The Iron Storm was Howling: With the Artillery Reserve at Gettysburg

     From his position atop Cemetery Hill at Gettysburg, First Lieutenant William A. Ewing, commanding the left section of Battery H of the 1st Ohio Light Artillery, witnessed the most desperate hours his battery had seen since Port Republic a year before. 

    It was the evening of July 2, 1863 and as a heavy line of Confederate infantry surged towards his position, Ewing recorded how his gunners held their ground. “Soon they came and entered the battery and actually had possession of the two left guns of the battery. A secesh lieutenant was just grasping the battery colors when the bearer shot him through the heart with a revolver, receiving a ball in his own the next. The colors were instantly seized by Lieutenant Brockway and the staff was shot away below his hand. The lieutenant, discovering a Rebel demanding the surrender of one of his sergeants, struck him in the head with a stone, completely flooring him. Nothing daunted, Johnny Reb jumped up and demanded that both of them surrender, when the sergeant seized his own musket and shot him,” Ewing recalled.

          Lieutenant Ewing penned two letters describing the Battle of Gettysburg; the first he wrote to his mother atop Cemetery Hill on July the 4th and the second he wrote a week letter to the editors of the Daily Toledo Blade. His later letter which goes into significantly more detail than the first is reproduced below.

 

First Lieutenant William A. Ewing stands fourth from left in the March 1863 image taken in camp near Fredericksburg, Virginia. Ewing wrote frequent letters to the Daily Toledo Blade which were published under the pen name "Wanderer."

 Boonsboro, Maryland

July 11, 1863

 

          Since writing you last our battery has been placed in the Third Brigade of the Reserve Artillery of the Army of the Potomac and Captain Huntington was placed in command of the brigade consisting of four batteries. On the morning of Wednesday  June 25th, the whole Artillery Reserve marched from Fairfax Courthouse passing through Dranesville. We reached Edward’s Ferry, northeast of Leesburg that night, the distance marched being 25 miles. On the 26th we crossed the Potomac making a march of about five miles and encamped until the morning of the 27th when we resumed our march passing through Poolesville, Barnesville, etc. We marched that day 30 miles, most of the day over very rough, muddy roads encamping one mile north of Frederick at 10 p.m. where we remained until Monday the 29th. On that morning at 8 o’clock, we resumed our march taking the road leading from Frederick to Hanover, Pennsylvania and went 17 miles, encamping just at dark a mile beyond Bruceville just north of Big Pipe Creek. Marching again early the morning of the 30th, we encamped soon after noon two miles west of Taneytown having marched six miles. We had thus marched 83 miles since the 25th and I believe there was not a single day or not a single day had a shower making the roads muddy and slippery, making marching difficult.

          At daylight on Thursday July 2nd, the Reserve marched in from Taneytown making a rapid march over a very rough and muddy road a distance of 13 miles to the line assumed by the army near Gettysburg where we halted and allowed two hours’ rest when the various brigades were assigned their places in the line of battle. The four batteries of the Third Brigade under Captain Huntingdon were placed together with five other batteries upon what has since that hour has become the famous Cemetery Hill. Of the nine batteries, three were located east of the Baltimore Turnpike under the command of Colonel Wainwright of the 1st N.Y. Artillery; the remaining six were in the cemetery under the command of Major Osborne of the 1st N.Y. No better or braver man fought in that terrible battle. Ever present, ever active, and yet quiet and retiring almost to a fault, he seemed to think of nothing except his duty to be wherever the enemy were to be fought.

          No better place will occur to disabuse the minds of your readers of the idea, generally prevalent, that the term “Reserve Artillery” applies only such as is held in reserve and only used when an emergency occurs, and it becomes necessary to make use of the Reserve. The very contrary is the case- to so great an extent, in fact, that it has become quite usual to say the Reserve is always first in and last out of the fight in proof of which I stated that every one of the 30 or 40 batteries of the Reserve were fighting on the 2nd and 3rd.

