Monday, June 29, 1863

The movement of large bodies of Civil War troops from one point to another was a difficult undertaking. While there are guidelines, many fall by the wayside due to the vicissitudes of time and distance, available roads, physical barriers such as rivers and streams, dense forests, rocky ground, mountains, lack of water, bad roads, lack of roads, and of course, the physical and mental condition of the troops, and finally, by the presence of the enemy in any strength that could present an obstacle to movement.

So it was for both Robert E. Lee and George G. Meade at the end of June, 1863. It began to become apparent to both that there would soon be a battle, but the question was “Where?”

Lee was in the Cumberland Valley perhaps 20 miles west of Gettysburg, with some of his troops farther north toward Camp Hill, and others separated from the main body by almost 50 miles, having marched to the banks of the Susquehanna River at Wrightsville.

Meade was still in west-central Maryland but his troops were moving north at a good clip. A network of roads led into western York County, and eastern Adams County, while some others led into central Adams County. See the Campaign map below:


The natural convergence of the two armies would be somewhere around the town of Gettysburg. One look at the map and you can see why the eye is naturally drawn to Gettysburg…the network of roads leading into and out of the town is geometric, balanced, and becomes a focal point: it not only drew the eye, it drew the armies as well.

gettysburg_pa_1920So it was with Lee, and Meade, and with John Reynolds as well. Major General John Fulton Reynolds, commanding the First Corps of the Army of the Potomac, was a native Pennsylvanian, born and raised in nearby Lancaster City, about 65 miles east and well across the Susquehanna River. Reynolds was also the ranking officer in the Army of the Potomac, and a trusted commander of the Union First Corps, known for its tenacious fighting regardless of its losses. Premier among the First Corps was the First Brigade of the First Division, a brigade of Midwesterners under the command of Brigadier General Solomon Meredith. The soldiers in the brigade were battle tested, battle hardened and some of the toughest fighters in either army. They wore distinctive high crowned black-lacquered hats, and that was how they were known in the ranks of the Army of Northern Virginia: “…them damned Black Hats!” Meade placed Reynolds in command of his left wing of the army, which then consisted of the First, Third and Eleventh Corps.

At the end of the march on the 29th, Reynolds made his headquarters in Emmitsburg, Maryland, just a few miles from the Pennsylvania border. He recognized the focal point on the maps that Gettysburg presented, and the network of roads. Additionally he could see that his line of march would take him straight north into downtown Gettysburg. He also would have seen a network of side roads on the southeast of town. That was something that could come in handy if they fought at Gettysburg.


In the Cumberland Valley, between Chambersburg and Carlisle, General Robert E. Lee was issuing orders to concentrate his forces near Gettysburg. He had already ordered Ewell to head back with his two divisions [Rodes’s, and Johnson’s Divisions], to return to Chambersburg, and almost immediately changed those orders. It was too late for Major General Edward Allegheny Johnson’s Division as they had gotten on the road southwest to Chambersburg in near record time. It would be foolish to turn them around when they had already covered so much ground. Lee rode north and joined Major General Robert Rodes and his division at Carlisle. The next day Lee would ride over South Mountain to York Springs with Rodes’s Division. Other orders recalled Major General Jubal Early’s Division from far to the east, and bring them to East Berlin northeast of Gettysburg. Lieutenant General Ambrose Powell Hill’s Corps was ordered toward Cashtown on the Chambersburg Pike about 8 miles west of Gettysburg. Longstreet’s Corps was still in the Cumberland Valley waiting for the roads east to clear enough to start his men east.

It would take the bulk of the next day for the forces of both sides to consolidate into their final pre-battle positions.

Both sides smelled a battle. Lee was thirsting for the ‘one big battle’ where he would destroy the Army of the Potomac, while Meade, faced with the constraints from Washington to remain between Lee and Washington and Baltimore, maneuvered his men in a masterful use of available roads. Lee would not expect them to arrive on scene as quickly as they did. Meade began to formulate a plan of battle based on the Army of the Potomac moving east and south into Maryland to a location along Pipe Creek and there to invite Lee to attack him. Events would grant him an attack by Lee, but not at Pipe Creek.


Campaign Map:

Town Map:


Gottfried, Bradley M., The Brigades of Gettysburg, Da Capo Press, Cambridge, 2002, ISBN 0-306-81175-8.
Coddington, Edwin B., The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command, Touchstone Press, New York, 1997. ISBN 0-684-84569-5.


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Sunday, June 28, 1863

At three o’clock on the morning of June 28th, 1863, Major General George Gordon Meade, commanding Fifth Corps, Army of the Potomac, was awakened by a messenger from Washington DC. The messenger, Colonel James A. Hardie, from the staff of General-in-Chief of the Union Army, Henry Halleck, had arrived in the camp near the mouth of the Monocacy River, with a message of “trouble.” Still not quite awake, Meade’s thoughts turned to his impending arrest while asserting his innocence. Hardie gave Meade the message and Meade began to read it. The message was an order, from President Lincoln, through General Halleck, for Meade to assume command of the Army of the Potomac, replacing the recently resigned Major General Joseph Hooker. Meade is said to have commented later that he would rather have been arrested.

The situation was dire. The Army of the Potomac had been moving for several weeks shadowing Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia as it moved up inside the Shenandoah Valley, and after crossing the Potomac River into Maryland, the Cumberland Valley, which would eventually lead that Army to the west shore of the Susquehanna River across from Harrisburg, the Capital of Pennsylvania. Meade himself was a mere twenty five miles from Pennsylvania. Several hours later, after drafting a reply to General Halleck, Meade and Hardie rode to the camp of General Hooker. Hooker met with them and for several hours, they discussed details of what orders Hooker had issued recently and the logistical details that are the heavy weight on the shoulders of any General. Specifically, the details of the locations and conditions within the other six corps of the army, along with the artillery, and of course, the cavalry, still fairly flush from their recent showing at Brandy Station. For the rest of the day, Meade was busy with assembling his Head Quarters staff, and issuing orders to the various commanders as to when and where they should head next. He wired Halleck that he would “move toward the Susquehanna, keeping Washington and Baltimore well covered, and if the enemy is checked in his attempt to cross the Susquehanna or if he turns toward Baltimore, to give him battle.”
[Official Records, Part 3, pp. 61-62, as cited in Coddington.]

Late in the afternoon Halleck wired Meade information on Confederate Major General James Ewell Brown “JEB” Stuart, Cavalry Commander, Army of Northern Virginia. Stuart was conducting a raid and was east of Meade and his Army, which was east of Lee’s Infantry. Meade essentially dismissed the news as other units not part of the Army of the Potomac and near Washington and Baltimore would have to deal with Stuart.

By the end of the Day, Meade had ordered the abandonment of the garrison at Washington Heights overlooking Harpers Ferry, transport of the military material from there to Washington, via canal, and the troops to move to Frederick and become the rear guard of the Army of the Potomac, which he had ordered to concentrate around Frederick. In addition, he carefully mapped out the roads over which he would move his army, and the massive supply trains that followed it, north into Pennsylvania in the coming days, while staying between Lee and Baltimore/Washington.

One other event of some note occurred when Meade agreed to a request from his cavalry commander, Alfred Pleasonton, to promote three junior officers to Brigadier General to command new units in his cavalry corps, formerly two divisions, now reorganized into three. Thus Captains Elon J. Farnsworth, and Wesley A. Merritt, and Lieutenant George Armstrong Custer were elevated to Brigadier General and each given a brigade to command. They would all play important roles in the coming battle.


June 28th was Lee’s first full day in Pennsylvania. The advanced units of his army, specifically the cavalry brigade of Brigadier Albert Gallatin Jenkins, which ranged the Cumberland Valley north to Carlisle, and east to Camp Hill across the Susquehanna River from Harrisburg, had been in Pennsylvania for two weeks.

In the van of the Infantry columns was Richard S. Ewell’s Second Corps, with General Jubal Early’s Division leading the way. After passing through Chambersburg, Early sent Brigadier General John B. Gordon east through Gettysburg to try to capture a bridge across the Susquehanna east of York. In the process they cleaned out the shoes and boots that were available in Gettysburg. By the 28th they were in York getting $100,000 in ransom, supplies, food, hats, and shoes and boots.

One interesting observation was about some of the culture shock the Confederates experienced in Pennsylvania. “As Confederates pushed on into Pennsylvania, the countryside startled them. For most, this was their first trip to the North, and the natural beauty of the region and the level of opulence among northern farmers shocked these southern boys. They had accepted unquestioningly arguments about the superiority of slave labor. What they saw, however, belied those tales. Soldier after soldier wrote home of stunning landscape, with hardwood forests atop hills and lush pastureland and tidy fields scattered along the gentle slopes and valley floors. In Pennsylvania, the soil was rich and the livestock fat. Impressive stone homes and enormous barns dotted the panorama. Evidently, these middle-class farmers in a free labor society did quite well for themselves.”  [The Common Soldier’s Gettysburg Campaign, Joseph T. Glatthaar, in Boritt, p. 9.]

The Confederate spy James Harrison reported to Longstreet and Lee on the night of the 28th that the Army of the Potomac had crossed that river and was in Maryland headed north. Hard on the heels of this news came the news of the replacement of Hooker by Meade. The absence of Stuart and the absence even of word from Stuart had cost Lee some time, but well into the night Lee was writing new orders to his commanders, calling them back to assemble near Cashtown, a few miles west of Gettysburg, at the foot of South Mountain on the Chambersburg Pike.

Borritt, Gabor, Ed. “The Gettysburg Nobody Knows”, Oxford University Press, New York. 1997. ISBN 0-19-510223-1

Coddington, Edwin B. “The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command” Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York. 1984. ISBN 0-684-18152-5 (pbk.)


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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

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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!


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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

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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.”


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Remembrance Day Photos, Part 2

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


The Rose Farm in the dawn sun:


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


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:


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

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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:


Here are the Round tops, from West Confederate Avenue:


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


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


Finally, Elephant Rock and the Slyder Farm behind it.


W. G. Davis

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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:

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

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