Vermont at Gettysburg
July, 1863 and Fifty Years Later
By Hon. Thomas C. Cheney.
A number of reasons prompted Gen. Lee's invasion of Pennsylvania, which culminated in the battle of Gettysburg. He hoped that such an invasion of northern territory, threatening as it would be cities of Philadelphia and Baltimore and Washington itself, might result in withdrawing part of Grant's army from Vicksburg, where he had been besieging Gen. Pemberton since May 186, 1863.
He felt hopeful of victory and thought that victorious campaign on northern soil would secure the recognition of the Confederacy by England and France. This hope of foreign recognition had been from the first the very life-blood of the Confederacy.
Such a campaign would also relieve for a time war-worn Virginia from the burdens she had borne for two years, and would transfer the scene of hostilities for a while to a section of the country that had known nothing of the devastation of war.
He felt that if he could administer a crushing defeat on northern soil it would add great strength to the faction in Congress which was advocating peace at any price and clamoring that the war was a failure so far as the North was concerned.
His immediate purpose -- to secure food, shoes and other supplies -- was to some extent achieved, but by no means so far as to suffice for the enormous outlay which had to be made in return. The expenditure of ammunition, the havoc in horse-flesh, the depletion of his fighting forces, summed up a heavy bill to pay for the movement.
No forces were withdrawn from the South and West to aid the Army of the Potomac, so no relief came to the Confederates in those sections because of the invasion. Instead of strengthening the peace party, Lee's advance put a muzzle on its lips, and served only to quicken and then to reveal in a magnificent way the love which the people of the loyal States bore for the Union.
The battle decided that the war policy of the South must be until the end only defensive in character. It decided that the South could never hope for foreign recognition. The motion for recognition made on June 30th in the House of Commons was withdrawn two weeks later. The news of this Confederate defeat on Northern soil turned the tide.
Mr. Jesse Bowman Young in his splendid work recently published on "The Battle of Gettysburg" has well said "That Fourth of July, 1863, when the twin victories of Gettysburg and Vicksburg became historic, may well be recalled as the turning point of our national destinies. From that day the armies of the Confederacy staggered under their death sentence, carrying on their hopeless struggle for twenty-one added months under the inevitable doom of final overthrow. And now every monument at Gettysburg, every bit of topographical decoration added to the beautiful field, every service held on its hill, helps to repeat to the world the proclamation: 'Here the verdict was rendered, here the decision was made that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth.'"
Early in June Lee, leaving Hill's corps at Fredericksburg to observe Hooker's movements, concentrated his army at Culpeper, whence the forward movement was begun the 11th by way of the Shenandoah Valley. As soon as Hooker became satisfied that a threatened invasion was being made, he started his army northward, keeping between Lee and Washington, focusing his army at Frederick City, Md., whence on June 28 he asked to be relieved as he felt aggrieved at the treatment he had received from Halleck. His request was promptly granted, and Maj. Gen. George G. Meade was put in command.
Neither Lee nor Meade planned to fight at Gettysburg. Lee, when he learned that the Army of the Potomac had crossed into Maryland, determined to withdraw his advance divisions and concentrate his forces at Cashtown, Pa. Meade had thought the contest might take place at Pipe Creek, some miles from Gettysburg. the great need of shoes by the Confederates and the setting out by Pettigrew's North Carolina troops for Gettysburg for the purpose of securing a supply there, resulted in a collision with Buford's cavalry near the Lutheran Seminary just outside Gettysburg, with the result that the two forced became so entangled in a fight that neither side could withdraw. Other troops coming up on either side became engaged until there was a great deal of desperate fighting with victory first on one side and then the other. Gen. Reynolds, one of the ablest officers in the army, a Pennsylvanian, and the man who would probably have been given the command of the Army of the Potomac had it not gone to Gen. Meade, fell early in the day, and the Federal troops were finally forced back through the town with heavy losses, later to be rallied on Cemetery Hill, a splendid defensive position, through the heroic efforts of Generals Hancock and Howard.
The second day saw desperate fighting about Culp's Hill and Cemetery Hill at one end of the line and at the Peach Orchard, Devil's Den and Little Round Top at the other end. The Union troops were successful in holding practically all except the Peach Orchard, where Gen. Sickles, after a terrific contest, was forced back. Through the foresight of Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren, who saw that Little Round Top was the key to the Union position and who at once rushed troops there who reached the summit at the very moment the Confederates were ascending the other side, this valuable position was secured to the Northern army after some of the most desperate fighting during the three days' battle. If Warren had been a few moments later in securing Round Top, it would have been lost to the Confederates and Meade would have been compelled to fall back to Pipe Creek.
