On 1 July, 1863, Confederate General Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia are in South Central Pennsylvania looking for an advantageous opportunity to close with and defeat the Union Army of the Potomac. Intent upon doing decisive damage to the Union army, threatening Washington DC, and thus forcing a negotiating peace with the United States Government, General Lee’s Army has slipped by the Army of the Potomac in Virginia and is once again marching on Union soil…this time in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
On the morning of 1 July General Lee’s scouts and other intelligence sources lead him to believe that the Army of the Potomac is 18 miles away from his army, still in Maryland, and he conveys this view to Lieutenant General Ambrose P. Hill, Lee’s Third Corps commander. Therefore, when Major General Henry Heth requests that he move his entire division of Hill’s Corps into Gettysburg, General Hill offers no objection. The Confederates believed that the only Union forces in Gettysburg are some observers and inexperienced Pennsylvania militia. General Lee does not realize that by late afternoon, 30 June, Union Brigadier General John Buford has two cavalry brigades in Gettysburg; totaling nearly 3,000 troopers augmented by Lieutenant John Calef’s Battery A, Second Brigade of US Horse Artillery. The battle develops according to the following selected scenarios.
Buford Holds the Line until the Black Hats Arrive
Around 10:00 am on 1 July, Confederate Brigadier General James J. Archer’s entire brigade is northwest of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on McPherson’s Ridge in line of battle south of the Chambersburg Pike hotly contesting Union Colonel William Gamble’s First Brigade troopers of Brigadier General John Buford’s First Cavalry Division. Concurrently, General Archer’s counterpart, Brigadier General Joseph R. Davis, is pressing Colonel Thomas Devin‘s Second Cavalry Brigade troopers of Buford’s First Cavalry Division on the North side of the Chambersburg Pike. The Confederate intent is to quickly push aside General Buford’s cavalry and advance into the town of Gettysburg, which holds the promise of much needed supplies, not to mention the importance of occupying the town for its strategic road network.
Born near Havre de Grace, Maryland, General James J. Archer nicknamed The Little Gamecock, commands a mixed brigade of 1,000 to 2,000 Tennessee and Alabama men in Major General Henry Heth’s Division. Having encountered General Buford’s Cavalry troopers, Archer’s brigade is deployed off of the pike, out of its road march formation and into line of battle to suppress heavy skirmishing initiated by Colonel Gamble who is determined to delay General Heth’s progress towards Gettysburg until Union infantry support arrives. General Archer, although a frail and sickly man normally ill before every battle he enters, is nonetheless considered a brave and tough commander known to be game whenever a conflict looms. Having already engaged Archer’s numerically superior brigade for more than two hours, Colonel Gamble’s First Cavalry Brigade is compelled to move back several hundred yards to a more secure position which it will hold until the Second Wisconsin Black Hats of the Iron Brigade arrive to relieve it. Colonel Gamble’s troopers will then reluctantly hand off their fight to the Black Hats. A forty-five year old native of Ireland and General Buford’s key lieutenant at Gettysburg, Colonel William Gamble is a former enlisted US dragoon who survived a serious wound during the Peninsula Campaign. Gettysburg will prove to be the highlight of his military career.
While Colonel Gamble and Colonel Devin hold up General Heth’s advance, the Union First Brigade, First Division of the First Corps known as the Iron Brigade of the West, the Black Hats, part of the vanguard of the Army of the Potomac, is south of Gettysburg on a line of march north towards the town on the Emmitsburg Road. Major General John Reynolds, commanding the advance left wing of the Army which consists of nearly half of the entire Federal force, personally orders the Black Hats to double time for over a mile off of the Emmitsburg Road northwest across the fields to Seminary Ridge west of town where he positions them to relieve Colonel Gamble’s troopers on McPherson’s Ridge and thwart General Archer’s advance while more elements of the Army arrive.
