My last letter brought up the events of the Pennsylvania campaign to the battle of Winchester To day I propose to speak of
THE PASSAGE OF THE POTOMAC AND THE FIRST DAY'S FIGHT AT GETTYSBURG.
It may be proper here to say that I shall necessarily have to treat of the movements and doings of the troops engaged by corps.
Ewell's Corps.—Rodes crossed the Potomac on the 15th and 16th at Williamsport. Johnson crossed the river on the 18th at Shepherdstown. Early did not cross until two day's inter, owing to high water. On the 20th Rodes and Johnson moved through Hagerstown to Greencastle, and Early crossed the river and moved to Cavetown; and so the invasion of Pennsylvania had begun.
On the 24th the whole of A. P. Hill's corps crossed the Potomac at Shepherdstown, that of Longstreet having previously reached the Maryland shore by the Williamsport ford—the corps of Gen. Longstreet being composed of the divisions of McLaws, Pickett, and Hood; whilst that of Hill consisted of Pender, Heth, and Anderson. The troops were all well clad and in fine spirits; eager, and ready to meet the foe.
Having thus rapidly opposed of the different corps up to the time of their crossing the Potomac, I will now speak of the movements and operations of each separately, as more likely to prove satisfactory to the general reader, as well as for an intelligent understanding of the whole subject as for a just appreciation of the achievements of each department of the army.
Rodes's and Johnson's divisions of Ewell's corps marched on the same road to Shippensburg. From Shippensburg they moved by two parallel roads to Carlisle, which they reached on the evening of the 25th of June. On the 29th Brig.-Gen. Jenkins and command, accompanied by Capt. Richardson Gen. Ewell's Engineer, went within sight and artillery range of Harrisburg, Pa., and reconnoitered the defences of the city, with the view on the part of Gen Ewell of attacking the place the next day with his whole corps. The next day, as Gen. Ewell was preparing to march to Harrisburg, twenty miles distant, an order came to him to unite his corps with the rest of the army at Cashtown, near Gettysburg. Major Gen. Early, of this corps, who, after crossing the river, had moved to York, and who was then at that place, was at once notified, and the corps immediately took up the line of march. Johnson, who had encamped two or three miles from Carlisle, moved back, accompanied by the reserve artillery of the corps, under Col. J. Thompson Brown, towards Chambersburg; whilst Rodes moved via Papertown and Petersburg to Heidiersburg, five miles from Gettysburg. Early camped at night near Berlin. That night Gen. R. S. Ewell communicated with Gen. A. P Hill, who was at Cashtown Early next morning Gen. Ewell set his division in motion to join Gen. Hill, he himself going in motion to join Gen. Hill, he himself going in front with Rodes's division. At Middletown Gen. E. received word from Gen. Hill that he was advancing towards Gettysburg, where one corps of the enemy was reported to have arrived. Early was at the same time ordered to move towards the town direct from Heidiersburg. Johnson had encamped the night before at near Scotland, and would have made the junction with the rest of the corps at Cashtown by noon or a little thereafter.
When Rodes's division arrived on the battle-field there was nothing going on save some artillery firing. Rodes's division consisted of five brigades, to-wit: Paniel's, Iverson's and Ramseur's North Carolina brigades, Doles's Georgia brigade, and Rodes's (old) Alabama brigade, commanded by Col O'Neill. Carter's battalion of artillery was attached to this command. Rodes came into the engagement on the flank of the enemy, who were confronting A P Bill, and occupied the most commanding point of the very ridge with artillery which the enemy were upon. This ridge runs in the shape of a crescent around Gettysburg, following the windings of a creek which is between it and the town. The Middletown road avoids the ridge by a turn to the left, and a descent into the hollow of the creek. Rodes formed his old brigade and that of Iverson into line on the top of the ridge, and placed Doles to the left, near the Middletown road, and separated some hundreds of yards by a gap from the others. Daniel was in line three hundred yards or more behind Iverson's right, to protect that flank. Ramseur was in reserve, and the 5th Alabama was left to hold the gap between O'Neill and Doles.
After Carter's battalion of artillery had been engaged for some half an hour with admirable effect, the enemy were observed to be moving rapidly from Hill's front to that of Rodes's, and to be advancing their new columns against Rodes from the town. Rodes, his dispositions having been made, advanced his whole line. It had first to cross a field six hundred yards wide and enter woods—immediately upon entering which it became hotly engaged.
