The Battle of Gettysburg
By Col. A. H. Belo, 1900
Reminiscences of the sanguinary conflict related by Col. A. H. Belo, of the Fifty-Fifth North Carolina Infantry, before the Sterling Price Camp, of Dallas, Tex., January 20, 1900:
In response to your request, so graciously presented. by Judge Watts, I will give you some reminiscences of the battle of Gettysburg.
After the battle of Chancellorsville Gen. Lee spent some time in reorganizing the army into three corps, commanded respectively by Gens. Longstreet, A. P. Hill, and Ewell; and in June, Ewell's column taking the left of the line, we advanced into Maryland.
It was an army of veterans-an army that had in two years' time made a record second to none for successful fighting and hard marching. What a contrast between the enthusiastic volunteers who fought at Bull Run in 1861, and this army of trained veterans marching into the enemy's country! As a writer describing the second crusade said, "It was a goodly sight, and every man's heart was lightened and his courage strengthened as he felt that he himself had his share and part of the glorious whole." Gen. Alexander, in the "Century War Book," writes: "Except in equipment, a better army, better nerved up to its work, never marched to a battlefield."
Gen. Ewell proceeded to within a few miles of Harrisburg, Pa., and had that city within his grasp when he was recalled to join Lee at Gettysburg. Gen. A. P. Hill's Corps, to which I belonged passed through Hagerstown, Md., and Gen. Heth's Division camped at Cashtown on June 29.
Gen. Lee's headquarters were near us, and Gen. Harry Heth asked permission to send one brigade into Gettysburg on the morning of June 30 to get a supply of shoes. He sent Pettigrew's North Carolina brigade, but they found the town occupied by what they thought were militia, and having instructions not to precipitate a fight, withdrew. Gen. Heth then asked permission from Gen. Lee to send two brigades the next day, which was granted, but he has told me several times since the war that Gen. Lee felt very solicitous about the movements of the enemy, as Gen. Stuart, commanding the cavalry, had gone on a raid near Washington and left Gen. Lee, as he remarked, "without his eyes." Heretofore his cavalry had not only partially veiled his own movements, but had afforded valuable information as to the movements of the enemy.
However, on the morning of July 1 Gen. Heth ordered Davis's and Archer's Brigades to advance upon the town, and about 9 o'clock we passed Pettigrew's Brigade. In conversation some of the officers said we would find militia in the town. We had not advanced very far before we were ordered to throw owl a line of skirmishers, and immediately after that the first gun was fired by Marye's battery, and was responded to by Hall's battery on the Federal side.
The Fifty-Fifth North Carolina was to the left of the line, and as the cavalry was threatening them, a company was thrown out to protect our left flank. In this way we advanced with continual skirmishing, the line of battle following closely after. After crossing Willoughby Run the firing became very heavy and the order to charge with bayonets was given, and we started with a yell. Col. Connally, commanding the regiment, fell seriously wounded, and I went to him and asked him if he was badly hurt. He said: "Yes, bat the litter bearers are here; go on, and don't let the Mississippians get ahead of you."
We soon broke the Federal line, which was well marked by their dead and wounded. The first wounded man I asked replied: "We are Joe Hooker's men, and have marched five miles this morning;" so I told one of my officers that we had struck the regular army, and not the militia. This Federal force was Cutler's Brigade, and it was completely routed. In the meantime Archer's Brigade on our right had met the "Iron Brigade," commanded by Gen. Reynolds, who was killed in that engagement.
After the repulse of Cutler's Brigade we continued our advance and soon saw another Federal force coming on the field, one regiment, which afterwards proved to be the Sixth Wisconsin, marching at right angles w th us. They formed a line of battle and changed front to meet us, and at the same time were joined by the Ninety-Fifth New York and Fourteenth Brooklyn.
