Brig. Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren, one of Meade’s staff officers at Gettysburg, is rightly credited with organizing the defense of Little Round Top by racing Union troops up the hill just in the nick of time to meet the Confederate assault.
But legend has it that when Warren initially reached the top of the hill he could see no sign of the enemy. Suspicious, he ordered an artillery battery to fire a shot into the woods below, which exposed a Confederate bayonet glint in the sun, alerting Warren to the Confederate presence.
This is probably a myth. Even ordering a cannon shot would have been a trick, since there were no cannons on Little Round Top when Warren arrived. In fact, that was the whole problem! There was a battery of Union cannons down in the valley below the hill and on Devil’s Den, but that was a good ways off from where Warren was located at the top of the hill.
In any case, the Confederate presence would have been easy to spot from Little Round Top. The area between Devil’s Den and Warfield Ridge was not as wooded as it is today. And the Confederates weren’t sneaking around. Once Confederate General Hood launched his attack from Warfield Ridge – almost a mile away – he made no effort to hide his advance, and it would hard to miss a battle line of 7,400 men – flags flying – heading in the direction of the Little Round Top.
Last but not least, the day was high overcast, making it unlikely that the sun would catch the glint of a bayonet.