previous next

Colonel E. P. Alexander's report of the battle of Gettysburg.

camp near Orange C. H., August 10th, 1863.
Colonel G. M. Sorrell, Adjutant-General First Corps:
Sir: I have the honor to submit the following report of the artillery operations on the field of Gettysburg conducted under my command:

On arriving on the field on the 2d of July, about 10 A. M., I was ordered by Lieutenant-General Longstreet to accompany the movements to the right, then being commenced by Hood's and McLaw's divisions, and to take command of the three battalions of artillery accompanying them, viz: my own battalion, of twentysix guns (commanded in my absence by Major Frank Huger), Colonel Cabell's, of eighteen guns, and Major Henry's, of eighteen guns. About 4 P. M. the enemy's position having been defined and preparations for an assault upon him made, I placed in position against him the eighteen guns of Cabell's battalion and eighteen [236] of my own battalion, to fire upon the “Peach Orchard” position, while Henry's battalion accompanied and fought with Hood's division in its attack upon “Round-Top.” The first-mentioned battalions opened fire from two pieces of wood, Cabell's on the right about six hundred yards, and my own on the left about four hundred yards from the enemy's position. At such close quarters the fight was most severe and bloody, and in some batteries the casualties were so heavy that I was compelled to get assistance from the infantry to work the guns after a half hour's fighting. The obstinacy of the enemy at last induced me to send for the remaining eight guns of my own battalion, till then held in reserve; but just as they arrived the enemy commenced to give way and the infantry charged upon them. These eight guns were immediately ordered to join in the charge, and Major James Dearing, who had come upon the field in advance of his own battalion (marching with Pickett's division and not yet arrived), was ordered to take charge of them. They advanced at a gallop to within canister distance of the retreating enemy, and did great execution upon him. The remaining guns followed as soon as the teams could be cleared of the horses killed; and our lines were formed anew upon the position from which the enemy had been driven, and whence we cannonaded him until dark. During the night ammunition was replenished, and Dearing's battalion, of eighteen guns, and the Washington Artillery, of fourteen guns, arrived and reported to me by order of General Longstreet, by whom I was directed to prepare for a general attack upon the enemy to our front and left. I accordingly placed in position the whole command of artillery, except a part of Henry's command, left to fight on the right, in one battery of seventy-five guns, extending from the Peach Orchard on the right to the point of woods on the left, where we joined with the Third corps. At 11 A. M. I reported to General Longstreet that the artillery was ready to open fire, and was directed by him to take a position whence I could observe the effect of the fire when opened, and at what I conceived to be the most favorable moment to order General Pickett to charge the enemy with his division, which was to inaugurate the general charge. I should have stated above that besides the seventy-five guns in battery, I had reserved only nine, under Major Richardson, who had been ordered to me with them [237] from the Third corps, which I had destined to accompany Pickett's charge, with fresh men and horses, and full ammunition chests. I considered this very important, as the guns which did the preliminary cannonading would be unable, from loss of men, horses, and ammunition to support the charge as promptly as fresh guns might, or as the occasion might demand. Had I not had these guns sent to me I would have reserved a portion of the seventyfive in battery. I placed the guns in what I supposed to be a sheltered position, where I ordered them to await my orders. Just before the general cannonading commenced, I sent for them to move up closer, where they could join the charge more promptly, but they could not be found. I dispatched several messengers, but the guns were gone, and only after our return to Virginia did I find out what became of them. General Pendleton ordered four of them to take position in the Third corps' line, and Major Richardson moved off the others without notifying me-as the position turned out to be unsheltered from the enemy's shells, though out of his sight. At 12 M., while awaiting on the flank of my line of guns for the signal to open fire, I received the following note from General Longstreet:

Headquarters, July 3d, 1863.
Colonel: If the artillery fire does not have the effect to drive off the enemy, or greatly demoralize him, so as to make our effort pretty certain, I would prefer that you should not advise General Pickett to make the charge. I shall rely a great deal upon your good judgment to determine the matter, and shall expect you to let General Pickett know when the moment offers.

Most respectfully,

To this I immediately wrote a reply that when the cannonade commenced the smoke would so obscure the field that I could only judge of the effect on the enemy by his return fire, Sand that I considered the enemy's position so strong that an assault was most hazardous, and could only be successful (if at all) after serious loss, and recommending, if there was any alternative other than the direct attack contemplated, as his note would seem to indicate, that it should be adopted. To this I received the following reply: [238]

Headquarters, July 3d, 1863.
Colonel: The intention is to advance the infantry, if the artillery has the desired effect of driving off the enemy, or such other effect as to warrant us in making the attack when that moment arrives. Advise General Pickett, and of course advance such artillery as you can use in aiding the attack.

Most respectfully,

To this I replied, that when the effect of the artillery fire was at its maximum I would direct Gen. Pickett to advance. At 1 P. M. the signal was given, and the fire opened furiously-my seventy-five guns being assisted by sixty-five in the Third corps, and Henry's guns (ten or twelve) on the right. The enemy replied with at least an equal number-and I believe with a far greater — for the artillery of our Second corps took little or no part in this cannonade, while the enemy's accounts represent that they used in reply every gun in their army. The advantage in position was decidedly on the enemy's side, and many of their guns, and nearly all of their infantry, were protected by breastworks. For a long time neither side seemed to have any advantage over the other, and I delayed giving Gen. Pickett the order to advance until the expenditure of ammunition threatened to reduce the fire.

At length, at half-past 1 o'clock, I wrote to Gen. Pickett that unless he advanced immediately the artillery ammunition would be so nearly exhausted that it would give him but little support, although the enemy was still firing vigorously, and at least eighteen guns were firing directly from the point (the cemetery) he was to charge. Five minutes after dispatching this note these eighteen guns were entirely silenced and left the field, and the enemy's fire generally began to slacken. On this, I wrote again to General Pickett: “The eighteen guns have been driven off. Hurry up, for God's sake, or the artillery can't help you” ; and I also dispatched verbal messages to the same effect. At fifteen minutes to 2 o'clock General Longstreet came up to my position, and on learning the state of affairs, ordered me to stop Pickett's advance until the guns could replenish ammunition; but on my representations that this would involve sufficient delay for the enemy to recover himself, and moreover, that the supply of ammunition in [239] the ordnance trains was not sufficient to support a fifteen minutes fire, or to either renew our present effort, or attempt another, he recalled the order and allowed the division then just approaching (at ten minutes to 2) to advance, saying, however, to me, that he dreaded the result, and only ordered it in obedience to the wishes of the Commanding-General. As soon as the infantry had passed I rode down the line of guns, ordering all with less than fifteen rounds of ammunition to remain in their position, and fire over the heads of the infantry, and all with over that number to move forward and support the charge. In this way I collected eighteen guns from different commands, with which we advanced in time to assist in the repulse, with great slaughter, of a heavy attack on Pickett's right flank; but in the mean time the left of the infantry attack gave way, and the whole line from left to right rapidly followed, until the guns were left in advance, without even pickets between them and the enemy. This state of affairs was not altered until late in the afternoon, the enemy's pickets taking occasionally a mild offensive, and subsiding on receiving a few shells. About sundown most of the guns were withdrawn, and at 11 P. M. all of the remainder with the last brigade of infantry when it fell back to the new line.

On the fourth, the artillery was nearly all placed in position on the defensive line occupied that day by the army, but no action occurred, and the retreat was commenced that night. The casualties in the various battalions, and the subordinate officers mentioned for good conduct, are reported in the several battalion reports through the chief of artillery of this corps. I beg leave particularly to commend the following officers: Colonel Cabell, Major Huger, Major John Haskell, Major Eshleman, Major Dearing, and Major Henry, commanding battalion, on separate commands.

Very respectfully, colonel, your obedient servant,

E. P. Alexander, Col. Artillery. To G. M. Sorrel, Adjutant-General First Corps.


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Pickett (12)
J. Longstreet (5)
Cabell (4)
E. P. Alexander (4)
James Dearing (3)
W. P. Richardson (2)
James Longstreet (2)
Frank Huger (2)
John B. Hood (2)
Henry (2)
G. M. Sorrell (1)
G. Moxley Sorrel (1)
A. S. Pendleton (1)
McLaw (1)
John Haskell (1)
Eshleman (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
July 3rd, 1863 AD (2)
August 10th, 1863 AD (1)
July 2nd (1)
4th (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: