Alfred E. Lee of the 82nd Ohio at Gettysburg

Today being the 155th anniversary of the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, I thought it would be an appropriate time to share the experience of Captain Alfred E. Lee of Co. E, 82nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Lee's regiment formed a part of the XI Corps and fought just north of Gettysburg on the afternoon of July 1st- the regiment suffered 70% casualties, including Captain Lee who was severely wounded in the hip, left on the field, and captured by the Confederates. 

Alfred Lee's connection with Gettysburg goes beyond his suffering on the battlefield- following the war, he served as Secretary of the Gettysburg Memorial Commission of Ohio- this organization helped place the Ohio monuments on the battlefield. Captain Lee also wrote a campaign history for the Ohio Memorials Commission entitled The Battle of Gettysburg which was published in 1888. 

The following account, taken from Alfred E. Lee's Civil War which I published back in January, is primarily an account of Gettysburg that Lee wrote for the Delaware Gazette in 1864, along with a few extras from his later works. (Alfred E. Lee's Civil War is available for purchase here.)

It is a remarkable and poignant story of valor and sacrifice.

Captain Alfred E. Lee, Co. E, 82nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry (Richard Fink Collection)

At midnight of the 30th, a mounted orderly galloped to Colonel James S. Robinson’s quarters and delivered a message. It was manifest from his hurried manner that he brought marching orders. Accordingly, Sergeant Major Jasper S. Snow soon came around warning us to be up betimes and be ready for an early movement. It was not, however, until 8 A.M. that the regiments had filed out of their camps into the road and were well on the march. It was understood that we were going to Gettysburg 11 miles distant. Many of the men were nearly barefoot, but all were cheerful and each one ready and anxious to perform his part in driving the invading traitors from loyal soil. At 10 A.M. we crossed the line separating Maryland from Pennsylvania. The regiments from the latter state greeted the “Old Keystone” with enthusiastic cheers, their drums and colors saluting and bands playing.
Colonel James Sidney Robinson, 82nd O.V.I.

At 11 A.M. the distant and ominous booming of artillery gave us our first intimation that we were in the vicinity of the enemy. The dull and occasional thunder sounded directly in advance and told us plainer than words of what we were approaching. But its influence upon the soldiers was far from depressing. On the contrary, I never knew them to be so confident and cheerful on the eve of battle. Those inclined to straggle were shamed out of it, and the provost guard was commended for driving forward the cowardly at the point of the bayonet. The column pressed forward with alacrity and without halting. The cannonading grew louder and more frequent. Pale and anxious looking women, whose solemn countenances plainly indicated what their hearts were too full to express, stood by the roadside giving drink and food to the hurrying soldiers who could snatch them and go on.

At length reaching the crest of a plateau, a wide undulating plain unfolded itself to our view. It was the amphitheater in which was about to be enacted the greatest tragedy since Wagram and Austerlitz. About one mile in front at the foot of the plateau, the town of Gettysburg loomed up in the dull, vapory atmosphere. Just beyond it, dense puffs of white smoke indicated where the Cerberean mastiffs whose baying we had heard, were executing the prologue to great drama. At this moment a heavy shower of rain began to fall which dangerously dampened our muskets and cartridges. By the time we had entered the village, however, the rain had entirely ceased and the air had become pleasantly cool. The town was in a tumult of excitement. The heavy trains of the infantry, the rumbling and rushing of the artillery carriages hurrying to the front, the clanging of sabers, the clatter of horses’ hooves, the gleaming of arms, the sweaty, excited countenances of the troops, the shouts of command, and the booming of the deep-throated guns made up a scene whose vivid picture will burn upon thousands of memories to the end of life.

The column was not allowed a moment’s rest, but hurried through the town as fast as it could walk. Groups of men and women, stood showering upon us their benedictions. The prattling child joined the young maiden and the trembling matron in waving “God bless you” to the troops. On the far side of the village we met the cavalry just returned from the front. They brought news that the gallant General Reynolds had baptized the soil of his native state with his blood, and had perished almost within the atmosphere of his home. Yet they gave encouraging accounts of skirmishing and were enthusiastic over a wild rumor that a whole brigade of Rebels had been captured.

