Midpoint of the War: May to July 1863

Gettysburg: The First Day

Why did Buford not yield the town?

Buford had arrived the evening before and immediately perceived the great defensive potential of the area. The town itself did not interest him that much; rather, he was struck by the low range of hills that ran from its southern side. Like most other officers of the Army of the Potomac, Buford had been appalled—time and again—at the ease with which the Confederates had seized the high ground—the better location—and used it to their advantage. Here, he saw at once, was a possibility to turn the tables.

Buford’s men fought fiercely, but they soon felt the pressure from Heth’s entire division. Behind Heth were many other Confederates, their way temporarily blocked by the presence of their fellows. At about 9 A.M., Buford was joined in the cupola by Major-General John Reynolds, whose seasoned eye quickly took in the situation. Concurring with Buford, Reynolds told him to fight the Confederates as long as he could so that the Union forces on the march could occupy the hills south of the town. Minutes later, Reynolds was dead, killed by a Confederate sharpshooter (no one ever emerged to claim he was the man).


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