91st PA: Walter, part 5

Thomas F Walter, 'Personal Recollections', part 5

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[Grand Army Scout and Soldiers' Mail v.3 #39 p.2 continued]

Late in the afternoon of the following day, June 9th, we were ordered to move again. That night we marched several miles over one of the roughest and muddiest roads I ever knew. In the morning [10 June], with the rest of our brigade, we were off again in a north-easterly direction, making us think it probable that we were bound for Washington. Why we should go there, or what the rest of the army was doing we had no idea. There was nothing unusual about this march, but the day following [The dates are off here. The 91st was at Manassas Junction on 16 June], when we marched up to the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, and along it past Manasses Junction and near to Centreville, was a memorable one. The weather was exceedingly hot, water was very scarce and the road dusty. Early in the day the men began to wilt under the sun and leave the ranks to rest awhile in the shade, or scout far out on either flank in search of water. One by one we left them, but we pushed on until after the middle of the afternoon. When the order came at last to halt and stack arms there were only enough of us on the spot to make four or five stacks. All the enlisted men and officers present did not aggregate twenty-five, though we had started in the morning with about three hundred, I believe. By nine in the evening nearly every man had straggled up and rejoined his company, and the other regiments of the brigade had bivouacked near us.

We were off again in the morning [perhaps 20 June], and moving around, took a course leading to the northwest. The evening of that day we came to a halt on a small, bare hill in the vicinity of Thoroughfare Gap. It was after dark and raining fast when we stopped. Having anything warm for supper or putting up any kind of a shelter was out of the question. I was fortunate enough then to have a rubber blanket, so I tramped about until I found a little ridge that would serve to keep the rain from running under me, and then laid down and covered myself all over. Scarcely had I got settled when an order came from the adjutant [presumably Benjamin Tayman] to detail several men for picket-duty. Up I had to scramble again, and after a troublesome hunt in the extreme darkness I got the men together whose turn it was for duty, and sent them off for their night's vigil. I had thought my circumstances mean enough, but I realized that their's was worse, for the rain continued and they were tired, wet and supperless. We encamped at this place several days.

[Grand Army Scout and Soldiers' Mail v.3 #40 p.1]

Our detour to Thoroughfare Gap left us to the rear of the army and we had to do our best to catch up. During some of those long June days we marched seventeen hours beneath the rays of a scorching sun. The little fresh meat that we got seemed scarcely fit to eat, and this, with coffee and crackers, was our diet. The marching was terrible, but the men struggled along nobly. Reports reached us that thousands of valorous militia were on their way to overwhelm the plundering invaders. We had a pretty clear idea of what would happen them [sic] if Lee's legions got a chance at them; and we wondered, too, whether the rebs would risk a fight with us, so far from their base. Most of us thought they would "get up and git" when our army closed up with them.

Through the bothering uncertainty of the enemy's whereabouts and movements, our corps passed beyond Gettysburg, and July 1st, the day the fighting began, were near Hanover, which was nearly a day's march to the east. [Walter is wrong here; the Fifth Corps was in Maryland until 1 July.]

That evening we took the back track and marched most of the night. The next morning [sc. 2 July] we got into position on the extreme right of our army. Everything seemed to be quiet at that time and we saw no indication of a foe being near, except that the captain of company E [sc. Matthew Hall] was severely wounded by a mysterious bullet that came among us.

Soon after we moved to where the Union line was posted. The line occupied by our troops was in the shape of a letter V, with the base of the letter at the town and the sides extending southward, after the dispositions that were made on the morning of the second day of the fight, July 2d.

Though our line was four or five miles long, its two ends were scarcely half that length apart. On our way over we were halted in the woods and had time to make coffee and take a lunch. In the meantime the fighting in advance of us had become very sharp, and just after noon we went into the fight in a hurry. We came on the field just to the right of Little Round Top, and started across the little valley that extends down past the Devil's Den, and seemed to be heading right for where the strife was most terrific.

