Remembrance Day Photos, Part 2

Here is the “Lee’s Headquarters” that wasn’t:

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The Rose Farm in the dawn sun:

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The 83rd Pennsylvania Flank Markers – top RFM, bottom LFM:

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The View of Col. William Oates, Commanding 15th Alabama as he exited the tree line and saw 20th Maine [Chamberlain] lined up “flank to flank” according to his after action report.  See note below for what else this image tells us:

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Note: Chamberlain’s men are arrayed on Vincent’s Spur [straight ahead at top of image] facing Oates’ 15th Alabama.  Later in the action, Chamberlain refuses his line creating a very tight “V”, the bottom of which is at the right of the Spur as seen here.  When Chamberlain orders the bayonet charge,  the far side of the “V” swings to the right to form a straight line with the left side of the “V” which has not yet moved.  When the Regiment is in a straight [reasonably] line, they push off the Spur and advance on the position where this camera was located.  Thus we have additional proof of where Oates Regiment [15th Alabama] advanced to this fight: over the ridge on the west side of Big Round Top, not over the peak of Big Round Top.

W. G. Davis

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Remembrance Day Photos, Part 1

Had an early start on Remembrance day and started taking photos before dawn.

Here is the Union Center [Cemetery Ridge] in the distance, from West Confederate Avenue:

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Here are the Round tops, from West Confederate Avenue:

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The Sun rising from behind Big Round Top, from South Confederate Avenue:

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Plum Run Valley from South Confederate Avenue.  Bushman Farm is on the left.

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Finally, Elephant Rock and the Slyder Farm behind it.

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W. G. Davis

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Thanksgiving: Sarah Hale and Abraham Lincoln

In 1621 the settlers of the Plymouth Colony in what is now Massachusetts, gathered to celebrate a harvest of food they had no cause to even dream of when they landed. Thanks to the local Native Americans, the Wampanoag Tribe, who taught the colonists how to fish and gave them seeds to plant, the 102 colonists not only had sufficient food for the winter, they had enough to have a celebration of their bounty. [Claims for the first Thanksgiving rest in two other places, one a half-century earlier in 1565 at the Spanish Colony of St. Augustine, Florida, and the other in Virginia at the Jamestown Colony in 1607. The 1619 charter that founded the Charles City County village of Berkley Hundred included in its code an annual day of Thanksgiving.] Nevertheless, it remains Plymouth that we celebrate, in large part because of the symbolic rescue from death by starvation carried out by the generosity of the Wampanoag people.
Sarah Josepha Buell Hale spent 91 years on this earth, from 1788 to 1879. And during those 91 years she produced an incredible record into the history of this nation. And she goes pretty much unrecognized today. Sarah Buell was born, raised and married in Newport, New Hampshire. She married David Hale, a local attorney in 1813 and bore him five children. Sarah became a widow in 1822 and remained in mourning the rest of her life. Nothing out of the ordinary at this point for those times. But Sarah was different. Very intelligent — much of her education was self-attained — and she wrote poetry. She published a collection of her poetry in 1823, followed soon after by a novel, Northwood: Life North and South. Northwood carried a message that slavery was not only bad for the slave it was bad for the masters, too, dehumanizing both.

In 1828 Sarah accepted a position in Boston as ‘editress’ of Reverend John Blake’s Ladies’ Magazine. In 1830 she published her second collection of poetry, Poems for Children, which included the now famous Mary’s Lamb, which we know as ”Mary Had A Little Lamb”. In 1837 she began editing the widely popular Godey’s Ladies Book, after Philadelphian Louis Godey bought the Ladies Magazine. There Sarah remained working for the next forty years.

Sarah was a thinker, and a powerful one. She went beyond many of the social thinkers of the day and did so with a quiet logic. In her capacity as editress of Godey’s, she was a major influence on women authors of the nineteenth century and on some men as well: Hawthorne, Holmes, Irving to name a few.

The year she retired, Thomas Edison spoke the first words to be recorded, on a device he invented. Those words were the first lines of Mary’s Lamb.

Hale Grave CardSarah is buried to the right of her daughter of the same name, in Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia. For a span of forty years during her life, she wrote to Congress asking for a national Thanksgiving Holiday.

Her prayers were answered, but not by Congress.

Abraham Lincoln is well known for many of his speeches and historic documents: his two Inaugural Addresses, his Cooper Union Speech, his Gettysburg Address, the Emancipation Proclamation, among others. Here is one he seldom gets much credit for making.

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward,

Secretary of State

And so, Sarah Hale’s forty year effort to have Thanksgiving made into a national Holiday came to an end in 1863 at the hands of President Abraham Lincoln.

