Volume XXIII Issue #1 • An Excerpt From:


A Collection of Articles by Gettysburg Historians

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Into the Mouth of Hell
Farnsworth’s Charge Revisited

by Andie Custer Licensed Battlefield Guide

This stone wall, seldom visited, as for almost 150 years it was believed little of importance occurred here, and recently uncovered after extensive Park Service clearing of the battlefield, was actually held by a heavy skirmish line of the 1st Texas Infantry during Farnsworth’s Charge.

In the afternoon heat of July 3, 1863 at Gettysburg, the Union troopers of Brig. Gen. Elon J. Farnsworth’s cavalry brigade waited quietly in the woods southwest of Big Round Top. The men and horses were near exhaustion. They had fought two battles in three days against Jeb Stuart’s “Invincibles” and ridden many miles with little sleep, propelled by some unseen force common to weary soldiers. The day’s skirmishing south of the main battlefield had been brisk at times for Farnsworth’s horsemen, but two hours of incessant artillery fire farther north signaled a large-scale infantry attack and a sure omen of more fighting to come.1

The bombardment over, a relative silence permeated the steamy woods where the Federal cavalry waited. The fate of Farnsworth’s jaded troopers rested with their division commander, Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick, who impatiently awaited news from his superiors while keeping his cavalry in limbo. Both Farnsworth and Kilpatrick were new to the Third Cavalry Division and the men watched them closely. As the moments dragged by, Kilpatrick’s demeanor became more agitated and by 5:00 p.m., a restless anticipation stirred within the ranks. Horses stomped at the ground and shifted anxiously. Some riders undoubtedly sympathized while others slept, giving way to a determined numbness. It would not be long before Providence would intervene. The men of Farnsworth’s brigade, Kilpatrick’s division, would gallop into the blurry annals of history, their actions largely forgotten or misunderstood. One commander would be destined for promotion, the other would be dead.2

After riding overnight from Hunters-town, Pa.,Kilpatrick’s division, composed of two brigades of cavalry and several batteries of horse artillery, arrived near the intersection of the Baltimore Pike and Low Dutch Road in the Union rear where they halted for a few hours. “We fed our horses, made coffee and some of us took a nap,” recalled one trooper. At 8:00 a.m. Kilpatrick received an order to “attack the enemy in flank and rear, as well as prevent [the Union] flank from being turned.” Kilpatrick’s division left camp almost immediately and moved to the Union left. Half of the division arrived on present-day Barlow-Greenmount Road south of Big Round Top by about 10:30 a.m.3

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