Friday, July 26, 2013

Morgan's Raid

On June 11th, 1863 famed Confederate cavalry commander John Hunt Morgan set off on one of his famous raids. With 2,460 picked cavalry and 4 cannon he rode north to try to distract the Federals from the Confederate armies. Riding through Tennessee, disrupting Rosecrans's communication lines, the rebels cross the Cumberland River and entered Kentucky on June 23rd. On July 4th he encountered five companies of Union infantry blocking his crossing of the Green River. In the Battle of Tebbs Bend he tried to overcome this small force for three hours, but the Federals were able to hold firm and beat back eight charges Finally Morgan acknowledged his defeat and kept riding, looking for another route.

Tebbs Bend Battlefield
The next day he surprised the Union garrison of Lebanon. A large part of the Federal forces were chased into the railroad depot where they were able to put up a good defense. Morgan had the building lit on fire, and with a final push was able to capture the building, though his brother, Lieutenant Thomas Morgan, fell in the charge.

Bragg had given Morgan permission to go wherever he wished as long has he did not cross the Ohio River, but Morgan however had no intention to obey these orders. He thought that the Federals would not be really concerned about the raid unless it struck their homeland. On July 8th he captured two steamboats and used them to cross the river into Indiana. The Union district commander, Ambrose Burnsides, send whatever troops he could to meet the rebel invaders, but Morgan brushed away his pursuers. Whenever he encountered telegraph lines he would have his telegrapher, George “Lightning” Ellsworth tap into the line and send disinformation out to the Union forces, highly exaggerating the number of the Confederate cavalry.

Riding east, Morgan's men entered Ohio on July 13th. Although he had not been caught, his raid began to fall apart. He had suffered 500 casualties and men and horses were falling by the wayside broken down in exhaustion. They headed for the Ohio river, where they planned to cross into West Virginia. He encountered militia at Buffington Island, and decided to attack the next morning. But by that time the Union forces had begun to close on the tired raiders. The Confederates now also had to face two brigades of Union troops and a fleet of gunboats. Morgan, soon realizing that the way was blocked, tried to leave a rearguard to hold of the numerous Federals and find another ford. But Union columns split up his force, and 750 Confederates were captured, Morgan escaping with only about 700.

His escape across the river cut off, so he headed north. The Ohio River was higher than normal and with the Federal cavalry close behind he could not find a place to cross the river. At one point his men began to cross, but midway through the Union gunboats and cavalry arrived. Morgan decided to remain with the half still on the Ohio side of the river while the rest made it to safety. He was finally caught near the West Virginia Pan Handle 150 years ago today with less than 400 men left. Realizing they were surrounded, the rebels tried to cut their way out. In 1 ½ hours the Confederate force was shattered, with only Morgan and a few men making it through the Federal lines. But even they wouldn't remain free for long. Knowing it was hopeless to try to head south, and seeing Union forces hot on his trail Morgan surrendered to one of his prisoners, an Ohio militia captain, who then immediately paroled his former captor. But when the Union cavalry arrived, they forced him to surrender again and refused to give him a parole.

His men had ridden 1000 miles, and achieved the furthest north reached by a Confederate force during the war. Because of incorrect rumors of what had been done to similar Northern prisoners, Morgan and his officers were sent to a prison instead of a POW camp. They were not given parole, were forced to wear convict clothes and had their hair and beards shaved. A few months later, Morgan would escape with six of his men and return to the Confederacy humiliated, having lost some of the South's best cavalry.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Battle of Fort Wagner Video

150 years ago today the Union army attacked Fort Wagner outside of Charleston South Carolina. Leading the charge was the black regiment the 54th MA. Their brave and bloody attack was seen in the film Glory.

Second Attack on Fort Wagner

The Federals, not convinced by the failure of their attack a few days before, again attacked Fort Wagner, outside of Charleston, South Carolina 150 years ago today. The regiment chosen to spearhead the attack was the 54th Massachusetts, a regiment of United States Colored Troops commanded by Colonel Robert Shaw. They would be supported by two additional brigades. The ground over which they had to pass was narrow, and halfway to the fort became flat, giving a good field of fire.

Colonel Robert Shaw
To soften up the fort for capture, Union guns fired on them from land and sea throughout the day. The infantry stepped out about sunset and the guns fell silent. As the Confederates sighted them they opened a rapid fire with their artillery, and as the Federals rushed forward, closing the range, a heavy musketry fire was poured into them from the parapet. The 54th Massachusetts hesitated under the terrific fire, but Colonel Shaw shouted, "Forward, Fifty-Fourth, forward!"and led them towards the fort.

