Bloody Wheatfield Oak Witness Tree Rings
The area that became known as the Bloody Wheatfield was owned by the Rose family at the time of the Battle of Gettysburg. The fighting here, late on the second day of the battle, consisted of numerous attacks and counterattacks over several hours. Nineteen brigades fought for this 20-acre position. The first engagement in the Wheatfield was that of Gen. G.T. Anderson’s brigade of Confederates attacking the 17th Maine led by Col. Philippe Regis de Trobriand. The 17th Maine held its position behind a low stone wall with the assistance of cannon fire, and Anderson’s men fell back. Later, de Trobriand wrote, “I have never seen any men fight with equal obstinacy.” By 5:30 p.m., the first of Confederate Gen. Joseph Kershaw’s regiment neared the Rose farmhouse. Kershaw’s men placed great pressure on the 17th Maine, but it continued to hold. For some reason, however, Union Gen. James Barnes withdrew his understrength division about 300 yards to the north. The 17th Maine had to follow suit, and the Confederates seized the Wheatfield. Later, Union Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock sent the 1st Division under Gen. John C. Caldwell from its reserve position behind Cemetery Ridge. It arrived about 6 p.m. and cleared the Wheatfield, pushing Kershaw’s men back to the edge of Rose Woods and returning the Wheatfield to the Union.
Having exhausted their ammunition, however, the Union’s control was short-lived, and the position collapsed, but not without fierce and often hand-to-hand fighting. The Wheatfield was once again in control of the Confederates. Soon thereafter, additional Union troops arrived. The 2nd Division of the V Corps, under Brig. Gen. Romeyn B. Ayres, known as the ‘Regular Division,’ entered the fray, but were quickly flanked by Confederate troops and had to retreat to the relative safety of nearby Little Round Top. The final Confederate assault through the Wheatfield occurred at about 7:30 p.m. As they neared the northern shoulder of Little Round Top they were met with a counterattack from the 3rd Division of the Pennsylvania Reserves. The brigade of Col. William McCandless, including a company from Gettysburg, drove the exhausted Confederates back beyond the east side of the field.
The Bloody Wheatfield remained quiet for the rest of the battle, but it took a heavy toll on the men who traded its position that day. The Confederates had fought with six brigades against 13 (somewhat smaller) Union brigades. Of the 20,644 soldiers from both sides, about 30% were killed, wounded or missing.
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