SIXTEENTH MAINE REGIMENT AT GETTYSBURG.
(Read Maine MOLLUS, December 7, 1910)
By Lieutenant Francis Wiggin.
The book entitled "Cressy's Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World" ends with Waterloo. If a new edition of that book were to be published now, one or two battles would have to be added to the list. Gettysburg was the decisive battle of the Civil War, which threatened the disruption of the United States, and in the momentous issues involved, the battle of Gettysburg was as decisive as any battle in the world's history. It is not in the province of this paper to describe the battle of Gettysburg any further than to make clear the part the Sixteenth Maine Regiment took in that awful conflict. It fell to the fortune of the Sixteenth Maine to be in the battle all three days, and the regiment came very near annihilation on the first day. The Sixteenth Maine Regiment had a strenuous history from the first. It was mustered into the United States service at Augusta on August 14, 1862. It was ordered to Washington and on reaching that city was distributed among the forts on Arlington Heights and commenced drilling for heavy artillery. Then came Lee's first invasion of the North and the Sixteenth Maine was ordered to leave overcoats, knapsacks and tents, and join in the campaign that ended with Antietam. Cold weather came on and still we were without tents, knapsacks and overcoats. When marching in the rain, or snow, or sleet, the men were compelled to wrap their woolen blankets about them to keep from freezing. It was ungenerous and mean to apply the epithet, "Blanket Brigade," in derision, as it was applied, but the members of the Sixteenth Maine kept silence and bided their time. And then came Fredericksburg, and the "Blanket Brigade," so called, went into the battle with 417 guns. In a charge that was not excelled during the war for downright dash and bravery, the regiment captured 200 prisoners, and would have gone on to the rebels' second line of battle if they had been allowed to do so. As it was, they fired 60 rounds of ammunition, and lost 250 men killed and wounded, or considerably more than one-half the men that went into the battle. Out of ammunition and no support coming to their aid, reluctantly the regiment fell back. The brigade commander specially commended the Sixteenth Maine for their valor in this battle, and the unjust stigma of "Blanket Brigade" was wiped out forever. The regiment was in the Chancellorsville campaign, and did its whole duty in that unfortunate encounter. After the battle of Chancellorsville the regiment went into camp near White Oak Church, on the northern bank of the Rappahannock river.
The Sixteenth Maine Regiment was in the First Corps commanded by Major-General John F. Reynolds. It was in the Second Division of that corps, commanded by Major-General John C. Robinson, and it was in the First Brigade of the division commanded at that time by Colonel Samuel H. Leonard, and later on by Brigadier-General Gabriel C. Paul.
The brigade was composed of the Sixteenth Maine Regiment, Colonel Charles W. Tilden, the Thirteenth Massachusetts Regiment, Captain Charles H. Hovey, the One Hundred Seventh Pennsylvania Regiment, Colonel McCoy, the One Hundred Fourth New York Regiment, Colonel Gilbert H. Pray, the Ninety-Fourth New York Regiment, Colonel Adrian R. Root. This last regiment had been temporarily detailed for guard duty at Acquia Creek, on the Potomac. With the largest and best equipped army that the Confederates ever had at one time, which they had assembled on the south bank of the Rappahannock river, not far from Fredericksburg in the spring of 1863, after the battle of Chancellorsville, General Lee started for the second invasion of the North in the early part of June of that year. He had concealed his movements so well that he had been several days on the March before General Hooker, who was at that time in command of the Army of the Potomac, was aware of his purpose.
