OVER THE WALL AND INTO HISTORY
In the face of deadly fire,
Jerseymen charged, playing a
pivotal role at Gettysburg.
BY BOB BEMBRIDGE
n the afternoon of July 2, 1863, Sergeant Frank Riley and 200 men
of the 12th New Jersey Volunteers jumped over a low stone wall at
Gettysburg and charged into the pages of history.
In the face of murderous fire, Riley and his men advanced on a barn
occupied by Confederate soldiers. The Jerseymen halted within a few
yards of the Bliss barn, named for owner William Bliss, and blasted the
Confederates with a withering volley.
In a letter penned soon after the battle, Riley wrote that the rebels
did not surrender “until we were pouring into the doors and windows,
This heroic action by the 12th New Jersey, though little recognized, is believed by some historians to have had a decisive effect upon the battle and, consequently, the Civil War.
July marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, a pivotal engagement in
which more than 4,500 New Jersey soldiers participated. The important role New Jersey
troops played at Gettysburg in July 1863 is the subject of historian Edward Longacre’s 1988
book, To Gettysburg and Beyond: the 12th New Jersey Volunteer Infantry. This group of farmers
and small merchants from the Garden State’s
southern counties not only helped thwart the
Confederate assault on July 2, but also helped
stop Pickett’s Charge on the third and final
day of the battle.
“The significance of the 12th New Jersey’s
operation has been long overlooked,” says
Longacre, a Camden native and author of 24
books and more than 100 magazine and journal articles on the Civil War.
On July 2, General James Longstreet’s
Confederates attacked the Union line on
Cemetery Ridge, where the 12th New Jersey
and other members of the famed Second
Corps were positioned. Confederate brigades
on the right end of the southern line successively attacked in hopes the Union line would