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Gettysburg: Day 2
Houck’s Ridge/Devil’s Den-Part 3
The Resistance Stiffens
On the opposite side of the Ridge, Colonel Walker and the 4th Maine hurriedly set up a line in the cleared area north of the rocky glen later known as the Slaughter Pen. He also extended a skirmish line farther to the east and into the woods at the base of Round Top to search for advancing Southern troops.
Farther up the slope of Little Round Top and to the left the lead elements of Strong Vincent's brigade were moving into position and Walker felt the gap would soon be filled by the arriving units from the Union V corps. At this point there was a gap of a few hundred yards between the Union positions, but with Ward's line stretched close to its limits and Walker under direct attack, this seemed reasonable. What Walker did not know was that Vincent was going to have his hands full himself on the south and southeast slopes of Little Round Top and that no additional help was going to come from that direction
Shortly thereafter the 4th Maine’s skirmish line could see masses of Confederates moving towards them through the woods. Just to the West, the right wing of the 44th Alabama under Lt. Colonel John Jones pushed their way to around the rocks of Devil’s Den in into the constricted Plum Run Valley. As they reached the Slaughter Pen they came into view of the 4th Maine and a sharp firefight ensued among the rocks.
Moments later, the lead portions of the 48th Alabama began to work their way out of the woods at the base of Big Round Top. This movement pushed Walker's skirmishers back into the valley where they stood with the rest of the 4th Maine for a time though taking significant losses.
Due to the rough and woody ground both Alabama Regiments had lost cohesion and initially had difficulty forcing the attack Eventually both units pulled back to find cover in the woods and rocks and regroup.
Colonel Walker now began receiving word of the events on the opposite side of Houck's Ridge. He apparently concluded that the forces in front of him were not the biggest threat to the Union position. Well aware of the existence of Smith's second Battery and the pending arrival of more help. (General Birney had now dispatched the 6th New Jersey from Burling's Brigade in addition to the 40th New York) Colonel Walker decided to move back to the Ridge-where he had wanted to be in the first place.
The now rather diminished regiment pulled back to the north, fixed bayonets and moved over the ridge in an oblique. Moving to the top they challenged the two companies of Texans, who had briefly staked a claim to Smith's guns.
Moments later the 99th Pennsylvania arrived at the crest and added more momentum as well as overwhelming numbers. They passed behind the 4th Maine and cleared the ridge of Cary's forward Alabamans back to its rocky crest.
The Texans were determined not to give up the hard-won heights but after a bloody exchange they were forced down the hill into the woods and the triangular field. Bodies continued to pile up on that incredibly contested few acres.
With the 4th Maine out of the way the right wing of the 44th Alabama again attempted to move up through the rough ground between Devils Den and Plum Rum. To their right the 48th Alabama now cleared the woods and broke out onto the open lower slope of Little Round Top. Rounds of canister from Smith's two remaining guns greeted both.
The fire from this small battery must have been uncanny because both Alabama Regiments were forced to halt -presumably waiting for the Georgia Brigade. It seems likely that manpower from Smith's main battery were available to expedite loading as they had just moved off the ridge. By any measure however the feat of two three-inch rifles holding off at least 400 infantrymen is a credit to Smith and his gunners.
For a brief interlude the situation looked more positive for the Union regiments. The 17th Maine, 20th Indiana and 86th New York continued to stymie the 3rd Arkansas and the 1st Texas in Rose Woods. The 4th Maine, the remnants of the 124th New York and the 99th Pennsylvania were in a strong position atop the southern tip of the ridge.
While the guns of Smith’s rear battery held the 44th and 48th Alabama out of Plum Run the III corps command continued shuffle forces to try to plug the valley below Strong Vincent's men on Little Round Top. Two more regiments, the 6th New Jersey and the 40th New York were on their way from the Wheatfield area.
While Ward's Brigade had been bloodied, it now (with the reinforcements) had more than 2000 effective troops in a reasonably strong, if isolated, position.
The four Southern regiments, now in a L shaped line bracketing the Ridge, had started the day with only about 1650 men and now had likely taken at least 300 casualties. The 2000 men in Law and Robertson's five other regiments had disappeared into the woods at the Base of Big Round Top heading for a confrontation on the southern slopes of its smaller partner and would be of no further menace to Ward’s position