Riding with Barlow: Edward C. Culp at the Battle of Gettysburg

     In this article originally published in the March 19, 1885 edition of the National Tribune, former 25th Ohio officer Edward C. Culp provides an account of his experiences of the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg while serving on the staff of Brigadier General Francis C. Barlow, commanding the First Division of the 11th Army Corps. 


Captain Edward C. Culp, Co. A, 25th Ohio Volunteer Infantry

    It was on the 12th of June 1863 that our corps left camp to participate in the Gettysburg campaign and the 29th of June found it at Emmitsburg, Maryland. Both armies were being rapidly concentrated- Lee having issued orders for his corps commanders to unite at Gettysburg. On the date above given, the First and Eleventh Corps were at Emmitsburg, the Third and Twelfth at Middleburg, the Fifth at Taneytown, the Second at Uniontown, and the Sixth at New Windsor. On the 30th, the army advanced nearer the Susquehanna, the Eleventh remaining at Emmitsburg. The First Corps had been ordered to Gettysburg, but General Reynolds, its commander, had halted it at Marsh Creek, as the enemy was reported nearing his position.

At this time, General Meade determined to make his defensive position on Pipe Creek about 15 miles southeast of Gettysburg. In looking over the country around Gettysburg, it is difficult to conceive what Meade’s idea could have been in selecting this position. He could not have forced Lee to fight him on that line as it did not in any way interfere with the latter’s communications; Lee might have kept up his depredations in Pennsylvania, retiring at his convenience across the Potomac. But fortunate blunders intervened in favor of the Union cause, and a gallant Pennsylvania General Reynolds was fortunately near the Rebel forces.

Without orders from Meade, he determined to continue his advance to Gettysburg, directing the Eleventh Corps to come to his support and upon the morning of July 1st, our corps was marching rapidly towards Gettysburg with General Barlow’s Division in advance. General Barlow had been ordered to halt the head of the column and await orders when he reached a church four miles from Gettysburg. Before reaching that place, however, heavy cannonading was heard in the direction of Gettysburg and General Barlow directed me to ride ahead as rapidly as possible, ascertain the cause of the firing, and also to carry the information that he would not halt at the church.

I rode with speed towards Gettysburg, but before reaching the town made up my mind that the heaviest fighting was going on to the left of the road and struck across the fields. But before reaching the battlefield I met Captain Pearson of General Howard’s staff and repeated my order to him. He replied, “I was just on my way to General Barlow. Ride back and tell the General, for God’s sake, to push on with the utmost speed. The First Corps has been engaged for three hours with a greatly superior force which is being rapidly reinforced. General Reynolds and half his corps are killed and wounded, and General Howard has assumed command.”

General Francis C. Barlow

This was about 11 a.m., not over five minutes either way, and I have often wondered since whether General Howard knew at that time of the death of Reynolds. I know, as I rode back, my impression was that Captain Pearson was carrying the intelligence to General Howard of Reynolds’ death and knowing General Howard had reached Gettysburg and was the ranking officer, had, of course, assumed command. General Barlow had become impatient and dispatched Captain [Charles P.] Wickham, one of his staff officers, for orders. I met Wickham, and we rode back, meeting General Barlow some distance ahead of his command which was marching almost at a double quick. I repeated the information received from Captain Pearson and General Barlow directed captain Wickham to return to the head of the column and urge the march as much as possible.

The battle was raging furiously, the whole of the First Corps being engaged and having suffered great loss. General Barlow rode to the suburbs of Gettysburg, accompanied by myself, and there met a staff officer of General Howard who directed him where to take his division. The officer spoke of what a small reserve we would have on Cemetery Hill. Our corps soon came in sight on the dusty road and at 1 o’clock was in position on the right of Schimmelpfennig’s division, prolonging the line of the First Corps to the right on Seminary Ridge. Steinwehr’s division with the reserve artillery under Major [Thomas] Osborne was placed on Cemetery Hill in rear of Gettysburg. This disposition, I am well satisfied, was made by the direct order of General Howard who had preceded his corps to Gettysburg, reaching there in time to hear of General Reynolds’ death. He knew that he had, at best, but a feeble force left. The First Corps was being driven back, and he could only hope to check the Rebel advance with the remnant of the First Corps and two divisions he could spare from the Eleventh Corps backed by the reserve artillery.

I understood from staff officers immediately after the battle that while General Howard was making his dispositions for holding Cemetery Hill, he received five distinct orders from General Meade to withdraw his forces and not attempt to hold the position he had chosen. To each dispatch he returned the reply that he could not withdraw his forces but would hold the position until reinforced by the army, and that finally General Hancock was sent forward by General Meade to use his judgment and upon it the latter would act. Hancock recognized the value of the position and the balance of the army push rapidly forward. General Howard does not mention this matter in his reminiscences, but I know it was talked about and believed by nearly all the officers in the corps.

Major General Oliver O. Howard

The two divisions of the Eleventh Corps were under severe fire before they were well in position and the battle raged furiously and obstinately without one ray of hope that we could do any better than to finally fall back to the cemetery. I never saw as hopeless a battle as that afternoon’s fighting, and I never saw as many individual acts of courage. Every officer and private knew that we would finally fall back. During the hottest of the fight, I was returning to General Barlow from executing an order and in passing over the field, I caught a glimpse through in opening of the woods of moving troops. I rode back to get a fresh look from a little eminence and became satisfied they were Rebel reinforcements. As I reached General Barlow, he exclaimed, ‘What is that skirmish line stopping for?’ The skirmishers, a very heavy line, had advanced to the edge of the woods into which I had seen the reinforcements marching and had, of course, discovered them.

Barlow’s division was moving in rapid support of the cloud of skirmishers and he struck spurs into his horse and dashed forward to the skirmish line before I had time to give my information. I rode by his side, however, and told him what I had seen. By that time, we had reached the skirmish line and one glance showed that I was correct. Thousands of fresh troops were hurled against our weakened lines. General Barlow directed me to inform General Howard and to request artillery support. Before I had ridden 20 rods, General Barlow was severely wounded and all but one of his staff officers and orderlies killed or wounded.

I found General Howard on Cemetery Hill and now, after nearly 22 years, I linger with pride upon that interview which in two or three minutes taught me what a cool and confident man could do. No hurry, no confusion in his mind. He knew that if he could get his troops in any kind of order back of those stone walls, the country was safe and that upon the succeeding days, Lee would meet his great defeat. While I was receiving instructions from General Howard, General Hancock rode up to the former, the first meeting they had that day. As near as I can remember, it was a little after 4 o’clock and I am confident I am only a few minutes, if any, out of the way.


My message to General Barlow was that orders had been issued for a retreat to Cemetery Hill. Before I could reach that position occupied by Barlow’s Division, I met the retreating regiments of the First Corps and of Schimmelpfennig’s Division, followed by my own division. There was no organization so far as I could see, and I sat upon my horse and saw thousands of soldiers pass. Neither was there any great hurry. The army was defeated for the day, but in broken squads was moving leisurely back to Cemetery Hill. I recall one pleasing memory of Gettysburg: the noble women who stood upon their doorsteps and passed cups of cold water to the thirsty soldiers and I recall many cheers that greeted their heroism. Soldiers that could stop to drink water and then cheer benefactors were not much frightened.

Noticing a familiar form clinging to a lamppost, I rode up and discovered a captain of my regiment badly wounded. In caring for him, I discovered I was liable to become a prisoner. I dashed up the street to find it absolutely blockaded with ambulances, abandoned wagons, and caissons. I was still riding my horse, and too valuable a one to lose; besides, he had stood my friend in several hot places and was reliable as steel. As a last resort, I rode up the steps of a veranda, opened the hall door, and rode through the hall into a large sitting room in which the frightened family was gathered. I asked if there was a lane back of the lot I could get out through, and a young lady of perhaps 16 quickly opened the door and requesting me to follow her, tripped lightly through the house and to the back of the lot where she commenced to let down some bars. Telling her not to mind the bars but get back and to the cellar as quickly as possible, I jumped my horse over the bars and just saved myself from a trip to Libby prison.

Without much opposition from the Rebels, our scattered forces were rallied upon Cemetery Hill. Regiments, brigades, and divisions rapidly reformed and by 5 or 6 o’clock, our position was fairly secure. We lay on our arms, happy in the thought that by the morning our position would be reinforced by the balance of the best army ever organized and that for once, we would have things our own way.

 

 


Source:

“Gettysburg: Reminiscences of the Great Fight from a Participant.” First Lieutenant Edward C. Culp, 25th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, National Tribune, March 19, 1885, pg. 3

 

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