RECOLLECTIONS OF THE BATTLE OF
By Brevet Brigadier-General Thomas W. Hyde.
(Read September 7, 1892)
When a large part of the Army of the Potomac was defeated at Chancellorsville by General Lee, hope rose very high at the South. Public opinion there insisted upon an invasion of the North. Even when General Lee made a requisition for rations, the Confederate commissary general is said to have endorsed his request, "Go seek them in Pennsylvania." General Lee, in accordance with this state of feeling, perhaps sympathizing with it himself, moved two of his three great corps across the Rappahannock, leaving Hill's Corps to mask his movement. General Hooker, commanding the Army of the Potomac, soon learned that something was going on and moved also to the northwest and Hill followed after Longstreet and Ewell. Hooker's movement was parallel to that of his adversary, the head of whose column, under Ewell, was soon driving our small forces, under Milroy, from the Shenandoah Valley. The Blue Ridge separated the advancing armies. That of the Confederates reached at one time from Martinsburg on the Potomac nearly back to Chancellorsville, some hundred miles, and it was at this time that the President, an unconscious strategist, sent one of his characteristic despatches to General Hooker, "The animal is very thin somewhere; could you not break him? A. Lincoln." There is little doubt that his advice was good, as the column might have been easily cut and Hill destroyed before Lee could return to his assistance. But Hooker was paralyzed by the apparent need of protecting Washington, like other leaders before and after him, and the golden opportunity was lost forever.
Both armies pressed on by day and by night. Lee crossed at Martinsburg and pushed up the Cumberland Valley into Pennsylvania to the great consternation of the unprotected North, while the Army of the Potomac crossed at Edward's Ferry, always covering Washington and Baltimore. At Frederick, Maryland, General Hooker was relieved at his own request, he having asked to have the garrison of Harper's Ferry, ten thousand strong, added to his command and, being refused by the commander-in-chief General Halleck, General George G. Meade was appointed in his place.
Meade immediately joined this garrison to his army and was never censured by General Halleck for so doing. I happened to be at the headquarters of the army when Hooker turned over his command to Meade, and recall Hooker's manly bearing and Meade's nervous, earnest manner as they conferred a few moments together. It was a vast responsibility to take so suddenly, but well did Meade carry it to the end.
From Frederick the different corps were pushed out on different roads, fan like, to feel for an enemy, yet not so far apart as to be beyond supporting distance. The First Corps, General Reynolds, following Buford's Cavalry went out beyond Gettysburg and when Buford became engaged, their leading brigades charged in gallantly to his support, driving the enemy and capturing Archer's Brigade.
The men seemed to be in wonderful spirits that bright summer morning in July and, as they got up rapidly into line, would shout, "We have come to stay," and, as General Doubleday said before the Committee on the Conduct of the War, "very many of them never left that ground."
The advantage at this time was decidedly with the Union troops, but a Confederate sharpshooter killed General John J. Reynolds, one of the brightest and bravest soldiers the war produced.
Soon a heavier pressure was felt from the rebel side. It seems that Lee was concentrating his different corps upon Gettysburg marching south, while Meade was doing the same thing with part of his marching northwest, and Lee marching on more roads was doing it faster and putting his troops in line faster, so the balance of the day was but a record of the heavy struggle of Buford's Cavalry and the First Corps and Howard's Eleventh Corps to maintain their ground, constantly assaulted by ever-increasing masses. Finally outflanked, their remnant was withdrawn through Gettysburg to Cemetery Hill, a very strong position.
The 16th Maine Volunteers, commanded by Colonel Tilden, of Hallowell, and the Second Maine Battery, commanded by General James A. Hall, of Damariscotta, did remarkable service in the fight upon the first day by the First Corps.
Nightfall found the Confederates too much exhausted to pursue their advantage, and the Union troops were being rapidly reenforced. Thus ended the first day of Gettysburg--a fight accidently begun and bloody to both sides. To the Northern army defeat gave a strong position. The Southern leader should have taken a lesson from the magnificent fighting of the First Corps in the open field. It is probable that he did not see it personally or it might have taught him the folly of his direct attacks on the days following. It has always seemed fortunate for us that death removed Stonewall Jackson before Gettysburg. He would have commanded on the first day and his marvelous celerity of movement would have probably wrested Cemetery Hill from us before we had troops enough upon it.
