William R. Warner enlisted early in the war, July 16, 1861, at Fort Independence, Boston Harbor. At age nineteen, he was one of the many recruits that rushed to defend the flag and stamp out the Rebellion. Probably because he was a clerk prior to the war, Warner entered the service at the rank of sergeant. He stood at 5’ 11” inches tall having a “light” complexion, black eyes, and dark hair. On March 1, 1863, he was promoted to orderly sergeant and on June 30 entered the officer ranks as a 2nd Lieutenant.
The 13th Massachusetts marched onto the fields of Gettysburg as veterans. The regiment “saw the elephant” early in the war at Beller’s Mill, near Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. (good luck finding anything on that one) They wore out a good pair of shoes chasing “Stonewall” Jackson up and down the Valley in the spring of ’62. Later that year, the regiment fought with John Pope’s Army at Cedar Mountain and Second Manassas before being reorganized into the Union First Corps for the Maryland, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville Campaigns.
On June 30, Warner and his comrades were in Emmitsburg, Maryland with the intrepid John Reynolds leading their column north in pursuit of Lee. They would not have to wait long to find him. It is here that we pick up with Warner’s narrative of events.
Wednesday, July 1 1863
Started on march to Gettysburg about a.m. In obedience to orders from Col. Leonard, I turned over my gun & equipment to Co. K. and reported to Capt Cary of Co G as 2nd Lt. but minus sword or arms of any kind. Gettysburg was distant about nine miles. We had a shower while on way. The 1st & 3rd Divisions of our Corps marched in advance of us.
Some distance before reaching G. we began to hear the guns opening the conflict, and later we were met by an Aid with message “that we were wanted & that Buford with Cavalry was engaged.” Soon in some way rumor reached us that Gen Reynolds was wounded and before we entered the outskirts of G. we heard that he had been Killed. We turned off of pike to the left, at a brick house( I think) through an orchard and pushed on towards a large Seminary on the crest of a ridge. Here we halted perhaps half hour but long enough to throw up some breastworks of considerable strength, for hearing brisk fighting, not far in front of us, & extending well to our
right, and seeing (as well as feeling) every indication that a great battle was about to be fought, every man worked willingly & rapidly in effecting some slight protection, Then, orders came to move, and we quickly crossed a road (on our right from Seminary) keeping under the slope which was thinly covered with woods. Here, by the roadside, I notice the first man, whom I knew, belonging to our Division, who was wounded, Capt, J. O. Williams of 12th Mass. Passing through the woods, we attempted to form a line at a stone wall- possibly we were halted there a few moments to allow stragglers to get up- then across an open field to another piece of woods, and hardly before we could realize it we were in the midst of a battle.
The 13th Massachusetts belonged to Gabriel Paul’s brigade. The brigade remained in reserve near the Seminary until being summoned to relieve Henry Baxter’s men along the north face of Oak Ridge (near the present observation tower). The regiment held the extreme right of the First Corps line along the Mummasburg Road.
I had thought very little about it, I mean in the matter of dwelling upon it, & dreading it, and when once engaged, had no time to think. My first impulse, was to pick up a gun & some cartridges, and I loaded & fired several time, Sergeant Wheeler of Co. K, was almost the first man I saw struck, – He fell over backwards, a ball having ploughed his forehead, -About the same moment, six or seven of the tallest men of Co K. on the right were wounded Harvey Ross, H. Culling. John Flye, M. O. Laughlin, Melville Walker.
In Company, G. which I was stationed with, I noticed Corp H. A. Sanborn who had just returned to Regt, on recovery from a wound at Antietam, As he was struck, he turned to the rear, & stood as if hesitating a moment and then fell. In Co H. S.A. Hayes, a middle aged man (who had been detailed as Teamster, until within a short time) was shot & cried out, “Who will take care of my children now.”
In some Company, J. M. ________, a tall slim young man with very black hair & dark features fell & I recall vividly the ghastliness of his face contrasted with his dark hair, as I noticed him for a moment, In Company to right, which was The Color Col. Sergeant Roland B. Morris Carrying the Colors was shot down. Every man in the Regiment will recall the piercing shrieks of agony, which were wrung from him. I mention these men among the many others of the Regt who fell at same time, because I happened to notice them, more especially.
At the left of the Regiment passing back & forth stood Major Gould, His voice could scarcely be heard amid so much noise of fire-arms, & tumult , but when it could be heard, it was, “Do your duty – noble sons of Massachusetts – do your duty- “Remember you states &c &c.”
One can hardly tell, how long we remained at this point, but at the time Morris fell we were pushing toward the road which lay in front of us, & where we swept in a body of rebel prisoners of an Alabama Regt. As the fire slackened, with numbers largely reduced by Killed, wounded & those who had gone to rear with wounded & prisoners, we withdrew from extreme advanced position back across the open field to the first piece of woods we passed through & where part of our Brigade then faced in another direction. From the crest of the ridge, we saw considerable bodies of the enemy, moving to our left (toward Seminary where from the heavy firing, we knew our troops were being badly pushed, Looking to the front & more especially to the right where there had been a gap between us & 11th Corps, – we could see the 11thCorps withdrawing closely followed by long lines of the enemy, we knew it could only be a question of a few minutes before the orders must come for removal from this exposed position. When orders came, flags were followed, (ours in hands of Capt Howe & David Schloss) but Regiment Organization was impossible. When we came in full sight of Seminary the last Battery was retreating at full speed toward the town.
Making as short a cut as possible, toward G. we came to RR. Embankment, on top of which we attempted to push way . As a volley would come from one side, numbers would leave embankment in hope of shelter on other side, then a volley from that side (Seminary side) and others would rush down the left side.
Coming to a culvert under the track, We noticed it already packed full with stragglers of men who hesitated to go farther. Before we reached culvert, Schloos carrying State Flag was knocked down by the arm of a soldier of 14th Brooklyn who was torn to pieces by a shell & whose brains were scattered over the flag.
On one of the streets of G. I met Lt Whiston with half dozen or more swords in his hands, which he taken from prisoners, He offered me one, but having already picked one up , I declined his offer. Why he failed to escape I cannot see, unless his bundle of swords overloaded him, but he was taken prisoner & carried to Richmond. Before reaching the centre of G. – with others, I left the streets passed through some back yards. Seeing a _______of rain water, without stopping for cup, I dipped my hands into the water & drank. A shell came shrieking over, and we ducked still lower. With water dripping we rushed on, into the street & dense throng all pushing toward Cemetery Hill.
In the Square, I saw an officer mounted upon a fine horse (equipment yellow) struck by a shell & thrown –horse & rider against the sidewalk, up to the side of the house no one stopped to look at him, Bullets shot & shell were pouring in from both directions and looking up the side streets we could see the reb soldiers standing & firing.
As we approached the Cemetery we came under cover of the guns of 11th Corps, already in position & out of the reach of the enemys fire, So our pace slackened. We finally rallied around our Division flag.
That night we spent on Cemetery Hill to the left of the Cemetery facing towards the town.
Our Regt numbering men.
Our Brigade “
The Officers of Co K. Lt Whiston & Lt Samuel Cary, both having been taken prisoners, I was assigned to that Company again.
The 13th Massachusetts entered the battle with 284 men present for duty. That night only 99 answered the roll call.
The Park thanks Brad Forbush for the generous use of the images and Mr. Eric Locher for donating a copy of Warner’s memoirs .