Tag Archives: Devil’s Den

Talking About Bad Ground: Walking the Gettysburg Battlefield, Devil’s Den, Little Round Top, the Wheat Field and more…


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday I wrote about my walk around the areas of the Battle of Gettysburg which transpired on the afternoon of July 1st 1863. Today was my crack at doing my best to experience walking the areas of the battlefield that were contested on July 2nd 1863 when Robert E. Lee ordered James Longstreet to assault the Federal left on the basis of Dick Ewell and Jubal Early’s intransigence in ordering a follow up assault on the Federal right, coupled with inaccurate information Lee had about where the end of the Federal line was. The result was the attacks by Longstreet’s divisions which came perilously close to succeeding but which after some of the bloodiest fighting during any three and a half hour period of the war were repulsed by Union troops the Third, Second, and Fifth Corps.


The engagements of that afternoon and evening are etched in our national conscience. Devil’s Den, Little around Top, the Bloody Wheat Field, and the Peach Orchard, not to mention the fights along Rose’s Woods, the Stoney Ridge, Trostle Farm, and Plum Run are each microcosms of the battle, each with heroes, villains, and tactical geniuses and idiots. But my purpose tonight is not to dissect those battles, I am doing that in a text about the Battle of Gettysburg. Instead it is to reflect upon military history and what the men who fought the battle endured.

If you want to understand military history and want to do so without having actually been to war or having taken the time to try to see and walk the ground the soldiers trod firsthand make a critical mistake, especially in campaigns where the soldiers had to walk into combat. As Guy Sager, who endured the Russian Front as an infantryman in the Second World War wrote in his book The Forgotten Soldier:

“Too many people learn about war with no inconvenience to themselves. They read about Verdun or Stalingrad without comprehension, sitting in a comfortable armchair, with their feet beside the fire, preparing to go about their business the next day, as usual…One should read about war standing up, late at night, when one is tired, as I am writing about it now, at dawn, while my asthma attack wears off. And even now, in my sleepless exhaustion, how gentle and easy peace seems!”


Like yesterday I walked. I left my car at my hotel and put on my boots and my three-day pack from Iraq. I ate a biscuit with a little bit of gravy, and had a small cup of coffee at the hotel before I set off. Since the hotel didn’t serve hardtack it was the closest I could get to a Civil War breakfast. From the hotel it is about a two mile walk to get to General Lee’s HQ on Seminary Ridge. Since Longstreet’s advanced elements were about that far back from Lee’s HQ on that morning I thought that it would approximate the march of some of his troops while understanding that some of his Corps had to march far more just to get there before beginning their movement to the south part of the battlefield.

Upon reaching Seminary Ridge I began walking down what would have been the areas occupied by A.P. Hill’s Third Corps that Longstreet’s troops would have passed as they moved south. The distance that they covered was about five miles as the crow flies, but due to bad staff work and coordination most of the men of John Bell Hood and Lafayette McLaws divisions had to go further just to get to their start point for the attack. In the case of Evander Law’s brigade of Hood’s division which had the mission of being the furthest south of the attacking Confederates, they had marched over twenty miles before beginning their attack on Little Round Top. When I reached the area that they did I had only walked about seven and a half miles as opposed to the men of Evander Law’s brigade who had marched over twenty miles to get into their attack positions, but as a mater of fact they were almost all a couple of decades or more younger than me.


When I got to the point of the Confederate attack I walked a path that intersected with the soldiers of Law’s brigade and Robertson’s Texas brigade, both of Hood’s division. Hood had vigorously protested the attack to Longstreet due to the bad ground that his troops would have to traverse to reach their objectives. As I wrote in my draft book on the battle:

Hood was never one to hesitate to attack, but when he saw the situation that faced First Corps, he objected to the attack. “For the first time in his army career Hood suggested a change of orders to his commanding general,” and pleaded with Longstreet to change it. “From his own observations and those of his scouts he concluded that the attack would be futile and result in wanton wage of life.” The fierce Texan “recognized that the battle order, written more than two miles away on mistaken information…did not fit existing conditions.” His objections included the rocky terrain which he believed would break up his battle formations, as well as “the concave character of the enemy’s line from the north end of Cemetery Ridge to Big Round Top would expose his division to a “destructive fire in flank and rear, as well as in front” if his men attacked it obliquely.” He told Longstreet that it was “unwise to attack up the Emmitsburg Road, as ordered” and requested that he be allowed to “turn Round Top and attack the enemy flank and rear.

Meanwhile, the debate between Longstreet and Hood continued as Hood objected and Longstreet reiterated Lee’s insistence on the planned attack. McLaws noted that Hood “found that the enemy were strongly posted on two rocky hills, with artillery and infantry…” and he pleaded for freedom of maneuver. He believed that an attack up the rocky hills was doomed and later noted “it seemed to me that the enemy occupied a position so strong- I may say impregnable – that independently of their flank fire, they could easily repulse our attack by merely throwing or rolling stones down the mountainside as we approached.”


One can look at the ground and one can study it on maps, but until you walk that bad ground, even without doing it while subjected to enemy fire you won’t understand how bad it is. I made my way down a walking path and then tried to move off of it in order to get to Devil’s Den. It was awful, reeds, thrushes, a stream, boulders, and heavy brush prevented me from moving forward. So I went back, followed a trail to Big Round Top and then headed over to Devil’s Den. General Hood was right, the ground to use the words that he spoke to Longstreet after he was wounded “it was the worst ground I ever saw” is not an exaggeration. But the diversion allowed me to find the part of the battle where Brigadier General Elon Farnsworth, after having unsuccessfully resisted orders from Brigadier General Judson Kilpatrick was forced to attack the well dug in Confederate infantry of Lafayette McLaw’s division on July 3rd.


From Devil’s Den I worked my way to Little Round Top. Most of the front slope is inaccessible due to the National Park Service doing a reclamation project, but there is a trail that leads up to it that many of the Confederates would have used. It was steep, and the ground was rugged. By the time I reached the top near the New York Monument I was exhausted. Despite having been in combat and being shot at I cannot imagine how the Confederate soldiers threw themselves up that hill facing small arms and artillery fire at point blank range. Their cause may have been wrong but they were valiant and tough soldiers. The fact that I am 30 to 40 years older than most of them is irrelevant, that ground was a bitch.


After that I went back over to the part of the battlefield occupied by the famous 20th Maine Infantry under the command of Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, and then followed their counter-attack down the hill. From there I went back across the rear slope of Devil’s Den to Houck’s Ridge where heavily outnumbered Union Regulars held their own against Hood and McLaw’s soldiers. From there I went over to the Bloody Wheat Field. Like the Bloody Corn Field at Antietam this was a killing ground which exchanged hands several times during the battle, about 30% of the 20,000 or so soldiers engaged there became casualties. When on looks it the field it is hard to imagine that so many men were killed and wounded in such a short amount of time. Walking across the ground I could not help thinking about the thousands of souls who suffered and died there.


From there I continued through Rose’s Woods and the Stoney Ridge where still more Union and Confederate soldiers fell in desperate fights before walking back west to the Peach Orchard. This was another bloody contest in which General Dan Sickles of the Union Third Corps surprised both the Confederates and his own Commander, General George Meade by moving his corps into an exposed position. The battle there cost many lives and apologists for Sickles, Meade, and the Confederates have used for their own benefit. Sickles is claimed to have nearly lost the battle for the Union, but Longstreet said that his movement and defense of the Peach Orchard was key to the Union victory. Again my purpose in this article is not to take a side in that controversy but to imagine the carnage of the battlefield as well as the bravery of the soldiers on it. It is hard to imagine being a Third Corps Soldier at the Peach Orchard as Confederate artilleryman Porter Alexander’s guns swept their positions, nor being one of McLaw’s infantrymen who were being slaughtered by the experienced Union artillerymen of Third Corps and the Artillery Reserve.


By the time I got to the Peach Orchard I was hungry, thirsty, exhausted, and my feet were hurting. I had a choice. I could simply walk up the Emmitsburg Road and head back to the hotel or I could continue to follow the route of the Confederate advance spearheaded by General Barksdale’s brigade. I went back across Excelsior Field and to the Trostle Farm where Sickles fell wounded, before crossing Plum Run and heading up Cemetery Ridge where the Confederate advance was halted. I then walked back to the hotel via Cemetery Ridge, the Taneytown Road and the Soldiers Cemetery, before making a brief stop on East Cemetery Hill.

Since I was exhausted and darkness and rain were beginning to close in I decided not to do my walk around the Culp’s Hill battlefield. That will have to wait for another time. Since the rain is expected to continue into the morning and I hate getting wet I’ll put off my walk around Culp’s Hill until another time.

Tomorrow I will head home early to help Judy do some work around our house. My friend Bill who met me last night had take care of a business emergency call from one of his customers in the Shenandoah Valley this morning and since it’s just me I figure I can head back home. Lord willing there is always tomorrow right?


But as a closing commentary:

In the past couple of months I have walked nearly 50 miles across two of the nation’s bloodiest battlefields, Antietam and Gettysburg. Honestly I don’t know a lot of people in policy making positions who do things like that. The tragedy of the American Civil War and the nearly three quarters of a million soldiers of both sides who died during it seems to me to have been forgotten or relegated to the realm of myth by too many Americans, including the President and many of his advisers and supporters. If we forget the cost and meaning of the Civil War, the validation of the proposition of the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal then we do a grave injustice to those who fell in that war, unless we want to support Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens who said that slavery was the Cornerstone of the Confederate nation. The costs to our nation are too great to let the the lessons of our Civil War be relegated to myth or exploited to reimagine a recreated Confederacy dominating the rest of the country are too great to allow the President, who has called violent neo-Confederates and White Supremacists “very fine people” or to fail to resist theocratic people from imposing their religious beliefs on others as did the Southern clergy who helped break the bonds of the Union beginning in their own denominations in the 1840s.

Since I have now eaten and had a few beers  I will take my 57 year old body to bed and get ready to head home in the morning.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil war, Gettysburg, History, Military, Political Commentary

July 2nd at Gettysburg Pt. 5: The Wheatfield

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

For those that have followed my writing for some time you know that I teach military history and ethics at the Joint Forces Staff College. One of the great joys that I have is leading the Gettysburg Staff Ride, which is an optional event for students that want to participate. When I took the position here I took some of my older writings on Gettysburg and put them into a student study guide and text. That was two years ago. Then the text was about 70 pages long. It is now about 925 pages long and eventually I hope to get it published. When and if that happens I expect it to become two, and possibly three books.

This is the fifth of a series of articles that I will be posting potions of a chapter that I have rewritten about the critical battles on the south side of the battlefield on July 2nd 1863, the battle for Devil’s Den, the Wheatfield, the Peach Orchard, and the final repulse on Cemetery Ridge.

As you read this don’t just look at the events, but look at the people, and their reaction to the what they encountered on the battlefield, for that understanding of people is where we come to understand history.

So even if you are not a Civil War buff, or even a history buff, take the time to look at the people, their actions, and the things that made them who they were, and influenced what they did. History is about people.

So please enjoy,

Peace

Padre Steve+

To the left of Benning, “Tige” Anderson’s brigade and two of Robertson’s orphaned regiments assaulted the remaining elements of Hobart Ward’s brigade along the western section of Houck’s Ridge and Rose’s Woods. Ward had been assigned by his division commander, David Birney to defend the left flank of Sickles over-extended line. To do so he had already placed the men of the 124th New York and the 4th Maine on his left, while those remaining took position on Houck’s Ridge and in Rose’s Woods. Like the other units of Third Corps, these troops were all veterans led by veteran officers and they would not give ground without a fight. However, Ward’s troops had not taken the time to erecting any hasty fortifications or breastworks, as one “veteran remembered it, “we had not yet learned the inestimable value of breastworks, and instead of spending time rolling the loose stones into a bullet-proof line, we lounged about on the grass and rocks.” [1] But when the Confederate assault began, these men took advantage of the nature terrain features which made it formidable even without such efforts.

As the Confederates moved against Ward’s troops on the ridge and in Rose’s Woods their left flank made contact with the adjoining brigade of Regis de Trobriand, the leftmost regiment of which, the 17th Maine was posted at the southwest corner of the Wheatfield. As the Union infantry regiments braced for the attack, the Confederate formations were shredded by the shells of the Federal artillery which crashed upon them. “I could hear bones crash like glass in a hail storm,” asserted a Georgian. Colonel Dudley M. DuBose of the 15th Georgia avowed, “I never saw troops move on more steadily & in better order than these did on that occasion.” [2] Despite the carnage the Georgians continued on, and when they got within seventy-five yards of the 17th Maine opened a blistering fire which “slowed Anderson’s brigade’s assault but certainly did not stop it.” [3] Lieutenant Colonel Charles Merrill of the 17th Maine wrote:

“We opened fire on the enemy, then within 100 yards of us. The contest became very severe, the enemy at times being driven back by our line, then by superior numbers compelling us in turn to give way. The ground was hotly contested, but we held our position till, finding the right of my regiment outflanked and exposed to murderous fire from the enemy’s reinforcements, I was obliged to form a new line, changing the right wing of the regiment into position at a right angle to the left. This movement was executed in good order, under a heavy fire from the advancing foe. In this position we continued to fight, checking the enemy till, receiving orders to retire, we fell back across a wheat-field in our rear to the edge of the woods.” [4]

Anderson’s Confederates continued their attack and as they advanced Anderson was wounded and Colonel W.W. White took command, and while the Georgians had succeeded in taking some ground and inflicted heavy casualties on the Federal troops, the brigade was spent. Attesting to the severity of the fight Colonel White wrote, “From the exhausted condition of the men, together with the fact that the enemy were pouring in large re-enforcements on the right, it was deemed impractical to follow him further… The brigade retired in good order across the ravine, and went into bivouac for the night…. The loss of the brigade was heavy…. 105 killed, 512 wounded, and 146 missing.” [5]

The fight in Rose’s Woods and the Wheatfield between Birney’s division and the men of Benning and Anderson’s brigades drew in other units and McLaws’ division entered the fight and the men of Caldwell’s division of the Federal Fifth Corps entered the battle. Initially, the Union infantry was outnumbered but it had the support of the artillery that Henry Hunt had rushed into the fight. The brigades to the right of the woods on the rocky hill commanded by Tilton and Sweitzer were rapidly becoming isolated as the Confederates advanced to their rear and Kershaw’s South Carolina brigade “appeared through the smoke” like a malevolent fury, “moving with shout, shriek, curse, and yell…loading and firing with deliberation as they advanced, begrimed and dirty-looking fellows in all sorts of garb, some without hats, some without coats, none apparently in the real dress or uniform of a soldier.” [6]

Joseph Kershaw was one of the few Confederate commanders without a legacy to protect to write in detail about the battle in the Wheatfield. Kershaw was a lawyer and politician who had served in the Mexican-American War with the Palmetto Regiment. After the war he went back to civilian life and served as a member of the South Carolina State Senate. When South Carolina seceded from the Union, Kershaw volunteered for service and was made Colonel of the 2nd South Carolina Volunteer Infantry which he commanded at Fort Sumter, Bull Run, and on the Peninsula. “Natural leadership and applied intelligence had advanced him to brigades command, and he was tabbed for future material for division command.” [7] As a brigade commander he distinguished himself during the Seven days, Second Bull, Run, Antietam, and Fredericksburg. Kershaw was an natural leader and displayed an ability for “quick and rational decisions, and he never endangered his men rashly” [8] His division commander, Lafayette McLaws had a tremendous amount of trust and respect for his subordinate. “Pious, intelligent, a clear blond of high bred, clean-cut features, he had the bearing of command and a clear voice that seemed to inspire courage when it was raised in battle.” [9] Kershaw was “probably the most popular brigade commander in the entire Army of Northern Virginia. His South Carolinians – the 2,100 men of the 2nd, 3rd, 7th, 8th, and 15th South Carolina, along with the seven companies that made up the 3rd South Carolina Battalion – adored him as “a very fine man and good officer” who is liked by everyone.” Actually, this forty-one-year-old lawyer from Camden…was a chronic depressive, unhappily married, and “intensely lonely” [10] That did not diminish the love of his men for him, and His brigade had been the lead unit of the First Corps’ disastrous movement to contact that afternoon, and he had watched the contra-temps between Longstreet’s and McLaws during the march and counter-march that morning and afternoon, and upon the discovery of Sickles’ troops in the Peach Orchard. His brigade, a unit of battle-hardened veterans may not have looked like soldiers due to the wear and tear of constant campaigning and the lack of new uniforms or equipment but they were among the toughest and most disciplined brigades on either side.

