Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Gettysburg 150th Part 1 - Colonel Daniel Christie and Captain John Phillips

As the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg draws near, we will begin a post highlighting the individuals involved with the campaign. On each day you will be introduced to one Union soldier and one Confederate Soldier who made history at Gettysburg 150 years ago.  The focus (as you will see) is on the line officers of the respective armies.  These are the men who were directing the battle, from company level to regimental level, on the front lines of the action.  Keep in mind as you read about these fascinating and courageous individuals, that very real bullets and artillery shells were flying about them and they shared in the same breadth of human emotions that each and every one of us experiences at every moment of every day.  These are the men that decided the fate of the nation at Gettysburg on July 1-3, 1863.

June 25, 2013

Colonel Christie
23rd North Carolina
Iverson's Brigade, Rode's
Division, Ewell's Corps

Sounds of strenuous battle reached us early on the morning of Wednesday, 1 July, as we pressed forward towards Gettysburg, the obscure Dutch town so soon to be made famous. Our brigade(Iverson's) led Ewell's corps and was the first to become engaged as he hurried forward to succor A P Hill, then hard pressed. At Willoughby Run our Field Officers dismounted. Approaching from the north by the Heidelburg road till within about a mile of the field of battle, we filed off by the right flank to the Mummersburg road. As we emerged from the woods and moved down the slope to the latter road twenty pieces of artillery opened up on us with grape, from the left, inflicting some loss.

The Mummersburg road here runs east and west. Very close to the road on the south side stands the Fourney house. This house stands in the northwest corner of the Forney field, which extends about half a mile from the house along the Mummersburg road, and is about a quarter of a mile broad. Across this road near the Forney house the brigade was formed facing east. Along the path or eastern side of the field and on a ridge ran a stone fence, which formed part of the enemy's line. Behind this fence, alone, lay hidden from view, more men that our assaulting column contained. A body of woods extended from the southeastern corner of the field for about two hundred yards along its southern side.

The brigade about 1,450 strong, advanced under artillery fire through the open grass field in gallant style, as evenly as if on parade. But our brigade commander(Iverson) after ordering us forward, did not follow us in that advance, and our alignment soon became false. There seems to have been utter ignorance of the force crouching behind the stone wall. For our brigade to have assailed such a stronghold thus held, would have been a desperate undertaking. To advance southeast against the enemy visible in the woods at that corner of the filed, exposing our left flank to an enfilading file from the stronghold was fatal. Yet this is just what we did. And unwarned, unled as a brigade, went forward Iverson's deserted band to its doom. Deep and long must the desolate homes and orphan children of North Carolina rue the rashness of that hour.

View from Oak Ridge towards Oak Hill:  Christie and the 23rd
advanced from left to right on the right-center part of the
brigade line moving against Union Soldiers hidden behind
a stone wall out of view from this angle to the right.
When we were in point blank range of the dense line of the enemy rose from its protected lair and pointed unto us a withering fire from the front and both flanks. For Battle's brigade, ordered to protect our left flank, had been thrown into confusion by the twenty pieces of artillery and repulsed by the right wing of the Federal line just as we came up. This effected, the enemy moving under cover of the ridge and woods, disposed his forces to enfilade our right from the woods just as our left was enfilade from the stone fence.

Pressing forward with heavy loss under deadly fire our regiment, which was the second from the right, reached a hollow or low place, running irregularly north, east and southwest through the field. We were then about eighty yards from the stone fence to the left and somewhat further from the woods to the right, from both of which, as well as from the more distant corner of the filed in  our front, poured down upon us a pitiless rifle fire.

Unable to advance, unwilling to retreat, the brigade lay down in this hollow or depression in the field and fought as best it could. Terrible was the loss sustained, our regiment losing the heaviest of all in killed, as from its position in line the cross enfilading fire seems to have been the hottest just where it lay. Major C C Blacknall was shot through the mouth and neck before the advance was checked. Lieutenant Colonel R D Johnson was desperately and Colonel D H Christie mortally wounded, as the line lay in the bloody hollow. There too, fell every commissioned officer save one; the recorded death-roll footing up 54 killed and 82 wounded. The real loss was far greater, almost surely 50 percent, greater. Captain G T Baskerville, Company I, Lieutenant C W Champion, Company G, and Adjutant Junius B French were killed. Captain A D Peace, Company E, and Lieutenant Wm H Mundy were wounded. Captain H G Turner, Company H was wounded and captured. Captain Wm H Johnston, Company K was captured.

