Report of Col. H. Boyd McKeen, Eighty-first Pennsylvania Infantry, commanding First Brigade.
-- Gettysburg Campaign
O.R.--SERIES I--VOLUME XXVII/1 [S# 43]
CAMP ON THE FIELD, August 11, 1863.
Maj. JOHN HANCOCK,
A. A. G., First Division, Second Army Corps.
MAJOR: I have the honor to submit the following report of the First Brigade in the action at Gettysburg, Pa., July 2 and 3:
Early in the morning of the 2d, the brigade was massed in the woods to the left and rear of the position occupied by the corps when in line.
At 10 a.m. the brigade massed in column of regiments on the left of the division and the left center of the general line of battle. Here we remained until 4 p.m., when the division was detached from the corps and marched to the left of the line, to check the advance of the enemy. The brigade moved by the left flank from the position on the left of the center, until it reached the foot of Sugar Loaf Hill, and then formed line of battle in rear of a stone wall, over which we advanced and engaged the enemy. At this time I was in command of the One hundred and forty-eighth Pennsylvania Volunteers. The brigade was formed in the following order: The Sixty-first New York Volunteers, Eighty-first and One hundred and forty-eighth Pennsylvania Volunteers, and Fifth New Hampshire Volunteers, and the Sixty-first and Eighty-first and a portion of the One hundred and forty-eighth advanced in a wheat-field; the remainder of the One hundred and forty-eighth and Fifth New Hampshire Volunteers in a thick woods. The brigade steadily drove the enemy back to the far end of the wheat-field, a distance of over 400 yards. So quickly was this done that prisoners were taken by the brigade before the enemy had time to spring from their hiding-places to retreat. A brigade of the Fifth Corps relieved the Sixty-first. Eighty-first, and a portion of the One hundred and forty-eighth. Perceiving that if the balance of the brigade should retire it would expose the left flank of this brigade, I kept the balance of the One hundred and forty-eighth in position. At this time I was informed that Colonel Cross, who commanded the brigade, was mortally wounded, and that the command of the brigade devolved upon me.
The Fifth and One hundred and forty-eighth remained in position, steadily holding the enemy in check, until every round of cartridge in this portion of the brigade was expended, and even then held their position until relieved by a brigade of General Barnes' division, of the Fifth Corps. Passing the relieving brigade by file, they retired in splendid order, as they were enfiladed by a galling fire from our left flank (faced to the rear). Joining the balance of the brigade at the stone wall first spoken of, the brigade rejoined the division, and again moved to their old position on the left center.
Early on the morning of the 3d, breastworks were thrown up by the brigade. Unmolested we remained in this position until 4 p.m., when the enemy opened upon our position a terrible fire (artillery), which, however, did the brigade but little injury, owing to the breastworks thrown up in the morning.
About 5 p.m. three columns of attack debouched from an orchard in our immediate front, moving by their left flank, traversed the field in our front, and vigorously attacked the center of our line and to our immediate right. Almost simultaneously a single brigade of Florida troops advanced upon our position, but were broken by the artillery just as they were getting within musket-range. A large portion of this brigade ran into our lines and delivered themselves up as prisoners. This was the last effort of the enemy.
I have only to state that the brigade fought with its usual gallantry, and that the regiment I had the honor to command in the early part of the engagement, comparatively a new one, equaled in coolness and gallantry the balance of the brigade, old veterans of the Peninsula.
That gallant officer, Col. E. E. Cross, Fifth New Hampshire Volunteers, who led the brigade into action, fell, while bravely cheering his troops.
Great credit is due to the brigade staff for their gallantry upon the field, of which number Captain [George H.] Caldwell, assistant adjutant-general, and Lieutenant [John H.] Root, assistant inspector-general, were wounded severely in the discharge of their duties.
The following are the casualties in the brigade:
Officers and Men Killed Wounded Missing Total Commissioned Officers 3 21 --- 24 Enlisted Men 56 238 12 306 Total 59 259 12 330
Total strength of the brigade going into action, 780 muskets.
At 4 o'clock on the afternoon of July 5, the brigade was ordered out of its position, and from this date, by a series of marches, reached a position near Tilghmanton, Md., on the 10th instant. While lying here, the brigade supported Carroll's brigade, Third Division, Second Corps, on a reconnaissance, and drove the enemy to within 3 miles of Hagerstown, on the Hagerstown turnpike, falling back, however, to Jones' Cross-Roads, near which point the brigade threw up works, in anticipation of a general engagement with the enemy.
On the 14th instant, my command held the advance in pursuit of the enemy's rear guard, capturing some 50 prisoners, and giving up the pursuit near Falling Waters. From this place the First Brigade, with the balance of the division, moved by rapid marches to Harper's Ferry, W. Va., halting for supplies a few days on the southern side of Maryland Heights, near Sandy Hook, and crossing the Potomac on the 18th. Shortly after crossing the river, on the same day, I received an order to report to the surgeon-in-chief of the general hospital in Philadelphia, and I immediately turned the command over to Lieutenant-Colonel McFarlane, One hundred and forty-eighth Pennsylvania Volunteers.
Up to this time, after leaving Gettysburg, the brigade met with no loss whatever in killed or wounded.
H. BOYD McKEEN,
Colonel, Commanding First Brigade.
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