By Andy Mateja

At the end of the first day of fighting at Gettysburg, the Army of the Potomac under the newly appointed command of Maj Gen George Meade had 85,000 men and 85 cannon in place to resist the positive aggression of Gen Robt E Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

Maj Gen Richard Ewell and his troops failed to remove his Union opponents from their significant and strategic position on Culp’s Hill.  Lee was concerned and somewhat dismayed that his new commander of the II Corps did not complete his mission to oust the enemy which they were now fortifying. Lee realized only too well that his former the II Corps commander, Maj Gen Stonewall Jackson would have moved heaven and earth to accomplish his mission as he had effectively accomplished two months earlier at Chancellorsville. Lee was gentle yet very clear to Ewell as to what the results were that he had hoped for the night of July 1st which now had to be pressed again the next day under much more difficult conditions.

Ewell’s three divisions had been worn out from their long march, hard fighting and piecemeal concentration in the face of the enemy. He was so unsure they would be able to accomplish their goal that he made an only a meager attempt to accomplish Lee’s objective.

Lee, while deeply disappointed, realized that he had only made a “suggestion” to Ewell (as he had grown accustom to with Stonewall Jackson) instead of ordering it.  He had also confused Ewell several times as to how he (Ewell) should accomplish that goal. By leaving the discretion up to Ewell (“take the heights if practicable but not to bring on a general engagement”), confusion set in since a “general engagement had already been underway for most of the day.

On the morning of July 2nd, Ewell now was ordered to keep pressure on the Union flank in order to prevent to keep Meade from reinforcing his left flank where Lee had ORDERED Lt Gen James Longstreet to attack with most of his I Corps.  Ewell was also told once again by Lee that if an opportunity presented itself, he should take Culp’s Hill.

Opposing Ewell were the remnants of the Union XI Corps, I Corps and the XII Corps. The Federal position resembled an inverted fishhook and most of them spent the morning and afternoon preparing for the Rebel onslaught they were expecting. While the Confederates were also preparing to attack, Ewell’s artillery commanders only advanced 48 of his 80 artillery pieces of which only two-thirds of those were used that day. It appeared once again that only the Confederate infantry would be used to attack Culp’s Hill without much the abundantly available artillery support.

As Ewell pressed his II Corps to advance, he also contacted elements of Maj Gen A.P. Hill’s III Corps to support his movement. Further confusion resulted in only 75% of Ewell’s available combat troops with part of that force advancing only after darkness has set in. By that time it was late in the day and part of the Union forces earlier opposing Ewell had already been sent to support the Union II and III Corps confronting Longstreet’s unexplainably delayed attack on the Federal left flank.

The remaining Union troops, including the badly depleted I and XI Corps, dug in on Culp’s Hill to await Ewell’s attack near dusk. The fighting was fierce on both sides as darkness began to set in.  The Union forces, while depleted, nevertheless fought tenaciously and incurred severe losses. The Confederate troops, erroneously believing Longstreet was sending additional support, gained a lodgment on the Union right at the top of Culp’s Hill. Union XII Corps reinforcements returned from the Union Left and arrived just in time to halt the further Confederate advance in the dark.  Additional Confederate troops were rushed into the melee.

However even though Ewell’s men were not utilizing their artillery effectively, the Union troops WERE. They blunted the Confederate advance with a combination of artillery and concentrated rifle fire.

Unfortunately, some of the Union XI Corp repeated their reprehensible behavior of Chancellorsville and the 1st day at Gettysburg and “skedaddled”. Union canister had also had an unintended and tragic effect on the fleeing Federals.  “Friendly fire “was taking their toll on the Union defenders along with the Rebel attackers. Confederates were overrunning the Union artillery positions.

In the end Ewell’s men failed to achieve their objective and were NOT able to capture Culp’s Hill or Cemetery Hill which they also attempted during this late afternoon/early night bloody conflict. While many had perished on both sides in this underrated element of the 3-day Gettysburg ordeal, it was obvious to most (including Robt E Lee) that another day way required for the ultimate result.

Richard Ewell was given the golden opportunity to redeem himself and his men of their lackluster performance the day before he was unable to make it happen. At that time however all eyes were on Longstreet’s delayed attack on the other side of the field which many believed had the greatest chance of breaking the Union line and winning the battle (and perhaps the war) by nightfall…..

 

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