Repelling Lee's last blow at Gettysburg.
I. By Edmund Rice, Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel, U. S. A.
The brigades of Harrow
, and Hall
, of Gibbon
's division, Hancock
's corps, occupied the crest on Cemetery Ridge
on July 3d.
The right of Hall
's and the left of Webb
's brigades were in a clump of trees, called by the enemy the salient of our position, and this grove was the focus of the most fearful cannonade that preceded Pickett
One regiment, the 72d Pennsylvania, in Webb
's command, was a little in rear of the left of its brigade; two regiments, the 19th Massachusetts and 42d New York, Colonel A. F. Devereux
commanding, of Hall
's brigade, were in rear of the right of their brigade.
From the opposite ridge, three-fourths of a mile away, a line of skirmishers sprang lightly forward out of the woods, and with intervals well kept moved rapidly down into the open fields, closely followed by a line of battle, then by another, and by yet a third.
Both sides watched this never-to-be-forgotten scene,--the grandeur of attack of so many thousand men. Gibbon
's division, which was to stand the brunt of the assault, looked with admiration on the different lines of Confederates, marching forward with easy, swinging step, and the men were heard to exclaim: “Here they come!”
“Here they come!”
“Here comes the infantry!”
Soon little puffs of smoke issued from the skirmish line, as it came dashing forward, firing in reply to our own skirmishers in the plain below, and with this faint rattle of musketry the stillness was broken; never hesitating for an instant, but driving our men before it, or knocking them over by a biting fire as they rose up to run in, their skirmish line reached the fences of the Emmitsburg
This was Pickett
's advance, which carried a front of five hundred yards or more.
I was just in rear of the right of the brigade, standing upon a large bowlder, in front of my regiment, the 19th Massachusetts, where, from the configuration of the ground, I had an excellent view of the advancing lines, and could see the entire formation of the attacking column.
's separate brigade lines lost their formation as they swept across the Emmitsburg
road, carrying with them their chain of skirmishers.
They pushed on toward the crest, and merged into one crowding, rushing line,
Ground over which Pickett, Pettigrew, and Trimble charged.
From a photograph taken since the War.
On the left of the picture (which shows the view from the Union lines) is seen the clump of trees which was the point of direction for Pickett's men; also the monument of Webb's brigade of Gibbon's division (Second Corps), near which General Alexander S. Webb was wounded.
General Armistead, of Pickett's division, was killed in the middle foreground of the picture; Codori's house is seen on the right [see also map, p. 344].--editors. |
many ranks deep.
As they crossed the road, Webb
's infantry, on the right of the trees, commenced an irregular, hesitating fire, gradually increasing to a rapid file firing, while the shrapnel and canister from the batteries tore gaps through those splendid Virginia
The men of our brigade, with their muskets at the ready, lay in waiting.
One could plainly hear the orders of the officers as they commanded, “Steady, men, steady!
and not a shot was fired at the advancing hostile line, now getting closer every moment.
The heavy file firing on the right in Webb
's brigade continued.
By an undulation of the surface of the ground to the left of the trees, the rapid advance of the dense line of Confederates was for a moment lost to view; an instant after they seemed to rise out of the earth, and so near that the expression on their faces was distinctly seen.
Now our men knew that the time had come, and could wait no longer.
Aiming low, they opened a deadly concentrated discharge upon the moving mass in their front.
Nothing human could stand it. Staggered by the storm of lead, the charging line hesitated, answered with some wild firing which soon increased to a crashing roll of musketry, running down the whole length of their front, and then all that portion of Pickett
's division which came within the zone of this terrible close musketry fire appeared to melt and drift away in the powder-smoke of both sides.
At this juncture some one behind me gave the quick, impatient order: “Forward, men!
Forward! Now is your chance!”
I turned and saw that it was General Hancock
who was passing the left of the regiment.
He checked his horse and pointed toward the clump of trees to our right and front.
I construed this into an order for both regiments — the 19th Massachusetts and the 42d New York--to run for the trees, to prevent the enemy from breaking through.
The men on the left of our regiment heard the command, and were up and on the run forward before the 42d New York, which did not hear Hancock
's order until Colonel Devereux
repeated it, had a chance to rise.
The line formation of the two regiments was partially broken, and the left of the 19th Massachusetts was brought forward, as though it had executed a right half-wheel.
