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Howard's point of view, on Gettysburg.

Howard at Gettysburg.

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On orders from Maj. Gen. John Reynolds, Howard started his corps from Emmitsburg on the ten mile march north to Gettysburg at about 8:00 A.M. on July 1. At 10:30 he was within sight of the town when an orderly from Reynolds told him the battle had started. He rode forward into Gettysburg, whence he observed the last of the morning's fighting west of town and where, at 11:30 A.M., he was told that Reynolds was dead--he himself was now commanding officer on the field. Strangely, at no time did he ride the few hundred yards to inspect Reynolds's positions or meet with the First Corps generals. Returning instead to Cemetery Hill, Howard selected it as his headquarters and the strongpoint where he would establish his reserve, which he designated as von Steinwehr's division. At 1:00 P.M., Schurz's division came up and passed through Gettysburg to take up positions to the north of town. Barlow's division came up next and Howard accompanied it, following Schurz's column. This was during a lull in the battle west of Gettysburg, and Howard sent dispatches to Maj. Gens. Sickles and Slocum, informing them of the First Corps's morning fight with Hill but making no request for reinforcements. Half an hour later, he changed his mind and sent those generals new messages, asking for help. At 2:00 P.M. he sent a dispatch to Meade, informing him briefly of the situation and mentioning that he had ordered Sickles forward. He then finally rode over and approved Maj. Gen. Abner Doubleday's line on the ridges west of town. Howard himself received a dispatch from the diligent cavalryman Brig. Gen. John Buford, warning him of the approach of a mass of Confederates three or four miles to the northeast between the Heidlersburg and York roads. In response, he deployed his two divisions at right angles to the First Corps line (which was facing west) to face the new danger from the north. By 2:00, Howard's men had taken up positions almost a mile forward on the low, flat ground of the valley north of town. Rodes's division attacked from the northwest and pressed Howard's men in their front. Soon afterward, Early's division attacked Howard's vulnerable right rear from the northeast. As if perfectly timed, the jaws of the attack crushed the Eleventh Corps line, and both blue divisions came back through Gettysburg at a run, being rounded up in the hundreds by closely pursuing Rebel infantrymen. Howard's men were not panicked, however. When they saw the 2,000 men of Smith's brigade manning the crest of Cemetery Hill and six friendly guns booming away at the Rebels below, they stopped and faced about, disorganized but not demoralized. The First Corps front had collapsed at the same time, and the hordes of Howard's refugees were swelled by the weary remnants of that corps falling back on Cemetery Hill from the west. At that moment, Maj. Gen. Winfield Hancock of the Second Corps rode up, authorized by Meade to assume command of all troops at Gettysburg. Crestfallen, Howard agreed to hand over command with admirably little fuss and cooperated with the extravagantly dynamic Hancock. The two divided responsibility, according to Howard: he himself assumed authority for dispositions of the units to the right of the Baltimore Pike, which included Culp's Hill, Hancock the left. Reinforcements arrived, and a defensive line was soon assembled. The new Union position on the hilltops southeast of Gettysburg was not assailed by the Confederates for the rest of the day. Once Meade arrived that night, Howard's responsibility shrank to that of his Eleventh Corps front, which was limited to the north face of Cemetery Hill. It would be attacked only once--at dusk on July 2, by two brigades of Early's division, advancing from the east side of the town. When the men in Howard's front line came reeling back, he threw in his two nearest regiments, then Coster's brigade, then Carroll's brigade borrowed from the nearby Second Corps. The line held, and the Southerners gave up their brief gains and fell back to their original positions near town. At the generals' meeting that night, Howard was positive about his ability to defend his present position. On July 3, Howard was not attacked, and only observed as Pickett's Charge hit the Second Corps position on Cemetery Ridge in the afternoon. What people would remember about Howard would be the events of the July 1. His luck had remained bad. His Eleventh Corps had lost 3,000 men--half of them captured--and inflicted less than 1,000 casualties on the attackers. True, he had been the victim of two enemy attacks coordinated only by serendipity. But Howard knew of the enemy approach, and was responsible for the far-forward defensive positions that welcomed the attacks. He was also criticized for personally remaining so far to the rear, commanding from Cemetery Hill, making it appear, according to Buford, that there was "no directing person on the field." In September, he and his corps were sent West. There, finally, his luck changed--General Sherman, who appreciated his professionalism, would eventually make him commander of the Army of the Tennessee.

Excerpted from "The Generals of Gettysburg: The Leaders of America's Greatest Battle" by Larry Tagg

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