Order of Battle
July 1, 1863
The First day
After Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia defeated the Union Army of the Potomac under General Joseph Hooker at Chancellorsville in May 1863, the victorious Confederates decided to invade the North for a second time in two years. This time, they would head for Pennsylvania.
The Invasion of Pennsylvania would hopefully serve several purposes. First, a victory on Northern soil could bring much needed foreign recognition for the Confederate government. Second, it was hoped that a Southern victory in the North would strengthen the anti-war movement and bring about a negotiated settlement. Third, invading the north would allow the Confederate troops to forage off the rich Pennsylvania land and relieve pressure on the Virginia farmers. Finally, Lee believed that invading the North and threatening Washington would lead to a recall of Union troops in the West, thereby relieving the pressure on Vicksburg .
The Army of Northern Virginia began its movement in early June. When General Joseph Hooker learned that the Confederates were on the move, he put his cavalry, under the command of Major General Alfred Pleasonton, into motion to find out what exactly was happening. On June 8, 1863, the Union and Confederate cavalry clashed at Brandy Station in one of the biggest cavalry battles of the war. Other cavalry engagements ensued during the campaign, most notably those at Upperville, Aldie, and Middleburg .
By June 24, 1863, the Army of Northern Virginia was across the Potomac River. Hooker realized that Lee's army could cut off Hooker's Army and take Washington, so he quickly ordered the Army of the Potomac North to position itself between Lee and Washington.
Whenever an army is on the move, it must know exactly where the enemy is. Lee needed to know where the enemy was in Pennsylvania, now more than ever, because he was moving onto unfamiliar ground. But J.E.B. Stuart was nowhere to be found. Instead of screening the Confederate left and informing Lee where the Union forces were, he went on another of his round-the-Union-army trips. He remained out of touch with Lee for several days, effectively blinding the Army of Northern Virginia. But Lee pushed on, and issued orders that the army should consolidate its forces at Cashtown, west of Gettysburg.
Unable to stop Lee's push North, Hooker resigned as commander of the Army of the Potomac, and President Lincoln replaced him with George Meade. Meade assumed command of the army on June 28. He quickly realized he could not take offensive against Lee with his army spread out as much as it was, so he decided to take a defensive posture (defending Washington and Baltimore) and fight a decisive battle on the ground of his own choosing.
On June 30 the forces from the opposing armies met at Gettysburg. Confederate General Henry Heth had sent Brigadier General James J. Pettigrew's brigade into Gettysburg to secure a supply of shoes and other items for his men. However, Pettigrew ran into Buford's cavalry and beat a hasty retreat.
The next morning, July 1, 1863, Heth's Division again advanced on Gettysburg. Waiting for them was Buford's cavalry, now dismounted, who stopped the Confederate column on the Chambersburg Road at Willoughby run. The Confederates greatly out numbered the Union army, but Buford's men held on until relieved by the I Corps under Major General John Reynolds.
Heth deployed Archer's Brigade on the right of the Chambersburg Road and Davis's on the left. Behind Woods in which Gen. J.F. Reynolds was killed.
Archer on the Herr Ridge were Pettigrew's and Brockenbrough's brigades. Facing Heth was Wadsworth's Division, I Corps. On the left, opposing Archer was Meredith's Brigade (the Iron Brigade ) defending McPherson's Ridge with Cutler's brigade fronting Davis on the north side of the Chambersburg road. The Iron Brigade attacked and flanked the Confederate right, capturing 75 Alabamians, including General Archer himself. But fate was not so kind to General Reynolds. As he was directing men into action along McPherson's Ridge, he was shot in the neck. He died instantly. Abner Doubleday assumed command of the field.
North of the Chambersburg road, Davis's brigade flanked Cutler's right and rolled it up, forcing the 76th and 56th Pennsylvania and the 147th New York into retreat. But two of Cutler's regiments, the 95th and 84th New York, along with the 6th Wisconsin from the Iron Brigade, attacked Davis and captured over 200 Confederates.
