This article first appeared in THE TRANS-MISSISSIPPI NEWS. It is reprinted here with the permision of its publisher, W. Clark Kenyon.
The weather and fighting were both hot. Sgt. Valerius C. Giles, of the 4th Texas Infantry, was fighting on the slopes of Big Round Top as Hood's Division attempted to turn the flank of the Union Army. He watched as a courier from Hood approached Major Rogers, commanding the 5th Texas. "General Law presents his compliments, and says hold this place at all hazards," the courier said. The Major looked at him and replied, "Compliments, hell! Who wants any compliments in such a damned place as this? Go back and ask General Law if he expects me to hold the world in check with the Fifth Texas Regiment?" Despite the peaceful scenery one finds at Gettysburg today, for three days in July, this area was "a damned place" for the Confederate and Union units from the Trans-Mississippi. These units were over 900 miles from their homes and they were no sideshows to the battle. They were involved in critical situations and exemplified bravery, courage, and honor for their states. When the fighting was over, all of the units deserved compliments from their fellow soldiers and civilians.
Despite the struggle for the area of the Mississippi River, both the Federal and Confederate governments sent numerous first class fighting units to the east to help conduct the war. Of the states east of the Mississippi River, only Kentucky did not have a unit at Gettysburg. West of the Mississippi River, Iowa, Kansas, and Missouri did not have units in the battle. Although no formal study has been completed, there were men from these states fighting at Gettysburg with other units, but it would be an monumental, if not impossible, task to document all of these individuals. At Gettysburg, 151,000 soldiers fought for three days. Of these, over 3,600 were in units from the Trans-Mississippi. The vast majority were from the Confederacy.
The First Minnesota was the lone Union regiment from the Trans-Mississippi at Gettysburg. One of the first regiments to offer its services to the Union, it would serve its entire term in the east. It fought its way from Bull Run to the Mine Run campaign, leaving to return to its native state in February of 1864. As the regiment entered the battle of Gettysburg, the First was part of Second Corps under Maj. Gen. Winfield Hancock. The divisional and brigade commanders were not from the Trans-Mississippi. The divisional commander Brig. Gen. John Gibbon, would assume command of the 1st Crops during the battle. Gibbon was a native of Pennsylvania and would not see the Trans-Mississippi until after the Civil War when he led troops in the various Indian campaigns. This brought their brigade commander, Brig. Gen. William Harrow, to command of their Second Division. Harrow had originally commanded the 14th Indiana. Col. Francis Heath, of the 19th Maine, would assume command of the First Brigade at Gettysburg.
The regiment's exploits are legendary at Gettysburg. At the start of the battle, the regiments roster included 399 officers and men. At the end of the three days, it had sustained 68% casualties. Under Col. William Colvill, a Red Wing native, the regiment missed the action of the first day. On July 2nd, however, the 1st Minnesota etched its name in immortality. With three companies detached, it did not enter fighting at full strength. Co. C was serving as divisional provost guard; Co. F was skirmishing off to the left, near Little Round Top; and Co. L., a unit of sharpshooters was supporting an artillery battalion on Cemetery Hill.
Their famous charge came late in the afternoon of July 2nd. Finding an opening in the Union line on Cemetery Ridge, this opening was about to be exploited by the 1,700 man Confederate brigade of Wilcox. Hancock needed time to bring up reinforcements and he turned to the 1st Minnesota to find the time needed. Hancock order Col. Colvill and the 1st Minnesota to charge a Confederate brigade over six times its strength. Charging 200 yards to the valley of little Plum Run, the 1st Minnesota hit Wilcox's men hard. It would take Wilcox time to reorganize this line and that was all that Hancock needed. Eventually Wilcox was able to outflank the regiment and it was forced to retreat.
The length of the time between the charge and the retreat of the 1st Minnesota has been estimated anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes. The losses were appalling, Col. Colvill was wounded as well as Lt. Col Adams who was struck six times. The number of men who charged (250 to 272) and killed or wounded (170 to 215) has been highly scrutinized and under some dispute. Despite this minor controversy, the impact of the actions of the First Minnesota should not be underestimated. As Robert Meinhard wrote in Gettysburg Magazine,
This (controversy) does not diminish the luster of what the First Minnesota did on July 2, 1863. Bruce Catton wrote, 'The whole war had suddenly come to focus in this smoky hollow with a few score Westerners trading their lives for the time the army needed. . .
Few people realize that the exploits of this regiment did not end of the 2nd of July. On July 3rd, the 1st Minnesota helped repulse the thunderous attack of Pickett, Pettigrew and Trimble. Rejoined by Co.'s C and F, the 150 or so men were led by Capt. N.S. Messick. Positioned between the 19th Maine and 15th Massachusetts 200 yards south of the Copse of Trees, the objective of Pickett's Division, they left their position and rushed to the right to help repel the charge. In their fight with the 28th Virginia in and around the Copse of Trees, they sustained another estimated 50 casualties, including the death of Capt. Messick. They did, however, capture the colors of the 28th Virginia.
The First Minnesota had been called upon to pay a high price. They did so on not one but two days of the battle. These men from Minnesota represented the Trans-Mississippi to the highest degree of courage, determination and sacrifice.
ARKANSAS - TEXAS
The infantry regiments from these states served in the same brigade, known as John Bell Hood's Texas Brigade. The lone Arkansas unit, the 3rd Infantry, served at Gettysburg with the 1st, 4th, and 5th Texas. This brigade consisted of 1,839 officers and men. Like the 1st Minnesota, they were sent east and did not return to the Trans-Mississippi during the war.
The 3rd Arkansas consisted of 508 officers and men. Commanded by Col. Van H. Manning, it was one of 70 units furnished to the Confederacy by the state. It is also interesting to note that Arkansas also sent 17 units to the Union army.
The three Texas infantry regiments were part of the over 500,000 volunteers from the state. Roughly 25% of these men served in the eastern theaters with the Texas Brigade as one of the best known units in the war. At the time of the battle, their strengths and commanders were: 1st Texas, 452 officers and men, Lt. Col P.A. Work; 4th Texas, 440 officers and men, Col J.C.G. Key; and 5th Texas, 434 officers and men, Col R. M. Powell.
Both the divisional commander and the brigade commander had common ties to the Trans-Mississippi. The divisional commander of these Arkansas-Texas units was 32 year old John Bell Hood. Although a native of Kentucky, he served on the frontier in Texas prior to the war. At the start of the war he organized and led the companies of the 4th Texas. In March of 1862 he was appointed Brigadier General of the Texas Brigade (which then was the 1st, 4th, 5th Texas and the 18th Georgia). Divisional command and appointment to Major General came in October of 1862. Appointed General in July of 1864, he lead a disastrous campaign in Tennessee in late 1864. He was relieved of his command and was on his way to the Trans-Mississippi for reassignment when the war ended. He surrendered on May 31, 1865 in New Orleans.
The Texas Brigade commander was Brig. Gen. Jerome. B. Robertson. Like Hood, he was a native of Kentucky. In 1836, at the age of 21, he moved to Texas. A member of the secession convention, he entered service as a captain in the 5th Texas. In June of 1862 he became its Colonel. Promotion to Brig. General came on November 1, 1862. He was wounded at Second Bull Run, South Mountain, and collapsed from exhaustion at Antietam. He became embroiled in controversy with Longstreet in 1864. Although facing court martial, he was never tried. Instead he was sent to the Trans-Mississippi where he commanded the state's reserve force for Texas. He remained in Texas after the war.
The brigade did not arrive in the Gettysburg area until late on July 1 and camped near Marsh Creek west of town. As a part of Longstreet's march, countermarch, and attempt to flank the left end of the Union line, the tired soldiers did not arrive in position until the middle of the afternoon of July 2nd. They formed a line from north to south, facing east on Warfield Ridge south of the Snyder farm. Robertson placed the brigade so that it straddled the Emmitsburg Road with the 3rd Arkansas and 1st Texas north of the road and the 4th and 5th Texas south of the road. Laws' Alabama Brigade were to their right and Kershaw's South Carolina Brigade were to their left. The part of Benning's brigade and Anderson's brigade were behind Robertson.
