Gettysburg Off the Beaten Path: Jones Artillery Line

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Guns along Jones' line.
Guns along Jones’ line.

Tucked between the Gettysburg Lutheran Retirement Village and the and the Twin Oaks subdivision are a few Civil War cannon. It is a rarely visited spot by most visitors to the Gettysburg battlefield. Few venture north of Rock Creek on the July 1st battlefield to explore what has now become a largely developed area, but those who do are rewarded with a few treasures. The first treasure is the Josiah Benner Farm. The second treasure is Jones Battalion Avenue. Jones Battalion Avenue is named after Lt. Col. Hilary P. Jones, and it is the only avenue in the park officially named after a Confederate officer. Jones was the chief of divisional artillery for Maj. Gen. Jubal Early’s Confederate Second Corps Division at Gettysburg.

The Hume, Virginia, native was just 12 days shy of his 30th birthday when he arrived in Gettysburg on July 1, 1863. Jones lacked formal military training, rather, he was a teacher in the antebellum years, having graduated from the University of Virginia.

In August of 1861, Jones was commissioned a lieutenant in Page’s Virginia artillery. Jones quickly moved up the ranks to major, and commanded a battalion during the Seven Days, at Antietam, and at Fredericksburg. At the latter action, Jones was replaced the day before the battle by Maj. Thomas Carter. During the winter of 1862-63, the Army of Northern Virginia’s artillery went through a major reorganization, and against the wishes of Col. Stapleton Crutchfield—the Second Corps Chief of Artillery—Jones, due to the backing of Brig. Gen. William Pendelton, was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel. “Maj. H. P. Jones is recommended for promotion to grade of lieutenant-colonel. I do not think any officer should be promoted except to fill a vacancy or for meritorious service,” growled Crutchfield to Stonewall Jackson. “To do so cheapens promotion too much in the eyes of officers and men.” Crutchfield was a typical Jackson disciple, humorless and self-righteous. The extended diatribe against Jones goes in a rambling and petulant fashion. At times the Colonel seemed to be fighting with himself “He was in the battle of Sharpsburg, I suppose; indeed, I am sure he was,” reads one line. Later Crutchfield states, “Major Jones is a moderately good officer; no very strong points, nor yet any objectionable ones.” The reason for Crutchfield’s dislike could have boiled down to two key items. First and foremost that Crutchfield was a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute and Jones lacked formal military training. Second, Jones was recommended for promotion by “special request” of Gen. William B. Taliaferro. Taliaferro was one of many officers who ran afoul of Stonewall Jackson, and out of loyalty to Jackson or self-preservation, Crutchfield may have taken such a stance against Jones. And then again, Crutchfield may have just hated Jones. Jackson wrote a scathing letter to General Robert E. Lee complaining about the recent promotions in the Second Corps (Jones was not the only one that Crutchfield and Jackson targeted). “I have had much trouble resulting from incompetent officers having been assigned duty with me, regardless of my wishes,” complained Jackson.”Those who assigned them have never taken the responsibility of incurring the podium which results from such incompetency.” All of the feet stomping by Crutchfield and Jackson was for naught. Jones was promoted to lieutenant colonel.

Jones served well at the Battle of Chancellorsville. By June, Jackson was dead, and Crutchfield was recovering from his Chancellorsville wounding away from the army. Jones was now the head of Jubal Early’s divisional artillery, and at the Second Battle of Winchester, Jones again proved to be a capable battalion commander.

Early’s division made their way through Gettysburg on June 26. The division then headed off to the east following their “capture” of Gettysburg, moving onto York, and north towards Harrisburg. On the early afternoon of July 1st “Old Jube’s” division made their way down the Harrisburg Road toward Gettysburg. Early’s corps commander Lieut. Gen. Richard S. Ewell had orders to march to the army at Gettysburg or Cashtown. Ewell chose Gettysburg as his destination and sent his three divisions down separate paths, to converge on the town. When Early arrived, Brigadier General Francis C. Barlow’s Federal 11th Corps division had moved forward to a small knoll named Blocher’s Knoll, named after John and David Blocher, whose family owned the land. (Today Blocher’s Knoll is known as Barlow’s Knoll.)

Supporting Barlow’s division were six Napoleons of Battery G, 4th United States Artillery. This battery was commanded by First Lieutenant Bayard Wilkeson. Wilkeson posted four of his guns atop the knoll; his remaining two guns, a section commanded by Lt. Christopher F. Merkle, were posted along the Harrisburg Road, about 200 yards to the right rear of Barlow’s right flank. Following the Battle of Chancellorsville, Wilkeson had begged his father to have his battery transferred from the 11th Corps. “Please get me and my Battery out of the Corps,” his cries fell on deaf ears, and now the young lieutenant found himself in a poor and exposed position north of Gettysburg.

Federal guns atop Blocher's Knoll. The flagpole in the left of the photo was erected by survivors of the 17th Ct. and marks the approximate location of where Lt. Col. Fowler was decapitated.
Federal guns atop Blocher’s Knoll. The flagpole in the left of the photo was erected by survivors of the 17th Ct. and marks the approximate location of where Lt. Col. Fowler was decapitated.

Jones commanded sixteen guns in his battalion, but he only brought twelve of the guns online to engage with the 11th Corps. Three Confederate batteries came online in fields just to the east of the Hanover Road, some 1,050 yards from Blocher’s Knoll, and 560 yards from the Josiah Benner Farm.  The dozen Confederate guns roared to life bombarding the knoll, and a detachment of four companies of the 17th Connecticut north of Rock Creek, and occupying the Benner Farm. Jones opened with “shot, shell, grape, and canister” on the detachment of Nutmeg State men. “I never saw guns better served than Jones’ were on this occasion,” claimed Maj. Campbell Brown of Ewell’s staff. “Their fire was so rapid & concentrated that two batteries were forced off in rapid succession, though posted on ground rather higher than their own.”

The butternut gunners continued firing, decapitating Lt. Col. Douglas Fowler of the 17th Connecticut. Wilkeson’s Federal guns responded in kind. Although outmanned and outgunned Wilkeson’s artillerists more than held their own, quickly inflicting between 8 and 12 casualties on Jones’ Battalion and knocking one of the rebel guns out of action. Major John W. Daniel described, “One of its [Wilkeson’s] earliest shots, if not its first shot, struck a brass Howitzer of Garber’s company in the mouth, and that ended its military service.” According to one source, Jones then took an unorthodox approach and ordered his gunners not to target the guns on the knoll, but the officer on horseback. Soon thereafter Wilkeson was hit by a shell in the right leg, mangling it badly, and gutting his horse. Trapped Wilkeson did what he thought best, applying a makeshift tourniquet, he drew his penknife and amputated his leg. Four of his men took him to the Almshouse in the rear of Barlow’s line. Where that night Wilkeson gave a wounded man who was crying for water his canteen. The man proceeded to down the contents. Wilkeson then “…smiled on the man, turned slightly, and expired.” Wilkeson was just 19 years old.

Bayard’s father, Samuel, was a newspaper correspondent attached to the Army of the Potomac. Samuel wrote after the battle “Who can write the history of a battle whose eyes are immovably fastened upon a central figure of transcendingly absorbing interest — the dead body of an oldest born, crushed by a shell in a position where a battery should never have been sent, and abandoned to death in a building where surgeons dared not to stay?”

Jones battalion found that it had problems of their own, not so much with enemy fire, but with its own ammunition. It was found that someone had “mixed up” the “3-inch (banded) gun, or navy Parrott…with the 2.9-inch 10-pounder Parrott in such a way as to cause a great inconvenience.” The “inconvenience was the fact that the shells could not be rammed home since they were too large and became stuck in the barrel. “Two guns were rendered unserviceable after firing 12 rounds, from the shell lodging in the bore.” As many as three of Jones’ guns may have been disabled due to the mismatch in munitions. All were resolved, and event Garber’s Napoleon that “was struck in the muzzle by a shot from the enemy, and thereby disabled,” was replaced by a captured Union gun during the battle.

After about 45 minutes of artillery firing, the Confederate infantry lurched forward and succeeded in dislodging the 11th Corps from their line north of Gettysburg. Captain James Carrington’s Charlottesville Artillery was sent forward across Rock Creek to take a position and support the Confederate advance into the town. By the time the battery reached a firing position the fighting north of the town was over. The battalion expended 882 rounds of ammunition during the battle.

Hilary Jones remained in Confederate service through the end of the war. In the postwar years Jones returned to teaching. He and his brother Horace purchased and operated Hanover Academy in Virginia. In November of 1863, Jones celebrated the birth of a son, Hilary P. Jones, Jr. Junior went onto graduate from the United States Naval Academy in 1884, and to a distinguished career in the United States Navy—becoming Commander-in-Chief of the United States Fleet.

To Reach the Jones’ Artillery Line:

From the town square.
-Drive north from the square along Carlisle Street Bus. 15 North for 0.4 miles.
-At East Lincoln Avenue turn right.
-After one block bear left at the Y intersection and follow the Old Harrisburg Road (Bus. 15 North) for 1.08 miles.
-As you near Gettysburg High School, which will be on your left, look for a housing plan to your right. Behind the houses runs narrow unmarked alley. Turn right into this alley there is a turnaround at the end of the road.

Authors Note: The road is Jones Battalion Avenue, which is the only avenue officially named after a Confederate officer in the park. Latimer Avenue atop Benner’s Hill is also known as Benner’s Hill Avenue, so by this technicality, Jones Battalion Ave is the only avenue officially named for a Confederate in the park. Jones Avenue also has the distinction of being only one of two park avenues named after an officer below the rank of colonel. The other avenue is named for Lt. Col. Freeman McGilvery—also an artillerist. You gotta love the Gettysburg minutia!


Jones ave

7 Responses to Gettysburg Off the Beaten Path: Jones Artillery Line

  1. A nicely-done article. The placement of Battery G is a good illustration of the reasons why batteries were vulnerable to bad positioning decisions. Jones’s decision targeting Wilkeson brings to mind a similar incident in which the 5th Indiana used its ordnance rifles to kill the Confederate General Leonidas Polk at Pine Mountain, Georgia.

  2. Kris — Serving with the Staunton Artillery in H.P. Jones Battalion at Barlow’s Knoll was William Rudolph O’Donovan. He would serve throughout the war with the Army of Northern Virginia. After the war he moved to New York city and became a prominent sculptor. In irony or ironies, perhaps his most famous work is the famed Celtic Cross Monument to the New York regiments at Gettysburg for which he was the designer and sculptor. Along with the weeping wolfhound dog, O’Donovan also paid tribute on the monument to the 14th N.Y. artillery battery, depicting soldiers loading and preparing to fire their cannon like he himself did with his unit. The 14th N.Y. battery was part of the Irish Brigade but detached at Gettysburg.

  3. Great article. The best places are off the beaten path.

    I love to hear about places that dot not get the big write-ups in the travel books and forums.

    Every place has it’s share of incredible off the beaten track spots

    Thanks for sharing this secret spot


  4. Glad to see the Cannons are still there. There were removed some time in the mid to late 90’s. Maybe for repair or restoration and I thought they were gone for good. They opened up on my Great Great Grandpa in the 17th Connecticut but missed him! But found their mark on the next day wounding him in the Hip with shrapnel.

    1. James, I can’t help replying to your post about how Col. Jones’ artillery opened up on you great Grandpa in the 17th Connecticut. Col Hilary Jones is my great grandpa (my mother’s Grandfather).. Hope there are no lingering hard feelings. Thanks for your post.

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