Saturday, June 29, 2013

Countdown to Gettysburg: June 30th 1863 -- Tillie Pierce Witnesses General Buford's Cavalry Arrive in Gettysburg

  Tillie Pierce witnessed the arrival of the first Union soldiers at Gettysburg on Tuesday, June 30:

  A great number of Union cavalry began to arrive in the town. They passed northwardly along Washington Street, turned toward the west on reaching Chambersburg Street, and passed out in the direction of the Theological Seminary. It was to me a novel and grand sight. I had never seen so many soldiers at one time. They were Union soldiers and that was enough for me, for I then knew we had protection, and I felt they were our dearest friends. I afterwards learned that these men were Buford’s cavalry, numbering about six thousand men.

Tillie Pierce, age 15 in 1863

  A crowd of “us girls” were standing on the corner of Washington and High Streets as these soldiers passed by. Desiring to encourage them, who, as we were told, would before long be in battle, my sister started to sing the old war song “Our Union Forever.” As some of us did not know the whole of the piece we kept repeating the chorus.

  A little less than Tillie’s estimate, Buford had just under 3,000 men in his command and a battery of six cannon. Daniel Skelly also watched on Chambersburg Street as thousands of cavalry rode through town and thought, “Surely now we were safe and the Confederate army would never reach Gettysburg . . . General Buford sat on his horse in the street in front of me, entirely alone, facing to the west in profound thought . . . It was the only time I ever saw the general and his calm demeanor and soldierly appearance . . . made a deep impression on me.”

Daniel Skelly, age 18 in 1863

  General Buford was a West Point graduate and a veteran of the early fighting against the Sioux Indians in Texas. In 1862, Buford had fought at Second Bull Run and Antietam. At Brandy Station he commanded a division of cavalry against Stuart’s troopers. His experience was about to prove invaluable over the next three days. As he moved his troopers into the open fields north of Gettysburg they encountered Confederate soldiers in Brigadier General James Pettigrew’s brigade sent to Gettysburg for supplies. Under strict orders not to bring on a fight, the rebels fell back to Cashtown and reported their discovery of Union cavalry occupying Gettysburg.

Brigadier General John Buford

  Buford sent scouts in all directions to locate and identify what enemy units were in front of him. He knew what was at stake. A half mile behind them, just outside the town, was a low ridgeline called Cemetery Hill. At each end of that ridge were larger hills: Culp’s Hill to the north and two hills at the southern end named Little and Big Round Top. It was well known that in any battle, whoever controlled the high ground possessed a great advantage over an attacking force. Buford knew he had
to delay Lee’s army long enough for the Union infantry to reinforce him and protect those heights, so he deployed his men in a series of two defensive lines centered along a wooded hill north of Gettysburg named McPherson’s Ridge.
  At 10:30 pm he sent a message to Major General John F. Reynolds, who commanded three of the infantry corps that were approaching Gettysburg from the east. He reported that Hill’s entire corps was at Cashtown, nine miles away to the west. Enemy pickets were in sight of his own along the Chambersburg Pike. Longstreet’s corps was behind Hill’s, perhaps by a day’s march. A captured enemy courier told him that Ewell’s corps was advancing toward Gettysburg from Carlisle from the north.

Major General John Fulton Reynolds

  Buford knew that by morning he would face an entire rebel corps of 25,000 men. By all accounts, Buford saw that Lee was concentrating his whole army at Gettysburg. If Ewell’s corps made it to the town by the next day, two thirds of Lee’s army—50,000 soldiers—would advance against whatever Union forces could reach Gettysburg in time. When one of his brigade commanders spoke confidently of whipping any rebels the next day, Buford said, “No, you won’t. 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 supports arrive.”

(to be continued...) 
Read more about the Tillie Pierce and the Gettysburg campaign my new book for teens just published by Sky Pony Press, Gettysburg: The True Account of Two Young Heroes in the Greatest Battle of the Civil War, available at Amazon and

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