On To Gettysburg
Ten Days From My Diary of 1863.
By Ziba B Graham
Late 1st Lieut. 16th Regt. Mich. Vol. Infantry.
Commander and Companions:
Gettysburg, although a glorious battle to have been a participant in--largely due to its achievements, and as the turning point of an unbroken line of successes upon the part of General Lee's army of the Virginia, and as the starting point of which Appomattox was the culmination--has been more thoroughly written up than any other battle of the Civil War, and the three days of hard fighting, while at no time a battle of "all along the line," brought out the bravery, skill and valor of the individual regiments, brigades, divisions and corps as no other battle during the four years' struggle.
Buford's Cavalry, the First and Eleventh Corps, on the 1st of July at Oak Hill, Willoughby Run, McPherson's Woods and back to Cemetery and Culp's Hill. The Third and Fifth Corps on the afternoon of July 2d in the Peach Orchard, Emmetsburg Pike in the Wheat Field, around Devil's Den and on Little Round Top. The gallant fight of the Twelfth Corps on the morning of the 3d on Culp's Hill against Johnson. The artillery duel preceding the fight of the afternoon and the final forlorn charge of General Pickett on our center with its disastrous result to the rebels--all give scope to as many views as there were survivors of the fight. This, together with the exactness with which the wisdom of the Gettysburg Memorial Association has laid out the grounds and the location of each regiment's position, will always add to the knowledge and interest of each individual soldier who participated in the struggle.
It would be impossible for me to describe with any degree of accuracy the general fighting of those three days, and I purpose in this paper to copy from my diary to show the wearisome marching, and our life, hopes and desires a few days before the battle, to revive in your memories the days before we arrived at Gettysburg, and in part to show what the Sixteenth Michigan did on the afternoon of the 2d of July on Little Round Top.
Quoting from my diary commencing:
Friday, June 26th, 1863. Adieu once more to Dixie Land. Again we are on the retrograde movement. Our yearly pilgrimage North has already commenced; the two great columns of living souls are slowly moving Northward. Ours with escutcheons brightly bearing aloft the principles of right and the maintenance of law and order, whilst the other carries anarchy and confusion. We feel that the column carrying for its motto the love of liberty and union must prevail.
We had a severe march to-day. We passed through Leesburg, the place made notorious by the women demeaning themselves in the first days of the Rebellion by maltreating the prisoners who were captured at the battle of Ball's Bluff, where Colonel Baker, of California, and formerly a United States Senator, fell. There were some very fine forts built in this neighborhood by the rebels during the summer of 1861. Passed by Ball's Bluff and crossed the Potomac at Edwards Perry into Maryland. Just before sundown bivouacked near Poolesville.
Saturday, June 27th. Another hard day's march. We never did such forced marching before.
We seemed to verify the old song:
"By ceaseless action all that is subsists.
Constant rotation of the unwearied wheels
That nature rides upon, maintains her
Health, her beauty, her fertility.
She dreads an instant's pause,
And lives but while she moves."
We had to wade the Monocacy River, which was about two hundred feet wide; water was about waist deep; bivouacked for the night near the Monocacy Bridge, but three miles distant from Frederick City.
Just one year ago to-day was an eventful one to us. We were fighting the battle of Gaines' Mill, where we lost in killed and wounded 161.
How quickly has the year rolled around! It seems but a year since I enlisted. This army life is a strange life to lead --one lives fast, events crowd themselves thickly upon each other, one day a battle, next day a march, again something else --always change and excitement; 'tis what keeps us up.
Sunday, June 28. We remained in camp all day, and for the first time since leaving the Rappahannock received a mail. To-day General Meade, our corps commander, superseded General Hooker in command of the army. He received his appointment about midnight, and was as much surprised as the troops were. He thought when he was awakened to hear it that it was an order for his arrest. So it goes. A general in this army seems ever to be on the anxious seat ; he does not know but the next order cuts off his military head or raises him to supreme command. As a general thing his promotion at this crisis does not seem to give universal satisfaction. Two important changes were made in this army at critical moments, and the result has been written under the head of failures at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville.
