Gettysburg – The Great Battle

The battle began on July 1st, the Union Cavalry, which had gone out to the west and north of Gettysburg, becoming engaged with the Confederate advance approaching the town from the passes through the South Mountain. The cavalry, at first victorious, was soon overwhelmed by superior numbers, and infantry supports arrived, under General Reynolds ; but he was killed, and they were all driven back and through Gettysburg to the cemetery and Culp’s Hill, which were manned by fresh troops that had come up. Meade was then at Pipe Creek, laying out a defensive line, but when he heard of Reynolds’ death and the defeat, he sent General Hancock forward to take command, who decided that the Cemetery Ridge was the place to give battle. Ewell had in the meantime extended the Confederate left wing around to the east of Culp’s Hill and held Gettysburg, but – active operations were suspended, and the night was availed of by both sides to get their forces up and into position, which was mainly accomplished by morning.

When the second day, July 2d, opened, the armies confronted each other in line of battle. The Union troops were along the Cemetery Ridge and the Con-federates upon the Seminary Ridge, across the inter vale to the west, their lines also stretching around through Gettysburg to the north of the cemetery, and two miles- east along the base of Culp’s Hill. In the long- intervening valley, and in the ravines and upon the slopes of the Cemetery Ridge and Culp’s Hill, the main battle was fought. The attack began by General Longstreet advancing against the two Round Tops, but after a bloody contest he was re-pulsed. General Sickles, who held the line to the south of-the Little Round Top, then thought he could improve his position by advancing a half-mile into the valley towards the Seminary-Ridge, thus making a – broken Union line, with a portion dangerously thrust forward. The enemy soon took advantage of this, and fell upon Sickles, front and flank) almost overwhelming his line in the “Peach Orchard,” and driving it back- to the adjacent ” Wheat Field.” Reinforcements were quickly poured in, and there was a hot conflict, Sickles being seriously wounded and his troops almost cut to pieces. About the same time Ewell made a-terrific charge out of Gettysburg” upon the Cemetery and Culp’s Hill, with the ” Louisiana Tigers” and other troops, effecting a lodgement, although the defending soldiers wrought great havoc by a heavy cannonade. The Union gunners on Little Round Top ultimately cleared the ” Wheat Field,” and then the combatants rested. Lee was much inspirited by his successes, and determined to renew the attack next morning.

Upon the third and last day, July 3d, General Meade opened the combat early in the morning by driving out Ewell’s forces, who had effected a lodgement on Culp’s Hill. General Lee did not learn of this, but he was full of the idea that both the Union centre and right wing had been weakened the previous day, and during the night he planned an attack in front, to be accompanied by a cavalry movement around the Union right to assail the rear, thus following up Ewell’s supposed advantage. To give Stuart with the cavalry time to get around to the rear, the front attack was not made until afternoon. During the morning each side got cannon into position, Lee having one hundred and twenty guns along Seminary Ridge, and Meade eighty in the Cemetery and southward, along a low, irregular stone pile, forming a sort of rude wall bordering the road leading from Gettysburg south to Taneytown, in Mary-land. The action began about one o’clock in the afternoon, when the Confederates opened fire, and the most terrific artillery duel of the war took place across the intervening valley, six guns being discharged every second. The troops suffered little, as they kept down in the ground, but several Union guns were dismounted. After two hours deafening cannonade Lee ordered his grand attack, the celebrated charge by General Pickett, a force of fourteen thousand men with brigade front advancing across the valley. They marched swiftly, and had a mile to go, but before they were half-way across all the available Union guns had been trained upon them. Their attack was directed at an umbrella-shaped clump of trees on the Cemetery Ridge at a low place where the rude stone wall made an angle, with its point outside. General Hancock commanded this portion of the Union line. The grape and canister of the Union cannonade ploughed furrows through Pickett’s ranks, and when his column got within three hundred yards, Hancock opened musketry fire with terrible effect. Thousands fell, and the brigades broke in disorder; but the advance, headed by General Armistead on foot, continued, and about one hundred and fifty men leaped over the stone piles at the angle to capture the Union guns. Lieutenant Cushing, mortally wounded in ‘both thighs, ran his last serviceable gun towards the wall, and shouting to his commander, ” Webb, I will give them one more shot !” he fired the gun and died. Armistead put his hand on the cannon, waved his sword, and called out, ” Give them the cold steel, boys !” then, pierced by bullets, he fell dead alongside of Cushing. Both lay near the clump of trees, about thirty yards inside the wall, their corpses marking the farthest point to which Pickett’s advance penetrated. There was a hand to hand conflict; Webb was wounded, and also Hancock, and the slaughter was dreadful. The Con-federates were overwhelmed, and not one-fourth of the gallant charging column, composed of the flower of the – Virginia troops, escaped, the remnant retreating in disorder. Stuart’s cavalry failed to cooperate as intended, having met the Union cavalry about four miles to the east of Gettysburg, and the conflict ensuing prevented their. attacking the Union rear. After Pickett’s retreat there was a general Union advance, closing the combat.

The point within the angle of the stone wall where Cushing and Armistead fell has been commemorated by what is known as the ” High-Water Mark Monument,” for it was placed at the point reached by the top of the flood-tide of the rebellion, as afterwards there was a steady ebb. During the .night of July 3d Lee began a retreat, and aided by heavy-rains, usually following great battles, the Confederates next day withdrew through the mountain passes towards Hagerstown, and afterwards escaped across the Potomac. Upon the day of Lee’s retreat, Vicksburg surrendered to General Grant, and these two events began the Confederacy’s downfall. There were engaged-in-the- battle of Gettysburg- about eighty thousand men on each side, the Union army having three hundred and thirty-nine cannon and the Confederates two hundred and ninety-three. It was the largest battle of the Civil War in the actual numbers en-gaged, and one of the most hotly contested. The Union loss was twenty-three thousand and three killed, wounded and prisoners, and the Confederate loss twenty-three thousand seven hundred and sixty.. eight.