Battle of Gettysburg - Day Two
From America's Civil War Magazine (historynet.com)
On July 2, 1863, the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Confederate commander Robert E. Lee ordered Lieutenant General James Longstreet to attack and roll up the Federal left flank. At the same time, Lieutenant General A.P. Hill’s corps would threaten the Union center to prevent Major General George Gordon Meade from reinforcing the Union left and would then continue the attack when Major General Richard Anderson’s brigades, holding the corps’ right, made contact with Longstreet. On the Confederate left, Lee instructed Lieutenant General Richard S. Ewell to make diversionary attacks all along his front and then launch an all-out assault if practicable. If the plan succeeded, the Union army would topple helplessly from the positions it held atop the high ground south of Gettysburg, and the entire Civil War might be won in a day.
During the battle, however, Hill failed to live up to his reputation as a fighting division commander and did not deliver his assault with the power and coherence that Lee had expected. Normally combative, Hill was apparently suffering from diarrhea, stress fatigue or an attack of his recurring prostate affliction during the battle, spending a portion of July 1 restricted to a cot and later acknowledging that he had been unwell. Furthermore, Anderson’s command had previously served in Longstreet’s corps and had only recently been transferred to the newly promoted Hill in the army’s reorganization following the Battle of Chancellorsville. Hill remained unfamiliar with Anderson’s brigades, not yet feeling the same camaraderie with the commanders and men that he experienced with his other divisions. The reorganization would bear bitter fruit before the day was through.
Considering the circumstances, and the fact that the attack required Hill’s men to go forward swiftly and smoothly once Longstreet had committed his brigades, Lee probably should have placed Anderson under Longstreet’s operational control. The Southern commander, however, knew all too well how sensitive and temperamental the high-strung Hill could be. Not wishing to offend his new corps commander, Lee merely ordered Anderson "to cooperate…in Longstreet’s attack," a vague directive leading to confusion concerning whose command Anderson fought under that day.
Further complicating the situation, Hill and Longstreet distrusted each other, and friction lingered from a disagreement they had had after the Seven Days’ battles the previous summer. Hill had failed to renounce an article glorifying his action at Frayser’s Farm at the expense of other commanders, and that had prompted Longstreet’s anger. The two generals had planned to duel, but Lee interceded and transferred Hill to Maj. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson’s command. The grudge persisted at Gettysburg, and neither officer communicated about how Anderson should advance. Anderson had grown accustomed to Longstreet’s firm hand, detailed supervision and specific instructions. Instead, Hill gave loose directions and left the assault to his division commander’s discretion.
Anderson’s approach to Gettysburg on July 1 was a portent of mishaps to come. By 10 a.m., Anderson had marched his men, organized in five brigades under Brig. Gens. Cadmus Wilcox, Ambrose Wright, Carnot Posey, William Mahone and Colonel David Lang to within a mile of Cashtown, where they waited needlessly for an hour and a half before advancing into the town. Despite hearing the heavy boom of artillery fire at Gettysburg, eight miles to the east, Anderson halted for another hour to receive Hill’s orders. Then he continued along Chambersburg Pike, finally moving by 1 p.m. Upon reaching the battlefield around 4 or 5 p.m., he occupied a reserve position on the Rebel right. Some Southerners have argued–with good reason–that if Anderson had arrived earlier that day and charged forward, Cemetery Hill would have fallen to the Confederates. Colonel Abner Perrin, who commanded a brigade in Maj. Gen. William Dorsey Pender’s division, believed Anderson’s three-hour delay cost the Confederates the entire battle.
Early the next morning, July 2, Anderson’s five brigades advanced a mile and a half to take up position in the main Confederate line, to the right of Pender’s division. According to Anderson, a quarter of his men were clad in ragged, tattered clothes and marched without shoes. Posting from left to right the brigades of Mahone, Posey, Wright and Lang, Anderson anchored his right with Wilcox’s Alabamians, who protected the flank. By placing his right atop a knoll in the thick underbrush of Pitzer’s Woods and continuing his line toward Spangler’s Woods, Wilcox could guard against any Federal maneuver designed to gain the Confederate rear. While nearing their assigned position, Wilcox’s Alabamians encountered members of Colonel Hiram Berdan’s elite 1st U.S. Sharpshooters, who were on a reconnaissance in Pitzer’s Woods. The Confederates expelled the troublesome but outnumbered marksmen in a hot skirmish.
