For all the attention placed during the Civil War on protecting one’s own battle flag and capturing those of the enemy, it can be surprisingly difficult for modern researchers to track down specifics regarding the fate of a unit’s colors. Accounts of the capture of a regiment’s flag are often uncorroborated and lack details or a whole body of modern secondary sources will all repeat the same single mistaken original source. Particularly when a unit is as celebrated as the Stonewall Brigade, there may be a tendency for opposing units to want to believe they have captured the famous unit’s colors. While researching the role of the Stonewall Brigade at the Battle of Gettysburg, readers will encounter three separate claims of flags belonging to the brigade being captured during the fighting. A closer examination of the historical record, however, provides compelling evidence that all of these claims are false. The Stonewall Brigade most likely retreated to Virginia bearing all the same colors with which they marched into Gettysburg on July 1, 1863.
Capture of Brigade Colors by the Sixtieth New York
In his official after-action report, Brigadier General John W. Geary, commander of the Second Division of the Union XII Corps, reported that the Sixtieth New York Volunteers of his command captured “the brigade colors of the Stonewall Brigade”, along with the battle flag of an unidentified Virginia regiment.1 The day after the battle, XII Corps commander Major General Henry W. Slocum forwarded to his superiors the two flags captured by the Sixtieth New York. He wrote, “One was borne by the ‘Stonewall Brigade,’ and is represented as the brigade flag.”2
Although Stonewall Brigade commander Brigadier General James A. Walker made no mention of losing a brigade flag in his official report, Geary’s claim initially seems at least plausible upon examination of the actions of the Sixtieth New York.3 The Sixtieth New York, part of the brigade commanded by Brigadier General George S. Greene, was among those units who held the line of Federal breastworks on Culp’s Hill during the attacks by the Stonewall Brigade on July 3. Although they do not appear to have been in the trenches during the Stonewall Brigade’s attack on this portion of the line around 10 a.m., the Sixtieth was responsible for dispatching the skirmishers who advanced following the failure of the Stonewall Brigade’s attack. Members of this regiment, therefore, would have been among the first Union units to advance over the ground where the Stonewall Brigade made its attack and could plausibly have recovered the battle flag among the Confederate dead and wounded.4
While plausible, however, this theory appears to be incorrect. In the official report submitted by the Sixtieth New York’s commander, Colonel Abel Godard, he specified that around nine in the evening on July 2, he ordered a portion of his regiment forward against a stalled Confederate attack. This advance surrounded roughly fifty Confederates and resulted in the capture of both a brigade flag and a regimental banner.5 Godard does not make any claims that the flags belonged to the Stonewall Brigade, but they are certainly the same flags discussed by Geary and Slocum.
As the Stonewall Brigade did not participate in the fighting on Culp’s Hill on July 2, it is impossible for the flag captured by the Sixtieth New York to have belonged to the brigade. After having spent the day skirmishing with Union cavalry on the extreme Confederate left flank, the Stonewall Brigade only moved into position on Culp’s Hill around two or three in the morning on July 3.6 The regimental history of the Sixtieth New York, furthermore, clarifies that the captured brigade flag belonged to the brigade of Virginians commanded by Brigadier General John M. Jones, whose assault of July 2 was directly against the position held by the Sixtieth New York.7 Although neither Jones nor any of his subordinate commanders mentioned losing multiple flags during their attack, it would not be uncommon for commanders to omit such potentially embarrassing news from their official battle accounts.8
Capture of Fourth Virginia Colors by the Fourteenth Connecticut
The next claim to consider is that the battle flag of the Fourth Virginia was captured on July 3 by the Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteers. Jeffry D. Wert, in his excellent dual history of the Stonewall Brigade and the Iron Brigade, wrote that after the failure of the final Confederate assault on Culp’s Hill, the Fourteenth Connecticut rushed forward in a counterattack as the Confederates tried to withdraw. Unable to retreat quickly enough, 61 men of the Fourth Virginia were surrounded and captured by the Fourteenth Connecticut, along with the Fourth’s regimental colors.9
Wert’s narrative of this incident is largely based on after-action reports from the Official Records. Major William Terry, commander of the Fourth Virginia, recounted how a portion of his regiment was captured at the conclusion of the final Confederate assault, indicating that 61 members of his regiment were missing after the engagement.10 Likewise, Major Theodore G. Ellis of the Fourteenth Connecticut recounted his unit’s capture of an impressive five stands of regimental colors on July 3. Included in these, he wrote, were the colors of the Fourth Virginia, which were turned over to the provost guard after the battle.11
Major Ellis, however, was mistaken. The Fourteenth Connecticut, part of the Union II Corps, did not fight on Culp’s Hill on July 3. Rather, they were among those who repelled Pickett’s Charge, in which the Stonewall Brigade and the Fourth Virginia did not participate. The other four colors captured by the Fourteenth Connecticut belonged to Tennessee and North Carolina units of Pettigrew’s Division who participated in the assault.12 If the flag captured by the Fourteenth indeed belonged to a Virginia regiment, it was more likely one of Pickett’s Virginia regiments, rather than the Stonewall Brigade.
Capture of Fourth Virginia Colors by the Seventh Ohio
Perhaps because a portion of the regiment was forced to surrender on the slope of Culp’s Hill, there is a second Federal regiment that also reportedly captured the Fourth Virginia’s flag at Gettysburg. Renowned Gettysburg historian Harry W. Pfanz wrote in his book Gettysburg: Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill that Corporal John Pollack of the Seventh Ohio captured the Fourth Virginia’s battle flag when part of that unit was cut off after their final attack on July 3.13 This claim is repeated in secondary sources elsewhere, citing Pfanz as their source for the flag’s capture.14
As discussed above, Wert’s claim that the Fourteenth Connecticut was responsible for the capture of portions of the Fourth Virginia is almost certainly incorrect and the weight of evidence indicates that the Seventh Ohio was actually the primary unit to accept the surrender of the Virginians. Colonel William R. Creighton of the Seventh Ohio reported capturing 78 Confederates at around 11 a.m. on July 315. A later account by one of Creighton’s soldiers, Sergeant Lawrence Wilson of Company D, indicated that many of these men were from the Fourth Virginia.16. Union descriptions of the surrender match those of soldiers of the Stonewall Brigade, corroborating that the Seventh Ohio was likely the unit to whom members of the Fourth Virginia turned over their arms.17
However, neither Creighton nor Wilson’s accounts make any claims of capturing a flag in connection with the surrender of the members of the Stonewall Brigade.18 Rather, Creighton wrote that Corporal John Pollock of Company H advanced over the entrenchments and captured the flag of the Fourteenth Virginia a full day later, early on the morning of July 4.19Division commander Geary’s account also lists the flag of the Fourteenth Virginia as among the three captured by his command, the other two being the brigade standard and Virginia regimental colors captured by the Sixtieth New York and discussed above.20 It is possible Creighton misidentified the flag, as the Fourteenth Virginia was part of Brigadier General Lewis Armistead’s brigade and participated in Pickett’s Charge rather than the fighting on Culp’s Hill.21. Since Creighton clearly make a mistake in his report, possibly due to battle damage to the banner, we cannot positively rule out the possibility that Pollack found the fallen colors of the Fourth Virginia from the slopes of Culp’s Hill on July 4, but this possibility is no more likely than many other regiments. Perhaps it actually belonged to the Forty-Fourth Virginia, part of Jones’ Brigade or the Fourteenth Louisiana, part of Nicholl’s Brigade, both of which were also engaged on Culp’s Hill. The available evidence does, however, strongly indicate that the Seventh Ohio most likely did not capture the Fourth Virginia’s battle standard during the fighting on July 3 as described by Pfanz.
Although the Stonewall Brigade likely marched away from Gettysburg still carrying the flags it bore at the start of the campaign, these banners would only be used a short time further. The Stonewall Brigade and the rest of Johnson’s Divisions received new battle flags from the Richmond Depot in September 1863.22 These colors included the battle honor for Gettysburg alongside the Stonewall Brigade’s many previous clashes. Along the papers in the service record of the Fourth Virginia’s commander at Gettysburg, Major William Terry, is the requisition form for the Fourth Virginia’s new battle flag, issued to the regiment on September 30, 1863. Similar requests survive for a flag for the Thirty-Third Virginia (issued August 31, 1863) and the Twenty-Seventh Virginia (issued September 30, 1863).23 The flag requested by Terry and pictured above, as well as the post-Gettysburg issue flag of the Second Virginia and a fragment from the post-Gettysburg flag of the Twenty-Seventh Virginia, all now reside in the collection of the American Civil War Museum.24 The flag likely issued to the Fifth Virginia after Gettysburg was once in the Collection of the State Historical Society of Delaware, but has sadly since disappeared.25
The dark air lay heavy and humid as Lieutenant Alfred M. Edgar of Company E of the Twenty-Seventh Virginia picked his way cautiously around the boulders and trees littering the southeastern slope of Culp’s Hill. The blazing heat of July 2 had lessened somewhat after the sun dipped below the western horizon, but the humidity remained, spreading a heavy mist through the low ground along Rock Creek at the base of the heights. A few hours after midnight on July 3, Edgar and 75 men from the Stonewall Brigade went forward as pickets while the rest of the brigade caught a few brief moments of rest. Although the misty air muffled the air somewhat, as Edgar and his men made their way forward, they could plainly hear the rattling of artillery pieces being rolled into place and the tramp of Union soldiers in great numbers moving into position for the coming day’s fight.1
Edgar dropped to his stomach and began carefully crawling forward. Undetected, he made his way to within hearing distance of the Union picket line and thought he heard a Union officer command “fall in the Seventh Massachusetts.” More likely, he actually heard an officer of the Second Massachusetts, whose skirmishers had sparred with the Stonewall Brigade on the slopes of Wolf’s Hill the previous morning. Company F of the Second Massachusetts had been deployed on a mission identical to Edgar’s own; feel for the enemy position and report back. In the confused blackness, two members of the Twenty-Third Virginia, part of Steuart’s Brigade, stumbled into the Massachusetts men’s picket line and one was captured. The Second Massachusetts skirmishers took 23 prisoners that night, including a captain, but Edgar and his men escaped safely. He sought a superior officer to relay what his pickets had learned but could not locate one in the darkness.2
The Massachusetts soldiers Edgar encountered had arrived at Culp’s Hill late in the morning of July 2 after Union commander George G. Meade recalled the XII Corps and V Corps from their extended position east of Wolf’s Hill. Williams’ Division, including the Second Massachusetts, joined the other XII Corps division around Culp’s Hill. Around this time, Major General Henry W. Slocum was placed in command of the entire Union right flank and devolved command of XII Corps to Brigadier General Alpheus S. Williams. The commander of the brigade containing the Second Massachusetts, Brigadier General Thomas H. Ruger, became acting commander of Williams’ Division and Colonel Silas Colgrove, whose Twenty-Seventh Indiana had also skirmished with the Stonewall Brigade early on July 2, took over command of Ruger’s Brigade. The division took up positions on Culp’s Hill to the right of the XII Corps division led by Brigadier General John W. Geary.
Lying southeast of the town of Gettysburg, the summit of Culp’s Hill rises some 180 feet above Rock Creek, which runs along the hill’s eastern base. About 400 yards south of the hill’s peak lies a second summit, almost 100 feet lower than the peak. This lower spur is separated from the main summit by a narrow saddle that cuts across the hill from east to west. In 1863 heavy oak and chestnut timber covered the hill’s slopes, while the ground beneath was clear and free of undergrowth. The steep terrain was further broken by numerous rocky outcroppings and huge boulders, which one Union soldier described as looking like “hundreds of sleeping elephants” scattered amidst the trees.3
When the XII Corps arrived on Culp’s Hill on July 2, Geary called together his brigade commanders and sought his subordinates’ opinion regarding the construction of breastworks. The general stated that he himself did not favor the idea as he believed “it unfitted men for fighting without them.” One of Geary’s brigade commanders, former regular U.S. Army officer Brigadier General George S. Greene, replied that preserving the lives of his men was more important to him than any theory and that his brigade would entrench regardless of orders.4
Thus, up and down the Union line, the men spent much of July 2 improving their positions. A captain in one of Greene’s regiments, the Sixtieth New York, recalled the construction process; “Right and left the men felled the trees and blocked them up into a close log fence. Piles of cordwood which lay nearby were quickly appropriated. The sticks, set slanting on end against the outer face of the logs, made excellent battening…. Fortunate regiments, which had spades and picks, strengthened their work with earth.” Where they could, soldiers adjusted their lines to incorporate the hill’s rocks and boulders. The portion of Greene’s line held by the One Hundred and Forty-Ninth New York, for instance, crowned a low escarpment that allowed the unit’s muskets to dominate the slopes to their front.5
Most of the XII Corps, however, soon left their freshly constructed fortifications. As the July 2 Confederate attack on the Union flank at Little Round Top intensified and the right flank at Culp’s Hill remained quiet, nearly the entire corps was withdrawn and sent to reinforce the opposite flank. Thus only a single brigade, Greene’s New Yorkers, remained in the corps’ breastworks when Major General Edward Johnson launched his Confederate division at the hill late on July 2. Thoroughly outnumbered, Greene was forced to draw back his right flank, allowing the Confederates of Brigadier General George H. Steuart’s brigade to overrun the XII Corps breastworks on the lower spur of Culp’s Hill. With the Stonewall Brigade still occupied by the Union cavalry on Brinkerhoff’s Ridge, however, Johnson could not exploit his gains before darkness brought an end to the fighting.6
Drive Them Out at Daylight
Throughout the night, both sides moved additional forces to Culp’s Hill in anticipation of renewed combat on July 3. Johnson ordered Brigadier General James A. Walker to march the Stonewall Brigade from its position near Brinkerhoff’s Ridge, leaving a portion of the Second Virginia to maintain pickets along the Hanover Pike. The Virginians behind on Johnson’s left, about 30 yards downhill from the captured breastworks occupied by Steuart’s men and with the brigade’s left flank resting on Rock Creek. To the right of Steuart’s Brigade, Nicholl’s Brigade and Jones’ Brigade maintained the positions halfway up the slope of the main hill that they had held at the conclusion of the previous day’s fighting. Staff officers, meanwhile, were busy bringing up additional men from Rodes’ Division and Early’s Division to add further weight to Johnson, which had been the most successful of the Second Corps’ July 2 attacks. When they arrived at around 4 a.m., Daniel’s Brigade and O’Neal’s Brigade formed to the right of the Stonewall Brigade, behind Nicholl’s and Jones’ Brigades respectively. His division in place, Johnson issued orders to renew the attack at first light, although the details of his plan went unrecorded.7
Meanwhile, the remainder of the Union XII Corps had hurried back to Culp’s Hill after darkness brought an end to the fighting around Little Round Top, only to discover a significant portion of their breastworks now in enemy hands. Greene’s men retained their line of breastworks on the eastern slope of the main hill, his left near the summit and his right ending just before the saddle separating the main hill from the spur. To the right of Greene, Geary deployed the brigade commanded by Brigadier General Thomas L. Kane at almost a right angle to Greene’s line. Geary’s right flank consisted of two regiments of Colonel Charles Candy’s brigade, while the rest of Candy’s regiments formed behind Greene as a divisional reserve.8
Ruger’s Division had approaching its former position from the south, until its skirmish line bumped into Lieutenant Edgar and the other Confederate pickets arrayed on the southern slope of the spur. On the division’s right, Colgrove’s Brigade reoccupied the vacant portion of their breastworks in McAllister’s Woods, separated from the base of Culp’s Hill by an open, marshy meadow containing Spangler’s Spring. Ruger formed the brigade led by Colonel Archibald L. McDougall near the Baltimore Pike, on high ground to the west of McAllister’s Woods. Behind them, Williams deployed much of the corps’ artillery and positioned a brigade along the Baltimore Pike to act as a corps reserve. Altogether, approximately 11,200 Union soldiers would square off with the roughly 9,600 men under Johnson’s command.9
General Slocum had directed Williams to “drive them out at daylight,” but in Williams’ opinion this order was “more easily made than executed.” As Ruger’s Division would need to cross open fields to attack the Confederate left flank on the spur, Williams instead planned for the main assault to be made by Geary’s Division, supported by feints from Ruger’s infantry and heavy artillery fire from the right of the corps. This fire would come from three batteries on Powers Hill and McAllister’s Hill, with an additional two batteries just west of the Baltimore Pike. Their muzzles directed north, these guns commanded the entire valley of Rock Creek and could enfilade any Confederate force facing Geary. The guns along the Baltimore Pike included ten smoothbore Napoleons whose canister could shred any Confederate attack coming south across the meadows towards the Pike.10
Few men slept well on the slopes of Culp’s Hill that night. One Connecticut soldier in McDougall’s Brigade recalled how his sleep was constantly interrupted by firing along the picket line. At each outbreak of firing the men would leap to their feet, officers shouting commands to form line of battle. Then, just as quickly as it started, “the pattering fire along the picket line gradually slackening, would finally die out altogether, and all… would again stench themselves out to rest, only to be rousted again shortly by a similar alarm.”11
Warmly Engaged Along My Entire Line
Just before the first faint streaks of light, hushed commands from Union officers formed dark lines of men, massed for the planned attack. As the earliest hints of dawn, sometime between 3:30 a.m. and 4 a.m. depending on the account, battery commanders gave the signal to fire and flame lept out of the barrels of almost two dozen guns. Williams had arranged for the guns to fire constantly for fifteen minutes, after which his infantry would advance. As the minutes ticked by, the guns poured forth “a most furious fire.” The Union soldiers along the Baltimore Pike watched in awe as the artillery “began its thunders, sending solid shot, shell, and cannister over the heads of the men in our infantry line, into the woods among the rebel masses.”12
With dense mist further restricting the already limited visibility, the guns fired not at any specific target, but sought to take the Confederate left of the Stonewall Brigade and Steuart’s Brigade in a crossfire. The Confederates, however, were largely protected by the captured breastworks and the reverse slope of the spur. Though Steuart called it a “terrific fire of artillery,” he noted that only his rightmost regiments, partially exposed on the lower summit of Culp’s Hill and without the protection of breastworks, were affected by the bombardment.13
After a quarter hour of thunder, the Union guns fell silent, the signal for Geary’s infantry to begin their attack. On right flank of the division, the men of one of Candy’s regiments received orders to commence firing. With the sun still below the eastern horizon, the men protested that “we can see no rebs to fire at.” Their company commander shrugged and responded, “our orders are to keep firing continually and without intermission through these trees in our front.”14
Geary would later report that his division’s attack was “most furious” and that it “staggered the enemy, by whom it was seemingly unexpected.” Hardly any of Geary’s subordinate commanders, however, made any mention in their reports or post-war histories of conducting an attack. In reality, Geary’s attack was over before it began, as, with the rumble of the last artillery shells still echoing off the hills, Johnson launched his own assault. Williams’ plan to retake the breastworks on the spur was quickly abandoned, as his corps soon had all they could handle preventing any further Confederate advances.15
Kane’s Brigade, in the center of Geary’s line, braced for the renewed Confederate attack. General Kane had been severely sick for several weeks, only rejoining his unit via ambulance the previous day. His health swiftly failed him, however, and he relinquished command to his senior subordinate, Colonel George A. Cobham of the One-Hundred and Eleventh Pennsylvania. Quickly abandoning the planned Union attack, Cobham ordered his regiments to withdrawal 50 yards to gain the protection of a ledge of rocks and a short traverse line of breastworks Greene’s men had constructed the previous day to protect their flank. The brigade’s left flank thus connected with the end of Greene’s breastworks, while the right rested on a stone wall that cut across the slope of the spur about 30 yards south of the breastworks all the way to Rock Creek. The three Pennsylvanian regiments braced for the coming Confederate attack across the saddle.16
They had only moments to wait. Steuart’s Brigade came charging out of the misty morning darkness, “yelling in their peculiar style.” Although prisoners would later explain that Steuart’s men attacked in multiple lines, to the Union soldiers it looked like a single massed column of Confederate troops bearing down on them in the dim light. Union officers shouted desperate commands and suddenly Steuart’s attack was met “at every point by the unswerving line and deadly fire.” The sudden wall of musket fire checked Steuart’s advance and drove his men behind the shelter of the saddle’s rocks and trees, from which they began to return fire.17
Firing down the slope at Steuart’s lines on the opposite side of the saddle, some of Kane’s men failed to adjust their aim to account for firing downhill, their shots thus passing harmlessly over their targets. The colonel of a Pennsylvania regiment noticed that each volley by his men was marked with a corresponding shower of clipped leaves from the branches above the Confederate lines. He began pacing up and down his line, ordering his men to aim for the rebels’ knees to better account for the change in elevation.18
Twenty minutes after they had ceased firing, the Union artillery opened up again, hurling shot and shell towards the left flank of Steuart’s Brigade. A Union soldier supporting the batteries recalled “the sharp and almost continuous reports of the twelve pounders, the screaming, shrieking shell that went crashing through the tree tops; the deadened thud of the exploding shell; the whizzing sound of the pieces as they flew in different directions.” While the Union guns exploded with this renewed barrage, the Confederate guns remained silent. The ground around Culp’s Hill prevented Johnson from bringing his guns closer to the fight and any artillery fire from the north side of Rock Creek would risk falling among Johnson’s own men. After the battle a member of the Thirty-Third Virginia bitterly complained that “we could not get any artillery near enough to do any good.”19
On the far right of Geary’s position, the ranks of the One Hundred and Forty-Seventh Pennsylvania, part of Candy’s Brigade, began the day facing a shallow wooded ravine with a triangular, uncultivated open field beyond. The field sloped upward towards the timbered crest of the spur, where Steuart’s Confederates were exchanging shots with Kane’s Brigade. Seeking to gain the protection of the wooded ravine and improve their field of fire, the Pennsylvanians advanced into the narrow depression. Realizing that their position allowed them to fire in the flank of any further Confederate advance on Kane’s men, at around 5 a.m. the regiment charged across the small field and seized the stone wall. From this protected position, they let loose volley after volley into Steuart’s lines, causing considerable casualties and havoc. Exposed and alone at the wall, they could stay for only a short time and soon fell back to the wooded ravine. The field across which the One Hundred and Forty-Seventh Pennsylvania had charged would henceforth be known as Pardee Field, named after the unit’s commander.20
With Kane’s line refusing to budge, a crossfire of Union artillery, and the Pennsylvanians enfilading his ranks, it was likely around this time that Steuart called upon Walker for assistance. Neither Walker nor Steuart recorded the details of the Stonewall Brigade’s advance, with Walker simply stating that upon Steuart’s request for assistance, the brigade “moved up in support and I became warmly engaged along my whole line.” According to the reports of Walker’s regimental commanders, portions of the Stonewall Brigade occupied part of the captured breastworks, from whence they likely exchanged fire with Kane’s Brigade and the One Hundred and Forty-Seventh Pennsylvania and Fifth Ohio of Candy’s Brigade on Kane’s right.21
Among the first members of the Stonewall Brigade to fall from the fire of Kane and Candy’s men was Private Henry D. Gilliland. Hailing from the rugged Appalachian Mountains west of the Shenandoah Valley, Gilliland had enlisted in March 1862 as part of the second wave of Confederate volunteers. During his unit’s first charge early in the morning of July 3, Gilliland was shot in the breast and fell dead. He was left unburied on the field.22
On the right end of Stonewall Brigade’s line, the Fourth Virginia extended past the captured breastworks and so lacked their protection. The regiment found itself on the western slope of the spur’s crest, where they faced Kane’s Brigade across the saddle to their left and, to the right, Greene’s Brigade in their breastworks on the higher summit of Culp’s Hill. Walker reported that this part of his line “suffered very heavily,” while Major William Terry of the Fourth Virginia asserted that his regiment was “exposed to a heavy and destructive fire of shot, shell, and musketry, from which the regiment sustained a heavy loss in killed, wounded, and missing.”23
Alongside the Fourth Virginia in this exposed position were the First Maryland Battalion and the Third North Carolina, the right flank of Steuart’s Brigade. Major William W. Goldsborough, leading the First Maryland, made his way down the line at one point to check on his rightmost company. Huddled with the company’s commander, who reported that his unit was suffering heavy casualties, the pair were soon joined by Major William M. Parsley, commanding the Third North Carolina to the right of the Marylanders. Parsley, speaking hyperbolically, reported that his exposed unit had been almost annihilated. He told Goldsborough that he had only 19 men left. Just as he spoke, a man fell dead at the feet of the three officers. “And now,” he said, “I have but eighteen.”24
After almost an hour holding this exposed flank and with their cartridge boxes emptying, Walker ordered the Fifth Virginia to the Fourth Virginia’s assistance. Cresting the summit of the spur, the Fifth Virginia immediately found itself in a vortex of fire. While Kane’s Brigade was the most immediate threat on the opposite side of the saddle, the rightmost regiments of Greene’s Brigade could obliquely fire at the Virginian’s exposed flank. Referencing Greene’s position, one of Steuart’s staff officers reported that the right of Steuart’s Brigade and the Stonewall Brigade was commanded “by the works on the crest of the hill to our right, whence a galling fire was poured into our ranks.”25
We Could have Stood as Long as the Rebs Chose to Show Themselves
The men of the One Hundred and Thirty-Seventh New York and the One Hundred and Forty-Ninth New York held the right end of Greene’s line and were the ones pouring that galling fire into the flank of the Fifth Virginia. Just before daybreak, Lieutenant Colonel Charles B. Randall of the One Hundred and Forty-Ninth New York had walked down his regiment’s portion of the breastworks with a bottle of whiskey, offering each officer a sip in turn. He told each of his subordinates that it may be the last drink they would have together and that he hoped it would sustain them in doing their duty. Just as the last officer emptied the bottle, Steuart’s Brigade commenced the Confederate attack on Kane’s men and Randall ordered his men to the breastworks.26
Greene’s troops, who had held these lines alone against almost an entire division the previous night, had rapidly become well-versed in fighting from behind their works. The fortifications provided excellent protection, with the greatest risk being to the head or upper body. The green logs placed atop the breastworks to protect the men’s’ heads while firing, however, occasionally caused bullets to glance off them at unpredictable angles to strike the men behind the works. A member of the One Hundred and Forty-Ninth New York described the appearance of Greene’s men in the trenches, “Their clothes ragged and dirty, their faces black from smoke, sweat and burnt powder, their lips cracked and bleeding from salt-petre in the cartridge bitten by them, and… loading and firing for dear life.”27
The Fifth Virginia had likely been holding the lower summit for only a short time when they heard loud cheers coming from the Union lines. Geary had retained over half of Candy’s Brigade in reserve and, with ammunition beginning to run low among his frontline regiments, Geary began to rotate in his fresh regiments starting around 6 a.m. The Twenty-Ninth Ohio advanced to relieve the One Hundred and Thirty-Seventh New York opposite the Fifth Virginia in “splendid style,” cheering as they advanced at a run. The Ohio men held their fire until they had reached the safety of the breastworks, passing through the New Yorkers and resuming fire with hardly a pause. Under the cover of the Ohio regiment’s fire, the One Hundred and Thirty-Seventh withdrew a short distance to a protected hollow behind Greene’s lines.28
To their left, the One Hundred and Forty-Ninth New York was similarly relieved by their cheering supports, the New Yorkers retreating under the new regiment’s fire until they too had reached the safety of the hollow. Once there, Randall proposed three cheers for the regiment’s colors, which had been shot through several times during the morning’s fight. The men gave the cheers “with a tiger,” after which they gave three cheers “for the gallant Randall.” The men were then directed to clean their rifles, “which were so foul that a ball could not be driven home without difficulty, and the barrels so hot as to be painful to the touch.”29
This rotation of units would occur throughout the rest of the day up and down the lines of Greene’s and Kane’s brigades and would be central to the ultimate Union victory at Culp’s Hill. A member of the One Hundred and Thirty-Seventh New York described how the process worked; “A regiment would use up their ammunition in about two hours, when another one would relieve them and they fall back to the hollow where the balls would whistle over their heads. They would clean their guns and get some more ammunition and be ready to relieve another regiment… In this way we could have stood as long as the rebs chose to show themselves below.” After the battle, General Greene noted that his brigade’s breastworks held no more than 1,300 men at a time, but that throughout the day some 3,105 men had rotated through the front lines. Each renewed Confederate attack on Greene’s already strong position would face fresh troops with replenished ammunition.30
A Murderous Fire
Although his plans for an assault by Geary’s Division had been derailed by Johnson’s attack, the second part of Williams’ original plan for the XII Corps continued tragically on. Throughout the morning, Ruger’s Division would launch a bloody series of piecemeal feints from their positions along the Baltimore Pike and McAllister’s Woods. Sideshows to the primary action on Culp’s Hill proper, this fighting around Spangler’s Spring was confused and poorly documented. An accurate timeline of actions is nearly impossible to reconstruct, with different participants putting the same attack as early as 5:30 a.m. or as late as 11 a.m. Only by putting those accounts in context with other simultaneous events can the historian begin to develop a plausible account of these actions south of Culp’s Hill.
