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The Gettysburg Adventure 2001
The 6th Wisconsin at Gettysburg

by Joel Busenitz
(aka Gen. Longstreet)
Chief Historian, Gettysburg Adventure Committee

Copyright 2001 by Joel Busenitz


6th Wisconsin at Gettysburg


The 6th Wisconsin mustered into the United States Army in the early months of 1861. Most companies were gathered in sometime between April and June. These men came from all parts of southern Wisconsin. Some companies were from Fon du Lac area, Captain Rufus Dawes’ (commander of the 6th at Gettysburg) company arrived from Mauston, with two companies comprised of Italians and Germans from Milwaukee. After mustering, they were shipped off to Washington D.C. and drilled day after day for about a year.

Their first action came two days before the Second Battle of Bull Run in August of 1862 in the Brawner farm fields near Gainsville, Virginia. Here they ran into portions of Stonewall Jackson's corps. Despite being greatly outnumbered, they were able to hold off Stonewall and his men for a few hours until darkness ended the contest. This is where the Iron Brigade first began to earn its reputation. Captured Confederates would refer to them as the “Black Hat Devils of the Army of the Potomac.” Others prisoners were heard to say, “…it's no use to fight that Big Hat Brigade, we will only get cut to pieces.” Already in their first fight, they had earned the fear and respect of their enemies.

The Iron Brigade was the only brigade in the Army of the Potomac whose regiments were all from the West. They had been designated 1st Brigade of the 1st Division, 1st Army Corps (which was strictly coincidence) and felt like they needed to show the rest of the army that boys from West could fight just as good as anyone. And their actions showed this. The Iron Brigade was always sent to the thick of the fight: Second Bull Run, South Mountain, in the cornfield at Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and of course at Gettysburg.

Unfortunately, this type of action almost always resulted in heavy casualties, and at Gettysburg there was no exception to this. They came into the battle nearly 1,900 men strong, but took about 1,150 casualties; about a 63% casualty rate. It is a small wonder then why the Iron Brigade virtually ceased to exist as a unit after this battle.
 

Now let us go forward to the 6th Wisconsin's action at Gettysburg. On the night of June 30, the 6th Wisconsin along with the rest of the brigade camped near Marsh Creek; 6 or 7 miles south of Gettysburg right off of the Emmitsburg Road.

Lieutenant Colonel Rufus Dawes, who will be quoted more than once in this article, wrote a letter to his sweetheart back in Wisconsin regarding the strains of recent marches: "I am kept full of business on such hurried marches, scarcely from morning to night getting a moment I can call my own."

On the morning of July 1, the 1st Corps (which the Iron Brigade and the 6th Wisconsin were a part of) under command of John Reynolds were ordered to come up quick to the fields west of Gettysburg, as General Buford was feeling heavy pressure from elements of General Lee's army under Harry Heth.

Dawes wrote again on the morning of the 1st,"July 1st A.M. Orders have just come to 'pack up, be ready to march immediately.' I will finish this letter the first chance I get."

Shortly after this, Lysander Cutler, former colonel of the 6th Wisconsin, led off his own 2nd Brigade, followed by Hall's 2nd Maine Battery, and the Iron Brigade, commanded here by Solomon Meredith, took up the rear, starting with the 2nd Wisconsin, then the 7th Wisconsin, followed by the 19th Indiana and 24th Michigan respectively, and last of all the 6th Wisconsin.

Somewhere in the area of the Codori farm, the 1st Division turned off the road and headed northwest to the sounds of the now intensifying firing. The Iron Brigade, about a quarter mile behind Hall's Battery, quickly caught up and were ordered to double quick the rest of the way to the sounds of the guns. This was no small task. They still had nearly a mile to go, but the boys were veterans now, and did this without any issues.

The 1st Division soon rescued Buford's reeling troops with three of Cutler's regiments forming on the north side of a railroad cut, and 2 more forming on the south side. The 7th Indiana had been left behind to guard the wagons. To their left came the Iron Brigade and they formed in the same order as they were marching, with the 24th Michigan on the left flank.

The 6th Wisconsin was preparing to follow and take up on the left of the 24th but a rider came from Meredith telling them to stay in the rear. So they did this and watched the rest of the brigade go over McPherson's Ridge and into what is now known as Reynolds Woods.