Filing from the road into the open fields beyond the town, the brigade immediately took its position. The regiments being hastily formed into double columns, ours was put in the rear in support of one of the batteries that was now vigorously playing upon the enemy. The Rebels replied no less vigorously, and the shot and shell plunged wildly over the fields. Just as we halted in our position a poor fellow was knocked flat upon the earth by a cannon shot, which nearly severed his leg from his body. Soon another was struck and the regiment shifted slightly its position. An order was then given to call the rolls, and amid the roar of artillery, each man gave his unfaltering answer “here.” And there many a one who so answered, now lies where he fell, with his face to the foe.
11th Corps Headquarters Flag

The enemy could be plainly perceived forming his evolutions along the slope of a series of elevations that skirted the western border of the landscape. The columns of the 1st Corps appeared on our left front, moving gradually to the attack. Soon the random shots cracked spitefully; then came the crashing volleys, and in a few minutes the Rebels were seen running like frightened sheep. A loud cheer followed this success and officers who watched the maneuver through their glasses declared that we were getting along swimmingly. But the enemy had strong reserves and soon rallied. In fact, it began to be suspected that we were being dallied with by a greater superior force with the design of decoying the left wing of the army beyond supporting distance that the right might be circumvented and overwhelmed. The suspicion soon grew into a positive belief: for the captain of the skirmishers on our right front, hastened back with the news that the enemy in heavy masses was endeavoring to turn our right flank. The ground was admirably adapted for this, a ravine circling in that direction masked the movement.
Colonel Wladimir Kryzyanowski

This piece of news was at once communicated to the general (Krzyzanowski). It made his face grow pale and distressed. It was apparent to his mind that a great crisis had come- that the enemy must be met at once and that he must be met halfway and in the open plain. Accordingly the brigade was ordered to change front, which was done in splendid style, the regiments moving in double columns. A general advance of the line through the open fields now began. The fences obstructing the way, the soldiers were ordered to “take hold of them” and in a twinkling of an eye, they were levelled with the ground. The enemy’s batteries completely swept the plain from two or three different directions. The shells and shot howled, shrieked, and plunged through the air like infuriate demons. There was no shelter, not even a stump or tree. Grandly the line swept on in almost perfect order. Now a huge iron nugget plowed its way through the living mass, leaving in its track eight poor fellows torn and bleeding. The deadly thug and a submissive groan or two is all that is heard- the gaps are closed and the heroes of the Peninsula and the Rappahannock move on with a steadiness worthy of Napoleon’s Old Guard. Again and again the jagged fragments of iron sweep destructively through the ranks, but there is no wavering- no backs turned to the advancing foe.

The gray lines of the Rebels now began to be unmasked from the ravine and to push steadily up to the level surface of the plain. Their crimson banners surmounted by the blue cross containing the cabalistic stars of treason floated saucily in the air and seemed to challenge combat. On they came, one line after another, in confident array. Our troops now steadily deployed and the firing, hitherto reserved, began. Quick as thought the bullets swept by, and one after another, strong men toppled over and stretched upon the green turf. Each instant someone fell or went to the rear wounded. The combatants approached each other until they were hardly 75 yards apart. No obstacle intervening to shelter or hinder either party.

The firing grew terrific. Both parties fought with the obstinacy of desperation. The ground became strewn with the helpless wounded and the dead. It seemed that not a man could survive the withering leaden storm except by a miracle. The line became dreadfully thinned, yet there were no reserves at hand. Many of the dampened muskets could not be discharged, and the excited soldier rammed in load upon load. Fiercer and faster came the pitiless volleys, gathering momentum from the closing masses of the enemy. It was impossible to maintain the ground against such odds. The thinned and broken line was ordered to fall back towards the town. The enemy was too much crippled to charge, but maintained a sweeping fire under which the troops made the best of their way back to the heights east of Gettysburg. Here they rallied under the protection under the reserves and held the Rebels at bay until the arrival of the main body of the army. But such a retreat could not be executed except at a fearful loss. For a distance of half a mile, the plain was strewn with mangled victims of the fray. Scores of men in an agony of pain cried for water and for help. It was enough to make the pitying heavens weep.

