Gettysburg National Military Park
Virtual Tour - Day Two
East Cemetery Hill

East Cemetery Hill
Cemetery Hill from Steven's Knoll
Gettysburg NMP
Cemetery Hill is one of the premier landmarks of the battlefield, situated on the southern edge of Gettysburg overlooking the town and immediate area south of it. Originally known as "Raffensberger's Hill", its more well known name began in 1858 when Evergreen Cemetery was established on the summit. Both Union and Confederate commanders referred to this height as Cemetery Hill during the battle. The first troops on the hill were those of General O.O. Howard's Eleventh Corps, who arrived on the battlefield around noon of July 1st. Later that afternoon, General Winfield Scott Hancock, sent to the battlefield by General Meade, rallied Union troops here and re-organized the intermingled regiments after the fighting west and north of town. Hancock and Howard both realized the strength of this position. The hill was divided into small pastures, bordered on all sides with stone walls. General Howard placed his Eleventh Corps troops behind these man-made defenses while artillerymen constructed earthen barricades or "lunettes", for protection around their cannons, which were placed behind the infantrymen. By the morning of July 2nd, East Cemetery Hill was one of the most heavily fortified positions on the field, its base ringed with infantry and three artillery batteries crowning the summit. The western slope of Cemetery Hill, where the Soldiers National Cemetery is today, was also heavily fortified with infantry and artillery.

East of Cemetery Hill
The eastern slope of Cemetery Hill. Union infantry was posted in the narrow lane at its base.
Gettysburg NMP
Despite the hill's apparent invincibility, a Confederate attack briefly shattered the Union defenses here on July 2. Soon after dusk, the Confederate brigades of General Harry Hays and Colonel Isaac Avery began their charge from a stream bed on the Henry Culp Farm, crossing over a half-mile of rolling farmland, blocked out by low stone walls or high rail fences, each an obstacle to the advancing southerners. Many of these stone walls still exist today, leading up to the eastern base of the hill that was bordered by a stone wall and narrow road filled with Union troops who were still shaken from their disastrous experience of the day before. In the darkness, the men could hear the tramping of hundreds of feet in the tall grass, the rattle of fence rails as they were pushed down, and the muffled commands of the southern officers. Despite heavy cannon fire directed against them, the Confederates reached the base of the hill and struck this first line of defense. Wicked looking forms suddenly rose up in front of the Union soldiers, followed by the howling "Rebel Yell". Muzzle flashes lit up the faces of combatants as hundreds of men suddenly found themselves face to face with the enemy. Confederates leapt over the wall among the Union troops, shooting and clubbing around battle flags almost indistinguishable as to friend or foe in the darkness and thick smoke.

East Cemetery Hill
The "Louisiana Tigers" broke the Union line at this point then charged up this slope to attack the Union artillery in the center background.
Gettysburg NMP
Union officers attempted to gain control of their troops to no avail; many paid little heed to their commands and fled in near panic, running up the hill with members of the 6th, 7th, and 9th Louisiana Regiments, nicknamed "Louisiana Tigers", in hot pursuit. At the summit, the Confederates rushed into the Union battery positions where artillerymen fought back with everything at their disposal- rammers, pistols, rocks and fists. The fighting was hand to hand over the precious guns. Major Samuel Tate of the 6th North Carolina wrote afterward that, "75 North Carolinians of the Sixth Regiment and 12 Louisianians of Hays' brigade scaled the walls and planted the colors of the Sixth North Carolina and Ninth Louisiana on the guns. It was now fully dark. The enemy stood with tenacity never before displayed by them, but with bayonet, clubbed musket, sword, pistol, and rocks from the wall, we cleared the heights and silenced the guns." Tate realized that his men were too far extended and could not hold the hill without help, but there were none to be sent. Tate's command was on its own and time was quickly running out for Union reserves were just then approaching East Cemetery Hill.

The fight for Wiedrich's guns
The fight over Wiedrich's Battery on Cemetery Hill.
Battles & Leaders
From his location on Cemetery Ridge, General Hancock heard the roar of battle and immediately ordered Colonel Samuel S. Carroll's brigade of Ohio, Indiana and West Virginia regiments from his own Second Corps, to rush to the hill. Carroll moved into the cemetery and formed a battle line among the gravestones, while confusion reigned ahead. "We found the enemy up to and some of them among the... batteries on the road," Carroll reported. "It being perfectly dark, and with no guide, I had to find the enemy's line entirely by their fire. For the first few minutes they had a cross fire upon us from a stone wall... but, by changing the front of the Seventh West Virginia, they were soon driven back from there." Carroll was forced to move his command regiment by regiment into the fray. Colonel John Coons, at the head of the 14th Indiana, could discern a mass of Confederates on the crest of the hill overtaking a cannon. "I immediately formed my regiment into line and advanced upon them with fixed bayonets, driving them from the gun they had taken down the hill over a stone fence in front of the battery. At this point we gave them two or three volleys, when they fell back. My regiment captured 1 stand of colors, 1 lieutenant-colonel, 1 major, 2 lieutenants, and 14 privates." Troops from other sections of Cemetery Hill joined in the Union counterattack, which threw back the briefly victorious southerners. By midnight, Cemetery Hill was considered secure.

