Cemetery Hill: A Study in Terrain

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This was a terrific battle walk conducted by Ranger Troy Harman.  Starting in the National Cemetery parking lot, he took us on a walk all around Cemetery Hill and talked about some of the measures the Union forces took to protect that vital terrain.

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Our first stop was along Long Lane to the west of the Emmitsburg Road.  Long Lane runs west from Emmitsburg Road sloping downward until it reaches low ground, then it turns left and runs north along that low ground.  Most people don’t realize this, but standing there on Long Lane we were still on Cemetery Hill.  Cemetery Hill actually extends to the west all the way to the low ground along the northward-running portion of Long Lane.  The Federals established three layers of defense of Cemetery Hill outside the crest of the hill.  The layer closest to the crest was along the Taneytown Road.  The next layer was along the Emmitsburg Road.  The layer furthest away from the crest was along what is today Fairview Avenue.

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The first two views above are looking south and then north along Fairview Avenue.  The third view is looking west along King Street from Fairview Avenue looking toward Long Lane and the furthest western extension of Cemetery Hill.  Elements of the 136th Ohio, 73rd Ohio, and 56th Ohio took down fences here and stacked up the rails along with digging rifle pits.  Troy believes that George Nixon, the Great Grandfather of President Richard M. Nixon, was most likely wounded in this area.  Troy explained that this was the furthest line of defense for the Union because it was the limit of effectiveness for the artillery posted atop the hill.  Troy also told us that at the time of the battle, the portion of Long Lane that runs East to West was actually further north, where King Street is today, and the 8th Ohio actually formed along that line, just to the north of today’s McDonald’s, to flank the confederate attack on July 3.

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These views are taken from the middle layer of defense, along the Emmitsburg Road, looking up toward the crest of Cemetery Hill and the innermost layer of defense along the Taneytown Road.

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On the north side of Cemetery Hill there’s a convenience store where Emmitsburg Road (Steinwehr Avenue today) meets the Baltimore Pike.  There used to be a hotel there called the Wagon Hotel.  [more info here]  Union soldiers occupied the second floor of the hotel and fired on confederate soldiers in the town from there.

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This view looks uphill from the corner of Locust Avenue and Hillcrest Place.  This is actually the Northeastern slope of Cemetery Hill, and what Richard S. Ewell and Jubal Early would have faced, minus the artillery and Union soldiers, in assaulting the hill.  Notice the steepness of the slope.  In 1863 none of these buildings were there, and needless to say the modern street, sidewalks, telephone poles, and cars weren’t there either.

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This is a sight line looking east from near the top of Hillcrest Place, which would place it near the Northeast crest of Cemetery Hill.  This shows how Cemetery Hill would have dominated the terrain in 1863.

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At the end of Hillcrest Place you can see the water tower at the top of Cemetery Hill, showing where this is located in relation to the rest of Cemetery Hill.

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This is a view of East Cemetery Hill from the bottom of the slope showing how steep the hill is on the eastern side.

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This view looks east from the Union line at the bottom of the slope of East Cemetery Hill.  That’s the field Avery’s Brigade attacked across.  You can see the higher terrain in front of the Union position, which would provide cover for troops attacking from the east behind it.

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The Union established three layers of defense on this side of Cemetery Hill as well.  The furthest layer was at what is today East Confederate Avenue.  The second layer is on the left portion of this photo.  You can see what looks to be a line coming from the far wood line toward the fence in front of you.  There was a fence there, and the second layer was along that fence.  The innermost layer was along the fence that is at what is today Wainwright Avenue.

 

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These three photos show views of Cemetery Hill from the intersection of Wainwright Avenue and Slocum Avenue, near the base of Stephens’ Knoll.

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This view from Stephens’ Knoll toward Cemetery Hill helps to show how dominant the terrain of Cemetery Hill was.

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Something many folks don’t know is that Cemetery Hill actually extends far out to the Northeast, almost to Pardee Field near Culp’s Hill.  Here’s Ranger Troy standing on the far extension of Cemetery Hill overlooking Pardee Field and another view looking up at that part of Cemetery Hill from the far western side of Pardee Field, near the 5th Ohio Monument.

It was very enlightening to see how far Cemetery Hill extends in the several directions, and also to understand how the Union established a layered defense for it.  Once again, Troy is in his element on the battlefield, and one should never pass up an opportunity to go on a battle walk with him.  He’s definitely one of the best.

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3 comments

  1. I must say that Easterners’ use of the words “hill” and “ridge” is…quaint.

    1. Believe it or not, Chris, we have things out here that we call “mountains” which have trees on top of them. Now, I used to live at the foot of part of the Rocky Mountains so I often hesitate, but heck, South Mountain’s actual name is South Mountain, so I have to use the word. ;)

  2. Hah! Well, to be fair, back in 1984 when I went through parts of the Adirondacks and the Appalachians, I laughed at their height. But then walking through them sobered me up because of their density and age–their ruggedness. And, they are flat-freaking beautiful. No, as is true of history itself, context is everything.

    I always thought it interesting that the age of the continent from east-old to west-young mirrored Euro-American settlement.

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