With the attack against the Union left, most of the troops on Culp’s Hill had been pulled off to reinforce other sectors. Only the brigade of Brig. General George Greene, the oldest general on the field, remained.
Greene’s 1,421 men were as well-prepared as they could be under the circumstances. Brig. General Greene was a West Point-trained engineer who believed in the power of defensive structures. His men had spent the day building small trenches and breastworks – digging in for a potential Confederate attack. It is fortuitous for the Union cause that these were the men who were left on Culp’s Hill.
The Confederates’ original plan for the day involved Lt. General Richard Ewell’s Corps creating a diversion by attacking Culp’s and Cemetery Hills while the main attack was being executed by Lt. General Longstreet on the Union left. This would keep the troops on the Union right occupied so that they couldn’t be used (like they were) to reinforce the left. Ewell was supposed to begin his action as soon as he heard Longstreet’s attack. The combination of Longstreet’s delay in movement, and a phenomenon known as “acoustic shadows“, led to Ewell never getting the signal to go.
Finally, about 150 years ago right now, Ewell started his attack on Culp’s Hill. He was running out of daylight, so the move was risky, but he went ahead with it anyway. Greene’s small brigade would face off against almost a full division – 3 brigades of Confederate infantry. They were outnumbered more than 3-to-1.
The breastworks proved to be a big advantage for the Yankees. Because of those, Greene was able to hold the crest of the hill. Despite a few assorted reinforcements, from other brigades coming to their aide, the Federals lost control of the southern, lower portion of Culp’s Hill.
In two hours of combat, the Confederates had beaten back their adversaries, but couldn’t totally push them off. If the Confederates had properly scouted the area, they’d have known that the Baltimore Pike – the main supply line for the Union army – was within easy striking distance of their new position. With that intelligence, they could have caused serious problems for General Meade. As it was, they were content to hold their newly-gained position.