Richard Ewell Gettysburg Battle Report

General Ewell / Richard Ewell

The contents of the Richard Ewell Gettysburg battle report is critical to understanding how the first day at the Battle of Gettysburg ended without the Confederates following up their successes of the day.


Report of Lieut. Gen. Richard S. Ewell, C. S. Army, commanding Second Army Corps.

On the night of June 30, Rodes' division, which I accompanied, was at Heidlersburg; Early 3 miles off, on the road to Berlin, and Johnson, with Colonel Brown's reserve artillery, between Green Village and Scotland. At Heidlersburg, I received orders from the general commanding to proceed to Cashtown or Gettysburg, as circumstances might dictate, and a note from General A. P. Hill, saying-he was at Cashtown.

Next morning, I moved with Rodes' division toward Cashtown, ordering Early to follow by Hunterstown. Before reaching Middletown, I received notice from General Hill that he was advancing upon Gettysburg, and turned the head of Rodes' column toward that place, by the Middletown road, sending word to Early to advance directly on the Heidlersburg road. I notified the general commanding of my movements, and was informed by him that, in case we found the enemy's force very large, he did not want a general engagement brought on till the rest of the army came up.

By the time this message reached me, General A. P. Hill had already been warmly engaged with a large body of the enemy in his front, and Carter's artillery battalion, of Rodes' division, had opened with fine effect on the flank of the same body, which was rapidly preparing to attack me, while fresh masses were moving into position in my front. It was too late to avoid an engagement without abandoning the position already taken up, and I determined to push the attack vigorously. General Rodes had drawn up his division, Iverson's brigade on the right, Rodes' (old) brigade (Colonel O'Neal) in the center (these two on the ridge leading to the west of Gettysburg), and Doles on the left, in the plain. The Fifth Alabama was retained by General Rodes, to guard a wide gap left between O'Neal and Doles. Daniel and Ramseur were in reserve. He at once moved forward, and, after advancing for some distance in line, came in sight of the enemy, and O'Neal and Iverson were ordered to attack, Daniel advancing in line 200 yards in rear of Iverson's right, to protect that flank.

At this time, only desultory artillery firing was going on on the rest of the field. Carter was warmly engaged. O'Neal's brigade, advancing in some disorder in a direction different from that indicated by Major-General Rodes in person to Colonel O'Neal, and with only three regiments (the Third Alabama being by some mistake left with Daniel's brigade), was soon forced to fall back, notwithstanding the Fifth Alabama was sent to its support. The left of Iverson's brigade was thus exposed, but these gallant troops obstinately stood their ground till the greater part of three regiments had fallen where they stood in line of battle. A few of them, being entirely surrounded, were taken prisoners: a few escaped.

The unfortunate mistake of General Iverson at this critical juncture in sending word to Major-General Rodes that one of his regiments had raised the white flag and gone over to the enemy might have produced the most disastrous consequences. The Twelfth North Carolina, being on the right of his brigade, suffered least. A slight change in the advance of General Iverson had uncovered the whole of Daniel's front, and he found himself opposed to heavy bodies of infantry, whom he attacked and drove before him till he reached a railroad cut extending diagonally across his front and past his right flank, which checked his advance. A battery of the enemy beyond this cut near a barn enfiladed his line, and fresh bodies of infantry poured across the cut a destructive enfilade and reverse fire. Seeing some troops of the Third Corps lying down beyond the railroad, in front of the enemy, who were on his flank, General Daniel sent an officer to get them? advance. As they would not, he was obliged - leaving the Forty-fifth North Carolina and Second North Carolina Battalion to hold his line - to change the front of the rest of his brigade to the rear, and throw part across the railroad beyond the cut, where, having formed line directly in front of the troops of the Third Corps already mentioned, he ordered an advance of his whole brigade, and gallantly swept the field, capturing several hundred prisoners in the cut.

About the time of his final charge, Ramseur, with his own and Rodes' brigades, and remnants of Iverson's, under Capt. D. P. Halsey, assistant adjutant-general of the brigade, who rallied the brigade and assumed command, had restored the line in the center.

Meantime an attempt by the enemy to push a column into the interval between Doles and O'Neal had been handsomely repulsed by Doles, who, changing front with his two right regiments, took them in flank, driving them in disorder toward the town.

