Our Once Splendid and Proud 25th Ohio
In the aftermath of Gettysburg, Second Lieutenant Joseph Humphrey Hollis of the 25th Ohio was both proud and appalled by the losses his regiment had sustained. "We have formed our regiment into two companies and the entire number is 80 guns," he noted. "The surplus are a few teamsters, cooks, hospital attendants, and a few more broken down soldiers than never carry a gun; all included, from 130-140 men and that my friends is all that is left of our once splendid and proud regiment."
Whitelaw Reid recorded that "the 25th went into action with 220 men and lost 20 killed, 113 wounded, and 50 missing. The majority of the officers had been killed or wounded and the regiment was commanded by a first lieutenant who had been wounded in the first day's battle." Few regiments suffered as heavily as the 25th Ohio at Gettysburg, and this was after losing 174 men two months prior at Chancellorsville. The regiment was part of the Second Brigade of the First Division of the 11th Army Corps during the Gettysburg campaign, but would leave the army soon after to join the Department of the South near Charleston, South Carolina.
Lieutenant Hollis wrote the following letter home about two weeks after the battle with the intention of giving his family the full story of his experiences at the battle. It was published in the August 5, 1863 edition of the Steubenville Weekly Herald in Steubenville, Ohio.
|Kepi belonging to a soldier of the First Division of the 11th Army Corps as would have been worn by the soldiers of the 25th Ohio at Gettysburg.|
Camp near Aldie, Virginia
July 20, 1863
My last from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania gave to you a faint idea of events and incidents that transpired during that memorable engagement from its brief detail. I am sorry to say that I cannot now write but little more, owing to time and opportunity. It would be a delightful theme, however, mingled with sadness, to write you a long account of that most severe but victorious engagement. Firstly, it is delightful to record the brave and heroic deeds accomplished by the boys of our small but unflinching old 25th Ohio, they having baptized with their blood one half of the outskirts of Gettysburg and dedicated the victory to Union and Fraternity. Secondly, it is with deep regret at the fearful loss we have sustained in killed, wounded, and missing; we are bereft of many brave comrades at arms and heavily feel the effects of their loss; their merry countenances and sterling worth will long be remembered.
We have formed our regiment into two companies and the entire number is 80 guns. The surplus are a few teamsters, cooks, hospital attendants, and a few more broken down soldiers that never carry a gun; all included from 130-140 men, and that my friends is all that is left of our once splendid and proud regiment.
I will try and give you a brief account of incidents as they occurred under my notice during the four days’ fighting on the soil of old Pennsylvania. We left Emmitsburg on the 1st instant- distance from Gettysburg 11 miles. The roads being but little better than mire owing to heavy rains and the cutting up by artillery and heavy wagon trains. The First Army Corps, commanded by Major General John Reynolds leading the grand Army of the Potomac; the 11th Corps, Major General Oliver O. Howard, following. Arriving within two miles of the town, we heard the booming of cannon which hastened our steps as we were eager for the coming bloody fray. In sight of town, we saw the body of brave General Reynolds being carried to the rear; his loss is severely felt, being second to none in courage and integrity.
|"Second to none in courage and integrity"|
Major General John Reynolds
At a double quick pace we arrived on the already bloody field to support a part of a battery (whose officer had a leg shot off) and two guns being disabled in less than ten minutes, they withdrew from the contest. While Companies A and F advanced 50 yards in front of the regiment through a shower of iron and lead in the shape of exploding shell, solid shot, grape, and canister and the whizzing deadly Minie balls. Gallantly did our little band of skirmishers reach our position- but alas, how treacherous are our thoughts! When we felt comparatively secure in our position, we then were in the greatest danger of being swallowed up. The cloud of smoke partially clearing to our left, I discovered to my astonished vision that we were outflanked by the enemy who were coming in force. I ordered the men to fall back upon the regiment but few reached the line. I arrived safely with only eight men. Our regiment became fiercely engaged and did good execution. Being but few in number and almost surrounded, there was but one noble choice: either to retire further back and save the remnant of our veteran braves, or die on the spot. We took the former accordingly. The brave and clear-sighted General at a glance saw an almost impregnable position, which we were ordered to take, on Cemetery Hill. It was fortified by numerous stone walls, which undoubtedly were the means of saving the little band that remained of the 25th Ohio.
