Civil War Series

The Battle of Gettysburg



General Meade, at his headquarters at Taneytown, Maryland, nine miles south of Gettysburg, must have received information on the battle throughout the afternoon of July 1 for before receiving Hancock's recommendation to make a stand there, he had ordered his far-flung army to that field. The Twelfth Corps arrived tardily from nearby Two Taverns as the fighting ended, the Third Corps reached the field from Emmitsburg that evening, the Second bivouaced nearby, and the Fifth would arrive over the road from Hanover early on July 2. Only the large Sixth Corps, at Manchester, Maryland, over thirty miles away, would not be at hand on the morning of July 2. Meade himself reached Cemetery Hill at 11:30 P.M. on July 1 and set to work at once to locate positions for his seven corps of infantry. The result was a hook-shaped position about three miles long. Cemetery Hill at the south edge of the town was at its curve. Culp's Hill to the right rear of Cemetery Hill was at the barb of the hook, low Cemetery Ridge running south of Cemetery Hill two miles to Little Round Top was the shank, and Little Round Top the eye. The Confederates occupied Seminary Ridge, high ground paralleling Cemetery Ridge a mile to the west. It ran south from Oak Hill, by the Lutheran seminary, and continued south beyond the Emmitsburg Road. Ewell's Corps was in the town and along the Hanover Road to the east. Meade feared that Lee would attack before his troops were in place, but his fears proved groundless. Meade contemplated making an attack from his right but gave it up because he learned that it was not feasible to do so.


Lee had his own problems. He had several courses of action to consider. He could establish a position on Seminary Ridge and invite an attack, he could adopt Longstreet's recommendation and try to move south to an advantageous position where the enemy might be forced to attack him, he could retire to the passes of South Mountain and await developments, or he could remain at Gettysburg and take the offensive. Lee believed that he had to retain the initiative, but he knew that as hours passed the enemy would become stronger as his army weakened. He knew also that without more information on the enemy and a cavalry screen he could not manuever his army at will in the presence of the Army of the Potomac. He decided that his best alternative was to continue the attack at Gettysburg. To this end he would make an early assault with Longstreet's Corps against the Union left, particularly at the Peach Orchard 600 yards east of Seminary Ridge, and to the north on the high ground along the Emmitsburg Road. Longstreet would attack with the divisions of Maj. Gens. Lafayette McLaws, and John B. Hood, and Maj. Gen. Richard H. Anderson's division of Hill's Corps would strike the Union center on Cemetery Ridge. At the same time Ewell's Corps would demonstrate against the Union forces on Cemetery Hill and Culp's Hill and convert their feint into an all-out assault if warranted.

As it happened, Meade had directed that the two divisions of the Union Third Corps be placed on Cemetery Ridge about 0.7 of a mile east of the Peach Orchard. The left of the corps would be anchored on Little Round Top, a hill that rose 150 feet above Plum Run at its base and dominated the lower end of Cemetery Ridge. Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Sickles commanded the Third Corps. Sickles was a bumptious fellow who had been a lawyer and a Tammany Hall politician; he had limited experience in militia affairs before the war and was a friend of President and Mrs. Lincoln. He and Meade had little in common except a love for the Union and a mutual distrust of each another.

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JULY 2, 1863, 3 P.M.
General Longstreet has marched the divisions of Hood and McLaws by a concealed route to the right of the Confederate army. His command and Anderson's division are now poised to launch an attack to crush the Union left flank. On the Confederate left, Ewell has Johnson and Early ready to attack the Union right if opportunity offers. Union General Sickles has advanced his 3rd Corps, without orders, beyond its assigned position to occupy the high ground around the Peach Orchard and Emmitsburg Road.

Sickles did not like his assigned position and on the morning of July 2 sought to have it changed. He believed that much of it was dominated by the high ground along the Emmitsburg Road and feared an attack against his left flank. (We know today that his fear of a flank attack was groundless.) At about 10:30 A.M. Sickles's alarm increased when Buford's cavalry, which had been screening his front, left the field and through error was not replaced. He then sent a reconnaissance force, including sharpshooter companies, to Seminary Ridge. It met Confederates extending their line south. Col. Hiram Berdan, who was in command of the reconnaissance party, later claimed wrongly that they had met and delayed Longstreet's approach. Instead, it was Wilcox's brigade of Anderson's division. Yet this finding seemed to confirm Sickles's fears. By this time he had placed a heavy skirmish line along the Emmitsburg Road and Brig. Gen. Charles K. Graham's brigade 500 yards in front of Cemetery Ridge to support it. Shortly afternoon, on learning that there were Confederates in Pitzer's Woods and not getting satisfaction from army headquarters, Sickles took the bit in his teeth and moved his corps to a position far in front of the sector assigned him on Cemetery Ridge. Instead of manning Little Round Top, he posted his left at Devil's Den, a mass of elephantine boulders that spilled from a low ridge 500 yards to the front of the foot of Little Round Top. From there his new line ran northwest through Rose's Woods and by the Wheatfield to the Emmitsburg Road at the Peach Orchard south of its intersection with the Wheatfield Road. It extended north from the Peach Orchard along the Emmitsburg Road about 0.7 of a mile to a point less than 400 yards from the Codori farm buildings. Although the line had certain advantages and numerous batteries of artillery posted along it, its flanks were in the air, and it was too long for Sickles's small corps to hold alone. In his rashness Sickles had exposed his corps to a drubbing and forced Meade to change his battle plan.



Anderson's division, the force discovered by Berdan's men in Pitzer's Woods, had its right in the woods's north end. It ran north from there in a single line along Seminary Ridge for a mile and was opposite the Union center on Cemetery Ridge. At noon as Anderson's five brigades took their positions, Hood's and McLaws's divisions of Longstreet's Corps were beginning a circuitous, tiring, and controversial march that they tried to conceal—especially from Union signalmen they could see on Little Round Top. It began on Herr Ridge near the scene of the July 1 battle and ended at their jumping-off points on Seminary Ridge opposite the Peach Orchard and Little Round Top. When they reached these positions at about 4 P.M., each division formed in a double line. Lee's orders stipulated that they were to wheel left from there and advance up the axis of the Emmitsburg Road against the Union left, which he believed was at the Peach Orchard. But a disgruntled Longstreet saw that the Union line continued beyond the orchard into the woods near Little Round Top and Round Top, the higher hill to the south.



General Hood asked for a change in orders, but time was running out, and Longstreet, who later wrote that the matter had already been discussed with General Lee, refused. Longstreet would have Hood's division wheel left from the ridge line and attack with its left along the Emmitsburg Road. McLaws's division on Hood's left would drive straight ahead against the Peach Orchard and the Emmitsburg Road and then wheel left; Anderson's men would assault the Union center on Cemetery Ridge. That was the plan.

Meanwhile, Meade finally appreciated that things had gone awry in Sickles's sector. He rode there and saw the peril of the new position. Since the enemy was in the Third Corps's front and preparing to attack, Meade believed that it was too late for Sickles to return his corps to Cemetery Ridge. Therefore, he ordered Maj. Gen. George Sykes's Fifth Corps from the rear to bolster Sickles's line. Fortunately, the van of the Sixth Corps had reached the field, and it could serve as the army's reserve.

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