Report of Brig. Gen. A. R. Wright, C. S. Army, commanding brigade
JUNE 3-AUGUST 1, 1863.–The Gettysburg Campaign
O.R.– SERIES I–VOLUME XXVII/2 [S# 44]
HEADQUARTERS WRIGHT’S BRIGADE,
September 28, 1863
Maj. THOMAS S. MILLS,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Anderson’s Division.
MAJOR: I submit the following report of the part taken by my brigade in the military operations at Gettysburg, Pa., on July 1, 2, 3, and 4 last:
On the morning of July 1, I moved my brigade from its camp near Fayetteville, Pa., and, by order of the major-general commanding the division, marched in the direction of Gettysburg, passing through the South Mountain at Cashtown Gap.
In this march, my brigade was immediately in rear of Mahone’s brigade, and I was instructed to follow Mahone’s command. About 10 a.m., and when within about I mile of Cashtown (which is at the foot of the eastern slope of South Mountain), my command was stopped by the halt of Mahone’s brigade in the road in my immediate front. In a few minutes after I had halted, the report of artillery was heard in the direction of Gettysburg, and seemingly not more than 6 or 8 miles distant. After remaining about one hour or an hour and a half in the road, the column again moved forward, my brigade following, as before, Mahone’s.
On arriving near to Cashtown, I was directed to file off to the right of the turnpike, and bivouac my men in a piece of timbered land, in rear of Mahone, who had preceded me in the woods. At the same time, I was informed that my wagon train would be parked in the open field in my front. In this position I remained until about 1 p.m., when we again took up the line of march along the turnpike in the direction of Gettysburg.
When within about 6 miles of the latter place, I was compelled by severe indisposition to leave my command, and, consequently, know nothing more of the day’s operations excepting that derived from Colonel Gibson, of the Forty-eighth Georgia Regiment, who in my absence assumed command of the brigade. By him I was informed that between 4 and 5 p.m. the brigade reached a position three-fourths of a mile to the right of the turnpike, and about 2½ or 3 miles from Gettysburg, where they remained until next morning, and where I found them in line of battle on returning to the command at 7 a.m. on July 2.
Just after assuming command, I received orders to move my brigade by the right flank, following immediately in rear of Perry’s brigade. In this order I was conducted by Major-General Anderson to a position already occupied by a portion of the troops of the Third Corps, and was directed to relieve a brigade (Davis’, I think, of Heth’s division), then in line of battle about 2 miles south of Gettysburg.
About noon, I was informed by Major-General Anderson that an attack upon the enemy’s lines would soon be made by the whole division, commencing on our right by Wilcox s brigade, and that each brigade of the division would begin the attack as soon as the brigade on its immediate right commenced the movement. I was instructed to move simultaneously with Perry’s brigade, which was on my right, and informed that Posey’s brigade, on my left, would move forward upon my advance.
This being the order of battle, I awaited the signal for the general advance, which was given at about 5 p.m. by the advance of Wilcox’s and Perry’s brigades, on my right. I immediately ordered forward my brigade, and attacked the enemy in his strong position on a range of hills running south from the town of Gettysburg. In this advance, I was compelled to pass for more than a mile across an open plain, intersected by numerous post and rail fences, and swept by the enemy’s artillery, which was posted along the Emmitsburg road and upon the crest of the heights on McPherson’s farm, a little south of Cemetery Hill.
In this advance, my brigade was formed in the following order: The Twenty-second Georgia Regiment on the right, the Third Georgia in the center, and the Forty-eighth Georgia on the left. The Second Georgia Battalion, which was deployed in front of the whole brigade as skirmishers, was directed to close intervals on the left as soon as the command reached the line of skirmishers, and form upon the left of the brigade. Owing to the impetuosity of the advance and the length of the line occupied by them, the Second Battalion failed to form all its companies upon the left of the brigade, some of them falling into line with other regiments of the command.
My men moved steadily forward until reaching within musket range of the Emmitsburg turnpike, when we encountered a strong body of infantry posted under cover of a fence near to and parallel with the road. Just in rear of this line of infantry were the advanced batteries of the enemy, posted along the Emmitsburg turnpike, with a field of fire raking the whole valley below.
Just before reaching this position, I had observed that Posey’s brigade, on my left, had not advanced, and fearing that, if I proceeded much farther with my left flank entirely unprotected, I might become involved in serious difficulties, I dispatched my aide-de-camp, Capt. R. H. Bell, with a message to Major-General Anderson, informing him of my own advance and its extent, and that General Posey had not advanced with his brigade on my left. To this message I received a reply to press on; that Posey had been ordered in on my left, and that he (General Anderson) would reiterate the order. I immediately charged upon the enemy’s line, and drove him in great confusion upon his second line, which was formed behind a stone fence, some 100 or more yards in rear of the Emmitsburg turnpike.
At this point we captured several pieces of artillery, which the enemy in his haste and confusion was unable to take off the field. Having gained the Emmitsburg turnpike, we again charged upon the enemy, heavily posted behind a stone fence which ran along the abrupt slope of the heights some 150 yards in rear of the pike.
Here the enemy made considerable resistance to our farther progress, but was finally forced to retire by the impetuous charge of my command.
We were now within less than 100 yards of the crest of the heights, which were lined with artillery, supported by a strong body of infantry, under protection of a stone fence. My men, by a well-directed fire, soon drove the cannoneers from their guns, and, leaping over the fence, charged up to the top of the crest, and drove the enemy’s infantry into a rocky gorge on the eastern slope of the heights, and some 80 or 100 yards in rear of the enemy’s batteries.
