Skip to comments.The Hero of Gettysburg
Posted on 07/02/2004 4:54:07 AM PDT by Cincinatus
Winfield Scott Hancocks shot straight.
July 1-3 is the anniversary of the turning point of the Civil War, the Battle of Gettysburg. As we remember Gettysburg, we should take care to remember the man who was dubbed "The Hero of Gettysburg." After proving himself one of the greatest American generals of all time, he later became the Democratic nominee for president of the United States. Throughout his life, he offered a model of honesty and patriotism which should forever be emulated by Americans.
When he was a child, he befriended and defended the victims of bullies. At a time when even abolitionists looked down on black people, his son said of him, "My father has always impressed on my mind that all men are born free and equal."
He was a great warrior. When he was the Democratic nominee for president, he refused to accept campaign contributions. He was a superb American, admired by people of all political persuasions for his unimpeachable integrity and devotion to public service.
He was Winfield Scott Hancock, born on February 14, 1824 near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. And in 1881, he was elected the sixth president of the National Rifle Association.
HOLDING FOR THE UNION CAUSE
Named after the military hero Winfield Scott, Winfield Scott Hancock served ably as an infantry lieutenant in Indian Territory, and then as an officer in the Mexican War. As a child, he learned from his lawyer father a deep respect for Common Law. When Winfield departed for the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1840, his father placed in his luggage the Constitution of the United States, and Blackstone's Commentaries, with the instruction to read each at least once a year. Blackstone, of course, was the author of the most influential legal treatise ever written, the analysis of common law and civil liberty which declared the right "of having arms for their defence, suitable to their condition" to be one of "the natural rights of resistance and self-preservation, when the sanctions of society and laws are found insufficient to restrain the violence of oppression."
In 1856-58, Hancock and his wife Almira were stationed in Florida, where the Seminole Indians still carried out raids. While in Florida, Almira Hancock learned how to shoot.
When the Civil War began, the Hancocks were serving in Los Angeles. There was very little pro-Union sentiment in the city; most people wanted California to join the Confederacy, or to create an independent Western republic. As historian Glenn Tucker explains:
Probably all that saved the faraway section of Southern California for the Union at this critical moment was Hancock's care in seeing that his precious guns, ammunition, and supplies were adequately protected. He assembled 20 or so derringers for his own use in an emergency, then recruited every Union sympathizer in the neighborhood to be ready on a moment's notice. He armed Mrs. Hancock... [In a federal arms depot, Hancock] hid the boxes of guns and ammunition underneath great heaps of grain, drew up his wagons to form a barricade and prepared to fight it out. No officer was closer than a hundred miles, but Hancock faced attack with some confidence. Finally a squadron of cavalry arrived from Fort Tehone, a hundred miles away, and paraded, and the danger of the loss of Southern California was minimized. Many credited Hancock with holding it for the Union cause.
HANCOCK THE SUPERB
Having saved Southern California for the Union, Hancock headed east to join the fighting. His first major engagement was the battle of Williamsburg (May 4-5, 1862) in the Peninsula campaign; there he forced the Confederates to retreat by breaking their left flank. General George McClellan said "Hancock was superb today." Thereafter, he was known as "Hancock the Superb."
At Antietam (Sept. 17, 1862), Hancock took command of the Second Corps after Israel B. Richardson was killed in action. Hancock's division fought at Fredericksburg (Dec. 13, 1862), in the grueling assault on Marye's Heights. After the Confederate victory at Chancellorsville (May 3, 1863), Hancock led the rear guard which protected the Union withdrawal.
On the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1, 1863), Hancock formed the Union defensive positions at Little Round Top and Cemetery Ridge the key positions which held the Union center. As McClellan had observed, Hancock "had a wonderfully quick and correct eye for ground."
On the third day of Gettysburg, Hancock commanded the First, Second, and Third Corps three-fifths of the Union army. That day, Robert E. Lee flung the Virginia militia and Confederate Lt. General James Longstreet into "Pickett's Charge," a bold offensive gamble to win the battle, and perhaps the war, in a single day.
The charge began, and Hancock was everywhere, ordering the regiments and brigades. The steady advance of Picketts' men was the high water mark of the Confederacy. A bullet ripped through Hancock's saddle, opened an inch-wide hole in his body, and lodged eight inches inside his groin along with a nail and a piece of wood as big as the bullet. Hancock looked as if he had been cut with a butcher's knife.
