By J.G. Rosengarten
Captain and Aid-de-camp on the Staff of General Reynolds, Ordinance Officer First Corps Army of the Potomac.
The state of Pennsylvania by an act approved July 3, 1885, appropriated the sum of $1000 for a suitable tablet to mark the spot where General John F. Reynolds fell at the Battle of Gettysburg. This recognition of the important services rendered by Reynolds is heartily welcomed by his soldiers. The heroic bronze statue erected by his old First Corps stands in the cemetery at Gettysburg, and fitly marks the spot selected by Reynolds for the concentration of the Army of the Potomac under General Meade. The equestrian statue of Reynolds in Philadelphia is significant of the debt due him and his comrades for the safety of the metropolis of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in successfully driving back the invaders of the state. But the spot where Reynolds fell well deserves to be marked, and the State wisely entrusted the duty to its own Adjutant General and the Corporal Skelly Post of the Grand Army of the Republic, at Gettysburg. Corporal Skelly, after whom the post is named, was a native of Gettysburg, who fell at Winchester; while the young lady to whom he was engaged to be married, Miss Jennie Wade, was the only woman killed at Gettysburg, and dying, neither knew of the death of the other. Their names are very dear to the people of Gettysburg, and the members of the post have always been steadfast in doing their share to preserve and perpetuate the memorials of the battle which has made their town immortal. The Post Committee consists of Sergeant Wilson, superintendent of the National Cemetery; Sergeant Holtzworth, the general guide and universal authority on the battle-field, and John M. Krauth, son of the venerable president of the Theological Seminary, in whose vicinity the first day's battle was fought. In their hands, and with the supervision of the Adjutant General and his officers, the State will be safe in securing a fitting memorial to mark the spot where Reynolds fell. Already the ground over which the battle was fought from Willoughby's Run in the extreme advance to Little Round Top on the left, and Culp's Hill on the right, has been secured by the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association, and tablets mark the spot where Colonel Fred Taylor, brother of Bayard Taylor, fell, and where Zook of the Second Corps, and Marvin and Chapman, of the 26th, and General Strong Vincent gave their lives. Regimental memorials have been put in position by the 27th and 72nd, 68th, 91st, 93d, 88th, 100th, 153d and 118th Pennsylvania, by the 124th New York, a life-size granite statue of its colonel, Ellis, by battery B of the 1st Pennsylvania Artillery; by the 17th, the 14th, the 27th and the 20th Connecticut; by the 2d, the 9th, the 5th, the 12th, the 13th, the 18th, the 10th and the 7th Massachusetts , and by the 1st, 3d and 9th Massachusetts Batteries; by the 12th New Jersey; by the 7th and 27th Indiana, and by the 3d Indiana Cavalry, and by Gregg's cavalry division at Rummell's Farm. State and regimental organizations were now earnestly engaged in this task, thus securing a permanent record on the very spot where their comrades fell, and the national monument in the National Cemetery will soon be encircled by a long array of memorials on all parts of the field. Most of them are very modest in their proportions, but all are distinguished by the fitness of the design to the purpose. Thus from the spot to be marked by the memorial tablet where Reynolds fell there are in sight the memorials of the regiments which were in his command and nearest him at the time. The history of the battle can be read by every visitor as he moves along the lines marked by these stone records, and the survivors of the soldiers who fought there can easily find the point at which he and his comrades met the foe. The story of the battle will thus be told by those who shared its hardships and its glories in all time to come.
