Report of Maj. Gen. George G. Meade, U.S.
Commanding Army of the Potomac
Battle of Gettysburg
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
October 1, 1863.
Brig. Gen. LORENZO THOMAS,
Adjutant-General, U.S. Army, Washington, D.C.
GENERAL: I have the honor to submit herewith a report of the operations of this army during the month of July last, including the details of the battle of Gettysburg, delayed by the failure to receive until now the reports of several corps and division commanders, who were severely wounded in the battle. On June 28, I received the orders of the President of the United States placing me in command of the Army of the Potomac. The situation of affairs at that time was briefly as follows:
The Confederate army, commanded by General R. E. Lee, estimated at over 100,000 strong, of all arms, had crossed the Potomac River and advanced up the Cumberland Valley. Reliable intelligence placed his advance (Ewell's corps)on the Susquehanna, at Harrisburg and Columbia; Longstreet's corps at Chambersburg, and Hill's corps between that place and Cashtown. My own army, of which the most recent return showed an aggregate of a little over 100,000, was situated in and around Frederick, Md., extending from Harper's Ferry to the mouth of the Monocacy, and from Middletown to Frederick.
June 28 was spent in ascertaining the position and strength of the different corps of the army, but principally in bringing up the cavalry, which had been covering the rear of the army in its passage over the Potomac, and to which a large increase had just been made from the forces previously attached to the Defenses of Washington. Orders were given on that day to Major-General French, commanding at Harper's Ferry, to move with 7,000 men of his command to occupy Frederick and the line of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and, with the balance of his force, estimated at 4,000, to remove and escort the public property to Washington.
On the 29th, the army was put in motion, and on the evening of that day was in position, the left at Emmitsburg and the right at New Windsor. Buford's division of cavalry was on the left flank, with the advance at Gettysburg. Kilpatrick's division was in the front at Hanover, where he encountered this day General Stuart's Confederate cavalry, which had crossed the Potomac at Seneca Creek, and, passing our right flank, was making its way toward Carlisle, having escaped Gregg's division, delayed in taking position on the right flank by the occupation of the roads by columns of infantry.
On the 30th, the right flank of the army was moved up to Manchester, the left still being at Emmitsburg, in the vicinity of which place three corps (the First, Eleventh, and Third) were collected, under the orders of Major-General Reynolds. General Buford having reported from Gettysburg the appearance of the enemy on the Cash-town road in some force, General Reynolds was directed to occupy Gettysburg.
On reaching that place on July 1, General Reynolds found Buford's cavalry warmly engaged with the enemy, who had debouched his infantry through the mountains on the Cashtown road, but was being held in check in the most gallant manner by Buford's cavalry. Major-General Reynolds immediately moved around the town of Gettysburg, and advanced on the Cashtown road, and without a moment's hesitation deployed his advanced division and attacked the enemy, at the same time sending orders for the Eleventh Corps (General Howard) to advance as promptly as possible. Soon after making his dispositions for the attack, Major-General Reynolds fell, mortally wounded, the command of the First Corps devolving on Major-General Doubleday, and the command of the field on Major-General Howard, who arrived about this time, 11.30 a.m., with the Eleventh Corps, then commanded by Major-General Schurz. Major-General Howard pushed forward two divisions of the Eleventh Corps to the support of the First Corps, now warmly engaged with the enemy on the ridge to the north of the town, and posted his Third Division, with three batteries of artillery, on the Cemetery Ridge, on the south side of the town.
Up to this time the battle had been with the forces of the enemy debouching from the mountains on the Cashtown road, known to be Hill's corps. In the early part of the action, success was on our side, Wadsworth's division, of the First Corps, having driven the enemy back some distance, capturing numerous prisoners, among them General Archer, of the Confederate army. The arrival of re-enforcements for the enemy on the Cashtown road, and the junction of Ewell's corps, coming on the York and Harrisburg roads, which occurred between 1 and 2 p.m., enabled the enemy to bring vastly superior forces against both the First and Eleventh Corps, outflanking our line of battle, and pressing it so severely that about 4 p.m. Major-General Howard deemed it prudent to withdraw these two corps to the Cemetery Ridge, on the south side of the town, which operation was successfully accomplished; not, however, without considerable loss in prisoners, arising from the confusion incident to portions of both corps passing through the town, and the men getting confused in the streets.
About the time of this withdrawal, Major-General Hancock arrived, whom I had dispatched to represent me on the field, on hearing of the death of General Reynolds. In conjunction with Major-General Howard, General Hancock proceeded to post the troops on the Cemetery Ridge, and to repel an attack that the enemy made on our right flank. This attack was not, however, very vigorous, and the enemy, seeing the strength of the position occupied, seemed to be satisfied with the success he had accomplished, desisting from any further attack this day.
