Key high ground defended just in time

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Union Col. Strong Vincent used his ingenuity and deployed over 1,300 troops to Little Round Top in a critical move just before Confederate troops arrived during the second day of the fighting at Gettysburg, July 2, 1863.

Stories of the battle at Little Round Top usually focus on Col. Joshua L. Chamberlain as the hero.

However, in letters published in Oliver Norton's 1983 book, The Attack and Defense of Little Round Top, Chamberlain credits Vincent's quick thinking.

"I regard the timely occupation of that position, which was at that stage of the battle key to the Union defense, as due to the energy and skill of Col. Vincent," wrote Chamberlain.

Vincent was a 26-year-old lawyer in Erie, Pa., when he enlisted to serve in the war. With no military experience, Vincent became the assistant in a short-term regiment. At the end of the three months, Vincent was promoted to lieutenant colonel of the 83rd Pennsylvania Regiment. After the 83rd's colonel was wounded, Vincent assumed the command.

The second day of the Battle of Gettysburg, July 2, Union Maj. Gen. Gouverner K. Warren learned that a nearby hill, Little Round Top, was unprotected and open to seizure by Confederate troops.

Warren saw Maj. Gen. John Bell Hood's Confederates advancing toward the Round Tops. He realized then that the height of Little Round Top was a strategic location for artillery in the battle.

Union signal station

Warren sent a messenger to Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Sickles requesting a brigade of the 3rd Corps. He was denied: Sickles needed all of his troops to withstand Lt. Gen. James Longstreet's infantrymen. At Sickles' request, the messenger found Maj. Gen. George Sykes and asked for further instructions.

Sykes noted the importance of Warren's request. In his Official Report, Brig. Gen. James Barnes notes that Sykes "immediately directed Col. [Strong] Vincent, commanding the 3rd Brigade to proceed to that point with his brigade."

Even though Big Round Top overshadows Little Round Top, the smaller hill was better equipped for handling troops and was virtually treeless. Little Round Top is elevated with three slopes, and the top of the hill served as the signal station.

Once in a protective place on Little Round Top, Vincent surveyed the area. He noted that the area was clear of trees but not of boulders. An arrangement of large rocks, he thought, would provide cover that could be used to the Union troops' advantage.

Vincent and his troops arrived at Little Round Top after surveying the area. Within moments, shots were fired at Little Round Top, signaling the advance of the Confederates.

Vincent set out to find a position for his brigade using the hill's terrain to his advantage. He assigned four regiments positions on the hill from which it would be easy to maneuver.

With no general or staff officer directing him, Vincent's placement was critical to the success of his troops. In his book, Norton says that Vincent's positioning "was the best possible for preventing the Confederates from turning or capturing the hill."

Approximately 4:30 p.m., Confederate Col. William C. Oates' 15th Infantry of Alabama began its assault on Little Round Top. A group of the 2nd U.S Sharpshooters preceded Vincent's troops as skirmishers. The Sharpshooters delayed the Confederates, allowing Vincent time to organize his men.

Vincent's troops formed a quarter-circle with infantry extending east toward Big Round Top. Even with numerous troops guarding Little Round Top, a portion of the hill remained exposed. "This unguarded space was watched with great anxiety," Barnes said.

A company of the 20th Maine Infantry moved southeast to protect the gap by the time Oates' regiment arrived.

Intense onslaught

Vincent's brigade was soon occupied with three of Oates' companies, which were steadily advancing.

Col. William S. Tilton notes in his report that the onslaught of the Confederates was so intense that he was afraid of being outflanked. Vincent and his troops responded well even after a second Alabama regiment arrived, increasing force. "My men behaved nobly, and twice repulsed the assailants," Barnes said.

Even with the second attack, Confederates couldn't dislodge Vincent's troops. Hoping to regain an advantage, Vincent and his men withdrew to regroup, creating a V formation.

Oates' troops repeatedly rushed Vincent's men, who were quickly running out of ammunition. Vincent ordered the 44th New York Regiment to relieve the pressure on the attackers by firing to the right.

Vincent tried to rally his men and ran to the end of the line, into the heart of the battle. In this fighting, Vincent was mortally wounded.

Maj. Gen. George G. Meade, commander of the Union army at Gettysburg, was impressed with Vincent's bravery and telegraphed President Lincoln that evening, requesting Vincent be promoted to brigadier general. Lincoln granted Meade's request the next day, and Vincent died four days later.

Even though Vincent was killed in the battle at Little Round Top, his decision to move troops to the hill prevented the Confederates from occupying both Round Tops, and from devastating the entire Union position with artillery fire.

In 1877, a marker noting where Vincent was wounded was raised outside the Gettysburg National Cemetery, the first outside the battlefield. The marker reads: "Col. Strong Vincent fell here commanding the 3rd Brigade, 1st Division, 5th Corps, July 2, 1863."

Kewannah Wallace is a junior majoring in communications and comparative cultures at Loyola College in Baltimore. This article was written as part of an academic internship at The Sun.

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