On the warm morning of July 1 st, 1863, a small Union cavalry brigade encountered two brigades of advancing confederate troops. With breech loading carbines, the Union troops were capable of getting off eight shots per minute to the Confederate’s three. Despite smaller numbers, the Union’s technology held the Confederates at bay. Quickly both sides called for reinforcements, and the Battle picked up. The first day was fought fiercely at high cost to those present, but was nothing compared to what was to come. That first day, several thousand federals managed to make it up Cemetery Ridge, a strategic lookout over the field.
General Buford’s quick thinking made this decision important for the rest of the battle. By nightfall, the federals had a defensive line three and a half miles long, following strategic landmarks of the area, later to be a part of the Gettysburg Cemetery, which resembled a large fish hook. The Union had a distinct advantage in this battle because they seized the high ground before the Confederates. They were on the defensive, on their own turf. The Confederates had also assembled quite a formidable force, about 50, 000 strong commanded by General Lee and his Major Generals Ewell and Hill. The federals had 60, 000 on Cemetery Ridge, and another 20, 000 in transit led by George Meade.
His strategy was simple, break through any part of the fishhook defense. In the heavy fighting that ensued, the Federals lost their senior officer on the field, Major General John F. Reynolds, and were obliged to retire. Major General Winfield S. Hancock replaced Reynolds for the rest of the battle. Lees plan was as follows: early on July 2, Longstreets fresh troops would assault from the southern end of Seminary Ridge, with their axes of advance northeast to a point beyond the Emmitsburg Road where Lee conjectured, wrongly, that the Union left flank was posted.
... Lee that they have engaged the Union troops, who ... he is soon killed. Lee arrives in Gettysburg and finds the battle in full fury. Two other Confederate generals arrive and send word to ...
In formulating his offensive, Lee anticipated that the weight of the oblique onslaught would be sufficient to roll up the entire Federal line along Cemetery Ridge. As soon as Longstreets attack began, Ewell II Corps would demonstrate against Meade right flank, with permission to mount a full-scale assault if the chances for success looked promising. A. P.
Hill was to create a diversion in the center, mainly by cannonading. With luck, the Federals would not be able to tell where the main blow was falling until it was too late. The success of his army in the fighting on July 1 encouraged Lee to renew the battle on July 2. An early morning reconnaissance of the Federal left revealed that their line did not extend as far south as Little Round Top.
Lee directed Longstreet to take two divisions of I Corps and march south until they reached the flank of the Federal forces. They would attack from this point, supported by a division of A. P. Hill’s corps – a total force of nearly 20, 000 men.
While Longstreet carried out the main offensive, Ewell was ordered to conduct a demonstration against the Federal right. However, he was given discretion to mount a full-scale attack should the opportunity present itself. The Federal army was well prepared for Lee’s offensive. Six of its seven corps had arrived on the battlefield, and VI Corps was making a thirty-six-mile forced march to reach it. Meade had deployed his army in a fish-hook-shaped formation, with the right on Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill, the center along Cemetery Ridge, and the left on Little Round Top.
The left of the Federal line was held by Major General Daniel Sickles’s III Corps. Sickles was dissatisfied with his assigned position and in the early afternoon, without orders, he advanced his line nearly half a mile west in order to take advantage of the high open ground around a nearby peach orchard. Soon after Sickles took up this new position, Longstreet attacked. Third Corps was hard pressed and Meade sent V Corps and part of 11 Corps to reinforce Sickles in the Peach Orchard. But, after furious fighting, Longstreet’s forces broke through, causing Sickles’s entire line to collapse. The Confederates pursued to the base of Little Round Top, but Federal reinforcements, including elements of VI Corps, checked their advance..
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