Mr. Frank Haskell whom
I knew well was a very accomplished gentleman, a very brave officer. He
wrote a very graphic description of the battle of Gettysburg from the field
shortly after the battle in the form of a letter to his brother. His story
is thrilling and in so far as it relates to what he personally saw and
did is entitled to full credit. In other respects it can make no claim
to historical accuracy. It was not written for publication and without
either opportunity or so far as appears any attempt to gain reliable information
on subjects referred to.
His references to and insinuations against the 11th corps are without justification. They are a reflex of the prejudice against that corps which at that time prevailed in the army of the Potomac by reason of the disastrous defeat it had sustained at Chancellorsville two months before, the causes of which were not then fully understood.
No operation of any part of the 11th. Corps came under Col. Haskellís personal observation on the first day when the chief engagement of this corps occurred and when its very heavy losses were sustained. Col. Haskell was miles away from the field of battle. The battle of that day was a severe trial of the two small corps (the 1st. and the 11th,) that were on the ground. They were doomed to meet the greater half of General Lee's entire army. They had to meet it suddenly on ground that had not been reconnoitered. The 11th. Corps came into the battle from a distance of 12 miles, a large part of the distance on the double quick, Two of its divisions, the 1st, and 3rd, were rushed into the fight to the north of Gettysburg to the relief of the 1st. corps already very sorely pressed. Col. Haskellís caustic remarks fall mainly on these two divisions although he has sneers also for the Second Div. which General Howard very wisely retained on Cemetery Hill where he also assembled and posted all the reserve artillery of the corps, as the rallying point to which he knew that the part of the army under his command would have to retreat, unless very substantial reinforcement should reach him within a shortness of time that could not be even hoped for. The battle was on when the 11th. Corps arrived. It could not hope to win but only to stay it. It had to go in no matter at what sacrifice for the sake of gaining time. Lee's army was closely concentrated near Gettysburg while Meadís corps were scattered at considerable distances. Under theme circumstances the two divisions of the 11th. Corps were marched far to the north and far beyond the right of the 1st. corps. Perhaps they were shut out too far. This has been claimed. But that has nothing to do with Col. Haskellís strictness. It is true that the position it took up was an extremely exposed and hazardous one. This was not evident at first but it soon became so when the strong rebel division of General Early, came upon the field over roads leading directly to the right flank and rear of General Barlowís position on the right of the 11th. Corps. Taken at this disadvantage and vastly outnumbered retreat was inevitable. And it was necessarily disorderly. Retreat with organized bodies of the enemy on the flank and in rear from so exposed a position as the troops had been placed in is always in more or less broken order, They made their way back constantly under fire over the fields to the city and then through the streets to the selected rallying point on Cemetery Hill. From this point the reserve artillery of the corps supported by its second division had in the meantime rendered most valuable service, keeping the assailants in check so that they did not dare to follow up their success or make any attack on this position. The 1st. as well as the 11th. corps arrived at this point in very broken condition. But thanks to the taking and holding of this important point by a position of the 11th. corps all the troops as they arrived could be assigned to places in its support. Of course they were terribly fatigued with the heat and the labor and the bloodshed of that day. Of course I do not claim that every man of the corps was a hero, that many in their distress did not seek the shelter of houses and hide there as they passed through that town. There was more or less of that in both corps. There always will be under similar circumstances. There are Slulkers in every battle and they are found in every military organization. But there is no warrant whatever for Col. Haskell slurs upon the 11th. Corps for its conduct on that day.
Still less reason I might almost say, certainly no more reason is there for the disparagement and sneering innuendos in respect of the second day. Col. Haskell was nearer the ground than he had been on the day before, but he was still far away from it. He did see the first thing of what he mentions. The scene of conflict was late at night after sunset at almost dark. A force of the enemy had come up from a ravine overcome the line of the 1st. corps at the foot of the hill and rushed upon a weak salient point in our battery line on the brow of a steep hill. For a moment our line was broken. There was some confusion on account of the darkness but our troops were immediately rallied, moved promptly forward and reestablished their line. The assault was defeated and quite a number of prisoners remained in our hands. It was one of those incidents that occur in every battle, many of which occurred in the battle of Gettysburg. One very notable one which Col. Haskell so vividly describes in his own 2nd. Corps on that same afternoon when he rallied and brought a brigade which had abandoned its breastworks back to its place of duty.
The sacrificial services as they may be called of the 1st. and11th. Corps on the 1st. of July 1863 alone made the subsequent victory a possibility. The severest trial that ever comes to a body of troops is to be compelled to retire from a position in which it is posted. To place it in a position where this mist be the result is sometimes a duty. At Chancellorsville it was not. On the first day at Gettysburg I believe that it was. The troops who did that duty even if they did it but fairly well should not be subjected to obloquy. I was present with the 11th. corps throughout the battle. Looking back I may think that some things might have been done better. But that is a common experience in all affairs. Thrown into the emergency as it was I doubt whether any other corps of equal strength would have done any better service.
Author/Creator: Dillon, Henry, 1828-1882.
Title: Papers, 1849, 1861-1891.
Quantity: 0.8 c.f. (2 archives boxes)