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.


Anonymous said...

this is so interesting!!!

Anonymous said...

This is history. History sucks.

Anonymous said...

lolz true that