A CLAIM FOR HETH'S MEN
BY J. H. MOORE, Formerly of Co. B, Seventh Tenn. Infantry, A. N. V.
Eye Witnesses have given their version, extolling the daring and the cool courage displayed on this occasion, and in unmeasured terms have praised the devotion of those who marched unwaveringly to almost certain death, yet the chief participants and those who have suffered most heavily are never mentioned. To show that this is the case I address myself to the inquiry: Who made the charge commonly accredited to Pickett's Division? General Heth's Division, formerly a part of A. P. Hill's Division of the "Stonewall" Corps, then of Hill's Corps, was the division that bore the "heat and burden of that day," or as much of it as any other. I apprehend that no suspicion can arise as to the truth of this statement except from the lapse of time, still I have no fears as to a statute of limitations so long as a single field officer of the Confederate army survives. Heth's Division, composed of Archer's Tennessee Brigade (consisting of the First, Seventh and Fourteenth Tennessee Regiments, the Thirteenth Alabama Regiment and Fifth Alabama Battalion), Pettigrew's North Carolina, Davis' Mississippi and Brockenborough's Virginia Brigades, about seven thousand men, crossed the Potomac all in excellent condition, both as to discipline and equipment, and followed the general march of Hill's Corps.
On the night of the 29th of June we reached the village of Cashtown, about eight miles from Gettysburg, where we remained all of the 30th. We had no cavalry and were ordered on the morning of the 30th to move to the right in the direction of Gettysburg, with about forty men, a distance of about three miles, to picket the road leading from Cashtown west. Here about midday I observed some Federal cavalry ride to the top of an eminence, and after reconnoitering they retired. This was the first appearance of an enemy yet seen by any of Hill's Corps. These appeared to be scouts and not of any regular command at least they did not come in any force. As they retired I sent a man back to report to General Archer; I remained with my command for the rest of the day and night. On the morning of July 1, shortly after daybreak, I again observed the appearance of cavalry on the same eminence, but this time in force, and was about the report the same when I received an order to regain my regiment, as the division was to proceed to Gettysburg. Our corps, as well as the whole of Lee's army, was without cavalry, and, as every soldier knows, we were liable, unawares, to encounter the enemy.
When I rejoined my brigade I found Heth's Division proceeding on its way to Gettysburg to get "those shoes." On this shoe expedition to Gettysburg, Archer's Brigade was in the advance, and nothing unusual occurred on our march until we got within about a miles and a half of the town. Then we were discovered by the Federal pickets, and the Fifth Alabama Battalion was deployed as skirmishers on the right of the Emmitsburg [sic] turnpike. Archer's Brigade formed in line of battle in their rear on the right of the road, and Davis' Mississippi Brigade on the left of the road. In this order we advanced some half a mile, our skirmishers pressing the pickets back, when the enemy appeared in force. At this juncture we halted and our artillery came up, and shortly before 12 o'clock we reinforced the skirmishers, our artillery opened and the battle of Gettysburg was begun by Archer's Tennessee Brigade striking a part of General Reynolds' Corps. Our left was driving the enemy successfully, but in a few minutes we could plainly see that a division from Reynolds' Corps was about to completely envelop our right, and our line was forced to retire with considerable loss, including our Brigadier Archer, who was taken prisoner. This was the beginning of the Gettysburg conflict, and the first man killed on the Confederate side was Henry Rison, Company B, Seventh Tennessee Regiment, who fell on the skirmish line as the advance began.
The enemy swung round to the right in force and his flank movement was concealed by a strip of woods near our extreme right. Our right centre was in an open field and our left, near the road, was in a wood. Our brigade fell back hastily to a ravine upon ground rising in front and in rear. Then we reformed again, when Pettigrew's and Brockenborough's Brigades came up and formed in position on the right of the road. Our division advanced, but shortly after we commenced to move forward the appearance of cavalry on our right caused an order to be made for Archer's Brigade to move to the right, where we formed in line of battle, with our right retired nearly at right angles to the advancing column, in the edge of a small wood to protect our flank. As we stood there waiting the attack of cavalry we were in easy range of the enemy's artillery, and he improved the opportunity by causing us much annoyance. From this point the movements of the rest of the division could be easily discovered. Our division drove the enemy back, and he, being reinforced, awaited a second charge, which he was unable to resist. He was finally pushed through and beyond the town of Gettysburg. Heth's Division, in this first attack, was supported by Pender's Division, but in the second charge, Ruder rushed up with Heth's.
This briefly constituted the first day's fight at Gettysburg, as far as our corps was concerned, and, compared with the fearful destruction of life that occurred subsequently, was an insignificant affair, yet in reality it was a most desperate conflict. The two attacks were made with great sacrifice of life, and the approach to the town was stubbornly contested; neither party was aware of the strength of the other, and each underestimated the force of his opponent. Major General Heth, writing in 1877, in the Southern Historical Society Papers in regard to the first day's fight, says:
General Rhodes, commanding a division of Ewell's Corps, en route to Cashtown, was following a road running north of Gettysburg. Rhodes hearing the firing at Gettysburg faced by the left flank and approached the town. He soon became heavily engaged and seeing this I sought for and found General Lee, saying to the General: "Rhodes is very heavily engaged; had I not better attack?" General Lee replied: "No, I am not prepared to bring on a general engagement to-day. Longstreet is not up." Returning to my division I soon discovered that the enemy were moving troops from my front and pushing them against Rhodes. I reported this fact to General Lee and again requested to be permitted to attack. Permission was given. My division, some seven thousand muskets strong, advanced. I found in my front a heavy skirmish line and two lines of battle. My division swept over these without halting. My loss was severe. In twenty-five minutes I lost twenty-seven hundred men killed and wounded. The last I saw or remember of this day's fight was seeing the enemy in my front completely and utterly routed and my division in hot pursuit. I was then shot and rendered insensible for some hours.
The report of the enemy in force at Gettysburg was the first intimation Lee had of the Federals striking their tents at Middleburg, distance about thirty miles. Be this as it may the above quotations plainly show that the beginning of this battle was accidental and also that the struggle of the first day even was a fierce affair. At least, from my point of observation, I was unable to see any one on our side who had the leisure or inclination to get "those shoes." Although we had driven the enemy from his position and pressed him through and beyond the town, for some cause not known by me we bivouacked near the ground we had occupied early in the day. The battle of the first day resulted in a victory for the Confederates, with the Federals driven from their position and beyond the town, having lost heavily in killed and wounded, as well as five thousand prisoners. The struggle for victory was not confined to the centre, for a part of Ewell's Corps met the Federals north of Gettysburg and after alternate success and repulse dislodged them from their position, capturing many prisoners. But the scene in this part of the field has been so often pictured that it wold now be a tiresome repetition for me to again rehearse it.
The second day opened a serene and beautiful July morning. At daybreak the smouldering camp-fires sent up here and there sluggishly ascending smoke; the peaceful-looking farm houses, bespeaking thrift and industry, dotted the surrounding country, whose occupants, as well as the vast armies surrounding them, were little aware of the impending destruction of life and property. As soon as dawn came Hill's Corps, forming Lee's centre, was in line of battle, with Heth's Division in reserve posted on a slightly elevated point about two hundred yards from Willoughby run, about the centre of our army, a position that afforded an unobstructed view of the action of Longstreet's Corps, and within hearing of Ewell. Here we remained all day, ready and expecting at any moment to be ordered to assault the enemy in our front or to advance to the support of Longstreet or Ewell. We witnessed the magnificent fighting of Longstreet's Corps and gazed with amazement upon the destruction belched forth by the artillery on and around Little Round Top. It bristled with cannon and at times seemed to be ablaze. From where we were stationed we could hardly realize that so many field pieces could be placed and operated on so small a space.
Lee has now tested the strength of Meade on the right and left, with results familiar to all. The centre yet remained to attack, to decide the fortunes of the invading campaign. On the morning of the 3d the contending armies were face to face, each occupying one of the two elevated and nearly parallel ridges. The space between was undulating and consisted chiefly of fields in cultivation, inclosed with plank and rail fences. The Federals occupied the crest of the ridge with their right centre projecting to the Emmitsburg road, nearly if not quite a mile south of Gettysburg, on what is known as Cemetery Hill. Heth's Division, now commanded by General Pettigrew, was ordered to report to General Longstreet, and about 10 A. M. We formed upon the left of Pickett's Division, with orders to rest at ease in line of battle. These two divisions were selected to make the assault upon Cemetery Hill and by brigades were formed in the following order: On the extreme right, Kemper; next, on his left, Garnett; these two of Pickett's Division. On the left of Garnett was formed Heth's Division in the following order: Archer's Tennessee Brigade, command by Colonel Frye; on the right and next, Pettigrew's North Carolina Brigade, and then Davis' Mississippi Brigade, and on the extreme left Brockenborough's Virginia Brigade. Pickett's two brigades were supported by Armistead's Brigade and Pickett's and Wilcox's Brigade of Anderson's Division. Heth's Division was supported by Lane and Scales' Brigade of Pender's Division, commanded by General Trimble.
A sentiment that is common to men and even stronger in the soldier justifies the opinion that they who have periled their lives in praiseworthy and hazardous undertakings may with propriety insist upon a recognition of their services and, sharing in this opinion, we who faced what plainly appeared on Cemetery Hill to be almost certain death remember with pride and gratitude that in the most destructive shock of battle Heth's Division acquitted itself in a worthy manner. With our four brigades in the front rank and with a greater number engaged and with a greater loss of those engaged than any other division, we do claim, it seems to me with reason, that the memorable charge can with more propriety be dominated Heth's or Pettigrew's, rather than Pickett's, who had but two brigades in front. True it is, General Pickett commanded and his brigades acquitted themselves most gallantly, yet the fact remains that in the generally accepted narrations of that charge the history of that division acting as conspicuously as any other, and that it excelled all others in the number of its men, is either obscurely mentioned or totally ignored. These lines are not prompted by a spirit of fault finding, but rather that inasmuch as the writer and his associates have borne a part in a struggle that promises to become historical, he deems it a laudable desire which seeks to place in the story of that contest material facts that might otherwise be forgotten or overlooked.
Again, some who have written about Gettysburg have placed Heth's Division in support of Pickett, and others have attributed the failure of that assault to the wavering of the supporting line. In view of these diverse descriptions I shall feel amply repaid if I shall succeed in making clear the point that Heth's Division no more supported Pickett than Pickett's supported Heth. It is my belief that Heth's Division was not assigned to support any command. I have before me a map of the battle-field of the third day, prepared by Colonel Batchelder. It places the assaulting troops precisely as I have indicated. By 11 o'clock or perhaps a little earlier, those who were destined to attempt the capture of Cemetery Hill were in line and were in full view of the Federal stronghold ready to obey the command to advance. All seemed to appreciate the danger of the impending carnage. We could distinctly see the formidable line of artillery, distant about one thousand yards. It was more than evident that all realized the danger of the perilous task set before us. Every spot of the intervening ground was surveyed by private and officer in the hope that it might prove advantageous when the impending storm of battle should burst upon us. After we had been formed Lee, Longstreet and Pickett rode together up and down in front of our line several times, at least three times, if not more, observing our assignment, but principally with field glasses, observing the position and movements of the Federals. Seeming to be as yet undetermined what to do, they rode to the rear and engaged in earnest conversation. Then they returned to our front and together rode up and down our line again. This was ominous and showed plainly how hazardous these officers regarded the undertaking.
Our suspense was intense, continuing from about 10 A. M. To 1 P. M., when the signal, two guns of the Washington Artillery, was given. Our artillery, consisting as reported by Colonel E. P. Alexander, commanding the artillery of one hundred and forty pieces immediately in and about our centre and sixty pieces on our right and left, making in all two hundred pieces, then opened and was promptly responded to by what seemed an equal number from the Federals. It appeared as though the solid ground was being shaken to its foundations. The sultry air thickened with the rushing smoke from the cannons' mouth. Amid the incessant booming of artillery the sharp sound of small arms could be distinguished occasionally. The barns and dwelling houses between the two armies were made the targets of the sharpshooters and the artillery of both, each side fearing lest the other should find shelter behind their walls; some were disfigured by the loss of chimneys, some were blazing, while others were pierced by shot and shell from cellar to garret.
