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Cemetery Hill: Wikis


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Jubal Early's attack on East Cemetery Hill, July 2, 1863 (engraving from The Century Magazine).

Cemetery Hill is a key terrain feature in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the northernmost extent of Cemetery Ridge. It played prominent roles in all three days of the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1–3, 1863.


During the battle, Cemetery Hill was a critical part of the Union army defensive line, the curved portion of what is described as the "fish-hook" line. There were three important characteristics to the hill. First, its gentle slope made it excellent defensive ground against the infantry tactics of the era. Second, it was an outstanding artillery platform with good fields of fire (unlike the neighboring Culp's Hill, which was heavily wooded), dominating wide swaths of the town and other parts of the battlefield. Third, and most importantly, it was a concentration point for three major roads that led south: Emmitsburg Road, Taneytown Road, and the Baltimore Pike. These roads were critical for keeping the Union army supplied and for blocking any Confederate advance on Baltimore or Washington, D.C.[1]

Before the battle, Cemetery Hill (originally named Raffensperger's Hill, after farmer Peter Raffensperger, who owned over 6 acres (24,000 m2) on the eastern slope[2]) was the site of Evergreen Cemetery, a civilian burial ground established in 1854.[3] It was joined afterwards by the adjacent Gettysburg National Cemetery, which was dedicated by Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

Physical description

Cemetery Hill, with a statue of General Howard at the top.

Cemetery Hill overlooks the main downtown area of Gettysburg from the south, at 503 feet (153 m) above sea level, 80 feet (24 m) above the town center, about 100 feet (30 m) above Winebrenner's Run at its base. Its crest extends in a southwest-northeast direction for about 700 yards (640 m). A shallow saddle on the crest about 150 yards (140 m) from its northeast slope is the point where the Baltimore Pike crosses the hill and separates East Cemetery Hill from the remainder. The slopes to the north and west rise gradually; on East Cemetery Hill, the rise is steeper.[4]

Battle of Gettysburg


First day

In the week before the Battle of Gettysburg, Cemetery Hill had been occupied by Confederate cavalry under Lt. Col. Elijah V. White on June 26 and June 27, who captured several horses hidden by local citizens. Upon their departure to York County, Pennsylvania, the hill remained essentially free of military forces until the arrival of the Army of the Potomac.

On July 1, Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard left infantry and artillery to hold the hill in case the army needed to fall back from its positions north and west of Gettysburg. Cemetery Hill became the rallying point for retreating Union troops of the I Corps and XI Corps who were overwhelmed by Confederate assaults. One of the great controversies of the battle was the failure of Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell, and his subordinate, Brig. Gen. William "Extra Billy" Smith, to attack and capture Cemetery Hill.[5] Smith thought Union troops were approaching from the east, which caused Early to delay his attack on the hill to defend against the supposed threat. There proved to be no significant Union troop movements from the east, and Smith was the only brigadier general not commended by Early after the battle.[6]

Second day

Early's attack on East Cemetery Hill

On July 2, Confederate General Robert E. Lee ordered attacks on both ends of the Union line. Lt. Gen. James Longstreet attacked with his First Corps on the Union left (Little Round Top, Devil's Den, Wheatfield). Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell and the Second Corps were assigned the mission of launching a simultaneous demonstration against the Union right, a minor attack that was intended to distract and pin down the Union defenders against Longstreet. Ewell was to exploit any success his demonstration might achieve by following up with a full-scale attack at his discretion.[7]

Ewell began his demonstration at 4 p.m. upon hearing the sound of Longstreet's guns to the south. For three hours, he chose to limit his demonstration to an artillery barrage from Benner's Hill, about a mile (1,600 m) to the northeast. Although the Union defenders on Cemetery Hill received some damage from this fire, they returned counterbattery fire with a vengeance. Cemetery Hill is over 50 feet (15 m) taller than Benner's Hill, and the geometry of artillery science meant that the Union gunners had a decided advantage. Ewell's four batteries were forced to withdraw with heavy losses, and his best artillerist, 19-year-old Joseph W. Latimer, the "Boy Major", was killed.[8]

Around 7 p.m., as the Confederate assaults on the Union left and center were petering out, Ewell chose to begin his main infantry assault. He sent three brigades from the division of Maj. Gen. Edward "Allegheny" Johnson across Rock Creek and up the eastern slope of Culp's Hill against a line of breastworks manned by the XII Corps brigade of Brig. Gen. George S. Greene. Greene's men held off the Confederate attack for hours, at bloody cost to both sides.[9]