The five acre Herbst Woods is the key to McPherson’s Ridge. General Archer’s brigade already occupies a portion of the woods. The Second Wisconsin Black Hats, among the first units to arrive but with only 300 men left out of over 1,000 after two years of campaigning, are ordered into line formation and then immediately ordered to advance to McPherson’s Ridge. The Badger State troops push forward without pause to load their rifles and without stopping to hold their position until the rest of the Black Hat regiments arrive to reinforce them. Contrary to military practice, and thereby directly exposing himself to enemy fire, General Reynolds personally encourages the Second Wisconsin onward with “forward men! Forward for God’s sake and drive those fellows out of those woods!” Immediately upon entering the Herbst Woods and before firing a single shot, about 100 of the Badgers are cut down by a volley from Archer’s Confederates. Behind the Second Wisconsin’s line at approximately the same time, General Reynolds is shot in the neck and falls dead from his horse.
True to their iron constitution, the Second Wisconsin Black Hats do not waiver from the Confederate volley but instead advance directly into the of muzzle line of Archer’s brigade, driving them backwards as the Badgers fall on the left and right within their shorter regimental line. Just as Archer’s longer line begins to envelop the Second Wisconsin and direct fire into its flanks, three more Black Hat regiments arrive and in turn, fire upon the now exposed flank of Archer’s brigade, pushing it back through the wood lot. While sustaining few casualties of their own, the Black Hat regiments capture hundreds of Confederates, including General Archer who is on foot when captured near a stone quarry located on the left flank of his line. General Archer is taken into custody by Private Patrick Maloney of the Second Wisconsin who, acting like a madman, causes General Archer to request protection from bodily harm at Maloney’s hands. Later In the afternoon of 1 July, Maloney is killed in action. Private Maloney is awarded the Medal of Honor as one of only 63 men out of over 95,000 present for duty who are awarded the decoration for their exploits at Gettysburg.
At the expense of losing more than 200 men including their color bearer, their eight color guards, and both their colonel and lieutenant colonel, The Second Wisconsin Regiment Black Hats becomes the first Federal unit to capture a Confederate general grade officer and General Archer becomes the first Confederate general officer captured since General Lee assumes command of the Army of Northern Virginia on 1 June, 1862. The Iron Brigade of the West, the only brigade composed of regiments from the then Western states (Second, Sixth, and Seventh Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiments, the 19th Indiana Regiment and later the 24th Michigan Regiment) suffers 61% casualties at Gettysburg. It sustains the highest percentage of casualties of any brigade in the war and has been called the best brigade sized unit in either army during the war. The troops were known for wearing the distinctive black 1858 model Hardee hat as issued to the US regular soldiers. The Iron Brigade of the West soon loses its Western status because the heavy losses at Gettysburg require that a Pennsylvania regiment be added to bring it up to desired strength.
After the fall of General Reynolds, the Confederates bring up fresh units which greatly outnumber the Union infantry and force them to fall back through town. Colonel Gamble’s cavalry brigade is the last Union unit known to withdraw on 1 July. During the day’s fighting Colonel Gamble lost 100 men and Colonel Devin lost 23. However, Colonel Gamble, Colonel Devin and their troopers of General Buford’s First Cavalry Division have bought the time necessary for the Union infantry to arrive and hold back the gray tide long enough for Major General Oliver O. Howard to occupy the defensive high ground on Cemetery Ridge south of the town.
East Cemetery Hill – The Push Is On
2 July finds the Union infantry positioned in a defensive line in the form of an inverted fishhook on Cemetery Ridge south of Gettysburg. The Confederate Third Corps of Lieutenant General Ambrose P. Hill and Second Corps of Lieutenant General Richard S. Ewell are arrayed in an arc around Gettysburg from the west to the northeast. Confederate Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s First Corps is southwest of town west of the Emmitsburg Road. Major General George G. Meade, just appointed to command of the Army of the Potomac several days ago by President Lincoln, is now on the scene. Most of the Union forces at the right end of their defensive line on Culp’s Hill are redeployed to bolster the fishhook line while their left flank is assaulted by General Longstreet. General Lee’s orders to General Ewell are to make a simultaneous demonstration on the Union right in support of General Longstreet’s assault on the Union left but to not initiate a full-blown attack unless, at General Ewell’s discretion, the opportunity presents itself to develop it into a full attack. General Ewell acts accordingly.
