Gettysburg National Military Park
Virtual Tour - Day Two
Culp's Hill

 

Culp's Hill from Cemetery Hill
Culp's Hill from Cemetery Hill
Gettysburg NMP
Culp's Hill is a substantial hill with wooded slopes that was perfect as an anchor for the Union right flank at Gettysburg, and became known as the point of the famous "fishhook". It was first occupied on the evening of July 1 by Union soldiers who had fought most of that same day west of Gettysburg, who spent their first hours on the hill felling trees to build a strong line of earthen and log defenses called breastworks. Logs and large tree branches were laid end to end with rocks and soil scooped upon them to form a network of trenches from the summit of the hill to Spangler's Spring. The remains of these breastworks still exist today, marking the Union battleline. Culp's Hill is heavily wooded today, though at the time of the battle the woods were not as dense. Farmers cut down and removed smaller trees and brush, leaving the healthy hardwoods of oak, maple and chestnut to grow large enough for later harvest as lumber and material for wagons, furniture, and building material. This open nature of the woods benefitted its defenders, providing them with a clear field of fire and ability to see the enemy's approach.

Culp's Hill remained quiet until dusk on July 2nd when, in the gathering darkness, Union troops could distinctly heard the tramp of thousands of feet on dry leaves, growing louder and louder as they came closer. It was Maj. General Edward Johnson's Division from Ewell's Corps finally making their way down to Rock Creek, which runs at the eastern base of the hill. Johnson had been forced to delay his attack and it was not until after 8 P.M. when his men were close enough to make the charge up Culp's Hill, unaware of what they would find once they reached it. The men waded the creek and reformed their ranks in the dark woods before beginning the final advance.


Gen. Johnson
Generals in Gray

Gen. Greene
Generals in Blue
What Johnson did not know was that Union troops of the Twelfth Corps who had manned the breastworks until the afternoon of July 2nd, were no longer there. Most of the corps was ordered to reinforce the embattled Union left, leaving behind a single brigade of New York regiments under Brig. General George Sears Greene to hold the hill. Knowing that it would be hours before the missing troops would return, the 62 year-old Greene was determined not to give up any of this valuable ground. He ordered his officers to stretch the line as thin and far as possible to cover the vacant works, and to hold their positions at all costs. Greene completed his shifting of troops and not a moment too soon- Johnson's Confederates splashed across Rock Creek and began to ascend the hill just as the last of his regiments deployed into the breastworks south of the summit. Greene's men silently waited until the gray formations were within a hundred feet, when they stood and unleashed a perfect storm of musketry fire into the darkness. "It was a critical period in the history of the battle," reported General Henry Slocum, commander of the corps. "Although this attack on Greene was made by vastly superior numbers, suddenly and without warning, under the cover of darkness, the gallant veteran promptly disposed his slender forces to the best advantage and held his line unbroken throughout the night."

Battle of Culp's Hill
Confederates storm the summit of Culp's Hill
Battles and Leaders
Muzzle flashes lit up the hillside. Greene's New Yorkers blazed away with a steady stream of fire, moving and shifting from one section of works to another to stem Confederate thrusts. Regiments from the First and Eleventh Corps arrived to assist Greene and moved into the lower portion of hill, throwing their weight in as they saw fit, keeping the Confederates off guard. Little could be seen in the darkness and most southerners took advantage of cover provided by the multitude of large boulders and trees on the rough hillside. In the end, Greene's tactics worked. In the confusion of the night battle, Johnson believed that he was facing a much larger force than expected. "The attack was made with great vigor and spirit," the general wrote. "It was as successful as could have been expected, considering the superiority of the enemy's force and position. (Brig. General George) Steuart's Brigade, on the left, carried a line of breastworks which ran perpendicular to the enemy's main line, captured a number of prisoners and a stand of colors, and the whole line advanced to within short range and kept up a heavy fire until late in the night."

The firing died away near midnight, replaced by the dreadful groans of wounded soldiers. Clear objectives could not be determined in the darkness and with the belief that he was heavily outnumbered, Johnson decided to wait until first light to renew his attack at which time he would have the necessary reinforcements.

