William C Reiff, 'Josie and I at Gettysburg'

Josie and I at Gettysburg

[Gettysburg Compiler 9 August 1911]
[see 'Tortured for sleep' for a shorter version of this story]

What a Couple of 91st Pennsylvania Boys Saw Heard and Did on that Night.

Something over forty years ago Jim [sc. James Thompson] and I were on Little Round Top. There were others there too just then. They hailed from almost everywhere; and, I'll add, most of them fought hard till sundown to stay. But, when those gray-clothed visitors concluded to retire, they did not wait long upon the orders for going: they went--but not far, however. Personally, I had been wishing to myself that they would go. I learned later that even General Warren did not crave their presence at that time. They were not then invited--much less welcomed; but let me get back to Jim and I.

I had said in my desperation while sending lead down that western slope into the valley--"When will that sun go down?" It just seemed as though those southern fellows from Texas and elsewhere had come to stay. I thought night would cause a temporary cessation in our conflict at that point, and, without doubt, the closing of the "Day's Eye" had served as something of a factor on that ever memorable second day of July, 1862.

Scarce had our gun barrels cooled off before a squad of us were detailed as pickets for the night. I well remember how I dreaded that call but I did not let my feelings be known; I never did, but took my medicine and made the best of it.

Jim and I were placed down the western slove, perhaps one hundred and twenty-five feet from the stone wall made by our regiment, the 91st Pennsylvania, and almost in a direct line with the monument. (The little and first one erected by the 91st survivors and certainly near the spot where I read the statue of Warren now stands.)

The early hours of the evening were spent by Weed's brigade in building the wall of stone that stands there now. Jim and I set to work erecting a little defense of our own. Loose rocks were quickly gathered and heaped up two or more feet high--a semicircle in form, and we felt the determination to hold our fort. Darkness came gradually on, the walls behind us were quickly built, thousands of sleepless men were lying prostrate on the ground behind them, tired, hungry, and now overcome with sleep.

In the small valley between us and the Devil's Den and even beyond that point to the wheatfield the mournful cry of men far from home suffering the agonies of death could be distinctly heard. Here and there we could hear the Alabamian calling for a comrade; the same wail came from the parched throats of Mississipians, North Carolinians, Georgians, and Hood's fighting Texans. These were not the only cries Jim and I and other sentries heard that never-to-be forgotten night. The boys in blue, wounded, bleeding, dying, were intermingled with the sons of the South. Searching parties from the hostile forces were engaged all night in taking off the wounded, (one not interfering with the other). Scarcely a shot was fired by either party during those solemn hours.

Now again to Jim and I. We sat in our little fort, placed our guns in good position for active work, and peered down the slope in front of us and to the right and left of us. We were the gate-keepers at that point. Just where the other watch was at that point we did not know. Time moved on. This along with the continuous peering into darkness beyond enforced silence on our part and thus tended to drowsiness. We meant to keep wide awake as there was a strong probability for a night attack. For Lee had sagacity enough to know that Little Round Top was the key to the whole position and that at sundown he had neither lock nor key. Jim and I were fast falling asleep, for hard upon those granite rocks would come our beardless faces, keep awake we seemingly couldn't. So we talked it over in whispers and this is the way we reasoned it out: This post needs wideawake soldiers, not dead men. Jim had some onions and I, by chance, had some pepper. The onion juice was applied to our eyes without the desired effect. This was followed by the hot pepper which was also a failure. Then we tried pulling apart the eyelids, beating and pinching our bodies, etc., but with no awakening effect. We were almost gone when we thought of Jim's tobacco. This was tried and how it did burn our eyes. And still this was not the panacea for our ills.

It was approaching, however, the midnight hour when the officer in charge of the line ought to come along so Jim and I determined to do our level best to keep awake until Lieut. Joseph T Jones Joseph T. Jones, the officer of our line, made his appearance.. When he came up the proposition made by us was this: "Josie (We all love [sic] him and had every confidence in him, which accounted for our familiarity that night), we are both absolutely worn out; we have tried all the devices we can think of to keep awake, and it's not in us to do it until we get a little sleep. Now, if you find two other boys who have had a little sleep or are less worn out than we are and who will volunteer to take our posts for, say, two hours, Jim and I will lie here and go to sleep. Then when they wake us up at two o'clock, we will relieve them and hold the post till morning, or until withdrawn.

Josie immediately assented to the proposition, left us, but soon returned with Stephen Whinna and George S Phillips Geo. S. Phillips of our own company, who took our places. We were soon asleep. At two o'clock we were awakened and relieved Steve and George. Jim was called off earlier than myself and thus escaped an experience which I had. About 8 a.m. Major Lentz calls to me and says: "Come in Reiffy." The boys in the works heard him and yelled, stay there; don't leave that little fort; you're safe there; if you leave there, those Devil's Den sharpshooters will pin you sure, and so the cries rang out for me to remain where I was. Yet the Major had commanded me to come in, and I felt just incensed enough to go, since I thought that I had been needlessly neglected. So I said, here it goes, Jim, and made a start for the immense bowlder [sic] that helped to form the right wing of our regiment's stone wall. I reached there accompanied by a shower of leaden bullets that seemed to come from every point in the valley below. I quickly mounted the bowlder [sic], jumped to the ground and found defense beside it. I fell asleep there and the boys say that solid shot fell and shells exploded all around me nearly the whole time, but I heeded them not. Whinna, Thompson and Phillips fell in front of Petersburg. [James Thompson (H) and Stephen Whinna (H) died of wounds received 18 June 1864; George S Phillips (H) died of wounds received at Hatcher's Run] Jones is yet alive, a respected multi-millionaire oil magnate and practically the founder of Gulfport, Miss. I, myself, am yet spared.

Carlsbad, N.M. William C. Reiff

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