While the supporting brigades of Benning and Anderson were deployed in rear to support Law and Robertson respectively the weary Alabamians were permitted about one-half hour to relax. [Official Records, volume 27, part 2, P. 395.] This would correspond with the half-hour lull witnessed across the valley by the men on Houck's Ridge between 3:00 and 3:30. During that time, the regimental commanders of (at least) Law's Brigade were informed that they would not be permitted to undertake the attack on horseback, but would have to go in on foot. At least one objected in later years to the wisdom of this decree, believing that he would have been more effective had he been permitted to ride until the "rugged ground beyond the valley was reached." Colonel William F. Perry of the 44th Alabama believed that three out of the five regimental commanders in Law's Brigade were prostrated by exhaustion and fatigue before the battle closed. [William F. Perry, "The Devil's Den," Confederate Veteran Magazine (April 1901), p. 161.]
Before long, Law's adjutant general, Capt. Lee Terrell, rode to the front of the 4th Alabama Regiment and gave them the order to come to attention. According to a member of regiment:
The men sprang to their feet, their guns at an order. The thought that passed through the mind of the soldier was: "O God, just for a half hour's rest!" As soon as we were at attention, the command was, "Shoulder arms!" and then, "Right shoulder; shift arms!" and then, "Forward; guide center; march!" Then arose that wild, indescribable battle yell that no one having heard ever forgot. The men sprang forward as if at a game of ball. The air was full of sound. A long line of Federal skirmishers, protected by a stone wall, immediately opened fire. Grape [sic] and canister from the Federal battery hurtled over us as we descended the hill into the valley. We rushed through our own battery while it was firing and receiving the fire from the enemy's guns. Men were falling, stricken to death.... The younger officers made themselves conspicuous by rushing to the front, commanding and urging the men to come on, while Adjutant General Terrell was doing what he could to restrain the impetuosity of the Fourth Alabama, calling on the men to observe the Fifth Texas-how orderly they were marching to the charge. In the din of battle we could hear the charges of canister passing over us with the noise of partridges in flight. Immediately to the right, Taylor Darwin, Orderly Sergeant of Company I, suddenly stopped, quivered, and sank to the earth dead, a ball having massed through his brain. There was Rube Franks, of the same company, just returned from his home in Alabama, his new uniform bright with color, the envy of all his comrades, his gladsome face beaming as if his sweetheart's kiss had materialized on his lips, calling to his comrades: "Come on boys; come on! The Fifth Texas will get there before the Fourth! Come on boys; come on!" He shortly afterwards met the fatal shot. There was Billy Marshall, running neck and neck with this private soldier, each striving to be the first at the stone fence, behind which lay protected the Federal line of skirmishers, firing into the faces of the advancing Confederates. [Ward,p. 347.]
On the left of the 4th Alabama was the 5th Texas of Robertson's Brigade, an obvious rival in prowess on the battlefield. Yet Adjutant Terrell pointed out how orderly the Texans were marching in comparison to Lt. Col. L. H. Scrugg's 4th Alabamians, who were tearing down the slopes from the ridge towards the Bushman and Slyder Farm buildings. The difference was also noted by Brig. General J. B. Robertson, commanding the left brigade of Hood's front line. Since Robertson's orders were to keep his left regiment, the 3rd Arkansas, "on the Emmitsburg Road" and not to leave it unless it was necessary due to the progression of the battle, he was concentrating on keeping his brigade properly aligned to coordinate with the attack by the next division to the left, that of McLaws. As it turned out, the 3rd Arkansas did hold to the Emmitsburg Road for quite some distance, with the 1st Texas clinging to its right flank, as required by their particular orders. Unfortunately, in order to keep touch with Law, the two right regiments drifted off to the right, in the direction of Law's attack.
Years afterward, Robertson complained to Gettysburg historian John B. Bachelder that he thought Law started charging too prematurely. [J. B. Robertson to John B. Bachelder, 11 May 1882. New Hampshire Historical Society.] One can only speculate as to why and how the attack by successive brigades as ordered by General Robert E. Lee broke down at the very outset. Evander M. Law pulled Robertson off of the Emmitsburg anchor by this movements toward Big Round Top; his sweeping arc was obviously wider than anticipated by Lee and as ordered by Maj. Gen. John B. Hood. Yet Law insisted before the attack that the Round Tops were the key and should be taken; one wonders whether Law stretched the meaning of orders, or perhaps disobeyed his instructions, to pursue his individual campaign. In any case, Hood was wounded and disabled almost immediately after the charge began while accompanying the left of Robertson's Brigade and there was no one but the individual brigade commanders in the division to correct any problems with alignment or coordination. It was probably not until Law's forces approached the threshold of the Union line that division command was turned over to Law. At that point it was too late to rectify the battle lines to comply with General Lee's intended order of battle. The attack of 2 July as planned by Lee was thus disjointed from the initiation of the assault.
As Law and Robertson advanced from Bushman Ridge, through the plowed and farmed fields of the Bushman and Slyder Farms, they made easy targets for the four rifled guns of Smith's Battery and for the sharpshooters and skirmishers at the stone wall in the valley. The captain of the New York battery remembered how his cannon were used to "oppose and cripple this attack and check it as far as possible." He could not remember when his men served their pieces so effectively as during this advance by Hood's Division, [Smith, p. 163.] the first hint of whom was the "clouds of Confederate skirmishers" emerging from Bushman Woods, followed by the heavy lines of infantry. [Maine at Gettysburg, p. 161.] His infantry support witnessed the attack and the defensive measures taken by the New York battery. General Ward would remember the Confederate skirmishers, the first heavy line of infantry of Law and Robertson marching to oppose his line, and then the massed columns of Benning and Anderson in support emerging from Bushman Woods. It must have been unnerving to know that four guns (plus the bronze guns of Winslow [Company D, 1st New York Light Artillery] in the Wheatfield) and a single line of infantry were all he had to oppose them. The 7,000 Southerners massed for attack on his front would be a challenge to the 2,000 defenders, but the brigade was determined to hold until relieved.
The men of the 4th Maine saw Law on the right of the Confederate line moving directly towards the Round Tops. while Robertson's left was aiming toward the apparent left of the Union line at the Devil's Den. [Maine at Gettysburg, p. 160.] As the two enemy brigades swept through the Slyder Farm, the sharpshooters under Homer Stoughton initially checked the enemy's advance, but fell back, [Ibid., P. 181.] through the lines of the 4th Maine.
The 124th New York also watched as the Confederate brigades came at them from the opposite slope. They were mindful of the weakness of their single line as they watched the "overwhelming" display of superior numbers by Hood. They deployed into "four distinct lines of battle" as they manfully came on under Smith's fire. [New York at Gettysburg, volume 1 p. 869.] Law plus Robertson's 4th and 5th Texas made one of these lines; the 3rd Arkansas and 1st Texas with Robertson himself made a second; and the two supporting brigades of Benning and Anderson the remaining two lines of battle. The men of the Orange Blossoms recalled the "splendid service" of Smith during this advance, while they lay in line of battle, with guns loaded and ready:
The guns were worked to their utmost. The heroic Captain gave every order in a clear, distinct tone, that could be heard above the tumult. I heard him tell his gunners to give them five- and six-second fuse, and when the gunners told him the case shot and shrapnel were all gone, he said, "Give them shell give them shot; d--n them, give them anything!" [Tucker, "Orange Blossoms."]
A sergeant of the regiment recalled the service of Smith's Battery as it changed from shell to canister, tearing "gap after gap through the ranks of the advancing foe," while Smith and his men were exposed to the increasing fire of the Confederate sharpshooters and from the front infantry line as it advanced. Because the limber chests were at the base of Houck's Ridge, behind Devil's Den and his battery (since Smith could not find a suitable location for them on the crowded crest), every round of ammunition had to be carried from there to the guns. "Man after man went down, but still the exhausting work went steadily on, the officers tirelessly falling in to fill out and work detail for the guns, and keeping up a well directed fire" until the Confederates reached the base of the heights, and the 4th New York could not depress the guns enough to reach them. [Thomas W. Bradley, "At Gettysburg," National Tribune (4 February 1886).]
Because of the nature of the Confederate advance, Smith was rightly concerned for the protection of his guns. It was apparent that Law's Brigade would overlap his position on the left, and Smith implored Colonel Elijah Walker of the 4th Maine to move to the left and take a position to protect the battery and the remainder of Ward's Brigade from being turned. Walker had already sent out about 70 men to assist the sharpshooters and the other skirmishers of the brigade in the direction of the Slyder Farm, and felt that they were helping delay Hood's advance sufficiently until supports from the Fifth Corps could come up on Walker's left. [Maine at Gettysburg, p.16] Indeed, he pointed to a force, probably that of Vincent's Brigade, coming up on his left, which he surmised would form a junction with his line at the Devil's Den. He also had no desire to move to the low ground of Plum Run gorge, where he could be exposed to a flanking fire from cover of the wooded hillside of lower Big Round Top. He felt he could more effectively defend the battery from the heights of Houck's Ridge, overlooking the Plum Run gorge, than by attempting to face a frontal attack by superior numbers within the gorge itself. He was adamant in refusing "to go into that den unless obliged to," and Captain Smith went personally to General Ward to get Walker's 4th Maine to comply. Ward ordered Walker to the left, below Devil's Den, through his adjutant general Captain John Moore Cooney, while Walker continued to remonstrate "with all the power of speech" he could summon. But he was forced to obey because it was a military order, and he so stated to, Cooney. [Elijah Walker to Joan B. Bachelder, 6 January 1886. New Hampshire Historical Society.]
Continue to Next Section