07 Sep The Fight Below Stony Hill: 110th PA Infantry
by Brendan Harris
“Scarcely had we got into position which we heard the fearful rebel yell. On they came like an avalanche.” 1
The previous passage was a recollection of Captain James Hamilton of Company C of the 110th Pennsylvania Infantry regarding first contact with the enemy near the Wheatfield at Gettysburg on July 2, 1863. Enlistments for the regiment began in December 1861. Most of the men came from Bedford, Blair, Centre, Clearfield, and Huntingdon counties. 2 The 110th, like many veteran units of the Army of the Potomac, was involved in every significant engagement before Gettysburg.
Hamilton, who was a company sergeant at the time of the battle, relayed the feelings of many in the 110th PA and the rest of the brigade under Colonel Philippe Régis de Trobriand. During the Gettysburg Campaign, the brigade was attached to the first division of the Third Corps and found itself in a bad tactical situation. The Third Corps commander, General Dan Sickles, did not like his position in the Union line on the morning of July 2nd. Sickles corps was placed at the end of the Union fishhook and should have extended to Little Round Top. Sickles moved his entire corps forward and into a salient position, exposing his corps and possibly the Union Army to flank attacks by Confederate forces. De Trobriand’s men and their understrength brigade controlled the area between the Peach Orchard extending to Devil’s Den. De Trobriand placed the 110th on the right flank closest to the Peach Orchard, extending towards the Wheatfield. The 5th Michigan took the center position, and the 17th Maine took the left flank, closest to the Wheatfield. Two other regiments, the 40th New York and 3rd Michigan were held in reserve but were quickly moved to Devil’s Den and the Peach Orchard, respectively, when other Union brigades needed reinforcements due to the Confederate assault in the late afternoon of July 2nd. 3
By late afternoon Confederates of General “Tige” Anderson’s brigade moved into the western edge of the Wheatfield towards De Trobriand brigade and the 110th PA. The Confederate brigade consisted of all Georgians and looked to make the thinly deployed brigade quick work to their front. As the Georgians approached, they engaged the 5th Michigan and 17 Maine with most of their troops. However, Anderson’s left flank, which comprised the 9th Georgia, was exposed to the entire front of the 110th Pennsylvania and part of the 5th Michigan. Both Union regiments kept the continuous heavy fire on the Georgians, which led to their withdrawal to regroup. 4 However, the 110th Pennsylvania and 5th Michigan positions were not solid enough to stop an assault. Both Union regiments were supposed to be on the stony hill to their rear, not below the exposed hill. As the Georgian regiments shifted their fire towards the 110th‘s position, the Union troops mounted heavier casualties. Captain Hamilton would later surmise that if the regiments had been placed on top of the hill, their losses would have been lighter. 5 The fighting would continue between both regiments for almost an hour. Hamilton recounts that a soldier was not engaging the enemy during the firefight and the company commander went to reprimand him. However, the officer realized the soldier was dead. The bullet was a shot between the eyes, freezing the soldier in place. 6 The 110th Pennsylvania was still on the field and holding its position, even though adjacent Union units were being pushed back in other parts of the Wheatfield and Peach Orchard.
To dislodge de Trobriand’s brigade, General Anderson conferred with General Kershaw, who moved his men onto the field towards the Peach Orchard. Anderson requested and was granted support in a flanking attack on the right of the Union units at the base of the stony hill. The movement also exploited the widening gap between Union troops stationed in the Peach Orchard and the Wheatfield. As Kershaw moved his units into position and flanked the 110th Pennsylvania, units from the 2nd Corps under General Brooks pushed into the breach. The additional reinforcements allowed the 110th Pennsylvania to assist with the final charge that would push the Confederates out of the Wheatfield. 7 As dusk fell over the field, the remnants of the 110th Pennsylvania and the rest of de Trobriand’s brigade pulled back from the mainline and placed near the headquarters of the 3rd Corps. The regiment would support batteries on Cemetery Hill on July 3rd, watching the final Confederate assault on the Union Center.
The 110th Pennsylvania’s strength at Gettysburg was 132 enlisted and 16 officers. 8 The fighting left the unit with 58 men as casualties. Based on contemporary reports, half of the unit’s officers were killed or wounded. Like many Pennsylvanians fighting in the Civil War, their ancestors were used to fighting for a cause. Captain Francis Cassidy of Company H was a direct decedent of Patrick Cassidy who founded Newry, Pennsylvania, and fought during the Revolutionary War. 9 Captain James Hamilton of Company C was also a direct ancestor of General John Cadwalader, who commanded Pennsylvanian troops during the Revolutionary War. 10
After Gettysburg, the regiment would continue to fight in every significant engagement that the Army of the Potomac fought in until Appomattox. In 1889, the regiment dedicated a monument at the position they held on to the edge of the Wheatfield. Sergeant Major Edmund Shaw dedicated the monument. Shaw summed up the men who fought in the 110th Pennsylvania as:
“beardless boys of 1861 whose rollicking manhood and patriotic courage urged them to put on the habiliments of war in response to their country’s call in a time of need for courageous men.” 11
The 110th Pennsylvania had three different monuments or makers attributed to it at Gettysburg. The first is the dedicated monument previously mentioned on De Trobriand Lane in the Wheatfield next to the 8th New Jersey Monument. The monument also contains left and right flank makers. The second is by name only on the 3rd Brigade, 1 Division, 3rd Corps marker located near De Trobriand Lane and Sickles Avenue. The final monument containing reference to the regiment is at the Pennsylvania monument located on Hancock Avenue. The 110th has a tablet with a list of the men who fought on the field.
1 James Hamilton, “The 110th Regiment In The Gettysburg Campaign,” Philadelphia Weekly Press, February 24, 1896.
2 Samuel Bates, History Of The Pennsylvania Volunteers 1861-1865, Vol. 3, (Harrisburg: B. Singerly, 1870), 978-981.
3 Philippe Régis de Trobriand, Four Years With The Army Of The Potomac, (Boston: Ticknor And Company, 1889), 496-497.
4 George Hillyer, My Gettysburg Battle Experiences, (Gettysburg: Thomas Publications, 2005), 16.
5 Manuscript History Of The 110th Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1805.002.031, MOLLUS Archives, The Union League Legacy Foundation, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States.
6 Hamilton, “The 110th Regiment In The Gettysburg Campaign.”
7 Robert Scott, Official Records Of The War Of The Rebellion, Series 1, Vol. 27, Part 1, (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1889), 528-529.
8 John Busey and David Martin, Regimental Strength And Losses At Gettysburg, (Highstown: Longstreet House, 2005), 52.
9 Jesse Sell, Twentieth History of Altoona and Blair County Pennsylvania And Representative Citizens, (Chicago: Richmond-Palmer Publishing, 1911), 425.
10 “Prominent Resident Of Beaver Falls Dies,” Newcastle Herald, November 16, 1918.
11 Pennsylvania at Gettysburg: Ceremonies at the Dedication of the Monuments Erected by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to Mark the Positions of the Pennsylvania Commands Engaged in Battles, Vol. 1, (Harrisburg: William Ray, 1904), 598.