As the troops from the 54th fell back, they encountered the next regiments and disorientated their ranks. The next two brigades pressed forward, but they were confused in the darkness and most fled to the rear before they reached the parapet. A surviving officer of the 54th Massachusetts wrote in his report:
In this formation ... as the dusk of the evening came on, the regiment advanced at quick time, leading the column the enemy opened upon us a brisk fire; our pace now gradually increased till it became a run. Soon canister and musketry began to tell upon us. With Colonel Shaw leading, the assault was commenced. Exposed to the direct fire of canister and musketry, and, as the ramparts were mounted, to a like fire on our flanks, the havoc made in our ranks was very great. Upon leaving the ditch for the parapet, they obstinately contested with the bayonet our advance. Notwithstanding these difficulties, the men succeeded in driving the enemy from most of their guns, many following the enemy into the fort. It was here, upon the crest of the parapet, that Colonel Shaw fell; … here also were most of the officers wounded. The colors of the regiment reached the crest, and were there fought for by the enemy; the State flag then torn from its staff, but the staff remains with us. Hand-grenades were now added to the missiles directed against the men. The fight raged here for about an hour.
Although the colored troops demonstrated their valor, they were unable to break into the fort. Colonel Shaw fell, hit with seven Confederate bullets. Sargent William Carney of the 54th was awarded the Medal of Honor for planting the Union flag on the parapet of the fort and then carrying it back to Union lines. When he made it back from the assault, he reported to the other men, "Boys, I only did my duty; the old flag never touched the ground!" He was the first black recipient of the medal of honor. The good fight of the 54th improved the Union soldiers's views of the fighting qualities of their black comrades.

On one portion of the line the 6th Connecticut attack gained some success. The 31st North Carolina, which had been captured as a unit earlier in the war, fled from the parapet, and the Federals were able to climb up, set foot on the rampart, and seize control of a portion of the line. The Confederate tried to counterattack, but twice their charges were beaten back. But the Federals were receiving no reinforcements, and a fresh Confederate regiment, the 32nd Georgia, rushed forward and was able to secure the lines. The fight was over by 10 pm. Many of the high ranking Union commanders had fallen, along with more than 1,500 of their men. The Confederates lost 174. After this costly defeat, the Federals turned to a traditional siege of the fort.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Battle of Honey Springs

General James Blunt
While great battles were being fought at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, other smaller movements were happening in the Indian territories in what is now Oklahoma. At the beginning of the war five civilized tribes (the Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Chicksaw and Seminole) had sided with the Confederacy. But the Untied States attacked and captured the northern portions of the Indian territory, convincing many of the natives to join their side. The Confederates were planning a counter attack, so the aggressive Union commander, Major General James Blunt attacked them on July 17, 150 years ago today, at the important wagon road stopping point of Honey Springs. Blunt was very sick, but he knew that the Confederates would soon be reinforced by 3,000 more men from Fort Smith.

Honey Springs Battlefield
The Battlefield
Both sides would have about 3,000 soldiers engaged, but the Confederates had almost 3,000 more that did not make it into the fight. The Confederates were commanded by Brigadier General Douglas Cooper. Interestingly whites were a minority of both armies, most of the troops being Indians on both sides. The southerners were formed up under cover of trees with Elk Creek to their back. As Blunt began to position his 12 cannon on a ridge, the rebel guns opened on them. After an artillery duel the lines of blue infantry advanced, augmented by dismounted cavalry. Fierce fighting continued for two hours, the Union troops having been ordered to just put down as heavy a fire as they could on the Southerners.

The Confederates's powder was damaged by a rain shower just before the battle, but at first they appeared to be holding their own in the fierce fighting. At one point in the battle, one of the Union Indian units was ordered to fall back, as it had gotten in advance of the rest of the line. One Southern officer, believing this a signal for a general Federal retreat, ordered a charge. A portion of the Confederate line advanced, and at 25 paces was met with a deadly volley from the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteers, a black unit, driving back the rebel surge.

Honey Springs Monuments
Monuments at the battlefield
This proved to be a turning point in the battle, the Union forces continuing to gain the upper hand. Cooper ordered a retreat, which at some points degenerated into a rout. A good rear guard fight was put up by a reserve Indian regiment and some Texas cavalry. They put up enough of a fight to enable the Confederates to withdraw with their artillery and most of the stores. After this victory, Blunt decided not to pursue and fell back to Fort Gibson, but the way was opened for the Union forces to continue their advance. The Confederates reported 181 lost, and the Union 77, though both sides disagreed with the other's numbers. This was the largest battle fought in Indian territory during the Civil War, and paved the way for further Union successes. The southerners in the area resorted to guerrilla tactics to keep up the fight against the Federals.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Lee Crosses the Potomac

After being defeated in the Battle of Gettysburg by Meade's Army of the Potomac, Robert E. Lee began retreating back towards Virginia with his Army of Northern Virginia. Although they had suffered greatly in the three days of fighting and many of their comrades had fallen in the fields and woods of Pennsylvania, the morale of the rest of Lee's army remained high. The Confederates met some resistance from the pursuing Federals. A significant part of the 15 mile wagon train was lost. Stuart's cavalry, which had been absent from the army during the advance north, now did good service in covering the retreat.