It was on June 12, 1863, that the Sixteenth Maine Regiment at 5:30 A. M., struck tents and bade a last good bye to the camp near White Oak Church, on the north side Of the Rappahannock river, and started on the long march that terminated at Gettysburg. The regiment began the march with 281 men, 32 officers, and 263 guns. The first four days the march was over familiar ground, including Catletts Station, Bristoe Station, Manassas Junction, the Bull Run battlefield and Centerville. The thermometer was in the nineties, the ground was parched, water was scarce, and the troops suffered severely. It was Hooker's purpose to overtake and keep abreast of the Confederate army, which was marching north on the western side of the Blue Ridge, and the first three or four days' advances were forced marches, causing many prostrations among the enlisted men. In one day there were 80 cases of sun-stroke in the First Corps, alone. A halt was made at Centerville for two days, and no one who was on that march will ever forget the great spring of clear cold water, gushing out of the ground in a stream as large as a stove pipe, at the very top of the hill. There was water enough for all and to spare. Some of the Maine nine-months regiments were encamped at Chantilly, near Centerville, and many of the men came over to see us. I had a brother in the Twenty Seventh Maine, and he spent nearly half a day with me at Centerville. The time of the nine-months regiments was nearly out, hence they were not ordered to march north with the Army of the Potomac. From Centerville the First Corps marched to Guilford, not far from Leesburg, and remained there from June 17th to June 25th, for the reason that Lee's army was halting on the other side of the Blue Ridge, in hopes that General Hooker would uncover Washington. On June 25th, we broke camp at Guilford and marched to Boonesville, fifteen miles, and bivouacked. June 26th, we made a still farther advance north, marching from 5:30 A. M. to 6 P.M. On June 27th, we crossed the Potomac river at Edward's Ferry, and entered Maryland. On this day the news came to us that General Hooker had resigned, and that General George G. Meade had been appointed as commander of the Army of the Potomac. On this day the regiment reached Middletown, Md., and went on picket duty. On June 28th the regiment marched over elevated land from which we could look down into the beautiful valley in which Frederick city is situated, and could see the fields of wheat ripe for the harvest, and the reaping machines already cutting the golden grain. The scene was one of peace and beauty, and yet stern and bloody war was close at hand, and two mighty armies were marching towards a field where the mighty reaper, Death, would cut great swaths of human grain. On this day the regiment made the longest march in its history, reaching Frederick city at two o'clock on the morning of June 29th, having marched continuously twenty-five hours, and covered a distance of about forty miles. What such a march means, encumbered with gun, knapsacks, blankets, and sixty rounds of ammunition, you old soldiers know full well. Just before starting on this long march, the Ninety-Fourth New York Regiment, which had been on guard duty at Acquia Creek, came up to us. A strong friendship had sprung up between the Ninety-Fourth New York and the Sixteenth Maine regiments. Any member of either regiment would grant any favor possible to any member of the other regiment. This peculiar friendship was partially explained by the fact, that when the Sixteenth Maine Regiment was undergoing its time of trial, and was receiving the stinging epithet of "Blanket Brigade," and the men of the Sixteenth in large numbers were being sent to the hospitals from the results of exposure, Colonel Adrian R. Root, of the Ninety-Fourth New York, who was at that time in command of the brigade, had treated the Sixteenth Maine with the utmost consideration. The friendship between the officers of the regiments was fully as marked as that between the enlisted men. The regiment held Colonel Root in affectionate remembrance, and when he died at his home in Buffalo, N. Y., a few years ago, there were no mourners more sincere than the surviving members of the Sixteenth Maine.
On June 29th, we marched to Emmetsburg, the last town in Maryland, where we camped for the night. On June 30th, we left Emmetsburg at 9 A. M., marched a few miles across the Pennsylvania border, and bivouacked at Marsh Run, about six miles from Gettysburg. At that time we had little idea of what the next three days would develop. It may be well to explain at this point, that the Confederate army was divided into three army corps. The First Corps was commanded by General Longstreet ,the Second Corps, by General Ewell, and the Third Corps by General Hill. Of course, the divisions and brigades were larger in proportion than ours. The whole army numbered about seventy-five thousand men, or about twenty-five thousand men in a corps. The Army of the Potomac consisted of seven army corps, and numbered not far from eighty thousand men. On the night of June 30th, the Confederate army was north and west of Gettysburg. The Union army was south and east of the same town. Gettysburg was remarkable for the number of public roads that converged there, and this was one reason why it became the theater for the greatest drama in the Civil War. The exact position and distance of the different military organizations of the two armies from Gettysburg on the night of June 30, 1863, was as follows:
Location of Confederate army: General Lee at Greenwood, sixteen miles northwest of Gettysburg; First Corps, Confederate army, at Chambersburg twenty-four miles west; part of the corps, at Greenwood, sixteen miles away; Second Corps and Jenkin's cavalry, at Heidlersberg, ten miles north; Johnson's division of this corps, at Green village, twenty-three miles away; Third Corps, part at Greenwood, sixteen miles west, and part at Cashtown, eight miles west; Stuart's cavalry, circling round between York and Carlisle, out of sight; Robertson's cavalry in Virginia, beyond reach; Imboden's cavalry at Hancock, out of sight.
Location of the Army of the Potomac: General Meade at Taneytown, fourteen miles southeast; General Hunt, artillery reserve, at Taneytown; First Corps, at Marsh Run, six miles south; Second Corps, at Uniontown, twenty-four miles away; Third Corps, at Bridgeport, twelve miles away; Fifth Corps, at Union Mills, fifteen miles away; Sixth Corps, at Manchester, twenty two miles away; Eleventh Corps, at Emmetsburg, twelve miles away; Twelfth Corps, at Littletown, nine miles away; Kilpatrick's cavalry, at Hanover, thirteen miles away; Gregg's cavalry, at Manchester, twenty-two miles away; Buford's cavalry, at Gettysburg.
