Civil War Series

The Battle of Gettysburg



After Heth's repulse, there was a lull in the fighting as additional forces, blue and gray, arrived upon the field. Maj. Gen. Dorsey Pender's division had followed Heth's to the field, and when Hill formed Heth's division on Herr Ridge for its afternoon assault, he aligned Pender's division behind it. At about 11:30 A.M. Abner Doubleday's division under the temporary command of Brig. Gen. Thomas Rowley arrived. General Doubleday placed its First Brigade, commanded then by Col. Chapman Biddle, on the left of the Iron Brigade to cover the broad gap between Herbst's Woods and the Fairfield Road. He posted Col. Roy Stone's brigade on the ridge between the woods and the pike. Doubleday placed the remaining division of the corps, that of Brig. Gen. John C. Robinson, in reserve at the seminary. The Union Eleventh Corps followed the First Corps to the field over the Taneytown and Emmitsburg Roads. Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard, its commander, who had lost an arm a year before, had ridden ahead and was surveying the Gettysburg area from the roof of a building in the center of the town when he learned that Reynolds had been killed and that he was in command of the Union forces on the field. Howard immediately sent off dispatches requesting aid and took measures to continue the fight. He sent the first of his divisions to arrive, that of Maj. Gen. Carl Schurz, north of the town intending that it should take position on Oak Ridge to the right of the First Corps. He sent Brig. Gen. Francis C. Barlow's division to support Schurz. He placed his rear division, that of Brig. Gen. Adolph von Steinwehr, and two batteries of artillery on Cemetery Hill to hold the hill as a rallying point in event the Union troops could not hold their positions beyond the town until help arrived. He hoped that the Union Twelfth Corps could come to his aid in a short time but knew that other forces could not come up until late in the day.



In the meantime two divisions of Ewell's Corps, which had been in Carlisle and York, approached Gettysburg from the north. Rodes's division marched down the Carlisle Road, but left it to advance down Oak Ridge to arrive on the field to the left of Hill's Corps. Early's division marched toward the town over the Harrisburg Road. Howard and Doubleday learned of their approach from Buford's cavalrymen who guarded the roads north of the town.

Rodes's division and Lt. Col. Thomas H. Carter's battalion of artillery reached Oak Hill before Schurz's men could occupy it. When Doubleday learned of Rodes's approach, he sent Robinson's division from his reserve to confront Rodes from Seminary Ridge at the Mummasburg Road. Schurz's division, not being able to take position on the heights now occupied by Rodes, went into position facing north on the plain north of the town behind the First Corps's right. Ewell, who was with Rodes, interpreted these movements as an attack and a nullification of General Lee's order not to bring on a general engagement. He ordered Rodes to strike the Union forces in his front.

Lee had heard the cannon fire of the morning's battle as he rode east through Cashtown Pass. He hurried to the field and reached Hill's lines in time to witness Ewell's assault. In spite of his wish to assemble his army before becoming involved in a "general engagement," that battle had begun. He gave Hill permission to join Ewell in the attack, still knowing the whereabouts only of that portion of the Army of the Potomac that he could see in his front.


Rodes had formed his division in two lines; Brig. Gen. Alfred Iverson's brigade was on the hill near the present location of the Eternal Light Peace Memorial. Col. Edward A. O'Neal's Brigade was on the slope to its left, and Brig. Gen. George Doles's stretched into the plain to the east. Brig. Gens. Junius Daniel's and Stephen Dodson Ramseur's brigades occupied the support line. Rodes ordered them to attack. Iverson and O'Neal directed their advance poorly. O'Neal's men fell back before the fire of the First Corps's right along the Mummasburg Road and of troops of the Eleventh Corps's left. Robinson's men then fronted west toward Iverson's troops moving blindly in the open in their front. They surprised the Confederates with volleys, killed, wounded, or captured 800 of the North Carolinians, and stymied the attack. One eyewitness wrote: Iverson's line was indicated by a ghastley row of dead and wounded men whose blood trailed the course of their line with a crimson stain." Rodes persisted, however, and sent in his support brigades against Robinson's line.

