For nearly two hours on the morning of Wednesday July 1, Brigadier General John Buford employed his defense
in depth, a tactic which permitted the use of the Gettysburg terrain to conduct a fighting withdraw to the ground the bluecoats
ultimately wished hold. Buford's men fought to slow the advance of CSA Major General Henry Heth's soldiers, grudgingly falling
back from Herr's to McPherson's Ridge
as they awaited the arrival
of Buford's friend, Major General John F. Reynolds' and his Federal 1st Corps infantry.
Confederate Major General Henry Heth's Division moved east to confront John Buford's Cavalry, with Brigadier General James J.
Archer's Brigade to the south of the Chambersburg Pike and Brigadier General Joseph R. Davis' to the north. Coming from the
southeast, Brigadier General Lysander Cutler's Brigade and Brigadier General Solomon Meredith's Iron Brigade surged towards the
Arriving in the van of the Union's
1st Corps, General Reynolds assisted in positioning the men of Cutler's Brigade in preparation for the coming collision.
One of General Reynolds's division commanders, Major General Abner Doubleday reported that he, "...deemed the extremity
of the woods, which extended to the summit of the ridge, to be the key of the position, and urged that portion of Meredith's
brigade, the Western men assigned to its defense, to hold it to the last extremity. Full of the memory of their past
achievements, they replied cheerfully and proudly, 'If we can't hold it, where will you find men who can?'" General
Doubleday would add, "There was no time to be lost, as the enemy was already in the woods, and advancing at double-quick
to seize this important central position and hold the ridge."
Personally directing his men, General Reynolds shouted to the advancing men in blue, "Forward men, forward for God's sake,
and drive those fellows out of the woods." With these words, the Second Wisconsin and then the other regiments of the Iron
Brigade slammed into CSA General Archer's oncoming troops. Again, General Doubleday would report, "The Iron Brigade, led by
the Second Wisconsin, in line, and followed by the other regiments, deployed en echelon without a moment's hesitation, charged
with the utmost steadiness and fury, hurled the enemy back into the run, captured, after a sharp and desperate conflict, nearly
1,000 prisoners-all from Archer's brigade-and reformed their lines on the high ground beyond the ravine."
William W. Robinson of the 7th Wisconsin, fighting just to the left of their brothers in the 2nd Wisconsin, offered these details of
the morning's action. "We were ordered to take position on the ridge in front of the cavalry as quickly as possible. I immediately
formed companies, and threw the battalion forward into line in double-quick, and advanced to the top of the ridge. We had not halted
to load, and no orders had been received to do so, for the reason, I suppose, that no one expected we were to be engaged so suddenly.
I, however, gave the order to load during the movement, which was executed by the men while on the double-quick, so that no time was
lost by this omission. I halted the battalion on the summit of the ridge until the Nineteenth Indiana and Twenty-fourth Michigan, which
were in my rear in column, had formed on my left.
In the meantime the Second Wisconsin--which was next in front of me in column, in its evolution into line was formed to my
right and the length of the battalion in advance; this threw them behind the grove before mentioned, into which they advanced
without halting--had engaged the enemy. My right was now resting near this grove, with the Nineteenth and Twenty-fourth on my
left. Immediately in front, and running parallel to and about 200 yards from my front, was a ravine, through which runs a small
rivulet; from this ravine a heavy fire was opened. I was at first uncertain, in the dense smoke and from the near proximity of
the fire, whether it was the enemy or the left wing of the Second Wisconsin.
At this moment Captain Wadsworth,
of the division staff, rode up from the right. I asked could he tell what troops those were
firing in the ravine. He pointed a little farther to the left up the ravine (where I saw the rebel battle-flag), and said it was
the enemy, and that the general directed that we should drive them out. I moved the line forward to the crest of the ridge,
delivered a volley, and gave the order to charge. The three regiments--Seventh Wisconsin, Nineteenth Indiana, and Twenty-fourth
Michigan--rushed into the ravine with a yell. The enemy--what was left of them able to walk--threw down their arms, ducked
through between our files, and passed to the rear. We moved up the opposite bank to the top of the hill, where I
halted the line. In this charge we passed by and beyond the position occupied by the Second Wisconsin in the grove. We had
occupied our new position but a few minutes when Captain Richardson, of the brigade staff, brought an order to change front
to the rear on the left battalion. While this evolution was being executed, General Meredith came up, and directed me to place
my regiment in the grove on the right of the Second. I took the position indicated, my right resting on the open fields, and
threw out skirmishers to the front. In this position we lay some hours under a severe artillery fire. From my position
I could see the movements of the enemy in our front."
Able to take the Southern men in flank on their left (Archer's right), the Iron Brigade destroyed a sizable proportion of
Archer's forces, pushing the remnants back in the same direction from which they came. The capture of Confederate General
Archer added insult to this morning phase injury. Although the men from Lee's Army would return this favor later in the
afternoon, for now, the Union line held. The desired high ground south of town remained safely behind the Union lines.
With Northern and Southern troops rushing to the fields, the day's victory would depend upon who could gather, organize,
and deploy their troops with the greatest skill and speed.