Tarheels During the Civil War

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Gettysburg After Action Reports #2

This report is written by Major Samuel McD. Tate, Sixth North Carolina State Troops (Hoke's brigade, Early's division, Ewell's Second Corps)

In Bivouac, near Hagerstown, MD.
July 8, 1863.
My Dear Governor: Excuse the necessity of writing with pencil, and the familiarity with which I address you; but moments are precious, and while I am yet spared I must hasten to perform a sacred duty to you as the honored head of North Carolina, and to her brave citizen soldiers, especially those under my command. The great reason for this is the fact that it was North Carolinians only who succeeded in entering the enemy's works at Gettysburg; that our brigade commander was slain, and we have no friends who will tell of our success on the night of July 2, because all but the Sixth Regiment failed.
Our brigadier general (Hoke) being absent, wounded, since the battle of Fredericksburg, May 4, Colonel Avery was acting in his stead. Lieutenant Colonel [R.F.] Webb being absent in Virginia, sick, left me in command of the Sixth in this Pennsylvania campaign. But this, with the fear of being suspected of a desire to claim more on that account, shall not deter me from complying with a promise I have made the regiment to acquaint you as their Governor with the truth, that history hereafter may speak truly of them. Let me say at once that I desire nothing and wish no notoriety; but I do want the glorious band of veterans in this regiment to be appreciated and honored at home. They are rapidly passing away, but North Carolina will have reason to point with pride to their valorous deeds.
On July 1, the Confederate Army made a general attack on the enemy posted in front of Gettysburg. Of Early's division, the Louisiana and Hoke's brigades were advanced to charge the enemy, behind fences. It was rapidly done (and, is our usual fortune, immediatley in our front was a stone fence), and the enemy driven before us through the town to their fortified heights behind.
In this charge we lost a number of gallant officers and men (more than the balance of the brigade), and captured a battery near the fence. This battery will be credited to Early's Division- see if it don't. The Virginia and Georgia brigades were held in reserve.
Next day (2nd), we were ordered (Louisiana and North Carolina brigades) to charge the heights. Now, it is proper to state that there are a series of heights there, upon which the enemy had been driven from all around. Longstreet charged on the south face, and was repulsed; A P Hill charged on the west face, and was repulsed; and our two brigades were, late in the evening, ordered to charge the north front, and, after a struggle such as this was has furnished no parallel to, 75 North Carolinians of the Sixth Regiment and 12 Louisianians of Hay's brigade scaled the walls, and planted the colors of the Sixth North Carolina and Ninth Louisiana on the guns. It was now fully dark. The enemy stood with a tenacity never before displayed by them, but with bayonet, clubbed musket, sword, and pistol, and rocks from the wall, we cleared the heights and silenced the guns.
In vain did I send to the rear for support. It was manifest that I could not hold the place without aid, for the enemy was massed in all the ravines and adjoining heights, and we were then fully a half mile from our lines.
Finding the enemy were moving up a line, I ordered the small band of heroes to fall back down the crest to a stone wall on the side of the hill, where we awaited their coming. Soon they came over the hill in pursuit, when we again opened fire on them, and cleared the hill a second time. Very soon I found they were very numerous in the flats in my rear, and now became the question of surrender or an effort to retreat. There was a calm and determined resolve never to surrender (one of our North Carolina regiments had done so the day before) and, under cover of the darkness, I ordered the men to break and to risk the fire. We did so, and lost not a man in getting out.
On arriving at our lines, I demanded to know why we had not been supported, and was cooly told that it was not known that we were in the works. I have no doubt that the major-general will report the attack of the works by Hoke's and Hay's brigades, which could not be taken. Such monstrous injustice and depreciation of our efforts is calculated to be of serious injury; and then always to divide the honors due us among all our division is a liberality which is only shown in certain cases. Of course the reports are not written out; but I know the disposition so well that I look for no special mention of our regiment, while it is the only one in the Army of Northern Virginia which did go in and silence the guns on the heights; and, what is more, if a support of a brigade had been sent up to us, the slaughter of A P Hill's corps would have been saved on the day following.
I still have 300 men.
Colonel Avery, a gallant officer, fell in front of the heights, mortally wounded. He died thirty hours afterward.
This hasty scrawl I write to you as an act of justice, and in compliance with a promise to the men, before I pass off, if fall I must. We will have an engagement here or nearer the river in a day, or less, perhaps. This regiment has had a reputation, you know, and I fear no harm which can come to it while any are left; but it is due to the noble dead, as well as the living, that these men be noticed in some way. I assure you it is no sensation or fancy pictures. Such a fight as they made in front and in the fortifications has never been equaled. Inside the works the enemy were left lying in great heaps, and most all with bayonet wounds and many with skulls broken with the breeches of our guns. We left no a living man on the hill of our enemy. I write this now for fear I will not live to write at leisure hereafter.
With your sense of propriety, I need not say more than that this cannot be exactly an official document, for it has no form, no beginning, no ending, but is a simple story, badly told. All we ask is, don't let old North Carolina be derided while her sons do all the fighting.
Your obedient servant,
Saml. McD. Tate,
Major, commanding Sixth North Carolina.
Governor [Zebulon B.] Vance.
[P.S.]- All my company officers are good ones, but there are also many vacancies; how are they to be filled- by election or appointment?

No comments: