Monument Shapes and Symbols – A Key
This article is about the monument shapes and symbols at Gettysburg. It is your key to unlocking the symbols on regimental monuments that honor the Army of the Potomac.
Monument Shapes and Symbols at Gettysburg
… Symbols of the Army of the Potomac
At Gettysburg, each infantry corps flew a unique battle flag. The symbols on the flag identified the corps and helped with the coordination of battlefield movements. Notably, many monuments at Gettysburg National Military Park contain those same symbols. For the student of the Battle of Gettysburg, the symbols are help to “decode” what happened where and who was involved. Side note: Although it is rare to see color coding on Gettysburg monuments, the colors associated with division flags appear on some monuments:
- Red represents the 1st division of a corps.
- White represents the 2nd division of a corps.
- Blue represents the 3rd division of a corps.
Some examples are highlighted in the following sections.
But first, get your brain engaged by trying this quick warm-up quiz!
Symbols of the Army of the Potomac
Circle (Moon) – 1st Corps, Army of the Potomac
Click MORE and then find the circle or sphere moon (or the five-sided symbol for the Iron Brigade)… More...
Commanded by Col. Henry A. Morrow, the 24th Michigan was part of Brig. Gen. Solomon Meredith’s famous “Iron Brigade” from Michigan, Indiana, and Wisconsin. Sometimes called “The Black Hats” for their distinctive head gear, the brigade had a reputation for iron-willed fighting.
This 14-foot tall monument is in Herbst Woods on Meredith Avenue. It was dedicated in 1889. The circle symbol on the front of the monument indicates that the 24th Michigan was part of Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds’ 1st Corps. Note that the circle is plain and does not have an inscription. Many monuments have bronze circular plaques with inscriptions; these are not 1st Corps symbols.
On the right side of the 24th Michigan Monument is a five-sided brigade symbol that represents each of its five regiments: 24th Michigan, 19th Indiana, 2nd Wisconsin, 6th Wisconsin, and 7th Wisconsin. Some 1st Corps monuments are topped with a granite sphere. Not every Gettysburg monument that has a spherical top is a Union 1st Corps monument, however; the 2nd Maryland CSA Monument on Culp’s Hill is one obvious exception.
Trefoil (Clover) – 2nd Corps, Army of the Potomac
Click MORE and then find the trefoil symbol (a three-leaf clover) on these monuments… More...
Commanded by Maj. St. Clair A. Mulholland, the 116th Pennsylvania was part of the “Irish Brigade,” under Col. Patrick Kelly. The regiment had been decimated by battlefield casualties before Gettysburg. According to the monument’s inscription, the 116th Pennsylvania suffered 37 casualties out of 142 men at Gettysburg. The regiment fought in The Wheatfield on July 2, 1863. The trefoil symbol on the front of the monument represents Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock’s 2nd Corps. Located on Sickles Avenue not far from Wheatfield Road (near “The Loop”), the 116th Pennsylvania Monument was dedicated in 1889. Cemetery Ridge has many monuments that display a prominent trefoil.
Diamond – 3rd Corps, Army of the Potomac
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The diamond symbol on the 99th Pennsylvania Monument on Hancock Avenue represents Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Sickles’ 3rd Corps. Its red color identifies the regiment as belonging to the 1st division, commanded by Maj. Gen. David B. Birney. This monument was dedicated in 1886 (and moved to this spot in 1889). The 99th Pennsylvania has a second monument, this one with a three-dimensional, diamond-shaped top.
It stands on Houck’s Ridge inside the Sickles Avenue loop around and above Devil’s Den. On July 2, 1863, Devil’s Den was Sickles’ left flank and the left flank of Meade’s entire army. The monument was dedicated in 1889. All along Sickles’ advanced salient position along Cemetery Ridge, you will find many monuments that display diamond shapes. Look for them in Devil’s Den, Houck’s Ridge, The Peach Orchard, and The Wheatfield.
Maltese Cross – 5th Corps, Army of the Potomac
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The Maltese cross on the 20th Maine Monument on the southeast side of Little Round Top (near Sykes Avenue) represents Maj. Gen. George Sykes’ 5th Corps. Commanded by Col. Joshua L. Chamberlain, this regiment was attached to the 1st division (Barnes), 3rd brigade (Vincent) of Sykes’ Corps. The monument stands at the center of Chamberlain’s line, which was the Union army’s far left flank. It was dedicated in 1886.
Cross – 6th Corps, Army of the Potomac
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The simple cross on the 23rd Pennsylvania Monument on Slocum Avenue represents Maj. Gen. John Sedwick’s 6th Corps. (Slocum was in command of the army’s right wing, which included Sedwick’s Corps.) The blue on the monument symbol identifies the regiment as belonging to the 3rd division, commanded by Brig. Gen. Frank Wheaton, replacing the promoted Maj. Gen. John Newton on July 2. This monument was dedicated in 1886 and remodeled two years later.
Crescent Moon – 11th Corps, Army of the Potomac
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The crescent moon on the 154th New York Monument on Coster Avenue represents Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard’s 11th Corps. This regiment commanded by Lt. Col. Daniel B. Allen was attached to Brig. Gen. Adolph von Steinwehr’s 2nd division and Col. Charles R. Coster’s 1st brigade. Coster’s brigade protected retreating Union troops on July 1, 1863, as they moved through town from north to south. The photograph shows the degraded state of a battlefield mural prior to its October 2015 renovation. You will find many monuments that display crescent moon symbols on Cemetery Hill, which was the high-ground south of town on which the 11th Corps relocated.
