Above the bayonets, mixed and crossed,
Men saw a gray, gigantic ghost
Receding through the battle-cloud,
And heard across the tempest loud
The death-cry of a nation lost!
I. Seminary Ridge
If there had been such a thing as an airplane in the year 1863, and we could have been in it hovering over a certain large eminence in Virginia, we might have seen a good-sized town nestling upon the northern slope of this hill. This town is Gettysburg. It is now, on the last day of June, as little known as other American settlements of its size. But within the short space of seventy-two hours it is destined to become famous throughout the world as the scene of one of the most terrific and momentous battles of modern times.
Imagine a great fishing-hook, and you will have a very clear idea of the contour of this big hill, four hundred and eighty feet above the valley below Gettysburg. Standing now with your back toward the town, and your eye following the course of the hook on your left and to the southward, and towards its eye, you will find it crosses a slight depression a few hundred yards from the widest bulge of the bend, then begins to rise until it attains the top of Culp's Hill. Passing that, it terminates at the eye in what is termed McAllister's Hill. Along the base of this hilly ridge runs Rock Creek; and on the east side of it, opposite McAllister's Hill, rises another elevation called Wolf Hill, and from this point there continues northeastward a high ridge for a considerable distance.
Turning now to the other side of the hook you will observe that it is about three miles long, whereas the other was but two. You will also note that it is more uniform in its course, although otherwise characterized by the same general outlines. A few hundred yards from the point of the bend is a bluff. This is followed by a depression for a half-mile, where the ridge is less than twenty feet above Steven's Run, a rivulet. Then the ground rises rapidly into a bold, rocky ledge known as Little Round Top. Another dip, and still another elevation looms up which is called plain Round Top.
The distance across the hook, from barb to lower shank, is something like two and one-half miles, and the circumference about five miles. Within the hook the ground is low and tolerably level, but as you approach the bend it becomes hilly, emerging abruptly into a height called Cemetery Hill. The Baltimore Pike and the Taneytown Road enter Gettysburg through the level space within the hook, and cross it at the end.
Looking toward the north, right over the tops of the houses on the westerly side of Gettysburg, you will see a ridge about a mile away on the farther side of the valley, running nearly north and south, but much lower than the Cemetery Hill. On this ridge stands the Lutheran Seminary, and the ridge itself is called Seminary Ridge. Beyond, at short intervals, ridge and valley succeed each other until the South Mountain range terminates the rugged scene.
Woods rich in their summer foliage stand as a beautiful green framework around the cultivated fields on this fine last June day. Here and there the vagrant crows fly peacefully and thievingly about the planted lands. But the wary birds are more watchful than usual, for many strange men in uniform, and carrying guns, have come down the roads of late and camped in large parties near Gettysburg. What does it mean? Well, may the crows ask the question. For soon, very soon, there is to go up from those peaceful, brooding fields such a terrific thunder of guns, and clatter of steel, and cry of man, as to scare those crows into the very densest clusters of the topmost boughs of the tallest trees for many long, weary hours to come!
Yes, for several days Rebel troops, both infantry and cavalry, have visited Gettysburg, and numerous bodies of soldiers are hovering on the north side of the town. And now came the first of their enemy, in the form of General Buford, who rides into the town about ten o'clock at the head of six thousand Federal cavalry. Passing on through Gettysburg, he takes position on the farm of the Honorable E. McPherson, where he sets his guns and makes preparations to resist an attack.
But he is not alone in the vicinity in the midst of so many of the enemy. Far from it. General Meade, in command of the Union army, by evening is at Taneytown, thirteen miles southeast; the First Corps of his army, under General Reynolds, is at Marsh Run, seven miles south; the Eleventh Corps, under General Howard, is at Emmettsburg, three miles south; and the Third Corps, under General Sickles, is at Bridgeport, five miles southeast of Emmettsburg.
Hastily preparing to meet this array of Federal forces, the Confederate army marches slowly toward Gettysburg with about sixty thousand men, coming in close ranks from the Potomac. When they arrive, their total force will equal seventy-five thousand, with two hundred and eighty-seven cannon. On the other hand the Union army will total about eighty thousand men, with three hundred and seventy cannon.
Through the night couriers are coming and going over all the roads around Gettysburg. General Buford, from the cupola of the Lutheran Seminary, looking westward, can see the glimmering bivouac-fires of Hill's Confederate corps in the fields of Cashtown. He is very sure Hill's men will advance and attack him in the morning. So he sends a messenger to General Meade at Taneytown, asking for reinforcements.
