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Chapter 30: Pickett's charge.

The infantry is moved up nearer to the edge of the Ridge. A blast of air lifts the smoke. ‘Here they come! Here they come! Here comes the infantry,’ is heard on every side.

Pickett's splendid division moves out to cross the interval between the two low-lying ridges occupied by the opposing armies, on that magnificent charge which has extorted the admiration, unqualified, of their foes and which won the position aimed for but could not hold it.

After Pickett's division crosses the Emmetsburg Road and comes sweeping up the slope, they still bear everything before them, as if carried forward by an all-ruling fate. Their right flank just touches the Cordora house. The left, a hundred and fifty rods away, is slightly in advance. Three lines of battle are moving up

As they cross the road only 800 yards away, huge gaps begin to show in their lines as a result of the effective fire of the Union artillery, but they are quickly closed up in magnificent style, and the line still advances. At 300 yards canister takes the place of shell and their men fall like leaves in the Autumn gale, but the great mass silently, swiftly moves forward.

They are approaching the ‘little oak grove’ in front of which, behind a stone-wall, lies Webb's brigade of Pennsylvanians.

The advancing columns close in on the infantry. With a yell they rush forward. A sheet of flame welcomes them and in its warm grasp their line melts like ice. Being obliged to cross a fence oblique to their line of advance, the rebels are crowded and closed in mass in the endeavor to regain their formation.

It is seen that Webb cannot firmly hold his men against the shock of that fierce charge, although he throws himself, with reckless courage, in front of them to face the storm and beg, [239] threaten and command. They are obliged to fall back upon the second line.

Hall's right, overlapped, has to sag back, swaying to the rear because of the pressure, but swaying forward again as the ocean surges against a rock. Regimental organization is lost, ranks are eight or ten deep,—pushing struggling, refusing to yield, but almost impotent for good.

A gap opens between Webb and Hall for a brief instant, at the time when there was a sudden lull in the firing of the cannon. Woodruff, Brown, Cushing, Rorty and every other commissioned officer, almost without exception, of their respective batteries is dead or disabled. Gen. Gibbon, commanding the division is also wounded. Gallant Alex. Hayes, stripped to his shirt, is yelling down his line and a regiment of Ewell's corps, entangled with his force, passes captive to the rear.

Mallon! We must move!’ shouts Col. Devereux to his friend, the commander of the Forty-Second New York. Just then a headlong rush of horses' feet, spurred to the utmost, comes up the hollow from behind, from the direction of Baltimore Pike. There, looking the very embodiment of the God of War rides ‘Hancock the Superb.’ He nearly tramples upon the men of the Nineteenth. His horse is thrown upon his haunches and just then Col. Devereux cries out to him:—‘See! Their colors! They have broken through! Shall I get in there?’1

Shouting in a characteristic manner—‘Now, men, forward! Now's your chance. Get up and go at them!’—Gen. Hancock shoots like an arrow past the men, and a moment afterward receives a wound which sweeps him from the saddle and nearly costs him his life. [240]

Brave Hunt gallops furiously past the front of Webb's Brigade toward the clump of trees, intent upon recovering the abandoned guns. Just at the line his horse falls dead and Hunt bounds to his feet, firing his pistols in the very faces of the yelling foe.

Meanwhile, Col. Mallon has sprung forward to his men and instantly the Nineteenth Massachusetts and the Forty-Second New York are moving side by side at a run.

The Nineteenth Massachusetts, trained from its inception in a discipline as stern as that of Cromwell's ‘Ironsides,’ is material upon which reliance in such an emergency can be placed. With it is the Forty-Second New York which has served by its side in the same brigade, in the camp, on the march and on the battle field from Ball's Bluff to the present moment.

Like a bolt of flame the little line is launched upon the enemy on the south side of the ‘Clump of Trees.’ The first line is struck and broken through. The heroic regiment pauses an instant to gather breath and then, with a furious bound, goes on to the second line. As the men break through the first line, Maj. Rice is in front. With a cry ‘Follow me, boys!’ he dashes forward and is the first man to come into contact with the second line. He is severely wounded through the thigh and falls inside the enemy's lines.

The two lines come together with a shock which stops them both and causes a slight rebound. For several minutes they face and fired into each other at a distance of fifteen paces, (as measured after the battle). Everything seems trembling in the balance. The side that can get in forward motion first will surely win.

The men in blue are jammed in, five and six deep. Sometimes there are groups which are even deeper and every time a man stoops to load, others crowd in ahead of him so that he will have to elbow his way through in order to get another chance to fire.

All can not be in the front rank, and the men in the rear are dodging around, firing through openings made by the changing crowd, no matter how small. There is little doubt that many are wounded in this manner, because of the rapid changes being made as the entire mass forges ahead. Muskets are exploding [241] all around, flashing their fire almost in one's face and so close to the head as to make the ears ring—and so the battle rages.

A battery had followed the Nineteenth Massachusetts and Forty-Second New York, and, in an instant more, from rear, right and left, at pistol range, these guns poured in an iron shower. Webb's brigade came charging down. The remainder of Hall's brigade rushed down upon the left. It cleared its front. Downward to the wall they forced the rebels back and for another twenty minutes, with ball and steel and rifles clubbed hand to hand, they plied the awful work.

