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New photo gallery | July 2, 1863: Federal troops make desperate defense at Gettysburg

Jul. 2, 2013 - 08:22PM   |  

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Members of the National Regiment portray soldiers of the 1st Division, II Corps during an infantry demonstration near the Pennsylvania Memorial Events on July 2. (Mike Morones/Staff)

GETTYSBURG, PA. — In the shape of giant, bloodied fishhook, Federal forces are making a desperate defense along the southern reaches of this central Pennsylvania town, stretching across rolling wheat fields and pockets of thick forest from Cemetery Hill to a rocky overlook known a Little Round Top.

All seven corps of the Union’s Army of the Potomac have poured into the fight today, even as Maj. Gen. George Meade’s troops repulsed a major attack along the Federal left flank.

Missing in action so far has been the bulk of Confederate Brig. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry division, leaving rebel Army of Northern Virginia commander Gen. Robert E. Lee to fight without his scouts and usual quick reaction force. Stuart and his troops had made a wide detour around Federal concentrations and are expected to arrive sometime today.

With two divisions led by Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, Lee’s most trusted field commander, the rebels were nearly successful in breaking through the Union lines in an attack that began this afternoon.

Aides close to Lee say that attack was supposed to kick off earlier this morning, but slow-arriving rebel regiments caused delays. Still, at one point, the entire Union left flank collapsed with Longstreet’s troops in pursuit.

“Fix bayonets, my brave Texans! Forward and take those heights!” Maj. Gen. John Hood, one of Longstreet’s division commanders, could be heard shouting at one point in the melee.

But the Federal defenders were able to regroup at the base of Little Round Top just as Meade’s final corps arrived in the fight to reinforce them after a grueling 36-mile forced march.

Fighting on Little Round Top itself has been some of the most fevered in the battle so far.

An ever-thinning clutch of men with the 20th Maine has managed to repulse repeated attempts to outflank the Union army.

Now, as smoke from the battlefield clouds the sweltering late afternoon sun, grim-faced Confederate troops are preparing to test the right flank in what appears to be another major assault in what is already becoming the most epic battle in the war to date.

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