East Cavalry Field Gettysburg
East Cavalry Field
July 3, 1863
Brig. Gen. David McMurtrie Gregg and the Second Cavalry Division reached the intersection of Low Dutch Road and Hanover Road, about 3 miles south of Gettysburg, shortly after noon on the afternoon of July 2, 1863.
The First Brigade was commanded by Col. John B. McIntosh, and consisted of the 3rd Pennsylvania Cavalry Regiment; the 1st New Jersey Cavalry Regiment; the 1st Maryland Cavalry Regiment; and Capt. A.M. Randol's Horse Battery 'E' & 'G' of the 1st US Artillery. The Brigade had lost the services of the 1st Pennsylvania Cavalry Regiment, who were detached to guarding the Cavalry Corps wagons and serving as guards for Gen. Meade's Headquarters; and the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry Regiment who were detached to the Reserve Artillery Corps. Company H of the 3rd PA Artillery , under Capt. William Rank and the Purnell Troop of Maryland Cavalry were also attached to the Brigade.
The Third Brigade was commanded by Col. J. Irvin Gregg and consisted of the 16th Pennsylvania Cavalry Regiment; the 4th Pennsylvania Cavalry Regiment; and the 10th New York Cavalry Regiment.
The Second Brigade was commanded by Col. Pennock Huey and consisted of the 2nd New York Cavalry Regiment; the 4th New York Cavalry Regiment; the 6th Ohio Cavalry Regiment; and the 8th Pennsylvania Cavalry Regiment. This brigade was guarding the rear of the Army of the Potomac including its wagon trains in Westminster, Md.
Near the intersection of the Hanover Road and Low Dutch Road, Gen. Gregg's troopers contacted two regiments of the 11th Corps, Army of the Potomac who were deployed as skirmishers along Brinkerhoff's Ridge. Shortly before 3p.m. the skirmishers started firing and Gen. Gregg ordered Maj. Avery of the 10th New York to send 2 squadrons of the regiment to relieve the skirmish line. At the same time Capt. Rank unlimbered his section of guns on the Hanover Road facing the ridge line.
The Confederate skirmishers started advancing toward the crest of the ridge. Soon Col. Gregg ordered 2 squadrons of the 3rd PA Cavalry under Captains Hess and Miller to deploy to assist the 10th New York troopers. By 4 p.m. an active engagement was in progress, and by 6 p.m. there was a battle for control of the stone wall on top of Brinkerhoff's Ridge. The cavalrymen were successful and repelled several charges from the 2nd Virginia Infantry. The determined resistance by Gen. Gregg's troopers caused the "Stonewall Brigade" to be withheld from the assault on Culp's Hill, weakening the force of that attack. By 10 p.m. the division proceeded to the Baltimore Pike, with a squadron of the 1st New Jersey remaining at the site of the skirmish. Food and forage were given to the members of the division and they received a well earned evening's rest.
On July 3rd @ 6 a.m. Gen. Gregg received instructions from a member of Gen. Pleasonton's staff to move his men to a point halfway between White Run and Cemetery Hill. Gen. Gregg knew that this would leave little or no cavalry to protect the right flank of the Army and requested the aide to pass this on to Gen. Pleasonton. Gen. Gregg wrote later: "I was familiar with the character of the country east of Brinkerhoff's Ridge, that it was open and that there were two roads leading from the Hanover Road to the Baltimore Pike; that if these were not covered by a sufficient force of cavalry it would be to invite an attack upon our rear with possible diastrous results."
A reply from Gen. Pleasonton reaffirmed his previous order, but gave Gen. Gregg the discretion to send a brigade of the 3rd Division to the Hanover Road position. Gen. Gregg immediately sent an aide to Two Taverns where the 3rd division camped for the night. Gen. Kilpatrick and Farnsworth's Brigade had already moved to the left flank and "The Michigan Brigade" was also starting to move to the left flank. This brigade was commanded by newly promoted Brig. Gen. George A. Custer and comprised of the 1st, 5th, 6th and 7th Michigan Cavalry Regiments. It was a splendid body of men; its ranks were filled better than those of the other brigades, having only recently been assigned to the Army of the Potomac's Cavalry Corps.
In Gen. Custer's own words: "Upon arriving at the point designated, I immediately placed my command in a position facing towrd Gettysburg. At the same time I caused reconnaissances to be made on my front, right, and rear, but failed to discover any considerable force of the enemy . . . The 5th Michigan was dismounted and ordered to take position in front of my center and left . . . I ordered 50 men of the 6th Michigan to be sent out the Low Dutch Road.
Approximately 10:30 a.m. Gen. Gregg told Col. McIntosh to move his brigade to the Hanover Road near yesterday's position of the division. Shortly before noon Gen. Gregg received a message from Army headquarters that Gen. Howard's men on Cemetery Hill had reported a large body of Confederate cavalry moving east out the York Road. Gen. Pleasonton told Gen. Gregg to relieve the Michigan Brigade at its location. Just before 1 p.m. Col. McIntosh conferred with Gen. Custer on his position and started to have his men replace Gen. Custer's pickets. The 1st New Jersey was ordered to take the position of the 5th Michigan and the 1st Maryland was sent to the area northwest of the Lott house.
