His Division of Veterans and Its Part in the
The bright uniforms and braided caps of earlier days were now gone and had given place to the slouched hat, the faded, threadbare jacket and patched pantaloons. The veterans' faces were tanned by summers' heat and winters' storm and covered with unkempt beards. Boys who enlisted in their teens appeared with long tangled locks, changed and weather-beaten, now, apparently , into men of middle life. Their tents had been destroyed early in the war and their baggage had been reduced from time to time until the men often marched now for weeks together without a raincoat. The waded rivers, climbed mountains, shivered beneath a single ragged blanket as they slept or watched upon the frost clad hills or tramped barefoot stony turnpikes and tangled swamp. The missles of war had plowed tangled ranks, and fallen comrades, left thickly strewn on many fields, pointed as landmarks the track of the division and the course of battle. Heavy losses in many battles and still greater losses by diseases, besides various recent details, in addition to the two largest brigades being left behind in Virginia, had reduced the division now to about one- third of its former strength. But though its numbers were lessened its prestige was still unbroke; each bloody conflict that thinned its ranks had spread a wider fame and forced confidence in the terror of their name. Upon the ]long rapid march the weak and the feeble and the sick and fallen by (the way and had been left behind and those now answering to roll-call were the strong on the march and the stout in battle, who paused at no obstacle, quailed at no danger, and to whom scenes of carnage had grown familiar. Strict military discipline regular drill and the proper handling of these troops in the first two or three engagements, when victories were gained, soon converted the raw recruits into efficient soldiers and as the flush of successive victories followed, these soldiers had become in time almost invincible. A reputation once acquired by a corps or division is easily re- tained and hard to break. As each single soldier, if not himself a hero thinks every other man upon his right and left is one, and he is soon converted by association into a reliable veteran.
Major General George E. Pickett was a graduate of West Point, had passed through the war with Mexico and was bonzed by long service in the old army upon the distant frontier from the Rio Grande to the mouth of the Columbia and among the officers of lesser grade were many graduates of military schools, while all, from the highest to the lowest in rank, had seen very arduous service and possessed a vase and varied experience in all the perils and hardships of war long before they reached the memorable "Heights of Gettysburg ." Scattered through the different regiments was a sprinkling Of restless, roving adventurers , seekers after excitement. whose passion, pastime and pleasure had been war and revolution for the last quarter of a century -- some who had fought under Sam Houston at San Jacinto, others with the celebrated British Legion through the Don Carlos war, others with Walker in Nicaragua, and others with Whet and Gibraldi in Italy. There were men who fought under Zack Taylor from Palo Alto to Monterey and with Scott from Vera Cruz to the City of Mexico, while their latest experience may be summed up as with Longstreet at Bull Run and with Beauregard at Manassas; some with Buckner at Fort Donelson and some with John- son at Williamson and Seven Pines, and with Lee around Richmond, at Second Manassass, at Chantilly, South Mountain, Sharpsburg, Fred- ericksburg and Chancellorsville. Each regiment had now inscribed on its torn and tattered ban- ner all the noted fields over which it had been borne to victory.
