01 April 2011

Some Rocks, A Valley, And Maine

4th Maine Monumnet
The men of the 4th Maine came from a hard rocky land on the northern coast of the Atlantic Ocean. They would find themselves on a jumble of rocks called Devil’s Den on 2 July 1863 that they would never forget. A place where many of them would return to put a monument 10 Oct 1888, in memory of a hard thing done there.

The 4th Maine was formed of men from Knox, Lincoln, and Waldo counties in Maine. The regiment was made up of 10 companies and was organized Apr 1861. Mustered into Union service 15 June 1861, they left the state under a flag with the words “From the Home of Knox”; a reference to Revolutionary War General Henry Knox. Their Colonel was Elijah Walker. They would be part of the Second Brigade, First Division, of the III Corps of the Union Army.

General J Hobart Ward
 General J Hobart Ward’s Brigade, of which the 4th Maine was part, reached Emmitsburg about 3pm on 1 July 1863. They had just begun setting up bivouac when orders came to get to Gettysburg. The roads over which they marched were in ruff shape, and the trip of about 12 miles was made at the pace of a quick march. Reaching Gettysburg around 8pm, they turned down the Wheatfield Road and went into camp near the George Weikert farm. Colonel Walker received orders shortly after, to take his men out along the front of the Union left Wing and establish a picket line. The picket line was on the west side of the Emmitsburg Road, about 200 yards to the front of the main Union line.

The morning of 2 July 1863 dawned on a cloudy sky and an already a warm 75 degrees. Shooting began along the 4th Maine’s skirmish line at 9am. It was light fire, but the men were glad to be relieved by the 1st Massachusetts in the early afternoon. Upon returning to the Brigade, the men of the 4th found that General Daniel Sickles, the commander of the III Corps had moved his troops into a new line. The line ran along the Emmitsburg Road to the Peach Orchard, where it made an angle and ended on the far left of the Union line in Devil’s Den. It was on this far left along Houck’s Ridge that the 4th Maine found themselves.

Ward’s Brigade was lined up from just south of the Wheatfield, running right to left, the 99th Pennsylvania, 20th Indiana, 86th New York, 124th New York and the 4th Maine. Do to the length of this line the Brigade was in a single battle line and there were several gaps between regiments. In addition Captain James Smith deployed 2 sections of his 4th New York Independent Battery, four 10 pound Parrots. Smith requested that Colonel Walker move his 4th Maine to the left of his guns. Smith said he “could take care of his front, but the enemy would come up the wood on our left” and he felt Walker’s 4th Maine could provide him protection on that side. Walker wasn’t happy about the request, but orders came down from General Ward and the 4th Maine moved left, forming a new line across the Plum Run Valley.

Colonel Elijah Walker
 Colonel Walker was very aware of his exposed left flank. He moved skirmishers forward of his line and on his left along the lower slope of Little Round Top. As Colonel Strong Vincent’s men began to arrive on Little Round Top, Vincent sent out skirmishers of his own. This move caused Walker to believe that Vincent was going to connect his line to 4th Maine. Walker called his skirmishers back in.

Around 4:30pm the 4th Maine saw Confederates come out to the woods; Generals Evander Law’s Alabama and Jerome Robertson’s Texas infantry. The Alabama and Texas men were moving along the slope of Little Round Top. The Confederates were to the left on the Maine men firing up the hill. The 4th Maine posted in the valley still wasn’t engaged. Then about 5pm the 44th Alabama appeared from some pines on the 4th Maine’s right flank and front. Walker ordered his men to open fire. The 48th Alabama moved a column along the lower slope of Little Round Top, flanking the 4th Maine. Colonel Walker, to protect against this new threat, refused his left line. The men of the 4th held firm, but being in the open valley they suffered heavy losses. Walker then moved to the right of his line, and found the enemy about to capture Smith’s guns and already moving into Smith’s rear. Seeing that Smith’s men were abandoning the guns and facing overwhelming numbers of Confederates, Walker ordered the men of the 4th to pull back about 150 yards by a series of right obliques toward the 99th Pennsylvania, which General Ward had moved to fill the hole left in his line by Smith’s Battery. Walker ordered his men to fix bayonets. Charging into the Confederate who had entered the battery, the 4th Maine drove them out.

As the fighting continued, hand to hand, Ward moved his brigade back along Houck’s Ridge. The Confederates took cover behind the many rocks and boulders of Devil’s Den. Finally with the support of the 6th New Jersey and 40th New York, the Brigade could withdraw.

With the 4th Maine on the far left they were the last to leave the field. Many of the men were captured during the withdrawal. Among those who were almost taken prisoner was Colonel Walker, who had been wounded in the Achilles tendon. He was carried off the field by his men. The flag of the 4th Maine had 32 bullet holes and the staff was shot in two. The Regiment’s Color Bearer Sergeant Henry O Ripley never let the flag touch the ground. Somehow he got off the field without being injured, although all the rest of the color guard were killed or wounded.

It was 6pm. Walker turned over command of the 4th Maine to Captain Edwin Libby. The fighting was over for the 4th Maine at Gettysburg.


Bradley M Gottfried, “Brigades of Gettysburg; the Union and Confederate Brigades at the Battle of Gettysburg”, [np, DaCapo Press, 2002]

n.a., “Maine at Gettysburg; Report of Maine Commissioners”, [Gettysburg, PA, Stan Clark Military Books, 1994]