I had the opportunity recently to delve into the regimental files here at the park library and do a little digging on the 4th Texas Volunteer Infantry. Being one of the more famous Confederate units to take part in the battle of Gettysburg, most students of the Civil War will recognize the regiment as part of the famed Texas Brigade of the Army of Northern Virginia. Closely associated with John Bell Hood but commanded at Gettysburg by Jerome Robertson, the 4th brought roughly 415 men into the fighting on July 2nd, 1863 and ultimately sustained a loss of about 27%, or 112 of those engaged.
In revisiting the regiment, and combing through the files collected by previous historians at Gettysburg National Military Park, I was reminded of the many poignant and descriptive first hand accounts these Texans had left behind. Taken as a whole, the memoirs, diaries, letters, and official reports attributed to the unit comprise some of the most descriptive testimony of the fighting on the 2nd Day of the Battle of Gettysburg, and more particularly, the struggle for Little Round Top. Through the recollections of soldiers like Val Giles, John West, Decimus et Ultimus Barziza, and others the sensory experience of combat comes alive, as does the feelings and experiences of the soldiers in the regiment. When paired with the preserved battlefield landscape, their stories and memories become palpable and tangible. Walking the route of the assault of the 4th Texas on July 2nd, with accounts in hand, is an easy way to cox from the landscape the history of what happened here. Inspired by the accounts I read, I set out to do just that this morning.
“We were put into the fight about 3 o’clock in the afternoon of the 2d, having marched all night on the 1st and laid in line of battle all the morning of the 2d, and my first lesson as a recruit was to lie for about half an hour under what the most experienced soldiers called the worst shelling they ever witnessed. Several were killed and many wounded in a few feet of me, and the infernal machines came tearing and whirring through the ranks with a most demoralizing tendency.” – John West, 4th Texas
“We were some hours getting into position, but finally formed in an open field, under the declivity of a gradually rising hill in our front, upon the top of which the artillery was posted.” – Decimus et Ultimus Barziza, 4th Texas.
“The enemy shells screamed and bursted around us, inflicting considerable damage. It is very trying upon men to remain still in the ranks under a severe cannonading. One has time to reflect upon the danager, and there being no wild excitement as in a charge, he is more reminded of the utter helplessness of his present condition.
– Decimus et Ultimus Barziza, 4th Texas.
About 4.30 p.m. the 2d instant, we were ordered to advance on the enemy, who occupied the heights about 1¼ miles distant, the Fifth Texas, the directing battalion, on my right, and the First Texas on my left. – Maj. John P. Bane, Commanding 4th Texas
“The long cry of Attention! Brought every man to his feet, and the details were made to pull down the fence in our front. Everyone knew what it meant, and it was really a relief to move forward. The word ‘Forward’ was given, and on we moved.”
– Decimus et Ultimus Barziza, 4th Texas.
“And forward we went. The word was passed down the line, “Quick, but not double quick,” but we moved as fast as we could. Off went blankets, knapsacks and all surplus baggage, and yelling and screaming we rushed on the batteries—one on a lofty eminence beyond a rock fence and a small branch, the other back of it on quite a mountain about three hundred yards farther off and a little to the right—were full three quarters of a mile from us when the word “forward” was given.”
– John West, 4th Texas
“So soon as we cleared the brow of the hill and became exposed to the enemy’s artillery, off we went, not at an orderly double quick, but in a wild, frantic, desperate run, yelling, screaming and shouting; over ditches, up and down hill, bursting through garden fences and shrubbery, occasionally dodging the head as a bullet whistled by the ear.” – Decimus et Ultimus Barziza, 4th Texas.
“Arriving in a road, we halted a minute or two, reformed and started again. On we go with the same speed, jumping over and plunging through creeks, pulling through mud, struggling through underbrush, still keeping the loud, irregular and terrible Confederate yell.” – Decimus et Ultimus Barziza, 4th Texas.
“Shells and grape shot, canister and Minnie balls, came hurtling through our ranks, bursting screaming, whistling – still that same wild, reckless, unhesitating rush towards enemy guns.” – Decimus et Ultimus Barziza, 4th Texas.
“I met the enemy in full force in a heavy, wooded ground, sheltering themselves behind rocks, from which, after a sharp contest, he was driven to the heights beyond, in our front and in close proximity to the mountain, and there I was pained to learn that the gallant Lieut. Col. B. F. Carter was severely wounded while crossing a stone wall near the base of the mountain.” – Maj. John P. Bane, Commanding 4th Texas
“Suddenly we find ourselves at the base of a range of hills – a rough, woody, rocky country. Here the great severity of the Federal Infantry stopped our progress, and then commenced a rapid, continuous and murderous musketry fight; we at the base, they on the sides and top of the hills…” – Decimus et Ultimus Barziza, 4th Texas.
“The side of the mountain was heavily timbered and covered with great boulders that had tumbled from the cliffs above years before. These afforded great protection to the men. Every tree, rock and stump that gave any protection from the rain of Minie balls that was poured down upon us from the crest above us, was soon appropriated.”
– Val Giles, 4th Texas
“There were places full ten or fifteen feet perdendicular around which we were compelled to go, and the entire ascent would have been difficult to a man entirely divested of gun and accouterments. It was a mass of rock and boulders amid which a mountain goat would, have revelled, and being subjected to a fire on our left flank, made it a most dangerous and unsafe place for a soldier, and many a fellow reminded me of the alliteration, “Round the rude rock the ragged rascal ran.” – John West, 4th Texas
“Finding it impossible to carry the heights by assault with my thinned ranks, I ordered my command to fall back in the skirt of timber, the position then occupied being enfiladed by the batteries on the left and exposed to heavy fire of musketry in my immediate front.”
– Maj. John P. Bane, Commanding 4th Texas
“From behind trees and huge rocks we poured in our fiery discharges; the din was incessant and deafening.” – Decimus et Ultimus Barziza, 4th Texas
“Being joined by the Fifth Texas on my right, I again attempted to drive the enemy from the heights by assaults, but with like results. Again, being re-enforced by the Forty-eighth Alabama, commanded by the gallant Colonel [James L.] Sheffield, and the Forty-fourth Alabama, whose commander I did not learn, we again charged their works, but were repulsed, and then, under the order of General Law, I ordered my command to fall back under cover of the timber, on a slight elevation within short range of the enemy.” – Maj. John P. Bane, Commanding 4th Texas
“By this time order and discipline were gone. Every fellow was his own general. Private soldiers gave commands as loud as the officers. Nobody paid any attention to either.”
– Val Giles, 4th Texas
“During this musketry engagement we were within from twenty five to fifty yards of the enemy. The trees were literally barked, and thousands of bullets flew to atoms against the hard rocks. Our line was compelled to retire, and left me wounded in the hands of the enemy.” – Decimus et Ultimus Barziza, 4th Texas
“At the dawn of day, I had a stone wall about 2 feet high thrown up, which afforded some protection to the men occupying the position…”– Maj. John P. Bane, Commanding 4th Texas
“At Gettysburg that night, it was about seven devils to each man. Officers were cross to the men, and the men were equally cross to the officers. It was the same way with our enemies. We could hear the Yankee officers on the crest of the ridge in front of us cursing the men by platoons, and the men telling him to go to a country not very far away from us at that time.” – Val Giles, 4th Texas