The main part of the Union army didn't follow right behind Lee. Meade was not sure that Lee was really returning to Virginia, and he stayed to the east side of South Mountain to cover Baltimore and Washington. When the Confederates reached the Potomac River, they found a serious problem. On July 7th heavy rain had fallen, turning the roads into mud, and this deluge of water had also raised the river so that it could not be crossed. Lee could do nothing except arrange his men in defensive positions with the river to their back and wait for the water to fall.

Lee's Earthworks
As the Federal troops arrived opposite the Confederates on July 12, they found them just finishing strong earthworks complete with gun emplacements. Meade considered attacking, but in a council of war that night he found that only two of the officers present supported an attack. Henry Halleck was upset and telegraphed him:
You are strong enough to attack and defeat the enemy before he can effect a crossing. Act upon your own judgment and make your generals execute your orders. Call no council of war. It is proverbial that councils of war never fight. Re-enforcements are pushed on as rapidly as possible. Do not let the enemy escape.
Lee crossing the Potomac
On the other side of the entrenchments Lee was hoping that Meade would attack. But that was not to be. Meade was not willing to risk a fight, and on the night of July 13-14 the river had fallen enough for Lee to make his escape. He had suffered about 5,000 casualties in the retreat, mostly captured, but he had successfully extricated his defeated army from deep in the enemy's country. President Lincoln was disappointed at Meade's failure to capture Lee. He said:
We had them within our grasp! We had only to stretch forth our hands, and they were ours, and nothing I could say, or do, could make this army move. … This is a dreadful reminiscence of McClellan; it is the same spirit as moved him to claim a great victory, because Pennsylvania and Maryland were safe. Will our Generals never get that idea out of their heads? The whole country is our soil.

New York Draft Riots

Although a majority of the people, both north and south, supported the war, that did not mean that there was no opposition. One issue that brought great resistance to Abraham Lincoln was the conscription laws. In February, 1863 a new law was passed making men aged 20 - 45 eligible to be drafted, but someone who was willing and able to pay $300 or hire a substitute was exempt from service. This exception really angered many in the north. They saw the draft as making the struggle a rich man's war and a poor man's fight since the wealthy could pay their way out.

On July 11, 1863 draft riots broke out in New York City. New York had been economically tied to the south before the war, and the mayor had called for the city's secession. A large part of the population was Irish immigrants, who did not want the slaves freed as they would enter the competition for the low paying jobs that the Irish were already having trouble finding.

When the February law began to be implemented riots quickly broke out. Crowds formed, smashing windows, cutting telegraph wires, lighting fires, and hunting down free blacks. All available troops had been sent to join the army, so the only forces available to fight the riot were the police. They were too weak to keep the rioters under control. The police superintendent himself was attacked by the mob and badly wounded. When the mob went after the offices of the New York Tribune, a Republican paper, the staff repelled the rioters with Gatling guns. The mob continued to look for blacks, lynching some and burning their houses and businesses.

It rained and many of the fires that had been started were put out. But the mob reassembled the next morning, and continued their reign of terror. They went to the homes of the famous Republicans and attacked them. The governor tried to help the situation by speaking at City Hall and telling the crowd that the conscription act was unconstitutional.

The army attacks

Meanwhile, Lincoln had to call back troops from the army to put down the riot. The New York militia and several regiments of Federal troops made a forced march to the city. After a little fighting they were able to stop the riot over the next two days. The casualties had been very heavy for a riot. It is estimated at least 120 civilians were killed and 2,000 wounded. At least 11 blacks were lynched. 50 buildings were burnt and $1 - $5 million of dollars of damage done. The draft was resumed without further protest, and turned out to be not as bad as had been anticipated. Of the 750,000 selected only 45,000 went into the service.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Vicksburg and Port Hudson Surrender

150 years ago today, as the Confederates were retreating after their defeat at the Battle of Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Mississippi, the last Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River, surrendered. The Union had been attempting to capture the town for many months, and it had been under siege since May 18. U. S. Grant had made two frontal attacks on the strong fortifications soon after the siege began, but the Confederates beat them both back with heavy losses.

