Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Grand Assault, Confederate Perspectives on 'Pickett's Charge'


"About midnight, I received orders from Colonel Alexander, commanding reserve artillery, to take position on the field before daylight, and with his assistance I placed my battalion, consisting of eight Napoleon guns and two 12-pounder howitzers...

As soon as day broke and the enemy's lines became visible, it was apparent that to provide against an enfilade fire, the left of my line had better be thrown a little to the rear.  Colonel Alexander having approved the proposed change, Captain Norcom's battery was retired about 30 yards, and Captain Richardson's moved about 200 yards to the left and to the rear of Norcom, forming en echelon by batteries.  Major Dearing afterward took position with his battalion on my left, and five guns of Colonel Cabell's battalion were placed in position between Captains Norcom and Richardson.

During the morning, the enemy threw forward heavy lines of skirmishers, endeavoring to gain the ravine and cover the woods in my front.  My guns, with those of Captain Taylor, opened upon them moderately with evident effect.  The enemy's batteries replied, but I paid little attention to them, seldom answering their fire at their batteries, in order to save my ammunition for the grand attack.


Early in the day my attention was called by Captain Richardson to a 3-inch rifled gun (that had been abandoned by the enemy the previous day) standing between the lines, about 300 yards in advance of our line of skirmishers. The horses had all been killed, and lay harnessed to the piece. William Forrest and Jim Brown (drivers), of Captain Richardson's company, immediately volunteered and earnestly requested permission to bring it off. Having given them directions how to proceed, I allowed them to do so, and the piece was drawn off under a heavy fire from the enemy's sharpshooters. Several shots struck the carriages, but the men and horses were unharmed. The limber contained about 50 rounds of ammunition, and the gun was immediately placed in position by Captain Richardson.

I was deprived of the services of Capt. Joe Norcom early in the day, who, being struck by a piece of shell, had to retire from the field after turning over the command to Lieut. H. A. Battles.

Between 1 and 2 p.m. you ordered me to give the signal for opening along the entire line. Two guns in quick succession were fired from Captain Miller's battery, and were immediately followed by all the battalions along the line opening simultaneously upon the enemy behind his works. The enemy answered vigorously, and a most terrific artillery duel ensued. Notwithstanding a most galling fire from the enemy's artillery from behind his works, and an enfilade fire from the mountain on my right, my men stood bravely to their work, and by their steady and judicious firing caused immense slaughter to the enemy.

About thirty minutes after the signal guns had been fired, our infantry moved forward over the plateau in our front. It having been understood by a previous arrangement that the artillery should advance with the infantry, I immediately directed Captain Miller to advance his and Lieutenant Battles' batteries. Captain Miller having suffered severely from the loss of men and horses, could move forward only three pieces of his own battery and one of Lieutenant Battles' section. Then, with one piece of Major Henry's battalion, under the direction of Major [J. C.] Haskell, he took position 400 or 500 yards to the front, and opened with deadly effect upon the enemy. With the exception of these five guns, no others advanced.

Captain Taylor, on my right, and Major Dearing, on my left, at this juncture ran out of ammunition and
withdrew, leaving my battalion alone to bear the brunt of this portion of the field. The battery of Colonel Cabell's command, on Captain Richardson's right, had also ceased firing.

The advanced position of Captain Miller and Lieutenant Battles made them, as soon as the batteries on their flanks had ceased firing, the center of a concentrated fire from several of the enemy's batteries. Our artillery fire seemed to have slackened upon the whole line, and our infantry, unable to hold the works they had so gallantly taken, were falling back, and being pressed by the enemy, who had advanced from behind his breastworks.

 At this juncture, General Longstreet ordered that all the artillery that could be spared from the right should be sent to the position just evacuated by Major Dearing. Finding my advanced guns were suffering severely, I determined to change their position to that indicated by General Longstreet. Captain Miller, Lieutenant Battles, and Captain Richardson were immediately withdrawn, and placed with the section of howitzers, under Lieutenant Apps (till now held in reserve), in this position.

This change, however, could not be made, I regret to say, under such a galling fire, without the loss of several of my gallant men, who fell, killed and wounded; among whom was Lieutenant Brown, commanding the First Company piece, severely wounded in the abdomen by a Minie ball. Lieutenant Battles had both of his pieces disabled-one struck on the face and so badly indurated as to prevent loading, and the other by having the axle broken. Captain Miller's loss in horses was so great that he could maneuver but one piece. Three pieces of the Third Company and the section of the Fourth Company were, therefore, sent to the rear. The captured rifle (Captain Richardson's), after having fired away all its ammunition, was struck on the axle by a solid shot and disabled, and was also withdrawn.

Our infantry having fallen back about 200 yards to the rear of my guns, I was left, with the assistance of Captain Moody's section of howitzers, Captain Parker's battery, and one section of Colonel Cabell's, under Lieutenant ------- -------, and a few skirmishers, to hold the enemy in check.