Confederate scouts report the Union troop movements away from Culp’s Hill and General Ewell seizes the opportunity to strike at the weakened Union right which is held by the remaining 1,424 men in five understrength regiments of Brigadier General George Sears Greene’s Third Brigade, Second Division of the Twelfth Corps. Culp’s Hill is strategically important because it protects the Baltimore Pike supply route behind the Union line and more importantly, it blocks access to the entire Union rear on Cemetery Ridge. Nearly 5,000 infantrymen in three brigades of Confederate Major General Edward Johnson’s division will make the overwhelming assault against General Greene’s brigade of New Yorkers. In no other engagement during the entire course of the battle of Gettysburg will such an exceptional disparity in numbers manifest itself.
At 4 pm, upon hearing guns signifying the opening of General Longstreet’s long overdue attack, General Ewell initiates his demonstration against Culp’s Hill with 20 year old Major Joseph W. Latimer’s four battery artillery barrage from Benner’s Hill which is northeast of Culp’s Hill. The push is on. Following the artillery fire, General Johnson’s division advances against General Greene’s imposing half mile long but thinly manned breastworks. Seeing his skirmishers racing back to the safety of his fortifications, General Greene sends an urgent request for reinforcements to the Eleventh and the First Corps. As the Confederate line appears out from its cover in the near darkness, Federal rifle muzzles flash like bolts of lightning to greet it. The ranks of gray are badly shaken and draw back to regroup. At about 8:00 pm Brigadier General George H. Steuart’s determined Virginians and Marylanders attempt to overrun the New York Brigade’s extreme right flank. The Confederates are unable to push through Greene’s thin but defiant defenses. 755 requested First and Eleventh Corps reinforcements arrive to assist the determined New Yorkers. Fighting rages all along the line as the tenacious Federal regiments manage to hold on. Riding up and down his line with conspicuous disregard for his personal safety, 62 year old General Greene, a civil engineer originally from Rhode Island, encourages his men while wisely rotating them onto and off of the firing line. Only by his unruffled leadership and the tireless, courageous efforts of his resolute men are the Confederates held back. About 10:00 pm, after four separate but unsuccessful assaults, further Confederate attacks against Culp’s Hill cease.
If General Johnson’s division had succeeded in overwhelming General Greene’s small brigade, the Union rear would be exposed and their fishhook defensive line subject to encirclement. The actions of General Greene’s New Yorkers on the night of 2 July rank among the best fighting of any brigade during the Civil War. Although General Greene is generous in his commendations for his troops and for other officers, he remains the true champion of Culp’s Hill. However, General George S. Greene’s due credit will not come easily. In December of 1863 Major General Henry W. Slocum wages a lively campaign to revise the official records to reflect General Greene’s true accomplishments. General Slocum drafts a letter to General Meade attributing the enemy defeat on Culp’s Hill entirely to General Greene’s exceptional leadership and the valor of his steadfast brigade of New Yorkers. General Meade concurs but does not succeed in changing the record. At a dedication ceremony in 1888, General Longstreet states that there was no better officer in either army. To General Greene that perhaps is the ultimate tribute of all.
Around 7:30 pm, as dusk falls, General Ewell further presses the Union right with another demonstration in conjunction with General Johnson’s attack. Major General Jubal A. Early’s division will strike East Cemetery Hill from the east with two brigades consisting of approximately 1,200 men in the five regiments of Brigadier General Harry T. Hays’ Louisiana Tigers and 900 men in the three North Carolina Tar Heel regiments of Hoke’s Brigade commanded by Colonel Isaac E. Avery. In addition, Major General Robert E. Rodes receives orders to position his division for a supporting attack from the west side of the hill.
