by Bradley M. Gottfried
Although most of the units were initially brigaded together under Brigadier General Howard Cobb, the 18th Georgia was part of Hood's Texas Brigade during the Peninsula campaign and subsequent Seven Days battles and did not join the brigade until November 1862.
The brigade first tasted battle at Yorktown, where it helped defend the town from McClellan's forces. It was subsequently involved in battles at Seven Pines, Savage Station, Malvern Hill, and Sharpsburg. General Howard Cobb left the army in October 1862, and command of the brigade passed to his brother, Brigadier General Thomas Cobb. The subsequent battle of Fredericksburg was Cobb's and hi brigade's finest hour. Stationed behind a stone wall, they beat back a series of Federal charges. Cobb was mortally wounded during the fight, and Colonel William T. Wofford of the 18th Georgia was promoted to the rank of brigadier general to date from January 1863 and given the brigade.
A lawyer and planter prior to the war, Wofford also served in the Georgia legislature and, as a Democrat, voted against secession. Because of his prominence and limited experience in the Mexican War, Wofford assumed command of the 18th Georgia and fought with Hood's Texans for most of 1862. When Hood was elevated to division command, Wofford was temporarily given command of the Texas Brigade, which he fought with at the battle of Antietam. Ambitious by nature, he assumed command of Cobb's brigade before the battle of Chancellorsville and showed skilled and tenacity. Like all of McLaw's other brigade commanders, Wofford had been tested on the battlefield.
The Goergians enjoyed the bounty of food around them as they marched through Maryland and souther Pennsylvania. Lieutenant Marcus Green of Phillip's Legion recorded in his diary on June 28, "I got plenty of good brandy and chickens, butter, load of bread, cherry last night." Coporal Tally Simpson of the 3rd South Carolina (Kershaw's Brigade) was not at all pleased that Wofford's men were living it up, and wrote to his family, "last night Wofford's Brig. of this div stoleso much that they could not carry what rations they drew from the commissary."
As could be expected, the Northern citizens were less than enthusiastic about their Southern "guests." Surgeon William Shine of the Phillip's Legion noted that the Chambersburg residents "all lok very sour at us as we passed through. A great many sharp things were said to them by the troops who seemed to be in fine humor." The men could not resist teasing the citizens by asking the distances to Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C.
After spending a few days at Chambersburg, the brigade was ordered to take the road to Gettysburg with the rest of McLaw's Division on July 1. Because two other divisions preceded them, as did the Second Corps's wagon trains, the brigade did not move out until about 4:00 PM. Earlier that day, at about 10:00 AM, the men could see General Lee and his staff ride by them toward Cashtown. "He was looking in perfect health, & seemed happy as the troops cheered him, he rode by hat in hand," noted Surgeon Robert Myers of the 16th Georgia. The march continued until about midnight, when the column reached the vicinity of Marsh Creek. Surgeon Myers felt the fatigue, admitting in his diary that he, "marched or rather dragged along with Capt Conyers." The next morning the men waited until almost noon when they were finally ordered to the right on their circutious march to form the right flank of Lee's army.
The trek to their position in Pitzer's Woods on Seminary Ridge finally ended when they halted in the rear of Barksdale's Brigade. None of the officers in Wofford's Brigade filed an official report of thier actions at Gettysburg, so the disposition of the units is not known. Two modern hitorians differed in their perspectives. John Imhof had the brigade arranged from left to right as Cobb's Legion-Phillip's Legion-24th Georgia-18th Georgia. The 3rd Georgia Sharpshooters was deployed as skirmishers.
The men watched intently as first Kershaw's Brigade attacked the Federal positions along Emmitsburg Road, followed by Barksdale's Brigade. The Mississippians of the latter brigade were achieving greater success with the Federals at the Peach Orchard than Kershaw's men in the Wheatfield/Stony Hill sector. After being in reserve, Wofford was finally ordered forward. Almost immediately, a hundred yard gap formed within the 24th Georgia as it moved through the row of Confederate artillery. Seeing the problem, Wofford rode over to the regiment and waved his hat as he urged them on. The men responded by double-quicking. Watching Wofford's heroics, Confederate battery commander Captain W. W. Parker yelled, "Hurrah for you of the bald-head." His cannoneers took up the cry and cheered the men as they rushed past. Enemy artillery opened the fire on the brigade as it broke into the open ground. One shell took out most of one company, leaving only eight men uninjured. Another shell landed in the ranks of the 16th Georgia, killing eight and wounding twenty-one. However, the gunners were much more concerned about the immediate threats posed by Kershaw's and Barksdale's Brigades, and therefore the losses in the rest of the brigade were light. General Longstreet apparently rode part of the way with the brigade, and told the men to "cheer less and fight more."
As the victorious Mississippians of Barksdale's Brigade swung left (north) to take on Humphrey's Division on Cemetery Ridge, Wofford ordered his men to continue moving straight ahead, which casued their line of battle to stretch across Wheatfield Road and move parallel with it. The left of the brigade skirted the Peach Orchard, while the right of the four hundred-yard line moved toward Stony Hill and the Wheatfield. Surgeon William Shine of the Phillip's Legion noted that "our Men charged the Enemy with a terrific Yell, peculiar to the Southerners on all such occasions." The right side of the 18th Georgia on the brigade's right wing approached the exposed flank of Zook's Brigade, forcing it to the rear. Sergeant Gilbert Frederick of the 57th New York recalled that Wofford's Brigade was "marching steadily with colors flying as though on dress parade, and guns at right-shoulder-shift." Zook's withdrawal caused a chain reaction, which ultimately forced Caldwell's entire division from the Wheatfield. This was a critical time, as Kershaw's Brigade had been roughly handled by Zook's Brigade and the Irish Brigade. John Coxe, a member of the 2nd South Carolina, recalled how Wofford rode over to his regiment with a request that the South Carolinians form on his right as the charge continued:
Wofford took off his hat and, waving it at us, turned
back and charged along his line to the left. And here
was seen how the right sortof officer can inspire his men
to accomplish next to superhuman results. Always Wofford
rode right along with his men during a fight, continually
furnishing examples and cheering them with such words
as, "Charge them, boys." Those who saw it said they never
saw such a fine military display as Wofford's line of
battle as it advanced from the pike. He went right for those
Federal cannons that were firing at us. Nor did it take
him long to reach those batteries and smash them even
before the gunners had time to turn their guns upon him.
Rushing over the artillery, he kept right on and tackled
the Yankee infantry in the woods beyond. And his
assault was so sudden and quickly executed that the
Federal lines of infantry smashed and gave way at
every point in Wofford's way . . . it became a regular rout.
While Wooford's Brigade did not actually engage Caldwell's Division on Stony Hill and the Wheatfield, or Birney's Diviosn in the Peach Orchard, it played a major role in the Federal defeats. According to historian Harry Pfantz, Wofford's Brigade "was a fresh, disciplined body of men that intimidated the battered and disorganized Federals . . . its appearance gave new life and hope to Kershaw's and Semmes's men on its right." A member of the 118th Pennsylvania of Tilton's Brigade, which was forced to fall back under the irresistible advance of the Georgians, described them as "moving obliquely, loading and firing with deliberation as they advanced, begrimed and dirty-looking fellows, in all sorts of garb, some without hats, others without coats, none apparently in the real dress of uniform of a soldier."
With Tilton's Brigade and Caldwell's Divisions extracted from their positions, the Georgians continued their advance. Although they probably did not directly engage Sweitzer's Brigade when the latter reentered the Wheatfield, Wofford's Brigade probably acted as one amr of a pincer, which forced the ill-fated Federal brigade to retreat with heavy losses. Wofford's Brigade also engaged the right flank of Burbank's Brigade (Ayres's Division, V Corps), when it attempted to relieve Sweitzer's Brigade.
Wofford's men quickly took on Walcott's battery, just south of the J. Weikert farm. According to a Federal soldier, "General Wofford's Confederate Brigade leaped over the wall, driving back the Regulars, and demanding the battery to surrender. No one seemed to know where they came from, because they sprang over the wall and came up to the guns so quick." All six cannon fell into Wofford's hands.
The grandest prize loomed before them: Little Round Top. As the brigade made its way forward, its men continually overtook the fleeing Federal soldiers, resulting in hand-to-hand combat. "The men would club their guns and use the stocks, killing more than one of the enemy by this novel mode of fighting," reported a newspaper account. As Wofford approached the hill, he could see that it bristled with the men of the newly arrived Federal VI Corps. Upon reaching the hill, the men "met a terrible volley," probably fired by Wheaton's Brigade, which looked ready to charge. General Longstreet was also closely watching the hill and could see that his worn-out men were no match for the fresh muskets of the VI Corps, so he ordered them to break off the attack and return to safety.
A bitter Colonel Goode Bryan of the 16th Georgia wrote after the war, "no troops went so far as my 16th Georgia . . . there were no enemy either in front or on our right to cause us to fall back . . . I was ordered to fall back by a courier from Gen Longstreet . . . seeing Longstreet some distance to my rear I went to him, and requested him not to order us back . . . his reply was I order you to fall back." Bryan went to his grave believing that his men could have won the battle had they been permitted to continue their advance. "If Gen L[ongstreet] had not ordered us to fall back we could have won that day, " he wrote.
General Wofford was also angry about the order to withdraw. Following his men through the Trostle Woods with pistol in hand, he spied his division commander, General McLaws, and angrily told him that she should not have been ordered to withdraw. He demanded to know who had ordered it. McLaws replied that he assumed that the order came from Longstreet, and he had to obey it. Always mindful of his reputation, Wofford was especially concerned that his withdrawal might be misconstrued, but he was assured that this would not be the case.
The brigade fell back toward the Wheatfield that night, and the 3rd Georgia Sharpshooters was thrown out on the skirmish line. Wofford ordered the sharpshooters into Trostle Woods the following morning, where they engaged the Federal skirmish line. The fire became so strong at one point that Wofford anticipated an attack and advanced his entire brigade, forming it to the right of the sharpshooters. General Lee and Longstreet rode up to him in the morning to ask him if he thought a renewal of the attack could be successful. "I told him that the afternoon before, I nearly reached the crest. He asked if I could go there now. I replied, 'no General, I think not." Lee quickly asked why, and Wofford answered, "General, the enemy have had all night to intrench and reinforce. I had been pursuing a broken enemy and the situation was now very different."
The brigade assumed the role of spectator when Pickett's Division launched its ill-fated charge against the Federal line. The brigade remained in its advanced position until sometime between 4:30 and 5:00 PM, when it returned to its original position on Seminary Ridge, and was severely shelled by Federal artillery. The following day, the men helped tend the wounded and bury the dead. The retreat began around midnight.
Wofford's charge through the Wheatfield was one of the great actions of the battle. Flanking Zook's Brigade, the Georgians helped to crush Caldwell's Division and force it from the Wheatfield. Little remaining light, growing Federal reinforcements, and hesitant Southern commanders denied Wofford's men the opportunity to try to take Little Round Tops. If they had, they probably would have failed.