A few minutes after these events started, the tremendous artillery firing started on Seminary Ridge preceeding "Pickett's Charge" and was heard by all the Union troopers. Shortly after the Michigan Brigade began to move to the left flank, the units started to receive fire from Confederate artillery on Cress Ridge. Gen.Gregg arrived to take to take command and at this time ordered Gen. Custer to remain in position. Custer reported to Gen. Gregg that Major Weber of the 6th Michigan had just reported to him that "the enemy are all around and preparing to push things." Gen. Gregg had approximately 4,500 men in place from Wolf's Hill to the area around Low Dutch Road.
Shortly before noon Confederate Cavalry leader Gen. JEB Stuart, along with the brigades of Chambliss and Jenkins' Brigade under Col. Ferguson, headed out the York Pike for 2 1/2 miles and then turned south on a country road. He had also sent for Hampton's Brigade and Fitz Lee's brigade to follow on his intended march to the right flank of the Union Army. This position controlled a wide area of fields to the east toward Hanover and to the south to the rear of the Union Army. The road which they traveled was bordered by heavy woods on both sides until it reached Cress Ridge. In Stuart's own words, "I hoped to effect a surprise upon the enemy's rear." Gen. Stuart ordered Ferguson's and Chambliss' men to file off the road to the south staying in the woods and out of sight of the enemy. Because of the rolling nature of the area and due to the fact that they had not seen any Union forces, Gen. Stuart had one of his artillery guns fire a number of shots in the direction he suspected they were located.
At that same time Col. McIntosh was in the process of relieving Gen. Custer the shots fell into their area. Since Lt. Pennington still had his guns in place, Gen. Custer had him fire in the direction of Cress Ridge and his fire silenced the Confederate gun. Gen. Stuart could now see Col. McIntosh's men moving into position along Low Dutch Road. At about the same time, Hampton's Brigade and Fitz Lee's brigade arrived and were positioned in the fields near the Stallsmith farm. Then Stuart directed a battalion of Jenkins' Brigade to advance and occupy the Rummel barn. It was now near 2 p.m.
Col. McIntosh, seeing the Confederates moving forward toward the barn, ordered the 1st New Jersey to dismount and move to occupy a fence row near Little's Run. Some of the Confederates of Jenkins' Brigade also advanced to a fence located near the Rummel barn and now a lively fire began across the open ground between these fences. McIntosh then dismounted two squadrons of the 3rd PA Cavalry under Captains Treichel and Rodgers and sent them to the left of the New Jersey men. Troopers from the Purnell Troop were sent to the left of the 3rd PA men.
Gen. Stuart sent men from Chambliss & Jenkins' brigades to extend the line of the other skirmishers south toward the Hanover Road. Then Gen. Custer directed a portion of the 6th Michigan to extend the Union line. As the firing increased the 1st New Jersey and the 3rd PA units sent out word that they were running low on ammunition. Gen. Custer sent the 5th Michigan, armed with Spencer carbines, to relieve them. The Confederates saw the troops withdrawing and advanced until they encountered the 5th Michigan. At about the same time men of Jenkins' Brigade ran out of ammunition and were forced to withdraw. Sensing the lack of fire from the enemy, the 5th Michigan began moving forward to cutoff or capture the Confederates. Gen. Stuart then ordered the Fitz Lee's 1st Virginia "Invincibles" to charge the Union troops.
Gen. Custer saw what was happening and ordered the 7th Michigan to advance to meet the 1st Virginia. As the 1st Virginia advanced they were hit by a volley from troopers of the 3rd PA Cavalry squadrons of Captains Miller and Hess, who were in the woods north of the Lott farm. Within minutes the 1st Virginia and the 7th Michigan were fighting it out with pistols and carbines at a stone and rail fence. Gen. Hampton ordered the 1st North Carolina and the Jeff Davis Legion to aid the 1st Virginia. This caused the 7th Michigan to withdraw and they were followed by the Confederate force until the flank fire of the Union troopers and the Union artillery forced them to withdraw. Gen. Stuart concluded that three of his regiments had almost made it to the Hanover Road, and his plan could still succeed if the charge was made by a stronger force. All of Hampton's Brigade and Fitz Lee's brigades, a total of eight regiments, were told to form for a charge.The time was now 3 p.m.
As the Confederates emerged from the woods on Cress Ridge, their movement was described by Captain William Miller of the 3rd PA Cavalry: "A grander spectacle than their advance has rarely been beheld. They marched with well aligned fronts and steady reins. Their polished saber blades dazzled in the sun. All eyes turned upon them. Shell and shrapnel met the advancing Confederates and tore through their ranks. Closing the gaps as though nothing had happened, on they came. As they drew nearer, canister was substituted by our artillerymen for shell, and horse after horse staggered and fell. Still they came on."
