the Battle of Gettysburg Resource Center
GETTYSBURG BATTLEFIELD ROCK CARVINGS
For many people, "discovering" something previously unknown can bring a great thrill. For Gettysburg battle and field buffs, seeking out lesser-known details about the action in and around the town, and obscure items such as carvings on the field and their history, enables us to expand our knowledge and experience of this obsessive event in our Nation's history. The Gettysburg battlefield is ripe with carvings in the rocks, yet many visitors don't know about them and even miss them when they're looking at them. Some carvings are so weathered and obscure, you need a map to locate them. Others are rather famous and draw many of the visitors to their locations. Many people are unaware that places such as Devil's Den, and Little and Big Round Tops, the rocks of which seem relatively untouched today, were once full of carvings and painted names and graffiti by both soldiers and visitors shortly after the battle. In a restoration move by the Government prior to 1895, most of these carvings and graffiti were chiseled out and cleaned up. One historical reference states, in fact, that carving and painting names onto the rocks at Devil's Den was a popular pasttime in the area as early as 1837.
Many carvings still survive and can be seen today, although many are difficult to see due to time and erosion. There is much debate about many of them, such as whether participating soldiers carved any during or after the battle. Some can be verified back to a particular soldier who was there during the battle.
After one becomes rather familiar with the battlefield, there is the urge to seek out something "new," different, and seldom-seen. An urge to get off the beaten path and explore a little. These carvings provide that type of satisfaction, especially the feeling one gets when finding and "discovering" such carvings after a lengthy search. Herein I will attempt to describe and locate for the explorer many of the known carvings around the field, and present various viewpoints and theories about their origin. A couple of cautions are in order as well regarding seeking these carvings in certain areas; some are located in rather difficult areas to reach. One should always remember caution and patience when climbing around the slippery and dangerous rocks of the field. I will provide words of special caution where necessary; the explorer should be adequately prepared in both dress and health before attempting to reach some of these areas.
Let's begin with some of the more well-known carvings. Off we go exploring!
(Note: Click on the thumbnail photos to see full size images)
THE "D.A. 140 P.V." BURIAL CARVING OF CAPT. DAVID ACHESON
One of the famous rock carvings on the field is that of the initial burial location of Capt. David Acheson of the 140th Pennsylvania Volunteers. It is inscribed into a boulder near which Acheson was field-buried after his unit's fight on July 2 at the height of the action in the Wheatfield with Brigadier General Kershaw's South Carolinians. Acheson was shot in the chest, falling with many of his men. Carried to the rear by his companions, Acheson was struck at least once more. His brother Sandie reported that David had been struck three times in all. Companions had attempted to locate and secure his body on July 3 but could not due to the proximity of the Confederate line in the area, and were even driven back during a search by Rebel shots and the opening action that day. On July 4th, after the battle had ended, Acheson was finally buried in a temporary shallow grave near one of the larger boulders just inside the treeline near the John T. Weikert farm. A soldier had crudely cut his initials, "D.A." onto the boulder nearby with a hatchet or some such sharp object to identify the location of the body. Apparently, the original, crude inscription contained only Acheson's initials. A. Todd Baird, a cousin of David's father, and Baird's brother John, are sent from Washington to recover the body. John becomes ill after arriving in town, so James Wilson, an old school-mate of David's, takes John's place. A Dr. Thomas McKennan joins them. On July 13 the body is disinterred after being directed to the spot by J.B. VanDyke, who had seen Acheson's burial. Taken home, Acheson was reinterred on the morning of July 15th in the family burial plot in Washington Cemetary, Washington PA. Sometime before 1868, a surviving soldier of Acheson's company revisited his original burial spot and deepened the initials cut into the boulder, adding Acheson's regiment.