They didn't have to wait long however to get into the fight. Soon enough another rider came from Meredith telling Dawes to form immediately on Cutler's right.

Two of the regiments on the north side of the cut, the 56th PA and the 76th NY had been flanked and forced back to Seminary Ridge. The other regiment, the 147th NY had not heard the order to retreat and was even now fighting an entire brigade of Confederates, led by Joseph Davis, nephew of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

Somehow two of Davis' regiments had worked their way around the flank of Cutler while the third fought him head on, and had sent them reeling back. Now the 6th Wisconsin was being ordered to go save the flank, the 147th and perhaps even the day for the Union.

Dawes immediately ordered his regiment to form in a column and they began double-quick marching again, towards the Chambersburg Pike and Cutler's right, running past the Lutheran Seminary. Up ahead Dawes could see Hall's guns, "driving to the rear" on the Chambersburg Pike. Lloyd Harris, in command of the Brigade Guard (a detachment of men from each regiment of the Iron Brigade) could see the 147th NY heading rapidly for the rear.

To his front, Dawes saw a group of Federal officers carrying someone off in a blanket. He later learned that it was the 1st Corps commander, John Reynolds, who had been shot from his horse almost immediately after the Iron Brigade had entered the woods. General Abner Doubleday now commanded the 1st Corps after Reynolds fell.

As the 6th Wisconsin neared Chambersburg Pike, Dawes gave the order to move, "by the left flank". This brought his regiment into a line of battle and also placed them directly on the flank of Davis' brigade, who was pursuing their attack on the flank of Cutler. Dawes later said, "this threw my line parallel to the turnpike and the R.R. cut, and almost directly upon the flank of the enemy."

Somewhere near the Pike, Dawes had his horse shot from under him. Fortunately he was not caught under his horse, and yelled, "I'm alright boys!" His men gave him a hearty cheer and advanced to the first rail fence bordering the Chambersburg Pike. Dawes wrote, "When I got to my feet.....I ran forward shouting: 'fire by file, fire by file.' I could see the enemy coming over the hill now by the railroad cut in a heavy line.......The fire of our carefully aimed muskets, resting on the fence rails, striking their flank soon checked the rebels in their headlong pursuit. The rebel line swayed and bent, and suddenly stopped firing and the men ran into the railroad cut, parallel to the Cashtown (Chambersburg) Pike."

Private Albert Young of the 6th recalled, “The Johnnies were so intent upon following their advantage that they did not for some time discover what was going on on their right.....now we are face to face. They jump into an old railroad cut which is immediately in front of them and here about five feet deep and opened up on us." Other men said that, "their whole line disappeared as if swallowed up by the earth."

So here was the situation: Dawes’ men were strung out along the fence line bordering the Chambersburg Pike, exchanging volleys with an enemy that they could barely see. They advanced over this first fence and ran across the Pike to the second fence, all this while being shot at by the Confederates in the cut. They climbed or knocked over the second fence and found themselves in an open field, about 175 yards from the cut.

Dawes said the Confederate fire," was murderous......to climb that fence in face of such a fire was a clear test of mettle and discipline." Desperately the 6th tries to beat down the effect of the volleys upon them from the cut. But men were dropping rapidly; "by twenties and thirties" Dawes later said and at this moment the outcome hung in the balance. Also at this moment Dawes saw about 100 men from the 95th NY, one of Cutler's regiments that had formed on the south side of the cut. They, along with the 14th Brooklyn had fallen back a ways to the south thanks to Davis' attack.

Dawes quickly made his way over to the 95th and found their commander, Major Edward Pye. Dawes said to him, "Let's go for them Major!", to which Pye replied, "we are with you." And with that the famous charge was on. Dawes gave the order, "Forward! Forward! Charge! Align on the Colors!" Align on the Colors!"

The fire from the cut was hotter and heavier than ever. Dawes continued to yell, "Align on the Colors!", mainly because as he said, "the regiment was being so broke up that this order alone could hold the body together."