Hancock refused to be carried to safety, and continued to direct the combat from his stretcher. Pickett's Charge was repulsed, and the Union dubbed Hancock "the hero of Gettysburg." The Confederates called him the "Thunderbolt of the Army of the Potomac."
President Lincoln explained, "When I go down in the morning to open my mail, I declare that I do it in fear and trembling lest I may hear that Hancock has been killed or wounded." Lincoln also wrote "Some of the older generals have said to me that he is rash, and I have said to them that I have watched General Hancock's conduct very carefully, and I have found that when he goes into action he achieves his purpose and comes out with a smaller list of casualties than any of them."
Fittingly, the Uberti "Gettysburg Tribute" historic rifle includes an engraving of Hancock.
Although the wound caused him pain for the rest of life, Hancock recuperated sufficiently to return to fight in the Wilderness Campaign, where, in the Battle of Spotsylvania (May 12, 1864) he earned the rank of "major general" for breaking through a Confederate salient in less than an hour and capturing almost 3,000 prisoners.
He was not always victorious in battle, and his Second Corps suffered terrible losses at Cold Harbor (June 3, 1864). But as General Grant recalled, "his name was never mentioned as having committed in battle a blunder for which he was responsible." McClellan called him "brilliant in the extreme." William Tecumsah Sherman declared him "one of the greatest soldiers in history."
During Reconstruction, Hancock was appointed Governor of the 5th Military District, which encompassed Texas and Louisiana. Hancock refused to bully the defeated and vulnerable citizenry of Texas and Louisiana. His General Orders No. 40 of November 29, 1867, announced how he intended to govern. Predicting "they will crucify me," Hancock wrote:
[T]he great principles of American liberty are still the lawful inheritance of this people, and ever should be. The right of trial by jury, the habeas corpus, the liberty of the press, the freedom of speech, the natural rights of persons and the rights of property must be preserved. Free institutions, while they are essential to the prosperity and happiness of the people, always furnish the strongest inducements to peace and order.
General Orders No. 40 was soon published all over the country. Hancock's policy was joyfully received by the south as a sign that the war was finally over, and by Northerners who looked forward to reconciliation and the restoration of constitutional government.
But for the radical majority in Congress who believed that the southern states were conquered areas deserving punishment, Hancock's words were anathema. In a famous letter to the civil governor of Texas, William Pease one of those who found fault with General Orders No. 40 Hancock defended the right of critics of the national government to express their opinions, no matter how vehement:
[I]t is the privilege and duty of any and every citizen, wherever residing, to publish his opinion freely and fearlessly on this and every question which he thinks concerns his interest.... It is time now, at the end of almost two years from the close of the war, we should begin to recollect what manner of people we are; to tolerate again free, popular discussion, and extend some forbearance and consideration to opposing views. The maxims, that in all intellectual contests truth is mighty and must prevail, and that error is harmless when reason is left free to combat it, are not only sound, but salutary. It is a poor compliment, to the merit of such a cause, that its advocates would silence opposition by force; and generally those only who are in the wrong will resort to this ungenerous means.
Hancock recognized that there was a great deal of intimidation by carpetbaggers who had employed the threat of federal retaliation in order to prevent their political enemies from voting. Hancock refused to allow the military to be part of the problem. In Special Orders No. 213 of December 18, 1867, Section IX, he declared:
Military interference with elections, "unless it shall be necessary to keep the peace at the polls," is prohibited by law; and no soldiers will be allowed to appear at any polling place, unless, as citizens of the State, they are registered as voters, and then only for the purpose of voting....
He likewise refused to use military force to interfere with the operation of the courts, unless the civil authorities asked him for aid.
Hancock's generous policy toward the conquered South was unique among the military governors of the time. His supporters thought he provided a model for national reconciliation. Congress and the military hierarchy disagreed. General Grant repeatedly countermanded Hancock's orders. In response, Hancock wrote to a congressional ally: "I may expect one humiliation after another until I am forced to resign... [But n]othing can intimidate me from doing what I believe to be honest and right."
The conflict came to a head when Hancock, a Democrat, appointed fellow Democrats to the New Orleans City Council. On February 27, 1868, only six months after his appointment, he requested and received reassignment to the West.
Although Hancock was considered as a possible Democratic presidential nominee in 1876, the party nominated New York Governor Samuel J. Tilden, who ran against Republican Rutherford B. Hayes. The election of 1876 was one of the dirtiest in American history. There were disputes in Oregon, Florida, South Carolina, and Louisiana about who had won the state's electoral votes. Hayes was eventually declared the winner by a single vote, after a special commission voted 8-7 along partisan lines to award all the contested votes to Hayes.
But in some of the contested states, the reason the vote had been so close was that Democrats had illegally prevented many black people from voting. So although the Republicans had perpetrated numerous dirty tricks in ballot counting, Hancock the Democrat defended the legitimacy of Republican President Hayes. As Hayes recorded in his diary,
one of the ablest and most influential Democrats in the country [Hancock], who was perfectly familiar with the inner history of the whole affair on the Democratic side, told me that no intelligent or candid man of his party could claim the election for the Democratic party if he conceded the validity of the Fifteenth Amendment. Said he, 'If the negro vote is entitled to be considered, you should have had more States than were counted for you.'
A PLACE IN HISTORY
If Hancock had not written General Orders No. 40, he might have quietly achieved more of the goals expressed in Orders No. 40. However, it was those forthright written words that placed him on the path to a presidential nomination. In a letter to Hancock, former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Jeremiah S. Black, who had also served as Attorney General under President Buchanan, wrote that General Orders No. 40 would give him "a place in history which your children will be proud of."
In 1880, the Democrats nominated Winfield Scott Hancock for president. Hancock's running mate was William H. English, a banker from Indiana. Neither Hancock nor English would accept personal donations. Although local Democratic organizations (like local Republican organizations) spent their own money, the Republican candidate James A. Garfield also accepted huge personal donations. As Hancock's biographer notes, "Undoubtedly, his extreme punctiliousness about money at a time when the opposition party was spending lavishly impaired his prospects."
There were no personal charges that could be used against Hancock, so Republicans focused on the presumed political naïveté of military figures (a hypocritical charge for a party that had twice nominated Ulysses Grant who, like Hancock, had not previously held elective office).
The popular vote was the closest in American history, as Garfield edged Hancock by only 9,464 votes. Garfield won the Electoral College 214 to 155. Democratic disunity in the swing state of New York, with 35 electoral votes, cost Hancock the presidency of the United States.
But Hancock did not retire from public life. Instead, he set to work to fix one of the problems which had been revealed by the Civil War. During the Civil War, it was widely known that Confederate soldiers, many of whom had grown up on farms, were superior to the more urbanized Union army with regard to firearm proficiency.
The Union soldiers' training was inadequate. Many of them fired only a single round in all of their training, and some fired none at all. In 1864, Hancock had taken an informal survey of his own men and found that a third of them had never shot their musket. It was also suspected that Custer's 1876 disaster at the Little Big Horn was partly due to the army's lack of skill with firearms.
Former Union officers founded the National Rifle Association in 1871 in New York State to promote marksmanship. Unfortunately for the NRA, Alonzo B. Cornell was elected governor of New York in 1880. Cornell was openly hostile to the nascent National Guard. Cornell naïvely predicted: "There will be no war in my time or in the time of my children." He added, "The only need for a National Guard is to show itself in parades and ceremonies. I see no reason for them to learn to shoot if their only function will be to march a little through the streets. Rifle practice...is a waste of money...."
When Gen. George W. Wingate, an attorney and then vice president of the NRA, attempted to convince Governor Cornell that American soldiers should be skilled in the use of arms, Cornell bellowed back: "Then we should take their rifles away from them and sell them to benefit the Treasury. It would be more practical and far less expensive to arm them with clubs which require no instruction in their use."
Cornell had won office as a fiscal conservative, and his cuts to the New York National Guard budget financially destabilized the fledgling National Rifle Association.
MASTERS OF THEIR ARMS
Hancock was elected NRA president in 1881, based on hopes that his prestige as a nationally recognized and beloved figure would bolster the organization. In this regard, Hancock was a forerunner of NRA president Charlton Heston, whose prestige also boosted the NRA.
As president, Hancock explained, "The object of the NRA is to increase the military strength of the country by making skill in the use of arms as prevalent as it was in the days of the Revolution."
