As the fighting continued in the Devil's Den and along Houck's Ridge, the conflict swelled to engulf the
Wheatfield and Peach Orchard to the northwest. Survivors of the fighting swirling in Gettysburg's Wheatfield remembered that
raging torrent as "a whirlpool of death".
On July 2nd, Colonel Patrick Kelly and the 530 men serving in the Irish Brigade stubbornly fought to drive their Confederate
foes from this ground. Despite some early success, the Irish Brigade, like so many other Union forces who would enter the fray,
found themselves withdrawing back to their lines. Men from the Federal 2nd, 3rd, and 5th Corps would wreck themselves pounding
against General Longstreet's Confederate juggernaut. The continued efforts by the game butternuts would not however be able to
crack the Union line along the ridge. Faced with the arrival of the Federal 6th Corps, the largest in the Army of the Potomac,
the men in gray would find themselves withdrawing, leaving the wounded of both sides to agonize in a devastated no-man's land.
By sundown, the Irish Brigade counted 198 casualties leaving just over 300 remaining of the original 2,500 men who had enlisted
when the war began. I later years, survivors would seek to honor those who
fought and fell on these fields with a unique monument supporting a large
Celtic cross. The wolfhound faithfully keeping watch at the base of this monument represents the traditional Irish symbol
Major General John C. Caldwell, commander of the 2nd Corps' 1st Division that went to the aid of the 3rd Corps in the Wheatfield,
described the intense and chaotic action occurring on this portion of the Gettysburg Battlefield. "The position assigned me
was on the right of the Fifth and the left of the Third Corps, and I was ordered to check and drive back the enemy who were
advancing at that point. I ordered Colonel Cross, commanding the First Brigade, to advance in line of battle through a wheat-field,
his left resting on the woods which skirted the field. He had advanced but a short distance when he encountered the enemy, and
opened upon him a terrific fire, driving him steadily to the farther end of the wheat-field.
In the meantime I had put
the Second Brigade in on the right of the First, and they advanced in like manner, driving the enemy before them. The Third
Brigade I ordered still farther to the right, to connect with the Third Corps, while I held the Fourth Brigade in reserve.
The First, Second, and Third Brigades advanced with the utmost gallantry, driving the enemy before them over difficult and
rocky ground, which was desperately contested by the slowly retreating foe. The First Brigade, which had been longest engaged,
had expended all its ammunition, when I ordered Colonel Brooke (Fourth Brigade) to relieve it. He advanced with his usual
gallantry, and drove the enemy until he gained the crest of the hill, which was afterward gained by the whole of my line. In
this advantageous position I halted, and called upon General Barnes, who was some distance in the rear, to send a brigade to
the support of my line. He readily complied, and ordered the brigade of Colonel (Sweitzer) forward into the wheat-field. I then
galloped to the left to make a connection with General Ayres, and found that I had advanced some distance beyond him. He, however,
gave the order to his line to move forward and connect with my left. Thus far everything had progressed favorably. I had gained a
position which, if properly supported on the flanks, I thought impregnable from the front. General Ayres was moving forward to
connect with my left, but I found on going to the right that all the troops on my right had broken and were fleeing to the rear
in great confusion. As soon as they broke, and before I could change front, the enemy in great numbers came in upon my right
flank and even my rear, compelling me to fall back or have my command taken prisoners. My men fell back under a very heavy
cross-fire, generally in good order, but necessarily with some confusion. I reformed them behind a stone wall until relieved by
the Twelfth Corps."
Fighting along side of the Irish Brigade
in the Wheatfield, 31 year old Colonel Edward Everett Cross, commanding the 1st Brigade of General Caldwell's 1st Division, had been
wounded 12 other times prior to Gettysburg. As he fought with his men in the Wheatfield, a Confederate bullet slammed into his
stomach. Knowing the wound to be mortal, Colonel Cross uttered these last words. "I did hope I should see peace restored to our
distressed country. I think the boys will miss me. Say good-bye to all."
Colonel H. Boyd McKeen, who took command of the brigade upon Colonel Cross' mortal wounding would say of the former Brigade commander,
"That gallant officer, Col. E. E. Cross, Fifth New Hampshire Volunteers, who led the brigade into action, fell, while bravely
cheering his troops." General Caldwell would add, "While driving the enemy triumphantly before them, two of my brigade
commanders, Brigadier-General Zook and Colonel Cross, of the Fifth New Hampshire Volunteers, fell, mortally wounded. They were both
old and tried soldiers, and the county can (unintelligible) spare their services. They both fell in the front of battle while driving
back the invader, and lived long enough to know that their blood had not been shed in vain, but that the enemy had been driven back
with terrible repulse. A grateful county will remember their virtues and hold them up to the admiration of posterity."