The Gettysburg Campaign

Last updated June 17th, 2007 by Jenny
Pender, killed during the Campaign

In mid-June, Ewell's Corps, using the Shenandoah Valley as its highway, started north. James Longstreet's corps would eventually follow while Hill's corps remained in place around Fredericksburg watching the Union army. Hill's corps eventually slipped away and joined the rest of the Army of Northern Virginia as it splashed across the Potomac into Maryland. From Maryland, the Confederates continued on into Pennsylvania.

Most of the troops enjoyed the trip north. It allowed them to escape war-torn Virginia for a land of neat farms and orchards. Although officially taking food and plundering was prohibited, the troops nevertheless usually had full bellies. It was a happy time. But not everyone was happy. Dorsey Pender, who had taken over the command of the Light Division, was concerned. He did not like the idea of invading the north; there was something wrong, Pender thought, and it was not the same as defending their homes in the South. Nonetheless, in one of his last letters to his wife, Pender closed by saying "have no fear we shall not beat them."

On the march good news reached Hill in regard to his favorite gunner who had been ill with fever. Lee told Hill, "I have good news for you, Major Pegram is up." Hill smiled and said "Yes, that is good news." Willie Pegram rode 90 miles to catch up to his guns prior to Gettysburg, despite fighting off the lingering effects of the fever fever. The bespectacled gunner looked more like a student than a man of war. But, he was a great fighter and was killed the day before A.P. Hill fell at Petersburg at Five Forks. Hill had written an endorsement to Heth's recommendation that Pegram be promoted that simply read: "No officer in the Army of Northern Virginia has done more to deserve this promotion than Lieutenant-Colonel Pegram." That pretty much summed up Pegram's value to Hill and the Third Corps.

The Army of the Potomac was tracking the Army of Northern Virginia, though Lee was unclear of its whereabouts due to Stuart falling out of contact with him. On June 28, 1863, Hooker was replaced with George Meade, a Pennsylvania West Pointer. Meade continued to move in pursuit of the Army of Northern Virginia into Pennsylvania.

The march into Pennsylvania was hard on certain Confederate supplies, including shoes. On the evening of June 30, 1863, Heth proposed advancing from Cashtown, where the head of the corps was halted, to the town of Gettysburg to look for supplies and, perhaps, a stock of shoes. Although the Confederates were unsure where the Union Army of the Potomac was and there had been reports of blue troops in and around Gettysburg, Hill must have believed the troops to be only a home guard for he replied to Heth's request and question of whether Hill had any objection with "None in the world."

The problem was, however, Union General John Buford's cavalry -- advanced guards as it were of the Army of the Potomac -- was blocking the route into Gettysburg. Buford's men were definitely not milita or a green home guard. Buford had placed his two brigades so as to hold off any Confederate attack until the Union infantry could get up.

Heth's Division ran into Buford's brigades. The fighting quickly escalated into a full scale pitched battle. The Union's crack First Corps under Major General John Reynolds soon arrived and replaced Buford's division. Heth threw in Archer's and Davis's brigades. Reynolds was soon killed and Archer and Davis were repulsed in fierce and bloody fighting. Archer was captured. Reynolds, from nearby Lancaster, was killed in the opening volleys between Archer's men and the Iron Brigade. Reynolds was the commander of the Federal 1st Corps and was one of the Army of the Potomac's wings commanders. He was a veteran of many battles with the Army of the Potomac. He was known as the Army of the Potomac's best horseman, able to pick up a dime off the ground from a full gallop. He had been offered command of the entire Army of the Potomac by Lincoln but turned him down (because Lincoln could not give him a "free hand" to command the Army as he wished) and Lincoln chose George Meade to command the unlucky Army of the Potomac instead.

At this point, Hill was still back at Cashtown. He was unwell; British observer Col. Freemantle noted he looked quite "delicate." Lee rode up and asked what was happening. Hill did not know; but it quickly became evident to both men that a large battle was brewing in Gettysburg -- whether Lee wanted one or not.