By aiming to revive the Revolutionary tradition of the American marksman, Hancock and the NRA were taking sides in one of the cultural battles of the era. As the Industrial Revolution matured, more and more American workers were performing simple, repetitive tasks in huge factories. The view that individuals were mere cogs in the industrial machine had its parallel in warfare in the view that the ordinary soldier should just follow orders blindly and shoot in the general direction of the enemy's mass. A random hail of bullets was all that infantry was supposed to produce.
The contrary view of Hancock and other NRA leaders was that Americans were more than brutes in service of the military-industrial complex. They were individuals who should be the masters of their arms, and whose personal skills should be encouraged and celebrated with competitions and prizes. The Americans of 1881 could, in Hancock's view, be every bit as competent and personally excellent as the Americans of 1781.
The same cultural conflict which led to the founding of the NRA continues today. On one side are pessimists who insist that modern Americans are too clumsy and hot-tempered to be trusted with guns. On the NRA side are people who believe that the virtues and skills of the Founding generation can and must be emulated by Americans of every generation.
The best biographies acknowledge a subject's foibles. Hancock's biographers, however, did not tell us what his faults were. His wife of 36 years, Almira, did not reveal his faults, and she destroyed many of his personal letters. His political rivals could find little more to complain about than his stubborn honesty and integrity.
General William T. Sherman told an interviewer, "if you will sit down and write the best that can be put in the English language of General Hancock as a soldier and as a gentleman, I will sign it without hesitation." When Winfield Scott Hancock passed away in 1886, former President Hayes said succinctly, "he was through and through pure gold."
Dave Kopel is research director at the Independence Institute. Paul Gallant and Joanne Eisen are senior fellows.
During my college years I spent a lot of time in the Tulane University Library in New Orleans researching the Civil War.
While working on a paper I came across some Letters, Documents
and Papers about Winfield Scott Hancock. I was very impressed with his leadership and what others said of him that I named my first born son after him. General Grant once said of him that he did not make a mistake on the battlefield that he was aware of. That is a very impressive statement.
As a Reb, I like Hancock, but nobody holds a candle to Chamberlain.
Agreed. If there was a hero at Gettysburg, Chamberlain was the one. Hancock, certainly a most able and great commander, merely needed to mow down the Rebel advance at the middle. What Chamberlain accomplished at the flank helped force Lee to make the last-day blunder. A read of Chamberlain's life story is simply astounding.
Not to carp, but Hancock would thus have been responsible for the thin defense of Little Round Top which had the Union cause in great peril 141 years ago today, and which allowed/forced Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain's men to show great individual heroism and sacrifice. Had the Confederates used said high ground to pour artillery fire into the Union position, all might have unraveled.
"The most desperate struggle occurred on Longstreet's front , where two Union regiments at separated points of this combat zone, the 20th Maine and the 1st Minnesota, achieved lasting fame by throwing back Confederate attacks that came dangerously close to breakthroughs.
A mile to the north, however, another Alabama brigade threatened to puncture the Cemetery Ridge line near its center.
Their attack hit a gap in the Union line created by the earlier advance of Sickle's corps to the peach orchard. Winfield Scott Hancock's 2nd Corps occupied the sector, but until Hancock could shift reinforcements to stop the assault he had only eight companies of one regiment on hand to meet the oncoming brigade.
The regiment was the 1st Minnesota, veteran of all the army's battles since the beginning at Bull Run. Hancock ordered these 262 men to charge the 1,600 Alabamians and slow them down long enough for reinforcements to arrive.
The Minnesotan's did the job, but only forty-seven of them came back. Hancock plugged the gap, and the Confederate attack all along the southern half of the battlefield flickered out in the twilight."
James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom (New York: Ballantine Books, 1988).
"It was at Gettysburg that the First had its rendezvous with history, not once, but twice. It was here that the First earned the right to be on William F. Fox's list of the Civil War's great fighting regiments. On July 2, the First was called upon to stop the advance of the Confederates through a gap in the Union line. They did so at a cost of two-thirds of those involved, described by Hancock as one of the most gallant deeds in history.
The next day, the regiment participated in one of the great military dramas of American History--the Pickett-Pettigrew Charge and repulse. At the Copse of Trees, the First lost another one-third of the few survivors from the day before."
