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

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3 Responses to LRT: Defense in Depth

  1. W. G. Davis says:

    I would like to thank a number of folks who got me started down this path, one of whom called me to join him on LRT after the Park Service had cleared the south slope, exposing the flank markers of the 83rd PA. Others have gone with me and seen what I have seen from various spots in Strong Vincent’s lines. Thank you all.

    WGD

  2. bob carey says:

    Jeff,
    I must apologize for not commenting on your post in a more timely manner but I confess I have been remiss in checking your blog.
    Thank you for posting our concerns about the NPS and corporate sponsorships.
    I also want to thank you for your excellent post on the deployments of Vincent’s Brigade on LRT. The defense in depth does make sense to me because the 44th was the largest regiment in the brigade and it could provide more firepower on a company level for command and control purposes.
    Finally, I’m glad to see that you are finally coming around to my way of thinking in giving the 44th its’ just due. LOL
    Bob C.

    • WGD says:

      Glad to come around to your way of thinking.

      I cannot express enough my total respect for Strong Vincent for his masterful use of the terrain to form his brigade. While much of it was done with the amount of space available to fit the regiments in place, he placed his men in the most advantageous positions to enable them to achieve success.

      In my mind, I see the 83rd PA firing as the front rank of Alabamians advanced, and the 44th NY behind and above them firing at the SECOND rank of the Alabama troops getting ready to advance.

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