“Who will you follow?” – Pickett’s Charge and the Story of the Common Soldier

who will you followJuly 3rd, 2014 will mark the 151st anniversary of Pickett’s Charge, the climactic moment of the battle of Gettysburg. The assault, which involved as many as 13,000 Confederate soldiers from the states of Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina and Virginia,  has gone down in history, rightly or wrongly, as the “High Water Mark of the Rebellion,” the point at which the fortunes of the southern confederacy reached its zenith.

To say that every facet of the event has been studied and analyzed ad nauseam would perhaps be an understatement. The historiography of the charge, and the shear volume of accounts, recollections, reports, and monographs is overwhelming. Additionally, the mile of open ground between the Confederate starting point on Seminary Ridge and the angle in the rock wall held by Alexander Webb and the Philadelphia Brigade has been trudged by rangers, guides, and historians to such an extent that every fold of ground and swale has been  interpreted.

What new can be said of this attack and the men involved? Can this story be told in such a way that it offers a different perspective on the events of a century and a half ago?

On July 3, 2014, Gettysburg National Military Park Rangers Philip Brown, Bill Hewitt, and Jim Flook will lead a walk that will follow in the footsteps of  the common soldiers of three different Confederate regiments that took part in the assault, representing three distinct southern states.  We invite the readers of this blog, and those who intend on meeting us in the field, to take part in shaping this program by choosing the individual men and the regiments to which they belonged, that these rangers will discuss and follow on the battlefield. Below you will find the stories of men from nine different Confederate regiments representing Marshall’s brigade of North Carolinians, James Kemper’s brigade of Virginians, and Tennessee troops originally of James Archer’s brigade. These men hailed from different states and different regions. They had varying views on slavery and secession as well as the meaning and purpose of the war itself. They processed feared and summoned up courage differently. va memorial at nightMost were able to master their terror, while some were mastered by it.  Some would survive their ordeal at Gettysburg, others would count the afternoon hours of July 3rd, 1863 as their last. Every single man that made the charge, as well as those who resisted it, were unique individuals who operated under a variety of motivations. The men themselves will be the focal point of this walk; the charge itself will simply be the setting. Who we follow into battle on July 3rd, 2014 will be up to you. All you have to do is select one unit per brigade. The rangers, and the words of the men themselves, will do the rest.

We will announce the results on Saturday, June 21, and then present the programs guided by the individuals and regiments you chose on July 3, 2014 as part of the commemoration of the 151st Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.

Marshall’s North Carolina Brigade with Ranger Bill Hewitt

Coffey

Henry Coffey of the 26th North Carolina Infantry

The Coffey Family and the men of the 26th North Carolina:
Follow in the footsteps of the Coffey family and the famed 26th North Carolina Infantry Regiment.  The regiment was formed in August of 1861 and participated in a number of engagments before Gettysburg.  With aggressive recruiting it refilled its lines and on 30 June the muster counted 885 soldiers and officers, the largest Confederate regiment on the fields. In the thick of the battle on both July 1 and July 3, the regiment left Gettysburg with only 79 soldiers and officers.  Among the dead left behind on the Gettysburg battlefield were five family members from the Coffey family, and three from the Kirkman family.

“What a fine appearance the regiment made as it marched out from its bivouac near Fredericksburg that beautiful June morning.  The men beaming in their splendid uniforms; the colors flying and the drums beating; everything seems propitious of success.”

Thomas Cooper, 11th NC

Thomas Cooper, 11th North Carolina Volunteer Infantry

Lemuel Hoyle and the men of the 11th North Carolina:
Follow in the footsteps of Lemuel Hoyle, through his fighting and wounding alongside his fellow soldiers in the 11th North Carolina Infantry Regiment.   Some of the men in this regiment were among the very first recruits for the Confederate cause, enlisting for a term of six months.  Following the original regiment’s disbandment after that first half year, and building on the legacy of that original unit which has seen action at Big Bethel, its successor regiment recruited from a large area to refill its ranks. With experience in North Carolina, the regiment flying its colors proudly, joined the Army of Northern Virginia for the Gettysburg Campaign.  Over the three days of battle at Gettysburg, this regiment would lose slightly over 60% of its soldiers and never regain its full usefulness.

A soldier wrote home on the evening of July 3: “Awful fighting for the last three days and the battle is still undecided.  Our regiment has suffered most frightfully.  I understand the flag was sent to Genl. Heath this evening signifying that the regiment could fight no longer.  Not more than 80 men left and they worn out so to be unfit for duty.”

