Devil's Den:
A History and A Guide
Gary E. Adleman and Timothy H. Smith

Thomas Publications

The Lore of the Sharpshooter

When reading the descriptions of early visitors to the field during the years following the battle, it becomes obvious that one of the highlights of any tour was a visit to Devil's Den. Although some accounts are repetitive, they are presented in order to provide the reader with an understanding of how stories of the Den quickly became ingrained into the history of the battle. Even before the Civil Way was over, visitors flocked to Gettysburg to see what was already considered to be the great battlefield of the war. Early on there was a great demand for knowledgeable persons to take these "tourists" over the field and explain the movements of the armies during the three days of fighting: thus the Gettysburg battlefield guide was born. The stories told by these early guides would have a lasting effect on the writings of many visitors for years to come. In October 1864 Isaac Moorhead of Erie, Pennsylvania, toured the field with John Frey, one such local guide. Moorhead wrote of his visit:

As we approached Round Top it was at once evident that it was the key of the whole position-that point lost and all was lost. Driving our carriage down the rocky lane that leads from the turnpike to Round Top, we soon reached the base. Dismounting among the rocks, we saw some bones of a rebel, with shreds of his "butternut" clothing. We passed through the woods filled with rocks, and ascended the Round Top. The summit is clear of trees, but they are scattered on the sides. On a large rock near the summit is chiseled the inscription; "Col. Strong Vincent fell here com'g 3rd, Brig. lst div. 5th corps, July 2d, 1863.' Standing on the rock and looking down into the valley, Mr. Frey called my attention to the 'Devil's Den," which consisted of two immense rocks standing up side by side, with a small but convenient opening between them. Across the top was another immense rock. The opening was in such a position that neither shot nor shell, although freely thrown at the rebel sharp-shooter occupying this place, could reach him. The story goes (and I deem it an exceedingly plausible one, and Mr. Frey says he does not doubt it), that Col. Vincent was hit by this sharp-shooter in the "Devil's Den.' After repeated efforts to dislodge him, two of Berdan's sharpshooters were called up and the locality of the fellow pointed out to them. One of them slipped down to the friendly cover of a large Whitewood tree, to the right of the Vincent rock, and flanking the opening of the "Devil's Den." Here waiting until the rebel reloaded his gun, and coming cautiously to the end of the rock, he took deliberate aim and sent the rebel to his long home. This [Berdan] sharp-shooter has been at Gettysburg since the battle, and went with Mr. Frey to all these localities. The rebels grave is just at the mouth of the den, and his boots I saw lying just within the den. ... Passing down to the vast rocks, scattered about in the valley at the foot of the mountain, which afforded such excellent lurking spots for the enemy's sharp-shooters, we were told by our guide that many wounded rebels had crawled under these rocks for safety. After the battle heavy rains set in and drowned many of them, and the current of water brought them to view. Others there were undiscovered until the flesh had fallen from their bones. Here, in a secluded spot among the rocks, I found the bones of a rebel just as he had fallen. Picking up one of his shoes to remove the string, to tie together some little trees, the bones of his foot tumbled out. It was a "Georgia state shoe" made from canvas, with leather tips and heel stiffeners. From among his ribs I picked up a battered minie ball which doubtless caused his death. Moving aside a flat stone, Mr. Frey showed us the grinning face and skull of a rebel. Some of them in this rocky part of the field have very shallow graves. 1

In June 1865 another visitor wrote of his trip to the Den. This account is unusual, for the writer actually tries to describe the fighting that occurred there instead of the sharpshooter action.

