Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Battle of Gettysburg: a defense of the behavior of the townspeople

Part 2 in a series of posts on the behavior of the townspeople at the Battle of Gettysburg.

Below, we hear from H. M. M. Richards, a member of the 26th regiment of the Pennsylvania volunteers. Richards disputes the assertions that the citizens of Gettysburg behaved in an unpatriotic manner. He writes:

FOR twenty-three years we have heard it asserted that the people of Gettysburg were lacking in patriotism because they did not spring to arms en masse, and assist in repelling the invaders. I am glad to see in your November issue that a correspondent cites young Weakley, in addition to old John Burns, as another who volunteered in the defense of his home during the battle ; but he prefaces his article with the old assertion.


The purpose of this communication is to state that, upon the first indication of an invasion of Pennsylvania, the Twenty-sixth Regiment, P.V.M., was organized and mustered into the United States service at Harrisburg, under the command of Colonel W. W. Jennings of that city. Company A of this regiment, to which I had the honor of belonging, was composed partly of students from the Lutheran Theological Seminary of Gettysburg, partly of students from the Pennsylvania College at the same place, and partly of citizens of Gettysburg ; one other company came from Hanover, but a few miles distant. We were the first militia troops to oppose the entrance of the Confederates into the State.

On June 23d we left Harrisburg for Gettysburg, to be used, I believe, as riflemen amongst the hills near Cashtown. A railroad accident prevented this plan from being carried into effect, and us from reaching Gettysburg, until the 26th, by which time General Early had passed that point. In accordance with orders received from Major Granville O. Haller, in command of the post, we were marched out on the Chambersburg pike at ten A. M., June 26th, for a distance of about three and a half miles, accompanied by Major Robert Bell, who commanded a troop of horse, also raised, I understand, in Gettysburg. Having halted, our colonel, accompanied by Major Bell, rode to the brow of an elevation distant several hundred yards, and there saw General Early's troops advancing in force, but a few minutes distant. This officer, knowing of our presence but anticipating a still larger force, says in his official report: "I sent General Gordon with his brigade and White's battalion of cavalry on the pike through Cashtown towards Gettysburg, and moved with the rest of the command to the left through Hilltown to Mummasburg. . . . The object of this movement was for Gordon to amuse and skirmish with the enemy while I should get on his flank and rear so as to capture his whole force." We, a few hundred men at the most, were in the toils : what should be done ? We would gladly have marched to join the Army of the Potomac, under Meade, but where were they? Our colonel, left to his own resources, wisely decided to make an effort to return to Harrisburg, and immediately struck off from the pike, the Confederates capturing many of our rear-guard after a sharp skirmish, and sending their cavalry in pursuit of us. These latter overtook us in the afternoon at Witmer's house, about four and a half miles from Gettysburg by the Carlisle road, where after an engagement they were repulsed with some loss. I have narrated enough for my purpose, and will only add that, after many vicissitudes, we finally reached Harrisburg, having marched fifty-four out of sixty consecutive hours, with a loss of some two hundred men.

I can recall no instance in our civil war where the people of a town rose in a body, or in any numbers, to aid their troops in driving out the enemy. Now, in view of the fact that Gettysburg, small town as it then was, furnished its quota of brave men who were then in the army serving their several terms of enlistment; and that from it and its immediate vicinity were raised promptly two, if not three, companies of men in defense of their State; that one of its oldest as well as one of its youngest citizens took up arms for the same purpose and aided in the battle; that hundreds of the unfortunate men of Reynolds's gallant corps were secreted, sheltered, fed, and aided in every way by the men and women of Gettysburg when they were hurled back through its streets, as I know from personal communication with them — I say, in view of these facts, let us give these people the credit that belongs to them instead of casting continued reflections upon their actions. I can the more justly give my opinion in this matter because I was the only member of our company who did not belong to Gettysburg. I went to Harrisburg to be mustered in with the others because my brother, then a student in the Seminary, was amongst them.

READING, PA. Nov. 2, 1886. H. M. M. Richards.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Battle of Gettysburg: General Pickett's final letter before "the charge"

As referenced in an earlier post in this forum, General Pickett wrote his wife-to-be a letter prior to leading his division on the infamous and deadly charge. The text of Pickett's letter to his sweetheart Sallie, excerpted from the 1913 publication The Heart of Soldier, appears below.

Pickett writes:


Can my prettice do patchwork? If she can, she must piece together these penciled scraps of soiled paper and make out of them, not a log-cabin quilt, but a wren's nest, cement it with love and fill it with blue and golden and speckled eggs of faith and hope, to hatch out greater love yet for us.