The story of Reynolds' first day's battle at Gettysburg has never been told as fully as it ought to be; it was the preliminary skirmish to a great contest, and in the overwhelming importnace of the final result, the details and the successive events of the opening engagement have been hastily passed over. It has often been hinted rather than asserted, that Reynolds was victim of his own rashness, that he heedlessly and impetuously engaged the enemy in an overwhelming force and was not ready to open battle nor right in doing so. Against this it is enough to repeat General Meade's assertion that he meant to engage the enemy wherever and whenever he could find him. To do this he gave Reynolds the command of three corps, the First, his own, the Third, Sickle's, and the Eleventh, Howard's and Buford's Cavalry Division. With this wing of the army, Reynolds swept around Emmettsburg as a pivot, and as soon as Buford developed the enemy in front of Gettysburg, Reynolds ordered him to press him until the infantry could come up to his support. Buford went into Gettysburg on the afternoon of June 30, and sent his pickets out to cover the roads through which the rebels had withdrawn that very morning. Reynolds sent a staff officer to Gettysburg, with Buford, and, reporting that the gallant soldier's confident determination to hold his position in front of the town until Reynolds came to relieve him, Reynolds himself on that night gave his orders to his immediate subordinates, Howard and Doubleday. At break of day on the 1st of July, Reynolds broke camp, and, stirring up the sleeping soldiers of the divisions of his own corps, leaving orders for men to follow at once, he started for Gettysburg, passing through the town, joining Buford at the Seminary, overlooking from its cupola his dismounted cavalry already pressed by the enemy, and repeating his promise of instant support, he hurried back through the fields, met the leading division, Wadsworth's, led it up to the line held by Buford, and relieving the cavalry, which as dismounted soldiers could best do, were manfully holding their own. The horse batteries of the cavalry remained until they too were relieved by the artillery of the leading divisions, and, indeed, in some instances, Calef's, for example, were supported by the infantry and protected from the enemy. Reynolds sent for the rest of his corps, which was brought up by Doubleday and soon put into position. An aid of Howard's met Reynolds on the edge of the town and was directed to tell General Howard to hurry his men up at double quick when they got near the field, while other aids were sent to General Meade and to General Sickles. If Howard and his corps had been prompt to take up their designated position, two divisions on the right of the First Corps, the third division in reserve on Cemetery Hill, and if Sickles had brought his Third Corps promptly up, in accordance with Reynolds' order, received at 1 P.M. on the 30th, and, put it in on the left, Reynolds could have held his own, while the rest of the army could have been quietly concentrated on the hills back of Gettysburg. Howard's delay was that of a commander not gifted with the power of inspiring his men with the importance of instant action; his leading division did not get to the front until nearly 1 o'clock, when Reynolds corps had been hotly engaged and hardly pressed for two or three hours. Even then the Eleventh Corps did not join the right of the First, but left a gaping space between, into which the increasing force of the enemy poured, while the other division of the Eleventh Corps made only a feeble demonstration still further to the right. Howard was not in the front on the line of battle, and his orders were, of course, given without actual knowledge.
Sickles had received, on June 30, at 1 P.M., his orders from Reynolds to come to Gettysburg on the morning of the 1st of July. He was in camp at Emmettsburg, only twelve miles to the rear; he had made only a short march after mid-day and yet he undertook to put his interpretation of verbal communication from General Meade against the positive order from Reynolds, his immediate commander, and, not leaving his camp until 1 or 2 o'clock of the afternoon of the 1st of July, of course did not get to Gettysburg until late that night, when he was put in position by General Hancock and General Meade. If Howard had obeyed the orders he says he received from headquarters at 3:30 A.M. of July 1, to move his corps to within supporting distance of the First Corps, he could promptly have carried out Reynolds order of 8 A.M. to come to Gettysburg. If Sickles had left Emmettsburg at break of day of that pleasant July morning, just as Reynolds left his camp, and promptly moved his corps up to Gettysburg, he would have been there in time to take his position on the left of the First Corps. Reynolds was counting on the same promptness from his subordinates, Howard and Sickles, that he always showed in carrying out the orders of his superior, and just as he kept his promise to Buford, and was ready to relieve him at the front, so he expected Howard and Sickles to take up the positions assigned them. He was, therefore, fully justified in going out to meet the enemy, and in attacking him and in putting in all his forces at hand. His men stood up nobly to hold the line he had selected for them, and it could have been held against a much larger force than that which Heth brought against it if Howard and Sickles had come up as promptly as did Early and Rhodes on the other side.
A comparison of the official reports of the Union and Confederate armies, published in separate volumes in Washington in 1880 will show how much more prompt were the Confederate troops in supporting their advance than were those of the Union army. The also contradict the popular notion that the battle of Gettysburg was an accident, that the first day's fight was brought on prematurely by Reynolds, and that the success of the great conflict was imperilled by his rashness. In point of fact, Meade was manuvering to bring on a battle , and Reynolds, as the leader of his advance, was pursuing the enemy to force them to fight. General Lee in his report says that on the 29th of June it was resolved to concentrate the army on the East side of the mountains. Longstreet and Hill were ordered to proceed from Chambersburg and Ewell from Carlisle to Gettysburg. Pettigrew's brigade was sent by Heth to procure supplies at Gettysburg on the 30th, and, finding it occupied by Union troops, returned to Cashtown. Hill arrived with Pender's division and on the morning of July 1 advanced with his two divisions, Heth's and Pender's. The leading division, Heth's consisting of Pettigrew's and Archer's brigades, found Buford's videttes about three miles West of Gettysburg, and, advancing until within a mile of the town, the two brigades were sent forward to reconnoitre. They drove in the advance of the cavalry, but soon encountered Reynolds' infantry and were compelled to retire, leaving Archer and many prisoners in the hands of the Union forces. Heth then, with two more brigades, supported by Penders on his right, returned to the charge, and, Rhodes on their left, and Early supporting him still further on the left, under Ewell, soon overcame the weak line placed by Howard, and thus the Union line, instead of being strengthened and supported by the Eleventh Corp on the right and the Third Corps on the left, was forced back to Cemetery Hill.
