Daily Archives: July 3, 2013

Gettysburg – July 3, 1863 (Afternoon)

HWM-cropped

Special Edition:  150 Years Ago Today

The stone marker in the above photo marks the right flank of the Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry on July 3rd, 1863 at Gettysburg. About one hundred and twenty men defended this section of the rock wall, one hundred fifteen paces in length, to the right flank of the 71st PA near the angle in the wall. The famous “copse of trees” is at the left edge of the photo. One man for every three feet of wall. How did they do that?

picketts-charge-detailAt left is detail of a very good map of Pickett’s Charge from civilwar.org. (Click for full map.) It clearly shows the deployment of Smyth’s Brigade. The map also shows Arnold’s Battery of Rhode Island artillery separating the 14th CT from the 71st PA when in fact the left flank of the 14th connected with the right flank of the 71st, “elbow to elbow,” as Sgt. Benjamin Hirst wrote. (According to some accounts, this battery arrived late in the fight and helped repulse only the third and final Confederate line.) The map correctly shows the position of the Sherrill’s Third Brigade in reserve behind Smyth’s.

Sgt. Hirst was deployed as a skirmisher across the Emmitsburg Road when the battle opened. I leave the description of the fight entirely to him (spellings are his own):

About noon commenced the Fiercest Cannonading I ever heard, the shot and shell came from Front and Right and Left. It makes my Blood Tingle in my veins now; to think of.  Never before did I hear such a roar of Artilery, it seemed as if all the Demons in Hell were let loose, and were Howling through the Air. Turn your eyes which way you will the whole Heavens were filled with Shot and Shell, Fire and Smoke. The Rebels had concentrated about 120 Pieces of Artilery upon us and for 2 long hours they delivered a Rapid and Destructive fire upon our Lines, Principally upon the old Second Corps whom they desired to attack.

To add to all this was our own Batteries in full Blaze, every shot from which seemed to pass over our heads; it was a terrible situation to be in between those two fires; how we did Hug the ground expecting every moment was to be our last. And as first one of us got Hit and then another to hear their cries was Awful. And still you dare not move either hand or foot, to do so was Death.

Our fire began to lose its vigour…and as the Smoke lifted from the Crest we saw our Guns leaving one after the other and soon a terrible stillness prevailed so that you could almost hear your heart thud in your bosom. But what means that shout of derision in our Front. Up men the Rebels are upon us, there they come a Cloud of Skirmishers in front, with one, two, three lines of Battle, stretched all along our Front with their Banners flying, and the men carrying their Pieces at trail Arms. It was a Glorious Sight to see, Rebels though they were. They seemed to march as though upon Parade, and were confident of carrying all before them.

We take to our feet; we are driven in, but not in confusion. Sometimes we about Face and return their Skirmishers fire. But still we fall back up the Hill and over the Wall bringing our wounded with us. As we fell into line Brigham fell in with Company A on account of getting cartridges for his Sharps rifle. About one-half the regiment had this rifle. And now We have a short breathing spell and can Note the Intense anxiety depicted on every countenance. The Fate of the whole Army now rests with you.

“Don’t Fire until you get the order, and then fire Low and sure.” It is the Clear Voice of Gen. Gibbon as he rides along the Line, and gives a word of cheer to each Regiment as he goes along. A few more words from Gen. Hayes, and our own Gallant Major Ellis runs along the Line, “Ready, up with our Flags, Aim, Fire.”

And time it was too, for the Rebels seemed to me to be within 150 yards of us, just crossing the fences on the Emmitsburg Road, and we could hear their Officers pressing them on to the charge. Fire, Fire, Fire, all along our Line. There opened upon them such a Storm of Bullets, Oaths and Imprecations as fully satisfied them we had met before, under circumstances a little more favourable to them. Give them Hell.Now We’ve got you. Sock it to the Blasted Rebels. Fredricksburg on the other Leg. Hurah, Hurah, the first Line is broken. Never mind who is Hit. Give them Hell again. And soon the second Line is sent Howling back after the first one.

“Right Oblique! Fire!” “Left Oblique! Fire!” And the supporting Colums are thrown in disorder and soon seek safety in Flight. At this time a great number of the rebels threw up their hands in token of surrender and we allowed them to come in, disarming them as they reached the wall. Others defiantly essayed to advance, but opposite the old Fourteenth, none could get over a low rail fence a short distance in front of the stone wall without our permission.

The color bearer of the 14th Tennessee, with not a man of his regiment within a rod of him advanced steadily until he reached this fence, when he rested his colors before him, then drew himself up to his full hight, looking us calmly in the face. There he stood for several awful moments, when the sharp crack of two or three rifles fired simultaneously sent his brave soul to its Maker.

Just as the color bearer of the 14th Tenn. was shot, several of our men jumped to their feet with the intention of getting the colors but were restrained by the officers until Major Ellis buckled his side arms upon Sergt. Major Hincks and gave him the preference of bringing them in.

Then you ought to have heard the Exhultant Shouts of our Brave Boys as the whole Rebel Force gave way in utter confusion leaving thousands and thousands of Killed, Wounded and Missing in our hands. What a sight it was, where but a short time before had stood the Flower of the Rebel Army in all the Pomp of Pride and Power was now covered with Dead in every conceivable Posture, and such a Wailing Cry, mingled with Groans of the Dying is past conception. Oh for a thousand or two fresh men to charge upon the discomfited Foe, and push them Home. Could this have been done the Southron Army might have been Anihilated.