I was so impressed with the fact that the side charging first would hold the field that I suggested to Maj. Blair, commanding the Second Mississippi on my right, that we should charge them before they had their formation completed. He agreed to this, but just at than' time we received orders to form a new alignment. At the same time the Federals, taking advantage of this, were advancing, and before our new alignment could be completed, charged up to the railroad cut. One officer, seeing me, threw his sword at me and said: "Kill that officer, and we will capture that command." One of my men, however, picked him off, and we were able to get out of the railroad cut after a severe struggle.
The following extract from the report of Col. Rufus R. Dawes, commanding the Sixth Wisconsin Regiment, will show the loss he sustained in that short time, and, strange to say, he and Maj. Pye had the same conversation as Maj: Blair and myself about the successful charge:
"I was not aware of the existence of the railroad cut, and at first mistook the maneuver of the enemy for retreat, but was undeceived by the heavy fire which they at once began to pour upon us from their cover in the cut. Capt. John Ticknor, always a dashing leader, fell dead while climbing the second fence, and many were struck on the fences, but the line pushed on. When over the fences and in the field, and subjected to an infernal fire, I first saw the Ninety-Fifth New York Regiment coming gallantly into line upon our left. I did not then know or care where they came from, but was rejoiced to see them. Farther to the left was the Fourteenth Brooklyn Regiment, but I was then ignorant of the fact. Maj. Edward Pye appeared to be in command of the Ninety-Fifth New York. Running to the Major, I said: 'We must charge.' The gallant Major replied: 'Charge it is.' 'Forward, charge!' was the order I gave, and Maj. Pye gave the same command. We were receiving a fearfully destructive fire from the hidden enemy. Men who had been shot were leaving the ranks in crowds. With the colors at the advance point, die regiment firmly and hurriedly moved forward, while the whole field behind streamed with men who had been shot, and who were struggling to the rear or sinking in death upon the ground. The only commands I gave as we advanced were, 'Align on the colors! Close up on the colors! Close up on the colors!' The regiment was being so broken up that this order alone could hold the body together. Meanwhile the colors fell upon the ground several times, but were raised again by the-heroes of the color guard. Four hundred and twenty men started in the regiment from the "turnpike fence, of whom about two hundred and forty reached the railroad cut. Years afterwards I found the distance passed over to be one hundred and seventy-five paces."
The Federals did not advance beyond the railroad cut, and our new alignment being complete, there was a comparative lull in the fighting until Ewell's Corps, coming in on our left, formed a junction with us. The fighting was then resumed and kept up during the whole afternoon, resulting in the complete defeat of the First and Eleventh Corps of the Federal army, and our capturing four thousand or five thousand prisoners.
During the night both sides were occupied in bringing up reenforcements. Gen. Pendleton, commanding the artillery, told me in Galveston since the war that on the morning of the second day he was on the advance line and sent courier after courier back to Gen. Lee, with information as to the Federal troops coming up, and urging immediate attack on our part. He says Gen. Lee gave these orders, but for some reason they were not carried out.
So the morning of the ad of July passed, the Confederates occupying Seminary Ridge and the Federals Cemetery Ridge. In the afternoon heavy fighting, at different points without much connection, continued all along the line from Culp's Hill to Little Round Top. Bergen. Lee stated the result: "We attempted to dislodge the enemy, and gained some ground. We were unable to get possession of their position." Gen. Meade's report to Gen. Halleck that night said: "The enemy attacked me about 4 P.M. this day, and after one of the fiercest contests Of the war, was repulsed at all points. We have suffered considerably in killed and wounded." In the fourth volume of Rhodes's 'History of the United States," just published, he states: "The feeling among the officers in Meade's Camp that night was one of gloom. On the first day of the battle the First and Eleventh Corps had almost been annihilated. On the second day the Fifth and part of the Second had been shattered, and the Third, in the language of its commander, who succeeded Sickles, was used up and not in a condition to fight. The loss of the army had been twenty thousand men; only the Sixth and Twelfth Corps were fresh."
The morning of July 3 opened with an attack on the right of the Federal line, and then there was a lull until about I o'clock, when the artillery duel began, in which over two hundred cannon participated, and, as a celebrated general said, "it was a terrific and appalling cannoniade." The lines of battle were about a mile apart, and the infantry felt that they would have to charge across that space.
