Battle of Gettysburg : Oak Ridge

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Battle of Oak Ridge 
Battle of Gettysburg

Battle of Gettysburg Oak Ridge Map McPherson Farm McPherson’s Ridge Battlefield Map Cemetery Hill Location Gettysburg Orders of Battle Union Confederate Order of Battle Maps Army Locations of Armies

Oak Ridge and Battle of Gettysburg

The eastern side of Oak Ridge
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Oak Ridge, Battle of Gettysburg

Union troops from General John C. Robinson's Division of the First Corps were aligned on this ridge during the afternoon of July 1, 1863, and stubbornly held this position against repeated attacks by General Robert Rodes' Division. Brig. General Henry Baxter's Brigade, composed of Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania regiments, was posted at the apex of the ridge where the Mummasburg Road intersects the summit, with a portion of the command in line southward toward the Lutheran Seminary. In the opening phases of the afternoon battle, Baxter's soldiers threw back one determined southern assault and then destroyed General Alfred Iverson's North Carolina Brigade in the field west of this ridge. By 2 o'clock they were running low on ammunition and energy, and General Robinson replaced them with Brig. General Gabriel Paul's Brigade. Within minutes the Confederates reappeared in the Union front, sweeping around the Union position in a more coordinated attack. The pressure grew on Paul's men as the afternoon wore on and General Paul was severely wounded by a musket ball that passed through both eyes. (Remarkably, he survived this debilitating wound.)

A modern day view of Gettysburg from Oak Ridge
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Present-day view of Gettysburg from Oak Ridge

By 3:30 P.M., however, the entire Federal line from here to McPherson's Ridge had begun to crumble and Paul's regiments were ordered to retreat to the Seminary where other troops of the 1st Corps were making a final stand. To give the brigade time to get away, the 16th Maine Infantry remained on Oak Ridge, holding off the Confederates until they were trapped and forced to surrender. The men gave up their weapons only after they had taken down and destroyed the regimental flag so that it would not be captured. To prevent the humiliation of surrendering his sword to the Confederates, Colonel Charles W. Tilden, the 16th's defiant commander, drove his sword into the earth and snapped it in two, leaving only the guard and grip for a southern trophy. The sacrifice of the 16th Maine gave the rest of the brigade valuable minutes to make their way down Oak Ridge to a point where the railroad bed cut through the ridge. The men followed the embankment toward Gettysburg with other troops and ran a gauntlet of Confederate fire before dashing into the borough streets.

Placed in the fields east of Oak Ridge were two under strength divisions of the Eleventh Corps. General Carl Schurz, placed in temporary command of the corps, deployed his regiments in the fields around the "Alms House", which was the county home for the poor. Fighting began when Georgians of General George Doles' Brigade moved down the Carlisle Road and engaged the Union troops on the county farmland while southern batteries sent shells into the Union positions. Union artillery replied and drove some of the Confederate batteries to cover. The front appeared to be stable when suddenly, Confederate artillery boomed from the east and shells whirred into the exposed Union right flank. General Jubal Early's Division had arrived from the direction of York and immediately attacked the open Union flank anchored on a small hill, today called "Barlow's Knoll". Schurz's corps collapsed and the town was soon full of retreating Union troops, pursued by victorious Confederates.

Summit of Oak Ridge and the 1895 observation tower
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Summit of Oak Ridge and the 1895 observation tower

From the Oak Ridge observation tower, visitors can get a great view of the entire first day's battlefield, Gettysburg College and the town. The tower is located near the point where the two Union corps (the First and Eleventh) connected. This is one of three surviving War Department-era towers, constructed at the turn of the century. This particular tower was modified in the 1960's due to a structural failure in the upper section.

There are also some interesting and unique monuments placed here by veterans of the battle that help tell the story of the action here on that warm July 1st. One in particular is that which commemorates the services of the 90th Pennsylvania Infantry, sculpted in the shape of a large oak tree. Veterans of the 90th recalled the large stump of the tree that stood near this spot during the battle, and voted to place its likeness in granite, adorned with the bronze accoutrements of war, to mark the site where the regiment fought that day.

