|BATTERY B FOURTH UNITED STATES ARTILLERY AT
BY JAMES STEWART
United States Army, retired; Brevet Major United States Army.
By act of Congress, approved March 16, 1802, the existing regular artillery of the United States was founded, and in the organization of 1821, one company, in each regiment was equipped as light battery. Battery B was one of those so designated, and has remained as a light battery to the present day. In 1837, on account of the Florida War, two of these batteries were horsed and their complement increased to seventy-one enlisted men. They were Battery C of the Third, commanded by Captain Ringold, and Battery B of the Fourth, under Captain J. M. Washington, but B of the Fourth only took part in the operations, so Battery B was really the first regularly equipped light battery in our service. It also took part in the Mexican War under Captain Washington and Lieutenant O'Brien, serving with General Taylor. After the Mexican War the battery was ordered to Texas and there served on the Rio Grande until 1856, when it was ordered to Fort Leavenworth, but on reaching St. Louis we found the river blocked with ice and had to remain at Jefferson Barracks, Mo., that winter. We reached Fort Leavenworth, March, 1857; and after being fully equipped and horsed started for Great Salt Lake City, Utah, under General Albert Sidney Johnston.
In the summer of 1860 we were ordered to leave the battery in camp and go out as cavalry, keeping the mail road open between Salt Lake City and Carson City, Nevada. During that summer the battery marched over two thousand miles, protected emigrants, assisted the Pony Express and had a great many engagements with Indians.
In 1861, we were ordered east and joined the Army of the Potomac under General Geo. B. McClellan. We were then assigned to McDowell's corps, remaining with it until the consolidation of the First and Fifth Corps; we remained in the Fifth Corps until the close of the war.
The greatest strain upon our country during the war was just before the battle of Gettysburg. Gold had run up to its highest notch, and all over the North a feeling of anxiety and depression was felt. The Army of the Potomac had been worsted in the, battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, leaving Lee's army considerably elated over its victories, and the change of commanders brought an anxious desire upon the Army of the Potomac to meet once more the Army of Virginia. That desire was all the more felt by every soldier, in our army, because Lee had crossed the Potomac and invaded the North, demanding of each city and town that if furnish provisions, clothing, mules, horses and forage, besides all kinds of wagons that could be used by their army, and even demanding money in some instances. Outside of that, private citizens were robbed of every thing that the rebel soldiery took a fancy to. Now, that was war.
I simply mention this to show the difference between our generals and the others. When the Union army commenced their campaign in Virginia, an order was written setting forth that no pillaging would be allowed, and any man caught doing so would be punished. It was said that by pillaging the dear people might become irritated. Think of it! and we in the enemy's country. That was not war. War means to inflict all the punishment you can upon your enemy, especially in destroying all supplies that he could make use of. That is the true object to be gained. It is really humanity, as it has a tendency to shorten the struggle, thereby saving human lives. But our generals in their great judgment thought otherwise. There was scarcely a farm-house but was the headquarters of some guerrilla company, and from these houses all information Of our movements was made known to their generals.
As an instance, I will state that my battery was sent with a division to make a reconnaissance. The weather was very warm. The order was to march quickly to the place, find out what troops were there, their strength and all the information necessary for the commanding general. Some of our men had fallen behind, not being able to keep up with their commands. On marching back, we found these men lying on the road with their throats cut. That was not war; that was murder. Had our generals prosecuted the war as the Southern generals did, it would have terminated in a much shorter space of time and saved thousands of valuable lives.
The 30th of June, 1863, I was camped on Marsh Creek, a short distance from Gettysburg. As soon as I reached camp, I mustered and inspected the battery. The 30th being the last of the fiscal year, all the returns were due, so the time we went into camp we were kept busy until from the following morning making out muster and pay-rolls and comparing them. Then there were the quartermaster, commissary, ordnance, and regimental returns to be made out and mailed by the Morning of the lst of July. I was extremely anxious to have these returns off my bands, having been informed by an aide of General Buford's that the cavalry had met a part of A. P. Hill's infantry, and that more than likely a battle would take place the following day. I had all my returns sent off, as an orderly came up with an order to send all our wagons to the rear and report to the chief quartermaster of the corps.
