, 172 tweets, 30 min read Read on Twitter
At around 7:30 AM, July 1, 1863, a small patrol of the 8th IL Cav led by Lieutenant Marcellus Jones spots the glint of morning light off burnished barrels of rifled muskets. It is as they had expected - Heth's division is marching on Gettysburg. Jones levels his carbine and fires
The first shot echoes through the still, humid July morning air, the smoke drifting down the slope over the Chambersburg Pike. Fields rich with crops lie gleaming in the sun; light glinting off bedewed spider webs. More carbines pop & crackle, the pickets now adding their fire.
A scant 2700 blue-coated and dusty horsemen are arrayed on ridgelines to the west of the town, dismounted, so as to force their enemies to deploy in line to fight them back. One in every four men holds the reins of their steeds, taking more carbines out of the fight.
The skirmishing becomes louder, more insistent, as the fire and crackle of carbines extends along Buford's line - cavalrymen firing their short-range repeating carbines rapidly, in an effort to delay the long and heavy butternut columns, to force them to deploy in line.
With the sun rising, the dusty troopers are earning their pay, both Gamble and Devin's brigades slowly falling back, all the while keeping up a brisk fire. The butternut ranks are fanning out, drums beating them into lines, flags meeting the morning breeze as Heth slowly deploys
Just after 9:30, Heth finally has his division deployed in line, the infantry going through their own artillery which had been in the way. They are pushing Buford's vedettes back off Herr's ridge, down into the wooded valley of Willoughby Run, & up McPherson's Ridge
Lt Calef's six guns of Battery A, 2d US Artillery, straddling the Chambersburg Pike, are booming out over the crackle of carbines and rifled muskets as Archer's brigade of Alabama and Tennessee regiments pushes over Willoughby Run, pressing Gamble's lines
Buford's brigades are presently being hard-pressed, the cavalry ill-suited for the slugfest of an infantry fight. At the same time, Buford sights the 1st Brigade, 1st Division, I Corps moving through Gettysburg, MG John Reynolds with them. Reynolds moves at once to place his men
Smoke swirling along the field, Reynolds replaces Calef's tired guns with those of Hall's Maine battery, while ordering Sol Meredith's "damn black hats," the Iron Brigade, forward towards Willoughby Run. As he does so, he is shot and killed by a stray round from Archer's men
Archer's men splash across Willoughby Run, expecting to push Gamble's worn troopers back yet again -- but the air is rent with ear-splitting volleys as the 2d & 7th Wisconsin, the 19th Indiana, and 24th Michigan unleash. Archer's brigade reels in bloody confusion & falls back
To the north, near an unfinished railroad cut, BG Lysander Cutler's brigade sweeps into line on McPherson's Ridge but is receiving murderous fire from their right, where the 55th North Carolina outflanks them. Davis's larger brigade begins to push Cutler back as smoke thickens
Fighting is now general, with Davis's brigade pushing Cutler's lines back to the railroad cut and the Iron Brigade exchanging volleys across Willoughby Run -- color bearer after color bearer falls in the 19th Indiana, yet they are borne aloft every time, the staff shot to pieces
In the melee, Archer is captured by a private from the 2nd Wisconsin, and brought to General Abner Doubleday, now commanding I Corps, who amiably says he is glad to see his old colleague. "Well, I am NOT glad to see YOU by a damn sight!" Archer rejoins, hotly.
By 11:00, Doubleday sees that his right flank is wavering and commits his reserve, the 6th Wisconsin under LTC Rufus Dawes. The 6th goes in with a volley that halts Davis's attack & leads two NY regiments in a charge - Dawes taking up the 6th's fallen colors himself
Trapping Confederates in the railroad cut, Dawes and his troops cut them down with a withering fire until he calls for the enemy to surrender -- which they do. His wild charge buys Doubleday time to stabilize his lines as Heth pulls his mauled brigades back. Battle wanes.
The volume of fire has dramatically lessened. The roar and crash of massed weapons is replaced by the occasional "pop" of pickets trying to feel out each other's lines. The acrid smoke that drifted down to Willoughby Run finally clears, revealing the hundreds of casualties.
Sounds of wounded men, uncomfortable sounds, fill the air. The moans of pain, the death rattle, the calls for comrades. Comrades help where they can. A lull settles over the field. The day is hot. The tramp of marching feet can be heard. The dust rises from roads on both sides.
Doubleday watches as more I Corps troops arrive, sending Stone and Biddle's brigades to bolster McPherson's Ridge while Baxter's brigade is sent to secure the far right. The XI Corps also arrives, & their commander, the one-armed O.O. Howard, assumes command of the field.
Howard sends two divisions forward north of the town to link with the right of the I Corps, while holding von Steinwehr's division on Cemetery Hill, a tall promontory south of the town. All the while, Confederate forces are arriving with alarming speed and greater number
Due to the simple confluence of timing and where the troops were when the first shots were fired at Gettysburg, enemy troops came in from the west, north, and northeast, vastly outnumbering the two small US corps that spread west to north to east above the town in a thin line