Under Longstreet's orders for the attack, Laws and Robertson's brigades were to be the first to step off. The right of the 5th Texas was to stay in contact with Laws and the left of the 3rd Arkansas was to stay in touch with the Emmitsburg Road. The idea was start in an easterly direction and turn northeast to hit the flank of the Union army. However, after going 200 yards it was obvious that this could not happen as Laws continued to head east, away from the road. A decision was made by Robertson to stay in contact with the Alabama troops and break from the road. Longstreet's plan had broken down with the first two attacking brigades.
Moving across the Slyder and Bushman's farms the brigades made steady process. Law diverted two regiments from his right to fall behind and move north (to their left) to silence Smiths Union battery in the Devil's Den. As the Alabama regiments (44th & 48th) headed north, they split Robertson's brigade between the 1st and 4th Texas. The result was for the 3rd Arkansas and 1st Texas to charge through the Rose Woods and the Triangular Field to hit Ward's Union Brigade in and west of the Devil's Den. The 4th and 5th Texas joined three Alabama regiments in going over the northwest shoulder of Big Round Top to attack Little Round Top.
The 3rd Arkansas and 1st Texas
In the Rose Woods and the triangular field in front of Devil's Den, the 3rd Arkansas and 1st Texas met companies of sharpshooters, the 20th Indiana, 86th New York, 99th Pennsylvania, and 124th New York. Charge and countercharge in these fields, flanking fire from the 17th Maine in the Wheatfield, and artillery fire from Smith's New York in the Devil's Den all took a frightful toll on these Trans-Mississippi soldiers. Finally, with the Georgia regiments in the brigades of Anderson and Benning joining the attack, the tide turned and the Union line fell back. The 3rd Arkansas and 1st Texas had met an overwhelming force, fought without breaking, and with the help of two Georgia brigades had taken the Rose Woods and Devil's Den. This would end the battle for the 3rd Arkansas, however, the 1st Texas would also help repel Farnsworth's ill-fated and ill-conceived cavalry charge late on July 3rd on the far right of the Confederate line near the Slyder farm.
The defense of the Devil's Den and Rose Woods had been spirited and deadly. The 3rd Arkansas had sustained 182 casualties or 38% of the 426 men engaged. Included in the list of wounded was Col. Manning. Shrapnel had cut a gash across his forehead and bridge of his nose, requiring him to turn over the regiment to Lt. Col. Robert S. Taylor. The 1st Texas had suffered greatly in the Triangular Field south of the Devil's Den. Official reports list 97 casualties, but other accounts state that 125 men lay in that field, including two captains, two lieutenants, seven sergeants and seven corporals.
The 4th and 5th Texas
Separated from the other half of their brigade, the 4th and 5th Texas went over the northwest shoulder of Big Round Top and headlong into Little Round Top. The 48th Alabama was on the left of the 4th Texas and the 4th Alabama was on the right of the 5th Texas. They hit the Union brigade of Brig. Gen. Vincent which consisted of (from left to right) the 16th Michigan, 44th New York, 83rd Pennsylvania, and the 20th Maine. Although the fight between the 20th Maine and the 15th and 47th Alabama receives most of the attention, the fighting between the 4th and 5th Texas and the boys from Michigan and New York was no less earnest or deadly. There were no fancy maneuvers, just slugging it out in and around the rocks and steep slope of Little Round Top.
The 4th Texas was on the left of the Fifth Texas as it attempted to flank the right of single Union brigade which was the 16th Michigan. The 48th Alabama was to its left. What cooperation there was between the Texans and the Alabama regiment remains undocumented. The third and final attempt to flank the 16th Michigan ended with the downhill charge of the 140th New York and its three sister regiments of Weed's Union brigade. The 4th Texas had made its way to within 20 yards and no closer. Co. K, in its advanced position, retreated with only three officers and eight enlisted men.
Following their last attempt to flank the line, the soldiers took cover behind the rocks and continued the fight to break the Union line. Directly behind the 5th Texas, Col. Powell lay wounded. As Lt.Col. King Bryan approached Powell to examine him, he was struck in the arm. This forced him to retire and turn over the regiment to Major Rogers. Col. Powell would be captured and remained in Gettysburg for treatment of his wound and as a prisoner of the Union army.
Eventually, the 4th and 5th Texas retreated to the rise above Devil's Den and took stock of their losses. Major Thomas now commanded the 4th Texas and found 112 men dead missing or wounded. This was 27% of the regiment and included Col. J.C.G. Key and Lt. Col. B.F. Carter who had both been wounded. The 5th Texas sustained the highest casualties of the brigade. With Col. Powell wounded and missing and Lt. Col Bryan wounded, Major Rogers counted his regiments losses. It had sustained a 51.6% casualty rate for the 391 men. This included 54 dead.
Texas and Arkansas, like Minnesota, had answered the call and done their best. This "damned place" had taken a heavy toll on the best that the Texas and Arkansas could supply.
With a white population of 350,000, this state supplied over 111 infantry, artillery, and cavalry units numbering 56,000 men. There were another 10,000 men in home guard units. It also supplied the largest number of men and units from the Trans-Mississippi at Gettysburg with ten infantry regiments and seven batteries of artillery numbering 3,217 officers and men. Like the units from Minnesota, Arkansas and Texas, these men played no sideshow at Gettysburg. They were involved in the fighting from the right flank to the left flank of the Confederate army in the battle.
Longstreet's First Corps
Artillery Reserve -
Four 24 lb. howitzers
143 officers and men
|Washington Art. 1st Co.||One Napoleon||82 officers and men|
|Washington Art. 2nd Co.||Two Napoleons
One 12 lb. howitzer
|85 officers and men|
|Washington Art. 3rd Co.||Three Napoleons||98 officers and men|
|Washington Art. 4th Co.|| Two Napoleons
One 12 lb. howitzer
|85 officers and men|
Ewell's Second Corps
Early's Division -
Two 3-inch rifles
Two 10 lb. Parrotts
|64 officers and men|
Hill's Third Corps
Artillery Reserve -
Unit Guns Strength
Donaldsonville Art. Two 3 inch rifles 121 officers and men One 10 lb. Parrott
Moody's Madison Light Artillery
As a member of Longstreet's Artillery Reserve, the Madison Artillery served under Col J. B. Walton who had previously commanded the Louisiana artillery battalion, the Washington Artillery. It entered service in 1861 as an infantry regiment and was transferred to the artillery in August of 1861. It never returned to Louisiana until the end of the war. The battery served with five other batteries (four from Virginia and one from South Carolina) in Alexander's Battalion.
The commander was E.P. Alexander, a native of Georgia and one of the best artillery officers of the war. One of his colorful batteries, their captain was George V. Moody. Consisting mostly of Irishmen and called "Tips", they were tough, belligerent and ready for any fight. Arming themselves with butcher knives, they were a constant threat to any farm livestock. The battery was equipped with four 24 lb. howitzers. On the afternoon of July 2nd, Alexander's Battalion was posted on Seminary Ridge west of the Peach Orchard straddling the Wheatfield Road. Moody's Madison Battery was south of the Wheatfield road. Behind a stone wall that bordered Pitzers Woods facing east with Cabell's Battalion on their right, the Madison Artillery supported McLaws' attack on the Peach Orchard.
The fighting was fierce as they faced nine batteries of the Union Third Corps and Artillery Reserve at distances as little as six to seven hundred yards in the Peach Orchard and Sherfy's farm. The Moody's artillerists faced a special problem. While the wall offered protection, they had to recruit members of Barksdale's Mississippi Brigade to help push the cannons back to the top of the ridge following their recoil down the reverse slope of the ridge.
Following the collapse of the Union salient at the Peach Orchard and hoping to support the further advance of McLaws, Alexander pushed his batteries forward to the ground east of the Emmitsburg Road, which bordered the orchard. Moody's Madison Artillery was stationed right in the Peach Orchard. Harry Pfanz in his superb book Gettysburg, The Second Day described the position of Moody's guns. Probably its guns were just east of the orchard's highest point, its left piece near the road, and one may wonder how it maneuvered and functioned in area so thickly strewn with debris and the Union's Third Corps's dead and wounded. The battery would advance no further as the Confederate attack faltered.
