Edward L. Thomas and his brigade of Georgians

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Tom Elmore

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One of the more obscure Confederates brigades at Gettysburg was commanded by Brig. Gen. Edward Lloyd Thomas, which consisted of the 14th, 35th, 45th and 49th Georgia Infantry Regiments. Thomas graduated with distinction from Emory College in 1846. The following year he enlisted as a private to fight in the Mexican War, and was made a lieutenant for conspicuous gallantry. At the outset of the Civil War, he left his plantation to raise the 35th Georgia. He was promoted to brigadier general on November 1, 1862, and commanded his brigade until the close of the war, when he resumed farming. He served in Grover Cleveland's administrations, lastly in the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and died March 10, 1898 at South McAlester, Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) [Confederate Veteran, vol. 6, p. 181]. Thomas' brother, Lt. Col. Henry Philip Thomas, was with the 16th Georgia at Gettysburg. Henry was an 1832 graduate of Franklin College (now the University of Georgia).

The service records of the above four Georgia regiments are incomplete for the period of the Gettysburg campaign, and thus Lillian Henderson's Roster of the Confederate Soldiers of Georgia is likewise incomplete and not always completely accurate, leaving the historian to fill in the blanks from various historical bits and pieces. Fortunately there are several good diaries and letters to consult, and a good regimental history of the 35th [Red Clay to Richmond, by John J. Fox, III]. Brig. Gen. Thomas' official report consists merely of a few brief sentences.

On July 1, the brigade supported artillery and sustained some casualties from enemy artillery. On July 2 and 3, the brigade was posted in Long Lane, suffering from both artillery fire and heavy skirmishing. The brigade did not take part in the July 3 charge, but a couple of sources do indicate that at least one company did join in the charge as the advancing line swept past, perhaps led by Brig. Gen. Thomas himself, although they did not proceed far before falling back. Despite the brigade's being held back from a major engagement, it sustained a loss of 34 killed, 127 wounded, and 103 captured/missing during the battle, out of the 125 officers and 1,201 enlisted men who were initially engaged [Regimental Strengths and Losses at Gettysburg, by John W. Busey and David G. Martin]. Some other useful sources:

- Supplement to the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies: Company C, 49th Georgia entered the fight with 4 officers and 16 enlisted men. On July 1, it had four men wounded (one mortally). On July 2, three men were wounded and two were captured. On July 3, one officer and one man were wounded. On July 4, one man was captured.
- Confederate Reminiscences and Letters, Georgia Division, UDC: Recollections of Lt. David Champion (G/14 GA); also Sketches of the Life and War Record of John Oliver Andrews (I/14 GA).
- Library of Congress: Diary of George W. Hall (G/14 GA). Hall states that on July 2 three companies from the regiment were kept out all day skirmishing.
- Savannah Morning News, http://www.savannahnow.com/features/150years/week37/ - article on Charles Hicks, servant of Lt. James H. Hicks, Jr. (F/14 GA); Charles was at Gettysburg and later joined Sherman's army in Georgia. Charles attended the 50th anniversary in Gettysburg, and was a member of both the UCV and GAR organizations.
- Virginia Country, the Civil War Forum (on file at Gettysburg National Military Park): diary and letters of Capt. James Thomas McElvany (F/35 GA).
- The Georgia Historical Quarterly, vol. 46, June 1962, no. 2: Letters of Lt. William Thomas Conn and Capt./Maj. Charles A. Conn (G/45 GA). William notes that the July 2 skirmishing was "almost equal to a [pitched] battle."
- Philadelphia Times, March 17, [1882?], Some Stirring Incidents, by J. A. Walker (45 GA) [probably Pvt. James A. Walker, K/45 GA].
- Virginia Country's Civil War, vol. III: Letters of the Bracewell brothers (G/49 GA).
- The Field Diary of a Confederate Soldier, Draughton Stith Haynes (I/49 GA).
- Heroes and Martyrs of Georgia, by James M. Folsom: Even to this day, organization charts list Col. Samuel T. Player as leading the 49th Georgia at Gettysburg. However, this source states that "Major" Player was not at Gettysburg, the regiment being led on the march by Capt. C. M. Jones (H/49 GA), and in the battle by Capt. O. H. Cooke (F/49 GA). After the regiment's return from Pennsylvania, Maj. Player was promoted to colonel, backdated to June 9, 1863.
 
