A VIEW FROM LITTLE ROUND TOP DURING THE
PROGRESS OF THE BATTLE.
By William H. Brown,
Formerly of the Forth-fourth New York Infantry,
Third Brigade, First Division, Fifth Corps.
The writer desires to narrate, as far as memory serves him, his experience on Gettysburg
battlefield during the 2d, 3d and 4th days of July, 1863. I presume that no battle in modern times
has been more thoroughly and carefully written about, but I am persuaded that such additional
testimony as I shall offer may not be amiss. After the battle of Chancellorsville there was
evidence that we were on the point of making an important movement. It came with weary
marches. There was nothing of importance in the tramp through Virginia except the severe
engagement at Aldie. Fording the Potomac at Edward's Ferry we arrived in Maryland, marching
through a beautiful portion of that state. On every side were evidences of the thrift of the people.
Their well-tilled lands seemed to be in peace. The farmers were in meadow and upland gathering
the grain. Frequently they would pause in their labors to see us trudge by, no doubt wondering
where so many soldiers were bound. All through Maryland we were hospitably received and in
one instance, in passing a farmer's house, a long table was set out where we were given clear cold
water and sweet milk to drink. Our efforts were increased when we learned that Lee was ahead
of us and eagerness to press on and meet the enemy was shown on every face. We had seen
nearly two years' service with McClellan and had followed the fortunes of the Army of the
Potomac in its previous campaigns. The men had acquired discipline and courage and had
realized the stern duties of a soldier's life by hard service in the field.
THE MARCH TO LITTLE ROUND TOP.
On the 30th of June our marching qualities were put to a severe test. Starting in the early
morning we made about thirty-two miles that day. It was dry, dusty and sultry. The heat was
terrible, but all seemed to bear the burden wonderfully well. That evening we arrived near
Hanover, Pa. On the 1st of July, having rested a few hours, we resumed our march. We saw the
first evidence of the appearance of the enemy near Hanover. In a corner of a fence was a fine
horse which had been shot by the Confederates, but which was not dead. All that afternoon we
heard many rumors and the sound of distant artillery. News reached us that a severe battle was
raging along Cemetery Hill and in the streets of Gettysburg, that Gettysburg had been captured
and that our men had been compelled to fall back before superior numbers. All was excitement
and the men were eager to push on, being then about fourteen miles from Gettysburg. Orders to
fall in were promptly obeyed. During the evening we arrived near Gettysburg. Resting a few
hours through the night, we were suppled with extra rounds of ammunition and at daylight on the
morning of the 2d we again started and came in upon the Baltimore pike to the left of Little
Round Top. In an open field there formation in line of battle was going on. It was very evident
that we should soon have an opportunity to meet again the soldiers of the Army of Virginia.
Orders were given to move forward. In passing through a strip of woods we arrived upon the
crest of Little Round Top. Then from its summit a magnificent view of the field was obtained.
ON LITTLE ROUND TOP.
Our line had scarcely been formed on the slope, about one-third of the way down, when we were
surprised to see enemy advancing in line of battle across the open field in front. They charged up
the little valley with a rush and a yell that put the veterans of the Fifth Corps on their mettle. But
the men stood as firm as the granite boulders which were thickly strewn around. A view of the
battle from this point was grand. It will ever live in my heart as being one of the most stirring
sights I witnessed during the war. It was here that our regiment lost some of its bravest and best
men. Nearly one-half of our number were killed or wounded. Captain Hazlett's Battery was
stationed on the crest of Little Round Top, our position being one-third of the way down the
slope. This battery did terrible havoc among the enemy as it swept the open field in our front.
Our position was such that we were between two fires, the enemy in our front and the battery
over us on the crest of the hill. The gallant Hazlett was killed at his work. Our beloved brigade
commander, General Vincent, was mortally wounded and died in a few days. I fired over one
hundred rounds that afternoon. One of the men turning to me, asked me what was the matter
with my face. I put my hand to my face and the blood came running off my hand. I did not
realize that I had received a slight wound until then, so great was the excitement. The wound
was, I believe, from a fragment of a shell. There as a lull in the fierce storm for a few moments
after this assault, which was made by Hood's Division, of Longstreet's Corps.
A DESPERATE ASSAULT.
After the repulse of Hood's Division it retired into a belt of woods to our right. One of our batteries began shelling these woods at a comparatively short range, stirring the Southerners up and making it uncomfortably warm for them. They determined to charge and capture the battery. It was about 7 o'clock in the evening. The battery was stationed on an eminence to our right. Presently our attention was directed to a line of battle in formation in front of the woods in the open field. The markers were placed in position and the line formed in a cool and deliberate way under a galling fire. But a few moments were consumed in the preparation. Then the advance began. The general commanding took of his coat, and swinging it over his head, he ran directly in the rear of the line as fast as he could go from one end of it to the other, pushing and urging his men right up to the very mouth of the cannon. The battery was dealing death and destruction every moment, but on they came with a rush in the very face and teeth of our men on the slope of the hill. All eyes were directed to the charging column. It was met by a terrible fire from the infantry along the line. All at once the line seemed to waver and its commander disappeared instantly. The assailants reached the battery and seemed to capture it, but a brigade to our right, swinging around, charged them gallantly on their flank. They broke up the column and captured about one thousand five hundred prisoners and brought in seven battle-flags, mostly of Alabama and Mississippi regiments. It was a glorious sight to see these brave men in that desperate charge. Though nearly twenty years have passed since that eventful day the sight of it made such an indelible impression on my memory that whenever the incident is recalled I see it over and over again in detail as vividly as though it occurred yesterday.
This second contest ended the memorable 2d of July. It was not known during the battle and
after who led the charge. It was more than eighteen years before I learned the name of its leader.
At the annual encampment of the Grand Army at Gettysburg in July, 1881, standing on the crest
of Little Round Top listening to the details of a lecture, I requested the name of this general. The
lecturer, looking over his notes, gave me the name of General Semmes, a brother of Captain
Semmes, of the famous cruiser Alabama.
THE DEVIL'S DEN.
Many incidents were connected with the Devil's Den. That peculiar place is a portion of the field
off towards the left and beyond the ridge, up through a narrow valley at the foot of Round Top.
At that spot desperate means were resorted to by the enemy when Laws, and Robertson's
Brigades, of Hood's Division, of Longstreet's Corps, advanced to attack Vincent's Brigade. It is a
kind of fortress within itself, consisting of a large cavity on the rock. Hiding therein a number of
the enemy did terrible execution, picking off many of our men. It is believed that Captain Hazlett
was killed from that point. The heads of any of our men exposed from our position would
certainly bring their fire. During the afternoon one of our guns on Little Round Top sent a shell
crashing into this stronghold. It exploded with fearful effect. From that time until dark we were
not troubled much from that quarter.
THE NIGHT OF THE SECOND.
Captain Hazlett's name is cut into living rock where he fell on Little Round Top summit. His men
had dragged the guns to the crest and the battery had played havoc with the enemy's ranks for
many a minute. Two of the guns may now be seen on the hill, they have been placed there after
the war. When we learned that Hazlett had been killed there was some depression of spirits and
we felt that we must be very careful. All through the watchful hours of that night we could hear
the cries of the wounded Confederates pleading in the name of mercy for a drink of water. We
could not assist them, as they appeared to be between the two lines of battle. When their cries
became fainter we knew that their lives were fast passing away. We held our position all through
the night and all of the next day, the 3d. We could hear the roar of artillery over towards the
town, where Hancock was engaged in a life and death struggle at the memorable stone wall. We
were soon cheered by learning of Longstreet's terrible defeat. The news extended all along our
line until it reached the extreme left, where men broke out in great applause. Hope began to
spring up within us and we felt that the tide of battle was in our favor.
SIGHTS ON THE FIELD.
All was quiet in our front on the morning of the 4th and we were soon gratified to learn that the enemy had disappeared and was retreating towards the Potomac. A few hours after sunrise I started to go over the field and what a dreadful sight it was! I seemed that I was in the very midst of Golgotha itself. Where the battery was stationed I saw evidence of the terrible charge. The ground was nearly covered with the bodies of horses and men. Going further on, a short distance in front of where the battery stood, I came across the body of a man. His coat was off and being partially rolled up served as a pillow under his head. I promptly examined the body carefully. Seeing where a pool of blood had formed under the leg I discovered that the leg was nearly separated from the body. Pulling aside the cloth of his trouser above the knee, I saw a large hole through the leg made by a grape or cannister shot from the battery. He must have bled to death in a few minutes. In examining his coat I found a general's star on the shoulder straps. I have regretted many times since that I did not secure those stars as a relic of the battle-field. I could not help admiring the wonderful bravery displayed in his desperate charge. The dead general was Semmes.
All the rest of the day was spent in reforming the shattered ranks. Early on the morning of the 5th we moved out in line of battle and followed the retreating foe.