The Second Battle of Gettysburg – The Fight for the Monuments

Gettysburg National Military Park has hundreds of monuments and markers to commemorate the courageous acts and sacrifices of the men who fought so gallantly there. They appear in such a large quantity that in can be quite overwhelming. With every turn of the head, the view of the battlefield is disrupted by a stone structure of some shape and size. Obviously, these markers serve an important purpose in telling the story of our ancestors to current generations. However, they eliminate the possibility of a pristine battlefield and having a true view of the battlefield as it appeared in July, 1863. I commend the park service for taking on various restoration projects over the past few to return the battlefield to that appearance, but ultimately it will be impossible.

There are numerous stories, some with arguments as heated and fierce as the actual battle, about the monuments and their erection onto the battlefield. The large quantity of monuments is due in large part to the intense competition of war veterans to have the best and brightest, acknowledging their role in the most famous battle of the Civil War. At first this competition took place between Federal units, but as time passed and wounds between the North and South healed, Confederate units entered this competition and wanted their comrades to be remembered as well. Of course, everyone know Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and the 20th Maine infantry’s story from the Battle of Gettysburg and how they defended the Federal left flank against Colonel William Oates and the 15th Alabama.  Years after the war though, Chamberlain was engaged in another battle to defend the same ground on Little Round Top against the attack of Oates. The 15th Alabama was looking for a place to erect a monument in their honor, and in doing so, Colonel Oates identified the perfect boulder to use as its base. The problem was, that boulder was behind Chamberlain’s lines, and Chamberlain refused to acknowledge that any Alabama soldier reached that point.

Nevertheless, the monuments certainly do add character to the battlefield and below are my personal Top 10:

1. Virginia State Memorial:

The Virginia State Memorial, depicts Confederate General Robert E. Lee on Seminary Ridge, looking across the fields of Pickett’s Charge to Cemetery Ridge. The monument stands around the area that Lee was located as he observed the action on the third day of the battle. Being dedicated in 1917, the Virginia Memorial was the first Confederate monument to appear anywhere on the battlefield. Personally, this monument has a power unlike any other. To stand at the base of the monument as gaze across the fields to the copse of trees allows a person to get a sense of the emotions that may have been going through the minds of the rebel soldier before the set off to their fate. The state of Virginia committed nearly 21,000 men to the battle of Gettysburg from all walks of life. The Virginia Memorial does a superb job of demonstrating the wide contrast in men that served for their native state. Below the statue of Lee on Traveller, there are seven figures, portraying a professional man, a mechanic, an artist, a businessman a farmer, and two boys. These figures show the wide range of men and boys who came together in their struggle for freedom.



2. Friend to Friend Masonic Memorial:

Brigadier General Lewis Armistead is my favorite Civil War personality, so perhaps there is a little personal bias here (Hey, at least I didn’t make him #1). Due in large part of Michael Sharra’s novel Killer Angels and the movie Gettysburg many people are now familiar with General Armistead, and his relationship with Union General Winfield Scott Hanock. In the movie, one of the closing scenes shows Armistead after being wounded in Pickett’s charge speaking with Thomas Chamberlain, asking to see General Hancock, at which time he learns that Hancock has also fallen wounded. Such an event did occur, however in place of Chamberlain was Captain Henry Bingham. The Masonic Memorial depicts this seminal moment when Armistead, fearing he is mortally wounded, gives Bingham his personal effects to be given to General Hancock. Both men being Masons, as well as Hancock, the monument is meant to show the brotherhood amongst Masons, even at times of war as occurred during arguably the fiercest moment of the entire war, Pickett’s Charge.



3. General George Gordon Meade Monument:

The impressive monument of Union Commander General George Meade shows the confident Meade striding atop his horse from his headquarters at the Leister house to the lines on July 3, 1863. Meade, like any other commander in the Civil War, certainly has his fair share of critics. In my opinion, his performance at Gettysburg though is admirable. Given full command of the army, just before the most pivotal battle of the war, Meade was decisive, and put his army in position to gain victory. Meade overcame various obstacles throughout the battle, and didn’t allow adversity to ultimately cripple the campaign. Originally, Meade wished to fight along his well thought out Pipe Creek Line. When events dictated that he needed to adjust his plans, he did so swiftly and trusted his subordinates to assist him in carrying out the proper actions to ensure success. Of course, everyone knows about the infamous Sickles controversy, a potentially disastrous movement, that Meade adjusted to and overcame on his way to victory.