All the men who were now on their feet could see, to the right and front, Webb
's wounded men with a few stragglers and several limbers leaving the line, as the battle-flags of Pickett
's division were carried over it. With a cheer the two regiments left their position in rear of Hall
's right, and made an impetuous dash, racing diagonally forward for the clump of trees.
Many of Webb
's men were still lying down in their places in ranks, and firing at those who followed Pickett
's advance, which, in the meantime, had passed over them.
This could be determined by the puffs of smoke issuing from their muskets, as the first few men in gray sprang past them toward the cannon, only a few yards away.
But for a few moments only could such a fire continue, for Pickett
's disorganized mass rolled over, beat down, and smothered it.
One battle-flag after another, supported by Pickett
's infantry, appeared along the edge of the trees, until the whole copse seemed literally crammed with men. As the 19th and 42d passed along the brigade line, on our left, we could see the men prone in their places, unshaken, and firing steadily to their front, beating back the enemy.
I saw one leader try several times to jump his horse over our line.
He was shot by some of the men near me.
The two regiments, in a disorganized state, were now almost at right angles with the remainder of the brigade,--the left of the 19th Massachusetts being but a few yards distant,--and the officers
and men were falling fast from the enfilading fire of the hostile line in front, and from the direct fire of those who were crowded in among the trees.
The advance of the two regiments became so thinned that for a moment there was a pause.
, of the 1st Minnesota, with his company, came in on my left.
As we greeted each other he received his death-wound, and fell in front of his men, who now began firing.
As I looked back I could see our men, intermixed with those who were driven out of the clump of trees a few moments before, coming rapidly forward, firing, some trying to shoot through the intervals and past those who were in front.
The gap in the line seemed to widen, for the enemy in front, being once more driven by a terrible musketry in their very faces, left to join those who had effected an entrance through Webb
The men now suffered from the enfilading fire of the enemy who were in the copse.
Seeing no longer an enemy in front, and annoyed by this galling fire from the flank, the 7th Michigan and 59th New York, followed directly by the 20th Massachusetts and the regiments of Harrow
's brigade, left their line, faced to the right, and in groups, without regimental or other organization, joined in the rush with those already at the edge of the clump of trees, all cheering and yelling, “Hurrah!
For the white trefoil!”
“Clubs are trumps!”
“Forward the white trefoil!”
[The badge of Gibbon
's division — the Second, of the Second Corps--was a white trefoil.--editors.]
This was one of those periods in action which are measurable by seconds.
The men near seemed to fire very slowly.
Those in rear, though coming up at a run, seemed to drag their feet.
Many were firing through the intervals of those in front, in their eagerness to injure the enemy.
This manner of firing, although efficacious, sometimes tells on friend instead of foe. A sergeant at my side received a ball in the back of his neck by this fire.
All the time the crush toward the enemy in the copse was becoming greater.
The men in gray were doing all that was possible to keep off the mixed bodies of men who were moving upon them swiftly and without hesitation, keeping up so close and continuous a fire that at last its effects became terrible.
I could feel the touch of the me:n to my right and left, as we neared the edge of the copse.
The grove was fairly jammed with Pickett
's men, in all positions, lying and kneeling.
Back from the edge were many standing and firing over those in front.
By the side of several who were firing, lying down or kneeling, were others with their hands up, in token of surrender.
In particular I noticed two men, not a musket-length away, one aiming so that I could look into his musket-barrel; the other, lying on his back, coolly ramming home a cartridge.
A little farther on was one on his knees waving something white in both hands.
Every foot of ground was occupied by men engaged in mortal combat, who were in every possible position which can be taken while under arms, or lying wounded or dead.
A Confederate battery, near the Peach Orchard
, commenced firing, probably at the sight of Harrow
's men leaving their line and closing to the right upon Pickett
A cannon-shot tore a horrible passage through the dense crowd of men in blue, who were gathering outside the trees; instantly another shot followed, and fairly cut a road through the mass.
My thoughts were now to bring the men forward; it was but a few steps to the front, where they could at once extinguish that destructive musketry and be out of the line of the deadly artillery fire.
Voices were lost in the uproar; so I turned partly toward them, raised my sword to attract their attention, and motioned to advance.
They surged forward, and just
then, as I was stepping backward with my face to the men, urging them on, I felt a sharp blow as a shot struck me, then another; I whirled round, my sword torn from my hand by a bullet or shell splinter.