Looking across 'Iverson's Pits' towards the stone wall from which Union
soldiers blasted the brigade and Christie's 23rd North Carolina
The carnage was great along our whole line, which, except the Twelfth Regiment on the right, was at the mercy of the enemy. The Twelfth, under Colonel Davis, protected somewhat by the lay of the field and being further from the stone wall, refused both wings and fighting to the right, left and front, gallantly beat off its assailants till help came....

Daniel Harvey Christie was born in Federick County, Virgina, 28 March 1833 and was educated at a military school. He became a citizen of Henderson, NC in 1857. The breaking out of the war found him in charge of the Henderson Military Institute which he had established. His gallant conduct and wounds at Seven Pines and Cold Harbour have already been mentioned.

Although the later wound was very severe within sixty days he returned to his command and devoted himself diligently to the work of recruiting and disciplining his regiment. At South Mountain his management of his regiment was such as to elicit from General Garland words of the highest praise for himself and his regiment, a few minutes before Garland fell. After Sharpsburg he commanded Anderson's brigade till Colonel Bryan Grimes reported for duty. At Gettysburg, his last battle, Christie's conduct was especially gallant. Here he held his men in position under a most terrific fire for an hour till the whole regiment was killed, wounded or captured, except a Lieutenant and sixteen men. He was in the act of leading a charge against the stone fence when he fell, with his men and officers thick around him. Colonel Christie was buried at Winchster, another Colonel of Twenty-third being laid by his side a year later.  (From "Twenty-Third Regiment," Turner and Wall)

Captain Phillips
Company B, 18th Pennsylvania Cavalry 
Farnsworth's Brigade, Kilpatrick's Division, Pleasanton's Cavalry Corps

John Wilson Phillips was born in 1837 and enlisted with the 18th Pennsylvania Cavalry in 1862, commanding Company B as its Captain.  The regiment had but little experience when the Gettysburg Campaign began and even missed action at Brandy Station.  On June 30 that all changed.  

The 18th PA received the brunt of Stuart's ambush at Hanover, PA as they were in the rear of the column.    After a long and vicious fight, the Pennsylvania regiment had lost 3 men killed, 24 wounded and 57 missing or captured.  Phillips survived this action, but there was still more to come.  Engaging little during the first two days at Gettysburg, the regiment was called to the left as a part of Elon Farnsworth's Brigade on July 3.  Late in the evening the regiment participated in the infamous attack against well positioned Confederate infantry of Hood's Division by division commander Judson Kilpatrick.  They charged down Bushman Hill and did not make it far.  Phillips recalled that "Shells were flying thick and fast over our heads as we went, cutting off an occasional limb from the trees, and a rattling fire of musketry was coming from the front.  Too high firing of the enemy alone saved  us from terrible loss.  Owing to the brush and thick woods, we did not discover until we had gone almost through the timber and could begin to see in the opening beyond, that the enemy were lying behind a stone fence that skirted the woods and separated them from the fields."  

Area into which Phillips and the 18th PA
charged from treeline in right-center
distance towards the stone wall
As Phillips and his men came closer to the stone wall occupied by Texans, they were hit with another sheet of flame and Phillips went down being hit by a spent ball in the side of the head.  He momentarily lost his senses, but was helped to the rear by men in his company.  During this futile charge across the open fields of the Bushman Farm the 18th Pennsylvania lost another 22 men, although the casualties should have been seemingly higher.  

Once General Lee's Army of Northern Virginia started its withdrawal over South Mountain, the Union Cavalry was again engaged almost daily with southern vanguards in the rear of the column.  On July 7, a severe action took place at Hagerstown, Maryland in which the 18th Pennsylvania was again heavily engaged with Confederate cavalry and infantry.  Phillips once again led a charge in the narrow streets of the town and somehow managed to survive unscathed.  It was a hotly contested fight in which the famed Captain Ulric Dahlgren led Company A in a charge to the town square and was severely wounded in the foot.  The regiment again lost heavily with 8 men killed, 21 wounded and 59 missing or captured.  Through the entire campaign in Pennsylvania the 18th lost 194 men and went from greenhorns to veterans. 