At about 2:30 P.M., as Rodes's division struck from the north, Lee gave Heth permission to renew his attack from the west supported by the fire of artillery on Herr Ridge. This became one of the most deadly fights of the war. Although the Union position on McPherson Ridge and in McPherson's Woods was a good one in many respects, the longer Confederate line was able to work around the Union left as it smashed head-on into the Union position from the front "with rapid strides, yelling like demons." The Iron Brigade in its advanced position in the woods was vulnerable on its left and pressed hard on its front. Its men exchanged fire with the brigade of Brig. Gen. James Johnston Pertigrew "until the lines were pouring vollies into each other at a distance not greater than 20 paces." The Iron Brigade fell back, halting and forming three lines in the woods and halting again in the open fields before taking its final position in front of the seminary. Biddle's brigade on its left resisted stoutly from the open ground on the ridge line until its regiments were outflanked and decimated and could no longer hold this forward line. Stone's brigade of Pennsylvanians, which fronted west and north along the pike, was attacked both by Heth's men from the west and by Rodes's troops, who attacked from the north "with a chorus of terrific yelps."

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The Union 1st Corps has taken up positions to defend the western approach to Gettysburg, while part of the 11th Corps forms north of the town. Howard forms a reserve on Cemetery Hill. Confederate forces are converging upon Gettysburg from the west, north and northeast, From 1:30 P.M. to 3:30 P.M. they will assail the Union defenses in bloody fighting, forcing both Union corps to retreat to Cemetery and Culp's Hills.

Devotion to duty, pride, courage, and discipline held these men to their posts when they could easily have fled the field.

Heth's division, Pettigrew's large brigade in particular, led the attack and absorbed the punishment generously applied by the Union defenders. The casualties of the 26th North Carolina Regiment tell of Confederate determination in this fight: fourteen men were shot while carrying its colors and the colonel and more than half of the 800-man regiment fell. On the Union side, the 24th Michigan Regiment of the Iron Brigade lost 363 of the 496 engaged in the day's fight, the 151st Pennsylvania of Biddle's brigade 337 of 467. Devotion, to duty, pride, courage, and discipline held these men to their posts when they could easily have fled the field. Such behavior was the norm that day.

After Heth's men cleared McPherson's Ridge of Union troops, Pender's division passed over it and pushed the attack against the Federal force which was rallying with its batteries behind breastworks in front of the seminary's buildings. Col. Abner Perrin's brigade of South Carolinians and Brig. Gen. Alfred M. Scales's North Carolinians pushed the attack home against the remnant of the First Corps and about twenty of its guns. It was a bloody affair—Perrin wrote that his troops moved bravely forward against the "most destructive fire of musketry I have ever been exposed to." Scales's men, closer to the pike, received a terrific fire of canister on the left flank and musketry and canister from the front so that after they drove the Federals from the ridge, Scales found that "only a squad here and there marked the place where regiments had rested."

In the meantime Rodes's faulty attack had stalled in front of Robinson's division near the Mummasburg Road, but it was only a momentary pause. Daniel's and Ramseur's brigades renewed the attack from Oak Hill, and Doles's brigade in front of the Eleventh Corps in the plain north of Gettysburg received timely aid by the arrival of Early's division down the Harrisburg Road to its left. As Doles's line had advanced down the axis of the Carlisle Road against Schurz's small division. Barlow's division had formed north of the town near the Harrisburg Road and had threatened to strike Dole's flank. Early's arrival turned the tables. Early aligned three of his brigades to Rodes's left and opposite Barlow's front and flank. His attack, coupled with Rodes's push, devastated the poorly posted Eleventh Corps. Early's men smashed the corps's right near the Harrisburg Road and pressed it back toward the town, not allowing it to reform. At the same time, Rodes struck the First Corps right near the Mummasburg Road and Pender's division attacked the First Corps line at the seminary. General Robinson ordered the 16th Maine Regiment to cover the First Corps's retreat from the Mummasburg Road position by holding its position there at "any cost." It held long enough, but the cost was high—232 of its 298 men became casualties. Fearing that their colors would be captured, the Maine men tore the flag into fragments which each would try to carry away.


