THE GETTYSBURG DIARY: Culp’s Hill – Gettysburg’s Often-overlooked Front (Friday, July 3rd, 1863)

One the final day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Robert E. Lee planned for a massive assault against the Union center. This attack would become legendary, and forever be remembered as “Pickett’s Charge.” In this assault, over 12,000 Confederates under General James Longstreet would move on the Union troops on Cemetery Ridge. The attack was easily repulsed, with over half of the troops who attacked killed, wounded or captured. It was a terrible gamble that several of the officers, including Longstreet himself, felt was not worth the risk. And those men were proven right at a terrible cost.

View of Culp's Hill, where the Union left flank was situated.

View of Culp’s Hill, where the Union left flank was situated.

However, on the morning of Friday, July 3rd, while Lee planned the massive assault on the Federal center, another Confederate assault took place on the Union left, on a ridge known as Culp’s Hill. This hill was the part of the high ground that Lee had hoped to secure in the latter part of July 1st, and for which General Richard Ewell became a scapegoat for the Confederate loss by not continuing the successful momentum of that day and taking that heights beyond the town. On the afternoon of July 2nd, Ewell ordered his men to attempt to take the ridge, but the attack was unsuccessful. The following morning, and against Lee’s orders, the attack was resumed on the hill.

Instead of writing a lengthy summary of the battle here, I have decided to link to an article from the website called North against South, which has a great article on the fighting at Culp’s Hill on July 3rd. That article can be read here.

The failure to take Culp’s Hill on the morning of July 3rd, added to the additional failures of “Pickett’s Charge,” as well as the cavalry attack to the rear of the Union lines by Jeb Stuart, helped make Gettysburg a complete failure for the Confederates. Had General Ewell pushed on after the successes of July 1st and taken Culp’s Hill then, the outcome of the battle may have been different. But alas, Confederate fortunes at Gettysburg, which had been high following the first day’s actions, petered out, and turned in favor of the North. And with the end of the day on July 3rd, Lee and his men knew that the battle had ended disastrously for them.

In the next edition of THE GETTYSBURG DIARY, we look at July 4th, 1863, and how the combined Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg proved to be another major turning point in the war.

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THE GETTYSBURG DIARY: Introduction

Pickett's Charge, the climax of Gettysburg

Pickett’s Charge, the climax of Gettysburg

This past Sunday marked the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Brandy Station, the largest cavalry battle of the American Civil War. This battle marked the first battle in a campaign that would culminate with the Battle of Gettysburg, the bloodiest battle fought during the conflict. This campaign and battle would prove to be a major turning point in the war. The Confederate tide in the Eastern Theater, having ridden high following the battles at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, would begin to ebb, while Union momentum would finally begin to build toward ultimate victory. Lives would be changed forever, and nothing would be the same.

As we look back on this campaign over the next month, we cannot help but ask several questions about who fought in it, what took place, and how the events of that period helped shape the country we live in today. Not only would thousands of lives be lost in this campaign, but those that survived through it would not be the same. Men who were relatively unknown prior to the events of this period would soon become household names. Officers with boyish charm would become bitter, depressed men into their dying days. And local scenery such as Devil’s Den, the Wheatfield, the Peach Orchard, the Round Tops, and Cemetery Ridge would forever be etched into the annals of military history. But ultimately, this campaign would change the face of the war, and lead to ultimate Union victory during the war.

Over the next couple of weeks, we shall be looking at various people, places and events that shaped this campaign, and how they shaped the outcome of this campaign. All of this will culminate with a three-part series on the Battle of Gettysburg, which will be released on July 1st, 2nd and 3rd, respectively. We here at Civil War Diary look forward to sharing these stories with you.