ARMY OF THE POTOMAC
Headquarters, Artillery Brigade
1st Army Corps, Camp near Hagerstown, Md.
Tuesday, July 14, 1863
8 oclock a.m.
To the Editor of the Mohawk Valley Register:
I have had not one moments time to write you since my letter from Emmittsburg, just before the great battles of Gettysburg. The intervening time has been fraught with the greatest events and battles in the history of the war. The battle of Gettysburg may be set down as the greatest ever fought on the American Continent. Of course you and your readers have long since had the main particulars of the battle and its results. Suffice to say, it was the most complete victory the Army of the Potomac has ever won, and the country owe the highest debt of gratitude to the noble army which has fought so bravely and suffered so much in its cause.
The first day (July 1st) the advance guard of our Corps met the enemy about a mile northwest of Gettysburg, and Major General John F. Reynolds, Commanding the Corps, was instantly killed by a Minie ball from the first volley of their skirmishers. His body was being borne from the field as Colonel Wainwright and myself were rushing to the front to post the batteries, and we bared our heads in sorrow and reverence for the brave and noble General who had fallen at the moment he was most needed. Our troops were hurried forward and thrown into line of battle, and the batteries came up at a trot and were thrown into position and the battle opened immediately. Very soon after the 11th Corps, commanded by Major General Howard, came up and immediately formed line on our right. The enemy then outnumbered us more than 5 to 1, and soon becoming aware of the really small force he was contending against, threw his forces upon our lines in masses. But time after time our troops gallantly repulsed him, and a Brigade of Brigadier General Wadsworths Division charged and took two entire regiments of the enemy prisoners. Our Artillery, commanded by Colonel Wainwright, and the Batteries of the 11 Corps, commanded by Major T.W. Osborn, were splendidly handled and did terrible execution. The line of battle run from northeast to southwest, in a semi-circle--the center resting on the hill near the Seminary, just outside the town. About 2 oclock p.m., the enemy threw his forces in masses on our left and center, occupied by our Corps and after a most terrible and stubborn fight, our left was turned and compelled to give way, and the order was given to retire which was done in very good order, all circumstances considered.
Battery L, 1st New York Artillery, lost one gun in coming off the field, having all the horses on the off side shot down, and Battery B, 4th U.S. Artillery, lost one caisson and the body part to three more, but all the ammunition had been used out of them. While I was posting the 5th Maine Battery near the Seminary when the rebels charged our line, a Minie ball passed through the rim of my hat, and soon after when we were falling back a shell exploded over my head and a piece passed through my hat, just grazing my cheek--two close calls for one day.
Colonel Wainwright had a ball through his pantaloons near the ankle.
We fell back through the town to Cemetery Hill, where we immediately established a line of battle, under the direction of Major General Hancock, Commanding 2nd Corps. The enemy occupied the town and took our wounded prisoners, but did not feel disposed to renew the attack. The loss in our Corps was very heavy--the 3rd Division alone losing over 1700 in killed, wounded and missing. The Batteries of the Brigade lost 89 men and a 106 horses. Captain J. Reynolds, Commanding Battery L, 1st New York, was severely wounded in the head and it is thought will lose his left eye. Lieutenant Davison, Battery B, 4th U.S., was severely wounded in the ankle, and Lieutenant Hunt, 5th Maine Battery was severely wounded in the side by a ball in the thigh. Lieutenant Stewart (Stuart) of Battery B, 4th U.S., and Lieutenant Miller of Battery B, 1st Pennsylvania, were slightly wounded by pieces of shell.
During the evening and night of the 1st inst., the 2nd, 3rd and 12th Corps arrived and were immediately placed in position--the 12th Corps occupying the extreme right and the 3rd Corps the left.--Our line of battle was in the shape of a horseshoe, of which Cemetery Hill formed the toe and center. Our Batteries were posted on the right of the hill facing the town and to the right, and the 11th Corps Batteries on the Cemetery grounds, on the left of the hill, facing the town and to the left.