Between the two Round Tops is a ragged ravine, a rough wilderness of huge rocks, piled up in uncouth wildness; this is Devil's "Den," and the sounds of Hell echoed there when McLaws Division of Longstreet's Corps at- tempted to pierce our line by passing up the ravine. They were dreadfully cut up by a cross fire on either Round Top, and for weeks thereafter the stench from putrefying bodies of dead rebels, lying on those rocks, was something dreadful. Devil's Den is quiet enough now, and when I looked over into it yesterday, a striped squirrel was running blithely over the ledges flecked with the quivering shadows of the young birches.2

In July 1865, the laying of the cornerstone for the Soldiers Monument in the National Cemetery attracted a large crowd of visitors to Gettysburg. A few of the reporters covering the event took this opportunity to visit the battlefield, and of course visit the Den. Lorenzo L. Crounse of the New York Times wrote:

In front of [Little Round Top] is the little valley, rendered moist by a stagnant brook: the "Devil's Den," a remarkable upheaval of enormous rocks, forming a cavern a hundred feet long, and large enough to admit a man; through this runs a trickling stream, and here our poor wounded men crawled during the battle for water and safety, only to meet their death by drowning when the rains of the night suddenly swelled this stream to a torrent from which there was no escape. A dozen bodies were afterward taken from a huge crevice, where they had been left by the receding wa- ters.3

In November 1865, George Gross, in a party of Philadelphians, was taken over the field by Captain Adolphus F. Cavada, who had served on General An- drew A. Humphreys' staff at Gettysburg. The events of his tour were recorded in an article for the Philadelphia Press. In Gross' version of the story, the already-famous Rebel sharpshooter survives.

The remarkable ledge of rocks known as "Devil's Den," directly opposite Round Top, was occupied by the enemy's sharpshooters, one of whom had a perfectly safe position within the cleft, and picked off our men with fatal accuracy. The face of the boulder behind which he lay is still covered with the marks of the Minies sent at him. One 'went for him" clean through the crevice, but missed. He was finally dislodged by a charge, and escaped through an opening to the rear. Seven rifles, it is said, were found in his hiding-place. There is room enough for fifty. On the slope in front of this den lie bleaching the bones of rebel dead, washed out by the rains. 4

In June 1866, the Congressional Committee on Military Affairs, headed by Robert Cummings Schenck, journeyed to Gettysburg for a visit of the battlefield. Their guide was none other than John Bachelder himself, who gave many such tours. One of the party was Brevet Brigadier General Henry V. Boynton. He wrote in great detail of his tour and described the Devil's Den as "a low, abrupt ridge, with great walls of loose stone masses." While there Bachelder told the party that "the rebel sharpshooters" occupied the Den while "our forces were on Little Round Top, and large numbers of our men were killed by them.' Boynton described that the Gorge was "the scene of fierce fighting," and marks of the "bloody story" could still be seen. 'Dented into these enduring rocks" the party could plainly see "the marks of shell, the black rays of their explosion, and the scars of the glancing shot."While in the Den one of the men made a gruesome discovery, "a perfect skeleton, which the rains had washed out of its shallow bed."5 Other visitors made use of the tourbooks That were starting to be sold around town as guides t( the field. Such was the case with John Watts D Peyster, who visited the field in the spring of 1867 His impressions of the southern end of the battle field are very interesting.

... Little Round Top, [is] 280 feet high; just to the North of this is a still more remarkable exhibition of Volcanic agencies. The two hills were perfect forts covering our left flank. Jutting out from Little Round Top, toward the East, is thrust forth that accumulation of syenite boulders, which, in certain places, seem as if piled up, in others as if tossed about in sport by the hands of giants. At its foot is the "Slaughter Pen," so named from the numbers of Rebels who perished and were buried there .... The Eastern slope of the Round Tops sinks to a little stream or thread of water known as Plum Run. Beyond this is the Devils Den, even more remarkable than the Granite Spur. Within musket range of life and cultivation, it is an absolute solitude which excites in the beholder a feeling of awe. No gorge of the wildest mountains is more striking in its romantic peculiarities. Across this run Crawford's Division made their brilliant charge. From the Devils Den the Rebel sharp- shooters sped so many fatal bullets into our lines, and numerous shallow graves and even scattered bones mark the spot where they met with a just retribution. In one nook of the Den a vast scooping mass of primitive rock recalls to the observer who has traveled in Italy, the idea of an enormous antique tasse of syenite hollowed by a Cyclopian chisel. Within its circular rim of dark syenite, the turf is unusually green and luxuriant.6