As Howard's corps takes the field north of the town, Confederate officers Harry Heth and MG Robert Rodes are positioned on Oak Hill, where they see the deployment as an attack. This is the justification they will use for their own attacks, in violation of Lee's orders to wait.
Rodes now commits two brigades, aimed at Baxter's veteran brigade, posted in an inverted "V", the salient linking the I and XI Corps. O'Neal fails to conduct a recon and sends his brigade against Baxter's line alone. The crash of volleys and the boom of cannon resound once again.
O'Neal's unsupported attack against Baxter's right flounders under the accurate musketry from Baxter's brigade, and is lashed by artillery from Dilger's Ohio Battery. The attack stalls, halts, and then falls back to Oak Hill. Smoke drifts across the fields as artillery thunders
Hubert Dilger, commanding Battery I, 1st Ohio Light Artillery, was an accomplished German artillerist who sailed to the US & offered his services at the onset of the Civil War. He distinguished himself at Chancellorsville, fighting his battery as the corps rearguard
He would later become Adjutant General for the ILARNG after the war. In the weird twists of fate that history brings, his son would fight for Germany in WWI, conducting biological warfare. Three grandsons fought in WWII - two for Nazi Germany - and one in the US Navy.
Rodes now sends in Iverson's North Carolina brigade. Iverson conducts no reconnaissance &, from Oak Hill, one can watch the four regiments sweep down the slope, as if on parade. Lines neatly aligned, flags flying, they close within 100 yards of a stone wall on the ridge in front
Suddenly, a wall of blue arises from behind the stone wall, colors let fly, and a sheet of flame emerges from the Pennsylvanians and New Yorkers. Iverson's regiments disappear in gout of blood, men falling, jerking, staggering under the weight of US volleys that rip into them.
In moments, Iverson's brigade takes 500 casualties out of the 1300 that go into the attack. The men fall as evenly as if they were on parade. The decimation is so fast that Iverson, watching from the rear, thinks his brigade has laid down to avoid the enemy fire. They had not.
With a shout, the US line surges out and captures about two hundred of the enemy. Rodes has been checked. But Baxter's brigade itself is running low on ammunition, and half the brigade staff is down. Doubleday replaces them with Paul's brigade within the hour.
One of the regiments of Baxter's brigade is the 11th Pennsylvania, who have with them "Sallie" - a Staffordshire terrier, the regiment's mascot. This evening, Sallie will make her way back to her fallen owners, where she will stand guard over them - not eating or drinking.
Sallie will be found by the remainder of the 11th on July 4, close to death herself. She is nursed back to health and continues on with her humans. At the battle of Hatcher's Run in 1865, Sallie is mortally wounded. She is buried with military honors, the most devoted of soldiers
At this juncture, Lee finally arrives. Seeing the battle underway, he commits to the fight, ordering a general advance. Heth orders Pettigrew's North Carolinians, the largest brigade in the army, to break the Iron Brigade's lines. They push forward across Willoughby Run
Volleys rip the air as the North Carolinians collide with the Midwesterners - they overlap the flank of the 19th Indiana. The deafening roar of musketry drowns the screams of dead and wounded as regiments disintegrate under massed fire. Herbst Woods becomes a scene of carnage
The Iron Brigade falls back. Halts. Fires again. Now Biddle's brigade to their left is hit by fresh enemy brigades, they too fall back. The Iron Brigade is giving ground, grudgingly, contesting every inch of ground. They have marched all last night & been in combat since morning.
Solomon Meredith, "Tall Sol," commanding the Iron Brigade and himself a son of North Carolina, is hit by shrapnel and has his ribs broken when he horse falls on him. The 24th Michigan will lose nine color bearers & 399 out of 496 men. The US left is barely holding on.
But things are not better for the North Carolinians. The 26th North Carolina attacked with 839 men. By the time they will reach Seminary Ridge this afternoon, they will have only 212, & have lost their commander. Heth himself is hit and wounded, and leaves the fight.
By now, the US left is resting on Seminary Ridge running all the way up to where Paul's brigade sits south of Oak Hill. Here, the line of the XI Corps turns southeast in a dramatic salient and the land falls away to an open plain, where three roads concentrate north of Gettysburg
The XI Corps is vastly overextended and the units cannot support each other. Jubal Early's enemy corps catches them as they are still getting into position, with Barlow's division occupying a small knoll. He is too far forward, however, and is attacked by 3 rebel divisions
* correction: Richard Ewell's corps
Rifle fire sweeps the knoll, catching the men in a horrible crossfire of lead. The 54th and 68th New York Regiments hang on as long as they can but they are vastly outnumbered, with attackers coming at them from three sides.
19yo Lt. Bayard Wilkinson is feverishly working his guns of the 4th US Artillery when his leg is nearly severed by a shell. The teenager refuses any aid, urging his men to fight on, drags himself back, & amputates his own leg with a penknife. His body is found after the battle.
Francis Barlow, formerly a lawyer for the NY Tribune who had been already badly wounded at Antietam, is shot down and left for dead. He will be reached by General Gordon, one of his adversaries.

