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Reading 2: Perspectives of Participants in the Battle
Part A: A Soldier's View of Gettysburg
Near Manchester, Md., July 1st 1863--It has rained for a week and the roads are muddy. After marching for twenty miles it is not pleasant to lie down at night in the wet without any cover. I am tired--in fact I never was so tired in my life. But Hurrah! 'It is all for the Union.'
We are quite near the Pennsylvania line, and it looks now as if we were to cross over. I am still in good health and spirits and have faith that God will guide us on the final victory. The Rebellion must be put down, and we are doing our best.
Middletown, Md., July 2nd 1863--On the night of July 1st we were camped near Manchester, Md. Rumors of fighting in Pennsylvania have been heard all the days, but the distance was so great to the battle [Gettysburg] that we knew little about it. The men were tired and hungry and lay down to rest early in the evening. At nine o'clock orders came for us to move and we in great haste packed up and started on the road towards Pennsylvania....We struggle on through the night, the men almost dead for lack of sleep and falling over in their own shadows. But we go on in the warm summer night....On the morning of July 2nd we heard firing in front and then we understood the reason for such great haste....The firing in our front grew loud and more distinct and soon we met the poor wounded fellows being carried to the rear....At about 2 o'clock P.M. we reached the Battlefield of Gettysburg, Penn. having made a march of thirty-four (34) miles without a halt. The men threw themselves upon the ground exhausted, but were soon ordered forward. We followed the road blocked with troops and trains until 4 P.M. when the field of battle with the long lines of struggling weary soldiers burst upon us. With loud cheers the old Sixth Corps took up the double quick and were soon in line of battle near the left of the main line held by the 5th Corps....when we were relieved and returned a short distance. The men threw themselves upon the ground, and oblivious to the dead and dying around us we slept the sleep of the weary.
July 3rd 1863--This morning the troops were under arms before light and ready for the great battle that we knew must be fought. The firing began, and our Brigade was hurried to the right of the line to reinforce it. While not in the front line yet we were constantly exposed to the fire of the Rebel Artillery, while bullets fell around us. We moved from point to point, wherever danger to be imminent until noon when we were ordered to report to the line held by Gen. Birney. Our Brigade marched down the road until we reached the house used by general Meade as Headquarters.... To our left was a hill on which we had many Batteries posted. Just as we reached Gen. Meade's Headquarters, a shell burst over our heads, and it was immediately followed by a shower of iron. More than two hundred guns were belching forth their thunder, and most of the shells that came over the hill struck in the road on which our Brigade was moving. Solid shot would strike the large rocks and split them as if exploded by gun powder. The flying iron and pieces of stone struck men down in every direction. It is said that this fire continued for about two hours, but I have no idea of the time. We could not see the enemy, and we could only cover ourselves the best we could behind rocks and trees. About 30 men of our Brigade were killed or wounded by this fire. Soon the Rebel yell was heard, and we found since that the Rebel General Pickett made a charge with his Division and was repulsed after reaching some of our batteries. Our lines of infantry in front of us rose up and poured in a terrible fire. As we were only a few yards in rear of our lines we saw all the fight. The firing gradually died away, and but for an occasional shot all was still. But what a scene it was. Oh the dead and the dying on this bloody field. The 2nd R.I. lost only one man killed and five wounded....Again night came upon us and again we slept amid the dead and the dying.
July 4th 1863--Was ever the Nation's Birthday celebrated in such a way before? This morning the 2nd R.I. was sent out to the front and found that during the night General Lee and his Rebel Army had fallen back. It was impossible to march across the field without stepping upon dead or wounded men, while horses and broken Artillery lay on every side. We advanced to a sunken road [Emmitsburg Road] where we deployed as skirmishers and lay down behind a bank of earth. Berdan's Sharpshooters joined us, and we passed the day in firing upon any Rebels that showed themselves.
July 5th 1863--Glorious news! We have won the victory, thank God, and the Rebel Army is fleeing to Virginia. We have the news that Vicksburg has fallen. We have thousands of prisoners, and they seem to be stupefied by the news. This morning our Corps (the 6th) started in pursuit of Lee's Army. We have had rain and the roads are bad, so we move slow. Every house we see is a hospital, and the road is covered with arms and equipment thrown away by the Rebels.
