|'The Wheatfield' at Gettysburg|
INTO THE BLOODY WHEATFIELD
|Colonel John R. Brooke|
All the while Colonel Brooke was trying to get his men moving, but his orders could not be passed down the line through the din of battle. Finally realizing there was no other way, the twenty four year old grabbed the flag of his former regiment (53rd PA) and ran out in front of the battle line into the wall of fire. His men quickly got the point and the rush was on. The brigade stormed across the southern part of the field, not stopping until they nearly reached the crest of Rose's Hill, driving the Georgians in their front all the way.
My command was then moved forward in order of battle through a wheat-field, about the center of which we commenced firing, continuing for fifteen minutes or more, when orders were received from Colonel Brooke to fix bayonets.
This was done, and, in connection with the brigade, we charged upon the enemy, driving him before us, capturing some prisoners, and finally carrying the crest of the hill.
Lt. Colonel Richards McMichael, 53rd PA(1)
|Flag carried by the 64th NY at Gettysburg|
It was also around this time that Colonel Brooke was wounded. He chose to remain on the field and try to keep his brigade above the rising tide. All the while, more and more men of his tough veteran brigade were falling all around. One regiment of the brigade, the 64th New York, was on the left side of the brigade line. They came to Gettysburg with two hundred and twenty-one men. Before the day was through, only half of these would be able to consider their day's experience, unscathed in the safety of their own lines. The only regiment between the 64th NY and the brigade's hanging left flank was the 2nd Delaware which was losing men with each passing second. The fighting had now reached a crisis point and the only strength upon which the brigade could rely was its veteran commanders, young as they might be.
YOUNG VETERANS ALL
|Captain Henry Fuller, 64th NY|
Another young, but experienced officer was nineteen year old Lieutenant Willis Babock of Company G. He also had experienced the trials and tribulations of the Virginia Peninsula, Fredericksburg and the horrors of Chancellorsville. Both of his brothers were also serving the Union in different regiments that were not present at Gettysburg (Willoughby - 75th NY and Lucious - 9th MN). Their father Samuel did not want any of his three boys to enlist. He had just lost his wife and fourth son in 1859 and could not bear to lose another. Honor and duty soon prevailed though and he gave his sons to the country that they all loved so much, knowing full well that one of them might not come home.
|Lt. Willis Babcock, 64th NY|
Both my aides being wounded, and myself severely bruised, I with great difficulty was able to maintain a proper knowledge of the enemy. Being notified about this time that a heavy column of the enemy was coming upon my left, I immediately took measures to meet them, sending word to that effect to the general commanding. I held them at bay for some time, when word was brought me that my right was being turned, and finding no troops coming to my support, and finding that unless I retired all would be killed or captured, I reluctantly gave the order to retire...(2)
The 64th New York was facing a very severe threat on its left. The center of the brigade(53rd PA) received the orders to retreat first, followed shortly thereafter by the melting flanks. As the 2nd Delaware started its withdrawal from the left, the 64th was exposed to the same enfilading heat that forced their Delaware brothers off the battle line. This fire was concentrated on the New Yorkers in a large part by Brigadier General George Tige Anderson's Georgia Brigade.
|Seldom visited monument to Captain Henry Fuller |
along Rose Run south of 'The Wheatfield'
The worst was not yet over for the men of the 64th New York and other parts of Brooke's Brigade. They continued their retreat just the way they had come onto the field, with Georgians hot on their heels. After crossing Rose Run, it was time to once more cross that deadly whirlpool that we know today simply as 'The Wheatfield.' For Lieutenant Willis Babcock, the fight thus far had been a trying one. Although he had led his company bravely through the heat of the advance, and helped them back off the hill, he knew there was little aide he could provide his men now that it was time to cross that deadly open space. It was every man for himself and at the most, small mixed bands of resistance fighting. Ever the brave leader by example, the regiment's Major Leman Bradley, explained the fate of Willis in a letter to the young lieutenant's father written on July 5, 1863.
|64th NY Monument on Rose Hill|
I saw him standing by the side of Sargeant Peterson of his own Co. tearing cartridges for the Sargeant. We had to abandon our advanced position, and were followed up by the rebels under cover of a wood, and lost way. Willis was shot while we were falling back through a wheat field. He was shot through the right breast by a rifle ball. he fell about six A.M. [should be P.M.] That night the enemy held the field, and the next day their sharp shooters kept us back. On the morning of the 4th I sent Capt Faport out with a detail to look for the wounded and dead. Soon after Lieut. Orrin C. Burdick of the 27th Conn. came to me and informed me that he had found the body of Willis. On his breast was an enevelop pinned, on which was written in strange hand Lt. W. G. Babcock 64th N.Y.V. His sword memorandum book and purse were gone, but his clothing had not been disturbed.
We burried him on the farm of George Weikert back of his stone house. He lies to the right of Capt Fuller of the 64th. At the head of Capt F's grave I cut this mark + in the rock. We put up head boards to each grave, cutting the name Lieut. W.G. Babcock, 64th N.Y. on the head board of Willis. We made the best coffin we could of boards, and rolled him in his blanket. On top of his box coffin I placed a bent bayonet.
