Though General Howard arrived a few hours earlier, it took some time for his troops to come off the road in numbers that were large enough to make a difference. While Howard left one division of the XI Corps on Cemetery Hill to form the basis of a fall-back position, the rest were sent north of town to counter the threat from General Ewell’s approaching Confederate Corps.
150 years ago right now, those XI Corps men started forming up. General Schurz’s Division (now under the temporary command of Brig. General Alexander Schimmelfennig) got to the field first, and connected their left with the right of the Union I Corps up on Seminary Ridge, and extended their line to the east, ending at the Carlisle Road. Brig. General Francis Barlow’s Division was responsible for the sector from the Carlisle Road over to the Harrisburg Road.
Barlow had just taken command of the division, and there was bad blood between him and his men. The men of the division saw the young Barlow as a “petty tyrant”. Barlow saw his men as unsoldierly cowards. The XI Corps had a reputation that was earned 2 months before at the Battle of Chancellorsville – the Corps was not well-positioned and was surprised and routed by Jackson’s flank attack. It certainly didn’t help their reputation that the corps was made up of about 50% German immigrants.
With his undersized division in place near the Adams County Almshouse, Barlow surveyed the field in front of him, and saw a small rise that years later would come to be called Barlow’s Knoll. He decided that he needed to hold that little hill, so he moved his division out to it. Making that move meant that he couldn’t effectively cover his whole sector now – his line was stretched too thin.
It didn’t help matters that as soon as he was in position, his division was surprised by the hidden Confederate brigade of Brig. General John Gordon, which had just crossed Rock Creek and started attacking up the hill. It didn’t take much pushing to dislodge the Yankees and send them flying to the rear. Once again, the men of the XI Corps suffered from poor positioning.
When Barlow’s division collapsed, it left Schimmelfennig’s unsupported on it’s right, and thus open to a Confederate flanking maneuver. And that’s exactly what happened. The entire XI Corps line collapsed within the hour, and fled in panic through the town streets – the first of many men to follow.