There was a lull in the battle; Heth now deployed his entire division with Pender arrayed in battle lines behind. Again, the gray tide went forward against the Union troops. During the afternoon, Hill noted the fight between Ben Crippen, a Pennsylvanian from the First Corps, and some of his men. In defiance, Crippen shook his fist at the Rebels. He was soon killed. Hill remarked sadly that, "It is a pity to kill such a brave man." (These words stand in sharp contrast to Jackson's actions. When his men let a brave Union soldier escape, Jackson told them "I don't want them brave, I want them dead.")

Heth, with the help of elements from Pender's Division (notably Scales Brigade and Samuel McGowan's Brigade now under Perrin) eventually dislodged the stubborn Union First Corps and sent it back through the town. The tired Confederates now paused.

After the battle and the war, Hill was charged by some with causing the overall defeat at Gettysburg by foolishly starting a large battle that Lee did not want. It was important to locate a scapegoat; Lee could not be blamed and history seemed to depict the defeat at Gettysburg as the beginning of the end. Those who rose to Hill's defense pointed out that Jeb Stuart's missing cavalry was to blame for the Confederates blundering into battle. Both men, of course, were dead and could say nothing themselves. Colonel John S. Mosby, the famous partisan ranger, desiring to protect the reputation of Stuart, would be among the most notable to condemn Hill for beginning the battle.

In Hill's defense, since he can not speak for himself, it seems notable that Lee didn't criticize Hill in his report; Lee called the action and battle unavoidable. If Hill had just remained at Cashtown and withdrawn Heth when he became engaged, Meade would have known where the still very scattered Army of Northern Virginia was and James Longstreet's (who were directly behind Hill) men could have been held off and delayed in a traffic snarl. It is also noteworthy that Hill's men had also met with great -- albeit bloody -- success on day one. The crack Federal First Corps had been virtually destroyed as a fighting unit and it's commander was amongst the 55% casualties taken in the first day's fight in the tangle with Hill's men. Casualties had also been high in the Third Corps, including Heth wounded and Archer captured, but troops on the attack often suffered very heavy casualties during the Civil War.

An interesting Gettysburg vignette involving Hill is found in a letter of Colonel Adrian Root, commander of the 94th New York Infantry. Members of John C. Robinson's division, Root and most of his command were captured on the afternoon of July 1. The regiment that captured the men were of the 33d North Carolina. Some of that regiment had been captured by the 94th at Fredericksburg. The 33d treated Root as an honored guest and took him to see A.P. Hill. Hill gave Root supper and allowed him to take members of his regiment who had been captured out onto the field to gather the Union wounded and take care of them. It was a kind gesture that Root obviously greatly appreciated. It was typical of Hill's good manners to treat even a vanquished foe kindly.

The Gettysburg Campaign

On-site resources include, of course, the battle reports for the Third Corps. Also, there is an 1877 article written by General Henry Heth, an account by a chaplin in Heth's Division on the first day's battle, an account of the death of the colonel of the 26th North Carolina, and an account of the Florida Brigade at Gettysburg written by Francis P. Fleming. Finally, an additional resource also on-site includes 1878 letter written by General Brickett Fry.

Lee's battle plan on July 2 called for James Longstreet's First Corps to position itself to attack the Union left flank, facing northeast on the Emmitsburg Road, and to roll up the Federal line. Hill's Corps, notably Anderson's Division, was to also participate in the attack. But no one -- neither Lee nor James Longstreet nor Hill nor Anderson -- determined just who was to tell Anderson went to step off or who would oversee his actions. James Longstreet and Hill must have each thought the other would be in charge of Anderson. Given the cool relations between the two stemming back to the infamous James Longstreet - Hill feud, perhaps its not surprising neither went to see the other to clarify things.

James Longstreet's men fought magnificantly. Some of Anderson's units eventually joined into the fray in support. But then the attack stalled late in the afternoon. Dorsey Pender was probably moving to either put his division into action or to try and rally the attack when he was struck by a piece of shell in the thigh. With Pender's fall and impending nightfall, the attack petered out. General Lee would later tell General Heth after the War that he always believed had General Pender remained upon his horse half an hour longer, that he would have won the battle.

