Battle of Gettysburg : The Peach Orchard

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The Peach Orchard
Battle of Gettysburg

Peach Orchard Battle of Gettysburg Devil's Den on the Emmitsburg Road and Wheatfield Road Map Warfield Ridge Battlefield Map Cemetery Ridge, Battle of Gettysburg Photo General Sickles Barksdale Photos

The Peach Orchard and Battle of Gettysburg

The Peach Orchard and Emmitsburg Road
The Peach Orchard.jpg
Gettysburg NMP

Summary
 
The second day’s battle of Gettysburg was the largest and costliest of the three days. The second day’s fighting (at Devil’s Den, Little Round Top, The Wheatfield, The Peach Orchard, Cemetery Ridge, Trostle Farm, Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill) involved at least 100,000 soldiers of which roughly 20,000 were killed, wounded, captured or missing. The second day in itself ranks as the 10th bloodiest battle of the Civil War.
 
While the right wing of Kershaw's brigade attacked into the Wheatfield, its left wing wheeled left to attack the Pennsylvania troops in the brigade of Brig. Gen. Charles K. Graham, the right flank of Birney's line, where 30 guns from the III Corps and the Artillery Reserve attempted to hold the sector. The South Carolinians were subjected to infantry volleys from the Peach Orchard and canister from all along the line. Suddenly someone unknown shouted a false command, and the attacking regiments turned to their right, toward the Wheatfield, which presented their left flank to the batteries. Kershaw later wrote, "Hundreds of the bravest and best men of Carolina fell, victims of this fatal blunder."
 
Meanwhile, the two brigades on McLaws's left—Barksdale's in front and Wofford's behind—charged directly into the Peach Orchard, the point of the salient in Sickles's line. Gen. Barksdale led the charge on horseback, long hair flowing in the wind, sword waving in the air. Brig. Gen. Andrew A. Humphreys's division had only about 1,000 men to cover the 500 yards from the Peach Orchard northward along the Emmitsburg Road to the lane leading to the Abraham Trostle farm. Some were still facing south, from where they had been firing on Kershaw's brigade, so they were hit in their vulnerable flank. Barksdale's 1,600 Mississippians wheeled left against the flank of Humphreys's division, collapsing their line, regiment by regiment. Graham's brigade retreated back toward Cemetery Ridge; Graham had two horses shot out from under him. He was hit by a shell fragment, and by a bullet in his upper body. He was eventually captured by the 21st Mississippi. Wofford's men dealt with the defenders of the orchard.

The Peach Orchard, Gettysburg, July 2, 1863
The Peach Orchard, Battle of Gettysburg.jpg
The Peach Orchard, Battle of Gettysburg, July 2, 1863

As Barksdale's men pushed toward Sickles's headquarters near the Trostle barn, the general and his staff began to move to the rear, when a cannonball caught Sickles in the right leg. He was carried off in a stretcher, sitting up and puffing on his cigar, attempting to encourage his men. That evening his leg was amputated, and he returned to Washington, D.C. Gen. Birney assumed command of the III Corps, which was soon rendered ineffective as a fighting force.
 
The relentless infantry charges posed extreme danger to the Union artillery batteries in the orchard and on the Wheatfield Road, and they were forced to withdraw under pressure. The six Napoleons of Capt. John Bigelow's 9th Massachusetts battery, on the left of the line, "retired by prolonge," a technique rarely used in which the cannon was dragged backwards as it fired rapidly, the movement aided by the gun's recoil. By the time they reach the Trostle house, they were told to hold the position to cover the infantry retreat, but they were eventually overrun by troops of the 21st Mississippi, who captured three of their guns.
 
Humphreys's fate was sealed when the Confederate en echelon attack continued and his front and right flank began to be assaulted by the Third Corps division of Richard H. Anderson on Cemetery Ridge.
 
History

The Peach Orchard, Second Day at Gettysburg
Initial Assault at The Peach Orchard.jpg
Initial Assault at The Peach Orchard, July 2, 1863

The advanced Union line arranged by General Sickles stretched from Devil's Den to this point- the Peach Orchard, then angled northward on the Emmitsburg Road. This orchard at the intersection of Wheatfield Road and the Emmitsburg Road was owned by Joseph Sherfy whose house sat on the west side of the Emmitsburg Road. Mr. Sherfy maintained a substantial orchard of peach and apple trees and operated a small fruit canning business from his home. Not only were Mr. Sherfy's orchards ruined during the battle, but his house was ransacked, his fences torn apart by Union troops and then Confederate artillerymen, his fields were covered with the dead, and his barn burned to the ground at the height of the fighting. To make the Peach Orchard a strong position, four Union batteries were initially posted here. These guns bombarded southern forces on Warfield Ridge and fired on Kershaw's men crossing the Rose Farm to attack the Wheatfield. The batteries continued firing until about 6:30 P.M. when a final Confederate charge by General William Barksdale's Mississippi brigade shattered the position.

