Valorous and Virtually Unknown Battery of Lieutenant Evan Thomas

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Tom Elmore

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The six Napoleon cannon of Battery C, 4th U.S. Artillery, under the command of Lieutenant Evan Thomas, played a vital role in the defense of Cemetery Ridge on both July 2 and 3, yet we know precious little about it. No official report documented its activities, and no post-battle accounts by any member of the battery have apparently come to light. Yet we have incidental mentions by others who encountered the battery on the battlefield, both friend and foe, who speak of its effectiveness, including that critical observer and distinguished officer, Major General Winfield S. Hancock. In his official report, Hancock wrote that Lt. Thomas “is particularly mentioned for bravery and good conduct.”

The battery was described as having been raised in New York City and was originally organized back in 1821. It was strengthened in the fall of 1862 with 100 volunteers from the 14th Indiana Infantry.

On July 2, the battery took up a position on the ridge west of the Hummelbaugh place. The 1st Minnesota was soon sent to guard the battery’s left, while the 19th Maine looked after its right. The critical moment arrived around 7 p.m., when Colonel David Lang’s Floridians, having just overrun the Third Corps line at the Emmitsburg road, appeared at rather close range to finish the job. They were met by a withering blast of case shot, shell and canister, most likely from Thomas’ Napoleons, directly in their front. The battery remained well protected by friendly infantry on both flanks, and it was not long before the Confederate threat dissolved.

Just before sunset, a large regiment appeared just behind the guns. It was the 14th Vermont in Brigadier General Stannard’s brigade, which had just come down from behind the cemetery to bolster the endangered center of the Union line. So far as is known, the battery and regiment stayed in place throughout the night. At first light the next morning some Confederate guns on Seminary Ridge opened fire. The battery responded, according to Colonel Veazey of the 16th Vermont. The Confederate aim was accurate; they soon detonated a caisson that was close to the line of the 14th Vermont. The explosion killed 1st Sergeant Henry H. Vaughan of Company B and wounded others. It was a painful lesson for untested troops. The 14th Vermont was moved forward a safe distance at the “double quick.”

It is conjecture on my part, but this incident may have prompted the battery to also shift its position, now that the Confederates had an accurate range on them. In any event, by the time of the afternoon cannonade the battery was still on the ridge, but about 200 yards or so further north, behind the imaginary dividing line separating the First and Second Corps, and therefore to the right and rear of Stannard’s brigade. It was identified as Thomas’ battery by George G. Benedict, who served on Stannard’s staff, and after the war wrote prolifically on the brigade’s participation in the battle. While the cannonade was underway, another enemy round struck a caisson in the battery. A soldier of the 13th Vermont said it “blew up with a thundering report, throwing debris in all directions and high in the air. Some of the guns were silenced.” Benedict indicated that three additional caissons were detonated at the same moment, probably from the concussion. A cheer arose from the enemy’s lines. That would make five caissons destroyed for the day. It knocked the battery permanently out of action, perhaps from a combination of casualties and/or the loss of ammunition. Even the identity of the victims is something of a mystery, but the total loss was reported as one enlisted man killed outright, and one officer (Lieutenant J. McGilvray) and 16 enlisted men wounded, all from the action on July 3. Only three of the men are known by name: John Burns, a native son of Ireland, was killed, while Joseph A. Campbell and William McNeal succumbed from their wounds later in the month.

The remnants of Battery C, 4th U.S. Artillery limped back toward the rear. For two straight days it had served valiantly, but in nearly total obscurity, being overshadowed as were other units of the old Regular Army. It was replaced by another battery that went into action on the same spot. This battery was not identified, but it fits with Captain Andrew Cowan’s First New York Independent Battery of the Sixth Corps, which had to advance no more than 400 yards from near the Taneytown road, where it had stood idle since around 10 a.m. It was Cowan’s first firing position, before Brigadier General Webb waved it forward and northward to replace another disabled battery (Lieutenant Brown’s B, 1st Rhode Island) on the south side of the copse, a group of trees that within minutes would become famous in history.

Principal Sources:
-Official Reports of Hancock, Stannard and Veazey.
-Thomas L. Elmore, The Florida Brigade at Gettysburg, The Gettysburg Magazine, issue 15, p. 50.
-A Veteran (not further identified), Company I, 13th Vermont, The National Tribune, August 30, 1894.
-G. G. Benedict, Vermont in the Civil War, A History of the Part Taken by Vermont Soldiers and Sailors in the War for the Union 1861-5 (Burlington, VT: The Free Press Association, 1896), vol. II, pp. 463-466.
-Travis W. Busey and John W. Busey, Union Casualties at Gettysburg, 2:1077.
 
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In The Second Day At Gettysburg by Scott Mingus, Sr. and David L. Shultz, the Hummelbaugh farm lane in the area where Thomas's battery fought is given a great deal of attention and the book is worth a read by anyone interested in the action in the Union center (the Peach Orchard to Ziegler's Grove) on July 2. In the book, special attention is paid to the artillery on both sides.
 
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