Gettysburg: Cavalry Battle At Hunterstown


The Hunterstown Cavalry Battlefield, also known as North Cavalry Field at Gettysburg, marks the first time George Armstrong Custer made a name for himself as a gutsy Cavalry Commander. The cavalry battle was waged there after 4:00 PM on July 2, 1863. Brigadier General George Armstrong Custer led his beloved Michigan Cavalry Wolverines against the Confederate States of America’s very capable Brigadier General Wade Hampton.

Battle lines were established about a mile apart, General Custer’s artillery at Felty-Tate Ridge on the northern end and Rebel General Hampton’s artillery at Brinkerhoff’s Ridge to the south. General Custer had ordered most of his Troopers to dismount and lie in wait as he attempted to lead the Rebel cavalry into a trap. Elements of the 6th and 7th Michigan Cavalry dismounted and moved south on foot along both sides of Hunterstown Road. The Michigan Troopers were hidden by tall wheat while they waited for the Rebels to be led into a crossfire.

To complete the trap, the Confederate horsemen would have to be lured into the crossfire. Leading from the front as always, General George Custer led the "bait" himself. The Boy General took about sixty mounted men of Company A 6th Michigan on a daring cavalry charge toward the Confederate position. Riding forward at a gallop, General Custer’s small contingent of Michigan Wolverines established contact with the Confederate Troopers. General Custer then retreated, hoping to draw the Confederates back north to the waiting trap.

The Confederate Cavalry chased General Custer and his Wolverines about a quarter mile up the narrow Hunterstown Road between the fences which hemmed them in. As soon as the Union Cavalry Wolverines cleared the dismounted Union Troopers, the trap was sprung. The Confederate Cavalry was caught in a devastating crossfire. Many of the Confederates continued on, hoping to race past the trap. Unfortunately for them, Union artillery concealed by a barn opened fire at close range, sealing their fate.

The Cavalry battle took place in the image on the left. The eastern portion of the battlefield has been lost through the development of a power plant. The remainder is in private hands. The image on the right is of Hunterstown today.

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The significance of the battle is that it delayed a Rebel attack on Culp’s Hill due to lack of Cavalry support. The Confederate Officers had to reassign 3,000 Officers and Infantrymen to the Hanover Road, weakening their main assault at Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill. This helped save the Army of The Potomac's main position at Gettysburg.

Brigadier General George Armstrong Custer was nearly killed in the battle. General Custer’s horse was shot out from under him, leaving him to the mercy of onrushing Confederates. Private Norvell Churchill, another brave 23 year old, killed one of General Custer's attackers with his saber, hoisted the General off the ground and onto his horse before speeding away.

The sword Norvell Churchill used to save General Custer.

Some see General Custer’s Hunterstown plan as an example of reckless bravery that would get him killed at the Battle of The Little Big Horn. Others like me, see a brave Officer leading from the front, executing a good battle plan. A monument to the battle was dedicated July 2, 2008, the 145th anniversary of the Battle of Hunterstown.

General Custer and the Union Cavalry rode down this road enroute to the battle.

Note the angle of the Tate Farm house. The road in 1863 ran parallel to it.

General Custer lured the Confederates south along this road. The monument to him is visible on the left.

Some of the western portion of the battlefield as it appears today.

The south end of the battlefield.

The power plant that covers some of the eastern portion of the battlefield.

I am very impressed with the website of The Hunterstown Historical Society. They are working hard to preserve our American heritage. Be sure and check out their annual July 2nd Festival. The Civil War Preservation Trust’s “History Under Siege: America's Most Endangered Battlefields” report lists Hunterstown among the “10 most endangered” battlefields. The Felty Farm, where the barn hid General Custer’s troops, was demolished in 2006. In August 2010 I visited the battlefield and monument.



Norvell Churchill

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Wade Hampton


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