Often it is hard to put complete faith in the history books our children are taught from. Here's an example, still being printed here on the web as if it were gospel:
"The Battle of Gettysburg began quite accidentally. Two Confederate Brigades under the overall command of General Heth moved in to occupy the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Unbeknownst to them, the town was already occupied by two Union Calvary Brigades commanded by General John Buford. The fighting broke out around 8 a.m. as the Confederate Brigades moved in from the Northwest. They expected little resistance but were quite surprised to find the Union Brigades."
What a load of bullpucky! If Heth and his boss, corps commander A.P. Hill, were "surprised" to "accidentally" discover the Union cavalry in Gettysburg, it was only because their heads were too thick to allow their ears to function.
Nothing about "procuring" shoes, which was why Heth had taken 2 brigades from his division down into Gettysburg in the first place. Well, I'll bet Pettigrew and Young weren't surprised to see the Yankee cavalry parked in Gettysburg.
And cavalry usually means a main army is not far behind.
If you were a bird with sharp eyes, as most birds have, and you happened to find yourself flying from south to north over the soon-to-be Gettysburg battlefield, what you would see, as you flew, would look something like this:
You would see wheat fields, orchards, farmland, pasture, scattered woods, big rocks - with three roads coming up from the south, all converging into Gettysburg, and two more roads from the west, also converging on Gettysburg, and two more roads from the east, also converging on Gettysburg, and more roads to the north coming in from Carlisle et al. Well, you get the picture - Gettysburg was an important crossroads for travelers of all directions. You would see ridges on the left and some distinct hills and another ridge on the right, with the open land in between the two sides of ridges less than a mile wide. You would see several creeks running generally north and south; you would see the town of Gettysburg up dead ahead of you.
And, if you were making this flight of yours in the early morning of July 1, 1863, you would also see, on the road from the west, Pender's Confederate Division coming up from Cashtown. Upon another one of those roads, coming up from the south, you would spy dust clouds for as far as your sharp bird's eyes could see behind you; dust produced by tens of thousands of boots and hooves and wheels. As a bird, you would have no way of knowing this, but those boots and hooves and wheels belonged to the First Corps of the Army of the Potomac, under the extremely able command of Major General John Reynolds.
The left-hand, or west, ridge just south of Gettysburg was called Seminary Ridge. Because... umm... because there was a 3-story brick college (Lutheran Seminary) built on top of that particular ridge. Seminary Ridge would soon host the battle headquarters, a small cottage, of one Robert E. Lee, but at the moment, the Union Cavalry General, John Buford, had climbed up into the seminary's cupola and was nervously surveying the surrounding territory to the northwest. What he saw was confederate infantry moving in a proprietory fashion down towards the town of Gettysburg, and Pender moving in from the west.
Buford's cavalry had already abandoned the town and had ensconced itself upon McPherson Ridge just to the west of town. Buford rode south to the seminary to reconnoiter while his men engaged the Confederates.
General Heth, division commander of Pettigrew's brigade and others, he of the deep desire for new shoes and a penchant for ignoring advice about the enemy's troop movements, was pondering his options. Who to kill first? In his wisdom, he "felt out" the enemy and decided he faced nothing but unmounted cavalry, so, first things first, he decided to go brush the Union Cavalry off McPherson Ridge.
Buford saw from his high perch that his own men were fighting Heth's boys well, but falling back of course. As it turned out, they would continue to fall back, all the way from McPherson Ridge to Seminary Ridge, then across town all the way to Culp's hill on the other side, just north of the Cemetery, and halfway up that hill. They would have reinforcements long before then, but, then, so would the Confederates.
General Buford, of course, had sent a courier out riding fast to the south with a message to the corps commander that contact with the enemy had been made and to come at once. PLEASE come at once. He was depending on fast help from its commander, his friend John Reynolds.
If someone were to say that John E. Reynolds was the best general in the Union Army, there would be few who would dispute that statement. A 1841 graduate of West Point, he had served in Florida and in the West and, of course, in the Mexican War, under Zachary Taylor. Later, he was commandant of Cadets at West Point and also taught artillery, cavalry, and infantry tactics.
Reynolds was an outstanding horseman - some say the best the army had, equaling even J.E.B. Stuart, who would later fight for the South. Some recalled, without proof, that they had seen Reynolds pluck a dime from the ground at a gallop, back in their younger days in the West. Ah, well. I don't think I'm believing that.
Known only by General Reynolds and a handful of other people in Washington was the fact that Lincoln had offered him command of the army after Hooker resigned. Lincoln refused Reynold's condition that he be completely autonomous, and so he recommended to Lincoln that he choose Meade. Meade didn't know this, of course.
At 42, General Reynolds was still a fine horseman and he had galloped ahead of the corps and was now dismounting on top of Seminary Ridge. He had seen the Confederate columns from afar, and had smelled enough battlefields in his day not to need to wait for a courier to come tell him what was afoot. Looking around, he immediately sensed that he needed to get a division up on the heights before the Confederates moved up first.
General John Buford was probably getting more and more nervous in his perch up in the seminary cupola. He turned last to the south, and saw, what must have seemed like an endless dark line approaching up the Emmitsburg Road. Then, barely, he made out the guidon of the 1st Corps, and, next to it, the stars and stripes. Buford must have heaved a big sigh of relief: he KNEW his friend John Reynolds wouldn't let him down. He turned to climb down the steep ladder out of the cupola, anxious to buck up his troops with the news. He was startled by a familiar voice next to him.
"What's the matter, John?"
It was Reynolds, far out ahead of his corps. Buford must have been relieved beyond measure, but he only spoke the obvious:
"Hell's to pay."