The US right is being badly battered. Howard commits Coster's brigade to the fight
Coster's brigade fights to cover the retreat of surrounding XI Corps units, in a brickyard just north of town. He buys precious moments for the unit's retreating past but it is now becoming plain that the XI Corps has been outflanked on two sides and the whole US line is in peril
By 4:00 PM, the US right is breaking and in disorder as units begin to collapse in on Gettysburg. At the same time, the left is wavering. Fresh attacks hit the US line. Pender's fresh division assaults Seminary Ridge - one brigade is decimated when 20 US cannon open on them
Two other brigades pierce the left, however, and begin to roll up the line from north to south. In the smoke & confusion, Doubleday orders a withdrawal, just as the center is hit again, Baxter and Paul's brigades falling back over the ridge towards town.
Around 1430, a staff officer orders the 16th Maine of Paul's brigade to advance forward and hold the ground "at all hazards." The 16th, barely 200 men in all, strikes forward at the head of the advancing enemy, halting them with the ferocity of their attack.
The little 16th Maine buys the I Corps 20 precious minutes before it is overrun by more than ten times its number. Before the end, the men tear up their colors and hide the scraps on their coats. The commander breaks his sword off in the ground. A handful escape to Cemetery Hill.
The US retreat is being handled differently by different units. Some rush headlong into the town. Others conduct orderly withdrawals, fighting their way back. The guns on Cemetery Hill begin to boom, tossing shells into the oncoming enemy as retreating elements rally on the hill
With the sun dipping, rear guard actions are fought through the hills and ridges outside the town, as well as through the streets, shell dropping with a crash here and there. The pursuing rebels are almost as disorganized as the retreating US troops, units intermingled.
On Cemetery Hill, a new figure can be seen: sitting his horse magnificently next to Howard, the two view the battlefield. Winfield Scott Hancock, II Corps commander, has arrived. Nicknamed "the superb," he is the ranking officer on the field. He agrees with Howard to fight here
As this is going on, Lee is getting appraised of the situation. To many, it's Second Bull Run or Chancellorsville all over again - a complete victory, with a foe in full retreat. But the messages begin to come in that there is a growing blue mass on the hill south of the town
Lee sends a message to Ewell - "take the hill if practicable, but avoid bringing on a general engagement." Ewell, already unsure of where his units are, confers with division commander Jubal Early, who advises that Cemetery Hill is too strong, but the one next to it is open
At dusk, troops from Johnson's division of Ewell's Corps arrived on the field, and Ewell ordered him to send patrols to Culp's Hill adjacent to Cemetery Hill to see if it was practical to seize it. Johnson sent troops from the 25th Virginia up the rocky, wooded slope
There, the patrol is met warmly by the 7th Indiana - which isn't even supposed to be there. The commander disobeys orders to remain guarding the I Corps supply train & marches to the sound of battle, arriving in time to be sent to Culp's Hill. They now capture the Virginians
The bloodied remnants of the I and XI Corps go into place on Cemetery Hill and up the saddle of Culp's Hill. Arriving at dusk, Hancock's II Corps occupies the long, low Cemetery Ridge. Slocum's small but veteran XII Corps arrives and pushes up Culp's Hill, firmly securing it.
Night falls over the battlefield, the flashes of lightning bugs mingles with the twinkling lanterns and fires of the gathered armies, as the wounded are sought out. The smell of death hangs heavily in the night air on McPherson Ridge and Barlow's Knoll. Hospitals overflow.
The occasional crackle of an irritated picket line, the stamp of horses' hooves, the creak of a limber or gun carriage, and the rumble of wagons come across the night air -- and the sound of the wounded mingles with the chirps of the crickets in an uncomfortable medley.
Men go in search of water, their throats parched from the dust of the roads & ragged from biting cartridges, faces blacked from powder. Others sprawl in sleep where they can. Night falls on Gettysburg and Adams County.
Morning dawns - another hot July day in Pennsylvania. The armies are still concentrating. Longstreet awaits the arrival of Hood and Pickett's divisions, while Lee still has no JEB Stuart & his cavalry. On the US side, only the V and VI Corps have not fully arrived.
The US lines run from Culp's Hill to the northeast to Cemetery Hill anchoring the center, then Cemetery Ridge which runs south to north, ending in low ground before mounting to a small height called Little Round Top. This network of farms now plays host to thousands of troops
Lee is meeting with this commanders this morning. He wants an immediate attack. Longstreet & Ewell urge caution; Ewell & Hill's corps are both severely bruised from the previous day, & Longstreet's corps is not all present. Nor do they have an idea of the US strength.
Lee is eventually convinced to hold off on an immediate attack, but he orders Longstreet to attack with his two divisions when he is ready, attacking up the Emmittsburg Road to take the US lines in the flank. Ewell will make a demonstration to pin down US troops on the right
The long morning draws on. The crackle of skirmish lines occasionally reaches a full roar here and there on the field, but subsides once again without bringing on a general engagement. Longstreet is moving McClaw's division into position, moving south behind Seminary Ridge
At around 11:00, MG Sickles, commander of the US III Corps, on lower Cemetery Ridge, sends out about 100 sharpshooters under Col Hiram Berdan, supported by the 3rd Maine, to cross the Emmittsburg Rd and investigate the hollows of Pitzer's Woods, off to his front.
