Flank Marker Anomaly

Gettysburg Guide #154

Corporal
Member of the Month
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Dec 30, 2019
Now that the crops have been harvested from the farm fields on the Gettysburg Battlefield, visitors can see many things that have been hidden all summer. One item recently caught my eye while giving a tour. I thought I saw a stone that was much too perfect a cube to be a random piece of rock. Upon closer investigation, it proved to be a flank marker. Specifically, it purported to be the Right Flank marker for the the 120th NY, located in about the middle of a field east of the 120th's monument on Sickles Avenue where it passes east of the Klingle House.
120th NY RF.jpeg


The Left Flank marker is located at the edge of Sickles Avenue just south of the regiment's monument. In the below photo the Left Flank marker is near the road and the Right Flank marker is out in the field. The camera is looking east toward Cemetery Ridge.
120th NY LF.jpeg

However, if these flank markers are in the right place, then the 120th NY would be facing in a generally northerly direction. Certainly, they were faced in a generally southerly direction and engaged with Barksdale's Mississippians. Therefore, it appears that the flank markers for the 120th NY are reversed. Incidentally, the casualty reports, suggest that they fought with some stubbornness, as they lost nearly 48% of their strength.
129th NY tablet.jpeg
 

Tom Elmore

2nd Lieutenant
Member of the Year
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Jan 16, 2015
As I understand the sources, the 120th began in the second line in support facing westward. Barksdale's brigade approached from the south, threatening its left flank. "To meet this Tappen changed front, and it is interesting to state that this was done by a left wheel of the regiment, the simplest and most effective maneuver by which it could be accomplished ... " (History of Ulster County, New York, by Nathaniel B. Sylvester)

On occasion a regiment might face about and wheel to the right so that the rear rank was facing the enemy, which technically would flip the regiment's flanks, but the above description clearly indicates that's not the case in this instance, and so the flank markers are indeed swapped in error on the field.
 

Tom Elmore

2nd Lieutenant
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Jan 16, 2015
Not so fast! There's usually a wrinkle, however, and this case is no different. Looking at a map, it would seem the 120th, while facing westward, would have taken advantage of a rail fence marking the eastern border of the Klingle orchard, instead of being way out in the open field to the east. In fact, Major George H. Sharpe (in New York at Gettysburg, III:819) wrote that the regiment advanced some 50 feet to gain the protection of a stone wall. Maybe that fence was stone at the time of the battle, or maybe not. In any case, Barksdale then attacked from the south. If the 120th executed a forward left wheel, its right would be near the Emmitsburg Road and blocking the left wing that was bent back by the 11th New Jersey at the Klingle house to confront Barksdale, but the 11th New Jersey mentioned no such friendly obstruction. One solution would have been for the 120th to move by the left flank to extend eastward, or it could simply "about face" and wheel to the right, facing south, either way winding up in the approximate position shown on my attached map. The latter maneuver would have inverted the flanks as noted above and thus account for the apparent misplacement of the flank markers.
 

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infomanpa

Sergeant Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Location
Pennsylvania
Now that the crops have been harvested from the farm fields on the Gettysburg Battlefield, visitors can see many things that have been hidden all summer. One item recently caught my eye while giving a tour. I thought I saw a stone that was much too perfect a cube to be a random piece of rock. Upon closer investigation, it proved to be a flank marker. Specifically, it purported to be the Right Flank marker for the the 120th NY, located in about the middle of a field east of the 120th's monument on Sickles Avenue where it passes east of the Klingle House.


The Left Flank marker is located at the edge of Sickles Avenue just south of the regiment's monument. In the below photo the Left Flank marker is near the road and the Right Flank marker is out in the field. The camera is looking east toward Cemetery Ridge.

However, if these flank markers are in the right place, then the 120th NY would be facing in a generally northerly direction. Certainly, they were faced in a generally southerly direction and engaged with Barksdale's Mississippians. Therefore, it appears that the flank markers for the 120th NY are reversed. Incidentally, the casualty reports, suggest that they fought with some stubbornness, as they lost nearly 48% of their strength.

Great catch! Last year, I also missed that flank marker until I noticed it on a subsequent visit after the ground cover was cleared. I also noticed for the first time other objects while visiting in the winter.
 

Gettysburg Guide #154

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Dec 30, 2019
Tom may well be right as to the maneuver executed by the regiment to bring them into line facing south. However, I respectfully suggest that it would not be the quickest way to accomplish the end result. If the regiment does an "about face", the line officers and non-coms are on the wrong side of the line and need to pass through the line to take up their proper position. While this can be done, it does take a little time. But the bigger factor is that executing a right wheel after the about face requires that the men all move different distances and those on the outer edge of the arc must travel considerably farther than if everyone does a left face and then executes a left flank by file maneuver. Moreover, the field officers are never out of position.

Using Tom's map and scale, we can estimate that the 120th NY had a front of about 100 yards. If the order is to execute a left face and then left by file, followed by a "right face", each man needs to cover about 100 yards to bring the entire regiment into position facing south, which at quick time takes about 70 seconds. (see "Gettysburg by the Numbers" by Charles Teague) If the regiment executes an about face and then left wheel maneuver, the man on the end of the arc needs to cover about 157 yards, which at quick time would take about 110 seconds. In the extra time, an enemy line can close an additional 50+ yards.

Granted some companies might be brought into line more quickly and one could fire by company under Tom's suggestion. However, both Harry Pfanz in his book on the Second Day and Hessler and Eisenberg in their work on the Peach Orchard suggest that a volley from the 120th NY momentarily stalled Barksdale's Brigade. Pfanz indicates that the 120th was lying prone and then rose to deliver the volley. Assuming the statements about delivering a volley sufficient to halt the Mississippians, even momentarily, it is reasonable to infer that it was delivered by all the regiment's effectives still in the ranks, and not by one company at a time.

I would quickly admit that the above calculation is probably a bit too precise, but it does demonstrate that there is a faster way to get the entire regiment into the desired position. Of course, I must also admit that I was not there on July 2, 1863, so I really don't know how it was done.
 

Cavalier

First Sergeant
Joined
Jul 20, 2019
Great stuff @Gettysburg Guide #154. The Excelsiors are one of my favorite brigades so I have been out there many times. I am embarrassed to admit however, that I don't think I ever noticed the flank markets being inverted, (?). Sharpe as a bowling ball is again the operative phrase here I guess.

I believe the Excelsiors are better than they are generally given credit for so every visit of mine includes a little pilgrimage to this part of the field.

But, as related above, the fall and winter are also my favorite times for battlefield exploring, as long as theres no snow or rain.

Thanks for posting this.

John
 

Tom Elmore

2nd Lieutenant
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Jan 16, 2015
Incidentally we have an example from the Wheatfield, namely the 61st New York from Cross' brigade, which at the moment it fronted south, had its officers and sergeants between the men and the enemy. Yet their flank markers in the Wheatfield are not inverted. So all things considered, I would lean toward a simple error in placement of the 120th's markers. While I am loathe to contradict an actual participant who specifically recalled the 120th making a left wheel to face Barksdale (post #4), yet I am unable to integrate Sharpe's recollection (post #5) into that scenario. Just one more quandary on this battlefield that may never be resolved unless additional primary sources are uncovered. It's difficult to fathom that the veterans who were on hand to dedicate the 120th's monument did not recognize or comment on this apparent discrepancy.
 

rpkennedy

Lt. Colonel
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Location
Carlisle, PA
Incidentally we have an example from the Wheatfield, namely the 61st New York from Cross' brigade, which at the moment it fronted south, had its officers and sergeants between the men and the enemy. Yet their flank markers in the Wheatfield are not inverted. So all things considered, I would lean toward a simple error in placement of the 120th's markers. While I am loathe to contradict an actual participant who specifically recalled the 120th making a left wheel to face Barksdale (post #4), yet I am unable to integrate Sharpe's recollection (post #5) into that scenario. Just one more quandary on this battlefield that may never be resolved unless additional primary sources are uncovered. It's difficult to fathom that the veterans who were on hand to dedicate the 120th's monument did not recognize or comment on this apparent discrepancy.

Colonel Sharpe was also not with the regiment at Gettysburg (they were being led by Lt. Colonel Westbrook, IIRC) so that might be what leads to the inconsistencies in the accounts.

Ryan
 

Tom Elmore

2nd Lieutenant
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Jan 16, 2015
There's another interesting maneuver described by Sharpe that occurred in the latter stages of the 120th's fight:
"This regiment held the line until after 7 o'clock, when another regiment took its place, enabling the One hundred and twentieth to retire with Carr's Brigade; and it was while the two wings were being side-stepped to unmask the relieving force that Colonel Westbrook received his second wound and was carried from the field." [Tappen then took command] (New York at Gettysburg, III:819)

If we picture the 120th facing south, as in the above map (post #5), this maneuver seems to imply another regiment was directly behind the 120th, and blocked its field of fire. I have considered this regiment to be the 70th New York, which like the 120th, was held in reserve. But a member of the 70th (John N. Coyne, National Tribune, April 21, 1892, p. 4) wrote only of a threat emerging from over the rise in front, which I imagine was the combined 10th and 11th Alabama about to deliver the "coup de grace." So it would appear to me that the Union lines were rapidly dissolving by that time.
 

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jameswoods

Private
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Jul 29, 2015
Tom

I think the relieving regiment referred to by Colonel Sharpe was actually the two small regiments (the 19th Massachusetts and 42nd New York) that had taken a position just east/north east of the retreating Third Corps troops just minutes before. They were supposed to report to General Humphreys but by the time they got there his line had already started to fall back.

Once the Excelsiors on their left broke for the rear, the 120th New York and Carr's regiments were forced to retreat in the direction of the 19th Mass and 42nd NY.

Colonel Devereux (19th Mass) wrote, "...I waited until my front was clear of all the broken fragments of our troops and then directed Colonel Mallon [ 42nd NY] to make his men stand up fire a volley by the rear and front rank in succession then to face about and regain the old line...".

Jim
 

rli

Private
Joined
Jul 11, 2020
Location
North Carolina
Incidentally we have an example from the Wheatfield, namely the 61st New York from Cross' brigade, which at the moment it fronted south, had its officers and sergeants between the men and the enemy. Yet their flank markers in the Wheatfield are not inverted. So all things considered, I would lean toward a simple error in placement of the 120th's markers. While I am loathe to contradict an actual participant who specifically recalled the 120th making a left wheel to face Barksdale (post #4), yet I am unable to integrate Sharpe's recollection (post #5) into that scenario. Just one more quandary on this battlefield that may never be resolved unless additional primary sources are uncovered. It's difficult to fathom that the veterans who were on hand to dedicate the 120th's monument did not recognize or comment on this apparent discrepancy.
It could simply be the crew that installed the marker got it wrong and the Vet's had it right. Seems odd to have gone all these years without correction if called for but it could be.
 

infomanpa

Sergeant Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Location
Pennsylvania
It could simply be the crew that installed the marker got it wrong and the Vet's had it right. Seems odd to have gone all these years without correction if called for but it could be.
There has been precedent of moving flank markers in the past. I wonder why they haven't acted on this.
 
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