Kershaw’s brigade as well as the Georgia brigade of Brigadier General Paul Semmes, the brother of Rafael Semmes, the Captain of the raider CSS Alabama, formed the right flank of Lafayette McLaws’ attack on the Peach Orchard and the Wheatfield. Kershaw understood from his discussions with McLaws and Longstreet that his attack was supposed to be coordinated with that of Hood’s division on his right, which was “sweep down the Federal line in a direction perpendicular to our line of battle.” [11] and with Barksdale’s brigade on his left. However, as his troops prepared to jump off to start their attack Kershaw “got his first unpleasant surprise when he observed Hood’s brigades moving “independently against Round Top,” a departure from the plan that meant they would not “directly participate in the joint attack.” [12] Without Hood’s support on his right Kershaw was now completely dependent on Barksdale’s brigade on his left to hit the Peach Orchard to protect his left flank from the massed Federal artillery on that height.

When Kershaw received word to advance his troops moved off followed by Semmes’ brigade while Longstreet accompanied the brigade until it reached the Emmitsburg Road. Kershaw made a tactical decision which made sense but which had a major impact on his attack. “All field and staff officers were dismounted on account of the many obstacles in the way.” [13] Kershaw chose to move with his right regiments and being dismounted this diminished his ability to see what was going on with his left, and limited his ability to provide command and control. This was not a mistake, it was a sound tactical move due to the terrain and the exposure of mounted officers to sharpshooters and artillery directed specifically at them.

As Kershaw’s men advanced he looked for Barksdale’s brigade, and only then “heard Barksdale’s drums beat the assembly, and I knew then that I should have no immediate support on my left, about to be squarely presented to the heavy force of infantry and artillery at and in the rear of the Peach Orchard.[14] Without Barksdale on his flank Kershaw was forced to improvise, he divided his regiments with “two going straight toward the stony hill, he sent two to their left to take the Union batteries in the back of the peach orchard.” [15] Porter Alexander, commanding Longstreet’s artillery noted that “Barksdale’s delay “ was especially unfortunate in this case, because advancing Kershaw without advancing Barksdale would expose Kershaw to enfilade by troops who Barksdale would easily drive off. Few battlefields can furnish examples of worse tactics.” [16]

Up to the point of crossing the Emmitsburg Road, Kershaw’s regiments had a relatively easy advance, but as Kershaw feared, they were hit from the front and flank by rifle fire, and by artillery fire. “We saw plainly that their artillerists were loading their guns to meet our assault, while their mounted officers went dashing wildly from gun to gun, to be sure that all were ready,” recalled one soldier of the 2nd South Carolina, and when they opened fire, “every Federal cannon let fly at us” with solid shot and canister.” [17] The effect on Kershaw’s troops was devastating. Scores of his troops were cut down as they advanced, even so they continued to move forward. Private William Shumate of the 2nd South Carolina described the effect of the massed Union artillery fire on Kershaw’s troops. “Kershaw’s brigade moved…in perfect order and with the precision of brigade drill, while upon my right and left comrades were stricken down by grape and canister which went crashing through our ranks. It did not seem to me that none could escape.” [18] Kershaw’s left regiments were now approaching the Federal artillery and Kershaw had lost contact with them. As they approached the Union guns, those batteries ceased fire and prepared to withdraw.

Victory seemed assured and then the unthinkable happened, as it so often does in the confusion of battle and the fog of war; an order was issued by an unknown officer to change the direction of the attack. Evidently someone misunderstood “Kershaw’s orders or his intent and with this false order aborted the attack.” [19] The change of direction resulted in those regiments making a right flank and presenting their exposed left to the Federal artillery men, who now remained their guns and opened a devastating and merciless fire into the flank of the South Carolinians. Kershaw was livid and later wrote:

“The Federals returned to their guns and opened on these doomed regiments a raking fire of grape and canister, at short distance, which proved most disastrous, and for a time destroyed their usefulness. Hundreds of the bravest and best men of Carolina fell, victims of this fatal blunder.” [20]

A Massachusetts infantryman walked the field after the charge and noted, “Masses of Kershaw’s and Wofford’s brigades had been swept from the muzzles of the guns, which had been loaded either with double-shotted, or spherical case, with fuses being cut to one second, to explode near the muzzles. They were literally blown to atoms. Corpses strewed the ground at every step. Arms, heads, legs and parts of dismembered bodies were scattered all about, and sticking among the rocks and against the trunks of trees, hair, brains, entrails, and shreds of human flesh still hung, a disgusting, sickening, heart-rending spectacle to our young minds.” [21]

While his left regiments were being manhandled by the Federal artillery due to the errant order, Kershaw’s right regiments continued their attack on troops of De Trobriand, Sweitzer, and Tilton, on the stony hill. This landmark was in the process of being cut off from the rest of the Federal army as Anderson’s troops gained control of the Wheatfield.

On the surface it seems that the three brigades should have been enough to hold the stony hill, although this is not entirely clear from contemporary accounts or from the histories published since. But, there is one overriding opinion that comes through in most of the accounts, which is that there was a problem with Federal command and control on this section of the battlefield. When the Fifth Corps units of Barnes’ division began arriving in the Third Corps section, Sickles and Birney assumed that these troops were subordinated to their command, but Meade had given contrary orders to Sykes who assumed that the changed orders “relieved his troops from “any call from the commander of the Third Corps.” [22] Whether this was Meade’s plan, Sykes’ interpretation of his orders, or Sickles’ seeking to shift some of the blame for the near disaster to someone else depends on which account one reads.

Thus when pressure began to build on the stony hill as Kershaw’s troops advanced from the front and Anderson’s worked their way to the rear, Barnes or Tilton apparently gave orders to Tilton and Sweitzer, whose “brigades had put up a brief but determined fight along their end of the stony ridge” [23] to withdraw from their position. Like the other controversies of this day this too played out in the media long after the battle was over, however, Sweitzer “clearly reported that he did not retreat until after Tilton’s brigade had fallen back, and then fell back by Barnes’ order.” [24] What appeared to have happened was that the renewed advance of Kershaw’s troops had intimidated Barnes and Tilton, and Barnes, watching the advance with anxiety “issued a precautionary order for withdraw. It seems in retrospect that caution had gone beyond prudence to pessimism.” [25] De Trobriand, who had been encouraged by the arrival of the two brigades was stunned when he saw them withdraw and wrote, “I saw these troops rise up and fall back hurriedly at the command of their officers.” [26] He realized that his position was now untenable noting, “I found myself in danger of being surrounded, and fell back out of the woods” and reforming his lines kept “the enemy at bay until the arrival of sufficient reinforcements from the Second Corps allowed us to be relieved when our ammunition was just exhausted.” [27] The end result was that Kershaw’s troops, despite the heavy casualties that they had suffered now gained the summit of the stony hill and joined forces with Anderson’s brigade. “This success, coupled with the eviction of Ward’s brigade from its position at Devil’s Den, meant that the whole left wing of Sickles’s line had been smashed and that its right wing along the Emmitsburg Road was in jeopardy.” [28]

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The arrival of the four brigades of John Caldwell’s division of Winfield Scott Hancock’s Second Corps occurred in a nick of time for the men along Sickles’ beleaguered line along the Wheatfield. One of these brigades was the Irish Brigade formerly commanded by Dan Sickles’ friend, and former defense attorney, Thomas Meagher, and now commanded by Colonel Patrick Kelly of the 88th New York. The Irish Brigade had been decimated in fight after fight, “now numbering only about five hundred men. Indeed, as one Irish Brigade officer noted, they “were a brigade in name only.” [29] When it became clear that the brigade was about to go into action, the brigade’s chaplain and after the war, the President of Notre Dame University, Father William Corby, realized that his duties “included the lifting the burden of sin from his flock through the act of conditional absolution.” [30] What followed was one of the most remembered events of the battle. Colonel Kelly:

“called the brigade to attention and commanded it to “Order Arms.” Father Corby stepped up on a boulder about three feet high, explained what he was about to do, and ended his remarks with the observation that the “Catholic church refuses Christian burial to the soldier who turns his back on the foe or deserts his flag.” The men of the brigade knelt, each man on his right knee, head uncovered, hat in left hand, rifle in right, and head bowed, while Chaplain Corby, raised his right hand and pronounced the Latin words of absolution.” [31]

When Father Corby pronounced the words “Dominus nos Jesus Christus vos absolvat” they were made more poignant by the sound of the guns and echoing explosions to their south. The commander of the 116th Pennsylvania noted that even General Hancock, a Protestant noted for his frequent blasphemy, was “watching from his horse, removed his hat and bowed his head. It was, as Corby later declared, an absolution for them all – Catholics and Protestants, northerners and southerners, all “who were susceptible of it who were about to appear before their judge.” [32] An observer wrote “The service was more than impressive, it was awe-inspiring.” [33]

Upon receiving his orders Caldwell moved his division forward crossing Plum Run and moving toward the Wheatfield at the double-quick. Colonel Edward Cross’s brigade was on the right. When Hancock saw him he remarked “Colonel Cross, this day will bring you a star.” Colonel Cross, looking up at Hancock, shook his head and replied gravely, “No General, this is my last battle.” [34] Cross normally wore a red bandana to allow his troops to recognize him in battle, but today he wore a black scarf on his head. As his troops advanced he called out to them, “Boys, you know what’s before you…give ’em hell.” [35] His brigade was followed by Kelly’s Irish Brigade and Brigadier General Samuel Zook’s brigade and that John Brooke. When Caldwell’s division struck it struck with fury, but was met with terrific resistance by Anderson’s men in the Wheatfield and Kershaw’s on the stony hill. Cross’s brigade was stopped before it could break through the Confederate line, with their commander being mortally wounded in the attack. Cross was hit in the abdomen and realizing his wound was mortal said “I hope that peace will be restored to our distressed country. I think that the boys will miss me. Say goodbye to all.” [36]

Wheatfield-irish

Zook’s brigade came next, taking its direction from Dan Sickles. The brigade “deployed near the Trostle farm, and advanced against Kershaw’s men on the stony hill.” [37] There they were met by withering fire, and Zook leading his men from the front was mortally wounded, his brigade suffering massive casualties even as they continued to advance and many “of the companies…came out commanded by sergeants.” [38] A survivor of the brigade remembered it, “the firing became terrific and the slaughter frightful. We were enveloped in smoke and fire, not only in our front, but on our left, and even at times on our right….Our men fired promiscuously, steadily pressing forward, but the fighting was so mixed, rebel and union lines so close together, and in some places intermingled, that a clear idea of what was going on was not readily obtainable.” [39] These stalwart men were followed by Kelly’s Irish Brigade and Brooke’s brigade, Caldwell’s last available unit, which moved through the Wheatfield and up the slope of the stony hill.

These brigades, as well as Sweitzer’s, which had been commandeered by Caldwell finally wrested control of the Wheatfield from Anderson and the stony hill from Kershaw. As the Irish advanced a South Carolina officer remarked “Isn’t that a magnificent sight.” [40] Kershaw later wrote that “the fighting was general and desperate all along the time and so continued for some time….I feared the brave men around me would be surrounded by the large force of enemy constantly increasing in numbers and all the while enveloping us. In order to avoid such a catastrophe, I ordered a retreat to the buildings at Rose’s.” [41] Major St. Clair Mulholland, commanding the 116th Pennsylvania of the Irish Brigade recalled the fight for the hill:

“Having entered a dense woods, we began to ascend a hill, where large bowlders of rocks impeded our progress, notwithstanding which we advanced in good order. We soon came within sight of the enemy, who occupied the crest of the hill, and who immediately opened fire at our approach. Our brigade returned the fire with good effect. After firing for about ten minutes, the order was given to advance, which the brigade did in excellent style, driving the enemy from their position, which we at once occupied….We found the position which our enemy had occupied but a few moments before thickly strewn with the dead and wounded.” [42]

For a time the mixed units that the Federals had committed to the fight for the Wheatfield and the stony hill, along with Sykes’s division of Regulars which had moved up to their left flank stabilized the Federal line. For a time it “appeared that the Rebel effort to overwhelm the Federal flank had failed, save for Devil’s Den. But the situation was changing quickly…”[43]. But the conduct of the battle, “in large part to Sickles, and with help from Longstreet’s execution of the attack, the situation was proving to be a bloody mess on both sides.” [44] The Federal occupation of the stony hill lasted barely twenty minutes when a new threat arose from the direction of the Peach Orchard, Caldwell’s success had placed the division in an exposed position and he had no reserves left to counter any Confederate move on his right flank.

To be continued…

Notes

[1] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.164

[2] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.259

[3] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg, the Second Day p.247

[4] Ibid. Luvaas and Nelson Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg p.105

[5] Ibid. Luvaas and Nelson Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg p.108

[6] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg, the Last Invasion p.286

[7] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.197

[8] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.214

[9] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg, The Second Day p.151

[10] Ibid Guelzo Gettysburg, The Last Invasion p.282

[11] Ibid. Kershaw Kershaw’s Brigade at Gettysburg p.333

[12] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg, a Testing of Courage p.351

[13] Ibid. Kershaw Kershaw’s Brigade at Gettysburg p.334

[14] Ibid. Kershaw Kershaw’s Brigade at Gettysburg pp.334-335

[15] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.222

[16] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.181

[17] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg, the Last Invasion p.287

[18] Gottfried, Bradley The Artillery of Gettysburg Cumberland House Publishing, Nashville TN 2008 p.125

[19] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.285

[20] Ibid. Kershaw Kershaw’s Brigade at Gettysburg p.335

[21] Ibid. Gottfried The Artillery of Gettysburg p.126

[22] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign a Study in Command p.399

[23] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg, the Last Invasion p.286

[24] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.187

[25] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg, The Second Day p.259

[26] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.286

[27] Ibid. Luvaas and Nelson Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg p.114

[28] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg, The Second Day pp.264-265

[29] Bruce, Susannah Ural The Harp and the Flag: Irish American Volunteers and the Union Army, 1861-1865 New York University Press, New York and London 2006 p.160

[30] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg, a Testing of Courage p.303

[31] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg, The Second Day p.268

[32] Ibid. Bruce The Harp and the Flag p.165

[33] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg, a Testing of Courage p.303

[34] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg, The Second Day p.269

[35] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg, the Last Invasion p.291

[36] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg, The Second Day p.273

[37] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg, a Testing of Courage p.363

[38] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg, the Last Invasion p.295

[39] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.290

[40] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg, a Testing of Courage p.363

[41] Ibid. Kershaw Kershaw’s Brigade at Gettysburg pp.336-337

[42] Ibid. Luvaas and Nelson Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg p.117

[43] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg, a Testing of Courage p.367

[44] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.192

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July 2nd at Gettysburg Pt. 4: The Confederate Storm at Devil’s Den

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

For those that have followed my writing for some time you know that I teach military history and ethics at the Joint Forces Staff College. One of the great joys that I have is leading the Gettysburg Staff Ride, which is an optional event for students that want to participate. When I took the position here I took some of my older writings on Gettysburg and put them into a student study guide and text. That was two years ago. Then the text was about 70 pages long. It is now about 925 pages long and eventually I hope to get it published. When and if that happens I expect it to become two, and possibly three books.

This is the fourth of a series of articles that I will be posting potions of a chapter that I have rewritten about the critical battles on the south side of the battlefield on July 2nd 1863, the battle for Devil’s Den, the Wheatfield, the Peach Orchard, and the final repulse on Cemetery Ridge.

