Saturday, May 16, 2015 was a great day at Gettysburg. Ranger Troy Harman led a terrific hike from the Visitor’s Center to Powers Hill and then to Spangler’s Meadow at the base of Culp’s Hill.
Stopping midway up the slope of Powers Hill, we saw Wolf’s Hill in the distance. Wolf’s Hill is actually a ridge line, which Troy likened to the Great Wall of China in that it served to divide the far eastern part of the battlefield. Both Ewell’s corps of the Army of Northern Virginia and the XII Corps of the Army of the Potomac were operating on the western side of that ridge line, and because it screened any movements on the other side, they each needed cavalry on the eastern side to guard against being blindsided. J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry filled that need for the confederates and the 16th Pennsylvania Cavalry did so for the Federals.
The eastern side of Powers Hill was cleared of trees due to logging operations for McAllister’s Mills across the Baltimore Pike. The western side was still covered with trees. Union troops took artillery up the eastern side of the hill. There were a total of three batteries atop the hill. Powers Hill was initially conceived as a secondary fallback position in the event the Union position on Cemetery Hill was breached and the Federals were forced to fall back from it. Artillery there could cover the choke points on the Baltimore Pike. Battery M, 1st New York Light Artillery was Winegar’s Battery. It consisted of 160 men recruited from Niagara County. The battery here consisted of four guns because one section had been destroyed at the Battle of Chancellorsville. An excellent source is the report of Brigadier General Robert O. Tyler, commander of the Artillery Reserve. Tyler and Col. Charles Wainwright, the I Corps Artillery chief, assisted by the XII Corps artillery chief, Lt. Edward Muhlenberg, placed the guns on Powers Hill. Initially, for them, defending Culp’s Hill was a secondary objective. Another use of the guns was to help cover the movement of the V Corps and the XII Corps westward from the Wolf Hill area. Interestingly, John Gibbon’s division of the II Corps initially deployed along the Baltimore Pike and faced east to assist in this before they moved on to Cemetery Ridge.
From the top of Powers Hill we can see the large water tower of Benner’s Hill in the distance, along with a smaller tower of Brinkerhoff’s Ridge in the distance. We can also see Culp’s Hill on the far left of the photo above, and we can make out Spangler’s Meadow at its base.
Knap’s Battery [Independent Battery E, Pennsylvania Artillery] was named for Joseph Knap, but at Gettysburg was under the command of Charles Atwater, with Knap having returned to Pittsburgh and civilian life. The battery was recruited in Monumental Hill and Allegheny City near Pittsburgh and had been assigned to the 28th Pennsylvania at Point of Rocks, Maryland. It consisted of six guns.
Knap’s Battery is involved in one of the most iconic photographs of the Civil War, the photo of dead horses and men in front of the Dunker Church at Antietam.
One of the battery’s section commanders was 18-year-old Lt. Edward Geary, son of Maj. Gen. John White Geary, a division commander in the XII Corps. Lt. Geary took his section down Powers Hill, across the Baltimore Pike, over to Spangler Lane, and then to the crest of Culp’s Hill. Along the way he borrowed two guns from the 5th US Artillery that had been on Spangler Ridge [today’s Hunt Avenue]. Combined with one other gun, that made five guns on Culp’s Hill under Lt. Geary. You can read about this in Lt. Muhlenberg’s report.
Rigby’s Battery A of the 1st Maryland Light Artillery was the third battery. They were recruited in Heightsville and Baltimore, Maryland. Rigby was an ardent Maryland Unionist who had written his wife, “I would rather fight for freedom than for oppression and slavery.” This battery fired the first shots on July 3.
Hexamer’s guns were also originally along the Baltimore Pike before they were moved to Cemetery Ridge. That meant there had been 22 guns in the vicinity of Powers Hill.
Troy told us the guns on East Cemetery Hill operated in concert with the guns on the Baltimore Pike and on Powers Hill.
Those interested in artillery at Gettysburg may be interested in this paper.
We then crossed the Baltimore Pike and headed down Spangler Lane to Spangler Meadow.
We learned that Union troops set up positions to keep the confederate toe hold on Culp’s Hill from expanding, and one of the functions of those positions was to try to squeeze the confederates out. So if they saw a chance to move forward they would do so. That explains the charge of the 27th Indiana and the 2nd Massachusetts across Spangler’s Meadow. They were trying to move the confederates out of the area.
One of these positions was McAllister’s Ridge to the southwest of Spangler’s Meadow. Union troops formed on the western side of the ridge to keep the confederates from moving to the Baltimore Pike and then to eventually squeeze the confederates out of the area.
This was an outstanding hike. Troy is really in his element on the battlefield. I enjoy walks with all the rangers at Gettysburg. They all do a great job, but Troy is definitely one of the best.