It is eight o'clock on the morning of July 1st. The early sun's rays are glinting from the spires of Gettysburg when a cavalryman comes dashing down the hill past Herr's tavern, and informs Buford that the Confederates are coming. A few minutes later and they reach the tavern, which occupies a position on the other side of the unfinished railroad and deep cut fronting the Seminary. The Confederate cannoneers jump from the limbers, wheel their cannon, and send a ball whirring across the depression. This is quickly answered by Lieutenant Rodes, commanding two guns of Calef's Federal battery on the ridge just north of McPherson's house, and a shell is thrown toward the tavern, screaming out its mortal challenge.
Thus the great battle begins. No one has selected the ground. Buford has been directed to hold Gettysburg at all costs. Heth, his opponent, has been ordered by Lee to advance on Gettysburg.
The Confederates descend the slope towards Willoughby Run, when suddenly from the grove of fine hickories and oak about the Seminary, there comes a volley of musketry which arrests their advance. The fire is so determined that General Heth believes he is confronted by a large column of infantry, and at once sends word to General Pender to advance and assist him. While that division is on its way from Cashtown, the cannonading goes on between his force at the tavern and the Union troops on Seminary Ridge, accompanied by the rattling fire of musketry.
From the cupola of the Seminary, General Buford looks out and down upon the scene. He sees a group of horsemen coming up the Emmettsburg road, and still farther away the sunlight glints on many an approaching Union gun barrel and bayonet. Buford has already sent a cavalryman to guide these welcome reinforcements. They leave the tunpike at Mr. Codori's house, and turn northwest across the fields. A few minutes later the brave General Reynolds hastens forward and shakes hands with Buford.
The two officers retire to the cupola. They sweep the horizon with their glasses—anxiously. Afar off, on the Chambersburg pike, they see another party of the enemy coming. It is Pender's Division, hurrying along at full speed to assist Heth.
Now General Reynolds sends couriers riding down the Emmettsburg road to General Howard, asking the Eleventh to hasten to Gettysburg. Other couriers seek out Wadsworth's division, who are bivouacked on Marsh Run. The word goes quickly. All are needed to support Buford and Reynolds on Seminary Ridge.
As the brigade of General Cutler, leading the way, goes across the fields, which are cleared by axemen and pioneers who tear down the rail fences, they see an old gray-haired man coming across the meadow from his small one-story house on the Chambersburg road at the western end of the town. This is John Burns, a veteran of the Mexican war. He has his trusty gun in his hand, and eagerly joins one of the passing regiments. With it he will fight valiantly until he is finally wounded and carried off the field.
In strong contrast to this spirited aged fighter, there is a boy named John Weakly, but fourteen years old. With gun, soldier's cap and blue blouse, he marches proudly along with the men of the Twelfth Massachusetts. He is thin, pale, and not very strong. But his spirit is something wonderful to behold. He has begged long of Colonel Bates, commanding the regiment, to be mustered in as a soldier, and at last has been accepted. Poor, happy boy! before dark he will be lying upon the field, his young blood staining the green grass from two wounds, one in his right arm and another in his thigh.
In the meantime, Heth, finding only dismounted cavalrymen in front of him, has sent Archer's brigade across the stream and is driving Gamble, step by step, back towards the Semi-nary. North of the turnpike Davis's Confederate brigade is sweeping across the fields, compelling Devin to fall back. From Herr's Tavern Pegram's sixteen guns are sending shot and shell upon Calef's and Devin's unprotected troops. Pender's division is deploying in the fields of Herr's Tavern.
By this time all the forces on both sides, constantly growing, are more or less engaged. The atmosphere is thick with drifting cannon and musketry smoke, and the smell of burning powder is strong everywhere. Slowly the Union cavalry in the woods falls back. The Confederates, under Archer, press forward, cross Willoughby Run, and pick their way through the thicket and tangled vines along its banks, taking position on its eastern side. Here the conflict is renewed at close range with strong effect.
About ten o'clock, General Reynolds comes riding down through McPherson's field into the woods, where the air is thick with bullets. As he issues instructions to a staff-officer of General Doubleday's, he is a conspicuous figure on his horse. The Confederates are but a few rods distant, and can see that he is giving important directions. A sharpshooter singles him out, and pulls the trigger. His aim is true. At the crack of the musket, the gallant Reynolds pitches from his animal, a bullet through his brain, and dies without a sound.
The sad news runs along the lines of the "Iron Brigade," as Meredith's has been called. The men are determined to avenge the death of their beloved commander. Meredith himself gives the command to charge, and in spite of their desperate defense, the Confederate line of Archer crumbles like dust, retreating to the other side of the stream.
General Howard succeeds General Reynolds in command of the right wing of the Union army, and the fighting continues at various points, with the Union getting a little the best of it.
In mid-afternoon Lieutenant Wilkeson, in charge of Battery G, Fourth United States Artillery, is sorely wounded on a knoll near Rock Creek while defending the place against Early's advancing Confederates. A rifled cannot shot strikes Wilkeson in the right leg, crushing the bones and mangling the flesh. His soldiers lay him tenderly on the ground. With great and admirable composure the young officer ties his handkerchief around the wound, twists it into a tourniquet, then with his own hand and knife severs the cords and tendons by which the lower extremity is held to the upper. He now coolly directs the firing of his men at the enemy, till forcibly carried off the field. Before morning his brave spirit will have succumbed to the Angel of Death.
A little later that day General Paul is made totally blind for life by a bullet which passes between his eyes. General Robinson has two horses shot from under him, but is himself uninjured. This occurs during the retreat of the First and Eleventh Corps down the Carlisle and Harrisburg roads—the first pretentious falling back of the Union forces that day. As the Union men retreat, they turn about and walk backward, fighting desperately for every foot of ground they relinquish to Early's Confederates. General Barlow falls, and is taken prisoner. General Schimmelpfennig manages to conceal himself under some loose pieces of wood in the shed of a Mr. Garloch's home. Here, fed by the children of the household, he hides for three days, undiscovered by the searching enemy.
About four o'clock General Hancock receives instructions from General Meade to take command of the troops at Gettysburg. And not more than an hour later General Lee, his contemporary, arrives upon the scene. Lee is much pleased at the success of his troops thus far in the battle. He tells General Longstreet that he is sure his men can defeat Meade's army, and that on the morrow they will make a decided attack and finish up with Meade in quick order.
General Stuart has captured four hundred prisoners and over two hundred wagons.
The skirmishing is kept up till darkness puts an end to it, no marked advantage accruing to either side. The Union cavalry bivouac near the town, while Stuart makes an all-night march to get away from Kilpatrick. Horses and men are worn out. Whole regiments fall asleep; horses stumble wearily, bringing their riders to the ground.
Thus closes the first day of July. It finds the Confederate army well concentrated, and greatly elated at an anticipated victory. The Union army, on the other hand, is widely separated still, and considerably dispirited by the defeat of two corps with heavy loss.
II. Little Round Top
It was one o'clock in the morning of July 2nd when General Meade, who on Sunday had accepted the great trust laid upon him by President Lincoln, came up the Taneytown road, and dismounted from his horse in front of the home of a Mrs. Leister. He was worn out from want of sleep and from constant thinking of the great war problem that had lately been confronting him.
General Hancock had informed him that the position to which the First and Eleventh corps had retreated was a strong one. He had now come to see. With General Howard he rode along the lines. The moon was shining, and he could dimly make out the general features of the country. He noted that Culp's Hill was covered with trees; that its northern side was sharp and steep; that Cemetery Hill commanded a wide sweep of country; that there was a low ridge running southeast towards Little Round Top, two miles from the cemetery.
And a little later, sitting upon his horse amid the white headstones of the cemetery itself, he could look over the houses in the town, and see Seminary Ridge, where the First Corps had fought so stubbornly the day before; could see, also, the level fields to the northward, where the Eleventh Corps had stood. More than this, he could trace the dark line of forest extending southward from the Seminary, and see that the entire region would be under the sweep of artillery placed in the cemetery and north of it, along the ridge. It was a place where it seemed possible a battle might be successfully fought by holders.
General Meade lost no time in directing Generals Warren and Slocum to examine the ground in front of Culp's Hill, with a view to attacking Lee in that direction. As a result of this examination, from two o'clock till daylight Union soldiers, with axes, picks and shovels, were hard at work erecting breastworks on Culp's Hill, on Cemetery Hill, and in the grove of oaks on the farm of Mr. Zeigler, south of the cemetery.
General Lee was up very early that morning. Even before the sun appeared he was eating his breakfast in his tent north of the Seminary. General Longstreet came to see him from Cashtown, and tried to dissuade the Confederate commander from attacking the Union army; but General Lee had made up his mind firmly to do so. General Hill came, and also General Heth, who was wounded in the head the day previous and now wore a handkerchief bound about the injury. Up in a tree nearby was Lieutenant-Colonel Freemantle, of the British army. He was looking across the fields with his glass at the Union position. With him were a Prussian and an Austrian officer. The South had drawn among many nationalities.
So, except for minor exchanges of shots among pickets of both sides as they hid along the fences and in wheat fields, and the occasional boom of a cannon from the Union forces among the white headstones in the cemetery, answered invariably by a similar boom of a Confederate big gun sending a ball whirring over the town, the morning of the second day passed comparatively free from noteworthy incident.