As Doubleday was checking Heth's Division, Rodes' division of Ewell's Corps entered the battle from the north. Rodes deployed on Oak Hill, where he set up an artillery battery that began enfilading the Union right. Not long after Ewell arrived to enter battle, the Union XI Corps (The Flying Dutchmen) under General Howard (who assumed command of the Union army by virtue of seniority) also arrived-and just in time to support the I Corps. Howard threw the XI Corps, now commanded by Carl Schurz, to stop Ewell's advance from the north and link with the I Corps' right flank
Viewing the situation, Ewell decided to attack the Union right with Rodes' Division. O'Neal's Brigade would strike against Robinson's Division's right. Iverson's Brigade was to attack from the South, and Daniel's Brigade from the West, flanking Robinson's left and rolling it up toward O'Neal. The attacked failed, with considerable loss to the Confederates in killed, wounded, and missing. But Rodes ordered another attack, this time by Dole's Brigade on the left. Barlow's Division, XI Corps, quickly repulsed the attack, which seriously exposed Rodes left. General Schimmelfennig took advantage and attacked Dole's flank, but Dole reacted quickly, and counterattacked, pushing the Blue Coats back.
As Rodes was holding his own against the Flying Dutchmen, Early's Division arrived on the field from the north and promptly entered the battle on Rodes' left. Gordon's Georgia Brigade attacked Barlow's Division throwing them into temporary confusion. Dole attacked Schimmelfennig and sent them into confusion. Howard ordered Coster's Brigade, in reserve on Cemetery Hill, into the battle against Early. He was quickly defeated, losing over ¾ of his regiment to casualties. The rout was on. The XI Corps retreated in confusion through Gettysburg with the Confederates closely on their heels.
In mid afternoon, Heth attacked the Union line again. The attack was strong, and, coupled with Rodes' attacks from the north, pushed the Union troops into retreat to Seminary ridge. Buford's dismounted cavalry stopped the Confederate advance again, for the second time that day. As the attack slowed, General Pender moved his division through Heth's in an attempt to dislodge the Union troops from Seminary Ridge. The Federals' fire was devastating and temporarily halted the Confederate advance. But advance they did, driving the I Corps all the way to Cemetery Hill, losing thousands as prisoners.
July 2, 1863
The Second Day
By July 2, 1863, most of both armies were on the field of battle. On Seminary Ridge were Longstreet's Corps making up the Confederate right and Hill's Corps to the left, extending north to meet Ewell's Corps, which held a semi-circular position on the south of town. The Union left, extending almost to the Round Tops (which were unoccupied), was Sickle's Corps III. To his right was Hancock's II Corps and to his right was Howard's XI Corps, and covering the northern end and right flank of the Union line was I Corps.
The Morning of July 2 passed relatively quietly, as Longstreet's Corps had not yet arrived in their jumping-off points for the days attack. The plan for July second involved Longstreet's Corps to attack Meade's left flank, which Lee believed sat on the Emmitsburg Road. At the same time, Ewell would attack from the north against Cemetery Hill and Culp's Hill. In the center, Hill would act as if attacking in order to keep the Union center from reinforcing against Ewell or Longstreet.
Longstreet began his advance at about noon on July 2, moving first away from the battlefield in an attempt deceive the enemy, then to their attack positions. As a result, it was several hours before the Corps was in position, and they had not even begun to fool the Union observers. Signalers on Round Top saw Longstreet's move, and in response, Sickles sent out the 3rd Maine and Berdan's Sharpshooters out who encountered Cadmus Wilcox's Brigade. A sharp fight ensued until the Union troops were forced to retire.
When Sickles realized that the Confederates were massing in front of him, he moved his Corps from Cemetery Ridge to the Emmitsburg Road. This move, however, caused gaps in the Federal line, which had to be filled as quickly as possible by units from around the line.
Finally, around four in the afternoon, Longstreet was in a position to launch the much-delayed attack. Major General Josh Bell Hood, one of Longstreet's division commanders, saw an opportunity to move even farther south, capture Little Round Top, and flank. Longstreet denied Hood's request, and the attack began as planned (although not as scheduled). Hood's Division began the attack, then McClaw's, and finally Anderson's.