As you read this don’t just look at the events, but look at the people, and their reaction to the what they encountered on the battlefield, for that understanding of people is where we come to understand history.

So even if you are not a Civil War buff, or even a history buff, take the time to look at the people, their actions, and the things that made them who they were, and influenced what they did. History is about people.

So please enjoy,

Peace

Padre Steve+

Men_of_Granite

Fix bayonets my brave Texans

The delays had taken a toll on the Confederate plan. By the time Hood and McLaws divisions were in place along with Anderson’s division from Hill’s Third Corps it was nearly four o’clock. Throughout the day the senior commanders of the Army of Northern Virginia had made a thorough mess of their chances for success, but when the attack began it blew into the Federal forces like a violent storm as the Confederate troops fell upon the soldiers of Sickles Third Corps.

However, the Confederate assault was marred by still more command and control issues, the most important which happened in Hood’s division.. “Contrary to orders Hood had moved his division away from the Emmitsburg road for the purpose of taking Little Round Top and outflanking the Union position on the heights of Devil’s Den.” [1] Riding in front of his old Texas brigade, Hood called out “Fix bayonets my brave Texans…forward and take those heights.” His loyal troops responded to their former commander, and cheered his words in response: “Follow the Lone Star Flag to the Top of the mountain!” Cried the lieutenant colonel of the 1st Texas, and there “arose such a wild indescribable battle yell that no one having heard ever forgot.” [2]

McLaws had waited until Hood’s troops advanced across the rough ground that separated his division from “Smith recalled that his guns “tore gap after gap in the ranks of the Confederate foe.” Robertson agreed, reporting that as his brigade advanced through the intervening fields, “for half a mile we were exposed a heavy and destructive fire of canister, grape, and shell” [3] Little Round Top and Devil’s Den. As Hood’s division moved forward it came under artillery fire from the four 10 pound Parrot Rifles of Captain James Smith’s 4th New York Independent Battery on Houck’s Ridge above Devil’s Den and it began to sustain casualties. . Among the earliest to fall was John Bell Hood who was badly wounded when a shell “exploded above his head, and one of the fragments tore into his left arm.” The arm would have to be amputated and as he was taken away by stretcher-bearers recalled that he experienced “deep distress of mind and heart at the inevitable fate of my brave fellow-soldiers, who formed one of the greatest divisions of that world-renown army….” [4]

The absence of Hood would create a leadership void in his division as it made its attack on Devil’s Den and Little Round Top as his successor Evander Law was deeply engaged in leading his brigade in its epic fight at Little Round Top, and not able to influence or coordinate the attacks of the remaining brigades of the division. Coordination “between the brigades soon dissolved. Regiments in Law’s Alabama brigade veered apart, and a gap formed in the center of Jerome Robertson’s Texas Brigade. While these units angled toward the Round Tops, behind them, moving towards Rose’s Woods and Devil’s Den came the pair of Georgia brigades under Henry Benning and George T. Anderson.” [5] Order broke down, and soon control was at the company commander level or lower, “Every fellow was his own general,” a Texan later wrote. “Private soldiers give commands as loud as officers, nobody paying attention to either. [6] In the absence of Hood, Brigadier, and feeling the pressure of the situation, General J.B. Robertson commanding the Texas Brigade on Law’s left, took the initiative and sent couriers to Henry Benning and George Anderson “urging them to hurry their brigades to his support.” [7]

As Law’s brigade and two of Robertson’s regiments assaulted Little Round Top, the remainder of Robertson’s brigade as well as those of Benning and Anderson attacked the Federal position on Devil’s Den. There a fierce fight ensued as the badly outnumbered troops of the 124th New York under the command of Colonel Augustus Van Horn Ellis, and the four guns of Smith’s 4th New York Independent Battery refused to yield the hill to Robertson and Benning’s troops.

Men_Must_See_Us_Today_Gettysburg

The 124th New York was raised in Orange County New York, and a veteran unit, but it had taken many casualties and during the afternoon of July 2nd 1863 it went into action with just 18 officers and 220 men, in a position just to the left rear of Smith’s battery. The left flank of the 124th was protected by the tiny 4th Maine Infantry and the two remaining guns of Smith’s battery. Captain Smith whose battery had already expended its supply of case shot called out, “Give them she’ll! Give them solid shot! Damn them, give them anything!” [8]

Led by their gallant commander, who against the advice of a number of officers, mounted his horse and further exposed himself to enemy fire, the New Yorkers of the 124th were aware of their critical place on the battlefield. Looking at his Major Cromwell, Ellis remarked “the men must see us today.” [9] Cromwell cried out the order to charge the advancing Texans, and “the New Yorkers rushed down the west face of Houck’s Ridge at the double-quick. The 1st Texas reeled back some 200 yards under the surprise onslaught. “The conflict at this point defied description,” wrote an officer of e 124th. “Roaring cannon, crashing rifles, screeching shots, bursting shells, hissing bullets, cheers, shouts, shrieks and groans….” [10] A Confederate soldier wrote that the battle “was more like Indian fighting…than anything I experienced in the war.” [11] A reporter from the Savannah Republican accompanying Benning’s brigade wrote, “Down the plunging shot came…bursting before and around and everywhere tearing up the ground in a terrific rain of death….[As Benning’s brigade] approached the [Yankee] guns, the rain of grape and canister began! Mingling their sharp cries with the shrill whistle of the mad minnie balls which seemed to come in showers.” [12] The gallant regiment held off several attacks by Robertson’s Texans, and Ellis was killed by a bullet, as was Major Cromwell, and many of their gallant soldiers. “In the savage hand-to-hand fighting among the rocks, men shot at one another from the opposite side of the same Boulder, sometimes so close that clothing caught fire from the blaze of an enemy’s rifle. The high-pitched Rebel yell and the full-throated Federal huzzahs echoed through the rocks as first one side and then the other gave way…” [13]

In his after action report, Henry Benning wrote:

“When my first line reached the foot of the peak, I found there a part of the First Texas, struggling to make the ascent… The part of the First Texas…falling in with my brigade, the whole line commenced ascending the rugged…steep [incline] and, on the right, crossing the gorge. The ground was difficult – rocks in many places presenting, by their precipitous sides, insurmountable obstacles, while the fire of the was very heavy and very deadly. The progress was, therefore, not very rapid, but it was regular and uninterrupted….” [14]

With their supporting infantry considerably weakened, Smith’s guns were in danger. Some of Robertson’s troops had reached the base of the hill and taken cover behind a stone wall where they could take Smith’s artillery men under fire. Smith “could no longer depress his guns sufficiently to hit the Rebels. Occupying the low ground and using boulders for cover, the Confederates began to pick off Smith’s gunners. Smith “saw it would be impossible…to hold my position without assistance” and fell back…but the loss of artillery support was the beginning of the collapse of Sickles left flank.” [15] To the left in the Plum Run Valley, which later became known as the Valley of Death, the 4th Maine and Smith’s remaining guns fought off attacks by Robertson and Benning’s brigades before being forced to retreat. With his left now threatened Brigadier General Hobart Ward dispatched the 99th Pennsylvania to protect it, thinning his lines to do so. The Pennsylvanians of the 99th as well as men from the 124th New York, and the 4th Maine launched a counter-attack which succeeded in regaining the lower section of Houck’s Ridge. A soldier of the 99th recalled the moment his unit entered the fight, “Above the crack of the rifle, the scream of shells and the cries of the wounded, could be heard the shout of for “Pennsylvania and our homes…” [16] The cost had been great, but the ridge had been retaken from it the Union men rained fire down on the Alabamians below them in the Valley of Death. Hood’s men occupied Devil’s Den and secured a small lodgment on Houck’s Ridge which enabled the assault on Little Round Top to continue.

In a sense the fight at Devil’s Den was a victory for the Confederates as they had forced Ward’s troops from the position, but the human cost had been high among the men of the assaulting regiments. Robertson was wounded and had to be carried from the field, and most of the field officers of the Texas brigade were either killed or wounded leading their troops in the fight. Historian Harry Pfanz wrote, “The hard fighting at Devil’s Den, together with the sinister character of the spot, gave it a hallowed place in American history that might actually exceed its actual significance.” [17]

Robertson’s Texans and some of Law’s Alabamians surged up the slope of Little Round Top. But the sacrifice of the New Yorkers and Maine men was not in vain, they had helped buy the needed minutes for the soldiers of Colonel Strong Vincent’s brigade to arrive at the summit of Little Round Top, and Confederate casualties had been very heavy even before they attempted to scale the heights of Little Round Top.

To be continued…

Notes

[1] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.402

[2] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg, the Last Invasion p.256

[3] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.166

[4] Ibid. Pfanz The Second Day at Gettysburg pp.172-173

[5] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.259

[6] Ibid. Foote The Stars in Their Courses p.128

[7] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign a Study in Command p.402

[8] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.273

[9] Ibid. Pfanz The Second Day at Gettysburg p.293

[10] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg pp.273-274

[11] Ibid. Foote The Stars in Their Courses p.128

[12] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg, A Testing of Courage p.342

[13] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.211

[14] Luvaas, Jay and Nelson, Harold W. Editors The U.S. army War College Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg, South Mountain Press Incorporated, Carlisle PA 1986 p.99

[15] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.166

[16] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg, A Testing of Courage p.345

[17] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg, the Second Day

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July 2nd at Gettysburg: Part 1, Preparations

The Enemy is There

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

For those that have followed my writing for some time you know that I teach military history and ethics at the Joint Forces Staff College. One of the great joys that I have is leading the Gettysburg Staff Ride, which is an optional event for students that want to participate. When I took the position here I took some of my older writings on Gettysburg and put them into a student study guide and text. That was two years ago. Then the text was about 70 pages long. It is now about 925 pages long and eventually I hope to get it published. When and if that happens I expect it to become two, and possibly three books.

This is the first of a series of articles that I will be posting potions of a chapter that I have rewritten about the critical battles on the south side of the battlefield on July 2nd 1863, the battle for Devil’s Den, the Wheatfield, the Peach Orchard, and the final repulse on Cemetery Ridge.

As you read this don’t just look at the events, but look at the people, and their reaction to the what they encountered on the battlefield, for that understanding of people is where we come to understand history.

So even if you are not a Civil War buff, or even a history buff, take the time to look at the people, their actions, and the things that made them who they were, and influenced what they did. History is about people.

So please enjoy,

Peace

Padre Steve+

Preparations

On July 2nd 1863 as on the first day of battle and throughout the Gettysburg campaign issues of command and control would be of paramount importance to both armies. On the second day the glaring deficiencies of Robert E Lee and his corps commanders command and control at Gettysburg would again be brought to the fore. Likewise the exemplary command of the Army of the Potomac by George Meade, Winfield Scott Hancock, staff artillery officer Henry Hunt and staff engineer Gouverneur Warren exemplified the best aspects of what we now define as Mission Command.

The definition of mission command as currently defined in American doctrine helps us in some ways to understand what happened on July 2nd 1863. Without imposing current doctrine on the leaders at Gettysburg, the definition describes the timeless aspect of leadership in battle and the importance of the human dynamic in war.

“Mission command is the conduct of military operations through decentralized execution based upon mission-type orders. Successful mission command demands that subordinate leaders at all echelons exercise disciplined initiative, acting aggressively and independently to accomplish the mission. Essential to mission command is the thorough knowledge and understanding of the commander’s intent at every level of command.” [1]

It is with this in mind that we look at the actions of various commanders during the critical second day of the battle of Gettysburg, and as we do so we also try to examine their lives and in a sense try to bring them to life. It is important because the actions of a number of commanders, including Robert E. Lee, George Meade, James Longstreet, Dan Sickles, and to a lesser degree A.P. Hill would be the subject of a great amount of controversy and partisan bickering that still lingers a century and a half later.

Confederate Consternation

Before the sun rose on July 2nd James Longstreet took stock of the situation. The burly commander of First Corps was now working to bring the divisions of McLaws and Hood from their bivouac sites west of Herr’s Ridge and onto the battlefield. While his divisions moved out, Longstreet met with Lee to again express his opposition to taking the offensive. He again brought up the subject of making a “broad turning movement around the enemy’s left flank that would place the Confederate army between the Federal capital and George Meade’s army.” [2] As he did the previous night, Lee again rebuffed Longstreet’s suggestion and apparently frustrated by Longstreet’s continued resistance to his decision Lee “walked off by himself, away from the conflict.” [3] Lee then left Longstreet and went to confer with Dick Ewell to discuss the possibility of attacking the Federal right, and he sent his staff topographical engineer, Captain Samuel Johnson to reconnoiter the Federal left.

At this point Lee had not yet decided where to attack. Again he conferred with Ewell about the possibility of attacking the Federal right, but Ewell again dissuaded him from doing so. Ewell insisted that a “daylight attack on Culp’s Hill or Cemetery Hill would be costly and of doubtful success.” [4] For a second time Lee brought up the possibility of Ewell redeploying his corps from its positions around the “fishhook” of the Federal line to the west where they could better support an assault on the Federal left, but as he had the previous night “Ewell persuaded the general commanding to leave his corps where it was.” [5] In doing so Ewell promised to create a demonstration on the Federal right when he heard Longstreet’s attack commence. But, “according to Fitzhugh Lee, He decided to turn Meade’s left with Longstreet’s corps, demonstrate against his centre and right with Hill’s and Ewell’s corps, and then convert this demonstration into a real attack directly Longstreet’s attack succeeded.” [6] Ewell’s corps was to be the “anvil against which Longstreet would smash whatever was left of the 1st and 11th Corps, or any other Union reinforcements might have arrived overnight.” [7] However, the position of Second Corps around the fishhook was a poor position. “It greatly extended the army’s lines, and confronted the most defensible part of the Federal lines.” [8] Likewise, the position offered little advantage for Ewell’s artillery.

By the time Lee returned to his headquarters the divisions of Hood and McLaws, with the exception of Law’s brigade of Hood’s division, “which had been “left by Hood on picket” below the pike stretching back to Chambersburg, and was far behind the others” [9] were marching onto the field and halted just west of Seminary Ridge while the Confederate leaders conferred. But Longstreet was also troubled by the absence of George Pickett’s division of Virginians, which due to the lack of cavalry had been left at Chambersburg to guard the Confederate supply trains and would not be available for action until late in the evening.

Captain Johnson returned to the headquarters following his reconnaissance of the Federal left. He reported that the Federal left was weakly held and that there were no Federal troops on the Round Tops. But Johnson’s reconnaissance was not nearly as thorough or accurate as he reported. Johnson made “no detailed sketches of the hazardously rough ground at the southern end of the Federal line” and gave “an inadequate picture of the obstacles to mass troop movement.”[10] Despite getting up to the Round Tops he did not observe the large number of Union troops from Sickles’ Third Corps in the woods to the north and northwest of Little Round Top. The latter omission appears to be more to bad timing, lack of attention, Johnson’s lack of familiarity with the terrain and lack of experience in conducting a reconnaissance that should have been undertaken by cavalry scouts.

Johnson arrived with his report as Lee was conferring with Hill and Longstreet. He traced his route on the map. Johnson’s replies to Lee’s questions satisfied Lee that the Federal left was again up in the air and unprotected as it had been at Chancellorsville. However, this was not the case. First, had Johnson taken the route that he described he “would have come upon the encampments of the Third Corps, located north and west of Little Round Top. He would have also encountered trouble from John Buford’s cavalry vedettes, some of whom were posted about Sherfy’s peach orchard.” [11] Johnson claimed to have gotten up to Little Round Top, and if he did the only way he could not have seen Federal troops was if he had gotten there “just after the guarding troops of the night had been withdrawn and just before their replacements had arrived.” [12] Even if that was the case it would have been hard for Johnson to miss the Third Corps troop bivouacs. The Federals might have been obscured from the Captain’s view by the morning mist, but “Johnson should have detected the noise of men and animals, drums and bugles.” [13] A more likely scenario is that the inexperienced Johnson went further south and scaled Big Round Top from which his report of seeing no troops would have been completely accurate, but the inaccuracies of Johnson’s report were to cause serious complications and consequences for Lee’s plan.

