About 900 yards west of the Gettysburg landmark known as Little Round Top is a rugged area of steep cliffs, deep gullies and massive boulders. Local residents called it the Devil's Den, and on July 2, 1863, the rocky ridge and the nearby stream known as Plum Run became one of the "significant major battle action areas of the Gettysburg battlefield."
It was a very tough place to fight a battle. According to a park publication,
Southerners from Alabama, Texas and Georgia were awe struck by the rugged nature of the ground, broken by gullies and strewn with massive boulders. One veteran of the battle described it as, "a wild, rocky labyrinth which, from its weird, uncanny features, has long been called by the people of the vicinity the 'Devils Den.' Large rocks from six to fifteen feet high are thrown together in confusion over a considerable area and yet so disposed as to leave everywhere among them siding passages carpeted with moss. Many of the recesses are never visited by the sunshine, and a cavernous coolness pervades the air within it."
Pastures around the base of the Den were filled with piles of rocks and large boulders that caused battle formations to fragment. Officers lost control of their commands and soldiers lost their way in this wild garden of stone. Men scrambled behind boulders for protection from the shower of bullets, shell and canister.
The area is now part of Gettysburg National Military Park, and the serene, almost pastoral scene that prevails at Devil's Den today can make it a bit difficult for many park visitors to visualize the intense fighting that occurred there nearly a hundred and fifty years ago.
Helping visitors understand and picture those historic events is a key goal of the park, but that activity is often hampered when the sights and sounds of modern life intrude on the scene. That's certainly been the case at Devil's Den in recent years—a building housing a restroom and overhead utility lines have been both a distraction on the historic view and an eyesore on the natural landscape.
Those concerns will soon be past history. Gettysburg National Military Park and the Gettysburg Foundation are teaming up to remove the restroom as well as the intrusive utility lines that provide power to it.
The Foundation raised the money for the project, and the group will also fund work to bury intrusive overhead utility lines in several areas in the southern part of the battlefield near the historic Althoff, Slyder, and Trostle farms.
Initially, the Park had asked the Foundation to raise funds to bury the intrusive power lines to the Devil’s Den restroom but concerns about potential environmental impacts to the floodplain and the geology, as well as the expense of burying the lines in a boulder field, led to the decision to remove the restroom altogether, in favor of returning more of the area to its battle era appearance.
"The building is in a sensitive location for the environment and for the historic scene," said J. Mel Poole, interim superintendent for Gettysburg NMP. "We think we can offer comfort facilities for the visitors elsewhere and do a better job with preserving the historic battlefield here."
The current roadways, visitor parking, and paths at Devil’s Den, as well as the pedestrian bridge over Plum Run, will stay. Visitors will be directed to use other park restrooms nearby, such as at the South End Guide Station on Emmitsburg Road and next to the Pennsylvania Memorial.
If you're not familiar with key features at Gettysburg National Military Park, you can download a copy of the Official Map and Park Guide from the park website.
This project is part of a long term plan to return the major battle action areas of the park to their appearance at the time of the fighting in July 1863. The Gettysburg Foundation is funding and managing the project at Devil's Den on behalf of the National Park Service.