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The ‘old first’ Virginia at Gettysburg. [from the times-dispatch Oct. 16, 1904.]

Men who fought to the bitter end in the greatest of battles.

The famous Pickett charge

And the part the old first Virginia Regiment played in it.

by Charles T. Loehr.
[The following details by a participant in the renowned charge and Past Commander of G. E. Pickett Camp, C. V., and who is an estimable citizen of Richmond, merits preservation.—Ed.]

Much has been written about this historic event and chiefly by those who are writers, but get their information from all kinds of publications, while those who were actors in the bloody drama have had but little to say, and they are fast passing on to answer the roll call of their comrades gone before.

The story of Pickett's charge will ever be remembered and generations yet to come will point to it as one of the grandest acts of heroism in American history.

The Old First Virginia formed part of Kemper's brigade. It held the centre position in the brigade line. The 3d of July, 1863, was extremely hot, and the brigade had to endure the sweltering sun, lying in rear of Seminary Ridge in open field, while to its left were the brigades of Garnett and Armistead partly sheltered in the woods.

The distance from the position of Kemper's brigade to the angle of the tone wall, the point of attack, was just one mile across an open hilly plain, crossed by the Emmetsburg road, thus the enemy from their position on Roundtop Hill could see and count every man we had when we advanced to the charge. Moreover, on these hills the enemy placed their batteries, which fired with fatal effect on our men as they charged.

Just before our artillery opened, there was a detail of fifteen men from each regiment made to act as skirmishers. These moved at [34] once forward in rear of the batteries near which Wilson's brigade was in position. At 1 o'clock our artillery opened the battle and a few minutes afterward the Federal guns joined in, and the very ground shook. It was simply awful, the bursting of the shells, the smoke, and the hot sun combined made things almost unendurable for our men lying in long rows in rear of the ridge.

Many of our men were wounded by the shelling, and it was a relief when finally the artillery ceased its terrible work and orders came for Pickett's men to charge. The skirmish line (to which the writer was attached) moved forward towards the enemy's skirmish line. Some two hundred yards in the rear came the line of battle, Richard B. Garnett's brigade on the left and Kemper's brigade on the right, while Armistead's came close in the rear.

It was a splendid exhibition, the alignment was nearly perfect. After advancing some three hundred yards the enemy's artillery opened on the columns and shells came screaming through the ranks of Pickett's men. As the men fell the ranks closed, and forward went the line, leaving the dead and wounded in its track.

Seminary Ridge.

The move was made in a left oblique direction to reach the point of attack, which was the angle of a stone wall or fence on the ridge of Seminary Hill. When the line reached this point it became irregular. Many of the officers fell before this point was gained. Colonel Joseph Mayo, of the Third, ordered the brigade to face to the right just as the wall was reached.

There were heavy colnmns of the enemy coming from that direction, while Garnett's men came in contact with the enemy behind the wall; then Armistead's men rushed across the wall and pursued the enemy, who abandoned the battery some 300 feet in rear of the wall. Then came a short lull in the battle, but firing was kept up and men fell to rise no more.

About 150 Federals were captured at the angle and taken off the field. It was at this time that General Lewis A. Armistead was killed, having his left hand on one of the guns of Cushing's battery, and in his right hand he held his sword on which he had placed his hat. Thus a hero meets a hero's death.

The line around the angle was being fast thinned out, and now was the time for reinforcements to push on the victory within our [35] grasp, but none were there to aid Pickett's men in their struggle to hold the position for which they had fought so hard.

The supporting line on Pickett's left struck the enemy's line further to our left, reaching there long before Pickett, their line being nearly one-half shorter, and as Pickett's men advanced the line our left was seen to be in full retreat, having suffered heavily. The men of Pickett's division—that is, about one-tenth of what was left—retraced their steps, falling back in small groups, firing as they retreated.

General Pickett was seen in the midst of his survivors when the battle was over, but at the close Wilcox's brigade came rushing down. It came about half way when it met the concentrated fire of the enemy and fell back faster than it came, adding only to the losses and accomplishing naught.