As we were at breakfast, Captain Wadsworth of General Buford's staff came riding up. I asked him if he had had breakfast. He said no. I then invited him to have a little with us. He said he had not the time, but would take a cup of coffee. He then asked me to come out and see the cavalry fight. I told him as soon as I got breakfast I would. I told my orderly to saddle my horse and one of the buglers to saddle his, and while the horses were being saddled, I told Lieutenant Davidson I would ride out see what was going on. Taking the bugler with me, I set off and told the lieutenant I would send him word if there was any chance of a fight. I also told him that just soon as the men got through with their work, to have "boots and saddles" sounded in case there was any call for the battery. I started after the captain and missed him. However I came upon General Thomas Devens' brigade and watched the battle going on for some time, and soon found that our cavalry force was not equal to the enemies', although they were stubbornly holding every foot of ground. General Devens informed me that the cavalry was holding the enemy to give General Reynolds time to bring up his corps and also to develop their strength. Having the battery field-glasses with me, I took a good survey of the field, and was surprised to see their strength as they were advancing. In riding back I had another opportunity of seeing them make dispositions for an attack upon our troops. The position where I stood was quite a commanding one, and I could see nearly every movement they made. When I saw they were ready to advance, I galloped in the direction of the seminary, where I could see and hear, that part of our infantry being engaged. On reaching there I was informed that General Reynolds had been killed on the skirmish line. I can assure you that the news of his death was terrible to me, as I thought he had no superior as a corps commander in the army.
In passing the rear of the line, I rode over to General Wadsworth and told him that the enemy was preparing to advance in his front, and to assist him I would place three guns on the pike and place the other three on the other side of the railroad cut. The general said he would be much obliged if I would do so. I had sent the bugler to Lieutenant Davidson to bring up the battery. As soon as the battery arrived, I placed the three guns on the pike under Lieutenant Davidson. I then placed the other three on the other side of the railroad cut about three hundred yards in advance of the left half in echelon. My right half battery was under cover, being in a piece of woods.
After placing the right half battery in position, I galloped over to Davidson to await developments. I had not long to wait, as we could see the bayonets of the infantry coming over the rising ground, the distance being about six hundred yards. They came on in fine style. Our men did not fire a musket until they came within a distance of about four hundred yards. Davidson had his guns double-shotted with canister, but he withheld his fire until the enemy had reached what we thought about three hundred yards, when he opened. It was more than they could stand. They broke to the rear, where they halted, faced about and advanced again, but meeting with such a storm of lead and iron, they broke and ran over the rising ground entirely out of sight.
We were congratulating ourselves upon what we had done and with such little loss, when, after some time, an aide rode up and informed the general that the enemy were again advancing. I told Davidson that if they came on his front to use the same tactics, and that I would give it to him on his left flank. I had not very long to wait when we saw them coming. I galloped over to my half-battery and gave the command to change front forward on the left piece, at the same time keeping as much under cover as I could. I then had the canister brought up and the guns double-shotted and waited for them. The enemy were not aware of us being on the other side of the railroad cut, for as they advanced they exposed their left flank, and I opened fire. This so confused them that they did not know what to do, and I believe quite a number surrendered. The troops we had been fighting up to this time were Heth''s division of A. P. Hill's corps.
The position of the First Corps at this time was General Robinson's division on the right of the railroad cut, General Wadsworth in the center, and Rowley's division on the left. There was a good space between my half-battery and the left of Robinson's division, but I had one of the best regiments in the army (the Sixth Wisconsin, under Lieutenant-Colonel R. R. Dawes) supporting me. About this time, Ewell's corps was advancing on the north of Gettysburg, or upon our right, and the Eleventh Corps of our army was also getting into position on Robinson's right. As nearly as I can remember, it was about 2 o'clock when the enemy made another assault, and it was simply terrible, as we were greatly outnumbered--Pender's division having joined Heth's. They advanced all along our front, completely overlapping our flanks, and for over two hours the fighting was terrific, when an aide of General Robinson's staff rode up with the order for me to fall back to the town as rapidly as possible, saying that the general had forgotten that I was on his left flank. I inquired how far the division was from me, and he said probably about half a mile. I was also informed that Colonel Dawes' regiment, the Sixth Wisconsin, had been moved to another part of the field. Then for the first time that day did I realize what the horrors of war meant. As I gave the command to limber to the rear, I could not bring my wounded with me, and the beseeching looks that these men gave me quite unnerved me, and I was sorry indeed to leave them to their fate.
