Behind The Stonewall

The Wheatfield - Gettysburg Pennsylvania



About what you are looking at...

(July 2, 1863, 5 PM) The viewer is standing in the northwest corner of "The Wheatfield", which belonged to Jacob Weikert, who's farm is located several hundred yards to the northeast, and just across Plum Run.  To the north, and easily visible is the Wheatfield Road, which, at the time of the battle, was a lane running from the Emmitsburg Road at the "Peach Orchard", southeast and down hill past the Wheatfield to Plum Run just north of Little Round Top.

As the viewer scans to the right along the Wheatfield Road, the near woods can be seen.  These are Trostle's Woods, belonging to the Trostle Farm several hundred yards to their rear and left.  Further to the right, the break in the trees is the upper (northern) end of Houck's Ridge, and the mist in the distance is from Plum Run.  The trees on Houck's Ridge hide the two Round Tops, and Devil's Den which is at the lower (southern end of Houck's Ridge).  The Monument in the distance is the Battery D (Winslow's) 1st New York Artillery Monument.  The cannons of this battery occupied what little high ground there was in the Wheatfield.

While the battle for Little Round Top raged on the other side of the trees to the east and southeast (just to the left of the 1st New York Artillery Marker) the left of Hood's Division (Longstreet's 1st Corps, Army of Northern Virginia) swept across the west branch of Plum Run, from the Rose Farm located on the other side of the trees at the southwest corner of the Wheatfield.  The woods to the south (to the right of the 1st NY Artillery Monument) are the Rose Woods, scene of the first line of Union defenses, the Brigade of Brigadier General Regis de Trobriand, part of Major General Dan Sickles IIIrd Corps, Army of the Potomac.  Originally ordered to take up position on Cemetery Ridge just north of Little Round Top, Sickles instead pushed his men out onto higher ground, at the top of Devil's Den, in the Rose Woods south of the Wheatfield, at the Peach Orchard at the top of the elevation on which runs the Emmitsburg Road, and then north along that road all the way to the Codori Farm (which featured prominently in the assault on the Union center on July 3rd).  Sickles set his artillery up in the Peach Orchard and below it to the south east, in the gap between the Peach Orchard and the Wheatfield.  Essentially he formed his line at a right angle to where he was ordered to be by Major General George Meade, who reviewed Sickles dispositions  in the late afternoon, expressed his displeasure, but when Sickles offered to restore the men to Cemetery Ridge, Meade, noting the outbreak of gunfire and artillery from the Emmistburg Road, informed Sickles it was too late to move them.  

Meade did what he could to assist Sickles in his predicament, ordering a division (Caldwell's) of Hancock's IInd Corps south to assist de Trobriand in the Rose Woods, as well as elements (Barnes Division) of  Vth Corps (Major General George Sykes) to the defense of Little Round Top (thereby covering Sickles' left flank, and extending the left flank of the Army of the Potomac).   Barnes' Division arrived just in time, taking up position on the higher ground of the Rose Woods on de Trobriand's right.  It wasn't long before five Georgia Regiments under Brigadier General George Anderson (Hood's Division) slammed into them from the Rose Farm pastures.  de Trobriand and Barnes fought a tough battle, making a stand in the woods until almost 6 P.M., when Kershaw's South Carolina Brigade (Major General Lafayette McLaws Division of Longstreet's Corps) joined the fight on Anderson's left.  Barnes men had bent the line toward the north and west, forming a small loop on the rocky elevation at the southwest corner of the Wheatfield.  Barnes, assailed on two fronts with a third threatened, ordered a withdrawal, and his men crossed the Wheatfield to re-form in the Trostle Farm Woods.  de Trobriand had no choice but to follow.  

The advancing Confederates were about half-way across the Wheatfield when Caldwell's Division from Hancock's IInd Corps slammed into them, forcing them to withdraw back to the Rose Woods.  Caldwell's men included the famous "Irish Brigade" (28th Massachusetts, 63rd New York, 69th New York, 88th New York, and 116th Pennsylvania, though only the 28th Massachusetts was at full strength), under Colonel Patrick Kelly. Advancing into the Rose Woods across the west branch of Plum Run, Caldwell's men were extended far in front of any support they might need.  The attack of Brigadier General William Barksdale's Mississippi Brigade on the Peach Orchard several hundred yards up the rise to the northwest caused a general collapse there, and forced Barnes and de Trobriand out of the Trostle Farm Woods and down to the nearby Jacob Weikert Farm on the banks of the main branch of Plum Run.  

There a new Federal Line was formed, and the men of Caldwell's Division raced to reach this point just ahead of the pursuing troops of Anderson and Kershaw's Brigades.  Those Confederates, now exhausted, joined with the men of Barksdale's Brigade coming down the Wheatfield Lane from the Peach Orchard.  Their attack began to falter, and the Union line held.  While rallying the men for another assault, General Barksdale was shot from his horse, mortally wounded.  Taken prisoner, he died the next day.  At this point, Brigadier General Samuel Wiley Crawford led his "Pennsylvania Reserves Division" down from Cemetery Ridge, across Plum Run Valley, forcing the tired Confederates back of Houck's Ridge, and the fighting came to a close for the day.  Longstreet's attack, targeted for a point much farther to the north, got turned toward the east and the Round Tops very early on in the battle, partly because of the disposition of Dan Sickles IIIrd Corps.  The Union army made effective use of the wild terrain in the area to slow, and eventually stop Longstreet's assault far short of its objective of Cemetery Ridge to the north.

W. G. Davis

 

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