Suddenly the brigade was brought to an "about face," and we "double-quicked" back and up on to Little [p.2] Round Top. As we ascended it on the upper side, a strong force of rebels were struggling up for the possession of it, on the lower side. When the left of our brigade met them a bloody fight of short duration ensued and the foe was driven back. Coming up last, our regiment was clear of that contest, and we got into position without loss. As we went up Battery I, of the 5th U.S. Artillery also dashed up and soon had their guns in position to do effective work. Little Round Top was a ridge nearly a quarter of a mile high. [Correction in next issue: 'Note. In last week's paper, by a typographical error, the writer was made to say that Round Top, at Gettysburg, was a quarter of a mile high, instead of a quarter of a mile long; ... ED.'] It was exceedingly rough all over, being composed almost entirely of stones and rocks from the size of a man's fist to that of a small house. Small trees and clumps of bushes were growing here and there between the boulders, and these, with the larger stones, screened us a great deal from the rebel sharpshooters that were thick among the rocks in the valley in front of us, and on the higher ground about the "Devil's Den." We were holding an important position and we did not get it a minute too soon, for had the enemy once got full possession of it they would have been saved their great defeat, for no troops could have taken it from them, or prevented them from throwing a strong force into the rear of our lines. It would have been utter folly for them to drive us off the face of the ridge; [correction in next issue: 'Note. In last week's paper, by a typographical error, the writer was made to say ... that it would have been folly in Longstreet to have driven our troops from that position, instead of folly to have attempted to do it. ED.'] but they made it very uncomfortable for us and the battery-men who were on the crest behind us by the sharp watching and shooting they kept up for the rest of the day. I believe we were about the last of the 5th Corps to go into the engagement, for both the Regulars and the Pennsylvania Reserves, belonging with us, had done desparate fighting in the valley in front of us, and had been driven out before we arrived. [This comment provoked some controversy. See the letters from the next several issues.]

Upon the other side of the valley, six or eight hundred yards off, was a piece of woods. Once during the afternoon the rebels charged through it so that their line was at a right angle to ours, and partly exposed to us. The battery behind us gave them a terrible salute, putting shot after shot into their midst with a terrible precision that soon demoralized them. Night finally came and the strife ceased. No sooner had darkness settled about us and all firing ceased, than we began to hear the appealing calls of a number of badly wounded men who were among the rocks along the near edge of the valley in our front. They had been shot when the Regulars and Reserves had engaged the enemy and were driven out. The ground was within short range of the enemy, and they had endured their agony in silence, while the day lasted, rather than do anything that might attract the attention of the foe. In piteous tones they would call out their name or company and regiment; and I think nearly two hours passed before the last of them was brought within our lines.

The position occupied by the greater part of our company was somewhat exposed, so, as soon as it was dark enough, we went to work and gathered large stones and built a barricade, which afforded us some protection from the sharpshooters' fire, and now, after the lapse of all the intervening years, those stones remain almost exactly as we left them.

We knew very little of what had happened on other parts of the field. [3 July 1863] Most of us slept from midnight till the dawn grew bright and then we began to scan the field carefully, as far as the eye could reach, feeling sure the enemy would make an attack somewhere soon, unless he was in retreat. Matters were very quiet in our neighborhood till about eight o'clock, when the rebel sharpshooters returned to their hiding places to annoy us. By this time we had all had a chance to go behind the crest of the ridge and make our coffee and get breakfast. This made us feel in pretty good trim and able to give the rebs a fitting reception should they conclude to "tackle" us.

About eleven o'clock we saw a battery being set in a field more than a half a mile to our left and it soon opened fire, sending its shells right along our line. They fired nearly thirty rounds in quick succession, but the aim was a little too high to hurt us, though the shots seemed to be very close as they howled past. Then we saw the battery limber up and move off as though going around to our front. Pretty soon, we noticed quite a stir along the edge of some timber that crowned a ridge that was more than three-fourths of a mile in front of us, and which we could see along for a couple of miles to the right and thinking artillery was being planted began to anticipate lively times.

It was near one o'clock when the first cannon gave the signal and began the salute from along that space, and before the report had fairly reached us other guns opened all along their line, a hundred pieces were thundering their tearful messengers of destruction into our lines. No one who is not familiar with the sound of all kinds of artillery shot as they fly can form a fair idea of the pandemonium of sounds that was about us. Solid shot, cone and spherical shells, grape shot and canister, rushed and hummed, and whizzed and shrieked, and tore about and above on all sides. The battery behind us promptly reciprocated the foe's attentions and the sharpshooters about the Devil's Den gave us proof that their vigilance and activity had been greatly quickened.

Along the crest of Little Round Top became a "hot" place in more than one sense as soon as the cannonade began. Behind the screening rocks we lay as flat as possible, and as the iron hail seemed to pass above us our terror soon subsided. The fire had raged nearly twenty minutes before the enemy got their range low enough to put a large shot into the ground a few feet in front of us. I was lying on my side, with my feet extending beyond our wall, when a few minutes later there came a startling thud, and I felt that the front part of my right foot had been crushed. I exclaimed, "there's a foot off," and drew it up to examine it. A solid shot had struck a rock, and glancing, had caught my foot sideways and crowded it to nearly half its natural width, just behind the toes, without bursting. It felt as though a galvanic battery was keeping hundreds of needles working about in it.

I was now a candidate for the hospital but how to get there was the question. I would not allow any of the men to risk themselves to help me back over the ridge, and I hesitated quite a while before I would brave the passage myself. Finally, on my hands and sound foot, I scrambled safely over, and after getting the torn shoe off, hobbled to our division's field hospital about a quarter of a mile farther back. The doctors were all too busy with more serious cases than mine, so I said nothing but hobbled off to the corps hospital, which was a half mile farther back, in a nice piece of woods. [The Fifth Corps hospital was initially just east of Little Round Top, on the Taneytown road, in a house and barns owned by J Weikart. After Confederate shells hit it, it was moved southeast, about one mile, to Lewis Bushman's. (Lt A P Case [of the 146th NY], 'The taking and holding of Little Round Top'. In New York Monuments Commission for the Battlefields of Gettysburg and Chattanooga. Final report of the battlefield of Gettysburg. Albany: JB Lyon Co., printer, 1900. V.3, pp.969-972, at p.972)] Here I found a good friend in Sergeant Gordon, [sc. James Gordan] of our company, who was shot through the upper part of the leg at the Fredericksburg fight, and had not been able to keep up with us in our late hard marches. Coming up after we had gone into the fight, he could not find us, so he went and reported to the chief surgeon for hospital service. He got me a share of a little tent and some good beef soup, and then got bandages and went to work to get my foot in proper shape again. This was July 3d, and he cared for me till the morning of the 6th, when I got my order to leave on the first train that brought the wounded to the regular hospitals. For me the trying campaign and terrific fight were over, and I congratulated myself that we were the victors and the 91st had been so fortunate, for only one man of our company beside myself was slightly wounded, [Bates lists two: Henry C Gorgas, and Samuel A Haus.] and the casualties in the regiment amounted to only twenty. [See a list derived from Bates.]

I have always regretted that I got away from the front before the world-renowned charge of Pickett and Pettigrew occurred, for our position afforded a good view of the ground they moved over. I am disposed to commend General Longstreet for avoiding to change [sic] his corps opposite to us, in co-operation with the charging divisions to the left, for we would have meted out the same reception to his troops that so terribly used up Pickett and Pettigrew; and I believe it was because their commander thought too much of them to send them forward to the sacrifice that he failed to carry out Gen Lee's directions.

While lying in the field hospital my tent was near the surgeon's operating table, and the sickening sight of gory wounds and amputated arms and legs was no rarity. In a tent close by were two young Regulars. If I recollect aright one was shot through the muscles of the leg below the knee, and the other through the fleshy part of both legs above the knee. Suffering and almost helpless as these men were, they refused for more than two days to demand any attention from the surgeons because there were other cases more dangerous which required immediate care. Gordon [sc. James Gordan] attended to them, however, as well as he could, and nearly every hour of the day they were joking or indulging in some badinage.

[Grand Army Scout and Soldiers' Mail v.3 #41 p.1]
Riding on top of a box car I came with the train as far as Baltimore, and then I went to see my mother who was in the Government Hospital service there. I stayed two weeks in Baltimore, and got a new uniform and some needed rest. My foot improved rapidly under my own care, and I could get about pretty well.

Assuming a bold front, I went to the provost-marshal of Baltimore and told him why I had left my wounded comrades on the train, and that I would like to have an order to rejoin them in the hospital. I got the order and soon put in an appearance among my old haunts and friends in Philadelphia. I had not much of an inclination of becoming an [sic] hospital patient, so after a few days, I started off to Cape May for a short season. Time flew on, and when the 18th of August came I had rejoined my company of my own will, having been away only a little over six weeks. My foot was almost well, although no surgeon had seen it since it was injured. The regiment was "taking it easy" in a nice camp in the woods on the east bank of the Rappahannock near Beverly Ford, Virginia. This place is a couple of miles above where the bridge of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad spans the river, and near the ground where the famous cavalry fight took place that began the Gettysburg campaign.


Correspondence about Walter's description of Gettysburg

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