Battle of Gettysburg : Cemetery Ridge

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Cemetery Ridge Battle of Gettysburg Cemetery Hill Seminary Ridge, The Round Tops Taneytown Road Emmitsburg Road, Little Round Top The Angle, General Barksdale Wilcox Lang Peach Orchard Plum Run

Cemetery Ridge, Gettysburg
Cemetery Ridge.jpg
(Gettysburg NMP)

Beginning on the southwest edge of Cemetery Hill, Cemetery Ridge runs southward approximately 1 1/2 miles to the Round Tops. Unlike Seminary Ridge, the gradual rise of Cemetery Ridge and better soil base allowed it to be farmed as pasture and planted in crops.
(About the Picture: Hancock Avenue marks the line of Cemetery Ridge in the center of this view, taken in the 1980s. The Round Tops are in the distance and the Emmitsburg Road is to the right. Gettysburg NMP.)
Cleared of trees and lined with fences that could be used for emergency barricades and defenses, it was a perfect position for infantry and artillery to be placed to cover the ground to the west over which the main Confederate attack was directed. The Taneytown Road, which lies directly east of the ridge, was perfect for the rapid movement of troops, artillery and supplies up and down the line. When General Sickles moved his Third Corps to the Emmitsburg Road on the afternoon of July 2, he left a large section of the ridge between Little Round Top and the Angle area unoccupied. This gap in the line was an open invitation for the Confederates to march through the center of the Union position and break it in half. But to achieve this goal, the southerners would have to sweep away veteran Union regiments, determined to stop the Confederate attack before it reached that point.

Cemetery Ridge
View north on Hancock Avenue.jpg
(Gettysburg NMP)

(Photograph to the Right: Union artillery had a commanding view over Plum Run as seen from Dow's Battery on Cemetery Ridge. Gettysburg NMP.)
Reserve troops rushed into battle by General Meade were sent to the left of the Third Corps line, which was facing the most pressure. Yet he was unable to fill the section of Cemetery Ridge vacated that morning by General Sickles. This left a gap between the area of the Angle to the north and Little Round Top to the south. Several hours into the fighting, three Confederate brigades under Generals Barksdale and Wilcox, and Colonel Lang threatened this area. Only a handful of battered artillery units fresh from the ordeal of the Peach Orchard and rallied by Colonel Freeman McGilvery were unlimbered along the ridge, and these were not enough to stop the masses of Confederate infantry moving across Plum Run valley below them. The long march under fire from Seminary Ridge to this point had disorganized the southern formations and exasperated officers hurriedly reformed their commands at Plum Run, a crucial delay. Seeing that troops were desperately needed in the center, General Winfield Scott Hancock quickly rushed forward a brigade of New York troops commanded by Colonel George Willard. The New Yorkers immediately charged into Barksdale's exhausted Confederates, driving them away from Plum Run and across the farm fields to the Emmitsburg Road. The 39th New York Infantry drove off Mississippians who had just captured Lt. Malbone F. Watson's Battery I, 5th US Artillery, and pursued the refuges into the Trostle yard where they, along with the 150th New York, re-took the lost guns of the 9th Massachusetts Battery. In the center of the fight, General Barksdale was shot from his horse and lay terribly wounded on the field until later that night when Union troops brought him in as a prisoner.

1st Minnesota Infantry Monument.jpg
(Gettysburg NMP)

(Photo: Monument to the 1st Minnesota Infantry on Hancock Ave. Gettysburg NMP.)
Just north of Barksdale's hard-pressed Mississippians, Brig. General Cadmus Wilcox was getting his Alabama regiments started again when he was surprised to see a small formation of Union infantry appear in his front, take deliberate aim and fire. The line bore straight toward his brigade, light from the setting sun glittering on leveled Union bayonets. This lone Union regiment was the 1st Minnesota Infantry, stationed on Cemetery Ridge to support a Union battery. After directing Willard into battle, General Hancock observed that a critical gap still remained where Wilcox could break through. Quickly taking in the situation, he galloped up to the only available Union infantry at hand, the 1st Minnesota and its commander Colonel William Colvill, Jr. "My God," Hancock roared, "are these all the troops we have here?!" Colvill replied in the affirmative. "Do you see those colors?", Hancock asked. The colonel peered through the battle smoke to see a large mass of gray-clad southerners with red battle flags defiantly waving above them.

"Yes," Colvill stated.

"Well, capture them!", Hancock commanded, then galloped away to search for additional troops to fill the gap. Without hesitation, Colvill ordered his 262 officers and men forward toward Plum Run where they crashed headlong into Wilcox's men. Within minutes the charge was over. Barely a handful of Minnesotans escaped to rally on Cemetery Ridge, but they had stopped the Alabamians cold while Union troops from Willard's brigade and other commands moved in. Finding himself in danger of being cut off, Wilcox ordered his regiments to retreat and the threat was over. The 1st Minnesota Infantry suffered an appalling loss in this suicidal charge, and more soldiers in the regiment were killed and wounded the following day in repulsing "Pickett's Charge". The regiment's 82% loss at Gettysburg was never equaled by any other Union regiment during the Civil War.

Just north of the melee in Plum Run, Brig. General Ambrose Wright's Georgia Brigade attacked Union troops at the Codori House and drove them back, pursuing the retreating soldiers to the Angle on Cemetery Ridge. Wright was vigorously counter-attacked by Vermont troops- "Green Mountain Boys" of the 13th, 14th and 16th Vermont Infantry Regiments, which overwhelmed Wright's Confederates, a number of whom were taken prisoner. This was the first and last battle for these Vermont "nine-month regiments", which would be mustered out two weeks after the close of the battle. With the arrival of fresh Union batteries, the gap on Cemetery Ridge was now closed.

July 2nd ended under a fiery red sunset, in sympathy to the blood spilled in the fields, pastures, and woods of the Adams County countryside.

Pennsylvania Honors Her Sons at Gettysburg

The Pennsylvania Monument
The Pennsylvania Monument.jpg
(Gettysburg NMP)

One of the largest and most ornate monuments on the battlefield, the Pennsylvania Memorial was constructed by the commonwealth in 1909-1910. This unique memorial is made of North Carolina granite set over an iron and concrete frame. Adorning the base are bronze statues of Pennsylvania-born generals, Governor Curtin, and President Abraham Lincoln. The statues were sculpted by several artists including J. Otto Schweizer, Cyrus E. Dalin, and Lee O. Lowrie. The prominent figure of Winged Victory by sculptor Samuel Murray, adorns the top of the dome. Around the base are bronze plaques that list the Pennsylvania regiments and batteries that participated in the Battle of Gettysburg, along with a list of the Pennsylvanians in each unit who were present during the three day battle. This project presented the state's monuments commission with special problems as the records and muster rolls were still in the possession of the War Department, and there were numerous spelling and statistical difficulties encountered. A large staff worked for over a year to complete the rosters, though corrections had to be made to the tablets after the dedication of the memorial on September 27, 1910. The work of architect W. Liance Cottrell of New York, the Pennsylvania Memorial weighs an estimated 3,840 tons and cost the state over $240,000.

The Rite of Absolution

The Good Father Corby.jpg
(Gettysburg NMP)

Another interesting monument near this location is that to Father William Corby, chaplain of the famous "Irish Brigade". On the afternoon of July 2, just prior to the brigade's advance to the Wheatfield, Father Corby stood upon a large boulder and granted general absolution to the catholic members of the brigade. It was a most stirring moment as the chaplain raised his voice above the din of battle while over 300 Union soldiers who were about to face death knelt before him. Within the hour, the brigade was in the thick of the battle. To commemorate this unique event, a statue of Father Corby was erected upon the exact boulder where he stood that afternoon, and was dedicated on October 29, 1910.

After the war, Corby returned to his pre-war occupation of teaching at Notre Dame University and was appointed university president. He spent a few years away from Notre Dame for a brief appointment at Sacred Heart College in Watertown, Wisconsin, and returned to Notre Dame in 1877. The university flourished under his guidance until his retirement in 1881. Corby also founded the Notre Dame Post No. 569 of the Grand Army of the Republic, the only post in the nation, "composed entirely of members of a religious order." Father William Corby died in 1897 and is buried at Notre Dame where a similar statue to Father Corby stands today.

