THE BATTLE-FIELD OF GETTYSBURG.–
I have just returned from a visit to Gettysburg and if you choose to accompany me in a long ramble over the field and hear what a participant in the battle has to say, well and good. In the main, “I tell the story as ’twas told to me;” but it is hard to say anything new upon a theme already hackneyed. You newspaper people have, I know, what most people have, a horror of–long articles; therefore, “for fear your readers should grow skittish,” you have my full permission to abbreviate, expunge, or omit, at your pleasure. Assuming this article, then, to have escaped the fate of your waste-paper basket, start with me on this fine November morning, out on the Emmettsburg road. For our companion and guide we have Captain. A. F. Cavada, a gallant and accomplished young officer, who served all through, from Yorktown to Petersburg, and for nearly two years on the staff of Major General Humphreys.
About a mile out we halt. The Captain loquitur. “Now I begin to feel at home. Let me take an observation, as these fences were not here then. All right. I’ve got it now. Do you see that big walnut on the ridge over there? That was Gen. Humphrey’s headquarters on the morning of Thursday, July 2d. Almost worn out with hard marching, I was aroused from my weary bivouac at daylight, and ordered to post Col. Tilghman’s regiment–the Twenty-sixth Pennsylvania–on picket along here. Later in the day, right of our division, Carr’s brigade, held this brick house. Further down was posted Turnbull’s battery. There, below that barn, stood Lieut. Seeley’s and still further toward our left the batteries of Birney’s division, under Livingston, Smith, Randolph, Clark, and Winslow. I mention them all, for never were guns handled more beautifully. All suffered fearfully–Seeley’s especially. He had hardly a man or horse left standing, and was himself severely wounded. He was a gallant officer, and had risen from the ranks. Now go with me into that orchard. I want to find a certain apple-tree which served as a rendezvous during the day for us staff officers and our orderlies. At one period, standing under it, with Captains Humphreys and McClellan, a shell exploded in the tree, killing three of our poor orderlies, besides striking my horse.” We found the tree–its limbs were shattered, and the top entirely gone.
“About 2 o’clock the whole Third Corps moved out in line-of-battle over the open ground, and a more magnificent spectacle of ‘living valor rolling on the foe,’ I never witnessed. Away over on that bare spot of rising ground the rebels had planted two batteries, with which they enfiladed our whole line, fairly sweeping it from left to right. Lord! how they pitched it into us! Longstreet’s infantry debouched from those woods, and in a short time, all around where we are standing–to the right, left, and in front–along this road, through that peach orchard, away down toward Round Top, for hours the battle raged. General Sickles was wounded near that large barn. How well I remember this spot of ground. It was here, behind that stone-fence, that I had been ordered to post Colonel Burling’s brigade. On my way back, I passed the One Hundred and Fourteenth Pennsylvania Regiment, then commanded by my brother, Lieut. Col. F. F. Cavada. It had just been ordered to an advanced position beyond the road. I rode up and shook hands with him. ‘Good-by, Fred, look out for yourself; you are going into a hot place, and are sure to catch it.’ So it turned out. The One Hundred and fourteenth, in connection with the Sixty-eight Pennsylvania, Col. Trippin, had a bloody fight of it, and lost heavily. My brother and his brigade commander, Gen. Graham, were both taken prisoners, the latter severely wounded. I never saw the rebels fight with such diabolical fury. The most murderous fire–canister, shrapnel, and musketry–was poured into their faces as it were, but nothing stopped them. The Third Corps, those heroes of Chancellorsville, and other bloody fields, led by Birney, Humphreys, De Trobriand, Ward, Graham and Carr–never fought more heroically.”
