A Sampler of Civil War Literature
»Battles

back to the Civil War Sampler Home Page
back to the intro to this section


 
The Fourteenth at Gettysburg
Harper's Weekly, November 21, 1863
 
"Come, Fred, tell me all about that glorious fight which, you know, it was just my ill-luck to miss. If it had been such another shipping as we had at Fredericksburg, the Fates would probably have let me be there. I have heard several accounts, and know the regiment did nobly; but the boys all get so excited telling about it that I have not yet a clear idea of the fight."

"Here goes, then," said the Adjutant, lighting a fresh cigar. "It will serve to pass away time, which hangs so heavy on our hands in this dreary hospital."

"We were not engaged on the first day of the fight, July 1, 1863, but were on the march for Gettysburg that day. All the afternoon we heard the cannonading growing more and more distinct as we approached the town, and as we came on the field at night learned that the First and Eleventh corps had fought hard, suffered much, and been driven back outside the town with the loss of Major-General Reynolds, who, it was generally said, brought on an engagement too hastily with Lee’s whole army. We bivouacked on the field that night.

"About nine o’clock the next morning we moved up to the front, and by ten o’clock the enemy’s shells were falling around us. Captain Coit had a narrow escape here. We had just stacked arms and were resting, when a runaway horse, frightened by the shelling, came full tilt at him; ‘twas ‘heavy cavalry’ against ‘light infantry;’ but Coit had presence of mind enough to draw his sword and bringing it to a point it entered the animal’s belly. The shock knocked Coit over, and he was picked up senseless with a terribly battered face, and carried to the rear."

"By-the-way, Fred, is it not singular that he should have recovered so quickly and completely from such a severe blow?"

"Indeed it is. He is as handsome as ever; but to go on. At four o’clock in the afternoon we moved up to support a battery, and here we lay all night. About dark Captain Broatch went out with the pickets. Though under artillery fire all day we were not really engaged, as we did not fire a gun. Some of our pickets, unfortunately going too far to the front, were taken prisoners during the night. "At about five o’clock on the morning of the 3d Captain Townsend went out with companies B and D and relieved Broatch. As soon as he got out Townsend advanced his men as skirmishers some three hundred yards beyond the regiment, which moved up to the impromptu rifle-pits, which were formed partially by a stone-wall and partially by a rail fence. Just as soon as our skirmishers were posted they began firing at the rebel skirmishers, and kept it up all day, until the grand attack in the afternoon. Before they had been out twenty minutes, Corporal Huxham, of Company B, was instantly killed by a rebel bullet. It was not discovered until another of our skirmishers, getting out of ammunition, went up to him, saying, ‘Sam, let me have some cartridges?’ Receiving no answer, he stooped down and discovered that a bullet had entered the poor fellow’s mouth and gone out at the back of his head, killing the brave, Chancellorsville-scarred, corporal so quickly that he never knew what hurt him. Presently Captain Moore was ordered down with four companies into a lot near by, to drive the rebel sharp-shooters out of a house and barn from whence they were constantly picking off our men. Moore went down on a double-quick, and, as usual, ahead of his men; he was first man in the barn, and as he entered the Butternuts were already jumping out. Moore and his men soon cleared the barn and then started for the house. Here that big sergeant in Company J (Norton) sprang in at the front door just in time to catch a bullet in his thigh, from a reb watching at the back; but that reb did not live long to brag of it, one of our boys taking him ‘on the wing.’ Moore soon cleared the house out and went back with his men. Later in the day rebs again occupied the house, and Major Ellis took the regiment and drove them out, burning the house, so as not to be bothered by any more concealed sharp-shooters in it."

"Yes, I know the Major don’t like to do a thing but once, so he always does it thoroughly the first."

"It was in these charges for the possession of that house we lost more officers and men than in all the rest of the fight.

