The Advance Into Pennsylvania; Buford Arrives at Gettysburg

As a result of Merritt's performance at Brandy Station and again in leading the dismounted attack of the Regulars at Upperville, Pleasonton requested that Merritt be promoted to brigadier general on June 22, so as to place him in command of the Reserve Brigade."100 Along with Capts. George Armstrong Custer of Pleasonton's staff, and Elon Farnsworth of the 8th Illinois, Merritt was promoted to brigadier general on June 29 and was given command of the Reserve Brigade.101

The Army of the Potomac was set in motion, paralleling Lee's advance. On June 26 Pleasonton sent Buford's division north, to the mouth of the Monocacy River, with orders to cross the Potomac at Edwards Ferry." 102 Buford's men crossed on June 27, traveling over poor roads to the mouth of the Monocacy, where they bivouacked on the east side of South Mountain near Jefferson, Maryland. Buford's advance was delayed by the wagons of Maj. Gen. Julius Stahel's cavalry division, who had been sacked on June 28 by Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker and replaced by Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick, then on the way to join the Army of the Potomac."103

On June 28 Buford's division heard the call, "Boots and Saddles," at dawn, passed through Jefferson, and went into camp near Middletown. Maryland, where the men spent the day shoeing mounts and refitting equipment in anticipation of the hard fighting and marching that lay ahead.104

Maj. N. H. Davis, Brig. Gen. John Buford, Col. D.B. Sacket, Col. G.D. Ruggles, Col. H. F. Clark.

On June 29 Buford detached the Reserve Brigade, now under Merritt. and sent it to Mechanicsville to escort the division's wagon trains and cover Buford's right flank. The First and Second Brigades left at 9 a.m., and moved through Boonsboro, Cavetown, and Monterey Springs, crossed over South Mountain twice, and halted near Fairfield, Pennsylvania, close to a force of Confederate infantry. On the way, Buford and his men caught a Confederate spy near Frederick, Maryland. The man was given a drumhead court martial and hanged. When a number of the town's citizens called to protest, Buford. who had a wry sense of humor. "informed them that the man was a spy and he was afraid to send him to Washington because he knew that the authorities would make [the spy] a brigadier-general."105 Most of Meade's army passed the corpse of the spy on the way north. Capt. Stephen Minot Weld wrote: "I passed the body of a spy hanging to a tree. He was stark naked and was a most disagreeable object, as he had been hanging there for two days."106

Buford found his experiences at Fairfield frustrating, because he was unable to obtain any valuable information from local residents, who feared retribution from Confederates if their position were disclosed. Buford's frustration came through in his official report:

The inhabitants knew of my arrival and the position of the enemy's camp, yet no one gave me a particle of information, nor even mentioned the fact of the enemy's presence. The whole community seemed stampeded, and afraid to speak or act, often offering as excuses for not showing some little enterprise, "The rebels will destroy our houses if we tell any thing." Had any one given me timely information, and acted as a guide that night, I could have surprised and captured or destroyed this force, which proved the next day to be two Mississippi regiments of infantry and two guns. 107

Buford's goal was a small town just a few miles inside the Pennsylvania state line called Gettysburg. He would detour via the town of Emmitsburg, Maryland, six miles to the south.108 The march was hard, but fortunately the men of Buford's division were in Union country, and the loyal citizens saw to it that the cavalry was provided with food and water. Nevertheless, the ride took its toll, with men toppling from their saddles at night while tired horses stood guard over exhausted men, having covered more than thirty-five miles that day. 109

Buford's orders upon arrival at Gettysburg were to cover and protect the front and communicate all movements of the enemy immediately. On June 28 the Army of the Potomac received a new commander, Maj. Gen. George Gordon Meade, and some reorganization of the command structure had taken place. The right wing of the Army. consisting of the First, Third, and Eleventh Corps, was placed under Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds, commander of the First Corps. The right wing of the Army of the Potomac also was approaching Gettysburg, and Buford's orders were to cover the right wing's left flank, as Confederate forces were known to be in the area of Cashtown, eight miles west of Gettysburg. Thus, Buford's orders from Pleasonton were to "Hold Gettysburg at all costs until supports arrive."110 By June 30 Reynolds and his command were in Emmitsburg, and Buford likely stopped there on the 30th for a consultation with Reynolds, with whom Buford had served in the pre-war army.

One of Devin's regiments, the 17th Pennsylvania, had been raised in south-central Pennsylvania, and its men set about defending their home soil. The regimental historian of the 17th described the rigors of the march north as Buford's division approached Fairfield on the evening of June 29:

The division had been marching and picketing for almost a week with no rest for man or beast. They had marched all night to reach this point. ... The column halted before the light of day with orders to dismount and stand to horse. . . . [An hour passed and the gray dawn . . . lighted up a picture I can never forget. The men, who were completely exhausted, had slipped the bridle rein over their arms and lay down in front of their horses in a bed of dust (8 inches deep) that almost obscured them from sight. Their jaded steeds seemed to know they should not move, and propping themselves with extended necks and lowering heads, stood like mute sentinels over their riders dead in sleep.111
Although the men of the 17th were exhausted, they were now defending their own homes, and were prepared to fight to protect them.

As they pressed across the Mason-Dixon line, their color sergeant sat astraddle the line, his gloved fist ,tightly gripping the regimental standard, and announced "to each company that they were at that point entering upon Pennsylvania soil. The boys raised their caps and lustily cheered," as they surged past him.112 Company G of the 17th was from nearby Waynesboro, only a few miles from Gettysburg, and its men were permitted to visit their homes briefly on the way to Gettysburg.

Reynolds already knew Gettysburg had strategic significance. On June 28 one of Stahel's brigades, under Brig. Gen. Joseph Copeland, had been to the town. Two days earlier, Confederate cavalry and an infantry brigade had also passed through, threatening to burn the town if ransom demands were not met. The relieved residents greeted the Union cavalry with hospitality and also provided Copeland with valuable intelligence about the Confederate forces that had been there. Local civic leader David McConaughy wrote a letter to Copeland giving the whereabouts of Confederate troops and re ported a Confederate camp had been spotted above Cashtown on the Chambersburg Pike. Also, McConaughy's letter indicated Confederate raiding parties had been spotted stealing horses in the Gettysburg area. McConaughy further reported another Confederate camp had been located near the town of Fairfield, eight miles southwest of Gettysburg, and that Confederate Maj. Gen. Jubal A. Early's division had occupied York, thirty-two miles east of Gettysburg and ten miles south of the Susquehanna River. Copeland immediately forwarded the letter to Reynolds, then at Frederick, Maryland, where Reynolds endorsed it and relayed it to Meade's headquarters.113 Thus, by June 30, both Buford and Reynolds had good intelligence on Lee's army, spread out over south-central Pennsylvania. It appeared to be concentrating around the crossroads town of Gettysburg where the roads carrying Lee's far- flung forces converged.114

At 11a.m., on the last day of June, Buford's exhausted troopers clattered into Gettysburg, and the general established headquarters in Tate's Blue Eagle Hotel, west of the square. Buford had expected to find Copeland's cavalry in possession of the town, and was surprised to find the town unoccupied."115 The town was in "a terrible state of excitement." Buford reported that he had sent scouting parties toward Cashtown, Chambersburg, Littlestown, and Mummasburg to locate the Confederates, and that, "My men and horses are fagged out. I have not been able to get any grain yet. It is all in the country, and the people talk instead of working. Facilities for shoeing are nothing. Early's people seized every shoe and nail they could find."116

The presence of Union cavalry in the Gettysburg area did not go unnoticed by approaching Confederates. One of Buford's scouts on the road to Oxford, Pennsylvania, captured a dispatch from Early to one of his colonels, requesting the addressee to investigate reports of the appearance of Union cavalry between Gettysburg and Heidlersburg. Buford found time to endorse the dispatch and pass it on to Reynolds before reconnoitering the town and environs. 117

Gettysburg lies in an area of foothills leading to South Mountain, west of town. The area consists of a series of parallel ridges, undulating across the surrounding countryside. Evergreen Cemetery sits on a commanding elevation south of town. A half mile east lies a steep, densely wooded eminence, Culp's Hill, which connects with Cemetery Hill just east of town. Cemetery Hill also anchors a north-south ridge of high ground known as Cemetery Ridge, ending approximately three miles south of town with the twin hills called Big Round Top and Little Round Top. Big Round Top is the highest point in the area, but was densely wooded, and had little strategic value as a result. The west face of Little Round Tap, on the other hand, had recently been cleared, and provided a commanding artillery platform which had fields of fire to the west and to the north.

Buford, with his trained eye, recognized the strategic significance of the high ground to the south of the town, and decided that it offered a defensible position for the Army of the Potomac.118 Under orders to hold the town at all costs, Buford decided to defend the high ground by conducting a defense in depth to the north and west of the town until Reynolds's infantry, eight miles away in Emmitsburg, could arrive to assume positions south of Gettysburg. Buford reconnoitered the area to the north and west of the town and found it to his liking. It consisted of a series of ridges extending west toward Chambersburg, along the Chambersburg Pike. Near the Blue Eagle Hotel was the Lutheran Seminary, atop a commanding ridge known as Seminary Ridge. Several hundred yards to the west lay the twin rises of the two branches of McPherson's Ridge, capped at the north end by the heavily wooded Oak Hill. Buford decided to extend his positions to the west of McPherson's Ridge, in order to provide a defense in depth, to buy time for the approach of Reynolds' command should the Confederate's approach the town. Buford had chosen his battleground.