Lt. William Brooke-Rawle of the 3rd PA Cavalry also described it: "Everyone saw at once that unless this, the grandest attack of all, were checked, the fate of the day would be decided against the Army of the Potomac. They were Stuart's last reserves, and his last resource. If the Baltimore Pike was to be reached, and havoc created in our rear, the important moment had arrived. Lt. Chester, whose guns were nearest, opened fire at once with a range of 3/4 mile. Kinney and Pennington soon did the same, and canister and shell poured into the steadily approaching columns as fast as they could fire. Then Gen. Gregg rode over to the 1st Michigan Regiment, which was formed in close column of squadrons, and gave them the word to charge."
As Col. Town ordered sabres to be drawn and the column to advance, Gen. Custer rode up and placed himself at its head. As the charge picked up speed, some of the men in the front rows hesitated, and Custer waved his Toledo Blade sabre and shouted his ledgendary words: "COME ON YOU WOLVERINES" and stirred them forward.
Captain Miller described the action: "It was like the falling of timber, so sudden and violent that many of the horses were turned end over end and crushed their riders beneath them. The clashing of sabers, the firing of pistols, the demands for surrender and the cries of the combatants now filled the air."
Col. McIntosh sent an aide, Capt. Newhall, to the left flank where the squadrons of Capt. Treichel and Rogers were in position. Capt. Newhall ordered as many men as could reach their mounts to follow him in a charge into the right side of the Confederates. Of the 5 officers and 16 men who made this charge, all were wounded in the battle. Col. McIntosh and his staff also charged into the left front of the Confederate column.
Capt. Miller was still in position in the woods north of the Lott farm and turned to Lt. Brooke-Rawle and said, "I have been ordered to hold this position, but I will order a charge." Miller ordered his company to fire a volley into the Confederates and then draw their sabers, he led them in a charge which pierced the column, cutting off one-third of it and driving them back to Cress Ridge. Miller had his saber broke in the battle and was shot in the left arm.
Captain James Hart of the 1st New Jersey, posted along the Low Dutch Road, also charged into the Rebels. It was one of his troopers that engaged Gen. Hampton in a saber duel, which resulted in a serious wound to the General's head, causing him to leave the field.
With the column attacked from the front and both flanks, it lost its momentum and the Confederates withdrew to Cress Ridge. The two sides maintained small arms fire and artillery fire into the night. Gen. Gregg finally released Gen. Custer and the Michigan Brigade to move to the left flank.
Gen. Gregg stated: "Gen. Stuart had in view the accomplishment of certain purposes, his plans were disarranged by being compelled to enter into a fierce encounter with a smaller force of Union troops. His was to do, ours was to prevent. Could he have reached the rear of our Army with his force of perhaps six thousand bold and tried troopers, disastrous consequences might have resulted." Gen. David McM. Gregg, who certainly can be considered the hero of the battle, was modest and did not seek attention for the accomplishments achieved along the Hanover Road.
Captain J.H. Kidd of Co. 'E' of the 6th Michigan in his book 'A Cavalryman with Custer' said this: "It is Gen. David McM. Gregg to whom the credit was due. Gregg was a great and modest soldier and it will be proper to pay him the merited tribute of our admiration. In the light of all the official reports, put together link by link, so as to make one connected chain of evidence, we can see that engagement which we fought on the right at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863, was from first to last, a well planned battle in which the different commands were maneuvered with the same sagacity displayed by a skillful chess player in moving pawns on a chess board; in which every detail was the fruit of the brain of one man who, from the time when he turned Custer northward, until he sent the First Michigan thundering against the brigades of Hampton and Fitzhugh Lee, made not a single false move; who was distinguished not less for his intuitive foresight than for his quick perceptions at critical moments. That man was GEN. DAVID McMURTRIE GREGG. If at Gettysburg, the Michigan Brigade won honors that will not perish, it was to Gregg that it owed the opportunity, and his guiding hand it was that made its blows effective."
For those who say Gen. Stuart's attack was too late to have helped "Pickett's Charge" it must be stated that Gen. Gregg's forces was the cause of Gen. Stuart not being in the rear of the Union Army when he planned to arrive there. The skirmishers of the 1st New Jersey Cavalry, the 3rd Pennsylvania Cavalry, and the 5th and 6th Michigan; and the charges of the 7th Michigan and 1st Michigan were the reason that Gen. Stuart was delayed.
Coincidentally, the beginning of "Pickett's Charge" and the charge of Hampton's and Fitz Lee's men were only minutes apart at 3:30 p.m., what is known as the "HIGH WATER MARK OF THE CONFEDERACY."
The East Cavalry Field, located a little more than three miles east of Gettysburg along Hanover Road, has a unique quality all its own. Here the sights and sounds of the area are almost exactly as they were on July 3, 1863. Each visitor can respond in their own way to the East Cavalry Field, where the fields have remained a testimony to the courage and determination of the men who engaged each other at this place of history. The monuments, markers, artillery pieces, Cress Ridge and the Rummel farm are all present, practically undisturbed, as a constant reminder that these fields of honor were hallowed by those Americans who fought there during the Civil War.
(NOTE: The Heavy Black Lines show the present day NPS roads)
Map of the East Cavalry Field, Gettysburg
July 3, 1863
The Gregg Cavalry Monument at East Cavalry Field