Arrival of the Sixth Corps on the Union Left on July 2

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Tom Elmore

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While examining the arrival of the Sixth Corps on the Union left flank, the following observations on timing and deployment may be of interest, and will hopefully stimulate further discussion.

The last major Confederate threat to Little Round Top occurred about 7 p.m. on July 2, when Brig. Gen. Wofford’s brigade of Georgians exploited a gap in the Union lines at the Wheatfield. Wofford’s fresh regiments were bolstered by fragments of several other Confederate brigades who had long been engaged that afternoon, and they were assisted by the third and final push of Robertson’s 4th and 5th Texas against the southwestern face of Little Round Top, helped by a portion of Law’s Alabama brigade. It seems to have been an all-out last ditch effort.

Vincent’s brigade (now under Col. Rice) and Weed’s brigade (now under Col. Gerrard) still occupied Little Round Top, but they now had help from two fresh brigades of Pennsylvania Reserves (PR) under Brig. Gen. Crawford. However, one of these brigades, Fisher’s, was sent further south to bolster Rice’s left flank just before Wofford broke through, with the exception of a single regiment, the 11th PR, which Crawford held in place because of the sharp increase in firing in his front. Absent Fisher’s brigade, Confederate odds had now considerably improved. It was at this critical moment that the lead elements of the Sixth Corps appeared on the scene to sharply tilt the scales in the Union’s favor.

In the lead was the brigade commanded by Col. David J. Nevin, which evidently came up the Wheatfield road. Here occurred an incident that never made the official records. Nevin found Crawford in his way and unwilling to move. Nevin launched into a tirade, ignoring the fact that Nevin was a colonel and Crawford was a general (apparently Crawford never mentioned this encounter in later years.) Crawford’s two brigades had earlier deployed on the north side of the Wheatfield road, before soon being shifted to the opposite (south) side of the road. I lean toward the latter being the case when Nevin appeared, meaning that he was supposed to have deployed on the south side of the road. Nevin actually deployed on the north side of the road, upon Crawford’s right, but one of his regiments, the 98th Pennsylvania, wound up on the south side of the road. When in place, Nevin’s large 139th Pennsylvania would likely have touched the Wheatfield road on its left, while the right of the 139th would have been just behind the center section of Battery L, 1st Ohio (under Lt. James Gildea).

Bolstering this scenario is the fact that the next Sixth Corps brigade, under Brig. Gen. Bartlett, was coming up on the right side of the Wheatfield road, and Bartlett was clearly surprised and perhaps miffed when he saw Nevin’s brigade moving to block his path, meaning his brigade would now play a minor supporting role. Bartlett’s entire loss for the day was two wounded privates. It is the clearest indication that the regimental monuments set up in the vicinity mark positions that were taken up after the fighting was over for the day.

While these movements were taking place, the last of Caldwell’s men, Sweitzer’s battered brigade, and all of Ayres’ U.S. Regulars were falling back in their direction from the Wheatfield, closely pursued by victorious and exultant Confederates.

The 11th PR moved forward a short distance to where Fisher’s lead regiment formerly stood, and Crawford’s other brigade (under Col. McCandless) moved up to join it. This left Nevin’s brigade to their right rear. Nevin’s men had been told to hold their fire until directed to deliver a volley, but they could not restrain themselves when they observed the first enemy soldiers approaching. Opening a scattering fire they wounded two of the Ohio artillerymen in an instance of "friendly fire."

Crawford and Nevin probably advanced to the charge at about the same time, but Crawford had a slight lead as noted. McCandless’ 6th PR on the right moved by the right oblique and soon crossed the Wheatfield road, compelling Nevin to also move at a right oblique. His men halted upon reaching the bluff just south of the John T. Weikert place, where his men reclaimed two guns of Battery C, 3rd Massachusetts that had been abandoned on Wofford’s advance. Crawford afterwards took full credit for the charge and ignored Nevin’s participation. The time was about 7:30 p.m. – sunset occurred at 7:32 p.m.

Col. Eustis’ brigade received urgent orders to hurry forward when it was about half-way to Little Round Top. The plea was probably made at the time when Union fugitives from the Wheatfield made it seem like the day would be lost. In that case, they probably filed in just behind Bartlett at about 7:30 p.m., just in time to hear the last few Confederate infantry overshots. They were followed about ten minutes later by Shaler’s brigade coming into line behind them, just a few yards west of the Taneytown road, in the fading light of dusk.

It could be argued that the battle on the Union left that day could have been won without the Sixth Corps, but their arrival lifted the spirits and inspired confidence among the weary veterans of the Fifth Corps, while at the same time dashing the last remaining hopes of the Confederates on this part of the field.
 