Monday, June 29th. On the march again. Wishing to buy some articles, I received permission to go on ahead of the column. I remained three hours in the city before our regiment came up. Frederick is an enterprising city of about 15,000 inhabitants, and located in one of the finest valleys in the world. Her citizens are very patriotic. It does us old soldiers good to march through a country where we can realize that all around us are friends. The people here are very liberal, and many a poor soldier will carry to his Northern home pleasant memories of his journey through Maryland. It is a long time since many of the old topers of the army had a chance to step up to a bar, and every one seemed to be possessed to avail himself of the opportunity of filling up himself and his canteen as he passed through Frederick City. We marched twenty miles to-day, and stopped for the night near a little town called Libertyville.
Tuesday, June 30th. Up again before daylight. It does seem as though we were being marched to death. We passed through several very pretty villages; at one called Uniontown we stopped for an hour to eat a cold lunch. The surgeon and myself availed ourselves on an invitation to step into the house of the village doctor, and his wife regaled us with music until the bugle called us to line of march. Just before sundown we arrived in the little town of Union Mills. The rebel cavalry under one of the Lees has been here for several days, only leaving about five hours before we entered it. We were met by the inhabitants with loud cheers, and a flag which had been carefully concealed during the rebel stay was proudly waving on the principal house of the town.
The rebels have stolen nearly every horse in the neighborhood, also levying upon the citizens for everything they wanted.
Wednesday, July 1st. Another tiresome march. We were up before daylight and kept up Our march until long after midnight. To-day we marched from Maryland into Pennsylvania with flags unfurled and the bands playing. It was truly inspiriting to us weary soldiers; cheer after cheer was sent up, and many a tired soldier trod with a firmer step and renewed again his determination to fight as he had never fought before. Every man's countenance seemed to bear the look of a victor. Even before we had knowledge of where we were to meet the enemy, Pennsylvanians were breathing vengeance upon the invaders of the Old Keystone State; many of them who belonged to our corps lived in that part of the country we were passing through.
During the latter part of the forenoon we came to Hanover; they had heard of our coming and every table was spread with just such substantials as we could appreciate. Our cavalry had had an engagement here yesterday, and dead horses were lying thickly strewn in every street. About the time of our arrival in Hanover we could plainly hear the cannonading in the direction of Gettysburg; it proved to be the First Corps under General Reynolds, and this fighting we all judged to be but the beginning of that struggle which was to test the powers of both armies. After resting an hour and a half, and just before sundown we again resumed our march in the direction of Gettysburg, which was about fifteen miles distant. I shall never forget to-night's march. Day after day we had been marching until every soldier seemed exhausted, and now that we felt that the coming day was to be an important one for us we needed rest. Many were the speculations as to the probable result. The animation of our march of the forenoon as we entered the State, with the sun shining, flags flying, music enlivening us, in the darkness of the night seemed to have been lost, in our tired condition. Confidence seemed to be lacking and hope seemed almost to have forsaken us. We were experimenting with a new commander. We were fearful. For miles we marched on with ominous silence; in this way pursued our course until we filed into the little village of McSherrytown, when the troops at the head of the column, which was nearly a mile distant, began cheering. We all seemed to be inflated With the desire to cheer, if we only knew what to cheer for. Soon the news reached us-- "McClellan has been reinstated; He leads us into the battle of to-morrow!" The news must be true, as it comes f rom the head of the column. Cheer after cheer rent the heavens. Wearied boys, who but a short time before seemed dejected, now were delirious with joy. "Little Mac has come; all will yet be well!" was the universal cry. Old patriots, who had ever been identified with the army, shouted and cheered until tears came to their relief, and, although near midnight, clouds of caps could be seen in the air. Citizens, who lined the roadside, carried away by the cheers, joined in the chorus. Old men, whose sons were now marching to victory, cheered us whilst tears trickled down their wrinkled faces. "God bless you, boys, God bless your leader, Little Mac!" Women lined the roadside, administering to the wants of the hungry and thirsty. Truly, it was a sight never to be forgotten.
