Gettysburg: the Second Day, as my ancestor saw it

When the men of the 11th Massachusetts awoke on July 2nd, they saw that the Confederates had occupied parts of the Emmitsburg Road, which the regiment and the rest of their division had used to march to the battlefield.  That morning was cloudy and threatened rain, but by noon the clouds had all disappeared.  At 3 PM that afternoon the entire Third Corps moved forward from its position on Cemetery Ridge to occupy the slightly higher ground in front of them.  The Second Division, under General Andrew A. Humphreys, was on the right, lined up along the Emmitsburg Road.  This included the 11th Massachusetts, which found itself on the farm belonging to an older couple named Peter and Susan Rogers.  The single-story log house and the barn provided some concealment, at least from the sun,  for some of the men of the 11th Massachusetts.  The Rogers’ granddaughter, a young woman named Josephine Miller, insisted on staying so she could bake bread for the Union troops, as well as serve them cold water and occasionally sell them a chicken.

Josephine MIller with stove
An older Josephine Miller, now married, was asked to come to Gettysburg to meet with some of the veterans when they put up their monuments. Here she poses with the original stove in which she baked bread, like the loaf she is holding. This photo was taken in the 1880s when the monument to the 1st Massachusetts (another regiment in the same brigade as the 11th) was dedicated.

At first the area was relatively peaceful, except for the skirmishing up the road.  The Rogers had a herd of a little over a dozen cows which grazed nearby.  They also had a dovecote where they kept pigeons.

At 3:45 PM rebel batteries opened fire on the brigade with solid shot.  The guns had their muzzles depressed to the point where the round solid shot would bounce and skip across the ground like a rock being skipped across a pond.  Eventually some of these rounds began to strike the house.

After the fighting began, Josephine remained with her grandfather when her grandmother sought safety to the south.  Even when her grandfather left to go somewhere safer, she continued to serve bread and water to the soldiers as well as care for the many wounded soldiers that now took shelter in their cellar. Eventually the house took a lot of damage, both from bullets and from artillery shells. According to one soldier in the 11th Massachusetts, a shell struck Josephine’s stove, and yet she still refused to leave, and instead went to the cellar.

Josephine Miller
Another photo, taken at a different time, shows Josephine Miller next to her sister Lydia Leister’s house, which served as Headquarters for Major General George Meade, Commander of the Army of the Potomac. I’m afraid I don’t know the name of the cat.

The men of the 11th waited for the Confederates to get within good range.  The 11th was carrying smoothbore muskets, not modern rifled ones.  These pattern 1842 muskets were .69 caliber (eeek), and loaded with what was known as “buck and ball“.  These special loads consisted of one large and several small round lead projectiles and were extremely deadly at close range.

780post-837-1247876039

 

While at least one regiment of the brigade traded their old weapons for new Springfield rifles here at Gettysburg (re-capturing modern Springfield rifle-muskets which had been captured by Confederates), the 11th Massachusetts apparently preferred to keep their old muskets precisely because they were so effective at close range.  So once the advancing Confederate troops reached the rail fence across the road from the Rogers farm, the 11th and the other units of their brigade would open fire.

To the left of the 11th, Battery K of the 4th U.S. Artillery (Lt. Francis Seely’s battery) also had smoothbores, only these were M1857 Napoleon 12 pounder gun-howitzers.  They took up their position to the left of the Rogers farm around 4 PM.

At one point during the artillery bombardment a snake was found in the grass nearby some soldiers and was promptly killed.  Another creature proved more fortunate: a kitten that fled the Rogers house found its way to the ranks of the 11th Massachusetts, and spent part of the battle perched on a soldier’s shoulder.

Out in front of the brigade were skirmishers from the 1st Massachusetts Infantry.  Once the skirmishers had pulled back all the way to the main line, the artillery opened fire on the advancing Confederates (I believe they were from Florida and Alabama) with canister.  One officer from the 11th Massachusetts would later claim that a general mistakenly gave the order to hold their fire, thinking that they would accidentally hit friendly troops, which caused the Confederates to get in a volley before the Federals could respond.  Eventually Seely’s battery would suffer 2 dead and 18 wounded, not including Lt. Seely, who was himself wounded and forced to hand over command of the battery to a subordinate.  Seely’s battery also lost some 28 horses before they finally withdrew.  The 11th Massachusetts would lose 23 killed, 96 wounded (of whom an additional 14 men would die of their wounds) and 10 men missing.  Eight different men had been killed or wounded while carrying the regiment’s flag.  One company of 30 men had 7 killed and 12 wounded.

At sunset, when the rebels had expended most of the energy of their attack, a counterattack was organized from troops of the Second Corps along Cemetery Ridge and from the disorganized survivors of Humphrey’s division.  They advanced about half a mile, capturing several hundred Confederates, as well as retaking many of their own wounded.  A halt was ordered at 10 PM.  At that point many of the men organized to help their wounded comrades, with some of them carrying wounded men to the corps hospitals on improvised stretchers made from muskets and blankets, and some men carrying bundles of canteens to deliver water to those who begged and pleaded for it.  The pickets captured several Confederates out doing the same thing, but let one man go when he told them “I am your prisoner, if you say so; but I am giving water to all that ask for it”.

The monument to the 11th Massachusetts is now there, where they fought on July 2nd, along the Emmitsburg road.

~Geoff

Add your $0.02.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.