proceed, even going so far as to try to trick Col. Alexander into doing it. The subordinate division commanders kept coming to ask when the attack would start – finally Maj. General George Pickett brought a note from Col. Alexander stating that the Confederate ordnance was nearly out. When Pickett asked if the attack could go forward, all Longstreet could manage was a nod.

Longstreet was in over-all command. The attack included the division of Maj. General Heth (temporarily commanded by Brig. General Pettigrew), and a mixed division under the command of Maj. General Isaac Trimble. While his name gets top billing on the charge, Pickett’s division made up only about 1/3 of the attacking force. Perhaps this was because his were the freshest troops on the field, or because they ended up making the farthest advance of the day. Either way, the attack is more properly called “Longstreet’s Assault” by most serious historians.

150 years ago right now, the 13,000 men who would take part in the charge came out of the tree line on Seminary Ridge and began the advance.

They would cross nearly a mile of open fields, under fire from Union artillery the whole way. There were two fences that would have to be crossed along the way and for the last leg, the fire of tens of thousands of Yankee rifles to contend with.

Like I said, some of Pickett’s men did make it over the wall. Nearly 1,000 men broke the Union lines, but that wasn’t enough to last. The Confederacy had reached its high tide.

Gettysburg Live 150 – 2:15pm – East Cavalry Field

When J.E.B. Stuart fired off those cannons to signal Lee, the alarm was instantly raised.

Brig. General David McMurtrie Gregg brought his men – two brigades under the command of Col. John McIntosh, and newly-appointed Brig. General George A. Custer – up the Low Dutch Road to meet the threat to the Union rear. By this time 150 years ago, they were in position to do something.

It began with an artillery duel. The well-trained Union gunners were able to overpower Stuart’s horse artillery. J.E.B. would need another trick to get past them.

He decided on a flanking movement, but he was blocked by troopers from the 5th Michigan Cavalry. Just as he had them breaking, the 7th Michigan counter-attacked, personally led by General Custer himself.

Fighting would swirl around these fields for less than an hour. Charge and counter-charge happened again, and again General Custer and his Michigan boys made the difference.

The struggle came to a head when Col. McIntosh’s brigade was able to flank the Confederates, wounding Confederate Brig. General Wade Hampton in the process. In mass confusion, and nearly surrounded, the Rebel horsemen had no choice but to retreat.

While relatively light on casualties for both sides, this little-mentioned action represented another step up for the Union cavalry, and another missed opportunity for J.E.B. Stuart and the Confederates. The tides were slowly turning.

Gettysburg Live 150 – 1:00pm – The Grand Barrage

In preparation for the infantry assault against the center of the Union line on Cemetery Ridge, General Lee ordered a massive artillery barrage. It would be the largest of the war.

Nearly 150 guns from all three Confederate corps would participate. With any luck, the concentrated fire of all these weapons would damage the Union guns and cause the infantry to flee in panic. It would have to be perfectly executed, as the Confederates had little ammunition to spare.

Lee gave Longstreet overall command of the attack, and he assigned the artillery portion to Col. E. Porter Alexander, the I Corps artillery chief. Alexander was a brilliant up-and-comer in the Army of Northern Virginia, and had the ability to look at situations very objectively. Before the day was out, he’d be placed in a very awkward situation.

150 years ago right now, the firing commenced. It didn’t take long for the Union guns to respond. With both sides blasting away, the area around Gettysburg became a loud, smokey mess – so loud in fact that the barrage was heard as far away as Washington, DC and Pittsburgh, PA. It was impossible to see what the enemy was doing through all of that, and whether your own fire was having an effect.

Despite this fog of war, it also didn’t take long for the Brig. General Henry Hunt – Chief of Artillery for the Army of the Potomac (and the man who literally wrote the book on artillery before the war) – to recognize that this wasn’t merely an artillerist’s duel. This was the clear prelude to an infantry assault. The Rebels would charge across those fields as soon as they thought they’d inflicted enough damage – Hunt was sure of it. He ran around to each of his battery commanders and told them to slow down. The infantry commanders were furious – the artillery should be returning fire vigorously!

There was a method to Hunt’s seeming madness. Not only would slowing down conserve ammunition for the coming infantry attack, it would lull the Confederates into thinking that there was a steadily decreasing number of guns firing back at them – perhaps they were damaging the Union defenses!

After an hour and a half of this, the Confederates were running low on ordnance, and were taking too much damage from the Union return fire. The Rebel artillery was going to be forced to stop soon.

