The Civil Dozen — Part Four

Part Four On June 3, 1863, Confederate General Robert E. Lee began the Army of Northern Virginia’s second invasion of the North. Lee’s main objective was to move across the Potomac River and try to separate the Union forces from Washington. When the Army of the Potomac’s commander, Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker, belatedly became aware of the Confederates’ movement, he began to force-march his army north, trying to keep Lee to the west and screen Washington from the Rebel troops. On June 28, as the bulk of the Federal troops enjoyed a brief respite near Frederick, Md., Meade replaced Hooker as commander of the Army of the Potomac. Lacking adequate intelligence from his scouting forces, Lee directed his army to gather at Gettysburg. The general did not want to fight at Gettysburg, but alert Union horsemen had reached the area — a fact that would put a wrinkle in Lee’s plans. On July 1, Major General Henry Heth headed toward Gettysburg with four brigades of infantry to drive off the reported Union troopers and secure the town. To Heth’s surprise, waiting for him was Union Brigadier General John Buford, who had dismounted and deployed his cavalry on McPherson’s Ridge, west of Gettysburg. Buford’s forces fired first, temporarily halting Heth’s force and starting the Battle of Gettysburg. The Confederates managed to exploit weaknesses in the Federals’ deployment, and their attacks caused heavy losses to the Union troops, who were forced to retreat. Confederate General Ewell’s failure to carry out his orders and attack Cemetery Hill on the afternoon of July 1 wasted a golden opportunity for a quick, decisive victory. The Union had lost 4,000 men by that time — and the town of Gettysburg itself — but Meade quickly moved reinforcing divisions onto the high ground south of Gettysburg. The two armies spent a restless night. The Union defensive line on Cemetery Ridge resembled an inverted fishhook, extending from Culp’s Hill on the north, down Cemetery Ridge and southward toward Big and Little Round Tops. Although the 650-foot-high Little Round Top was overshadowed by its larger neighbor, its position was more important because much of the hill was cleared of trees and it could...

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