A FIRST PERSON LETTER DETAILING THE BATTLE OF GETTYSBURG
THROUGH THE EYES OF AN OFFICER IN THE ARMY OF THE POTOMAC. JUNE 30 THRU JULY 5, 1863, Part 6 of 6.
END OF SERIES
By Colonel Frank Aretas Haskell, United States Army (1828-1864). In the public domain.
Despite a terrible loss at the Battle of Chancellorsville in May of 1863, a defeat that verged on humiliation at the hands of Robert E. Lee...the Union Army would not go away and by the end of June, 1863, one Union officer, a veteran of Gettysburg wrote that on the eve of that great Pennsylvania battle: “the [Union] Army of the Potomac was no band of school girls...”
--Frank A. Haskell.
AUTHOR BIO AT END OF THIS SEGMENT:
MORE BATTLEFIELD STATISTICS
The battle of Gettysburg is distinguished in this war, not only as by far the greatest and severest conflict that has occurred, but for some other things that I may mention. The fight of the 2d of July, on the left, which was almost a separate and complete battle, is, so far as I know alone in the following particulars: the numbers of men actually engaged at one time, and the enormous losses that occurred in killed and wounded in the space of about two hours.
If the truth could be obtained, it would probably show a much larger number of casualties in this than my estimate in a former part of these sheets. Few battles of the war that have had so many casualties altogether as those of the two hours on the 2d of July.
The 3d of July is distinguished. Then occurred the “great cannonade”—so we call it, and so it would be called in any war, and in almost any battle. And besides this, the main operations that followed have few parallels in history, none in this war, of the magnitude and magnificence of the assault, single and simultaneous, the disparity of the numbers engaged, and the brilliancy, completeness and overwhelming character of the result in favor of the side numerically the weaker.
I think I have not, in giving the results of this encounter, overestimated the numbers or the losses of the enemy.
We learned on all hands, by prisoners and by the newspapers, that over two divisions moved up to the assault—Pickett’s and Pettigrew’s—that this was the first engagement of Pickett’s in the battle, and the first of Pettigrew’s, save a light participation on the 1st of July.
The Rebel divisions usually number nine or ten thousand, or did at that time, as we understood. Then I have seen something of troops and think I can estimate their numbers somewhat. The number of the Rebels killed here I have estimated in this way: the 2d and 3d divisions of the 2d corps buried the Rebel dead in their own front, and where they fought upon their own grounds, by count they buried over 1,800. I think no more than about 200 of these were killed on the 2d of July in front of the 2d division, and the rest must have fallen upon the July 3.
My estimates that depend upon this contingency may be erroneous, but to no great extent. The rest of the particulars of the assault, our own losses and our captures, I know are approximately accurate. Yet the whole sounds like romance, a grand stage piece of blood.
HONORING THE SECOND CORPS
Of all the corps d’armie, for hard fighting, severe losses and brilliant results, the palm should be, as by the army it is, awarded to the “Old Second.” It did more fighting than any other corps, inflicted severer losses upon the enemy in killed and wounded, and sustained a heavier life loss, and captured more flags than all the rest of the army, and almost as many prisoners as the rest of the army.
The loss of the 2d corps in killed and wounded in this battle—there is no other test of hard fighting—was almost as great as that of all Gen. Grant’s forces in the battle that preceded and in the siege of Vicksburg. Three-eighths of the whole corps were killed and wounded. Why does the Western Army suppose that the Army of the Potomac does not fight?
Was ever a more absurd supposition? [This was written right after the Battle of Gettysburg so we can forgive then Lt. Haskell for his enthusiasm because the Army of the Potomac under Gen. George McClellan was historically slow to act. The Western Army prior to Gettysburg might have had a good point. Let’s all ask Mr. Lincoln what he thinks when we all meet again in more heavenly climes].
The Army of the Potomac is grand! Give it good leadership—let it alone—and it will not fail to accomplish all that reasonable men desire.
Of Gibbon’s white trefoil division, if I am not cautious, I shall speak too enthusiastically. This division has been accustomed to distinguished leadership. Sumner, Sedgwick and Howard have honored, and been honored by, its command. It was repulsed under Sedgwick at Antietam and under Howard at Fredericksburg; it was victorious under Gibbon at the 2d Fredericksburg and at Gettysburg. At Gettysburg its loss in killed and wounded was over 1,700, near one-half of all engaged; it captured 17 battle-flags and 2,300 prisoners. Its bullets hailed on Pickett’s division, and killed or mortally wounded four Rebel generals, Barksdale on the 2d of July, with the three on the 3d, Armstead, Garnett and Kemper. In losses, in killed and wounded, and in captures from the enemy of prisoners and flags, it stood pre-eminent among all the divisions at Gettysburg.