A word of criticism here. At one period of the battle, Birney, being hard pressed called upon Gen. Sykes, in command of the Fifth Corps, for assistance. Sykes had been ordered to support the Third if called upon, but he returned for answer that he “would be up in time–that his men were tired and were making coffee!” They did come up in about an hour, and, says Gen. Warren, in his testimony, “the troops under General Sykes arrived barely in time to save Round Top, and they had a very desperate fight to hold it.” And again of the operations next day. “When the repulse took place, Gen. Meade intended to move forward and assault the enemy in turn. He ordered an advance of the Fifth Corps, but it was carried on so slowly that it did not amount to much, if anything.” Gen. George Sykes is a brave man, but entirely “too slow,” so at least Gen. Grant seemed to think, for in the subsequent reorganization of the Army of the Potomac, the services of “Tardy George,” No. 2. were dispensed with. the Fifth, as a corps, has a glorious record, and never failed to fight bravely when properly handled.
To resume the captain’s narrative. “As the afternoon wore on the pressure became greater and greater, until at last our whole corps, with the exception of Carr’s brigade and a few other regiments, was hurled down the slope, broken and discomfited the rebels following in hot pursuit. Our losses were frightful. In our division, of 5000 men, our loss was nearly 2,000.” “Well, Captain, you saw most of the heavy fighting done by this army, tell me, were you ever in a hotter place than this?” “Never but once–and that reminds me of a little story. In the attack upon the enemy’s position at the first Fredericksburg, our division was ordered to storm the heights. As we were preparing to move, Gen. Humphreys–always a very polite man–turned round to his staff, and in his blandest manner remarked, ‘Young gentlemen, I intend to lead this assault, and shall be happy to have the pleasure of your company.’ Of course, the invitation was too polite to be declined. That was the roughest place I ever was in, and I can’t conceive, even to this day, how any of us ever got back alive. Our division lost nearly 1,100 men in about fifteen minutes. In this clump of bushes my horse received a second wound, and fell dead under me. I managed to scramble over the ridge, where our men were being rallied, and soon after the sun went down and the rebels were beaten back beyond the road.
“Capt. Chester, of our military family, was seen to go down in the melee and after night-fall a party started out in search of him. We found him near that large flat rock, alive, but grievously wounded. His horse and faithful orderly both lay dead beside him, and across his legs a rebel soldier, whom he had killed with his revolver, while in the act of plundering him of his watch. He was taken up tenderly, and conveyed to the hospital on Rock Creek where he died next day.
“With heavy hearts we now set about the task of burying such of our poor fellows as were within reach. Always the saddest of a soldier’s duties, it was peculiarly so upon this occasion, for all felt that the rising sun would bring with it a repetition of this day’s horrors, and that, perhaps, at this hour to-morrow, some comrade might be performing this same sad office for us.
“‘Few and short were the prayers we said,
And we spoke not a word of sorrow,
As we steadfastly gazed on the face of the dead,
And bitterly thought on the morrow.'”
In the course of the day we paid a visit to Mr. Sherfey’s house, where we were most hospitably received. This house stands about the centre of the field and is riddled from garret to basement. Traces of the conflict are to be seen on every side, including the last resting-place of many poor Southerners. Mr. Sherfey’s barn was burnt during the fight, and some of the wounded who sought refuge there perished in the flames. “These,” said Mrs. Sherfey, producing some tin cans, “contain peaches that were growing in our orchard over there at the time of the battle. These are my trophies.” In the front garden grows the beautiful shrub known as the “burning bush,” luxuriant with its crop of bright red berries, typical of the blood shed at its roots. “Take some of the berries with you and plant them,” said the kind old lady; “they will grow anywhere, and will be pleasant mementos of Gettysburg.”
