Summary – Battle of Gettysburg Day 3

Summary – Battle of Gettysburg Day 3. July 3, 1863, was a victory for the Army of the Potomac. Lee retreated, but his army survived to fight other battles. Click to read a chronological summary of the Battle of Gettysburg:

Prelude Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Aftermath

 

Last Update: December 7, 2018 (4:51 pm)

Battle of Gettysburg Day 3 – What Is This?

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This is a deliberately terse and dense summary of the Battle of Gettysburg Day 3 – July 3, 1863. You are reading my study notes — re-cast as sentences — from multiple bicycling adventures in Gettysburg National Military Park. I am using these and other notes to study for the Licensed Gettysburg Battlefield Guide Exams.

I hope these notes help you to build a “mental framework” for understanding books that you read or tours that you take. For deeper study, I encourage you to peruse Civil Work Cycling’s annotated bibliographies, here and here.

On the other hand, for something more basic than these notes on the Battle of Gettysburg Day 3, please refer back to Battle Summary – Prelude (under July 3) and the Civil War Trust’s animated map of the Battle of Gettysburg.

Disclaimer: Civil War Cycling’s battle summaries intend to be accurate, but not so precise that they trigger hot debates about the timing of military actions and the position of military units. In our effort to present broad themes, we try to side-step the controversies and exceptions that make it difficult for the general reader to understand the battle.

Areas for Improvement: This notebook will be improved for “completeness” and clarity through time. It is currently very infantry-centric and could be expanded to consider artillery and cavalry, for example.

Study Tips – Battle of Gettysburg Day 3

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One helpful way to deepen your understanding of battlefield action on July 3 is to know a few key battlefield landmarks and associate them with commanding generals or human interest stories. For example, from West Confederate Avenue, which is a north-south road that runs roughly parallel to the Confederate main line on Seminary Ridge, several tall landmarks are visible to the east. In the following photograph, we identify four:

Battle of Gettysburg Day 3
Confederate Cannon on Seminary Ridge, Pointing East to Union Cemetery Ridge

During the charge across the fields that separate the ridges, Maj. Gen. George E. Pickett was reported to have watched his infantry division from near the Codori Barn (2). Also, you may remember that on the previous afternoon (July 2), Confederates drove past both sides of this barn when they almost broke the Union center line.

Battle of Gettysburg Day 3
1 – Copse of Trees on Cemetery Ridge, 2 – Codori Barn on Emmitsburg Road
Battle of Gettysburg Day 3
3 – U.S. Regulars Monument on Cemetery Ridge, 4 – PA State Monument on Cemetery Ridge

The U.S. Regulars Monument (3) is eighty-five-feet tall and, like the Pennsylvania State Monument (4), is visible from Seminary Ridge and also from Little Round Top. Pennsylvania sent 23,400+ soldiers to fight at Gettysburg, and many of them fought in Hancock’s 2nd Corps along modern-day Hancock Avenue, where these and other monuments stand.

Who’s Who? Battle of Gettysburg Day 3

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Nutshell Summary – Battle of Gettysburg Day 3

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Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s plan for July 3 was for Lt. Gen. James Longstreet and Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell to renew attacks on the Union left and right, respectively, while Maj. Gen. George E. Pickett’s division would deliver a fatal blow to the Union center. Two other Confederate divisions would join “Pickett’s Charge” – and were led by Brig. Gen. James J. Pettigrew and Maj. Gen. Isaac Trimble.

Before Ewell could attack Culp’s Hill on July 3, five Union brigades returned in darkness to reinforce the Union 12th Corps on the hill. At about 3:30 A.M., the Union infantry struck first. The fighting lasted for about seven hours and ended around 11:00 A.M., when the Confederates retreated. The Union had recaptured the entrenchments that it had lost the prior evening in the lower Culp’s Hill area.

Virginia State Monument (Robert E. Lee Equestrian Monument) on Seminary Ridge

Lee ordered Longstreet to direct the attack on the Union center line at Cemetery Ridge. At 1:00 P.M. the Confederates unleashed a two-hour artillery bombardment — the largest ever in the western hemisphere. At around 3:00 P.M., more than 12,000 Confederate infantrymen charged across a one-mile field that separated Seminary and Cemetery Ridges.