4. General Gouverneur Warren Monument:

When Union General Dan Sickles advanced his men from their assigned position along cemetery ridge to the Peach Orchard, a large gap was opened up in the Federal line, making the entire left side of the army extremely vulnerable to an attack by Longstreet’s corps. It was Warren who scaled Little Round Top, when it was unoccupied, and saw troops from Longstreet’s corps under the command of General John Bell Hood, preparing to advance across the Wheatfield in the direction of the gap left by Sickles. Warren immediately sent for reinforcements, which arrived in the form of the Federal Fifth Corps. The “wow” factor that this monument has, is that it is believed that the boulder on which the monument stands is the same boulder that Warren climbed and observed the Southern troops beginning to advance from. The monument shows Warren with binoculars in hand, observing Hood’s men advancing from the direction of the Triangular field toward Devil’s Den and Little Round Top.



5. Eighty-third Pennsylvania Monument:

This monument ranks solidly in my to five primarily for two reasons; one being it is just a cool looking monument, and two I find the story behind it amusing and honorable. The eighty-third PA fought alongside Chamberlain and the 20th Maine in the defense of Little Round Top against troops from Hood’s division and Longstreet’s corps. In this hotly contested battle, the commander of the 83rd PA infantry, Colonel Strong Vincent, was killed. During the monument building craze at Gettysburg, the veterans of the 83rd PA decided that they wanted their monument to portray and honor their gallant commander. The Pennsylvania State Monument Commission, in charge of the funds for the state’s Civil War monuments, refused to honor a single man with the monument, instead telling the veterans that the monument must instead honor the common soldier, appealing to all men of the unit. The veterans took the commission’s ruling, and simply ignored it, unveiling the monument that currently stands on Little Round Top. While the monument does not name Colonel Vincent, or identify him as the model for the status, one only needs to see a picture of the Colonel to see that he is the likeness for the impressive monument for the 83rd.



6. North Carolina State Memorial:

The state of North Carolina sent the second most number of men into action at Gettysburg at a total of about 14,000 men. The North Carolina memorial is located along Seminary Ridge in the area where General Pettigrew’s division stepped off on the afternoon of July, 3 on the left side of the Confederate army in Pickett’s Charge. The story of the 26th North Carolina at Gettysburg is both devastating and fascinating, as they were one of the first units engaged in the Battle of Gettysburg on the first day near McPherson’s Ridge, and also one of the last units engaged, being part of Pickett’s Charge. The 26th North Carolina suffered severe casualties at Gettysburg, and deserve being honored by a monument such as this. The sculptor of the North Carolina Memorial used actual photos of North Carolina troops to model the faces of the statues after. The monument shows two troops and a color bearer pushing on against the fire of the enemy as their fallen commander urges them forward.



7. John Buford Monument:

For better or for worse, had it not been for General Buford, there may not have been a battle of Gettysburg. It was Buford who decided to hold the ground around Gettysburg against Confederate infantry under the command of Major General Henry Heth, as his men advanced on the Chambersburg Pike into the small town of Gettysburg. Buford and his men fought superbly, holding their ground long enough for Union reinforcements under General John Reynolds to arrive and slow down the Confederate advance. The monument of Buford is surrounded by four cannon barrels, one of which was used to fire the first artillery round of the Battle of Gettysburg.



8. Spangler’s Spring:

I am considering Spangler’s Spring a monument in the sense that it is no longer an operating spring, but still serves as a commonly visited attraction for those visiting the battlefield. Spangler’s spring represents the back and forth action of the Battle of Gettysburg. Early during the second day of the battle, Union troops held the area around Spangler’s Spring. Then, these troops were moved as reinforcements to the Peach Orchard. The area around Spangler’s Spring being abandoned, Confederates troops under Brigadier General George “Maryland” Steuart took over occupation of the area. On the morning of the third day, Union troops counterattacked the Confederates, and Spangler’s Spring was left in “No Man’s Land” for the remainder of the battle.

9. First Minnesota Monument:

All of the men who fought at the Battle of Gettysburg surely deserve the utmost respect for their honorable acts in being willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice for a cause greater than themselves, both North and South. The men of the First Minnesota, embody this willingness. Late in the afternoon of July, 2, the Confederate army was on the verge of breaking  the Union line in two, splitting the army in two, and giving them control of Cemetery Hill. Federal units were falling back at a fast pace and desperately needed something to slow down the Rebel advance so that they could reform their ranks and reposition themselves for defense. General Winfield Scott Hancock searched for men to provide this delay, finding the First Minnesota, and he ordered them forward in a desperate charge to save the Union line. 262 men gallantly charged the advancing Confederates under the command of Brigadier General Cadmus Wilcox, and 215 became casualties. The Monument on the battlefield shows a soldier of the First Minnesota charging into battle in the direction of the actual charge. The monument stands right behind the hole in the Union line that the First Minnesota’s troops were ordered to fill.



10. Maryland State Memorial:

My bias strikes yet again, but this is a very nice, unique monument, and also one of the newer monuments on the battlefield, being dedicated in 1995. Being a border state, Maryland allegiances were split throughout the state. Throughout the war, men from Maryland fought for both the Union and the Confederacy. There were approximately 2,000 Maryland men fighting for the Union at Gettysburg, and about 1,000 fighting for the Confederacy. The monument shows a wounded soldier being helped across the field by a comrade in arms. On the pedestal of the monument, the names of all Maryland troops engaged at Gettysburg, both Federal and Confederate, may be read.



Honorable Mention:

  1. General Lewis Armistead Monument:

Bias…Yes, but it’s just an Honorable Mention. The Monument is nothing fancy or as physically imposing as many of the other monuments that appear on the battlefield, but is a tribute to a brave commander who confidently led his men over the stone wall at the angle and engaging the enemy in hand to hand combat in Pickett’s Charge.



2. John Burns Monument:

John Burns story is well known, being a veteran of the War of 1812 and resident of Gettysburg, Burns walked from his home and fell in with the Iron Brigade on McPherson’s Ridge on the first day of the battle. Burns was wounded three times before leaving the field, becoming a national hero in the North. The monument of Burns depicts him carrying his flintlock rifle on McPherson’s Ridge.



3. General Alexander Webb Memorial:

Another personal preference, as I just like the way this monument looks and admire Webb for his actions during Pickett’s Charge. Webb, like Commanding General George Meade, was given command just days before the battle. Feeling that he needed to prove his worth to his troops, Webb refused to move to a protected location during the Confederate bombardment. As Confederates reached the stone wall, the Union line began to break. Webb charged forward into the gap, encouraging troops from New York to follow, filling the hole in the line. Webb received wounds in his thigh and groin, but would survive the battle and the war. He received the Medal of Honor for his gallantry at Gettysburg.




Gindlesperger, James and Suzanne. So You Think You Know Gettysburg?. Winston-Salem: John F. Blair Publisher, 20120. Print.



5 responses to “The Second Battle of Gettysburg – The Fight for the Monuments”

  1. Jean Huets Avatar

    Personally, I’d vote the NC monument number 1. Okay, I have NC ancestors, but the statue is quite striking artistically. Nothing against old General Lee & Traveller, but I think the Virginia monument would have been more interesting and appropriate with just the grouping of men at the base, and no general on horseback towering over them. Great post, thanks for pics and descriptions.

    1. Matt Hyson Avatar
      Matt Hyson

      Jean, thanks for the comments. I certainly couldn’t argue with putting the NC state monument higher. In hindsight I might have done that. I read an excellent book about the 26th North Carolina called Covered With Glory, detailing their involvement in the battle, and have since gained a deep respect for the NC troops at Gettysburg. If you have not read the book, I highly recommend it. It is probably my favorite book about the battle that I have read so far. Anyways, I certainly could not argue moving the NC monument up higher on the list than I have.

      1. Jean Huets Avatar

        Thanks for the book recommendation, I’ll check it out. As for picking favorites, if I tried it my choices would probably vary from day to day. It’s a brave attempt!

  2. Dan Kuehl Avatar
    Dan Kuehl

    When I lead students from the National Defense University on staff rides there, I always use various monuments to tell some of the story of the battle. Along with the ones you’ve shown–all very good–some of the others I use/like:
    PA state monument, because I take students up onto the 2nd level for a vierw of the central part of the battlefield.
    11th PA…because the story of Sallie always appeals to those of us who have dogs, and it emphasizes the human dimension of the battle
    The Irish Brigade, because of the Irish Wolfhound
    The twin monuments to Hancock and Howard atop Cemetery Hill, because it fits into my discussion of how Hancock and Howard did NOT allow their disagreement over command and rank to interfere with getting the job done.
    The Confederate state monuments–because aside from VA and NC, they were dedicated around the time of the Civil War Centennial and around the time of the burgeoning Civil Rights movement.
    20th Mass, because of the connection with Paul Revere and the story of how the monument links back to the soldiers’ youth.

    There are many others…and there’s no accounting for taste, as a professor of mne used to say!

    1. Matt Hyson Avatar
      Matt Hyson

      Dan-Thanks for reading. I too like the 20th Mass monument because of the story behind it, and the Irish brigade certainly cannot be forgotten. If I were to do this list again, I think I would include the Hancock monument. Hancock was arguably the MVP of the battle and without him, the battle could have played out very differently.

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