Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Welcome back, gunner!

The Artillerist on the 4th New York Independent Battery monument [Captain James E. Smith] located on the south end of Houck’s Ridge [behind Devil’s Den] has been restored and is now standing as a silent sentinel over the area once again. For those who drive through Devils Den area, and then up and around to where Benning’s Brigade of Georgians assaulted the left of Ward’s Third Corps Brigade, the cannon and the Artillerist are well remembered figures that greet you when you reach the top of the ridge.

Damaged several years ago in an ugly attack of vandalism early one morning, the statue was pulled off its pedestal and the head was removed and carried off. Two other monuments, both along Emmitsburg Road, were also damaged. The 114th Pennsylvania Infantry monument [Collis’s Zouaves], was also toppled, but was restored fairly quickly. The 16th Massachusetts Infantry monument also had damage when the ball on top was pulled free and smashed on the ground.

All were members of the Third Corps [Dan Sickles], and were involved in the fighting on the second day, when Sickles, without orders to do so, ordered his corps out of a defensive position just north of Little Round Top, and forward to the Emmitsburg Road. He left Ward’s Brigade and Smith’s Battery to cover his left by stationing them on the south end of Houck’s Ridge. Sickles covered some of the gap between Ward and Graham’s Brigade, stationed in the Peach Orchard a half mile, away by aligning some artillery on the Wheatfield Lane facing south. Sickles move remains a bone of contention to this day, and his actions then, and for the rest of his life, seriously damaged the career and reputation of General George Meade.

The fight of Ward’s Brigade and Smith’s Battery against several assaults by brigades and regiments from the Confederate Army division under General John Bell Hood is legendary. Smith, in particular, fought his battery well, splitting off one section of two guns onto the floor of the “Valley of Death” where they stopped advancing Alabama troops by firing into the boulder field of the “Slaughter Pen”. The other four guns remained on top of Houck’s ridge where they supported Ward’s infantry brigade aligned on the right of the battery.

Park restoration specialists had to travel out west to cast the head for the Artillerist from another copy of the statue.

Welcome back, gunner!

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