Due to Union artillery fire, fewer than half of the Confederates reached the fencing along Emmitsburg Road, at which point they were under rifle fire. Those that made it to the ridge — crossing a stone wall — were killed or captured. About half survived long enough to retreat back to Seminary Ridge.

Battle of Gettysburg Day 3
Pickett’s Charge and the Farms Between Seminary and Cemetery Ridges

During Pickett’s Charge, cavalry action occurred to the south (“Farnsworth’s Charge” of cavalry against Confederate infantry) and to the east (Confederate Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart’s attack on Union cavalry commanded by Brig. Gen. David M. Gregg). Neither action affected the outcome of the Battle of Gettysburg.


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Detailed Summary – Battle of Gettysburg Day 3

1. Renewed Fighting on Culp’s Hill

Cheat-Sheet for the Battle of Gettysburg Day 3

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This cheat-sheet on the “Battle of Gettysburg Day 3” summarizes “common knowledge” that I drew from several sources; see Civil War Cycling’s Gettysburg Reading List. I relied heavily on two books by Bradley M. Gottfried. One was The Maps of Gettysburg (New York: Savas Beatie, 2010) and the other was Brigades of Gettysburg (New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2012). All mistakes are mine.

  • Confederate Attack Target: Culp’s Hill
  • Confederate Brigades:
    Maj. Gen. Edward Johnson’s Division of Ewell’s Corps:
    – Brig. Gen. George H. Steuart’s Brigade (MD, NC, VA)
    – Col. Jesse Williams’ (Nicholls) Brigade (LA)
    – Brig. Gen. John M. Jones’ Brigade (VA)
    – Brig. Gen. James A. Walker’s Brigade (VA)
    Maj. Gen. Robert E. Rodes’ Division of Ewell’s Corps:
    – Brig. Gen. Junius Daniel’s Brigade (NC)
    – Col. Edward A. O’Neal’s Brigade (AL)
  • Union Brigades:
    Maj. Gen. James S. Wadsworth’s 1st Division of Reynolds/Doubleday’s 1st Corps.
    – Brig. Gen. Solomon Meredith, 1st Brigade, “Iron” (IN, MI, WI)
    – Brig. Gen. Lysander Cutler, 2nd Brigade (IN, NY, PA)
    Brig. Gen. Thomas H. Ruger’s 1st Division of Slocum/Williams’ 12th Corps.
    – Col. Archibald L. McDougall, 1st Brigade (CT, MD, NY, PA)
    – Brig. Gen. Henry H. Lockwood, 2nd Brigade (MD, NY) – withdrew
    – Col. Silas Colgrove, 3rd Brigade (IN, MA, NJ, NY, WI)
    Brig. Gen. John W. Geary’s 2nd Division of Slocum/Williams’ 12th Corps.
    – Col. Charles Candy, 1st Brigade (OH, PA)
    – Col. G. A. Cobham (Kane), 2nd Brigade (PA)
    – Brig. Gen. George S. Greene, 3rd Brigade (NY)
  • Approximate Duration: 6-7 hours

Details

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Battle of Gettysburg Day 3 – Fighting resumes on Culp’s Hill before dawn.

Maj. Gen. Alpheus Williams commanded the Union right flank while Maj. Gen. Henry Slocum commanded the right wing. Both men wanted to recapture the breastworks that the Union 12th Corps had abandoned the prior evening. Confederate Maj. Gen. Edward Johnson’s division (Ewell’s Corps) had taken them.

Brig. Gen. George S. Sears Statue at the Summit of Culp’s Hill. Outnumbered, Sears’ brigade of New Yorkers built breastworks and held the hill.

Brig. Gen. James S. Wadsworth ‘s division (1st Corps) was on the north face of Culp’s Hill. Brig. Gen. George S. Greene’s Brigade (12th Corps) was on the east face of the hill. As for the Union line down modern-day Slocum Avenue, Williams ordered Brig. Gen. John W. Geary’s and Brig. Gen. Thomas H. Ruger’s divisions to part half to the west and half to the east; these actions would open a channel through which to pour artillery fire from Baltimore Pike.

Before dawn (3:30 – 4:30 A.M.?), Williams ordered artillery to fire at the Confederate position on the southern slope of Culp’s Hill, the lower half of Slocum Avenue. About one hour later, Geary advanced to retake the breastworks, but they were stymied by Confederate reinforcements who had arrived during the night.