The crisis triggered by the Confederate invasion of the north had drawn to Gettysburg men who never expected to see serious combat. In June 1863, Brigadier General Henry H. Lockwood received orders to march north with his two regiments of Maryland home guard from their sleepy positions on the lower Potomac. While passing through Baltimore, they were joined by the One Hundred and Fiftieth New York from the city’s defenses. Sent west to guard rail lines, Lockwood’s ad hoc command became attached to the XII Corps as an independent brigade. When Williams positioned his troops in the early hours of July 3, he directed the two regiments of Lockwood’s Brigade then present to form battle lines along the Baltimore Pike in support of the artillery batteries.31
From their position along the Pike, the men of the First Potomac Home Brigade watched the Union field artillery bombard the Confederate lines on Culp’s Hill. The oddly named regiment had originally been formed to protect the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad along the Potomac and later supported supply lines for Union troops in the Shenandoah Valley. The regiment surrendered as part of the Harper’s Ferry garrison in 1862 and, after being formally exchanged, had joined Lockwood’s command on the lower Potomac. Their ranks largely untouched by combat, the regiment of between 700 and 800 men was nearly twice the size of the average Union regiment at Gettysburg.32
At around 5 a.m., Lockwood received orders, likely from Williams or Ruger, to deploy a regiment to engage the enemy in the woods on the northern side of the Baltimore Pike. He selected the First Potomac Home Brigade, under Colonel William P. Maulsby, and personally led the regiment across the road and into the dense woods. Passing to the left of the swampy ground around Spangler’s Spring, the solitary Union regiment skirted along the southern slope of the spur, charging directly into the left flank of the Confederate position.33
When Steuart ordered his columns forward that morning, he had dispatched the First North Carolina to shield his right flank from any threats emanating from the south. The regiment’s commander sent four of his companies across Rock Creek to establish a skirmish line on Wolf’s Hill, while the remaining six companies occupied the woods and boulders along the southeastern base of Culp’s Hill. Their attention was initially held by a few companies of skirmishers that Colgrove’s Brigade had deployed at the edge of McAllister’s Woods across the marshy meadow. The sudden advance of the Marylanders, however, threatened to punch through the thin line of Confederate skirmishers. To Confederate commanders, it appeared the enemy was attempting to turn their left flank and enfilade the captured breastworks. Walker ordered the Second Virginia, still missing the two and a half companies previously detailed to picket the Hanover Road, to support the First North Carolina and keep the flank of Johnson’s Division clear. Colonel John Q. A. Nadenbousch sent Lieutenant John S. Harrison and his Company D across Rock Creek to reinforce the North Carolinians on Wolf’s Hill and threw the rest of his command into the woods north of Spangler’s Spring in preparation for the Union attack.34
Keeping their left within the cover of the timber, the right half of the Marylanders’ dense battle line spilled into the open meadow as the regiment advanced. In the dim morning light, they could just make out a stone wall cutting through the trees ahead. This was the eastern end of the same stone wall from which the One Hundred and Forty-Seventh Pennsylvania briefly enfiladed Steuart’s attack on Kane’s Brigade. Crouched behind the wall and among the captured breastworks, the First North Carolina and Second Virginia poured a “severe musketry fire” into the First Potomac Home Brigade. The right half of the Second Virginia opened an oblique fire on the Federal line, while sharpshooters from Lieutenant Harrison’s company on the other side of Rock Creek enfiladed the blue-clad ranks.35
Just 30-35 feet from the stone wall, Colonel Maulsby halted his regiment’s advance and straightened his lines, momentarily disrupted by the regiment’s advance over the broken ground at the base of Culp’s Hill. Colonel Nadenbousch used the brief pause to send two of his companies about 60 yards to the left and rear, to a bend in Rock Creek where they had a clear view of the right flank of the Marylanders’ line. His men falling around him, Maulsby had just shouted the command to fix bayonets in anticipation of a charge on the wall when word suddenly reached him to withdraw. At the time, he believed the order was to prevent his men from accidently firing on Federal troops advancing on his left. If so, this may refer to the charge of the One Hundred and Forty-Seventh Pennsylvania across Pardee Field or possibly to the advance of the Twentieth Connecticut of McDougall’s Brigade, which moved forward around this time to harass Steuart’s attack and help direct Union artillery fire. Reflecting years later, however, Maulsby judged the order was given to save his command from the “murderous fire to which it was exposed.”36
The attack of the raw Marylanders against the Second Virginia and First North Carolina lasted less than a half an hour. Yet, as the commands to cease fire and march to the rear rang out along the line, the First Potomac Home Brigade had paid a devastating price for their feint against the Confederate flank. While the probe was barely mentioned by his superiors, Maulsby noted in his official report that “the number of lamented dead and suffering wounded attest the severity of this engagement.” Of the 739 men who marched forward from the Baltimore Pike, 23 were killed, 80 fell wounded, and one was likely captured.37
It Is Murder, But It Is the Order
While the Second Virginia and First North Carolina had been sufficient to beat back the attack of a single, if oversized, Union regiment, they would be insufficient if Ruger attacked with his entire division. At just about the time that the Marylanders launched their attack, however, additional reinforcements were arriving to bolster Johnson’s forces. Two regiments of Smith’s Brigade, the Forty-Ninth Virginia and the Fifty-Second Virginia, reported to Johnson at around 5 a.m. They were met by Major Henry K. Douglas, a former member of the Second Virginia now serving on Johnson’s staff. Eager to get the fresh men into the fight quickly, Douglas rode up to Brigadier General William Smith, a 67-year-old who had recently been elected for the second time as governor of Virginia. Sacrificing protocol for expediency, Douglas asked Smith to temporarily turn command of the brigade over to him so that he could lead them to the correct position. Smith assented and his small brigade began marching to join the Second Virginia.38
Meanwhile, across the swale in McAllister’s Woods, the men of Colgrove’s Brigade had been exchanging scattered fire with the First North Carolina and Second Virginia since dawn. From their lines, the Federals found themselves exposed to the “fire of myriads of sharpshooters from our front and our right flank across the creek.” As soon as it was light enough to see, Colgrove dispatched skirmishers from the Third Wisconsin and Second Massachusetts forward to the belt of timber at the edge of the meadow to help suppress the Confederate marksmen. Crouched behind the skirmish line, Captain Julian W. Hinkley of the Third Wisconsin used a pair of field glasses to help spot targets for his sharpshooters.39
Behind his line of skirmishers, Colgrove positioned his regiments in McAllister’s Woods, partially protected by the breastworks the brigade had constructed the previous day. The Third Wisconsin and Second Massachusetts faced the meadow, while the Thirteenth New Jersey was bent back at a right angle with half of the regiment facing the meadow and the other facing Rock Creek. Earlier that morning Colgrove had shifted his own regiment, the Twenty-Seventh Indiana, to occupy breastworks facing Rock Creek on the brigade’s right flank. Although posted in advance of the rest of their division, Colgrove’s men were well supported by the artillery on Power’s Hill and McAllister’s Hill.40
Some two hours into the day’s fighting, General Ruger received orders, most likely from Williams, to probe the Confederate left with two regiments. Such a limited effort, similar to the attack by the First Potomac Home Brigade, would be consistent with Williams’ overall plan to conduct feints on the Confederate flank with Ruger’s Division. Rather than convey the orders himself, however, Ruger sent a staff officer. Either the staff officer made a mistake or Colgrove misunderstood Ruger’s intent, which the general claimed after the battle was that an attempt should only be made after ascertaining the strength of the opposing enemy by advancing first with skirmishers.41
To Colgrove, however, it was clearly impractical to send skirmishers out into the open meadow against Confederates protected by trees, rocks, breastworks, and the stone wall running across the northern edge of the swale. He claimed the advance of Federal troops at a right angle to his line, possibly a reference to the aborted attack of the First Potomac Home Brigade, limited any advance across the meadow to no more than two regiments. The nuance of Ruger’s intent or the connection to Williams’ broader plan was lost. Colgrove heard the order as a command to charge directly across the open ground and recapture the breastworks on the far side. He asked the staff officer to repeat the order again and then a third time. Colgrove pulled on his nose, a personal tick he exhibited whenever deep in thought, and muttered to himself “It cannot be done, it cannot be done. If it can be done, the Second Massachusetts and Twenty-Seventh Indiana can do it.”42
Lieutenant Colonel Charles R. Mudge, commanding the Second Massachusetts, was incredulous when he received the order to charge. “Are you sure this is the order?” he asked. When assured it was, he replied, “Well, it is murder, but it is the order.” Turning to his men he shouted “Up, men, over the works! Forward, double-quick!”43
The Twenty-Seventh Indiana, meanwhile, was struggling to get into position to attack. Colgrove likely selected the Twenty-Seventh because it was his own regiment and he either trusted them the most or did not want to show favoritism by excusing his own men from the dangerous task. The Hoosiers, however, were on the flank of the brigade, facing the wrong way and with the Thirteenth New Jersey between them and their objective. The Indiana men expected their sister regiment to move out of the way, but the Thirteenth never received orders to do so, possibly due to Colgrove’s inexperience as a brigade commander. The two regiments “ran pump into each other,” recalled a member of the Twenty-Seventh Indiana. “For a brief space they were intermingled upon the same ground, in some confusion.”
Colgrove came running over to straighten out the mess. He shouted to his men, “Twenty-Seventh, charge! Charge those works in your front!” Acting regimental commander Lieutenant Colonel John R. Fesler added his voice to the din and the regiment leapt forward over the breastworks with a “wild, prolonged shout.”44
With the Twenty-Seventh Indiana lagging a little behind and obliquing to the right of the Second Massachusetts, the two regiments advanced swiftly down the slight slope from McAllister’s Woods towards the meadow. For the first 100 yards their path was covered by oak and hickory saplings, partially shielding them from the sporadic fire of the Second Virginia. At the base of some of the young trees lay the bodies of several men of the Second Massachusetts killed during the morning’s skirmishing.45
As they broke out of the trees into the open, the volume of musket fire from the Virginians began to increase. At the point where Colgrove’s men attacked, the meadow was about 100 yards wide, with soft, boggy ground. A small ditch cut across the middle of the swale, draining into Rock Creek on the east side of the meadow. The ground on the far side of the ditch grew rose more sharply and several boulders jutted above the grass just before the far tree line.46
In that tree line, concealed behind the rocks and among the breastworks, Colonel Nadenbousch had widely dispersed the men he still had on the west side of Rock Creek. Prepared to contest every inch of ground until reinforcements could be brought up, the Virginias fired “with a rapidity and precision that materially delayed and disconcerted the enemy.” As the Federals neared the middle of the meadow, the Second Virginia let loose a volley. On the other side of Rock Creek, Nadenbousch’s skirmishers lying concealed in the grass rose up, firing directly into the right flank of the Twenty-Seventh Indiana.47
The effect of the volley was startling. To the major of the Twenty-Seventh Indiana, it appeared as if his three right companies had been knocked down in a single instant. To those in the rear watching the Hoosiers’ advance, “it almost appeared that a crevasse had opened in the earth and swallowed the regiment, bodily.” The volley left only one or two members of the regiment’s nine-man color guard still standing. Recovering from the shock of the abrupt fire, the Indiana veterans closed ranks and pushed forward. To the men watching their advance, the regiment appeared to advance “under a perfect hail of balls, men and officers falling at every step.”48
To the left of the Hoosiers, the Second Massachusetts had made better progress. Emerging into the meadow with a cheer, the regiment charged through terrible fire, moving across the open ground as quickly as the boggy terrain would allow. Lieutenant Colonel Mudge, on foot and waving his sword as he cheered his men forward, was struck by a Confederate ball and fell dead halfway across the meadow. The regiment’s colors toppled down as the color bearer was struck. A man picked up the flag, only to be shot down as well. A third soldier picked up the colors as the regiment surged forward into the cover of the trees. Driving the Confederate defenders back before them, the Second Massachusetts overran a portion of the breastworks, the same section they themselves had constructed the previous day.49
Scarcely a Man Could Live to Gain the Position
Meanwhile, Douglas had arrived with Smith’s Brigade in the rear of the Second Virginia. As he formed the fresh troops in line of battle, someone pointed out to Douglas that he was the sole officer still on horseback. No sooner had Douglas ordered the brigade to begin marching at the left oblique into position when a dozen Union soldiers appeared a couple hundred yards up the spur of Culp’s Hill to the right. Puffs of smoke, the rattle of muskets, and Douglas fell from his horse, a ball having smashed into his left shoulder, lodging part of the major’s coat and shirt under his clavicle and briefly paralyzing his arm. Smith paused for a moment to check on Douglas before advancing forward with his brigade.50
Smith’s Brigade advanced in a sudden rush as the firing swelled to a new crescendo. The orders Smith shouted were “not in the conventional forms prescribed by Hardee, Upton, or Gilham,” according to a Confederate staff officer, but his men understood his intent and advanced with “a sprint and a vim.” Cries of “Hurrah for Governor Smith!” rang out from the dry throats of the Virginians and North Carolinians in the sector as the fresh troops streamed into the fight.51
After recovering from the shock of the initial Confederate volley, the Twenty-Seventh Indiana advanced a short distance further into the storm of fire. “The air,” recalled one Indiana soldier, “was alive with singing, hissing, and zipping bullets.” Momentum quickly drained from the charge and it ground to a halt as men stopped to fire their muskets. The final member of the unit’s color guard slumped to the ground, the regiment’s flag falling from his hands. The unit’s adjutant snatched them up and, unable to spare a man to carry the colors, he planted the flag staff in the meadow’s soft ground.52
Colgrove called it “one of the most terrible fires I have ever witnessed.” “At every volley of the enemy,” he recounted, “gaps were being cut through [the Twenty-Seventh Indiana’s] ranks. It became evident to me that scarcely a man could live to gain the position of the enemy.” He hurriedly ordered his regiment to fall back to the breastworks in McAllister’s Woods. Facing to the rear, the shattered unit marched back across the meadow in an orderly but rapid retreat.53
The Second Massachusetts now found itself alone and without support, clinging to its toehold in the breastworks. “From behind every tree and rock,” recalled one man, “the enemy poured an overwhelming fire.” Yet another color bearer had been killed and ten of the regiment’s officers were lying on the field dead or wounded. Without support to their right, Smith’s advancing Confederates began to press the battered regiment’s flank. Furthermore, as the Massachusetts soldiers had advanced across the swale, they had borne slightly to the left, blocking the troops in their rear from supporting them with musket fire. His men about to be overrun, the major of the Second Massachusetts ordered the regiment to retire.54
Smith’s Confederates came roaring out of the trees after the retreating Federals. Smith was in the lead of his men, his voice audible over the cacophony of battle. “Reckless of shot and shell, with sword in hand, pointing at the enemy,” observed one Confederate officer, “he harangued each regiment, as it double-quicked past into the arena of blood and fire.” He sent the Forty-Ninth Virginia forward against Colgrove’s retiring men, supported by the Fifty-Second Virginia. From across Rock Creek, the Second Virginia’s sharpshooters continued to sweep the meadow with their enfilading fire.55
The Second Massachusetts, however, still had some fight left in it. Rather than retire directly back, the regiment moved at an oblique farther to the west, uncovering the front of Colgrove’s Brigade and allowing the Third Wisconsin, Twenty-Seventh Indiana, and a portion of the Thirteen New Jersey to pour volleys into Smith’s advancing ranks. The Second Massachusetts, upon reaching a ruined stone wall, wheeled back to face their pursuers and opened fire again. A Union observer noted “I never saw a finer sight than to see that regiment, coming back over that terrible meadow, face about and form in line as steady as if on parade.”56
Smith’s confident advance now found itself checked by an explosion of fire from their front and enfilading fire from the Second Massachusetts. The Union artillery along the Baltimore Pike, carefully positioned to prevent any Confederate advance southward, now swept the meadow with canister fire. A captain in the Thirty-First Virginia recalled it as “the most deadly fire of musketry and cannon I was ever under.” The commander of the Fifty-Second Virginia pleaded for Smith to either order a charge or allow them to fall back to the cover of the trees, for they could not stay exposed in the meadow. Colgrove reported that while his brigade’s first volley had halted Smith’s advance, at his second volley the Confederates broke and ran for the protection of the trees, their dead and wounded littering the meadow. The Forty-Ninth Virginia lost around 40 percent of its manpower in the aborted charge.57
Whether Ruger had ever intended Colgrove to make a serious attack or not, the effort had been futile from the start. “The regiments were a handful against the mass of enemy opposite,” judged one Massachusetts soldier, “even without any regard to their formidable position.” The Second Massachusetts advanced into the meadow with 316 men, while the Twenty-Seventh Indiana had fielded 339 men. In the assault, the Hoosier regiment recorded 112 men killed or wounded, while the Massachusetts unit suffered the loss of 136 men. Although Smith’s assault on Colgrove’s position served little purpose, his brigade had been critical in repulsing the threat to Johnson’s flank. But the Second Virginia had held their ground until the arrival of Smith’s men and the enfilading fire from the Stonewall Brigade skirmishers across Rock Creek played a key role in repulsing the Twenty-Seventh Indiana in particular.58
Of note, the exact timing of these events is open to interpretation. Ruger reported that he ordered Colgrove to attack at 10 a.m. Elements of Colgrove’s report and the regimental history of the Third Wisconsin similarly suggest the attack occurred later in the morning. Prominent Gettysburg historian Harry Pfanz adopts this later time in his treatment of the fighting on Culp’s Hill. However, Colgrove’s report also states his attack occurred roughly two hours after dawn, putting it closer to 6 a.m. The report of the Second Massachusetts claimed their attack was at 5:30 a.m. and the unit’s regimental history states 7 a.m.59
Although these times vary widely, when put in context of other related events, the earlier time estimates appear more accurate. Colgrove reported that, just before his advance, he noted loud cheering to his left. While Union troops cheered throughout the morning as fresh regiments rotated into the firing line, the fact that Colgrove specifically made note of the cheering suggests it may have been the very first relief of Kane and Greene’s troops by some of Candy’s regiments around 6 and 7 a.m. Colgrove also mentioned that just prior to his attack, elements of McDougall’s Brigade had advanced into the woods at the foot of Culp’s Hill and formed a line nearly at right angles to his own. This does not match any movement recorded for McDougall’s men, but may match the charge of the Potomac Home Brigade, which would have been clearly visible to Colgrove across the meadow. He did not separately make mention of the Maryland troops, suggesting he may have mistaken then for McDougall’s Brigade. This, then, would put Colgrove’s attack soon after the repulse of the First Potomac Home Brigade, which occurred between five and six in the morning.60
The view from the Confederate perspective supports an earlier time as well. The Second Virginia reported being replaced in the breastworks by Smith’s Brigade at 7 a.m.. While accounts from Smith’s Brigade do not specify a time for their actions near Spangler’s Spring, they do record Smith counter-attacking and driving back a body of Union troops that threatened Johnson’s flank. This most likely refers to dislodging the Second Massachusetts from the captured breastworks and the subsequent Confederate counterattack on Colgrove’s men in McAllister’s Woods. Multiple Confederate first person accounts, including the wounded Major Douglas, indicate Smith’s Brigade launched its counterattack immediately upon reaching the field. As will be discussed later, Smith’s Brigade also made further movements on July 3 that seem to have occurred later in the morning. Taken together, both Union and Confederate accounts best support Colgrove’s attack occurring closer to 6 or 7 a.m. then the later times cited by Ruger and used by Pfanz.61
Impossible That Any Can Live Fifteen Minutes Longer
While the Second Virginia parried threats to the Confederate flank, the remainder of the Stonewall Brigade remained locked in combat with Geary’s Division. Just before 8 a.m., Johnson’s men redoubled their attempts to sweep the Federals off Culp’s Hill. Nicholls’ Brigade, to the right of the Stonewall Brigade and Steuart’s Brigade, had not yet made a serious attack on Greene’s breastworks, which were nearly 30 or 40 feet higher in elevation than that portion of the Confederate line. They entered the attack in earnest around eight in the morning, just as Walker and Steuart sent their men forward in renewed charges on Kane’s Brigade. Geary later reported that the Confederates massed “all the force against us that the ground would admit, pressed forward with an evident determination to carry the position at all hazards.”62
With the Twenty-Seventh Virginia, Lieutenant Edgar urged his men forward into what he described as “the most destructive fire that has ever been during the war.” Earlier in the day much of the Union fire had been too high, passing over the Virginian’s heads. With the enemy having now found the correct range, “minnie balls and shells came lower and execute their work more fatally. Even the very air seems thick with the missiles of death, from the small arms as well as from the artillery. It seems impossible that any of us can live fifteen minutes longer exposed to so much fire.” Nearby, “the whole hillside” above Major Goldsborough’s Marylanders and the Fifth Virginia “seemed enveloped in a blaze… and the balls could be heard to strike the breastworks like hailstones upon the roof tops.”63
Geary’s men stood firm as the Confederate wave smashed into their lines. As the Confederate attack neared one of Candy’s regiments, “the well-aimed rifles of the boys in blue invariably sent leaden hail into his ranks, cutting his advancing columns down with frightful carnage.” In the thick of the fighting, Colonel Cobham briefly forgot his role as a brigade commander. After several bullets whizzed just past his head, the officer borrowed a musket and, taking careful aim, fired at a cluster of rocks from whence the offending shots originated. After the fighting concluded, his men found a dead Confederate among the rocks with a bullet hole through his skull.64
A skilled deer hunter in civilian life, First Sergeant Caster G. Malin of the One Hundred and Eleventh Pennsylvania was justifiably proud of his marksmanship. From his position in Kane’s lines, he spotted repeated puffs of smoke from the rocks down in the saddle where members of the Stonewall Brigade were taking cover. He took careful aim and squeezed the trigger, only to see another puff of smoke from the rocks. Frustrated, he aimed and fired again and again and again, only to be taunted by continued puffs of smoke. The annoyed sergeant walked out to the rocks after the battle concluded, where he discovered five dead Confederates piled behind the rock where he had shot them each in turn.65
With the Confederate attack reaching a crescendo, additional Union reinforcements streamed into the fight. Wadsworth’s Division of the Union I Corps, whose units had been decimated in the desperate fighting of July 1, held the quiet western face of Culp’s Hill. A little after 8:30 a.m., Wadsworth dispatched the Fourteenth New York State Militia and the One Hundred and Forty-Seventh New York to support Geary. They were allocated to support Kane’s line, which was facing the brunt of the attack by the Stonewall Brigade and Steuart’s Brigade. The Fourteenth New York State Militia, also called the Fourteenth Brooklyn and the Eighty-Fourth New York, still retained its early war chasseur-style militia uniform, with a red cap, short blue jacket, red vest, and red pantaloons. The unit’s “tidy and smart appearance” and reputation as a “bully fighting unit” attracted a few curious onlookers from among Greene’s troops resting behind the lines before the gaudy New Yorkers advanced to the firing line.66
Following their clash with the Second Virginia earlier that morning, the men of the First Potomac Home Brigade spend a couple hours resting in the grass near the Baltimore Pike. Just before 8 a.m. General Slocum rode by leading the final regiment of Lockwood’s Brigade, the First Eastern Shore Maryland Infantry, which had just arrived on the field. Slocum called for the regiment to follow him as the Marylanders leapt to their feet. Along with Lockwood’s other regiment, the One Hundred and Fiftieth New York, the column made its way up Culp’s Hill and formed behind Greene’s lines.67