Location of the carving:The boulder is located just inside the treeline bordering the field on the west side of the John T. Weikert farm. Park your vehicle in the lane off the Wheatfield Road that leads to the Weikert house, being careful not to block the lane. You need to climb the fence on your left and enter that field. You may find it helpful to park out near the beginning of the lane, and climb over the fence in one of the spots at which the boulders are under the fence, to aid you in stepping over. Have adequate footwear, as this field can often be muddy. When in the field, you'll see the treeline extending behind the house. Follow it westerly (to your left if facing the treeline) out to where the treeline angles back inward (northerly), coming to a corner there. There are several boulders in the ground around this angle in the treeline. Just inside the treeline (about 25 feet) and slightly before you come to the angle in the treeline, you will see a rounded boulder slightly larger than most of the others. The carving faces out toward the field. Sometimes a US flag will be placed at the boulder, so this may help in identifying it. The carving can be easily seen. As it is stated that this boulder was at the head of Acheson's grave, one may presume that he was buried immediately in front of the carving.
Additional reading:An excellent small book about Acheson and the carving was written by Sara Gould Walters, a licensed Guide at Gettysburg: "Inscription at Gettysburg" (Thomas Publications, 1991). Gregory Coco also has some information on Acheson and an excellent treatment of grave-marking on the field in "A Strange and Blighted Land - Gettysburg: The Aftermath of a Battle" (Thomas Publications 1995).
THE "P. NOEL" CARVING AT DEVIL'S DEN
This is a carving about which many, many stories and theories have circulated. One is that it was carved by a mourner who wished to mark the spot at which a young area girl, a Pauline Noel, was thrown from a wagon and killed there. Or, the carving was made by the ghostly finger of Noel's spirit itself. Supposedly, bad things are to happen to anyone who traces the carving with a finger. The most likely reason for the carving is much more mundane however. First, no one named "Pauline Noel" ever lived or died in the area. Research has shown that Park Noel, an area stone-cutter who worked on the erection of several monuments in the area after the battle likely carved it. Noel was born in 1868 and died in 1942. The first thing one notices when examining the carving is that it is professionally done, likely with actual stone-cutting and carving tools. It is done with a talent one finds on monuments and gravestones. Park probably made the carving in the late 1880's or 1890's.
Location of the carving:The carving is located on top of a low boulder just a few feet from the left flank marker of Smith's New York Battery on the top of Devil's Den. Once you locate the flank marker, the carving is easily discernible next to it. The marker and carving are just off the Park Road that winds past the "Sharpshooter Den" position at the top of the Devil's Den.
Have I ever traced the outline of the carving with my finger? Um, ask me later.
Additional reading:A terrific book with a special section on the carvings in the Devil's Den area is Garry Adelman and Timothy Smith's "Devil's Den - A History and Guide" (Thomas Publications, 1997). Many of the following carvings in the area are described in this book.
THE "FLAG ROCK" NEAR DEVIL'S DEN
One famous carving, sought out by many "battlefield stompers" is what is commonly called the "Flag Rock." It contains two carvings of American flags on its top, one rather large and one smaller. It also contains what appear to be initials (UFS) and the date 1873. There also appear to be other carvings on top of this rock, that are so weathered they are now indiscernible.
Location of the carving:One must be very careful when looking for this carving, as it is on top of a rather high boulder. The boulder is located just south of Devil's Den. The easiest way to locate it to begin at the Sharpshooter Den and walk to the Benning Brigade marker to the south. Continue on down the hill, bearing slightly to the left, for about 60 steps. There you will come to two larger boulders which a person in good shape can carefully climb on top of. Of the two boulders, the one to your right is the flag rock. On its left is what is commonly called the "Elephant Rock" (described next), which also has a carving on its top. Be extremely careful when climbing either of these boulders, and it's best to have some help in order to get a "push up" and keep your footing. Be especially careful if the rock is wet. The carvings are not very deep and difficult to see, but easier to discern if you are standing.
THE "ELEPHANT ROCK" AND THE "D. FORNEY" CARVING
Near the Flag Rock is another large boulder that some say looks like an elephant when viewed from the area of the Park Road below Devil's Den, where the road winds up behind the Den. Using your imagination, you can see what looks like the elephant's head facing to the left, with the trunk below, and the rounded body on the right. You can access this rock either from the flag rock, or by taking notice of its shape from the Park Road. On the top of this rock is the carving "D. Forney 1849." Obviously, if the date is correct, this is a very early pre-battle carving which escaped the Park's clean-up chisels. It evidences the popularity of this area before the battle. Research indicates that it must have been done by David S. Forney (1828-1911), who's occupation in the 1850 area census is listed as "artist." He moved to Virginia before the war, where he became a moderately-known painter. It is unsure whether or not he ever served in the Confederate Army, but he stayed south during and after the war. Dying in Virginia, he was brought back to Gettysburg and is now buried in Evergreen Cemetary. As always, use extreme caution when climbing this rather high rock, preferably with the assistance of another individual.
THE STRONG VINCENT CARVING ON LITTLE ROUND TOP
Little Round Top, one of the favorite and most-visited areas of the battlefield, contains at least a few known rock carvings. One, apparently denoting the boulder on which Col. Vincent was standing when mortally wounded on July 2, has a lengthy inscription to that effect. It is easily accessed but is missed by many visitors.
Location of the carving: On top of Little Round Top is an asphalt path for the ease of visitors to this beautiful area and view. On this path, facing out toward the valley below (west), walk to your left down the path to the area just before you get to the large 44th New York Monument (the "Castle" monument designed by Gen. Dan Butterfield). Facing the monument from the path, the carving is on top of the approximately 4-foot high rock just to the left of the monument, with a rather flat top surface. One can climb up onto the rock without much trouble. The carving, which states, "Col. Strong Vincent fell here / Com'g 3rd Brig 1st Div 5th Corps / July 2nd 1863" is becoming harder to read with the passage of time. It is exposed to the elements and was never deeply carved to begin with. As well, children, unaware of this carving, constantly climb onto this rock, and this only adds to its erosion. Soon this carving will be impossible to read. Incidentally, another marker claims to be the spot where Vincent fell - a later marker placed below the 83rd Pennsylvania Infantry Monument, which has a statue of Vincent on its top.
"4TH MAINE" CARVING BELOW DEVIL'S DEN
The 4th Maine carving and corps insignia is one of three carvings that can be attributed to veterans of the battle. It is near the regiment's monument near Devil's Den. It is well-carved by an experienced hand. It likely pre-dates the monument near it, and was only recently discovered by Battlefield Guide Timothy Smith after the area was cleared of brush in 1993.
Location of the carving:Locate the 4th Maine monument near the Park Road just before you get to Devil's Den. The monument is on the right side of the road. Standing several feet on the other side of the monument from the road, facing toward Little Round Top, you'll see the carving on a low boulder just a few feet northwest of the monument. It says "4th ME" and has the diamond corps insignia carved above it.
"AL COBLE" CARVING NEAR SPANGLER'S SPRING
One veteran's carving that many seem to seek out is Coble's carving in the rocks near the Spring, below Culp's Hill. Coble fought in this area as a member of the 1st North Carolina Regiment. Some time after the battle (it is assumed) Coble returned to carve his name in this area that he would never forget.
Location of the carving:At Spangler's Spring, park in the parking area to the right before the road begins up to Culp's Hill. Exiting your vehicle, you walk to the right along the treeline there that borders Spangler's Meadow. The carving is in a large group of boulders about 100 feet or so from the parking area. You will need to hunt to find this one. The carving is down on the level, flat surface of the boulder near where there is a large "cut" between two large rocks. Often people outline this carving with chalk so it will photograph better, and it is easier to see. It reads, "AL Coble / 1st NC REG."
"40TH NEW YORK" CARVING IN THE VALLEY OF DEATH
This carving is right next to the monument to the 40th New York in the Valley of Death between Little Round Top and Devil's Den. Like the "4th Maine" carving, it likely predates its monument, was carved by or under the direction of a veteran, and contains the diamond corps insignia in it.
THE TROUGH ROCK IN THE VALLEY OF DEATH
Not so much a carving, but a modification of a boulder. This boulder stands near where Tipton's old photographic studio once stood. A type of "trough" is carved into the boulder, with a groove to its left along with old metal clamps along the groove. It is surmised that someone, perhaps Tipton, had a pump hooked up to it to pump fresh spring water into the trough for either people or animals to drink from. However, it must be noted that Plum Run is nearby, so its purpose is not certain, but springs did and still do exist around this rock. It is also unknown whether the trough predates the battle or not. There is an old photograph showing a horse drinking from this trough. Whether a farmer carved it for convenience before the battle, or it was done later for visitors to the field is open to speculation.
Location of the carving:The Trough Rock is a 5-foot high boulder on the walking path that leads back to the restroom facilities near Plum Run. Parking in the lot below Devil's Den on the Park Road, walk across the small foot-bridge that is back toward Little Round Top. The rock is off to your left between the bridge and the restroom building. The trough is in the face of the boulder, half-way up, facing toward you. In our modern photo of the rock included here, the trough is visible as the horizontal "cut" in the face of the rock.
"J. TIPTON" CARVING ATOP DEVIL'S DEN
A difficult carving to see is on top of the large boulders of the Den. J. Tipton is not positively identified, but may have been a relative of William Tipton who worked at the early Park. Since many of these carvings were removed, it was likely made after 1894.
Location of the carving:It is just a few feet south of the little wooden footbridge across the cavern atop the Den. It is difficult to read, and, due to the elements andclimbing and walking of the area, is eroding.
NAMES CARVED ON BIG ROUND TOP
Often missed are names and symbols carved atop the large boulders on Big Round Top. There is a path from the Park Road leading up to the summit, which can be quite a walk for some. Take your time walking to the top and take breaks as necessary.
Locations of carvings:All known carvings are on the tops of rocks and boulders at the very summit. Standing at the very highest point at the summit, go towards the large boulders at the northern edge (toward Little Round Top) that jut out over the edge. Look on the flat tops of these boulders and you will see carved names in a group, such as "J. Noble / J. Hinchliff / J. Crumlish" and initials such as "WHG and WHH." Be very careful, as it's a long way down below these rocks. On tops of smaller rocks just behind you, back toward the center of the summit, you'll see some geometric designs carved into them. They are rather hard to see, but one is a star shape.
CULPS HILL NAME CARVINGS
Before you reach the summit of Culp's Hill, on the right side of the road is the monument of the 149th New York. The monument sits atop a large, flat rock. Directly behind the base of this monument are very weathered, carved names. One can make out the date "1888" and the name "J.E. Thompson." On the boulder between this monument and the road are carved names such as "P. Socks 1871" and "A.W. Lightner 1871." Strangely, the "G" and "N" in "Lightner" are carved backwards.
WEED AND HAZLETT CARVING
14TH BROOKLYN DEDICATION CARVING
On the right side of the Park Road leading up to the summit of Culp's Hill, just before you get to the 29th Ohio Monument, is a small boulder with a plaque to the 14th Brooklyn. Professionally and deeply carved into the boulder itself, rather than written into the plaque language, is the statement "Dedicated, A.D. 1890." The carving is in large letters and very noticeable.
MISCELLANEOUS INITIAL CARVINGS
Throughout the field, there are some carvings of what appears to be initials. One is the carving of "P.B." on the boulder near the Park Road in front of the plaque dedicated to the work done by surgeon Z. Boylston Adams at the field hospital of the 32nd Massachusetts, just before you get to "The Loop" and just past the south side of the Wheatfield. On a large boulder next to the 44th New York Monument on Little Round Top, there are two carvings of "C.K." The initials "LHM" appear below the date on the front of the boulder used as a base for the 93rd Pennsylvania Infantry Monument on the right side of the John T. Weikert farm lane. Notice, too, the "3rd BRIG" carved in the rock sitting on the ground a few feet to the left of the 93rd PA monument. This and the several other rocks scattered around the monument were sheared off the base boulder.
There may still be "undiscovered" carvings in rocks around the field. Undoubtedly, many past ones have been lost to weather and erosion. On your next trip to the Gettysburg Battlefield, if you get that desire to get off the beaten path and do some exploring, try locating some of these carvings. It will get you to places you may have never seen and where most do not go. Look over the rocks carefully, and you may even re-discover something not noticed in recent times. Above all, have fun and enjoy exploring!