Charles William Eliot.

American historical documents 1000-1904, with introductions, notes and illustrations online

. (page 37 of 48)
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sky overcast, with a mizzling effort at rain. When the au*
dience has all assembled, time seems long until the curtain
rises; so to^iay. "Will there be a battle to-day?" "Shall
we attack the Rebel?" "Will he attack us?" These and
similar questions, later in the morning, were thought or
asked a million times.

Meanwhile, on our part, all was put in the last state of
readiness for battle. Surgeons were busy riding about select*
ing eligible places for Hospitals, and hunting streams, and
springs, and wells. Ambulances, and ambulance men, wer$
brought up near the lines, and stretchers gotten ready for
use. Who of us could tell but that he would be the first to
need them? The Provost Guards were busy driving up all
stragglers, and causing them to join their regiments. Am*



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munition wagons were driven to suitable places, and pack
mules bearing boxes of cartridges; and the commands were
informed where they might be found. Officers were sent
to see that the men had each his hundred rounds of ammu-
nition. Generals and their Staffs were riding here and there
among their commands to see that all was right. A staff
officer, or an orderly might be seen galloping furiously in
the transmission of some order or message. — ^All, all was
ready — and yet the sound of no gun had disturbed the air
or ear to-day.

And so the men stacked their arms — in long bristling rows
they stood along the crests — ^and were at ease. Some men of
the Second and Third Corps pulled down the rail fences
near and piled them up for breastworks in their front. Some
loitered, some went to sleep upon the ground, some, a single
man, carrying twenty canteens slung over his shoulder, went
for water. Some made them a fire and boiled a dipper of
coffee. Some with knees cocked up, enjoyed the soldier's
peculiar solace, a pipe of tobacco. Some were mirthful and
chatty, and some were serious and silent Leaving them
thus — ^I suppose of all arms and grades there were about a
hundred thousand of them somewhere about that field — each
to pass the hour according to his duty or his humor, let us
look to the enemy.

Here let me state that according to the best information
that I could get, I think a fair estimate of the Rebel force
engaged in this battle would be a little upwards of a hun-
dred thousand men of all arms. Of course we can't now
know, but there are reasonable data for this estimate. At all
events there was no great disparity of numbers in the two op-
posing armies. We thought the enemy to be somewhat more
numerous than we, and he probably was.* But if ninety-five
men should fight with a hundred and five, the latter would
not always be victors — and slight numerical differences are of
much less consequence in great bodies of men.

•The returns of the Union army for June 30 gave 89,238 Infantry and
artillery, and 14.973 cavalry ** present for duty. If there is deducted
5,520 in three brigades of the Sixth Corps and 2,337 in detachments, which,
although available, were not opposed to the enemy, and the usual per cent
of non-combatants, 88,289 remams for the number engaged.

The number engaged on the Confederate side in the same manner Is
estimated at 75>ooo, from the returns of May 31, July 20 and 31. See
livermore's ** Kumbsrs and Losses,'* pp. 69, i<u, 103. — T. I* L*



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364 AMERICAN HISTORICAL DOCUMENTS

Skillful generalship and good fighting are the jewels of
war. These concurring are difl&cult to overcome ; and these,
not numbers, must determine this battle.

During all the morning — ^and of the night, too — ^the skir-
mishers of the enemy had been confronting those of the
Eleventh, First and Twelfth Corps. At the time of the fight
of the First, he was seen in heavy force North of the town —
he was believed to be now in the same neighborhood, in full
force. But from the woody character of the country, and
thereby the careful concealment of troops, which the Rebel
is always sure to effect, during the early part of the morn-
ing almost nothing was actually seen by us of the invaders
of the North. About nine o'clock in the morning, I should
think, our glasses began to reveal them at the West and
North-west of the town, a mile and a half away from our
lines. They were moving towards our left, but the woods
of Seminary Ridge so concealed them that we could not
make out much of their movements. About this time some
rifled guns in the Cemetery, at the left of the Eleventh
Corps, opened fire — almost the first shots of any kind this
morning — ^and when it was found they were firing at a
Rebel line of skirmishers merely, that were advancing upon
the left of that, and the right of the Second Corps, the oflScer
in charge of the guns was ordered to cease firing, and was
rebuked for having fired at all. These skirmishers soon en-
gaged those at the right of the Second Corps, who stood
their ground and were reinforced to make the line entirely
secure. The Rebel skirmish line kept extending further and
further to their right — toward our left. They would dash
up close upon ours and sometimes drive them back a short
distance, in turn to be repulsed themselves — ^and so they con-
tinued to do until their right was opposite the extreme left
of the Third Corps. By these means they had ascertained
the position and extent of our lines — ^but their own masses
were still out of view. From the time that the firing com-
menced, as I have mentioned, it was kept up, among the
skirmishers, until quite noon, often briskly; but with no
definite results further than those mentioned, and with no
considerable show of infantry on the part of the enemy to
support. There was a farm house and outbuildings in front



