Gettysburg’s Brinkerhoff’s Ridge stone wall destroyed

This really chaps my saddle.

I spent the weekend in Gettysburg, not just for Remembrance Day but to do some ground research for a few final touches to the new book by myself and Steve Stanley, The Complete Gettysburg Guide.  Sunday morning, I took Steve out the Hanover Road to do a quick interpretation of the July 2, 1863 fight for Brinkerhoff’s Ridge so that he could get some photos.  One of the best places to stop there is along Hoffman Road, right in the middle of the battlefield, which affords a vistor a view of most of the terrain.

Late on the afternoon of July 2, the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg, the cavalry division of Brig. Gen. David Gregg came onto the right flank of the Federal Army and engaged the Stonewall Brigade of Confederate infantry there along the Hanover Road.  The fight, which lasted until dark, pulled the vaunted and experienced Stonewall Brigade out of the Confederate assault on Culp’s Hill, perhaps making a difference in the results.  The vortex of the fighting was an old stone wall that lined Hoffman Road (an unnamed road in 1863, more of a glorified farm lane that led to the many properties in that area north of the Hanover Road).  Gregg’s men took possession of that stone wall, and there were several Confederate assaults on it.  It was a natural breastwork that the Federal troopers took advantage of and were able to hold it until both sides withdrew.

There were, however, several consequences of that fight that had great impact on events of the final day, July 3.

Earlier in the fighting, newly-arrived Confederate commander Jeb Stuart watched much of the skirmishing.  Stuart sized up Gregg’s force, and saw how the area of Cress’ Ridge and the all-important intersection of the Hanover and Low Dutch Roads lent itself to cavalry fighting.  Undoubtedly, Stuart used what he saw to make his dispositions and calculations about a possible attack on Gregg the following day.  Gregg, in turn, realized the vulnerability of the road intersection – one that led right into the right rear flank of the Federal Army – and that it couldn’t be abandoned at any cost.

Many of us know the events of the following day.  Just a short distance away, Jeb Stuart battled with Gregg at the same time Pickett’s Charge began to the west.  Stuart’s movement back to the area had absolutely nothing to do with Pickett’s Charge (contrary to popular myth about Stuart’s attack being somehow coordinated with the infantry assault), but Stuart felt if he could successfully assail Gregg’s position there, then he could exploit any breakthrough and wreak havoc on the Federal lines of supply and retreat.

That old stone wall along Hoffman Road, then, has been all-important to the interpretation of the events of the fighting there on July 2, as well as the grand cavalry action at East Cavalry Field on July 3.

Well, yesterday I drove Steve there and turned onto Hoffman Road, intending to show him the stone wall (which had probably stood in that position for nearly or more than 200 years) and interpret the fighting so he could take pictures for the book.  As soon as I turned onto the road I got a shock I didn’t expect.

The stone wall, which I, Eric Wittenberg, and others who have studied this fighting, and which we use to demonstrate the actions, was completely gone.  And I mean gone.  Not a single pebble remained.  Nothing.

The property owner had cleaned up the field east of Hoffman Road (now admittedly affording a better view of the eastern part of the battlefield in that area) but he or she had also completely removed every single stone of the stone wall.  As I said, it had likely stood along this road for around 200 years.  There are Union trooper accounts of the Federals actually knocking rocks out of the waist-high stone wall in order to shoot through it.

That damn wall only stood about 2 feet high in recent years, and only took up about 3 feet of space along the road for a distance of maybe a couple hundred yards – a far cry from what it was 150 years ago, of course – but a tangible representation of what were there and fought over by both sides nonetheless.  The Stonewall Brigade made several valiant attempts to capture that wall, and Gregg’s troopers put up a very stubborn stand to protect it – many paying for it with their lives and blood.

Now it’s gone.  Lord knows where the rocks even are.  Of the thousands of stone walls in the area, some original and many not, this one had to be removed.  I don’t know if the landowner even realized the significance of the wall.  Perhaps not – it’s amazing how many folks you talk to around the battlefield who don’t have a clue that anything happened anywhere near them.  I can’t count the times I’ve spoken to landowners who had no idea that something of importance happened on their ground – whether it be an encampment, movement, skirmish, or even full-scale battle.  When they don’t know, they certainly have no reason to care.

Well, like the plowing under, development, and destruction of so much historic property on and near the battlefield, this is yet one more example.  And when I take folks on Hoffman Road to interpret the fighting for them, now I’ll be saying “you have to imagine the stone wall that used to be here.”  They can no longer see it, touch it, imagine what the rocks would say if they could speak.  Most of those rocks probably fill in some hole somewhere, never to be appreciated as a mute witness to a historic event ever again.

