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Civil War Series

The Battle of Gettysburg

   

JULY 2—CEMETERY RIDGE

As Barksdale's, Wilcox's, and Lang's brigades crushed the Third Corps's right and swept toward Cemetery Ridge, Meade, Hancock, and others strove mightily to position troops to halt their drive. By the time the Confederates reached the base of the ridge their ranks had been riddled, their lines disordered, and they had begun to lose momentum. Hancock led Col. George L. Willard's brigade of his Second Corps down to meet Barksdale's brigade. Willard's men attacked Barksdale's advancing line just west of Plum Run and drove it back, but the guns of Col. E. Porter Alexander's artillery battalion, which had moved forward to the high ground by the Emmitsburg Road, repelled them in turn. Both Barksdale and Willard fell in the fight. As he rode north in search of more troops to throw against the advancing Rebel lines, Hancock saw Wilcox's brigade nearing the swale at the base of the ridge. Only the 1st Minnesota Regiment was at hand. Hancock pointed to a Confederate flag that flew above the advancing line and shouted to Col. William Colvill, "Advance, Colonel, and take those colors." The Minnesotans charged, struck the tired Alabamians, and blunted their attack. But the cost was horrible—"more than two-thirds" in the charge were killed or wounded. To the left, Williams's division of the Twelfth Corps reached the ridge in time to repulse the 21st Mississippi Regiment and recapture Bigelow's lost guns.

BRIGADIER GENERAL BARKSDALE LEAD HIS MEN AGAINST UNION DEFENDERS AT THE SHERFY FARM (PAINTING BY DON TROIANI. PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF HISTORICAL ART PRINTS, SOUTHBURY, CT.)

Brig. Gen. Ambrose R. Wright's Georgia brigade advanced on the left of the Florida brigade. The sun was setting as Wright's men advanced gallantly toward the Union center. They crushed two regiments posted at the Emmitsburg Road north of the Codori house and captured guns of Lt. T. Fred Brown's and Lt. Gulian V. Weir's batteries that were in front of the ridge near the Codori buildings. Fortunately for Wright's men, Hancock's efforts to aid Sickles had left a broad gap in the Union line south of the Copse of Trees, and the Floridians and Georgians made for it. Union troops held Lang's men from the ridge, but the right of Wright's line penetrated the gap and reached the ridge's crest. They had broken the Union line, but Brig. Gen. Carnot Pusey's brigade on their left and others did not come to their aid. Instead Union troops of the First and Second Corps, some led by Meade himself, struck the Georgians and drove them back. By darkness, Meade's forces had halted the Confederate attack. Meade was jubilant; when someone observed that things had been pretty desperate at one time, he replied, "Yes, but it is all right now, it is all right now." In later years, Longstreet wrote that on July 2 the men of his corps had done the "best three hours' fighting done by any troops on any battle-field." It would be difficult to prove him wrong. Yet it had not been enough to secure victory from an equally tenacious Union defense.

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