Volume XXIII Issue #1 • An Excerpt From:


A Collection of Articles by Gettysburg Historians

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During the march to the Union left, Brig. Gen. George A. Custer’s brigade disappeared from the rear of the column. Cavalry Corps commander Maj. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton failed to notify Kilpatrick that he had diverted Custer’s brigade to the Union right. Without knowledge of Custer’s reassignment, Kilpatrick spent a lot of energy and every available staff officer in the search for the brigade. Never receiving official word of Custer’s reassignment, Kilpatrick eventually recalled his staff and decided to proceed with only Farnsworth’s brigade. The absence of Custer was only one source of frustration for Judson Kilpatrick that afternoon.4

Farnsworth’s (left) 2,134 horsemen, including the 1st Vermont, 1st West Virginia, 5th New York and 18th Pennsylvania cavalry regiments, moved west along present Barlow-Greenmount Road. Soon the dismounted skirmishers in front of the column engaged enemy skirmishers (near the current-day Bochek farm) and drove them up onto a high ridge (along present-day Ridge Road). Reaching the crest of the ridge, Kilpatrick’s column turned north and began driving the enemy northward. (See Tour Map, Pg. 53.)5

At the same time, Brig. Gen. Wesley Merritt’s cavalry brigade (1,918 men from Buford’s division) was approaching up the Emmitsburg Road with orders to report to Kilpatrick. Merritt moved up and deployed on Farnsworth’s left, and the two brigadiers linked their dismounted skirmish line. Merritt’s skirmish line crossed the Emmitsburg Road and Farnsworth’s straddled Ridge Road. Meanwhile, Kilpatrick placed the artillery. Lt. Samuel Elder’s Battery E, 4th U. S. (four 3-in. Ordnance rifles) along with Capt. William Graham’s Battery K, 1st U.S. (six 3-in. Ordnance rifles), were massed on Wintrode Ridge near the Emmitsburg Road. (See Map, Pg. 13).6

As this makeshift division, partially deployed and on foot, drove the enemy northward about a mile toward the Confederate right flank, Kilpatrick began to focus on making a plan for his attack. Company M of the 1st Vermont Cavalry was sent to reconnoiter the area near the enemy’s right flank on the western slope of Big Round Top. They reported the ground there was covered with enormous boulders and the terrain was entirely impassable on horseback. It was not welcome news for Kilpatrick. He knew the cavalry’s speed was important to its success and any operations against the heavier-armed infantry must require horses. A number of additional scouting parties were sent out, one of which was led by Farnsworth, but they all brought back the same appraisal of the terrain. Kilpatrick knew that blindly following his orders without regard to the terrain conditions would mean letting his men bear the consequences.7

One Kilpatrick biographer, Samuel J. Martin, claimed Kilpatrick’s mind was “closed to logic” and that despite the terrain, Kilpatrick ordered Farnsworth to charge up that treacherous slope. Martin claimed “even the lowest of privates could have predicted his defeat.” This negative interpretation of Kilpatrick’s actions is common in modern Civil War literature. Kilpatrick stands accused of more than one indiscretion on July 3, but a closer look at the evidence proves he is guilty of no offense.8

A widespread popular story of Farnsworth’s defiant protest and Kilpatrick’s malicious rejoinder impugning Farnsworth’s honor is often repeated. Recent research by this author shows the oft-cited eyewitness source of the “insult” story, Capt. Henry C. Parsons of the 1st Vermont Cavalry, actually admitted having borrowed the story for publication from Confederate Brig. Gen. Evander M. Law. General Law heard it second-hand from his men on the battlefield, who overheard someone talking to someone else — but didn’t actually see who it was. In other words, it was a supposition, based on a rumor, perpetuated by hearsay and published as a lie.9

Law recalled in 1876 that his men on picket overheard “someone in a loud angry voice say, ‘Colonel, are you never going to attack? By God, if you are afraid to do it, I will lead the charge myself!’” None of Law’s men could identify the speaker or to whom the comment was directed. Later, in a letter to Gettysburg battlefield historian John Bachelder, Law asserted, “I suppose, from what I have since learned, that it was Gen. Kilpatrick (left) addressing Gen. Farnsworth, whose commission . . . was only five or six days old, therefore the address, ‘Colonel.’” Unfortunately, Law guessed wrong. What Law did not realize was that Farnsworth was never a colonel. He was promoted from the rank of volunteer captain to volunteer brigadier general only four days before the charge. Kilpatrick would not have addressed Farnsworth as “Colonel.”10

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