Preservation Opportunity at Gettysburg on the First Day Battlefield

The battle had been waging west of the small Pennsylvania town for several hours. Brig. Gen. John Buford’s Federal cavalry had slowly been falling back, eastward, from north-south ridge to north-south ridge. Buford’s men were not looking to win this fight. He was trading ground for time, time for the arrival of the Union army’s First Corps under the command of Lancaster, Pennsylvania native Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds. The arrival of the lead units of this corps, as well as further Confederate units on the march toward the sounds of the guns, only increased the size, scale, and scope of the battle. Eventually, however, available units on the field for both armies had fought themselves into exhaustion. Casualties had been high, ammunition had been expended, and definitive positions on the field had been established for the Federal First Corps. More reinforcements for the Federal position, now along Oak Ridge north of the Chambersburg Pike, and McPherson Ridge south of the Chambersburg Pike would be needed in order to continue to defend this ground, and, extend them further to secure their flank. At the same time, Confederate commanders realized that with the men they had on the field and the condition of those units following the morning engagement, further reinforcements would be needed to turn this new Federal line. A brief lull settled over the field.

Major General Robert Rodes, CSA.

By the afternoon of July 1, 1863, these badly needed men for both sides had arrived. The rearward divisions of the First Corps had arrived to the field in the hours following the death of their commander, General Reynolds. Further Union reinforcements had also arrived from the army’s Eleventh Corps, whose commander, Maj. Gen. Oliver Otis Howard had been in command of all Union forces in Gettysburg following the death of Reynolds earlier in the day. Howard pushed the advanced elements of his corps through the town hoping to extend the line of the First Corps on it’s right, toward Oak Hill. Unfortunately for Howard and the Union position, Confederate reinforcements had arrived in the vicinity before that could become a reality. These Confederate reinforcements were part of the Confederate Second Corps under the command of Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell. The division of troops, Robert Rodes’ division, did not take long to get into position before launching assaults on the Union line along Oak Ridge, the right of Federal First Corps.

Brigadier General Alfred Iverson, CSA.

According to the Trust, “On Oak Ridge, men from Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania let loose deadly fire into the faces of Colonel Alfred Iverson’s North Carolinians. The Yankees waited until the Rebels were within 50 yards before unleashing a furious volley at close range. “Unable to advance, unwilling to retreat,” the survivors of Iverson’s brigade hugged the ground for safety, waiting for a renewed Confederate assault to sweep the Federals from Oak Ridge.”

Now there is an “opportunity to save yet another piece of the First Day’s battlefield, a two-acre parcel on Oak Ridge that saw intense combat on the afternoon of July 1.” If you are interested in helping to save this piece of hallowed ground, click the link above and discover more maps, photographs, and battle history; and, most importantly, take moment to remember those “that gave their last full measure of devotion” on this field 154 years ago.

About Daniel Welch

Dan Welch is currently a primary and secondary educator with a public school district in northeast Ohio. Previously, he was the Education Programs Coordinator for the Gettysburg Foundation, the non-profit partner of Gettysburg National Military Park. Dan continues to serve as a seasonal Park Ranger at Gettysburg National Military Park. He has received his BA in Instrumental Music Education from Youngstown State University and a MA in Military History with a Civil War Era concentration at American Military University. Dan has also studied under the tutelage of Dr. Allen C. Guelzo as part of the Gettysburg Semester at Gettysburg College. He has been a contributing member at Emerging Civil War for over six years and is the co-author of The Last Road North: A Guide to the Gettysburg Campaign, 1863. He resides with his wife, Sarah, and three Labrador retrievers in Boardman, Ohio.
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