Four Versions of Warren's Uh-Oh Moment on Little Round Top
by Gordon Thorsby
View from Little Round Top 2021
Gens. George Meade and Dan Sickles were having an animated discussion in the Peach Orchard. Sickles had advanced his corps far beyond the specifics of Meade’s orders. Sickles offered to move back when bang, and then another bang went off from the south. Those were artillery firing up Emmitsburg Rd toward Trostle Farm. Meade turned back to Sickles, “…sir, but you see those people do not intend to let you and Meade rode off. Moments earlier things were happening back near Little Round Top to the east.
Oliver Norton published a book in 2017 that brought together detail of July 2nd around Little Round Top (LRT) described in great detail. There were different versions included from many sources including (last names only): Humphreys, Comte de Paris, Walker, Hunt, de Trobriand, Powell, Beecham, Dates, Law, Stine, Vanderslice, and Swinton. The number of differences could make one dizzy and none of the versions entirely agree. Here is a brief on four that many have heard. Stories are abbreviated versions.
First, no source in the group reviewed credited Vincent with taking responsibility and going up Little Round Top to Warren’s aid.
Photo after Gettysburg (Warren, French, Meade, Hunt, Humphreys, and Sykes
The William Swinton Version
This version has it that Warren got to the top and the signal officers informed him that Confederate lines were advancing across the field. Warren ordered the signalmen to remain to make the hill seem occupied. Meanwhile, Sykes requested that Barnes move forward in division to go to the aid of Sickles. Warren came to Sykes and Sykes ordered Vincent directly instead of Barnes and not to wait for confirmation from Barnes. This was while Vincent was in the line of march. Vincent changed direction and reached the top just as Hood’s brigades came up the other side.
(Personal comment #1. Barnes was actually a substitute at Gettysburg. The actual commander of the Division was Charles Griffin. He was home due to an illness.)
(Personal comment #2. Warren rode up the hill. He did not walk. All versions agree. This means he would have scaled it from the north side which was the most gradual of the four options. A horse is not possible from other directions. Take it from me as I have scaled the hill from the east. Not easy for even a human.)
Vegetation today on east side. Supposedly not much different then.
Brig. Gen. A.A. Humphreys, Division Commander III Corps Version
Upon its (V Corps) arrival being reported to him, “General Meade directed the Fifth Corps to move at once to the left of his line. Attended by Lieutenants Washington Roebling and Ranald MacKenzie, the two rode off following Warren up to the top of LRT. They found a signal officer and his assistants flagging from the peak. Warren could see when viewing from the top its importance." Humphreys and Sykes knew it too from their view from north of the hill. Hood and Mclaws’ artillery opened up on Birney’s line. Warren ordered Lt. MacKenzie and one of the signal officers to go for a brigade to place on LRT. Sickles denied the request and Sykes promised one. With that response, and impatient at the vagueness from Sykes, Warren left himself to report to General Meade. The 140th NY and Hazlett’s battery went up at the same time.
Maj. Gen. Abner Doubleday Version
Warren was going to get a good picture of the field according to Abner Doubleday. According to Doubleday, Warren saw Barnes division which Sykes had ordered forward that was in front and to the right. It was forming to charge to relieve the pressure on de Trobriand. Warren rode down the slope, over to Barnes, and Warren detached Vincent’s brigade and then hurried back up the hill. Then, Warren sent one of his adjutants off to Meade. Doubleday’s version has it that Warren assumed responsibility for the detachment.
Comte de Paris Version (photo in center at right)
Warren followed Meade’s instructions to go up the hill to survey the battlefield and acquire
intelligence as to what he saw. Warren did not arrive at the summit at the time of Hood’s attack but closer to an hour before and Confederate troops could not be seen. Warren was informed by one of the signal officers that he (SO) thought he saw movement from troops in the trees below between Plum Run and Emmitsburg Rd. Warren directed Smiths 4th independent Battery on the knoll in front to put a shot into the woods. Smith complied promptly. De Paris reported the shot whistling over the trees, and movement was seen. “The reflection of the sunlight on their bright bayonets and gun barrels. A long line was in position and it was far outflanking Birney’s line.” Very shortly thereafter, Hood and McLaws’ batteries opened up. Vincent and the brigade climbed the hill from the southern portion. De Paris also stated that it was pioneers of the 140th that assisted Hazlett up the east side of LRT.
Norton gave opinions as to the accuracy of each version. What do you consider the more accurate?
Norton opined that Swinton’s details had too many inconsistencies that do not explain the timeline well.
Humphreys’ version lacked the in-depth involvement of Warren’s role in the action of LRT.
Norton considered Doubleday’s story as accurate in several aspects. Norton also considered Doubleday to have gotten his information from as he called it “the grapevine Telegraph.” Norton believed the Barnes portion as "imaginary." By July 2, Doubleday was without a command since he had been relieved of it the previous evening. A controversy for another day.
Norton considered the Comte de Paris as the best version in terms of accuracy. To add to the story, Comte de Paris’ version was written in French when French was the common second language at the time and for military training since Napoleon tactics were the going methods.
Over the years, the narrative of what exactly happened has evolved from one version to another and back again. Books and movies have presented conflicting versions. Even some GBMNP versions vary with each other.
What is the point of these preceding words? What did actually happen? One or a combination? Does the typical saying hold true, “the actual version is often the simplest version?” Will we ever really know?
Two Views of Little Round Top, by Norton, Oliver W., Leonaur, P.31-36.