"About one o’clock in the afternoon the enemy, who had been silent so long that the boys were cooking coffee, smoking, sleeping, etc., suddenly opened all their batteries of reserve artillery upon the position held by our corps (the Second). First one great gun spoke, then, as if it had been the signal for the commencement of an artillery conversation, the whole hundred and twenty or more opened their mouths at once and poured out their thunder. A perfect storm of shot and shell rained around and among us. The boys quickly jumped to their rifles and lay down behind the wall and rail barricade. For two hours this storm of shot and shell continued, and seemed to increase in fury. Good God! I never hear any thing like it, and our regiment has been under fire ‘somewhat,’ as you know. The ground trembled like an aspen leaf; the air was full of small fragments of lead and iron from the shells. Then the sounds—there was the peculiar ‘whoo? —whoo?—whoo-oo?’ of the round shot; the ‘which-one?’—‘which-one?’ of that fiendish Whitworth projectile, and the demoniac shriek of shells. It seemed as if all the devils in hell were holding high carnival. But, strange as it may seem, it was like many other ‘sensation doings,’ ‘great cry and little wool,’ as our regiment, and, in fact, the whole corps lost very few men by it, the missiles passing over beyond our position, save the Whitworth projectiles which did not quite reach us, as their single gun of that description was two miles off. Had the enemy had better artillerists at their guns, or a better view of our position, I can not say what would have been the final result; but certain it is, nothing mortal could have stood that fire long, had it been better directed, and if our corps had broken that day, Gettysburg would have been a lost battle, and General Lee, instead of Heintzelman, the commanding officer in this District of Columbia to-day.

"About three p.m. the enemy’s fire slackened, died away, and the smoke lifted to disclose a corps of the rebel ‘Grand Army of Northern Virginia,’ advancing across the long level plain in our front, in three magnificent lines of battle, with the troops massed in close column by division on both flanks. How splendidly they looked! Our skirmishers, who had staid at their posts through all, gave them volley after volley as they came on, until Captain Townsend was ordered to bring his men in, which he did in admirable order; his men, loading and firing all the way, came in steadily and coolly—all that were left of them, for a good half of them were killed or wounded before they reached the regiment.

"On, on came the rebels, with colors flying and bayonets gleaming in the sunlight, keeping their lines as straight as if on parade: over fences and ditches they come, but still their lines never break, and still they come. For a moment all is hush along our lines, as we gaze in silent admiration at these brave rebs; then our division commander, ‘Aleck Hayes,’ rides up, and, pointing to the last fence the enemy must cross before reaching us, says, ‘Don’t fire till they get to that fence; then let ‘em have.’

"On, on, come the rebs, till we can see the whites of their eyes, and hear their officers command, ‘Steady, boys, steady!’ They reach the fence, some hundred yards in front of us, when suddenly the command ‘Fire!’ rings down our line; and, rising as one man, the rifles of the old Second Army Corps ring a death-knell for many a brave heart, in butternut dress, worthy of a better cause—a knell that will ring in the hearts of many mothers, sister, and wives, on many a plantation in the once fair and sunny South, where there will be weeping and wailing for the soldier who never returns, who sleeps at Gettysburg. "Load and fire at will!’ Oh Heaven! How we poured our fire into them then—a merciless hail of lead! Their first line wavers, breaks, and runs; some of their color sergeants halt and plant their standards firmly in the ground: they are too well disciplined to leave their colors yet. But they stop only for a moment; then fall back, colors and all. They fall back, but rally, and dress on the other lines, under a tremendous fire from our advancing rifles: rally, and come on again to meet their death. Line after line of rebels come up, deliver their fire, one volley, and they are mown down like the grass of the field. They fall back, form, and come up again, with their battle-flags still waving; but again they are driven back.

"On our right is a break in the line, where a battery has been in position, but, falling short of ammunition, and unable to move it off under such a heavy fire, the gunners have abandoned it to its fate. Some of the rebels gain a footing here. One daring fellow leaps upon the gun, and waves his rebel flag. In an instant a right oblique fire from ‘ours,’ and a left oblique from the regiment on the left of the position, rolls the ragged rebel and rebel rag in the dust, rolls the determined force back from the gun, and it is ours.

