Eighth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers
Company A, Inc.
139th Anniversary Gettysburg Reenactment
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July 5-7, 2002
July 5th, 1863
As our fate may have it, I am allowed to write you a few lines and tell you that we here are mostly fine, save those that have suffered during the massive engagement. I am writing to tell you of our particulars that have not been reported in the papers, but are good news to those at home.
We began converging on this little farm town of Gettysburg on Friday last instant, and knocking off the dust of the road, found our way quite easily to the camps of the United States Volunteers, and thence to the adjutant of the First Regiment. The kind Lt. directed us straight to our camp with the fine men of the 56th Penn. Co.K. We quickly got established on the company street, all the shelters and shebangs erected in the fine clear summer weather on the side hill of a little crest, affording us a fine view of the environs surrounding.
Captain Grehl and all his men made us quite to home, and the hospitality was first rate. We were immediately interrupted by the call into line, and so off we went in short order to the south of the camps. We were pitted against a large contingent of rebel cavalry already engaged with our cavalry, and were positioned to put some lead on them as they pressed to find a hole, or an opportunity to break through. However, the infantry support we were now providing would have nothing of it, and they were forced to retire due to our overwhelming numbers and show of force. They did disappear further south, but most likely took away valuable information on our location and strength.
We returned to camp, had some supper, and settled in to get some rest after the hard day on the roads. We did go beyond the pickets, and had a visit to one of the civilians homes. They were expected to return at any time, so we waited. A kind neighbor woman entreated us to partake of her supper preparations, as she had prepared enough for her expected guests that did not arrive, due no doubt to the current situation here in town. We ate hungarily, and thanked to woman kindly. The citizens we were expecting also did not arrive, so we returned to our camp, and satisfied ourselves talking amoungst our frineds there. The night was quite cool for this time of year, and many a soldier who had pitched their wool blankets were uncomfortable at these developments.
Dawn came, and the day bloomed into a sublime one. At first light, and the last note of revielle, we were formed into line, and the roll taken, finding 26 men for duty with Co.K. We were drilled by the Captain some, and were not so bored as to learn a few new aspects that would prove valuable to our service, including some school of the soldier, facings, the fundamentals of wheeling, and finally a platoon drill focusing on changing front to the rear on first company. We returned to our messes for some well deserved breakfast, and after the details in camp were complete, were called out into line of battle.
Our weapons were insected thoroughly, and the indications were that we were to march to face the enemy, here now is visible numbers. The battalion was put into column and moved to the north. We were deployed along a long open ridge, facing to the west. There to our front were rebel battalions in strong force, and approaching from at least three different directions. We were moved forward into line, and proceeded to advance. We engaged the rebels to our front at some distance, and they replied in kind, and as the pressures and noise of battle mounted, we were put through several evolutions, facing here, there, retiring, and the like. A good force from our left began to close upon us, and we changed front to meet them. As the battle continued, ot was apparant that we were taking many casualties, and that we could not sustain ourselves. We retired again and again, to try to link up with other battalions in the brigade, but the rebel forces kept building, and we were finally forced to retreat from the fields, as we had expended all our ammunition. We established a strong line some distance back towards our first camps and there we waited. The rebels did not follow us up directly, so we were dismissed.
During that lull in the action, a man and wife acquaintence of ours, the Mercers, did come into the camps, and find their way to us. We were overjoyed to see them once more, and learn that they had traveled to Gettysburg recently, and had gotten caught up in the war here, but were well disposed, safe, and interested in our plight. We visited for about an hour, shared stories about their ancestors, and their links back to the patriots of the Revolution. In time they bid us well, and made their way through the rear of the army, back to the safety of their domicile.
Not long into the afternoon, we were once again caleld out into line, as our cavalry and our pickets had detected the rebels moving towards us once more. We of the 56th had the honor of being the color company, and once again marched off in column to see what we would see. The engagement unfolded much the same as many others, with the rebels engaging our front, and as we fought to check them, other enemy forces manouvered to get on both our flanks. After a time, we were being pressed more from the left than the front, and we were suffering. The boys were dropping everywhere. The staff of the regiment had us right about march, then front for a few minutes of firing, and repeat. It was extremely demoralizing to be marched in retreat with our backs to the enemy, and many a man was shot in the back during the process. We simply could not hold the enemy back, so our final retreat was complete, and we retired to the safety of the main Union lines once more. We left more of the company on the field, all lying low in the tall wheat than we returned to camp, and there was not a lot that could be done for them left there in the wheat field. The boys with us were devestated, and anxious to meet the enemy under more favorable arrangements.
