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Captain John Holmes Smith's account.

Lynchburg, Va., Feb. 4th and 5th.
John Holmes Smith, formerly Captain of Company G (the Home Guard), of Lynchburg, Va., and part of the 11th Virginia Infantry, Kemper's Brigade, Pickett's Division, 1st Corps (Longstreet), C. S. A., commanded that company, and then the regiment for a time [190] in the battle of Gettysburg. He says as follows, concerning that battle:

The 11th Virginia Infantry arrived near Gettysburg, marching from Chambersburg on the afternoon of July 2d, 1863. Wehalted in sight of shells bursting in the front.

Very early on the morning of the 3d July we formed in rear of the Confederate artillery near Spurgeon's woods, where we lay for many hours. I noticed on the early morning as we were taking positions the long shadows cast by the figures of the men, their legs appearing to lengthen immediately as the shadows fell.

The 11th Virginia was the right regiment of Kemper's Brigade and of Pickett's Division. No notable event occurred in the morning, nor was there any firing of note near us that specially attracted my attention.

Signal guns.

About 1 o'clock there was the fire of signal guns, and there were outbursts of artillery on both sides. Our artillery on the immediate front of the regiment was on the crest of the ridge, and our infantry line was from one to 250 yards in rear of it.

We suffered considerable loss before we moved. I had twenty-nine men in my company for duty that morning. Edward Valentine and two Jennings brothers (William Jennings) of my company were killed; De Witt Guy, sergeant, was wounded, and some of the men—a man now and a man then—were also struck and sent to the rear before we moved forward—I think about ten killed and wounded in that position. Company E, on my right, lost more seriously than Company G, and was larger in number.

Longstreet's presence.

Just before the artillery fire ceased General Longstreet rode in a walk between the artillery and the infantry, in front of the regiment toward the left and disappeared down the line. He was as quiet as an old farmer riding over his plantation on a Sunday morning, and looked neither to the right or left.

It had been known for hours that we were to assail the enemy's lines in front. We fully expected to take them.

Presently the artillery ceased firing. Attention! was the command. Our skirmishers were thrown to the front, and ‘forward, quick time, march,’ was the word given. We were ordered not to fire until so commanded. Lieutenant-Colonel Kirkwood Otey [191] was thus in command of the regiment when we passed over the crest of the ridge, through our guns there planted, and had advanced some distance down the slope in our front. I was surprised before that our skirmishers had been brought to a stand by those of the enemy; and the latter only gave ground when our line of battle had closed up well inside of a hundred yards of our own skirmishers. The enemy's skirmishers then retreated in perfect order, firing as they fell back.

The enemy's artillery, front and flank, fired upon us, and many of the regiment were struck.

Up the Hill.

Having descended the slope and commenced to ascend the opposite slope that rises toward the enemy's works, the Federal skirmishers kept up their fire until we were some four hundred yards from the works. They thus being between two fires—for infantry fire broke out from the works—threw down their arms, rushed into our lines, and then sought refuge in the depression, waterway or gully between the slopes.

There was no distinct change of front; but ‘close and dress to the left’ was the command, and this gave us an oblique movement to the left as we pressed ranks in that direction.

Our colors were knocked down several times as we descended the slope on our side. Twice I saw the color-bearer stagger and the next man seize the staff and go ahead; the third time the colors struck the ground as we were still on the down slope. The artillery had opened upon us with canister. H. V. Harris, adjutant of the regiment, rushed to them and seized them, and, I think, caried them to the enemy's works.

At the works.

When the enemy's infantry opened fire on us—and we were several hundred yards distant from them as yet—we rushed towards the works, running, I may say, almost at top speed, and as we neared the works I could see a good line of battle, thick and substantial, firing upon us. When inside of a hundred yards of them I could see, first, a few, and then more and more, and presently, to my surprise and disgust, the whole line break away in flight. When we got to the works, which were a hasty trench and embankment, and not a stone wall at the point we struck, our regiment was a mass or ball, all mixed together, without company organization. [192] Some of the 24th and 3d seemed to be coming with us, and it may be others. Not a man could I see in the enemy's works, but on account of the small timber and the lay of the ground, I could not see very far along the line, either right or left, of the position we occupied.

There were, as I thought at the time I viewed the situation, about three hundred men in the party with me, or maybe less. Adjutant H. V. Harris, of the regimental staff, was there dismounted. Captain Fry, Assistant Adjutant-General of General Kemper, was also there on foot, with a courier, who was a long-legged, big-footed fellow, whom we called ‘Big Foot Walker,’ also afoot. Captain R. W. Douthat, of Company F, I also noticed, and there were some other regimental officers whom I cannot now recall.

Big foot Walker.

We thought our work was done, and that the day was over, for the last enemy in sight we had seen disappear over the hill in front; and I expected to see General Lee's army marching up to take possession of the field. As I looked over the work of our advance with this expectation, I could see nothing but dead and wounded men and horses in the field beyond us, and my heart never in my life sank as it did then. It was a grievous disappointment.

