Today in History: July 2
The Battle of Gettysburg, Day 2
They say the noise was incessant as the sound
Of all wolves howling, when that attack came on.
They say, when the guns all spoke, that the solid ground
Of the rocky ridges trembled like a sick child.
Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown's Body (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Doran, 1928), 299-300.
Panorama of 2nd Day's Battle,
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, copyright 1909.
Taking the Long View: Panoramic Photographs, 1851-1991
On July 2, 1863, the lines of the Battle of Gettysburg, now in its second day, were drawn in two sweeping parallel arcs. The Confederate and Union armies faced each other a mile apart. The Union forces extending along Cemetery Ridge to Culp's Hill, formed the shape of a fish-hook, and the Confederate forces were spread along Seminary Ridge.
The men who fought there
Were the tired fighters, the hammered, the weather-beaten,
The very hard-dying men.
They came and died
And came again and died and stood there and died,
Till at last the angle was crumpled and broken in…
Wheatfield and orchard bloody and trampled and taken,
And Hood's tall Texans sweeping on toward the Round Tops…
Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown's Body (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Doran, 1928), 300.
Big Round Top and Little Round Top,
Theodor Horydczak, photographer,
Washington as It Was: Photographs by Theodor Horydczak, 1923-1959
General Robert E. Lee ordered General James Longstreet to attack the Union's southern flank, aiming for the hills at the southernmost end of Cemetery Ridge. These hills, known as the Little Round Top and Big Round Top had been left unoccupied and would have afforded the Confederates a good vantage point from which to ravage the Union line.
General Longstreet, disagreeing with Lee's orders, and hoping that the cavalry under the command of General J. E. B. Stuart would soon come up with the army to participate in the attack, was slow to advance on the hills.
While Longstreet's soldiers broke through to the base of Little Round Top, Union General G. K. Warren perceived the Confederate plan in time to rouse his men to take the strategic hill, fending off the Confederate attack.
General Lee had also commanded General R. S. Ewell to attack the northernmost flank of the Union Army. On one occasion Ewell's troops took possession of a slope of Culp's Hill, but the Union remained entrenched both there and on Cemetery Ridge, where General Meade was headquartered. The following day this battle, tragic for both sides, ended with a Union victory.
The crest is three times taken and then retaken
In fierce wolf-flurries of combat, in gasping Iliads
Too rapid to note or remember, too obscure to freeze in a song.
But at last, when the round sun drops…
The Union still holds the Round Tops and the two hard keys of war.
Night falls. The blood drips in the rocks of the Devil's Den.
The murmur begins to rise from the thirsty ground
Where the twenty thousand dead and wounded lie.
Such was Longstreet's war, and such the Union defence,
The deaths and the woundings, the victory and defeat
At the end of the fish-hook shank.
Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown's Body (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Doran, 1928), 300-1.
Gettysburg, Pa. Dead Confederate soldiers in the "slaughter pen" at the foot of Little Round Top,
Alexander Gardner, photographer,
Selected Civil War Photographs
- Search on the keyword Gettysburg in the Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress to read items such as Donn Piatt's July 2, 1863 telegram to Abraham Lincoln concerning news from Gettysburg.
- See the Today in History features for the first and last days of the Battle of Gettysburg.
- Search the Today in History Archive on the keyword Gettysburg or the names of other Civil War battles to find related pages.
- To find more images of the Battle of Gettysburg, search the collection Selected Civil War Photographs on the term Gettysburg. This collection also includes a Timeline of the Civil War.
- For more recent photographs, search on Gettysburg in the following American Memory collections:
- Read more of Stephen Vincent Benet's epic poem of the Civil War, John Brown's Body, available at a public library near you.
- Browse Civil War Maps by subject, place, creator, or title for views of more than 2,600 Civil War maps and charts as well as atlases and sketchbooks.
In the President's madness he has wrecked the grand old Republican party, and for this he dies.
Comment of Charles Guiteau, eighteen days before shooting President Garfield,
quoted from evidence given at Guiteau's trial, in John K. Porter's closing speech to the jury, January 23, 1882. 1
Washington, D.C.—The attack on the President's life—Scene in the ladies' room of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad depot—The arrest of the assassin; from sketches by our special artist's [sic] A. Berghaus and C. Upham,
illustration in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper,
July 16, 1881.
By Popular Demand: Portraits of the Presidents and First Ladies, 1789-Present
On July 2, 1881, Charles J. Guiteau shot and fatally wounded the newly inaugurated U.S. President James A. Garfield in the lobby of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Depot in Washington, D.C., as he yelled, "I am a stalwart and Arthur is now President of the United States!" 2 Guiteau blamed the president for not selecting him for a job at the U.S. Consulate in Paris.
