Gettysburg Live 150 – 2:45pm – Heth Renews the Assault

Now that General Lee has given the OK, Maj. General Henry Heth can move forward and renew his attack against the Union position on McPherson’s ridge. 150 years ago right now, he does just that.

Two of his brigades haven’t yet been engaged: J. Johnston Pettigrew’s and John Brockenbrough’s. These troops – supported on the right by what was left of Archer’s brigade (now under the command of Colonel Birkett Fry), cross Willoughby Run and begin to attack the Union “Iron Brigade“, as well as two other brigades of infantry.

The fighting is fierce, especially between Pettigrew’s men and the “Iron Brigade”. One of Pettigrew’s regiments, the 26th North Carolina Infantry (the largest regiment in either army at Gettysburg), will have a hard time against the 24th Michigan Infantry of the “Iron Brigade” (the largest regiment on the Union side at Gettysburg). When the fighting on McPherson’s Ridge is done, the 800 men of the 26th NC will have suffered 588 casualties, while the 496 men of the 24th MI will take 363 losses – both units lost more than 73% of their number.

The fighting lasted for about 45 minutes. Poor coordination among the Union units, and overwhelming Confederate numbers led to a hasty withdrawal for the U.S. troops to a fall-back position on Seminary Ridge.

That position wouldn’t last much more than half an hour though, due to the fresh division of Maj. General Dorsey Pender joining the assault, and the retreat of the Union troops under Brig. General Robinson on the right flank that we’ll explore further in an upcoming post.

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