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Civil War Trust targets Gettysburg preservation

| Monday, Feb. 4, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Just off Baltimore Pike, down a winding road and through the woods lies a small clearing.

A pile of large stones stacked one on top of the other forms a short wall that looks near collapse. A nearby deep stone well is speckled with thick green moss and nearly covered by tall overgrown grass.

Nowadays the area is quiet, off the beaten path. But 150 years ago, it was the site of a skirmish between the extreme eastern flanks of the Union and Confederate armies that left 20 soldiers dead or wounded.

The moss-covered stones and well are remnants of the home of John Taney, which was used as shelter for Confederate sharpshooters of the 2nd Virginia on the third day of battle, said local historian Dean Shultz.

Postwar changes

After the war, the property changed hands several times before the house was finally vacated in the 1940s. The house burned down in the 1950s, and the land was purchased by a private individual, Shultz said.

In order to preserve the remaining foundation of the Taney house and to better remember the events that happened there, the Civil War Trust has recently begun a fundraising campaign to purchase the 3-acre property for preservation and donation to the National Park Service.

Called the Forgotten Flanks of Gettysburg campaign, the trust is aiming to purchase a total of 112 acres at three different locations around Gettysburg where flanks of the Confederate and Union armies were once positioned.

The trust has received $798,000 from private donors and the Park Service's land acquisition funds, leaving the trust with $250,000 left to raise.

The target properties are 36 acres near the roundtops on Howe Avenue, 73 acres next to South Cavalry Field, and 3 acres near Spangler's Spring and the John Taney Farm.

The Confederates found themselves near Spangler's Spring in an effort to engage and work their way around the extreme Union right flank on the morning of July 3, 1863. Soon four Union regiments belonging to Gen. Thomas Neill's Sixth Corps brigade moved to the area near Rock Creek where the Confederate Virginians and North Carolinians were positioned.

Fighting soon broke out with Confederate soldiers shooting from the house of John Taney onto Union forces at a neighboring house.

For these soldiers, wrote Civil War Trust historian Garry Adelman, “July 3rd was not about the famous Pickett's Charge — it was about the skirmishing in the woods and fields on Wolf Hill that killed or wounded more than twenty of their comrades. This was their Battle of Gettysburg.”

Trust's objective

Obtaining the land where this skirmish took place will bring the Civil War Trust one step closer toward widening public access to long forgotten parcels of the battlefield, including Neill Avenue, dubbed the least visited location at the Gettysburg National Military Park.

Hidden among parcels of privately owned land, the path has become known as Lost Avenue, forcing adventurous visitors to wade Rock Creek to reach it.

While the Civil War Trust's target property around the John Taney farm does not include the land directly adjacent to Neill Avenue, it would bring public lands ever closer to the famed Lost Avenue, Adelman said. It also could help create a clearer path leading from the John Taney Farm to Neill Avenue, saving future Civil War enthusiasts a trip across the creek.

Climactic event

On the morning of July 3, as fighting broke out between the Union right and Confederate left flanks on the Taney farm, the opposite side of the Union line sat safe and protected, east of the roundtops. The Union left flank, made up of men from the 5th Wisconsin under Gen. David Russell's brigade, positioned itself along modern-day Howe Avenue, off of Taneytown Road. The 36-acre plot of land adjacent to Howe Avenue, is another one of the Civil War Trust's target properties.

“By July 3rd, the Confederate line was already twice as long as the Union line,” Adelman said. “The Confederate line was already stretched too thin and couldn't reach the Union flank near the round tops.”

This left the Union right flank on Howe Avenue secure until it was called in around 3 p.m. on July 3 to help repel Pickett's Charge.

As the now infamous Pickett's Charge played out on Cemetery Ridge, the Union left and Confederate right flanks fought their own battle next to South Cavalry Field off of Emmitsburg Road, the location of the final 73-acre Civil War Trust target property. Here, light Confederate cavalry forces of the 1st South Carolina were confronted by the superior Union cavalry led by Gen. Wesley Merritt, Adelman said. The Confederate cavalry was then reinforced by foot soldiers from Gen. George “Tige” Anderson's brigade.

“So you had Union cavalry fighting Confederate infantry,” Adelman said. “That's very uncommon at Gettysburg.”

The skirmish eventually ended in a draw as the Union forces failed to push through or around the Confederate flank. After a failed Pickett's Charge, the Battle of Gettysburg itself ended that day, leaving the Confederates to begin to withdraw July 4.

In the aftermath

After the soldiers left town and the thousands of dead were buried, the people of Gettysburg attempted to continue on with their lives. Over the years the town grew and developed and despite a boom in monuments and the creation of a national park, certain parts of the battle and the ground on which it was fought were inevitably forgotten, Adelman said. That is why the Civil War Trust is so devoted toward its preservation efforts at Gettysburg and other battlefields throughout the country.

“Ultimately we hope that this land becomes part of the National Park Service and that visitors will have access to it, so that they will understand the battlefield and American history better,” Adelman said. “At the same time we are preventing a hotel, residential development or other non-historical activities from happening on this hallowed ground.”

Learning about the extreme flanks of the Confederate and Union armies is essential in understanding how the bloodiest battle of the Civil War played out, with the flanks constantly moving and testing their opponent, Adelman said.

“The flanks were inherently vulnerable and therefore very important, lest the enemy overwhelm the flank and cause havoc,” Adelman said. “With the flanks came great responsibility and vulnerability.”

Standing on the aging foundation of the John Taney house, Shultz said, that historical importance is all the more clear.

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