Longstreet Attacks - Overview
July 2, 1863
On July 1, 1863, Lee became unintentionally engaged with Meade's army near Gettysburg. Despite not being completely concentrated yet, Meade decided that the army should remain at Gettysburg and make a stand. The Army of Northern Virginia had failed to take Cemetery Hill, so Meade was free to occupy the strong fish-hook position that included this hill along with Culps Hill, Cemetery Ridge, and the Round Tops. Both Lee and Meade were uncertain about exactly what to do the next day. Both were concerned with the northern flank, since Cemetery Hill and Culps Hill were key to the position, and Meade's line of communication along the Baltimore Pike was vulnerable.
Geary's division of Slocum's corps arrived on the 1st and was placed on the left flank defending the Round Tops. It was planned that Geary would be relieved by Sickles' III Corps, allowing him to rejoin Slocum at Culp's Hill. Sickles arrived on the left flank, but at 1 P.M. he moved forward off of Cemetery Ridge, against orders, to a position along the Emmitsburg Road which was slightly higher than his allotted section of Cemetery Ridge. Although Sickles believed that his new position was superior, it was badly stretched out. His corps did not relieve Geary on the Round Tops. Nevertheless, Geary moved his division to Culp's Hill anyway, leaving the Round Tops completely undefended. Buford's cavalry had also been protecting the left flank, but he withdrew to join the rest of the cavalry in the rear to cover a possible retreat and protect the rear areas. Considering the absence of Stuart, a little bit of Union cavalry could have made a big difference in the coming struggle.
Lee had considered making his main effort around Cemetery Hill and Culp's Hill on the second day. Ewell thought that Cemetery Hill couldn't be taken, so Lee determined to send Longstreet's First Corps south to attack Meade's left flank. Controversial to this day, Longstreet's corps was only ready to attack at 4 P.M., despite the fact that the jump off point was only four miles from location most of the corps bivouaced that night. Nevertheless, the attack nearly broke the Union army. Because of Sickles' forward movement, the Confederate attack was modified into an en echelon attack starting on the right. Hood's division on the far right began the advance toward the Round Tops and the Wheatfield at around 4 PM. McLaws' division waited until 5:30 P.M. when they attacked near the Peach Orchard. With assistance from AP Hill's Third Corps, they rolled up the Union line along the Emmitsburg Road and continued toward Cemetery Hill. Since Meade had diverted much of his army to deal with the southern attacks, few troops remained on Cemetery Ridge, and if the Confederate attack had continued further up the line as intended, it would have struck weakened and undefended sectors.
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