“Buford Holds The Line” – First Day Struggle
Friday, July 1, 5:30PM
Early in the morning on July 1st Confederate General Henry Heth moved toward Gettysburg from Cashtown on the Chambersburg Pike in search of supplies. Heth’s entire division was mustered for the march when one of his brigade’s had returned and reported a sizeable force of Union cavalry near Gettysburg. After exchanging a few shots with a Union cavalry picket post near Marsh Creek, Heath believed he may be facing some local militia and a small Union force as he approached Herrs Ridge, Willoughby Run, McPherson’s Ridge and Seminary Ridge. This belief was short-lived. Heath discovered the Rebels were facing General Buford’s dismounted cavalry who had been sent forward to McPherson’s Ridge and to Willoughby Run in order to stall the Confederate advance. Colonel William Gamble’s brigade of Buford’s division, supported by Lt. John H. Calef’s U.S. Battery with their breech loading carbines, did a fine job of delaying the Confederate approach. The Rebels were stalled – but only for a short period. The intense fighting of the First Day was just beginning.
Two brigades, commanded by General Archer & Davis, pressed slowly ahead crossing Willoughby Run. On Seminary Ridge from the cupola of Schmucker Hall, General Buford was watching his men being pushed back from Willoughby Run when General John Reynolds, riding ahead of his First Corps coming up in support, asked Buford to hold out until his troops arrived. “The Devil’s to Pay”, exclaimed Buford. Then he simply replied, “I reckon I can.” At the end of the first day’s battle, locations west of Gettysburg such as Herrs Ridge, McPherson’s Woods, Willoughby Run, The Railroad Cut, Iverson’s Pits, Oak Hill, Schmucker Hall and Seminary Ridge would be etched into American history. The Union forces were eventually driven back through the town, but the First Day delaying action that held the line gave Union reinforcements enough time to arrive and secure the strategic advantage on Cemetery Ridge. Experience this exhilarating “Buford Holds The Line” action as the battle begins on Friday, July 1, 5:30PM at the 153rd Gettysburg Anniversary Civil War Battle Reenactment
The Clash At Fairfield (Cavalry Battle)
Saturday, July 2nd, 12:00PM
Fairfield had already been the site of combat on June 21, 1863 when the 14TH VA. Cavalry had used Monterey Pass to conduct a raid near Fairfield. During the march north into Pennsylvania General Lee had retained several brigades to guard the mountain passes as he advanced through the Shenandoah and Cumberland Valleys and to scout Federal positions. One of these veteran cavalry brigades was led by Brigadier General William Edmonson “Grumble” Jones. General Jones more than earned his nickname — he was generally crabby, short-tempered and prone to complaining. On July 3rd Jones’ brigade reached Cashtown, only five miles from the Confederate line along Seminary Ridge, and halted for breakfast. Later that morning, as plans for Pickett’s Charge were made, a note arrived from Confederate commander General Robert E. Lee requesting that a cavalry force be sent at once to the vicinity of Fairfield, to form a line to the right of and rear of the Confederate line of battle.
As the Confederate artillerists scrambled to get ready for the cannonade that preceded the grand infantry assault known as Pickett’s Charge, Jones’ men continued their march toward Fairfield. Along the way, the troopers encountered shaken teamsters from Stuart’s supply train, who reported the presence of Union cavalry in the area.
That morning, Union Brig. Gen. Wesley Merritt, commander of the reserve brigade of Buford’s 1st Cavalry Division, had heard reports of the presence of a slow moving and unguarded Confederate wagon train near Fairfield. If Merritt’s men could capture the wagon train and hold the town of Fairfield, they could block Confederate access to Fairfield Gap, the shortest escape route for Lee’s army toward Hagerstown, Md.
The troopers anticipated the fun of ransacking an unguarded Confederate supply trains. After the Federals had initial success against the 7TH Virginia Cavalry, a rude surprise awaited them on the Cashtown/Orrtanna Road in the form of an entire brigade of Confederate cavalry coming at them. Union resistance quickly collapsed as the overwhelmed Federal troops were captured in masses. The Yankees suffered 50% casualties. Jones troops pursued the retreating Federals three miles to Fairfield Gap; but was unable to catch his quarry. The Yankees re-grouped in Emmitsburg. Jones then camped near Fairfield and kept the road open for Lee’s retreat. Jones troops then provided a rear guard as The Army of Northern Virginia fled across the Potomac. The Federals had squandered a prime opportunity that day. Had Meritt dispatched a more significant force Lee’s path of retreat would have been blocked and the war may not have gone on for two more years.
