Part III, Day 3 at the Battle of Gettysburg: July 3, 1863
“That last and fatal day opened furiously for many, even before the hazy sun broke…around Gettysburg. Hours of mortal combat over Culp’s and Bliss’ and Spangler’s farms led out that day, then finally crested and dissolved upon the cultivated and rocky fields of farmers Frey and Small and Rummel and Lott. 17,000 fell in that long, ghastly 24 hours, and then the mighty armies turned away, leaving their death and destruction behind.” (Gregory Coco, “Killed in Action,” p. 85)
Of the 5 women known to have fought in the Battle of Gettysburg, 2 of the Confederate women soldiers were casualties of Pickett’s Charge on July 3rd. One was severely wounded and unable to move herself from the wide expanse of fields. That evening, a Union Private on guard detail called her screams of agony that lasted the night “the most awful sound he had ever heard.” It isn’t known whether she survived.
In reporting on the burial of Gettysburg dead, Brigadier General William Hays reported a “female private in rebel uniform” among his count. She was found on the west side of the stone wall of the angle at Cemetery Ridge. She would have been one of 12,000 Confederate soldiers who marched across a mile of open ground through the withering fire. Two Confederate magazines told about the “Hero of Pickett’s Old Brigade” in which a husband and wife, thought to be a father and son by their fellow soldiers, participated in the final charge. A “fair, sweet-faced” Confederate flag bearer was shot while bearing the flag forward. The flag bearer – the wife – fell at the side of her husband and were buried together on the battlefield.
This widely published incident about a Union soldier’s contact with Gen. Robt. E. Lee, Army of Northern Virginia, on July 3rd was related by Confederate Brig. Gen. A.L. Long and Union Brig. Gen. M.J. Wright:
“I was at the Battle of Gettysburg myself, and an incident occurred there which widely changed my views of the Southern people. I had been a most bitter anti-South man, and fought and cursed the Confederacy desperately. I could see nothing good in any of them.
The last day of the fight I was badly wounded. A ball shattered my left leg. I lay on the ground not far from Cemetery Ridge, and as General Lee ordered his retreat he and his officers rode near me.
As they came along I recognized him, and though faint from exposure and loss of blood, I raised up my hands, looked Lee in the face and shouted as loud as I could, ‘Hurrah for the Union!’ The general heard me, looked, stopped his horse, dismounted, and came toward me. I confess that I at first thought he meant to kill me.
But as he came up he looked down at me with such a sad expression upon his face that all fear left me, and I wondered what he was about. He extended his hand to me, and grasping mine firmly and looking right into my eyes, said, ‘My son, I hope you will soon be well.’
If I live a thousand years I shall never forget the expression on General Lee’s face. There he was, defeated, retiring from a field that had cost him and his cause almost their last hope, and yet he stopped to say words like those to a wounded soldier of the opposition who had taunted him as he passed by! As soon as the General had left me I cried myself to sleep upon the bloody ground.”
2nd Corps Hospital:
“A young soldier, a mere boy, was brought in on a stretcher while a soldier walked alongside and held his hand on a wound in the thigh of the boy’s body. He said he was entirely free from pain. A surgeon examined the wound and said, ‘Nothing can be done for you; you must die; if you have any word or message to send home, attend to it at once; you will die within a few moments after your comrade takes his hand from your wound, and that must be soon.’
The soldier asked for paper and pen which were quickly furnished. He wrote a letter to his mother, stated his condition and that a friend was holding the wound while he wrote to her, saying as soon as he finished the letter, his comrade would let go and he would bleed to death in a few minutes.
The letter was finished, he let himself fall back, hesitated a moment, then said, ‘Now you may let go,’ and Levi Smith of Company A, 148th Pennsylvania Infantry, who held the wound, withdrew. In a few minutes, life had gone out.”
Volunteer nurse John Foster:
“Nothing struck us more forcibly than the entire absence of animosity and ill-will between the soldiers of the 2 armies; the moment the battle was done, the men came together naturally… An example: A Federal soldier was wounded during the terrible engagement on Friday – struck down by a ball on a part of the field over which hostile lines swayed to and fro with varying success. As he fell and his forces were gradually falling back, the enemy pushed forward and occupied the ground where he lay.
Discovering him, several soldiers set to work immediately providing him a shelter, erecting about him as he lay a barricade of stones several feet in height, and 2 or 3 feet in thickness. Presently, under a menace from the Union, the enemy withdrew from that part of the field, leaving the soldier and his hastily constructed castle about mid-way between the opposing lines.
A steady fire of musketry followed for an hour or more, but, notwithstanding his exposed position, the occupant of the half-way house escaped without a scratch. ‘The balls,’ he told us, ‘came with an incessant pat, pat, pat against the stones, or whistled with a sharp cry almost continuously over my head. I felt every minute that the next would end my career; but, after all, not a single bullet reached me, and I crept out, when the fight was over, with no other injury than I had sustained before the rebels put me under the shelter.’
Outside of the barricade thus constructed hundreds of flattened bullets were afterward picked up, fully confirming the truth of the soldier’s singular story.”
At 1 o’clock on July 3rd, the Confederate artillery – some 200 guns – opened fire in the Union line. The bombardment lasted almost 2 hours, and it was conceded that, “never in any battle in the world was the fire of light artillery so heavy as that at Gettysburg.” (Major Thomas Osborne, 11th Corps Artillery).
“Man seldom ever sees or hears the like of this but once in a lifetime; those that saw and heard this infernal crash and witnessed the havoc made by the shrieking, howling missiles of death as they plowed the earth and tore the trees will never forget it. It seemed that death was in every foot of space…” (Lt. John Lewis, 9th Virginia)
“…Down upon our faces we lay, and immediately beheld forth the roar of more than 100 guns from the Confederate batteries… The very atmosphere seemed broken by the rush and crash of projectiles, solid shot, shrieking, bursting shells. The sun, but a moment before so brilliant, was now almost darkened by smoke and mist and shadowing the earth, and through which came the hissing and shrieking, fiery fuses and messengers of death, sweeping, plunging, cutting, ploughing through our ranks, carrying mutilation, destruction, pain, suffering and death in every direction… There was to be seen at almost every moment of time, guns, swords, haversacks, human flesh and bone, flying and dangling in the air, or bouncing above the earth, which now trembled beneath us as if shaken by an earthquake… Men prayed on that field that never prayed before… So rapid was the firing and so great the number of guns engaged that the fire from one could not be distinguished from another; there was one continuous roar…” (Sgt. David Johnston, 7th Virginia, Kemper’s Brigade)
“Dead faces! How they haunt us! Lying all about the fields and beside every tree in the woods.
Who are they? Whose father or brother or husband? Here is a body all broken and mangled.
Who praised the symmetry of that farm when last it stood in its native Northern village?
Here is a face all black and swollen. Who was it that a few months ago called it beautiful?”
~ Russell H. Conwell
And the earth, soaked with the blood of its children, wept.