Monuments and the Danger of Presentism

The United States has long been the shining light of the world, a place where all are welcome to come, and live, and embrace America and the United States, to contribute to its growth, and to set an example for the world to look up to, and to become Americans and proudly so.

Colonial America existed as a safe haven for the people of the Reformation to come and worship as they wished, without fear of remonstrations, or even imprisonment and execution.  And it was built up by an enormous workforce composed almost entirely of African Slaves.

Slavery had been going on in Africa since ancient times but what we call modern slavery was conducted by the Arabian Muslims who moved coast to coast through Central Africa taking slaves and marching them back to the Arab lands. This had been going on from the 8th Century.

By the middle of the 15th Century, Prince Henry of Portugal had established a school for sea captains, training them in sailing, seamanship and navigation.  He began sending these captains in their Caravels south from southern Portugal to the west coast of Africa.  At the end of each thrust farther south along the African Coast, the captains would establish a base camp/port, where they could stockpile supplies, and conduct trade with the local natives, taking home seeds, lumber, and elephant ivory.

But then they ran into Arab Muslim slave raiding expeditions and learned what had been happening for 700 years.  The slave raiders sold them a few slaves and they were taken back to Portugal.

Prince Henry and his brother, King Duarte [Edward], were devout Catholics, and supported the Church with riches brought back from Africa.  But when the slaves appeared in Portugal, the slave trade there was underway.  It was so lucrative that the Pope, Nicholas the V, during his 8 years as Pope, issued two relevant Papal Bulls:  the first, issued in 1452, basically said to the Captains of Prince Henry go ahead and subdue and capture any non-Christians they encountered for enslavement, and the second, issued in 1455, gave exclusive economic rights as they reached and eventually rounded the Cape of Good Hope and went on to India.  It also authorized them to buy or capture non-Christians as slaves to bring back to Portugal.

Portugal, and its chief sea-going rivals, Spain and England, began exporting African slaves to the New World shortly after Christopher Columbus [trained by Prince Henry’s school] discovered it.  The Portuguese moved African slaves to what is now Brazil, while the Spanish moved them into Mexico, Florida, throughout the West Indies and the Caribbean, through Mexico north to California, and south through Central America and down the west coast of South America.  The English began importing slaves into Virginia in the early 17th Century though most early Black slaves were brought from the West Indies.

The African slaves were the people who cleared the swamps along the North American coast, and cleared and built the roads, and ports, and towns.  Then they learned to pick cotton.  Their owners got very rich from cotton.  Southern culture changed, the plantation owners gained great wealth, buying more land, and more slaves, to the extent that wealth in the Colonial South was measured in how many slaves they owned.  And they determined that the slaves were “less than human,” thus justifying the institution of slavery.

And then, an ancient Greek political philosophy suddenly re-emerged in the American colonies, and a new nation was formed in the fashion of that ancient Greek philosophy: Democracy.  It came to be called “The Great Experiment”, among other expressions.  And it based its foundations on the core of the Enlightenment: the natural rights of man.

By the time the Virginian philosopher, politician and revolutionary Thomas Paine wrote his treatise on “The Rights of Man”, talk had already started about slavery among the political leaders of the Colonial states.  The Northern states wanted to extinguish slavery, the South said “no.”  But the British government in England enacted some laws applying to Colonial Americans that became known as the Intolerable Acts, and independence was suddenly more important than slavery.  During the Revolutionary War, England offered freedom to any slaves that joined their army [as teamsters and servants, not as soldiers].  George Washington and Alexander Hamilton established a policy that any slave could join the Continental Army earning a rifle and his freedom.

The Constitutional Convention that followed the Independence of the United States and the insufficient first attempt at government under the Articles of Confederation took nearly a year to draft, and heated arguments on the floor during its construction were daily low-lights.  One of the most important was the issue of slavery.   Deals were made between states in order to obtain concessions from the Southern slave states.   One of the more well-known concessions is located in Section 9 of Article I:

“Section 9. The Migration of Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a Tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.”

