Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Gettysburg 150 Years Ago Today DAY TWO

July 2,1863                    150 years ago

When Robert E Lee awoke on the morning of July 2, the Union Army of the Potomac was entrench on high ground south of Gettysburg. Lee's best Corps commander General James Longstreet tried to point out that the better tactic would be to move around the Union left and get between the Union Army and Washington DC on ground of their choice.  The Union Army would then be required to leave their high ground an attack Lee who would then be on high ground.  Lee told Longstreet that that is where the Union Army is and that is where I will attack it!

The Union Army was formed like a fish hook with Culp's Hill and Cemetery Hill the top of the hook running down to the Little Round Top and the Round Top

Lee ordered attacks on both Union flanks.  Ewell was to hit the right flank and Longstreet the left flank.  There was bloody fighting by Ewell on the Union right that ultimatly failed. Lee wanted Longsteet to take the little Round Top which was not defended earlyin the day.
The Union Army of the Potomac had units arriving hourly from the south and moved units to continue the Union line to the Little Round Top.  The last unit was the 20th Maine under the command of college professor Joshua Chamberlain.He left a comfortable life in Maine to fight for the Union and end slavery. He would be awarded the "Congressional" Medal of Honor for his defense of the Little Round Top this day! The following is from Wikipedia:
"Chamberlain found himself and the 20th Maine at the far left end of the entire Union line. He quickly understood the strategic significance of the small hill, and the need for the 20th Maine to hold the Union left at all costs. The men from Maine waited until troops from the 15th Alabama Infantry regiment, under Col. William C. Oates, charged up the hill, attempting to flank the Union position. Time and time again the Confederates struck, until the 20th Maine was almost doubled back upon itself. With many casualties and ammunition running low, Col. Chamberlain recognized the dire circumstances and ordered his left wing (which was now looking southeast, compared to the rest of the regiment, which was facing west) to initiate a bayonet charge. From his report of the day: "At that crisis, I ordered the bayonet. The word was enough." While battlefield conditions make it unlikely that many men heard Chamberlain's order, most historians believe he initiated the charge."

"The 20th Maine charged down the hill, with the left wing wheeling continually to make the charging line swing like a hinge, thus creating a simultaneous frontal assault and flanking maneuver, capturing 101 of the Confederate soldiers and successfully saving the flank."
That day Chamberlain saved the Union.  When his unit was out of ammunition after fighting off wave after wave of Confederate attacks. The men were getting ammo from their dead comrades and were still running low. The dead and wounded had depleted his command and they could not survive another attack. Chamberlain   had two choices. One, he could  be overrun and or retreat and allow the Union line to collapse on itself as it was outflanked by Lee; or two, he could order "Fix Bayonets" and charge the enemy with little chance of success.  The choice of one man changed the course of history.
After the war  he served as Governor of Maine for four terms as a Republican
 "In May 1913, he made his last known visit to Gettysburg while involved in planning the 50th anniversary reunion. Due to deteriorating health, he was unable to attend the reunion two months later"
There was also fierce bloody fighting in the "peach orchard" but at the end of the 2nd day the Union still controlled the high ground and the battle would continue!
Meanwhile a sad, lonely man who covered his sadness with colorful stories waited  in the War Departments telegraph office near the White House and followed the news of  the battle. So many of his generals had disappointed him with their incompetence.