The division was fully posted by 9 a.m., and the men were already roasting in the broiling sun and severe humidity. Skirmishers inched forward all along Anderson’s mile-long line toward Federal positions looming in clear view 1,200 yards away. At noon, Anderson informed Wright that the entire division would soon attack the Northerners and instructed him to advance with Lang’s Floridians on his right and Posey’s Mississippians continuing the movement on his left.
Across no-man’s land, Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock’s Federal II Corps arrived on the battlefield early on July 2 and swung into position between the XI Corps atop Cemetery Hill on the right and Maj. Gen. Daniel Sickles’ III Corps on the left. Sickles felt insecure in his position atop Cemetery Ridge and advanced his two divisions to higher ground near Emmitsburg Road, stretching his defenses perilously thin in the process. By the afternoon of July 2, the Federal line ran from left to right, with Maj. Gen. David Birney’s and Brig. Gen. Andrew Humphreys’ divisions forming Sickles’ exposed salient, and continued with II Corps’ divisions under Brig. Gens. John Caldwell and John Gibbon.
Humphreys feared for his vulnerable position and ordered up more artillery to bolster his line. He deployed Lieutenant Francis Seeley’s cannons south of the Kringle house and Lieutenant John Turnbull’s six Napoleons to the north of the building. During an ensuing artillery duel with seven Confederate Napoleons and howitzers, Humphreys ranged along his battle line, ignoring the missiles striking around him.
The Peach Orchard at Gettysburg. Sickles' III Corps positions advanced to this position on July 2, 1863 Photo: Rob Shenk
By 4 p.m. Longstreet’s divisions had advanced, smashing Sickles’ line with tremendous force. The Federal left crumbled against the Rebel onslaught in the Wheatfield, and Caldwell’s division moved to stabilize that sector. A quarter-mile gap opened between Humphreys’ right and Gibbon’s left, and Gibbon tried to plug the hole as best he could. The 15th Massachusetts and 82nd New York of Brig. Gen. William Harrow’s brigade and Lieutenant T. Fred Brown’s 1st Rhode Island Battery rushed to protect Humphreys’ flank and line of retreat. Meanwhile, Sickles fell with a wounded leg, and Meade ordered Hancock to take command over the entire sector. Command of the III Corps fell upon Birney, and Gibbon took over the II Corps.
Anderson reported that he "was ordered…to put…my division into action by brigades as soon as those of General Longstreet’s corps had progressed so far in their assault as to be connected with my right flank." About the time Maj. Gen. Lafayette McLaws prepared to advance, Lee visited Wilcox’s line and directed the brigadier to attack the Union flank. Believing that the Federal flank rested 600 to 800 yards in front of McLaws’ left, Wilcox indicated the position to his commander and told Lee that the order would be carried out. By 5:30 McLaws had committed his four brigades and Wilcox was prepared to sweep forward.
In a command oversight, neither Lee, Hill nor Anderson thought to realign Wilcox after Longstreet’s deployment had secured the Confederate right flank. Advancing from their position, the Alabamians would have overlapped McLaws’ left. Wilcox had to march his regiments nearly 500 yards to the left over terrain crossed by stone and plank fences. His five Alabama regiments aimed to strike Humphreys’ division along Emmitsburg Road between the Kringle and Rogers houses. Edmund Patterson of the 9th Alabama recalled that victory seemed imminent, especially in light of Lee’s past triumphs. Patterson called it "the time to try our manhood, the long looked for hour when we should meet the enemy on his own soil….The spirits of the troops were never better, and as Gen’l. Wilcox rode along the line giving orders to charge, cheer after cheer filled the air almost drowning the sound of shells that were bursting above and around us." Praying to God that he might do his duty, Patterson felt that "the starry cross must triumph."
