Behind The Stonewall

The Bottom Of The Devils Den - Gettysburg Pennsylvania



About what you are looking at...

(July 2, 1863 5 - 6:30 PM). (For reference, start with the "One Way" sign.) The viewer is standing on the floor of Plum Run Valley, in what is called "The Slaughter Pen", now the parking area for Devil's Den, looking just south of east across Plum Run to the base of Big Round Top. Panning to the right, down the road, the viewer can see the end of Houck's Ridge, where the boulders of Devil's Den slope down toward Plum Run. Just beyond where the road disappears and curves up and to the right, is the famous "Elephant" rock, a giant boulder with cracks in it which give it the shape of the front of an elephant. Panning to the right the viewer begins to see the boulders of Devil's Den, over thirty feet high, angled, sharp, and with smooth tops. They continue in the pan until passing west, and arriving at the north, up which the road goes. In the distance is the Plum Run Valley, with Houck's Ridge (extended northerly from Devil's Den) on the left or western side, and the lower foot of Little Round Top on the right, or eastern side. The area is frequently hazy, or foggy, due in part to the presence of Plum Run, and in part to the heights to the east and west.

Federal artillery, supported by infantry of Ward's Brigade, were placed at the mouth of the "Slaughter Pen" facing south, or down stream, down the valley toward the viewer. The left wing of Law's Brigade, Hood's Division, First Corps (Longstreet), Army of Northern Virginia made their way up Plum Run from the south into the face of these guns. As long as the rest of Ward's Brigade held the line on top of Devil's Den to the left, the Confederates would not pass this bottleneck or chokepoint. Eventually, however, Ward succumbed to the pressure from two brigades of Hood's men (Robertson and Benning), and withdrew past the batteries posted at the mouth of the "Slaughter Pen". At about the same time, other units of Law's brigade finished their climb over Big Round Top, and this face of the hill, and began their attack down the north slope toward Vincent's Spur of Little Round Top. Either way, the artillery placed at the mouth of the "Slaughter Pen", and its infantry support would have to withdraw, or face being flanked.

Note the trees on the foot of Big Round Top, right up to the edge of Plum Run. They were not present during the battle. The lower one hundred yards of Big Round Top was virtually devoid of trees due to local logging. To the south, Plum Run disappears beneath the boulders for about a hundred yards. It was in this area, and to the east on the lower, rocky slope of Big Round Top that the Federal Artillery at the head of the "Slaughter Pen" area was most effective against the Confederates of Law's Brigade.

W. G. Davis


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