Dispatches From The Front #5

Book 2 16 July 1863

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Lee has once more crossed the Potomac and entered Maryland and Pennsylvania, capturing many towns and cities. The Confederates eventually massed near the little town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, pushing the Yankees back to positions south of the town on Cemetery Hill and down to the Round Tops on their extreme left flank in the south. Federal positions were arrayed in the shape of a fishhook, with the hook end on the north end at Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill only a few hundred yards east.

Late on the first of July, Ewell’s Corps faced weak Yankee positions on Cemetery Hill and could have pushed them off if he had had reserves available to support any successes they were almost assured of. Instead, Ewell was compelled to hold until all of the Confederate Army could mass at Gettysburg. That meant Hays and the 1st Louisiana had to assault Cemetery Hill on the second of July after it had been heavily reinforced and its positions hardened by the Yankees.

To the South, a Confederate assault on positions on the Union left flank at the Round Tops proved a failure. At the other end of the battlefield when Confederates began their assaults on Culp’s Hill and nearby Cemetery Hill, the fight that went well on into the night. Hays’ Brigade of Louisiana Tigers overran the Federal positions on Cemetery Hill, briefly taking their gun line only to be pushed back when Meade brought up reinforcements.

On 3 July, Lee assumed the Union center to be weakened and ordered Pickett to attack the center after cannonading their lines. This famous attack also faltered. Suffering heavy losses, the Confederates were stopped at the very muzzles of the Yankee canons.

On 4 July, Lee withdrew and positioned his forces in preparation for a withdrawal on 5 and 6 July. Gettysburg was a decisive loss for Lee and surely is a major turning point in the war.

Ethan’s comments on the battle. An excerpt from An Eternity of Four Years, Chapter 19 – Close Enough to Touch

*****

LA Monument GettysburgI am sure what happened on 2 July of 1863 will be long debated by the historians. Some will say the Confederate advance ran out of steam after taking the Federal gun line to be pushed back by more northern brigades thrown into the fight.

Others will say the outcome would have been far different if only Rodes and Gordon had thrown everything they had into the battle to exploit what we had accomplished.

Still others will say it would not have mattered even if they had, because the Union forces would have been just too strong for the Confederates to push much beyond where we had.

But I believe the answer is more complicated than that. Looking at pure numbers does not tell the whole story. After the war, some who were there on the other side that night of 2 July told me the South almost won the whole thing. Had we exploited our gains and pushed even a little further, enough to at least appear as if we were threatening to cut the Baltimore Pike south of Cemetery Hill, whether actually able to or not, all Federal resistance might have collapsed for fear we were about to cut off their only supply and escape route.

It is claimed the high tide of the Confederacy was on 3 July with Pickett’s charge in the Federal center. I contend it was the night before at Cemetery Hill on the Federal right flank. Either way, the end of the war was sealed at Gettysburg, but it would drag on for nearly two more bloody years.

I do know this much: the Tigers from Louisiana complained that once again they had gained for the South the potential for a great victory, only for that opportunity to be lost for want of forces to exploit what we had won with our precious blood.

Note: The monument above is the Louisiana State Monument to its soldiers at Gettysburg. It was designed by the same man who did Mount Rushmore, John Gutzon de la Mothe Borglum.

*****

Report:

Another exhausting day…. We toured the battlefield and learned a lot I had not read in the many histories of the Battle of Gettysburg I have read. The weather held—and since we had a driver who knew the place, we didn’t get lost again today!

I paid special attention to the events on Cemetery Hill, which was a major event in An Eternity of Four Years for my characters. Again, the scale of the locations surprised me. Winebrenner’s Run was closer to Cemetery Hill than I understood. And Cemetery Hill was smaller than I imagined.

Winebrenner's RunPhoto taken from the Federal gun line on Cemetery Hill, looking downhill to Winebrenner’s Run, which is in the trees only a few hundred yards away. If you read the book, you will know Hays’ Brigade (1st Louisiana) was stuck there from before sunrise until late in the afternoon of July 2—in the hot July sun.

Gun Line CemetaryThe Federal gun line on Cemetery Hill. The 1st Louisiana captured these guns but could not hold them.

We also visited the Gettysburg Cyclorama. I saw it when I was here nearly 20 years ago, but it has been completely restored and is housed in a new building. It is a 19th century version of a 3D movie, only nothing moves. They have skilfully blended real foreground items with the 360 degree painting. The viewpoint is from the very center of the battle on the third day of the battle from the point where the Confederates briefly broke the Union line. See if you can tell where the real 3D stuff ends and the painting begins in the attached image.

Cyclorama1

After the bus tour we finished our visit to the new museum. The exhibits are very well done and tell the story of the war from before it started to well past Reconstruction with emphasis on Gettysburg, naturally. If you ever get here don’t miss it.

Overall, what emerged is an appreciation for the complexity of this battle, not that the others we visited were very simple. Because of this battle’s importance, a major turning point in the war, you get a real feeling for how much was in the balance and how such small things things like timing made the difference between success and defeat both tactically and strategically for both sides. Misjudgment, such as Lee underestimating the strength of the Union center on July 3, is a good example. Tactically, his idea to hit the center was sound, because he had already hit both ends, which should have encouraged Meade to weaken the center to protect his already threatened and attacked flanks. But the center was much stronger than Lee thought, and much of the artillery bombardment from the Confederate side went long because of gun smoke obscuring the impact of the rounds from the gunners to make adjustments.

Knowing this, Meade began silencing his guns a few at a time to make it sound to Lee like he was hitting them. When the Confederates got close in that famous Pickett’s Charge, Meade opened with his “silenced” guns using canister and slaughtered them. Fewer than half that began the charge returned to the Confederate side that evening. Lee was personally devastated by what he considered his failure.

Again, the bloodletting was on a scale unimaginable. This was indeed a brutal war.

Tomorrow – Fort Delaware, a prison for captured Confederates.

Advertisements

Comments Off on Dispatches From The Front #5

Filed under An Eternity of Four Years, Catahoula Books, Civil War, Dispatches, Excerpts, History Lessons

Comments are closed.