A rebel color bearer came out between the trees in front of Webb and placed his battle flag upon one of Cushing's guns,— and fell dead beside it. Another ran out to get it, but before reaching the gun he too fell dead. Then several men rushed out together. They all fell about the piece and the rebel flag still waved on the Union cannon. Subsequently two more flags were placed upon the gun, all of which were captured, one of them by Corporal Joseph DeCastro, of the Nineteenth Massachusetts, who had become separated from his command and had joined the 72nd Pennsylvania regiment in the tumult. He turned, broke through the line, and thrust the captured flag into hands of Col. Devereux. ‘He never said a word and darted back’ said Col. Devereux in his official report later.

Corporal DeCastro received a testimonial of his gallantry on the spot, as follows:

Headquarters 19TH regiment, Mass. Vols., Gettysburg, Pa., July 4, 1863.
This will certify that Corporal Joseph DeCastro, Co. I, 19th regt. Mass Vols. in the attack of Pickett's division on Gibbon's Division, Second Corps, U. S. Army, on July 3rd, 1863, at Gettysburg, Pa., did capture the colors of the 14th regiment Va. Infantry, C. S. A., inscribed with their name and number, and did place same in my lands during the actual conflict.

(Signed) A. F. Devereux, 19th Regt. Mass. Vols. W. A. Hill Adjt., 19th Regt. Mass. Vols.
A true copy.


Corp. DeCastro's further reward was one of the four special medals struck by order of the Secretary of War for extraordinary gallant conduct.

A private of Co. F, captured a rebel color and staff, and passed it to Major Rice, who being wounded, was passing to the rear. Major Rice used the staff as a cane and on arriving at the Field Hospital gave it into the hands of General Hancock, who was lying in an ambulance at the hospital.

Although organizations were more or less broken up and confusion reigned everywhere, most of the men of the Nineteenth gathered about its colors, thus, in a measure, holding its identity. Col. Mallon and the Forty-Second New York had by this time wrapped around the right of the grove a little. The opposing lines were standing as if rooted, dealing death into each other. There they stood and would not move.

Foot to foot, body to body and man to man they struggled, pushed, and strived and killed. Each had rather die than yield. The mass of wounded and heaps of dead entangled the feet of the contestants, and, underneath the trampling mass, wounded men who could no longer stand, struggled, fought, shouted and killed—hatless, coatless, drowned in sweat, black with powder, red with blood, stifling in the horrid heat, parched with smoke and blind with dust, with fiendish yells and strange oaths they blindly plied the work of slaughter.

Remember you who hold dear the glory of ambitious wars, that on every field where glory has been won or lost there has been a scene like this!

The gallant Vermont brigade closed in upon the right flank of the great column in front. Woodruff advanced his battery far out upon the plain in front of Howard's corps and opened fire upon their left rear. Hancock had fallen, Hayes and Gibbon both were wounded.

Brave Webb called out to ‘Charge!’ Suddenly in the midst of the awful carnage, the National color of the Nineteenth Massachusetts was seen to fall, but it was instantly raised in the hands of Lieut. Moses Shackley, of Co. B. Lieut. Herman Donath, with the other color, fell dead and then Shackley was [243] wounded. ‘Ben’ Jellison of Co. C, instantly grabbed both colors and planted them within three yards of the enemy's front.

Inspired by that brave deed, the men sprang forward like a thunderbolt and followed their colors. A strange resistless impulse seemed to seize the whole Union line. It seemed actually to leap forward at every point. The enemy stood their ground and for a moment the scene of blood was all renewed.

There was at once an indescribable rush of thick-hurrying scenes. The Nineteenth held the blunted apex of the reenter-ing angle which was the appearance made by the Union lines. A yell, a shout,—and the line of the regiment seemed to open as if by magic. It was not a flight, however,—a flood of unarmed, defenseless men had poured through—they were the remnant of Pickett's gallant men who had abandoned that nearly invincible charge.

And then the victors cheered and the cheering rang down the line. Sixth, Fifth, Third, Eleventh united with the Second Corps and rent the air with such cheers as are seldom heard. The mighty shout swelled and rang and died away, swelled and pealed again until even the distant Twelfth Corps united its voice in that mighty hymn of joy, and well it may, for the honor and the fate of a great nation had hung dependant upon that hour. The Republic was the stake for which they had played amid that ‘Clump of Trees,’ through which were scattered the dead and wounded of the old Nineteenth Massachusetts.

Had the Union troops lost the mighty game, Bunker Hill and Saratoga had been fought, Washington and Greene had lived in vain, but now the Great Republic shall ever be free. Not a star or a stripe shall be torn from the bright emblem of her power.

Aye, more, the Boys in Blue had this day sealed in blood the Magna Charter of the bondman race. Gettysburg, translated, reads ‘A nation saved.’

1 From General Hancock's Official Report:

‘The fight here became very close and deadly. The enemy's battleflags were soon seen waving on the stone wall. Passing at this time, Colonel Devereux commanding the 19th Massachusetts volunteers, anxious to be in the right place, applied to me for permission to move his regiment to right and to the front, where the line had broken. I granted it, and his regiment, and Colonel Mallon's 42d New York volunteers, on his right, proceeded there at once.’

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