The Sherfy Farm House.jpg

(Right) Joseph Sherfy's House on the Emmitsburg Road. The monument to the 114th PA Infantry stands in the front yard of the home. Gettysburg NMP.
 
Barksdale's soldiers snapped through the thin Union line after overpowering two Union regiments placed just west of the Sherfy house. The house was riddled with bullets as the combatants swept around it. Wounded men crawled into the house and barn for protection. The fiery Barksdale whipped his men forward across the Emmitsburg Road, north of the Peach Orchard where Union gunners and infantrymen found themselves surrounded. In the melee that followed, Union General Charles Graham was knocked from his horse and captured as his line disintegrated. The "Excelsior Brigade" of New York regiments, positioned in the orchard and along the Emmitsburg Road, fought back furiously and temporarily blocked the center regiments of the Mississippi brigade. The 73rd New York Infantry raced into fill a sudden gap in the line and hit Barksdale's soldiers head on. It was no use- within minutes the fight in front of the Sherfy House was over and the New Yorkers were ordered to retreat so that they would not be outflanked by the Confederates who were then sweeping around the tightening knots of Union defenders.

5th Massachusetts Battery drag a gun.jpg

(Left) Captain Charles Phillips and gunners of the 5th Massachusetts Battery drag a gun by the Trostle Barn as Confederates close in. An eyewitness sketch by Charles Reed drawn soon after the battle. National Archives.

With the positions at the Peach Orchard crushed, Sickles' delicate line could no longer be held. Closely followed by General Wofford's Georgia brigade, the Mississippi brigade seemed unstoppable as they pushed through the Peach Orchard and into the valley toward Cemetery Ridge. The fields ahead were filled with confused, splintered Yankee regiments and retreating artillery, an inviting prize for the battle hardened men.

General A.A. Humphreys, in command of the Union division on the Emmitsburg Road, resolved to fight a stubborn withdrawal and slowly pulled his men back, stopping to turn and fire on Barksdale's men who were soon joined by two additional southern brigades from A.P. Hill's Corps. The field between the road and Plum Run was soon covered with blue-clad bodies as Humphreys' men stubbornly bought time with their lives. Yet they gave most of the Union artillery the precious time they needed to get away and reform on Cemetery Ridge.

Battle of the Peach Orchard, Gettysburg, PA
Battle of the Peach Orchard.jpg
Confederates push Union forces from the Peach Orchard to Cemetery Ridge on July 2, 1863

Union guns in the Peach Orchard
Union guns in the Peach Orchard.jpg
Gettysburg NMP

Union batteries positioned on the Wheatfield Road had only seconds to spare to make their escape. South Carolinians rushed from the Rose Farm toward the road, shooting as they ran while desperate gunners dragged their heavy guns to the rear by hand. The 5th Massachusetts Battery had lost so many horses that guns, limbers and caissons had to be dragged off by man power, stopping only long enough to load and hastily fire canister at their pursuers. The last battery to leave was the 9th Massachusetts Battery. Horses and gunners tow their guns across the pasture toward the Trostle Farm buildings, stopping just long enough blast rounds of canister into pursuing infantry. The South Carolina soldiers were soon joined by the 21st Mississippi of Barksdale's brigade who joined in the pursuit of the fleeing artillerymen.

Gen. Sickles
General Daniel Sickles.jpg
National Archives

The artillerymen could only delay the inevitable. The Confederate attack was sweeping over and around the Peach Orchard from three directions. As the Third Corps line crumbled, the vulnerable center of the Union line on Cemetery Ridge was exposed. Only a token force of Union infantry and several batteries were available to fill this inviting gap. It was Lt. Colonel Freeman McGilvery, whose artillerymen had already been fought to pieces, who recognized the emergency. He dashed off to gather what batteries he could to fill the gap as the Confederates swarmed through the Trostle Farm and Plum Run area.