Geary made quick use of the fresh troops, rotating them into the firing line so that “several already overworked regiments of my division were allowed a much needed respite for their energies.” With Lockwood’s men coming up, the two regiments on loan from I Corps soon returned to their command. An additional brigade of reinforcements, Shaler’s Brigade from the VI Corps, marched up the back slope of Culp’s Hill around 8:45 a.m. Geary, however, was instructed to use the VI Corps men only if absolutely necessary and, for now, they formed in the rear of Kane’s position.68
His men formed in the hollow behind the summit of Culp’s Hill, Lockwood ordered the One Hundred and Fiftieth New York forward to relieve the center-left of Greene’s line. To their right Lockwood deployed the newly arrived First Eastern Shore. The unit’s colonel and several members of the regiment were slaveholders and, when the regiment had been ordered to occupy Virginia’s Eastern Shore in 1861, some members of the unit had defected and now fought elsewhere on Culp’s Hill with the Confederate First Maryland Battalion. In fact, the man carrying the colors of the First Eastern Shore at Gettysburg was a cousin to the color bearer of the Confederate First Maryland. Having spent their two years of service assigned to quiet guard duty along the Chesapeake, the Marylanders had not seen combat prior to Gettysburg.69
The untested regiment advanced with a shout up the steep slope to the summit of Culp’s Hill. Confused about which regiment he was supposed to relieve, Colonel James Wallace led half of his regiment straight forward, while the unit’s lieutenant colonel took the other half of the regiment several hundred yards to the left. As soon as Wallace’s companies crested the brow of the hill, they became exposed to musket fire, likely from Nicholl’s Brigade and the right flank of the Stonewall Brigade. Finding themselves in the open level ground behind the breastworks of the One Hundred and Forty-Ninth New York, Wallace halted his men. Believing the enemy was about to rush the works, Wallace quickly ordered his men to fire a volley over the New Yorkers’ heads. The New Yorkers’ commander, believing the Marylanders were firing on his men, angerly ordered Wallace to cease fire. Wallace claimed that the First Eastern Shore’s timely volley checked the enemy advance. The veteran New Yorkers, however, saw things differently, claiming the raw Marylanders had advanced to only within about 25 yards of the breastworks and fired a single ineffectual, panicked volley into the treetops before scampering away.70
With the Confederate assaults failing to make progress in the face of a constant rotation of fresh Union units, Johnson committed another of his reserve brigades. After spending the morning waiting in reserve behind Nicholl’s Brigade, orders now rang out for the Alabama regiments of O’Neal’s Brigade to advance. The fresh troops marched forward in “fine style, under a terrific fire of grape and small-arms” along the northern slope of the spur, advancing to support the imperiled right flank of the Stonewall Brigade and Steuart’s men. As they crested the spur, the Union position before them had the appearance of a “log fort” atop a mountain, from which poured a “murderous fire” from the right flank regiments of Greene’s line.71
Having been engaged for several hours, the Stonewall Brigade was running troublingly low on ammunition. Throughout the morning, the men had salvaged what they could from the wounded and dead on the field, but additional ammunition was needed. Since heading to the rear meant leaving the protection of the breastworks, rocks, and trees, Lieutenant Edgar reported that a handful of the “most fearless men” in the brigade made the dash to return with several boxes of ammunition. Lieutenant Randolph McKim, one of Steuart’s staff officers, took three men with him to the rear to bring up ammunition for the men in the captured breastworks. Returning to the base of Culp’s Hill, the men dumped the cartridges out on blankets and slung the blankets between fence rails. Running the gauntlet to reach the safety of the works, McKim felt the searing pain of a ball glazing his shoulder. Another round went through his haversack and ripped the back off of a bible he was carrying in his pocket. Soon after delivering his cargo, the officer was struck a third time by a spent shell in the back.72
With Union reinforcements entering the fight and ammunition running low, the Confederate attack ground to a halt. His men exhausted, Walker ordered the Stonewall Brigade to fall back some distance behind the lines to rest, clean their muskets, and refill their cartridge boxes. Behind them, the North Carolinians of Daniel’s Brigade advanced to replace the Virginians on the firing line but did not press the attack. For now, the fury of the morning Confederate attack settled down into a constant, lower volume of musket fire between the lines.73
A Bullet was Sure to Come Unpleasantly Near
While the rest of the Stonewall Brigade rested, the Second Virginia continued its action on Wolf’s Hill. After the arrival of Smith’s Brigade, Colonel Nadenbousch shifted the entirety of his regiment across Rock Creek to reinforce Lieutenant Harrison and his skirmishers. The Federals in McAllister’s Woods noted an increase in the number of skirmishers on the eastern bank of the stream soon after their repulse of Smith’s attack as the Second Virginia took up positions. Nadenbousch ordered Captain William W. Randolph of Company C, supervising the left wing of the regiment, to push his men forward and take possession of the heights.74
From the rocks and trees of Wolf’s Hill, the Second Virginia could direct fire on the right and rear of Colgrove’s Brigade. The Thirteenth New Jersey and Twenty-Seventh Indiana found themselves particularly exposed. The breastworks facing Rock Creek had been hastily constructed and were not very high, therefore “it required utmost watchfulness not to expose the person above them, while a rifle ball was liable to come through in many places.” A member of the Thirteenth New Jersey recalled that “whenever a head was projected above the breastworks a bullet was sure to come unpleasantly near it.”75
The Twenty-Seventh Indiana, who had themselves skirmished with the Stonewall Brigade on Wolf’s Hill the previous morning, found themselves pinned down behind their breastworks. One soldier recalled that the “rockey ledges on the hill… were really somewhat behind us, and the sharp-shooters with which they were infested had a raking fire along our line, rather from our rear.” The Hoosier’s primary protection came from the foliage of McAllister’s Woods, which at least concealed them from the Virginian marksmen. The leaves did little, however, to stop bullets and “stray shots would find their way to us, from several directions, at almost any time and without provocation.”76
Even as they sought cover from the Confederate skirmishers, Colgrove’s men heard the plaintive cries for water and help from the men wounded during the failed charge across the meadow. Unable to bear the cries any longer, a member of the Twenty-Seventh Indiana clambered over the breastworks and ran forward with a stretcher to bring back some of the wounded. He had not made it 30 feet before he crumpled in a heap at the foot a tree, a Confederate bullet having smashed through his head.77
The men of Colgrove’s command pleaded for someone to do something about Nadenbousch’s men at Zephaniah Taney’s house. Firing from behind the stone farm building and through its windows and doors, the Second Virginia men had almost “perfect protection from the bullets of our riflemen,” complained a Union infantryman, “while they caused many a poor fellow on the union side to bite the dust.” In response to their appeals, Lieutenant Charles Winegar, commanding Battery M of the First New York Artillery, came down to study the problem. He advanced one of his Parrot rifles from Power’s Hill to just across the Baltimore Pike from where he judged it could get a good shot at the stone building. The gun’s first shot scored a direct hit, sending dust and splinters flying and prompting a prolonged cheer from Colgrove’s long-suffering men. A handful of shells followed, nearly demolishing the structure, while the Union infantry observed with satisfaction that “the frightened rebels left on the double quick.” However, as soon as the artillery fire ceased, Nadenbousch’s soldiers made their way back to the ruins and soon resumed their harassment of Colgrove’s line.78
After the battle Colgrove reported that “during the whole day my entire line was exposed to the enemy’s sharpshooters, and quite a number in all the regiments were killed and wounded by them.” The Twenty-Seventh Indiana, already cut to piece in their charge across the swale, lost another four men killed and 15-20 men wounded from the Second Virginia’s rifles. Helpless to do much but hunker behind their breastworks, Colgrove’s men could not understand why Union infantry was not sent to clear the Confederates off Wolf’s Hill.79
Exercise your Discretion, Colonel
What they did not realize is that help had indeed been dispatched. Earlier that day a VI Corps brigade, under the command of Brigadier General Thomas H. Neill, was dispatched to reinforce the XII Corps around Culp’s Hill. At some unspecified time during the morning, General Slocum directed Neill to take two of his regiments to the extreme right, cross Rock Creek, and prevent the enemy from turning the Union flank. Wolf’s Hill was occupied at this time only by the Second Virginia and a handful of North Carolinians, who were in no position to threaten the flank of the Federal army. Regardless, the Seventh Maine and Forty-Third New York soon found themselves deploying skirmishers at the southern base of Wolf’s Hill.80
With his two regiments advancing from the Baltimore Pike up the steep slope, Neill and his staff rode alongside Lieutenant Colonel Seldon Connor of the Seventh Maine. Reaching the brow of a slight elevation near the foot of the hill, the officers spotted the John Taney farmhouse on the main hill beyond. Neill was just ordering Connor to have his men advance to the house when Confederate skirmishers let loose a sharp volley from in and around the building. Turning his horse to the rear, Neill shouted back to his subordinate “Exercise your discretion, Colonel Connor; I will bring up the rest of the brigade.”81
With the Forty-Third New York advancing on his right, Connor ordered his men forward down the open slope at their front. About 100 yards down the slight decline lay a stone wall on Jeremiah Taney’s farm where Connor hoped to obtain some protection for his men. As the Union line surged forward, a Virginia marksman took careful aim and Captain W. H. Gilfillan of the Forty-Third New York dropped dead. Reaching the wall, the Maine and New York infantry opened fire on the Second Virginia and deployed skirmishers on both flanks to begin to press the Confederates back.82
Soon, Neill arrived with enough additional troops to overwhelm Nadenbousch’s undersized command. The Forty-Ninth New York crashed into the woods to the left of the Seventh Maine, extending the Federal line towards Rock Creek. To the right, the Sixty-First Pennsylvania deployed on the steep southern spur of Wolf’s Hill, giving them the distinction of forming the right flank of the Army of the Potomac’s infantry. Four companies of the Pennsylvania soldiers extended in a picket line farther to the right, linking up with Union cavalry around Brinkerhoff’s Ridge to the east.83
Most likely in response to the advance of Neill’s men, additional Confederates were dispatched to augment the Second Virginia’s outnumbered skirmishers on Wolf’s Hill. Although a time was not specified, at some point in the morning Smith received orders to move his command across Rock Creek. By this time, his third regiment, the Thirty-First Virginia, had rejoined the brigade. Smith left the Forty-Ninth Virginia to hold the wall near Spangler’s Spring and marched his other two regiments across the creek. Reaching the far bank, they formed line of battle and advanced to the southeast, likely in the direction of the woods near the Zephaniah Taney house.84
If this movement was in response to Neill’s Brigade, however, Smith’s men were never needed. Neill advanced his command no further, never seriously challenging the Second Virginia’s hold on Wolf’s Hill. Instead, the Federals maintained their positions on the Jeremiah Taney Farm and exchanged sporadic skirmish fire. “Through the day,” recalled Colonel Connor, “there was only an occasional shot, whenever the sharpshooters on either side saw the slightest opportunity to make one.” The threat from Neill contained, the Second Virginia was free to continue its daylong harassment of Colgrove’s men west of Rock Creek.85
The fighting on Wolf’s Hill, a sideshow to a sideshow, was relatively bloodless compared to the intense combat experienced elsewhere on the field on July 3. The Seventh Maine lost seven men wounded, two of whom later died of their wounds. In addition to the slain Captain Gilfillan, the Forty-Third New York lost one man killed, two wounded, and one missing. The remainder of the Neill’s Brigade reported three men wounded and one missing.86
The Second Virginia, meanwhile. reported several men wounded, but only one killed. John Wesley Culp had been born in Gettysburg and his cousin owned the farm after which Culp’s Hill received its name. When the carriage maker for whom Wesley worked moved the business to Virginia, Wesley moved with it. He chose to stand with his adopted neighbors when war broke out and enlisted in Company B of the Second Virginia. Major Douglas had, in fact, been Wesley’s first captain and had to acquire a special cut-down musket for the diminutive Wesley to carry. Family lore claims that Wesley found an opportunity to visit his sister and other relatives prior to July 3. While the details are unrecorded, Wesley fell dead sometime during that day’s fighting, within sight of his family’s property. His body, falling somewhere on Wolf’s Hill, was never found.87
All We Have Been Through in the Past is Child’s Play
The rest of the Stonewall Brigade, meanwhile, was busily occupied in cleaning their muskets and refilling cartridge boxes after a morning of hard fighting. General Johnson came upon the unit and angrily asked a soldier, “What brigade is this?” “Stonewall, sir,” came the reply. “Where is your commander?” asked the furious general. “What in the ____ are you doing here?” The soldier pointed towards Walker and the two generals sent some time discussing the situation. Johnson, preparing his division to make another push to take Culp’s Hill, ordered Walker to march his brigade to the right and renew the assault.88
Walker hurriedly reformed his brigade and marched them to a point about 400 yards to the right of where they had fought earlier that morning. There, they replaced Nicholl’s Brigade, which had unsuccessfully thrown itself against Greene’s entrenchments during the 8 a.m. assault. Now, just less than two hours later, the Stonewall Brigade would attempt to storm one of the strongest parts of the Union line on Culp’s Hill. The ground here was steeper than where the brigade had attacked earlier in the day. Greene’s breastworks lay some 30 to 40 feet above the point from which the Stonewall Brigade’s attack commenced.89
In the breastworks, the One-Hundred and Forty-Ninth New York had rotated back into the fortifications. Geary’s Division had expended an incredible amount of ammunition thus far that morning and orders went up and down the line for the men to hold their fire until they saw a target and could take deliberate aim. Soon after the order had been given, one New York soldier rose, waited a moment, and then raised his musket and fired. Infuriated at having his order ignored, Lieutenant Colonel Randall ran over and asked the man if he had seen anything to fire at. “Yes,” replied the man. “Where?” demanded Randall. “Right there,” the soldier said, pointing to a point down the slope. As the smoke from the soldier’s musket cleared, Randall could make out the Stonewall Brigade’s line advancing through the trees. “Give them hell boys,” the officer shouted, “give it to them right and left!”90
Alongside the One-Hundred and Forty-Ninth New York were a mixture of regiments from Candy’s, Lockwood’s and Greene’s Brigades. The attack came just before some of Candy’s regiments were about to be relieved by Greene’s men. The constant rotation of units in and out of the trenches makes it difficult to determine the exact composition and location of the Federal units at 10 a.m. Likely to the left of the New Yorkers lay the Twenty-Eighth Pennsylvania, the First Potomac Home Brigade, and the Seventh Ohio. The unit to their right was most likely the One-Hundred and Thirty-Seventh New York. The Twenty-Ninth Ohio was just returning from being sent to support Candy’s two regiments at Pardee Field and would enter the breastworks at one point in the fight, possibly replacing the One Hundred and Forty-Ninth New York. Up and down the Union line, muskets were leveled atop the breastworks and a wall of lead smashed into the Stonewall Brigade’s advance up the steep slope.91
On the receiving end of that lead, Lieutenant Edgar and his men in the Twenty-Seventh Virginia were shocked by the awesome power of the Federal fire. “We veterans had thought we had been through much danger before and been exposed to powerful artillery and fearful infantry fires, and some frightful destruction of human life,” recalled Edgar. “But as we hear the terrific and deafening roar of their cannons and the men cut down as grain before the sickle, we concluded that all we have been through in the past is nothing but child’s play compared to this and slides into utter insignificance.” To the men of the Stonewall Brigade, the “dense smoke and stifling smell of powder” gave the impression that they were attacking into the very gates of Hell.92
Elsewhere in the Twenty-Seventh Virginia, Corporal John H. Hart had taken up the colors and was urging the regiment forward. The 23-year-old had been wounded just two months before in the Battle of Chancellorsville, but had recovered sufficiently to accompany his regiment in the march north. Now, a bullet struck him in the hand where he was carrying the regimental battle flag, the banner tumbling forward until another man picked it up.Nearby, Hart’s company commander, Captain John W. P. Welsh, was leading his men up the slope when he suffered what he described in a letter to his wife as a “severe flesh wound to my right hip.” Due to the quirks of fate all too common in this civil strife, John had a brother, James, who fought for the Union in an Illinois regiment. Corporal Hart, his hand bleeding, carried Captain Welsh from the battlefield and stayed with him as the pair attempted to make their way back to Virginia. They would be captured ten days later in Maryland but Welsh survived only a few days in captivity before dying of his wounds on July 15. Corporal Hart survived his time in Union prison and, upon his release, returned Captain Welsh’s bible and haversack to his commander’s widow. The captain’s brother, James, would survive the war.93
Up the slope, Greene, Lockwood, and Candy’s men were loading and firing as quickly as they could. Colonel Maulsby reported that his Marylanders “poured upon the enemy a direct and deliberately aimed fire.” At one point along the lines, a soldier was seen standing on the bank a few feet to the rear of the breastworks, looking for something to shoot at. He raised his musket and aimed, but before he could fire “a sound was heard like a blow given upon fresh meat.” He stood motionless for a moment and then the musket tumbled to the ground. The soldier remained upright a moment longer before tipping forward “like a falling tree.” A ball had entered the soldier’s head at the bridge of his nose and smashed out the back of his skull.94
Midway through the fight, the One-Hundred and Forty-Ninth New York learned that one of the newly-arrived regiments from Shaler’s Brigade was made up of men from an adjacent New York county. The men gave a cheer, as this was the first time they had encountered their neighbors since leaving home. As one of the regiment’s captains was leading a cheer, cap in hand, a ball struck his uplifted arm, shattering the bone and crippling the arm for life. Lieutenant Colonel Randall rushed to the wounded officer and was stooping over to check on him when he was struck in the left breast and arm himself. Although at the time his men feared the wound was fatal, Randall would ultimately survive. The unit’s senior captain took temporary command of the regiment.95
Although the precise order of the Stonewall Brigade’s regiments was never recorded, the Fifth Virginia was likely on the right of the line, as they had been earlier that morning in the fighting at the saddle. They found themselves now in a “murderous and enfilading fire” on the steep slopes of Culp’s Hill. That enfilading fire may have come from the Sixty-Sixth Ohio, one of Candy’s regiments. Just before 6 a.m., the regiment had advanced outside of Greene’s breastworks and taken up a perpendicular position from which they could enfilade the Confederate attackers. Although Jones’ Brigade held the Confederate right and could have forced the single regiment back by threatening the Ohioans’ own flank, the steep slope here made an assault nearly impossible. Jones’ skirmishers near the base of the hill harassed the Federals, but the Sixty-Sixth Ohio was able to hold its exposed position throughout the day. Their volleys would smash into the Stonewall Brigade’s right flank throughout its attack.96
Its right facing the threat of the Sixty-Sixth Ohio, the Stonewall Brigade’s left flank was only marginally better. In addition to the Stonewall Brigade, Johnson hurled Daniel’s Brigade and Steuart’s Brigade forward against Kane’s line at the saddle. Although the three units attacked simultaneously, they did not present a single unified mass. A gap of perhaps several hundred yards existed between Daniel’s men and the Stonewall Brigade, screened by a thin line of skirmishers from the Second North Carolina Battalion. Furthermore, Daniel’s Brigade did not advance much beyond the line of captured breastworks, leaving most of the assault to Steuart and Walker’s commands.97
As the minutes ticked by and the Stonewall Brigade stalled midway up the hill with minimal support on its flanks, Lieutenant Edgar recalled that the “firing from the enemy gets heavier and the carnage and bloodshed more frightful. The wounded and dying are literally heaped up around us and their groans and cries for help and mercy rise above the roar of battle.” As the young lieutenant urged his men to keep up their fire, Edgar saw one of his friends crumble to the ground at the officer’s feet. The wounded man fixed his eyes on Edgar, imploring him for help. Unable to abandon his duties to render assistance, Edgar watched while his friend slowly bled to death in front of him.98
The Hardest Battle We Ever Had
On the left of the Stonewall Brigade, the Thirty-Third Virginia surged forward in a push to overrun the works at their front. Men began dropping left and right. Captain William Powell, commanding Company A, suffered a severe leg wound. He made his way back to a field hospital, but would never return to active duty with the regiment. Nearby, Captain George R. Bedinger of Company E fell dead “perhaps farther in advance of the line of battle than any other officer or man.”99
Above the Union breastworks, the colors of the One Hundred and Forty-Ninth New York flapped defiantly. Bullets had snapped the flag’s shaft twice already. Each time, the color sergeant had spliced the pole back together using splints from a cracker box and straps from his knapsack. As the Confederates surged nearly up to the works, a first sergeant, possibly First Sergeant James W. Menifee of the Thirty-Third Virginia Company H, lunged for the colors. He was shot down two feet from the banner, five bullets riddling his body. After the battle, the New Yorkers counted 81 bullet holes in the flag and seven in the flag’s shaft.100
Menifee’s Company H was in the thick of the fighting, making up a third of the regiment’s fatalities. Afterwards, Corporal Benjamin F. Coffman recounted the grim toll, judging in a letter home, “I think it was the hardest battle we ever had.” In addition to First Sergeant Menifee, Coffman watched Privates William Jenkins and Haley Morris shot dead before him. When Sergeant John W. Rosenberger fell dead as well, Coffman dug through the man’s pockets and removed his personal effects to send to Rosenberger’s widow. As the fighting drew to a close, the severely wounded Sergeant John P. Hite was near death and could not be moved. Private David C. Hite stayed with John and they were both captured. John Hite would die on July 5, while David would remain in captivity until exchanged in early 1864. He would be killed during the Battle of Third Winchester later that year. All told, the small company lost at Gettysburg four killed and 14 wounded, four of those mortally.101
With the Thirty-Third Virginia being cut to pieces and unable to breach the Union line, Walker rushed the Fourth Virginia to their assistance. The Virginians charged forward, led by Major William Terry, “who gallantly led his regiment almost to the breastworks of the enemy.” Union soldiers recalled the Confederate surge reaching almost 15 yards from their works. There, however, they were met with a “most galling and deadly fire,” according to a sergeant in the Seventh Ohio. “The line of battle halted, and being unable to advance, could not retreat, but sought shelter behind rocks and trees… this midway position was exceedingly disastrous…”102
Unable to crack the Union fortifications, the Stonewall Brigade’s line began to falter. First the left of the line began to give way, then the rest of the brigade. According to Walker, “the fire became so destructive that I suffered the brigade to fall back to a more secure position, as it was a useless sacrifice of life to keep them longer under so galling a fire”. He ordered the brigade to retreat about 300 yards down the slope before reforming his line.103
Much of the Fourth Virginia and portions of the other regiments, however, were pinned down too close to the Union lines to either advance or retreat. Someone in the Fourth Virginia raised a white flag to surrender. Private John McKee of Company I asked his commander, Captain Givens B. Strickler, if he could shoot the man, but Strickler suggested he throw rocks instead. A few well-aimed stones from McKee and the white rag was withdrawn.104
Surrender, however, soon became the only option. Seeing a white flag in front of his regiment, Colonel William R. Creighton ordered his men to cease fire and called out to the sheltering Confederates, “Come in!” Some 78 members of the Stonewall Brigade, mostly from the Fourth Virginia, rose up from behind the rocks and trees and began to make their way towards the Federal lines. Many of the men were wounded and had to be helped over the works by the Ohio soldiers. Private McKee, having only moments before threatened to shoot a comrade considering surrender, made his way with the other prisoners up to the breastworks. A Union soldier reached out for him, saying, “Gim-me-your hand, Johnny Reb; you’ve give’ us the bulliest fight of the war.”105