We were now complete masters of the field, having gained the key, as it were, of the enemy’s whole line. Unfortunately, just as we had carried the enemy’s last and strongest position, it was discovered that the brigade on our right had not only not advanced across the turnpike, but had actually given way, and was rapidly falling back to the rear, while on our left we were entirely unprotected, the brigade ordered to our support having failed to advance.
It was now evident, with my ranks so seriously thinned as they had been by this terrible charge, I should not be able to hold my position unless speedily and strongly re-enforced. My advanced position and the unprotected condition of my flanks invited an attack which the enemy were speedy to discover, and immediately passed a strong body of infantry under cover of a high ledge of rocks, thickly covered with stunted undergrowth, which fell away from the gorge in rear of their batteries before mentioned in a southeasterly direction, and, emerging on the western slope of the ridge, came upon my right and rear at a point equidistant from the Emmitsburg turnpike and the stone fence, while a large brigade advanced from the point of woods on my left, which extended nearly down to the turnpike, and, gaining the turnpike, moved rapidly to meet the party which had passed round upon our right.
We were now in a critical condition. The enemy’s converging line was rapidly closing upon our rear; a few moments more, and we would be completely surrounded; still, no support could be seen coming to our assistance, and with painful hearts we abandoned our captured guns, faced about, and prepared to cut our way through the closing lines in our rear. This was effected in tolerable order, but with immense loss. The enemy rushed to his abandoned guns as soon as we began to retire, and poured a severe fire of grape and canister into our thinned ranks as we retired slowly down the slope into the valley below. I continued to fall back until I reached a slight depression a few hundred yards in advance of our skirmish line of the morning, when I halted, reformed my brigade, and awaited the further pursuit of the enemy. Finding that the enemy was not disposed to continue his advance, a line of skirmishers was thrown out in my front, and a little after dark my command moved to the position which we had occupied before the attack was made.
In this charge, my loss was very severe, amounting to 688 in killed, wounded, and missing, including many valuable officers.
I have not the slightest doubt but that I should have been able to have maintained my position on the heights, and secured the captured artillery, if there had been a protecting force on my left, or if the brigade on my right had not been forced to retire. We captured over twenty pieces of artillery, all of which we were compelled to abandon. These pieces were taken by the respective regiments composing this brigade, as follows: The Third Georgia, 11 pieces; the Twenty-second Georgia, 3 pieces; the Forty-eighth Georgia, 4 pieces, and the Second Battalion several pieces–the exact number not ascertained, but believed to amount to as many as 5 or 6 pieces.
I am gratified to say that all the officers and men behaved in the most handsome manner; indeed, I have never seen their conduct excelled on any battle-field of this war.
In the list of casualties, I am pained to find the name of Col. Joseph Wasden, commanding Twenty-second Georgia Regiment, who was killed at the head of his command near the Emmitsburg turnpike. The service contained no better or truer officer, and his death, while deeply deplored by his friends and associates, will be a serious loss to the Confederacy.
Maj. George W. Ross, commanding Second Georgia Battalion, was seriously wounded, fell into the hands of the enemy, and has since died. This gallant officer was shot down while in the enemy’s works on the crest of the heights, endeavoring to have removed some of the captured artillery. As a disciplinarian, he had no superior in the field; an accomplished gentleman and gallant officer, the country will mourn his loss.
Col. William Gibson, commanding Forty-eighth Georgia Regiment, was seriously wounded, and left upon the field. I am pleased to say that recent information received from him gives assurance of his ultimate recovery. This regiment suffered more severely than any other in the command. Being on the extreme left, it was exposed to a heavy enfilade as well as direct fire. The colors were shot down no less than seven times, and were finally lost.
During the morning of Friday (the 3d), my brigade remained quietly in its original line of battle. Late in the afternoon, it was moved forward 500 or 600 yards, to cover the retreat of Pickett’s division, which had assaulted the enemy’s position at the same point where my brigade had advanced the day before, and had been forced to retire. Soon after, I was ordered by General Lee to move my brigade to the right several hundred yards, and form in rear of Wilcox’s brigade, to support the latter in case the enemy should advance upon it, and which was now threatened. In this position I remained until after nightfall, when I retired to my original position in line of battle upon the hill.
On Saturday (the 4th), my command remained quietly in line until about sunset, when I was ordered to take up the line of march for Fairfield. We reached the latter place about midnight, marching through drenching rain, and here I received orders to move on to, Monterey Gap, in South Mountain, and support Iverson’s brigade, which had been attacked in the mountain while guarding a large wagon train. About daylight, I came upon the rear of the train upon the top of the mountain, but found the road so completely blocked up as to prevent my farther progress. I halted my command, and permitted the men to lie down and take a little rest, while I rode to the front, to ascertain the exact condition of affairs. I found General Iverson near Monterey, and not far from the Waynes-borough turnpike, and from him learned that all the danger to the train had passed, and I directed him to move on in the direction of Waynesborough as rapidly as possible, so as to enable our troops to get through the mountain pass. Shortly after this, Major-General Anderson came up, and assumed the further direction of the day.
From this time until we recrossed the Potomac, my brigade lost not a single man in the very severe and fatiguing march of the night before recrossing the river. My entire command displayed a patient endurance of physical suffering and heroic fortitude rarely exhibited by any troops.
A detailed list of the casualties of my command was forwarded to you immediately after the battle, and is, therefore, omitted in this report.
Inclosed I hand you copies of the reports of the officers commanding the different regiments composing this brigade.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
A. R. WRIGHT,
Brigadier-General, Commanding Brigade