The bright moon cast its soft light over the frightful scene of battle as the ground fog and powder smoke, from the day’s intense fighting, cast ghostly shadows over the surreal landscape. The pungent oder of sulfur and death was every where. Dead horses littered the field and wounded animals wandered aimlessly among the dead and dying who only a few hours before were America’s finest. The pitiful creatures, in their agony , were the only visible movement in the horrific scene.
The Day’s action had involved three hours of the most desperate fighting ever seen in North America. Two CSA divisions of infantry of 13,000 men with 62 guns had driven off 40,000 federal defenders with 100 canons from the PA peach orchard. The Butternut scarecrows controlled the field but the cost was disturbingly high. A 28 year old Colonel of Artillery named Porter Alexander had lost 144 men and 116 horses during the battle. The loss for the infantry was much worse. Much of the fighting had been hand to hand in the middle of grapeshot and canister. At points the union men fighting the southern infantry with sponge rammers, water buckets and bare hands if they had nothing else. But they were eventually driven off at the point of the bayonet and had to give up the ground. It appeared to be another victory of General Lee and the Army of Norther Virginia, but the real fighting was still to come. There had been heavy fighting around Little Round Top and the rocky hell of Devil’s Den. However, the boys in gray had failed to take the heavily reinforced position. It would come back to bite them in the ass. July 3, 1863 would show the previous day’s fighting only to be the opening round. Gettysburg was to become a legend in the history of warfare.
When darkness fell and the fighting sputtered out, the real work began. The rounded of both sides within the lines had to be taken to water and fed, crippled horses killed and the harness removed. Southern dead had to be promptly buried. The enemy was left where they lay. Every limber and caisson had to be fully stocked with the proper caliber cartridges, fuses and primers from ordnance wagons. The men had to be fed and supplied with food for tomorrow’s action. Scattered men had to be reunited with their units to try to get some sleep.
At 1:00AM Alexander had completed his scouting and located what appeared to be, the best positions for his guns. Exhausted, he had to get some sleep. The once peaceful peach orchard was a mess of blood and gore with blue draped corpses and horse bodies everywhere. Alexander pulled down a couple of fence rails and with his saddle used as a pillow, got two hours of very deep sleep.
When he woke, and did another check on his gun position, he found the Union line wasn’t were he thought it was the night before. His guns were in seriously dangers. He had been fooled by the powder smoke that still hung in the air and the rough terrain of Devil’s Den and the Round Top mountains. He saw immediately his adversary, the brilliant General Henry Hunt had the upper hand with his superior positioning of his guns. At first light Alexander quickly got his gun crews limbered up and moving to a safer position before the union gun crews could realize his mistake and take them under fire.
General Lee had total confidence in Alexander’s leadership and abilities and he was advanced from General Longstreet’s chief of Artillery to general artillery command of the forces facing cemetery ridge. It was not an enviable position an would become more so before the sun set on July 3, 1863. Union General George Meade was and experienced and hard boiled commander who had taken over command of the Army of the potomac only days before the battle. Like all serious officers in the union army, he carried a deep respect, more like fear, of the reputation of Mars Lee. Meade had the upper hand and was determined to hold the position they had managed to gain. He controlled the high ground and was positioned in a way to be able to operated with interior lines. He also had the benefit of a signal station and long range rifles canons on Little Round Top which could see the rebel lines. Enfilading fire would rake any movement made by the CSA made in daylight against the Union lines.
Alexander’s nearest ammo supply depo was 150 miles away in Staunton, Va. He had to support the infantry but also had to account for saving enough ammo in case he had to cover a withdrawal back to Virginia. CSA fuses were famously defective and the artillery couldn’t give support using airbursting munitions. There was always the fear of premature detonation with shrapnel and exploding shell. Solid shot would have been enough but infantry couldn’t tell the difference and threatened to fire on the gun crews if such tactics were used. Union forces had the numerical advantage of over two to one in manpower and great superiority in heavy guns with an unlimited amount of quality ammunition close at hand.