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infomanpa

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As I paused at the end of Long Lane, I wondered how Thomas' brigade could not be ordered to joining the charge and instead, just sit there and watch their fellow soldiers be slaughtered on Cemetery Ridge. They were fresh rested and yet, unused. How would things have been different at the Copse of Trees if one more brigade had charged?
 

danny

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As I paused at the end of Long Lane, I wondered how Thomas' brigade could not be ordered to joining the charge and instead, just sit there and watch their fellow soldiers be slaughtered on Cemetery Ridge. They were fresh rested and yet, unused. How would things have been different at the Copse of Trees if one more brigade had charged?
Same here; as a matter fact, for other Brigades posted in the Long Lane as well.

At the very least I don't understand why they weren't used to interfere with the 8th Ohio and its flank fire against Pettigrew's Brigades.

Any idea how far they were from the 8th Ohio's flanking fire position?
 
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danny

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Thanks for that.

It would appear then, that the 8th Ohio was in easy rifle range of Thomas' Brigade, and perhaps even McGowan's Brigade. Of course, at the time of the battle, they may not have had a clear line of sight.

Of course, those two brigades were not having a picnic either:

http://www.chrisanddavid.com/georgia/gettysburg.html

Report of Brig Gen Edward L. Thomas

…This position was occupied until the night of July 2, when, with General McGowan's brigade, it was directed to take position in the open field, about 300 yards in front of the enemy's line, on the right of General Ewell's corps. Here we remained until the night of July 3, when we were ordered to take position in the woods on the right of Gettysburg, near the town, from which place, on the night of July 4, the march was commenced toward Hagerstown, Md.

From plaque to Thomas’ Brigade at Gettysburg

July 2 On duty in support of artillery. At 10 p.m. advancing took position in Long Lane with the left flank in touch with McGowan's Brigade and the right near the Bliss house and barn
July 3 Engaged most of the day in severe skirmishing and exposed to a heavy fire of artillery.


Official Records Series 1 - Volume 27 (Part II)

Perrin’s report of McGowan’s Brigade at Gettysburg

Early next morning (the 3d), the heaviest skirmishing I have ever witnessed was here kept up during the greater part of the day. The enemy made desperate efforts to recapture the position, on account of our skirmishers being within easy range of their artillerists on the Cemetery Hill, but we repulsed every assault, and held the position until ordered back to the main line at Gettysburg. At one time the enemy poured down a perfect torrent of light troops from the hill, which swept my skirmishers back upon the main line. I now ordered the Fourteenth to deploy and charge the enemy, which was done in the most gallant style, not without losing some valuable officers and men.
 

infomanpa

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Thanks for that.

It would appear then, that the 8th Ohio was in easy rifle range of Thomas' Brigade, and perhaps even McGowan's Brigade. Of course, at the time of the battle, they may not have had a clear line of sight.

From plaque to Thomas’ Brigade at Gettysburg

July 2 On duty in support of artillery. At 10 p.m. advancing took position in Long Lane with the left flank in touch with McGowan's Brigade and the right near the Bliss house and barn
July 3 Engaged most of the day in severe skirmishing and exposed to a heavy fire of artillery.
I hiked to the end of Long Lane where Thomas' brigade was placed. It's a marshy and low area, and as you said, might not have had a clear sight of the 8th Ohio. I couldn't see because there are now homes along that lane.

I do take issue with the plaque that says that the right flank was near the Bliss house and barn. As you can see from the map above, the Bliss property was out in the open and quite a distance from Long Lane.
 
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E_just_E

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I hiked to the end of Long Lane where Thomas' brigade was placed. It's a marshy and low area, and as you said, might not have had a clear sight of the 8th Ohio. I couldn't see because there are now homes along that lane.

I do take issue with the plaque that says that the right flank was near the Bliss house and barn. As you can see from the map above, the Bliss property was out in the open and quite a distance from Long Lane.
I'd say about half of the plaques are wrong about troop placement :smile:

In the Charge, the confederate L (Brokenbrough) was about at the Northern edge of the MacMillan Woods (where the boy scout camp is today), a good 300 ft or so North (and of course W) of the Bliss property. That map above is wrong about the relative positions of the Long Lane and Bliss property. This is a great writeup about the Long Lane. Long Lane (which is not what is called now Long Lane south of the ball parks) was pretty much due North of the southeast corner of the Bliss property, but ended before the property and before the run (Stevens Run?) that crossed there (also in the wrong place rel to the Bliss property in that map). So the L of the Thomas's Brigade is before the Run...
 

