Mr. Frank Haskell whom
I knew well was a very accomplished gentleman and 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 as 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. Haskell's personal observation.
On the first day when the chief engagement of this corps occurred and when its very heavy losses were sustained, Col. Haskells 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 Genl. Lee's entire army. They had to meet it suddenly on ground that had not been reconnoitered. The 11th Corps came into the battle form a distance of 12 miles, a large part of the distance on the double quick. Two of its divisions, the 1st and 3d were rushed into the fight to the north of Gettysburg to the relief of the 1st Corps already very heavily pressed. Col. Haskell's caustic remarks fall mainly on these two divisions although he has [?] 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, under very substantial reinforcements 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 [?] 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 Mead's Corps were scattered at considerable distances. Under these circumstances the two divisions of the 11th Corps were marched far to the north and far beyond the right to the 1st Corps. Perhaps they were sent out too far. This has been claimed. But that has nothing to do with Col. Haskell's situations. It is time 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 heavy rebel division of General Early came upon the field over roads leading directly to the right flank and rear of Genl. Barlow's position on the right of the 11th Corps. Taken at this disadvantage and vastly outnumbered retreat was inevitable. And it was necessarily disorderly. Retreat within organized bodies of the enemy on the flank and in rear from so exposed a position as then 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 railing 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 position very broken condition. But breaks to the making and holding of this important point by a portion 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 homes 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 skulkers in every battle and they are formed in every military organization. But there is no warrant whatever for Col. H.'s slur 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 discouragement and [?] does in respect of the [?] day. Col H was nearer the ground that 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 and almost dark. The force of the enemy had come up from the ravine, overcome the line of the 1st Corps at the foot of the hill and rushed upon a wear [?] point in our battery line on the brow of a steep hill. For a moment our line was broken, there was some confusion on [?] of the darkness but our troops were immediately rallied, moved promptly forward and established their line. The [?]was defeated and gathered a number of prisoners remained in our hands.
It was one of those incidents that [?] in every battle, many of which occurred in the battle of Gettysburg - on very notable one which Col. H so vividly describes in his own 2d Corps on that same afternoon when he rallied and brought a brigade which had abandoned its breastworks, [?] to its [?plme] of duty.
The sacrificial services as they may be called of the 1st and 11th 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 [?] from a position in which it is posted. To place it in position where this must be the result if 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 [?]
I was present with the 11th Corps throughout the battle. Looking back I may think that somethings might have been done better. But that is a common experience in all affairs. Thrown into the emergency as it was, I doubt where any other corps of equal strength would have done any better service.
Milw Winkler Correspondence Mss W (ARC) UWM Milwaukee