Battles and campaigns

Gettysburg, Day Two: Last Chance for the South to Win?

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Report by John Murray

 

The first half of John Drewienkiewicz's talk set out the background to the July 2,1863 fighting in great detail. John described the main war aims of the North and the South and contrasted the Armies of the Potomac and of Northern Virginia. For example, the North had a greater number of corps, which tended to be smaller than those of the South. Hence the North had a lot of leaders - John counted 96 points of command. In contrast, Southern Corps commanders had more fighting power. John compared the better quality Union artillery with that of the South.

 

 


John turned to discuss the terrain. Largely wooded in Virginia, the fields in Pennsylvania were more open, presenting longer fields of fire.

 

John described Ewell's move to Culpeper, into the Shenandoah Valley and the panic caused by the attack on Winchester. He considered Lee's orders to Jeb Stuart who was keen to restore his reputation after Brandy Station, and noted the lack of dead- lines and the sloppy staff work. In contrast, John observed that with his order of June 28, Meade had a contingency plan. Meade knew more about Lee than Lee did of Meade. John gave Meade eight out of 10 for organisation.

 

When ordered to rejoin Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia, Ewell split two of his divisions from the third, that of Johnson. For this, John noted, Ewell should have been court-martialled for incompetence. Buford, who only had two of his three brigades, was screening the Northern troops and sending back reports on Ewell, Hill and Longstreet's Corps.

 

John described the terrain around Gettysburg. To the west were a series of ridges with rivers, which could be waded. To the north and northeast, the ground was flatter. There were fences all over the terrain. Some post rail fences were obstacles although there were none to the south of the town.

 

John described the meeting engagement on day one in some detail, remarking that it was sufficient to have ranked as the 23rd largest battle of the war. He described the Southern troops as not knowing what they were facing while Buford did. John criticised Reynolds for micromanaging. He went on to describe the arrival of the Union I & XI Corps, the lack of co-ordination of the Confederate attacks, Barlow being overwhelmed, and the Union retreat through the streets of Gettysburg. Although 11 of 12 Northern brigades were routed, the Confederates had made most of the mistakes. There had been better use of artillery by the North. By 6 p.m., the Confederates were cautious with Hill disorganised and Longstreet late, Pickett's division being 8 hours march away to the West.

 

John described plans for day two. Lee's situation was complicated by two factors: first, manpower; between midnight and midday on July 2, the balance in manpower switched from 3 to 2 in favour of the South to 3 to 2 in favour of the North. Second, timing; Longstreet could and should have attacked one or two hours earlier.

 

While Longstreet dithered, Dan Sickles (political appointee and friend of Hooker) on the Union left, worried about being dominated by higher ground, which reminded him of his position before Hazel Grove at the battle of Chancellorsville. Sickles chose to advance to the higher ground at the Peach Orchard. As Meade learnt of this, Longstreet's artillery started firing.

 

John described the furious fighting at Devil's Den, the Wheatfield and the Peach Orchard. As III Corps was broken and batteries overrun, Meade ordered troops from XII Corps on his right to bolster his left. John criticised Ewell again - if he had attacked when planned, Longstreet's plan might have worked. But Ewell only attacked after dark when Longstreet's attack had petered out.

 

John described the ebb and flow of the fighting around the Wheatfield in particular detail. With Hood wounded, no one took charge of the Confederate right. At the Stony Hill, Kershaw's brigade hit intermingled Union troops. Birney could have taken charge of the Union troops but did not. John spoke of the deaths of Cross and Zook, the charge of Brook into the Wheatfield, the attack on Little Round Top, the charge of Barksdale's Mississippians, the Confederates running out of steam in Plum Run Valley and the gallant charge of the First Minnesota. Amongst all this, Union General Caldwell 'lost the plot'.

 

John concluded that Meade had controlled events better, e.g. sending reserves to Sickles, and rose to the occasion. Lee however, had fared less well, micromanaging Longstreet on days two and three. After briefly describing the aftermath of the third day and the retreat back to Virginia, John dealt with audience questions.

 

Art: Bradley Schmehl

 

ACWRT (UK) 2002