In the December number of the "Southern Bivouac" there is the opening chapter of a very graphic account of the first day's battle by Colonel W.H. Swallow, of the Confederate Army, which tells the story very clearly. There are some slight inaccuracies in matters of detail. Reynolds was not brandishing his sword, but was quietly returning from the point to which he had led the "Iron Brigade" when he was shot, not by a sharpshooter from a tree, but by one of the Rebel skirmishers, hidden in and protected by the thickets in the heavy wood where the troops met. Heth, too, in his official report, is mistaken in saying that Reynolds was killed by a shell fired by Harge's Battery of Pegrams Battalion. Then, again, Colonel Swallow errs in saying that the sight of Reynolds body, on its way to the rear, was the first news Meade had of the fight, for Buford sent word to Meade of Reynolds' death, and beside sent Hancock to the fort to take the place of Reynolds. But these slight inaccuracies are not surprising, when we find in the reports of the officers actually engaged on the Union side such inconsistencies as to time and place. Thus, Buford and his brigade commanders agree that the battle of the 1st of July was opened by their cavalry and the advance of Heth's division, as early as 8 A.M., and that it was hotly contested by Gamble's 1st Cavalry Brigade, supported by Tidball's Battery under Calef, until Reynolds brought his leading division, Wadsworth's, in person to the front, and coming to the assistance of the cavalry, relieved it and took its place. General Wadsworth, one of the most gallant spirits of the North, a noble gentleman, a brave soldier and an ardent patriot, led his division to the attack, and says it became sharply engaged before the line was formed, fixing the opening fire at soon after 10. General J. William Hofmann, who at the head of his regiment, the 56th, gave the order to fire as his men were moving from column into line, fixes the time he engaged the enemy at 10.20, and to him is now conceded the honor of having opened the battle - true enough as far as the Union Army is concerned but Buford and his cavalry division, had borne the brunt of attack for two hours or more, many of his men dismounted and skirmishing over the space that separated the two lines. Colonel Cook, of the 76th New York, fixes the time he reached the extreme advance on the battlefield at 10.30, and so each regiment seems to have had a watch of its own, no two exactly agreeing. Garrison, one of Buford's scouts, says that Reynolds came on the field at 8.25 in advance of his troops and the first infantry came on the field fifteen minutes after 9. Lieutenant Jerome, Buford's signal officer, says he reported as early as 7 A.M. the advance of the enemy, and while Buford's cavalry were bravely holding their own Jerome reported the First Corp advancing to the front, and Buford himself in his despatch to Meade fixes on 9.30 as the opening of the battle; he must have meant of the infantry of the Confederate force with his own dismounted men serving as infantry, for the skirmishing had been going on for an hour or more, and Heth's command had not crossed Willoughby Run until Reynolds was within striking distance.
Heth's skirmishers got into the cover of the woods with their heavy underbrush and thickets, and while the Iron Brigade swept down to and even across the creek the rebel skirmishers made an easy prey of Reynolds as he returned from the line of battle to find a fresh troops. He fell just as he was insight of his men hurrying to his aid. A triangle of woods, the apex fronting Seminary Ridge and the Theological Seminary, which gives its name, separated by a swale or hollow, the base on Willoughby Run, the sides sloping, one, the Easternmost, toward the Chambersburg Pike, the other, the Westernmost, toward the Millersburg road, still marks the centre of the Union line on the first day. General Doubleday aptly likens it to a natural position, the key to a whole line of defensive works. Even the lapse of over twenty years has not made much change in the natural features. A new road opened to the new Springs Hotel makes the access to this part of the line still more easy, while the generous gift of Reynolds Grove by the Messrs. Whitney, owners of the Springs and the hotel, to the Battlefield Memorial Association secures its permanent possession. The line of battle is marked by memorial tablets of many of the regiments - cavalry, infantry and artillery - engaged under Reynolds, and now the State of Pennsylvania, by placing a tablet on the spot where Reynolds fell, fixes the centre from which the whole line was developed, both to the right and the left. Nothing can be more impressive than the sight of these scattered memorials, marking like milestones the distance which separated the regiments forming the Union force on the field of the Battle of Gettysburg. From all states, of all kinds and dimensions, varying in design according to the strength of the associations, many embody the action of some heroic soldier, such as the standard-bearer of the 12th Massachusetts, others simply the regimental record, and others again that of brigade, division and corps. The State's tablet will fitly mark the spot by the simple inscription, Here Reynolds Fell," and to it all future visitors, soldiers and civilians, will turn as they recall the scenes that made Gettysburg famous as the turning point of the great Rebellion.