Charles William Eliot.

American historical documents 1000-1904, with introductions, notes and illustrations online

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the table by putting the end in tallow melted down from the
wick, and five or six straight-backed rush-bottomed chairs.
The Generals came in — some sat» some kept walking or
standing, two lounged upon the bed, some were constantly
smoking cigars. And thus disposed, they deliberated whether
the army should fall back from its present position to one
in rear which it was said was stronger, should attack the
enemy on the morrow, wherever he could be found, or
should stand there upon the horse-shoe crest, still on the
defensive, and await the further movements of the enemy.

The latter proposition was unanimously agreed to. Their
heads were sound. The Army of the Potomac would just
halt right there, and allow the Rebel to come up and smash
his head against it, to any reasonable extent he desired, as
he had to-day. After some two hours the council dissolved,
and the officers went their several ways.

Night, sultry and starless, droned on, and it was almost
midnight that I found myself peering my way from the line
of the Second Corps, back down to the General's Head-
quarters, which were an ambulance in the rear, in a little
peach orchard. All was silent now but the sound of the am-
bulances, as they were bringing off the wounded, and you
could hear them rattle here and there about the field, and see
their lanterns. I am weary and sleepy, almost to such an ex-
tent as not to be able to sit on my horse. And my horse cat
hardly move — ^the spur will not start him — ^what can be th|
reason? I know that he has been touched by two or three
bullets to-day, but not to wound or lame him to speak of.
Then, in riding by a horse that is hitched, in the dark, I
got kicked ; had I not a very thick boot, the blow would have
been likely to have broken my ankle — it did break my temper
as it was — and, as if it would cure matters, I foolishly
spurred my horse again. No use, he would but walk. I
dismounted ; I could not lead him along at all, so out of tern-

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per I rode at the slowest possible walk to the Headquarters,
which I reached at last Generals Hancock and Gibbon were
asleep in the ambulance. With a light I found what was the
matter with " Billy." A bullet had entered his chest just in
front of my left leg, as I was mounted, and the blood was
running down all his side and leg, and the air from his lungs
came out of the bullet-hole. I begged his pardon mentally
for my cruelty in spurring him, and should have done so
in words if he could have understood me. Kind treatment
as is due to the wounded he could understand and he had it
Poor Billy I He and I were first under fire together, and I
rode him at the second Bull Run and the first and second
Fredericksburg, and at Antietam after brave "Joe" was
killed; but I shall never mount him again — Billy's battles are

" George, make my bed here upon the ground by the side
of this ambulance. Pull off my sabre and my boots — that
will do I " Was ever princely couch or softest down so soft
as those rough blankets, diere upon the unroofed sod?
At midnight they received me for four hours delicious
dreamless oblivion of weariness and of battle. So to me
ended the Second of July.

At four o'clock on tiie morning of the Third, I was
awakened by Gen. Gibbon's pulling me by the foot and
saying: "Come, don't you hear that?" I sprang up to my
feet Where was I? A moment and my dead senses and
memory were alive again, and the sound of brisk firing of
musketry to the front and right of the Second Corps, and
over at the extreme right of our line, where we heard it
last in the night, brought all back to my memory. We
surely were on the field of battle, and there were palpable
evidences to my reason that to-day was to be another of
blood. Oh I for a moment the thought of it was sickening to
every sense and feeling! But the motion of my horse as
I galloped over the crest a few minutes later, and the
serene splendor of the morning now breaking through
rifted clouds and spreading over the landscape soon reas-
sured me. Come day of battle! Up Rebel hosts, and
thunder with your arms! We are all ready to do and to
die for the Republic !