The 11th Massachusetts waited near the Rogers house, and one soldier passed the time by killing a snake he had found nearby. When bullets penetrated the house, a frightened kitten ran out and leapt onto an infantryman’s shoulder. Seeley and Turnbull poured murderous artillery fire into Wilcox’s advancing ranks, and one round exploded, cutting the brigadier’s bridle reins, frightening his charger and killing a courier. Wilcox pressed on and dismounted at a worm fence 250 yards west of the road. When he climbed atop to examine the Federal position, a shell struck the fence and exploded 10 feet beyond, shaking the general and sending his other courier tumbling from his horse. He was badly bruised but not seriously wounded.
Humphreys had earlier refused his left, four regiments under Colonel William Brewster, against the fury of McLaws’ charge and requested that Hancock reinforce him with a brigade to repel this new assault. Atop Cemetery Ridge, Meade, Hancock and Gibbon watched Sickles’ line buckle under the Rebel surge. Turning to Hancock, the Federal commander said: "Something must be done. Send a couple of regiments out in support of Humphreys." Without a word, Hancock glanced at Gibbon, who understood what he should do. He dispatched Colonel Arthur Devereaux’s 19th Massachusetts to Humphreys’ aid, instructing the colonel to take the 42nd New York, under Colonel James Mallon, with him. The men of both regiments had also watched Sickles’ destruction, and Captain John Adams of the 19th Massachusetts commented to Lieutenant Sherman Robinson, "Someone must go and help them, Jack." At that moment the call to attention came, and Robinson aptly predicted, "We are in for it."
An aide led the men at the double-quick a quarter mile south down the ridge and had the regiments face right behind Humphreys’ flank. Devereaux protested forming the men in such a dangerous position and wondered aloud what two regiments were likely to accomplish in the midst of the disintegrating Federal line, but the aide answered curtly and galloped into the smoke of battle.
Birney ordered Humphreys to withdraw and reform his surviving soldiers on Cemetery Ridge. Although he wished to make a stand along Emmitsburg Road, the division commander complied. While Humphreys was overseeing the pullout, his horse suffered its eighth wound that day, and the general was thrown from the saddle. An aide offered his horse, but Humphreys refused when he realized that one of its legs was injured. Then a wounded orderly offered his mount and staggered away, never to be seen again.
Humphreys’ artillery performed admirably in the hail of Rebel bullets, decimating the attacking line. Wilcox’s left regiment, the 9th Alabama, managed to push the 11th Massachusetts back from the Rogers house, and the graycoats enjoyed a brief respite behind the house. Meanwhile, three of Wilcox’s regimental commanders went down wounded, and the brigade, which had taken about 100 prisoners thus far, endured severe casualties.
Federal artillery continued shelling until the charging Confederates reached a small slope that offered cover. The infantrymen soon reappeared giving the Rebel yell, and the two Union batteries fired canister, withdrawing at the last possible moment as Turnbull fell wounded and a bullet struck Seeley in the chest. The 8th Alabama re-formed near the Trostle barn and fired a volley at Turnbull’s battery, which was about 100 yards ahead, before Humphreys personally ordered the battery to retreat. So many horses were down that the cannoneers had to abandon four pieces, while infantrymen helped drag the other guns away.
Earlier, on Wilcox’s left, Lang’s Floridians had commenced their advance under fire from Turnbull’s and Seeley’s batteries and headed for the Union position between the Rogers house and the Codori barn. Lang had enlisted in the Confederate service as a private, risen to the rank of colonel and now led the brigade in its commander’s absence. Advancing as ordered behind a strong skirmish line, Lang captured several cannons, although the Federals had managed to remove their horses and limbers. The Floridians reached a small rise near the base of Cemetery Ridge, and Lang allowed his men to pause for a few moments and catch their breath before thundering forward in a final assault.
Some of Humphreys’ regiments persevered, and the 11th New Jersey slowly and stubbornly withdrew, losing all its field officers and captains and suffering nearly 60 percent casualties for its valiant stance. As brave as they were, the Federals could not withstand the Rebel charge, and Union onlookers deemed Humphreys’ withdrawal a critical reverse.
In heavy smoke, the 42nd New York and 19th Massachusetts, numbering only 400 rifles combined, lay down and watched the Rebels draw within 50 yards and prepare to overlap both flanks. The two regimental commanders consulted and devised a plan to wait until all the Federals in their front retired, then fire a volley to slow the pursuing Rebels. Outflanked on either side by several hundred yards, both regiments fired, checking Wilcox’s men, and then withdrew.
Federal artillery rushed up to help stem the Confederate tide. Lieutenant Evan Thomas’ six Napoleons, supported by the 1st Minnesota, deployed on Gibbon’s left. South of the Codori farm, Lieutenant Gulian Weir’s battery also wheeled into position and opened up on Lang’s Floridians with shot, spherical case and canister. Exhausting his canister, Weir limbered and prepared to withdraw, but he saw a Federal regiment coming up on his left rear and hoped those troops could drive the enemy away.
The regiment was the 19th Maine. As it was marching up to support Weir’s exposed cannons, an unidentified battery ran though the regiment’s ranks. Infuriated, Hancock rode up to the battery commander and said that if he were the regiment’s commander he would have charged bayonets on the artillerymen. Then, as the Maine soldiers neared their position, Hancock sprang from his charger and grabbed the first man he saw, a stocky private named George Durgin. Taking him to the left, Hancock shouted, "Will you stay here?" The soldier confidently replied, "I’ll stay here, General, until hell freezes over!" Ordering the rest of the regiment to form on Durgin’s position, Hancock remounted and rode away. Nevertheless, the Confederate surge, to which Wright’s Georgia brigade now added its weight, could not be stopped. Compelled to retreat, Weir could only pull three of his cannons from the field.
Wright’s men had waited impatiently for the fight to reach their sector. The 2nd Georgia Battalion moved out on the skirmish line and was supposed to sidle left and take position on the flank as the brigade began its advance. When Wilcox and Lang went forward, Wright ordered his regiments to advance, crossing open fields under artillery fire and impeded by several post and rail fences mistakenly not removed prior to the attack. Without notice, some of the regiments formed a long battle line and lunged forward with such speed that they overtook the 2nd Georgia Battalion, and its men mingled with those of the other regiments. Wright did not seem to have any clear objective other than striking any Federals across the way, north of the Codori farm.
Earlier, when Caldwell had marched to the Wheatfield, a quarter-mile gap had opened on Humphreys’ right, and Gibbon partially plugged it by sending the 82nd New York and 15th Massachusetts, under Colonels James Huston and George Ward, to the Codori house. The New Yorkers deployed, resting their left by the house, and the Massachusetts men extended the line to the right while Lieutenant Brown’s 1st Rhode Island battery took position in their rear. Numbering 700 troops, the two regiments dismantled a nearby fence and piled rails in their front to form a small breastwork.
Landscape view of The Wheatfield on the Gettysburg Battlefield. Photo by Violet Clark (Legacyimages.net)
The Federals waited for half an hour before their skirmishers came tumbling back in front of the Georgian brigade. When Wright found the Federal infantry posted parallel to the Emmitsburg Road with cannons behind them, he struck their left flank.
The New Yorkers retired before the oncoming Rebel soldiers, exposing the 15th Massachusetts’ left. Both Colonel Huston and Colonel Ward went down mortally wounded, and a number of prisoners fell into Southern hands. Despite gallant resistance, the Union troops were forced to fall back and did not wait to fire the Codori buildings as they had been ordered to do in case of retreat.
Brown had deployed his six Napoleons so that only four of them could meet the Confederate charge, and some of his canister fire hit and wounded the retreating Union infantrymen. When the artillerymen were compelled to retreat, only four of Brown’s cannons were rushed back with them. One crew could not maneuver their piece over a stone wall running down Cemetery Ridge and therefore left it. Union Lieutenant Alonzo Cushing’s battery, stationed on the ridge, fired canister at Brown’s abandoned cannon to prevent it from being towed away or turned on the Federals.