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of the Third Division of the Second Corps at which the
skirmishers of the enemy had made a dash, and dislodged
ours posted there, and from there their sharp shooters be-
gan to annoy our line of skirmishers and even the main line,
with their long range rifles. I was up to the line, and a
bullet from one of the rascals hid there, hissed by my cheek
so close that I felt the movement of the air distinctly. And
so I was not at all displeased when I saw one of our regi-
ments go down and attack and capture the house and build-
ings and several prisoners, after a spirited little fight, and, by
Gen. Hays' order, burn the buildings to the ground. About
noon the Signal Corps, from the top of Little Round Top,
with their powerful glasses, and the cavalry at the extreme
left, began to report the enemy in heavy force, making dis-
position of battle, to the West of Round Top, and opposite
to the left of the Third Corps. Some few prisoners had
been 'captured, some deserters from the enemy had come in,
and from all sources, by this time, we had much important
and reliable information of the enemy — of his disposition
and apparent purposes. The Rebel infantry consisted of
three Army Corps, each consisting of three Divisions, Long-
street, Ewell — the same whose leg Gibbons' shell knocked
off at Gainesville on the 28th of August last year — ^and A.
P. Hill, each in the Rebel service having the rank of Lieu-
tenant General, were the commanders of these Corps. Long-
street's Division commanders were Hood, McLaws, and
Pickett; Ewell's were Rhodes, Early and Johnson, and Hill's
were Pender, Heth and Anderson. Stewart and Fitzhugh
Lee commanded Divisions of the Rebel cavalry. The rank
of these Divisions commands, I believe, was that of Major
General. The Rebels had about as much artillery as we
did; but we never have thought much of this arm in the
hands of our adversaries. They have courage enough, but
not the skill to handle it well. They generally fire far too
high, and . the ammunition is usually of a very inferior
quality. And, of late, we have begun to despise the enemies'
cavalry too. It used to have enterprise and dash, but in the
late cavalry contests ours haVe always been victor; and so
now we think about all this chivalry is fit for is to steal a
few of our mules occasionally, and their negro drivers.



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This army of the rebel infantry, however, is good — ^to deny
this is useless. I never had any desire to — and if one should
count up, it would possibly be found that they have gained
more victories over us, than we have over them, and they
will now, doubtless, fight well, even desperately. And it is
not horses or cannon that will determine the result of this
confronting of the two armies, but the men with the muskets
must do it — ^the infantry must do the sharp work. So we
watched all this posting of forces as closely as possible, for
it was a matter of vital interest to us, and all information
relating to it was hurried to the commander of the army.
The Rebel line of battle was concave, bending around our
own, with the extremities of the wings opposite to, or a little
outside of ours. Longstreet's Corps was upon their right;
Hill's in the center. These two Rebel Corps occupied the
second or inferior ridge to the West of our position, as I
have mentioned, with Hill's left bending towards, and resting
near the town, and Ewell's was upon their left, his troops
being in, and to the East of the town. This last Corps con-
fronted our Twelfth, First, and the right of the Eleventh
Corps. When I have said that ours was a good defensive
position, this is equivalent to saying that that of the enemy
was not a good offensive one ; for these are relative terms,
and cannot be both predicated of the respective positions of
the two armies at the same time. The reasons that this was
not a good offensive position, are the same already stated in
favor of ours for defense. Excepting, occasionally, for a
brief time, during some movement of troops, as when ad-
vancing to attack, their men and guns were kept constantly
and carefully, by woods and inequalities of ground, out of
our view.