N. B.--The soldiers of the Fifth Army Corps entered into the fight of July 2d, believing the midnight news--by whom or how started I do not know. It was stated afterward that all that day Governor Curtin, of Pennsylvania, labored with President Lincoln to that end. At all events it freshened us up and made light the last two hours of an almost continuous march of twenty-two hours. Just before daylight we sank to rest three miles out from Gettysburg.
July 2nd. After about three hours' sleep we were routed up and started for Gettysburg. We soon arrived at the outskirts of the place and were then apprised of the fact that our whole army was here. All had been marching on different roads, and when Buford's Cavalry and the First and Eleventh Corps became engaged yesterday it was ascertained the enemy were in force here. The different corps who were marching on parallel pikes and within supporting distances of each other massed in here during last night, with the exception of the Sixth Corps, which came up during the day.
All remained quiet during the forenoon and many of the men lay down to sleep, not having had much of a chance the past seventy-two hours. I went out to the front to see the line and take a view of the surrounding country. I had not returned to the regiment but a few moments before the Sixth Army Corps came up, and we moved away toward the left of the Third Corps, whilst the Sixth Corps took our place. Whilst moving to our new position the ball opened and the firing became terrific. We double-quicked over the old stony ground in very short order, whilst shell after shell came bursting amongst us. We had been massed between the Emmetsburg Road and the Baltimore Pike; the First Division on the right, the Third Brigade on the right of the division, and our Sixteenth Michigan on the right of the brigade, placing our regiment on the lead of the corps. Going into the fight we had progressed near to the Trostle House (Sickles' headquarters), in our double-quick movement to support General Birney, when General G. K. Warren came dashing up to the head of the column from the direction of Little Round Top, and pointing out Little Round Top, to Colonel Strong Vincent, who had command of our brigade, said, "I take the responsibility of detaching your brigade. Give the command to double-quick and side forward with me to Little Round Top. To lose Round Top would be fatal." The command was given. The regiments of the brigade did double-quick and moved right forward into line, formed on top, the ranks closed up. General Warren, taking position on a large boulder, pointed out to Colonel Vincent and Colonel Welch the movements of Hood's Division of Longstreet's Corps.
Turning to Vincent he gave him imperative orders to hold this point at all hazards, if he sacrificed every man of the Third Brigade, promising to go immediately for reinforcements.
The disposition of the regiments and battery was made as follows: Battery D, Hazlett's Fifth U. S. Artillery, on top of the mountain and on right of brigade. The Sixteenth Michigan moved forward and down about sixty feet below the summit, its right resting under the left section of battery, whilst Company A and the company of sharpshooters were detached and deployed as skirmishers over and on Big Round Top; Forty-fourth New York, Eighty-third Pennsylvania and Twentieth Maine in somewhat of a semi-circle formation, facing in the woods and low rocky ground between the Round Tops. We remained in this position but a short time when we were attacked by Hood's column. No other troops were there when the Third Brigade made its grand charge up the rocky side of Little Round Top.
