ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jay Jorgensen is a lawyer and Municipal Court Judge in Central New Jersey. He graduated from Villanova Law School, and is currently working on his masters degree in military history from American Military University. He is the founder and president of the Robert E. Lee Civil War Round Table of Central New Jersey. Mr. Jorgensen would like to thank Scott Hartwig, Gary Kross, and Tom Elmore for their help and assistance in preparing this article.
With the setting of the sun on July 1, 1863, Gen. Robert E. Lees Army of Northern Virginia stood poised to strike a blow for Confederate freedom. His army had driven Maj. Gen. George G. Meade's Army of the Potomac's First and Eleventh Corps back through the streets of Gettysburg, and Northern soldiers sought protection at the high ground south of town, as they awaited reinforcements and the savage fighting sure to resume the following day.
July 2 would see some of the hardest fighting of the Civil War, as Confederates stormed Federal positions relentlessly, beginning at 4 p.m. Confederate Lt. Gen. James Longstreet commented in later years that it was the best three hours fighting ever done by any troops on any battlefield. 1 Lee's plan of attack called for an en echelon attack upon the Federal left flank, spearheaded by Longstreet's First Corps. Maj. Gen. John Bell Hood's division started the action by advancing upon the Union positions in Devils Den and Houck's Ridge. The fighting soon spilled over onto Little Round Top and John Rose's Wheatfield, and the division of Maj. Gen. Lafayette McLaws joined the fray. Brig. Gen. George Thomas Tige Anderson's brigade played an especially intriguing role in the attack on the Wheatfield.
Anderson's brigade of Georgians was part of Hood's division of Longstreet's First Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia. George T. Anderson was born in Covington, Georgia, on February 3, 1824. While attending Emory College in Oxford, Georgia, Anderson felt compelled to withdraw and serve his state and country in the Mexican War as a lieutenant of a Georgia cavalry regiment, serving under the command of Brig. Gen. Stephen W. Kearney.
After that war he returned to Georgia, married Elizabeth Ramey, and took up the family occupation of farming. In 1855 he received a commission as captain in Col. Edwin V. Sumner's 1st U.S. Cavalry and served with that regiment in Kansas. Anderson resigned his commission in 1858, and remained in Kansas until Georgia seceded from the Union, whereupon he returned to his native state. He immediately helped raise a company in Walton County and was elected captain.
When the 11th Georgia was organized in July 1861, Anderson was elected colonel, and he immediately took his regiment to Virginia and reported to Brig. Gen. Joseph E. Johnston at Manassas. Anderson was given command of a brigade, consisting of the 7th, 8th, 9th and 11th Georgia regiments and the 1st Kentucky. On November 1, 1862, he was promoted to brigadier general and served in that capacity with the Army of Northern Virginia through the end of the war.
Returning to Georgia, Anderson worked for a railroad. From 1877 to 1881 he was Atlanta's chief of police, a position he would also hold later in Anniston, Alabama. In 1881 he moved to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and that same year the widowed exsoldier married his second wife, Linda Spiller. George T. Anderson died on April 4, 1901, at the age of seventy-seven, and was buried in Edgemont Cemetery, Anniston, Alabama.2
By the time of the Gettysburg Campaign the 1st Kentucky had been replaced in Anderson's brigade by the 59th Georgia. The 7th Georgia, formed in May, 1861, at Atlanta, was led by Col. William W. White, a lawyer from Cobb County, Georgia, and had ten companies totaling 400 men. The 8th Georgia had 330 men in ten companies at Gettysburg and was led by Col. John R. Towers, a South Carolinian about whom it was said, "All the regiment call him Grand-ma and he seems to enjoy it finely. We all like him." 3 The 9th Georgia came to Gettysburg with nine companies totalling 361 men (Company A had been converted to artillery in December 1861). The regiment was led by fifty-year old Lt. Col. John C. Mounger, a lawyer from Brooks County, Georgia. Mounger would be killed in action at Gettysburg. The smallest regiment in the brigade, containing 328 men, was the 11th Georgia. Its commander, Col. Francis H. Little, had graduated from the University of Georgia in 1861 and began practicing law. At Gettysburg the twenty-three-year old Little would be wounded, and command would devolve to Lt. Col. William Luffman, a Mexican War veteran. When he too was wounded, Maj. Henry D. McDaniel, a participant in the Georgia Secession Convention, took command. The largest regiment in the brigade was the 59th Georgia, which counted 557 men at Gettysburg. When its colonel, Jack Brown, was wounded, Maj. Bolivar Hopkins Gee, another member of the Georgia Secession Convention, led the regiment.4
The march northward into Pennsylvania had not been without hardship for Anderson's Georgians. On June 21, 1863, Pvt. John A. Everett of the 59th Georgia wrote his mother:
We have bin marching verry hard for 1 week we would march from 20 to 25 miles a day and it was the warmest wether that I Ever Saw in my life thair was Several of our Div dide on the road I fell in the road and was left but I Soon got Over it and went on after my Regt it was a hard march but it was obliged to keep Oald Hooker from Whiping us.5In spite of the hardships, the men were confident. Pvt. Samuel Brewer of Company I, 8th Georgia, recalled that, "All the Army impose the utmost confidence in our hero (Genrl R. E. Lee), for what ever he says must be done, is done with alacrity nothing doubting." 6
By June 30, 1863, the brigade reached Greenwood, Pennsylvania, and at 2 p.m. the following day it set out with the rest of Hood's division on a forced march for Gettysburg, a distance of twenty- four miles. Ten hours later the soldiers rested four hours at Marsh Creek, then resumed the march to Seminary Ridge, arriving before dawn on the morning of July 2.
