Every once in a while a primary account of the Battle of Gettysburg surfaces where the writer’s candidness and honesty just “grabs” me. One such narrative is the History of Company “G”, 147th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry by Michael S. Schroyer. In his recollections Schroyer recounts the heroes and cowards, the brave deeds and the sorrowful aftermath of battle. Ultimately, he tells it “the way it was.” This is particulalry true of his experiences on Culp’s Hill, July 2nd and 3rd, 1863.
Schroyer enlisted on September 15th, 1862 and served in various campaigns including Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Chattanooga, Atlanta, and the March to the Sea. During his service, he received subsequent promotions to Corporal on September 1, 1863, Sergeant on April 1, 1865, and mustered out of service on June 6, 1865. As a soldier he was nothing flashy or extraordinary, just a simple infantryman doing his duty. Schroyer real talent came from the pen though.
For his Gettysburg narrative, Schroyer detailed the marches and daily activities of the regiment but then delved into “a few little incidents that happened before, during, and after the battle.” The following unvarnished and unflinching excerpts from his book depict the horror, tragedy, and cruelty of Civil War combat.
The long haired yellow dog that followed the company from Maryland was with us all thru the Gettysburg battle and when a shell dropped near us and exploded, the dog, who had found a cool place under the rocks, would come forth and bark at the bursting shells. The dog stayed with us until our return march thru Maryland when he left us and we never saw anything of him again. Sergeant Reuben A. Howeter, of Company H, who had been a theological student at Missionary Institute of Selinsgrove, was the first man the writer saw killed at Gettysburg. He was a fine fellow and beloved by all who knew him.
Samuel May, who was a shyster … tried the same game of quit at Gettysburg. Someone close by the writer fired his musket off so close to my ear as to make it very uncomfortable. I turned and saw Sam May with a companion going up the hill as fast as he could in the rear of his company. I told Captain Byers, who was back of me at the time, about them going back. He used some pretty strong language and started after them right in the midst of the fight. When he got near them he commanded them to halt, which they did. They were at once ordered back to their company and Captain Byers told them in the presence of their company officer, Captain Mackey, that they had been making fun of Company G, calling the men cowards, conscripts, etc., and that now while Company G was standing like a rock these men were trying to run away. Byers further told their captain that if they attempted to get away again that he would turn the fire of Company G upon them. After this we never received any more taunts from them.
A. Lumbard and the writer walked out over the battle field on July 4th, where the dead were lying around by the hundreds. Seeing a rebel lying on his back with a blanket over his face Lumbard, of course, thinking him dead gave him a kick and said, “This fellow fell nice.” To our great surprise the man threw the blanket off his face and said, “Please don’t hurt me, I am badly wounded” and we walked away without even asking him whether we could do anything for him, or even so much as to offer him a drink of cold water. This has always been one of the saddest regrets of my life. We might excuse our actions by the fact that the feeling ran so high between the North and the South; that they were our enemies and ready to kill us at any opportunity; that we were mere boys only 20 years of age and knew but little of the ways of the world; but even granting the above excuses were true, yet how unkind and inhuman our treatment of this man.
On the third of July after repeated charges by the enemy upon our regiment, the ground in our immediate front was strewn with the dead and wounded. We noticed one wounded man sat up and reached for a gun. The supposition was that he intended to shoot someone of our officers. A few shots were fired at him, but none struck him and I think they were only fired to scare him. He loaded his gun, placed a cap on the tube, then placed the butt of the gun between his feet, placed the ramrod upon the trigger with one hand and held the muzzle under his chin with the other. He looked down to see that all was right, when he pushed the ramrod against the trigger and another poor soul was ushered into eternity. After the retreat of the rebels a number of the company went out to see this man and found he had been shot thru both hips, the ball having gone clear thru. Many rebel dead were buried on the afternoon of the fourth.
On Sunday morning, July 5th, Samuel Jarrett, James W. Smith, and the writer were detailed to help bury the dead. Sergeant Wallace was permanently detailed on pioneer duty and he helped to dig the trenches. Jarrett, Smith and myself helped to gather up the dead and bring them to the trenches. We four, as my memory serves me, were the only ones of Company G who helped in this work. The woods were full of dead men and horses, some of whom had been killed on the evening of the second.
On the night of the third, and on July fourth, very hot with heavy thunderstorms and Sunday morning, the fifth, the sun came out bright and hot, and the stench from these dead was something fearful.
While the trenches were being dug we gathered the corpses and the stench was so great that we were ordered not to carry any more until the pioneers had finished their work. Some of the pioneers got sick and had to quit. The trenches were dug about six and a half feet wide and about two and a half feet deep. We placed 42 in one trench and 31 in another. The trenches were dug in the woods. A tree separated the two trenches.
We gathered these dead, who lay in every conceivable position, from a very small portion of the field.
In their last resting place they were placed side by side and two deep. Three men generally brought in a corpse, one at each arm or a stick was placed under their shoulders, and carried to the trenches. The third one would grasp the legs just above the ankle. In this manner we lifted the corpse, when the head would drop back almost dragging on the ground, while the blood oozed from out their ears and nose. Nearly all the dead had turned black. … Oh! The horrible sight! Can you imagine it? These poor fellows, middle-aged, young men, and boys, fine looking, and to sacrifice their lives for so unworthy a cause and one which they thought was right. As I write these lines it makes my heart feel sad to think of war’s destruction. Would you believe it, every one of these unfortunates as they lay there dead, had been visited by the battlefield thieves and every one was searched and their pockets rifled. We helped carry a very large man. He had been killed and lay in a pool of water when we placed the sticks under him and started for the trench. In stepping over a mud puddle the stick broke and he fell into the water and such a time as we had in getting him out.
A captain of the pioneer corps cut the bark off the tree and then asked, how many are in the trenches? The answer was 73. Just then a member of the Fifth Ohio regiment of our brigade, came in with a bare foot (the leg of some Confederated had been shot off just above the ankle.) A sharpened stick had been stuck into the foot and he carried it in this way to the trenches. He said to the captain, how many in this trench? The captain replied 73. The other said make it 73 and one foot. This story, (as well as the one about the rebel shooting himself) are still told by the battlefield guides.
Matt Atkinson, Park Ranger
Gettysburg National Military Park