What’s the small battlefield monument image on the blog series header?
Short Answer: 72nd Pennsylvania Infantry Monument at Gettysburg National Military Park.
Located at The Angle on Cemetery Ridge, this monument is actually one of two at Gettysburg for the 72nd Pennsylvania Infantry. Recognizable and well-photographed, it was dedicated in 1891 and has its own controversial history.
This Pennsylvania regiment had a unique history. Recruited in Philadelphia in 1861 by Colonel Edward Baker and originally called the 3rd California, they formed a regiment in Baker’s “California Brigade.” Named for one of the Union states in the far west though recruited in a Pennsylvania city, the brigade’s name and regiment numbers were quickly changed to “Philadelphia Brigade” after Baker’s death at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff (October 1861). The “3rd California” became the 72nd Pennsylvania, nicknamed “Baxter’s Fire Zouaves.”
The regiment fought in the Peninsula Campaign, Seven Days Battles, Chantilly, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and the Chancellorsville Campaign before their role at Gettysburg. In July 1863, the unit served in the General Alexander Webb’s second brigade in General John Gibbon’s second division of General Winfield S. Hancock’s II Corps of the Army of the Potomac. On July 3, 1863, the regiment waited on Cemetery Ridge, just east of the landmark known as The Angle where the Confederate assault aimed its attack.
As the survivors of the Confederate brigades reached the stonewall, fierce fighting ensued at The Angle. When Confederate General Lewis Armistead crossed the low wall, he saw a broken battery (Cushing’s guns) and a lone reserve regiment: the 72nd Pennsylvania. The Zouaves fired on the approaching Confederates. General Webb ordered the regiment to charge into The Angle, but perhaps un-hearing or perhaps not realizing Webb was their brigade commander, the regiment refused to move. When their color sergeant William Finecy dashed forward with the flag, shouting “Will you see your color storm the wall alone?” they followed into the hand-to-hand melee. They charged to the stonewall and, joined by other regiments and General Hall’s brigade, eventually succeeded in repulsing the Confederate assault. At Gettysburg, the 72nd began the fight with 380 men and lost 192 as casualties.[i]
Clearly, this Pennsylvania regiment had played an important role in the effort to defeat the Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble Charge. What wasn’t so clear in later decades was the location for their monument and determining “how much honor” the regiment should receive.
When Gettysburg received many of its monuments in the later part of the 19th Century, the Battlefield Commission declared that unit memorials were supposed to be placed at the unit’s main location during the fight. Some interpreted that to mean the rear position of the 72nd, not a place of prominence at the stonewall. However, the veterans didn’t like the original position and wanted to be remembered and memorialized for their action at the wall. It was a three year legal case, ending in court with a judge ruling in favor of the forward position. Finally, on July 4, 1891, the 72nd Pennsylvania monument was dedicated at The Angle. (About 70 yards east of their statue is a small monument/marker, showing their original position before the charge.)
Did the 72nd Pennsylvania single-handedly change the course of Gettysburg? No. Did they cause their general a lot of frustration by initially refusing to move? Yes. However, they held their original position and eventually followed their colorbearer into the brutal fight, joining other Union regiments in a counter-attack which effectively ended the Battle of Gettysburg and, arguably, changed the course of the war.
The 72nd Pennsylvania Monument at Gettysburg’s Angle features a defiant soldier in the traditional Zouave Uniform worn by the regiment. He raises his rifle in a desperately courageous pose, frozen in bronze and ever-ready to strike back at the now unseen foe.
A.C. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion, 2013, Alfred A. Knopf.
N.A. Trudeau, Gettysburg: A Testing Of Courage, 2002, Harper Collins.
[i] These casualty numbers are referenced from Noah Andre Trudeau’s Gettysburg: A Testing Of Courage, page 569. Casualty numbers often vary and can be challenging to establish with exact, unfailing accuracy due to the reports and sources available.