Monday, July 1, 2013

Gettysburg – Union Retreat

As the Confederates deployed to prepare for another attack, across the field Doubleday was determined to hold his ground. He must have known that Reynolds had permission to fight on this ground. He was a West Pointer and had been an officer at Fort Sumter, and was said to have fired the first shot of the war. He worked to reinforce and expand the Union line. By now O. O. Howard's XI Corps was arriving. This corps was primarily composed of German immigrants, and they had been routed by Jackson's flank attack at Chancellorsville. The rest of the army disliked them for this debacle, and they disliked their commander, the "Christian General," because he had replaced their hero, Franz Sigel. When Howard arrived he was the senior officer on the field, so he took control of the battle. He placed his corps to the right of the I, curving to the right north of town.

Ewell arrives
More Confederates were arriving as well. Ewell's corps was joining Hill's at Gettysburg. He, like Hill, had been told to avoid a general engagement. He deployed his men opposite the right of the I Corps. When Ewell and Rodes, Ewell's division commander on the field, saw the XI Corps they thought they were about to be attack, so they decided to strike first. On their orders, the Confederate forces moved forward against the Federals with varying success. Alfred Inverson commanded one of Rodes' brigades. Inverson was a Georgian, but his troops were from North Carolina and they disliked him. The position Inverson had to attack proved to be difficult. There the Federal line curved inward, forming a V in which the Confederate brigade would be trapped. Also the Federals were under cover, so they could not be seen. Private John Vaultier of the 88th Pennsylvania wrote of the attack:
[T]he field in front was swarming with Confederates, who came sweeping on in magnificent order, with perfect alignment, guns at right shoulder and colors to the front. [We] waited quietly for the enemy to come within range, word being passed along to aim low, and at the command a sheet of flame and smoke burst from the wall with the simultaneous crash of the rifles, flaring full in the faces of the advancing troops, the ground being quickly covered with their killed and wounded as the balls hissed and cut through the exposed line.
The Confederate line was stopped in its tracks at 50 yards and the survivors hugged the ground. Then the Federal line charged forward. The North Carolinians were dismayed and did not put up a good resistance. Hundreds surrendered or were captured and two stands of colors were captured. Inverson was blamed for this disaster. He was already unpopular with his brigade, and he was arranging support for his men rather than leading them from the front. When the campaign was over he was removed from command and sent back to Georgia to organize the militia there.
The North Carolinians advance
While Inverson's brigade was being driven back, attacks were occurring on its right and left flanks. O'Neal on the left was unsuccessful, while advancing the left regiment was flanked and retreated, and the rest of the brigade followed. Rodes sent in two reserve brigades, Daniel on the right and Ramseur on the left. Daniel's brigade was very large, but was also inexperienced. It struck the Federals hard in the area of the railroad cut, but although they fought hard, they could make no progress. Ramseur too pressed the enemy. The Federals recognized the danger of their position. They were under heavy pressure. Four commanders of Paul's brigade were killed or wounded. Finally the Federals fell back with the 16th Maine as a rear guard. The Confederates closed in on the 16th, with Ramsuer himself leading the charge. The rear guard could not stand up for long. Many men fell and many prisoners were taken. The men tore up their flag and distributed it through the regiment so it would not be captured. 77% of the regiment was killed, wounded or captured.

The Railroad Cut
After Ramseur's success Daniel continued his attacks. He was fighting Stone's Pennsylvania Brigade. Several of the Union regiments carried the name Bucktails because they carried deer tails in their hats to boast of their marksmanship. Stone's men were able to drive back Daniel's brigade. But the Yankees suffered heavily from the Confederate artillery when they got stuck in the railroad cut. In the next attack the tables were turned. Daniel was again driven back, and the Confederates suffered many casualties in the railroad cut. After this Daniel avoided the dangerous area of the railroad cut and instead sent his men to aid in Ramseur's attack. But Stone had been wounded in the fighting, and his successor pulled back the brigade, leaving 850 men behind on the field.