Sergeant Major J. R. Polak states that he was ordered by Colonel Williams to bring up the ambulance corps, as men were falling right and left and needed attention. He went off on ‘Nelly’ (Colonel Williams's horse) to execute the orders given him, and on his return the regiment, with the rest of the division, were all charging, and all he could do was to return Colonel Williams's horse and take his place in the ranks. Colonel Williams at once mounted and wheeled in front of the regiment and was almost immediately struck down. Then Major Langley took command; he was soon disabled. Then Captain Norton took command with the same result. Then Captain Davis jumped in front of the line and was bowled over almost immediately. Then I remember we pushed up to the wall, and could almost see the Yankee gunners leaving their places and running in our lines for safety. Whilst we were waiting with our line for reinforcements, I had a short talk with Lieutenant Cabell about the massing of the Yankees in our front, and the next thing I saw was Colonel Patton of the Seventh Virginia, struck, and when I asked him if he was hurt he tried to answer, but the blood gushed out of his mouth, and made it impossible.

The next thing that I remember was that no reinforcements came and that the Yankees came over the works and we ‘got,’ at least I did. I was slightly wounded in the face and in the arm, and found it somewhat difficult to jump what looked to me a ten rail fence, but I managed this all the same. When I got my breath about a quarter of a mile from the field, I saw General Lee riding unattended, and after a few minutes of observation he rode back [36] and returned with General Longstreet, and then established a point for the returning men to fall back on.

The color guard.

The account given of Lieutenant William M. Lawson, who was the color bearer of the regiment is as follows: When the order was given to forward the color bearer and guard consisting of Color Bearer William M. Lawson, Sergeants Pat Woods, Theodore R. Martin, Corporal John Q. Figg, and Private Willie Mitchell moved four paces to the front of the line and kept in their position until one after the other was shot down. About half way Willie Mitchell was wounded, but he declined to go back and kept on. About one hundred yards further he was killed. Pat Woods, Theodore R. Martin and John Q. Figg were shot down and the line came close to the stone fence. The color bearer had his right arm shattered by a bullet, and the colors fell from his hand among the dead and dying. J. R. Polak attempted to raise and secure the colors, but was also wounded. Those that were able now fell back and the colors remained where they fell near the angle of the stone wall.

Willie Mitchell was only about sixteen years of age. He was a member of Company D., having joined that company in December, 1862, at the battle of Fredericksburg. He was the son of John Mitchell, the ‘Irish Patriot,’ and had just finished his course at the University of Paris. William M. Lawson, the color bearer, lost his arm near the shoulder, leaving only a stump, which was hardly healed when he reported for duty to his regiment. After being released from prison he was promoted to lieutenant for gallant conduct.

Sergeant Pat Woods was shot through the body and remained in prison for some time. He was a most reckless, daring Irishman. There were no better men than Sergeant Theodore R. Martin and John Q. Figg. Both of these were severely wounded. Sergeant John Q. Figg was afterwards promoted to color bearer and made a splendid record for himself in the battles that followed in 1864 and 1865 until the close of the war.

After the battle.

In straggling groups the survivors of that charge gathered in rear of Seminary Ridge, near the point from which they set out to [37] do or die. It was a sad sight. Most of them were bleeding; numbers of them were bathing their wounds in a little creek which ran along the valley, making its clear water run red, which others used to quench their burning thirst. Some 300 or 400 men were there. General George E. Pickett was mounted, and was talking to the men here and there. Only two of the regiments had retained their colors, one of which was the 24th Virginia, and the color bearer, a tall mountaineer, named Charles Belcher, was waving it, crying: ‘General, let us go at them again!’ Just about then General James L. Kemper was carried into the crowd, and the latter came to a halt. Then General Lee was seen to ride up, and we, as was usual, wanted to know what he had to say, crowded around him.

