At Culp's Hill, Maryland weeps, 'My poor boys' Brothers: Four regiments in the blue and gray armies at Culp's Hill were from the deeply divided Free State.

Revisiting Gettysburg

July 02, 1998|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

The Re-enactment commemorating the 135th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg begins tomorrow at Bushey Farm, about a mile Southwest of Gettysburg National Battlefield. Among the featured events is thefighting at Culps' Hill.

The encounter on Culp's Hill, which ended the second day and began the third day at Gettysburg, was a battle in which Marylander faced Marylander.

Maryland was the only state with regimental units that fought for both the Union and the Confederacy at Gettysburg, and Culp's Hill is where they confronted each other.

The soldiers who fought at Culp's Hill on July 2 did so in the dark.

Lee's plan was for Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell of the Confederate 2nd Corps to attack Culp's Hill and East Cemetery Ridge simultaneously with Lt. Gen. James Longstreet's attack on the Union left. With Longstreet's delay in moving forward, Ewell was forced to wait as well.

When Longstreet finally started his attack about 4:30 p.m., Ewell's artillery opened up a barrage on the Federals on Culp's Hill. The Union guns answered with devastating results.

About 7 p.m., Maj. Gen. Edward Johnson's division of Ewell's corps began advancing toward Culp's Hill, as described by Maj. W. W. Goldsborough of the 2nd Maryland Infantry in his 1869 memoir "The Maryland Line."

"The ground over which Johnson's Division moved was rough enough at first, but became much rougher after it had crossed Rock Creek and struck the wooded hill, known as Culp's Hill," Goldsborough writes. "Here immense rocks and boulders were encountered, which greatly retarded the progress of the troops, and darkness came on, and no enemy save a few skirmishers had been encountered."

While Ewell had been waiting to attack, the troops of the Union's 12th Corps had been digging in and busily erecting breastworks of earth and heavy logs that were 5 feet high. But during the heat of the battle on the Union left, most of the 12th Corps withdrew to reinforce the federal lines at the Peach Orchard, leaving behind only the brigade of Brig. Gen. George S. Greene to hold the breastworks on Culp's Hill. Greene tried to stretch his men as far as he could to defend the breastworks in the face of Johnson's advance. They stood more than a foot apart, a thin line that eroded any firepower.

"In a short time the woods were all flecked with the flashes from the muskets of our skirmishers," wrote Capt. Jesse H. Jones of the 60th New York in his account. "Down in the hollow there, at the foot of the slope, you could catch a glimpse now and then, by the blaze of the powder, of our brave boys as they sprang from tree to tree, and sent back defiance to the advancing foe.

"With desperation they clung to each covering. For half an hour they obstructed the enemy's approach."

But Johnson's Confederate troops soon overtook the hill and occupied the breastworks. The rebels nearly reached the Baltimore pike and could have reached the rear of the Union line, which would have been disastrous, but Johnson apparently failed to realize the advantage and did not exploit it.

Late that night, the returning 12th Corps troops under the command of Maj. Gen. Henry W. Slocum found the Confederates occupying the breastworks they had so painstakingly erected. Slocum's advice to his commanders was succinct: "Drive them out at daylight."

It was during this engagement that Marylander fought Marylander, with one regiment in Johnson's division opposing three from Slocum's corps.

About 4:30 a.m., the Union troops threw themselves into furious battle against the enemy. It started with an artillery barrage that the rebels did not have the guns to answer. Historian Harry W. Pfanz note in his book, "Gettysburg: Culp's Hill & Cemetery Hill," that Battery A, 1st Maryland Light Artillery participated in the opening salvo.

"We can wonder if these Marylanders had any friends or relatives in the 1st Maryland Battalion that must have been at the bull's-eye of their target," Pfanz writes.

The 1st Maryland Battalion Infantry of the Confederate Army attacked within 30 yards of the Union's 1st Maryland, Potomac Home Brigade.

Goldsborough of the Confederate 1st Maryland Battalion Infantry and which evolved into the 2nd Maryland Regiment), which was part of Brig. Gen. George H. Steuart's Brigade in Johnson's Division, described the fight.

"To add to the horrors of the situation a battery or two opened upon the division at short range, and most of their shells fell among the men of Steuart's Brigade, who were compelled to closely hug the ground behind the breastworks for protection. A more terrible fire men were never subjected to, and it was a miracle that any escaped," he writes.

Steuart's Brigade was ordered to charge the Union lines, leaving the protection of the heavily wooded area into open, unsheltered ground. The men of the regiments to the left of the Marylanders, when exposed to the fire, "threw themselves upon the ground, and despite the pleadings and curses of their officers refused to go forward," Goldsborough writes.

"But the little battalion of Marylanders, now reduced to about 300 men, never wavered nor hesitated, but kept on, closing up its ranks as great gaps were torn through them by the merciless fire of the enemy in front and flank, and many of the brave fellows never stopped until they had passed through the enemy's first line or had fallen dead or wounded as they reached it."

"But flesh and blood could not withstand that circle of fire, and the survivors fell back to the line of log breastworks, where they remained several hours, repulsing repeated assaults of the enemy, until ordered by General Johnson to fall back to Rock Creek.

"General Steuart was heartbroken at the disaster, and wringing his hands, great tears stealing down his bronzed and nTC weather-beaten cheeks, he was heard repeatedly to exclaim: 'My poor boys! My poor boys!'

"...Ah! it was a sad, sad day that brought sorrow to many a poor Maryland mother's heart."

! Pub date: 7/02/98

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