To compliment your 153rd living history experience, don’t miss this significant Fairfield cavalry battle, Clash At Fairfield, 12PM on Saturday, July 2nd at the 153rd Gettysburg Anniversary Civil War Battle Reenactment.
“Thundering Hell” – East Cemetery Hill
Saturday July 2nd, 5:00PM
On July 1st, the outnumbered Federal forces that retreated from the fields west and north of town arrived on Cemetery Hill, the position chosen by Union Eleventh Corps General Oliver O. Howard as the rallying point for the Union army. General George Meade sent Major General Winfield S. Hancock to take command of the Federal forces in Gettysburg until Meade could arrive. General Hancock ordered that the Federal line be extended right to Culp’s Hill and left to Cemetery Ridge.
After pursuing the Federal forces through the town of Gettysburg on the afternoon of July 1, Ewell was ordered by Lee to “press those people and secure the hill.” Due to the fact that Rodes and Early’s divisions were exhausted from fighting earlier in the day, and Johnson was not expected to arrive until nightfall, Ewell delayed in attacking Cemetery and Culp’s Hill. This would prove to be a strategic blunder.
Ewell’s demonstration against East Cemetery Hill on July 2 began at 4:00 p.m. at the sound of Longstreet’s guns on Seminary Ridge. The four batteries on Benners Hill, 1400 yards from East Cemetery Hill, were commanded by 20-year-old Major Joseph W. Latimer. The Confederates well directed fire provided deadly results to Federal forces on East Cemetery Hill for approximately three hours. But the overpowering firepower from Union positions on Cemetery and Culp’s Hill soon shattered many of Latimer’s batteries and forced the remnants to retire out of range.
Dusk was approaching on July 2 when the Confederates under General Johnson attacked the thin Union line. Although Union reinforcements were sent back to reinforce Greene by Wadsworth, Howard and Hancock, the Confederates under Stuart finally drove the defenders out from many of their trenches after fierce hand to hand combat. At approximately 9:30PM on the second day the fighting ceased due to darkness.
At 4:30 a.m. on July 3rd, five Union batteries opened up a deadly fire on Johnson’s position that had been bolstered by Rhodes and Early. Because of inferior positions and dense woods Johnson’s artillery could not effectively counter fire. The artillery fire ceased in approximately half an hour and the Confederates renewed their assault toward reinforced and fortified Union positions on this critical third day. Johnson’s troops attacked three times and each attack failed. For seven long hours the battle continued with tremendous carnage as Confederate forces attempted to sweep up the densely wooded hill. By counterattacking two Federal brigades finally pushed Stuart’s men out of their captured fortifications. At 11:00 a.m. the Confederates gave up the field after suffering terrible losses. Johnson lost thirty percent of his division while the Federal losses on Culp’s Hill were only eight percent due to superior defensive numbers and fortifications. It is a fateful irony that Wesley Culp of the 2nd Virginia fell at a place overlooking the home where he was born.
The artillery and infantry action at Gettysburg on Culp’s and East Cemetery Hill was a critical and deadly encounter that raged on for two days. Experience the thunder, smoke and fire of the artillery, on Saturday at 5:00PM, at the 153rd Gettysburg Anniversary Civil War Reenactment.
Custer Attacks Stuart (Cavalry Battle)
Sunday July 3, 11:00AM
Although there were many other significant cavalry actions on the bloody fields of Gettysburg, a large cavalry action three miles east of Gettysburg on July 3 is one of the most recognized. Today it is known as East Cavalry Field located just north of the Hanover Road. At approximately 2:30 p.m. Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart and Union General David M. Gregg, for a span of three hours, engaged in a series of charges and counter charges that resulted in one of the most ferocious cavalry battles in the annals of American history.
General Stuart and three brigades of cavalry reached the Gettysburg area on the afternoon of July 2 from Carlisle. On July 3 Lee sent Stuart with four brigades to guard the Confederate left and to be in position for the attack on Cemetery Ridge –Pickett’s Charge. While attempting to skirt the Union right flank Stuart meet two brigades of Union cavalry commanded by Brig. General Gregg three miles east of Gettysburg on the Rummel Farm.