Men were falling everywhere. The acting second lieutenant of Company E, Sergeant Michael Mangan, was down with a severe ankle wound. He tried to get up only to fall down again. Lieutenant Orrin Chapman was down and dying. Private Amos Lefler was shot in the face and went down, spitting out blood and teeth. And the flagbearers? Oh the flagbearers probably got the worst of it. The National flag went down, then up, then down again. At one point, Dawes made for the colors only to be pushed aside by a different brave man.

A quote from Earl Rogers of Company I tells it better than I could ever hope to, "Andy Miller of Company I falls dead, near him Gottlieb Shreiber wounded, but a few yards more and Boughton is killed, then Sweet falls wounded. Then Jim McLane and Alf. Thompson are wounded. Now Sutton falls dead, Goodwin and (color party Corporal) Charlie Jones are wounded. They reach the railroad cut and Levi Steadman drops dead and Ed. Lind is wounded."

At some point during the charge, perhaps closer to the beginning even, the regiment formed in a V shape, with the colors at the point. They probably did this because Dawes continued to yell," Align on the Colors", and in the hot fighting it was used as a focal point for the men. Dawes recalled his, "V-shaped crowd of men, with the colors at the point, moving hurriedly and firmly forward, while the whole field behind is streaming with men plunging in agony to the rear or sinking in death upon the ground."

Close to the cut, Sergeant George Fairfield noticed that the Confederate fire was slackening. He quickly realized that they were preparing to fire a volley. He quotes,"....it became evident we should get a volley, which we did when we were within one rod of the enemy's line." The Confederates fired and at that moment Fairfield glanced down to the left of the regiment, "The volley had been so fatal that it seemed half our men had fallen." It was the best time for the final charge on the cut and the 6th never hesitated. Corporal Frank Wallar says of this final charge," there was a general rush and yells enough to almost awaken the dead."

Something I forgot to mention earlier was the location of the flag of the 2nd Mississippi under Davis. The colorbearer had placed it outside of the cut a few yards and in doing so put it in a very tempting position for some men of the 6th Wisconsin. There are several stories from and quotes of men going for this flag, I shall share but a few of them.

The first one is from the man who actually was able to capture the flag, and I've already quoted from him once. Here's the story of Corporal Frank Wallar. "I had no thought of getting the flag till at this time, and I started straight for it, as did lots of others. Soon after I got the flag, there were men from all the companies there. I did take the flag out of the color bearer's hand....My first thought was to go to the rear with it for fear it might be retaken, and then I thought I would stay, and I threw it down and loaded and fired twice standing on it. While standing on it there was a 14th Brooklyn man took hold of it and tried to get it, and I had threatened to shoot him before he would stop. By this time we had them cleaned out....."

The man he had wrestled it from was W.B. Murphy, senior corporal of the color party for the 2nd Mississippi. His story: "My color guards were all killed and wounded in less than five minutes, and also my colors were shot more than one dozen times, and the flag staff was hit and splintered two or three times. Just about that time a squad of soldiers made a rush for my colors and our men did their duty. They were all killed or wounded, but they still rushed for the colors with one of the most deadly struggles that was ever witnessed during any battle in the war.

“They still kept rushing for my flag and there were over a dozen shot down like sheep in their made rush for the colors. The first soldier was shot down just as he made for the flag, and he was shot by one of our soldiers. Just to my right and at the same time a lieutenant made a desperate struggle for the flag and was shot through the right shoulder. Over a dozen men fell killed or wounded, and then a large man made a rush for me and the flag. As I tore the flag from the staff he took hold of me and the color. The firing was still going on, and was kept up for several minutes after the flag was taken from me..." The large man he refered to was of course, Frank Wallar.

At this point the fight in the cut was all but over for the South. They were trapped. To the east end of the cut, Adutant Edward Brooks had taken about 20 men and sealed off that end. Behind the Confederates was the other side of the cut, which was a minimum of five feet deep, and to climb up that would be certain death.

Dawes then took over, "Where is the colonel of this regiment?" he yelled. Major John Blair of the 2nd Mississippi replied, "Here I am, who are you?" Dawes in what must have been an anxious moment pushed through the still armed Confederate troops and said, "I command this regiment. Surrender or I will fire." Major Blair, "replied not a word" according to Dawes, "but promptly handed me his sword, and his men, who still held them, threw down their muskets."