A View of the Western Side of Culp’s Hill. The photograph was taken from East Cemetery Hill.

Geary’s advance marked the beginning of a series of attacks and counter-attacks to win the hill. At times, communications were confused or assumptions flawed. For example, Col. Silas Colgrove (for whom modern-day Colgrove Avenue is named) obeyed an ill-advised order to attack a Confederate position that was well-fortified. The 2nd Massachusetts and 27th Indiana were slaughtered by Brig. Gen. William Smith’s Brigade of Early’s Division. Notably, at age sixty-five, Smith was the oldest general to fight at Gettysburg. (At sixty-two years old, George S. Greene was the oldest Union general at Gettysburg.) Smith was also the former governor of Virginia and advocated arming African Americans in the defense of the Confederate States of America.

In the end, Ewell’s Confederate Corps was repulsed from Culp’s Hill. A final attack by Brig. Gen. George Steurt’s Brigade (Johnson’s Division) and Brig. Gen. Junius Daniel’s Brigade (Rodes’ Division) failed. They fell back at about 10:15 A.M.. By 11:00 A.M., Williams had re-established the Union right flank as the anchor of its original fishhook formation.

 

2. Pickett’s Charge to Cemetery Ridge

Cheat-Sheet for the Battle of Gettysburg Day 3

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This cheat-sheet lists “common knowledge” that I drew from several sources; see Civil War Cycling’s Gettysburg Reading List. I relied heavily on two books by Bradley M. Gottfried. One was The Maps of Gettysburg (New York: Savas Beatie, 2010) and the other was Brigades of Gettysburg (New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2012). All mistakes are mine.

  • Confederate Attack Target: Cemetery Ridge
  • Confederate Attacking Brigades:
    Maj. Gen. George E. Pickett’s Division of Longstreet’s Corps:
    – Brig. Gen. Lewis A. Armistead’s Brigade (VA)
    – Brig. Gen. Richard B. Garnett’s Brigade (VA)
    – Brig. Gen. James L. Kemper’s Brigade (VA)
    Maj. Gen. Richard H. Anderson’s Division of Hill’s Corps:
    – Brig. Gen. Cadmus M. Wilcox’s Brigade (AL) – led by Pickett
    – Col. David Lang’s (Perry) Brigade (FL) – led by Pickett
    Maj. Gen. James Johnston Pettigrew’s (Heth) Division of Hill’s Corps:
    – Col. James K. Marshall’s (Pettigrew) Brigade (NC)
    – Brig. Gen. Joseph Davis’ Brigade (MS, NC)
    – Col. John Brochenbrough’s Brigade (VA)
    – Col. Birkett Fry’s (Archer) Brigade (AL, TN)
    Maj. Gen. Isaac R. Trimble’s (Pender) Division of Hill’s Corps:
    – Brig. Gen. James H. Lane’s Brigade (NC)
    – Col. William L. J. Lowrence’s (Scales) Brigade (NC)
  • Union Defending Brigades:
    Maj. Gen. Abner Doubleday’s 3rd Division of Reynolds/Newton’s 1st Corps:
    – Brig. Gen. George J. Stannard, 3rd Brigade (VT)
    Brig. Gen. John Gibbon’s 2nd Division of Hancock’s 2nd Corps:
    – Brig. Gen. William Harrow, 1st Brigade (ME, MA, MN, NY)
    – Brig. Gen. Alexander Webb, 2nd Brigade (PA)
    – Col. Norman J. Hall, 3rd Brigade (MA, MI, NY)
    Brig. Gen. Alexander Hays’ 3rd Division of Hancock’s 2nd Corps:
    – Col. Samuel S. Carroll, 1st Brigade (IN, OH, WV)
    – Col. Thomas A. Smyth, 2nd Brigade (CT, DE, NJ, NY)
    – Col. Eliakim Sherrill (Willard), 3rd Brigade (NY)
  • Approximate Duration: About 1 hour

Flank Support for Pickett’s Charge

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Battle of Gettysburg Day 3 – Confederates make a “demonstration” on the Union right flank.