Sickles was frustrated with his position, fearing that the enemy would occupy the higher ground in front of him, on which was planted a peach orchard. From there, they could shell his position with impunity. He requested to move forward; Meade denied the request.
Longstreet wasn't having a much better morning. After arguing with Lee, he was now trying to move his troops into position - until he found that the route given them had them moving under US observation. To keep secrecy, he countermarched his troops, bringing them under cover.
The green-jacketed US sharpshooters enter Pitzer's Woods, where they are incredibly surprised to see gray and butternut uniforms through the foliage. They open a brisk fire, catching several Alabama regiments in mid-march. They wheel and open fire, volleys shatter the air.
The 3d Maine hears the firing and rushes now to support the sharpshooters. The volume of fire spikes in intensity and ferocity, with now four or five units all joined in a vicious firefight, lasting 20-30 minutes, until - ammunition exhausted - the US units fall back
This interlude gives Sickles the confirmation of his worst fear - that he will be pinned down on low ground & battered by enemy artillery from the peach orchard - reminiscent of the III Corps experience at Chancellorsville. He decides to move his corps forward without orders
Sickles was a NY Tammany Hall politician, who gained notoriety before the war for shooting his wife's lover, Francis Scott Key's son, in broad daylight. He then was exonerated by the first use of the insanity defense - his lawyer was now Secretary of War Edwin Stanton.
From Cemetery Hill, the eyes of all are drawn to a magnificent sight -- the III Corps moving forward, lines drawn well together, flags fluttering in the summer breeze. Meade and Hancock watch in astonishment as the small corps repositions, with its apex at the Peach Orchard
Sickles' left now lies in a small rocky enclosure known by the locals as the Devil's Den and runs through a wheat field on a ridgeline that connects it to the peach orchard. From there, the right extends back at an angle towards Cemetery Ridge, but does not quite reach.
While Sickles will be in occupation of superior ground, he does not have the manpower to hold it. His flanks are not anchored and the rough terrain on his left makes maneuvering artillery difficult. The rocky Little Round Top is empty save a signal corps detachment.
Chief engineer of the Army of the Potomac mounts Little Round Top and is startled to see no US troops there. He sends a message to Smith's NY battery north of Devil's Den to fire a shot into the woods. The rocks resound with the report. Sure enough, there are flashes of bayonets
Having marched all night and all day, Hood's veteran division is in place. As the US guns open, Hood orders his brigades forward. The first crashes into Devil's Den, where the 124th NY "Orange Blossoms" greet them with a volley & a charge, halting them but with many losses
The New Yorkers pull back up the slope as Hood's Alabamans and Texans work around their flank. A terrific fight erupts for Smith's guns, who calls on the 4th Maine for aid. A bayonet charge retakes the guns as a brutal melee ensues amongst the rocks & boulders.
Ward's brigade is too strung out across Devil's Den, the Rose Woods, and the Wheat Field, and as each of Hood's brigades strikes, it becomes clear that the US left is in trouble. Warren sends aids for any help he can find to secure Little Round Top. One finds Col. Strong Vincent
Vincent does not have orders from his chain of command for his brigade, but understands the importance of the request & orders his regiments to the hill. They arrive in the nick of time, shells already striking around them as Hood's artillery gets the range.
Vincent places his regiments from left to right: 20th ME, 83d PA, 44th NY, 16th MI. As he does so, Law's enemy brigade sweeps up over Big Round Top and down the saddle towards the newly established US line, where men are piling the rocks as high as they can, preparing for battle
By now, Ward's brigade is falling back amongst the rocks of Devil's Den, into the valley where the carnage becomes so profuse it is labelled "the Valley of Death." Plum Run, the gentle creek, is clogged with bodies, earning the name "Bloody Run." The valley is mass confusion.
With chaos engulfing the US extreme left, the next Confederate assaults strike at the few US regiments of De Trobiand's brigade posted on the edge of a wheatfield, south of the Peace Orchard. The first is one of Hood's brigades, who gets off course & runs into the 17th Maine
The 17th puts up a sharp fight from behind a stone wall, pushing Hood's men back with ripping sheets of flame. This buys time for 2 brigades from the V Corps to be quickly rushed up & they take positions in the wheatfield, although behind the 17th, which has to fall back to them
Meanwhile, the Texans are lapping like a tide at the foot of Little Round Top and the Alabamans moving up the saddle between the hills. Suddenly the height is engulfed in flame and smoke. Vincent coolly stands on a boulder and directs the battle with his riding crop in hand
Now each regiment of Vincent's brigade is engaged in their own particular battles. On the left, the 20th Maine is hit by the 15th and 47th Alabama regiments. The tide of butternut rushes in, inexorable - and breaks on the US rock. They reform, and attack again.
Battle swirls around the small rocky hill, rifle crashes reverberating off the rocks, leaves and branches showering down, clipped by the hail of bullets. Hazlett's battery is brought up, the infantry helping the gunners to haul the heavy guns into position on the height
The Texans and Alabamans are fighting like demons. Exhausted from their march, they did not even have time to fill their canteens, and their mouths are parched & cracked from dryness, exacerbated by the powder from biting their cartridges. They surge again up the slope.
The 16th Michigan on the right flank is being overwhelmed. Vincent rushes to rally them & is shot down, mortally wounded. The 140th NY - another unit found by Warren & directed forward - rushes up with a shout & enters the melee, not even having had time to load their rifles