Wright realized that Posey had not gone forward on the left and sent his aide to inform Anderson that the Georgians had advanced but Posey had not. Anderson replied that Posey had been ordered in and that the order would be repeated. Wright continued his attack, striking remnants of the Federal line at the stone wall that Brown’s men had found so troublesome. Forcing the Yankees back, the Southerners reached the top of the ridge and flew a Confederate battle flag atop the strategic crest in the Union center.
Wright said that the Confederates "were now complete masters of the field," but perhaps he overstated the assault’s success. Nevertheless, the Union line had been pierced. Humphreys’ men had withdrawn after their bloody ordeal, and the 82nd New York and 15th Massachusetts had fallen back against superior numbers. With the vital ridge exposed, victory seemed within the grasp of Lee’s army.
But the attack stalled on the left as Anderson failed to advance Posey’s and Mahone’s brigades. Anderson’s performance remained poor throughout the attack, and Wilcox later charged outright negligence on the division commander’s part, basing his allegations on the report of an aide sent to request reinforcements: "I sent my Adjutant General…[who] found Gen’l. A. back in the woods which were in the rear of Emmitsburg road several hundred yards in a ravine, his horse tied and all his staff lying on the ground [indifferent] as tho’ nothing was going on, horses all tied. I am quite certain that Gen’l. A never saw a foot of the ground on which his three brigades fought on July 2. Mahone and Posey’s brigades were not engaged…had they been pushed forward when I made my request I am certain that the enemy’s line would have been pierced."
Posey had engaged the enemy, but not in a full-scale brigade assault as planned. Instead, he spent most of the afternoon engaged in seesaw skirmish action around the Bliss farm. When Wright’s men passed the Mississippians on their left, they did not understand why Posey’s brigade was not moving forward. "Get up and fight!" yelled the Georgians. "Come forward, Mississippians!" Some of Posey’s men did advance, despite orders not to go past Bliss farm. The 19th Mississippi pushed forward, covering Wright’s flank, and came within 60 yards of Brown’s battery. The 19th was Posey’s only regiment that acted as a coherent unit. The men tried in vain to capture the Federal cannons three times, until Posey recalled them.
Earlier, Wilcox had asked Anderson to send in reinforcements, and Posey now requested that Mahone join the fight. Anderson dispatched an aide to order Mahone’s advance, but the brigadier refused, saying, "No, I have my orders from General Anderson himself to remain here." The brigade did not see much fighting at Gettysburg, incurring only a few casualties from skirmish action and artillery fire. Unsupported, Posey remained in position until dark, then was ordered to fall back to Seminary Ridge. With Posey’s strength frittered away and Anderson’s tolerance of Mahone’s inaction, the division’s attack disintegrated.
The Confederate assault had begun losing steam, and the Northerners prepared to turn the tables against the slowing gray tide. Hancock ordered Humphreys to re-form, although "the number of his troops collected was…very small, scarcely equal to an ordinary battalion, but with many colors, this small command being composed of the fragments of many shattered regiments." Nearby, the 1st Minnesota remained in support of Thomas’ battery.
Hancock watched Wilcox’s men thrusting toward the area and rode over to muster what resistance he could. Finding only seven companies of a regiment–a mere 262 men–Hancock exclaimed in shock: "My God! Are these all of the men we have here? What regiment is this?" "First Minnesota," replied regimental commander Colonel William Colvill, Jr. Pointing to Wilcox’s men in the distance, driving to puncture the Union line, Hancock shouted, "Advance, Colonel, and take those colors!" Hancock needed five minutes to bring up reinforcements, and Colvill’s soldiers would have to buy the time for him with their blood.
The rough-hewn Minnesotans advanced with fixed bayonets into the dried streambed of Plum Run, surprising the Rebels with a volley. Wilcox did not expect a coherent Federal advance, and the Northerners took cover behind rocks and peppered his line with well-placed fire. His men were exhausted from the charge and were mingled with some of McLaws’ troops. When another call for reinforcements went unheeded, Wilcox knew he had to withdraw soon. The Minnesotans blunted the Southern blow in this sector and bought not five but 15 minutes for Hancock. The cost was extreme, with Colvill wounded and only 47 men answering roll call that night.