Soon after Buford arrived in Gettysburg, he found a small force of Brig. Gen. James J. Pettigrew's brigade, advancing on Gettysburg from the west along the Chambersburg Pike. Pettigrew's North Carolinians had advanced on the town in search of supplies that Pettigrew's division commander, Maj. Gen. Henry Heth, had heard were in the town. Heth ordered the North Carolinians, many of whom were barefoot from the long, hard march, to capture the supplies. However, Pettigrew's men were under strict orders not to bring about a general engagement, and they retreated without disputing possession of the town after being fired upon by Buford's pickets.119

Buford reported this skirmish to Reynolds, who in turn reported it to Maj. Gen. Oliver Otis Howard, commanding the Eleventh Corps, another part of the right wing of the Army of the Potomac. Reynolds, anticipating the possibility of a general engagement, further reported that Buford had dispatched pickets to Fairfield, on the road to the Moritz Tavern, where Reynolds' headquarters had been established. The commanders of two of the three corps that made up the right wing of the Army of the Potomac had good intelligence the Confederates were nearby, and that a general engagement in the Gettysburg area likely would occur within the next day or two.120 Reynolds also reported to Meade, who gave Reynolds orders to retreat to Emmitsburg in the event of a large-scale engagement, as Meade was planning a defensive position along Pipe Creek. near the Pennsylvania-Maryland border.121

In the interim, Pettigrew had reported his encounter with Buford's cavalry to division commander Heth, who, in turn, reported it to newly promoted corps commander, Lt. Gen. A. P. Hill. Hill brushed off the report with the comment that the cavalry in the town were probably a "detachment of observation," and stated that Lee believed Meade was still encamped at Middleburg. Heth then asked whether Hill had any objection to Heth's advancing his troops toward the town in the morning to ascertain the Federals' strength and capture the supplies. Again discounting the presence of the Union cavalry in the town, Hill replied, "None at all."122

The die was cast for the battle that must come on the morrow. As Buford had decided to contest the town's occupation, and as he had decided to conduct his defense in depth along Heth's approach, the clash became inevitable. 123

At nightfall Buford deployed scouting parties in advance of the McPherson's Ridge line. He also placed videttes along the Chambersburg Pike, well forward of the main line, anticipating the Confederate approach, thereby providing an early warning system. Elements of Gamble's 8th Illinois were given this duty, approximately four miles from the center of town. The videttes scattered themselves at intervals of thirty feet, using fence posts and rail fences as shelter.124

Gamble's pickets were deployed along Herr Ridge, approximately one-third mile west of McPherson's Ridge.125 The main line of Gamble's brigade, resting on west McPherson's Ridge, extended for a mile from the Fairfield Road to the Chambersburg Pike, in the following order, running from north to south: 8th New York, 8th Illinois, and the combined companies of the 3rd Indiana and 12th Illinois. Devin's brigade was positioned north of Gamble. It stretched from the unfinished railroad cut that went through McPherson's Ridge to the Mummasburg Road, protecting Buford's right flank and rear, with videttes deployed to the north and west, some as far northwest as the York Pike, watching the approaches from Carlisle, Harrisburg, and York. 126 Devin's command was deployed south to north as follows: 3rd West Virginia, 6th New York, 9th New York, and 17th Pennsylvania. Calef's battery had unlimbered to the northwest, along the Carlisle Pike.127 Officers and men slept on their arms that night, awaiting the fight that must occur next morning.

That night the videttes reported Confederate campfires about a mile west of Herr Ridge and Confederates in force north of Mummasburg Road, indicating a heavy concentration to the northwest. Buford sent a dispatch to Pleasonton at 10:40 p.m., indicating "A. P. Hill's corps, composed of Anderson, Heth and Pender, is massed back of Cashtown, nine miles from this place. His pickets, composed of infantry and artillery, are in sight of mine.... Rumor says Ewell is coming over the mountains from Carlisle."128 Buford had every reason to believe his veteran troops could hold off approaching Confederates for a time, but the critical question was for how long. At a meeting with his brigade commanders that night. Tom Devin, always spoiling for a fight, announced he would hold his position next day. Buford, ever the realist, told Devin, "No. you won't. They will attack you in the morning and they will come booming - skirmishers three deep. You will have to fight like the devil to hold your own until supports arrive."129 As the meeting ended, Buford told his subordinates, "The enemy knows the importance of this position and will strain every nerve to secure it, and if we are able to hold it, we will do well."130 Buford's signal officer, A. Brainerd Jerome, noted that Buford "seemed anxious, more so than I ever saw him," as his efforts to obtain detailed intelligence about the dispositions of the Confederates had come to naught, the locals being of little help.131

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