My visor saved my face, but the shock stunned me. As I went down our men rushed forward past me, capturing battle-flags and making prisoners.
's division lost nearly six-sevenths of its officers and men. Gibbon
's division, with its leader wounded, and with a loss of half its strength, still held the crest.
From the official report of Norman J. Hall, Colonel, U. S. V.
the object [of the heavy cannonading] was evidently to destroy our batteries and drive the infantry from the slight crest which marked the line of battle, while the concentration of fire upon the hill occupied by the Second [Webb's] and the right of the Third [Hall's] brigades indicated where the real attack was to be made.
The experience of the terrible grandeur of that rain of missiles and that chaos of strange and terror-spreading sounds, unexampled, perhaps, in history, must ever remain undescribed, but can never be forgotten by those who survived it. I cannot suffer this opportunity to pass without paying just tribute to the noble service of the officers and men of the batteries that were served within my sight.
Never before during this war were so many batteries subjected to so terrible a test.
Horses, men, and carriages were piled together, but the fire scarcely slackened for an instant so long as the guns were standing.
Lieutenant [A. H.] Cushing, of Battery A, 4th U. S. Artillery, challenged the admiration of all who saw him.1 Three of his limbers were blown up and changed with the caisson limbers under fire.
Several wheels were shot off his guns and replaced, till at last, severely wounded himself, his officers all killed or wounded, and with but cannoneers enough to man a section, he pushed his gun to the fence in front, and was killed while serving his last canister into the ranks of the advancing enemy.
Knowing that the enemy's infantry would attack soon, I sent Lieutenant [William R.] Driver, acting assistant adjutant-general, to the Artillery Reserve for batteries, with orders to conduct them to the crest, if they were granted, with all possible speed.
He arrived with one, which, though too late for service in arresting the advance of the enemy, yet had the opportunity to do him much damage.
At 3 o'clock exactly the fire of the enemy slackened, and his first line of battle advanced from the woods in front in beautiful order.
About one hundred yards in rear came a second line, and opposite the main point of attack was what appeared to be a column of battalions. . . . The perfect order and steady but rapid advance of the enemy called forth praise from our troops, but gave their line an appearance of being fearfully irresistible.
My line was single, the only support (the 72d Pennsylvania Volunteers) having been called away by General Webb before the action had fairly commenced.
There was a disposition in the men to reserve their fire for close quarters, but when I observed the movement the enemy was endeavoring to execute, I caused the 7th Michigan and 20th Massachusetts Volunteers to open fire at about two hundred yards. The deadly aim of the former regiment was attested by the line of slain within its range.
This had a great effect upon the result, for it caused the enemy to move rapidly at one point, and consequently to crowd in front.
Being occasioned at the point where his column was forming, he did not recover from this disorder.
The remainder of our line reserved its fire until one hundred yards, some regiments waiting even until but fifty paces intervened between them and the enemy.
There was but a moment of doubtful contest in front of the position of this brigade.
The enemy halted to deliver his fire, wavered, and fled, while the line of the fallen perfectly marked the limit of his advance.
The troops were pouring into the ranks of the fleeing enemy that rapid and accurate fire, the delivery of which victorious lines always so much enjoy, when I saw that a portion of the line of General Webb on my right had given way, and many men were making to the rear as fast as possible, while the enemy was pouring over the rails [surmounting a low stone wall.--editors] that had been a slight cover for the troops.
Having gained this apparent advantage, the enemy seemed to turn again and reengage my whole line.
Going to the left, I found two regiments that could be spared from some command there, and endeavored to move them by the right flank to the break; but, coming under a warm fire, they crowded to the slight cover of the rail fence, mixing with the troops already there.
Finding it impossible to draw them out and re-form, and seeing no unengaged troops within reach, I was forced to order my own brigade back from the line, and move it by the flank under a heavy fire.
The enemy was rapidly gaining a foothold; organization was mostly lost; in the confusion commands were useless, while a disposition on the part of the men to fall back a pace or two each time to load gave the line a retiring direction.
With the officers of my staff and a few others, who seemed to comprehend what was required, the head of the line, still slowly moving by the flank, was crowded closer to the enemy, and the men obliged to load in their places.
