JULY 2THE WHEATFIELD
Even after Hood's men had taken Devil's Den, the fighting raged along
a stone wall between Rose's Woods and the southern edge of the
Wheatfield and among the trees on the stony, tree-covered hill along the
Wheatfield's western edge. Third Corps units occupied the stone wall;
Fifth Corps brigades manned the stony hill. Brig. Gen. George T.
Anderson's brigade and the 3rd Arkansas Regiment attacked the troops
behind the wall. "Aim low!, boys! make every shot tell!" cautioned
officers of the 17th Maine behind the wall, and they repelled the
Confederates' first attacks. After reforming, Anderson's men attacked
again, and the brigades of Brig. Gens. Joseph B. Kershaw and Paul J.
Semmes of McLaws's division advanced on their left against the
Wheatfield from the west. The Fifth Corps troops, fearing that they
would be flanked on their right, fell back behind the Wheatfield Road.
Their retreat exposed the Third Corps line south of the Wheatfield to a
flank attack, and its troops fell back. The Confederates advanced to the
edge of the field. where Capt. George Winslow's New York battery held
them at bay for a critical few minutes.
At the opening of the fight Meade ordered that Brig. Gen. John C.
Caldwell's division, which had been posted on the left of the Second
Corps, be sent to the aid of Sykes. Caldwell's division reached the
Wheatfield Road on the north side of the Wheatfield as the Confederates
drove the Third and Fifth Corps from their positions on its southern and
western sides. Caldwell's brigades formed quickly along the road, some
doing so in such haste that their rear ranks were to the front. They
charged through the ripe wheat and the surrounding woods, driving the
Confederates back. Three brigade commanders, Col. Edward F. Cross and
Brig. Gen. Samuel K. Zook of Caldwell's division and Brig. Gen. Paul
Semmes of McLaws's division fell with mortal wounds.
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JULY 2, 1863, THE CONFEDERATE ATTACK EXTENDS NORTH|
As more Confederate troops entered the battle, the fighting spread
north from Little Round Top and Devil's Den to Rose's Woods and the
Wheatfield. The hard-pressed Union 3rd Corps is reinforced by troops of
the 5th Corps who help to hold Sickles's advanced line.
Caldwell's men had but brief success, The repulsed Confederate
brigades reformed quickly and counterattacked, this time with the help
of Brig. Gen. William T. Wofford's Georgia brigade. Wofford's Georgians
had helped break the Union line at the Peach Orchard and were sweeping
victoriously down the Wheatfield Road on Kershaw's left. Caldwell's men,
who had given their all, fell back in some disorder. Union commanders
gained time by sending Col. Jacob B. Sweitzer's brigade into the
Wheatfield to delay the Confederate assault, and Sweitzer's men did
their futile task well. In hand-to-hand fighting, a Confederate soldier
bayoneted Col. Harrison H. Jeffords, commander of the 4th Michigan
Regiment, as he tried to save his colors from capture. Since only a
relatively few men were bayoneted in this war, Jeffords achieved a rare
if unwanted distinction.
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JULY 2, 1863, THE WHEATFIELD AND PEACH ORCHARD|
By 5:30 P.M. Confederate troops of Anderson, Kershaw and Semmes had
driven the Union defenders from the Wheatfield. They were in turn
counterattacked by Caldwell's division of the Union 2nd Corps and forced
back. But Caldwell's success was undone by the attack of Barksdale and
Wofford, which crushed the Union position at the Peach Orchard and
outflanked the Union troops in the Wheatfield area, forcing them to
As Caldwell attacked, the Army of the Potomac's two brigades of
Regular Army infantry, troops of Brig. Gen. Romeyn B. Ayres's division
of the Fifth Corps, approached the Wheatfield from the east. They paused
at the field's edge and saw Caldwell's men falling back. It became their
task to delay the Confederate assault until the retreating troops and
units from the reserve could set up a defensive position on the ridge
line just north of Little Round Top. The Regulars did their job, but in
doing so took 800 casualties. The attacking Confederates reached Plum
Run at the base of Little Round Top but could go no farther. A brigade
of Pennsylvania Reserves, including a company from the Gettysburg area,
charged them there and drove them back across the Wheatfield. By this
time it was dark. The Union forces occupied Round Top, and fighting
ended there for the day.
PHOTOGRAPH OF THE WHEATFIELD TAKEN SHORTLY AFTER THE BATTLE (CWL)|
THE BLOODY WHEATFIELD AFTERMATH (ILLUSTRATION BY GIL COHEN, COURTESY OF
When darkness came and the fighting died, dead and wounded abounded
in the cockpit between Little Round Top and the Peach Orchard. Some
wounded crawled to Plum Run, drank, perhaps, but could not cross it.
They reddened its water with their blood and died along its banks. After
the moon appeared and it was quiet, a Confederate soldier posted west of
the Wheatfield serenaded all within hearing with hymns. He closed with a
rendition of "When This Cruel War Is Over" and received cheers and
applause from nearby men in blue.