“Just In A Nick of Time” First Day Infantry & Cavalry Arrive
Friday, July 4, 6:00 p.m.
In the spring of 1863 General Robert E. Lee realized that no matter how many victories the Army of Northern Virginia won in the South, independence for the Confederacy could only be gained with a significant victory on Northern soil. The Confederate strategists felt that such a victory would bolster the Southern spirit and frighten and demoralize the Northern population. A Confederate victory on Northern soil could possibly expedite a negotiated peace. Lee also wanted to take the war out of his suffering state of Virginia to obtain provisions for his troops from a Northern area not exploited by war.
At daybreak on July 1, Lt. General Ambrose P. Hill ordered the brigades of Archer and Davis to advance along Chambersburg Road from Cashtown. As these troops crossed Marsh Creek–just 4 miles west of Gettysburg for the purpose of testing the Union strength, they were fired upon by Union pickets. The Union pickets hurried back from the area of Knoxlyn Road toward Gettysburg to inform their superiors of the Confederate armies approach. During this encounter Buford’s division of cavalry very perceptively moved their camp from the Southwest of town to McPherson Ridge to just west of Gettysburg and the Lutheran Seminary–it was just in a nick of time.
From daybreak until the arrival of General Reynolds infantry that afternoon, Buford’s outmanned cavalry troops gallantly used their rapid fire, breech loading carbines to deflect the Confederate charges from Herrs Ridge across Willoughby Run. As more troops from both armies swarmed onto McPherson Ridge, Seminary Ridge, and Oak Ridge during the course of the first day’s engagement, Buford’s initial stand will forever be remembered as one of history’s most valiant.
Experience these segments of history at the 151st Gettysburg Anniversary Battle Reenactment on Friday, July 4th at 6:00 p.m.
“Farnsworth’s Fatal Charge” Action at South Cavalry Field
Saturday, July 5, 11:00 a.m.
A tragic footnote to the carnage at Gettysburg occurred in the farm fields and woods to the south of Big Round Top. Newly appointed Brigadier General Elon Farnsworth had received his promotion on June 29, 1863 just prior to the Battle of Hanover. On the afternoon of July 3rd Farnsworth led his brigade of Union troops into his first and last battle at Gettysburg. Farnsworth was ordered by General Meade, through General Kilpatrick, to make what turned out to be a hopeless charge with the 1st Vermont cavalry, into the rear of Confederate General John B Hood’s division. Most of the 1st Texas was in a strong position in a ravine behind two stone and rail fences.
Upon receiving the orders from Kilpatrick, Farnsworth spoke with emotion “General, do you mean it? Shall I throw my handful of men over rough ground, through timber, against a brigade of infantry?” Kilpatrick said “A handful! You have the four best regiments in the army.” Farnsworth answered “You forget, the 1st Michigan is detached, the 5th New York you have sent beyond call, and I have nothing left but the 1st Vermont and the 1st West Virginia, regiments fought half to pieces. They are too good to kill.” Kilpatrick turned greatly excited and said “Do you refuse to obey my orders? If you are afraid to lead the charge I will lead it.” Farnsworth reportedly rose in his stirrups and leaned forward with his saber half drawn and cried “Take that back!” Kilpatrick rose defiantly, but repentantly said “I did not mean it, forget it.” For a moment nothing was spoken. Then Farnsworth spoke “General, if you order the charge I will lead it, but you must take the awful responsibility.”
As they advanced Farnsworth’s men received the concentrated fire of three lines of Confederates, from the front and both flanks, as they attempted to overcome the strong Confederate positions behind the fences. Farnsworth made it to the first fence where his horse was shot out from under him and killed. Farnsworth quickly mounted another horse and dashed on. He was found on July 5th where he fell–just beyond the second fence pierced by five bullets. The number of Federal cavalry who rode in the charge totaled about 300. There were 65 casualties and 120 were taken prisoner.
Captain Harry Parsons, Co. L, 1st Vermont accompanied Farnsworth that day. Upon returning to the same location fifty years later on July 3, 1913, Parson said, “Each man felt that he was summoned to a ride of death.”
Experience this exciting and historic cavalry battle at the 151st Gettysburg Anniversary Reenactment on Saturday, July 5th at 11:00 a.m
“A Bloody Harvest” The Wheatfield
Saturday, July 5, 5:00 p.m.
