“I had no idea that it was the beginning of so grand a movement as it has resulted in here we are now in the great and powerful state of Pennsylvania marching in the direction of her Capitol.”
Seated in camp near Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, Franklin Gaillard was flush with excitement as he busily described to his son the enthusiasm he felt at the moment: “I do not know, of course, what Gen. Lee is going to do, for like a good general he will keep his intentions to himself and his Lieut. Generals. But it appears to me very much as if he is going to strike a blow at Harrisburg and if he can succeed in taking it, it will be a brilliant triumph for our arms.”
It was June 28, 1863, and Gaillard’s regiment, the 2nd South Carolina Infantry, was resting after a rapid and tiresome march across the Potomac River into Maryland and Pennsylvania, where he and his men were then enjoying their role as invaders. The 34 year-old officer, strikingly handsome and eloquent, was a prolific letter writer and his descriptive account of the campaign in letters sent to his children and family that summer have fortunately survived, with copies of the transcribed letters currently housed in the Southern Historical Collection at Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Born in 1829 to planter parents in Pineville, South Carolina, Franklin Gaillard developed a gift for writing and understanding politics while attending South Carolina College, now the University of South Carolina at Columbia. It was a socially elite school, a training ground for upper class South Carolina families and Gaillard found the interaction with classmates, schooling to become future businessmen, lawyers and political leaders, most intriguing. Though his family had relocated to Alabama from the Palmetto State, Franklin stayed with his uncle in Fairfield County and attended Mount Zion Academy in Winnsboro before he enrolled at the college where he excelled in all of his classes. Graduating as class valedictorian in 1849, Gaillard appeared to be on the road to success when the feverish news of gold in California caught his interest. Accompanied by countless others, the venturous Gaillard journeyed to California to seek his fortune in the gold fields but after three years of discouragement, returned to his uncle’s home in Winnsboro where he renewed his interest in politics and writing as the owner of the Winnsboro Register, a decidedly southern democratic newspaper. He also married that same year, the union producing two children before his wife’s untimely death in 1856. Soon after her passing, he accepted the job as chief editor of the Carolinian newspaper in Columbus. Here, Gaillard was exposed to the rhetoric of States Rights arguments and was active among the many social circles where reported insults to Southern society were hotly debated and discussed.
Secession and war was the inevitable outcome and Gaillard found himself in the middle of the fever to serve his home state. Connections with legislators and others provided Gaillard with the opportunity of an officer’s position so he enlisted and mustered into service as a lieutenant in what became Company A of the 2nd South Carolina Volunteer Regiment. He took an immediate liking to the military and was so well respected by fellow officers and enlisted men alike that he rose through promotion to the rank of major and then lieutenant colonel of the regiment, commanded in the summer of 1863 by Colonel John D. Kennedy, a native of Camden, South Carolina. The 2nd South Carolina had a storied record of service through the tough campaigns in the summer and fall of 1862 and again during the Chancellorsville Campaign that spring. Despite the hardships and an injury suffered the previous fall, Lt. Colonel Gaillard was enthusiastically hopeful that this summer campaign in Pennsylvania would see the end of the war and his exuberance on that warm June day when he penned his letter could not be contained:
The enemy have nothing but raw troops in our front. I think we can whip three or four to one. Then we could march on towards Philadelphia and Gen. Hooker would have to come to our front to save it and we would thus free Maryland and maybe take Washington and Baltimore. This summer is going to be filled with great events and if Providence will favor our efforts I hope mighty things for our country will be achieved. Our Army never was in better health and spirits.
Since we left Fredericksburg we have marched about one hundred and sixty miles. In our march from Culpeper to Ashby’s Gap we had a terrible march. The sun as very hot and then so many men marching along together made it very dusty. In the old settled country, the farmers find great difficulty in getting rails. Where we passed it was mountainous and stony and the people would gather up large quantities and make stone walls which answer the purpose of a fence and are very durable. When our troops would be down in a valley, no wind could refresh them, with the sun coming down heavily upon their heads, the heat increased by the reflection from the walls, and the dust stifling them so that they could not breath in pure air, the gallant fellows, many, very many, would turn red in the face from blood rushing to their head and fall to the ground with sun stroke. We got to Ashby’s Gap (and) stopped two or three days and then we had a very heavy rain and one or two days of wet and cloudy weather. This revived them all like pouring water on wilted plants. Nearly all came up. We stopped there to guard this Gap and it was well we did for the enemy’s Cavalry assisted by a small force of infantry drove our Cavalry several miles before them and we all thought whipped them pretty badly. We had crossed the Shenandoah River and had to recross it and go back three or four miles to keep the Yankees from taking the Gap. Next day the Yankees went back and Stuart’s Cavalry went poking along at a very slow pace as if they were in no great hurry to overtake them. They now claim in the papers that they drove them back but we who were there and saw them know better. Our Cavalry is very little account and have very little to boast of. There are more than half of them who are with their horses lamed or sore backed with the wagons. They have got so now that as soon as a fight begins they think they have nothing to do but to go back to the rear and let the Infantry do the fighting. Our boys ridicule them very much whenever they pass.
I am afraid our men will suffer for shoes. These long marches are very trying on men’s feet and shoes. You would be very much amused to see the men crossing a river. A regiment is marched down to the banks and halted long enough to allow them to pull off their pantaloons. If the water is over waist deep they put bayonets on their guns and hang their cartridge boxes on them, then right shoulder shift arms and wade across on fine spirits as if it was a frolic. The Yankees carry pontoon trains along with them but our boys say that every man in General Lee’s Army carries his own pontoons. It is very funny to pass through these Yankee towns to see the long sour faces. Our men go on and pay no attention to them. They only laugh at them when they make themselves ridiculous. Things are very cheap here in their stores but they will not take our money and Gen. Lee has issued very stringent orders about private property. He is very right for our Army would soon become demoralized if they were allowed to do as many of them would like to. Many of them think it very hard that they should not be allowed to treat them as their soldiers treated our people but we must not imitate the Yankees in their mean acts. Gen. Lee is going to support his Army over here and this will tax the people here and make them feel the war.
Your very affectionate father,
Four days after mailing his hopeful letter, Colonel Gaillard would be in the thickest of the fighting at Gettysburg, an event that would forever after change his perspective on the hope of southern victory.
Historian, Gettysburg National Military Park