On Sunday, June 21 there was heavy skirmishing along the edges of Lee’s advance northward, at Upperville near Gainesville, Virginia, at Haymarket and Thoroughfare Gap, Virginia, and at Frederick, Maryland. Nevertheless, the following day found the confederate armies continuing northward passing out of Virginia into Maryland on their way to strike at the North on its own soil. The previous attempt to carry the war to the North had ended in failure along the banks of Antietam Creek outside the small Maryland hamlet of Sharpsburg. Lee was determined not to fail this time. (photo: Third Michigan monument on the edge of the Peach Orchard.)
By Wednesday, June 24, confederate forces under Generals James Longstreet and A.P. Hill began crossing the Potomac into Maryland to join General Ewell’s Second Corps. On June 25 General “Jeb” Stuart received permission from Lee to take his cavalry and pass between the Federal army and Washington, joining the Confederate army north of the Potomac. On Friday, Confederate General Jubal Early (of Ewell’s corps) entered Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He left the next day, Saturday, arriving soon afterwards in York, Pennsylvania where he accepted the surrender of the town.
Confederate forces were also moving toward Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. On Sunday Lee learned that the Federals were moving north of the Potomac and decided to alter his plans for the invasion of Pennsylvania. Rather than driving on toward Harrisburg, the state capital, he ordered his Third Corps under A. P. Hill to converge on Gettysburg and Cashtown.
Lincoln had grown weary of Hooker’s continued vacillation and indecision about confronting Lee’s movement northward and at last decided to replace him. On June 27, the War Department ordered General George Gordon Meade to assume command of the Army of the Potomac, and at 7:00 a.m. the following day, General Meade received Halleck’s orders placing him in command of the Army of the Potomac. General David Birney was relieved of command of the Third Corps by Major General Daniel Sickles, and returned to command the First Division. (The Third Michigan infantry was part of the Third Brigade under Colonel Regis De Trobriand; and the Third Brigade was part of the First Division.)
The day Hooker was relieved turned cloudy when the Third Michigan Infantry regiment, under the command of Colonel Byron Pierce, left Point-of-Rocks, Maryland at 9:00 a.m., passing through Jefferson, Maryland after dinner, moving towards Hagerstown. Sometime around dusk the regiment bivouacked at Middleton, Maryland. A dentist in Grand Rapids, Michigan before the war, Pierce had begun the war as Captain of Company K in the Third Michigan and in two years had developed into an extremely capable commander.
It was cloudy when the regiment commenced its march at 7:00 a.m. on Sunday, June 28, passing through Middleton at about 9:00 a.m., and through Frederick about 2 p.m., when they halted for dinner. The regiment bivouacked for night about six miles from Frederick.
But where were they going? Lansing native Edgar Clark of Company G wrote his wife Catharine that “We [hear] all sorts of rumors about the whereabouts of the rebels. I presume we will find them before long.”
Find them they did.
It was a cloudy and misty morning when the Third Michigan marched off from at 6:00 a.m. on Monday, June 29, passing through several small towns. Around sunset the regiment passed through Taneytown, about four miles from Pennsylvania line and halted for the night. On Tuesday, it rained nearly all day. The Third Michigan left is previous night’s bivouac at around midday, marched about five miles to the left, and halted about one-and-a-half miles from Emmitsburg, Maryland. George Bailey of Company F recalled that they passed a number of rebel prisoners before they made camp for the night.
July 1 was cloudy and rainy when the Third Michigan broke camp and marched about one mile, where the Brigade was halted to provide cover for along the Fairfield-Gettysburg road and protection for the Corps trains moving toward Gettysburg. At about 2:00 p.m. General Birney was ordered to take his other two brigades and proceed on to Gettysburg, and report to Major General Howard who was then engaged with the enemy. The Third Michigan, however, remained behind, at least for the moment. The regiment set up camp on the grounds of St. Joseph’s Academy at Emmitsburg, where they remained through the night of July 1. One member of the 110th Pennsylvania, which was bivouacked with the Third Michigan, recalled later “The gentle sisters seemed a good deal alarmed at the advent of the soldiers and prospect of war at their door.”