During the long moonlight night that preceded the second day's battle, the dusty turnpikes leading to Gettysburg were filled with many thousands of the blue and gray, marching wearily and sleepily toward the positions that so many of them were about to moisten with their blood. But as I am to give some of my own recollections I will go back a little and bring them up to the time I have brought the narrative.
On the thirtieth of June, 1863, the Sixth Army Corps, under the command of General John Sedgwick, to whose staff I was attached, reached the pretty little town of Manchester, Md., distant about twenty miles from the headquarters of the army then at Taneytown, and thirty-six miles from Gettysburg, towards which columns of both armies were directing themselves ignorant of each other's vicinage. It was fine summer weather and the young gentlemen of the staff improved the next day by making the acquaintance of the fair Union ladies of the place. At five in the afternoon, the general wanted to send an officer to General Meade's headquarters for orders and information and as I happened to be about, I was chosen. With an orderly I rode twenty miles to Taneytown, through a beautiful country, the air filled with the scent of flowers and new-mown hay. Near Taneytown I came upon General Hancock, riding to headquarters from the field, and he told me of the gallant fight of the First Corps that day, how they had been defeated by greater numbers at last, how General Reynolds died, and of the new line formed in the cemetery of Gettysburg. Soon we saw the headquarters' tents glimmering in the darkness and I reported to General Seth Williams, adjutant-general of the army, who gave me some refreshments and told me there was a council of war going on in General Meade's large hospital tent next to his. After waiting a while he took me in, and I saw General Meade in the center, standing by a table covered with maps, and several general officers grouped around. General Meade, after finishing a remark he was making in a low voice when I entered, said: "To-morrow, gentlemen, we fight the decisive battle of the war. Where is the officer from the Sixth Corps?" As I stepped forward he handed me, written on yellow tissue paper, the orders for the corps, and another for General Newton to take command of the First Corps. He told me to commit them to memory and destroy them in case of need, as the enemy's cavalry was reported scouting about. He then asked me if I had a cavalry escort; when I told him I had not, he offered me one. I told him I could get through quicker alone. He then said, "Tell General Sedgwick that I expect to put him on the right, and hope that he will be up in time to decide the victory for us."
General Meade's solemn bearing impressed me very much, and I felt some awe at the circumstances in which I was placed, for I was little more than a boy in age. Near midnight I started on my return, feeling as if I had something to do with the fate of the nation. After a long gallop I came upon farmers driving off their horses, who told me that Stuart's cavalry was just behind them, and I kept a bright lookout, several times hiding in the woods and waiting till mounted men got by, whose hoof-beats were plainly audible in the still night. I don't think I passed any rebels, though, for their cavalry was, unfortunately for Lee, cut off from our rear. However, I did not know that, and as I was hiding again about three in the morning and holding my horse's nose, instead of some of Mosby's gentry, I saw General Sedgwick's straw hat appear through the trees at the head of the corps. General Newton was riding with him and I delivered the orders. Now General Sedgwick, hearing of the battle, had started the corps for Taneytown, and the orders were to take the Baltimore Pike for Gettysburg, thirty-six miles away. If anything had happened to me that night he would have gone on to Taneytown, taking two sides of the triangle instead of one, and we should have made something like fifty miles instead of thirty-six. We then could not have arrived on the second day, which might have changed the fate of the battle, for eighteen thousand troops not coming up would probably have made a difference in the memorable council of war held on the night of the second day, and the question "Shall the Army of the Potomac fight here?" have been answered differently. We all like to think ourselves of some use and such were my youthful speculations. General Sedgwick, though unusually stern and quiet, gave me a kind word, and we turned the head of the column to make a cross-cut of a few miles to the Baltimore Pike, and then began one of the hardest marches we ever knew, thirty-six miles in dust and unusual heat; but the men pressed on with vigor and courage through it all, feeling themselves on Northern soil again and feeling that we were expected to decide the victory. My continuous ride was over seventy miles when we stopped behind the circle of hills over which the cannon smoke was rising, and where many a little white cloud, almost resting in the air, showed each where a rebel shell had burst.
While we had been toiling along the Baltimore Pike so many weary miles, many men with feet bleeding and scarcely a man falling out, we heard no news. We were aware that our people were engaged only by the booming of the artillery which sounded strangely muffled, coming from behind the horseshoe of hills that made the Union position.