If you were to ride up the Baltimore turnpike, you would meet the Union Twelfth Corps on your right, partly hidden from view by the woods. You would pass the toll-gate, from which the old tollman had fled. You would reach the summit of the hill, where, on your right, the soldiers of the Eleventh Corps were lying down in the long grasses; and, on your left, where those of the First Corps were crouching watchfully behind a stonewall. On both sides you would note that breastworks had been thrown up behind which the artillerymen were shielding themselves.
Suppose you climb the stairs of the arched gateway of the cemetery, and behold the grand panorama of the field where yesterday's battle has been fought—the town, with its red brick houses, its Gothic spires and steeples, the white walls of the Pennsylvania College north of the town; the Almshouse beyond, where Barlow's division has fought and left its line of dead. With your glass you can see scores of prostrate forms—men and horse—still lying where they fell.
A yellow flag is flying above the cupola of the Theological Seminary, which has been turned into a hospital. The field in the distance, by Herr's Tavern, where the Confederate cannon had been planted, is dotted with white tents. Trains of wagons are winding along the turn-pikes, and horsemen are riding savagely. Southward are fields and woodlands and farm-houses—the ground where yet the greatest battle is to be fought. Eastward is Culp's Hill, dotted with Union soldiers busily throwing up earthworks. Just around the circle, upon Cemetery Hill, cannon are thickly planted, some pointing north, others west, others southwest.
On the Emmettsburg road it is not difficult to make out the brick house of Mr. Codori, with its large barn. Beyond, to the west, is the farm-house of Mr. Sherfy, close to an orchard of peach-trees, whence the cross-road runs eastward towards Little Round Top. Notice the cannon along the Emmettsburg road, and the troops of the Third Corps as they rest themselves, kindling fires and cooking coffee, after their hard march from Emmettsburg. By the house of Mrs. Leister, on the Taneytown road, the headquarters' flag of General Meade is waving. The Second Corps is on the ridge west of it. Long lines of white-topped wagons dot the landscape eastward.
From the first General Meade was in great uncertainty as to the intentions of Lee. Had he known that the latter's attack would be postponed that day till four o'clock, there is little doubt but that Meade would have taken the offensive early in the morning and made an effort to occupy the enemy line. But he did not know this, expecting an attack at any moment, and on account of the vast risks involved in taking a chance he had decided on a strictly defensive attitude.
GENERAL MEADE'S HEADQUARTERS.
A few minutes after four, the Confederate troops of Ewell moved east towards Culp's Hill, and at once the Union batteries on Cemetery Hill opened up fire on them. At this time Lee's army consisted of forty brigades, eighteen of which were in position to take part in the attack upon the six brigades of the Third Corps, which must look to the Second and Fifth Corps for any needed assistance.
The sun was going down in the western heavens. It was the waning time of a beautiful afternoon. Swallows twittered and flitted around the eaves of Mrs. Leister's humble home, quite unmindful of the hurried coming and going of men on horseback. Fleecy white clouds flecked the sky. A gentle breeze, yet untainted with tile nauseating nitrous and sulphurous fumes of battle, blew soothingly across from the southwest.
But now the rattling fire of musketry from Stoughton's sharpshooters comes echoing across the fields as scores of bullets are sent into the ranks of Law's Alabama brigade in the vicinity of Culp's Hill. Repulsed twice, with more than a fourth of his men fallen, Colonel Sheffield, of the Forty-eighth Alabama, still came on.
The sharpshooters give way to superior numbers. Onward through the woods, crossing the brook south of Mr. Rose's home, past his spring-house, marched Law's and Robertson's brigades, closely following the retreating Federals. Soon they were in the woods, where there were large trees and boulders. They began to descend the slope towards the position held by Ward.
In a short time they had reached their welcome haven. Ward prepared to give the enemy a warm reception as soon as he showed himself. Presently they came rushing up. Four cannon of the Union force began to spit fire. This was followed immediately by a deafening clatter of musketry, also from the Union men. Wild yells of challenge arose from the Texans of Hood's division, and these turned into wilder cheers as the Confederates staggered and fell back.
In this manner a Confederate artilleryman in this engagement describes it:
"The Federal infantry on the slope of the hill were thick as flies in summer time, and were assisted by artillery which poured a stream of shrapnel into our ranks. Rhea's battery of our battalion were already blazing away from the crest of the hill, and are said to have lost thirty men in as many minutes.
"At the order, 'Cannoneers, mount! Forward!' we rushed between the already moving cannon-wheels, and nimbly sprang into our seats—all except John Hightower, who missed his hold, and the great heavy weight of the vehicle rolled over his form. Did we halt? No! Not if your brother falls by your side must you heed his dying cry in an emergency like this! Such is the grim discipline of war.