Following the morning battle of July 1st, the Union Iron Brigade withdrew to the shelter and cover of farmer John Herbst's woodlot. They were attacked in the afternoon by the North Carolina brigade of General James J. Pettigrew. Lieutenant William B. Taylor's regiment, the 11th North Carolina, directly confronted the 24th Michigan, with which private Roswell I. Root was serving. The confrontation produced frightful casualties. Taylor's regiment lost 250 men out of 550 engaged, and the 26th North Carolina, which fought beside the 11th, suffered over 500 casualties in the fight. The 24th Michigan would lose 73 percent of its numbers, including 99 killed and mortally wounded, the largest death toll in any Union regiment in the Battle of Gettysburg. In letters written sworn after the battle. both Taylor and Root described the fierce struggle for farmer Herbst's woods:

Culpepper C H
July 29 63

Dear Mother

I received your of the 19th and you may rest assured that it was very gratifying to me. I am well and did not receive any wounds atal. I was hit by a grape shot but it did know damage. O! my sock leg was shot through & my sword scabbard was struck so you can just imagine how thick the balls were. On the last day of June our brigade moved towards Gettesburg and when near the town we heard that enemy were in force in the vicinity so we marched back about four miles and there encamped for the night and the next day our division marched towards town. Gen Davis Miss Brigade in front of us so they opened the fight and our brigade relieved them and you ought to have seen our brigade when it charged we drove the enemy like sheep. it was through an open old field and it was at an awful cost but we paid it to them two fold. the Iron Brigade Yankeys tried to stand but it was know use, we stood within 20 yards of each other for about 15 minutes but they had to give way and when they [did] we just mowed them down. we had 8 killed on the field instantly and 2 wounded that died since the first day out of our company.

W. B. Taylor
Lt Comdg Co A


Dear Grand Father,

July 1st. Memorable Wednesday morning we was ordered to march and on we went till the crack of muskets and the roar of cannon brought us to a halt. But it was not long before on we went on come up to the enemy without our guns being loaded and they volly after volly into our ranks, one of which br'ot out noble color bearer down. Yet on we went and at the same time loading our guns and coming into line. And then charge on them was the order and we charged and captured their whole line of battle, or most of it. I don't know the number of prisoners but they was all marched off to the rear and kept safe.

So far we had won the day but it cost us many lives of whom one was Our Major General Reynolds and others that I have not time to mention.

We now fell back a short distance and lay in the woods [Herbst Woods] about 3 hours but there was skirmishing in the front all the time. And at about 4 p.m. we saw the Rebs coming in force with three lines of battle to our one and we was shamefully ordered to stand them without support either troops or cannon. Thus we stood in line and fired for full 20 minutes while they had three lines firing into ours. After we was all cut up they ordered a retreat of which was done in some confusion and but few got back without a scratch and many not at all.

Very truely your obedient
Grand Son
R. Root


By this time, at about 4 P.M., General Howard realized that the expected reinforcements from the Twelfth Corps would not arrive in time. He ordered the First and Eleventh Corps to fall back through the town to Cemetery Hill, a height that rose 100 feet above the south edge of the town at its base and covered the exits of the Emmitsburg and Taneytown Roads and the Baltimore Pike. The two corps had no other choice. Outnumbered and outflanked, they were driven from their positions north and west of Gettysburg.

Unfortunately, there were few preparations made for the retreat through Gettysburg, but it was not a rout. The Confederates, particularly those of Hill's Corps and Rodes's division, had been badly mauled in their victory and did not press their attack with a vengeance. The Federal artillery moved through the town in good order, some Union regiments, like the 6th Wisconsin, fought rear guard actions. A portion of the 45th New York of the Eleventh Corps, whose retreat had been cut off, resisted in the town until resistance was futile for many, who then became prisoners. And then there were those who fled precipitously or were among the 3,600 Union soldiers captured that day.

Early in the afternoon, Meade sent Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock, commander of the Union Second Corps, to the field to take command of the forces there if Reynolds were incapacitated. Hancock was to advise Meade whether the Army of the Potomac should fight at Gettysburg or fall back to Pipe Creek. Hancock reached Cemetery Hill as Howard and Doubleday were rallying the defeated forces there. Howard, Doubleday, and Hancock quickly posted the remnant of the Union force, perhaps 9,000 men, on Cemetery Hill. Most of the artillery of the two Union corps, about forty guns, was soon ready to defend the hill. But Hill's Corps seemed in no condition to press such an attack. Lee left the decision to Ewell, and Ewell, who could foresee no help from Hill and had only two brigades in hand for the work, wisely decided not to attack the Union force on the hill. The battle of July 1 was over; the Confederates had won the day but not a decisive victory. More fighting lay ahead.


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