Star – 12th Corps, Army of the Potomac
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The star on the 123th New York Monument on Slocum Avenue represents Maj. Gen. Henry W. Slocum’s 12th Corps. Slocum delegated corps command to Brig. Gen. Alpheus S. Williams while Slocum led the Union right in the Culp’s Hill area. In the ripple of promotions, Brig. Gen. Thomas H. Ruger assumed command of the division, Col. Archibald McDougall the brigade, and Lt. Col. James C. Rogers the regiment. This monument features “the Muse of History” (Clio) writing on a tablet. It was dedicated in 1888.
Also in the Culp’s Hill area, the 147th Pennsylvania Monument is located on Geary Avenue. The monument was dedicated in 1885. Its prominent star suggests the nickname for Brig. Gen. John W. Geary’s 2nd division, which was “The White Star Division.” The regiment fought in a nearby field, plus also on Little Round Top, where a similarly shaped monument was also erected.
At Gettysburg, there is more to understanding monument shapes and symbols than knowing how to identify corps within the Army of the Potomac. In this section, we look at headquarters monuments for both Union and Confederate military units.
Two armies fought at Gettysburg: The Army of the Potomac (AOP) and the Army of Northern Virginia (ANV). The AOP Headquarters Monument is located on the east side of Hancock Avenue near The Angle. The ANV Headquarters Monument is located on the west side of West Confederate Avenue, across from the Virginia State Monument. These headquarters monuments are tall, rectangular stone structures with curved tops and brass tablets with scalloped tops. A national shield adorns each structure.
A Corps is the largest military unit of an army. At Gettysburg, the AOP fielded seven Infantry Corps, one Cavalry Corps, and an Artillery Reserve unit that (although not strictly a Corps), has a Corps headquarters monument, for a total of nine monuments. The ANV fielded three Infantry Corps (and one Cavalry Division), for a total of three monuments.
Corps headquarters monuments are rectangular stones with brass tablets. The AOP and ANV monuments look very similar, as can be seen by comparing the photos of the AOP 1st Corps (Reynolds) and the ANV 1st Corps (Longstreet) headquarters monuments. The bronze tablets for both armies have scalloped tops.There is one notable difference, however. The inscription for AOP Corps monuments is decorated with the symbol of the corps. For example, the circle symbol in the AOP 1st Corps monument identifies Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds’ 1st Corps. Although ANV Corps monuments are similarly shaped, they usually have an oval plaque inscribed with “CSA.”
Because the markers for U.S. Artillery batteries that support each corps look similar to those of AOP corps headquarter monuments, we mention them briefly here. The AOP monument artillery battery monument shown in the photo has a scalloped brass plaque. This makes it look like a corps headquarters monument. And yet unlike a corps monument, it has a pointed top and a circular seal that represents the United States of America.
A corps is composed of divisions. There are twenty-two AOP and ten ANV Division headquarters monuments at Gettysburg. Division headquarters monuments are rectangular stones with bronze tablets. With a few exceptions, AOP Division monuments have rectangular (not scalloped) tablets, and their corps insignia is mounted separately, above the tablet. ANV Division monuments are indistinguishable from their associated corps headquarters monuments, except for the inscription. See the examples, below.
The first photograph is an example of a division headquarters monument for the AOP. The crescent moon symbol identifies this monument as belonging to the 11th Corps. The inscription names the 2nd Division (Brig. Gen. Adolph Von Steinwehr, Commanding). The second photograph is an example of a division headquarters monument for the ANV. The oval “CSA” inset identifies this monument as Confederate. The inscription names the 3rd Corps, Pender’s Division, (Brig. Gen. William D. Pender, Commanding).
A division is composed of brigades. According to Steve Hawks, there are more than 70 AOP and 60 ANV brigade headquarters monuments at Gettysburg. Brigade monuments are bronze tablets that are mounted on a stone pedestal.
Left: AOP brigade headquarters monuments have a square stone pedestal and a tablet with a rounded top. The example on the left shows the trefoil symbol of AOP 2nd Corps. The inscription names the artillery brigade (Capt. John G. Hazard, Commanding).
Left: ANV brigade headquarters monuments have a round stone pedestal and a tablet with a squared top. The “CSA” heading identifies this monument as Confederate. The inscription on the example to the left names Hill’s Corps, Heth’s Division, Archer’s Brigade (Brig. Gen. James J. Archer, Commanding).  Steve Hawks, “How to Identify Headquarters Monuments at Gettysburg,” Stone Sentinels: Gettysburg, accessed April 12, 2016, http://gettysburg.stonesentinels.com/how-to-identify-headquarters-at-gettysburg/.
Often, flank markers at the Gettysburg National Military Park are small block-shaped markers. They identify the left and right ends of a regiment’s battle line. Some markers look like gravestones, others are chunkier looking. “L.F.” is an abbreviation for Left Flank and “R.F.” for Right Flank.
The first photo is an example set of stone flank markers. The inscription indicates that the left flank (“L.F.”) of the 5th PA Reserves abuts the right flank “R.F.” of the 12th PA Reserves on Big Round Top. Sometimes, instead of stone, a cast iron marker identifies a battle field flank. This is the case for the extreme right flank of the Army of Northern Virginia, as shown in the next photo.
This marker is located on the right side of South Confederate Avenue, around the bend from the Soldiers and Sailors of the Confederacy Monument. Cannon are positioned on the slight rise directly behind the sign (to the southwest).
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