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?
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