Efforts are under way to preserve a 5th Maine Battery site at Gettysburg

A 12-pounder Napoleon located on Stevens Knoll at Gettysburg National Military Park is backdropped by buildings affiliated with the Battlefield Military Museum on Baltimore Avenue. The American Battlefield Trust is raising funds to purchase the four-acre museum site, with plans to remove the modern buildings and restore the land to its 1863 appearance. The 5th Maine Battery maneuvered across the site on July 1, 1863. (Brian F. Swartz Photo)

If American Battlefield Trust fund-raising efforts succeed, the late (and great) 5th Maine Battery gunners could return to Gettysburg and recognize the terrain across which they maneuvered late on Wednesday, July 1, 1863.

The ABT wants to buy the four acres and buildings affiliated with the Battlefield Military Museum, located at 900 Baltimore Pike, Gettysburg. On its website, the ABT incorrectly states that “the tract is located on the slopes of East Cemetery Hill … sitting just below the crest of the Union artillery position on Stevens Knoll.”

Visible from East Cemetery Hill and accessed by Slocum Avenue winding down from the Culp’s Hill summit, Stevens Knoll is a spur of Culp’s Hill. The knoll takes its name from Capt. Greenlief T. Stevens, who brought the 5th Maine Battery to Gettysburg with I Corps.

Involved in the earlier fighting at the Lutheran Seminary, the 5th Maine Battery withdrew through Gettysburg to Cemetery Hill around 4-5 p.m. As the battery crested Cemetery Hill, Stevens saw Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock, ordered forward at 1 p.m. by George Gordon Meade to command all Union troops at Gettysburg. Hancock reported arriving on Cemetery Hill “at 3 p.m.,” as I and XI Corps “were retiring through the town, closely pursued by the enemy.”

Hancock and his aides were directing arriving units to specific sites. 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.

The military importance of Stevens Knoll becomes important when viewed from higher ground on Culp’s Hill. The knoll provided a perfect artillery position for Capt. Greenlief T. Stevens and his gunners. (BFS)

Stevens shouted, “Fifth battery, forward!,” and “each gun and caisson … dropped into its proper place” and moved southeast along the Baltimore Pike and turned left into “a lane leading to a cottage in the direction of Culp’s Hill.

Passing through that lane and up the elevation, it [the battery] reached the summit of 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.”

That night I threw up the earthworks for the protection of our men and guns,” Stevens noted.

In 1889 the 5th Maine Battery’s survivors dedicated this monument on Stevens Knoll at Gettysburg. Now the American Battlefield Trust wants to buy an adjacent four-acre tract across which the battery rolled up to Stevens Knoll on July 1, 1863. (BFS)

In time Gettysburg National Military Park preserved Culp’s Hill and Stevens Knoll. The 5th Maine Battery’s survivors dedicated a monument there in 1889. Today a 12-pounder Napoleon stands inside each of the six “temporary earthworks” raised by the Maine gunners, and the site overlooks the former Battlefield Military Museum.

Opened in the 1960s, the Battlefield Military Museum in Gettysburg has closed for good. The property owners have offered to sell the four-acre site to the American Battlefield Trust. (BFS)

Opened in the 1960s, the museum has closed. In 2020 the property owners sold to the ABT an adjacent acre “that contained the historic McKnight House,” according to the ABT. Earlier this year the museum’s owners offered to sell the remaining four acres to the Trust, which plans the “eventual restoration” of the site “to its 1863 appearance.

The National Park Service has restored the historic wood line around Stevens Knoll, making this four-acre parcel we want to save even more visible and important,” the ABT states.

The ABT has melded the Gettysburg purchase with a 154-acre acquisition at Second Winchester, land over which Confederates and Yankees fought as Maj. Gen. Robert H. Milroy withdrew his Union troops down the Valley Pike early on June 15, 1863. Confederate troops under Maj. Gen. Edward “Allegheny” Johnson cut off and attacked the retreating Yankees, who suffered significant casualties (particularly in prisoners).

In its fund-raising literature, the ABT states the “nearly 158 acres” have “a combined value of $9.8 million!” Working with various sources (including the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation), the ABT put together $9.45 million in funding before contacting its members about raising “the final $350,000.”

After donating to this latest ABT campaign, I visited Stevens Knoll in June 2021 and checked out the museum from Baltimore Pike and the knoll. It’s difficult, imagining how the land will look after the ABT buys it and tears down the modern buildings.

But the late (and great) 5th Maine Battery gunners would recognize the land across which they brought their Napoleons and limbers on July 1, 1863.

Sources: Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock, OR, Vol. 27, Part 1, No. 75, p. 368; Greenlief T. Stevens to Seldon Connor, September 20, 1889, Maine State Archives; Stevens’ Fifth Maine Battery, Maine at Gettysburg: Report of the Maine Commissioners, The Lakeside Press, Portland, Maine, 1898, pp. 89-91

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Brian Swartz can be reached at visionsofmaine@tds.net. 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 visionsofmaine@tds.net.