previous next

Chapter 28: arrival at Gettysburg. July 1-2.

At nine o'clock in the morning of July 1, the regiment bivouacked in the woods near Cemetery Ridge, on the ground of the famous battlefield of Gettysburg. The desperate fights at Seminary Ridge and Willoughby Run, between Gen. Reynold's, with the First Corps, and Gen. Ewell, had already taken place. Reynolds had lost his life. His First Corps had been almost annihilated after a magnificent resistance, and Howard, with the Eleventh Corps, who had come up late in the afternoon, had been driven back through Gettysburg to Cemetery Hill.

Success at one moment had been with the Union forces and then with the Rebels, according as each received reinforcements. Reynold's and Howards' Corps rallied on the heights of Cemetery Ridge, under cover of a fresh brigade which had been left there by Gen. Howard, and at this crisis Gen. Hancock's Second Corps came up and bivouacked. In the morning the Third Corps arrived and took position on its left.

A peak, which from its shape was called Round Top, threw out a spur toward Gettysburg, forming first another little peak, called Little Round Top, and then a ridge extending as far as the Cemetery, just out of Gettysburg, where it turned off to the right, making a turn like a horse-shoe. Round Top formed a strong position for the Union left, held by the Sixth Corps. Then the Fifth Corps had the ground behind Little Round Top. Then were the Third Corps under Sickles, Second Corps under Hancock, Eleventh, First and Twelfth Corps forming Right and Right Centre.

In front of the Third, Second and Eleventh Corps, a gentle slope led down the valley, through which also ran another spur [226] ridge of land, branching from the main ridge and losing itself in some low lands in front of the Round Tops. On the other side of the valley was another ridge, well lined with woods, which was almost parallel with Cemetery Ridge. This one was called Seminary Ridge, from the Seminary which stood upon it.

The rebel signal station was visible, and on the low ridge stretching to right and left, from that was the advance line of battle of Gen. Lee,—a fine position, but not as strong as the one selected by Gen. Hancock.

On the morning of the second of July, the Sixth and Fifth Corps had not yet taken up their final positions. The Fifth Corps had a march of 36 miles to make in the night of July 1st and the morning of the 2nd and that morning passed very quietly for the other Union forces. Notwithstanding Ewell's success, Lee made no effort until the balance of his army could get up, under Longstreet, and this occupied the entire forenoon. Far in the north could be seen the dust made by Stuart, returning from his wild escapade around the Union army. Down to the left, Kilpatrick and his men were seen to come up. The Union troops were rapidly getting their positions and there was a feeling that a hard struggle was before them. Failure to drive the enemy, everyone knew, meant invasion of the North. Lee's failure to drive Meade and Hancock meant, perhaps, the destruction of his army.

The summer sun gilded leaf and trunk, hill and plain. Light summer airs just stirred flag and plume, and it was hard to realize that ere many hours all the many-sided savagery of war would be here.

Early in the morning, there occurred a movement which nearly led to dire disaster. Gen. Sickles' disposition was a little lower on the crest than the rest of the line, the Emmetsburg road really overtopping it. With the best of intentions to accomplish a great purpose, he decided to sieze the Emmetsburg road. This new position caused an angle where Sickles' left was thrown back to make connection with Little Round Top. The angle was in a peach orchard and was not a strong position. It brought the Third Corps into a very advanced position, left its flank ‘in the air’ and opened a gap of some [227] hundreds of yards between the right of the Third Corps and the left of the Second.

At two o'clock a few squadrons of cavalry moved out from the extreme right of the enemy's line and reconnoitered the Union left. They were driven in by a battery of the Third Corps to which a battery of Lee replied. Then a brigade of infantry deployed from the extreme right of Lee's line and advanced into the plain. When this was fairly in motion, another became visible, deploying from the woods in its rear. Another and another deployed and advanced and the great movement unmasked. Longstreet, seeing his advantage and that he enfiladed Sickles' position, planned to attack him by eschelon of brigades from the right, having Round Top for its objective point. Lee was to overlap the left flank, and, while rolling back the imperilled Third Corps upon the Second, carry the key to the position by assault.

During some moments of silence this grand manoeuvre develops itself and a second and a third line are disposed in the same formation. The western half of the plain in front of Sickles is full of marching lines of dusty brown, and the deep silence gives promise of dread work for all.