As members of the Stonewall Brigade began to surrender, one of Johnson’s staff officers sought to intervene. Major Benjamin W. Leigh had been among those who carried Jackson from the field at Chancellorsville, shielding the general with his body when Jackson’s stretcher was placed on the ground. Now, he spurred his horse forward, seeking to prevent the surrender. “On his splendid mount he pushed up toward our line,” recounted an Ohio soldier, “with singular disregard for his personal safety, until well within reach of our Springfield rifles. As he advanced, the firing from the Confederates broke out with renewed vigor, and was promptly and cordially met by us from the brow of the hill. Down went horse and rider to rise no more.” The major was hit by a dozen bullets and died instantly.106
When Major Terry reformed his regiment at the base of Culp’s Hill, he could muster only one-fourth of the men he commanded at the beginning of the day’s fighting. Some 87 members of the Stonewall Brigade had been captured, 61 of whom were from the Fourth Virginia. The majority of the Virginians appear to have been captured by the Seventh Ohio, who recounted the capture of 78 Confederates, including three captains and four lieutenants. Although their names were not recorded, these officers were most likely from the Fourth Virginia and included Captain Givens B. Strickler of Company I, Captain George B. McCorkle and First Lieutenant Chifton C. Burks of Company H, Captain William P. F. Lee of Company B, First Lieutenant Robert C. Vaughan and Second Lieutenant William B. Carder of Company D, and Second Lieutenant Christian S. Kinzer of Company L.107
Hit particularly hard was Captain Strickler and Private McKee’s Company I, the celebrated Liberty Hall Volunteers. The company was almost wiped out in the fighting, losing one killed, four wounded, and sixteen captured. Their comrades in Company H had 18 men captured, including both of the company’s senior officers. The regiment’s losses were made all the worse by the fact that many of the seriously wounded would fall into enemy hands in the coming days as the Confederate army made its way back to Virginia.108
The Fourth Virginia was not the only unit to have men surrender in front of Greene’s fortifications. The fire of the One Hundred and Forty-Ninth New York slackened when a white flag appeared at their front and several companies of Confederates came forward to surrender. After they threw down their muskets, they were permitted to come over the entrenchments into Union lines. Five men surrendered to the Twenty-Ninth Ohio and a contingent of 52 Confederates from the “Stonewall Division” surrendered to a captain in the One Hundred and Thirty-Seventh New York. The fluttering white flags, handkerchiefs, and even pieces of paper marked the beginning of the men’s journey to northern prison camps.109
All Had Been Done That It Was Possible to Do
To the left of the Stonewall Brigade, the assault by Steuart and Daniel’s Brigade had also failed. Steuart’s troops had advanced in column of regiments against Kane’s men, “who poured into them so continuous a fire that when within 70 paces their columns wavered and soon broke to the rear.” As the Confederates fell back, Geary’s troops surged forward with wild cheers of victory, driving the grey-clad lines back and forcing back Johnson’s left flank. After nearly six hours of continuous combat, the Federal ranks overran the Confederate positions on the lower crest of Culp’s Hill. The original line of XII Corps breastworks were once again in Union hands.110
Johnson ordered no further assaults. “The enemy,” he determined, “were too securely intrenched and in too great numbers to be dislodged by the force at my command… all had been done that it was possible to do.” At around noon, the Stonewall Brigade was ordered forward a final time, but this was only to prevent any further Union advances in the Culp’s Hill sector. Walker’s men kept up a desultory fire with Union skirmishers for the remainder of the day, while the battle reached its climatic conclusion a little to the west as the Army of the Virginia made a final, futile effort to crack the Union line in Pickett’s Charge.111
Lieutenant Edgar had survived the ordeal and now found himself overcome with exhaustion. He hadn’t eaten anything since the previous night. “We are so weak and broken down” he stated, “that we can scarcely stand up because of the intense excitement and danger.” Knowing his parents, sister, and brother would become concerned for his safety upon hearing of the battle, Edgar sat down to compose a letter informing them that he had escaped the clash unharmed.112
In the afternoon, two Maryland officers from Steuart’s Brigade came by the Stonewall Brigade’s position looking for food. General Walker gave them two stale biscuits and was chatting with the men when a Union prisoner from a Pennsylvania regiment was brought by under guard. The prisoner, a recent immigrant from Germany who spoke poor English, would only tell the general that he belonged to the “Oonan” army. Walker, still bristling from the mauling his men had faced that day, supposedly spat back “It is too bad to think that such men as we have around us should be butchered by the miserable mercenary devils of which this is a fair specimen. Sometimes I am half inclined to show the wretches no quarter.”113
The Second Virginia rejoined their comrades at about 8 p.m. At around midnight, the Stonewall Brigade and the rest of Johnson’s Division abandoned their positions along the base Culp’s Hill and marched west through the town of Gettysburg. Before bivouacking that night, rations were cooked and brought to the famished men. By dawn, they had formed line of battle on the heights northwest of Gettysburg, bracing for a Federal counterattack that would never come. Rain that began late in the day of July 4 turned into a downpour as darkness fell. By eleven p.m., the men of the Stonewall Brigade wearily formed their marching columns and set off through the night and rain southwest towards the town of Fairfield. Just over a week later, they would cross back into Virginia early in the day on July 13.114
They left behind a shattered landscape, silent witness to the intensity of the fighting. A Union solider gazing down the slope of Culp’s Hill observed that “unexploded shells were half buried in oak trees, the branches of which were cut and bruised by others; and the trunks of nearly all were scarred so thickly with bullet marks fourteen or fifteen feet above the ground, that scarcely an inch between them of untouched bark remained.” A full five years after the battle the scars of battle remained plainly visible; “the moss on the rocks was discolored in hundreds of places where the bullets had struck… stumps and trees were perforated with holes where leaden balls had since been dug out.”115
The human toll was grimmer still. As Union skirmishers had advanced late in the day on July 3, they encountered the Confederate wounded left behind on the slopes of the hill. “The poor, haggard creatures, limp from loss of blood, seemed to be jammed in between the rocks,” described one Wisconsin soldier. “As the dusk stole on and the stillness of night, the moans, entreaties and piteous cries of the poor, mangled men and boys… filled the air with most dolorous sounds.”116
In the days following the battle, the men of the Stonewall Brigade wrote letters home grappling with their losses. Sergeant John Garibaldi of the Twenty-Seventh Virginia’s Company C informed his wife that, “Our loss is pretty heavy. There was thirteen out of our company killed and wounded. Henry Gilliland was killed dead on the field. William Lawson was killed, David and Lee Gilbert were badly wounded, John Hepler was slightly wounded and the Captain [Charles L. Haynes] and Lieutenant [William T.] Clark.”117
In the Thirty-Third Virginia, Private Thomas G. Read of Company I described to his wife the death of Read’s company commander, Captain George C. Eastham during the skirmishing of July 2. He bemoaned that a member of his company, Private Henry T. Brown, had been wounded and left on the field. “Whether he was killed, or taken prisoner afterwards we have not yet heard… there were some seven others in our Comp. wounded, but they are all said to be across the river, & I suppose on their way home, nine of our field officers were hurt, & I think only six were killed out of the Regt.”118
The strength of the Union position and the protection of the breastworks had made the victory relatively cheap. The XII Corps suffered only 204 men killed, with another 878 wounded or captured. Geary’s Division, numbering just less than 4,000 had, during the fight, expended some 277,000 rounds of ammunition. Union details gathered Confederate arms abandoned on the field. Candy’s Brigade picked up some 1,500 small arms, mostly imported British Enfield rifled muskets. Two Enfields found after the battle made their way into the collection of the Gettysburg National Military Park. The broken stock of one is carved “Wm F Beatty/Staunton Rifles,” and was carried by Corporal William F. Beatty of Company G of the Fifth Virginia. The other is a complete musket and has “J.B.O./2nd VA Stonewall Brigade” carved on its stock.119
Confederate casualties were much higher than those suffered by their Union counterparts. Johnston reported 1,823 casualties, but this number omits the men of Daniel’s, Smith’s, or O’Neal’s Brigades who joined the fight on July 3 and for which we lack detailed casualty figures. The July 3 fighting at Culp’s Hill was the longest sustained fighting of the entire Battle of Gettysburg. For over seven hours, as one Ohio soldier recalled, “the musketry was one continued roll, interspersed at intervals by the crash of the artillery.” All that fire and bloodletting accomplished little, with the Union recovering all the ground lost on July 2. Worse still for the Confederates, the fighting on Culp’s Hill concluded some two hours before Lee was ready to launch Pickett’s Charge against the Union center.120
General Walker praised the conduct of his troops, reporting that “officers and men of the brigade behaved in a manner worthy their high reputation.” In maintaining that reputation, the Stonewall Brigade paid the price of 35 of its members killed, while another 208 men were wounded at Gettysburg. Many of the wounded, however, had to be abandoned and fell into enemy hands when the Army of Northern Virginia retreated south. After their recovery, they would be reunited in northern prison camps with the 87 of their comrades captured during the fighting. The Second Virginia, having been spared the brutal combat on the slopes of Culp’s Hill, had the lightest casualties, their unit’s sole fatality being Gettysburg native John Wesley Culp. The Fourth Virginia suffered the most, losing nearly as many captured as they did killed and wounded. Though the Twenty-Seventh Virginia suffered only 47 causalities, they had entered the battle with only 129 men in the ranks. Overall, the brigade’s losses were fully one fourth of the men who had marched into Gettysburg on the evening of July 1 spoiling for a fight.121
Having returned safely to Virginia, a former member of the Fourth Virginia took the opportunity to visit his old command. Shocked at the mauling the regiment had suffered at Gettysburg, he wrote to his wife that “the whole regt. is about 1/3 larger” than the company in which he had enlisted in 1861. “The contrast,” he wrote, “almost makes me sad.”122
A few weeks after the battle, Sergeant Daniel Sheetz of the Second Virginia provided perhaps the most telling analysis of battle of Gettysburg and the road that still lay ahead for the Stonewall Brigade. “I can not say that I am enjoying myself at all at this time,” he wrote. “I am too much worried down from the march that we had in the yankee states… it was the hardest times that we had since the war [began]. I was in good hopes that the war would soon be over, but it don’t look much like it at this time.”123
With sweat pouring down their dust-caked brows and their horses panting with exertion, Brigadier General David M. Gregg’s division of Union cavalry limped along the Hanover Road towards Gettysburg on the morning of July 2. “We had become a sorry-looking body of men,” recalled one officer in the division, “having been in the saddle day and night almost continuously for over three weeks, without a change of clothing or an opportunity for a general wash; moreover we were much reduced by short rations and exhaustion, and mounted on horses whose bones were plainly visible to the naked eye.” Another veteran asked his readers to “think of three weeks marching, over hot, dusty roads without regular rest or rations, under constant mental and physical strain… and you can have some idea of the exhausted condition of men and horse.” In the unendurable July heat, troopers and mounts rapidly reached the point of collapse. One regiment had only 322 serviceable horses for its nearly 400 men, with the rest of the men marching on foot awkwardly carrying their heavy saddles.1
Cousin of the Pennsylvania governor and a career cavalry officer in the pre-war army, the thirty-year old Gregg had risen rapidly through the ranks. While a mere captain at the war’s onset, he had earned a general’s star and the command of a division by spring 1863. One of his biographers later described Gregg as “endowed with a rare combination of modesty, geniality, and ability… universally liked and respected.” With one of his brigades dispatched the previous day to help protect Union supply lines, Gregg rode towards Gettysburg at the head of two brigades. Even these units, however, were not as strong as they appeared on paper. Gregg had been ordered to dispatch three regiments, a full third of his remaining strength, to fulfill escort duties elsewhere on the battlefield.2
Colonel John I. Gregg, a distant relative of General Gregg, commanded a brigade of cavalrymen from Pennsylvania, New York, and Maine. Described as a “quiet, soldierly captain,” Colonel Gregg’s men called him “Long John” due to his considerable height. One of his regiments, the Tenth New York Cavalry, was very familiar with the Gettysburg area. For nearly three months in the winter of 1861, the regiment had learned the art of soldiering through hours of drill in the fields of the George Wolf Farm just beyond Brinkerhoff’s Ridge. Alongside the Tenth, Gregg’s remaining units were the Sixteenth Pennsylvania and the First Maine.3
Gregg’s other brigade also had ties to the Gettysburg area. Dr. Theodore T. Tate, assistant surgeon of the Third Pennsylvania Cavalry, had lived in Gettysburg before the war and had helped guide the division through the Pennsylvania countryside over the preceding days. The brigade’s commander, Colonel John B. McIntosh, was a “born fighter, strict disciplinarian, a dashing leader, and a polished gentlemen.” Born in Florida, the colonel’s older brother had joined the Confederate army and served with distinction as a cavalry commander in the western theater until his death in 1862. In addition to the Third Pennsylvania, McIntosh had behind him the First New Jersey and the First Maryland Cavalry.4
Gregg’s column of “wearied men and jaded horses, both half-famished” reached the intersection of the Hanover Road and Low Dutch Road at around noon on July 2. On the high ground to their front, they could make out the Ninth Massachusetts Infantry, facing the Stonewall Brigade all alone near the Deardorff Farm. Although the Ninth’s commander, Colonel Patrick R. Guiney, was eager to be relieved, Gregg’s exhausted men were in no condition to replace them on the skirmish line. Guiney watched in frustration as he saw Gregg’s men dismount in the fields around the Spangler and Reaver Farms rather than advance to his aid.5
The cavalry was not as idle, however, as it appeared to the Colonel Guiney. Gregg ordered McIntosh’s men to begin tearing down the fences along the Hanover Road so that they would not obstruct the division’s movement should they need to advance. Gregg’s Brigade, meanwhile, was sent south along the Low Dutch Road towards the Baltimore Pike. There, they encountered the Union VI Corps, whose columns of infantry blocked their path. The tired cavalrymen wheeled their horses around and rode back to where McIntosh’s men were now resting near the intersection.6
At around 3 p.m., soon after the return of Gregg’s Brigade, Colonel Guiney finally received orders to rejoin his brigade. As the Ninth Massachusetts recalled its skirmishers and reformed the regiment, Gregg sought out Major Matthew H. Avery, commander of the Tenth New York, to deploy skirmishers to replace the departing infantry. The major, resting with his staff in the shade of a peach tree near the Reaver House, ordered Major John H. Kemper to take Company H and Company L to establish contact with the Stonewall Brigade’s skirmishers beyond Brinkerhoff’s Ridge.7
The handful of New Yorkers moved forward, splashing across the small stream near the Little Farm before making their way across Cress’s Run. Among the men was Sergeant B. W. Bonnell of Company H. He watched in amusement as the Cress Family fled their home just west of the creek, the women carrying the family’s bedding, the man lugging a bag of food, and the children laden with all the clothing they could carry. As Bonnell and his men passed through the abandoned farm, they helped themselves to some mackeral the Cress family had left in a tub of water near their well. Other than the fish, the New Yorkers left the Cress family’s possessions unmolested. “They did not,” wrote Bonnel, “feel like disturbing anything the poor people had left.”8
Kemper left a small mounted reserve behind at the Cress Farm and began to climb the slope of Brinkerhoff’s Ridge on foot. The ridge rose about 50 feet above Cress Run and was topped by a farm lane leading from the Howard Farm at the Hanover Road north towards the Storick Farm, today called Hoffman Road. A stone wall marked the eastern side of this road and on the other side of the crest lay a tall wheatfield ripe for cutting. A small cluster of woods interrupted the wheatfield about halfway between the Hanover Road and the Storick Farm, while larger pieces of timber lay south of the road and to the north past the Storick buildings. Kemper pushed his men into the wheat, establishing the left of Company H on the Hanover Road. At the right end of his line, Company L’s flank occupied the woods near the Storick Farm.9
The deployment of Union cavalry did not go unnoticed by Brigadier General James A. Walker and the Stonewall Brigade. From their positions west of Brinkerhoff’s Ridge and near the Deardorff Farm, Walker’s skirmishers began exchanging shots with Kemper’s force. After an hour of taking fire from small groups of Confederates in the woods near the Brinkerhoff Farm and pressuring his exposed flanks, Kemper decided to withdraw his men. As the New Yorkers pulled back, the Virginians advanced hot on their heels. On the left end of Kemper’s line, 25-year-old Private William Potter of Company H fell wounded. Sergeant Bonnell reported seeing a few of his men, who were sheltering behind a cluster of rocks, surrounded and captured by the advancing Virginians.10
Meanwhile, a member of the Tenth New York was having his own private brush with the Stonewall Brigade. Sergeant David Pletcher was among those men whose horse had given out on the hard ride to Gettysburg. While the regiment was resting near the Low Dutch Road intersection, Pletcher obtained permission from Major Avery to go in search of a new horse. He set off south of the Hanover Road, passing through the Tenth’s skirmish line and climbing the slope of Wolf’s Hill. Behind him and to his right he could hear the firing between Kemper’s men and the Virginians. Upon reaching the summit of Wolf’s Hill in the company of a local civilian, Pletcher was admiring the view of the battlefield to the west. Suddenly, a voice cried out “Halt, you damned Yank!” With some of the Stonewall Brigade’s skirmishers only a dozen yards away, Pletcher leapt to his feet and ran to the south, where he eventually encountered some of infantry skirmishers dispatched by the Union XII Corps. The wayward sergeant would eventually rejoin his regiment after nightfall, still without a horse.11
Drive Back those Sharpshooters Up There
Watching Kemper’s men stream back from the distant ridge, General Gregg sent an aide galloping over to Avery with orders to “sent a force to drive back those sharpshooters up there.” Avery directed Sergeant Nelson Mitchell to advance with his squadron, consisting of Company A and Company M, but Mitchell protested that there was no commissioned officer in the understrength squadron. Avery, therefore, turned to Captain Benjamin F. Lownsbury, who was sitting nearby calmly cleaning his revolver, and ordered him to clear the ridge of the Stonewall Brigade’s skirmishers. Lownsbury’s squadron of Company E, led by a freshly-promoted Lieutenant Horace Morey, and Company K led by Sergeant Norman W. Torry, was severely understrength and, once they had detailed every fourth man to hold his dismounted comrades’ horses, Lownsbury could only muster 27 men.12
Lownsbury’s dismounted men made their way across Cress Run and began to ascend Brinkerhoff’s Ridge. Aiming to clear the Confederate skirmishers sheltering in the small patch of woods north of the Hanover Road, Lownsbury ran to the right end of his line and ordered his men to begin obliquing to the right. The men on the left end of the line, however, did not hear the order and continued marching straight forward, keeping the flank of Lownsbury’s squadron anchored on the Hanover Road. This miscommunication stretched and thinned Lownsbury’s already paltry line.13
Lownsbury’s small detachment was soon joined by the remainder of the Tenth New York. An even smaller squadron, led by Lieutenant Truman C. White and comprised of Company B and Company D, moved up to cover Lownsbury’s right. They extended the Tenth’s line past the Storick Farm to the north. Twenty-six-year old Major Alvah D. Waters led two squadrons down the Hanover Pike and, just past Cress Run, turned off the road and formed in the fields near the Norris Farm. Waters dismounted his men and advanced Company G, establishing a skirmish line with its right resting on the Hanover Road. Company C established its line farther to the left, establishing contact with the handful of XII infantry skirmishers on Wolf’s Hill. Company A and M formed as a reserve south of the Hanover Road.14
With the advance of the Tenth New York near his right flank, General Walker now faced a quandary. At around the time Lownsbury and Waters’ men began their advance on Brinkerhoff’s Ridge, the sound of cannon began booming just to the west. Major J. W. Latimer had massed the artillery of Johnson’s Division on Benner’s Hill throughout the day. At around 4 p.m., his guns opened fire on the Union lines on Culp’s Hill in preparation for an assault by Johnson’s infantry that evening. Johnson sent orders for Walker to redeploy the Stonewall Brigade to join the attack, but the recent Union movement on Brinkerhoff’s Ridge gave Walker pause. The Stonewall Brigade skirmishers had pulled back in the face of Waters’ and Lownsbury’s advance. From their new position, the Union sharpshooters were now harassing Walker’s left flank and he did not know how large of a force lay behind them. He informed Johnson that withdrawing the Stonewall Brigade could leave the flank and rear of Johnson’s assault vulnerable to this unknown Union force. Johnson ordered Walker to repulse the Union troops facing him and then join in the attack as soon as possible.15
At somewhere around 5 p.m., Walker began shifting his men in response to Johnson’s directive. Colonel John H. S. Funk reported later that his Fifth Virginia advanced on Wolf’s Hill at around this time, driving back Union skirmishers who had taken refuge on the heights, although it is unclear to what command these skirmishers belonged. The Thirty-Third Virginia moved forward several hundred yards and then advanced by the left to adopt a new line at an oblique angle to their first position, most likely facing them to the east towards Gregg’s men. The men of the Twenty-Seventh Virginia advanced some 300 yards and the Fourth probably likewise shifted forward and faced towards the east as well. Walker directed the Second Virginia north of the Hanover Road and ordered Colonel John Q. A. Nadenbousch to clear Brinkerhoff’s Ridge of the Union skirmishers.16
At a Single Dash
Upon reaching the crest of Brinkerhoff’s Ridge, Lownsbury’s men clambered over the stone wall, crossed the road, and passed through the small patch of woods, the Confederate skirmishers at their front melting away as the troopers pushed forward. As they made their way through the wheatfield, the cavalrymen encountered a split rail fence about 100 yards east of the crest. Still on the right of the line, Lownsbury ordered the men to lie down. The bright summer sun was beginning to dip towards the western horizon, shining directly in Lownsbury’s eyes and making it difficult to make out anything in the lengthening shadows of the woods to their front. By pausing a few moments, he hoped the sun would set further behind the trees, improving visibility for his men.17
The left end of Lownsbury’s line, however, had reached the fence before the right and were already starting to climb over the fence. As they clambered up and over, their heads poked above the tall wheat, disclosing Lownsbury’s position. Without warning, the Second Virginia erupted from the shadowy woods to the front and charged rapidly at the small group of Union soldiers. Quickly firing as they advanced, the 333-man strong Confederate regiment swiftly overwhelmed the two dozen Union skirmishers and forced Lownsbury to order a hasty retreat. The Second Virginia advanced “at a single dash,” driving Lownsbury’s men back through the wheatfield and then the small stand of trees.18
The Virginians advanced with an audience. Soon before Nadenbousch’s line charged out of the woods at the New Yorkers, Confederate cavalry commander J.E.B. Stuart had ridden up with his staff. Stuart’s cavalry, whose absence thus far had necessitated the Stonewall Brigade being dispatched to guard the army’s left flank, would soon ride into Gettysburg. Stuart was scouting the Union flank to determine where he might best deploy his approaching cavalry brigades. He and a cluster of staff officers rode out just in advance of the Second Virginia’s left flank. After watching the Stonewall Brigade’s contest with the dismounted Union cavalry for a time, Stuart wheeled his horse and galloped away. He would return the following day and engage Gregg’s men in one of the most famous cavalry clashes of the war.19
The headlong retreat of Lownsbury and his men before the advancing Second Virginia slowed as they reached the crest of Brinkerhoff’s Ridge and began to climb the stone wall. Lownsbury saw a corporal in Company E crumble to the ground dead just before the captain himself was struck in the leg. As he stumbled from the slight wound, Lownsbury was suddenly surrounded by a group of Virginians and found himself captured along with Corporal Edmond G. Dow of Company K.
