Special Edition: 150 Years Ago Today
After a predawn march, the men of the Fourteenth Connecticut (Second Brigade, Third Division, Second Corps) arrived at Cemetery Hill at about 5:00 a.m., Shortly before, the new commander of the Army of the Potomac, Maj. Gen. George Meade had arrived. The trust he had placed in Gen. Hancock the day before paid huge dividends. The army was dug in on high ground south and east of the town of Gettysburg. Despite the reverses of July 1st, the troops were in fine spirits, and the remainder of the army was coming up quickly.
Even those with only a passing knowledge of this battle know that the Union line at Gettysburg resembled a large fishhook. (Click for Wikipedia map.) The curved portion wrapped around Culp’s Hill (Twelfth Corps) and Cemetery Hill (Eleventh Corps) with the First Corps in reserve. The Second Corps deployed to the left of the Eleventh Corps, extending the Union line of battle southward along the western slope of Cemetery Ridge, and thus starting the straight shaft of the fishhook. The divisions were deployed as follows.
- Right (north): Brig. Gen. Alexander Hays’ 3rd Division (14th CT in 2nd Brigade). The right flank connected with the Eleventh Corps. The line of battle was centered on the Bryan farmhouse and extended south along a low rock wall The left flank was at the stone wall near the Bryan House.
- Center: Brig. Gen. John Gibbon’s 2nd Division. They held the entire “Angle” section of the rock wall south to just past the famous “copse of trees.”
- Left (south): Brig. Gen. John Caldwell’s 1st Division. Their line ran southward from the left flank of the 2nd Division. (The Third Corps continued the Union line southward, thus extending the length of the fishhook.)
While the rest of Hays’ Third Division dug in along the low rock wall, the Second Brigade, under the command of Col. Thomas Smyth and including our friends in the Fourteenth Connecticut were deployed in support of Woodruff’s Battery I, 1st U.S. about two hundred yards behind the rest of the division. For those familiar with the Gettysburg battlefield, this was approximately on the site of the old Visitor’s Center.
Nothing much of consequence occurred until later in the afternoon when Maj. Gen. Sickles decided without orders to advance his Third Corps to take some high ground between Union and Confederate lines. Longstreet counter-attacked and pitched battle raged back and forth at places with names hallowed by the bloody fighting that afternoon and evening—the Wheat Field, the Peach Orchard, Devil’s Den, the Slaughter Pen.
Suddenly, the men of Caldwell’s Division were on their feet and moving off at the double-quick in support of the Third Corps. Many would not return. Gibbon’s men shifted to the left and those held in reserve, including the men of Col. Smyth’s Second Brigade, were brought forward to plug the gap.
The men of the Fourteenth Connecticut were now in the front line. Two companies went forward across the Emmitsburg Road as skirmishers. The rest dug in the earth behind the low rock wall and did what they could to secure their new position.
About two-thirds of the way across the shallow valley between Cemetery Ridge and Seminary Ridge, Rebel sharpshooters occupied the barn and farmhouse of a man named William Bliss. The Rebels began to fire on the Union lines, paying special attention to artillerymen. A nasty little fight developed when Col. Smyth sent out a detachment of the 12th NJ to drive the Rebels away, but as soon as the boys in blue returned to their lines, the butternut sharpshooters returned to their deadly work.
Darkness ended the fighting to the south. Late that night, Ewell’s Corps of Confederate troops tried repeatedly to storm up Culp’s Hill, but every time they were repulsed with heavy losses. The First Brigade of Hays’ Third Division was sent to support the Eleventh Corps, leaving only the Smyth’s Second Brigade to hold the Third Division’s line on Cemetery Ridge, with the Third Brigade in reserve.
On Thursday, July 2nd, the men of the Fourteenth were more spectators than participants in the grand drama that swirled all around them. But on July 3rd they would no longer be spectators. In fact, their battle card would be quite full, so please look for two posts tomorrow.