We next made our way to Little Round Top, where we had the pleasure of meeting Colonel Batehelder. This gentleman is engaged in collecting the details of the battle, and will, no doubt, produce a book of equal interest with his great map. I was sorry to hear him say that he intends designating this as “Weed’s Hill,” in honor of the general who fell on its top. Honor the memory of the brave man in some other way, Colonel, but don’t seek to change this name. As “Little Round Top,” it has already passed into history, and so it will be known forever. There are few finer views of the whole field than from this point, and here took place the closest and most sanguinary fighting of Thursday. In front and to the right the Fifth Corps had a heavy thing of it. On the height fought two of the noblest soldiers of the army, Vincent and Rice. The former laid down his life here, the latter at Spottsylvania the year after. All the little stone walls thrown up between the huge boulders are still here. In fact, nothing is changed. Would that this could be said of other parts of the field. Inscriptions upon the rocks mark the spots where Vincent and Hazlett fell. Here, too, at the early age of twenty-five, fell that accomplished soldier Col. O’Rourke of the One Hundred and Fortieth New York. Graduating at the head of his class, two years before, he was at once assigned to duty in the field, and soon became distinguished for his reckless and impetuous courage. He was struck while mounted upon a rock gallantly animating his men. Fortunately, the extreme left was held by that splendid regiment of Twentieth Maine, then under the command of Col. Chamberlain, afterwards one of Sheridan’s heroes of the Five Forks. Firing away their last cartridge, Chamberlain ordered his regiment to charge down the hill, and succeeded in clearing its sides with the bayonet. The remarkable ledge of rocks known as the “Devil’s Den,” directly opposite Round Top, was occupied by the enemy’s sharpshooters, one of whom had a safe position within the cleft and picked off our men with fatal accuracy. The face of the boulder behind which he lay is covered with marks of the minies sent at him. One even “went for him” clean through the crevice, but missed. He was finally dislodged by a charge and escaped through an opening to the rear. Seven muskets, it is said, were found in his hiding place. There is room enough for fifty. On the slope in front of his den lie bleaching the bones of rebel dead, washed out by the rains. The scene of Crawford’s charge, with our superb Pennsylvania Reserves, was to the right and in front of Little Round Top. Brigadier General Zook and Colonel Jeffards–the latter of the Fourth Michigan–were killed in the field beyond. Colonel Jeffards was killed by a bayonet-thrust, while gallantly holding up with his own hands the colors of his regiment. Near that ploughed field, charging at the head of his brave “Bucktails” fell our Chester county neighbor, Col. Frederick Taylor. No death in the whole army was more sincerely mourned.
“Many the ways that lead to death, but few
Grandly; and one alone is glory’s gate,
Standing wherever free men dare their fate,
Determined, as thou wert, to die–or do!”
We now proceed along the line held by us on Friday, Colonel B. politely acting as guide. In that little grove, close to our lines, fell the rebel General Barksdale on Thursday. This violent, brawling rebel started in search of “his rights,” and this little pile of stones here marks the spot where he is presumed to have found them. It is said that he was drunk when he started on the charge, and this may account for his headlong, reckless bravery. True or not, “the story’s still extant.” Here in the thickest of the fight, exposing himself like a common soldier, the gallant Hancock received his wound. That advanced line of works was held by the Vermont brigade. It was commanded by Gen. Stannard, who subsequently gave an arm to the cause on the James. A pile of knapsacks, just as they were unslung, still lie mouldering here,–on one the inscription “Sixteenth Vermont” is still visible. Even now the debris of battle–hats, shoes, cartridge-boxes, bayonet-scabbards, canteens, &c.