Artillery back story at Gettysburg, part 1

Located between Route 30 and the Seminary Ridge Museum at Gettysburg, a granite monument and two bronze 12-pounder Napoleons identify where the 5th Maine Battery deployed into line on July 1, 1863. Much more happened at this site than what a simple monument and two cannons can tell. (Brian F. Swartz Photo)

An oxidized cannon and a granite stone have a story to tell.

Mainers visiting Gettysburg National Military Park naturally drift to its Maine monuments, usually starting with the 20th Maine Infantry’s modest gray monument on Little Round Top. There are many others,including two monuments to the 5th Maine Battery.

So back to that oxidized cannon and the granite stone …

The movie Gettysburg introduced the famous Lutheran seminary cupola to countless Mainers. As Union cavalry general John Buford, Sam Elliott bounced in and out of that cupola a few times, and I absolutely love the scene where his aide speaks, causing Buford to turn and see Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds, a.k.a. actor John Rotham, riding up accompanied by two of his aides.

The aide would likely have been 1st Lt. Aaron Jerome, Buford’s chief signal officer.

Moments later the lead regiment of I Corp’s hard-hitting infantry hoves into view. My spine still tingles every time I watch that scene — and ditto when the 20th Maine Infantry kicks its march into high gear earlier in the film.

The seminary cupola is attached to Schmucker Hall, the oldest building on the modern United Lutheran Seminary campus. Now known as the Seminary Ridge Museum, the red-brick building abuts Seminary Ridge Avenue, a connector between Buford Avenue (a.k.a. Route 30, Chambersburg Road, etc., etc.) and the Fairfield Road (a.k.a. Route 118 and Hagerstown Road during the Civil War era).

Schmucker Hall faces west toward McPherson Ridge, from which the savage fighting on July 1, 1863 spilled directly into a Maine unit — and that unit’s July 1 monument stands across the avenue and about 150-200 feet north, toward Route 30.

At least into the 1990s, the monument comprised two 12-pounder bronze Napoleons (their barrels oxidized the traditional light green of bronze artillery pieces found almost everywhere in Civil War-dom) placed either side of a low, gray-granite sculpted stone. A bit more than 130 years ago, sculptors at the Hallowell Granite Works in Hallowell inscribed the stone with the words “STEVENS’ BATTERY 5TH MAINE JULY 1, 1863.”

The inscription refers to Stevens’ 5th Maine Battery, designated “Battery E, 1st Maine Light Artillery” by the War Department. Being Mainers, we slap names on everything, so when Capt. Greenlief Thurlow Stevens took command of the 5th Maine Battery after its Götterdämmerung at Chancellorsville in May 1863, Stevens’ 5th Maine the battery became.

The second monument dedicated to the 5th Maine Battery is located on East Cemetery Hill at Gettysburg. The grass-covered earthworks in front of this cannon were erected by Maine gunners in late afternoon on July 1, 1863. (Brian F. Swartz Photo)

Today only one cannon stands beside the monument. The National Park Service apparently needed a cannon elsewhere, perhaps in a more visible location, but for whatever reason, the second (southernmost) cannon vanished.

Most visitors would consider this particular monument and its cannon not worth the stop. But there is a reason why the 5th Maine Battery Association members sited their granite marker here in the 1880s.

There’s an explosively violent, body-busting back story to this simple, visually boring monument.

We will explore what Greenlief Stevens and his gunners — Mainers and New Yorkers — did here.

Next week: The view from the seminary


IfIf you enjoy reading the adventures of Mainers caught up in the Civil War, be sure to like Maine at War on Facebook and get a copy of the new Maine at War Volume 1: Bladensburg to Sharpsburg, available online at Amazon and all major book retailers, including Books-A-Million and Barnes & Noble. . —————————————————————————————————————–

Brian Swartz can be reached at visionsofmaine@tds.net. He enjoys hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.

 

Brian Swartz

About Brian Swartz

Welcome to "Maine at War," the blog about the roles played by Maine and her sons and daughters in the Civil War. I am a Civil War buff and a newspaper editor recently retired from the Bangor Daily News. Maine sent hero upon hero — soldiers, nurses, sailors, chaplains, physicians — south to preserve their country in the 1860s. “Maine at War” introduces these heroes and heroines, who, for the most part, upheld the state's honor during that terrible conflict. We tour the battlefields where they fought, and we learn about the Civil War by focusing on Maine’s involvement with it. Be prepared: As I discover to this very day, the facts taught in American classrooms don’t always jibe with Civil War reality. I can be reached at visionsofmaine@tds.net.