They Will Come Booming – Skirmishers Three Deep

June 30, 1863 (Tuesday)

Buford nearly brought it on a day early.
Buford nearly brought it on a day early.

The fog thickly clung in the shallow valleys of Adams County, Pennsylvania as John Buford rode from his camp in Fountaindale. The previous night, shots were exchanged between the 3rd Indiana Cavalry and some Confederate pickets that appeared to be infantry. Though he had been ordered by his commander, Alfred Pleasonton, to return to Maryland and approach Gettysburg via Emmitsburg, he had to see for himself.

At least two Confederate regiments, including the 52nd North Carolina of Henry Heth’s Division, were at Fairfield, a few miles north of Buford’s camp. Before long, Buford’s men stumbled upon a Rebel outpost, which, due to the fog, surprised everyone involved. The pickets raced back to their own camp, chased by several Union volleys.

The very slight skirmish kicked up as the Rebels blindly unleashed some artillery. Seeing that there were too many enemy troops to route them, Buford called off the advance and got back to orders. They moved quickly to Emmitsburg and started north for Gettysburg.

While Buford’s Cavalry rode south to ride north again, Judson Kilpatrick’s Cavalry headed northeast to Hanover, Pennsylvania. Along the way, he was tracked by Confederate scouts belonging to Jeb Stuart, who was also moving toward Hanover.

Stuart at Hanover - not his most shining moment.
Stuart at Hanover – not his most shining moment.

Without trying, as he had no idea where Stuart’s troopers were located, Kilpatrick arrived in Hanover around 8am. They were treated to a fine breakfast by the citizens. When their plates were scraped clean, each regiment headed north out of town. Their destination was York. The first brigade, under George Armstrong Custer, had finished first and moved on, followed by Elon Farnsworth’s Brigade, which downed their last flapjacks just before 10am.

As Farnsworth’s tail regiment was leaving, it was isolated and pounced upon by two brigades of Rebel cavalry. Stuart had arrived! With Farnsworth well in front of his column, he didn’t notice what was happening until Confederate Cavalry streamed into Hanover, claiming it as their own.

Farnsworth turned his two lead regiments around, while another joined the confusing fight, which had devolved into a brutal hand-to-hand brawl. Thinking quickly, Frarnsworth led a charge with this unengaged regiments and cleared the town of the Rebels.

Stuart was in a fix. Because of the long wagon train captured from the Yankees several days ago, his next available brigade was miles back, and he had sent another far to the left. It would take three or four hours for both sides to collect themselves. During the swirling battle, a squadron of Federals broke off and headed towards Stuart’s headquarters, south of town. Almost instantly, Stuart was surrounded. Being no stranger to narrow escapes, Stuart and his staff reared their horses and rode away from the charging Federals.

Monument in Hanover.
Monument in Hanover.

Before them was a fifteen foot wide gully, partially hidden in the undulations in the ground. Having just enough time to prepare, Stuart’s horse, Virginia, made the jump, though just barely. Several of his staff were not so fortunate. The pursuing Yankees begged off and the plumed cavalier added to his legend.

To the north, General Kilpatrick heard the roar of artillery and raced Custer’s brigade back to Hanover, establishing a line of defense on the southern end of town. The lull also allowed for Stuart to gather his spread out force. Through the late morning both sides added to their numbers, until the afternoon brought what amounted to glaring across streets and hills until Stuart backed away at dusk and began his search for General Richard Ewell’s Corps.

Stuart suspected Ewell was near York, and so headed east towards Jefferson. Ewell, however, was following Lee’s orders to march on Gettysburg. He had been in Carlisle to the north and had a division in York, but all were concentrating, leaving Stuart in the dark.

Here's today's map.
Here’s today’s map.

Though John Buford’s skirmish with Rebel infantry was small, it had a lasting reverberations. Throughout the morning Union General Meade was also thinking about the Confederates in the York area. But when John Reynolds, commanding the left wing of his army, delivered the report at Buford had a brush with Confederate infantry near Fairfield, just west of Gettysburg, he changed his mind.

