The duty of writing a sketch of "The Operations of the Michigan Cavalry Brigade in the Gettysburg Campaign," is one which the writer would fain have shirked, had the summons come from a source which he felt at liberty to disobey. It would seem, indeed, that the work had already been done, and well done, so that it will be difficult to add to it anything of positive and permanent value.
It is now nearly five years since the dedication of yonder granite shaft,1 erected through the liberality of a number of survivors of those who fought here twenty-six years ago, and intended to mark the exact spot where the fierce hand-to-hand saber contest between the hardy Wolverines and the flower of Southern cavaliers took place. On that occasion a distinguished son of the Keystone State,2 himself a trooper of Gregg's command, delivered a finished and exhaustive oration upon "The Cavalry Fight on the Right Flank of Gettysburg." It was admirably done, evidently a labor of love, and characterized by a spirit of fairness, a moderation, and a judicial tone highly commendable. To peruse its glowing periods is to visit again these scenes. To the writer it is more. It brings back with full force, as if it were but yesterday, the events of that bright July day in 1863, when Gregg and Custer crossed swords with Stuart, Hampton and Fitzhugh Lee; when the fate of this nation hung suspended by a thread on the plains and heights of Gettysburg. He is once more seated on his horse, in front of his squadron of the Sixth Michigan Cavalry, to the left of Pennington's battery, watching the tumult that is going on below. He hears the rumble and roar, as the earth quakes under the terrible artillery duel on Cemetery Hill; the sputter of the carbines as Alger's dismounted skirmishers drive back the Confederate line; the roar of Pennington's guns, the yells of the troopers as they charge and countercharge. The entire plan is spread out like a picture, and he can see it all again.
A debt of gratitude is hereby acknowledged
to Colonel Brooke-Rawle. But, with all due deference to the brilliant
orator, it must be said that he speaks with an almost too evident partiality
for Pennsylvania and the Second Cavalry Division. His encomiums upon
Michigan are perfunctory, and not from the heart. Bright and imperishable
chaplets of laurel were gathered here, and our friend would loyally place
them upon the brow of his own ideal hero, and not upon that of "Lancelot
But there were honors enough to go around, and General Gregg and his command, with their brilliant record, can well afford to render unto Custer and his Michigan Brigade that which is their due. Twice, during the war, the Michigan Cavalry Brigade came opportunely [sic] to the relief of the Second Division -- once at Gettysburg, and again at Hawes' Shop, May 28, 1864. The mind does not dare consider what might have been the result on either of these occasions had Custer been eliminated as a factor in the contest. If the order which took him to the Hanover Pike on July 3, 1863, was, as Kilpatrick intimates in his report, "a mistake," it was a most fortunate blunder. This, Colonel Rawle would doubtless be one of the first to admit.
There are some controverted [sic] questions concerning the battle which took place on this ground. There are certain differences which, surrounded by the mists of doubt and distance, it is hard to reconcile. The official reports, many of them, are meagre [sic], some misleading. The Michigan regiments seem to have been peculiarly unfortunate in this regard. I was unable to find in the War Records office in Washington the official report, written in 1863, of a single one of the commanding officers, covering the operations of the Gettysburg campaign. The maps received from the United States Engineers' office were sent to me with a caution that they must not be regarded as official, since the positions occupied by the different commands have not all, as yet, been definitely determined.
I shall, in the following pages, hew to the line as closely as possible, and endeavor to be as accurate as the accessible data and my ability will permit.
The Michigan Brigade was the outgrowth of the reorganization of the Federal cavalry that followed Lee's invasion of the north and Hooker's consequent movement into Maryland. It consisted, originally, of three regiments -- the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh. They were all organized in 1862, and at the time which we are considering, were, in the language of another, "fresh from pastures green."3 The commanding officer was Brigadier General J. T. Copeland, a Michigan man, promoted from the coloneley [sic] of the Fifth. The battalion commanders were, respectively, Colonels Russell A. Alger, George Gray and William D. Mann. The first had seen service in the Second Michigan as captain and major, under Colonels Gordon Granger and P. H. Sheridan; the last in the First Michigan, under Brodhead and Town. Colonel Gray was appointed from civil life, and was having his first experience of "war's rude alarums."
At two o'clock on Thursday morning, June 25, 1863, the brigade, with its division, under Stahel, left its camp in Fairfax county, Virginia, where it had been maintaining a cordon of videttes around the Department of Washington, and the head of column turned toward Edwards' Ferry, on the Potomac river, the Sixth Michigan acting as rear guard. The march was slow, the roads being blocked with wagons, artillery, ambulances, and the other usual impediments of a column of troops in active service. It was long after dark when the rear guard reached the ford. The night was cloudy and there was no moon. The river was nearly, if not quite, a mile wide, the water deep and the current strong. The only guide to the proper course was to follow those in advance; but, as horse succeeded horse, they were gradually borne farther and farther down the stream, away from the ford into deeper water. By the time the Sixth reached the river the water was nearly to the tops of the saddles. Marching thus through the inky darkness, guided mostly by the sound of splashing hoofs in front, there was imminent danger of being swept away, and few, except the most reckless, drew a long breath until the distance had been traversed and our steeds were straining up the steep and slippery bank upon the opposite side.
But, safely across the river, the column did not halt for rest or food, but pushed on into Maryland. To add to the discomfort, a drizzling rain set in. The guide lost his way, and it was two o'clock in the morning when the rear guard halted for a brief bivouac in a piece of woods, near Poolesville. Wet, weary, hungry, and chilled to the marrow, as they were, it was enough to dispirit the bravest men. But there was no murmuring, and, at daylight, the march was resumed. That day (26th) we passed the First Army Corps, commanded by the lamented Reynolds, and reached the village of Frederick as the sun was setting. The clouds had cleared away, and a more enchanting vision never met human eye than that which appeared before us as we debouched from the narrow defile up which the road from lower Maryland ran, on the commanding heights that overlooked the valley. The town was in the center of a most charming and fertile country, and around it thousands of acres of golden grain were waving and nodding in the sunlight. The rain of the early morning had left in the atmosphere a mellow haze of vapor which reflected the sun's rays in tints that softly blended with the summer colorings of the landscape. An exclamation of surprise ran along the column as each succeeding trooper, came in sight of this picture of nature's own painting. But, more pleasing still, were the evidences of loyalty which greeted us on every hand as we entered the village. The stars and stripes floated above many buildings, while from porch and window, from old and young, came manifestations of welcome. The men received us with cheers, the women with smiles and waving of handkerchiefs. That night we were permitted to go into camp and enjoy a good rest, in the midst of plenty and among friends.
On Saturday morning (27th), much refreshed, with horses well fed and groomed, and haversacks replenished, the Fifth and Sixth moved on to Emmittsburg, the Seventh having gone through the Catoctin valley by another road.
On Sunday (28th), the Fifth and Sixth, the former leading, moved by way of the Emmittsburg pike to Gettysburg. Thus it was that General R. A. Alger had the honor of leading the first Union troops into the place that was so soon to give its name to one of the great historic and decisive battles of the ages.4 It was a gala day. The people were out in force, and in their Sunday attire to welcome the troopers in blue. The church bells rang out a joyous peal, and dense masses of beaming faces filled the streets as the narrow column of fours threaded its way through their midst. Lines of men stood on either side with pails of water or apple butter; others held immense platters of bread. Ladies took the slices, covered them with apple butter, and passed a "sandwich" to each soldier as he passed. At intervals of a few feet the bevies of women and girls, who handed up bouquets and wreaths of flowers. By the time the center of the town was reached, every man had a bunch of flowers in his hand, or a wreath around his neck. Some even had their horses decorated, and the one who did not get a share was a very modest trooper indeed. The people were overjoyed, and received us with an enthusiasm and hospitality born of full hearts.
Turning to the right, the command went into camp a little outside the town, in a field where the horses were up to their knees in clover, and it made the poor famished animals fairly laugh. That night a squadron was sent out about two miles to picket on each diverging road. It was my duty, with a squadron, to guard the Cashtown pike, and a very vivid remembrance is yet retained of the "vigil long" of that July night, during which I did not once leave the saddle, dividing the time between the reserve post and the line of videttes. No enemy appeared, however, and, on Monday (29th) the Michigan regiments returned to Emmittsburg, the First Cavalry Division coming up to take their place in Gettysburg. In this way it came to pass that heroic John Buford, instead of the Fifth and Sixth Michigan, had the honor of meeting the Confederate advance on July 1st.
At Emmittsburg it was learned that many changes had occurred. Among them, Kilpatrick succeeded Stahel, and Custer was in place of Copeland. The Michigan Brigade had been strengthened by adding the First Michigan Cavalry, a veteran regiment that had seen much service in the Shenandoah valley under Banks, and in the second Bull Run campaign with Pope. It was organized in 1861, and went out under Colonel T. F Brodhead, a veteran of the Mexican war, who was brevetted for gallant conduct at Contreras and Churubusco, while serving as lieutenant in the Fifteenth United States Infantry. He was mortally wounded August 30, 1861, at Bull Run. His successor was C. H. Town, who, at the time of which we are speaking, was colonel of the regiment. He also was severely wounded in the same desperate charge wherein Brodhead lost his life. There had also been added to the brigade, Light Battery "M," Second United States Artillery, consisting of six rifled pieces, and commanded by Lieutenant A. C. M. Pennington.
The Third Division was now ordered to concentrate in the vicinity of Littlestown, to head off Stuart, who having made a detour around the rear of the Army of the Potomac, crossed the river below Edwards' Ferry on Sunday night, June 28th, and with three brigades under Hampton, Fitzhugh Lee and Chambliss, and a train of captured wagons, was moving northward, looking for the Army of Northern Virginia, between which and him was Meade's entire army. On Monday night he was in camp between Union Mills and Westminster, on the Emmittsburg, and Baltimore pike, about equi-distant from Emmittsburg and Gettysburg. Kilpatrick at Littlestown was directly across Stuart's path, the direction of the latter's march indicating that he, too, was making for Littlestown, which place is on a direct line from Union Mills to Gettysburg.
On the morning of June 30th, Kilpatrick's command, which had been scouting through the entire country east and southeast of Gettysburg, in search of Stuart's raiding column, was badly scattered. A part of it, including the First and Seventh Michigan and Pennington's battery, was at Abbottstown, a few miles north of Hanover; Farnsworth's brigade at Littlestown, seven miles southwest of Hanover. The Fifth and Sixth Michigan, after an all night's march, also arrived at Littlestown at daylight. The early morning hours were consumed in scouring the country in all directions, and information soon came in to the effect that Stuart was headed for Hanover. Thither Farnsworth, with the First Brigade, went, leaving Littlestown about 9 or 10 a. m. The portion of the command that was in the vicinity of Abbottstown was also ordered to Hanover. The Fifth and Sixth Michigan were left for a time at Littlestown: Troop "A" of the Sixth, under Captain Thompson, going on a reconnaissance toward Westminster, and Colonel Alger with the Fifth on a separate road in a similar direction.
The Sixth remained in the town until a citizen came running in, about noon, reporting a large force about five miles out toward Hanover. This was Fitzhugh Lee's brigade, and, to understand the situation, it will be necessary, briefly, to describe how Stuart was marching. When he turned off the Baltimore pike, some seven miles southeast of Littlestown, he had ten miles, due north, to travel, before reaching Hanover. From Littlestown to Hanover is seven miles, the road running northeasterly, making the third side of a right-angled triangle. Stuart thus had the longer distance to go, and Kilpatrick had no difficulty in reaching Hanover first. Stuart marched with Chambliss leading, Hampton in rear, the trains sandwiched between the two brigades, and Fitzhugh Lee well out on the left flank to protect them.
Farnsworth marched through Hanover, followed
by the pack trains of the two regiments that had been left in Littlestown.
The head of Stuart's column arrived just in time to strike the rear of
Farnsworth, which was thrown into confusion by a charge of the leading
Confederate regiment. The pack trains were cut off and captured.