This law ended the United States involvement in the International Slave Trade by 1808, but it spawned a new business in the South: slave breeding.  The slave markets were thus supplied past 1808.

The Constitution also contains another law that outlines slave-owners’ rights when a slave runs away.  The Runaway Slave Law is contained in Article IV, Section 2:

“No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due.”

The U.S. Navy began patrolling the West Indies to prevent slaves being smuggled into the U.S. in 1819, and at the same time, began patrolling the eastern Atlantic along the coast of Africa to stop the slaves from being smuggled to the U.S. from Africa.

The make-up of early Government of the United States tells a tale in its numbers.  William Lee Miller wrote in his book Arguing About Slavery [Arguing About Slavery: The Great Battle in the United States Congress. Vintage Books Division of Random House, New York, 1996. ISBN 0-679-76844-0.]

“Five of the first seven presidents were slaveholders, for thirty-two of the nation’s first thirty-six years, forty of its first forty-eight, fifty of its first sixty-four, the nation’s president was a slaveholder.  The powerful office of Speaker of the House was held by a slaveholder for twenty-eight of the nation’s first thirty-five years.  The president pro tem of the Senate was virtually always a slaveholder.  The majority of cabinet members and–very important–of justices of the Supreme Court were slaveholders.  The slave-holding Chief justice Roger Taney, appointed by the slave-holding president Andrew Jackson to succeed the slave-holding John Marshall, would serve all the way through the decades before the war into the years of the Civil War itself; it would be a radical change of the kind the slaveholders feared when, in 1863, President Lincoln would appoint the anti-slavery politician Salmon P. Chase of Ohio to succeed Taney.  But by then, even having a president Lincoln had been the occasion for the slaveholders to rebel, to secede, and to resort to arms.

 “One cites these facts about the formidable presence of the slave interests–to which, of course, dozens more could be added–not as later unhistorical moralizers sometimes do, as an indictment of the nation, but for almost the opposite purpose, to dramatize the immense power of the interest that the nation would nevertheless overcome.”

As one can begin to see, the fight to remove slavery from the United States was a knock-down-drag-out battle in the United States Congress, and in the newspapers throughout the nation.  Northern politicians also fought against the Slave interest in Congress by attempting to admit new states as “Free” states, allowing no slavery.  At least five generations of slave-owning Southerners were born before the Constitution was adopted.  To be sure there was indeed slavery in the North.  But by the 1840s most of those Northern States had ended slavery by outlawing it and granting freedom to the slaves.

Regardless, the fight in Congress went on, and grew to focus on the admission of Slave and Free states to the Union as the nation grew westward.

The Republican Party grew up in the upper Midwest in the 1850s as an anti-slavery liberal party.  It lost the 1856 election when Northern Democrat James Buchanan from Pennsylvania defeated explorer and scout from the wild western state of California, John C. Fremont.  It was a contest, but not really close.  But it was encouraging enough to the Anti-slavery states, and the Party grew.

By 1860 the U.S. was preparing for war, particularly in the South.  Slavery had a major role in Southern Culture.  Well over a century of successful slave-owning had solidified that role as a natural part and a natural right of the slave-holding South.  Slavery was a larger part of the Southern economy than real estate.

Along came Abraham Lincoln.  His seven fiery 1858 debates with Stephen A. Douglas during the race for the Senate seat from Illinois captured the attention of the nation.  Newspapers followed them around the state and reported in great detail what both men said.  It was Anti-Slavery Republican Lincoln vs. Slavery Defender Northern Democrat Douglas.   Douglas won the Senate seat, but it was tight.

And so it was again in 1860, when the two faced off in a fight for the White House.  Both had enhanced their reputations during the debates in Illinois, and it was clear what each man stood for.  The issue of slavery had finally come to the fore.  But the Democratic Party split along North-South lines, Southern Democrats backing John C. Breckinridge, and Northern Democrats backing Douglas, against the Republican, Abraham Lincoln.

The split doomed the Democrats,  Lincoln won in a landslide.