Noon is past, one o'clock is past, and, save the skirmishing
that I have mentioned, and an occasional shot from our
guns, at something or other, the nature of which the ones
who fired it were ignorant, there was no fight yet Our
arms were still stacked, and the men were at ease. As I
looked upon those interminable rows of muskets along the
crests, and saw how cool and good spirited the men were,
who were lounging about on the ground among them, I
could not, and did not, have any fears as to the result of the



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battle. The storm was near, and we all knew it well enough
by this time, which was to rain death upon these crests and
down their slopes, and yet the men who could not, and would
not escape it, were as calm and cheerful, generally, as if
nothing unusual were about to happen. You see, these men
were veterans, and had been in such places so often that
they were accustomed to them. But I was well pleased with
the tone of the men to-day — I could almost see the fore-
shadowing of victory upon their faces, I thought. And I
thought, too, as I had seen the mighty preparations go on
to completion for this great conflict — ^the marshaling of these
two hundred thousand men and the guns of the hosts, that
now but a narrow valley divided, that to have been in such a
battle, and to survive on the side of the victors, would be
glorious. Oh, the world is most unchristian yet I

Somewhat after one o'clock P. M. — ^the skirmish firing had
nearly ceased now — a movement of the Third Corps oc-
curred, which I shall describe. I cannot conjecture the reason
of this movement. From the position of the Third Corps, as
I have mentioned, to the second ridge West, the distance is
about a thousand yards, and there the Emmetsburg road runs
near the crest of the ridge. Gen. Sickles commenced to ad-
vance his whole Corps, from the general line, straight to
the front, with a view to occupy this second ridge, along,
and near the road. What his purpose could have been is past
conjecture. It was not ordered by Gen. Meade, as I heard
him say, and he disapproved of it as soon as it was made
known to him. Generals Hancock and Gibbon, as they saw
the move in progress, criticized its propriety sharply, as I
know, and foretold quite accurately what would be the result.
I suppose the truth probably is that General Sickles sup-
posed he was doing for the best; but he was neither born
nor bred a soldier. But one can scarcely tell what may have
been the motives of such a man — a politician, and some other
things, exclusive of the Barton Key affair — z, man after
show and notoriety, and newspaper fame, and the adulation
of the mob! O, there is a grave responsibility on those in
whose hands are the lives of ten thousand men; and on
those who put stars upon men's shoulders, too! Bah! I
kindle when I see some things that I have to see. But this



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move of the Third Corps was an important one — it developed
the battle — ^the results of the move to the Corps itself we
shall see. O, if this Corps had kept its strong position upon
the crest, and supported by the rest of the army, had waited
for the attack of the enemy !

It was magnificent to see those ten or twelve thousand
men* — ^they were good men — with their batteries, and some
squadrons of cavalry upon the left flank, all in battle order,
in several lines, with flags streaming, sweep steadily down
the slope, across the valley, and up the next ascent, toward
their destined position! From our position we could see it
all. In advance Sickles pushed forward his heavy line of
skirmishers, who drove back those of the enemy, across the
Emmctsburg road, and thus cleared the way for the main
body. The Third Corps now became the absorbing object
of interest of all eyes. The Second Corps took arms, and
the 1st Division of this Corps was ordered to be in readiness
to support the Third Corps, should circumstances render sup-
port necessary. As the Third Corps was the extreme left
of our line, as it advanced, if the enemy was assembling to
the West of Round Top with a view to turn our left, as we
had heard, there would be nothing between the left flank
of the Corps and the enemy, and the enemy would be square
upon its flank by the time it had attained the road. So when
this advance line came near the Emmetsburg road, and we
saw the squadrons of cavalry mentioned, come dashing back
from their position as flankers, and the smoke of some guns,
and we heard the reports away to Sickles' left, anxiety be-
came an element in our interest in these movements. The
enemy opened slowly at first, and from long range; but he
was square upon Sickles' left flank. General Caldwell was
ordered at once to put his Division — the ist of the Second
Corps, as mentioned — in motion, and to take post in the
woods at the left slope of Round Top, in such a manner as to
resist the enemy should he attempt to come around Sickles' left
and gain his rear. The Division moved as ordered, and dis-
appeared from view in the woods, towards the point indicated
at between two and three o'clock P. M., and the reserve