Lee’s plan was to support Pickett’s Charge on both flanks of the Confederate army. On the Confederate left, artillery on Benner’s Hill fired on Cemetery Hill as a complement to an all-out artillery bombardment of the Union line; it supported Longstreet’s infantry attack on the Union center. Notably, Johnson’s division had ended its infantry attack on Culp’s Hill, which freed the Union to move reinforcements along interior lines of its fishhook formation.

On the Confederate right, two of Longstreet’s infantry divisions had a supporting role: Brig. Gen. Evander Law’s (Hood) Division and Maj. Gen Lafayette McLaws’ Division. These divisions defended ground that they captured on July 2 — at Devil’s Den, The Wheatfield, and The Peach Orchard. The two divisions kept the Union left (5th and 6th Corps) in-check near the Round Tops. They also repulsed Union cavalry near the Slyder Farm (southwest of Devil’s Den), in what is today called South Cavalry Field.

In East Cavalry Field, which is east of the town and beyond the main battlefield, Confederate Cavalry under Maj. Gen. J. E. B. Stuart failed to get beyond the Union line. 

The Plan to Charge the Center

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Battle of Gettysburg Day 3 – Meade correctly anticipates Lee’s center line attack.

Gen. George G. Meade Equestrian Monument on Cemetery Ridge

At a Council of War the previous evening, Gen. Meade predicted that Gen. Lee would attack the Union center line, and that was in fact the plan. On July 3, this line was defended by Left Wing (and 2nd Corps) Commander, Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock. Ready to receive the brunt of the Confederate attack were two of Hancock’s divisions – under the commands of Brig. Gen. John Gibbon (2nd Division) and Brig. Gen. Alexander Hays (3rd Division). Maj. Gen. Abner Doubleday’s 3rd Division (of Newton’s 1st Corps) was positioned just south of Gibbon and Hays.

The Confederate charge to the Union center would be led by Maj. Gen. George E. Pickett, the only one of Longstreet’s three division commanders who had not yet fought at Gettysburg. Joining Pickett’s Virginians were two divisions from Hill’s Corps – under Brig. Gen. James J. Pettigrew (from North Carolina) and also Maj. Gen. Isaac R. Trimble (from Kentucky). The one-mile-wide wide by one-mile-long Confederate infantry attack is sometimes called the “Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble Charge,” but “Pickett’s Charge” is the traditional name.

Artillery Bombardment

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Battle of Gettysburg Day 3 – Confederates shell Cemetery Ridge for almost two hours.

In preparation for Pickett’s Charge, Lee ordered Confederate artillery on Seminary Ridge to bombard the Union center on Cemetery Ridge. The goal was to destroy as much of the line as possible before launching an infantry attack. With hundreds of cannons firing on both sides, it would be the largest artillery battle of the war.[1]

Battle of Gettysburg Day 3
Confederate Cannon on Seminary Ridge. (The Round Tops are in the distance.)

Confederate guns opened fire at about 1:00 P.M.. For two hours, Confederate cannon fired eastward from along modern-day West Confederate Avenue and Emmitsburg Road near The Peach Orchard. Although the Union line was hit, much of the cannon fire overshot its mark and landed closer to Meade’s headquarters (at the Lydia Leister House) on the eastern slope of Cemetery Ridge. A a few hundred yards to the west, Hancock’s line did not buckle.

Union artillery returned fire, but they also conserved ammunition in anticipation of an infantry assault on their line.

Longstreet’s Chief of Artillery, Col. Edward Porter Alexander, could not see Cemetery Ridge, partly because of the smoke, but also because its eastern slope was obstructed by higher ground. He could only guess when it might be a good time to signal to Pickett that it was time for an infantry charge. Alexander could hear lulls in Union return fire. But he was also sure that Union guns were still in play.

Union artillery remained largely intact. The primary objective of the Confederate bombardment had failed. Lee’s infantry would learn this as they charged closer to Cemetery Ridge.

[1] Iron rifled cannon fired up to two miles. Bronze Napoleon cannons fired up to about one mile.

Pickett’s Charge

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Battle of Gettysburg Day 3 – Confederates charge Cemetery Ridge.

On Longstreet’s order, more than 12,000 Confederates marched east from Seminary Ridge to Cemetery Ridge. They marched across a one-mile-wide field.[2]  Early on, the soldiers were within range of Union artillery fire. But by the time that they reached the fences along Emmitsburg Road, they received fire from Union rifles. Since it took time to dismantle or climb over or under the fences, their charge was slowed. It was a death trap. One fence rail had 836 holes in a sixteen-foot by four-foot area.[3]

Battle of Gettysburg Day 3
Confederate View of the Entrance to The Angle on Cemetery Ridge

Pickett’s division moved northeast through Codori farm. Pettigrew and Trimble’s divisions moved southeast through Bliss farm. They would converge in an area now called The Angle, named for the shape of a low stone wall. The wall runs sixty yards east to west and then runs south and parallel to modern-day Hancock Avenue. It is between the Bryan Barn and The Copse of Trees.

Battle of Gettysburg Day 3
Union View of the Field into which Confederates Charged. We are standing near Emmitsburg Road, looking west to Seminary Ridge.

Of the thousands of Confederates who charged the field and made it to the Union line on Cemetery Ridge, only about 250 soldiers crossed the stone wall. Those that crossed received canister fire from Union artillery.

[2] Gabor and Jake Boritt, Audio Tour Stop 15.

[3] Ibid.

High Water Mark Debates

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Battle of Gettysburg Day 3 – The Bloody Angle on Cemetery Ridge.

With so much carnage and so few Confederates having penetrated the Union line, it is no wonder that regiments from Virginia, North Carolina, and Mississippi would – after the war — debate who lunged farthest east on Cemetery Ridge.

Battle of Gettysburg Day 3
The Copse of Trees (High Water Mark) on Cemetery Ridge

Pickett’s men from Virginia identified the mark as the site at which Brig. Gen. Lewis A. Armistead was killed, which is about thirty yards east of the stone wall. Nineteen Virginia regiments participated in the charge. The story is told that Armistead waved his black hat on the tip of his sword, and while riding his horse, placed his hand on a cannon, at which point he was shot in the knee and arm. Armistead died on July 5, at a field hospital on Spangler Farm.

We know some interesting things about Gen. Armistead. Armistead’s Uncle George commanded Fort McHenry in Baltimore during the War of 1812. Lewis Armistead was close friends with Winfield S. Hancock, the man whose soldiers Armistead attacked on July 3. The story of their friendship is celebrated by the Friend to Friend Masonic Memorial in the National Cemetery Annex. The memorial depicts the wounded Armistead relaying a message for Hancock to Capt. Henry H. Bingham. (Hancock was wounded during Pickett’s Charge, and is reported to have pulled a nail from his groin.)

The 26th North Carolina (led by a twenty-one year-old colonel, the youngest at Gettysburg) was part of Pettigrew’s Division. They identified the High Water Mark as about fifty yards east of the stone wall. Fifteen North Carolina regiments participated in the charge.

The 11th Mississippi (which was Brig. Gen. Joseph Davis’ brigade, Pettigrew’s Division) put the High Water Mark even farther east, near the southeast corner of the Bryan barn, which is outside of The Angle.

Confederate Casualties – Battle of Gettysburg Day 3

Pickett was not wounded. Two of Pickett’s brigade commanders were killed: Lewis A. Armistead and Richard B. Garnett. His third brigade commander, James L. Kemper, received a life-crippling wound. All fifteen of Pickett’s regimental commanders were killed or wounded. More than 90 percent of Picket’s entire division was counted among the casualties.

Pettigrew suffered a hand wound during the charge. Trimble lost a leg. Overall, about half of the Confederate attacking force returned to Seminary Ridge by 4:00 P.M., when the attack officially ended.

Union Casualties – Battle of Gettysburg Day 3

Winfield S. Hancock, John Gibbon, and Alexander Webb suffered wounds that resulted in their having to be removed from the battlefield. Webb’s Brigade had the greatest losses, having been the center point of the Confederate attack. Many artillery men, whose role was to stand-up to the Confederate cannonade, perished.

 

Aftermath – Battle of Gettysburg Day 3

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According to Noah Andre Trudeau, July 3’s battle casualties (killed, wounded, captured, and missing) were roughly as follows:

Union:3,800
Confederate:10,000

Source: Noah Andre Trudeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2002), p. 529.

Battle of Gettysburg Day 3 Results: Union victory.

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