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War between the States
The Battle of Gettysburg - Lee's Echelon Attack


The Battle of Gettysburg: Day 2

The Union lines were positioned on high ground in the form of a fishhook, allowing quick repositioning of troops from one place to another. The Confederate forces were posted along Seminary Ridge, in Gettysburg, and north of Culp’s Hill, forming a large semicircle.

At Union headquarters, General Meade was planning for an attack from Culp’s Hill, but the plan was abandoned when Slocum reported the hill was excellent for defense but not for offense. So Meade concentrated on figuring out Lee’s next move. Along Cemetery Ridge, Sickles wasn’t content with the position of his Third Corps. Without permission from Meade, Sickles moved his 10,000 man Third Corps out from Cemetery Ridge at 3 P.M.. In parade formation, the Third Corps marched out to Emmitsburg Road and dangerously close to the enemy. Sickles had created a bulge in the Union line, and left Little Round Top undefended. Watching the Sickles expose the Union left, Hancock said “Wait a moment, you’ll see them tumbling back.” Meade rode out to Sickles and told him the formation could be attacked from three sides. The dissappointed Meade said to Sickles “General, I am afraid you are too far out.” Gen. George Gordon Meade, Commander of the Army of the Potomac

Lee’s plans for the second day were to attack Culp’s Hill with Ewell’ corps, and with Longstreet’s corps, attack Cemetery Ridge “en echelon” up the Emmitsburg road. Lee presumed an attacking line in the form of an oblique angle would cause the Union lines to fall back, beginning from the Union left to right. Although Lee intended for the attack to begin in the morning, it was 11 A.M. before he sent orders out to begin movement. General Longstreet procrastinated because he was hesitant to attack the Union lines, and preferred the defensive role. It took several hours for Hood and McLaws troops to march southward along Seminary Ridge and massed artillery at Emmitsburg Road. Close by, they found Sickles positioned along Emmitsburg Road, the Peach Orchard, and a mass of boulders known as Devil’s Den. With the artillery, Longstreet began a massive bombardment of the Union lines. Around 4 P.M., Longstreet sent Hood’s division forward leading the echelon attack.

The Sedgwick’s Sixth Corps, the largest corps of the army, arrived after a marching all night for 35 miles. Meade replaced the Fifth Corps with Sedgwick’s and sent the Fifth Corps to support Sickles who was under fire from Longstreet.

At last the tardy Stuart and his cavalry arrived at Gettysburg after like Sedgwick, an all night march. Stuart presented to Lee the 125 wagons he had captured at the cost of leaving the army blind. Lee was disappointed, but forgave Stuart.

A portion of the Confederates fought in Devil’s Den, while the others charged Little Round Top. Moments earlier, Little Round Top was undefended. General Warren saw the Confederates could easily capture the hill and place cannons on it to destroy the entire Union line. Immediately he sent Colonel Vincent’s brigade from the Fifth Corps to hold Little Round Top. On the extreme left of the Union line was, the 20th Maine, commanded by Colonel Chamberlain. Chamberlain had orders to “hold the ground at all costs.” The rebels began assaulting Little Round Top.

Little Round Top & Big Round Top

Colonel Chamberlain

After the ammunition was nearly out, Chamberlain ordered the left of the 20th of Maine to fix bayonets and charge into the Confederate right. General Warren sent another detachment of the Fifth Corps, 140th New York, to support Little Round Top. Outnumbered, Oates withdrew his Confederate forces. If the rebels had taken control of Little Round Top, they could have place cannon on it, and destroyed the Union army.

Around 5:30 P.M. Longstreet sent McLaw’s division against Sickles’s corps in the Peach Orchard. The Union forces retreated to the Wheatfield and Plum Run. The attack ended when the men of McLaw’s division were too tired to fight. During the retreat, Sickles was hit in the leg by a shell fragment. When a rumor that he was dead was going around, Sickles put a cigar in his mouth and puffed on it to show his men that he was still alive. Meade gave to Hancock, Sickles’s command of the Third Corps.

Critical Thinking

Did Sickles’s move from the Union line give Longstreet an advantage, or did it earn the Union army a precious hour by surprising Hoods and McLaws, giving time for the Sixth Corps to arrive?

Longstreet’s part in the Lee’s echelon attack ended, next up was A.P. Hill with Anderson’s and Pender’s division. Anderson’s men charged forward and reached Cemetery Ridge. Hancock ordered 1st Minnesota to counterattack. They charged forward and fell back, suffering 82 percent casualties, but giving Hancock ten minutes to reinforce Cemetery Ridge. Pender’s division never attacked. Lee ordered Pender to support, not to attack. Pender was wounded by a shell, and his second in command, General Lane, decided not to charge.

Finally, it was Ewell’s turn to attack. He sent Johnson’s division into Culp’s Hill. Johnson only gained ground at the base of Culp’s Hill. Next, Ewell sent Early’s division into the low ground between Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill and they broke through the Union lines. But when reinforcements didn’t arrive, and the Union forces counterattacked, Early retreated.

Thus ended Lee’s echelon attack. Each side lost about 10,000 men, and Lee had broken the Union line two times, but each time they failed because of a lack of reinforcements. Lee believed the Union line, after two attacks, was very weak. So, he decided to attack once more. The offensive was to be preceded by a massive bombardment which would soften up the Union defenses, then Pickett’s division would charge the center of the Union lines.

That night, Meade held a meeting. The corps commanders voted to hold their lines instead of attacking. Meade predicted that since Lee had attacked the left and right flanks, he would attack the center of the Union line the next day. Lee probably believed the Union center was weak from providing reinforcements to the left and right.


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