On July 2, 1863, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee ordered skeptical subordinate Lt. Gen. James Longstreet to launch a massive assault against the Union left flank. The offensive was intended to seize the Peach Orchard and surrounding ground along the Emmitsburg Road for use as an artillery position to support the ongoing attack. However, Union Maj. Gen. Daniel Sickles, a scheming former congressman from New York, misinterpreted his orders and occupied the orchard first. What followed was some of Gettysburg’s bloodiest and most controversial fighting. General Sickles’s questionable advance forced Longstreet’s artillery and infantry to fight for every inch of ground to Cemetery Ridge. The Confederate attack crushed the Peach Orchard salient and other parts of the Union line, threatening the left flank of Maj. Gen. George Meade’s army. The command decisions made in and around the Sherfy property influenced actions on every part of the battlefield. The occupation of the high ground at the Peach Orchard helped General Lee rationalize ordering the tragic July 3 assault known as “Pickett’s Charge.”
James Hessler is a Licensed Battlefield Guide at Gettysburg. He is the award-winning author of Sickles at Gettysburg and co-author of Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg. He lives with his wife and family in Gettysburg.
Britt Isenberg is a full-time Licensed Battlefield Guide at Gettysburg National Military Park since 2014. He has been published in several Civil War periodicals through writing and photography and is the author of The Boys Fought Like Demons, a regimental history of the 105th Pennsylvania Infantry. Originally from Millersburg, PA, he resides with his wife and daughter near Gettysburg.
Description courtesy of Savas Beatie.