"Never shall I forget the scene presented on this hill opposite Round Top. The Federal shrapnel rattled like hail through the trees around us, while our confused infantry swayed first back-ward, then forward, in and out, like a storm-cloud vexed by contrary winds. But after a few moments we had rallied. Our charging Georgians swept down the slope, cheering madly, driving the Union men before us."
Suppose that once more you act, young reader, the part of a spectator at this great drama of war. Suppose you clatter over the rocks on your horse up the steep sides of Little Round Top, where stands an officer of the Signal Corps and his assistant. The whole panorama of the battle lies before, as it does before them.
At your feet is Plum Run and a meadow thickly strewn with boulders. Beyond them a bit is the Devil's Den, with Ward's brigade and the four guns of Smith's battery on the edge of a wheatfield. And up the line, beyond another grove, rests Bigelow's Ninth Massachusetts, Phillips's Fifth Massachusetts, and Clark's batteries. In the peach orchard is Hart's. Along the Emmettsburg road you see a line of guns, all smoking.
A white cloud is rising from the woods between the Devil's Den and Rose's house, with rolls of musketry mingling with the heavy reverberations of field-pieces. From the timber by Warfield's house, the Confederate cannon are sending solid shot and shells towards the peach orchard. Northward towards the Seminary, and the scene of the' first day's battle, Confederate artillery is throwing its heavy missiles through the air. The Seminary itself is almost hidden in a white cloud of smoke. Union ambulances dash out of the woods and go tearing toward the Taneytown road. Galloping over the fields and pastures are staff-officers carrying orders.
The battle-cloud is too dense to see what is going on beyond the Confederate lines, but from the woods comes a prolonged yell from the South's soldiers, mingled, from another point, with the hurrahs of the Union men. The air is thick with shells. White clouds suddenly burst into view where before there was only the blue sky. There is a singing, whining sound of musketry bullets all through the air, commingled with the whirring, shrieking sounds of jagged pieces of iron from the heavier weapons.
The battle came nearer. It began to break at the foot of Little Round Top, on the flank of the Fourth Maine. Now a battery of the Fifth Artillery arrived with their rifled cannon, and took up a position on the top of the elevation. Vincent's brigade followed. A few minutes later the battle was raging furiously on the western slope and around the summit.
Slowly the Confederates gained ground around the left flank of the Union troops. Vincent, Weed, Hazlett and Colonel O'Rorke all fell. All at once the Confederates were surprised to receive a heavy volley from behind their backs. This came from a squad of Union men sheltered behind rocks and trees—in fact, from the sharp-shooters of Stoughton's regiment, which we have encountered before. Robertson's Confederate troops turned to see whence the volley came, whereupon Vincent's troops sprang over the rocks and dashed down the hill capturing two colonels, fifteen minor officers, and nearly five hundred prisoners, driving the enemy back to the boulders of Devil's Den.
Not long after this General Sickles was wounded, and Hancock was sent to take his place. A little later the Mississippians gave a great cheer as they rushed forward and captured Bigelow's four guns. South of them Wofford was pushing towards the ridge when there came a sheet of flame from its crest. It was McGilvery's opening fire, and was so destructive that the advancing Georgians could not face it and were compelled to find shelter behind rocks, trees and fences.
It was now seven o'clock, the sun all but gone. The time had come for Longstreet to hurl the whole of Alexander's division of Confederates into the conflict. On the other hand, Hancock had ordered in nearly all of Gibbon's division.
In the meadow east of Codori's house the fight rages with great violence—as it does at almost all points just now. Here, in an effort to reach Cemetery Ridge, Generals Willard and Barksdale both receive mortal wounds.
The Sixth and Twelfth corps arrive, but will they be in season to roll back the Confederates before they gain possession of the ridge? Hancock comes up. Pointing to the dim figures of the advancing foe, he cries, "Colonel Coville, advance and take those colors!"
There is a cheer as the Federals rush forward. The powerful Enfield rifles of the Southerners do great damage. Men fall on every side. But the gaps are closed as fast as they occur, and the Federal soldiers press bravely on, firing as they go. Soon the enemy becomes demoralized, breaks and flees, leaving behind many prisoners and dead and wounded.
Though the contest had ceased in the fields around Codori's and Trostle's farm-houses, it began suddenly amid the woods on Culp's Hill and on the northern slope of Cemetery Hill. Johnson captured the Union breastworks on Culp's Hill, and on Cemetery Hill Hays's and Hoke's brigades engaged in a fierce hand-to-hand combat with the Eleventh Corps, but were finally repulsed.
It was ten o'clock before the engagement ceased. So ended the second day.
