The Wheatfield attack
“Gettysburg: Darkest Days & Finest Hours” – An epic and original exploration of the three days in the summer of 1863 that helped to decide the brutal American Civil War in the north’s favor. The Battle of Gettysburg as told and seen through the eyes of the common soldier. Created with the Gettysburg Anniversary Committee in commemoration of the 145th anniversary and shot at the national re-enactment event, this docu-drama features nearly 15,000 re-enactors and actors.
On the morning of July 2, 1863 the Confederate forces were jubilant. They had driven the enemy from the field and now occupied the town of Gettysburg. General Robert E. Lee decided to remain at Gettysburg to defeat the defending Federal force, now deployed on high ground south and east of town. Deciding on a Napoleonic flanking maneuver against the Union troops, Lee ordered an attack, with General Longstreet’s 1st Corps engaging the Federals on Little Round Top, and General Ewell’s 2nd Corps hitting the Federals on Cemetery and Culp’s Hills as a diversion.
General Longstreet’s troops had not arrived yet on the morning of July 2, and determinedly traveled surreptitiously in a counter-march to avoid detection. As a result, Dan Sickles, commander of the Union 3rd Corps, ordered his men off the rocky hill and positioned them in fields and knolls in the shadow of the Round Tops. He believed the Confederates would not attack his men on high ground; rather, Lee was probably going to skirt around the Union forces and run toward Washington.
When General Longstreet’s troops arrived at Gettysburg on the afternoon of July 2, he was amazed to find men in blue in the Peach Orchard that ran along the Emmitsburg Road. Sickles had deployed most of his men there, leaving a brigade under Regis DeTrobriand in a wheat field and another in Devil’s Den, under the command of Hobart Ward.
Longstreet launched his troops against the Federals, hoping to gain the high ground of Little Round Top before Union General George Meade discovered that his flank was void of protection. Soon Sickles found himself in desperate trouble and as Devil’s Den fell, he asked for reinforcements for the Wheatfield. General John Caldwell’s division of the Union 2nd Corps was dispatched in reply. Caldwell’s division consisted of four brigades, commanded by Colonels Cross, Kelly, Brooke, and Brigadier General Samuel Zook. These troops were immediately engaged in fierce, hand-to-hand combat as the Wheatfield became enveloped in smoke and musketry. Six times the field changed hands in just over two hours as Cross and Zook fell mortally wounded, and Kelly’s Irish Brigade rushed to the stony ridge to stop their foes in gray. Men from Georgia and South Carolina collided with men from Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, and Ireland, leaving many dead and wounded in their wake.
The Wheatfield extracted a gruesome toll of death and carnage for both sides. The Confederates suffered casualties of 1,394 and the Union 3,125 – which was not a typical ratio of casualties for attackers to defenders. This small expanse of agricultural ground would long be remembered by veterans as a name unique in the history of warfare given the unwavering furiousness of this fight. Experience this violent struggle in Bloody Harvest at the Wheatfield at the 150th Gettysburg Anniversary National Civil War Battle Reenactment on Friday, July 5 at 6 p.m.