General Reynolds, commander of the First Corps, had been assigned to the command of the left wing of the army, consisting of the First, Third and Eleventh Corps. General Abner Doubleday was in immediate command of the First Corps.
Buford's division of cavalry was at Gettysburg and was picketing the roads to the north and west of the town, awaiting the approach of the Confederates.
Heth's division of Hill's corps, which was at Cashtown, eight miles west, started early in the morning of July 1st, to occupy Gettysburg, and soon found itself confronted by Buford's skirmishers. At nine o'clock the first gun was heard. Buford had three cannon shots fired as a signal for his skirmish line to open upon the enemy, and thus the great historical battle of Gettysburg began. General Reynolds stopped at Marsh Run on the night of June 30th. Early in the morning of July 1st, he started toward Gettysburg with Wadsworth's division of the First Corps, accompanied by Hall's Second Maine Battery. General Reynolds soon left the division and rode forward. When he arrived, he climbed into the belfry of the Lutheran Seminary, finding General Buford already there. These two able generals and magnificent fighters looked the ground around Gettysburg all over, carefully noting and appreciating the strategic importance of the various hills and ridges, and according to Major Jas. G. Rosengarten of General Reynolds' staff, who was present, and who I understand is still living, General Reynolds sent back word for the Second and Third Divisions of the First Corps to hasten forward, and he also sent an order to General Howard of the Eleventh Corps, which was at Emmetsburg, to move his corps forward promptly, and form it on Cemetery Ridge as a reserve. General Reynolds then mounted and rode out to the front where Wadsworth's division had been ordered to the support of Buford's cavalry. The First Corps marched from Marsh Run in the following order: Wadsworth's division with the Second Maine Battery, in advance; Rowley's Third Division next; the artillery brigade, in which was Stevens' Fifth Maine Battery, next; lastly, Robinson's Second Divisions in which was the Sixteenth Maine Regiment.
As we neared the town, marching on the Emmetsburg road, the cannonading became more rapid and distinct, and we thought we could distinguish the sharp crack of Hall's guns. The Sixteenth Maine, had thirty-eight men in this battery and we always felt great interest in its performances.
We were still a mile or more from the town when an orderly came riding back bringing to us the sad intelligence that General Reynolds had been killed by a sharpshooter, while he was superintending the placing of troops, and anxiously awaiting the arrival of the remainder of the First Corps. Events were crowding upon us too swiftly for the indulgence of grief over the untimely death of one of the ablest generals in the Union army, but he had lived long enough to make arrangements and issue orders which had a tremendous bearing on the issues of the battle, and without his foresight the result of Gettysburg might have been far different from what it was.
Wadsworth's division at this time was actively engaged and had been successful in checking Heth's advance. Meredith's iron brigade had surrounded and captured one thousand men of Archer's rebel brigade, together with General Archer himself. It was eleven o'clock when the remainder of the First Corps reached Gettysburg. Rowley's division went immediately to the support of Wadsworth, but Robinson's division was placed in reserve in front of the seminary, and by command of General Robinson, threw up some breastworks in a circular form on the eastern slope of the ridge. In the meantime Pender's division, the Second Division of Hill's corps, had arrived on the field and were forming in support of Heth. This heavy reinforcement gave the rebels fresh courage and they became more aggressive. We had momentarily expected the order to move forward, and at about one o'clock the order came, "Fall in! Forward, Sixteenth." We double-quicked to the right, Robinson's division being placed on the extreme right of the First Corps. The regiment moved toward the northwest, over the ridge upon which the seminary stands and going about a quarter of a mile advanced on the west side of the ridge in full view of the enemy and took position behind a rail fence in a piece of woods. and nearly parallel with the Chambersburg turnpike, and were at once engaged with the enemy, who were also behind a rail fence, about two hundred yards distant. The battle here waged long and fiercely. Captain Whitehouse of Company K was instantly killed; Captain Waldron of Company S was severely wounded; Colonel Tilden's horse was shot from under him, and the regiment suffered severely. Finally the order to charge bayonets was given, and with a ringing cheer the regiment leaped over the rail fence and going full tilt at the rebel line drove them pell mell into the woods.
To understand the final scene in this terrible first day, we shall have to go back a little and explain
that about noon Buford's cavalry pickets had reported that part of Ewell's corps was approaching
Gettysburg from the north. It transpired that two divisions of this corps, namely Rode's and
Early's, were close at hand and were threatening the Union right and rear. At 12:45 the head of
the Eleventh Corps arrived, and General Howard, who was in command at Gettysburg on the first
day from the time of the death of General Reynolds till the arrival of General Hancock at about
four o'clock, sent two divisions of this corps forward and formed them on the right of the First
Corps to meet this new attack. One division of the Eleventh Corps was stationed on Cemetery
Ridge in reserve. The First Corps on the morning of July 1st contained about nine thousand men.