Source: National Park Service; Gettysburg National Military Park

Recommended Reading: Gettysburg--Culp's Hill and Cemetery Hill (Civil War America) (Hardcover). Description: In this companion to his celebrated earlier book, Gettysburg—The Second Day, Harry Pfanz provides the first definitive account of the fighting between the Army of the Potomac and Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia at Cemetery Hill and Culp's Hill—two of the most critical engagements fought at Gettysburg on 2 and 3 July 1863. Pfanz provides detailed tactical accounts of each stage of the contest and explores the interactions between—and decisions made by—generals on both sides. In particular, he illuminates Confederate lieutenant general Richard S. Ewell's controversial decision not to attack Cemetery Hill after the initial southern victory on 1 July. Continued below...

Pfanz also explores other salient features of the fighting, including the Confederate occupation of the town of Gettysburg, the skirmishing in the south end of town and in front of the hills, the use of breastworks on Culp's Hill, and the small but decisive fight between Union cavalry and the Stonewall Brigade. About the Author: Harry W. Pfanz is author of Gettysburg--The First Day and Gettysburg--The Second Day. A lieutenant, field artillery, during World War II, he served for ten years as a historian at Gettysburg National Military Park and retired from the position of Chief Historian of the National Park Service in 1981. To purchase additional books from Pfanz, a convenient Amazon Search Box is provided at the bottom of this page.


Recommended Reading: Cemetery Hill: The Struggle For The High Ground, July 1-3, 1863. Description: Cemetery Hill was critical to the Battle of Gettysburg. Controversy has ensued to the present day about the Confederacy's failure to attempt to capture this high ground on July 1, 1863, following its victory over two Corps of the Union Army to the North and West of town. Subsequent events during the Battle, such as Pickett's charge, the fighting on Little Round Top, and the fight for the Wheatfield, have received more attention than General Early's attack on Cemetery Hill during the evening of July 2. Yet, the fighting for Cemetery Hill was critical and may have constituted the South's best possibility of winning the Battle of Gettysburg. Continued below…

Terry Jones's "Cemetery Hill: The Struggle for the High Ground, July 1 -- 3, 1863" (2003) is part of a series called "Battleground America Guides" published by Da Capo Press. Each volume in the series attempts to highlight a small American battlefield or portion of a large battlefield and to explain its significance in a clear and brief narrative. Jones's study admirably meets the stated goals of the series. The book opens with a brief setting of the stage for the Battle of Gettysburg. This is followed by chapters describing the Union and Confederate armies and the leaders who would play crucial roles in the fight for Cemetery Hill. There is a short discussion of the fighting on the opening day of the battle, July 1, 1863, which focuses on the failure of the South to attempt to take Cemetery Hill and the adjacent Culp's Hill following its victory of that day. The chief subject of the book, however, is the fighting for Cemetery Hill late on July 2. Jones explains Cemetery Hill's role in Robert E. Lee's overall battle plan. He discusses the opening artillery duel on the Union right followed by the fierce attack by the Louisiana Tigers and North Carolina troops under the leadership of Hays and Avery on East Cemetery Hill. This attack reached the Union batteries defending Cemetery Hill and may have come within an ace of success given the depletion of the Union defense on the Hill to meet threats on the Union left. Elements of the Union 11th Corps and 2nd Corps reinforced the position and drove back the attack. Southern general Robert Rodes was to have supported this attack on the west but failed to reach his position in time to do so. General John Gordon's position was in reserve behind the troops of Hays and Avery but these troops were not ordered forward. The book deals briefly with the third day of the Battle -- the day of Pickett's charge -- in which the Southern troops did not renew their efforts against Cemetery Hill -- such an attempt would have had scant chance of success in daylight. The final chapter of the book consists of Jones's views on the events of the battle, particularly the failure of the Lieutenant General Richard Ewell of the Second Corps of Lee's Army to attack Cemetery Hill on July 1, a decision Jones finds was correct, and the causes of the failure of the July 2 attack (poor coordination among Ewell, Rodes, Gordon, and A.P Hill of the Southern Third Corps.) There is a brief but highly useful discussion to the prospective visitor to Gettysburg of touring the Cemetery Hill portion of the Battlefield. The book is clearly, crisply and succinctly written. It includes outstanding maps and many interesting photographs and paintings. The reader with some overall knowledge of Gettysburg will find this book more accessible that the two volumes of Harry Pfanz's outstandingly detailed trilogy that deal with the first day of the battle and with the fighting for Culp's Hill and Cemetery Hill. Serious students of the Battle of Gettysburg can get a good, clear overview of the fighting for Cemetery Hill from this volume.