The South was in shock, and immediately began serious talk of secession and Civil War.  Lincoln made it clear he would not seek to end slavery.  What he didn’t say is that he would seek to block any new states from joining as Slave States.  It wasn’t enough.  By the time Lincoln reached Washington in the Spring of 1861 to be sworn in, many of the deep Southern states had already left the Union forming the Confederate States of America.

The rest of the South seceded.  Lincoln moved to keep Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri from leaving the Union.

America went to war with itself.  The Civil War was fought over four long years, killing approximately 620,000 men.  That is almost half the total of U.S. war dead in all wars.

In December of 1865 the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified.  It states in full:

“Section 1. Neither Slavery, nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

“Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

Slavery is the United States was ended.  A great moral and ethical wrong was righted, decided on the Battlefields of the Civil War.  The deaths of 620,000 men locked that down tight.  Those 620,000 men included both Union and Confederate, men from North and South.  For the most part the war was fought with honor, and with a full belief in the cause of each side.  Those beliefs were not abandoned on either side, but they accepted the outcome.  Both sides honored their returning soldiers, sailors and marines.  Both sides held reunions.  Many Veterans from both sides returned repeatedly over the rest of their lives to the fields on which they fought.  They were drawn there.  Fate drew them there as it was fate that allowed them to survive.

At home, statues and monuments were erected honoring the leaders and heroes of both armies.  They were doing the bidding of their political leaders, and for those leaders’ political and economic reasons.  They did so with ferocity and honor – how else can you explain 620,000 dead men?

We now have generations that have grown distant from that event.  They look at these events only on the surface, and through the colored glass of the present.  This is called Presentism: judging the past by modern values and mores.  It is a terrible mistake to judge someone by today’s standards that lived 155 years ago.

 The result of presentism is the mistake that George Santayana warned about: “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” 

It was a different time.  The universal mores were different — vastly different.  For example, science had not advanced to the point where there was accepted dogma on race: specifically Darwin’s “Origin of the Species” was not published until 1859, and was not readily accepted by scientists.  And Africa south of the Sahara and north of the Limpopo River had not been studied or even explored to any great degree.  Dr. David Livingston left on his expedition into Africa’s interior in 1866, and he was not found by reporter Henry Morton Stanley until 1871.  Little was really known about Black, non-Muslim Africans of Central Africa.

That is looking at an historical era with objectivity.  Indeed, if we remove the monuments and markers from the locations where they were erected, then we risk erasing a part of history.  The next step, already underway in some schools and colleges, is to remove that unpleasant past from the curriculum because it offends.

If that is allowed to persist, and is not corrected, we will not only lose our history, we will lose the significance of the great events of our past.  And thus, we will lose our national identity of being not just a beacon of hope for the world, but how we became one by recognizing and righting the wrongs that we made as a people, as a nation, along the way.

Do not look at a Confederate monument and be offended.  Instead, be proud that the nation recognized the inhumanity of slavery and eradicated it, at the expense of 620,000 American lives.  We need to remember that man is not infallible: Benjamin Franklin sold slaves, George Washington owned slaves, Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, James Madison owned slaves, yet these men are honored for founding and framing our country.  It was these men and others in their conventions, who framed the nation’s charter of laws to include paths and mechanisms for change.  The larger good far outweighs their slave-owning or dealing, because of the times, not because of now.  Good people can do bad things, as well as good things, but look at their lives in the light of the mores of the times, not the mores of today.  620,000 men died, in part, so you would not judge them by today’s mores, but by the mores of their time.

W. G. Davis

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Logic as applied to the records

On more than a few occasions we have encountered the telling of an event in a history book that simply defies logic.  Sometimes the events do indeed defy logic.

For example, on the first day of the Battle, while forming his brigade at the Forney Farm, how did Alfred Iverson fail to see the repulse of O’Neil’s Brigade by Baxter’s men on the edge of Oak Ridge…especially given the fact that one of O’Neil’s Alabama regiments wandered too far to the right and wound up joining Iverson’s North Carolina men.  Among his sins that day, Iverson apparently also ignored the presence of Baxter and ordered his brigade to march on an angle that would put the left of his brigade marching in front of Baxter’s Brigade by less than 200 yards and the resulting losses were horrendous.  How could he ignore the presence of Baxter?   That defies logic.

