2nd Manassas - Aug. 1862
The Battle of Gettysburg - Thursday July 2, 1863
The Wheatfield

140th NY Monument
Like a stone thrown into a once tranquil pool, the conflict rippled outward from the Devil's Den into farmer Rose's field of golden, flowing wheat. This field of grain, swaying with the winds' caress, would on this day suffer the scorching brand of struggle, torment, and death. Just hours before, Major General Daniel Sickles deployment of his Union 3rd Corps along lines far in front of those chosen by the Union's commanding general, stretched his men precariously thin. Learning of this, General Meade road out to speak with his wayward General. Downplaying his anger in his official report, Meade would briefly note, "Having found Major-General Sickles, I was explaining to him that he was too far in advance, and discussing with him the propriety of withdrawing, when the enemy opened on him with several batteries in his front and on his flank, and immediately brought forward columns of infantry and made a most vigorous assault. The Third Corps sustained the shock most heroically." [2]

General Sickles entrusted one of his division commanders, Major General David Birney, with the responsibility of holding this portion of the field. After the fury settled, General Birney would later recall these events as if he still felt the roaring din of battle. "As the fight was now furious, and my thin line reached from Sugar Loaf Hill {Little Round Top} to the Emmitsburg road, fully a mile in Union Brigadier General Samuel K Zooklength, I was obliged to send for more re-enforcements to Major-General Sickles, and Major Tremain, aide-de-camp to the commanding general, soon appeared with a brigade of the Second Corps, which behaved most handsomely, and, leading them forward, it soon restored the center of my line, and we drove the enemy from that point..." The melee would confound those who would later attempt to capture the action in words. General Birney stated simply, "My thin lines swayed to and fro during the fight, and my regiments were moved constantly on the double-quick from one part of the line to the other, to re-enforce assailed points."

As Caldwell's Division of the Second Corps moved in to support the threatened 3rd Corps lines, Brigadier General Zook, and Colonels Cross, Kelly, and Brook, each moved their brigades into the swirling storm of confusion and lead. Colonel H. Boyd McKeen, who assumed command of Cross' Brigade after the Colonel's wounding, noted that"...The brigade steadily drove the enemy back to the far end of the wheat-field, a distance of over 400 yards. So quickly was this done that prisoners were taken by the brigade before the enemy had time to spring from their hiding-places to retreat. The Fifth and One hundred and forty-eighth remained in position, steadily holding the enemy in check, until every round of cartridge in this portion of the brigade was expended, and even then held their position until relieved by a brigade of General Barnes' division, of the Fifth Corps."

Stoney HillAfter initial successes however, these men would be pushed back by yet another surge of onrushing Confederates. Brigadier General Joseph Kershaw of the Confederates' South Carolina Brigade, who challenged the bluecoats on the western edge of the Wheatfield, would write of the conflicts confounding ebb and flow, "...by this time the enemy had swung around and lapped my whole line at close quarters, and the fighting was general and desperate. At length, the Seventh South Carolina gave way, and I directed Colonel Aiken to reform them at the stone wall, some 200 yards in my right rear. I fell back to the Third Regiment, then hotly engaged on the crest of the stony hill, and gradually swung around its right as the enemy made progress around our flank. Semmes' advanced regiment had given way. One of his regiments mingled with the Third, and, among the rocks and trees, within a few feet of each other, a desperate conflict ensued. The enemy could make no progress in front, but slowly extended around my right. Separated from view of my left wing by the hill and wood, all of my staff being with that wing, the position of the Fifteenth Regiment being unknown, and the Seventh being in the rear, I feared the brave men about me would be surrounded by the large force pressing around them, and ordered the Third Regiment and the [Fiftieth?] Georgia Regiment with them to fall back to the stone house, whither I followed them.

On emerging from the wood, I saw Wofford coming in in splendid style. My left wing had held the enemy in check along their front, and lost no ground. The enemy gave way at Wofford's advance, and, with him, the whole of my left wing advanced to the charge, sweeping the enemy before them, without a moment's stand, across the stone wall, beyond the wheat-field, up to the foot of the mountain." [5]

The Wheatfield at sunrise.