Southern Historical Society Papers/Volume 03/February/General R. H. Anderson's Report of the Battle of Gettysburg

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Southern Historical Society Papers: Volume 3  (1877) 
General R. H. Anderson's Report of the Battle of Gettysburg
February 1877

SOUTHERN HISTORICAL SOCIETY PAPERS.

 


Vol. III.
No. 2.
Richmond, Va., February, 1877.


 

General R. H. Anderson's Report of the Battle of Gettysburg.

[Carrying out our purpose of giving preference in our publications to original MSS. reports, which have never been published, we have the pleasure of adding to the reports of the battle of Gettysburg, which we have already published, that of General R. H. Anderson, who commanded a division in Hill's corps.]

Headquarters Anderson's Division, 
Third Army Corps
, 
Orange Courthouse, Va., August 7th, 1863.

Major—I have the honor to submit the following report of the operations of my division from its departure from Fredericksburg to its return to Culpeper Courthouse, Virginia, during the months of June and July, 1863:

Pursuant to instructions received from Lieutenant-General A. P. Hill, commanding the Third Army corps, my command, composed of Wilcox's, Mahone's, Wright's, Perry's and Posey's brigades, and Lane's battalion of artillery, moved on the afternoon of the 14th of June from the position which it had been occupying in line of battle near Fredericksburg for ten days previously, and followed the march of the First and Second corps towards Culpeper Courthouse. The night of the fourteenth it lay near Chancellorsville. On the fifteenth it moved to within four miles of Stevensburg, having been detained two hours at the Rapidan, clearing away obstructions from the road approaching the ford.

On the sixteenth it arrived at Culpeper Courthouse. On the seventeenth it moved to Hazel river, forded it and encamped on its left bank. On the eighteenth to Flint Hill, and on the nineteenth to Front Royal, at which place it halted early in the day and encamped, in obedience to the directions of the Lieutenant-General commanding. At four o'clock in the afternoon orders were received to resume the march, and during that night the troops and part of the wagon train crossed the two branches of the Shenandoah—rain and darkness preventing the greater part of the wagons from crossing until the following morning. As soon as all the wagons had crossed on the morning of the twentieth, the march was continued, and in the afternoon the command halted two miles beyond White Post. Moved on the twenty-first to Berryville, on the twenty-second to Roper's farm, on the road to Charlestown, and on the twenty-third to Shepherdstown.

On the twenty-fourth it crossed the Potomac, and moved to Boonsboro', on the twenty-fifth to Hagerstown, on the twenty-sixth two miles beyond Greencastle, and on the twenty-seventh through Chambersburg to Fayetteville, at which place it halted until the first of July.

Soon after daylight on the first of July, in accordance with the commands of the Lieutenant-General, the division moved from Fayetteville in the direction of Cashtown—arrived at the latter place early in the afternoon, and halted for further orders.

Shortly before our arrival at Cashtown, the sound of brisk cannonading near Gettysburg announced an engagement in our front. After waiting about an hour at Cashtown, orders were received from General Hill to move forward to Gettysburg. Upon approaching Gettysburg, I was directed to occupy the position in line of battle which had just been vacated by Pender's division, and to place one brigade and a battery of artillery a mile or more on the right of the line, in a direction at right angles with it and facing to the right. Wilcox's brigade and Captain Ross' battery of Lane's battalion were posted in the detached position, whilst the other brigades occupied the ground from which Pender's division had just been moved. We continued in this position until the morning of the second, when I received orders to take up a new line of battle, on the right of Pender's division, about a mile and a half farther forward.

Lane's battalion of artillery was detached from my command this morning and did not rejoin it.

In taking the new position, the Tenth Alabama regiment, Wilcox's brigade, had a sharp skirmish with a body of the enemy, who had occupied a wooded hill on the extreme right of my line. The enemy was soon driven from the wood, and the line of battle was formed with the brigades in the following order: Wilcox's, Perry's (commanded by Colonel David Lang), Wright's, Posey's and Mahone's.

The enemy's line was plainly in view, about twelve hundred yards in our front, extending along an opposite ridge somewhat more elevated than that which we occupied, the intervening ground being slightly undulating, enclosed by rail and plank fences and under cultivation.

Our skirmishers soon became engaged with those of the enemy, and kept up an irregular fire upon one another. Shortly after the line had been formed, I received notice that Lieutenant-General Longstreet would occupy the ground on the right—that his line would be in a direction nearly at right angles with mine—that he would assault the extreme left of the enemy and drive him towards Gettysburg, and I was at the same time ordered to put the troops of my division into action by brigades, as soon as those of General Longstreet's corps had progressed so far in their assault as to be connected with my right flank. About two o'clock in the afternoon the engagement between the artillery of the enemy and that of the First Army corps commenced, and was soon followed by furious and sustained musketry, but it was not until half-past five o'clock in the evening that McLaw's division (by which the movement of my division was to be regulated) had advanced so far as to call for the movement of my troops.

The advance of McLaw's division was immediately followed in the manner directed by the brigades of mine.

Never did troops go into action with greater spirit or more determined courage. The ground afforded them but little shelter, and for nearly three-quarters of a mile they were compelled to face a storm of shot and shell and bullets, but there was no hesitation nor faltering. They drove the enemy from his first line and possessed themselves of the ridge and of much of the artillery with which it had been crowned, but the situation discovered the enemy in possession of a second line, with artillery bearing upon both our front and flanks. From this position he poured a destructive fire of grape upon our troops—strong reinforcements pressed upon our right flank, which had become detached from McLaw's left, and the ridge was untenable. The brigades were compelled to retire. They fell back in the same succession in which they had advanced—Wilcox's, Perry's, Wright's and Posey's. They regained their position in the line of battle. The enemy did not follow. Pickets were again thrown to the front, and the troops lay upon their arms.