Wednesday morning, July 1, was hot and sultry; scarcely a zephyr breathed to stir the loosened leaf and the birds, awed by the unusual sights and strange sounds amid their quiet bowers, had sought the deeper shade and ceased to sing. Through camp, scattered over woodede hill and dale, the jest, the laugh, and snatches of Southern song kept up a busy hum, while the ragged rebel mended his tattered garment or wrote a message to distant friends and loved ones at home -- the last perchance, he ever sent -- to be received aud read after the hand that penned the lines was cold. The morning wore slowly on to noon, when stragglers returning into camp reported that out upon the hills beyond the noise of camp there could be heard heavy distant cannon firing the ball had opened, the play had begun, and a birds eye view would then have disclosed every road in southern and Central Pennsylvania filled with clouds of dust and long dark columns of infantry, cavalry, and artillery rushing along to unite in the bloody conflict going on in and around the village of Gettysburg. About 4 o'clock General Pickett received a message from General Imboden that a column of the enemy was moving in the direction of Chambersburg, and Pickett moved his Division out upon the road above Greencastle and drew up in line of battle to await the threatened attack upon the rear of Lee's army. During the evening a storm of wind and rain and loud peals of thunder passed over the battalions and the men were drenched in the shower, but the tempest was over in an hour and the sun went down bright and clear. The night came and rolled along over the long hours until dawn to find the division .still drawn up in line of battle, watching under arms for the approach of the enemy. The rumor turned out to have been a false alarm, bat about 1 o'clock at night a courier came clattering along in search of Pickett , and at daylight on Thursday morning, the 2d of July, the columns of wet, worn and sleepless men were put in notion on the road to Gettysburg. The sun rose bright and clear, rain- drops sparkled on every twig and blade of grass, a cool refreshing breeze, laden with sweet perfumes of summer flowers, lifted the tangled lock upon the heated brow and fanned the care-worn cheek, until along the long lines of road and ragged veterans, tramping rapidly forward, could be heard here and there some humorous jest or joyous laugh, but before noon the day was hot and sultry.
At 3 o'clock the division reached the crest of the hill that overlooks Gettysburg and in sight of the distant battlefield beyond, having come since daylight twenty-seven miles. Here the division was halted and a rumor circulated along the lines that General Longstreet apprised of Pickett's approach, sent him this message "Bring your division around on the right at once. Hood is about to attack and I want vou to support him." To which General Pickett replied : "My men are exhausted and must have rest before going any further ." General Lee replied to Major Walter Harrison, who reported to him the approach of Pickett's Division:"Tell General Pickett I shall not want him this evening ; tell him to let his men rest and I will send him word when I want them." And soon afterward meeting General Pickett, General Lee said: " I am glad you have come; I shall have work- for you tomorrow ." General Hood relates a conversation that occurred early in the morning, in which he said to General Longstreet: "General Lee seems a little nervous this morning." To which Longstreet replied: "He wishes me to attack. I do not wish to do so without Pickett .I never like to go into battle with one boot off." When the Division came in sight of the battlefield at 3 o'clock it was halted by Pickett, and he, accompanied by his aide, Captain S. P.. Baird, rode forward and reported in person the arrival of his division to Longstreet who, upon learning the jaded condition of the man, ordered them into camp where they had been halted. Many of the officers and men of the division came out upon the hill to view the distant battlefield and to listen to the uproar of that fierce onset of Hood and McClaws, which began at precisely 31/2 o'clock and lasted until about 71/2.
General Longstreet says these two divisions combined numbered scarcely 13,000 men, and that for four hours they contended for the dispatch field against more than 50,000 of the enemy, and their grand and headlong charge overthrew the Third Corps, the Second Corps, the Fifth Corps, the Eleventh Corps, a part of the Twelfth Corps, and were only prevented by the darkness of night and the arrival of Sedgwick with the Sixth Corps of 15,000 fresh troops from gaining the most brilliant victory of the whole war. Hood aud McLaws fell back at dark, leaving upon the field 4,5299 men, being a loss of more than one-third of their numbers carried into action. General Lee says: " It being now about dark. General Longstreet, retired and determined to await the arrival of Pickett." Pickett's Division was silent , within sight and perhaps the opportunity to change the course of history was lost. For had Pickett's Division, upon its arrival on the field at 3 o'clock , been led straight to battle, or had it supported the assault of Hood and McClaws at any time after an hour's rest, it is possible the battle of Gettysburg would have ended there without a third days bloody sequel , for history is filled with instances of long forced marches, fierce conditions and great victories gained by the wearied troops, until the truth is established that while some armies have fought well when rested, all armies have fought better when taken into battle from a long rapid tiresome march. Desaix made a long forced march from early morning till 4 o'clock in the afternoon and going straight into battle without pausing, with his six thousand wearied soldiers drove back a powerful victorious Austrian army of more than twenty thousand men and changed Napoleon's defeat into the splendid victory of Marengo. Blucher . came upon the Field of Waterloo at 6 o'clock from a long, fatiguing march and changed the tide of battle in time to save the allied armies of Europe from complete overthrow. The forced march of Claudius Nero with seven thousand troops, marching night and day, led to the great battle and victory over fifty thousand Carthagenians at the battle of the Metaurus, the death of Asdrubal , and eventually saved Rome. The most successful general of the late war was Stonewall Jackson whose victories were due to his rapid forced marches, sudden surprise and fierce onset. His infantry will live in history as "the foot cavalry of the valley." But no better instance is wanting" of the timely arrival of troops upon any field than that of Sedgwick at Gettysburg on the 2d day of July, from a forced march of thirty-two miles made night and day, to reach the field just in time to check the victorious career of Longstreet and save the Union army from defeat.
On Friday morning, July 3, Pickett's's Division left its bivouac at dawn of day and moving., around to the right reached the position assigned it in the ravine behind Cemetery Ridge soon after 6 o'clock. Long dark lines of infantry were massed along the bottoms, concealed from the enemy's view, and orders were given "to lie down and keep still to avoid attracting the attention of the enemy." About 8 o'clock Generals Lee, Longstreet and Pickett, in company, rode slowly along up and down in front of the long lines of prostrate infantry, viewing them closely and critically as they rode along. They were not greeted with the usual cheers, as orders had preceded them forbidding this, but the men voluntarily rose up and stood in line with uncovered heads and hats held aloft while their chieftains rode by. This review over, strong detachments were thrown forward to support the artillery stationed along the crest of Oak Ridge and Cemetery Ridge, composed of about one hundred and twenty cannon, and stretching along the brow of these ridges for a mile. The supporting detachments were placed about a hundred yards in the rear of this line of batteries and lay down in the tall grass with a cloudless sky and a bright July sun pouring its scorching rays almost vertically upon them for five long, weary hours , while they listened and watched in painful suspense for some sound or some movement to break that profound stillness which rested over the vast battlefield and depressed the spirits like an dreadful nightmare. At 1 o'clock this awful stillness was suddenly broken and the men startled by the discharge of a couple of signal guns fired in quick succession, followed by a silence of half a minute, and then, while their echo was yet rolling along the distant, defiles and mountain gorges an uproar began as wonderful as had been the previous silence. Lee's one hundred aud twenty guns opened at once with a crash and thunder sound that shook the hills for miles around from crest to base, and were instantly replied to by about eighty guns ranged by General Meade along the front of Cemetery Ridge, about one mile in front.
No sound of roaring waters, nor wind, nor thunder, nor of these combined, ever equaled the tremendous uproar and no command, no order, no sound of voice, could be heard at all above the ceaseless din of thousands of shrieking shot and shell falling thick and fast on every side and bursting with terrific explosions while others by thousands came bounding , skipping, racing, and closing each other over the hill and down the slope, hissing scoffing, splitting, and moaning like relentless demons as they dashed through the detachments and went onward to crash among the reserves far back in the rear. The bursting shell in mid-heaven or upon the earth scattered death wherever its fragments flew, and the shrill shot over head or bounding madly across the field would both alike dip through a line or prostrate men and tear away with a wail to the rear, leaving a wide track of blood behind. The air was filled with clouds of dust and volumes of sulfureous suffocating smoke rolled up white and bluish gray like frightful storm clouds, and hung like a pall over the field, through the rifts and rents of which the sun with dim light looked down upon the ghastly scene.
After two hours the firing suddenly ceased and silence again rested for half an hour over the battlefield, during which time the Confederates were rapidly forming an attacking column just below the brow of Seminary Ridge. Long double lines of infantry came pouring out of the woods and bottoms, across ravines and little valleys, hurrying an to the positions assigned them in the columns. Two separate lines of double ranks were formed a line a hundred yards apart, and in the centre of the column was placed the di- vision of Pickett, said to be the flower of Lee's army - 4,48l privates, 244 company officers, 32 field officers and our general officers, making 4,761 all told. In the front line was placed Kemper and Garrnett's Brigades side by side, covered with Armistead's Brigade in the second line.
The column of attack, composed of Wilcox's Brigade, Pickett's and Heath's Divisions and several other commands, detached for this duty, has been variously estimated, but probably numbered, about 13,000 troops, the command of the whole line given to General Pickett, a brave and fearless officer and a fit leader of this forlorn hope, thrown forward to retrieve disaster or turn by fierce conflict the waning fortune of a dying cause. Riding out in front, Pickett made a brief, -animated address to the troops, and closed -by saying to his own division: " Charge the enemy and remember old Virginia.'' Then came the command in a strong, clear voice: "Forward. Guide Centre. March" and the column, with a front of more than half a mile, moved grandly up the slope. Meade's guns opened upon the column as it appeared above the crest, of the ridge, but it neither paused nor faltered. Round shot, bounding along the plain, tore through their ranks and ricochetted around them; shells exploding incessantly in blinding, dazzling flashes before them, behind them, over head and among them. Frightful gaps were made from centre to flank, yet on swept the column, and as it advanced the men steadily closed up the wide rents made along the line in a hundred places at every discharge of the murderous batteries in front. A long line of skirmishers, prostrate in the tall grass, firing at the column since it came within view, rose up within fifty yards, fired a volley into its front, then trotted on before it, turning and firing back as fast as they could reload. The column moved on at a quick time with shouldered arms, and the fire of the skirmish line was not returned. Half way over the field an order ran down the line, " left oblique," which was promptly obeyed, and the direction is changed forty-five degrees from the front to the left. Men looking away, far off toward the left flank saw that the supporting column there were crumbling and melting rapidly away. General Pickett sent his brother, Major Charles Pickett, galloping swiftly to rally if possible, the wavering line, saying to him: " Unless they support us on the left, my division will be cut to pieces." Major Pickett and other officers rode among the breaking battalions and vainly attempted to restore order, but hundreds and thousands of fugitives from the front could be seen fleeing from the field went running pell-mell toward the rear like dry leaves before, a gale Order was not restored on the left and support there was gone excepting some brave Tennesseeans and North Carolinians who never wavered in the storm, but closing up by the side of Pickett's Virginians went as far, fought as long, bled as freely and fell as thick as thick as Pickett's men.
The command now came along the line, "Front forward!" and the column resumed its direction straight down upon the centre of the army's position. Some men now looking to the right saw- that the troops there had entirely disappeared, but how or when they left was no known. The enemy, in front, Occupying an elevated position and watching closely every movement of the advancing columns, say " the right gave way first, then the left broke up and fled the field, but the massive centre, composed of Pickett's veterans of iron nerve, wounded in scores of battles, were coming sternly, on." Gun! hitherto employed in firing at the troops on the right and left sent a shower of shells after the fleeing fugitives, and then trained upon the centre where the storm burst in tenfold fury as converting batteries sent concentrated fire of shot and shell in, through and around the heroic column. The destruction of life in the ranks of that advancing host was fearful beyond precedent, officers going down by dozens and the men by scores and fifties. Kemper has gone down terribly mangled, but Garnett still towered unhurt, and rode up and down the front line saying in a strong, calm voice: "Faster, men! faster! Close up and step out faster, but don't double quick !" The column was approaching the Emmetsburg road, where a line of infantry, stationed behind a stone fence , was pouring in a heavy fire of musketry. A scattering fire was opened along the front of the division upon this line, when Garnett galloped along the line and called out: " Cease firing," and his command was promptly obeyed, showing the wonderful discipline of the men, who reloaded their guns. shouldered arms and kept on without slackening their pace, which was still a "quick step."