While resting with the division along the crest of Seminary Ridge, the Georgians could see Federal troops in position on Cemetery Ridge and Cemetery Hill. Soon after sunrise Robert E. Lee passed by the position on his horse. Capt. George Hillyer, Company C, 9th Georgia, recalled fondly the words of a fellow comrade upon seeing Lee, Boys, there are ten thousand men sitting on that horse. 7
General Lee had made his decision to attack. General Longstreet would take Hood's and McLaws divisions southward to assault the Federal left. The march got underway late in the morning and took much longer than anybody had anticipated. The long column traveled southwesterly shielded by Herr Ridge until it neared the Black Horse Tavern. When the head of the column approached the crest of Herr Ridge, the troops were halted as McLaws and Longstreet conferred at the site. They were concerned that the Federal signal corps would detect the Confederate movement if the column went over the ridge. A decision was made, and Brig. Gen. Joseph B. Kershaw recalled what occurred next with the Confederate flanking movement:
McLaws halted the troops and with Longstreet went over the hill along the road we were on. In a few minutes . . . both returned. McLaws ordered Countermarch and we filed to the rear passing nearly on the same ground as before, crossed our line of march near the end of the lane moved straight towards Round Top, came to the bed of a stream then nearly dry [a tributary of Willoughby Run], moved along it, under cover of woods [west of the Finnefrock homestead], to the right until we reached a small house.8From the Pitzer School House Anderson's brigade marched southeast 1,400 yards into a position across the Emmitsburg Road in Bieseker's Woods, arriving there approximately mid-afternoon. Hood's division straddled the Emmitsburg Road once the men were in position. The four brigades were placed into two lines. Brig. Gen. Evander Law's brigade of five Alabama regiments occupied the far right of the first line, with Brig. Gen. Jerome B. Robertson's brigade, consisting of the 3rd Arkansas, 1st, 4th, and 5th Texas, on the left of the first line. Approximately 200 yards behind this first line was Brig. Gen. Henry L. Benning's brigade of four Georgia regiments (2nd, 15th, 17th, and 20th Georgia) on the right and Anderson's brigade on the left. Anderson's Georgians were placed in line, left to right, as follows: 9th, 8th, 11th, and 59th Georgia. Col. William W. Whites 7th Georgia had been detached to guard Hood's right flank from Federal cavalry threats. The regiment took up a position near the Kern house, half a mile south on the Emmitsburg Road. The 7th Georgia continued to guard that position for the remainder of the day, thereby depriving Anderson of 400 men in the ensuing battle in the Wheatfield.9
After his division was in place, Hood ordered two batteries to open fire on the Federals, with Union gunners on Houck's Ridge and in the Peach Orchard returning fire. Enemy shells soon began to fall among Anderson's men; it was during this barrage that the first casualty to Anderson's brigade occurred. Jackson B. Giles, a courier, was dismounting his horse when a shell tore off his left leg above the knee and threw him ten to fifteen feet in the air. Captain Hillyer came to his aid, asking the mortally wounded Giles if there was any message he could relay to Giles parents. The dying private reportedly responded, Tell them I died for my country. 10The cannonading, in Anderson's words, created, a very unpleasant condition. 11
Before long Law's and Robertson's brigades advanced against the Federal positions on the Round Tops and Devils Den. The 4th and 5th Texas, fighting near Little Round Top, needed reinforcements. General Robertson sent a messenger to Lieutenant General Longstreet for reinforcement, and at the same time sent to Generals Anderson and Benning, urging them to hurry up to my support. 12The messenger pointed out the position where Anderson was to lend support, and the Georgian acted promptly, ordering his men forward, with one private in the 8th Georgia recalling that the line rose from the grass upon which they were resting and boldly marched to the field. 13 The four Georgia regiments moved quickly and in good order across the Emmitsburg Road, into a field of wheat north of Slyders Lane. As they continued for the next 300 yards, they were exposed to the fire from Federal artillery, which caused several casualties. Captain Hillyer came upon John Stevens of his regiment, who had been shot:
The bullet had gone through his clothes, and I had not noticed any wound. I said 'What's the matter John?' He didnt tell me he was wounded, or complain of his hurt, but he replied, 'Captain, if you will help me over the fence, I will try to go on.'Hillyer, realizing the wound was serious, told his friend to lie down there and the litter corps would care for him. Stevens died at the spot and was buried there before the day was over.14 Lt. Col. John C. Mounger was another fatality of the advance, struck down by a shell fragment. Continuing on, Anderson's men headed in a northeasterly direction, passing just north of the Timbers buildings and entering Roses Woods, finally obtaining some protection from the artillery fire.15
The regiments continued to push forward through the woods. The middle regiments in the line (8th and 11th Georgia) worked their way onto the west branch of Plum Run, while the 9th Georgia, on the left of the brigade, angled toward a ravine nearly due east of the Rose house. The left flank of the 9th Georgia was exposed to heavy enemy fire from its front and on its flank. General Anderson reacted promptly to the crisis, dispatching Lt. William A. Tennille, regimental adjutant of the 9th Georgia, to Captain Hillyer with a twofold message. All field and line officers superior in rank to Hillyer had been killed or wounded, so Hillyer was informed that command of the regiment devolved upon him. Second, Hillyer was informed that Anderson wished him to change the direction of the three companies on the left, in order to face the enemy on that flank.
[Hillyer] gave the command, Attention three left companies, but the men could not hear my voice, so great, at the moment, was the roar of musketry and artillery. I ran to the left of the line, and touching the men on the back, made the movement mainly by signs; and fronted the three companies to the left and rear at right angles to our position. 16The left wing of Anderson's brigade continued pressing the Federal soldiers posted to the right of a stone wall located at the southern end of the Wheatfield. These soldiers were from the 115th Pennsylvania and 8th New Jersey, two regiments of Col. George C. Burling's Third Brigade (Brig. Gen. Andrew A. Humphrey's Second Division, Third Corps), and extended the 17th Maine's line in a northwesterly direction. Burling, fearing a Confederate flanking movement, withdrew his two regiments into the Wheatfield, thereby creating a gap between the left of the 5th Michigan and the right of the 17th Maine. While Captain Hillyer and three companies of the 9th Georgia held Anderson's left flank position, the remainder of the regiment joined the 8th Georgia in trying to exploit that gap. As they rushed forward, they were able to fire into the right flank of the 17th Maine positioned along the stone wall. Maj. George W. West ordered the three companies on the right of the 17th Maine, Companies H, K, and C, to change front and take up a position along a rail fence. Capt. George W. Verrill of the 17th Maine recalled the movement:
The three right companies and part of the fourth thus formed the flanking line along a rail fence which joined the stone wall at about a right angle and was the boundary of the real Wheatfield at the west. The alder growth was now about fifty yards in front of this flank line, leaving a fine roadway between; the rest of the regiment remained of course where they were at the wall.17The 8th and 9th Georgia soon discovered that their advanced position posed some unanticipated problems. Their left flank was exposed to fire from the 5th Michigan and 110th Pennsylvania posted on the slope of the Stony Hill. Unable to advance farther against the 17th Maine on the right, or Col. Regis de Trobriand's other two regiments on their left, the Georgians assault stalled.18
The 11th Georgia kept the remaining companies of the 17th Maine along the stone wall heavily engaged. The Georgians rushed forward, and the fighting on both sides became desperate. The Confederates attempted to plant their colors on the wall, were repulsed, and in the process one of the color guards was captured by Lt. Joseph Perry. When the fire grew too deadly, the men of the 11th Georgia were forced to disengage. A short while later the gallant prisoner was shown around as a model soldier and sent back under guard. 19 The 59th Georgia was having its own set of problems on the right of Anderson's line. Col. Van H. Manning's 3rd Arkansas, General Robertson's far left regiment, was engaged in a hotly contested firefight with Brig. Gen. J. H. Hobart Wards right wing (86th New York and 20th Indiana), posted in the southern portion of Roses Woods along Houck's Ridge. Initially successful in pushing back the Union skirmishers, Manning's forward progress stalled at a ledge of rocks, as the Confederates received fire from the 17th Maine, posted seventy-five yards away along the stone wall at the southern end of the Wheatfield, on their left flank. The 59th Georgia came to the assistance of the Arkansas regiment; together they pushed forward against the 20th Indiana. 20
While the 59th Georgia continued its attack against the right of Wards brigade, the 11th Georgia concentrated on silencing the 17th Maine. Maj. Henry D. McDaniel of the 11th Georgia reported that
The advance was made in good order, and, upon reaching the belt of woods in front, a vigorous fire was opened upon the enemy, followed up by a vigorous charge, which dislodged them from the woods, the ravine, and from a stone fence running diagonally with the line of battle. This formidable position was occupied by the 11th Georgia, and a galling fire opened upon the enemy's front and flank, causing his line to recoil in confusion.21The Georgians advance through Roses Woods was hampered by the fire of the 17th Maine, as well as from artillery fire from Capt. George T. Winslow's Company D, 1st New York Artillery. Captain Winslow's six Napoleons were position 300 yards to the north of the stone wall position held by the 17th Maine, and he had his gunners fire solid shot into the woods to impede the advancing Confederates. Then, too, the men were completely exhausted when they made it [the initial charge], having double-quicked a distance of some 400 yards under a severe shelling and a scorching sun, which contributed to the 59th Georgia's inability to sustain the initial charge. 22 In spite of the partial success enjoyed by the 11th Georgia, Anderson's position in Rose's Woods was tenuous. As enemy fire upon his left flank continued, Anderson came forward to confer with Colonel Little of the 11th Georgia and ordered Littles regiment to withdraw towards the edge of the woods to regroup. This maneuver was carried out successfully, and a temporary lull in fighting took place around 5:30 p.m. Thus ended the first phase of Anderson's attack in the Wheatfield.23
The Georgians had been fighting elements of Colonel de Trobriand's Third Brigade of Maj. Gen. David B. Birney's First Division of Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Sickles Third Corps. When Sickles pushed his Third Corps forward to the Emmitsburg Road, de Trobriand positioned two of his regiments, the 5th Michigan and the 110th Pennsylvania, on the southern end of Stony Hill. He sent the 3rd Michigan to his right to act as skirmishers and fill the gap between Brig. Gen. Charles K. Graham's First Brigade, First Division, and de Trobriand's men. His remaining two regiments, the 17th Maine and 40th New York, were held in reserve on Stony Hill.
When Longstreet's forces began the action, Colonel de Trobriand sent the 17th Maine down to a stone wall, thirty inches high, along the southern edge of the Wheatfield. Almost immediately, the 40th New York was dispatched to assist Wards brigade near Devils Den, leaving de Trobriand with no reserves. The 115th Pennsylvania and 8th New Jersey of Burling's brigade extended the right of the 17th Maine as the initial assault began.24
During the next two and one-half hours the Wheatfield became a swirling mass of confusion, as desperate fighting between Northerners and Southerners transformed the twenty-four acres into a vast sea of misery. The Wheatfield itself is located north of Devils Den and southeast of the Peach Orchard. It is bordered on the southeast by Houck's Ridge and on the northwest by Stony Hill. Wheatfield Road (as it is called today) divided the northeastern portion of the Wheatfield from Trostle's Woods. There was a stone wall bordering the southern portion of the Wheatfield and Roses Woods. Running perpendicular from the right end of the stone wall was a rail fence, extending northeast toward Stony Hill. The ground to the northwest of this intersection of rail fence and stone wall was low, marshy ground, covered at the time by a growth of alders. The topography of the Wheatfield was such that the high ground was located at the northwest portion of the field, where Winslow's battery was, and sloped down to the stone wall.
During the lull after Anderson's first attack, Brig. Gen. James Barnes, commanding the First Division of Maj. Gen. George Syke's Fifth Army Corps, sent two brigades, led by Col. William S. Tilton and Col. Jacob Sweitzer, into position on Stony Hill. Further reinforcements, ten regiments of U.S. Regulars from Col. Hannibal Day's First Brigade and Col. Sidney Burbank's Second Brigade of Brig. Gen. Romeyn B. Ayres's Second Division of the Fifth Corps, were posted just east of the Wheatfield. The addition of these Federal soldiers helped make the Union position the strongest it would be at any time during the fighting of July 2. Unfortunately for Meade's forces, this position would not remain strongly defended for very long.
Realizing he needed support on his left flank, Anderson sought out Col. W. D. De Saussures 15th South Carolina of Brig. Gen. Joseph B. Kershaw's brigade. Finding him, Anderson made the appropriate arrangements and returned to his Georgians in Roses Woods. Upon his return he walked toward the right of his brigade to make further preparations to resume his assault. While doing so he was struck down near a large boulder, as a mini ball hit him in his right thigh between the femoral artery and the bone. The wound was not mortal, but it did take him out of the action that day. He was evacuated to a temporary hospital (one of the Plank family houses) near Black Horse Tavern. Lt. Col. William Luffman of the 11th Georgia, Anderson's old regiment, took over command of the brigade.25
When the right wing of Kershaw's brigade, consisting of the 3rd, 7th, and 15th South Carolina regiments, passed near Stony Hill and Roses Woods, Anderson's brigade resumed the offensive. On the left of the brigade the 9th Georgia
. . . moved some distance to the front and down a declivity into a strip of meadow land, where a little brook ran parallel with our position. This little brook made a natural ditch some two or three feet deep, and in its meanderings with its grassy banks, made a fine natural rifle pit. We were quick to take advantage of the opportunity and occupied it. . . . We met with some losses and the water of the brook soon became red with blood, but the enemy in the front suffered more than we did.26The enemy in the front consisted of the 22nd and 32nd Massachusetts posted on the southern portion of Stony Hill. Captain Hillyer of the 9th Georgia further recounted a particularly devastating exchange with Union troops not more than forty yards away:
With the precision of a dress parade, that magnificent line of Federals lowered their pieces and the volley came. But we had time to duck our heads and the sheet of lead passed harmless over us, but I could see where the bullets cut and plowed the ground behind us. Every man of us then seemed to realize our tremendous advantage. There we were in this splendid natural rifle pit, every gun loaded. . . . Our men rested their guns on the grass in front, and with the solid line of the enemy in easy, close range, returned the fire. It seemed that not a bullet went above their heads or below their feet. They fell right and left.27The center and right flank of the 9th Georgia, along with the 8th and 11th Georgia, surged forward and pressed the attack against the Federal soldiers posted along the stone wall. The men of the 17th Maine had resupplied themselves with ammunition between Anderson's first two attacks and were now ready to hold their position. However, the pressure on their right, provided by flanking fire from the 9th Georgia and the renewed attack of the 8th Georgia, began taking its toll. Then, too, Kershaw's South Carolinians joined the assault on Stony Hill. Colonel Tilton, commanding the First Brigade, First Division, Fifth Corps on the southwestern portion of Stony Hill, became anxious about the Confederate movement on his right, went there personally, and determined that the enemy would outflank his position. He therefore pulled his brigade off Stony Hill and reformed to the north of Wheatfield Road. This retrograde movement also contributed to the withdrawal of Colonels Sweitzer's Second Brigade from its position on Stony Hill to Trostle Woods north of Wheatfield Road.28
The withdrawal of the two brigades from Stony Hill left de Trobriand's 5th Michigan, 110th Pennsylvania, and 17th Maine alone to contend with Anderson's Georgians and Kershaw's South Carolinians. Pvt. John Haley of Company I, 17th Maine, remembered Colonel de Trobriand ordering the 17th Maine to, "hold your ground and hold them with the bayonet." Obeying orders, a bayonet charge was made, but the Georgians repulsed it. The Union position was no longer tenable, and the 5th Michigan and 110th Pennsylvania retired across Stony Hill in the same direction taken previously by Tilton and Sweitzer's brigades. While they were retreating, the 17th Maine engaged in a fighting withdrawal through the Wheatfield, with the 8th and 11th Georgia regiments in pursuit.29