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I found a sharp skirmish going on in front of the right
of the Second Corps, between our outposts and those of the
enemy, but save this — and none of the enemy but his out-
posts were in sight — all was quiet in that part of the field.
On the extreme right of the line the soimd of musketry was
quite heavy ; and this I learned was brought on by the attack
of the Second Division, Twelfth Corps, Gen. Geary, upon the
enemy in order to drive him out of our works which he had
sneaked into yesterday, as I have mentioned. The attack
was made at the earliest moment in the morning when it
was light enough to discern objects to fire at. The enemy
could not use the works, but was confronting Geary in
woods, and had the cover of many rocks and trees, so the
fight was an irregular one, now breaking out and swelling
to a vigorous fight, now subsiding to a few scattering shots ;
and so it continued by turns until the morning was well
advanced, when the enemy was finally wholly repulsed and
driven from the pits, and the right of our line was again re-
established in the place it first occupied. The heaviest losses
the Twelfth Corps sustained in all the battle, occurred dur-
ing this attack, and they were here quite severe. I heard
Gen. Meade express dissatisfaction at Gen. Geary for making
this attack, as a thing not ordered and not necessary, as the
works of ours were of no intrinsic importance, and had not
been captured from us by a fight, and Geary's position was
just as good as they, where he was during the night. And
I heard Gen. Meade say that he sent an order to have the
fight stopped; but I believe the order was not communicated
to Geary until after the repulse of the enemy. Late in the
forenoon the enemy again tried to carry our right by storm.
We heard that old Rebel Ewell had sworn an oath that he
would break our right. He had Stonewall Jackson's Corps,
and possibly imagined himself another Stonewall, but he
certainly hankered after the right of our line — ^and so up
through the woods, and over the rocks, and up the steeps he
sent his storming parties — our men could see them now in the
day time. But all the Rebel's efforts were fruitless, save in
one thing, slaughter to his own men. These assaults were
made with great spirit and determination, but as the enemy
would come up, our men lying behind their secure defenses


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would just singe them with the blaze of their muskets, and
riddle them, as a hail-storm the tender blades of com. The
Rebel oath was not kept, any more than his former one to
support the Constitution of the United States. The Rebel
loss was very heavy indeed, here, ours but trifling. I regret
that I cannot give more of the details of this fighting upon
the right — it was so determined upon the part of the enemy,
both last night and this morning — ^so successful to us. About
all that I actually saw of it during its progress, was the
smoke, and I heard the discharges. My information is de-
rived from officers who were personally in it. Some of our
heavier artillery assisted our infantry in this by firing, with
the piece elevated, far from the rear, over the heads of our
men, at a distance from the enemy of two miles, I suppose.
Of course they could have done no great damage. It was
nearly eleven o'clock that the battle in this part of the field
subsided, not to be again renewed. All the morning we felt
no apprehension for this part of the line, for we knew its
strength, and that our troops engaged, the Twelfth Corps
and the First Division, Wadsworth's, of the First, could be

For the sake of telling one thing at a time, I have antici-
pated events somewhat, in writing of this fight upon the
right. I shall now go back to the starting point, four o'clock
this morning, and, as other events occurred during the day,
second to none in the battle in importance, which I think I
saw as much of as any man living, I will tell you something
of them, and what I saw, and how the time moved on. The
outpost skirmish that I have mentioned, soon subsided, I
suppose it was the natural escape of the wrath which the
men had, during the night, hoarded up against each other,
and which, as soon as they could see in the morning, they
could no longer contain, but must let it off through their
musket barrels, at their adversaries. At the commencement
of the war such firing would have awaked the whole army
and roused it to its feet and to arms; not so now. The men
upon the crest lay snoring in their blankets, even though some
of the enemy's bullets dropped among them, as if bullets
were as harmless as the drops of dew around them. As the
sun arose to-day, the clouds became broken, and we had once