The stone fence was carried without a struggle, the infantry and the skirmish line swept away before the division like trash before the broom. Two-thirds of the distance was behind and the one hundred cannon in the rear were dumb and did not reply to the hotly worked guns in our front. We were now four hundred yards from the foot of Cemetery Hill, when away off to the right, nearly half a mile, there appeared in the open field a line of then at right angles with our own, a long, dark mass, dressed in blue, and coming down at a "double quick" upon the unprotected right flank of Pickett's men. with their musket's upon the right shoulder shift," their battle flags dancing and fluttering in the breeze created by their own rapid motion, and their burnished bayonets glistening above their heads like forest twigs covered with sheets of sparkling ice when shaken by a blast. Garnett galloped along the line saying: "Faster, men! faster!" and the front line broke forward into a double quick, when Garnett called out: "Steady, men! steady ! Don't double quick. Save your wind and your ammunition for the final charge!" and then went, down among the dead, and his clarion voice was no more heard above the roar of battle. The enemy were now seen strengthening their lines where the blow was expected to strike by hurrying up reserves from the right and left the columns from the opposite directions passing each other double along our front like the fingers of a, man's two hands locking together. The distance had again shortened and officers in the enemy's lines could be distinguished by their uniforms from the privates. Then was heard behind that heavy thud of a muffled tread of armed men that roar and rush of tramping feet as Armistead's column from the rear closed up behind the front line and he (the last brigadier) took command, stepped out in iron, his hat uplifted on the point of his sword and led the division, now four ranks deeply, rapidly and grandly across that valley of death, covered with clover as soft as a Turkish carpet.
There it was again! and again! A sound filling the air above, below, around us, like the blast through the top of a dry cedar or the whirring sound made by the sudden flight of a flock of quail. It was grape and canister, and the column broke forward into a double quick and rushed toward the stone wall where forty cannons were belching. forth grape and canister twice and thrice a minute. A hundred yards from the stone wall the flanking party on the right, coming down on a heavy run, halted suddenly within fifty yards and poured a deadly storm of musket balls into Pickett's men, double quicking across their front, and under this terrible cross fire the men reeled and staggered Between fallen comrades and the right came pressing down upon the centre, crowding the companies into confusion. But all knew the purpose to carry the heights in front, and the mingled mass, from fifteen to thirty deep, rushed toward the stone wall, while a few hundred men, without orders, faced to the right and fought the flanking party there, although fifty to one, and for a time held them at bay. Muskets were seen crossed as some men fired to the right and others to the front and the fighting was terrific- far beyond all other experience even of Pickett's men, who for once raised no cheer, while the walking rang around them with the "Union triple huzza," The old veterans saw the fearful odds against them and other hosts gathering darker and deeper still.
The time was too precious, too serious for a cheer; they buckled down to the heavy task in silence, and fought with feeling like despair. The enemy were failing back in front, while officers were seen among their breaking lines striving to maintain their ground. Pickett's men were within a few feet of the stone wall when the artillery delivered their last fire from guns abetted to the muzzle-a blaze fifty feet long went through the charging, surging host with a gaping rent to the rear, but the survivors mounted the wall, then over and onward, rushed up the hill close after the gunners, who waved their rammers in the face of Pickett's men and sent up cheer after clear as they felt admiration for the gallant charge. On swept the column over ground covered with dead and dying men, where the earth seemed to be on fire, the smoke dense and suffocating, the sun shut out, flames blazing on every side, friend could hardly be distinguished from foe, but the division, in the shape of an inverted V with the point flattened, pushed forward, fighting, flailing and melting away, till half way up the hill they were met by a powerful body of fresh troops charging down upon them, and this remnant of about a thousand men was hurled back out into that clover field. Brave Armistead was down among the enemy's guns, mortally wounded, but was last seen leaning upon one elbow, slashing at the gunners to prevent them from firing at his retreating men. Out in front of the breastworks the men showed disposition to reform for another charge and an officer looking .- at the frowning-heights, with blood trickling down the side of his face, inquired of another, " What shall we do ?" The answer was, " If we get reinforcements soon we can take that hill yet." But no reinforcements came, none were in sent, and about a thousand men fled to the rear over dead and wounded, mangled. groaning, dying men, scattered thick, far and wide, while shot and shall tore on be earth, and minnie balls flew around them for more than a thousand yards.
