Behind The Stonewall

On Top Of The Devils Den - Gettysburg Pennsylvania



About what you are looking at...

(July 2, 1863 4:30 - 6:30 PM) (For a point of reference, start with the obelisk monument to the left of center). The viewer is standing upon the massive jumble of huge boulders called "The Devil's Den", located at the very southern end of Houck's Ridge at the foot of, and across Plum Run from Big Round Top, at the southern end of the battlefield. The view is looking northeast up the Plum Run Valley, and toward the western and northwestern face of Little Round Top. While there is some doubt that the locals had named the place before the battle, it certainly earned its name during the fight. The scene of vicious hand-to-hand combat which lasted an hour or more, these boulders are fairly smooth, and contain many cracks, and crevices.

Panning to the right, the viewer can see the crest of Little Round Top in the distance, and note the relatively open terrain between Devil's Den and Little Round Top. Below the rocks, and just past the parking area, is Plum Run, and beyond that, the western foot of Big Round Top. During the battle, the tree-line, which now runs to and across Plum Run, was about a hundred yards further up the slope. (The area was forested by the locals before the battle.) The terrain there is also quite severe, with many boulders.

Panning more to the right, the tops of some of the larger boulders come into view to the south, and the crevices begin to show. Footing is a bit treacherous up here at the best of times, so one can imagine what it must have been like during the battle. Panning more, we see the modern, paved, trails which lead to other sections of Devil's Den, and to the west toward the crest of Houck's Ridge, where the men of Brigadier General J. Hobart Ward's Brigade (2nd Brigade, First Division [Birney], IIIrd Corps [Sickels], Army of the Potomac) formed a line of defense against the approaching brigades of Hood's Division (Benning, Robertson, and Anderson, with Law's Brigade farther south, coming up Plum Run and the slope of Big Round Top), of Longstreet's First Corps, Army of Northern Virginia. While Hood's Division was supposed to be passing much farther north and west, probably passing through the Wheatfield on the way to Cemetery Ridge north of Little Round Top, an artillery shell had severely wounded Hood early in the assault, costing him the use of his arm, and taking him from the battle, thus depriving his Division of his leadership. His brigades were essentially on their own at that point (command of the division would eventually devolve on Brigadier General Evander M. Law, but he was busy with his brigade moving up the Plum Run Valley and scaling the slopes of Big Round Top). The resulting confusion led to his attack changing axis (though there is some evidence that Hood actually ordered this before he was wounded), and heading for the two Round Tops. Ward's brigade was stretched out fairly thin, with his line extending west to the edge of the Wheatfield. Most of Benning's and Robertson's Brigades, and a portion of Anderson's Brigade slammed into Ward's line, coming up the western slope of Houck's Ridge, in and around the curiously shaped and oddly situated Triangular Field. Ward's men hung on, and fought a stubborn defensive battle, but the overwhelming force of more than two brigades against them took its toll. Eventually fleeing northeast into Plum Run Valley, the remnants of Ward's men managed to get clear, but it left Devil's Den in Confederate hands, allowing their sharpshooters to use it as a base for sniping at officers on the crest of Little Round Top.

W. G. Davis


 

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