- Jul 29, 2015
“…a volunteer battery which I have never been able to learn the name of…”
While Captain Bigelow’s 9th Massachusetts was doing its part in holding back Barksdale’s Mississippians, Colonel Freeman McGilvery was desperately setting about creating a line of artillery to backstop the beleaguered Bay Staters.
At approximately 6:55 PM, McGilvery reported that, “...I formed a new line of artillery about 400 yards to the rear, close under the woods, and covering the opening which led into the Gettysburg and Taneytown road, of the following batteries: Battery I, Fifth Regular, and a volunteer battery which I have never been able to learn the name of; three guns of the Fifth Massachusetts and two of Captain Thompson’s Pennsylvania battery....”
However, to McGilvery’s dismay, around the time Barksdale’s skirmishers began to occupy a, “...brook running through low bushes parallel to our front, midway between ours and the enemy’s lines...The unknown volunteer battery, heretofore mentioned, left the field....”
The “unknown” battery referred to by McGilvery was Captain Aaron Walcott’s C, 3rd Massachusetts.
The following describes the unfortunate fate of the 3rd Massachusetts battery which, for a short time, was part of July 2nd’s "McGilvery Line”.
Captain Augustus P. Martin, commander of the 5th Corps’ Artillery Brigade, reported that, “...The artillery entered the field between 4 and 5 p. m. on the 2d instant, three batteries in rear of the First Division, viz: Battery D, Fifth U.S. Artillery, First Lieut. Charles E. Hazlett commanding; Battery C, Massachusetts Artillery, First Lieut. Aaron F. Walcott commanding, and Battery I, Fifth U.S. Artillery, First Lieut. M. F. Watson commanding.”
These guns did not take the same route to the left as did the infantry, however, choosing instead a country lane that branched off from the Granite Schoolhouse road to head generally south-by-south west. Thomas Scott, an artillerist with Hazlett’s battery, described the route the batteries had taken, “...we now went to the left for one mile, then turned to the right, going northwest. When we had gone about two miles we could see our infantry. We went on this road about three miles in all, when we came to a road running north and south. This was back of the Round Tops. Here we halted...."
Captain Martin continued his report, “...Battery C, Massachusetts Artillery and I, Fifth U.S. Artillery were left in rear of the line of battle of the First Division, with instructions to await orders. When positions had been selected and orders sent for the batteries to move to the front, they were not to be found….”
According to John D. Reed, an artillerist in the 3rd Massachusetts and its historian, “...Capt. Martin with three of his staff arrived early in the day, and rode up on Round Top...left one of his staff at the base to put batteries into position, from Plum Run to the Wheat field, but as the air was full of bullets, the staff officers went to cover at the rear of the hill, leaving the batteries to go as they pleased. Gen. Sickles coming along with his corps in the meantime, took the Third and Watson’s United States batteries with him....”
While it is not certain whether it was indeed a 3rd Corp staff officer or some other senior officer, e.g., Colonel McGilvery, responsible for the appropriation of the two Fifth Corps batteries, it is certain that they were moved to an apparent reserve position in the low ground located between the Wheatfield road and Trostle lane, just west of the Joseph Weikert farmhouse, The time of their arrival is fixed by Colonel Joshua L. Chamberlain, commanding the 20th Maine, who reported that prior to hurrying off to Little Round Top, he remembered, “...Passing an open field in the hollow ground in which some of our batteries were going into position....” [author’s italics] The 20th Maine was the trailing regiment of Vincent’s brigade and in order to be in position on Little Round Top by 4:45 PM it would have passed that piece of real estate no later than 4:30 PM.
The “hollow ground” referred to by Chamberlain is effectively identified by Reed who described the area where they were first placed as one in which there were, “...boulders and marshy ground to contend with.” That kind of terrain is found just to the north and west of the site on which the 3rd Massachusetts Battery’s monument now stands.
That it was the location for the pirated guns is also seconded by Colonel Kenner Garrard, 146th New York (Weed’s brigade), who an hour and a half later reported the brigade was, “...led to the right and front some distance, and formed in line in a narrow valley to support a portion of the Third Corps and Watson’s battery....” Garrard’s recollection that it was Watson’s battery he saw is supported by Chaplain Welch who remembered that the 91st Pennsylvania, “...was then ordered to the right at double-quick to support Battery I of the Fifth U.S. Artillery....”
Interestingly, neither Colonel Garrard nor any other member of Weed’s brigade mentioned seeing Walcott’s 3rd Massachusetts battery, which would have been as observable as Watson’s battery if it had occupied the position on which its monument now rests. The reason they did not see Walcott was because at that time the Massachusetts battery was located farther north, beyond their view. Before getting the opportunity to come abreast of its position, the brigade received orders to countermarch toward Little Round Top. This was the first position assigned to Walcott’s battery on July 2.
The two 5th Corps batteries would remain undisturbed for almost two hours until, shortly after 6:00 PM, Watson’s I, 5th U.S. was leapfrogged past Walcott and finally placed into position just north of Trostle lane and on the higher ground east of the farm buildings. Walcott’s guns remained in place, however, potentially commanding the gap between the northern edge of Trostle’s woods and the lane leading to the Trostle farm.
Unfortunately, just as McGilvery was adding the three guns of Captain Phillips’ 5th Massachusetts and Captain Thompson’s C & F Pennsylvania’s two remaining guns to the four guns of Dow’s 6th Maine battery (already in position), Walcott’s four guns were being reclaimed by Captain Martin. Battery C’s participation as a unit in Colonel McGilvery’s line was over.
