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The Stonewall Brigade at Gettysburg – Part Two: Clash on Brinkerhoff’s Ridge

By Austin Williams, 5th Virginia Co. A

Note: The following is part two of a four-part series on the actions of the Stonewall Brigade at Gettysburg. The previous installment covered the initial skirmishing around Wolf’s Hill, the subsequent installment will address the July 3 attacks on Culp’s Hill, and a final epilogue will address the fate of the brigade’s flags during the battle.

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

Left to right: Brig. Gen. David Gregg, Col. John Gregg, and Col. John McIntosh

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

Maj. Matthew Avery, commander of the Tenth New York Cavalry

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

Major John H. Kemper, Tenth New York Cavalry

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

Capt. Benjamin Lownsbury, Tenth New York Cavalry Company K, in a post-war image

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

Maj. Alvah D. Waters, Tenth New York Cavalry

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.

Cpl. Edmond G. Dow, Tenth New York Cavalry Company K, in a post-war image

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

Lt. James Matthews, Tenth New York Cavalry Company F

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.

Sgt. John A. Freer, Tenth New York Cavalry Company M

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.

Hospital Steward Walter Kempster, Tenth New York Cavalry

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

Left to right: Capt. Frank Hess, Members of Company C of the Third Pennsylvania, and Capt. William Miller.

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


Endnotes

  1. William B. Rawle, History of the Third Pennsylvania Cavalry, Sixtieth Regiment (Philadelphia, PA: Franklin Printing Company, 1905), p. 295; D. M. Gilmore, “With General Gregg at Gettysburg,” in Glimpses of the Nation’s Struggle, vol. IV (St. Paul, MN: H. L. Collins Co., 1899), p. 101.
  2. Harry W. Pfanz, Gettysburg: Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2011), p. 157; Eric J. Wittenberg, Protecting the Flank at Gettysburg: The Battles for Brinkerhoff’s Ridge and East Cavalry Field, July 2-3, 1863 (El Dorado Hills, CA: Savas Beatie, LLC, 2013). Citations from Wittenberg are from the Amazon Kindle Edition, which lacks page numbers; Walter Kempster, “The Cavalry at Gettysburg,” in War Papers Read Before the Commandery of the State of Wisconsin, Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, vol. IV (Milwaukee, WI: Burdick and Allen, 1914), p. 409 and 413; Rawle, p. 263 and 295.
  3. Pfanz, p. 158 and 161; Wittenburg.
  4. Rawle, p. 267; Pfanz, p. 159-160.
  5. Rawle, p. 266.
  6. Pfanz, p. 158; Wittenberg.
  7. Official Records of the War of the Rebellion. Series 1, Volume 27, Part 1. Washington: War Department, War Records Office, 1897, p. 977. Further citations from the Official Records will be abbreviated “OR ser.[Number]:v.[Number]:pt.[Number], p. [Number]”; Noble D. Preston, History of the Tenth Regiment of Cavalry New York State Volunteers, August 1861 to August 1865 (New York, NY: D. Appleton and Company, 1892), p. 106.
  8. Preston, p. 108-109.
  9. Preston, p. 108; Pfanz, p. 161; Rawle, p. 268.
  10. Preston, p. 108; Annual Report of the Adjutant-General of the State of New York for the Year 1894, vol. III (Albany, NY: James B. Lyon, State Printer, 1895), p. 573.
  11. Preston, p. 111.
  12. Preston, p. 109; Adjutant-General of New York, p. 548.
  13. Preston, p. 109-110.
  14. Preston, p. 111-113.
  15. OR ser.1:v.27:pt.2, p. 504 and 518.
  16. OR ser.1:v.27:pt.2, p. 518, 526, 528, and 530.
  17. Preston, p. 109; Pfanz, p. 162.
  18. Wittenberg; OR ser.1:v.27:pt.2, p. 518.
  19. Wittenberg.
  20. Preston, p. 109-110; Adjutant-General of New York, p. 444 and 527.
  21. Preston, p. 110.
  22. Preston, p. 110.
  23. Preston, p. 111; Adjutant-General of New York, p. 884.
  24. Pfanz, p. 162; Preston, p. 111.
  25. Preston, p. 112.
  26. Preston, p. 113; Adjutant-General of New York, p. 393 and 640.
  27. Preston, p. 113; Kempster, p. 413-414.
  28. OR ser.1:v.27:pt.1, p. 166 and 238; Wittenberg; William Gibson, “Address of Captain William Gibson” in Report of the State of Maryland Gettysburg Monument Commission (Baltimore, MD: William K. Boyle & Son, 1891), p. 102-103.
  29. Rawle, p. 267 and 295.
  30. Rawle, p. 267 and 295; Preston, p. 112-113; Gilmore, p. 102.
  31. OR ser.1:v.27:pt.2, p. 518.
  32. Rawle, p. 267-268 and 296.
  33. Rawle, p. 268 and 296; Wittenberg.
  34. Rawle, p. 268; Gibson, p. 104.
  35. Henry R. Pyne, The History of the First New Jersey Cavalry (Trenton, NJ: J. A. Beecher, 1871), p. 164.
  36. Rawle, p. 268 and 296; Pyne, p. 164.
  37. Complied Service Records of Daniel M. Entler – Second Infantry, Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations From the State of Virginia, Record Group 109; National Archives, Washington, D.C.; Complied Service Records of Wilson H. Magaha – Second Infantry, Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations From the State of Virginia, Record Group 109; National Archives, Washington, D.C.; Complied Service Records of John Fry – Second Infantry, Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations From the State of Virginia, Record Group 109; National Archives, Washington, D.C.; Complied Service Records of Philip Shearer – Second Infantry, Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations From the State of Virginia, Record Group 109; National Archives, Washington, D.C.
  38. Rawle, p. 296; Gilmore, p. 103; Gibson, p. 104.
  39. OR ser.1:v.27:pt.2, p. 521-522, 526, 528, and 530; Gilmore, p. 103.
  40. OR ser.1:v.27:pt.2, p. 521; OR ser.1:v.27:pt.1, p. 958.
  41. Rawle, p. 306.
  42. Pfanz, p. 125.

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