All of General Rodes' troops were now engaged. The enemy were moving large bodies of troops from the town against his left, and affairs were in a very critical condition, when Major-General Early, coming up on the Heidlersburg road, opened a brisk artillery fire upon large columns moving against Doles' left, and ordered forward Gordon's brigade to the left of Doles', which, after an obstinate contest, broke Barlow's division, captured General [F. C.] Barlow, and drove the whole back on a second line, when they were halted, and General Early ordered up Hays' and Hoke's brigades on Gordon's left, and the three drove the enemy precipitately toward and through the town just as Ramseur broke those in his front.

General Gordon mentions that 300 of the enemy's dead were left on the ground passed over by his brigade. The enemy had entirely abandoned the north end of the town, and Early entering by the York Railroad at the same time that Rodes came in on the Cashtown road, they together captured over 4,000 prisoners and three pieces of artillery, two of which fell into the hands of Early's division. So far as I can learn, no other troops than those of this corps entered the town at all. My loss on this day was less than 2,900 killed, wounded, and missing.

The enemy had fallen back to a commanding position known as Cemetery Hill, south of Gettysburg, and quickly showed a formidable front there. On entering the town, I received a message from the commanding general to attack this hill, if I could do so to advantage. I could not bring artillery to bear on it, and all the troops with me were jaded by twelve hours' marching and fighting, and I was notified that General Johnson's division (the only one of my corps that had not been engaged) was close to the town.

Cemetery Hill was not assailable from the town, and I determined, with Johnson's division, to take possession of a wooded hill to my left, on a line with and commanding Cemetery Hill. Before Johnson got up, the enemy was reported moving to outflank our extreme left, and I could see that seemed to be his skirmishers in that direction.

Before this report could be investigated by Lieut. T. T. Turner, aide-de-camp of my staff, and Lieut. Robert D. Early, sent for that purpose, and Johnson placed in position, the night was far advanced.

I received orders soon after dark to draw my corps to the right, in case it could not be used to advantage where it was; that the commanding general thought from the nature of the ground that the position for attack was a good one on that side. I represented to the commanding general that the hill above referred to was unoccupied by the enemy, as reported by Lieutenants Turner and Early, who had gone upon it, and that it commanded their position and made it untenable, so far as I could judge.

He decided to let me remain, and on my return to my headquarters, after 12 o'clock at night, I sent orders to Johnson by Lieut. T. T. Turner, aide-de-camp, to take possession of this hill, if he had not already done so. General Johnson stated in reply to this order, that after forming his line of battle this side of the wooded hill in question, he had sent a reconnoitering party to the hill, with orders to report as to the position of the enemy in reference to it. This party, on nearing the summit, was met by a superior force of the enemy, which succeeded in capturing a portion of the reconnoitering party, the rest of it making its escape. During this conversation with General Johnson, one man arrived, bringing a dispatch, dated at 12 midnight, and taken from a Federal courier making his way from General Sykes to General Slocum, in which the former stated that his corps was then halted 4 miles from Gettysburg, and he would resume his march at 4 a.m. Lieutenant Turner brought this dispatch to my headquarters, and at the same time stated that General Johnson would refrain from attacking the position until I had received notice of the fact that the enemy were in possession of the hill, and had sent him further orders. Day was now breaking, and it was too late for any change of place.

Meantime orders had come from the general commanding for me to delay my attack until I heard General Longstreet's guns open on the right. Lieutenant Turner at once returned to General Johnson, and delivered these instructions, directing him to be ready to attack, Early being already in line on the left and Rodes on the right of the main street of the town, Rodes' line extending out on the Fairfield road.

Early in the morning, I received a communication from the commanding general, the tenor of which was that he intended the main attack to be made by the First Corps, on our right, and wished me, as soon as their guns opened, to make a diversion in their favor, to be converted into a real attack if an opportunity offered.

I made the necessary preparations, and about 5 p.m., when General Longstreet's guns opened, General Johnson commenced a heavy cannonade from Andrews' battalion and [Archibald] Graham's battery, the whole under Major [J. W.] Latimer, against the Cemetery Hill.

After an hour's firing, finding that his guns were overpowered by the greater number and superior position of the enemy's batteries, Major Latimer withdrew all but one battery, which he kept to repel any infantry advance. While with this battery, this gallant young officer received, from almost the last shell fired, the wound which has since resulted in his death. Colonel Brown says justly of that calamity, “No greater loss could have befallen the artillery of this fire, showing when most needed the full possession of all his faculties.” Though not twenty-one when he fell, his soldierly qualities had impressed me as deeply as those of any officer in my command.

