Just east of Gettysburg sits Benner’s Hill, a 454 foot high prominence that overlooks the town of Gettysburg. At the base of this prominence runs Rock Creek, a barrier between the hill, town, and for the three days in July the Army of the Potomac. At the time of the battle the hill was part of the 208 acre Christian Benner Farm. Benner’s home sat about 400 yards south of the hill’s crest, closer to Wolf’s Hill.
Near 4:30 PM, on the afternoon of July 1st Confederate cavalry in the form of the 35th Virginia Battalion of Cavalry rode east along the Hanover Road, which runs over the crest of the hill. Their commander, Lieutenant Colonel Elijah V. White, reported back to the Confederate high command of a body of Federal soldiers materializing east of Benner’s Hill. These Union troops also captured the attention of Brigadier General William “Extra Billy” Smith, commanding an all Virginia brigade in the area.
Confederate Second Corps commander Lieutenant General Richard S. Ewell rode out to see what was happening. Indeed there were Union soldiers arriving out near Benner’s Hill just about the time he received discretionary orders to take Cemetery Hill. (Click here to read a more detailed article on this action.) As quickly as the Union soldiers materialized, they disappeared. This distraction was enough to help stall Ewell’s attack on Cemetery Hill. One Union general called this action “…a timely diversion.”
On July 2nd Benner’s Hill was used as both an artillery platform and a staging area for the assault on Culp’s Hill. Four batteries of sixteen guns stood atop the crest. These guns were commanded by 19 year old Joseph Latimer. In the late afternoon of July 2nd Latimer’s guns came to life. They engaged guns along the Federal right flank, roughly from Culp’s Hill to East Cemetery Hill. Latimer’s gunners were easily out matched in both quantity and quality of ordinance employed. Both Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill were more dominating positions than that of Benner’s Hill. The 40 plus Federal guns engaging Latimer rained iron down upon his stout gunners.
Near dusk three brigades of Major General Edward “Allegheny” Johnson’s Second Corps division strode through Latimer’s gun line, which by now had been reduced to just four guns, toward Culp’s Hill. Latimer’s guns were quite just long enough for Johnson’s men to make their way through. Latimer’s guns came back to life. More federal shells rained down. Latimer was hit in the arm with a piece of shrapnel and his horse killed. Pinned below, Latimer was pulled free by a few of his men. Latimer’s arm was amputated, and he was evacuated with the army to Winchester, where he died August 1, 1863 of gangrene, three weeks shy of his 20th birthday.
To reach Benner’s Hill, head east down York Street. At the Y intersection continue straight ahead, the road will turn into Hanover Street/Hanover Road (PA 116 East). As you ascend the hillside prepare to turn right at the top onto Latimer Ave (another one of those rare Confederate officer named park roads). This is Benner’s Hill. The total distance from the square to the hill is 1 mile.
Author’s Note: From Benner’s Hill the distance to Culp’s Hill (the hill with the large war department observation tower atop) is approximately 1,100 yards; the distance to Cemetery Hill approximately 1,500 yards.
If you follow the Hanover Road to the east you will arrive on Brinkerhoff’s Ridge where David Gregg’s Union cavalry division was engaging Johnson’s fourth brigade, the famed Stonewall Brigade. This action was enough to help tip the scales in favor of the Union on Culp’s Hill, during the July 2nd battle. One more Confederate brigade would have made all the difference in the world. For a more in-depth description of this action I highly recommend Protecting the Flank: The Battles for Brinkerhoff’s Ridge and East Cavalry Field, Battle of Gettysburg, July 2-3, 1863 by Eric Wittenberg.