by Phil Spaugy
While this trip to Gettysburg was highlighted by the donation and dedication of the Civil War ambulance to the Seminary Ridge Museum (more on that event in a later post), I did find some time to meet some new friends, enjoy the company of old friends, and add more to my knowledge of the battle.
Monday, June 30th started with a drive around the first day’s field and stopping to leave buckeyes on some of the monuments to the Ohio units that fought on July 1st. This was followed by a great breakfast at the Lincoln Dinner with my pard and author of the superb blog, “To the Sound of the Guns,” Craig Swain. Craig asked me if I wanted to go with him while he updated his artillery database, and of course I said yes. Heading south on West Confederate Avenue, we stopped often as he checked for newly placed or moved artillery pieces. As usual when I’m with Craig, I learned much, especially about Confederate Napoleons and the nuances between their various makers. Stopping on the north slope of Little Round Top, we took the short walk to the position of Gibbs Battery L, 1st Ohio Light Artillery, to update the database to reflect the newly-returned M1857 Napoleon tubes there. We paused for a while to discuss the effect that the canister fired from that elevation had on helping to stop the confederate advance late in the afternoon of July 2nd, 1863. We agreed that this was perhaps the finest Napoleon position on the entire battlefield. Intending to head to the right end of the Federal position, we ended our morning tour with a climb up Powers Hill (my first) which gave me a new perspective on the strength of the Federal position, especially the use of the terrain to protect the extreme right flank of famous “Fishhook” line. We soon returned to the car, did the obligatory check for ticks, and headed to the Appalachian Brewing Company for a well-earned lunch. After lunch we walked over to the Seminary Ridge Museum to listen to a wonderful presentation by noted Civil War cavalry writer and historian Eric Wittenberg on General John Buford and the actions of his cavalry division on the morning of July 1st. What a great way to wind up a very good day!
July 1st found me up early and headed back to the Lincoln Diner for breakfast before starting out on what promised to be a very memorable day. A small group of friends (Frank Mittler, his friend Annie, Chuck Fulton, and Lon Hathaway) and I were going to join Iron Brigade historian and author Lance Herdegen and his friend Mike Benton on a morning tour of Iron Brigade sites. This would be a special tour opportunity with Lance guiding us and with July 1st being the 151st anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of Gettysburg.
We began driving south from Gettysburg on the Emmitsburg Road to Moritz Tavern, where Major General John Reynolds spent his last night and where he received word to start the left wing of the Army of the Potomac forward to Gettysburg. From there we drove north on the Emmitsburg Road back towards Gettysburg, pausing for moment at Marsh Creek which was the bivouac of the Iron Brigade (less the 19th Indiana) the night of June 30th, 1863. Continuing north, we turned right on South Confederate Avenue and stopped to look at the position of the 19th Indiana as they were assigned to picket duty the afternoon and evening of June 30th. They established their line of pickets on “a ridge, in the shadow of the big mountain.” As we stood on this slight elevation (named Warfield Ridge, which on July 2nd would be made famous as the jumping-off point for the attack of Hood’s division of Longstreet’s Corps on the left flank of the Federal Third Army Corps), we were struck by the peaceful fields and woodlots of the Bushman and Slyder farms before us. It was not hard to picture the “Swamp Hogs #19” coming off picket duty on that damp and humid morning, starting their coffee boiling over the small cook fires, and, given their well-deserved reputation for foraging, perhaps some “recently procured” Pennsylvania chickens were roasted. Sadly, we all came to the realization that this would be the last morning that many of these young men and boys from far-off Indiana would ever know.
We continued on, making a brief stop on Little Round Top. Due to the early hour, we were able to enjoy LRT without the annoyances of traffic and crowds. It was 20 minutes or so well spent.
Getting back to our Iron Brigade theme, we drove north past the Codori Farm, taking notice of where the Iron Brigade turned off the Emmitsburg Road and by the “double quick” moved northwest to the swale between Seminary Ridge and East McPherson’s Ridge. It was here, with the 6th Wisconsin held in reserve, that the 2nd and 7th Wisconsin, 19th Indiana, and the 24th Michigan would form from column into line of battle and advance to the hurried commands of Major General Reynolds as he implored them “Forward Men, for God’s sake forward and drive those fellows from the woods!” Reynolds soon fell mortally wounded, and the “Black Hats” pitched into Archers Brigade and drove those “fellows” from the woods, sending them tumbling back across Willoughby Run
Moving on to Stone and Meridith Avenues, we stopped at the Iron Brigade monuments (2nd and 7th Wisconsin, 24th Michigan, and 19th Indiana) where we enjoyed Lance’s stories of the men of the brigade and their actions here on the morning of July 1st. Our next stop was near the southeast corner of the Herbst woodlot. We gathered near the 151st PVI monument to discuss the horrific fighting that took place in that area during the afternoon of July 1st, not only by the “Black Hats,” but also by the 151st PVI in what would prove to be their first and last battle. Lance and I had had the privilege of working with Don Troiani to bring the story of Sgt. Major Asa Blanchard of the 19th Indiana to life in his print, “The Black Hats”, the setting of which is in the area near 151st monument. We took this opportunity to share with our friends the research and process of working with Don to bring this scene to life.
Our last stop was near the monument to First Division, First Corps commander, Major General James Wadsworth. This provided us with a great vantage point to hear Lance talk about his beloved 6th Wisconsin, their commander Lt. Colonel Rufus Dawes, and their gallant charge against the infamous “railroad cut” full of “Johnnies” of the 2nd Mississippi and the 55th North Carolina.
Our morning tour ended far too soon, and we all headed back to our motel of choice, the Quality Inn at General Lee’s Headquarters. Earlier that morning we had noticed a large, white tent being erected in the field just across from the hotel. For a day or so rumors had been flying that the Civil War Trust (of which I am a member) was going to buy the property, and return the four-plus acre tract to its 1863 appearance. Seeing quite a crowd forming, curiosity got the best of me and I headed across the road to hear the CWT presentation that confirmed the rumors! Now for a bit of a confession. I have been a supporter of battlefield and historical preservation for all of my adult life, and this was the very first time I have ever felt a twinge of selfish regret over one of their preservation projects. Amy and I had many great stays at this establishment. We especially had grown fond of the Fireside Suite and its proximity to many of the scenes of the first day’s battle that I am so drawn to. Being close the Seminary Ridge Museum was also a plus, as Amy and I are Founding Members there, and we look to be more involved in supporting the museum and its activities in the future. All that said, I do think it is the proper move for the CWT to make, and I look forward to seeing the area where “Old Battery B,” 4th U.S. Artillery fought so well on the afternoon of July 1st returned to its native state.