Out along the Chambersburg Pike, men of the 8th Illinois had established their farthest vidette at a road intersection west of Herr Ridge. Hearing the muffled approach of Heth's Confederate infantry advancing along Chambersburg Pike, the commander of the outpost, Lt. Marcellus Jones, Company E. 8th Illinois, borrowed a Sharps carbine from Sgt. Levi S. Shafer. rested it on a fence rail, and fired a shot intended more as a warning of the Confederate approach than to do harm. The first shot of the Battle of Gettysburg, a shot which failed to hit anything, had been fired by a member of Buford's division."132 Carbine fire began ringing out from alert pickets announcing Heth's approach. The sound had a predictable effect in Gamble's camps. As the bugles began blowing and as Gamble's men scrambled to get into position, young Leander Warren, one of the local boys watering Gamble's horses, realized the time had come to retire. As he put it, "[t]he bugles began to blow and the men got their horses ready. We thought we had better start for home."133 Tom Devin also heard the firing. He emerged from his tent, buckled on his sword, and looked uncertain as he tried to pinpoint the location of the gunfire. Soon one of Gamble's pickets galloped up and reported Rebel infantry had been spotted two miles out, approaching in triple skirmish lines. It is possible the picket who reported to Devin was one of Lieutenant Jones' people, as he had dispatched his command to report to Buford on the Confederate advance.
Buford strengthened the picket lines along Herr Ridge until several hundred troopers held the lines, scattered at intervals of thirty feet, with three out of every four men manning the lines, the fourth responsible for holding the horses of his comrades. The horses were sent to the rear or hidden to create the impression the Union skirmish lines were manned by infantry, not dismounted cavalry.134 Thus, Buford's effective force was decreased by one-quarter due to the need to hold the horses ready. Buford also moved Calef's battery to the Chambersburg Pike in support of Gamble's men. The battery unlimbered on either side of the road.
The effective and rapid fire of dismounted troopers, combined with the accurate fire of Calef's guns, caused the confused Confederates to halt and form their columns into battle lines. This caused a two-hour delay, as the men of Brig. Gen. James J. Archer's brigade of Heth's division formed for the attack, supported on their left by the brigade of Brig. Gen. Joseph Davis. Heth kept Pettigrew's and J. M. Brockenbrough's brigades in reserve.
Sometime between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m., the Confederates' advance resumed, now in line of battle, and engaged Gamble's men along Herr Ridge. During the fight for possession of Herr Ridge, Buford's men suffered their first casualties. Pvt. Fred Usher was killed while dismounted, and one of Devin's men, Cpl. Cyrus W. James, Company G, 9th New York, was shot from his saddle. James' spooked horse dragged the dead man into the town at a full gallop, with James' right leg still tangled in the stirrup of his saddle until the panicked horse was finally calmed by septuagenarian John Burns, who cut the unfortunate James from his stirrup. 135
Gamble's 1,600 troopers held off the approaching Confederates for as long as possible before abandoning Herr Ridge. Under fire from two Confederate batteries, Gamble was forced to withdraw to the next ridge line, known as Belmont Schoolhouse Ridge, located approximately 200 yards to the east. 136 Belmont Schoolhouse Ridge is a defensive position with good visibility. As such, it provided a natural rallying point for Gamble's men to stiffen their resistance. The Confederate gunners engaged Calef's guns in a counter-battery duel at a range of about 1,300 yards while Gamble's men took up their new positions.137 There, Gamble's hard-pressed troopers made a stand, firing from behind trees and under the cover of fences, their rapid fire taking a toll of advancing Confederates.
It was clear the Confederates had been caught unaware. After the war Heth admitted he had been careless in the disposition of troops that morning, not knowing he faced the Army of the Potomac rather than militia, as expected. When Buford's cavalry kept up their sharp fire and began taking a toll on Heth's men, Heth, believing he faced infantry, was compelled to bring up artillery.138 That so few cavalrymen could effect so severe a fire as to persuade an infantry officer such as Heth that he faced infantry speaks volumes for the stiffness of Gamble's resistance along Chambersburg Pike.
