As John Bell Hood’s division swept east from the Emmitsburg Road after 3 p.m., the 4th Maine Infantry Regiment occupied a position near the Devil’s Den, the rock-tumbled outcropping at the south end of Houck’s Ridge.
Atop it spread four 10-pounder Parrotts belonging to the 4th New York Battery, commanded by Capt. James E. Smith. To the battery’s right flank (north) stood the 124th New York Infantry of Col. Augustus van Horne Ellis, a seafaring lawyer and ship’s captain who brought the regiment into the army in September 1862.
The 4th Maine and 124th New York served in the 2nd Brigade (Brig. Gen. J.H. Hobart Ward), 1st Division (Maj. Gen. David B. Birney), III Corps (Maj. Gen. Daniel Sickles). Through morning and early afternoon on that Thursday, the 1st Division held the Union army’s far left at Gettysburg, and except for the 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters deployed a bit farther south below Plum Run Valley, the 4th Maine was “it,” the last organized rifle-toters on the left flank.
Suspecting an impending Confederate attack, Sickles had pushed III Corps west from its original defense line. Ward got the Devil’s Den, Houck’s Ridge, and Rose’s Woods north to the stone wall marking the Wheatfield’s southern boundary.
He placed his available units from south to north (left to right): 4th Maine, 4th New York Battery, 124th New York, 86th New York, 20th Indiana, and 99th Pennsylvania. Smith hauled four Parrotts up Houck’s Ridge and left two guns (called a “section”) and his horses farther north in Plum Run Valley. That section pointed south toward the open terrain between Big Round Top and the Devil’s Den.
Ward’s assistant adjutant general, Capt. J.M. Cooney, soon rode up and ordered the 4th Maine “to the left, leaving Smith’s guns without support and creating” an undefended 200-yard gap on the battery’s left flank, Walker said.
“I objected,” and “I unwillingly moved to the low ground” in lower Plum Run Valley, he growled.
Walker sent Capt. Arthur Libby (a 5-7 “tin plate maker” from Rockland) and “a few skirmishers … into the woods between the two mountains [Round Tops]” and strung “a strong” skirmish line … to my front.”
Noticing Union “troops … coming down behind Little Round Top” — Strong Vincent was moving his 3rd Brigade, 1st Division, V Corps around the hill’s southern brow — Walker “withdrew” Libby and his men. The 4th Maine’s skirmishers “had a severe time” with approaching Confederates.
Hood attacked, and the 44th and 48th Alabama infantry regiments ultimately curved north to attack the southern entrance to Plum Run Valley, the low ground between Houck’s Ridge on the west and the Round Tops on the east. Sound indicated the attack’s progress; Smith’s Parrotts thundered away behind the 4th Maine, and Walker heard the 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters firing away at Evander M. Law’s approaching Alabama regiments.
Smith, Walker, and other soldiers referred to the woods flowing off Big Round Top’s eastern and northeastern slopes. Afraid that Confederates reaching the forest could outflank his battery, Smith asked Walker to “place his regiment” in the woods toward which the enemy headed.
If he did so, “I could take care of my front,” Smith noted, “but my request was not compiled with.”
Suddenly the startled Walker watched as “in a moment” the 48th Alabama suddenly emerged from “a wood of small pines on our flank.”
The 48th’s Col. James L. Sheffield realized the Yankees “were well and strongly situated” when he reached “the enemy’s lines.” He took his men “within about 20 paces,” into a “severe” musketry delivered by the 4th Maine.
His boys knocked down “one-third” the opposing Confederates, who opened fire and returned the favor, Walker said. The Alabamians “soon gave up and retired into the woods” on Big Round Top’s slope.
“The loss of men … forced” his left flank “to fall back” while his right flank held position, its fire “forcing the enemy [4th Maine] to withdraw and establish” a new “line a short distance to their rear,” Sheffield reported.
Ultimately Texans and Georgians overran Smith’s battery, and the 44th Alabama clambered up the Devil’s Den (then larger in area) and also fought the 4th Maine in Plum Run Valley. Van Horne Ellis led the brave 124th New York lads in a charge downslope on the Triangular Field; the assault briefly halted advancing Confederates, killed Ellis and his major, and almost destroyed his regiment.
“Smith, on the high ground, abandoned his guns, and the rebels came over my right flank and in the rear of my skirmish line,” Walker noticed. The Mainers pulled back “about one hundred yards, fixed bayonets, and charged forward by the right oblique.
“I shall never forget the ‘click’ that was made by the fixing of bayonets, it was as one,” Walker said.
Sources: Elijah Walker, The Old Soldier: History of the Fourth Maine Infantry, Tribune, Rockland, Maine, 1895; Arthur Libby, Edgar Mowry, Mark Perry, and Freeman Roberts, soldiers’ files, Maine State Archives; Capt. James E. Smith, War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series 1, Vol. 27, part 1, No. 184, p. 588; Col. James L. Sheffield, OR, Vol. 27, Part 2, No. 447, p. 395; Maine at Gettysburg: Report of Maine Commissioners, Lakeside Press, Portland, Maine 1898, p. 182; Peter A. Dalton, With Our Faces ti the Foe: A History of the 4th Maine Infantry in the War of the Rebellion, Union Publishing Company, Union, Maine, 1998, p. 278
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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.