Attack on South Culp’s Hill on the Early Morning of July 3

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Tom Elmore

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Although some eminent historians (and even some participants) place the attack of the 2nd Massachusetts and 27th Indiana at a later hour on the morning of July 3, I am rather confident about the following timeline (with a margin of error within just a few minutes). The reason is several key sources, in particular the official reports of Lockwood and Maulsby that mention a close encounter with Federal infantry to their right front, which at that hour can only be the 2nd Massachusetts, and a supporting account by Lt. Col Morse of the 2nd Massachusetts, who notes a Maryland “home guard” regiment (that must be Maulsby’s) off to his left. The attack coming not long after the fixed time of sunrise on July 3 (4:36 a.m.) helps reduces the margin of error of this timeline.

Based on the map, it might appear that the advance of the 1st Maryland Potomac Home Brigade and Colgrove’s two regiments against Steuart were part of a coordinated effort, but they were not. Nevertheless, we cannot fully appreciate what happened here without lumping the two together. The appearance of Smith’s 49th Virginia at the right place at the right moment was also unplanned, but simply a coincidental occurrence that in this case gave the Confederates an edge.

The attached map highlights the following sequence of events but only shows the participants directly involved. (For instance, at this hour Brig. Gen. Walker’s Confederate brigade lies partly behind Steuart’s men, while the Federal line extends from along the west side of Pardee field northward into the fortified works.)

0430 – 0445:

At 4:30 a.m. the four Union Twelfth Corps batteries (only one is shown) open fire on the Confederate lines west of Rock Creek, and cease firing after 15 minutes to allow their infantry to attack.

Two regiments of Brig. Gen. William Smith’s brigade, the 49th and 52nd Virginia, cross to the west side of Rock Creek and reform under the Federal artillery fire.

0450:

Col. Maulsby’s 1st Maryland Potomac Home Brigade (actually a large regiment) advances from near the Baltimore Pike. The regiment enters the woods (on the south side of what is now called Pardee field), engages enemy skirmishers and drives them back behind the stone wall.

0455:

Maj. Henry Kyd Douglas from Maj. Gen. Edward Johnson’s staff leads the two regiments from Brig. Gen. Smith’s brigade southward in a column formation, the 49th Virginia in front, followed by the 52nd Virginia. Douglas is soon wounded.

0500:

Five companies comprising the right wing of 1st Maryland Potomac Home Brigade, under Lt. Col. Steiner, continue a slow but steady forward movement through the woods toward the enemy now strongly posted behind the stone wall.

The 2nd Massachusetts advances directly forward toward the vicinity of Spangler’s Spring.

0505:

Lt. Col. Steiner’s five companies on the right wing of the 1st Maryland Potomac Home approach the stone wall and prepare to drive the enemy from behind it when Brig. Gen. Lockwood learns that another Federal regiment (the 2nd Massachusetts) is advancing upon the enemy to his right front. The movement compels at least some of his men to cease firing to avoid hitting friendly troops. The Confederate skirmishers behind the wall fall back to the main works to their rear, held in strength by the bulk of Steuart’s brigade (and part of Walker’s brigade).

The 27th Indiana reforms and enters the south end of the meadow after a brief delay caused by an encounter with the maneuvering 13th New Jersey just as the 27th Indiana was moving to the charge.

The 49th Virginia moves from column into line as it advances toward the wall north of the meadow. The 52nd Virginia follows in support but does not become actively engaged.

0510:

The 27th Indiana, now fully exposed in the open meadow, endures a withering fire from a portion of Steuart’s brigade, augmented by the 49th Virginia, posted behind the stone wall extending along the north end of the meadow.

The 1st Maryland Potomac Home Brigade, not having reached the stone wall, falls back toward the Baltimore Pike to reform, having sustained at least 80 casualties (including four officers) – they bring their dead and wounded back with them.

Maj. Morse of the 2nd Massachusetts sends a request for support from the 1st Maryland Potomac Home Brigade.

0515:

The 27th Indiana falls back out of range. Some Confederates counter-charge from the north end of the meadow.

0520:

The 2nd Massachusetts, having received no response from the 1st Maryland Potomac Home Brigade, has fallen back to the left of their original position, ending this bold Federal initiative.

Confederates in the meadow are driven back by heavy fire from the 3rd Wisconsin and part of the 13th New Jersey of Colgrove’s brigade. The end result is a stalemate.