So it is with the recounting of the advancing assault on Little Round Top.  Here is what Colonel Oates, writing a bare month after the Battle, says happened:

“My regiment occupied the center of the brigade when the line of battle was formed.  During the advance, the two regiments on my right were moved by the left flank across my rear, which threw me on the extreme right of the whole line.  I encountered the enemy’s sharpshooters posted behind a stone fence, and sustained some loss thereby.  It was here that Lieut.  Col. Isaac B. Feagin, a most excellent and gallant officer, received a severe wound in the right knee, which caused him to lose his leg.  Privates [A.] Kennedy, of Company B, and [William] Trimner, of Company G, were killed at this point, and Private [G. E.] Spencer, Company D, severely wounded.

“After crossing the fence, I received an order from Brigadier-General Law to left-wheel my regiment and move in the direction of the heights upon my left, which order I failed to obey, for the reason that when I received it I was rapidly advancing up the mountain, and in my front I discovered a heavy force of the enemy.  Besides this, there was great difficulty in accomplishing the maneuver at that moment, as the regiment on my left (Forty-seventh Alabama) was crowding me on the left, and running into my regiment, which had already created considerable confusion.  In the event that I had obeyed the order, I should have come in contact with the regiment on my left, and also have-exposed my right flank to an enfilading fire from the enemy.  I therefore continued to press forward, my right passing over the top of the mountain, on the right of the line.

“On reaching the foot of the mountain below, I found the enemy in heavy force, posted in rear of large rocks upon a slight elevation beyond a depression of some 300 yards in width between the base of the mountain and the open plain beyond.  I engaged them, my right meeting the left of their line exactly.  Here I lost several gallant officers and men.”

Let’s take these one at a time:

“I encountered the enemy’s sharpshooters posted behind a stone fence, and sustained some loss thereby.”

From where the 15th Alabama stepped off on Warfield Ridge, their course would have been generally northward.  Their plan was to advance up along Plum Run.  From the start, things got confused.  The two regiments on his right were moved to his left [insert logic here: if you move two regiments from the right and insert them on the left then the regiments to the right of where you insert will have to move the equivalent distance of two regiments to their right – or thereabouts given the Confederate penchent for attacking en echelon].

Since that put Oates and his 15th Alabama on the extreme right of the Confederate assault, he would have slid the right of his line into the trees and across Plum Run somewhere Just below the Slyder Farm.  But he is still maintaining his orders to advance up Plum Run.  At the time the only stone fence in that area, or for that matter anywhere on Big Round Top, was the one that borders the field above the Slyder Farm on the ‘Hump’  of Big Round Top, what we will hereafter call “Sharpshooter’s Ridge”– the field that contains the Vermont Cavalry Monument.  It has long stone walls on three sides.  [Note:  We think this field, which has largely been ignored by historians, has a significantly greater importance to the events of July 2nd than have heretofore been told.]

Taking losses on his right flank from the enemy fire that came from behind the stone fence, Oates is forced to move his regiment [and apparently the undersized 47th Alabama on his left] to the right to drive off the Sharpshooters.  A short engagement ensues.  The Sharpshooters withdraw, and Oates gives his men a rest.  Suddenly, “After crossing the fence, I received an order from Brigadier-General Law.

Law’s messenger is Lt. Col. Terrell.  He informs Oates that Hood has been seriously wounded and Law has taken command of the Division.  He also tells Oates that Law wants him to take field command of the 47th on his left in addition to the 15th, keep moving, and turn to the left.   Later accounts by Oates after more than a few reunions: Oates adds that he had a discussion with Terrell and informs him that there is an artillery park along the Taneytown Road,  and later, in the History of the 15th Alabama written near the end of his life: Terrell rode his horse to the top of Big Round Top where Oates and his troops were occupying a clearing on the summit.  Both of these recountings fail the logic test.

