Bruce Trinque is a native New Englander, residing in Niantic, Connecticut. He graduated from the University of Connecticut with BSE and MS degrees in mechanical engineering and currently works as a manufacturing process engineer. His interest in the Civil War was sparked by the Centennial observations when he was a junior high student. Mr. Trinque is editor of The Dispatch, the newsletter of the Southeastern Connecticut Civil War Round Table. The author's long-time interest in the 14th Connecticut Infantry led to research about adjacent units at Gettysburg and to the present article. His writings about the Civil War and the American West usually delve into the small mysteries and misconceptions which enliven the study of military history.
One of the guns of Battery A was double-shotted with canister. Private William C. Barker was No. 4, and he stood holding the lanyard which was attached to the primer to fire the piece, and, as a regiment of Pettigrew's brigade [the Twenty-sixth North Carolina] was charging the position held by the battery and the Fourteenth Connecticut and First Delaware regiments of infantry, and had almost reached the wall just in front of us, Sergt. Amos M. C. Olney cried out: "Barker, why the d--I don't you fire that gun! pull! pull!" The No. 4 obeyed orders and the gap made in that North Carolina regiment was simply terrible. [Lewis] Armistead had just fallen, and Pickett' s charge had failed. This was the last shot fired from our battery when the rebels broke in retreat, and Gettysburg was won.1So wrote Thomas M. Aldrich in his history of Capt. William A. Arnold's Company A of the 1st Rhode Island Light Artillery. This moment of drama during the repulse of the great Confederate attack against Cemetery Ridge on the afternoon of July 3, 1863, was commemorated in 1986 with the erection of a monument at the spot described by Aldrich, just in front of the famous stone wall over which peer the black muzzles of cannon designating the position of Arnold's battery. Visitors to Gettysburg National Military Park stare past these guns at the pink granite marker and they can walk down to the monument to read the story of the 26th North Carolina Regiment, literally cast in bronze on the tablet atop the marker. Photographs of the new monument now illustrate magazine articles about the battle.2 The incident is also memorialized in artist Mort Kunstler's "The High Water Mark," unveiled in a ceremony at the Gettysburg Park museum during observation of the 125th anniversary of the battle. This vivid painting shows men of the 26th being blown back by the discharge of double-canister.3 Careful students of the battle, however, must ask themselves the question: what really happened?
The Union defenses atop Cemetery Ridge ran southward along a low stone wall. Near the center of the Federal position, the wall veered sharply west toward the distant Confederate lines for about eighty yards and then turned again to continue south. This jog in the stone wall would become forever known simply as "The Angle." A short distance south of the Angle and east of the stone wall stood a clump of trees easily visible from the Confederate positions across the wide valley. Robert E. Lee selected these trees as the aiming point for the attack he ordered on the third day of the battle at Gettysburg. In preparation for the assault, the Confederates massed more than 170 cannons, those of Longstreet's corps under the command of Col. Edward Porter Alexander to fire on the Union defenses, particularly concentrating upon the artillery batteries at the Federal center. Directly adjacent to the clump of trees was Lt. Alonzo H. Cushing's Company A, 4th U.S. Artillery. To the south was Lt. T. Fred Brown's Company B of the 1st Rhode Island Light Artillery. North of the trees and north of the Angle itself was Arnold's battery, also of the 1st Rhode Island. Alexander's goal was to drive off or disable these and other batteries before the Confederate infantry launched an attack. He ordered his cannons to open fire at approximately 1 p.m.
For nearly two hours, approximately 250 Union and Confederate guns thundered in the greatest cannonade yet heard in the war. Although some of the other Federal artillery units suffered more, Arnold's battery felt the weight of Southern fire. Thomas Aldrich wrote:
Shortly before 3 p.m., concerned about his heavy expenditure of ammunition and encouraged by the withdrawal of some of the Federal artillery, Alexander sent word to Lt. Gen. James Longstreet that the moment had come to begin the infantry attack.
