Scenes of Houck's Ridge


1st Texas at the Triangular Field

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          The 1st Texas Regiment had already compiled a distinguished record before reaching Gettysburg.  First commanded by the Colonel John Bell Hood, the 1st had collected battle honors at Gaines Mill and 2nd Manassas.
                On July 2nd 1863 the 1st Texas was now commanded by Colonel Philip Work and was part of Robertson’s brigade along side of the 4th and 5th Texas as well as the 3rd Arkansas. As the Texans waited on Warfield’s Ridge it became clear they would be heading directly at Smith’s 4th NY battery located near Devil’s Den.  The following fifteen minutes was a dangerous traverse across rough ground toward the Plum Run Valley, with Federal Sharpshooters and Smith’s Battery taking a substantial toll.  As the Texans moved forward the 3rd Arkansas moved left into Rose’s Woodlot and the 4th and 5th Texas veered right toward Big Round Top. Now isolated the 1st Texas reached the valley with Smith’s Battery  unable to depress their barrels low enough to fire on the regiment. 

       Though the path seemed clear up a small triangular field the Texans had to halt since it was not clear if there were Union troops in South portion of Rose’s woods.  The Texans found cover and waited behind a stone wall at the base of the Triangular field. There they were able to pepper the battery with fire and forced the Union artillerymen to leave their posts. A few minutes later contact was made with the 3rd Arkansas and the Texans’ moved over the wall to overrun the apparently unguarded artillery position.         
                 Here we see the Texans at the wall. In the left background is Rose woods and at the top of the hill Smith’s artillerymen are leaving their guns to the protection of a few skirmishers from the 4th Maine Regiment.  Unseen behind the crest is the 124th NY Regiment, who will momentarily engage the 1st Texas in a memorable clash.

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Georgia Tide

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              General Henry Benning, a native of Columbus Georgia was a state legislator and Supreme Court judge.  After organizing and commanding the 17th Georgia Regiment, Benning assumed command of his brigade in April 1863, though he had led the brigade in battle at both at 2nd Manassas and Sharpsburg.    In the late afternoon of July 2, 1863 his four regiments the 15th, 20th 17th and 2nd Georgia volunteers were arranged from north to south on Warfield Ridge.

                 Initially Benning’s Georgians were to have followed Evander’s Law’s brigade northeasterly toward the suspected Union line. Harassed by skirmishers, Law’s brigade veered to their right toward the Round Tops . When the time came for Benning to advance the Alabamans of Law’s brigade were out of sight. General John Bell Hood has just been severely wounded and control of the Division passed to Law who could not be immediately located. Benning moved his brigade toward a “Mountain” directly ahead that held a Union Battery, the 4th N. Y. This “Mountain” was Houck’s Ridge and Little Round Top. These two elevations may have appeared as one from the distance, but it was clear that this battery dominated the area. 

            Units from Robertson’s and Law’s Brigade had met stiff resistance in the area ahead. Benning’s left two regiments arrived as the charge of 124th NY had reached the valley in front of Houck’s Ridge. Overwhelmed by numbers the 124th NY retreated.  Segments of the 44th Alabama and 1st Texas each captured the Union battery on Houck’s Ridge but it could not be held The 4th Maine and the 99th Pennsylvania both arrived on the crest and re-secured the Union Guns. 

              By this time the Benning was able to sort out the interspersed lines of the Georgians, Texans Arkansans and Alabamans that clogged the valley. Here we see the 20th Georgia moving up the Triangular field. To their right the   17th Georgia moves toward Devil’s Den and the Slaughter Pen over the small rise now known as Benning’s Knoll. In the woods to left the 15th Georgia and 3rd Arkansas began to clear the Federals out of Rose Woods.  In the center members of Company G and H  of the 1st Texas retreat across the triangular field after being chased off the ridge by 2 union regiments. Those regiments, the 99th Pennsylvania and the 4th Maine still hold Houck’s Ridge but eventually the superior Confederate numbers turn the tide and Ward’s entire Brigade was forced back after contesting the casualty strewn ground for more than two hours.