Johnson’s report convinced Lee of the soundness of his plan to roll up the Federal left. He again conferred with Longstreet and announced his intention to attack Meade’s left flank with Hood and McLaws divisions. Lee went directly to McLaws and described his plan. He desired McLaws division to move south to a position perpendicular to the Emmitsburg Road south of the Peach Orchard. McLaws said it was possible but wanted to make a personal reconnaissance and Longstreet objected to the position that Lee indicated for McLaws division. Longstreet said “No, sir, I do not want wish for you to leave your division,” and tracing with his finger a line perpendicular to that drawn on the map, said, “I wish your division placed so.” “No, General,” Lee objected, “I wish it placed just so.” [14] Lee’s statement ended the conversation and after another consult with Ewell, Lee returned to lay out his plan. As he left for his division McLaws recalled that “General Longstreet appeared if he was irritated and annoyed,… but the cause I did not ask.” [15]

The divisions of Hood and McLaws were still about a mile and a half to the rear of the Confederate line. As soon as those divisions were in position they would march south while attempting to remain unseen by Federal troops on the high ground to the east, and then wheel left and come up the Emmitsburg Road into what Lee believed was the rear of the Federal position. After his brief consultation with Ewell regarding the security of his left flank, Lee returned to check the progress of Longstreet. Longstreet had not been completely inactive. He had already sent out his artillery led by Porter Alexander to find a suitable position to support the impending attack, but he did not make any further consultations with Hood of McLaws, nor send any officers to make a further reconnaissance until receiving definitive orders from Lee to launch the attack. For some reason, perhaps his misunderstanding with Lee concerning the nature of the campaign, or Lee’s rejection of his course of action, Longstreet did not demonstrate his usual energy and the careful preparation that he showed in previous actions. His biographer, Jeffry Wert noted “He allowed his disagreement with Lee to affect his conduct….The concern for detail, the regard for timely information, and the need for preparation were absent. Or, as Moxley Sorrell admitted, “there was apparent apathy in his movements. They lacked the fire and point of his usual bearing on the battlefield.” [16]

Like all movements to contact made by large armies was fraught with logistical complications and irritating, yet unavoidable delays in moving large numbers of troops over unfamiliar terrain. Even if Longstreet had acted with greater alacrity, and if the Confederates at all levels had been more efficient managers, “it would take several hours for to march them a distance of four miles or more to the place where they would be deployed for battle.” [17] Lee desired for McLaws division to lead the assault. However, McLaws division was trailing Hood’s troops on the Chambersburg Pike west of town, and would have to pass around Hood’s division to take up its position in the Confederate van. Another delay occurred when Longstreet requested additional time for Law’s brigade of Hood’s division, marching up from Guilford to rejoin Hood before he began his movement. Lee acquiesced to Longstreet and Law’s men reached Hood about an hour later.

Lee’s plan required that Anderson’s division of Hill’s Corps would have to move first to take up a supporting position along Seminary Ridge so it could launch a supporting attack as Longstreet’s corps advanced up the Emmitsburg Road. However, elements of Anderson’s division had become embroiled in a firefight at the Bliss farm which delayed his movement to reach his start position for the attack. But in addition to this, lee complicated matters by not removing Anderson from Hill’s command and giving Longstreet operational control. Instead Lee, possibly to avoid hurting the “sensitive Hill by removing a division that had not yet fought with his corps, and yet allow Longstreet to call on Anderson without going through Hill, Lee instructed Anderson “to cooperate…in Longstreet’s attack.” [18] It was another example of Lee’s vague orders which plagued the campaign, as one historian observed, “This order was the vaguest he ever gave. He did not specify whether Anderson was to act under the orders of Longstreet, or of Hill. His new corps commander, or Lee’s own. He seemed to be reverting to the loose structure of his early days in command.” [19]

But even more importantly it was an offensive that required “careful coordination and expert timing. If his plan was sound, which is debatable, there was still the question of whether the army was equal to the task.” [20]

As the various Confederate commands struggled to get in position to attack, without being observed, the Army of the Potomac readied itself for action. After the near disaster of July 1st, the army had recovered its “operational balance, setting in place the systems necessary for command and control.” [21] Meade and his subordinates had chosen a strong position from which they could maximize their strengths, and in addition to this they ensured that each corps had established headquarters and reported their position to the army staff. Wireless was set up to allow Meade to communicate directly to Washington, while the army’s Signal Corps detachments set up observation points on every bit of high ground under Federal control, including Little Round Top, which allowed them communicate with Meade’s headquarters by semaphore. Meanwhile, Henry Hunt had brought up the reserve artillery and began refitting damaged guns while supervising the emplacement of newly arrived batteries along the Federal line. Even more importantly, unlike Lee whose exterior lines refusal to use semaphore created undue delays in communications, Meade’s little headquarters at the Leister house was “almost up to the line of battle and little time would be wasted in the transmittal of orders.” [22]

general-george-meade

Meade’s Defensive Preparation

On the morning of July 2nd the Army of the Potomac was mostly assembled on the high ground from Culp’s Hill to Cemetery Hill and along Cemetery Ridge. In the north and east, the Twelfth Corps under the command of Major General Henry Slocum held Culp’s Hill and protected the Federal right. His troops began fortifying the already formidable position as soon as they arrived on the night of July 1st and continued to strengthen their positions throughout the day.

413px-Gettysburg_Battle_Map_Day2

The battered remnants of the First and Eleventh Corps held Cemetery Hill where they had made their final stand on the night of July 1st. Oliver Howard retained command of Eleventh Corps, while Meade returned Doubleday to command of his division and brought John Newton from Sixth Corps to command the remnants of the battered First Corps. Winfield Scott Hancock’s crack Second Corps extended the line down southward down Cemetery Ridge. To Second Corps right was Dan Sickles’ Third Corps. George Sykes Fifth Corps was in reserve just to the north and east of Little Round Top, while John Sedgwick’s massive Sixth Corps was still enroute, marching up the Baltimore Pike. “The convex character of the Union line facilitated the rapid movement of troops to reinforce any threatened section.” [23] Unlike Lee’s troops who had to make long marches to support each other, the Union men “never had to march more than two and half miles, usually less.” [24]This would provide Meade with a vital advantage during the viscous battle that was to ensue on July 2nd and as the ever observant Porter Alexander noted, “Communication between our flanks was very long – roundabout & slow while the enemy were practically all in one convenient sized bunch. Reinforcements from their extreme right marched across in ample time to repulse our attack on their extreme left. But Ewell’s men could hardly have come to our help in half a day – & only under view & fire.” [25]

The Army of the Potomac now occupied a solid and well laid out position which commanded the battlefield. Meade and Warren were worried that Lee might attempt to turn them out of their position by moving south, as Longstreet was begging Lee to do, but in reality there was little threat. Even so, Major General Gouverneur Warren, the Army’s Staff Engineer Officer who had been sent by Meade to assist Hancock the night of the first wrote his wife that morning: “we are now all in line of battle before the enemy in a position where we cannot be beaten but fear being turned.” [26]

There was one notable problem, the commander of the Third Corps, Major General Dan Sickles did not like the position assigned to his corps on the south end of Cemetery Ridge.

To be continued…

Notes

[1] __________ Mission Command White Paper and JP 3-31

[2] Wert, Jeffry D. General James Longstreet The Confederacy’s Most Controversial Soldier, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster, New York and London 1993 pp. 260-261

[3] Thomas, Emory Robert E. Lee W.W. Norton and Company, New York and London 1995 p.297

[4] Pfanz, Donald. Richard S. Ewell: A Soldier’s Life University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London 1998 p.315

[5] Sears, Stephen Gettysburg Houghton Mifflin Company Boston and New York 2004 p.256

[6] Fuller, J.F.C. Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship, Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN 1957 p.197

[7] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.236

[8] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.256

[9] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg The Last Invasion p.237

[10] Dowdy, Clifford. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation Skyhorse Publishing, New York 1986, originally published as Death of a Nation Knopf, New York 1958 p.186

[11] Trudeau, Noah Andre Gettysburg a Testing of Courage Perennial Books, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.289

[12] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.186

[13] Ibid. Wert General James Longstreet p.262

[14] Pfanz, Harry W. Gettysburg the Second Day University of North Carolina Press, Charlotte and London, 1987 p.110

[15] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg a Testing of Courage p.290

[16] Ibid. Wert General James Longstreet p.268

[17] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign a Study in Command A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster, New York 1968 p.376

[18] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.193

[19] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.193

[20] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.384

[21] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg a Testing of Courage p.292

[22] Cleaves, Freeman Meade of Gettysburg University of Oklahoma Press, Norman and London 1960 p.142

[23] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign a Study in Command p.332

[24] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign a Study in Command p.332

[25] Alexander, Edward Porter. Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander edited by Gary Gallagher University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1989 p242

[26] Jordan, David M. Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren Indiana University Press, Bloomington Indiana 2001 p.89

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Filed under civil war, Gettysburg, History, Loose thoughts and musings, Military

Hell at the Peach Orchard

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Today is another visitation of the Battle of Gettysburg. This too is part of my Gettysburg text, and in the next couple of months I plan on revising, editing and adding to this section. However, since I have recently posted the more recent revisions to parts of that text I have I have tried to avoid repeating those and instead posting this. The Battle of the Peach Orchard, Devil’s Den and the Wheat Field were some of the bloodiest and most confusing battles not only of July 2nd at Gettysburg, but of any during the Civil War. 

Though this is pretty much an unedited version of past work that I will be updating I do hope that you will find it interesting as well as informative.

Peace

Padre Steve+

12 pound napoleon

On July 2nd 1863 as on the first day of battle and throughout the Gettysburg campaign issues of command and control would be of paramount importance to both armies. On the second day the glaring deficiencies of Robert E Lee and his corps commanders command and control at Gettysburg would again be brought to the fore. Likewise the exemplary command of the Army of the Potomac by George Meade, Winfield Scott Hancock, staff artillery officer Henry Hunt and staff engineer Gouverneur Warren exemplified the best aspects of what we now define as Mission Command.

On the morning of July 2nd the Army of the Potomac was mostly assembled on the high ground from Culp’s Hill to Cemetery Hill and along Cemetery Ridge. In the north XII Corps under the command of Major General Henry Slocum held Culp’s Hill. The battered remnants of I and XI Corps under the command of Oliver Howard and Abner Doubleday held Cemetery Hill while Winfield Scott Hancock’s crack II Corps extended the line down Cemetery Ridge. To II Corps right was Dan Sickles’ III Corps with George Sykes V Corps in Reserve. John Sedgwick’s VI Corps was still enroute, marching up the Baltimore Pike.

corby

Father Corby gives General Absolution to the Irish Brigade on July 2nd 

It was a solid and well laid out position which commanded the battlefield. Major General Gouverneur Warren the Army’s Staff Engineer Officer who had been sent by Meade to assist Hancock the night of the first wrote his wife that morning: “we are now all in line of battle before the enemy in a position where we cannot be beaten but fear being turned.”[1]

There was one notable problem, Dan Sickles did not like the position assigned to his corps. His corps which joined the left flank of II Corps was to extend down Cemetery Ridge to Devil’s Den and Little Round Top. All morning he had been lobbying Meade, through Meade son and Aide-de-Camp Captain George Meade, the Artillery Reserve Commander Henry Hunt, Warren and even Meade himself to no avail. Sickles was disturbed because John Buford’s Cavalry division which has been deployed on the Federal left had been moved to the rear by Pleasanton the Cavalry Corps commander and not replaced.

GeneralBarksdale_zps3678f799

Hunt who had accompanied Sickles back to his corps pointed out that the position was too exposed and too expansive for the number of troops Sickles had in his corps. He advised Sickles not to advance and assured Sickles that he would discuss Sickles’ concerns with Meade. [2]

To remedy the situation he sent out four companies of Sharpshooters supported by the 3rd Maine Infantry to make a reconnaissance. Those troops ran into a large force of advancing Confederate Infantry near Seminary Ridge and withdrew, Colonel Brenden of the Sharpshooters informing Sickles of the Confederate advance.

sickles

Major General Dan Sickles 

Sickles now felt that the Union line was about to be turned as it had been at Chancellorsville and without consulting Meade or Hancock took it upon himself to save the situation. It was an act of brazen insubordination, but typical of the mercurial, vain and scandal plagued man who “wore notoriety like a cloak” and “whether he was drinking, fighting, wenching or plotting, he was always operating with the throttle wide open.”[3]

About mid-afternoon Sickles advanced III Corps forward in a “mile long line of battle with waving flags and rumbling batteries rolling west into the afternoon sunlight.” [4] The sight confused other commanders such as John Gibbon commanding a division in II Corps who watched in amazement from his vantage point on Cemetery Ridge. Sickles advanced nearly a mile in front of his previous position opening a gap between III Corps and II Corps. He attempted to hold a new line that was longer and more exposed than the number of troops that he had available. He placed Humphrey’s division along the Emmitsburg Road and extended Birney’s division through the Peach Orchard, a wheat field down to Devil’s Den where he ran out of troops.

Sickles had formed an exposed and vulnerable salient which was too thinly manned for its length. It was open to attack on three sides, had little depth, no reserves and no place to fall back to as an alternate position.[5] It was also about to be hit by the full fury and power of Hood’s and McLaws’ divisions of Longstreet’s First Corps supported by Alexander’s 46 well placed artillery pieces [6] all about to open fire on Sickles badly deployed corps.

About 3 PM Meade broke from a planned commander’s conference to investigate what had happened to Sickles and III Corps, accompanying Meade was Warren. Warren who was most familiar with that part of the battlefield noted that III Corps was “very badly disposed on that part of the field.” [7]

Confronting Sickles in the Peach Orchard Meade was visibly perturbed. Meade informed Sickles that “General I am afraid that you are too far out” [8] attempting to control his temper. Sickles disagreed and said with support he could hold the position because it was higher ground than what he had previously occupied. Meade then pointed out the obvious stating “General Sickles this is in some respects higher ground than that to the rear, but there is still higher in front of you…” [9] As the conversation progressed Meade told Sickles that “this is neutral ground, our guns command it as well as the enemy’s. The reason you cannot hold it applies to them.” [10]

Sickles offered to withdraw but as he did so the Confederate cannonade began signaling the beginning of Longstreet’s attack. Meade told Sickles “I wish to God you could [withdraw]…but those people will not permit it.”[11]Another account states that Meade told Sickles “You cannot hold this position but the enemy will not let you get away without a fight.” [12]

Since Sedgwick’s powerful VI Corps had just arrived Meade ordered it into reserve. He then ordered Sykes V Corps from its reserve position and one division of II Corps to support the dangerously exposed III Corps around the Peach Orchard and Wheat Field. He then told Sickles “if you need more artillery call on the reserve!” [13] It was an action that very likely saved the day, another example of Meade taking control of a bad situation preventing it from becoming even worse.

For Lee and Longstreet the morning had been spent disagreeing on a plan to crush Meade. Though his army was operating on exterior lines with his corps having no way to effectively coordinate their actions and still lacking Stuart’s Cavalry, Pickett’s Infantry division and Law’s brigade of Hood’s division Lee insisted that Longstreet and First Corps make a frontal attack on the Union left. Longstreet demurred and tried to convince Lee of turning the Union flank to the south of the Round Tops. Longstreet told Hood “The General is a little nervous this morning; he wishes me to attack; I do not wish to do so without Pickett. I never like to go into battle with one boot off.” [14]

Lee did not believe that such a move could succeed without the assistance of Stuart’s cavalry and Longstreet did not believe that with Pickett’s division that his corps had the combat power to successfully complete the mission. Hood objected to the attack pleading with Longstreet that it was “unwise to attack up the Emmitsburg Road, as ordered” and requested that he be allowed to “turn Round Top and attack the enemy flank and rear.” [15]

The debate between Longstreet and Hood continued as Hood objected and Longstreet reiterated Lee’s insistence on the planned attack. Hood pleaded for freedom of maneuver believing that an attack up the rocky hills was doomed and later noted “it seemed to me that the enemy occupied a position so strong- I may say impregnable – that independently of their flank fire, they could easily repulse our attack by merely throwing or rolling stones down the mountainside as we approached.” [16] Despite his objections to the plan Longstreet ordered Hood to attack as Lee planned and after a fourth attempt by Hood to persuade Longstreet to change the plan Longstreet told his subordinate “We must obey the orders of General Lee.” [17]

However in addition to his contention with Lee and Hood Longstreet had to deal with Lee jumping the chain of command. With Longstreet in earshot order McLaws to make an attack on the Peach Orchard and ignored McLaws repeated requests to make a further reconnaissance before launching the attack. By the time Hood and McLaws divisions were in place along with Anderson’s division from Hill’s Third Corps it was nearly four o’clock. The senior commanders of the Army of Northern Virginia had functioned poorly throughout the day but when the attack began it was like a violent storm as Confederate troops fell upon the exposed Federal III Corps.

When the attack was launched McLaws division and the left wing of Hood’s division struck the exposed positions of III Corps. Sickles was severely wounded by a bouncing cannon ball which shattered a leg and knocked him out of the fight. Hood too was badly wounded early in the action leaving command of his division to Brigadier General Evander Law. Law whose brigade had just arrived on the battlefield after a long march from New Guilford in the Cumberland Valley continued to command his own brigade in the assault leaving the rest of the division to fend for themselves and Robertson took the initiative to bring up the rest of the division. [18]

McLaws’ and Hood’s soldiers hit Sickles Corps hard shattering it. Despite fierce resistance from the Federal forces Sickles’ corps was forced to retreat. The reinforcements ordered to the sector from V Corps, II Corps and the artillery reserve arrived piecemeal and also sustained heavy casualties but eventually helped to stem the Confederate tide. III Corps was wrecked and effectively out of the battle but the actions of Meade, Hancock, Warren, Gibbon, Sykes and Hunt to respond to Sickles folly kept the Confederates from sweeping the field.

Law, Robertson’s and Benning’s brigades opened Hood’s attack toward Devil’s Den and Little Round Top. Fierce fighting ensued at Devil’s Den where the Federal line, occupied by Colonel A. Van Horn Ellis’ 124th New York and 4 guns of Smith’s artillery battery put up a stiff resistance. Ellis’s small regiment numbered but 18 officers and 220 men when it entered the fight but it held off several charges of the Texans and even conducted a counter-attack before being overwhelmed by fresh troops from Benning’s brigade.

During the fight Ellis mounted his horse noting that “The men must see us today.” [19] Ellis died in the action as did many of his brave soldiers. In the valley between Devil’s Den and the Round Tops the 4th Maine and Smith’s 2 remaining guns fought large numbers of Hood’s troops and as the outnumbered Federals fell back the Texan’s of Robertson’s brigade and Law’s Alabamians surged toward the rocky hill.

Brigadier General William Barksdale’s Mississippi brigade had distinguished itself at Fredericksburg now stormed the Federal positions. The Mississippians broke through the salient and drove forward driving broken Federal regiments and batteries before them. Barksdale continued to lead his brigade forward though it had suffered significant casualties and was losing cohesion. Barksdale insisted on continuing to advance and would not stop to take time to reform his lines shouting at one of his regimental commanders “No! Crowd them- we have them on the run. Move your regiments.” [20]

willard

George Willard 

As the brigade reached the lower portion of Cemetery Ridge a fresh Federal brigade commanded by Colonel George Willard struck the Mississippians. Willard’s brigade was seeking redemption having been one of the units forced to surrender at Harpers Ferry the previous September. His troops fresh and full of fight fell upon the Mississippians who were spent and disorganized having reached their culminating point. Barksdale continued to urge on his men but was mortally wounded and his troops driven back by the New Yorkers. Willard did not live long to savor the redemption as he was hit by a cannon ball and killed instantly.

To the north of the salient Anderson’s division of Hill’s corps attacked toward Cemetery Ridge meeting heavy resistance. Cadmus Wilcox’s brigade advanced unsupported up to Cemetery Ridge which due to the dispatch of troops to the Peach Orchard was only lightly defended. When Hancock saw the threat he ordered the 1st Minnesota commanded by Colonel William Covill, all of 262 men to charge the advancing Confederates telling Covill: “Colonel, do you see those colors?…Then take them.” [21] Between 170-178 of the Minnesotans fell in the counter-attack but they succeeded in blunting Wilcox’s attack and Wilcox seeing no help or support withdrew from Cemetery Ridge.

The First Minnesota

The Charge of Willard’s Brigade 

By the evening fresh Federal troops directed by Meade, Hancock and Hunt poured into the sector. By the end of the day despite sustaining massive casualties the Federal Army held its ground in large part thanks to the active role played by Meade, Hancock, Warren and Hunt in anticipating danger and bringing the appropriate forces to bear.

The fighting around the Peach Orchard, the Wheat field and Devil’s Den was confusing as units of both sides became mixed up and cohesion was lost. Both sides sustained heavy casualties but Lee’s Army could ill afford to sustain such heavy losses. By the end of the evening both McLaws and Hood’s divisions were spent having lost almost half of their troops as casualties. Hood was severely wounded early in the fight, and many other Confederate commanders were killed or mortally wounded including the irrepressible Barksdale. Combined with the repulse at Little Round Top the Confederate troops consolidated their positions.

In the end though McLaws’ and Hood’s divisions had succeeded in thrashing Sickles’ exposed salient they were unsuccessful at breaking the Federal line. Casualties were heavy on both sides but the attack had failed and it had failed because of senior leadership of Lee and his corps commanders. One of Lee’s biographer’s wrote “Longstreet was disgruntled, Ewell was inept and Hill was unwell.” [22] To make matters worse Lee did not assert himself and even his most devoted biographer Douglas Southall Freeman would write that on July 2d “the Army of Northern Virginia was without a commander.” [23]

mcgilvery

Freeman McGilvery

This Fiery Line” Lieutenant Colonel Freeman McGilvery and the Artillery at the Trostle Farm and Plum Run

The disaster that engulfed Sickles’ III Corps now threatened the Federal center. Meade and Hancock rushed reinforcements in the form of V Corps and much of II Corps. The tip of the Sickle’s salient at Sherfy’s Peach Orchard manned by Graham’s brigade of David Birney’s division was overwhelmed and retreated in disorder. Once “the angle had been breached, the lines connecting to it on the east and north were doomed.” [24] This exposed the left of Humphrey’s division and it too was forced to retreat under heavy pressure sustaining heavy casualties. The final collapse of Humphrey’s division a large gap opened in the Federal lines between the elements of V Corps fighting along Devil’s Den and Little Round Top and II Corps along the central portion of Cemetery Ridge.

When Meade realized the seriousness of the situation he gave Sickles’ free reign to call for reinforcements from Harry Hunt’s Artillery Reserve as III Corps had only batteries organic to it. Those five batteries were in the thick of the fighting providing invaluable support to Sickles’ hard pressed and outnumbered corps. Firing canister and grapeshot they cut swaths of death and destruction through the massed ranks of wildly cheering Confederates of Kershaw and Semmes and Barksdale’s brigades of McLaws’ division. Kershaw recalled:

“The Federals…opened on these doomed regiments a raking fire of grape and canister, at short distance, which proved most disastrous, and for a time destroyed their usefulness. Hundreds of the bravest and best men of Carolina fell….” [25]

The Confederates believed that they had cut the Union line in half and advanced through the Peach Orchard and across the Wheat Field toward Cemetery Ridge. But they were to befall another furiously conducted defense, this by artillery hastily collected along what is known as the Plum Run Line.

fig23

Among the artillery called into action was the First Volunteer Brigade under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Freeman McGilvery. McGilvery, a Maine native was a former sea captain who had organized and commanded the 6th Maine Battery at the beginning of the war. He commanded it with distinction in a number of engagements. Promoted to Major in early 1863 he assumed command of the Brigade and fought at Chancellorsville and was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in June as the Army of the Potomac pursued Lee’s Army.

McGilvery rode into the maelstrom of the retreating III Corps soldiers and broken guns. His horse was hit four times but he remained unwounded despite “exposing himself to enemy missiles on all parts of the field from Cemetery Ridge to the Peach Orchard.” [26] He noted that there was no infantry anywhere that could plug the gap and acted instantly on his own authority to make a decision that likely saved the Union line.

fig20

Bigelow’s Artillery

In the confusion of III Corps disintegration three of his batteries had withdrawn leaving Captain John Bigelow’s 9th Massachusetts battery alone at the Trostle farm telling them they must “hold at all hazards.” [27] Bigelow later explained that McGilvery said that “for 4 or 500 yards in my rear there were no Union troops.” He was then instructed by McGilvery “For heavens [sic] sake hold that line…until he could get some other batteries in position…” [28] In another account Bigelow recorded “Captain Bigelow…there is not an infantryman back of you along the whole line which Sickles moved out; you must remain where you are and hold your position at all hazards, and sacrifice your battery if need be, until at least I can find some batteries to put in position and cover you.” [29]

The order could have been considered suicidal; the 21st Mississippi was nearly upon them and they were but one battery and barely one hundred troops. Bigelow did not hesitate to obey; he brought his guns into line at the Trostle house “facing one section slightly to the southwest and the other two sections directly into the path of the oncoming Confederates.” [30]

barksdales_charge_lg

Barksdale’s Charge

Bigelow’s artillerymen fought like demons he described the effect of his fire on Kershaw’s South Carolinians “the Battery immediately enfiladed them with a rapid fire of canister, which tore through their ranks and sprinkled the field with their dead and wound, until they disappeared in the woods on our left, apparently a mob.” [31] They poured a merciless stream of fire into the advancing Confederates until “they had exhausted their supply of canister and the enemy began to close in on his flanks.” [32] A German born gunner noted “we mowed them down like grass, but they were thick and rushed up.” [33] A hand to hand fight ensued among the guns but the Massachusetts men escaped losing 28 of its 104 men engaged,[34] the brave commander Bigelow was wounded and nearly captured but one of his men helped him to the rear.

Their sacrifice was not in vain. They bought McGilvery an additional 30 minutes to set up a line of guns along Plum Run. Hunt praised the battery “As the battery had sacrificed itself for the safety of the line, its work is specially noticed as typical of the service that artillery is not infrequently called to render, and did render in other instances at Gettysburg besides this one.”[35]

Barksdale’s brigade did not pause and continued in their relentless advance towards Cemetery Ridge, sweeping Union stragglers up as they moved forward led by their irrepressible Colonel. Before them was McGilvery’s new line, hastily cobbled together from any batteries and guns that he could find. Initially composed of 13-15 guns of four different batteries he was joined by two more batteries giving him about 25 guns in all. Subjected to intense Confederate artillery fire and infantry attacks his guns held on even as their numbers were reduced until only six guns remained operational. “Expertly directed by McGilvery a few stouthearted artillerymen continued to blaze away and keep the low bushes in front of them clear of lurking sharpshooters. Although they had no infantry supports, they somehow managed to create the illusion that the woods to their rear were filled with them, and they closed the breach until the Union high command could bring up reinforcements.” [36]

The reinforcements came in the form of Colonel George Willard’s “Harper’s Ferry” Brigade which was looking for revenge and redemption. This unit hit Barksdale’s now disorganized force which had reached its cumulating point hard. Willard was killed and Barksdale mortally wounded and captured in the violent clash which spelled the end of one of the greatest threats to the Union line of the entire battle. Philip Tucker in his book Barksdale’s Charge: The True High Tide of the Confederacy at Gettysburg, July 2, 1863 refers to Barksdale’s charge as the real “high water mark of the Confederacy.”

However it was McGilvery who recognized the emergency confronting the line and on his own took responsibility to rectify the situation. He courageously risked “his career in assuming authority beyond his rank” [37] and without his quick action, courage under fire and expert direction of his guns Barksdale’s men might have completed the breakthrough that could have won the battle for General Lee despite all of the mistakes committed by his senior leaders that day.

It was another example of an officer who had the trust of his superiors who did the right thing at the right time. It is an example of an officer used the principles of what we today call Mission Command to decisively impact a battle. McGilvery rose higher in the Federal service and was promoted to Colonel and command of the artillery of X Corps. He was slightly wounded in a finger at the battle of Deep Bottom in August 1864. The wound did not heal properly so surgeon’s decided to amputate the finger. However they administered a lethal dose of chloroform anesthesia and he died on September 9th, the Union losing one its finest artillerymen. He was buried in his native Maine and the State legislature designated the first Saturday in September as Colonel Freeman McGilvery Day in 2001.

Notes

[1] Jordan, David M. Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren Indiana University Press, Bloomington Indiana 2001 p.89

[2] Foote, Shelby The Civil War, A Narrative: Fredericksburg to Meridian. Vintage Books, a Division of Random House, New York 1963 p.495

[3] Catton, Bruce The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road Doubleday and Company, Garden City New York, 1952 pp.150-151

[4] Ibid p.288

[5] Ibid. Foote p.496

[6] Ibid. p.289

[7] Ibid. Jordan p.90

[8] Ibid. Foote p.496

[9] Schultz, Duane The Most Glorious Fourth: Vicksburg and Gettysburg July 4th 1863. W.W. Norton and Company New York and London, 2002 p.251

[10] Sears, Stephen Gettysburg Houghton Mifflin Company Boston and New York 2004 p.263

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid. Sears p.263

[13] Ibid. Foote p.497

[14] Pfanz, Harry W. Gettysburg the Second Day University of North Carolina Press, Charlotte and London, 1987 p.112

[15] Ibid. Foote p.499

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign a Study in Command A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster, New York 1968 pp.402-403

[19] Ibid. Pfanz p.293

[20] Trudeau, Noah Andre Gettysburg a Testing of Courage Perennial Books, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.368

[21] Ibid. p.393

[22] Taylor, John M. Duty Faithfully Performed: Robert E Lee and His Critics Brassey’s, Dulles VA 1999 p.149

[23] Freeman, Douglas S. R.E. Lee volume 3 Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York 1935 p.150

[24] Trudeau, Noah Andre Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage Harper Collins, New York 2002 p.368

[25] Kershaw, J.B. Kershaw’s Brigade at Gettysburg in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume III, The Tide Shifts. Edited by Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel Castle, Secaucus NJ p.335

[26] Coco, Gregory A A Concise Guide to the Artillery at Gettysburg Colecraft Industries, Orrtanna PA 1998 p.31

[27] Hunt, Harry I Proceeded to Cemetery Hill in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Bradford, Ned editor, Meridian Books, New York 1956 p.378

[28] Guelzo, Allen C Gettysburg, The Last Invasion Vintage Books, a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.314

[29] Ibid. Trudeau p.385

[30] Ibid.

[31] Bigelow, The Peach Orchard, 54; History of the Fifth, 638 retrieved from WE SAVED THE LINE FROM BEING BROKEN: Freeman McGilvery, John Bigelow, Charles Reed and the Battle of Gettysburg by Eric Campbell http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/gett/gettysburg_seminars/5/essay4.htm#52

[32] Coddington, Edwin. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command Touchstone Books, New York 1960 p.416

[33] Ibid. Guelzo pp.314-315

[34] Ibid Hunt p.379

[35] Ibid. Hunt. P.379

[36] Ibid. Coddington p.417.

[37] Ibid. Coddington.

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Volunteers for Freedom: Strong Vincent and Joshua Chamberlain at Gettysburg

dont give an inch

Colonel Strong Vincent directing the Defense of Little Round Top

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is an excerpt from one of the chapters of my Gettysburg text. It deals with two men, volunteer “Citizen Soldiers” whose actions that day were instrumental in the Union victory at Gettysburg. But their story, despite being one of great courage and exceptional leadership is a story of tragedy and sacrifice, which in the case of Chamberlain went long after the battle. Their struggles also affected their families, leaving one wife a widow, and the other marriage one that was tumultuous and very similar to those of many combat veterans who return from war forever changed.