About 7 p.m., Major-Generals Slocum and Sickles, with the Twelfth Corps and part of the Third, reached the ground, and took post on the right and left of the troops previously posted. Being satisfied from the reports received from the field that it was the intention of the enemy to support with his whole army the attack already made, and the reports from Major-Generals Hancock and Howard on the character of the position being favorable, I determined to give battle at this point; and, early in the evening of the 1st, issued orders to all the corps to concentrate at Gettysburg, directing all trains to be sent to the rear, at Westminster.
At 10 p.m. of the 1st, I broke up my headquarters, which until then had been at Taneytown, and proceeded to the field, arriving there at 1 a.m. of the 2d. So soon as it was light, I proceeded to inspect the position occupied, and to make arrangements for posting the several corps as they should reach the ground.
By 7 a.m. the Second and Fifth Corps, with the rest of the Third, had reached the ground, and were posted as follows: The Eleventh Corps retained its position on the Cemetery Ridge, just opposite the town; the First Corps was posted on the, right of the Eleventh, on an elevated knoll, connecting with a ridge extending to the south and east, on which the Twelfth Corps was placed, the right of the Twelfth Corps resting on a small stream at a point where it crossed the Baltimore pike, and which formed, on the right flank of the Twelfth, something of an obstacle. The Cemetery Ridge extended in a westerly and southerly direction, gradually diminishing in elevation until it came to a very prominent ridge called Round Top, running east and west. The Second and Third Corps were directed to occupy the continuation of the Cemetery Ridge on the left of the Eleventh Corps. The Fifth Corps, pending the arrival of the Sixth, was held in reserve.
While these dispositions were being made, the enemy was massing his troops on an exterior ridge, distant from the line occupied by us from 1 mile to 1½ miles. At 2 p.m. the Sixth Corps arrived, after a march of 32 miles, accomplished from 9 p.m. the day previous. On its arrival being reported, I immediately directed the Fifth Corps to move over to our extreme left, and the Sixth to occupy its place as a reserve for the right.
About 3 p.m. I rode out to the extreme left, to await the arrival of the Fifth Corps and to post it, when I found that Major-General Sickles, commanding the Third Corps, not fully apprehending the instructions in regard to the position to be occupied, had advanced, or rather was in the act of advancing, his corps some half a mile or three-quarters of a mile in front of the line of the Second Corps, on the prolongation of which it was designed his corps should rest. Having found Major-General Sickles, I was explaining to him that he was too far in advance, and discussing with him the propriety of withdrawing, when the enemy opened on him with several batteries in his front and on his flank, and immediately brought forward columns of infantry and made a most vigorous assault. The Third Corps sustained the shock most heroically. Troops from the Second Corps were immediately sent by Major-General Hancock to cover the right flank of the Third Corps, and soon after the assault commenced the Fifth Corps most fortunately arrived and took position on the left of the Third, Major-General Sykes, commanding, immediately sending a force to occupy the Round Top Ridge, where a most furious contest was maintained, the enemy making desperate but unsuccessful efforts to secure it.
Notwithstanding the stubborn resistance of the Third Corps, under Major-General Birney (Major-General Sickles having been wounded early in the action), the superiority of numbers of the enemy enabling him to outflank the corps in its advanced position, General Birney was compelled to fall back and reform behind the line originally designed to be held.
In the meantime, perceiving the great exertions of the enemy, the Sixth Corps, Major-General Sedgwick, and part of the First Corps (to the command of which I had assigned Major-General Newton), particularly Lockwood's Maryland brigade, together with detachments from the Second Corps, were all brought up at different periods, and succeeded, together with the gallant resistance of the Fifth Corps, in checking and finally repulsing the assault of the enemy, who retired in confusion and disorder about sunset, and ceased any further efforts on the extreme left. An assault was, however, made about 8 p.m. on the Eleventh Corps from the left of the town, which was repelled, with the assistance of troops from the Second and First Corps.
During the heavy assault upon our extreme left, portions of the Twelfth Corps were sent as re-enforcements. During their absence, the line on the extreme right was held by a very much reduced force. This was taken advantage of by the enemy, who, during the absence of Geary's division of the Twelfth Corps, advanced and occupied a part of his line.
On the morning of the 3d, General Geary (having returned during the night) attacked at early dawn the enemy, and succeeded in driving him back and reoccupying his former position. A spirited contest was, however, maintained all the morning along this part of the line, General Geary, re-enforced by Wheaton's brigade, Sixth Corps, maintaining his position, and inflicting very severe losses on the enemy.
With this exception, the quiet of the lines remained undisturbed till 1 p.m. on the 3d, when the enemy opened from over one hundred and twenty-five guns, playing upon our center and left. This cannonade continued for over two hours, when our guns, in obedience to my orders, failing to make any reply, the enemy ceased firing, and soon his masses of infantry became visible, forming for an assault on our left and left center. The assault was made with great firmness, directed principally against the point occupied by the Second Corps, and was repelled with equal firmness by the troops of that corps, supported by Doubleday's division and Stannard's brigade of the First Corps. During the assault, both Major-General Hancock, commanding the left center, and Brigadier-General Gibbon, commanding Second Corps, were severely wounded. This terminated the battle, the enemy retiring to his lines, leaving the field strewn with his dead and wounded, and numerous prisoners in our hands.