Abandoning charges on the works, the Federals began a conventional siege. As Grant said, “I now determined upon a regular siege—to “out-camp the enemy,” as it were, and to incur no more losses.” The Yankees dug their entrenchments closer and closer to the Confederate works spread out along the bluffs along the Mississippi River. The rebels were completely surrounded, and they could expect no supplies to arrive. Their stores were very low. They had a good amount of ammunition, but not enough food. They soldiers and civilians ate anything they could find. Mules, cats and dogs began to disappear, some men even tried to eat their leather shoes. But it wasn't enough. Before long the symptoms of malnutrition and starvation began to show themselves. By the end of June half of the Confederate soldiers were unfit for duty. One southerner wrote:
It seems wonderful that human endurance could withstand the accumulated horrors of the situation. Living on this slender allowance, fighting all day in the hot summer's sun, and at night, with pick-axe and spade, repairing the destroyed portions of the line, it passed all comprehension how men endured the trying ordeal.
The Union didn't sit passively waiting for the Confederates to surrender. They dug mines to try to blow up the Confederate works. They also kept up a bombardment on the town from their entrenchments as well as the gunboats in the river. Their shelling of the town destroyed many buildings, forcing civilians to take refuge in caves dug into the bluffs.

The Confederate government did all it could to relieve Vicksburg. Kirby Smith in the Trans-Mississippi was ordered to try to strike Grant's supply lines. One reason behind Lee's invasion that would culminate in the Battle of Gettysburg was the hope that it might convince the Federals to abandon the siege. Joseph E. Johnston was given the responsibility to try to raise the siege by force. He was forming an army that was to try to strike Grant's rear. But he believed that his forces were weak. He suggested that Pemberton try to break out and abandon the city so that they could unite their armies. But with the strong works encircling Vicksburg, that would be impossible. The Confederate government ordered Johnston to try to relieve the town no matter the odds. James Seddon, Secretary of War, wrote him:
Vicksburg must not be lost without a desperate struggle. The interest and honor of the Confederacy forbid it. I rely on you still to avert the loss. If better resources do not offer, you must hazard attack. It may be made in concert with the garrison, if practicable, but otherwise, without-by day or night, as you think best.
But Johnston disobeyed these orders, and made no serious attempt to relieve the city before the end came.

On July 3rd, his men starving, too weak to try a breakout and with no hope of relief, Pemberton sent a message to Grant asking for terms of surrender. Grant replied, as he had at Fort Donelson, that he would accept only unconditional surrender. But Pemberton refused. The Confederates had cracked the code used by the Federal troops to send messages between the gunboats and the land forces. They had read their messages that said that they would have to parole all the Confederate troops because they didn't have the transportation to take them north. Grant relented, and the surrender was finalized on July 4th, independence day. During the siege the Federals had 4,835, the Confederates 3,202, as well as 29,495 captured.

Port Hudson
As the Confederate troops were turning over their arms, many miles away Robert E. Lee's troops were retreating after having been defeated at the battle of Gettysburg. Some would say that this double defeat was the turning point of the war for. Five days later Port Hudson would fall, the Confederates were almost out of ammunition and supplies and the commander realized that if Vicksburg could not be saved, he was doomed. At one blow, the last great strongholds on the Mississippi River fell, and the greatest invasion of the north was defeated. The Confederacy's cause was beginning to appear truly dismal.

Attack on Fort Wagner

Ruins of Fort Sumter
Charleston, South Carolina was one of the most important cities of the south. A hot bed of secession fervor, it had seen the first battle of the war in the attack on Fort Sumter. 150 years ago the Union navy had decided to make the capture of the town a priority. The city and harbor had many defenses. Beside the forts which had been built by the Federal government before the war, the Confederates under the command of P. G. T. Beauregard had strengthened many works and built new ones.

General Gillmore
The Federals making the assault were under the command of Brigadier General Quincy Gillmore, commander of the Department of the South. Gillmore had experience in this area, as he had captured Fort Pulaski the year before. His plan was to begin by capturing Morris Island, and then he would place artillery there to assist the navy in bombarding Fort Sumter, which guarded the entrance to the harbor.

Union ships bombarding
The Union troops attacked the southern portions of Morris Island on July 10th. Within three hours they were able to capture most of the island and push to within 600 yards of the main fortification, Fort Wagner. Hoping to follow up on their success, the Federals advanced on Fort Wagner at daylight the next day, July 11th. As soon as they were sighted by the Confederates, they rushed forward with a shout. They pressed forward through very heavy fire from the fort. Rushing to the foot of the parapet, they tried to climb over. But the Confederate fire was too heavy, and although they bayoneted two of the fort's defenders, they were forced to fall back.

