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Early action at Herbst Woods
July 1, 1863
July 3, 1863
Battle of Gettysburg

General Robert E. Lee [CS] advances into Pennsylvania where he meets George Meade [US]. First battling north of the city, by the second day Union forces had retreated south, forming a strong line as men arrived almost continuously. On the third day, the infamous Pickett's Charge marked the end of the Confederates hope for a victory

The bloodiest three days in American history
  Bloodiest Civil War battles
  Robert E. Lee
  John Bell Hood
  James Longstreet
  George Meade
  Army of Northern Virginia
  Army of the Potomac
  J. E. B. Stuart
  Lafayette McLaws
  Winfield Scott Hancock
  George Armstrong Custer
  Battle of Gettysburg
  Richard Ewell
  George Pickett
  John Reynolds
  The Gettysburg Campaign
  James Archer
  George Armstrong Custer
  Jubal Anderson Early

About the Area

Willoughby Run creates the cut between Herr Ridge and McPherson Ridge. As the Mcpherson property ends near the south end of McPherson Ridge, Lutheran minister John Herbst's property began at Herbst Woods (or Herbst Woodlot). Because the border was undefined, many soldiers did not know the correct name and called it McPherson Woods.

From Willoughby Run the land rises fairly rapidly to Herbst Woods, a climb of about 50 feet, and Herbst Woods was the key to dominating the area south of McPherson Ridge.


BG William Gamble (Buford)
3rd Indiana
12th Illinois
8th Illinois
8th New York

BG Lysander Cutler (Wadsworth)
84th New York (14th Brooklyn)
BG Solomon Meredith
2nd Wisconsin
7th Wisconsin
19th Indiana
24th Michigan

BG James Archer (Heth) (captured)
1st Tennessee
7th Tennessee
13th Alabama

About the Engagement

Maryland-born and West Point-trained James Archer was headed southeast along Chambersburg Pike (Cashtown Pike). Opposing him initially was a brigade under William Gamble.

Splitting in two in front of the cavalry pickets on Herr Ridge, Joe Davis, marching with Archer, formed a battle line to the north of the Cashtown Pike (Chambersburg Pike) while Archer formed a battle line to the south. After chasing the pickets from Herr's Ridge Davis and Archer advanced to Willoughby Run. It was here at 8:45am that Archer encountered stiff resistance from Col. William Gamble, recently reassigned from the Pennsylvania Reserves to BG John Buford's cavalry as infantry support. His men had been effectively resisting Archer's advance from Cashtown since 7:45am, which is exactly what he wanted to do. Realizing he was outnumbered, Buford hoped to simply delay the advance of the Rebels until John Reynolds and his I Corps arrived.

As Archer's Confederates approached Willoughby Run they halted on the east side of the creek. Archer saw no support behind him and roughly 500 Yankees in front of his Rebels. He was concerned about the lack of support when an agitated Henry Heth rode up and asked him what was the delay. Archer expressed his concern and Heth claimed Archer should be able to "brush aside" the small number of troops in his front. A petulant Archer took his time crossing Willoughby Run as John Buford rode up to Gamble with orders to prepare to withdraw around 10:00 am. The I Corps was moving up quickly.

Behind Gamble's men the two brigades of BG James Wadsworth's First Division began arriving. Lead units, under BG Lysander Cutler, moved north to relieve Devin's men north of the Cashtown Pike. Gamble's artillery battery ran into them as it withdrew. Behind Cutler's men, BG Solomon Meridith had his men change from marching column into battleline formation in front of the Lutheran Seminary. From there they advanced towards Herbst Woods.

Archer's Rebels completed the crossing of Willoughby Run, briefly reorganized and began to advance. The 7th Tennessee, on the Confederate left flank (closest to the Chambersburg Pike), were stopped not far into their advance by a quarry, while the right flank (13th Alabama and 1st Tennessee) were slower crossing the river, had more natural obstacles on the hill in front of them, and were harassed by Union soldiers, probably William Gamble's retreating infantry. The center of his line, the 14th Tennessee, bulged into Herbst Woods and formed a line, waiting for a Union response or for their flanks to catch up.

The 7th Wisconsin arrived on the east side of Herbst Woods under the command of Lucius Fairchild, a future 3-time governor of the state. His men quickly prepared for battle and entered the woods but the first shots rang out from the Confederate line and decimated the black-hatted Badgers of the Iron Brigade.

Major General John Reynolds, in command of the Union forces, and five staff members drew up east of the woods. Reynolds began urging the 2nd Wisconsin on saying, "Forward, men, forward. For God's sake drive those men from the woods." Moments later a Confederate MiniƩ ball struck and killed Reynolds instantly at 10:45am (time and location are disputed). In spite of the death of Reynolds, Solomon Meredith's men continued to pour into Herbst, quickly gaining a numerical advantage as 5 regiments concentrated on a 100-year wide section of the Confederate line.

Increasing pressure on Archer's Volunteers forced them to withdraw, first to Willoughby Run and then, under fire, across the fast-flowing creek. On the opposite side James Archer stood near the riverbank trying to rally his retreating men. Suddenly, the Confederate line collapsed as the Yankees also crossed the river, surging past the hapless Archer, who was captured by a private.

The men returned their starting point, Herr Ridge, where they finally encountered the support that General Archer had been waiting for when he crossed Willoughby Run, the other two brigades in Henry Heth's Division. The first engagement was over but the battle of Gettysburg was just beginning.

Herbst Woods

Links appearing on this page:

James Archer
John Reynolds

Early action at Herbst Woods was last changed on - August 21, 2009
Early action at Herbst Woods was added on - May 16, 2009

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