What about the 95th NY and 14th Brooklyn? Well, an officer in Cutler's brigade remembers the 6th Wisconsin there for three minutes before the other two caught up. This was an issue that was argued over for years between the men of the different regiments, but that's a whole different story, not being the focus of this article. At any rate, Dawes later said he saved 100 men from death when he asked for their surrender. All in all, this small Wisconsin regiment of about 340 men captured around 230 Confederates.

As for the casualties here, the 6th suffered heavily, losing around 160 men; most in the 175 yards between the Chambersburg Pike and the railroad cut. The Brigade Guard came in with about 100 men and lost somewhere between 30 and 40. Seven out of the twelve officers in the 6th were wounded, and two were killed.

After the fight was over, they fell back to Seminary Ridge, where they guarded Battery B of the 4th U.S. Artillery. Here they were placed on the north side of the cut, fighting off two separate assaults from Dorsey Pender's Division, but were forced to retire when the 11th Corps broke during the afternoon.

They took up a position initially on Cemetery Hill but were soon ordered to move to Culp's Hill where they dug the majority of the trenches on the northwest face of the hill. On the night of the 2nd, they were ordered to assist George Greene's brigade in fighting off the assaults by the Confederates under George Steuart. Dawes recalled firing two different volleys into complete darkness, and seeing that there was no use in this, ordered his regiment to fall back to its original position.

The men of the 6th were brave men, and their actions in my opinion have been quite overlooked here at Gettysburg. Had they not been successful in their charge, the Confederates may have gotten into the rear of the rest of the Iron Brigade who were already having trouble enough on their front, and may have routed them entirely. As a result, they delayed A.P.Hill's corps until late in the afternoon, when the flanks collapsed.

In my humble opinion, if the Confederates could have reached Seminary Ridge before noon on the 1st, it would have been an entirely different battle, mainly because they would have had time to regroup and form a final attack on the remnants of the 1st and 11th corps on Cemetery Hill. This article was intended to give you a better understanding to the events involving the 6th Wisconsin at Gettysburg, and pay tribute to their acts of bravery and courage there.


Bibilography
The majority of this information was taken from the book, "In the Bloody Railroad Cut at Gettysburg" by Lance J. Herdegen and William J.K. Beaudot.

Statistics regarding casualties and strengths was obtained from the book, "Regimental Strengths and Losses at Gettysburg", by John W. Busey and William G. Martin
 


 

The following is a description of the Second Day of the Battle, written by an officer who had survived the Railroad Cut action. He thoroughly describes the action in the terms of the era, regarding Longstreet’s attack against Sickle’s exposed positions near the Peach Orchard and Wheatfield. This is excellent supplemental reading to the story of the Railroad Cut, and decries the feelings of the Union soldier at that time.

The Battle of Gettysburg

Written in 1863 by
Lieutenant Frank Aretas Haskell,

6th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry

And what if that invasion should be successful, and in the coming battle, the Army of the Potomac should be overpowered? Would it not be?

When our army was much larger than at present-had rested all winter-and, nearly perfect in all its departments and arrangements, was the most splendid army this continent ever saw, only a part of the Rebel force, which it now had to contend with, had defeated it -its leader, rather- at Chancellorsville!

Now the Rebel had his whole force assembled, he was flushed with recent victory, was arrogant in his career of unopposed invasion, at a favorable season of the year. His daring plans, made by no unskilled head, to transfer the war from his own to his enemies' ground, were being successful. He had gone a day's march from his front before Hooker moved, or was aware of his departure. Then, I believe, the army in general, both officers and men, had no confidence in Hooker, in either his honesty or ability.

Did they not charge him, personally, with the defeat at Chancellorsville? Were they not still burning with indignation against him for that disgrace? And now, again under his leadership, they were marching against the enemy! And they knew of nothing, short of the providence of God, that could, or would, remove him. For many reasons, during the marches prior to the battle, we were anxious, and at times heavy at heart.

