Culp's Hill was a substantial hill with wooded slopes on the extreme right flank of the Union army. It made up the point on the "fishhook" as part of the Union defenses and saw considerable action on July 2-3, 1863. The hill was first occupied on July 1st, 1863 when Union I Corps retreated to Culp's Hill after heavy fighting west of Gettysburg. They spent the first evening felling trees and building strong defensive positions in the form of breastworks.
The Union XII Corps under Brigadier General George S. Greene arrived on the morning of July 2, 1863 and helped fortify the hill. He was 62 years-old, and the oldest Union general on the field at Gettysburg. Greene was a civil engineer prior to the war, and immediately ordered his men to continue building breastworks. The woods was mature and thick at Culp's Hill, but had little undergrowth which allowed the Union troops a clear line of sight. At the time of the Civil War, farmers cut down the undergrowth to allow the trees to grow strong for use in building, wagons and for furniture.
Around the time Greene arrived, General Robert E. Lee was coordinating his army for an attack on the Union flanks. Confederate Lieutenant General James Longstreet was ordered to attack the Union left with the First Corps, and Lieutenant General Richard S. Ewell was to demonstrate on the Union right. This was intended to deter Union troops from reinforcing the Union left in believing they may be attacked on the right. Ewell was told by Lee to attack at his discretion.
When Longstreet finally attacked the Union left at 4pm, Ewell began his demonstration with an artillery barrage from a nearby hill. It was Major General Edward Johnson's division that was given the order by Ewell to attack later that day. It was close to 7pm by the time Johnson moved his division of 4,700 men into position.
The Union lines on Culp's Hill were considerably weaker at this point as s army for an attack on the Union flanks. Union Major General George Meade had shifted many troops to the Union left to reinforce including much of XII Corps. This left Greene to defend the hill with only 1,400 men and he quickly deployed them in a long line behind the breastworks without the benefit of reserves. Just as his men formed, Johnson's troops crossed over Rock Creek and began their attack uphill through the woods. Greene's men waited until the Confederates were roughly 100 feet away then blasted a volley into the darkness.
Badly outnumbered, Greene skillfully shifted his men along the breastworks to thwart each Confederate attack. As the battle raged on, regiments from the I and XI Corps reinforced Greene's lines with an additional 750 men. For the next 4 hours the Confederates charged and sustained staggering casualties, while the Union held their lines and suffered few casualties. The breastworks prepared prior the battle had made all the difference and were so strong, the Confederates believed they were fighting against a much larger force.
Finally, the fight subsided close to midnight and the Confederates retreated to lower Culp's Hill. Nothing could be heard but the moans of the wounded and dying still on the hill. Johnson planned to renew the attack at first light once more reinforcements were available, and still believed he faced larger numbers.
At 4am on July 3, the Union artillery perched on Baltimore Pike opened up on the Confederates. This was followed by a Union infantry assault in which they swept downhill off Culp's Hill and attacked through the woods. The fighting was fierce, and for several hours the two armies battled back and forth. The Union commanders did a superb job of rotating troops so that a constant rate of fire could continue. Johnson attempted multiple charges up the hill but each time the attacks were repelled.
The artillery attack that morning dashed all hopes General Lee had for a coordinated attack on the Union right and center at Cemetery Ridge. The battle for Culp's Hill ended at 10am when the exhausted Confederate troops retreated across Rock Creek leaving wounded and dead behind.
< Return from Culp's Hill to Gettysburg Battlefield
< Return from Culp's Hill to Total Gettysburg