On July 2, 1863, James L. Denton’s regiment, the 146th New York, arrived at Gettysburg. His brigade, under the command of Brigadier General Stephen H. Weed, was stationed on the Baltimore Turnpike at Rock Creek.
That afternoon orders came for Weed to take his brigade and march southwest to support the Union left. Daniel E. Sickles’s Third Corps had come under heavy attack from the Confederates and could not hold its elongated position for long. Weed’s assignment was to head for the Wheatfield in support of an artillery battery.
As Weed’s brigade moved along the Wheatfield Road, Major General Gouverneur K. Warren came galloping down from a rocky hill just to the south of the road. Bleeding from the neck–the result of being wounded by a shell fragment–Warren rode up to the rear regiment in the column, the 140th New York, commanded by Colonel Patrick O’Rorke. He urged the colonel to take his regiment up the hill, setting aside the colonel’s hesitation by saying that he would take responsibility for the detachment.
Denton would have recognized Warren as the commander of the brigade of New York Zouaves he had joined in September 1862 in the aftermath of Second Manassas. Much had changed since that time: Warren was now the army’s chief engineering officer, while Denton was now with the 146th New York, the only regiment in the unit wearing Zouave garb. As O’Rorke directed his regiment to make its way up the rocky hill, Weed’s other three regiments continued marching westward … but not for long. Soon they, too, were headed toward the rocky hill.
By the time Weed and his other three regiments had arrived on the rocky hill–which we now call Little Round Top–O’Rorke’s men had helped drive back a Confederate attempt to outflank Strong Vincent’s brigade on the south face of the hill. The cost had been high: both Vincent and O’Rorke were cut down, with O’Rorke killed and Vincent mortally wounded. Before long, Weed, too, was mortally wounded, as was battery commander Charles E. Hazlett, both shot down as they conferred near Hazlett’s guns deployed behind the 91st Pennsylvania. The 146th’s colonel, Kenner Garrard, took over command of the brigade.
It would be incorrect to say that the 146th New York saved Little Round Top: that credit belonged to a number of other officers as well as the men they commanded. But the presence of Weed’s three regiments throws into question whether the attacking Confederates could have held on to whatever they might have gained in any case. The Confederates had marched a great deal already that day; they had just been through a tough fight; and there were no reinforcements available to help them secure and defend whatever they might have taken. The actions of Warren, Vincent, O’Rorke, and Joshua Chamberlain, commanding the 20th Maine of Vincent’s brigade, had proved critical in repelling the Confederate assault, while Weed and Hazlett had helped secure the position. Only Warren and Chamberlain would leave Gettysburg alive, and it would be left to Chamberlain to establish a narrative that endures to this day. That said, the 146th remained under fire, and may have supported Samuel Crawford’s counterattack later that day against the northwest slope of Little Round Top (an action often overlooked). It was in an ideal position to observe the Confederate assault the next day against the Union center on Cemetery Ridge. General George G. Meade visited Little Round Top in the aftermath of the repulse of Lee’s final attack, and observed the Confederate position from the location of the 146th’s monument.
Visitors to Little Round Top stand at the position of the 146th New York whenever they gaze up at the monument to Warren atop a rock along the 146th’s line; in turn the visitor who chooses to read the plaque on the front of the monument, the most-photographed one in the park (and perhaps the most-photographed battlefield monument in the United States) will note that it was erected by Denton’s old comrades in the 5th New York. So perhaps Denton’s comrades left their mark on history after all … although they might be excused if they resented the attention paid to the monument for the 155th Pennsylvania, topped by a Zouave soldier. You see, the remainder of the brigade would eventually be outfitted in that style of dress, but on July 2 only the 146th New York was so attired.