Gettysburg Off the Beaten Path: The Capture of James Archer

Brigadier General James J. Archer

Brigadier General James J. Archer

Part of a Series.

Brigadier General James J. Archer was a brave and tough commander, with the appropriate nickname “The Little Gamecock”. Archer was a graduate of Princeton University, who had received a commission to the rank of Captain during the Mexican-American War. He left the army for a short time, but returned in 1855.  At the outbreak of war, he threw his hat in the ring the Confederacy. Although he was a native of Baltimore, Maryland, he commanded a mixed brigade of Tennessee and Alabama forces in Major General Henry Heth’s Division, at Gettysburg.  Archer’s men had performed well at Second Manassas, Antietam, and Chancellorsville. Though a frail and sickly man (Archer was normally sick before every battle he entered), he never stayed in his sickbed when battle was imminent.

On the morning of July 1st, Archer’s brigade was the vanguard unit leading Lee’s army to battle at Gettysburg. Archer’s men were having a slow time with the cavalry, who mounted and dismounted at will, forcing the foot soldiers to engage and disengage time and again. Near 10:30 AM, with his entire brigade now in line of battle, moved from Springs Hotel Woods on Herr’s Ridge and were hotly contested by Col. William Gamble’s Federal troopers.

“We continued to advance, but in a walk,” wrote Pvt. William H. Moon of the 13th Tennessee. “loading and firing as we went, until we reached a strip of low land along the Run. There we were protected from the fire of the enemy by an abrupt rise across the Run in our front. We halted to reform, reload, catch our breath, and cool off a little.”

Willoughby Run

Willoughby Run

Archer’s men pressed to the eastern bank of Willoughby’s Run, a small stream at the western base of McPherson Ridge utilizing the stream bed for cover.  After a few minutes, the brigade pushed up from the banks of the run but only made it about 75 yards, when they were met by Union infantry.

In an instant, the tactical situation on the ground changed at Gettysburg. Brigadier General Lysander Cutler’s brigade arrived and two of his regiments, the 95th New York and 14th Brooklyn, stymied the left of Archer’s line. Slowing Archer was not enough though and that is all Cutler’s men could do. John Reynolds then turned to his last available brigade now pouring through the fields from the Lutheran Theological Seminary. The famed “Iron Brigade,” consisting of five regiments from Wisconsin, Michigan, and Indiana.

The Westerners arrived in the vicinity of the Lutheran Theological Seminary when they were directed west through the fields leading to the Edward McPherson Farm and Herbst Woods.

Advancing en echelon (staggered one regiment at a time), four of the brigades five regiments advanced toward the woodlot and the enemy. Most of the Federal units did not expect to be thrown into the battle so haphazardly. Only one regiment, the 19th Indiana actually had loaded rifles, since they were on picket duty from the evening before. Men loaded at will as the marched toward the fray. The 24th Michigan attempted to halt and load, when they were ordered “to move forward immediately without loading…” by a staff officer, who sensed the urgency of the situation. Moving across the fields, to battle, the 19th Indiana’s color bearer pulled “the shuck” from the flag and tied it around his waist. Moments later the flag was hit by a dozen bullets and by the end of July 1, the regiment lost 8 color bearers.

Archer’s men put up a stubborn resistance. They felled both the colonel and lieutenant colonel of the 2nd Wisconsin and killed John Reynolds, but the exhaustion of chasing cavalry and now the overwhelming numbers of the Iron Brigade was too much. The 24th Michigan found Archer’s left flank and began to engulf it. The southerners fled toward Willoughby Run and Herr’s Ridge. On Archer’s right, the situation went from bad to worse.

Remains of quarry.

Remains of the quarry.

Archer, who was on foot, was captured near a stone quarry on the left end of his line. The general was taken into custody by Private Patrick Maloney of the 2nd Wisconsin. Maloney was apparently a madman when he captured the general, for when Archer was presented to Lieutenant Dennis Dailey, Archer asked Dailey to protect him from the private.

Dailey took the generals sword and both he and Maloney went onto fight that afternoon against Pettigrew’s North Carolina Brigade. Dailey was wounded in the battle and taken to the home of Mary McAllister, with whom he entrusted the sword. After the battle ended Dailey came to find out that Colonel Henry Morrow of the 24th Michigan took the sword from the McAllister home as a prize, he later returned it to Dailey, who did not keep it himself but gave it to his brigade commander Brigadier General Solomon Meredith as a present. Upon Meredith’s death in 1881 the sword was returned to the lieutenant.

After his captured Archer was taken to 1st Corps commander Major General Abner Doubleday. Doubleday smiled and said, “I am glad to see you!” The angry little gamecock responded, “Well, I am not glad to see you by a damned sight.” Archer was the first general officer to be captured since Lee took over the Army of Northern Virginia on June 1, 1862.

To get to the quarry from Gettysburg, travel west on Route 30 and turn left onto Stone Avenue. This road will turn into Meredith Avenue. Before you enter the Herbst Woods park your car. To your right, you will see a fence, follow this fence (where it meets the woods) 75 yards down to Willoughby Run, just before the run you will see the large pit to your right. (As a side note, where you have parked your car is the general area in which Henry Heth was wounded in the head on the afternoon of July 1.)

Quarry Location Map

About Kristopher D. White

Civil War author and historian. Deputy Director of Education Manager for the American Battlefield Trust and chief historian of Emerging Civil War.
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3 Responses to Gettysburg Off the Beaten Path: The Capture of James Archer


    I never tire of hearing Gettysburg stories. My Grt,Grt Grdfathr was there at Culp’s Hill……2nd Maryland CSA .

  2. Tom Webster says:

    I live 5 minutes from what was Gen. Archer’s home in Maryland. Often seeing his property and historical marker at that location. I truly appreciate hearing the details of his capture and service. Thank you!

  3. Brian K Ream says:

    I also had a GRT GRT Grandfather at Culps Hill in the 13th NJ part of Slocum’s 12 Corp. My best friend’s Grt Grt Grandfather was wounded on July 1st at the railroad cut, 95th NY. Amazing!
    We’ll be there 8/15/21.

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