John Reed, the 3rd Massachusetts battery’s historian, implies that it was Captain Martin, the 5th Corps Artillery Brigade commander, who found Walcott and ordered him back into position almost at the foot of Little Round Top. Martin’s report appears to confirm this interpretation, stating that the battery, “...was found in rear of the Third Corps. The officer commanding reported that he had been ordered there by an officer of General Sickles.” The new position selected for Walcott was not a very good one. Actually, according to Reed, “...It was a bad position to go into, as there were boulders and marshy ground to contend with. A stone wall was in front, and a regiment of regulars lay in its support near the wall.” That description pretty well identifies the location that the 3rd Massachusetts veterans subsequently selected for the placement of their monument and, based on Reed’s account, was the battery’s second position.
Martin was obviously unaware of the threat looming just beyond the belt of woods to the battery’s front. Wofford’s brigade was fast approaching; Phillips’ and Cobb’s legions on the brigade’s left extending into Trostle’s woods as the Georgians swept virtually unopposed down the Wheatfield road. General Barnes, commanding the First Division, Fifth Corps, realizing the danger, ordered the battery out of its hopeless position, exclaiming as he and his staff rode past, “You can’t live in that place five minutes.” (Barnes had, to his anguish, moments before sent Sweitzer’s brigade into the southern end of the Wheatfield just as the Confederate wave was about to crash over it.)
However, before being able to obey the General’s order (by my estimate at about 7:18 PM), the Georgians of Phillips’ and Cobb’s Legions, overran Walcott’s 3rd Massachusetts Battery.
They were into the guns of the battery before the artillerists were able to get off a single shot. According to the battery’s historian, “...Wofford’s Confederate brigade leaped over the wall, driving back the regulars, and demanding the battery to surrender. No one seemed to know where they came from, because they sprang over the wall and came up to the guns so quick...”. Lieutenant Walcott seeing no chance to save his guns ordered them spiked, and one was spiked just as the rebels got to them.”
The guns would remain in Rebel hands for less than half an hour. Yielding to General Longstreet’s order to withdraw, and spurred on by the advance of Colonel David Nevin’s Sixth Corps brigade, the Confederates reluctantly abandoned their captures to the approaching Federals.
Nevin’s brigade advanced left to right in the following order: 139th Pa., 93rd Pa., 62nd NY. The 139th claimed to recover two abandoned Union guns as did the 62nd NY. It’s curious that the 93rd Pennsylvania’s report makes no mention of retaking or overrunning abandoned Union guns. As the center regiment of the brigade, they should have if the guns referred to were all from Walcott’s 3rd Massachusetts. A plausible explanation is that the two Napoleons taken by the 139th’s Company D and the two seized by the 62nd New York were from different commands.
The 139th Pennsylvania had, most likely, charged through Lieutenant Walworth’s abandoned section (L, 1st Ohio) in position just north of the Wheatfield road. Walcott’s 6 guns would have been to the right front of the brigade as it advanced down the slope and across the rough ground separating Houck’s Ridge from Little Round Top. In moving forward, the 62nd New York may have overlapped Walcott’s left section while the track of the 139th and 93rd Pennsylvania carried those regiments to the left of these guns.
The sun had just set as the Confederates reached their high tide at the foot of Little Round Top and now, thirty minutes later, as darkness began to fall, the battery men of C, 3rd Massachusetts returned to retrieve their guns. Their historian noted that Walcott’s guns, “...were drawn out of that position by prolonge....” It is not known where the battery bivouacked for the evening, but most likely not far behind the lines close to the Taneytown road. According to Captain Martin, “…Battery C, Massachusetts Artillery, not having been relieved until about dark, was not put in position with the Fifth Corps”.
The following morning at 3 AM, it, along with Battery C, 1st New York, was ordered to report to Brig. General Howe, Sixth Corp, “…and moved to the extreme left of the line and there remained in position without being engaged until the close of the engagement.” This would be C, 3rd Massachusetts’ third position.
The fact that C, 3rd Massachusetts was removed from the Captain Martin’s Fifth Corps’ Artillery Brigade for the rest of the battle and positioned on the other side of Round Top helps explain why Colonel McGilvery did not come across it again was thus never able to identify that illusive volunteer battery.
O.R. Vol. 27-1, 623, 651, 659, 660, 661, 685, 882, 883
National Tribune, 8-2-94, T. Scott letter
Henry Wilson’s Regiment, J. Parker 312. 313, 314
Bachelder Papers, Vol. 1, 513 Garrard letter
Pa. at Gettysburg, Vol.1, 489, 507, 659
Philadelphia Weekly Times, Aug. 4, 1886
N.Y. at Gettysburg, Vol. 2-471
Attached photos courtesy of Google Earth
Battery C, 3rd Massachusetts first position
The blue cross marks the location of Watson’s battery just north of old road leading from trestle farm, the red cross marks the approximate location of Walcott’s battery in the valley between Weikert’s and Trostle’s woods
Battery C, 3rd Massachusetts second position
Just south of J. Weikert house and east of Wheatfield
Battery C, 3rd Massachusetts third position
About 150 yards east of the Taneytown road on Wright Ave. The 1st Vermont’s lion monument is in the distance.