Friday, July 5, 2013

July 3, 1863: Battle of Gettysburg, Part Three

On July 3, 1863, Colonel Edward Livingston Campbell's 15th New Jersey Volunteer Infantry Regiment had secured their position on a rocky knoll on Cemetery Ridge after three hours of fighting.  The knoll was fronted by trees and was located approximately 1/8 mile from Little Round Top.  The 15th NJ was part of the 1st Division or the 6th Corps.  It's new position overlooked Emmittsburg Road and the ground on which many of the men of  the 7th, 8th and 11th NJ Regiments had died the day before.
Teenage veteran Jacob H. Cole, of Paterson, serving in the 57th New York Volunteer infantry Regiment, was a wounded prisoner of war with a shattered leg. He was moved to another knoll on Seminary Ridge so he could witness the soon-to-be famous charge of General George E. Pickett's Division. 
Cole recalled, "At one o'clock, two cannon shots in quick succession gave the signal, and instantly the Confederate position was for three miles wrapped in flame and smoke.  Nearly 140 guns opened at once on the Union lines.  The air was full of shrieking shells   and flying shot.  After an hour, the firing ceases, and for a time the stillness was oppressive.  Then I suddenly saw what it all meant.  Over the hill came a long line of skirmishers and behind them a line of battle, and behind that line another and then another.  I raised on my left elbow and watched eagerly the long lines of the enemy's infantry as they emerged from the woods on Seminary Ridge.  It presented one of the finest sights ever witnessed on a field of battle or anywhere else.  Its front was nearly a mile in length.
"With their rifles carried at a right shoulder shift, they moved steadily onward as if on a grand review, marched across the fields, on across the Emmittsburg Road, climbing over the two fences and so towards Cemetery Ridge.  Every battery in the union lines then opened fire.  The smoke after a while became so dense that I was unable to see anything further.  Just as the smoke began to lift somewhat, I was able to see again."
From their rocky knoll, the men of the 15th NJ witnessed "Pickett's Charge."  A report filed by an officer in the 15th NJ stated, "With strange emotion, we watched their coming; it was not fear, it was not surprise, but every man was silent, and grasped his weapon more closely.  When the enemy reached the middle of the plain, our batteries began to play upon him, cutting through his lines, but he came on with increasing rapidity, till the fire of musketry, which had been withheld, was poured into him.  He dropped rapidly, but nearer and nearer swept the charging columns.  Most of our batteries were out of ammunition and ceased firing, and it was left to the opposing bodies of infantry to determine the contest.  AS the charging column swept nearer, a heavier and more deadly fire stayed a body of North Carolina troops for a moment, when they broke and ran; a large number throwing down their arms and coming in as prisoners.  
"Pickett's Division had a less distance of open ground to traverse, and so great was the impetus it acquired that it passed directly over our outer-line of stone wall and rough works, and drove back the first line of troops, belonging to part of the Second Corps.  The rebel colors, indeed, were planted right on the breast works.  The critical hour of the day had come, but General [Winfield Scott] Hancock was equal to the emergency, and gathering troops from right and left, halting and re-forming the broken columns, a new line was formed, which, though bending back some distance from the former front, was a formidable barrier to the enemy's further progress.  Then from right and left, assailing either flank, was poured on a destructive fire, and our men came pressing closer, making the circuit smaller.  The fighting was short and decisive.  The rebels recoiled before the deadly fire, threw away their arms in token of submission, and on all sides crouched close to the earth in dismay.  Some thousands were captured  and moved away to the rear, our troops leaping the entrenchments, assaulted their flank and soon put them to flight, with heavy loss of killed and prisoners.  Before sundown the fighting ceased."
Cole noted, "At last I heard the Union band play.  The I knew that Pickett's grand charge at Gettysburg had failed and that the Union troops had won the victory.  After the repulse of Pickett's charge, the rebel soldiers scattered all over the field like a lot of sheep with a head.  Soon after, darkness fell upon the scene, while the Confederate troops were momentarily expecting the advance of Union troops, but no advance came, and thus closed the third day of the battle of Gettysburg.  In the early part of the night, the moon shone        very bright, and as I lay within the rebel lines, I ascertained that the rebels were about to retreat.  This I learned by overhearing General [Robert E.] Lee order General [James] Longstreet to leave a strong picket force and withdraw the troops under cover of the darkness."
Suffering from his wounds of July 2, Colonel Robert McAllister, commanding officer of the 11th NJ Volunteer Infantry Regiment, returned to Warren County, NJ to recuperate.  Instead of going home to Oxford Furnace, the colonel and his family stayed at the Belvidere Hotel.  The McAllister family eventually purchased a house in Belvidere.  McAllister returned to his regiment on September 17, 1863 at Culpepper Plantation, Virginia.
Jacob Cole was finally found by Union troops on July 5 and was taken to hospital in Philadelphia.  he remained in hospital until April 1864, when he was released.  Cole returned to his unit in time for the second day of battle in The Wilderness.
Copyright 1997-2013: Jay C. Richards 

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