The Alabama brigade advanced somewhat confusedly, owing, it is said, to a misconception as to the direction which it should take, and whilst confused became engaged and was forced back, with its lines broken, though reinforced by the 5th Alabama, which uncovered Lawson's brigade. This brigade was at the time spoken of as having behaved badly, owing to a mistake of Gen. J.'s, who reported to Gen. Rodes, in the midst of the fight, that one of his regiments had raised the white flag and gone over in a body to the enemy. The only foundation for this report was that two of his regiments were almost entirely surrounded in consequence of the giving way of the Alabama brigade and the concentration of the enemy at that point, and were all either killed or captured almost to a man. The gallant resistance, however, which they made may be shown by a statement coming from Gen. Rodes himself: that, riding along behind where their line had been, he thought he observed a regiment lying down, as if to escape the Yankee fire. On going up, however, to force them into the fight, he found they were all corpses.
General Daniel, advancing, found himself opposed to a very heavy force of the enemy, which he charged and drove back to a railroad cut running in a diagonal direction across his front and past his right flank. Here he found, directly across the cut, and two hundred and fifty yards to his right and rear, some of Gen. Hill's troops, lying down, while the enemy were firing heavily on his flank and rear; a battery, some four or five hundred yards off, near a barn, being specially troublesome. He sent two messages to the officer commanding these troops, hoping to get him to unite with him, and thus carry the field by a combined attack.—Once this regiment got up and moved some twenty yards to the front and again resumed its recumbent position. Finally Gen. D. had to leave his line, guarded by the 2d N C. battalion and a regiment, under a galling fire from the enemy, and move the other three regiments by the right flank to a point where they could cross the cut and form his line anew for a charge, which was most gallantly executed, the enemy scarcely saving their artillery and making no more stands until they reached Gettysburg.
Just as General D. was preparing for this final charge, Gen. Ramseur's brigade and the third Alabama regiment, which by some mistake had been separated from the rest of the brigade (Rodes's,) at the moment of advance, and so had not participated in the repulse which that brigade sustained, advanced to hold the line of Iverson's and O'Neill's brigades. The remnant of Iverson's old brigade formed on the right of Ramseur under Capt. D. P. Halsey, A. A. G. of the brigade, whose gallantry and good conduct were quite remarkable, and who assumed command of the brigade when reformed. The Alabama brigade also rallied and advanced. Ramseur made a most gallant charge, with his usual impetuosity and daring, and, being bravely seconded by the whole line, the enemy were driven back towards and into the town. Doles, advancing parallel with Iverson and O'Neill but with a gap of five or six hundred yards intervening, came up with a column of the enemy twice his own, which was advancing out from the town. This column marched rapidly past his right flank, endeavoring to get into the gap between him and O'Neill. This movement was quickly frustrated by a change of front, which was rapidly executed by the right wing of Doles, who first fired a volley and then charged, breaking the whole Yankee column and driving it towards the town. Doles started in pursuit, but was checked by the appearance of large columns, nearly a whole corps, moving out parallel with the Heidiersburg road from Gettysburg. This last column would have forced him to have fallen back but for the timely arrival of Early by the Heidiersburg road. Gen. E. at once put his artillery into position on the left of that road and opened fire, enfilading and silencing batteries which were then occupied in an attempt to enfilade Rodes's artillery, and in truth these batteries of the enemy were doing us a good deal of damage. Gordon's and Hoke's brigades were formed on the right of the Heidiersburg road. A space was left between them for Hays's brigade, which had been kept in rear of the division wagon train as a guard, but which came up in time to take part in the advance which was soon made—Smith's brigade being left to support the artillery.
