On July 2, 1863, the lines of the Battle of Gettysburg, now in its second day, were drawn in two sweeping parallel arcs. The Confederate and Union armies faced each other a mile apart. The Union forces extending along Cemetery Ridge to Culp’s Hill, formed the shape of a fish-hook, and the Confederate forces were spread along Seminary Ridge.
They say the noise was incessant as the sound
Of all wolves howling, when that attack came on.
They say, when the guns all spoke, that the solid ground
Of the rocky ridges trembled like a sick child.
John Brown’s Body, by Stephen Vincent Benet. (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Doran, 1928), 299-300.
The men who fought there
Were the tired fighters, the hammered, the weather-beaten, The very hard-dying men. They came and died And came again and died and stood there and died, Till at last the angle was crumpled and broken in… Wheatfield and orchard bloody and trampled and taken, And Hood’s tall Texans sweeping on toward the Round Tops…
John Brown’s Body, by Stephen Vincent Benet. (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Doran, 1928), 300.
General Robert E. Lee ordered General James Longstreet to attack the Union’s southern flank, aiming for the hills at the southernmost end of Cemetery Ridge. These hills, known as the Little Round Top and Big Round Top had been left unoccupied and would have afforded the Confederates a good vantage point from which to ravage the Union line.
General Longstreet, disagreeing with Lee’s orders, and hoping that the cavalry under the command of General J. E. B. Stuart would soon come up with the army to participate in the attack, was slow to advance on the hills.
While Longstreet’s soldiers broke through to the base of Little Round Top, Union General G. K. Warren perceived the Confederate plan in time to rouse his men to take the strategic hill, fending off the Confederate attack.
General Lee had also commanded General R. S. Ewell to attack the northernmost flank of the Union Army. On one occasion Ewell’s troops took possession of a slope of Culp’s Hill, but the Union remained entrenched both there and on Cemetery Ridge, where General Meade was headquartered. The following day this battle, tragic for both sides, ended with a Union victory.
The crest is three times taken and then retaken
In fierce wolf-flurries of combat, in gasping Iliads
Too rapid to note or remember, too obscure to freeze in a song.
But at last, when the round sun drops…
The Union still holds the Round Tops and the two hard keys of war.
Night falls. The blood drips in the rocks of the Devil’s Den.
The murmur begins to rise from the thirsty ground
Where the twenty thousand dead and wounded lie.
Such was Longstreet’s war, and such the Union defence,
The deaths and the woundings, the victory and defeat
At the end of the fish-hook shank.
John Brown’s Body, by Stephen Vincent Benet. (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Doran, 1928), 300-1.
- Search on the keyword Gettysburg in the Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress to read items such as Donn Piatt’s July 2, 1863 telegram to Abraham Lincoln concerning news from Gettysburg.
- See the Today in History features for the first (July 1) and last (July 3) days of the Battle of Gettysburg. Search this collection on the keyword Gettysburg or the names of other Civil War battles to find related pages.
- To find more images of the Battle of Gettysburg, search the collection Civil War Glass Negatives and Related Prints on the term Gettysburg. This collection also includes a Timeline of the Civil War.
- For more recent photographs, search on Gettysburg in the following collections:
- Read more of Stephen Vincent Benet’s epic poem of the Civil War, John Brown’s Body, available at a public library near you.
- Search Civil War Maps by subject, location, or contributor for views of more than 2,000 Civil War maps and charts as well as atlases and sketchbooks.