Farnsworth, however, dashing back from the head of the column, faced the
Fifth New York Cavalry to the rear, and by a counter charge, repulsed the
North Carolinians, and put a stop to Stuart's further progress for that
In the meantime, when the citizen came in with the news of Fitzhugh Lee's appearance, "To horse" was sounded, and Colonel Gray led the Sixth Michigan on the Hanover road towards the point indicated. Several citizens, with shot guns in their hands, were seen going on foot to the flank of the column trying to keep pace with the cavalry, and apparently eager to participate in the expected battle. When within a mile of Hanover, the regiment turned off into a wheat field, and mounting a crest beyond, came upon Fitzhugh Lee's brigade, with a section of artillery in position, which opened upon the head of the regiment (then moving in column of fours), with shell, wounding several men and horses. Lieutenant Potter, of Company "C," had his horse shot under him. Colonel Gray, seeing that the force in front of him was preparing to charge, and aware that one raw regiment would be no match for a brigade of veteran troops, made a detour to the left, and sought by a rapid movement to unite with the command in Hanover; Major Weber, with one squadron, being entrusted with the important duty of holding the enemy in check while the other companies effected their retreat. Right gallantly was this duty performed. Three charges upon the little band were as often repulsed by the heroic Weber, and, with such determination did he hold to the work, that he was cut off and did not succeed in rejoining the regiment until about 3 o'clock next morning.
Colonel Alger, with the Fifth and Company "A" of the Sixth, also had a smart encounter with the same force, holding his own against much superior numbers, by the use of the Spencer repeating carbines, with which his regiment was armed.
Soon after noon, the entire division united in the village of Hanover, and a vigorous skirmishing was kept up until dark with Stuart's men, who had retired to a commanding position on the hills south of the town.
It was here that the Michigan Brigade first saw Custer, when he appeared mounted on his horse, riding close up to the line of skirmishers, who had been dismounted to fight on foot, giving orders in a tone that was resolute and, to us, reassuring.
Under his skillful hands the four regiments were soon welded together as a coherent unit, acting so like one man that the history of one is apt to be the history of the other, and it is often difficult to draw the line where the credit that is due to one leaves off and that which should be given to another begins.
The result of the day at Hanover was that Stuart
was driven still farther away from a junction with Lee. He was obliged
to turn to the east, making a wide detour by way of Jefferson and Dover;
Kilpatrick meanwhile maintaining his threatening attitude on the inside
of the circle which the redoubtable Confederate was traversing, forcing
the latter to swing clear around to the north as far as Carlisle, where
he received his first reliable information as the whereabouts of Lee.
It was the evening of July 2d when he finally reached the main army.
The battle had been then going on for two days, and the issue was still
in doubt. During that day (2d) both Stuart and Kilpatrick were hastening
to rejoin their respective armies, it having been decided that the great
battle would be fought out around Gettysburg. Gregg's division had
been guarding the right flank of Meade's army on the ground where we now
stand, but at nightfall it was withdrawn to a position on the Baltimore
turnpike near the reserve artillery.
Kilpatrick reached the inside of the Union lines in the vicinity of Gettysburg late in the afternoon, at about the same hour that Hampton, with Stuart's leading brigade, arrived in Hunterstown, a few miles northeast of Gettysburg. It was about 5 o'clock in the afternoon when the Third Division, moving in column of fours, was halted temporarily, awaiting orders to go in, and listening to the artillery firing close in front, when a staff officer of some infantry commander rode rapidly along the flank of the column, crying out as he went, "Little Mac is in command, and we are whipping them." It was a futile attempt to evoke enthusiasm and conjure victory with the magic of McClellan's name. There was scarcely a faint attempt to cheer. There was no longer any potency in a name. Soon thereafter, receiving orders to move out on the road to Abbottstown, Kilpatrick started in that direction, Custer's brigade leading, with the Sixth Michigan in advance. When nearing the village of Hunterstown, on a road flanked by fences, the advance encountered a heavy force of Confederate cavalry in position. A mounted line was formed across the road, while there were dismounted skirmishers behind the fences on either side. The leading squadron of the Sixth, led by Captain H. E. Thompson, boldly charged down the road, and at the same time two squadrons were dismounted and deployed on the ridge to the right, Pennington's battery going into position in their rear. The mounted charge was a most gallant one, but Thompson, encountering an overwhelmingly superior force in front, and exposed to a galling fire on both flanks, as he charged past the Confederates behind the fences, was driven back, but not before he himself had been severely wounded, while his first lieutenant, S. H. Ballard, had his horse shot under him and was left behind, a prisoner. As Thompson's squadron was retiring, the enemy attempted a charge in pursuit, but the dismounted men on the right of the road kept up such a fusilade [sic] with their Spencer carbines, aided by the rapid discharges from Pennington's battery, that he was driven back in great confusion.
General Kilpatrick, speaking of this engagement in his official report, says:
"I was attacked by Stuart, Hampton, and Fitzhugh Lee, near Hunterstown. After a spirited affair of nearly two hours, the enemy was driven from this point with great loss. The Second Brigade fought most handsomely. It lost, in killed, wounded and missing, thirty-two. The conduct of the Sixth Michigan Cavalry and Pennington's battery is deserving of the highest praise."
On the other hand, General Hampton states that he received information of Kilpatrick's advance upon Hunterstown, and was directed by Stuart to return and meet it. "After some skirmishing, the enemy attempted a charge, which was met in front by the Cobb Legion, and on either flank by the Phillips Legion and the Second South Carolina Cavalry."
This position was held until 11 o'clock that night, when Kilpatrick received orders to move to Two Taverns, on the Baltimore pike, about five miles southeast of Gettysburg, and some three miles due south from this place. It was 3 o'clock in the morning (Kilpatrick says daylight) when Custer's brigade went into bivouac at Two Taverns.