July 9th 1863--Again I thank God that the Army of the Potomac has at last gained a victory. I wonder what the South thinks of us Yankees now. I think Gettysburg will cure the Rebels of any desire to invade the north again.
Excerpted from Robert Hunt Rhodes, ed., All for the Union: The Civil War Diary and Letters of Elisha Hunt Rhodes (New York: Orion Books, 1991), 114-117. Copyright 1991 Robert Hunt Rhodes.
Part B: The Call to Duty
Of course as soon as the news of the secession of Georgia reached us at Fort Steilacoom, some three or four weeks after the event, I knew that I would finally have to resign from the U.S. Army. But I did not believe war inevitable & I felt sure I could get a place not inferior in a Southern army, & I really never realized the gravity of the situation. As soon as the right to secede was denied by the North I strongly approved of its assertion & maintenance by force if necessary. And being young & ambitious in my profession I was anxious to take my part in everything going on. As it soon became clear that our detachment would be ordered to return to the East...I waited for the orders to come & to get back to the East before resigning.
I did not feel any doubt about what I had to do under the circumstances. Georgia had seceded. All the seceded states had united & organized a Confederacy, & the Confederacy was raising an army. The only place for me was in that army. So in the course of a day or two I had a talk with [his Commanding Officer] McPherson, telling him that I felt bound to resign & go home, & asking that he would receive & forward my resignation & give me leave of absence that I might sail on same steamer taking it & not be required to wait in California to receive its acceptance, which would detain me about two months.
McPherson's reply was remarkable....He said: ' Aleck if you must go I will do all I can to facilitate your going. But don't go. These orders, sent by Pony Express to stop you here, are meant to say to you that if you wish to keep out of the war which is coming you can do so. You will not be required to go into the field against your own people, but will be kept out on this coast on fortification duty. Gen. Totten likes you & wants to keep you in the corps & that is what this order means'....His earnest talk impressed me deeply & made me realize that a crisis in my life was at hand....I could only answer this: ' Mac, My people are going to war, & war for their liberty. If I don't come & bear my part they will believe me a coward--and I will feel that I am occupying the position of one. I must go and stand my chances.' ...I told McPherson we were going to fight for our ' liberty.' That was the view the whole South took of it. It was not for slavery but the sovereignty of the states, which is practically the right to resume self government or to secede.Reprinted from Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander. Edited by Gary W. Gallagher. Copyright 1989 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher.
Part C: Changes in Loyalty
When we reached to within one hundred yards of the plank fence, which stood on the opposite side of the road passing the cemetery to that of the stone fence, the officers of the Eleventh Mississippi had been largely killed or wounded, and the officer who seemed to be in command was Capt. John V. Moore, of the University Grays. He was then in front of Company D, endeavoring to hold the regiment back in line with the troops on our right. I hallooed to him, saying: ' John, for heaven's sake give the command to charge.' He replied that he could not take the responsibility. I then, without authority, gave the command myself, which was promptly repeated and responded to, at which time a run was made for the fence and over it. Just after getting over the fence, and when about half way across the road, I was shot down. The balance of the command which had not been killed or wounded rushed on and jumped the stone fence, charging rapidly to the top of Cemetery Ridge, in line with the Twenty-sixth North Carolina on the right.
Just after I had fallen I looked to my right, where a little house stood, just against which the end of the stone fence rested on either side. Behind this house some ten or twelve of the Twenty-sixth North Carolina boys for a moment halted, with Capt. W. T. Magruder, who had been formerly a colonel of cavalry in the U.S. army, and who had resigned after the emancipation proclamation and had joined our army, said to them: ' Men, remember your mothers, wives, and sisters at home, and do not halt here.' All responded in a moment, and rushed on to rejoin the regiment, then going to the top of Cemetery Heights. Capt. Magruder himself leaped the stone fence on the western side of the house, and was shot down at once, either as he went over the fence or just after getting over it.
Excerpted from Andrew J. Baker, "Tribute to Capt. Magruder and Wife," Confederate Veteran Magazine (November 1898): 507.
Part A: A Soldier's View of Gettysburg
2. How was he able to justify the suffering endured by the Union troops?
3. How did he respond to the Union victory?
2. What option did the U.S. Army provide Alexander to avoid becoming involved in the conflict?
3. How did he justify his choice?
2. Why did Captain John Moore not give the order to charge? How might you have felt in his place?
2. What are some disadvantages of relying on personal accounts of historical events?