Times have been rough of late. The twenty-first century has offered little to further the cause of mankind. There is more conflict throughout the world than the world has seen for seventy years. Yet, every day, the sun rises and sets, crops grow and are harvested. We think too much and too often of what we do not have, and we forget what we do have. Thanksgiving is a reminder that we should do this, for “…They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.’

Happy Thanksgiving!

WGD

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Stop NPS from Major Mistake

“…because of chronic neglect and underfunding from Congress, the National Park Service (NPS) is set to adopt a very bad idea for our national parks: Corporate sponsorships that run the risk of plastering our most treasured sites of America’s natural heritage with corporate branding and logos.

“The new rules, inserted into an order by NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis that will take effect by the end of the year, would “swing open the gates of the 411 national parks, monuments and conservation areas to an unprecedented level of corporate donations.” We need to flood Jarvis’s office with opposition to this idea and let him know that this is the wrong way to address Congress’ abysmal neglect of our parks.

“Tell the National Park Service: No corporate sponsorships in our national parks.”

I just signed a petition calling on the National Park Service to scrap its plan to start allowing corporations to put their logos and brands on parts of our national parks. Congress needs to give our parks the funding they need, not force them to commercialize our precious public lands.

Join me and sign this petition:

http://act.credoaction.com/sign/NPS_Corporate_2?referring_akid=a231047215.10275358.y-fD5n&source=conf_email&aktmid=tm7573858.s29vma&t=1&source=conf

Frankly, the very thought of this is reprehensible.  Obviously the White House and the Congress have abrogated their responsibilities to the Nation, the people and the land [imagine that!].   Help stop this national disgrace.  Teddy Roosevelt is spinning in his grave!

W. G. Davis

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LRT: Defense in Depth

All the maps, and all the narratives have a single line of defense on Little Round Top on July 2nd.  As it turns out, Colonel J. L. Chamberlain’s report, written just four days after the fight on Little Round Top, says otherwise.  Here is what we have knit together.

Chamberlain writes:

“…In order to commence by making my right firm, I formed my regiment on the right into line, giving such direction to the line as should best secure the advantage of the rough, rocky, and stragglingly wooded ground.
“The line faced generally toward a more conspicuous eminence southwest of ours, which is known as Sugar Loaf, or Round Top. Between this and my position intervened a smooth and thinly wooded hollow. My line formed, I immediately detached Company B, Captain Morrill commanding, to extend from my left flank across this hollow as a line of skirmishers, with directions to act as occasion might dictate, to prevent a surprise on my exposed flank and rear.
“The artillery fire on our position had meanwhile been constant and heavy, but my formation was scarcely complete when the artillery was replaced by a vigorous infantry assault upon the center of our brigade to my right, but it very soon involved the right of my regiment and gradually extended along my entire front. The action was quite sharp and at close quarters.
“In the midst of this, an officer from my center informed me that some important movement of the enemy was going on in his front, beyond that of the line with which we were engaged. Mounting a large rock, I was able to see a considerable body of the enemy moving by the flank in rear of their line engaged, and passing from the direction of the foot of Great Round Top through the valley toward the front of my left. The close engagement not allowing any change of front, I immediately stretched my regiment to the left, by taking intervals by the left flank, and at the same time “refusing” my left wing, so that it was nearly at right angles with my right, thus occupying about twice the extent of our ordinary front, some of the companies being brought into single rank when the nature of the ground gave sufficient strength or shelter. My officers and men understood wishes so well that this movement was executed under fire, the right wing keeping up fire, without giving the enemy any occasion to seize or even to suspect their advantage. But we were not a moment too soon; the enemy’s flanking column having gained their desired direction, burst upon my left, where they evidently had expected an unguarded flank, with great demonstration.
“We opened a brisk fire at close range, which was so sudden and effective that they soon fell back among the rocks and low trees in the valley, only to burst forth again with a shout, and rapidly advanced, firing as they came. They pushed up to within a dozen yards of us before the terrible effectiveness of our fire compelled them to break and take shelter.
“They renewed the assault on our whole front, and for an hour the fighting was severe. Squads of the enemy broke through our line in several places, and the fight was literally hand to hand. The edge of the fight rolled backward and forward like a wave. The dead and wounded were now in our front and then in our rear. Forced from our position, we desperately recovered it, and pushed the enemy down to the foot of the slope. The intervals of the struggle were seized to remove our wounded (and those of the enemy also), to gather ammunition from the cartridge-boxes of disabled friend or foe on the field, and even to secure better muskets than the Enfields, which we found did not stand service well. Rude shelters were thrown up of the loose rocks that covered the ground.
“Captain Woodward, commanding the Eighty-third Pennsylvania Volunteers, on my right, gallantly maintaining his fight, judiciously and with hearty co-operation made his movements conform to my necessities, so that my right was at no time exposed to a flank attack…
“…One-half of my left wing had fallen, and a third of my regiment lay just behind us, dead or badly wounded. At this moment my anxiety was increased by a great roar of musketry in my rear, on the farther or northerly slope of Little Round Top, apparently on the flank of the regular brigade, which was in support of Hazlett’s battery on the crest behind us. The bullets from this attack struck into my left rear, and I feared that the enemy might have nearly surrounded the Little Round Top, and only a desperate chance was left for us. My ammunition was soon exhausted. My men were firing their last shot and getting ready to “club” their muskets…”