The best description of the artillery fight on the afternoon of July 2nd was also given by Harry Pfanz. He wrote,
Stephen Lee called the battle of Antietam 'Artillery Hell', but E.P. Alexander, who succeeded him in the command of his artillery battalion, thought that the fighting at Gettysburg's Peach Orchard was worse. Alexander compared the battalion's losses in the two battles and wrote of the Gettysburg ordeal, ' I don't think there was ever in our war a hotter, harder, sharper artillery afternoon than this.'
On the 3rd of July, Moody's Madison Battery found itself in support of Pickett's Charge. Moved north a couple of hundred yards of its last position, its right gun was next to the road leading to the Trostle Farm. The Confederate assault was north of the battery's position. It did not advance with the charge and dueled with Union artillery on Cemetery Ridge and Little Round Top. The intensity of the two day fight showed in the battery's casualty figures, losing 28% of the men engaged. It did not, however, lose any guns.
The Washington Artillery
The Washington Artillery was organized in 1838 and its batteries were called "Companies". The first four companies went east and stayed there until the surrender at Appomattox. The fifth company served with the Army of the Tennessee from Shiloh to the Carolinas. The Sixth Company never left New Orleans. Rated one of the best units in the Confederacy, it obtained its guns from the captured Federal Arsenal in Baton Rouge in 1861. At the battle of Gettysburg, the companies were commanded as follows:
Captain Charles Squires, 1st Company; Captain John B. Richardson, 2nd Company; Captain Merrit Miller, 3rd Company; and Captain Joseph Norcom, 4th Company. The battery arrived in Gettysburg under the command of Major B.F. Eshleman on July 2 and was held in reserve. Ordered to the front late in the day, the Washington Artillery arrived after the fighting had ceased.
On July 3, the guns from Louisiana played an essential part in the battle. Located north of Moody's Battery, its guns were near the center of the Confederate artillery line. Chosen specifically by Alexander, two guns of the Captain's Miller Battery (Third Company) fired the signal for the great artillery duel preceding Pickett's Charge. It was hot work for the battalion as it received Union fire from the front and enfilade fire from Little Round Top. After Kemper's Virginia Infantry Brigade passed through it on its way to the Copse of Trees, three guns of the Third Company and two of the Fourth Company advanced 400 to 500 yards to support the attack.
However, Taylor's Virginia Battery, on their right, and Dearing's Battalion on the left ran out of ammunition and withdrew. With their position exposed and the charge faltering, the advance guns withdrew to the area vacated by Dearing. Upon the retreat of Pickett, the Washington Artillery, Moody's Madison battery, and two others resisted the probe of Union skirmishers. Although it had missed the first two days of the battle, the battery had been in the center of the maelstrom that became known as Pickett's Charge. The casualties were 8 dead, 11 wounded and 11 men missing out of 329 engaged. The wounded would include Captain Norcom of the Fourth Company who turned his command over to Lt. Battles. In addition, Eshleman reported 37 horses killed, one limber blown up, and three guns disabled.
The Louisiana Guard Artillery
This battery was formed from Company B, 1st Louisiana Infantry in July of 1861 and served its term in the east until Appomattox. As it entered Gettysburg it was one of four batteries assigned to Heth's division under the command of Lt. Col. H.P. Jones. The other three batteries were from Virginia. The battery also had a new captain, Charles Green. The previous commander, Captain Charles Thompson, had been killed in action at Winchester on June 13, 1863. Like the other Louisiana batteries, this unit would play a role in one of the many pivotal periods at the battle of Gettysburg.
After being at York, Pennsylvania, the battery arrived at Gettysburg on the afternoon of July 1 in time for the flanking of the Union 11th Corps north of Gettysburg. Coming down the Harrisburg Road, they followed Gen. Gordon's Georgians to the battle. As Gordon's men filed into line of battle to the west of the road, four batteries of H.P. Jones Battalion rode onto the field and formed a line east of the road one half mile north of Rock Creek. As posted, Tanner's Courtney Artillery would be to the right of Green's Louisiana Guard Artillery between Green and the road. From this position, they faced Lt. Bayard Wilkeson's Battery G, 4th US Artillery, positioned on high ground between Rock Creek and the Almshouse.
As it was the only Union battery it took a terrible pounding from the combined Confederate guns. This superiority in numbers also allowed the guns of the Louisiana Guard and other batteries to pound the Union infantry lines around the battery. The artillery fight was intense. One of the Guard's Parrotts had to be retired as one shot became lodged halfway down the barrel and would not budge. Jones's Battalion reported firing 862 rounds (including the Louisiana Guard) with one battery not providing any figure. In return, Wilkeson's battery reported firing 1,400 rounds. The effectiveness of the artillery became apparent when the onslaught of the Early's Confederate division hit the Union's 11th Corps. Outflanked and unable to resist the attack, the 11th Corps began its retreat/flight through Gettysburg and reformed on Cemetery Hill south of the town.
Early did not advance any of the batteries as he felt they had been played out and that the chase through Gettysburg did not leave a clear field of fire. Green's Louisiana Guard Artillery had played an important role in the Confederate victory north of Gettysburg. The battery would be held in reserve for the remainder of the battle with the exception of two guns which were sent to support General Hampton's cavalry brigade in its fight three miles east of Gettysburg on July 3rd.
Its losses for the entire battle reflected the fierce artillery battle, losing 17 of 60 men with 8 of those killed. This casualty rate of 28% is the highest for any of the Trans-Mississippi batteries at Gettysburg and fourth highest of all the Confederate batteries at Gettysburg.
The Donaldsonville Artillery
Commanded by Captain Victor Maurin at Gettysburg, this battery was founded as an old state militia company in 1837. Sent to Confederate service in August of 1861, it arrived in Richmond in September. It surrendered with Lee at Appomattox. At Gettysburg they were a part of the artillery of Heth's Division under the command of Lt. Col. John J. Garnett. Three Virginia batteries joined this Louisiana battery in Heth's Division. Maurin's Donaldsonville Artillery had a near brush with combat on the western edge of Gettysburg on June 30. Divisional commander Brig. Gen. J.J. Pettigrew was assigned the task to go to Gettysburg on June 30 to obtain quartermaster stores. He was directed to take three of his four regiments (the 11th, 26th, and 47th North Carolina, three guns of the Donaldsonville battery and a number of wagons. Breaking camp at 6:30 AM, the column reached Seminary ridge, three quarters of a mile west of Gettysburg, at 9:30 to 10:00.
After sending a few pickets towards town, the lead elements of Buford's Union cavalry were spotted entering town from the south. Under orders not to engage any organized troops, Pettigrew withdrew, thus ending a chance for a different battle of Gettysburg to occur. The battery had camped at Cashtown on the evening of June 30 and pushed forward at 11 AM with the opening of the hostilities on July 1. Upon their arrival west of Gettysburg they went into reserve until Garnett received a request from Major Peagram to replace a battery that had exhausted its ammunition. Garnett sent Maurin's battery and four additional rifled guns which immediately became engaged with the Union army.
For one hour they kept a steady fire at the Union 1st Corps as it weakened and played out in its defense of Seminary Ridge. They had arrived in time to complete the Confederate victory of the first day. On the 2nd of July, the two rifled guns of the Donaldsonville Artillery along with the other seven rifled guns were sent to a spot on Seminary Ridge to the right of the Fairfield Turnpike and opposite Cemetery Hill, about a mile distant. Here they began an exchange with the Union artillery on Cemetery Hill beginning at 3 PM and ending about an hour before sunset. This action was in support of Longstreet's attack on the Union right. Being held in reserve, they were not involved in the action of the third day of the battle. Another Louisiana battery had shown solid service in support of the Confederate army's battle at Gettysburg. It had arrived in time to help achieve the Confederate victory on the first day and did all that it was asked to do on the second day. Its losses were light in comparison to the other batteries, losing 6 of the 114 men engaged.
Ewell's Third Corps
Johnson's Division -
Regiment Commanding Officer Strength
1st Col. M. Nolan 183
2nd Lt. Col. R.E. Burke 251
10th Maj. T.N. Powell 240
14th Lt. Col. David Zable 298
15th Maj. Andrew Brady 198
Regiment Commanding Officer Strength
5th Maj. Alexander Hart 209
6th Lt. Col. Joseph Hanlon 232
7th Col. D.B. Penn 248
8th Col. T. D. Lewis 314
9th Col. Leroy Stafford 366
Nicholls' Infantry Brigade
This brigade of all-Louisiana regiments served in the eastern theater during the war. Although all of the regiments lost most of their manpower during the war, the 1st and 14th were decimated to an extent that they were merged into a single unit in 1864. Although the Divisional commander of this brigade, Gen. Edward Johnson, did not have a connection with the Trans-Mississippi, their brigade commander did.
Francis Redding Tillou Nicholls was a 29 year old native of Donaldsonville, Louisiana. A West Point graduate, he practiced law in Napoleonville until the outbreak of the war. In June of 1862, he was appointed Colonel of the 15th Louisiana Infantry. Promoted Brigadier General in October of 1862, he commanded the Dept. of Lynchburg, but returned to command his Louisiana Brigade at the battle of Chancellorsville. He was severely wounded at Chancellorsville and missed the Gettysburg campaign. The wounds left him unfit for combat and he returned to the Trans-Mississippi where he directed the Volunteer and Conscript Bureau. He would later serve two terms as governor of Louisiana.
Entering the battle of Gettysburg with a strength of 1,170 men and with Nicholls missing, the temporary command of the brigade was given to the colonel of the 2nd Louisiana, J.M. Williams. It arrived in Gettysburg late on July 1 (around 7 PM) and made a twilight march through and east of town and camped at the George Wolf farm. They completed their march at moonlight. Culp's Hill waited for them a mile to the south. Their attack on the Union right on July 2nd was simple, but started late.
At approximately 7 to 7:30 PM, with Jones's Brigade on the right, Nicholls's Louisiana troops in the middle, and Steuart's Brigade on the left, Johnson began his attack. Crossing Rock Creek as dusk settled in, the attack began on the steep slope of Culp's Hill. Facing this Confederate attempt to turn the Union right was Union General George Green and part of the 12th Corps. The attack was made difficult because of the steepness of the tree covered hill. The Louisiana troops made it to within 100 yards of the Union line and from there made at least four attempts to take the Union position. The color bearer of the 1st Louisiana advanced so far that he was captured. He did, however, successfully hide the flag by wrapping it around his body under his coat. He carried it to prison and brought it back to the regiment after his exchange that winter.
Unable to carry the works, Williams ordered his brigade to stop the attacks at 10 PM. At early light on the 3rd of July, the Louisiana regiments again opened fire and fought until noon with no additional success. A combination of factors prevented the Louisiana troops under Williams from successfully taking Culp's Hill, including good leadership from the Union officers, solid fighting from its infantry, the Union entrenchments, the late hour of the attack, and the difficult terrain. It is difficult to criticize the Louisiana regiments for their actions. They attempted a difficult if not impossible task. This is reflected in the casualty rates. The 10th Louisiana lost 110 of 226 engaged for a rate of 48.6%. The other four regiments also suffered but their casualty figures may be incomplete and higher than is given here. The 1st Louisiana lost 23% of its men including the death of Col. Nolan. The 2nd Louisiana lost 26% of the regiment. The 14th and 15th regiments lost 23% and 29% of their strength respectively.
Hays's Infantry Brigade
Hay's Brigade of the 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th Louisiana "Tiger" Infantry served in Early's Division. All of the regiments served in the east for the entire war. In October of 1864, the strengths of the 5th, 6th, and 7th regiments became so low they were consolidated into one unit. Three colonels of the 9th eventually became generals. As the brigade entered the battle of Gettysburg, the brigades combined strength was 1,369 officers and men. They saw more than enough fighting on the first and second days of the battle.
The divisional commander, Maj. Gen. Jubal Early was born in Virginia and voted against secession. But he quickly offered his services once the war began. The brigade commander, Harry Thompson Hays, was born in Tennessee. Prior to the war he practiced law in New Orleans and joined the 7th Louisiana as a colonel. He was promoted to Brigadier General and the command on the Louisiana Brigade in July of 1862.
