"Anderson Attacks the Wheatfield" by Jay Jorgensen
I'm a relatively new member to the Gettysburg Discussion Group, and must state that I enjoy the discussions greatly! I'm currently working on a long term project dealing with the actions in the Wheatfield. My general inquiry to the Group is for assistance in any first hand accounts of any of the participants in that action. Any information or leads would be greatly appreciated.
A good place to start would be with issue #3 of the Gettysburg Magazine; an article by Eric Campbell (an excellent writer, and a ranger at GNMP) entitled: 'Caldwell Clears the Wheatfield'. The letters of Kershaw to Bachelder (for example; volume 1 page 452 and others) in the Bachelder Papers published by Morningside Bookshop, are very informative. You will also want to see Kershaw's report in the O.R.s beginning in the 3d Gettysburg volume around page 367. _Maine at Gettysburg_ contains a descriptive account from the viewpoint of the 17th Maine infantry which held the stonewall at the southern end of the Wheatfield when the fighting there opened. This book is in reprint and is readily accessible. If you have access to volumes of N.Y. at Gettysburg and Penna at Gettysburg, then you would want to look up the monument dedication speeches of the various Penna and N.Y. regiments that participated in the battle. Hope this is enough to get you started, but there is plenty of other primary accounts you can check.
I would also have to add that Pfanz's work on the second day is a good place to start your ventures into the Wheatfield. Chapters 11 and 12 deal with the fight there (pp. 241- 302). There are a couple of maps that are helpful in the reading. Used with the article that Terry is talking about, I think you can get a fairly good "feel" for what happened there. That and you must actually walk the area and visualize it. I did this back in January and had a chill that I had never felt on the field before. (had nothing to do with the temp either :-)
In researching a book on the 20th Indiana, I have been somewhat surprised by the relative lack of attention given to the 20th Indiana's fight on the right of Ward's Brigade. The focus of most writing is on the left of his line and the fighting by the 99th Pa., 4th Me. and the 124th NY and their fight against the 3rd Arkansas and 1st Texas. However, the 20th Indiana ended up with over 1/3 of the casualties in the brigade fighting Benning's Georgians. Now I realize that the romantic aspect of fighting in the Devil's Den at the foot of LRT may have something to do with it, but I'd like to ask a what if question. If the 20th Indiana had not held the right flank of Ward's Brigade, with the gap caused by the removal of the 99th to fill in on the left, could LRT have been held?
Maybe a better question is "could the Wheatfield have been held as long as it was without the 20th Indiana holding its position as long as it did?" The implication being that the 20th Indiana and DeTrobriand's brigade held on long enough at near the Wheatfield for Caldwell's Division to arrive just as the Anderson's Division was breaking into the Wheatfield.
It's a good question, Craig. I should first point out that a very good number of the regiments who fought this action deserve more credit than they have received from history. For instance, no one knows (to my knowledge) at all what if any contribution the 99th PA made to the defense of Devil's Den. They must have done something; they managed to take their fair share of casualties. No one from that regiment has written about their action, and there is little mention in anone else's accounts. It is quite amazing to think that these brave men fought in historic silence. I suspect the same goes for the 20th Indiana and 86th New York; neither have regimental histories published, and our awareness of their contribution is thus diminished for that fact.
Now, to answer your question, there is no doubt that if the 20th Indiana hadn't persevered under what certainly must have been great odds, the whole line along Houck's Ridge must have fallen. It is questionable, though what effect that would have had on Little Round Top. I don't think the effect would have been as great as it would have been if the defenders of Devil's Den, the 124th, and the 99th PA had given way. The reason is, if the 20th IN had given way early in the action, all the units in the Devil's Den area would have necessarily had to give way towards Little Round Top, aiding in its defense. This was 5 regiments, the 86th NY, 124th NY, 99th PA and 4th Maine. If the 20th Indiana had given way later in the action, there would have been no time for Benning's Brigade to participate in the attack on Little Round Top. In fact, they probably wouldn't have done that, but would have, instead, driven straight ahead to participate in the Wheatfield attack. This is what the 1st Texas did when the Devil's Den area was finally taken; they extended along Houck's Ridge towards the Wheatfield.
If the units at Devil's Den had given way, Robertson's Brigade probably would have participated in the assault on Little Round Top, and would probably have broken through...
I'd appreciate your comment on this. This is just my own off-the-cuff belief. It's an interesting question.
Although I am still researching the dispositions of Ward's position and the brigade's battle action, I have come to a preliminary conclusion. Since Houck's Ridge ran from the Devil's Den to the Northeast, an early collapse of the position of the 20th Indiana would have jeopardized the entire brigade line and possible ended in a rout that would have been difficult to stop at LRT. If the 20th Indiana would have given way early enough, Benning's CSA Brigade may have penetrated the Union line to the North of LRT. Sufficient Union reinforcements would have arrived to drive back Benning, but you never know what the outcome may have been. It is my opinion that we have so lionized the 20th Maine and the fight at LRT that we have forgotten the brigade that may have made this romanticized affair possible.
I am interested in your conclusion concerning the 20th Ind and had they collapsed. Actually it would have been Anderson's Brigade that would have gone through that hole in the line, of course they would have been under flanking fire from the 17th Maine and Winslow's Battery D, !st NY Arty. Then they would have been under fire from Hazlett's battery and the right half of Weed's Brigade on LRT. Next they would have run into two brigades of U.S. Regulars and then part of Gibb's battery, followed by a Brigade of the PA Reserves. And no telling if they would have gotten that far, because of Caldwell's attack across the Wheat Field would have hit them in flank and rear.