III. Cemetery Ridge
The clouds hung low upon the hills. It was a sultry morning—this one of July 3rd—the third one of the battle. Two guns, deep and heavy, boomed across the fields with the first gray streaks of dawn. They were Union cannon, with an ominous threat in their deep-throated growl. As plain as could be they said, "Watch out for me; I am coming after you."
In other words, General Meade had taken the defensive, determined to recover Culp's Hill. His big guns were telling General Lee that the Union army was ready to fight it out on the spot; that, instead of being disheartened they were about to put forth every ounce of their aggressive strength.
Now two other cannon—these from Culp's Hill and the Confederates in possession of the breastworks there—answer the challenge. And, one by one, others join in from various points of the compass till the calm of the early hours is a perfect bedlam of sound.
Colonel Colgrove's brigade formed in a grove between the turnpike and Rock Creek. On his right was the Twenty-seventh Indiana; then came the Second Massachusetts. They were to charge across the marshy lowland and the brook which winds through it, to strike the left of the Confederate line. It was but a few rods. Five minutes would suffice to carry them across the meadow.
The signal was given, and they moved on, There came a volley—a terrible, crashing volley. Men dropped, but the living continued forward on the run.
The five minutes were up. Back drifted the remnant of that valiant, spirited brigade—broken, shattered.
On a granite boulder near the eastern edge of the meadow there stands to-day an imposing tablet erected by the survivors of the Second Massachusetts. Thus it reads:
"From the hill behind this monument, on the morning of July 3rd, 1863, the Second Massachusetts Infantry made an assault on the Confederate troops in the works at the base of Culp's Hill, opposite. The regiment carried into the charge twenty-two officers and two hundred and ninety-four enlisted men. It lost four officers and forty-one enlisted men killed, and six officers and eighty-four enlisted men wounded."
Back over the meadow they retreated, followed by the exultant Confederates. But suddenly they re-formed among the trees, faced bravely about, and within a very brief time the ground was strewn with the enemy dead and wounded from their deliberate volleys.
From seven o'clock till eleven there was a ceaseless hurricane of fire, all wholly in the woods and for the possession of the breastworks on the crest of the height. From behind every tree and boulder shots were proceeding. The oaks were pitted with bullets as if stricken with the smallpox. Gradually the Confederates were pushed back. Finally, in a violent charge by the Union troops, they lost three stands of colors, two thousand killed and wounded, and five hundred prisoners.
At eleven o'clock the Union line was intact once more, holding the ground from Culp's Hill to Cemetery Hill, and thence to the summit of Round Top, with breastworks nearly the entire distance.
Cemetery Ridge, south of Zeigler's Grove, is lower than Codori's house. General Lee confidently believed that he could open fire with all his artillery upon the Union lines from an assaulting column in the woods west of Codori's; that when the Union line had become demoralized by this cannonading he could sweep his troops across the field west of the Emmettsburg road, hurl them like a thunderbolt upon the Union troops south of Zeigler's Grove, divide Meade's line at the center, and fold the two halves back—one upon Little Round Top, the other upon Culp's Hill—as he would open two folding-doors, thus acquiring a masterful victory in a single crushing blow. At the same instant, he thought, he would have Stuart's cavalry gain the rear of the Federal army, east of Culp's Hill, fall upon Meade's wagons, and make the rout complete.
As indications pointed to a renewal of the battle on the part of the Confederates, every Union officer along the line was on the alert—especially along the ridge between Zeigler's Grove and Little Round Top, where Lee's attack had been anticipated. Robinson's division of the First Corps was in the grove. Then came Hays's division of the Second Corps—the front line along a stone wall, and the second line east of the crest of the ridge. Beyond was Gibbon's division, concealed behind a fence, the rails of which had been taken down by the soldiers and laid in a pile during the forenoon, and a shallow trench scooped out to accommodate their prostrate bodies. A small copse of scrub-oak marked the last-named position. Three regiments of Stannard's Vermont brigade were in front of the main line, encircling a copse of trees and tangled vines.
The troops selected by Lee to coöperate in the attack consisted in Hill's corps and Pickett's division—in all, twenty-one brigades, under the direction of Longstreet, that there might be united action under one commander. Pickett and his men had not yet taken part in any of the encounters, having only the night previous come upon the scene from Chambersburg. They were all fresh, and eager for their part, especially the gallant Southern leader himself. On the other hand, Longstreet was doubtful of Lee's wisdom in the movement, and had frankly admitted to the high commander previously that he did not believe the hill could be carried.
Of the Confederates, Pickett's, Anderson's and Heth's divisions were to lead in the assault. They were to be supported by the divisions of Pender, Rodes and Trimble. To insure success the troops were to advance in a column or lines of brigades. In the peach orchard, Colonel Alexander had seventy-five cannon, and along the woods, behind Hill's troops, were sixty-three more. All of these were to fire directly upon the cemetery and the ridge south of it as soon as the general advance took place, which was to be announced by two cannon shots.