Not long after the assault on Culp's Hill began, as dusk fell around 7:30 p.m., Ewell sent two brigades from the division of Jubal A. Early against East Cemetery Hill from the east, and he alerted the division of Maj. Gen. Robert E. Rodes to prepare a follow-up assault against Cemetery Hill proper from the northwest. The two brigades from Early's division were commanded by Brig. Gen. Harry T. Hays: his own Louisiana Tigers Brigade and Hoke's Brigade, the latter commanded by Colonel Isaac E. Avery. They stepped off from a line parallel to Winebrenner's Run, a narrow tributary of Rock Creek to the southeast of town. Hays commanded five Louisiana regiments, which together numbered only about 1,200 officers and men. Avery had three North Carolina regiments totaling 900. The brigade of Brig. Gen. John B. Gordon was in support behind Hays and Avery but did not participate in the fighting.[10]

Winebrenner's Lane

Defending East Cemetery Hill were the two brigades (Cols. Andrew L. Harris and Leopold von Gilsa) of Barlow's division (now commanded by Brig. Gen. Adelbert Ames) of the XI Corps. Both had seen heavy action on July 1 and they consisted of, respectively, 650 and 500 officers and men. Harris's men were stationed at a low stone wall on the northern end of the hill and wrapped around onto Brickyard Lane at the base of the hill. (Brickyard Lane was also known at the time as Winebrenner's Lane and today is named Wainwright Avenue.) Von Gilsa's brigade was scattered along the lane as well as on the hill. Two regiments, the 41st New York and the 33rd Massachusetts, were stationed in Culp's Meadow beyond Brickyard Lane in expectation of an attack by Johnson's division. More westerly on the hill were the divisions of Maj. Gens. Adolph von Steinwehr and Carl Schurz. Colonel Charles S. Wainwright, nominally of the I Corps, commanded the artillery batteries on the hill and on Steven's Knoll. The relatively steep slope of East Cemetery Hill made artillery fire difficult to direct against infantry because the gun barrels could not be depressed sufficiently, but they did their best with canister and double canister fire.[11]

The Confederate attack began with a Rebel yell against the Ohio regiments at the stone wall. Just beforehand, Ames had sent the 17th Connecticut from its place on the left of the line to a position in the center. This left a gap, which Hays's Louisianans exploited, and they bounded over the stone wall. Other troops exploited other weak spots in the line, and soon some of the Confederates had reached the batteries at the top of the hill, while others fought in the darkness with the four remaining Union regiments on the line behind the stone wall. On the crest of the hill, the gunners of Captain Michael Wiedrich's New York battery and Captain R. Bruce Ricketts's Pennsylvania battery engaged in hand-to-hand combat against the invaders. Major Samuel Tate of the 6th North Carolina wrote afterward:[12]

75 North Carolinians of the Sixth Regiment and 12 Louisianians of Hays's 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.

Major Samuel Tate, Official report

Menchey's Spring, where a number of soldiers from the 54th New York were shot by a Confederate marksman.[13]

Generals Howard and Schurz heard the commotion and rushed the 58th and 119th New York of Col. Włodzimierz Krzyżanowski's brigade from West Cemetery Hill to the aid of Wiedrich's battery. Howard's lines were getting thin, so he sent for help to Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock of the II Corps. Hancock ordered one of his brigades under Col. Samuel S. Carroll to rush from Cemetery Ridge and assist the defenders. They arrived at the double-quick, charging through the dark from the cemetery, just as the Confederate attack was starting to ebb. Carroll's men secured Ricketts's battery and swept the North Carolinians down the hill. Over at Wiedrich's battery, Krzyżanowski led his men to sweep the Louisiana attackers down the hill until they reached the base and "flopped down" for Wiedrich's guns to fire canister at the retreating Confederates.[14]

Defending East Cemetery Hill would have been much more difficult had the overall attack been better coordinated. To the northwest, Maj. Gen. Robert Rodes's division was not ready to attack until Early's fight was almost over. It had filed west from the town and into the fields along Long Lane, where it stopped after advancing a short distance in the darkness. Brig. Gen. Dodson Ramseur, the leading brigade commander, saw the futility of a night assault against two lines of Union troops behind stone walls, backed up by significant artillery.[15]