•The returns give i2j63o "jresent for duty'* in the Third Corps. Se«
43 War Records* zsx.^T. L. £»



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brigade — ^the First, Col. Heath temporarily commanding — of
the Second Division, was therefpre moved up and occupied
the position vacated by the Third Division. About the same
time the Fifth G)rps could be seen marching by the flank
from its position on the Baltimore Pike, and in the opening
of the woods heading for the same locality where the ist
Division of the Second Corps had gone. The Sixth Corps
had now come up and was halted upon the Baltimore Pike.
So the plot thickened. As the enemy opened upon Sickles
with his batteries, some five or six in all, I suppose, firing
slowly. Sickles with as many replied, and with much more
spirit. The artillery fire became quite animated, soon; but
the enemy was forced to withdraw his guns farther and
farther away, and ours advanced upon him. It was not long
before the cannonade ceased altogether, the enemy having
retired out of range, and Sickles, having temporarily halted
his command, pending this, moved forward again to the
position he desired, or nearly that. It was now about five
o'clock, and we shall soon see what Sickles gained by his
move. First we hear more artillery firing upon Sickles' left
— the enemy seems to be opening again, and as we watch the
Rebel batteries seem to be advancing there. The cannon*
ade is soon opened again, and with great spirit upon both
sides. The enemy's batteries press those of Sickles, and
pound the shot upon them, and this time they in turn begin
to retire to position nearer the infantry. The enemy seems to
be fearfully in earnest this time. And what is more ominous
than the thunder or the shot of his advancing g^s, this time,
in the intervals between his batteries, far to Sickles' left,
appear the long lines and the columns of the Rebel infantry,
now unmistakably moving out to the attack. The position of
the Third Corps becomes at once one of great peril, and it
is probable that its commander by this time began to realize
his true situation. All was astir now on our crest. Generals
and their Staffs were galloping hither and thither — ^the men
were all in their places, and you might have heard the rattle
of ten thousand ramrods as they drove home and " thugged"
upon the little globes and cones of lead. As the enemy was
advancing upon Sickles' flank, he commenced a change, or
a^ least a partial one, of front, by swinging back his kff



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and throwing forward his right, in order that his lines might
be parallel to those of his adversary, his batteries meantime
doing what they could to check the enemy's advance; but
this movem^it was not completely executed before new
Rebel batteries opened upon Sickles' right flank— his former
front— and in the same quarter appeared the Rebel infantry
also. Now came the dreadful battle picture, of which we
for a time could be but spectators. Upon the front and right
flank of Sickles came sweeping the infantry of Longstreet
and HilL Hitherto there had been skirmishing and artillery
practice— now the battle began; for amid the heavier smoke
and larger tongues of flame of the batteries, now began to
appear the countless flashes, and the long fiery sheets of the
muskets, and the rattle of the volleys, mingled with the
thunder of the guns. We see the long gray lines come
sweeping down upon Sickles' front, and mix with the battle
smoke; now the same colors emerge from the bushes and
orchards upon his right, and envelope his flank in the con-
fusion of tiie conflict

O, the din and the roar, and these thirty thousand Rebel
wolf cries I What a hell is there down that valley I

These ten or twelve thousand men of the Third Corps
fight well, but it soon becomes apparent that they must be
swept from the field, or perish there where they are doing
so well, so thick and overwhelming a storm of Rebel fire
involves them. It was fearful to see, but these men, such
as ever escape, must come from that conflict as best they
can. To move down and support them with other troops
IS out of the question, for this would be to do as Sickles did,
to relinquish a good position, and advance to a bad one.
There is no other alternative — ^the Third Corps must fight
itself out of its position of destruction t What was it ever
put there for?

In the meantime some other dispositions must be made
to meet the enemy, in the event that Sickles is overpowered.
With this Corps out of the way, the enemy would be in a
position to advance upon the line of the Second Corps, not
in a line parallel with its front, but they would come ob-
liquely from the left. To meet this contingency the left of
the Second Division of the Second Corps is thrown back



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slightly, and two Regiments, the isth Mass., Col. Ward,
and the 82nd N. Y., Lieut. CoL Horton, are advanced down
to the Emmetsburg road, to a favorable position nearer us
than the fight has yet come, and some new batteries from
the artillery reserve are posted upon the crest near the le.'t
of the Second Corps. This was all Gen. Gibbon could do.
Other dispositions were made or were now being made upon
the field, which I shall mention presently. The enemy is still
giving Sickles fierce battle — or rather the Third Corps, for
Sickles has been borne from the field minus one of his legs,
and Gen. Bimey now commands — and we of the Second
Corps, a thousand yards away, with our guns and men are,
and must be, still idle spectators of the fight.

The Rebel, as anticipated, tries to gain the left of the
Third Corps, and for this purpose is now moving into the
woods at the west of Round Top. We knew what he would
find there. No sooner had the enemy gotten a considerable
force into the woods mentioned, in the attempted execution
of his purpose, than the roar of the conflict was heard there
also. The Fifth Corps and the First Division of the Second
were there at the right time, and promptly engaged him;
and there, too, the battle soon became general and obstinate.
Now the roar of battle has become twice the volume that it
was before, and its range extends over more than twice the
space. The Third Corps has been pressed back considerably,
and the wounded are streaming to the rear by hundreds, but
still the battle there goes on, with no considerable abatement
on our part. The field of actual conflict extends now from
a point to the front of the left of the Second Corps, away
down to the front of Round Top, and the fight rages with
the greatest fury. The fire of artillery and infantry and
the yells of the Rebels fill the air with a mixture of hideous
sounds. When the First Division of the Second Corps first
engaged the enemy, for a time it was pressed back some-
what, but under the able and judicious management of Gen.
Caldwell, and the support of the Fifth Corps, it speedily
ceased to retrograde, and stood its ground; and then there
followed a time, after the Fifth Corps became well engaged,
when from appearances we hoped the troops already en-
gaged would be able to check entirely, or repulse the further



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assault of the enemy. But fresh bodies of the Rebels con-
tinued to advance out of the woods to the front of the posi-
tion of the Third Corps, and to swell the numbers of the
assailants of this already hard pressed command. The men
there begin to show signs of exhaustion — their ammunition
must be nearly expended — they have now been fighting more
than an hour, and against greatly superior numbers. From
the sound of the firing at the extreme left, and the place
where the smoke rises above the tree tops there, we know
that the Fifth Corps is still steady, and holding its own
there; and as we see the Sixth Corps now marching and
near at hand to that point, we have no fears for the left
— ^we have more apparent reason to fear for ourselves.

The Third Corps is being overpowered — ^here and there its
lines begin to break — ^the men begin to pour back to the rear
in confusion — ^the enemy are close upon them and among
them — organization is lost to a great degree — guns and
caissons are abandoned and in the hands of the enemy —
the Third Corps, after a heroic but unfortunate fight, is being
literally swept from the field. That Corps gone, what is
there between the Second Corps, and these yelling masses
of the enemy? Do you not think that by this time we began
to feel a personal interest In this fight? We did indeed. We
had been mere observers — ^the time was at hand when we
must be actors in this drama.

Up to this hour Gen. Gibbon had been in command of the
Second Corps, since yesterday, but Gen. Hancock, relieved
of his duties elsewhere, now assumed command. Five or six
hundred yards away the Third Corps was making its last
opposition ; and the enemy was hotly pressing his advantages
there, and throwing in fresh troops whose line extended
still more along our front, when Generals Hancock and Gib-
bon rode along the lines of their troops; and at once cheer
after cheer — ^not Rebel, mongrel cries, but genuine cheers —
rang out all along the line, above the roar of battle, for



Online LibraryCharles William EliotAmerican historical documents 1000-1904, with introductions, notes and illustrations → online text (page 37 of 48)