The beautiful dawn of the second day of the battle looked upon the bulk of both great armies in readiness for action; the Confederates, about seventy thousand strong, the Union Army, about eighty thousand, marshaled against each other in grim array. Our people had a circular position with the bow toward the enemy. The rugged sides of Culp's Hill formed the right, the gentle slopes and plateau of the cemetery the center, and behind, our left, which had been pushed out to the Emmitsburg Pike by General Sickles, frowned Great and Little Round Top. The Confederate line enveloped ours and that became one of their chief disadvantages in the fight, as the distances were greater going around their half-circle with orders or reenforcements, very much greater than ours were to take a radius or an arc of our circle. The unconnected nature of many of their attacks can thus be accounted for. Both sides spent much of the forenoon maneuvering for position. But Lee organized two attacks, one on our right at Culp's Hill and the cemetery by Ewell; and the other by Longstreet with Hood's Texas Division and McLaw's, intended to outflank our left. Both were expected to have been delivered earlier in the day and much recrimination has been indulged in by the Southern generals since on this subject. The attack upon Culp's Hill, which formed the right of our line, was furious in the extreme, but after some hours of fight, when darkness fell, the only advantage gained by the Confederates was the possession of a part of the line of the Twelfth Corps, and they were unaware that they had almost reached the Baltimore Pike upon which were our trains, hospitals and ammunition wagons.
Longstreet's attack, if delayed, was magnificent, even as his attack at Chickamauga was magnificent. There was an angle in our line on Sickles' front. Longstreet put his whole force at this angle, near which was the celebrated Peach Orchard, and doubled Sickles back on the Second Corps in one direction and toward Devil's Den and Little Round Top in the other. During this part of the action and the fighting which followed, the 3d Maine, the 4th Maine and the 17th, 19th and 20th Maine Regiments did great honor to the Pine Tree state.
Little Round Top, the possession of which meant victory to the Confederates, was only occupied by a signal officer at the time, who kept waving his flag at Hood's Texans struggling through Devil's Den and its rocky approaches, to gain the coveted hill. Fortunately for our cause, General Warren, engineer-in-chief of the army, happened to ride up and, seeing the gravity of the situation, got hold of Vincent's Brigade of the Fifth Corps and Hazlitt's Battery. These gained the summit, dragging the guns up by hand, and were just in time to burl the Texans back in a bloody hand-to-hand struggle. In the meantime Hill had become engaged on the Confederate side and part of the Second Corps and all of the Fifth Corps on ours. General Sedgwick and his chief of staff, Colonel McMahon, had gone to Meade's headquarters for orders. Two of us had purchased some cherry pies of a very freckled faced girl at a neighboring farmhouse, and had just joined the rest of the staff, who were in the shadiest place they could find upon the banks of Rock Creek, and we were all listening with suppressed excitement to a tremendous outburst of cannon and musketry over the hills to the left, when McMahon came riding down the hill swinging his hat and shouting, "The general directs the corps toward the heavy firing." In an instant every man was on his feet. The fences were broken down and the heads of the brigades broke off into the fields and began ascending the long slopes toward the Round Tops, nearly a mile away. Captain Farrar and I were with the first brigade to arrive (Colonel Nevins'), and we all helped to swing it into line and it moved gallantly over the crest. General Sedgwick sent us in with it and as we went over the crest the round shot whistled very close, and we passed over what seemed to be fragments of the Fifth Corps, passed General Sykes commanding it, and on into the smoke beyond at the double-quick down to a stone wall at the right and foot of Little Round Top and opened a rousing fire. The attack of the enemy in front reminded me then of the last wave on the beach, stopping and being pushed up a little more and a little more from behind. I was on the right of the brigade and rode across behind it where I saw the boulders piled on the top of Little Round Top and started to ride up there to see what I could. I had to ride fast across the front of Pennsylvania Reserves, who were making a charge that looked like the picture of a battle, and it looked as if it were on me. Then my active little horse, forgetting his seventy-mile ride, took me up the steep northwest side of Little Round Top to where Hazlitt's guns were still firing, though their commander was dead and the rocks seemed to be covered with corpses in light blue Zouave uniform. I afterwards learned that they were the 140th New York. On looking back I could see no enemy firing except by Devil's Den and in the valley, and I was told by an officer ensconced behind a boulder, that I had better get out of that if I did not want to be picked off, and the bullets were flattening themselves against the rocks all about. So, quickly over the hill I went, where I found what was left of the regular brigade under Colonel Greene, and they looked like a small regiment. Speaking to one or two friends, I rode back to General Sedgwick and was glad to rest, for the fighting was over on the left for that day. Our several brigades had been sent as reenforcements to different points so our command was small. Gloomy reports kept coming in, and near dark, Major Whittier, the general's confidential aid, told me we were going to march back twenty miles that night and that the general was going to the headquarters to a council of war. Before we turned in he came back, and we gladly learned we were to stay where we were. My man then appeared with a blanket and something to eat, and after a soothing pipe, with our saddles for pillows and our overcoats for beds and blankets, we were soon sleeping the dreamless sleep of youth and fatigue.