The third day saw another desperate struggle on the part of Johnson to capture Culp's Hill, which was unsuccessful. Lee then determined, against the advice of Longstreet, to attempt to pierce the Union center on Cemetery Ridge. After the greatest artillery duel that this continent, if not the entire world, has ever witnessed, the last blow was struck when that superb and beloved leader, Gen. Geo. E. Pickett led his men over three-fourths of a mile of open country under a most galling artillery and musketry fire. A few of this little band under Armistead, who fell mortally wounded, pierced the Union line for a moment, but they were not supported and fell back after a terrible loss in killed, wounded and prisoners. This ended the fighting aside from a hopeless cavalry charge near Round Top by the First Vermont Cavalry and the First West Virginia Cavalry under Gen. Farnsworth, who fell while at the head of this brave band.
Vermonters are justly proud of the splendid part her soldiers took at Gettysburg. the first Green Mountain lads to take part in the Gettysburg campaign were those of the Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Vermont of the Old Vermont Brigade under command of Gen. Lewis A. Grant, who together with the Twenty-sixth New Jersey, became engaged with the Confederates at Franklin's Crossing at Fredericksburg June 5th. The Fifth Vermont and the New Jersey Regiment were the first to cross the Rappahannock under a murderous fire, which they did in gallant style, capturing 100 Confederates, dispersing the rest, and opening the way for their comrades to follow and occupy a strong position. This lodgement assured, the bridges were soon built and other forces a little later made their way over the river.
The second Vermont Brigade, under the command of their immortal leader, Gen. George J. Stannard, broke camp on June 25th at Camp Occoquan and started on one of the most exciting and unprecedented marches of the war. The First Corps, commanded by Gen. Reynolds, to which this Brigade had been assigned, was fifty miles in advance, two full days marches ahead of it. So well did the Vermonters march during the next few days during the terrific heat and dust that they were only ten miles behind the First Corps when the latter reached Gettysburg.
The night of the 30th was spent just outside Emmittsburg, July 1st the Thirteenth led the Brigade. Notice had already come from Gen. Reynolds to Gen. Stannard that an engagement was imminent, and he was ordered to hurry forward his troops with dispatch. Early in the afternoon upon the crest of a considerable hill eight miles from Gettysburg a single horseman was seen approaching in great haste. Gen. Stannard ordered a halt as the weary horse and anxious rider approached the head of his column. He saluted the General, asked if he was General Stannard of the Second Vermont Brigade and then said, "A big fight is in progress at Gettysburg. Gen. Reynolds has been killed, Gen. Doubleday is in command and is hard pressed and must have help or he cannot hold his ground." He received a reply from Stannard that he would be there as soon as he could and have his men in any condition to fight when they reached the ground.
This Brigade, during its seven days of forced marching, knowing that a great battle was imminent, had feared it would arrive too late to take a hand in it. As Jesse Bowman Young says in his boo,, "The Battle of Gettysburg," "Had the ears of these eager men been opened to hear the voice of fate, perhaps they might have discerned a message on this wise: "Cheer up, Green Mountain Boys! You shall not miss your chance! In the storm of battle a great opportunity shall flash before your vision, and you shall be privileged to strike one of the culminating blows in behalf of the Union. Possess your souls in patience.'"
Pushing forward the brigade, at sundown reached the field and passed over the ground now occupied by their regimental monuments and took position on the southwest front of Cemetery Hill just west of the Taneytown road.
The Twelfth and Fifteenth regiments, must to their disgust, had been, by order of Gen. Stannard, left behind to guard the wagon train of the Corps. A picket detail of 200 men of the Sixteenth under Maj. Rounds, field officer of the day, was posted a short distance in front of the Emmittsburg Road, relieving the Cavalry under Buford. Gen. Slocum appointed Stannard general field officer of the day for the left wing of the army, and while his men slept their general watched the front and rode the lines in the moonlight. There, on the left of Cemetery Hill, at three o'clock in the morning, he met the Command of the army, who having arrived at midnight was satisfying himself by personal observation of the disposition of his troops.
Gen. Sickles, having discovered both the Twelfth and Fifteenth Regiments with the wagon train about five miles from Gettysburg, and feeling that one regiment was enough for such duty, directed Col. Blunt to leave the small of the two with the wagons and to have the other follow Birney's Division of his Corps to Gettysburg. The Fifteenth having a few more men than the Twelfth moved on to Gettysburg in the night and joined the Brigade at daylight. Early in the day, however, this Regiment was again sent back to guard the wagon train near Rock Creek Church though Stannard tried hard to secure leave for it to remain with him.
During the forenoon of this second day the brigade lay in the rear of Cemetery hill, drying in the sun their cartridges which had become damp I the rain of the night before. They were pleased and cheered by a remark of Gen. Doubleday, made in the hearing of many of them, to a member of his staff, as he rode by: "Here are some boys who will fight hen their turn comes."