Under such generals as Hancock and Gibbon, brilliant results may be expected.
Will the country remember them? [Yes, thanks to you, Lt. Haskell and other eyewitnesses who have penned accounts. This grateful nation remembers!]
It is understood in the army that the President thanked the slayer of Barton Key for saving the day at Gettysburg. Does the country know any better than the President, that Meade, Hancock and Gibbon were entitled to some little share of such credit? [Rumors swirled and FYI: Gen. Sickles, an alleged self-promoter, as an antebellum New York politician, Sickles was involved in a number of public scandals, most notably the killing of his wife's lover, Philip Barton Key II, son of Francis Scott Key. He was acquitted with the first use of temporary insanity as a legal defense in U.S. history.]
At about six o’clock on the afternoon of the 3d of July, my duties done upon the field, I quitted it to go to the General. My brave horse Dick—poor creature, his good conduct in the battle that afternoon had been complimented by a Brigadier—was a sight to see. He was literally covered with blood. Struck repeatedly, his right thigh had been ripped open in a ghastly manner by a piece of shell, and three bullets were lodged deep in his body, and from his wounds the blood oozed and ran down his sides and legs and with the sweat, formed a bloody foam. Dick’s was no mean part in that battle.
Good conduct in men under such circumstances as he was placed in might result from a sense of duty—his was the result of his bravery. Most horses would have been unmanageable with the flash and roar of arms about and the shouting. Dick was utterly cool, and would have obeyed the rein had it been a straw. To Dick, belongs the honor of first mounting that stormy crest before the enemy, not 40 yards away, whose bullets smote him, and of being the only horse there during the heat of the battle.
Even the enemy noticed Dick, and one of their reports of the battle mentions the “solitary horseman” who rallied our wavering line. He enabled me to do 12 times as much as I could have done on foot. It would not be dignified for an officer on foot to run; it is entirely so, mounted, to gallop. I do not approve of officers dismounting in battle, which is the time of all when they most need to be mounted, for thereby they have so much greater facilities for being everywhere present. Most officers, however, in close action, dismount. Dick deserves well of his country, and one day should have a horse-monument. If there be “ut sapientibus placit,” and equine elysium, I will send to Charon the brass coin, the fee for Dick’s passage over, and on the other side of the Styx in those shadowy clover-fields he may nibble blossoms forever.
I had been struck upon the thigh by a bullet which I think must have glanced and partially spent its force upon my saddle. It had pierced the thick cloth of my trousers and two thicknesses of underclothing, but had not broken the skin, leaving me with an enormous bruise that for a time benumbed the entire leg. At the time of receiving it, I heard the thump, and noticed it and the hole in the cloth into which I thrust my finger, and I experienced a feeling of relief, I am sure, when I found that my leg was not pierced. I think when I dismounted my horse after that fight that I was no very comely specimen of humanity.
Drenched with sweat, the white of battle, by the reaction, now turned to burning red. I felt like a boiled man; and had it not been for the exhilaration at results I should have been miserable. This kept me up, however, and having found a man to transfer the saddle from poor Dick, who was now disposed to lie down by loss of blood and exhaustion, to another horse, I hobbled on among the hospitals in search of Gen. Gibbon.
The skulkers were about, and they were as loud as any in their rejoicings at the victory, and I took a malicious pleasure as I went along and met them, in taunting the sneaks with their cowardice and telling them—it was not true—that Gen. Meade had just given the order to the Provost Guard to arrest and shoot all men they could find away from their regiments who could not prove a good account of themselves.
To find the General was no easy matter. I inquired for both Generals Hancock and Gibbon—I knew well enough that they would be together—and for the hospitals of the 2d corps. My search was attended with many incidents that were provokingly humorous. The stupidity of some is amazing. I would ask of a man I met, “Do you know, sir, where the 2d corps hospitals are?”
He answered: “The 12th corps hospital is there!”
Then I would ask sharply, “Did you understand me to ask for the 12th corps hospital?”
“No!” “Then why tell me what I do not ask or care to know?”
Then stupidity would stare or mutter about the ingratitude of some people for kindness.
