Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Gettysburg: Buford's Cavalry

I took another sojourn to Gettysburg this May and focused part of the trip on Buford’s Cavalry on June 30th and July 1st. This was the day before the actual battle started along with day one fighting. For this trip I read Eric Wittenberg’s book “The Devil’s to Pay”: John Buford at Gettysburg and here a few things I took from it. 

Buford's statue on top of  the
monument dedicated to him.
Buford was on the receiving end of a few fortunate events, but it was mostly his skills as a leader that helped the Union win this particular fight. In staring with the good fortunes the most obvious and what is brought up most often when talking about the Gettysburg campaign was the Confederates missing cavalry. This let Buford scout out the Confederates’ position without a cavalry screen to deal with. He had solid information on the enemy’s positions, and was able to position his defense accordingly.

The other fortuitous event was Henry Heth was first in line and he had a track record of making poor decisions. With Heth’s mistaking Buford for militia and starting the action with only two brigades gave Buford an opportunity to hold positions longer during the delaying action. Because of this the Union was able to secure the high ground. Lee had also given an order not to bring on a major engagement and Heth did the exact opposite.

Let us now move on to Buford and the outstanding job of soldiering he did during the campaign. One of the primary responsibilities of the cavalry during the Civil War was to provide the army with reliable intelligence of the enemy’s movements. Buford was able to do this during the whole march by staying in constant contact with the enemy.  Several engagements occurred on the march to Gettysburg; Aldie, Upperville and Snickerville just to name a few. (1) It was through these engagements that Buford was able to gain intelligence on the enemy.

Even the day before the battle Buford was still scouting out the enemy and pretty much knew where both A.P. Hill and Ewell’s two corps would be coming from. This leads us to our next aspect of soldiering that Buford did really well and that was selecting ground and setting up Videttes on all the different approaches. (2) With the Videttes in place to give warning Buford would put together a masterful delaying action in the hopes General Reynolds could make it up in time with the Army of the Potomac’s I Corp to secure the high ground behind the town.

Buford's monument with General Reynolds in the background.
Those cannons were the original ones that was used in the
action at Gettysburg.

The soldiers did a wonderful job of putting up a fight by falling back orderly behind the next line and in the end they were able to hold until Reynolds came with reinforcements. Because of this the Union was able to hold onto the high ground and eventually win the fight for Gettysburg.

When you go to the actual field one can see the different ridges Buford was able to use in keeping the Confederates at bay. Being able to go to the battlefield always helps me to put things in perspective. One can read all they want but it doesn’t replace boots on the ground. I would also highly recommend this book as it is an easy read with a wealth of information.

Position of Confederate guns during the fighting on
Day One of the battle.

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  1. (1)  Wittenberg, Eric J. (2014-10-19). “The Devil’s to Pay”: John Buford at Gettysburg. A History and Walking Tour. (Kindle Locations 706-723). Savas Beatie. Kindle Edition. 
  2. (2)  Wittenberg, Eric J. (2014-10-19). “The Devil’s to Pay”: John Buford at Gettysburg. A History and Walking Tour. (Kindle Locations 1314). Savas Beatie. Kindle Edition


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