Yea, though I Ride the Shadow through the Valley of Death I will Fear No Weasel

Weasel crossing the road at Plum Run

This little guy bounded across the road as Shadow Spirit entered the Valley of Death. 

According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, three types of weasels are indigenous to the state:

  • Short-tailed weasel – ermine
  • Long-tailed weasel – New York weasel
  • Least weasel – mouse weasel

I’m pretty sure this was a long-tailed weasel.   For small mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians, this little fellow inflicts his own version of the Valley of Death along the Plum Run.  But it is not about weasels and their prey Whitelaw Reid wrote over a century and a half ago,  “Who shall say that they did not go down into the very Valley of the Shadow of Death that terrible afternoon?”

As you cross the weasel bridge over Plum Run you begin to see Little Round Top off to your left. To your right is Houck’s Ridge. And dead ahead, down the Valley of Death, are the Devil’s Den and the Slaughter Pen. Horrific action, on that second day of the Battle of Gettysburg, raged across the valley of Plum Run.

Shadow Spirit, looking across Valley of Death to Little Round Top

July 1, 1863, the first day of battle, the Rebs had pushed the Feds out of the town of Gettysburg to the hills just south. The the Feds had taken a position from Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill, south along Cemetery Ridge to Little Round Top, east of the Plum Run valley. Or, at least, so Meade (the Fed commander) thought.

But Sickles had moved his corp across the valley to occupy Houck’s Ridge, from the Devil’s Den northward through the Wheatfield to the Peach Orchard. This leaves the Feds’ left flank in an exposed position. Little Round Top is unoccupied and would be an excellent place for Rebel artillery to strafe the whole Fed line along Cemetery Ridge.

At 4 pm that afternoon Longstreet’s Rebel corps launched their offensive on the Feds’ left flank. Rebel divisions under Hood and McLaws sweep up the Plum Run valley, eventually dislodging Sickles from Devil’s Den and Houck’s Ridge.

Here is Shadow Spirit sweeping down Plum Run, the creek and Slaughter Pen to the left and Devil’s Den to the right. Then winding its way up onto Houck’s Ridge. You can’t sweep up Plum Run like Longstreet’s forces did, because it’s one way now!

Shadow Spirit at Devil’s Den

While Hood and McLaws pushed forward, Warren, chief engineer for the Feds, noticed Little Round Top was undefended and raised the alarm. In the confusion of the battle, orders don’t get where they should. But Vincent intercepting the order leads his brigade, the Third Brigade, to occupy Little Round Top for the Feds. This brigade from right to left across Little Round Top: 16th Michigan, 44th New York, 83rd Pennsylvania, and, of course, the 20th of Maine, tasked to hold the left flank at any cost.

Same place, other direction: Slaughter Pen to the right, Little Round Top in the background.

The Rebels poured over Houck’s Ridge, the Devil’s Den and through the Slaughter Pen, across the Valley of Death to assault Little Round Top. For two hours Federal forces repelled wave after wave of attacks. As darkness approached the Rebs were regrouping for a final attack on the very left of the Fed flank. Because the 20th of Maine was out of ammunition, their commander, Joshua Chamberlain, ordered them to fix their bayonets and led them in a charge that repulsed the Confederates once and for all. But you know this if you’ve seen the movie “Gettysburg”.

At the end of the day, at Little Round Top the Feds sustained losses of 565 (killed, wounded and missing), the Rebs, 1185. Vincent lost his life. Across the Valley of Death at the Devil’s Den and the Slaughter Pen the losses were 821 Feds and 1814 Rebs. And Plum Run ran red. Thirty years later Chamberlain received the Congressional Medal of Honor – twice.