As his North Carolina brigade emerged from McPherson’s Woods outside Gettysburg and started down the swale separating McPherson’s from the Lutheran seminary, all hell broke loose.
Opposite on the seminary campus stood a 10-gun Union artillery line, comprising the six bronze Napoleons of Capt. Greenlief T. Stevens and the 5th Maine Battery and the four 3-inch ordnance rifles of Capt. James Cooper and Battery B, 1st Pennsylvania Light Artillery. The cannons stood five yards apart, hub to hub.
To the north, at the Chamberburg Pike, stood two 3-inch ordnance rifles from Battery L, 1st New York Light Artillery, commanded by Gilbert Reynolds. Four more Battery L cannons stood at the south end of campus near the Hagerstown Road.
All three batteries — 16 guns in all — caught the North Carolinians on the down slope. Scales remembered that “here the brigade encountered a most terrific fire of grape and shell on our flank, and grape and musketry in our front.”
Although “every discharge made sad havoc in our line,” onward came the Confederate infantry, running “at a double-quick until we reached the bottom” of McPherson Ridge, Scales said. Now 75 yards past the ridge’s summit and “about the same distance from the college, in our front,” his men repeatedly closed ranks and kept coming.
Their 12-pounder Napoleons thundering, belching smoke and flame, and kicking back on their gun trails, the Maine, New York, and Pennsylvania gunners eviscerated Scales’ Brigade. Catching double charges of canister, the Tar Heels tightened their lines as the file-closers (those still on their feet) filled the gaps.
Swabbing, loading, and firing, the Yankees cut their shell fuses shorter, perhaps to two seconds. At Battery B, Jim Cooper reported “case shot and shell being used until canister range was obtained.” Along with Stevens’ 5th Maine Battery, Cooper’s direct fire “reduced the enemy’s lines very much.”
After “the first few shots,” one recoiling Battery B cannon broke its axle, Cooper noticed. His men worked the three remaining Napoleons.
Fallen North Carolinians littered the McPherson Ridge slope and the ground nearer the theological seminary. “Here I received a painful [leg wound from a piece of shell, and was disabled,” reported Scales.
“Our line had broken up, and now only a squad here and there marked the placed where regiments had rested,” he said. Expressing “my highest admiration of the conduct of both officers and men in this charge,” Scales commented that “no body of men could have done better.”
“In the face of the most destructive fire that could be put forth from the three batteries in position” near Schmucker Hall, Confederate infantry absorbed the punishment and wrapped around the Union position along northernmost Seminary Ridge, said 1st Lt. Edward Whittier, second-in-command of the 5th Maine Battery.
Union infantry fell back to Seminary Ridge. Col. Roy Stone and the survivors of his 2nd Brigade — the “green” 143rd, 149th, and 150th Pennsylvania infanty regiments — flowed between Stevens’ and Cooper’s guns and reformed behind them.
As the Pennsylvanians came past, Stevens found “some of them crouching under the very muzzles of the guns of the Fifth Battery to avoid its fire.”
Finally “dislodging the infantry in the grove covering our left flank,” the Southern troops drove the 1st Division from the field, Whittier noted — and there was no time to waste in getting away.
“In less than ten minutes after I was disabled and left the field, the enemy, as I learn, gave way, and the brigade, with the balance of the division, pursued them to the town of Gettysburg,” Albert Scales later wrote.
Orders to withdraw came around 5 p.m. (some sources cite 4 p.m.). As the 5th Maine Battery limbered up, Pvt. Charles M. Bryant of Winslow was killed. Stevens brought his battery to the Chambersburg Pike, where the gunners swung their horse teams right (east) to mingle with Wadsworth’s retreating infantry.
Confederate skirmishers now “overlapped our retreating columns and opened a severe fire within fifty yards” of the road, Stevens reported. The fleeing infantry having hauled off toward Gettysburg, “the batteries now broke into a trot.”
Shortly afterward a 5th Maine cannon shed a gun-wheel, dropping the axle onto the road. Gunners lifted the gun and replaced the wheel; dismounting, Stevens grabbed “the gun’s pinchers, inserted the handle for a linch-pin, and the gun was saved from capture.”
Trotting eastwards, the 5th Maine Battery soon crossed Stevens Run. On detached duty from the 94th New York Infantry Regiment, Pvt. William Widner fell from his horse, apparently hit his head, and died.
Noting that James Cooper “lost one gun” of Battery B (the cannon with the broken axle), Stevens later reported that “we saved all of ours.”
Traveling “with the balance of Coopers Battery,” the 5th Maine Battery retreated into Gettysburg, Stevens said. Apparently making two right turns upon reaching Lincoln Square, the Maine and New York gunners “struck Baltimore Street and followed that street … until we reached Cemetery Hill opposite” the Evergreen Cemetery gate.
Here they rumbled into the army’s fall-back position, created hours earlier by Maj. Gen. Oliver Otis Howard, the only Maine-born general in the Army of the Potomac since the Chancellorsville death of Hiram Berry. Arriving hours earlier ahead of his XI Corps, Howard had placed artillery and infantry on 503-foot Cemetery Hill, its summit some 80 feet above intown Gettysburg.
As the 5th Maine Battery crested Cemetery Hill, Stevens saw Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock, sent forward by George Gordon Meade to assume command at Gettysburg. He and his aides directed arriving units into Evergreen Cemetery “or to the South” (toward Culp’s Hill), Stevens noticed.
When Hancock “called for the ‘Capt of that brass battery,’ I galloped up to him and reported,” Stevens recalled. Hancock ordered the 5th Maine Battery onto the western slope of Culp’s Hill overlooking Cemetery Hill. From there the battery could “stop the enemy from coming up through” a ravine that ran transversely beneath Cemetery Hill’s eastern slope.
Separating “each gun and caisson … from Cooper’s battery,” Stevens moved southeast along the Baltimore Pike, turned east into a lane, and climbed to “a knoll at the westerly extremity of Culp’s Hill. This position commanded completely the easterly slope of Cemetery Hill and the ravine at the north.”
With no supporting Union infantry visible on their right flank, the 5th Maine gunners “went into position” as enemy infantry infantry emerged from Gettysburg village and marched across the fields east of Cemetery Hill, Stevens said. The Mainers “opened so vigorous a fire” that Confederate troops “took shelter …behind any object that furnished protection.”
Survivors of the 5th Maine Battery would dedicate two monuments at Gettysburg in 1889. The larger, fancier monument arose where the battery dug in overlooking Cemetery Hill late day on July 1, 1863.
A gray, unadorned monument went up on the Lutheran seminary campus. This is that monument’s back story.
This is the back story of the gray, unadorned Maine monument and its one oxidized cannon on the Luthern seminary campus at Gettysburg.
Sources: Brig. Gen. Alfred M. Scales, Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 27, Part 2, Chapter XXXIX, No. 560, pp. 669-700; Capt. James H. Cooper, Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 27, Part 1, Chapter XXXIX, No. 75, pp. 364-365; 1st Lt. Edward N. Whittier, August 2, 1863 report to Maine Adj. Gen. John L. Hodsdon, MSA; Stevens’ Fifth Maine Battery, Maine at Gettysburg, The Lakeside Press, Portland, Maine, 1898, p. 85; Greenlief T. Stevens, letter to Seldon Connor, September 20, 1889, Maine State Archives
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Brian Swartz can be reached at email@example.com. He enjoys hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.