Hood's Texas Brigade in the Gettysburg CampaignReport by John Murray
Mike Vice began his talk at the National Army Museum on 12 July 2003 by discussing the link between John Bell Hood and the Texas frontier mentality which was independent minded, not prone to discipline. Why was Hood accepted by the Texans?
Mike took his audience back to an incident in 1857. In 1855, Hood became a lieutenant in the 2nd U S Cavalry then acting as a frontier force. In February 1857, Hood led a 24 man patrol, with a Delaware scout, from Fort Mason in the panhandle of Texas, to strike an Indian trail. Over "3 days they followed the trail for 40 miles. The problem was bringing the Comanche's to battle. On the third day, reaching the limit of the patrol, a white flag was spotted on a ridge. It could have signalled a friendly tribe but Hood was suspicious. 17 cavalrymen moved forward - and were ambushed by 5 to 10 Indians in front of them and 30 to the right. Hood was struck by an arrow in his left hand. He pulled the arrow out of his hand. As the cavalrymen prepared to dig in, the Indians retired, leaving 19 dead behind. Hood achieved wide notoriety in Texas as an Indian fighter as a result of this incident and he, in turn, developed a real feeling towards Texas.
Mike then turned to the Gettysburg campaign. In March 1863, the Texas Brigade was detached from the Army of Northern Virginia for a foraging campaign in Suffolk. As a result, the Texas Brigade did not fight at Chancellorsville in May 1863. Longstreet was recalled from Suffolk, rejoining the ANV and crossed the Potomac River on 27 June. Hood authorised the distribution of whiskey to his troops who were reported to have had a good time! On 29 June, they arrived at Chambersburg and, contrary to Lee's orders, began foraging.
When the battle began on 1 July, the Texas Brigade was at Cashtown. By 2.00 a.m. on 2 July, it was behind Seminary Ridge and could be seen by the Federals on Big Round Top. Mike commented that the meeting engagement had come as a surprise to Lee who was not yet seeking battle. Longstreet voiced his reservations wanting the ANV to be placed between the Federals and Washington.
McLaws' Division was astride the Emmitsburg Road, just north and to the left of Hood's Division. McLaws was to attack up that road and turn the Union left flank. The Federals turned out to be much stronger and McLaws recognised the problem of a frontal assault. McLaws, a good plodder, had a problem working with Longstreet who was smarter than McLaws. The rest of Longstreet's Corps on the day consisted of Hood's Division, the Texas and Alabama Brigades, the latter led by Evander Law.
Lee and Longstreet had a heated argument because of the large numbers of Federals in good defensive terrain consisting of black granite and rock fences.
The 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters were well positioned with their aim to kill key officers.
Hood ordered Robertson to send out reconnaissance and discovered that the Federal flank could be turned at Big Round Top, there being only signallers on Little Round Top. While Longstreet was told of this, Lee remained determined to attack up the Emmitsburg Road. McLaws had reservations and three times Hood protested the order. In the meantime, Union General Warren spotted the danger from Little Round Top and requested reinforcements.
Did Robertson protest his orders? Mike said there was no evidence that he did. Robertson had gone to Texas during the Texas Revolution and had been a medical practitioner on the Indian frontier.
On Robertson's right was Evander Law, a graduate of the Citadel, who taught at military school.
When the attack was to begin, the 3rd Arkansas, part of the Texas Brigade under Col . Manning, was to guide on the Emmitsburg Road. He tried to do so but Law's Alabama Brigade began to move towards Big Round Top. The major tactical assault beginning at 4.00 p.m. began to fall apart after just 200 yards.
With the 1 st Texas and Manning's 3rd Arkansas on the Emmitsburg Road and Law's Brigade veering away to the right, Robertson saw a gap between the 4th and 5th Texas. The 1 st Texas began to move away from the Emmitsburg Road. Federal artillery began to open up from the Rose Farm, to the left flank of the Texas Brigade, and the 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters opened fire. An aerial burst hit Hood in his left arm and he was taken from the field. It was 20 minutes before Law was told he was now Divisional commander. Law attempted to lead both the Division and his own Brigade. Robertson was not aware that he was now in command.
As the sharpshooters fell back to the Slyder Farm, Federal artillery at Devil's Den could see the Confederates re-grouping and fired spherical case. The sharpshooters were aiming at the officers. They were behind Plum Run which was not a major stream but the ground for 50 yards on either side of it was boggy and slowed the troops.
It was hard to maintain company fronts in the rocky formations. With the 3rd Arkansas receiving enfilading fire, Col. Manning took two companies to engage the enemy force but could not do anything about the Federal artillery. Behind another stone wall were the 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters. Command and control was disorganised as Robertson discovered that Law was the divisional commander and that the 4th and 5th Texas were under Law's command.
The assault continued over broken and hard terrain with Smith's Federal battery having a clear field of fire. General Hunt had inspected Smith's position personally but the latter realised that his battery was being sacrificed. (Smith, who had deep feelings about this for the rest of his life, was to commit suicide some 20 years later.)
Col. Manning was wounded with concussion as Law continued towards Big Round Top in an attempt to turn the Union flank . He did not have enough force and the Federals had been reinforced.
When the Confederates broke cover, they received canister fire from Smith's battery. The Alabama and Texas regiments were interspersed causing a serious command and control problem. Confederate artillery now fired on Smith's battery which fell back to Devil's Den. Then the Federals, concentrated and with good command and control, attacked. Robertson was wounded although not severely. With their assaults having failed, running low on ammunition and light fading, the Confederates fell back and by 2.00 a.m. were back at their original starting line.
During the question and answer session, Mike said that Sickles' role was worthy of re-appraisal. He commented that Law, in moving towards Big Round Top, disobeyed orders but he saw an opportunity and Mike would have done the same thing.