Reports of Col. Norman J. Hall, Seventh Michigan Infantry, commanding Third Brigade.
O.R.--SERIES I--VOLUME XXVII/1 [S# 43]
HDQRS. THIRD BRIG., SECOND DIV.. SECOND CORPS,
Pleasant Valley, Md., July 17, 1863.
Capt. A. H. EMBLER,
Actg. Asst. Adjt. Gen., Second Div., Second Corps.
CAPTAIN: I have the honor to submit the following report of the operations of the brigade under my command in the recent engagements near Gettysburg, Pa.:
The brigade, composed of the Seventh Michigan Volunteers, Forty-Second New York Volunteers, Twentieth Massachusetts Volunteers, Nineteenth Massachusetts Volunteers, and Fifty-ninth New York Volunteers, had, on the morning of July 2, just completed a march of about 190 miles with scarcely a day's rest. Arriving on the morning of that day upon the ground occupied by the troops who had been engaged with the enemy on the previous day, it was at once placed in column of battalions upon a crest which extended from the cemetery to Round Top. Upon the right of the column was the Second Brigade of this division, and upon the left was Captain Brown's battery. A division of the First Corps was in position on the left of the battery, but soon after removed and the ground was occupied by regiments of this brigade. A few rails were disposed in front of the line, to form a slight shelter. Until 4.30 p.m. the firing near this position was confined to artillery and the pickets.
About this time the Third Corps, holding the line on the left of the Second Corps, and but a short distance from this brigade, was advanced, and the engagement became general. Met by a far superior force of the enemy, the Third Corps was forced to retire, closely pursued. An order was received to send two regiments to the left to report to General Humphreys, and a staff officer came to conduct them. Being dispatched accordingly, two regiments moved rapidly forward and were soon lost to sight in the smoke of the battle. Conducted by the flank through the flying lines of our troops, and left by the staff officer--whom they have not seen since--to their own resources, they formed line of battle, delivered several volleys into the enemy in their front, staggering him for an instant, and, under this cover, withdrew in good order with a few prisoners, but with a loss of nearly one-third of their number.
These regiments (the Forty-second New York and Nineteenth Massachusetts) were the last of our troops to fall back at that point, and in their regularity presented a striking contrast with the fugitives. The enemy having an enfilading fire upon the lines of the Third Corps and troops called to its support, his advance was irresistible, its regularity surprising, and its rapidity fearful.
An interval of nearly a quarter of a mile was opened from the left of my position, and though re-enforcements were sent in great numbers to fill the gap, they halted, and formed their lines behind the part of the line which still remained firm. Convinced that they were needed at the undefended point, and seeing no general officer to direct, I felt authorized (as a moment's delay might prove fatal) to move them, and I transferred several regiments. When Major-General Hancock came to this point he approved the order, and himself moved others in the same direction. The enemy being now within 30 or 40 yards of the line of this brigade, the men, lying down, poured into him so well-directed a fire that he halted, fell back, and finally broke in great disorder. The rebel General Barksdale was mortally wounded and two colors left on the ground within 20 yards of the line of the Seventh Michigan Volunteers.
In his advance the enemy drove in some batteries placed before the line. One was driven through the line of the Twentieth Massachusetts Volunteers, which was lying down, and two guns left scarcely 6 feet in rear of that regiment. The one nearer the line was fired in that position, blowing a gap, and severely burning several men. Had not this portion of the line, which was not yet joined on its left by re-enforcements, stood firm, the interval would at least have been greatly increased and the result might have been incalculably disastrous.
For a few moments the enemy held possession of a portion of a disabled battery in front of the line, but was speedily driven from it by the fire from the division. The picket from this brigade made a strong resistance to the advance of the enemy. All its officers were wounded and many men killed or wounded, but few were captured by the enemy.
Colonel Revere, Captain Patten, Lieutenant Cowgill, of the Twentieth Massachusetts Volunteers: Lieutenant Slafter, Seventh Michigan Volunteers; Lieutenant-Colonel Thoman and Lieutenant Pohlman, of the Fifty-ninth New York Volunteers, and about 150 men were killed or wounded at their posts during this day's fight.
No serious attempt was again made by the enemy on the 2d against the position of the Second Corps. During the night the line was strengthened as much as possible with rails, stones, and earth thrown up with sticks and boards, no tools being obtainable.
Nothing more than occasional skirmishing occurred until the afternoon of the 3d. At 1 o'clock the enemy opened with artillery upon that portion of the line between the cemetery and the right of the Fifth Corps, several hundred yards from Round Top. The number of pieces which concentrated their fire upon this line is said to have been about one hundred and fifty. The object was evidently to destroy our batteries and drive the infantry from the slight crest which marked the line of battle, while the concentration of fire upon the hill occupied by the Second and the right of the Third Brigades indicated where the real attack was to be made. The experience of the terrible grandeur of that rain of missiles and that chaos of strange and terror-spreading sounds, unexampled, perhaps, in history, must ever remain undescribed, but can never be forgotten by those who survived it.
I cannot suffer this opportunity to pass without paying just tribute to the noble service of the officers and men of the batteries that were served within my sight. Never before during this war were so many batteries subjected to so terrible a test. Horses, men, and carriages were piled together, but the fire scarcely slackened for an instant so long as the guns were standing.
Lieutenant Cushing, of Battery A, Fourth U.S. Artillery, challenged the admiration of all who saw him. Three of his limbers were blown up and changed with the caisson limbers under fire. Several wheels were shot off his guns and replaced, till at last, severely wounded himself, his officers all killed or wounded, and with but cannoneers enough to man a section, he pushed his gun to the fence in front, and was killed while serving his last canister into the ranks of the advancing enemy.
Knowing that the enemy's infantry would attack soon, I sent Lieutenant [William R.] Driver, acting assistant adjutant-general, to the Artillery Reserve for batteries, with orders to conduct them to the crest, if they were granted, with all possible speed. He arrived with one, which, though too late for service in arresting the advance of the enemy, yet had the opportunity to do him much damage.
At 3 o'clock exactly the fire of the enemy slackened, and his first line of battle advanced from the woods in front in beautiful order. About 100 yards in rear came a second line, and opposite the main point of attack was what appeared to be a column of battalions.
The accompanying diagram will illustrate the disposition of the troops of my own command. This sketch does not pretend to accuracy in distances or angles.
The conformation of the ground enabled the enemy, after advancing near the lines, to obtain cover. Arrived at this point, one battalion continued to move toward the point A, occupied by the Second and Third Brigades of the Second Division. The other battalions moved by the flank until completely masked by the preceding one, when they moved by the flank again, thus forming a column of regiments. The few pieces of artillery still in position were directed upon this column, while the rebel cannon again opened with shell, firing over their own troops.
The perfect order and steady but rapid advance of the enemy called forth praise from our troops, but gave their line an appearance of being fearfully irresistible. My line was single, the only support (the Seventy-second Pennsylvania Volunteers) having been called away by General Webb before the action had fairly commenced. There was a disposition in the men to reserve their fire for close quarters, but when I observed the movement the enemy was endeavoring to execute, I caused the Seventh Michigan and Twentieth Massachusetts Volunteers to open fire at about 200 yards. The deadly aim of the former regiment was attested by the line of slain within its range. This had a great effect upon the result, for it caused the enemy to move rapidly at one point and consequently to crowd in front--being occasioned at the point where his column was forming, he did not recover from this disorder. The remainder of our line reserved its fire until within 100 yards, some regiments waiting even until but 50 paces intervened between them and the enemy.
There was but a moment of doubtful contest in front of the position of this brigade. The enemy halted to deliver his fire, wavered, and fled, while the line of the fallen perfectly marked the limit of his advance. The troops were pouring into the ranks of the fleeing enemy that rapid and accurate fire, the delivery of which victorious lines always so much enjoy, when I saw that a portion of the line of General Webb on my right had given way, and many men were making to the rear as fast as possible, while the enemy was pouring over the rails that had been a slight cover for the troops.
Having gained this apparent advantage, the enemy seemed to turn again and re-engage my whole line. Going to the left, I found two regiments that could be spared from some command there, and endeavored to move them by the right flank to the break, but, coming under a warm fire, they crowded to the slight cover of the rail fence, mixing with the troops already there. Finding it impossible to draw them out and reform, and seeing no unengaged troops within reach, I was forced to order my own brigade back from the line, and move it by the flank under a heavy fire. The enemy was rapidly gaining a foothold; organization was mostly lost; in the confusion commands were useless, while a disposition on the part of the men to fall back apace or two each time to lead, gave the line a retiring direction. With the officers of my staff and a few others, who seemed to comprehend what was required, the head of the line, still slowly moving by the flank, was crowded closer to the enemy and the men obliged to load in their places. I did not see any man of my command who appeared disposed to run away, but the confusion first caused by the two regiments above spoken of so destroyed the formation in two ranks that in some places the line was several files deep.
In pressing the line as closely upon the enemy as possible, it took the form here represented:
During this time, the Fifteenth Massachusetts Volunteers, First Minnesota, and Nineteenth Maine Volunteers, from the First Brigade of this division, had joined the line, and are entitled to a full share in the credit of the final repulse.
The line remained in this way for about ten minutes, rather giving way than advancing, when, by a simultaneous effort upon the part of all the officers I could instruct, aided by the general advance of many of the colors, the line closed with the enemy, and, after a few minutes of desperate, often hand-to-hand fighting, the crowd--for such had become that part of the enemy's column that had passed the fence---threw down their arms and were taken prisoners of war, while the remainder broke and fled in great disorder. The Second Brigade had again joined the right of my line, which now occupied the position originally held by that command.
Generals Garnett and Armistead were picked up near this point, together with many colonels and officers of other grades.
Twenty battle-flags were captured in a space of 100 yards square. Several colors were stolen or taken with violence by officers of high rank from brave soldiers who had rushed forward and honestly captured them from the enemy, and were probably turned in as taken by commands which were not within 100 yards of the point of attack. Death is too light a punishment for such a dastardly offense.
To the efforts of a few officers and the courage and good discipline of the men is due the great result of the final repulse of the enemy. Conspicuous acts of individual bravery were unusually frequent. Colors were captured with clubbed muskets, and many men of both our own and the enemy had their clothes blown off for a large space around their wounds by the close discharge.
Between 1,500 and 2,000 prisoners were captured at the point of attack, where the First, Second, and Third Brigades were equally present. Piles of dead and thousands of wounded upon both sides attested the desperation of assailants and defenders.
The services of many officers of my command would, under ordinary circumstances, claim particular notice and reward, but so great was the necessity for every possible exertion that all who saw their duty I believe did it, forgetting all question of danger.
I cannot omit speaking in the highest terms of the magnificent conduct of Lieutenant Haskell, of General Gibbon's staff, in bringing forward regiments and in nerving the troops to their work by word and fearless example. Lieutenant-Colonel Steele, of the Seventh Michigan Volunteer, behaved most gallantly, and was killed in the line of his regiment, urging men forward. Every regimental commander did his whole duty nobly. Three of the 5 were killed or have since died of their wounds, viz: Colonel Revere, of the Twentieth Massachusetts Volunteers; Lieutenant-Colonel Thoman, Fifty-ninth New York Volunteers, and Lieutenant-Colonel Steele, Seventh Michigan Volunteers. Lieutenant-Colonel Macy, Twentieth Massachusetts; Lieutenant-Colonel Wass and Major Rice, Nineteenth Massachusetts Volunteers, were severely wounded.
Captains [S. Newell] Smith and[George W.] Leach and Lieutenant [William E.] Barrows, of my staff, were most conspicuous in closing the ranks, maintaining the lines, and pressing them against the enemy, while Lieutenant Driver, acting assistant adjutant-general, twice ran the gauntlet of the terrific artillery fire in bringing fresh artillery.
I have been thus particular in describing the parts taken by the troops of this and other commands near by because I feel bound in justice to the men of my command, and those who assisted them on that day at that point, to claim for them what fortune gave them an opportunity to do and what their arms accomplished. While the attack was general and was repulsed along the whole line, still, the 'tremendous effort of the rebel chief was against the point which happened to be occupied by the Second and Third Brigades of the Second Division, Second Corps. It was fully repulsed in front of the Third Brigade, which then fell upon the partially successful enemy on the line of the Second Brigade, and, with the assistance before mentioned, drove him back, finishing the day there and completing the destruction of his splendid division and many of its supports. The attack was afterward renewed upon the left of the line, near Round Top, but without the vigor and desperation that characterized the previous effort.
In claiming for my brigade and a few other troops the turning point of the battle of July 3, I do not forget how liable inferior commanders are to regard only what takes place in their own front, or how extended a view it must require to judge of the relative importance of different points of the line of battle. The decision of the rebel commander was upon that point; the concentration of artillery fire was upon that point; the din of battle developed in a column of attack upon that point; the greatest effort and greatest carnage was at that point; and the victory was at that point.
No other inducement than the desire to do justice to troops who so nobly and at so dear a rate accomplished such a result, though their presence was primarily a matter of chance, would make me place myself in a position to defend an assertion generally so difficult to establish.
NORMAN J. HALL,
Colonel, Commanding Brigade.
NEW YORK, August 3, 1863.
Col. E. D. TOWNSEND,
Assistant Adjutant-General, U.S. Army.
COLONEL: I observed some time since in a printed official paper naming the flags captured at Gettysburg, Pa., on the 3d of July, that the Department was not in possession of information regarding who captured several of them. I think it my duty to furnish you the necessary information, as far as concerns my own command.
I attached labels to each one of the flags below named, but they were probably lost in transportation.
Battle-flag of Fourteenth Virginia Infantry, captured by Corpl. J. H. De Castro, Nineteenth Massachusetts Volunteers; Twenty-second North Carolina, by-private Michael McDonough, Forty-second New York Volunteers; Nineteenth Virginia, by Corpl. B. F. Falls, Nineteenth Massachusetts Volunteers; Eighteenth Virginia, by Second Lieut. C. E. Hunt, Fifty-ninth New York Volunteers; Forty-eighth Georgia, by Sergt. James Wiley, Fifty-ninth New York Volunteers; Fifty-seventh Virginia Infantry, by Private B. H. Jellison, Nineteenth Massachusetts Volunteers; one flag, designation unknown, captured by Private John Robinson, Company I, Nineteenth Massachusetts Volunteers; also one captured by Private William Dunning, Seventh Michigan Volunteers. These last two I have not the information to enable me to describe at present. For the others, I have receipts from General Harrow, commanding division, and they are named as received in the printed paper I saw in Washington.
Will you have the goodness to cause the six named to be marked and credited to the men and regiments by whom they were captured? The regiments are all of the Third Brigade, Second Division, Second Corps, which I have had the honor to command till a week or two ago.
NORMAN J. HALL,
Colonel 7th Michigan Vols., and 1st Lieut. 5th U.S. Artillery.
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