One of the most symbolic monuments on Oak Ridge is that to the 11th Pennsylvania Infantry, upon which stands the full-size bronze likeness of a Union soldier overlooking the fields where Iverson's North Carolinians made their fateful charge. This monument has a unique addition at its base; a bronze statuette of a small, mixed breed dog named "Sallie", a stray that one day wandered into the camp of the 11th Pennsylvania and became attached to one of the regiment's soldiers. Her appearance in the ranks while on dress parade or during the march was a curious site to many, though it was not uncommon for soldiers to informally "adopt" a pet of some sort, and the men in the rank and file evidently enjoyed Sallie's companionship.

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Pennsylvania Infantry's loyal mascot
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The 11th Pennsylvania Infantry's loyal mascot

Sallie made the long trek from Virginia to Pennsylvania in the summer of 1863 and went into the fighting on July 1st alongside her human comrade. When the Union line collapsed that afternoon, survivors of the 11th Pennsylvania staggered through Gettysburg to Cemetery Hill, where they reformed and counted their losses. Among the missing was the small dog, lost in the confusion of battle or during the retreat. Late on July 5th, a burial detail from the regiment made their way back to the scene where the regiment fought on Oak Ridge. Here they discovered Sallie lying among the corpses of the regiment which had adopted her. Very much alive and loyal to a fault, she had remained with her fallen master. Sallie was taken by the detail back to the regiment and informally adopted by the men as the regiment's mascot. Sallie remained with her regiment, sharing in the dangers and duties that her masters faced until she was killed at the Battle of Hatcher's Run, Virginia, in 1864.

When the veterans of the 11th Pennsylvania Infantry erected their monument at Gettysburg in 1890, they chose to add the likeness of the homely little dog that brought happiness to their lives as soldiers, for she was the most humble symbol of loyalty they had experienced during the war.

Source: National Park Service; Gettysburg National Military Park

Recommended Reading: Gettysburg--The First Day, by Harry W. Pfanz (Civil War America) (Hardcover). Description: Though a great deal has been written about the battle of Gettysburg, much of it has focused on the events of the second and third days. With this book, the first day's fighting finally receives its due. Harry Pfanz, a former historian at Gettysburg National Military Park and author of two previous books on the battle, presents a deeply researched, definitive account of the events of July 1, 1863. Continued below…

After sketching the background of the Gettysburg campaign and recounting the events immediately preceding the battle, Pfanz offers a detailed tactical description of the first day's fighting. He describes the engagements in McPherson Woods, at the Railroad Cuts, on Oak Ridge, on Seminary Ridge, and at Blocher's Knoll, as well as the retreat of Union forces through Gettysburg and the Federal rally on Cemetery Hill. Throughout, he draws on deep research in published and archival sources to challenge some of the common assumptions about the battle--for example, that Richard Ewell's failure to press an attack against Union troops at Cemetery Hill late on the first day ultimately cost the Confederacy the battle.

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Recommended Reading: Damn Dutch: Pennsylvania Germans at Gettysburg, by David L. Valuska (Author), Christian B. Keller (Author), Don Yoder (Foreword), Scott Hartwig (Contributor), Martin Oefele (Contributor) (Hardcover). Review: This is the first work to highlight the contributions of regiments of the Pennsylvania Dutch and the post 1820 immigrant Germans at the Battle of Gettysburg. On the first day, the 1st Corps, in which many of the Pennsylvania Dutch regiments served, and the half-German 11th Corps, which was composed of five regiments of either variety, bought, with their blood, enough time for the federals to adequately prepare the high ground, which proved critical in the end for the Union victory. On the second day, they participated in beating back Confederate attacks that threatened to crack the Union defenses on Cemetery Hill and in other strategic locations.

About the Authors: David L. Valuska is Freyberger professor of Pennsylvania German studies at Kutztown University and executive director of the Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center. Christian B. Keller is assistant professor of American history at Dickinson College. Scott Hartwig has been an interpretive park ranger at Gettysburg National Military Park since 1980. Martin Oefele is a former professor of American history at the University of Munich.