The Peach Orchard today is on the same ground where part of the original orchard stood. The orchard was much larger in 1863, the bulk extending northward of the Wheatfield Road in front of the Sherfy House. Sherfy's orchard was heavily damaged by the fighting, the trees broken and cut. Sherfy repaired and salvaged as many of the trees as possible, then planted new ones to replace those lost. He also sold canned peaches from his orchard with an advertisement authenticating them from his original peach trees on the battleground.
 
Strategically, the southern capture of the Peach Orchard and Emmitsburg Road gave Confederate artillerists an excellent position to fire on the Union line on Cemetery Ridge. Yet there was also a disadvantage- cannon, gunners, and horses alike were exposed on the top of the ridge and vulnerable to accurate Union artillery. On July 3rd, the Washington Artillery of New Orleans was positioned in the northern section of the orchard and fired two signal guns to open the cannonade prior to "Pickett's Charge".

Second Day at Battle of Gettysburg
Second Day at Battle of Gettysburg.gif
Confederates advance on Cemetery Ridge, July 2, 1863

Anderson's Assault
 
Brig. Gen. A.A. Humphreys's fate was sealed when the Confederate en echelon attack continued and his front and right flank began to be assaulted by Maj.Gen. Richard H. Anderson's division, Third Corps, on Cemetery Ridge.
 
The remaining portion of the en echelon attack was the responsibility of Maj. Gen. Richard H. Anderson's division of A.P. Hill's Third Corps, and he attacked starting at about 6 p.m. with five brigades in line, commencing on the right with Brig. Gen. Cadmus M. Wilcox, followed by Perry's Brigade (commanded by Col. David Lang), Brig. Gen. Ambrose R. Wright, Brig. Gen. Carnot Posey, and Brig. Gen. William Mahone.
 
The brigades of Wilcox and Lang hit the front and right flank of Humphreys's line, dooming any chance for his division to maintain its position on the Emmitsburg Road and completing the collapse of the III Corps. Humphrey displayed considerable bravery during the attack, leading his men from horseback and forcing them to maintain good order during their withdrawal. He wrote to his wife, "Twenty times did I [bring] my men to a halt and face about ... forcing the men to it."
 
On Cemetery Ridge, Generals Meade and Hancock were scrambling to find reinforcements. Meade had sent virtually all of his available troops (including most of the XII Corps, who would be needed momentarily on Culp's Hill) to his left flank to counter Longstreet's assault, leaving the center of his line relatively weak. There was insufficient infantry on Cemetery Ridge and only a few artillery pieces, rallied from the debacle of the Peach Orchard by Lt. Col. Freeman McGilvery.
 
The long march from Seminary Ridge had left some of the Southern units disorganized, and their commanders paused momentarily at Plum Run to reorganize. Hancock led the II Corps brigade of Col. George L. Willard to meet Barksdale's brigade as it moved toward the ridge. Willard's New Yorkers drove the Mississippians back to Emmitsburg Road. Barksdale was wounded in his left knee, followed by a cannonball to his left foot, and finally was hit by another bullet to his chest, knocking him off his horse. His troops were forced to leave him for dead on the field, and he died the next morning in a Union field hospital. Willard was also killed, and Confederate guns drove back Willard's men in turn.

Cemetery Ridge, 2nd Day, Battle of Gettysburg
Cemetery Ridge, 2nd Day, Battle of Gettysburg.jpg
Anderson's assault on Cemetery Ridge, July 2, 1863

As Hancock rode north to find additional reinforcements, he saw Wilcox's brigade nearing the base of the ridge, aiming at a gap in the Union line. The timing was critical, and Hancock chose the only troops at hand, the men of the 1st Minnesota, Harrow's Brigade, of the 2nd Division of the II Corps. They were originally placed there to guard Thomas's U.S. Battery. He pointed to a Confederate flag over the advancing line and shouted to Col. William Colvill, "Advance, Colonel, and take those colors!" The 262 Minnesotans charged the Alabama brigade with bayonets fixed, and they blunted their advance at Plum Run but at horrible cost—215 casualties (82%), including 40 deaths or mortal wounds, one of the largest regimental single-action losses of the war. Despite overwhelming Confederate numbers, the small 1st Minnesota, with the support of Willard's brigade on their left, checked Wilcox's advance and the Alabamians were forced to withdraw.
 
