Garnett’s Brigade at Gettysburg.
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA, March 23d, 1875.
To the Secretary of the Southern Historical Society:
In looking up some old papers a few days ago, I found the inclose report of the part taken by Garnett’s brigade (first Cock’s, then Pickett’s, then Garnett’s, and lastly Hunton’s) in the battle of Gettysburg.
I am not sure who is the author of the report, as it is unsigned, but am under the impression that Lieutenant-Colonel Charles S. Peyton, of the Nineteenth Virginia infantry, wrote or dictated it. Colonel Peyton (at that time Major of the Nineteenth Virginia) was the senior field officer who escaped from the charge on Cemetery Hill and took command of the brigade after the battle. Colonel Henry Gant was badly wounded in two places, and Lieutenant-Colonel Ellis was killed, as is reported in these papers. Major Peyton was afterwards promoted to the vacant lieutenant-colonelcy. He had lost an arm at second Manassas, but returned to duty as soon as he was sufficiently recovered to do so, and did good service during the charge at Gettysburg. He was slightly wounded in the leg, but not disabled to such an extent as to prevent taking command of the brigade.
I was Adjutant of the Nineteenth Virginia during the greater part of the war, and presume that the report fell into my hands in that way, although I had entirely lost sight of it.
CHARLES C. WERTENBAKER.
HEADQUARTERS GARNETT’S BRIGADE,
Camp Near Williamsport, Maryland, July 9th, 1863.
Major C. PICKETT, A. A. G. Pickett’s Division:
Major-In compliance with instructions from division headquarters, I have the honor to report the part taken by this brigade in the late battle near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, July 3d, 1863.
Notwithstanding the long and severe marches made by the troops of this brigade, they reached the field about 9 o’clock A. M., in high spirits and in good condition. At about 12 M. we were ordered to take position behind the crest of the hill on which the artillery, under Colonel Alexander, was planted, where we lay during a most terrific cannonading, which opened at 1 1/2 o’clock P.M. and was kept up without intermission for one hour. During the shelling we lost about twenty killed and wounded; among the killed was Lieutenant-Colonel Ellis, of the Nineteenth Virginia, whose bravery as a soldier, and his innocence, purity and integrity as a Christian, has not only elicited the admiration of his own command, but endeared him to all who knew him.
At 2 1/2 P.M. the artillery fire having to some extent abated, the order to advance was given, first by Major-General Pickett in person, and repeated by General Garnett. With promptness, apparent cheerfulness and alacrity, the brigade moved forward at “quick-time.” The ground was open, but little broken, and from 800 to 1,000 yards from the crest whence we started to the enemy’s line. The brigade moved in good order, keeping up its line almost perfect, notwithstanding it had to climb three high post and rail fences, behind the last of which the enemy’s skirmishers were first met and immediately driven in. Moving on, we soon met the advance line of the enemy, lying concealed in the grass on the slope, about one hundred yards in front of his second line, which consisted of a stone wall, about breast high, running nearly paralled to and about thirty spaces from the crest of the hill which was lined with their artillery.
The first referred to above, after offering some resistance, was completely routed and driven in confusion back to the stone wall. Here we captured some prisoners, which were ordered to the rear without a guard. Having routed the enemy here, General Garnett ordered the brigade forward, which was promptly obeyed, loading and firing as they advanced.
Up to this time we had suffered but little from the enemy’s batteries, which apparently had been much crippled previous to our advance, with the exception of one posted on the mountain about one mile to our right, which enfiladed nearly our entire line, with fearful effect, sometimes having as many as ten men killed and wounded by the bursting of a single shell.
From the point it had first routed the enemy, the brigade moved rapidly forward towards the stone wall, under a galling fire, both from artillery and infantry, the artillery using grape and canister.
We were now within about seventy-five paces of the wall, unsupported on the right and left; General Keeper being some fifty or sixty yards behind and to the right, and General Armistead coming up in our rear. General Keeper’s line was discovered to be lapping on ours, when, deeming it advisable to have the line extended on the right to prevent being flanked, a staff officer rode back to the General to request him to incline to the right. General Keeper not being present (perhaps wounded at the time), Captain Fry of his staff immediately began his exertions to carry out the request, but in consequence of the eagerness of the men in pressing forward, it was impossible to have the order carried out.
Our line, much shattered, still kept up the advance until within about twenty paces of the wall, when for a moment they recoiled under the terrific fire that poured into our ranks both from their batteries and from their sheltered infantry.
At this movement General Keeper came up on the right and General Armistead in rear, when the three lines, joining in concert, rushed forward with unyielding determination, and an apparent spirit of laudable rivalry to plant the Southern banner on the walls of the enemy.
His strongest and last line was instantly gained, the Confederate battle flag waved over his defences, and the fighting over the wall became hand to hand and of the most desperate character, but more than half having already fallen, our line was found too weak to rout the enemy. We hoped for a support on the left (which had started simultaneously with ourselves), but hoped in vain. Yet, a small remained in desperate struggle, receiving a fire in front, on the right and on the left, many even climbing over the wall and fighting the enemy in his own trenches, until entirely surrounded, and those who were not killed or wounded were captured, with the exception of about 300, who came off slowly but greatly scattered-the identity of every regiment being entirely lost, every regiment commander killed or wounded.
The brigade went into action with 1,287 men and about 140 officers, as shown by the report of the previous evening, and sustained a loss, as the list of casualties will show, of 911 killed, wounded and missing, and it is feared from all the information received that the majority of those reported missing are either killed or wounded.
It is needless, perhaps, to speak of conspicuous gallantry where all behaved so well. Each and every regiment commander displayed a cool bravery and daring that not only encouraged their own commands, but won the highest admiration from all those who saw them. They led their regiments in the fight, and showed by their conduct that they only desired their men to follow where they were willing to lead.
But of our cool, gallant, noble brigade commander, it may not be out of place to speak. Never had the brigade been better handled, and never has it done better service on the field of battle.
There was scarcely an officer or man in the command whose attention was not attracted by the cool and handsome bearing of General Garnett, who, totally devoid of excitement or rashness, rode immediately in rear of his advancing line, endeavoring by his personal efforts and by the aid of his staff to keep his line well closed and dressed.
He was shot from his horse while near the centre of the brigade, within about twenty-five paces of the stone wall. This gallant officer was too well known to need further mention.
Captain Linthicum, A. A. G., Lieutenant Jones, A. D. C., and Lieutenant Harrison, acting A. D. C., did their whole duty and won the admiration of the entire command by their gallant bearing on the field while carrying orders from one portion of the line to the other where it seemed almost impossible for any one to escape. The conduct of Captain Chopart, of the Twenty-eighth Virginia, was particularly conspicuous. His son fell mortally wounded at his side. He stopped but for a moment to look on his dying son, gave him his canteen of water, and pressed on which his company to the wall, which he climbed and fought the enemy with his sword in their own trenches, until his sword was wrenched from his hands by two Yankees. He finally made his escape in safety.
In making the above report, I have endeavored to be as accurate as possible, but have had to rely mainly on others for information whose position gave them better opportunity for witnessing the conduct of the entire brigade, than I could have, being with and paying my attention to my own regiment.
I am, Major, with great respect,
your obedient servant,
—- —–, Major Commanding.
SHSP = Southern Historical Society Papers