The Rebels, flushed with whiskey and momentary success, charged in perfect fury upon our devoted little brigade compose at that time of only four regiments: 25th, 75th, and 107th Ohio, and the 17th Connecticut, in all about 1,100 men. They all done their duty and we held them at bay. After repeated volleys they were seen to run back faster than they had come up, as they were scattered in every direction for better protection from the range of our deadly rifles. That their losses were immense there is no doubt as they were carrying away their wounded all night until daylight made it an unsafe business.
The second day was scarcely perceptible when the heavy guns of all our batteries in position belched forth perfect streams of fire, hurling the deadly iron messenger, hissing and shrieking in the air as they sped forth on the deadly mission. In a moment both armies were engaged in the bloodiest contest that has ever transpired on this continent. The sun was soon out of sight and the atmosphere one solid column of smoke.
All day long we expected an attack by the Rebel infantry- therefore we patiently waited their coming which did not happen until sundown. We discovered the infantry advancing in heavy column, their sharpshooters feeling cautiously for our position. Not a shot was fired by our regiment until they were within easy range; then we poured volley after volley into them which only made them waver for a moment, but on and on they came, quickening their steps and closing up in mass at least three to our one- at every fire we could see whole ranks mowed down by our rifles and grape and canister from our battery in the rear. Darkness at last preventing us of fair sight, a dreadful spectacle ensued. The Rebels thinking that we were militia as they had been told during the day, persisted in charging our battery. Then came a most fearful contest- hand to hand, clubbing muskets, etc. We fought until we were victorious and drove them down the hill with tremendous loss.
Many incidents worthy of notice occurred during that severe struggle for mastery which stamps those men with heroic valor. A Rebel color bearer approached the front of our battery and planted his standard, only to be bayonetted by one of our brave boys. The brave fellow deserved a better fate for his undaunted heroism. Again a Rebel soldier, in his attempt to take that battery, almost reached the back of a man who was ramming a load home when the lieutenant commanding reached the swab stick and broke it over his head, and so forfeited his life for his too great temerity. To be sure, all these things happened in less time than I can write it.
Well after this sanguinary repulse we were not troubled any more during the night. They were making a feint upon our extreme right to cover their intended hasty retreat. On the 4th, for amusement and the sake of a little recreation, we made a dash into town and captured about 600 Rebel prisoners. I forgot to say that upon the first day’s fighting, our lieutenant colonel (Jeremiah Williams), one captain, and three lieutenants were taken prisoner. We were allowed rest until late in the afternoon the next day. The stench and bad smell of dead men and animals caused us to remove four miles back. We again resumed marching in pursuit of the enemy upon the 6th for Hagerstown back into Maryland. The loyal, friendly, generous people received us with open arms again. Everywhere we passed, national banners were flying from the windows and shouts for the Union made the welkin ring. We arrived at Hagerstown in splendid style, our cavalry charging the panic-stricken Rebels through the streets, capturing 40 of them.
The old 25th having the honor of marching at the head, being the first infantry entering the street in triumph amidst the cheering and waving of national banners. Speaking of flags reminds me of the many remarks made by the citizens of Maryland and Pennsylvania of our venerated and shockingly mutilated banners which have received so many bullet holes and rents by shells that they hold but feebly to the staff. It stands now like an old soldier, wounded and full of honorable scars, but still supported by brave hands and stout hearts, it has a strong hold yet upon our spirits. We behold it as a pillar whose inscription bears record of the hardships, the suffering, and the sanguinary battle fields. It has been carried through honorably and triumphantly by its many bearers, and so valiantly sustained by the now immortal little band that bears the proud name of the old 25th O.V.I.
Letter from Second Lieutenant Joseph Humphrey Hollis, Co. F, 25th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Steubenville Weekly Herald (Ohio), August 5, 1863, pg. 1
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