Friday, March 23, 2012

The Battle of Little Round Top

On July 2nd, 1863, General Gouveneur Kemble Warren stood on the rocks of Little Round Top and gazed upon a disaster about to befall his army. As the Chief Topographical Engineer for the Army of the Potomac, it was his job to look at terrain, decide what could be attacked, what could be defended and how best to arrange troops in order to do either one. Or both.

This day had been quiet so far, but by late morning a dangerous gap in the lines had been discovered. Major General Daniel Sickles, a politically appointed General who commanded the Third Corps of the Army of the Potomac, had dislodged his men and guns from the knoll just to the north of Little Round Top, moving them forward and up the elevation to the Emmitsburg Road, over a half mile forward. Sickles placed one brigade in the Peach Orchard next to the Sherfy House, and then sent a whole division to stretch up along the road almost to the Codori farm. Sickles had also left a Brigade behind and to the south along a ridge that ended in a jumble of enormous boulders. When the commander of the Army of the Potomac, Major General George Gordon Meade, was alerted to Sickles’ move, the two rode out to look at Sickles lines. Meade explained the problems with being so far in front of the Union lines, and that enormous gap left in his own lines between the men in the Peach Orchard and the men on that rocky ridge a half mile to the southwest. Sickles offered to return his men to the assigned position just as the Confederate artillery opened up on his troops. Meade remarked that he didn’t think ‘they’, the Rebel guns, would give him the time to do so. Meade turned his horse and rode back to the Union lines to try to fill the gaps that Sickles had left.

The result was troops from two other Union Corps engaging the approaching Confederates in the bloody battles of the Wheatfield. Nearly seven thousand men lay as casualties, dead and wounded, when the afternoon’s fighting ended there.

What Warren was seeing was the line of men, a half mile wide, of Confederate General John Bell Hood, approaching toward Sickles men on the ridge. And Hood's line extended even farther to the left than that. Some of them were starting up the southern face of Big Round Top, the highest elevation in the vicinity, just several hundred yards to Warren’s left. He sent a messenger to the Commander of the Union Fifth Corps asking for a brigade of men to take up a line on the south face of Little Round Top to stop the end of Hood’s line. If they flanked the Union position on Little Round Top, well, it was possible that the Union Army’s strong position at Gettysburg would be so threatened as to cause it to withdraw southward into Maryland.

On the lane below Little Round Top, Colonel Strong Vincent, a Harvard educated lawyer from Erie, Pennsylvania, stopped his small brigade and stopped the messenger, asking for his message. When told he was sent for troops to defend the hill, Vincent told him that on his own responsibility, he would take his brigade to the crest of the hill and place them at General Warren’s disposal. Vincent ordered the men to the top of the hill and proceeded to move ahead of them to scout the terrain. After a brief consult with Warren, who merely had to point to the advancing Confederate troops, Vincent set off to look at the south flank of Little Round Top.

The two Round Tops [not known by those names until after the battle] were physically separated by a small saddle of ground through which a lane ran, coming up from Plum Run Valley to the West and running out between farms on the east side of the two hills, to the Taneytown Road. A spur of ground jutted from Little Round Top into this saddle of ground from north to south. It came to a point and descended perhaps 15-20 feet very sharply to the saddle. The ground was strewn with boulders large and small. After perhaps ten minutes, Vincent’s men started to arrive.

Historians for years have written that Vincent arrayed his troops along the military crest [A lower crest than the top, on which men could stand and fight and not be silhouetted to attackers from below.] with the 16th Michigan Infantry at the southwest corner of the crest, and on their left, the 44th New York, then the 83rd Pennsylvania, and finally, on what would eventually become known as Vincent’s Spur, the 20th Maine. However, recent work clearing the south slope of Little Round Top has resulted in the [re-]discovery of the flank markers [stone markers which marked the left and right ends – flanks – of a regiment, placed there by the Veterans of the battle] of the 83rd Pennsylvania. And they are not in line with the rest of the Brigade. Instead of a line of defense, Vincent, who once commanded the 83rd Pennsylvania, placed his men in a very sophisticated defense in depth. He placed the 83rd Pennsylvania about fifty yards in front of the 44th New York, facing south. They were also twenty-five feet lower than the 44th New York. To the right rear of the 83rd Pennsylvania was what is essentially a 25 foot cliff leading up to the position of the 16th Michigan. To the left is a gap between the 83rd and the 20th Maine, arrayed on an angle leading away from the 83rd, and ending at the end of Vincent’s Spur. The gap was an invitation to the attacking troops to enter and become a killing ground as the Maine troops opened on them from behind the rocks on the spur.

It was innovative, sophisticated, and deadly to the enemy. Sadly, Strong Vincent did not survive the Battle of Little Round Top. The fight made a Medal of Honor recipient of Lt. Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, commanding the 20th Maine. Chamberlain was not only the left flank of Vincent’s Brigade, but of the Army of the Potomac. He wound up facing one regiment of Alabama Troops in the killing ground and in front of the 83rd Pennsylvania, and then another Regiment appeared in his rear. After fending off repeated assaults, including one that reached inside his lines, Chamberlain’s men were out of ammunition. Thinking the enemy was forming for another assault, he seized the initiative, and ordered his men to fix bayonets, and charge the enemy. They drove the enemy regiment off, capturing many prisoners.

Below is a recent picture of the 83rd Pennsylvania’s position on the south flank of Little Round Top.