There are some keys here. “…The line faced generally toward a more conspicuous eminence southwest of ours…” indicating that he was indeed on an angle facing the place where Oates says he came out of the woods lined up flank for flank, which is across the intersection and on the west side of south Confederate and south of Warren Avenue.

Then he says, “…but my formation was scarcely complete when the artillery was replaced by a vigorous infantry assault upon the center of our brigade to my right, but it very soon involved the right of my regiment and gradually extended along my entire front. The action was quite sharp and at close quarters…” So things happened with lightning speed, and the center of the Brigade was immediately to his right [83rd PA] receiving assaults from the 4th and 47th Alabama and eventually the left of the 15th Alabama, which spread immediately across the front of Vincent’s line.

This confirms the defense in depth. The 83rd was the center of the Brigade front. Not the 44th NY and the 83rd, not the 83rd and the 16th MI, just the 83rd.

He goes on, “…One-half of my left wing had fallen, and a third of my regiment lay just behind us, dead or badly wounded. At this moment my anxiety was increased by a great roar of musketry in my rear, on the farther or northerly slope of Little Round Top, apparently on the flank of the regular brigade, which was in support of Hazlett’s battery on the crest behind us. The bullets from this attack struck into my left rear, and I feared that the enemy might have nearly surrounded the Little Round Top, and only a desperate chance was left for us. My ammunition was soon exhausted. My men were firing their last shot and getting ready to “club” their muskets.”

When he describes “…The bullets from this attack struck into my left rear, and I feared that the enemy might have nearly surrounded the Little Round Top,” he was referring to the 4th and 5th Texas having made their way up into the position of the 16th Michigan. They were firing at the 44th NY which had refused its line on its right when the 16th abandoned its position. That explains the firing that was sending bullets toward Chamberlain who was now in the V configuration, and it was the left of this line that was getting fire from the attack on the 44th NY. I would also think that some of the men on the right of the Texans were pouring fire down on the right of the 83rd PA.

Also, when Chamberlain refused his line into the tight V, he requested the 83rd to extend to the left to cover the area on the right of the 20th ME, now moved to their left, creating a sizeable gap in between the regiments, that was previously covered by 20th ME.

Therefore…if they were in a single line of battle, would not Chamberlain have requested a connection on his right from the 44th NY as is shown on all those maps? Hence, further proof that it was indeed a defense in depth.

Further:

  1.  There simply was not enough room for a single line of defense.
  2. The flank markers of the 20th Maine, 16th Michigan and 83rd Pennsylvania do not support a single line of defense.
  3. Strong Vincent was too good of an officer to have strung his men out in such a short line.  With his defense in depth, he made the center the strongest, with the 44th New York set in position that should Chamberlain falter on the left, the New Yorkers could easily move to their left to reinforce the 20th Maine.  As it turned out, that wasn’t as necessary as the New York men turning to their right after the 16th Michigan uncovered the right of the Brigade by their withdrawal.
  4. The 44th New York was NOT used in reserve.  If one stands in their position behind and ABOVE the 83rd Pennsylvania, one can easily see they were posted there to provide another regimental line of fire against the enemy by firing over the heads of the 83rd Pennsylvania.

Two confusing points:

  1. “…At this moment my anxiety was increased by a great roar of musketry in my rear, on the farther or northerly slope of Little Round Top, apparently on the flank of the regular brigade, which was in support of Hazlett’s battery on the crest behind us…” Regular brigade? I can only believe he is talking about the arrival of Weed’s Brigade, which is not a regular brigade but volunteer…unless some of Hannibal Day’s [or Burbank’s] men had crossed the valley from Houck’s Ridge, which I doubt.
  2. How far to the rear did the 16th Michigan go?   Why would they not have reformed and retaken their position, or, perhaps, gone to the aid of the 20th Maine?

What do you think?  I know of one non-believer, but this should win even him over to the Defense in Depth.

W. G. Davis

Posted in Battle Geometry, Little Round Top, Tactics, Terrain | 3 Comments

Book Review: Custer’s Trials, by T.J. Stiles

T.J. Stiles [author of Pulitzer Prize winning The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt, and Jesse James, Last Rebel of the Civil War] gives us a deep understanding of George Armstrong Custer in his new book Custer’s Trials [Alfred Knopf, in stores October 27, advanced ordering at Amazon].

