Big Round Top

Big Round Top is a boulder-strewn hill notable as the topographic high point[3]:3 of the Gettysburg Battlefield and for 1863 American Civil War engagements for which Medals of Honor were awarded. In addition to battle monuments, a historic postbellum structure on the uninhabited hill is the Big Round Top Observation Tower Foundation Ruin.[4]

Big Round Top
Round Top[1]:a — Great Round Top[1]:a
Round Top Mountain[2] Sugar Loaf Hill
1863 O'Sullivan image of Big Round Top
beyond Little Round Top breastworks
LocationNE slope @ Little Round Top
Coordinates39°47′21.44″N 77°14′12.53″W
GeologyPennsylvania Piedmont
physiographic region
WebsiteGettysburg Scenic Vistas (


Big Round Top is the southern peak of the Gettysburg Battlefield and is within the area encompassed by a drainage depression (southeast, south), Plum Run (west, north), and the Crawford Rd/Wright Av roadway (north, northeast). In addition to Little Round Top, adjacent battlefield locations are South Cavalry Field/Slyder Field (west), Devil's Den (northwest) and the Valley of Death/Slaughter Pen (north).[5]

The hill is the highest point of an Adams County dendritic ridge which Plum Run divides at Big Round Top (the drainage divide continues to the east). In addition to Little Round Top (650), nearby heights are Warfield Ridge (west), hills of ~580 ft (southwest) and ~540 ft (northwest), and Houck Ridge (north-northwest); while Carr Hill (876 ft) is the nearest higher hill.[6] "Devil's Kitchen" is rock formation and small cave on the lower slopes of Big Round Top.[7]


The igneous hill was formed 200 million years ago when the "outcrop of the Gettysburg sill" intruded through the Triassic "Gettysburg plain".[8]:13 Subsequent periglacial frost wedging during the Pleistocene formed the hill's extensive boulders.[3] Early human activity included Indigenous people clearing an area[9]:d on the slope of Big Round Top and established a burial ground ~1 mile southwest. prior to the 1736 British purchase of the region.

Civil War

During the Battle of Gettysburg, Big Round Top's slope, timber, and boulders precluded placement of artillery on the summit. At various times during the 1863 battle, positions on Big Round Top formed the left flank of the Union defense. No fighting or other actions took place on Big Round Top on July 1.[10]

Battle of Gettysburg, second day
On July 2 when "it was growing dark", Big "Round Top was still in [the] possession of the [Confederate] skirmishers, who were firing upon our men. It was important to hold this hill, as…it commanded…our line. I directed Colonel Fisher to occupy it at once. He immediately detached [3 regiments], who advanced promptly, driving the enemy before them" (Crawford's report).[1]:a

After 10 pm, Chamberlain's 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment occupied a Big Round Top summit position (the monument is on the north slope). In 1893, Chamberlain was awarded a Medal of Honor for both "carrying the advance position on the Great Round Top" and "holding his position on the Little Round Top against repeated assaults" earlier in the day.

Battle of Gettysburg, third day
The July 3 Wells cavalry charge advanced from the west to beyond the Big Round Top spur and engaged the rear of Law's Alabama regiments[11] to carry the hill[12] and earn Wells' 1891 Medal of Honor.[13]

By September 1863, David McConaughy had begun to acquire a portion of Big Round Top for battlefield preservation.[14] The Elon J. Farnsworth monument was erected before 1896 at the base of Big Round Top,[15] and statues of William Wells (1931) and John Michael Tobin are also on the hill.


Kilpatrick Avenue[9]:c had been completed at the west base of Big Round Top by 1895[16] when the gravel South Confederate Avenue was constructed across the northwest slope.[17] In 1903, Wright Av was constructed along the northeast slope,[17] and in 1937, S Confederate Av and the Plum Run stone bridge were rebuilt for the 75th battle anniversary and reunion.

In 1940, Seminary Ridge CCC workers rerouted the stone trail to the Big Round Top summit.[1]:b Harry Truman visited Big Round Top in 1946. In 1964, the Big Round Top Nature Trail was created around the hill and provided access to the Devil's Kitchen. The 1895 Big Round Top Observation Tower was dismantled in 1968 and the foundation was named a historic ruin in 2004.

