“I have been intending to write you for some time,” the letter began, “but we were so continually on the move and the wagons with writing material not being convenient I have delayed longer than I should have.”
The writer was exhausted but finally enjoying the first free moments provided him in over two weeks of hard marching and the aftermath of the battle at Gettysburg. It was not until July 17 when Lt. Colonel Gaillard and his regiment were back in Virginia, when he finally had the opportunity to look at one or two letters written from home and try to answer them with the same optimism he’d expressed barely three weeks earlier. This would be tough; how would he explain the experience of battle in Pennsylvania to his family, so far away? He regiment had suffered heavily, not only in the battle but in the loss of material and even morale, despite the bravado so highly touted by him and his men as they trudged through enemy territory. Written over a period of ten days, the young colonel took up his pen and decided to hold nothing back:
Another terrible battle has been fought and I am yet safe. Moultrie[i] too passed through untouched. Poor Eddie received a very painful wound and one which will give him trouble for some time. I stopped at the Brigade infirmary as we were retiring from Gettysburg and saw him. He was suffering a good deal of pain and seemed to dislike very much being left in the hands of the enemy. I regard his wound as severe but not serious. [ii] There will be published in the papers a list of casualties, I took a great deal of care in the preparation. The reports of captain of companies were submitted to the surgeon to obtain concurrence of opinion as to the nature and extent of wounds.
The battle of Gettysburg was, I think, the most sanguinary of the war and was as clear a defeat as our army ever met with. Our Brigade suffered very severely. The 2nd Regiment I have no hesitation in saying was the hero regiment of the Brigade on the occasion. I can not recur, even in thought, to their gallantry without the proudest emotions. We received order to advance as soon as we started we came under artillery fire of the enemy’s batteries. For four hundred yards our line moved beautifully forward not wavering nor hesitating in the slightest degree. We were to take a battery immediately in our front and I never saw men more resolved upon an accomplishment. We had crossed two fences and our line was unbroken although many gaps had been in the ranks. In the midst of this beautiful advance the regiment to our right commenced moving by the right flank, that is, facing to the right. The directions we receive required us to dress to the right so that this regiment would face to the right and then to the front. We would have to conform supposing that the orders came from General Kershaw. I afterward learned that it did not. The consequences were fatal. We were, in ten minutes or less time, terribly butchered. A body of infantry to our left opened on us, and as a volley of grape would strike our line, I saw half a dozen at a time knocked up and flung to the ground like trifles. In about that short space of time we had about half of our men killed or wounded. It was the most shocking battle I have ever witnessed. There were familiar forms and faces with parts of their faces shot away, legs shattered, arms torn off, etc. Yet moving to the right but not retiring we occupied a piece of woods which gave us protection until the battery was taken by the Mississippi Brigade under Gen. Barksdale. The Regiment of our own Brigade to our right fell back before a very heavy body of infantry.
Notwithstanding all this, our men stood their ground. The enemy’s infantry came up and we stood within thirty steps of each other. They loaded and fired deliberately. I never saw more stubbornness. It was so desperate I took two shots with my pistol at men scarcely thirty steps from me. I could not see that I did any damage but there were some seven or eight dead lying just about where I was shooting.
Wofford’s Georgia Brigade coming up on our left supporting the Mississippi Brigade, we charged upon the party opposed to us and drove them pell-mell through the woods, shooting them down and taking prisoners at every step. We pursued them to the foot of the stone mountain, the strong point in their position, where we attacked them. Here the bullets literally came down upon us as think as hailstones. It is scarcely necessary to say we fell back. But the Yankees did not venture to pursue. We held until next evening the larger portion of the battlefield we fought on. It was thickly strewn with their dead.
The battle was an unfortunate one. Our army went into it in magnificent style and I never saw it fight better but the position defeated us. For this I blame our Generals. In a day, by our injudicious attack they defeated the most brilliants prospects we have ever had. It was caused by their overconfidence. The greatest misfortune is that it destroyed the unbounded confidence reposed in Gen. Lee. Before, the army believed he could not err. They now see that he can once in a while. Viewed in a political aspect it was a disaster to us, in my judgment. Its injurious effect can only be counteracted by them attacking us and being well whipped. I think such will be the result. I hope they may come dashing upon us, expecting to find us demoralized. Our men suffered terribly for shoes. Our ammunition became short and our line of communication was so long that we lost a great many wagons. I am more satisfied than ever that invasion is too hazardous for us.
The fall of Vicksburg I take quite patiently. I made up my mind when Fort Donaldson fell that the Mississippi River was gone. I do not believe they are going to gain one tenth the advantages from it they anticipate. Had we not invaded Pennsylvania we would have been in a condition to reinforce the armies in the West. We will have to fall back and give the enemy deeper lines to operate through. Gen. Bragg has almost checkmated Rosencrantz by this policy. I feel very anxious to hear from my brothers and nephews.
Capt. Wallace, now major, and Col. Kennedy were both wounded and have gone home on sixty days’ furlough. Adjutant Sill was also wounded and has gone home on a forty days’ furlough. Mr. Booze, the Colonel’s orderly who messed with us lost a leg and was severely wounded in the arm. He was left in the hands of the enemy, so that of the five in the mess I am the only one left. Lieut. Perry of Co. H and myself are the only two of the old officers of the Regiment left with it. I feel quite lonely at times, but my increased responsibility diverts me, as only one of the old company commanders is with his company. The others are all inexperienced and slow to assume authority so that I have some trouble on this score.
When I commenced this letter we were at Bunker Hill between Winchester and Martinsburg. I was prevented from finishing it, put it in my trunk and have not been able to conclude it until now the 27th of July near Culpepper.
Our army is all here recruiting rapidly and will give Mr. Meade a warm reception should he come down upon which I am disposed to doubt. In the package of things sent home by Moultrie there is a pair of shoes, a present to Daughter from Gen. Kershaw. I got nothing in Pennsylvania or Maryland in the way of clothing or goods of any kind. The people did not want to trade and our money was really worth little or nothing to them. There was an immense amount of plundering. Our army would have been demoralized had we been victorious and remained long over there. Now that we have got back to Virginia it is very hard to break the men from their acquired habits over there. The people looked at us with sour faces, long faces, and indifferent faces. All they seemed to fear was that we would burn their houses. Horses and cattle they gave up as small matter.
Tell David and Daughter I did not get one thing for them or for myself. I hope I will soon get another letter from David. Now that Daughter has gone to school I suppose she will soon be writing letters too.
Yours affectionately, Franklin Gaillard
Excuse my paper; it got thoroughly saturated when the wagons were recrossing the Potomac.
The two letters written by Colonel Gaillard that summer provide the historian exquisite detail of not only his personal experience and confidence in the course of the war, but he sincerely shared the moods and privations of the men of his regiment during the Gettysburg Campaign. The 2nd South Carolina Infantry suffered a physical loss of 169 officers and men out of the 410 that started the fateful charge of the brigade across the George Rose Farm on July 2, but the survivors were also deeply affected by the dashing of their hopes of southern independence at Gettysburg. Union soldiers- the Army of the Potomac- were not going to be so easily “whipped”.
Unfortunately, Gaillard did not survive the war. This remarkable man was killed at the Battle of Wilderness on May 6, 1864, and is buried in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Thankfully, his wartime letters have been preserved and so useful to historians such as Mac Wycoff, author of A History of the 2nd South Carolina Infantry: 1861-1865 (Fredericksburg, VA: Sgt. Kirkland’s Museum and Historical Society, 1994). Yet, we cannot help but be saddened by the loss of a man who could have told us so much more had he survived and lived to complete the record he began in his wartime letters home.
Historian, Gettysburg National Military Park
[i] Sergeant Moultrie Brailsford, Company I, 2nd South Carolina Infantry
[ii] Corporal Edmund Gaillard, Company I, 2nd South Carolina. Corporal Gaillard was taken prisoner by Federal troops and treated at Camp Letterman hospital near Gettysburg. Unfortunately, he succumbed to his injuries on October 15, 1863.