Gettysburg: Day 2
Houck’s Ridge/Devil’s Den
Part 2: Back and Forth on the Triangular Field
Even before the opposing forces had collided Ward had surmised that covering his right with four regiments was a luxury, compared to the threat on the left. He ordered the 99th Pennsylvania out of its line and southerly across the crest of the ridge to try to cover the hilltop are that the 4th Maine had moved from.
The First Texas Regiment was now nearing Rose Run. They had taken substantial punishment moving into the valley as Smith’s battery had switched to canister shot, opening large holes in the battle line. While the Texans were eager to exact some measure of revenge, they were not ready to advance.
Unfortunately the repulse and reforming of the 3rd Arkansas had exposed the Texans’ left flank. Colonel Philip Work decided to move two companies into Rose Woods to shore up that gap and the advance briefly paused. From the lightly wooded area to the west of Rose Run the 1st Texas was now close enough able to put rifle fire into the artillery and infantry men at the top of the triangular field. The 4th NY Light Artillery still continued to pour out a deadly fire. They were now unable to depress their barrels enough to strike the 1st Texas, but they continued to fire into the Benning’s second wave some 400 yards behind the Robertson’s brigade.
When his two left companies had secured the adjacent area of Rose Woods, Colonel Work ordered his men out over the lower fence to finally silence the troublesome Union Battery. As they moved their way up the triangular field they received fire from the remaining company of the 4th Maine on their right and from returning skirmishers and armed gunners of the 4th NY Artillery behind the stone fence.
By this time Smith’s cannon also had paused. The gunfire from below became too severe to continue operations on the crest. Smith pulled his men back with all of their implements so the enemy could not quickly use the valuable Parrott rifles left on the hilltop. Smith later stated this was to intimidate the enemy but more likely he hoped to continue to use them. Regardless of the motive, they had performed their duty admirably.
The 124th NY remained in line behind the military crest and Smith’s guns. Not until the 1st Texas was more than half way up the hill did Colonel Augustus Ellis give the order to his regiment to fix bayonets and then stand and fire. The Texans held firm, though and attempted to move toward the upper fence. With the Texans less than 30 yards from Smith’s guns, 22-year-old Major James Cromwell called for his horse. Over the objections of his men, he mounted up, “The men must see us today!” With that he led the left of the regiment over the crest, the upper wall, and down the hill. Ellis joined in from the center and Lieutenant Colonel Francis Cummins led the right along the edge of Rose Woods
The attack drove the Texans back down the hill, across the stone wall at the base, and Rose Run. There the Texans rallied as the forward elements of Benning’s Brigade reached the valley. After an initial volley that inflicted a huge price on the 124th, Major Cromwell attempted to rally the New Yorkers and was struck in the heart with a southern bullet.
Concerned for the ridge, Lieutenant Colonel Cummins rode back up the hill to convince Smith to pull his guns off while the chance was available. As he reached the ridge he was knocked unconscious by a shell hit that disabled one of the Parrott rifles. Cummins and the cannon were both pulled from the ridge as the drama continued below.
After being forced back over the lower fence Colonel Ellis rallied the Orange Blossoms one final time before he was shot from his horse.
The 124th New York, now not only battered and leaderless, fell into further jeopardy. The 44th Alabama had split into two segments on approaching the rocks of Devils Den. The left portion, led by Major George Cary moved around the to the west of the rocks and fell upon the 124th New York in their exposed position.
The Alabamans opened a blistering crossfire into the reeling Orange Blossoms. Picking up the bodies of their commanders, the New Yorkers retreated to the north into the edge of Rose Woods. For a short time the guns at the top of the ridge were unoccupied and unprotected.
With the New Yorkers occupied and retreating to the north, the left wing of the 44th Alabama quickly pushed up the side of the stone fence, capturing most of the 4th Maine’s Company F.
Cary’s group continued beyond and for several minutes occupied the crest of Houck’s Ridge and its remaining three cannon. Corporal James Forte mounted one of the cannon and waved the regimental colors. Once on the ridge the 44th Alabama came under artillery fire from Little Round Top, which had just been occupied by Charles Hazlett’s Battery D, 5th Artillery. This and gunfire from Rose Woods caused Colonel William Perry to order them back off the summit to a less exposed position farther down the hill.
At about the same time Lt. Colonel Work of the 1st Texas moved most of his troops to the left to support Manning’s 3rd Arkansas who were still struggling to make progress against three Union Regiments.
Unaware of the 44th Alabama’s presence, Colonel Work detached two companies under Major Frederick Bass and sent them back up the hill to secure the ridge. They apparently arrived just after the 44th Alabama’s departure. Initially the Texans faced little opposition and once again Smith’s guns were in Confederate hands.