Monday, March 7, 2011

Gettysburg Battlefield Hike: Longstreet's July 2nd Attack

Location: Gettysburg National Military Park, Adams County PA
Length: 7 Miles
Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous

Overview: This route covers most of the major fighting along the Union left that Confederate Lieut. Gen. James Longstreet’s First Corps assaulted on June 2nd, 1863. This is my favorite of the four Gettysburg hikes that I will be covering. I have walked this area countless times and there is always something new to explore. The area can become overcrowded during the summer, so I like to visit this part of the battlefield in the late fall, winter, or early spring. My brother and I just returned from a trip at the beginning of February, and we encountered only three cars on the snow-covered battlefield.

After the Confederates failed to gain the high ground south of Gettysburg, Gen. Robert E. Lee began to plan a July 2nd attack on both flanks of the Union Line. Lee's wanted the Confederates to envelop the Union Army and Lieut. Gen. James Longstreet's First Corps was responsible for attacking the left flank of the Union line.

Longstreet's July 2nd Attack Hike: I like to start this hike at the Longstreet Tower on West Confederate Avenue. Climb to the top of the tower and look out at the commanding view of the battlefield, especially if you are not familiar with the area that this hike will be covering. Here you can see all of the distinctive landmarks of the July 2nd battlefield that you will be hiking: the Peach Orchard, the Stony Hill, the Wheatfield, Devil’s Den, and Little Round Top. After getting a good look at the terrain, leave the tower and find the cannon tube monument across the road. This monument is the marker for Confederate Lieut. Gen. James Longstreet’s headquarters and it states that his headquarters were 900 yards down Millerstown Road at Pitzer School House. Millerstown Road was also used by Confederate Col. E.P. Alexander to bring up his artillery to Seminary and Warfield Ridge. The exposed road also proved to be troublesome for Longstreet’s troops and delayed their attack on July 2nd.

Start heading south on West Confederate Avenue and soon you will see two state monuments, Georgia and South Carolina. It was in these woods where Confederate Maj. Gen. Lafayette McLaws’ Division formed for the attack across Emmitsburg Road. Follow West Confederate Avenue until you reach Emmitsburg Road and while crossing, look south and you will see the Texas Monument. It was here along Warfield where Maj. Gen. John B. Hood’s Division launched their attack.

Cross Emmitsburg Road and walk down Slyder’s Lane. This is the general direction where Confederate Brig. Gen. J.B. Robertson, Brig. Gen E. M. Law, and Brig. Gen. Henry L. Benning’s Brigades traveled on their way to assault Devil’s Den and Little Round Top. To your right is Bushman’s Farm. It was in this area that a shell fired from the Peach Orchard exploded over Maj. Gen. Hood’s head and shell fragments tore into his left arm, taking him out of the battle.

Continue on Slyder’s Lane until your reach Slyder farm.  Here in this area is where Union Col. Hiram Berdan's 2nd U.S. sharpshooters briefly traded shots with the Confederates before moving back towards Big Round Top.  The farm was turned into a field hospital after Hood’s Division moved through the area.

Find the hiking trail behind the Slyder’s farm, and follow it over Plum Run and into a field. After Pickett’s Charge on July 3rd, Union Brig. Gen. Elon J. Farnsworth was ordered to lead a reckless cavalry charge against Brig. Gen. E. M. Law’s Alabama Brigade in this area. The attack that Farnsworth called, “a suicide”, was a disaster and cost Farnsworth his life. There is a monument that marks the attack.

Leave the field and walk until you reach South Confederate Avenue. Turn left onto the road and before long it turns into Sykes Avenue. You may want to follow the trail on the other side of the road that will lead to the top of Big Round Top, if you want to experience the steep slopes that the 47th and 15th Alabama Regiments had to endure on their way to Little Round Top.

Remain on Sykes Avenue until you reach an intersection. Turn right onto Wright Avenue and find the worn walking path on the left. You are now walking in the wooded area that the 15th and 47th Alabama troops used to attack the 20th Maine.  Walk to the 20th Maine Monument about half way up the slope and look down towards the saddle along Wright Avenue. It was along this rocky ledge that Union Col. Joshua L. Chamberlain and 358 men from the 20th Maine were told by Union Col. Strong Vincent to “hold the ground at all hazards.”  Soon afterwards, Alabama troops led by Confederate Col. William C. Oats emerged from the woods in front of Big Round Top and repeatedly assaulted the Union line.

The 20th Maine was the extreme left flank of the Union line that started at Culp’s Hill, bended around Cemetery Hill, and followed Cemetery Ridge until it reached Little Round Top. Over time, the importance of the 20th Maine has been blown out of proportion due to the movie “Gettysburg” and the book “The Killer Angels”, but this should not diminish the bravery displayed by both the Federal and Confederate soldiers.