Now the advance brigade of Lee emerges from the Peach Orchard and the guns of ‘Rickett's’ famous battery open fire upon it over the heads of the Third Corps from a ridge in its rear. The first shell overthrows the battle color of the right battalion and this is accepted as a good omen, with a hearty cheer from the Second Corps. The advance brigade falters for a moment under the shells of ‘Rickett's’ but for a moment only, and its ranks are closed. Woodford's battery from the right of the Second Corps, Pettitt's Twelfth New York from its centre, batteries B. and G., 1st Rhode Island and Capt. Harry Sleeper's Tenth Massachusetts, in turn, open their fire upon those advancing masses over the heads of Sickles' Corps. Their fire draws upon them a deadly storm from Lee's opposing batteries to which they vouchsafe no reply. Their orders are to neglect Lee's guns and concentrate their fire upon his advancing hosts of flesh and blood. The advance is momentarily checked, its impetus is lost but still those brave men come gallantly [228] on. The leading brigades have now unmasked their front to the batteries of the Third Corps on the eastern slope of the little vale and the forty guns of the Third Corps add their thunders to the tumult.

Lee's right brigade has overlapped the Union left, the ‘Excelsior’ Brigade combat their left and open fire upon the flanks. The Jersey brigade next opens fire and in five minutes more Sickle's whole left is enveloped in flame; this corps is contending with the whole force of Ewell and Hill. From the first it is apparent that the position must be lost, and Sickles must retire to the line of Cemetery Ridge, but that the ground in front must be defended to the last, must be defended until the enemy is too much exhausted with fatigue, too much enfeebled by death and wounds to continue the assault after Sickles shall have been forced back to the Ridge.

With desperate tenacity, Sickles' Corps holds its original position for half an hour. Then its left is first forced by sheer weight to retire, but for a few rods only. Brigade after brigade is forced to follow in the same movement.

The entire engagement is plainly visible from the position occupied by the Nineteenth regiment. The roar and din is frightful, smoke and dust obscure, at times, the field, where charge after charge is gallantly made and as gallanty repulsed. Sickles has lost his leg. Hooker's old heroes have suffered terribly. The left is drawn farther and farther back until at four o'clock the corps has been compelled to change front, its right resting on the Emmetsburg road, in front of the left of the Second Corps, and its left resting upon Round Top, half a mile in the rear of its original position.

The battle lulls a moment while Hill forms his division in lines for the deed which has been the object of all this carnage— the assault of Round Top.

The men of the quiescent Second Corps see it form, they see it move forward, and the storm breaks forth again with renewed intensity and fearful power. The batteries of the Second Corps concentrate their fire upon the doomed line; its flank is exposed; fifty guns pour upon it a hurtling storm of bursting shell and spherical case. Wide gaps are torn in its [229] crowded ranks, but it rushes on. It wins half the ascent, it gains shelter from the fire of the Second Corps in the wooded ravine between the twin chests, but Chamberlain's brigade charges down upon them with the steel, to the accompaniment of fierce hurrahs which drown the rebel yell.

Again rises and swells the deep toned hurrahs of the New Englanders and forth from that bloody ravine come flying the fragments of the proud rebel column. Upon its retreating masses, the batteries of the Second Corps re-open a deadlier fire, and when they reach the plain but a fragment remains of the splendid force which had advanced so proudly and confidently. A moment the hosts of Lee stand silent, stunned, while Hooker's old heroes vent their pride and joy in exultant cheers. Then with deadlier rage and wounded pride they renew the fierce attack in the plain below.

The object of the rebel attack is changed. The attack upon Sickles' left has but driven him to a firm base upon the foot of Round Top. The assault upon the crest has too fearfully and completely failed to be repeated. Hundreds of wounded men are seen moving across the plain to the rear.

Nothing remains but to force back and roll up Sickles' right and push the superior masses of the enemy between the Second and Third Corps. The weight of the assault is then rapidly changed from the right to the left of their attack; upon Humphrey's right wing the Third Corps is rapidly concentrated and the battle wages more fiercely than before. Instead of being in advance of Hancock's left, Humphrey should have been connected with it. Human flesh cannot long endure such a storm. Heroically the Third Corps resists an attack from thrice its force. Wavering and staggering, it yet holds its position until the Mississippi brigade of Barksdale turns its right and falls upon its flank. It gallantly meets the new foe and for a few moments holds its own. Gen. Meade comes up just at this time, with Hancock and Gibbon, and stands near the Nineteenth Massachusetts, which is occupying a position in the front of the Second Division, Second Corps, just to the left of the now justly celebrated Copse of trees. It is soon apparent that something must be done to assist Humphrey. [230]

Turning to Hancock, Gen. Meade says: ‘Something must be done. Send a couple of regiments out in support of Humphrey.’ Hancock turned to Gibbon, and, without a word between them, the latter says to Col. Devereux, ‘Take the Forty Second New York with you.’