There appeared to be but one flash, and those simultaneous reports pealed out deafening salvos, and were grand and impressive beyond description. It seemed as if, without a moment's warning, the heavens had opened, and the Union soldiers found themselves in a pitiless storm of shot and shell which burst and tore up the ground in all directions, dealing out death and destruction on every side.4
Among the regiments in the three divisions selected for the grand assault was the 26th North Carolina of J. K. Marshall's brigade, J. Johnson Pettigrew's division. The 26th compiled a notable record at Gettysburg, one terribly illustrative of the cost of this war.5 The regiment entered the first day of the battle with a strength of some 840 men.6 On that day when A. P. Hill' s corps of the Army of Northern Virginia collided with Union forces trying to hold the Confederate advance, the 26th North Carolina found itself opposed to the 24th Michigan at McPherson's Woods. In several hours of fierce combat, the North Carolina regiment lost 588 men and officers. Although not engaged on the second day of the fight, the 26th would lose more than half of its remaining men during the ill-fated effort to break the Union line on Cemetery Ridge.7
The left wing of the Confederate attack force was made up of two divisions: Pettigrew's and I. R. Trimble's, with Pettigrew's in front. Marshall's brigade, including the 26th North Carolina, was placed in the center of Pettigrew's division. Its four regiments already shrunken by heavy losses, the brigade was deployed on an unusually narrow front. Although the regiments stood side-by-side, each was in a two-line formation, half the width and double the depth of the typical line-of-battle arrangement. B. D. Fry's brigade of five regiments marched to the right of Marshall and to the left was Joseph Davis' brigade with four regiments. Both brigades were in a two-line array similar to Marshall's. J. M. Brockenbrough's brigade had originally been deployed to the left of Davis, but this unit broke and retreated before the Union lines were closely approached. Trimble's division, deployed in a conventional single battleline, was behind Heth's division, with Scales' brigade on the right and Lane's brigade on the left.8
Maj. Gen. George E. Pickett's division, containing the Virginia brigades of Garnett, Kemper, and Armistead, formed the right wing of the Confederate attack force. Pickett's men would hit the Union lines south of the Angle, while Pettigrew's and Trimble's divisions struck north of the jog in the stone wall.
The precise order of individual regiments within the brigade lines is uncertain, with that of only one brigade recorded in an official post-battle report. In the years following the Civil War, however, the indefatigable researcher, John B. Bachelder, solicited information about this deployment from many veterans. The best determination for the unit arrangement in the left center of the Confederate force was:9
11 NC-26 NC-47 NC-52 NC 5 AL-7 TN-14 TN-13 AL-1 TN
38 NC - 13 NC - 34 NC - 22 NC - 16 NC
Behind the stone wall on Cemetery Ridge, waiting for Pettigrew's and Trimble's Confederates, were several Federal units. Just north of the Angle stood what was left of Arnold's Company A of the 1st Rhode Island.10 To the north of Arnold was the 14th Connecticut Infantry, then the 1st Delaware, and then the 12th New Jersey. Other Union infantry regiments were positioned behind this front line. The infantrymen along the wall were deployed in a formation much shallower than that of the attacking Confederates. Indeed, the men of the 14th Connecticut were stretched into a meager single rank, rather than the standard two-rank line of battle from the tactics manuals.11 Each Union regiment along the stone wall thus faced several advancing Confederate units.
Brig. Gen. Alexander Hays, division commander along this section of the Union line, held his fire until the Confederate force crossed the Emmitsburg Road at the base of Cemetery Ridge. As the Southern soldiers climbed over the rail fences lining the road, Hays gave the order to fire. In the words of the historian of the 14th Connecticut:
[T]he men dropped from the fence as if swept by a giant sickle swung by some powerful force of nature. Great gaps were formed in the line, the number of slain and wounded could not be estimated by numbers, but must be measured by yards. Yet on came the second line in full face of the awful carnage. No longer could the measured tread be heard, no longer were the orders of the commanding officers audible for the shrieks of the wounded and groans of the dying filled the air, but on they came, meeting with the same fate as their comrades. The third line wavered and faltered, even their courage forbidding them to face such a storm of musketry. The color-bearers now advanced, apparently in obedience to previous orders, and, attended by their color-guards, planted their battle flags in the ground much nearer. Then the firing being too hot for them, lay down, waiting for their men to advance and rally around them. One of them in particular was in advance of the others and planted his flag not more than ten rods [fifty-five yards] from and in front of the center of the Fourteenth.12Maj. Theodore G. Ellis, commanding the 14th Connecticut, now called for volunteers to capture the battleflag that had been pushed out ahead of his line. Several Connecticut men leapt over the wall. Outstripping the rest, Sgt. Maj. William B. Hincks reached the flag first and seized it, swinging his sword above nearby Confederates on the ground, men either seeking shelter from Union fire or already hit. Hincks carried his trophy back to his cheering comrades. They found the flag to be that of the 14th Tennessee of Fry's brigade.13
Overwhelmed by heavy Union fire, the Confederate lines fell back down the slope and jubilant Northern soldiers climbed over the stone wall to take prisoners and to gather flags left behind by shattered Southern units. The 14th Connecticut retrieved the banners of the 1st Tennessee (Fry's brigade), the 16th North Carolina (Scales' brigade), and the 52nd North Carolina (Marshall's brigade).14 In addition, the Connecticut men took more than 200 prisoners, about two for every man of the 14th yet left unwounded. Among the surrendered Confederates named in Major Ellis' official report were officers from the 1st and 7th Tennessee and the 5th Alabama of Fry's brigade, the 22nd North Carolina of Scales' brigade, and the 52nd North Carolina of Marshall's brigade.15
If an examination is made of Confederate regiments from which battleflags or officers are known to have been captured by the 14th Connecticut, one clear and logical fact is immediately apparent: the identified units form a virtually solid block in the Southern attack formation. This includes four of the five regiments in Fry's brigade, the right flank regiment in Marshall's brigade, and the two regiments at the right end of Scales' brigade. These units had obviously fought in front of the 14th Connecticut.16 It is also evident that the Confederate assault force maintained the basic integrity of its formation until the survivors fell back. Individual regiments had not wandered blindly about the battlefield, striking randomly against the Federal line. Comparing Union and Confederate orders of battle, it is at least broadly accurate to say that the 14th Connecticut was faced by Fry's brigade, the 1st Delaware had Marshall's brigade in its front, and the 12th New Jersey had Davis' brigade before it. Scales' brigade was also in front of the 14th Connecticut, but its left flank must have extended in front of the 1st Delaware.17 Lane's brigade was before the 12th New Jersey, although the right flank was evidently in front of the 1st Delaware.
The 26th North Carolina was not mentioned either in the 14th Connecticut's official report or in any personal accounts from the Connecticut soldiers. The 26th's location, given its position within the Confederate battleline, was north of that section of the stone wall held by Connecticut regiment and was instead in front of the 1st Delaware or 12th New Jersey. This conflicts with the idea that the 26th North Carolina was the target of Sergeant Olney's final blast of double canister, as reported by Aldrich. Arnold's battery was on the opposite flank of the 14th Connecticut, to the south of the regiment. The 26th simply was not in front of Olney's gun. On the contrary, the North Carolina regiment was hundreds of feet north of the monument placed in 1986.18
No Confederate primary source links the 26th to Arnold 's battery. The accuracy of the tale depends upon the recollections of the Rhode Island artillerymen. Aldrich's narrative is not without other problems, even disregarding the question about the 26th North Carolina. Remarkably, there is no indication in Aldrich's account that any portion of the battery withdrew from Cemetery Ridge before the Confederate infantry attack, yet Brig. Gen. Henry J. Hunt, the Union chief of artillery, stated that Arnold's battery was pulled back towards the close of the Confederate bombardment and not replaced until "the affair was over.''19 The Official Records contain no report from Captain Arnold detailing the activities of his battery, but accounts from the 14th Connecticut, including regimental commander Theodore Ellis's report of July 6, 1863, are clear in describing this artillery withdrawal before the infantry attack.20
On the morning of the third day of the battle, the 14th Connecticut had been sent out from Cemetery Ridge to capture the buildings of the Bliss Farm, beyond the Emmitsburg Road, to prevent their further use by Southern sharpshooters. The regiment seized and burned the Bliss house and barn and then returned to Cemetery Ridge, only to find the 14th's original position had been occupied in its absence by the 1st Delaware. The 14th then formed a line directly behind the Delaware men.21 Arnold's battery, with its six 3-inch U.S. Ordnance rifled cannon, was to their left.22 When the Confederate artillery bombardment began, the 14th Connecticut remained in place, the men lying on the ground to seek protection. Sgt. Maj. Hincks recalled how the muzzle blast of one of Arnold' s guns repeatedly knocked bits of gravel over him with each discharge as it replied to enemy fire.23
Toward the end of the Confederate bombardment, men and equipment battered by enemy fire, Captain Arnold's ammunition nearly exhausted, and operating under Hunt's orders, Arnold withdrew most of his guns from the exposed ground on the ridge.24 One or two artillery pieces, however, were left at the stone wall, close to the Angle, that site marked with six cannons on the present battlefield as being the location of Arnold's battery. Only one cannon, left near the corner of the wall, was still operational, although another disabled gun was nearby.25 This withdrawal left a hole in the Union line between the left of the 1st Delaware and Arnold's remaining serviceable piece.
Ellis ordered his men to their feet. They filed to the left and moved forward to the stone wall to fill in the gap. The 14th Connecticut had entered the battle with a strength of only 170 officers and men. Because of losses at the Bliss Farm and due to the detachment of two companies on the skirmish line, Ellis now commanded approximately one hundred men.26 To fill the open space, the 14th spread out in a single line of one rank.27 Detailed accounts of this change in position leave no doubt that most of Arnold's battery had been pulled back, despite Aldrich's failure to disclose this information in his regimental history.
Regardless of Aldrich's silence on the withdrawal, there may still be
a core of truth to his narrative of the final shot from Olney's gun, presuming
this cannon to be the one serviceable piece Arnold left behind. Nonetheless,
it is nearly inconceivable that Olney knew the designation of his target
when he ordered Private Barker to pull the lanyard. In the heavy smoke
and confusion of battle, no one in Arnold's battery could have expected
to read the designation on an enemy regimental battleflag. Therefore, identification
must have been made afterwards, either through examination of a captured
flag or by questioning prisoners.
As discussed above, the 26th North Carolina was definitely not in front of a gun from Arnold's battery. What command, then, was the target of Olney's final shot? And is there a reasonable mechanism for the 26th to have become associated with this incident? To address the first question, there are several answers possible, with the identity of those commands known to have been in front of the 14th Connecticut providing a guideline. Whatever regiment was fired upon by Olney, it should have been on the (Confederate) right flank of the block of identified units. According to the best available information, the right flank regiment in this portion of the Confederate front line was the 1st Tennessee. In the rear line was the 16th North Carolina.28 The 14th Connecticut captured the flags of both regiments. Aldrich's narrative implies that the Confederates began to fall back immediately after Olney's shot.29 This indicates that the incident occurred when the rear line (Scales' brigade) was attempting to breach the Union defenses, the leading double-line (Fry's and Marshall's brigades) having already been stalled. To repeat, the right flank regiment in Scales' brigade was the 16th North Carolina.
In summary, evidence places the 16th North Carolina at the right place at the right time (if being the target of a double load of canister can be said to have a "right time"). Furthermore, a simple error either in noting the regimental designation on a captured battleflag or in later recollecting a chaotic and stress-filled event could have transformed a "16" into a "26." While no final conclusion can be drawn, the Confederate command devastated by the last shot of Arnold's battery was probably the 16th North Carolina of Scales' brigade.
None of this in any way diminishes the accomplishments or record of service by the 26th North Carolina at Gettysburg. Whether or not casualties were inflicted by one particular cannon discharge makes no difference. The 26th's dreadful toll of killed and wounded remains unchallenged. No other regiment at Gettysburg lost so many men during the battle. During the first and third days of the battle, the command suffered losses of 687 officers and men, for a casualty rate of 81.5 percent.30 True, the present site of the 26th North Carolina monument on Cemetery Ridge is inaccurate, but a more appropriate location might be even closer to the stone wall some hundreds of feet to the north, where the regiment fought. A sergeant and the color-bearer of the 26th made their way up the deadly slope until the defending Union riflemen from the 12th New Jersey, awed by this display of valor, held their fire to preserve the lives of such courageous men. The Northern soldiers allowed the two Confederates to approach closer, and then in a spirit of comradeship rather than enmity, called for the Southerners to cross the wall to safety. "Come over on this side of the Lord!" the Union defenders called to those two brave soldiers of the 26th North Carolina, still proudly carrying their battleflag.31
1. Thomas M. Aldrich, The History of Battery A,
First Regiment Rhode Island Light Artillery, in the War to Preserve the
Union, 1861-1865 (Providence: Snow & Farnham, Printers, 1904) p.
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2. For example, see Gettysburg Magazine, no. 8 (January 1993):87, and no. 9 (July 1993):72, although in the latter case the caption mistakenly identifies the marker as being that of the 14th North Carolina.
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3. Mort Kunstler and James McPherson, images of the Civil War (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992) pp. 116-17. Also, Mort Kunstler and James McPherson, Gettysburg: The Paintings of Mort Kunstler (Atlanta: Turner Publications, Inc., 1993), pp. 96-97.
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4. Aldrich, The History of Battery A, p. 211.
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5. Confederate brigades and divisions were generally known by their commanders' names. By the third day of fighting at Gettysburg, heavy casualties had altered command arrangements. Maj. Gen. Henry Heth had been wounded on July I and Brig. Gen. J. Johnson Pettigrew took over command of Heth's division. Pettigrew's brigade, in turn, was led by Col. James K. Marshall. These commands, therefore, will be designated by who was commanding them on July 3.
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6. John W. Busey and David 13. Martin, Regimental Strengths and Losses at Gettysburg (Hightstown, New Jersey: Longstreet House, 1986) p. 174.
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7. R. Lee Hadden, "The Deadly Embrace", Gettysburg Magazine, no. 5 (July 1991):19-33.
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8. George R. Stewart, Pickett's Charge: A Microhistory of the Final Attack at Gettysburg, July 3, 1863 (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin Co., 1959; reprint, Dayton, Ohio: Morningside, 1983) p. 87.
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9. Ibid., pp. 300-1. See also Michael W. Taylor, "North Carolina in the Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble Charge at Gettysburg", Gettysburg Magazine, no. 8 (January 1993):69.
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10. Two companies of the 71st Pennsylvania had been deployed behind the stone wall at the inner angle itself. Some evidence exists that these men moved left and forward to join the rest of their regiment at the outer angle before the Confederate assault. John M. Archer, "Remembering the 14th Connecticut Volunteers", Gettysburg Magazine, no. 9 (July 1993):75.
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11. Charles D. Page, History of the Fourteenth Regiment, Connecticut Volunteer Infantry (Meriden, Connecticut: Horton Printing Co., 1906), p. 151.
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12. Ibid., p. 152.
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13. Ibid., pp. 154-6.
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14. Ibid., p. 161. Major Ellis in his official report of July 6, 1863, reported the capture of a fifth Confederate flag, that of the 4th Virginia. This is, however, an error, as the 4th Virginia was not involved in the attack. Presumably, the battleflag was that of one of the Virginia regiments of Pickett's division, which had been in the Confederate assault force immediately to the right of Fry's and Scales' brigades.
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15. United States War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 70 vols. in 128 parts (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1880-1901), series 1, vol. 27, pt. 1, pp. 466-68. (Hereafter cited as OR. All subsequent references are from series 1 unless otherwise noted.) Major Ellis reported that the Confederate officers captured or surrendering to his regiment were: