[From the Times-Dispatch, April 10, 1904.]
THE BATTLE OF GETTYSBURG,
And the Charge of Pickett's Division.
ACCOUNTS OF COLONEL RAWLEY MARTIN AND CAPTAIN
JOHN HOLMES SMITH.
With Prefatory Note by U. S. Senator John W. Daniel.
[Very much has been published regarding the momentous battle of Gettysburg, but the following
additions can but be welcome to our readers. Reference may be made to ante p. 33 and preceding
volumes of the Southern Historical Society Papers, particularly the early volumes, II-X
Washington, D. C., March 30, 1904
Editor of The Times-Dispatch:
Sir,--Enclosed are accounts of the charge at Gettysburg by two officers of Pickett's Division of high reputation for courage an reliability--the one being Lieutenant-Colonel Rawley W. Martin, then of the 53d Virginia Infantry, Armistead's Brigade, and the other Captain John Holmes Smith, of the Lynchburg Home Guard, who, after Lieutenant-Colonel Kirkwood Otey, and Major Risque Hutter, were wounded in that battle, commanded the 11th Virginia Infantry.
In 1897 Commander Sylvester Chamberlain, of an Association of United States Naval Veterans,
of Buffalo, New York, wrote to Colonel Martin (now Dr. Martin, of Lynchburg, Va.), asking him
to recount the charge, saying:
"The charge of Pickett's Division outrivals the storied heroism of the Old Guard of Napoleon.
They knew no such battle as that of Gettysburg, and, I believe, the old First Confederate Army
Corps could have whipped the best two corps in Napoleon's army, taken in the zenith of his
Dr. Martin wrote this paper under the call from a Northern camp commander.
Captain John Holmes Smith was with his regiment on the right wing of Pickett's charge, under Kemper, and struck the Federal line to the right of where General Armistead made the break. The soldiers of Kemper there took the Federal entrenchments, and remained about twenty minutes in possession of them. Twice couriers were sent back for reinforcements. Slowly, but surely, the details of this magnificent exploit of war come to light; and the more brilliant does it appear. Slowly, and surely, also do the evidences gather that point toward the responsible agents of the failure that ensued.
Jno. W. Daniel.
COLONEL RAWLEY MARTIN'S ACCOUNT.
Lynchburg Va., August 11, 1897.
Commander Sylvester Chamberlain, Buffalo, N. Y.:
My dear Sir,--In the effort to comply with your request to describe Pickett's charge at Gettysburg, I may unavoidably repeat what has often been told before, as the position of troops, the cannonade, the advance, and the final disaster are familiar to all who have the interest or the curiosity to read. My story will be short, for I shall only attempt to describe what fell under my own observation.
You ask for a description of the "feelings of the brave Virginians who passed through that hell of
fire in their heroic charge on Cemetery Ridge." The esprit du corps could not have been better;
the men were in good physical condition, self reliant and determined. They felt the gravity of the
situation, for they knew well the metal of the foe in their front; they were serious and resolute, but
not disheartened. None of the usual jokes, common on the eve of battle, were indulged in, for
every man felt his individual responsibility, and realized that he had the most stupendous work of
his life before him; officers and men knew at what cost and at what risk the advance was to be
made, but they had deliberately made up their minds to attempt it. I believe the general sentiment
of the division was that they would succeed in driving the Federal line from what was their
objective point; they knew that many, very many, would go down under the storm of shot and
shell which would greet them when their gray ranks were spread out to view, but it never
occurred to them that disaster would come after they once placed their tattered banners upon the
crest of Seminary Ridge.
I believe if those men had been told: "This day your lives will pay the penalty of your attack upon
the Federal lines," they would have made the charge just as it was made. There was no straggling,
no feigned sickness, no pretense of being overcome by the intense heat; every man felt that it was
his duty to make that fight; that he was his own commander, and they would have made the
charge without an officer of any description; they only needed to be told what they were expected
to do. This is as near the feeling of the men of Pickett's Division on the morning of the battle as I
can give, and with this feeling they went to their work. Many of them were veteran soldiers, who
had followed the little cross of stars from Big Bethel to Gettysburg; they knew their own power,
and they knew the temper of their adversary; they had often met before, and they knew the
meeting before them would be desperate and deadly.
