The peaceful serenity of this tranquil scene belied the hostilities that erupted here late in the day on July 2, 1863. Not realizing
that the Union's Third Corps had moved forward to the Emmitsburg Road and Houck's Ridge, General Robert E. Lee planned to have Lt.
General Longstreet initiate a series of attacks en echelon, rolling up the Union left flank that he thought terminated further north
on Cemetery Ridge.
Confederates prepared alone with their thoughts, the men of Hood's Texas Division watched warily from Warfield Ridge for Union
activity with a view of Little Round Top which would have looked much like it does today. The cover of trees would not have been
as thick as pictured here however, making their positions and movements much more visible to their Union counterparts, especially
upon advancing into the open. Big Round Top, to the distant far right in the image above, would briefly serve as the Confederate
right flank later in the afternoon when Colonel William Calvin Oates of the 15th Alabama would seek to wrest Little Round Top, the
smaller hill to its left, from Colonel Strong Vincent's Union 5th Corps Brigade. From this view, in front of Little Round
Top under the cover of the trees, is the Devil's Den with the Wheatfield situated further west.
James Longstreet, General Lee's most trusted subordinate at Gettysburg, positioned his artillery along Warfield Ridge and pelted
the Union positions in Devil's Den to soften up Union lines before their advance. Now a lone gun resting on this quiet hill is
only a small reminder of the deadly force used to help remove the hard fighting Federals from their positions throughout Devils
Den, Houck's Ridge, and what would be later named the Slaughter Pen and the Valley of Death.
At about 4:00pm on July second, Lieutenant General Longstreet initiated what he would refer to as "the best three hours of
fighting ever done by soldiers on any battlefield." Despite the many previous successes of this veteran division, not everyone
held the same enthusiasm for the coming assaults. In a letter to General Longstreet years later, Major General John Bell Hood,
commander of one of General Longstreet's Divisions, said of the proposed attack:
"I found that in making the attack according to orders, viz.: up the Emmetsburg road, I should have first to encounter and drive
off this advanced line of battle; secondly, at the base and along the slope of the mountain, to confront immense boulders of stone,
so massed together as to form narrow openings, which would break our ranks and cause the men to scatter whilst climbing up the rocky
precipice. I found, moreover, that my division would be exposed to a heavy fire from the main line of the enemy in position on
the crest of the high range, of which Round Top was the extreme left, and, by reason of the concavity of the enemy's main line, that
we would be subject to a destructive fire in flank and rear, as well as in front; and deemed it almost an impossibility to clamber
along the boulders up this steep and rugged mountain, and, under this number of cross fires, put the enemy to flight. I knew that if
the feat was accomplished, it must be at a most fearful sacrifice of as brave and gallant soldiers as ever engaged in battle.
The reconnaissance of my Texas scouts and the development of the Federal lines were effected in a very short space of time; in truth,
shorter than I have taken to recall and jot down these facts, although the scenes and events of that day are as clear to my mind as if
the great battle had been fought yesterday. I was in possession of these important facts so shortly after reaching the Emmetsburg road,
that I considered it my duty to report to you, at once, my opinion that it was unwise to attack up the Emmetsburg road, as ordered, and
to urge that you allow me to turn Round Top, and attack the enemy in flank and rear. Accordingly, I dispatched a staff officer, bearing
to you my request to be allowed to make the proposed movement on account of the above stated reasons. Your reply was quickly received,
'General Lee's orders are to attack up the Emmetsburg road.' I sent another officer to say that I feared nothing could be accomplished
by such an attack, and renewed my request to turn Round Top. Again your answer was, 'General Lee's orders are to attack up the
Emmetsburg road.' During this interim I had continued the use of the batteries upon the enemy, and had become more and more convinced
that the Federal line extended to Round Top, and that I could not reasonably hope to accomplish much by the attack as ordered. In fact,
it seemed to me the enemy occupied a position by nature so strong -I may say impregnable-that, independently of their flank fire, they
could easily repel our attack by merely throwing and rolling stones down the mountain side, as we approached.
A third time
I dispatched one of my staff to explain fully in regard to the situation, and suggest that you had better come and look for yourself.
I selected, in this instance, my adjutant-general, Colonel Harry Sellers, whom you know to be not only an officer of great courage,
but also of marked ability. Colonel Sellers returned with the same message, 'General Lee's orders are to attack up the Emmetsburg
road.' Almost simultaneously, Colonel Fairfax, of your staff, rode up and repeated the above orders.
After this urgent protest against entering the battle at Gettysburg, according to instructions-which protest is the first and only one
I ever made during my entire military career-I ordered my line to advance and make the assault."
Some estimates indicate that, on this day, the Confederate Army suffered about 6,000 casualties to the Union's 8,900. Through the
trees to the right in the picture above can be seen the crest of Big Round Top.
Click here for a video of the ground over which General
Longstreet's Corps would advance.