- 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
He enabled me to do twelve times as much as I could have done on foot. It would not be dignified for an officer on foot to run; it is entirely so, mounted, to gallop. I do not approve of officers dismounting in battle, which is the time of all when they most need to be mounted, for thereby they have so much greater facilities for being everywhere present.
If there be, “ut sapientibus placit,” an equine elysium, I will send to Charon the brass coin, the fee for Dick’s passage over, and on the other side of the Styx in those shadowy clover-fields he may nibble the blossoms forever.
On the 6th of July, while my bullet bruise was yet too inflamed and sensitive for me to be good for much in the way of duty—the division was then halted for the day some four miles from the field on the Baltimore turnpike—I could not repress the desire or omit the opportunity to see again where the battle had been. With the right stirrup strap shortened in a manner to favor the bruised leg, I could ride my horse at a walk without serious discomfort. It seemed very strange upon approaching the horse-shoe crest again, not to see it covered with the thousands of troops and horses and guns, but they were all gone—the armies, to my seeming, had vanished—and on that lovely summer morning the stillness and silence of death pervaded the localities where so recently the shouts and the cannon had thundered.
The recent rains had washed out many an unsightly spot, and smoothed many a harrowed trace of the conflict; but one still needed no guide save the eyes, to follow the track of that storm, which the storms of heaven were powerless soon to entirely efface. The spade and shovel, so far as a little earth for the human bodies would render their task done, had completed their work. The scattered small arms and the accoutrements had been collected and carried away, almost all that were of any value; but great numbers of bent and splintered muskets, rent knapsacks and haversacks, bruised canteens, shreds of caps, coats, trowsers, of blue or gray cloth, worthless belts and cartridge boxes, torn blankets, ammunition boxes, broken wheels, smashed limbers, shattered gun carriages, parts of harness, of all that men or horses wear or use in battle, were scattered broadcast over miles of the field.
Never elsewhere upon any field have I seen such abundant evidences of a terrific fire of cannon and musketry as upon this. Along the enemy’s position, where our shells and shot had struck during the cannonade of the third, the trees had cast their trunks and branches as if they had been icicles shaken by a blast. And graves of the Rebel’s making, and dead horses and scattered accoutrements, showed that other things besides trees had been struck by our projectiles.
All was bustle and noise in the little town of Gettysburg as I entered it on my tour of the field. From the afternoon of the 1st to the morning of the 4th of July, the enemy was in possession. Very many of the inhabitants had, upon the first approach of the enemy, or upon the retirement of our troops, fled their homes and the town, not to return until after the battle. Now the town was a hospital where gray and blue mingled in about equal proportion.
The public buildings, the courthouse, the churches and many private dwellings were full of wounded. There had been in some of the streets a good deal of fighting, and bullets had thickly spattered the fences and walls, and shells had riddled the houses from side to side. But the people, the women and children that had fled, were returning, or had returned to their homes—such homes—and amid the general havoc were restoring as they could order to the desecrated firesides.
I rode through the Cemetery on “Cemetery Hill.” How these quiet sleepers must have been astounded in their graves when the twenty pound Parrott guns thundered above them and the solid shot crushed their gravestones! The flowers, roses and creeping vines that pious hands had planted to bloom and shed their odors over the ashes of the dead ones gone, were trampled upon the ground and black with the cannon’s soot. A dead horse lay by the marble shaft, and over it the marble finger pointed to the sky. The marble lamb that had slept its white sleep on the grave of a child, now lies blackened upon a broken gun-carriage. Such are the incongruities and jumblings of battle.
I looked away to the group of trees —the Rebel gunners know what ones I mean, and so do the survivors of Pickett’s division—and a strange fascination led me thither. How thick are the marks of battle as I approach—the graves of the men of the 3d division of the 2d corps; the splintered oaks, the scattered horses—seventy-one dead horses were on a spot some fifty yards square.