The battle opened up with dismounted skirmishing and ended with violent charges and counter charges with intense frontal impact. After several hours of indecisive and intermediate range shooting, Stuart decided that he needed to sweep aside the Federal horsemen if he was to be any help to Lee during the simultaneous Confederate frontal assault on Cemetery Ridge. Confederate cavalry led by Hampton, Fitzhugh Lee and Chambliss charged again and again only to be repulsed by Union cavalry led by Custer, McIntosh and Miller. The southern horsemen were accustomed to Union cavalry normally withdrawing in the face of their mounted charges. That did not happen at Gettysburg. Stuart tried one last time to break through by sending in the bulk of Wade Hampton’s brigade. The cry of Come on you Wolverines was heard over and over as Custer and Col. Charles H. Town led the 1st Michigan Cavalry into the fray. These well coordinated attacks, flank attacks and strategic execution repeated by the Federal cavalry during this engagement finally convinced Stuart’s brigades to withdraw to Cress Ridge while Gregg’s cavalry remained in possession of the field.
With the conclusion of this engagement one of the largest cavalry battles of the war was considered a draw. Stuart had been thwarted and any attempt to obtain Confederate cavalry assistance from the rear of Cemetery Ridge had been cut off by this valiant action.
On Sunday morning, July 3rd, thrill to the sight and sounds of this exciting cavalry battle featuring mounted, dismounted and cavalry as well as thundering artillery. The battle of East Cavalry Field will be immediately followed by the always popular Grand Cavalry Review. Viewing these magnificent horses with troops engaged in this epic battle is an experience at the 153rd Gettysburg Anniversary Civil War Battle Reenactment you will never forget!
Cushing’s Brave Stand (Segment Of Pickett’s Charge)
Sunday July 3, 2:30 PM
“Pickett’s Charge.” Just the mention of those two words brings forth a flood of visual and sensory perceptions. Steaming humidity, ripe rye fields, lush green pastures, thundering cannon, suffocating smoke and row upon row of Confederate soldiers advancing across open fields into the face of a Federal inferno on Cemetery Ridge.
At precisely 1:07 p.m. – a field piece from the Washington Artillery, posted near the Peach Orchard, opened up the greatest cannonade in the annals of American history. It was a signal for the entire Confederate artillery line to let loose their terrific blast. It was a volcanic eruption for almost two hours with Confederate artillery pounding the Federal position on Cemetery Ridge in an attempt to soften the Federal center for the pending frontal assault. Correspondent Samuel Wilkenson of the New York Times was at Meade’s headquarter and reported, “the Confederate shells burst and screamed as many as six a second and made a very hell of a fire that amazed the older officers – men were cut in two and horses died still fastened by their halters.” It is difficult to even comprehend 140 Confederate guns and 100 Federal guns belching fire, smoke, destruction and death.
Approximately two hours later Colonel Porter Alexander observed from his position near the Peach Orchard that the Federal guns had slackened fire and his own supply of ammunition was running low. He sent word to Pickett who in turn rode over to Longstreet, who had persistently opposed Lee’s plan. Longstreet merely nodded approval and Picket saluted saying “I am going to move forward, sir.” With those words spoken, the Confederate infantry, three divisions totaling 12,000 men, majestically advanced from the woods on Seminary Ridge, across the open valley toward 6,000 troops on Cemetery Ridge. Because General Hunt had earlier ordered a partial cessation of Federal guns, to cool them and conserve ammunition, the Confederates were received by a fearful hurricane of missiles that included solid shot, shrapnel, spherical-case, shell, canister and every other invention of warfare at the time.
At a terrible cost in human life, the Federal line was broken at the Copse of Trees when determined Confederate forces crashed into Union troops at the Angle and forced them back over the ridge. For a moment of high suspense, victory hung trembling in the balance. Union troops under Webb, Harrow, Hays, Cushing and Stannard swiftly rose to the challenge and repulsed the Confederate assault to the heart of the Union. The Battle of Gettysburg was over. Alonzo Cushing commanded Battery A, 4th U.S Artillery, at the center of the Federal line on cemetery ridge, on the third day at Gettysburg. He was very seriously wounded three times at the height of the Confederate advance, continuing to command until fatally wounded. Cushing was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in 2013.
The Copse of Trees or The Angle unquestionably became the symbolic High Tide of the Confederacy. Experience this epic battle on Sunday July 3, 2:30PM at the 153rd Gettysburg Anniversary Civil War Reenactment.