Observation Tower

Late in the day of July 3, Union brigadier general Judson Kilpatrick ordered the cavalry brigade of Brigadier General Elon Farnsworth to charge Confederate infantry of Major General John Bell Hood’s division who were on and near the slopes of Big Round Top. Hood had been wounded the previous day, and his division was under the command of Brigadier General Evander Law. One after another, three of the four regiments of Farnsworth’s brigade charged over broken ground into Confederate fire and were repulsed. The final regiment, the 1st Vermont, then made the attempt. Farnsworth divided it into three battalions and personally led the second battalion. The tower was built in the late 19th century. Fred Lyons of Baltimore led the construction team that moved the foundation's granite blocks to the Big Round Top summit using block and tackle driven by a 12-horsepower engine. Constructed on the Gettysburg Battlefield's highest hill, the Big Round Top tower was to be replaced for the 1938 anniversary reunion by a stone "Gettysburg Peace Memorial" with a 75-foot-high observation deck above the summit and a flame 30 feet higher.[1]

a. - (January 30, 1937). "Measure Calls for Creation of $100,000 Fund; Eternal Light To Be Built on Battlefield and Dedicated at Anniversary and Reunion in 1938" (Google News Archive). Retrieved 2010-03-20.
a.[18]:a[19] (The memorial was instead erected on Oak Hill.)


During 1968 tower maintenance, the Schlesser Demolition Co dismantled the Big Round Top tower[9][20]:b as uneconomical due to "its condition and the very limited use [due to an uphill, lengthy, and serpentine trail.] Most who started the climb gave out en route, and upon reaching the tower decided against continuing the climb to the top of the metal observatory" (GNMP Superintendent George F. Emery).[21] The foundation ruin (park structure RU05) of the "national landmark" tower,[9]:e was "entered-documented" as a historic site on January 23, 2004.[22]

External images
bas-relief of "Farnsworth's Charge"
view from 300' National Tower

