The Keystone of Little Round Top
SUBMITTED BY TED KARLE, MENTOR, OHIO
NAME: Orpheus Saeger Woodward
DATES: 1837 to June 26, 1919
HIGHEST RANK: Brevet Brigadier General
UNIT: 83d Pennsylvania Infantry
SERVICE RECORD: Enlisted on August 16, 1861. Elected captain in September. Promoted to colonel in 1864. Brevetted brigadier general in 1865.
Orpheus Saeger Woodward’s Civil War service can be distilled to a single moment during the Battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Standing atop Little Round Top, Woodward, commander of the 83d Pennsylvania Infantry, looked to his left and saw his sister regiment, the 20th Maine, beginning to crumble under repeated Confederate attacks. What he did next may have prevented the collapse of the entire Union army.
Born in Waterford, Pennsylvania, Woodward enlisted in the 83d on August 16, 1861. In September, the regiment joined the Army of the Potomac, and Woodward was soon elected captain of Company D. In Washington, D.C., the 83d won an army-wide drill competition, and each soldier received an imported Chasseur de Vincennes uniform. At left, Woodward poses in his prize outfit.
The following April, the army marched into Virginia, and Woodward suffered a minor wound to his right arm on July 1 at the Battle of Malvern Hill. He recovered quickly enough to assume command of the 83d in September when injury and disease forced many senior officers out of action. By June 1863, the army was pursuing the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia northward, and Woodward found himself back in the Keystone State.
Colonel Strong Vincent, the 83d’s brigade commander, led his men up vacant Little Round Top, just south of Gettysburg, on July 2. Vincent ordered Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain’s 20th Maine to the extreme left flank and stationed Woodward’s Pennsylvanians to the Mainers’ immediate right. Confederates soon charged up the slope. The 20th repulsed the attack, but successive assaults wore it down. On the verge of being overrun, Chamberlain urgently sought more men. Unable to spare many, Woodward instead moved back the center of the 83d and stretched his men out so they were closer to the 20th.
Woodward’s deft maneuver allowed Chamberlain to stretch his own regiment farther to the left and rear, and soon the Mainers wheeled and charged the Confederates with stunning success. Chamberlain, often credited with saving the Union army at Little Round Top, deflected some of the praise to Woodward: “Captain Woodward…on my right, gallantly maintaining his fight, judiciously and with hearty cooperation made his movements conform to my necessities, so my right was at no time exposed to flank attack.”
Woodward was promoted to colonel in March 1864, but a month later he lost his right leg in the Battle of the Wilderness, Virginia. While recovering, he was brevetted brigadier general on March 13, 1865. Soon after the war, Woodward moved to Neosho Falls, Kansas, where he stayed until his death on June 26, 1919.