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Subject: Gettysburg: Day Two rss

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Gil Hansen
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Gettysburg: Day Two

Day 2
For Lee, the setting sun had no appeal. His army had knocked the Army of the Potomac back on its heels and seized the high ground south of Gettysburg. A few more hours of daylight, even just two, would have been enough to crush the Federal right and choke off the Baltimore Pike. During the night he busies himself with preparations for the renewal of hostilities in the morning. Ewell’s II Corps is charged with defending the Confederate left while Hill’s III Corps is given the center. Both corps bring up their artillery till the rebel front from Cemetery Hill to Rock Creek fairly bristles with cannon. Anderson’s division is held in reserve on Culp’s Hill and Rodes’ division is ordered west to provide a link with Longstreet’s I Corps as it now marches south on either side of Willoughby Run.

For the Army of the Potomac, nightfall was a God-send. For the next ten hours, Meade, newly arrived on the scene, directs his much-needed reinforcements to their places in the line. His first objective is to secure his right flank and keep the Baltimore Pike open. He tasks Gen. George Sykes and his V Corps with the job. Hancock’s II Corps is also directed to the Federal right. Gen. Henry Slocum’s battered XII Corps is pulled back as a reserve. Another concern is the Union left which is now threatened by two divisions of Confederate troops. Gen. Daniel Sickles’ III Corps moves to block their advance and hold Seminary Ridge. Meade also places Gen. John Newton in overall command of the I Corps. Newton joins Gen. John Robinson’s division on the ridge. Supporting their position is Col. Charles Wainwright’s artillery brigade

Disposition of both armies at sunrise on Day Two

As the sun rises on day two of the battle, Lee observes the enemy’s disposition. The ten hours of darkness has not been sufficient time for Meade to fully strengthen his line and Lee dares not wait for him to do so. Lee goes on the offensive, this time focusing on a weak spot in the Union defenses: Slocum’s XII Corps. Ordering a general advance all along the line, the real attack centers on the Federal left with three divisions crashing into Newton’s position on Seminary Ridge and Slocum’s force to the east. Sickles’ III Corps, responsible for strengthening that part of the line, has not been able to reach their positions in time. Newton’s men are forced to retreat, and the XII Corps ceases to exist. Lee’s army succeeds in punching a hole in the Union line severing its left wing from the rest of Meade’s command. Further east the bluecoats fair little better. Doubleday’s division manages to stop the gray advance momentarily but a second effort by Heth forces him back, as well. General Meade finds himself now on the front lines.

Finding his position now untenable, Meade attempts to regroup and establish a more defensible line further south. Using Devil’s Den and Little Round Top as a linchpin, he orders the III Corps to anchor his left while stretching his line east to maintain access to the Baltimore Pike. The II and V Corps are tasked with the job. Sykes, himself, leads Gen. Romeyn Ayres division and Cpt. Augustus Martin’s artillery brigade north along the east bank of Rock Creek in an attempt to threaten Lee’s rear.

Confronted with this new defensive posture, Lee looks for a weakness in Meade’s line. Where the Federal defenses begin to turn north, the Union commander has patched together a couple “orphaned” divisions under Doubleday and Barlow, two reserve artillery brigades under Lt. Col. Freeman McGilvery and Cpt. Dunbar Ransom, and a brigade of horse artillery under the command of Cpt. James Robertson. These units form a shallow angle in the vicinity of Power’s Hill. It is here that Lee strikes. With himself in direct command, Lee leads two infantry divisions and one artillery brigade against the bluecoats. The line collapses. Pressing his advantage, Lee widens the gap between Meade on his right and Hancock on his left. The two wings are once again completely cut off from each other. The only bright spot for Meade is the news that Newton and the remnants of his I Corps have succeeded in driving off two Confederate divisions threatening his left along Seminary Ridge.

Meade is desperate to shift the momentum of the battle. He also must reconnect his divided army. As much as he is loath to do so, he elects to abandon his positions on Seminary Ridge and Little Round Top. The Baltimore Pike is his only remaining pipeline for reinforcements. He must keep it open at all costs. As the III Corps, along with a ragtag assembly of reserve artillery and misplaced divisions, begins to march east, Meade sees a golden opportunity to strike directly at his nemesis. Lee, in leading the charge, has left himself vulnerable. His force is now trapped along the banks of Rock Creek as the Federal army advances on his position from the west and north.

Going after Lee!

For the next eight hours, the battle rages up and down the creek, the water staining red with the blood of both armies. In an effort to give succor to their chief, several Rebel divisions rush into the fray. At times during the battle, officers and their men can’t discern between the front and the rear. The momentum shifts back and forth as the two armies lock in deadly earnest. Entire divisions are simply swept away. It is now that the Army of Northern Virginia sustains its first significant casualties, and they are heavy. As the dust and smoke settles, Lee and his beleaguered force remains but at a terrible cost: Gen. Lafayette McLaws’ division is wiped out along with both Heth and Pender’s divisions. Pegram’s artillery brigade is also annihilated. Early’s division has suffered terrible losses yet manages to smuggle Lee and his staff away from immediate danger.

Lee to the rear! Meade in trouble!

The cost in Yankee blood has also been severe. Gen. Andrew Humphrey’s division is destroyed on the banks of Rock Creek and, what’s worse, Hancock now joins the growing list of Meade’s generals that have been killed in action. With him goes almost the entire II Corps. Furthermore, Meade himself is now hemmed in by a crush of gray, and it is only due of the fighting skill of Gen. Alexander Hays’ division and Cpt. Robert Fitzhugh’s reserve artillery brigade that the general escapes capture.

Farther to the west, Longstreet has not been idle. Leading Gen. John Bell Hood’s division and Col. Edward Alexander’s artillery battalion, “Old Pete” continues to hammer and harass the remnants of the Federal force still in the vicinity of the Round Tops. Both Newton and Sickles, along with a couple artillery units, remain in the area, either unable or unwilling to close with the enemy.

With the sun going down, Meade tries to hang on for just two more hours. Pulling his own battered troops back toward the Baltimore Pike, Meade orders Gen. John Sedgewick, commander of the VI Corps, and one of his divisions under Gen. Horatio Wright to push Early away from his front. This he does and Lee, unwilling to risk losing the initiative, permits this “strategic withdrawal”. Meanwhile, Sickles and Gen. David Birney’s division succeed in bagging none other than Gen. J.E.B. Stuart and Gen. Wade Hampton’s brigade. The be-plumed cavalry icon had been screening Lee’s left flank. Though able to successfully withdraw from Newton and Robinson, Stuart was forced to tangle with Sickles’ force and, despite help from Maj. Robert Beckham’s horse artillery, was defeated.

The news of Stuart’s loss is hard on Lee but he cannot afford to waste time lamenting his cavalry general. As darkness descends, he makes adjustments to his line. He also moves himself and his staff stealthily through enemy lines and away from immediate danger. Meade, who has also removed himself from immediate danger, is left to face the cold reality of a weakened and divided force. The darkness has not been able to hide the fact that the Army of the Potomac has been successfully neutralized in their own backyard. His casualties are staggering: six generals, two entire Corps, one cavalry division, over half of his infantry and nearly half of his artillery have been swept away. Conversely, Lee still has two thirds of his command including the bulk of his artillery and cavalry. There really can be only one decision…

Disposition of both armies at sundown on Day Two

Analysis: The inability of the Union to effectively stop the bleeding and prevent the Confederates from repeatedly breaking through their lines spelled doom. VP: Confederates = 54; Union = 27.
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