Mainers go violent at the Devil’s Den, part 2

Union soldiers (right) retreat along Houck’s Ridge as Confederates overrun the Devil’s Den late Thursday afternoon, July 2, 1863. The positioning suggests the Yankees are either from the 4th Maine, 99th Pennsylvania, or 124th New York, perhaps even intermingled as all three regiments were in this area at the time. (Alfred Waud, Library of Congress)

Editor’s note: You can read part 1 here.

Realizing that Confederates had swarmed over the Devil’s Den and captured three 10-pounder Parrott rifles atop Houck’s Ridge, Col. Elijah Walker led his men uphill to retake the guns belonging to Capt. James E. Smith’s 4th New York Battery.

The 4th Maine had spent the afternoon on the Union army’s far left flank at Gettysburg. Stationed in Plum Run Valley, the Mainers had fought first the 48th Alabama, then it and the 44th Alabama almost simultaneously. The 44th had ascended the Den’s boulders to help capture Smith’s cannons, and now Walker wanted them back.

Attacking from the north, the 99th Pennsylvania helped the Mainers retake the guns, but the enemy would not be denied. Alabamians, Georgians, and Texans fought back, and we had a sharp encounter to our left,” along the ridge “a little to the right [north] of the Devil’s Den,” Walker recalled.

A 10-pounder Parrott rifle points toward the Triangular Field across which Confederates charged to overrun the 4th New York Battery on July 2, 1863. (Brian F. Swartz Photo)

Earlier a bullet had struck Walker about four inches above his left ankle, partially severed his Achilles tendon, and killed his horse. “On foot and wounded,” he wielded his sword amidst the “close quarters” fighting.

Confederates surrounded Walker and yanked “my sword … from my hand.” The statement indicates Walker was at close quarters with his captors.

Then two 4th Mainers — Sgt. Edgar Mowry of Co. B and Corp. Freeman Roberts of Co. F — piled into Walker’s captors and “saved me and I recovered my sword.”

Blue-eyed with light hair and a light complexion, Mowry was a 5-8½ clerk from Rockland. He was no more than 20. Roberts was a 5-6, blue-eyed and light-haired farmer from Jackson in the Dixmont Hills. Both “wrested me from the foe and assisted me to the rear,” Walker said.

Limping from a lower leg wound, Col. Elijah Walker charged with his 4th Maine Infantry into Confederates who had captured three Union cannons. Confederates suddenly captured Walker, but two 4th Maine enlisted men apparently applied the bayonet and perhaps a bullet or two to rescue him. (Maine State Archive)

His words suggest the two Mainers committed in-your-face violence, possibly bayoneting an enemy or two. Whatever Mowry and Roberts did, no Confederates disputed — were probably no longer standing to dispute — Walker’s restoration to Yankee control.

Amidst the swirling combat, Color Sgt. Henry O. Ripley held aloft the shell fragment-broken staff to which the 4th Maine’s flag still clung. A physical examination later revealed that 32 bullets and two shell fragments ripped the flag, which Ripley “did not allow … to touch the ground,” Walker recalled.

A blue-eyed, 5-10½ laborer from Rockland, Ripley emerged from the battle unscathed, “though all the others of the color guard were killed or wounded,” Walker said.

Unable to walk,” Walker was apparently carried (perhaps by a soldier at either shoulder) to where the 4th Maine regrouped. Someone brought a horse; riding up as Walker “was trying to mount,” Ward studied the worn-out colonel (now in his mid-40s) “and inquired if I was wounded.

Slightly, but if I can get on the horse I can ride,” Walker responded.

You are hurt more than you think you are and had better go to the rear,” Ward said, his suggestion an order.

Walker transferred command to Capt. Edwin Libby “and took my first ride in an ambulance” driven by Sgt. Mark Perry, another mid-40s Rockland resident who was a “mariner” before the war. A tall man at 5-10½, he had blue eyes and a dark complexion befitting all his years at sea.

Helping Walker into the ambulance, Perry transported Walker to a field hospital “and left me near where” Dr. Thaddeus Hildreth, the 3rd Maine Infantry’s surgeon, “was superintending amputations. It was now dark. I lay on the ground, in plain view of our Third corps amputating table, congratulating myself that I was not obliged to lose a limb.”

The Devil’s Den was partially wooded when photographed in 1903. Sketches drawn in summer 1863 indicate some trees grew at the Den during the battle of Gettysburg. (Library of Congress)

Walker had apparently reached the III Corps hospital, initially located “about a mile” east from “the line of battle,” said the 4th Maine’s surgeon, Dr. Albion Cobb. Wounded skirmishers drifted into the hospital. Several hours later “we found shot and shell falling all about us” as enemy artillery shelled Smith’s battery.

Cobb noticed “the 5th Corps … just marching by toward the front.” Then “the firing drew nearer,” and “the round shot shell and musket bullets rattled about us.” Loud musketry indicated Southerners drew near, and “a wounded man was wounded again,” he said.

Packing up their equipment and the wounded, the surgeons and hospital stewards “went at once,” and a relocation order followed them about a mile “to a barn” near “the Baltimore turnpike.”

Setting up inside the barn, the surgeons treated “the wounded [who] came in in great numbers all night,” Cobb said.

Including himself, Walker had taken 18 officers and 300 enlisted men into the fight. He officially reported 144 casualties at Gettysburg, including 11 men killed, 59 wounded, and 74 missing, mostly captured on the overrun skirmish line.

Walker went home to Rockland to recuperate from his wound. Mowry, Perry, and Roberts survived the war. Riley was mortally wounded, probably during the Cold Harbor fighting; he died on June 7, 1864.

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 He enjoys hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.

Brian Swartz

About Brian Swartz

Welcome to "Maine at War," the blog about the roles played by Maine and her sons and daughters in the Civil War. I am a Civil War buff and a newspaper editor recently retired from the Bangor Daily News. Maine sent hero upon hero — soldiers, nurses, sailors, chaplains, physicians — south to preserve their country in the 1860s. “Maine at War” introduces these heroes and heroines, who, for the most part, upheld the state's honor during that terrible conflict. We tour the battlefields where they fought, and we learn about the Civil War by focusing on Maine’s involvement with it. Be prepared: As I discover to this very day, the facts taught in American classrooms don’t always jibe with Civil War reality. I can be reached at