Two Union brigades in Brigadier General Francis C. Barlow’s (Ames’) First Division of General Howard’s Eleventh Corps take the brunt of General Early’s attack. Colonel Andrew L. Harris’ brigade of 650 men is positioned on the north end of East Cemetery Hill behind a low stone wall wrapping around the hill’s base into Brickyard Lane and Colonel Leopold Von Gilsa’s brigade of 500 men is scattered along Brickyard Lane and onto the hill. General Hays’ Louisiana Tigers exploit a gap near the left end of the Union line and with a rebel yell bravely spring over the low stone wall. The Tigers rush forward in the blinding smoke and darkness, seize four stands of colors and capture numerous prisoners. Within minutes the Union Eleventh Corps brigades collapse. They are already played out from fighting General Early’s men the day before. The Confederates dash for the artillery positions at the summit of the hill and engage Captain Michael Wiedrich’s and Captain Bruce Ricketts’ New York and Pennsylvania cannoneers, along with troops on the line who rally in defense of the artillery. The Eighth Louisiana successfully plants its colors in front of Captain Wiedrich’s battery. Most of the Confederates remain at the base of the hill fighting with the four Union regiments which are desperately holding on to their positions in the darkness. Before long the Sixth North Carolina and Ninth Louisiana succeed in planting their colors on the crest of East Cemetery Hill and the Union guns are overrun. All becomes quiet. General Hays immediately reforms his line on the crest and anxiously holds the high ground for 15 or 20 minutes while waiting for General Rodes to initiate his supporting attack from the west as planned.
More Union Eleventh Corps and Second Corps reinforcements arrive to assist in repulsing General Hays. The Confederates occupying the crest hesitate to fire on the approaching Federals because Hays is cautioned to expect friendlies on all sides of him. He cannot identify the troops on his front in the darkness. After receiving three volleys from the advancing Federals, Hays’ men return fire. General Hays realizes that he will soon be enveloped and that no support will arrive from General Rodes. Quickly outflanked and outnumbered, Hays reluctantly yields his hard earned ground and returns to the Confederate lines with his men. By approximately 9:30 pm it is all over. The Union infantry still holds East Cemetery Hill. Colonel Isaak Avery, shot in the neck and fallen from his mount, is one among the many casualties that evening. Alone on the battlefield as his life slips away, he is barely able to scribble on a scrap of paper with all of the remaining effort that he can muster: Major, tell my father I died with my face to the enemy.
General Rodes’ division is not ready to attack until after General Early’s assault is driven off. It takes Rodes more time than expected to move his division out of town and around into position near Long Lane. Brigadier General Stephen D. Ramseur, leading off the advance in the darkness, moves 200 yards and judiciously halts upon encountering two Union infantry lines behind stone walls and breastworks. Perhaps he senses by the diminishing sounds of battle and the waning flashes of fire from the desperate small arms and cannon muzzles that General Early’s assault on the hill is repulsed and the momentum for success has passed.
Let us not lose sight of the realities associated with the night assaults on Culp’s Hill and East Cemetery Hill. The remarkable courage demonstrated by all Confederates participating in the night assaults on these two hills should not be overlooked. Anyone who has participated in a night attack understands the extreme difficulty in maintaining command and control at all levels and knows the feeling of sheer terror involved in such maneuvers. Operations under the cover of darkness are even worse when the assaults are made uphill against a fortified enemy. It is not unusual for friendlies to fire upon each other under such circumstances and one may well not know if the person near him is friend or foe. As the record reflects, General Ewell himself is elevated to command of the Second Corps as the consequence of friendly fire in the darkness and confused exhaustion at Chancellorsville, Virginia, which brought down Lieutenant General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson and resulted in General Ewell’s appointment to fill the vacancy created by General Jackson’s demise.
Later the evening of 2 July, General Meade holds a meeting with his corps commanders in widow Lydia Leister’s House, which serves as his headquarters behind the Union center. After they consider all aspects of the day’s battle, an unprecedented vote is taken which favors holding the line and fighting it out for another day.
Cushing’s Brave Stand – Segment of Pickett’s Charge
On 3 July General Lee is now determined to strike the Union center and delegates the task to General Longstreet. The divisions of Major General George Pickett, Brigadier General J. Johnston Pettigrew and Major General Isaac Trimble will participate with Pickett’s fresh division leading. The infantry advance is preceded around 1 pm by an artillery exchange consisting of hundreds of cannon. The largest artillery barrage ever witnessed on the continent lasts almost two hours. “The air was filled with projectiles there being scarcely an instant but that several were seen bursting at once.” Around 2 pm, although sensing that the assault cannot succeed, General Longstreet reluctantly gives General Pickett an approving nod to proceed. A mile long front of approximately 12,500 men in nine infantry brigades then steps off to cross the three-quarter mile stretch of open field while under Union artillery and rifle fire. A strong line of skirmishers, followed by two lines of battle, advance towards 6,000 Federals waiting for them behind a low stone wall at the crest of a sloping hill.
