In Memoriam: Hiram Berry

Hiram Berry

Hiram Berry was born in Rockland, Maine, and died at Chancellorsville.

On this Memorial Day weekend it seems appropriate to remember a soldier I wrote about in Maine Roads to Gettysburg who fell in combat during the Civil War. Hiram Berry’s road never reached Gettysburg—a Confederate sharpshooter killed him at Chancellorsville, not long after Berry’s division had shored up the Union lines following the rout of the XI Corps under Oliver Otis Howard (another Maine man). Berry’s death was a great loss to the Army of the Potomac. He had proven himself capable and dependable. Corps command was certainly a possibility. Berry’s biographer claims that some people even discussed the idea that Berry might one day command the army.

Berry was born on August 27, 1824, on the family farm in what is now Rockland. He grew up with a love of reading and of horses. When he was 21, Berry and another local man named Elijah Walker began working together as carpenters. Berry soon expanded his carpentry work into contracting and building and eventually become one of Rockland’s most prominent businessmen and its mayor. He married Almira M. Brown in 1845 and the couple had one daughter, Lucy.

When young, Berry had wanted to attend West Point. Berry’s mother, however, objected, so he joined a local artillery company instead. Later he organized the Rockland City Guards, a militia unit that wore flashy blue-and-gold uniforms with high bearskin hats. On August 31, 1858, the Guards served as an escort for Senator Jefferson Davis of Mississippi when the former secretary of war and the future president of the Confederate States of America visited Belfast. “With such troops as are now before me, we may defy the combined forces of the world and shout the song of freedom forever,” said Davis. (On the same trip to Maine, Davis also received an honorary degree from Bowdoin College.)

Berry was a Democrat, not a Lincoln Republican, but he traveled to Augusta to volunteer his services as soon as the war started. He returned home with the approval to raise a regiment, the 4th Maine. He led the brigade at First Bull Run. He commanded a brigade during McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign, and earned the firm friendship of General Joseph Hooker when Berry arrived in the nick of time to support Hooker at the Battle of Williamsburg. The campaign took its toll on Berry, though. He fell ill, probably from malaria, and his hair started falling out in clumps. After recuperating in Rockland, he was back in the field for the Battle of Fredericksburg. That battle appeared to take a mental toll. Elijah Walker, who had taken command of the 4th Maine after Berry’s promotion, recalled how the general had approached him the morning after the battle, put his head on Walker’s shoulder, and wept so bitterly he could not speak. Two staff officers gently ushered Berry away. “One hour later he was in his saddle, directing his brigade, as cool and calm as though nothing had happened,” Walker said.

Before Chancellorsville, Berry received promotion to major general and command of Hooker’s old division in the III Corps. It was in that capacity that he was shot down on Sunday, May 3, 1863. A few days earlier he had told his quartermaster, James Rusling, that he didn’t expect to survive the battle. Hooker, now in command of the Army of the Potomac, rode up minutes after Berry died. “My God, Berry, why was this to happen?” he cried. “Why was the man on whom I relied so much to be taken away in this manner?” He had the body sent to the rear. Members of the 4th Maine, Berry’s old regiment, were marching by as the general’s corpse was being taken away. They insisted that the stretcher bearers stop and place their burden on the ground. Then each man filed by and “kissed the cold brow of the man they had loved and had first followed into battle, and then silently and tearfully took their places in the ranks.” Quartermaster Rusling ordered the construction of a coffin and had it draped with Berry’s headquarters flag.

Hiram Berry’s body was taken to Washington for embalming, and then by steamer to Portland, where it lay in state at city hall. From Portland, the steamer Harvest Moon took the coffin to Rockland. Berry returned home on a lovely spring day. Once the steamer came into view at the mouth of the harbor, a cannon fired from the city, and followed up with a shot each minute. Stores and businesses closed, and the citizens of Rockland flocked to the waterfront to await the Harvest Moon. An honor guard from the 7th Maine accompanied the hearse through the crowded but silent streets to the general’s home, where the body was placed in the parlor. His battle sword and a sword the 4th Maine had presented to him lay on a table next to the coffin. He was buried in Achorn Cemetery the next day. By then the bright spring weather had turned gloomy, “as through sympathizing with the mournful scene beneath.”


Adapted from Maine Roads to Gettysburg, which is available for purchase now. You can find it on,, or at any fine bookseller near you.

The Long March to Gettysburg


The Maine regiments of the Army of the Potomac’s VI Corps, the 5th, 6th, and 7th Maine, contributed to the Union victory at Gettysburg with their feet more than with their guns. Along with the rest of John Sedgwick’s corps, they completed their epic 36-mile march to reach the battlefield just in time to provide much-needed support to the left of the Union line on July 2.

Before leaving Virginia in pursuit of Lee’s army, Lt. Col. Selden Connor, who was in command of the 7th Maine while its colonel was back in Maine recruiting, had some misgivings about the Army of the Potomac and its commander, Joseph Hooker. “The army is not very enthusiastic,” he wrote to his sister on June 5. “I’m sorry to say. I don’t believe they have confidence in their leader.” Once the VI Corps started north, though, Connor’s mood improved despite brutal marches that had left some men unconscious and even dead from sunstroke. On June 17 he told his sister that his soldiers were “gay as larks,” and had been singing a song about the regiment as they made their way through Virginia. It went:

Then clear the track you rebs,
Here comes the Seventh Maine;
Our Colonel is a fighting man
His boys are all the same.

“The Army of the Potomac isn’t dead yet,” Connor wrote.

The VI Corps, which included the 5th, 6th, and 7th Maine regiments, did not see a lot of fighting at Gettysburg, although its mere presence on the field had been a plus for the Union cause. “By making long and rapid marches our corps arrived just in time to turn the battle of Gettysburg in our favor,” Connor reported to his father. “We were not heavily engaged,” he admitted, but skirmishing cost the regiment six wounded, three of them mortally—“more than the rest of the brigade together.” On July 5, Connor’s regiment moved out with some cavalry and an artillery battery to follow the retreating Rebels west to the town of Fairfield and get a sense of the situation there. General Sedgwick recommended to Meade against pursuing the Rebels through the mountains and passes beyond, so the army commander decided to move his army south through Frederick and then west across South Mountain to reach Lee’s army that way. While the rest of the army moved south, the 7th Maine formed part of the force under brigade commander Thomas Neill that shadowed the retreating enemy through the mountains to the town of Waynesboro.


Maine Roads to Gettysburg is available for purchase now! You can find it on,, or at any fine bookseller near you.



The Pictures and the Story

Gburg CoverA co-worker of my wife’s gave us this vintage Gettysburg souvenir booklet. Originally published in 1913, this is the fourteenth edition. It has tons of great photos of the battlefield taken by local photographer William Tipton in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

ME MonsMy favorite page is this one, which features the Maine monuments on the battlefield.

Cburg PikeThis image shows monuments along the Chambersburg Pike (Rt. 30). That’s John Buford to the left and John Reynolds to the right. It’s a little startling to view this scene without seeing the large tree that stands behind Reynolds today. The monument at the far right is to James Hall’s 2nd Maine Battery, which saw hard fighting here on July 1.

1893 ReunionThis is the image that closes the booklet. It shows a gathering of generals, Union and Confederate, on East Cemetery Hill on April 29, 1893. The bearded man with his foot on the cannon is Oliver Otis Howard, who vigorously claimed credit for choosing Cemetery Hill as the place to post a reserve on July 1, thus establishing the core of the Union’s “fishhook” line. Notice his empty sleeve. Howard lost his right arm at the Battle of Fair Oaks in 1862. The man with the mutton chop whiskers at the center is former Confederate general James Longstreet. Seated to Longstreet’s left is Daniel Sickles, who commanded the III Corps at Gettysburg. He, of course, lost his leg during the battle. “The dismounted gun, upon the breech of which Gen. O.O. Howard has placed his foot, is typical, let us hope, of a soil that will never again be deluged with the blood of fratricidal strife, and that not only the North and South will ever keep closed the gulf that divided them in the past, but also that the present gulf of race prejudice that separates the white man from the still morally enslaved man of color will also be bridged so that the calamities of a race war will be unknown,” read the photo caption. Howard, who headed the Freedmen’s Bureau after the war, would certainly have agreed with that sentiment.


Maine Roads to Gettysburg is available for purchase now! You can find it on,, or at any fine bookseller near you.

Feuding Artillerymen

At Gettysburg late in the day on July 2, Maine sea captain-turned-artilleryman Freeman McGilvery, from the army’s artillery reserve, set up batteries along Cemetery Ridge that kept attacking Confederates from piercing the Union line.

As it was with Adelbert Ames, McGilvery’s destiny seemed to lie at sea. Born on October 29, 1823, in the town of Prospect near the mouth of the Penobscot River, McGilvery, like all four of his brothers, grew up to become a sea captain. He had sailed the bark J. Merithew to California for the gold rush in 1849, and had been in command of the ship Wellfleet when the war began. He left the oceans for a landlocked role in the army, helping raise the 6th Battery of the Maine Light Artillery and becoming its captain in January 1862. McGilvery, a somewhat cantankerous man with dark hair and a thick mustache that merged into bristling muttonchop whiskers, made the transition to the artillery without difficulty. He demonstrated his command abilities that August at Cedar Run with “skillful and active management” of his guns, according to his division commander. At Second Bull Run, McGilvery’s battery fought a stubborn defense against the Confederates, losing two guns but helping slow the Rebels enough to allow Pope’s forces to escape.

McGilvery’s superiors recognized his abilities, for he received a promotion to major in the artillery reserve (and in the Maine Mounted Artillery). Lt. Edwin Dow replaced him in temporary command of the battery. By the time the Army of the Potomac reached Gettysburg, McGilvery was in command of the 1st Volunteer Brigade of the army’s artillery reserve. The reserve was a force of 21 batteries (106 guns) in four brigades. McGilvery’s brigade had four batteries: the 5th and 9th Massachusetts, commanded by Charles A. Phillips and John Bigelow, respectively; 15th New York, under Patrick Hart; and Batteries C and F of the Pennsylvania Light Artillery, combined into a single unit under James Thompson.

The story of how this former sea captain threw together an improvised artillery line that helped save the battle has been told before, but few know about the resentments, recriminations, and accusations that had been swirling about through Maine’s artillery units—much of it due to McGilvery’s intense desire for promotion. When McGilvery found Edwin Dow and the 6th Maine Battery in the late afternoon of July 2, it must have been an interesting encounter. McGilvery had been actively trying to prevent Dow from getting permanent command of the battery, and had accused him of public drunkenness. Dow had responded by demanding a court-martial for McGilvery. According to Dow, McGilvery had “harangued” the men of the battery and told them “that I could not be Captain if I went to hell for it.” He said McGilvery had whipped up the battery into a state of near mutiny and that he intended to press charges against him for “Conduct Prejudicial to good order and Military discipline, Conduct unbecoming an Officer and a Gentleman, and Exciting Mutinous Conduct in my Command.” The whole issue had turned into a storm of accusations, countercharges, and recriminations that eventually involved officers from other Maine batteries and reached all the way to Governor Abner Coburn.

The two men managed to put aside whatever differences they still had by the time they reached Gettysburg. After the battle, Dow had nothing but praise for McGilvery, saying he “was ever present, riding up and down the line in the thickest of the fire, encouraging the men by his words and dashing example, his horse receiving eight wounds, of which he has since died, the gallant major receiving only a few scratches.”

McGilvery was equally pleased with his performance, and justifiably so. “I have been told my services at Gettysburg were valuable and of course I am willing to believe it,” he wrote to the governor after the battle. He now felt he deserved promotion to full colonel.


Maine Roads to Gettysburg is available for purchase now! You can find it on,, or at any fine bookseller near you.

The 19th Maine Prepares for Battle

On the afternoon of July 2, 1863, the 19th Maine was at Gettysburg, waiting to experience its first battle.

The regiment had left its camp near Fredericksburg on June 15 for the grueling march north. It suffered its first combat fatality 10 days later, when Jeb Stuart’s horse artillery lobbed a few projectiles its way outside the crossroads town of Haymarket, Virginia. One of the Rebel shells killed Company G’s Israel D. Jones. “In less than ten minutes from the time that Mr. Jones was chatting cheerfully with the man marching at his side, he was buried by the roadside and left to sleep his last sleep,” wrote John Day Smith in his regimental history.

The 19th Maine made its longest march of the campaign, 32 miles, on June 29, but was able to spend the next day relaxing and basking in the patriotic sentiment it found in the aptly named Uniontown, Maryland. On the morning of July 1, the regiment was assigned to guard the division’s trains during the day’s march. Rumors of fighting to the north began to move through the ranks, but it wasn’t until midafternoon that the soldiers heard the first sounds of the battle raging at Gettysburg. Then, “it became very evident that there was trouble ahead,” remembered Capt. Silas Adams. The regiment marched until 9:00 p.m., and then made camp on the Taneytown Road, south of the Round Tops. About 20 men from the 16th Maine shared their campsite that night. Adams remembered them giving “a very dismal account of the battle of the afternoon.”

Early the next morning, the regiment rose and made a short march to Cemetery Ridge. There they whiled away the long day. “All was silence in the early morning save the confused tramping of feet, and the rumbling of long trains of ambulances in the distance, as they uncoiled from their posts and moved along with the column,” remembered Hallowell native Charles E. Nash. “The thought that some of our number would occupy them, mangled and bleeding, before night, could not be repressed. The certainty was too apparent.”

And then the certainty became reality. John P. Lancaster of Company A had just sat down to eat a dinner of pork and hard bread out of his greasy tin plate when a cannonball came plunging out of the sky and severed the leg of a Massachusetts soldier near him. “I did not want any more pork that meal,” Lancaster remembered.

In the afternoon the men watched the III Corps advance to its new position far ahead of the Union line. Andrew Humphreys’ division was on the corps’ right, closest to the II Corps. Humphreys had hardly positioned his men alongside the Emmitsburg Road before James Longstreet launched his attack. From their vantage point on Cemetery Ridge, the men of the 19th Maine, waiting in reserve, could see that the III Corps was getting the worst of things. Throughout the afternoon various regiments and brigades were taken out of the line and sent to support other parts of the army. When Hancock sent John Caldwell’s men to the Wheatfield from their position south of the 19th Maine, he opened up the gap that McGilvery would defend so skillfully. As the afternoon went on, the 400 or so Maine soldiers began to feel isolated, as though they had been left alone on their portion of the line.

They finally received orders to move ahead to a position in front of Cemetery Ridge. The 1st Minnesota was off to the left some 300 yards or so. General Winfield Scott Hancock rode up so he could personally place the 19th Maine exactly where he wanted it. He dismounted and strode over to the man on the regiment’s far left, George Durgin of Company F. He moved him slightly forward and to the left. “Will you stay here?” Hancock asked Durgin.

“I’ll stay here until hell freezes over,” Durgin replied. That got a smile from Hancock. He ordered the rest of the regiment to form on Durgin, mounted his horse, and rode off.


Maine Roads to Gettysburg is available for purchase now! You can find it on,, or at any fine bookseller near you.

The Other Round Top

Many people remember how the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry defended Little Round Top on July 2, 1863, but the regiment’s actions late in the day don’t receive as much attention. In the evening, Col. Joshua Chamberlain volunteered to take his men and secure Big Round Top, the heavily wooded height to the south.

As I write in Maine Roads to Gettysburg:

In some ways this night climb was more nerve-racking than the blood and thunder on Little Round Top had been. The regiment had little ammunition and Chamberlain wanted to avoid a firefight that would give away his small numbers, so he had his men move forward with their bayonets attached. The little band crawled and climbed through the darkness. It was “rough scrambling,” Chamberlain noted. Ahead they could hear enemy troops crashing through the woods as they fell back. There was a full moon, but its light proved feeble in the dark woods. As the men of the 20th Maine reached the summit, some of the pickets advanced far enough to see the light from enemy campfires flickering through the trees. They fell back, and some of the Rebels pulled themselves away from their fires in pursuit.

