Sometime on the night of July 1, or perhaps immediately after the battle, Colonel Charles Wainwright, who commanded the artillery brigade of the Union 1st Corps, recorded in his diary for July 1:
“[I] breakfasted soon after sunrise, [and] it rather promised then to be a quiet day for us,” . . . We moved along very quietly without dreaming of a fight, and fully expecting to be comfortably in camp by noon.”
Meanwhile, west of Gettysburg, on the Emmanuel Harmon farm, 17 year old Amelia Harmon and her aunt, watched as Buford’s cavalry division moved into defensive positions near their farm.
“We had decided to remain in the house even in the uncertain event of battle, although most of our neighbors had abandoned their homes, for ours was of the old-fashioned fortress type with 18 inch walls and heavy wooden shutters. My Aunt and I were quite alone, our farmer having gone away with the horses in hope of hiding them in the fastness of the hills.”
That afternoon, after the battle at Gettysburg had begun, Adjutant Theodore Dodge, of the 119th New York Infantry, which was then just deploying the level plain north of Gettysburg, pulled out his diary:
“2 p.m. Beyond Gettysburg. We are engaged. We lie in column supporting a battery with skirmishers in front. Shells are flying and bursting at a considerable rate. The Rebels are about half a mile off . . . God grant we may have victory!”
As the wounded began to trickle, then flood into the hospitals that were established in town. Sallie Myers made her way to the Catholic Church to see what help she might be able to offer:
“I went to the church, where men were lying [on] pews and on the floors. I knelt by the first one inside the door and said: ‘What can I do for you?’ He replied: ‘Nothing, I am going to die.’
To be thus met by the first one addressed was more than my nerves could stand and I went hastily out, sat down on the church steps and cried.”
Tom Setzer of the 26th North Carolina Infantry survived the first day of battle. But 588 of his comrades in the 26th were dead and wounded when the day ended. He was probably shocked that he had survived physically unscathed. In a letter home he attempted to describe what he had experienced:
“[You] may talk of this big fite and that big fite, but tha hante bin [no] sutch fiting as
was dun over their for the first days fite. I could all but walk over the field on dead and wounded. I never hav seen the like before.”
Wainwright, Harmon, Dodge, Myers, Setzer, and tens of thousands of other soldiers and civilians lived the battle and recorded their experiences, sometimes, like Theodore Dodge, while the battle was occurring. Their voices still echo through the mists of history, and despite the passage of 150 years, continue to move us.
Each night during the Gettysburg 150th commemoration, July 1-4, at 7:30 p.m., we will end the day’s programs and activities with a Voices of the Battle program from a stage located just north of Meade’s Headquarters, and near where the old Cyclorama Center stood. The program will last about 45 minutes. Bring a blanket or a lawn chair and listen to the voices of those that lived the battle tell us their story.