A few weeks after our defeat at Chancellorsville, as we were reorganising my division as previously described, General Robert E. lee suddenly invaded the north again, this time heading for Pennsylvania! By the time our army was aware of his manoeuvre he had a sizeable head start, but we hurried after him with much greater vigour than previous occasions, heading through Maryland into the heart of Pennsylvania. As we neared the end of June our commander (Joe Hooker) was replaced by yet another new commander, General George Meade was now head of the Army of the Potomac. However meanwhile, unknown to us, General J.E.B. Stuart had taken his cavalry off on a wild raid deep into our territory, effectively leaving the main CSA army blind, and as a result we blundered into him in late June catching up on part of one of his corps, and forcing on them a hasty defensive battle. We were several miles north of a town called Gettysburg, along the Gettysburg-Hanover railroad, and the date was the 30 June 1863.
As we deployed for the assault I noted that the enemy had managed to find good ground and quickly, they were deployed in a strong position behind the railroad’s raised embankment, and I noted the presence of some guns on my right, and what appeared to be dismounted cavalry on my far left… Our approach was screened by open woodland and a long low ridge, however this also prevented my deployment of my artillery early, and we would have to endeavour to deploy forward upon the hill (which would be within musketry range of the enemy). My plan was simple, our fresh eager regiments (the 4th Maine and 6th New Jersey) would advance aggressively up the centre and smash their way across the railroad with the artillery in direct support (yes dear reader, simplistic and unimaginative, but as I had the numbers I hoped effective).
Meanwhile the 54th Massachusetts (Coloured) Infantry would advance on my right and threaten the far left of the Confederate line, while on my left I placed the troublesome 20th Indiana – to demonstrate before the aforementioned dismounted cavalry, where I expected them to not see heavy action. My three good veteran regiments (The Fighting Sixty-Ninth from New York, 2nd New Hampshire, & 4th Vermont) were placed directly in support of the centre as my second line.
We advanced forward rapidly and quickly, shaking out into battle formation from our initial deployment area off our line of march. The 4th Maine rapidly surmounted the low ridge with Battery M, 2nd U.S. Artillery accompanying, on the right the 54th Massachusetts rapidly passed through some woodland and approached the closest point of the railroad embankment – with Battery E, 1st Rhode Island Artillery between them and the 4th Maine (as you will find readers this was rather a blunder, and as an artillery officer I should have known better, and had the E/1 RI Artillery Battery deploy their guns for action further back). By this stage we were under fire from the Rebs, from musketry and the artillery (Rifles & 6pdrs) of the Loudon Battery – both my limbered artillery batteries getting especial attention, along with the Fighting Sixty-Ninth New Yorkers in my right-rear!
Deadly musketry from the 9th South Carolina & 14th North Carolina ripped through Battery M of the 2nd U.S. Artillery, and before they could deploy their guns the battery had been decimated and suffered one of the worst casualty rates of the war! I had just lost 60% of my artillery, strewn across the end of the low ridge with crazed horses and limber teams scattering to the four winds – and the battle was barely under way! Suddenly the strangest thing happened, the 14th North Carolina, a very large and impressive looking regiment, rose up from behind the railroad embankment and marched forth directly at the low ridge, approaching to point blank musketry range with the 4th Maine – We were all so taken aback that the 4th Maine’s Colonel failed to either fire on or charge these crazy Carolinians! However soon all the Confederate line followed suite, as if by some unspoken command, and all but the unit on my extreme right advanced upon us, abandoning their strong position (even their dismounted cavalry, the 4th Virginia, advanced on our infantry, approaching the 20th Indiana in their concealed position behind a small hill.
The 54th Massachusetts, on my right, now charged the remaining Confederate regiment (the 11th Virginia) and in a very spirited first action threw them back in confusion and gained possession of the railroad embankment – threatening the flank of the Loudon Artillery Battery! A brawl on the central low ridge between the 4th Maine and the 14th North Carolina saw my Maine boys thrown back with heavy casualties. In the centre the 6th New Jersey took heavy losses from the musketry of the 9th South Carolina, and on the right the Rhode Island Battery was being pounded by the Loudon Artillery (who now had some of their guns deployed to engage the threatening 54th Massachusetts. The Rebels charged on my left (yes the dismounted 4th Virginian Cavalry were in such numbers they charged down the hill into my 20th Indiana Infantry Regiment) and in the centre, the South & North Carolinas charging the 6th New Jersey and 4th Maine respectively. The 4th Maine fought valiantly and hurled the North Carolinians back almost across the railroad embankment, however both the the 6 NJ and 20 In were thrown back by their opponents with heavy losses – the ignominy of the 20th Indiana was now almost complete, having been chased off by dismounted cavalry! By this stage casualties favoured the Confederates 14 to 2!
I committed everyone bar the 20th Indiana and the near broken 6th New Jersey in an all out effort to restore the situation, sending charges in against all 3 Confederate Infantry Regiments, on my right the 54th Massachusetts once again through back the veteran 11th Virginia, and the combined Fighting Sixty-Ninth & 4th Maine did likewise to the 14th North Carolina, Colonel Elijah Walker of the 4th Maine was especially prominent in this action heroically leading his men over the railroad embankment into the thick of the action! However the 2nd New Hampshire & 4th Vermont were frustrated by the 9th South Carolina, and fell back through the woods badly repulsed… With the 20th Indiana taking on-going casualties from the spirited firing of the dismounted Virginian Cavalry on the small hill, the casualties now favoured the Confederates 16 to 5.
A telling blast of canister finally broke up the Rhode Island Artillery, who still limbered and waiting orders to deploy were totally dispersed, while the 2nd New Hampshire broke under the withering musketry of the 9th South Carolina as fresh Confederate forces arrived to threaten our right (the 2nd Virginia Cavalry and 10th Alabama Infantry Regiments). My division was shattered and forced to withdraw the field, its full energy expended (final casualties favoured the Confederates 20 to 5). By division, immediately after the action formed up thus:
- 69th New York “Fighting Sixty-Ninth” (Strength 4; Veteran)
- 6th New Jersey (Strength 2; Veteran)
- 20th Indiana (Strength 2; Veteran)
- 2nd New Hampshire Infantry Regiment – broken, attempting to reform
- 4th Vermont Infantry Regiment (Strength 5; Veteran)
- 4th Maine Infantry Regiment (Strength 7; Hero)
- 54th Massachusetts (Coloured) Infantry Regiment (Strength 6)
- Battery M, 2nd US Artillery – destroyed, disbanded
- Battery E, 1st Rhode Island Artillery – dispersed, ordnance lost
- Victory Points Earned: 4
The Confederate force was left holding the field in the following state:
- 11th Virginia Volunteer Infantry Regiment (Strength 4; Veteran; Hero; Sharpshooters)
- 10th Alabama (Strength 4; Veteran)
- 9th South Carolina (Strength 7)
- 14th North Carolina Volunteer Infantry Regiment (Strength 7)
- 2nd Virginia “Lynchburg Cougars” Cavalry (Strength 3)
- 4th Virginia Cavalry Regiment (Strength 8; Veteran)
- “Loudon” Artillery Battery (1 x Rifle; 1 x 6pdr)
- Victory Points Earned: 5
As we withdrew we observed the enemy suddenly moving off rapidly after their victory, and soon we were passed by more elements of our army, rushing towards the nearby town of Gettysburg there was going to be a great battle there, that would decide the war once and for all, we were told… And so there was.
The Battle In Photos