Hussar Yeomanry

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Thank you.

1) I was aware of the generalities of what you had written, not some of the specifics, the large Union 6th Corps one that frequently seems to get forgotten (Possibly due to shortly being canabalised (sp?) for most of day 3). (Some into support behind Cemetary Hill, more to protect the flank of 12th Corps and the remainder around the Round Tops directly supporting what remained of 5th Corps). How one now commands such a formation I know not and I sometimes wonder if it is good thing that they werent really called upon to fight on Day 3.

2) As to the specifics of the Nevin/ Crawford confrontation I note that once more the various elements of the Union Army fail to play nicely together. Indeed that seems rife at Gettysburg (especially but not solely on Day 2) where Union units drawn from multiple sources seem to have fought somewhat individual engagements against the enemy (an example being De Trobriand (3rd Corps), Sweitzer and Tilton (5th Corps) in the Rose Woods/ Farm area though it is far from alone.)

3) Yes it must have been horribly disheartening for the Confederates to see all these fresh troops pouring on to the battlefield though it wasnt just 6th Corps (large elements of 12th Corps also turns up, supported by some of the remaining 1st Corps now under Newton and [EDIT] with him at their head) To these add that they have already been tangling with 3rd Corps, 5th Corps and 2 Divisions of 2nd Corps, supported by sections of the Artillery Reserve).

4) Was 6th Corps required for victory? I do not think so but it would have been a far closer run thing and the troops from 12 and 1st Corps would probably have been required to fight. This makes them less available for what is about to occur on the other flank. Therefore they become incredibly valuable though perhaps not so much here as elsewhere. (Just my opinion...)
 

infomanpa

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It could be argued that the battle on the Union left that day could have been won without the Sixth Corps, but their arrival lifted the spirits and inspired confidence among the weary veterans of the Fifth Corps, while at the same time dashing the last remaining hopes of the Confederates on this part of the field.
It also needs to be mentioned that Longstreet called off the attack because of sunset. What would have happened if it were earlier in the day? The implication is that the attack would have continued.
 
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Andy Cardinal

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I have often wondered about the 6th corps at Gettysburg. I can't say I've studied it enough to speak about it with any confidence. It's a topic that is on my "to do" list.

A couple of thoughts though....

1. It can be argued that Meade overreacted on July 2 by sending as many units to the left as he did. In addition to parts of the 6th Corps, he also essentially stripped Culp's Hill of defenders by sending almost all of the 12th Corps as well (only Greene's brigade was left, and Geary's division never reached the left). It can be argued that the arrival of these forces were necessary to secure the left, but I think it is also important to recognize that other parts of the line we're dangerously weakened to the point where the chances for victory at Gettysburg were jeopardized. As I said above, I have not studied this part of the battle enough to conclusively determine in my own mind whether Meade's response was more than was necessary to secure the left.

2. Whatever anyone believes about the merits of Sickles' decision to occupy the Emmitsburg Road position, there is no doubt that Meade believed it was a egregious blunder. Meade's response (or perhaps overreaction) was a direct result of the fact that the left flank was out of position. The result was the dispersion of the 6th corps all over the field, as well as units from other corps.

3. Put another way, if Sickles had occupied the position Meade intended, Meade might not have reacted in the same way. The 6th corps might have been retained in a more standard reserve position and not dispersed all over the field. While reserve troops are used to plug gaps and it could have happened anyway, this was a pretty big gap.

4. If even part of the 6th Corps could have been maintained as a traditional reserve force, this would have given Meade a genuine force to use in any potential counterattack after Pickett's Charge on July 3. Whether such a force could have accomplished anything significant is another topic, but such a readily available force did not exist.
 

Hussar Yeomanry

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1. It can be argued that Meade overreacted on July 2 by sending as many units to the left as he did. In addition to parts of the 6th Corps, he also essentially stripped Culp's Hill of defenders by sending almost all of the 12th Corps as well (only Greene's brigade was left, and Geary's division never reached the left). It can be argued that the arrival of these forces were necessary to secure the left, but I think it is also important to recognize that other parts of the line we're dangerously weakened to the point where the chances for victory at Gettysburg were jeopardized. As I said above, I have not studied this part of the battle enough to conclusively determine in my own mind whether Meade's response was more than was necessary to secure the left.
Meade's first thoughts upon his arrival all seem to be a concern for and an interest in his Right flank. Indeed Warren is sent out to examine the ground and see whether an attack by Union forces - logically 5th and 12th Corps - can be conducted. [They conclude that it would be impractical]. Sickles and the 3rd Corps - one of the commanders and Corps he has least confidence in are assigned to guard the left. A left he assumed was safe? Somewhere Sickles could do the least damage. Certainly Sears seems to imply this.

