The American Civil War,
Edited by: Robert Guisepi
On June 24, 1863, General Robert E. Lee led his
Confederate Army across the Potomac River and headed
towards Pennsylvania. In response to this threat
President Lincoln replaced his army commander, General
Joseph Hooker, with General George Mead. As Lee's troops
poured into Pennsylvania, Mead led the Union Army north
from Washington. Meade's effort was inadvertently helped
by Lee's cavalry commander, Jeb Stuart, who, instead of
reporting Union movements to Lee, had gone off on a raid
deep in the Union rear. This action left Lee blind to
the Union's position. When a scout reported the Union
approach, Lee ordered his scattered troops to converge
west of the small village of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
On July 1, some
Confederate infantry headed to Gettysburg to seize
much-needed shoes and clashed west of town with Union
cavalry. The Union commander, recognizing the importance
of holding Gettysburg because a dozen roads converged
there, fought desperately to hold off the Rebel advance.
Other Union troops briefly stopped some Rebels north of
town. During heavy fighting, the Confederates drove the
Union troops through the streets of Gettysburg to
Cemetary Hill south of the town. Lee ordered General
Richard Ewell, now commander of the late Stonewall
Jackson's old units, to attack this position "if
practicable", a vague order that Jackson normally took
to mean launch an all-out attack. Ewell was not Jackson.
He decided not to attack once he saw the Union artillery
atop the hill. Had he attacked and succeeded, it might
have changed the course of the war.
The rest of the armies
arrived that first night. The Union army established a
defensive position resembling a fish hook, with Culp's
Hill and the two Round Tops anchoring each end. Lee
decided to attack both flanks the next day. On his right
flank, Union troops mistakenly shifted out of position,
leaving Little Round Top undefended. At the last moment,
a Union general rushed troops in just ahead of the
charging Confederates. After a long day of fighting,
they barely held the position. The misplaced bluecoats
were pushed back through The Peach Orchard, The Wheat
Field, and Devil's Den. On the left, Ewell's assault
failed due mainly to his poor leadership.
Thinking the Union
center had weakened from these attacks, Lee decided the
next day to hit it first with artillery, and then an
infantry charge led by George Pickett's division.
Stuart's late-arriving cavalry was to come in behind the
Union center at the same time, but they were held off by
Union cavalry led by a young General George Custer.
After an hour's duel, Union artillery deceived the
Confederates into thinking their guns were knocked out.
Then 13,000 Rebels marched across the field in front of
Cemetery Hill, only to have the Union artillery open up
on them, followed by deadly Federal infantry firepower.
Scarcely half made it back to their own lines. In all,
Lee lost more than a third of his men before retreating
to Virginia. Meade, a naturally cautious man, decided
the loss of one-quarter of his men had been enough, and
only feebly tried to pursue Lee, missing an opportunity
to crush him.
Memories of a teenage girl.
Tillie Pierce was born in 1848 and when the battle
began, had lived all her life in the village of
Gettysburg. Her father made his living as a butcher and
the family lived above his shop in the heart of town.
Tillie witnessed the entire battle and published her
observations twenty-six years after the event.
Battle: First encounter with the Rebels
Tillie attended the "Young Ladies Seminary" a
finishing school near her home. She was attending school
on June 26 when the cry "the Rebels are coming!"
reverberated through the town's sleepy streets:
"We were having our
literary exercises on Friday afternoon, at our Seminary,
when the cry reached our ears. Rushing to the door, and
standing on the front portico we beheld in the direction
of the Theological Seminary, a dark, dense mass, moving
toward town. Our teacher, Mrs. Eyster, at once said:
'Children, run home as
quickly as you can.'
"It did not require
repeating. I am satisfied some of the girls did not
reach their homes before the Rebels were in the streets.
"As for myself, I had
scarcely reached the front door, when, on looking up the
street, I saw some of the men on horseback. I scrambled
in, slammed shut the door, and hastening to the sitting
room, peeped out between the shutters.
"What a horrible
sight! There they were, human beings! Clad almost in
rags, covered with dust, riding wildly, pell-mell down
the hill toward our home! Shouting, yelling most
unearthly, cursing, brandishing their revolvers, and
firing right and left.
"I was fully persuaded
that the Rebels had actually come at last. What they
would do with us was a fearful question to my young
"Soon the town was
filled with infantry, and then the searching and
ransacking began in earnest.
"They wanted horses,
clothing, anything and almost everything they could
conveniently carry away.
"Nor were they
particular about asking. Whatever suited them they took.
They did, however, make a formal demand of the town
authorities, for a large supply of flour, meat,
groceries, shoes, hats and (doubtless, not least in
their estimations), ten barrels of whisky; or, in lieu
of this five thousand dollars.
"But our merchants and
bankers had too often heard of their coming, and had
already shipped their wealth to places of safety. Thus
it was, that a few days after, the citizens of York were
compelled to make up our proportion of the Rebel
Escape to a Safe House and the first encounter with the
tragedy of war
As the sounds of battle increase and the fighting
nears her home, Tillie joins a neighbor as she and her
children flee to her father's (Jacob Weikert) house
three miles south of town near Round Top. Tillie's
parents elect to stay in town:
"At last we reached
Mr. Weikert’s and were gladly welcomed to their home.
"It was not long after
our arrival, until Union artillery came hurrying by. It
was indeed a thrilling sight. How the men impelled their
horses! How the officers urged the men as they all flew
past toward the sound of the battle! Now the road is
getting all cut up; they take to the fields, and all is
in anxious, eager hurry! Shouting, lashing the horses,
cheering the men, they all rush madly on.
"Suddenly we behold an
explosion; it is that of a caisson. We see a man thrown
high in the air and come down in a wheat field close by.
He is picked up and carried into the house. As they pass
by I see his eyes are blown out and his whole person
seems to be one black mass. The first words I hear him
say are: ‘Oh dear! I forgot to read my Bible to-day!
What will my poor wife and children say’
"I saw the soldiers
carry him up stairs; they laid him upon a bed and
wrapped him in cotton. How I pitied that poor man! How
terribly the scenes of war were being irresistibly
portrayed before my vision."
July 2: Officer
During the battle’s second day fighting shifts to
the area around Little Round Top. Tillie remains in the
Weikert home carrying water to passing Union troops
while others bake bread for the soldiers. Towards noon
she witnesses an incident at the front of the house:
"This forenoon another
incident occurred which I shall ever remember. While the
infantry were passing, I noticed a poor, worn-out
soldier crawling along on his hands and knees. An
officer yelled at him, with cursing, to get up and
march. The poor fellow said he could not, whereupon the
officer, raising his sword, struck him down three or
four times. The officer passed on. Little caring what he
had done. Some of his comrades at once picked up the
prostrate form and carried the unfortunate man into the
house. After several hours of hard work the sufferer was
brought back to consciousness. He seemed quite a young
man, and was suffering from sunstroke received on the
forced march. As they were carrying him in, some of the
men who had witnessed this act of brutality remarked:
‘We will mark that
officer for this.’
"It is a pretty well
established fact that many a brutal officer fell in the
battle, from being shot other than my the enemy."
July 3: The
Lee aims his attack at the center of the Union line.
The ferocity of the battle forces Tillie and the others
to flee to a farm house farther from the fighting. Late
in the day, as the battle subsides, the family decides
to return to the Weikert farm:
"Toward the close of
the afternoon it was noticed that the roar of the battle
was subsiding, and after all had become quiet we started
back to the Weikert home. As we drove along in the cool
of the evening, we noticed that everywhere confusion
prevailed. Fences were thrown down near and far;
knapsacks, blankets and many other articles, lay
scattered here and there. The whole country seemed
filled with desolation.
"Upon reaching the
place I fairly shrank back aghast at the awful sight
presented. The approaches were crowded with wounded,
dying and dead. The air was filled with moanings, and
groanings. As we passed on toward the house, we were
compelled to pick our steps in order that we might not
tread on the prostrate bodies.
"When we entered the
house we found it also completely filled with the
wounded. We hardly knew what to do or where to go. They,
however, removed most of the wounded, and thus after a
while made room for the family.
"As soon as possible,
we endeavored to make ourselves useful by rendering
assistance in this heartrending state of affairs. I
remember Mrs. Weikert went through the house, and after
searching awhile, brought all the muslin and linen she
could spare. This we tore into bandages and gave them to
the surgeons, to bind up the poor soldier’s wounds.
"By this time,
amputating benches had been placed about the house. I
must have become inured to seeing the terrors of battle,
else I could hardly have gazed upon the scenes now
presented. I was looking out of the windows facing the
front yard. Near the basement door, and directly
underneath the window I was at, stood one of these
benches. I saw them lifting the poor men upon it, then
the surgeons sawing and cutting off arms and legs, then
again probing and picking bullets from the flesh.
"Some of the soldiers
fairly begged to be taken next, so great was their
suffering, and so anxious were they to obtain relief.
"I saw the surgeons
hastily put a cattle horn over the mouths of the wounded
ones, after they were placed upon the bench. At first I
did not understand the meaning of this but upon inquiry,
soon learned that that was their mode of administrating
chloroform, in order to produce unconsciousness. But the
effect in some instances were not produced; for I saw
the wounded throwing themselves wildly about, and
shrieking with pain while the operation was going on.
"To the south of the
house, and just outside of the yard, I noticed a pile of
limbs higher than the fence. It was a ghastly sight!
Gazing upon these, too often the trophies of the
amputating bench, I could have no other feeling, than
that the whole scene was one of cruel butchery."
The battle's aftermath
Hearing that her family is safe in town, it is
decided that Tillie should remain at the Weikert farm
for a few days after the battle. On July 5, Tillie and
some friends climb to the crest of Little Round Top and
survey the battlefield below:
"By this time the
Union dead had been principally carried off the field,
and those that remained were Confederates.
"As we stood upon
those mighty bowlders, and looked down into the chasms
between, we beheld the dead lying there just as they had
fallen during the struggle. From the summit of Little
Round Top, surrounded by the wrecks of battle, we gazed
upon the valley of death beneath. The view there spread
out before us was terrible to contemplate! It was an
awful spectacle! Dead soldiers, bloated horses,
shattered cannon and caissons, thousands of small arms.
In fact everything belonging to army equipments, was
there in one confused and indescribable mass."
Alleman, (Pierce) Tillie, At Gettysburg, or What a
Girl Saw and Heard of the Battle (1888, reprinted 1994);
Buel, Clarence, and Robert U. Johnson, Battles and
Leaders of the Civil War, Vol.III (1888; reprint ed.,
1982); Freeman, Douglas S. R. E. Lee: A Biography, Vol.
III (1934-45); McPherson, James M. Ordeal by Fire: The
Civil War and Reconstruction (1982).