infomanpa

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In the Charge, the confederate L (Brokenbrough) was about at the Northern edge of the MacMillan Woods (where the boy scout camp is today), a good 300 ft or so North (and of course W) of the Bliss property. That map above is wrong about the relative positions of the Long Lane and Bliss property. This is a great writeup about the Long Lane. Long Lane (which is not what is called now Long Lane south of the ball parks) was pretty much due North of the southeast corner of the Bliss property, but ended before the property and before the run (Stevens Run?) that crossed there (also in the wrong place rel to the Bliss property in that map). So the L of the Thomas's Brigade is before the Run...
As you can see below, I overlayed my map with Google's modern Earth view and it lines up pretty well. So, I'm not sure what you mean about it being wrong about the position of Long Lane. However, it does appear that the map's position of the Bliss buildings is slightly east of where they actually were, but not far enough to be relevant to the discussion.

By the way, I was inspired during one visit to walk along the historic Long Lane and did experience the Stevens Run, sinking marsh, wetlands and ticks! I even scaled a fence and almost fell into the muck.:unsure:
Capture.PNG
 
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Tom Elmore

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xlsteve, I hope you will share what you find on your ancestor, especially any information pertaining to Gettysburg.

Below are diary extracts from your ancestor's captain, James Thomas McElvany, during the battle (minor editing done):

July 1. Marched at 7 a.m., passed through New Salem. The battle of Gettysburg commenced about 10 1/2 o'clock a.m. Thomas' brigade supported a battery. Our men captured the place, with a great many prisoners. The dead lay thick on the field. Our loss heavy. At night we were placed on the front line.

July 2. Fight commenced early in the day. Raged furiously all day. Thomas' brigade supported a battery and skirmished heavily all day. Were exposed to a terrible fire of shot and shell. Loss in Co. F, [2nd] Lt. J. B. Williams wounded in thigh; S. H. Starr captured.

July 3. Fight renewed early; Thomas' brigade was placed near the enemy's battery on the "Round Hill" to support Rodes' division. Were under a severe fire all day; had heavy skirmishing. Gen. Heth's division, with Thomas' brigade, charged the enemy's battery at 5 o'clock. They charged under one of the most galling fires that ever came from an enemy's line, but were repulsed and had to retreat under the same fire. Loss today in Co. F, Lt. W. M. Rawlins, wounded in hip; Marion Estes wounded in hand; Stephen Boggs wounded arm; Sgt. W. B. Harbin, very slightly under arm. Missing J. M. Kirk and Wm. R. Knight, the latter is supposed to be killed.

July 4. Heavy skirmishing all day. Rain in the evening. Marched a little after dark. The roads were very muddy. Traveled all night. Passed through Miller Town about day and halted.
 

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xlsteve, I hope you will share what you find on your ancestor, especially any information pertaining to Gettysburg.

Below are diary extracts from your ancestor's captain, James Thomas McElvany, during the battle (minor editing done):

July 1. Marched at 7 a.m., passed through New Salem. The battle of Gettysburg commenced about 10 1/2 o'clock a.m. Thomas' brigade supported a battery. Our men captured the place, with a great many prisoners. The dead lay thick on the field. Our loss heavy. At night we were placed on the front line.

July 2. Fight commenced early in the day. Raged furiously all day. Thomas' brigade supported a battery and skirmished heavily all day. Were exposed to a terrible fire of shot and shell. Loss in Co. F, [2nd] Lt. J. B. Williams wounded in thigh; S. H. Starr captured.

July 3. Fight renewed early; Thomas' brigade was placed near the enemy's battery on the "Round Hill" to support Rodes' division. Were under a severe fire all day; had heavy skirmishing. Gen. Heth's division, with Thomas' brigade, charged the enemy's battery at 5 o'clock. They charged under one of the most galling fires that ever came from an enemy's line, but were repulsed and had to retreat under the same fire. Loss today in Co. F, Lt. W. M. Rawlins, wounded in hip; Marion Estes wounded in hand; Stephen Boggs wounded arm; Sgt. W. B. Harbin, very slightly under arm. Missing J. M. Kirk and Wm. R. Knight, the latter is supposed to be killed.

July 4. Heavy skirmishing all day. Rain in the evening. Marched a little after dark. The roads were very muddy. Traveled all night. Passed through Miller Town about day and halted.
Did he assert that Thomas' Brigade participated in the attack on July 3?

