East Cemetery Hill on July 2nd: The True "High Water Mark?"

HeftyLefty04

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As most of us know, the typical Civil War narrative generally refers to "The Angle" on Cemetery Ridge as the "High Water Mark" of the Confederacy, as this location was the site of the deepest Confederate advance into Federal lines on July 3rd, and where the Zouaves of the 72nd Pennsylvania ultimately prevented a Rebel breakthrough. Now, I think it is fair to assume that many of us do not consider any aspect of the Gettysburg Campaign to be the Confederacy's true "High Water Mark," (personally, I'd have to say Chancellorsville was in the big picture, at least in the East) but my suggestion here is that, at least with regard to the battle itself, the fighting at the extreme right of the Union line on the evening of July 2nd may be much more of a "High Water Mark" than any part of Pickett's Charge, which was doomed to failure before it began.

Even if we do narrow the discussion to the second day at Gettysburg, the popular narrative tends to highlight events that occurred on the Union left (i.e., fighting at the Peach Orchard, Wheatfield, and Devil's Den and the 20th Maine's famed downhill bayonet charge on Little Round Top). However, the Rebels were much more successful on the Union's extreme right on July 2nd; it can be argued that if Robert Rodes had been more aggressive in complementing Jubal Early's assault on East Cemetery Hill with one of his own, the Confederates may have fully seized the high ground at the short end of the Federal fishhook that night. Now, that is still a major "if," as reinforcements from the AOP's II and XI Corps performed solidly in pushing back the Rebel offensive towards the very end of the second day, but I still feel that Lee's chances of victory at Gettysburg were much higher during Ewell's assault on the extreme Federal right than they ever could have been at any point on July 3rd, especially after Lee's doomed charge commenced.
 

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Hussar Yeomanry

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To quite some degree I agree with this assessment.

However, its not so much Rodes (in my opinion) that needs to be more aggressive. Two of his brigades are effectively out of the battle after the first day while his other three had been mauled to varying degrees. The problem is the lack of cavalry (or Lee/ Ewell's perceived lack of cavalry - he has Jenkins brigade that could have been used much more efficiently). Without it infantry brigades (such as the Stonewall Brigade) are having to cover the flanks of the army. Therefore they are unavailable for the attack that is one of the most successful moments for the Confederacy at the battle and their presence in the attack would (in my opinion) have been a major factor.

I also believe that 'Picketts Charge' as originally envisaged (rather than the one that was carried out) had a reasonable chance of success but as there are so many threads on this I will not clutter this posting with any more about that.
 

Tom Elmore

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One can certainly make the case, but as always the devil is in the details. An effective attack could not be made through the narrow streets of the town, so it would have to be launched from both sides of the town. The actual attack was only made on the east side, by the brigades of Hays and Avery. Rodes' division, as you say, approached from the west side, with three brigades in front and two in support. A dusk assault helped negate the great Federal advantage in artillery at that point, but the principle disadvantage was that the onset of darkness precluded effective follow-up had it been successful. The Baltimore Pike and Taneytown road were ideally placed to enable Federal reinforcements to quickly seal off any breach the Confederates might have made, and would also improve the odds of a successful counter-attack the following morning (July 3), since the town effectively split the Confederate forces down the middle. The Confederates might have pinned their hopes on the Federals taking the hint and using the night to withdraw, but even that option was very risky, especially with regard to the Federal forces on Culp's hill, which would be contending with Confederates pressing them in front while another Confederate force threatened their left rear. So my guess is the Federals would have stayed put and attempted to reclaim Cemetery Hill at first light. If completely successful, they would have been positioned to cut off Ewell's corps from the rest of Lee's army.
 

Andy Cardinal

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Good question! I've come to believe that the true "high water mark" was late July 2 when Wright's brigade reached Cemetery Ridge. The brigades to the left never advanced, and Pender was wounded effectively removing his division from the battle. The Union line on nothern Cemetery Ridge/Zeigler's Grove was very vulnerable at this time.
 

HeftyLefty04

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However, its not so much Rodes (in my opinion) that needs to be more aggressive. Two of his brigades are effectively out of the battle after the first day while his other three had been mauled to varying degrees. The problem is the lack of cavalry (or Lee/ Ewell's perceived lack of cavalry - he has Jenkins brigade that could have been used much more efficiently).
Excellent point, and certainly one I didn’t consider as deeply with regard to the East Cemetery Hill area. If Lee had been given Jeb Staurt’s services before the third day, the Federal position could have very well been much more difficult to hold.
 

jackt62

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It does seem that many aspects of the battle of Gettysburg can be considered "high water marks." I would agree that actions at Cemetery and Culps Hills between July 2-3rd were critical to the outcome of the battle but are usually given less attention than they deserve.
 


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