At around 2:00 a.m. on July 2 Colonel De Trobriand received orders to strike camp and rejoin the rest of the Third Corps near Gettysburg. At about 3:00 a.m. the Third Michigan broke camp and marched off, passing through Emmitsburg and crossing into Pennsylvania at 6:00 a.m. The distance, noted Colonel De Trobriand, was only seven or eight miles, but it had rained, and the roads were terrible.
The Third Michigan came up to the front at the line of battle near Gettysburg sometime between 9:00 and 10:00 a.m. joining the rest of Birney’s First Division. The regiment rested briefly in the Third Corps area, somewhere along the slope of the high ground near Little Round Top. The Michiganders found Birney’s division with its left near Little Round Top and its right in a direct line toward the cemetery, “connecting on the right with the 2nd division of this corps.” The division’s “picket line was in the Emmitsburg road, with sharpshooters some 300 yards in advance.” By mid-afternoon, the Union line of defense ran roughly along the eastern side of the Emmitsburg Road to the Peach Orchard, where Birney’s First division held the line.
At about 2:00 p.m. De Trobriand’s “woefully under strength” Third Brigade, consisting of the 3rd and 5th Michigan regiments, “both small but of the best kind,” and the 17th Maine, the 40th New York, “the largest in the brigade,” and the 110th Pennsylvania, which was the smallest in the brigade with only six companies, was put in the fight.
Expecting an attack on the left General Birney assigned De Trobriand’s Third Brigade to a wooded area at the edge of the “Wheatfield,” in the center of his division’s line.
Colonel De Trobriand positioned the 5th Michigan and 110th Pennsylvania on the southern edge of a wooded ridge just west of the Wheatfield, with the 3rd Michigan on his western front, the right portion of the regiment being extended to the Peach Orchard, and deployed as a skirmish line at the Emmitsburg Road, connecting with the skirmish line of the 5th Michigan near the Rose house, a little east of the road. The 40th New York and 17th Maine, also in the same woods, De Trobriand held as a second line of reserve, with the 40th on the left and the 17th had its right at the northern edge of the woods about one hundred yards from the Peach Orchard, in the rear of the 3rd Michigan. (photo: Fifth Michigan monument.)
If this deployment sounds a bit confusing it was – and in fact remains so to this day. In general, however, De Trobriand’s Third Brigade formed the primary Union defense of the area today known as the Wheatfield, and at the Peach Orchard the Union line bent back east-southeast, wrapping around the southern edge of the Wheatfield in the direction of Little Round Top. What is fairly clear is that the 3rd Michigan was set out as skirmishers connecting with the troops at the Peach Orchard, that is the 3rd Michigan occupied the space left between De Trobriand’s Brigade and Graham’s Brigade on the right.
In general terms, by the middle of the afternoon of July 2, Birney’s First Division was deployed roughly as follows: Ward’s Brigade held the left of the line, De Trobriand in the center, and Graham on the right in the peach orchard, with his right on the Emmitsburg road. The 3rd Michigan in essence connected the Third Brigade with Graham’s Brigade in the Peach Orchard.
While the brigades of Birney’s division were maneuvering into their positions, the rebels, under generals McLaws and Hood, part of Longstreet’s First Corps, in the woods just west of the Emmitsburg Road, began pushing forward in large numbers heading for the road. De Trobriand’s skirmishers soon became hard-pressed. With the Union artillery beginning to fire at the rebel advance elements, De Trobriand pushed the 3rd Michigan forward to the Peach Orchard in an effort to stem the advance of the rebel skirmishers. De Trobriand held the 17th Maine and 40th New York in reserve in the wooded area directly behind the Third Brigade line, ready to defend the Wheatfield.