I did not see any man of my command who appeared disposed to run away, but the confusion first caused by the two regiments above spoken of so destroyed the formation in two ranks that in some places the line was several files deep. . . . During this time the 15th Massachusetts Volunteers, 1st Minnesota, and 19th Maine Volunteers from the
First Brigade [Harrow's] of this division had joined the line, and are entitled to a full share in the credit of the final repulse.
The line remained in this way for about ten minutes, rather giving way than advancing, when, by a simultaneous effort on the part of all the officers I could instruct, aided by the general advance of many of the colors, the line closed with the enemy, and after a few minutes of desperate, often hand-to-hand fighting, the crowd — for such had become that part of the enemy's column that had passed the fence — threw down their arms and were taken prisoners of war, while the remainder broke and fled in great disorder.
The Second Brigade had again joined the right of my line, which now occupied the position originally held by that command.
Generals Garnett and Armistead [of Pickett's Division] were picked up near this point, together with many colonels and officers of other grades.
From the report of Alexander S. Webb, Brevet Major-General, U. S. A.
about 1 P. M. the enemy opened with more than twenty batteries upon our line; by 2:45 o'clock had silenced the Rhode Island battery and all the guns but one of Cushing's battery, and had plainly shown by his concentration of fire on this and the Third Brigade that an important assault was to be expected.
I had sent, at 2 P. M., Captain Banes, assistant adjutant-general of the brigade, for two batteries to replace Cushing's and Brown's. Just before the assault, Captain Wheeler's [Cowan's] battery, First New York Artillery [First New York Independent Battery], had gotten in position on the left, in the place occupied by the Rhode Island battery, which had retired with a loss of all its officers but one.
At 3 o'clock the enemy's line of battle left the woods in our front, moved in perfect order across the Emmitsburg road, formed in the hollow in our immediate front several lines of battle, under a fire of spherical case from Wheeler's [Cowan's] battery and Cushing's gun, and advanced for the assault.
The 71st Pennsylvania Volunteers were advanced to the wall on the right of the 69th Pennsylvania Volunteers. Three of Cushing's guns were run down to the fence, carrying with them their canister.
The 72d Pennsylvania Volunteers were held in reserve under the crest of the hill.
The enemy advanced steadily to the fence, driving out a portion of the 71st Pennsylvania Volunteers. General Armistead passed over the fence with probably over one hundred of his command, and with several battle-flags.
The 72d Pennsylvania Volunteers were ordered up to hold the crest, and advanced to within forty paces of the enemy's line.
Colonel R. P. Smith, commanding the 71st Pennsylvania Volunteers, threw two companies of his command behind the stone wall on the right of Cushing's battery, fifty paces retired from the point of attack.
This disposition of his troops was most important.
Colonel Smith showed true military intelligence on the field.
The 69th Pennsylvania Volunteers and most of the 71st Pennsylvania Volunteers, even after the enemy were in their rear, held their position.
The 72d Pennsylvania Volunteers fought steadily and persistently, but the enemy would probably have succeeded in piercing our lines had not Colonel Hall advanced with several of his regiments to my support.
Defeated, routed, the enemy fled in disorder.
General Armistead was left, mortally wounded, within my lines, and forty-two of the enemy who crossed the fence lay dead.
This [Webb's] brigade captured nearly 1000 prisoners, 6 battle-flags (4 have been turned in), and picked up 1400 stand of arms and 903 sets of accouterments . . . . The conduct of this brigade was most satisfactory; officers and men did their whole duty.
The 69th Pennsylvania Volunteers lost all its field-officers, but held its ground; the cover in its front was not well built, and it lost many men lying on the ground; still, I saw none retire from the fence.
A portion of the 106th Pennsylvania Volunteers, left behind the previous evening under Captain Ford, took part in repelling the assault.
I lost gallant officers and men; they need no tribute from me; a nominal list has been sent in. . . . Lieutenant A. H. Cushing, 4th United States Artillery, fell, mortally wounded, at the fence by the side of his guns.
Cool, brave, competent, he fought for an hour and a half after he had reported to me that he was wounded in both thighs.
By L. E. Bicknell, Lieutenant, 1st Mass. Sharp-Shooters.
upon the excursion of Massachusetts
veterans to Gettysburg
, I found a monument in Ziegler's Grove to the 88th Pennsylvania Volunteers.
It marks the spot where our infantry were being rapidly cut down by the enemy's sharp-shooters in their front on the morning of the 3d of July, the third day's fight.