See also


  1. "About this Newspaper: Star and Sentinel". Library of Congress: Chronicling America. Retrieved 2010-02-22.
    a. "The Pennsylvania Reserves at Gettysburg: Gen. Crawford's Contribution" (Google News). September 21, 1886. Retrieved 2010-02-21. "a deep, rocky depression separated it [Little Round Top] from the Great Round Top beyond. Into this depression Laws' brigade of Alabamians, supported by Robertson's Texans, had forced themselves and were advancing to the possession of Little Round Top."
    b. "New Stone Walk Helps Climb on Big Round Top" (Google News). Jul 13, 1940. Retrieved 2010-02-19.
  2. Norton, Lemuel B (September 18, 1863). "Report of…Chief Signal Officer…Gettysburg Campaign". Archived from the original on 3 January 2010. Retrieved 2010-02-20.
  3. "Geologic Resources Inventory Report" (pdf). Denver, Colorado: Natural Resource Program Center (NPS). 2009. Retrieved 2010-02-19.
  4. Climbing Big Round Top
  5. "Scenic Vistas". Nature & Science. National Park Service. Retrieved 2010-02-19.
  6. "Points of interest near…Round Top". Mountain Peaks and Summit Names. Archived from the original on 2011-07-19. Retrieved 2010-03-22.
  7. Adelman, Garry & Smith, Timothy H. "Ramparts of Rock: The Natural Fortifications of Gettysburg Geology". Civil War Trust.
  8. Brown, Andrew (2006) [1962]. "Geology and the Gettysburg Campaign" (PDF) (Eleventh printing ed.). Pennsylvania: Bureau of Topographic and Geologic Survey. Retrieved 2010-02-19.
  9. "Gettysburg Times Archives". Gettysburg Times. Archived from the original on 2012-12-05. Retrieved 2010-02-20.
    c. "Historic and Other Important Landmarks" (Google News Archive). Visitor's Supplement (p. 22). May 20, 1962. Retrieved 2010-02-21.
    d. "Adams County Alumni Club of Gettysburg College meets" (Google News Archive). November 18, 1992. Retrieved 2010-03-20.
  10. Martin, David G. Gettysburg, July 1. Conshohocken, PA: Combined Books, 1996. ISBN 978-0-938289-39-5. p. 583. Retrieved June 4, 2014.   via Questia (subscription required)
  11. Wert, Jeffry D (2002). Gettysburg, Day Three. pp. 279, 390. Retrieved 2010-02-22.
  12. "1st Vermont Cavalry Regiment". Archived from the original on 2009-06-10. Retrieved 2010-03-20. Wells's companies had cleared Bushman's Woods, to the right or east of Parson's battalion, knifed through the skirmish line of Alabamians to the left of the Texans, and entered the meadow of the Slyder farm, then turned east and followed a low stone wall to the spur of Big Round Top. …when the troopers reached the spur, the brigadier [Farnsworth] led them north through the woods behind the Alabama regiments deployed at the foot of the height. Many Confederates faced to the rear and shot at the passing column. "It was a swift,…enfilading fire." Wells's battalion broke through the treeline into fields of Devil's Den and Houck's Ridge. … Gunners in a section of Bachman's battery near Emmitsburg Road wheeled to the left, unleashing their fire on the horsemen in the open ground. …the mounted column splintered into three groups. … The final group, led by…Wells, retraced their route toward the spur of Big Round Top. … As the Federals re-emerged into a field, the 15th Alabama came rushing into a line across the cavalrymen's front. On the left of the 15th [was] the 46th Alabama… A scissors of musketry cut into the ranks of the New Englanders. Farnsworth…toppled to the ground
  13. Medal of Honor record of William Wells, Group 94 (W-199-VS-1869), NARA, Washington D.C. (cited by Cross, pp. 44,60)
  14. Davis, William C. (1995) [1983]. Gettysburg: The Story Behind the Scenery (Fifth Printing ed.). pp. 10, 12. ISBN 0-916122-89-1. LCCN 83-80606.
  15. "Battlefield Avenues" (Google News). The Battlefield. Gettysburg Compiler. Sep 3, 1895. Retrieved 2010-02-19.
  16. "classified structure numbers RD346-WA01". List of Classified Structures. National Park Service. Archived from the original on 2012-08-04. Retrieved 2010-02-21.
  17. "The Gettysburg Commission Reports" (transcribed versions: 1893-1921, 1927-1933). Gettysburg Discussion Group. Retrieved 2010-02-04. (original formats: 1895, 1900, 1909, 1912, 1918)
  18. - (July 1, 1922). "Traffic Rules on Battlefield" (Google News Archive). Retrieved 2010-03-22.
  19. "Senator Rice Sponsors Bill for Gettysburg Peace Memorial" (Google News Archive). Gettysburg Compiler. Jan 20, 1937. Retrieved 2010-03-20.
  20. b. - (September 24, 1968). "Start Work on Tower" (Google News Archive). Retrieved 2010-03-21.
    c. - (June 2, 1977). "Proposed Master Plan Lists Long Range Ideas For National Park Here" (Google News Archive). Retrieved 2010-03-22.
    d. - (August 8, 1995). "100 Years Ago" (Google News Archive). Retrieved 2010-03-22.
    e. Neill, Bill (March 2, 1998). "Former commissioner urges 'common sense'" (Google News Archive). Retrieved 2010-03-22.
  21. "Big Round Top to be Dismantled" (Google News). June 19, 1968. Retrieved 2010-02-18.
  22. "classified structure numbers RD346-WA01". List of Classified Structures. National Park Service. Archived from the original on 2012-08-04. Retrieved 2010-02-21. The tower was removed in 1961 [sic] ERRATA: The Big Round Top tower was dismantled in 1968 -- it was the Zeigler's Grove/Bryan House tower that was razed in 1961 (~3 weeks after the nearby observation deck on Richard Neutra's Cyclorama Building had been built during Mission 66 for the 1963 anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg).
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