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more glimpses of sky, and fits of sunshine — a, rarity, to cheer
us. From the crest, save to the right of the Second Corps, no
enemy, not even his outposts could be discovered, along all
the position where he so thronged upon the Third Corps yes-
terday. All was silent there — the wounded horses were
limping about the field; the ravages of the conflict were still
fearfully visible — ^the scattered arms and the ground thickly
dotted with the dead — ^but no hostile foe. The men were
roused early, in order that the morning meal might be out
of the way in time for whatever should occur. Then ensued
the htun of an army, not in ranks, chatting in low tones,
and running about and jostling among each other, rolling and
packing their blankets and tents. They looked like an army
of rag-gatherers, while shaking these very useful articles
of the soldier's outfit, for you must know that rain and mud
in conjunction have not had the effect to make them clean,
and the wear and tear of service have not left them entirely
whole. But one could not have told by the appearance of
the men, that they were in battle yesterday, and were likely
to be again to-day. They packed their knapsacks, boiled their
coffee and munched their hard bread, just as usual — ^just like
old soldiers who know what campaigning is; and their talk
is far more concerning their present employment — some joke
or drollery — ^than concerning what they saw or did yester-

As early as practicable the lines all along the left are re-
vised and reformed, this having been rendered necessary by
yesterday's battle, and also by what is anticipated to-day. .

It is the opinion of many of our Generals that the Rebel
will not give us battle to-day — that he had enough yesterday
— ^that he will be heading towards the Potomac at the earliest
practicable moment, if he has not already done so; but the
better, and controlling judgment is, that he will make another
grand effort to pierce or turn our lines — that he will either
mass and attack the left again, as yesterday, or direct his
operations against the left of our center, the position of the
Second Corps, and try to sever our line. I infer that Gen.
Meade was of the opinion that the attack to-day would be
upon the left — ^this from the disposition he ordered, I know
that Gen. Hancock anticipated the attack upon the center.

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The dispositions to-day upon the left are as follows :
The Second and Third Divisions of the Second Corps are
in the position of yesterday; then on the left come Double-
day's — ^the Third Division and Col. Stannard's brigade of the
First Corps; then Colwell's — ^the First Division of the Sec-
ond Corps ; then the Third Corps, temporarily under the com-
mand of Hancock, since Sickles' wound. The Third Corps is
upon the same ground in part, and on the identical line where
it first formed yesterday morning, and where, had it stayed
instead of moving out to the front, we should have many
more men to-day, and should not have been upon the brink
of disaster yesterday. On the left of the Third Corps is the
Fifth Corps, with a short front and deep line; then comes
the Sixth Corps, all but one brigade, which is sent over to the
Twelfth. The Sixth, a splendid Corps, almost intact in the
fight of yesterday, is the extreme left of our line, which ter-
minates to the south of Round Top, and runs along its west-
em base, in the woods, and thence to the Cemetery. This
Corps is burning to pay off the old scores made on the 4th
of May, there back of Fredericksburg. Note well the posi-
tion of the Second and Third Divisions of the Second Corps
— it will become important. There are nearly six thousand
men and officers in these two Divisions here upon the field —
the losses were quite heavy yesterday, some regiments are
detached to other parts of the field — so all told there are less
than six thousand men now in the two Divisions,* who oc-
cupy a line of about a thousand yards. The most of the way
along this line upon the crest was a stone fence, constructed
of small rough stones, a good deal of the way badly pulled
down, but the men had improved it and patched it with rails
from the neighboring fences, and with earth, so as to render
it in many places a very passable breastwork against mus-
ketry and flying fragments of shells.

These works are so low as to compel the men to kneel or
lie down generally to obtain cover. Near the right of the
Second Division, and just by the little group of trees that I
have mentioned there, this stone fence made a right angle,
and extended thence to the front, about twenty or thirty

■The returns of June 30 gave 7,546 "present for duty" in these two
divisions, but five of their twenty-six regiments were not in this part of
the battle. See 43 War Records, 53, 170-7, 435, 457, 462, 471, — ^T. h. h.

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yards, where with another less than a right angle it followed
along the crest again.