Pitted against these guns of the Confederates, General Hunt, commanding the Union artillery, had compactly arranged forty-one cannon on the crest of the ridge, under McGilvery. Well to the right was the artillery of the Second Corps. Woodruff's battery was in Zeigler's Grove; and on his left were posted twenty-six additional guns, under Cushing, Arnold, Brown and Rorty. There were also a few others here and there, making a total of seventy-one Union guns to oppose nearly one hundred and fifty of the enemy. And, moreover, they were on an open crest, plainly visible from all parts of the line.
At just five minutes past one, Washington time, two cannon shots broke in upon the tense stillness which had ominously pervaded the scene for some little time. It was the signal of Lee for the advance of his men.
Instantly from below the peach orchard, northward to the Theological Seminary, came a heavy rain of solid shot and shells from more than one hundred and fifty cannon. The air seemed to be full of large missiles. The next moment there came a startling crash from the Union artillery—all the batteries—those on Little Round Top, those along the ridge, those in the cemetery, those sprinkled around the western slope of Culp's Hill.
The din now was something terrific. It seemed every big gun in the vicinity was barking its loudest. From Round Top to Cemetery Hill the Confederate positions were blazing like a volcano. General Meade's headquarters were directly in the line of enemy fire from over a hundred cannon. The balls from these tore through the frail house as if it were made of cardboard, while shells exploded in the yard, wounding horses, cutting down peach-trees, ripping open bags of oats—and finally sending the commander-in-chief, with his staff and several newspaper correspondents, in quest of better shelter. This was found in the shape of a spot beside a huge boulder in the woods to the eastward, where the headquarters flag was stuck in the ground, and where the General continued to calmly give out his orders, sitting on a camp chair and using the top of the rock for a writing-table. One hundred missiles a minute swept across the ridge, crashing through baggage wagons and ambulances, exploding caissons, and adding indescribable horror to the scene. One Confederate shell alone, bursting in the cemetery, killed and wounded twenty-seven men!
For upwards of an hour the terrible storm howls and rages. Then there comes a sudden silence on the part of the Union guns. This is occasioned by General Hunt suspecting the intention of Lee to follow up the cannonading with an advance; and wishing to conserve his ammunition for the decisive moment, Hunt wisely orders a cessation. The gunners, hot and tired, throw themselves on the cool ground, grateful for the respite.
The Confederate artillery continues to blaze away, while Colonel Anderson dispatches a courier to Pickett imploring him to make his attack without delay or his (Anderson's) am-munition will be so low that he will be unable to lend Pickett proper support.
"Shall I advance, sir?" asks Pickett of Longstreet. Longstreet rides away without deigning to reply. It is clear he has no faith in the success of the charge, and does not wish to commit himself.
At this Pickett, relying entirely upon Lee's former order, decides to go ahead. His division sweeps suddenly out of the woods, showing the full length of its long gray ranks and shining bayonets, as grand a martial sight as man ever looked upon. Joining on his left wing, Pettigrew adds to the stretch with his own brigade of Confederates. How imposing, how irresistible they look, these men from the South, as they dash determinedly across the field toward the Union position!
As for the Federals, they lose little time in admiring the oncoming gray horde. Up from the ground in the cemetery spring the cannoneers. They quickly run their guns forward, and pointing them toward the force of Pickett, begin to make them "talk." Simultaneously the cannon on Little Round Top breaks the silence again. But the Union cannon on the ridge are still dumb; their time has not yet come.
The front line of the approaching Confederates reaches the Emmettsburg road, the Union pickets falling back. There is an ominous silence along Cemetery Ridge, still. On, on, come the men in gray. Now they are within musket range of the Federals on the ridge.
Just as they are crossing the road north of Codori's house, the woods along the ridge spits fire from end to end, and solid shot and shell go hurtling through the quivering air into Pickett's ranks. The Confederates descend the gentle slope, leaving many behind, but Still advancing. Now comes the first roll of musketry. It emanates from the guns of two Vernlont regiments, thrown out in front of the main line.
This time the Confederates stagger. They halt, return the fire bravely—and then advance again. Another volley from the Union infantry-men. Garnett falls dead; Kemper goes down, wounded. Armistead, the only general officer of the division after Pickett, waves his sword; his gray hair is there, but forgotten, "Come on, boys!" he cries. And they rush on towards the wall from behind which Gibbon's and Hays's troops have been firing upon them so disastrously. Before they have gone three rods, the gray-haired leader throws up his hands, and falls mortally wounded.
