You Will Soon See Them Tumbling Back
by John Paul Strain
July 2, 1863 has begun as a relatively quiet day. It was almost as if the two armies were stunned and recovering from the previous day's battle. However, what was to come would make yesterday's fighting seem like a skirmish. Major General Winfield Scott Hancock, commanding the much vaunted 2nd Corps of the Army of the Potomac had spent much of the day riding back and forth between army headquarters and his three division commanders, anticipating the actions of Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia.
While Hancock was visiting the 1st Division, now under the command of General John C. Caldwell, movement was noticed to the left and behind the Weikert farm. To everyone's surprise General Sickles entire "3rd Corps" with flags flying and bayonets glistening in the sunlight" was seen advancing to the Emmitsburg Road. Hancock immediately recognized the significance of this ill-advised spectacle and remarked, "Wait a moment you will soon see them tumbling back."
A courier from General Meade soon arrived directing Hancock to send reinforcements to General Sickles embattled Divisions who were being hit hard by the advancing forces of General James Longstreet. At Hancock's direction, General Caldwell sent his Division of 3,200 men at the double-quick past the rising plume of smoke marking the burning barn of George Weikert. The Brigades of General Zook, Colonel Brooke, and Colonel Cross, along with Colonel Patrick Kelly's famed Irish Brigade, would soon be hurled into the maelstrom known as the Wheatfield and Rose Woods.
Although the 1st Division was ultimately thrown back with over 40 percent casualties, other units would be funneled into the Wheatfield fight. Due to the decisions of Hancock, and the 1st Division's strenuous efforts, time would be given for the rest of the Army of the Potomac to regroup and fight the Army of Northern Virginia to a standstill. It would be another day before the victor of the battle of Gettysburg would be decided.
I am very excited to begin a new series of paintings, "Gods and Generals ™," featuring a number of the key Generals in Jeff Shaara's book. General Hancock is a favorite of those who admire the leaders of the Civil War. My painting features Hancock (on the right) and Caldwell as they watch General Sickles disobeying orders, advancing his men. In the background to the right is Colonel Kelly, double-quicking his famed Irish Brigade into battle.