Thank you, Progress.  That 3 feet of ground the wall took up was, I guess, either too precious to waste (for what, I don’t have a goddamn clue) – or the owner was simply ignorant of what it meant.  Either way, we’ve all lost.

Again.

Published in: on November 24, 2008 at 11:29 am  Comments (14)  

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14 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. JD,

    It should chap your saddle. It’s tragic, but it’s probably also unavoidable. The march of progress goes on, no matter what. So long as that wall was in private hands, the threat of this sort of thing was always there.

    When you called me to tell me, I was bummed, but I cannot honestly say that I was terribly surprised.

    It’s tragic, but there are so many important sites associated with the Battle of Gettysburg that lay outside the park boundary that this sort of thing is, unfortunately, inevitable.

    Eric

  2. JD,

    Is the wall still standing on both sides of the Road to the north of there?

    For about the last year and a half the property owner has been fiddling with that property. First they put some junk cars near the wall and then a few months later they removed them. Then they started clearing brush and I wondered if they were removing the vestiges of old wooden fence lines when they were doing that.

    I never gave a second thought to the stone wall.
    Now, I feel guilty like maybe I should’ve stopped in and said something. Every time I drive down Hoffman Road in the future I’m bringing a rock with me and in about a half to 3/4’s of a century that wall will be back.

    Dammit! They must’ve just taken the wall down in the last few weeks! That was a great place to freak EFF visitors out with a piece of Stonewall brigade history!

  3. Doesn’t surprise me. You have two types of people in Adams County: those who love the history and embrace it and those who don’t give a damn but to make a quick buck off of it. That’s the way it has been since 1863 and that is how it will likely remain…

  4. Stan,

    It must have been removed in the last few weeks – the wall was still there the last time I was there in September. Do you know if the property owner had any clue about its significance? It wouldn’t surprise me if he had no idea.

    I also wonder where the rocks are now – I suspect he buried them, sold them, or disposed of them somehow.

    J.D.

  5. I don’t know if the property owner knew the historical value of the stonewall or not, JD. I do know that they risk their lives everytime they pull out of their driveway. That is one bad intersection!
    I’ll be poking around there this weekend and if I see anybody outside I’ll politely make an inquiry.
    What a shame.

    Stan

  6. [...] D. Petruzzi has an interesting but sad post on his blog today regarding the destruction of the stone wall that was the focus of some fairly bitter fighting [...]

  7. This is terribly sad and unfortunate. I wonder if they have no zoning or similar laws in that township that require the owners to submit a plan for approval prior to taking such actions. Of course the zoning board could still give the owners permission if they didn’t know of care about the significance of the area or the action that occurred there.

    Christ Liebegott

  8. How sad another piece of history gone.
    Susan Sweet

  9. It irks me every time I read or hear about something like this. It seems to me that living in the environs of Gettysburg, one would hopefully do just a little research to find out if anything done to the land would directly impact historical interpretation. That is…if they actually gave a damn.

  10. I wonder if it is reasonable, if the property owner were open to the idea, to rebuild the wall. Might not look exactly the same. Might not even run exactly the same course. Still would be a better action than what was exacted on other sections of the battlefield (where the glorious asphalt flows over flank markers).

  11. I’m rather surprised that this is a legal activity. In central Kentucky there are laws in place to protect the dry-stacked stone walls that you often see. This is a real shame.

    Michael Lynch

  12. sad, we were at hunterstown today. went through the east calvary field to show the wall to my wifw but it was gone……color bearer cwpt

  13. JD/Eric,

    My wife and I were in Hunterstown today to look at a house built in 1865. Unfortunately it needs extensive repairs. I have been extensively researching the calvary actions of the Gettysburg campaign from Brandy Station to Falling Waters. My wife and I ride Hunter and I reeanact Pa Calvary from Lebanon Co. (Pa 17th). My wife does a 1863 civilian impression. Read most of your books and ordered the new one. Color Barer of the CWPT and hope meet you at Hunterstown Days July 2nd. Looking to follow your lead in bringing the Calvary Battlefields to the prominence they deserve.

    Steve Haley

  14. I can’t believe there are people in this country who don’t care about our history. To tear down this wall is truly a great loss. I have just received the Petruzzi and want to say thank you for a great work.
    Lou


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