The attackers lost over 150 men, the jubilant Confederates only 12. The Yankees had been driven back for the moment, but it wouldn't be long before they made another attempt on Fort Wagner.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Gettysburg – Lee Retreats

Lee crosses the Potomac
The failure of Pickett's charge signaled the end of Confederate offensives at Gettysburg. Lee's offensive strength had been used up. The army had tried for two days the break the same Union line, and they had failed. The only question remaining was what would be Meade's response on the 4th of July, 150 years ago today? Would he follow the example of George B. McClellan in the Seven Days and retreat after winning a victory? Would he just remain in position? Or would he attack the greatly weakened Confederate army? Lee kept his men in position hoping that Meade might withdraw from his lines. But as rain began to fall in the early afternoon, it became clear that Meade would not move, and Lee began making preparations for a withdrawal back to Virginia. That night the Confederate army set out, first Hill, then Longstreet and finally Ewell bringing up the rear.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Gettysburg – Pickett's Charge

As the fighting was raging on Culp's Hill, Longstreet was still trying get Lee to cancel the attack entirely. He later remembered telling him:
General, I have been a soldier all my life. I have been with soldiers engaged in fights by couples, by squads, companies, regiments, divisions, and armies, and should know, as well as anyone, what soldiers can do. It is my opinion that no fifteen thousand men every arranged for battle can take that position.
Lee would not listen to Longstreet, remaining unconvinced and believing it was too late to change the plan. But he did decide to shift the focus of the attack from the Confederate right to the center as the troops on the right were too hard to disengage. Supporting Pickett would be brigades from Heth and Pender. These divisions suffered heavily on the first day, and they were now commanded by Pettigrew and Trimble. The charge would be very difficult, across a long portion of open ground on the Federals on Cemetery Ridge. To make the assault easier, it would be preceded by an artillery bombardment by Colonel Porter Alexander. Alexander, however, only had enough ammunition for one more bombardment. The fate of the battle of Gettysburg would hang upon this change.

Union line
At about 1 pm 163 Confederate guns along a mile long artillery line opened upon the Cemetery Ridge. It was the largest artillery bombardment of the Civil War. It was a terrible experience for the Union troops at which it was directed. One veteran later wrote:
It makes my Blood Tingle in my veins now; to think of. Never before did I hear such a roar of Artillery, it seemed as if all the Demons in Hell were let loose, and were Howling through the Air. Turn your eyes which way you will the whole Heavens were filled with Shot and Shell, Fire and Smoke.
Although noisy and terrifying, the Confederate bombardment did did not do terrific damage. It was well nigh impossible to aim with the clouds of smoke which quickly covered the ridge, and most Confederate shells went over the Union soldier's heads. Even many which were aimed properly failed to explode. After an hour bombardment, the time had come for the infantry to advance. Pickett found Longstreet and asked him if he should attack. Longstreet, believing the attack would be useless, could not bring himself to give the order, and so simply sadly nodded his head. The orders were given, and the attack moved out. Riding along his lines, Pickett said, “Up, Men, and to your posts! Don't forget today that you are from Old Virginia!” Nine brigades containing 13,000 men moved out, with more available to support a breakthrough.

Pickett Charging
The Confederates advanced in an imposing line across a mile of open ground toward a corpse of trees. The Union artillery immediately opened on them, tearing great gaps in the Confederate line. Some batteries had held their fire during the Confederate bombardment, and so had plenty of ammunition to beat back the infantry. Onward the Southerners pressed across the field. In 15 minutes they reached the Emmitsburg Road, and after climbing the fences reformed their line, closed the gaps and moved forward. The Union troops shifted to canister and the infantry opened fire. Many rebels fell, but some still pressed forward. As the officers were hit the organization began to fall apart. The attack began to falter.

Brigadier General Lews Armistead, at the head of his brigade, with his sword in hand and his hat upon the top, shouted out, "Come on, boys, give them cold steel! Who will follow me?" Several hundred men rushed with him towards the position called the Bloody Angle. The rebels, with Armistead at their head, rushed in among the Yankees fought hand to hand occurred. They captured and turned around two Union guns, but there was no ammunition to fire them.

Union reinforcements quickly pressed down on the Confederates who had made it over the wall, overcoming the remnants of Garnett's and Armistead's brigades. The Southern officers had fallen, so the men either made their way back to their lines, or were rounded up and captured. 5,600 men had been lost in this charge, 50% of the men engaged. The Union defenders lost only about 1,500. Lee came out to meet his beaten soldiers, telling them the defeat was all his fault. When he ordered Pickett to rally his division to defend against a possible Union counter attack, the young general replied, “General Lee, I have no division.” Lee had believed his men were invincible, and the break down of coordination doomed the unlikely attack.

