Monday, July 4, 2011

July 1-4, 1863

In July of 1863, General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia of 75,000 men and the 97,000 man Union Army of the Potomac, under George G. Meade, concentrated together at Gettysburg and fought the Battle of Gettysburg.

Of the more than 2,000 land engagements of the Civil War, Gettysburg ranks supreme. Although the Battle of Gettysburg did not end the war, it was the great battle of the war, marking the point when the ultimate victory of the North over the South became clear to both sides alike.

To celebrate our Independence Day Rink Rats offers a history lesson. Here at Gettysburg, on July 1, 2, and 3, 1863, more men fought and died than in any other battle in American history.

In taking his army north from the Rappahannock, General Lee's objective was to induce the Union Army to disperse across a broad front along the Mason-Dixon line, and then, by maneuver, draw it to a point far from its base of supply where it could be attacked and beaten in detail. In the execution of this operation, the three corps of the Rebel army marched from the vicinity of Culpeper Courthouse into the Shenandoah Valley and across the Potomac at Williamsport and Sheperdstown. Once in the Cumberland Valley, Ewell's corps, leading the invasion, marched to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. There, CSA General Jubal Early's division turned east and, passing through the South Mountain at the Cashtown Gap, marched past Gettysburg to York while General Ewell, with Rodes's and Johnson's divisions, marched to Carlisle, sending one brigade forward to the Susquehanna in front of Harrisburg. Confederate General A.P. Hill's corps, and General Longstreet's, followed Ewell as far as Chambersburg, arriving there, on June 27, and went into camp.

On June 25, when it became clear to its commander, General Joseph Hooker US, that the enemy was crossing the Potomac west of the Blue Ridge, the Union army, scattered about the Manassas plain, marched to Leesburg and crossed the river at Edward's Ferry, moving west to Frederick, Maryland, and into the Middletown Valley to block the anticipated movement of the enemy east through Turner's Gap. Two days later, realizing from reports received that the enemy had reached the Susquehanna River at two points—Harrisburg and Wrightsville—Hooker demanded that President Lincoln give him command of additional forces in order to move north toward the enemy. When Lincoln refused Hooker abruptly resigned and George G. Meade stepped into his place. Meade immediately ordered the army to march, in six columns, northeastward toward the line of Pipe Creek, the 1st, 3rd and 11th corps taking position between Emittsburg and Taneytown, the 2nd, 5th, and 6th corps taking position between Taneytown and Manchester.

In the night of June 30, Meade received word from Washington that the enemy forces on the Susquehanna had fallen back and seemed to moving in three directions toward Gettysburg. Meade ordered his army to prepare for a defensive battle behind Pipe Creek and sent John Reynolds, commander of the 1st Corps, supported by the 11th and 3rd Corps, to move toward Gettysburg; with the mission of retarding the anticipated movement of the enemy toward Pipe Creek, if possible, and then fall back. Because Reynolds did not encounter any infantry force approaching, he marched on to Gettysburg and hurriedly formed his corps into a battle line just west of the town, and soon was engaged with A.P. Hill's corps, marching out from the Cashtown Gap.

July 1 - Day 1

The Confederate 1st Corps and General A.P. Hill's corps grappled along McPherson's Ridge for several hours. Early in the struggle, Reynolds was killed by a sniper's bullet to the brain, and O.O. Howard, commander of the 11th Corps, assumed command. At the time the 11th Corps arrived, two of Ewell's divisions—Rodes and Early—appeared on the right flank of the Union line and attacked. This forced Howard to form a battle line perpendicular to the fighting front of the 1st Corps. The combined rebel pressure against the hinge connecting the two Union lines resulted in Union resistance collapsing and a general retreat commenced, the Union forces running pell-mell through the streets of Gettysburg and up to the heights of Cemetery Hill. The rebel forces under Hill and Ewell pursued, but, worn out and disorganized by the battle, and without fresh forces immediately at hand, the pursuit petered out on the bottom slopes of the hill as night fell.

Learning of Reynolds's death late in the afternoon, Meade had sent Winfield Hancock, commander of the 2nd Corps, to Gettysburg, to take command from Howard. By early evening, receiving a dispatch from Hancock, reporting the condition of things, Meade decided to move the entire army up. Meade arrived on the field about midnight, followed by the arrival of the 5th Corps, the 2nd Corps, and the next day the 6th Corps.

July 2 - Day 2

On July 2, both armies spent most of the daylight getting set for action: Meade's army digging in along Cemetery Ridge which stretched two miles from Cemetery Hill to the Round tops, and Lee's army maneuvering into attacking position. Around 4 o'clock in the afternoon, Longstreet's corps—Hood's, McLaws, and R.H. Anderson's division detached from Hill's corps, attacked Sickles's 3rd Corps at the Peach Orchard and crushed it, driving the survivors through the Wheat Field and Devil's Den.

