Volume XXVI Issue #4 • An Excerpt From:


Hancock's Line at Gettysburg
July 3, 1863

by Blake Magner

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Note: All Blue & Gray feature articles are annotated.


View south along Hancock’s July 3rd Line from near its center. Big Round Top is visible in the distance, with Little Round Top to the left of it. The tall monument is for Stannard’s Vermont Brigade and has a statue of the general atop it. Gettysburg trivia buffs are quick to point out that the statue has General Stannard missing his right arm, when indeed it was present with him at Gettysburg. He did not lose the arm until 1864. Hancock’s wounding monument is marked by the white arrow. The black arrow indicates a “witness tree” (meaning it was here at the time of the battle). Park historians believe General John Gibbon, commanding Hancock’s Second Division, was wounded near this tree.

Just south of Woodruff’s position were the house and barn of Abraham Bryan (or Brian), a free black who fled Gettysburg as the Confederates approached. Starting near his barn was a knee-high stone wall that ran 775 feet south along the crest of the ridge. This portion of the line was held by the II Corps’ Third Division under the command of Brig. Gen. Alexander Hays. A 44-year-old Pennsylvanian and West Point graduate, Hays was a first-class fighting man whose men adored him, one saying that they “would have followed him to the death.”9

The first regiment that took up position on Hancock’s northern flank was the 111th New York of Col. George Willard’s brigade. Willard was killed the day before, so Col. Eliakim Sherrill now commanded the brigade. The 111th deployed behind the Bryan Barn with its left flank companies overlapping the 12th New Jersey (Maj. John T. Hill). The rest of the brigade (39th, 125th and 126th New York), which had moved out of Ziegler’s Grove were kept a few yards to the rear in a support position.10

The 111th New York was commanded by Col. Clinton D. MacDougall. Later that afternoon the colonel would be wounded near the Bryan buildings as his skirmishers retreated from the oncoming Confederates of Brig. Gen. James J. Pettigrew and Maj. Gen. Isaac R. Trimble. Hit in the arm, breaking the bone, MacDougall soon had the arm bandaged and returned to the fighting. Lt. Col. Isaac M. Lusk also commanded the regiment for a short period and was wounded. The area and extent of his wounds are unknown.11

The 39th New York was led by Maj. Hugo Hildebrant who also would be wounded. The nature of his wounds are unknown except that they occurred during the Confederate repulse. Col. Levin Crandell commanded the125th New York while the 126th New York was under the command of Col. Eliakim Sherrill until he assumed brigade command upon the death of Willard. Sherrill would be killed while riding behind the 39th New York as he moved a portion of the 126th forward to form a skirmish line during the Confederate assault. Lt. Col. James M. Bull commanded the 126th after Sherrill.12

Fight for the Bliss Farm

The Bliss Farm was to the front of Alexander Hays’ position. The farm comprised some 60 acres west of the Emmitsburg Road and lay equidistant between Seminary and Cemetery ridges, 600 yards from each crest. William and Hannah Bliss had moved to the farm in 1857. They had a two-story house and stone-and-brick barn that was 75 feet long, 33 feet wide and some 40 feet high. One Connecticut soldier described the barn as being “almost a citadel in itself.” Due to the fighting raging north and west of town on July 1, the family had left for safer surroundings.13

The actual fighting around the Bliss Farm had begun shortly after daybreak on July 2. The fighting was back and forth throughout much of the day with the Confederates taking possession of the house and barn, then the Federals pushing them out and setting up shop. Both buildings, particularly the barn, made excellent positions for sharpshooters, especially for the Confederates who fired on the artillery and infantry posted along Cemetery Ridge. Troops moved into the farm as skirmish lines and full regiments. By the end of the fighting on July 2 and through the night, the farm was in the hands of the Confederates.14

As the sun came up on July 3 skirmishers of both armies that surrounded the Bliss buildings knew it was going to be another hot day, and not just from the heat of the sun. About 8:00 a.m. five companies of the 12th New Jersey moved out of their position on the ridge, down a small farm lane and across the Emmitsburg Road where they rested for a few minutes (see Maps, Pg. 13). They then moved at the double-quick toward the Bliss Barn. Despite heavy Rebel fire the New Jersey boys managed to reach the barn and force their way into the stables before beginning to work their way up into the barn. As they reached the first floor the last few Confederates were skedaddling out of the rear headed for the safety of their main line.15

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