Losses on both sides were severe; among the casualties was Col. Avery, who was struck in the neck by a musket ball, felling him from his horse, where he was discovered after the charge by several of his soldiers and Major Tate of the 6th North Carolina. Unable to speak from his mortal wound, Avery scribbled a simple note for Tate: "Major, tell my father I died with my face to the enemy. I. E. Avery." He died the following day.[16]

Third day

On July 3, there was no explicit attack on Cemetery Hill; the primary Confederate attacks were on Culp's Hill and on the lower portion of Cemetery Ridge. Union artillery maintained defensive fire against Pickett's Charge from the hill, and trading primarily on antipersonnel fire.[17] However, some historians maintain that Robert E. Lee's ultimate objective for the assaults by Longstreet on July 2 and July 3 (Pickett's Charge) was to take Cemetery Hill by rolling the Union left flank up Cemetery Ridge.[18]


Cemetery Hill, late 1863

Following the Confederate withdrawal to Virginia, Cemetery Hill was occupied for several weeks by state militiamen, who established a tented camp site on the eastern crest. Their role was to maintain a military presence, secure the battlefield as best as possible from looters and curiosity seekers, collect remaining military accoutrements such as weapons left lying on the field, and provide manpower and services for the overworked hospitals.

Elizabeth Thorn, the wife of the keeper of Evergreen Cemetery, had the responsibility to bury over 100 soldiers collected in the Cemetery Hill region (her husband was away in military service). Despite being six months pregnant, she and her aged parents, assisted at times by a couple hired hands, dug 105 graves in the July heat.[19]

In the months immediately following the battle, Gettysburg attorney (and part-time Union intelligence agent) David McConaughy led efforts to purchase portions of Cemetery Hill for a Federal cemetery, where most of the dead Union soldiers (excepting those buried by Mrs. Thorn in the civilian graveyard) could be reinterred. In November 1863, President Abraham Lincoln spoke at the dedication ceremony for the new National Cemetery, delivering "a few brief remarks" that became known as the Gettysburg Address.[20]


Today, Cemetery Hill still has two distinct cemeteries, with the borough of Gettysburg maintaining Evergreen Cemetery, which remains the town's main burial ground. The adjacent National Cemetery has greatly expanded to include soldiers from other wars, although the original semi-circular Civil War burial ground remains the centerpiece. The National Park Service's Visitors Center and Gettysburg Cyclorama buildings, previously on Cemetery Hill and Ridge along the Taneytown Road, have since been relocated to a new site along the Baltimore Pike. The old buildings are destined for demolition and the area will be restored to its 1863 conditions. The once open areas on the northern and western slopes of the hill are now largely occupied by tourist-related businesses (hotels, restaurants, gift shops, battlefield tour agencies, private museums, etc.). The military importance of the heights is not as evident today since the once commanding view has been blocked by this sprawl.

Imposing equestrian statues of Major Generals Oliver O. Howard and Winfield S. Hancock dominate the crest of East Cemetery Hill.



  1. ^ Harman, pp. 9-10.
  2. ^ Frassanito, p. 144.
  3. ^ Pfanz, Culp's Hill, p. 25.
  4. ^ Pfanz, Culp's Hill, p. 412.
  5. ^ Sears, pp. 227-34.
  6. ^ Tagg, p. 266.
  7. ^ Pfanz, Battle of Gettysburg, p. 21.
  8. ^ Pfanz, Culp's Hill, pp. 169-89.
  9. ^ Pfanz, Battle of Gettysburg, pp. 37-40.
  10. ^ Pfanz, Culp's Hill, pp. 169-89. Eicher, p. 538.
  11. ^ Pfanz, Culp's Hill, pp. 238, 240-48.
  12. ^ Pfanz, Culp's Hill, pp. 169-89. National Park Service description
  13. ^ Pfanz, Culp's Hill, p. 249.
  14. ^ Pfanz, Culp's Hill, pp. 263-75.
  15. ^ Pfanz, Culp's Hill, pp. 276-82. Sears, p. 341.
  16. ^ Eicher, p. 538.
  17. ^ Pfanz, Culp's Hill, p. 363.
  18. ^ Harman, pp. 63-67.
  19. ^ Pfanz, Culp's Hill, pp. 372-73. Pfanz cites her name as Catherine Thorn.
  20. ^ Pfanz, Culp's Hill, pp. 372-74.

External links

Coordinates: 39°49′17″N 77°13′46″W / 39.821389°N 77.229444°W / 39.821389; -77.229444


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