Civil War

Food in the Civil War: Changing Lives and Battles

“An army marches on its stomach” – Napoleon Bonaparte

During the US Civil War, an entire nation went to war and food became a weapon. In fact, Napoleon’s statement could be amended to: “A Nation marches on its stomach.” Food became a major weapon in the war; the growing of it, the processing of it, and the supply and transportation of it became vital to the survival of the solider and citizen alike.

325During the Civil War, both the cooking and the buying of food changed drastically. Some foods were in short supply and some foods had to last days or even weeks. Even the methods used to cook the food soldiers needed limited what could be made and used for an army on the march. For some parts of the country, acquiring food became the only activity of the day.

Food during the Civil War played a huge role in the war. What happened in the fields, campfires, and kitchens directly affected what happened on the battlefield.

Changes at Home
Depending on where you lived, the quantity and quality of the food varied greatly. For Southerners, any food acquired had to be local. The blockade of the South by the US Navy cut off any access to spices, grain, and pork. The most in demand and most valued product missing in the South during the war was salt. Salt was needed to preserve and dry meats so it could be eaten weeks. Without salt, much needed protein quickly disappeared from the diet of many southerners and soldiers.

The absence of salt in the middle 1800s put a serious crimp in preserving meat. This affected how food was prepared, how animals were slaughtered and its meat cut up, and what food could be prepared for soldiers. Without salt, jerky, ham, and other dried meats soon dried up. Tinned corned beef became a staple for many. Southerners who lived near the sea often cooked their food in salt water from the ocean and gulf.

Along the east coast, rice was readily available throughout most of the war. However, production of rice waned as the war drug on. On the other hand, black-eyed peas and peanuts were readily available in the Deep South.

An entire agricultural economy that had been built on growing cotton and tobacco could not readily shift to growing food for a war everyone thought would only last a few months. As the war dragged on into 1863 and 1864, the food shortages in the South kept getting growing and growing. Starvation was a common occurrence.

rice cakes recipesPeople got by through adjusting recipes. Here is one for Apple Pie without Apples:

“To one small bowl of crackers that have been soaked until no hard parts remain, add one teaspoonful of tartaric acid, sweeten to your taste, add some butter, and a very little nutmeg.”

In lieu of pancakes, this recipe for rice griddle cakes survived:

“Rice Griddle Cakes: Boil one cup of whole rice quite soft in milk, and while hot stir in a little wheat flour or rice flour. When cold, add two eggs and a little salt, bake in small thin cakes on the griddle.”

Rural southern areas had more food than urban centers. The main reason for the disparity was transportation. The South had few railroads to move large quantities of food. Additionally, foraging for food became the main activity of the day. And most growing of food was subsistence in nature, there was not much extra food left to sell in the South.

By the end of the war in the South (1864-65), meat at a meal was a rarity. Here is a recipe for ways to enhance “warm slaugh” as the main dish in place of meat:

Cut them [cabbages] as for cold slaugh; having put in a skillet enough butter, salt, pepper, and vinegar to season the slaugh very well, put it into the seasonings; stir it fast, that it all may warm equally, and as soon as it gets hot, serve it in a deep china dish; make it smooth, and disseminate over it hard boiled yolks of eggs, that are minced fine.

In the North, it was a different world. Food was plentiful. So much so, that the Union continued to export food throughout the entire length of the war.

Here is a recipe for lamb stew that was popular in the Northeast:

One pound of sausages cut in pieces, with four pounds of potatoes, and a few onions, if they are liked, with about a tablespoonful of flour mixed in a pint of water and added to the dish, will make a sufficient dinner for five or six persons. The potatoes must be cut in slices, and stewed with the sausages till tender. Or you may use a pound and half of meat (mutton is best) instead of the sausages. Season with pepper, salt and sage or thyme.

Food for Soldiers
Just as the food was different at home in the war, so too was food different at war. The Southern soldier ate 1500 calories a day less than their Union counterpart. That is a lot of calories. Cornbread, Johnny Cakes, and Cush (beef fried with cornmeal and bacon grease) were the staple of the Southern soldiers’ diet. Early in the war, salted beef and bacon (made with salt-peter) were in supply as well as an abundance of dried peas and goober peas (peanuts).

Near the end of the war, some Confederate soldiers were more motivated to fight just food more than anything else. One soldier wrote of a battle in Virginia in 1864:

…veterans across their path determined to eat beef or die… When they were all safe, they proceeded to have the greatest beefsteak feast ever known in the army of Northern Virginia. As one of our men described it, we snatched the victuals right out of their mouths….Thus it was that General Grant gave us the great beefsteak feast, and we for a time let out our belts.

hardtack-eaterThe Union soldier, on the other hand, had hardtack (hard crackers) in great supply along with salted pork and beef (again made with salt peter). Approaching 3500-4000 calories a day, the Union soldier also got ate a variety of other foods including hominy, dried beans, dessicated vegetables (small cubes of dried carrots, onions, and celery), and everyone’s favorite – Borden’s condensed milk. Processed foods in the north had been around since the early 1800s, but condensed milk became the favorite daily item from the New York based Borden’s company.

However the mainstay of the Union soldier’s diet was hardtack. It often had a life of its own. One soldier wrote:

While before Petersburg, doing siege work in the summer of 1864, our men had wormy ‘hardtack,’ or ship’s biscuit served out to them for a time. It was a severe trial, and it tested the temper of the men.
Breaking open the biscuit and finding live worms in them, they would throw the pieces in the trenches where they were doing duty day by day, although the orders were to keep the trenches clean, for sanitary reasons.
A brigade officer of the day, seeing some of the scraps along our front, called out sharply to our men: “Throw that hardtack out of the trenches.” Then, as the men promptly gathered it up as directed, he added, ‘Don’t you know that you’ve no business to throw hardtack in the trenches? Haven’t you been told that often enough?’ Out from the injured soldier heart there came the reasonable explanation: “We’ve thrown it out two or three times, sir, but it crawls back”

Soldiers often boiled it to soften it. Another way to enhance the substance was by combining it with fried pork fat to make a new substance called “skillygalee.”

Also in the north, potatoes, when available, were more common and contained more calories and carbohydrates. One soldier describes a meal with potatoes:

We grab our plates and cups, and wait for no second invitation. We each get a piece of meat and a potato, a chunk of bread and a cup of coffee with a spoonful of brown sugar in it. Milk and butter we buy, or go without. We settle down, generally in groups, and the meal is soon over… We save a piece of bread for the last, with which we wipe up everything, and then eat the dish rag. Dinner and breakfast are alike, only sometimes the meat and potatoes are cut up and cooked toCity-Point-Cooking-West-Point-Virginia-602x558gether, which makes a really delicious stew. Supper is the same, minus the meat and potatoes.