On the morning of July 2, 1863 the Confederate forces were jubilant. They had driven the enemy from the field and now occupied the town of Gettysburg. General Robert E. Lee decided to remain at Gettysburg to defeat the defending Federal force, now deployed on high ground south and east of town. Deciding on a Napoleonic flanking maneuver against the Union troops, Lee ordered an attack, with General Longstreet’s 1st Corps engaging the Federals on Little Round Top, and General Ewell’s 2nd Corps hitting the Federals on Cemetery and Culp’s Hills as a diversion.
General Longstreet’s troops had not arrived yet on the morning of July 2, and determinedly traveled surreptitiously in a counter-march to avoid detection. As a result, Dan Sickles, commander of the Union 3rd Corps, ordered his men off the rocky hill and positioned them in fields and knolls in the shadow of the Round Tops. He believed the Confederates would not attack his men on high ground; rather, Lee was probably going to skirt around the Union forces and run toward Washington.
When General Longstreet’s troops arrived at Gettysburg on the afternoon of July 2, he was amazed to find men in blue in the Peach Orchard that ran along the Emmitsburg Road. Sickles had deployed most of his men there, leaving a brigade under Regis deTrobriand in a wheat field and another in Devil’s Den, under the command of Hobart Ward.
Longstreet launched his troops against the Federals, hoping to gain the high ground of Little Round Top before Union General George Meade discovered that his flank was void of protection. Soon Sickles found himself in desperate trouble and as Devil’s Den fell, he asked for reinforcements for the Wheatfield. General John Caldwell’s division of the Union 2nd Corps was dispatched in reply. Caldwell’s division consisted of four brigades, commanded by Colonels Cross, Kelly, Brooke, and Brigadier General Samuel Zook. These troops were immediately engaged in fierce, hand-to-hand combat as the Wheatfield became enveloped in smoke and musketry. The field changed hands six times in just over two hours as Cross and Zook fell mortally wounded, and Kelly’s Irish Brigade rushed to the stony ridge to stop their foes in gray. Men from Georgia and South Carolina collided with men from Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, and Ireland, leaving many dead and wounded in their wake.
The Wheatfield extracted a gruesome toll of death and carnage for both sides. The Confederates suffered casualties of 1,394 and the Union 3,125 – which was not a typical ratio of casualties for attackers to defenders. This small expanse of agricultural ground would long be remembered by veterans as a name unique in the history of warfare given the unwavering furiousness of this fight.
Experience this violent struggle at the 151st Gettysburg Anniversary Reenactment on Saturday, July 5th at 5:00 p.m.
“Heroic Counter Attack” Stuart vs. Custer
Sunday, July 6, 11:00 a.m.
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 3,1863 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 McM. 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 2nd from Carlisle, Pennsylvania. On July 3rd General 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 met 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 the Union cavalry normally withdrawing in the face of their mounted charges–that did not happen at Gettysburg. The 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 6th thrill to the sight and sounds of the largest cavalry battle since the 151st Gettysburg Battle Reenactment. Mounted and dismounted cavalry will reenact the battle of East Cavalry Field followed by a Grand Cavalry Review. Viewing horses and troops engaged in this epic battle and concluding with a Grand Review is an experience at the 151st Gettysburg Battle Anniversary you will never forget.
Experience this exciting and epic cavalry battle followed by a Grand Review at the 151st Gettysburg Anniversary Reenactment on Sunday, July 6th at 11:00 a.m.
“High Tide at the Angle” Pickett’s Charge
Sunday, July 6, 2:30 p.m.
“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 1:07 precisely – 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 General George Pickett who in turn rode over to Longstreet, who had persistently opposed Lee’s plan. Longstreet merely nodded approval and Pickett 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 Brig. 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,” and forced back over the ridge, and for a moment of high suspense, victory hung trembling in the balance. Union troops under Brig. Generals Webb, Harrow, Hays and Stannard swiftly rose to the challenge and repulsed the Confederate assault to the heart of the Union. The Battle of Gettysburg was over. This copse of trees unquestionably became the symbolic high water mark of the Battle of Gettysburg and the American Civil War.
Experience thundering artillery and the most significant Southern advance on Union soil of the Civil War at the 151st Gettysburg Anniversary Battle Reenactment on Sunday, July 6th at 2:30 p.m.
Friday, July 4th:
Just in the Nick of Time - Cavalry & Infantry arrive – McPherson Ridge
Saturday, July 5th:
Farnsworth’s Fatal Charge – Cavalry action at the South Cavalry Field
A Bloody Harvest – The Wheatfield
Sunday, July 6th:
Heroic Counter Attack – Custer vs Stuart at the East Cavalry Field
High Tide at the Angle – Pickett’s Charge