30g. Prelude to defeat

By early evening of 1 JUL 1863, Lee moved forward on the battlefield and established his HQ in a farmhouse near the Seminary. He then rode east to meet with Ewell and his commanders. MG Heth’s division had borne the brunt of the day’s fighting, supported by the rest of A.P. Hill’s corps. But it wasn’t until the arrival of Rodes’ then Early’s divisions of Ewell’s corps that the tide had turned in favor of the Rebels.

LTG Reynolds (now dead) had deployed his 1st Union Corps and relieved Buford’s cavalry. On the Union side, they bore the brunt of the day’s action and were now spent. The Eleventh Corps had arrived late in the afternoon but were deployed north of the city. Those on the west end of the line had no time to affect the outcome of the battle. Those on the east were just arriving and had not yet had time to fully establish a line when Early attacked and routed them.

Luckily, in accordance with Buford’s overall vision of the battle, Reynolds had given orders for his men to fall back to Cemetery Hill at the end of the day. Led by the Iron Brigade, they did just that. The Iron men skirted the city and headed directly for that hill. There, throughout the night, 11th Corps worked to fortify it and to welcome First Corps stragglers who made their way through the city to the high ground. It is estimated that some 20,000+ Union soldiers of the 2 Corps made their way through the city to the rally point.

First Ewell then Early offered apologies to Lee for not pressing the attack on the two hills to their south. Their stories were the same. Their men had had a long march from the north, fought successfully in breaking the Union line and were spent. They needed rest and food before pressing the attack. Ewell agreed with Lee that he would sent his last arriving division belonging to MG Johnson around to the east and south, flanking Culp’s Hill. Johnson was to be prepared to attack at first light. In addition, they cited Lee’s own order cautioning them to refrain from a major engagement. Ewell had beaten back the Union troops that opposed him but had not pressed the engagement further based on those orders.

Lee had begun to formulate a plan in his mind. Hill’s corps had fought hard and needed to recuperate. Ewell’s was in a good position but he and his commanders had struck him as reluctant to engage. It was, after all, Ewell’s first days in command replacing Stonewall Jackson (the irreplaceable). Lee’s most trusted commander, Longstreet, had not been involved in the first day’s battle. He was now encamped behind Seminary Ridge, awaiting the arrival of his last division belonging to Pickett. Lee knew that Cemetery Hill was the cornerstone (literally) of the Union line. He did not know where the southern end (left flank) was. Tomorrow Longstreet would attack there; he just didn’t know it yet. Before leaving Ewell’s HQ, Lee broached the subject that Longstreet had suggested earlier in the day: that Lee abandon the area and maneuver his forces to the south then east hitting Meade’s army as it moved north and cutting off those already at Gettysburg from vital resupply. To a man, Ewell’s commanders disagreed, suggesting that such a move would diminish the victory and demoralize the entire Army of Northern Virginia.

Meanwhile, Union LTG Hancock had arrived late in the afternoon and assumed overall command of the Union Forces. Upon their arrival, he positioned his own corps southward along Cemetery Ridge and sent word for the next arriving corps to be placed south of him extending the Union line to Little Round Top. In the middle of the night, this is where MG Sickles found himself.

While their Union counterparts were toiling through the night to erect defensive positions, Lee’s men were singing songs and recounting tales of their victory on the day. Their celebration was but a prelude to defeat.   

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