About two p. m. Gen. Stannard was placed in general charge of the infantry supports of the batteries on the left brow of Cemetery Hill. All was quiet until about three p.m. when two Confederate batteries of 10 and 20-pound guns placed on a knoll in a wheat field 1,300 yards in front, suddenly opened fire. "This was," says Col. Wainwright, chief of artillery of the First corps, "the most accurate fire I had ever yet seen from artillery." The first shell thrown exploded over the Thirteenth Vermont, wounding several men, -- the first men of the Brigade hurt by hostile shots. Gen. Stannard was at one time whirled off from his feet by the explosion of a shell which burst almost in the little group of himself and staff. Capt. A. G. Foster, of the Brigade Staff, was sent with co. b. Capt. Arms, of the Sixteenth, to fill a gap in the picket line. When near the Emmittsburg road they received a volley from the enemy and Capt. Foster fell with musket balls through both legs and was taken to the rear. During the forenoon of the 3rd, with Co. G of the same Regiment, under Lieut. Dutton, and a battalion of Pennsylvania "Bucktails," it supported a battery on the left of Cemetery Hill. During the opening cannonade Companies D, E, F, H, and K, of the Thirteenth, were sent under Lieut. Col. Munson to support a battery on the north front of Cemetery Hill. Lieut. S. F. Brown and Privates Hogan, Prouty and Monahan of Co. K rendered active assistance to one of the batteries from which the gunners had been driven by the severity of the enemy's fire.
On the extreme left Little Round Top had been save through the gallant fighting of troops under Vincent, Weed, Hazlett, O'Rorke and Chamberlin, all the officers named with the exception of Chamberlin falling in the desperate engagement. About this time, however, Wilcox, Perry and Wright had outflanked Humphrey near the Peach Orchard, had broken through the thin line of the Second Corps, had seized a number of Union guns and had nearly cut the Army of the Potomac in two. At this juncture the Second Vermont Brigade came into action; took the place of veteran troops; drove back the advancing masses; filled a large gap; and completed the re-establishment of the Union line along Cemetery Ridge. Gen. Doubleday says that Gen. Meade's attention had been called to the critical condition of things at this point by Gen. Tidball, chief of artillery of the cavalry Corps, who said to him: "General, I am sorry to see the enemy has pierced our center. If you need troops, I was a fine body of Vermonters a short distance from there belonging to the First Corps, who are available." Whereupon Gen. Meade directed Tidball to take an order to Gen. Newton to put the men in at once. "I have been particular," says Gen. Doubleday, "in narrating this incident, as Stannard's Vermont Brigade contributed greatly to the victory the next day, and it is worthy of record to state how they came to be in that part of the field."
Lieut. Col. George Meade, son of Gen. Meade, and on his staff, thus relates the incident: "Just as we were making up our minds for the worst, some one yelled: "There they come, General!" Looking around we saw a column of infantry come swinging down the Taneytown road from the direction of Cemetery Hill, in close column of divisions, at sharp, double-quick, flags flying, arms at right shoulder, officers steadying their men with sharp commands. They came on as if on review. It was the most exciting and inspiriting moment I ever passed, and every one yelled as if for dear life. As they passed Gen. Meade and his aides, he turned his horse's head and waving his hat said 'Come on, gentlemen!' and rode on with the skirmish line up to and beyond the crest. Some one said to Gen. Meade that at one time it looked 'pretty desperate.' It was a great relief to hear him say in reply: 'Yes, but it is all right now, it is all right now.' This has always been to men the most dramatic incident connected with Gen. Meade on that field." This body of troops was none other than Stannard's brigade.
The Sixteenth deployed in the rear of the Second Corps' batteries and the enemy was so disconcerted by its appearance, that it fell back. Col. Randall, with Companies A, Capt. Lonergan; B, Capt. Wilder; C, Capt. Coburn; E, Capt. Davis; G, Lieut. Clark; I, Lieut. Searles, as they moved forward met en. Hancock, who had been trying to rally the supports of Weirs' (Fifth U. S.) battery, now in danger of capture by Wright's men. Three guns had been abandoned, and the entire battery was in great danger. "Can't you save that battery, Colonel?" asked Hancock. "We can try," was the reply. "Forward, boys!" Randall's horse soon fell, shot under him but the colonel went on on foot and was one of the first to reach the battery with Capt. Lonergan by his side. The Georgians were driven from the guns; the cannoneers withdrew two of them, and four were passed to the rear by hand by men of the Thirteenth.
About this time the battalion was fired upon from the Rogers house on the Emmittsburg Road, and Co. A. was sent thither. Capt. Lonergan surrounded the house with his men, and took a captain and eighty men of an Alabama Regiment, there being a larger number of prisoners than there were men in his company. This closed the work of the Vermonters o the second day.
