Traditional Stories


FIFTIETH ANNIVERSARY OF THE
BATTLE OF GETTYSBURG

by Capt. H. A. Ferrell, Company C, Thirty-third Virginia Cavalry

Memory history of the battlefield and recollections and impressions of the memorable reunion held on the fiftieth anniversary of the battle-"Such as none ever saw before and none will see again."

Editor News:

By request I will offer to your readers a mental map and memory history of the battlefield of Gettysburg as I saw it at the reunion there in July 1913. 1 do not pretend to be accurate in details, but will give it according to my observation and memory. I will try to avoid any comment on the battle, but should "I, who also am your brother and companion in tribulations be carried away in the spirit" to make remarks, they shall be what I believe true and made in the same "spirit of brotherly love and Christian charity" that characterized the Blue and Gray veterans, as with eyes dimmed and cheeks suffused with tears they clasped each other's hands at that great reunion.

Being a Confederate, I will ask the readers to stand with me on the western border of a vast plateau, extending from north to south a distance of six miles, and from west to east four or five miles; covering an area of some twenty-five square miles. The extreme southeastern corner of this plateau is "broken by the jutting land on either side" of two rough and jagged hills or mountains. Two-thirds of the way across this plateau that I am trying to have you see through the spectacles of imagination, and one-fourth of the way down from the north, stands the town of Gettysburg. From directly north comes the Carlisle road. From north by east comes Harrisburg road, and from the northeast comes the York road, a little south of east the Hanover road; from the southeast comes the Baltimore Pike, and from directly south comes Taneytown road. Starting again from the Carlisle road on the north and coming west, the Mummasburg road enters from north by west, the Chambersburg road from nearly northwest, the Hagerstown road from slightly south of west, and the Emmitsburg road from the southwest.

On our right, or south of where we are supposed to be standing, is a slow sluggish stream, called Marsh Creek, while some distance in front of us comes down from the north, crossing the Mummasburg, Chambersburg, and Hagerstown roads and emptying into Marsh Creek is a small creek called Willowsby Run. Looking east and letting our vision sweep from north to south, nearly halfway across the field we will see a low ridge running north and south nearly paralleling Willowsby Run. On this ridge the farmers had for several miles built a stone fence or wall of picked-up boulders, that had a base of about five feet and about the same in height. This ridge is called the Seminary Ridge, and was the line-of-battle on the first day. The Confederates formed on a line with Willowsby Run--the first shot is said to have been fired near Hagerstown road on this line from which they moved forward, carried the stone-walls, turned the Federal right, crumpled up their right wing, drove them through the town of Gettysburg and on to Cemetery Ridge. This is another low ridge paralleling Seminary Ridge and extending from the Round Tops on the south to Culps Hill on the north and in the rear of the cemetery on the east. Little Round Top is south and west of the ridge and Big Round Top is farther west and south.

If the readers can look at this mental map I am trying to have them see, they will see that Meade's lines were now drawn in the shape of an elongated letter S. At the close of the first day's fighting, Lee held everything from Big Round Top in the south around west and north to Culps Hill on the east, between Hanover road and by the Baltimore Pike.

Cemetery Hill, like Seminary Ridge, was, and is, crowned with a rough stone wall, or fence, the patient and laborious work of the Dutch farmers in the forgotten past. At right angles from this wall and running west are two other walls, two or three hundred yards apart and between these walls is what is known as the "angle." Looking from Seminary Ridge, the two Round Tops appear to be about a half mile apart, and between them some five hundred yards farther west is Devil's Den--a rock, high steep, toward Round Tops and prolongs towards the western side. At the northern end are gigantic boulders with innumerable crevices and holes. I will not attempt to describe it. As a small party of us were exploring it on the second evening of the fair, one veteran remarked that it certainly is appropriately named. The base and southern slope of this bluff is known as "Slaughter Pen." The huge boulders bear marks of shot, shells and bullets yet visible and are carved with countless names and initials, some doubtless put there during the battle, some by early sightseers immediately after the battle, some by soldier visitors long since and mayhap, many by citizens in antebellum days.