Instantly men turned to each other with anxious inquiries what to do, and a number of officers grouped together in consultation, Captain Fry, Captain Douthat, Adjutant Harris, and myself, who are above noted, amongst them. No field officer appeared at this point that I could discover. We promptly decided to send a courier for reinforcements. No mounted man was there. ‘Big Foot Walker’ was dispatched on that errand. Fearing some mishap to him, for shots from the artillery on our right, from the enemy's left, were still sweeping the field, we in a few moments sent another courier for reinforcements.

We were so anxious to maintain the position we had gained, that we watched the two men we had sent to our rear across the field, and saw them both, the one after the other, disappear over the ridge from which we had marched forward.

Wait for twenty minutes.

Unmolested from the front or on either side, and with nothing to indicate that we would be assailed, we thus remained for fully twenty [193] minutes after Walker had been sent for reinforcements—waited long after he had disappeared on his mission over the ridge in our rear.

Seeing no sign of coming help, anticipating that we would soon be attacked, and being in no condition of numbers or power to resist any serious assault, we soon concluded—that is, the officers above referred to—to send the men back to our lines, and we so ordered.

Lest they might attract the fire of the guns that still kept up a cannonade from the enemy's left, we told the men to scatter as they retired, and they did fall back singly and in small groups, the officers before named retiring also. Only Captain Ro. W. Douthat and myself remained at the works, while the rest of the party we were with, retired. I remained to dress a wound on my right leg, which was bleeding freely, and Douthat, I suppose, just to be with me. I dropped to the ground under the shade of the timber after the men left, pulled out a towel from my haversack, cut it into strips, and bandaged my thigh, through which a bullet had passed.

This wound had been received as we approached the enemy's skirmishers on the descending slope, one of them having shot me. I thought at the time I was knocked out, but did not fall, and I said to James R. Kent, sergeant: ‘Take charge of the company, I am shot.’ But soon finding I could move my leg and that I could go on, no bones being broken, I went to the end of the charge.

Getting away.

While I was still bandaging my leg at the works, my companion, Captain Robert W. Douthat, who had picked up a musket, commenced firing and fired several shots. Thinking he had spied an enemy in the distance, I continued bandaging my leg, and completed the operation.

When raising myself on my elbow I saw the head of a column of Federal troops about seventy-five yards toward our right front, advancing obliquely toward us. I was horrified, jumped up and exclaimed to Douthat: ‘What are you doing?’ as he faced in their direction. He dropped his gun and answered: ‘It's time to get away from here,’ and I started on the run behind him, as we both rapidly retired from the advancing foes. We made good time getting away, and got some distance before they opened fire on us—perhaps 1000 or 150 yards. We ran out of range, shot after shot falling around us, until we got over the Emmettsburg road toward our lines. After we had got over the fences along the road the fire [194] didn't disturb us. No organized body of troops did I meet in going back. I wondered how few I saw in this retreat from the hill top. I reached ere long the tent of a friend, Captain Charles M. Blackford, judge advocate of our Second Corps, at Longstreet's headquarters, and this was the last of the battle of Gettysburg time. I didn't hear of Lieutenant-Colonel Otey being wounded until after the battle was over, though I have since understood it was shortly after the advance commenced. I, the Captain of Company G, was the only commissioned officer with the company that day. I may properly mention an incident or two.


Now the battery of the descending slope was advanced. Sergeant James R. Kent, of my company, suddenly plunged forward in a ditch, and I asked of him: ‘How are you hurt, Kent?’ for I knew he was hit. He answered: ‘Shot through the leg.’ About the time we sent ‘Big Foot Walker’ back for reinforcements, ‘Blackeyed Williams,’ as we called him, a private of my company, cried to me: ‘Look here, Captain,’ at the same time pulling up his shirt at the back and showing a cut where a bullet had a full mark about its depth in the flesh. Quite a number of the men on the hill top had been struck one way or another, and there were many nursing and tying up their wounds. Kent's leg had been fractured—the small bone—and he was captured.

Before an advance I went several times to the crest where our artillery was planted, and could see the enemy in our front throwing up dirt on the line which we afterwards took. Just before the cannonade commenced Major James Downing rode along the line of guns in our immediate front, carrying a flag.


I came away from Longstreet's headquarters after spending the night (after the battle in Captain Blackford's tent) in a wagon with a long train of wagons that carried one to Williamsport, leaving about noon and traveling through the next night. Next morning we reached Williamsport. The town was attacked at several points, but not where I was.

Captain William Early—or Lieutenant Early, as he was then—I met at Williamsport as I got out of the wagons, and asked me to dinner. I told him I couldn't walk, for I was sore and stiff, and he went off to get me a horse. But he didn't return, and I did not see [195] him again, for just then his guns opened and a lively skirmish ensued, but soon quieted down. After remaining a few hours on the north side of the river, a big ferry boat was brought up, and, having collected fifty or sixty of the 11th Virginia infantry who were wounded, I took charge of them and carried them on the boat across the river that evening. Then we marched next morning for Winchester, reaching there in two days. I did not see my regiment in the campaign after the fight. In a few months my leg healed and I rejoined my regiment at Hanover Junction in the fall.

The above is correct.

Jno. Holmes Smith, Late Captain Company G, Home Guards, of Lynchburg, Va.

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