Monday, September 11, 2006

Battle Timeline: Gettysburg

Dates: July 1-3, 1863


Union: Major General George Meade commanding the Army of the Potomac.

Confederate: General Robert E. Lee commanding the Army of Northern Virginia.

Prelude: Following the Battle of Chancellorsville, General Lee wanted to press the advantage he now has and take the war into the North. He wanted to relieve Virginia farmers of the pressure that both armies were placing on them. He also wanted to take the Pennsylvania capital of Harrisburg and even threaten Philadelphia or Baltimore. This could make the anti-war elements in the North force the Lincoln Administration of reach a settlement that allows the CSA to achieve independence.

To aid in this plan, Lee reorganized his army into three corps. I Corps under Lieutenant General James Longstreet, II under Major General A.P. Hill, and III under Major General Richard Ewell. This plus a cavalry division under Major General J.E.B. Stuart.

June 3, 1863: Lee orders his troops to begin moving north towards the Shenandoah Valley. Federal observers see dust plumes but can not tell what is going on.

June 9, 1863: At Brandy Station, Stuart was conducting a review of his cavalry when Federal cavalry under Brigadier General Alfred Pleasonton launched an attack. This became the largest cavalry battle of the war. When it seemed that Stuart was going to lose, Pleasonton ordered a withdrawal.

June 13, 1863: Hooker finally figures out that the Confederates are doing and begins to head after Lee. All the while telegraphing Washington for reinforcements.

June 14, 1863: Confederate troops under Ewell capture the Federal garrison at Winchester.

June 15, 1863: Ewell’s forces cross the Potomac into Maryland.

June 25, 1863: Stuart takes most of his cavalry and departs from the main body. He will not see Lee until July 2.

June 30, 1863: Following a heated exchange of telegrams between Hooker, General-in-chief Henry Halleck, and even President Lincoln, Hooker tenders his resignation, which is rapidly accepted. Major General George Meade is made commander of the Army of the Potomac. Meade is automatically in a position where he has to shield Washington, stop Lee, and does not have a lot of time to do it. He plans a defensive line in north Maryland to draw Lee in. However the Confederates are already in Pennsylvania, with advance cavalry unite approaching Harrisburg and the rest of the army concentrating around Chambersburg. Meade decides to send up tows Gettysburg in order to get a better handle on the situation. Two brigades under Brigadier General John Buford are sent.

Stuart, now cut off from Lee, engages Federal Cavalry at Hannover, PA.

That afternoon, a spy under the pay of Longstreet came in with news that the Federal army was on their way. Lee decides to concentrate the army (effectively abandoning Harrisburg, where Ewell’s corps was headed) and make for the cross roads at Gettysburg. An advance party from Hill’s corps reached Gettysburg and exchange fire with what they thought was a Pennsylvania Emergency Militia unit. It was, actually, some of Buford’s troopers. Buford realized that Lee was turning his way and prepared a defense. He also sent a message to the closest infantry, I Corps under Major General John Reynolds, requesting assistance.

July 1, 1863: 5:00 a.m. General Hill sends forward the divisions of Major Generals Henry Heth and William Pender down the Chambersburg Pike east towards Gettysburg. It was believed that it was only militia in the town. Lieutenant Marcellus Jones was believed to have fired the first shot at the Confederates before leading his troop back to the defensive line.

Heth and Pender reformed their troops into battle formation and with artillery support continued to advance.

8:00 a.m. The Confederate advance hit the Federal line at McPherson’s Ridge and while they outnumbered the Union cavalry, the progress became slow. The Federals were using breech loading carbines, which kept up a good rate of fire. Even so, the Federals were forced to give ground. Hopefully they can hold out long enough for infantry to arrive.

10:00 a.m. Reynolds arrives with I Corps behind him. The addition of infantry strengthens up the defense and causes Hill to commit the rest of his corps. Meanwhile Ewell’s corps is approaching from the north. Reynolds leads I Corps in a counterattack and was killed by a sharpshooter. Major General Abner Doubleday assumes command in the field.

News of the battle reached Lee near Cashtown and he decided to investigate. Lee had ordered no general engagement until the whole army was together. He was also concerned about the whereabouts of Stuart. He was blind without his cavalry.

12:00 noon: The Union Army’s Iron Brigade turns back a Confederate thrust and captures Brigadier General James Archer in the process. XI Corps under Major General Oliver Howard arrives and Howard assumes command.

2:00 p.m. Meade receives word of the battle and sends Major General Winfield Hancock to Gettysburg to take command. He than orders all of his army to head for the town.

Confederate troops under Ewell arrived and engages the Federal right.

2:30 p.m. Lee arrives in the area and sees the situation for himself. He orders a general advance.

North of the town, a division under Union Major General Carl Schurz collapsed under Ewell’s onslaught. Federals began to retreat through the town.

3:30 p.m. Schurz’s line collapses.

4:00 p.m. A Confederate attack forces the rest of the Union to pull back toward Cemetery Ridge, south of the town.

Hancock arrives and assumes command. Orders all troops to reform at Cemetery Ridge.

4:30 p.m. Federal units reach Cemetery Hill and begin to dig entrenchments.

Lee orders Ewell to attack Cemetery Hill; he does not carry out the order.

6:00 p.m. III Corps under Major General Daniel Sickles arrives in the area as darkness falls.

July 2, 1863: As dawn arrives, the Union line begins to form like a fish hook. It stretches from Culp’s Hill, southeast of Gettysburg, west to Cemetery Hill, then south through Cemetery Ridge and ending at two hills called the Round Tops.

The Confederate line covers the Union one, with Ewell covering the town and the north, Hill covering the middle, and Longstreet covering the right.

Lee decides on a flanking attack on both ends. Longstreet wants to pull back and find a good defensive position. Lee refuses and orders Longstreet to attack the Federal left. Longstreet will take all day to do it.

On Cemetery Ridge, Sickles sees the Confederate movement and sends some sharpshooters and one regiment forward. He then orders his entire corps to move forward against orders. Meade is livid and orders him back. At that time Longstreet launches his attack.

4:00 p.m. Confederate troops under Major General John Hood launch their attack on the Union left flank, pushing them into a rocky area known as Devil’s Den.

Major General Gouverneur Warren, topographical engineer for the Army of the Potomac, arrives on Little Round Top, and seeing the hills bare, sends for the nearest troops, the approaching V Corps. Troops are quickly dispatched. Those troops arrive just in tome to hold off repeated attack by Texas and Alabama troops.

5:30 p.m. A wheat field becomes the scene of intense fighting. Sickles is injured during this time and loses a leg. III Corps pulls back to the Round Tops but holds off and further confederate attacks. The attack on the Union left is soon stopped.

8:00 p.m. Ewell sends in two divisions to take both Culp’s and Cemetery Hills. They capture parts of the line but do not take the entire line. Fighting stops for the night.

That evening, Stuart makes contact with Lee.

July 3, 1863: 5:30 a.m. Ewell launched an attack on Culp’s Hill and despite repeated attempts, does not break the line.

Lee decides to try something else. He orders Longstreet to take his only fresh division, that of Major General George Pickett, and with two others, those of Major Generals J. Johnston Pettigrew and Issac Trimble, and with other support, including artillery, attacks the Federal center. Despite Longstreet’s reluctance, troops begin to form up along Seminary Ridge.

1:00 p.m. A massive artillery bombardment is launched against the Federal center. Union artillery responds with counterbattery fire. At the height on the exchange, Federal troops remove damaged artillery. Confederate spotters see this as a withdrawal and seeing that their ammunition was getting low, decide to attack. The removal of the Federal artillery was done on the orders of Major General Henry Hunt, the Army of Potomac’s Chief of Artillery. It was a ruse to get the Confederates to attack. He soon replaced the line with fresh batteries.

3:00 p.m. The Confederate attack was formed into battle formation and at the signal of a single artillery volley, began the more than one mile march toward the Union line.

Almost immediately the formation came under heavy artillery fire. When they reached the Emmitsburg Road, they came under musket fire. When part of them reached a fence line called The Angle, they managed to briefly break the Federal line. However, reinforcements pushed them back. Seeing that the attack was failing, a withdrawal was ordered and the troops reformed at Seminary Ridge.

At the same time, a Confederate cavalry thrust towards the Federal rear was repulsed.

5:30 p.m. A Federal cavalry probe of the Confederate right flank was repulsed.

That evening, Lee orders a full pull back to start the next day.

July 14, 1863: After ten days, the Army of Northern Virginia crosses the Potomac back into Virginia, ending the Gettysburg campaign.

Causalities (Total):

Union: 23,000

Confederate: 28,000

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