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