“Who goes there?” one of the Mainers shouted.

“4th Texas,” came the reply.

“Alright come on, we’re 4th Texas,” a quick-witted Mainer replied, and the unfortunate Rebels from the Lone Star State emerged from the trees to find themselves facing leveled muskets and a Maine man behind each one. The regiment bagged some 30 prisoners, including Gen. Evander Law’s acting assistant adjutant. Ellis Spear remembered how one of the Southerners commented “on the fact that men from the two ends of the country should so meet, in the woods & dark.”

Once he reached the summit, Chamberlain sent for reinforcements. Fisher ordered two of his Pennsylvania regiments to climb Big Round Top and provide support on the 20th Maine’s right. The Pennsylvanians stumbled and thrashed their way up the dark hill. Alerted by the noise, enemy soldiers fired a volley into the night. Chamberlain said the Pennsylvanians “started like antelopes & went down the way they had come up on, & never stopped till they were behind the line on Little Round Top again.” Chamberlain sent a messenger to Rice requesting he send either the 83rd Pennsylvania or the 44th New York for support. He felt he could depend on regiments from his own brigade. Leaving pickets at the summit, he withdrew the rest of the regiment back to level ground until reinforcements arrived from the 83rd Pennsylvania. Then he moved his men back up the steep slope.

There the men of the 20th Maine settled in for a long and uncomfortable night. Overcome by fatigue and illness, Spear fell asleep sitting against a tree. He woke in the middle of the night shaking and shivering with a feverish chill. He found a soldier sleeping on the ground, crawled next to him to share his blanket and body warmth, and fell back asleep.

The 20th Maine had secured Big Round Top without suffering any casualties, but as morning began to brighten the eastern sky, Lt. Arad Linscott decided to grab a musket and see if he could annoy Rebels he heard moving on his front. One of them shot Linscott instead, and the young lieutenant fell with a mortal wound to the thigh. Later that morning the regiment was relieved by the First Brigade and moved back down the mountain. It took up a position somewhere to the left of the center of the Union line on Cemetery Ridge. The men sat down to wait and see what would happen next.


Maine Roads to Gettysburg is available for purchase now! You can find it on,, or at any fine bookseller near you.

The 4th Maine in Devil’s Den

During the fight on July 2 in Devil’s Den, the 4th Maine helped push Rebels back from the guns of James Smith’s 4th New York Independent Battery, but the 124th New York to the right had been decimated, its colonel and major both dead, and had been forced to retreat. The 4th Maine had to follow suit. “Our flag was pierced by thirty-two bullets and two pieces of shell, and its staff was shot off, but Sgt. Henry O. Ripley, its bearer, did not allow the color to touch the ground, nor did he receive a scratch, though all the others of the color guard were killed or wounded,” reported Col. Elijah Walker. Capt. Edwin Libby remembered how Ripley defiantly waved the flag at the advancing enemy—but defiance wasn’t enough. The soldiers of Ward’s brigade on this part of the line were forced to retreat, ceding Devil’s Den to the Rebels.

John W. Lokey of the 20th Georgia later recalled an encounter with a wounded sergeant of the 4th Maine somewhere among the boulders of Devil’s Den. The Georgia regiment belonged to Henry Benning’s brigade, which had followed Robertson’s into the maelstrom. Lokey had just clambered up on the rocks to take aim at the Yankees when a bullet went through his right thigh. “I felt as if lightning had struck me,” he said. Lokey was attempting to hobble to the rear when he came across a wounded Yankee. The man identified himself as a sergeant in the 4th Maine (historian John Michael Priest identified him as Zuinglas C. Gowan of Company E). Lokey asked for assistance. The Mainer had the Rebel throw his arm around his neck so he could hold him up. The two enemies then stumbled out of harm’s way through a storm of bullets that “were striking the trees like hail all around us.” They were behind Rebel lines, so the Union soldier knew he would be taken prisoner. “If you and I had this matter to settle, we would soon settle it, wouldn’t we,” he said. Lokey replied that they would probably come to terms pretty quickly. After the unlikely duo reached a place of relative safety, Confederate soldiers took the Maine man to the rear. “If he is living, I would be glad to hear from him,” Lokey wrote years later. 