Peace

Padre Steve+

July 2nd 1863 was to be a pivotal day in the history of the United States, a day of valor, courage and carnage. A day where nearly 20,000 Americans were killed, wounded or missing. It was a day where the fate of the Union and the Confederacy were in the balance. On the afternoon of that day, two volunteers rose to the challenge.

Yes, there were many more heroes on Little Round Top that day, but these two men, along with Gouverneur Warren were instrumental in securing the Union victory. They were unlikely heroes, neither was a professional soldier, but both took to soldiering and leading soldiers as if it were second nature. They were men who along with others “who stepped out of themselves for a moment and turned a corner at some inexpressibly right instant.” 1

Colonel Strong Vincent was a 26 year old Harvard graduate and lawyer from Erie Pennsylvania. He was born in Waterford and attended school in Erie. Growing up he worked in his father’s iron foundry, where the work helped make him a man of great physical strength. He studied at Trinity College in Hartford Connecticut and transferred to Harvard from which he graduated in 1859. However, he was not an outstanding student and “earned admonishments on his record for missing chapel and smoking in Harvard Yard.” 2

When war came and the call went out for volunteers, Vincent enlisted in a 30 Day regiment, the Wayne Guards as a private and then was appointed as a 1st Lieutenant and Adjutant of the regiment because of his academic and administrative acumen. He married his wife Elizabeth the same day. Vincent like many young northerners believed in the cause of the Union undivided, and he wrote his wife shortly after after the regiment went to war on the Peninsula:

“Surely the right will prevail. If I live we will rejoice in our country’s success. If I fall, remember you have given your husband to the most righteous cause that ever widowed a woman.” 3

vincent

 

Colonel Strong Vincent

When the Wayne Guards were disbanded at the end of their enlistment, Vincent helped to raise the 83rd Pennsylvania and was commissioned as a Lieutenant Colonel in it on September 14th 1861. The young officer learned his trade well and was considered a “strict disciplinarian and master of drill.” 4 That being said one enlisted man remarked that “no officer in the army was more thoughtful and considerate of the health and comfort of his men.” 5 He assumed command of the regiment when the commander was killed during the Seven Days in June of 1862 where he learned lessons that he would help impart to his fellow officers as well as subordinates, including Chamberlain. At Fredericksburg any doubters about the young officer’s courage and leadership ability were converted where they observed his poise “with sword in hand” he “stood erect in full view of the enemy’s artillery, and though the shot fell fast on all sides, he never wavered or once changed his position.” 6

By the time of the Battle of Gettysburg, the 26 year old Vincent was the youngest brigade commander in the army. He was noted for his intelligence, leadership, military acumen and maturity. One friend wrote “As a general thing his companions were older than himself;….Among his associates were men of the highest rank. He could adapt himself to all,- could talk with the politician on questions of history, with a general officer on military evolutions, or with a sporting man on the relative merits of horses,-and all respected his opinion.” 7

His promotion was well earned, following a bout with a combination of Malaria and Typhoid, the “Chickahominy Fever” which almost killed him, Vincent took command of the regiment after its commander was killed at Gaines Mill. He commanded the regiment at Fredericksburg and was promoted to command the 3rd Brigade after the Battle of Chancellorsville following the resignation of its commander, Colonel T.W.B. Stockton on May 18th 1863.

Vincent was offered the chance to serve as the Judge Advocate General of the Army of the Potomac by Joseph Hooker in the spring of 1863 after spending three months on court-martial duty. But Vincent refused the offer in so that he might remain in the fight commanding troops. 8  He told his friends “I enlisted to fight.” 9

Vincent, like Chamberlain who admired him greatly had “become a kind of model of the citizen soldier.” 10 As a result of his experience in battle and the tenacity of the Confederate army he became an advocate of the tactics that William Tecumseh Sherman would later employ during his march to the sea in 1864. He wrote his wife before Chancellorsville:

“We must fight them more vindictively, or we shall be foiled at every step.  We must desolate the country as we pass through it, and not leave a trace of a doubtful friend or foe behind us; make them believe that we are in earnest, terribly in earnest; that to break this band in twain is monstrous and impossible; that the life of every man, yea, of every weak woman or child in the entire South, is of no value whatever compared with the integrity of the Union.” 11

Unlike most other brigade commanders, Vincent was still a Colonel, and he, like many others would in his place hoping for a General’s star. He remarked that his move to save Sickles’ command “will either bring me my stars, or finish my career as a soldier.” 12 On July first, Vincent, a native Pennsylvanian came to Hanover and learning that battle had been joined, ordered “the pipes and drums of the 83rd Pennsylvania to play his brigade through the town and ordered the regiments to uncover their flags again….” 13 As the brigade marched through the town Vincent “reverently bared his head” and announced to his adjutant, “What death more glorious can any man desire than to die on the soil of old Pennsylvania fighting for that flag?” 14

Vincent was known for his personal courage and a soldier of the 83rd Pennsylvania observed “Vincent had a particular penchant for being in the lead….Whenever or wherever his brigade might be in a position to get ahead…, he was sure to be ahead.” 15 That courage and acumen to be in the right place at the right time was in evidence when he led his brigade into battle on July second.

On July 2nd Barnes’ division of V Corps, which Vincent’s brigade was a part was being deployed to the threat posed by the Confederate attack of McLaws’ division on the Peach Orchard and the Wheat Field to reinforce Sickles’ III Corps. While that division marched toward the Peach Orchard, Vincent’s 3rd Brigade was the trail unit. When Gouverneur Warren’s aide, Lieutenant Randall Mackenzie 16 came toward the unit in search of Barnes he came across Vincent and his brigade near the George Weikert house on Cemetery Ridge awaiting further orders. 17

Vincent intercepted him and demanded what his orders were. Upon being told that Sykes’ orders to Barnes were to “send one of his brigades to occupy that hill yonder,” 18 Vincent, defied normal protocol assuming that Barnes was drunk 19 and told Mackenzie “I will take responsibility of taking my brigade there.” 20 Vincent immediately went into action and ordered Colonel James Rice of the 44th New York “to bring the brigade to the hill as quickly as possible,” and then turned on his horse and galloped off toward Little Round Top.” 21

It was a fortunate thing for the Union that he did. His quick action to get his brigade, clear orders to his subordinate commanders and skilled analysis of the ground were a decisive factor in the Union forces holding Little Round Top. After ordering Colonel Rice to lead the brigade up to the hill, he and his aide went forward to scout positions accompanied by the brigade standards. Rice brought the brigade forward at the double quick “across the field to the road leading up the north shoulder of the hill” with Chamberlain’s 20th Maine in the lead. 22

Vincent and his orderly made a reconnaissance of the south and east slope of the hill which adjoined a small valley and a rocky outcrop called Devil’s Den, which was occupied by the 124th New York and which was the end of Sickles’ line. Near the summit of the southern aspect of the hill, they came under Confederate artillery fire and told his aid “They are firing at the flag, go behind the rocks with it.” 23

Vincent dismounted, leaving is sword secured on his horse, carrying only his riding crop. He continued and “with the skill and precision of a professional had reconnoitered and decided how to best place his slim brigade of 1350 muskets.” 24 He chose a position along a spur of the hill, which now bears his name, running from the northwest to the southeast to place his regiments where they could intercept the Confederate troops of Hood’s division which he could see advancing toward the hill.

What Vincent saw when he arrived was a scene of disaster. Confederate troops had overwhelmed the 124th New York and were moving on Little Round Top, “Devil’s Den was a smoking crater,” and the ravine which separated Devil’s Den from Little Round Top “was a whirling maelstrom.” 25 Seeing the threat Vincent began to deploy his brigade but also sent at messenger back to Barnes telling him “Go tell General Barnes to send reinforcements at once, the enemy are coming against us with an overwhelming force” 26

The 16th Michigan, the smallest regiment with barely 150 soldiers in line 27 was placed on the right of the brigade. As it moved forward, its adjutant, Rufus W. Jacklin’s horse was hit by a canon ball which decapitated that unfortunate animal and left it “a mass of quivering flesh.” 28 The Confederate artillery fell among the advancing Union troops and splintered trees, causing some concern among the soldiers. The 20th Maine’s Chaplain, Luther French, saw the “beheading of Jacklin’s horse and and ran to Captain Atherton W. Clark, commanding the 20th’s Company E, babbling about what he had seen. Clark interrupted French abruptly and shouted: “For Christ sake Chaplain, if you have any business attend to it.” 29

That section of the line was located on massive boulders that placed it high above the valley below, making it nearly impregnable to frontal attack. On the summit Vincent deployed the 83rd Pennsylvania and 44th New York to their left at the request of Rice who told him “In every battle that we have engaged the Eighty-third and Forty-fourth have fought side by side. I wish that it might be so today.” 30 The story is probably apocryphal but the regiments remained side by side with the 16th Michigan on the right and the 20th Maine on the left. The two  regiments  were deployed below the crest among the large number of boulders; the 83rd was about two-thirds of the way down the way down the slope where it joined the right of the 44th, whose line angled back up the slope to the southeast. A historian of the 83rd Pennsylvania noted that “Each rock”… “was a fortress behind which the soldier[s] instantly took shelter.” 31 The soldiers were determined to do their duty as they now were fighting on home ground.

Vincent deployed the 20th Maine on his extreme left of his line, and in fact the extreme end of the Union line. Vincent knew that if this flank was turned and Chamberlain overrun that it would imperil the entire Union position. Vincent came up to Chamberlain who remembered that Vincent said “in an awed, faraway voice. “I place you here….This is the left of the Union line. You understand. You are to hold this ground at all costs.” 32 Chamberlain acknowledged his understanding of the order and since the regiment lacked field grade officers, Chamberlain “assigned Captain Atherton Clark of company E to command the right wing, and acting Major Ellis Spear the left.” 33

While Colonel Joshua Chamberlain’s story is much more well known than his brigade commander, Strong Vincent, he was another one of the citizen soldiers whose performance and leadership on Little Round Top saved the Union line that hot July evening. Chamberlain was a graduate of Bowdoin College and Bangor Theological Seminary. Fluent in nine languages other than English he remained at Bowdoin as Professor of Rhetoric before seeking an appointment in a newly raised Maine Regiment without consulting either the college or his wife Fannie. He actually deceived the college by requesting a “scholarly sabbatical when in fact he had applied to the governor of Maine in the new 20th Maine Infantry in the late summer of 1862.” 34

The letter that Chamberlain wrote to Governor Israel Washburn details Chamberlain’s desire to serve:

“For seven years past I have been Professor in Bowdoin College. I have always been interested in military matters, and what I do not know in that line I know how to learn.

Having been lately elected to a new department here, I am expecting to have leave, at the approaching Commencement, to spend a year or more in Europe, in the service of the College. I am entirely unwilling, however, to accept this offer, if my Country needs my service or example here.

Your Excellency presides over the Educational as well as the military affairs of our State, and, I am well aware, appreciates the importance of sustaining our Institutions of Learning. You will therefore be able to decide where my influence is most needed.

But, I fear, this war, so costly of blood and treasure, will not cease until the men of the North are willing to leave good positions, and sacrifice the dearest personal interests, to rescue our Country from Desolation, and defend the National Existence against treachery at home and jeopardy abroad. This war must be ended, with a swift and strong hand; and every man ought to come forward and ask to be placed at his proper post.

Nearly a hundred of those who have been my pupils, are now officers in our army; but there are many more all over our State, who, I believe, would respond with enthusiasm, if summoned by me, and who would bring forward men enough to fill up a Regiment at once. I can not free myself from my obligations here until the first week in August, but I do not want to be the last in the field, if it can possibly be helped.” 35

Chamberlain’s pre-war experiences gave no indication that he would emerge as a military hero. His father had named him after Captain James Lawrence, the commanding officer of the frigate  USS Chesapeake in the War of 1812 who uttered the famous words “Don’t give up the ship” as he lay mortally wounded. His mother added the name Joshua as his first name in the town’s books. His father hoped that the young Chamberlain who pursue a military career, his mother wished that he pursue the ministry. He did become a minister but had no desire to become a pastor, and instead took up his academic career at Bowdoin and his tumultuous marriage to his wife Fannie, a musician and the child of a minister. “During most of his life, Chamberlain struggled with bouts of deep depression and melancholy. But not during the war years. It was as if the war and soldiering had made a new man out of him.” 36

Chamberlain was offered command of the 20th Maine but asked the governor that be appointed as a Lieutenant Colonel, which he was in August 1862. He fought with the regiment at Fredericksburg and was named commander of the when Colonel Adelbert Ames, his commander was promoted to brigade command in Oliver Howard’s XI Corps following the debacle at Chancellorsville.

chamberlain

 

Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (while serving as a Brigadier General)

Like Vincent, Chamberlain was also a quick student and rapidly adapted to being a soldier, officer and commander of troops in combat. On the march up to Gettysburg Chamberlain was ordered to take a number of veterans of the 2nd Maine, who had signed three year, rather than two year enlistment contracts and were angry at remaining in the army when the regiment was mustered out. The soldiers were bitter but Chamberlain treated them graciously and “almost all of them agreed to take up their muskets again the the service of the 20th Maine.” 37

On receiving his orders Chamberlain deployed his small regiment halfway down the southern slope facing the small valley between Little Round Top and Big Round Top. By the time he arrived at Gettysburg had become “a great infantry officer, and among his valuable qualities was where an attack would come….” 38

chamberlain lrt

Since Chamberlain’s account is so important I will forgo a discussion of his tactics and instead quote the sections of his after action report that explains his actions. Chamberlain wrote:

“On reaching the field at about 4 p.m. July 2d, Col. Vincent commanding the Brigade, placing me on the left of the Brigade and consequently on the extreme left of our entire line of battle, instructed me that the enemy were expected shortly to make a desperate attempt to turn our left flank, and that the position assigned to me must be held at every hazard.

I established my line on the crest of a small spur of a rocky and wooded hill, and sent out at once a company of skirmishers on my left to guard against surprise on that unprotected flank.

These dispositions were scarcely made when the attack commenced, and the right of the Regt. found itself at once hotly engaged. Almost at the same moment, from a high rock which gave me a full view of the enemy, I perceived a heavy force in rear of their principal line, moving rapidly but stealthily toward our left, with the intention, as I judged, of gaining our rear unperceived. Without betraying our peril to any but one or two officers, I had the right wing move by the left flank, taking intervals of a pace or two, according to the shelter afforded by rocks or trees, extending so as to cover the whole front then engaged; and at the same time moved the left wing to the left and rear, making a large angle at the color, which was now brought to the front where our left had first rested.

This hazardous maneuvre was so admirably executed by my men that our fire was not materially slackened in front, and the enemy gained no advantage there, while the left wing in the meantime had formed a solid and steady line in a direction to meet the expected assault. We were not a moment too soon; for the enemy having gained their desired point of attack came to a front, and rushed forward with an impetuosity which showed their sanguine expectations.