Eye witness account of Union Lieutenant Frank Haskell, staff officer in Gibbon’s Division: “Our skirmishers open a spattering of fire along the front, and, fighting, retire, upon the main line, Then the thunder of our guns, First Arnold’s then Cushing’s, and Woodruff’s and the rest, shake and reverberate again through the air…as the range grows shorter and shorter, they change to shrapnel, and canister, without wavering or halt, the hardy lines of the enemy continue to move on.”
As the gray tide rolls towards the stone wall, Union Brigadier General Alexander S. Webb of the Philadelphia Brigade, Second Division, Second Corps, gives 22 year old Lieutenant Alonzo H Cushing, commanding approximately 110 men of Battery A, Fourth US Artillery, permission to manhandle his six artillery pieces up to The Angle in the stone wall where he can more effectively support the infantry line. This places Cushing’s pieces in danger of capture and their crews at risk of imminent death as they now become targets of choice. Soon all but two of Cushing’s pieces are silenced and all of his officers are killed. When only one cannon is left in Cushing’s battery, he personally pitches in to crew it while holding his exposed intestines in his hands and bleeding profusely. First Sergeant Frederick Fuger urges Cushing to go to the rear but Cushing refuses to leave his command, saying he will “fight it out or die in the attempt”. As he directs his men to keep up the fire on the advancing Confederates, the brave Cushing is struck in the mouth and falls dead beside his piece.
Per the testimony of First Sergeant Fuger: “when the enemy advanced and got within four hundred and five hundred rods of the battery we commenced firing single charges of canister and about that time Lieutenant Cushing was wounded in the shoulder, when they got near within three hundred yards we used double charges, and about that time Lieutenant Cushing was wounded in the testicles. When they got within two hundred yards, Cushing was shot through the mouth, instantly killed. When the enemy came to the stone wall they were not formed to a solid line, they came up in groups of fifty or a hundred…of all those rebels that came over the stone wall not one got back. They were all killed, or wounded or taken prisoners…it was all over in a few minutes…On the Union side, they were all men belonging to the Seventy-second Regiment with part of their clothing burned, which was caused by discharge of muskets at close range.”
Letter of Union Private Anthony McDermott: “We poured our fire upon him (the enemy) until Armistead received his mortal wound; he swerved from the way in which he winced, as though he was struck in the stomach, after wincing or bending like a person with cramp, he pressed his left hand on his stomach, his sword and hat (a slouch) fell to the ground. He then made two or three staggering steps, reached out his hands trying to grasp at the muzzle of what was then the first piece of Cushing’s battery, and fell.”
Further testimony of First Sergeant Fuger: “I saw him come over but did not know who he was then but found out afterwards…I saw him fall near the point in advance of where Cushing fell…I fired at Armistead with my pistol; if he was hit by it I do not know, I was about ten feet from where Armistead fell when I shot at him. I was about six or seven feet from where Cushing fell, and Armistead fell between Cushing and the wall…I didn’t see anything in the hand of Gen. Armistead when he came over the wall. I think he was hatless when he came over…before he came over he put his hand on gun No. 3 and jumped over.”
The infantry assault lasted less than an hour. With no support to exploit the breach of the stone wall, no senior officers remaining to call a withdrawal and more Union reinforcements arriving, the Confederates began to slip away.
