At certain moments during the days of July 1st—July 3rd every year, I find myself in a trance. As a historian and Civil War buff I cannot help but think to the Battle of Gettysburg fought over the course of three days in the Pennsylvania countryside. As a child I went to re-enactments and was enthralled with the idea that men and boys would dress in period clothing and fight such historic battles. As I grew older, my most memorable family trip was driving South to visit family in Georgia and Florida, stopping at Civil War battlefields such as Stone’s River and Chickamauga and Chattanooga along the way.
For readers who are Civil War enthusiasts, I hope this post is gladly accepted. To those readers not acquainted with the American Civil War and what you know of Gettysburg is only the Address that President Lincoln gave there in November of 1863, and we all had to memorize in school, I ask, humbly, for your indulgence.
Below is a small timeline of the day’s unfolding events. What is interesting to note, and not often mentioned, is the fact that Gettysburg was not Confederate General Lee’s intended target. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania’s capital was. Also, Confederate General Pettigrew’s men went into Gettysburg to find rumored shoes.
Union General Buford is recorded as making a dire prediction there as he peered eastward toward the rolling hills in the direction of Gettysburg, where he was ordered to march to scout the enemy: "Within forty-eight hours a great battle will take place on a field within view."
A Union cavalry squadron spotted the advance guard of Brig. Gen. Johnston Pettigrew's Confederate infantry brigade to the west on the Cashtown Pike. Buford's elaborate network of videttes covered all roads leading to Gettysburg from the west, north and east, serving as an early warning system of any approach by the Rebels. It soon worked for Heth's Confederate division leading the march of A.P. Hill's Third Corps toward Gettysburg from Cashtown was observed.
Wednesday, July 1 - 8 A.M. - Two divisions of Confederates headed back to Gettysburg. They run into Buford's Federal cavalry west of the town at Willoughby Run and the skirmish began. Events would quickly escalate. Lee rushed 25,000 men to the scene. The Union had less than 20,000. Reynold's Federal I Corps begins to arrive at 10 A.M., just in the nick of time. Directing his men into battle, Reynolds is killed by a rebel sniper.
July 1 - 2:30 P.M. - Lee arrives on the battlefield just in time to witness his converging units drive the Federals to the rear. The Federals were pushed back through Gettysburg and regrouped south of the town along the high ground near the cemetery.
At 4:30 P.M. Lee ordered Confederate General R.S. Ewell to seize the high ground from the battle weary Federals but Ewell hesitated to attack. The Union troops have a chance to dig in along Cemetery Ridge and bring in more reinforcements and their artillery. 4:00 P.M. - Hancock arrives at the battlefield to assume command of I Corps. He orders the fortification of the line from Culp's Hill through Cemetery Ridge to Little Round Top. Little Round Top is not occupied in any strength however -- only some signal men are on the hill for most of the next day. There are too few Union soldiers on the battlefield and they are exausted from the first day's fighting -- but more are arriving every hour.
5:30 P.M. - Confederate General James Longstreet argues that Lee should move east between the Union Army and Washington and build a defensive position. Lee overrules him. "No," he said. "The enemy is there, and I'm going to attack him there.... They are there in position, and I am going to whip them or they are going to whip me. "
9:30 P.M - Meade orders all Union forces to converge on Gettysburg -- Seven corps in all, more than 80,000 troops.