But the Army of the Potomac was no band of school girls. They were not the men likely to be crushed or utterly discouraged by any new circumstances in which they might find themselves placed. They had lost some battles, they had gained some. They knew what defeat was, and what was victory. But here is the greatest praise that I can bestow upon them, or upon any army: With the elation of victory, or the depression of defeat, amidst the hardest toils of the campaign, under unwelcome leadership, at all times, and under all circumstances, they were a reliable army still. The Army of the Potomac would do as it was told, always....

The Rebel infantry consisted of three Army Corps, each consisting of three Divisions, Longstreet, Ewell - the same whose leg Gibbon's shell knocked off at Gainesville on the 28th of August last year - and A. P. Hill, each in the Rebel service having the rank of Lieutenant General, were the commanders of these Corps. Longstreet's Division commanders were Hood, McLaws and Pickett; Ewell's were Rhodes, Early and Johnson, and Hill's were Pender, Heth and Anderson. Stewart and Fitzhugh Lee commanded Divisions of the Rebel cavalry. The rank of these Divisions’ commands, I believe, was that of Major General.

The Rebels had about as much artillery as we did; but we never have thought much of this arm in the hands of our adversaries. They have courage enough, but not the skill to handle it well. They generally fire far too high, and the ammunition is usually of a very inferior quality.

And, of late, we have begun to despise the enemies' cavalry too. It used to have enterprise and dash, but in the late cavalry contests ours have always been victor; and so now we think about all this chivalry is fit for is to steal a few of our mules occasionally, and their Negro drivers. This army of the rebel infantry, however, is good - to deny this is useless. I never had any desire to-and if one should count up, it would possibly be found that they have gained more victories over us, than we have over them, and they will now, doubtless, fight well, even desperately. And it is not horses or cannon that will determine the result of this confronting of the two armies, but the men with the muskets must do it - the infantry must do the sharp work....

As the Third Corps was the extreme left of our line, as it advanced, if the enemy was assembling to the West of Round Top with a view to turn our left, as we had heard, there would be nothing between the left flank of the Corps and the enemy, and the enemy would be square upon its flank by the time it had attained the road.

So when this advance line came near the Emmetsburg road, and we saw the squadrons of cavalry mentioned, come dashing back from their position as flankers, and the smoke of some guns, and we heard the reports away to Sickles' left, anxiety became an element in our interest in these movements.

The enemy opened slowly at first, and from long range; but he was square upon Sickles' left flank. General Caldwell was ordered at once to put his Division-the 1st of the Second Corps, as mentioned-in motion, and to take post in the woods at the left slope of Round Top, in such a manner as to resist the enemy should he attempt to come around Sickles' left and gain his rear. The Division moved as ordered, and disappeared from view in the woods, towards the point indicated at between two and three o'clock P.M., and the reserve brigade - the First, Col. Heath temporarily commanding - of the Second Division, was therefore moved up and occupied the position vacated by the Third Division.

About the same time the Fifth Corps could be seen marching by the flank from its position on the Baltimore Pike, and in the opening of the woods heading for the same locality where the 1st Division of the Second Corps had gone. The Sixth Corps had now come up and was halted upon the Baltimore Pike. So the plot thickened.

As the enemy opened upon Sickles with his batteries, some five or six in all, I suppose, firing slowly, Sickles with as many replied, and with much more spirit. The artillery fire became quite animated, soon; but the enemy was forced to withdraw his guns father and farther away, and ours advanced upon him. It was not long before the cannonade ceased altogether, the enemy having retired out of range, and Sickles, having temporarily halted his command, pending this, moved forward again to the position he desired, or nearly that. It was now about five o'clock, and we shall soon see what Sickles gained by his move.

First we hear more artillery firing upon Sickles' left-the enemy seems to be opening again, and as we watch the Rebel batteries seem to be advancing there. The cannonade is soon opened again, and with great spirit upon both sides. The enemy's batteries press those of Sickles, and pound the shot upon them, and this time they in turn begin to retire to position nearer the infantry.

The enemy seems to be fearfully in earnest this time. And what is more ominous than the thunder or the shot of his advancing guns, this time, in the intervals between his batteries, far to Sickles' left, appear the long lines and the columns of the Rebel infantry, now unmistakably moving out to the attack.

