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Fighting in the Night on Culps Hill?

Discussion in 'Battle of Gettysburg' started by infomanpa, Mar 11, 2017.

  1. infomanpa

    infomanpa Corporal

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    I am having great difficulty understanding how troops for both sides could see enough to be effective in battle. At Gettysburg, in early July, 1863 the sun would have set around 7:35 PM, local time. On July 2, a battle raged on Culps Hill, but it probably didn't begin until about an hour after sundown. Now, I don't know about you, but when I try to do anything outdoors, in the woods, an hour after sundown, I can hardly see anything! Granted, the moon was almost full that night, BUT it didn't rise until the beginning of the engagement, so it would not have been a factor in illuminating the ground. In addition, keep in mind that Culps Hill was wooded, and trees very effectively block out most night time illumination from the sky. And I haven't even mentioned the growing clouds of smoke from the rifle fire.

    I can only conclude that the soldiers fired blindly into the area where they saw musket bursts of flame. What are your thoughts on this?
     
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  3. frontrank2

    frontrank2 1st Lieutenant Forum Host

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    I tend to agree with you. While I've ( fortunately ) never had to experience combat at night, I've done it by reenacting ACW. At the reenactment for the Battle of Cedar Creek, they used to have a pre-dawn tactical which would begin about 4am. Now this was generally out in an open field and was unscripted, so one side would try to out manuever the other. There were instances when we could not distinguish one side from the other. The only safe way I could generally tell was that the Federals were the ones wearing the greatcoats. In fact one year, my son who was a participant as well, accidentally separated from us and found himself in the midst of a Confederate battle line. So I would suspect that if we had some difficulties under somewhat controlled conditions, in 1863 it must've been extremely problematic.
     
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  4. major bill

    major bill Major Forum Host

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    I have never fought during the dark. I fired a fair amount in the dark. It is dificult to do much aiming. I 21st always surprised when I qualified. Firing modern machine guns is easier because of the tracers.
     
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  5. AUG351

    AUG351 Captain Forum Host

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    There was also fighting after dark on the evening of Sept. 19 at Chickamauga, particularly Cleburne's involvement on the Confederate right. That was also over wooded terrain and resulted in some confusion and friendly fire, on both sides IIRC. These weren't the only incidents of night fighting, lots of other actions in the evening or early morning; I'm sure some of the troops at Culps Hill had previous experience at fighting in the dark, though that probably didn't make it any less confusing.
     
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  6. frontrank2

    frontrank2 1st Lieutenant Forum Host

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    Case in point, how about when Stonewall Jackson was fired upon by Confederate troops at Chancellorsville, also at night?
     
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  7. rpkennedy

    rpkennedy Major

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    There were a handful of night actions during the war but they didn't happen very often because of the difficulties that they presented such as identification and coordination.

    At Culp's Hill in particular (and Cemetery Hill as well), most soldiers on both sides simply could not see one another and were firing at the muzzle-flashes of their opponents. On Cemetery Hill, after taking the guns and clearing the infantry from their front, Hays' Louisianans allowed Samuel Carroll's Union brigade to march right on their position and fire several volleys into their ranks before responding. By the time they did so, it was too late and they were pushed off the hill (although, to be fair, it's highly unlikely that they would be able to hold their position since no support was coming).

    Ryan
     
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  8. E_just_E

    E_just_E 1st Lieutenant Forum Host

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    Not that dark really. Sunset was 7:41 and there was still plenty of light. Astronomical Twilight (ie. the last moment before "pitch black") was at 9:43 PM. The battle lasted until about 10:00 or 10:30. At 8 PM the confederates could see where the federal line and defenses were, and the federal could see from where the confederates were advancing. Fairly straight forward to shoot volleys towards that direction, even in the dark. Just follow sound and light (and there would be plenty.)

    This is not sniper fire on an individual target that would have been almost impossible to do back then in the dark...
     
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  9. infomanpa

    infomanpa Corporal

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    You said in another thread:
    Sunset: 7:41pm
    Twilight: 8:14pm
    Nautical Twilight: 8:55pm
    Astronomical Twilight: 9:43pm

    So if they engaged around 8:15-8:30, it was the end of civil twilight (8:14pm from above). So, go into a forest sometime at the end of civil twilight on any summer day. I've tried it...it's pretty dark! At least, I wouldn't be able to see a target 10 yards ahead of me.
     
