When attempting to understand the battle of The Wheatfield at Gettysburg it is necessary
to start with Major General Daniel E. Sickles of the Union army's III Corps and his controversial order on July 2, 1863. In
the morning of July 2, 1863 the III Corps was situated at the southern end of the Union line. The Union line resembled an
upside down fishhook. The III Corps was the straight part of the hook where the eye of the would be. However late in the morning
of July 2, 1863 General Sickles believing he saw higher ground ahead of him advanced, without orders, his entire III Corps
line. His III Corps now stretched through fields that would become infamous due to his bold move. One such place was
the wheatfield that belonged to the Rose family. Part of Sickle's advanced III Corps occupied this wheatfield. The Wheatfield
on the Gettysburg battlefield is situated in between Devil's Den and The Peach Orchard. It is about 300 by 400 meters
and was surrounded by wood lots. On the northern edge of the Wheatfield is Trostle's Woods and on the southern edge is Rose's
Woods. On the western edge of the field is also Rose's Woods and a rock strewn hill known as the Stony Hill. To the east of
the Wheatfield is Little Round Top, the objective for the Confederate tidal wave that was to come through this area.
As the Confederate assault advanced against the Union line beginning
at its southern most point (Devil's Den and Little Round Top), Confederate troops began heading in the direction of The Wheatfield,
unaware that the Union Third Corps had advanced its line. Confederate Brigadier General George T. Anderson's Brigade of Georgians
along with the 3rd Arkansas moved into Rose's Woods and then into the wheatfield from the southwest, heading in a northeasterly
direction, and collided with the Union brigades from the Third Corps. These were Detrobriand's brigade, Burling's brigade,
and the 20th Indiana. During this fighting, Burling's brigade (under Colonel George C. Burling) withdrew first and headed
to the safety of Trostle's Woods. This caused a gap to form in the Union line. The 8th Georgia attempted to enter this gap.
This caused the 17th Maine to move into a new position along a rail fence in the wheatfield. As the 8th Georgia entered the
gap it received fire from both sides of the gap, from the 17th Maine, 5th Michigan, and the 32nd Massachusetts. The 11th Georgia
and the 17th Maine engaged in hand to hand combat at a stone wall in the southwestern area of the wheatfield. That stone wall
is still in the field just at the edge of Rose's Woods. At this point in the fighting Anderson's Brigade withdrew from the
wheatfield back into Rose's Woods approximately 75-100 yards, leaving the wheatfield in Union hands. The 20th Indiana also
withdrew at this point to the safety of the main Union line at Cemetery Ridge. At this point an uneasy calm came over the
field as both sides knew more fighting was imminent.
(below) The stone wall in The Wheatfield can be seen in the far left of the photo, just at the edge of Rose's Woods.
The next wave of fighting occurred from 5:20 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
The Confederates renewed their advance against Union troops along the stone wall and on the stony hill. However an additional
Confederate brigade entered the fray, that of General Kershaw, which consisted of regiments from South Carolina. Kershaw's
brigade advanced across the open fields near the Rose Farm just west of the Wheatfield and headed directly east. As Kershaw's
brigade advanced it received devastating artillery fire from Union artillery positioned along the Wheatfield Road and the
Peach Orchard. To deal with this threat Kershaw ordered the left part of his advancing line to break off and head in a northeasterly
direction towards the Union artillery. The Union troops positioned on the stony hill were under the command of Colonel William
Tilton who misinterpreted the change of direction of Kershaw's left wing. Tilton feared that Kershaw was attempting to
flank his position by heading to the north. General Barnes who was Colonel Tilton's commander ordered Tilton to withdraw.
General Barnes also ordered Colonel Jacob Sweitzer's brigade off the stony hill as well. The two Union brigades withdrew
to Trostle's Woods where they sat out for a majority of the fighting around the Wheatfield. When Tilton and Sweitzer's
brigades withdrew there were only two Union regiments left on the stony hill, they were the 5th Michigan and the 110th Pennsylvania,
both under Colonel Regis DeTrobriand. His two regiments now faced two advancing Confederate Brigades, those of Kershaw
and Anderson. Detrobriand encouraged his men but had to eventually order them to withdraw due to overwhelming Confederate
numbers and low ammunition. When the 5th Michigan and 110th Pennsylvania withdrew then Detrobriand's other remaining regiment
in the Wheatfield, the 17th Maine who was positioned along the stone wall, also withdrew. The retreating Union troops briefly
reformed lines at Winslow's battery but then continued their retreat to Cemetery Ridge. There was only one artillery battery
in the actual Wheatfield itself and it was Captain George B. Winslow's 1st New York Artillery, Battery B. However Winslow
eventually had to limber up and withdraw from the Wheatfield. At this point the Confederates were now in control of the Wheatfield.
All of the troops under General Sickle's
III Corps that had been initially positioned their when he advanced his line without orders had now all withdrawn from the
Wheatfield fighting. Help was sought and came from the Union army's II Corps, specifically the 1st division. The 1st division
of the II Corps was commanded by General Caldwell and consisted of four brigades, they were Colonel Edward E. Cross's
Brigade, Colonel Patrick Kelly's Brigade also known as the famed "Irish Brigade", Brigadier General Samuel Zook's
Brigade, and Colonel John R. Brooke's Brigade.