Buford's division of cavalry, after its arduous service at Gettysburg on the 1st, was on the 2d sent to Westminster to refit and guard our trains. Kilpatrick's division, that on the 29th, 30th, and 1st had been successfully engaging the enemy's cavalry, was on the 3d sent on our extreme left, on the Emmitsburg road, where good service was rendered in assaulting the enemy's line and occupying his attention. At the same time, General Gregg was engaged with the enemy on our extreme right, having passed across the Baltimore pike and Bonaughtown road, and boldly attacked the enemy's left and rear.
On the morning of the 4th, reconnaissances developed that the enemy had drawn back his left flank, but maintained his position in front of our left, apparently assuming a new line parallel to the mountains.
On the morning of the 5th, it was ascertained the enemy was in full retreat by the Fairfield and Cashtown roads. The Sixth Corps was immediately sent in pursuit on the Fairfield road, and the cavalry on the Cashtown road and by the Emmitsburg and Monterey Passes.
July 5 and 6 were employed in succoring the wounded and burying the dead. Major-General Sedgwick, commanding the Sixth Corps, having pushed the pursuit of the enemy as far as the Fairfield Pass, in the mountains, and reporting that the pass was a very strong one, in which a small force of the enemy could hold in check and delay for a considerable time any pursuing force, I determined to follow the enemy by a flank movement, and, accordingly, leaving McIntosh's brigade of cavalry and Neill's brigade of infantry to continue harassing the enemy, put the army in motion for Middletown, Md. Orders were immediately sent to Major-General French at Frederick to reoccupy Harper's Ferry and send a force to occupy Turner's Pass, in South Mountain. I subsequently ascertained Major-General French had not only anticipated these orders in part, but had pushed a cavalry force to Williamsport and Falling Waters, where they destroyed the enemy's pontoon bridge and captured its guard. Buford was at the same time sent to Williamsport and Hagerstown.
The duty above assigned to the cavalry was most successfully accomplished, the enemy being greatly harassed, his trains destroyed, and many captures of guns and prisoners made.
After halting a day at Middletown to procure necessary supplies and bring up the trains, the army moved through the South Mountain, and by July 12 was in front of the enemy, who occupied a strong position on the heights of Marsh Run, in advance of Williamsport. In taking this position, several skirmishes and affairs had been had with the enemy, principally by the cavalry and the Eleventh and Sixth Corps.
The 13th was occupied in reconnaissances of the enemy's position and preparations for attack, but, on advancing on the morning of the 14th, it was ascertained he had retired the night previous by a bridge at Falling Waters and the ford at Williamsport. The cavalry in pursuit overtook the rear guard at Falling Waters, capturing two guns and numerous prisoners.
Previous to the retreat of the enemy, Gregg's division of cavalry was crossed at Harper's Ferry, and, coming up with the rear of the enemy at Charlestown and Shepherdstown, had a spirited contest, in which the enemy was driven to Martinsburg and Winchester and pressed and harassed in his retreat. The pursuit was resumed by a flank movement, the army crossing the Potomac at Berlin and moving down the Loudoun Valley. The cavalry were immediately pushed into the several passes of the Blue Ridge, and, having learned from scouts the withdrawal of the Confederate army from the lower valley of the Shenandoah, the army, the Third Corps, Major-General French, in advance, was moved into the Manassas Gap, in the hope of being able to intercept a portion of the enemy.
The possession of the gap was disputed so successfully as to enable the rear guard to withdraw by way of Strasburg, the Confederate army retiring to the Rapidan. A position was taken with this army on the line of the Rappahannock, and the campaign terminated about the close of July.
The result of the campaign may be briefly stated in the defeat of the enemy at Gettysburg, his compulsory evacuation of Pennsylvania and Maryland, and withdrawal from the upper valley of the Shenandoah, and in the capture of 3 guns, 41 standards, and 13,621 prisoners; 24,978 small-arms were collected on the battle-field.
Our own losses were very severe, amounting, as will be seen by the accompanying return, to 2,834 killed, 13,709 [13,713] wounded, and 6,643 missing; in all, 23,186 [23,190].
It is impossible in a report of this nature to enumerate all the instances or gallantry and good conduct which distinguished such a hard-fought field as Gettysburg. The reports of corps commands and their subordinates, herewith submitted, will furnish all information upon this subject. I will only add my tribute to the heroic bravery of the whole army, officers and men, which, under the blessing of Divine Providence, enabled a crowning victory to be obtained, which I feel confident the country will never cease to bear in grateful remembrance.
It is my duty, as well as my pleasure, to call attention to the earnest efforts of co-operation on the part of Maj. Gen. D. N. Couch, commanding Department of the Susquehanna, and particularly to his advance, 4,000 men, under Brig. Gen. W. F. Smith, who joined me at Boonsborough just prior to the withdrawal of the Confederates.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
GEO. G. MEADE,
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