Here is a list of rations given a soldier on a march:
Meat: 12 ounces of salt pork or bacon, or 1 pound 4 ounces of salt or fresh beef
Bread: 1 pound 6 ounces of soft bread or flour, or 1 pound hard bread (hardtack), or 1 pound 4 ounces of corn meal

Coffee, a substance Southern soldiers could not get, was often a great treat for the north along with any kind of “fresh” vegetable.

There were no big kitchens in the war, each Union soldier was given his rations and it was his responsibility to cook it. As result, different ways of cooking and preparing the rations emerged throughout the war. The soldiers carried their food in a haversack and their pan, plates, and/or coffee pots and cup with them.

For many men, this was their first time cooking their own food. Away from home and not having a wife, mother, or sister to prepare their food for them, it was a steep learning curve. They either learned how to cook quickly or they didn’t eat as well as the other soldiers who did. Most soldiers cooked their food with 4-10 other soldiers.

For officers life was a lot better as food was prepared for them. Here is a recipe for some beef stew:

Cut 2 pounds of beef roast into cubes 2 inches square and 1 inch thick, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and put in frying pan with a little pork fat or lard. Put them over a fire until well browned but not fully cooked, and hen empty the pan into a kettle and add enough water to cover the meat. Add a handful of flour, two quartered onions, and four peeled and quartered potatoes. Cover and simmer slowly over a moderate heat for 3 ½ hours, skimming any fat that rises to the top. Then stir in 1 tablespoon of vinegar and serve. Other vegetables available, such as leeks, turnips, carrots, parsnips, and salsify, will make excellent additions.

Soldiers could use their own money to buy food along the way. Seedy entrepreneurs known as Sutlers often followed the armies on their marches. Only a few soldiers could afford the luxury foods sutlers sold as it would take most of their monthly pay to buy juts a few items.

How some soldiers got by was by receiving packages from home. These could include items like coffee, apples, apple butter, fresh pork, dried fruit, milk, eggs, risen bread, cakes, preserves or jelly, pickles, egg nog, sugar, bicarbonate of soda, salt, fresh butter, roast beef, ham and turkey. These shipable foods not only sustained men, it often became a way to make some extra money by selling the items.

Fresh fruit was the greatest treat of all for a soldier. While foraging, or living off the land, was forbidden. Most officers looked the other way as eating fruit often boosted morale and the health of the soldiers. Depending on the time of year and location, the follow items became must have items:
Pears: August – October
Peaches: July – August
Strawberries: May – June
Raspberries: July – September
Blackberries: July – September
Blueberries: July – September
Watermelon: July – October

In the End…
New.Magic_.Back_The lack of fruits and vegetables could cause scurvy, dysentery, diarrhea, and disease could often ravage an army on the march. It is amazing, though, how different the food was on each side. Those 1500 calories a day were a difference maker in long battles away from home for soldiers and armies on the march. A simple potato a day or piece of fruit had a huge effect on the stamina and energy of a soldier. Many times it could mean the difference between life and death.

While battle after battle has become the stuff of legend about the Civil War, the role food played in the conflict affected what happened on those battlefields. All night shelling at Shiloh prevented many Confederate soldiers from eating to be ready for the next day’s events that saw a rested and well fed Union force over run the southern positions in SE Tennessee and chase them all the way to Corinth in Mississippi, some 20 miles away. There, a siege laid upon the town starved out the army and citizens within weeks.

At Vicksburg, Grant laid a ninety day siege upon the town and the citizens were forced to eat rats and boil wood and tree bark to survive. Later in the war, Grant used the siege to starve out Lee in Petersburg before Lee made a run for it and surrendered at Appomattox Court House.

At home though, the North’s ability to supply food for itself, its army, and to sell food overseas was a large factor in sustaining the war effort and ultimately in winning the war. The South’s inability to adjust to the nutritional needs of its army and its populace ultimately had a role in its defeat and demise.


The Art of Getting Bogged Down – Every History Teacher’s Nightmare and Pleasure

Here is the cartoon that starting it all this morning. It is from the magazine Puck and is about John D. Rockefeller's control of the economy in the late 1800s.

Here is the cartoon that starting it all this morning. It is from the magazine Puck and is about John D. Rockefeller’s control of the economy in the late 1800s.

I am a tactile teacher. I like my students to do things with their hands, mostly by recreating and analyzing history. I like them to create products which analyze the past, compare it to the present, and signify its importance to the development of our political, economic, and social constructs. As with every teacher, I always run into problems. And it is the same problem I run into all the time. I can easily get “bogged down” in a unit. By bogged down I mean I extend the unit and the tactile learning too much. What is supposed to be a three to four week unit ends up six, or even seven. Projects and products filled with pictures, cartoons, graphs, artifacts, and charts fill up my table in the back of my classroom. Added lessons are made up at the drop of a hat – it is a vicious cycle of lesson planning. But it is always a pleasurable one.

I know teachers who spend an entire quarter on the Progressive Era. I, myself, taught an Early America Unit for six weeks because I got stuck in the 1830s and 1840s teaching about Illinois’ role in westward expansion and the problems it faced. “I have to teach about the Black Hawk War for a week” or “These kids have to know about Mormon persecution in Missouri at Hahn’s Mill and at Nauvoo, Illinois” are the kinds of thoughts that run through my mind.

Other teachers I know spend an entire week on Tammany Hall or the cartoons of Puck vs. Nast. Last year, my student teacher took six weeks to do the Civil War. She did an excellent job actually making the kids hard tack, learning the roles of several women, teaching how culture spread across country because of the war, making exhibit boards, and digging into the Emancipation Proclamation in addition to normal things teachers go into detail about the time period. She expressed a concern at one point that she was never going to get out of the Civil War. She did. And, she did a great job teaching the unit!!! But when it came time to plan the next unit, the next unit got shortchanged. And thus is the dilemma of being a history teacher.

Currently I am at the crossroad as I type. At some point in the next week, I have to get into the twentieth century in class. As I sat down this morning, my main goal was immediately sidetracked by Puck cartoons. That’s right, cartoons. I love cartoons because of their tactile and visual nature. Almost immediately, I began scheming lessons about using them as web searches, products, and tools for analysis. I was supposed to teach about Immigration in the late 1800s to start the week and then get into 3 day Teddy Roosevelt extravaganza of the Progressive Era. I still will, but it is unreal how close I came to veering out of control.

I think for every history teacher, it is a guilty pleasure to get bogged down. It is how you become a better teacher. It is how you learn how to teach history. This year, I took five days to do the Battle of Gettysburg. And you know what, I enjoyed it, the kids enjoyed it, and we both learned a lot. However, here’s the thing…I planned to get bogged down!!! At times, getting bogged down is a necessity. That is how you teach detail. “More on less” is the best motto. The issue is that I teach a survey course and I have to cover all of US History in the time frame imposed. It is just not possible in one year to cover EVERYTHING.

I spent an entire lesson about Gettysburg by examining the decisions by Lee and Meade on whether to fight on that third day.

I spent an entire lesson about Gettysburg by examining the decisions by Lee and Meade on whether to fight on that third day. It was all about strategy and high ground. Students had a great time examining documents, the terrain, morale, and the state of their armies.

So, I pick and choose what I get bogged down in. This year, it will be Civil Rights in the 1950s and the Clinton era 1990s. I have no shame in admitting that. But some things do get shortchanged. I know this year it has been Reconstruction, the Wild West (an all-time favorite era of mine to get bogged down in), the Spanish-American War, and the early 1800s (1812-1837) that take the hit for detail’s sake.

I think it is important that if you are going to teach something and have students produce products of their learning, the teacher best enjoy the topic and transmit that joy to the students about the topic. Last year, I never had so much fun teaching about World War II than spending an entire week doing D-Day. Another teacher who read this blog emailed me for the materials and we both had a blast doing the lesson 300 miles apart with me in 8th grade and she in high school. It’s OK to get bogged down, if you do it for the right reasons!!!

So, when I get back to lesson planning here in a few minutes, I will try to avoid the pitfalls of the Progressive Era planning and yearn for the time when I do get to spend extra time teaching the 1930s, D-Day, the 1950s Civil Rights Movement, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the 1990s changes in society. It will be worth getting bogged down. I just have to stick to my plan.

Grant and the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House: Fighting It Out If It Takes All Summer

Incessant would be the best word to describe the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House in May of 1864. With nearly 100,000 men in tow, General Ulysses S. Grant hammered away at the Army of Northern Virginia under the command of Robert E. Lee in mid May. Grant hoped to weaken and pound Lee’s forces into submission and shorten the war. Grant said, “I propose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer.” In what has become known as the second part of Grant’s Overland Campaign, the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House is was of the least known battles of the war, but it is well-known for its loss of life and the tenacity of Grant to attack at costs. Lee’s army began the battle with 52,000+ men. By the end of the battle, Lee would be left with just about 75% of his men.

After the Wilderness Campaign, Grant did something no Union General accomplished after a battle against Robert E. Lee, Grant kept advancing. His troops were enthused and the result would be known quickly within days. When Grant left the Wilderness battlefield, it soon became apparent to Robert E. Lee that he must keep the Army of Northern Virginia between the Union and Richmond. With his smaller and dwindling force, Lee was able to outmaneuver Grant after the Wilderness to gain a tactical advantage and set up defensive positions near Spotsylvania Court House. From May 8th to the 21st, the two generals would slug it out. Grant knew that Lee could take his punches, but sooner or later, Lee would ultimately run out of men and supplies. The Union could essentially manufacture both.

Over the course of two weeks, Grant tried to remove Lee from his defensive positions. It was to no avail. The tactics were beginning to change in this war. Lee could no longer afford to slug it out like boxers in the middle of a ring. He had to dig earthworks, arrange trees and other objects to provide cover, and most importantly, he had to keep his army alive. Resembling something of what would be World War I trenches some 50 years later, Lee had his soldiers build trenches all that summer to avoid Union sharpshooters and to thwart Union advances.

Heth's Salient at Spotsylvania Phot courtesy of the U.S. Army Military History Institute

Heth’s Salient at Spotsylvania Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Military History Institute

Over the course of the 14 days of the battle, heavy casualties made headlines. Grant would lose 18,000 of his 100,000 man army while Lee had 12,000 casualties. The loss of life was staggering to many in the press.

A Virginia newspaper account

A Virginia newspaper account

However, Grant was not one to dabble in what the press thought. He had one job to do and that was to destroy Lee’s army that summer. At a place called the Bloody Angle, Grant almost succeeded on May 12.

The most vulnerable point of the Bloody Angle for Lee was a place called the Muleshoe Salient which connected two parts of his lines. The Union tried to concentrate its attack there. For 22 hours, forces under the command of Colonel Emory Upton almost broke through the lines on May 10. Two days later, Upton would try again with an entire corps. The Union did capture a large number of Confederate forces but somehow Lee’s forces held on but a terrible cost. Historian Curtis Crockett describes Upton unusual formation for the attack:

Abandoning the standard attack—a line of men charging in a wave—he condensed his troops into a human battering ram, a tight column of men surging at lightning speed with one aim: to breach the enemy’s entrenchments. If it had worked at Rappahannock Station, it would work here. Upton was sure of it […] the struggle at the entrenchments lasted only seconds with the sheer numbers of Union troops prevailing. The first Union men to reach and climb over the works were shot instantly; many were bayonetted by the Georgians who initially refused to give ground. The Union troops gave as good as they got: The flag bearer of the 44th Georgia was stabbed 14 times by Upton’s men.

Earthworks at Spotsylvania

Earthworks at Spotsylvania

Attacking an entrenched position would be a struggle for Grant at Spotsylvania but also at the next battle at Cold Harbor. While taking heavy losses, Upton was able to create a small hole in the Salient, but was unable to hold any territory gained. For the Union soldiers, the attack was devastating. One soldier said, “I came back, tired out and heartsick. I sat down in the woods, and as I thought of the desolation and misery around me, my feelings overcame me and I cried like a little child.”

The carnage was unfathomable. Private G.N. Galloway recalled:

“The dead and wounded were torn to pieces by the canister as it swept the ground where they had fallen. The mud was halfway to our knees. . . Our losses were frightful. What remained of many different regiments that had come up to our support had concentrated at this point, and had planted their tattered colors upon a slight rise of ground where they stayed during the latter part of the day.”

The fighting that began at 5 a.m. on the 12th would last until 3 a.m. the next. 22 hours of hell on Earth. This was the highpoint of the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House. When Lee moved back a few hundred yards to new even more fortified positions, the fighting at the Muleshoe Salient came to a close.

A Confederate counter attack on May 19 took extremely heavy casualties. Lee’s days of fighting an offensive war were over after Spotsylvania. He did not have the men to do so. He was also beginning to lose too many officers. With Longstreet injured at the Wilderness, Lee struggled to maintain his lines and ranks at Spotsylvania because of officers who lacked experience. In addition, while Spotsylvania was a military stalemate, Lee may thwarted Grant from winning the battle, but Lee had done nothing to stop Grant from winning the war. The war in the East would soon become a war of attrition. Grant would give a large-scale attack one more try at Cold Harbor, but soon, Grant would know that Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia did not have much left to fight with. So, he would attack and attack some more.


Ordeal by Fire by James McPherson

Red River to Appamattox by Shelby Foote


The Valley of the Shadow of Death from Civil War by Ken Burns


The Battle of the Wilderness: Lee Becomes the Objective

Soon after midnight, May 3d–4th, the Army of the Potomac moved out from its position north Rapidan, to start upon that memorable campaign, destined to result in the capture of the Confederate capital and the army defending it. This was not to be accomplished, however, without as desperate fighting as the world has ever witnessed; not to be consummated in a day, a week, a month, single season. The losses inflicted, and endured, were destined to be severe; but the armies now confronting each other had already been in deadly conflict for a period of three years, with immense losses in killed, by death from sickness, captured and wounded; and neither had made any real progress accomplishing the final end. – US Grant Personal Memoirs

And thus began an immortal dance that for ten months came to define the war. Two names intertwined in history. Two names forever linked. Yet, it was only for ten months they fought against each other. For Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant, the beginning of the Overland Campaign on May 3, 1864, signaled the beginning of the end for the Confederacy in Virginia. By mid-summer, Grant would lay siege to Petersburg and have Lee somewhat trapped there. The auspicious start entailed above was anything but auspicious. It was cold and deadly. From May 3rd to May 7th, a battle that came to be known as The Wilderness was an introduction of Lee to Grant and Grant to Lee.

When Grant was placed in charge of Union forces in early 1864, he immediately changed the goals of the war, militarily speaking. Where previous commanders had failed, Grant’s change of emphasis in the war was aimed at bringing about the end of the South to make war. Goal number one in 1864 was simple. Destroy the Army of Northern Virginia and Robert E. Lee. Twice Lee had escaped the jaws of defeat in the North at Antietam and Gettysburg and live to fight another day. Rather than go after specific targets like Richmond, Fredericksburg, Petersburg, or Chancellorsville, Grant was going after Lee. If Grant could get to Lee, the war could grind to a halt. If Grant could bring Union forces to bear, the war in the East would soon be over. That was the goal on May 3rd when he crossed the Rapidan.

Grant’s greatest strength was his adaptability. Some historians claim it was his tenacity, but that tenacity was not based on thundering away at the enemy but rather in continually adjusting to what his enemy did in order to out maneuver him. For Grant in the spring and summer of 1864, this adaptability to Robert E. Lee will result in many battles, the first of which was in the Wilderness in northern Virginia.

The ground in Virginia had three summers of blood when Grant took charge. 1864 would be the last. At Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Spotsylvania, the two sides had met and fought over the same rivers several times with the Confederacy winning most every time. Grant described the land as such:

The country was heavily wooded at all the points of crossing, particularly on the south side of the river. The battle-field from the crossing of the Rapidan until the final movement from the Wilderness toward Spottsylvania was of the same character. There were some clearings and small farms within what might be termed the battle-field; but generally the country was covered with a dense forest. The roads were narrow and bad. All the conditions were favorable for defensive operations.

But for Grant, the Battle of the Wilderness was not to be a defensive operation. He might have known he would not win, but by engaging the enemy (Lee) Grant knew the Union could provide him with more men and resources than the Confederacy could provide for Lee. Grant would use the rivers of northern Virginia to his advantage to resupply himself and his armies at will. For a man who hated the sight of blood, Grant knew what it shedding would bring.

On to the battle…

When Grant made his move across the Rapidan with 100,000 men, Lee was well aware of Grant’s position. Using the terrain to his advantage, Lee had to keep the mountains and woods to his rear as Grant easily outnumbered him. With only 62,000 men, Lee would decide the place of battle … this time.

The first day of the Battle of the Wilderness could best described as chaos. Because of the thickets, rain, and overall mesh of trees and men. Lee wrote of the first day of battle at 11 p.m.:

The enemy crossed the Rapidan yesterday at Ely’s and Germanna Fords. Two corps of this,army moved to oppose him Ewell’s, by the old turnpike, and Hill’s, by the plank road. They arrived this morning in close proximity to the enemy’s line of march. A strong attack was made upon Ewell, who repulsed it, capturing many prisoners and four pieces of artillery. The enemy subsequently concentrated upon General Hill, who, with Heth’s and Wilcox’s divisions, successfully resisted repeated and desperate assaults. A large force of cavalry and artillery on our right flank was driven back by Rosser’s brigade. By the blessing of God we maintained our position against every effort until night, when the contest closed. We have to mourn the loss of many brave officers and men. The gallant Brig. Gen. J. M. Jones was killed, and Brig. Gen. L. A. Stafford, I fear, mortally wounded while leading his command with conspicuous valor.

For the Union, they did not know what was happening. Friendly fire killed many amidst the chaos. Up on the down the Orange Turnpike, the Confederates knowing the land, held the distinct advantage. Wilderness Battlefield Park Historian Dan Pfanz explains what happened near the turnpike:

Saunders Field courtesy of the NPS

Saunders Field courtesy of the NPS

Saunders Field was a 50-acre field that straddled the Orange Turnpike (modern Route 20). It was one of very few clearings in the otherwise gloomy forest. When Richard Ewell approached the Army of the Potomac on May 5th, he had orders from Lee to engage the enemy and stop their progress through the Wilderness, but to avoid a general engagement until Longstreet’s corps arrived the following day.Ewell encountered the Army of the Potomac at Saunders Field and immediately began deploying his corps across the turnpike along the higher, western edge of the field, where his troops could enjoy a clear field of fire.Grant, eager to engage the Confederates on any terms, obligingly attacked Ewell at Saunders Field at 1 p.m. on May 5, initiating the battle, and continued to hammer away at Ewell’s line well into the night. Despite achieving a momentary breakthrough south of the turnpike, Grant’s forces were repulsed with heavy casualties.

On the morning of the May 6, Grant resumed the attack. Arriving in what appeared to be a huge lift for the Confederacy was James Longstreet – ironically, he was a longtime friend of Grant as well. Longstreet’s morning attack forced a short retreat by the Union behind some cover. As Longstreet was preparing the final attack which could have culminated in a rout, Longstreet was accidentally shot by his own men. The resulting delay in an attack allowed the Union forces under Hancock to prepare defensive positions.

Lee wrote of the events of the day:

Early this morning as the divisions of General Hill, engaged yesterday, were being relieved, the enemy advanced and created some confusion. The ground lost was recovered as soon as the fresh troops got into position and the enemy driven back to his original line. Afterward we turned the left of his front line and drove it from the field, leaving a large number of dead and wounded in our hands, among them General Wadsworth. A subsequent attack forced the enemy into his intrenched lines on the Brock road, extending from Wilderness Tavern, on the right, to Trigg’s Mill. Every advance on his part, thanks to a merciful God, has been repulsed. Our loss in killed is not large, but we have many wounded; most of them slightly, artillery being little used on either side. I grieve to announce that Lieutenant-General Longstreet was severely wounded and General Jenkins killed. General Pegram was badly wounded yesterday. General Stafford, it is hoped, will recover.

