At 5;30 a.m. Confederate troops attacked John Buford's dismounted cavalry in a minor skirmish to start the battle. Today the issue will be decided by which side can get more men to the line as Union units approach from the south and Confederate troops who are west and north of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania approach from the north and west.
At 8 a.m. Confederate General Heth saw that he could not move forward with out a fight. He had orders from Lee to not engage the Union forces but he disregards those orders.
Bruce Catton, a 1960's Civil War Historian, said it best in his book "Never Call Retreat:
"There was no very good reason why these Confederates had to get into Gettysburg except that A.P. Hill (General Heth's Corps Commander) was a pugnacious man who liked to fight whenever he had a chance; and there was no special reason why Yankee cavalry should try to keep them out of Gettysburg, except that Buford felt the way Hill felt about fighting."
At about 9 am Union General Reynolds of 1st Corps road up on his horse and Buford told him "The devil's to pay". Reynolds asked Buford if he could hold out a while longer until reinforcements arrived, Buford replied "I reckon I can."
That was good enough for Reynolds, "The enemy is advancing in strong force" he wrote to Meade at Taneytown. "I will fight him inch by inch"
Reynolds brought in his 1st Corps to reinforce Buford to the west of town and XI Corps was deployed to the north of town under Commanding General Schurz and the battle was on. As Catton said: "the Battle of Gettysburg had begun bought on without choice of Lee or Meade by the fact that the roads that crossed here brought together men possessed by a blind driving urge to fight..... Reynolds did what was in character for him to do. He was an instinctive, inch-by inch fighter," and now he rode up and down the line. He was struck by a bullet an toppled from his saddle dead." General Abner Doubleday (yes, that Doubleday) took command of 1st Corps. "for half an hour or an hour ... no one counted minutes very carefully that day.... there was a desperate fight on the open plain to the north and the long ridge to the west. This battle that involve only fraction of the armies grew and more destructive than any intended. The right half of the Federal line collapsed first" in the north. "the flight through town was confused and costly."
"Late in the afternoon the Federals had reassembled in the new position' set up by Major General Winfield Scott Hancock and his 2nd Corps on Cemetery Hill and Culp's Hill South of town. Now the Union held the high ground! "In killed, wounded and captured the Federals had lost 9000 men.... but the victory "robbed both Lee and Meade of their freedom of action. They had to finish what had been so violently begun and they had to finish it here. When darkness came on July 1 each commander accepted this fact and ordered the rest of his troops forward."
However, in the end the Union held the high ground because of General Buford's willingness to hold the line until the rest of the Union Army could secure it. Buford survived the battle but died before the year was over in Washington DC of typhoid fever. John Buford died at 2 p.m., December 16, 1863, while fellow cavalry officer, Myles Keogh held him in his arms. His final reported words were "Put guards on all the roads, and don't let the men run to the rear. Myles Keogh died 13 years later with Custer at the battle of The Little Big Horn out west with the 7th Cavalry.
That night General Lee was very disappointed that General Ewell had not captured Culp's Hill south of town as he had ordered during the Federal retreat through town. He would now need to take it on the second day of the battle July 2 after it had been fortified by the Union Army.
To end the first days battle let me quote from George Will's column in this mornings Mail Tribune newspaper:
Books about battles, historian Allen C. Guelxo says tartly, have "acquired among my academic peers a reputation close to pornography," war being in their eyes, chiefly a manifestation of American savagery. But, he says dryly, one cannot discuss the 19th Century without discussing the Civil War era whose "singular event was a war." and one conducted, not least at Gettysburg and with an "amateurism"..... a "bewildered, small-town incompetence"..... that magnified its bloodiness.