The bronze statue of William Wells was created by J. Otto Schweitzer, one of seven statues by the Swiss-born sculptor on the Gettysburg battlefield.* Sweitzer used Well’s actual clothing, boots, belt, and revolver as a model. The statue was so well received that friends ordered an exact copy which stands in Battery Park in Burlington, Vermont, Wells’ home town.
At the Battle of Gettysburg Wells was a major in the First Vermont Cavalry Regiment. He led a battalion of the First Vermont Cavalry during Farnsworth’s charge on July 3rd (depicted on the bronze tablet below the statue). Wells would go on to become a Brevet Major General by the end of the war.
Major William Wells was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions at Gettysburg on July 3rd when he “led the second battalion of his regiment in a daring charge.”
The bas-relief on the front of the monument represents the charge of four companies of the 1st Vermont Cavalry led by General Elon Farnsworth against Law’s Alabama Brigade at the close of the battle on July 3rd. Union General Kilpatrick had ordered Farnsworth to make the charge and had questioned his bravery when Farnsworth protested. Farnsworth went on to lead the charge, which started from the area around the monument. When Farnsworth was mortally wounded. Wells took command of the survivors and led them back to Union lines.
The bas-relief shows Farnsworth (at left) receiving his mortal wound, while Wells continues ahead, saber raised. The sculptor used photographs of the survivors to model the faces in the charge, and over twenty individuals can be identified in the tablet.
From the tablet on the left side of the monument:
Brevet Major General U.S. Vols.
1837 – 1892
First Lieut. Co. C 1st Vermont Cavalry Oct. 14 1861
Captain Co. C Nov. 18 1861
Major Dec. 30 1862
Colonel July 2 1864
Brevet Brigadier General U.S. Vols. Feb. 22 1865
Brevet Major General U.S. Vols.
For gallant and meritorious services March 13 1865
Brigadier General U.S. Vols. May 19 1865
Honorably mustered out Jan. 15 1866
Once wounded and once a prisoner
Awarded Medal of Honor for “most distinguished gallantry at Gettysburg” July 3 1863
Commander of Sheridan’s Cavalry Corps
From the tablet on the right side of the monument:
At 5 p.m. July 3 the 2nd Battalion 1st Vermont Cavalry led by Major William Wells, General Farnsworth commanding the brigade riding by his side crossed Plum Run near this point charging over stone walls amid rocks and through woods till they encountered five regiments of Law’s Confederate Brigade near the spot where the regimental monument stands.
The 1st Battalion and part of the 3rd Lt. Col. A.W. Preston commanding were ordered to the lane and struck Law’s Brigade in the flank. The onset was terrific sabres and bayonets revolvers and muskets being freely used after a struggle the hill was carried by the 1st Vermont and the prisoners captured sent to the rear.
The three battalions united soon came under the fire of the 4th Alabama Infantry and presently of the 9th Georgia Infantry. Finding no exit to the south they turned to the east and charged the 15th Alabama Infantry which answered a summons to surrender by a destructive musketry fire. Those unhurt escaping mostly to the south.
This memorial signalizes the valor of the officers and the men of the First Vermont Cavalry who here paid to the nation the uttermost tribute of devotion.
*The other six statues by Otto Schweitzer at Gettysburg are President Lincoln, David McM. Gregg and Alfred Pleasonton from the State of Pennsylvania Monument; Alexander Hays on North Hancock Avenue, John Geary on Culp’s Hill and Andrew Humphreys on Emmitsburg Road.