The only support the 17th Maine received was from Captain Winslow's battery, but that was enough; for as Winslow recalled, "By using shell and case shot at about one degree elevation, and from 1 to 1 1/2 second fuse, I kept the enemy from advancing from the cover of the woods." 30 The devastating artillery fire kept the Georgians at bay for only a short time. Kershaw's advance on Stony Hill enabled his men to get to the right and rear of Winslow's cannoneers, forcing the battery to withdraw. With the threat of shell and case shot now removed, the 8th and 9th Georgia regiments moved midway into the Wheatfield while the 11th and 59th Georgia regiments secured their position along the stone wall. Brig. Gen. John C. Caldwell's First Division of Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock's Second Corps came to the assistance of the Federals in the Wheatfield. Before that division arrived however, General Birney personally ordered the 17th Maine to attack the Georgians in the Wheatfield. Lt. Col. Charles B. Merrill of the Maine regiment reported:
With cheers for our gallant commander, the regiment moved quickly forward, and pouring into the enemy volley upon volley, their advance was checked. The contest was now of a most deadly character, almost hand to hand, and our loss was very severe. In the color guard of 10, but 3 escaped uninjured.31This stalled the advance of the 8th and 9th Georgia regiments. The time was approximately 6 p.m., and Brig. Gen. John C. Caldwell's division was about to enter the fray. The first brigade to enter the Wheatfield belonged to Col. Edward E. Cross. It came in on the northeast, aligned, from left to right, as follows: 5th New Hampshire, 148th Pennsylvania, 61st New York and 81st Pennsylvania. The brigade advanced quickly and its front soon extended from the woods on the left (where the 20th Indiana had fought the 3rd Arkansas and 59th Georgia) to the middle of the Wheatfield along the crest of Houck's Ridge. As soon as Union soldiers appeared in the open, Anderson's men, posted in the Wheatfield as skirmishers, began a deadly fire. Second Lt. Charles A. Hale of the 5th New Hampshire remembered,
the bullets from the enemy's skirmishers came buzzing around like bees, and we could see the puffs of smoke from their rifles in every direction, showing that we were about to encounter a heavy force. The brigade continued to advance quickly, capturing twenty Georgians in the process.32Colonel Cross, the hard fighting commander of the First Brigade, had a premonition that he would die at Gettysburg. Earlier in the day, General Hancock had mentioned to Cross that this day will bring you a star, and the colonels response was, "No, General, this is my last battle." Shortly after his brigade took its position in the Wheatfield, Cross moved to the left of his line, occupied by his old regiment, the 5th New Hampshire. This regiment was in the eastern end of Roses Woods and was taking flanking fire on its left from the 1st Texas and 59th Georgia regiments. It was also hotly engaged with the right wing of Anderson's brigade, which was slightly refused from the stone wall in order to fight the 5th New Hampshire. While on the left of his brigade line, Cross premonition came true. He was mortally wounded in the stomach, and died at midnight. His last words were, "I think the boys will miss me." 33
With the death of Cross, command of the First Brigade devolved to Col. H. Boyd McKeen of the 81st Pennsylvania, who continued to press the attack. The right regiments of the brigade were taking fire from the 8th and 9th Georgia, posted now behind the stone wall, along with fire from Kershaw's 7th South Carolina. The South Carolinians soon had more than they could handle, as Brig. Gen. Samuel K. Zook's Third Brigade of Caldwell's division charged across the Wheatfield Road and began working south along the Stony Hill towards the 3rd and 7th South Carolina. Zook's brigade was in two lines, the first consisting of (right to left) the 140th Pennsylvania, 52nd New York, and 66th New York, with the 57th New York comprising the second line. Soon after Zook's brigade entered the Wheatfield, Col. Patrick Kelly's Second Brigade, known as the Irish Brigade, swept into the field just east of Stony Hill and advanced on Kershaw's two regiments. The brigade attacked in a single line with (from left to right) the 88th New York, 69th New York, 63rd New York, 28th Massachusetts, and 116th Pennsylvania. Kershaw, perceiving the imminent danger to his troops, raced to his right rear to enlist the support of Brig. Gen. Paul Semme's brigade of Georgians, then approaching the conflict. Nevertheless, the Federal brigades were able to overlap Kershaw's position, forcing him to retreat to the Rose buildings, where his men regrouped, but not before both sides suffered from the deadly, close quarter fighting.34
