Last Artillery Shots on July 4

Tom Elmore

Sergeant Major
Member of the Year
Jan 16, 2015
The sun appeared briefly on the horizon at 4:36 a.m. on July 4, before being enveloped by a thick overcast that foreshadowed a rainy day. Occasional artillery shots were exchanged in the morning, according to Captain William W. Chamberlaine, a member of the Third Corps artillery staff. While riding near a battery of Richmond Howitzers at the Seminary, a shell burst very close to Chamberlaine.


One breach-loading Whitworth cannon of Captain William B. Hurt’s battery on Oak Hill threw a number of solid bolts into the center of the Union lines, about 2.3 miles away. The first round landed just in front of the 97th New York of Brig. Gen. Henry Baxter’s brigade, which was posted near Ziegler’s Grove. A few others followed in close proximity. A round struck the rails piled up in front of the nearby 90th Pennsylvania as a protective barrier, wounding several with splinters. The remaining veterans of the regiment jumped to their feet with a primal urge to flee, but they soon regained their composure and settled back down amid the laughter, and no doubt derisive comments, of their comrades in the brigade. Their reaction illustrates the unique psychological effects of a howling Whitworth round.

Around 10:30 a.m., two pieces in Captain Basil Manly’s battery were directed to open with shell against a reconnaissance in force made to the eastern edge of the Peach Orchard (and probably to the Rose buildings) by Col. Hannibal Day’s small Regular brigade of the Fifth Corps, with Brig. Gen. Joseph J. Bartlett’s brigade of the Sixth Corps in support. Confederate skirmishers helped oppose Day as well. The Federals soon withdrew after incurring some casualties, including one man wounded in the 3rd U.S. Infantry and three more in the 4th U.S. Infantry. Manly’s guns may have fired the last Confederate artillery rounds in the battle.


Over in the Federal lines, Brig. Gen. Alexander Hays was still obsessed over the annoying and deadly Confederate skirmishers at the Bliss buildings. Although the barn and house had been reduced to smoldering ruins after being intentionally burned down on the morning of July 3, Brig. Gen. William Mahone’s Virginians still found them an attractive position from which to harass the Federals.

Five bronze Napoleons held the western edge of Ziegler’s Grove on this day, comprising two guns of the 9th Massachusetts battery under Lieutenant Milton, which had been badly battered in front of the Trostle residence on July 2, and three others from the equally bruised Batteries F and K, 3rd U.S. Artillery, commanded by Lieutenant John G. Turnbull. These guns had relieved Battery I, 1st U.S. in Ziegler’s Grove after the grand Confederate assault the previous day. Now the “commander of the line in front” (most likely Hays) requested the guns dislodge the enemy sharpshooters at the barn. Two or three well-directed shells silenced the Confederates for the time being. However, the firing did not sit well with General George G. Meade. He soon rode up (his headquarters at the Leister cottage was less than 400 yards away) with his staff, “full of wrath, inquiring by whose order the firing was done.” They may have been the last identified artillery shots fired on the Union side.

At noon, Meade’s displeasure notwithstanding, it is recorded that several Union batteries fired a national salute to mark Independence Day. A line of rapidly approaching thunderstorms soon unleased a downpour that put an end to the artillery’s involvement in the battle, and only a few remaining skirmisher shots interrupted nature’s own display of power.

-Thomas L. Elmore, A Meteorological and Astronomical Chronology of the Gettysburg Campaign, The Gettysburg Magazine, issue 13 (July 1995).
-William W. Chamberlaine, Memoirs of the Civil War (Washington DC: Press of Byron S. Adams, 1912, p. 73.
-Isaac Hall, History of the Ninety Seventh Regiment New York Volunteers, (Utica, NY: Press of L. C. Childs and Son, 1890), p. 146.
-Official Reports of Capt. Basil Many, Capt. Andrew Sheridan of the 3rd U.S. and Capt. Julius W. Adams, Jr. of the 4th U.S.
-History of the Ninth Massachusetts Battery, by Levi W. Baker (Framington, MA: Lakeview Press, 1888), pp. 82-83.
-Bachelder Papers, III:1973.
-Thomas L. Elmore, Independence Day: Military Operations at Gettysburg, The Gettysburg Magazine, issue 25 (July 2001).
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May 15, 2012
Great write-up! I thought I was the only one who liked "quirky" little tid bits of information.

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