The fighting in this area was close and intense, and soon Union Maj. Ellis Spear noticed that the Alabama soldiers were trying to move to your left and flank the Federal position. Without reserves, Chamberlain could only refuse his lines so that his position took on the shape of a V. Find the flank markers near the monument. Here you can see how close the two lines were when Col. Oat’s men charged again and got within 15 feet of the Union position before falling back.

Chamberlain knew that his line might not be able to withstand another rebel charge so he called for bayonets and the left wing of the 20th Maine began the charge by swinging down the slope like a door shutting. The Alabama soldiers, who may already have gotten the order to retreat by Col. Oats, ran like deer up the slope of Big Round Top. Near the saddle, behind a stone wall, emerged a detachment from the 20th Maine and Col. Berdan’s Sharpshooters. These men fired into the Confederate flank causing more confusion. Although the left flank of Little Round Top was secure, other Confederates were trying to make headway on the other side of the rocky hill.

Walk across Sykes Road and find the 83rd Pennsylvania Monument. The 83rd Pennsylvania was positioned on the right of the 20th Maine. Follow the trail up the slope until you find Strong Vincent’s Monument. Union Col. Strong Vincent was responsible for getting troops quickly to Little Round Top before the Confederates could take advantage of the exposed Union left flank.

While the battle raged in front of the 20th Maine, Confederate Brig. Gen J. B. Robertson’s 4th and 5th Texas Infantry smashed into Vincent’s line and the fighting was soon hot and heavy. During the attack, Vincent was wounded and died five days later. He was promoted to Brigadier General as he lay dying. Remain on the trail up the slope until you find a large rock with an inscription carved into the surface. The rock inscription states that this is where Strong Vincent fell during the battle on July 2nd.

Remain on the trail towards the 12th and 44th New York Monument. Climb to the top of the castle monument for a breath taking view of the battlefield. Down on the valley floor is the collection of rocks that is known as Devil’s Den. You can also see Plum Run as it meanders through the Valley of Death. To your right is the Wheatfield, and off in the distance is the Peach Orchard. If you get lucky enough to get the top of this monument to yourself, stay long and soak it in. This is one of the most spectacular views on any battlefield and you can easily see how the terrain stacked the odds against the Confederates who were trying to take the rocky heights.

Once down from the monument, find the 140th New York monument nearby with the bust of Col. Paddy O’Rourke. As the 16th Michigan, the 44th New York, and 83rd Pennsylvania dealt with Robertson’s fierce attacks, Union Brig. Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren found Col. Paddy O’Rourke and requested a regiment to support Col. Strong Vincent’s line. O’Rourke complied and led the 140th New York to the crest of Little Round Top soon after Vincent’s death. As the 140th New York pushed the Confederates back down the hill, a Minnie ball passed through O’Rourke neck, killing him. The arrival of the 140th New York proved to be enough to stop the Confederate assault and secure Little Round Top.

Continue north along the crest of Little Round Top until you come to Union Brig. Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren’s Monument. Warren was Maj. Gen. George G. Meade’s Chief Engineer at the time of the battle. When Warren noticed that Maj. Gen Daniel E. Sickles’ Third Army Corps was out of place at the Peach Orchard salient and there was no Union soldiers on Little Round Top besides a signal station, he sent for troops immediately to strengthen the Union left flank at Little Round Top against Hood’s approaching troops.

Here you can see Warren, with his field glasses in hand, watching the progress of the Confederate as they approached Little Round Top and Devil’s Den. This is one of my favorite monuments at Gettysburg and do not pass up the opportunity to watch the sunset alongside Warren.

Retrace your steps back to the 12th and 44th New York Monument. Begin walking down the dirt path in front of the monument towards Devil’s Den and the Valley of Death. As you walk down, notice the stone breastworks that were constructed by Union soldiers. These were not here at the time of the July 2nd attacks, but were added later to prepare for a possible July 3rd attack.

Remain on the dirt path until you reach the 16th Michigan Monument. These men were positioned alongside the 44th New York and were the right flank of Strong Vincent’s line. Find the right flank marker near the monument. With no troops to anchor this part of the line, the 4th and 5th Texans converged on this position, forcing the 16th Michigan to fall back to the higher ground above you. Col. Strong Vincent was mortally wounded trying to rally the men of the 16th Michigan and push back the Confederates before the 140th New York arrived.

Continue walking on the dirt path until you reach Warren Avenue. Turn right and follow it over Plum Run until you reach the intersection.  You are now in the middle of the Valley of Death. On the night of July 2nd, this area along Plum Run was a no-man’s land between the Confederate and Union lines. The valley was covered with dead and dying men from both sides. Turn Left on Crawford Avenue until you find the 4th Maine Monument near the base of Devil’s Den and look south towards Slyder’s Farm.