On July 1, after a 12 to 14 mile march, Hays arrived with his five Louisiana regiments on Heidelsburg Road, northeast of Gettysburg. With Gordon's brigade on his right and the brigades of Hoke and Smith on his left, he deployed his regiments astride the road. The 5th, 6th, and right wing of the 9th were on the right side of the road and the left wing of the 9th, the 7th, and the 8th on the left side. Shortly after 2 PM the brigade moved forward and struck the right flank of the Union 11th Corps. This onslaught of Early's division was irresistible and the Union resistance collapsed. The Louisiana Brigade fought its way the 1 1/2 miles to the town of Gettysburg. Pausing by the railroad, Hays and Hoke threw back a Union threat presented by Coster's Union brigade. Early permitted only one brigade to enter town to chase the Union soldiers. This was Hays' Louisiana Brigade.
Hays claims to have captured more Union soldiers then he had in his entire brigade. He also claimed the loss of only 63 men which demonstrates the intensity and mass of the attack northeast of Gettysburg. After remaining in position on a southern street in Gettysburg, Hays moved his Tigers to a field between the town and Cemetery Hill. Here the skirmishing and sharpshooting was intense. With the 9th Louisiana deployed on the southern edge of town and in the fields to the east, they exacted a heavy toll on Union positions. The 25th Ohio reported the loss of 14 men while on the skirmish line, the 136th New York reported 106 killed and wounded from the fire, and Col. Andrew Harris of the 75th Ohio was shot by a sharpshooter. But the 9th also suffered with the return fire.
The climatic charge of the brigade came late on the second day of the battle. From their position by Winebrenner's Run, east of Gettysburg, Hays and Hoke advanced at approximately 8 PM to attack Cemetery hill. Hays was on the right,and Hoke on the left. The exact alignment of the Louisiana Brigade is unclear, but thought to be the same alignment as the day before - from right to left, the 5th, 6th, 9th, 7th and 8th. By moving straight and then wheeling to the right, Hoke's brigade fell behind Hays. Both brigades had come under instant artillery fire from both Cemetery Hill and the west slope of Culp's Hill when the attack began. Hitting the Union line at the base of the hill, the Louisiana Brigade broke through and advanced up the hill towards Rickett's and Wiedrich's batteries.
Contrary to some romantic notions, the breakthrough came in groups and companies, not in a nice neat battle line. Yet they did break through with parts of Hoke's brigade. It is not clear just how many of the Louisiana Tigers made it up the hill and into the batteries. But there was mass confusion in the hand to hand fighting which took place. In the dark, one participant described it as "The wildest confusion (a bedlam of terror) now ensues."
The 8th Louisiana lost its flag in the fight in the guns. They also lost their colonel, T.D. Lewis. He was fatally wounded in the melee that was the battle for the guns. With the outcome in question, both sides waited for reinforcements. In the darkness, they arrived wearing the Union coat of blue, not butternut or gray. Unable to withstand the Union counterattack, Hays' Tigers retreated down the hill and returned to a spot to the right of his original position. The losses were high for the brigade; the 5th lost 34%, the 6th - 28%, the 7th - 25%, the 8th - 25%, and the 9th - 21%.
The Tigers had achieved a great success on the first day, and came close on the second. But the Union army remained on Cemetery Hill where it had stood its ground at the end of the first day of fighting.
THE TRANS-MISSISSIPPI CONTRIBUTION
Gettysburg, this "damned place", had been yet another place for the spilling of western blood. Combined, the Trans-Mississippi units had suffered a 26% casualty rate with over 200 those giving the ultimate sacrifice, their lives. Each unit distinguished itself and did what was asked of it and more. None were accused of cowardice, of hesitation, or of behavior that would have brought shame upon them, their army, their state, or their nation. All of the infantry regiments and batteries from the Trans-Mississippi at Gettysburg had come east at the start of the war and never returned west to fight. These units had proven themselves time and again during the war. Their combat records are long and laudable. To those who study the western theater and the Trans-Mississippi, the question eventually arises, "What would have happened if those units had stayed in the Trans-Mississippi?" The debate over that question has no definitive answer. The only certainty is that if they had stayed in the Trans-Mississippi, they would have received compliments in a "different such damned place as this." ??