An artillery officer since joining the 1st New York Light Artillery in October 1861, Col. Charles P. Wainwright knew a fight when he heard it — and “at about 10:30 a.m.,” Wednesday, July 1, he heard a big one.
Some two hours earlier on this warm day, Wainwright and his Artillery Brigade had left their camp “about 2 miles from Emmitsburg” and rolled northeast on the Emmitsburg Road as I Corps hurried to reinforce the beleaguered Union cavalry fighting Confederate infantry advancing on Gettysburg.
Capt. James Hall and his 2nd Maine Battery had moved out earlier that morning; with Wainwright came four more batteries (four state, one federal), including the 5th Maine Battery of Capt. Greenlief T. Stevens.
“About 4 miles this side of Gettysburg,” the 1st Division “took a by-road to the left,” Wainwright said, and with the division went Battery B, 1st Pennsylvania Light Artillery (four 3-inch ordnance rifles), commanded by Capt. James Cooper. Wainwright soon heard the distant fighting; “the first intimation I received of the proximity of the enemy was the sound of firing when we arrived within some 2 miles of Gettysburg … at about 10.30 a.m.,” he recalled.
Orders arrived for him to bring “the three batteries remaining with me across the fields toward the seminary or college.”
Stevens first heard the battle’s roar while riding on the Emmitsburg Road “between ten and eleven o’clock A.M. “In the vicinity of the ‘Peach Orchard,” the 5th Maine Battery “turned off … to the west … and marched across the fields” toward “a furious conflict then raging between the enemy” and Union cavalry and infantry, Stevens said.
Mangled at Chancellorsville, the 5th Maine Battery should have approached Gettysburg seriously under-strength. However, Stevens had received 57 enlisted men on detached duty from the 83rd and 94th New York infantry regiments.
“On reaching a piece of lowland” the battery “made ready for action,” Stevens said, and up rode an aide from Wainwright with orders for Stevens to deploy his “six light 12-pounders.”
Stevens unlimbered his guns “in a little growth of trees along an old stone wall or pile of stones a short distance south of the Theological Seminary, but done (sic) no firing in that position.”
His gunners heard clearly the fighting inside McPherson’s Woods and out in the fields flowing west along the Chambersburg Pike. Union infantry fell back as gunsmoke billowed on the horizon and the Johnnies advanced.
“When the enemy made their attack[,] the force of their flow appeared to be to the West and North of the Seminary,” Stevens recalled.
Slightly past 2 p.m., orders repositioned the 5th Maine Battery about 150 feet north of Schmucker Hall to replace replaced Battery B, 4th U.S. Artillery, commanded by 1st Lt. James Stewart, a native Scot. Moving north of the Chambersburg Pike, Stewart placed three 12-pounder Napoleons either side of the Eastern Railroad Cut.
Jim Cooper had already withdrawn his Battery B, 1st Pennsylvania Light Artillery, to the seminary. “There was not room for all our six guns” in the new position, Stevens noticed, so “I ran some of them in between the [four 3-inch] guns” of Battery B.
His right eye wounded earlier by Confederate fire, Gilbert Reynolds pulled his Battery L, 1st New York Light Artillery and its six 3-inch ordnance rifles back to Seminary Ridge. Two sections unlimbered south near the Hagerstown Road, and Reynolds placed his third section at the Chambersburg Pike, just north of the 5th Maine Battery.
The 10 cannons of Battery B and the 5th Maine Battery stood “hardly five yards apart,” Stevens said. Squeezed into the artillery line, one 5th Maine gun crew faced a seminary outbuilding, perhaps a privy.
“I ordered it blown away[,] which was immediately done,” probably with a solid shot, Stevens said. “That gun continued to fire through the hole made in the building until the whole line was forced to retire.”
Gazing westward, he realized, “The whole line of battle from right to left was then one continuous blaze of fire.” With “the thin blue smoke of the infantry” obscuring the slight dip between Seminary and McPherson ridges, the gunners found “it difficult to distinguish friend from foe, Stevens said. “Our infantry, by the overwhelming numbers of the enemy, five to one, were forced back.”
Targeting Confederate regiments crossing McPherson Ridge south of the Chambersburg Pike, the 5th Maine gunners “opened fire with spherical case & shell at 800 yds.,” reported 1st Lt. Edward Whittier, Stevens’ second-in-command.
The all Tar Heel brigade (the 13th, 16th, 22nd, 34th, and 38th North Carolina infantries) of Brig. Gen. Alfred Scales advanced east through McPherson’s Woods, which stood on the same-named ridge west of the Union artillery on the seminary campus. The North Carolinians “crossed the ridge, and commenced the descent [directly] opposite the theological seminary,” Scales said.
Greenlief Stevens and the 5th Maine Battery gunners spotted the new target.
Next week: Hell breaks loose at the Lutheran seminary
Sources: Col. Charles P. Wainwright, Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 27, Part 1, Chapter XXXIX, No. 71, p. 354; Stevens’ Fifth Maine Battery, Maine at Gettysburg, The Lakeside Press, Portland, Maine, 1898, pp. 82-83; Greenlief T. Stevens, letter to Seldon Connor, September 20, 1889, Maine State Archives; 1st Lt. Edward N. Whittier, August 2, 1863 report to Maine Adj. Gen. John L. Hodsdon, MSA; Capt. James H. Cooper, Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 27, Part 1, Chapter XXXIX, No. 75, pp. 364-365; Brig. Gen. Alfred M. Scales, Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 27, Part 2, Chapter XXXIX, No. 560, pp. 669-700
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Brian Swartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He enjoys hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.