Gettysburg Off the Beaten Path: The Rock of the 40th New York

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The 40th New York Infantry Monument in the Valley of Death.

When you first hear the nickname of the 40th New York Infantry, you might think that the regiment was filled with musicians marching off to serve in the Union Army. “The Mozart Regiment” has a nice ring to it, no pun intended. I have heard some buffs and tourists regaling others with the story of how the regiment received its nickname. One person, in particular, sticks out in my mind as they told the story of the entire New York Symphony Orchestra trading in their instruments for weapons, and marching off to war en masse.

The reality is that that 40th New York was known as the “Mozart Regiment” due to its ties to the political parties of New York City. The 1850s proved to be a tumultuous time in New York City politics with the steady rise of a democratic political machine and their bosses. Mayor Fernando Wood was one of these powerful political bosses. The former Congressman and successful businessman broke away from the famed Tammany Hall political machine due to a political scandal involving his brother and the Panic of 1857. Wood ran against his old political machine, Tammany Hall (which also has a New York regiment named after in the Army of the Potomac), creating Mozart Hall in the process. The incumbent won reelection, and when war came in 1861, some of the early regiments raised out of New York City were the 40th and 42nd New York Infantry—known as the Mozart and Tammany Hall regiments respectively.

The 40th New York was an interesting unit, as it consisted of companies raised in New York, but the regiment also consisted of six companies that were raised in both Massachusetts (4), and Pennsylvania (2). The original unit, too, comprised of New York men who had been recruited as the Second Zouaves, but this zouave designation fell by the wayside and the Mozart Hall “designation” stuck.

Mustered into federal service on June 21, 1861 (some members of the regiment claim that it was mustered in on June 27, 1861), the 40th New York was eventually assigned to Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan’s newly forming Army of the Potomac, becoming a fixture in one of the original four corps, the 3rd. 

By July of 1863, the men of the 40th New York had experienced their fair share of action. Yorktown, Fair Oaks, Second Manassas, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville were just some of the engagements that the men of the 40th New York took part in. After Chancellorsville, the Mozart Regiment was consolidated into five companies, or into one battalion as one history of the regiment states. In late May of 1863, The 40th New York Infantry was bolstered by men of the 37th, 38th, 55th, and 101st New York Infantry—as some of the companies enlisted for three years, while the majority of their regiments enlisted for two years. (In 1862, the 40th New York absorbed members of the 87th New York, too.)

On July 2nd, 1863, the 40th New York Infantry was part of Col. Philip Regis de Trobriand’s 3rd Brigade, 1st Division, 3rd Corps. De Trobriand’s brigade was spread thin across the southern edge of George Rose’s farmland and now-famous “Wheatfield.”  Major General Daniel E. Sickles advanced his 3rd Corps to an advanced position, well in front of the support of the rest of the Army of the Potomac. His left rested on a jumble of boulders now called Devil’s Den, while his right flank sat largely in the air along the Emmitsburg Road–terminating near the Peter Rogers and Nicholas Codori Farms. 

The rear of the 40th NY Monument, facing Houck’s Ridge. Notice the rock in the bottom left corner.

In the late afternoon hours of July 2nd, Maj. Gen. John Bell Hood’s division kicked off of the Confederate offensive. Elements of Brigadier Generals Evander Law and Jerome Roberston’s brigades hit Devil’s Den and Little Round Top, which were held by units of the Union 3rd and 5th Corps respectively. The fighting among the rocks of Devil’s Den proved to be particularly brutal, with each side fielding some of their most veteran units. The 1st Texas and 3rd Arkansas of the famed Texas Brigade slammed into Brig. Gen. J. Hobart Ward’s 3rd Corps brigade. Unable to dislodge Ward’s men, more Confederate units entered the fray. Brigadier General George Benning’s Groagians added their weight to the Confederate assault. Casualties mounted on each side. The 124th New York launched a desperate countercharge, which was met by Confederate fire and cost the Empire State men their colonel and major. Captain James Smith and his 4th Battery New York Light Artillery lost half of its guns to Confederates swarming the rocks of Devil’s Den like angry hornets. 

Major General David B. Birney knew that his men were stretched thin, and with the rebels about to cave in his left flank, he sought any relief that he could find. Birney received assistance from fellow 3rd Corps division commander Andrew Humphries in the form of the 6th New Jersey, but the Garden State men would not be enough to staunch the tide of gray and butternut soldiers. Birney dispatched Col. Thomas Egan’s 40th New York to his endangered left flank. Egan’s regiment was the largest in Col. de Trobriand’s brigade, and the unit had been acting as a reserve for its sister regiments in the Wheatfield sector.  

