- The Washington Times - Friday, March 30, 2007

THE BATTLE BETWEEN THE FARM LANES: HANCOCK’S RIDE SAVES THE UNION CENTER JULY 2, 1863

By David Shultz and David Wieck, Ironclad Publishing, $19.95, illustrated, 301 pages

Interest in the Battle of Gettysburg, the bloodiest engagement of the Civil War, has continued to expand over the years.

Though general histories about the battle are popular, there also has been a demand for more in-depth research. In 1989, Morningside Press of Dayton, Ohio, began to fill this need by publishing Gettysburg Magazine, which deals exclusively with the encounter in south central Pennsylvania in July 1863. David Shultz and David Wieck have joined other authors who recently have taken this effort one step further in their detailed study of what occurred in a limited area of the battlefield within a few hours.

“The Battle Between the Farm Lanes” is the story of how one person with grit and passion, in this case Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock, can change the momentum of a battle. It also poses the question of whether the storied 1st Minnesota was the regiment Hancock had in mind as the unit that “charged a rebel regiment” and prevented it from breaking through a gap in the Union lines during the afternoon of July 2. The fourth in Ironclad Publishing’s “Discovering Civil War America” series, this book combines history with a tour that guides readers over the ground where the action took place.

The driving forces behind scholarship of this type are organizations such as the online Gettysburg Discussion Group and Military History Online, as well as the Gettysburg Foundation and the Gettysburg Battlefield Preservation Association, whose members intensely analyze the battle and provide support and encouragement for safeguarding Gettysburg’s heritage. In this study, Mr. Shultz and Mr. Wieck seek answers to some of the questions that remain about the battle.

Of the book’s 20 chapters, the first 10 set the stage for the dramatic attempt to stem the Confederate tide as Hancock desperately rallied the remnants of Union infantry and artillery to plug a strategic gap.

In the early morning of July 2, Hancock’s 2nd Corps had marched up the Taneytown Road to the outskirts of Gettysburg. The corps deployed on the forward and reverse slopes of Cemetery Ridge south of Cemetery Hill in accordance with a sketch drawn at the direction of Maj. Gen. George G. Meade, commander of the Army of the Potomac. As the troops deployed, Confederate artillery and skirmishers west of the Emmitsburg Road opened fire on their positions.

In the early afternoon, when Maj. Gen. Daniel Sickles unexpectedly and without orders decided to move his corps from Cemetery Ridge west toward the Emmitsburg Road, Hancock’s left flank became uncovered. Hancock tried to shore up his position with reserve artillery to reduce this unanticipated vulnerability. By midafternoon, Confederate Lt. Gen. James Longstreet launched an attack on the Union left, rolling up Sickles’ exposed divisions.

Hancock, meanwhile, decided to hold his position on Cemetery Ridge at all costs to prevent the enemy from getting into the rear of the Union Army. He was acutely aware of a 300-yard gap in his lines caused by troop redeployment in an attempt to salvage Sickles’ deteriorating situation. As Lt. Gen. A.P. Hill’s corps joined Longstreet in the attack, Hancock anxiously looked about for available forces to fill the yawning gap. With Sickles wounded and out of the picture, Hancock had to assume the burden of countering the Confederate advance.

The authors use the last 10 chapters to describe the outcome of this crisis. The action is fast-paced as the tension builds. One heroic deed after another on the part of Union and Confederate officers and their men fills these pages. Shirking and cowardice on the part of others is evident. Hancock orchestrates the frantic movements taking place between the Hummelbaugh and Trostle farm lanes — a distance of just about 1,000 yards.

Artillery fire at close range intensified the deadly combat. Casualties mounted, and both sides captured numerous prisoners. In addition to attempting to close the gap and defend the farm lanes that led to the army’s rear, Hancock had to halt the rout of Sickles’ men; many were retreating in panic through his lines.

This book describes in detail the fighting between the farm lanes and how Hancock directed the 1st Minnesota and other units to plug the gap in the Union lines that Confederate Brig. Gen. Cadmus Wilcox’s brigade was attempting to breach. Hence the question about which of these units Hancock was trying to identify after the battle because he thought it had performed so valiantly. The authors address this at the end.

The combat took place within the space of a couple of hours. In the aftermath, blue- and gray-clad casualties covered the field. Hancock somehow survived the carnage despite being in the thick of the action.

Reading this book will generate a desire to visit the area between the two farm lanes with terrain features such as Plum Run, various knolls and ravines, the so-called Low Rough Ground, and other landmarks. The nine-stop tour guide follows the action around this hallowed ground. Viewing the battle scene up close is an eye-opening experience that provides a greater appreciation for how the topographical peculiarities influenced combat decisions.

Before reading the “Battle Between the Farm Lanes,” it would be good to read a general history (e.g., Stephen W. Sears’ “Gettysburg”) and a work on the events of July 2 (e.g., Harry W. Pfanz’s “Gettysburg: The Second Day”) in order to better understand the activities of numerous military units and personnel.

Because maps are not included in the history segment, the reader will want to have Battle of Gettysburg maps available, such as those published by Trailhead Graphics or the Gettysburg Foundation. The maps in the tour guide segment are useful but are not keyed to the historical text and lack the desirable level of detail.

The specialist will applaud this book, and the general reader also will find the story compelling, particularly Hancock’s determination to gain victory in the face of great odds, a victory the Union Army sorely needed. As Jeffry D. Wert aptly wrote in the foreword to this book, “Gettysburg brought redemption for the Army of the Potomac. Hancock and the Second Corps shouldered a crucial role in the engagement’s outcome.”

Thomas J. Ryan of Bethany Beach is president of the Central Delaware Civil War Round Table.

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