Anderson's brigade was busily engaged with Cross brigade. Colonel McKeen, discovering that most of his men were dangerously low on ammunition, reported the problem to Caldwell, who promptly sent his reserve brigade, under Col. John R. Brooke, to relieve McKeen's men. Brooke's brigade went into action (from left to right) as follows: 2nd Delaware, 64th New York, 53rd Pennsylvania, 27th Connecticut, and 145th Pennsylvania. As they swept forward into the Wheatfield, the 61st New York, 81st Pennsylvania, and the right seven companies of the 148th Pennsylvania withdrew. The remaining companies of the 148th Pennsylvania and the 5th New Hampshire stayed in line and continued sparring with Anderson's right flank.35
Brooke continued to drive through the Wheatfield and approached the stone wall. Here Anderson's Georgians fired a volley and then began a fighting withdrawal, heading back through Roses Woods in the same general direction from which they had entered the area two hours earlier. It was during this retrograde movement that a large number of Anderson's men were captured. The Georgians were finally able to make a stand at a strong defensive position just west of the ravine, a position Colonel Brooke referred to as an almost impregnable position on a rocky crest. 36
Caldwell's advance had come to a halt. Brooke, unable to continue forward against the combined brigades of Anderson and Semme's, discovered he had lost his flank support and sought reinforcements. He dispatched a messenger to Caldwell, and the division commander responded by getting Sweitzer's brigade to move forward into the Wheatfield from its position in the Trostle Woods north of the Wheatfield Road. Sweitzer's men advanced near the stone wall, with the 4th Michigan on the right, the 62nd Pennsylvania in the center, and the 32nd Massachusetts on the left. Almost immediately upon taking position, they took fire from their right and rear. Ed Martin, Sweitzer's color-bearer, remarked, "Colonel, I'll be .... if I dont think we are faced the wrong way; the rebs are up there in the woods [Stony Hill] behind us, on the right." #11; The 4th Michigan was repositioned to face this emergency. 37
General Caldwell also attempted to reinforce his left flank. He observed Union troops to the east of the Wheatfield in position along Houck's Ridge. These were two brigades of U.S. Regulars from General Ayres Second Division of the Fifth Corps. Col. Sidney Burbank, commanding the Second Brigade, placed his brigade on roughly the same line as occupied by Cross brigade earlier, with the following regiments (left to right): 17th U.S., 11th U.S., 10th U.S., 7th U.S., and 2nd U.S. Col. Hannibal Days First Brigade was placed behind this line in a supporting role. However, before General Ayres's troops could effectively link up with Caldwell's left flank, the Union position in the Wheatfield collapsed.
The cause of the collapse was the appearance of Brig. Gen. William T. Wofford's brigade of Georgians sweeping down Wheatfield Road against the northwestern portion of the Wheatfield. Brig. Gen. William Barksdale's brigade had broken the Union position at the Peach Orchard, allowing Wofford's brigade to head due east. In doing so, it linked up with Kershaw's left flank and pushed into the Wheatfield. This movement caused the brigades of Zook and Kelly to retreat easterly across the Wheatfield. Brooke's advance position in Roses woods had to be abandoned as support on the right vanished and Semme's and Anderson's brigades applied pressure. Brooke considered his retreat as none too soon, for he reported that, in passing back over the Wheat-field," I found the enemy had nearly closed in my rear, and had the movement not been executed at the time it was, I feel convinced that all would have been lost by death, wounds or capture."38
During the retreat from the western portion of Roses Woods, Capt. Henry Fuller, Company F of the 64th New York, was wounded, and as Pvt. George Whipple of his company helped him, Fuller was shot in the back and died. Whipple was then captured by one of Anderson's men, who demanded that Whipple, "Go to the rear you d...d son of a b...h."39
The time had come for a Confederate counterattack, carried out vigorously by the brigades of Anderson, Benning, Semme's, Kershaw, and Wofford. Caldwell's division extricated itself from the Wheatfield through the northeastern corner, retreating through Sweitzer's brigade and Burbank's Regulars. Sweitzer's left flank, held by the 32nd Massachusetts, was attacked by Anderson's men, while Semme's and Kershaw's men attacked Sweitzer's center and right regiments. Sweitzer reported:
Finding that we were surrounded that our enemy was under cover, while we were in the open field exposed to their fire I directed the command to fall back. . . . Finding, as we retired in the direction from which we advanced, that the fire of the enemy grew more severe on our right, I took a diagonal direction toward the corner of the Wheat-field on our left and rear.40This maneuver took his men through Burbank's ranks. With the Confederates pressing the retreat of Sweitzer, Burbank and Day also ordered their troops to fall back toward Little Round Top. This was accomplished, but at severe loss to their men, who withdrew as quickly as circumstances permitted.
Anderson's brigade had fought with Brooke's brigade for approximately half an hour in Roses Woods before starting a final push to the base of Little Round Top. As the Georgians entered Plum Run Valley between Houck's Ridge and Little Round Top, they were joined on the right by Benning's brigade and on the left by the brigades of Semme's, Kershaw, and Wofford. The Federal position on the northern slope of Little Round Top was formidable. Captain Hillyer recalled the advance against what he referred to as
the strongest natural position I ever sawThe fighting had been hard for Anderson's men: they had been fighting for more than three hours. All the regimental reports for the brigade mentioned the men's exhaustion, attributing it in large part to their withdrawal from the base of Little Round Top. Major McDaniel reported:
Our line emerged from the stumpy brush through which we had charged and came out into a long, narrow but nearly straight opening, which skirted the foot of Little Round Top. . . . We had been fighting for over three hours. . . . I could see to the right and left along the opening I have mentioned, thirty-five or forty battle flags, and only from thirty to fifty men with each. On crossing this opening and going a little way up on the rocky slope . . . we saw that no one of the entire line was nearer to the enemy's position than we were, and that our little attacking column hesitated. They were all veterans in the highest sense. I heard no order to retreat and gave none, but everybody, officers and men, seemed to realize that we could not carry the position. . . . By common consent we fell back. . . 41
The rout was vigorously pressed to the very foot of the mountain, up the sides which the enemy fled in the greatest confusion. The loss of the enemy was here very great, his dead lying upon the field by the hundred. Nothing but the exhausted condition of the men prevented them from carrying the heights. As it was, with no support of fresh troops, and with the knowledge that the enemy was pouring re-enforcements from their right into the ledges of the mountain, it was found impracticable to follow him farther42By now the sun was setting, and Brig. Gen. Samuel W. Crawford, commanding the Third Division of the Fifth Corps, was organizing a Federal counterattack against the Confederates in the Plum Run Valley. Col. William McCandless, commanding Crawfords First Brigade, formed his men into two lines, the front line consisting of (left to right) the 1st, 11th, and 6th Pennsylvania Reserves, while the second line had the 13th Pennsylvania Reserves on the left and the 2nd Pennsylvania Reserves on the right. When the order was given, the Pennsylvanians fired a volley and charged down the hillside, driving the Confederates toward a stone wall along the crest of Houck's Ridge. The 13th Pennsylvania Reserves, also known as the Bucktails, #11; struck Anderson's brigade and forced it back. 43
Captain Hillyer and Major McDaniel reformed their respective regiments (9th and 11th Georgia) along the stone wall, and a brief stand was made to stem the rush of McCandless men. Shortly thereafter, Anderson's brigade, as well as the rest of the Confederate brigades, pulled back across the Wheatfield. Anderson's men took up their previous positions in Roses Woods, where they remained during the evening of July 2. Pickets were sent into the southern portion of the Wheatfield, and for approximately one hour after sunset the picket lines exchanged shots. Then the firing stopped, and the groans of the wounded could be heard all night from the Wheatfield. 44
The Georgians of Anderson's brigade had performed splendidly. They had fought for more than three hours and inflicted severe casualties upon the enemy. However, their effort was not without sacrifice. General Anderson remembered thirteen years after the battle:
I know we were in a very hot place during the fight as witness the 8th Ga. Regt. When we entered the fight this regt. had 36 officers on duty and at the close only 6 were unhurt. In my brigade of 5 regts. (the 7th Ga not engaged . . . ) the youngest Lt. Col. in the brigade was in command. My military family staff & couriers ten men and out of this number 7 were killed or wounded. I can not now recollect total casualties, but my loss was very heavy.45The four regiments of the brigade that went into the Wheatfield contained 1,497 men. Of these, 47% were killed, wounded, captured, or missing in action. The 8th Georgia suffered a 55.1% loss (172 out of 312), the 9th Georgia suffered a 55.6% loss (189 out of 340), the 11th Georgia a 64.8% loss (201 out of 310), and the 59th Georgia suffered the lowest percentage of loss, 27.0% (142 out of 525) The greater than 50% casualty rate in three of the regiments place them among the top twenty-five Confederate regiments sustaining a greater than 50% loss at Gettysburg, and the 11th Georgia (156) and 9th Georgia (123) were among the top 20 Confederate regiments with the greatest number of wounded at Gettysburg.46
In spite of the high casualty rate, Anderson's Georgians were still full of fight. Pvt. Jeremiah Watson of the 59th Georgia summed it up best for his fellow comrades when he stated that he did not believe, they were licked, for the Georgia boys were fightin fools and there was plenty of fighting left to do wherever they went.47