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Confederate Artillery at the Wheatfield on July 2 and 3

Discussion in 'Battle of Gettysburg' started by Tom Elmore, Dec 2, 2017.

  1. Tom Elmore

    Tom Elmore First Sergeant

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    Around 7:30 p.m. on July 2, the Pennsylvania Reserves reached the wall that ran along the eastern edge of the Wheatfield, having just charged from the northwest slope of Little Round Top against Wofford’s brigade and the remnants of several other Confederate brigades. John Francis Bell, with the 13th Pennsylvania Reserves (First Bucktails), wrote that he went into the timber beyond the wall and noticed “a battery of two [enemy] guns among some rocks up at the corner of the field next the piece of woods which we were making for.”

    Based on existing accounts, I believe this section was posted on the open bluff between the woods (bordering the west side of the Wheatfield) and the Wheatfield road, in the northwest corner of the Wheatfield. So far as I know the identity of these guns has never been clearly established. Col. E. P. Alexander’s battalion took possession of the high ground at the Peach Orchard about 7 p.m., and it would appear that a section of guns was sent forward to follow behind Wofford’s advance. My suspicion is that this section belonged to Capt. William W. Parker’s battery, which was known to have been posted close to the intersection of the Wheatfield and Emmitsburg roads.

    The section could have been in position on the bluff by 7:15 p.m. But if they fired at all that evening, it would not have been for very long. The retreating Confederate soldiers did not clear their front until about 7:25 p.m., and sunset came at 7:32 p.m. The two guns might have been withdrawn after dark, joining the rest of Alexander’s battalion in going to the rear to replenish ammunition and obtain a brief rest.

    In any case, the section was back in the same place by daybreak, according to John Francis Bell, who wrote, “As it became light on the morning of the 3rd I again walked along my line as far as the stone fence and looked about carefully. On Round Top the operations were still obscured but I could see a few of the enemy among the rocks up in the corner of the field where the two cannon were, and I sent a few bullets up there which forced them to take cover, then calling a couple of files who were good shots I instructed them to see that the Johnnies did not work those guns."

    An hour or so later, an effort was made to capture the Confederate guns by the 6th Pennsylvania Reserves, which crept up through the woods on the north side of the Wheatfield road, while the rest of the brigade tried to distract the gunners and hold them in place. But Confederate infantry pickets, probably from Wofford’s brigade, were posted on the west side of those same woods and gave a timely warning, enabling the guns to limber up and retire. Brig. Gen. Samuel W. Crawford mentions the event in his official report, but refers to the guns as a battery (as does Pennsylvania at Gettysburg, 1: 118). E. W. Woodward’s regimental history of the 2nd Pennsylvania Reserves places this battery at a distance of 1000 yards, which would be back at the Peach Orchard, and claims the 6th Pennsylvania Reserves captured one gun and two caissons, but the latter gun and caissons likely belonged to a Union battery that had been overrun somewhere in the vicinity of the Trostle buildings the previous evening (I think belonging to Pennsylvania Battery C-F). Whether two or four Confederate guns were there on the morning of July 3, they must have been posted on the bluff, because the 6th could not have crept up on Confederate guns that were 1000 yards distant, the last 600 yards being out in the open. Whereas the bluff was some 450 yards from the position of the Pennsylvania Reserves, on the opposite side of the Wheatfield.
     
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2017

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  3. lelliott19

    lelliott19 2nd Lieutenant Forum Host Trivia Game Winner

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    Royal W Figg, then a 22 year old Private in Captain Parker's Battery, remembered it this way:

    ....while the charging Georgians (Wofford's) swept down the hill side, driving the retreating foe to the protection of the opposite hill. Away we gallop down a contiguous road and take an advanced position. Still the word is ever "Fire! Fire!" until the sun sets upon the field of strife....

    In front of our guns were a number of Federal dead and wounded. That night several of us went to see about them. The wounded begged piteously for water. We had but little in our canteens, and could only partially satisfy the cravings of these unfortunate petitioners. One poor fellow, a Pennsylvanian, and mortally wounded conversed with me......

    Woolfolk's battery during the afternoon took position near a farm-house, and one of the men went into the house and found his own father and mother crouching in the cellar. He removed them to the rear as soon as practicable.

    [Capt.] Parker ['s Battery] fired the first cannon shot at 4 1/2 am on the great day of the Gettysburg battle, - the third day of July, 1863, - and, as it will be proven, he fired the last. All the morning of that long and bloody day was occupied by the infantry in getting ready for the great struggle in the afternoon; but the artillery was kept busy. We were instructed to be sparing in the use of ammunition; but the Federal artillery evidently had plenty of it, for they pelted us almost incessantly, whether we held our peace or not. It was during this kind of fighting that we had two men killed - Loughridge and McNeil - and several wounded.