Charles Guiteau likely suffered from mental illness, as many reports of his behavior would attest. Born in Illinois, he lived an erratic life, attempting several unsuccessful careers before turning to the practice of law in Chicago. His wife, to whom he was reportedly abusive, divorced him in 1874 after five years of marriage. In the early 1860s, Guiteau was affiliated with the utopian Oneida Community in upstate New York. He returned to religion with renewed fervor in the late 1870s, styling himself a preacher and theologian, and publishing several sermons as well as The Truth: A Companion to the Bible, which was largely plagiarized from the writings of Oneida founder John Humphrey Noyes.
Guiteau was next inspired by national politics, and in 1880 he published a speech in support of Garfield's candidacy. When, following the election, he failed in his attempts to gain a diplomatic appointment from Garfield, he took advantage of factionalism within the Republican Party to switch his allegiance to the more conservative "Stalwart" cause. By the spring of 1881, Guiteau had what he called a divine inspiration to take the president's life, in order to heal the party and save the nation. He even purchased a pearl-handled revolver for the act, because he thought that it would look good in a museum afterwards. Suffering from such high-minded delusions, Guiteau was later surprised to discover that his actions were deplored by Garfield's political opponents and supporters alike.
In spite of Guiteau's manifest insanity at his trial, his attorneys were unable to gain an acquittal on that basis—it was, however, one of the first uses of the modern insanity defense in a criminal court. After a six-month trial that sparked great public interest, Guiteau was found guilty and hanged on June 30, 1882.
Mulley, A. E. Frew,
Charles Julius Guiteau, The Assassin. Being a Copious and Correct Phrenological Delineation of his Character,
New York: Gardner & Co., .
President Garfield did not die immediately, but lingered for eleven weeks, during which time surgeons repeatedly attempted to find the bullet that had lodged in his back. In spite of Joseph Lister's discoveries regarding the use of antiseptics in surgery, the practice of sterilization had not caught on, and Garfield's wound was probed by many unwashed fingers. The resulting infection, not the bullet, caused Garfield's eventual death.
The Discovery of the Location of One Bullet by Means of Professor Bell's Induction-Balance [detail],
Skinkle, William A., artist,
illustration in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper,
August 20, 1881.
Prints & Photographs Online Catalog
Alexander Graham Bell had been experimenting with the design of a metal detector based on a device that corrected interference on telephone lines. Hoping to locate the bullet and save Garfield's life, Bell constructed a metal detector derived from an induction balance invented by his friend David Hughes, and traveled to Washington, D.C. in mid-July to attempt its use. To Bell's great disappointment, and despite trials over several weeks, the device failed to pinpoint the location of the bullet, which was apparently too deeply lodged to be detected.
On September 6, Garfield was sent to the New Jersey shore in an attempt to aid his recovery. Despite initial signs of improvement, he died two weeks later on September 19. Vice president Chester A. Arthur became president of the United States on September 20, 1881. Garfield's funeral was held in Evansville Indiana six days later.
Garfield's incapacitation sparked a constitutional crisis, as the Cabinet was divided over whether the vice president should assume the office of the incapacitated president or merely act in his stead. It was not until 1967, with the passage of the Twenty-fifth Amendment to the Constitution, that the question of the succession of power was fully addressed. Today, the vice president assumes the office of president in the event that a sitting president is "unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office."
Twenty years after Garfield's assassination, on September 6, 1901, anarchist Leon Czolgosz shot and fatally wounded President William McKinley at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. McKinley's assassination was the third such national tragedy in thirty-seven years.
- Presidents McKinley, Lincoln and Garfield are memorialized in the 1901 film The Martyred Presidents, produced by the Edison Manufacturing Company for distribution with films of McKinley's funeral. Search those names to learn more about each of them.
- The Charles Guiteau Collection is in the custody of the Library of Congress Manuscript Division. Visit the online collection Words and Deeds in American History: Selected Documents Celebrating the Manuscript Division's First 100 Years, to view the New Year's greeting from presidential assassin Charles Julius Guiteau to his jailer, 31 December 1881 and read a longer biography of Guiteau.
- Search American Memory sheet music collections on the names Guiteau and Garfield to learn how the assassination was portrayed in popular culture. See, for example, Guiteau's March to Hades and President Garfield's Funeral March.
- Search The Alexander Graham Bell Family Papers at the Library of Congress on Garfield to find letters between Bell and his wife concerning Bell's attempts to detect the bullet lodged in President Garfield's back.