29th PA at Culp's Hill
The 29th Pennsylvania Infantry attacks, July 3, 1863
Battles & Leaders
Returning to Culp's Hill after midnight, troops of the Twelfth Corps deployed astride the Baltimore Pike and prepared to retake the Confederate-held positions, also at first light. Union guns stationed near the Baltimore Pike opened a furious bombardment at 4 A.M., quickly followed by the advance of line upon line of Union regiments that swept into the woods. Johnson's men fought back furiously, grimly holding their positions without the benefit of any southern artillery. The fighting continued for several hours and gun smoke hung thick under the tree cover. Soldiers hid behind rocks and trees, firing at shadows in the gloomy woods that echoed with the cries of combatants and wounded men, fearful that no one could get to them because of the intense rifle fire.

Culp's Hill
Gettysburg NMP
"The enemy had been re-enforced during the night," General Slocum reported after the battle, "and were fully prepared to resist our attack. The force opposed to us... under General Ewell, formerly under General (Stonewall) Jackson,... fought with a determination and valor which has ever characterized the troops of this well known corps." Commanders shifted troops into positions up and down the hill so that a constant fire could be maintained against the Confederates, the bullets slamming into trees and men alike. Around the summit of Culp's Hill, Greene's New Yorkers faced Louisiana soldiers of General Nicholls' Brigade. The fighting had reached a fever pitch with the southerners having made their way up to the summit before halting a mere thirty feet from the Union works. In a bold move to clear the front of the Union line, the 66th Ohio Infantry moved out of the works and swept the front of the hill, driving out a group of Confederate skirmishers who had crept within twenty paces of the Union position.

By 10 o'clock that morning, the Union counterattack had succeeded and the hill was securely in Union hands. The battle for Culp's Hill ended as Johnson's exhausted soldiers retreated across Rock Creek, leaving the woods filled with dead and wounded.

Wesley Culp
Wesley Culp
Gettysburg NMP
Among the dead was a young soldier who had grown up in Gettysburg and spent much of his youth exploring his uncle's hill. As a young man he learned the trade of harness making and when his employer moved to Shepherdstown, Virginia, he bade his hometown goodbye and moved to the small town across the Potomac River. Having adopted his southern home as his own and acquiring the southern spirit, Culp enlisted in the Confederate army at the outbreak of the Civil War and served in the 2nd Virginia Infantry of the famous "Stonewall Brigade". Little could he have known that one day he would be fighting on his uncle's farm in Adams County. Sometime during the battle on July 3, Private Culp was killed. Comrades buried him near the hill and marked his grave. After the battle a shattered remnant of his rifle was found, a portion of the wooden rifle stock with his name carved in it. What happened to Wesley Culp's remains are a mystery, though it was rumored that family members located the grave and secreted his body to the family plot in Evergreen Cemetery.

While the battle raged around the summit of Culp's Hill, there was also severe fighting at the southern end near Spangler's Spring, your next stop.


Preservation of Battlefield Resources at Gettysburg National Military Park

Silent sentinels of the violence that raged there, the trees on Culp's Hill bore visible scars of the battle for many years afterward and were a battlefield curiosity for many visitors. Though all of these original trees are gone, there are still physical reminders of the battle in existence in the park. At Culp's Hill, they are remains of earthworks constructed by Union troops, scars on the landscape that mark the Union line of battle of July 1-3, 1863. They are more than mere bumps on the hillside- they are surviving relics of the battle.

Earthworks at Culp's Hill
Earthworks at Culp's Hill constructed by soldiers of the Iron Brigade.
Library of Congress
Culp's Hill earthworks
Traces of earthworks still survive at Culp's Hill and other sections of the battle.
Gettysburg NMP

Preservation of these earthworks for future generations has always been a problem. The early park commissioners planted grass seed on the earthwork remains to help protect them and placed small signs asking visitors to keep off the mounds. Yet natural erosion, uncontrolled tree growth, vehicles and foot traffic from 1.8 million visitors per year have worn down the remains of these structures. Slowly they are melting away and without preservation efforts taking place now, they may all be gone in the not so distant future.

The National Park Service has undertaken a plan to preserve these important battlefield resources by using the natural cover of grass and sod to save the works from further deterioration. Large trees and shrubs, whose roots undermine the earthwork remains, have been trimmed back by volunteers. Some of the erosion damage has been repaired with rock and new topsoil. Stone barricades have been restacked and the trenches of the earthworks have been cleaned of bottles and trash that had accumulated in them over the past 60 years. Visitors to Culp's Hill and the other park sites that have the remains of trenches, earthworks, stonewalls, and gun lunettes can also help by staying on designated paths and refraining from walking in the trenches or on the earthworks. Every effort made by a visitor today will help preserve these important features for the visitors of tomorrow.


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Gettysburg National Military Park
97 Taneytown Road
Gettysburg, PA 17325