The Curmudgeon, The Eccentric, and the “Norse God”: How Three Men Impacted the Battle of Gettysburg: Part Eight

Brig. Gen. George Doles
Brig. Gen. George Doles

Part eight in a series.

Sweeping the 11th Corps

For the last few hours George Doles four Georgia regiments had done little more than skirmish with the men of the 11th Corps. Doles and his 1,323 men had been tasked by Rodes with protecting the Confederate left flank until Early’s men arrived. Having been held out of the action on Oak Hill/Ridge, Doles men were relatively fresh and looking for a fight.

As Jones artillery played on the Federal position, Gordon moved to action. Doles moved southeast, striking the western side of Blocher’s Knoll. Gordon’s men crossed Rock Creek and hit the knoll’s northern and eastern fronts. As Doles moved to action his horse bolted toward the enemy, with the general holding on for dear life. As the horse neared the enemy Doles dove off the stead, narrowly avoiding capture. While two of Rodes’ brigade commanders refused to lead from the front, poor Doles was nearly captured due to a spooked horse.

The 11th Corps position atop Blocher’s Knoll was akin to a salient. Barlow’s ill advised forward movement to higher ground, coupled with the timely arrival of Early’s men, made it nearly impossible for the young New Yorker’s undersized division to defend the position, although Barlow claimed, “We ought to have held the place easily for I had my entire force at the very point where the [enemy] attack was made.”

Being hit in front and flank, Barlow’s forward most brigade, that of Colonel Leopold von Gilsa crumpled within minutes. Barlow’s second brigade, under the command of Brigadier General Adelbert Ames were swept away moments later. In less than one half hour of combat an entire Federal division was swept from the field.

Two more 11th Corps brigades were dispatched to the front. Brigadier General Wladimir Krzyzanowski’s brigade was sent forward to bolster Barlow’s line and link it with Schimmelfennig’s line west of the Carlisle Road.

The wave of nine Georgia regiments surged forward catching Krzyzanowski’s brigade in their wake. The Polish officer and his men fought valiantly, yet ultimately in vein attempting to stem the butternut tide. One Georgia soldier simply stated “we charged upon them and drove them back.”

After dispatching their prey, the Georgians made way for Hays and Avery’s men to take the lead. The eight fresh rebel regiments reached the edge of Gettysburg itself, where they ran directly into the second 11th Corps brigade that had been sent to stabilize the front.

Avery’s North Carolinians struck first along Stevens Run, engulfing the right flank of Colonel Charles Coster’s mixed Pennsylvania/New York brigade.  The Tar Heels then wrapped around the front of their prey, and now joined by Hays’ “Ragin’ Cajuns” drove the last organized 11th Corps unit from the north end of the field. In roughly one-half hour Jubal Early caved in the Union right flank and sent the 11th Corps to flight.

The Confederates Sweep the Field. Map by Hal Jespersen,
The Confederates Sweep the Field. Map by Hal Jespersen,

Although Dick Ewell’s day had a rocky start on Oak Hill, Lee’s Bad Old Man, had made up for the initial short comings of Ewell and Rodes. A timely arrival, solid tactics, and a little luck all came together to perfection. In all Early’s division had sustained around 500 casualties, while inflicting nearly 3,400.

On Oak Hill Rodes initial assault failed to break the Federal line and absorbed an exorbitant amount of casualties, 2,500, as he attempted to dislodge the Yankees. In his favor though, Rodes took the initiative to contact Early and launch his second wave of assaults, which, eventually broke the Union line, in concert with Early on the plain below. Also in Rodes favor was the fact that he deployed the capable George Doles on the plain to link with Early. Doles initiative aided Early’s forces immensely as they assaulted Blocher’s Knoll and swept Krzyzanowski from the field. “Away went guns and knapsack, and they fled for dear life,” observed one Union surgeon.

At roughly the same time 3:30 PM, the Union 1st Corps was also being evicted from their defensive positions along McPherson and Seminary Ridges. The Yankees fled towards their rallying position, Cemetery Hill. Where the final drama of Ewell’s day would play out.

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