Robert W. Meinhard, "The First Minnesota at Gettysburg," The Gettysburg Magazine (January 1991).
I am breaking 5 or so years of silence to begin the "Chamberlain was the true hero of Gettysburg" discussion.
>(no, not because I saw the Ted Turner movie)> Flame away!
Ah yes, Joshua Chamberlain, the David Ireland of the Left.
Chamberlain was a fine soldier, but Killer Angels made his modern reputation. That's not to detract from his conduct on Little Round Top or subsequently, but David Ireland and the 137th New York did everything on Culp's Hill that Chamberlain and the 20th Maine did on Little Round Top: held the extreme right, battle in the balance, assailed by three times their number of rebs, extended the line, shifted position, refused the flank, held despite heavy casualties. But most people have never heard of them.
Chamberlain survived to write several books, toot his own horn with gusto, and enjoy a brilliant postwar career, all of which made him an easy figure for Michael Shaara to resurrect. Ireland was mortally wounded at Resaca the next summer. On such things does fame depend.
There were lots of heroes at Gettysburg.
Chamberlain was the regimental colonel of the 20th Maine at the time of the Battle of Gettysburg. He was assigned the job of holding the Federal left flank in the battle and he did a superb job of his assignment. The actions of Chamberlain and his men were in any sense of the word, heroic.
Yet how does his accomplishment stack up against Hancock's? When Hancock arrived on the field at Gettysburg, Reynolds had been killed and he took operational command of the army until Meade could come up (which didn't happen until late the night of the 1st.) He immediately saw that holding Cemetary Ridge was key at Gettysburg -- it was a strong, defensible position but it also placed the Federal army between the Confederates and Washington DC, their supposed objective. He carefully positioned the troops he had at his disposal about as well as he could have, and that turned out to be as good as was needed -- Lee attacked for two days and could not dislodge them. Moreover, Hancock was personally involved in command at the line level, even after his horrific injury (as described in the article above).
I contend that Hancock was indeed absolutely critical to the Federal victory. This takes nothing away from Chamberlain, who after all, received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions. Chamberlain's actions saved the Federal left flank; Hancock's actions saved the Army of the Potomac.
Much credit is given to the 20th Maine's defense of Little Round Top (and justifiably so) but the charge of the 1st Minnesota is impressive too.
If you're ever in the Minnesota State Capitol, go to the rotunda and you can see the flag of the 1st Minnesota. It is an impressive sight and it reminds me always of the sacrifices of our soldiers throughout history.
For those Freep'ers wanting to learn more, I encourage you to read Pale Horse at Plum Run: The First Minnesota at Gettysburg. It's written by Brian Leehan.
A Minnesotan won the Medal Of Honor during Pickett's Charge when he captured the flag of the 35th Virginia near the stone wall. That flag was never returned after the war and is occasionally on display at the Minnesota Historical Society in St Paul.
Winfield Scott Hancock (center, with right arm on tree trunk) 1824 - 1886, David Bell Birney 1825 - 1864, and their staffs.
When Shaara wrote "Gods and Generals", Hancock was prominently featured in about a third of the chapters, more chapters than Thomas Jackson was. Yet when you look at that miserable movie, Hancock has less screen time than Ted Turner.
I'm a big admirer of Hancock, to be sure.
But the real unsung "Hero" of Gettysburg is Buford. Without his decision to hold the highground, the Battle of Gettysburg never occurs, and old Bobby Lee would have been able to do what he did better than most, fight a battle of manuever.
Buford's actions on June 30th and the morning of July 1st, combined with Stewart's infamous error, combined to ensnare the Army of Northern Virginia in a type of engagement that was contrary to its very nature. The second and third days of the battle could be summed up as more of a "seige" than anything else, in my humble opinion.
Unfortunate phrasing on my part when I said "if." Didn't mean it that way.
Interesting that he was a Democrat and a President of the NRA. But that just exemplifies how very far to the left the Dems have slithered.
A Visit to the Gettysburg Battle Field.
Gettysburg, Pa., July 7th, 1863
Editors Union: Presuming an account direct from the field of the late dreadful and sanguinary struggle at this place, may prove of interest to the friends of our brave Rochester boys who participated in its glorious results, I pen you a few observations of my experience during the past twenty-four hours. Through the persistent efforts of an influential citizen, I obtained a pass from Gen. Schenck to leave Baltimore and proceed to the battlefield, and left with a party of friends in a carriage on the eve of the fifth, it being impossible for any civilian to go by railroad.
