What was the day 1 Union retreat like?

MikeyB

Sergeant
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Sep 13, 2018
I haven't seen too many descriptions of what this actually looked like. Was it ever a rout or always an organized retreat? Did you have entire regiments and brigades fire, fall back 20 paces, fire again and so forth in relatively good order? Did it look like the scene in the movie where the Union line breaks and men are running for their lives? Was it the former on the I corps line and the latter on the XI corps line? Were guns being captured left and right?

When the Union did withdraw, how was that organized? Did the guys on the I corps right flank (the Northern part of the line) collapse inward first so as to prevent their capture? Or were those guys cutoff?
 

Tom Elmore

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It depends on the particular unit. Even in the Eleventh Corps, a portion of the 45th New York retained cohesion and in fact occupied and held buildings near the Eagle Hotel in town, opposite the Lutheran Church, until close to sundown, when Captain Irsch was invited out under safe conduct to verify complete Confederate control over the town, showing him that further resistance was futile. Before surrendering, the men of the 45th destroyed their arms and ammunition.

The 6th Wisconsin of the First Corps also conducted an orderly retreat through the town. So did Gamble's cavalry on Seminary Ridge near the Fairfield road, but they had the means to make a rapid and orderly exit.

Generally speaking, however, once the infantry regiments of both the Eleventh and First Corps commenced to retreat, it was every man for himself passing through the streets as quickly as possible. Even then, a few regiments held at least a portion of their men together, probably centered around their colors, which became a nucleus for others to rally around once they reached Cemetery Hill and beyond. Stragglers of both the First and Eleventh Corps trickled back to their commands throughout the evening, even into the early morning hours of July 2.
 

DixieRifles

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I haven't seen too many descriptions of what this actually looked like.
In preparing for the CWT Muster at Antietam, Im re-reading Landscape Turned Red. There were many examples of green regiments(and I dont mean Irish) who turned and ran. One office said 90-day recruits loaded their rifles the first time when approaching the deadly fire from the Sunken Road(as I recall).
I can post an example but what kind of an example are you looking for?
 

DixieRifles

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French’s second brigade, commanded by Col. Dwight Morris, consisted of raw recruits of 14 Conn, 108 NY and 130 Penn— been in the army hardly a month. In the frontal attack there was some maneuvering to move in behind Weber’s brigade. In the excitement, the new recruits fired into their own men.
The victims of the flustered rookies were Weber’s 1 Delaware who were getting hit from front and rear and some and broke to the rear. Men tried to stop them but ended up running with them.

The Confederates held a good defensive position at the sunken road. When reserves arrived, the Union artillery and muskets targeted them rather than risking hitting their troops near the Sunken Road. The defensive line at the Sunken Road began to collapse.
Three brigades of CS reserves from Anderson’s division all broke for the tear: Pryor’s, Featherston’s & Wright’s. Wilcox’s brigade posted behind them were carried away in the retreat.
The left of the line held while officers tried to move troops into better position. Gen Robert Rhodes agreed with Lt-Col Lightfoot to allow the exhausted 6 Alabama to pull out of the line. Lightfoot went and gave the order for 6 Alabama to pull back. The commanders of the other regiments heard this order and asked Lightfoot if this was a general order for the other regiments. He said it was, so Rhodes was shocked to see his regiments pull out of the line.

There was another example where a regiment commander asked if his fall back for better protection. It was approved. The colonel gave the oder to the regiment: About Face, March. The regiment took that to mean fall out of line and they kept going.
 

MikeyB

Sergeant
Joined
Sep 13, 2018
It depends on the particular unit. Even in the Eleventh Corps, a portion of the 45th New York retained cohesion and in fact occupied and held buildings near the Eagle Hotel in town, opposite the Lutheran Church, until close to sundown, when Captain Irsch was invited out under safe conduct to verify complete Confederate control over the town, showing him that further resistance was futile. Before surrendering, the men of the 45th destroyed their arms and ammunition.

The 6th Wisconsin of the First Corps also conducted an orderly retreat through the town. So did Gamble's cavalry on Seminary Ridge near the Fairfield road, but they had the means to make a rapid and orderly exit.

Generally speaking, however, once the infantry regiments of both the Eleventh and First Corps commenced to retreat, it was every man for himself passing through the streets as quickly as possible. Even then, a few regiments held at least a portion of their men together, probably centered around their colors, which became a nucleus for others to rally around once they reached Cemetery Hill and beyond. Stragglers of both the First and Eleventh Corps trickled back to their commands throughout the evening, even into the early morning hours of July 2.


Thanks for the post Tom.

So it sounds like, generally speaking it was more of a rout than an organized withdrawal? Did all of I corps have to retreat through town too, or was the left flank able to avoid it?

Did everything tend to fall apart at once? Or did the XI corps break first, allowing Confederate troops to get behind I corps in the town?

Did most of the units know about the rally point on Cemetery Hill?
 

Tom Elmore

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Jan 16, 2015
Thanks for the post Tom.

So it sounds like, generally speaking it was more of a rout than an organized withdrawal? Did all of I corps have to retreat through town too, or was the left flank able to avoid it?

Did everything tend to fall apart at once? Or did the XI corps break first, allowing Confederate troops to get behind I corps in the town?

Did most of the units know about the rally point on Cemetery Hill?

As to your first point, yes, one could describe it mainly as a quick but disorganized retreat, or rout if you prefer. The far left flank of the First Corps was turned on Seminary Ridge by the 1st South Carolina, forcing the Federals to retreat along a rather narrow corridor of roughly 200 yards running parallel with the Chambersburg Pike and the railroad bed, so they were unable to skirt the town to the south.

The Eleventh Corps broke first, but some distance north of the town, and there was a delay in moving Hays and Avery forward to complete the Confederate victory, plus a further delay to rout Coster's brigade, with a last ditch defense by a portion of the Eleventh Corps including 73rd Pennsylvania and Battery G, 4th U.S. Artillery on the north edge of the town. Coster's brigade broke about the same moment as the First Corps broke on Seminary Ridge, based on my calculations, which meant that the bulk of the First Corps was able to stay just ahead of Hays' Louisianans as the latter moved to secure the northern and eastern portions of the town.

Cemetery Hill was the most obvious place for the Eleventh Corps and First Corps to head for, given that it was a prominent elevation and already occupied by Eleventh Corps guns and infantry (Smith's brigade). Unlike the Eleventh Corps, probably no one in the First Corps could have foreseen it would be used that way. Hancock attempted to at least separate the Eleventh from the First Corps men. A good example is Cutler's brigade, which formed along one of the paths in the old cemetery - that location was just behind the crest and the men saw their brigade flags as they crossed over the hilltop.
 

Jimbo_Poke

Private
Joined
Jan 28, 2015
Here is the excerpt from the regimental history of the 24th Michigan (Page 163)

"Captain Edwards took the flag and waiving it, the men who were left gallantly rallied to it as well as some of the rest of the Iron Brigade. This was the last stand made by the Union troops on that part of the field. The position was held amid a murderous fire from front and flank, until orders came from General Doubleday (commanding the First Corps since Reynolds death in the morning) to fall back, the first order of the kind received during the struggle. Captain Edwards, still carrying the flag, led the way through the town to the Cemetery, followed by only twenty-six of the Twenty-fourth Michigan, in comparative good order. What were left of the Iron Brigade were soon after moved to Gulp s Hill and a new line formed with the Twenty-fourth Michigan on the left. It reached from the top of the elevation to the foot of the hill facing the town. A sorrowful band, indeed, that night ! Of the Twenty-fourth Michigan only ninety-nine men and three officers could be rallied to the flag, out of 496 who followed it into action that morning"

Not a whole lot of detail. From this if only 26 of the 99 men eventually rallied for this regiment stayed with the flag, that tells me there was a good amount of disorder in the retreat.

I remember reading something about the 82nd Illinois Regiment that had more detail on the retreat. Don't have that source anymore though.
 

Tom Elmore

1st Lieutenant
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Jan 16, 2015
The 56th Pennsylvania had 10-15 men with the flag when it first arrived on Cemetery Hill and thereafter grew steadily in size.

One company of the 88th Pennsylvania had three men present when it arrived on Cemetery Hill; next morning it mustered 11.
 

JeffFromSyracuse

Corporal
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Jul 6, 2020
Location
Philly Suburbs
The 56th Pennsylvania had 10-15 men with the flag when it first arrived on Cemetery Hill and thereafter grew steadily in size.

One company of the 88th Pennsylvania had three men present when it arrived on Cemetery Hill; next morning it mustered 11.
According to Hofmann’s MOLLUS article, a lot of Cutler’s Brigade formed up on the 56th’s flag. Makes you wonder if the flag bearer made it through town quickly.
 
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