Gettysburg June 1863
Following his victory at Chancellorsville in May, 1863, General Lee received
approval from his government to invade the north. Lee hoped an invasion would
fuel the northern peace movement and, at least, disrupt the Union war effort.
After the death of Stonewall Jackson, Lee's Army of Northern Virginia,
75,000-strong, had been reorganized into three army corps under Longstreet,
Ewell, and A.P. Hill, with a cavalry division under J.E.B. Stuart. On June 3,
advance troops of the Confederate army left their camps near Fredericksburg
and marched west toward the Shenandoah Valley.
The 95,000-strong Federal Army of the Potomac, under General Hooker, was
initially uncertain of Lee's intentions. On June 9, Hooker ordered cavalry general
Alfred Pleasonton to conduct a reconnaissance with 11,000 men across the
Rappahannock River toward Brandy Station. Pleasonton ran into Stuart's
cavalry, and the largest cavalry battle of the war ensued. The result was a
standoff, but the Federals were now alerted to the Confederate army's
By June 13, elements of Ewell's corps appeared before Winchester. On the same
day, Hooker with-drew the Army of the Potomac from the Rappahannock and
ordered it north. On June 14-15, Ewell attacked the 9,000-strong Federal
garrison at Winchester and defeated it, inflicting heavy losses and capturing
much valuable war material.
After Winchester, Lee's army moved unchecked into the Cumberland Valley of
Pennsylvania. On June 25, Lee agreed to Stuart's plan to take three brigades of
cavalry across the Potomac cast of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and cut across
the rear of the Federal army. Stuart's march encountered frequent delays and
detours and an increasingly aggressive Federal cavalry, and was unable to rejoin
Lee until July 2.
By June 28, Longstreet and Hill's corps were at Chambersburg. Divisions of
Ewell's corps had crossed the mountains to York and Carlisle, and were
preparing to move against Harrisburg. However, Lee learned on this day that the
Federal army was at Frederick, and that Hooker had been replaced by General
Meade. Lee decided to bring his entire army east of the mountains and offer
battle. At the same time, Meade moved his army north. By June 30, both armies
were converging upon Gettysburg and the battle, which would be the turning
point of the war, was set to commence.
JULY 1 1863
After the discovery on June 30 that Gettysburg was occupied by Brigadier
General John Buford's division of Federal cavalry, the Confederates on July 1
sent the divisions of Major General Henry Heth and Major General William
Pender of Hill's Corps, down the Chambersburg Road to drive Buford away and
The battle began at 5.30 a.m., when shots were exchanged over Marsh Creek. In
the face of Buford's resistance, Heth pushed on cautiously until he reached a
point about two miles west of Gettysburg. Here he deployed two brigades in line,
and pressed ahead; it was nearly 10 a.m. Federal General John F. Reynolds,
commanding I Corps, arrived on the field at this point, and determined to engage
Herb. He ordered I Corps and Major General Oliver 0. Howard's XI Corps to
march to Gettysburg.
Soon after 10.30 a.m., I Corps arrived and engaged Heth along McPherson's
Ridge. By 11.30 a.m., Heth had been defeated and forced to withdraw to Herr
Ridge. Early in the action, Reynolds was killed, and field command devolved
upon Howard. A lull now settled over the field as both sides brought up
reinforcements. The Federal I Corps deployed to defend the western approaches
to Gettysburg, while XI Corps formed up north of the town. Buford's cavalry
covered the flanks. Howard left one division in reserve on Cemetery Hill. His
strategy was simple: delay the Confederates long enough to enable the rest of
the Federal army to concentrate. Lee arrived on the field after noon. He had
initially hoped to avoid a general engagement since the strength of the enemy
was unknown, and the terrain in the Gettysburg area unfamiliar. But, soon after
noon, Rodes's division of Ewell's Corps arrived on Oak Hill and attacked the right
of I Corps. At 2 p.m. Heth's division joined the attack on I Corps. At 3 p.m., the
battle spread north of the town when Jubal Early's division of Ewell's Corps
attacked down the Harrisburg Road and crushed the flank of XI Corps. At about
the same time, west of Gettysburg, Pender's division relieved Heth and assaulted
I Corps' position along Seminary Ridge. By 4 p.m., both Federal corps were in
retreat through Gettysburg to Cemetery Hill. Federal losses numbered slightly
over 9,000, including some 3,000 captured, compared with Confederate losses of
The day's action had resulted in a Confederate victory, but Federal forces held
onto the high ground south of Gettysburg, where their position was soon
strengthened by reinforcements.
JULY 2 1863
The success of his army in the fighting on July 1 encouraged Lee to renew the
battle on July 2. An early morning reconnaissance of the Federal left revealed
that their line did not extend as far south as Little Round Top. Lee directed
Longstreet to take two divisions of I Corps and march south until they reached
the flank of the Federal forces. They would attack from this point, supported by a
division of A.P. Hill's corps - a total force of nearly 20,000 men. While Longstreet
carried out the main offensive, Ewell was ordered to conduct a demonstration
against the Federal right. However, he was given discretion to mount a full-scale
attack should the opportunity present itself.
The Federal army was well prepared for Lee's offensive. Six of its seven corps
had arrived on the battlefield, and VI Corps was making a thirty-six-mile forced
march to reach it. Meade had deployed his army in a fish-hook-shaped formation,
with the right on Culp's Hill and Cemetery Hill, the center along Cemetery Ridge,
and the left on Little Round Top. The left of the Federal line was held by Major
General Daniel Sickles's III Corps. Sickles was dissatisfied with his assigned
position and in the early afternoon, without orders, he advanced his line nearly
half a mile west in order to take advantage of the high open ground around a
nearby peach orchard.
Soon after Sickles took up this new position, Longstreet attacked. Third Corps
was hard pressed and Meade sent V Corps and part of 11 Corps to reinforce
Sickles in the Peach Orchard. But, after furious fighting, Longstreet's forces
broke through, causing Sickles's entire line to collapse. The Confederates
pursued to the base of Little Round Top, but Federal reinforcements, including
elements of VI Corps, checked their advance. Farther north, elements of a
division of the Confederate III Corps advanced to the slopes of Cemetery Ridge
before they too were forced to retire.
On the Federal right, Ewell did not attack until evening, after Longstreet's
onslaught had subsided. The effort to storm Cemetery Hill was ultimately
unsuccessful. Ewell's attacks were also repulsed at Culp's Hill, although a
foothold was gained near the base of the hill.
The second day's fighting had cost each army some 9,000 casualties. Lee's
forces had again gained ground, but had failed to dislodge the Federal army from
its strong position.
JULY 3 1863
Lee's confidence was unshaken by the events of July 2. That night, he ordered
Longstreet, who had been reinforced by Major General George Pickett's division,
to renew his assault on the Federal left. Simultaneously, Ewell, who had also
been reinforced, was to storm Culp's Hill. Stuart's cavalry, which had rejoined the
army late that day, was ordered to march well east of Gettysburg, and attempt to
penetrate to the Federal rear where they might disrupt communications and
Meanwhile, Meade had determined to hold his position and await Lee's attack.
However, at Culp's Hill he authorized XII Corps to drive Ewell's forces out of the
captured Federal trenches at daylight. The Federal effort opened with a
concentrated artillery bombardment which precipitated a tremendous musketry
With Ewell already engaged, Lee rode to Longstreet's headquarters to observe
his preparations for the attack on the Federal left. Longstreet misunderstood his
orders and was planning instead a movement to turn the Federal left. With the
hope of a coordinated attack now lost, Lee was forced to modify his plans. He
determined to shift his main attack to the Federal center on Cemetery Ridge.
Longstreet was placed in command of the effort. The plan was first to subject the
Federal position to bombardment by nearly 140 cannon, then to send Pickett,
Pettigrew and half of Trimble's divisions (formerly Heth's and Pender's) - nearly
12,000 men - forward to smash the Federal center.
While Longstreet made his preparations during the morning, Ewell's forces were
defeated in their counterattacks on Culp's Hill, and withdrew around 11:00 a.m.
At l:00 p.m., Longstreet opened the great bombardment of the Federal line. The
Federal army replied with approximately 80 cannon and a giant duel ensued
which lasted for nearly two hours. After the bombardment subsided, the infantry
went forward. This has subsequently been known throughout history as "Pickett's
Charge." Federal artillery, followed by musketry, cut their formations to pieces
and inflicted devastating losses. A small Confederate force effected one small
penetration of the Federal line, but was overwhelmed. The attack ended in
disaster, with nearly 5,600 Confederate casualties. Meanwhile, three miles east
of Gettysburg, Stuart's cavalry was engaged by Federal cavalry under Brigadier
General David Gregg. The cavalry clash was indecisive, but Stuart was
neutralized and posed no threat to the Federal rear.
The battle was effectively over. Federal losses numbered approximately 23,000,
while estimates of Confederate losses range between 20,000 and 28,000.
Source: This description of the battle was taken, for the most part, from James
M. McPherson's " The Atlas of the Civil War."