"Hold the Line"
On July 2nd Major General Daniel Sickles marched his Third Corp from the base of Little Roundtop, across the Wheatfield, to the D.F. Klingle Farm and the Sherfy Peach Orchard located on the east side of Emmitsburg Road. Sickles made the march against orders and almost caused a Federal disaster in the process. By moving forward from the Federal line Sickles exposed his corps to enfilading fire during a massive attack from Longstreet’s Corps.
As Confederate General William Barksdale’s Mississippi brigade overpowered two Union regiments placed just west of the Sherfy house, it was evident that Sickles delicate line could no longer be held. The Excelsior Brigade of New York regiments positioned along the Emmitsburg Road fought back furiously and temporarily blocked the Mississippians. The 120th New York infantry raced to fill the gap and met Barksdale’s men head on. As the Confederates moved forward, Union General A. A. Humphreys fought a stubborn withdrawal by slowing the pulling of his men back and having them turn and fire at the rapidly advancing Confederates. As the Third Corps line fell apart, the center of the Union line on Cemetery Ridge was exposed, vulnerable and hung in the balance.
The valiant delaying action at the Klingle Farm and Peach Orchard allowed Generals Meade and Hancock time to position their troops and stop the Confederate onslaught. Hancock led Col. George Willard’s brigade of his Second Corps to meet Barksdale’s advancing line just west of Plum Run. He then rallied the 1st Minnesota Regiment to strike the tired Alabamians. Meade also led Union troops from the First and Second Corps into the melee to halt the Confederate advance.
Although General Longstreet would later write that on July 2nd the men of his corps had done “the best three hours of fighting done by any troops on any battlefield” it had not been enough to secure victory and shatter the very precarious Federal defensive line on Cemetery Ridge.
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