Lownsbury and Dow were marched under guard to the rear where Walker had his headquarters, likely at the Brinkerhoff Farm. They found Walker seated on a rail fence. The general’s bearing and language, recalled Dow, was “dignified and gentlemanly.” He asked Lownsbury what force lay over the ridge, to which Lownsbury politely replied that he hadn’t the remotest idea. Walker expressed his belief that the Confederate army would triumph at Gettysburg, citing the exhaustion of Union soldiers from forced marches and their demoralization from repeated defeats. The two prisoners were then marched farther to the rear. In the confusion of the Confederate retreat several days later, Dow managed to break free and escape back to Union lines. He would remain with the Tenth New York through the end of the war, rising to the rank of Sergeant in 1865. Lownsbury remained in Confederate detention until he was exchanged in March 1864. Several months later, he resigned his commission and left military service.20
Back on Brinkerhoff’s Ridge, the Union right was also coming under attack. With Company D on the left linking up with Lownsbury’s flank and Company B on the far right, Lieutenant White had deployed his squadron in an open field. They soon came under attack by members of the Stonewall Brigade, some of whom fired from the protection of an old building. The troopers could find little cover and Corporal John A. Edson of Company D recalled how “every shot from the enemy had the effect of making us flatten ourselves, in imagination at least, a little more.”21
One member of Company D, Private Hiram Hadden, was wearing a particularly large white civilian hat that day, making him stand out on the skirmish line. Angry at how much enemy fire he was drawing, he suddenly jumped up, threw the hat to the ground, and began firing every cartridge he had at the Virginians. Private James “Jimmy” Van Allen, 44 years of age, was one of the older members of Company D. During the fight, his carbine misfired and he began snapping percussion caps in an effort to clear the weapon. Seeing the private growing impatient, Corporal Edson suggested he try a new cartridge. When Van Allen opened the chamber, he found that he had actually fired on his first shot but hadn’t realized it in the din of battle. Looking at the weapon with disgust he exclaimed “What a damned fool I am; spoiled six caps and haven’t hurt a cussed Reb!”22
Elsewhere in Company D, one man with a cowardly reputation panicked when the firing started and fired his carbine straight up in the air. “Hold on there!” shouted Private Robert “Bob” Evans. “There ain’t any Rebs up there; you’ll kill an angel!” The levity, however, was short-lived, as moments later the man next to Evans, Private Joseph McKeagan, fell badly wounded. As the volume of Confederate fire grew, Private Phillip Bentzell collapsed, his blood staining the ground as he took his final breaths.23
Under ferocious assault by Nadenbousch’s men, the Tenth New York’s line north of the Hanover Road was collapsing. The cavalrymen, armed with Sharps breechloading carbines, were outmatched by the Confederates and their longer-range rifled muskets. Seeking to turn the tide, Avery hurled his final reserves, Company F under Lieutenant James Matthews, forward in a mounted charge in support of Lownsbury’s now-leaderless squadron. As the horsemen reached the crest of the ridge, they came under heavy fire, bullets flying thick around them. Matthews ordered then back behind the cover of the brow of the hill. An enraged Avery rode up and angerly demanded to know who had ordered the company to retreat. Matthews stated he had given the order. Before the major could rebuke his junior officer, a volley crashed out from the Confederate line, sending bullets whizzing over Avery’s head and causing him to duck. A chastised Avery, realizing the wisdom of Matthew’s retreat, turned to him and said, “You ought to have done it before!”24
It Fairly Rained Lead
South of the Hanover Road, the remainder of the Tenth New York was also fiercely engaged. Once Major Waters had drawn up his squadrons in the fields near the Norris Farm, he requested five volunteers. Sergeant John A. Freer and four men of his Company M stepped forward and were dispatched to probe for the enemy’s position while Waters deployed Company C and Company G along the skirmish line. Freer’s squad advanced through the stand of woods south of the Hanover Road until they reached a seven-rail fence marking the edge of an open field beyond. They had been there for only five minutes when they caught sight of Confederate troops advancing into the field and forming a battle line. Significantly overestimating the enemy’s strength, the sergeant reported back to Major Waters that there was a least a division of rebels advancing on them. Waters ordered Freer and his men to remain in the woods and observe the enemy only.
The force facing Freer was not a division, but rather just two companies of the Second Virginia. One company began advancing towards Freer’s position to tear down the fence behind which Freer’s squad hid. To the left, another company of Confederates advanced to dismantle a second fence. His men spoiling for a fight, Freer ordered his men to “Give ‘em hell!” as the enemy company drew near. The sudden eruption of fire caused the Confederates in front of Freer to fall back in alarm, but the company to the left had already torn down their fence and charged at Freer’s squad. With the charging Virginians screaming their celebrated “Ki-yi” yell, the New Yorkers emptied their carbines and pulled out their revolvers. Freer ordered them to fall back through the woods. Freer recalled that, as they ran through the trees, it “fairly rained lead. I was never in such a shower of bullets before nor since.” They didn’t stop running until they had reached Cress Run and collapsed in it. The cavalrymen found their clothes riddled with bullets. One round had grazed Freer’s right leg and lodged in his boot. Another had struck the inside of his left arm and was bleeding profusely. He busied himself binding the wound while the battle’s intensity grew behind him.25
With the Virginians advancing into the woods, they quickly clashed with the main Union skirmish line. Hearing the growing gunfire, Captain John G. Pierce advanced some 90 men from the left wing’s reserve squadron of Company A and Company M. They moved at the left oblique, entering the narrow piece of woods from which Freer had recently fled. Pierce ordered his men to lie down and remain quiet while he left to find Major Waters. Without their captain and with bullets beginning to smack into the trees above them, the men began to grow impatient. Without orders, they moved forward to support the skirmish line. They found the line under the command of Lieutenant John McKevitt, who eagerly accepted the additional men. Just has he ordered his reenforced skirmish line forward, the Confederate charge came crashing at them. In the fighting, Private Jacob Vosser of Company C fell dead. Gustice Bourgevis, a 22-year-old private with Company C, was wounded by a Confederate bullet and, following a lengthy hospital stay, was discharged as medically disabled the following year.26
The Tenth New York’s hospital steward, Walter Kempster, had ridden up the Hanover Road to assist with any wounded along the skirmish line. To his left, he watched the men of Water’s two squadrons skirmishing at the edge of the narrow woods, where they “were drawing fine beads on the Confederates in front.” As he was occupied watching the fighting, part of the Second Virginia’s battle line emerged from the small patch of woods north of the road. Seeing the mounted man and thinking him possible an important officer, the Virginians fired a volley at Kempster and started towards him.
Confederate bullets flying over his head, Kempster spurred his horse down the Hanover Road, throwing his left arm and leg over the side of the animal to seek some measure of shelter on its right. As he approached Cress Run, he saw on Cress Ridge ahead a section of artillery preparing to fire. They signaled Kempster to keep to the right to avoid being hit by the blast, but Kempster’s horse became excited and refused to leave the road. The gunners had no choice but to fire. As Kempster later recalled, “In a moment a shrieking shell startled the animal, who jumped to one side and possibly saved me from damage.” When he rode up to the gun, the officer in command congratulated Kempster on his dual escape from the Confederate’s bullets and his own battery’s shell.27
The guns that nearly struck Kempster were not supposed to be at Gettysburg on July 2. The two three-inch guns belonged to a section of Battery H of the Third Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery, under the command of Captain William D. Rank. Recruited in September 1862, a misunderstanding led to the men of the battery being defrauded out of their enlistment bounties. The outraged men mutinied, and the entire unit was sent to Fort Delaware under arrest. After the mutiny charges were dropped, the battery was assigned to the Baltimore defenses. In early summer 1863, with Confederate forces threatening invasion, one section was sent out from Baltimore along with Company A of the Purnell Troop of Maryland cavalry to guard the railroad bridge over the Monocacy River. Forced to fall back by the rapid Confederate advance, they were nearly cut off and captured by Stuart’s cavalry near Cooksville, Maryland on June 28. The units lost their baggage and camp equipment but escaped and soon linked up with Gregg’s Division as it rode north. Unable to return to Baltimore, Rank’s section of guns and the single company of the Purnell Troop under Captain Robert E. Duvall participated in the remainder of the campaign as temporary members of McIntosh’s Brigade.28
As soon as Gregg had dispatched the first squadron of the Tenth New York forward to relieve the infantry at around 3 p.m., Rank’s two guns had unlimbered in the middle of the Hanover Road near the Reever House. There they loaded their guns and waited. With the Tenth New York routed from their positions and the Confederates emerging from the trees atop Brinkerhoff’s Ridge, General Gregg ordered Rank to open fire. After attempting to wave Kempster and his horse off to safety, the gunners rapidly fired two shells. The rounds burst in the midst of the Confederate line and scattered the Virginians. “More beautiful shots were never seen,” wrote one of McIntosh’s troopers watching the artillery in action, “though they were the first hostile ones the gunners had ever fired.”29
The first two shots of Rank’s section play a prominent role in nearly all Union accounts of the action at Brinkerhoff’s Ridge, so much so that the exact details are challenging to pin down. While there is agreement that a mounted man galloping back from the skirmish line was almost hit by the guns, Kempster’s place is taken in one account by Assistant Surgeon Tate of the Third Pennsylvania, with a nearly identical story. Kempster’s account claimed the shots were directed at the woods north of the road, while Freer claimed the shells hit just as he and his squad were fleeing from the woods south of the road. There are claims that the Confederates targeted by Rank’s guns were mounted, but no Confederate cavalry was present, and it would have been unusual for mounted officers to ride alongside the advancing skirmish line. Though Union accounts claim the shells exploded in the midst of the Confederate attackers, there does not appear to have been corresponding Confederate casualties.30
What is not in doubt, however, is the impact the shots had. On the hill’s crest, the sudden artillery fire caused Colonel Nadenbousch to halt his pursuit of the retreating Tenth New York and pull his men back behind the cover of the woods. Perhaps having glimpsed Gregg’s Division arrayed in the fields behind the Reaver House, Nadenbousch reported back to Walker that he faced two brigades of cavalry, two infantry regiments, and an artillery battery, slightly overestimating the weakened force behind Brinkerhoff’s Ridge. However, at around this time, the sound of Confederate guns booming away from Benner’s Hill to the east finally died away after a two hour long cannonade. Johnson’s infantry assault on Culp’s Hill would soon move forward and, unless they could quickly drive back Gregg’s cavalry, the Stonewall Brigade would be unavailable to support the attack. Nadenbousch reformed his men and renewed the advance.31
A Withering Reception
With Avery’s right flank crumpling north of the Hanover Road and his left south of the road now also in retreat, General Gregg ordered McIntosh’s Brigade into action. Buglers in the Third Pennsylvania sounded “To Horse” as troopers lept atop their mounts. The regiment advanced at a trot along the Hanover Road and formed a close column just behind Cress Run in the shelter of some woods. Lieutenant Colonel Edward S. Jones ordered two squadrons, under Captains William E. Miller and Frank W. Hess, to dismount and advance as skirmishers. Soon the dispersed line of troopers, carbines at the ready, made their way across Cress Run and up the eastern slope of Brinkerhoff’s Ridge. Hess’s men rested their left flank on the Hanover Road, with Miller’s men extending the formation to the right.32
Just behind the Third Pennsylvania, the few dozen men of Captain Duvall’s orphaned company of the Purnell Troop also spurred their horses forward. They dismounted just south of the road and advanced alongside Hess’s left flank. Still farther to the left, two battalions of the First New Jersey Cavalry under the command of Major Hugh H. Janeway and Captain Robert N. Boyd, further bolstered the line of dismounts. The final battalion of the First New Jersey remained behind as a reserve south of the road, while the remainder of the Third Pennsylvania stood ready north of the road. After factoring in their reserves and men to hold horses, just over 200 troopers advanced steadily up towards the crest of the ridge.33
As the blue-clad line crested the rise, they saw before them the stone wall along the farm lane and, just beyond, the Second Virginia renewing their advance. In an instant, both sides realized the stone wall was the key to control of the contested ridge. Orders rang out for the troopers to make for the fence at the double quick and the race was on. A member of the Third Pennsylvania recalled that “by the time our men reached [the wall] a line of Confederate infantry was seen running for it at full speed… The infantrymen were not more than twenty feet off from the wall when we reached it and we gave them a withering reception from our breechloading carbines.” Those two earlier well-aimed shots from Rank’s guns, though they likely produced no casualties, had delayed the Confederate advance just long enough for McIntosh’s troopers to win this critical foot race for the wall.34
South of the road, the First New Jersey had been in position only a few moments when a body of Confederates advanced behind a vigorous fire from their skirmishers. The dismounted New Jersey cavalrymen opened fire with their carbines, checking and then driving back the Virginian’s advance. A regimental history of the First New Jersey trumpeted with a touch of dramatic exaggeration that the unit “by their undaunted bearing and their steady fire, staggered the troops that by a single charge could have ridden over them.” Major Janeway, refusing to dismount despite the Stonewall Brigade’s bullets flying through the air, rode from end to end of his skirmish line, urging his men to keep up their fire.35
His attempt to break the line of cavalrymen thwarted, Nadenbousch pulled his men back some two hundred yards to the protection of the trees. From there, they continued to trade shots with Gregg’s men. Whenever a group of Confederates pushed forward into the tall wheat along the top of the ridge, Rank’s guns would lob another shell in their direction. Each probe the Confederates made was answered by the blazing fire of McIntosh’s men behind the stone wall. With their carbine ammunition beginning to run low, the First New Jersey began emptying their revolvers at the enemy in the dying light of the day.36
At one point in the fighting, a carbine bullet hit the elbow of Private Daniel M. Entler of the Second Virginia’s Company B. The round entered his left arm and smashed the humerus bone of his upper arm. Entler was captured two days later, his second time falling into enemy hands. He was exchanged only a few months later but spent the rest of the year in the hospital before being medically discharged, as the wound at his elbow joint remained open and unhealed. A private in Company A, Wilson H. Magaha, was hit in the right thigh. Confederate surgeons could do little to save his leg and amputated that evening just above the knee. Unable to retreat with the defeated Confederate army, he was captured days later and would spend the remainder of the war in first Union and then Confederate hospitals after he was exchanged the following spring. In Company C, John Fry and Philip Shearer also received wounds. Shearer’s wound kept him out of the ranks through April 1864, only to be captured at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House. Fry would take well over a year to recover, only to then be captured at the Battle of Fisher’s Hill in September 1864.37
The summer sun finally set around 8:30 p.m., bringing darkness to the battlefield. It did not, however, bring an immediate end to the fighting east of Gettysburg. Nadenbousch made a final attack just after dark, sending his men charging at the Third Pennsylvania’s right flank. The assault was momentarily successful, driving in the Pennsylvanians until the troopers rallied and made a countercharge. They soon regained their position along the stone wall “after considerable trouble” and the Second Virginia fell back into the growing darkness. Up and down the skirmish line, the fire slowly dwindled away. Silence fell over the battlefield with Gregg’s men still in possession of Brinkerhoff’s Ridge.38
Any Moment May Commence the Work of Death
Walker pulled his men back soon after dark. He left behind elements of the Second Virginia, including Company I under Captain James H. O’Bannon, Company K under Lieutenant Berkeley W. Moore, and part of Company A, to maintain a line of pickets along the Hanover Road. They faced the Union cavalry alone for only a short time that night, as Gregg pulled back his skirmishers at around ten in evening and reformed his tired division. They rode south along the Low Dutch Road and bivouacked along the Baltimore Pike for the night. They would return to the vicinity of Brinkerhoff’s Ridge the following day, but rather than Walker’s infantry, they would face Stuart’s newly-arrived cavalry. The Stonewall Brigade, meanwhile, moved several times during the night before finally taking up positions at the base of Culp’s Hill, just behind Steuart’s Brigade, at around 2 or 3 a.m.39
The day’s fighting on Brinkerhoff’s Ridge had produced much noise, but few casualties. In what Nadenboush called a “sharp skirmish,” he reported only three men wounded, although a review of his men’s service records shows at least four wounded and one captured. The Tenth New York reported two men killed and four wounded, while Lownsbury, Dow, and another enlisted man were captured. The Third Pennsylvania reported only a single man wounded from their fight at dusk behind the stone wall. There were no reported casualties for the First New Jersey or the Purnell Legion. Interestingly, although neither unit appears in accounts of the fight at Brinkerhoff’s Ridge, the First Maine reported three men wounded and the Sixteenth Pennsylvania reported two men killed and four men wounded.40
Tactically, the clash may be considered a draw. In a letter to his brother written a few days after the battle, Captain Miller, whose men had checked the Second Virginia at the stone wall, wrote that the engagement ended with “both parties getting the best of it.” Although little blood was spilt and the action warrants hardly a mention is most traditional accounts of the battle of Gettysburg, the combat along the Hanover Pike significantly impacted the battle’s outcome. Their fight with Gregg’s cavalry kept the Stonewall Brigade from joining in Johnson’s evening assault on Culp’s Hill. Eager to reinforce their threatened left near Little Round Top, Union generals had stripped Culp’s Hill of all but a single brigade. The Confederate attack managed to capture part of the Union breastworks but failed to dislodge the defenders before reinforcements and darkness ended the fighting. One additional Confederate brigade might have tipped the scales and allowed Johnson to turn the Union flank and seize high ground that commanded the Army of the Potomac’s vulnerable rear and primary line of retreat.41
At some point in the evening of July 2, Sergeant David Hunter of the Second Virginia found a few quiet moments to pen a letter to his mother. “We are in all probability on [the] eve of a terrible battle,” wrote Hunter. “The two contending armies lie close together and at any moment may commence the work of death. Great results hang upon the issue of the battle. If we are victorious peace may follow if not we may look for a long and fierce war…. Although we may be victorious many must fall, and I may be among that number. If it is the Lord’s will I am, I trust, prepared to go.”The Stonewall Brigade would face that terrible battle, with great results indeed hanging in the balance, the following morning on the rocky slopes of Culp’s Hill.42
Note: The following is part one of a four-part series on the actions of the Stonewall Brigade at Gettysburg. Subsequent installments will cover the fight for Brinkerhoff’s Ridge and the July 3 attacks on Culp’s Hill, while a final epilogue will address the fate of the brigade’s flags during the battle.