Did I ask for the Generals I was looking for, they would announce the interesting fact, in reply, that they had seen some other generals. Some were sure that Gen. Hancock or Gibbon was dead. They had seen his dead body. This was a falsehood, and they knew it. Then it was Gen. Longstreet. This was also, as they knew, a falsehood.
THE PRICE OF VICTORY
However, sorrowful was the sight to see so many wounded! The whole neighborhood in rear of the field became one vast hospital of miles in extent. Some could walk to the hospitals; such as could not were taken upon stretchers from the places where they fell to selected points and thence the ambulances bore them, a miserable load, to their destination.
Many were brought to the building, along the Taneytown road, and too badly wounded to be carried further, died and were buried there, Union and Rebel soldiers together. At every house, and barn, and shed the wounded were; by many a cooling brook, or many a shady slope or grassy glade, the red flags beckoned them to their tented asylums, and there they gathered, in numbers a great army, a mutilated, bruised mass of humanity.
Men with gray hair and furrowed cheeks and soft-lipped, beardless boys were there, for these bullets have made no distinction between age and youth. Every conceivable wound that iron and lead can make, blunt or sharp, bullet, ball and shell, piercing, bruising, tearing, was there; sometimes so light that a bandage and cold water would restore the soldier to the ranks again; sometimes so severe that the poor victim in his hopeless pain, remediless save by the only panacea for all mortal suffering, invoked that.
The men are generally cheerful, and even those with frightful wounds, often are talking with animated faces of nothing but the battle and the victory. But some are downcast, their faces distorted with pain. Some have undergone the surgeon’s work; some, like men at a ticket office, await impatiently their turn to have an arm or a leg cut off. Some walk about with an arm in a sling; some sit idly upon the ground; some lie at full length upon a little straw, or a blanket, with their brawny, now bloodstained, limbs bare, and you may see where the minie bullet has struck or the shell has torn.
From a small round hole upon many a manly breast, the red blood trickles, but the pallid cheek, the hard-drawn breath and dim closed eyes tell how near the source of life it has gone. The surgeons, with coats off and sleeves rolled up, and the hospital attendants with green bands upon their caps, are about their work; and their faces and clothes are spattered with blood; and though they look weary and tired, their work goes systematically and steadily on. How much and how long they have worked, the piles of legs, arms, feet, hands, and fingers about partially tell.
Such sounds are heard sometimes—you would not have heard them upon the field—as convince that bodies, bones, sinews and muscles are not made of insensible stone. Near by appear a row of small fresh dirt mounds, placed side by side. They were not there day before yesterday. They will become more numerous every day.
Such things I saw as I rode along.
At last I found the Generals. Gen. Gibbon was sitting on a chair that had been borrowed somewhere, with his wounded shoulder bare, and an attendant was bathing it with cold water. Gen. Hancock was near by in an ambulance. They were at the tents of the Second Corps hospitals, which were on Rock Run.
As I approached Gen. Gibbon, when he saw me, he began to hurrah and wave his right hand. He had heard the result. I said: “O, General, long and well may you wave”—and the shook me warmly by the hand. Gen. Gibbon was struck by a bullet in the left shoulder, which had passed from the front through the flesh and out behind, fracturing the shoulder blade and inflicting a severe but not dangerous wound. He thinks he was the mark of a sharpshooter of the enemy hid in the bushes, near where he and I had sat so long during the cannonade; and he was wounded and taken off the field before the fire of the main lines of infantry had commenced, he being at the time he was hit near the left of his division.
Gen. Hancock was struck a little later near the same part of the field by a bullet, piercing and almost going through his thigh, without touching the bone, however. His wound was severe, also. He was carried back out of range, but before he would be carried off the field, he lay upon the ground in sight of the crest, where he could see something of the fight, until he knew what would be the result.
And then, at Gen. Gibbon’s request, I had to tell him and a large voluntary crowd of the wounded who pressed around now, for the wounds they showed not rebuked for closing up to the Generals, the story of the fight. I was nothing loth; and I must say though I used sometimes before the war to make speeches, that I never had so enthusiastic an audience before. Cries of “good,” “glorious,” frequently interrupted me, and the storming of the wall was applauded by enthusiastic tears and the waving of battered, bloody hands.
By the custom of the service the General had the right to have me along with him, while away with his wound; but duty and inclination attracted me still to the field, and I obtained the General’s consent to stay with the men.
