Standing Firm as Pyramids: Account of a New Yorker Captured in the Brickyard

    Several months after Gettysburg, Adjutant Alanson Crosby of the 154th New York explained to a friend how he came to be captured on the first day of battle along with most of his regiment during the fight at Kuhn's brickyard

    "Before we got into line, a murderous fire was poured into our ranks from a Rebel brigade concealed in a wheat field close at hand," he wrote. "Nothing daunted, they formed in line, advanced, and opened the battle with great energy. The enemy advanced in splendid style, and swung their left wing, which extended far beyond our right, gradually around, until we were handsomely flanked. Not a man flinched or gave an inch to the overwhelming force opposed to them. There they stood, firm as the pyramids, fighting with the desperation of a forlorn hope, a murderous fire all the time raking them in front and flank. The enemy was gradually closing in upon us, and to remain longer was certain capture. The order to fall back was given. We had no supports or reserves. On looking around we discovered for the first time that the whole line on our left had fallen back and were being hotly pursued by the exultant Rebels. We were hemmed in on both flanks."

    Adjutant Crosby's description of the brickyard fight and his subsequent imprisonment by the Confederates was originally published in a March 1864 edition of the Elmira Register.

 
This depiction of the fight at Kuhn's Brickyard entitled "Bedlam in the Brickyard" by artist Bradley Schmehl shows the moment the 154th New York realized their flank support had fallen back and are commencing their own retreat back into town. The Confederate troops who grappled with the New Yorkers here included the 21st North Carolina of Colonel Isaac Avery's North Carolina brigade shown in the center. The 154th New York was essentially wiped out during the engagement. Later that evening, Major Lewis D. Warner arrived on the field with a detachment of 50 men that he had led upon a reconnaissance that day and reported to General Howard for duty and asked where he could find the 154th. Howard replied, "there was no such regiment. It was used up." Warner later found just three officers and 15 enlisted men remained.

Elmira, New York

February 28, 1864

My dear friend,

Your letter requesting me to write you the circumstances connected with my capture by the Rebels at Gettysburg, and subsequent escape from "durance vile," is received. If it will afford you the smallest degree of pleasure to know the particulars of those scenes, which are to me so interesting, I shall be happy to state them. To render the statement complete, it ought to contain an account of the terrific engagement which resulted in the capture of so many of the officers and men of the 154th. But I fear my letter would be so long, your patience would become entirely exhausted in reading it. I will therefore confine my narrative chiefly to events that transpired after finding myself within the Rebel lines.

It was on the first day of July, and the first of those three days of terrible carnage, that the 154th Regt., together with two others, the 27th Pennsylvania and the 134th New York, was ordered to take position to the extreme right of the Union line, to check a flank movement already begun by a heavy force of the enemy. Without waiting to rest a moment, after a rapid march of 15 miles that day, they sprang forward at a double quick, through a torrent of shot and shell, until the designated position was attained. Before they got into line, a murderous fire was poured into their ranks from a Rebel brigade concealed in a wheat field close at hand. Nothing daunted, they formed in line, advanced, and opened the battle with great energy. The enemy advanced in splendid style, and swung their left wing, which extended far beyond our right, gradually around, until we were handsomely flanked. Not a man flinched or gave an inch to the overwhelming force opposed to them. There they stood, firm as the pyramids, fighting with the desperation of a forlorn hope, a murderous fire all the time raking them in front and flank. The enemy was gradually closing in upon us, and to remain longer was certain capture. The order to fall back was given. We had no supports or reserves. On looking around we discovered for the first time that the whole line on our left had fallen back and were being hotly pursued by the exultant Rebels. We were hemmed in on both flanks.

The only avenue of retreat lay through a road, along which a Rebel column was dashing, in pursuit of our troops that had fallen back on the left of us. We entered the road, and a fierce hand to hand conflict ensued. The opposing forces were mingled in promiscuous confusion. Four color bearers in the 154th were shot down in rapid succession. 'The only resource left was to cut through the enemy's ranks. The bayonet was used, but alas, what could a mere handful of men do against the thousands that surrounded us on all sides? A few in the confusion escaped, but the majority were either killed, wounded or captured. Of the latter, out of the 154th, were twelve commissioned officers and a 150 men. We were hurried off to the rear, over the battle ground strewn with the dead and wounded of both armies.

During the two following days of the battle, we were kept under guard a little in rear of the Rebel line. With mind and senses wrought up to intense activity we watched the progress of the battle. Our hearts sank within us as we detected by the sound of the conflict on the left of the line, that it was being pushed back. You can perhaps imagine the despair that filled our breasts, when at night, after the second day's conflict was over, the rebels told us that Longstreet had doubled back our left wing and driven it seven miles. That they only ceased the pursuit on account of the darkness and would make quick work of the Army of the Potomac in the morning.

    But as a Union prisoner was brought in, fresh from the field of conflict, and we gathered eagerly around him to learn the real condition of affairs, what a burden of anxiety and distress was lifted from our hearts on being told that our left wing had been driven back about a mile and a half, but the opportune arrival of the 6th Corps had checked the exultant enemy and repulsed him with immense slaughter. "Our line is re-established, and secure," he said, "and the men are eager for a renewal of the fight in the morning, confident of a crowning victory." We laid down on the grass that night and slept sweetly, with a newborn hope in our bosoms.

The early part of the day was occupied by General Lee in preparation for the last desperate struggle to break the Union lines. Every cannon and every available man was put in position for the final assault. If this effort failed, retreat was inevitable to the boasted and invincible Army of the Confederacy. Orders were promulgated at the head of every regiment, appealing to their heroism and courage, in the most extravagant terms of mingled adulation and entreaty. Victory or utter route and perhaps annihilation awaited them. At length the simultaneous crash of 200 Rebel cannon opened the ball. An equal number responded from the opposite hill where our artillery was posted. The earth trembled and shook for miles around with the terrible concussion. The air groaned and shrieked with flying missiles, bursting and flying in all directions and lighting up, with a sullen and lurid glare, the dark sulfur clouds that hung over the field. The opposite crests were wrapped in flames, and dense clouds of smoke rolled over the valley, darkening the heavens with gloom. Great trees were shattered into thousands of fragments—branches were torn from others and tossed into the darkened air or hurled into the deep shade below. Caissons were on fire and exploding at rapid intervals. Horses were running with wild fright over the field, or floundering, bleeding and mangled, on the ground. It was the most awful, grand and terribly sublime spectacle I ever witnessed.

For an hour the terrible cannonade was kept up without intermission. The enemy then formed two strong lines of battle and advanced to assault the Union position along the entire line. The Union artillery ceased firing, and as the rebel army swept down the opposite slope, in compact lines—with banners flying and drums beating, it was a magnificent sight. Steadily and silently they advanced within short range of our artillery, when suddenly a sheet of flame burst from the crest of the hill—a deafening crash—a dense white cloud—and two hundred cannon hurled a merciless storm of grape and canister into their ranks; another long roll of smoke further down the hill—another deafening shout, and fifty thousand rifles sent their deadly messengers into the staggering line. The first line was gone. Nothing daunted, the second, with an insanity that sought death, steadily advanced. Another simultaneous discharge of artillery and musketry—and when the smoke rose from the scene, the rebel army, the vaunted chivalry of the American Continent, was floundering with confusion in the valley. So pitiless was the whirlwind of grape and canister, and rifle balls which swept its files, that hundreds of the terror-stricken enemy fell on their hands and knees and crawled up to our lines to save their lives.

    Thus ended the battle of Gettysburg. General Lee collected his scattered force and made no more effort to carry the Union position. That night no oppressive doubts and fears disturbed us, and we slept soundly. The morning dawned clear and pleasant. It was the 4th of July  and feeling jubilant over the result of the great struggle, we determined to celebrate the occasion with becoming exercises, as far as our limited circumstances would admit of it. We had no big gun to fire off. No Declaration of Independence to read. No orator to electrify us with soul-stirring recitals of the "scenes and times that tried men's souls," when our ancestors were "Rebels." But we had a few hundred Union prisoners, with hearts brimful of joy for the glorious result of Gettysburg!!

About noon a terrific thunderstorm commenced, and we were started on our long journey toward Richmond. The storm finally settled down to a cold, steady rain. At night we were turned into a cornfield, to sleep in the open storm or not sleep at all. Exhausted with fatigue and hunger, (for we had had nothing to eat since our capture, except what we could buy of our guards with our pocket-knives and other trinkets we happened to have with us, we soon fell asleep on the wet grass, to forget our troubles until morning.

    Griff's Spared & Shared website features another letter that Adjutant Crosby wrote on July 18th 1863 just a few days after he escaped from his captors which can be viewed here. Crosby would travel to the western theater with his regiment that fall and after being wounded in action June 16, 1864 near Pine Knob, Georgia, he would die of those wounds July 9, 1864 at Nashville, Tennessee. The 28-year-old captain's body would be returned to New York and buried by his family at Mount Prospect Cemetery in Franklinville, New York. 

Source:

Account of Adjutant Alanson Crosby, 154th New York Volunteer Infantry, Elmira Register (New York), March 1864

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