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Contents:
  1. Learn more about our specialized publishing options
  2. Gettysburg, Day Three
  3. The Bloody Pit - Matthew Bartlett, Author Gettysburg Chronicle

No troops appeared to be more active on the southern portion of the battlefield during the night than Southern artillerists. One gunner complained in his diary that he "spent the whole of last night getting ammunition" for his 2nd Company, Richmond howitzers. The artillerymen fed their horses, killed crippled animals, refilled ammunition chests, tended to their wounded, buried their own while leaving the Federal dead untouched, and obtained rations for the next day. A few batteries shifted their positions, and others were brought up from the rear.

Overseeing these labors was Colonel Edward Porter Alexander.

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At twenty-eight years old, the Georgian was one of the finest artillery commanders in the army, a West Pointer who was exceptionally bright and exceedingly capable. Although only a battalion commander, Alexander had been given tactical control of the First Corps's batteries by James Longstreet on July 2.

He rewarded Longstreet's trust by directing the fire in support of the assaults by Lafayette McLaws's and John Hood's divisions. After nightfall, Alexander attended to the myriad details in preparation for the next day and then rode to Longstreet's headquarters near Pitzer's Woods. There he learned from the lieutenant general that Lee had issued orders for a resumption of the offensive at daylight on July 3.

Pickett's division would arrive on the field and join in the attack. Longstreet also directed the artillery officer to move the Washington Artillery forward and put its four companies in line by dawn. Alexander rode back to the Peach Orchard, fashioned a bed from two fence rails, using his saddle as a pillow, and slept for two hours. Dead men and horses shared the ground with him among the fruit trees.

Before A. Major Benjamin F. Eshleman's four batteries of the Washington Artillery and Captain W. Parker's Virginia Battery soon appeared. Alexander placed eighteen of the twenty cannon in a line that began about one hundred yards north of the Peach Orchard. Two howitzers of the Washington Artillery were placed in reserve. While the Confederate gunners wheeled their guns into position, Captain Charles W. Only a warning voiced by a fellow Southerner saved them from a prison camp.

Alexander completed his preparations by four o'clock or shortly thereafter. Dawn would be breaking from the east in less than forty-five minutes. With his gunners, Alexander could only wait. For all of them, it would be a day unlike any in their experience. Richard Ewell had been ordered "to make a diversion" when James Longstreet's two divisions moved against the Federal left flank and convert it "into a real attack if an opportunity offered.

Gettysburg, Day Three

Fortunately for the Southerners, only a single Union brigade waited behind breastworks on the hillside. The two infantry divisions of Major General Henry Slocum's Twelfth Corps, numbering about ninety-two hundred officers and men, had occupied Culp's Hill since the morning of July 2, erecting fieldworks of logs, rocks, and dirt from its summit, down the southern slope, to the edge of a large meadow. When the crisis mounted on the Union left and center during the late afternoon and evening, however, Meade sent instructions to Slocum to send troops to Cemetery Ridge. Slocum complied, but through either a misunderstanding or garbled orders, five of the corps's six brigades abandoned their positions on the Union right and marched away.


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Brigadier General Alpheus S. Williams's three brigades departed at P. Geary's two brigades. Greene's brigade. Only minutes after Geary's troops departed, Johnson's Confederates appeared through the trees, moving toward the New Yorkers. Culp's Hill actually consisted of two hills, an upper and a lower, which were divided by a saddle, running east to west, about four hundred yards south of the summit.

Greene's troops manned the works from the crest to the saddle, where the rifle pits formed an angle and extended south and east toward the meadow.

It was too long a line for too few men to defend. Against the New Yorkers came nearly forty-eight hundred Confederates. From behind the breastworks, Greene's men fought with a valor and desperation that rivaled the defense of Little Round Top by Joshua Chamberlain and the 20th Maine.

For three hours the opponents hammered each other in the enveloping darkness. A Virginian stated that he and his comrades located the Yankees by "flashes of the guns. Steuart's troops seized the abandoned works on the lower hill and forced Greene's right regiment, the th New York, back up the slope beyond the angle in the works.

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The Bloody Pit - Matthew Bartlett, Author Gettysburg Chronicle

Only the tenacity of these New Yorkers and the arrival of reinforcements from other corps prevented Steuart's men from penetrating deeper into the Federal position. When the combat ended, Steuart's brigade lay only five hundred yards from Baltimore Pike, Meade's primary supply line and, if necessary, his escape route. Adams, had been posted to the rear of Culp's Hill, along Baltimore Pike.

When the fighting on the hill stopped, Adams sent a detail of men east to reconnoiter the lower hill. They returned about thirty minutes later and reported that the enemy held the works in that area.

Gettysburg, Day Three

Adams hurried the information to army headquarters at the Leister house, where Meade and his generals were conferring. When Geary had been instructed to follow Williams's division, he had started a half-hour later and mistakenly turned his column onto Baltimore Pike, leading it away from the battlefield. He halted his march on the road at a bridge over Rock Creek, and deployed Colonel Charles Candy's and Kane's brigades. About nine o'clock, Kane began his countermarch, under orders from either Slocum or Geary.

Kane's three regiments of Pennsylvanians turned off Baltimore Pike and angled northeast through woods toward the works on the lower hill, which they had constructed and manned before being withdrawn. Although the moon shone brightly, the trees' canopy darkened the area. The 29th Pennsylvania led the brigade, approaching a stone wall that ran roughly parallel to and southwest of the Union rifle pits. Someone shouted for a cheer. The Yankees hurrahed, and a blast of musketry from behind the wall ripped into the column, killing four and wounding ten. The 29th turned about and scrambled back to the pike.

The regiment's commander, Colonel William Rickards, Jr. He spurred his horse into the woods, halted, and identified himself. Another volley flashed from behind the wall, hurrying the colonel rearward. Kane then resumed the march on the pike with th Pennsylvania in the lead, trailed by the th and 29th Pennsylvania. At the farmhouse of Henry Spangler, the troops left the road and followed a farm lane that led to the saddle between the upper and lower hills.

The th continued on about one hundred yards to the angle in the works. Evidently, the Federals remained unconvinced that enemy troops held a portion of the works on the lower hill. Colonel George A. Cobham, Jr. Walker, to deploy the regiment in its former position. Walker managed to place two companies in the works before another volley, fired at a distance of thirty paces, chased the Pennsylvanians. Walker wheeled his regiment to face the unseen riflemen.