I was a Captain in the
26th Wisconsin on detached service on the staff of General Schurz Commander
of the 3rd division of the 11th. corps to which the regiment belonged.
The division camped at Emmetsburg on the 30th of June with orders to march
at seven the next morning. The march was understood to be in the direction
ofGettysburg about 12 miles distant. A prompt start was made but it was
in no way hurried. After awhile artillery fire wan heard forward to our
left. Such had often been the case in our recent experiences and at first
it received little attention. The road was heavy with recent rains but
led through a rich farming country in which every inhabitant was a cheering
friend. The boys moved on buoyantly picking cherries from overhanging
trees as they passed. The rank and file had little thought of the imminence
of the grim battle that awaited them. But the roar of big guns grew louder
and the command came to double-quick. No more cherries then. Cemetery Hill,
just north of Gettysburg, was reached about noon. The battle had been waging
between Buford's cavalry and the first corps on the part of the North and
A. P. Hill's corps on the part of the South along Seminary Ridge to
the west of Gettysburg. The 3rd and let divisions of the 11th corps passed
north through the city to the Carlisle Road, then northwesterly taking
position in prolongation of Seminary Ridge, the 3rd division on the left
the first commanded by General Barlow on the right. The position was insecure,
but the available force was far too small to take an effective stand in
the field where the battle had been begun. Indeed it was intended to delay
and not to fight a battle. This in substance is what General Howard said
to me when after I had under General Schurz direction twice visited General
Barlow at his extreme northern point and cautioned him as to the danger
to his right flank and was then sent back to Cemetery Hill to order General
Steinwehr of the 2nd division to send one of his brigades to Barlow's support.
General Howard had, as his corps came up, collected his "reserve artillery"
on Cemetery Hill and kept the two brigades of Steinwehr close in hand for
its support. GeneralSteinwehr did not feel authorized to change the disposition
of his two brigades made by express direction of General Howard, I turned
and spurred my horse back toward the front and about the middle of the
town met General Howard coming from the direction of the 1st corps. I explained
to him the situation at our front and the great need of help on Barlow's
right. The consented to let Colonel Coster's brigade of Steinwehr ’s division
move, forward to the north of the village and take position en echelon
to Barlow’s rear near the Carlisle Road. He sent a staff Officer with
me to Colonel Coster and said to me at parting "Tell General Schurz not
to bring on a general engagement". But a general engagement was already
in full progress, nor had it been brought on by Genera1 Schurz. General
Early’s corps of the confederate army had arrived on the field from the
north deploying in deep lines of battle and marched down upon the 11th
corps far overlapping it and enveloping its right. There was a fierce and
bloody encounter but the odds were overwhelming, and the 3rd division of
the 11th corps had to retire from their hazardously advanced position.
Their losses were heavy and they, had a long and difficult line to retreat
over open unprotected fields to the outskirts of the village. Coster's
brigade was far too weak to render anything but very temporary resistance.
The 26th Wisconsin, when arrived at the front, was given reserve position. When the charge of Ewell’s men came it was ordered forward and taking its place in the first line of battle found itself face to face with the invading force at short distance. There was no cover for shelter. It was a hard strenuous fight against superior numbers in the open. When the troops to its right fell back it had to yield and retire over open fields with here and there a fence to serve as a point for momentary rally. It lost nearly half its effective force. Lieutenant Colonel Boebel, who had commanded, and Major Baetz were both severely wounded. Only four officers present with the regiment escaped unhurt. Its total losses were 40 killed, 137 wounded, 26 taken prisoners and 6 missing. When the Coster brigade had been located I rode forward and towards the left. Our forces were in full retreat making for the reserve position around Cemetery Hill. The artillery well posted did admirable service in checking the pursuit. I found a substantial body of the remnant of the 26th with the colors of the regiment in a cut in the road facing the enemy. They appealed to we to stay with them. There being no superior officer present I dismounted and took charge, removed them to a knoll near by with a low stone wall or fence in front facing directly to the north. This was an admirable little position affording a full view of the advancing forces, and there were there long lines of battle-stretching far to our right. We were not specially pressed and spent some little time there, sending shots now and then at advancing skirmishers who came within reach. But we were substantially alone and the Brigade Commander ordered me to fall back. We passed up Carlisle Street. When we came to the open square of the town we found much congestion. Men horses, teams and artillery poured in by cross roads from the west together with those coming from our direction crowded the square. We took things leisurely. There was no close pursuit, no firing into the city of any moment. There was a shower as we proceeded and when we arrived at the foot of Cemetery Hill a rainbow appeared low down on the eastern horizon. It is the only thing by which I can estimate the time of day. It was close to the approach of evening. The 26th was rallied and placed in line fronting the town a little to the west of the road by which we entered the Cemetery Hill position. Here it remained during the 2nd and 3rd,days of the battle with pretty much continuous skirmishing on the picket line losing one man killed.
Author/Creator: Dillon, Henry, 1828-1882.
Title: Papers, 1849, 1861-1891.
Quantity: 0.8 c.f. (2 archives boxes)