An account of two of the great battles of the Civil War
The author of this book was present at—indeed he was literally the target of—the firing of the first hostile shots of the American Civil War. As a regular U. S. Army officer of artillery he was stationed at Forts Moultrie and Sumter as the political disputes between the Northern and Southern states exploded into armed conflict. He has left us, in another book, a memorable account from the sharp end of those momentous events which is also available from Leonaur. Doubleday was in an ideal position to view the events described in this book. He knew President Lincoln and leading members of the government, but also as a career soldier he personally knew the principal military figures on both sides of battlefield. Doubleday has written an absorbing account of the campaign from a position of authority and experience which is an essential source work for anyone interested in the period. Available in softcover and hardcover.
General Warren, who was on Meade’s staff as Chief Engineer, had ridden about this time to the signal station on Little Round Top, to get a better view of the field. He saw the long line of the enemy approaching, and about to overlap Ward’s left, and perceived that unless prompt succour arrived Little Round Top would fall into their hands. Once in their possession they would flank our whole line and post guns there to drive our troops from the ridge; so that this eminence was in reality the key of the battle-field, and must be held at all hazards. He saw Barnes’ division, which Sykes had ordered forward, formed for a charge, and about to go to the relief of De Trobriand, who held the centre of Birney’s line, and who was sorely beset. Without losing a moment he rode down the slope, over to Barnes, took the responsibility of detaching Vincent’s brigade, and hurried it back to take post on Little Round Top. He then sent a staff officer to inform General Meade of what he had done and to represent the immense importance of holding this commanding point.<br>
The victorious column of the enemy was subjected to the fire of a battery on Little Round Top, and to another farther to the right; but it kept on, went around Ward’s brigade and rushed eagerly up the ravine between the two Round Tops to seize Little Round Top which seemed to be defenceless. Vincent’s brigade rapidly formed on the crest of a small spur which juts out from the hill, and not having time to load, advanced with the bayonet, in time to save the height. The contest soon became furious and the rocks were alive with musketry. General Vincent sent word to Barnes that the enemy were on him in overwhelming numbers, and Hazlett’s regular battery, supported by the 140th New York under Colonel O’Rorke of Weed’s brigade, was sent as a reinforcement.<br>
The battery was dragged with great labour to the crest of Little Round Top, and the 140th were posted on the slope on Vincent’s right. They came upon the field just as the rebels, after failing to penetrate the centre, had driven back the right. In advancing to this exposed position, Colonel O’Rorke, a brilliant young officer who had just graduated at the head of his class at West Point, was killed and his men thrown into some confusion, but Vincent rallied the line and repulsed the assault. In doing so he exposed himself very much and was soon killed by a rebel sharpshooter. General Weed, who was on the crest with the battery, was mortally wounded in the same way; and as Hazlett leaned over to hear his last message, a fatal bullet struck him also and he dropped dead on the body of his chief.<br>
Colonel Rice of the 44th New York now took command in place of Vincent. The enemy having been foiled at the centre and right, stole around through the woods and turned the left of the line; but Chamberlain’s regiment—the 20th Maine—was folded back by him, around the rear of the mountain, to resist the attack. The rebels came on like wolves, with deafening yells, and forced Chamberlain’s men over the crest; but they rallied and drove their assailants back in their turn. This was twice repeated and then a brigade of the Pennsylvania Reserves and one of the Fifth Corps dashed over the hill. The 20th Maine made a grand final charge and drove the rebels from the valley between the Round Tops, capturing a large number of prisoners. Not a moment too soon, for Chamberlain had lost a third of his command and was entirely out of ammunition. Vincent’s men in this affair took two colonels, fifteen officers, and five hundred men prisoners, and a thousand stand of arms. Hill in his official report says “Hood’s right was held as in a vise.”<br>
We will now return to the Peach Orchard. In answer to a shot from Clark’s battery a long line of guns opened from the eleven batteries opposite. Graham’s infantry were partially sheltered from this iron hail, but the three batteries with him in the beginning, which were soon reinforced by four more from the reserve artillery, under Major McGilvery, were very much cut up; and at last it became necessary to sacrifice one of them—that of Bigelow—to enable the others to retire to a new line in the rear. Graham still held the Peach Orchard, although he was assailed on two fronts, by Barksdale’s brigade on the north and Kershaw’s brigade on the west. A battery was brought forward to enfilade Sickles’ line on the Emmetsburg road, and under cover of its fire Barksdale carried the position, but was mortally wounded in doing so.1 Sickles lost a leg about this time (5.30 p.m.), and Graham, who was also badly wounded, fell into the enemy’s hands. The command of the Third Corps now devolved upon General Birney.<br>
The batteries under Major McGilvery, which lined the cross road below the Peach Orchard, were very effective, but were very much shattered. Kershaw captured them at one time but was driven off temporarily by a gallant charge of the 141st Pennsylvania of Graham’s brigade, who retook the guns, which were then brought off by hand. Bigelow was ordered by Major McGilvery to sacrifice his battery to give the others time to form a new line. He fought with fixed prolonge until the enemy were within six feet of him, and then retired with the loss of three officers and twenty-eight men. Phillips’ battery, which adjoined his, had a similar experience. McLaws bears testimony to the admirable manner with which this artillery was served. He says one shell killed and wounded thirty men, out of a company of thirty-seven.