As the Confederates move toward Little Round Top, Brigadier General Gouverneur Warren (chief engineer) saw that the round tops were unoccupied, and ordered cannon fires on the advancing Confederates. However, the 15th Alabama, under Colonel William Oates, managed to take one side of the unoccupied Round Top. His efforts were for nothing, as he was ordered to withdraw. As he began the withdrawal, the 20th Maine, which had just arrived on Little Round Top, opened fire. The 20th Maine was part of Colonel Strong Vincent's Brigade, which had taken the initiative, and occupied Little Round Top without orders. As Oates turned his attention to capturing Little Round Top, other regiments from Law's Brigade and Robertson's Brigade enter to fight. The right of the Union line on Little Round Top (16th Michigan) succumbed to the Confederate attack. Colonel Vincent rallied them, and the attack was beaten off, but not without a price--Vincent was mortally wounded. The Union Army may have lost Colonel Vincent, but they saved Little Round Top and prevented the Confederates from occupying the two round tops, from which they could have commanded much of the battlefield.
In front of the 20th Maine, Oates's regiment continued to attack, and the 20th Maine, commanded by Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (image at left), continued to hold them off. Finally, as the 20th Maine was running out of ammunition, Chamberlain ordered a bayonet charge against the 15th Alabama . It succeeded; driving the 15th Alabama back to Round Top. The Confederates did not hold Round Top either, for that night, Colonel Joseph Fisher's Brigade and the 20th Maine, occupied the valuable piece of land.
Fighting was fierce on Little Round Top, but also was it at other parts of the battlefield, especially at Devil's Den, The Wheatfield, and The Peach Orchard. The 1st Texas, 3rd Arkansas, and elements of Benning's Brigade took Devil's Den late in the day from Brigadier General Hobart Ward's brigade, and did not give it up until the retreat of the Army of Northern Virginia.
At the Wheatfield, Brigadier George Anderson's brigade attacked General de Trobriand's weakened brigade. However, reinforcements were provided by Jacob Sweitzer's and William Tilton's brigades. The Confederates were held at bay-but only for a short time. Brigadier Joseph Kershaw's Brigade , McClaws Division, entered the battle at the Wheatfield and helped push the Union line back. As the Union line wavered, Brigadier General John Caldwell's Division, II Corps, arrived to save the day. They charged into the Wheatfield, pushing the Confederates back and mortally wounding Brigadier General Paul Semmes. But the Confederates mounted another attack, inflicting heavy casualties on Caldwell's Division, which retired from the line. Finally Ayres's Division, V Corps, was thrown into the line, suffering heavy casualties. But the Union line held, and the Confederates were denied Little Round Top.
As the brigades on the Confederate right advanced and pushed the Union troops back at Devil's Den and the Wheatfield, it was time for the next brigade in line, Barksdale Brigade, to move forward. As they advanced, the 57th and 114th Pennsylvania Regiments of Graham's Brigade, 1st Division, III Corps met them but were pushed back. They tried to regroup in the Peach Orchard, but the Confederate attack, supported by artillery, proved to be too much. The Pennsylvanians fell back with heavy casualties.
Late in the afternoon on July 2, Anderson's Division launched its attack against the Union line at the Emmitsburg Road. Wilcox's, Perry's and Wright's brigades advanced and pushed the Yankees back to Cemetery ridge but were stopped by a strong Union defense and lack of support from the brigades to their left. As the Confederates pulled back from Cemetery Ridge, the fighting on that part of the battlefield came to an end-but just beginning on another.
On the northern end of the battlefield, Early launched an attack against Cemetery Hill and took it without much opposition. But the victory was short-lived. Union troops rallied and kicked the unsupported Confederates off the Hill. At Culp's Hill, Johnson attacked. He expelled some of the defenders from their position, but night rolled in, and the fighting ceased until the next day.
July 3, 1863
The Third Day
On July 3, 1863, the fighting at Gettysburg began where it had ended the previous night, on Culp's Hill. At 4:30 in the morning, Union artillery open fire on General Johnson's artillery and infantry as they prepared for another attack on the Union positions. The effect was devastating, but the Confederates attacked anyway, with little success. The Union position proved to be just too strong, and fighting on Culp's Hill ended with the withdrawal of Johnson's Division, badly mauled.