First, in the heat of early July, full foliage is now out.  From where Oates is located in the field, he cannot discern where the actual top of Big Round Top is located.  As far as Oates can tell the top of Round Top that he and the 15th and the 47th Alabama went over was the high ground directly north of the walled field in which he encountered the Sharpshooters.  He complains in his report that his men had difficulty navigating the enormous boulders before hitting the down-slope of Sharpshooters’ Ridge.  The boulders on the up slope from the open walled field — on the left as you take the park road toward Little Round Top — are huge, with some the size of a small house.  That is all in line with his after action report.

The other recountings, in his letter about a decade and a half after the battle, and in his end of life History of the 15th Alabama, are rife with the many reunions, and memories of other veterans from his regiment.

W.G. Davis

Posted in Battle Decisions, Battle Segments, Big Round Top, Description, Little Round Top, Tactics, Terrain | Leave a comment

Preparing for Memorial Day

Several Hundred Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, troop leaders, and members of their families descended on Gettysburg National Cemetery early this morning to place flags at every headstone and grave marker.  It was a job well done.

Here are some at work.  Click on photo to enlarge it:

Gettysburg Area Scouts place flags at the headstones and grave markers in Gettysburg National Cemetery, Saturday, May 27, 2017.

It was a heartwarming display.

Remember to lower your flag to half-staff on Monday!

W.G.D.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Devil’s Den Duck!?!?!?

Everyone has seen the Elephant just below the Devil’s Den area:

But who has failed to recognize this:

The Duck of Devils Den

W. G. Davis

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Back to the 83rd PA at LRT

After Monday’s burn the vegetation is not just reduced, it is almost completely gone…at least for the next few days.

Below is a photo taken today at Little Round Top from Sykes Avenue, looking generally west, with my back to Vincent’s Knoll.   I have marked the directions where the roads are, where the 44th New York was located, and where the left and right flank markers of the 83rd Pennsylvania was fighting.

Position of the 83rd PA Infantry on July 2, 1863 at Little Round Top.

For a better look, we have zoomed in to this image to focus on the flank markers:

The flank markers show the regiment in front of, and well below the 44th NY.

First, looking at the upper image, please note the 83rd was fighting from behind a line of boulders that ran from the left flank to the right.

Second, the next time you are at Little Round top, remember these images.  Then look at the relative positions of the 44th NY and the 83rd PA as they relate to each other.  The 44th NY is in a position elevated about 20-25 feet above, and about 30 yards behind the 83rd PA.

The 44th New York is NOT in reserve.  This is a defense in depth.  While the 83rd PA was driving off the front ranks of the Alabama Regiments, the 44th NY was firing over the heads of the 83rd PA into the second rank of Alabamians.

This is part of the genius of Colonel Strong Vincent.

W. G. Davis

Posted in Battle Decisions, Battle Geometry, Battle Segments, Little Round Top, Tactics, Terrain, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Today’s Burn at LRT

Below is a photo taken after the burn event today on the west side of Little Round Top.

The burn, designed to curb vegetation on the western slope, was bounded by four GNMP Roads: Crawford on the west, Warren on the south, Sykes [with the parking area on the crest] on the east, and Wheatfield on the north side.

The burn went within a few yards [sometimes closer] of those roads.  Plum Run was spared, leaving the vegetation along the banks in place.  When this image was taken from the US Brigade area on Houck’s Ridge about 5:45 pm, there were still a few areas producing smoke.  The site will be watched by fire personnel, along with staff from the Park.

Visitors will NOT be allowed onto the crest of Little Round Top tomorrow, but all roads will be open.  Fire personnel will remain in the area until the fire is officially “out.”

WGD

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Remembrance Day Photos, Part 2

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

img_3865

The Rose Farm in the dawn sun:

img_3834

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

img_3817-with-arrows

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:

img_3811

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

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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:

img_3800-medium

Here are the Round tops, from West Confederate Avenue:

img_3803-medium

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

img_3804-medium

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

img_3807-medium

Finally, Elephant Rock and the Slyder Farm behind it.

img_3822-medium

W. G. Davis

Posted in Terrain | Leave a comment

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

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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