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16th Vermont Infantry

Hezron George Day

In addition to a fairly detailed biography of Hezron Day's family, we are privileged to present his memoir of the Gettysburg Campaign, and his correspondence covering the entire nine months of his service.

The Battle of Gettysburg, by Hezron G. Day

H. G. Day dictated this account March 20, 1928, sixty five years after he had fought in the battle! His memory of the occurrences there were still vivid.

In June, 1863, the 16th Vermont Volunteers regiment, of which your grandfather was a humble member, was and had been for some time located at Union Hills, Virginia, which is just where the Orange and Alexandria railroads cross the famous stream which in its upper regions is known as Bull Run, and its lower regions as the Occoquan River. The Army of the Potomac and Lee's army were facing each offer across the river. The poor old Army of the Potomac was composed of as good material as any army has ever known, but through incompetent leadership had some discouragement after the massacre at Fredericksburg caused by the disastrous defeat at Chancellorsville by an army not much more than one half as strong as the Army of the Potomac.

The last of June, it became apparent that the rebel army was moving north and west, evidently seeking the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and the northern route to Maryland. Hence the cavalry was sent across the river to see what was going on and the result was the Battle of Rappahannock, Which was simply a reconnaissance to ascertain whether the rebel army was on the move, and which developed the fact that it was, northward. Having attained its objective, the cavalry came back across the river with such infantry support as had been with it there, composed of poor, worn out and foot sore New Hampshire regiments camped by the site of Bull Run to rest and recuperate for awhile.

Thus matters remained for some days. the cavalry remained on the southeast side of the Blue Ridge and the rebels moved north in the valley, our cavalry going through the passes of the Blue Ridge and feeling for the enemy. The balance of the brigade to which we were attached consisted of the 12th, 13th, 14th and 15th Vermont Volunteers. We remained at Union Hills for some days, although the Army of the Potomac began to come back and move towards the north, and for days the trains of the Army passed through our camp and across the Bull Run ford. While the infantry was further west, if we listened nights, we could hear the rattling of the artillery as they moved across the plains. The guards were several days passing through our camp, going toward Washington. About the 25th of June we were ordered to strike camp and move. Our tents and baggage of every kind was sent back to Washington. The regiments that had been picketing the Occoquan came through camp, and after resting a little bit, moved to the north with orders to report and join the 1st Corps of the Army of the Potomac.

We camped that night near historic Centerville and the next morning continued our march north. After several days we found ourselves at Emmitsburg, Maryland, crossing the Potomac, if I remember rightly, at Leesburg on a pontoon bridge. We arrived at Emmitsburg on the last day of June and in the morning of the first day of July, it happened to be the day for making out the company muster rolls, and I being the company clerk, they brought up the wagons containing the books, threw them out, gave me a drum, set it on the grounds and I wrapped my legs around it and I made out the muster rolls for the company. When that was done, I took my breakfast which that morning consisted of a piece of liver toasted on the end of a stick over the campfire. By the time that was done, orders came for us to march. Here the 12th and 15th regiments were detached from the brigade and ordered to Westminster to guard the trains. We could hear the sounds of conflict all through the middle of the day and as we approached, it grew louder and louder. We arrived at the foot of Cemetery Hill just about dark, tired almost to death, in fact too tired to eat or do anything else except lie down. On Cemetery Hill at that time, was the remainders of the 1st and 11th Corps and our reinforcements seemed to be very welcome to the survivors. The three regiments being pretty strong, there was probably two thousand muskets. During the night, the 3rd corps came up and camped close to us. You see we had nothing to do with the battle of the first day and the battle of Gettysburg really divides itself into four or five separate battles. The First corps made a very gallant fight and lost one half its number before being forced back by superior numbers.

The second day there was nothing much done except a little sniping and skirmishing across the field, until in the afternoon Sickles of the 3rd corps proceeded to the Emmetsburg Pike. This line the Johnnies attacked in the afternoon with considerable confusion and a very heavy loss of nearly one third of their numbers. Their advance was finally stopped by the coming of new troops among which was the First Minnesotas, which went in with 350 men and came out with 39. This brought to a close the fighting of the second day and just before night, we moved our position to the left some distance. Our regiment included Company "C" which was composed of men from Ludlow, Plymouth, Cavendish, Andover and Weston [(Windsor County) Vermont]. While marching outs the rebel artillery got the range on us and fired a few shells at us, two of which went through our company and killed my tent mate, Sergeant Baldwin of Plymouth and Winship of Weston. We then went out and were stationed to the left up a little draw at the foot of the slope and Sherify's peach orchard. There we remained until morning when the regiment behind us and to the front, crossed our line in skirmishing order and the rebels opened on as with great shot which fell around us like hailstones in a shower. This lasted but a little while, but two of our men were seriously wounded, one with a great shot through his thigh, and the other having his front teeth knocked out-a very narrow escape.

We then left the line and went a little further down the draw where there was some small timber and a large rock. We lay there until many of us were asleep and suddenly we were awakened by a sound of cannonading which preceded Pickett's charge. While we lay there, we could plainly hear the whistling of the bullets through the trees. I cannot describe our further movements, but can only say that we were rapidly moved from our place to a place behind the guns and that we got a couple of shells which did considerable damage, killing one man from our company and several from others. After this they rapidly moved us out and the Battle of Gettysburg for us, was over.

I forgot to mention that on the 2nd day, Colonel Randall and one half of the 13th Vermont was just at our left and the Colonel was sitting on his horse making remarks to cheer up his men, when General Doubleday came along and told him that the rebels had captured a battery and asked him if he had a regiment to take it. The answer was a little profane, saying that he had five companies with him that could do it, and he took them out to the front taking the battery. His horse was killed under him and he fell to the ground and was thus able to see under the smoke cloud the legs of the moving columns of the southern troops. However, they went forward, got the battery and brought it in much to the delight of his commander.

The battle line at Gettysburg was several miles in length and was somewhat in the form of a fish hook, the left of the line representing the shank of the hook might be said to be at the top of Round Top, while the right of the line represents the point of the fish hook, and lay perhaps a mile or more in the rear of the position we occupied at Culps Hill.

This country owes a great debt of gratitude to General Warren who was then Chief of Staff of the Army, although he was unfortunate in incurring the displeasure of General Sheridan at the close of the war and was relieved of his command.

On the morning of the 2nd day, he was reconnoitering and discovered the unprotected condition of the rebel troop, and without stopping to consult his chief, ordered his troops to occupy the position. He met the 5th just coming out and they arrived just in time to save the position which they held after a bitter fight.

Had the Confederate Army met with success in that position, the result of the Battle of Gettysburg might well have been a defeat instead of a victory in which case the history of this Country for the last century would very likely have been much different from what it is now; it would not have been one country with one flag, but more and several countries with several different flags.

If my memory serves me rightly, there was a motion in Parliament at the time of the Battle of Gettysburg to recognize the southern Confederacy. The only one of the great powers of Europe who was really friendly to our Government was Russia and her fleet was and had been laying for some time in New York Harbor under sealed orders which no one knew, while England was chafing over the loss of cotton held here by the blockade. It is very doubtful that the recognition of the Confederacy would have been much longer delayed had defeat come at Gettysburg instead of victory. This the victory of Gettysburg and the surrender at Vickburg, coming at the same time, the tide of the war from that time on was a losing game for the Confederacy. Nevertheless, I have always felt that the success of Lee's army was lost for want of good leadership.

Signed, H. G. Day, March 20, 1928

Contributed by Linda M. Welch, Dartmouth College, Windsor County researcher.