North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL

July 11, 2013

South led early at Gettysburg battle

Second of a series remembering the Battle of Gettysburg

By Rob Thomas
North Jefferson News

— The 3rd, 6th, 12th and 26th Alabama, all part of O’Neal’s Brigade, positioned three regiments to attack the Union flank. During the battle, the 26th Alabama had its flag captured. This flag had just been issued on April 20, 1863, and the old flag returned back to Alabama to be saved in the state archives. Despite having lost their flag, the regiments battled on, taking heavy loss of life in a successful effort to dislodge Union forces from Seminary Ridge.

An elite group of sharpshooters from the 5th Alabama was led by a 24-year-old Confederate officer, Maj. Eugene Blackford. As the battle raged around them, the sharpshooters drove Union Col. Thomas Devin’s cavalry back.

By nightfall, Confederate soldiers raise their flag over the town while Union soldiers looked on from the outskirts of town where they had retreated.   

By the dawn of July 2, both armies had re-enforcements arrive overnight. The Union had established strong positions from the high ground. Alabama’s Hardaway artillery relocated their battery

position to Seminary Ridge. As the battle for the second day progressed, the new position exposed the men of Hardaway to Union sharpshooters and artillery attacks.

Men from both sides were moved out into skirmish lines, but a delay in moving his men by Confederate Gen. James Longstreet had them roasting in the sun.  The young 5th Alabama Maj. Blackford recorded the following in his memoirs:

“In the morning July 2, the enemy now crowded on the heights, our lines were drawn around, and my men thrown out into the meadow between the lines. Here we lay in the broiling sun until about 1 p.m. when beginning to feel hungry, I sent a detail to catch chickens, which they cooked in a large pot found in a cottage, thro’ which my line went. This soup contained about 60 chickens, and the entire contents of the garden in the way of onions & potatoes. Saw it was necessary to feed the men as no rations had been issued since the morning before, and none could be obtained soon. As soon as it was ready a detail from each company came up and received its share. Thus were 150 men fed.”

It was almost 4 p.m. before the most important fight in Gettysburg took place. While the Confederates were winning the battle on the lower grounds, it was the fight for the high ground that proved to be the most important.  

Little Round Top is a rough outcropping of rocks with a steep hillside that goes back toward Devils Den. Rushing to protect Little Round Top was the 20th Maine as the 15th Alabama started to advance on its hillside.

The 15th Alabama, led by Gen. Oats, had marched over 20 miles to reach the battle fields. The men were exhausted, hot and without water. Oats sent 22 men to refill canteens. During their absence, the 15th Alabama was pushed into the fight. Climbing the rocky slope of the hill, they challenged the 20th Maine.

For the next 90 minutes, the 15th, along with the 4th and 47th Alabama, fought.