I am not cognizant of the fact whether you have received a full account of the late battle or not; but if you have published the reports made by other journals you will involuntarily do injustice. These reports are generally made by men who were not eyewitnesses, or if so, are prejudiced in their opinions. To give justice to the deserving and meritorious let this simple narrative of facts be published.
It was known to your readers that the Pennsylvania Reserves were not in active service, the Third Brigade being in Washington, the Second at Alexandria, and the First composed of the first rifles, ( or bucktails ) the first infantry, the second, and sixth regiments, stationed at Fairfax Station, Va. , along the Alexandria and orange Rail Road. After the evacuation of the line of the Rappahannock by the Potomac army, the general in command made a special request of the war department that this division be attached to the army, then in pursuit of Lee. The request was partially complied with and the first brigade commanded by Col. McCandle and the Third commanded by Col. Fisher were, therefore temporarily attached to the 5th corps, to which belong Sykes' Regulars.
On Thursday the 25th of June we broke camp and started on the march about 5 o' clock p. m. through Fairfax Court House, directly northward toward Viena, and continued marching until midnight through mud and rain. We continued our march through Frederick, having crossed the Potomac on a pontoon bridge at Edward's Ferry, Liberty, Jonesville, Hanover, McCherrytown, Uniontown on toward Gettysburg.
We arrived within two miles of Gettysburg on Thursday noon, having marched a distance of 180 miles in a little then eight days, and through constant rain. On Tuesday we crossed the Maryland line and tread upon the soil of our own native free State. The two brigades were hailed within one hundred yards of the line and a general order read to each regiment, which breathed loyalty and devotation to our country. It called upon every Pennsylvanian to nerve himself for the conflict, and to drive the invader of our scared homes from the soil which his disloyal tread has polluted. When the appeal was concluded, three cheers rent the air, hats and caps were thrown to the winds ; and could open or sacred traitors have heard or seen this grand spectacle of aroused patriotism, I know their polluted carcasses would have trembled.
The order, however was soon given, and the columns moved forward with renewed confidence. Soon it was heralded that we were crossing Dixon's line. Shout upon should rent the air, and it seemed that the very earth rolled back the echo. Nor did these brave men cease ; but as the head of the column had already advanced several miles into the old "Keystone," they would "sing out" "three cheers for the Keystone" which was taken up by each regiment in succession until three thousand brave men swelled the air with enthusiastic joy. Who seeing or hearing this could for one moment doubts the the issue of the coming conflict. Victory was written in unmistakable characters upon every countenance. Each man seemed as if upon him alone hung victory. Though these men and officers may, in time, forget many incidents of this cruel war, this is one which can never be effaced.
Being the rear guard of the army on the march, we were necessarily one days march behind the van. The First Corps becoming engaged on Wednesday we were obliged to march one whole day and night to get into co-operating distance.
On Wednesday morning the First Corps engaged the enemy, and though it was not the intention to bring on a general battle, they however pressed our columns and a general battle ensued. This was, notwithstanding, a very fortunate affair, for it divulged the enemy's purpose of forcing our left. In this day's battle the first corps manfully held their ground against numbers, and nothing but the inexcusable falling back of the 11th corps gave the enemy a temporary advantage.
On Thursday morning, however, the second, third, fifth, sixth, and twelfth corps came upon the ground. These troops being all tired and worn out by excessive marching, it was decided by the General not to bring on a general battle unless forced to it by the enemy.
It became evident, very soon, that Lee intended massing his troops upon our left, and all hazards and any sacrifice to drive it in. For this purpose he began massing his artillery on our right to cover his infantry movements to our left. The object in this was to get possession of the main pike down the valley, which,once in his possession, would give him an easy avenue to escape, should he be defeated. Hence there came a desperate struggle, not for victory so much as for a turnpike.
The enemy opened the battle again on Thursday with heavy skirmishing, and as one party ot the other was driven back, reinforcements would be sent to their support until it became evident that a battle must ensue. Our lines being heavily pressed on the left, the Third Corps commanded by Maj. General Sickles, moved upon the enemy's advancing columns and drove them back; when reinforcements coming in, they in turn drove back the Thrid Corps. The second Corps, commanded by Sedgwick now moved forward to support the Third, when the enemy sent heavy reinforcements against them, a serve battle ensued. The Second fought nobly but were obliged to give way. This was indeed a fearful moment; but everything being admirably conducted, reinforcements were never waning. All this time our two Brigades were resting, having been assured by the General that we should not be taken into the engagement that day.