Marshall (1)

James K. Marshall of Archer’s Brigade. Photo: Virginia Military Institute

James K. Marshall and the men of the 52nd North Carolina:
Follow in the footsteps of Jimmy Marshall and the men of the 52nd North Carolina Infantry Regiment.  This regiment was commanded by a grandson of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.  He would face off on July 3rd, 1863 against the grandson of George Washington’s personal secretary.  While this North Carolina regiment does not suffer the horrendous casualty rates of the other Gettysburg units,  casualties among the line officers were particularly severe.   

“Our regiment moved gallantly and steadily forward under the fire of our guns until it reached a point beyond which was unsafe to fire over our heads. Steadily the advance was made and as steadily and coolly met with a murderous fire from the enemy’s cannon, charged with grape, shrapnel and canister.  Still the line advanced, and at every step our comrades fell on every side…”

Kemper’s Virginia Brigade with Ranger Jim Flook

John Dooley

John Dooley of the 1st Virginia

John Dooley and the men of the 1st Virginia
Follow in the footsteps of John Dooley and the men of the 1st Virginia. Formed in Richmond, Virginia on May 1, 1851, this regiment was known as the “Old First” and it’s companies served as the honor guard to deliver former President James Monroe to his place of rest at Hollywood Cemetery.  Struggling to maintain fighting numbers this regiment was nearly disbanded in 1862 after disease and casualties at Blackburn’s Ford, Williamsburg, Seven Pines, 2nd Manassas and Antietam took their toll.  The unit brought 160 men to Gettysburg and surrendered just 17 at Appomattox.

“… Gen. Lee, or better known as Uncle Robert, silent and motionless, awaits our passing by, and anxiously does he gaze upon the only division of his army whose numbers have not been thinned by the terrible fires of Gettysburg.  I must confess that the Genl’s face does not look as bright as tho’ he were certain of success.  But yet it is impossible for us to be any otherwise than victorious… orders come for us to lie down in line of battle; that all the cannon on our side will open at a given signal, will continue for an hour and upon their ceasing we are to charge straight ahead over the open field and sweep from our path any thing in the shape of a Yankee that attempts to oppose our progress. … I tell you, there is no romance in making one of these charges. … as the cloud of enthusiasm of ardent breasts in many cases ain’t there, and instead of burning to avenge insults of our country, families and altars and firesides, the thought is most frequently, Oh, if I could just come out of this charge safely how thankful would I be.”

Catlett Conway and the men of the 7th Virginia
Follow in the footsteps of Catlett Conway and the men of the 7th Virginia. Formed of soldiers from 18 counties across north-central Virginia, this regiment made two significant bayonet charges early in its battle history during the Peninsula Campaign of 1862.  Veterans of Blackburn’s Ford, 1st Manassas, Williamsburg, Frayer’s Farm, and Antietam these men understood the horrors of war. Following the sacking and looting of Fredericksburg by soldiers in the Union Army of the Potomac, the men of the 7th donated $776.00 to the towns people to help them cope with the damage.  Nine different men carried the colors for this unit during Pickett’s Charge.

“… we reach the plank fence and the boards fly off all along our front, the skirmishers retreat before us.  The enemy’s artillery are now raining shot and shell upon us and great gaps are cut throught the line, but the men close up and continue to advance.  A shell bursts right in my face and I am knocked down by a shot that strikes me in the left side, just missing the hipbone by half an inch.  I roll on the ground gasping for breath … I try to walk, but lose consciousness and fall again.  When I open my eyes the line has moved on and the storm is roaring over me, by my brave comrade is kneeling by me, bathing my face in water from his canteen.  As I look up he smiles and says, ‘Old fellow, I thought you were gone.’”

John James and the men of the 11th Virginia
Follow in the footsteps of John James and the men of the 11th Virginia Infantry. The eldest company of this regiment was formed in the wake of John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry and its first captain (later the colonel of the regiment) was the brother-in-law of Lt. Gen. CodoriJames Longstreet, the corp commander that Gen. Lee tasked with carrying out the attack on July 3rd.  Hailing from the vicinity of Lynchburg, Virginia, these men were veterans of Blackburn’s Ford, 1st Manassas, Dranesville, Williamsburg, Gaines Mill, Frayser’s Farm, 2nd Manassas, Antietam, and Fredericksburg.  At Gettysburg they were commanded by a captain, who was recently released by General Pickett from arrest. That captain would later be found guilty at a court martial, but his sentence was never enacted because of his leadership at Gettysburg. What did he do on the fields in front of Cemetery Ridge?

“July 9, 1863.  My Dear Father: As I am wet, dirty, tired and miserable in every way, I will not attempt to write a letter but merely copy off a few of my “pencillings by the wayside” for my mind is in about as low a state as my body. … I was almost fully convinced, after looking at the situation of affairs that I would never get back safe, and I am even now almost persuaded that I was saved in that charge by a miracle of some kind of other. … At every step some poor fellow would fall, and as his pitiful cry would come to my ear I almost imaged it the wail of some loved one he had left at home. … After terrible loss to the regiment, brigade and division, we reached and actually captured the breastworks. … Oh, it was hard to be compelled to give way for the want of men, after having fought as hard as we had that day.”