"By-and-by the enemy’s lines come up smaller and thinner, break quicker, and are longer in forming. Our boys are wild with excitement, and grow reckless. Lieutenant John Tibbetts stands up yelling like mad, ‘Give it to ‘em! Give it to ‘em!’ A bullet enters his arm—that same arm in which he caught two bullets at Antietam; Johnny’s game arm drops by his side; he turns quickly to his First Lieutenant, saying, ‘I have got another bullet in the same old arm, but I don’t care a d—n!’ Heaven forgive Johnny! rebel lead will sometimes bring rebel words with it. All of ‘Ours’ are carried away with excitement; the Sergeant-Major leaps a wall, dashes down among the rebs, and brings back a battle-flag; others follow our Sergeant-Major; and before the enemy’s repulse becomes a rout we of the Fourteenth have six of their battle-flags.

"Prisoners are brought in by hundreds, officers and men. We pay no attention to them, being too busy sending our leaden messengers after the now flying hosts. One of our prisoners, a rebel officer, turns to me, saying, ‘Where are the men we’ve been fighting?’ ‘Here,’ I answer, pointing down our short thin line. ‘Good God!’ says he, ‘is that all? I wish I could get back.’"

"Yes," I interrupted, "Townsend told me that when he fell back with his skirmishers and saw the whole length of our one small, thin, little line pitted against those then full lines of the rebels, his heart almost sank within him; but Meade had planned that battle well, and every one of our soldiers told."

"Yes," said Fred, "Meade planned the fight well, and Hancock, Hayes, and in fact all of them fought it well. All through the fight General Hancock might be seen galloping up and down the lines of our bully corps, regardless of the leaden hail all about him; and when finally severely wounded in the hip he was carried a little to the rear, where he lay on his stretcher and still gave his orders.

"The fight was now about over; there was only an occasional shot exchanged between the retreating rebel sharp-shooters and our own men, and I looked about me and took an account of stock. We had lost about seventy killed and wounded and taken prisoners, leaving only a hundred men fit for duty. We had killed treble that number, and taken nearly a brigade of prisoners; six stands of colors, and guns, swords, and pistols without number. For the first time we had been through an action without having an officer killed or fatally wounded, though Tibbetts, Seymour, Stoughton, Snagg, Seward, and Dudley were more or less seriously wounded, and Coit disabled.

"Hardly a man in the regiment had over two or three cartridges left. Dead and wounded rebels were piled up in heaps in front of us, especially in front of Companies A and Be, where Sharpe’s rifles had done effective work.

"It was a great victory. ‘Fredericksburg on the other leg,’ as the boys said. The rebel prisoners told us their leaders assured them that they would only meet the Pennsylvania militia; but when they saw that d—d ace of clubs (the trefoil badge of the Second Corps), a cry went through their lines—‘the Army of the Potomac, by Heaven!’

"So ended the battle of Gettysburg, and the sun sank to rest that night on a battle-field that had proved that the Army of the Potomac could and would save the people of the North from invasion whenever and wherever they may be assailed.

"’Long shall the tale be told,

Yea, when our babes are old.’"

"Pshaw, Fred! you are getting sentimental. Let’s go out in the air and have another cigar."

REBEL BATTLE-FLAGS CAPTURED.

First Tennessee, captured by the Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteers at Gettysburg, July 3, 1863.

Fourteenth Tennessee, captured by the Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteers at Gettysburg, July 3, 1863.

Sixteenth North Carolina Regiment, captured by the Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteers at Gettysburg, July 3, 1863.

Battle-flag, State not given, captured by the Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteers at Gettysburg, July 3.

Battle-flag, State not given, captured by the Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteers.

Harper's Weekly, November 21, 1863

 

Website design © 1998-1999 HarpWeek, LLC
Images, logos, and all other content © 1998-1999 HarpWeek, LLC., unless otherwise noted.
Please report problems to webmaster@harpweek.com