Gettysburg -- The First Day

Gettysburg -- The First Day

Gettysburg -- The First Day

Gettysburg -- The First Day


Though a great deal has been written about the battle of Gettysburg, much of it has focused on the events of the second and third days. With this book, the first day's fighting finally receives its due. Harry Pfanz, a former historian at Gettysburg National Military Park and author of two previous books on the battle, presents a deeply researched, definitive account of the events of July 1, 1863.

After sketching the background of the Gettysburg campaign and recounting the events immediately preceding the battle, Pfanz offers a detailed tactical description of the first day's fighting. He describes the engagements in McPherson Woods, at the Railroad Cuts, on Oak Ridge, on Seminary Ridge, and at Blocher's Knoll, as well as the retreat of Union forces through Gettysburg and the Federal rally on Cemetery Hill. Throughout, he draws on deep research in published and archival sources to challenge some of the common assumptions about the battle--for example, that Richard Ewell's failure to press an attack against Union troops at Cemetery Hill late on the first day ultimately cost the Confederacy the battle.


This is an account of the battle of 1 July 1863 at Gettysburg and of certain relevant events and decisions immediately preceding it. The battle was a “meeting engagement”; neither Gen. Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, nor Maj. Gen. George G. Meade, commander of the Federal Army of the Potomac, planned to give battle at Gettysburg. Events and subordinate commanders took measures that made Gettysburg the battle site. They included Lt. Gen. Ambrose Powell Hill, commander of Lee’s Third Army Corps; Maj. Gen. Henry Heth, one of Hill’s division commanders; Brig. Gen.John Buford, commander of the First Division of the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps; and Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds, the commander of that army’s temporary left wing.

The battle commenced about 8:00 A.M. approximately three miles west of the town when Union cavalry videttes opened fire on a Confederate column advancing on Gettysburg. There was skirmishing as the horsemen fell back toward Gettysburg and their support. Close to 10:00 A.M., as cavalry units formed on the low ridges west of the town, infantry of the Union First Corps reached the field. There was a sharp but brief fight between two Confederate and two Union infantry brigades, and the Confederates fell back.

There followed a lull of some three hours punctuated by the crack of skirmishers’ rifles and occasional cannon shots, as strong reinforcements reached the area. The Union First and Eleventh Corps took defensive positions west and north of Gettysburg, and arriving Confederates from Hill’s and Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell’s corps formed opposite them. Fullscale fighting resumed about midafternoon as the Confederates attacked first from the north and then from the west. There was a short but violent fight, and soon after 4:00 P.M. the two Union corps retreated through the town south to Cemetery Hill. There they rallied, and the Confederates did not continue their attack. The remainder of both armies reached the . . .

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