Grant saw things in this manner:

I believed then, and see no reason to change that opinion now, that if the country had been such that Hancock and his command could have seen the confusion and panic in the lines of the enemy, it would have been taken advantage of so effectually that Lee would not have made another stand outside of his Richmond defences.

On May 6, Lee attacked Union positions. It did not go well. The terrain that had lead to victories in previous years for the Confederates was their undoing this day as the Union held the field. In a strange but an extremely important turn of events, Grant ordered Meade to withdraw after night fall on May 7. But this time, the Union was not retreating back from whence they came, but rather, they were going to Spotsylvania Court House and heading towards Richmond. The resulting orders to advance turned the morale of the Army of the Potomac into enthusiasm.

Grant’s Orders to Meade:

Commanding A. P.
Make all preparations during the day for a night march to take position at Spottsylvania C. H. with one army corps, at Todd’s Tavern with one, and another near the intersection of the Piney Branch and Spottsylvania road with the road from Alsop’s to Old Court House. If this move is made the trains should be thrown forward early in the morning to the Ny River.
I think it would be advisable in making the change to leave Hancock where he is until Warren passes him. He could then follow and become the right of the new line. Burnside will move to Piney Branch Church. Sedgwick can move along the pike to Chancellorsville and on to his destination. Burnside will move on the plank road to the intersection of it with the Orange and Fredericksburg plank road, then follow Sedgwick to his place of destination.
All vehicles should be got out of hearing of the enemy before the troops move, and then move off quietly.
It is more than probable that the enemy concentrate for a heavy attack on Hancock this afternoon. In case they do we must be prepared to resist them, and follow up any success we may gain, with our whole force. Such a result would necessarily modify these instructions.
All the hospitals should be moved to-day to Chancellorsville.

What militarily was a draw turned into a psychological victory for Grant and the Union. Where Meade, Hooker, McClellan, and Burnside had failed, Grant became the man in whom the Union army believed in. In was now up to Lee to chase him. With 80,000+ men in tow, Grant would resupply while Lee had to fight with what he had left, around 50,000. Those numbers would continue to shrink for Lee while Grant would just resupply himself much to the chagrin of some in the press in the coming months.

Diorama by Greg Aronowitz

Diorama by Greg Aronowitz

US Grant Personal Memoirs
Ordeal by Fire by James MacPherson

Robert E. Lee Reports:

The Civil War: Valley of the Shadow of Death

The Promotion of Ulysses S. Grant: Setting the Stage for 1864

When 1864 began, Abraham Lincoln and the Union were at a crossroads. The Civil War was being won slowly and that was a problem. Despite huge wins at Gettysburg and Vicksburg in July of 1863, the public and press were still clamoring for victory at the beginning of the new year. Some politicians were clamoring for peace. Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia were still on the loose; his army badly beaten after Gettysburg but they still could put up a fight at the beginning of 1864, albeit only on Virginia soil. The biggest problem for Lincoln was who could he put in charge of the Union armies to go after Lee in the eastern theater. lincoln_abraham_photograph-thumb-425x563[1]

For two and a half years, the Army of the Potomac had protected the nation’s capital. The army had also flailed away at trying to take the Confederate capital of Richmond and they were defeated on Virginia soil by Robert E. Lee each time. The only times Lee lost was on Union soil at Antietam (Sharpsburg) and Gettysburg. Five Generals had their crack at destroying Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia. Irvin McDowell lost at Bull Run (although Lee was not there in 1861) and McDowell was promptly removed from command as his armies retreated over civilians and politicians on their way back to Washington after the loss.

George McClellan thought himself the second coming of Napoleon. Lincoln did not. McClellan always thought he needed more men to go after Lee. Lincoln did not. McClellan always surmised that Lee outnumbered him at every turn. Lincoln did not. Even after a McClellan win at Antietam, Lee escaped Maryland as McClellan hesitated fearing a final Confederate attack. McClellan was removed from command of the Army of the Potomac in November of 1862.

McClellan was replaced by Ambrose Burnside. Burnside’s tenure was short-lived. After a failed attack towards Richmond resulted in the disastrous failure that was the Battle of Fredericksburg, Burnside was removed in January of 1863. Joseph Hooker replaced Burnside and was quickly praised for raising morale and organization within the Army of the Potomac. However, failure to win at Chancellorsville and arguments over the protection of Washington and Baltimore, Hooker resigned in late June of 1863 and was reassigned to the West later that summer.

General George Meade was only on the job for four days when the Battle of Gettysburg began. When it was over, Meade failed to pursue a weakened Army of Northern Virginia. Lincoln, again, was frustrated with whomever was in command. Lincoln felt the war might have been shortened drastically had Meade pursued Lee on the third day after the disaster that was Pickett’s charge. But Meade, like McClellan, felt a counter attack by Lee was forthcoming. It was not.

Union victories in the fall in Tennessee at Chattanooga and Knoxville secured a launching pad to invade the deep South. The stage was set in 1864 for the Union to make great strides in strangling the South by invading Georgia and going after Lee in Virginia. Who was going to lead that charge? With victory in the distance, Lincoln knew it could not be Meade. Meade was a good General with great organizational and tactician skills, and he could command troops in the heat of the battle, but he was not the great strategist and commander of other generals. Lincoln turned his eye to the West to find the right man to get the job done. It would be a controversial selection to some, but to Lincoln, it was the only choice at the end of 1863.

In February of 1864, Lincoln began the machinations needed to place Grant in charge of all Union forces. That choice was one that was developed and cultivated over two years despite the two men never having met until 1864. Historian John Simon said:

While Grant fought the war in the West, his only contact with Lincoln came through correspondence, and there was no great amount of it. Yet the man in the White House kept a careful eye on Grant, who held a series of posts so vital that mismanagement would have been fatal.

Here is one telegram that Lincoln had written Grant after the Siege of Vicksburg. 4639933210_2ef2e398c1

“I do not remember that you and I ever met personally. I write this now as a grateful acknowledgement for the almost inestimable service you have done the country. I wish to say a word further. When you first reached the vicinity of Vicksburg, I thought you should do, what you finally did–march the troops across the neck, run the batteries with the transports, and thus go below; and I never had any faith, except a general hope that you knew better than I, that the Yazoo Pass expedition, and the like, could succeed. When you did get below, and took Port-Gibson, Grand Gulf, and vicinity, I thought you should go down the river and join Gen. [Nathaniel] Banks; and when you turned Northward East of the Big Black, I feared it was a mistake. I know wish to make the personal acknowledgement that you were right, and I was wrong.”

