A Chaotic Retreat Through the Streets of Gettysburg

     Orderly Sergeant Charles Henry Paddock of Co. C of the 157th New York Volunteers had just rejoined his regiment on the afternoon of July 1, 1863 outside of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, arriving just in time to be on the receiving end of the Confederate assault that broke the 11th Army Corps and drove it through town.

          “There was a single brigade against the 157th at a very short distance,” he wrote to his brother. “Seeing that it was useless to stand against such odds, we were ordered to retreat, and we fell back out of immediate range. I got pretty near the town, where I was helping carry Adjutant Henry, when a ball came hitting two of us, and we were obliged to leave him in the edge of the town. There were but six men of my company left including officers. The colonel was there and the colors all right. I was so tired that I could not stand up. Seeing the Rebels were getting in the south part of the town we were ordered to retreat in that direction, and such a confusion and hubbub it is hard to imagine. When we got into the center of the town the bullets commenced whistling up and down the streets, and we were ordered to take to the houses. In a few minutes the streets were full of Rebels. I was in a garden with a lot of the 1st Corps boys, and the first thing I knew a grey back was ordering us to take off our cartridge boxes, stack guns, &c.”

          Sergeant Paddock’s letter saw publication in a New York newspaper shortly after Gettysburg and provides a detailed description of his time as a prisoner of war, including Lee’s retreat into Virginia. His letter appears on the blog courtesy of the New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center. The 157th New York was assigned to General Alexander Schimmelfennig’s First Brigade of General Carl Schurz’ Third Division of the 11th Army Corps.


The 157th New York has two monuments at Gettysburg: the above monument, erected by the state of New York, is located on Howard Ave. near the Carlisle Road and reports that the regiment lost 27 killed, 166 wounded, and 114 captured, a total of 307 out of the roughly 400 who went into action on July 1st. A second monument erected by the regimental association is located on Howard Ave. closer to the Mummasburg Road. The regiment was sometimes called the Madison and Cortland Regiment after the counties from which it was recruited.  

*Note: the gaps the the transcription were from the deteriorated condition of the original newsprint.

Camp of 12th Army Corps, near Littlestown, Pennsylvania 

Tuesday, July 21, 1863 

Dear brother Gene,

It is now some time since I have written you. I am very sorry so long a time has elapsed, and … an apology, I will try to give you an account of my travels. Saturday, at 2 p. m., about 1,000 men from all Corps left ... Camp Distribution with happy hearts, and went down to Alexandria and took the boat for Washington, where we arrived about dusk. Sunday morning we took the cars and passed the Relay House at noon, and Monday morning we were in Frederick. When I got down in the city, I found the army passing through, and that the 11th Corps was about half an hour ahead. So I pressed on with vigor and by noon had left the 12th A. C. far behind, and had got far up into the 3d A. C., when to my great dismay I found the 11th A. C. had turned off on another road to the left, and after weighing the matter well, I concluded to keep on with this Corps, thinking the roads would meet again. So I continued on to Taneytown, where we halted that night.

I had a nice bed in a barn, which I assure you I improved to the best possible advantage, for I had marched 25 miles and was footsore and lame. In the morning I awoke much refreshed and found the 12th A. C. took the advance.—So I kept in front with them to Littlestown, (nine miles) and having arrived there we found considerable excitement existing, from the fact that the rebel cavalry were two miles out of town in the woods, and that they had fired on our cavalry killing a number of them. However we came on as far as here [ two miles] and halted. Last night I slept on the ground. But the signal has been given to fall in, so I must close by saying that my health is excellent, and that such nice weather for marching we have never had. If I have an opportunity today I will mail this. The country we are marching through is beautiful and seems like home compared with old Virginia.

Captain Frank Place
Co. C, 157th New York
Captured July 2, 1863 at Gettysburg

Wednesday, 2 p. m. I am now two miles from Gettysburg. They are fighting very .... I left the 12th A. C. two miles back, and have just stopped and eat dinner by a ..ry picket in the road here. About ... rebel prisoners have just gone by, and ... are a lot more coming. Our Corps ... splendid thing in taking them. It is .. advance now, and I shall see fighting.