REVISITING THE BATTLEFIELD—3 DAYS LATER
Accompanying Gen. Gibbon to Westminster, the nearest point to which railroad trains then ran, and seeing him transferred from an ambulance to the cars for Baltimore on the 4th, the next day I returned to the field to his division, since his wounding in the command of Gen. Harrow.
On the 6th of July, while my bullet bruise was yet too inflamed and sensitive for me to be good for much in the way of duty—the division was then halted for the day some four miles from the field on the Baltimore turnpike—I could not repress the desire or omit the opportunity to see again where the battle had been. With the right stirrup strap shortened in a manner to favor the bruised leg, I could ride my horse at a walk without serious discomfort.
It seemed very strange upon approaching the horseshoe shaped battle crest again, not to see it covered with the thousands of troops and horses and guns, but they were all gone—the armies, to my seeming, had vanished—and on that lovely summer morning the stillness and silence of death pervaded the localities where so recently the shouts and the cannon had thundered.
The recent rains had washed out many an unsightly spot, and smoothed many a harrowed trace of the conflict; but one still needed no guide save the eyes, to follow the track of that storm, which the storms of heaven were powerless soon to entirely efface.
The spade and shovel, so far as a little earth for the human bodies would render their task done, had completed their work—a great labor, that. But still might see under some concealing bush, or sheltering rock, what had once been a man, and the thousands of stricken horses still lay scattered as they had died.
The scattered small arms and the accoutrements had been collected and carried away, almost all that were of any value; but great numbers of bent and splintered muskets, rent knapsacks and haversacks, bruised canteens, shreds of caps, coats, trousers, of blue or gray cloth, worthless belts and cartridge boxes, torn blankets, ammunition boxes, broken wheels, smashed limbers, shattered gun carriages, parts of harness, of all that men or horses wear or use in battle, were scattered broadcast over miles of the field. From these one could tell where the fight had been hottest. The rifle-pits and epaulements and the trampled grass told where the lines had stood, and the batteries—the former being thicker where the enemy had been than those of our own construction.
No soldier was to be seen, but numbers of civilians and boys, and some girls even, were curiously loitering about the field, and their faces showed not sadness or horror, but only staring wonder or smirking curiosity. They looked for mementoes of the battle to keep, they said; but their furtive attempts to conceal an uninjured musket or an untorn blanket—they had been told that all property left here belonged to the Government showed that the love of gain was an ingredient at least of their motive for coming here. Of course, there was not the slightest objection to their taking anything they could find now; but their manner of doing it was the objectionable thing.
I could now understand why soldiers had been asked a dollar for a small strip of old linen to bind their own wound, and not be compelled to go off to the hospitals.
Never elsewhere upon any field have I seen such abundant evidences of a terrific fire of cannon and musketry as upon this. Along the enemy’s position, where our shells and shot had struck during the cannonade of the third, the trees had cast their trunks and branches as if they had been icicles shaken by a blast. And graves of the Rebels’ making, and dead horses and scattered accoutrements, showed that other things besides trees had been struck by our projectiles. I must say that, having seen the work of their guns upon the same occasion, I was gratified to see these things.
Along the slope of Culp’s Hill, in front of the position of the 12th, and the 1st Division of the 1st Corps, the trees were almost literally peeled, from the ground up some 15 or 0 feet, so thick upon them were the scars the bullets had made. Upon a single tree not over a foot and a half in diameter, I actually counted as many as 250 bullet marks. The ground was covered by the little twigs that had been cut off by the hailstorm of lead. Such were the evidences of the storm under which Ewell’s bold Rebels assaulted our breastworks on the night of the 2d and the morning of the 3d of July. And those works looked formidable, zig-zagging along these rocky crests, even now when not a musket was behind them.
What madness on the part of the enemy to have attacked them! All along through these bullet-stormed woods were interspersed little patches of fresh earth, raised a foot or so above the surrounding ground. Some were very near the front of the works; and near by, upon a tree whose bark had been smoothed by an axe, written in red chalk would be the words, not in fine handwriting, “75 Rebels buried here.” “… 54 Rebs. there.” And so on. Such was the burial and such the epitaph of many of those famous men, once led by the mighty Stonewall Jackson. Oh, this damned rebellion will make brutes of us all, if it is not soon quelled!
Our own men were buried in graves, not trenches; and upon a piece of board, or stave of a barrel, or bit of cracker box, placed at the head, were neatly cut or penciled the name and regiment of the one buried in such. This practice was general, but of course there must be some exceptions, for sometimes the cannon’s load had not left enough of a man to recognize or name.
The reasons here for the more careful interment of our own dead than such as was given to the dead of the enemy are obvious and I think satisfactory. Our own dead were usually buried not long after they fell, and without any general order to that effect. It was a work that the men’s hearts were in as soon as the fight was over and opportunity offered, to hunt out their dead companions, to make them a grave in some convenient spot, and decently composed with their blankets wrapped about them, to cover them tenderly with earth and mark their resting place.
Such burials were not without as scalding tears as ever fell upon the face of coffined mortality. The dead of the enemy could not be buried until after the close of the battle. The army was about to move—some of it was already upon the march, before such burial commenced. Tools, save those carried by the pioneers, were many miles away with the train, and the burying parties were required to make all haste in their work, in order to be ready to move with their regiments. To make long shallow trenches, to collect the Rebel dead, often hundreds in one place, and to cover them hastily with a little earth, without name, number, or mark, save the shallow mound above them—their names of course they did not know—was the best that could be done.
I should have been glad to have seen more formal burial, even of these men of the rebellion, both because hostilities should cease with death, and of the respect I have for them as my brave, though deluded, countrymen.
I found fault with such burial at the time, though I knew that the best was done that could be under the circumstances; but it may perhaps soften somewhat the rising feelings upon this subject, of any who may be disposed to share mine, to remember that under similar circumstances—had the issue of the battle been reversed—our own dead would have had no burial at all, at the hands of the enemy, but, stripped of their clothing, their naked bodies would have been left to rot, and their bones to whiten upon the top of the ground where they fell.
Plenty of such examples of Rebel magnanimity are not wanting, and one occurred on this field, too. Our dead that fell into the hands of the enemy on the 1st of July had been plundered of all their clothing, but they were left unburied until our own men buried them after the Rebels had retreated at the end of the battle.
TALK NO MORE OF THE DEAD
All was bustle and noise in the little town of Gettysburg, as I entered it on my tour of the field. From the afternoon of the 1st to the morning of the 4th of July, the enemy was in possession. Very many of the inhabitants had, upon the first approach of the enemy, or upon the retirement of our troops, fled their homes and the town not to return until after the battle.
Now the town was a hospital where gray and blue mingled in about equal proportion. The public buildings, the courthouse, the churches and many private dwellings were full of wounded. There had been in some of the streets a good deal of fighting, and bullets had thickly spattered the fences and walls, and shells had riddled the houses from side to side.
And the Rebels had done their work of pillage there, too, in spite of the smooth-sounding general order of the Rebel commander enjoining a sacred regard for private property—the order was really good and would sound marvelously well abroad or in history. All stores of drugs and medicines, of clothing, tinware and all groceries had been rifled and emptied without pay or offer of recompense.
Libraries, public and private, had been entered and the books scattered about the yards or destroyed. Great numbers of private dwellings had been entered and occupied without ceremony and whatever was liked had been appropriated or want only destroyed. Furniture had been smashed and beds ripped open, and apparently unlicensed pillage had reigned.
Citizens and women who had remained had been kindly relieved of their money, their jewelry and their watches—all this by the high-toned chivalry, the army of the magnanimous Lee! Put these things by the side of the acts of the “vandal Yankees” in Virginia, and then let mad Rebel-dom prate of honor!
But the people, the women and children that had fled, were returning, or had returned to their homes—such homes—and amid the general havoc were restoring as they could order to the desecrated firesides. And the faces of them all plainly told that with all they had lost and bad as was the condition of all things they found, they were better pleased with such homes than with wandering houseless in the fields with the Rebels there.
All had treasures of incidents of the battle and of the occupation of the enemy—wonderful sights, escapes, witnessed encounters, wounds, the marvelous passage of shells or bullets which, upon the asking, or even without, they were willing to share with the stranger, I heard of no more than one or two cases of any personal injury received by any of the inhabitants.
One woman was said to have been killed while at her wash-tub, sometime during the battle; but probably by a stray bullet coming a very long distance from our own men. For the next 100 years Gettysburg will be rich in legends and traditions of the battle.
I rode through the Cemetery on “Cemetery Hill.” How these quiet sleepers must have been astounded in their graves when the 20 Parrott guns thundered above them and the solid shot crushed their gravestones! The flowers, roses and creeping vines that pious hands had planted to bloom and shed their odors over the ashes of dear ones gone, were trampled upon the ground and black with the cannon’s soot.