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Sharpshooters at Rose Run

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             The Federal Sharpshooter regiments were the brainchild of Hiram Berdan.  Berdan was a New York inventor and marksman but had no military background.  Two regiments were selectively recruited from across the Northern States and uniformed in green.  Equipped with Sharps Breech loading rifles, a skilled Sharpshooter could fire roughly three times as fast as an infantryman equipped with a Muzzle loader.  
               At Gettysburg the 1st and 2nd US Sharpshooters were attached to Ward’s Brigade of the Sickles’ III Corps.  The 1st regiment was involved in the first fire fight of day 2 while on a reconnaissance in Pitzer’s Woods. In the mid afternoon the 2nd under Major Homer Stoughton  move forward to a skirmish line generally west of Plum Run and the its tributary Rose Run.   Since Buford’s Cavalry had left the scene at mid day the 200 Sharpshooters were the only forces out in front of Ward’s Brigade the open Left flank on the Union Army.  Around 3 PM it was apparent that Confederate Forces were massing on Warfield Ridge at the top of the slope where the Sharpshooters were positioned. For 45 minutes the Sharpshooters waited anxiously for the inevitable attack while Artillery shells from both sides passed overhead. At around 4 PM those with an unobstructed view saw the 2800 troops of Law’s and Robertson’s Brigade in a half mile front head directly at the 181 marksmen.
             Using stone walls, trees, and rocks as cover the Sharpshooters put up a desultory fire that harassed the Confederate advance.  Slowly giving ground the Sharpshooters eventually returned to the Union lines and continued to aid both Ward’ Brigade and Vincent’s brigade on Little Round Top.   Most likely the Sharpshooter’s action aided in splitting the Confederate line, and the delay gave precious minutes to Vincent, rushing to Little Round Top. Finally they kept Confederate forces in the focus of Union Artillery for which may have resulted in the crippling wound to General John Bell Hood that disrupted Southern Command on the south portion of the field.
               Here we see a squad of 2nd Sharpshooters in a rocky area just to the west of Rose run. The 1st Texas Regiment with their skirmishers are just clearing a ridge on the J.W. Weikert Farm precipitating  another withdrawal by the Sharpshooters though not before exacting a toll.

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View from Weikert's Ridge

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             The 15th Georgia Regiment was one of four regiments that comprised General Henry Benning’s Brigade of Hood’s Division.  On July 2, 1863 following a long march and countermarch the Brigade set up on Warfield’s wooded ridge just west of the present day Eisenhower Farm.   After a brief artillery bombardment General Evander Law’s Brigade moved west off Warfield’s ridge. For reasons still debated today Law’s brigade moved directly West toward the conical shaped hill known as Round Top.  Benning’s brigade was to follow Law some 350 yards to the rear.  Due to smoke and possibly due to the wounding of General Hood, Benning’s brigade struck a path more to the north.   On the left flank the 15th Georgia moved down the slope to a point on the  G. W. Weikert Farm where the view to the east opened up.  
            Here we see that view that no doubt awed the 15th Georgia in anticipation.  Directly in front is Houck’s Ridge crowned by the now abandoned cannons of Smiths’ battery. There the 124th NY regiment is firing its opening volley on the 1st Texas, halfway up the triangular field.  The 124th would impetuously try to chase the 1st Texas back down the hill and ran directly into Benning’s advancing brigade.  Behind Houck’s Ridge is Little Round Top with Vincent’s Brigade arriving just moments before Law’s brigade would emerge from the wooded slope of Round Top, out of view to the right.
            The  15th Georgia would help push back the charge of the 124th NY as well as drive the 86th NY and 20th Indiana out of Rose’s Wood (to the left). But no amount of fearlessness could sustain a successful attack on the now fortified Little Round Top. One Southerner remarked that the position was so strong that it could be held by “…rolling rocks at us.”     The battle did not end there for the 15th Georgia.  Sharp confrontations with Brooke’s and Burbank’s Union Brigades just before sunset and  a tragic  unsupported advance on July 3rd  left the 15th with over 46% casualties for the 3 day battle.  

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Gettysburg- 124th NY- Triangular field

A Charge Too Far

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            The 124th New York Regiment was comprised of men from Orange County in the Catskill Mountain region.  Dubbing themselves the “Orange Blossoms” they had shown fight and taken heavy losses at Chancellorsville in May of 1863.  Some believe their actions at Chancellorsville inspired a future Orange County resident, Stephan Crane, to write “The Red Badge of Courage.” 

             In the mid afternoon of July 2, 1863 the 238 men of the 124th were stationed near Captain James Smith’s 4th NY Battery on the south end of Houck’s Ridge near the rocks of Devil’s Den. To the west was a triangular shaped field leading down to Rose Run and the opposite hillside of pasture, small woodlots and boulders that led to the ridge near the Emmitsburg Road.  When Hood’s division of 7000 Confederates advanced out of the Woods on Warfield Ridge the 124th had a clear and unsettling view.

            The 1st Texas advanced through the dangerous fire from Smith’s battery and pushed back the Union skirmishers. Soon the Texans arrived at a stone wall on the west side of the triangular field and directly threatened the battery who could not depress its fire enough to repel the Confederates. The 124th moved to a position kneeling just behind the crest of the hill and waited for the inevitable rebel advance. After regrouping the Texans moved swiftly up the field.  With the Texans less than 50 yards away and Smith preparing to abandon his four cannon the 124th  rose as one and delivered a powerful volley. The 1st  Texas waivered but held. After an exchange of volleys, the 124th’s Colonel, A. Van Horne Ellis had his horse brought up and ordered a charge. The 124th responded with vigor and bayonets. They drove the Texans down the triangular field, over the stone wall at the bottom and beyond Rose Run. 

