Charge of Black's Cavalry Regiment at Gettysburg.
By P. J. Malone, of its Color-Guard.
Orangeburg District, S.C., January 6th, 1867.
Colonel John Logan Black,
Ridgeway, South Carolina:
Dear Colonel,--I have taken the earliest opportunity to attend to your request, and trust that the sketch herewith given, though hastily drawn from materials only in memory, may fully comprehend the object you contemplate. You may find that I occasionally led into the recital of facts irrelevant to the matter of inquiry, but they are concomitant facts, and serve to illustrate the statement I desire to make more fully than could be accomplished did I avoid all digression.
It is the history of a single charge that I propose to write, but no leaf in history of any revolution bears record of a prouder heroism, a more invincible courage, than was on that day exhibited along our depleted ranks. I find it impossible to speak with certainty of our arrival on the field of Gettysburg, or of our position at the fatal hour of encounter.
The more prominent incidents of the terrific scene are still pictured on my mind; but it is rather with the vividness of a strange, wild dream, in which much has faded from the waking memory, than as any past event of real like that I now contemplate them.
About 2 o'clock in the afternoon of July 3d, 1863, our brigade moved to its position on the left of the army. There was one incessant roar of artillery and the ground was shaken, while to the northwest cumulous [sic] clouds of smoke rose above the unbroken thunder of six hundred guns. For a time the tremendous reverberations rendered it difficult for one at a distance to determine the direction of the battle, but knowing the position it was easy to divine that, as the din became less distinct, we were steadily forcing the enemy at every point. At the time our brigade was thrown from the serried form of the phalanx across the field which was so soon to become our battleground, it seemed the resistance of the enemy became more stubborn, the smoke became denser and darker, and curling up filled the immense sky.
We were in ignorance of the juxtaposition of the enemy's cavalry, but anyone without risking his dexterity might have ventured to predict that the quietude of this part of the field was soon to be broken by the clash of sabres, the shout of triumph and the agonizing cry of death.
The quick eye of our stalwart leader, his rapid movements from regiment to regiment, his hurried, yet confident, tone of command, and above all his frequent anxious glances towards a certain dense oak forest one mile away, were indications sufficient of this even before the skirmishers had engaged one another on the intermediate ground. Soon a battery opened upon us from the enemy's line. They managed their guns with admirable precision, and although branches of trees were rifted from their trunks and shell exploded in our very ranks, little damage was done. At this time our regiment was calmly awaiting orders for the engagement. The battle had opened. I was of the color-guard on the right of J. H. Koger, the bearer of the standard, whose heroism in keeping it proudly in the face of the enemy, and afterwards in bearing it in triumph from the field, where he had narrowly escaped death and capture, became so well known. On my right was Sergeant T. P. Brandenburg, whom you will remember as a peerless soldier and truly imperial spirit. We were not long left quiet. General Fitz. Lee encountered the enemy on our right, and being overwhelmed by numbers it became necessary for us to attack them at our front, to divert their attention from his brigade. General Hampton proposed to lead our regiment. We started out in fine style, and one continued shout arose from the charging column. The enemy now appeared in a black compact line, and at a casual view appeared rather a continuation of the forest. The intervening ground over which we were passing was so crossed and seamed with fences and ditches as to greatly impede our progress, and the sharpshooters, concealed wherever concealment was possible, found in the moving mass of beings an excellent mark for their rifles. It was, no doubt, by one of these chance balls that I was wounded. We had not advanced beyond two hundred yards from the cluster of trees where we had taken shelter, when I was struck, the ball entering my right side, penetrating into the abdominal cavity and lodging against or in the region of the kidneys. Believing it to be no more than the fragment of a shell, which had struck without breaking the surface--an impression strengthened by the fact that these missiles were bursting all around--I kept on with the regiment. We were soon at the sabre-point and fighting desperately. The color-guard, from some mysterious circumstance, became precipitated from its posture to the head of the column and met the enemy at a small opening in a fence, which soon became so blockaded by the regiment as to prevent those in the rear coming to the assistance of the few who had first entered the enclosure, or any of us who might be wounded to secure our escape to the hospital. General Hampton, I was informed, here engaged a number of the enemy, and cut his way through them with Achilleian valor, bearing upon his noble form the marks of cruel wounds.
