Tuesday, July 9, 2013

July 2, 1863

July 2, 1863

---Siege of Vicksburg, Day 41

---Siege of Port Hudson, Day 36

Battle of Gettysburg

Day 2:  The day opens with most of the remainder of the Army of the Potomac gathered (except for the VI Corps), and the Army of Northern Virginia is gathered with the exception of Picketts’ division from Longstreet’s Corps, which was still toiling up from the rear with the Confederate wagon trains.  Lee and his generals consider their options.  Cemetery Hill is heavily fortified now, so an attack on that position is out of the question. 

Lee decides on a two-part assault on Meade’s flanks.  Ewell, using Johnson’s division---his only fresh troops---would conduct a diversionary and probing attack on the Union right, on Culp’s Hill.  Longstreet, with his only two divisions (McLaws and Hood) and with Anderson’s division from Hill, will mount an attack on the extreme Union left, with the attempt to take Little Round Top, a hill that dominates the battlefield. 

Meade, on the other hand, places Slocum’s XII Corps to cover Culp’s Hill (really, two hills) and Hancock’s II Corps in the center and Sickles’ III Corps to cover the extreme left flank.  Sykes’ V Corps has just come up, and Meade plans to put them to Sickles’ left.  The VI Corps is to remain in reserve.  Sickles is not satisfied with his position, however, and---against orders---marches his corps out the Emmitsburg Road to a high piece of ground where a peach orchard stands, and arranges his two divisions in an advanced position at an exposed angle from the rest of the Union line.  Significantly, his arrangement leaves Little Round Top uncovered. 
Sickles' unauthorized move leaves the Federals with an exposed salient in the line.
Longstreet has to march his two divisions on a circuitous route, finding that because of Sickles’ shifted line, his original point of attack would leave his advance exposed.  After counter-marching at about 1:00 PM, he finally has McLaws lined up, and Hood on his right, on the far left of the Union position---although instead of attacking up the Emmitsburg, perpendicular to the road, as Lee wished, both divisions were lined up parallel to the road.  At 4:00 PM, Hood’s division goes forward, almost skirting the flank of Sickles’ men.  However, parts of Robertson’s and G.T. Anderson’s brigades smash into the Yankees of Ward’s brigade in a tangle of boulders called Devil’s Den.  

Laws, Hood’s advance has been discovered by Brig. Gen. Gouverneur Warren and a signal team on Little Round Top, and they send a message to headquarters.  Gen. Hancock forwards recently-arrived elements of the V Corps to the hill, who arrive literally minutes before Hood’s troops sweep to the top.  These newly-arrived troops, specifically Strong’s brigade from Barnes’ division, and Weed’s brigade from Ayres’s division, put up a heroic defense of Little Round Top, against a series of attacks.  Of particular note is Strong’s brigade, as several assaults by portions of three regiments sweep up the vale between the Round Tops to flank the Federal position: they are beaten off by the heroic efforts of the 20th Maine, led by Col. J.L. Chamberlain.  Chamberlain leads his regiment, as a last resort, in a bayonet charge captures several hundred prisoners and breaks the back of the Rebel assault on the Union left.

Hood’s incessant attacks still almost take Little Round Top, after savage fighting in the rocky boulder formation called the Devils’ Den.  Both sides feed more troops into the fray.  Hood himself is badly wounded, and his battered brigades have lost nearly have of their strength.  By 5:30, McLaws launches his attack, smashing into Sickles’ angle at the Peach Orchard and the Wheat Field.  Brigade commanders Barksdale and Semmes are both killed, and the Confederate troops are badly mauled, but Sickles’ lines break from the pressure.  

Whole units are surrounded and captured.  Sickles suffers a leg severed by a cannon ball.  He insists on a tourniquet, and being carried off the field while sitting up and flourishing a huge cigar.  Hancock sends in more troops to stem the tide.  But Hancock keeps feeding troops from his own II Corps into the hole, as well as troops from the XII Corps and a few from VI Corps.

Richard Anderson’s division from Hill’s Corps moves forward, attacking the II Corps position north of the III Corps disaster.  At one point, eight companies of the 1st Minnesota Infantry, only 262 men, is sent by him to counterattack Wilcox’s Brigade (about 1,600 strong) advancing into a hole in the Union line.  The Minnesotans plunge into the Rebels, and the shock stops Wilcox in his tracks, resisting repeated attacks.  The 1st Minnesota suffers the highest percentage of casualties of any single regiment in a battle---83.1%.  Only 47 men returned.  Otherwise, A.P. Hill’s attack on the Union center (of which Wilcox’s advance is part) ends up causing ineffectual damage.  Gen. Pender is mortally wounded.
The counterattack of the 1st Minnesota on July 2

Even though Longstreet has smashed the III Corps, his men do not have enough strength to hit the new line that Hancock has cobbled together. 

