Ellis Spear

Ellis Spear

Esteemed member arssher@state.me.us (Sylvia Sherman) contributes:

Greetings GDG: Several references have been made to a quote by Ellis Spear that Tom D. used in his introduction to SFYBFM. ("I fear you will never know all about it. Nobody does and nobody ever did nor ever will.") The quote comes from a tongue-in-cheek letter Spear wrote to his 12 year old grand daughter in 1910, a copy of which is here in the archives courtesy of the Spear family. I thought I'd share most of it with you:

"Dear Mildred:

I was very much surprised to learn from your letter that you were not at the Battle of Gettysburg. So many people were there that I do not fully understand how you missed it! It is not unreasonable, therefore, that you should wish to know something about it. I fear you will never know all about it. Nobody does and nobody ever did, nor ever will. It was a very mixed up and extensive affair. At the end of the first day it was "to be continued in our next"; at the end of the second day it was "to be continued in our next"; and at the end of the third day, the enemy, that is to say, the Confederates ran away after dark with out so much as thanking us for the entertainment we had afforded them, or bidding us goodbye, nor did they give us an opportunity to ask them to call again. Indeed their manners were bad from first to last. They came up to us with loaded guns, which shows that their viciousness was premeditated and intentional. As the trees were too small, and the rocks too low, to afford shelter, we were positively obliged to shoot back at them, a thing we never should have thought of doing if they had not come, as we fully understood that the firing was liable to hurt them. As you will infer from what I have said, I did not see the whole of the battle; but I saw enough, and was quite satisfied with that. Nor did I hear anybody complain of lack; there was enough to go around."

[There follows a section of whimsical diagrams, which I haven't a clue how to replicate!]

He continues: "We faced then to the left because we expected the enemy to sneak up in the woods and try to get behind us and shoot us in the back,a thing which every good soldier abhors, but which the Confederates were just mean enough to do. Well, there we were standing for more than a minute, a good deal more, as we were not in a hurry. In front of us, across the ravine was a big steep hill. It must have been one of the hills which was in the country when Columbus discovered America, as it was covered with great trees, thick with limbs and leaves and on the slopes were great rocks. Quite soon enough a long line of enemy appeared all at once emerging from these woods. They must have felt pretty cheap, when coming into view, they saw that they had not gotten behind us, but that we were there looking right in their faces, as much as to say - the trick didn't work. They were so mad they began firing at once; and, of course, we fired right back, as was right since they began it. Then there began a fuss and a mess, such a noise you could not hear a particular bang, smoke and yelling, and the smell of gunpowder, and the air was very unhealthy. And it soon became very serious, for the men were dropping, but most in your Grandfather Keene's company, which was in the center and carried the colors, and in which more than half the men were killed and wounded before the battle was over. I went along here during the fight and saw all the men down about the colors, excepting the color-bearer himself, and he had picked up a gun (for a color-bearer does not carry a gun) but this was dropped by one of the men who fell. He was resting the color staff on the ground, with his left arm around the flag and was loading and firing as coolly as if he were doing it all, and I noticed that he was chewing a paper cartridge paper torn from a bullet. The soldiers in that time used paper cartridges and tore them with their teeth.

But after a while it became very tiresome and monotonous to stand there and be fired at, and we fixed bayonets, and made a rush for the enemy. Just then they all seemed to remember something they had left at home, or had forgotten to do, and they ran like mad, intending, I have no doubt, to go in the direction of home and their mothers. But in their haste, and unfamiliarity with the country, a great many, two or three hundred, ran into a worm fence lane. A worm fence is not made of worms, but of rails in the shape of worms, but I cannot now describe it particularly,as the rebs are in the lane and may get out and escape. You can at your leisure look that matter up in the encyclopedia while I attend to the Confederates. In fact they did try to get out, some of them, and these got upon the fence, and, painful as the necessity was, we were obliged to shoot them. I mean there were some thus impudently trying to scale the fence and escape without asking leave. The rest, who dropped their guns & showed signs of repentance, we magnanimously spared and accepted their apologies. A great many deeds of valor were performed, but in the excitement of the time and the [?] mental occupation & close attention to the business, they were not noticed; but may have been invented since, after much reflection and in an amplified form - It is much easier to tell about a battle than to fight it; and safer, especially after a lapse of 47 years and the witnesses have become few and scattered. For instance, it has since been found that one of our men who had a very long gun and a long bayonet fixed on the end ran through one Confederate, and then another and another until he had six, like a string of fish, and then he put the gun over his shoulder & marched off, satisfied that he had done his share while six pairs of legs were wriggling behind him. Another man, instead of returning his ramrod to the gun after loading, ran it down his throat, to save time and then held it until he wanted to load again. The Colonel got off his horse, seized a rail in both hands & rushed at the enemy, with two handed sway brandished aloft the horrid edge (of the rail) came down wide wasting, and this way packed up the charge. No wonder the Confederates thought their mothers wanted them at home. I should not forget to add that the Colonel's horse, emulating the spirit of the Colonel, rushed after him & fell upon the enemy biting and kicking.

Later when we had gathered in the prisoners, we followed those of the enemy who had retreated up the hill, and captured more of them on the other side. Then without supper or bed we lay down in the woods and slept, and as it is late and this letter is already too long, I think it better to do the same thing.

Another day, and in another [?] I may tell you about the general plan of the battle, though that would be rather dull.

In the meantime I am
Your loving grandfather