After having once been driven back, he made no farther advance in force, but threw out a heavy line of sharpshooters, which we held in check till dark, when, by order of Colonel Alexander, I withdrew, and by your direction went into park near the old school-house, and bivouacked for the night."
- Major B. F. Eshleman, commanding Washington Artillery, Artillery Reserve 1

“About 2 o'clock we were ordered to advance.  It was an open field in front, about three-quarters of a mile in width.  In moving off, there was some confusion in the line, owing to the fact that it had been ordered to close in on the right on Pickett's division, while that command gave way to the left.  This was soon corrected, and the advance was made in perfect order.  When about half across the intervening space, the enemy opened on us a most destructive fire of grape and canister.  When within about 250 or 300 yards of the stone wall behind which the enemy was posted, we were met with a perfect hail-storm of lead from their small arms.  The brigade dashed on, and many had reached the wall, when we received a deadly volley from the left.  The whole line on the left had given way, and we were being rapidly flanked.  With our thinned ranks and in such a position, it would have been folly to stand, and against such odds.  We therefore fell back to our original position in rear of the batteries.  After this day's fight, but one field officer was left in the brigade.  Regiments that went in with colonels came out commanded by lieutenants.”
- Major John Thomas Jones, 26th North Carolina, Commanding Pettigrew's Brigade 2


“Within 180 or 200 yards of his works, we came to a lane inclosed by two stout post and plank fences.  This was a very great obstruction to us, but the men rushed over as rapidly as they could, and advanced directly upon the enemy's works, the first line of which was composed of rough stones.  The enemy abandoned this, but just in rear was massed a heavy force.  By the time we had reached this work, our lines all along, as far as I could see, had become very much weakened; indeed, the line both right and left, as far as I could observe, seemed to melt away until there was but little of it left.  Those who remained at the works saw that it was a hopeless case, and fell back.  Archer's brigade remained at the works fighting as long as any other troops either on their right or left, so far as I could observe.

Every flag in the brigade excepting one was captured at or within the works of the enemy.  The First Tennessee had 3 color-bearers shot down, the last of whom was at the works, and the flag captured.  The Thirteenth Alabama lost 3 in the same way, the last of whom was shot down at the works.  The Fourteenth Tennessee had 4 shot down, the last of whom was at the enemy's works.  The Seventh Tennessee lost 3 color-bearers, the last of whom was at the enemy's works, and the flag was only saved by Captain [A.D.] Norris tearing it away from the staff and bringing it out beneath his coat.  The Fifth Alabama Battalion also lost their flag at the enemy's works.”
- Colonel Samuel G. Shepard, 7th Tennessee, Archer's Brigade 3

“Our line, much shattered, still kept up the advance until within about 20 paces of the wall, when, for a moment, it recoiled under the terrific fore that poured into our ranks both from their batteries and from their sheltered infantry.  At this moment, General Kemper came up on the right and General Armistead in rear, when the three lines, joining in concert, rushed forward with unyieding determination and an apparent spirit of laudable rivalry to plant the Southern banner on the walls of the enemy.  His strongest and last line was instantly gained; the Confederate battle-flag waved over his defenses, and the fighting over the wall became hand to hand, and of the most desperate character; but more than half having already fallen, our line was found too weak to rout the enemy.  We hoped for support on the left (which had started simultaneously with ourselves), but hoped in vain.”
- Major Charles S. Peyton, 19th Virginia, Commanding Garnett's Brigade 4

"Bunker Hill, Virginia, July 19, 1863

On the 3d, General Longstreet bringing sixty pieces of artillery up, and General Hill having fifty more in position, about 3 p.m. they opened a most terrific fire upon the enemy's stronghold, with the intention of shelling them out.  The enemy soon replied, and for nearly three hours the most terrific cannonading I ever witnessed was kept up from both sides; until our ammunition was almost exhausted, when the fire slackened, Pickett's Division renewed the assault made by us the previous evening.  They advanced in beautiful order in three lines; but before they had gone far, the wounded and the frightened came running back in large numbers, and it was impossible to tell when the main body came back.  During this, Wilcox's and our Brigade had been lying under cover, supporting the batteries which were shelling the enemy's works.  I had orders to connect with Wilcox's left, and move with him.  As soon as Pickett's Division had retired, we were thrown forward (as a forlorn hope, I suppose), notwithstanding the repulse of the day before, and the repulse of Pickett's whole Division, not twenty minutes before.  Our two Brigades of about 1,400 men, advanced to the charge nobly.  As we neared the point from which we had been repulsed the day before, heavy columns advanced upon both flanks, and our artillery, having exhausted their ammunition, did not fire a shot at them.  Being unsupported by an advance upon any other part of the line, and having but one line, the enemy paid his undivided attention to us; and our only saftey from utter annihilation was in retreat.  The Second Florida being on the left, and their Color-bearer wounded, they lost their colors and the greater part of their men.

In the retreat the day before, the Color-bearer and the entire Color-guard of the Eighth were killed or wounded, and their colors were left on the field.  Owing to the fact that several colors of other Brigades fell back with us, the Eighth did not miss their colors until after it was too late to secure them.

In the last charge, and when almost off the field, Captain McCaslan was killed.  He was a noble and gallant man, and rendered me invaluable assistance in the battles.

Since the battles I have had no staff at all, except David Wilson.  The Adjutant of the Eighth has been acting Adjutant-General for me.  There are now but twenty-two line officers, and two hundred and thirty-three enlisted men for duty in the Brigade.  Our loss has been four hundred and fifty-five, aggregate, killed, wounded and missing.  I think a large number of the missing are men who have been captured unhurt, as there was a large number of men exhausted by the rapidity with which the first charge was made, who were unable to keep up on the retreat."
- Colonel David Lang, commander of Perry's Florida Brigade at Gettysburg 5


Endnotes

1. The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the  Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Hereafter O.R.), 1880-1901, Washington, D.C., Ser. 1, Vol. xxvii, Pt. 2, p. 434-436.
2. O.R. p. 643-644
3. O.R. p. 647
4. O.R. p. 386-387
5. Fleming, Francis P.. Memoir of Capt. C. Seton Fleming of the Second Florida Infantry, C.S.A.: illustrative of the history of the Florida troops in Virginia during the war between the states, with appendix of the casualties. Alexandria, Va. (P.O. Box 19076, Alexandria 22320): Stonewall House. p. 81-83.

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