18th PA Cavalry Monument on  Bushman Hill at Gettysburg
The 18th Pennsylvania Cavalry had greatly distinguished itself during the Gettysburg Campaign and Captain Phillips was recommended for promotion.  It would not come until April of 1864 when he became the unit's Major.  In this new position he led the regiment through many engagements both light and deadly.  He was wounded again at Hanover Court House in May of 1864 and captured in November of that same year near Cedar Creek.  He was released in March and was once more wounded before the close of hostilities, also being promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, at which rank he ended his military career.  Phillips published his diary after the war and transplanted to California where he died in 1896.

Historical Data Systems, Inc.
History of the Eighteenth Regiment of Cavalry, Pennsylvania Volunteers.  Potter, Rodenbough, Seal.  1910.    
Gettysburg's Forgotten Cavalry Actions.  pp 44-47. Eric J. Wittenberg. 2011


  1. I'll add an account from 1st Lt. Samuel Boone, Co. B, 88th Pennsylvania Volunteers who faced Iverson's troops to give more perspective on the fight:

    We left the Emmettsburg Road south of the historic Codori Farm and passed along the eastern side of Seminary ridge at the double quick. We were halted along the ridge long enough for the men to load their pieces, and then continued our advance until we reached Mummasburg Road, where our further progress was disputed by the enemy. We formed along the road facing north east, and repulsed a body of Rebels which were bearing down on us from the north (O'Neal Alabama troops). But, about this time, a force threatened us from the west(Iverson's troops), and we were obliged to come to an about face and right half wheel, which brought us to the top of the Ridge and behind a low wall or stone fence. As soon as the enemy was within range, the whole brigade delivered a withering volley into them, compelling them to take shelter in a depression, or gulley in the field. Here we held them for hours, as there was a gentle rise in the field to their rear which prevented them from retreating.
    First Lieutenant S. Boone,
    Company B, 88th Pennsylvania

    He also wrote:

    We commissioned officers of Company B were all present, and the men were behaving so splendidly, that I left the duty of keeping them in line to the two other officers, and picked up a musket of a wounded soldier, took cartridges from the cartridge boxes of the men, and done some wicked firing into the mass of confederate soldiers lying on the ground within short musket range. Finally I noticed white flags affixed to their bayonets, and the whole
    Brigade charged done through the field. As we approached their line, they arose in groups, held their hands up, and came running towards us.

    One confederate soldier came forward toward me in a stooping position still carrying his musket at trail arms. Thinking he meant mischief, I ordered “drop your arms and get back quick”, at the same time slashed him across the back with the flat, or side of my sword blade. I noticed blood trickling from underneath his accoutrements; although I did not hurt the man, I have regretted this act many times since. He had been shot, and in his pain, forgot to drop his arms. We took nearly all the regiment
    in our immediate front, which was the 23rd N.C. regiment, as prisoners, but while we were mixed up with the Rebels out on the field, another body of confederates poured a destructive, enfilading fire into us from the Mummasburg Road on our right, and killed and wounded perhaps as many of their own men as of ours.

    First Lieutenant S. Boone, Co B, 88th PVI

    And also:

    Here the retreat commenced, as the enemy was receiving reinforcements from all directions, and those who were lying on the ground, and who were uninjured, took up arms against us. We were relieved by Pauls Brigade and fell back between the ridge and the town. Here a halt was made with the colors around which we hoped to rally a goodly number, but being nearly out of ammunition, the Regt. was practically out of service. Here also, we destroyed a Rebel battle flag which we had captured from the 23rd N.C. Regt. Capt Richards of Co. E, cleaving the flag from the staff with his sword, my portion of the trophy being the brass cross-piece below the lance, or spear at the top of the staff. A large number of us Officers returned to the ridge to render such assistance as we could to Stewarts Battery, but on our arrival at the railroad cut, it had been so closely pressed that it was now in full retreat. In fact, the whole army, in every direction was in full retreat.

    First Lieutenant S. Boone, Co B, 88th PVI - Captured, July 1, 1863

    Prisoner at Richmond, Danville, Macon, Charleston, Columbia,
    escaped to Sherman’s Army and was discharged May 17, 1865

    1. That is a wonderfully detailed account, thank you Todd!

  2. The link to the Descendants of the 88th PVI website with more on Lt. Samuel Boone is: http://www/old88thPVI.com

  3. My ancestors were trained by Colonel Christie in Henderson, NC, and fought with him up until when he was killed at Gettysburg. My historical novel, "Upon These Steps" includes a vivid description of that battle. http://www.UponTheseSteps.com


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