Pickett's three little Virginia brigades were drawn up in two lines, Kemper on the right (1st, 3d,
7th, 11th and 24), Garnett on the left (8th, 18th, 19th, 28th and 56th), and Armistead in the rear
and center (9th, 14th, 38th, 53d and 57th) Virginia Regiments, covering the space between
Kemper's left and Garnett's right flanks. This position was assigned Armistead, I suppose, that he
might at the critical moment rush to the assistance of the two leading brigades, and if possible, put
the capstone upon their work. We will see presently how he succeeded. The Confederate
artillery was on the crest of Seminary Ridge, nearly in front of Pickett; only a part of the division
had the friendly shelter of the woods; the rest endured the scorching rays of the July sun until the
opening of the cannonade, when the dangers from the Federal batteries were added to their
discomfort. About 1 o'clock two signal guns were fired by the Washington Artillery, and instantly
a terrific cannonade was commenced, which lasted for more than an hour, when suddenly
everything was silent. Every man knew what that silence portended. The grim blue battle line on
Seminary Ridge began at once to prepare for the advance of its antagonists; both sides felt that
the tug of war was about to come, and that Greek must meet Greek as they had never met before.
A SOLEMN MOMENT.
From this point, I shall confine my description to events connected with Armistead's brigade, with
which I served. Soon after the cannonade ceased, a courier dashed up to General Armistead, who
was pacing up and down in front of the 53d Virginia Regiment, his battalion of direction (which I
commanded in the charge and at the head of which Armistead marched), and gave him the order
from General Pickett to prepare for the advance. At once the command "Attention, battalion!"
rang out clear and distinct. Instantly every man was on his feet and in his place; the alignment
was made with as much coolness and precision as if preparing for dress parade. Then Armistead
went up to the color sergeant of the 53d Virginia Regiment and said: "Sergeant, are you going to
put those colors on the enemy's works to-day?" The gallant fellow replied: "I will try, sir, and if
mortal man can do it, it shall be done." It was done, but not until this brave man, and many others
like him, had fallen with their faces to the foe; bur never once did that banner trail in the dust, for
some brave fellow invariably caught it as it was going down, and again bore it aloft, until
Armistead saw its tattered folds unfurled on the very crest of Seminary Ridge.
After this exchange of confidence between the general and the color-bearer, Armistead
commanded: "Right shoulder, shift arms. Forward, march." They stepped out at quick time, in
perfect order and alignment--tramp, tramp, up to the Emmittsburg road; then the advancing
Confederates saw the long line of blue, nearly a mile distant, ready and awaiting their coming.
The scene was grand and terrible, and well calculated to demoralize the stoutest heart; but not a
step faltered, not an elbow lost the touch of its neighbor, not a face blanched, for these men had
determined to do their whole duty, and reckoned not the cost. On they go; at about 1,100 yards
the Federal batteries opened fire; the advancing Confederates encounter and sweep before them
the Federal skirmish line. Still forward they go; hissing, screaming shells break in their front, rear,
on their flanks, all about them, but the devoted band, with the blue line in their front as their
objective point, press forward, keeping step to the music of the battle. The distance between the
opposing forces grows less and less, until suddenly the infantry behind the rock fence poured
volley after volley into the advancing ranks. The men fell like stalks of grain before the reaper, but
still they closed the gaps and pressed forward through that pitiless storm. The two advance
brigades have thus far done the fighting. Armistead has endured the terrible ordeal without firing
a gun; his brave followers have not changed their guns from the right shoulder. Great gaps have
been torn in their ranks; their field and company officers have fallen; color-bearer after
color-bearer has been shot down, but still they never faltered.
THE CRITICAL MOMENT.
At the critical moment, in response to a request from Kemper, Armistead, bracing himself to the
desperate blow, rushed forward to Kemper's and Garnett's line, delivered his fire, and with one
supreme effort planted his colors on the famous rock fence. Armistead himself, with his hat on
the point of his sword, that his men might see it through the smoke of battle, rushed forward,
scaled the wall, and cried: "Boys, give them the cold steel!" By this time, the Federal hosts lapped
around both flanks and made a counter advance in their front, and the remnant of those three little
brigades melted away. Armistead himself had fallen, mortally wounded, under the guns he had
captured, while the few who followed him over the fence were either dead or wounded. The
charge was over, the sacrifice had been made, but, in the words of a Federal officer: "Banks of
heroes they were; they fled not, but amidst that still continuous and terrible fire they slowly,
sullenly recrossed the plain--all that was left of them--but few of the five thousand."
WHERE WAS PICKETT.
When the advance commenced General Pickett rode up and down in rear of Kemper and Garnett, and in this position he continued as long as there was opportunity of observing him. When the assault became so fierce that he had to superintend the whole line, I am sure he was in his proper place. A few years ago Pickett's staff held a meeting in the city of Richmond, Va., and after comparing recollections, they published a statement to the effect that he was with the division throughout the charge; that he made an effort to secure reinforcements when he saw his flanks were being turned, and one of General Garnett's couriers testified that he carried orders from him almost to the rock fence. From my knowledge of General Pickett I am sure he was where his duty called him throughout the engagement. He was too fine a soldier, and had fought too many battles not to be where he was most needed on that supreme occasion of his military life.
