Sunday, August 12, 2012

Remembering Where We Are - Part Two

Granite Farm as it appears today. Photo by Jenn Goellnitz.
Creative Commons Licensing.

As the morning of July 2nd dawned, John and Catherine Slyder likely wondered what the new day would bring. The family had lived on edge since late June, when rumors of the Army of Northern Virginia's advance began to swirl amongst the farmers in Cumberland Township. On June 26th, those rumors became reality for the citizens of Gettysburg, just three short miles north of Granite Farm, as troops from General Jubal Early's division clashed with emergency militia and passed through the borough. The 30th brought more troops to Gettysburg, as General John Buford's cavalry division arrived. The following morning, the sounds of battle drifted down from the northwest, and more federal troops hurried past the farm on the Emmitsburg Road

By dark on July 1st, the Army of the Potomac had fallen back to the ridges and hills southeast of Gettysburg, and began to take up its famous fishhook defensive position. That evening, patrols of cavalry from Buford's division picketed the fields and woods northwest of Granite Farm, while infantry from the 12th corps arrived in the vicinity of Little Round Top to the northeast. Some of these 12th Corps troops stopped at the farm, where the Slyder family provided them with some food. What, if anything, John Slyder learned of the situation of the two armies as night fell, we can only guess. He was probably nervous about the coming day - afraid for the safety of his family and his property. Unaware of what the dawn would bring, The Slyders decided to stay and attempt to protect their livestock and possessions. If they remained lucky, the action would stay well to north.

An unknown soldier from the 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters.
Photo circa 1861 - note the lighter colored pants.
These were soon replaced by dark green trousers.
Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.
On the morning of July 2nd, the fields and woods around John Slyder's home buzzed with activity, and their situation was becoming more dangerous by the hour. The Union line of battle continued to stretch closer to the Slyder property, and the southernmost sector came under the purview of the 3rd Corps and its commander Dan Sickles. The situation remained fluid as Sickles wrestled with the challenges of posting his corps, but throughout that morning John, Catherine and their children likely watched Buford's cavalry picketing the Emmitsburg Road to their west, and heard the sounds of skirmish fire not too far off.

Sometime around noon the cavalry pulled out. Meanwhile, Sickles began to deploy his troops in his famous forward line. At about 2 p.m. troops arrived on Granite Farm: 169 men from the 2nd United States Sharpshooters commanded by Major Homer R. Stoughton. This unit featured crack marksmen recruited in 1861. To serve in this regiment, a soldier needed to put ten consecutive shots within a combined distance of fifty inches from the bull's-eye of a target from a range of two hundred yards at rest, one hundred yards offhand. The sharpshooters wore distinctive uniforms too: a dark green coat, trousers and cap, leather leggings, and a black plume. They deployed in skirmish formation, zig-zagging through John Slyder's fields and pastures, and taking advantage of the stone walls bordering his farm lane and fences in his fields. Here the sharpshooters defended the Army of the Potomac's southern flank and the approaches to Round Top.

In John Slyder's claim form, he recorded that the family busied themselves by preparing food for the soldiers on their property that afternoon. By 4 p.m. Confederate infantry and artillery from James Longstreet's 1st Corps began to take positions along Warfield and Snyder rigdes near the Emmitsburg Road. At some point, John received bad news when officers from the 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters advised him that the family must leave Granite Farm. They indicated that the farm was in great danger, that they might order troops to occupy the farmhouse, and that in all likelihood Confederate artillery would shell the farm. Faced with these orders, John, Catherine, John Jr., Hannah, and Isiah finally fled.

Author's Rough Sketch of the position of the 2nd US Sharpshooters on Granite Farm.

The Confederate advance began shortly thereafter, as Alabamians of Evander Law's brigade set off eastward toward the Slyder Farm. The federal marksmen hunkered down as best they could to await the onslaught. Private Wyman White of Company F, 2nd US Sharpshooters knelt behind a stonewall between the house and barn. He recalled:
We did not have long to wait before a solid mass of rebels spilled over a ridge in our front across the Emmitsburg Pike.... Just in front of where I was, the land was open, and, as they were mostly dressed in butternut colored clothes, they had the appearance of a plowed field being within closed mass formation until they got within good fighting distance to our line, when they broke into line of battle formation three lines deep.... We were obliged to fall back or be either killed or taken prisoner. The enemy force was at least ninety men to our one. Still they noticed that there was some opposition to their charge for we were armed with breech loaders and, as we took the matter cooly, many a brave Southron threw up his arms and fell. But on they came shouting and yelling their peculiar yell.
Homer R. Stoughton. Photo courtesy of
the Library of Congress.
The sharpshooters gave ground steadily, and soon the Alabamians surged across John Slyder's orchards and swept past his house and barn. Part of Law's brigade continued eastward and began the rugged ascent of Round Top, while the right most regiments halted, re-organized, and followed the banks of Plum Run to the northeast in an attack on Devil's Den. As the battle washed over Granite Farm, the house, barn, and other outbuildings became an aid station where wounded soldiers of both sides received treatment before being moved to the rear. The Slyder's bedding now served as bandages.

The attack continued, as the Confederates carried Devil's Den and in vain sought to capture Little Round Top. Meanwhile, as the casualties mounted, several would find their way back to the farm for treatment. By nightfall, the Confederates had established a line that encompassed Devil's Den just to the northeast of Granite Farm, and the slopes of Round Top to the east.

With the Slyder family now in exile, the bloodshed on Granite Farm had not concluded. The property remained behind Confederate lines on July 3rd. That afternoon, Union cavalry under Brigadier General Elon Farnsworth led a desperate mounted attack over the farm. Charging northward from Bushman's woods, the 1st Vermont Cavalry found itself caught in a cul-de-sac of death in Slyder's fields, taking fire from all sides. Personally accompanying the Vermonters, Farnsworth had one horse killed and commandeered another. Attempting to extricate the 1st Vermont from its trap, he finally fell with bullets in his chest, abdomen, and five in his leg, one of the last casualties on Granite Farm.

That night, the Confederates retreated back across the Emmitsburg Road, ceding control of the Slyder farm back to Union hands. The next day, July 5th, John Slyder would return to his farm.

In part 3 of this series, I'll take a look at what the aftermath of the battle meant for the Slyder family. In the 4th and final post, I'll deviate a bit and look at some 20th century history of the farm - specifically looking at some of the unique ways the NPS has interpreted the farm's history over the years.

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