Gettysburg Live 150 – 12:30pm – Confederate Cavalry in the East

While the fighting resumed on Culp’s Hill early in the morning, General Lee came up with his strategy for the day’s action.

Originally, he wanted to repeat the attacks on the left and right from yesterday, hoping that more ground could be gained this time. Lt. General Longstreet convinced him that the Union left was well-situated on the ridges south of town. Lee changed his strategy – he would launch an attack that would become famous against the center of the Union line, and his cavalry would have a part to play this time.

The Confederate artillery would break up the Union defenses, the infantry would push the Yankees off Cemetery Ridge, and the cavalry would be waiting to mop up the remains.

J.E.B. Stuart was to go around the Union right, probing for the rear of the enemy. Once he found it, he should signal General Lee to let him know that the cavalry was in position.

150 years ago right now, four cannons fired off on Cress Ridge near the Rummel Farm – one blast in each compass direction. This was the signal. Unfortunately for Maj. General Stuart, his commander wasn’t the only person to hear it.

Gettysburg Live 150 – 4:30am – Culp’s Hill Fighting Resumes

Federal artillery on Powers Hill and along the Baltimore Pike, opened fire on the Confederates occupying the lower portion of Culp’s Hill, 150 years ago right now.

During the night, both sides had reinforced their lines, though the Union boys were in a much better position. For the next 6 hours, fighting would rage all along the wooded hillside. It was too loud to effectively convey orders to the men. Thick black powder smoke added to the pre-dawn darkness to create a throughly confusing situation – especially for the attacking Confederates.

The southerners made a few more attempts to take the hill, and were repulsed each time. There was even some Maryland on Maryland fighting (complete with a few cousins fighting each other) – the only instance of a State having men on both sides of a fight at Gettysburg.

In the end, the Rebels couldn’t take any more ground, and the Yankees couldn’t completely drive them off. Both lines essentially returned to their original positions by about 10:30am.

Gettysburg Live 150 – 1:00am – Skirmish on Culp’s Hill

Even though the main part of the fighting had ended, the close proximity of the two armies on Culp’s Hill led to a few volleys being blindly fired into the dark by both sides. 150 years ago right now, one such short firefight broke out. There was another one about an hour later around 2:00am, and one more right before the battle resumed in earnest around 4:00am.

Gettysburg Live 150 – 9:15pm – Council of War

Sometime this evening, Maj. General Meade called a council of war with his senior staff and the corps commanders. It took place sometime after the fighting on East Cemetery Hill died down.

So probably about 150 years ago right now, the generals met at Meade’s headquarters in the Leister house. Meade had three questions for the commanders to consider, which were essentially these:

  1. Should we stay here, or move back closer to our supply base in Westminster?
  2. If we stay, should we attack, or wait for the Confederates to?
  3. If we wait for an attack, how long should we?

The consensus was for the army to remain more-or-less in their current location, and wait for the Rebels to come to them. Meade was happy with that decision.

The very fact that Meade left the issue open to a committee of the other generals led to criticism after the battle. There were some who felt that this was Meade attempting to avoid responsibility for the battle if things had gone wrong. Some of the generals accused Meade of secretly wanting to retreat to his Pipe Creek Line (with the implication that this would have been less-than-honorable).

This was just Meade’s style, and it was understandable – especially given how intense his first week on the job had been.

Gettysburg Live 150 – 8:15pm – East Cemetery Hill

As part of his demonstration against the Union right, Lt. General Ewell ordered an assault against East Cemetery Hill. 150 years ago right now, that attack began.

Brig. General Harry Hays’ Louisiana Tigers and Col. Isaac Avery’s (temporarily replacing the wounded Brig. General Robert Hoke) North Carolinians would make the charge across the fields and up the hill. The Union line was not well-positioned in this sector – there was no clear military crest on the east slope of Cemetery Hill, and the men who were holding this position were the shattered remains of the less-than-reliable XI Corps.

Though the infantry was in a tough spot, the Union artillery was well-placed. Four batteries were in place, with another to the right on a small hill between Cemetery and Culp’s that would come to be called Steven’s Knoll.

With daylight fading, the Confederates came on strong. Within 30 minutes, they had dislodged the Yankee defenders and sent them fleeing up the hill. It proved impossible to follow-up on this success, though.

Only a few of the Rebels made it up the hill, and they were able to temporarily seize a few of the cannons, but Cemetery Hill, being near the center of the Union position had too many troops readily available as reinforcements for the Confederate foothold to last. Hays’ and Avery’s men were beaten back in short order. Cemetery Hill was quiet – and securely in Union hands – by 9:00pm.