The first of the II Corps to enter the Wheatfield was Colonel Edward's Cross's Brigade. His line faced west to
southwest and was formed in the southern part of the Wheatfield. The next brigade to enter the Wheatfield was that of Brigadier
General Samuel Zook who lined up just north of Colonel Cross's brigade and faced west. The line of Zook's brigade
extended from the Wheatfield itself to the northern part of the stony hill. Soon after the Irish Brigade entered the wheatfield
and was positioned in between Cross's and Zook's Brigade and occupied the south end of the Stony Hill. Three of the
four brigades of the 1st Division of the II Corps were now engaged. This proved to be not enough to push the Confederates
out of the Wheatfield and General Caldwell ordered his fourth brigade under Colonel Brooke into the Wheatfield. Brook's
brigade swept through the Wheatfield and pushed the Confederates out of the field and back to the area of the Rose Farm just
west of the Wheatfield. Brook's Brigade now held the Stony Hill. However there was now a third Confederate brigade in
the wheatfield area, that of Brigadier General Paul J. Semmes. Semmes' Brigade was positioned in between Kershaw's
and Anderson's Brigades. Brook's Brigade held their advanced position on the Stony Hill for about 20 minutes as they
continued to exchange fire with Confederate troops. Unfortunately however Brook was not able to hold the Stony Hill without
reinforcements. Brooke's Brigade was facing Semmes' Brigade but their flank was being threatened on the left by Anderson's
Brigade. Disaster soon came to the Union troops in the Wheatfield area as a fourth Confederate Brigade entered the fray, the
brigade was that of Brigadier General William T. Wofford which consisted of Georgia regiments.
(above) Brigadier General Samuel Zook of the 3rd Brigade,1st Division, II Corps, was the second
brigade commander of the II Corps (Caldwell's Division) to be mortally wounded in The Wheatfield. The loss of several brigade
and regimental commanders on both sides in The Wheatfield contributed to the maelstrom of confusion in The Wheatfield.
Wofford's Brigade had just helped in crushing the Union
position north of the WheatField at the Peach Orchard. His brigade then turned south and towards the Wheatfield. When Wofford's
Brigade entered the Wheatfield the Union troops began to take fire from the rear. Colonel Brook desperately requested reinforcements
from General Caldwell. Caldwell was able to persuade Colonel Sweitzer's Brigade to return to the Wheatfield. Sweitzer's Brigade
positioned themselves in the southern part of the Wheatfield. Sweitzer's Brigade consisted of the 32nd Massachusetts, the
4th Michigan, and the 62nd Pennsylvania. The 4th Michigan was on the right of the brigade line facing west,the 62nd Pennsylvania
was in the middle facing west, and the 32nd Massachusetts was on the left facing south along the stone wall. The presence
of these three regiments was to serve as a buffer or shield as Caldwell's entire divsion was about to make their escape
from the Wheatfield. The First of the II Corp Brigades to retreat was General Samuel Zook's Brigade which was the first to
be hit by Wofford's brigade. The retreat of Zook's Brigade affected Colonel Patrick Kelly's Irish Brigade who then also retreated.
Soon after Brooke's Brigade came pouring out of Rose Woods and began their retreat. These fleeing federal troops fled through
the ranks of Sweitzer's three regiments as they held their ground against three Confederate brigades. Sweitzer's Brigade
acted as a buffer for the retreating federal troops. Once the II Corp brigades were almost clear of The Wheatfield then Sweitzer's
Brigade did their best to make their escape.
However this did not end the struggle for The Wheatfield. There were
two brigades of U.S. Regulars, Colonel Hannibal Day's Brigade and Colonel Sidney Burbank's Second Brigade of U.S. Regulars,
positioned at the eastern edge of The Wheatfield along Houck's Ridge. These two brigades held their ground and
helped cover the retreat of the Union forces retreating from The Wheatfield. Once the Union forces had cleared
The Wheatfield then the two brigades of U.S. Regulars began to withdraw as they fought across the valley between Houck's Ridge
and Little Round Top known as the "Valley of Death". The U.S. Regulars suffered heavily and lost one out of three men. There
was a Union artillery position on the northern slope of Little Round Top, this was the artillery of Captain Frank Gibb's Battery
L, 1st Ohio Artillery. Gibb's artillery fired at the Confederate brigades that emerged from The Wheatfield and that were heading
in the direction of Little Round Top. As the four Confederate brigades (Wofford's Brigade, Kershaw's Brigade, Semmes' Brigade,
and Anderson's Brigade) pressed on they were met with yet another Union force, that force was Brigadier General Samuel Crawford's
Third Division of the Fifth Corps. Crawford's troops were formed into two lines of battle with the Pennsylvania Reserves in
front, it was the Pennsylvania Reserves that made a charge into the Vally of Death to confront the still approaching Confederate
brigades. This fresh federal force was too much for the exhausted Confederate troops and the Confederate brigades withdrew
to the Rose Farm and the Stony Hill. Crawford's troops held Houck's Ridge and the Western portion of the Valley of Death.
As July 2nd ended, neither side held The Wheatfield and The Wheatfield became a type of no man's land separating the Union
and Confederate lines that had spent the late afternoon and early evening fighting for The Wheatfield. However the Union forces
were successful in preventing the Confederates from achieving their objective of capturing Little Round Top that sat just
beyond The Wheatfield.
(above) A monument to a "bucktail" regiment
of Brig. General Samuel Crawford's division. The location of the monument marks the furthest point of their charge late
in the afternoon/ early evening of July 2nd. The fighting in The Wheatfield had finally ended and the battered but triumphant
Confederate brigades emerged from The Wheatfield and headed towards Little Round Top. The Confederate units that continued
on to the stone wall that separates the Plum Run Valley (Valley that runs at the western base of Little Round Top) and The
Wheatfield were too worn out to attempt to take the heights of Little Round Top. At that same time, Crawford's fresh division
of Pennsylvania Reserves was positioned at the base of Little Round Top. The reserves charged and swept the Confederate units
from the valley. The Confederate units fell back to the Rose Farm.