We once again returned to the safety of our camps in the rear of the line, and rested shortly. We were ordered up to the regimental commissary, where we were all fed a good hot meal of fresh shredded beef, soft bread, and cabbage. It was a fine meal, and one fit for a king, given our recent exertions. We were also coincidently close to a large prayer meeting hard by, and listened with interest as this local preacher poured forth with copious quaantities of fire and brimstone regarding the present state of our souls. It was interesting, but a little more showy than our New England boys have been used to at home. As we adjourned, and headed back to camp, the sun set behind the ridges to the west in a ball of red and color. We talked of home, and many other subjects there in camp, until tattoo, then fell hard asleep until the next morning.
It began as most others do in the army, what with the beating of revielle, the company roll call, and drill, and all of that. We were called to services at nine. We had once example od a corporal brushing his teeth for church with whiskey. And to our surprise, given this character, he even spit it out when done. We presently set about cooking every pork ration that could be mustered, thus creating the breakfast of a lifetime. We were spared the custom of Sunday inspection, but were called out for a battalion dress parade, inspection, and drill. The battalion drill was completed, and Captain then determined that we were to drill by company some more, which we did without grumbling, and were then dismissed. The boys looked after their equipment and accouterments, and got everything in readiness for another unexpected move. This day turned out to be quite cloudy, with the sun never really breaking through, and so the boys were getting a little haze and heat, but not overly uncomfortable.
Around half past one in the afternoon, the call came down to form in line again. The boys all grabbed their weapons and traps, and sprang to the call. We formed our two battalions quickly, and General Heim ordered us to the south by the right flank. We marched some miles kicking up a dry and choking dust. The boys found it aggravating, as we were in the middle of the formation, and sucked up a good share of the soil. We marched past a long line of artillery, all the batteries preparing to go to work. We formed line in their rear, and stacked arms. In a short time, the ball opened with the rebels on a ridge across from us starting to pound our position with their guns. We were all ordered prone, which we gladly and instinctively did. We lay there and waited, and to our hopes, most of the shot and shell went well over our heads, and exploded harmlysly in our rear. There were some shells that were bursting over the lines, and some that fell far short, and exploded, but they were precious few, and no one was getting seriously hurt. After some time, our guns simply stopped returning fire, and so the rebel guns also slackened.
Across the ridge from there, all along the tree line, we could see the rebel infantry stepping out of the cover of the woods, and formed into line. They stepped off, and were deliberately directing their advance towards the center of our line. On they came, semingly unstoppable. At about the time they crossed the rail fences to our front, we were called up, and to our posts. We took our arms, loaded, and waited to greet our attackers. They we coming in a quick step, battle flags flying, and were very determined. At about 300 yards, we opened on them by battalion, and the effects were immediate. But their advance did not halt, did not fire, they only kept coming on. Our boys were loading and firing as fast as is possible, maybe even faster, and the field was starting to fill with casualties. Then they were right upon us, but we were well positioned, and all we did was snag them one by one those that reached our lines, and passed them to the rear, where we collected them under guard. They were all exhausted, and of all ranks. Our Company had netted a captaion, a stand of colors, a ergeant major, and a host of non-commissioned and privates of the 28th Virginia. We told them that Elmira and Fort Deleware were quite nice this time of year, and that their places were assured. They did not seem so bad about their futures, give what had been dealt their less fortunate comrades. The rebel attack had turned to nothing, and as the air started to clear, the silence was deafening. Here and there, we could see soldiers wandering amoung the casualties. Our battalion was almost immediately reformed, and marched away from the front. We passed the commanad staff, including General Hancock, and our General Heim. We were returned to our camp, raised a few cheers, and were dismissed. Once on the company streets, we received orders to move by the cars directly. We said our farewells to our friends of the 56th Pa, and marched off for the station over the way. We did find the way clogged with waggons, as so many were trying to get the casualties to the hospitals established, and all was pandemonium. After some patience and thankful prayers for our little band being mostly unhurt, we did make it through the crowd, and were off on our journey in short order on the only trains moving north out of this location.
Please send all our news about being in fine shape after such a battle. All the boys that you personally know are well, save the few wounded, but please send your prayers to the others that we have served with, of the less fortunate, but heroic regiments around us, and we will all feel the work of His hands. God Bless us all, and mostly the families of thhose that have felt the losses of patriots amounst us.
Please direct via Washington, D.C., since that is how the mails we so much desire will follow us on our next campaigns. We do not know what the War has in store for us next, but pray that it will bring about a certain end to the rebellion, and we shall all feel proud of our part in it very soon.
Your humble and obedient servant,
Eighth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers, Co.A, Inc.