Gettysburg – After the Smoke Cleared

Friday, July 3, 1863 became a hallowed day for the Army of the Potomac, and most particularly for the Second Corps, which bore the brunt of the fighting that afternoon. The Confederate assault had been determined and courageous, but the men of Gibbon’s and Hays’ Divisions were equally determined to yield no ground. For once they were not out-generalled. They had been led well. The ground they fought on had been chosen wisely.

The most prized possession of any Civil War regiment was its colors (flags). They were to be defended at all cost, and for a regiment’s colors to be captured by the enemy was about the worst possible thing that could befall the regiment. (The Fourteenth’s own colors were saved at Fredericksburg only through the heroism of two men.) During the repulse of Pickett’s Charge, the men of the Fourteenth captured the colors of five regiments: 16th North Carolina, 52nd North Carolina, 1st Tennessee, 14th Tennessee, 14th Virginia. The Fourteenth Connecticut is also credited with capturing over 200 prisoners, some of whom were amazed at how few men had defended that portion of the wall.

Casualties of the Fourteenth:  Despite the two separate actions on July 3rd at Gettysburg, only a single casualty count was reported. The regiment arrived at Gettysburg with about 166 men fit for duty. Their losses were 10 killed, 52 wounded, and 4 missing. We know that the 4 missing were captured from the skirmish line, one was killed at the Bliss barn, and about half those wounded were during the Bliss action as well. That puts the casualties during Pickett’s Charge at 9 killed and about 26 wounded. Total loss to the regiment: 66.

Among the injured was Sgt. Benjamin Hirst. When the last Rebel assault was broken and the shattered remnants of the once proud lines of gray and butternut began to stagger back toward seminary ridge, the Confederate artillery opened up again to discourage any pursuit by Union troops. One of these shells struck the base of the rock wall near Hirst, dislodging a rock that struck his right shoulder blade. Unable to take pen in hand Ben’s brother John wrote Ben’s beloved Sarah to tell her Ben would recover, but as Ben later wrote: “While I was rejoicing with them (the boys), I was sent rolling in the dust being hit for the third time upon this eventful day and was this time dabled (disabled) for ever carrying a gun in active service again.” After recovering, Ben Hirst was transferred to the Veterans Reserve Corps for the remainder of the war.

Oh yes. Remember Sgt. DeForest’s chicken that was put in the stewpot just before the Confederate artillery opened fire before Pickett’s Charge? When the firing stopped and the smoke had cleared, there was no sign of the chicken. Perhaps the men of Arnold’s Rhode Island battery repurposed the chicken.

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