On July 2nd, Brig. Gen. E. M. Law’s 44th and 48th Alabama Infantry emerge from the woods in front of you and begin making their way towards Devil’s Den and the Valley of Death.  The 4th Maine was positioned in the area behind the rocky gorge in front of you that would become known as the Slaughter Pen. This area received the ominous name because the rock-strewn area was where a large amount of Confederates were killed as they advanced towards this position. The 4th Maine held the left flank of the Maj. Gen. Dan E. Sickles’ Third Corps line that ran from Devil’s Den across Houck’s Ridge, around the Stony Hill and ended near the Peach Orchard and the Emmitsburg Road.

As you can see, the 4th Maine was in an exposed position and received deadly fire from the Alabamians causing then to fall back. Soon the 99th Pennsylvania came to reinforce the 4th Maine farther up the slope towards the top of Devil’s Den and together they swept the Confederates from the front of Devil’s Den and back towards the Slaughter Pen. As Brig. Gen. Henry L. Benning’s Georgia Brigade gained a footing on the other side of Devil’s Den and joined the struggle, the 40th New York was thrown into the mix and charged the position near their monument at the intersection of Warren and Crawford Avenue.

Take the path on your right to the top of Devil’s Den. It is easy to see how Confederate Sharpshooters used the rocky crevices to their advantage. Remain on the path until you reach the 99th Pennsylvania Monument. It was this area the 99th came to reinforce the 4th Maine and fired down at the Confederates near the Slaughter Pen.

Follow the path to the Union 4th New York Battery commanded by Capt. James E. Smith. Before the Confederate attack began, six 10-pound Parrott guns were placed just above this position and dueled with Confederate artillery along Seminary Ridge. In front of you is the Triangular Field that was used by Gen. Henry L. Benning’s Georgia Brigade and some of Confederate Brig. Gen J. B. Robertson’s 1st Texas Infantry to attack Devil’s Den. Smith’s Battery was at a disadvantage as the Confederates approached because the rocky summit did not allow room for infantry to protect the battery. As the 1st Texans rushed through the Triangular Field to capture the cannons, the Union124th New York charged the Confederates but paid a heavy price and three cannons were eventually captured.

Walk down to Sickles Avenue, turn right, and follow it until you reach Ayres Avenue. Turn right on Ayres Avenue and follow it along Houck’s Ridge. Along this ridge was where Union Brig. Gen. J. H. Hobart Ward’s men were positioned on July 2nd. As fighting began in front of Smith’s Battery, Confederate Brig. Gen. George T. Anderson’s Georgia Brigade moved through Rose’s Woods and attack this line.

Remain on Ayres Avenue until you reach the Wheatfield. Turns left onto the dirt path and follow it to the monuments in the middle of the Wheatfield and look south. As Confederate Brig. Gen. George T. Anderson’s Georgians and Brig. Gen. J. B. Kershaw’s South Carolina troops over took the Stony Hill to your right, Union troops crossed this field to the relative safety of the brick wall behind you. Anderson’s Brigade and part of Kershaw’s Brigade took shelter along a brick wall that bordered Rose’s Woods in front of you.

Union Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock noticed the danger in this area and sent Brig. Gen. John C. Caldwell’s Division from the Second Corps to the Wheatfield to push back the Confederates. Caldwell’s four brigade commanders led their troops through this area and briefly retook the Wheatfield and portions of Rose’s Woods.

The Union troops were once again sent back across the Wheatfield as Confederate Brig. Gen. W. T. Wofford’s Georgians joined Kershaw’s attack and flanked the Union troops from the area on your extreme right. The back and forth whirlwind fighting at the Wheatfield left bodies lying in the trampled blood stained wheat.

Follow the path south to Sickles Avenue and turn right. Follow the road to the Stony Hill and find the Irish Brigade Monument. The Irish Brigade was made out of 63rd, 69th, and the 88th New York Infantries. After the Confederates overran the Stony Hill, the Irish Brigade, led by Col. Patrick Kelly, swept across the Wheatfield and drove away Kershaw’s men with the help of Brig. Gen. Samuel K. Zook’s men. On Kelly’s left, Col. Edward E. Cross’ Brigade drove Anderson and Kershaw’s men from behind the brick wall.  The monument is touching due to the Irish wolfhound lying mournfully at the base of the Celtic cross.

Continue towards the curved crest of the Stony Hill. This was the original position of Col. P. Regis Trobriand’s Brigade that briefly held off Anderson’s and Kershaw’s initial attacks on the Stony Hill. Follow Sickles Avenue until to come to Wheatfield Road. Turn left on Wheatfield Road and make your way towards the Peach Orchard.

