July 1-3, 1863
A Southern Perspective
(excerpted from 1st Cavalry, In Affectionate Memory ...")
"I now have the pleasure of introducing Major-General Law."
"Mr. Chairman and Comrades of the First Vermont Cavalry Association:
"Fifty years ago to-day, and at this very hour, we met on this ground in mortal strife in the greatest battle of modern times; to-day we meet as comrades, each ready and willing to acknowledge the devotion to duty, the heroism, and the patriotism of the other. If there is any rivalry between us, Federals and Confederates, it is in devotion to a reunited country and in thankfulness that we are all citizens of the greatest and freest country in the world. Men who have given and taken hard knocks always respect each other, and when the kindly hand of time has smoothed away all passion and bitterness, the true spirit of comradeship follows as surely 'as the night follows day,' and thus it is that the old soldiers o the blue and the gray meet here to-day where they fought each other fifty years ago, not as enemies, but as friends--not as strangers, but as comrades.
"The battle of Gettysburg was the culminating point of the Civil War which marked an epoch in American history, yet I feel justified in the assertion that the meeting of the two hostile armies on this field fifty years ago was scarcely more important in its results than the meeting now being held by those same armies on this Same field will be in its influence on the American people. The one saved the Union, the other will bind it together in bonds far stronger than armed force or military power -- the bonds of mutual esteem, friendship, and brotherhood. Scenes such as are being enacted on this field today have no parallel in history, and could not have occurred anywhere else than in America.
"At your kind invitation, my friends, I am here to-day to assist in the dedication of a beautiful memorial to your comrades of the First Vermont Cavalry who took the most prominent part in one of the most striking incidents of the battle. On this very ground, fifty years ago, that gallant regiment was hurled against the line of my right flank, which extended from the main line on the slopes of the round Top to the Emmettsburg Road. This flanking line was composed almost entirely of infantry drawn from my main line, and formed a considerable angle to it. The appearance of General Kilpatrick's division of two brigades of Federal cavalry, Merritt's and Farnsworth's , on that flank during the forenoon of the third day of the battle, caused me great uneasiness. Though two of my batteries had been withdrawn to take part in the grand artillery attack that preceded General Pickett's fatal charge on Cemetery Ridge, I still had at my disposal twelve pieces of splendid artillery, and these I arranged in such a way as to command thoroughly every part of the line threatened by the Federal cavalry.
"General Kilpatrick at once commenced operations by attacking my flanking line with dismounted skirmishers of Merritt's Brigade, continuing this movement steadily t my right until the line was stretched out to a considerable distance beyond where it crossed the Emmettsburg Road. This stretching process continued until I became fearful that my line beyond that road would soon become so weak that it might be easily broken by a bold cavalry attack. To avoid this I withdrew two regiments from the main line on the slops of the Round Tops, and leading them rapidly to my extreme right across the Emmettsburg Road, attacked Merritt's reserve, and then, wheeling on the flank of his line, 'doubled it back' to that road just beyond Kern's house. Here I left the two regiments engaged in this movement, together with the Ninth Georgia Regiment that had been previously posted there, under the command of Captain George Hillyer, who hd done conspicuous service during the battle and who is with us here to-day to take part in doing honor to the men who fought against him so gallantly fifty years ago.
"Being relieved for the present at least from the pressure of Merritt's Brigade on my right, and having reduced the length of the line to more manageable dimensions, I turned my attention to that part of the line threatened by Farnsworth's Brigade, which faced the left front of my flanking line extending from the lower slope of Round Top toward the Emmettsburg Road. I had not long to wait. The rush of the Federal horsemen, and the crash of the musketry from the confederate infantry, came with startling suddenness, and as I watched the fight with intense interest, and no small degree of anxiety, I saw that portion of the Federal line that had attacked directly in front of the First Texas Regiment, and had ridden up to the very muzzles of their guns, recoil and finally fall back into the cover of the woods through which they had advanced. Further to my left, however, and nearer the foot of Round Top, at a point which I recognize as the very ground on which we stand to-day, a body of the Federal horsemen broke through the line and rode boldly down the Plum Run Valley directly in rear of my main line on the slopes of the Round Tops. At that time I did not know, of course, to what command they belonged, but when the fatal charge had ended I learned that these brave men who had ridden so gallantly into the jaws of death were a battalion of the First Vermont Cavalry of Farnsworth's Brigade, Kilpatrick's Division.
