Thursday, February 16, 2006

A Call for Help to Right An Affront To Honored Men

In the middle afternoon of July 2nd, 1863, the 114th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment, of Brigadier General Charles K. Graham’s 1st Brigade, 1st Division (under Brigadier General David B. Birney) was in a line of battle in front of the Wentz House, at the intersection of Wheatfield Lane and the Emmitsburg Road. Collis’ Zouaves, as the 114th was known, was enduring a savage shelling by Confederate artillery located only a few hundred yards to the west on Warfield Ridge. For two hours they lay there under the barrage.

To their left, across the Wheatfield Lane, the 68th Pennsylvania stood in line of battle among the trees of the Peach Orchard, their right joined to the Zouaves left, in the road. To the right of the Zouaves, stood the 57th and 105th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiments, all forming a line north along the east side of the Emmitsburg Road. Behind them, down the slope toward the Trostle Farm, was Clark’s Battery B, First New Jersey Light Artillery, supported by the 141st Pennsylvania Infantry. Bucklyn’s Battery E, First Rhode Island Light Artillery (Randolph’s Battery) was placed at the edge of the Emmitsburg Road in front of the infantry, where the battery immediately engaged Confederate artillery on Warfield Ridge.

These men of strict disciplinarian Graham’s Brigade were the salient force of Major General Daniel Sickles Third Corps, Army of the Potomac. They were approximately a mile west of where they were ordered to be, and only the lateness of discovery by General Meade allowed them to stay in that position, it being too late to move them back. (It is a controversy that rages still today.)

At about 5 PM, the enemy began his advance. Coming at them was the storied Mississippi brigade of Brigadier General William Barksdale, a white-haired man who, once engaged in combat, became a figure of fury, wading into the enemy with everything he had. Such abandon would cost him his life later in the day.

In response, the Zouaves moved forward across the Emmitsburg Road. They entered the farm yard of John and Mary Sherfy. Firing from between the house and the barn, the Zouaves repeatedly fired into the advancing Mississippians, who were also firing, advancing, firing, and advancing. Eventually, the weight of numbers began to tell. The Union line fell back east of the Emmitsburg Road and reformed. Barksdale maneuvered his large regiments to overlap and flank the men of Graham’s Brigade, concentrating on the location where the Zouaves and the 68th met.

There was nothing to do but fall back. In a magnificently executed fighting withdrawal, the 114th, in small groups, fired, and withdrew, first north along the Emmitsburg Road, and then east toward Cemetery Ridge, where General Hancock had ordered forward Willard’s New York brigade to cover the withdrawal. By this method, the surviving Zouaves finally reformed their line, and were able to come off the field with their colors. They were badly mauled. During their withdrawal, many of their wounded were left lying in the fields and the road. Confederates carried many of them to the Sherfy House and barn. Later, however, during the continued artillery shelling, both buildings were burned to the ground. The remains of those who perished in the fires, were surrounded by those who perished in the intense fighting around those buildings. About 100 of the Zouaves had been killed. Many more were taken prisoner by the rapidly advancing Confederates. However, they gave, perhaps, better even than they took. One Mississippi private from the 17th Mississippi, the unit that assaulted the junction of the 67th and 114th Pennsylvania on Wheatfield Lane, reported 223 men of his regiment killed or wounded, 29 in his own company.

This is the monument of the 114th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment, Collis’ Zouaves, as it appeared this morning along Emmitsburg Road, where so many of the men fell. The bronze Zouave was toppled from the monument overnight. Park Protection Rangers Brion Fitzgerald and Lauren Gantz inspect the area.

Up the Emmitsburg Road north of Graham’s Brigade, Andrew A. Humphreys’ Division of Sickles’ Third Corps spread its thin lines east of that road. In the middle brigade, that of Brigadier General Joseph P. Carr, was the 11th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, commanded in this battle by Lieutenant Colonel Porter D. Tripp. Carr’s Brigade was in a line south of the Codori Farm. The Confederates advancing against them from the low area between the south end of Seminary Ridge and the north end of Warfield Ridge were Brigadier General Cadmus Wilcox’s Alabama Brigade, and on their left, Perry’s Florida Brigade under command of Colonel David Lang.

As Graham’s Brigade began to succumb to the overwhelming numbers of Barksdale’s Mississippians, and fall back, support for the left of Humphrey’s Division evaporated. This coincided with the approach of Wilcox and Lang toward Carr’s Brigade, and the 11th Massachusetts. In light of the tactical situation, a withdrawal was ordered. The regiments fell back, and eventually reached the safety of Cemetery Ridge. In the process, Major General Winfield Scott Hancock would order the 1st Minnesota Regiment forward to glory as it turned Wilcox and Lang as they emerged from a defile through which Plum Run flows.

This is the monument to the 11th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, dedicated by the veterans on October 8, 1885, as it appeared this morning along the Emmitsburg Road, where many of that regiment fought and died. The sculpture on the top of the monument was pulled from its position, and smashed on the pavement.

Additionally, the sculpted figure of an artilleryman was pulled down from the top of Smith’s 4th New York Independent Battery monument on top of Devil’s Den (Houck’s Ridge).

This is the worst single night of vandalism to occur at the park in at least ten years.

The men of these three units fought VERY bravely on this field, and many of them died here. They do not deserve to have their memory debased, and their honor treated in such a disrespectful manner.

In a press release, the National Park Service said, “Gettysburg National Military Park is looking for information related to the vandalism of civil war monuments on the Gettysburg Battlefield damaged during the night of February 15, 2006 or the early morning hours of February 16, 2006…. Anyone with any information is asked to call the National Park Service at 717-334-0909.”

This is a despicable display of ignorance, disrespect, and willful destruction of property. It is a disgrace. The perpetrators need to be caught and punished.

Please, if you know anything about this, or think you might, call the Rangers at 717-334-0909. After all, it is your Park, too. I hope you are as offended by this as I am.


Copyright © 2006: GettysBLOG; All Rights Reserved.


Randy said...

Thank you for this post and for the NPS contact information. It is my sincerest hope that the authorities quickly apprehend these despicable vandals and that not only justice is served but that these criminals are forced to pay for all reparations and are mandated to take coursework concerning the men whose memorials they so thoughtlessly desecrated.


Anonymous said...

As a decendent for a civil war vetern, My great, great grandfather was LT. John K Bucklyn who was commanding officer that day for Randolph's Battery, and was one of the many men wounded that day. He was commanding at the ripe old age of 28, I'm sitting here looking at a portrait of him in his later years and thinking how disappointed he would probably be that someone would deface the monuments of the men who fought so bravely along side of him. I hope that they are caught and punished.
Annette Bucklyn Miner

GettysBLOG said...

They will be, Ms. Miner, they will be.