Historical Field Trip: The First Day at Gettysburg

The Battle of Gettysburg was the largest battle fought on American soil and the turning point of the American Civil War. The small farm town in Pennsylvania erupted into a clash between hundreds of thousands of Union and Confederate soldiers. Many people simply known of the famed “Pickett’s Charge” on July 3rd or the fighting at Little Round Top on July 2nd. The day before was even more vital to the battle than the others, organizing positions, creating command problems, and yielded a massive amount of casualties.

1. Buford’s Cavalry

Brigadier General John Buford, commanding the Union’s 1st Cavalry Division ran into Henry Heth’s division early on July 1st and began to delay their advance while awaiting reinforcements. Gamble, Devin, and Merritt held off attacks by Archer’s brigade while Buford surveyed the land. Holding their position on McPherson’s ridge, the Union cavalry desperately put up a fight against the Confederate infantry streaming down the Chambersburg Pike. Look at Buford’s statue along the road as he looks up the road with his field glasses. One of the four cannon barrels at his feet has a small plaque showing that it fired the first shot of the battle.

2. “For God’s Sake Forward!”

Finally at about 9:30 in the morning, Buford’s weary cavalry saw the flags of James Wadsworth’s division of John Reynolds’ 1st Corps from the South. The cavalry dropped back as the infantry sped into the gap to repel the Confederates. Davis’ brigade arrived and placed even more pressure on the Union. General Reynolds ordered forward the legendary Iron Brigade, an elite unit of troops from Michigan and Wisconsin. The brigade hurled themselves against Archer’s brigade in Herbst Woods. Reynolds was struck by a Confederate bullet and fell off his horse. Abner Doubleday replaced the dead general. Trek up Reynolds Avenue and find his marker on the edge of the woods. The Pennsylvania native lends his name to the woods now, as many refer to it as Reynolds’ Woods. The Iron Brigade’s memorials are on the other side of the woods.

Monument on the spot where Reynolds fell. He is buried in Lancaster, PA.

3. The Railroad Cut

While the battle for Herbst Woods raged, three Union regiments rushed to cover their flank on the other side of the Chambersburg Pike. As Mississippians and North Carolinians under Davis slid down into an unfinished railroad bed, the Union troops charged their positions. Suffering one casualty for every foot they advanced, the troops were presented with a murderous Confederate fire. The 6th Wisconsin of the Iron Brigade, which had separated from the rest of its brigade, jumped into the cut and a fierce hand-to-hand battle ensued until the Confederates fell back. The railroad is now complete and operational, but is hardly ever used. You can go into the cut from the side. Feel free to charge down like the Union troops and when you’re in there, look at how exposed the Union troops were to volleys from the defenders.

The Railroad Cut

4. Oak Ridge

Continue north towards the metal observation tower. This is Oak Ridge where Union forces were pushed back by Gen. Richard S. Ewell’s Corps. Edward O’Neal and Alfred Iverson’s brigades attacked Doubleday’s Corps along the hill on what is now Doubleday Avenue. Robert Rhodes’ Confederate division continued to pound Union forces here until about 5 PM when the Union centre collapsed under constant attacks from Brockenborough, Pettigrew, and Scales. Doubleday gave up the defense of the ridge and rushed back towards Cemetery Ridge. Climb the tower to get a view of the Union positions on the hill and back towards the center of their lines.

View towards the town from Oak Ridge. This is the Confederate point of view as they marched to the town of Gettysburg.

5. Barlow’s Knoll

A young Union division commander, Francis Barlow, placed his troops along a small hill jutting out from their lines. These were the lead elements of Oliver Howard’s XI Corps made up of mostly Polish and German immigrants from Ohio and Pennsylvania. Rhodes sent Doles’ brigade north to fight them, as Barlow’s division was too far forward to be supported. Hays and Gordon’s brigades slammed into Barlow’s position and the Union brigades routed under pressure from the attack. Francis Barlow was wounded and paralysed from the legs down as his troops streamed through the town of Gettysburg. Left on the battlefield, Barlow needed help until Gen. John Gordon spotted him. Gordon got Barlow a litter and helped tend to him and the two would become great friends after the war finished.