The Eleventh Corps contained about eleven thousand men, but one division of this corps was not
engaged during the day, therefore the whole number of Union soldiers engaged on the first day
could not have exceeded sixteen thousand men. The four divisions of the Confederates now on
the field numbered more than thirty thousand men. Rode's division alone numbered eight
thousand five hundred men, and there were four of these great divisions now on the field. The
rebel line completely enveloped the Union lines and extended clear round from the Hagerstown
road on the southeast to the Harrisburg road on the north. Their lines extended beyond the Union
lines both on the left and right flanks, and at 2 o'clock the battle was raging hotly all along the
line. The contest was too unequal. We were outnumbered more than two to one. At 3:30
o'clock the Eleventh Corps on our right gave way and were forced back towards the town. This
exposed the right flank of the First Corps to the entire brunt of Ewell's two divisions, Robinson's
division was on the extreme right of the First Corps, and Paul's brigade, in which was the
Sixteenth Maine, had relieved Baxter's brigade, and was holding the rebel line in check. The First
and Third Divisions of the First Corps were falling back, but in perfect order and disputing every
inch of ground. At this time the breastworks in front of the seminary, which had been constructed
in the morning by the Second Division, came into play, for the retreating forces of the First Corps
formed behind them and kept back for awhile the advancing rebels. Robinson's division was
finally left alone to grapple with the converging hosts of the enemy, and the order came to fall
back. The division began to move towards the town. The lines of the First Corps were crumbling
and giving way before the tremendous waves of the oncoming rebels. A sacrifice had to be made
in order to save what was left of the division and the corps. First an aid appeared with orders
from General Robinson, and then General Robinson himself rode up to Colonel Tilden and
ordered him to move his regiment to the right along the ridge and take position by the
Mummasburg road. Colonel Tilden stated to General Robinson the strength of the enemy, and
expressed the opinion that it would be impossible to hold the position. The general then very
emphatically gave this order: "Take that position and hold it at any cost." "You know what that
means," said Colonel Tilden, as he turned and gave the order to the regiment to about face and
move forward. Yes, the regiment knew what it meant. It meant death or capture, and every man
realized it perfectly. The whole Union force was trying to fall back. The First Corps was being
crushed between the blades of a pair of shears, and the Sixteenth Maine was ordered to move to
the very acute angle of these closing blades, and hold them apart till the shattered columns were
safe. The regiment was the forlorn hope, and on its faithfulness rested the destiny of the First
Corps. Did a man falter? Not one; as quietly and orderly as if on parade the regiment moved
forward and took the position designated, breaking the right wing to the right parallel to the
Mummasburg road, and being protected somewhat by a stone wall. And there was the spectacle
of one broken and shattered regiment of less than three hundred men, holding back the onslaught
of four divisions of the rebel army, each division nearly as large as one of our army corps. From
batteries perched on every surrounding height, from infantry along every commanding eminence
the fire was directed on the devoted band, minutes were precious, and the little band fought on
and on till they knew that the object of the sacrifice had been attained, and that the corps and the
remainder of the division had reached Cemetery Hill. Finally, when further fighting was useless,
being summoned to surrender, Colonel Tilden plunged his sword into the ground as far as he
could and broke it off at the hilt. A rebel officer tried to grasp the colors, when the men closed up
around them and by direction of Captain, afterwards Major S. Clifford Belcher, which order was
sanctioned by Colonel Tilden and the other surviving officers, the staff was broken and the flag
was torn into little pieces, and these pieces were concealed about the persons of those brave men,
and went through Libby prison, Belle Isle, Andersonville, and other Southern prisons, and some
were brought home by the survivors and today are preserved in albums or in badges as precious
mementos of that supreme sacrifice. There has never been a reunion of the Sixteenth Maine
Regiment, when pieces of that precious flag have not been present. The time of this fearful
sacrifice was about four o'clock. The spot is indicated by a massive granite marker bearing the
POSITION HELD JULY 1, 1863
AT 4 O'CLOCK P. M. BY THE
16TH MAINE REGIMENT,
1ST BRIG., 2ND, DIV., 1ST CORPS,
WHILE THE REST OF THE DIVISION WAS
RETIRING; THE REGIMENT HAVING MOVED
FROM THE POSITION AT THE LEFT WHERE
ITS MONUMENT STANDS, UNDER ORDERS
TO HOLD THIS POSITION AT ANY COST.