With cannon fire rumbling like distant thunder to the east, Colonel Arthur J. L. Fremantle of Her Majesty’s Coldstream Guards paused his horse atop South Mountain, some fifteen miles from the town of Gettysburg. A British military advisor attached to the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, Fremantle took a short break from the oppressive heat of July 1, 1863 to watch the dust-covered columns of Confederate troops hastening towards the growing battle. “Among them I saw, for the first time,” Fremantle would write, “the celebrated ‘Stonewall’ Brigade, formerly commanded by Jackson. In appearance the men differ little from other Confederate soldiers, except, perhaps, that the brigade contains more elderly men and fewer boys.”1
The sweaty, thirsty men of the Stonewall Brigade who fell under Fremantle’s gaze that day had begun their march hours before in Fayetteville, Pennsylvania. With the scattered elements of the Army of Northern Virginia converging on Gettysburg, the Stonewall Brigade would cover some 24 miles under the brutal summer sun on July 1 to reach the Pennsylvania crossroads. The men, already suffering from the extreme heat, also spent the day choking on the dust kicked up by the First Corps’ wagon train preceding them in the line of march. As the men passed Fremantle and crested South Mountain, the sound of distant fire elicited comments that someone in the army had evidently found some Yanks.2
Clear the Yankees Out
The men marching east towards Gettysburg did so with a new commander riding at the head of their column. Brigadier General Elisha F. Paxton had been mortally wounded leading the Stonewall Brigade in a charge at Chancellorsville roughly two months before and, in his place, Lee had appointed Brigadier General James A. Walker on 19 May to lead the storied brigade. Although he had begun the war as the captain of Company C in the Fourth Virginia, Walker had been reassigned outside the brigade after only a few short months. Insulted that a perceived outsider had received the command rather than one of their own, all five of the brigade’s regimental commanders promptly resigned in protest.Walker, however, was an experienced and able leader, having previously led brigades at Antietam and Fredericksburg. Lee stood by his choice and, after quelling the wounded pride of the passed-over officers, convinced them to withdraw their resignations. The recently fallen Jackson, however, may have been appalled to learn that his former brigade was now led by the former headstrong young cadet who had been expelled from the Virginia Military Institute after challenging Professor Jackson to a duel following a classroom dispute.3
Although initially opposed to his appointment, Walker’s new subordinates would provide him a strong cadre of veteran leadership upon which to lean in the coming fight. Colonel John Q. A. Nadenbousch of the Second Virginia and Colonel John H. S. Funk of the Fifth Virginia were the senior regimental commanders. Major William Terry rode at the head of the Fourth Virginia, Lieutenant Colonel Daniel M. Shriver commanded the Twenty-Seventh Virginia, and Captain Jacob B. Golladay was the ranking officer within the Thirty-Third Virginia. These five officers, all of whom had commanded their units through multiple engagements, led between 1,400 and 1,450 men on the eve of battle. They marched with a new name as well as a new commander, as on May 30, the War Department had granted the brigade’s request to be officially designated the Stonewall Brigade. The men resolved to “render ourselves more worthy of it by emulating [Jackson’s] virtues, and, like him, devote all our energies to the great work before us of securing to our beloved country the blessings of peace and independence.”4
Confidence in the imminent arrival of peace and independence filled the men of the brigade as they and the rest of the Army of Northern Virginia invaded Pennsylvania. During the march north, a member of the Thirty-Third Virginia paused to write a letter to his sister boasting, “I think we will clear the Yankees out this summer and whip them.” The brigade, and the rest of the army’s Second Corps, had routed a Federal contingent at the Second Battle of Winchester in mid-June and then marched largely unopposed across Maryland and into Pennsylvania over the subsequent weeks.5
The fighting of July 1 was drawing to a close as the Stonewall Brigade arrived on the outskirts of Gettysburg. As they approached the town along the Chambersburg Pike, a cascading number of wounded men streamed past the brigade headed for the rear. Periodically, sullen groups of captured Union soldiers marched by under guard. Passing through the carnage of the day’s battle along McPherson’s Ridge, the brigade turned off the pike and made their way towards Gettysburg along the bed of the unfinished western extension of the Gettysburg and York Railroad.6
A former member of the Twenty-Seventh Virginia, now attached to the staff of Major General Jubal Early, recalled the arrival in Gettysburg between 5 and 6 p.m. of the Stonewall Brigade and the rest of their division. The men were “covered with the stains of a rapid march… with faces eager for the fray.” At their head rode their “rough-and-ready” divisional commander, Major General Edward “Allegheny” Johnson. Having been wounded in the ankle earlier in the war during his service in the mountains of western Virginia, Johnson now walked using a substantial hickory stick as a crutch. Surrounded by his men and riding with this heavy club, Johnson rode into town looking “as if he could thrash out an army himself with the ponderous weapon.” A former sergeant in the Twenty-Seventh Virginia recalled that the Stonewall Brigade initially had a low option of the “irascible” Johnson. Private Ted Barclay of the Fourth Virginia viewed Johnson as a good general and brave man but one of the “wickedest men I ever heard of.” Johnson, Barclay wrote, “had none of the qualities of a general at all but expects to do everything by fighting.”7
More Forceful than Elegant
The first clash the combative Johnson would experience at Gettysburg was not with the Federal army, but with his fellow generals. Upon arrival in town, he joined a conference between Second Corps commander Major General Richard Ewell and several subordinate commanders. In what would later become one of the most controversial moments in the climactic battle, Johnson’s fellow division commander Jubal Early urged Ewell to attack the regrouping Union forces on Cemetery Hill and seize the unoccupied heights of Culp’s Hill just to the east. Early used language which even he admitted was “more forceful than elegant” as he advocated for Johnson’s newly arrived troops to occupy Culp’s Hill. Ewell, not fully convinced by his brash subordinate, directed Johnson to advance on Culp’s Hill and take possession of it only if he found it to be unoccupied.8
While their commanders were debating tactics, the Stonewall Brigade had halted near the Carlisle Street rail station and dispatched men to refill canteens and forage for supplies among the abandoned buildings of the town. A few members of the brigade discovered a barrel of whiskey in a cellar and eagerly filled their canteens. As news of the find spread to their comrades, a torrent of men began visiting the cellar and returning with full canteens. The foraging quickly came to an end when an inquisitive lieutenant investigated the cause of the excitement and put a stop to it.9
Having received Ewell’s orders, Johnson directed his division to resume their march, following the railroad east until they reached Rock Creek. Early’s troops passing through the previous week had burned the rail bridge, forcing Johnson’s men to ford the creek. Roughly two miles from town, where the track met the Hunterstown Road, the column turned off the rail bed and briefly continued east along the York Pike. After only a short distance, they made their way along a farm lane to the farm of George Wolf. Passing the farm’s outbuildings, Johnson arrayed his men in line of battle in a shallow ravine that cut across the high ground just past the farm and continued southeast to the small stream of Benner’s Run. The Stonewall Brigade was stationed on the far left of the division, parallel to and roughly 500 yards north of the Hanover Road. The Fifth Virginia occupied the center of the brigade, although the deployment of the remaining regiments was not recorded.10
Meanwhile, Johnson dispatched a reconnaissance party to determine whether Federal troops were present on Culp’s Hill. As his scouts splashed their way across Rock Creek and picked their way up the darkened slopes, shots rang out from the inky blackness. Falling back, they reported to Johnson the presence of Union troops on the heights. The Federal they had encountered were pickets from Company B of the Seventh Indiana, part of Cutler’s Brigade, Wadsworth’s Division of the I Corps. Union commanders had dispatched them to occupy the previously vacant Culp’s Hill only shortly before the approach of Johnson’s scouting party. But, in receipt of reports that Federals held the hill in unknown numbers, Johnson exercised the discretion contained in Ewell’s orders and called off the attack. The Stonewall Brigade and the other units of his command deployed pickets in front of their position east of Wolf’s Farm and the remainder of the command sought some much-needed rest.11
A member of the Second Virginia writing five decades after the battle claimed, “Jackson would have kept us going until we reached the heights.” The failure to seize Culp’s Hill on the evening of July 1 loamed large in post-war Lost Cause attempts to assign blame for the Confederate loss at Gettysburg. Early, in particular, blamed Johnson and Ewell for the failure and claimed that, had they followed his advice, the Army of Northern Virginia would have triumphed at Gettysburg. Realistically, however, Early’s proposed attack was impractical. Johnson’s final brigade only reached Gettysburg at 6 p.m. Darkness had fallen by the time the division reached its position near the Hanover Road and final deployments on the Wolf Farm were conducted by moonlight. The heights were no longer unoccupied by the time Johnson had arrayed his men and thus the hill would have had to have been seized in a nighttime assault over rough and unfamiliar terrain. While intriguing to consider how a Confederate-held Culp’s Hill would have shaped the remainder of the battle, taking the heights with the Stonewall Brigade and the rest of Johnson’s Division on the evening of July 1 was never a realistic possibility.12
Absent, Truant Cavalry
The dim light of early dawn on July 2 brought the crackling of musket fire as Federal skirmishers began engaging the Stonewall Brigade’s pickets at long range. Rousting his men, Walker ordered the Twenty-Seventh Virginia, and likely the rest of the brigade, forward from their bivouac near the Wolf Farm and to the left about a quarter of a mile, likely establishing his battle line in the trees surrounding the Hanover Pike to the east of Benner’s Run. The command “As skirmishers – Forward!” rang out from the captains of companies up and down the line as the Stonewall Brigade deployed a screen of skirmishers to their front and left flank.13
Unlike the traditional tightly-packed line formations which dominated Civil War tactics, skirmishing was a looser, more dispersed form of fighting which took advantage of available terrain. To deploy as skirmishers, a platoon, company, or even a full regiment would separate into groups of four men and then disperse these small groups over a broad front. Each man worked with his partner, leapfrogging in the advance or retreat and ensuring that one of the two men’s muskets was always loaded and ready. Troops utilized available cover and, in the open, could kneel or lie down as they deemed best.14
While skirmishing would ultimately prove the forbearer of modern military tactics, its use during the Civil War faced limitations. Its dispersion combined with the rifle musket’s limited rate of fire meant that firepower could not be massed at critical points. Officers faced difficulties in controlling their scattered men, relying on bugles or voice commands to pass orders to men spread out over hundreds of yards. Combined with the massed firepower of traditional line formations, however, skirmishers played important roles on the Civil War battlefield. A period tactical manual advised commanders to deploy well-supported skirmishers in the attack to “press the enemy with vigor and without relaxation” in advance of the main assault. On the defensive, skirmishers were to be used to hold the enemy in check and, by disputing their advance, force the enemy to reveal his plan of attack.15
Due to their position as the leftmost brigade in Johnson’s Division, which itself was posted on the left of the Second Corps, the Stonewall Brigade found itself on July 2 tasked with maintaining a defensive screen of skirmishers to cover the far-left flank of the Army of Northern Virginia. Sergeant Charles Rollins of the Twenty-Seventh Virginia would later grumble that the task of screening the army’s flank should have more properly fallen to the “absent, truant cavalry.” With most of the Army of Northern Virginia’s cavalry still roughly a day’s ride away, for now the Stonewall Brigade’s skirmishers were all the army could rely on to monitor for any Federal attempt to turn its flank east of Gettysburg.16
The region assigned to the Stonewall Brigade was bisected by the Hanover Pike running roughly east to west. South of the road, the wooded terrain rose to the imposing mass of Wolf’s Hill. Between Wolf’s Hill and Culp’s Hill to the west ran Rock Creek, while the Baltimore Pike lay to the south just behind the heights. Wolf’s Hill was dotted with a handful of small farms, includes those belonging to the Deardorff, Tawey, Lee, and Noel families. East of Wolf’s Hill, the woods gave way to open farmland cut by a series of ridgelines running north and south across the Hanover Pike. The first of these was Brinkerhoff’s Ridge, behind which lay the stream of Cress Run, before the ground rose to Cress’ Ridge. Just behind Cress’ Ridge, the Low Dutch Road linked the Hanover Road to the Baltimore Pike two miles to the south.
Reconstructing even a general outline of the Stonewall Brigade’s actions on the skirmish line throughout the day on July 2 is challenging, as the historical record provides few details for much of the day. It is particularly difficult to determine the positions held by the brigade, as descriptions by both the brigade and by their Federal opponents throughout July 2 are short on defined landmarks and are often presented in relational terms. For instance, the report of the Twenty-Seventh Virginia describes the regiment’s movements late on July 2 with the statement, “We moved by the right flank, and took position parallel with our former one, and about 300 yards in advance of it.” As the report does not define the regiment’s initial position or provide terrain descriptions, it is exceedingly difficult to use these descriptions to place the brigade’s units on a map. Most of the regimental reports for the brigade lack even the minimal descriptions included in the Twenty-Seventh’s report.17
As the Stonewall Brigade’s skirmishes on July 2 were peripheral to the day’s primary fighting, the brigade is often omitted from maps of the battle or their actions are off the eastern edge of maps. The few maps which do include them are of minimal assistance or contradict each other. The 1876 War Department map compiled by John B. Bachelder shows the Stonewall Brigade positioned north of and perpendicular to the Hanover Road, parallel with Benner’s Run. The Second Virginia is shown detached from the rest of the brigade along the Hanover Road. This clearly conflicts with what few locational references we do have for the movements of the Stonewall Brigade on July 2. It also clashes with Bachelder’s own 1863 sketched map, which is less precise, but shows the command south of the Hanover Pike on the north slope of Wolf’s Hill. This matches more closely with other historical datapoints, but as the brigade is near the edge of Bachelder’s map, the bird’s-eye perspective he used distorts the position of the brigade such that it is difficult to further refine the brigade’s location. The following account, therefore, will reflect the often-ambiguous position of the Stonewall Brigade and its Federal opponents.
Elements of Brigadier General Alpheus S. Williams’ division of the XII Corps were the first Union units to make contact with the Stonewall Brigade’s skirmishers on the morning of July 2. The division had approached Gettysburg the previous day along the Baltimore Pike. With the day’s fighting still focused west and north of the town, Williams directed his troops off the Pike while still about two miles from town and moved them via farm lanes a mile and a half north in the direction of the Hanover Pike. This movement would bring his troops up on the right flank of the beleaguered Federal XI Corps engaged north of Gettysburg. As the skirmishers in advance of Williams’ main line cleared the woods north of Wolf’s Hill, they spotted mounted Confederates on Benner’s Hill. Williams ordered an assault to clear the hill, which would have placed his men in a position to threaten the flank of the Confederates attacking the XI Corps. The Federal skirmishers, men of Company G of the Twenty-Seventh Indiana, had just reached the crest of Benner’s Hill and Williams’ main line was splashing its way through the shallow waters of Benner’s Run, when Williams received word that the corps he was moving to support was in headlong retreat back through Gettysburg. Realizing that his division would soon be alone and exposed on Benner’s Hill, Williams ordered his men to halt and reverse course. They marched back about a mile towards the Baltimore Pike and bivouacked for the night in the shadow of Wolf’s Hill.18
Rising from their bedrolls in the early hours of July 2, the men of Williams’ Division retraced their steps once again and advanced from their position behind Wolf’s Hill towards the Hanover Pike. The brigade commanded by Brigadier General Thomas H. Ruger led the division’s advance. Ruger in turn ordered the Twenty-Seventh Indiana to act as the division’s advance guard, just as they had the previous evening. Colonel Silas Colgrove, the experienced commander of the Twenty-Seventh, deployed his Company F as skirmishers and began to move warily northward.19
The thin line of Hoosiers had only moved approximately a half mile in the early morning light when they suddenly encountered enemy infantry, almost certainly elements of the Stonewall Brigade. Shots rang out from the Virginian’s positions in a wooded tree line, catching the Twenty-Seventh’s skirmishers unprotected in open ground. Additional Confederate sharpshooters occupied the stone house and large barn of a farm to the right, threatening the Union contingent’s flank.20
Company F threw themselves to the ground to seek what cover they could and commenced firing. Colgrove, who had moved forward to oversee the skirmishers personally, soon spotted a unit of Confederates advancing towards another group of farm buildings immediately to Colgrove’s left and front. Dodging Confederates fire from the tree line, a squad of Hoosiers began sprinting towards the buildings. They reached the buildings just before their Confederate opponents and, from the cover of the buildings, opened fire. The advancing Virginians beat a hasty retreat back to the cover of the tree line. With the rest of the Twenty-Seventh Indiana remaining behind as a reserve, Company F made no further attempt to advance. Instead, with a handful of men holding the farm on their left and the remainder of the company likely lying prone in the open ground, the Hoosiers settled down to maintain a sharp fire on the Virginians.21
As noted above, it is difficult to locate this small clash between a company of the Twenty-Seventh Indiana and unidentified soldiers of the Stonewall Brigade. Prominent Gettysburg historian Harry Pfanz, who authored the most detailed account of this portion of the fight, suggests that the stone house with large barn described by Colgrove was the Deardorff Farm or Heck Farm buildings, while the farm occupied by the Twenty-Seventh Indiana was the Rosensteil Farm. While this theory accounts for some of the elements described by the Twenty-Seventh Indiana, it provides too little space to the right of the Twenty-Seventh Indiana for subsequent events. Additionally, when the lieutenant colonel of the Twenty-Seventh Indiana assumed command of the regiment later in the morning, he noted that it was occupying a position on a hill, while the Deardorff Farm lies on lower ground between Wolf’s Hill and Brinkerhoff Ridge. The regimental history of another regiment in Ruger’s Brigade claimed that XII Corps commander Major General Henry W. Slocum ordered Williams to seize Wolf’s Hill on the morning of July 2 and the map which accompanied Slocum’s report showed the flank of Williams’ Division relatively close to Rock Creek and south of Wolf’s Hill. Perhaps a more plausible location for this skirmish is the Francis Lee Farm on the south face of Wolf’s Hill, which included a stone building, has a tree line behind it, and open ground to its front. The Bishop Farm to the west may then have been the farm seized by the squad of Union skirmishers.22
While the Hoosiers’ encounter with the Stonewall Brigade is the best documented of these early clashes, they did not advance against the Stonewall Brigade alone. Williams reported that, “our skirmishers were smartly engaged with the enemy toward the Bonaughtown Road [Hanover Pike].” Ruger ordered two of his other regiments, the Second Massachusetts and the Third Wisconsin, to deploy companies to join the growing skirmish. Lieutenant John F. George, a former enlisted color bearer promoted for gallantry the previous year, led his Company B of the Second Massachusetts forward until they also engaged elements of the Stonewall Brigade. An unidentified company of the Third Wisconsin also joined the skirmish line, where they kept up a “desultory fire” on the Virginians.23
With one of his three brigades absent on detached duty, Williams had only one other brigade in his division to throw into the fray alongside Ruger. This brigade, led by Colonel Archibald McDougall, had advanced behind Ruger’s Brigade on the evening of July 1 during the abortive attempt to seize Benner’s Hill. When Williams ordered them forward the following morning, McDougall advanced his command to the front by the right and formed his line of battle “on the hill near Rock Creek,” a clear reference to Wolf’s Hill. He sent the Twentieth Connecticut forward to relieve the Fifth Connecticut, which had spent a quiet night on picket duty in front of the brigade’s bivouac. Lieutenant Colonel William Wooster of the Twentieth in turn dispatched his Company B to join the expanding skirmish line in front of Williams’ Division in the vicinity of Wolf’s Hill. Because McDougall’s subordinate commanders did not leave as detailed of accounts as the Twenty-Seventh Indiana did in Ruger’s Brigade, it is impossible to determine their precise location.24
The Forgotten Flank
In later histories of the Battle of Gettysburg, most descriptions of July 2 focus on the Union left flank at Little Round Top, Devil’s Den, the Wheatfield, and the Peach Orchard. Only late in the day does the Union right flank at Culp’s Hill enter the common narrative. However, early on July 2 the attention of Union commander Major General George G. Meade was drawn much more to his left than to his right. Compared to the Taneytown Road behind Little Round Top, the Baltimore Pike behind Culp’s and Wolf’s Hills was a higher quality road. As dawn broke, Meade’s last major reinforcements, Major General John Sedgwick’s VI Corps, were still marching to join the army along the Baltimore Pike. Should Meade’s army meet with disaster at Gettysburg, the Baltimore Pike was his most viable route of retreat. Fearing a Confederate flank attack to cut this vital artery, Meade directed the newly arrived V Corps, under Major General George Sykes, to take up positions to the left of Williams’ Division and extend the Union army’s flank east of Wolf’s Hill.25
The first two divisions of Sykes’ corps tramped onto the battlefield at around 7 a.m., having halted the previous night about two miles away along the Hanover Road. As they approached Gettysburg in the early hours of July 2, they turned off the Hanover Road along one of the farm lanes and formed lines of battle to the right of Williams’ men. Although Pfanz suggests they turned off the Hanover Road at the Deardorff Farm, this is unlikely as it would put their deployment too close to the Stonewall Brigade’s position and the terrain around the farm does not match that described in the reports of the units of the V Corps. More likely, the corps took the turn at the Reever Farm, just east of Cress Run. Additionally, it is the arrival of these two divisions to the right of Williams’ Division that makes it highly unlikely that the Twenty-Seventh Indiana clashed with the Stonewall Brigade at the Deardorff Farm as Pfanz suggests, as there simply would not be adequate space for the skirmishers of three divisions to operate in such a small area south of the Hanover Road.26
Sykes deployed the division commanded by Brigadier General Romeyn B. Ayres on his left, establishing contact with Williams’ men. The corps’ other available division, led by Brigadier General James Barnes, took position on Ayres’ right, making Barnes’ command the far-right flank of the entire Union army. As Sykes’ subordinate commanders began to disperse skirmishers in front of their units, the number of troops facing the Stonewall Brigade suddenly tripled. Within just a few short hours of beginning their skirmishing duties on their army’s flank, the solitary Stonewall Brigade now faced down three entire Union divisions.
