The fight for Little Round Top is one of those topics that has two well-divided sides among those of us who love history. On the one hand, there are those who argue that the fight for Little Round Top saved the Union Army by preventing the Confederates from getting artillery up on the hill and enfilading the Union line. On the other hand, there are those who argue that the Confederates could not have gotten artillery up there, so it’s a moot point.
Could the Confederates have gotten artillery up that hill? This seems to be the basic question. I have not done heavy reading on the pros and cons of the two sides of the issue, but I can’t help but think, if Lt. Hazlett managed to wrestle his battery to the crest of Little Round Top, why would we think the Confederates would not be able to?
If Longstreet’s men had taken Little Round Top that afternoon—either by pushing Vincent’s brigade off (by breaking the 20th Maine or by breaking the right flank had O’Rorke not arrived in time) or by arriving before Vincent (Longstreet himself said that he was ten minutes late in occupying the hill, the timing was so close)—the Confederates could have had all night (or longer) to work guns up the hill. They did manage to get Capt. Smith’s guns off Houck’s Ridge near Devil’s Den during the night of July 2-3. That is not quite the same, but it is still moving a couple-thousand-pound cannon on a rocky slope in the dark, preferably without injury.
If the Confederates did get cannons up the hill, could the artillery have inflicted damage? On July 3, Hazlett’s battery, under the command of Lt. Rittenhouse, pounded Kemper’s brigade, on Pickett’s right flank, as the Confederates crossed the fields to the Angle and Copse of Trees. Whatever the extreme range of the guns would be—depending on the type of cannon that the Confederates would hypothetically bring onto Little Round Top—the center of the Union army is clearly reachable. Certainly the left flank would be exposed and vulnerable, since Little Round Top commands the ground north of itself. Artillery pounding the Union left flank would weaken the line and could enable Confederate infantry to begin rolling up the flank, just as Stonewall Jackson’s infantry had rolled up the Union right flank at Chancellorsville.
Does the fate of Gettysburg hang on Little Round Top? Maybe, maybe not. The more I read, the more I am convinced that a lot of little things combined to bring about the Union victory. But I think Vincent’s brigade, Hazlett’s battery, and O’Rorke’s 140th New York Regiment certainly helped to save the Union army.