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Thursday, February 27, 2014

It’s Just a Matter of Time (Part 2 of 2)

The following observations come from other witnesses to the reconnaissance into Pitzer’s Woods.
In a letter to Col. John B. Bachelder, January 5, 1885, Col. Elijah Walker (4th Maine) related the following:

1.      At daylight, July 2, 1863 Confederate skirmishers west of the Rodgers House, engaged the pickets of the 4th Maine from the shelter Spangler’s Woods.

2.      Knowing the rebels were in force along his front, the colonel reported the situation to corps and division staff officers. 
a.       He asked for supports
b.      He received none
c.       They said there was no enemy in front of him and
d.      That the main force had fallen back

3.      Around 8:30 a.m., Col. Berdan, under orders from Birney, informed Walker that his men and the Berdans were to drive the Rebs from the woods.
a.       Walker told Berdan that the division could not do that and
b.      He did not think that Berdan and he could not do it either.
c.       It would be foolish to do so.

4.      About 9:30 a.m., the 3rd Maine and the sharpshooters attack the woods and verified the strong Rebel presence there.

The monument to the 3rd Maine in Pitzer’s Woods said the regiment was engaged there in the forenoon.
In Maine at Gettysburg, the historian said the advance occurred between 11 a.m. and noon.
Sergeant Hannibal Johnson (Co. B, 3rd Maine), who was captured during the attack, in Sword of Honor said the probe occurred on the early morning of July 2.

In the Official Records, General Cadmus Wilcox places the action at 9 a.m.

Colonel Hillary Herbert (8th Alabama) said it occurred around 7a.m.

The color bearer of the 3rd Maine said he was one of the first men hit that morning.

William Y. W. Ripley, in his Vermont Riflemen in the War for the Union (1883), says the action occurred about 9 a.m. He was a member of Co. F. He said the company spent the rest of the day skirmishing, which agrees with Trepp’s report and concurs with Garrett’s diary. 

The traditional account rests primarily upon 2 afteraction reports, which say that the skirmishing occurred between 11 a.m. and noon.

The two diaries say that the action occurred at noon. F. E. Garrett (Co. D) said the company had just come out of the fight at noon. Following the skirmish, the four companies, according to Lt. Col. Trepp, were placed in reserve of the center of the III Corps line. The regiment was in the fight until the afternoon, therefore Garrett could be referring to the action for the day and not just the Pitzer’s Woods incident.

Captain Marble’s Companies B and G went on the skirmish line northwest of the Rodgers House, west of the Emmitsburg Road at 8:30 a.m. They stayed in the vicinity until around 2:30 p.m. when the artillery assault began. Like Walker, who was at the Rodgers house, he could see the skirmish but I believe he erred on the time.

With the majority of the witnesses, in particular Buchanan, Walker, Ripley, Wilcox, Herbert, Johnson, Trepp, and Lakeman saying the reconnaissance occurred in the morning, I tend to believe that it did happen before the times stated by Berdan and Birney.

Sickles was not the incompetent politician turned soldier as portrayed in popular history. It takes more than an hour to get a corps moving. If the foray had happened at 11 a.m. or noon, his advance could not have happened at that time.

I believe it occurred between before 9:30 a.m. When the report reached Sickles, he had detachments go out and destroy the fences from Trostle’s to the Peach Orchard. The 86th New York sent a party out at 10 am to do just that. By noon, the II Corps was on the move.

I disagree totally with Buchanan. In battle, timing is extremely important. It is important because of its impact upon the timing and execution of maneuvers, which can potentially affect the outcome of a battle. On a human level, it is extremely important. A seemingly insignificant skirmish claims lives, cripples people, and leaves indelible memories upon the survivors. How many minutes of trauma does it take to change one person’s life forever? To the Berdan’s, the Mainers and the Alabamians the skirmish at Pitzer’s Woods, while a footnote in history, mattered because they were involved in it and they had to live with the scars it created.    

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