Immediately after the artillery firing ceased, which was just before sundown, General Johnson ordered forward his division to attack the wooded hill in his front, and about dusk the attack was made. The enemy were found strongly intrenched on the side of a very steep mountain, beyond a creek with steep banks, only passable here and there. Brig. Gen. J. M. Jones was wounded soon after the attack began, and his brigade, which was on the right with Nicholls' (Louisiana) brigade (under Colonel Williams), was forced back, but Steuart, on the left, took part of the enemy's breastworks, and held them till ordered out at noon next day.

As soon as information reached him that Johnson's attack had commenced, General Early, who held the center of my corps, moved Hays' and Hoke's brigades forward against the Cemetery Hill. Charging over a hill into a ravine, they broke a line of the enemy's infantry posted behind a stone wall, and advanced up the steep face of all other hill, over two lines of breastworks. These brigades captured several batteries of artillery and held them until, finding that no attack was made on the right, and that heavy masses of the enemy were advancing against their front and flank, they reluctantly fell back, bringing away 75 to 100 prisoners and four stand of captured colors. Major-General Rodes did not advance, for reasons given in in his report.

Before beginning my advance, I had sent a staff officer to the division of the Third Corps, on my right, which proved to be General Pender's, to find out what they were to do. He reported the division under command of General Lane, who succeeded Pender, wounded, and who sent word back that the only orders he had received from General Pender were that he was to attack if a favorable opportunity presented. I then wrote to him (it being too late to communicate with the corps commander) that I was about attacking with my corps, and requested that he would co-operate. To this I received no answer, nor do I believe that any advance was made. The want of co-operation on the right made it more difficult for Rodes' division to attack, though, had it been otherwise, I have every reason to believe, from the eminent success attending the assault of Hays and Avery, that the enemy's lines would have been carried.

I was ordered to renew my attack at daylight Friday morning, and as Johnson's position was the only one affording hopes of doing this to advantage, he was re-enforced by Smith's brigade, of Early's division, and Daniel's and Rodes' (old) brigades, of Rodes' division. Just before the time fixed for General Johnson to advance, the enemy attacked him, to regain the works captured by Steuart the evening before. They were repulsed with very heavy loss, and he attacked in turn, pushing the enemy almost to the top of the mountain, where the precipitous nature of the hill and an abatis of logs and stones, with a very heavy work on the crest of the hill, stopped his farther advance.

Half an hour after Johnson attacked, and when too late to recall him, I received notice that Longstreet would not attack until 10 o'clock; but, as it turned out, his attack was delayed till after 2 o'clock. In Johnson's attack, the enemy abandoned a portion of their works in disorder, and, as they ran across an open space to another work, were exposed to the fire of Daniel's brigade at 60 or 70 yards. Our men were at this time under no fire of consequence. Their aim was accurate, and General Daniel thinks that he killed here in half an hour more than in all the rest of his fighting. Repeated reports from the cavalry on our left that the enemy were moving heavy columns of infantry to turn General Johnson's left, at last caused him about 1 p.m. to evacuate the works already gained. These reports reached me also, and I sent Capt. G. C. Brown, of my staff, with a party of cavalry to the left, to investigate them, who found them to be without foundation, and General Johnson finally took up a position about 300 yards in rear of the works he had abandoned, which he held, under a cross-fire of artillery and exposed to the enemy's sharpshooters, until dark. At night my corps fell back, as ordered, to the range of hills west of the town, taken by us on Wednesday, where we remained unmolested during July 4.

The behavior of my troops throughout this campaign was beyond praise, whether the points considered be their alacrity and willing endurance of the long marches, their orderly and exemplary conduct in the enemy's country, their bravery in action, or their patient endurance of hunger, fatigue, and exposure during our retreat.

The lists of killed and wounded, as well as the results gained, will show the desperate character of their fighting. In the infantry, Daniel's brigade, of Rodes' division, and in the artillery, Andrews' battalion, of Johnson's division, suffered most loss. The Second North Carolina Battalion, of Daniel's brigade, lost 200 of 240 men, killed and wounded, without yielding an inch of ground at any time.


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