One man for every three feet of wall. How could so few ever have expected to defeat wave after wave of Confederate infantry? Hirst’s description provides several clues. His deep distrust and loathing for most officers has been replaced with respect and admiration. There is belief in the cause and belief in victory. There is anger in his words about the enemy, but there is determination to see the foe defeated. He also mentions the Sharps rifles. With half the regiment armed with these rifles, they would have produced the effective firepower of two or three times their number. So rapid was their firing that their rifles became almost too hot to handle.

The following image is of Mort Kunstler’s “High Water Mark.” A detailed examination reveals that the Union men in the foreground belong to the Fourteenth Connecticut and that they are armed both with Sharps and Springfield rifles. Click on the image to visit the artist’s website and read his description of the painting.

Kunstler HWM

Gettysburg – July 3, 1863 (Morning)

The old lane from the Emmitsburg Road to the Bryan farm.

Special Edition: 150 Years Ago Today

The Rebel sharpshooters at the Bliss farm, about eight hundred yards in front of the Second Corps line on Cemetery Ridge, started firing as soon as it was light enough to see their targets silhouetted against the brightening eastern sky. The barn was large and strongly built or stone and brick, about seventy-five feet long and thirty-three feet wide. The eaves and roof were wooden and the interior timbers were of oak. As Chaplain Henry S. Stevens of the Fourteenth Connecticut wrote, “It was a paradise for sharp-shooters with long range rifles.”

At 7.30 a.m. July 3rd, five companies of the I2th NJ captured the barn for a second time, and again as soon as they retired, the sharpshooters again took up residence. “At last the thing became intolerable. Then an order was issued (by Col. Smyth) that the building be captured to stay (take and hold), and the Fourteenth, now reduced to about one hundred and twenty men exclusive of those on picket, was ordered to do it.” (Stevens)

Four companies, commanded by Capt. Samuel Moore of Co. F, were detailed to take the barn. It was clearly a perilous task. They marched north to the Bryan farm, then west on a small lane to the Emmitsburg Road. (The photo above shows the old lane and the Bryan farm.). Once across the road it was a mad dash over open ground. “Every man was put to his mettle and ran with all his might for the barn. Nearly six hundred yards were to be covered and it was soon accomplished at such speed, but several dropped on the way.” (Stevens)

This is where the “fog of war” comes into play. Col. Smyth rode with this detail alongside Lt. Seymour (Co. I, 14th CT) as far as the Emmitsburg Road. “If in the event of our capturing the house and barn the rebs make it so hot we can’t hold them, shall we fire (burn) them?” Seymour asked. “We don’t know the word can’t!” Col. Smyth replied, but moments later he amended his order. “If they make it too hot for you,” the colonel said, “burn the buildings and return to the line.” No one else heard this conversation, and almost as soon as the dash to barn commenced, Seymour was struck seriously in the leg and was unable to communicate this last order to anyone.

Capt. Moore reached the barn first, just in time to see the backs of the fleeing Rebels. But the swift seizure of the barn also meant that the Connecticut boys were trapped. Confederate artillery opened up on the barn from only 500 yards. One man was killed outright, others were injured. The remaining four companies on the ridge were ordered to reinforce them and capture the house. Major Ellis commanded this detail. A second mad dash and several more men fell along the way, but most made it through the gauntlet. Some ran for the barn, others for the farmhouse. Now, better than a hundred men were trapped at the farm under constant fire from musket and artillery. But they were men who followed orders. They had taken the farm and they were determined to hold it.” The photo below shows the Bryan farm from the site of the Bliss farm.

View of Bryan farm from Bliss siteGen. Hays had seen enough. He asked for a volunteer to relay an order to burn the farm buildings to Maj. Ellis. Capt. Postles of Col. Smyth’s staff stepped forward. He was an expert horseman, and his horse was powerful and swift. He thought it a suicidal mission, but spurred his mount across the half-mile of open fields through the crossfire of the enemy fire to the barn. Once there, he kept his horse always in motion, dancing and prancing and rearing to foil the Rebels’ aim, while he shouted the order to Maj. Ellis. Then Postles sped off toward the Union line. Upon his safe arrival this act of individual courage was cheered by both sides.

The barn and farmhouse were soon in flames and the men of the Fourteenth were scurrying back across the Emmitsburg road bringing all their wounded with them, as well as their one dead comrade. Estimates of the total loss to the regiment at the Bliss farm was about thirty.

One final and rather amusing incident was related by Chaplain Stevens. A certain Sgt. DeForest spied a chicken racing about the Bliss farmyard. After a vigorous, though brief, pursuit amid constant musketry and shell fire, the chicken was captured. The victor carried his mouth-watering prize back through heavy fire to Cemetery Ridge, where the chicken was dispatched, gutted, plucked, and put in a large pot to stew for awhile. A short time later two single shots from Confederate guns were fired, signaling the start of the heaviest artillery barrage of the war. DeForest’s friends would have to wait to enjoy their chicken stew..

Bliss Mnmt croppedThe Bliss farm site can be found about two hundred yards southwest of the intersection of Long Lane and Sunset Avenue. It’s an easy walk, but check for ticks upon leaving. The photo at left shows the 14th CT marker at the center of the Bliss barn. The inscription reads, “The 14, Regt. Connecticut Vols., A.M. July 3, 1863, Captured here from Confederate sharpshooters the large barn of Wm. Bliss and his dwelling house near and upon retiring burned both buildings by order of the Div. Commander. Centre of barn site.”

A thorough analysis of the fighting around the Bliss farm is Elwood Christ’s The Struggle for the Bliss Farm at Gettysburg. Chaplain Stevens account may be found in his Souvenir of Excursion to Battlefields by the Society of the Fourteenth Connecticut Regiment, 1891, which is available electronically online..