No others entitled to first honors. We arrived none too soon. As we got into line, Hood's men could be seen coming up the side of Round Top from the valley of Plum ('reek, and an almost hand-to-hand conflict raged for fully half an hour, when the Texans sought shelter behind the big boulders at the base of the mountain. Again they charged, but by this time General Warren had brought up the One Hundred and Fortieth New York, under Colonel O'Rorke of the Third Brigade of the Second Division, Fifth Corps. It was comparatively a new regiment and strong in numbers. They came at an opportune time and hurled themselves against the enemy, losing in killed and wounded over a hundred men the first ten minutes. The Forty-fourth New York also was placed immediately in rear and on top of the Round Top, above and in support of the Sixteenth Michigan. The second attack was again repulsed. About seven o'clock in the early evening a third assault was made, but it proved no more successful than the previous ones, and when darkness covered us we held the same ground we planted ourselves upon; at 4:30 P. M. holding. the ground that Warren intrusted us with, and with what a sacrifice! The losses sustained by the brigade in this desperate encounter, as reported July 3d, were 491 officers and men, or 62 per cent. of those of the command actually engaged; our beloved Brigade Commander Vincent mortally wounded; General Weed killed, falling over the dead body of brave Artillery Hazlett; O'Rorke, the dashing and brave commander of the One Hundred and Fortieth, just fresh from West Point, also lay dead among the rocks. Our own regimental loss was fearful--349 men for duty on June 30th, a twenty-two hours' almost continuous march on July 1st, the natural falling out on such a forced march. Two of our strongest companies on detached duty on Big Round Top left us no more than 150 fighting men. Of that number 60 had fallen, 30 never to rise again. Of my own Company B, of which I had command, just one-half were killed. During the lulls in our own immediate vicinity we could from our vantage ground witness the fierce struggle of the balance of our corps and the Third Corps in the peach orchard and the wheatfield. We could see line after line of Longstreet's men forming and advancing; also the close contact, the repulses, the fierce havoc of artillery, the close range of musketry, the break of the lines, the gallant unbroken second line still pushing forward, the gradual pressure upon Sickles, his stubborn falling back, the hand-to-hand conflict in the wheatfield where the gallant Fourth Michigan fought so stubbornly, and where their brave and noble Colonel Jefferds lost his life by a bayonet thrust, still clinging to the flag. All this and more passed before our eyes. So fierce was our own fight that we could spare no men to take off the field our own wounded. I engaged part of my time in securing from them the ammunition they had not used in loading the guns for those who could fire. Although unable to describe that fight, the memories of what I saw, the bravery, heroism and the fearful grandeur of it all, I never shall forget. The fighting was sharp and did not quiet until after dark. We who had survived the battle thanked God that we had been spared, whilst so many of our comrades had fallen, and as we groped around in the darkness for our wounded on that rock-bound mountain side, friend grasped the hand of friend and congratulated each other that they had been spared.
When the task of caring for the wounded had bee finished it was nearly midnight; we sank down upon that Round Top weary and exhausted, but with the proud feeling that we still held the important position entrusted to us.
Friday, July 3d. We remained upon Little Round Top until 10 o'clock of this forenoon, when we were relieved by part of the Second Division of our corps. We took up a new line about half a mile to the right of Little Round Top and in the direction of Cemetery Hill; in half an hour we had built quite a good breastwork, something we had not time to do in our hurried engagement of yesterday.
All being quiet in our front I received permission to go back to the hospital to get an ugly tooth extracted, that had kept me dancing all the night before. Our surgeon, Doctor Everett, who had been hard at work all night at the amputation table, made but short work and little ado about one tooth. He laid me on the ground, straddled me, and with a formidable pair of nippers pulled and yanked me around until either the tooth had to come out or my head off. I was glad when the head conquered. I then made up my mind never to go to a surgeon for a tooth-pulling matinee the day after a fight. I saw the boys who were wounded from the fight of the day before; poor fellows, without a murmur they were patiently waiting their turn for examination, whilst their precious life's blood was slowly ebbing away. My heart sickened and I turned away. It unmans one for the bloody work before him to witness the sufferings of the field hospital. No soldier but of iron nerves should ever leave the front to see the sufferers.
On my way back to the regiment the fighting commence upon the right of the line. It was the most terrific artillery firing that was ever heard upon this continent. Our corps was not engaged in this battle, although many of the shells fell in its midst. We were maintaining the line just to the left of where Pickett's charge came in contact with our centre. On my way back to rejoin the regiment I called at a large house for a drink of water; I saw that the well crank had been removed. I turned to a rebel captain who was lying on the grass and asked him if he knew where it had gone to; he said that but a few moments before the owner of the house had taken it off, declaring he was not going to have his well pumped dry by rebel soldiers, and that they wasted the water. This captain begged that I might get it again. There were some fifty rebel wounded in the yard, besides a few of our own men. The surgeons who had been with them, and who had partly gone around in their 1st examination, had cleared out and left them on the commerce anent of the firing, and with the fever of their gunshot wounds' they were thirsting for water. I went into the house, found this man, a mean Dutchman buried in the bosom of his family, and his family buried in the bowels of the cellar, they having taken safe refuge from the hail of iron which was bursting in every direction. I ordered him to give up the well crank. He first refused. Just at that time a shell struck his chimney, and the noise and rattle of the falling brick nearly frightened him to death. I threatened to shoot him if he did not give me the crank; this brought it out of its hiding place back of the stairway. I went out, watered the boys, put two of the least wounded in charge of it and then left, receiving the thanks of all.
