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The "Bloody" Wheatfield

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During the second day of the battle on July 2,1863.

General Lee awoke early July 2nd and surveyed the Union line from Seminary Ridge. He observed that the Union line, anchored at Cemetery Hill, did not extend very far south along Cemetery Ridge. Seizing upon the opportunity, Lee ordered General Longstreet (who was just arriving on the field) to move on the left flank of the Union line. Lee's suspicions were confirmed when Captain Johnston returned from a recon and reported that the Little Round Top and Big Round Top along with a sizable southern stretch of Cemetery Ridge were unoccupied (there is actually considerable debate as to whether Johnston actually reached these heights).

Panoramic View of the "Bloody Wheatfield"

The plan called for Longstreet (who had arrived from the northwest along Chambersburg Pike) to march his two divisions (Hood and McLaws) south and then to attack northeast up Emmitsburg Road to strike the southern Union flank on Cemetery Ridge. A.P. Hill's Corps would then follow with an attack on the Union center. Finally, Ewell's Corps was to assault Cemetery Hill and Culp's Hill from the north once Longstreet began the fight. Longstreet's movement needed to go undetected and called for a circuitous route. He had to first march back up Chambersburg Pike to the northwest and then turn south behind Seminary Ridge. By the time Longstreet had reached his destination in Biesecker's Woods opposite Emmitsburg Road, it was already 15:30. Longstreet placed Hood on the right facing Big Round Top and McLaws on the left facing Cemetery Ridge. Longstreet expected the ridge to be relatively vacant, but found General Daniel Sickles' III Corps had positioned itself along Emmitsburg Road. Earlier that morning, Meade had ordered Sickles' III Corps to take position on the Union's left flank along Cemetery Ridge. Upon arrival, Sickles noticed that the ridge was little more than a slight incline and very vulnerable. He realized that a small elevation about 1/2 mile to the west on which stood a peach orchard, provided a better position. Sickles, unsure of the awkward position, requested for Meade to take a look and provide his opinion. Instead, Meade sent BG Henry J. Hunt (the army's artillery chief) to survey the position and offer advice to Sickles. Hunt agreed with Sickles that the small hill (the Peach Orchard) and the ridge stretching to the north would be very beneficial to the enemy - all the more reason to occupy it. Hunt went on further to suggest Sickles to send out skirmishers to determine if Confederates occupied the woods (Pitzer's Woods) across Emmitsburg Pike. Probing the woods, Sickles' men immediately ran up against a sizable force (General Cadmus Wilcox's brigade of A.P. Hill's Corps - Longstreet's Corps had yet to arrive). Seizing the opportunity, Sickles ordered III Corps to march and occupy the Peach Orchard before the Confederates could seize it. General Hancock, II Corps commander, realized that Sickles had actually exposed himself by marching 1/2 mile in front of the Union line. Meade finally realized that the immediate threat lay to the south when he heard the sounds of enemy artillery. Meade ordered V Corps (which had been held in reserve) to support III Corps' position. The VI Corps would then be held in reserve in its place. Sensing the vulnerability of III Corps, Meade departed for Sickles' position. Upon arriving, Meade approached Sickles and questioned him as to why he occupied such an awkward position. Sickles replied that he had gained the favorable higher ground, but Meade angrily countered, "General Sickles, this is in some respects higher ground than that of the rear, but there is still higher in front of you, and if you keep on advancing you will find constantly higher ground all the way to the mountains!" By this time, it was too late to withdraw the III Corps. McLaws and Hood arrived to find Sickles' III Corps occupying the Peach Orchard to the northeast and extending to the Devil's Den. Hood reasoned that since the situation had changed, he would instead swing up and around the Round Tops and attack the Union rear along Cemetery Ridge. Hood disobeyed strict orders to attack along Emmitsburg Road (where Lee and Longstreet believed there were minimal Union troops). .


By days end, both flanks of the Union army had been attacked and both had held (Little Round Top to the South and Culp's Hill to the North) despite losing ground. In a council of war, General Meade, anticipating an assualt on the center of His line (July 4th Pickett's Charge)determined that his army would stay at Gettysburg and fight.

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