A minor Gettysburg controversy: did the 140th New York lead or follow

Jul 29, 2015
At approximately 5:15 p.m., July 2nd, Brig. General Stephen Weed's brigade started its move from its reserve position near Rock Creek to the left of the Union line. A half hour later it moved off the Taneytown road onto the cross road leading to the Peach Orchard. The 140th New York of that brigade, led by Colonel Patrick O'Rorke, would shortly thereafter lead his regiment down the west face of Little Round Top just in time to stop a Confederate seizure of that height. But exactly how did the 140th get there?

There appears to be an equal number of historians who believe that the 140th New York brought up the rear of Weed’s brigade as there are to affirm it had the lead. Oliver Norton, Colonel Vincent’s guidon bearer and student of the attack and defense of Little Round Top, concluded that the 140th New York was the rear regiment of the brigade. General Warren, however, believed he had detached the lead regiment, and was supported in that belief by the statements of his brother, Edgar, and by Captain Azor S. Marvin, adjutant of the brigade, as well as by Captain Leeper, Company E, 140th New York.

According to Lieutenant Edgar Warren, “...The brigade after starting had gone but a short distance before Gen. Weed concluded that he would ride on ahead and find Gen. Sickles, leaving directions for the brigade to keep on moving and following the direction he had taken. His Adjutant Capt. [Azor S.] Marvin remained at the head of the troops. I as an officer on his staff accompanied [him to?] Gen. Sickles without any delay and after a moments conversation with him he sent me back to show the brigade the route he had taken, he remaining with Gen. Sickles. I rode back at a canter and found the head of the brigade just going up on Little Round Top....”

The younger Warren’s recollection dovetails exactly with that of Captain Marvin, who wrote, “...Gen. Weed and one of his staff had gone ahead towards Gen. Sickles’ Corps, leaving orders with me to have the brigade follow him. The 140th N.Y. Vols. was in front with Colonel O’Rourke in charge of the brigade, 91st Penn. Vols. next and the 146th N.Y. and 155th Pa. I well remember your [General Warren] riding rapidly down from Little Round Top as we approached it and inquiring of me what troops ours were and where Gen. Weed was; then saying that a part of the brigade should be detached immediately and taken up the hill...You assumed the responsibility of taking away one regiment 140th....”

Captain Joseph Leeper, 140th New York, wrote that, “...Gen. Weed had established his flag with Col. O’Rourke...An aid rode up with orders for the 3rd brigade to go immediately to the support of the 3d Corps...On the march to the front, the 140th N.Y. at the head. The writer was walking along side of the Col. talking with him, when, just as we reached the right base of Little Round Top Gen. Warren was seen coming rapidly down, mounted on his gray charger, and espying O’Rourke said, ‘Paddy give me a regiment’.”

Attempting to further support his recollection, General Warren communicated with Col. Kenner Garrard, commander of the 146th New York, on the subject and received the following reply, “...O’Rourke’s regiment, 140th N.Y., was in the rear of our brigade. You first asked as we were passing the line of Round Top for the whole brigade, but Weed declined that and upon your urgent solicitation, he ordered O’Rourke to go with you and he turned off, the rest of us keeping ahead at a rapid pace....” Garrard’s 1877 version, i.e., Warren negotiating with Weed for the brigade and then settling for the rear regiment, not only doesn’t jibe with other accounts, it contradicts Garrard’s 1863 report, which stated, “...the leading regiment, under direction of General Warren...was led to the left, up on what is known as Round Top ridge.”

If Garrard’s was the only contradictory statement, this minor Gettysburg controversy would not still be alive today. However, proponents for the “last in column” school have a convincing champion in the 140th New York’s Lieutenant Porter Farley. Farley also believed that the 140th was the rear regiment, writing that, “...though my recollection of the order in which the regiments were marching does not agree with that of other officers present, I think that our regiment was the rear one of the brigade, and that the leading regiments of our brigade were just passing over that slightly elevated ground north of Little Round Top, when down its slope on our left, accompanied by a single mounted officer and orderly, rode General G. K. Warren...Warren came straight toward the head of the regiment, where I was riding with the Colonel.” Farley estimated that the head of the regiment was just west of the Taneytown road, having reached the point, “...where the railroad now crosses the roadway....” The railroad line referenced was a post Civil War branch put in to allow tourists to visit the battlefield. It has, thankfully, been removed but while in operation the track crossed the Wheatfield road about 60 yards west of the Taneytown road. Farley then recalled that upon Warren’s urgent request to take his regiment to the left up Little Round Top, Colonel O’Rorke replied, “...General Weed is ahead and expects me to follow him.”

It’s the author’s opinion that if the 140th had been the rear regiment, Lieutenant Warren would not have been in position to witness its detachment. Directed by Weed to bring the brigade up, he would have done so as soon as he struck the leading regiment (presumably the 91st Pennsylvania if the 140th was in the rear). Additionally, O’Rorke’s reply indicates a personal knowledge of General Weed’s whereabouts, that is, that he had gone on ahead to confer with General Sickles. That is something he would not have known if his regiment was bringing up the rear. It is also difficult to understand why Captain Marvin would be at the rear of the column (with the 140th) if General Weed expected his adjutant to guide the column forward. While fully acknowledging that Bachelder (who had researched and personally interviewed hundreds of participants in the battle) and a number of other historians have come to the opposite opinion on this matter, I believe the preponderance of eyewitness accounts supports the position that the 140th New York was the leading regiment of Weed’s brigade.

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JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Feb 14, 2012
Central Pennsylvania
I know it's a little sacrilegious to doubt Bachelder but it couldn't have been possible to get every detail right. Heck, vets who were there spent the rest of their lives arguing about what each other remembered. It's off topic but some really entertaining reading is those vets taking exception to some letter or other published in the paper post war by another vet. If Bachelder's accounts were from interviewing those men who were there ( he wasn't ), who knows how many gave different versions of the same event?

Tom Elmore

Sergeant Major
Member of the Year
Jan 16, 2015
After studying the various available sources, my vote is that the 140th was the lead regiment. The other three regiments of the brigade did not proceed far when they were turned back to join the 140th, but they were 20 minutes behind the 140th in reaching Little Round Top based on my analysis.

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