Gettysburg – Lee's Plan

When the sun set and the battle ended on July 2nd, it was apparent that although the battle plan was based on faulty information and had not been executed until late, it had gained some success. Sickle's line had been broken and reinforcements sent to him had been crushed. But all the attacks ultimately failed for lack of support. There seemed to be opportunities for the next day. Lee thought if an attack on Cemetery Hill was well supported it might be able to follow up on the partial successes gained the previous day and break the Union line. Lee's plan for the third day at Gettysburg would remain unchanged. Lee made the mistake of trying the same thing again, and hoping that a favorable opportunity would allow him to win the battle. He had great confidence in his army, and believed that if they worked together they could not be defeated. Using Pickett's fresh division, Longstreet would again attack the Federal left while Ewell continued his diversion on Meade's right.

On the other side of Cemetery Ridge, Meade was holding a council of war. He asked his Corps commanders whether the army should retreat, hold in its position, or launch an attack. The consensus, as famously stated by Slocum, was that they should "stay and fight it out." The battle would continue on July 3rd.

Union breastworks on Culp's Hill
The battle on Culp's Hill resumed early on the third day. The Federals had surrounded the foothold of Union entrenchments Johnson's division had gained. After an artillery duel Ewell attacked with more troops. There was little room to maneuver, and the fight came down to a deafening and deadly barrage of musketry. So many shots were fired through the men's rifles they became to hot to touch. The rebels pressed hard they were unable to break the Federal lines. Then the Federals counter-attacked and pushed the Confederates down Culp's Hill, recapturing their entrenchments. The renewed Confederate attack on Culp's Hill had been unsuccessful, and it had not even served its purpose as a diversion. No one had told Pickett he was to attack in the morning, and so as the fighting wound down on Culp's Hill the troops were still being prepared to make what would be called Pickett's charge.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Gettysburg – Cemetery Ridge and Culp's Hill

The division to the left of McLaws was that of Major General Richard Anderson of A. P. Hill's Third Corps. He was to attack in support of Longstreet. His line set out with a cheer about 6 pm. Anderson's men were helped in their attack by Barksdale's charge, which struck the Federals they were facing in the flank. The Union division Anderson struck was able to hold together, although it was forced to fall back and give up several cannon. But Anderson's attack stalled. It was getting dark, the air was filled with smoke, and no troops were sent forward to help push forward the attack. But one brigade did gain very noteworthy success. Ambrose Wright reported that he had gained the top of Cemetery Ridge, and held it for some time before behind forced off for lack of reinforcements. This success may have convinced Lee to order Pickett's Charge the next day.

As these attacks were going on along the Confederate right an attack was also being made on the left, against Culp's Hill. It was intended as a diversion to keep Federal forces pinned down. There had been constant skirmishing throughout the day, but the lines did not move forward until it was nearly dark. The Union right was in great peril, as a 1/2 mile of ground was held by only one brigade, the rest having been pulled out to bolster other sections of the line. But unusually for this period of the war, they had built entrenchments and when the division of Edward "Allegheny" Johnston attacked, they were able to make a good defense. The rebels charged forward through the darkness, and halted within 100 yards of the Federals to exchange fire with them. The Confederates gained some success and captured portions of the Federals breastworks, but Union reinforcements were rushed to the area, and the battle ended in the darkness, with the Confederates retaining a portion of the Union works.
Attack on Culp's Hill

Gettysburg – Peach Orchard

While part of McLaw's division were fighting in the Wheatfield, more of his men were fighting at the Peach Orchard. McLaws was to move forward to capture the high ground around the orchard, and then assist Hood in rolling up the Union right. The Federals were along the Emitsburg Road, but did not have enough men to adequately cover that line. Leading McLaw's assault was William Barksdale's Mississippi Brigade, famous for their gallant defense of Fredericksburg. At their head rode Barksdale himself, mounted on a horse with his sword in hand and his long white hair flowing in the wind. As the Mississippians advanced they took hits from Federal artillery fire, but they closed their ranks and rushed towards the Yankee infantry. Having twice their numbers, they were able to smash through the Federal defense. The rest of the Peach Orchard line soon crumbled. But Barksdale's glorious charge eventually stalled. The Mississippians could only advance so far without becoming very disorganized, and Barksdale himself was wounded, hit in the left knee, and then had his foot hit by a cannon ball. A third shot in the chest knocked him from his horse. He was left on the field for dead, and was later captured and died in a Union field hospital.