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Recommended Reading: Pickett's Charge, by George Stewart. Description: The author has written an eminently readable, thoroughly enjoyable, and well-researched book on the third day of the Gettysburg battle, July 3, 1863. An especially rewarding read if one has toured, or plans to visit, the battlefield site. The author's unpretentious, conversational style of writing succeeds in putting the reader on the ground occupied by both the Confederate and Union forces before, during and after Pickett's and Pettigrew's famous assault on Meade's Second Corps. Continued below...

Interspersed with humor and down-to-earth observations concerning battlefield conditions, the author conscientiously describes all aspects of the battle, from massing of the assault columns and pre-assault artillery barrage to the last shots and the flight of the surviving rebels back to the safety of their lines… Having visited Gettysburg several years ago, this superb volume makes me want to go again.


Recommended Reading: Pickett's Charge--The Last Attack at Gettysburg (Hardcover). Description: Pickett's Charge is probably the best-known military engagement of the Civil War, widely regarded as the defining moment of the battle of Gettysburg and celebrated as the high-water mark of the Confederacy. But as Earl Hess notes, the epic stature of Pickett's Charge has grown at the expense of reality, and the facts of the attack have been obscured or distorted by the legend that surrounds them. With this book, Hess sweeps away the accumulated myths about Pickett's Charge to provide the definitive history of the engagement. Continued below...

Drawing on exhaustive research, especially in unpublished personal accounts, he creates a moving narrative of the attack from both Union and Confederate perspectives, analyzing its planning, execution, aftermath, and legacy. He also examines the history of the units involved, their state of readiness, how they maneuvered under fire, and what the men who marched in the ranks thought about their participation in the assault. Ultimately, Hess explains, such an approach reveals Pickett's Charge both as a case study in how soldiers deal with combat and as a dramatic example of heroism, failure, and fate on the battlefield.


Recommended Reading: Into the Fight: Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg. Description: Challenging conventional views, stretching the minds of Civil War enthusiasts and scholars as only John Michael Priest can, Into the Fight is both a scholarly and a revisionist interpretation of the most famous charge in American history. Using a wide array of sources, ranging from the monuments on the Gettysburg battlefield to the accounts of the participants themselves, Priest rewrites the conventional thinking about this unusually emotional, yet serious, moment in our Civil War.

Starting with a fresh point of view, and with no axes to grind, Into the Fight challenges all interested in that stunning moment in history to rethink their assumptions. Worthwhile for its use of soldiers’ accounts, valuable for its forcing the reader to rethink the common assumptions about the charge, critics may disagree with this research, but they cannot ignore it.


Recommended Reading: Last Chance For Victory: Robert E. Lee And The Gettysburg Campaign. Description: Long after nearly fifty thousand soldiers shed their blood there, serious misunderstandings persist about Robert E. Lee's generalship at Gettysburg. What were Lee's choices before, during, and after the battle? What did he know that caused him to act as he did? Last Chance for Victory addresses these issues by studying Lee's decisions and the military intelligence he possessed when each was made. Continued below...

Packed with new information and original research, Last Chance for Victory draws alarming conclusions to complex issues with precision and clarity. Readers will never look at Robert E. Lee and Gettysburg the same way again.


Recommended Reading: General Lee's Army: From Victory to Collapse. Review: You cannot say that University of North Carolina professor Glatthaar (Partners in Command) did not do his homework in this massive examination of the Civil War–era lives of the men in Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Glatthaar spent nearly 20 years examining and ordering primary source material to ferret out why Lee's men fought, how they lived during the war, how they came close to winning, and why they lost. Glatthaar marshals convincing evidence to challenge the often-expressed notion that the war in the South was a rich man's war and a poor man's fight and that support for slavery was concentrated among the Southern upper class. Continued below...

Lee's army included the rich, poor and middle-class, according to the author, who contends that there was broad support for the war in all economic strata of Confederate society. He also challenges the myth that because Union forces outnumbered and materially outmatched the Confederates, the rebel cause was lost, and articulates Lee and his army's acumen and achievements in the face of this overwhelming opposition. This well-written work provides much food for thought for all Civil War buffs.


NEW! Recommended Reading: ONE CONTINUOUS FIGHT: The Retreat from Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, July 4-14, 1863 (Hardcover) (June 2008). Description: The titanic three-day battle of Gettysburg left 50,000 casualties in its wake, a battered Southern army far from its base of supplies, and a rich historiographic legacy. Thousands of books and articles cover nearly every aspect of the battle, but not a single volume focuses on the military aspects of the monumentally important movements of the armies to and across the Potomac River. One Continuous Fight: The Retreat from Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, July 4-14, 1863 is the first detailed military history of Lee's retreat and the Union effort to catch and destroy the wounded Army of Northern Virginia. Against steep odds and encumbered with thousands of casualties, Confederate commander Robert E. Lee's post-battle task was to successfully withdraw his army across the Potomac River. Union commander George G. Meade's equally difficult assignment was to intercept the effort and destroy his enemy. The responsibility for defending the exposed Southern columns belonged to cavalry chieftain James Ewell Brown (JEB) Stuart. If Stuart fumbled his famous ride north to Gettysburg, his generalship during the retreat more than redeemed his flagging reputation. The ten days of retreat triggered nearly two dozen skirmishes and major engagements, including fighting at Granite Hill, Monterey Pass, Hagerstown, Williamsport, Funkstown, Boonsboro, and Falling Waters. Continued below...

President Abraham Lincoln was thankful for the early July battlefield victory, but disappointed that General Meade was unable to surround and crush the Confederates before they found safety on the far side of the Potomac. Exactly what Meade did to try to intercept the fleeing Confederates, and how the Southerners managed to defend their army and ponderous 17-mile long wagon train of wounded until crossing into western Virginia on the early morning of July 14, is the subject of this study. One Continuous Fight draws upon a massive array of documents, letters, diaries, newspaper accounts, and published primary and secondary sources. These long-ignored foundational sources allow the authors, each widely known for their expertise in Civil War cavalry operations, to describe carefully each engagement. The result is a rich and comprehensive study loaded with incisive tactical commentary, new perspectives on the strategic role of the Southern and Northern cavalry, and fresh insights on every engagement, large and small, fought during the retreat. The retreat from Gettysburg was so punctuated with fighting that a soldier felt compelled to describe it as "One Continuous Fight." Until now, few students fully realized the accuracy of that description. Complimented with 18 original maps, dozens of photos, and a complete driving tour with GPS coordinates of the entire retreat, One Continuous Fight is an essential book for every student of the American Civil War in general, and for the student of Gettysburg in particular. About the Authors: Eric J. Wittenberg has written widely on Civil War cavalry operations. His books include Glory Enough for All (2002), The Union Cavalry Comes of Age (2003), and The Battle of Monroe's Crossroads and the Civil War's Final Campaign (2005). He lives in Columbus, Ohio. J. David Petruzzi is the author of several magazine articles on Eastern Theater cavalry operations, conducts tours of cavalry sites of the Gettysburg Campaign, and is the author of the popular "Buford's Boys." A long time student of the Gettysburg Campaign, Michael Nugent is a retired US Army Armored Cavalry Officer and the descendant of a Civil War Cavalry soldier. He has previously written for several military publications. Nugent lives in Wells, Maine.

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