The position of the Third Corps becomes at once one of great peril, and it is probable that its commander by this time began to realize his true situation. All was astir now on our crest. Generals and their Staffs were galloping hither and thither-the men were all in their places, and you might have heard the rattle of ten thousand ramrods as they drove home and "thugged" upon the little globes and cones of lead.

As the enemy was advancing upon Sickles' flank, he commenced a change, or at least a partial one, of front, by swinging back his left and throwing forward his right, in order that his lines might be parallel to those of his adversary, his batteries meantime doing what they could to check the enemy's advance; but this movement was not completely executed before new Rebel batteries opened upon Sickles' right flank - his former front - and in the same quarter appeared the Rebel infantry also.

Now came the dreadful battle picture, of which we for a time could be but spectators. Upon the front and right flank of Sickles came sweeping the infantry of Longstreet and Hill. Hitherto there had been skirmishing and artillery practice - now the battle began; for amid the heavier smoke and larger tongues of flame of the batteries, now began to appear the countless flashes, and the long fiery sheets of the muskets, and the rattle of the volleys, mingled with the thunder of the guns. We see the long gray lines come sweeping down upon Sickles' front, and mix with the battle smoke; now the same colors emerge from the bushes and orchards upon his right, and envelope his flank in the confusion of the conflict.

O, the din and the roar, and these thirty thousand Rebel wolf cries! What a hell is there down that valley!

These ten or twelve thousand men of the Third Corps fight well, but it soon becomes apparent that they must be swept from the field, or perish there where they are doing so well, so thick and over-whelming a storm of Rebel fire involves them. It was fearful to see, but these men, such as ever escape, must come from that conflict as best they can. To move down and support them with other troops is out of the question, for this would be to do as Sickles did, to relinquich <sic> a good position, and advance to a bad one. There is no other alternative - the Third Corps must fight itself out of its position of destruction! What was it ever put there for?

In the meantime some other dispositions must be made to meet the enemy, in the event that Sickles is overpowered. With this Corps out of the way, the enemy would be in a position to advance upon the line of the Second Corps, not in a line parallel with its front, but they would come obliquely from the left.

To meet this contingency the left of the Second Division of the Second Corps is thrown back slightly, and two Regiments, the 15th Mass., Col. Ward, and the 82nd N.Y., Lieut. Col. Horton, are advanced down to the Emmetsburg road, to a favorable position nearer us than the fight has yet come, and some new batteries from the artillery reserve are posted upon the crest near the left of the Second Corps.

This was all Gen. Gibbon could do. Other dispositions were made or were now being made upon the field, which I shall mention presently. The enemy is still giving Sickles fierce battle - or rather the Third Corps, for Sickles has been borne from the field minus one of his legs, and Gen. Birney now commands - and we of the Second Corps, a thousand yards away, with our guns and men are, and must be, still idle spectators of the fight.

The Rebel, as anticipated, tries to gain the left of the Third Corps, and for this purpose is now moving into the woods at the west of Round Top. We knew what he would find there. No sooner had the enemy gotten a considerable force into the woods mentioned, in the attempted execution of his purpose, than the roar of the conflict was heard there also. The Fifth Corps and the First Division of the Second were there at the right time, and promptly engaged him; and there, too, the battle soon became general and obstinate.

Now the roar of battle has become twice the volume that it was before, and its range extends over more than twice the space. The Third Corps has been pressed back considerably, and the wounded are streaming to the rear by hundreds, but still the battle there goes on, with no considerable abatement on our part. The field of actual conflict extends now from a point to the front of the left of the Second Corps, away down to the front of Round Top, and the fight rages with the greatest fury. The fire of artillery and infantry and the yells of the Rebels fill the air with a mixture of hideous sounds.

When the First Division of the Second Corps first engaged the enemy, for a time it was pressed back somewhat, but under the able and judicious management of Gen. Caldwell, and the support of the Fifth Corps, it speedily ceased to retrograde, and stood its ground; and then there followed a time, after the Fifth Corps became well engaged, when from appearances we hoped the troops already engaged would be able to check entirely, or repulse the further assault of the enemy.

But fresh bodies of the Rebels continued to advance out of the woods to the front of the position of the Third Corps, and to swell the numbers of the assailants of this already hard pressed command.