Just some item to consider
BTMM58A@prodigy.com (MR CRAIG L DUNN) says IN PART:
Since Houck's Ridge ran from the Devil's Den to the Northeast, an early collapse of the position of the 20th Indiana would have jeopardized the entire brigade line and possible ended in a rout that would have been difficult to stop at LRT.
For the men in Ward's brigade, when the troops finally did collapse after about an hour of fighting, the rout that did occur was not stopped at LRT. I'm not positive, but it appears that they ran beyond the G. Weikert farmhouse (where US avenue is today) and to the Taneytown road. They probably ran back to the area where they had massed the night before.
Of course the time that these troops bought for the Federals did allow them to identify and bring up waves of reinforcements as we all know.
But, unlike Harry Heth, I don't want to bring on a full engagement regarding Ward's brigade at this time. I'm still doing my homework.
Let me quote one paragraph (p173) of the "History of the 124th New York Volunteers", the regimental history by Charles Weygant. The 124th was formed behind and to the right of Smith's battery on Houck's ridge near Devil's Den.
"We had not yet learned by bitter experience the inestimable value of breastworks, (1) and instead of spending our leisure time in rolling together the loose stones and throwing over them such a quantity of earth as would have formed a bullet proof line, we lounged about on the grass and rocks, quietly awaiting the coming shock, which many declared themselves ready and anxious to receive. But there were undoubtedly those among us who ardently wished and perhaps secretly prayed that when the battle opened, it might rage most furiously along some other portion of the line."(1) One of my favorite dozen quotes from the battle. Another is from the Major of the 124th: "The men must see us today". (said a little before he was shot from the horse and killed).
what is more intriguing to me is that if the 20th didn't hold, Anderson's brigade could have turned left, flanked the 17th Maine, 110th PA, and 5th Mich from Detrobriand's brigade at about 530 pm. this would have uncovered the whole Wheatfield/stony hill line at about 530 pm instead of 630 pm when barksdale and wofford broke the peach orchard salient, which then doomed the caldwell's division fighting in the Wheatfield and rose's woods. Anderson then could have hooked up with kershaw's brigade, and supported by semmes, hit the Wheatfield rd. batteries.
i know this is pure speculation..... but it may be that at 530, anderson, kershaw and semmes then could have overrun the 5 wheatfield batteries because of the lack of infantry supports. they may also have been able to trap graham's brigade at the peach orchard by coming in from the south and east of the peach orchard...still.they probably would have run into caldwell's division moving up as well as tilton's and sweitzer's brigades from barnes division in the 5th corps.
i still enjoy speculating even if its dangerous
Got your follow up...good speculation, I didn't consider what might have happened if the broke through and turned left Might have gotten the wheatfield before Caldwell got there?
exactly...Anderson's brigade hit the Wheatfield initially sometime a little after 5 pm but they were repulsed at least twice by DeTrobriand's brigade and the 20th Indiana who fought the 59th GA from anderson's.....caldwell's division was probably just in the process of being sent down the line by hancock.........if anderson's brigade with the 3rd ark had pushed detrobriand and the 20th indiana from ward's back at about 5 pm they probably would have fought caldwell somewhere to the north and/or east of the wheatfield....but IMHO sickles's salient and the wheatfield road batteries would have been in serious trouble much earlier than 6:15 -6:30 pm when barkesdale broke it at the Peach Orchard.
I have been wondering about whether or not Winslow's battery would have made a difference had it not retired from the field. It is my understanding that it left about when Caldwell arrived. Was it forced to retire because of depleted ammunition, or had it just gotten too hot there? It seemed like a great spot for a battery to command the Confederate line.
Could Caldwell have supported that position and would it have made any difference in the initial outcome of that action?
In a message dated 96-04-27 11:40:31 EDT, firstname.lastname@example.org (Dennis Lawrence) said
about winslow's position--
in his official report, winslow called his position "obscure"...he couldn't see the advancing confederate infantry (anderson's brigade) until they got closer into rose's woods directly in front of him...however, when anderson's brigade did get in close, winslow remarked in his report that he kept the enemy from coming out of the woods into the wheatfield by firing both solid and case shot. the small knoll where winslow was posted is generally good defensive position. however because of rose's woods there really is not a good clean field of fire like those the wheatfield rd batteries enjoyed.
about why winslow had to withdraw --
according to winslow's official report it got way too hot there......all his infantry supports were retreating (17th maine, 5th mich), kershaw's brigade was advancing on his right, anderson on his front from rose's woods, and the 1st texas, 3rd ark and 15thGA from his left front after they had pushed back wards's brigade....he really had to get out quickly to save his guns. he withdrew his guns covering the infantry retreat and withdrawing his 6 napoleons piece by piece from left to right....once winslow withdrew and the 17th maine retreated there were no more union troops in wheatfield.
harry pfanz on page 265 in his book on the second day said that the situation at that moment "meant that the whole left of sickles's line had been smashed and its right wing on the Emittsburg Rd. was in jeopardy." (this is the basis for my premise that the peach orchard salient and wheatfield rd batteries were in much more jeopardy than LRT if ward's brigade had retreated earlier). the situation when caldwell's division arrived was obviously critical.
according to pfanz, winslow regretted leaving the wheatfield as he saw caldwell's division coming..i think realized that he could have been very useful in supporting caldwell's counterattack. caldwell's men did very well without winslow though, slamming 3 brigades (semmes, anderson, and kershaw) back in his counterattack... but it all became moot when barkesdale and wofford broke thru at the peach orchard about 45 minutes later and the whole line collapsed.
btw...there is a really good succinct excerpt of winslow's report in the USAWC guide to the battle of gettysburg....
thanks for asking about the wheatfield.....its probably my favorite part of the field and the one of the more fun and challenging to understand.