Maine Roads to Gettysburg is available for purchase now! You can find it on,, or at any fine bookseller near you.

The 17th Maine Finds a Wall

When the 17th Maine reached Gettysburg, there was some turmoil swirling in the regiment’s upper levels. Its original colonel, Thomas Roberts, resigned in June, leaving Lt. Col. Charles Merrill in temporary command. Merrill, a Bowdoin graduate and Portland lawyer before the war, had served with Roberts in a militia unit back home, and it seems there was bad blood between them. Perhaps the ill will trickled down through the regiment, or maybe its soldiers knew that Merrill had a brother who was fighting for the Confederacy, because a movement began to secure the colonelcy for Maj. George West—a move that was doubtlessly spearheaded by George West. He had been born in Massachusetts and gained military experience with militia there, but West later moved to Maine’s Aroostook County to take up work as a lumberman. He had begun the war as a captain with the 10th Maine. He had since advanced to major in the 17th, but he had his sights set on higher rank.44

As has had happened with the 19th Maine, letters and petitions began traveling from the army to the governor, recommending West and tearing down Merrill. A petition drawn up on May 23 and signed by 21 officers claimed that Merrill had taken the colors and gone to the rear during the fighting at Chancellorsville on May 3, and he had returned to the regiment only after his brigade commander ordered him to. That behavior, the petition said, “was such as to destroy all our confidence in his bravery.” On the other hand, Generals David Birney and Hobart Ward both wrote to Coburn to recommend Merrill, and other soldiers testified to his bravery at Chancellorsville as well.

“Col. Merrill was a kind, fatherly man, abounding in good qualities and he didn’t fancy the domineering and reckless ways of West,” noted Pvt. John Haley, who appreciated the major’s military skills, but thought West was cold and ambitious. “We admired his smartness and military genius, but as a man, we despised him as thoroughly he did us.” For the time being, Merrill remained in charge, even though his courage on the battlefield had been questioned.

The regiment arrived late to the battlefield on July 2, having remained behind in Emmitsburg to block mountain passes to the west. Merrill was still in command, despite the groundswell of support for Maj. George W. West. The regiment began its march to Gettysburg around five o’clock on the morning of July 2, and the men were disgruntled because they had not been given time to make coffee. Even without caffeine, the Union men summoned enough energy to cheer loudly when they crossed the Mason-Dixon Line into Pennsylvania. After a march of about three hours brigade commander Regis De Trobriand allowed his weary soldiers a break. Many immediately kindled fires for the all-important task of brewing coffee—only to receive orders to resume the march before they had time to finish. Time was of the essence. As De Trobriand’s brigade marched up the Emmitsburg Road south of Gettysburg, enemy bullets started whistling over their heads. Had they arrived 15 minutes later, regimental historian Edwin Houghton wrote, they would have found Confederates blocking their path.

As the soldiers headed north, they passed Gettysburg citizens going in the opposite direction, laden with whatever they could carry. South of town, the regiment made a right turn off the road, passed through Sherfy’s peach orchard, and finally found a position near some woods along a rocky ridge. To their south was a 20-acre wheat field. There were woods at the far side, with a low stone wall running along the edge. Soldiers flung themselves onto the ground and fell asleep. The time was about three o’clock.

Many men were still sleeping sometime around 4:00 when a gun discharged from the peach orchard and jolted them awake. More guns began firing off to the south, where Smith’s New York battery was defending Devil’s Den. Lt. Charles Verrill of Company C walked to a high point above the wheat field to investigate. Off to the south he could see Union signalmen on the rocky heights of Little Round Top. They were frantically waving their signal flags. Before Verrill could determine much more, orders came for the regiment to move to their left at double-quick.