The men there begin to show signs of exhaustion - their ammunition must be nearly expended - they have now been fighting more than an hour, and against greatly superior numbers. From the sound of the firing at the extreme left, and the place where the smoke rises above the tree tops there, we know that the Fifth Corps is still steady, and holding its own there; and as we see the Sixth Corps now marching and near at hand to that point, we have no fears for the left - we have more apparent reason to fear for ourselves.

The Third Corps is being overpowered - here and there its lines begin to break - the men begin to pour back to the rear in confusion-the enemy are close upon them and among them-organization is lost to a great degree-guns and caissons are abandoned and in the hands of the enemy-the Third Corps, after a heroic but unfortunate fight, is being literally swept from the field. That Corps gone, what is there between the Second Corps, and these yelling masses of the enemy?

Do you not think that by this time we began to feel a personal interest in this fight? We did indeed. We had been mere observers - the time was at hand when we must be actors in this drama.

Up to this hour Gen. Gibbon had been in command of the Second Corps, since yesterday, but Gen. Hancock, relieved of his duties elsewhere, now assumed command. Five or six hundred yards away the Third Corps was making its last opposition; and the enemy was hotly pressing his advantages there, and throwing in fresh troops whose line extended still more along our front, when Generals Hancock and Gibbon rode along the lines of their troops; and at once cheer after cheer-not Rebel, mongrel cries, but genuine cheers-rang out all along the line, above the roar of battle, for "Hancock" and "Gibbon," and "our Generals." These were good. Had you heard their voices, you would have known these men would fight.

Just at this time we saw another thing that made us glad: - we looked to our rear, and there, and all up the hillside which was the rear of the Third Corps before it went forward, were rapidly advancing large bodies of men from the extreme right of our line of battle, coming to the support of the part now so hotly pressed.

There was the whole Twelfth Corps, with the exception of about one brigade, that is, the larger portion of the Divisions of Gens.Williams and Geary; the Third Division of the First Corps, Gen. Doubleday; and some other brigades from the same Corps-and some of them were moving at the double quick. They formed lines of battle at the foot of the Taneytown road, and when the broken fragments of the Third Corps were swarming by them towards the rear, without halting or wavering they came sweeping up, and with glorious old cheers, under fire, took their places on the crest in line of battle to the left of the Second Corps. Now Sickles' blunder is repaired.

Now, Rebel chief, hurl forward your howling lines and columns! Yell out your loudest and your last, for many of your best will never yell, or wave the spurious flag again!

The battle still rages all along the left, where the Fifth Corps is, and the West slope of Round Top is the scene of the conflict; and nearer us there was but short abatement, as the last of the Third Corps retired from the field, for the enemy is flushed with his success. He has been throwing forward brigade after brigade, and Division after Division, since the battle began, and his advancing line now extends almost as far to our right as the right of the Second Division of the Second Corps.

The whole slope in our front is full of them; and in various formation, in line, in column, and in masses which are neither, with yells and thick volleys, they are rushing towards our crest. The Third Corps is out of the way. Now we are in for it. The battery men are ready by their loaded guns. All along the crest is ready.

Now Arnold and Brown - now Cushing, and Woodruff, and Rhorty! - you three shall survive to-day! They drew the cords that moved the friction primers, and gun after gun, along the batteries, in rapid succession, leaped where it stood and bellowed its canister upon the enemy. The enemy still advance.

The infantry open fire - first the two advance regiments, the 15th Mass. and the 82d N. Y. - then here and there throughout the length of the long line, at the points where the enemy comes nearest, and soon the whole crest, artillery and infantry, is one continued sheet of fire. From Round Top to near the Cemetery stretches an uninterrupted field of conflict. There is a great army upon each side, now hotly engaged.

To see the fight, while it went on in the valley below us, was terrible, - what must it be now, when we are in it, and it is all around us, in all its fury? All senses for the time are dead but the one of sight. The roar of the discharges and the yells of the enemy all pass unheeded; but the impassioned soul is all eyes, and sees all things, that the smoke does not hide. How madly the battery men are driving home the double charges of canister in those broad-mouthed Napoleons, whose fire seems almost to reach the enemy. How rapidly these long, blue-coated lines of infantry deliver their file fire down the slope.