For many historians, this was the beginning of the relationship where Lincoln would state his objections to what Grant was doing but then quickly defer to Grant’s expertise.

For Ulysses S. Grant, the rise to head the Union Army in 1864 and gain the confidence of Abraham Lincoln began in 1862. Victories at Fort Donnelson, Fort Henry and Shiloh brought Grant fame and some of it was not so kind. High casualty rates caught the attention of the press and earned him the nickname of “Grant the Butcher.” It did not bother Grant. And more importantly, it did not bother Lincoln who was to have allegedly said, “I cannot spare this man; he fights.”

In 1863, Grant’s Mississippi campaign aimed to divide the Confederacy in half. Historian E.B. Long called Grant a “great organizer of war, too often submerged because of the more spectacular events he engineered.” This quality was one that endeared Grant to Lincoln. When complaints of Grant’s drinking in times of boredom became an issue, Lincoln was said to have quipped “that if he could find out what brand of whiskey Grant drank, he would send a barrel of it to all the other commanders.”

In addition to his skills on the field of battle, Grant also had friends in high places. One was his neighbor from Galena, the ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, Elihu B. Washburne. Washburne had the tug of Lincoln’s ear and would often praise Grant and give assurances to Lincoln about Grant’s ability and drinking, and even Grant’s political aspirations, which were none.

Representative Elihu Washburne - Grant's friend and neighbor

Representative Elihu Washburne – Grant’s friend and neighbor

Lincoln wanted a man who could get things done. One view of the hiring by Samuel H. Beckwith, a War Department telegraph operator, who believed that Grant:

“was selected as Lincoln’s last hope, and when the President knew his worth and saw his handiwork, he placed the army in his keeping and backed the intrepid solider in his every move. And Grant appreciated highly the cooperation and loyal support given him from Washington. Unlike McClellan and his successors, he did not bombard the Capitol with petitions and remonstrances and criticisms and appeals for reenforcements.”

In late February of 1864, Lincoln asked Congress to revive the rank of Lieutenant General in the US Army. On February 29, the Senate obliged and Lincoln put in Grant’s name for the command of all Union forces.


After meeting Grant for the first time in Washington, Lincoln and Grant discussed war aims, expectations, and their roles in the war. Lincoln said of meeting Grant:

“Well, I hardly know what to think of him, altogether, I never saw him, myself, till he came here to take the command. He’s the quietest little fellow you ever saw. . . . The only evidence you have that he’s in any place is that he makes things git! Wherever he is, things move!”

Their relationship was set up that Grant was to make the decisions on how to best achieve Lincoln’s political goals using the military. 1864, after all, was an election year. If the war was not almost finished by the fall, Lincoln knew he would not be re-elected, peace could come with a Democratic President, and the grand experiment known as the Union would be over.

For Grant, when word of promoting him first came about on a suggestion by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton in the fall of 1863, Grant was reluctant and hesitant to take such a position. He initially wanted no part of it. Part of the reason was Grant did not like politics and the second was he did not like Washington meddling in the affairs of the Army.

Somehow, during the winter of 1863-64, Grant changed his mind in part to end what he did not like about the post, and more importantly, because of Lincoln. Through communications, Lincoln displayed a unique ability to state his own opinion on a matter while deferring to other’s expertise of Grant’s command, skills, and ability to be fit for the job (not be drunk).

Shortly after Grant was given the rank of Lieutenant General, he began developing a plan that strategically required the Union to attack on all fronts against the Confederates in 1864. The logistics of this plan Grant did not share with Lincoln. Lincoln wrote this telegram to Grant in early April of 1864:

Not expecting to see you again before the Spring campaign opens, I wish to express, in this way, my entire satisfaction with what you have done up to this time, so far as I understand it. The particulars of your plans I neither know, or seek to know. You are vigilant and self-reliant; and, pleased with this, I wish not to obtrude any constraints or restraints upon you. While I am very anxious that any great disaster, or the capture of our men in great numbers, shall be avoided. I know that these points are less likely to escape your attention than they would be mine. If there is anything wanting which is within my power to give, do not fail to let me know it.
And now with a brave Army, and a just cause, may God sustain you.

The fact that Lincoln was alright with not knowing the plan kept Grant happy and it kept Lincoln happy too that April of 1864. He later quipped to the press when asked about the spring strategy that April:

“He hasn’t told me what his plans are […] I don’t know, and I don’t want to know. I’m glad to find a man who can go ahead without me.”

Grant was preparing to cross the Rappahannock River and go after Robert E. Lee. That was what Grant was hired to do – to lead. In May of 1864, Grant began earning his new pay grade.

Germanna Ford across the Rappahannock

Germanna Ford across the Rappahannock

Ulysses S. Grant: “Personal Memoirs”
Bruce Catton “Grant Takes Command”
Charles Bracelen Flood, “Grant and Sherman: The Friendship That Won the Civil War”;
Jean Edward Smith, “Grant”; The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies,” Vol. 32, Pt. 3”
James MacPherson: Ordeal by Fire
Stephen Woodworth: Nothing but Victory
John Y. Simon and Michael E. Stevens, New Perspectives on the Civil War: Myths and Realities of the National Conflict
David L. Wilson and John Y. Simon, Ulysses S. Grant: Essays and Documents, p. 19. (E.B. Long, “Ulysses S. Grant for Today”).


The Battle of Gettysburg – Day Three: Hallowed Ground

James Longstreet

James Longstreet

“General, I have been a soldier all my life. I have been with soldiers engaged in fights by couples, by squads, companies, regiments and armies, and I should know . . what soldiers can do. It is my opinion that no 15,000 men ever arrayed for battle can take that position.”  – James Longstreet

I do not think the thought of leaving the battlefield after July 2 ever occurred to Robert E. Lee. It should have. Had Lee left, his men could have lived to fight another battle at full strength. That could have been the battle. Instead, Lee, partly guided by hubris, his own self-confidence, and his own distaste for his opponent, never thought he could be beaten. Lee never imagined that Meade, only 5 days on the job could best him on a field of battle. Time and again throughout two year old war, Lee had put on one of the greatest military displays in history. Many historians, including myself, consider him America’s greatest general. That distinction, however, does not mean he was without fault. He was. And on July 3, 1863, one error to stand and fight ultimately marked the high water mark for his army and the Confederacy.

For Abraham Lincoln, the Battle of Gettysburg was different than most previous battles. Throughout the war, Lincoln was kept abreast of the day’s events through telegraph communiques. Ironically, the President had used the telegraph to issue orders to commanders in the field. This time, it would not be so.

