July 2nd 1863
Gettysburg day two. On the morning of July 2, 1863 the battle of Gettysburg entered its second day. The Union and Confederate armies starred at each across an open field. During the night both sides received more troops.
The Union forces now numbered around 60,000 while the Confederates had about 50,000 troops at Gettysburg.
At 11:00 Lee made his move. He ordered Longstreet to attack south up the Emmitsburg road toward Little and Big Round Tops which appeared to be empty of Union troops. An attack here would strike the Union in its left flank.
Since General Meade would be focused on the Confederates at Culp’s Hill which he could clearly see, this maneuver against his left flank would come as a bit of a surprise. This is what Lee had assumed would be the case.
The man in charge of leading the attack, General Longstreet was not at all convinced this was a good idea. He thought it would be better if he and his men snuck around the Union lines and came up behind them, thus forcing the Yankees to attack them.
If you would like to read more about the second day of the battle of Gettysburg check out Gettysburg–The Second Day
Longstreet was hoping that Lee would change his mind about this attack and cancel it. He therefore took his time getting to the attack positions ordered by Lee. It took him and his troops several hours in fact to march south to where the attack would begin.
When the southern troops finally reached their attack position they quickly discovered that an entire Union corps was standing in their way. General Daniel Sickles led this corps. Sickles had on his own without orders moved his men well ahead of the rest of the Union line setting up along the Emmitsburg road which offered slightly higher elevation.
By doing this he had separated himself from his own army and was in a very exposed position that could easily be attacked and outflanked. Seeing this the Confederates had no choice but to attack this bulge in the Union line.
It wasn’t until around 4:00 in the afternoon that the Confederates finally launched their attack. General John Bell Hood and Lafayette Mclaws led the two Confederate divisions taking place in this attack. The Confederate attack would be en echelon, which would start on their right flank and swing left to hopefully outflank and roll up the Federal lines.
At this same time Lee ordered General Ewell to make a “demonstration” against Culp’s Hill to tie up as many Union troops as possible and even make a full fledged attack toward Culp’s Hill if the opportunity presented itself. This “demonstration” would prevent the Union from shifting troops to the south to reinforce their lines.
Meanwhile the main attack in the south began starting with an artillery bombardment of the Union lines. General Hood and his men began the attack. The Confederates entered Devil’s Den, which saw very bloody fighting often hand to hand. The Confederates fought their way through Devil’s Den and on to Little Round Top. It was here that they met the men of the 20th Maine under the command of Joshua Chamberlain.
The Confederates charged the 20th Maine three times but were beaten back each time. After the third attempt they had enough and began moving off of Little Round Top.
Seeing the rebels withdraw Chamberlain ordered his men to fix bayonets and swept the rebels from the hill.
Chamberlain would go on to great fame for his actions during the battle of Gettysburg. Retreating back to Devil’s Den the Confederates continued to return fire with the 20th Maine though now they were simply trying to hold their ground.
Meanwhile at around 5:00 pm Mclaws began his attack into the peach orchard easily overwhelming the Union troops defending the area. The rebels pushed the Union troops into a wheatfield where the fighting turned into a hand-to-hand melee which was extremely bloody on both sides.
The rebels sustained many casualties in the fighting coupled with more Federal troops being rushed to the area the attack failed and the rebels were forced to withdraw.
At around 6:00pm Anderson began his attack toward the Union lines. General Hancock was the commander of the Union center at Gettysburg. He had weakened his own lines in order to support General Sickles who was receiving the full force of the Confederate attacks.
Weakening his lines General Hancock took a big risk because it was at this weakened spot that Anderson attacked. The rebels had initial success even reaching the top of Cemetery Ridge, if only briefly staying there. Hancock out of sheer desperation after seeing this ordered the 1st Minnesota regiment who had just arrived in the area to attack the rebels.
They of course did what they were ordered to do and in doing so suffered over 80% casualties. Their bravery was not in vain however because it bought Hancock enough time to reform his defensive position and drive the Confederates back to where they came from.
Gettysburg day two was not over yet. At around 7:00pm Confederate forces began their attack against the Union right flank. This was the “demonstration” the Lee had ordered Ewell to make. The attack began with some success. The Confederates took some ground and inflicted many casualties on the Federal troops however the Union was able to reinforce their lines and the rebel attackers received no additional support so their attacks eventually petered out and failed.
This last attacked ended the brutal second days fighting at Gettysburg. Lee came very close to breaking the Union lines. Fortunately for the Union he failed. Casualties were very high on both sides, each losing roughly 10,000 men each. A bit shaken up by this Meade called a meeting that night to take a vote with his corps commanders as to whether they should remain at Gettysburg and fight, or if they should withdraw. It was a unanimous decision.
They would stay and fight.