IT LOST ON THIS FIELD
KILLED 11, WOUNDED 62, CAPTURED 159
OUT OF 275 ENGAGED.
The monument of the Sixteenth Maine Regiment stands on Seminary Ridge, north of the Chambersburg pike, on the ground where the regiment fought for nearly three hours in the afternoon of July lst. It is a simple granite obelisk twenty-four feet in height, with an inscription containing the same facts as does the inscription on the marker.
It will be seen that out of 275 men who went into the battle at one o'clock, only 39 men and four officers, or 43 in all, I were left to reach Cemetery Ridge at night. For more than twenty centuries the heroic deeds of Leonidas and his three hundred Spartans have been extolled and have been an incitement to deeds of valor, but there were deeds of heroism just as worthy of being held up as examples of supreme sacrifice, occurring on almost every battlefield of the Civil War. Out of the First Corps, which numbered about nine thousand men in the morning of July 1st, only about two thousand five hundred men remained at night, to form on Cemetery Ridge. Sixty-five per cent of the corps had been killed, wounded or captured. There was never more terrific fighting than was put up by the First Corps on the first day at Gettysburg; and yet it is a historical fact that before the Second and Third Divisions of the First Corps had arrived on the field, and General Wadsworth's division was fighting desperately, and breathlessly awaiting reinforcements to enable it to withstand double its numbers of the enemy, an incomprehensible and astounding report was sent to General Meade by General Howard, that the First Corps fled from the enemy in confusion at the first contact. The fact is that two regiments of Cutler's brigade, overpowered by a division of rebel troops retreated a short distance in obedience to orders. This wholly unwarranted report was never, to my knowledge, corrected or modified, and is resented today by every surviving member of the First Corps. The Outcome of a battle is often decided by the valor of a small force of men under the command of an intelligent and cool-headed officer, at some critical and crucial point.
The success of the Union cause in the battle of Gettysburg hinged on the bravery and devotion of small bands of men at two or three critical periods, and it fell to the lot of Maine officers and Maine troops in several instances to compose these small bands. The State of Maine furnished fifteen military organizations in the battle of Gettysburg, and it is safe to say that every organization did its whole duty and reflected credit on the noble state which sent such splendid men to the defense of the nation's life. If any regiments or batteries were more prominent than others in the decisive battle, it was because circumstances made them so. It is perfectly certain that any other regiment or battery from Maine would have behaved with equal valor, heroism and sacrifice, if it had changed places with those who by the fortunes of war were called upon to exercise every high and noble quality of which a soldier is capable. By the sacrifice of the Sixteenth Maine, the shattered columns of the First Corps were enabled to reach Cemetery Ridge and to form new lines. Without this sacrifice the corps would have been crushed and the victorious rebels would undoubtedly have swept up and over the slopes of Cemetery Ridge, and the battle of Gettysburg would have had a different ending from what it did have.
In 1864, I was captured by the Confederates, and while a prisoner, I got to talking with a very intelligent Confederate officer, who was in Rode's division of Ewell's corps in the battle of Gettysburg. I asked him why the Confederates did not follow up their advantage on the afternoon of July lst, and attack our lines on Cemetery Ridge. He replied, "That was Lee's fatal mistake, but Lee left it optional with Ewell to attack or not as he deemed best, although he favored attack. But," the officer said, "the First Corps put up such a hell of a fight before Cemetery Ridge was reached that Ewell had got enough of it for that day. Neither did he believe that an attack so late in the day would be successful." At any rate, Cemetery Ridge was saved, and that result was worth the fearful sacrifice.
When the shattered forces of the First Corps reached the Ridge, one of the first things we saw, was the magnificent form of General Hancock, who was mounted on a noble charger. He was surrounded by his staff, and he was busy issuing orders and directing the location of troops, as they arrived. I think we felt somewhat as the Union troops felt at Cedar Creek, in the Shenandoah valley, when Sheridan rode onto the field from Winchester, twenty miles away. It seems that General Hancock had arrived at 4 P. M., having been ordered forward by General Meade, with authority to assume command, regardless of seniority of rank. He had quickly grasped the situation and had gotten matters so well in hand that the Confederates would certainly have met with a very warm reception had they tried that night to take Cemetery Ridge. The next morning things presented a very different appearance. Several corps and batteries had come up during the night, and it was now evident that the rebels would not have things all their own way when next the ball opened. Captain Daniel Marston, of Company C. Sixteenth Maine, had come up during the night of July lst, and as he was now the senior officer, he assumed command of the little remnant of the first day's fight. General Newton was assigned to t he command of the First Corps, General Doubleday going back to his own division. General Newton placed the First Corps in reserve, in the rear of the cemetery, and within thirty minutes' march of any part of the Union lines.
The regiment changed position from time to time as ordered. With the brigade it was ordered to the left center of the Union line, late in the afternoon. While moving by the right flank past General Meade's headquarters, a rebel shell exploded in the regiment, severely wounding Lieutenant Fred H. Beecher and seven enlisted men, among them, A. W. McCausland, who a year ago was State Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, of Maine. Proceeding about eight hundred yards in line of battle the brigade moved on through the smoke and over the boulders, to the relief of a battery with only two men working the guns against the rebel troops advancing to capture them. With a wild yell, the brigade charged beyond the battery and returning brought off the guns. General Paul, who commanded the brigade on the first day, had been severely wounded in the terrible battle of the afternoon, losing the sight of both eyes. On the morning of July 2, Colonel Richard Coulter of the Eleventh Pennsylvania Regiment had been placed in command of the First Brigade. When he assumed command, he issued an order detailing Adjutant A. R. Small, of the Sixteenth Maine Regiment, as assistant adjutant general of the brigade. Colonel Coulter established his headquarters in an "A" tent, pitched on the brow of the hill at the left of the cemetery, in the edge of a little grove. From this position nearly the whole of the Union line could be seen, from the cemetery to Little Round Top. During the night of July 2d, nearly eighty thousand Union troops concentrated behind the rocky ridge in Lee's front. During the afternoon of July 2d occurred Longstreet's determined and fierce attack on Sickle's Third Corps, at the Peach Orchard. This battle was quite plainly visible to us from our position on Cemetery Hill, but the First Corps was not actively engaged. On this afternoon also, occurred that memorable charge of the Twentieth Maine Regiment under the command of its colonel, afterwards General, Joshua L. Chamberlain, whereby the absolutely necessary strategic point of Little Round Top was secured and held. On the morning of July 3d there was considerable artillery firing, especially on the part of the Confederates, and during the forenoon a terrible struggle took place by the Twelfth Corps for the regaining and re-occupation of Culp's Hill, in which effort it succeeded, and by eleven o'clock was in secure possession of the eastern slope of that famous hill. From that time till about 1 P. M., there was a lull and a silence along the lines that had in it a foreboding of the terrible storm that was about to burst on that fated field. I will not attempt to describe the terrible cannonade that shook the hills and reverberated along the valleys around historical Gettysburg from 1 o'clock till 3 o'clock on the afternoon of July 3, 1863. In the world's history there had been nothing like it before, and there has been nothing like it since. It was like the continuous roll of the heaviest thunder that ever shook the earth, so continuous that during the whole time there was not a single instant of rest or silence. Over three hundred cannon, as fast as they could be loaded and fired, belching forth their deadly contents, to which must be added the noise of bursting shells, and the shrieks and groans of agony of wounded men and horses, as the missiles do their deadly work. Over forty horses were killed in one battery in our front in twenty minutes. Sixty shells a minute exploded in front of General Meade's headquarters. The story has been told so often that it is only repetition to tell it here.
Then came Pickett's charge, a description of which has so often been given. In March, 1910, I heard the widow of General Pickett give a description of that wonderful charge, in such a thrilling manner that it seemed as though I had never heard it before. Mrs. Pickett, for some reason, had become connected with the Keith Theater circuit, and appeared at Keith's Portland Theater in March last. She is a fine looking woman, of medium height, well formed, hair as white as snow, a most striking and intelligent countenance, and an exceedingly pleasing personality. The audience sat spell bound as she told the story as she had received it from her husband, and when she concluded the thrilling description, she was repeatedly called out by the general and enthusiastic applause of the audience. During the week that Mrs. Pickett was in Portland, General Van Sant, then national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, visited Bosworth Post. Mrs. Pickett was invited to attend the reception given to the national commander. She accepted the invitation and was seated on the platform by the side of General Chamberlain, General Mattocks, and other distinguished Union officers. In her remarks, which were very pleasing and in excellent taste, she related this incident. She was residing in Richmond when the city was captured by the Union troops. As is well known, Abraham Lincoln visited the city a few days after its fall. Mrs. Pickett related that one day soon after the city's fall, she heard a knock at the door. Hardly daring to answer the knock, she finally mustered courage to do so, and partly opened the door. She saw standing there a tall, gaunt, and somewhat haggard man, who said, "Is this General Pickett's house?" Mrs. Pickett replied, "Yes it is, but the general is not at home." The stranger said, "I know that, but I knew General Pickett before the war, and I thought I would like to see his home. I am Abraham Lincoln," and he looked at her and smiled. She had a babe in her arms, and the little one at that moment stretched out both its arms toward Mr. Lincoln and he took the child in his arms and kissed it, "and," said Mrs. Pickett, "I have loved and honored the name of Abraham Lincoln from that day to this." She invited him in and he had a long talk with her.
To return to Pickett's charge as we saw it f rom Cemetery ridge, I cannot do better than to quote the graphic description of this charge as given by the late Major A. R. Small, in his history of the Sixteenth Maine Regiment:
"Our nerves were at their extreme tension as we watched the front, as if splendid lines of infantry, stretched for miles in our for parade, and a second and yet a third line debouch from the woods into view. Such a sight is given only once in a life time, and once seen can never be forgotten. The veterans of Virginia, the flower of the rebel army, under their idolized commander, were writing another bloody chapter in the history of the rebellion. The attacking column of fifteen thousand chosen men move silently and swiftly down the slope and across the plain towards the left center of our line, the weakest point. Pickett's own brigade leads the front on the right, with Pettigrew on the left. In their rear marches Anderson's and Trimble's commands, whose right was covered by Perry and Wilcox, and left by McGowan and Thomas. Down the slope into the valley they come, marching as if on parade, their guns at right shoulder shift, their steps even, and their lines perfect. And now our artillery opens upon them, and from the black muzzles of one hundred cannon, pour round shot, spherical case and canister in an incessant torrent, which cuts great swaths of living grain. Men go down by scores, but others fill the gaps, and the resistless tide sweeps on in perfect order into the Emmetsburg road, when from behind the stone wall our boys pour in a shower of hissing bullets, carrying death and destruction to those brave but mistaken men. They go down like jackstraws, they lie in windrows, the rich carpet of white -lover and daisies is dyed in crimson figures by the hot blood of Southern sons. With a desperation born of madness they force their way through a shower of leaden hail. Hot with passion born of war, stained and blinded with blood, the living fail to see the terrible harvest of death in their rear, and, utterly reckless of personal results, they press on and on, and with a yell of Victory, plant their tattered flags of rebellion on our breastworks and brain gunners at their posts. They turn to beckon on the next line. The next line! Where is it? Exultation is drowned in despair and defeat, for f rom both flanks the Union boys are pouring in a deadly fire, while shot and shell enfilade their rear. Hundreds fall to the ground and hold up their hands in token of surrender, and others flee only to be swallowed up in the flood tide that reaches the Emmetsburg Road. A brave man can but pity the victims of such a terrible disappointment. Looking down on all this, I could see, shorn of all wordy description, simply a square mile of Tophet. Napoleon's old guard went down at Waterloo. Pickett's division, composed of men, whose bravery was unquestioned as was that of the chosen men of Napoleon, went down at Gettysburg, and the Confederacy had met its Waterloo. In Mrs. Pickett's description of this charge, she said that of five thousand men, composing Pickett's own old brigade, 3496 men were killed and wounded.
There were three lines of five thousand men each in this charge, and if the destruction was about the same in the two other lines then the whole loss was more than ten thousand men out of the whole fifteen thousand, who were killed or wounded in this terrific charge. Secession had reached high water mark, and from July 3, 1863, the tide commenced to ebb and low water mark was reached at Appomattox. That part of the First Corps which was posted on Cemetery Ridge took part in the repulse of Pickett's charge, and Coulter's brigade, in which was our little remnant of the first day's fight, took part in pouring in that flank fire that proved so destructive to the rear lines of the enemy.
On the evening of July 3d, our little remnant tried to assist as skirmishers in the front line, but our hearts were depressed, for we realized that our honored colonel was on his way to a prison pen in the South. Our surgeon, Dr. Alexander, was wounded and a prisoner, all the line officers but four were killed, wounded or captured, and there had been a fearful list of casualties among the enlisted men. We could hardly feel elated even over the great victory, which had cost so much. But while our hearts were in the slough of despond, Major Leavitt, who had been in a hospital in Washington, came up and assumed command, arriving at 10 P. M. General Lee really commenced retreating on the night of July 3d, but maintained his picket lines through July 4th, and succeeded in causing General Meade to hold his army closely to Cemetery Ridge till July 5th. The description of Lee's retreat and the following of his army at a safe distance, by the Army of the Potomac, does not come within the scope of this paper. One incident of the return march, however, is pertinent, and I will relate it.