After nightfall Col. Veazey was detailed as division field officer of the day, and taking the Sixteenth Vermont and a detail from the brigade on the right, he posted a picket line along the front, from the right of the Codori house till it joined the picket line of the Fifth Corps. "It was," says Col. Veazey, "the saddest night I ever passed on picket. The line ran across the field that had been fought over the day before, and the dead and wounded of the two armies, lying side by side, thickly strewed the ground. The mingled imprecations and prayers of the wounded, and supplications for help, were heart-rending. The stretcher bearers of both armies were allowed to pass back and forth through the picket lines, but scores of wounded men died around us in the gloom, before anyone could bring relief or receive their dying messages."
During the night word was brought by a prisoner to Col. Nichols that Gen. Barksdale of Mississippi lay mortally wounded on the field in front of his line. Col. Nichols at once sent out a detail of eight men under Sergeant Vaughan, (a brave soldier who fell next day) who brought him in on a stretcher and took him to a small temporary hospital in the rear. His last message, "Tell my wife I fought like a man and will die like one," was delivered to Sergeant Vaughan and his hat and gloves which he gave to one of the men who brought him in, were long in Col. Nichols' possession. His body, with a ball hole through his breast, and legs bandaged and bloody from gun-shots through both of them, lay in the rear of the position of the Vermont brigade during the forenoon, and was then temporarily interred upon the spot.
The Second Vermont Brigade took its share of the opening cannonade on the morning of the third day, the Fourteenth Regiment having several non-commissioned officers and men killed at the same instant by the explosion of a caisson of a battery which they were supporting. All was quiet on the battlefield from eleven until a little after one in the afternoon when the terrific artillery duel, already referred to, opened. Col. Veazey's regiment lay just in front of the Union batteries which fired over them, yet the men were so exhausted that the majority fell asleep. At three o'clock Pickett's veterans advanced to the charge. They had been under a terrible fire before arriving at the Emmittsburg Road but when they reached that point, though the solid shot and shell were plowing through their ranks, they gave a wonderful exhibition of coolness and courage; by halting and dressing their lines before advancing further as if they were on dress parade instead of under on of the most galling fires that was ever poured upon troops. After leaving the Emmittsburg Road they seemed to be aiming directly for the position of the Fourteenth, but when that regiment arose they suddenly changed direction and marched by the flank to the north across its front some sixty rods. This was a most costly movement for the enemy and gave to the Vermonters the opportunity to strike what Lieut. Jesse Bowman Young has well called "one of the culminating blows in behalf of the Union." The opportunity for a flank attach had been noticed by Gen. Stannard and was acted upon by him with a decision and promptitude which did him infinite credit. The Thirteenth and sixteenth regiments were orders upon the enemy's flanks. When the famous order to "Change front, forward on first company" was given the Thirteenth, that regiment swung out squarely upon Pickett's flank, the regiment turning on First Sergeant James B. Scully, of Co. A, who may well be said to have been the pivot of the pivotal movement of the pivotal battle of the war. These two regiments were soon joined by the Fourteenth and all three, at a short range of but a few rods, poured a most destructive fire into Pickett's men. The effect was instantaneous. Their advance ceased. On the right and center the larger portion dropped their arms and rushed into our lines as prisoners. On the left the larger part of Pettigrew's men retreated. Every brigadier in the division was killed or wounded. Out of twenty-four regimental officers, only two escaped unhurt. The Ninth Virginia went in with 250 men and came out with but 38, while the losses of the Nineteenth were nearly as appalling.
Hardly had Pickett's charge been repulsed when the supporting columns of Wilcox, which had started too late to be of any help to Pickett, were seen crossing the Emmittsburg road. The Sixteenth together with four companies of the Fourteenth at once charged this force and repulsed it, inflicting heavy losses upon the same, and taking many prisoners and battle-flags. During the last shower of grape and shell, with which the enemy strove to cover Wilcox's repulse, Gen. Stannard was wounded in the leg by an iron shrapnel ball, which passed down for three inches into the muscles on the inside of the thigh. Though suffering severely and urged by his aides and others to leave the field he refused to do so. He remained in front with his men till his command was relieved from duty on the front line and his wounded had all been removed, when he sank fainting to the ground. Col. Benedict has well said of him: "To his perfect coolness, close and constant presence with his men, and to the intuition -- almost inspiration -- with which he seized the great opportunity of the battle, the glorious success of the day was in a large measure due."
It is related that as Gen. Doubleday saw the charge of Stannard's brigade, he waved his hat and shouted: "Glory to God! Glory to God! See the Vermonters go it!" Pickett and his men always maintained that they were overwhelmed not so much by the troops in their front as by those on their flanks, particularly on their right flank. Vermonters have special reason to be proud of the magnificent work of Stannard's men when it is realized that they were green men and this was their first battle.
Source: Vermont at Gettysburg: July, 1863 and Fifty Years Later. Rutland: Marble City Press, The Tuttle Company. 1914