At this time the supporting brigades on the left were coming within cannister range of the Federals, and the double-shotted cannon in the cemetery were cutting them to pieces, the howitzers firing twice in sixty seconds—a death tempest so pitiless that the Confederate troops melted away like snowflakes in a warm spring rain. Soon the men broke in great disorder. Officers tried to rally them, but in vain. Even the importunities of their admired and beloved Pickett failed to inject sufficient courage into them to prompt another effort forward.
In the meanwhile, the brigades of Pickett had gained the stonewall, and were pouring their volleys into the faces of the Sixty-ninth and Seventy-first Pennsylvania of Webb's brigade. Slowly they are forced back by Armistead's men; and Robert Tyler, seventeen years old, a grandson of ex-President Tyler, is the first to proudly plant the Southern colors on the wall.
BATTLEFIELD OF GETTYSBURG FROM ROUND TOP.
Barely is the standard in place when a rifle cracks. A bullet tears through young Tyler's shoulder. He falls, carrying the banner with him. As he tries to rise another bullet lays the brave boy low forever.
Wildly the Confederates rush up to the muzzles of Cushing's cannon. Cushing fires his last shot, and falls dead beside his guns. There is a desperate struggle. Bayonets are thrust wickedly at short jab. Where room permits, the stocks are clubbed. Pistols go off so close to the victims' faces that powder marks border the ugly wounds. Men without weapons, or with broken ones, use their fists. No loose stone is permitted to lie long, but goes hurtling against some poor fellow's head, stretching him stark.
Hancock is everywhere along the line. He orders Stannard to strike the enemy in the flank, calls upon Devereux to take his Nineteenth Massachusetts and fill the gap by Cushing's guns, commands the brigades of the Second Corps to press in. Smyth's brigade is confronting Pettigrew, while Harrow's brigade comes from the left, and the Eighth Ohio closes in upon his flank. All these forces cluster about and support the two Vermont brigades which originally held the wall, and which are still fighting heroically.
In the mêlée, uproar, confusion and carnage, amid the roar of cannon, rattle of musketry, bursting of shells, whirring and shrieking of canister and musket-balls, amid yells and oaths, cheers aid commands, brave deeds are done momentarily by Confederate and Union soldier and officer alike. There is an utter disregard of life; men in blue and men in gray are animated by one thought only—to win.
Fifteen minutes! But it seems an hour! When General Pickett looks around for his supports they are not there. There is no one to fold back the door which he has opened, and which has already closed again. The cannon in the cemetery have decimated his supporting brigades on the left, and those which were to have appeared at his right are still, by some misunderstanding of orders, far back, west of the Emmettsburg road.
There is no help for them now. Surrounded, a retreat will mean annihilation. Four thousand five hundred throw down their arms and surrender, while those farther away from the stone wall seek safety in flight. Then, from Little Round Top all the way to Cemetery Ridge, there rises a mighty chorus of voices shouting the paean of victory, which rises even above that awful roar of other battle noises.
The conflict has ceased in Codori's fields, but south of Round Top and out on Rummel's farm the cavalry is still engaged. The Union troops here make an effort to capture some of Long-street's trains and also create a diversion which will prevent him from advancing once more against Little Round Top. Farnsworth is mortally wounded by the Confederate infantry, and his troops repulsed.
The First New Jersey Regiment, under Stuart, advances across a level field in the direction of Mr. Rummel's house. Suddenly from the barn swarms a strong body of dismounted Confederates. Muskets and carbines begin to rattle. A Confederate battery appears at the edge of the woods to assist, but is counterbalanced by the arrival of Randol's Union battery. Hard the men on both sides fight. Stuart knows no fear or flinch. Hampton is equally as gallant. But the spirit of the South has been broken by the defeat of Pickett. After a while it tells, and his brave men in gray fall slowly back, just as the sun is going down.
It is the last blow. The battle of Gettysburg has been fought and lost by General Lee. More than twenty thousand of his men may be counted in the total list of killed, wounded and prisoners.
No wonder that the night of the third day is one of gloom and despondency for the Confederates! Nearly every one of their regiments has taken part in the engagement, with frightful losses. All the way from Fredericksburg had they come with a feeling of contempt for the Union army, and a confidence in victory. Now how bitter the reversal of feeling! The morning of July 4th dawns—anniversary of the Declaration of Independence—the birth of a great nation. From Cemetery Hill you may see with your glasses the white canvas tops of many army wagons and ambulances, far away in the southwest, moving toward the mountains, in the direction of the Potomac.
It is the Confederates, enacting the last sad scene of the intense conflict. The very gait of horse, the very posture of man, as they go, tell you of heavy hearts caused by a long-held hope crushingly shattered.