 

Recommended Reading: The Artillery of Gettysburg (Hardcover). Description: The battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, the apex of the Confederacy's final major invasion of the North, was a devastating defeat that also marked the end of the South's offensive strategy against the North. From this battle until the end of the war, the Confederate armies largely remained defensive. The Artillery of Gettysburg is a thought-provoking look at the role of the artillery during the July 1-3, 1863 conflict. Continued below...

During the Gettysburg campaign, artillery had already gained the respect in both armies. Used defensively, it could break up attacking formations and change the outcomes of battle. On the offense, it could soften up enemy positions prior to attack. And even if the results were not immediately obvious, the psychological effects to strong artillery support could bolster the infantry and discourage the enemy. Ultimately, infantry and artillery branches became codependent, for the artillery needed infantry support lest it be decimated by enemy infantry or captured. The Confederate Army of Northern Virginia had modified its codependent command system in February 1863. Prior to that, batteries were allocated to brigades, but now they were assigned to each infantry division, thus decentralizing its command structure and making it more difficult for Gen. Robert E. Lee and his artillery chief, Brig. Gen. William Pendleton, to control their deployment on the battlefield. The Union Army of the Potomac had superior artillery capabilities in numerous ways. At Gettysburg, the Federal artillery had 372 cannons and the Confederates 283. To make matters worse, the Confederate artillery frequently was hindered by the quality of the fuses, which caused the shells to explode too early, too late, or not at all. When combined with a command structure that gave Union Brig. Gen. Henry Hunt more direct control--than his Southern counterpart had over his forces--the Federal army enjoyed a decided advantage in the countryside around Gettysburg. Bradley M. Gottfried provides insight into how the two armies employed their artillery, how the different kinds of weapons functioned in battle, and the strategies for using each of them. He shows how artillery affected the “ebb and flow” of battle for both armies and thus provides a unique way of understanding the strategies of the Federal and Union commanders.

 

Recommended Reading: Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage. Description: America's Civil War raged for more than four years, but it is the three days of fighting in the Pennsylvania countryside in July 1863 that continues to fascinate, appall, and inspire new generations with its unparalleled saga of sacrifice and courage. From Chancellorsville, where General Robert E. Lee launched his high-risk campaign into the North, to the Confederates' last daring and ultimately-doomed act, forever known as Pickett's Charge, the battle of Gettysburg gave the Union army a victory that turned back the boldest and perhaps greatest chance for a Southern nation. Continued below...

Now, acclaimed historian Noah Andre Trudeau brings the most up-to-date research available to a brilliant, sweeping, and comprehensive history of the battle of Gettysburg that sheds fresh light on virtually every aspect of it. Deftly balancing his own narrative style with revealing firsthand accounts, Trudeau brings this engrossing human tale to life as never before.

 

Recommended Reading: The Maps of Gettysburg: The Gettysburg Campaign, June 3 - July 13, 1863 (Hardcover). Description: More academic and photographic accounts on the battle of Gettysburg exist than for all other battles of the Civil War combined-and for good reason. The three-days of maneuver, attack, and counterattack consisted of literally scores of encounters, from corps-size actions to small unit engagements. Despite all its coverage, Gettysburg remains one of the most complex and difficult to understand battles of the war. Author Bradley Gottfried offers a unique approach to the study of this multifaceted engagement. The Maps of Gettysburg plows new ground in the study of the campaign by breaking down the entire campaign in 140 detailed original maps. These cartographic originals bore down to the regimental level, and offer Civil Warriors a unique and fascinating approach to studying the always climactic battle of the war. Continued below...

The Maps of Gettysburg offers thirty "action-sections" comprising the entire campaign. These include the march to and from the battlefield, and virtually every significant event in between. Gottfried's original maps further enrich each "action-section." Keyed to each piece of cartography is detailed text that includes hundreds of soldiers' quotes that make the Gettysburg story come alive. This presentation allows readers to easily and quickly find a map and text on virtually any portion of the campaign, from the great cavalry clash at Brandy Station on June 9, to the last Confederate withdrawal of troops across the Potomac River on July 15, 1863. Serious students of the battle will appreciate the extensive and authoritative endnotes. They will also want to bring the book along on their trips to the battlefield… Perfect for the easy chair or for stomping the hallowed ground of Gettysburg, The Maps of Gettysburg promises to be a seminal work that belongs on the bookshelf of every serious and casual student of the battle.