However, it soon appeared that the confederates were moving in a large force to turn the Union left. Third Corps commander General Daniel Sickles at once advanced his line to repel the attack. As he pushed his Graham’s First Brigade forward Birney soon discovered a 500-yard gap just south of the Wheatfield between the Emmitsburg road and a stony hill. He covered the gap by deploying the 3rd Michigan and Third Maine in front of it as skirmishers. Colonel Pierce moved the 3rd Michigan by the right flank to the left of the “Peach Orchard”, of which the Confederates held a portion, where he deployed Companies I, F and K, deploying forward on the right of Company F. The regiment drove out the rebel skirmishers back to and a bit beyond the Rose stone house and barn on the left of the Emmitsburg Road, leaving the 3rd Michigan’s right in front of the Peach Orchard close to the road.
The 3rd Michigan found itself to the left of the 141st Pennsylvania of Graham’s First Brigade. Graham ordered the 141st Pennsylvania, 3rd Maine and 3rd Michigan to advance and they crossed the southern edge of the Peach Orchard and went in on the left of the Second New Hampshire attacking Kershaw’s South Carolinians who were advancing across the road. Kershaw’s rebels were advancing in two columns, with one column advancing in the direction of Ward’s and De Trobriand’s brigades. As this was happening the 141st Pennsylvania and 3rd Michigan were ordered forward engaging the left flank of the South Carolinians as advanced. The second rebel column was marching up the Emmitsburg Road to the point occupied by the Pennsylvania and Michigan regiments.
The 3rd Michigan drove the Confederate skirmishers back to and beyond the Rose house and barn on the left of the Emmitsburg road, and found their right resting in front of the orchard, near the road. “Upon gaining this position,” wrote Lieutenant Colonel Edwin Pierce of the 3rd Michigan, “we discovered that the enemy was massing his forces on our left. I reported the same to General Sickles, and kept him informed of the enemy's movements. During the engagement, the enemy made several attempts to retake the [Rose] house and barn, but were repulsed with heavy loss, our men fighting with a desperation never before witnessed, and at times at a range of not over 50 yards.”
Company A of the 3rd Michigan was detached to support a portion of Graham’s First Brigade line on the right, and they advanced to the brick house on the right of the Emmitsburg road, holding that position until they were overpowered by superior forces. It was not long afterwards that the 68th Pennsylvania began to give way. At the order of General Sickles Birney had pushed his line too far forward and found himself overextended. Birney’s division began to feel the stress of the moment. “My thin lines,” he wrote later, “swayed to and fro during the fight, and my regiments were moved constantly on the double-quick from one part of the line to the other, to reinforce assailed points.
The “Peach Orchard” position was fast becoming untenable for the Union forces as the confederates could enfilade fire and flank the federal troops. It is unclear whether Graham gave the order to withdraw or the troops just began to move rearward on their own, but apparently all this was too much for the forward units as the 3rd Maine, after exchanging a few shots with the enemy withdrew, followed very soon by the 3rd Michigan.
As the 68th Pennsylvania line began to crumble and its troops fall back, the salient created by overextending Birney’s line too far forward was doomed, one observer has written.
The Wheatfield Road line became untenable because an enemy force at the Peach Orchard could enfilade and flank it; the Emmitsburg Road line could not be held because an enemy force at the Peach Orchard could assail its left and reach its rear. Whether at Graham's orders or at their own volition, the 3rd Maine and 3rd Michigan regiments pulled back from their position facing Kershaw and changed front to the west. This left the 2nd New Hampshire and the 141st Pennsylvania on the original line fronting south with flanks open, facing Kershaw's men in their front, and with Barksdale’s and Wofford's men threatening their right. Thus, the two Federal regiments had no option but to fall back and change front to the west.
According to the commander of the 3rd Michigan, since most of Graham’s force had retired (from the right) and the 3rd Michigan held their position until about 7:00 p.m., when the left had retired so far that the 3rd Michigan was in danger of being flanked, thus the 3rd Michigan “retired in good order” and aided “in bringing off a portion of two batteries” left on the field.
In any case, units of the Second and Fifth Corps relieved Birney’s division from the front line about dusk, and his troops moved to the rear. The 3rd Michigan rejoined the brigade at about this time and marched across the Taneytown road where Birney’s division bivouacked for the night.
It was about this time that General Birney was informed that General Sickles had been seriously wounded in the leg. (He would in fact have his leg amputated.) “At 6 o'clock.” Birney wrote soon afterward, “I found Major-General Sickles seriously wounded, and, at his request, took command of the troops.
At about the same time that Sickles was wounded, Colonel Byron Pierce of the 3rd Michigan was wounded, and his brother Lieutenant Colonel Edwin Pierce, took over temporary command of the regiment.
The following day, Friday July 3 was clear and warm as the remnants of Birney’s division occupied the rear of the Union line along Taneytown Road just on the southeast edge of Cemetery Ridge. The Third Brigade formed a second line to support their batteries, and the 3rd Michigan was moved to their first position along the Taneytown road that they had occupied upon arriving on the field the day before, July 2. At about 3:00 p.m. the 3rd Michigan was ordered forward at the double quick to where the Confederates were trying to pierce the center of the Federal line, and was detached and sent to the support of the Second Division, Second Corps. Although the regiment was reported as never actually engaging the Confederates in fact some elements of the 3rd Michigan assisted in repulsing the confederate attack; several men were wounded.
Allen Shattuck of Company G said later that during “Pickett’s Charge” on July 3, although the 3rd Michigan “did not fire a shot they received their share from the enemy’s guns and did their duty in holding this very important point. Having vanquished the enemy, large details were made from many regiments. Here again the ‘Old Third’ came in for their full share of carrying and caring for the wounded and prisoners, working all night to get the wounded rebels into comfortable quarters.”
After the failure of Pickett’s efforts to take the Union line along Cemetery ridge on July 3, Lee was forced to evacuate his position and began retreating from Gettysburg on Saturday, July 4. The following day began clear but rained hard in the afternoon as the rebels continued retreating out of Pennsylvania into Maryland. The following day, Sunday began cloudy and misty. “All quiet on the lines,” Bailey noted. “The rebels are dusting out.”
The 3rd Michigan remained inactive at Gettysburg after the battles of July 1-3, aside from providing details to assist in burying the dead.
It rained almost all day Sunday, July 5 and again nearly all day on Monday, July 6. The regiment had orders to march, “but did not go.” Bailey also observed to himself “There is a very bad odor begins to arise from the battlefield. The dead are most all buried, but not as they should be.” Andrew Kilpatrick of Company E wrote in his journal, “Our men are all busy burying the dead, and picking up arms. Many wandering over the field looking at the terrible sights caused by the determined strife.”
On July 7, it was again cloudy and misty; it rained heavily that day and the mud was deep. The 3rd Michigan left Gettysburg at around daybreak and marched some twenty miles, passing back through Emmitsburg, Maryland before making camp for the night.
“Through the mercies of a kind Providence I am still spared in life,” wrote Edgar Clark of Company G to his wife Catherine the day before the regiment left the battlefield,
we have been through tough times since the 1st of the month. We arrived on the battleground on the 2nd of the month and we fought them very hard. Although we had to yield the ground for a short time we soon regained all that we have lost. We lost a good many men killed and wounded. Among the wounded is Sgt. [Joseph] Stevens. A shell tore off his knapsack which wound[ed] him so bad that he left the field. Sgt. Bissell from Wacoustra was wounded in the hips. . . . [I]f you had seen the dead and wounded rebels that I saw. I stood on one spot and counted more than 100 close to me. We [had] 12 large pieces of cannon firing on them. I went over the battleground on the morning of the 4th and was two hours giving the wounded water to drink. I had a very long and interesting talk with one of the eight Virginians we captured. We captured four flags and about 2,000 prisoners. Our loss was not so large as theirs. I found out it makes a good deal of difference if we attack them or they attack us. I got some rebel trophies which I will send to you.
(Photo: Third Michigan monument, looking south and west with the Peach Orchard to the far right, in the non-grassy area.)
I took this photos some 15 years ago and quite a lot has changed in the Peach Orchard and at Gettysburg itself (like a brand-new visitor's center). They have replanted the peach trees at least once that I know of -- but the ground is the same, the monuments haven't moved and it's still an awe-inspiring place to visit. I especially recommend visiting the Peach Orchard late at night, just before the park closes. Incredible.