Report of Col. Charles S. Wainwright,
First New York Light Artillery,
commanding Artillery Brigade, First Army Corps
O.R.--SERIES I--VOLUME XXVII/1 [S# 43] -- Gettysburg Campaign
HEADQUARTERS ARTILLERY BRIGADE, FIRST CORPS,
July 17, 1863.
Brig. Gen. HENRY J. HUNT,
Chief of Artillery, Army of the Potomac.
GENERAL. I have the honor to submit the following report of the part taken by my command in the battle of Gettysburg on the 1st, 2d, and 3d instant:
On the night of June 30, the main body of the command lay about 2 miles from Emmitsburg, while the Second Maine Battery, Captain Hall, was in position a couple of miles farther on, commanding the bridge on the Gettysburg turnpike over Marsh Creek, having been ordered to report to Brigadier-General Wadsworth, commanding the advance division.
About 8 o'clock on the morning of the 1st, we received orders to march to Gettysburg, no intimation, however, being given that we were likely to fall in with the enemy near that place, which had been occupied by our cavalry twenty-four hours before.
The corps marched in the following order: First Division, General Wadsworth, Hall's battery; Third Division, General Rowley, Artillery Brigade; Second Division, General Robinson; Major-General Doubleday temporarily in command of the corps. About 4 miles this side of Gettysburg, the Third Division took a by-road to the left, Captain Cooper's battery of four 3-inch guns following them.
The first intimation I received of the proximity of the enemy was the sound of firing when we arrived within some 2 miles of Gettysburg and at about 10.30 a.m. I immediately joined General Doubleday, and by his order moved the three batteries remaining with me across the fields toward the seminary or college. On our arrival at this point, we learned that a portion of the advance division had been engaged with the enemy and had been drawn in; also the death of our commanding officer, Maj. Gen. J. F. Reynolds. Captain Hall's battery (Second Maine) had been in action at this point. Having seen nothing of it myself, I insert his own report, as follows:
My battery was ordered into position by General Reynolds on the right of the Cashtown road, some 400 yards beyond Seminary Hill, on the south and west of the town. The enemy had previously opened a battery of six guns directly in our front, at 1,300 yards distance, which they concentrated upon me as I went into position, but with very little effect.
We opened upon this battery with shot and shell at 10.45 a.m., our first six shots causing the enemy to change position of two of his guns and place them under cover behind a barn. In twenty-five minutes from the time we opened fire, a column of the enemy's infantry charged up a ravine on our right flank, within 60 yards of my right piece, when they commenced shooting down my horses and wounding my men. I ordered the right and center sections to open upon this column with canister, and kept the left firing upon the enemy's artillery. This canister fire was very effective, and broke the charge of the enemy, when, just at this moment, to my surprise, I saw my support falling back without any orders having been given me to retire. Feeling that if the position was too advanced for infantry it was equally so for artillery, I ordered the battery to retire by sections, although having no order to do so. The support falling back rapidly, the right section of the battery, which I ordered to take position some 75 yards to the rear, to cover the retiring of the other four pieces, was charged upon by the enemy's skirmishers and 4 of the horses from one of the guns shot. The men of the section dragged this gun off by hand. As the last piece of the battery was coming away, all its horses were shot, and I was about to return for it myself when General Wadsworth gave me a peremptory order to lose no time, but get my battery in position near the town, on the heights, to cover the retiring of the troops. I sent a sergeant with 5 men after the piece, all of whom were wounded or taken prisoners.
I had got near to the position I had been ordered to take, when I received another order from General Wadsworth to bring my guns immediately back; the officer bringing the order saying he would show me the road to take, which was the railroad grading leading out from town, which was swept at the time by two of the enemy's guns from the hills beyond, through the excavations at Seminary Hill. Having gotten on to this road, from its construction I could not turn from it on either side, and was obliged to advance 1,200 yards under this raking fire. Arriving at Seminary Hill, I found no one to show me the position I was to occupy, and placed my battery in park under cover of the hill, and went forward to see where to take position, when I again met an aide of General Wadsworth, who ordered me to go to the right along the woods, pass over the crest and over a ravine, and there take position. Obeying this order, I moved toward the right until met by an orderly, who informed me I was going directly into the enemy's lines, which were advancing from this direction. I halted my command, and rode forward, but before reaching the described position was fired upon by the enemy's skirmishers. I then countermarched my battery, and moved to near the seminary.
Gettysburg Seminary is situated on a ridge about a quarter of a mile from the town, the ridge running nearly north and south and parallel with the Emmitsburg pike. It is crossed by the Cashtown turnpike about 100 yards north of the seminary, and cut through by the railroad some 40 yards farther on. The west front of the seminary is shaded by a grove of large trees, and the whole top of the ridge on both sides is more or less crowned with open woods through its entire length. Beyond this ridge the ground falls gradually to the west, and rises again into a parallel ridge at a distance of about 400 yards. This second ridge is wider and smoother than that on which the seminary stands, but ends about 200 yards north of where the Cashtown pike crosses it.
On the south side of this point is a house and large barn, with an apple orchard and some 5 acres of wood to the south of it; the rest of the ridge is cleared. It was around this house and wood that the first skirmish, in which General Reynolds fell, took place.
Having massed the batteries immediately in rear of the first ridge, I rode forward to examine the ground in front, and was met by a member of General Doubleday's staff, with an order to post a battery on the outer ridge, if possible. Directing Captain Reynolds to move his battery of six 3-inch guns forward, I rode up on to the ridge, but finding that the battery would be exposed and totally without support, I withdrew it before it reached the crest. Soon afterward the Third Division, with Cooper's battery, arrived and took position along the open part of the crest, the battery being posted in an oat-field some 350 yards south of the Cashtown road. One brigade of the First Division had meantime reoccupied the wood where the first engagement took place, and General Wadsworth sent to ask for a battery, but as there was no infantry to protect its right flank, and Captain Hall had previously come so near to losing his battery in the same position, I did not consider it safe to place a battery in that position until our Second Division, which was just arriving, had taken position and I had examined the ground on the flank, the enemy being quiet at this time.
Finding General Robinson's division and the Second Brigade of the First Division occupying a wood on the west slope of Seminary Ridge north of the railroad, and the Eleventh Corps coming into position across the flat at right angles to our front, I returned to the Cashtown road, and directed Lieutenant Stewart to report to General Robinson with his battery, which had previously been posted some 200 yards south of the seminary, but not engaged.
Meantime General Wadsworth had ordered Captain Tidball's horse battery into position on the right of his First Brigade, where Captain Hall's battery had been, and it had just commenced a sharp engagement with the enemy's battery directly in front. As soon as possible, I moved Reynolds' battery up to relieve Tidball's, but it had not fairly gotten into position before the enemy opened a severe fire from a second battery immediately on our right. By this cross-fire both batteries were obliged to withdraw, Reynolds taking position again at right angles to the ridge, so that his left was covered by the woods. While removing his battery, Captain Reynolds received a severe wound in the right eye, but refused for some time to leave the field. The enemy's battery soon after ceased firing. Receiving another request from General Wadsworth for some guns on his front, I posted Lieutenant Wilber, with a section of Company L, First New York, in the orchard on the south side of the Cashtown road, where he was sheltered from the fire of the enemy's battery on his right flank by the intervening house and barn, and moved the remaining four pieces around to the south side of the wood on the open crest.
Having heard incidentally some directions given to General Doubleday about holding Cemetery Hill, and not knowing that there was such a place, while the seminary was called indiscriminately cemetery and seminary, I supposed the latter was meant. I therefore directed Captain Cooper to take a good position in front of the professor's house on this ridge, and sent an order to Captain Stevens, of the Fifth Maine Battery, to occupy the position first assigned to Lieutenant Stewart. Soon after this, the enemy filed in two strong columns out of the woods, about 500 yards to our front, and marched steadily down to our left until they outflanked us nearly a third of a mile. They then formed in double line of battle, and came directly up the crest. During this movement, Battery L opened on the columns, but the firing of Lieutenant Breck's four guns was much interfered with by our own infantry moving in front of his pieces. As we had no regular line of battle on this crest, and the enemy outnumbered us five to one, I withdrew Lieutenant Breck's two sections when their first line was within about 200 yards, and ordered him behind a strong stone wall on the seminary crest.
Meantime General Doubleday had removed Captain Stevens' battery to the right of Captain Cooper's, and Lieutenant Wilber's section falling back with its support came into position at the same point, thus concentrating twelve guns in so small a space that they were hardly 5 yards apart. Lieutenant Stewart's battery was also in position on the same line, half the battery between the Cashtown pike and the railroad, the other half across the railroad in the corner of a wood.
The enemy's lines continued to advance steadily across the space between the two crests, but when the first line was within about 100 yards of the seminary, Lieutenant Davison, commanding the left half of Stewart's battery, swung his guns around on the Cashtown pike, so as to enfilade the whole line. This, with the fire of the other batteries, checked them for a moment at this point, but it was only for a moment, as their second line did not halt, but pushed on, strongly re-en forced by a third column deploying from the Cashtown road. An order was now received by Captain Stevens from General Wadsworth to withdraw his battery. Not knowing that he had received such an order, and still under the false impression as to the importance attached to holding Seminary Hill, I directed all the batteries to remain in position. A few minutes, however, showed me our infantry rapidly retreating to the town. All the batteries were at once limbered to the rear, and moved at a walk down the Cashtown pike until the infantry had all left it and passed under cover of the railroad embankment. By this time the enemy's skirmishers had lapped our retreating columns and opened a severe fire from behind a paling fence running parallel to and within 50 yards of the road. The pike being clear, the batteries now broke into a trot, but it was too late to save everything. Lieutenant Wilber's (Battery L, First New York) last piece had the off wheel-horse shot, and just as he had disengaged it, 3 more of the horses were shot down and his own horse killed, so that it was impossible for him to bring it off. It affords me pleasure to say that not the slightest blame can be attributed to Lieutenant Wilber in the loss of this gun.
Three caissons belonging to Battery B, Fourth U.S. Artillery, also broke down before we entered the town, and the bodies had to be abandoned. Another caisson of the same battery was struck by a shell and destroyed. Four officers were struck while in position on Seminary Hill, two of them severely wounded.
The loss of the batteries during the day's engagement was heavy, amounting in all to 83 officers and men and about 80 horses. A large proportion of the last were hit while passing over the short open space between Seminary Ridge and the town, the enemy having at that time a fire upon us from three sides, and our infantry not replying.
The batteries passed immediately through the town along with the other troops, and were placed in position again on reaching Cemetery Hill along with several of the Eleventh Corps batteries, so as to command the town and the approach from the northwest in case the enemy should attempt to follow us through the town.
At dusk, no attack having been made, the batteries on the hill outside the cemetery gate were posted as follows, and light earthworks thrown up in front of each gun to protect the men from the fire of the enemy's sharpshooters: Four guns of Battery B, Fourth U.S. Artillery, across the road so as to command the approaches from the town (two guns of this battery had been disabled by loss of pointing rings) along the north front of the hill; four guns of Battery I, First New York Artillery (Captain Wiedrich's, Eleventh Corps), on the left; next Cooper s battery, and then Reynolds, giving thirteen 3-inch guns on this front, some of which could also be turned to bear upon the town and our old position of the morning. The Fifth Maine battery was posted to the right and some 50 yards in front of this line, on a small knoll, from whence they could obtain an oblique fire upon the hills in front of our line as well as a flanking fire at close quarters upon any attacking columns. Captain Hall's (Second Maine) remaining three guns (the others had been dismounted)were in position on the left of the cemetery--by order of Major-General Howard--where he remained during the next day's engagement, after which he reported to General Tyler for repairs.
July 2.--During the morning several moving columns of the enemy were shelled at intervals, but no engagements occurred until about 4 p.m., when they planted a battery of four 20-pounders and six 10-pounder Parrotts in a wheat-field on our immediate front, at about 1,300 yards, and opened the most accurate fire I have ever yet seen from their artillery. We replied with our thirteen 3-inch guns with good effect. It was an hour and a half, however, before we were able to compel them to withdraw, and then they hauled off their two right pieces by hand. Twenty-eight dead horses were found on the knoll occupied by this battery. A portion of the guns again took position farther to the right, but were soon silenced, as we could bring an additional number of pieces to bear on them there. Soon after, Captain Cooper's battery, which had suffered considerably, was relieved by Captain Ricketts' battery of six 3-inch guns.
About dusk they again opened from a knoll on our left and front, distant 1,800 yards, which fire was followed by a strong attack upon our position by General Rodes' Louisiana [?] brigade. As their column filed out of the town they came under the fire of the Fifth Maine Battery at about 800 yards. Wheeling into line, they swung around, their right resting on the town, and pushed up the hill, which is quite steep at this corner. As their line became fully unmasked, all the guns which could be brought to bear were opened on them, at first with shrapnel and afterward with canister, making a total of fifteen guns in their front and six on their left flank. Their center and left never mounted the hill at all, but their right worked its way up under cover of the houses, and pushed completely through Wiedrich's battery into Ricketts'. The cannoneers of both these batteries stood well to their guns, driving the enemy off with fence-rails and stones and capturing a few prisoners. I believe it may be claimed that this attack was almost entirely repelled by the artillery. My surgeon, who was in the town and dressed many of their wounded that night, tells me that they reported their loss in this attack as very great.
July 3.--There was no serious attack upon the position we held during this day's fight. The batteries fired occasional shots at bodies of the enemy's troops in the distance during the morning, and joined in the general artillery engagement in the afternoon. The fire of the enemy's batteries was noticed to be much less accurate than on the previous day, owing, I think, in a measure to their keeping their guns too much under cover of the hills on which they were posted.
With regard to the behavior of the batteries during this three days' fight, I have only to say that all the officers and men performed their duty to my perfect satisfaction. I would mention the case of a shell exploding immediately under one of Captain Cooper's guns in the heat of the second day s engagement, killing or wounding all the detachment around the gun, yet fire from that piece was reopened before all the wounded men were removed. I do not know that I can mention any officer or man in the batteries as particularly prominent above the others, but would respectfully call attention to First Sergt. John Mitchell, of Battery B, Fourth U.S. Artillery, who took command of the left half battery after Lieutenant Davison was wounded, and showed himself as efficient as an officer during an engagement as I have noticed him to be in his drill and the general routine of the battery.
Respectfully, your obedient servant, I remain, general, very
C. S. WAINWRIGHT,
Col. First N.Y. Art., Comdg. Art. Brig., First Army Corps.