The third Confederate brigade in line, under Ambrose Wright, crushed two regiments posted on the Emmitsburg Road north of the Codori farm, captured the guns of two batteries, and advanced toward a gap in the Union line just south of the Copse of Trees. (For a time, the only Union soldiers in this part of the line were Gen. Meade and some of his staff officers.) Wright's Georgia brigade may have reached the crest of Cemetery Ridge and beyond. Many historians have been skeptical of Wright's claims in his after-action report, which, if correct, would mean he passed the crest of the ridge and got as far as the Widow Leister's house before being struck in the flank and repulsed by Union reinforcements (Brig. Gen. George J. Stannard's Vermont brigade). Others believe his account was plausible because he accurately described the masses of Union troops on the Baltimore Pike that would have been invisible to him if he had been stopped earlier. Furthermore, his conversations with General Lee that evening lend support to his claim. It is possible that Lee derived some false confidence from Wright about the ability of his men to reach Cemetery Ridge the following day in Pickett's Charge.
 
Wright told Lee that it was relatively easy to get to the crest, but it was difficult to stay there. A significant reason Wright could not stay was his lack of support. Two brigades were on Wright's left and could have reinforced his success. Carnot Posey's brigade made slow progress and never crossed the Emmitsburg Road, despite protestations from Wright. William Mahone's brigade inexplicably never moved at all. Gen. Anderson sent a messenger with orders to Mahone to advance, but Mahone refused. Part of the blame for the failure of Wright's assault must lie with Anderson, who took little active part in directing his division in battle.

Dan Sickles and the Gettysburg Battlefield

Generals Carr, Sickles, and Graham.jpg

(Left) Twenty five years after the battle, Generals Carr, Sickles, and Graham stand by the Trostle Barn where Sickles was wounded July 2. Gettysburg NMP.
 
General Sickles visited the Gettysburg battlefield many times after the war, often as an invited guest of battlefield historian John Bachelder. Sickles' interest in the development and care of the battlefield never waned, and he was active supporter of the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association. While representing the state of New York in congress, it was Representative Sickles who introduced the bill to establish Gettysburg National Military Park and transfer the property to the Federal government in 1895. It was during one visit in the 1880's when the general stopped by his old headquarters site at the Trostle Farm. Accompanying the former corps commander were two of his brigadiers who also had fought at Gettysburg, General Joseph B. Carr (left) and General Charles K. Graham (right). Both stand with the one-legged general at the site where he was wounded on July 2nd. General Graham was also wounded during the battle and captured by Confederates near the Peach Orchard. General Carr commanded the Union troops arrayed along the Emmitsburg Road. A granite monument that commemorates the general's crippling wound now stands at this site.

Sickles Marker and the Trostle Barn.jpg

(Right) The same location today. The monument marks the site where General Sickles was wounded and was dedicated in 1901. Gettysburg NMP.

Sickles' last visit to Gettysburg was in 1913 as a special guest during the 50th Anniversary Celebration and Grand Reunion. The general established a headquarters in the Rogers House on the Emmitsburg Road, where he received many veteran visitors. When asked whether he was disappointed that there was no monument to him on the battlefield, the proud old man replied, "Hell, the whole battlefield is my monument!"

Stubborn and defiant to the very end, General Sickles died in New York on May 3, 1914, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Fight at the Peach Orchard, July 2, 1863
Fight at the Peach Orchard, July 2, 1863.jpg
Peach Orchard south of Wertz House

Analysis
 
Peach Orchard combat began with Union artillery in the orchard counterfiring on Alexander's batteries which reduced Ames' supply of Union cannon ammunition. When Hood's Assault advanced eastward over the Emmitsburg Rd and across the slope south of the orchard, "Ames had all of his spherical case carried to his left section, Lt. James B. Hazelton's," to fire on the infantry, while Ames' "center and right sections continued their counterbattery fire with shot."
 
With the Confederate left flank to the south exposed to the orchard's Union forces, the cannon and infantry in the "Peach Orchard were able to rake Kershaw's lines severely". As Union officer Watson's guns fired a last volley of canister at the Carolinians, the 2nd New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry advanced southward into "the Peach Orchard to save the guns and, crowding between the limbers and guns, reformed, and emerged at the orchard's southwest corner, its right extending to the Emmitsburg Road."
 
"The Second opened fire on the South Carolinians in its front, the Second Battalion and the Eighth Regiment. The South Carolinians fell back to the bottom of the slope 150 or so yards from the orchard's edge. Bailey then shifted the Second's line to the rear of some fence rails that were piled along the side of the orchard where a fence had been."
 
At the 6 p.m. start of McLaws' Assault, Barksdale's and Wofford's Confederate brigades charged from the west directly into the Peach Orchard. Graham's Union brigade, with the 3rd MN & 3rd MI, "held the Peach Orchard until nearly dusk"; and at "6:30 p.m., McLaws' Division broke Birney's line at the Peach Orchard".
 
The 21st Mississippi Infantry Regiment passed through the Peach Orchard toward Bigelow's 9th Massachusetts Battery farther east. The 2nd NH entered the Battle of Gettysburg with 353 soldiers. In under three hours, 47 were killed, 136 wounded and 36 men went missing. Of the 24 officers, only three survived without being wounded.

Sources: National Park Service; Gettysburg National Military Park; Pfanz, Harry W (1987). Gettysburg – The Second Day. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. pp. 315, 317–9, 341–2. ISBN 0-8078-1749-X.

Recommended Reading: Gettysburg--The Second Day, by Harry W. Pfanz (624 pages). Description: The second day's fighting at Gettysburg—the assault of the Army of Northern Virginia against the Army of the Potomac on 2 July 1863—was probably the critical engagement of that decisive battle and, therefore, among the most significant actions of the Civil War. Harry Pfanz, a former historian at Gettysburg National Military Park, has written a definitive account of the second day's brutal combat. He begins by introducing the men and units that were to do battle, analyzing the strategic intentions of Lee and Meade as commanders of the opposing armies, and describing the concentration of forces in the area around Gettysburg. He then examines the development of tactical plans and the deployment of troops for the approaching battle. But the emphasis is on the fighting itself. Pfanz provides a thorough account of the Confederates' smashing assaults—at Devil's Den and Little Round Top, through the Wheatfield and the Peach Orchard, and against the Union center at Cemetery Ridge. Continued below...

 He also details the Union defense that eventually succeeded in beating back these assaults, depriving Lee's gallant army of victory. Pfanz analyzes decisions and events that have sparked debate for more than a century. In particular he discusses factors underlying the Meade-Sickles controversy and the questions about Longstreet's delay in attacking the Union left. The narrative is also enhanced by thirteen superb maps, more than eighty illustrations, brief portraits of the leading commanders, and observations on artillery, weapons, and tactics that will be of help even to knowledgeable readers. Gettysburg—The Second Day is certain to become a Civil War classic. What makes the work so authoritative is Pfanz's mastery of the Gettysburg literature and his unparalleled knowledge of the ground on which the fighting occurred. His sources include the Official Records, regimental histories and personal reminiscences from soldiers North and South, personal papers and diaries, newspaper files, and last—but assuredly not least—the Gettysburg battlefield. Pfanz's career in the National Park Service included a ten-year assignment as a park historian at Gettysburg. Without doubt, he knows the terrain of the battle as well as he knows the battle itself.

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Recommended Reading: The Artillery of Gettysburg (Hardcover). Description: The battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, the apex of the Confederacy's final major invasion of the North, was a devastating defeat that also marked the end of the South's offensive strategy against the North. From this battle until the end of the war, the Confederate armies largely remained defensive. The Artillery of Gettysburg is a thought-provoking look at the role of the artillery during the July 1-3, 1863 conflict. Continued below..

During the Gettysburg campaign, artillery had already gained the respect in both armies. Used defensively, it could break up attacking formations and change the outcomes of battle. On the offense, it could soften up enemy positions prior to attack. And even if the results were not immediately obvious, the psychological effects to strong artillery support could bolster the infantry and discourage the enemy. Ultimately, infantry and artillery branches became codependent, for the artillery needed infantry support lest it be decimated by enemy infantry or captured. The Confederate Army of Northern Virginia had modified its codependent command system in February 1863. Prior to that, batteries were allocated to brigades, but now they were assigned to each infantry division, thus decentralizing its command structure and making it more difficult for Gen. Robert E. Lee and his artillery chief, Brig. Gen. William Pendleton, to control their deployment on the battlefield. The Union Army of the Potomac had superior artillery capabilities in numerous ways. At Gettysburg, the Federal artillery had 372 cannons and the Confederates 283. To make matters worse, the Confederate artillery frequently was hindered by the quality of the fuses, which caused the shells to explode too early, too late, or not at all. When combined with a command structure that gave Union Brig. Gen. Henry Hunt more direct control--than his Southern counterpart had over his forces--the Federal army enjoyed a decided advantage in the countryside around Gettysburg. Bradley M. Gottfried provides insight into how the two armies employed their artillery, how the different kinds of weapons functioned in battle, and the strategies for using each of them. He shows how artillery affected the “ebb and flow” of battle for both armies and thus provides a unique way of understanding the strategies of the Federal and Union commanders.