Ewell’s planned attack on Culp’s Hill does not happen until later, almost at dusk.  Furious fighting ensues as Avery and Hays from Early’s division attack the east side of Cemetery Hill in a supporting role, and are beaten off.  Col. Avery is killed.  As Edward “Alleghany” Johnson’s division attacks, the heavy woods and gathering darkness cause confusion and miscues.  But the Federal position is in jeopardy: Meade has stripped the Union right to reinforce the center to the point that only one reinforced brigade, Green’s, is left to cover Culp’s Hill.  At one point, one of Johnson’s brigades captures a section of the Federal entrenchments and find them empty.  Apparently, troops had been reassigned without being replaced.  At no great distance behind Culp’s Hill lies parked the Union reserve artillery.  But the darkness and lack of reinforcements convinces Johnson not to overextend, as the Yankees rush back XII Corps to reinforce their position. 

Although the First Day of the battle has been a clear Confederate victory, the Second Day is clearly a draw, and a frustrating check to Confederate ambitions.  The Union line, shaped like a fishhook from Little Round Top to Culp’s Hill, remains a formidable object.  That night, Meade holds a council with his commanders, who vote to stay in their position.
Federal earthworks on Culp's Hill

---This evening, Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart and his long-lost cavalry arrive at Lee’s headquarters behind Seminary Ridge.  Longstreet and other officers are in favor of court-martial, but Lee takes no steps in that direction.  After delivering a private rebuke, Lee assigns Stuart to guard Ewell’s flank over northeast of Gettysburg.

---Sec. of War Gideon Welles finds Pres. Lincoln reading battle dispatches from Gen. Meade.  The President is reported to be spending all hours day and night in the War Department Telegraph Office.

---In Vicksburg, Mary Ann Loughborough writes in her memoir (My Cave Life in Vicksburg), of the conditions in the city at this late and desperate hour, including the problem with the town’s dogs being desperate for food, but instead becoming food, as she so daintily hints:

One morning, after breakfast, the shells began falling so thickly around us, that they seemed aimed at the particular spot on which our cave was located. Two or three fell immediately in the rear of it, exploding a few moments before reaching the ground, and the fragments went singing over the top of our habitation. I, at length, became so much alarmed—as the cave trembled excessively—for our safety, that I determined, rather than be buried alive, to stand out from under the earth; so, taking my child in my arms, and calling the servants, we ran to a refuge near the roots of a large fig tree, that branched out over the bank, and served as a protection from the fragments of shells. As we stood trembling there—for the shells were falling all around us—some of my gentlemen friends came up to reassure me, telling me that the tree would protect us, and that the range would probably be changed in a short time. While they spoke, a shell, that seemed to be of enormous size, fell, screaming and hissing, immediately before the mouth of our cave, within a few feet of the entrance. . . .

Even the very animals seemed to share the general fear of a sudden and frightful death. The dogs would be seen in the midst of the noise to gallop up the street, and then to return, as if fear had maddened them. On hearing the descent of a shell, they would dart aside—then, as it exploded, sit down and howl in the most pitiful manner. There were many walking the street, apparently without homes. George carried on a continual warfare with them, as they came about the fire where our meals were cooking.

In the midst of other miserable thoughts, it came into my mind one day, that these dogs through hunger might become as much to be dreaded as wolves. Groundless was this anxiety, for in the course of a week or two they had almost disappeared. . . .

Sitting in the cave, one evening, I heard the most heartrending screams and moans. I was told that a mother had taken a child into a cave about a hundred yards from us; and having laid it on its little bed, as the poor woman believed, in safety, she took her seat near the entrance of the cave. A mortar shell came rushing through the air, and fell with much force, entering the earth above the sleeping child—cutting through into the cave—oh! most horrible sight to the mother—crushing in the upper part of the little sleeping head, and taking away the young innocent life without a look or word of passing love to be treasured in the mother’s heart.

Already the men in the rifle pits were on half rations—flour or meal enough to furnish bread equivalent in quantity to two biscuits in two days: many of them ate it all at once, and the next day fasted, preferring, as they said, to have one good meal.  A certain number of mules are killed each day by the commissaries, and are issued to the men, all of whom prefer the fresh meat, though it be of mule, to the bacon and salt rations that they have eaten for so long a time without change. . . .

The Caves of Vicksburg

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