Report of Col. William L. J. Lowrance, Thirty-fourth North Carolina Infantry, commanding Scales' brigade
JUNE 3-AUGUST 1, 1863.--The Gettysburg Campaign
O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME XXVII/2 [S# 44]
AUGUST 12, 1863.
SIR: On the evening of July 1, after a severe engagement on the part of the brigade, led into action by its commander (General Scales), I was informed that the general was wounded, and it devolved upon me to take command.
At this time I found the brigade on the extreme left of the division, and numbering in all about 500 men, without any field officers, excepting Lieutenant-Colonel [G. T.] Gordon and myself, and but few line officers, and many companies were without a single officer to lead them or to inquire after them.
In this depressed, dilapidated, and almost unorganized condition, I took command of the brigade, and remained at the point where I found it until after nightfall, when I was ordered to the extreme right of the line; and, having arrived at the place designated, I sent out a strong picket to the front and right, so as to guard against any surprise, and then ordered the few who were still in ranks to stack arms for the night. It was then 1 o'clock.
At early dawn on the morning of the 2d, I was ordered to a position on the right of and on line with the artillery, which left me still on the extreme right of the line, and was ordered to hold position at all hazards; and, being an important point on the immediate right of our artillery, we its only guard, and with no support, I considered it hazardous in the extreme, taking into consideration our weakness as to numbers and the importance of the position. So I threw out a strong line of skirmishers, extending fully one-half mile to the right, inclining to the rear, which was placed under command of Lieutenant [A. J.] Brown, of the Thirty-eighth North Carolina troops, who most gallantly held the line against several strong skirmish lines thrown against him until 1 p.m., at which time the brigade was relieved by General [R. H.] Anderson's division; and then I was ordered to move by the left flank and join my division, which I did, and was formed on the second line, and joined on the right of General Lane's brigade, where we remained until the morning of the 3d, when, in conjunction with General Lane's brigade, I was ordered to the right again, where we were placed under command of General Trimble, and were formed on the second line, in rear of Major Poague's battalion of artillery; and here we remained at least one hour, under a most galling fire of artillery, which I am proud to say the men endured with the coolness and determined spirit of veterans, for such they are. Then we were ordered forward over a wide, hot, and already crimson plain.
We advanced upon the enemy's line, which was in full view, at a distance of 1 mile. Now their whole line of artillery was playing upon us, which was on an eminence in our front, strongly fortified and supported by infantry. While we were thus advancing, many fell, but I saw but few in that most hazardous hour who even tried to shirk duty. All went forward with a cool and steady step, but ere we had advanced over two-thirds of the way, troops from the front came tearing through our ranks, which caused many of our men to break, but with the remaining few we went forward until the right of the brigade touched the enemy's line of breastworks, as we marched in rather an oblique line. Now the pieces in our front were all silenced. Here many were shot down, being then exposed to a heavy fire of grape and musketry upon our right flank. Now all apparently had forsaken us. The two brigades (now reduced to mere squads, not numbering in all 800 guns) were the only line to be seen upon that vast field, and no support in view. The natural inquiry was, What shall we do? and none to answer. The men answered for themselves, and, without orders, the brigade retreated, leaving many on the field unable to get off, and some, I fear, unwilling to undertake the hazardous retreat. The brigade was then rallied on the same line where it was first formed.
In this engagement, I observed with pride the conduct of many officers and men, but must beg especially to mention that of Lieutenant [J. Maclin] Smith, Thirteenth North Carolina, and Lieutenant [M. M.] Gillon, Thirty-fourth North Carolina, whose conduct was meritorious of all honor.
We remained in line of battle near this place until the evening of the 4th, when we retreated to Hagerstown, where we arrived on the 7th and remained until the 11th, and were then drawn out in line of battle, and remained so until the night of the 13th, during which time the enemy were drawn up in our front, but remained inactive, excepting some skirmishing, which resulted in loss on our part of 2 killed, several wounded, and several captured.
Then commenced our retreat to Falling Waters, and we arrived there at 10 o'clock on the morning of the 14th; and, while resting for a few hours ere we crossed, whether it was in order to cross over the wagon trains, artillery, &c., I cannot say, but just as we were moving out to cross the river, were attacked by a squad of cavalry, which caused some detention. Then, all being quiet, I moved off, as directed, toward the river, but ere I had gone more than 300 yards, I was ordered by General Heth to take the brigade back to the support of those who were acting as rear guard; and, having done so, I took a position on the right of the center, which point appeared to be threatened, but was immediately ordered by General Heth to form the brigade on the extreme left; and having formed the brigade, as directed, by moving there in quick time (being informed that that point was threatened), I found the men were quite exhausted from pressure of heat, want of sleep, want of food, and the fatigue of marching; and at this very moment I found the troops on our right giving way, whereupon I sent Lieutenant [J. D.] Young, acting aide-de-camp, to rally them, which he did after some time. Then I was ordered to join on their right, and, while making a move to this effect, ere we had come to the top of the hill on which they were, I rode forward, and saw the whole line in full retreat some 200 or 300 yards to my rear; the enemy were pursuing, and directly between me and the bridge.
The move, I understand since, was made by order, but I received no such orders, in consequence of which I was cut off. But I filed directly to the rear, and struck the river some three-quarters of a mile above the bridge, and then marched down the river; but the enemy had penetrated the woods, and struck the river between us and the bridge, and so cut off many of our men who were unwilling to try to pass, and captured many more who failed from mere exhaustion; so in this unfortunate circumstance we lost nearly 200 men.
Having recrossed the Potomac, we moved, as did the division, without any engagement until we came to Culpeper Court-House, Va., where the Thirty-fourth was engaged in a skirmish with the enemy's cavalry on August 1. Our loss, 3 wounded and some missing.
In all this campaign, the men endured with their usual forbearance, and bore all their trials and privations without a murmur. It is proper to mention the conduct of Captain [Hugh L.] Guerrant, assistant adjutant and inspector general, Adjutant [D. M.] McIntire, acting assistant adjutant-general, and Lieutenant Young, acting aide-de-camp, who on all occasions rendered their services indispensable.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully,
WM. L. J. LOWRANCE,
Colonel Thirty-fourth North Carolina Troops, Comdg. Brigade.
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