By Rick Walton Copyright (C) 2015
When I found I would be in Gettysburg on July 2nd, 2015, I realized I had the rare opportunity to walk in the footsteps of the 6th North Carolina State troops on the exact date and time of their attack on East Cemetery Hill, 152 years earlier.
General Harry T. Hays, commander of the famed Louisiana Tigers wrote of the attack:
“A little before 8p.m. I was ordered [by Major-General Early] to advance with my own and Hoke’s brigade on my left, which had been placed for the time under my command.”1
As the anniversary day wore on, it was overcast and gray, as can be seen in the following pictures. By late afternoon on July 2nd, 2015, the sky was already dark and overcast and looked threatening enough that I packed plastic bags to protect my camera in case of rain.
Considering modern daylight savings time, 8 pm their time would be 9 pm in 2015, which is near the end of twilight and the beginning of dark! I decided not to wait. I set off at about 5:15 pm from “A Sentimental Journey B&B” on Baltimore street were my wife and I were staying. In 1863 (see Map) this area would have been on the edge of town and not far from Hay’s and Hoke’s line, which stretched eastward between Baltimore street and the Culp house orchard nearly half a mile away.
I set off the try to literally, however much possible, “walk in their footsteps”! I invite you to join me on this Photo Tour of my journey. Click on any photo to see a full screen view.
Stop 1- Position of Hoke’s Brigade on the afternoon of July 2, 1863
It took me about 10 or 15 minutes to reach the head of East Confederate Avenue where I photographed the marker for Early’s Division which briefly describes the action here. Note the brick Culp house to the right rear. Click on the photo for a full screen view to read the tablet. (Text also transcribed below)
C. S. A.
Army of Northern Virginia
Second Army Corps
Maj. Gen. Jubal A. Early
Hays’ Brigade Brig. Gen. Harry T. Hays
Smith’s Brigade Brig. Gen. William Smith
Hoke’s Brigade Col. Isaac E. Avery
Col. A. C. Godwin
Gordon’s Brigade Brig. John B. Gordon
Artillery Battalion Four Batteries Col. H. P. Jones
July 1. The Division arrived about noon within two miles of Gettysburg by Harrisburg Road. Formed line across road north of Rock Creek. Gordon’s Brigade ordered to support of a brigade of Rodes’ Division engaged with a division of the Eleventh Corps which had advanced to a wooded hill in front of town. The remainder of the Division was ordered forward as Gordon’s Brigade was engaged. After a short and severe contest the Union troops were forced through the town losing many prisoners. Later in the day Gordon’s Brigade ordered to the York Road in support of Smith’s Brigade. Hays’ and Hoke’s Brigades occupied the town.
July 2. In the early morning Hays’ and Hoke’sBrigades took position to front and left of town.Gordon’s Brigade in reserve moved to the rear of the brigades. Smith’s Brigade remained in this position until nearly dusk when Hays’ and Hoke’s Brigades advanced on Cemetery Hill. The brigades reached the crest of hill but not being supported on the right were forced to retire. Gordon’s Brigade advanced to support the attack.
July 3. At daylight Smith’s Brigade was ordered to support of Johnson’s Division on the left. Hays’ and Hoke’s Brigades formed line in town holding the position of previous day. Gordon’s Brigade held the line of the day before. The Division not further engaged.
July 4. In the morning the Division was withdrawn to Cashtown Road to west of town.
Casualties Killed 156 Wounded 806 Missing 226 Total 1188
Walking down East Confederate Avenue, I paused to take a picture of the undulating fields, the tiny valleys formed by the Winebrenner/Culp run and the gentle rise ahead. To the right, up a small berm is the Gettysburg Middle school and diagonally behind that, and out of sight, rises East Cemetery Hill.
As I stood here, a number of important clues became evident. I have identified some of the landmarks on Photo 2 to make this starting position clear. Click on the photo for a larger view and to help you orient yourself in relation to East Cemetery hill.
Based on period maps and historical analysis, Hoke’s Brigade was posted to the left of the road, in an orchard along the banks of the stream. The left of the 57th NCT was anchored near the (no longer existing) farm lane known as Culps lane. The 6th NCST was on the right, probably along the present East Confederate Avenue.
This ravine, along the Winebrenner/Culp run, was the approximate position where Hoke’s Brigade was pinned down throughout the day of July 2nd. Hay’s Louisianna Brigade was to their right. In Photo 2, note how the road and fields rise from the creek bed, providing cover from the distant Culp’s Hill and East Cemetery Hill.
