Gettysburg’s Lost Lane

When I headed out to Gettysburg last Saturday, I carried a “hit list” of marker and monuments I had not seen or documented.  Like 99.9999 (repeating) %  of visitors to Gettysburg, I had not walked Neill Avenue, otherwise known as “Lost Lane.”  Many battlefield stompers haven’t even heard of the site.  If you are within the majority who haven’t visited, I’d suggest a virtual visit by way of Gettysburg Daily’s set of postings from last month, including comments by Licensed Battlefield Guide Ted Gajewski, directions to the site, and points of interest.  Live vicariously through their lens (or mine) if you can’t visit yourself.

My visit followed the directions provided by Mr. Gajewski to the letter.  The path to Neill Avenue is surrounded by private property, which is generously posted.  Generally speaking, if I could read the no trespassing signs on my left and right, that probably meant I was on course.

Stay on the Path
Stay on the Path!

You’ll note in the photo above, yellow signs on the trees to either side of the trail.  The trail starts at the end of Clapsdale Road, and as noted in the Gettysburg Daily entry, one should take care to park safely and discretely to avoid blocking access to private drive ways.  The trail itself seems to be an unpaved extension of the road, leading down to the banks of Rock Creek.  I found the path less strenuous than the walk up Big Round Top, but rather muddy in wet weather (it had rained the Friday before).  Since the time of the Gettsyburg Daily postings in March, some maintenance was done, with much of the deadfall removed from the path.

Muddy but Cleared Trail
Muddy but Cleared Trail

The first leg of the trail ends at Rock Creek.  At the time of the battle, a mill dam nearby formed a mill pond, and the creek was much more of a barrier to maneuvers.  The mill pond actually shaped the flow of battle, requiring the Confederates to assault Culp’s Hill instead of flanking further to the southeast.  Even today the creek is not easy to cross.

Rock Creek from the Trail
Rock Creek from the Trail

Initially the Army of the Potomac’s right flank was on the opposite bank of Rock Creek, in McAllister’s Woods along what is today Colgrove and Carman Avenues.  Here’s a view looking across Rock Creek from that position (from a previous trip):

Colgrove's Right Flank
Colgrove's Right Flank

The location pictured above is about a quarter mile upstream (north) of the “Lost Lane” trail view of Rock Creek.  In his official report, Col. Silas Colgrove (commanding Third Brigade, First Division, XII Corps) described the creek:

The ground occupied by the two latter regiments was protected in the front by a small creek, some 60 to 80 feet in width and from 6 to 8 feet deep, rendering the position of these two regiments not assailable from the east or south. (Reports of Col. Silas Colgrove, Report Number 286 of the Gettysburg Campaign, Official Records, Series I, Volume XXVII/1, s. #43, page 812.)

My point here is the Federal commanders felt secure on July 3 leaving a substantial gap between Colgrove’s right most regiment (the 13th New Jersey under Col. Ezra Carman) and Col. Thomas H. Neill’s Brigade (Third Brigade, Second Division, VI Corps).  The the actual gap between the two brigades is nearly a half mile, but again mostly covered by that 60 to 80 foot wide mill pond.  The mill dam was destroyed by flooding in the 1870s, so one must use a bit of imagination understand the ground as seen by the combatants.

Back to “Lost Lane,” the trail makes a sharp elbow turn at the creek heading southeast back up the banks.  Again, the way was mostly cleared of dead trees and branches from the winter storms.

Uphill Walk to Lost Lane
Uphill Walk to Lost Lane

As I walked, there were a few signs of the actual residents of the woods:

Deer Tracks on the Trail
Deer Tracks on the Trail

At the top of what I’d call a bluff overlooking the creek, the trail enters an open field, with a rock wall lined road trace.

Lost Lane
Lost Lane

Officially known as –

Neill Avenue
Neill Avenue

The lane represents the line occupied by Neill’s Brigade on July 3, 1863.  From Neill’s report –

On the morning of the 3d, Major-General Slocum ordered me to take position with two of my regiments on the extreme right of the whole army, and prevent the enemy from turning us.  Upon taking position, I felt the enemy strong in sharpshooters, and put my whole brigade in position here, and stopped them from going any farther. (Reports of Col. Thomas Neill, Report Number 231 of the Gettysburg Campaign, Official Records, Series I, Volume XXVII/1, s. #43, page 680.)

Couple of notes here.  First Neill, from Sedgwick’s VI Corps was under the operational control of General Slocum, in charge of the “Right Wing” of the Army, but normally commanding the XII Corps.  Rather cumbersome chain of command working here, that arguably caused some issues on July 2.  But in this case on the 3rd, there does not appear to be any ruffled feathers.