General Meade arrived at 2 oclock on the morning of the 2nd, and assumed command.
About 3 oclock p.m., July 2nd the enemy opened a terrible fire from over 100 pieces of Artillery, on our left and center, and soon after attacked our left, in force; but our men met and repulsed them handsomely in every charge and drove them completely from the field. They then attempted to take Cemetery Hill, and charged up the hill from the right of the town, in the face of 20 pieces of our Artillery pouring canister into their ranks. A few of them succeeded in getting up the hill and inside our works, when the cannoneers of Battery I, 1st New York Artillery, seized rails and knocked them down and drove them back. Thus ended the second days battle. Our loss in General officers was very large.
The 3rd day (July 3rd) was the most terrible of all. At 4 oclock in the morning, the enemy commenced the attack on the right, occupied by the 12th Corps, supported by one Division of the 1st and the 6th Corps. This fight was confined entirely to the infantry, in the woods, and continued until 11 oclock a.m. without an instants cessation. The firing then ceased. About 1 oclock p.m., the rebels opened an Artillery fire on Cemetery Hill from 150 pieces of Artillery, and we replied from about the same number--and for one hour and a half ensued one of the most terrible Artillery fights that has ever taken place in the world. The air was full of shrieking, bursting shells and shot. There was no place of safety or retreat. The tombstones and iron fences in the Cemetery were smashed and broken. Guns exploded, limber chests were blown up, and gun carriages knocked into fragments.--The very demons of the infernal regions seemed let loose. Horses and men lay dead, bleeding and wounded side by side. And then came the charge of 20,000 yelling, whooping rebels; but it was a sorry charge for them for they only rushed to certain death. Our Artillery turned all their fire on them, and the infantry met them with volley after volley from a line of works a mile in length. It was the last desperate struggle of the enemy to turn our left and gain a victory; but they were met by a veteran Corps (the 2nd and 3rd) supported by the 6th, the strongest Corps in the Army. They rushed on our riflepits and were met by men who had been through many a hard fought battle and learned no fear, and they were soon put to a quick rout, the Artillery mowing them down as they fled. About 3,000 of them were taken prisoners. The prisoners said that General Lee had addressed them that morning and told them they had nothing but militia to fight against and were assured a win.
We drove them two miles and occupied the field. Shout after shout rent the air from our victorious Army, and the band struck up Hail Columbia. Our victory was complete! But alas, the sad details! I immediately rode over the field, and God forbid I ever should see another such sight. In places I had to ride with the utmost care to keep from trampling on the dead and wounded. The shrieks and groans of the wounded were most appalling. The very air seemed filled with misery. Victor Hugos pen would utterly fail to describe the scene--it was beyond portrayal. In one place I counted 7 dead men piled one on the other. Our Sergeants exerted themselves in every possible manner, and the immense Ambulance train was busy night and day taking off the wounded; but still at a late hour on the evening of the 5th, there was still between two and three hundred of the rebel wounded uncared for on the field.
The male citizens of Gettysburg acted in the most cowardly, niggardly and miserly manner. Not a man offered to take up a musket in defense of their families and their homes; not one offered his services in caring for the wounded on the battlefield. They slunk into their cellars like whipped curs and never showed their dastard faces until the enemy were miles away. Bah! Such a patriotism!--They are not fit to carry hogs offal to bears! As soon as they found the enemy had retreated and they were safe, the miserable, sneaking scoundrels turned their houses into sutlers shops and charged our soldiers the most exorbitant prices ever dreamed of by the supreme god of extortion. They charged our soldiers a dollar a loaf for bread which can be bought for ten cents in any bake shop in New York; and I paid a good Union man fifty cents for six little, dirty, burnt biscuits.
The enemy were in full retreat and we left Gettysburg early on the morning of the 6th in pursuit. We marched to Emmitsburg, and encamped near the town for the night. Next morning, (7th) at 4 oclock precisely, we took up our march for Middletown, Maryland, passing through Mechanicsville and Lewistown, and at the latter place turned to the right over the Kiltoctin Mountain, by way of Hamburg. It rained all day, the roads were very heavy, and the guns tugged hard over the rough mountain road. We arrived at Hamburg, just on the top of the mountain, at dark, wet and weary and the five Batteries were crowded into a little open space not large enough to park one Battery decently; but was the best we could do, as the rain was falling in torrents. The night was pitchy dark, and the horses were unable to go down the mountain.--And there we lay down on the wet ground and spent the night on the mountain.--The friends at home can hardly conceive the privations and hardships the soldier has to undergo in a campaign like this. You may think it strange, but I saw many a poor fellow struggling up the mountain that day, with his heavy knapsack, haversack, gun and canteen, and his bare feet exposed to the sharp, cutting rocks--having worn out his shoes on the long marches. And dozens of others I saw who had sunk down by the roadside by fatigue, unable to proceed another step. But all these hardships are forgotten by the soldier as soon as he gets into camp, and he scarcely remembers them as a dream.--One good nights rest and he is ready and willing to go through with them again, if necessary.
At daylight on the morning of the 8th, the men were turned out, the rain still falling fast, and we again resumed the march for Middletown. The distance was only 6 miles and we arrived and went into camp between 9 and 10 oclock a.m. We were happy in anticipation of a good nights rest, and I was just about to sit down to a good dinner at a house where we had established headquarters when the order came to move immediately towards Boonsboro. I crowded down my dinner in a half masticated state and we resumed the march. As we neared South Mountain Gap, (the old battlefield) I heard the booming of Artillery and learned that our Cavalry under Kilpatrick and Buford were having a hard fight and were being driven back towards the Gap, on the other side of the mountain. The 1st and 11th Corps marched up the pike at quick-time, side by side, and we were very soon filing through the Gap.--A Division of the 11th Corps was immediately thrown forward, and the rebels struck a hasty retreat. We occupied the mountain gap until 6 oclock on the morning of the 10th, when we commenced the march towards Hagerstown. We only marched 5 miles, to Little Beaver Creek, where our forces were thrown into line of battle on a range of hills on the north side of the stream. The Batteries were planted, earthworks thrown up in front of them, rifle pits dug along the entire line, and everything got in readiness to resist an attack, should one be made. The 1st, 6th and 11th Corps were here while the 2nd, 3rd, 5th, and 12th Corps took the Williamsport Pike. About noon, our Cavalry had another fight with the enemy and drove them some distance.
We lay here until 10 oclock on the morning of Sunday the 12th inst., when we received information that the enemy had fallen back and that our Cavalry occupied Hagerstown.
The three Corps were immediately put in motion and about 3 p.m. we again formed line of battle between Funkstown and Hagerstown, and about 3/4s of a mile from either place. The enemys line of battle was just the other side of Hagerstown. Again we fortified ourselves in case of an attack and passed a quiet night. During the afternoon of the 13th (yesterday) one of the enemys Batteries threw three shells into our skirmish line but we made no reply.
It is said that a council of war was held yesterday morning, and that Generals Meade and Sedgwick were the only two in favor of attacking the enemy in his present position.
Williamsport, Maryland, July 14, 1863.--11:15 p.m.
I take this opportunity of finishing this letter, which was interrupted by an order to move immediately. Our skirmishers advanced over a mile this morning and could see nothing of the enemy. The Cavalry was then sent out to find his whereabouts, and Lo! they went away down here to Williamsport, six miles and found that General Lee had crossed the Potomac with his entire army, while we were asleep, and left us in the lurch!--I have no comments to make. We immediately marched to this place and went into camp. But Mr. Lee cannot shake off the Army of the Potomac so easy.--We shall follow him up sharp and fast and now for the chase. At present it is--all quiet on the Potomac.
Interesting account. It’s imagery brings the scene of the battle back to life. Thanks!