From the Philadelphia Times, Saturday, March 17, ????



True Battle-field Romance


Gettysburg Episodes That Seem the More Strange as the Years Pass.


By J. A. Walker,

Formerly of the Forty-fifth Georgia Infantry.


It is not within the power of the writer to add anything to the material history of the battle of Gettysburg. His line of duty on that occasion was narrowed down to the limits of a platoon of infantry, and his observations extended only to such scenes as happened within the sight of a company of the line. Every fact necessary to a proper understanding of that memorable contest has been fairly recorded, friend and foe alike agreeing to all essential statements. They are alike agreed that American manhood was ably illustrated by the valor and skill displayed on each side. But the mountains and hills would be bleak and bare had they no shrubbery to deck them; the giant oak would stand unfinished and rugged had it no foliage to soften its outline and round its form. Battles are fought in an hour that requires months to plan and which require longer, perhaps, to improve upon or atone for. The heroes have ample facilities and opportunities to have their exploits (in) July heralded to the world, and even the conquered goes not without his meal of praise. It is the private soldier and his brother in obscurity, the officer of the line, whose praises are unsung. The hour usually given up to the exultation of the victor or to the distress of the defeated I propose to devote to a few nearly forgotten incidents which occurred behind the lines. The writer was lieutenant of infantry and was present from the opening to the closing of the engagement.


It is a familiar fact to all who knew anything of this battle that the military division commanded by Major General Pender, of the Confederate Army, was confined in its operations to that part of the field contiguous to and embracing Seminary ridge, and to come to my tale at once we will suppose the first day's fighting to be over and this division to be resting from its labors on the crest of this ridge. I had witnessed the entire day's work from the opening fire at Herr's Tavern to the occupation of this line, but could see and know nothing more than a private in the ranks. At a late hour in the afternoon of July 1 my command was lying in a dense tract of woods immediately overlooking the valley in which Bliss' barn was burned, supporting the artillery of Pegram. The firing had ceased and those in authority were caucusing for the work of to-morrow. The writer was ordered to take a platoon of men and go over the field in rear for the purpose of burying the dead and caring for the wounded. In the rapidity and confusion of the day's work the dead and wounded were left much as they fell. A visit to this spot in 1880 refreshed my memory and enables me now to say that then fields gone over then are now intersected by the road leading from the village out to the hotel of the Katalysine Springs, discovered near Willoughby Run. It was across these fields that my duty called me late in the evening of July 1, 1863. It will be remembered that the brigades of McGowan, Scales, Thomas and others were engaged here. They passed over Willoughby Run from Herr's Tavern, through the grove of woods now near and belonging to the hotel property.


I first came upon the ground fought over by McGowan's South Carolina troops. Many of his dead were still unburied and a few wounded sitting about the fence corners. My first subject for burial was a young man of perhaps thirty years, who did not die suddenly. There was evidence of a struggle, and the torn fragments of letters lying around showed he had a secret that he wished to die with him. But the broken pieces of an old-fashioned daguerreotype lying by his side gave me curiosity to learn his name. I tore open the old frame that held the picture he destroyed and found written on the pink paper inside my own family name, that of a young lady living in Warrenton, S.C. Only her name and address, written in a feminine hand. I took the paper out and placed it in my pocket-book, burying the dead soldier where he lay. On my return to Virginia I wrote the young lady, inclosing the slip of paper and describing the body. She replied in due time, giving me the sad information of her betrothal to the young man. It was her photograph he had destroyed.


We continued our labors of burying the dead, going in the direction of "Reynolds' Woods," as the grove is now called. Our next was that of a Federal cavalryman, apparently dead, and who was wearing an elegant pair of boots. The guard under my command were scattered over a half mile of territory. I noticed a party of three or four assembled around this cavalryman, apparently undecided as to what to do. I soon learned that they were debating whether or not they should take the boots or bury them with him. At the moment of my joining the squad they were disputing over the spoils, when the matter was brought to a close by the dead cavalryman himself. He had heard what was said, and in a sepulchral voice asked that he be allowed decent burial with his boots on. As he had to all appearances risen from the dead his request was unanimously granted. We sent him comfortably to the hospital and hope he is alive today.


Our next work revealed to us a sight, if possible, more touching than anything war gives to us, the death of a little boy. He was dressed in the full uniform of a cavalryman, and as he lay he was a dethroned statue of Apollo. Beautiful as a young god, with a face white and clear as a girl's, his right hand resting peacefully across his breast and his left holding his cap. I found nothing to indicate his name, but think he was of the Seventh Michigan troops. He was not over fifteen years old and had evidently died as he fell. Perhaps some one who reads these lines may recall the lad. We buried him in a manner presently described.

Our attention was then directed to a white handkerchief suspended over the face of a dead man. We approached to find that in the hour of his death some kind friend had fastened this handkerchief to a few straws, which kept the sun from burning his face, and his death had been so calmly he had not broken down the frail canopy. He was from Charleston, S.C., and bore the rank of a captain, but his name was nowhere to be found.


We buried a great many in this field and about sundown came to the corner of the Reynolds woods, where General Reynolds had been killed that day. I rested for awhile on this fence, very near the corner where it turns toward Herr's Tavern. If you will permit the digression I will add that exactly seventeen years to a minute afterwards I was sitting on that same rail, a visitor to the Katalysine Springs, July 1, 1880. While thus seated in 1880 and old man from Maine came walking up from the springs through this grove, which is a favorite resort for the visitors to thefield. After taking a look at the board nailed to the oak he seated himself beside me on the same rail. I began a desultory conversation on matters and things in general, asking him if he saw just in front of him a depression in the ground as if an old grave. He noticed it and asked the cause of my query. I told him that I had dug the hole seventeen years before when a Confederate soldier , and had buried seven men in it. He answered not a word, but quietly got off the rail and without looking back went to his room. It is possible he may have thought it a grim joke, but it was, nevertheless, true.


Resuming the date of 1863 I will add that at this point of woods had been a fiercely contested battle. General Reynolds, whose statue is in the National Cemetery here, was killed under this large oak. Many of General Archer's Tennesseans were captured in this woods and the trees to-day give evidence of war in their shattered limbs and perforated trunks. I found seven Michigan cavalrymen here and buried them, wrapping each one in a blanket. In one grave I put two of the larger men and between them placed the little boy before spoken of. There I left them and grieved in my soul that war should demand such tribute. The impression of that grave can be seen to-day, though the bodies were all taken up soon after and buried in the cemetery near Gettysburg. It was now night and I could no longer see to work. Very near this place is a small farm house, owned at present by the company who owned this watering place. It is a few hundred yards north of the "Reynolds" oak. This farm house was the scene of one of the bloodiest battles of the war. Take and retaken, riddled by bullets, filled with dead and dying, the very cows and horses shot down by stray bullets, and yet not materially damaged. Seeing a light in it I went to see if my services were needed. I found it filled with Federal dead and wounded. I made known my business to them, when they informed me of their having been already captured and left to be treated for their wounds. Physicians from both armies were in attendance, and finding my services not needed I started for the door. In one corner of the room sat a common pine table, used by the family for a dining table.


On this table, sitting upright against the wall, was a Federal major, William or George Chamberlain, of the One Hundred and Forty-eighth, One Hundred and Forty-ninth or One Hundred and Fiftieth Pennsylvania Regiment, exact number forgotten. He signaled me to come to him, when he introduced himself and began a conversation. He had known several Georgians at school and inquired of them. Opening his shirt front he exposed to my view a ghastly wound through his breast, the ball, I think, coming out at his back, but he had no idea of giving up the ghost. I consoled him the best I could, but feeling inwardly that he would never see another day. His appetite showed no signs of an early dissolution, and dividing my biscuits with him bid him good-bye. I heard in 1865, when in Philadelphia, that he recovered from his terrible wound and rejoined his regiment. If this should reach his eye he will accept a handshake. Coupled with the mystery of his miraculous escape from the terrible wound is the equally miraculous digestion of those old biscuits.


My labors were now over and as it was near midnight I bivouacked my men in the yard, spreading down our blankets along the ground near the pike and where the fence now stands. Sleep was out of the question to me, and while the men were snoring soundly I was left alone in my meditations. With my face upturned to the sky and looking at the stars, it fell to the lot of a little calf to speak mor eloquently than all the rest of the war's sacrifices. The mother of the little dumb beast was killed by a stray shot during the day. Evidently a pet of the household, it wandered about during the whole of the night, bleating and moaning piteously for its fate. There was not a sound on the earth except the weary stepping of its tired limbs, and when it came over to where I was lying and touched its cold nose to my hand I felt it was indeed a cruel fate that demanded of the brute sucking its share of trouble. During my visit to these scenes in 1880 I received at the hand of Colonel Bachelder many courtesies and from the officers and men of the Grand Army during their encampment very flattering attentions, to whom, one and all, I make my best acknowledgments.

COLUMBUS, Ga., 1882.