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Battle of Gettysburg
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Battle of Gettysburg
Powell Hill was never one to back down from a threat, and when Hans Heth reported Union soldiers in Gettysburg, Hill gave Heth permission to attack the following morning, July 1, 1863. Initially moving with William Pegram's artillery battalion in the lead (mostly because they were first to form up), as the Confederates ran into resistance from Brigadier General John Buford's cavalry. Heth's men divided roughly along the Chambersburg Pike with Joseph Davis' Brigade to the north and James Archer's Brigade to the south of the road.
Before reaching Gettysburg the Chambersburg Pike (or Cashtown Road) crossed four ridges, the first of which were defended by small groups of Union cavalry pickets (or vedettes). On the second, Herr Ridge, were pickets from two Union brigades under William Gamble (south of Cashtown Road) and Thomas Devin (north of Cashtown Road), whose main bodies were defending McPherson ridge. These pickets began to fall back fighting shortly after 9:00 am with the Confederate advance. Both Davis and Archer were slowed first by the pickets and then Willoughby Run. Archer, in fact, came to a dead stop in front of Willoughby Run not so much because of the size of the creek but because of the lack of support behind him.
As Devin and Gamble's pickets made it to the relative safety of their larger force on McPherson Ridge, Buford and Major General John Reynolds were behind them planning their next move. Reynolds, put in charge of a hastily constructed "Left Wing" of the Army of the Potomac by George Meade the day before, had ridden up to Gettysburg ahead of his I Corps to survey the military situation.
Robert E. Lee, commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, was on the move as well, heading to Cashtown (about 7 miles west of Gettysburg) to meet Powell Hill. Hill, receiving early reports from the battlefield, postponed his trip. George Meade was prepared to move quickly because of the Rebel threat, but remained at his headquarters in Taneytown, Maryland to direct units towards Gettysburg and in case the Rebel attack was merely a feint. Lee knew a Confederate division under Jubal Early was already east of Gettysburg.
Early action at Herbst Woods
In order to relieve Buford's embattled cavalry, including Devin and Gamble's brigades, the lead division of the I Corps under BG James Wadsworth began arriving about 10:15 am. BG Lysander Cutler's forward units took a position stretching from the southern end of McPherson Ridge to Wills Woods at the northern end of Seminary Ridge. Behind Cutler the men of the all-Western Iron Brigade were also moving up.
James Archer, whose Rebels stopped west of Willoughby Run while waiting for support, pushed forward again after a conversation with the somewhat aggravated Hans Heth. Archer's northern regiment was slowed by a quarry, but the 14th Tennessee completed their crossing of Willoughby Run and begin working their way up the 50-foot rise to Herbst Woods just as Solomon Meridith ordered his Iron Brigade to advance as a line with bayonets in the area of the Lutheran Seminary. The conversion from a marching column to a battleline slowed each unit, delaying them long enough for Archer's Volunteers to form on the west side of Herbst Woods. John Reynolds, east of Herbst Woods, ordered the lead unit of the Iron Brigade the 2nd Wisconsin forward into the woods. Almost immediately the Badgers came under fire from Archer's Rebels, who had finished setting up and were laying in wait for the Yankees. As the woods broke out in heated battle, John Reynolds turned to get support for these men. At 10:45 he was struck and killed instantly by a Minié ball.
With enfilading fire from Cutler's 14th Brooklyn (as they preferred to be known) on the right flank of the 2nd Wisconsin and the arrival of the 7th Wisconsin, the battle easily tipped in favor of the Yankees. Archer had been right about the lack of support to his rear, and with no additional troops moving forward, his men had little to do but try to survive the increasing pace of the Union counterattack. As the Rebels retreated down the hill and back over Willoughby Run James Archer himself was taken prisoner.
Change in Union Command
As news of Reynolds death spread through the troops automatic changes began to happen. First, Abner Doubleday assumed command of the I Corps. Next, Oliver Otis Howard, in Gettysburg but not at the front, assumed overall command of the "Left Wing" of the Union Army.
North McPherson Ridge
North of the Chambersburg Pike was an almost completely different story. Rebels under Joe Davis drove the Yankees off McPherson Ridge and into Wills Woods, east of the ridge. About this time Lysander Cutler (Davis's opponent)
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Battle of Gettysburg was last changed on - May 17, 2009
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