N. B.--Every visit I have since made to Little Round Top, I have seen "old Wikerts'" son-- his father is now dead-- telling interested hearers of other "wonderful acts of heroism his father and he did in taking care of the wounded in their yard that fearful day, and how kind the government was to recognize their services."
Saturday, July 4th, 1863. It rained nearly all day, and the boys pitched their little poncho tents behind their breastworks and remained closely housed until night.
When the rain slacked up a little, in the afternoon, I passed over the battlefield of the day before yesterday. It was a horrible sight to behold. Thousands of men, poor fellows, lay upon the ground, many of them in a condition unrecognizable. In one place near where our regiment was engaged I counted the bodies of one hundred and fifty dead rebels, and in another the bodies of seventy. Whole lines seemed to have been swept away. Truly, a valley of death!
Sunday, July 5th. It appearing evident that the rebels were falling back, our brigade was this morning advanced beyond the line nearly a mile. My company and the sharp shooters of our regiment were under my charge as skirmishers; we encountered nothing but a few of the rebel videttes, but we had a good chance to witness the havoc made by the fire of our artillery during the battle of the 2d. We picked up one hundred good muskets, the rebels having left this line but an hour previous to our advance; and the wrecks of the good things which they had helped themselves to were seen at ever step. Fragments of mutton, veal, crocks of butter, lard, preserves, baskets containing delicacies from the cellars of the wealthy farmers in the vicinity, were thickly strewn around. Dressing apparel which could do them no earthly good, such as old bonnets, fashioned after old patterns, babies' shoes, young misses' gaiters, feather beds, in fact everything stealable could be found here in profusion. We remained out on the front until relieved by the Sixth Corps, they being the only corps who were not immediately engaged in the series of battles of the past week, only one division of them participating, the rest being all the reserve we had in the army. As the rebels are on the retreat, this corps will follow them closely. After going back and stopping only long enough to cook a little coffee, we started in pursuit. It was dark before we had gotten fairly under way, and the hardest marching-- for a short one-- I ever made was tonight. It was so dark that it seemed to us that we could almost feel it; and such marching --we were like pigs wallowing in a mire. The boys could only keep together by hearing each other grumble and grunt. I was only too glad when we hauled up for the night, which was long after midnight. Many of the boys did not get out of the woods that night, having lost their way. It was a night long to be remembered."
So much from my diary.
To-day as we look upon Gettysburg and realize that the loss on our side was fully twenty-seven per cent and more than thirty-six per cent for the confederates engaged, we can in a slight degree compass the magnitude of this struggle.
Those of us who participated in the late Grand Army Encampment at Washington when it took nearly eight hours with twenty-four old veterans abreast to pass the grand stand, can scarcely realize that the casualties of Gettysburg exceeded by over five thousand the number then in review. In our own City of Detroit, at the late election, forty-eight thousand voters registered, representing the manhood of a city of a quarter of a million souls. That number but barely laps the loss at Gettysburg.
To-day the line of battle is strewn with hundreds of monuments erected in memory of the fallen. Silent sentinels to watch over the ground of the pivotal point in the great struggle, and as an object lesson to future generations. Ancient Greece, noted for her arts and the science of war, for centuries after the battle of Thermopylae Pass taught to her school children the names of every one of the three hundred noble Spartans who fell defending that Pass against the Persian Invaders.
Let us, as soldiers of the Civil War, take pilgrimage as often as we can and, with our children,
visit the field of Gettysburg, and, with uncovered head, in sight and along the line of shafts
erected there, renew with them the love of our country and our flag.
(Source: War Papers, Michigan MOLLUS, volume 1, pages 471-482)