It is now 5 P. M., and what I have been through in the last two hours it will take much longer to relate.

Thursday, July 2d, 8 a.m. I was ... to stop last night, for the Rebs or-

... us on to this place, where we lay tonight. Yesterday, after writing, I left the picket and came through the town and found the 157th New York supporting the brigade battery. [Captain Hubert Dilger's Battery I, 1st Ohio Light Artillery] I had just got there when we were ordered forward. The battery was firing finely, and we went to the front a little to the left, when we saw they were flanking us on the right and rear. So we changed front and went forward to meet them in that direction and were in line right up in a wheat field. There was a single brigade against the 157th at a very short distance. Several different boys fell by my side. It was here that Lieutenant Colonel Arrowsmith fell, and died immediately, hit in the head and chest. Fitch was wounded, and Lieutenant Coffin fell, wounded in the back. Seeing that it was useless to stand against such odds, we were ordered to retreat, and we fell back out of immediate range. I got pretty near the town, where I was helping carry Adjutant Henry, when a ball came hitting two of us, and we were obliged to leave him in the edge of the town. The regiment rallied for some time, but the Rebels did not advance there, but were rushing around to cut off our rear.

Lieutenant Colonel George Arrowsmith of the 157th New York was struck down on the afternoon of July 1, 1863. In poor health, the 24-year-old native of New Jersey had gone into action against the advice of the regimental surgeon. A graduate of Madison College, Arrowsmith had joined the New York bar just before the outbreak of the war. As the 157th New York tried to fend off Ewell's late afternoon assault, Arrowsmith was shot in the head. Colonel Philip P. Brown related that he "found him lying on his back, badly wounded in the head, breathing slowly and heavily, evidently entirely insensible." An attempt was made to carry him back when the regiment retreated but the enemy fire was too hot to permit the attempt. Colonel Arrowsmith died of his wounds later that evening in a field hospital. After the battle, his body was retrieved by his family and interred at Fair View Cemetery in Middletown, New Jersey. 


There were but six men of my company left including officers. The colonel was there and the colors all right. I was so tired that I could not stand up. Seeing the Rebels were getting in the south part of the town we were ordered to retreat in that direction, and such a confusion and hubbub it is hard to imagine. When we got into the center of the town the bullets commenced whistling up and down the streets, and we were ordered to take to the houses. In a few minutes the streets were full of Rebels. I was in a garden with a lot of the 1st Corps boys, and the first thing I knew a grey back was ordering us to take off our cartridge boxes, stack guns, &c. Then they marched us to the rear, where I was writing last night, and not far from the wheat field. Lieutenant Coffin came up last night; he said a ball passed through his blanket-roll across his back, coat and belt, and made a hole in his pants large enough for me to put three fingers through, but did not break the skin, though he supposed the ball was in him until a short time before he got here. He washed the blood off from Arrowsmith's face and brought away his saber and scabbard and belt, &c. He begged the Rebs to let him stay but they would not. The last I saw of Colonel Brown, he was going up the street with the colors by his side as fast as possible.

There must be 4,000 of us here. We moved a mile further from town this morning. There they offered to parole us and keep the officers. Most of the regiments accepted it, and while we were disputing about it a heavy fire opened about three miles off on our right, which hits kept coming nearer and nearer, and now there is a battery opened on us not more than half a mile off. The Rebs scatter to the rear like sheep, but some are wounded.

Friday, 5 p.m., I have just passed through a fiery ordeal. That parole our officers did not like at all. But they were all separated from us yesterday. Well, today the question came to each regiment in turn. All the boys wanted to know what I was going to do; for you see I am the ranking non-commissioned officer and have them all to see to.

