During the early morning hours of July 3rd, 1863, Confederate skirmishers and sharpshooters stealthily made their way along the boulder strewn east bank of Rock Creek, across the farm of C. Zephaniah Tawney. These men, mostly members of the 2nd Virginia and 1st North Carolina, short on sleep, wet from repeated water crossings, and strained by the pressures of battle, found favorable locations amongst the stone farm buildings and rocks, drew aim on their blue clad opponents across the water, and opened a brisk and deadly fire. Their intended targets, the men of the 13th New Jersey, 27th Indiana, and 2nd Massachusetts, hunkered down behind what protection their position in McCallister’s Woods afforded, stacked their log and earth breastworks ever higher, and returned the fire when they could.
The 13th New Jersey, the only unit in Colgrove’s brigade directly facing Rock Creek, was particularly annoyed by the sniping taking place. One member of the 13th, Samuel Toombs of Company F, recalled the moments following the disastrous advance of the 2nd Massachusetts and 27th Indiana into Spangler Meadow, “…We moved back to our works fronting the Creek, and the other regiments took up their old position. The enemy threw out a strong line of sharpshooters, who devoted their time to picking off every man whose head appeared above the works. A squad of these men established themselves in a small stone house on the opposite side of the Creek, and they annoyed us terribly by their skillful marksmanship.”
The Virginians and North Carolinian’s across the creek wounded more men than they killed. Yet one of those they shot dead was the stretcher bearer of the 13th New Jersey, a circumstance that served to further enrage the New Jersey men. Lt. Charles Winegar, of the Battery M, 1st New York Light, was called forward. After surveying the position of the Confederates on the Tawney farm, he opened fire with one of this Parrott Rifles, briefly causing the skirmishers to flee for cover, scoring a few direct hits on the Tawney buildings themselves, and giving the beleaguered men of the 13th New Jersey a reason to cheer. Confederate casualties among the 1st North Carolina and 2nd Virginia in this action were light, but one of those killed was Gettysburg’s own Wesley Culp.
The fighting on the east bank of Rock Creek, and the skirmishing and pot-shots taken across it, have always been but a footnote to the larger, bloodier, and more significant fighting that took place on Culp’s Hill proper. The comparatively low numbers engaged, the inaccessibility of the position of the 2nd Virginia and 1st North Carolina, and the relatively scarcity of first hand accounts of the fighting have further contributed to its obscurity. Nevertheless, for the men that fought there, for those who called that tract of land home, and for those wishing to understand the Battle of Gettysburg in all its complexity, the fighting that took place there is of the utmost importance.
Significant steps were taken this week which will ultimately enable visitors to Gettysburg National Military Park to view the fighting around Rock Creek, Spangler Meadow, and McAllister’s Woods, from an entirely new perspective. Thanks to our friends and partners at the Civil War Trust, over an acre and a half of land was purchased, preserved, and this past week transferred to Gettysburg National Military Park.
Located south of the Zephaniah Tawney farm site (the foundation of which is still visible inside the boundary of the National Park today), the heavily wooded and rocky terrain retains much of its 19th century appearance.
The paths and old road beds have been spared from heavy use, long forgotten rock walls, covered with grass and leaves, still crisscross the landscape, and its easy to imagine the prone figure of a Confederate soldier drawing aim at the distant enemy. We are grateful to the Civil War Trust for allowing us to safeguard this battlefield landscape for future generations of visitors to Gettysburg National Military Park.
Supervisory Ranger, Gettysburg National Military Park