On arriving at Westminister we met Sedwick's baggage trains, and were obliged to remain over night, though we could find no food for man or beast, as all the towns, and most of the residents on the Gettysburg "Pike" were completely cleared out last week by the rebels.
We proceeded early in the morning, and ere long we had plenty of indications of the late struggle, in the ambulance wagons filled with wounded, and others on foot, plodding wearily along, most all of the men exhibiting wounds of some kind. When within six miles of Gettysburg the signs of desolation were striking, in the destruction of all fences and crops within sight. As we approached nearer, dead horses in the road and adjoining fields became plentiful, causing a stench quite sickening.
We finally left the road and turned into the cemetery, and soon found ourselves on the now celebrated "Cemetery Hill" for a time, during the most critical period of the engagement, the headquarters of General Meade. At this elevated point we had a fine and comprehensive view of the field, it being the centre itself. The sight here was appalling indeed, the beautiful repose of the dead being one mass of ruins-the imposing arched entrance gate being sadly disfigured by shot and shell-the fences, the ornamental iron railings being felled and scattered in all directions, the chaste and beautiful marble shafts, monuments and tablets lay broken and dismantled, the ground strewn with soldiers' accoutrements, muskets and dead horses, whilst cannon balls, fragments of shell, grape, cannister and cartridges lay thickly strewn about; also some few champagne bottles which I noticed on the graves near where Meade's headquarters were. Off to the right and left could be seen thousands of new made graves, with their pine head boards. On an elevation, alone among the graves stood a wounded horse.
We left this heart sickening scene to pursue our observations on the left, reading many of the inscriptions on the graves, eager to see if any belonged to the Rochester regiments. We pursued, in the course of the tide of devastation, our way some two miles through the thick made graves and dead horses, which latter were now as plenty as stumps in a new settlement. Some you could observe no wounds upon, while others were mangled horribly, and some, from their position, holding their heads up, you could not believe were dead until you approached closely.
The ground, all the way, was literally covered with muskets, broken artillery, wagons and wheels, caps, coats, blankets, haversacks, accoutrements of all kinds, playing cards, letters, books, &c., &c., for miles. Whole boxes of ammunition, now broken, were also seen. By most of the solitary graves lay the occupant's out-fit complete, and the food he had with him at the time.
We now proceeded through the first woods on the left, northwest of the cemetery. The trees were completely riddled by shot and shell, while missiles of all kinds were as thick as berries. After passing on through the woods into the fields beyond we first saw the dead rebels who had not, as yet, been interred. This sight was disgusting in the extreme. They lay in all positions, the faces being black from decomposition. The frequency of the sight seemed, however, to harden us to it; so after cutting a few buttons off of them, we left them with a requiescat in pace.
We now cut off to a neat looking farm house, with large barns attached which we thought outside of the line of battle, but on a nearer approach we saw that the premises were within the devastating fire which had swept by it as with the besom of destruction. But all was lonely and silent now, the doors were open, the plates and some food on the table, the house ransacked from cellar to garret, everything broken and strewn about as if by malice. A carnival of demons would not have left a blacker picture of ruin and riot. A shell had entered one side of the house and burst among the bed clothes, where we found fragments of it; the clock ticked solemnly on, and was within three minutes of my watch. In the front yard were four new graves, while within a stones throw were from twenty to thirty dead horses.
On going to the barn, which was riddled with bullets, we found a dead horse in a stall. We put our horse in the barn and pushed on further to the left, and to the first range of hills or mountains went of the village. Here were evidences of a dreadful conflict and carnage, and the rebels lay thick on the ground, and were also buried by hundreds in large pits; some containing as many as five hundred bodies. The stench here was so intolerable that we were obliged to hold large bunches of pennyroyal to our noses, and breathe through the herbs.
On going up the steep and rocky mountain side, we came to an impromptu stone wall fortification, which, on entering, what was my surprise to see a torn and dirty copy of the "Union and Advertiser," also a scrap of "Moore's Rural New Yorker." I knew well then that some of our boys had occupied the very spot, and the post of danger was well defended, for within a hundred yards of that stone wall I saw a hundred rebels laying stiff in their gore. Horrible and ghastly indeed was the tale thus told.