The First Corps marched back through Emmetsburg, and then took a westerly course towards Hagerstown. We were in the northerly part of Maryland, passing through a beautiful farming country. The people were evidently loyal, and they gave us a joyful greeting as we passed along. Our little remnant of about forty men were thinking of the one hundred and fifty of our comrades, captured on July 1st, who were now prisoners, and who were traveling towards Southern prison pens. As we passed a turn in the road we came to a beautiful house in the midst of well kept grounds, the whole enclosed by a broad, low stone wall. On this wall, near the road, stood a young lady dressed in white, and around her, stood a dozen younger misses, also dressed in white, all waving United States flags, and singing the "Battle Cry of Freedom," that stirring battle song, which had just been published. This was the first time we had ever heard it, and perhaps you can imagine the effect of the words, as sung by these young ladies, on the little remnant of the Sixteenth Maine, whose flag had been torn up to save it from capture, only four days before. As moved by a common impulse every man came to a halt and removed his cap. When the song was concluded there was not a dry eye in the little band. They could not cheer the singers, but silently they moved on remaining uncovered till the young ladies were no longer in view. I think the elder young lady understood, for as the little band passed from her view, she dipped her flag toward them two or three times.
Colonel Tilden was confined in Libby Prison at Richmond, and, as is well known, was one of the
fortunate officers who escaped by means of the famous Rose tunnel. On his arrival within the
Union lines at Williamsburg, Va., he was granted a thirty days' furlough home. The Sixteenth
Maine Regiment was in winter quarters, at Mitchell's station, on the Orange and Alexandria
railroad, on the north side of the Rapidan, not far from Cedar Mountain. It was known that the
colonel would arrive at the winter quarters of the regiment on or about March 28, 1864. The
non-commissioned officers and privates of the regiment had raised a goodly sum of money among
themselves, and had purchased a magnificent black horse and the proper equipments therefor.
The next morning after the colonel's return, the regiment, which had been recruited to something
near its original strength, fell in under the command of Sergeant-Major Stevens, the highest
non-commissioned officer, and proceeded to the colonel's quarters and paraded. The colonel was
called out, and Sergeant-Major Stevens, leading forward the beautiful horse, all equipped,
presented it to the colonel as the gift of the enlisted men. The colonel was deeply affected by this
evidence of esteem on the part of his men. In fact, he was too affected to speak, but he did the
next best thing. He commenced at the right of the line and passed along to the left, shaking hands
with every man. By that time he had found his voice and in a short and appropriate speech, full of
deep feeling, he accepted this evidence of the regiment's regard. That horse accompanied the
regiment in all the subsequent marches and campaigns till the close of the war, and the noble
animal was at Appomattox when Lee surrendered. He was a passenger on the same train that
bore the regiment back to Maine, and he remained in the possession of General Tilden, till he
died, at an advanced age, in 1886. It is needless to say that this beautiful and intelligent horse was
tenderly treated and kindly cared for all his life. On the death of the old war horse, the Rev.
Nathaniel Butler, D. D., wrote a poem on the event, which was widely circulated in the papers at
the time, and was given a place in the history of the regiment, by the late Major A. R. Small. I
quote a few verses of this fine poem:
Farewell, my horse, thy work is done,
Thy splendid form lies low,
Thy limbs of steel have lost their strength,--
Thy flashing eye, its glow.
Seated upon thy nerve-strung form,
Another life was mine,
And well I knew the same high thrill
Ran through my soul and thine.
But now thy last long halt is made,
Thy last campaign is o'er,
The bugle call, the battle shout,
Shall thrill thee never more.
Where art thou gone, old friend and true,
What place hast thou to fill?
For it may be thy spirit form,
Somewhere is marching still.
Are there immortal hills and vales,
And pastures living green,
And sunny glades and waters sweet,
For such as thou didst seem.
We may not ever meet again,
But whereso'er I go,
A cherished place within my heart,
Thou'lt have, old friend, I know.
God made us both, and we have marched,
Firm friends whilst thou wert here,
I only know I would not blush
To meet thee anywhere.
What was the final destiny of those men of the Sixteenth Maine Regiment, captured at
Gettysburg? No one can answer that question fully. Colonel Tilden escaped and served till the
end of the war, and he is with us tonight. Lieutenant Bisbee has told us in his paper how he
returned after eighteen months of captivity. Lieutenant James M. Childs escaped from Salisbury,
was piloted through the mountains of Eastern Tennessee by Union men, and finally came into our
lines after about eighteen months of captivity. Some officers and many men died in prison, and
their bodies lie in national burying grounds, at Andersonville, Salisbury, and in unknown graves at
Belle Isle and almost every other prominent prison hole of the South. Possibly one-half, perhaps
more, were exchanged, or were released after the surrender of Lee. If the dead heroes could
speak to us, what stories of suffering, of faithfulness, of patient endurance, and of loyalty to the
flag, while slowly starving to death, would be told to us. What unwritten tragedies, transcending
the wildest flights of fiction, were enacted during our Civil War.
(Source: War Papers, Maine MOLLUS, Volume 4, pages 150 to 170)