Private Thomas E. Causby, 6th North Carolina State Troops, Co. D, recalled years later that after fighting the Yankee’s through the town on July 1st, 1863, they:
“struck camp in a deep ravine, where we remained until late in the afternoon of the second day’s battle.“3
Parts of his ravine could be seen in front of me, along the Winebrenner/Culp run, still clearly visible today, passing beneath East Confederate Avenue.
By this time of day in 1863, East Cemetery Hill was bristling with artillery and Federal soldiers who had spent the previous evening digging in. North Carolinian, Captain John A. McPherson, of Colonel Avery’s old company E, wrote the following description in a letter to Avery’s father shortly after the battle.
“That night the Colonel and myself slept under an apple tree. The sharpshooters kept up a brisk fire all day, so that a man could not show himself along the line without being shot at. The Colonel [Avery], Capt. Adams [Hoke’s Adjutant], and myself were lying down on the side of the hill. The enemy sharpshooters kept us uneasy all the time, balls hissing all around us. The Colonel began to laugh and said that place was getting most too warm for us, and that we had better move. It was always the Colonels wish if he should be so unfortunate as to fall that it would be in a great battle.”2
Some members of the 6th NC regiment perished before the battle started. Bartlett Yancy Malone, of Company H wrote about one such death in his diary:
“We laid in a line of battle at the same place [at the foot of East Cemetery Hill. ] The enemies picket’s were firing on us all day. Thomas Miles was killed while on picket duty, shot in the head.”
Hoke’s Brigade numbered between 900- 1,200 men depending on whose figures you use. (6th NCST- 509, 21st NCT- 436, 57th NCT- 297).4
Private Sim Carrington of the 6th North Carolina Co. B mentioned the regiments size In a letter to his brother dated July 9th, 1863. At full strength a regiment should number 1,000 men.
“We went into the battle with 499 men and lost half of them. 235 are absent from wounds and killed and missing…our brigade has about 500”
In a letter to his Aunt and Uncle dated July 9th, 1863, John J. English of the 6th North Carolina, Co. E, Isaac Avery’s old company, mentions his company size. At full strength a company should measure 100 men.
“We went into the fight with 56 men in our co. and when we came out we had 24. Our Captain [James H. Burns , age 23] was killed.”
Stop 2- Hoke’s Brigade Marker on East Confederate Avenue
If you refer to the map, you’ll notice that the Winebrenner /Culp run is a stream branching off Rock Creek. It splits into two branches near the Culp House, each branch eventually crossing under East Confederate Avenue. I continued walking down the road and came to the Hoke Brigade Marker at a spot about halfway between the two creek branches.
C. S. A.
Army of Northern Virginia
Ewell’s Corps Early’s Division
6th 21st 57th North Carolina Infantry
July 1. Advanced at 3 P. M. with Hays’ Brigade flanked Eleventh Corps aided in taking two guns repulsed First Brigade Second Division and captured many prisoners. Late in evening took position here.
July 2. Skirmished all day at 8 P. M. with Hays’ Brigade charged East Cemetery Hill. Severely enfiladed on the left by artillery and musketry it pushed on over infantry line in front scaled the hill planted its colors on the lunettes and captured several guns. But assailed by fresh forces and having no supports it was soon compelled to relinquish what it had gained and withdraw. Its commander Col. Isaac E. Avery was mortally wounded leading the charge.
July 3. Ordered to railroad cut in rear and later to High Street in town.
July 4. At 2 A. M. moved to Seminary Ridge. After midnight began the march to Hagerstown.
Present about 900
Killed 35 Wounded 216 Missing 94 Total 345
Photo 3 is looking toward the Culp house, barely visible behind the trees. This shows the position of the 6th North Carolina State Troops, with the 21st NCT and 57th NCT stretching to the horizon on the right. The “steep ravine”, mentioned by Causby would be along the trees that line the creek bed behind the roadside marker. I wasn’t able to look close enough to determine if these trees are part of the old apple orchard mentioned by Captain McPherson, but this is approximately where it would have been located. Notice how the ground slopes upwards from the creek, helping to provide cover from the guns on East Cemetery Hill.
Neill W. Ray, Captain of Co. D of the 6th North Carolina regiment recalled their situation:
“Our men were anxious to proceed and take possession of Cemetery Hill [on the evening of July 1, which was rapidly being occupied by the enemy], And it was only by positive orders that a halt was made. The line was soon reformed along a little rivulet [Winebrenner/Culp run] that runs north easterly from Cemetery Hill in between the town and Culps Hill. But we had no orders for any further advance. As soon as it began to grow dark we could hear sounds of what might have been thousands of axes cutting down the timber on Culp’s Hill. He made breastworks and lined the [East] Cemetery Hill with artillery, and placed a battery [Steven’s 5th Maine Battery] on a small hill between Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill, and his guns were also protected by earthworks which he threw up during the night.”
“By the morning of the 2d [July 2, 1863] all these places were full of infantry, and his artillery was so posted as to be able to fire over the heads of his infantry, whilst a strong line of skirmishers was in front of all, which was frequently relieved. He kept up a galling fire on us all day there was a terrific cannonade between the enemy’s guns and ours, which were posted on the north and east of the town. This was not very destructors to our infantry line, because, being in the valley, the shots passed over us.”5
The official report, submitted after the battle by Colonel A. Godwin, who took command of the brigade upon Avery’s death, described this same position:
“The enemy had now succeeded in planting a battery upon a high, sloping spur on the mountain side immediately in our front. [on July 1st] Under cover of the railroad cut [north of York street], we were moved by the left flank about 400 yards to the left, and again moved forward. The shells from the enemy proving very effective, we were soon after halted in a depression on the hillside, and the men ordered to lie down. Skirmishers were thrown forward, and this position held through the night and until 8 p. m. on the next day, July 2., when the brigade moved forward to the attack” 6
As I made my way down East Confederate Avenue, I paused to read the marker to Hoke’s Bridgade and take a few Pictures.
It was close to 6 PM (5 pm in 1863 time), when I reached this point. Historical accounts show Hoke’s brigade advancing in a southerly direction, as I have been doing along the road, to clear the distance required for Hay’s Louisiana brigade to wheel along the base of East Cemetery Hill. But apparently the exact location of their objective was not discovered until the brigade was already in motion.
“As soon as the summit of the hill was gained, it was discovered that the batteries which we had been ordered to take were in front of Hays brigade, and considerably to the right of our right flank. We continued to advance, however, under a terrific fire, climbed a rail fence, and still farther beyond descended into a low bottom, and dislodged a heavy line of infantry from a stone wall running parallel with our front. The enemys batteries now enfiladed us, and a destructive fire was poured into our ranks from a line of infantry formed in rear of a stone wall running at a right angle with our line of battle and immediately below the batteries. Colonel Avery now ordered a change of front, and succeeded in wheeling the brigade to the right, a movement which none but the steadiest veterans could have executed under such circumstances. In swinging around, three stone walls had to be surmounted. The ground was rocky and uneven, and these obstacles prevented that rapidity of movement and unity of action which might have insured success.”7
From here the ground rises gently to a ridge before descending to the south fork of the Winebrenner/Culp run. This rising hill in photo 5, which becomes the crest, hides a “low bottom” on the other side and any enemy skirmishers.
East Cemetery Hill is still hidden from my view to the right, beyond the rising ground and trees visible in photo 6 to the right of the road. Culps hill is the prominence directly ahead. If you can imagine a 45 degree angle (red arrow) from the road at the point of the run, that line would point toward the distant location of Steven’s Battery, which will play havoc with the left of Hoke’s Brigade as complete their right wheel to face the base of East Cemetery Hill.
As described by Colonel Godwin and depicted on most historical maps, this is the vicinity where the Brigade began its right wheel. The right most bridgade was the 6th North Carolina. It was likely on and to the right of the present day road. Colonel Avery was riding the absent General Hoke’s White charger in front of and to the right of the 6th North Carolina, in the gap between the two brigades when he ordered “Right Wheel!” swinging the line in a 90 degree arc until it lined up with the base of the heavily fortified East Cemetery Hill. Having ordered his field officers to dismount, Avery rode forward alone, exposing himself to the galling fire. A ball pierced his neck. In the darkness, no one saw him fall and the attack continued without him.
Consult the period map again and you will notice the land below East Cemetery Hill is cut up in a patchwork of small fields. You will notice the numerous fences and stone walls that had to be surmounted, which would have greatly broken up a regiments order. I was told by a local guide that these fields were owned or leased by townspeople as an allotment where they could grow crops while still living in the town. The field would have been filled with Corn and Wheat, “knee high by the 4th of July” as the old saying goes. These pictures show, it was more than knee high in 2015, partly due to an abundance of late spring rains., but in 1863 this would have been just another obstacle breaking up regimental order, not to mention the darkness of night, unfamiliarity with the ground and the fact that skirmishers, entrenched troops and cannons were all firing missiles of death and destruction their way.
I believe the area shown in Photo 8 and 9 would have been where the 6th North Carolina would have been making their wheel. Keep in mind the length of the line formed by 1,000 men in three regiments. I am standing above the creek, this is certainly a low bottom, but perhaps not the one mentioned by Godwin who would have still been with his regiment on the left.
A portion of Hoke’s brigade, the 21st NCT and Godwin’s 57th NCT would have treked up and over the ridge, rising in Photo 9, during their wheeling movement. Looking at the map, there are the “low bottoms” more directly in their path, across the road, to the right and closer to East Cemetery Hill.
I think even this low section by the stream would have been exposed to enemy fire in 1863, although the tree’s hide East Cemetery Hill today:
“Every man in the line knew what was before him. We had seen the enemy gathering on Cemetery Hill; we had laid under the fire of his numerous guns; we knew the preparations he had made for us. Yet, promptly at the command, the line moved forward, and in a few minutes we were in full view of the enemy’s batteries and his lines of infantry. His sharp-shooters emptied their rifles at us and fell back to their main line at once, and every gun was brought to bear upon us. The fire was terrific, but our men moved forward very rapidly, bearing to the right, having the batteries on Cemetery Hill as their objective point.”8
An officer in the 153rd Pennsylvania, on the skirmish line in Culp’s meadow, ordered his men to fall back before the advancing Confederates, stopping to fire 3 times before making a run for the safety of the stone wall at the base of East Cemetery hill. This could be the “sharp-shooters” mentioned by Captain Ray.
I believe at least a portion of the 6th North Carolina would have swung through the lower part of this field during their wheel alignment but I decided that I would let my eyes trace their footsteps here. To keep my feet dry, I moved ahead to higher and dryer ground, constantly looking down toward where the stream flowed and imagined the North Carolinians picking their way through the swampy fields as they headed toward their destiny.
I entered the field further up, by the lone tree on the left in photo 8a. The heavy tree line seen in photo 8a on the opposite side of the field and parallel to East Confederate Avenue, would have been open fields at the time of the battle. While they hide my view of East Cemetery hill, the wheeling troops would have had a clear view of the cannons they would be facing. The Federal troops above, were watching their advancing foe:
“When the enemy started on this movement their lines nearly faced our position, [Stevens 5th Maine Battery on Stevens Knoll] but as they advanced they obeyed the order given at the onset, and, pivoting on their right which rested on and moved along the outskirts of the town, they… changed direction by an almost right half wheel of their whole force…”9
Continued in next post….
1) The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies. ; Series 1 – Volume 27 (Part II), page 480
2) August 3, 1863 letter of John A. McPherson to Colonel I. T. Avery; From the Alfonso Calhoun Avery papers, Southern historical collection, University of North Carolina Library, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
3) Causby, Thomas E., ” Storming the Stone fence at Gettysburg “, Charlotte (N. C.) observer, March 11, 1901. ,Republished in Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume 29.
4) Archer, John- author and Licensed Battlefield guide stated these figures during a 2012 online tour of East Cemetery hill (http://www.gettysburgdaily.com/licensed-battlefield-guide-john-archer-east-cemetery-hill-part-7-battle-walk/); “The Gettysburg Campaign in Numbers and Losses: Synopses, Orders of Battle, Strengths, Casualties, and Maps, June 9-July 14, 1863.” By J. David Petruzzi and Steven A. Stanley. p126, 2013, Savas Beatie, http://www.savasbeatie.com
5) Ray, Neill W., “The Sixth Regiment” in “Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War, 1861-1865”, edited by Walter Clark and published by the state of N. C. in 1901.
6) The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies. ; Series 1 – Volume 27 (Part II);No. 473.; Report of CoL. Archibald C. Godwin, Fifty-seventh North Carolina Infantry, commanding Hokes brigade.
8) Ray, Neill W., “The Sixth Regiment” in “Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War, 1861-1865”, edited by Walter Clark and published by the state of N. C. in 1901.
9) Archer, John M., “The Hour was one of Horror”, 1997, Thomas , Gettysburg, Pa, pg. 40 re: Federal officer Lt. Whittier’s description in “Maine at Gettysburg”