Lee’s plan for battle had three parts. Part one included an assault on Culp’s Hill in the morning. It was hoped the Army of Northern Virginia could take the hill and the control the battlefield. If it failed, Lee had two additional parts. The second part was made possible the arrival the day before of the cavalry under the command of J.E.B. Stuart. Stuart was to swing wide and attack the Union from the rear on the east. The third part of the plan was to be an afternoon assault on the Union center near Cemetery Ridge. An artillery barrage would commence aimed at two points. The center would be targeted as well the woods behind where Lee believed Meade would hold his reserves to reinforce positions up and down the line. The brigades of Pickett and Heth then would converge on the point (Called The Angle) like a funnel, break through the Union lines, and divide the Union in two with Stuart attacking the same point from the east. Some of Lee’s generals did not like the plan but James Longstreet was the most vocal. Longstreet felt that the Union had two whole days to reinforce those heights. It is what Longstreet would have done had he been in command of Union forces.

Meade’s plan was based on the Council of War held the night before. Up to this point, what had allowed the Union to hold the lines was that Meade had used his reserves to reinforce key positions depending on the point of attack. For the third day, Meade would have no reserves other than cavalry. So, rather keep them in the woods behind the lines, Meade shifted them east to reinforce the right flank. In addition, Meade reinforced Culp’s Hill with units from two divisions.


Part 1 – Culp’s Hill

The attack on Culp’s Hill began early in the morning on July 3. It did not go well for the Confederates. With the extra men, the Union held position on the hill. By 11 a.m. the fighting on the hill ceased. The failures to take the Hill lead Lee to implement the final two parts to win.

Part Two – Stuart and the Cavalry

J.E.B. Stuart and his cavalry swung wide east of Gettysburg to swing around and flank the Union forces. Unable to reconnoiter the day before, Stuart found himself staring face to face with the 3rd Division commanded by 23 year old George Armstrong Custer and the 2nd Division commanded by David Greeg. Though neither side had a tactical advantage, the Union despite having fewer forces was able to thwart and repel Stuart. When the Union forces slammed into the Confederate Cavalry line, the line stopped creating a traffic jam of Confederate cavalry.

Part Three – Pickett’s Charge

At 1:07 p.m., 150 Confederate guns opened up on what Lee thought were Union positions at Union artillery in the center along with troops positioned there, and at positions behind the front line where Lee thought Meade held his reinforcements. After two hours, the barrage ceased. Emerging from the woods along Seminary Ridge, 13,000 – 15,000 Confederate soldiers lined up to begin their march toward the Union Center. Led by General George Pickett, the line stretched almost a mile long.

Silently, on an 81 degree summer afternoon, the march began across open field in the face of the enemy. The Union held their artillery to make the Confederates think the barrage had taken out the guns. Without sound, the Confederates made their way across the field until a fence line appeared near the Emmitsburg Road. The soldiers increased in height to near 10 feet while climbing the fence. The Union opened fire on soldiers crossing the field. At this point, Union artillery opened fire at point blank range decimating Pickett’s and Pettigrew’s forces as they neared the wall. But it did not stop the Confederates from coming.

A fence has been rebuilt near the location of  where one was during Pickett's Charge

A fence has been rebuilt near the location of where one was during Pickett’s Charge

Some Confederates breached the wall near the Angle. Some Union forces retreated in fear only to be rounded up and returned to fight the Confederates. When artillery used at short range began pummeling Confederates at short range, a full on retreat began. No one is sure to this day who ordered the retreat. When the Confederates reached Seminary Ridge, Lee tried to reform his lines for another attack. When Pickett appeared in front of Lee, Lee told him to reform his brigade. He told Lee his division was gone. Only 5,000 – 6,000 of the assault force returned to Seminary Ridge. Pickett’s Charge had been a disaster.

For most, this is where the fighting ended. Lee would reform for an attack from Meade that never came. On July 4, 1863, the rains come. And with that rain, Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia began the long sulk back to Virginia. The invasion was over. The Union had won the battle. Combined with the victory at Victory at Vicksburg, it was a great day. But not for President Lincoln. When informed of the victory, Lincoln was ecstatic. When informed that Meade let Lee limp away, Lincoln was furious with the decision. Meade, according to Lincoln had a chance to destroy the Army of Northern Virginia, wipe it out, and this end the war in the Eastern Theater. It was not to be. Like previous commanders of the Army of Potomac, Meade erred on the side of caution. In other words, he erred. It would soon cost him command.

Soon after the battle, photographers made their way to Gettysburg and images from the conflict made their way into newspapers. These images shocked the nation to the ultimate price both sides paid. Later, the ground would be consecrated with a national cemetery for it was truly hallowed ground.

"Harvest of Death" Courtesy of the Library of Congress

“Harvest of Death”
Courtesy of the Library of Congress

It easy to sit here 150 years later and second guess Lee and Meade and their decisions. At the time, reports by both generals conveyed their own assessments of the battle and their determination that their efforts were right. Lee, for example, still was throwing J.E.B. Stuart under the proverbial bus.

Lee’s Report:

About 1 p.m., at a given signal, a heavy cannonade was opened, and continued for about two hours with marked effect upon the enemy. His batteries replied vigorously at first, but toward the close their fire slackened perceptibly, and General Longstreet ordered forward the column of attack, consisting of Pickett’s and Heth’s divisions, in two lines, Pickett on the right. Wilcox’s brigade, marched in rear of Pickett’s right, to guard that flank, and Heth’s was supported by Lane’s and Scales’ brigades’ under General Trimble. The troops moved steadily on, under a heavy fire of musketry and artillery, the main attack being directed against the enemy’s left center. His batteries reopened as soon as they appeared. Our own having nearly exhausted their ammunition in the protracted cannonade that preceded the advance of the infantry, were unable to reply, or render the necessary support to the attacking party. Owing to this fact, which was unknown to me when the assault took place, the enemy was enabled to throw a strong force of infantry against our left, already wavering under a concentrated fire of artillery from the ridge in front, and from Cemetery Hill, on the left. It finally gave way, and the right, after penetrating the enemy’s lines, entering his advanced works, and capturing some of his artillery was attacked simultaneously in front and on both flanks, and driven back with heavy loss. The troops were rallied and reformed, but the enemy did not pursue. A large number of brave officers and men fell or were captured on this occasion. Of Pickett’s three brigade commanders, Generals Armistead and [R.B.] Garnett were killed, and General Kemper dangerously wounded. Major-General Trimble and Brigadier-General Pettigrew were also wounded, the former severely.

