Gettysburg: Day 2

 

 

The Battle in Miniature by Dennis Morris
Book1: Devils Den and Houck's Ridge 

The Battle in Miniature by Dennis Morris

             This was my first diorama project. I started it in 2005. It was set up on a 4'x 6' board set up in my basement.  The scale is 1/72. The photo editing was my first attempt ever. Since then I have continued to add to the diorama and it is now more than 20' x 12'. My more recent efforts are detailed at Gettysburg Diographics. There you can see a portfolio of 20 prints of action in the Wheatfield and Peach Orchard areas. 

Dennis Morris

                                                                      Gettysburg: Day 2
                                                               Devil's Den and Houck's Ridge

        After 140 years the Battle of Gettysburg remains one of the most closely studied and debated battles in American History. While it may be argued that there were other "turning points" in America’s internecine conflict, none have taken on the emotional cachet as the "South’s last great opportunity." Interest in the Gettysburg Battlefield itself continues to thrive and grow. More than 2,000,000 visitors annually view the national shrine, this more than half a century after the last combatant passed from this earth. Recently, movies, books, and even paranormal phenomena have all fed the continuing appetite for all things Gettysburg.

            Within the 3-day battle it can be argued that the second day’s battle was the actual day of opportunity for the South. Beyond that, Day Two has had ageless controversy, Longstreet v. Lee, and Sickles v. Meade leading the way. There is such a pantheon of heroic leaders and units that even mentioning one generates a debate regarding the exclusion of another’s exploits. Day 2 also involved four remarkable topographic sites whose names will remain sui generis in American geography. Little Round Top, Devil’s Den, The Wheatfield and The Peach Orchard are not just physical features on a map but shrines in the National conscience.

        The author’s personal fascination with the Civil War commenced in 1960 during the centennial celebrations. In school my 2nd grade class purchased a Civil war play set complete with Burnside’s Bridge and a southern mansion. My mom followed up by buying me the "Life" Magazine special issues as well as a copy of the huge American Heritage book. I remember studying the pictorial maps and even counting the numbers of tiny soldiers on each battle scene, trying to sort out the tactics, strengths and weakness, successes and failures. Now 45 years later I have tried to take those maps one step further. Through use of miniatures, dioramas, and photo editing, I am hoping to present a view of Battle in a form that might more graphically assist the reader in trying to understand the complexities of those few hours near Sunset on June 2nd 1863.

 

Prelude

         July 1, 1863 had seen major elements of General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia clash with portions of George Meade’s Army of the Potomac just outside of this village in southern Pennsylvania. Lee had begun an invasion of the North in early June, moving from his positions near Fredericksburg Virginia, across Maryland and into Pennsylvania. The Union Army had initially been slow to follow Lee, but eventually the seven corps of the Army of Potomac headed North, shielding Washington, but searching for Lee. On June 28th President Lincoln accepted General Hooker’s resignation of his command and replaced him with Meade.

        Three days later Lee and Meade’s forces were spread across the countryside near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. In the first day of fighting Federal Calvary had commenced a fight with General Henry Heth’s regulars west of the town. Additional Union and Confederate forces converged steadily into battle as if drawn magnetically. After a day of bloody and back and forth fighting the Union I and XI corps were driven back south of town to high ground known as Cemetery Ridge. Southern forces were unable to dislodge the two battered union corps by nightfallThe Situation at Dawn: Day 2

       As the invader, Lee felt the initiative to press the attack and through the night began to formulate plans for offensive action in the morning. Meade, not surprisingly on his 4th day on the job, moved to consolidate his defensive position at about mid-day on July first. His first priority seemed to be establishing a secure lodgment position on what his local commanders had described as a good place to fight.

        From Lee’s perspective the strength of the Union forces opposing him was unclear. He had firm evidence that he had pushed the I and XI (originally with 20,000 troops) corps up to Cemetery Ridge. It was also assumed that that some other Union Troops (possibly the XII corps) had arrived late on July 1st. An early morning visual inspection showed Union positions on Cemetery ridge and Culp’s Hill to be augmented by some more artillery. On day one Lee had been able to bring nearly 40,000 men (2/3 of his Army) into action. While General Richard Ewell and A.P. Hill’s Corps had suffered more than 5,000 casualties on July 1. most of General James Longstreet’s Corps, an additional 14,000 men, would be ready to go on July 2. Awaiting reports from Ewell regarding the Union right flank, Lee sent out a Captain S.R. Johnston, among others to assess the Union position. Johnston returned after a three-hour trip in which he reported that the Emmitsburg Road was free of Union troops and that the major heights on the southern end of the suspected Union Line were not occupied. Lee received this information at about 9:00 AM and commenced planning an attack on the Union left flank. If the situation held, 22,000 troops from Lafayette McLaws’, John B. Hood’s and Richard Anderson’s divisions would attack en echelon on the exposed Union left. Demonstration attacks on the center and right would hold off the shifting of Union reserves until it was too late.

       This was fine except for two facts. One, the report was faulty from the onset. At daybreak General John Geary’s division from the XII Corps (almost 4,000 men) were positioned on and around Little Round Top. John Buford’ Calvary Division was camped east and south of the hill and half of General Daniel Sickles 3rd Corps were camped in the fields between the Emmitsburg Road (2 regiments guarding the Road) and Cemetery Ridge. The rest of the Corps was busy marching north on the Emmitsburg Road to arrive around 9:00 AM. The second fact was that Army of the Potomac now enjoyed the communications advantage of the invaded. While maligned in the past the AOP could also march when asked. By 9:00 AM the I, XI, and XII corps had been joined by the II and III corps, all of whom had arrived since night fall on July 1st. In addition General George Sykes’ V corps was 5-8 miles to the east and on the way, the last of Meade’s major units, Finally, General John Sedgewick’s VI corps was in the middle of a 30 mile march that was to bring it to the battlefield early in the afternoon. Thus with George Pickett’s division still a day’s march away, the balance of manpower had shifted significantly. Though Lee’s forces were accustomed to going into a fight without a numerical advantage this was one time he may have underestimated Union strength.

                                   Comparison of Forces Going Into Day 2
                                                     (present for duty)

Union   Corps                                               Confederate Corps/ Division

I Corps –Newton- 6,000 est.                       Longstreet- McLaws 6924

II Corps Hancock- 10,195                                              Hood      7374

III Corps-Sickles- 10,005                                                Pickett   5518(On road)

V Corps-Sykes - 10.370                                    Ewell- Early         5200 est.

VI Corps-Sedgwick 12,455                                           Johnson    6433

XI Corps- Howard 5,900 est.                                         Rodes       5800 est.

XII Corps-Slocum 9,165                                   A.P. Hill-Heth       6300 est.    
                                                                                         Pender     5600 est.
                                                                                         Anderson 7000 est.
Cavalry-Pleasanton- 11,700                               Cavalry  Stuart       6400 (On road)

 Total 75,790 -                                                                             Total 62,916

Controversies

       One of the great controversies of the battle revolves around the length of time between Lee’s order to attack and the arrival of Longstreet’s Corps at Warfield’s’ Ridge. Antagonists of Longstreet claimed the order was given at dawn; Longstreet himself claimed the order itself was given at 11:00AM. At any rate Law’s Brigade (Hood’s Division) marched almost 26 miles in 11 hours from the Cumberland Valley to the step off point on Warrick’s Ridge, arriving just before 3 PM. The move into position took longer than necessary as it was poorly scouted, causing a reversal of the route in mid-march. No one can deny that delays took place, though the effect of those delays is arguably academic due the actions of, the architect of next great controversy, General Daniel Sickles.

         Meade assigned Sickles the Union left flank and was instructed to take Geary’s former position on Little Round Top, and connect with Hancock’s 2nd Corps on Cemetery Ridge. At the time he was given this order, Sickles’ troops were still arriving and scattered around the area to the west of the Cemetery Hill line. Following a series of exchanges with Meade’s Headquarters at about 1:00 PM Sickles formed a line running from the Emmitsburg Road through the Peach Orchard, the Wheatfield, Rose Woods and Houck’s Ridge ending at an enormous pile of rocks now known as Devil’s Den.

       Sickles offered rationales for the move, then and for the rest of his life, but he was clearly in contravention of Meade’s orders and intent. By the time Meade realized what had happened it was too late to move back. Sickles essentially advanced 10,000 men to a line that was too long for its manpower, exposed on either flank, and with a dangerous salient in the center. On top of that, Little Round Top, the most significant tactical ground in the vicinity, was undefended.

Figure A: The 86th New York and 20th Indiana of Ward’s Brigade, Birney’s division, 3rd Corps move into position on the East side of Rose Wood just West of Little Round Top.

My links: Tom Eishen's Gettysburg Photograhy Site: The definitive  place for photos of the modern Gettysburg Battlefield
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