In Wilcox's, Perry's and Wright's brigades the loss was very heavy.

On the third of July nothing of consequence occurred along that portion of the line occupied by my division until the afternoon, when at half-past three o'clock a great number of pieces of our artillery, massed against the enemy's centre, opened upon it and were replied to with equal force and fury.

After about an hour's continuance of this conflict, the enemy's fire seemed to subside, and troops of General Longstreet's corps were advanced to the assault of the enemy's centre. I received orders to hold my division in readiness to move up in support if it should become necessary. The same success at first and the same repulse attended this assault as that made by my division on the preceding evening. The troops advanced gallantly, under a galling and destructive storm of missiles of every description, gained the first ridge, were unable to hold it, gave way and fell back—their support giving way at the same time.

Wilcox's and Perry's brigades had been moved forward so as to be in position to render assistance or to take advantage of any success gained by the assaulting column, and at what I supposed to be the proper time, I was about to move forward Wright's and Posey's brigades, when General Longstreet directed me to stop the movement, adding that it was useless and would only involve unnecessary loss, the assault having failed.

I then caused the troops to resume their places in line, to afford a rallying point to those retiring, and to oppose the enemy should he follow our retreating forces. No attempt at pursuit was made, and our troops resumed their line of battle.

Some loss was sustained by each of the brigades of the division from the cannonading—Wilcox's, which was supporting Alexander's artillery, suffering the most seriously.

There was nothing done on the fourth of July. Late in the evening I received orders to draw off the division as soon as it became dark, and take the road towards Fairfield. On the fifth I was directed to hold the gap in the mountains between Fairfield and Waynesborough. In the evening I moved to a place called Frogtown, at the base of the mountain.

At six o'clock P. M. on the sixth moved towards Hagerstown—halted on the morning of the seventh about two miles from the town, and remained in camp until the tenth of July.

On the afternoon of the tenth moved about three miles beyond Hagerstown, in the direction of Williamsport, and on the morning of the eleventh moved two miles and took a position in line of battle with the right resting on the Boonsboro' and Williamsport turnpike—the general direction of the line being at right angles to that road.

The enemy was in view on the hills in our front—skirmishers were advanced at once, and the troops were diligently employed in strengthening the position.

We lay in this line until the night of the thirteenth, when we marched just after dark towards the Potomac, which we crossed the following day (the fourteenth) at Falling Waters. On the fifteenth moved to Bunker Hill, at which place we remained until the twenty-first, when the march was resumed, and the division encamped on that night two miles south of Winchester.

On the twenty-second crossed the Shenandoah and halted for the night at Front Royal. On the twenty-third the division marched at daylight—Wright's brigade, under command of Colonel Walker, being detached to relieve a brigade of the First corps on duty at Manassas Gap.

This brigade had a very sharp encounter with a greatly superior force of the enemy at Manassas Gap, and behaved with its accustomed gallantry.

Colonel Walker was severely but not dangerously wounded in the beginning of the fight, when the command devolved upon Captain McCurry, who, being incapacitated by ill health and feebleness, subsequently relinquished it to Captain Andrews.

The division encamped on the night of the twenty-third at Flint Hill. On the twenty-fourth, whilst pursuing the march, and when near Thornton river, some skirmishing occurred between the leading division (Heth's) and the enemy. Mahone's brigade relieved Walker's (Heth's division), which had been posted to support the artillery and cover the road, and continued in that position until the rear of the corps had passed, when he followed and rejoined the division on the south of Hazel river. On the twenty-fifth of July the command arrived at Culpeper Courthouse.

The total loss sustained by the division in the battle of Gettysburg, the fight at Manassas Gap and in minor affairs, is two thousand two hundred and sixty-six.

The reports of the commanders of brigades, including Captain Andrews' report of the fight at Manassas Gap, are herewith submitted. The members of my staff, Majors T. S. Mills and R. P. Duncan, Assistant Adjutant and Inspector-General, Lieutenants Wm. McWillie and S. D. Shannon, Aides-de-Camp, and Messrs. R. D. Spann and J. G. Spann, volunteer Aides-de-Camp, by their active and zealous attention to their duties, rendered valuable service at all times and upon all occasions. The conduct of the troops under my command was in the highest degree praiseworthy and commendable throughout the campaign. Obedient to the orders of the Commanding General they refrained from taking into their own hands retaliation upon the enemy for the inhuman wrongs and outrages inflicted upon them in the wanton destruction of their property and homes. Peaceable inhabitants suffered no molestation. In a land of plenty they often suffered hunger and want. One-fourth of their number marched ragged and barefooted through towns in which it was well ascertained that the merchants had concealed supplies of clothing. In battle they lacked none of that courage and spirit which has ever distinguished the soldiers of the Army of Northern Virginia; and if complete success did not attend their efforts, their failure cannot be laid upon their shortcoming, but must be recognized and accepted as the will and decree of the Almighty Disposer of human affairs.

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

R. H. Anderson, 
Major-General Commanding Division.

Major W. H. Palmer, Assistant Adjutant and Inspector-General and Chief of Staff Third Army Corps.