28b 2PM Day 1
On Day 1 at Gettysburg, 2PM seems to have been a pivotal time. The First Union Corps had been battling with Heth’s Division for about 2 hours. But Heth’s battle had begun at 8AM so his forces were flagging and in need of resupply if not relief. The battle on the fields west of the city was essentially at a stalemate. Neither side was able to gain the upper hand.
By about 2PM Rodes’ Division arrived adding fresh — if somewhat uncoordinated – troops to the mix. Simultaneously, the Eleventh Union Corps was moving through the town and establishing its west to east line just on the north edge of the city.
My ALT Hx scenario of Lee deploying Anderson’s Division to the south to interdict newly arriving Union forces also begins about 2PM. I calculate that starting near Cashtown at about 10AM, it would have taken Anderson about 4 hours to march the direct route – the one Longstreet intended to take on DAY 2 – and that would bring him to the southern tip of the ridge at about 2PM. Most likely he would have encountered only supply wagons of the 11th and possibly even some from the 1st Corps, but no infantry! Those supplies could have been easily captured and the wagon masters subdued, but they were not the prize: terrain was. A quick scouting mission by his embedded cavalry would have revealed that the Emmittsburg Road was devoid of approaching Union infantry.
Anderson could have assumed control of that road by placing some artillery and a small band of infantry – perhaps one small brigade – on the peach orchard knoll. He could then move his main force either southeast towards and around Big Round Top or due east and occupy Little Round Top (LRT).
It is hard to gauge the timing of the arrival of Hancock’s Second Union Corps, but 2-3PM seems like the most likely time. Hancock had been dispatched by Meade ahead of his Corps to take command and assess the battlefield situation. The main body of his force had departed the area of Westminster that morning and 2-3PM would seem like a reasonable time for them to be approaching Big Round Top moving up the road from Taneytown.
Rather than move southeast and meet that Corps on open ground, I’m inclined to think Anderson would have been astute enough to occupy the west face of LRT and spring a flanking ambush as the Second Corps passed the shadow of Big Round Top. With his artillery near the Saddle and his infantry arrayed on LRT, he could have decimated the Union formation while it was still in column marching formation. They also would have had nowhere to seek cover adjacent to the Taneytown Road.
Meanwhile, LTG Hancock was inside the cemetery directing the reserves that had been held back by LTG Howard from his 11th Corps. All their attention would have been focused to the west and north assessing the battle there as it ebbed and flowed.
Assuming Anderson was able to ascertain their presence, a small CSA force might have been able to launch an attack into their rear and overwhelm that Union contingent. Worst case for the Union, LTGs Hancock and Howard as well as Third Corps commander MG Sickles could have been removed from the equation as killed, wounded or captured! By the time Early’s Division arrived and launched its attack on the 11th Corps right flank, Anderson’s biggest problem would likely have been the enormous number of 2nd Corps POWs he had.
Both the 1st and 11th Corps leaders had orders to rally their troops at the cemetery south of town. But as they approached from the west or the north they would have found that anchor point in the hands of the CSA and their own cannons raining fire on them.
History records that neither Pender nor Heth’s men made any true effort to pursue the withdrawing 1st Corps forces. In the north, Rodes’ men seemingly gave pursuit to the retreating – in some disarray – 11th Corps. How might the tide have washed over those Union soldiers when they found that their rally point was in CSA hands? Might even Heth’s exhausted men been revitalized by the possibility of crushing the Army of the Potomac in a hammer and anvil attack with the cemetery as the anvil?
It wouldn’t have taken Pender’s Division long to swing around the north end of Seminary Ridge and join up with Anderson. While Heth and Rodes mopped up the 1st and 11th, Pender and Anderson could have divided up the hills and prepared to meet which ever Union Corps was next to step into their meat grinder. LTG Slocum’s 12th Corps would have been the next on the firing line. He was approaching on the Baltimore Pike. It is doubtful whether he could have been warned by a dispatch from Second Corps that the tide of the battle had turned drastically in favor of the Army of Northern Virginia. If so, he most likely would have withdrawn to Littlestown and awaited orders from Meade.
The Third Union Corps did not arrive at Gettysburg until the wee hours of the morning of the 2 July. So it is quite likely that Meade could have forestalled their advance beyond Emmittsburg. His remaining troops, the Fifth and Sixth Corps would also have been halted and recalled to Pipe’s Creek. At best then, Meade would have had had four Corps to block Lee’s attack on Westminster. If the 12th was lost or depleted, he might have had only three.
The Army of Northern Virginia on the other hand was in great shape. Heth’s Division was battered and now ineffective, but his eight other divisions were in good shape. Lee would have probably waited and rested his consolidated Army at Gettysburg before moving south to a meeting engagement with Meade. Heth remaining troops could have taken charge of the huge numbers of Union POWs and herded them back onto the Day 1 battlefield.
Might Meade have had time to bring replacement troops from Baltimore utilizing the rail link to Westminster? Would Lincoln have allowed him to further deplete the protection of WASHDC? Might the ensuing Battle of Pipe Creek have been an overwhelming second victory for the Army of Northern Virginia, thus bringing the war to a negotiated ceasefire and settlement with recognition of the CSA as a separate country?
For want of the realignment of an otherwise unused division, Lee could possibly have out-thought and out-maneuvered the Army of the Potomac.