A dead horse lay by the marble shaft, and over it the marble finger pointed to the sky. The marble lamb that had slept its white sleep on the grave of a child, now lies blackened upon a broken gun-carriage. Such are the incongruities and jumblings of battle.
I looked away to the group of trees [The copse of trees]—the Rebel gunners know what ones I mean, and so do the survivors of Pickett’s division—and a strange fascination led me thither. How thick are the marks of battle as I approach—the graves of the men of the 3d Division of the 2d Corps; the splintered oaks, the scattered horses—71 dead horses were on a spot some 50 yards square near the position of Woodruff’s battery, and where he fell.
|HEROES OF DAY TWO--Heroic charge of the First Minnesota Infanty on July 2, 1863|
I stood solitary upon the crest by “the trees” where, less than three days ago, I had stood before; but now how changed is all the eye beholds. Do these thick mounds cover the fiery hearts that in the battle rage swept the crest and stormed the wall? I read their names—them, alas, I do not know—but I see the regiments marked on their frail monuments—“20th Mass. Vols.,” “69 P. V.,” “1st Minn. Vols.” and the rest—they are all represented, and as they fought commingled here. So I am not alone. These, my brethren of the fight, are with me. Sleep, noble brave! The foe shall not desecrate your sleep. Yonder thick trenches will hold them. As long as patriotism is a virtue, and treason a crime, your deeds have made this crest, your resting place, hallowed ground!
But I have seen and said enough of this battle. The unfortunate wounding of my General [Gibbon] so early in the action of the 3d of July, leaving important duties which, in the unreasoning excitement of the moment, I in part assumed, enabled me to do for the successful issue, something which under other circumstances would not have fallen to my rank or place.
Deploring the occasion for taking away from the division in that moment of its need its soldierly, appropriate head, so cool, so clear, I am yet glad, as that was to be, that his example and his tuition have not been entirely in vain to me, and that my impulses then prompted me to do somewhat as he might have done had he been on the field.
The encomiums of officers, so numerous and some of so high rank, generously accorded me for my conduct upon that occasion—I am not without vanity—were gratifying.
My position as a staff officer gave me an opportunity to see much, perhaps as much as any one person, of that conflict. My observations were not so particular as if I had been attached to a smaller command; not so general as may have been those of a staff officer to the General commanding the army; but of such as they were, my heart was there, and I could do no less than to write something of them, in the intervals between marches and during the subsequent repose of the army at the close of the campaign.
I have put somewhat upon these pages—I make no apology for the egotism, if such there is, of this account—it is not designed to be a history, but simply my account of the battle. It should not be assumed, if I have told of some occurrences, that there were not other important ones. I would not have it supposed that I have attempted to do full justice to the good conduct of the fallen, or the survivors of the 1st and 12th Corps.
Others must tell of them. I did not see their work.
A full account of the battle as it was will never, can never be made. Who could sketch the changes, the constant shifting of the bloody panorama? It is not possible.
FALSEHOOD THAT THE NEWSPAPERS HOLD
The official reports may give results as to losses, with statements of attacks and repulses; they may also note the means by which results were attained, which is a statement of the number and kind of the forces employed, but the connection between means and results, the mode, the battle proper, these reports touch lightly. Two prominent reasons at least exist which go far to account for the general inadequacy of these official reports, or to account for their giving no true idea of what they assume to describe—the literary infirmity of the reporters and their not seeing themselves and their commands as others would have seen them.
And factions, and parties, and politics, the curses of this Republic, are already putting in their unreasonable demands for the foremost honors of the field. For example, one newspaper said: “Gen. Hooker won Gettysburg.” How? Not with the army in person or by infinitesimal influence—leaving it almost four days before the battle when both armies were scattered and 50 miles apart!
Was ever claim so absurd? Hooker, and he alone, won the result at Chancellorsville.
“Gen. Howard won Gettysburg!” “Sickles saved the day!” Just Heaven, save the poor Army of the Potomac from its friends! It has more to dread and less to hope from them than from the red bannered hosts of the rebellion. The states prefer each her claim for the sole brunt and winning of the fight. “Pennsylvania won it!” “New York won it!” “Did not Old Greece, or some tribe from about the sources of the Nile win it?”
