Friday, March 8, 2013

"To Do or Die:" Colonel Edward Bailey and the 2nd New Hampshire at the Peach Orchard

2nd NH Monument
Given less attention when it comes to the vast list of sources on the Gettysburg Campaign, the Peach Orchard at Gettysburg is in my opinion one of the most important acts of the drama that unfolded on July 2, 1863.  Despite many differing opinions on the legitimacy of Major General Daniel Sickles' decisions and his move out to Joseph Sherfy's little peach orchard, no one can deny the importance of this critical position on that fateful afternoon.  A few key decisions by one man made this place the eye of the storm on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg.

Many regiments of the Third Army Corps fought doggedly in their resistance on that day.  One of those, the Second New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry under the command of Colonel Edward Bailey, played a critical role in the struggle around the orchard and suffered immense casualties.  Thanks to keen and intelligent leadership by their commander in reaction to the regiment's continually dire circumstances, they somehow managed to make good the escape of a great number of men defending the deadly salient.

Colonel Edward L. Bailey
Colonel Edward Lyon Bailey hailed from Manchester, New Hampshire.  He was elected Captain of Company I shortly after the regiment's formation in June of 1861 at the age of nineteen.  As the unit marched towards its destiny at Gettysburg, they were battle-hardened veterans.  They were one of the few units still in the Army of the Potomac in the summer of 1863 that had been at the Battle of First Bull Run.  They served on the Peninsula and at Second Manassas, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville.  Through all of these engagements the regiment was only a shadow of its original muster roll.  As the regiment came to Gettysburg they were now lead by the twenty-one year old Bailey and mustered 354 men and officers.

As part of Burling's Third Brigade, Second Division of the Third Army Corps, the unit was guaranteed action on July 2 by the decisions of their corps commander, Major General Daniel Sickles.  Burling's Brigade was initially deployed in support and through a myriad of moves ended up being completely dispersed until Colonel Burling himself literally had no brigade to command.

At 3 o'clock Colonel Burling ordered the 2nd New Hampshire to the support of Charles Graham's Brigade of Birney's Division at the Peach Orchard.  Unbeknownst to them, the men from the Granite State were now headed straight towards the center of a building storm.

I was at once ordered to support Battery G, First New York Artillery, and one section of a battery unknown, all light 12-pounders, brass. In this position my left rested upon the right of the Sixty-third Pennsylvania, my right covered by a wood house situated upon the Emmitsburg road, line forming a right angle with that road. Two hundred yards in my front the Third Maine was skirmishing with the enemy.

Foundation of the Wentz House with Peach Orchard in the background
Bailey says he double-quicked his men into the position above in the official report he submitted only three days after the battle.  Clearly something was under way.  The wood house he writes of is the Wentz House that stood on the east side of the Emmitsburg Road, just across from Joseph Sherfy's Peach Orchard.

He continues: At 4 o'clock, while experiencing a terrific fire of spherical case and canister from batteries in my front and on my right, 650 yards distant, I directed the rolls of my companies to be called, and found but 8 of the total number equipped absent. These had fallen out of the ranks from sunstroke and exhaustion while moving by double-quick to position.

At 4.30 p. m. the Third Maine was withdrawn from our front to our rear, and about this time a battery and a section of Rodman pieces were substituted for those we were supporting. These pieces were worked with great inefficiency, and at 5 o'clock it was observed that a brigade of the enemy was advancing on our right, in column of battalions massed, while two regiments were moving directly parallel with my front to the left, evidently with design to turn that flank.

The cannonade from Alexander's Batteries had begun spewing the introduction to Longstreet's assault on the Federal left.  Although times seem to be very contentious when it comes to the battle of Gettysburg, Bailey seems to be really accurate.  While in the bustle of movements, he may not have seen a lot of Hood's Division moving towards the Round Tops.  Clearly they must have heard the ruckus though.  As he says above, "it was observed that a brigade of the enemy was advancing on our right."  This would have been Barksdale's Brigade.  The two regiment's he speaks of, "parallel with my front to the left," would have been from Kershaw's South Carolina Brigade, already laying siege to the Stoney Hill area.  As the South Carolinians noticed the large gap between Stoney Hill and the Peach Orchard, the left side of the brigade turned towards the north.

The batteries posted along the Wheatfield/Millerstown Road opened up on the Confederates with canister charges and blew large destructive holes in their advancing ranks.  However destructive, the Palmetto Staters still came on.  Seeing an opportunity to quell the advance, Colonel Bailey made a quick and ambitious decision.  It was at this point that the action began to quickly build in intensity for the boys of the 2nd New Hampshire.

Area into which the 2nd New Hampshire charged from the Peach Orchard.
The Rose Farm is visible in the ravine which is to the south of Sherfy's
orchard, the point to where Kershaw's men retreated.