As you walk, the monuments on your right show the various positions of Federal artillery that formed the left side of the Peach Orchard salient. On July 1st, Union Maj. Gen. George Meade sent orders to Maj. Gen. Dan E. Sickles to take his Third Corps and extend the Union line from Cemetery Ridge to Little Round Top. Sickles felt that the line should be along the high ground at the Peach Orchard and asked Meade to place his troops on ground of his choosing that he deemed most suitable. Meade complied as long as Sickles keep within the general order that he had giving on July 1st. Sickles felt that this gave him the authority to move his line out to where you are walking, which would have grave consciences as Longstreet made his assault on July 2nd.

Remain on Wheatfield Road until you come to the Peach Orchard that the National Park Service has replanted and turn south. Because of the L shaped salient that Sickles had created here, Confederates could converge infantry attacks and artillery fire from two directions.

After Brig. Gen. J. B. Kershaw’s South Carolina troops had cleared the Stony Hill, the 3rd and 8th South Carolina Infantry turned toward your position and attacked a line of Union soldiers that were placed in front of the Peach Orchard. On your right, Brig. Gen. William Barksdale Mississippi Brigade crossed Emmitsburg Road and crashed into Maj. Gen. David. B. Birney’s men that bordered the right side of the Peach Orchard. These hard hitting Confederate attacks sent Union troops and artillery retreating back behind you towards Trostle’s Farm and Cemetery Ridge.

Retrace your steps back on Wheatfield Road and return the way you came until you reach Sickles Avenue. Turn left on Sickles Avenue and walk towards United States Avenue. Here you can image the chaos as men, horses, caissons, and cannons were being hurried to the rear with Barksdale’s men nipping at their heels.

When you reach United State Avenue, look to your right and find the Trostle’s Farm. It was here that Sickles headquarters was set up near the large swamp white oak you can see across from Trostle’s Farm. This tree is a witness trees that was standing at the time of the battle. Behind the barn is where Sickles right leg was mangled by a Confederate cannon ball. If you look closely at the front of the barn, you can the section of bricks that was hit by a confederate cannon ball during the battle.

Near the witness tree is where Union Capt. John Bigelow positioned his 6 cannons from the 9th Massachusetts after being forced back from the Peach Orchard salient. He was ordered by Union Lt. Col. Freeman McGilvery to hold the position at all hazards without any support from infantry. Soon Mississippi and South Carolina troops came to capture the guns, but Bigelow’s Battery held them off temporary with rapid firing before they were soon engulfed. Bigelow lost four cannons to the Confederates but bought valuable time for the Federals to form a new defensive line near Cemetery Ridge.

Cross United States Avenue and follow it towards Emmitsburg Road. After Barksdale’s breakthrough at the Peach Orchard salient, the Mississippi men turned towards the Maj. Gen Edward A. Humphrey’s Division who were positioned along Emmitsburg Road in front of you. To meet these men, the 5th New Jersey, 11th New Jersey, and the 120th New York peeled off from their original position and formed a defensive line facing you to meet Barksdale’s advance.

At this time, Maj. Gen. A. P. Hill’s joined the attack from Seminary Ridge, sending Humphrey’s men retreating, firing as they went, back towards Cemetery Ridge. At this time, everything seem to be going right for the Confederate, but the assault soon began to stall due to a gallant charge from the 1st Minnesota Infantry, timely Union reinforcements, failure of the Confederates to take Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill, and fading daylight.

Cross Emmitsburg Road and follow the hiking trail past Spangler Farm to West Confederate Avenue. Turn left on West Confederate Avenue and find the state monuments of Louisiana and Mississippi that are located near the Longstreet’s equestrian monument in Pitzer Woods. Brig. Gen. William Barksdale’s Mississippi Brigade and Brig. Gen. W. T. Wofford’s Georgia Brigade used these woods to launch their attacks against the Wheatfield and Peach Orchard. Longstreet’s Monument is unique because it is at ground level. As you are walking along West Confederate Avenue, you can almost image Longstreet roaming these woods on his horse during the July 2nd attack. Follow West Confederate Avenue back to the Longstreet Tower and your car. This concludes the Gettysburg Battlefield: Longstreet’s July 2nd Attack Hike.


  1. Well written, you have the Irish Brigade regiments wrong however. The brigade consisted of the 63NYVI, 69NYVI, 88NYVI, 28 Massachusetts, and the 116PaVI.

  2. Nice blog. Can't wait to do this hike in the spring.

  3. I can totally use this in my report! Thanx:)

  4. I printed this off and hiked it with two friends today. Thank you for an excellent hiking & historical guide!

  5. Thank you so much for posting this really great hike! We enjoyed our day!

  6. Terrific post. I amazed. I really like your post....