The ground over which the charge was made was an open terrene, with slight depressions and
elevations, but insufficient to be serviceable to the advancing column. At the Emmettsburg road,
where the parallel fences impeded the onward march, large numbers were shot down on account
of the crowding at the openings where the fences had been thrown down, and on account of the
halt in order to climb the fences. After passing these obstacles, the advancing column deliberately
rearranged its lines and moved forward. Great gaps were made in their ranks as they moved on,
but they were closed up as deliberately and promptly as if on the parade ground; the touch of
elbows was always to the centre, the men keeping constantly in view the little emblem which was
their beacon light to guide them to glory and to death.
INSTANCES OF COURAGE.
I will mention a few instances of individual coolness and bravery exhibited in the charge. In the
53d Virginia Regiment, I saw every man of Company F (Captain Henry Edmunds, now a
distinguished member of the Virginia bar) thrown flat to the earth by the explosion of a shell from
Round Top, but every man who was not killed or desperately wounded sprang to his feet,
collected himself and moved forward to close the gap made in the regimental front. A soldier
from the same regiment was shot on the shin; he stopped in the midst of that terrific fire, rolled up
his trousers leg, examined his wound, and went forward even to the rock fence. He escaped
further injury, and was one of the few who returned to his friends, but so bad was his wound that
it was nearly a year before he was fit for duty. When Kemper was riding off, after asking
Armistead to move up to his support, Armistead called him, and, pointing to his brigade, said:
"Did you ever see a more perfect line than that on dress parade?" It was, indeed, a lance head of
steel, whose metal had been tempered in the furnace of conflict. As they were about to enter
upon their work, Armistead, as was invariably his custom on going into battle, said: "Men,
remember your wives, your mothers, your sisters and you sweethearts." Such an appeal would
have made those men assault the ramparts of the infernal regions.
AFTER THE CHARGE.
You asked me to tell how the field looked after the charge, and how the men went back. This I am unable to do, as I was disabled at Armistead's side a moment after he had fallen, and left on the Federal side of the stone fence. I was picked up by the Union forces after their lines were reformed, and I take this occasion to express my grateful recollection of the attention I received on the field, particularly from Colonel Hess, of the 72d Pennsylvania (I think). If he still lives, I hope yet to have the pleasure of grasping his hand and expressing to him my gratitude for his kindness to me. Only the brave know how to treat a fallen foe.
I cannot close this letter without reference to the Confederate chief, General R. E. Lee. Somebody blundered at Gettysburg but not Lee. He was too great a master of the art of war to have hurled a handful of men against an army. It has been abundantly shown that the fault lay not with him, but with others, who failed to execute his orders.
This has been written amid interruptions, and is an imperfect attempt to describe the great charge, but I have made the effort to comply with your request because of your very kind and friendly letter, and because there is no reason why those who once were foes should not now be friends. The quarrel was not personal, but sectional, and although we tried to destroy each other thirty-odd years ago, there is no reason why we should cherish resentment against each other now.
I should be very glad to meet you in Lynchburg if your business or pleasure should ever bring you to Virginia.
With great respect,
Yours most truly,
Rawley W. Martin.
CAPTAIN JOHN HOLMES SMITH'S ACCOUNT.
Lynchburg, Va., Feb. 4th and 5th.
John Holmes Smith, formerly Captain of Company G (the Home Guard), of Lynchburg, Va., and
part of the 11th Virginia Infantry, Kemper's Brigade, Pickett's Division, 1st Corps (Longstreet),
C. S. A., commanded that company, and then the regiment for a time in the battle of Gettysburg.
He says as follows, concerning that battle:
The 11th Virginia Infantry arrived near Gettysburg, marching from Chambersburg on the afternoon of July 2d, 1863. We halted in sight of shells bursting in the front.
Very early on the morning of the 3d July we formed in rear of the Confederate artillery near Spurgeon's woods, where we lay for many hours. I noticed on the early morning as we were taking positions the long shadows cast by the figures of the men, their legs appearing to lengthen immediately as the shadows fell.
The 11th Virginia was the right regiment of Kemper's Brigade and of Pickett's Division. No
notable event occurred in the morning, nor was there any firing of note near us that specially
attracted my attention.
About 1 o'clock there was the fire of signal guns, and there were outbursts of artillery on both sides. Our artillery on the immediate front of the regiment was on the crest of the ridge, and our infantry line was from one to 250 yards in rear of it.
We suffered considerable loss before we moved. I had twenty-nine men in my company for duty
that morning. Edward Valentine and two Jennings brothers (William Jennings) of my company
were killed; De Witt Guy, sergeant, was wounded, and some of the men--a man now and a man
then--were also struck and sent to the rear before we moved forward--I think about ten killed and
wounded in that position. Company E, on my right, lost more seriously than Company G, and
was larger in number.
Just before the artillery fire ceased General Longstreet rode in a walk between the artillery and the infantry, in front of the regiment toward the left and disappeared down the line. He was as quiet as an old farmer riding over his plantation on a Sunday morning, and looked neither to the right or left.
It had been known for hours that we were to assail the enemy's lines in front. We fully expected to take them.
Presently the artillery ceased firing. Attention ! was the command. Our skirmishers were thrown to the front, and "forward, quick time, march," was the word given. We were ordered not to fire until so commanded. Lieutenant-Colonel Kirkwood Otey was thus in command of the regiment when we passed over the crest of the ridge, through our guns there planted, and had advanced some distance down the slope in our front. I was surprised before that our skirmishers had been brought to a stand by those of the enemy; and the latter only gave ground when our line of battle had closed up well inside of a hundred yards of our own skirmishers. The enemy's skirmishers then retreated in perfect order, firing as they fell back.
The enemy's artillery, front and flank, fired upon us, and many of the regiment were struck.
UP THE HILL.
Having descended the slope and commenced to ascend the opposite slope that rises toward the enemy's works, the Federal skirmishers kept up their fire until we were some four hundred yards from the works. They thus being between two fires--for infantry fire broke out from the works--threw down their arms, rushed into our lines, and then sought refuge in the depression, waterway or gully between the slopes.
There was no distinct change of front; but "close and dress to the left" was the command, and this gave us an oblique movement to the left as we pressed ranks in that direction.
Our colors were knocked down several times as we descended the slope on our side. Twice I saw
the color-bearer stagger and the next man seize the staff and go ahead; the third time the colors
struck the ground as we were still on the down slope. The artillery had opened upon us with
canister. H. V. Harris, adjutant of the regiment, rushed to them and seized them, and, I think,
carried them to the enemy's works.
AT THE WORKS.
When the enemy's infantry opened fire on us--and we were several hundred yards distant from them as yet--we rushed towards the works, running, I may say, almost at top speed, and as we neared the works I could see a good line of battle, thick and substantial, firing upon us. When inside of a hundred yards of them I could see, first, a few, and then more and more, and presently, to my surprise and disgust, the whole line break away in flight. When we got to the works, which were a hasty trench and embankment, and not a stone wall at the point we struck, our regiment was a mass or ball, all mixed together, without company organization. Some of the 24th and 3d seemed to be coming with us, and it may be others. Not a man could I see in the enemy's works, but on account of the small timber and the lay of the ground, I could not see very far along the line, either right or left, of the position we occupied.
There were, as I thought at the time I viewed the situation, about three hundred men in the party
with me, or maybe less. Adjutant H. V. Harris, of the regimental staff, was there dismounted.
Captain Fry, Assistant Adjutant-General of General Kemper, was also there on foot, with a
courier, who was a long-legged, big-footed fellow, whom we called "Big Foot Walker," also
afoot. Captain R. W. Douthat, of Company F, I also noticed, and there were some other
regimental officers whom I cannot now recall.
BIG FOOT WALKER.
We thought our work was done, and that the day was over, for the last enemy in sight we had seen disappear over the hill in front; and I expected to see General Lee's army marching up to take possession of the field. As I looked over the work of our advance with this expectation, I could see nothing but dead and wounded men and horses in the field beyond us, and my heart never in my life sank as it did then. It was a grievous disappointment.
Instantly men turned to each other with anxious inquiries what to do, and a number of officers grouped together in consultation, Captain Fry, Captain Douthat, Adjutant Harris, and myself, who are above noted, amongst them. No field officer appeared at this point that I could discover. We promptly decided to send a courier for reinforcements. No mounted man was there. "Big Foot Walker" was dispatched on that errand. Fearing some mishap to him, for shots from the artillery on our right, from the enemy's left, were still sweeping the field, we in a few moments sent another courier for reinforcements.
We were so anxious to maintain the position we had gained, that we watched the two men we had
sent to our rear across the field, and saw them both, the one after the other, disappear over the
ridge from which we had marched forward.
WAIT FOR TWENTY MINUTES.
Unmolested from the front or on either side, and with nothing to indicate that we would be assailed, we thus remained for fully twenty minutes after Walker had been sent for reinforcements--waited long after he had disappeared on his mission over the ridge in our rear.
Seeing no sign of coming help, anticipating that we would soon be attacked, and being in no condition of numbers or power to resist any serious assault, we soon concluded--that is, the officers above referred to--to send the men back to our lines, and we so ordered.
Lest they might attract the fire of the guns that still kept up a cannonade from the enemy's left, we told the men to scatter as they retired, and they did fall back singly and in small groups, the officers before named retiring also. Only Captain Ro. W. Douthat and myself remained at the works, while the rest of the party we were with, retired. I remained to dress a wound on my right leg, which was bleeding freely, and Douthat, I suppose, just to be with me. I dropped to the ground under the shade of the timber after the men left, pulled out a towel from my haversack, cut it into strips, and bandaged my thigh, through which a bullet had passed.
This wound had been received as we approached the enemy's skirmishers on the descending slope,
one of them having shot me. I thought at the time I was knocked out, but did not fall, and I said
to James R. Kent, sergeant: "Take charge of the company, I am shot." But soon finding I could
move my leg and that I could go on, no bones being broken, I went to the end of the charge.
While I was still bandaging my leg at the works, my companion, Captain Robert W. Douthat, who had picked up a musket, commenced firing and fired several shots. Thinking he had spied an enemy in the distance, I continued bandaging my leg, and completed the operation.
When raising myself on my elbow I saw the head of a column of Federal troops about seventy-five
yards toward our right front, advancing obliquely toward us. I was horrified, jumped up and
exclaimed to Douthat: "What are you doing?" as he faced in their direction. He dropped his gun
and answered: "It's time to get away from here," and I started on the run behind him, as we both
rapidly retired from the advancing foes. We made good time getting away, and got some distance
before they opened fire on us--perhaps 100 or 150 yards. We ran out of range, shot after shot
falling around us, until we got over the Emmettsburg road toward our lines. After we had got
over the fences along the road the fire didn't disturb us. No organized body of troops did I meet
in going back. I wondered how few I saw in this retreat from the hill top. I reached ere long the
tent of a friend, Captain Charles M. Blackford, judge advocate of our Second Corps, at
Longstreet's headquarters, and this was the last of the battle of Gettysburg time. I didn't hear of
Lieutenant-Colonel Otey being wounded until after the battle was over, though I have since
understood it was shortly after the advance commenced. I, the Captain of Company G, was the
only commissioned officer with the company that day. I may properly mention an incident or two.
Now the battery of the descending slope was advanced. Sergeant James R. Kent, of my company, suddenly plunged forward in a ditch, and I asked of him: "How are you hurt, Kent?" for I knew he was hit. He answered: "Shot through the leg." About the time we sent "Big Foot Walker" back for reinforcements, "Blackeyed Williams," as we called him, a private of my company, called to me: "Look here, Captain," at the same time pulling up his shirt at the back and showing a cut where a bullet had a full mark about its depth in the flesh. Quite a number of the men on the hill top had been struck one way or another, and there were many nursing and tying up their wounds. Kent's leg had been fractured--the small bone--and he was captured.
Before an advance I went several times to the crest where our artillery was planted, and could see
the enemy in our front throwing up dirt on the line which we afterwards took. Just before the
cannonade commenced Major James Downing rode along the line of guns in our immediate front,
carrying a flag.
I came away from Longstreet's headquarters after spending the night (after the battle in Captain Blackford's tent) in a wagon with a long train of wagons that carried one to Williamsport, leaving about noon and traveling through the next night. Next morning we reached Williamsport. The town was attacked at several points, but not where I was.
Captain William Early--or Lieutenant Early, as he was then--I met at Williamsport as I got out of the wagons, and asked me to dinner. I told him I couldn't walk, for I was sore and stiff, and he went off to get me a horse. But he didn't return, and I did not see him again, for just then his guns opened and a lively skirmish ensued, but soon quieted down. After remaining a few hours on the north side of the river, a big ferry boat was brought up, and, having collected fifty or sixty of the 11th Virginia infantry who were wounded, I took charge of them and carried them on the boat across the river that evening. Then we marched next morning for Winchester, reaching there in two days. I did not see my regiment in the campaign after the fight. In a few months my leg healed and I rejoined my regiment at Hanover junction in the fall.
The above is correct.
Jno. Holmes Smith,
Late Captain Company G, Home Guards,
of Lynchburg, Va.
(Source: Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. 32, pages 183-195)