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The Battle at Gettysburg
Harper's Weekly, July 25, 1863
 
On pages 472 and 473 we publish two fine illustrations of the Battle of Gettysburg from drawings by our special artist, Mr. A. R. Waud. The best description of the battle which we have seen is the following from the Philadelphia Age, and we do not think our readers will be sorry to have it in fully, long as it is:
 


The Battle of Gettysburg
July 25, 1863, pages 472-473

 
On Wednesday morning, July 1, General Reynolds, with twenty-five thousand men, the advance of the Federal Army, approached Gettysburg from the southeast and began the great battle. The field upon which it was fought was a peculiar one. The South Mountain, a long ridge several miles west of Gettysburg, is the great landmark, and the most prominent spot near the town is the hill upon which stood the unfortunate but famous cemetery. Gettysburg is situated in a valley. Two ridges, a mile apart, parallel to each other, are on each side of the valley. It and the ridges are all curves, the concavity being toward the east. It was upon these ridges that the battle was fought, the combatants advancing and retreating through the town, and across the valley above and below it. There is but one stream of water on the field—a narrow, swampy one, a mile south of Gettysburg, which runs zigzag down the valley toward the Monocacy. The lines of battle formed by the two armies were upon these ridges, and resembled two horseshoes, one inside of the other.

The best view of the field is had from the top of the Cemetery Hill. It is a short distance south of the town. In front there is a rather steep declivity to the valley, then a gentle ascent covered with low, scrubby timber and pieces of rock, to the Seminary Hill, a mile distant. Here was the Confederate line. As the gazer stood amidst the broken tombstones he could see the entire field. The valley, the debatable ground, stretched around from right to left, almost a semicircle. He could look over the tree-tops and little patches of wood, and passing his eye up the hill on the other side, could see the seminary toward the northwest. Further to the right is the Gettysburg College, also on the Seminary Hill.

Beginning at the left hand, the Confederate line rested on the little stream, then ascended the hill and ran along a stone fence, which had been made into a rifle-pit. As it approached Gettysburg it curved around, crossing the Chambersburg and Emmettsburg road and the road to Carlisle, and passed the seminary and college, between which it crossed a serpentine railway leading to the town, called the "Tape-worm." The ridge continued the entire length, its front, except in a few cleared spots, being covered with timber. The line must have extended at least eight miles.

The ridge occupied by the Federal troops was half in-closed by the other. It was an inner circle, and was made up of much higher and bolder hills than the outer one. The Federal left rested also on the little stream, and ran along a rocky ravine, then ascended the Cemetery Hill, and so on in a semicircle over one round-topped wooded hill after another until it was lost on the right in the mazes of a thick forest. Meade’s line was about five miles in length, and in the battle, besides the higher ground, he had all the advantages of interior lines, and also was in a friendly country. His head-quarters were on a wooded knoll a mile east of the cemetery.

Away off behind the Confederate line, and curving around in a larger circle still, was the South Mountain.

In all the contest, excepting the opening one, the enemy attacked. On Wednesday morning General Reynolds, with the Federal advance, approached the town from the southeast, the enemy evacuating it on his arrival. He passed through and out on the west side toward Chambersburg. He marched several miles, was met by the enemy in stronger force, and after a slight contest was compelled to retire. The enemy pushed him very hard, and he came into the town on a run, his troops going along every available road, and rushing out on the east side, closely followed by the enemy. One of his brigades came along the "Tape-worm" with a Confederate brigade on each side of it. All three were abreast, running as hard as they could—the two outside ones pouring a heavy fire into the centre, out of which men dropped, killed or wounded, at almost every footstep. This Federal brigade, in running that terrible gauntlet, lost half of its men. General Reynolds was killed, and Gettysburg was lost; but the Federal troops succeeded in mounting the Cemetery Hill, and the enemy ceased pursuing. At night the enemy encamped in the town, and the Federal troops on the hill.

During Wednesday night and Thursday morning the two armies were concentrating on the two ridges, which were to be the next day’s line of battle, and by noon on Thursday each general had a force of 80,000 men at his disposal. Then began the great artillery contest, the infantry on both sides crouching behind fences and trees and in rifle-pits. The Federal soldiers in the cemetery laid many of the tombstones on the ground to prevent injury, so that many escaped. There was but little infantry fighting on Thursday, and neither party made much impression upon each other. The Confederates in the other town erected barricades, and had their sharp-shooters posted in every available spot, picking off Federal soldiers on the hills to the north of the cemetery. The cannonade was fierce and incessant, and shells from both sides flew over and into the devoted town. Beyond killing and wounding, breaking trees and shattering houses, and making an awful noise, however, this cannonade had but little effect on the result of the battle. Both sides fought with great ferocity, and neither could drive the other out of position.

On Thursday night, fearing that the enemy had flank parties which might turn his rear, General Meade had serious intentions of retreating, and he called a council of war. The advice of some of his generals, however, and the capture of the courier with dispatches from Richmond, from which it was learned that the enemy could receive no reinforcements, made him decide to remain.

On Friday morning General Lee did not desire to make the attack. He saw the superiority of the Federal position, and wished to entice them out of it, and down into the valley. With this design he withdrew all of his sharp-shooters and infantry from Gettysburg. The deserted town lay there a very tempting bait, but General Meade’s men hid quietly behind the fences and trees, and banks upon the hills. They could look down into the streets and see every thing which was in progress. They saw the enemy march out and retire to the seminary, but made no advance, and the Confederates gained nothing by the movement. A parting salute of musketry, however, from a knoll north of the cemetery, accelerated the Confederate retreat. For some time the town had scarcely a soldier in it. Scores of dead and wounded men and horses, with broken wagons, bricks, stones, timber, torn clothing, and abandoned accoutrements, lay there. The frightened inhabitants peered out of their windows to see what the armies were doing to cause such a lull, and, almost afraid of their own shadows, they hastened away and crouched in corners and cellars at the sound of every shot or shell.