You have doubtless read of the famous charge in which fifteen thousand men from Longstreet's and Hill's Corps marched steadily and coolly against the storm of canister shot, shell, and the enemy's bullets, and in the final assault remember the words of the immortal Armstead as he leaped the stone wall, waved his sword with his hat on it, and said, "Give them the cold steel, boys!" before he fell, mortally wounded.
Gen. Hancock, who was said to be the best tactician of the Federal army, was in command at that immediate point, and in his report to Gen. Meade said: "I have never seen a more formidable attack. The enemy must be short of ammunition, as I was shot with a tenpenny nail."
And here I will state that my regiment, though it had suffered severely from the two days' fighting, was in the final charge, and three members of it- namely, Capt. Whitehead, Lieut. Falls, and Sergt. Whittlesey reached the extreme point of the Confederate advance on that fatal day. Capt. Whitehead was killed by a shell from our own batteries striking him in the breast, butt the other two are still living. A few years ago Lieut. Falls and Sergt. Whittlesey visited the battlefield with Maj. W. M. Robbins, of the Commission, and located the exact sport which they reached, which is about eighty yards to the left and beyond the point There Armstead fell. By a strange coincidence on that very day some survivors of the Federal regiment stationed at that point on July 3 were visiting the battlefield, and confirmed the statements of Lieut. Falls and Sergt. Whittlesey, stating that they saw the three men, and pointing out the spot where Capt. Whitethead fell. With this evidence, which was conclusive, the Commission has placed three stakes to mark the point, and to the Fifty-Fifth North Carolina Regiment belongs the credit not only of having opened the-fight on the first day, but of having reached the farthest point of advance on the last.
After the repulse of the charge those who could fell back to our original line on Seminary Ridge. Client. Col. Freemantle, an English officer, in his diary says:"Gen. Lee rode up to encourage and rally his troops, and said to me, "This has been a sad day for us, Colonel---a sad day; but we cannot always expect to gain victories."' An officer reported the state of his brigade, and Gen. Lee immediately shook hands with him and said, 'Never mind, General, all this has been my fault; it is I that have lost this fight, and you must help me out of it the best you can.' However, after the war Gen. Lee declared, 'Had I Stonewall Jackson at Gettysburg, I would have won a great victory."'
The respective forces engaged in this battle were: Confederate, 70,000; Federal, 93,000. The losses, according to the official returns published in the "Century War Book," were: Confederate, killed, wounded, captured, and missing, 20,451: Federal killed, wounded, captured, and missing, 23,003.
Twenty-five years after the battle I visited the field at the request of Col. Bacheler and Maj. W. M. Robbins, of the Commission. Col. Bacheler was a graduate of West Point. In the summer of 1863 he went to Gettysburg and had spent a greats deal of time in getting up statistics relative to the three days' battle. He told me that the did not know of any other battlefield that afforded so much food for thought and study to a military man as the battlefield of Gettysburg.
We devoted two days to visiting all parts of the field. On the morning of the first day we started where my regiment first filed off to the left of the Cashtown road and formed its line of battle. We then walked over the ground where Cutler's Brigade was shattered to the fatal railroad cut and went over all the details of that fierce struggle, and then took up the line where Ewell joined us and where the battle raged so fiercely all the day, finally winding up in Gettysburg, where Gen. Lee had his headquarters on the night of July 1.
The following morning bright and early we drove out to the extreme left of the Confederate line, and looked over the ground fought over on the afternoon of that day, from Culp's Hill to Gettysburg. After dinner we followed the line of the extreme Confederate right and heard Maj. Robbins's description of the gallant action of Hood's Division at Little Round Top. Finally we walked over the ground of the charge of the last day, and on reaching that point we found a large bronze book containing the names of all the regiments and brigades participating in that dreadful contest. How peaceful this was, compared to the same time so many years ago!
That night at supper, after having discussed so many details of the battle, I said to Maj. Robbins: "What are your conclusions after your investigations?" He said: "We were very near victory several times, but I have concluded that God Almighty did not intend it."