Just as the enemy were out-flanking Doles, Gordon's brigade started forward to charge the enemy. And magnificently and nobly did he and his Georgia braves go to their appointed work. They cross a small stream and valley and enter a long, narrow strip of an opposite slope, at the top of which the enemy had a strong force posted. For five minutes nothing could be heard or seen save the smoke and roar proceeding from the heavy musketry, and indicating a desperate contest; but the contest was not long or uncertain. The Yankees are put to flight and our men press them, pouring a deadly fire at these flying fugitives. A group of officers gathering around a white flag with a red centre, the badge of one of their corps, were vainly endeavoring to rally their men, when a shot from one of Col Jones's guns killed two or three of them and the rest quickly scattered. Seeing a second and larger line near the town, Gen. Early haited Gen. G until Gens. Hayes and Hoke could come up, when a second charge was made, and three pieces of artillery, besides several entire regiments of the enemy, were captured. Gen. Daniel, on the extreme right of our corps, and Hoke's brigade, under Col. Avery, on the extreme left, reached the town simultaneously.—Doles came in near about the same time in the centre. Daniel did not enter quite so soon, as the enemy had so far outstripped him that he halted to form. Doles and Early coming in on the flank of the enemy, retreating from Daniel, caught quite a number of prisoners in the town. Indeed, of the 6,000 or 7,000 taken in the town of Gettysburg, about 4,000 were captured on the evening of the 1st of July by Rodes's and Early's divisions, this number being about equally divided between them.
The fight now being over, or rather the enemy having retreated through the town, Gen. Ewell rode into town, and, meeting with Gen. Early, they together made a reconnaissance, in which it was discovered that the enemy were in considerably larger force than our own, and were posted on the heights (the "Cemetery" bill now so famous,) beyond the town. Here they had formed a line of battle which overlapped Ewell's on both flanks, (for Gen. Hill had not then entered the town,) and had already opened from several batteries on Ewell's troops in and beyond the town. Inasmuch as we could not get a single piece of artillery to bear on them effectively, and the additional fact that but one half hour of daylight remained, and it being more than probable that it would take longer than this to carry their new position, Gen. Ewell determined not to push the attack that evening, but to wait until next morning to renew the fight. Gen. Johnson's division and the reserve artillery had gotten up just after Gens-Ewell and Rodes had entered the town, and were sent to the extreme left to occupy a high wooded hill commanding the "Cemetery Hill" and then unoccupied. By the time, however, that General J. reached the foot of the hill, the enemy had occupied it, (with one corps, as Meade's official report will show) so that he was unable to seize it. The enemy worked incessantly during the night in felling abattis and throwing up fortifications.
Early now occupied the town with three brigades—Hay's, Gordon's and Hoke's—Smith being left as a reserve to provide against any flank or rear movement—his right resting on the main street and his left just outside of the edge of the town, fronting "Cemetery Hill." Rodes's right rested about four hundred yards outside of the suburbs of the town, his left extending into it along the Fairfield road, near to Early's right; Johnson, having crossed the creek before mentioned, on the line of the York River railroad and pike, had formed his line across the back-bone of a ridge running towards the wooded bill already mentioned, a good deal lower, however, than it or "Cemetery Hill." A gap of half a mile or more was between his right and Early's left.
Rodes bore the brunt of battle on this day. His men acted nobly and suffered severely, especially Daniel's North Carolina brigade. These latter were new men, yet they behaved with unsurpassed gallantry, losing 900 men. Carter's artillery battalion, attached to this division, was hotly engaged for four hours or more, and suffered much from a superior fire of the enemy's artillery. It suffered more than it would otherwise have done, from the fact that the ground it occupied during the greater part of the fight though high and commanding, was quite level, thus affording little or no shelter for guns or caissons.
Early, by his timely arrival, undoubtedly turned the tide of battle in our favor, (for spite of Daniel's success our forces could not have held their ground against the column of the enemy endeavoring to turn Doles's left), yet his loss was not heavy. Gordon's loss was about 400. That of the other two brigades was quite slight. Col. Jones's battalion of artillery also did good service without corresponding loss.
Rodes came into action on the flank of the enemy confronting Gen. Hill—Early in turn on the flank of those opposing Rodes. Thus it happened that many of the Yankees in front of Rodes's a centre and left and of Early's right were caught in a trap by the rapid advance of Early's left wing Among the successes, I should have mentioned that Rodes captured two pieces of artillery during this evening's fight.
Many brave officers and soldiers went down in this evening's engagement, but I cannot name them all. Among them, however, no one was more regretted than Col. Christie, of N. C., who was severely wounded, and who died at Winchester a few days after the fights were over.
This communication is already too long for one day's issue, and so I must postpone until my next the part which Heth and Pender, of Hill's corps, bore in this day's fight. I will only observe, that no comments of mine are necessary in order to show Lieut. Gen. Ewell's great energy and high military genius, as well as the excellent abilities of his several division commanders.