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…


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]



  • 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..


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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.


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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The Battle for Little Round Top – Part 2

We are reposting this for reference of another post to come up shortly.

[NB: Images are clickable and can be enlarged]

As most of the history books have it, Colonel William Oates, Commander of the 15th Alabama Infantry Regiment, was in the center of Law’s Brigade at the southern end of Warfield Ridge as they awaited the order of their Division commander, General John Bell Hood, to advance in a generally northeasterly direction toward Little Round Top.  On the march to Gettysburg since 2 AM, and immediately caught up in Longstreet’s March and Counter March west of town on the afternoon of July 2nd, Oates realized his men were out of water.  He sent a group of soldiers to collect all the canteens in the regiment and sent them off to fill those canteens.  Those men were never reunited with the regiment.  When Oates then turned back to the front, he saw that the Brigade had stepped off without him.  Hurrying and sliding to the right, since his spot in line was being closed from the right, Oates quick-stepped his men and quickly had them guiding along Plum Run [on their right], and being pushed up the western flank of Big Round Top by the regiment on his left, the 47th Alabama.  Stopping briefly on the way to the summit of Big Round Top [BRT], Colonel Sheffield’s messenger rode up to Oates on horseback and instructed Oates to keep moving.

[Note: General Hood went down with a serious wound to his arm shortly after the Division stepped off, so Brigadier General Evander K. Law, commander of the Alabama Brigade, stepped up to command the Division, and Col. Sheffield of the 48th Alabama stepped up to command the Brigade.]

Oates then moved his men in a line of battle, upward in the face of what seemed like a regiment or a brigade of infantry they could barely see in the rough, tree and boulder filled terrain.   [In actuality it was a company of Sharpshooters, using breech-loaded Sharp’s rifles, enabling them to put out an increased rate of fire.  That fooled several Confederate commanders at Gettysburg into misjudging the size of the units in front of them.]  Eventually, the infantry disappeared, and Oates and his regiment went over the crest of  BRT, and down into fame and glory in their encounter with the 20th Maine.

But something has always been awry with that account.  Directionally, it does not make sense.  The angle of ascent, from somewhere near the Slyder Farm, would put them on a west to east track, and his regiment would come out of the trees on the east slope of BRT just about at the Plank Farm.  That would put him almost directly across Taneytown Road from the Union Artillery Reserve Park, and would completely miss the 20th Maine and the Sharpshooters that joined Company B east of Chamberlain’s position on LRT.

Even had Oates turned north at the summit, he would not have lined up with Chamberlain, but would have arrived on Chamberlain’s left flank, which was the left flank of the Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg.  In that situation, Oates would have been in perfect position to roll up Chamberlain from his left flank.

Here is an image of those two scenarios:

Longstreet's Attack 18630702

Either one of these scenarios would have been serendipitously positive for the Army of Northern Virginia.  Wreak havoc on the Artillery Reserves, or, roll up the left flank of the Army of the Potomac.

Here is scenario one, moving easterly over the peak of BRT, and assaulting the Army of the Potomac’s Artillery Reserves:

Oates Scenario 1Here is scenario two, turning northerly from the peak of BRT and attacking the left flank of the 20th Maine.

Oates Scenario 2

But we know that neither of these scenarios happened.  We are left, then, with the glaring fact that Oates and his Alabama Regiment, which was crowded constantly on his left by the 47th Alabama, never went up over the crest of BRT.

Then where did he go, what was his path?  Let’s ask Oates [from his after action report]:

“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.”

Alright, he advanced on the right of the Brigade, which puts his right on, and eventually pushed across the lower reaches of Plum Run, which marks the base of the west slope of BRT.  And he is already angling to the right a bit, being pushed that way also by the 47th Alabama.

Stone Wall?  What stone wall?  The only stone walls in that area are across Plum Run, and part way up the slope of BRT.  [If you drive up South Confederate Avenue today after crossing Plum Run, part way up BRT you will see a field on the left.  In that field is the First Vermont Cavalry Monument, one of the units that participated in Farnsworth’s [fatal] Charge the next day.  When you are there next, explore this field.  It is surrounded on three sides by stone walls [fences].  They bound [generally] the south, west and north sides of the field.

Here is a Google Earth image showing the route of attack made by the 15th Alabama.

Note how the path shifts downward, or to the right on the line of march.  Some of this is because of the disorganized line described above, but most of it is from pressure on Hood’s Division by the brigades of McLaw’s Division, which were to start on an angle similar to the way Hood lined up, but because of the presence of Graham’s Brigade of the Third Corps, Army of the Potomac in the Peach Orchard, McLaws Division was forced to proceed straight across the Emmitsburg Road, thereby forcing Hood to swerve to the right.

Oates' Attack 18630702

Also note the tip of the third arrow [from the left] is resting on the field up on BRT.  Here is an image of that field on the path from South Confederate Avenue:

IMG_0001 (Medium) cropped

The monument is the First Vermont Cavalry Regimental Monument.  Behind it you can just make out the stone fence that borders the south edge of the field.  The field is approximately just shy of 2 acres in size.  It was on this side of the stone fence that Union Sharpshooters delayed Oates progress up BRT.  Once they fell back, Oates men came over the fence and took a break.

Oates continues:

“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.”

At this point, Oates is aligned pretty much with South Confederate Avenue as it crests a rise [where the current parking area is located for the trail to the peak of BRT].  The “top of the mountain” Oates refers to is the crest of the spur over which South Confederate Avenue goes.  In all likelihood, Oates would not have been able to see the actual top of BRT on his right, due to the thickness of the woods.  In fact, the right of Oates regiment would likely have guided on the logging trail that became the modern road.

Oates Actual

After a short hike through the trees, Oates men would have emerged from the woods at about this vantage point:


That is Warren Avenue in the front, and Sykes Avenue heading up to the crest of LRT.  To the right of Sykes Avenue is the pair of low stone walls marking where the 20th Maine was arrayed.  Oates continues:

“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.”

The angle of this photo is the only angle that would meet the condition noted above.  I engaged them, my right meeting the left of their line exactly.”

No other avenue of approach puts Oates on this line of attack.  No other avenue of approach allows Oates men to line up flank for flank.

Oates continues:

“After firing two or three rounds, I discovered that the enemy were giving way in my front.  I ordered a charge, and the enemy in my front fled, but that portion of his line confronting the two companies on my left held their ground, and continued a most galling fire upon my left.”

Actually, Chamberlain is starting to refuse his line.  Here is what he has to say:

“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.”

So, now we know that Law’s Brigade engages Vincent’s Brigade  first with the 83rd Pennsylvania and the 44th New York [stacked in the center], then the 16th Michigan [on the right], then the 20th Maine [on the left].  And in the second paragraph, Col. Chamberlain explains when and why he began to stretch and refuse his line.

One last quote from Oates:

“Just at this moment, I discovered the regiment on my left (Forty-seventh Alabama) retiring.  I halted my regiment as its left reached a very large rock, and ordered a left-wheel of the regiment, which was executed in good order under fire, thus taking advantage of a ledge of rocks running off in a line perpendicular to the one I had just abandoned, and affording very good protection to my men.  This position enabled me to keep up a constant flank and cross fire upon the enemy, which in less than five minutes caused him to change front.”

There are two very important elements here.  First, he reports the Confederate regiment on his immediate left, the 47th Alabama, which was totally engaged with the 83rd Pennsylvania, was withdrawing.  Why is Oates still fighting and the 47th withdrawing?  Remember that defense in depth?  The 44th NY is right behind and above the 83rd Pennsylvania, so the 47th Alabama is taking fire from not one, but two stacked regiments in their front.  Also, at this point, Oates has shifted to the right in his flanking movement and he confirms Chamberlain refusing his line.

Oates goes on to report then that the enemy had flanked him on his right, which could only be Company B of the 20th Maine, which Chamberlain had posted five hundred yards east on what is now Wright Avenue, and behind a stone wall, where they were joined by that pesky bunch of Sharpshooters that had earlier caused so much trouble to Oates advance up BRT.

Next up, part 3, and the fight on the plateau between the 16th Michigan and 44th NY, vs. the 4th and 5th Texas regiments, and how Texas almost took Little Round Top.

Remember, please, your comments are welcome.  Click on the “leave a comment” link at the bottom of every post.

Posted in Battle Decisions, Battle Segments, Description, Tactics, Terrain, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Cushing finally gets his Medal of Honor

Lt. Alonzo Cushing of Delafield, Wisconsin, commander of Battery A, 4th US Artillery, will receive a long overdue Medal of Honor in a September ceremony at the White House.

Cushing’s heroic stand at the Gettysburg ‘High Water Mark’ during Pickett’s Charge is the stuff of legends.  Cushing, wounded several times, remained at his guns assisting the loading of them, was killed with a final wound while ordering the gun to fire.

Our masthead image is of four guns of Cushing’s Battery today near the ‘inner angle’ of the stone wall that was the defensive line of the Army of the Potomac on  July 3rd 1863.

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Geometry of Combat 3: The Devil’s Den Sharpshooter

We have calculated the distance of the shots made by the Confederate sharpshooter in Devil’s Den that killed Captain Charles E. Hazlett, Commanding Battery D, 5th United States Artillery, in the Fifth Corps Artillery Brigade; and Brigadier General Stephen H. Weed, Commanding Third Brigade, Second Division, Fifth Army Corps on Little Round Top, July 2, 1863 late afternoon.

Please click on the link below to  open the Adobe Portable Document Format file [.pdf].

The Sharpshooter

If you do not have the Adobe Acrobat Reader, click here to get a free version for download and install.

Gardner-OSullivan Sharpshooter on hillGardner-OSullivan Sharpshooter in position

Alexander Gardner/Timothy O’Sullivan’s images before and after moving the body to the Sharpshooter’s Position [courtesy of the Library of Congress].


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Congratulations to Professor Guelzo

Our heartiest congratulations to Professor Allen C. Guelzo, on his award of the 2014 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize for his book, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion [see review here]. Professor Guelzo is the Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era at Gettysburg College, and the author of several books on Abraham Lincoln.

Professor Guelzo shares this year’s prize with Martin Johnson, of Miami University – Hamilton, Hamilton, Ohio, for his book, Writing the Gettysburg Address.

The Awards will be presented in New York City on April 24th.  Also being honored at that time will be Director Steven Spielberg with a first-time Special Achievement Award for his film Lincoln.

If you have not read Gettysburg: The Last Invasion yet, you are depriving yourself of one of the finest histories of the Battle of Gettysburg ever written.  The book was published in 2013 by Alfred A. Knopf [ISBN 978-0-307-59408-2].

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The Geometry of Combat, Part 2: The Triangular Field

Fields of view are important to military operations.  They will expose to the commander avenues of approach, fields of fire, ambush positions, naturally favorable ground, and conversely, naturally unfavorable ground.  Sometimes a field of view can be deceptive, hiding certain features that might be used against the commander’s forces, or even deceiving him in thinking some ground is favorable when it is not.

Here is an image of the ‘Triangular Field  on the west slope of Houck’s Ridge [Devils Den is on the east slope].

Triangular Field Google ExpandedNote the apex of the triangle is at the top of the ridge, and the base at the bottom.  The stone wall is where the 124th New York [Colonel A. van Horne Ellis’ Orange Blossoms from Orange County, New York] formed.   The 99th Pennsylvania formed behind and to the left [south] of the “Orange Blossoms”.

Below is an image of the Slyder Farm from South Confederate Avenue.  Note the rising stone wall of the Triangular Field on the left side of the image, and the small white object on top of the ridge is the 124th New York Monument.

IMG_0028 (Large)Below is another view of the Triangular Field shot from above the Bushman Farm on South Confederate Avenue.

IMG_0026 (Large)Note the automobiles on the right winding their way up from Devils Den to the top of Houck’s Ridge.

Below is an image of Little Round Top from Emmitsburg Road north of the intersection with Confederate Avenue.  This would be approximately where the right of General G. T. Anderson’s Georgia Brigade would be overlapped by the left of General Jerome Robertson Texas Brigade [with the 3rd Arkansas].

IMG_0004 (Large)Note that you can clearly see the stone wall of the Triangular Field on the right of the image.

The view of Little Round Top from this area would be deceptive.  It actually strikes the eye as one slope, gradually rising from the Triangular Field to the crest of Little Round Top.  It show no sign of the Plum Run Valley, or of Devils Den, or, for that matter, anything else between the Triangular Field and the top of Little Round Top.

Confederate General William N. Pendleton wandered down this way, but perhaps a half mile north of here on the morning of July 2nd, and General Lee came down to a point about a quarter-mile north of here on the afternoon of July 2nd.  Neither would have been able to see this view, but the solders in Hood’s Division could clearly see it.   And at least for a while, they probably were fooled by it.

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The Geometry of Combat, Part 1: Little Round Top

One of the ways to look at the ebb and flow of isolated actions at Gettysburg is by using geometry.  Some of it is fairly obvious, some is deceptive, but it all involves angles.  Angles as we are discussing mean terrain angles, firing angles, and line of sight angles, and we can draw conclusions from these analyses that can help explain what the outcomes were of combat over that terrain, and why those outcomes occurred.  Using a series of recent photos, we have discovered that there seems to be an angle for every situation.

Remember, you can click on these images for a larger view.

We’ll start with one of our favorites, the position of the 83rd Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment on the south slope of Little Round Top.  Here you can see an enlarged view showing both flank markers of the 83rd Pennsylvania and the extreme slope located just behind [to the right of] their right flank where the 16th Michigan was posted, both of which protected the 83rd from attack on their right flank.  Angles.

83rd & 16th Captioned croppedHere is a wider version of  the same view.

83rd & 16th Captioned fullThe 44th New York was just out of view to the right near the top of the image, and directly behind and above the 83rd Pennsylvania.  The 20th Maine position is directly behind the photographer.

Below is a view of the upward path to the 16th Michigan’s position [note their monument on the boulder at the right side of the image].  On top, and much higher than the 16th’s position, is the 44th New York Monument.  This is the route the 4th and 5th Texas took in their assault on the 16th Michigan.

IMG_0019 (Medium)In places, this is almost a sheer climb.  Isn’t it amazing how those Texans got up there with their rifles while under fire!?!?!

 Here is the right flank marker under the pine tree.

IMG_0021 (Medium)Note the steep angle to the right, heading up to where the 16th Michigan was located.

Below is a look at the Strong Vincent statue on top of the 83rd Pennsylvania Monument.  Note how close the left flank marker is to the monument.  A legitimate question might be, “Was the left flank marker moved west away from the lines of the 20th Maine to make way for Sedgwick Avenue?”  Normally the monument is located in the center of the two flank markers.

IMG_0022 (Medium)A final look at the 83rd Pennsylvania’s flank markers:

IMG_0023 (Medium)The left flank marker is easily seen at the left, with upper Warren Avenue at the pull-offs near the top visible in the background.  Photo was taken from the west side of Sedgwick Avenue.  The right flank marker is harder to see, but can be located under and to the left of the pine tree at the extreme right of the image.

Analysis: We should note here that the definition of the “military crest” of any elevation is a line along which a soldier can stand and NOT be silhouetted against the sky when seen from below.  It is also a line where the terrain below can be readily observed…and taken under fire.  It is NOT necessarily a physical feature which could be construed as a crest per se, but simply a line along which the soldiers take up positions. There is that angle thing again.

In Strong Vincent’s Brigade, the colonels were obviously well schooled in that concept and three of the four of the regiments took positions on Little Round Top along the military crest line.

The 44th New York has no flank markers to note its position.  Nevertheless, there are enough features to mark their position as being up in the center of the brigade line, but below the actual crest of the hill, along the line of the military crest.  On their right was the 16th Michigan, on a small plateau, also along the line of the military crest, and wrapped around the curve of the hill to the west.   On the left of the 44th, but extending forward along the side of a spur jutting to slightly east of south was the 20th Maine, and their first line is marked by the remains of the low stone walls just a few feet above the right side Sedgwick Avenue on the south slope of Little Round top…those walls would be on the military crest line.  Later, the 20th would draw their lines up to the crest of the spur in order to shorten their line and refuse it to the left as the 15th Alabama began to maneuver to threaten the left of the regiment.  This then accounts for the line of stone wall along the crest of the spur.

Directly in front of the 44th New York, but much lower on the south slope of Little Round Top [perhaps half-way between the 44th New York and what is now Warren Avenue coming up from the Plum Run Valley] is the line of the 83rd Pennsylvania.  It was well below the military crest.  It was also below the fire of the 44th New York.

As the 83rd Pennsylvania was advanced into some rather large boulders in front of the rest of the brigade, we need to note that their left was covered by the angle taken by the terrain of what is now known as Vincent’s Spur, along which the 20th Maine was formed, and their right was up against the base of a small cliff above which was the left flank of the 16th Michigan, 30 feet higher.

Thus we have a defense in depth, with sophisticated positions providing covering angles of fire, and inviting gaps that became killing grounds when the Rebels entered them.  The Brigade fought with valor from this strong position, and repulsed the assault by Law’s Brigade.

Strong Vincent had no more than 5 or ten minutes to survey the ground he was given to defend, and come up with a formation that provided maximum fire along the brigade line and protection for the flanks of the advance regiment [83rd Pennsylvania].  The angles of fire, both up and down, and right and left, were maximized, and all the likely approaches to the brigade position were covered.

Not bad for a Harvard-trained lawyer from Erie Pennsylvania.  He certainly did not learn those angles at Harvard Law!

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