General Lee’s evacuation had no effect. Meade was neither to be enticed into the town or into the valley. Enough dead bodies lay in the fields and streets to give him warning of what happened to poor Reynolds two days before, and he wisely determined to stay where he was and let events shape themselves. The enemy soon became impatient. They could wait no longer; and after much solicitation from his subordinates, General Lee permitted General Longstreet to send his grand division on a charge upon the cemetery. The Federal soldiers were on the alert. They were hid behind their embankments, some kneeling, and some flat on the ground. The Confederate artillery opened. It was as fierce a cannonade as the one the day before, but instead of being spread all over the line, every shell was thrown at the cemetery. Experienced soldiers soon divined what was coming, and in every portion of the Federal line the cannon were directed toward the valley in front of the cemetery. All were ready. Amidst the furious fire from the Confederate cannon scarcely a Federal shot was heard. The artillerists, implements in hand, crouched in the little ditches dug behind their cannon. With arms loaded, the infantry awaited the charge.

It soon came. From the woods of short, scrubby timber and the rocks near the seminary there rose a yell. It was a long, loud, unremitting, hideous screech from thousands of voices. At the yell the Federal cannon opened. Soon the enemy’s columns emerged from the woods. They came on a rush down the hill, waving their arms and still screeching. They climbed the fences and rushed along, each one bent upon getting first into the cemetery. The cannon roared, and grape and canister and spherical case fell thick among them. Still they rushed onward, hundreds falling out of the line. They came within musket-shot of the Federal troops. Then the small-arms began to rattle. The Confederates approached the outer line of works. They were laboring up the hill. As they mounted the low bank in front of the rifle-pits, the Federal soldiers retreated out of the ditch behind, turning and firing as they went along. It was a hand-to-hand conflict. Every man fought by himself and for himself. Myriads of the enemy pushed forward down the hill, across into the works, and up to the cemetery. All were shouting, and screaming, and swearing, clashing their arms and firing their pieces. The enemy’s shells flew over the field upon the Federal artillerists on the hills above. These, almost disregarding the storm which raged around them, directed all their fire upon the surging columns of the enemy’s charge. Every available cannon on the Cemetery Hill, and to the right and left, threw its shells and shot in the valley. The fight was terrible; but despite every effort the enemy pushed up the hill and across the second line of works. The fire became hotter. The fight swayed back and forth. One moment the enemy would be at the railings of the cemetery; then a rush from the Federal side would drive them down into the valley. Then, with one of their horrid screeches, they would fiercely run up the hill again into the cemetery, and have a fierce battle among the tombstones. It was the hardest fight of the day, and hundreds were slain there. Reckless daring, however, will not always succeed. Several attempts were made to take the place, but they were not successful; and late in the afternoon, leaving dead and wounded behind the, the enemy’s forces slowly retreated upon their own hill and into their woods again.

They were not routed. They can scarcely be said to have been driven. They have made an attack and been repulsed, and after renewed attempts, feeling that it was useless to try any more, they retreated. It was now General Meade’s turn to make an attack. Though they had lost heavily, his soldiers felt elated. They saw hopes of a victory, and were ready to do almost any thing to secure it. Although there had been a battle in the valley below Gettysburg, yet the town was as quiet and as much deserted as ever. Shells flew over it, and now and then one of its houses would have a wall cracked or a roof broken, but neither force possessed it. General Meade turned his attention there.

The day was waning and the battle had lulled, and he determined, if possible, to drive the enemy out of the seminary. His troops were placed in order, and charged down the hill and into the town. They ran along every street, chasing a few of the enemy, still hid there, before them. They came out upon the west side, along the "Tape-Worm," and the Emmettsburg and Chambersburg roads, and ascended the enemy’s hills amidst a storm of grape and shell. At the seminary the Confederates were not very strong. They had weakened that portion of the line to make their attack further to the south upon the cemetery. They had but few cannon; and though they resisted some time, they finally retreated from the edge of the hill and abandoned the seminary.

The Federal troops did not chase them. The land back of the seminary was rather flat and cut up into grain fields, with here and there a patch of woods. The rifle-pits on the brow of the hill proved an effectual aid to the Federal soldiers in maintaining their ground; and as they lay behind the bank, with the ditch in front, they could pick off the stragglers from the retreating enemy. There was but little serious fighting after that, and night put an end to Friday’s struggle, the Confederates having retired about a mile on the north, near the seminary, and half a mile on the south, at a little stream.

During the night the dead in the streets of Gettysburg were buried, and the wounded on all parts of the field were collected and carried to the rear. On the next morning General Meade expected another attack; but, instead of making it, the enemy retreated further, abandoning their entire line of battle, and the pickets reported that they were intrenching at the foot of South Mountain. The Federal army was terribly crippled and sadly in want of rest, and no advance was made, although pickets were thrown out across the enemy’s old line of battle, and toward the place where they were building intrenchments. All the day was spent in feeding and resting the men. Gettysburg was turned into a vast hospital, and impromptu ones were made at a dozen places on the field. The rain came, too, and with it cool air and refreshment both from wind and rain. No one could tell what the enemy were doing; every picket reported that they were intrenching, and the night of the 4th of July closed upon the field with it in the Federal possession.

Harper's Weekly, July 25, 1863

 

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