The lines were conformed to these breastworks and to the
nature of the ground upon the crest, so as to occupy the
most favorable places, to be covered, and still be able to
deliver effective fire upon the enemy should he come there.
In some places a second line was so posted as to be able to
deliver its fire over the heads of the first line behind the
works; but such formation was not practicable all of the
way. But all the force of these two divisions was in line,
in position, without reserves, and in such a manner that
every man of them could have fired his piece at the same
instant. The division flags, that of the Second Division,
being a white trefoil upon a square blue field, and of the
Third Division a blue trefoil upon a white rectangular field,
waved behind the divisions at the points where the Generals
of Division were supposed to be; the brigade flags, similar
to these but with a triangular field, were behind the brigades ;
and the national flags of the regiments were in the lines of
their regiments. To the left of the Second Division, and
advanced something over a hundred yards, were posted a part
of Stannard's Brigade two regiments or more, behind a small
bush-crowned crest that ran in a direction oblique to the
general line. These were well covered by the crest, and
wholly concealed by the bushes, so that an advancing enemy
would be close upon them before they could be seen. Other
troops of Doubleday's Division were strongly posted in rear
of these in the general line.

I could not help wishing all the morning that this line
of the two divisions of the Second Corps was stronger; it
was so far as numbers constitute strength, the weakest
part of our whole line of battle. What if, I thought, the
enemy should make an assault here to-day with two or
three heavy lines — a great overwhelming mass; would he
not sweep through that thin six thousand?

But I was not General Meade, who alone had power
to send other troops there; and he was satisfied with that
part of the line as it was. He was early on horseback this
morning, and rode along the whole line, looking to it himself,
and with glass in hand sweeping the woods and fields in the

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direction of the enemy, to see if aught of him could be
discovered. His manner was calm and serious, but earnest.
There was no arrogance of hope, or timidity of fear discern-
ible in his face; but you would have supposed he would do
his duty conscientiously and well, and would be willing to
abide the result. You would have seen this in his face.
He was well pleased with the left of the line to-day, it was
so strong with good troops. He had no apprehension for the
right where the fight now was going on, on account of
the admirable position of our forces there. He was not
of the opinion that the enemy would attack the center, our
artillery had such sweep there, and this was not the favorite
point of attack with the Rebel. Besides, should he attack the
center, the General thought he could reinforce it in good
season. I heard Gen. Meade speak of these matters to
Hancock and some others, at about nine o'clock in the morn-
ing, while they were up by the line, near the Second Corps.

No further changes of importance except those mentioned,
were made in the disposition of the troops this morning,
except to replace some of the batteries that were disabled
yesterday by others from the artillery reserve, and to brace
up the lines well with guns wherever there were eligible
places, from the same source. The line is all in good order
again, and we are ready for general battle.

Save the operations upon the right, the enemy so far as
we could see, was very quiet all the morning. Occasionally
the outposts would fire a little, and then cease. Movements
would be discovered which would indicate the attempt on the
part of the enemy to post a battery. Our Parrotts would
send a few shells to the spot, then silence would follow.

At one of these times a painful accident happened to us,
this morning. First Lieut. Henry Ropes, 20th Mass., in Gen.
Gibbon's Division, a most estimable gentleman and officer,
intelligent, educated, refined, one of the noble souls that came
to the country's defense, while lying at his post with his regi-
ment, in front of one of the Batteries, which fired over the
Infantry, was instantly killed by a badly made shell, which,
or some portion of it, fell but a few yards in front of the
muzzle of the gun. The same accident killed or wounded
several others. The loss of Ropes would have pained us at

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any time, and in any manner; in this manner his death was
doubly painful.

Between ten and eleven o'clock, over in a peach orchard
in front of the position of Sickles yesterday, some little
show of the enemy's infantry was discovered; a few shells
scattered the gray-backs ; they again appeared, and it becom-
ing apparent that they were only posting a skirmish line,
no further molestation was offered them. A little after this
some of the enemy's flags could be discerned over near the
same quarter, above the top and behind a small crest of a
ridge. There seemed to be two or three of them— possibly
they were guidons— and they moved too fast to be carried
on foot Possibly, we thought, the enemy is posting some
batteries there. We knew in about two hours from this time
better about the matter. Eleven o'clock came. The noise of
battle has ceased upon the right; not a sound of a gun or
musket can be heard on all the field; the sky is bright, with
only the white fleecy clouds floating over from the West
The July sun streams down its fire upon the bright iron of
the muskets in stacks upon the crest, and the dazzling brass
of the Napoleons. The army lolls and longs for the shade,
of which some get a hand's breadth, from a shelter tent
stuck upon a ramrod. The silence and sultriness of a July
noon are supreme. Now it so happened that just about this
time of day a very original and interesting thought occurred
to Gen, Gibbon and several of his staff; that it would be
a very good thing, and a very good time, to have something
to eat When I announce to you that I had not tasted a
mouthful of food since yesterday noon, and that all I had
had to drink since that time, but the most miserable muddy
warm water, was a little drink of whisky that Major Biddle,
General Meade's aide-de-camp, gave me last evening, and a
cup of strong coffee that I gulped down as I was first mount-
ing this morning, and further, that, save the four or five
hours in the night, there was scarcely a moment since that
time but that I was in the saddle, you may have some notion
of the reason of my assent to this extraordinary proposition.
Nor will I mention the doubts I had as to Uie feasibility
of the execution of this very novel proposal, except to say
that I knew this morning that our larder was low; not to

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put too fine a point upon it, that we had nothing but some
potatoes and sugar and coffee in the world. And I may
as well say here, that of such, in scant proportion, would have
been our repast, had it not been for the riding of miles by
two persons, one an ofl&cer, to procure supplies; and they
only succeeded in getting some few chickens, some butter,
and one huge loaf of bread, which last was bought of a
soldier, because he had grown faint in carrying it, and was
afterwards rescued with much difl&culty and after a long
race from a four-footed hog, which had got hold of and had
actually eaten a part of it. . " There is a divinity," etc.
Suffice it, this very ingenious and unheard of contemplated
proceeding, first announced by the General, was accepted
and at once undertaken by his staff. Of the absolute quality
of what we had to eat, I could not pretend to judge, but I
think an unprejudiced person would have said of the bread
that it was good ; so of the potatoes before they were boiled.
Of the chickens he would have questioned tiieir age, but
they were large and in good running order. The toast was
good and the butter. There were those who, when coffee
was given them, called for tea, and vice versa, and were so
ungracious as to suggest that the water that was used in
both might have come from near a barn. Of course it did
not. We all came down to the little peach orchard where we
had stayed last night, and, wonderful to see and tell, ever
mindful of our needs, had it all ready, had our faithful John.
There was an enormous pan of stewed chickens, and the
potatoes, and toast, all hot, and the bread and the butter, and
tea and coffee. There was satisfaction derived from just
naming them all over. We called John an angel, and he
snickered and said he "knowed" we'd come. General
Hancock is of course invited to partake, and without delay
we commence operations. Stools are not very numerous, two,
in all, and these the two Generals have by common consent.
Our table was the top of a mess chest. By this the Generals
sat. The rest of us sat upon the ground, cross-legged, like
the picture of a smoking Turk, and held our plates upon our
laps. How delicious was the stewed chicken. I had a cu-
cumber pickle in my saddle bags, the last of a lunch left
there two or three days ago, which George brought, and I

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had half of it. We were just well at it when General
Meade rode down to us from the line, accompanied by one
of his staff, and by General Gibbon's invitation, they dis-
mounted and joined us. For the General commanding the
Army of the Potomac George, by an effort worthy of the
person and the occasion, finds an empty cracker box for a
seat. The staff officer must sit upon the ground with the rest
of us. Soon Generals Newton and Pleasonton, each with an
aide, arrive. By an almost superhuman effort a roll of
blankets is found, which, upon a pinch, is long enough to
seat these Generals both, and room is made for them. The
aides sit with us. And, fortunate to relate, there was enough
cooked for us all, and from General Meade to the youngest
second lieutenant we all had a most hearty and well relished
dinner. Of the "past" we were "secure." The Generals
ate, and after, lighted cigars, and under the flickering shade
of a very small tree, discoursed of the incidents of yesterday's
battle and of the probabilities of to-day. General Newton

Online LibraryCharles William EliotAmerican historical documents 1000-1904, with introductions, notes and illustrations → online text (page 39 of 48)