"Grim-visaged war" had never before assumed a more hideous face. The skirmishers and sharpshooters were put in these fields and some near the houses. It seemed as though the demons of demolition were turned loose, but no imagination can adequately conceive of the magnitude of this artillery duel. It surpassed the ordinary battery fire as the earthquake or some convulsion of nature surpasses the muttering of an ordinary thunderstorm. As if to heighten the scene of terror and dismay, out from the devoted farm houses rushed old men, women and children. It was unaccountable that they had been neglected by the contending armies, but that they had remained at all after the fighting of the two days previous was still more singular. This is clear fact. I was a witness to the frenzied flight of some of them and Captain Harris, commander of the sharpshooters of Heth's Division, told me that he was forced to order some of the occupants to fly for shelter, and in one house a little stranger was shortly to make his appearance, to be baptized in a storm of shot and shell, the like of which had never before been witnessed on this continent.
The artillery fire was kept up about an hour when our batteries ceased and there seemed to be, as if by mutual consent, a pretty general cessation, especially on the part of the Federals. In this interval of comparative quiet the order was given to advance and the charging column promptly responded. In an instant we reached the crest of the ridge upon which we had formed and we were then in full view and range of the batteries on Cemetery Hill. After a part of Heth's Division emerged from a small woods no part of the column was protected, as from this point Cemetery Hill is entirely open. The ground over which we were crossing [line lost, top of page 30] there sufficiently abrupt to afford the slightest shelter. Before we could reach the enemy, we had to cross the Emmitsburg road, which to me appeared to be a lane, that is to say, we had to cross two fences, one on either side of the road. This road-bed was, perhaps some two feet below the level of the ground and afforded protection to one lying down.
From Captain Moran's description in the ANNALS OF THE WAR (No. 9, vol. 6) I imagine he must have taken Heth's Division for that Pickett, for he very accurately describes our advance and he says it looked more like a corps than a division. As has been before stated our front was about twice the extent of that of Pickett. With this exception and his omission as to the recrossing of the Potomac by Lee's rear guard, Captain Moran's article, in my judgment, is highly commendable for its matter and impartiality. He refers to the Confederate "Yi! yi!" I do recollect that the "rebel yell" was started on our right, but what was very singular to me in this charge was that previous to this occasion and afterwards we never before failed to increase our speed when the "yell" was started. Moreover, as far as I remember, we never failed to drive the enemy when we raised a lusty "yell." I suppose the reason our speed was not increased in front of frowning Cemetery Hill was that the yell was started much further from the enemy than usual. Generally we raised the "yell" after infantry firing had begun and near the enemy. On this occasion we marched steadily on, and as soon as the line got closely under way the enemy's batteries opened upon us with a most furious cannonade. Many batteries hurled their missiles of death in our ranks from Cemetery Hill, Round Top and Little Round Top, in our front and on our right. The ridge we had left and the adjacent spurs belched forth their commingling smoke of battle that obscured the scene with a dreadful and darkened magnificence and a deepening roar that no exaggeration of language can heighten.
From the time we advanced a few yards the artillery continually lessened our ranks and especially a battery that almost enfiladed us from the right as we neared the lane a battery that seemed not to have been engaged in the first fire. The artillery that followed up our advance attempted ineffectually to silence this engine of destruction, for at least in my part of our line its effects were generally fatal, if not more so than all the rest of the artillery directed against us. Those who regained the lane in retreat here for a moment hesitated, but there was no time for deliberation. The combined fire of small arms and artillery was incessantly rained upon us.
Further retreat was as dangerous as the advance. The first fence was again to be crossed, hundred of yards of open space in full view and within reach of the fire of all arms was to be passed over before we could regain shelter. The plank or slab fence was splintered and riddled, and the very grass was scorched and withered by the heat of shell and bullets. Around me lay forty dead and wounded of the forty-seven of my company that entered the scene of carnage with me. Colonel S. G. Shepherd and I and the other survivors hesitated in the lane a moment. It was death or surrender to remain. It seemed almost death to retreat. Maybe we could regain our artillery in safety. We chose the latter alternative and on we sped through the open field, expecting every moment to be shot to the ground. Our condition and experience were not dissimilar to that of hundreds of others.