Battle of Gettysburg, July 1, 1863. Map from Alfred E. Lee's Civil War, and drawn by Hal Jespersen

The enemy did not venture to charge, but maintained a severe fire, to which our response in the act of falling back was necessarily feeble. Forgetful that I had in my belt a good revolver, with five good loads in it, I picked up a musket and asked a soldier for a cartridge. He gave me one, remarking as he did so that he did not think it would ‘go,’ as his ammunition had been dampened by the morning rain. My next impulse was to load the musket and get at least one parting shot at the enemy. While I was thus engaged, a poor fellow dropped at my side. “Oh, help me,” he cried. Giving him my hand, he struggled to rise, but could not. He sank back again and with a look of utter despair, he exclaimed “Oh, I’m gone, leave me.” The bullets came fiercer and faster reaping a rich harvest of death, and drenching the green sward with crimson. Success seemed to intoxicate the merciless foe, and he followed with infuriate yells. It was not long until I, too, felt the sting of a bullet and felt numb with pain. It was a sudden singular metamorphosis from strength and vigor to utter helplessness. Calling to the nearest man for assistance, he answered by a convulsive grasp at the spot where a bullet at that moment struck him. He passed on, limping as he went, and in a moment more the last blue blouse had disappeared and the field was alive with hooting Rebels. The cannonading was yet active and the unexploded shells ricocheted in dances across the plain. The influence of pain was not sufficient to entirely dispel a wounded man’s anxiety in regard to their unwholesome pranks. But there was no alternative but to lie still and take the chances.

The musketry firing having slackened, the enemy’s line of battle advanced in fine style preceded at a few paces by skirmishers. The crimson flags floated in the air more saucily than ever and the entire Rebel personnel breathed the language of impertinence. One of our wounded soldiers, rising upon his elbow to ease his aching pain, a curly monster dressed in gray hurled at him the most bitter curses. With his musket at a ready the brute ordered him at once to lie down or he would shoot him dead, accompanying the threat with the vilest epithets. The helpless soldier obeyed the inhuman mandate and sank back upon the turf where, in a few hours afterward, his brave and noble spirit left its mangled clay. The line of Rebel skirmishers now passed me and I was within the hated dominion of the traitors. One of them, a young fellow whose countenance betokened mildness, approached. He had picked up the sword of one of our disabled officers and carried it swinging from the belt which was thrown over his neck. To the inquiry, whether the wounded would be molested by his companions in arms, he replied, “No, you need not be afraid. Ten minutes ago, I myself would have shot you in a minute, but now a prisoner, you will not be disturbed.” Taking my revolver, he passed on.

The Rebel infantry now faced by their right flank and moved off in a direction perpendicular to that by which they had been approaching. Looking about, I discovered my friend Lieutenant Stowel L. Burnham lying a few yards beyond. “Is that indeed you, lieutenant?” But he hardly gave me the look of recognition when a Rebel battery came up at a brisk canter and unlimbered its guns upon the ground where we lay.124 They seemed about to commence firing upon the town through which our troops were now retreating. Fearing the shots that would be fired by our batteries in return as well as the trampling of the horses attached to the caissons, I requested the cannoneers to remove me. Two of them kindly complied, and very gently placed me under the shade of a shrub, in the corner of a fence. They then brought poor Lieutenant Burnham who had received two or three frightful wounds and laid him close by me. His sufferings were indescribable. “Oh this is terrible, terrible,” he groaned. The Rebel artillerymen spoke with sympathy to him and their browned faces evinced sincere compassion. They endeavored to arrange for him an easy posture, but in vain; all were painful. They gave him water to quench his feverish thirst, but it only served as an emetic. Singularly thoughtful, they brought a testament which a soldier had dropped upon the field. He opened it and tried to read, but the distracted torment of his wounds would not permit it. “Oh, I cannot,” said he despondingly, and the book fell at his side.

It was now 5 P.M. The artillerymen were summoned away and the columns of Rebel infantry quietly filed off to their different stations in front of Gettysburg. Our troops having taking position on Cemetery Hill, the enemy chose to postpone his assault. A comparative calm settled over the field, where the whirlwind of battle had so lately arisen and spent itself. Save the ceaseless moaning of the wounded, mingled with their frantic cries for water and assistance, there was little to disturb the stillness of the evening air. Here and there a Rebel soldier sauntered around, either from curiosity or in quest of plunder, or perhaps, occasionally one more humane, cooling feverish lips with water from his canteen and saying with looks of pity how sorry he was that “you’uns were all out here against us this way.”

