Part II, Day 2 of the Battle of Gettysburg: July 2, 1863
On July 2nd, the battlelines were drawn in 2 sweeping arcs, the armies nearly a mile apart on parallel ridges. By night’s end, vicious fighting seared the names of Devil’s Den, Little Round Top, the Wheatfield,, the Peach Orchard, Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Ridge into the souls of those who fought there.
“The warm, humid weather of the second day of the battle of Gettysburg caused many to fall prostrate, overcome with heat and thirst. But so very many more came crashing down, split open and torn, pierced and pelted by the thousands of pounds of iron and lead missiles thrown by Southern and Northern weaponry. Fighting commenced around noon, just west of the old Emmitsburg Road and continued into the darkness of the night, as a poor sickly moon tried valiantly to penetrate the sulphurous air over Culp’s and Cemetery Hills. Names and faces became famous that day for the foul scenes surrounding them: The Trostle and Weikert and Rose farms; Plum Run and Codori’s thicket; peach and apple orchards, streams and woods and wheatfields – all had seared and thundered and crashed; until finally the blood enriched soil was open to accept the fresh bodies, the torn, innocent flesh of a gored and bleeding Union.” (Gregory Coco, “Killed in Action,” p. 32)
These are some of their stories…
On July 2nd, 1863, Col. M.J. Bulger of the 47th Alabama Infantry was wounded while attempting to “take and hold a crossroad in front of Little Round Top.”
“…a minie ball struck me just over the left nipple, passed through my body, and lodged under the right shoulder-blade… I nerved myself up to keep from falling, and eased myself down against a tree that grew out of a crevice of the rocks in such a way as to afford me a convenient and comfortable seat. When the men came to where I was they rallied and had a desperate fight, but were finally driven back.
While this was going on I was suffering intensely, and thought I should strangle with blood. I saw a Federal soldier coming in a direction that would bring him close to me, and determined to ask him for water when he came near enough. I said to him, ‘My good fellow, will you give me a drink of water? I am wounded and choking to death with blood.’
Without halting he threw his hand to the back of his neck, caught the strap of his canteen and laid it down in my lap, saying, ‘I have no water but there is whisky, a great deal better for you; drink it.’ He passed on a few steps, got down behind a rock, and commenced shooting my retiring men.”
Twenty year old Private John F. Chase, 5th Maine Battery, was atop a knoll between Cemetery and Culp’s Hills in the evening of July 2nd when North Carolina and Louisiana troops assaulted Cemetery Hill.
“My battery was enfilading the charging column as it dashed up the hill. Our shot, shrapnel, and canister was doing such terrible execution that the Confederates opened 3 or 4 batteries on us. One of their shrapnel shells exploded near me and 48 pieces of it entered my body. My right arm was shattered and my left eye was put out. I was carried a short distance to the rear as dead, and knew nothing more until 2 days after.
When I regained consciousness, I was in a wagon with a lot of dead comrades being carted to the trenches to be buried. I moaned and called the attention of the driver, who pulled me up among the dead and gave me water. he said my first words were, ‘Did we win the battle?’
I was taken to the First Army Corps Hospital on the Isaac Lightner farm, 3 miles from Gettysburg on the Baltimore Turnpike. They laid me down beside the barn, where I waited 3 more days until my wounds were dressed. The surgeon let me lie there ‘to finish dying,’ as they said, while they attended to the rest of the wounded. I lay on the barn floor then, several days, and then was taken into the house, where I stopped for a week. From there I was moved to the Lutheran Theological Seminary Hospital.
After about 3 weeks, I was carried out of the hospital to die again, and was told by the head surgeon that I could not live 6 hours, but I did not do him the favor. Three months later, I was sent to West Philadelphia Hospital until I was able to return to my home in Augusta, Maine.”
Miss Elizabeth S. “Sallie” Myers was a young teacher living on West High Street in 1863. On July 2nd, she was asked to assist the wounded in the Catholic Church east of her home.
“Among the first men I saw lying on the floor, to the right of the entrance, were 3 Southern soldiers. One of them particularly attracted my attention. He was a large man, his complexion was dark, and he had the blackest eyes and hair I ever saw, lying there helpless with an appealing look in his great black eyes.”
Several weeks later, Sallie was at Camp Letterman, the large general hospital east of town, when she entered the “dead tent” to visit several Confederates who were laid out waiting for burial.
“There lay the man who had attracted my attention in the Catholic Church, but the great black eyes were forever closed. On his breast was pinned his name – Hardy Graves, Company C, 6th Alabama Infantry, age 25 – and below it was his wife’s name and address – Julia Graves, Brundidge, Pike Country, Alabama. I cut a lock of his hair, and sometime after, I wrote to her, sent her the lock and told her what I knew of her husband. She replied and asked me if I could find his grave. He had been buried in a plot of ground along with many others near Camp Letterman. I gathered some wildflowers growing near and enclosed them in a letter, telling her how her husband’s grave was situated. I never knew whether Mr. Graves’ body was removed to Richmond or taken home to Alabama.”
From the historian of the 188th Pennsylvania Infantry – “Rabbit Fire:”
“While the regiment lay crouching for protection in its first position near the George Rose House, before it had become engaged, a rabbit, startled from its cover by the advance of McLaws’ assaulting Georgians, rushed in frightened, headlong leaps towards the Union lines. Innocent of purpose to harm, he plunged in one of his aimless jumps right into the ranks and planted his cold, sharp claws firmly into the neck of a soldier who lay flat near the right of the regiment.
It was too much for the poor fellow. He gave it up, and jumping to his feet, with pitiful expression, in woe-begone tones, wringing his hands in agony, announced himself a dead man; that he had been shot in the neck; that the ball had passed entirely through, and there was no hope for him.
He recovered his equanimity, however, when those in the neighborhood who had observed the cause of his trouble, received his dire announcement with the merriment it necessarily created. When informed that a poor little rabbit had innocently been the cause of his discomfiture, the soldier sheepishly resumed his place.”
Women played a significant role in the American Civil War, and, indeed, at the Battle of Gettysburg. Angels of mercy, spies, nurses, farmers, cooks, seamstresses, and as soldiers – women warriors – patriots in disguise. Over 240 women in uniform during the Civil War have been documented. Their reasons for fighting mirrored those of men – patriotism, honor, heritage, excitement – along with desire for freedom from their traditional roles and a desire to remain with their husbands or brothers. Dressed as men, some women eluded detection by their comrades for years, even gaining promotions. Often, their deception was not discovered until the “young boy” in their company was wounded, killed, or gave birth (Blanton & Cook, “They Fought Like Demons”).
Five women are known to have fought at Gettysburg: 2 Union and 3 Confederate. While the Union women survived, 2 of the Confederate women died on July 3rd in Pickett’s Charge (more details tomorrow) while the third was shot in the leg and captured. At the U.S. Military Hospital in Chester, PA, her leg was amputated in order to save her life. In a letter to his parents, a Union soldier recovering in the same hospital described her:
“I must tel you we have got a female secesh here. she was wounded at Gettysburg but our doctors soon found her out. I have not seen her but the(y) say she is very good looking [.] the poor girl [h]as lost a leg. it [is] a great pity she did not stay at home with her mother but she get good care and kind treatment. it [is] rather romantic to have a female soldier in the hospital and her only to have one leg and far a way from home but I hope she will soon get better and get home to her friends.” (Thomas Reed, 5th Michigan Infantry)
A Union drummer boy wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg was not the “lad of 15” he appeared to be, but a girl of 18 who refused to divulge her name or any personal information. “She wore a neat suit of soldier-clothes and made a pretty boy.” It was her second Army enlistment.
“It was here and like this that the women endured,
Here alone that they grappled with death
In a form more horrid than the soldiers encountered
While facing the cannon’s lurid breath.
They were watchful by day and wakeful by night,
And like Ruth they most faithfully cleaved,
And many a lady and lassie died
Of wounds that the soldiers received.
~ Confederate Veteran, Vol. 39:235.
Late that night, the guns were at last silenced, but the moans and cries of the wounded and dying continued. The stench of burning horseflesh and dead bodies, the unwashed in sweat-drenched wool and the debris of battle, lay over the small town, adding to the July humidity.
Civilians wondered what tomorrow would bring while they sweltered in their basements. Commanders looked at maps and modified plans for when they met once again in battle. Soldiers wrote letters to their loved ones, knowing that their words might be final. Surgeons continued their amputations, the only answer to the terrible mutilation and destruction of the minie ball on human flesh.
“And I turned away and cried…”
Devil’s Den (National Archives)
Wheatfield (National Archives)
Little Round Top (Library of Congress)
“If we don’t end war, war will end us.” ~ H.G. Wells