Ryan
 
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infomanpa

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July 2. Fight commenced early in the day. Raged furiously all day. Thomas' brigade supported a battery and skirmished heavily all day. Were exposed to a terrible fire of shot and shell. Loss in Co. F, [2nd] Lt. J. B. Williams wounded in thigh; S. H. Starr captured.
I wonder where this fighting occurred. I'm not aware of any significant action "early in the day" on July 2. Perhaps, like the following sentences state, that it was mainly skirmishing.
 

rpkennedy

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I wonder where this fighting occurred. I'm not aware of any significant action "early in the day" on July 2. Perhaps, like the following sentences state, that it was mainly skirmishing.
The skirmishing between Cemetery Ridge and Seminary Ridge was very intense on both the 2nd and 3rd. That has to be what he was describing.

Ryan
 

xlsteve

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Did he assert that Thomas' Brigade participated in the attack on July 3?

Ryan
It would seem so. At least that's how I read McElvany's statement. In regard to whether Thomas' brigade participated in Pickett's charge, John Fox makes what I think is a reasonable supposition in his book Red Clay to Richmond (mentioned above).

If portions of Thomas' Brigade did participate in Pickett's Charge, perhaps Thomas did not want it known that his Georgians had moved forward without orders. This would explain his failure to mention Pickett's Charge in his report. Several reasons existed that might have prompted elements in the brigade to move forward from Long Lane without orders. The first and foremost stemmed from the Georgian's position. Their location was an infantryman's worst nightmare. Little cover existed behind the wooden fence on Long Lane. As enemy shot and shell ripped holes in the fence and the bodies behind it, many men probably wanted to move. Some of these men perhaps believed joining the grand charge could be no worse than standing still and dying.​


If the 35th Georgia provided mostly a support role during the battle, as the official records indicated, then why were so many soldiers listed as MIA? The close proximity of the 35th Georgia to Federal lines on July 2 - 3, resulted in the capture of many Georgia skirmishers. The casualty list should have logged their names as captured in action not MIA. Those Georgians listed as missing in action may have fallen while participating in Pickett's Charge.
I'm hopeful that I can find some discussion of Gettysburg in my ancestor's papers and letters. McElvany's letters home don't attempt to describe it, as many who write home did he states he doesn't have the words or the time.
 
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View attachment 323495
Excerpted from: "Old 35th Georgia: A Brief History of the 35th Regiment of Georgia Volunteers," Captain W. T. Irvine, The Sunny South. (Atlanta, Ga.), May 02, 1891, page 5.
View attachment 323494
@xlsteve
Laura, this is a very significant source detailing the role of the 35th Georgia on July 2. Fox's book refers to it, describing their skirmishers being "in the area around Long Lane." This is perfectly reasonable knowing the brigade was in McMillan Woods and the 35th was in the left wing of the brigade, and occupied Long Lane beginning that night. However, Irvine specifically says the seven skirmish companies were deployed along an orchard opposite the Bliss buildings. That puts them several hundred yards south of where they would be expected, in fact in Posey's direct front when the latter moved into position around mid-morning July 2. It has been commonly proposed by historians that Confederate prisoners captured around the Bliss buildings (in particular the 90+ brought in by part of the 12th New Jersey around 5 p.m. on July 2) belonged to Posey's brigade, but the problem is that Posey's entire brigade did not report anything close to that number of men being taken captive. It thus appears that the 35th Georgia and perhaps other regiments of Thomas were much more directly involved in the Bliss farm fighting than previously thought.
 
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rpkennedy

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Laura, this is a very significant source detailing the role of the 35th Georgia on July 2. Fox's book refers to it, describing their skirmishers being "in the area around Long Lane." This is perfectly reasonable knowing the brigade was in McMillan Woods and the 35th was in the left wing of the brigade, and occupied Long Lane beginning that night. However, Irvine specifically says the seven skirmish companies were deployed along an orchard opposite the Bliss buildings. That puts them several hundred yards south of where they would be expected, in fact in Posey's direct front when the latter moved into position around mid-morning July 2. It has been commonly proposed by historians that Confederate prisoners captured around the Bliss buildings (in particular the 90+ brought in by part of the 12th New Jersey around 5 p.m. on July 2) belonged to Posey's brigade, but the problem is that Posey's entire brigade did not report anything close to that number of men being taken captive. It thus appears that the 35th Georgia and perhaps other regiments of Thomas were much more directly involved in the Bliss farm fighting than previously thought.
I was always curious about from what units those prisoners originated. This makes sense but begs the question, "What were they doing that far south?"

Ryan
 
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