Gamble's men held their ground on Belmont School- house Ridge for another thirty to forty-five minutes before the weight of Heth's advance forced them to withdraw. Between Belmont Schoolhouse Ridge and McPherson's Ridge, the location selected by Buford for his next stand, lies a valley bisected by Willoughby Run. Gamble's men fell back along its banks. By this time Gamble had been engaged with Heth for nearly two hours. The men's resistance had slowed the Confederate advance and had bought time for the approach of Reynolds' infantry, hurrying up from Marsh Creek.
As Gamble's men slowly fell back toward McPherson's Ridge, Buford sent a dispatch to Meade:
The enemy's forces are advancing on me at this point, and are driving my pickets and skirmishers very rapidly. There is also a large force at Heidlersburg that is driving my pickets at that point from that direction. General Reynolds is advancing; and is within three miles of this point with his leading division. I am positive that the whole of A. P. Hill's force is advancing.139This dispatch may have been Meade's first notice that a battle was being fought at Gettysburg; the army's headquarters were located at Taneytown fourteen miles away in Maryland, near where the commander had intended to make his stand.
As Buford was forced to withdraw to his final line of defense on McPherson's Ridge, he knew it was only a matter of time before his force would be overwhelmed if infantry support did not arrive. Buford dispatched two aides to locate Reynolds, approaching along the Emmitsburg Road. Approximately three miles from town, Buford's messenger found Reynolds. Buford had stationed additional scouts along the route to watch for the arrival of the First Corps, and Reynolds met one of the additional scouts near the Blue Eagle Hotel. The scout, Peter Culp, directed Reynolds toward Seminary Ridge, and Reynolds rode to meet with Buford to discuss the situation. Buford's signal officer spotted the approaching columns of the First Corps and pointed out the approaching blue masses to Buford. Buford borrowed the signal officer's spy glass, observed the approach, and stated, "Now we can hold the place."140 Historians have written that the meeting of the two Union commanders occurred in the cupola of the Lutheran Seminary, where they had a panoramic view of the action along the Chambersburg Pike. However, considerable doubt has arisen over the meeting site, and it cannot be stated for certain where the meeting occurred."141 As Reynolds rode up he greeted Buford by asking, "What's the matter, John?"
Buford, pointing at the approaching masses of Hill's corps, responded, "The devil's to pay!" Reynolds then asked Buford if he thought he could hold the position around the Seminary until Brig. Gen. James S. Wadsworth's division, the head of Reynolds' column, could reach the field. Buford thought over the question for a moment, and responded, "I reckon I can."142 Reynolds then said, "Let's ride out and see all about it." Buford warned Reynolds of the dangers of exposing himself to the enemy fire, but Reynolds just laughed and moved closer to the firing."143 Reynolds, who had noticed the fine defensive quality of the high ground south and west of town, dispatched an aide, Capt. Stephen Weld, to Meade with a message, which Meade received at 11:20 a.m.: "The enemy is advancing in strong force, and I fear that he will go to the heights beyond the town before I can. I will fight him inch by inch, and if driven into the town, I will barricade the streets, and hold him back for as long as I can." Upon receipt of this message, Meade reportedly responded, "Good! That is just like Reynolds, he will hold out to the bitter end."144 Reynolds then issued orders to his division commanders to come to the front at the double quick.
Just as the dispatch to Meade was being sent, the sheer force of Confederate numbers began driving Gamble's men from McPherson's Ridge. Calef's battery was forced to withdraw and Gamble's men, were in danger of being flanked to the south of their position along the Chambersburg Pike. By this time, Gamble had incurred more than 100 casualties, and lost approximately seventy horses. As Reynolds approached the front, he was met by Gamble, who cried out, "Hurry up, General, hurry up! They are breaking our line! They are breaking our line!"145
By this time, Devin's men had also become engaged with Davis' brigade, attacking to Archer's left. Devin's men fought stubbornly, using the cover offered by one section of Calef's battery. However, by 10:15, the weight of Davis' attack was beginning to drive Devin's men back from McPherson's Ridge, and Devin was running short on ammunition, and it appeared Devin would have no choice but to withdraw, exposing Gamble's flank to attack. The situation appeared desperate.
At that moment, portions of Wadsworth's division of the First Corps arrived on the field at the double quick. Swearing mightily, Reynolds whipped them in behind Gamble's troopers, and the infantry ranks to allow Gamble's tired troopers to retire. As Gamble's men retreated, they urged on the men of the First Corps, telling them to, "Go in and give them hell."146 Reynolds took personal command, and, while positioning the famous Iron Brigade - to parry the thrust of Archer's brigade, was killed by a mini6 ball to the back of his skull. Command of the field devolved to Maj. Gen. Abner Doubleday, the ranking officer. 147 Reynolds, however, left his mark on the battle, for he was the officer who made the crucial decision to stand at Gettysburg and to hold the high grounds south of the town which Buford had spotted the day before, thereby validating Buford's decision to conduct the defense in depth north and west of the town.
Some of the men of the 3rd Indiana, although officially relieved by the arrival of the Iron Brigade, found horse holders, and fought alongside the infantry in repulsing Archer's attack. The rest of Gamble's command was posted to the left of Thomas A. Rowley's (Rowley, with Doubleday leading the First Corps, commanded Doubleday's division) division near the Fairfield Road to protect the flank from possible attack." 148 As Doubleday's outnumbered command was forced to retreat, Buford ordered Gamble's brigade dismounted, and assisted in the repulse. Gamble's men held a position along a low stone fence, from which they delivered a devastating fire on the attacking Confederates, who were checked and then forced to withdraw, thereby securing the Union flank.149 The Confederate attack came so close to Gamble's lines that he ordered his men to mount in order to save the horses from capture. They succeeded in holding off the Confederates until Doubleday's command was forced to fall back to Seminary Ridge for a final stand later in the afternoon.150
While Gamble's men were engaged and the outnumbered First Corps fought the Confederate advance, Buford found time to draft an urgent dispatch to Pleasonton: "A tremendous battle has been raging since 9:30 a.m., with varying success. At the present moment, the battle is raging on the road to Cashtown, and within short cannon range of . . . [Gettysburg] . . . General Reynolds was killed early this morning. In my opinion, there is no directing person." Then, with great understatement, Buford closed the dispatch with a simple but eloquent postscript: "P.S.-We need help now."151
Devin's brigade was also being pressed. After Reynolds fell and after the arrival of Robert Rodes' Second Corps division on Oak Hill, Devin was pushed off of McPherson's Ridge. Lt. Johnson of the 9th New York was dispatched to General Doubleday to inform him that Devin could not hold his skirmish line much longer. Doubleday responded by dispatching Brig. Gen. Baxter's brigade of Brig. Gen. John Robinson's First Corps division to relieve Devin's hard-pressed troopers on Oak Ridge. The arrival of the First Corps troops gave Devin's men a brief respite, and they redeployed and took position stretching from the Carlisle Road to the bridge where Harrisburg Pike crossed Rock Creek. Devin's men were given the task of watching three roads-the Harrisburg, Carlisle, and York roads. Seeing the approach of Rebel infantry from the direction of Heidlersburg, Devin ordered his men to dismount and took up a line of battle. Buford also ordered his signal officer, A. Brainerd Jerome, to find Maj. Gen. 0. 0. Howard's approaching Eleventh Corps, and to hurry it to the front. After Jerome found Howard's command and relayed Buford's message, Howard ordered his batteries and infantry forward toward Gettysburg .152 There, stretched between the First Corps front on Oak Ridge and the Harrisburg Pike, Devin's men fought a delaying action for nearly two hours, until the Eleventh Corps arrived to relieve the weary cavalrymen. Once relieved from the skirmish line, Devin's men were massed east of the York Pike covered the right flank of the Eleventh Corps. While in that position, Devin's men came under fire from Capt. Michael Wiedrich's Company I, 1st New York Light Artillery, on Cemetery Hill, far to their rear.
This turn of events gave Devin reason to believe the Rebels had gotten into his rear and that the artillery fire from Cemetery Hill was not friendly fire after all. Fearing the consequences, Devin withdrew his command and retreated into Gettysburg, his column under fire all the way. He was then ordered to a position along Emmitsburg Road, where his brigade was formed into line of battle, with the right flank resting in the streets of the town, protecting the division's batteries.153 Devin's withdrawal from the Union right flank left it open to attack, and Early's division, arriving down the York Road, took advantage of the opening, catching the Eleventh Corps in the flank, rolling it up and driving it through the town.
In the streets of town, Devin's men were attacked by surging Confederates and suffered casualties, both men and horses. Devin fought as he retreated, "by successive formations in line by regiment."154 He dismounted a squadron of the 9th New York, who turned on their pursuers and, by maintaining a steady, rapid fire with their carbines, drove the Confederates for some distance back through the town, temporarily securing the flank."155 Troopers of the 17th Pennsylvania delayed Early's pursuit along the York Pike by massing the fire of their carbines and by answering the Rebel yell with "a ringing loyal cheer."156 By using these tactics, Devin slowed the Confederate advance, and bought time for soldiers of the First and Eleventh Corps to rally on East Cemetery Hill. Finally, as the Eleventh Corps crumbled, Devin's men were caught up in the chaos of the retreat through Gettysburg, fleeing to the safety of the high ground south of the town.
Buford himself had remained with the First Corps along its final line of resistance along Seminary Ridge. As the line crumbled after the retreat of the Eleventh Corps, and seeing the need to retreat, Buford ordered Gamble's weary troopers to fall into line alongside Devin's command on the Emmitsburg Road, and Buford rode up to Cemetery Hill to consult with Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock, who had arrived to assess the situation."157 Gamble's men had been fighting for more than eight hours by this time, and they were nearly fought out.
Hancock and Howard had begun forging a formidable defensive position atop Cemetery Hill, beginning with Colonel Orland Smith's brigade of Brig. Gen. Adolph von Steinwehr's division of the Eleventh Corps, and bristling with batteries from the First and Eleventh Corps, as well as survivors of both commands.
Buford's division suffered more than 130 casualties on July 1. The men had fought for more than twelve hours, and had given the Confederate infantry as well as they had received. The fight allowed Reynolds time to bring the infantry to bear and to allow for the defense of East Cemetery Hill. By buying time and by delaying the Confederate approach, Buford and his weary men allowed the commanding high ground and interior lines of defense to be held by the Army of the Potomac. Had Buford's men not succeeded, had East Cemetery Hill fallen to the Confederates, the course of the battle might have taken a different course. As Buford himself wrote, "The zeal, bravery, and good behavior of the officers and men on the night of June 30, and during July 1, was commendable in the extreme. A heavy task was before us; we were-equal to it, and shall all remember with pride that at Gettysburg we did our country much service."158
Around noon Devin's men received infantry support from several regiments from Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Sickles' Third Corps. Sickles had sent men of Berdan's Sharpshooters and the 3rd Wisconsin forward to sup- port Devin's people in their firefight against Wilcox's skirmishers. The Confederates drove the combined infantry and cavalry back and began pressing the Union left. All but a squadron of the 9th New York withdrew to Sickles' main line on Cemetery Ridge, the squadron of the 9th remaining in position to guard Sickles' left.160 When Sickles advanced his Third Corps to the Emmitsburg Road, the remaining squadron of the 9th was relieved. The morning's engagement cost Devin six casualties."161
Buford, however, was worried about the state of his command, which had suffered severely the day before. Cavalry leader Pleasonton ordered the division to Westminster, where it was to be rejoined by Merritt's brigade, and where it would guard the army's wagon trains. This was some thirty miles southeast of Gettysburg. Devin's men left the field in the hands of the Third Corps and followed Gamble's men south, bivouacking in Taneytown, before proceeding on to Westminster on the morning of the July 3.162 Pleasonton failed to dispatch other cavalry units to fill the void created by the withdrawal of Buford's cavalry from the Union left flank."163Gamble's and Devin's men spent July 3 guarding the trains and refitting for the remainder of the campaign.
Buford has been subjected to criticism by some historians for leaving the field, as his two brigades were the only cavalry present at Gettysburg until Gregg's division arrived the afternoon of July 2. The withdrawal of Buford's division- left Sickles' flank unguarded, facilitating Longstreet's approach march that resulted in his sledgehammer-like attack that nearly seized Little Round Top late in the afternoon on July 2. Much of that criticism is unfair. The men were exhausted and so were their mounts."164Also, it must be remembered that Buford was ordered from the battlefield by his commander, Pleasonton. The order was not given until Brig. Gen. Henry Hunt, Meade's chief of artillery, had personally inspected that area of the field and had agreed to the withdrawal. The movement of Buford's men was consistent with Meade's plan for the battle: to withdraw to a defensive position along Pipe Creek north and west of Westminster."165 The army would be near its trains, which would await the army's arrival under the guard of Buford's cavalry.166 Not until the council of war held on the night of July 2 was it finally decided to remain on the field at Gettysburg and not to withdraw to the Pipe Creek line. The redeployment of Buford's division deprived the army of a fine cavalry commander and good troopers, but the move can be defended as part of Meade's grand strategy, because Pleasonton had been ordered to prepare to cover the army's retreat. Who better for that task than the man who had found the Confederates on the road to Gettysburg, and the man who had delayed for critical hours the advance of two of Heth's five brigades?
It should also be pointed out that Merritt's brigade finally reached the battlefield on July 3 and was attached to Kilpatrick's division, just east of Emmitsburg Road. After the repulse of Pickett's Charge, Kilpatrick ordered Merritt's and Farnsworth's brigades to conduct a mounted charge on Confederate infantry along Lee's right flank. It was a rash order, which led to Farnsworth's death and little gain.
At 4:30 p.m. Merritt's people, having dismounted, moved out after ninety minutes of skirmishing. West of the Emmitsburg Road the 6th Pennsylvania, supported by a battery and by the Regulars, attacked the Georgians of Anderson's brigade, posted perpendicular to and west of the Emmitsburg Road, guarding the right flank of Lee's army. The 5th U.S. charged and broke the Confederate skirmish line near the Kern farm.167
The Confederates called up their reserves and rushed up to meet the charge of the Regulars. This prevented Merritt from gaining a foothold on the flank of Brig. Gen. Evander Law, commanding the Confederate division being attacked. Ten Confederate cannon and the infantry wreaked havoc on the advancing 6th, supported by the Regulars. They managed to hold on for a while and were then driven back by a counterattack led by General Law. After resisting for a time, the Union left was rolled up, and Merritt's brigade was driven from the field. The attack had been poorly conceived and probably was doomed to failure. As one of Merritt's men later observed, "a brigade of infantry backed by an army in position will stop, if it wishes to, a brigade of cavalry outside the lines of its own army, devoid of support."168
Earlier Merritt had sent the 6th U.S. to Fairfield, Pennsylvania, to intercept a train of enemy wagons gathering forage. Fairfield had strategic significance as well because it provided the shortest escape route toward Monterey Gap and Hagerstown. If the 6th could hold the village, it would make Lee's escape from Gettysburg hazardous. Recognizing the importance of Fairfield, Grumble Jones' brigade, which had recently reached Cashtown, rode south to protect the foragers.169 Near the Marshall House, while bearing down on what Federals believed were the foragers and their wagons, the 6th U.S. encountered Grumble Jones' vanguard. 170 The 7th Virginia and the 6th U.S. ran afoul of one another south of Oratanna. The road was bounded by poat and rail fences. The area was largely open country, but it was subdivided into fields and orchards. Well built fences made troop movement difficult at best. 171 The 6th U.S. dismounted and took position fronting a lane and an orchard west of the road. The fire of the Yankee carbines blunted the charge of the 7th Virginia, leading Jones' attack, and drove it back.172
The 6th U.S. counter-charged, with Capt. George C. Cram, the leader of the First Squadron, being captured in the charge. The remaining squadrons of the 6th U.S. were then met by a fierce counter-charge by the 6th Virginia, which, in column by squadrons, drove the 6th U.S. from the field. 173 In the interim, the First Squadron, having been separated from the rest of the regiment, was badly outnumbered and in danger of being flanked on both sides. Recognizing the danger, Lt. Nicholas Nolan, commanding the squadron after Cram's capture, ordered a fighting retreat. At Mechanicstown Nolan found the rest of his regiment, which had retreated there after being routed near the Marshall place. After discovering that the regiment's senior officers had been casualties, he assumed command of the regiment. The 6th suffered nearly 300 casualties, including its commanding officer, Major Starr, and lost 292 horses in the fighting on July 3.174 Jones later wrote that the 7th Virginia's "failure to rally promptly and renew the fight is a blemish in the bright history" of that regiment. 175 Thus, when the Battle of Gettysburg ended, Gamble's and Devin's brigades were at Westminster more than thirty miles from the battlefield Buford had selected.