I moved down through the timber, running a short distance parallel with the railroad cut, and then attempted to cross. I did not know at the time that the cut was full of large rocks. However, the men got the first two pieces over, but in getting over the third, the pintle hook broke and the trail fell to the around. As this happened, a party of rebels came running out of the timber adjoining, shouting: "Halt that piece!" We were all completely surprised, but one of the men was fully equal to the occasion, and shouted back: "Don't you see that the piece is halted?" I had the leading pieces brought back upon the road and opened upon them, when they took to cover very quickly. In the meantime, the men were taking the prolonge off the trail and tying up the gun to the limber. When the pintle hook broke, I felt that we would never be able to get the gun out of the cut, as it took us a long time to disengage the prolongs from the trail ; then we had to get the limber out of the cut, then the gun; then we had to tie the trail to the real, of the limber; and during all this time the enemy were firing upon us at not more than one hundred yards; and just as we got the gun out of the cut, the enemy made a dash, this time getting within fifty or sixty yards, killing one driver (the driver of the swing team), and seriously wounding the wheel driver and two horses, which again caused delay. But the two pieces kept firing at them all the time, and I will say right here that if ever men stayed by their guns, it certainly was then.
After we got well on the road, I told the sergeant to move to town and I would go back and see what Davidson was doing, as I could not believe he would have left without informing me of the fact. I started in the direction of the Thompson House, but on getting pretty near there, I saw the place was occupied by the enemy. On seeing me, they shouted,"Surrender!" but as I had not gone there for that purpose, I wheeled my horse and started him off as fast as he could go.
It was my intention to catch up with my sergeant, but I found that I could not reach the road as it was occupied by the enemy--in fact, the enemy was closing in on all sides. On seeing that I could not make my way to where my half battery had gone, I started across the field, when the first thing I observed in front of me was a high fence, and. as I could not go either to the right or left without being made a prisoner, I headed my horse for it, and he took the leap in splendid style. As he was making the jump I was struck on the thigh with a piece of shell. The shock was terrible, and I thought at first my leg was broken, but after feeling it I found the bone all right. However, I had scarcely gone any distance before I was so nauseated that I could scarcely keep in the saddle, and seeing some water in a furrow, I dismounted, bathed my face, and drank a mouthful or two of the water, and feeling somewhat relieved of the sickness, I remounted, and, on reaching the other side of the field, I found most of the rails down. A short distance further, I found one of my men bursting the cartridges that were on one of the caissons. The rear axle of that caisson was broken and four of the horses had been killed. I inquired if any one had ordered him to remain and destroy the ammunition, and he said, "No; but the Rebs are following us up pretty hard, and if the caisson fell into their hands they would use the ammunition upon us." I remained with him until he had destroyed the last round and then told him to keep with me.
On reaching town I heard my name called, and, on looking in the direction, much to my surprise, saw Dr. Ward of the Second Wisconsin supporting General Fairchild. Then I noticed that the colonel had had his arm amputated. It seemed almost incredible to me, I as I did not think it had been over three hours since I had seen the colonel in command of his own regiment; but, notwithstanding, such was the fact. He was standing there waving his hat to us.
On reaching the court-house, I found all my battery except the abandoned caisson. I was also told that Lieutenant Davidson had been severely wounded and was in one of the hospitals. So badly was he wounded, that he was never able for duty, and was placed on the retired list.
Our corps was falling back to take position on Cemetery Ridge. When I reached that point, and at the gate leading to it, General Hancock called to me and asked me how many guns I had that were serviceable. I told him four. He then said I was to place three guns on this pike and the other at right-angles to them, and said: "I want you to remain in this position until I relieve you in person." He then called Captain Mitchell, his aide, and told him to listen to what he was going to say to me. He then said: "I am of the opinion that the enemy will mass in town and make an effort to take this position, but I want you to remain until you are relieved by me or by my written order and take orders from no one."
I remained in that position from the afternoon of the 1st to the forenoon of the 4th, and it was a good thing for me that I did not have to change positions, as my leg was very sore and badly swollen. When the enemy did not attack us on the first night, I felt that we had them beaten, as the Eleventh and First Corps of our army had fought two-thirds of Lee's army to a stand. There were five more corps to come to our assistance, with only one corps of Lee's army to come up.
On the afternoon of the second day's fight, when the enemy opened with most of their artillery, I was directly in their range, receiving their shot front, right, and left. Cooper's Pennsylvania Battery was in position facing Ewell's corps, and when Ewell's artillery opened, Cooper at once replied, and about the first shot he fired blew up a caisson. I ordered my men to give three cheers for Cooper's battery. The echo had scarcely died away when one of my caissons met the same fate. Then the hurrah was on the side of the Johnnies. It was the cleanest job I ever saw. The three chests were sent skyward and the horses started off on a run toward the town, but one of the swing team got over the traces, throwing him down and causing the rest of the team to halt. The men ran after them and brought them back; every hair was burnt off the tails and manes of the wheel horses. Inquiring for the drivers, the lead and swing drivers reported, but it was some time before I could find out any thing about the wheel driver. One of the men reported that he had seen him go toward the spring. I sent him to hunt him up and tell him to report to me.
A few minutes after one of my limbers was also blown up, causing a loss of two men and two horses. While looking at the limber, a mail came to me with a piece of jacket in his hand, and said: "Sir, this is all I call find of Smith, the driver." About a month after I received a communication from a surgeon in charge of the Cass Hospital, Detroit City, that Smith was a patient there and had entirely lost his sight.
From the time that Ewell made the attack in the afternoon, they kept on making assault after assault until long after darkness had set in; in fact, the heaviest attack was made by Early's division, long after dark, one of his command, a member of the Louisiana Tigers, being captured by Cooper's men after being wounded and knocked down. I looked at the man and said to Captain Cooper, the mail is either drunk or crazy.
The morning of the 3d, Ewell's corps made another attack upon our right at Culp's Hill, that attack being kept up vigorously for several hours. About two hours before the assault of Pickett's division, every thing was ominously quiet, when the report of three Whitworth guns, fired in rapid succession, caused us to spring to our positions. The echo of this had scarcely died out when Lee opened with two hundred guns, and such a cannonade I had never heard the like of before; the air was simply full of shot and screaming shells for over two hours. At first we thought it would be impossible to live through it. My battery held the highest position on that part of Cemetery Hill, and the shot would strike on our front, right, and left, then ricochet over us.
Finally, an aide of General Hunt's came riding to me and said that the general wished all the batteries to cease firing. Our battery had ceased firing but a short time, when the enemy ceased firing. A little while after I could see a movement being made on the right center of the enemy, an infantry column debouching from the timber and being rapidly moved. After considerable trouble I mounted my horse and rode into the cemetery until I could see the movement being developed. I had to wait for some time before I could see distinctly, as the smoke from the batteries had not altogether cleared away. Then I could see their movements pretty plainly in different places. I could not see the whole movement for several houses, barns and trees, still I could make out what the intention was. When the assaulting column began their forward movement, I could not clearly see what part of our line was the point of, attack, but riding farther in the direction of our left, I was satisfied where they intended making the assault. I did not know before that time the position held by their different corps. I remained where I was, however, awaiting developments and watching as closely as I could.
The assaulting column came on in grand style. As soon as they got within musketry range, our infantry opened, and also some of our batteries; then I could see gaps being made in their line. Still they would close in, then again advancing, other parts of their line would halt. Sometimes a part would run back, then face about, and seeing their colors, would run toward them and reform and advance again. To me it was the grandest sight I had ever seen, and no soldier on our side who was present but will admit that they showed as grand display of courage as ever was witnessed on a battle-field. Then the smoke from our batteries would obscure my sight of the lines for some time, but as it would shift and pass off, I could see parts of their lines until it reached a certain point, where I could no longer see the latter part of that wonderful charge and hand to hand conflict, for it was so, in many instances. After a while I could see what was left of that charging column running to the rear, and could hear the cheers of our gallant comrades who had stood the brunt of that terrific assault.
The losses in the battery during the three days battles were forty men killed and wounded, fifty-seven horses killed and disabled.
April 5, 1893.