We today built a fence around the two graves. Mr. Weikert's Post Office address is Gettysburgh, Adams Co. Pa. He lives about two miles south of the village. He will protect the graves. We are under marching orders. I have written resting the paper on my knee, and have been so interrupted as not to be able to give as clear and connected an account as I wish."(4)
TO BURY YOUR CHILD
|George Weikert House|
My Dear Children,
I wrote to Willoughby before leaving home for Gettysburgh intending it for you all and I do so now. I left home on Monday for the battlefield as I told you and came by way of Elmyra Harrisburg York to Gettysburg arriving there Wednesday eve, on the train I came was 13 cars filled with fathers and brothers looking as I was for killed and wounded, it seemed to me the largest train of mourners I was ever in and I could not keep back the tears, for my heart was sad O how sad. I thought of the last time poor Willie passed over the same road and of the sad parting I had with him at our depot when he left home for the last time and I thought of the letters you and I wrote him after the battle of Chancellorsville when he thought of leaving the army if he could do so with honor to himself and I must say I felt some misgivings over it and wished I had told him to do what he thought best under the circumstances. But that like many other things has passed and con not be recalled. I thought at the time I did wright, but my heart aches now while I think of it. But I must come to particulars. I found Codt Green and Eld Brigham on the ground. I at once made arrangements to have Willie's body disinterred and embalmed, but the crowd was grate and all wanting the same thing dun dead bodys were passing away from the battlefield by hundreds and while I was waiting on Friday for the embalmer and his time a dispatch came to the express office to take no more bodys until further notice.
|Grave of Lt. Willis Babcock in Homer, New York|
Photo from findagrave.com by Stephen Woodward
I went all over the ground several times when the fight began and where Willie fell hoping to find some letter or scrap of his that I might recognize as his but could find none. I could here nothing of his watch, sword, purse or memorandum book but can but hope that the man who pined the envelop on his coat has them and will return them.
Willoughby Willie has layed himself on the alter of his country. It was the bravery of him and others who saved the army from distruction and Penn from pillage and turned the whole tide of things here with Gen Meads army. A wounded soldier in the 64 told me the night before the battle Gen M. issued an order to the officers alone and he inquired what it ment or what was up that they wer cald together and Willie told him it was that the country expedted of every officer to do there duty and that very probably the fate of the country hung upon the coming battle. And now Willoughby I think you have dun your part of the fighting and I do hope you will take care of yourself in future and as soon as you can with honor to yourself will take leave of the battle field and of the army.
|Grave of Samuel Babcock in Homer, New York |
where he is buried with his wife and four sons
I hope to find letter from Kil and WIlloughby when I get home the papers say Port Hudson has surrendered and it rumored that Morris Island and Charleston has fallen which I hope may prove true. The riot in New York people feel here will work for the good of the country, it is generally thought it will kill Coperheadism or at least silence there clamers and show the strength of the government. Charles F. Pratt, Clark Stickney, John Owen and many other brave boys sleep on the battlefield. I saw the grave of Barksdale and many other Reb officers. I must close.
In Mr. Babcock's letter we can find that odd mix of gut wrenching emotions to which few of us can ever imagine to attest. The heartbreak is almost incomprehensible, but it did not end there for Samuel. By the time the war ended nearly two years later he had lost his last two sons to the fighting as well. Lucius of the 9th Minnesota was captured at Brice's Crossroads and died at Andersonville Prison in Georgia. Willoughby was mortally wounded at the battle of Third Winchester in Virginia in 1864. The price paid by Samuel Babcock in the American Civil War is difficult to fathom. He lost his entire family in a span of five years. His wife and youngest son dying in 1859, his beloved three boys...soldiers all, gave the last full measure of devotion for the Union.
THE STORY CONTINUES
The story does not end there though. A few weeks ago, Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guide Richard Rigney was sifting through files at the 'Guide Room' when he came across the deeply moving letters above. By a bit of serendipity he also came across a book called "Where Duty Called Them: The Story of the Samuel Babcock Family of Homer, New York in the Civil War," all in a very short time span. After learning of the tragic story and being the ever curious explorer, Richard went out to the field to see if he could find the markings on the rock left by Major Bradley of the 64th New York, those marking the graves of Lieutenant Babcock and Captain Fuller. To his amazement and mine, the inscription is still there!
|Carving made by Major Bradley and his comrades to mark the graves of Captain Fuller and Lt. Babcock|
|Located near the Weikert Barn|
It is these very stories and discoveries that hopefully help to keep the interest of us all, nice and perked. Rest be assured there are many more gems like this still awaiting the opportunity to be brought back out into the light. With persistence, passion and the careful research by some very valuable people, slowly we can come closer to telling a more complete story of this traumatic history.
Thank you very much to LBG Richard Rigney for sharing his discovery and for sharing the materials used for this post. His passion for the history of the battle runs deep, as anyone that attends one of his tours can attest to. Thank you sincerely.
1. The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 1880-1901, Washington, D.C., Ser. 1, Vol. xxvii, Pt. 2, p. 409
2. The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 1880-1901, Washington, D.C., Ser. 1, Vol. xxvii, Pt. 1, p. 401
3. Campbell, Eric. "Caldwell Clears The Wheatfield." Gettysburg Magazine, July 1, 1990, 47-48.
4. Bradley, Major Leman. "Letter to Samuel Babcock ." July 5, 1863.
5. Babcock, Samuel. "Letter to Sons." July 19, 1863.