The 17th Maine rose up and made a dash across the wheat field toward the stone wall at the south end. Already “the bullets were whizzing,” Verrill said. A sergeant fell dead. Like the wheat field and the peach orchard, the stone wall, under ordinary circumstances, would have been nothing special. It was “just a common old fashioned, thirty-inch stone fence,” Verrill said. On the battlefield, nothing was ordinary. “The stone wall was a breastwork ready made,” Verrill said, and the crucible of battle transformed it into “the best stone wall the 17th Maine ever came across in its travels.”


Maine Roads to Gettysburg is available for purchase now! You can find it on,, or at any fine bookseller near you.

Into Pitzer’s Woods

Sometime around 11:00 on July 2, 1863, Col. Moses Lakeman of the 3rd Maine received orders to support about 100 of Hiram Berdan’s sharpshooters who were going to move across the Emmitsburg Road and check enemy activity in a patch of forest called Pitzer’s Woods. The sharpshooters took the advance, with the Maine soldiers trailing. As Berdan’s men approached farm buildings near the Emmitsburg Road, they encountered a local boy who warned them that Confederate soldiers lay waiting “in rows” in the woods. Some of the sharpshooters told the lad he was talking nonsense and continued forward.

The sharpshooters realized soon enough that the boy knew what he was talking about when they spotted men wearing butternut and gray moving through the trees. They were Alabamians of Cadmus Wilcox’s brigade. The sharpshooters opened fire, and the 3rd Maine came running up at double-quick in support. The Union soldiers drove back the Rebel skirmishers, but could see three lines of Rebel infantry advancing beyond the trees. “We felt that the life of the Nation was at stake, and every man in the ranks was conscious of personal responsibility,” said one man. When the two sides were about 300 yards apart they commenced firing. The Maine soldiers were not pleased to realize that the sharpshooters had pretty much monopolized the trees to shelter behind.

Cpl. Jonathan Newcomb Jr. of the 3rd Maine’s Company A had moved about a hundred yards into the woods when the regiment received orders to deploy as skirmishers. The firing soon became general. Newcomb said he saw General Berdan on a big white horse gallop along the line between the 3rd Maine and the sharpshooters as the bullets flew all around. “After the work began and as I stood in my place, loading and firing, I looked to my right and the only man I could see was John Little,” Newcomb recalled. “His face was as white as a sheet of paper. I supposed he had his mortal wound then.” Newcomb managed to squeeze behind a tree next to a sharpshooter, and watched as a Rebel regiment advanced his way. When Newcomb jumped out from behind the tree, he found a dozen enemy rifles aimed his way. Newcomb dove to the ground and the bullets flew over him. The sharpshooter was not so lucky, and he fell with a badly wounded knee.

After a short but intense fight of 20 or 25 minutes, the Union troops withdrew. The 3rd Maine had suffered 48 casualties, most of them prisoners. One of them was Newcomb. Taken to a Rebel hospital, he helped nurse the wounded sharpshooter and a mortally wounded private from Company I. The dying private asked Newcomb to write to his wife and say he died happy, “and to keep the promise she made before he enlisted,” whatever that might have been. Newcomb ended up a prisoner on Belle Isle in Richmond.

The survivors of the 3rd Maine moved back across the Emmitsburg Road to rejoin their brigade, but then they received orders to retrace their steps until they reached a peach orchard on a bit of high ground east of the road. The little orchard, the fruit still green on the trees, was about 300 yards by 150 yards in expanse. Its owner was farmer Joseph Sherfy, whose house and barn stood on the other side of the Emmitsburg Road. The orchard’s western edge lay along the road, with the Millerstown (Wheatfield) Road bordering it on the north.

Maj. Gen. Daniel Sickles, commander of the III Corps,  had been eyeing Sherfy’s peach orchard with considerable interest. He did not like the position army commander Meade had assigned his corps. Sickles was supposed to form to the left of the II Corps on the line where Cemetery Ridge largely loses its ridge-like qualities and descends to a low point before rising again to the northern slope of Little Round Top. Sherfy’s peach orchard offered a bit of high ground to his front. It was also an open space that would provide a good place for artillery and prevent the Rebels from springing any surprises as they had done at Chancellorsville. Sickles seemed haunted by the ghosts of the battle from two months earlier. When he looked out from Cemetery Ridge and saw the peach orchard, he probably thought about what happened when the Confederates occupied Hazel Grove and used its high ground as an artillery platform from which to shell the Army of the Potomac. Berdan’s report about the encounter in Pitzer’s Woods only reinforced Sickles’s concerns that the Rebels were about to fall on his left and capture the high ground on his front.


Maine Roads to Gettysburg is available for purchase now! You can find it on,, or any fine bookseller near you.

Ames at Gettysburg

Adelbert Ames was the original commander of the 20th Maine, and he made a mark on the regiment with his strict discipline. The regiment made a name for itself on Little Round Top under Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain during the fighting at Gettysburg on July 2. Ames, however, did not have a particularly glorious experience at Gettysburg. He entered the fight on July 1 as the commander of the second brigade in Francis C. Barlow’s first division of the XI Corps, and ended it as division commander following Barlow’s wounding. The division was driven back from its advanced position on the rise known today as Barlow Knoll and suffered a casualty rate of nearly 60 percent. When he reported to Maj. Gen. Oliver Otis Howard on Cemetery Hill, Ames said, “I have no division; it is all cut to pieces.”

Like Barlow, Ames did not have much respect for the many Germans in his command. Ames’s official report of the day’s fight is relatively terse. He devoted fewer than 200 words to the events of July 1. Among them: “My brigade was ordered to a number of different positions, and finally it formed in rear of some woods, near a small stream some half a mile from town. From this position we were driven, the men of the First Brigade of this division running through lines of the regiments of my brigade (the Second), and thereby creating considerable confusion.”

At the end of that trying day, Ames found space in the cemetery gatehouse and went to sleep. He shared the room with Charles Wainwright, who handled the artillery for the I Corps. Wainwright took time to observe the young Maine general over the next few days. “I found him the best kind of man to be associated with, cool and clear in his own judgment, gentlemanly, and without the smallest desire to interfere,” said Wainwright. “We consulted together, but during the whole time we were here he never once attempted to presume on his superior rank. Ames is a gentleman; and a strange thing in the army, I did not hear him utter an oath of any kind during the three days!”

Ames suffered more disappointment in the waning daylight hours of July 2, when his division was in the thick of a fight for East Cemetery Hill and did not perform well. Fortunately, Winfield Scott Hancock sent a II Corps brigade under Samuel Carroll to East Cemetery Hill and the reinforcements arrived in time to repulse the attacking Rebels. Ames was terse about the evening’s fight when he wrote his report. It is not difficult to detect some tight-lipped fury between the three short sentences he contributed. “On the evening of the 2d, an attempt was made to carry the position we held, but the enemy was repulsed with loss,” Ames wrote. “Colonel Carroll, with a brigade from the Second Corps, rendered timely assistance. The batteries behaved admirably.” He pointedly did not mention how his own infantry had behaved. Ames did single out three officers for praise—his assistant adjutant general, Capt. John Marshall Brown; Harris of the 75th Ohio; and Young of the 107th Ohio. It’s probably no coincidence that none of them had a German surname.

On July 3, 1863, Ames dashed off a note to Chamberlain after hearing about the 20th Maine’s fight on Little Round Top. “I am very proud of the 20th Regt. and its present Colonel,” he wrote. “I did want to be with you and see your splendid conduct in the field.” Perhaps Ames was thinking about his own disappointments at Gettysburg when he added, “The pleasure I felt at the intelligence of your conduct yesterday is some recompense for all that I have suffered.”

In a letter written home that August, Ames recounted how he was reunited with his old regiment. He was riding with Gouverneur Warren when the men they were passing began shouting and waving their hats. Ames thought they were cheering Warren, but the engineer corrected him. They were cheering Ames. “I soon found it was the 20th,” he wrote. “They gave me three times three. They will do anything for me.” He also mentioned that the regiment’s officers had chipped in to buy him a sword, sash, and belt. “The sword is very elegant. It has some fine carbuncles on the hilt—It was made to order, and all cost some two hundred dollars.” All that strict discipline had paid off.


Adapted from Maine Roads to Gettysburg. The book is available for purchase now! You can find it on, or any fine bookseller near you.