They are led by Col. Paddy O'Rorke, a vibrant fighting Irishman, who leads the 140th into battle, pushing the Texans off the hill. In the charge, he is shot and killed. Weed's Brigade arrives to stabilize the crest, and the top of the hill is now secure.
On the left, things are getting desperate for the 20th & the 83d. The 20th extends its line to protect against the ever-flanking Alabama regiments, and draws back at a right angle to prevent getting overrun. With few rounds now left, a new attack comes rushing on.
The fighting has been hand to hand, three times the line has been broken and resealed. With no options left, the 20th's commander, Joshua Chamberlain, gives the order to fix bayonets. At the supreme moment, the bugle sounds the charge & the 20th sweeps down the slope
The exhausted Alabamans pause in confusion, waver, and then break, running back down the slope as the vengeful bayonets of the men of the north follow, scooping up dozens of prisoners. Little Round Top & the US left are now secure.
But now Longstreet's second division attacks, striking the Wheatfield and Peach Orchard head on, cutting a bloody swathe into the apex of Sickles' line as it is caught between two fires. US guns fire canister, punishing the South Carolinians charging into the Wheatfield
Fighting engulfs the Wheatfield yet again & the US troops are pushed back. 3 small brigades from the II Corps, sent in by Meade & Hancock as soon as they saw Sickles march out, now make their assault, including the Irish Brigade, ranks thinned by war but their spirits high
Their charge carries them across the Wheatfield and up onto Stony Hill, but the cost is horrific. Two brigade commanders are killed, including the hard-fighting Edward Cross from New Hampshire, wearing a black bandana around his head rather than his usual red
On the right flank of the US line, Confederate guns open a cannonade as a diversion - which draws the ire of the US gunners on Cemetery and Culps Hills, absolutely wrecking the rebel guns with counterbattery fire. Meade has meanwhile pulled troops from here to support the left
The Peach Orchard is a scene of carnage. Sickles himself has his leg carried off by a cannon shot. The exposed position is untenable and regiments begin to break & retreat. The 9th Massachusetts Battery retreats by recoil, blasting double canister into the attacking enemy
The III Corps defense in the Peach Orchard collapses and the attacking Confederates now surge down into the Wheatfield, driving the II Corps brigades back to its eastern and southern edges where more US troops are fed into the fight and the battle surges back again
The US center pierced, Meade and Hancock are scrambling to find any available troops to plug the gaping, bleeding hole. The V Corps has all been thrown into stabilizing the left flank; XII Corps troops are not there yet. The red flags of the enemy can be seen advancing
An unlikely hero arises: LTC Freeman MacGilvery, of the Artillery Reserve. He grabs the remnants of the artillery batteries retreating from the breached center & forms them into a line along Plum Run. Soon he has a line of 16 guns barking & kicking defiance at the oncoming enemy
With enemy now just a few hundred yards away, the guns belch case, grape, and canister, hurling hot iron into a bloody maw of carnage. But the enemy surges on & rifles crack: one by one, the guns are going quiet. US fire slows & the rebel yell sounds again
As the enemy is within range of seizing the guns, the exulting hurrahs of US troops tell MacGilvery that his guns are safe. The US center, held by a hodge podge of cobbled together infantry & artillery, now seals the gap. All, but for one hole still remaining on Cemetery Ridge
Hancock casts about, looking for the nearest troops to oppose an entire brigade of Confederates bearing down on him. The 1st Minnesota is passing, en route to the left. Hancock grabs Col Colville, points at the oncoming brigade, & orders the regiment to charge it
The 1st Minnesota, all 262 men, hurtle into the oncoming enemy with a shout, driving them back three times, horrifically outnumbered, before falling back with not a man captured - but losing 82% of the company, killed and wounded. They even brought back the colors of the 28th VA
The Minnesotans' wrath holds the line - Hancock cobbles together another line, and now the Confederates are chased back across the field, pounded by the fury of the guns on Cemetery Ridge and Cemetery Hill. As the sun dips low, the center is secure at last
But as the center and left dissipated into sniping & skirmishing, the sound of battle furiously arises from the US right. Ewell has finally begin his assault on Culp's Hill, held by the XII Corps. However, most of the troops of this corps have been diverted to help elsewhere
All that remains to defend the entire eminence is one single brigade under 62 year old George Greene - 1400 men, in all, defending against three enemy brigades. Vastly outnumbered, Greene has an innate advantage: he's an engineer - a founder of the Am Society of Civil Engineers
All that day, Greene had made his men dig in - none had wanted to, but they did it anyways. And so now there was an impressive line of fortifications running along the hill, occupied by Greene's men. Assisted by some regiments from the I and XI Corps, they awaited the attack
The enemy charged up the hillside and were met everywhere with a murderous fire -- all the more so because it seemed like the US troops were immune from the fire of the rebels. Greene rotated his units in and out of trenches so as to keep a steady and rolling volume of fire
This ongoing tumult will last four hours, in an ear-shattering clash amongst the boulders and trees of Culp's Hill. In turn, each of the enemy brigades tries to infiltrate the US lines only to receive sharp volleys. As night falls, men can only aim at the muzzle flashes & flares