Sickle's advanced position had turned out into a disaster. Devil's Den was captured, Little Round Top was severally pressed and the Peach Orchard lost. It appeared that his decision might cost the Federal army the battle. During the fighting, an artillery shot hit him the right knee. Strangely enough, the horse he was riding did not spook. He was helped down and his wounded was dressed. Turning over his command over his command to Davis Birney, he was taken to the rear to have his leg amputated. An experienced politician, he insisted on being taken to Washington, and began a public relations campaign to ensure that every one believed that he saved the day for the Union. In this he was successful, not being court marshelled because of his wound and eventually receiving the Medal of Honor for his actions.

Gettysburg - Wheatfield

While Hood's first brigades were fighting for Devil's Den Little Round Top, more troops were fighting over a Wheatfield. Sickles had reinforced his jagged line with troops from Sykes V Corps. Southern troops advanced against the Federal line, and were met with bursts of cannon and musketry. They began to get around the Federal left flank, but as the Union troops began to fall back the Confederates lost their momentum, exhausted from their charge.

Capture of the Wheatfield
With Hood's attack stalled Longstreet ordered McLaws' division forward forward, and some of his troops struck the area of the Wheatfield. The seasoned Confederate veterans were at first driven back but came on again, pressing the Federals back. Meade had brought up a division from Hancock's line, and sent it into the Wheatfield as reinforcements. One of these soldiers, Major Peter Nelson of the 66th New York, wrote the fight:
Very soon we were under fire of musketry, but, nothing daunted, we pressed steadily forward through wheat-fields, woods, over rail fences 10 feet high, stone walls, ditches, deep ravines, rocks, and all sorts of obstructions, every one of which had served as cover for the enemy, and from which a murderous fire was poured upon us as we advanced, but without avail, as nothing could stop the impetuosity of our men, who, without waiting to lead or even fix bayonets, rushed eagerly forward at a run, their cry being constantly, Forward! Charge! ... Arrived at a rocky ridge about 300 yards from where we commenced our victorious advance, we halted, taking the movement from the right, and engaged the enemy at short range. ... By this time, owing to the distance we had advanced in line of battle at a run, and the irregularity of the ground we had advanced over, we were in a deplorable state of confusion; men from every regiment in the division were intermingled with ours in one confused mass. While personally engaged in endeavoring to reform the regiment, and obtain something like order, I perceived the right of the line retiring. On inquiring the cause, I earned that the enemy had turned our right flank; also that all the senior officers of the brigade were either killed or wounded. In accordance with instructions received previous to entering the engagement, to regulate our movement by the right, I gave orders to retire...
As the sun was setting the Confederates were pushing through the Wheat Field after the retreating Federals. It appeared, on this portion of the field at least, that Lee might have won a victory in Pennsylvania.
Confederate in the Wheatfield

Gettysburg - Little Round Top

The attack on the Union left would be made by two divisions from Longstreet, McLaws' on the left and Hood's on the right. At about 4:30 pm, as the guns fell silent from a 30 minute bombardment, Hood, standing in his stirrups at the head of the Texas Brigade, shouted "Fix Bayonets, my brave Texans! Forward, and take those heights!" As Hood's division rushed toward the Round Tops the encountered rough, boulder stone ground in an area called Devil's Den. The division shifted off to the east as united struggled to avoid the obstacle. As the attack was being made the commander was lost, the mounted Hood was struck with a bullet and put out of action, Evander Law taking his place.
Confederate sharpshooter in Devil's Den
The Northern troops put up a fierce resistance around the rocky outcroppings, but they could not hold for long. Confederates began to get on their flank and even in their rear. Finally the Confederates pushed through Devil's Den, capturing three cannon that had defended it. The Confederates continued to push on around Big Round Top and towards Little Round Top. Until very recently the smaller hill had been bare of Federal troops other than a few signal men. Sickles had been instructed to anchor his line there, but had disobeyed the order. Brigadier General Gouverneur Warren, chief engineer of the army, rode to the hill and instantly saw the situation. He recognized that the hill was the key to the whole battlefield. Confederate artillery here could wreck havoc on the Federal lines. Warren quickly rode back and on his own authority sent Colonel Strong Vincent's 1,000 man brigade to occupy the hill, along with a battery of artillery. Vincent arranged his regiments on the hill, and they were soon attacked by troops from Hood's division. Already disorganized from the charge, their lines were broken as they tried to climb the rocky sides of Little Round Top. As they approached the top, they came under fire from Strong's men and were driven back. They came on again and again and a fierce fight developed. Reinforcements arrived for the Federals in the form of the 140th New York, a Zouve regiment with colorful uniforms. Which rushed forward and helped stabilize the Union line.

