Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Gettysburg Part II: Georgians and Gettysburg

By Capt. William Carraway
State Public Affairs Officer

[Second in a series on Gettysburg. Find the first blog post here.]


A skirmisher with the 2nd Georgia Battalion
moves out in front of Wright’s Brigade.
Georgia Joins the Fight

As Maj. Gen. Harry Heth contended with the Union Iron Brigade west of Gettysburg, Lt. Gen. Richard Ewell’s Corps arrived to the north and deployed to dislodge Union positions at Oak Hill. To Ewell’s southeast, Brig. Gen. Francis Barlow’s Union division had advanced to occupy the high ground of Blocher’s Knoll. Exposed as they were on the Union right flank, Barlow’s men made tempting targets for the Georgia brigades of Jubal Early’s Division. While Brig. Gen. John Gordon assaulted and fixed Barlow in place, Brig. Gen. George Doles men swept in and flanked Barlow from his position. The dislodged Union troops belonged to Col. Leopold Von Gilsa – the same New Yorkers who had been flanked by Jackson at Chancellorsville. Barlow was wounded and captured and two of his brigades were routed. In one hour’s fighting the Georgians inflicted more than 3,000 casualties on the Union XI Corps while suffering 750 casualties.

The collapse of the Union right caused the entire Union line to fall back through the town of Gettysburg. Union Soldiers desperately established defensive positions on Cemetery Ridge as darkness brought an end to the fighting. Significantly, though the Confederates had nearly routed the Union, they had failed to dislodge them from the high ground of Cemetery and Culps Hills.


Lee’s Plans For The Second Day: July 2, 1863

Lee intended to launch an echelon attack against the Union lines. The plan was to assault the Union left flank first with Lt. Gen James Longstreet’s entire corps then to engage the Cemetery Hill lines with the corps of Lt. Gen A. P. Hill. The purpose of the attack was to roll up the Union left flank and collapse the Union lines upon themselves into a disorganized mass that could then be exploited by the advance of Hill.

Two factors complicated Lee’s plans. First, Longstreet was delayed by a circuitous route of march to the Union left. Second, Union Maj. Gen. Dan Sickles moved his III Corps nearly a mile forward to take advantage of high ground occupied by a peach orchard. This movement would have dramatic consequences for Sickle’s men and the Georgians who attacked them.

Longstreet Attacks: Georgians Seize Devil’s Den

At 4:30 p.m., Maj. Gen. John Bell Hood’s Division initiated Longstreet’s assault. Moving northeast and crossing the Emmitsburg Road, Hood’s men included the Georgia brigades of Brig. Gen. Henry Benning and Brig. Gen. George Anderson.
Plum Run, Devil’s Den and Houck Ridge from the vantage
point of the 16th Michigan. The attacking Georgia Brigades
would have filled the frame from left to right. 

While Hoods’ Texas and Alabama regiments wheeled north to engage Union forces on the round tops, the Georgians drove for the left flank of the III Corps which was anchored at the geologic feature known locally as Devil’s Den. Linking up with the 1st Texas and 44th Alabama, Benning drove Union skirmishers from the rocks of Devils Den. Union troops were unable to reinforce this ground due to the arrival of Anderson’s brigade on Benning’s left.

Benning extended his line south. Two of his regiments, the 17th and 2nd Georgia succeeded in dislodging the 40th New York from the boulders of Plum Run leading to the capture of Devils Den, Houck’s Ridge and three Union cannon. The ground came at high cost. Benning’s Brigade had suffered nearly 40% casualties.

The Wheatfield

Anderson, moving to reinforce Benning’s left, encountered stiff Union opposition in the brigade of Col. Regis de Troibrand. Moving forward over irregular ground Anderson’s lines were broken by large boulders and harassed by artillery fire from the Peach Orchard to their northwest. Unable to press through a hail of musket fire and well placed artillery, Anderson pulled his brigade back to take up defensive positions along the banks of Rose Run.

By 5:30, a mere hour since the start of Longstreet’s attack, the South Carolina brigade of Brig Gen. Joseph Kershaw moved east towards the Wheatfield. De Troibrand had been reinforced by two brigades and the combined effect of Union musket and artillery devastated the Carolinians. Driven back, Kershaw’s lines were stabilized by the arrival of the Georgia brigades of Brig. Gen. Paul Semmes who formed on Kershaw’s left and Brig. Gen. William Wofford who formed on Kershaw’s right.

Wofford’s Brigade contained a company of Soldiers from Dahlonega called The Blue Ridge Rifles. As part of Phillips Legion, the Rifles moved north of the Peach Orchard with Wofford’s brigade straddling the Wheatfield Road. Arriving in line of battle, Wofford’s Brigade flanked two Union divisions and caused the entire Union line to collapse.

In the course of the fighting, the Wheatfield changed hands six times. After some of the bloodiest fighting of the war, Longstreet’s Georgian’s controlled the Wheatfield, Devil’s Den and Houck’s Ridge, but not before 375 Georgians, including Semmes paid the ultimate sacrifice. Union losses were even more severe. The entire III Corps had been crushed and would not be an effective fighting unit for the remainder of the battle.

The Codori farm and the path of Wright’s assault
as viewed from Cemetery Hill.
Wright’s Advance

As battle swirled to his south in the Peach Orchard and Wheatfield, Brig. Gen. Ambrose Wright led his brigade of Georgians against the Union center. Wright led his attack with the 2nd Georgia Battalion, forerunners of the Macon-based 48th Brigade Combat Team in skirmish order. Angling north of the Codori Farm on the Emmitsburg Road, the assault of Wright’s Georgians was eerily similar to the route taken by Maj. Gen. George Pickett the next day.

Driving the 82nd New York and 15th Massachusetts from the Emmitsburg Road, Wright slammed into the center of the Union line almost precisely where Pickett’s Charge would strike the next day. Noticing a gap in the Union lines, men of the 22nd and 3rd Georgia crested Cemetery Hill and beheld the rear of the Union line. These Georgians made it farther than any other Confederate advance before being compelled for want of reinforcements to retreat. One half of Wright’s men, including half of the 2nd Georgia Battalion were casualties.

The Last Day: July 3, 1863

Wright’s after-action report likely factored into Lee’s decision to assault the Union center on the 3rd day. Believing the center to be weak, Lee committed three Confederate divisions in a direct frontal assault. The assault, known today as Pickett’s Charge, failed to dislodge the Union army and resulted in the loss of more than 10,000 Confederate and 3,000 Union Soldiers. Although no Georgia Infantry units were committed as part of Pickett’s Charge, the Pulaski Artillery and Troup Artillery provided fire support during the charge. One out of three of the Pulaski cannoners would fall.

Georgia Brigades battle in the Wheatfield and Peach Orchard.
Map courtesy of the Civil War Trust (www.civilwar.org)
Aftermath

The disaster of Pickett’s Charge compelled Lee to abandon hopes for a northern strategy. The Confederates had suffered 3,200 killed, 13,200 wounded and 6,000 captured or missing for a total of 24,000 casualties. The reverse at Gettysburg and the loss of Vicksburg in the west were death blows for the Confederacy. Retreating south with a 13-mile long wagon train of wounded, Lee’s bloodied army crossed the Potomac. The equally battered Union army was slow to pursue. By the end of July, the two armies once again faced each other across the banks of the Rappahannock River as if the entire campaign had never happened.

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