Sergeant Hubert H. Hollenbeck
Co. B, 157th New York
Captured July 1, 1863 at Gettysburg

July 5th. Yesterday was the Fourth. We marched a long distance, and it rained a perfect flood. It was awful but not very cold. When we halted last night, we cooked up a few flour cakes and roasted some beef on sticks, after disposing of which and putting on some dry clothing, which I was so extremely fortunate as to have in my knapsack, I laid down; but I was soon waked up by one of the boys to draw the rations. After waiting about two hours I obtained a pint and a half of flour per man, but the 1st, 3d and 5th Corps boys got all the beef. The officers march just in front of us and come back occasionally to see how we are getting on.

Monday morn. I can't realize yesterday was communion at home, for we suffered the hardest marching we have ever had to endure. We started about 8 a.m. The order came before most of us were up. My breakfast consisted of one flour cake the size of my hand, my dinner of hard tack, my supper one canteen of water. We marched until 11 p.m. and are now up on a mountain. Lieut. Coffin is sick. Capt. Place looks as haggard as a ghost. There is a heavy fog and mist wetting us through and making it impossible to look three rods ahead.

Tuesday, p.m. We marched down the mountain several miles in a south-westerly direction to Waterloo and drew rations. At 5 o'clock we were on the march again, but something kept halting the column every few rods, so that at one time we made only one mile in two hours. We passed through Waynesboro at 9 p. m., and no signs of camp. We were then marching tolerably fast, but at 11 we commenced that halting again, and finally they made a halt of half an hour, and in a jiff every man was in a snooze. I never suffered so much from mere sleepiness as last night.—At half past twelve we passed Hagerstown. I did not believe they would march us all night, until it began to grow light this morning. It was moonlight and fine marching. The guards are rough as Indians generally, but they divide their last ration with the prisoners. We arrived here —two miles from the river—at 1 p. m.

Thursday, July 9th. It is a beautiful morning. I did not write yesterday but will try to do so more regularly hereafter. Yesterday we drew no rations until evening, and we were getting pretty hungry I assure you. The boys exchange all kinds of clothing and trinkets for bread. A cake of bread the size of a round pie can hardly be bought for a dollar. I exchanged my wallet for a piece. My shoes are most gone, and I shall be obliged to go barefoot soon. We expect to cross the river today; we should have crossed yesterday but their pontoons were burned.

Captain George A. Adams
Co. H, 157th New York
Wounded in action July 1, 1863
Died of wounds July 25, 1863


Friday morn. Once more have I enjoyed the peculiar bliss of resting my weary limbs on the sacred soil of Virginia. We crossed the river at 10 p.m. yesterday. It was a slow process, having nothing but ferry boats to use. There are some of the boys behind yet. A lady gave me a shortcake in Williamsport just before we crossed. I found a man from the 90th Pennsylvania that took off the lieutenant colonel’s shoulder straps. He obtained them just before the Rebs came up searching the dead. He would not part with them at first, but finally consented to take a dollar for his trouble and let me have them. The colonel will value them highly, for there is a bullet hole in one of them, cutting off half the leaf.

Saturday Morn. We are on the march again without any thing to eat. It is 60 hours since we have drawn rations. We then drew 6 oz. flour and one lb. of beef per man. We started yesterday at 12 M. and arrived at this camp, two miles beyond Martinsburg after dark; being a distance of 15 miles. I am getting very weak. I have a bad diarrhea, the result of eating beef without salt, and these heavy flour cakes, &c. Yesterday as we came through Martinsburg, the ladies cheered us, and hoped us back again soon, all right, &c. They would have brought us out bread, but the guards would not let us go and get it, nor allow them to come and bring it to us. But finally they commenced handing it to us between the guards.

Twelve miles from Winchester, 3 p.m. Dear brother, I was sick this morning, and after marching a while, sat down by the fence with a severe cramp in my bowels, feeling pretty blue. Soon a guard came along and after looking well into my face, handed me a piece of bread, hoping it would help me. I devoured it greedily, and soon caught up, feeling much refreshed, We arrived here about 12 M., and for dinner obtained a small piece of bread and beef each.

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