The view is looking west. The crest of Little Round Top is to the right, and Warren Avenue [visible to the left] which comes up from Plum Run Valley and runs out to Taneytown Road over the saddle of ground that separates Little Round Top from Big Round Top. The monument is that of the 83rd Pennsylvania, and the statue on top is that of Strong Vincent. Unlike most regiments, the regimental marker for the 83rd Pennsylvania is not in the center of its line, but rather about twenty yards behind, and closer to its left flank than its right. The right flank marker of the 83rd Pennsylvania is under the pine tree in the center of the photo. The left flank marker is not visible in this photo, but another marker near it is visible to the left in a completely bare ground spot to the left of middle of the fallen tree [see detail photo below]. The line of the 83rd runs parallel to Warren Avenue about 20 yards in, and follows a line of boulders, which no doubt was used for cover.

Next time you are out on the Battlefield, go explore this for yourself!


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“Be steadfast in your anger, be sure in your convictions, be moved by the right and certainty that abuse of power must be defeated at every turn; uphold Liberty as the just reward of a watchful people, and let not those who have infringed upon that Liberty steal it away from you. Never loosen your grip on Liberty!" -- GettysBLOG

“Legislation without representation is tyranny.” -- GettysBLOG

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Thursday, March 15, 2012

John Wilkes Booth Bobblehead? Really?

Much like our favorite local newspaper editor frequently does, we are going to take an opportunity here to discuss the First Amendment to the Constitution. Said amendment is stated thusly:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Much ado has been stirred lately over the inclusion, however brief, of a John Wilkes Booth Bobblehead Doll at the Visitors Center Bookstore on the Battlefield. The immediate hue and cry that went up when the news hit the papers of the inclusion of this doll in the stock of the Book Store/Gift Shop run by the Gettysburg Foundation, apparently hit home and the doll was quickly removed. And today, in the 14th of March, 2012 edition of the Hanover Evening Sun, a front page, above the fold article was published wherein the artist who ‘sculpted’ the bobblehead of Booth defended his artwork. [Sculptor defends controversial bobbleheads, Hanover Evening Sun, March 14, 2012].

Cited in the article was Harold Holzer, a leading Lincoln historian who said,

Harold Holzer, perhaps the most prominent Lincoln scholar alive, said the Gettysburg National Military Park is not the appropriate place for bobbleheads of John Wilkes Booth.

"There's a line between freedom of expression and insensitivity and boorishness," he said, in an email. "I hold no belief for censorship, but I do believe in common sense, respect, and good taste. And these souvenirs featured none of the above."

Indeed, common sense, respect, and good taste. The artist, Rick Lynn, has every right to turn out bobbleheads, and call them art. It falls under the umbrella of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, as shown above. Mr. Lynn can make sand castles on the beach and call them art. He can push his mashed potatoes around on his plate and call them art, and he can take the doodle sheet he filled while on hold for tech support the last time he had a problem with his cable TV, and he can call it art. And we would agree with all of it. It is protected free speech under the Constitution, and we have no quibble with it.

No, our quibble is with the rocket scientist who works at the Book Store who approved the placement of the Booth Bobblehead in the store. A Booth Bobblehead is in bad taste, as Mr. Holzer states, and therein lies the rub. “One man’s trash is another man’s art,” you say? No question about it. A New York art exhibition featured a photograph of a crucifix submerged in a clear container of the ‘artist’s’ urine. He has a First Amendment right to call that art…and we have a first amendment right to say it is artless, feckless, and in extremely poor taste, to say nothing of the insult to Christianity.

Putting an armed John Wilkes Booth bobblehead next to one of Abraham Lincoln simply defies belief. Mr. Lynn may call it art, but that certainly does not make it so, no matter how well-crafted the doll is. To add it to the store in Gettysburg, yards from where Lincoln came and gave his [arguably] most famous speech in dedicating the National Cemetery is just thoughtless, and we mean that literally.

Look, we think there are lines that good people do not cross. We think they are lines dividing what it in good taste and what is not. If the public wants to put movie stars and sports heroes on their dashboard as bobbleheads, feel free, but historical figures are out of bounds.

Holzer added that it would be disrespectful to sell dolls of Lee Harvey Oswald at the John F. Kennedy Center. [Evening Sun]

Agreed. It trivializes, and detracts from the memory of those we hold in highest esteem. Lincoln certainly is one of the most treasured of our Presidents.

John Wilkes Booth didn’t just murder a President, he is likely a major part of the reason why there still exists a divide in this country between those of color and those who are white. Lincoln’s plan for the “Reconstruction” of the country after the end of the Civil War was to be one of gentle, kind, treatment for the defeated South, along with a firm policy of guiding the acceptance by the nation for the transition from slavery to freedom of almost 4 million African American slaves. When Booth murdered Lincoln, that policy went pretty much out the window, and the new President, Andrew Johnson, proceeded to deviate from it over the next three years, to the point that what occurred was not a reconstruction, but an occupation, and the angst and suffering of that was turned into an anger aimed at the Black Freedmen that lingered for a century…perhaps longer. Booth’s act made life for the white South tougher for many years, and has played Hell with the civil rights of America’s Black population.

Memorializing Booth is asinine. His act helped no one. It harmed everyone.

A bobblehead? A John Wilkes Booth bobblehead? With a gun in his hand? Really? Next to Lincoln? Really?


We support the Roadmap to Reform!

“Be steadfast in your anger, be sure in your convictions, be moved by the right and certainty that abuse of power must be defeated at every turn; uphold Liberty as the just reward of a watchful people, and let not those who have infringed upon that Liberty steal it away from you. Never loosen your grip on Liberty!" -- GettysBLOG

“Legislation without representation is tyranny.” -- GettysBLOG

Remember in May and November! Before you vote, GettysBLOG!

Copyright © 2005-2012: GettysBLOG; All Rights Reserved.