In most early accounts of Devil's Den the one thing that seems to be missing is the actual fighting on July 2. The accounts focus on the appearance of the Den, and of course, on the action of the sharpshooters after it was captured, a relatively minor incident considering all that occurred there. Also, many accounts generically refer to all Confederate dead in the area as rebel sharpshooters. As years went by, the aura surrounding the Devil's Den sharp- shooter grew. Examination of early guide and tour books of the battlefield from the late 19th and early 20th century reveals how the stories grew. An 1898 tourbook gives the following information:

This curious upheaval of massive boulders lies a good rifle-shot from Little Round Top. It was occupied by Confederate sharpshooters during the second day's fight, whose fire was most disastrous to the federals upon Little Round Top. When by superhuman efforts Hazlett's battery had been lifted over the boulders to the summit of that eminence, its guns could not be effectively used for this sharp fire. Then it was that eight companies of Berdan's Sharpshooters were brought to their aid, and so reduced the Confederate fire that the artillery could be used to shell their position at the Devil's Den. After the fight the dead bodies of sixty-eight Confederates were taken from the crevices of these boulders. 7

It is not known when the use of the number "sixty-eight" first appeared, or from what source that particular figure was derived. It appears, however, in many tourbooks printed around the turn of the century. Another book gives a higher number of dead taken from the Den.

The Devil's Den, a mass of jagged and picturesque rock, was a favorite retreat for riflemen during the battle. Among the crevices of the rock they would lie in wait and pick off the enemy at will with their long range rifles. At last they became so harassing to the enemy that a whole battery of artillery, loaded with grape shot, was turned on the rocky eminence and their rifles silenced forever. After the battle over a hundred dead riflemen were found in these rocky crevices. 8

In the early years of battlefield tours a new aspect was added to the already famous sharpshooter story, one we like to call "death by concussion." Using first-hand knowledge of how history is created, the following has been prepared.

The first recorded reference located for the story comes from the 25th anniversary of the battle in 1888. Ex-Senator Warner Mills was asked by a reporter about a walking cane he was using that was inscribed "Devil's Den - July 1, 2, 3, 1863."9 He replied that he had gotten it on a recent trip to Gettysburg where he had toured the battlefield in company with several others, including General James Longstreet. He stated that "the Devil's Den was a rocky place on the field of battle." During his visit he was told "They found One confederate soldier dead in a hole among those rocks, who hadn't a wound upon him. It is supposed that he was killed by concussion of a passing cannon ball.' In 1899, an article appeared in the Gettysburg Compiler, giving an eyewitness account of the battle by Augustus P. Martin, commander of the Union Fifth Corps Artillery at Gettysburg. The article was actually an interview with Martin written by battlefield guide Luther Minnigh. It is impossible to say how much influence Minnigh had on Martin's account, but the story sounds strangely familiar.

Among the interesting incidents that occurred on Little Round Top was the summary way in which a sharpshooter was disposed of in rear of the Devil's Den. He had concealed himself behind a stone wall between two boulders and for a long time we were annoyed by shots from that direction, one of which actually combed my hair over my left ear and passed through the shoulder of a man a little taller than myself who was standing behind me for a cover. At last we were able to locate the spot, by the use of a field glass, from whence the shots came by little puffs of smoke that preceded the whizzing of the bullets that passed our heads. We then loaded one of our guns with a percussion shell, taking careful and accurate aim. When the shot was fired the shell struck and exploded on the face of one of the boulders. We supposed the shot had frightened him away, as we were no longer troubled with shots from that location. When the battle was ended we rode over to the Devil's Den and found behind the wall a dead Confederate soldier lying upon his back and, so far as we could see, did not have a mark upon his body, and from that fact became convinced that he was killed by the concussion of the shell when it exploded on the face of the boulder.10

This makes an interesting story, but there are a few problems. It sounds as if the location referred to is the home of the Rebel sharpshooter above the Devil's Den. This is almost certainly a perversion of the story of the dead sharpshooter originally told by Alexander Gardner in his scrapbook published in 1866. Gardner stated, however, that "The sharpshooter had evidently been wounded in the head by a fragment of shell which had exploded over him..." There was no mention of death by concussion. Of course there is also the problem that Gardner had moved the body to that location, and unless Martin was referring to another body that had been taken away and buried previously, none would have been in that position when he "rode over to the Devil's Den" after the battle.11 Since Minnigh was a popular battlefield guide and the article was published in Gettysburg, it gained great notoriety and the story of "death by concussion" was retold time and time again. A 1910 postcard of "The Devil's Den" sold in Gettysburg provides slightly more detail.