For modern Greeks—from Cork—and African Hannibals were there. Those intermingled graves along the crest bearing the names of every loyal state, save one or two, should admonish these geese to cease to cackle. One of the armies of the country won the battle, and that army supposes that Gen. Meade led it upon that occasion.
If it be not one of the lessons that this war teaches, that we have a country paramount and supreme over faction, and party, and state, then was the blood of 50,000 citizens shed on this field in vain.
For the reasons mentioned, of this battle, greater than that of Waterloo, a history, just, comprehensive, complete will never be written. By-and-by, out of the chaos of trash and falsehood that the newspapers hold, out of the disjointed mass of reports, out of the traditions and tales that came down from the field some eye that never saw the battle will select, and some pen will write what will be named the history. With that the world will be and, if we are alive, we must be, content.
Already, as I rode down from the heights, nature’s mysterious loom was at work, joining and weaving on her ceaseless web the shells had broken there. Another spring shall green these trampled slopes, and flowers, planted by unseen hands, shall bloom upon these graves; another autumn and the yellow harvest shall ripen there—all not in less, but in higher perfection for this poured out blood.
In another decade of years, in another century, or age, we hope that the Union, by the same means, may repose in a securer peace and bloom in a higher civilization. Then what matters it if lame Tradition glean on this field and hand down her garbled sheaf—if deft story with furtive fingers plait her ballad wreaths, deeds of her heroes here? or if stately history fill as she list her arbitrary tablet, the sounding record of this fight?
Tradition, story, history—all will not efface the true, grand epic of Gettysburg.
Editor's Note: Written by Frank A. Haskell a few weeks after the battle mailed it to his brother Harrison.M. Haskell in Portage, Wisconsin.
Eleven months after the Battle of Gettysburg, Frank Haskell was killed in the Battle of Cold Harbor. He was 35 years of age.
“My God! I have lost my best friend, and one of the best soldiers in the Army of the Potomac has fallen!” –Gen. John Gibbon in a letter to Mrs. Gibbon.
FRANK A. HASKELL NOTES:
--In the early days of the Civil War, Haskell, a Dartmouth Grad and lawyer, who took part in forming a volunteer militia unit in Madison, WI, caught the attention of Gen., John Gibbon, who made Haskell is aide-de-camp throughout the war. Side by side, the two fashioned the men under them into a remarkable fighting unit that went on to earn the nickname: “The Iron Brigade.”
--Haskell was joined by Gen. Gibbon to witness Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863.
--Appointed Colonel of the 36th Wisconsin Infantry on February 9, 1864.
--Minutes after assuming command of the 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, II Corps after Col. Henry Boyd McKeen was killed, Haskell suffered a fatal head wound as he led the brigade in battle, June 3, 1864, Cold Harbor VA. He was buried at Silver Lake Cemetery, Portage, WI.
--The Haskell Letter was published in 1898 as “The Battle of Gettysburg.” It was saluted by 20th century historian Bruce Catton: “...one of the genuine classics of Civil War literature.” The letter is now in the public domain.
--Headlines, chapter headings, editorial asides bracketed are by Pillar to Post in an attempt to simply the reading of this remarkable work. As modern day historians--as social archeologists--continue to uncover much about the Civil war, perhaps someday Haskell’s Gettysburg Letter will be deservedly championed here forward as the second great work of Gettysburg literature after Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
AUTHOR BIO: Frank Aretas Haskell was born at Tunbridge, Vermont, on July 13, 1828. He graduated at Dartmouth College in 1854, and went to Madison, Wisconsin, to practice law. On the outbreak of the War, he received a commission as First Lieutenant of Company I, of the Sixth Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, and served as Adjutant of his regiment until April 14, 1862, when he became aide-de-camp to General John Gibbon, commander of the Iron Brigade. This was his rank in the battle of Gettysburg. On Feb. 9, 1864, Haskell was appointed Colonel of the Thirty-sixth Wisconsin; and on June 3, of the same year, he fell and died when leading a charge at the battle of Cold Harbor, one of the most distinguished soldiers of the Army of the Potomac.
This account of Gettysburg was written by Haskell to his brother, shortly after the battle, and was not intended for publication. This fact ought to be borne in mind in connection with some severe reflections cast by the author upon certain officers and soldiers of the Union army. The present text follows the unabridged reprint of the Wisconsin Historical Commission; and the notes on Haskell’s estimates of numbers and losses have been supplied by the late Colonel Thomas L. Livermore, the well-known authority on this subject.]