Colonel Isaac Avery, 6th NC
Col. Isaac Avery
NC Regiments
Losses for both sides were severe and among the seriously wounded was Colonel Avery. The handsome North Carolinian was struck through the neck by a musket ball "in front of the heights" of Cemetery Hill, where he was discovered after the charge by several of his soldiers and the 6th North Carolina's Major Tate. Tate knew the wound was mortal and provided everything he could to make Avery's last hours comfortable as he lay dying in a field hospital. Unable to speak, Avery scribbled a simple note for Tate: "Tell my father I died with my face to the enemy." Colonel Avery died the following day. Command of the brigade was passed to Colonel A. C. Godwin who in his report, eulogized his fellow officer: "In his death the country lost one of her truest and bravest sons, and the army on of its most gallant and efficient officers."

Both flanks of the Union army had been attacked and both held. General Meade discussed the day's events during a council of war with his corps commanders that evening, and asked his generals for their opinions. All agreed that the Cemetery Ridge position was very strong and to attack may prove folly. Without hesitation, Meade ordered his army to stay and fight through the next day, retake the ground lost at Culp's Hill and wait for Lee's next move.

At his headquarters on Seminary Ridge, General Lee briefly conferred with his officers, among them his missing cavalry chief, JEB Stuart who had arrived at headquarters that afternoon. Like Meade, Lee decided his army would not quit the battlefield despite the setbacks he had suffered that afternoon. As he planned for another day of battle, he chose to continue with his basic plan of attack and to strike Meade's defenses again, closer to what now might be his weakest area- the center of the Union line.

The Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association

The GBMA Tower on Cemetery Hill
GBMA tower on Cemetery Hill.
Gettysburg NMP
A few months after the close of the battle, a group of Gettysburg citizens intent on preserving the symbols of the Union sacrifice at Gettysburg organized the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association. The group immediately set about raising funds to purchase key landmarks of the battlefield, especially those areas where Union positions were still marked by earthworks and stone barricades. Some of these battle structures had been quickly removed by farmers attempting to recover their land, yet many of the earthen barricades remained. The eastern half of Cemetery Hill was one of the first prime areas purchased by the citizens group soon after the battle. Despite a lack of immediate funds, the association landscaped this portion of Cemetery Hill, rebuilt the stone fences, planted grass, and preserved the artillery lunettes. After the war, the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association placed surplus cannon on stone pedestals in the artillery positions and sponsored the construction of a wooden observation tower.

One of the board members was John B. Bachelder, the first official historian of the Gettysburg battle. Bachelder was influential in spreading news about the association's efforts among veterans groups, including the Society of the Army of the Potomac and the Grand Army of the Republic (or "GAR"), the national organization of Union veterans. The Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association sponsored veteran gatherings and special events at the park to help garner interest and collect donations. The Pennsylvania chapter of the GAR camped on the battlefield park in 1877 and the veterans were delighted at what they found. It was through the influence of the chapter's leadership that other state veteran organizations recommended Gettysburg as a mutual meeting ground, building to the first anniversary reunion and encampment at the park in 1888 on the occasion of the 25th Anniversary of the battle.

The Battlefield Association purchased additional battlefield properties as funds became available. More and more veterans began to visit the battlefield and an intense interest in improving the park arose. Not only did northerners visit the park, but many southern veterans as well came to Gettysburg and walked the fields, often accompanied by association guides.

GAR Encampment at Gettysburg
GAR Encampment on East Cemetery Hill in 1878.
Gettysburg NMP
By 1893, the association had gone about as far as it could with its limited funds and agreements. A number of congressmen, most of them Civil War veterans, were highly interested in the battlefield and its preservation. Though groundwork had been set for establishment of the first "National Military Park" at Chickamauga-Chattanooga in 1890, similar bills to Federally secure Gettysburg had failed to get out of congressional committees. Then, in 1893, the battlefield was threatened by the construction of an electric railway through portions of the park considered to be very significant. This threat pushed congress into action. In December 1894, a bill was introduced in the United States Congress to officially establish Gettysburg National Military Park, and it was signed into law the following February. Soon after, the GBMA lands were turned over to the Federal government to be administered by a specially appointed commission of the United States War Department. In 1933, jurisdiction of these Federal lands was turned over the the National Park Service.

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Gettysburg National Military Park
97 Taneytown Road
Gettysburg, PA 17325