 

Recommended Reading: ONE CONTINUOUS FIGHT: The Retreat from Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, July 4-14, 1863 (Hardcover) (June 2008). Description: The titanic three-day battle of Gettysburg left 50,000 casualties in its wake, a battered Southern army far from its base of supplies, and a rich historiographic legacy. Thousands of books and articles cover nearly every aspect of the battle, but not a single volume focuses on the military aspects of the monumentally important movements of the armies to and across the Potomac River. One Continuous Fight: The Retreat from Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, July 4-14, 1863 is the first detailed military history of Lee's retreat and the Union effort to catch and destroy the wounded Army of Northern Virginia. Against steep odds and encumbered with thousands of casualties, Confederate commander Robert E. Lee's post-battle task was to successfully withdraw his army across the Potomac River. Union commander George G. Meade's equally difficult assignment was to intercept the effort and destroy his enemy. The responsibility for defending the exposed Southern columns belonged to cavalry chieftain James Ewell Brown (JEB) Stuart. If Stuart fumbled his famous ride north to Gettysburg, his generalship during the retreat more than redeemed his flagging reputation. The ten days of retreat triggered nearly two dozen skirmishes and major engagements, including fighting at Granite Hill, Monterey Pass, Hagerstown, Williamsport, Funkstown, Boonsboro, and Falling Waters. Continued below...

President Abraham Lincoln was thankful for the early July battlefield victory, but disappointed that General Meade was unable to surround and crush the Confederates before they found safety on the far side of the Potomac. Exactly what Meade did to try to intercept the fleeing Confederates, and how the Southerners managed to defend their army and ponderous 17-mile long wagon train of wounded until crossing into western Virginia on the early morning of July 14, is the subject of this study. One Continuous Fight draws upon a massive array of documents, letters, diaries, newspaper accounts, and published primary and secondary sources. These long-ignored foundational sources allow the authors, each widely known for their expertise in Civil War cavalry operations, to describe carefully each engagement. The result is a rich and comprehensive study loaded with incisive tactical commentary, new perspectives on the strategic role of the Southern and Northern cavalry, and fresh insights on every engagement, large and small, fought during the retreat. The retreat from Gettysburg was so punctuated with fighting that a soldier felt compelled to describe it as "One Continuous Fight." Until now, few students fully realized the accuracy of that description. Complimented with 18 original maps, dozens of photos, and a complete driving tour with GPS coordinates of the entire retreat, One Continuous Fight is an essential book for every student of the American Civil War in general, and for the student of Gettysburg in particular. About the Authors: Eric J. Wittenberg has written widely on Civil War cavalry operations. His books include Glory Enough for All (2002), The Union Cavalry Comes of Age (2003), and The Battle of Monroe's Crossroads and the Civil War's Final Campaign (2005). He lives in Columbus, Ohio. J. David Petruzzi is the author of several magazine articles on Eastern Theater cavalry operations, conducts tours of cavalry sites of the Gettysburg Campaign, and is the author of the popular "Buford's Boys." A long time student of the Gettysburg Campaign, Michael Nugent is a retired US Army Armored Cavalry Officer and the descendant of a Civil War Cavalry soldier. He has previously written for several military publications. Nugent lives in Wells, Maine.

 

Recommended Reading: The History Buff's Guide to Gettysburg (Key People, Places, and Events) (Key People, Places, and Events). Description: While most history books are dry monologues of people, places, events and dates, The History Buff's Guide is ingeniously written and full of not only first-person accounts but crafty prose. For example, in introducing the major commanders, the authors basically call Confederate Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell a chicken literally. Continued below...

'Bald, bug-eyed, beak-nosed Dick Stoddard Ewell had all the aesthetic charm of a flightless foul.' To balance things back out a few pages later, they say federal Maj. Gen. George Gordon Meade looked like a 'brooding gargoyle with an intense cold stare, an image in perfect step with his nature.' Although it's called a guide to Gettysburg, in my opinion, it's an authoritative guide to the Civil War. Any history buff or Civil War enthusiast or even that casual reader should pick it up.

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