Volume XXIII Issue #1 • An Excerpt From:

Gettysburg

A Collection of Articles by Gettysburg Historians

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(left to right) Evander M. Law, CSA, George T. Anderson, CSA, Wesley Merritt, USA

Nevertheless, Parsons took Law’s unsubstantiated hearsay, which was contained in Bachelder’s private letter, and published it in one of the most popular veterans’ publications of the post-Civil War era, Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, where it appeared in the first-person as his own eyewitness observation in 1887. Kilpatrick, whom Parsons noted, “remained silent,” did so because of his death in 1881. Subsequently, Parsons’ 1887 Battles and Leaders account has become universally accepted as a legitimate primary source for interpreting Farnsworth’s attack, wherein the lie becomes history.11

When Parsons first heard of Law’s story from Bachelder, he said he was convinced that “the two generals were so near the enemy’s lines that Gen. McLaw’s [sic] statement was credible,” but by 1890 Parsons had abandoned the story. It does not appear in his subsequent revisions. Unfortunately, by the time the story was found to be an invention, the damage was already done.12

Several legitimate eyewitness accounts exist, however, that deny the allegation of harsh words passing between the two generals. The most adamant of those was written by Kilpatrick’s staff officer, Lt. Eli Holden:

I challenge any man living to say [he] heard any but courteous language between those two men on July 3, 1863. As a member of the staff of Gen. Kilpatrick I was in the presence of the two Generals when together for considerable time before the charge was made and believe heard all the conversation between them in regard to the same. Kilpatrick would as soon have severed his right hand as have insulted Farnsworth. . . .13

Kilpatrick was eventually convinced the Confederate right flank was unassailable, but he was intent on finding a way to carry out his orders. Frustrated but persistent, Kilpatrick fretted to produce an alternative plan. Kilpatrick’s determination eventually proved useful, enabling him to create an opportunity where none seemed to exist. He deployed Merritt’s brigade farther to the left (west) stretching his line to Marsh Creek. It forced an overextension of the Confederate skirmish line comprised of 200 dismounted cavalrymen under Col. John Black and the 9th Georgia Infantry of Brig. Gen. George T. Anderson’s brigade. In response, General Law, now in command of Hood’s Division, withdrew two additional infantry units (7th and 8th Georgia) from the main Confederate line and sent them to the right flank to oppose Kilpatrick. When the threat continued, Law said he “took out the only two remaining regiments of Anderson’s brigade [11th and 59th Georgia] from the main line and, conducting them directly to [his] extreme right, made a vigorous attack on the front and left wing of the Cavalry Reserve [Merritt].”14

While Law’s attention and men were drawn away to the west, it left ten Confederate cannons lacking infantry support in front of Farnsworth’s brigade. The batteries of Capts. James Reilly and William Bachman had been ordered to “change front to the right so as to bear upon [Kilpatrick’s] position.” Reilly, with three 10-pdr. Parrotts, one 3-in. Ordnance rifle and two 12-pdr. Napoleons, was perched on the southern extension of Warfield Ridge, and Bachman’s four 12-pdr. Napoleons were somewhat behind and to the right of Reilly. Both batteries were half a mile behind (west of) the main Confederate line. Thus Kilpatrick created a weakness in the enemy line that he believed Farnsworth could exploit.15

Law understood Kilpatrick’s intentions. He remembered “divining that the motive was to weaken my force in front of Gen. Farnsworth, whose force was concealed by the woods, to enable him to break through and place himself in rear of our line on the mountain and possibly capture our guns (Riley’s [sic] and Bachman’s).” To fix the problem, Law diverted yet another regiment to protect his batteries and fill the gap between Anderson’s Georgians and the Alabamians at the far right flank of the main Confederate line on the slope of Big Round Top. The Alabama regiments of Law’s Brigade were now under Col. James L. Sheffield of the 48th Alabama since Law’s elevation to division command. According to Law, he placed the battered remnants of the 1st Texas Infantry (about 300 men), of Brig. Gen. Jerome B. Robertson’s brigade “midway between Round Top and the Emmettsburg [sic] Rd., with skirmishers extending from its left and connecting at right angles with the extreme right of the main line on the slope of the mountain [Big Round Top].”16

Kilpatrick maintained that Law’s lightly defended artillery offered an opportunity for a cavalry attack to satisfy his orders. Lt. Henry Potter, 18th Pennsylvania Cavalry, remembered Kilpatrick “talking to Farnsworth about charging the battery in front of us. . . .” Immediately in front (south) of the Confederate batteries was an

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