At daybreak of the third day, General Slocum attacked those of Ewell's Corps who had obtained a lodgment in his lines and with the assistance of two brigades, Neill's and Shaler's of the Sixth Corps, succeeded in driving them out and rectifying his line. After breakfast I went over to the right, passing through the cemetery, and came to Power's Hill where General Slocum had his headquarters. He asked me to stay with him a while as he was short of staff officers, and soon told me to take Neill's Brigade, in which was my regiment, the 7th Maine, over to a hill to the right of our whole line. After a short march we came to the hill, got into line, and advanced toward its wooded summit, but when half-way up were received with a severe fire. The men, however, took the double-quick and soon drove the enemy from the top. They proved to be the advance of Johnson's Division who were working their way round our right and soon would have been on the Baltimore Pike, which would have been in the highest degree disastrous to us. I then rode back to General Slocum to report, and then back to General Sedgwick near Little Round Top.
It was becoming exceedingly hot and it was very uncertain what was to be done. As it is one of the first duties of a staff officer to get information, I went over to Little Round Top and found I could get to it from one side not exposed to sharpshooters, and near the summit I found a little rocky crest where I could see out all over that part of the field. It was still occupied as a signal station. As the firing began to grow over beyond Devil's Den, I soon saw blue-coated troopers through intervals in the trees, and they were attacking the infantry of the Confederate right. They seemed, from sight and sound, to have penetrated quite a distance into the enemy's lines, but as the ground became opener it was hard to see them charging over fences and up to the woods only to be destroyed by the deliberate fire of the Southern rifle. This was Farnsworth's celebrated charge in which he fell with glory. Looking on farther to the right there seemed to have been a change in the appearance of the enemy's lines since the day before, and borrowing a glass from the signal officer, I was able to distinguish much moving about of troops and artillery, as well as to count over a hundred guns ranged in a semicircle and seemingly directed toward the center of our line. Many of them were Napoleon guns of polished brass and were glistening in the sun. I could not see ours from where I was and did not know that Hunt had concentrated McGilvery and Hazard and the Artillery Reserve in nearly as formidable an array to reply. About this time Generals Meade and Warren came up on the rocks to take a look, and I dodged back to tell the general that it looked like a cannonade pretty soon. We were all sitting down, somewhere about noontime, with our horses close by and enjoying a simple lunch of hardtack and coffee, when two guns were fired from the enemy's side. I remember we were in a field which had many boulders and some small trees in it. I concluded I did not want any more lunch and got behind a boulder large enough to cover me and my horse; and in a little while it began. Such a cannonade was never heard on the continent of America, one hundred and thirty guns on the Confederate side and eighty upon ours. The rebels seemed to be mostly firing by battery, and ours, one at a time. The open ground behind our line was being torn up in every direction by the shells. Occasionally a caisson exploded, riderless horses were dashing about, and a throng of wounded were streaming to the rear. When the cannonade was at its height and everyone of judgment was utilizing what cover he could find, I saw coming over the plain behind us, which was being beaten into dust in every direction by the enemy's shells, a man with a long beard and spectacles, wearing a brown linen duster. When he got a little nearer, I saw that he was our sutler's clerk and that he staggered in his gait. As he got pretty near me, a shell shrieked between us with more than usually fiendish noise, and he looked down at me, putting his hand up to his ear, and said, "Listen to the mocking-bird." With the providential good fortune of drunken men, he had crossed for some distance in safety over ground where it seemed impossible for any living thing to remain a minute.