Union guns had a stellar position on top of Cemetery Ridge

6.Cemetery Hill

Union troops fell back through Gettysburg as the Confederates chased them. Howard’s XI Corps found a position on Cemetery Hill by the Evergreen Cemetery but still struggled to organize a solid resistance to Ewell’s Corps. The timely arrival of Winfield Scott Hancock’s II Corps provided much needed assistance for Howard and the Union managed to form a solid defensive line. Hancock took position on the hill while Howard drifted towards Culp’s Hill. Cemetery Ridge would mark the center of the Union line for the rest of the battle.

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Uniforms of the Ages: Zouaves

The uniform of the zouaves was one of the most flamboyant of the mid to late 19th century, and their influences spread through numerous armies in the world. Zouaves originated in the 1830s after the Zwawa tribe of Algeria helped French soldiers capture Algeria in a war against the Ottoman Empire. The zouaves were originally raised as light infantry regiments because of the Algerians ability to fight in skirmishing warfare, tactics that the French Second Empire was unfamiliar with. Zouave units spread to many parts of the world, including the US, the Papal States, Spain, and even Poland.

This zouave is of the 3rd Zouave Regiment of the French Army. Starting from the head, one notices that the soldier wears a fez. The fez is traditional of North African countries, and offers a flair to the soldier. Some wore turbans wrapped around their fez, and fez tassel colours varied from army to army. Zouaves wore a shirt, varying by regiment, and it was covered by a short, open jacket. The pattern on the jacket is called tombeaux. Zouaves wore sashes under their belts in regimental colours. Their large pantaloons, called sarouel, were a trademark of the zouave units. Zouaves also wore gaiters over their shoes, most commonly white or tan.

The French Zouaves had a standard uniform, just like the one pictured. Pantaloons were red, jackets were dark blue with red piping, sashes were light blue, and fezzes had light blue tassels. The distinctions between French units were the bottom of the tombeaux. This Zouave has yellow colouring, indicating his unit is the 3rd Zouaves. The 1st Zouaves had red colouring, and the 2nd was white.
The United States adopted zouaves in 1861 after a tour of French zouaves introduced the idea to the Americans. The tour was mostly in the North, so most zouave units were part of the US Army rather than the Confederate Army. The US Zouaves had a large variation of uniforms in order to differentiate between units. Two of the many US zouave regiments were the 5th New York, known as Duryee’s Zouaves, and the 155th Pennsylvania. Duryee’s Zouaves wore a uniform very close to that of the French. They had a red fez with a yellow tassel, and a dark blue jacket over a dark blue shirt. The tombeaux were red, as was the piping. Their sash was red but was piped in light blue. The pantaloons and gaiters were of the same colour as the French. The 155th PA wore a more Americanized zouave uniform that resembled the uniforms of the French Turcos. They wore a red fez with a dark blue tassel. The jacket and shirt were a lightish gray-blue, and the jacket had yellow tombeaux and piping. The pantaloons were the same colour of the jacket, and the sash was bright red.

The Papal States raised a regiment of zouaves in 1861 in order to combat the Italian Risorgimento movement led by the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia. The regiment was made up of many different nationalities including Italian, French, Dutch, Irish, and Belgian. The Papal Zouaves wore a blue kepi with a red band. Their jacket was blue with red piping, as was their shirt. The red sash was worn above blue pants, and the gaiters were white. The zouaves fought in numerous battles until the end of the Italian Wars of Unification in 1870, and even then, the legend of the Papal Zouaves continued as the French soldiers in the unit fought once more in the Franco-Prussian War as the “Volunteers of the West.”

Poland raised a regiment of zouaves, known as the “Zouaves of Death”, during the January Uprising against Russia in 1863. They were raised by François Rochebrune, a French zouave officer who had served in Crimea. The “Zouaves of Death” wore a red fez, a black jacket without tombeaux, and a trademark shirt with a large white emblazoned cross. Their pants were black as were their boots, which were knee-length. This regiment was butchered in the uprising, but Rochebrune survived. He received a “Legion of Honour” for his bravery.

Zouaves were renowned for their bravery and skill in battle, but they are more known for their outlandish uniforms. Their North African style of dress was good for hot weather, as it was designed for fighting in Algeria, and it is evident why other nations raised units.