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The Significance of Culp's Hill at the Battle of Gettysburg

Updated on January 3, 2015

Holding Culp’s Hill was Critical for the Union Army

Culp’s Hill saw fighting all three days during the Battle of Gettysburg. It is described as the right most flank of the “fishhook” line formed by Union troops. Culp’s Hill consists of two rounded peaks with a narrow hollow in between. Its highest peak is 630 feet above sea level and is heavily wooded. The lower peak is about 100 ft lower in elevation than the higher peak. In 1863, the hill was owned by a farmer named Henry Culp. Holding Culp’s Hill was critical to the Union Army. Although the heavily wooded sides made artillery placement impractical, it was crucial in preventing Confederate advance on Baltimore or Washington, D.C. Baltimore Pike was kept the Union Army supplied.

General Lee Concentrated His Entire Amy at Gettysburg

The battle was fought July 1-3, 1863 and was the turning point in the Civil war. The Confederate Army had achieved an important victory on May 2-3 in the battle of Chancellorsville. Afterward, General Lee divided his army into three units to be led by lieutenant generals James Longstreet, Richard Stoddard Ewell and Ambrose Powell Hill. Lee devised a plan for invading Pennsylvania, in hopes of averting another Federal offensive in Virginia. Lee initiated his plan by crossing the Blue Ridge Mountains, proceeding up Shenandoah Valley where he crossed Maryland to enter Pennsylvania. Here, he concentrated his entire army at Gettysburg.

Lee Ordered an Attack

On July 1, 1863, Hill’s advancing Brigade met with the Federal Calvary Division commanded by Major John Fulton Reynolds. At this point, Hill encountered stubborn resistance. The struggle was indeterminate until Ewell arrived from the north and forced the Federal troops back from their forward positions to Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Ridge. The following day, Meade arranged his forces in the shape of a horseshoe. They extended westward from Culp’s Hill and southward along Cemetery Ridge. The Confederate army was positioned in a long, concave line. Longstreet and Ewell were deployed on the flanks and Hill was in the center.

Against Longstreet’s advice, Lee gave the order to attack the Federal army. Longstreet was unable to advance until the afternoon. This gave the Federal troops time to prepare for the expected attack. The following day, Lee decided to attack both the left and right flanks of the Union army. On the right, Union troops mistakenly shifted and left Little Round Top undefended. A Union general rushed troops in just ahead of the charging Confederates, barely holding their position. After a day of fighting, the Union was pushed back through The Peach Orchard, The Wheat Field, and Devil's Den. Ewell’s assault on the left failed as a result of poor leadership.

The Union Army's Deceptive Maneuver

The following day, General Lee, believing the Union to be weakened by the previous attacks, resolved to strike first with artillery and then charge with an infantry led by George Pickett's division. Stuart’s cavalry arrived late and came in behind the Union center. They were held off by the Union cavalry led by General George Custer. The struggle lasted close to an hour before the Union army deceived the Confederates into believing their guns were knocked out. The Confederates marched across the field in front of Cemetery Hill, only to have the Union artillery open fire on them. Only half of them made it back to their own lines. Lee lost more than half of his men before retreating to Virginia. Mead also lost a quarter of his troops. This battle was the turning point in the Civil War.

Civil War Battle of Gettysburg - Culp's Hill


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