As Ayres formed his battle lines, the brigade under Colonel Sidney Burbank deployed a line of skirmishers in front of the division. Burbank’s command consisted of five regiments of U.S. Regulars, but the unit was a shadow of its former self. The entire brigade numbered only 900 men and Burbank noted that “although the regiments named as composing the brigade preserve their organization, and are called regiments, yet they are greatly reduced in number.” The Second United States Infantry was only six companies strong, but Major Arthur T. Lee directed twenty men from his tiny command forward as skirmishers. Men from the Tenth United States Infantry soon joined them on the skirmish line, but as the entire regiment was only ten officers and 83 enlisted men, their contribution could not have been more than a handful of rifles.27
Burbank formed his brigade behind a stand of woods, behind which and to the right lay the Stonewall Brigade’s position. At his command, the skirmishers slowly began pushing forward through the thick timber, the main battle line following behind. Although available accounts do not provide further locational details, the largest stand of trees interrupting the farm fields east of Wolf’s Hill lie between the Wolf and Diehl Farms. As the farm lane from which Sykes’ men probably deployed cuts through these woods, this is the most likely position for Ayres’ Division. Once the far edge of the woods had been reached, Burbank halted his command as his skirmishers continued to advance and feel for the enemy. The Regulars on the skirmish line soon opened a brisk fire on the portions of the Stonewall Brigade before them, probably around the Rosenteel Farm and the eastern slope of Wolf’s Hill. With superior numbers behind them, Burbank’s men were soon pushing back the Virginian’s thin line, while suffering a small number of casualties themselves.28
To the right of the Regulars, Colonel Jacob B. Sweitzer, commanding one of Barnes’ brigades, drew his men up near a farmhouse and ordered the colonel of the Thirty-Second Massachusetts to deploy his men as the division’s skirmish line. The colonel, however, asked that his regiment be excused from the duty, as they had received only minimal instruction in skirmishing and lacked experience in the style of fighting. Sweitzer turned then to his adjutant and said, “then send the Ninth.” The Ninth Massachusetts, largely comprised of Irish immigrants from the Boston area and commanded by Colonel Patrick R. Guiney, marched forward from the main line and deployed a screen of skirmishers, most likely in the vicinity of the Deardorff Farm.29
About 60 yards behind the Irishmen’s thin line, Battery L of the First Ohio Volunteer Light Artillery, commanded by Captain Frank C. Gibbs, rolled six 12-pounder smoothbore guns into a wheatfield to add firepower to the growing Union force facing the Stonewall Brigade. The artillery unlimbered unusually close to the skirmish line and its infantry support, the Eighteenth Massachusetts from Tilton’s Brigade of Barnes’ Division, was a full 100 yards behind the battery. From their exposed position, the gunners quickly came under fire from Walker’s men. “In this field,” wrote Lieutenant James Gildea of the battery, “you could not raise your head above the wheat without hearing a dozen sharp shooter’s bullets whistle by, they being in the top of the trees across the creek.” The creek mentioned by Gildea may be the small branch of Benner’s Run that ran just behind the Deardorff and Heck Farms. Though the gunners escaped unscathed, some of the Confederates’ shots flew past the guns and fell among the Eighteenth Massachusetts, causing a handful of casualties.30
Unconnected and Exposed
With his fears of a potential Confederate attack cutting the Baltimore Pike diminished by the establishment of Sykes’ battle line, Meade now began to mull the offensive possibilities presented by the troops he had concentrated beyond the Confederate right. Meade considered a flank attack of his own, utilizing the XII, V, and soon-to-arrive VI Corps to strike the Confederate flank east of Gettysburg. Around mid-morning he ordered Slocum, as the senior commander in the sector, to examine the terrain to his front and report back on the feasibility of an assault.31
Slocum asked the Tenth Maine Battalion, which served as his headquarters guard, to provide six volunteers to scout the Confederate flank. Using the guise of a foraging party, the three small groups left unarmed with only canteens and haversacks. As they moved through the woods of Wolf’s Hill, the group led by First Sergeant James F. Tarr spotted some Confederates, likely from the Stonewall Brigade, gathered in a clearing near some unidentified farm buildings. Tarr’s group pretended they hadn’t seen the Confederates until they were within sprinting distance of a tree line. They dashed to safety, with Confederate bullets nipping at their heels. Elsewhere, a local man and his daughter guided Privates Henry F. Cole and Sidney W. Fletcher to a group of Confederate pickets gathered near a barn on the other side of Wolf’s Hill. Cole and Fletcher joined the Confederates drinking from a nearby spring before returning to Union lines. A final group, consisting of First Sergeant Henry Kallock and Sergeant Charles R. Anderson, fled from a squad of Confederates they encountered at a farmyard near the Hanover Road, possibly the Deardorff Farm. The pair worked their way farther east and confirmed that the enemy’s skirmish line was stationary and not advancing.32
The last of these scouts did not report back to General Slocum until late in the afternoon, so the information they collected likely had little impact on Slocum’s response to Meade. Slocum wasted little time in informing his chief that the terrain around Wolf’s Hill was not suitable for a major offensive movement. If Williams and Sykes’ men were not to be used for an attack or to block a Confederate attempt to cut the Baltimore Pike, their extended position so far to the right made little tactical sense and the troops could be better employed elsewhere. At around 10 a.m. Meade ordered the withdrawal of the infantry east of Wolf’s Hill.33
Up and down the Union skirmish line, orders rang out for the blue-clad soldiers to fall back and rejoin their regiments. The notes of buglers sounding the retreat echoed through the woods and farms around Wolf’s Hill as the sound of firing slowly died away. The Twenty-Seventh Indiana faced to the rear and marched back in line with Company F covering the regimental’s withdrawal. In their contest with the Stonewall Brigade over the two farms on the slopes of Wolf’s Hill, the company had lost one man killed and four wounded. The rest of Ruger’s skirmishers, from the Second Massachusetts and the Third Wisconsin, and McDougall’s Twentieth Connecticut similarly pulled back their skirmishers after about two hours of firing. Williams’ Division retraced its steps one final time, returning to the Baltimore Pike and marching west to a new position at the eastern base of Culp’s Hill. Sykes’ two divisions similarly faced to the left and made their way south along farm lanes to the pike. After crossing Rock Creek, they massed in reserve behind Culp’s Hill until they were called to join the fighting around Little Round Top late in the day.34
Left behind in this withdrawal was Colonel Guiney and his Ninth Massachusetts. Needing to still maintain a screen on the Union army’s flank, much as the Stonewall Brigade was doing for the Confederate army, the solitary Federal regiment remained in place as their comrades marched away. They would spend much of the rest of the day skirmishing with the Stonewall Brigade around Deardorff’s Farm and Brinkerhoff’s Ridge. As a frustrated Colonel Guiney later put it, “both flanks [of the regiment] were thus unconnected and exposed.” From their day of skirmishing, the Ninth reported the death of one enlisted man and six men wounded. It is unclear whether the reported death was Private John Quinn of Company B, who was listed as missing and possibly killed along Brinkerhoff’s Ridge, or First Sergeant Joseph Ford, who, having been straggling on the march to Gettysburg, had fallen in with one of the other regiments of the brigade and was killed in the fighting around Little Round Top.35
While the Ninth spent a mostly quiet day on picket, their sister regiments charged into the maelstrom of the famous Wheatfield. Perhaps embarrassed to have missed the fighting and glory, the Ninth’s Gettysburg monument lies not where they fought the Stonewall Brigade on July 2, but on the slope of Big Round Top, where they spent an uneventful July 3. The monument makes no mention of their role around Wolf’s Hill, instead implying that the Ninth held Big Round Top during the fighting of July 2. Their regimental history makes this false claim more boldly, claiming that they had been detached from their brigade to act as skirmishers on July 2, not near Wolf’s Hill, but rather on Big Round Top, giving themselves a star role in the day’s pivotal fighting instead of the sideshow part they actually fulfilled.36
Assuredly Brave Enough
With the mid-morning departure of Williams’ Division and Sykes’ corps, the pressure on the Stonewall Brigade’s skirmish line quickly dissipated. For much of the rest of the day, they continued low-level skirmishing with the Ninth Massachusetts. Sergeant Charles Rollins of the Twenty-Seventh Virginia described the day’s skirmishing from his position
at the edge of some woods, likely the tree line along the Hanover Pike behind the Heck and Deardorff Farms. The Confederate skirmishers to his front were out in the open and, as they were in sight of the enemy, they “resorted to the ‘lie down’ process” in which they loaded while lying on their backs and then rolled to their stomachs to fire. Occasionally a group of Confederates would advance with a rebel yell to drive the Union skirmishers back from one position or another.37
While Walker’s right flank sparred with Colonel Guiney’s Irishmen, the left end of his skirmish line faced a few minor afternoon probes from the Union XII Corps around Culp’s Hill. The rest of Johnson’s Division had deployed a skirmish line in the fields of the Benner Farm in front of the division’s main line. These men, elements of the Twenty-Fifth Virginia of Jones’ Brigade and most of the First North Carolina of Steuart’s Brigade, established a screen for the Confederate artillery positions on Benner’s Hill and likely linked up with the Stonewall Brigade to their left. They traded jabs with a portion of the Sixtieth New York and Twenty-Eight Pennsylvania, both part of the XII Corps division led by Brigadier General John W. Geary, whose skirmishers occupied the wooded banks of Rock Creek.38
After withdrawing from Wolf’s Hill that morning, Williams’ Division reestablished its battle line on the southeast flank of Culp’s Hill, just west of Rock Creek. While most of the command began throwing up breastworks, a handful of men were deployed as skirmishers to cover the division’s new front. The One-Hundred and Forty-Fifth New York, part of McDougall’s Brigade, sent Company K under the command of Captain George W. Reid to the east side of Rock Creek, where they probably skirmished with the First North Carolina and the leftmost elements of Walker’s command. In Ruger’s Brigade, Captain Daniel Oakey led two companies of the Second Massachusetts to “watch the enemy lest he should come upon us unawares.” Rock Creek was six to eight feet deep and over 60 feet wide near where Ruger’s command was stationed, so Oakey marched his detachment south to cross at a footbridge near McAllister’s Mill. Turning north and picking their way along the rough western slope of Wolf’s Hill, Oakey’s detail soon emerged into the open fields around Zephaniah Taney’s stone farmhouse. They spent the afternoon here, in sight of Benner’s Hill and possibly occasionally harassed by elements of the Stonewall Brigade. Late in the day they observed a party of mounted men atop Benner’s Hill – possibly General Johnson and his staff examining the ground in preparation for a potential assault on Culp’s Hill.39
Having faced down three divisions of infantry in the morning, the Stonewall Brigade enjoyed a relatively easy few hours facing only the Ninth Massachusetts near the Deardorff Farm and the small groups of XII Corps skirmishers along Rock Creek. Captain Golladay, commanding the Thirty-Third Virginia, reported that his skirmishers “gained ground upon those of the enemy confronting them, inflicting loss and receiving none whatever.” The day was not, however, entirely without loss. In the Thirty-Third Virginia, Captain George C. Eastham had directed his Company I to lie down in line of battle, some distance behind the skirmish line. Without warning, an overshot Minié ball from a Union skirmisher crashed into the side of the captain’s skull, striking him just above the ear and leaving a large exit wound at the top of his head. The captain crumbled to the ground, killed instantly.40
The men not actively engaged on the skirmish line rested, cooked rations, and foraged in the Pennsylvania countryside. Some of the men detailed as divisional engineers, including John O. Casler of the Thirty-Third Virginia, found a large vacant farmhouse during their search for food to supplement their rations. Casler does not provide details to be able to identify this house, but based on the general location it may have been the Shriver Farm, the D. H. Benner Farm, the Daniel Lady Farm, or the Daniel Benner Farm. The engineers began using the farm’s stoves and ovens to cook their food and were soon joined by other members of the Thirty-Third Virginia. Late the following day, an overheated stovepipe caused fire to break out in the second story. Some of the repentant soldiers rushed into the burning building and grabbed everything they could save from the lower stories and piled it respectfully in the garden next to the barn.41
While some men rested or cooked, a cloud of dust to the east of the Stonewall Brigade’s line of skirmishers marked the approach of a new threat to the Confederate flank. Tired and dusty from weeks in the saddle, at around noon two brigades of Union cavalry trotted up to the intersection of the Hanover Road and the Low Dutch Road. Much to the frustration of Colonel Guiney, however, they did not advance to relieve his Ninth Massachusetts. “I found myself,” he would later write, “protecting an inactive cavalry force large enough, and assuredly brave enough, to take care of its own front.” While Gregg’s cavalrymen rested in the shade of an orchard, Guiney’s Irishmen continued exchanging fire with the Stonewall Brigade alone for the next few hours.42
Finally, late in the afternoon, a member of General Barnes’ divisional staff rode up with orders for the Ninth to rejoin their comrades. The Bay State soldiers recalled their skirmishers and reformed their regiment before filing off to the left, marching down farm lanes towards the south. Carbines at their sides, dismounted Union cavalrymen began appearing at the Stonewall Brigade’s right flank. The fight for Brinkerhoff’s Ridge had begun.43
History, including that of the Civil War, has a tendency to focus on the extremes of human behavior. Battle histories are filled with accounts of heroes leading the charge and cowards shirking in the rear. Often lost, however, are the stories of those who just wanted to get by, survive the war, and return to their life as it once was.
When war came to Virginia in early 1861, nineteen-year-old Arthur Senseny Markell left behind his studies at Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia and returned to his home in Winchester. There, on April 18, he enlisted in a local militia unit, the Marion Rifles. Within days Markell and his company marched to Harper’s Ferry, where they were enrolled for active service and soon became Company A of the Fifth Virginia Infantry. Markell, finding himself elected a First Lieutenant, moved east in July with his regiment to Manassas, where they won immortal fame standing like a stone wall.1
Markell’s military career, however, was to be short-lived. He was placed under arrest near the end of 1861 and cashiered by a court martial on January 29, 1862, although his service record does not detail the charges against him. He had been granted a sick furlough and was absent from the regiment as of late October, so it is possible he overstayed his furlough.2
Expelled from military service, Markell spent the next month in Winchester in disgrace while his former comrades camped nearby. On March 5, 1862, he fled north to Charlestown where he presented himself as a deserter to the Union forces under General Banks. Markell was sent to the Old Capitol Prison in Washington, DC, where he freely provided all the information he had on the state of Confederate forces in the Shenandoah Valley. On or around March 21, he swore an oath of allegiance to the United States and was released from custody.3
Markell made his way further north, stopping for a time in Baltimore before making his way to Pennsylvania. There, he enrolled at a small college, seeking to complete his education. The school was a Lutheran institution like his former Roanoke College, making it a natural choice for Markell to complete his interrupted studies. Markell settled down once again to the quiet life of a student, confident that he could pass the rest of the war in safety in the sleepy college town of Gettysburg.4
Markell’s academic pursuits were again interrupted in June 1863 as Confederate forces marched north into Maryland. Classes at Gettysburg College were cancelled on June 17 and all but nineteen of the students left to join militia groups or return to their homes. With nowhere else to go, Markell remained at the school, likely hoping that the Confederate army would pass him by. On June 26, as General Jubal Early’s gray-clad column approached Gettysburg, several Gettysburg citizens acquitted with Markell urged him to flee lest he be seized by the Confederates as a deserter and executed.5
He fled south towards Emmitsburg but as soon overtaken by a Union lieutenant. Suspicious of this Virginian’s dubious story claiming to be a local student who just happened to be in the path of the rebel invasion, the lieutenant arrested Markell and marched him to the rear under guard. The hapless Markell soon found himself back in Baltimore, where he was imprisoned at Fort McHenry. Once there, he tried desperately to explain his situation to military authorities, protesting that he had remained within Union lines since his desertion and had done nothing to break his oath of loyalty to the United States.6
The luckless former lieutenant, however, had a problem. His interrogators asked him to produce a copy of his signed oath of allegiance from the previous year. Unfortunately for Markell, however, he had never received a copy of his oath and was unable to prove his questionable story. In desperation he wrote a letter to General Robert Schenck, the Union Commander of the Middle Military District, to explain his situation and to request his release. Having learned of Markell’s plight, several prominent Gettysburg citizens drafted their own letter to General Schenck, vouching for the former student’s loyalty and calling for his release from prison. The letters ultimately proved effective, as Markell was permitted to sign another oath of allegiance and was released in early August.7
Markell never returned to Gettysburg College. He died on July 11, 1912, at Parish Farm in Frederick County, Maryland.8
The following muster roll of the the Fourth Virginia Infantry, Company D “The Smyth Blues”, was written by a former member of the company, John Samuel Apperson, for the ‘Times-Dispatch’ on June 4, 1905. It was published in the Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume 34, pages 359-362. It is presented here with minimal edits.
“SMYTH BLUES.” Muster Roll Company D, Fourth Virginia Infantry.
Editor of the Times-Dispatch:
Sir,—No part of your excellent paper is more interesting to the remnant of old Confederate soldiers now living than that portion you have so kindly dedicated to them and the stories they tell; for after all, it is the man behind the guns who knew best the fierceness of the conflict while it raged around him, and the story he tells brings us nearer the scene of action and impresses it in detail upon our minds more effectually than general history will ever do. Since arranging and sending to Major Robert W. Hunter a duplicate of the enclosed list of members of Company “D,” Fourth Virginia Infantry (Stonewall Brigade), it has occurred to me to send it to you and ask you to, some time or another, give it a place in the Confederate column of your paper. Its publication is desired not alone because it gives the names enrolled on Orderly Sergeant’s book, but because it embraces information of some who are dead and others living, which will be intensely interesting to many widely scattered since the parting at Appomattox in 1865.
Marion, Va., 1902.
Jno. S. Apperson.
A. G. Pendleton, captain; major 1862; resigned; died in Roanoke, Va., 1902.
James W. Kennedy, first lieutenant; retired 1862; died in Tennessee after the war.
A. E. Gibson, second lieutenant; captain 1862; killed near Groveton, Second Manassas.
J. J. Bishop, first sergeant; died from wounds Second Manassas.
J. M. Fuller, second sergeant; wounded Gettysburg.
F. W. Rider, third sergeant; died after war.
J. M. Thomas, fourth sergeant; promoted captain.
D. B. Kootz, first corporal; wounded Kernstown.
I. M. Lampie, second corporal; wounded Spotsylvania Courthouse; died since war.
H. T. Killinger, third corporal.
T. A. Oury, fourth corporal; wounded First Manassas; dead.
Adam Allen, killed Chancellorsville.
Benjamin Allen, wounded Winchester; lost an eye; dead.
I. G. Anderson, lost leg, Sharpsburg; dead.
John S. Apperson, commissioned hospital steward 1862; assigned duty with Field Infirmary, Second Corps, A. N. V. (Surgeon Black).
B. F. Bates.
William Barbour; dead.
Alex Bear, promoted lieutenant 1862.
W. P. Bell, died from wounds, Second Manassas.
Randolph Bradley, killed below Richmond.
Isaac Brown, killed Sharpsburg.
W. H. Bolton.
Cleophas ——, wounded.
John A. Buchanan, Judge Court of Appeals, Virginia.
George C. Bridgeman.
Samuel A. Byars, wounded Chancellorsville; lame for life.
J. S. Campbell.
Thomas P. Campbell, promoted lieutenant; wounded Wilderness, 1864.
W. B. Carder, promoted lieutenant; died since war.
W. H. Cleaver, killed Cedar Creek, 1864.
George W. Cullop, lost leg at Chancellorsville; died since war.
J. R. Cullop.
John J. Dix, died from wounds received, Chancellorsville.
Adam Dutton, died after war.
James A. Dutton.
G. M. Dudley.
C. O. Davis.
James W. Duncan.
W. P. Francis.
G. H. Fudge, lieutenant; wounded, Fredericksburg; Judge of County Court, Smyth.
John W. Fudge.
Edward Falkie, wounded.
Robert Green, wounded First Manassas.
Henry Goodman, killed, May 12th, Spotsylvania.
Ambrose Griffith, color-bearer; wounded at Chancellorsville and before Petersburg.
James J. Gill, lost leg at Gettysburg.
J. F. Harris, died since war.
William Henegar, killed, Cedar Creek, 1864.
W. R. Henegar.
Henry Henderlite; died since war.
Ephriam, died from wounds received at Chancellorsville.
John N. Hull.
Abram Hutton, died after war.
John Hutton, died from wounds at Chancellorsville.
A. J. Isenhower, killed, Sharpsburg.
M. T. James, died in prison.
S. E. James, killed in battle.
E. M. James.
B. F. Jones, died from wounds, Second Manassas.
H. B. Jones, died in hospital.
T. L. Jones, died in hospital.
B. F. Leonard, wounded First Manassas; died after war.
Joseph H. Lampie, killed battle Kernstown.
Albert Lambert, dead.
W. A. Mays, wounded on picket duty.
W. H. Magruder.
F. B. Magruder, wounded at Chancellorsville.
B. F. Maiden.
Edward McCready, killed First Manassas.
H. H. McCready, lieutenant; wounded at Chancellorsville; killed Payne’s farm.
Robert McCready; died from wounds Wilderness, 1864.
W. F. Moore, killed Spotsylvania, 1864.
J. M. Morris; dead;
Samuel Neff, killed Kernstown.
T. C. Oaks.
John Parrish, killed at Payne’s farm.
J. T. Palmer; dead.
Matthew Prater; dead.
Martin Roane, lost two fingers at Chancellorsville; dead.
James Roark; dead.
J. H. Romans, killed First Manassas.
A. O. Sanders, wounded below Richmond.
A. T. Sanders; died since the war.
William Sanders, died during the war.
Benjamin Sexton, died from wounds, Second Manassas.
F. H. Sexton, died in prison.
M. Sexton, killed Gettysburg.
C. C. Snider, died from wounds.
T. C. Sexton.
A. J. Staley.
R. S. Stephens, died since war.
J. H. Sayers.
T. E. Schwartz.
W. B. Skeffey, died at Elmira prison.
Henry Tibbs, died during the war.
B. Umbarger, lost arm at Gettysburg.
William Umbarger, wounded Chancellorsville; died since the war.
Ephriam Umbarger, died since the war.
D. W. Venable.
R. C. Vaughan, promoted captain; died after war.
W. D. Willmore, wounded in front of Richmond, 1864.
Thomas J. Wolf, died from wounds received at Chancellorsville.
Sampson H. Wolf, killed First Manassas.
Joseph Wolf; dead.
A. I. Wygal.
T. J. Wygal; dead.
S. J. Wolf, died after war.
Theodore Wallace, died after war.
Henry Webb, died from wounds received at Chancellorsville.
John M. Williams, promoted captain; wounded at Sharpsburg.
B. P. Walker, wounded Kernstown.
J. M. Wilburn, killed in skirmish near Shepherdstown.
Edward Harrison, died from wounds received at Chancellorsville.
The following is excerpted from Fredrick Todd’s classic reference work, American Military Equipage, 1851-1872, Volume II – State Forces, Chapter 56 – Virginia. Todd does not detail the specific sources behind each datapoint he presents, but his work draws heavily on the annual reports of the Adjutant General of Virginia, as well as the expertise of the Virginia Historical Society and Museum of the Confederacy (now the Museum of the American Civil War). The portions of Chapter 56 dealing with units of the Stonewall Brigade are presented below with minimal edits.
2nd Regt Vols (Jefferson County) 1860-1861; Become 2nd Vol Inf Regt (1st Regt, Stonewall Brig; Allen’s) 1861-1865 (Included Jefferson Guards and Cadets, Hamtramck Guard, Botts Grays, etc.)
1861: Companies largely clothed in gray uniforms; some companies wore blue or red shirts; most had knapsacks; percussion musket. Regiment carried state flag until late November 1861, when given Army of Northern Virginia [ANV] battle flag [Editor’s Note: The flag presented to the 2nd Virginia, as well as all other Virginia regiments, in November 1861 was actually a Virginia state flag rather than the ANV battle flag, which did not enter wide production until summer 1862].
4th Regt (Preston’s) 1861-1865 Liberty Hall Volunteers: gray shirt and pants, trimmed presumably with blue. Grayson Dare Devils: “flaming red shirt and carried Harper’s Ferry rifles with sword bayonet. Regiment carried ANV battle flag, 1861-1865.
Augusta County Regt Vols (Baylor’s) 1861; Became 5th Vol Inf Regt (3rd Regt, Stonewall Brig) 1861-1865 (Included West Augusta Guard, Southern Guard, Augusta Rifles, Staunton Artillery, etc.)
Regimental band 1861 included members of Staunton Mountain Sax Horn Band organized in 1855; officially designated Stonewall Brigade Band 1863; reorganized 1865 as Stonewall Brigade Band and still exists. 1861: West Augusta Guard wore state regimental blue dress; Rifles adopted “French Zouave drill.”
27th Regt (Gordon’s; also called 6th Vol Regt in state service) 1861-1865 [Editor’s Note: Todd includes no further information on the 27th Virginia]
33rd Regt (Cummings’) 1861: armed largely with converted and flintlock smoothbore muskets.
The following list of battles in which the Stonewall Brigade fought was published in the ‘Rockingham Register’ on November 10, 1895. It was published in the Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume 23, pages 56-57. It is presented here with minimal edits, although it omits some engagements, such as Fort Stedman, and includes some in which the brigade played little role, such as McDowell.
BATTLES OF THE STONEWALL BRIGADE.
An old soldier, a few days ago, found an old war memorandum book and in it was recorded the list of battles and skirmishes that the Stonewall Brigade was engaged in from the First Manassas to Appomattox Court house. We publish it for the benefit of the old soldiers that are fond of fighting their old battles over again.
A scorching sun beat down on the men of the Stonewall Brigade as they made their way along the dusty roads towards Spotsylvania Court House on May 8th, 1864. They had spent the previous three days fighting in the tangled undergrowth of the Wilderness, as the Army of Northern Virginia challenged the opening moves of Grant’s spring offensive. After several days of bloodletting, Grant’s columns pulled back from their breastworks late in the day of May 7th and set off on a night march to the east and south, aiming to seize the key crossroads at Spotsylvania Court House. Lee, however, quickly learned of the move and rushed his men to intercept Grant and foil the effort to turn the Confederate flank.
The roughly 900 men of the Stonewall Brigade pressed steadily on throughout the day, their step quickened by the booming guns of the Confederate and Union advance guards clashing in the distance.1 Sergeant Joseph McMurran of the Fourth Virginia would later write in his diary that “The weather was very hot, water scarce & the road thro’ the Wilderness thick set with undergrowth which had been set on fire & was so warm that the troops almost suffocated.”2 The exhausted troops pushed on until, late in the afternoon, they approached the rear of the Confederate positions at Laurel Hill, just to the west of the Court House. As more and more Federal troops arrived, they threatened to overlap and turn the Confederate right flank. Confederate Lieutenant General Richard Ewell rushed the newly arrived troops of his Second Corps to extend the Confederate line.