On the extreme right of Culp's Hill, the entrenchments end - near where the 137th New York was posted as the extreme right of the army. Here, much like the 20th ME, they were being flanked by two enemy regiments. The 137th was commanded by Col Ireland, confusingly, from Scotland
Ireland had enlisted into the NY militia before the war, into a highland regiment. He'd seen service ever since the First Battle of Bull Run & was an experienced officer. Now, as night fell & the flashes of musketry grew closer & more numerous, he faced a gruelling test.
The night was broken by flashes of gunfire on the left, as well, from the pickets and snipers in Devil's Den and on Little Round Top. The exhausted 20th Maine mounted Big Round Top as the sounds of the wounded drifted on the night air up from the Valley of Death
The Wheatfield is a blasted and shorn charnel house. 20,000 troops have fought across its 20 acres in the last six hours, with 30% becoming casualties - an utterly shocking scene of death. The entire field lies strewn with dead and wounded, broken caissons, & detritus of war
Culp's Hill still emits a low rumble, flashes lighting the sky. The three brigades of rebels beginning to draw back, but for the regiments attacking the 137th - who are but a quick strike from the Baltimore Pike & the US supply trains, but they can't believe it's just the 137th
Continuing to be pressed, Colonel Ireland orders a bayonet charge, in the dark, against an unknown foe. They draw off, press again, and he orders a second, ammunition running low. This final charge breaks the Virginians and around 10:00, the fighting sputters out on the right
All is relatively quiet, but it is an uneasy quiet, as if everyone knows that the final chapter has yet to be writ - as if any point on the line could flare up again at any moment, throwing more men into the cauldron of death. There is a restless peace in the deep night.
The men of XII Corps who had gone to the left will return late, to discover their rifle pits occupied by the enemy. They will be surly, and kick up a spirited fuss that will resume at first light. JEB Stuart also arrives, at long last, and the stage is set for the culmination.
At first light on July 3, men of both sides are awoken to the sound of battle coming from Culp's Hill. A furious US cannonade is followed by thick rips of musketry, as Confederates attempt to seize the hill again -- Ewell stolidly trying to make up for his tardiness. To no avail.
Indeed, a feeling of sullen anger seems to have gripped the entire line. Skirmishing flares on the left flank as well, Little Round Top and Devil's Den exchanging well aimed shots. Even Big Round Top sees a flurry of fire, killing a lieutenant in the 20th Maine
But it is outright battle that flares on Culp's Hill, much to the annoyance of Lee, who does not want to fight for that ground & sees no hope of a breakthrough. Lee notes that several of his units pierced Cemetery Ridge yesterday & believes he can do it again, with a larger force
Lee summons his generals and gives the plan for the day. Longstreet will lead an assault on the US center, with one of his divisions and two from AP Hill's corps, as Stuart leads the cavalry around to strike at the US rear. The attack on the center is aimed to roll up the US line
Longstreet is reluctant to accept the plan & continues to argue for the army to reposition to fight somewhere else. Lee, suffering from dysentery this entire time (as are many men in both armies due to poor diets & bad sanitation), is done arguing & ends the conversation.
As the morning goes on, the skirmish fire from the left, the center, and from Cemetery Hill grows more and more violent. Confederates hiding in houses in Gettysburg snipe at XI Corps soldiers on Cemetery Hill, who respond with artillery fire & sharpshooters of their own
In the center, there are small but fierce and personal firefights around outbuildings, Rhode Islanders storming a rebel-occupied barn and burning it to prevent the ongoing sniping. Companies in loose order hunt each other from behind fences along the Emmittsburg Road
As the first skirmish fire begins in the Wheatfield, a low moan fills the air. The nearly 6,000 dead and wounded still lay strewn about the rocks & burnt stubble, & this fire is an affront to their suffering. Some men wounded on July 2 will be wounded again today.
But it is in the Valley of Death that this skirmishing approaches near battle. Green-clad US marksmen appear on Little Round Top and, unpacking telescopes & target rifles, get to work silencing the Georgian sharpshooters in Devil's Den who are playing hell with the artillerymen
Marksmen from Devil's Den and Rose Woods are also annoying the Pennsylvania bucktails on Houck's Ridge, adjacent the Wheatfield. The bucktails will engage in back and forth contests all day long through this area, sending out counter-sniper teams to down enemy "tree frogs"
This fighting will continue all morning, making the sharp crackle of rifles the backdrop for the hot day's preparations. Behind Seminary Ridge, 28 year old E Porter Alexander is readying his artillery for the bombardment that will precede Longstreet's attack
Caissons and limbers are brought up, ammunition staged, the artillery reserve positioned, the rumble of horses' hooves as the teams are moved to the rear after the guns are placed. Each gun crew goes over their piece, checking to make sure all is in order, all in the right place.
By 11:00, the fight at Culp's Hill is nearly at an end. Reinforced, the XII fights back attacks by three enemy divisions. In a major tactical error, two US regiments are sent to counterattack by Spangler's Spring. Reluctantly obeying the orders, the regiments are shot to bits
By noon, the lines are growing quiet. On Cemetery Ridge, the lines of Hancock's II Corps are still, men laying behind a low stone wall, some dozing in the heat. The pickets out front find themselves with nothing to do, the enemy in their front halting their probing fire