One of the most singular, not to say amusing, things in Colonel Brooke-Rawle's oration, is the statement that Custer, "after his fight with the Confederate cavalry at Hunterstown, spent the night of July 2d in bivouac with the rest of the Third Division at Two Taverns." Having had the honor to command the three companies of the Sixth Michigan Cavalry that were dismounted to the right of the road at Hunterstown, I remember distinctly that they were kept on that line until near midnight, when the division moved away; and I also remember well the weary night march, which lasted until the first streaks of dawn had begun to appear in the east. It was then, and not till then, that Custer's men were permitted to stretch their limbs upon the ground and snatch a brief rest, preparatory to the work of the coming day. The manner in which the Sixth Michigan Cavalry "spent the night" is pretty indelibly photographed upon the memory of every survivor who served with it in the Gettysburg campaign; and never were the experiences of a single night less calculated to prepare soldiers for the tremendous duties of the succeeding day, than were those which the Michigan Brigade underwent on the night of July 2, 1863. From the time when the Fifth and Sixth regiments left Emmittsburg on the afternoon of June 29th, they had hardly been given a moment for rest, and had been in motion by night as well as by day. It may be surmised, therefore, that Custer's men were not "fresh," if they were from "pastures green,"5 when, early on the morning of July 3d, they came upon this now historic ground, ready and willing to do their part in the great conflict that was impending.
The Second Division, which held this position
on July 2d, as has been seen, was withdrawn in the evening to the Baltimore
pike, "to be available for whatever duty they might be called upon to perform
on the morrow." On the morning of the 3d, Gregg was ordered to resume
his position of the day before, but states in his report that the First
and Third brigades (McIntosh and Irvin Gregg) were posted on the right
of the infantry about three-fourths of a mile nearer the Baltimore and
Gettysburg pike, because he learned that the Second Brigade (Custer's)
of the Third Division was occupying his position of the day before.
General Kilpatrick in his report says:
"At 11 p.m. (July 2d) received orders to move (from Hunterstown) to Two Taverns, which point we reached at daylight. At 8 a.m. (July 3d) received orders from headquarters Cavalry Corps to move to the left of our line and attack the enemy's right and rear with my whole command, and the reserve brigade. By some mistake General Custer's brigade was ordered to report to General Gregg, and he (Custer) did not join me during the day."
General Custer, in his report, gives the following, which is without doubt the true explanation of the "mistake." He says:
"At an early hour on the morning of the 3d, I received an order through a staff officer of the brigadier general commanding the division (Kilpatrick) to move at once with my command and follow the First Brigade (Farnsworth) on the road leading from Two Taverns to Gettysburg. Agreebly [sic] to the above instructions my column was formed and moved out on the road designated, when a staff officer of Brigadier General Gregg, commanding the Second Division, ordered me to take my command and place it in position on the pike leading from York 6 (Hanover) to Gettysburg, which position formed the extreme right of our line of battle on that day."
Thus it is made plain that there was no "mistake" about it. It was Gregg's prescience. He foresaw the risk of attempting to guard the right flank with only the two decimated brigades of his own division. With him, to see was to act. He took the responsibility of intercepting Kilpatrick's rear and largest brigade, turning it off the Baltimore pike to the right, instead of allowing it to go to the left as it had been ordered to do, and thus, doubtless, a serious disaster was averted. It makes us tremble to think of what might have been, of what inevitably must have happened had Gregg, with only the two little brigades of McIntosh and Irvin Gregg and Randol's battery, tried to cope single-handed with the four brigades and three batteries, comprising the very flower of the Confederate cavalry and artillery, which those brave knights -- Stuart, Hampton and Fitzhugh Lee -- were marshaling in person on Cress's ridge. If Custer's presence on this field was opportune, and, as has often been said, providential, it is to General D. McM. Gregg to whom, under Providence, the credit for bringing him here is due. Gregg was a great and modest soldier; let us pause a moment before we enter upon a description of the coming battle, to pay to him the tribute of our admiration. In the light of all the official reports, put together link by link, so as to make one connected chain of evidence, we can see that the engagement which took place here almost twenty-six years ago, was, from first to last, a well planned battle, in which the different commands were maneuvered and placed with the same sagacity displayed by a skillful chess player in moving the pieces upon a chess board; in which every detail was the fruit of the brain of one man, who, from the time when he turned Custer to the northward until he set the First Michigan thundering against the brigades of Hampton and Fitzhugh Lee made not a single false move; who was distinguished not less for his intuitive foresight than for his quick perceptions at critical moments.
That man was General David McM. Gregg.
This conclusion has been reached by a mind
not -- certainly not -- predisposed in that direction, after a careful
recent study, and review of all the information within reach bearing upon
that eventful day. If the Michigan Brigade won honors here that will
not perish, it was to Gregg that it owed the opportunity, and his
guiding hand it was that made its blows effective. We shall see how,
later in the day, he again boldly took responsibility at a critical moment
and held Custer to his work on the right, even after the latter had been
ordered by higher authority that he (Gregg), to rejoin Kilpatrick, and
after Custer had begun the movement.
Now, having admitted, and, I think, demonstrated, how Gregg did the planning, let us briefly show how Custer and his brigade, for the greater part, at least, did the fighting.
Following the example of my predecessor in this field, I propose to halt and let Custer tell his own story up to a certain point, when the narrative will be resumed:
"Upon arriving at the point designated, I immediately placed my command in position, facing towards Gettysburg. At the same time I caused reconnaissances [sic] to be made on my front, right and rear, but failed to discover any considerable force of the enemy. Everything remained quiet until 10 a.m., when the enemy appeared on my right flank and opened upon me with a battery of six guns. Leaving two guns and a regiment to hold my first position and cover the road leading to Gettysburg, I shifted the remaining portion of my command, forming a new line of battle, at right angles to my former position. The enemy had obtained correct range of my new position, and was pouring solid shot and shell into my command with great accuracy. Placing two sections of Battery "M," Second Regular Artillery, in position, I ordered them to silence the enemy's battery, which order, notwithstanding the superiority of the enemy's position, was done in a very short space of time. My line, as it then existed, was shaped like the letter L. The shorter branch, formed of one section of Battery "M" (Clark's), supported by four squadrons of the Sixth Michigan Cavalry, faced towards Gettysburg, covering the pike; the long branch, composed of the two remaining sections of Battery "M," supported by a portion of the Sixth Michigan Cavalry on the left, and the First Michigan cavalry on the right -- with the Seventh Michigan Cavalry still further to the right and in advance -- was held in readiness to repel any attack on the Oxford (Low Dutch) road. The Fifth Michigan was dismounted and ordered to take position in front of center and left. The First Michigan was held in column of squadrons to observe the movements of the enemy, I ordered fifty men to be sent one mile and a half on the Oxford7 (Low Dutch) road, and a detachment of equal size on the York (Hanover) road, both detachments being under command of the gallant Major Weber, who, from time to time, kept me so well informed of the movements of the enemy, that I was enabled to make my dispositions with complete success."
General Custer says further, that, at twelve o'clock, he received an order directing him, on being relieved by a brigade of the Second Division, to move to the left and form a junction with Kilpatrick; that on the arrival of colonel McIntosh's brigade he prepared to execute the order; but, to quote his own language: "Before I had left my position, Brigadier General Gregg, commanding the Second Division, arrived with his entire command. Learning the true condition of affairs and rightly conjecturing that the enemy was making his dispositions for vigorously attacking our position, Brigadier General Gregg ordered me to remain in the position I then occupied."
I have given so much space to these quotations because they cover a controverted [sic] point. It has been claimed, and General Gregg seems to countenance that view, that Custer was withdrawn, and that McIntosh, who was put in his place, opened the fight, after which Gregg brought Custer back to reinforce McIntosh. So far from this being true, it is just the reverse of the truth. Custer did not leave his position. The battle opened before the proposed change had taken place, and McIntosh was hurried in on the right of Custer. The fact is, the latter was reluctant to leave his post -- knew he ought not to leave it. He had already been attacked by a fire from the artillery in position beyond the Rummel buildings. Major Weber, who was out on the cross road leading northwest from the Low Dutch road, had observed the movement of Stuart's column, headed by Chambliss and Jenkins, past the Stallsmith farm to the wooded crest behind Rummel's and had reported it to Custer. Custer did indeed begin the movement, A portion of the Sixth Michigan and possibly of the Seventh, had been withdrawn, when he met Gregg coming on the field and explained to him the situation -- that the enemy was "all around," and preparing to "push things." Gregg told him to remain where he was, and that portion of the brigade which was moving away halted, countermarched, and reoccupied its former position. The Fifth Michigan had not been withdrawn from the skirmish line, and Pennington's guns had never ceased to thunder their responses to the Confederate challenge.
Colonel Brooke-Rawle unwittingly endorses this view of the case; for, after having said in one part of his oration that "as soon as Custer, with his brigade, had moved off for the purpose of joining Kilpatrick near Round Top," he, later, goes on to say that "the Confederate battery now opened fire, and Pennington, who was still in position near the Spangler house, replied with promptness.: It is absurd to suppose that Custer, "with his brigade," could be on the way to join Kilpatrick, while Pennington was "still in position," replying to the Confederate artillery. Battery "M" was as much a part of the Second Brigade, Third Division, as the Sixth Michigan cavalry, and Custer could not have been marching away, leaving Pennington "still in position." No one claims that he was ordered to go with his cavalry only. General Gregg does not so state. There is then no room for any other conclusion than that Custer was to go, with his entire command, including the artillery. Pennington did not go -- Colonel Rawle says he did not. No more did Colonel Alger or Colonel Town. The Sixth and Seventh moved a few rods away, but immediately returned before their position had been occupied by other troops. McIntosh was not in position on the right when the battle opened; for, according to the same authority still, after Pennington's reply to the Confederate battery, McIntosh had to send back for Randol's guns, which were not yet up. By Colonel Rawle's account, Pennington was playing a queer part.-- holding his position at the Spangler house without orders and without support, while his own brigade was marching away to Round Top. Custer, too, must be assumed to have overlooked the fact that he had a battery in his command, and to have gone off, leaving Pennington to decide for himself whether to remain and fight it out, or to limber to the rear in his own good time, and catch up with the cavalry by galloping across country, when the necessity for so doing should have been determined by his own sweet will.8
Custer says, that the enemy opened upon him with a battery of six guns at 10 a.m. Stuart, on the contrary, claims to have left Gettysburg about noon. It is difficult to reconcile these two statements. A good deal of latitude may be given to the word "about," but it is probable that the one puts the hour too early, while the other does not give it early enough; for it is impossible that Custer could have been attacked until after the arrival of some portion of Stuart's command in the neighborhood of the battle-field.
As stated before, the official reports are often meagre [sic], if not misleading, and must be reinforced by the memoranda and recollections of participants before the exact truth will be known.
Major Charles E. Storrs, who commanded a squadron of the Sixth Michigan, was sent out to the left and front of Custer's position soon after the brigade arrived upon the ground. He remained there several hours and was recalled about noon -- he is positive it was later than 12 m. -- to take position with the companies on the left of the battery. He states that the first shot was not fired till sometime after his recall, and he is sure it was not earlier than 2 o'clock.9
When Stuart left Gettysburg, as he says, about noon, he took with him Chambliss, and Jenkins' brigades of cavalry and Griffin's battery. Hampton and Fitzhugh Lee were to follow; also, Breathed's and McGregor's batteries, as soon as the latter had replenished their ammunition chests. Stuart moved two and a half miles out on the York turnpike, when he turned to the right by a country road that runs southeasterly past the Stallsmith farm. (This road intersects the Low Dutch road, about three-fourths of a mile from where the latter crosses the Hanover pike.) Turning off from this road to the right, Stuart posted the brigades of Jenkins and Chambliss, and Griffin's battery, on the commanding Cress' ridge, beyond Rummel's and more than a mile from the position occupied by Custer. This movement was noticed by Major Weber, who, with his detachment of the Sixth Michigan Cavalry, was stationed in the woods northeast of Rummel's, where he could look out upon the open country beyond, and he promptly reported the fact to Custer.
The first shot that was fired came from near
the edge of the woods beyond Rummel's. According to Major McClellan,
who was Assistant Adjutant General on Stuart's staff, this was from a section
of Griffin's battery, and was aimed at random by Stuart himself, he not
knowing whether there was anything in his front or not. Several shots
were fired in this way.
Major McClellan is doubtless right in this, that these shots were fired as feelers; but it is to me inconceivable that Stuart should have been totally unaware of the presence of any Federal force in his immediate front; that he should not have known that there was stationed on the opposite ridge a brigade of cavalry and a battery. Gregg had been there the day before, and Stuart must at least have suspected, if he did not know, that he would find him there again. It is probable that he fired the shots in the hope of drawing out and developing the force that he knew was there, to ascertain how formidable it might be and how great the obstacle in the way of his further progress towards the rear of the union lines.
The information he sought was promptly furnished.
It was then that Custer put Pennington's battery in position; and the three sections of rifled cannon opened with a fire so rapid and accurate that Griffin was speedily silenced and compelled to leave the field.
Then there was a lull. I cannot say how long it lasted, but during its continuance General Gregg arrived and took command in person. About this time, also, it was safe to say, that Hampton and Fitzhugh Lee came up and took position on the left of Chambliss and Jenkins. The Confederate line then extended clear across the Federal front, and was screened by the two patches of woods between Rummel's and the Stallsmith farm.
A battalion of the Sixth Michigan Cavalry, of which mine was the leading squadron, was placed in support and on the left of Pennington's battery. This formed, at first, the short line of the L referred to in Custer's report; but it was subsequently moved farther to the right and faced in the same general direction as the rest of the line, where it remained until the battle ended. Its duty there was to repel any attempt that might be made to capture the battery.
The ground upon which these squadrons were stationed overlooked the plain, and the slightest demonstration in open ground from either side was immediately discernible. From this vantage ground it was possible to see every phase of the magnificent contest that followed. It was like a spectacle, arranged for us to see. We were in the position of spectators at joust or tournament, where the knights, advancing from their respective sides, charge full tilt upon each other in the middle of the field.
The lull of which I have spoken was like the calm that precedes the storm. The troopers were dismounted, standing "in place rest" in front of their horses, when suddenly there burst upon the air the sound of that terrific cannonading that preceded Pickett's charge. The earth quaked. The tremendous volume of sound volleyed and rolled across the intervening hills like reverberating thunder in a storm.
It was then between 1 and 2 p.m. (Major Storrs says after 2). It was not long thereafter when General Custer directed Colonel Alger to advance and engage the enemy. The Fifth Michigan, its flanks protected by a portion of the Sixth Michigan on the left, by Macintosh's brigade on the right, moved briskly forward under its gallant and zealous commander towards the wooded screen, behind which the enemy was known to be concealed. In this movement the right of regiment was swung well forward, the left somewhat "refused," so that Colonel Alger's line was very nearly at right angles with the left of Stuart's position. As the Fifth Michigan advanced from field to field and fence to fence, a line of gray came out from behind the Rummel buildings and the woods beyond.
A stubborn and spirited contest ensued. The opposing batteries filled the air with shot and shrieking shell. Amazing marksmanship was shown by Pennington's battery, and such accurate artillery firing was never seen on any other field. Alger's men, with their eight-shotted carbines, forced their adversaries slowly but surely back, the gray line fighting well, and superior in numbers, but unable to withstand the storm of bullets. It made a final stand behind the strong line of fences in front of Rummel's and a few hundred yards out from the foot of the slope whereon Stuart's reserves were posted. While the fight was raging on the plain, Weber, with his outpost, was driven in. His two companies were added to the four already stationed on the left of Pennington's battery. Weber, who had been promoted to Major but a few days before, was ordered by Colonel Gray to assume command of the battalion. As he took his place in front of the leading squadron he said: "I have seen thousands of rebels over yonder," pointing to the front; "The country over there is full of them." He had observed all of Stuart's movements, and it was he who gave Custer the first important information as to what the enemy was doing; which information was transmitted to Gregg, and possibly had a determining influence in keeping Custer on the field.
Weber was a born soldier. Although but twenty-two years of age, he had seen much service. A private in the Third Michigan infantry in 1861, he was next battalion adjutant of the Second Michigan Cavalry, served on the staff of General Elliott in the southwest, and came home with Alger to take a troop in the Sixth Cavalry in 1862. The valuable service performed by him at Gettysburg was fitly [sic] recognized by Custer in official report. He was killed ten days later at Falling Waters, while leading his squadron of the Sixth Michigan in a charge which was described by Kilpatrick as the "most gallant ever made." Anticipating a spirited fight, he was eager to have a part in it. "Bob," he said to me a few days before, while marching through Maryland, "I want a chance to make one saber charge." He thought the time had come. His eye flashed and his face flushed as he watched the progress of the fight, fretting and chafing to be held in reserve while the bugle was summoning others to the charge.
But the Fifth Michigan, holding the most advanced position, suffered greatly, Hampton having reinforced the Confederate line, Major N. H. Ferry being among the killed. Repeating rifles are not only effective but wasteful weapons as well, and, at last, Colonel Alger, finding that his ammunition had given out, felt compelled to retire his regiment and seek his horses. Seeing this, the enemy's line sprang forward with a yell. The union line was seen to yield. The puffs of smoke from the muzzles of their guns had almost ceased. It was plain that they were out of ammunition and, for that reason, unable to maintain the contest longer. On from field to field, the line of gray followed in exultant pursuit. Breathed and McGregor opened with redoubled violence. Shells dropped and exploded among the skirmishers, while thicker and faster they fell around the position of the reserves on the ridge. Pennington replied with astonishing effect, for every shot hit the mark, and the opposing artillerists were unable to silence a single Union gun. But still they came, until it seemed that nothing could stop their victorious career. "Men, be ready," said Weber; "we will have to charge that line." But the course of the pursuit took it towards the right, in the direction of Randol's battery, where Chester was serving out canister with the same liberal hand displayed by Pennington's Lieutenants, Clark, Woodruff, and Hamilton.
Just then a column of mounted men was seen
advancing from our right and rear, squadron succeeding squadron, until
an entire regiment came into view, with sabers gleaming and colors gaily
fluttering in the breeze. It was the Seventh Michigan, commanded
by Colonel Mann. Gregg, seeing the necessity for prompt action, had
ordered it to charge. As it moved forward and cleared the battery.
Custer drew his saber, placing himself in front, and shouted, "Come on,
you Wolverines!" The Seventh dashed into an open field and rode straight
at the dismounted line, which, staggered by the appearance of this new
foe, broke to the rear and ran for its reserves. Custer led the charge
half way across the plain, then turned to the left; but the gallant regiment
swept on under its own leaders, riding down and capturing many prisoners.
There was no check to the charge. The squadrons kept on in good form. Every man yelled at the top of his voice until the regiment had gone, probably, 1,000 yard straight toward the Confederate batteries, when, by some error of the guide of the leading squadron, the head of column was deflected to the left, making a quarter turn, and the regiment was hurled headlong against a post and rail fence that ran obliquely in front of the Rummel barn. This proved for the moment an impassable barrier. The squadrons coming up successively at a charge, rushed pell mell upon each other and were thrown into a state of indescribable confusion; though the rear companies, without order or orders, formed left and right front into line along the fence and pluckily began firing across it into the faces of the Confederates, who, when they saw the impetuous onset of the Seventh thus abruptly checked, rallied and began to collect in swarms upon the opposite side. Some of the officers leaped from their saddles and called upon the men to assist in making an opening. Among these were Colonel George G. Briggs, then adjutant, and Captain H. N. Moore. The task was a difficult and hazardous one, the posts and rails being so firmly united that it could be accomplished only by lifting the posts, which were deeply set, and removing several lengths at once. This was finally done, however, though the regiment was exposed, not only to a fire from the force in front, but to a flanking fire from a strong skirmish line along a fence to the right and running nearly at right-angles with one through which it was trying to pass.
While this was going on, Brigg's horse was
shot and he found himself on foot, with three confederate prisoners on
his hands. With these he started to the rear, having no remount.
Before he could reach a place of safety the rush of charging squadrons
from either side had intercepted his retreat. In the melee that followed,
two of his men ran away; the other undertook the duty of escorting his
captor back to the Confederate lines. The experiment cost him his
life, but the plucky adjutant, although he did not run away, lived to fight
again on many another day.
In the meantime, through the passageway thus effected, the regiment moved forward, the center squadron leading, and resumed the charge. The Confederates once more fell back before it. The charge was continued across a plowed field to the front and right, up to and past Rummel's to a point within 200 or 300 yards of the Confederate battery. There another fence was encountered, the last one in the way of reaching the battery, the guns of which were pouring canister into the charging column as fast as they could fire. Two men, Privates Powers and Ingelede, of Captain Moore's company, leaped this fence and passed several rods beyond. Powers came back without a scratch, but Ingelede was severely wounded. These two men were certainly within 200 yards of the enemy's cannon.
But seeing that the enemy to the right had thrown down the fences, and were forming a column for a charge, the companies of the Seventh fell back through the opening in the fence. Captain Moore, in whose company sixteen horses had been killed, retired slowly, endeavoring to cover the retreat of his dismounted men, but, taking the wrong direction, came to the fence one hundred yards above the opening, just as the enemy's charging column struck him. Glancing over his shoulder, he caught the gleam of a saber thrust from the arm of a sturdy Confederate. He ducked to avoid the blow, but received the point on the back of his head. At the same time a pistol ball crashed through his charger's brain and the horse went down, Moore's leg under him. An instant later Moore avenged his steed with the last shot in his revolver, and the Confederate fell dead at his side. Some dismounted men of the Thirteenth Virginia Cavalry took Moore prisoner and escorted him back to the rear of their battery, from which position, during the excitement that followed, he made his escape.
But now Alger, who, when his ammunition gave
out, hastened to his horses, had succeeded in mounting one battalion, commanded
by Major L. S. Trowbridge; and when the Ninth and Thirteenth Virginia struck
the flank of the Seventh Michigan, he ordered that officer to charge and
meet this new danger. Trowbridge and his men dashed forward with
a cheer, and the enemy in their turn were put to flight. Past the
Rummel building, through the fields, almost to the fence where Moore had
halted, Trowbridge kept on; but he too, was obliged to retire before the
destructive fire of the Confederate cannon, which did not cease to belch
forth destruction upon every detachment of the Union cavalry that approached
near enough to threaten them. The Major's horse was killed, but his
orderly was close at hand with another and he escaped. When his battalion
was retiring, it also was assailed in flank by a mounted charge of the
First Virginia Cavalry, which was met and driven back by the other battalion
of the Fifth Michigan, led by Colonel Alger.
Then, as it seemed, the two belligerent forces paused to get their second breath. Up to the time the battle had raged with varying fortune. Victory, that appeared about to perch first on one banner than on the other, held aloof, as if disdaining to favor either. The odds, indeed, had been rather with the Confederates than against them, for Stuart managed to outnumber his adversary at every critical point, though Gregg forced the fighting, putting Stuart on his defense and checkmating his plan to fight an offensive battle. But the wily Confederate had kept his two choicest brigades in reserve for the supreme moment, intending then to throw them into the contest and sweep the field with one grand, resistless [sic] charge.
All felt that the time for this effort had come, when a body of mounted men began to emerge from the woods and form column to the left as they debouched in the open field. Squadron after squadron, regiment after regiment, orderly as if on parade, came into view, and successively took their places.
Then Pennington opened with all his guns. Six rifled pieces, as fast as they could fire, rained shot and shell into that fated column. The effect was deadly. Great gaps were torn in that mass of mounted men, but the rents were quickly closed. Men and horses were shot away, but others took their places. Then they were ready. Confederate chroniclers tell us there were two brigades -- eight regiments, under their own favorite leaders. In the van floated a stand of colors. It was the battle-flag of Wade Hampton, who, with Fitzhugh Lee, was leading the assaulting column. In superb form, with sabers glistening, they advanced. The men on foot gave way to let them pass. It was an inspiring and imposing spectacle, that brought a murmur of admiration from the spectators on the opposite ridge. Pennington double-shotted his guns with canister, and the head of the column staggered under each murderous discharge. But still it advanced, led on by an imperturable [sic] spirit that no storm of war could cow.
Meantime Alger, with his Fifth, had drawn aside a little to the left, making ready to spring. McIntosh's squadrons were in the edge of the opposite woods. The Seventh was sullenly retiring, with faces to the foe. On and on, nearer and nearer, came the assaulting column, charging straight for Randol's battery. The storm of canister caused them to waver a little, but that was all. A few moments would bring them among the guns of Chester, who, like Pennington's lieutenants, was still firing with frightful regularity as fast as he could load. Then Gregg rode over to the First Michigan and directed Town to charge. Custer dashed up with similar instructions, and as Town ordered sabers to be drawn, placed himself by his side, in front of the leading squadron.
With ranks well closed, with guidons flying
and bugles sounding, the grand old regiment of veterans, led by Town and
Custer, moved forward to meet that host, outnumbering it three to one;
first at a trot, then the command to charge rang out, and, with gleaming
saber and flashing pistol, Town and his heroes were hurled right into the
teeth of Hampton and Fitzhugh Lee. Alger, who with the Fifth had
been waiting for the right moment, charged in on the right flank of the
column as it passed, as some of McIntosh's squadrons did on its left.
One company of the Seventh, under Lieutenant Dan Littlefield, also joined
in the charge.
Then it was steel to steel and Greek met Greek. For minutes -- and for minutes that seemed like years -- the gray column stood and staggered before the blow; then yielded and fled. Alger and McIntosh had pierced its flanks, but Town's impetuous charge in front went through it like a wedge, splitting it in twain and scattering the Confederate horsemen in disorderly rout back to the woods whence they came.
During this last melee the brazen lips of the cannon were dumb. It was a fierce hand to hand encounter between the Michigan men and the flower of the Southern cavaliers, led by their favorite commanders, in which the latter were worsted.
Stuart retreated to his stronghold, leaving the Union forces in possession of the field.
The rally sounded, the lines were reformed, the wounded cared for, and everything made ready for a renewal of the conflict. But the charge of the First Michigan ended the cavalry fighting on the right at Gettysburg. Military critics have pronounced it the finest charged made during the war.
It was a famous fight and a bloody one. Custer's brigade lost one officer and twenty-eight men killed, eleven officers and 112 men wounded, sixty-seven men missing; total loss, 219. Gregg's division lost one man killed, seven officers and nineteen men wounded, eight men missing; total, thirty-five. In other words, while Gregg's division, two brigades, lost thirty-five, Custer's single brigade suffered a loss of 219. These figures apply only to the fight on July 3d.10
I find from the official records that the brigade during the three days, July 1st, 2d and 3d, lost one officer and thirteen men killed, thirteen officers and 134 men wounded, seventy-eight men missing; total, 257. It is difficult, however, to get the full figures, for regimental commanders did not make their reports on the same basis. The above compilation gives the Sixth Michigan only one man missing -- a manifest absurdity, unless "missing" is construed to mean those, only, who could be accounted for in no other way. This rule, evidently, all did not follow. Had the Sixth Michigan been given its proper credit for "missing in action," the total loss would be still greater than it appears from the figures given.
The operations of the Michigan Cavalry Brigade in the Gettysburg campaign, properly began at Gettysburg June 28th, and ended at Falling Waters July 14th, or perhaps a little later, when the pursuit of Lee beyond the river ceased. Any sketch that does not cover the entire period, will fall short of doing justice to Custer and his command. But, to pursue the subject further at this time, would be to violate the proprieties and abuse the patience of my hearers, if, indeed I have not done so already. I would like to go on and speak of the pursuit on July 4th; of the midnight battle in the mountains at Monterey; of the fight at Boonesborough, and the bloody affairs at Hagerstown, Williamsport and Falling Waters; to tell the story of the death of Weber and Jewett, of Royce, Bolza, Elliott, McElhenny, and Snyder, and all the noble men who fell with them during those last few eventful days. But this must be done, if at all, on some future occasion. Suffice it to say that during the period named the brigade lost thirty officers killed and wounded, whose names are here given.
First Michigan -- Captain W. R. Elliott, Captain C. J. Snyder,
Lieutenant J. S. McElhenny -- 3
Fifth Michigan -- Major N. H. Ferry -- 1.
Sixth Michigan -- Major P. A. Weber, Captain, D. G. Royce, Lieutenant C. E. Bolz, Adjutant A. C. Jewett -- 4.
First Michigan -- Captain D. W. Clemmer, Lieutenant E. F.
Bicker, Captain A. W. Duggan, Captain H. E Hascall, Captain W. M. Heazlett,
Captain G. R. Maxwell, Lieutenant R. N. Van Atter -- 7.
Fifth Michigan -- Colonel R. A. Alger, Lieutenant Colonel E. Gould, Lieutenant T. J. Dean, Lieutenant G. N Dutcher -- 4.
Sixth Michigan -- Lieutenant G. W. Crawford, Captain H. E. Thompson, Captain J. H. Kidd, Lieutenant E. Potter, Lieutenant S. Shipman -- 5.
Seventh Michigan -- Lieutenant J. G. Birney, Lieutenant J. L. Carpenter, Lieutenant E. Gray, Lieutenant C. Griffith, Captain Alex. Walker -- 5.
It has not been possible for me to obtain a list of the men killed and wounded for that particular period. The record, however, shows that the four regiments during their entire time of service, lost twenty-three officers and 328 men killed; eight officers and 111 men died of wounds; nine officers and 991 men died of disease; a grand total of 1,470 men, who gave up their lives during those four awful years. This does not include those who have died since the war from the effects of wounds and sickness, imprisonment and privations incurred while in the line of duty.
Colonel Fox's history of the casualties in
the war shows that there were 260 cavalry regiments in the Union service
during the Was of the Rebellion. Of all these, the First Michigan
lost the largest number of men killed in action, with one exception --
the First Maine. In percentage of killed, in proportion to the number
of men engaged, the Fifth and Sixth Michigan rank all the rest, not excepting
the two first named; and it must be remembered that the Fifth and Sixth
went out in 1862, and did their first fighting in the campaign which we
have now been considering. They also stood third and fourth respectively,
in the number of killed, being ranked in that respect by the First Maine
and First Michigan alone.
Comrades: This is a record to be proud of. No man will ever blush to own that he was one of Custer's Michigan troopers. Their record is written in history, where it will have a permanent as well as an honorable place. As we stand here to-day, within the shadow of a beautiful monument erected to commemorate the courage and patriotism of the men whose fortitude helped to save the Union right, let us renew our fealty to the cause for which they fought, and resolve that in the years that are left to us we will be loyal to ourselves, true to the manhood that was here put to the proof -- true as were those noble dead who gave their lives for the Union.
Kidd, James H. "Address of General James Kidd at the Dedication
of Michigan Monuments Upon the Battlefield at Gettysburg, June 12, 1889"
Journal of the United States Cavalry Association, Volume 4