One of the natural landmarks that attract attention of tourists is the immense ledge of rocks in front of Round Top. It furnished shelter for Confederate sharpshooters who were picking off the gunners at the batteries on Little Round Top. The barricade of one is yet pointed out in the rear. He had been killed by the concussion of a shell, which exploded at the crevice of the rock against which his head was leaning, and when found there was not a mark on his body. 12

There is no doubt, given the above information from the back of the postcard, that most guides were familiar with Gardner's photograph and pointed out the spot of the sharpshooter's demise regularly on tours. There is also no doubt that they were telling people that he died by the concussion of a shell. Another account of an apparently different soldier was being told in 1938 during the 75th anniversary.

... the body of one man was found in a halfkneeling position in the cup of a peculiarly shaped rock. No mark upon him furnished a means of designating the manner in which he was killed. There was not a scar on his body; he had fallen against the side of the rock while in the act of firing. His rifle lay across the top of the stone, the butt against his shoulder, one arm extended along the barrel, while the other arm, crooked, with finger on trigger, was still in position. Officials asserted that a shell exploding nearby or over head had caused concussion, resulting in his death. Similar other incidents are told. 13

"Similar other incidents" were in fact told. Over the years, the concussion story would transcend the lone sharpshooter in Devil's Den and would be applied to many, and in a few cases, all of the dead found in that area after the battle. Evidence for this statement occurs in a 1911 history of the battle entitled: Gettysburg: The Pivotal Battle Of The Civil War. This is also an in-depth account of the entire sharpshooter episode and for that reason has been reproduced in its entirety.

We have had occasion heretofore to speak of the expert marksmanship of the Confederate soldiers, but on no field of the war did they exhibit greater skill in that capacity than at this time and place. The rocks of Devil's Den are certainly five hundred yards, and probably more, from the summit of Little Round Top; but across the yawning chasm of Plum Run they made life uncertain for the Union soldiers who guarded it. The Confed- erates, however, had one great advantage over their opponents. They were shooting upward, and the boulders of Little Round Top were aglow with the rays of the setting sun. The Union soldiers stood out against the sky clear and distinct to their eyes, a shining mark for their dexterity; while the superior quality of their powder must also be taken into consideration. On the other hand, the Union soldiers were looking downward, into an abyss, as it were, with the dazzling sunshine in their eyes, and the marks at which they directed their shots indistinct, within the shadow of overhanging rocks. Nevertheless a company or two of Berdan's sharpshooters were hastily distributed among the rocks and crevices, and they soon returned the Confederate fire with satisfactory effect; and as the sun went down behind the South Mountain, giving to each party of distant combatants a fair and equal chance, the Union artillery was brought into play upon their rocky stronghold, with the result that, when the battle was over, many a Georgian, and many an Alabamian, was found among the rocks of Devil's Den who never retreated, not a few bearing no mark of ball or shell, but killed by the concussion of shell or solid-shot against the rocks upon which they depended for protection. 14

Notice that "not a few" Georgians and Alabamians were killed by concussion. One can only imagine what is meant by 'not a few." As time went on the retelling of the story only reaffirmed its accuracy. A 1978 publication stated that "Union cannon ... sent round after round hissing over the meadows into Devil's Den. Wounded or dying men dragged themselves into rocky crevices for shelter against the intense bombardment. Later, some bodies were discovered with no visible wounds, evidence of death by concussion from the terrible cannonading."l5 Another 1970s tourbook has probably the most exaggerated rendition of the story.