I reported these facts to Gen. Graham, and asked permission to charge, the enemy being close upon us--so near that the officer commanding the section of battery spiked his pieces, fearful that he should lose them. The general gave me directions to go forward, when I gave the order. My regiment started immediately, and advanced 150 yards at a run with a yell and such impetuosity as to cause the enemy to retire to a ravine 250 yards in our front, where they were covered from our fire, when I directed the fire of my battalion of the left oblique by the flank at about the same distance. My fire was so galling, assisted by that from the Third Maine, which had come up and taken part upon my left, as to cause them to break and seek shelter, when my attention was again called to my right, strengthened by the Sixty-third Pennsylvania forming at right angles with my front and parallel with the Emmitsburg road, upon which was advancing the brigade of the enemy, moving by battalion in mass, in line of battle. I immediately directed the fire of my battalion to the right oblique full upon it. Yet their line of fire, assisted by a terrible discharge of spherical case from their batteries, caused the Sixty-eighth Pennsylvania to retire, and at the same moment the Third Maine moved 200 yards to the rear, though in good order.

Even the best laid plans and intentions sometimes take offense to an evolving battlefield.  The sudden forward movement of the 2nd New Hampshire forced the 8th and 3rd South Carolina Battalion back towards the Rose Farm buildings   Although the charge was "impetuous" enough to put a damper on Kershaw's men for the time being, the new threat to the right changed the rules for Bailey and his men of granite.

View south over the Peach Orchard 
This young man was up to the challenge though.  Directing their blazing Sharps Rifles to the right oblique, Bailey turned the regiment's attention toward the salient and the top of the hill.  It was at this very moment that the crown of Sickles' Salient began to unravel.  Barksdale's Mississippians had made an impetuous advance of their own and it was more than Graham's Brigade could handle.

Just as Barksdale's men were nearing the west face of the Union salient, Wofford's Georgians stepped off the ridge to the west, only six hundred yards distance.  Things began to come apart quickly.  Taking fire from two sides and being pinched in what was essentially a giant bear trap, the men of Graham's Brigade fought with stiff resistance.  The fire power added by the 2nd New Hampshire was much need on this afternoon.

Unfortunately for the Federal troops around the Peach Orchard, their line was just too thin and covered too much ground.  On top of that they were taking fire from two directions.  One by one, the regiment's of Graham's Brigade were forced to relinquish their positions around the intersection of the Emmitsburg Road and the Wheatfield/Millerstown Road.  Barksdale's Mississippians were coming on full throttle and although they lost men at every step, they had the momentum.  Bailey and his men now seemed to be on an island all alone, the friendly forces that were just moments before fighting alongside were now melting farther away with each passing second.  Seeing Wofford making a beeline down the Wheatfield/Millerstown Road and already realizing the threat to their left from Confederates in the Stoney Hill area, there was nothing left for the Granite Staters to do but attempt a fighting withdrawal, an escape.

J.S. McNeily of Barksdale's 21st Mississippi remembered this.  All (Barksdale's men) met with stiff resistance.  But when the blue coats saw us swarming over the fences and across the Emmetsburg Road, without pausing, they began to 'back out.'  Though they fought back bravely, retiring slowly until the firing was at close quarters, when the retreat became a rout in which our men took heavy toll for the losses inflicted on them.   

Colonel Bailey picks up the story from his official report.  Finding myself thus unsupported, and the enemy steadily advancing, I ordered my regiment to fall back slowly, firing, which was fully executed. I moved to the rear 140 yards, and halted my line under the brow of the hill, halting also on the brow to give a volley to the enemy, then distant but 20 yards. The positions of the three regiments was that of echelon at about 20 paces, my regiment being the apex. The enemy continued advancing until they reached the brow of the hill, when their left swept toward the Sixty-third Pennsylvania in such overwhelming numbers as to cause it to give way; and fearing those regiments which had been observed marching toward my left might appear upon that flank, and knowing our efforts must prove futile against such fearful odds, I gave the order to retire, which was done quite rapidly, yet coolly, and without excitement as they went. I rejoined the brigade at about 6.30 p. m., fearfully diminished in numbers, yet firm and fearless still.

Rose House - Rally point for Kershaw's South Carolinians
Witnesses to the withdrawal of Birney's Division from the Peach Orchard are in some cases very different with regards to how the retreat was conducted.  We do know for sure that a number of regiments, including the 2nd New Hampshire, turned to fight numerous times, slowly giving ground step by step.  Colonel Calvin Augustus Craig of the 105th Pennsylvania in Graham's Brigade reported that his regiment reformed to fight between eight and ten times as they came off the field.