Both First Sergeant Fuger and Brigadier General Webb received the Medal of Honor for their actions at Gettysburg. Shortly after his demise, Lieutenant Cushing was promoted to Brevet Lieutenant Colonel but was ineligible to receive the Medal of Honor because at that time it was not awarded posthumously. The Medal of Honor was established in 1861 to honor members of the armed forces who distinguished themselves “conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity” while fighting enemy forces. Since the 1980’s a campaign is at work in Lieutenant Cushing’s home state of Wisconsin to nominate him for a belated award of the Medal of Honor. In 2010, after a prolonged investigation, the US Army approved the nomination but the United States Congress also must approve it. In 2013, a provision was included in a defense spending bill and Congress approved it. The Secretary of Defense then nominated Lieutenant Cushing for the award which the President approved. On 6 November, 2014, after 151 years, First Lieutenant Alonzo H. Cushing was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
On Site Report of the 153rd Reenactment:
As in the past two years, the 153rd reenactment was held again at 965 Pumping Station Road, Gettysburg PA 17325, on field acreage of the Yingling farm. I am told that the location will be the same next year. As usual, registration went smoothly thanks to Andrea DiMartino, the Gettysburg Anniversary Committee (GAC) Media and Public Relations Coordinator. This year’s site plan was essentially the same as last year’s. I suppose the GAC feels that there is no reason to mess with something that works well. Standing farthest away behind the bleacher seating and working forward towards it, first was the Sutler’s Row which was located between Living History activities tent 1 on the right and activities tent 2 on the left. The food vendors came next and were located beyond Sutler’s Row. In front of the food vendors were the two paid bleacher seating sections. The reenactment battlefield was of course located in front of the bleacher sections. Maintaining the same orientation to the site plan, off to the left of activity tent 2 were the artillery and infantry encampments. Off to the right of activities tent 1 was the living history encampment and in front of the living history encampment was a corral and the cavalry encampment.
The first battle scenario for the week end was Buford Holds the Line until the Black Hats Arrive. See historic detail above. The scenario started at 5:30 pm on Friday, 1 July, and lasted about a half hour. I went in with the Union dismounted cavalry and stayed with them while the Confederate infantry pushed them back from their split rail fence defensive line to their fallback line at which point the Black Hats arrived to slow down the Confederate advance. Conspicuous on the field was a unit of West Virginia volunteer cavalry. West Virginia had just recently seceded from the commonwealth of Virginia and was admitted into the Union as its own state after it met President Lincoln’s condition that it gradually eliminates slavery. This scenario included artillery as well as mounted cavalry support. In all of the scenarios this year the Union artillery was placed parallel to the bleacher seating instead of at a right angle to it. This was the only scenario for Friday since reenactors generally arrive all day long and into the evening on the first day. There probably would not be enough participants settled in to do a reenactment earlier in the day. However, at 1:30 pm there was an artillery crew demonstration drill followed by a live mortar fire competition. The live mortar fire competition was repeated on Saturday and Sunday.
At 12:00 noon on Saturday, 2 July, the first scenario for the day was Clash at Fairfield, a cavalry action. On 3 July, 1863, Confederate General Robert E. Lee sent a dispatch to rear guard Fourth Cavalry Brigade commander Brigadier General William Edmonson “Grumble” Jones to send a force to the vicinity of Fairfield, Pennsylvania, form a defensive line there and hold. Along the way Jones’ troopers encountered elements of Union Brigadier General Wesley Merritt’s reserve cavalry brigade of General Buford’s First Cavalry Division. Grumble Jones’ troopers quickly overwhelmed and captured a sizeable number of the smaller force of Federal troopers and chased the remainder of them into nearby Fairfield Gap. Jones could not catch up with the Union troopers so his troopers camped near Fairfield to keep the way open for General Lee’s line of march back to Virginia should such action be required. General Merritt had missed an opportunity to defeat Jones’ troopers and thereby block General Lee’s subsequent march through the Fairfield Gap, which would have thwarted the Army of Northern Virginia’s return to Virginia and would have shortened the war.
East Cemetery Hill-the Push is On was held at 5:00 pm, the second and last scenario of the day. Again, the historic detail is included earlier in this report. Essentially, this was a contest for ownership of the right flank of the Union line. Both of today’s scenarios were eventful for the cavalry reenactors. First, prior to the noon scenario, a Confederate horse, Reno, went lame and was removed from the field by its rider, trooper Elizabeth Barren (Marriottsville, MD) of the First Maryland Cavalry. Next, in the 5:00 pm scenario, during the saber clash in front of the bleacher seating, a trooper’s saber broke in half and fell sticking upright into the ground like a spear head. Reenactor saber play is always done in slow motion for the sake of safety. However, even with that, this occurrence is a reminder of just one of the many unpredictable incidents that could happen. All of the cavalry action for this scenario was directly in front of the bleacher seating and behind the artillery caissons which were deployed unusually close to the bleacher seating. This formed a narrow corridor for the cavalry action to take place within and on several occasions the artillery crews manning their caissons were a bit concerned about being trampled upon by the horses galloping and stomping about during the cavalry melees. All, however, turned out to be without incident. After the cavalry action while the Confederate horsemen were reforming, one of the horses unexpectedly reared up and bolted out of formation. Just another reminder of how unpredictable reenactments can be. It was found that the horse was trickling a mixture of saliva and blood from its mouth which was the apparent cause of its agitation.