    Source: Royall W. Figg, Where Men Only Dare to Go or the Story of a Boy’s Company (C.S.A.) by an ex-boy. Richmond 1885. p.p. 140 - 142
     
  4. lelliott19

    lelliott19 2nd Lieutenant Forum Host Trivia Game Winner

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    22 yo Pvt. Figg continues his account of the activity of July 3, 1863:

    At one time Lieut. Brown ordered the men at Sergeant William Cogbill's gun to retire a few paces from the gun to lie down. The air was hideous with Yankee missiles. One of the men said to his comrade, "Oh, I had much rather be at the gun." The words had scarcely escaped his lips when a shot struck and shattered the wheel where he had been standing. The cannoneers at once sprang to the gun, quickly supplied it with a new wheel (carried for such contingencies), and resumed firing.....

    Presently a barn nearby, where a number of Federal wounded had been put the night previous, was discovered to be on fire. The enemy's shells had ignited this building in which their own wounded lay. Andrew Barker, always kind and impulsive, raised the cry, "The wounded! The wounded!" Captain Parker ordered the battery to cease firing, and our boys and others of the battalion at once went to the rescue of these unfortunates, though it is feared that some of them were burnt to death....

    In the afternoon, I saw General Alexander (who in this battle had command of all Longstreet's artillery) ride up to our battery, and heard him say - "Captain Parker, arrange your pieces en eschelon. The signal gun will be fired from the right. Take it up and pass it to the left."

    Seventy five pieces of artillery, at this signal, commenced to roar in Longstreet's Corps alone. Other guns in the corps of Ewell and Hill joined in the thundering concert. The enemy replied with equal or greater force. This was kept up until our artillery had lost many men and horses, and nearly exhausted their supply of ammunition, and then there was a strangely long pause. And then stepped forth that "brave and gallant few," under George Pickett.....

    In the great cannonading preceding this charge, our artillery suffered heavily. Owing to this, and the failure of ordnance supplies, after the repulse of Pickett, most of it was ordered to fall back. Only Parker's guns remained (at least that we saw) of all the seventy five that had made such a brave show. Presently one of our guns was sent to the rear, and the gun of Sergeant William Cogbill (who was wounded, but stuck to his post) was removed a few yards, so as to command a road up which the enemy's skirmishers were now advancing. When I saw that we were thus left almost alone, I went up to Lieut. Brown and said, "Captain Parker will let us all get cut to pieces."

    Royall W. Figg, Where Men Only Dare to Go or the Story of a Boy’s Company (C.S.A.) by an ex-boy. Richmond 1885. p.p. 142-145.
     
  5. Tom Elmore

    Tom Elmore First Sergeant

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    Thanks, Laura. When Figg writes that when his battery went down a contiguous road and took an advanced position, I imagine that he meant the road leading from Warfield ridge to the Peach Orchard. Although it might also be interpreted as going further down that same road to the Wheatfield, it would be helpful to find confirming proof. He is of course referring to Wentz from Woolfolk's battery, and the Sherfy barn that burned, both of which are near their Emmitsburg road position. Longstreet himself found them there on the early evening of July 3, according to Figg, and was initially not pleased that they were still there, until the situation was explained to him.
     
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  6. Drumshanbo

    Drumshanbo Cadet

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    Not that its a big deal, but I thought Wentz was with Taylor's VA battery, not Woolfolks? Wentz came out of Alburtis' battery......which became Browns battery (Wise Arty).......which got crunched in the October 62 purge, with the balance of those guys transferring to Eubank's VA Battery, which then became Taylor's VA battery?
     
  7. Tom Elmore

    Tom Elmore First Sergeant

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    Good catch, Drumshanbo! Henry Wentz was indeed the "Ord." (ordnance or orderly?) Sergeant of Capt. Osmond B. Taylor's battery, per the Compiled Service Records. By the way, the Desjardin map identifies that section at the Wheatfield as belonging to Taylor, although I do not know how he derived that identification. It certainly did not come from Taylor's official report.

    Oh, and that one cannon retaken by the 6th Pennsylvania Reserves on the late afternoon of July 3: it was found near the Trostle place by Company I and brought back with at least one, if not two or three, caissons. As I recall, one of Bigelow's guns was separate from the other three and left behind after dark on July 2, when Companies B and G of the 150th New York hauled back the other three pieces of the 9th Massachusetts Battery.
     
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2017 at 8:07 AM
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