- 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
The enemy, emboldened by his success in gaining our line by the group of trees and the angle of the wall, was concentrating all his right against and was further pressing that point. There was the stress of his assault; there would he drive his fiery wedge to split our line. In front of Harrow’s and Hall’s Brigades he had been able to advance no nearer than when he first halted to deliver fire, and these commands had not yielded an inch. To effect the concentration before Webb, the enemy would march the regiment on his extreme right of each of his lines by the left flank to the rear of the troops, still halted and facing to the front, and so continuing to draw in his right, when they were all massed in the position desired, he would again face them to the front, and advance to the storming. This was the way he made the wall before Webb’s line blaze red with his battle flags, and such was the purpose there of his thickcrowding battalions.
Not a moment must be lost. Colonel Hall I found just in rear of his line, sword in hand, cool, vigilant, noting all that passed and directing the battle of his brigade. “How is it going?” Colonel Hall asked me, as I rode up. “Well, but Webb is hotly pressed and must have support, or he will be overpowered. Can you assist him?” “Yes.” “You cannot be too quick.”
He gave the order, and in briefest time I saw five friendly colors hurrying to the aid of the imperilled three. The regiments marched by the right flank. Col. Hall superintended the movement in person. The movement was difficult; but in reasonable time, Hall’s men are fighting gallantly side by side with Webb’s before the all important point. I did not stop to see all this movement of Hall’s, but from him I went at once further to the left, to the 1st brigade. Gen’l Harrow I did not see, but his fighting men would answer my purpose as well. All men that I could find I took over to the right at the double quick .
As we were moving to, and near the other brigade of the division, from my position on horseback I could see that the enemy’s right, under Hall’s fire, was beginning to stagger and to break. “See,” I said to the men, “see the chivalry ! See the gray-backs run!” The men saw, and as they swept to their places by the side of Hall and opened fire, they roared, and this in a manner that said more plainly than words—for the deaf could have seen it in their faces, and the blind could have heard it in their voices— the crest is safe !
[ Pickett’s men advanced over a very wide front, but wheeled together as they neared the crest in order to mass numbers in front of the chosen objective—the ground in and around the little group of trees and the angle in the stone wall. A certain part of the Confederate maneuvers here were not so much due to the punishing effect of Union rifle fire as to the tactical necessity for massing men at the decisive point .]
Before the 2nd Division the enemy is massed, the main bulk of his force covered by the ground that slopes to his rear, with his front at the stone wall. Formation of companies and regiments in our ranks is lost; but commands, companies, regiments and brigades are blended and intermixed—an irregular extended mass—men enough, if in order, to form a line of four or five ranks along the whole front of the division. The twelve flags of the regiments wave defiantly at intervals along the front; at the stone wall, at unequal distances from ours of forty, fifty or sixty yards, stream nearly double this number of the battle flags of the enemy. Now it was as if a new battle, deadlier, stormier than before, had sprung from the body of the old.
The jostling, swaying lines on either side boil and roar and dash their flamy spray, two hostile billows of a fiery ocean. Thick flashes stream from the wall, thick volleys answer from the crest. All depths of passion are stirred, and all combatives fire, down to their deep foundations. Individuality is drowned in a sea of clamor, and timid men, breathing the breath of the multitude, are brave. The men do not cheer or shout; they growl, and over that uneasy sea, heard with the roar of musketry, sweeps the muttered thunder of a storm of growls.
Now the loyal wave rolls up as if it would overleap its barrier, the crest. These men of Pennsylvania, on the soil of their own homesteads, the first and only to flee the wall, must be the first to storm it.
“Major—, lead your men over the crest, they will follow.” “By the tactics I understand my place is in rear of the men.” “Your pardon, sir; I see your place is in rear of the men. I thought you were fit to lead.” “Sergeant, forward with your color. Let the Rebels see it close to their eyes once before they die.”