Times Past, Pausing to Remember

at Little Round Top

A large part of the story of Gettysburg is what happened at a small rocky knoll called "Little Round Top" by the residents in the area. A large part of the story of Little Round Top concerns Major General Gouverneur Kemble Warren, Brigadier General Stephen Hinsdale Weed, and Colonel Strong Vincent.

The battle that raged at Little Round Top on July 2, 1863 started late in the afternoon. The Union Army was in a position of defense stretched out along a line running mostly south to north on a low ridge. Little Round Top was at the far left, the southern end, of their position, its top perched 600 feet above the surrounding terrain, an important place for the Federals to defend, an important place for the Confederates to attack and secure. Lee's Army, or a good share of it, was fighting its way towards the Union soldiers on that ridge.

General Warren discovered to his horror that Little Round Top was completely undefended.

General Meade's chief engineer, Warren had been sent to survey the left flank of the army that afternoon. Climbing to the summit of Little Round Top, Warren was aghast at what he saw - General Sickles had moved his entire corps out to the Devil's Den-Peach Orchard line, leaving this key hill unprotected. Only a few signal corps men were on the summit. When southern batteries opened fire at 4 o'clock, Warren spotted Hood's Confederates as they swept from the cover of Warfield Ridge toward the Round Tops. Realizing they could easily flank the Union positions at Devil's Den and capture Little Round Top, Warren encouraged the signal men to remain on the hill and keep waving flags to deceive the Confederates, while an aide galloped off to find any Union troops he could locate to get them to the hill.

General Warren's statue on Little Round Top

Warren's aide ran into 26-year-old Colonel Strong Vincent, halted at the front of the First Division. Colonel Vincent was in command of a brigade (four regiments) of the Fifth Corps.

"Where is General Barnes?" the courier asked.

"What are your orders!" was Vincent's terse reply.

"General Warren wants someone to occupy yonder hill."

"I will do so and take the responsibility."

Bypassing the protocol of command in not waiting for formal orders, Vincent gave command of the brigade to senior colonel James C. Rice of the 44th New York, and rushed to the hill accompanied by his flag bearer. Scouting out the ground, he chose what he thought was the best defensive position. From right to left, his regiments were the 16th Michigan, 44th New York, 83rd Pennsylvania, and 20th Maine.

Vincent spent most of his time on the right of his line. As the fighting escalated, the tiny 16th Michigan got into trouble. Vincent, on top of a large boulder, brandished his wife's riding crop and cried out to his men: "Don't give an inch!" As he uttered the words or soon after, a bullet tore through his thigh and groin and he fell from the rock. It fractured the thigh bone and lodged somewhere inside his body.

With reinforcements in the form of the 140th New York sent in by Warren, Vincent's line held. He was carried from the hill to a nearby farm house. Colonel Vincent died five days later. For his bravery, initiative, and good sense, he was promoted to Brigadier General during those last days of his life.

The participation of Brigadier General Stephen Hinsdale Weed takes less time to tell. At age 31, he was commanding a brigade of the 2nd Division, Fifth Corps. His promotion to general officer was less than a month old. Born in Potsdam, New York, he graduated from West Point in 1854, and his service until Gettysburg had been as an artillery officer. In May 1861 he was a captain in the 5th Artillery, serving in the Peninsula campaign, at Second Bull Run as chief of artillery, was engaged at Antietam, commanded V Corps artillery at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. He survived those major battles and campaigns. He did not survive Gettsyburg. A Confederate sharpshooter behind the rocks of Devil's Den put a bullet through his head. It was said he died instantly.

Of these three of my cousins who worked together to save the Union left on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg, only one was spared. General Warren continued his career as engineer in the regular army on the Mississippi River, building bridges and making harbor improvements. He died in 1882, only 52 years old.

Cousins in the Civil War