Well, the long, wearying march from Chambersburg, through dust and heat beyond compare, brought us here yesterday (a few miles from Gettysburg). Though my poor men were almost exhausted by the march in the intense heat, I felt that the exigencies demanded my assuring Marse Robert that we had arrived and that, with a few hours' rest, my men would be equal to anything he might require of them. I sent Walter with my message and rode on myself to Little Round Top to see Old Peter, who, I tell you, dearest, was mighty glad to see me. And now, just think of it, though the old war-horse was watching A. P. Hill's attack upon the center and Hood and McLaws of his own corps, who had struck Sickles, he turned and before referring to the fighting or asking about the march inquired after you, my darling! While we were watching the fight Walter came back with Marse Robert's reply to my message, which was in part: "Tell Pickett I'm glad that he has come, that I can always depend upon him and his men, but that I shall not want him this evening."

We have been on the qui vive, sweetheart, since midnight and as early as three o'clock were on the march. About half past three, Gary's pistol signaled the Yankees' attack upon Culp's Hill, and with its echo a wail of regret went up from my very soul that the other two brigades of my old division had been left behind. Oh, God, if only I had them — a surety for the honor of Virginia, for I can depend upon them, little one. They know your Soldier and would follow him into the very jaws of death — and he will need them, right here, too, before he's through.

At early dawn, darkened by the threatening rain, Armistead, Garnett, Kemper and your Soldier held a heart-to-heart powwow.

All three sent regards to you, and Old Lewis pulled a ring from his little finger and making me take it, said, "Give this little token, George, please, to her of the sunset eyes, with my love, and tell her the 'old man' says since he could not be the lucky dog he's mighty glad that you are."

Dear old Lewis — dear old "Lo," as Magruder always called him, being short for Lothario. Well, my Sally, I'll keep the ring for you, and some day I'll take it to John Tyler and have it made into a breastpin and set around with rubies and diamonds and emeralds. You will be the pearl, the other jewel. Dear old Lewis!

Just as we three separated to go our different ways after silently clasping hands, our fears and prayers voiced in the "Good luck, old man," a summons came from Old Peter, and I immediately rode to the top of the ridge where he and Marse Robert were making a reconnaissance of Meade's position. "Great God!" said Old Peter as I came up. "Look, General Lee, at the insurmountable difficulties between our line and that of the Yankees — the steep hills, the tiers of artillery, the fences, the heavy skirmish line — and then we'll have to fight our infantry against their batteries. Look at the ground we'll have to charge over, nearly a mile of that open ground there under the rain of their canister and shrapnel."

"The enemy is there, General Longstreet, and I am going to strike him," said Marse Robert in his firm, quiet, determined voice.

About 8 o'clock I rode with them along our line of prostrate infantry. They had been told to lie down to prevent attracting attention, and though they had been forbidden to cheer they voluntarily arose and lifted in reverential adoration their caps to our beloved commander as we rode slowly along. Oh, the responsibility for the lives of such men as these! Well, my darling, their fate and that of our beloved Southland will be settled ere your glorious brown eyes rest on these scraps of penciled paper — your Soldier's last letter, perhaps.

Our line of battle faces Cemetery Ridge. Our detachments have been thrown forward to support our artillery which stretches over a mile along the crests of Oak Ridge and Seminary Ridge. The men are lying in the rear, my darling, and the hot July sun pours its scorching rays almost vertically down upon them. The suffering and waiting are almost unbearable.

Well, my sweetheart, at one o'clock the awful silence was broken by a cannon-shot and then another, and then more than a hundred guns shook the hills from crest to base, answered by more than another hundred — the whole world a blazing volcano, the whole of heaven a thunderbolt — then darkness and absolute silence — then the grim and gruesome, low-spoken commands — then the forming of the attacking columns. My brave Virginians are to attack in front. Oh, may God in mercy help me as He never helped before!

I have ridden up to report to Old Peter. I shall give him this letter to mail to you and a package to give you if — Oh, my darling, do you feel the love of my heart, the prayer, as I write that fatal word?

Now, I go; but remember always that I love you with all my heart and soul, with every fiber of my being; that now and forever I am yours — yours, my beloved. It is almost three o'clock. My soul reaches out to yours — my prayers. I'll keep up a skookum tumtum for Virginia and for you, my darling.

Your Soldier

Gettysburg, July 3, 1863.