This cannonade lasted about an hour and we all knew that it was intended as the prelude to an infantry attack, but where the attack would be was in doubt, as the Confederate fire did not seem to us to be concentrated on any particular part of our line. That is where they were in error, as the whole of their fire directed on the Second Corps would have given their attack a much better chance. We did not feel very anxious however, as our men were hugging the ground and gripping their muskets in front, and were they not the tried and true that stormed Marye's Heights not long ago, and had never lost a color or a gun to the enemy since they had first marched out from their far Northern homes? Now the fire on our side stopped, but for fifteen minutes yet the one hundred and thirty Confederate guns belched out flame. Hunt, chief of artillery, had ordered our fire to cease that the guns might cool to be ready for the coming assault. The enemy thought that they had silenced our fire, only to be bitterly disappointed a little later. Then suddenly all the firing ceased and there was a lull. The smoke-clouds were rising on the opposite crest, the sunlight again glinting on the long line of brass guns, but what was that gray mass that seemed to be moving, scarce distinguishable from the smoke wreaths about it? In a moment there was little doubt what it was, for on comes the wonderful Virginia infantry of Pickett and beyond the North Carolinians of Pender and Pettigrew and this side the large brigade of Cadmus Wilcox. It was a thrilling sight and I thought of the great charges of the French infantry at Wagram and Austerlitz that I loved to read of in childhood. On they came; it looked to me like three lines about a mile long each, in perfect order. They cross the Emmitsburg Pike, and our guns, eighty in all, cool and in good order, open first with shot and then with shell. Great gaps are made every second in their ranks, but the gray soldiers closed up to the center and the color-bearers jump to the front shaking and waving the "stars and bars." And so they pass out of my sight for a few minutes as Ziegler's Grove in front of our line shuts them off. But a tremendous roar of musketry crashed out and I know the big guns are firing grape and canister now. And soon they appeared again, and this time the colors are together like a little forest, but the men are dropping like leaves in autumn. They pass our line, thousands of men in gray left yet, and I believe our center is pierced; I could not see that they threw down their arms. So, fast as I could ride, I went down there for information, as I knew the general would want to attack at once with all the Sixth Corps he could lay his hands on. But I soon saw to my great joy that we were victors still, and that the flower of the South had dashed themselves to pieces against the sturdy Second Corps alone. I saw General Armistead, the Confederate leader, dying, and near him Cushing of the regular artillery, who had fired his last gun with one hand, though partly cut in two, holding his body together with the other. Then I tried to ride over the field, but could not for the dead and wounded lay too thick to guide a horse through them. Then it occurred to me that our corps must have orders by this time to make a counter-attack as the thing to do under the circumstances; so I got back again as fast as possible, but was soon sent with a message to General Slocum on the right. While there I heard firing to the north of Gettysburg and rode out beyond our lines to see what it was, and from a hill was fortunate enough to see the defeat of Stuart's Cavalry by Gregg. All it looked like was a dust cloud with flakes of light in it as the sun shone upon the swinging sabers. Lee had ordered his cavalry to attack on our right about the same time as Pickett, and they would have done us vast mischief had they succeeded in beating our cavalry; and had Pickett's charge succeeded, they would have been in a position to have done us similar damage to the work of the Prussian cavalry at Waterloo. Thus ended the battle of Gettysburg. Lee retreated the next day and though he fought with skill and determination for two years more, there was little doubt of the end when the last of his dauntless columns filed through Monterey Gap on their way to cross the Potomac.