Wilcox’s men reluctantly began their retreat. Nearby, Lang had stopped temporarily to re-form his men when he learned that Wilcox’s brigade was beginning to waver. Just then a volley of musketry ripped into the Floridians from the woods only 50 yards away, and a messenger arrived to inform Lang that Wilcox was retreating and that the brigade line was in danger of being flanked. Federal troops could be seen 100 yards past the right flank, and Lang ordered a retreat to Emmitsburg Road and eventually withdrew to the main Confederate line.
The Federals marshaled reinforcements in an effort to repulse Anderson’s weary brigades. Five companies of Colonel Francis Randall’s 13th Vermont had been near Cemetery Hill when Maj. Gen. Abner Doubleday galloped up from Hancock’s position farther down the line. Asking the regiment’s identity, Doubleday made a few inspirational remarks, explained the peril of the Union line to Randall and directed him to move in the direction from which he had just come. Randall rode ahead to find Hancock and ask him where he should deploy, and he spotted the general rallying his men to maintain their line. Hancock informed Randall that the Confederates had captured Weir’s battery and asked if the Vermonters could retake it. By that time the troops were up, and Randall formed them for the attack. As the men swept forward, a bullet struck Randall’s charger, and the colonel was pinned to the ground as the animal fell. Randall got free and rushed to his line, limping and hatless but waving his sword around his head and shouting for his men to follow him.
Randall’s men took a few prisoners, and Hancock, following in the Vermonters’ wake, told Randall to press onward and retake the battery and he would take care of the captives. The regiment thundered forward again, and as the first man to reach the guns, Randall placed one hand on a cannon and waved his sword with the other.
In the confusion of battle, another attempt was mounted to recapture Weir’s guns, as Colonel William Brewster led 150 men from five Excelsior (Sickles’) Brigade regiments, survivors of Humphreys’ shattered command. The New Yorkers struck the 8th Florida, which lost its major and 30 men, while Sergeant Thomas Hogan took its abandoned regimental colors from the ground.
To the New Yorkers’ right, the 19th Maine prepared to attack after allowing a group of retreating Federals to clear from their front. Colonel Francis Heath’s men stood and fired 10 rounds into the Confederate ranks, then advanced swiftly past Weir’s abandoned Napoleons.
Hours of combat had left a thick, heavy cloud of smoke hanging over the field, pierced by the frowning red glare of the sun setting behind the Confederate line. Booming artillery and crackling rifle fire, coupled with shouted commands, groans from wounded soldiers and the scared whinnying of horses, created the horrible sounds of war. As the Federal counterattack took shape, Meade rode into a gap in his line to the right of the Maine troops.
Under fire, the army commander saw advancing Rebel troops in front and anxiously looked toward Cemetery Hill for reinforcements. He straightened himself in his saddle, and it appeared to Meade’s aides that he planned to have the small party plug the gap to buy time. Suddenly someone cried out, "Here they come, General!" Major General John Newton rode at the head of two I Corps divisions, and, asking for orders, offered a flask to Meade. An exploding shell covered the generals with soil, but they continued their hurried conversation and Meade encouraged the reinforcements. "Come on, gentlemen," he urged. He placed them on Cemetery Ridge, but refrained from launching a full counterattack due to the late hour.
Timothy O'Sullivan's photo of dead horses of Bigelow's (9th Massachusetts) Battery near the Trostle Barn (Library of Congress)
Farther to the right, Brig. Gen. Alexander Webb’s Pennsylvania brigade mobilized to repulse Wright’s men, who were clinging to the crest of Cemetery Ridge. To Webb’s left, two regiments of Colonel Norman Hall’s brigade began blasting away at the beleaguered Southerners. Brown’s three remaining cannons unlimbered six feet behind a Union regiment and burned several Federals while blasting away at the melting gray line. The 106th Pennsylvania lunged forward and attacked Wright’s left with fixed bayonets, pushing on until they reached Emmitsburg Road. As Union troops converged on both flanks, Wright’s Georgians were forced to slash their way to safety.
