As the mid-summer sun glided effortless across the sky, the Confederates of Lieutenant General James Longstreet's
1st Corp set about getting into position. Although veterans of many battles, they could not know that this day would see more
bloodshed than even the third and final day of the largest battle ever fought on American soil. As the determined Southerners began
their assault, Major General John Bell Hood's seasoned soldiers moved towards the Federal lines along the rise of Houck's Ridge,
ending at Devil's Den at the base of Big and Little Round Tops. The 1st Corps' commanding General said of their position,
"Hood's division was moved on farther to our right, and got into position, partially enveloping the enemy's left."
However, almost as soon as the movement progressed, General Longstreet noted, "General Hood received a severe wound soon after
getting under fire, and was obliged to leave the field. This misfortune occasioned some delay in our operations." The fearless
southern General would lose permanent use of his shattered left arm.
Brigadier General Evander Law's Brigade would advance on the right of Hood's Division against the Federals on the far end
of Houck's Ridge. After Hood's wounding however, General Law would take command of the Division with Colonel James Sheffield,
48th Alabama now heading Law's Brigade. Colonel Sheffield described the action then as follows.
"On reaching the enemy's lines, where they were well and strongly situated, I ordered my regiment forward, which
was gallantly obeyed until within about 20 paces of their line. Here the fire of the enemy was severe. Here the
men opened fire on the enemy, and for some time continued, until the left, from the loss of men and their exposed
position to a fire front the front and from the mountain on the right, were forced to fall back. The right steadily
maintained its position for some time, forcing the enemy to withdraw from their first line and establish their line
a short distance to their rear, where they continued their fire. After the contest had continued for an hour and a half,
and my whole regiment had been brought to the front the third time, only to be driven back, I ordered them to reform in
the rear of their advanced position. While doing this, I was ordered to take command of the brigade. After this, the
regiment was commanded by Capt. T. J. Eubanks, who reformed and carried it to the front, where the battle-ground was held
during the night, bringing off our wounded.
In this battle the regiment (48th AL) had 275 men engaged. There were 102 killed, wounded, and missing."
David B. Birney, General Hood's counterpart on the Union side of the field described how he positioned and used his men. "My line
was formed with Ward on the left, resting on the mountain, De Trobriand in the center, and Graham on my right in the peach orchard,
with his right on the Emmitsburg road. Smith's battery of rifled guns was placed so as to command the gorge at the base of the Sugar
Loaf Mountain; Winslow's battery on the right of Ward's brigade, and a battery from the Artillery Reserve; also Clark's and Ames'
batteries to the right, in rear of the peach orchard, supported by Graham's brigade, and the Third Michigan, from the Third Brigade,
and the Third Maine, from the Second Brigade. Randolph's, Seeley's, and Turnbull's batteries were placed near the Emmitsburg road, on
the front, parallel with it. I immediately sent an aide to Major-General Sykes asking for the division promised to support my left.
I now opened (say at 3.30 p.m.) with Clark's and Smith's batteries upon the columns of the enemy moving toward our left, parallel with
the Emmitsburg road.
At 4 o'clock the enemy returned the artillery fire on my entire front, and advanced their infantry en masse, covered by
a cloud of skirmishers. Major-General Sykes reached my left opportunely, and protected that flank. A portion of his command,
under General Barnes, had been placed in rear of the right of De Trobriand's brigade, but during the fight he withdrew his
force, and formed some 300 yards farther in the rear.
Of those Union skirmishers, Major Homer R. Stoughton, commanding the 2nd United States Sharpshooters would note,
"The enemy's skirmishers advanced to the top of the hill in our front, and immediately after they placed a battery
directly in our front, and being too far for our range, I sent forward a few men under cover of woods on the left, and
silenced one piece nearest us.
The enemy then
advanced a line of battle covering our entire front and flank. While they were advancing, the Second Regiment did splendid execution,
killing and wounding a great many. One regiment broke three times, and rallied, before it would advance. I held my position until
their line of battle was within 100 yards of me and their skirmishers were pushing my right flank, when I ordered my men to fall
back, firing as they retired."
Major General Birney would continue,
"As the fight was now furious, and my thin line reached from Sugar Loaf Hill to the Emmitsburg road, fully a mile in length,
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, to fall with re-doubled force on Ward's brigade. 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."
Union Brigadier General J. H. Hobart Ward, commanding the men on the Federal's far left would note in his report,
"The enemy had now approached to within 200 yards of my position, in line and en masse, yelling and shouting. My command
did not fire a shot until the enemy came within the distance prescribed, when the whole command fired a volley. This checked
the enemy's advance suddenly, which gave our men an opportunity to reload, when another volley was fired into them. The enemy
now exhibited much disorder, and, taking advantage of this circumstance, I advanced my right and center with a view of obtaining
a position behind a stone wall, about 160 yards in advance, and which the enemy was endeavoring to reach. While advancing, the
rear columns of the enemy pressed forward to the support of the advance, who rallied and again advanced. This time our single
line was forced back a short distance by the heavy columns of the enemy. In this manner for the space of one and a half
hours did we advance and retire, both parties endeavoring to gain possession of the stone wall."
"Our men, now much exhausted and nearly destitute of ammunition, were relieved by a portion of the Second and Fifth Corps,
when we retired and bivouacked for the night."
General Ward would later speak with respect and pride of the many officers he lost this day.
"The One hundred and Twenty-fourth New York lost its colonel and major (both shot through the head). Col. A. Van Horne
Ellis was one of those dashing and chivalrous spirits that we frequently read of, but seldom encounter in real life. He fell
while gallantly leading his men in a charge. In this he was ably seconded by Lieutenant-Colonel Cummins and Major Cromwell,
the major falling within a few seconds of the colonel, and the lieutenant-colonel being severely wounded."
He would add,
"The number of effective men in the brigade when they engaged the enemy was not 1,500" lamenting
"the total loss in my brigade was 46 officers and 712 enlisted men."