Archer’s Brigade with Ranger Philip Brown

June Kimball and the men of the 14th Tennessee Infantry

Follow in the footsteps of June Kimble and the 14th Tennessee Infantry Regiment.  This regiment was raised in June 1861 near Clarksville, Tennessee.  The individual companies that made up the regiment sported nicknames such as “The Pepper Guards.”  Among its ranks were over one hundred students from Stewart College that made up the entirety of Company A, including a soldier named June Kimble.  The regiment was engaged with the rest of the brigade on July 1st in the opening shots of the battle.  On July 3rd those left took a key part in Pickett’s Charge, piercing the Union line at the Angle for a few short moments.  In remembering one of his comrades Kimball wrote:

“When perhaps seventy-five feet from the works, Billy McCulloch moved up to my left side, shoulder to shoulder, said I, Billy stay with us, as promptly came his brave reply, “I am with you”, but hardly had his courageous response passed from his lips, when a deadly Minnie pierced his brain.”

A. D. Norris

A. D. Norris of the 7th Tennessee

Archibald Debow Norris and the men of the 7th Tennessee Infantry Regiment

Follow in the footsteps of Archibald Debow Norris and the 7th Tennessee Infantry Regiment.  This regiment was formed in late May of 1861 near Gallatin, Tennessee.  Among its companies were those boasting names such as “The Hurricane Rifles” and “The Statesville Tigers.”  Norris graduated first in the class of 1860 from Allegheny College in Pennsylvania.  He returned home after college to find his home state embroiled in discussions of secession.  He himself supported the preservation of the Union and was not afraid to share his sentiments in public.  However, once the state seceded he joined the 7th Tennessee in 1861 at the age of twenty-one.  At Gettysburg he fought with the regiment on July 1st and 3rd where he displayed conspicuous bravery despite the chaos of combat.  Another soldier would later remember…

“I can recall Capt. A. Norris… when the right was being enveloped and hope gone, tearing the flag from the staff, and retreating with a fragment of his company under a fire so destructive that his escape seemed miraculous.  There was no better officer in the Seventh or in any other regiment”

J. B. Turney and the men of the 1st Tennessee Infantry Regiment
(Provisional Army)

Follow in the footsteps of J.B. Turney and the 1st Tennessee Infantry Regiment.  The First Tennessee was formed in the early days of the Civil War on April 27, 1861 and was comprised of men from south-central Tennessee who chose to name their companies  “The Mountain Boys,” “The Shelton Creek Volunteers” and “Boon’s Creek Minutemen.”  Turney fought with the regiment throughout July 1st and on the 3rd he allegedly crossed the wall at the Angle with a small band of men from his company.

JB Turney

J. B. Turney of the 1st Tennessee (Provisional Army)

“I then made a second effort to cross the works and enfilade, but by this time our lines, from my position to the left, were being beaten back by a most destructive fire; and as our opposition melted in their front, the enemy turned a deadly fire upon the unprotected squad of First Tennesseans, who, together with a few of Garnett’s Virginians, had the second time crossed the works.”

 

 

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6 Responses to “Who will you follow?” – Pickett’s Charge and the Story of the Common Soldier

  1. Steve says:

    May I make a suggestion? With most, if not all, of all other polls online, the current results are usually viewable at any time throughout the voting process. I think it would be worthwhile if you could enable that setting so that people could follow along and observe how the voting is going. It would be fun and would generate even more buzz for this event. I have never seen any negative effects from doing this with any other online poll that I have seen over the many years I have been using the internet. I actually have grown accustomed to the fact that current results are usually available at the time of (or straight after ) voting in a poll. Thanks. This whole thing is a wonderful idea by the way.

  2. steve says:

    wow thanks! You won’t regret it.

    Not to say that anything you guys have done in the past has been substandard or anything, buy this might be the most fun thing you have ever done. (the poll, itself not just the visible results).

  3. Jim Pangburn says:

    I really want to do this.

  4. Jim Cooke says:

    Could we consider “following” a AOP unit such as Stannard’s Vermonters or a unit that flanked the left of the ANV line such as the 8th OH or the men of Sherrill’s brigade? These may be slightly shorter walks that may allow others, who feel they can’t make the trek across the fields, to participate. Thanks for the opportunity to provide input.

    • The Staff says:

      Jim,

      That is a fantastic idea. We have never attempted anything like this before, so we are looking at this July 3rd program as a case study for future visitor guided programs. If it is successful I have no doubt you will see it used again on other parts of the battlefield.

      Chris

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