Gettysburg: The Second Day

Gettysburg: The Second Day

Gettysburg: The Second Day

Gettysburg: The Second Day

Synopsis

Harry Pfanz, a former historian at Gettysburg National Military Park, has written a definitive account of the second day's brutal combat. He begins by introducing the men and units that were to do battle, analyzing the strategic intentions of Lee and Meade as commanders of the opposing armies, and describing the concentration of forces in the area around Gettysburg. He then examines the development of tactical plans and the deployment of troops for the approaching battle.

Excerpt

This is an account of the major action at Gettysburg on 2 July 1863--fought in the three hours prior to darkness on the second day of that enormous battle. It was the assault by the Army of Northern Virginia against the left and center of the Army of the Potomac. Lieutenant General James Longstreet, who commanded two of the three divisions that participated in this Confederate attack, termed the performance of his troops the "best three hours' fighting ever done by any troops on any battle-field." Few would take great issue with his boast. This hard-fought action introduced Little Round Top, Devil's Den, the Wheatfield, and the Peach Orchard to America's historical vocabulary. The mention of these names once quickened the pulses of the survivors of the action and stirred them in pride--and sometimes in defense--of what they and their leaders had done that day. Now the veterans have passed on, and the significance of these places, which was so apparent to them, has faded in man's memory. Such fading is natural, but the veterans of both armies sought to slow its pace. They believed that what they had done at these places was important and sought to preserve the memory of it by erecting memorials on the battlefield and initiating the preservation of the field itself. I hope that this account is a worthy continuation of their preservation effort.

July 2 was a day when many men of both armies performed deeds of great valor and made personal sacrifices that were worthy of the best of their mutual American (and European) heritage. Much of this aspect of the battle is chronicled below. But even the greatest of these men were human and made mistakes. Preparations for the attack--and the defense--began before dawn. There were reconnaissances that supplied incomplete information; there was some indecision and much anxiety; there was misunderstanding if not insubordination in the upper echelons of both armies, and tempers became short. In addition there was hard marching, tiresome waiting, and the usual skirmishing. Finally, the Confederate brigades chosen for the assault stood poised to attack a vulnerable Federal position, and their long-delayed advance began--in accordance with a flawed plan!

Some of the above factors bred discord and two of the most enduring controversies stemming from the war. Major General Daniel E. Sickles, whose Third Corps received the brunt of the Confederates' opening onslaught, sought to shift any adverse criticism that he or his corps might receive to others. He accused his commanding general, George G. Meade, of poor generalship and sought to have him removed from the command of the Army of the Potomac. Sickles opened his attack against Meade before the . . .

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