–lie scattered all over the field. Next we come to the position held by the “Philadelphia Brigade,” composed of the Sixty-ninth–“Paddy Owens’ regulars;” the Seventy-second, Baxter’s Zouaves, and that splendid fighting regiment, the Seventy-first, or California, commanded originally by the lamented Baker, and subsequently by our fellow-townsmen, Colonels John Markoe and R. Penn Smith. This brigade–veteran fighters, every man of them–was led upon this occasion by a gallant New Yorker, Brigadier-General Webb, and nobly was the honor of both cities sustained. Would that I had it in my power to particularize all the organizations conspicuous for courage and conduct in this great battle, but that would be to mention almost every regiment, battery and squadron engaged. From here we have an excellent view of Seminary Ridge, the line of woods whence the rebels issued and the beautiful level fields over which they swept in their grand charge. This certainly is the most magnificent battle-field in the world. The heights of La Belle Alliance and Mont Saint Jean in some resemble our Cemetery and Seminary Ridges, with the same gentle, undulating valley intervening; but at Waterloo the principal road runs at right angles, while here, parallel with the position. Speaking of the bombardment which preceded the charge, that experienced soldier, General Hancock, says: “It was the most terrific cannonade I ever witnessed, and the most prolonged.” A rebel eye-witness describing it, says: “I have never yet heard such tremendous artillery firing. The very earth shook beneath our feet, and the hills and rocks seemed to reel like a drunken man. For one hour and a half this most terrific firing was continued, during which time the shrieking of shells, the crash of falling timber, the fragments of rock flying through the air, shattered from the cliffs by solid-shot; the heavy mutterings from the valley between the opposing armies, the splash of bursting shrapnel, and the neighing of the wounded artillery horses, made the same terribly grand and sublime.” After this came the charge. Our eighty guns, planted on the crest from Cemetery Hill to Round Top, “volley’d and thundered,” and, when the infantry joined in the chorus, so terrible was the fire that tore through them that the rebel columns presented the extraordinary spectacle of ten thousand men playing at “leap-frog!” In spite of every effort, the flower of Lee’s veterans, directed by tried leaders such as Garnett, Armstead, Kemper, Wright, Posey and Mahone, failed in carrying our position, although at one or two points they charged up to, and even neer it. “What other than Southern troops would have made that charge?” Ay, sir, but what other than Northern would have met and repulsed it? Northern endurance, upon this occasion was too much for Southern impetuosity and dash. “There swung the pine against the palm.” In the bloody ruch hundreds of their best officers went down. It was the turning point of the grand drama, and with the sun, on that third day of July, went down the sun of “the Confederacy” forever! Although known as “Picrett’s charge,” Gen. Graham, whom I met here yesterday, informs me that Pickett himself was not in it. He describes him as a coarse, brutal fellow, and says he treated him with the greatest inhumanity after the battle, whilst wounded, and a prisoner in his hands. The rebel corps commanders either did not expose themselves as freely as our own., or they had better luck, for none were hit, whilst we lost one, Reynolds, killed; and two, Hancock and Sickels, wounded. The story told in Blackwood, by Col. Freemantle, of the British army, who was present may help to explain it. He says, that carried away by excitement, he rushed up to Longstreet, who was sitting on a fence “quietly whitterling a stick,” whilst watching the charge, and said, “Gen. Longstreet, isn’t this splendid; I wouldn’t have missed it for the world?” “The d–l you wouldn’t,” replied Longstreet; “why, don’t you see we are getting licked like h–l!” We now crossed the Baltimore pike, calling on our way at the small frame building, on the Taneytown road, used as the head-quarters of Gen. Meade on Friday. This will always be a point of great interest. The house is sadly shattered, and the poor widow who owns it complains bitterly of her losses. “When I comes home, my house was all over blood; the ‘sogers’ took away all my coverlits and quilts, two tons of hay, they spiled my spring, my apple-trees and every ding.” She says a couple of hundred dollars would be a great help to her, and thinks she should get it from someveres.” Sure enough, why shouldn’t the poor woman get it? In the garden of a cottage in the little village of Waterloo the visitor is shown the monument erected over the Marquis of Anglesea’s leg, and the poor peasant has made quite a little fortune by exhibiting the boot cut from the leg, and the table upon which the amputation was performed. This hint might not be thrown away upon a more enterprising person, but I doubt if this poor, old, frowsy German woman will ever profit by it. To the right of Cemetery Hill was stationed the battery so furiously assaulted by Hays’ brigade of Louisiana Tigers. The lunettes and traverses remain undisturbed and grass-grown.