With mounting Confederate pressure, Eagan “ was ordered by Major-General Birney to move by the left flank through the woods across a field of wheat, in front of Captain [George] Winslow’s battery, to a position pointed out to me by Capt. J. C. Briscoe, in a ravine bounded on the left by high hills and upon the right by a gentle ridge.” The ravine that the men of the Mozart Regiment had just entered was the Plum Run Valley, later dubbed the “Valley of Death.” The high hills to the right of the regiment were Munshower Knoll and Little Round Top. The gentle ridge to the right was Houck’s Ridge, and at the southern end of the ridge sat Devil’s Den. 

The 40th New York Monument sans pedestal. This photo was taken by William Tipton. Tipton was a boy during the Battle of Gettysburg, and in the post-war years, he became a successful photographer and businessman. When the trolley brought folks to Devil’s Den, they could enjoy one of Tipton’s many offerings. They could have their photo taken among the rock, enjoy a meal at his restaurant, twirl around the dance hall, or bu lemonade and battle relics.

Thomas Egan shook his 431 officers and men into a battle line facing to the south. Some 400 yards to the regiments left, the battle for Little Round Top raged. To the front and right of the regiment, Confederate forces were securing Devil’s Den. According to Egan, “ the enemy had at this time partly succeeded in flanking the Second Brigade (Ward) upon my right by a movement upon their left. Captain Smith’s (Fourth New York) Battery was stationed upon the ridge at my right, and was in a very perilous situation.”

Confederates perched themselves atop the rocks of Devil’s Den. Some of the rebels picked off Union officers atop Little Round Top, while others poured fire into the oncoming New Yorker’s.   

General Thomas W. Egan. Egan was a colonel at the time of the Battle of Gettysburg. (National Archives).

Captain Smith could not fit all six of his guns in the Devil’s Den position proper, so as the 40th New York came onto the field, they passed one section of Smith’s guns halfway between the J. Weikert Farm and Devil’s Den, covering the Federal left at Devil’s Den and the southern end of the Plum Run Valley. The remaining four guns of Smith’s Battery sat in Devil’s Den, above the Triangular Field, and Benning and Robertson’s Confederates threatened to take two of Smith’s three sections. Smith pleaded with Egan to save his guns in Devil’s Den. 

Eagan consented to Smith’s request. With Confederates advancing over the rocks of Devil’s Den and into the Plum Run Valley, Eagan “immediately ordered…[the] men to charge, when with great alacrity they pushed forward at a double-quick, crossing a marsh up to their knees in mud and water.” 

The Mozart Regiment met with some short-lived success, with the Confederates falling back from their advanced position on the north side of the rock outcropping and into the rocks themselves. The new Confederate position was very much stronger than the first. 

There was little hope that the 40th New York could retake the guns of Smith’s Battery. Ward’s brigade was falling back from Devil’s Den in disorder. The 6th New Jersey also coming to the assistance of Ward’s men were too far out of position to support Eagan’s right flank, while some 400 yards remained between the 40th New York’s left and the Federal troops atop Little Round Top. Standing in the open and exchanging fire with the Confederates who held the high ground to the right of the Empire State soldiers and three regiments, the 2nd and 17th Georgia, and 48th Alabama to the New Yorkers front and left inflicted heavy losses upon the Mozart Regiment. The Yankees “suffered terribly.” What was left of Ward’s men pulled out of line and subjected the New Yorkers to a terrific cross-fire. After perhaps twenty minutes of fighting, Eagan ordered his men off of the field. According to Col. J.D. Waddell of the 20th Georgia, the Federals retreated in “wild disorder.” Eagan, who was wounded in the leg by a piece of shrapnel, rallied his men in the vicinity of George Rose’s Wheatfield as that fight was just coming to life. 

The rock of the 40th New York Infantry. The letters are tough to make out, but the chiseled diamond is visible.

The efforts of the 40th New York proved to be too little, far too late. Egan’s men alone were unable to stem the Confederate tide on the Federal left. They, too, were unable to recapture the guns of Smith’s Battery. And three of Smith’s four guns in Devil’s Den fell into rebel hands. 

In the twenty or so minutes that the 40th New York engaged with the enemy, 150 of the 431 New Yorkers who entered the Valley of Death became casualties (23 K-120 W-7 C), or 34.8%; these numbers included both Eagan and his second in command Lt. Col. Augustus J. Warner.

The 40th New York went on to fight in some of the worst battles of the Eastern Theater—Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor & beyond. By the time that the regiment mustered out of federal service on June 27, 1865, “[b]ut one regiment from the Empire State suffered more in battle, and but ten regiments in the whole Northern Army exceeded it in point of loss.” From the Empire State, only the 69th New York lost more men killed and wounded in battle than the 40th. The “Adjutant General of the army,” placed the total losses of the 40th New York during the Civil War at 1,244 officers and men. 

