It was a long and exhausting day for Ewell’s troops in the north. As ordered, he had assembled them into pre-battle staging areas. Their commanders had specific objectives to attack. But now they waited and waited. The hot July sun was taking its toll even as they languished in whatever shade they could find. They’d been there for hours. They were waiting for confirmation that Longstreet’s attack was launched then they would move to claim Culp’s Hill. It would be a three-pronged attack. In the west, Rodes’ artillery would bombard the cemetery to occupy the attention of the many Union cannons there. It would be a small matter to turn those cannons a few degrees to the right to bring them to bear on Early’s division. He didn’t know it, but Ewell was sending him into a ‘seam’ in the Union line. In the saddle where Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill come together was also a juncture between First and Eleventh Corps. When such a seam is identified it is a prime target for attack because if the split in command that makes coordination harder.
At the same time, Johnston’s men were to attack Culp’s Hill from the east. They had been probing to find the extent and manning of the trenches that First Corps elements had dug in the past 24 hours. Rodes would send some infantry to harass the Union infantry on the forward slope of the cemetery but it was deemed too strong a fortress to attempt to wrest from the Union forces.
But for hours they waited for those tell-tale sounds of the battle to the south. And then they waited some more.
On Seminary Ridge, the men of Anderson’s division were somewhat more comfortable. The slope was thick with trees. The air was cooler. There were streams for water. As far as they could tell, the Union skirmishers weren’t even aware of their presence. At least they weren’t receiving any harassing fie. But they too waited for Longstreet to act.
Back at his HQ, Lee seemingly was sleeping and totally uninvolved and unconcerned about what was happening on the battlefield.
It wasn’t until Barksdale’s Brigade of McLaw’s division was surging towards the Third Corps HQ of MG Sickles that MG Anderson launched his the first portion of his attack on Cemetery Ridge. It began on his right (southern) flank and spread northward as each brigade in turn marched out of the cover the wood line. In something of a reprise of Day 1, what ensued was a see-saw battle on the west-facing slope of the ridge. As the Rebels charged across ground that on Day 3 Pickett would use, Union regiments moved forward of their protective line to meet them. They were accompanied by 3-6 gun sections of artillery. These groups of cannons became focal points of the fighting as the Rebels tried to quell their fire by seizing them.
As on Day 1, small patches of ground changed hands many times. All things considered, the battle in this center portion of this Union line was fought to a stalemate. But as dusk was falling, a seemingly momentous event occurred. BG Ambrose Wright’s Brigade fought its way across the sunken road bed and scaled the slope and reached the stonewall parapet. It was only the timely arrival of COL Francis Randall’s 13th Vermont Regiment that drove them off. Later, COL Wright would claim that he could have penetrated that defensive position if only he had had some support on his flanks. But it wasn’t to be and as darkness descended, the Confederate forces withdrew back into the woods. The Emmittsburg Road battle area fell silent. Except for the pleadings of the wounded.
History does not record whether or not Robert E. Lee himself witnessed any of this fighting. But seemingly, it was Wright’s success that planted the seed for his orders for Day 3. One can only speculate that he must have witnessed this with his own eyes as opposed to simply receiving a battle report.
His evening command and staff meeting was a grim one. MG John Hood was wounded and would likely lose his arm. BG Evander Law was elevated to the division command. None of Lee’s objectives had been accomplished. If anything, the Union position was strengthened if only due to the severe losses suffered by both of Longstreet’s divisions.
What could he do now to salvage this battle?