In “Rise”, the first part of Custer’s Trials, Stiles takes us on a well-crafted journey through Custer’s youth, and through the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he excelled at few things military or academic, and including his court-martial while a graduate awaiting orders. It then chronicles the career of the “boy-General” throughout his meteoric rise in rank and legend during the Civil War. At the same time Stiles, relates aspects of Custer’s personal life and his romances, culminating in his marriage to Elizabeth “Libbie” Bacon.

He persevered at West Point, and though he was last in his class academically and first in demerits, he succeeded in passing his exams, thus becoming eligible for graduation. In spite of all of the negatives, Custer showed himself to possess many qualities the military desired in its officers: poise, creative thought, conventional and unconventional avenues to problem solving, the ability to get others motivated, and stature, into which he grew through his activities, mostly in the course of breaking rules…rules by which he abided just enough to get by. In short, Custer, with the assistance of West Point, taught himself leadership. It was not the leadership of someone who proclaims himself the leader, it is the one who leads from the front and succeeds because others willingly follow. And all the while building his repertoire of exploits, he began building friendships with his classmates, and with politicians in hopes of receiving assistance to further his career at his pace.

Stiles relates the details of his first trial: a court-martial before he could leave West Point after graduation. The court found him guilty and ordered no punishment except a reprimand in orders. And thus began the hard fighting and fast promotions of his successful and charmed Civil War career.

Custer’s Civil War experiences were as charmed and full of good fortune as were his West Point experiences. He grew to expect this of himself – indeed, he was fearless in battle, leading from the front of his unit, sword in hand, and not just as a symbol, but a weapon he used with devastating effect in every engagement.

But there was another Custer – a self-serving Custer, who cultivated friends, and curried favor with friendly higher-ups. This was the insecure Custer, as changeable as the times, yet as constant as the sunrise with his contradictions. In this manner Stiles presents Custer as a man who embraced the three main realms of his life – the private, public and professional realms, sometimes mixing them but only to his advantage. In each he was comfortable and moved about in them freely, enjoying the moments to their fullest, yet constantly laying and cultivating the groundwork for advancement in all three realms. Sometimes conniving, and never missing an opportunity to not only extol the virtues of his latest adventure, but enhance them as well.

Custer’s rise through the ranks to generalship is well known. But Stiles laces the telling with personal details often missed in many works of history involving Custer, and details the patronage afforded him by Generals McClellan, Pleasonton, and Sheridan.

Custer & Pleasonton

One measure of Custer’s leadership and how it affected his men in the Michigan Brigade was when they began to copy his affectation of the famous red necktie he wore with his gaudy uniform. But the men both loved and respected him for his personal courage and his innate ability to know the lay of the land on which they fought, and how he would invariably place them in the best position to succeed to victory. Time after time Custer won the hearts of the Union thanks to the newspaper coverage of the war [which he curried], and was a favorite subject of sketch artist Alfred Waud.

George and Libbie Custer - LOC - captionedCuster married Libbie on February 9th, 1864, and when campaigning began again in the spring, Custer took the field under Phil Sheridan, and Libbie moved back to a boarding house in Washington. There Libbie was able to have access to the influential politicians, and even to the President himself. She charmed them all and won favor for her Armstrong, as family called him.

His war culminated in the surrender at Appomattox.

No one amassed the legendary success amid the events of the US Civil War like Custer did.

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In “Fall”, the second half of Stiles’ epic biography of Custer, Stiles chronicles the last decade and a half of George Armstrong Custer’s life. What many biographers gloss over or omit entirely is the path to Little Big Horn that Custer followed from the end of the war, but not Stiles.

First sent to Texas to restore law and order in a state devastated by the war, he took Libbie along. Life was different in the post-war US Army. There was no more war, and he was still commanding volunteers. Custer was forced to use a hard hand even at controlling his own troops, including head-shaving, whipping and executions. For a man who’s leadership was repeatedly proven in combat, the lack of it was proven in peace. It was a duty for which he was unsuited, and unable to adapt. Nor would his conservative Democrat views on race suffer the change that the war had wrought. And Libbie shared those feelings.

Yet Custer struggled to come to terms with the new reality of the Freedmen. He began to think about redefining himself. He did so in his testimony before a subcommittee of the Committee on Reconstruction, advocating black suffrage, and the continuation of the Freedmen’s Bureau. Custer’s testimony was in line with that of other officers newly returned from the post war South. Collectively, they pointed to the regressive results of President Johnson’s policies. The ensuing Civil Rights bill was vetoed by Johnson, and in effect, was a declaration of war between the conservative President and the Radical Republicans in Congress. But Custer’s testimony belied his personal beliefs. Once again he was currying political favor from those who controlled Congress. Then he went on a political tour with President Johnson, evoking the wrath of Ulysses Grant. Grant ordered Custer to join the 7th US Cavalry at Fort Riley without delay. Custer soon realized how badly he had erred in publicly supporting Johnson.