Hood's Attack

The unit on the far left of the Union position was the 20th Maine, commanded by Colonel Joshua Chamberlin. Today it is one of the most famous unites of the entire Civil War. The Confederates pushed hard against this regiment. Chamberlin remembered counting five separate attacks on his line. His troops were stretched very thin and his men were running low on ammunition. It was thought that the line was about to break, so he ordered a bayonet charge. The 20th Maine rushed down the hill, hit the Confederates and drove them into retreat, capturing a number of retreating rebels.

Through the quick action of Gouverneur Warren, the hard fighting of Vincient's brigade and the disorganization of the Confederates, Little Round Top was held for the Union. The man who got much of the glory for this fight was Joshua Chamberlin, although were other Union units on the hill that fought just as hard against the Confederate attacks.

Gettysburg - Preparations for Attack

Lee's Plan
The commanders of both armies around Gettysburg were up before dawn on the morning of July 2nd. Meade was posting his troops on the hills of south of Gettysburg, preparing to receive the attack he expected. Meanwhile Lee was looking for an opportunity to make that attack. He sent out scouting parties and one, venturing out in the direction of the Union left, reported that he had ridden to Little Round Top and there were no troops in the area. According to this report, there was nothing to stop Lee from moving around the Federal line and hitting them in the flank or even rear. This was just the opportunity he had been looking for, so he began seeing to the preparations for the attack. But in this he did not have the willing cooperation of Longstreet, who would be commanding the assault. Longstreet still wanted to fight a defensive battle. Lee had made it clear it was not going to happen, but his lieutenant was not content to just obey orders. Worse still, Lee's plan was based on faulty information. Somehow the scouting party must have been confused about their location, as Union reports show that there would have been plenty of troops visible in the Little Round Top area at that time.

Sickles examines his lines
The commander on the far Union left, where Lee planned to attack, was Dan Sickles. Sickles was not a military man, but a politician looking to overcome a bad reputation. Sickles was not satisfied with his position on Cemetery Ridge. He was concerned because of some higher ground a little over a half mile in front of him around a peach orchard. He thought that Confederates holding the slight rise would be able to break his line. About noon, without authorization from Meade, he moved his corps forward to cover the higher ground. Writing after the battle, Sickles acknowledged that it was done outside of his orders:
It was not through any misinterpretation of orders. It was either a good line or a bad one, and, whichever it was, I took it on my own responsibility.... I took up that line because it enabled me to hold commanding ground, which, if the enemy had been allowed to take - as they would have taken if I had not occupied it in force - would have rendered our position on the left untenable; and, in my judgment, would have turned the fortunes of the day hopelessly against us. 
 But this move jeprodized the Union line. The new position was nearly twice as long, spreading his troops very thin and making them neglect the truly important position of Little Round Top, leaving it free to be captured by the Confederates. When Meade heard of this move, he was very angry. Without waiting a moment he gave orders that the stituation be corrected. But it was too late. For as he rode up to Sickles position, he discovered that the Confederates were massing for an attack.


Monday, July 1, 2013

Gettysburg – End of the First Day

 In the afternoon of July 1st, Meade received more news of the developing fight at Gettysburg. Hancock, who had taken over the battle, told him that he thought he could hold Cemetery Hill until nightfall, and that it would be an excellent place to fight a battle. Meade therefore decided to abandon his Pipe Creek Plan and meet Lee at Gettysburg. He ordered all his troops in the area forward. Of his seven corps, four were already on the field or very close by, and only one was a long distance away. The Confederates also were planning their movements for the next days. Longstreet had arrived, and looking over the ground, told Lee:
If we could have chosen a point to meet our plan of operation, I do not think we could have found a better one than that upon which they are concentrating. All we have to do is throw our army around by their left, and we shall interpose between the Federal army and Washington. We can get a strong position and wait, and if they fail to attack us we will have everything in condition to move back tomorrow night in the direction of Washington, selecting beforehand a good position into which we can place our troops to receive battle next day. Finding our object is Washington and that army, the Federals will be sure to attack us. When they attack, we shall beat them ... and the probabilities are that the fruits of our success will be great.
Lee however fundamentally disagreed with Longstreet's defensive plan. Lee thought he had to keep control of the campaign. In the enemy's country, with Stuart gone, Lee knew little of the enemy's movements. If he tried a flanking maneuver he would be in real risk of being caught on the road and destroyed. He told Longstreet, “If the enemy is there tomorrow, we must attack him.”