The part of Sickles‘ III Corps line that is farthest to the south is held by the brigade of Brig. General J.H.H. Ward. His left flank is resting on the end of Houck’s Ridge, at a unique rock formation known to locals as “The Devil’s Den“.
There are several stories about how this name came to be. One such story is about a large snake (so large that it was named “The Devil”) that had at one time made the area its home. Snakes aside, the place is full of dark crevices and caves between the rocks, and its size makes it somewhat forboding. You can see it being the kind of place that the Devil himself might feel at-home in.
The name of this place would take on a new meaning with the brutal fighting that would begin there right about now, 150 years ago.
Hood’s division would attack this area, by brigades, “en echelon”. There is some debate as to whether this move was brilliant, or an accident of mis-communication. Essentially, each of Hood’s four brigades would attack one at a time, from right to left along his front. His right-most brigades, commanded by Brig. General Evander Law and Brig. General Jerome Robertson, respectively, would take part in the attack on Little Round Top in a few minutes. His other two brigades, under Brig. General Henry Benning and Brig. General George Anderson, would assault Devil’s Den, and the Wheatfield, respectively.
Because of the way Devil’s Den extends a little farther south than other locations on the field, Ward’s and Benning’s men would start this fight, and it was extremely bloody combat. Within the first few minutes, Hood himself was wounded in the arm, and command of the division fell to Brig. General Law – a fact that led to communication problems and tactical uncertainty on the Confederate side.
The Union men held the good, high ground, but there weren’t enough of them to do it effectively. Capt. Smith, commanding the 4th New York Independent Battery had 4 of his 6 guns on the ridge to provide artillery support, and the other 2 (along with the men of the 4th Maine Infantry) were tucked behind, facing south to blast away at any Confederates attempting a flanking movement around the end of the ridge. Surprisingly, the position held for nearly an hour before being overwhelmed and flanked.
When the Confederates took Devil’s Den, it turned into a platform for sniping at officers on Little Round Top, and they were able to do quite a bit of damage that way, but they couldn’t convert it into further gains. The western slope of Little Round Top proved to be too difficult to assault directly.