So we have an area thinly held by a single Corps.

Eventually some of Meade's thoughts seem to turn to his left for the 5th Corps is moved in that direction (from where they had been on the right). However there still seems to be little interest in this area. (5 mostly understrength divisions and even then 3 of them are only just turning up as the attack begins or turn up as the attack occurs)

Then the attack.

Elements of the very battered 1st Corps, 2 Divisions of Second Corps, 6th Corps (Lead elements of 3 Divisions) and most of 12th Corps (Lets call it 1 and a half Divisions) are summoned to the Left (Not all arrive). That's effectively another 7 Divisions which becomes really quite significant when we look at what isn't called to the Left.

2 Brigades of lightly shot up Cavalry (Buford) - these have been pulled back from the line.
Elements of 1st Corps (Various battered and scattered brigades making up at most a Division but an effective one at that)
1 Division of 2nd Corps
11th Corps (3 thoroughly battered Divisions whose quality Meade seems to have been 'concerned' by)
1 Brigade of 12th Corps

That's maybe 6 patched up Divisions holding the Center and Right!

So yeah. An over reaction but possibly an understandable given his previous fixation with his Right. Now he is fixated on the Left. Also we shouldnt forget the Confederates in this. Their attack, especially initially was formidable and draws in/ ties up what is effectively 12 Divisions worth of Union Infantry!
 

Tom Elmore

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A number of instances occurred on this field when the Federals tried to plug a gap, only to create a vulnerability on another part of the line, but I can't fault Meade for overreacting on his left, knowing the Confederate penchant for very strong flank attacks. For me the key term is "reacting;" Meade ceded the initiative and was always reacting to his opponent's moves. It might be understandable in his first battle as a new army commander, although it appears to have been a defining trait. A great commander could be expected to have kept the Sixth Corps intact, and used it to split Lee's army in two late on July 3, as Andy Cardinal noted. I just saw a post-war comment by Pickett's brother, Charles, who served as his AAG at Gettysburg, who said the exact same thing, and evidently Lee anticipated a major counterattack as well.
 
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dlavin

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Just happened to read this article today about their march to Gettysburg. Having driven it a few times, never walked, its really impressive.

 

Robin Lesjovitch

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Meade's first thoughts upon his arrival all seem to be a concern for and an interest in his Right flank. Indeed Warren is sent out to examine the ground and see whether an attack by Union forces - logically 5th and 12th Corps - can be conducted. [They conclude that it would be impractical]. Sickles and the 3rd Corps - one of the commanders and Corps he has least confidence in are assigned to guard the left. A left he assumed was safe? Somewhere Sickles could do the least damage. Certainly Sears seems to imply this.

So we have an area thinly held by a single Corps.

Eventually some of Meade's thoughts seem to turn to his left for the 5th Corps is moved in that direction (from where they had been on the right). However there still seems to be little interest in this area. (5 mostly understrength divisions and even then 3 of them are only just turning up as the attack begins or turn up as the attack occurs)

Then the attack.

Elements of the very battered 1st Corps, 2 Divisions of Second Corps, 6th Corps (Lead elements of 3 Divisions) and most of 12th Corps (Lets call it 1 and a half Divisions) are summoned to the Left (Not all arrive). That's effectively another 7 Divisions which becomes really quite significant when we look at what isn't called to the Left.

2 Brigades of lightly shot up Cavalry (Buford) - these have been pulled back from the line.
Elements of 1st Corps (Various battered and scattered brigades making up at most a Division but an effective one at that)
1 Division of 2nd Corps
11th Corps (3 thoroughly battered Divisions whose quality Meade seems to have been 'concerned' by)
1 Brigade of 12th Corps

That's maybe 6 patched up Divisions holding the Center and Right!

So yeah. An over reaction but possibly an understandable given his previous fixation with his Right. Now he is fixated on the Left. Also we shouldnt forget the Confederates in this. Their attack, especially initially was formidable and draws in/ ties up what is effectively 12 Divisions worth of Union Infantry!
I can't fault Meade's troop movements in the afternoon. They more or less assured that if the AoP were pushed, it would be pushed together, not apart.
Had Longstreet got the ball started an hour earlier, he and Anderson might have pierced the Federal center except that Meade move troops from his right and use what he could of the 6th Corps.
 
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