Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Battle of Gettysburg - Day 3

Friday, July 3, 1863

The Twentieth Massachusetts remained in their position at the center of the Union line, about 150 yards south of a copse of trees located near a stone wall. Union General George Meade advised Second Corps General John Gibbon to prepare for an attack on the center of the Union line directed squarely at the Second Corps. At 9:00 A.M. First Lieutenant Henry Ropes of Company K was tragically killed by an artillery shell that misfired from a Union battery. Lieutenant Ropes was greatly respected by officers and enlisted alike, and the Twentieth was deeply affected by his sudden loss.

At 1:00 P.M. a heavy artillery barrage commenced from the Confederate line clustered in the line of trees approximately one mile across the field from the Union line. All along the Union line the infantry regiments hugged the ground and hoped that they would not be torn to bits by Confederate artillery shells. The majority of the Confederate shells fell well behind the infantry lines and hit several Union artillery batteries.

At 3:00 P.M. a line of Confederate infantry emerged from the trees. The Confederate line stretched nearly a mile long and numbered nearly twenty-thousand men, comprised from the divisions of Generals George Pickett and James Johnston Pettigrew. As the Confederates advanced through the fields, long-range Union artillery posted securely along the Round Tops began to exact casualties among the Confederates. As the Confederate line approached the Emmitsburg Road, which bisected the fields, they took fire from the Union batteries along the center of the line. Although suffering numerous casualties the Confederates continued their advance.

The Twentieth Massachusetts remained on the ground as the Confederates continued to approach their position. They were ordered to hold their fire until the Confederates were one-hundred yards away. Confederate General James Kemper's brigade of George Pickett's division immediately faced the position of the Twentieth Massachusetts. As Kemper's brigade neared to within range of the Twentieth Massachusetts rifles the Twentieth arose from the ground and poured blistering rounds of rifle fire into Kemper's men. General George Stannard positioned two Vermont regiments at a ninety-degree angle and poured rifle fire along Kemper's flank. Union artillery behind the Twentieth Massachusetts sent several bursts into the Confederates, and Kemper's advance was repulsed.

As the Twentieth Massachusetts celebrated their successful repulse the remnants of two Confederate brigades of General George Pickett led by Generals Richard Garnett and Lewis Armistead breached gaps in the Union line along the stone wall near the copse of trees. Captain Henry Abbott was the senior ranking officer on the field for the Twentieth Massachusetts, as Colonel Paul Revere had been wounded on the previous day and Lieutenant Colonel George Macy had just been wounded by a minie ball in his left hand as the Confederates breached the line. Abbott, immediately sensing the new Confederate threat and fearing that his line would be flanked, led the Twentieth Massachusetts immediately to the right to the new conflict at the copse of trees. Severe hand-to-hand combat ensued for the next twenty minutes until the breach was sealed and the Confederate advance was repulsed. The Twentieth Massachusetts suffered the majority of their casualties during the fierce hand-to-hand combat. Among the casualties were Lieutenant Sumner Paine of Company A, who fell from artillery and rifle fire as he approached the breach in the Union line with his men. Among the wounded during the conflict was Private Oliver Stanton Bates of Company A. 1

1George A. Bruce, The Twentieth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry 1861 - 1865 (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Riverside Press, 1906), 284-98. Richard F. Miller, Harvard's Civil War: A History of the Twentieth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry (Lebanon, New Hampshire: University Press of New England, 2005), 262-72. Edwin R. Root and Jeffrey D. Stocker, Isn't This Glorious! The 15th, 19th, and 20th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiments at Gettysburg's Copse of Trees (Bethlehem, Pennsylvania: Moon Trail Books, 2006), 17-44.

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