Lieutenant Burnham seemed to have not a moment’s rest from his excruciating agony. I asked him where he was wounded, and he said in the bowels. This was his mortal wound. He also had a severe wound in the thick part of one of his thumbs. I think he also had a wound in his legs. The Rebels were very kind to us. They gave us water and whiskey from their canteens, but the adjutant could not get anything to stay in his stomach. As often as he drank anything he vomited. He begged piteously that some surgeon would come and do something, anything that might ease him of his dreadful pain. The clammy dews were upon him and he was now plainly sinking. “I shall die,” he said “and oh that I might escape this misery.” 
82nd O.V.I. Monument at Gettysburg

A Rebel, in whose heart remained a dint of pity (Private James O. Marks, a courier on Jubal Early's staff) , stooped over him and expressed sorrow that by giving himself to a bad cause he had brought upon himself so great a misfortune. But in words mildly reproachful and with a heroism stronger than death, he spurned such sympathy. The setting sun neared the verge of the horizon. The clouds that hung around its disc were magnificently tinged with golden light. Up through their brilliant volumes seemed to reach a gorgeous vista, to whose end the human eye could not pierce, but which seemed to die away in serene splendor. It was not hard to fancy that it was the shining road along which the souls of heroes were ascending from the bitter cross of the battlefield to the crown of glory and infinite peace.

The soft light fell upon the feverish brow of Lieutenant Burnham. It was as if the pitying angels hand were supplying the gentle baptism of an absent mother’s. “Oh, that I could look upon that once more,” he said, and the Rebel bolstered him with a knapsack, so that he might gaze upon the sweet pageant of nature, whose beauty too truly symbolized his sweetly ebbing life. He caught one glimpse and only a glimpse, for the posture was too painful and he sank back again upon the ground. Bending over him, the pitying Rebel asked, “Is there anything I can do for you? I will do anything in my power.” He helped me conceal my field glass so that it might not be stolen. He offered to get us a surgeon or an ambulance if he could. The dying man sighed a negative, he pressed the farther inquiry. “Is there any message or any article that you wish me to deliver to your friends. If there is, I will cheerfully attend to it at my first opportunity.” “Yes,” said he. “Here is my watch; send it to my uncle Lester Hunt.” The Rebel took the name, address, and repeated his promise to faithfully perform this dying injunction. The sun dropped behind the western hills and Lieutenant Burnham departed with the day. He lay beside me calm and still. He was dead.
Gravestone of Adjutant Stowel L. Burnham in
North Windham, Connecticut. 

Night drew like a pall over the dreadful scene; her curtain through which the stars looked down like eyes of angels, full of tears. Quiet pervaded the sanguinary field disturbed only by the beaming supplications of unattended and friendless sufferers. The shadowy form of the plunderers glided like phantoms among the wrecks of battle. A sepulchral gloom curtained the damp, uneasy couches of the wounded and shrouded the ghastly upturned faces of the dead. But the pulseless form at my side recalled my mind to other features of the impressive scene. I thought of the far off New England home of which I had heard those mute lips speak so tenderly. I thought of the hearts there who would look and sigh in vain for the return of that pallid face with its wonted beaming at the home threshold. My fancy portrayed their grief at his loss, and heard them envy me my poor privilege. I grieved to think how inadequately I had supplied their places in his dying moments. Yet his fate needed not to be mourned by them or me. Rather might we envy it. He was “freedom’s now and fame’s,” not needed he aught of earth’s stupid pageantry to make him glorious as he lay silent and painless, upon his soldier’s bier with the night dews and I for his only weepers.

The 82nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry went into action on July 1, 1863 at Gettysburg with 22 commissioned officers and 236 men; and of these 20 officers and 161 men were killed, wounded, or captured, leaving only two officers and 75 men, a casualty rate of 70%.


  1. Mr. Masters,

    I would like to get in contact with you but not in a public forum. Would you please provide an email if that is suitable by you. Your work is impressive, and I just bought one of your books. What do you know about the 36th OVI and E.B. Andrews?

    Thank you,


Post a Comment

Most Popular Posts

Bullets for the Union: Manufacturing Small Arms Ammunition During the Civil War

Dressing the Rebels: How to Dye Butternut Jeans Cloth

Arming the Buckeyes: Longarms of the Ohio Infantry Regiments

A Buckeye Remembers Scenes of Horror After the Battle of Corinth

Mauled at Resaca: Eight Fatal Minutes for the 36th Alabama

The Cannons are Now Silent: The Field of Death of Tupelo

Standing like pillars of adamant: the 61st Ohio at Freeman's Ford

Buckeye Rapid-Fire: The 21st Ohio and the Colt’s Revolving Rifles

Dedicating the Gettysburg National Cemetery

A Galvanized Yankee Executed at Tullahoma