By Austin Williams, 5th Virginia Co. A
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
- Arthur L. Freemantle,Three Months in the Southern States: April-June, 1863 (New York, NY: John Bradburn, 1864), p. 252.
- Official Records of the War of the Rebellion. Series 1, Volume 27, Part 2. Washington: War Department, War Records Office, 1897, p. 527. Further citations from the Official Records will be abbreviated “OR ser.[Number]:v.[Number]:pt.[Number], p. [Number]”; William Powell, Diary, 1863, “Cowan’s Auctions,” Accessed December 12, 2012, https://www.cowanauctions.com/auctions/item.aspx?ItemId=6599; James I. Robertson, The Stonewall Brigade (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1991), p. 202; John Overton Casler, Four Years in the Stonewall Brigade (Girard, KS: Appeal Publishing Company, 1906), p. 173.
- OR Ser.1:v.25:pt.2, p. 809; Susan P. Lee, Memoirs of William Nelson Pendleton (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1893), p. 273; Robertson, p. 204; Harry W. Pfanz, Gettysburg: Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2011), p. 5; “James Walker Court Martial,” Virginia Military Institute Archives, accessed February 9, 2021, https://www.vmi.edu/archives/stonewall-jackson-resources/professor-jackson-at-vmi/james-walker-court-martial/.
- OR ser.1:v.27:pt.2, p. 286; Jeffry D. Wert, A Brotherhood of Valor: the Common Soldiers of the Stonewall Brigade, C.S.A., and the Iron Brigade, U.S.A. (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2000), p. 266; Robertson, p. 207; OR Ser.1:v.25:pt.2, p. 840.
- Wert, p. 266.
- Casler, p. 173; Pfanz, Culp’s Hill, p. 78.
- John W. Daniel, Speeches and Orations of John Warwick Daniel, ed. Edward Murrell Daniel (Lynchburg, VA: J.P. Bell Company, Inc., 1911), p. 82; Pfanz, Culp’s Hill, p. 124-125.
- Pfanz, Culp’s Hill, p. 78-79.
- Wert, p. 265.
- Pfanz, Culp’s Hill, p. 80; OR ser.1:v.27:pt.2, p. 527.
- Pfanz, Culp’s Hill, p. 84-85; OR ser.1:v.27:pt.2, p. 504 and 518.
- Robertson, p. 203; OR ser.1:v.27:pt.2, p. 527; Pfanz, Culp’s Hill, p. 78 and 80.
- OR ser.1:v.27:pt.2, p. 518, 526, and 538.
- William Gilham,Manual of Instruction for the Volunteers and Militia of the United States (Philadelphia, PA: Charles Desilver, 1861), p. 189-190 and 192-193.
- Gilham, p. 691-692.
- Pfanz, Culp’s Hill, p. 154.
- OR ser.1:v.27:pt.2, p. 528.
- OR ser.1:v.27:pt.1, p. 773 and 811.
- OR ser.1:v.27:pt.1, p. 811; Edmund R. Brown, The Twenty-Seventh Indiana Volunteer Infantry in the War of the Rebellion (Monticello, IN: n.p., 1899), p. 368.
- OR ser.1:v.27:pt.1, p. 811.
- Brown, p. 368; OR ser.1:v.27:pt.1, p. 811.
- Pfanz, Culp’s Hill, p. 432; OR ser.1:v.27:pt.1, p. 815; Edwin E Bryant, History of the Third Regiment Wisconsin Veteran Volunteer Infantry (Madison, WI: Veteran Association of the Third Wisconsin Infantry, 1891), p. 184.
- OR ser.1:v.27:pt.1, p. 773, 816 and 823; Alonzo H. Quint, The Record of the Second Massachusetts Infantry, 1861-1865 (Boston, MA: J. P. Walker, 1867), p. 512.
- OR ser.1:v.27:pt.1, p. 782-783, 790, 793, and 798.
- Pfanz, Culp’s Hill, p. 117.
- OR ser.1:v.27:pt.1, p. 600; Harry W. Pfanz, Gettysburg: The Second Day (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2011), p. 62.
- OR ser.1:v.27:pt.1, p. 161, 645-646, 648, and 649.
- OR ser.1:v.27:pt.1, p. 644, 646, and 648.
- OR ser.1:v.27:pt.1, p. 600 and 610; Francis J. Parker, The Story of the Thirty-Second Regiment, Massachusetts Infantry: Whence it Came, Where it Went, What it Saw, and What it Did (Boston, MA: C. W. Calkins & Co., 1880), p. 165-166; Daniel G. Macnamara, The History of the Ninth Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry (Boston, MA: E.B. Stillings & Co., 1899), p. 319.
- Steve A. Hawks, “Monument to Battery L, 1st Ohio Artillery at Gettysburg,” Stone Sentinels, January 9, 2020, https://gettysburg.stonesentinels.com/union-monuments/ohio/battery-l-1st-ohio-artillery/; OR ser.1:v.27:pt.1, p. 662; “Memoirs of Lt. James Gildea,” Battery L, http://www.batteryl.org/Gildea.html; “Final Roll Call,” Battery L, http://www.batteryl.org/1stohio.html.
- Pfanz, Culp’s Hill, p. 117.
- Maine Gettysburg Commissioners’ Executive Committee, Maine at Gettysburg: Report of Maine Commissioners (Portland, ME: Lakeside Press, 1898), p. 521-523.
- Pfanz, Second Day, p. 61-62.
- OR ser.1:v.27:pt.1, p. 610, 644, 646, 793, 811, 816 and 823.
- Christian G. Samito, Commanding Boston’s Irish Ninth: The Civil War Letters of Colonel Patrick R. Guiney, Ninth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry (New York, NY: Fordham University Press, 1998), p. 201; OR ser.1:v.27:pt.1, p. 179; Stuart Dempsey, “St. Patrick’s Day: The 9th Mass. Infantry,” Gettysburg Daily, March 17, 2011, https://www.gettysburgdaily.com/st-patricks-day-the-9th-mass-infantry-with-licensed-battlefield-guide-stuart-dempsey/.
- Steve A. Hawks, “Monument to the 9th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment at Gettysburg,” Stone Sentinels, January 11, 2020, https://gettysburg.stonesentinels.com/union-monuments/massachusetts/9th-massachusetts/; Macnamara, p. 319-321.
- Pfanz, Culp’s Hill, p. 154.
- Pfanz, Culp’s Hill, p. 129.
- Pfanz, Culp’s Hill, p. 131 and 430; OR ser.1:v.27:pt.1, p. 812.
- OR ser.1:v.27:pt.2, p. 530; Thomas Griffin Read to Martha White Read, July 11-12, 1863, “Manuscripts of the Civil War: Read Family Correspondence,” University of Notre Dame Rare Books and Special Collections, accessed February 9, 2011, https://rarebooks.nd.edu/digital/civil_war/letters/read/5015-16.shtml.
- Casler, p. 176-177.
- Samito, p. 201.
- Pfanz, Culp’s Hill, p. 155.