Their astonishment however was evident, when emerging from their cover, they met instead of an unsuspecting flank, a firm and ready front. A strong fire opened at once from both sides, and with great effect, the enemy still advancing until they came within ten pacesof our line, where our steady and telling volleys brought them to a stand. From that moment began a struggle fierce and bloody beyond any that I have witnessed, and which lasted in all its fury, a full hour. The two lines met, and broke and mingled in the shock. At times I saw around me more of the enemy than of my own men. The edge of conflict swayed to and fro -now one and now the other party holding the contested ground. Three times our line was forced back, but only to rally and repulse the enemy. As often as the enemy’s line was broken and routed, a new line was unmasked, which advanced with fresh vigor. Our “sixty rounds” were rapidly reduced; I sent several messengers to the rear for ammunition, and also for reinforcements. In the mean time we seized the opportunity of a momentary lull to gather ammunition and more serviceable arms, from the dead and dying on the field. With these we met the enemy’s last and fiercest assault. Their own rifles and their own bullets were turned against them. In the midst of this struggle, our ammunition utterly failed. The enemy were close upon us with a fresh line, pouring on us a terrible fire. Half the left wing already lay on the field. Although I had brought two companies from the right to its support, it was now scarcely more than a skirmish line. The heroic energy of my officers could avail no more. Our gallant line withered and shrunk before the fire it could not repel. It was too evident that we could maintain the defensive no longer. As a last desperate resort, I ordered a charge. The word “fix bayonets” flew from man to man. The click of the steel seemed to give new zeal to all. The men dashed forward with a shout. The two wings came into one line again, and extending to the left, and at the same time wheeling to the right, the whole Regiment described nearly a half circle, the left passing over the space of half a mile, while the right kept within the support of the 83d Penna. thus leaving no chance of escape to the enemy except to climb the steep side of the mountain or to pass by the whole front of the 83d Penna. The enemy’s first line scarcely tried to run-they stood amazed, threw down their loaded arms and surrendered in whole companies. Those in their rear had more time and gave us more trouble. My skirmishing company threw itself upon the enemy’s flank behind a stone wall, and their effective fire added to the enemy’s confusion. In this charge we captured three hundred and sixty eight prisoners, many of them officers, and took three hundred stand of arms. The prisoners were from four different regiments, and admitted that they had attacked with a Brigade.” 39

Colonel William Oates of the 15th Alabama gave Chamberlain and his regiment the credit for stopping his attack. Oates wrote: “There have never been harder fighters than the Twentieth Maine and their gallant Colonel. His skill and persistency and the great bravery of his men saved Little Round Top and the Army of the Potomac from defeat.” 40

As with any firsthand account, aspects of Chamberlain’s accounts are contested by others at the scene. Oates notes that he ordered the retreat and that there were not as many prisoners taken, one of Chamberlain’s company commanders disputes the account of the order of the bayonet charge however the fact is that Chamberlain who was outnumbered nearly two to one by the, 4th 15th and 47th Alabama regiments “offset this superiority with strength of position, iron determination and better tactics.” 41 Also a factor was the fatigue of the Confederates, these regiments and their parent unit, Law’s brigade of Hood’s division had conducted a grueling 28 mile march to get to the battlefield and were exhausted and dehydrated by the time that they arrived, something that their commander, Colonel Oates believed “contributed largely to our failure at Little Round Top.” 42

Vincent was mortally wounded while leading the defense of the hill. As the men of Robertson’s Texas brigade rushed the hill and threatened to crack “the stout 16th Michigan defense….” 43 Vincent rushed to bolster the defenders. He was standing on a large boulder with a riding crop as the men of the 16th Michigan were beginning to waiver. Fully exposed to enemy fire he attempted to drive the retreating men back into the fight. Brandishing the riding which he cried out “Don’t yield an inch now men or all is lost,” 44 and moments later was struck by a “minie ball which passed through his left groin and lodged in his left thigh. He fell to the ground and as he was being carried from the field, “This is the fourth or fifth time they have shot at me…and they have hit me at last.” 45 He was taken to a field hospital where he suffered for five days and died on July 7th. Meade recommended Vincent for posthumous promotion to Brigadier General, but the request was lost. Ten weeks after his death his wife gave birth to a baby girl. The baby would not live a year and was buried next to him.

Colonel Rice who led the 44th New York up the hill and took command of the brigade on Vincent’s death memorialized his fallen commander in his general order to the brigade on July 12th:

“The colonel commanding hereby announces to the brigade the death of Brig. Gen. Strong Vincent. He died near Gettysburg, Pa., July 7, 1863, from the effects of a wound received on the 2d instant, and within sight of that field which his bravery had so greatly assisted to win. A day hallowed with all the glory of success is thus sombered by the sorrow of our loss. Wreaths of victory give way to chaplets of mourning, hearts exultant to feelings of grief. A soldier, a scholar, a friend, has fallen. For his country, struggling for its life, he willingly gave his own. Grateful for his services, the State which proudly claims him as her own will give him an honored grave and a costly monument, but he ever will remain buried in our hearts, and our love for his memory will outlast the stone which shall bear the inscription of his bravery, his virtues, and his patriotism.

While we deplore his death, and remember with sorrow our loss, let us emulate the example of his fidelity and patriotism, feeling that e lives but in vain who lives not for his God and his country.

After the battle, as the army looked to replace the casualties in the ranks of senior leadership and “when Colonel Rice, in charge of 3rd Brigade after Vincent fell, was promoted to brigadier general and given another command” the new division commander Major General Charles Griffin, “insisted on having Chamberlain, for the 3rd Brigade.” 46 Chamberlain survived the war to great acclaim being wounded three times, being promoted to Major General and awarded the Medal of Honor. He received the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox on April 9th 1865 and ordered his men to present arms in honor of their defeated foe as those haggard soldiers passed his division. After the war like most citizen soldiers, he returned to civilian life, serving as a four term Governor of Maine and President of Bowdoin College. He became a champion of national reconciliation admired by friend and former foe alike.

Chamberlain’s accolades were certainly earned but others on that hill have been all too often overlooked by most people. This list includes Gouverneur Warren who was humiliated by Phillip Sheridan at Five Forks, Strong Vincent who died on the Hill and Paddy O’Rorke, the commander of the 140th New York of Weed’s Brigade on Vincent’s right who was mortally wounded that day. Despite this, after the end war, Joshua Chamberlain, the hero of Little Round Top who was well acquainted with the carnage of war suffered immensely. His wounds never fully healed and he was forced to wear what would be considered an early form of a catheter and bag. Chamberlain struggled to climb out of “an emotional abyss” in the years after the war. Part was caused by his wounds which included wounds to his sexual organs, shattering his sexuality and caused his marriage to deteriorate.

fannychamberlain1

 

Joshua and Fannie Chamberlain (Dale Gallon Painting) 

He wrote to Fannie in 1867 about the “widening gulf between them, one created at least in part by his physical limitations: “There is not much left in me to love. I feel that all too well.” 47 Chamberlain’s inability to readjust to civilian life following the war and Fanny’s inability to understand what he had gone through during it, caused great troubles in their marriage. By 1868 the issues were so deep that Fannie was accusing Joshua of domestic abuse a charge which he contested even offering her a divorce which were very similar to what many combat veterans and their families experience today. After he received news of the allegations Chamberlain wrote to her:

“If it is true (as Mr. Johnson seems to think there is a chance of its being) that you are preparing for an action against me, you need not give yourself all this trouble. I should think we had skill enough to adjust the terms of a separation without the wretchedness to all our family which these low people to whom it would seem that you confide your grievances + plans will certainly bring about.

You never take my advice, I am aware.

But if you do not stop this at once it will end in hell.” 48

The marriage endured a separation which lasted until 1871 when they reconciled, and it did survive, for nearly forty more years. Fannie died in 1905 and Chamberlain , who despite all of their conflicts loved her, wrote after her death:

“You in my soul I see, faithful watcher, by my cot-side long days and nights together, through the delirium of mortal anguish – steadfast, calm, and sweet as eternal love. We pass now quickly from each other’s sight, but I know full well that where beyond these passing scenes you shall be, there will be heaven!”

Chamberlain died on February 24th 1914 of complications from complications of the ghastly wound that he received at Petersburg in 1864. Sadly, their marriage is typical of many relationships where a spouse returns home from war, something that we need to remember when we encounter those changed by war and the struggles of their families.

Notes

1 Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.462

2 LaFantasie, Glenn W. Twilight at Little Round Top: July 2, 1863 The Tide Turns at Gettysburg Vintage Books, a Division of Random House, New York 2005 p.105

3 ________. Erie County Historical Society http://www.eriecountyhistory.org/wp-content/uploads/2008/10/strongvincent.pdf retrieved 9 June 2014

4 Golay, Michael. To Gettysburg and Beyond: The Parallel Lives of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and Edward Porter Alexander Crown Publishers Inc. New York 1994 p.129

5 Nevins, James H. and Styple, William B. What death More Glorious: A Biography of General Strong Vincent Belle Grove Publishing Company, Kearney NJ 1997 p.29

6 Ibid Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.262

7 Ibid. Nevins, James H. and Styple, William B. What death More Glorious p.548 Leonardi, Ron Strong Vincent at Gettysburg Barringer-Erie Times News retrieved June 9th 2014 from http://history.goerie.com/2013/06/30/strong-vincent-at-gettysburg/

9 Ibid. Nevins, James H. and Styple, William B. What death More Glorious p.55

10 Wallace, Willard. The Soul of the Lion: A Biography of Joshua L. Chamberlain Stan Clark Military Books, Gettysburg PA 1960 p.91

11 Ibid. Nevins, James H. and Styple, William B. What death More Glorious p.57

12 Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.264

13 Pfanz, Harry F. Gettysburg: The Second Day. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1987 p.51

14 Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage p.159

15 Tredeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.305

16 Some such as Guelzo believe this may have been Captain William Jay of Sykes staff.

17 Ibid. Tredeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.327

18 Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage p.262 19 Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage p.262

20 Ibid. Tredeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.32721 Ibid. LeFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.108

22 Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.389

23 Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.109

24 Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.390

25 Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage p.270

26 Ibid. Nevins, James H. and Styple, William B. What death More Glorious p.75

27 Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p.292

28 Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.109

29 Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.109

30 Ibid. Pfanz, Gettysburg: The Second Day. p.213

31 Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.111

32 Ibid. Golay To Gettysburg and Beyond p.157

33 Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.111

34 Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top pp.44-45

35 Chamberlain, Joshua Lawrence Letter From Joshua L. Chamberlain to Governor [Israel] Washburn, Brunswick, July 14, 1862 retrieved from Bowdoin College, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain Documents http://learn.bowdoin.edu/joshua-lawrence-chamberlain/documents/1862-07-14.html 8 November 2014

36 Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.45

37 Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.45

38 Ibid. Wallace The Soul of the Lion p.94

39 Chamberlain, Joshua Lawrence. Official Narrative of Joshua Chamberlain of July 6th 1863, Maine Military Historical Society, Inc., Augusta, Maine, copyright 1989 U.S. Army Combat Studies Institute Reprint, retrieved from http://usacac.army.mil/cac2/cgsc/carl/download/csipubs/chamberlain.pdf June 15th 2014

40 Oates, Willam C. and Haskell, Frank A. Gettysburg Bantam Books edition, New York 1992, originally published in 1905 p.98

41 Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.393

42 Ibid. Oates and Haskell Gettysburg p.87

43 Ibid. Wallace The Soul of the Lion p.95

44 Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage p.272

45 Ibid. Tredeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.361

46 Ibid. Wallace The Soul of the Lion p.115

47 Longacre, Edward Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the Man Combined Publishing Conshohocken PA 1999 p.259

48 Chamberlain, Joshua L. Letter Joshua L. Chamberlain to “Dear Fanny” [Fanny Chamberlain], Augusta, November 20, 1868 retrieved from Bowdoin College, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain Documents http://learn.bowdoin.edu/joshua-lawrence-chamberlain/documents/1868-11-20.html 8 November 2014

 

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The Importance of Citizen Soldiers: Strong Vincent and Joshua Chamberlain at Little Round Top and American Military Sociology

dont give an inch

“As soldier and citizen, today’s armed forces officer is a champion of both the nation’s defense and the principles upon which the nation was founded. Taking an oath to support and defend the Constitution means swearing to uphold the core values that define the essence of American citizenship; the armed forces officer is first and foremost a citizen who has embraced the ideals of the nation—only then can he or she defend those principles with true conviction.” [1]

While the professional Gouverneur Warren through himself into the battle to save Little Round Top, as did many others the story of the battle dictates that we must discuss the actions of two “citizen soldiers” without whom the battle may have been lost, Colonel Strong Vincent and Colonel Joshua Chamberlain. Both are depicted and immortalized in the film Gettysburg which is based on Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Killer Angels. As such their actions are known more than many others that are covered in this account of the Battle of Gettysburg.

Within the U.S. Army the example of Chamberlain at the Battle of Little Round Top has occupied a prominent place in Army leadership manuals including FM 22-100 and its successor FM 6-22, however, that being said even those that learn about Chamberlain from this seldom delve deeper into his character, development as a leader and significance, at Little Round Top, Appomattox and after the war, likewise the examples of both Warren and Vincent which are key to Chamberlain and his regiment even being on the hill are ignored in that publication.

It is important to discuss Vincent and Chamberlain for more than their direct contributions to the battle. Those are widely known and in a sense have become part of the myth that is our understanding of Gettysburg. While discussing those actions it is also necessary to put them into context with the character of both men, the cause that they fought. Likewise it is important to address in this age of the professional all volunteer force the importance of Citizen Soldiers in any kind of democracy or representative republic, a sociological question that military professionals as well as our elected officials and citizenry would do well to revisit.

This is particularly important now as various elected leaders, think tanks, defense contractors and lobbyists are all questioning the economic “liabilities” of the All-Volunteer force as well as the disconnect between the broader military and society at large. This means that there will be efforts to determine how the military will be manned, trained and employed, and if military leaders are ignorant of our history, the vital connection between the military and the citizenry and the contributions of Citizen Soldiers then we will be caught flat footed and unprepared in the coming debates. If that happens those decisions could be made by “bean counters” with little appreciation for what military professionalism and readiness entails, as well as think tanks and lobbyists for the defense industry who have their own motivations for what they do, often more related to their profits, power and influence than national security.

The armies that fought the Civil War for the most part were composed of volunteers who of a myriad of reasons went off to fight that war. Gouverneur Warren is a character whose life and career before and after the Civil War was much more like currently serving regular officers and to some extent the much more professional and hardened by war officer corps of the Reserve Components of each of our Armed Services, in particular the much active and deployed Army National Guard and Army Reserve. The reserve components still do reflect much of the Citizen Soldier tradition but that being said between deployments, other activations and required schooling, those assets are much more on par with their active counterparts than they ever have been in our history.

“American defense policy has traditionally been built upon pluralistic military institutions, most notably a mix force of professionals and citizen soldiers.” [2] Warren represented what until the beginning of the Cold War was the smaller pillar of that pluralistic institution that of the long term professional while Vincent and Chamberlain represented the volunteer citizen soldier who enlisted to meet the crisis.

Until World War II and the advent of the Cold War these dual pillars existed side by side. Following the Second World War along with the small-wars that went along as part of it the world changed, and the wars that occurred, such as Korea and Vietnam “occurred on a scale too small to elicit a sustained, full-fledged national commitment, yet too large for a prewar-style regular army to handle.” [3] Because of this “military requirements thus became a fundamental ingredient of foreign policy, and military men and institutions acquired authority and influence far surpassing that ever previously possessed by military professionals on the American scene.” [4] General Tony Zinni noted that the foreign policy results of this transformation have resulted in the United States becoming “an empire” [5] something that no American living in 1863 could have ever contemplated.

This was part of a revolution in military affairs far more important than the application of technology which brought it about, the Atomic Bomb; it was a revolution in national strategy which fundamentally changed American thinking regarding the use of the military instrument in relationship to diplomacy, and the relationship of the military to society at large. Russell Weigley noted: “To shift the American definition of strategy from the use of combats for the object of wars to the use of military force for the deterrence of war, albeit while still serving the national interests in an active manner, amounted to a revolution in the history of American military policy….” [6]

The policy worked reasonably well until Vietnam and the inequities of the system showed its liabilities and brought about a change from politicians. Lieutenant General Hal Moore wrote of the Vietnam era: “The class of 1965 came out of the old America, a nation that disappeared forever in the smoke that billowed off the jungle battlegrounds where we fought and bled. The country that sent us off to war was not there to welcome us home. It no longer existed.” [7]

The debacle of Vietnam and the societal tidal wave that followed brought about the end of the selective service system, by which the large army needed to fight wars was connected to the society at large and the creation of the All-Volunteer force by President Nixon in 1974. The ethos that every citizen was a soldier was destroyed by Vietnam and even men like General William Westmoreland who warned that “absent “the continuous movement of citizens in and out of the service,…the army could “become a danger to our society-a danger that our forefathers so carefully tried to preclude.” [8]

This cultural shift is something that none of the professional officers of the small ante-bellum army like Warren would have ever imagined much less men like Vincent or Chamberlain who were true citizen-soldiers. Thus for currently serving officers it is important to recognize this key change as it applies to American military strategy as well as the place the military occupies in our society. This makes it important to our study as we examine the actions of Vincent and Chamberlain outside of myth and legend and see the implications that they can have not only on the battlefield but in our relationship to the American citizenry and society. It is to put in in classic terms a return to understanding the relationship between the military and the people so powerfully enunciate in Clausewitz’s Trinity.