In an instant the two regiments, in all about 400 men are on the march at double-quick along the ridge toward the left and front. The right flank of the Third Corps is probably a quarter of a mile distant when the regiments start and when nearly opposite it, they turn and make straight toward Humphrey's position and cross Plum Run, beyond which there is a slight ridge, running diagonally to the road and facing almost exactly the point of compass from which Longstreet made his advance. The two regiments move forward, but the terrible flank fire forces them to quickly halt. The men are ordered to lie down. The smoke is so dense that they can see but a short distance. The men who are being pressed back are called upon to form upon the left flanks of the two regiments. Quite a line is formed from these troops and they renew the fighting as fiercely as if they had not, for three hours, already faced the extremest fury of the storm. The Mississipians, with a brigade of Virginians were seen to move forward to complete their victory. So close to the feeble remnants of the broken Third Corps are they that they almost intermingle. The little line in blue opens on them and checked the foremost a little until a rebel battery is run forward and opens fire. Being subjected also to an enfilading fire, Col. Devereux says to Col. Mallon: “Order your men to stand up, fire a volley by the rear and front rank and you will clean out those in front of you and stop them. Then face about, go back to the old line on double-quick, face about again and wait for the Nineteenth.”

It was a desperate situation in more ways than one. The slightest delay meant risk of capture, but to stop the onward march of the enemy's lines on to the shattered forces must be done if possible. Then, above all, there is the importance of getting the troops back on the old line in good order to be a rallying point for those who have been driven off the field. The Nineteenth is ordered to rise and fire a volley, which temporarily [231] checks the enemy. They are instantly told to face about and march back. Major Rice and about 70 of the men are left behind as skirmishers to protect the left of the line. As Col. Devereux remarked afterward, ‘I never felt more solemnly a demand for duty which must be obeyed at no matter what sacrifice. The men must be brought back to the old line at whatever risk, and without any disorder. They marched as steadily as if on parade, notwithstanding the fact that the enemy had recovered themselves and commenced to fire upon us and our men were falling. It was only necessary, however, for me to give one order. The men staggered under that pitiless fire on their right flank as they were then faced, but all I had to say was ‘Steady, boys, steady,’ and we reached the line in perfect order and faced about, to find how well, perhaps, it was that we should have dared what we had just endured.’

As the regiment falls back, just as it reaches a clump of bushes in a hollow, a line of men from the Fifth Corps is met coming through. The two regiments fall back through these bushes, halt, face about again and ‘plug away’ at the foe as coolly as if they had not already lost a quarter of their men. While doing this, First Sergeant Viall of Co. E, comes running, swinging his musket over his head, crying, ‘Come on! Come on! they're running!’ Suddenly he drops his musket and, clasping his arms across his breast, runs to the rear with a severe wound in the arm. ‘There's a brave man’ remarks Major Rice, and then tells his companions to ‘hurry up’ with their loading.

Here fell the gallant Adams, with one ball in the bowels, and another in the hip. Who does not remember ‘Bottle’ Ross, Kirby, Williams, Johnson, Corrigan—and half a hundred more who fell.

The Mississipians continue to move forward, unchecked by the thin line of skirmishers, who fall back from in front of the First Minnesota and those who are left from upon their right. Then the Minnesota regiment charges upon the long line of the enemy and returns with but a handful of men. These, however, bring back many captives, among them being a brother of D. J. Mc A. Jewett, of the Nineteenth Massachusetts. (This brother, [232] a native of Spain, was afterward killed on a foreign field, fighting for the Royalty of his native country.)

As the enemy fell back, the sun was just setting. Its rays lighted up the smoke which hung heavily in front, with a lurid glare. The rebels are seen running hither and thither, loading and firing. It is all an unnatural scene.

In this action Capt. Dodge, Lieutenants Adams and Stone were wounded, and several men were killed and wounded. It was now quite dark and in half an hour Capt. Leach, of the Brigade Staff, brought orders for the regiments to return to the old position of the Second Corps, where they arrived at 2 A. M. and lay down to rest on the line upon Cemetery Ridge. The Third Corps formed its new line upon the ridge to the left, and details from both corps bore off the wounded from the field.

Col. Devereux commanding the regiment, says of the action of the men on this day: ‘The most tried and veteran troops are never expected to march deliberately with a fire in their backs. It is universally agreed that when they can face the enemy, they must stand to the last, but when they have to turn their backs, it is not expected of them. I have always felt that, although on the following day (July 3rd), the Nineteenth did a magnificent thing, brilliant act as it was for a test of soldiership of a character most unexampled, what they did on the second day takes higher rank.’

During the first retirement of the men of the Nineteenth Massachusetts, the color sergeant was shot down and dropped the flag. It was immediately picked up by Benjamin H. Jellison of Co. C., who had become crowded into the color guard. He was at once made a sergeant and carried the color during the balance of this engagement, and on the following day performed an heroic deed which won for him the Medal of Honor.

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 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 1st (3)
July 2nd (2)
July 3rd (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: