Sunday, July 3, 2011

Third Michigan at Gettysburg

One hundred-forty-eight years ago, the Third Michigan, made up of men primarily from the Grand Rapids and surrounding areas, marched into Gettysburg on July 2 deploying as skirmishers, holding the line from the Peach Orchard to east of the woods.  Colonel Byron R. Pierce was in command but was wounded below the left knee that day and replaced by his brother, Lieutenant Colone Edwin S. Pierce.  The Third eventually took up a position in the Peach Orchard.

Colonel De Trobriand positioned the 5th Michigan and 110th Pennsylvania on the southern edge of a wooded ridge just west of the Wheatfield, with the 3rd Michigan on his western front, the right portion of the regiment being extended to the Peach Orchard, and deployed as a skirmish line at the Emmitsburg Road, connecting with the skirmish line of the 5th Michigan near the Rose house, a little east of the road. The 40th New York and 17th Maine, also in the same woods, De Trobriand held as a second line of reserve, with the 40th on the left and the 17th had its right at the northern edge of the woods about one hundred yards from the Peach Orchard, in the rear of the 3rd Michigan. At about 3:00 a.m. the Third Michigan broke camp and marched off, passing through Emmitsburg and crossing into Pennsylvania at 6:00 a.m. The distance, noted Colonel De Trobriand, was only seven or eight miles, but it had rained, and the roads were terrible.

The Third Michigan came up to the front at the line of battle near Gettysburg sometime between 9:00 and 10:00 a.m. joining the rest of Birney’s First Division. The regiment rested briefly in the Third Corps area, somewhere along the slope of the high ground near Little Round Top. The Michiganders found Birney’s division with its left near Little Round Top and its right in a direct line toward the cemetery, “connecting on the right with the 2nd division of this corps.” The division’s “picket line was in the Emmitsburg road, with sharpshooters some 300 yards in advance.” By mid-afternoon, the Union line of defense ran roughly along the eastern side of the Emmitsburg Road to the Peach Orchard, where Birney’s First division held the line.

At about 2:00 p.m. De Trobriand’s “woefully under strength” Third Brigade, consisting of the 3rd and 5th Michigan regiments, “both small but of the best kind,” and the 17th Maine, the 40th New York, “the largest in the brigade,” and the 110th Pennsylvania, which was the smallest in the brigade with only six companies, was put in the fight.

Expecting an attack on the left General Birney assigned De Trobriand’s Third Brigade to a wooded area at the edge of the “Wheatfield,” in the center of his division’s line.

Years later, on June 12, 1889, a delegation of Michigan soldiers and political leaders gathered at Gettysburg to dedicate monuments to the Michigan regiments, including the old Third. General Byron R. Pierce led the delegation honoring the Third.  A.S. Shattuck delivered the address which can and should be read at