Gettysburg, 1 – 3 July, 1863

Gettysburg: July 1, 1863 – Daybreak
The humidity at dawn on July 1, 1863 was already thick. Pickets (patrols) of General John Buford’s Calvary Division of The Army of the Potomac were in situated in a large arc, scouting the roads to the north and northwest of Gettysburg, looking for units of Robert E. Lee’s Army of the Northern Virginia. Picketing the Chambersburg Pike heading northwest from Gettysburg was Lt. Marcellus Jones and his company of troopers from the 9th Illinois Cavalry. Peering through his field glasses, Lt. Jones observed movement along the Pike, coming in his direction. The shimmering morning heat made the figures approaching him appear almost ghostly. At about 600 yards from his position, the figures became clearer. What Jones was seeing was the advance elements of Confederate General Henry Heth’s division. Lt. Jones asked to borrow the Sharpe’s carbine from the trooper standing next to him, Sgt. Levi Schafer. Taking aim at an officer atop a white horse (believed to be Col. Burkett Fry), Lt. Jones squeezed off a shot. He missed Col. Fry, at 600yards it was not an easy shot for a carbine. It was 7:30 AM. Lt. Marcellus Jones just fired, what is believed to be, the first shot of the 3 day Battle of Gettysburg.

Lieutenant Marcellus Jones fires first shot to open the three day battle of Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863

Sources: Edwin Coddington: “The Gettysburg Campaign”, Stephen Sears: “Gettysburg”, Bruce Catton: “Glory Road”, Blue & Gray Magazine, issues dedicated to the Gettysburg Campaign.

Gettysburg: July 1, 1863 – Mid-morning

“T’aint no militia! It’s those damn Black Hat fellers!” “Those damn Black Hat fellers” we’re members of one of the elite, and I would say THE ELITE, brigades in the Union army during the Civil War. It was the only brigade in the Army of the Potomac consisting of all mid-Western regiments – the 2nd, 6th, 7th Wisconsin, the 19th Indiana, and the 24th Michigan. Their distinctive uniforms; the tall black “Hardee”, long blue coat and buff gaiters over their boots made them easily recognizable. They were proud of the fact that their official designation was the 1st Brigade, 1st Division, 1st Corps, Army of the Potomac. As such, they imagined that if the Army of the Potomac were lined up for review by President Lincoln, they would be The First unit he would see.

During the opening hours of the Battle of Gettysburg, 153 years ago today, the Iron Brigade was rushed forward to halt the advance of Heth’s Division of theConfederate Army of the Northern Virginia. Up to this point the Rebels thought that only Yankee cavalry and some local Pennsylvania militia opposed them. Upon seeing The Black Hat Fellers, the Rebs knew they were in for a bigger fight than imagined.

The Iron Brigade would be decimated on July 1st of 1863 and would never again function as the elite fighting force they were prior to the Gettysburg battle. The whole 1st Corps of the Army of the Potomac was wrecked on that day, their sacrifice allowed time for the rest of the Yankee army to arrive on the field and change the course of the battle.

Men of the Iron Brigade (on the left) repulse Confederate soldiers of James Archers Brigade (on right). Archer was captured in the action.

Gettysburg: July 1, 1863 – Late Morning

As the fighting the fighting between Archer’s Brigade and the Iron Brigade was raging, rebel troops were observed entering a railroad cut to try and flank the Union position on the right of Seminary Ridge. The 14th Brooklyn and the 6th Wisconsin regiments were ordered to stop the advance. Charging the railroad cut, and with great loss, both regiments were able to stop the Confederate advance through the cut. The rebels lost heavily as well. The commander of the rebel brigade that advanced into the cut was Joseph R. Davis, nephew of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. His advance into the cut without adequate reconnaissance caused the wreckage of his brigade and in the reorganization of the Army of Northern Virginia after the battle, he was shunted off to a less important role. The official designation of the 14th Brooklyn Regiment was the 84th Regiment of New York Volunteers, a designation they detested. They were mustered in as the 14th Brooklyn after Fort Sumter, were the 14th Brooklyn at Bull Run, but could not convince the State of New York to allow them to keep the 14th designation. They steadfastly refused to adopt the regulation blue uniform and wore their distinctive uniform, patterned after a French Zouave design. They were ferocious fighters and nicknamed “The Red Legged Devils”. The 6th Wisconsin was part of the famed Iron Brigade, “The Damned Black Hats”. Stopping the assault through the railroad cut gave the Union army only a temporary respite. More rebel troops began to arrive on the battlefield and the Yankees had to retreat through town to occupy the positions they would hold for the remainder of the battle.

Photo of “The Railroad Cut”, taken after the battle
Current photo of Railroad Cut, taken by me in 2013.
The 14th Brooklyn charging the Railroad Cut
The 6th Wisconsin attack on the Railroad Cut. Davis’ Brigade is trapped in the bottom of the cut.
Photo I took of the 14th Brooklyn Monument near the Railroad Cut.

Sources: David Martin: “Gettysburg, July 1, 1863”, Lance J. Herdegen & William J.K. Beaudot: “In the Bloody Railroad Cut at Gettysburg”, Harry Pfanz: “Gettysburg The First Day”.

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