It’s been a while since we’ve heard from George Meade, who has been back in Philadelphia on leave. But never fear—his letters resume tomorrow.
In the meantime, I spent yesterday on the Gettysburg battlefield, where I took a three-hour tour that covered the July 2 attack of Caldwell’s division through the Wheatfield. The tour was organized by Randy Drais of BattleofGettysburgBuff.com and conducted by licensed battlefield guide Steve Slaughter. I heard about the tour through Facebook and decided it sounded like a great way to spend a Saturday. I was right about that.
The tour begins at the 148th PA monument.
We met at the 148th PA monument off Ayres Avenue and got going at 10:00. I guess there were about 20 people there for the tour, which cost us $17. It was a warm and steamy September morning, with the threat of thunderstorms later in the day. I was just pleased to be spending the day on the battlefield.
Slaughter proved to be an engaging and informed guide. He explained how Meade had ordered II Corps commander Winfield Scott Hancock to send a division to this part of the battlefield. Slaughter pointed out that Meade wanted it to support the V Corps—not Dan Sickles’ over-extended III Corps—which is interesting. However, since the V Corps was supporting the III, I guess you can still say that this was part of Meade’s promise that afternoon to Sickles that he would send whatever he could to help the III Corps, which he knew was in serious trouble because of Sickles’s ill-advised advance.
John C. Caldwell
The best thing about tours like this is they give you a spatial sense of the battlefield that even the best maps can’t provide. (Slaughter advised us several times that it’s often best to take maps with a grain of salt, anyway, and he proved his point by having us make some corrections on one of the maps included in the packet we all received.) Slaughter explained how John Caldwell’s First Division of the II Corps was on that corps’ left on Cemetery Ridge, hence the obvious candidate to move toward the Wheatfield. It consisted of four divisions—the First under Edward E. Cross, the Second (the Irish Brigade) under Patrick Kelly, the third under Samuel K. Zook, and the Fourth, commanded by John R. Brooke. Over the tour’s three hours, Slaughter adroitly explained the movements of these four brigades and also their occasional entanglements with elements of the III and the V Corps. Seeing exactly where these soldiers moved and fought really helped me put the pieces together of the complex and bloody puzzle of the fighting here that day.
We hiked back and forth, down the Wheatfield Road, back up and through the Wheatfield itself, and on to the monuments along Brooke Avenue that mark the furthest advance of Brooke’s brigade. While at this advanced position, Randy Drais took us down into the woods behind Brooke Avenue to show us Brooke’s rock, upon which the brigade commander supposedly stood when he made a speech to rally his men. The rock has an X, barely visible, which, it is said, Brooke himself carved into the boulder on a post-war visit to indicate that this was the very rock that served as his platform.
The X on Brooke’s Rock.
At the end of the day on July 2, 1863, the surging Confederates pushed the bloodied remains of Caldwell’s division back to the base of Little Round Top and the fighting ended for the day. Slaughter talked about the charge of the Pennsylvania Reserves, the V Corps division commanded by Samuel Crawford, but took some air out of the story by pointing out that most of the Confederates had pulled back by the time the Reserves moved forward. (Slaughter doesn’t much appreciate V Corps commander George Sykes, whom he said spent most of the day behind Little Round Top where people had trouble finding him. For what it’s worth, Sykes and Sickles are the only Union corps commanders at Gettysburg who don’t have statues on the battlefield.)
Steve Slaughter explains things at the monument to Wilson’s battery (Battery D, 1st NY Light artillery).
Back at Ayres Avenue we all received tickets for a drawing and I won, choosing for my prize a copy of Bradley Gottfried’s book Brigades of Gettysburg. I even sold a copy of my Meade book to one of the attendees (who earlier had told me he though Meade was a poor general. Maybe he will change his mind after he reads the book).
As I said, it was a terrific way to spend a Saturday.
Now here’s the weird part. A few weeks ago a volunteer for the Gettysburg Foundation informed me that I had left a couple of monuments out of my Guide to Gettysburg Battlefield Monuments. I had found the one to Colonel George Willard of the 125th New York (in a thicket west of the Pennsylvania State Monument). I had not located the one to Captain Henry Fuller, of Co. F, 64th New York Infantry. The 64th belonged to Brooke’s brigade. Fuller was wounded in the leg as his regiment charged through the Wheatfield and he later received a second wound in the back that proved mortal. I knew the monument was somewhere above the old trolley bed that runs below Brooke Avenue, but there were no paths leading to it and the thick overgrowth made it very hard to locate. After the tour I set out to find it.
It was a frustrating search. I was crashing through the woods above the trolley line, pushing my way through bushes and spider webs, when I thought I spotted a figure ahead of me through the trees. He appeared to be wearing a Union uniform. I had seen a reenactor up by the 148th PA monument when we started the tour, so I figured it was him. He seemed to be waving me on, so I pushed through the thick undergrowth in his direction but lost sight of him as I was dodging branches. When I reached the spot where I thought he had been, I found the Fuller monument. The mysterious figure, however, was nowhere to be found! He had vanished—even though there was no way anyone could have crashed his way through the trees away from me without my noticing him.
Back at home I found a photograph of Fuller and nearly fell off my chair when I realized he was the spitting image of the figure I had seen in the woods!
Oh, c’mon! Did anyone really believe that story? Seriously? Well, sorry. I was messing with you. I agree with Sherlock Holmes on this one. “The world is big enough for us,” he told Dr. Watson. “No ghosts need apply.” Truth be told, I didn’t find the Fuller monument yesterday. I will try again once in the fall.
There are plenty of ghosts at Gettysburg, but they’re all in our imaginations. They emerge as we walk the fields where so many fought and died. That’s ghost enough for me.