Attacks on the I and XI Corps
As the I Corps was being forced back, the XI Corps was also under attack. Schimmelfenning's division was placed on the left and Barlow was on the right. The third division was not put into the fighting, it was in reserve on Cemetery Hill. Facing them was Early's division, which was almost on the right flank of the XI Corps. In front was John B. Gordon's Georgia brigade of 1,200 men, followed by a second line and a third reserve line. To meet this threat to the right Barlow moved forward to what is called Barlow's Knoll. It is the only high ground in the plains north of town. He thought if the Confederates occupied this hill it would be impossible for him to maintain his position. But the move forward formed a salient in the Union line, and overextended the XI Corps. Schurz, who had taken over the corps from Howard, was considering ordering a retreat, but before he made any move Early attacked.

Gordon moved forward at the front of the line, mounted on a black horse, inspiring his men by his martial presence. Barlow's rightmost brigade put up a good resistance to Gordon, but it was useless. They were outnumbered and flanked. They soon broke and took the rest of the division with them. Gordon later wrote:
Moving forward under heavy fire over rail and plank fences, and crossing a creek whose banks were so abrupt as to prevent a passage excepting at certain points, this brigade rushed upon the enemy with a resolution and spirit, in my opinion, rarely excelled. The enemy made a most obstinate resistance until the colors on portions of the two lines were separated by a space of less than 50 paces, when his line was broken and driven back, leaving the flank which this line had protected exposed to the fire from my brigade. An effort was here made by the enemy to change his front and check our advance, but the effort failed, and this line, too, was driven back in the greatest confusion, and with immense loss in killed, wounded, and prisoners. Among the latter was a division commander (General [F. C] Barlow), who was severely wounded.
Early's men wrecked havoc on the XI Corps. Schurz tried to form a line on the outskirts of the town, but it was put in a bad position and soon broke. The rout of the XI Corps occurred at the same time as the retreat of the 1st. Heth had attacked again. Again the Federals made a firm resistance. When the 26th North Carolina's attack stalled, their officers grabbed the flag to lead the men forward. Officer after officer fell carrying the flag, but it was picked up again and the advance continued forward. Finally Lt. Colonel Lane, the commander, grabbed the flag and drove back the Federals. In this attack 13 flag bearers fell. Every one of the 3 officers and 88 men of company F were either killed or wounded.

The Federals could not stand up to these attacks and eventually fell back. Heth made little pursuit. His division had suffered badly and was completely worn out. Heth himself was temporarily disabled, when he had been struck with a mine ball in the head. He only survived because the bullet was mostly blocked by a paper stuffed in his new hat.

The I and XI Union Corps retreated in a near rout through the town of Gettysburg. The streets were clogged as the Yankees struggled to get away from the pressing greybacks. Some Federals thought the battle was hopelessly lost. However, a provost guard formed on the other side of Cemetery Hill to stop the fleeing soldiers. It was there that a defense would be made. By this time Winfield Scott Hancock had arrived on the field. He was sent by Meade to take over after Reynold's death. He knew him better than Howard and had more confidence in him. Hancock worked with Howard to organize the remains of the two corps. They were down to around 7,000 men, but he still had 50 cannon and a strong position. More troops were on their way, and there would be plenty of reinforcements if they could hold out for the rest of the day.

The Confederate high command considered an attack on Cemetery Hill. A. P. Hill said his men were too tired and the enemy was already routed. Lee gave Ewell permission to attack, but Ewell would not do it without an express order from Lee. Lee said in his report:
Without information as to its proximity, the strong position which the enemy had assumed could not be attacked without danger of exposing the four divisions present, already weakened and exhausted by a long and bloody struggle, to overwhelming numbers of fresh troops. General Ewell was, therefore, instructed to carry the hill occupied by the enemy, if he found it practicable, but to avoid a general engagement until the arrival of the other divisions of the army, which were to hasten forward.
Ultimately, Ewell did not make the attempt. Ewell did plan to occupy Culp's Hill, to the east of Cemetery Hill. A staff officer had found it unoccupied in the noon, but it was near dark before Johnson's division was sent to occupy it, and by that time the Federals had troops on that hill. There were many who, then and later, believed that if Jackson were there, he would have captured Cemetery Hill, and Ewell's indecision cost the Confederates the battle. However, the ultimate authority rested with Lee and if he believed it necessary to attack the hill, he could have ordered Ewell to do it. An attack probably should have been made, but it would not necessarily have been successful, as the defeated Federals might have been able to hold back the tired Southerners.


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