Anderson's division had attacked with much spirit on the afternoon of the second, and A.R. Wright's brigade of Georgians had even made a break through on Cemetery Ridge (near the soon to be infamous "Angle"). But Anderson's conduct coordinating the division left something to be desired, and Hill did not do much to help. He mainly watched at least part of the second days battle from a the branches of a tree near his headquarters. Like at Fredericksburg, we do not know much about his other actions or conduct.

The plan for July 3 -- the final day of battle -- called for a frontal attack. James Longstreet would command Pickett's Virginia division of his own Corps, plus six additional brigades from Hill's Corps. The attack would center on the Union II Corps position at the right center on Cemetery Ridge. Prior to the attack, all the artillery the Confederacy could bring to bear on the Union positions would bombard and, hopefully, weaken the enemy's line.

Hill's divisions seemed added almost as an after thought. Heth and Pender's divisions had been mauled severely on the first day of fighting. Heth's division --it's commander having taken a head wound on the first day of fighting-- was under the command of General James J. Pettigrew from North Carolina. Pender's division was now under fiery Marylander Isaac R. Trimble. Hill urged Lee to let him throw in his entire force, but Lee demurred saying that a reserve was needed in case of disaster.

Around three o'clock, the cannon fire subsided, and about 12,500 Southern soldiers stepped from the ridgeline and advanced the three-quarters of a mile towards Cemetery Ridge in what is known to history as "Pickett's Charge." Hill's men, although bloodied from the fighting on July 1, advanced gallantly and with spirit. But they met with disaster. General Trimble sent back word that "If the troops I had the honor to command today could not take that position, all Hell can't take it." Trimble lost his leg as a result of a wound in the attack. Pettigrew was wounded slightly in the hand, but remained in command of his men. He would be captured after the battle and imprisoned at Johnson's Island. In spite of the great valor shown by both Pickett's as well as Pettigrew and Trimble's divisions, the attack had been simply doomed. A US division commander, Alexander Hays, taunted the Confederates by dragging their battleflags behind his horse. Hill watched the attack stream back from behind a cannon on Seminary Ridge, his face covered in disbelief. In it's first campaign, the Third Corps, which had been engaged on all three days of the battle, had taken losses of over 7,600, including 1,554 killed -- the highest casualties in the army.

The July 6th edition of the New York Times erroneously announced that both Hill and James Longstreet had been killed at Gettysburg.

Hill's Gettysburg performance, like his performance at Fredericksburg, was lackluster. Hill did not really do anything wrong; he had not acted incompetently, but during the battle he seemed to lack his usual fire. Hill never would completely master the transition to command of a larger body of troops that being a corps commander entailed.

Hill's men made up the rear guard of the Army on the long and wet march back to Virginia. At Falling Waters, near the Potomac on July 14, a small rear-guard engagement with some Army of the Potomac cavalry ended in a lopsided Confederate victory. But, it cost Hill the services of General J. Johnston Pettigrew who was mortally wounded in the stomach. Despite surgeons insisting that he remain behind to have a chance at recovery, Pettigrew refused to be left behind and insisted on being carried with the Army. He died three days later. In his report, Hill would call the civilian North Carolina soldier of great accomplishments in a variety of fields the "gallant and accomplished Pettigrew." The Gettysburg Campaign came to a close.

But then there was more bad news. Dorsey Pender's wound had not appeared too serious; he had been wounded many times before and always came back. Pender had been shuttled across the Potomac in an ambulance wagon. He arrived in Staunton where, on the 18th, his wounded leg began to seriously bleed. He wrapped a bandage around a hairbrush and stopped the bleeding, but the surgeon deemed amputation necessary. The surgery was successful, but the blood loss and shock was too much within a few hours, the gallant and oft-wounded Dorsey Pender -- who had been with the Light Division since the very beginning -- died. A few months later, Lee would pay Pender the ultimate tribute. In a letter to Jefferson Davis, written after Hood lost a leg at Chickamauga, Lee bemoaned that he was losing "all of his best men:" Hood, Jackson, and Pender.

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