General Pickett broke out into tears, while General Lee rode up to him, and they shook hands. General Lee spoke to General Pickett in a slow and distinct manner. Anyone could see that he, too, felt the repulse and slaughter of the division, whose remains he viewed.

Lee's words.

Of the remarks made to General Pickett by General Lee, we distinctly heard him say: ‘General Pickett, your men have done all that men could do; the fault is entirely my own.’ These words will never be forgotten.

Just then, he turned to General Kemper and remarked: ‘General Kemper, I hope you are not seriously hurt, can I do anything for you?’ General Kemper looked up and replied: ‘General Lee, you can do nothing for me; I am mortally wounded, but see to it that full justice is done my men who made this charge.’ General Lee said: ‘I will,’ and rode off.

General Pickett turned to us, saying: ‘You can go back to the wagons and rest until you are wanted.’ The men then left for their wagon trains.

There was little or no organization among them. Night was coming on and the writer and several of his company slept in a mill, about half way to the wagon train, getting back with those of the survivors of the Old First on the morning of the 4th. The whole command numbered hardly thirty men, rank and file, and Captain B. F. Howard had charge of the squad.

About 10 o'clock the drum beat to fall in, and, as we took our places in rank, J. R. Polak came out with a set of colors, which he got from an ordinance wagon (the same had been left in our [38] hands by Holcomb's Legion at Second Manassas) and, waiving it, though he had his hand in a sling, and his nose was all bloody from the charge, but we declined to play color guard, and the flag was returned to the wagon.

Then the order from General Lee, constituting Picketts division the provost guard for the army was read, and was but little relished by the men, most of them considering it as almost a disgrace to act as provost guard; however, orders must be obeyed, and, after an hour or two of waiting, we were marched up on both sides of the road and the Federal prisoners filed in between us, and Pickett's division saw them safely turned over to Imboden's command on the 9th. At the Potomac river, on the 10th, the 1st, 3rd and 24th Virginia regiments reached again the green fields of Virginia.

The 1st Virginia Infantry numbered about 175, rank and file, at Gettysburg, July 3, 1863.

Those present.

The officers present, as far as can be remembered, were: Lewis B. Williams, Colonel; Frank H. Langley, Major; Company B— Captain T. Herbert Davis, Lieutenant Logan S. Robins, Lieutenant J. A. Payne and about twenty-five men; Company C—Captain James Hallihan, Lieutenant John E. Dooley and about twenty men; Company D—Captain George F. Norton, Lieutenants E. P. Reeve, W. H. Keiningham, Adolphus Blair and about forty men; Company G—Captain Eldridge Morris, Lieutenants W. T. Woody, L. R. Shell and about thirty men; Company H—Captain A. J. Watkins, Lieutenants E. W. Martin, P. C. Cabell and about thirty men; Company I—Captain B. F. Howard, Lieutenants W. A. Caho, H. C. Ballow and about twenty-five men.

As far as we could we have made out a list of the killed, wounded and missing which is, however, not complete, as many recruits had been recently added to the regiment, and it was, therefore, impossible to give all the names in the long list of casualties. This refers especially to Company C, which was at that time mostly filled up with recruits.

Officers killed and died from wounds.

Colonel Lewis B. Williams, Captain James Hallihan, Company C; Lieutenant W. A. Caho, Company I.


Non-commissioned officers and Privates.

Company B-Fendall Franklin; Company C-James Thomas; Company D-D. S. Edwards, Willie Mitchell, J. W. Freeman, M. J. Wingfield; Company G—W. F. Miller; Company L—Corporal L. O. Ellett, E. J. Griffin, Edward Taliaferro, H. McLaughlin; Company H-Sergeant C. P. Hansford, Corporal Richard Chaddick, W. J. Vaughan, Flowers, Nuckols, St. Clair, John Paine, M. Brestrahan, W. S. Waddill.—Total, twenty-three.

