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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Remembering Oliver Bates at Gettysburg - 150 years later

In marking the 150th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg I visited the battlefield to honor the service of my second great-granduncle, Private Oliver Bates of Company A of the 20th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment. The 20th Massachusetts was heavily involved in the repulse of Pickett’s Charge, the Confederate infantry assault, at the Angle on July 3, 1863. The 20th Massachusetts held back the forces of General James Kemper’s brigade of General George Pickett’s division at their battle position along Cemetery Ridge approximately 150 yards south of the Angle. Confederate forces led by Brigadier General Lewis Armistead of Pickett’s division breached the Union line at the Angle, and the 20th Massachusetts rushed to the Angle to close the breach. Fierce hand-to-hand combat ensued, and the Confederate charge was repelled. General Armistead fell wounded surrounded by Union forces. Although he was expected to recover from his wounding he died two days later in a Union field hospital.

The 20th Massachusetts suffered heavy casualties at Gettysburg, particularly during the hand-to-hand combat to seal the Union line at the Angle. Private Oliver Bates was most likely wounded during this hand-to-hand fighting. His service records state that he received a head wound, but no other details concerning his wounding were listed. Apparently his wounding was severe, as he did not report again for duty until January 1864. This six-month interlude after Gettysburg was the only time during his entire military service that he did not report for duty.1

The 20th Massachusetts monument at Gettysburg marks their battle position on July 2 and on July 3 before they rushed to seal the breach at the Angle.

A bronze plaque near the copse of trees at the Angle marks the approximate location of the 20th Massachusetts as they sealed the breach.

At 3:00 P.M. on July 3, 2013, the National Park Service re-enacted the Pickett-Pettigrew charge. Nearly 12,000 people marched from the Confederate position on Seminary Ridge across the field to the Union position on Cemetery Ridge, where several thousand people awaited them. I felt honored to stand at the 20th Massachusetts position during the re-enacted charge and, as Armistead's brigade approached the Union line, I moved to the Angle to re-enact the movement of the 20th Massachusetts during the battle.

For additional information about Oliver Bates and the 20th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment please visit http://20thmassregt150.blogspot.com.

1Compiled service record, Oliver S. Bates, Pvt., Co. A, 20th Massachusetts Infantry; Carded Records, Volunteer Organizations, Civil War; Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1780s-1917, Record Group 94; National Archives, Washington, D.C.

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