2nd Manassas - Aug. 1862
The Battle of Gettysburg - Thursday July 2, 1863
Cemetery Hill & Confederate Colonel Isaac Avery

As a gentle spring sun nudges away the bitterness of winter, only the wind moves over the once contested northern slopes of Cemetery Hill. Some 140 years past however, the dark blanket of night slowly covered the field. On July 2, 1863, Confederate soldiers of CSA Major General Richard Ewell's Second Corp advanced towards the Union lines, the taking of this hill serving as their goal. Red fire from Federal and Southern muskets flashed in the darkness as both sides fought an enemy they could barely see. As their foe gained the hill's crest, Union cannoneers fought hand to hand, using anything they could grasp to protect their guns. Despite the brief success of their bold advance, the Confederates could not hold the ground they had struggled so hard to gain. In the dark, with the Union reinforcements coming over from Major General Winfield S. Hancock's 2nd Corps now adding to the weight of Northern fire, Southern soldiers grudgingly backed down the hill. This ground would remain in Union hands for the remainder of the conflict.

Confederate Colonel Isaac Avery of the Sixth North Carolina led a portion of the initial advance, serving as brigade commander in place of General R. F. Hoke who had sustained a wound at the Battle of Chancellorsville. He would lead his North Carolinians forward, with Hays' Louisiana Tigers surging on his right. Not long into the movement however, Colonel Avery fell from his horse, bleeding, shot through the neck as he led his Tarheels forward up the hill. Understanding the mortality of his wound, he scribbled a note which he handed to a subordinate. The note read only, "Tell my father I died with my face to the enemy." [22]

Engraving of the conflict on Cemetery HillColonel Godwin, who would assume command from the fallen Avery, would describe the fighting, and the mortal wounding of their commander. "...8 p.m. on the next day, July 2,...the brigade moved forward to the attack.

As soon as the summit of the hill was gained, it was discovered that the batteries which we had been ordered to take were in front of Hays' brigade, and considerably to the right of our right flank. We continued to advance, however, under a terrific fire, climbed a rail fence, and still farther beyond descended into a low bottom, and dislodged a heavy line of infantry from a stone wall running parallel with our front. The enemy's batteries now enfiladed us, and a destructive fire was poured into our ranks from a line of infantry formed in rear of a stone wall running at a right angle with our line of battle and immediately below the batteries.

Cannon facing north on Cemetery HillColonel Avery now ordered a change of front, and succeeded in wheeling the brigade to the right, a movement which none but the steadiest veterans could have executed under such circumstances. In swinging around, three stone walls had to be surmounted. The ground was rocky and uneven, and these obstacles prevented that rapidity of movement and unity of action which might have insured success. The men now charged up the hill with heroic determination, and drove the enemy from his last stone wall. In this charge, the command had become much separated, and in the darkness it was now found impossible to concentrate more than 40 or 50 men at any point for a farther advance. Major Tate, with a portion of the Sixth North Carolina Regiment, aided by a small number of the Ninth Louisiana Regiment, succeeded in capturing a battery on the right. No supports were at hand, and the approach of the enemy in overwhelming force compelled him to retire. The scattered fragments of the brigade now withdrew, and were reformed near the position which it had occupied through the day.

Here I learned for the first time that our brigade commander (Col. Isaac E. Avery), had been mortally wounded. In his death the country lost one of her truest and bravest sons, and the army one of its most gallant and efficient officers." [9]

Louisiana monumentMajor General Jubal Anderson Early, the Division commander, would also state in his official report his reasons for the lack of Confederate success in retaining the advantages gained. "These troops advanced in gallant style to the attack, passing over the ridge in front of them under a heavy artillery fire, and then crossing a hollow between that and Cemetery Hill, and moving up this hill in the face of at least two lines of infantry posted behind stone and plank fences; but these they drove back, and, passing over all obstacles, they reached the crest of the hill, and entered the enemy's breastworks crowning it, getting possession of one or two batteries. But no attack was made on the immediate right (General A. P. Hill's command), as was expected, and not meeting with support from that quarter, these brigades could not hold the position they had attained, because a very heavy force of the enemy was turned against them from that part of the line which the divisions on the right were to have attacked, and these two brigades had, therefore, to fall back, which they did with comparatively slight loss, considering the nature of the ground over which they had to pass and the immense odds opposed to them, and Hays' brigade brought off four stand of captured colors."

Of Colonel Avery, General early would add, "I had to regret the absence of the gallant Brigadier-General Hoke, who was severely wounded in the action of May 4, at Fredericksburg, and had not recovered, but his place was worthily filled by Colonel Avery, of the Sixth North Carolina Regiment, who fell, mortally wounded, while gallantly leading his brigade in the charge on Cemetery Hill, at Gettysburg, on the afternoon of July 2. In his death the Confederacy lost a good and brave soldier. [11]