On the afternoon of July 2, 1863, as Major General John Bell Hood’s Division did battle with Federal forces in Devil’s Den, the Triangular Field, and Little Round Top, the men of Major General Lafayette McLaws Division supported Hood’s left flank. Many of McLaws’ units saw action in and around George Rose’s now-famous 20-acre Wheatfield.
The first brigade of McLaws Division to engage the enemy was that of Brigadier General George “Tige” Anderson. Anderson’s men became heavily engaged with elements of the Union 3rd and 5th Corps. To Anderson’s left came the all South Carolina Brigade of Brigadier General Joseph Kershaw. Anderson and Kershaw forced the Federal units from the Wheatfield and Stony Hill. In short time, Yankee reinforcements, in the form of Caldwell’s Division of 2nd Corps, cleared the Wheatfield.
Into the maelstrom strode four Georgia regiments of Brigadier General Paul Semmes’ Brigade. Semmes was a fine specimen of a soldier. He was 48 years old and, although he had served in the prewar militia, was a banker and plantation owner by trade. When his country called, Semmes joined with the 2nd Georgia and was appointed its colonel. His first cousin, Raphael Semmes, captain of the raider CSS Alabama, was arguably the most famous naval officer to fight for the Confederacy.
Time and again, Paul Semmes performed admirably in battle—and always suitably dressed for the occasion, too, with “polished boots, spotless linen, elegant uniform a brilliant red sash around his waist and shoulders and a red turban on his head[.] [W]hen the fight began he took position in front of his brigade so as to be seen by every man in it if possible. Pelides did not shine brighter in his martial array or inspire more courage in his followers or more terror to his enemies.”
Semmes’ regiments forced their way in between the Kershaw’s and Anderson’s men. They helped to blunt the Federal counter attacks led by Colonel John R. Brooke. During the ensuing Confederate counterattack Semmes was wounded in the thigh, near two large rocks at the southwest corner of the Wheatfield. Quickly an aide applied a tourniquet and they evacuated the general from the field.
Semmes was evacuated with the wounded of the army. He arrived at Martinsburg, West Virginia, where on July 10th he died of his wound. His last words were “I consider it a privilege to die for my country.”
There are many ways to get to Semmes’ wounding site. The most direct route from the square is to take Baltimore Street south to the intersection of Baltimore Street and Steinwehr Ave. At this Y intersection bear right and follow Steinwehr Ave. (which turns into the Emmitsburg Road) 1.9 miles. Turn left onto the Wheatfield Road. Follow the Wheatfield Road .6 miles to Ayres Ave. and turn right onto Ayres Ave. Follow Ayres Ave. .3 miles. At the stop sign go straight, the road turns into Brooke Ave. Follow Brooke Ave .7 miles and park on the side of the road.
Authors Note: The formation of rocks near where Semmes’ is wounding will be on the left hand side of the road. Please keep in mind this area can become very swampy after a rain.