General Gibbon, Hancock's division commander in this section of the line, finds that his staff has wrangled some chicken for lunch. A passing General Meade stops for a quick bite, commenting that he expects an attack on the left, while Hancock thinks it will come in the center
Meanwhile, to the east, the combined cavalry of both armies are meeting in a massive mounted battle. It opens with the horse artillery duelling from long range, the sharp reports of the smaller guns ringing across the open field. US gunnery gets the better of their foes.
Stuart now decides to commit his troopers, dismounted at first, but the defiant fire of the 5th Michigan Cavalry forces them back and Stuart resolves on a charge from the 1st Virginia Cavalry, which swings into its saddles, loosens sabers in scabbards, and spurs to a trot.
The Virginians scatter the dismounted Michiganders, but the 7th Michigan is riding forward as well, George Custer leading them, with the shout, "Come on you Wolverines!" As the hundreds of mounted men slam into each other, sabers, carbines, and pistols wielded in a mad scrum.
Stuart commits more regiments, and more US troopers swing to the saddle, the sun glinting off sabers, the sound of hooves thundering through the hot air. The crash of their meeting is as of "falling timber," horse and man caught in the horrible collision of mounted conflict
On the crest of Cemetery Ridge, all is quiet. Suddenly, the boom of a distant gun is heard. And then another. And with that, the opposite crest of Seminary Ridge blossoms into white plumes of acrid smoke, the guns of the rebellion pouring out their indignation - over 100 guns
Now shot and shell are raining down upon Cemetery Ridge - round shot, spherical, and bolt - plummeting, striking, leaving maimed limbs, torn torsos, smashed equipment in their wake. The very earth seems to suffer from this paroxysm of violence being flung out across the ridge
Round shot bounces and careens, carrying away anything in its path. Shells hiss and burst, sending shards of iron to bury into flesh and bone. Men run this way and that, all in confusion as the rebel cannonade opens in full earnest on the II Corps upon the crest.
US gun crews sprint to their pieces, rolling them slightly to check their targets, gunners glancing down the sleek barrels. The gun commander's hand drop, the lanyard is pulled - and the US guns now belch their response, long sheets of flame spitting out, cutting into the smoke
The response begins slowly at first, shaking off the confusion; but soon, over 80 US guns, from Cemetery Hill to Little Round Top, are barking, shaking, rolling, and heaving forth "an iron greeting to the Rebellion, courtesy of the wrathful Republic."
As the barrage continues, Gibbon goes forward to check on his infantry. They are laying behind the stone wall; it is clear that the enemy is cutting their fuzes too long on shells & are overshooting. The infantry are little harmed & are making jokes: "We are getting to like this"
Behind the crest, field hospitals, headquarters tents, and supply wagons bear the brunt of the enemy barrage. Ammunition limbers explode in towering infernos of flame. The shells plow the ground behind Cemetery Ridge, kicking over men & animals with random chance hits
On cavalry field, the brigades have charged and countercharged, the ring of sabers and screaming of wounded horses and men filling the air amidst the snaps of carbines and crashes of artillery. Stuart cannot drive the US horsemen from the field, though he tries desperately
With one last charge, the northern horsemen check the southern hosts -- hurling them back across the field. The two groups glare at each other, both two wounded to fight more. In 40 minutes, the action is over. Lee's overall battle plan is beginning to unravel.
The artillery bombardment is entering its second hour. E Porter Alexander is reviewing his ammunition stocks & realizes he does not have enough to support the Infantry advance. US fire has forced him to move his reserves father to the rear. The counterbattery has been intense.
US shells and shot tear the wheels off guns, shear limbs from the trees, showering the waiting Confederate infantry with branches and leaves. Longstreet realizes that he doesn't have much time left and implores Alexander to keep firing to silence the US guns
Commander of US Artillery, Henry Hunt, now gives orders for the US guns to slacken their fire - to conserve ammunition for the attack he knows is coming, and to deceive the enemy into thinking that their fire is effective. Slowly, the US guns begin to go quiet
Porter quickly messages Longstreet that this is his chance. Pickett asks Longstreet if he may advance. Longstreet cannot bear to give the order, simply nods. As the peal and crash of the rebel guns continue, the three divisions begin to prepare to move out over the 3/4 mile front
Drums beating, banners rippling, nearly 13,000 Confederate infantry appear out of the woods on Seminary Ridge, lines perfectly aligned, sun sparkling off barrels and bayonets, moving forward as if a rolling wave, inexorable, unrelenting, unstoppable.
From Cemetery Ridge, the US troops look on, dumbfounded, as this cataclysm of mankind appeared in front of them, serried ranks, a "sloping forest of flashing steel." The pause only lasts a moment. Guns are moved up. Weapons checked. And as Gibbon's aid, Frank Haskell relates:
With the three divisions now in sight, the heavy 24 pound Parrott rifles on Cemetery Hill boom forth, sending shell and shot screaming through the air to plow into the left flank of the attacking enemy. The low growl of US Artillery strengthens to a roar down the entire line.
The lines advance, silently, still in perfect order, as great gaps are ripped into them, shot and shell tearing apart the lines as if they were fabric. Flank regiments are punished severely, receiving the fire of dozens of well-aimed, well-manned guns.
Halfway across the field, the formation ripples as it encounters the first of the fences that it must cross. US fire is forcing the regiments inward, as Pickett's division attempts to execute a maneuver to deceive the US to spread them out. It leaves his flank wide open.
Into this gap steps GJ Stannard and his Vermont Brigade. With 1 month left on their enlistments, this is their first major engagement. Stannard wheels two regiments left and two right, and they open with crashing volleys on Pickett's division, scything men down with their fire
On the other end of the line, the 8th Ohio and 136th NY also wheel right, raking Pettigrew's division with their volleys. This sudden attack breaks one Virginia brigade and sends them running back to Seminary Ridge. The Ohioans advance and continue their murderous fire.
Raked by the guns on Cemetery Hill, Pettigrew's division, already cut up from their fighting on July 1, disintegrates under the rifle fire from the 8th Ohio and from Hays' division. Trimble's division follows up in Pettigrew's wake, into the maw of double canister fire
Trimble's brigade shivers, falters, advances, and then collapses. Hay has his men four deep, the first rank firing then passing to the rear to reload, leading to an intense, rolling, unceasing fire that sweeps life from the field. Only Pickett's division is still advancing
The division strikes at an angle in the stone wall, where two US infantry regiments inexplicably give way. A NY battery is left exposed. They load all five guns double shotted with canister, and fire at once. The entire Confederate line in front of them disappears in dust & blood
Alonzo Cushing's Battery A, 4th Artillery is firing at the angle as the Virginians approach, half his men down, guns empty. As he calls out to encourage them, manning a gun himself, he is shot three times, the last through the mouth, killing him.
Hancock is now wounded, shot in the side, but refuses to be evacuated until the battle is over. The red flags can be seen coming over the angle, the rebel yell rings out in the breach & the fighting becomes hand-to-hand, the Irish 69th PA resorting to their fists in the melee
New volleys resound, as troops pulled from elsewhere on the II Corps front - including the remnants of the 1st Minnesota - charge in en masse, with little organization, unleashing their fury on those who would dare to cross their line. At the copse of trees, the battle rages
As suddenly as it began, it is over. The attack collapses, enemy colors fall, hands are raised in surrender. Survivors stream back across the bloody field, littered with their fallen comrades. Half the force is killed, wounded, or captured. A watching Lee is distraught.
The soldiers of the II Corps, who had died in front of Marye's Heights that cold December day in 1862, now chant "Fredericksburg, Fredericksburg!" across the field at their enemy, their dead comrades now avenged. Rebel guns begin again, but are quickly silenced by US fire
In under an hour, the attack is crushed. The sound of skirmishing begins again, but it almost seems quiet after the astounding crescendo of fire of the afternoon. Lee prepared for a counterattack, but Meade is satisfied with the victory, unwilling to risk a reverse just now
The clash of the armies at Gettysburg is virtually at an end. There will be minor clashes on either flank, & the skirmishing will continue through the remainder of today and into tomorrow, when the heavens will open & rain will rinse the ground of blood
Both armies are sorely marred from the battle - the wounded swamp the hospitals, any available building is filled with the wrecked bodies of the combatants. But the field belongs decisively to the US. Never again will Lee attempt an offensive campaign.
Gettysburg is one of the two hammer blows that will strike the Confederacy on July 4 - the other is the US seizure of the key city of Vicksburg, which opens the Mississippi River to the US. The rebellion will never recover from these & is now in its rapid decline.
Thanks for following along with what has become a yearly effort. Gettysburg brought me into my love of military history, at the age of 8, when I became transfixed with the battle. As I've grown older, I've found more avenues of interest, but Gettysburg always pulls me in again
For further reading, I highly recommend Stephen W Sears work, and Harry Pfanz's three volume work. I would be remiss if I did not pay homage to Frank Haskell's incredible first hand account of Pickett's Charge, especially since he would be killed a year later at Cold Harbor
As always on this anniversary, I look to the soldiers who sacrificed so much for our nation - for our nation to have ideals and values, as well as laws. And I look forward to the day when we may fully live up to their last full measure of devotion.
This ends the #GettysburgLiveTweet

This account will now return to cats, gin, and snark, as is the norm
Post Script: I apologise of I've omitted or glossed over favorite regiments or engagements. I've been doing most of this from memory and as time allows. There's simply too many stories. I wish I could tell them all.
Missing some Tweet in this thread?
You can try to force a refresh.

Like this thread? Get email updates or save it to PDF!

Subscribe to Angry Staff Officer
Profile picture

Get real-time email alerts when new unrolls are available from this author!

This content may be removed anytime!

Twitter may remove this content at anytime, convert it as a PDF, save and print for later use!

Try unrolling a thread yourself!

how to unroll video

1) Follow Thread Reader App on Twitter so you can easily mention us!

2) Go to a Twitter thread (series of Tweets by the same owner) and mention us with a keyword "unroll" @threadreaderapp unroll

You can practice here first or read more on our help page!

Follow Us on Twitter!

Did Thread Reader help you today?

Support us! We are indie developers!

This site is made by just three indie developers on a laptop doing marketing, support and development! Read more about the story.

Become a Premium Member ($3.00/month or $30.00/year) and get exclusive features!

Become Premium

Too expensive? Make a small donation by buying us coffee ($5) or help with server cost ($10)

Donate via Paypal Become our Patreon

Thank you for your support!