Ewell rode up to Brigadier General James A. Walker, the current commander of the celebrated Stonewall Brigade, and ordered him to advance his command at the double quick step. Although Walker’s men had already been on a grueling, rapid march for 16-18 hours, they responded to the orders with a yell and surged forward. Amidst exploding shells and the whine of minie balls, the Stonewall Brigade moved quickly into line on the right of the North Carolinians of Brigadier General Stephen D. Ramseur’s brigade. Behind and to the right of the Stonewall Brigade, the rest of the brigades of Johnson’s Division moved into position, checking the Federal advance as darkness brought an end to the day’s fighting.3
Worked Like Beavers
With the sound of muskets and cannons fading away in the dusk, Walker surveyed his position and disliked what he found. On the left of his line, the Second, Twenty-Seventh, and Thirty-Third Virginia regiments were on top of a dry, chalky hill, while the Fourth and Fifth Virginia were in line at the bottom of this ridge in an angle-deep swamp. On his own initiative Walker, just before midnight, ordered his men to adjust their lines to take advantage of better terrain. While Walker endured a sharp rebuke from Ewell for moving without orders, the Stonewall Brigade began to entrench in a more defensible position.4
Walker’s line was anchored on its left by the Second Virginia, under the command of Major Charles H. Stewart, which formed the junction between Johnson’s Division and Rodes’ Division to their left. Both the Second Virginia and the Thirty-Third Virginia, led by Lieutenant Colonel George W. Huston, were posted in the middle of an open field, without natural cover but with open fields of fire to their front up until dense second growth pines some distance away. To their right, the Fifth and Twenty-Seventh Virginia, under Colonel John H. S. Funk and Lieutenant Colonel Charles L. Haynes respectively, were posted at the edge of a stand of oaks. They also had open fields in front of them, while the distant pines to their front began to thin and were farther from the Brigade’s lines. The Fourth Virginia, led by Colonel William B. Terry, held the right flank of the Brigade and, like the Second and Thirty-Third, were in line on open ground.5
Beyond the right flank of the Stonewall Brigade, the remainder of Johnson’s Division curved northeast before turning to the southeast, forming a salient which would become forever known as the Mule Shoe. While not an ideal tactical position, Ewell judged such exposed lines were necessary so that he could occupy high ground at the tip of the salient which, if left unoccupied, would have allowed Federal artillery to command his lines.6 The Louisianans of Brigadier General Harry T. Hays’ command lay to the right of the Stonewall Brigade, incorporating both Hays’ own brigade and the men of Stafford’s Brigade, whose commander had been killed on May 5th. Next in line was Jones’ Brigade, led by Colonel William Witcher since Brigadier General J. M. Jones had also fallen at the Wilderness. The division’s lines bent back at a sharp angle near the right of Jones’ Brigade, where the right flank of the division was held by Brigadier General George H. Steuart’s brigade. The pines that ran along the Stonewall Brigade’s front fell away in front of Hays’ position, leaving a broad, open plateau of 600-800 yards in front of Hays’ and Jones’ Brigades.7
Despite their long day of marching, the men of the Stonewall Brigade got little rest that first night at Spotsylvania. Axes, picks, and shovels were sent for and, “Profiting by their experience of the last few days in the Wilderness, the men went to work with great alacrity (in spite of their broken-down condition),” wrote Lieutenant J. S. Doyle of the Thirty-Third Virginia.8 Walker would later describe how his men, “Worked like beavers, and the crash of falling trees, the ring of axes, and the sound of the spade and shovel were heard.”9Only when the work was complete did the men finally collapse, with Doyle writing that, “By daylight [the men] were sleeping comfortably behind a strong breast-work of rails and earth”10
With Great Swiftness and Determination
Thankfully for the exhausted men, May 9th was largely quiet as the two armies jockeyed for position and the men of both sides improved their fortifications. The Stonewall Brigade’s skirmishers remained positioned in the pines at the brigade’s front to limit the harassing fire of Federal skirmishers. Despite this precaution, by the afternoon of May 10th Union skirmishers in front and to the left of the Stonewall Brigade became increasingly active.11 These included Federal sharpshooters “whose practice was so excellent as to render it a very hazardous undertaking to go for a canteen of water without availing oneself of the shelter of the woods which extended to the rear of some portion of the line,” according to a member of the Thirty-Third Virginia.12
Suddenly and with little warning, at around six in the evening, a dense column of Union infantry erupted from the pines in front of Doles’ Brigade of Georgians immediately to the left of the Stonewall Brigade. In an innovative tactic, Union Colonel Emory Upton led the attack of twelve regiments in a tight mass forward in a rush at the Confederate breastworks without pausing to fire, gambling that the defenders could only get off a few shots before the attack was upon them.
Watching from the Stonewall Brigade’s lines, Lieutenant Doyle described how Upton’s men, “advanced with great swiftness and determination… coming on at a double-quick in excellent order, with their muskets at the trail they ran over [the Confederate] skirmishers in their pits and surging over the main line, found… men sitting along the works, many with their accouterments off, and all totally unprepared for resistance.”13 One of the Stonewall Brigade’s staff officers recounted how the Federal attack overran the Georgians so quickly that many of the defenders were still seated around their cook fires when they were captured.14 Although some of Doles’ men managed a volley, the attack was on top of them before they could reload and, after a brief melee, Upton’s force drove back the shattered defenders with a cheer.15
Just to the left of the attack, the Second and Thirty-Third Virginia had fired obliquely into the left flank of Upton’s dense attacking column. With Federal troops now overrunning the Confederate defenses and threatening to sweep down the line, the two regiments hurriedly fell back in disorder into the woods behind their sister regiments. General Walker rode into the midst of the fleeing men and rallied them, preventing a full rout. With the line reformed at a right angle to their original position, these elements of the Stonewall Brigade poured what Walker characterized as a “murderous fire” across the open field into Upton’s flank.16
With his lines breached, Ewell rushed additional troops to contain and repel the attack. With the Stonewall Brigade hitting Upton’s left flank, Steuart’s Brigade and Battle’s Brigade hit the Federal incursion head on and R. D. Johnston’s Brigade, along with rallied remnants of Doles’ Brigade and the right portion of Daniel’s Brigade, struck Upton’s right flank. With Confederates swarming at them from three directions, after about fifteen minutes Upton’s men began to give ground. They pulled back to Doles’ earthworks and held the position until an hour after dark. As the Federals retreated across the field and back into the safety of the pine forest, Confederate troops poured fire into their rear from the newly recaptured entrenchments.17
Beating back the attack had cost the Confederates around 650 men, including 350 men of Doles’ Brigade taken prisoner. Among those who fell mortally wounded was Private Thomas J. Campbell of the Fifth Virginia, Company E. His comrade William F. Brand wrote soon after the battle, “poor fellow I went and talked to him & tryed to cheer him, He said oh Bill I can not be cheerfull my wound is to painfull he was soon moved of & I couldnt get to say much to him.” Campbell would be dead before the next day dawned.18 Roughly 100 Union soldiers lay dead within the Confederate works.19 The attack had shown a potential vulnerability to the Confederate position, as Upton’s rapid attack without stopping to fire in the advance had prevented the defenders from massing their fire. To help counter such an attack, after nightfall on the 10th, members of the Thirty-Third Virginia volunteered to go forward in the darkness and chop down pine trees to create an abatis to slow any future attack.20
Waiting and Wishing for the Enemy
May 11th dawned dark and dreary, with a hard rain which continued throughout the day. At around mid-morning, Federal troops launched a minor probing attack on Johnson’s lines. With the help of their new abatis, the Stonewall Brigade assisted in easily repelling the attack. At the height of the firing, General Walker turned to Colonel Terry of the Fourth Virginia and triumphantly proclaimed, “If this be war, may it be eternal!”21 The attack repelled, Walker set his men to work digging a line of rifle pits between the brigade’s line and the McCoull House to their rear.22 Should an attack breach their entrenchments as Upton’s attack had done to Doles’ men the previous day, the Stonewall Brigade would have a strong position upon which to retire and hold the enemy until reinforcements could be brought up.
With the completion of the rifle pits, the Stonewall Brigade’s fortifications were complete, with Walker describing them as, “One of the very best lines of temporary ﬁeld works I ever saw. It was apparently impregnable”.23 The finished position was roughly 100 yards long and had ten traverses to prevent a Federal force that breached a portion of the line from firing down its length.24 The abatis in front of the line would slow any attack to allow the men additional time to fire. Behind the main entrenchments the secondary line of rifle pits provided a fallback position in case the enemy seized the main fortifications. Lieutenant Doyle later wrote how, once their line was complete, the men of the Stonewall Brigade “lay waiting and wishing for the enemy.”25
The day’s steady rain “continued all night making the trenches a most uncomfortable place,” wrote Lieutenant Doyle, “but thanks to the excellent tent-flies so abundantly supplied by the 6th Federal Corps in the Wilderness, the men were able to keep tolerably dry.”26 A third of the men were permitted to get some sleep, resting on their arms while the remainder remained at the breastworks.27
From the darkness, however, came ominous sounds. The metallic jingling of canteens and the sound of tramping feet suggested movement along the front of Johnson’s Division. Colonel Terry reported hearing the talk of massed Union troops and one Confederate staff officer claimed the noises from the darkness sounded like “distant falling water or machinery”.28 Soon after midnight on May 12th, Major General Edward Johnson sent word back to General Ewell that enemy forces were massing on his front for an attack. Preparations were quickly made to rush the Second Corps’ artillery, which had been withdrawn that evening in anticipation of potential movements by Grant, back into its positions supporting the infantry in their breastworks.29
The Wrecks of their Commands
A bit after four in the morning, the steady rain slowed to a light drizzle and then a heavy mist. Dense fog coated the battlefield, limiting visibility as the earliest dawn began to creep over the horizon.30 While still too dark to firmly make out objects, the sound of rapid shots suddenly burst from the woods where Johnson’s skirmishers were posted. In an instant the skirmishers quickly fell back to the fortifications, shooting as they retired and yelling out warnings that a heavy column of Federal troops was advancing. Chasing quickly on their heels came the heavy tramping sound of a large body of infantry and the sharp words of shouted commands for unseen battle lines to advance.31 Stonewall Brigade staff officer Captain Randolph Barton was sleeping when a courier sprinted up to Walker’s headquarters breathlessly shouting “General! They are coming!” A half-clothed General Walker ran from his tent yelling for his men to fall in and man the works.32
Walker rushed to the right flank of his brigade where the Fourth Virginia was posted. From the breastworks looking down the lines of Hays’ and Jones’ Brigades, he saw through a sudden break in the fog the 15,000 Federal soldiers of Major General Winfield S. Hancock’s II Corps, aligned in columns of brigades. The Federals were already a third of the distance across the open field. Seeing the impressive Confederate fortifications through the heavy mist for the first time, the blue-clad mass hesitated 400-500 yards from the Confederate lines.
Walker heard the officers of Hays’ Brigade call for their men to aim and then the order to fire rang down the line. However, “the searching damp had disarmed them,” reported Walker, “and instead of the leaping line of ﬁre and the sharp crack of the muskets came the pop! pop! pop! of exploding caps as the hammer fell upon them.”33 Sparred the deadly volley they had feared, Hancock’s ranks surged forward, tearing their way through the abatis and falling upon Hays’ men. To their right, the men of Jones’ Brigade managed a series of volleys, briefly checking the Federal advance on their position. But as Hays’ command melted away, the surging Union troops took Jones’ Brigade in the flank and rear. In the span of just minutes, the salient of Johnson’s position had melted away.34
The Stonewall Brigade quickly opened fire, directing their muskets at an oblique angle to fire into Hancock’s advance. Captain Barton described how, “A heavy mist overhung everything and through it we could hardly see one hundred yards. But succeeding the cheers, we, little by little perceived the advancing line, rather a broken line, but still an ugly rush. Our men opened a vigorous fire, and all along the line from our left and centre up to the right, where the fatal salient stood, some three hundred yards distant, the crack of musketry kept up.”35
While the Stonewall Brigade stood its ground, the roar of fire to their right intensified and began to work its way around towards the brigade’s rear. Lieutenant Doyle described how, “The noise and tumult of battle came nearer and nearer and balls commenced coming into the works…. The atmosphere was obscured by a thick fog which was increased in density by the smoke of the battle that, in the absence of any breeze, hung in heavy masses in the wood. The scene was terrible. The figures of the men seen dimly through the smoke and fog seemed almost gigantic, while the woods were lighted by the flashing of the guns and the sparkling of the musketry. The din was tremendous and increasing every instant. Men in crowds with bleeding limbs, and pale, pain-stricken faces, were hurrying to the rear, and, mingled with these could be seen many unwounded who had escaped from the wrecks of their commands.”36
Terrific Beyond Any Description
With the trenches to their right in enemy hands, Colonel Terry quickly ordered his regiment to reposition itself at a right angle to protect the brigade’s flank. As Hancock’s battle lines came surging forward, the Fourth Virginia opened fire. General Walker, on horseback, rode up and down behind his men, rallying them and urging them to keep up their fire. He paused for a moment on the traverse beside the right-most gun of Carrington’s Battery, where he could observe both his only lines and the advancing Federals. As Walker spoke with Captain Carrington, a minie ball smashed into Walker’s left arm, completely shattering his elbow and knocking him from his horse. Incapacitated by the wound, Walker was taken from the field.37
The men of the Stonewall Brigade fought on despite the loss of their general as their position became increasingly desperate. Private James McCown had joined the Fifth Virginia just over a month before the battle, having previously served as a provost guard in Staunton. “We were ordered to reserve our fire until near enough to tell on them with effect,” he later wrote, “then how warmly we gave it to them… It was terrific beyond any description. Every twig seemed cut down.”38 A member of the Fifth Virginia described how, “No sooner would a flag fall than another carrier who picked it up would be shot or bayoneted. Men were so close their heads were at the end of gun muzzles as they shot each other. When ammunition ran out or got wet they crushed each other’s skulls with gun butts.”39
Lieutenant Oliver H. Kite of the Thirty-Third Virginia, Company H claimed the mud-soaked fighting in the dense fog was the “most desperate of the war.”40 Private James Gaither of the Thirty-Third Virginia was struck in the eye by a ball and immediately fell dead among his comrades.41 Colonel Terry was wounded twice as his regiment tried to prevent the blue masses from sweeping down the line of the brigade.42 Lieutenant Doyle wrote how each traverse became “an Aceldema [field of blood], and the heaps of the Enemy’s dead told how stubborn had been the resistance to this fierce attack…. All that human courage and endurance would effect was done by these men on this frightful morning, but all was to no avail.”43
The flood was too much for the Stonewall Brigade to stem and the best they could do was buy precious time for the rest of Lee’s army to respond. Soon waves of Federals were striking the brigade’s front, right, and rear. In the melee, Major J. W. Welch of the 19th Maine Volunteers seized hold of the Thirty-Third Virginia’s battle flag and carried it from the field, despite being severely wounded himself.44 The Fifth Virginia was soon overrun. “We continued desperately,” recounted Private McCown, “not dreaming of capture until we were completely surrounded by overwhelming odds. The color bearer said they should not have our colors, so he tore it off and stuffed it in his bosom. As we were brought to the rear [as prisoners] we walked over their dead. They lie so thick in our front.”45
With large numbers of the brigade falling into enemy hands, the shattered remnants of the brigade began streaming for the rear. One member of the Thirty-Third Virginia recounted that all those who escaped at Spotsylvania “had to run for it” to survive.46 Much of the Fourth, Fifth, Twenty-Seventh, and Thirty-Third Virginia were trapped, while those who could fled with the Second Virginia.47
“Colonel Funk then told us if we did not get out of thare we would be all captured,” wrote William Brand in a letter penned to his future wife a few days after the battle. “Then we commenced retreating to our second line of works. & while I was crossing the field I was wounded [in the shoulder] I am very thankfull to the great & good God that I came out so well the air seemed filled with the laden mesangers of death.” Brand made his way to a field hospital to have his wound dressed. A few hours later he and the other wounded men were ordered to withdraw to Louisa Court House some thirty miles away. “I beged them to let me stay until the fight was [over] but they said I could be of no use & would just be in the way.”48
Not Worth a Cent
With the shattered remnants of the Stonewall Brigade and Johnson’s Division streaming for the rear, Lee rushed reinforcements in to seal off the breach and beat back the Federal tide. Confederate troops fought desperately to regain and hold the Mule Shoe entrenchments. Desperate combat raged throughout the day while Confederate engineers franticly constructed a new line of entrenchments across the base of the salient. Just after midnight on May 13th, the fighting mercifully ceased. The battered Confederate forces withdrew to their new line. The Union attackers had lost 9,000 men, while Confederate casualties were around 8,000 men killed, wounded, or captured. Fighting around Spotsylvania Courthouse would continue through May 19th, but the battle’s climax had passed. Grant’s attack had failed and Lee’s army was battered, bruised, but still defiant.
No part of Lee’s command was more battered than Johnson’s Division. Just a few weeks prior, the division had numbered over six thousand men. Over a third of the command were now prisoners of war and the division’s leadership was so devastated that Lee’s headquarters struggled to identify the ranking officer to assume command of the unit.49 “Our division has lost heavily in prisoners & wounded,” wrote Private Brand of the shattered command, “When we commenced fighting we had four Brigadeer Generals & one Maj Gen. now we have none able to command.”50 Johnson and Steuart had fallen into enemy hands early in the fighting, while Stafford and Jones were both killed, and Walker was badly wounded.
Walker’s command was just as decimated as the rest of the division. The brigade had numbered 3,000 strong at its peak several years prior. Of the roughly 900 men who marched to Spotsylvania Court House on May 8th, on May 13th only somewhere only around 200 were present to answer roll call.51 Of the brigade’s five regimental commanders, only Colonel Funk of the Fifth Virginia, who took command of the remnants of the brigade, and Major Stewart of the Second Virginia escaped unscathed. Colonel Terry of the Fourth and Lieutenant Colonel Huston of the Thirty-Third were both wounded, while the Twenty-Seventh Virginia’s Lieutenant Colonel Haynes was a Union prisoner.52
William Brand recounted the grim impact of the battle on his own Fifth Virginia, Company E: James Trusler and William Gardner had both been killed, Privates Newton Bare and Thomas Campbell had both died of their wounds, John Pilson had had his leg amputated above the knee, Private Samuel Lighter was wounded in the right hand, Private James Mays had been hit in the left side, Private Henry Hight had been shot in the right shoulder, Private William Abney had had his left ear shot away, Corporal James Trotter took a ball in the left thigh, and Corporal David Greaver had a painful wound in the foot. Another half dozen men were also wounded, while Sergeant James Vines, Private George Kelley, and a soldier named Sayton had fallen into enemy hands. Twenty-three members of his company were missing and likely prisoners. “The Yanks have fought with more desperation than they ever fought before,” he wrote, “Sometimes I can but cry. oh Lord, what demon has taken possession of the people that they are so thirsty for blood. Lord ease thare apatites.”53
A significant portion of the brigade were now prisoners of war. In Hancock’s official report of his corps’ attack he claimed that “the celebrated Stonewall Brigade was captured nearly entire.”54 Three months after the battle, the remnants of the Stonewall Brigade could muster just barely 300 men present, but over 1,900 remained on their rolls – large numbers of these missing men were in Federal prison camps after Spotsylvania Court House.55 Lieutenant Doyle was among those captured. He would later write of being marched from the trenches to a hollow a half mile to the rear. There, officers were separated from the enlisted men. The Confederate prisoners were guarded by a regiment of dismounted cavalry from Vermont, backed up by an artillery battery pointed directly at the prisoners. The Confederates were informed the cannons were double-shotted with canister, which “had a most wonderful effect in reconciling them to their miserable condition.”56 The captives would soon be marched farther to the rear and sent to northern prison camps, where most would remain for the rest of the war.
Two days after the disaster of May 12th, Lee’s headquarters issued Special Orders No. 126, officially consolidating the remnants of the Stonewall Brigade, Jones’ Brigade, and the Tenth, Twenty-Third, and Thirty-Seventh Virginia of Steuart’s Brigade into a single command.57 The new brigade numbered roughly 600 men, even after men who had been detailed as musicians, wagoneers, and pioneers were returned to the ranks.58 On May 21st, William Terry, still hampered by his wounds from the fierce fighting in the Mule Shoe, was promoted to brigadier general and placed in command of the unified brigade, which was assigned to the division led by Brigadier General John B. Gordon.59 Colonel Funk remained in command of the remnants of the Stonewall Brigade, which operated as one of three de facto regiments in Terry’s Brigade for the remainder of the war.
As the tattered remnants of the Stonewall Brigade marched away from Spotsylvania Court House, they passed a Georgian soldier who passed judgement on the once proud brigade; “The Stonewall Brigade is played out – not worth a cent.”60 The men of the command would fight on for almost another full year but, as General Walker later wrote, “On the 12th of May, 1864, in the Bloody Angle, the old brigade was annihilated, and its name faded from the rolls of the Army of Northern Virginia, but it will ever live on the rolls of fame, and history will record its deeds of glory.”61
As living historians, no tidbit of historical minutia is too insignificant to escape our attention. We work hard to present an impression of the past with as many details backed up by research as possible. From the construction of buttons and the inspection markings on our weapons, to the tiny details of drill and the dye of the fabrics of our uniforms, all the little details matter. For some aspects of the life of a Civil War soldier, we have piles of historical records and information upon which to base our impressions. But there is a whole world of information so insignificant and common place at the time that no one ever thought to record it or mark it down for posterity. This forces us sometimes to make interpretations based off limited evidence or guess entirely to fill in gaps in the historical record.
And sometimes we can find little tidbits of information that can help fill in some of those gaps. Think of something as common place as what a soldier carried in his pockets everyday. The keys, wallet, and cell phone that many of us carry everyday all serve a purpose and so, by working back from the purposes a Civil War soldier may have needed each day, we can guess at what he might have stuffed in his pockets. But at the end of the day, this is just a guess unless we can test it with some data.
That’s why the following except from the diary of Captain Michael Shuler is so fascinating for a Civil War reenactor. Captain Shuler commanded Company H of the 33rd Virginia Infantry from March 1862 until his death in May 1864 leading the company during the Battle of the Wilderness. He was only 18 when he took command of the unit. His diary covers June-December 1862 and is a fascinating day-by-day account of life in the Stonewall Brigade that is well worth a read in full.
In the middle of the entries for November 22nd, Shuler left a blank page and then used a page in his diary to record the examination of the personal effects of one Private John Decker, a member of Shuler’s company found murdered near the Stonewall Brigade’s camp on November 18th. While the entry has no details regarding the murder, Captain Shuler was evidently involved in the investigation and recorded the items Decker had on him when his body was discovered. The following is this examination (slightly edited for legibility), which provides a rare glimpse into the pockets of a Civil War soldier. While irrelevant for most historians, for the dedicated reenactor, this sort of information can help improve our impression of soldiers like Decker.
“Examination of Body of John Decker Nov. 19, 1862 Examined his pants pockets and found nothing but penknife, pocket comb, screw driver, pencil, small piece of tobacco, and leather string. When his shirt pockets, found the left pocket torn, which it seems had been buttoned up, and the right pocket was still buttons [sic] and contained a teaspoon, small piece of soap, and little paper with two buckles in it. The right side of his head seemed to be [the entry abruptly ends]”
The diary of Captain Shuler was transcribed by Robert H. Moore, II and is available via Archive.org.