"The moment was a critical one. This irruption in the rear of my main line, if promptly followed up by an attack of Kilpatrick's entire force, might produce disastrous results if not met with the utmost promptness and decision. The cavalry had scarcely broken in before I sent a staff officer post-haste to my main line on the slope of Little Round Top with orders to detach the first regiment he should come to on that line, face it to the rear, and come in a run th throw itself across the path of the cavalry as they charged up the Plum Run Valley. This movement was executed with almost incredible promptness, and the Vermonters soon faced a withering fire from the Fourth Alabama Infantry, which was the regiment brought down form the main line under my order. Recoiling from this fire with fearful loss, they turned to their left and rear, and rode directly up the slope toward where I was stationed near one of my batteries.
"In the meantime I had ordered the reserve of the Ninth Georgia, under Captain Hillyer, which I have already referred to as being on picket near Kern's house on the Emmettsburg Road, to come in a run to the support of the batteries, one of which I had shifted a short distance so as to face the approaching cavalry. Here again the brave Vermonters, now fearfully reduced in numbers, faced a storm of fire against which mere human courage could avail nothing, and, turning again, and for the last time, toward the spot where the charge had begun, the remnant which survived the fiery ordeal through which they hd passed rode back into the woods in the direction of their own line. During the whole of this brief but bloody drama, which came directly under my own eyes, I recall distinctly two conspicuous figures riding side by side at the head of the charging column. One I afterward learned was General E. J. Farnsworth, who was killed near the close of the charge; and the other, Major William Wells, commander of the Battalion of the First Vermont Cavalry that made the charge, who afterward by conspicuous service rose to the rank of Major-General and whose memory you honor to-day in the striking likeness of that handsome statue which crowns the memorial you have dedicated to him and his gallant comrades. General Wells commanded as brave a body of horsemen as ever drew sabre.
"I have gone somewhat into detail, my friends, in order that you, the survivors, the friends and fellow citizens of these men, may know, from the lips of one whose stern duty it was to destroy them if possible, that their gallantry excited the admiration even of their foes, who now, as friends and comrades, join with you in honoring their memory.
"It has been the general opinion until very recently that Pickett's famous charge on Cemetery Ridge on the third day was the pivotal point of the battle of Gettysburg, but the truth of history is asserting itself, and it is now being recognized by all intelligent military critics that the ragged mountain spur known as 'Little Round Top, ' which rises just yonder behind us, was the real key to the battlefield, and that the struggle for its possession on the afternoon of the second day really decided the fate of the battle. History has not yet recognized, however, the importance of what has always been classed among the minor incidents of the great struggle, but which might easily have become of the most vital importance to the Confederate army. That incident was the breach made in my flanking line by the First Vermont Cavalry, which I have just been describing. Pickett's fatal attack had just been repulsed; my flanking line, which covered the right-rear of our army, had been stretched to its utmost limit, being reduced to a mere skirmish line in many places. If under these circumstances General Kilpatrick had thrown Farnsworth's entire brigade through the gap in my line where the First Vermont Cavalry had entered, and at the same time had attacked with the full strength of Merritt's Brigade up the Emmettsburg Road, on which it was in position, the result must have been disastrous to that wing of our army at least.
"I fully realize the critical nature of the situation and bent every energy toward preparing for the expected attack. That General Longstreet also felt the gravest anxiety as to the result of the fighting on this flank is evidenced by the fact that he rode hastily over from the center, where he was assisting in rallying and re-forming the troops that had taken part in Pickett's attack, and, with the most marked expression of relief in his tone and manner, warmly congratulated me on the manner in which the situation had been handled. The charge of the Vermonters was then over, and the heavier attack which was expected to follow had not been made."