Main sources:
-Official Report of Lt. Edward D. Muhlenberg, Twelfth Corps Artillery.
-History of the Forty Ninth Virginia Infantry C.S.A., by Laura Virginia Hale and Stanley S. Phillips, 1981, based on the memoirs of Capt. Robert D. Funkhouser, Company D, 49th Virginia.
-Reminiscenses of William O. Johnson, Company H, 49th Virginia, Virginia State Library and Archives, Richmond.
-Memoir of Cyrus B. Coiner, Company G, 52nd Virginia, on file at Gettysburg National Military Park.
-Official Report of Brig. Gen. Henry H. Lockwood.
-Official Report of Col. William Maulsby, 1st Maryland Potomac Home Brigade.
-Account of Lt. Col. John A. Steiner, 1st Maryland Potomac Home Brigade, Steiner Papers, Historical Society of Frederick County, Maryland.
-History of the 2nd Massachusetts Regiment of Infantry, by Charles F. Morse, Paper Read at the Officers’ Reunion in Boston, May 10, 1878.
-Edmund Randolph Brown, Twenty-Seventh Indiana Volunteer Infantry, 1899.
 

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Wallyfish

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Great post. Your timeline makes sense to me. Somewhere in the past, we tried to reconcile the time difference stated on the 27th Indiana advanced marker position (6:00 am) and the 5:10 am in your timeline. Have you uncovered any more intelligence on why their marker has 6 am? Is the later hour you mentioned fit that 6 am window?

2F518BD222BA402EAD3D6944140E935F.jpg
 
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Tom Elmore

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Great post. Your timeline makes sense to me. Somewhere in the past, we tried to reconcile the time difference stated on the 27th Indiana advanced marker position (6:00 am) and the 5:10 am in your timeline. Have you uncovered any more intelligence on why their marker has 6 am? Is the later hour you mentioned fit that 6 am window?

View attachment 311375
The window you cite is small by comparison to times provided in other accounts for this action and others on this battlefield. This very issue is dealt with by Edmund Randolph Brown in his regimental history of the 27th Indiana, pp. 377-379. He mentions General Ruger's report, which indicates the attack occurred soon after 10 a.m. Lt. Col. (then Major) Morse in his report thought the order came at 5:30 a.m., which is a window of 4.5 hours from two actual participants. But in a later account, Morse changed his mind and made it 7 a.m.

In this instance we are fortunate to be able to integrate accounts from Lockwood's brigade. Even so, one then has to reconcile accounts from members of that brigade. Maulsby reported the order for their unit to attack came at 4 a.m., while Steiner says 4:30 a.m., and Lockwood went with 6 a.m. I think Maulsby's Maryland PHB would be expected to have advanced soon after the supporting artillery stopped firing (reportedly at 4:45 a.m.), and I put more stock in the latter time, although who can speak to that accuracy? But if one has to make a decision, I'm sticking with the above numbers, with the disclaimer that it could be a few minutes either way. I am preparing to review my entire Culp's Hill timeline so I may wind up making minor adjustments. At a later hour both the 150th NY and MD PHB went into the trenches on the hill, so everything (time-wise) has to fit together like the pieces of a giant puzzle. But I am still comfortable in my estimated times being likely within a half hour of the "truth," although it is a truth that no mortal being will ever know precisely. The best I can do is make a reasonable assessment based upon a large volume of primary source materials gathered over several decades.
 

infomanpa

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The timeline for these events has never been nailed down. Thanks for attempting this using your great analytic methods. A lot of people don't realize that it was already daylight at 4:30 AM when action commenced. No daylight savings time back then. Also, that wall and the earthworks shown on your map can still be found today!
 

John S. Carter

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Thanks Tom. Your timeline makes sense to me. And as always, thanks for the great map.
Have a question ; Could Ewell have taken Culp's Hill the first day ?This is the what if Stonewall had been there and in charge of his ol 'division.The one issue which troubles me is why did Johnson have to wait on Longstreet ,which provided the Union forces time to build barriers on the hill?Before that why did Ewell not move Johnson or even some division onto the Hill while no main force was there? In other words does Ewell merit the loss on the second day?Sharra's "Killer Angels" gives Longstreet the credit for the loss,but this is a novel.One more issue,the New York regiment or division that took on the defense of Culp's was sent to the West and eventually went with Sherman on his excursion,Nice reward !
 
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