At this critical juncture my right side and arm became paralyzed, the sabre fell from my hand, and large cold drops of sweat collected upon my face. Surgeon Joseph Yates, seeing my unfortunate condition, rode up and assisted me over the fence. Having my blankets rolled up and fastened to the front of my saddle, I fell upon them, being no longer able to sit erect; while my horse, infuriated by the crash of cannon, the explosion of shells, and sight of blood, rushed desperately to the rear. Before I reached the temporary hospital established on the field, I overtook Private W. D. Shirer, of Company E, whose right arm had been broken. He was in the very acme of pain. This unfortunate young man died from the effects of the wound, about three weeks afterwards, at Gettysburg. I have no recollection of my arrival at the hospital. Sinking into a state of insensibility, I was carried thither by those appointed for that purpose. When aroused to consciousness Corporal H. L. Culler, of Company E, Private Ch. Franklin, of Company B, and Private----, of Company A, and Private ----, of Company H, were around, with hundreds of others, friends and foes, receiving medical attention. I would mention the conduct of Surgeon Joseph Yates as worthy of the highest admiration. Nor should the admiration be confined to his conduct on this occasion. Temperate, humane, untiring in his energy, unflagging in his zeal, he was still as brave as Julius Caesar. My last recollection of him on that ill-starred field place him at the head of the regiment, cheering it on with the most gallant bearing. Indeed this was the only objection that could be urged against him, and even then it was rather that he endangered his own life than that he neglected the lives of others.* [*The rare occurrence of a man being arrested for fighting the enemy was presented after this battle. Surgeon Yates was soon released, however, on account of the circumstances of the case] I certainly do not derogate from the medical branch of the late Confederate army when I say that, after an extensive acquaintance with medical officers, I have found none worthy to take rank with him. I would not that my admiration for the merit merge into flattery of the man. I have therefore given an expression to what I know of a young man who promises to become eminent in his profession, and who stood up like a man and ahero at a time and in a station when it was hardly discreditable to appear otherwise.
Upon inquiry of a surgeon as to the probability of my recovery, I was candidly but indly informed that the "chances were against me." The medical opinion was opposed to the performance of an operation, as such would render the "chances" of recovery still more precarious. I was utterly prostate, and sank from sheer exhaustion if any effort was made to raise me up. The next day we were informed that our army was retreating, and that, as we could not be removed, our capture was certain. Surgeon Yates remained with us. When taken, we were sent to Gettysburg Hospital where our treatment, though kind, was rendered repugnant by the flippancy of some of the United States surgeons. One, for instance, passed where Corporal Culler and myself were lying and remarked that we "must die in any event." Culler was shot through the body and, though expecting this announcement, his spirits sank and he groaned heavily when he heard it. In three days he was a corpse. We were then removed to New York, where we received the most considerate attention. Here I made the acquaintance of many excellent ladies and gentlemen from the Southern States. My health improved slowly and, as I was young at the time, I have so far outgrown the misfortune as to feel no inconvenience from it. My regret is that thousands were less fortunate. It may not be inappropriate to speak a word of the friends of our soldiers in New York. They have been known to perform much in the face of contumelious detraction worthy of historic note. I left New York impressed with the idea that the heroism of the soldier is not the highest attribute of the man. True, they were among our enemies, but from this very circumstance they were enabled to render us most important services. This they did with enthusiasm truly Spartan. Never shall I forget them, and I am proud to know this sentiment is reciprocated by thousands who have shared in their kindness, and left for their homes wondering at a nobility of nature, which increases the estimate of mankind, and an identity of hope they had little though to find in a land which echoed with curses against them and their cause.
In conclusion, Colonel, I have the honor to be,
P. J. Malone.
(Source: Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. 16, pp.224-228)