Meade’s report

The result of the campaign may be briefly stated in the defeat of the enemy at Gettysburg, his compulsory evacuation of Pennsylvania and Maryland, and withdrawal from the upper valley of the Shenandoah, and in the capture of 3 guns, 41 standards, and 13,621 prisoners; 24,978 small-arms were collected on the battle-field. Our own losses were very severe, amounting, as will be seen, by the accompanying return, to 2,834 killed, 13,709 [13,713] wounded, and 6,643 missing; in all, 23,186 [23,190]. It is impossible in a report of this nature to enumerate all the instances of gallantry and good conduct which distinguished such a hard-fought field as Gettysburg. The reports of corps commanders and their subordinates, herewith submitted, will furnish all information upon this subject. I will only add my tribute to the heroic bravery of the whole army, officers and men, which, under the blessing of Divine Providence, enabled a crowning victory to be obtained, which I feel confident the country will never cease to bear in grateful remembrance.

Regardless of their opinions in their reports, the fact remains that the Battle of Gettysburg extremely weakened Lee’s future attempts to attack. He would now fight a war of defense while the Union was still up in the air as to what it would do. Meade would stay in command for the fall. No other major battle was fought in the eastern theater that fall. Come spring of 1864, a new Union general would be given the charge of destroying the Army of Northern Virginia.

In the end, Henry Kaiser’s diary entry for July 4, 1863 says it all:

“All is quiet along the line this morning.”

Little Round Top and Big Round Top

Little Round Top and Big Round Top
Courtesy of the Library of Congress

See also:


The Battle of Gettysburg – Day Two: Holding the Line

When the fighting of the first day ended, the Confederates were ready for a great victory on Union soil. If Lee could whip Meade, there would be little to stand between Lee and the capital. When the first day of battle ended, the Confederates had taken the town while the Union army had scattered to the hills south of town. Lee, who had arrived at 1 p.m. on the first day of battle tried to convince Richard Ewell to take Culp’s Hill, “if practicable.” To Ewell, those last two words deemed it an option. Lee did not mean it that way. Robert E. Lee knew if he did not have the high ground, victory could be elusive.

Arriving to aid Lee was General James Longstreet and his division. J.E.B. Stuart was still missing but he would arrive later in the day. The Union began to reinforce its positions as well. The fighting would not begin in earnest until noon. Reconnaissance had to take place. The next 6 hours would give hope to a Confederacy, while Union tried to find hope in any form. By the end of the day, names like Little Round Top, Devil’s Den, Culp’s Hill, Cemetery Ridge, the Peach Orchard and the Wheatfield became part of the American Lexicon.

Day Two Positions

Day Two Positions

The weather was mild on July 2, 1863. The sun shone and there were no overcast skies. Temperatures were in the middle 70s. Meade really had no plan other than to defend the high points. Meade planned to use the roads between the hills to shift reinforcements back and forth. Lee, on the other hand, was going to try and take three hills, Culp’s Hill, Round Top and Little Round Top. From his vantage point on Seminary Ridge Lee knew if controlled those hills, the battle would be won. Much of the fighting on day two would take place on the Union’s northern flank, closest to town.

The fighting that afternoon was fierce. The Union line ebbed and flowed after each Confederate wave from Longstreet, Ewell, and AP Hill. Meade, however, kept the Union line in attack through by reinforcing weak points in the line. IF Hill of Longstreet had broken through, the Union army would have split in two. But the “bend but don’t break” strategy succeeded for the Union that day. But, it did not feel like a victory. In fact, Lee thought that one more attack on July 3 fighting would win the day. Lee’s subordinates did not. Most notably, Longstreet was not in favor of attacking the high ground.

Action on Little Round resulted in the Union solidifying its position thanks to a downhill bayonet charge by the 20th Maine led by Joshua Chamberlain. The result was the capture of many in the 15th Alabama. The result was a southern flank that could not be taken. Attacks on Culp’s Hill failed. Dan Sickles tried to take on Confederate troops near the Emmitsburg Road by leaving his position in the hills. Meade, furious, filled the lines and Sickle would later retreat back to his origin. The Confederates had taken much of the low ground at Devil’s Den, the Wheatfield, and The Peach Orchard.

Joshua Chamberlain

Joshua Chamberlain

Charles Potts of the 115th Pennsylvania briefly summed up the day’s events:

Placed in field about one mile northwest of town. Rebs held in check, but think they will be able to drive our men on the morrow. Guarded by the 17th Va. Infantry, commanded by Col. French. Well treated, and find an old Colonel a gentleman, but no provisions

Lee, however, saw this point of view:

The result of this day’s operations induced the belief that, with proper concert of action, and with the increased support that the positions gained on the right would enable the artillery to render the assaulting columns, we should ultimately succeed, and it was accordingly determined to continue the attack. The general plan was unchanged. Longstreet, re-enforced by Pickett’s three brigades, which arrived near the battle-field during the afternoon of the 2d, was ordered to attack the next morning, and General Ewell was directed to assail the enemy’s right at the same time. The latter, during the night, re- enforced General Johnson with two brigades from Rodes’ and one from Early ‘s division.

As confident as Lee was, Meade, on the other hand, came across differently. The night of July 2 saw Meade hold his infamous Council of War. In this council, Meade met with his corps commanders to determine the course of action for the next day. The choices were to stay and defend, or to leave the field and regroup at another position. The unanimous decision was to stay and fight. Meade has been criticized for holding the council. It could be viewed as a sign of weakness. Then again, consensus was built and the fortitude inherent in the unanimous declaration may have swayed the next day.

This was certain – July 3, 1863 would decide the battle. What was not known was whether it would decide the war.


The artifacts page I give students to analyze

The artifacts page I give students to analyze. Click to Enlarge.

The Battle of Gettysburg is one topic in which students are rapt and engaged. However, it is also one in which students can get easily lost and disengage. I learned several years ago in my early teaching that kids want to learn about the Civil War in great detail. They do not want to sit and watch three hours of Gettysburg or watch 2 hours of some History Channel documentary replete with GCI special effects.

The Battle of Gettysburg is a transformative event in American history. To try to cover it in one day would be inefficient. I do several things to engage students when it comes to Day Two. I use two strategy simulations (one from each side), some map work, and a few journals.

There is more to being a soldier than just shooting weapons. There are the hours spent not fighting – which tend to drastically outnumber the hours spent in combat. My most favorite part of the whole Civil War Unit is I give students pictures of 20 objects and the students have to figure out what they were used for in camp. The artifact pictures come from the Gettysburg National Military Park:

It is interesting to hear what students think the soldiers used the items for in camp. The website has a variety of topic and sub topic pages. Click on each picture and you get an in-depth description of the artifact.

The website of the Gettysburg National Military Park I use to get the artifacts

The website of the Gettysburg National Military Park I used to get the artifacts


See also: