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Stories from PA History
The Gettysburg Campaign
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The Gettysburg Campaign
Chapter 4: Convergence on Gettysburg

This contemporary drawing shows Pennsylvania civilians digging of earthworks on Hummel Heights, a high point on the western bank of the Susquehanna River across from Harrisburg.
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Pennsylvania civilians digging of earthworks on Hummel Heights, a high point...
On June 28, 1863, General Robert E. Lee was in his headquarters tent in markerMessersmith's Woods just east of Chambersburg when the Confederate spy known as "Harrison" made his appearance. There Harrison announced that the Union Army of the Potomac was in Maryland and moving north to intercept his troops. Lee, whose cavalry leader James E. B. (Jeb) Stuart–the eyes and ears of his army– was out of touch, along with more than 4,000 of his troopers, was startled by this news. The general had sent his Second Corps commander, Lieutenant General Richard S. Ewell, to capture Harrisburg.
Ambrose Powell Hill
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Ambrose Powell Hill


Already, mounted men of General Albert G. Jenkins' Brigade were skirmishing with Union militia on the west shore of the Susquehanna, opposite the state capital. And in Carlisle, Ewell was ready to advance with two of his divisions, while General Jubal A. Early's Division had already occupied York, having just missed seizing markerthe bridge at Wrightsville. Harrison's information now forced Lee to reconsider his plans for the Pennsylvania campaign.

On June 29, Lee issued orders for his army to concentrate in the area of Cashtown, a small village on the eastern edge of South Mountain between Chambersburg and Gettysburg. By moving east of the mountains, Lee believed that he could better project his army's power and perhaps influence the advancing Yankees to attack him. Later that day, markerEwell received new orders to recall his three divisions to Cashtown.
Black and white George Meade photo
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George Gordon Meade
Edward Johnson's Division, accompanied by the corps supply trains, marched south from Carlisle down the Cumberland Valley to a point just north of Chambersburg, where it turned east and headed for Fayetteville.

On June 30th, the large division of General Robert Rodes marched south from Carlisle and encamped that night near Heidlersburg. markerGeneral Early's Division, which had just arrived from York, also camped near Heidlersburg. On July 1, both divisions would continue their march to Cashtown.

Lee's Third Corps, under the command of General A. P. Hill, also moved to Cashtown from its bivouacs east of Chambersburg. The movement of markerHill's Corps paved the way for Lee's First Corps under General James. As Lee moved his troops towards Cashtown, the new commander of the Army of the Potomac, Longstreet began to move across the mountains after Hill.
<i>Custer at Hanover,</i> painting by Dale Gallon.
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Custer at Hanover, by Dale Gallon


markerGeneral George G. Meade, had his own decisions to make. Since taking command of the army on June 28, Meade had moved his troops rapidly north for three straight days. By June 30, they were astride the Mason-Dixon Line. Having forced Lee to suspend his own advance, Meade was now determined to find the most advantageous location for a battle. He hoped to lure Lee into an attack against his defensive positions along Pipe Creek, Maryland. But he also advised his corps commanders that the army would assume the offensive if the opportunity presented itself.

Panoramic View of McPherson Ridge.
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Panoramic View of McPherson Ridge.
On June 30, two brigades of Federal cavalry rode into Gettysburg just as a Confederate brigade from Hill's corps was approaching from the west. Upon seeing the Union horsemen, General James J. Pettigrew withdrew his men, who were heading to Gettysburg in search of supplies. That evening, Hill and division commander Henry Heth decided to march again on Gettysburg and see what enemy force was there.

Confederates advance at a run along the Chambersburg Pike toward the Federal battle lines extending from the McPherson Farm south along McPherson's Ridge.
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Confederates advance at a run along the Chambersburg Pike toward the Federal...
Farther to the east, Jeb Stuart and his cavalry, still trying to find Lee's army, clashed with a Union mounted division at markerHanover,which deflected his course of march toward York. On July 1, Stuart's tired troopers moved to Carlisle, where they encountered Yankee militia instead of Lee's army. Rebuffed by the Union troops, Stuart finally learned of Lee's position at Gettysburg and markermoved to join him, arriving late on July 2.

Watercolor of Lee's retreat, by Edwin Forbes. Pursuit of Lee's army. Scene on the road near Emmitsburg of a long column of troops marching.
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Pursuit of Lee's army.
Meade's orders for July 1 sent the markerFirst Corps to Gettysburg to support the cavalry, while the Eleventh Corps moved up to within supporting distance in case of contact with the enemy. Meade informed his wing commander, markerGeneral John F. Reynolds that he had the discretion to hold Gettysburg or fall back to Pipe Creek if the enemy advanced in force. Thus, the actions of both armies meant that they were on a collision course at Gettysburg.

Sometime around 7:30 a.m. on July 1, troopers of the 8th Illinois Cavalry fired the markerfirst shots of the battle of Gettysburg against General A. P. Hill's markeradvancing Confederate infantry. As the Yankee cavalry attempted to repel the oncoming Rebels' assault, General Reynolds hastened his First Corps to Gettysburg to reinforce the cavalry. The markerEleventh Corps also arrived at Gettysburg just in time to deploy to counter markerRodes' advance south from Heidlersburg. General Early's Division also reached the field and flanked the Eleventh Corps from its position north of town.
Brigadier General Lewis A. Armistead, with his hat on his sword, leads a group of soldiers from his brigade over the stonewall on Cemetery Ridge into the Union line.
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Armistead at Gettysburg, by Keith Rocco.


By late afternoon, the Confederates had driven the Yankee troops back through Gettysburg to Cemetery Hill. Here, markerGeneral Winfield S. Hancock, sent by Meade to take command, helped rally the troops even as the Twelfth Corps and part of the Third Corps arrived to bolster the outnumbered Union soldiers.markerMeade's arrival on the field around midnight signified that he had decided to fight at Gettysburg. The entire Union army was headed for that town. Lee's troops also came up and the battle continued for two more long and bloody days. By the time it was over, Gettysburg had become the largest and bloodiest battle of the Civil War. Lee suffered more than 28,000 killed, wounded, and missing, while Meade's army lost 23,000 men.

The town of Chambersburg after the burning.
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Chambersburg after the burning.
On July 4, Lee's troops began to markerretreat from Gettysburg, protecting a wagon train of wounded soldiers said to be more than seventeen miles long. Meade pursued cautiously, having lost many brave officers and men at Gettysburg. When Lee reached the Potomac River at Hagerstown, Maryland, he found the river had risen because of heavy rains. Therefore, his men dug earthwork fortifications and awaited the inevitable Yankee attack. But Meade hesitated to assault Lee's strong position. By the time he had received reinforcements and was ready to launch an attack, Lee's engineers had erected a pontoon bridge across the river that enabled the Confederate army to cross before the Army of the Potomac struck.

Lee had suffered his first major defeat, which, coupled with the surrender of Vicksburg, Mississippi to U. S. Grant on July 4th, signaled a turning point in the war. After Gettysburg, Lee would launch no more major offensives. A year later, however, two brigades of Confederate cavalry would return to Pennsylvania a third and final time, markerburning the city of Chambersburg to the ground in retaliation for Yankee pillaging in the Shenandoah Valley.

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