While Warren represents the Strong Vincent and Joshua Chamberlain represented that important part of our military tradition that really, except in the case of young men and women that volunteer to serve and leave the military after their obligated service really no longer exists. We no longer have a system that allows, nor do we actively encourage men like Vincent and Chamberlain to leave lucrative civilian employment or academia to serve alongside the professionals in positions of responsibility leading regiments or brigades or serving as senior staff officers unless they are already part of the military in our reserve components.

vincent

Colonel Strong Vincent was a 26 year old Harvard graduate and lawyer from Erie Pennsylvania. Vincent enlisted and then was appointed as a 1st Lieutenant and Adjutant of the Erie Regiment because of his academic and administrative acumen. He married his wife Elizabeth the same day. Vincent like many young northerners believed in the cause of the Union undivided, and he wrote his wife shortly after after the regiment went to war on the Peninsula:

“Surely the right will prevail. If I live we will rejoice in our country’s success. If I fall, remember you have given your husband to the most righteous cause that ever widowed a woman.”[9]

Vincent was commissioned as a Lieutenant Colonel in the 83rd Pennsylvania September 14th 1861. The young officer learned his trade well and was considered a “strict disciplinarian and master of drill.” [10] That being said one enlisted man remarked that “no officer in the army was more thoughtful and considerate of  the health and comfort of his men.” He assumed command of the regiment when the commander was killed during the Seven Days in June of 1862 where he learned lessons that he would help impart to his fellow officers as well as subordinates, including Chamberlain. Following a bout with a combination of Malaria and Typhoid that almost killed him, he took command of the regiment. He commanded the regiment at Fredericksburg and was promoted to command the 3rd Brigade when its commander was killed at Chancellorsville in May 1863. Vincent was offered the chance to serve as the Judge Advocate General of the Army of the Potomac in the spring of 1863 after spending three months on court-martial duty. But refused the offer in order to remain in the fight commanding troops. [11]

Unlike most other brigade commanders, Vincent was still a Colonel, and he, like many others would in his place hoped that going into action to save Sickles’ command “will either bring me my stars, or finish my career as a soldier.” [12] On July first, Vincent, a native Pennsylvanian came to Hanover and learning that battle had been joined, ordered “the pipes and drums of the 83rd Pennsylvania to play his brigade through the town and ordered the regiments to uncover their flags again….” [13] As the brigade marched through the town Vincent “reverently bared his head” and announced to his adjutant, “What death more glorious can any man desire than to die on the soil of old Pennsylvania fighting for that flag?” [14]

Vincent was known for his personal courage and a soldier of the 83rd Pennsylvania observed “Vincent had a particular penchant for being in the lead….Whenever or wherever his brigade might be in a position to get ahead…, he was sure to be ahead.” [15] That courage and acumen to be in the right place at the right time was in evidence when he led his brigade into battle on July second.

On July 2nd Barnes’ division of V Corps, which Vincent’s brigade was a part was being deployed to the threat posed by the Confederate attack of McLaws’ division on the Peach Orchard and the Wheat Field to reinforce Sickles’ III Corps. While that division marched toward the Peach Orchard, Vincent’s 3rd Brigade was the trail unit. When Gouverneur Warren’s aide, Lieutenant Randall Mackenzie [16] came toward the unit in search of Barnes he came across Vincent and his brigade near the George Weikert house on Cemetery Ridge awaiting further orders. [17] Vincent intercepted him and demanded what his orders were. Upon being told that Sykes’ orders to Barnes were to “send one of his brigades to occupy that hill yonder,” [18] Vincent, defied normal protocol assuming that Barnes was drunk [19] told Mackenzie “I will take responsibility of taking my brigade there.” [20]

It was a fortunate thing for the Union that he did. His quick action to get his brigade, clear orders to his subordinate commanders and skilled analysis of the ground were a decisive factor in the Union forces holding Little Round Top. He ordered Colonel James C. Rice of the 44th New York to lead the brigade up to the hill while he and his aide went forward to scout positions as the brigade moved forward at the double quick “across the field to the road leading up the north shoulder of the hill” with Chamberlain’s 20th Maine in the lead. [21] Looking at the ground which had the valley and Devil’s Den, occupied by the end of Sickles’ line, he chose a position along a spur of the hill running from the northwest to the southeast to place his regiments where they could intercept the Confederate troops of Hood’s division which he could see advancing toward the hill.

The 16th Michigan, his smallest regiment was placed on the right of the brigade. That section of the line was located on massive boulders that placed it high above the valley below, making it nearly impregnable to frontal attack. He deployed the 83rd Pennsylvania and 44th New York, known as Butterfield’s Twins to their left at the request of Rice who told him “In every battle that we have engaged the Eighty-third and Forty-fourth have fought side by side. I wish that it might be so today.” [22] Those units were deployed below the crest among the large number of boulders; the 83rd was about two-thirds of the way down the way down the slope where it joined the right of the 44th, whose line angled back up the slope to the southeast.

Vincent deployed the 20th Maine on his extreme left of his line, and in fact the extreme end of the Union line. Vincent knew that if this flank was turned and Chamberlain overrun that it would imperil the entire Union position. Vincent came up to Chamberlain who remembered that Vincent said “in an awed, faraway voice. “I place you here….This is the left of the Union line. You understand. You are to hold this ground at all costs.” [23]

chamberlain

Colonel Joshua Chamberlain was another one of the citizen soldiers whose performance and leadership on Little Round Top saved the Union line that hot July evening. A graduate of Bowdoin College and Bangor Theological Seminary, Chamberlain was fluent in nine languages other than English. He was Professor of Rhetoric at Bowdoin before seeking an appointment in a Maine Regiment without consulting either the college or his family. He was offered command of the 20th Maine but asked to be appointed as a Lieutenant Colonel which he was in August 1862. He fought at Fredericksburg and was named commander of the regiment when Colonel Adelbert Ames, his commander was promoted following Chancellorsville.

Like Vincent, Chamberlain was also a quick student and rapidly adapted to being a soldier, officer and commander of troops in combat. On receiving his orders Chamberlain deployed his small regiment halfway down the southern slope facing the small valley between Little and Big Round Top. As a result of his experience in battle and the tenacity of the Confederate army he became an advocate of the tactics that William Tecumseh Sherman would later employ during his march to the sea in 1864. He wrote his wife before Chancellorsville:

“We must fight them more vindictively, or we shall be foiled at every step.  We must desolate the country as we pass through it, and not leave a trace of a doubtful friend or foe behind us; make them believe that we are in earnest, terribly in earnest; that to break this band in twain is monstrous and impossible; that the life of every man, yea, of every weak woman or child in the entire South, is of no value whatever compared with the integrity of the Union.”

Since Chamberlain’s account is so important I will forgo a discussion of his tactics and instead quote the sections of his after action report that explains his actions. Chamberlain wrote:

“On reaching the field at about 4 p.m. July 2d, Col. Vincent commanding the Brigade, placing me on the left of the Brigade and consequently on the extreme left of our entire line of battle, instructed me that the enemy were expected shortly to make a desperate attempt to turn our left flank, and that the position assigned to me must be held at every hazard.

I established my line on the crest of a small spur of a rocky and wooded hill, and sent out at once a company of skirmishers on my left to guard against surprise on that unprotected flank.

These dispositions were scarcely made when the attack commenced, and the right of the Regt. found itself at once hotly engaged. Almost at the same moment, from a high rock which gave me a full view of the enemy, I perceived a heavy force in rear of their principal line, moving rapidly but stealthily toward our left, with the intention, as I judged, of gaining our rear unperceived. Without betraying our peril to any but one or two officers, I had the right wing move by the left flank, taking intervals of a pace or two, according to the shelter afforded by rocks or trees, extending so as to cover the whole front then engaged; and at the same time moved the left wing to the left and rear, making a large angle at the color, which was now brought to the front where our left had first rested.

This hazardous maneuvre was so admirably executed by my men that our fire was not materially slackened in front, and the enemy gained no advantage there, while the left wing in the meantime had formed a solid and steady line in a direction to meet the expected assault. We were not a moment too soon; for the enemy having gained their desired point of attack came to a front, and rushed forward with an impetuosity which showed their sanguine expectations.

Their astonishment however was evident, when emerging from their cover, they met instead of an unsuspecting flank, a firm and ready front. A strong fire opened at once from both sides, and with great effect, the enemy still advancing until they came within ten paces of our line, where our steady and telling volleys brought them to a stand. From that moment began a struggle fierce and bloody beyond any that I have witnessed, and which lasted in all its fury, a full hour. The two lines met, and broke and mingled in the shock. At times I saw around me more of the enemy than of my own men. The edge of conflict swayed to and fro -now one and now the other party holding the contested ground. Three times our line was forced back, but only to rally and repulse the enemy. As often as the enemy’s line was broken and routed, a new line was unmasked, which advanced with fresh vigor. Our “sixty rounds” were rapidly reduced; I sent several messengers to the rear for ammunition, and also for reinforcements. In the mean time we seized the opportunity of a momentary lull to gather ammunition and more serviceable arms, from the dead and dying on the field. With these we met the enemy’s last and fiercest assault. Their own rifles and their own bullets were turned against them. In the midst of this struggle, our ammunition utterly failed. The enemy were close upon us with a fresh line, pouring on us a terrible fire. Half the left wing already lay on the field. Although I had brought two companies from the right to its support, it was now scarcely more than a skirmish line. The heroic energy of my officers could avail no more. Our gallant line withered and shrunk before the fire it could not repel. It was too evident that we could maintain the defensive no longer. As a last desperate resort, I ordered a charge. The word “fix bayonets” flew from man to man. The click of the steel seemed to give new zeal to all. The men dashed forward with a shout. The two wings came into one line again, and extending to the left, and at the same time wheeling to the right, the whole Regiment described nearly a half circle, the left passing over the space of half a mile, while the right kept within the support of the 83d Penna. thus leaving no chance of escape to the enemy except to climb the steep side of the mountain or to pass by the whole front of the 83d Penna. The enemy’s first line scarcely tried to run-they stood amazed, threw down their loaded arms and surrendered in whole companies. Those in their rear had more time and gave us more trouble. My skirmishing company threw itself upon the enemy’s flank behind a stone wall, and their effective fire added to the enemy’s confusion. In this charge we captured three hundred and sixty eight prisoners, many of them officers, and took three hundred stand of arms. The prisoners were from four different regiments, and admitted that they had attacked with a Brigade.” [24]

Colonel William Oates of the 15th Alabama would give Chamberlain and his regiment the credit for stopping his attack. Oates wrote: “There have never been harder fighters than the Twentieth Maine and their gallant Colonel. His skill and persistency and the great bravery of his men saved Little Round Top and the Army of the Potomac from defeat.” [25]

chamberlain lrt

As with any firsthand account, aspects of Chamberlain’s accounts are contested by others at the scene. Oates notes that he ordered the retreat and that there were not as many prisoners taken, one of Chamberlain’s company commanders disputes the account of the order of the bayonet charge however the fact is that Chamberlain who was outnumbered nearly two to one by the 15th and 47th Alabama regiments “offset this superiority with strength of position, iron determination and better tactics.” [26] Also a factor was the fatigue of the Confederates, these regiments and their parent unit, Law’s brigade of Hood’s division had conducted a grueling 28 mile march to get to the battlefield and were exhausted by the time that they arrived.

Vincent was mortally wounded while leading the defense of the hill. While he was standing on a large boulder with a riding crop ordering the men of the 16th Michigan who were beginning to waiver he cried out “Don’t yield an inch now men or all is lost,[27]he was struck by a bullet which hit him in the groin. As he was being carried from the field to the hospital where he died on July 7th, “This is the fourth or fifth time they have shot at me…and they have hit me at last.” [28]

As Vincent lay dying he was visited by many comrades, visited by Sykes and Barnes he told them “I presume… I have dune my last fighting.” Meade recommended Vincent for posthumous promotion to Brigadier General, but the request was lost.

Two months after his death his wife gave birth to a baby girl. The baby would not live a year and was buried next to him. One wonders what heights of leadership the young colonel might have achieved had he not died at Gettysburg. He was a man who understood the nature of total war, an excellent leader and skilled tactician.

Chamberlain survived the war to great acclaim being wounded three times and receiving the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox on April 9th 1865.

The examples of these two citizen soldiers demonstrate the importance of this legacy, which is still to some extent carried on by the reserve components of the United States military service. That being said, in the coming years military professionals will have to engage lawmakers and the bureaucracy of the Pentagon as the shape of the future military, especially the land components is debated and decided upon by politicians. Thus, it is of the utmost importance of revisiting the tradition of the citizen soldier and how it can be renewed in the coming years.

Chamberlain’s words about the men that he served alongside like his commanding officer, Strong Vincent are a fitting way to close.

“It is something great and greatening to cherish an ideal; to act in the light of truth that is far-away and far above; to set aside the near advantage, the momentary pleasure; the snatching of seeming good to self; and to act for remoter ends, for higher good, and for interests other than our own.” [29]

Notes

[1] _______. The Armed forces Officer U.S. Department of Defense Publication, Washington DC. January 2006 p.2

[2] Millet, Allan R. and Maslowski, Peter, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States The Free Press a Division of Macmillan Inc. New York, 1984 p.xii

[3] Bacevich, Andrew J. Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed their Soldiers and Their Country Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company, New York 2013 Kindle Edition Amazon Edition p.50

[4] Huntington, Samuel P. The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 1957 p.345

[5] Zinni, Tony. The Battle for Peace: A Frontline Vision of America’s Power and Purpose Palgrave McMillian, New York 2006 p.4

[6] Weigley, Russell F. The American Way of War: A History of United States Military History and Policy University of Indiana Press, Bloomington IN, 1973 pp.367-368

[7] Moore, Harold G. and Galloway Joseph L We Were Soldiers Once…And Young Harper Perennial Books, 1992 pp. xix-xx

[8] Ibid. Bacevich Breach of Trust p.58

[9] ________. Erie County Historical Society http://www.eriecountyhistory.org/wp-content/uploads/2008/10/strongvincent.pdfretrieved 9 June 2014

[10] Golay, Michael. To Gettysburg and Beyond: The Parallel Lives of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and Edward Porter Alexander Crown Publishers Inc. New York 1994 p.129

[11] Leonardi, Ron Strong Vincent at Gettysburg Barringer-Erie Times News retrieved June 9th 2014 from http://history.goerie.com/2013/06/30/strong-vincent-at-gettysburg/

[12] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.264

[13] Pfanz, Harry F. Gettysburg: The Second Day. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1987 p.51

[14] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage p.159

[15] Tredeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.305

[16] Some such as Guelzo believe this may have been Captain William Jay of Sykes staff.

[17] Ibid. Tredeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.327

[18] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage p.262

[19] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage p.262

[20] Ibid. Tredeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.327

[21] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.389

[22] Ibid. Pfanz, Gettysburg: The Second Day. p.213

[23] Ibid. Golay To Gettysburg and Beyond p.157

[24] Chamberlain, Joshua Lawrence. Official Narrative of Joshua Chamberlain of July 6th 1863, Maine Military Historical Society, Inc., Augusta, Maine, copyright 1989 U.S. Army Combat Studies Institute Reprint, retrieved from http://usacac.army.mil/cac2/cgsc/carl/download/csipubs/chamberlain.pdf June 15th 2014

[25] Oates, Willam C. and Haskell, Frank A. Gettysburg Bantam Books edition, New York 1992, originally published in 1905 p.98

[26] Ibid.Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.393

[27] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage p.272

[28] Ibid. Tredeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.361

[29] Chamberlain, Joshua Lawrence. Chamberlain’s Address at the dedication of the Maine Monuments at Gettysburg, October 3rd 1888 retrieved from http://www.joshualawrencechamberlain.com/maineatgettysburg.php 4 June 2014

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