Mystery of the Whitworth Guns
On July 2 and 3, Schultz Woods was occupied by several Confederate artillery units, who took part in the massive artillery bombardment of Cemetery Ridge that preceded Pickett’s Charge. This group included the guns of the Hardaway (Alabama) Artillery commanded by Capt. William B. Hurt.
The Whitworth Guns
The Army of Northern Virginia owned two powerful cannon known as Whitworths, the only breech-loading pieces to be found at Gettysburg in July 1863 in either army. The Whitworths fired distinctive elongated 12-pound shells possessing a hexagonal cross-section to match the hexagonal interior shape of the gun’s barrel. They had an incredible firing range of five miles, and were unusually accurate. William Storrick, an early 20th century supervisor of Gettysburg’s Licensed Battlefield Guides, wrote that the Whitworth’s “whining report could be heard above all others.” The south imported these guns from England, but only possessed a few due to the blockade. The Hardaway Artillery had possession of the Army of Northern Virginia’s two Whitworths at Gettysburg. (1)
A fascinating article from a Melbourne, Australia, newspaper article of April 20, 1860, describing the testing of a Whitworth Cannon can be found here.
Mystery of the Whitworth Guns in the Modern GNMP
There were once two Whitworth guns in Schultz Woods to mark the position of the Hardaway Artillery. Today, there stands an old park tablet describing the actions of the unit at this location, but the guns are gone, with only a few of the cement pads on which rested the wheels of the cannon and the pyramid of shells remaining. It has been assumed that the Whitworths were, at some now-unknown moment in the long misty past, moved to the position on Oak Ridge, near the Peace Memorial, where two Whitworth guns can now be seen.
But William Storrick, in his 1932 book on the battle, wrote of the Whitworth cannon, “There are four now in position on the field, thus placed to show their two positions during the battle.” It appears, then, that the two guns on Oak Ridge are not the two that were originally in Schultz Woods. So what happened to the two Whitworths in Schultz Woods?
With a little investigation and a little help, I have learned that the park does in fact have possession of the other two Whitworth cannon. One is in the basement of the Visitor’s Center building in the archives, and the other in a super-secret location, stored away in another NPS-owned building in Gettysburg.