 

Recommended Reading: Lost Triumph: Lee's Real Plan at Gettysburg--And Why It Failed. Description: A fascinating narrative-and a bold new thesis in the study of the Civil War-that suggests Robert E. Lee had a heretofore undiscovered strategy at Gettysburg that, if successful, could have crushed the Union forces and changed the outcome of the war. The Battle of Gettysburg is the pivotal moment when the Union forces repelled perhaps America's greatest commander-the brilliant Robert E. Lee, who had already thrashed a long line of Federal opponents-just as he was poised at the back door of Washington, D.C. It is the moment in which the fortunes of Lee, Lincoln, the Confederacy, and the Union hung precariously in the balance. Conventional wisdom has held to date, almost without exception, that on the third day of the battle, Lee made one profoundly wrong decision. But how do we reconcile Lee the high-risk warrior with Lee the general who launched "Pickett's Charge," employing only a fifth of his total forces, across an open field, up a hill, against the heart of the Union defenses? Most history books have reported that Lee just had one very bad day. But there is much more to the story, which Tom Carhart addresses for the first time.

With meticulous detail and startling clarity, Carhart revisits the historic battles Lee taught at West Point and believed were the essential lessons in the art of war-the victories of Napoleon at Austerlitz, Frederick the Great at Leuthen, and Hannibal at Cannae-and reveals what they can tell us about Lee's real strategy. What Carhart finds will thrill all students of history: Lee's plan for an electrifying rear assault by Jeb Stuart that, combined with the frontal assault, could have broken the Union forces in half. Only in the final hours of the battle was the attack reversed through the daring of an unproven young general-George Armstrong Custer. About the Author: Tom Carhart has been a lawyer and a historian for the Department of the Army in Washington, D.C. He is a graduate of West Point, a decorated Vietnam veteran, and has earned a Ph.D. in American and military history from Princeton University. He is the author of four books of military history and teaches at Mary Washington College near his home in the Washington, D.C. area.

 

Recommended Reading: Gettysburg, by Stephen W. Sears (640 pages) (November 3, 2004). Description: Sears delivers another masterpiece with this comprehensive study of America’s most studied Civil War battle. Beginning with Lee's meeting with Davis in May 1863, where he argued in favor of marching north, to take pressure off both Vicksburg and Confederate logistics. It ends with the battered Army of Northern Virginia re-crossing the Potomac just two months later and with Meade unwilling to drive his equally battered Army of the Potomac into a desperate pursuit. In between is the balanced, clear and detailed story of how tens-of-thousands of men became casualties, and how Confederate independence on that battlefield was put forever out of reach. The author is fair and balanced. Continued below...

He discusses the shortcomings of Dan Sickles, who advanced against orders on the second day; Oliver Howard, whose Corps broke and was routed on the first day; and Richard Ewell, who decided not to take Culp's Hill on the first night, when that might have been decisive. Sears also makes a strong argument that Lee was not fully in control of his army on the march or in the battle, a view conceived in his gripping narrative of Pickett's Charge, which makes many aspects of that nightmare much clearer than previous studies. A must have for the Civil War buff and anyone remotely interested in American history.

 

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.

 

Recommended Reading: Retreat from Gettysburg: Lee, Logistics, and the Pennsylvania Campaign (Civil War America) (Hardcover). Description: In a groundbreaking, comprehensive history of the Army of Northern Virginia's retreat from Gettysburg in July 1863, Kent Masterson Brown draws on previously unused materials to chronicle the massive effort of General Robert E. Lee and his command as they sought to expeditiously move people, equipment, and scavenged supplies through hostile territory and plan the army's next moves. More than fifty-seven miles of wagon and ambulance trains and tens of thousands of livestock accompanied the army back to Virginia. Continued below...

The movement of supplies and troops over the challenging terrain of mountain passes and in the adverse conditions of driving rain and muddy quagmires is described in depth, as are General George G. Meade's attempts to attack the trains along the South Mountain range and at Hagerstown and Williamsport, Maryland. Lee's deliberate pace, skillful use of terrain, and constant positioning of the army behind defenses so as to invite attack caused Union forces to delay their own movements at critical times. Brown concludes that even though the battle of Gettysburg was a defeat for the Army of Northern Virginia, Lee's successful retreat maintained the balance of power in the eastern theater and left his army with enough forage, stores, and fresh meat to ensure its continued existence as an effective force.

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