HEADQUARTERS FIFTH ARMY CORPS.
Camp near Warrenton, Va., July 31, 1863.
SIR; On the 28th ultimo, by the assignment of General Meade to the command of the Army of the Potomac, I became the senior general of this corps.
On June 29 and 30 and on July 1 and 2, I made long, rapid, and fatiguing marches, starting at Frederick, Md., and reaching the field of Gettysburg, via Liberty, Union Mills, Hanover, &c., about 8 a.m. on the latter date. My troops took position on the right of our line, but it being thought too extended, they were subsequently massed near the bridge over Rock Creek, on the Baltimore and Gettysburg pike, and within reach of the Twelfth Army Corps. While thus situated, I was directed to support the Third Corps, General Sickles commanding, with a brigade, should it be required.
At 3 p. m. General Meade sent for me, and while myself and other corps commanders were conversing with him, the enemy formed, opened the battle, and developed his attack on our left. I was at once ordered to throw my whole corps to that point and hold it at all hazards. This, of course, relieved my troops from any call fro the commander of the Third Corps. En route to the position thus assigned the Fifth Corps, various staff officers from General Sickles met me, and, in the name of that officer, asked for assistance. I explained to them that it was impossible for me to give it; the key of the battle-field was intrusted to my keeping, and I could not and would not jeopardize it by a division of my forces.
A rocky ridge, commanding almost an entire view of the plateau held by our army, was on our extreme left. Between it and the position occupied by Birney's division, Third Corps, was a narrow gorge filled with immense bowlders [sic] and flanked on either side by dense woods. It afforded excellent cover and an excellent approach for the enemy, both of which he promptly made use of. The rocky ridge commanded and controlled this gorge. In examining it and the ground adjacent previous to posting my troops, I found a battery at its outer edge and without adequate support. I galloped to General Birney, whose troops were nearest, explained to him the necessity of protecting the guns, and suggested that he should close [p.593] his division on the battery, and hold the edge of the woods on its right. I promised to fill the gap he opened, which I did with Sweitzer's and Tilton's brigades, of my First Division, posting them myself.
In the meantime, Vincent's brigade, of this division, had seized the rocky height, closely followed by Weed's brigade, Second Division. These troops were posted under the direction of General Warren, chief engineer of this army. After closing the interval made by Birney with the brigades of General Barnes, I rode rapidly to the Taneytown pike to bring up the remaining troops of the corps, and on my return with them found the greater part of Weed's brigade moving away from the height where it had been stationed, and where its presence was vital. I dispatched a staff officer to know of the general why he had vacated the ground assigned him. His reply was, "By order of General Sickles." I at once directed him to re-occupy it, which was done at the double-quick step. Hardly had he reached it before the enemy came on in tremendous force. Vincent's brigade and O'Rorke's regiment (Weed's brigade) were and had been sorely pressed. Both these heroic commanders had fallen; but Weed again in position, Hazlett working his guns superbly, and the timely arrival of Ayres' brigades of regulars, who were at once ordered to attack, stemmed the tide, and rolled away the foe in our front.
At a later hour, by the withdrawal or retreat of the troops on his right first, a division of the Third Corps, and next, Caldwell's command, of the Second Corps a large body of the enemy gained his right and rear, and Ayres was compelled to fight his way, front and flank, to the heel of the gorge. This he did steadily, in excellent order, and connected with his left brigade (Weed's) on the general line of battle. But his loss was fearful; some of the regiments left 60 per cent. of their number on the ground. As Ayres assumed this new position, General Crawford's command (my Third Division) was ordered to the front, and, entering the woods, became briskly engaged with the enemy. This combat lasted till dusk, and resulted in General Crawford's gaining considerable ground, capturing many prisoners, and a flag of a Georgia regiment.
Night closed the fight. The key of the battle-field was in our possession intact. Vincent, Weed, and Hazlett, chiefs lamented throughout the corps and army, sealed with their lives the spot intrusted to their keeping, and on which so much depended. The general line of battle on the left was shortened, strengthened, firm. Pickets were established, and the troops slept on their arms. Sedgwick (Sixth Corps) had moved up to my aid.
On the 3d, Crawford held his ground in front, sustained by Bartlett's division, of Sedgwick's corps. The troops remained as the day before. Desultory firing from the pickets continued along our front. At 1 p. m. the enemy commenced a furious cannonade from more than one hundred guns, and occasionally a part of it was bestowed on the Fifth and Sixth Corps. It was the prelude to his attack, which soon followed and raged to our right; but, beaten, baffled, and discomfitted, he returned to the shelter of the forests west of the Emmitsburg and Gettysburg pike. My artillery on the rocky ridge helped to shatter and disorganize his troops.
On the 4th, reconnaissances were made, but developed nothing save a line of skirmishers covering his troops, and artillery on the slope falling away from the turnpike to the west.
On the 5th, I began the march to Williamsport.
[p.594] I respectfully call the attention of the major-general commanding to the services of the artillery of this corps, under its chief, Capt. A. P. Martin, and the subordinate battery commanders, as detailed in his report.
The regular batteries were the greatest sufferers. Hazlett's battery (D, Fifth U. S. Artillery) was especially distinguished, and Watson's battery (I, same regiment) though unfortunately taken away by General Sickles without my consent or knowledge after falling into the hands of the enemy, was recaptured by Lieutenant Peeples, of the battery, heading the Garibaldi Guard, in the most heroic and gallant manner. Lieutenant Peeples richly deserves promotion for his conduct, and I trust the Government will not withhold it.
I am happy to say the Fifth Corps sustained its reputation. An important duty was confided to it, which was faithfully and gallantly performed. Other brave men helped them in its execution, among whom the Sixth Corps was the most prominent.
I respectfully beg leave to call attention to the reports of division and brigade commanders, herewith inclosed.
The division commanders Generals Barnes, Ayres, and Crawford aided me in every particular with the utmost zeal and heartiness. I most urgently unite in their recommendations of the various gentlemen who distinguished themselves in and around the field of Gettysburg.
Colonel Rice, who succeeded to the command of the Third Brigade, First Division, on the fall of Colonel Vincent, deserves great credit for the management of his troops. His position on our extreme left was one of the most important held by the corps, and the unflinching tenacity with which he maintained it, and his subsequent forcible occupation of the ground possessed by the enemy, with Chamberlain's regiment (Twentieth Maine) and two regiments of Fisher's brigade, Third Division, are worthy of the highest praise.
The medical department, under Surg. J. J. Milhau and Asst. Surg. C. P. Russell, was organized in the most effective and satisfactory manner.
My personal staff and the chiefs of departments were zealous, indefatigable, and ready for any emergency. I name them in the order of rank, and respectfully recommend them to the notice of the Department of War: Lieut. Col. Fred. T. Locke, assistant adjutant-general; Lieut. Col. William H. Owen, chief quartermaster; Capt. D. L. Smith, acting chief commissary of subsistence; Surg. J. J. Milhau, U. S. Army, medical director; Asst. Surg. C. P. Russell, U. S. Army, medical inspector; Capt. John W. Williams, assistant adjutant-general and acting aide-de-camp; Capt. William Jay, aide-de-camp, and First Lieut. George T. Ingham, Eleventh U. S. Infantry, aide-de-camp.
The signal officers, Capt. W. H. Hill and Lieut. I. S. Lyon, performed their duties creditably.
General Weed and Colonel Vincent, officers of rare promise, gave their lives to their country. The former had been conspicuous during the war, won and adorned his promotion, and surrendered it and his life on the spot he was called upon to defend.
In this campaign of the Army of the Potomac, consequent upon Lee's second invasion of Maryland, troops never endured more, marched more in the same length of time, suffered more, deserved more, or fought better than they. Prompt response and obedience to all orders characterized them. Their record up to July 24, with its incalculable results, is a study, and has few parallels in the history of the rebellion.
Tabular and nominal lists have preceded this report.
I inclose the reports of division and other commanders, and with them a list of casualties in the corps. [footnote: Embodied in revised statement, p.179.GEO. SYKES, Major-General, Commanding Corps
[To] Brig. Gen. S. WILLIAMS, Assistant Adjutant-General, Army of the Potomac