A Reporter on the Scene, Day 1, Battle of Gettysburg
Contemporary newspaper reports on the Civil War often provide interesting and valuable eyewitness accounts, containing many small details that humanize the story. For example, what was the Battle of Gettysburg like on that opening day for the people living in that quiet Pennsylvania town? How did the women of the town react?
Here is the story from a reporter who was right there with the Union army that first day. He reported how the Yankees initially held the ground west of Gettysburg but then, in the face of superior numbers, retreated through the town to take up positions on ridges and hills south of Gettysburg. The dateline from his report was “Bivouac on the field” at 10 p.m. on July 1, 1863—the battle’s opening day.
Forward with the utmost enthusiasm pressed the rebel line, eager now to turn Reynolds’ retirement into a rout. Some of the rebels had too much energy and got too far, for, while they pressed too closely on the right of the centre division, the left of the same division was suddenly swept around and then enclosed in the handsomest manner an entire rebel brigade, under Gen. Archer.
The ladies of Gettysburg deserve especially honorable mention. While we were retreating they came out upon the sidewalks, with composed though anxious faces, and offered our soldiers everything needful in the way of refreshments. The shot were whistling meanwhile, but they appeared elevated by noble impulses above the sentiment of fear. They took the most tender care of our wounded, as well as those of the rebels, who were captured during the day. How we grieved to leave this interesting town in the possession of rebel soldiers.
Gen. Archer and his whole staff were taken. About fifteen hundred of the enemy’s men thus fell into our hands, and went to the rear. Small regiments were the order of this brigade, and when an Alabama Colonel was asked where the rest of his regiment was, he responded laconically, “Gone to hell, sir.”
…As we passed through the town, shot, shell, and bullets were whistling musically around us, sometimes striking the houses. A shot richochetted (sic) over a regiment in front of me and pierced the wall of an inhabited house. A bullet grazed the ear of Captain Newcomb, with whom I was riding, and struck a house near us.
—Trenton State Gazette, July 6, 1863
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