"Coffee at Little Round Top"


[source: National Tribune 19 May 1904.]

Hard Times in Trying to Get Something for the Boys to Drink

W. C. Reiff, Co. H, 91st Pa., writes from Carlsbad, N. M.: "Warren sent Weed's Brigade to the summit of the famous elevation; the boys did their level best until sundown, with other commands, to hold the position, which they did. My company had only 13 men in that battle. [The plaque on the Pennsylvania Memorial lists 6 non-commissioned officers and 17 privates in company H as having fought at Gettysburg.] On the morning of July 3 the officers permitted one or more men from a company to pass down the east slope, to a spring at the base of the Round Top, get water, make coffee and return with it to the boys in line upon the summit. There was a shortage of coffee, just then, in Co. H, and it was determined that for once we would have all things in common, as they did once in New Testament times. Nine little coffee kettles were gathered, and all the coffee was collected and put into the nine little tin cans, holding about one quart each and having iron handles. I was selected to make the trip and the coffee, and started off on the mission. Let me assure you that that wasn't such an easy task as you might think. The rebel sharpshooters were in the tree-tops across Plum Run and in and about the Devil's Den, busy in efforts to shoot and kill off more of Weed's, O'Rourke's, Vincent's and Hazlett's men, as they unhappily did the evening before. I soon secured the water, used a fire already prepared by others at the field hospital, and in a little while I was ready to return to the boys, who had not tasted coffee since they left Hanover, July 1. It was a comparatively easy matter to carry nine empty little kettles down there, though each had a little ground coffee in it; but getting back was the trouble.

I started for the summit, and had nearly reached there, with less trouble than one would expect, with such a loose combination of tinware and hot coffee to tote, when I, with others who were tending the same way, were ordered by a very soldierly-looking, auburn-haired Sergeant of Battery D, 5th U.S. Art.--Griffin's old battery--to halt. God bless Griffin's memory forever--for where is a soldier who ever knew him who did not love him? The Sergeant informed us that inasmuch as Lee had commenced shelling our lines the fire from the sharpshooters had so increased that it would be inviting death for any one to attempt to cross the summit and reach the line of battle, which then was and still is marked by a loosely thrown up breastwork. I wasn't itching to reach the boys just then, for the rebels were concentrating a fire of five or six batteries of artillery upon Little Round Top to demoralize and deceive, for this took place just a few hours before Pickett's charge of the afternoon of that day, July 3. Though young in years, I was no novice, and soon set the [?] coffee kettles upon the ground, took cover under and back of [?] the roots and earth and rocks that adhered to the roots of a big tree that lay partially prostrate. Here I took my chances along with a whole division of the Sixth Corps, which had just been hurried up and massed upon this east slope, in anticipation of a possible attack for recapture of the Round Top. It was sinful, the way those boys of the good old Sixth Corps had to lie there and be mutilated by shot and shell of the enemy, unable to return a shot! A shell struck the ground near me, exploded and sent masses of earth and a hail of dirt into the air. At last the firing ceased and the Sergeant informed us that we could make an effort to reach our commands. I seized my kettles, cautiously reached the summit, made a stooping run and arrived at my company's position just about where the monument of the 91st PA. now stands. I was cheered and congratulated by the boys for my success in running the gantlet [?] in safety, going and coming. Immediately I distributed my nine kettles among the boys and they proceeded to do their part: but in a moment or two complaints commenced to come in all around. They said that their kettles had much more dirt than coffee in them, and I had to give an accounting. I did, as best I could, by telling them of the shell exploding and throwing the dirt into the air, which, in part, was drawn by gravitation into the nine little kettles! The boys took it good-naturedly, and imbibed the questionable beverage. They did not smell coffee again until the evening of July 5, when we not only drew rations in plenty, and had not only our hot coffee, but had the news read to us that Vicksburg had surrendered, and we were more than happy.

"Nearly every one of that 13 has fought his last battle."

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revised 3 Jun 02
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