The Second division of the Fifth Corps (Sykes' Regulars) were now sent to relieve the Second corps. These trops went in in splendid order, and drove the enemy several hundred yards, but were soon repulsed and driven back in some disorder. Now came the critical moment, and though against the wish of our General, the order came and the Pennsylvania Reserves were ordered forward. We knew that it was critical in the front. We well knew that some unforeseen disaster had occurred, for we were taken from our rest to a "double quick." When we came upon the field, where we had a few of affairs, we saw our columns scattered and falling back. The enemy had already captured a battery and were in the act of taking another when we were deployed and opened such a destructive fire of musketry and grape that staggered their victors columns and threw them into confusion. We kept up this deafening musketry for about hour under a terrible fire of the enemy, when, seeing their lines waiver, we charged upon their lines and drove them pell mell across the swamp over which they had come. They soon took cover behind a stone wall ( or fence ) on the opposite side of the swamp, and having us upon the open field within easy range made fearful havoc in our lines. The brave Crawford seeing us halt under this decimating fire, grasped the fallen colors of the first regiment, and sitting upon his fiery charger rode at the head of us and called upon us to follow. It needed but that spectacle to make every man follow. Cheer after cheer went out upon the winds, the men as it were flew to the front, and though grape, shot, and shell were rained in torrents upon the advancing columns, the enemy were driven from behind this barrier, and in utter confusion retreated across the fields. Here the lamented Taylor fell, and here to, many just as brave, but less in rank, sealed their devotion to their noble old State by offering their lives voluntary sacrifices to their country's cause. It is, too, a consolation to know that the soil of our own State drank the blood which was warmed by true patriotism and the inspiration of heaven. May their memories remain green forever.
This desperate charge put an end to the conflict for the day. Our Brigade then took possession of the abandoned stone fence, and held it all that night.
Friday moring the enemy again opened with artillery, but could make very little impression upon our lines. They now tried our right, but found all efforts to dislodge the Eleventh, and part of the Sixth Corps unavailing. Brisk skirmishing was kept up all morning until. about ten o'clock, when all subsided to a fearful calm, portentous of a mighty storm, and each awaited, in breathless silence, for its bursting forth.
A little before one o'clock two guns were fired, which was the signal, and immediately a hundred guns rained shot and shell upon every point. The earth quaked, the sky was covered with a dense smoke, branches of trees were cut off and driven in every direction, and the wounded could be seen emerging in every direction to escape the the terrible tornado which was poured into our lines. It was the dying effort of an enraged animal. Our guns were not idle, but vigorously replied, which added to the terribleness of the conflict.
The cannonading was kept up for at least three hours, when many caissons were blown up on either side, cannon dismounted, horses killed, and the men completely exhausted. The enemy then advanced, but were handsomely repulsed along the whole line.
The Reserves held their position during this artillery duel. About five o'clock p. m. the order came for the Reserves to charge upon and take a battery which had been playing upon our lines all day.
The column moved forward at a double quick under a shower of grape and canister, charged upon the battery, captured it, with the 15th Georgia Regiment as its support, colors and all. A grand move was made upon the whole line of the enemy, and he was driven back at every point with a great loss in killed, wounded, and prisoners.
The prisoners were brought in by regiments, and even one whole brigade was captured, including officers and standards. The victory was complete; and thus ended one of the most terrific and destructive battles either of ancient or modern times. The loss is astonishing in numbers, for it was fought with a determination by both armies to win or die. The officers were determined, and the men with the same invincible spirit.
It is useless for me to state the loses, for you will have the official accounts ere this reaches you. The enemy are now in full retreat, and our victorious army in hot pursuit. I cannot close this letter until I have tried to give you a faint idea of our triumphant.
Every where we were greeted with outbursts of patriotism. Framers would have pails and tubs of fresh water at many points, to enable our weary troops to quench their burning thrift. Citizens, imbued with lofty feelings of patriotism and sympathy, gave freely of all they had without money or price. Bread, cakes, and pies were freely and with a liberal hand dealt out to our troops.It was, indeed, a triumphant possession, and infused the troops with an indomitable will which no fatigue or reverse could shake.
But let us come back to our own native state, where citizens were driven from their homes, and their properties left to the mercies of an unrelenting foe. The soldier requires aid only when he becomes helpless, and when his government, through the misfortunes of war, is unable to supply his wants.
Laying aside all personal feelings for our own safety, we only thought of the sufferings of our citizens. We marched with a firm and unyielding step upon the enemy, met him, defeated him, and restored the flying refugees to their homes. Many fell to rise no more, others fell mained and bleeding, and helpless. To whom should these look for succor or aid ? We felt rejoiced in the hope that if we did fall we fell among friends, who would kindly care for us. But how sadly were we mistaken !
Here is a farmer who has twelve strey cows, all of which he has milked daily, in addition to his own, whose farm and crops have been protected from the hands of the despoiler, by the blood of the slain, and whose barn is filled with two hundred bleeding dying patriots. Does he give them milk when they ask for and plead for it ? Yes, at five cents a pint! Does he give them one loaf of bread when they have saved for him ten thousand ? Yes. At forty cents a loaf. Here is another who has been driven from his home by the invading hosts, who bought tobacco at eight cents a plug, and sells it to the wounded at fifteen. Bought letter paper at a cent per sheet, and taking advantage of their misfortune, sells it to the disabled at five-all this because they have unfortunately fell defended his home. They seem to be proud of the opportunity, and laugh at their cunning in counting their gains-it is not cunning, it is something less then duplicity.
This is sufficient to dampen the patriotism of an soldier, and woe, woe I say unto the soldier who falls among his friends, if these are our friends. They seem to be much affected when their homes are "pressed" and, the doleful lamentations fall upon your ears "I pity them," "I hope they won't abuse them." False Philanthropy ! false humanity ! Their horses and cattle awaken their sympathies, but for souls they have no commiseration. I, therefor in behalf of the fallen brave ask the government to confiscate their property for the public benefit, for giving aid and conform to the enemy. Any attorney at law, with good common sense ( and there are few without it ) could easily prove that such conduct toward the defenders of our State is comfort to the enemy.
Such patriotism can be bought and sold for a mess of pottage. It is not the patriotism of Paulding, William and Van Wart, the three militia men of Revoulationary fame. When offered a thousand gold guineas by Major Andre, a sum larger than they had ever seen, for his release, they spoke these holy words; "British gold cannot buy us !" Enshrined forever be they upon the records of all which is immortal in history ! Engarven be they upon every true American's heart ? Mothers, lisp them to your babes ! Fathers, teach them them to your sons ! Would to God that in letters of gold, viable to every eye, like the stars, they were written eternerally on the skies above us, that they might shame to recreant sons of patriot sires into a remembrance of the duty they owe to such fathers, to their country and their God ! But it seems that many of the professed patriots of to-day have no God but gold-no duty but what is paid for-no end to secure but their own aggrandizement.
But, thank God, there is still some patriotism of the past-that the love of God has not entirely dispelled the love of home and country. Scarley had the booming of cannon ceased until there appeared these angels of mercy, who with their smiling countenances and tender hands administered to the wants of the fallen brave. There could be seen coming from various directions, the ladies of York, bearing almost superhuman loads of dainties, with which to quench the parched lips and ghastly wounds of their brave defenders.
The wounded shall ever hold them in kind remembrance, and may the God of our fathers permit them to live many, many years in uninterrupted happiness and peace.
Many citizens of the opposite sex came long distances also and left nothing undone which could alleviate our distress. Such citizens are worthy the spartan heroism displayed by our troops upon the bloody field of Gettysburg.
These acts of sympathy we shall hold in kind rememberance, and shall be our incentive to nerve us for battle. No trails or dangers shall impede our onward move to victory, until peace, throogb the blessing of God, perches upon our standard and reigns triumphant.
The wounded are well cared for, and every attention possible is paid to them. They are in the best of spirits ; though gained and bleeding, I assure you that if you heard them singing " John Brown " and the like, without knowing their condition, you would conclude that they were at a marriage party. The cry is " if we die it is not in grief."
To give you an account of individual bravery would fill volumes ; and expecting ere long to sww you, I shall reserve them, for the occasion.
The Bucktails lost the heaviest of either Reserve regiments. The First lost few. The Second lost about one-fifth. This Division was kept under fire Fifty-two hours.