The battlefield is now a national park enclosed by four strands of inch gas pipe posts set at regular distances for which holes have been bored, the pipe passed through them and screwed together only lacking the "pig-tight" to rival the Kentuckian's fence. Inside this fence is a macadamized boulevard, or avenue, encircling the entire field and graded, I would think, to not over three degrees. There are other like avenues running at almost every angle through the field that marks the position of the various regiments, brigades and divisions of the Union forces. I am told this position of the Confederates are yet to be marked in a like manner.

All along the battle lines of both armies as drawn on the second and third days, on the same spot--and so far as could be known--the same guns now stand frowning across the field over which, borrowing from Sherman, they hurled a "hell" of death fifty years before. Behind the guns are granite tablets telling to whose battery they belonged and what infantry supported it. One of these tablets in the rear of Hills Corps on Seminary Ridge, tells of a brigade (I think it was Pegrarns) that went into the battle with over sixteen hundred men and came out with less than five hundred.

The National Cemetery is a plot of seventeen acres, a little south and west of the old cemetery that gives the ridge its name. It is laid off in a semi-circle in the center of which stands the Soldier's Monument, sixty feet high and twenty-five feet square at the base. Upon the top of this monument, and upon what appears to be a great ball stands the Genius of Liberty, holding in her right hand a wreath and in her left, the Star Spangled Banner. At the base of this monument are four porticos, upon which are statues of mythical or allegorical figures, representing War, History, Peace, and Plenty. War is represented by a soldier resting with his gun between his feet relating to a woman in listening attitude, who with pencil and tablet is taking down the story of the battle, and represents History. For Peace there is a blacksmith surrounded by his tools of trade and for Plenty a female figure with a sheaf of wheat in one hand, and with fruit and flowers in the other. Radiating from the monument are sections proportioned to the number of graves for each state, with a fourth of this plot to unknown dead. Inside the cemetery are more than four hundred memorial shafts, and more than one thousand markers.

Among the uncounted other things that attract the visitor's admiration, within the gates is a kind of a garden, or arbor, resting upon a dozen or more brick columns that are possibly ten or twelve feet high, and from which hang trailing vines, matted with variegate flowers of great beauty. A scholastic veteran from Boston called it a pergola. On the base of the New York monument are groups of bronze pictures showing Slocum's Council of War, The Death of General Reynolds, The Wounding of General Hancock and The Wounding of General Sickles.

Upon each gatepost to the cemetery is the American Eagle with wings outstretched and within the gate a tablet with this inscription:

"On fame's eternal camping ground
Their silent tents are spread
While Glory guards with solemn round
The bivouac of the dead."

Five iron towers for observation stands on the highest points of the field and in addition to the National Cemetery there are hundreds of places of historic interest. Seminary Ridge, still guarded by guns punctuated by granite shaft; Cemetery Hill, with its bullet scarred trees; Cemetery Ridge, with its long line of monuments; Little Round Top, capped with huge boulders upon which stands a statue of Warren, looking over the Devil's Den, the Slaughter Pen, and the battle beyond; Big Round Top, upon which one of the observatories stands; Devil's Den with bullet marked boulders; the Peach Orchard; the Wheat field; the Whirlpool of Death; and Bloody Angle are and will remain places of interest while valor stirs the human heart. Here and there all over the field are monuments marking the spot where some prominent soldier was killed or wounded and each telling some eloquent story of blood and death. On Cemetery Hill are equestrian statues of Meade, Hancock, and Reynolds, and perhaps others. On Stevens Knoll, which is between Cemetery and Culp's Hill, there is one of Slocum.

There is a statue of General Buford on the Chambersburg road and not far from the seminary. Scattered all over the first day's battleground are monuments to the memory of the New York cavalry, infantry and artillery, who seems to have done the greater part of the day's fighting. I find, however, from various markers that many Ohio regiments, some Pennsylvania regiments, the Twenty-fourth Michigan, Second Maine Battery, Eighty-second and Eighth Illinois and Nineteenth Indiana must have suffered considerably.

General Lee's headquarters were located in the small stone house on the Chambersburg road and the seminary. General Meade's headquarters were in a roughly constructed farmhouse on the Taneytown road in the rear of his battle line, and in a few hundred yards of the Bloody Angle. All the houses that were on the field during that baptism of fire are yet standing and every effort is being made to preserve them. There has been no new buildings erected on the field since the war except in the corporation of Gettysburg.

The Memorial Church of Peace, built in circular form and dedicated to all the soldiers who fell in the battle, is a magnificent structure of great architectural beauty. Even along the streets of Gettysburg there are monuments marking the places where some desperate struggle took place. The citizens will point out the house in which Jennie Wade was killed by a stray bullet, the church on the steps of which Preacher Howell was killed, and the many other churches and schoolhouses that were turned into hospitals for the accommodation of the hundreds of soldiers that were wounded during those awful days.

General Lee's monument stands in the grove on Seminary Ridge in which Pickett formed his division for that last awful charge; it is a granite structure ten or twelve feet square at the base and twelve or fifteen feet high--as yet it is surmounted by no statue of any kind--a Virginia veteran told me that some time when his state felt able it would be adorned with a beautiful equestrian statue. That time may not come until West Virginia pays her debt.

Just inside the Union line at the Bloody Angle is a modest monument showing the spot upon which the intrepid General Armistead fell, and a dozen feet further east at the "Copse" is the High Water Mark Monument, a bronze volume supported on a granite pedestal. The "Copse" is a little patch of two or three square rods, overgrown with small trees and permanently with high iron pickets, and said to be ground upon which the Federal drum corps beat their hullabaloo while Pickett's five thousand brave Virginians were wending, watering with their blood, a way across the Valley of Death. They were a "bone of contention" of the sharpshooters of both armies but were finally burned by Connecticut infantry. Their location is marked by tablets where they stood.

I only remember to have seen four monuments to the memory of West Virginians. One to the First West Virginia Cavalry stands on the Taneytown road in rear of the Union line; one to the Third Cavalry west of Seminary Ridge, and near the Mummasburg road; a monument and statue to the Seventh Infantry on east Cemetery Hill, and a pretty roundtop monument to the First West Virginia Battery in the National Cemetery. I will not worry you by speaking further of the permanent fixtures of the field. If I would try to put into words the recollections and impressions of those four busy days, life would be too short to tell it all. In as brief a manner as possible with my limited vocabulary, I will try to give you a look at the great reunion--such as no one ever saw before and none will ever see again. I will never, from my own knowledge, attempt to tell how many people was there--to me they were like the company that St. John saw.

The tents, which I was told covered two hundred acres of ground, were located between the Confederate lines on Seminary Ridge and Federal lines on Cemetery Hill. Separated by an almost dry little run, with the Southern states on the side next to the Confederate lines and the Northern states next to the Federal lines. This constituted the political geography of the veterans. The tents were pitched in mathematical precision with avenues running north and south, and streets running east and west. The avenues were lettered and the streets were numbered like the houses in a city. My residence while there was on the southwest corner of Thirty-first Street and East B Avenue. Each state was assigned as many tents as were on adjoining streets and between the same avenues. Along the avenues were mess tents and water fountains; one fountain on each street corner flowed ice water for drinking purposes and were fitted with a device, easily manipulated, so that you could drink all you wanted but could not waste nor carry away so much as a saucer full. Menu was bread, butter, beef, bacon, salmon, beans, potatoes, cabbage, turnips, iced tea or coffee, with a dessert of rice, peach pie and ice cream. The cooking was perfection. On the Fourth of July we had chicken dinner. I do not eat chicken and it is only from hearsay that I am able to declare that the rooster that punctuated Peter's denial was not there among them. It certainly must have taken thorough and systematic foraging to find enough chicken without him.

Each state was provided with a hospital, post office, and bureau of information. Red Cross people, Boy Scouts, and United States soldiers were ever at the call of indisposed veterans. I read in some newspaper that the government had shipped three hundred coffins to camp in anticipation of a great death rate, but there were few veterans who availed themselves of the opportunity of using them.

General Sickles, the only living major general of the Civil War, had a tent pitched at the edge of the wheat field where he was wounded in battle. He was quite a dudish-looking gentleman wearing his flax-grey hair in Buffalo Bill style.

The wigwam or "Big Tent" as it was called, in which spoke the president, Speaker of the House John Wanamaker, and the various governors of the states. I heard none of the speeches except Governor Tener's, but I had a square and fair, short-ranged look at the president--the only president I ever saw--and I must say he was as ugly as his picture. This tent stood a little west of the Emmitsburg road, in front of the "Angle" and on the margin of Pickett's bloody trail and over the ground upon which President Lincoln delivered his address.

At night the whole "tent town" was illuminated with electric lights, brilliant and more symmetrical than the starlit heavens. From the summit of Little Round Top on the night of July 3 was a grand pyrotechnic show of inconceivable beauty. On the evening of that day I stood at the Bloody Angle and saw about a hundred fifty or two hundred of the halting, battle-scarred and gray-haired survivors of Pickett's division cross the same valley which "with all the pomp and circumstance of glorious war" they crossed fifty years before. They were met, as then, by an overwhelming number of the boys in blue--not in the shock of battle--but with hands clasped and with faces wet with tears to mingle in fraternal friendship as they had mingled in deadly conflict in that long ago. I there witnessed the pathetic meeting of two aged veterans--the one in a blue blouse, the other in a gray roundabout--the one had lost his right arm the other his left, the empty sleeve of one was perforated by a bullet, the other was torn by the fragment of a shell, the empty sleeve of each was rusted with the dried blood with which they had been wet on that terrible day, the one received his wound as the Confederate scaled the wall, the other as they went back in retreat. I followed those maimed soldiers to the shade, lay down with them and heard them tell their story. The Rebel said that when he came to the wall and looked back that hope died within him as he saw that Pettigrew and Trimble were more than one hundred yards away; and the Yank said that as the Johnnies scaled the wall he spiked his gun that it might not be used against him. I saw them as they parted, standing with awkwardly clasped hands and with tears streaming down their wrinkled faces, one said "goodby and God bless you," and the other said, "I hope we will meet where there shall be no more war." I do not think it unmanly to own that my own eyes were getting dim.

Automobiles with (professed) guides were at all times attainable to give you a six-hour tour for a dollar in visiting the many places of interest, provided that they could have a full load of a dozen or more. But why continue the story? If I had the memory of Thomas Paine, the language and descriptive powers of Macaulay, and the age of Methuselah, I could never tell it all.

I never heard a harsh or unkind word, nor I never saw a drunken man. There was said to be some drinking around the saloons in Gettysburg among the second-growth Americans.

Although the Battle of Gettysburg was the turning point of the war, it was a drawn battle. Lee had lost some twenty thousand men, and with every man and boy in the south from sixteen to sixty years of age already in the army, there was none to take their places. 'Tis true that Meade had lost twenty-three thousand men, but a call from Abraham would have brought a hundred recruits for each dead soldier's funeral. Lee lost the battle by not pushing his first day's advantage into, and if need have been, through the night. Meade lost the honor of capturing Lee's army, that was practically without ammunition, by not vigorously following his retreat and forcing him to fight another battle before reaching his supplies.

As I rested one day at Spanglers Spring that gushes from the side of Culp's Hill and talked with a New York major, I inquired: "Major, whilst we rebels lay all day the 4th of July in line-of-battle, and while we were nine days getting across the Potomac, did you people not take it into your heads to come and get us?" He replied: "Well, Captain, at that time we were perfectly satisfied if you would go home to Virginia and let us alone.

Source: Frank Ferrell, Akron, Ohio. Appeared in Grantsville News, Friday, August 29, 1913.


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