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.