While Longstreet's attack was in progress, Richard Ewell's corps launched an effort to route the Union forces holding Cemetery Hill, but his men found the steep hill difficult to climb, the Union fire power too strong, and, though their front reached the cemetery gate, they were forced to back down.

At the climax of Longstreet's battle against Meade's left, Barksdale's Mississippi Brigade charged into a widening breach in the Union line, at a cleft in the ridge, and was almost into the Union rear when McGilvery's artillery battery galloped up, unlimbered, and annihilated the brigade with canister blasts. Meade's old Pennsylvania Reserve division arrived shortly after and charged into Plum Run Valley, throwing Longstreet's men back to the Emmitsburg Road.

July 3 - Day 3

As the day before, the morning of the 3rd passed quietly, with both armies positioned on ridges about a mile apart. The silence was broken around 1:00 p.m., when the rebel artillery, a hundred guns massed hub to hub, exploded with a thunderous cannonade that lasted until 2 o'clock. The cannonade threw most of its shells over the Union line, the shells falling among the parks of Union trains in rear of Cemetery Ridge.

When the cannonade was over, a mass of 15,000 shaggy men in brown homespun moved out from the rebel position and began walking toward Cemetery Ridge, across the Emittsburg Road, past the carnage of the day before, and up the slight incline that leads to the Clump of Trees. As they walked, great gaps were torn in their line by Union artillery, quickly closed by men from a second line stepping up. At 600 yards out from the Clump of Trees, the rebel line shook and swayed, like wheat in gusts of wind, as the Union defenders let loose volley after volley of rifle fire. Then the two sides came together: patches of rebels, led by those of the 26th North Carolina Regiment, overran the stone wall at the Clump of Trees and grappled with the Union cannoneers manning the guns behind, killing them, turning the pieces, and working them—until reinforcements swarmed them from the Union rear and drove them back from the guns and over the wall.

The great gray tide swept back in trickles now across the field, the soldiers turning their backs from the fire as against the wind and walking. As they walked, they found General Lee astride Traveller waiting by the Emmitsburg Road. "Steady men, steady," some of them heard him shout. "We need good men just now, it's not your fault." In fifty minutes of almost hand-to-hand combat at the bloody stone wall, ten thousand men had been killed or wounded. The glory of Pickett's Charge was now history.

July 4, 1863

The next day, as he had done with McClellan at Antietam, General Lee—his officers protesting sharply—held his army in line of battle inviting Meade to attack him. Meade rode up and down his lines, counting his casualities, his ammunition, conferring with the colonels, and decided the prudent thing to do was stand on the defensive.

General Lee waited patiently, until near the twilight of the day when he was suddenly heard to clap his hands and exclaim: "It's too bad, too, too bad!" And then he quietly gave the order to withdraw, and soon his army was marching south, along the east face of the South Mountain, its trains already long gone into the Cumberland Valley heading for Williamsport. At the Monterey Gap, he passed his army through the South Mountain and took up a position in a bend of the Potomac, at Falling Waters, where he remained for three days facing Meade, waiting for the swollen river to fall. Here, Meade decided to stand on the defensive again and Lee finally crossed his army over the river.

With the failure of Pickett's Charge, the battle was over - the Union was saved. Lee's retreat began on the afternoon of July 4. Behind him, this small town of only 2,400 was left with a total (from both sides) of over 51,000 casualties. Over 172,000 men and 634 cannon had been positioned in an area encompassing 25 square miles. Additionally, an estimated 569 tons of ammunition was expended and, when the battle had ended, 5,000 dead horses and the other wreckage of war presented a scene of terrible devastation.

The Confederate army that staggered back from the fight at Gettysburg was physically and spiritually exhausted. Lee would never again attempt an offensive operation of such proportions. Meade, though he was criticized for not immediately pursuing Lee's army, had carried the day in the battle that has become known as the High Water Mark of the Confederacy.

The war was to rage for two more terrible and tormenting years but the Confederacy never recovered from the losses of Gettysburg. And through the deepening twilight of Confederate military might, all who had been to Gettysburg would remember.

Thank you

BIRTHDAYS THIS WEEK – Birthday wishes and thoughts this week to Erin Burnett (35), David Drier (59), Tony Jacklin (67), Toby Keith (50), Sandra Lee (45), Donald Rumsfeld (79), Geoffrey Rush (60), Teemu Selanne (41), Ringo Starr (71), U.S.A. (235).

Next week, dining, cooking and Dear Rink Rats.

Until next Monday, Adios.

Claremont, CA
July 4, 2011


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