  10. E_just_E

    E_just_E 1st Lieutenant Forum Host

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    Yes those are the times. And it is pretty dark. However, those were not individuals taking randoms shots. Those were groups of people who knew the positions of their enemies via sound and light from shooting and were shooting volleys. Totally different that walking in the forest as an individual trying to make up targets.
     
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  11. rpkennedy

    rpkennedy Major

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    Even in the open, it would be difficult to see much after about 8:15. The troops on Cemetery Hill apparently didn't see Hays' men preparing to attack and Avery was able to get pretty close to the two regiments in the Culp's Meadow before they fell back to the main defensive line. On Culp's Hill, I imagine that visibility was even worse. The Confederate line would've been heard long before they were seen.

    Ryan
     
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  12. Legion Para

    Legion Para Brigadier General Moderator Forum Host

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  13. Burning Billy

    Burning Billy Corporal

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    That was almost certainly the case.

    There was an incident of friendly fire that night at Culp's Hill caused in part by the confusion accompanying a night battle, as well as some of the undulating terrain.

    The Ranger talks about it from 30:19 to 31:25.

     
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  14. infomanpa

    infomanpa Corporal

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    Exactly. On Cemetery Hill, the visibility was much better because they were out in the open as opposed to Culps Hill which is wooded.
     
  15. bdtex

    bdtex Brigadier General Moderator

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    And at the works at Franklin too. They were more out in the open though. Not sure what phase the moon was in that November night.
     
    Last edited: Mar 11, 2017
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  16. Tom Elmore

    Tom Elmore First Sergeant

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    Sunset on July 2 was at 7:32 p.m. I have found that it would be difficult to read a newspaper by 7:57 p.m. (in the open).

    Moonrise (99 percent full) occurred at 8:38 p.m., at an azimuth of 108 degrees, or about east-southeast on the horizon.

    I figure skirmishing between Ed Johnson's advancing men and Federal skirmishers posted at Rock Creek began by 7:25 p.m., but Union artillery had begun firing on Johnson's men as they emerged into view a few minutes prior to that time.

    I also figure Hays and Avery began their advance upon Cemetery Hill at 7:40 p.m., with the Louisianans entering Battery I, 1st New York at 7:52 p.m., and the retreat coming soon after 8:00 p.m.
     
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  17. SquirrelHudson

    SquirrelHudson Corporal

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    "July 2 -
    Our division was in reserve until dark, but our regiment was supporting a battery all day. We lost several killed and wounded, although we had no chance to fire - only lay by a battery of artillery and be shot at. The caisson of the battery we were supporting was blown up and we got a big good sprinkling of the wood from it. Just at dark we were sent to the front under terrible cannonading. Still, it was certainly a beautiful sight. It being dark, we could see the cannon vomit forth fire. Our company had to cross a rail fence. It gave way and several of our boys were hurt by others walking over them. We laid down here a short time, in fact no longer than 10 minutes, when I positively fell asleep. The cannonading did not disturb me. One of the boys shook me and told me Katz was wounded by a piece of a shell striking him on the side, and he was sent to the rear. We went on to the Baltimore Turnpike until 3 in the morning of the 3d."
    - Louis Leon, Company B, 53rd North Carolina Infantry Regiment
     
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  18. AUG351

    AUG351 Captain Forum Host

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    Yes, the attack of Johnson's division at Franklin was at 7 or 8:00 pm, well after dark on Nov. 30. The main attack began at sunset and continued on through nautical twilight, but with fighting along the works still going on after that.
     
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  19. infomanpa

    infomanpa Corporal

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    Also, if one wants to check on the visibility on Culp's Hill after sunset, you are not permitted to be on the battlefield at that time! Too bad.
     
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  20. Frums

    Frums Private

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    During the Fall you can be on the Battlefield til 10pm... It is VERY dark... so anyone can check.
     
  21. Bruce Vail

    Bruce Vail Sergeant Major

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    Randolph H. McKim, who served as adjutant to CSA Gen. George Steuart in the Gettysburg campaign, actually wrote an account where he admitted to being responsible for some of the friendly fire on Culp's Hill on the night of July 2-3.

    Thanks to the miracle of the internet, you can find it here:

    http://www.gdg.org/research/SHSP/shmckims.html
     
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