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.

MRGCover

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

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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.

MRGCover

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