      The price of the charge was steep. Hood’s second wave, Benning’s Brigade, descended into the valley and poured fire into the Orange Blossoms killing Colonel Ellis and Major James Cromwell. A that moment the left wing of 47th Alabama crested a knoll directly on the 124th’s left. The cross fire drove the New Yorkers  into the woods on the north of the triangular field. They staggered back to their former line at the crest with only 100 able troops. The Orange Blossom’s bravery was unquestioned but their sacrifice only gained a brief respite for Smith’s battery and the rest of Ward’s brigade.

         Here we see the charge as it looked from the “D shaped field” on  Big Round Top. The Orange Blossoms are at their furthest point of advance. Benning’s Georgians are firing from across Rose Run and the 47th  Alabama has just made their surprise arrival in the foreground. Colonel Ellis is still mounted in the center. His bravery dissuaded some of the Southern troops from firing at him but that sentiment was not shared by all.  

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Duel in Rose Woods

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        The 86th New York was mustered into service in November 1861. While recruits came from Onondaga, Schuyler and Chemung County the vast majority the regiment’s men came from the large rural county of Steuben thus leading to the unit’s nickname, the “The Steuben Rangers.”  

       The Rangers fought hard at 2nd Manassas, Chancellorsville and Brandy Station before arriving at Gettysburg on July 1st 1863. Part of Ward’s Brigade of the III Corps they were commanded by Lt. Colonel Benjamin Higgins of Syracuse. On the afternoon of July 2nd, Ward’s brigade was assigned the left flank of the Union Army on a ridge that terminated in a large pile of dolomite boulders now known as Devil’s Den. The 86th was initially placed between its sister units, the 124th NY and the 20th Indiana. The 86th’s line ran from near Smith’s battery into the Rose woodlot. 

     When the Confederate attack came in late afternoon the 86th most likely fired the first regimental volley of the bloody 2nd day against the 3rd Arkansas. After firing the Rangers pushed forward with the 20th Indiana and drove the westerners back across Rose Run. The Confederates regrouped and slowly advanced up the wooded hillside tree by tree, rock by rock. Eventually they were halted at a rocky ledge now named for their Colonel, VanNoy Manning. For at least an hour the fight was a standstill with each side fruitlessly looking for an advantage. Eventually the 15th Georgia from Benning’s Brigade and also the 59th Georgia from Anderson’s Brigade moved into that section of Rose woods and the finally the numbers favored the attackers.  Lt. Colonel Higgins was wounded and succeeded by Major Lansing.  With both the 20th Indiana and 86th NY almost out of ammunition and its left flank in danger Ward’s Brigade was ordered from its line. Considering the ferocity of the fighting the exit was made in good order. 

      Here we see the fresh troops of the 15th Georgia pushing the 86th NY almost to the top of Rose Woods. In the background the battle on Little Round Top is raging. Thanks to the effort by Ward’s  Brigade the Union troops on Little Round top faced only one Southern Brigade rather than three. 

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Manning's Ledge

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         The 3rd Arkansas Regiment was formed in June 1861.  They were the first long-term regiment from Arkansas, enlisted to serve “for three years or the war.”  Arriving in the east in the summer of 1861 the 3rd compiled an impressive battle record.  In the fall of 1862 the regiment was reassigned to the famed Texas Brigade.
    Colonel Vannoy Manning , an Arkansas lawyer and one of the founders of the regiment, commanded the 3rd at Gettysburg.   On July 1863 the Texas Brigade was part of the first wave of Longstreet’s attack on the Union Left. The 3rd Arkansas formed in the woods on Warfield Ridge just north of the Emmitsburg Road.  Moving across the road they headed toward Rose woods and an unseen Union line.
    Moving uphill after crossing Rose Run the westerners discovered the  Union line.  Three Union regiments, the 86th NY, the 20th Indiana, and the 99th Pa. crested the wooded hill and poured out a devastating volley.  Near the center of the 3rd’s line a large rock formation provided a both an obstacle and a relief.  Manning advanced, retreated and advanced again to the ledge.    
    For at least an hour the 3rd Arkansas engaged in a desperate fire fight in the Rose woods. Outnumbered severely and fighting uphill the Arkansans took nearly 40% casualties before the Union regiments could be pushed off the Ridge.  While directing the advance Manning was struck in the face by shrapnel near the rock formation that now bears his name. He returned to lead his regiment who stayed on indeed, “for the war” until only 150 men surrendered at Appomattox.  
      Here we see 3rd Arkansas at the ledge at about the midpoint of the battle. Colonel Manning is in the center directing the advance.  The Union forces in the smoky distance are the 20th Indiana and the 86th New York. These units took over 250 casualties from their 650 men who fought that day in Rose Woods.

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