Hello, folks. I’m sorry I haven’t published as frequently lately; I just had a few scheduling glitches, as you probably saw, but I’ve sorted them out! Today we are going to talk about the second day of the battle of Gettysburg, which was the most tenacious part of the battle.
After their horrifying defeat, the Federals had fallen back on the ridges and hills south of Gettysburg. Their defense was in the shape of a fishhook, where the Federals positioned four of their corps (1st, 2nd, 12th, and 11th) on the hills of Gettysburg. Although this was a strong position, Federal Commander George Meade was cautious and sent only one corps at a time. Culp’s Hill, Cemetery Hill, and Cemetery Ridge were occupied by the Federals, but Round Top and Little Round Top were not occupied, and Lee saw his chance. Scouts confirmed both were unoccupied, so Lee gave orders to Longstreet to attack with his fresh corps.
However, Longstreet was against this decision and wanted to move south, where they could come between Meade and the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. Gen. Lee saw the advantage he would have in taking Round Top and Little Round Top and was keen to keep it. Longstreet hesitated, which allowed the Union’s 3rd Corps (10,500) to arrive. Longstreet and his men would now have to attack a fortified enemy on high ground behind large rocks and thick trees. But the Federals were about to make a terrible mistake.
Daniel Sickles, commanding the Union Third Corps, had positioned his men on the Round Tops below Cemetery Ridge. But, thinking his men vulnerable to artillery fire, he moved his entire corps away from the Round Tops near a high ridge opposite a peach orchard. Longstreet saw this weakness and immediately ordered an attack at 3 pm. However, the attacks were not properly coordinated, and 10 brigades in Longstreet’s command attacked two at a time instead of all together. Although small, these attacks were quite deadly, and the Federal center was smashed.
The Federal First Division of the Second Corps was brought up to stabilize the Federal center, but they were sent in one at a time–commonly known as “piecemeal.” The Federal center, which was a wheat field, was vital to both sides. The four brigades of the Federal First Division attacked, one by one, but were repulsed and slaughtered. The two Confederate brigades, under the command of Joseph B. Kershaw and George T. Anderson, counterattacked and drove the exhausted Federals back. The Federals recovered behind a stone wall, where they unleashed a devastating volley of fire that pushed the Confederates back, but the Confederates still had control of the wheatfield. At the same time, the Confederate Mississippi Brigade, under the command of William Barksdale, took the peach orchard.
South of the wheatfield, a far more savage fight was going on. The two Round Tops were still not under Federal control. Longstreet ordered John Bell Hood’s Texas and Georgia divisions to take Little Round Top, but Hood protested that his division would have to cross a place filled with sharp rocks and tough wood. There was also a large brigade of New York regiments concealed in this place, which was known locally as “devil’s den.” Hood wanted to take the big Round top so he would be able to flank the Federals. Longstreet ordered him to take Little Round Top anyway.
The Confederates attacked like water upon rock, pushing back the New York regiments. Throughout the day, devil’s den would be captured and recaptured by both sides six times until, finally, the Confederates would keep it. A few brigades of the Federal 5th Corps had arrived on the Little Round Top. Colonel Strong Vincent commanded one of the brigades protecting Little Round Top when the Confederates started their tenacious assault, but their attacks were not coordinated, and the Federals pushed them back. A bayonet charge spearheaded by the 20th Maine regiment pushed the Confederates back. The battle on the left flank was over, but the battle on the right flank was about to begin.
The battle on the left flank could have been a major disaster for the Union army, but because of poor planning, bad coordination, and reluctance on the part of the Confederates, disaster was averted. The Confederates soon started to attack the Federal Position at Cemetery Hill, guarded by weak Eleventh Corps soldiers. Two Confederate brigades easily took the advantage. They smashed the Eleventh Corps back, however, they were not supported by Robert Rodes’ division and were driven back by fresh Federal forces.
Meanwhile, at Culps’ Hill, the Confederate division under Edward Johnston attempted to drive the Federals off. This time, however, there were no Federal reinforcements–only 1,400 men under George S. Greene. However, the Confederates didn’t coordinate their attacks. Instead they attacked piecemeal and were pushed back. The Confederate troops are not demoralized and attacked again, this time capturing half of Culp’s Hill. A few Confederate companies actually attacked behind the Federal lines below Culp’s Hill, but because of growing darkness, they were forced stop and return to their own lines. The day’s fighting had been savage. Thousands of men had fallen: dead, wounded, captured.
Next time we will conclude the battle.