Within the past few days I have received a letter from the gallant Major, who since the war has been a member of Congress from North Carolina, and is now a member of the Commission. As it gives the latest information concerning what is being done at Gettysburg, I will, in conclusion, read you his letter:
STATESVILLE, N. C., January 10, 1900.
"To Col. A. H. Belo.
"My Dear Colonel: Your favor of the 3d inst. is just received-forwarded from Gettysburg to my home here, where I am on a visit. In midwinter we can do little outdoor work on the battlefield, and office work, such a preparing inscriptions, etc., with the war records before me, can be as well done here.
"We have not yet published any map of the Gettysburg Park and battlefield. We have been much delayed in our work by the difficulty of procuring for the government, from some of the land owners, the title of lands ern~bracing very important parts of the battlefield, having been compelled to resort to condemnation proceedings in the courts, wherein every possible quibble is interjected in order to spin out the cases and swindle Uncle Sam. The Georgians and Tennesseeans freely donate the lands needed for avenues, etc., at Chickamauga and Chattanooga, so Gen. Boynton informs us, but we are far from finding it so at Gettysburg.
"The lines and positions of the Union volunteers have nearly all been marked by the States of the North. The main purpose of the United States Government in takeing-charge of this field was to have the same thing done for the Confederates and the Union regulars, and also to have commodious roads and avenues constructed, so as to make all part of the field easily accessible. We are making good progress with this work, but have not yet feat prepared to publish any official map of the field or history of the great conflict that made it memorable. We have in course of preparation a map showing it fully down to the smallest details and with all possible accuracy.
"You express a wish to have an account of my personal experiences on the battlefield, etc. Well, all old soldiers, I believe, are fond of fighting their battles over again, but I should prefer to do so by word of mouth, if only I could have the greats pleasure of being with you face to face. I enjoyed very much flour visit to Gettysburg, and should be delighted to have you come again and go over the field with me. You would find many improvements made since you were here excellent Telford avenues along battle lines, one running right along where your Mississippi and North Carolina boys encountered and beat Cutler's New York and Pennsylvania brigade; many memorial tablets, showing the positions and recounting in brief and terse terms the movements and achievements of Confederate commands in the battle; a great many guns mounted on iron gun carriages, showing the positions of Confederate batteries, the guns being of the same class and caliber as those of which the respective batteries were composed; five iron towers, seventy-five feet high-one at the northwest corner of the field, overlooking the ground where you fought, one on the Confederate line toward its right flank, one on Culp's Hill, one on Big Round Top, and in the center of the field, near where the final assault of the third day was so gallantly made and so tragically ended. Do come and see us again and let me show you over the field, and bring with you some of those heroic Texans of Robertson's Brigade, by whose side we Alabamians fought against Round Top and Devil's Den. We whipped the devil in his den, but Round Top ran up too much toward heaven, and we didn't seem to make quite as good progress in that direction.
"As to my own part in the battle, I was acting major of the Fourth Alabama Regiment of Laws's Brigade, Hood's Division. On the fist day of July the rest of the division marched to the vicinity of Gettysburg, but our brigade was left on outpost duty at New Guilford, in Franklin County, twenty-five miles from Gettysburg. At 3 A.M. July we were informed that a battle was raging there, and were ordered to hasten to it on a forced march. We joined our division there, formed battle line on the extreme right of the Confederate army at 4 P.M. one mile west of Round Top, and were ordered forward at once to attack that strong position. Two of our regiments-the Forty-Fourth and Forty-Eight Alabama-were obliqued to their left and assisted the First Texas and Third Arkansas in capturing Devil's Den and the adjacent rocky ridge. The other three regiments (Fourth, Fifteenth, and Forty-Seventh Alabama), together with the Fourth and Fifth Texas, moved against Little Round Top. I have always believed we would have taken it if we had not been so fagged out by our long, forced march on that broiling July day, and, moreover, we had to climb over the steep and ragged spur of Big Round Top before reaching the foot of Little Round Top, on the summit of which was the enemy's main line. When we arrived there many of our poor fellows were fainting and falling, overcome with heat and weariness, and in spite of exhortations from their officers, the men in line felt that they must lie down and rest awhile before making that second climb and storming the enemy's position on the crest. Thus our line stopped its advance, lay down among the rocks and boulders, and simply returned the fire of the enemy. Momentum was gone, and though they kept up the conflict till nightfall, they never went much beyond the point reached in their first effort. You know about where that was, for I showed you the bowlder near which I stood, at the right flank of the Fourth Alabama, while the leaden hailstorm poured down upon us and filled my eyes with grit and gravel knocked off the big rocks about me.
"Fate was against us there. If the attack on Little Round Top had been made twenty minutes earlier, it would have been taken without opposition. I spent two hours last summer with ex-Gov. Chamberlain, of Maine, going over the ground of our fight there at Little Round Top. He commanded the Twentieth Maine Regiment of Vincent's Brigade in that fight, and the: position of his regiment was partly in front of the Fourth Alabama. He and I remembered the conflict and its various features and incidents precisely alike, and the point where he himself stood in the heat of the battle is about fifty yards only from my own position. He assured me that his regiment and its brigade had not been there more than fifteen minutes before our fire opened, and if our attack had been made twenty minutes earlier we should have found Little Round Top undefended. Any one can see now that this little mountain, on the extreme left of the Union line, was the key of the battlefield, and if the Confederates had seized it and dragged some of coheir artillery up there, as they easily could have done, they would have enfiladed Meade's entire line, and made it too unhealthy for him to remain there; but it was not so decreed by the All-Wise.
"We Alabamians and our Texas comrades lay on the western slope of Big Round Top all day July 3, and the breastwork of stone which the boys with their own hands threw up there is standing yet just as they left it. You may know it makes an "old Rob" like me feel his heart swell and his eyes moisten somewhat as he walks about there now and then all alone. We were idle all that last day, except some encounters with the Federal cavalry hanging on the right flank of our army. Gen. Farnsworth, with some regiments, broke through the picket line and galloped up into Plum Run Valley in our rear that afternoon. The Fourth and Fifteenth Alabama were ordered to face about and charge down the lower slopes of Big Round Top to repel this Calvary, which we did without difficulty in a few minutes. A volley was fired which killed Gen. Farnsworth's horse and brought him down mortally wounded, and as a squad of Alabamians approached him he pulled a pistol and fired it into his own bosom, killing himself instantly. It is known that he had an altercation with Kilpatrick immediately before that charge, in which he urged its futility, and that-Kilpatrick spoke to him offensively, saying that if he (Farnsworth) did not wish to lead it he would lead it himself or find some officer who would, whereupon Farnsworth, with an indignant remark, dashed away at the head of his cavalry, and it has been suggested that the sting of Kilpatrick's remarks may have prompted that final act of suicide. But, as he had five desperate wounds in the breast, it is probable that the agony he suffered from them made him seek immediate death as a relief. As this suicidal act of Gen. Farnsworth has been disputed by some, I deem it proper to say that, while I did not see it myself, I was informed of it in less than an hour afterwards by Lieut. Adrain, of the Fifteenth Alabama, and other men of the highest character who said they did see it, and who had no possible motive to fabricate such a story if it were false.
"You know we all resumed our original battle line on Friday night, July 3, and lay there all day Saturday, the 4th, waiting for Meade to attack us and give us a chance to pay him back in the same coin which he had dealt to us-to wit, a repulse. He had stood all the while on the defensive in a position well-nigh impregnable and with superior numbers, while all the assaults were made by the Confederates. We wished to turn the board around and try the game that way, but Meade ignored our challenge. Therefore, on Sunday morning, July 5, we turned toward Virginia and after another banter of several days at Hagerstown which we did not accept, we crossed on the pontoon at Falling Waters on July 14, and the Pennsylvania campaign was ended."
This article is from the Confederate Veteran, Vol. VIII, No. 4 Nashville, Tenn., April, 1900.