The little eminence in front was held, and with distinguished honor, by that conscientious and patriotic soldier, Brigadier-Gen. Wadsworth. The works thrown up by our men on Culp’s Hill are still to be seen, except such portion of the timber as is being removed by the owner of the ground. Only think of the meanness of the man who is pulling to pieces these monuments, and converting the timber into fence-rails and cord-wood! The effect of the furious fire poured upon Ewell’s swarming columns is visible enough. Hardly a rock or a tree in front of these works has escaped. Many of the trees are covered and scarred with bullets as high as fifty feet from the ground. There was “wild,” as well as deadly shooting here on that fearful Thursday night and early Friday morning. Along this rough, rocky hill fought our own Geary, and that distinguished Rhode Islander, Brigadier General Green. Five months after, at the desperate midnight battle of Wahatchic, in Lookout Valley, this indomitable fighting officer only added to the laurels already gained at Antietam, and Gettysburg. An inscription on a tree close by tells the story of a large mound in the ravine below: “To the right lie buried forty-five rebels!” From here we struck across to the scene of the first day’s fight. In the following communication to Governor Curtin, General Cutler tells us how the battle opened: “I owe a duty to one of your regiments, the Fifty-sixth, and its brave commander, Colonel J. W. Hofmann. It was my fortune to be in the advance on the morning of July 1st. The atmosphere being a little thick, I took out my glass to examine the enemy, being a few paces in front of Colonel H., he turned to me and inquired, ‘Is that the enemy?’ My reply was “Yes.” Turning to his men, he commanded, ‘Ready–right oblique–aim–fire!’ and the battle of Gettysburg was opened. The fire was followed by other regiments instantly, still, that battle on the soil of Pennsylvania was opened by her own sons, and it is just that it should become a matter of history.” Here is the ground fought over by our brave cavalrymen, under Pleasanton, Buford, Kilpatrick, Farnsworth, Merrit, Custer and Gregg. Never, in any preceding campaign, had the cavalry of this army rendered such distinguished and invaluable service. To meet the enemy was to overthrow them, until, at last, it was only with the greatest difficulty that Stuart could get his men to stand at all. The next point reached was the scene of the bloody, though unavailing struggle of the First and Eleventh Corps. The marks of battle still abound, but the interest centres in the spot where Reynolds was killed. The General was nearly up with the skirmish line–no place, say military men, for a corps commander; “but that was just like John Renyolds;” and he had just despatched several of his aids, Capts. Baird, Rosengarten and Riddle, on some special duties, and was himself watching the deployment of a brigade of Wisconsin troops, when the fatal bullet, fired by a sharp-shooter, struck him in the neck and he fell off his horse dead. Poor Reynolds!
“There have been tears and breaking hearts for thee.”
We now stand in the National Cemetery, on Cemetery Hill. Who can stand unmoved in this silent city of the dead. Here repose the precious offerings laid upon the altar of the country by the loyal States. Ordinarily the filling up of a cemetery is slow work–the work of years. Three days sufficed to fill this! And what is the reward of those brave men for their weeks of weary marching, and days and nights of fearful fighting? “Two paces of the vilest earth!” Here they lie, “those unnamed demi-gods” or the rank and file. “Unknown!” “unknown!” the only epitaph of hundreds. Yes, here they lie “massed” with beautiful military precision, rank upon rank, as if awaiting the order to appear in review before the Great Commander-in-chief of us all!
“Up many a fortress wall
They charged–those boys in blue;
‘Mid surging smoke and volleying ball
The bravest were the first to fall–
To fall for you and me.
Who can ever forget those terrible days of July, that period of agonizing suspense?
And when the news did come, oh, how that sad catalogue pulled upon the heart-strings! Reynolds, Zook, Farnsworth, Card, Weed, Jeffards, Taylor, Arrowsmith, O’Rourke, Lowery, Cross, Hazlett, Vincent, Devereaux, Willard, Adams, Miller.
“Period of honor as of woes,
What bright careers ’twas thine to close!
Mark’d on thy roll of blood what names,
To Freedom’s memory, and to Fame’s
Laid there their last immortal claims!”
So ends my story of Gettysburg.
G. J. Gross.
Originally posted 2009-03-18 20:03:26.