With the Confederate left unable to turn the Union right, General Lee had to come up with a new plan. The plan he devised was a frontal assault against Meade's center, focusing on a copse of trees near a stonewall at Cemetery Ridge defended by Gibbon's and Hay's divisions of Hancock's II Corps. This attack would become known as Pickett's Charge. (In reality, it was the Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble Charge.)
Pickett's Division, which had just arrived on the field, would make up the center of the charge. On his left would be Heth's Division (commanded by Pettigrew because Heth has suffered a severe would on the 1st day of battle), and on Pickett's right would be two brigades (Anderson's and Wilcox's) from Anderson's Division.
The terrain to be traversed was open fields hundreds of yards long. The men attacking would be exposed for virtually the entire advance. Defending the attack would be Hancock's II Corps, which had seen some action the previous couple of days, but were still relatively fresh. The Confederates hoped that an artillery barrage would weaken the defenders by the time the infantry made it to the wall.
The Confederates massed 140 guns for their artillery barrage, stretching from Oak Hill on the northern end to the Peach Orchard, some two miles to the south. At 1:07, the barrage began. Union artillery responded in kind. The Confederate artillery had little effect on the defenders, as their aim was too high. Smoke covered the field, and the Confederates never realized they were off target. The Union artillery however, proved much more effective, killing hundreds of Confederates as they prepared to launch their final assault.
About 3:00 PM, the cannons ceased their fire and a silence fell over the field. Pickett' breeze bands began play. They marched down Seminary Ridge, across open fields toward Road waiting Union soldiers. Confederate parade reached Emmitsburg Road, two fences that had be crossed. As they crossed fences, exposed themselves to Federal Artillery, which took advantage and poured a devastating fire into advancing ranks. But on came the
As they neared ever closer, Pickett's men straightened their lines just at the Union artillery changed from shot to canister. The Confederates charged, but the fire from the defending Union infantry and artillery proved too much and the attack began to waver. But still they came, pushing forward to their target-the copse of trees.
Behind the copse of trees ran a stonewall, and as the Confederates approached, the Union soldiers, 4-5 ranks deep, unleashed a continuous and devastating fire. But the Confederates still pushed forward, hitting the wall and engaging in hand-to-hand combat. With the support of Armistead's, Perrin's, and Lane's brigades, the Confederates breached the wall. But it was not enough. The Federals rallied and hit the Confederates hard, mortally wounding Armistead in the process. The Union line held, and Pickett's charge came to a crushing halt.
Pickett's gallant men (what was left of them) retreated---the division virtually destroyed. Lee ordered Pickett to reform his men for another assault, but neither he nor his men had any fight left. The day was over and the battle lost.
On the other side, jubilation swept the Union lines. For the first time in the war, the Army of the Potomac defeated Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia. They had stopped Lee's invasion of the north and held their own against him on the battlefield.
As the day ended and night fell, Lee ordered his men to prepared for a counter attack. They spent July 4th waiting, but Meade stayed put. After three days of fighting, Meade's men were in no condition to go on the offensive. Seeing that Meade would not attack him, Lee set his army in motion, heading for home. Rains had swollen the Potomac, and Lee had to wait for it to recede. He still expected an attack, but none came. However, his rear guard, Heth's Division, fought a sharp action against the Union troops chasing them, killing General Pettigrew. By July 13, Lee had his army home.
Meade had stopped Lee's threat to Washington and prevented the Confederacy from achieving foreign recognition. No Union troops had been pulled out of the Vicksburg siege as Lee had hoped, and that city fell into Union hands on July 4, one day after the Battle of Gettysburg came to a conclusion.
Combined, the two armies suffered over 51,000 men killed, wounded, missing, and captured. Gettysburg was the costliest battle of the war and marked the turning point in the East. The Civil War would still not come to a conclusion for another two years, but the Confederates, for the most part, would remain on the defensives, while the Union army, once General Grant takes command later in the year, would remain primarily on the offensive.
Content provided by:
American Battlefield Protection Program, Heritage Preservation Services, National Park Service.