The burial committee of the Civil War pulled out 20 men from the cracks and crevices of these big boulders who did not have a mark on their bodies, but were undoubtedly dead. The men apparently sought shelter here during the height of the battle and thought they were safe, but little did they know, that when a cannon ball exploded near one of those boulders, the noise and echoes were loud enough to cause any man to have a concussion. These 20 men died of concussions16

The idea that the burial committee of the Civil War (as if there was such a thing) examined each of the bodies dragged from the rocks of the Den to find the locations of their wounds is simply preposterous. Although it is possible that a few men at the battle did suffer 'death by concussion," the story concerning bodies dragged from the Den seems to have little basis in fact. And yet, this story is one that is still commonly repeated today. It is interesting to note just how deeply the story of the sharpshooters has become ingrained in the story of the battle itself. On September 10, 1978 during the Middle East Peace Summit, President Carter paid a visit to Gettysburg in company with Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat. One of the stops planned for their tour was Little Round Top. In preparation for this historic event, an NPS memorandum noted that Devil's Den was used by sharpshooters during the battle to pick off high ranking officers on Little Round Top. It warned that the Secret Service should secure that area, in an effort to guard against another such occurrence.



1. "Visit to Gettysburg by Isaac Moorhead," The American Magazine (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, Autumn-Winter, 1985-86), Vol. 1, No. 2,25-26. Originally printed in The Occasional Writings of Isaac Moorhead, With a Sketch of His Life, ed., A. H. Caughey (Erie: 1882).

2. Castine, June 14, 1865, A newspaper clipping in the Edward McPherson Papers, Library of Congress, Box 98, Book 2, 60.

3. Cymon, "The Gettysburg Battle-field," New York Times, July 10, 1865. Cymon was actually one Lorenzo L. Crounse's pen names. The drowning wounded soldiers was a popular theme in early tour and although it did rain heavily just after the battle these accounts are exaggerated.

4. George J. Gross, The Battle-field Of Gettysburg (Philadelphia: Collins, printer, 1866), 14-15. This account originally appeared as an article in the Philadelphia Press on November 2, 1865.

5. Henry V. N. Boynton, Adams Sentinel, July 17, 186 This letter was written on June 30, 1866 and originally appeared in the Cincinnati Gazette.

6. Anchor, "A Visit to Gettysburg,"Army and Navy Journal, June 8, 1867. 'Anchor" was actually the pen name of John Watts De Peyester.

7. Waldron, With Pen and Camera; Gettysburg (Portland, Maine: L. H. Nelson Company, 1905). A post card of Devil's Den published by the Hugh C. Leighton Co. of Portland, Maine, mailed from Gettysburg on June 9, 1910 also states that sixty-eight dead bodies were found there.

8. James E. Hall, The 50th Anniversary of the Worl Famous Battle of Gettysburg (Gettysburg: Gettysburg Board of Trade, 1913). A study of the casualties Devil's Den indicates that there may well have been as many as one hundred dead Confederates in th area after the battle (See Appendix B).

9. Star and Sentinel, July 17, 1888.

10. "Little Round Top," Compiler, October 24, 1899.

11. Gardner, plate 41; Frassanito, Early Photograpraphy, 276.

12. Postcard entitled "The Devil's Den Ledge" owned by Timothy H. Smith and mailed on August 18, 1910 The exact same story is related in The Story of Gettysburg in Pictures (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, David Blocher, circa 1925).

13. "Devil's Den Is Unchanged," Gettysburg Times, 75th Anniversary Edition, July, 1938.

14. Captain R. K. Beecham, Gettysburg: The Pivot Battle Of The Civil War (Chicago: A. C. McClurg Co., 1911), 190-191.

15. Pictorial History Of The Battle Of Gettysburg, 37. 16. Wolf Family, A Simplified Tour of the Gettysburg Battlefield. 17. File on the visit of President Carter in GNMP Vertical Files. For more information see "Three Summit Conferencees Visit Gettysburg Battlefield Sunday," and "Tight Security Provided By Police From 3 Nations During Visit to the Feild," Gettysburg Times, September 11, 1978.