Used Up at Gettysburg: the 154th New York

The following account penned by Major Lewis Dennis Warner of the 154th New York speaks to the heavy losses his regiment sustained on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg. The regiment formed part of Colonel Charles Coster's First Brigade, of General Adolph von Steinwehr's Second Division of General Oliver O. Howard's 11th Corps. Other regiments of the brigade included the 134th New York (the regiment would be consolidated with the 154th during the battle due to losses), the 27th Pennsylvania, and the 73rd Pennsylvania. Thrust into the battle on the afternoon of July 1st, the brigade was sent through town to reinforce the collapsing 11th Corps line northeast of Gettysburg. The 154th was one of the center regiments of the brigade and they were quickly overwhelmed, with most of the regiment being captured along with the National colors.

Major Lewis Dennis Warner, 154th New York Vols.
(New York State Military Museum) 

Camp of 154th Regiment
July 10, 1863

          Since my last letter, events big with results and with their bearing upon the great question at issue have transpired. Of the course of these events and the general results arrived at you are far better informed than myself. But many of your readers are especially interested in all that relates to the 154th and for them I continue my journal from the time of my last letter.

          July 1, 1863: I was detailed to lead a detachment on a reconnaissance into the mountains west of the state line. We started at sunrise, marched into the village of Sybellville [Sabillasville, Maryland] some ten miles and back. On returning, I found the 11th Corps had moved to in the forepart of the day in the direction of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. My men were nearly exhausted, but we started on and the men camped about four miles from Emmitsburg [Maryland] while I continued on to find the regiment. I arrived at Gettysburg or near there at 9 p.m. and found that a severe battle had been fought in which the First Brigade had been engaged. After considerable time spent in search, I found the corps commander [Major General Oliver O. Howard] and inquired for the 154th. Imagine my feeling when he answered “there was no such regiment. It was used up.”

          All the information I could obtain was vague and unsatisfactory. At length I found Colonel Charles Coster, commanding the brigade, who informed me that the brigade had suffered severely. All that was left of the 154th was 3 officers and 15 men. He directed me to return immediately and bring up my detachment as he must have them in the morning. So I at once set out, found my men, and arrived in camp about 8 a.m. on July 2nd.

Upon looking around by daylight, I found the 154th as follows: 2 officers and 50 men who were absent and not in the fight, 3 officers and 15 men who came out safe. Total 5 officers and 65 men.
Detail from the Elliott map of Gettysburg showing the burial location of Sergeant Amos Humiston of Co. C, 154th New York.  Humiston died grasping an ambrotype of his children; when this was discovered, it set off a nationwide search to find these "Children of the Battlefield."  

The particulars of Wednesday’s adventures so far as our regiment was concerned was as follows. Pending the engagement of July 1st in which the 1st and 11th Corps participated, our brigade was ordered to take a position in front of the town of Gettysburg. They accordingly moved at the double quick through the whole length of the town and out to the front, but were not in time to get the position intended. Then, instead of falling back to a good position under shelter of the town, they were deployed into line behind a low hill (the one they were to have occupied) where they could not see the enemy, who was advancing in force, until they were within a few rods and considerably above them. At the same time they greatly outflanked our brigade who was wholly unsupported and [our regiment] only numbered about 200 guns. Under these disadvantageous circumstances, our men stood their ground, returning the enemy’s fire with interest, until ordered to fall back, which they could do only by a flank move to the left to get into a road leading into town. At this road, they were met by the enemy in mass and most of them made prisoners. Our loss in killed was 7, wounded 22, and missing 148.
Sergeant Lewis Bishop gravestone, Co. C, 154th New York
Bishop bore the National colors during the battle but was shot in both legs and died July 1, 1863. The National colors carried by Bishop were captured by Confederates but a soldier from the 134th New York picked up the state colors  of the 154th and safely brought them from the field. 
As we did not recover this ground until the 4th, and as the dead by that time under the intense heat were so swollen and disfigured that recognition was impossible, we cannot until the return of the prisoners make an accurate report. Both of our color bearers were severely wounded and of course the colors were lost. (We have since recovered our state colors) Sergeant Lewis Bishop of Co. C, who carried the U.S. colors, was shot in both legs, one of which has since been taken off above the knee. [Bishop died July 1, 1863 and is buried at Gettysburg National Cemetery] Corporal Gilbert M. Rykert of Co. C, who carried the state colors, had four inches of bone taken out of his left arm near the shoulder. [Rykert was discharged for this wound in 1864 and died January 1, 1897 in Attica, New York]

Of the generalship displayed in sending our little brigade out a mile from any support without knowing what they were to meet, it is not my province to judge, and this is more particularly the case as being absent on duty, I have only hearsay evidence, but evidence taken upon the battleground after the Rebels evacuated. One thing is sure, it was no fault of the men that the regiment is thus almost annihilated. Since the battle, several have returned who were prisoners and we now number 74 guns and have but six officers on duty.

It is four weeks since we broke camp at Stafford Court House and a harder month’s work, I believe, seldom falls to the lot of soldiers. The incessant labors of the past four weeks have told hard upon the boys and many have marched from Gettysburg without shoes and our roads are bad for bare feet as can well be imagined. Nothing but the unflinching determination to reap the full fruit of the victory at Gettysburg would have nerved our boys to bear up under the tortures of marching 25 miles from day to day over sharp, stony, and slippery roads.

          If, as I trust, we shall be able to finish up this campaign in a satisfactory manner in a few days, our army will surely have earned a few weeks rest from the fatigues of any active campaign. But until Lee’s army is scattered, work is the password. Our army was never in better spirits or more sanguine of success. They count all hardships as nothing, if thereby they can arrive at the desired result.
Lieutenant Colonel Lewis D. Warner, 154th New York
[Major Lewis Dennis Warner survived the war. He was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel and led the regiment through the end of the war, moving west to Tennessee with the regiment in September 1863 where it formed part of the 20th Corps. After being discharged in 1865, Warner returned home to Portville, New York and lived until the ripe age of 76, passing away November 18, 1898. He is buried at Chestnut Hill Cemetery in Portville.]


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