A Correction on Colonel DuBose and his 15th Georgia Infantry on July 3.

In August 2014, I posted a three part series, Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter, Revisited, in which I examined the deceased “sharpshooter” photographed by Alexander Gardner and his team near Devil’s Den on or about July 5-6, 1863. Readers will remember the most notable of those images, the body of the deceased Confederate lying behind the stone barricade that first appeared in Alexander Gardner’s Photographic Sketchbook of the Civil War accompanied with the photographer’s hypnotic narrative of the young soldier’s death behind his rock barricade. The blog series generated a lot of discussion about the events that occurred on the southern part of the battlefield on the afternoon of July 3, 1863, and I feel now- as I did then- that my hypothesis is correct, of this man having been a member of the 15th Georgia Infantry Regiment, slain in the fight near that area and his body moved from the location where it was found to behind the barricade for the final photograph of the series.

One of our readers was kind enough to contact us about the blog post and offered not only several pointed questions but answers as well. Author Andy Johnson is currently working on a detailed history of Brigadier General Henry “Rock” Benning’s Brigade, and we had an amiable exchange of emails discussing the particular action that involved the 15th Georgia Infantry that afternoon when they encountered the Pennsylvania Reserves after the Federal troops had passed though the Wheatfield in the reconnaissance toward the Peach Orchard after Pickett’s Charge. Andy also offered some important research that he’d uncovered which further clarified what took place that afternoon.

Henry Benning after the war

Henry “Rock” Benning, soon after the war.

To refresh our reader’s memories, Brigadier General Henry Benning’s brigade was holding the ridgeline that terminates at Devil’s Den when it was discovered that Confederate troops of General Lafayette McLaws’ Division had withdrawn from their position bordering the wheatfield on the Rose Farm, the left flank of Benning’s position. Concerned with the loss of security, Benning ordered Colonel Dudley M. DuBose to take his 15th Georgia Infantry into the woods and take possession of a critical height overlooking the densely wooded draw between Devil’s Den and the Rose Farm. Minutes after DuBose left, orders arrived for Benning to withdraw his brigade to the southern tip of Seminary Ridge (Warfield Ridge) on the western edge of the Bushman Farm. Benning began his withdrawal and sent a message to DuBose to do likewise though one controversy was whether DuBose ever received the correct orders- he was, at that same moment, under attack by Colonel William McCandless’ brigade of Pennsylvania Reserves supported by the 62nd New York Infantry that had just swept through the Wheatfield before turning south against the lone Georgia regiment. Under the orders of General Meade, these Union troops were on a reconnaissance to the Peach Orchard when they stumbled upon the Georgians, and an intense firefight began on the southern edge of the already bloody Wheatfield. What followed was a running fight through Rose Woods back to the area of Devil’s Den, where the Georgians took advantage of numerous stonewalls outlining the pastures and fields owned by Joseph Sherfy and Jacob Weikert. The 15th Georgia suffered terribly in this brief engagement with an estimated 100 officers and men killed, wounded and captured.

Andy’s primary disagreement was with the map supplied with the blog post that located DuBose’s Georgians on the knoll within the woods on the southeast side of the Wheatfield. Though Confederate accounts as to the location are somewhat vague, Andy pointed out the best source to locate the Georgia battle line actually comes from a post-war description provided by Henry N. Minnigh, then a private in Company K, 1st Pennsylvania Reserves.

In 1891, Minnigh authored a history of his company and described the participation of the regiment at Gettysburg in great detail, describing how in the action on July 3 that the brigade crossed the blood-covered Wheatfield and entered the woods on the west side of the field before turning southward to outflank the unsuspecting Confederates hastily formed in the “corner of a woods” overlooking what Minnigh and others described as a “ravine”.  After restudying the maps and reviewing the official reports (again, I may add) from all of the participating units, I have to conclude that Andy was right and my placement of the 15th Georgia at the opening of this particular fight was incorrect. Presented here is a revised version of the map, showing the route of the Pennsylvania Reserves against the 15th Georgia’s precarious position in Rose Woods, approximately 300 yards west of where I had originally thought the regiment was posted:

15th GA vs PA Reserves

The 15th Georgia Infantry in Rose Woods, late afternoon of July 3, 1863. (Gettysburg NMP)

 

Minnigh remembered his brigade struck “the Fifteenth Georgia Infantry, posted behind a temporary breastwork of rails, the Bucktails (13th Pennsylvania Reserves) capturing their flag and many prisoners, scattering the remainder in flight… across a ravine at the corner of a woods and near Slyder’s stone house.” [1] Minnigh’s description of the charge and turning of the Reserves against the Georgians aligns with the terrain features southwest of the Wheatfield including the partially wooded height often referred to as “Rose Grove”. Though Minnigh’s regiment would have passed near the non-descript log house of Jacob Weikert, (usually referred to today for its popular post war name of J. Timbers), the stone Slyder House and substantial barn was the most prominent set of structures in his view as the regiment advanced out of Rose Woods and into the pasture south of the trees.

Colonel DuBose’s regiment was in a tight fix with no support, pitted against five times his number. The Pennsylvanians swept over and around his first position and then the second, behind the stone wall bordering Rose woods. Forced to retire again, the colonel attempted to organize a defense utilizing the various stone fences bordering the Weikert, Sherfy and Snyder farm fields south of Rose Woods until he could rally the remnant of his command at the last stone wall, most likely the wall that lined the lane from the Emmitsburg Road to the Slyder Farm, before a quick march to Warfield Ridge.

Minnigh mentioned that the only thing that stopped the charge after exiting the woods was a brigade drawn up in line just ahead of the Reserves. To his surprise, the Confederates suddenly faced left and marched toward the distant tree line on Warfield Ridge. The troops Minnigh observed were most likely Benning’s three other regiments and pursuant to orders marched away from the Union threat to the new line being formed on Warfield and Seminary Ridge. The general mission accomplished, McCandless’ Pennsylvania Reserves gathered up prisoners with their own casualties and likewise withdrew to a secure position, the carnage on that part of the field finally over.

Andy and I also mildly disagreed somewhat in the direction taken by men of the 15th Georgia in their scattered and somewhat panicked retreat. While I still believe, given the chaotic nature of the withdrawal from Rose Woods, some of Colonel DuBose’s men raced back to the location of their previous position on the west slope of Devil’s Den in an effort to escape their Union pursuers and one of these men- the subject of Gardner’s melancholy photographs- died there, Andy believes otherwise, that it could be someone else from the brigade given the amount of shooting and confusion that occurred late that afternoon. Could the “sharpshooter” found by Gardner be from one of the other regiments in Benning’s brigade, the 2nd, 17th and 20th regiments? It is possible. The 2nd and 17th Georgia purportedly lost several soldiers during the withdrawal from their advanced position at the “Slaughter Pen”, and Lt. Colonel James D. Waddell of the 20th Georgia reported seventeen soldiers were casualties in the retreat, “some of whom are known to have been killed and others wounded.” [1] Likewise, General Benning added in his report that the losses among those three regiments were “slight” during the withdrawal to Warfield Ridge.

But what draws me to further conclude this “sharpshooter” was a soldier of the 15th Georgia is the testimony of Minnigh himself who observed the Confederate brigade in line ahead of his regiment when they passed out of Rose woods. Given that the 1st Pennsylvania Reserves were in the right center of McCandless’ line in the attack, which carried them up and into Rose Grove, the brigade “drawn up in line” would most likely have been Benning’s three regiments then in the process of withdrawing (the last from that portion of the battlefield), which had begun earlier than the opening of the fight with the 15th Georgia. Casualties incurred among Benning’s three regiments in the withdrawal would most likely have occurred in the process of movement from the protection of the ridge at Devil’s Den, where the body of the deceased Confederate soldier was found by Gardner and company, rather than in the beginning of the withdrawal from that sheltered area.

Half of Gibson stereoview

One of several photos taken of the body at Devils Den where the photographers found it. In this view, discarded clothing has been thrown into the foreground to add more content to the scene. (Library of Congress

For my part, I mistakenly interpreted the position of Colonel Dubose and his regiment that late afternoon of July 3, 1863, and I’m relieved to correct my error. But this adjustment in the 15th Georgia’s initial position does not change or alter my belief that the deceased soldier photographed by Gardner at Devil’s Den was more than likely a member of DuBose’s regiment. I am grateful as well to Andy Johnson for his consideration and willingness to share his research with the park and truly wish him well with his project, a detailed study of a remarkable brigade and outstanding general.

John Heiser
Historian, Gettysburg National Military Park

 

Endnotes:

[1] Official Records, Volume 27, Part 2, p. 427.

[1] Henry Minnigh, “The Reserves at Gettysburg”, Pennsylvania at Gettysburg, Ceremonies and Dedications of the Monuments Erected by the Commonwealth of Gettysburg, (Harrisburg, PA; Stanley Ray, State Printer, 1904), Volume 1, pp. 118-119.

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