Meade’s information was out of date, but only slightly so. He did not know that Lee had called for Ewell’s Corps to leave Carlisle and York, but he was fairly certain that both Harrisburg and Philadelphia were safe. He also knew that A.P. Hill’s and James Lonsgstreet’s Corps were marching east from Chambersburg, crossing the Cashtown Gap.

Reynolds and Meade were on the same page.
Reynolds and Meade were on the same page.

Meade sent word to Reynolds that if the Confederates attacked him, he should fall back to Emmitsburg. He even gave Reynolds the option of falling back before he was attacked if Emmitsburg provided better defensive ground than Gettysburg.

The ground Meade had in mind was an incredibly strong position along Pipe Creek. He had no real desire to take the offensive, believing that he didn’t need to. Positioned thusly, it was up to Lee to break his line. Meade issued the order late in the afternoon, but due to the time it took to copy, it did not leave his headquarters until hours after dark. It would not be delivered to his corps commanders until well into the next day. By then, it was a moot point.

Continuing north, John Reynolds encamped for the night five miles south of Gettysburg. He liked Meade’s plan and, if attacked, wanted to fall back to Emmitsburg and fight a defensive battle.

John Buford had arrived in Gettysburg around 11am. Following the word of the locals, he moved to the hills west of town only to see the tail of a Confederate brigade leaving. This was James Pettigrew’s North Carolina Brigade. They had entered the town earlier that morning, intently questioning the residents. All seemed to believe that a strong collection of Union troops was nearby. Pettigrew, wishing not to tangle himself in such things without support, decided to head back towards Cashtown. Buford’s troopers arrived immediately after.

Buford understood that the Confederates could possibly approach from two directions – north and west. To counter all angles, he sent the brigade under Thomas Devin to the north, and threw William Gamble’s brigade to the west. As the Rebels established their own skirmish lines several miles away, Buford waited and instructed his men not to bring on an engagement.

For General Lee, still at his headquarters east Chambersburg, things were not going so well. Though Longstreet’s spy had delivered the bad news that the Union Army was marching towards Pennsylvania, Lee still clung to the belief that his enemies were not marching so swiftly.

According to his own scouts, the Federal were still encamped near Middleburg, Maryland, twenty miles south of Gettysburg. In his marching orders issued for the next day, there was not an ounce of urgency. A.P. Hill had heard of Pettigrew’s claims that some Union troops were in Gettysburg, but thus far in the campaign, it had only been cavalry or militia and had been of little consequence. Lee hardly seemed to care and allowed Hill to do as he pleased.

*grumble grumble grumble* the HIGH ground!
*grumble grumble grumble* the HIGH ground!

By 10:30pm in Gettysburg, Buford was sure of Lee’s position and relayed the news to John Reynolds. A.P. Hill’s Corps was “massed just back of Cashtown.” According to a captured Rebel courier, Ewell’s Corps was coming from the north and was now at Petersburg, ten miles away. While Longstreet was behind Hill, Buford also heard rumors of Rebels coming from York, well to the east.

While General Lee expected no battle in the next couple of days, John Buford knew better. The Rebels were all concentrating upon Gettysburg, and he believed that it would come the next morning. Col. Devin, commanding one of his brigades, disagreed, boasting that his boys could whip any force the Rebels threw at them.

“No you won’t,” spat Buford. “They will attack you in the morning and they will come booming – skirmishers three deep. You will have to fight like the devil to hold your own until support arrives.”

Through the rain drizzled night, Buford’s patrols edged closer to the encamped Rebels both west and north of Gettysburg. By the first brightened clouds of the pre-dawn, an outpost held by 9th New York, well north of town, spotted Confederate skirmishers moving through the mists. From behind a stonewall, they crouched, perhaps squinted, and fired. The battle of Gettysburg had begun.1

  1. Sources: Here Come the Rebels by Wilbur Nye; Plenty of Blame to Go Around by Eric J. Wittenberg and J. David Petruzzi; Gettysburg by Stephen Sears; The Gettysburg Campaign by Edwin Coddington; Make Me a Map of the Valley by Jedediah Hotchkiss; Morning at Willoughby Run by Richard S. Shue. []
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They Will Come Booming – Skirmishers Three Deep by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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