Gettysburg's Peach Orchard: Longstreet, Sickles, and the Bloody Fight for the "Commanding Ground" Along the Emmitsburg Road
By James A. Hessler and Britt Isenberg
Signed by Jim
The historiography of Gettysburg’s second day is usually dominated by the Union’s successful defense of Little Round Top—but the day’s most influential action occurred nearly one mile west along the Emmitsburg Road, in farmer Joseph Sherfy’s peach orchard. This is the first full-length study of this pivotal action.
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 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.
This richly detailed study is based on scores of primary accounts and a deep understanding of the terrain. The authors, both Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guides, combine the military aspects of the fighting with human interest stories, in a balanced treatment of the bloody attack and defense of Gettysburg’s Peach Orchard.