But there is no faltering - the men stand nobly to their work. Men are dropping dead or wounded on all sides, by scores and by hundreds, and the poor mutilated creatures, some with an arm dangling, some with a leg broken by a bullet, are limping and crawling towards the rear. They make no sound of complaint or pain, but are as silent as if dumb and mute. A sublime heroism seems to pervade all, and the intuition that to lose that crest, all is lost. How our officers, in the work of cheering on and directing the men, are falling.

We have heard that Gen. Zook and Col. Cross, in the First Division of our Corps, are mortally wounded-they both commanded brigades, - now near us Col. Ward of the 15th Mass.- he lost a leg at Balls Bluff-and Lieut. Col. Horton of the 82d N. Y., are mortally struck while trying to hold their commands, which are being forced back; Col. Revere, 20th Mass., grandson of old Paul Revere, of the Revolution, is killed, Lieut. Col. Max Thoman, commanding 59th N. Y., is mortally wounded, and a host of others that I cannot name. These were of Gibbon's Division.

Lieut. Brown is wounded among his guns - his position is a hundred yards in advance of the main line-the enemy is upon his battery, and he escapes, but leaves three of his six guns in the hands of the enemy. The fire all along our crest is terrific, and it is a wonder how anything human could have stood before it, and yet the madness of the enemy drove them on, clear up to the muzzle of the guns, clear up to the lines of our infantry-but the lines stood right in their places.

Gen. Hancock and his Aides rode up to Gibbon's Division, under the smoke. Gen. Gibbon, with myself, was near, and there was a flag dimly visible, coming towards us from the direction of the enemy. "Here, what are these men falling back for?" said Hancock.

The flag was no more than fifty yards away, but it was the head of a Rebel column, which at once opened fire with a volley. Lieut. Miller, Gen. Hancock's Aide, fell, twice struck, but the General was unharmed, and he told the 1st Minn., which was near, to drive these people away.

That splendid regiment, the less than three hundred that are left out of fifteen hundred that it has had, swings around upon the enemy, gives them a volley in their faces, and advances upon them with the bayonet. The Rebels fled in confusion, but Col. Colville, Lieut. Col. Adams and Major Downie, are all badly, dangerously wounded, and many of the other officers and men will never fight again. More than two-thirds fell.

Such fighting as this cannot last long. It is now near sundown, and the battle has gone on wonderfully long already. But if you will stop to notice it, a change has occurred. The Rebel cry has ceased, and the men of the Union begin to shout there, under the smoke, and their lines to advance.

See, the Rebels are breaking! They are in confusion in all our front! The wave has rolled upon the rock, and the rock has smashed it. Let us shout, too!

First upon their extreme left the Rebels broke, where they had almost pierced our lines; thence the repulse extended rapidly to their right. They hung longest about Round Top, where the Fifth Corps punished them, but in a space of time incredibly short, after they first gave signs of weakness, the whole force of the Rebel assault along the whole line, in spite of waving red flags, and yells, and the entreaties of officers, and the pride of the chivalry, fled like chaff before the whirlwind, back down the slope, over the valley, across the Emmetsburg road, shattered, without organization in utter confusion, fugitive into the woods, and victory was with the arms of the Republic.

The great Rebel assault, the greatest ever made upon this continent, has been made and signally repulsed, and upon this part of the field the fight of today is now soon over. Pursuit was made as rapidly and as far as practicable, but owing to the proximity of night, and the long distance which would have to be gone over before any of the enemy, where they would be likely to halt, could be overtaken, further success was not attainable today.

Where the Rebel rout first commenced, a large number of prisoners, some thousands at least, were captured; almost all their dead, and such of their wounded as could not themselves get to the rear, were within our lines; several of their flags were gathered up, and a good many thousand muskets, some nine or ten guns and some caissons lost by the Third Corps, and the three of Brown's battery - these last were in Rebel hands but a few minutes- were all safe now with us, the enemy having had no time to take them off.

       Charles W. Eliot, ed. American Historical Documents. (1910): 327-353.

Reprinted from public domain on the Internet.


 

Copyright 2001 by Joel Busenitz.


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