I finally came across three privates of the 140th Reg't, who said that their regiment had occupied the place, and had lost their brave Colonel. They were doing hospital duty to the wounded left a few miles further on. One of them named Campbell, who lived at Lyell Bridge, said their loss was 131, killed, wounded and missing. They showed me some fresh made graves from which I copied the following names: S.O. Webb, Co.. G; Chas. Speisberger, Co. D; Justice Eisenberger, Co. D; Ph. Bechner, Co. D; John Zubler, Co. B; Rob't Shields, Co. C; John Allen, Co. C; John Hindel, Co. C; Rob't Blair, Co. D; Corp.. John Evans, Co. D. I was told that Col. O'Rorke was temporarily interred at their camp hospital about 5 miles northwest of Gettysburg, as no one could be spared in the emergency to convey his remains home. Among the officers in the field hospital are Capt. Starks, wounded in hand, Capt. Speiss, badly, in breast and leg; Capt. Sibley, in thighs; Lieut. Klein, leg and side; McGraw, leg off; and Smith, the "Razor Strop man." wounded leg. All are in care of Brockport surgeon, who belongs to the 140th Reg't.
Every effort is being made to get the wounded into the regular hospitals, but there are thousands of them and it will take time. Thousands are flocking here to aid the sufferers, and here is the place for the Relief Associations to send their "aids and comforts." Meade's army is hard after the fleeing pillagers. From conversations I heard between Union and Rebel officers, they all agree, while mutually complimenting each other's bravery, that this was the most severe and desperately contested engagement of the war. From its track of desolation and ravages, anything worse is beyond imagination.
From Our Own Correspondent
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. Yours truly, A. Matthewson
Hancock was a professional soldier, Chamberlain I believe was a teacher. All of Hancock's 1st day achievements could have been undone if the left flank had caved. Hancock indeed saw the ground & held it.Only after the Cav had initially began holding it.
I am not trying to take anything away from Hancock, its just that Chamberlain saved the battle at Little Round Top.
On the third day of Gettysburg, Hancock commanded the First, Second, and Third Corps three-fifths of the Union army. That day, Robert E. Lee flung the Virginia militia and Confederate Lt. General James Longstreet into "Pickett's Charge," a bold offensive gamble to win the battle, and perhaps the war, in a single day.
That is the first time that I have ever heard of Major General George Pickett and his Division described as the "Virginia militia", since it was actually a Confederate States Army unit. It was a large Division of five brigades, four from Virginia, one from South Carolina, with all five numbering around 10,000 men. However during the Gettysburg campaign, only three Virginia brigades marched north, the other two brigades were left behind to help secure Richmond from any Federal attack. So in the end, Pickett had only 6,000 men in his combat command, one of the smallest Confederate Divisions to participate in the action at Gettysburg. I wonder if the extra 4,000 fresh men would have help the penetration at the center...
Someone told me several years ago that she had chanced upon his grave site in Norristown, PA and that it had been overgrown with weeds and thoroughly neglected. Very few people here have probably even heard of him.
Oops. Apparently someone else found the grave and cleaned it up. Here's a link to the picture: http://philanet.com/hancock/
FYI: I just caught the 2003 140th Reenactment video: Three Days of Destiny
HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY!!!!
This was one of many links in the article at National Review Online. Check out the engraving on the receiver. Happy Fourth of July!!!!
I have been confused by the fact that Jeff Shaara, in his (great) book "Gone for Soldiers" about the Mexican war in 1847 refers to Winfield Scott as the commander of the US forces...whereas in "The Glorious Cause" (or was it his dad, Mike Shaara, in "Gods and Generals" he refered to him as Winfield Scott Hancock. It appears that he was the same person from this synopsis. Can anyone clarify?
Not the usual topics but a very good read if you like history.
Happy Fourth of July!!!!
BUMP for later reading.
You have the right screen name for this post.
But is this same fellow Winfield Scott Hancock? If not who is Hancock, if so, why the confusion (mine) over "Hancock"?
HOLDING FOR THE UNION CAUSE
Named after the military hero Winfield Scott, Winfield Scott Hancock served ably as an infantry lieutenant in Indian Territory, and then as an officer in the Mexican War
That's from the text near the start of the article. Check dates of birth.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.