Sunday’s first scenario, at 11:00 am, Custer Attacks Stuart, reprised an East Cavalry Field engagement in which Confederate Major General JEB Stuart’s troopers were fought to a draw by Union Brigadier General David M. Gregg with Brigadier General George Armstrong Custer and his Michigan Wolverines contributing significantly under Gregg’s command. This action thwarted General Stuart’s plans to get behind the Union right flank in support of Major General George E. Pickett’s infantry assault on the Union center. I started out in the cavalry encampment and stayed with the troopers until it was time for them to mount up, get into formation and ride out. While in the cavalry encampment I encountered Major General Jubal Early (Mike Sipes of Hanover PA) wearing his characteristic riding duster. After ransoming York PA, General Early will take his division as far east as the Susquehanna River with the intention of crossing it at Wrightsville PA and threatening the state capitol of Harrisburg and the Philadelphia area. Brigadier General Lewis Armistead was there Conferring with General Early (Dennis Cole of Charlestown WV). General Armistead and his brigade will be called upon later in the day and play a significant role in Pickett’s charge.
The last scenario and peak event of the week end was Cushing’s Brave Stand –Segment of Pickett’s Charge at 2:30 pm. Historic detail to be found above. I began my rounds at the Confederate artillery positions as they organize and make ready to lay down a base of fire on the Union line in advance of General Pickett’s infantry assault. Next I visited the Confederate encampment where the infantry was forming up and performing their weapons checks. Generals J. Johnston Pettigrew (Tony Virando from south of Baltimore MD) and Lewis Armistead (Dennis Cole) were present as the order of battle for the impending assault was reviewed with the troops. The infantry then marched out to a concealed staging area behind their artillery line. Earlier in the day in the Confederate staff’s camp, I asked General Pettigrew if he had any thoughts about comments heard around camp that General Longstreet did not think that General Lee’s order to assault the Union center would succeed… in light of the fact that General Pettigrew would be participating in the assault with his infantry positioned on General Pickett’s left. The general’s reply was: It was an order passed down from General Lee. We learn to follow orders. It is my duty to obey. And so he did. My next stop was the Union encampment where the troops were also organizing into battle formation and performing their weapons checks. I am impressed with how much attention and ritualization is given to weapons safety in all quarters and in all service branches throughout the reenactment site although later I was a little wary of a couple younger inexperienced reenactors on the line next to me who did not yet seem very sure of themselves with their rifles.
I march onto the field with the Union infantry and I am surprised when we are guided into position at a fence line…in front of the artillery tubes! This is unusual for me since at every other reenactment that I attended that I can think of; the artillerymen are very sensitive about having anyone in front of the muzzle of their piece. I can tell by the conversation among us that I was not the only one surprised by our deployment. However, during the real battle, that’s exactly how it happened. Hopefully, apparently, this has all been discussed and approved by the organizing committee. When we reach the fence line we are ordered to “lay flat on the ground and cover your ears”. Once the cannonade commences, it does not take long for the idlers to realize that this is the best thing to do. Each cannon report is not only very loud, but it also physically shakes us and the ground all around us. The air burst pyrotechnics over our heads add to the realism. A fellow lying next to me points out that during the real battle the powder charges in the cannon were about three times larger than the ones that we are experiencing. That bit of trivia made me remember reading about the Union line at Gettysburg during the real battle. Some soldiers sitting too close to the cannon barrels had their heads blown off by the concussion of the muzzle blasts. An unsettling feeling passes over me and I am pleased when the artillerymen spike their tubes with their rammers indicating that their fire mission is completed. However, that means that phase two will soon start: the Confederate infantry assault. The first thing I hear next is a loud rousing rebel yell in the distance in front of us, but I cannot see any of their infantry. Then, suddenly, they appear in a long single line from behind their artillery and quickly pass through and in front of their artillery pieces. The game is on! It will be only minutes before they are on top of us. Hopefully, they can be stopped but they just keep coming. I sense that the situation is dire when artillery Lieutenant Alonzo Cushing (Captain Gist currently of the Carlisle PA area, native of Alabama) has his remaining men manhandle two artillery pieces up to the infantry line. Both sides are laying the fire on thick now. The situation is tenuous around Cushing’s two artillery pieces. Now Cushing is down! All of a sudden the Confederates make a rush for Cushing’s artillery. General Armistead (Dennis Cole) is over the fence and at one of Cushing’s pieces! It will be turned on us if he is not stopped. Within minutes Armistead is down and the assault on the Union line begins to dissolve. With no reinforcements to be seen and no leadership left to provide direction, the Confederates slowly begin to return to their defensive line. What an exhilarating experience this is for me. This is truly the high water mark of my week end and will long be remembered.
Returning to other reflections and observations, I found that as usual some vehicles were parked too close to reenactment activities but I suppose that is difficult to control. I suspect that reenactors don’t like to be parked too far from their campsites. Ice was distributed on the field prior to the reenactments via ATVs and I heard no complaints about a lack of quantity being provided. The number of port-o-johns seemed similar to last year and adequate. Again, I personally heard no complaints about long lines, etc. Firewood and water also was in good supply. The GAC does a good job with such logistics.
The living history community was out in force and provided an array of spectator activities throughout the site and in the two activities tents. Three groups provided period musical interludes: the 46th Pennsylvania Brass Band; the BSA Venture Crew 1861 Fife and Drum and The Second South Carolina String Band. Living history programs included, among others, Medical Advantages Produced by the Civil War; Ghostly Tales of Historic Gettysburg; Stories of the Spies of the Civil War; General and Mrs. Robert E. Lee Discuss Being a Soldier’s wife; Civil War Wedding; Reenactor’s Camp Dance and a Sunday Period Worship Service which, I might add, drew a capacity crowd.
I cannot remember a reenactment where the weather was as pleasant and without rain. The Friday, 1 July, high was 84 but not uncomfortable. It was 79 on Saturday and the Sunday high was 81. Nightly lows ranged from 58 to 62. My point of contact for event statistics, Randy Phiel, the GAC Director of Operations, says that there were approximately 12,000 spectators attending over the three days. I counted about 750 reenactors and living history participants on the official website and counted 23 sutler’s tents at the reenactment site. Randy says that the final reenactor count was about 1,000. That included 20 full artillery crews with field pieces. Stabling and provender was required for 60 horses this year. Some organizers thought that having this year’s event fall on the July 1, 2 and 3 dates of the actual battle would be a draw for the reenactors. Although the reenactor count was up considerably from last year, I am not sure it was because of this year’s dates or because last year’s event was postponed from July to August thus requiring a last minute reshuffling of previously laid plans which was not possible to do for some participants. The usual food service vendors were present and offered a variety of cold soft drinks and bottled water. Sandwiches included pit beef, hot dogs, and pulled BBQ pork. Since Gettysburg is located in South Central Pennsylvania, giant pretzels and funnel cakes were of course included in the bill of fare.
Randy says that the 2017 Gettysburg 154th reenactment will again be on 1, 2, and 3 July as this year, but 3 July will fall on Monday next year. These dates were selected to allow for Gettysburg Bike Week. According to Randy, the reenactors attending the 154th will be given free registration for the following year’s 155th event. That’s a good reason to attend in 2017. See you next time in the camps or on the field.
http://ironbrigader.com ; http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com ; http://thomaslegion.com ; https://en.wikipedia.org ; https://padresteve.com ; www.npr.org; www.nps.gov ; www.army.mil; www.civilwar.org ; www.gettysburgreenactment.com; www.history.com ; Gettysburg by the Editors of Stackpole Books; Last Chance for Victory by Scott Bowden and Bill Ward
-By Jim Boitz
If you liked this article and would like to see more, subscribe to our print and/or digital editions. We have the only online library of the best researched reenactor information dating back to 2005. Click here to subscribe