A year later found Custer facing his second court-martial, this time for absenting himself from his command without the proper authority. He had left Fort Wallace, Kansas apparently to get to Libbie, and traveled 275 miles to Fort Harker when his command was about to launch a campaign against the Indians. Even worse, he had ordered a detachment of 75 men and three officers to escort the ambulance in which he rode. And it continued to get even worse. Custer ignored an attack on some of his men by Indians, sent a detachment out after deserters with orders to bring none back alive, and eventually had three deserters shot, but not killed, and did not allow them to be treated for their wounds – all without a trial. In a rather long proceeding, Custer was found guilty across the board and sentenced to one year’s suspension and forfeiture of his pay. Ultimately the Indians intervened and Sherman and Sheridan petitioned Grant to restore Custer to the 7th US Cavalry. Grant complied, if only to keep Custer in the field and out of politics and out of trouble.

Thus Custer began the phase of his career that would mark him as “Indian Killer.” He operated in Kansas and Oklahoma, destroying Indian villages, and chasing after famous Indian leaders such as Black Kettle.

Unable to rise in rank, Custer attempted to end his Army career and support himself and Libbie in a style more grand than Army pay could provide. Custer took an extended leave, and made a disastrous foray into the world of Wall Street. He sought funds to support a silver mine in Colorado. It failed when the mine failed.

In 1871, Custer returned to the Army, stationed in Kentucky to suppress the Ku Klux Klan and the illegal manufacture of moonshine alcohol. It was boring duty. Custer yearned for the openness of the Great Plains. He turned to writing there, and while he had a market for his work, it was too small to allow him to leave the Army.

In the Spring of 1873, Custer received word that the 7th Cavalry was being reassigned north to the Dakota Territory. He and Libby began packing. Over the next three years, he mounted three great expeditions: along the Yellowstone River in 1873 – fighting battles on August 4th and August 11th; the Black Hills Expedition in 1874; and finally, the Little Big Horn Expedition in 1876.

The noted historian Frederick Jackson Turner who wrote at the end of the 19th century and for 3 decades into the 20th, formulated the Frontier Thesis, which was presented as a paper to the American Historical Association in Chicago, July 12, 1893, titled “The Significance of the Frontier in American History.” It first appeared in the Proceedings of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, December 14, 1893. He cites the 1890 census report’s proclamation that, “…‘Up to and including 1880 the country had a frontier of settlement, but at present the unsettled area has been so broken into by isolated bodies of settlement that there can hardly be said to be a frontier line. In the discussion of its extent, its westward movement, etc., it can not, therefore, any longer have a place in the census reports.’ This brief official statement marks the closing of a great historic movement. Up to our own day American history has been in a large degree the history of the colonization of the Great West. The existence of an area of free land, its continuous recession, and the advance of American settlement westward, explain American development.”

In his paper, Turner presents the role of the frontier as the developer of Americanism, that the farther from the Atlantic Coast one got on the way west, the farther they got from the influence of their European roots. The Frontier was the blacksmith’s hammer, forge and tempering bucket that produced American Exceptionalism and American Identity.

In the fifteen years from the end of the Civil War to the end of the Frontier, as the Census report put it, there was perhaps no other person whose day-to-day life on that Frontier had more influence in the final forging of the American Identity and Exceptionalism than George Armstrong Custer.

Stiles’ book, 472 pages not including acknowledgements, is a most thorough, detailed, and well-supported biography. The cast of characters is rich, and most are well known, but even the lesser known help to paint the portrait, often filling in gaps. The principals are fascinating, and brought down from their legendary status by relating their intimate interactions and thoughts. George Armstrong Custer was a truly great soldier during the Civil War. The absence of war was a large part of his undoing, for it forced him into realms he had not entered before, that he was unable to manipulate to his advantage, and for which he was wholly unprepared.

Custer’s Trials is the consummate biography of George Armstrong Custer.

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Stiles, T.J., Custer’s Trials, Alfred A. Knopf/Borzoi, New York City, 2015. ISBN 978-0-307-59264.

Available in stores October 27th, 2015. Also available to pre-order at Amazon here.

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W.G. Davis

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Objectives and the Use of Terrain

A bit of terrain description is required here.  Little Round Top is the second of three elevations that are located at the south end of Cemetery Ridge.  First is Munshower’s Knoll, the position where General Dan Sickles was supposed to place his Third Corps, but left to move farther west to the Peach Orchard.  The third is, of course, Big Round Top.

Big Round Top is the highest of the three, and both Round Tops actually have a north-south spine crest at the top, though Little Round Top’s is far more pronounced and noticeable.  Big Round Top has no easily-scaled approaches to the peak. The Park Service has cut a trail from the parking area up to the peak, and it is indeed, not an easy climb.  That is probably the easiest ascent on the hill.  The entire east side is almost sheer.  The south approach is steep, deceptively so, as is the western approach.  The northern descent from the peak starts with a 30 foot cliff.  The hump that extends out from the west flank of the hill is less severe, but all around the hill on all sides are enormous boulders, making climbing even more difficult.  Colonel Oates of the 15th Alabama led his men up from the banks of Plum Run near the Slyder Farm to a field bordered on three sides by stone walls.  That was the easy part of their route even though their progress was contested by a company or more of Berdan’s Sharpshooters, dressed in green uniforms, hard to see in the thick dark woods.  From the field they climbed over the stone fence to continue their advance after the Sharpshooters withdrew.  The boulder field is mind-numbing.  Some of the boulders are the size of small houses.  It had to be a nightmare for Oates to maintain unit continuity advancing up the hump northeastward toward Little Round Top.

[Note:  Everyone in the Army of Northern Virginia who could get a good view of the Round Tops and Munshower’s Knoll, knew with a certainty that the key was Little Round Top, not Big Round Top.  The higher hill was far too severe, too difficult to scale, and offered no real platform from which to defend the crest or safely launch an assault.  On the other hand, the Rebs could easily see that the Army of the Potomac had already established a signaling station on the crest of Little Round Top.  It was much easier to get to, much clearer access and already in use by the enemy.  There was, in fact, no reason whatsoever to scale Big Round Top during the July 2nd assault.  If this doesn’t put the final knife into the stories of the 15th Alabama going up over the crest of Big Round Top…]

Crest, Slope, Small Hump Ridge, The Cove, High Ridge, The Farms:

Little Round Top’s crest runs north and south, and offers a military crest [a point below the actual crest on an elevation where a soldier standing cannot be silouetted against the sky when viewed from below].  In addition, the west slope was fairly severe but grew moreso the higher one climbed.  In  some areas, such as that defended by the 16th Michigan, there was an almost sheer cliff facing the attackers before they could reach the position of the 16th.

The North slope was easy and whoever was assigned to the crest of Little Round Top was supposed to connect to Sickles Third Corps on Munshower’s Knoll.  But Sickles was gone, so Fifth Corps was sent in to plug the gap, meaning some would need to go over the crest to the south side of Little Round Top to establish the left flank of the Army of the Potomac…the line end of the ‘fish hook.’.  That fell to Vincent’s Brigade.

The terrain on the east side of Little Round Top is almost as severe as its big brother’s.  It has boulders but far fewer and smaller.  Still, for the size of the hill, there are enough to go around.  The crest slopes precipitously from the top on the east side, and though their was likely a lane or logging trail it hardly resembled the road and parking area of today.  Farther east, the slope becomes quite severe until a fairly level extension provides enough room for a footpath,  Then another, larger drop to a small hump ridge running north and south, made up of larger boulders.  Then a drop into the Cove…a low ground area, with wetlands, small and medium boulders, and year round briars and brambles, and many trees.  On the east side of the Cove,  a steep rise to a ridge that begins to ease toward the top and provides farmland for crops and orchards for the farms that line Taneytown Road.  The crest of this ridge is almost as high as the road currently running over Little Round Top.  The houses and barns are on the east slope of that ridge which comes down fairly sharply at the southern end, gradually easing toward the north end and Wheatfield Road.

Colonel Strong Vincent performed brilliant service that day in deploying his men to take every advantage of the terrain.  A very important note about the decision to defend in this location was the knowledge of the ground over which the enemy was advancing: starting by coming off a steep ridge, then slogging through fields,  advancing up a stream that often ran beneath boulders for many yards at a time, and finally climbing…and climbing, and working their way around, or over boulders, enormous boulders, and small boulders the size of a sedan, and always trees.   And the heat.   And the final assault was all up hill.

The one advantage the Rebs had was the surprise of suddenly bursting from the woods.

To the west, the right of McLaws Division was marching straight across the fields south of the Rose Farm, heading straight for Hobart Ward’s brigade set up on the west side of the crest of Houck’s Ridge while the left of Law’s Division was advancing up the boulder strewn Plum Run valley.

To be continued…

WGD

Posted in Artillery, Artillery as an objective, Battle Decisions, Battle Geometry, Battle Segments, Big Round Top, Description, Little Round Top, Tactics, Terrain | 3 Comments

Tracking Hazlett’s Battery D, 5th US Artillery

Although we are constantly reading up on the Battle of Gettysburg, we think we have read only a pinch of what is available.  One thing that has caught our interest over the years is a question about Hazlett’s Battery D, 5th US Artillery, the unit that General Warren is said to have stepped down from his horse and helped the men muscle the guns over the boulders to get them into final position on the crest.  We have never read anything that explained where Hazlett’s guns got the powder bags and shot they fired from the 6 guns on the crest.

We have to start with Hazlett, but he was killed in action by the sniper behind Devil’s Den [see the earlier post on the Devils Den Sharpshooter].  So we had to track down the man who assumed command when  Hazlett was killed.  He was 1st Lieutenant Benjamin Franklin Rittenhouse, from Berwick, Pennsylvania.  Rittenhouse commanded the Battery for the remainder of the war.

There is very little in the Official Records of the Civil War…just a brief passage from a letter/report written by Rittenhouse to the commander of his Artillery Brigade, Captain Augustus P. Martin, in which he states Hazlett’s death came about an hour after they opened fire from Little Round Top.  One wonders if that letter/report survived.

So we went looking for Rittenhouse and found him in The Gettysburg Papers.   Rittenhouse presented a paper to the Washington DC Commandery of MOLLUS on May 4, 1887.  In it we find rich detail about the locations and movements of the Battery on July 2nd.

We find the Battery on Baltimore Street near Powers Hill at about 4 PM when they were ordered to “to the left” to Little Round Top, probably by way of Blacksmith Shop Road.

As Hazlett approached the foot of the hill, he was ordered to move as rapidly as possible, the caissons were halted on the left, and ordered to a safer place, and the battery went up that rocky hill, through the woods on the east side, at a trot, with spurs and whips vigorously applied. I do not believe a piece barked a tree…In less time than it takes to tell it,  four guns were on the crest, where a rider would hardly go today; a few minutes later Hazlett got the fifth piece into position over huge rocks, and a little later he got the sixth piece fairly lifted into position by the cannoniers and the infantry. As each piece was unlimbered, it spoke for itself, for the country on the left and in front was full of rebels, with their battle flags flying, and coming so rapidly that it seemed impossible to stop them.”

So the caissons were ordered to the left, which would indicate down south on Taneytown Road.  Below is a copy of the 1868 Warren Map of the Little Round Top area: Detail of Warren 1868 map[from National Park Service, GNMP: Little Round Top: Cultural Landscape Report, Treatment & Management Plan, 2012., used with the kind permission of GNMP]

Note:  CLICK THE IMAGE FOR A CLEARER VIEW AND ENLARGMENT.

Key:

  • The yellow highlights over the Round Tops and Vincent’s Spur.
  • The red arrow on right at the entrance to the logging lane dividing the two Weikert Farms.
  • The the two blue arrows indicating the lane on the north edge of the Bricker Farm orchard.  The left arrow show the lane reaching the crest of Little Round Top.  Wheatfield Lane [now Road] is clearly just north of this lane.

We think the guns were raced up that lane.

From this map one can readily see where the third logging lane [missing from this map] should show, about half way between the two right hand arrows.  The caissons of Hazlett’s Battery were ‘safely’ tucked away there since there was little enough room on the crest for the six guns.  Hazlett would not have been stupid enough to put the caissons in the same lane he used to get up to the crest of Little Round Top as they would have blocked his avenue of escape.  Thus the middle lane is the likely spot for the battery’s caissons.

[Note:  Rittenhouse notes that on July 3rd, only 2 of the 6 guns could be used against Pickett’s Charge as there simply was not enough room, nor level ground to support more at the angle they needed.]

Frankly, I think there was no room up top for the limbers, but perhaps a chest was brought up. Up to 50 rounds of ammo were in each chest, adding to the 150 pound chest almost 500 pounds of weight, and enough powder bags at one pound per would add another 50 pounds. That is a lot of weight to hump up over the rocks after moving an 1800 pound gun up there. So we are left with a bucket brigade type of arrangement of handing the ammo and powder up the last few yards.

So, why are the caissons in the logging lanes important?

To be continued..

WGD

Posted in Artillery, Battle Decisions, Little Round Top, Tactics, Terrain | Leave a comment

The First Question: How did he know?

One author* details a contentious discussion on the peak of Big Round Top between Colonel Oates and General Law’s messenger [Captain Leigh Richmond Terrill, Assistant Adjutant General on Law’s staff] wherein Oates demanded to be allowed to go after the artillery he could see from the peak of Big Round Top, while Law’s officer reminded him of his orders to hit the flank of the Army of the Potomac.

[*NB: Tucker, Phillip Thomas, Storming Little Round Top: The 15th Alabama and their fight for the high ground, July 2, 1863. Da Capo Press, 2002.  ISBN 0-306-81146-4, p. 180 ff]

But we have determined that Oates halted the 15th Alabama for a short rest in the triangular field** bounded by stone walls, and met with the messenger from General Law, who by that time had stepped up to command the division after Hood was wounded.

[**NB: This triangular shaped field is located east and up hill from the Slyder Farm and contains the Vermont Cavalry Monument.  It is on the left side when driving up Big Round Top on the hump over which South Confederate Avenue climbs from Plum Run.  It should not be confused with the more famous Triangular Field on the west slope of Houck’s Ridge/Devil’s Den.]

We have authored a detailed analysis that shows what the outcomes would be if Oates had led the 15th Alabama up to the actual peak of Big Round Top: an attack on the Union Artillery Reserve, or an attack on the left flank of the 20th Maine Infantry, either of which would have been exploitative enough to spell disaster for the Army of the Potomac.  Let us then dispense with the notion of Oates and his men climbing to the very peak of Big Round Top because neither of those outcomes occured, and as Oates himself states in his After Action Report that when he and his battleline emerged from the woods his right meeting the left of their line exactly.”   In other words, they were matched with the then-disposition of Chamberlain’s 20th Maine.   [see Oates’ After Action Report]

Well, if he was not on the peak of Big Round Top, and was still on the west side of that elevation in the triangular field, then how did Oates know the artillery was there?  He could not possibly see the artillery park.  He had only a vague confidence that his line would meet the left end of the Army of the Potomac.  The woods were dense, the foliage full, and the boulders over which his men climbed were enormous.***

[***NB: Further logical proof that Oates was not on the peak of Big Round top can be found in a later recounting where he details the struggle of his men in getting over and around the enormous boulders that you can see from the road when driving up Big Round Top.  He described that journey as a “climb“.]

So, how did he know about the Artillery?

We invite your commentary and questions. Please click on “Leave a comment” at the bottom of this post.

WGD

Posted in Artillery, Artillery as an objective, Battle Decisions, Battle Geometry, Battle Segments, Big Round Top, Description, Little Round Top, Strategic Objectives, Strategy, Tactics, Terrain | 9 Comments

Geometry of Combat 4: ‘The Hump’ on Big Round Top

One of the advantages of exploring the Battlefield in winter is the absence of foliage. As we will present here, you will see photographic evidence of the terrain features of Big Round Top, and how it plays with the movement of the 15th Alabama on July 2nd, 1863.

For reference, see this earlier post:

The Battle for Little Round Top – Part 2

[Note: Click on the images for a larger view.]

First, here are two views of the west side of Big Round Top, one from the south, one from the north. Both will show what I call ‘The Hump’, the ground that extends westward out from the nearly sheer descent from the peak of Big Round Top to a point about half way down before leveling out [as much as that rugged terrain can be described as level], and then sloping down to Plum Run.

This image shows the ‘The Hump’ on the left, and on the right, the peak of Big Round Top, looking northeasterly from South Confederate Avenue.  It is also the general direction the 15th Alabama followed after descending from Warfield Ridge:

IMG_0059 (Large) This images shows the hump, on the right with the peak of Big Round Top on the  left, from Crawford Avenue looking southeastward:

IMG_0063 (Large)Clearly, the ground extends less severe terrain westward, and it was over this ground that Colonel Oates led the 15th Alabama to its match against the 20th Maine. [See above linked post].

 Here is an image taken from up on Big Round Top near the parking area for the hiking trail to the peak. It is looking east up to the peak of Big Round Top. You have to look at it for a while to see the southern slope going down to the right through the trees. Look for the skyline. Anyone who has ever climbed the Park trail to the top can testify to two things…the slope on the west side is worse than that on the other sides [from ‘The Hump’ up], and no one could ride a horse up there, nor could artillery be placed up top:

IMG_0085 (Large)A view from above the Bushman Farm shows the field through the trees and one can see the break in the tree line that indicates the route of South Confederate Avenue as it climbs Big Round Top, crests ‘The Hump’:

IMG_0054 (Large)Here is an image of the trail going up from the Slyder Farm to that open field on the left side of the road as you rise to the parking area on Big Round Top:

IMG_0083 (Large)

It was in that rock wall lined field that Oates rested his men after their movement from Warfield Ridge which was impeded by the Company of Berdan’s Sharpshooters. It was in that field that Oates met with General Law’s Messenger to get moving. Oates then moved his men in the same direction they had been moving all along.

Here is an image showing where the 15th Alabama emerged from the trees and, as noted by Oates in his official report, found themselves matched flank for flank with Colonel Chamberlain’s 20th Maine. The view is as Chamberlain may have seen it:

20141208_130303 (Large)More to come on this as we explore the east side of Little Round Top!

Remember, comments are encouraged and welcomed!

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