This can provide us with a few interesting inferences about the fighting that evening.  First off, as stated previously, the Army of the Potomac had their fighting blood up as they turned to face Lee on their own free soil at Gettysburg.  Although the troops of the Third Corps were in a bad position, they fought hard and victory would not come easily for the Army of Northern Virginia.  Secondly, if we look at some of the regiments fighting in the area of the Peach Orchard, casualties really do tell the story.  Many of the units that reported resistance fighting suffered the most casualties just as one would expect.  This is further evidence of the quality of the information we can pull out of the OR reports.  On top of that, we see the importance of the underlying variables within a battle, those of space and time.  As illustrated time and again at Gettysburg, because of the staunch resistance offered after the Confederate attack was under way, enough time was bought by the sacrifice of Union soldiers in the Peach Orchard to fill the newly created gaps on the Cemetery Ridge line.  Tactical space was sacrificed and purchased with manpower, all for the sake of time.  While Bailey and his men were holding out in the salient with other Third Corps troops, Federal troops were being rushed to other parts of the line.  The argument about ramifications in relation to cause and effect of command decisions is for a later date.

Lastly, whether one agrees or disagrees with the tactical decisions of the Third Corps commander on that day, one thing is certain.  McLaws' Division suffered enormous losses as it banged its head off the Peach Orchard salient.  Although they eventually crushed the position, it greatly sapped their manpower which caused the attack to fizzle out short of their true objective, Cemetery Ridge.  The other detrimental factor is the amount of time lost, again going back to the underlying variables within a battle.  Although Longstreet's attack did not get under way until about four o'clock in the afternoon (and later for McLaws' Division), the confederates burned time and resources in taking a position that really held no significant tactical or strategic value.

Peach Orchard from Stoney Hill
Regardless of the conclusions we might draw from the actions around the Peach Orchard, for Colonel Edward Bailey and the 2nd New Hampshire, their valiant defense came at a monumental cost.  The regiment came to the field with 354 officers and men.  Of that number they lost 22 men killed outright, 137 wounded (22 mortally) and 36 captured or missing.  Their total losses were 193 men, or fifty-five percent of their engaged force.  Bailey's skillful employment and tactical intelligence prevented the regimental losses from being even greater.  Much credit is due to his line officers and the men over whom he commanded.  Only a well disciplined bunch could have performed the maneuvers they did.  Their bravery and endeavor helped to keep Meade's Cemetery Ridge position intact, in concert with other actions, ultimately the reason for Union victory at Gettysburg.  

As for the survivors of the fight in Pennsylvania, the war was far from over.  For some of them, a date with the death reaper still awaited in the coming years.  Colonel Edward Bailey was one of those who never had that appointment although he was wounded twice more.  In fact he survived to remain in the regular army until 1893, when he was dismissed for "conduct unbecoming of an officer and gentleman."  While the full details remain unknown, he lived a very long life and was very active in veterans affairs, always respected.  He died in 1930 at the age of eighty-eight in his home at Bedford, New Hampshire.  His service for the Union cause during the Civil War was that of a formidable and brave officer, all at a very young age.  He and his men of granite fought a gallant fight on the afternoon of July 2, 1863 at the Peach Orchard, one of thousands of gallant fights on those fateful three day at Gettysburg.  Colonel Bailey himself may have said it best.

This battalion entered the fight with a firm determination to do or die, and the long list of fallen comrades, already submitted, will show how well it kept that resolution.

Where all did so well it would be invidious to make comparisons. Let it suffice to say that they did their part as becomes sons of the old Granite State. For our fallen braves, who have so gloriously perished fighting for their country, we drop a comrade's tear, while we extend our heartfelt sympathy to those dear ones far away who find the ties of kindred and friends thus rudely severed, and for those who must suffer untold agony and pain through long weeks of convalescence our earnest sympathy, yet leaving them to the watchful care of Him who will not prove unmindful of their necessities.

I have the honor to be, sir, your obedient servant, 
Col. Second New Hampshire Volunteers
Near Gettysburg, Pa., July 5, 1863

Sunset at the Peach Orchard

Busey, John W., and David G. Martin. Regimental Strengths and Losses at Gettysburg. Fourth. Hightstown, NJ: Longstreet House, 2005. 133, 153. Print.

Busey, John W. These Honored Dead, The Union Casualties at Gettysburg. 1st Ed. Baltimore, MD: Longstreet House, 1988. 89. Print.

Dodge , Russ. "Edward Lyon Bailey." (2003): n.pag. Find A Grave. Web. 7 Mar 2013. <>.

McNeily, J.S.. "Barksdale's Mississippi Brigade at Gettysburg, "Most Magnificent Charge of the War"." Trans. Array Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society, Volume 14. Harvard UniversityThe Society, 1914. 237. Print.

Scott, Robert N.. "Series I Vol. 27. Part I Reports. Gettysburg." Trans. Array War of the Rebellion Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. The National Historical Society. Republication. Ann Arbor, MI: Historical Times Inc, 1985. 573-575. Print.

Smith, Karlton. "We Drop a Comrade's Tear." Gettysburg National Military Park. National Park Service, n.d. Web. 7 Mar 2013. <>.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Search This Blog

Follow by Email