Three years ago I went to Gettysburg to attend a reunion of the Army of the Potomac. It was on the anniversary of the battle. We stayed at a hotel near where General Reynolds was killed. After supper we strolled out and, hearing the cavalry bugle in the woods near by, on investigation found two squadrons of the 4th Regular Cavalry, that had just come East after their arduous campaign against Geronimo. We soon found lots of friends among the officers, and they offered us horses and orderlies to use while there, and finally asked us if we would not like to have them escort us over the field the next day. We were overjoyed and accepted, so the next morning they received us and with buglers ahead we started out. I think this cavalry the finest I have ever seen, better than the English Life Guards, or their crack regiments of Hussars, or the best cavalry in France; and I don't know as it is to be wondered at, for the kind of service the American cavalryman performs and the kind of enemy he has been fighting, tend to produce the highest physical and soldierly qualities in him. We rode over the whole line of battle of the Army of the Potomac for each of the three days of the fight. The positions of most of the regiments are now marked by monuments, many of which are very fine. Mimic guns show where each battery was located, and as far as Possible all the features of the field are preserved. We halted to rest in the cemetery, which has for a gateway a wooden imitation of a Roman triumphal arch. I remember that I stopped there on the second day of the battle to see General John Marshall Brown, of Portland, who was then adjutant-general in the Eleventh Corps, and that he went into this archway through a door on the side, and I think they had been using it for a sleeping-room. I went around this arch to look for the place and found there was no door, and I was troubled for I thought my memory had been playing me false. Soon after, finding the custodian of the place, he told me there was a new archway built like the old one, only the old one had a tool house in the side. When memory retains such trifles for twenty-five years, it argues that nothing is really forgotten or lost that makes an impress, however slight, on the recording portion of our brains. After finishing the Union line we rode over that of the Confederates till we came to the place where Pickett's Division started on its charge. There I had the curiosity to ride slowly over the route of the charge, and it but strengthened the belief I have had ever since witnessing it, that with all its grandeur and bravery, it was badly managed as a military movement. It should have won. More men should have been put into it, at least one division from Ewell, more. Longstreet should have gone with it, and when thousands of the survivors of the charge found themselves within our lines, there was something better for them to do than to throw down their arms. But for all that, the charge of Pickett's Virginians at Gettysburg will always remain one of the most glorious as well as one of the saddest episodes in the history of the war.
There has always been a good deal said since the war to exalt the bravery of the Southern soldiers. They are Americans and we are proud of them; but the bravery was not all on one side. The best fighting I happened to see was done by Northern soldiers. I refer to one Maine regiment, not mine, and we used to fight each other at one time. Three times they stormed and took fortified works of the Confederates at the point of the bayonet, using the bayonet freely. Each time their losses were more than half their number engaged, and each time they were confronted by equal or greater numbers than their own, of the choicest troops of the Army of Northern Virginia, fighting with desperation on ground of their own selection and behind formidable field fortifications. On one of these occasions the famous Stonewall Division was worsted, and the 6th Maine Volunteers took more prisoners than they had men engaged. The occasions were the storming of Marye's Heights; the taking of the forts at Rappahannock Station, and Upton's assault at Spotsylvania. I firmly believe that had the long lines of Pickett's glorious charge at Gettysburg been composed of such stubborn material as the old 6th Maine, "the lost cause" might have been triumphant on the green slopes of Cemetery Hill that day.
Gettysburg has sometimes been compared to Waterloo, and while there are points of resemblance, it was very unlike, both in its character and result. The size of the armies was about the same; the losses (about fifty thousand) about the same; but there, it seems to me, the resemblance ceases. Gettysburg was spread over three days; Waterloo was fought in part of one. Both Napoleon and Wellington put every man into the fight; not so Lee and Meade. Waterloo was won by Blucher, a reenforcement, and its result was the destruction of an army and the government behind it; Gettysburg was simply the high-water mark of a rebellion. At Waterloo, light and heavy cavalry stormed over the field; at Gettysburg, the cavalry did noble service but it was miles away. Waterloo was fought for the fortunes of emperors and kings, but men died at Gettysburg to break the fetters from millions of slaves.
And when I stood for the last time in the Cemetery at Gettysburg, and gazed on the thousands of graves of the Union dead, the memory of the great statesman and martyr of the war was with me and his words there spoken, which will echo through the ages.
"The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it beyond anything we can
do. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what
they did here. It is for us, the living, rather to dedicate ourselves to the unfinished work which
they who fought here have thus so nobly advanced, to consecrate ourselves to the great task
remaining and to gather from the graves of these mourned dead increased devotion to that cause
for which they gave their lives. Here let us resolve that they shall not have died in vain; that this
nation shall, under God, have a new birth of freedom, and that the government of the people, by
the people, and for the people shall not perish forever from the earth."
(Source: War Papers, Maine MOLLUS, Volume 1, pages 191 to 206)