Behind The Stonewall

The Valley Of Death - Gettysburg Pennsylvania

About what you are looking at...

(July 2nd, 1863 - 6:00 PM) (For point of reference, the viewer should line up the boulders in the near foreground, with the closest point of the road behind the boulders.) The viewer is looking approximately due south, across the east foot of Big Round Top. The forest you see in this view was not present during the battle due to local foresting, but the terrain was rocky, with the slope increasing as it rises toward the peak in the east (left) of the view. The road is present day Warren Avenue which runs from Crawford Avenue (to the right) across Plum Run, up the hill to the left to the saddle between the two Round Tops. It was from directly where the viewer is looking that the Confederates under Brigadier General Evander M. Law's Brigade made their attack, moving generally toward the viewer, with an angle to the left, toward Little Round Top.

Panning to the right, the viewer can catch the upper (northern) end of Devil's Den, and can begin to see Houck's Ridge as it runs north along the west side of Plum Run Valley. The men of Brigadier General J. H. Hobart Ward's Brigade were set on top of Devil's Den, and along the western crest of Houck's Ridge almost to the Wheat Field. When Ward's Brigade collapsed, the Confederates under Robertson spilled down onto the floor of the valley, lining up to make the assault on Little Round Top from the direction the viewer is looking. Under fire from the Union Brigades on top of Little Round Top, and their artillery support, this area where the viewer stands became known as the "Valley of Death". Panning north along Houck's Ridge, the viewer will notice where the ridge runs down to the floor of the valley. The Wheat Field, scene of other horrific fighting is located on the other side of the ridge there.

Panning to the low ground in the north, the viewer is looking at the site of the Weikert Farm, near which Confederate Brigadier General William Barksdale was killed at about this same time, as elements of Major General Lafayette McLaws' Division, after finally battling their way past Birney's and Humphreys' Divisions at the Emmitsburg Pike, made their way past the Peach Orchard, the Wheatfield, and arrived at Plum Run near the Weikert Farm around 7:30 PM. Attacking a stubborn artillery battery there, Barksdale was shot from his horse.

Somewhat closer in this view, the Pennsylvania Reserves, a small division of two brigades (McCandless of the 1st, and Fisher of the 3rd, as the 2nd Brigade had been detached) all from Pennsylvania, and commanded by Brigadier General Samuel Wiley Crawford led a sweep late in the day from right to left, clearing the valley of Confederates.

Panning to the right, behind the broad spread limbs of the tree is the lower end of Cemetery Ridge, where it joins the northern slope of Little Round Top. (This feature, that Cemetery Ridge literally connected directly with Little Round Top on the southern end, and Cemetery Hill on the northern end, made it such a favorable feature in selecting the positions for the Army of the Potomac. Cavalry commander Brigadier General John Buford, and Infantry commander Major General John F. Reynolds saw this early on, and Major General Winfield Scott Hancock affirmed the selection on his arrival on the battlefield later on July 1st. It truly was "Good ground" for the Army of the Potomac.)

Panning further to the right, the viewer is standing at the base of Little Round Top, looking straight up the western face. It was over this ground that the men of Confederate Brigadier General J. B. Robertson Brigade (3rd Arkansas, 1st, 4th and 5th Texas Infantry Regiments), Hood's Division, Longstreet's First Corps, Army of Northern Virginia made their assault upon the heights of Little Round Top. In front of the viewer, at the top of the hill, waited the guns of the 44th New York, with the 83rd Pennsylvania curving around the southern slope to the 20th Maine, on the spur just above the low saddle which links the two Round Tops. To the left (north) was the 16th Michigan Infantry, reinforced by the 140th and 146th New York, and the 91st and 155th Pennsylvania, all of Weed's 3rd Brigade, 2nd Division (Ayres), Vth (Sykes) Corps, Army of the Potomac. While Robertson's Brigade was assaulting from this angle, Law's Brigade was assaulting from the viewer's right, over the slope of Big Round Top, and at the south (right) side of the crest of Little Round Top (out of sight to the right).

The slope alone is forbidding, as the higher one goes the steeper it gets, until at the very top, the natural fortifications of rock formations make it a formidable task to capture by combat. Losses for the Confederates were quite high on this end of the battlefield, and the cost to the Union was equally severe.

W. G. Davis

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