Monday, July 03, 2006

"The Most Terrible Struggle of the War"

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. July 1, 1863. Afternoon

Major General Oliver Otis Howard, 4th in his class of 46 cadets who graduated from West Point in 1854, commanded the 11th Corps in the Army of the Potomac. Howard was wounded severely in 1861 while leading a brigade in the Union 2nd Corps at the Battle of Fair Oaks. He lost his right arm there.

Howard remained with the army after recuperation, and eventually was placed in command of the 11th Corps, succeeding Major General Franz Sigel. The 11th Corps had a reputation of being poor soldiers, especially in combat. Howard’s appointment was not popular with the men who favored Major General Carl Schurz. Sigel and Schurz were both German immigrants.

[The 11th Corps was comprised of about 50% German immigrants, which immediately made it a target of some scorn as there was a good bit of anti-immigrant sentiment in American Society at the time. Their record was not a particularly bad one, but because of their immigrant-heavy make-up, they were unfairly blamed for many of the negatives that occurred in the Army of the Potomac. Their last battle, at Chancellorsville, did not help. Stonewall Jackson’s incredible night march around the Army of the Potomac’s encampment led them to burst from the woods and right into the 11th Corps Camp while the men were cooking their meals. The whole Corps was routed, and the commanding General, Major General Joseph Hooker grew very timid and ordered a retreat, even after the Army had rallied and driven back Jackson. The resulting blame was attached quite unfairly. At Gettysburg, they would fare even worse.]

On the arrival of the men of the 11th Corps, Howard posted two of his divisions, one under Brigadier General Francis Channing Barlow, and the other under Major General Carl Schurz, just north of town, and kept the third division, a small one under Brigadier General Adolph von Steinwehr on the north and western side of Cemetery Hill, located on the southeastern corner of town.

Major General Abner Doubleday, 24th in the class of 1842 at West Point, took over command of the 1st Corps on his arrival at the front lines shortly after the death of Major General John Fulton Reynolds. Doubleday proceeded to organize the resistance to the Confederate push as the early afternoon wore on. Eventually, the remainder of the 1St Corps arrived on the field to join Wadsworth’s 1st Division: the Second Division under Brigadier General John C. Robinson filed to the right of Wadsworth, and the Third Division under Brigadier General Thomas A. Rowley would join on Wadsworth’s left.

Shortly after making these dispositions west of town, Doubleday was shocked to see Confederates coming out of the woods a mile away on his right flank. Suddenly, two brigades of Confederate Infantry begin to advance. The first one is quickly repulsed on the side of the ridge leading down to the valley north of town. Within minutes, the Union brigade is forced to change fronts and turned toward the second Confederate brigade , opening fire on them in the middle of a field, whereupon most of them surrendered, and were soon gathered up as prisoners. It was the last Union victory of the day.

Two more brigades issue forth from the woods on the Union 1st Corps right, and the line begins to collapse. Additional pressure from Heth’s Division pushes the center and left of the Union 1st Corps back among the buildings of the Lutheran Seminary on Seminary Ridge, where a short, but sharp fight ensues.

Brigadier General Francis Channing Barlow stood on the small knoll just north of the Alms House complex, and turned to the west where Doles’ four regiments of Georgians held the focus of nearly everyone in the 11th Corps. Barlow’s brigade was the extreme right flank of the 11th Corps, and was very exposed in its advanced position. It was while watching Doles do his cat-and-mouse moves that Barlow heard a sound that he was waiting for, but it was coming from the wrong direction. He had been watching Doles since the brigade came down off Oak Hill, to the right of the end of the Union 1st Corps line. He had watched while a second brigade had advanced across the slope of the ridge from right to left in an assault on the right end of the 1st Corps line. Now he suddenly turned to his right and saw the cannon rounds landing around his position. At the edge of the woods 200 yards north of his position, Barlow could make out several thousand Confederate soldiers, bayonets fixed, and slowly starting to move.

Within minutes, the right flank of the 11th Corps, was quickly overrun.

Thousands of Union troops from the retreating 11th Corps went tearing south through the streets of Gettysburg, and thousands more were streaking east from Seminary Ridge as the 1st Corps line collapsed. The Confederates were in hot pursuit, but they were flagged from the long march and hard fighting. Hundreds of Union troops were gathered up as prisoners, and others went into hiding in the basements and attics of Gettysburg. One union general from the 11th Corps, Alexander Schimmelfennig, hid out in the back yard of a house between the pig sty and the swill barrels, for three days.

Cemetery Hill
Those who made it to Cemetery Hill were greeted by officers who directed them to their new positions, “1st Corps to the left, 11th Corps go to hell!” The 11th Corps line had held for a very short time before being overrun.

Lutheran Theological Seminary
General Robert E. Lee stood at the Lutheran Seminary and gazed across the low ground where the town of Gettysburg was situated at the high ground on the other side of the town. Occasionally, a Union artillery shell would come whizzing overhead. It angered the men of A. P. Hill’s Third Corps, because they were the very same artillery batteries that they had just chased off the ridge where they were now standing.

Except for some light skirmishing and some artillery shelling, the fight was over for the day. Lee and his men were exuberant, having taken on two Union corps, and dispatched them, though without a tough, day-long fight.

Northern newspapers would later announce this to be "The Most Terrible Struggle of the War.”

Novus Livy

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PennPatriot said...

Great stuff Gettysblog :)