In fact, when, with twenty of the 1st Company of Massachusetts
sharp-shooters, I entered the grove, our infantry were virtually driven from it. We held the grove, to the right and left of the monument, until the heavy cannonading checked the sharp-shooting.
A shattered remnant of some regiment, perhaps the one which had suffered so in front of and in the grove, lay along the remnants of a stone wall in our rear, and during the heavy cannonading which preceded the many others sought the seeming shelter of the grove.
Just before the grand charge, at the request of General Alexander Hays
, who commanded the Third Division, Second Corps, I gathered up all these men who lay in the grove, and General Hays
formed them in line to the right of the Bryan House
, which is the first house to the left of the monument on the line of battle as you go toward Round Top
. At the time of the battle the grove extended to this house.
I took position, with the
remnant of my squad of sharp-shooters, on the right of this line.
While the enemy were advancing to the Emmitsburg
road, General Hays
drilled the line in the manual of arms, allowed them to fire left oblique while the enemy were closing with our line to the left of the Bryan House
, and then swung them down by a left wheel to the lane which then ran from the Bryan House
to the Emmitsburg
road, across which lane they then fired.
The moment chosen for the left wheel or flanking movement was just as the last division of the charging column was crossing the Emmitsburg
road, moving direct for Ziegler's Grove.
As the entire front of the Second Corps to the left of the Bryan House
was already covered, and in many places penetrated, this fresh division would probably have forced our line back and gained the shelter of Ziegler's Grove had it not been subjected to our flank fire, which destroyed its formation and sent its shattered and disordered masses along the other side of the lane and in front of the Third Division of the Second Corps.
I finally drew back our line a little from the fence to prevent our rear being gained by the enemy moving north on the Emmitsburg
road, and also to uncover a gun (or two guns, I forget which) that had, during the melee, been got in position at the head of the lane near the Bryan House
As the enemy crowded forward into the lane, the fire of these guns ended the contest.
The “clump of trees” upon Bachelder
's chart is near the point where Stannard
struck the right flank.
Zieglev's Grove, farther north, is the clump of trees where I was, and to which I refer, and to which General Longstreet
refers in his letter to me mentioned further on. It is the blow upon the left flank, and not upon the right flank, to which we all refer.
That there might not be any mistake I sent General Longstreet
a chart of the battle-field furnished me by the Gettysburg Battle-Field Memorial Association
, on which I marked the lane running down from Ziegler's Grove to the Emmitsburg
I have not yet learned what regiments, or fragments of regiments, composed the line swung down, but they were strangers to me and I have just learned that the 39th, 111th, 125th, and 126th New-York were added to the Third Division, Second Corps, on the march to Gettysburg.
I left the army after the battle, and so had no opportunity to learn afterward.
With regard to the blow struck on Pettigrew
's left by the 8th Ohio Regiment, the Ohio
men say that they lay west
of the Emmitsburg road.
If so, they must have been north and in front of the right of Ziegler's Grove, as we faced.2
After we had swung down on the left flank to the lane we were struck by A. P. Hill
's men, who faced Ziegler's Grove upon our right and rear so forcibly that I had given the order to “Left wheel backwards, firing,” and the order was being executed when Hill
's men abandoned our rear.
It is my strong impression that the Ohio
regiment pitched into Hill
's men, who were pitching into our flank and rear.
I remember distinctly that our artillerists at our right, seeing our imminent danger, poured in the grape and canister upon our rear assailants in a lively manner.
writes to me from Atlanta, Georgia
, January 4th, 1884:
The move of which you speak I remember quite well, and my impression is that it was made against Pickett's men.
At its first appearance I sent orders for a. countermove.
I think the order was sent by Colonel Osman Latrobe, now of Baltimore.
Colonel Latrobe can probably give you more definite information of the troops you may have struck.
At the first appearance of the troops in this move I recognized it as one that would break up my assault, but I looked on the movements of the Third Corps--A. P. Hill's — as certain to break the intended flank move.
Soon after the flank movement was disclosed, a severe fire from artillery, etc., coming in across our line from the right as we advanced, hurt our supporting columns badly.
If you struck their left you may claim to have put in very heavy blows at the critical moment, for the breaking up of the supporting force broke up the attack or hope of success from it. We could not look for anything from Pickett except to break your line.
The supports were to secure the fruits of that break.