Locating Pickett’s Division and Brigades of Wilcox and Lang on the Forenoon of July 3

Tom Elmore

1st Lieutenant
Member of the Year
Jan 16, 2015
The location and orientation of Pickett’s division about two hours prior to their charge on July 3 has been a challenge to determine. However, a few sources help to narrow down the range of possibilities. What is not in dispute is that around 11 a.m. the brigades of Garnett and Kemper formed the first line (with Garnett on the left), while Armistead was behind them in support. Let’s begin with the left flank.

The left flank, that is Garnett’s left flank, was held by the 56th Virginia. I don’t think there is much dispute that it was located near the northeast corner of Spangler woods. This spot was near where Woolfolk’s battery was posted, based on a hand-drawn map by E. P. Alexander to J. B. Bachelder (see first attachment), and we have an excellent source from the 56th to fill in the details:

We were moved up to the edge of the woods and just behind our artillery. In my immediate front we were so close to the guns that I had to ‘break to the rear’ my little company to give the men at the limber chest room to handle the ammunition. The caisson, with its horses and drivers, was just in my rear. … My company (K) was second or third from the extreme left of the division” – 1st Lieutenant George W. Finley, Company K, 56th Virginia.

The right flank, that is the right flank of Kemper’s brigade, held by the 24th Virginia, lacks any prominent feature to help us out, but we do have a few clues. Probably the most important is the fact that the 11th Virginia, which was to the immediate left of the 24th, was disrupted by the Rogers house during its advance. While we do not know whether the house was in the path of the left center, center or right center of the 11th, it does provide a valuable reference point to establish the far right of Kemper’s brigade with reasonable accuracy. Then working backwards, a rather narrow cone occupied by Garnett and Kemper can be inferred (see the second attachment that shows this cone – defined on the left by the northeast corner of Spangler woods, and on the right labeled “Far Right of Kemper at Advance.”

The original right of the 24th Virginia (before the cannonade) likely extended another 130 yards or so further to the right (south) based on the following source. Just before the advance the line apparently contracted to the left, presumably due to the estimated 15 percent losses sustained during the cannonade, including heat exhaustion cases, as well as gaps made by the deployment of skirmishers forward from the main line.

When our artillery ceased firing, Colonel [William R.] Terry gave the order to prepare to advance, which was promptly obeyed. The first movement was by the left flank to the depth of a regiment and then by the front” – Captain William W. Bentley, Company E, 24th Virginia.

Incidentally, we can also estimate the position of Stribling’s battery on the far right of Major Dearing’s artillery battalion, given the knowledge that the 1st Virginia passed through it during its advance. The 1st Virginia was to the immediate left of the 11th Virginia; a rectangle on the second attachment gives its estimated position.

Armistead’s brigade should reasonably be parallel with, and behind, Garnett and Kemper at least 100 yards. What we know is that his two left regiments were in the woods, and his center regiment, the 53rd Virginia, was in the open:

Trees not far from the left flank of my regiment whose tops and bodies were literally cut to pieces by the Federal artillery … 53rd being the 3d battalion and the battalion of direction” – Major John C. Timberlake, 53rd Virginia.

For additional perspective, let’s turn our attention to the brigades of Lang and Wilcox, which arrived a few hours ahead of Pickett. They were nearer to the Confederate artillery, with Lang on the left and Wilcox on the right. Kemper afterwards moved into position behind them. The estimated far left of Lang’s brigade and right of Wilcox’s brigade are also shown on the second attachment. Wilcox himself describes his position in relation to the Emmitsburg road on two separate occasions:

The brigade was formed in line parallel with the Emmitsburg turnpike and about 200 yards from it, artillery being in front, much of it on the road, and extending far beyond either flank” and “Lay in line parallel with the pike and 150 yards in rear of it.

A private of the 10th Alabama mentioned the distance in relation to the artillery:

“[Took position] about 100 yards in rear of our batteries, behind a hill” – Private Charles W. Foust, Company B, 10th Alabama.

Captain George Clark of the 11th Alabama throws a wrinkle by suggesting the arrival of Pickett’s division coincided with (or prompted?) a forward movement ordered by Wilcox that put them even closer to the artillery. His mention of Pickett (Kemper) occupying their “original position” is helpful (perhaps meaning 150-200 yards from the Emmitsburg road):

“[After surveying the enemy’s position Brigadier General Wilcox] moved [the brigade] forward until it reached a space of about forty yards behind the artillery, which was being planted near the crest. … Immediately upon our advance Pickett’s division came up and occupied our original position” – Captain George W. Clark, Company B, 11th Alabama.

Sources from Lang’s Florida brigade put them right up to, among, and even beyond the artillery:

About 7 a.m. General Wilcox moved forward to the support of a portion of General Longstreet’s artillery … I moved up with his left /// The brigade was moved forward to a depression in the ground … where the men were instructed to entrench themselves as a protection against the direct fire of the enemy, and from the sabots and fragments of premature explosions our own guns which fired from behind us” – Colonel David Lang.

During the morning we were ordered to the front to support our artillery … When our position was taken, we dug a shallow trench with our swords and bayonets for protection … the cannon around us, some of which were not over twenty feet away” – Acting Assistant Adjutant General and Inspector General James B. Johnson, on staff of Colonel David Lang.

Taken out into the field in front and put behind a battery to support it. The men went to work in good earnest and in a little while had quite a formidable breast work built of stone rails and dirt which was dug by bayonets” – 1st Lieutenant and Adjutant Raymond J. Reid, 2nd Florida.

We lay in line of battle until eleven o’clock and then moved forward to support a battery. … The men threw up some breast works out of rails and threw dirt over them with their bayonets” – Brevet 2nd (3rd) Lieutenant James H. Wentworth, Company D, 5th Florida.

Finally, let’s examine a couple of artillery sources, to better refine their positions.

The Washington Artillery [Eshleman’s battalion] was next on right and about 200 yards distant” – Member of Captain Robert M. Stribling’s battery.

Placed … about 100 yards to the left of the peach orchard [Klingle’s apple orchard?] … As soon as day broke … the left of my line … thrown a little to the rear. … Captain Norcom’s battery was retired about 30 yards, and Captain Richardson’s moved about 200 yards to the left and rear of Norcom, forming en enchelon by batteries. Major Dearing afterward took position with his battalion on my left, and … guns of Colonel Cabell’s battalion were placed in between Captains Norcom and Richardson” – Major Benjamin F. Eshleman.


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