Colonel Fremantle says: " General Lee rode among Pickett's men after the repulse and with a few kindly words rallied the broken troops, and that lie saw many men with an empty sleeve seize a musket and turn readily into line; that there was less noise and confusion than on an ordinary review." Here are the facts of this rally of Pickcett's Division. An attempt was made on the brow of Cemetery Hill in front of the Confederate batteries, by a couple of officers to rally the fugitives, but the effort (under a heavy cross fire from both sides now) failed, and then commenced a rout that soon increased to a stampede and almost demoralization of all the survivors of this noted charge without distinction of regiments or commands.
A few hundred yards behind the Confederate batteries there is a ravine along which runs a country road that makes one place an abrupt angle angle by turning or to the left. At this point there is a bluff on one side and a slight swamp On the other, creating a narrow pass. through which the fugitives, without distinction of officers and privates side by side, pushed, poured and rushed in a continuous stream, throwing away guns, blankets and haversacks as they hurried on in confusion toward the rear. Here another attempt was made to rally the troops and all kinds of appeals and threats made by officers and men who turned a deaf ear and hurried on to the rear, some of the officers even jerking loose with an oath from the hand on their shoulders to attract attention. At last a few privates Hearkening to the appeal halted and formed a nucleus around which about thirty others soon rallied. And with these a picket was formed across the road as a barrier to further retreat and the stream of stragglers damned up several hundred strong.
General Pickett came down from the direction of the battlefield weeping bitterly, and said to the officer command the picket: "Don't stop any of my men. Tell them to come to the camp we occupied list night;" and passed on himself alone toward the rear. Other officers passed by but the picket was retained at this point until l Major Charles Marshall came galloping up from the rear and inquired "what this guard was for and who placed it here;" and finding the officer without orders, he moved the picket back a few hundred yards and extended the line along the stream or little creek found there. Here the guard did duty until sundown, arresting all stragglers from the battlefield, and Colonel Marshall took them back to General Lee. The fugitives were formed into squads and Colonel Mar- shall took them forward himself, with no other help, to where General Lee was on the field, and it was to these men that Colonel Freemantle heard General Lee address his kindly words, but none of them had empty sleeves as all the wounded were allowed to pass to the rear. When Colonel Marshall first came up to the picket across the road he had come from a point still farther in rear, where he had been sent by General Lee to rally the stragglers, if possible, and failing to do so was returning to report to General Lee. Colonel Marshall came down several times before sundown After the stragglers collected by the picket and carried up to the field, probably a total of four or five hundred men during the evening.
The Comte de Paris makes a mistake in estimating the strength of Picket's Division at Gettysburg at 5,500, as he includes Corse's Brigade, which had been left behind in Virginia, and was not with Picket in this campaign. The total loss in the battle is given by Colonel Harrison, A. and I. General of the Division as 3,393. Generals Armistead and Garnet were killed and Kemper wounded and captured. Colonels Hodges, Edmonds, Magruder, Williams, Patton, Allen, Owens and Stuart were killed, and Colonels Hunton, Mayo, Terry, Gantt and Aylett were wounded. Three lieutenant colonels were killed - Calcott, Wade and Ellis. Seven lieutenant colonels were wounded - Swindler, Otey, Berkley N., Cannyton, White, Whittle and Martin. Of nine majors, one was killed, seven wounded and one escaped unhurt, being the only field officer left out of thirty-two that went into the battle. The Eighth Virginia Regiment went into battle with 173 privates and lost 137, leaving 1 captain and 16 privates. The Eighteenth Regiment carried in 281 privates and 28 commissioned officers and lost 246 privates and 26 commissioned officers.