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National Military Park

The Second Day (continued)

WARREN SAVES LITTLE ROUND TOP. Gen. G. K. Warren, Meade's Chief of Engineers, after reviewing Sickles' line with Meade, rode to the crest of Little Round Top and found the hill, "the key to the Union position," unoccupied except by a signal station. Warren was informed by the signalmen that they believed Confederate troops lay concealed on the wooded ridge a mile to the west. Smith's New York battery, emplaced at Devil's Den, immediately was ordered to fire a shot into these woods. The missile, crashing through the trees, caused a sudden stir of the Confederates "which by the gleam of the reflected sunlight on their bayonets, revealed their long lines outflanking the position." Warren realized Longstreet would strike first at Little Round Top and he observed, too, the difficulty of shifting Sickles' position from Devil's Den to the hill.

At this very moment, Sykes' Fifth Corps, marching from its reserve position, began streaming across Cemetery Ridge toward the front. Warren sought aid from this corps. In answer to his plea for troops, the brigades of Vincent and Weed sprinted to Little Round Top. Law's Alabama troops were starting to scale the south slope of the hill when Vincent's men rushed to the attack. Weed's brigade, following closely, drove over the crest and engaged Robertson's Texans on the west slope. The arrival of Hazlett's battery on the summit of the hill is thus described by an eyewitness: "The passage of the six guns through the roadless woods and amongst the rocks was marvelous. Under ordinary circumstances it would have been considered an impossible fear, but the eagerness of the men . . . brought them without delay to the very summit where they went immediately into battle." A desperate hand-to-hand struggle ensued. Weed and Hazlett were killed, and Vincent was mortally wounded—all young soldiers of great promise.

Dead Confederate sharpshooter at Devil's Den
Dead Confederate sharpshooter at Devil's Den.
Gardner photograph.

While Law and Robertson fought on Little Round Top, their comrades struggled in the fields below. The Confederate drive was taken up in turn by the brigades of Benning, Anderson, Kershaw, Semmes, Barksdale, Wofford, Wilcox, Perry, and Wright against the divisions of three Federal corps in the Wheatfield, the Peach Orchard, and along the Emmitsburg Road. Four hours of desperate fighting broke the Peach Orchard salient, an angle in the Union line which was struck from the south and the west. It left the Wheatfield strewn with dead and wounded, and the base of Little Round Top a shambles. Sickles' men had been driven back, and Longstreet was now in possession of the west slope of Big Round Top, of Devil's Den, and the Peach Orchard. Little Round Top, that commanding landmark which, in Confederate hands would have unhinged the Union line on Cemetery Ridge, still remained in Union possession.

Field Hospital
Field hospital.
From the Cyclorama.

CULP'S HILL. In the Confederate plan, Ewell on the left was directed to attack Cemetery Hill and Culp's Hill in conjunction with Longstreet's drive. At the appointed time, the guns of Latimer's battalion on Benner's Hill, east of Gettysburg, opened a well-directed fire against the Union positions on East Cemetery Hill and Culp's Hill, but the return fire soon shattered many of Latimer's batteries and forced the remnants to retire out of range. In the final moments of this action the youthful Major Latimer was mortally wounded.

About dusk, long after the artillery fire had ceased, Johnson's division charged the Union works on Culp's Hill. Although his right failed to make headway because of the steep incline and the strength of the Union positions, Steuart's brigade on the left had better luck. Here, on the southern slope of the hill, the Union works were thinly manned. An hour earlier, the divisions of Geary and Ruger had been called from these works to reinforce the Union center. Johnson, finding the works weakly defended, took possession of them but did nor press the attack further. Only a few hundred yards away on the Baltimore Pike lay the Union supply trains. Failure of Confederate reconnaissance here again was critically important. Thus passed another opportunity to strike a hard blow at the Union Army.

Closely timed with Johnson's assault, Early's infantry started a charge toward East Cemetery Hill. Seldom if ever surpassed in its dash and desperation, Early's assault reached the crest of the hill where the defenders, as a last resort in the hand-to-hand encounter, used clubbed muskets, stones, and rammers. Long after dark, Early's Louisiana and North Carolina troops fought to hold the crest of the hill and their captured guns. But the failure of Rodes to move out of the streets of Gettysburg and attack the hill from the west enabled Hancock to shift some of his men to aid in repelling Early's attack. Faced by these Union reserves, Early's men finally gave way about 10 o'clock and sullenly retired to their lines. The Union troops stood firm.

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