- Historic Sites
The Third Day at Gettysburg
First lieutenant on Brigadier General John Gibbon’s staff, at Gettysburg; later colonel of the 36th Wisconsin; killed at Cold Harbor.
December 1957 | Volume 9, Issue 1
As the sun arose to-day, the clouds became broken, and we had once more glimpses of sky, and fits of sunshine—a rarity, to cheer us. From the crest, save to the right of the Second Corps, no enemy, not even his outposts could be discovered, along all the position where he so thronged upon the Third Corps yesterday. The men were roused early, in order that the morning meal might be out of the way in time for whatever should occur. Then ensued the hum of an army, not in ranks, chatting in low tones, and running about and jostling among each other, rolling and packing their blankets and tents.
They looked like an army of rag-gatherers, while shaking these very useful articles of the soldier’s outfit, for you must know that rain and mud in conjunction have not had the effect to make them clean, and the wear and tear of service have not left them entirely whole. But one could not have told by the appearance of the men, that they were in battle yesterday, and were likely to be again to-day. They packed their knapsacks, boiled their coffee and munched their hard bread, just as usual—just like old soldiers who know what campaigning is; and their talk is far more concerning their present employment—some joke or drollery—than concerning what they saw or did yesterday.
The dispositions to-day upon the left are as follows:
The Second and Third Divisions of the Second Corps are in the position of yesterday; then on the left come Doubleday’s—the Third Division and Col. Stannard’s brigade of the First Corps; then the First Division of the Second Corps; then the Third Corps, temporarily under the command of Hancock, since Sickles’ wound. Note well the position of the Second and Third Divisions of the Second Corps—it will become important. There are nearly six thousand men and officers in these two Divisions here upon the field, who occupy a line of about a thousand yards. The most of the way along this line upon the crest was a stone fence, constructed of small, rough stones, a good deal of the way badly pulled down, but the men had improved it and patched it with rails from the neighboring fences, and with earth, so as to render it in many places a very passable breastwork against musketry and flying fragments of shells.
These works are so low as to compel the men to kneel or lie down generally to obtain cover. Near the right of the Second Division, and just by a little group of trees, this stone fence made a right angle, and extended thence to the front, about twenty or thirty yards, where with another less than a right angle it followed along the crest again.
[ The “little group of trees” mentioned by Haskell was, and remains, one of the landmarks of the battlefield. Situated near the center of the Second Corps line, it was the guide for the men in Pickett’s charge; they aimed at it, they got to it, and a good many of them died near it. The trees, or their descendants, are still there, enclosed by a little iron fence, and today’s visitor can see them; and in front of them there is the old stone wall, making an angle which, to the men who fought at Gettysburg, was “the” angle. A great many young men lost their lives in and about the trees and the angle, and a visitor to the spot somehow can feel their presence there .]
The lines were conformed to these breastworks and to the nature of the ground upon the crest, so as to occupy the most favorable places, to be covered, and still be able to deliver effective fire upon the enemy should he come there. In some places a second line was so posted as to be able to deliver its fire over the heads of the first line behind the works; but such formation was not practicable all of the way. But all the force of these two divisions was in line, in position, without reserves, and in such a manner that every man of them could have fired his piece at the same instant.
I could not help wishing all the morning that this line of the two divisions of the Second Corps was stronger; it was, so far as numbers constitute strength, the weakest part of our whole line of battle. What if, I thought, the enemy should make an assault here today, with two or three heavy lines—a great overwhelming mass; would he not sweep through that thin six thousand?
But I was not General Meade, who alone had power to send other troops there; and he was satisfied with that part of the line as it was. He was early on horseback this morning, and rode along the whole line, looking to it himself and with glass in hand sweeping the woods and fields in the direction of the enemy, to see if aught of him could be discovered. His manner was calm and serious, but earnest. There was no arrogance of hope, or timidity of fear discernible in his face; but you would have supposed he would do his duty conscientiously and well and would be willing to abide the result. You would have seen this in his face.
The enemy, so far as we could see, was very quiet all the morning. Occasionally the outposts would fire a little, and then cease. Movements would be discovered which would indicate the attempt on the part of the enemy to post a battery. Our Parrotts would send a few shells to the spot, then silence would follow.