          Shortly before 5 p.m. on the 2nd, our battery was opened upon by the batteries of the enemy on our right, firing having commenced further down towards our left an hour earlier although rather more elevated than that of the enemy, our position on Cemetery Hill was so cramped that it gave the artillery an opportunity to concentrate their fire on a mass of artillery in a small compass, while their batteries were much scattered causing us to divide causing us to divide our fire in order to silence the single guns and batteries that were pouring the missiles of death and destruction in upon us from a semi-circle which completely surrounded our front and flanks. Owing to the fact that we occupied that the hill we occupied was the key or point of our line of battle which was almost precisely like the two sides of a triangle; this hill was the apex of the triangle. If they fired upon our right, the shot and shell would most of them pass over the line and land on our devoted heads and vice versa on the left with the same result. The direct fire of the enemy’s guns upon our immediate front became a mere accompaniment to the enfilading fire on either flank. For three hours the iron storm was howling around and over us while upon the whole extreme left  the incessant roar of musketry added its rolling, muttering voice to increase the general din and horrid, terrific grandeur of the battle.

Private Lycurgus Bishop, Battery H, 1st Ohio Volunteer Light Artillery

          This could not last long without casualties and while standing between the two left guns of the battery, I saw a 20-pound Parrott shell strike one of our men in the calf while he was standing at the left piece, completely severing the limb, and destroying the piece. Two hours afterwards, Jacob Kirsch said, “Tell the boys I died doing my duty” and breathed at last; he was from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania being one of 24 men of Hampton’s Pittsburgh Battery. A little later, Henry Schram of Marietta was struck in the shoulder by a shell and during the night he died also; still later, John N. Edwards of Maumee had his foot almost entirely cut off by a shell, but with his usual patience and endurance bore it all simply saying while being carried to the rear, “Boys, that was a pretty tough pull on me, wasn’t it?”

 

 “When our battery was taken to the front, shot and shell were flying and exploding all around us and the line on the right was wavering. It was no small matter to come into action under such a terrific fire but neither men nor men faltered. We had not been in position ten minutes before four horses on the guns and four men on the caissons were wounded.” ~ Second Lieutenant Wadmore Redhead, 11th New York Battery

 

          Near dusk, the infantry on the right having been engaged since 6 p.m., the 8,000 men of Early’s division of Ewell’s corps charged upon the batteries on Cemetery Hill with the determination to carry the position or die in the attempt. As they came down the opposite slope through a wheat field, the red and white rag of the rebellion could plainly be seen and quicker than thought itself every gun that could be brought to bear was opened upon their line. Still, on they came. Soon they came and entered the battery and actually had possession of the two left guns of the battery. A secesh lieutenant was just grasping the battery colors when the bearer shot him through the heart with a revolver, receiving a ball in his own the next. The colors were instantly seized by Lieutenant Brockway and the staff was shot away below his hand. The lieutenant, discovering a Rebel demanding the surrender of one of his sergeants, struck him in the head with a stone, completely flooring him. Nothing daunted, Johnny Reb jumped up and demanded that both of them surrender, when the sergeant seized his own musket and shot him.

          Just at this moment, the gallant General Samuel S. Carroll, commanding the 4th and 8th Ohio, 7th Virginia, and 14th Indiana regiments, came through our battery and joining in the fight with his brigade turned the tide. This attack was repulsed and the hill still ours. Until 9 o’clock, the fight was incessant, ceasing quite abruptly and leaving our lines still firm and intact.

Battery H, 1st OVLA monument at Gettysburg National Cemetery

          The gray dawn of the 3rd instant was scarcely discernible when the sudden boom of a cannon assured us that all the hurried repairs and preparation which occupied the night were completed none too soon to meet the renewed shock of battle. From 4 o’clock on it was nothing but an incessant roar of artillery and musketry from the center to the extreme right, and when at 11 o’clock the firing entirely ceased and quiet restored, cheer after cheer rang out along our line from our brave men who had for seven hours fought unceasingly and came off victorious, repulsing at attack which it seemed more than flesh and blood could endure against. From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. the whole line was quiet.

          The question of whether the perfect silence of the army for three hours indicated that they were retreating or preparing for a last grand effort to defeat us was being generally discussed when at 2 p.m. they opened upon our center with 110 pieces of artillery which had been put into position since noon, the greater portion of it being placed upon a wooded ridge parallel with and not over a thousand yards distant from our lines. We thought we had endured a hot fire before, but the terrific fury of the concentrated fire now brought to bear upon us beggars all description.

 

“Mortal pens cannot describe the horrors of that unparalleled cannonade. The air was alive with shrieking and bursting shells, guns discharging, men shouting, and many crying out in pain, horses rearing and neighing as they were being horribly mangled, caissons bursting, until it appeared impossible for man to survive. Our ammunition having given out, we fired back a few of the Rebel shells, hot as they were, literally paying them back in their own coin.” ~ Musician William R. Jenvey, Battery C, 1st West Virginia Light Artillery

 

          General Henry Hunt, Chief of Artillery of the army, says that there never has been such a terrific artillery battle fought upon the continent as this one which continued without cessation until 4 o’clock. In the meantime, the last desperate charge upon our lines was made and for a moment it seemed as if everything must give way before the terrible storm of shot and shell and the furious assault of their infantry. The day had all along been intensely hot and sultry and the men were ready to fall down at their guns from sheer exhaustion and, worst of all, many batteries had fired their last rounds of ammunition away while others were near as badly off. It was a moment to try the stoutest hearts.

          In the midst of it all, General George Meade rode into our battery and said, “We have beaten them back from the center and taken over a thousand prisoners. All depends on saving your ammunition.” It was soon evident that Lee’s army, although they fought like devils more than men, had been disastrously repulsed. Our fire slackened  and soon ceased upon both sides.

          Our battery was allowed to retire two miles to the rear after the firing ceased where we bivouacked and rested until 8 a.m. on the 4th. We then relieved a battery east of the turnpike on Cemetery Hill and remained there until 4 p.m. when the Reserve was withdrawn and after an hour’s rest, immediately marched to Littletown, ten miles east of Gettysburg where we bivouacked at midnight.

         

 Sources:

Letters from First Lieutenant William A. Ewing, Battery H, 1st Ohio Volunteer Light Artillery, Daily Toledo Blade (Ohio), July 11, 1863, pg. 2 and July 18, 1863, pg. 2

 Letter from Second Lieutenant Wadmore Redhead, 11th New York Battery, Ashtabula Weekly Telegraph (Ohio), July 18, 1863, pg. 2

 Memoir of Musician William R. Jenvey, Battery C, 1st West Virginia Light Artillery; quote from the History of Washington County, Ohio with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches. Cleveland: H.Z. Williams & Bro., 1881, pg. 182

Comments

  1. Riveting description of artillery action...the most comprehensive I've seen; thanks Dan!

    ReplyDelete
  2. You can read Jenvey's manuscript at https://cdm16824.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p16824coll4/id/518/rec/1
    Also see Gettysburg Magazine, "Battery H 1st Ohio Light Artillery, Controversy in the Cemetery."
    Also:Gettysburg Magazine: "Corp. Wilkison D. Perrin, Bible and Pocket Diary."
    Also: Battery H First Ohio Light Artillery, The James Barnett Papers,
    Jenvey's account coupled with sources such as Ewing's show that Col. Osborn probably witnessed 1st W. V. Battery C as it withdrew from the Cemetery during the Cannonade and not Battery H.

    ReplyDelete
  3. The newspaper account should state "Capt. James F. Huntington." It should be noted that Pvt. Lycurgus Bishop was not at Gettysburg, as he was mortally wounded at Chancellorsville.

    ReplyDelete

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