Anderson’s attack had ended in repulse. Someone observed to Meade that things had gotten desperate during the assault, and the commander answered: "Yes, but it is all right now–it is all right now."
Despite great valor, the Confederate advance had failed. Lee had expected Hill to prevent Meade from reinforcing the Federal left, but Caldwell’s division and several other units had moved to support III Corps during its ordeal. This could have worked for the Confederates, however, allowing Hill to deliver the main breakthrough in the weakened Federal center, but the attack did not have enough depth or reserves to exploit any breakthrough. Further misfortune plagued the Southerners that evening as Maj. Gen. Dorsey Pender’s four superb brigades prepared to advance on Anderson’s left. Although Posey and Mahone had stalled, Pender prepared to move forward when few troops remained in his front to resist the assault. At that moment, a shell fragment ripped a mortal gash in the North Carolinian’s leg, and division command devolved upon Brig. Gen. James H. Lane, who did not advance, failing to realize the potential of such a move.
What was Hill doing during the battle? Had he supervised Anderson, investigated the failure of Pender’s men to move forward and supported the charge with well-planned artillery fire, the attack probably would have succeeded. While Meade, Hancock and Gibbon vigorously directed their men and funneled reinforcements to critical spots, Hill and Anderson seem to have observed more than acted. A reporter from the Richmond Enquirer complained that only three of Hill’s 13 brigades had attacked, and stressed that the Southerners "lost not because our army fought badly, but because a large portion did not fight at all."
Ultimate responsibility for the confused attack rests on Lee, who did not act as decisively at Gettysburg as he had while winning victories at Second Manassas and Chancellorsville. Lee observed Anderson’s entire attack and could see Wright’s banners reach the crest of Cemetery Ridge and then fall back. The commanding general seemed ill during the battle, suffering from a severe case of diarrhea or a recurrence of coronary problems. British observer Lt. Col. Arthur Fremantle noticed that during the entire attack Lee "only sent one message, and only received one report."
Lee’s army had undergone a major reorganization, altering the internal balance of a force that had accomplished much in the previous several months. The soldiers’ morale was still high, but many officers had been recently promoted to fill vacancies caused by many months of war. Inexperienced in their new commands, many did not perform up to expectations during their first battle. Hill and Ewell had never before held corps command, and unlike Stonewall Jackson, they needed Lee’s direct guidance and instruction. Lee uncharacteristically failed to perceive that the reorganization had disturbed the finely honed operation to which he had grown accustomed. In some respects Gettysburg became a replay of the army’s performance at the Seven Days’ battles a year earlier. Despite their valiant fighting spirit and great potential, the Confederates failed to deliver crippling blows because of command and staff problems among the upper-echelon officers.
After Anderson’s men returned to their original positions, the true cost of the assault became apparent. Lang had lost more than 300 of his 700 men, Wilcox’s casualties ran to 577 soldiers, and Wright had 688 killed, wounded or missing. Attacking with a combined strength of 4,100 men, the three brigades lost about 40 percent of their men, more than 1,565 troops. Wilcox and Wright each lost three of four regimental commanders, and casualties were high among field officers.
While the confusion of July 2 makes it difficult to accurately assess the Federal casualties, it seems likely that Anderson’s attack inflicted equally heavy losses on the blue regiments. The 19th Maine alone lost 199 of 440 soldiers, and the 15th Massachusetts lost 148 out of 239 soldiers engaged.
Lee had watched the entire attack and seen the bloody charge nearly succeed. He most likely considered that when he was deciding to send 15,000 Southerners over much of the same ground the next day, hoping that this time their banners would remain lodged atop Cemetery Ridge. Yet the golden opportunity had passed, and July 3 would bring nothing but heartache and disaster to Lee and his hard-pressed army.
Used with permission from historynet.com.
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