On the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, the veterans of the 40th New York, their families, and dignitaries gathered in the Valley of Death “for the purpose of dedicating to our dead comrades this beautiful specimen of the sculptor’s art.” The sculptor’s art that former 40th New Yorker member George E. Harrington was referring to was the then-new monument to the Mozart Regiment. Situated about 37 feet from Plum Run, and at the base of Little Round Top, the new memorial depicted a soldier of the regiment lying in a prone position behind a boulder. As the regiment fought in the boulder-strewn Valley of Death, it would only seem appropriate to incorporate a boulder into the monument design. The north side of the monument is adorned with the state seal of New York, the west side boasts the diamond of the 3rd Corps, and the south side of the monument carries casualty figures and other regimental information. 

The 40th New York Monument. Notice that the modern pedestal is not yet in place. Also, note that under the sign to the 40th NY (helps to know what you are looking at from the trolley), the man placed his coat over a rock. You can see the diamond of the 3rd Corps on the rock and the term VOLS.

At a cost of $2,225, the impressively sculpted monument is the only regimental monument at Gettysburg to be funded by two different states. As the regiment consisted of men from New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania, the two former states provided the money sculpture. 

The monument sat close to the old trolley line of the Gettysburg Electric Railway that once ran through the Valley of Death, and across many other parts of the battlefield. It, too, would have sat near one of the original roadways that would have taken visitors into Devil’s Den and into Tipton Park. After some time members of the regiment noticed that the monument was too close to the ground. Lifelike as the soldier may appear, high grass would impede the view of the monument, mud would splatter the figure during heavy rains, and the memorial would have been subjected to the floods that took place in the Valley of Death from time to time. For these reasons, a larger base was added to the monument, which helped to alleviate many of these problems and elevate the monument from the ground.

One of the trolleys running through Devil’s Den. They were named for Union generals.

While I am intrigued by the monument and regiment, I am more intrigued by the second “monument” to the 40th New York. Situated a few feet from the southwest corner of the monument is your typical Gettysburg area rock. Well, maybe this rock is not so typical. If you look closely, and in the right light, you will see the diamond of the 3rd Corps engraved on the rock. Upon closer examination, you will also find that 40th is engraved above the diamond, and the shape is flanked on one side by NY. And on the other flank of the diamond, VOLS.

According to Devil’s Den experts Tim Smith and Garry Adelman, the rock was most likely engraved with the above markings to show the monument installers where the were to place the new Mozart Regiment memorial. Tim also located a similar rock about 310 feet southwest of the 40th’s rock. A similar rock is marked for the 4th Maine Infantry. A diamond on top with 4th Me below the shape. It, too, was most likely a guidepost for the 4th Maine’s monument installers in October of the same year. (The 4th Maine has two monuments at Gettysburg. One is in the Devil’s Den area and the other is on Hancock Avenue near the Angle.) 

Many of the rocks around the Gettysburg Battlefield have a story to tell. The next time you are in the Devil’s Den, take a walk along the old trolley line into the Valley of Death. “[S]tand on [the] hallowed ground,” of the Mozart Regiment, and enjoy one of those battlefield gems that you may have easily overlooked. 

For more information about Devil’s Den see Devil’s Den: A History and Guide by Garry E. Adelman and Timothy H. Smith.

To Reach the 40th New York’s Monument and Rock:

-Starting in the town square, follow Baltimore Street for 0.5 miles.
-At the Y intersection with Steinwehr Ave. make a slight right. This turns into US-15 S (also called the Emmitsburg Road). Follow for 1.8 miles.
-Make a left onto the Wheatfield Road.
-Follow the Wheatfield Road for 0.7 miles.
-Turn right onto Crawford Ave. follow it to the Devil’s Den parking area.
-Follow the footbridge across Plum Run and turn left.
-Once you reach Warren Ave., turn left and follow the road for 85 feet, and turn right onto the mown path; the old trolley line.
-The 40th New York Monument and rock will be 155 feet ahead on your left.

7 Responses to Gettysburg Off the Beaten Path: The Rock of the 40th New York

  1. In the years I have been studying New York at Gettysburg, I never noticed this monument. Thanks for the excellent description. I will look for it the next time I am there and take your excellent post to guide me.

  2. Thank you for this fascinating post. My great grandfather, George Thompson, was in the 40th NY, and was wounded at Gettysburg.

  3. My 2x great grandfather, Clemens Niffer aka Clement Niffner and other variations was there.

  4. While recently searching my Todd Family relations I found various facts to believe that my GGGrandfather George MacKay Todd was first a member of the 38th NY who was then transferred over to the 40th NY just prior to this.

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