Second, the “enemy strong in sharpshooters” Neill was most concerned with was the 2nd Virginia Infantry, of Walker’s (Stonewall) Brigade, Johnson’s Division, posted to screen between Wolf Hill and Rock Creek.  As with the Federals, aside from Cavalry, the 2nd Virginia was the “Left Flank” of the Army of Northern Virginia.  Col. J.Q.A. Nadenbousch, commanding the 2nd Virginia, indicates in his official report his regiment operated on both sides of Rock Creek during the fighting on Culp’s Hill.  Col. Nadenbousch noted that early in the morning of the third…

I was ordered by Brigadier-General Walker to support the First North Carolina….  I at once detached one company (Company D, Lieut. J.S. Harrison commanding), and sent it to the south side of the creek (Rock Creek), for the purpose of attracting the fire of the enemy in front and turning his right flank….  About 7 a.m. the portion of my regiment left at the breastworks was relieved by Brig. Gen. William Smith’s Brigade…. There still being a brisk skirmish kept up on the south side of the creek… I at once took the remainder of my regiment to their support….  I advanced some distance on the left, driving the enemy’s skirmishers from and taking possession of the heights at this point, where I remained during the day, skirmishing…. (Reports of Col. J.Q.A. Nadenbousch, Report Number 489 of the Gettysburg Campaign, Official Records, Series I, Volume XXVII/2, s. #44, pages 521-522.)

Just reading these two accounts from the respective commanders, it seems a meeting engagement of skirmishers evolved on the east side of Rock Creek (or what Nadenbousch called the south side).

Perhaps, and this is me thinking out loud, Neill moved his first two regiments about the same time Lieut. Harrison was sent out with his company.  Two skirmish lines brushed, quite possibly along the ground the trail from the parking area descends to Rock Creek.  Being more cautious than bold, Neill brought up the remainder of his brigade, meanwhile Col. Nadenbousch reinforced his skirmish line.  And with that a stalemate developed with neither side willing or able to do much more than skirmish.

Speculation aside, Neill’s Brigade consisted of five regiments.  Four have monuments on the avenue – from west to east, 49th New York, 7th Maine, 43rd New York, and 61st Pennsylvania.  These regiments formed a line extending from the bluff over Rock Creek toward the west, linking into the 16th Pennsylvania Cavalry of Col. J. Irvin Gregg’s Brigade, Brig. Gen. David M. Gregg’s Division.  The ground occupied by Neill’s men featured an open pasture, about 100 yards wide (east to west), extending north from the Baltimore Pike for nearly half a mile.  Portions of the line were masked by woods.  The ground today is not far removed, in appearance, to that of 1863.

Starting with the 49th New York, on the left, the regiment’s front is covered by the woods.

49th New York from the Right Flank Marker
49th New York from the Right Flank Marker

Next in line the 7th Maine also faced into the woods.

7th Maine's Right Flank Marker Stone
7th Maine's Right Flank Marker Stone

The 43rd New York, however, faced an open field.

43rd New York Right Flank Marker
43rd New York Right Flank Marker

At the time of the battle, the open pasture continued to the north, through what is today a treeline.  Notice there is no “left flank” marker for the next regiment here with the 43rd New York.  Instead there is a gap of about 50 to 60 yards up to the next set of flank markers, for the 61st Pennsylvania.

Left Flank Marker for the 61st Pennsylvania
Left Flank Marker for the 61st Pennsylvania

I’m told a rock near the 61st’s monument indicates the site which one of it’s officers fell.  If so, that would be the sole officer from Neill’s Brigade killed in the battle.  The Pennsylvanians had the distinction as the right most infantry regiment in the long line of blue musket holders extending around the fishhook defense to Big Round Top on July 3, 1863.  Granted, there were cavalry to the left and right, but unless one is splitting hairs (at which point I’ll say the “right flank of the Army of the Potomac was the Jersey shore!”), this is the right of the line.

Right of the Union Army
Right of the Union Army

But what about that gap in the line?  Well speculation time again.  There’s one other regiment in Neill’s Brigade, the 77th New York.  Neill states he called up his entire brigade after encountering Confederate skirmishers.  But short of individual regimental returns of the battle, I can only speculate that the gap might have been the 77th’s place in line.  Then again, the 77th might have been left behind to secure the Army’s ammunition trains and a substantial park of artillery near Powers Hill.

Looking back to the south, to the rear of Neill’s line, the Baltimore Pike is clearly visible past the cow pasture and tree line.

Baltimore Pike from Lost Lane
Baltimore Pike from Lost Lane

So a bit of “what if?” here.  If Ewell, instead of pushing up Culp’s Hill again on July 3, had committed more force than detached companies of the Stonewall Brigade to this flank, might they have reached the Pike?  Odds are, even if Johnson’s Division had moved to the left of Rock Creek and reached the Pike on the morning of July 3, Federal infantry reinforcements and the artillery on Powers Hill would have parried the thrust.  However, remember General Henry Hunt’s ammunition train was on Granite Schoolhouse Lane near Powers Hill that morning, and such a threat would have caused it to displace.  How might that have effected the Federal artillery and their response to Longstreet’s assault in the afternoon of July 3?

Having opened that speculative can of worms, let me close this trip report with an HMDB map showing the locations of the monuments and single tablet on Neill Avenue.  I’ve included the pin points to a few associated monuments and tablets mentioned in the report for reference.