We rallied our shattered ranks around our artillery and awaited now an advance of the enemy, and I believe General Lee looked for it. He seemed to be very much agitated and remained near the centre of his original line close to the artillery in front of Heth's Division for some minutes anxiously watching, with glass in hand, the enemy's line and exposed to their artillery fire. General Lee, in a few moments, left us and went in the direction of our right. Before he had got very far he was met by General Longstreet, who came from the opposite direction. After meeting they turned and went in front of our line, and both of them, on their horses, stood motionless, using their field-glasses in observing the enemy. They staid there on the highest eminence between us and the enemy's line nearly an hour, at least it so seemed to me, exposed to the ceaseless fire of artillery. While gazing upon them I trembled for their and our safety. Every moment I looked for either or both of them to be torn from their horses, and that, too, at a time [line lost].
Heth's Division went into this charge with about five thousand men, and was able to muster only about eighteen hundred when Lee started to recross the Potomac. One company of North Carolina troops in Pettigrew's Brigade was eighty-four strong in this charge, and lost every man, officers and privates, not by capture, but in killed and wounded. The above was the aggregate loss of Heth's Division, which would have been still greater had they all entered the works on Cemetery Hill. All had reached the lane, and the turnpike brigade was the only one in Heth's Division that carried their standards into the fortifications on the hill. As to the exact loss of the Tennessee Brigade I now have no means of knowing, but it must have been very great. I am far from being unmindful of the heroism and devotion of other troops in that memorable charge, but in justice to those of Heth's Division who fell in the works on Cemetery Hill, in the lane and open field, in the advance or retreat, in justice to those who yet survive, I cannot be indifferent when Gettysburg is painted without Heth's Division prominent in the grand charge. Justice is justice and fact is fact.
We daily anticipated an attack from Meade in pursuit, but none of his army put in an appearance, that is, to fight, until we reached Falling Waters, near the Potomac. On that day Heth's Division stopped on the road leading to the Potomac, distant about two and a half miles. We always kept up a line of battle, and on this occasion halted and formed on the left, the west side of the road. In a part of our front was an old breastwork that had been abandoned long ago. Our men had stacked their arms some were lying on the ground asleep, others were collected in groups, all feeling a sense of security, as no enemy had ventured in sight since we had left Hagerstown.
On a small eminence on the front of our line Generals Heth and Pettigrew and several other officers, including myself, were looking back over the route we had traveled, when we noticed a small body of cavalry emerge from a strip of woods, distance about two hundred and fifty yards. After reaching the open space they halted and the officer in command rode to the front as if to address the men. We observed them closely and saw them unfurl a United States flag, but we though it was a capture that our friends were to carry to us and make some ado over it. Presently they started towards us at a tolerably rapid pace, and when they got within fifty yards of us they advanced at a gallop with drawn sabres, shouting, "Surrender! Surrender!" General Heth exclaimed: "It's the enemy's calvary!" When opposite they rushed over our little group, using their sabres and firing their pistols (mortally wounding General Pettigrew) and dashed among the infantry, eighteen hundred strong, shouting at the top of their voices: "Surrender! surrender!" At first the confusion was great, our officers calling upon their men to form and use the bayonet, at the same time dodging the sabre cuts and using their pistols with great effect. Lieutenant Baker killed two and Captain Norris three men. As soon as our men took in the situation and after they had reached their guns these daring fellows were quickly dispatched. In the height of the confusion their officer galloped into our midst and in less time than it takes to relate the circumstance he was riddled with bullets. He was a gallant-looking fellow, riding a magnificent dark-colored horse, but he and his men were to a man either killed or wounded in this quick and rash undertaking. There was not more than one hundred and twenty-five of them, but I will venture to say they came nearer stampeding or capturing a division than they ever did before. Their horses were nearly all killed or so badly crippled as to make them useless. Only two or three were brought off the field, though they were all captured.
I talked with one of the survivors of the regiment to which this squadron belonged and he told me their officer was promoted only the day before for gallant and meritorious service. My recollection is that it was a part of the Sixth Michigan cavalry. There was a large body of cavalry a few miles behind this squadron and we remained at Falling Waters about one hour skirmishing with these. We finally fell back through woods in line of battle to the river, crossing it with the loss of some stragglers and parts of companies that were detached and lost their way in the woods. The Tennessee Brigade of Heth's Division, composed of the First, Seventh and Fourteenth Tennessee Regiments, the Thirteenth Alabama Regiment and Fifth Alabama Battalion, began the great battle of Gettysburg and fought the last battle and skirmish in that memorable retreat from Pennsylvania and the last the Army of Virginia fought north of the Potomac. CENTREVILLE, Tenn. , 1882.