wounded-Those marked * were left in enemy's hands: Field and Staff-Major F. H. Langley, Sergeant-Major J. R. Polak, Color-Sergeant William Lawson.* Company B—Captain T. Herbert Davis,* Lieutenant J. A. Payne, Corporal W. J. Carter,* Corporal John Q. Figg,* Privates George R. Heath,* James Stagg,* Joseph Daniel,* H. L. Specard, R. H. Street, W. J. Mallory; prisoner, E. Goetze. Company C—Lieutenant John E. Dooley, Sergeant Pat Woods.* Company D—Captain G. F. Norton, Lieutenant E. P. Reeve, Lieutenant William H. Keiningham,* Lieutenant A. Blair, Sergeant J. M. Finn,* Corporal G. E. Craig, Corporal C. T. Loehr, Privates James B. Angle, William J. Armstrong, 1. F. Wheely, George W. Johnson,* Joseph C. Keiningham,* T. S. Morton,* E. Priddy,* L. R. Wingfield,* S. L. Wingfield, C. M. Sublett; prisoners, Sergeant J. H. Kepler, Private N. W. Bowe. Company G—Captain E. Morris, Lieutenant W. T. Woody, Sergeant Thomas W. Hay,* Corporal John Allen, Sergeant Thomas H. Durham,* Privates James Farrar, H. C. Fergusson,* C. W. Gentry, B. H. Hord, W. T. Kendrick, C. A. Redford, T. S. Rogers, A. Jeff Vaughan, Robert R. Walthall, William H. Martin, Sergeant William H. Dean; prisoners, Sergeant George W. Ball, Privates J. Rosser Atkisson, B. F. Ashby and A. Haskins. Company H—Captain A. J. Vatkins, Lieutenant E. W. Martin, P. C. Cabell, Sergeant T. R. Martin, Corporal R. N. Dunn, W. H. Duerson, Privates W. B. Mosby,* J. H. Daniel, W. N. Anderson,* Sol. Banks,* R. E. Dignun,* F. Faison,* E. Fizer,* W. R. Kilby,* Thomas Maring, J. J. Sinnott, S. Smith, W. C. Hite;* prisoners, Privates Mat. Lloyd and Robert Lloyd. Company I—Sergeant W. F. Terry, Corporal C. L. Parker,* Corporal J. T. Ayres,*Corporal T. E. Traylor, Privates R. O. Meredith,* G. W. Shumaker,* S. S. Neal,* C. A. Wilkes* and C. H. Chappell,* Sergeants John [40] T. Crew, E. C. Goodson, and W. T. White, and Privates S. Clarke and W. C. Taliaferro.

Killed and died of wounds, twenty-three; wounded and prisoners, eighty-seven; prisoners and wounded left with enemy, marked *forty seven.

From all information obtainable it may be stated that the First Virginia Regiment lost in killed, wounded and prisoners, not less than 125 men out of about 160 that went into the charge.

General remarks.

Pickett's men could have gone into battle on the previous evening, when they reached Gettysburg. They were in fine condition. The march from Chambersburg did not fatigue them at all. Anyone who will visit Gettysburg battlefield will see the truth of these views. The writer calls to memory that just before the artillery opened he filled his canteen from a well near which one of our batteries was posted. In talking with the men of the contemplated charge, and, having the position pointed out to him, he remarked on his return to the line, ‘He would not give twenty-five cents for his life if the charge was made.’

He further recalls that one of the comrades, M. J. Wingfield, called ‘Monk,’ turned to him when about half way across the field, saying, ‘Where are our reinforcements?’ On looking around nothing was in sight, except the three brigades of Pickett about 300 yards in rear of our skirmish line and now subject to a storm of shells, tearing great gaps into the lines. The writer then replied, ‘Monk, I don't see any,’ on which he replied, ‘We are going to be whipped, see if we don't.’ Alas, for the poor fellow, these were his last words, for a bullet ended his life only a few minutes afterward.

The story here told is but a record of the excellence of all of the fifteen regiments of Pickett's division that charged on that historic day.

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