of the 107th
By Capt. Arthur S. Fitch
Taken from Final Report on
the Battlefield of Gettysburg (New York at Gettysburg) by the New York
Monuments Commission for the Battlefields of Gettysburg and Chattanooga. Albany,
NY: J.B. Lyon Company, 1902.
There were 400 of "ours" who awakened as the shrill
notes of the reveille echoed among the Allatoona Hills in Georgia, at 3:30 o'clock
on the morning of May 25, 1864. Four hundred seasoned veterans, young in years,
but full-grown soldiers in experience. We had received our baptism of fire at
bloody Antietam, faced the terror of those dark woods at Chancellorsville, and
had stood "where the earth trembled" at Gettysburg. We had come with
Sherman's victorious armies from Middle Tennessee well into the interior of
Georgia, and thus far success had been our constant companion. There was a buoyancy
of feeling and a consciousness that we were invincible, and the sun arose that
day on as confident and well-ordered an array of soldiers as anywhere marched
beneath the flag.
I see them now, as they stood in line on that bright May morning, the breakfast
of coffee, hard tack, and meat disposed of, accoutrements slung, guns taken
from the stack and carefully wiped and examined, awaiting the command for another
day's advance. There is no look of care or anxiety on their faces. Theirs but
to obey whatever others commanded. "Theirs but to do." Alas! Alas!
How little thought we that for more than two score of our number the "death
watch" had already been set; that for many a loved comrade the last earthly
bivouac had been broken, the last "harnessing up" and preparation
for the day's march had been made; and that the day begun so blithely was to
end in a night of death and sorrow. At 8:30 a. m. the word "forward"
is given. Our 400 quickly fall into line, the old files of four again "touch
elbows," and away they go with
"The loose disorder of the rout step march,
The song, the shout, the witticism arch,"
marching on to new experiences. The sun shines warm and the air is that of
June. There is a look of satisfaction on the face of every soldier, and a feeling
of contentment in every heart. The "welcome noontide rest" comes.
At 1:30 p. m. the column is again in motion; no enemy has appeared to dispute
the advance; the roads are good, the marching easy. It is 3 o'clock in the afternoon
and all is well. Suddenly a sharp "halt" passes down the line, and
"the dust-brown ranks stood fast." "About face" and "march"
is the command. At a quicker pace we now move back along the route just traversed;
a look of eager curiosity is seen on each face; a murmur of speculation runs
along the column; and as we turn from the road and cross a creek that skirts
a wooded slope, and see orderlies hurrying hither and thither, cannon in position,
generals in consultation, and other signs the old soldier knows so well how
to interpret, there comes a seriousness of face and a silence that betokens
a change in our thoughts. We press quickly on to the top of the slope, form
line of battle, and stand quietly awaiting developments. The "White Star"
boys of Geary's Division are there also, and the "Blue Stars" of General
Butterfield's Division are ordered to join the array.
Suddenly bang, bang, bang, go the guns of a field battery,
pointed into the shade of the forest that extends before us. The shriek of the
flying shells and their explosions awaked with noisy echoes its gloomy recesses;
but they provoke no response of hostile guns. Again and again they speak, but
the result is the same. The day is waning. The "obstructions" must
be brushed away, and Gen. " Pap" Williams's "Red Stars"
must do it. The three brigades are drawn out in a long, straight line, stretching
away to the right and left of us, aligned as if on dress parade, a living line
of steel and blue. "Attention !" Then a bugle note, then sharp words
of command, and as one man the division moves forward.
Never shall I forget that array. There was a mighty sound "of tramping
feet, quick cries of command: "Steady men!" "Guide on the colors!"
"Steady on the right!" "Steady on the left!" "Forward
there in the centre !" "Pap" Williams and his staff rode close
behind us, and his bugler speaks in tones easily heard by all of us. Down the
slope we go, across the narrow ravine, and up the other side. A thinly-wooded
level stretches out far in front. We see our line of skirmishers pressing rapidly
forward, and a moment later our peering eyes detect a skirmish line of men in
gray as rapidly falling back before them. "Double-quick!" sounds the
bugle. "Double-quick!" shout the officers; and with arms at a right-shoulder
shift, away spring our eager men.
Never shall I forget that scene. Never before nor afterwards have my eyes
witnessed such a sight. As far to the left and right as the eye could see stretched
that dark line undulating with the cadence of the double-quick step, crashing
into the forest in all the confidence of a victory already won.
But, look! The skirmishers have come to a stand. They are making frantic gestures
to us to stop. But the line goes on over beyond them. A little farther and the
pace slackens; our straining eyes see through the trees the outlines of fortifications,
while the zip, zip, whiz, whiz, of leaden missiles attracts our attention. The
line comes to a halt; from the front comes unmistakable evidence of an enemy
in force awaiting us. We are fairly trapped. A frowning line of earthworks blocks
the way, covering Stewart's whole division of "Joe" Johnston's army.
Their fire is already getting uncomfortably hot. There ensues a brief moment
of preparation along our ranks, and then down come the rifles of our 400 to
a "ready," and out blazes a volley that tells the waiting enemy that
we are there.
It was a sight thrilling beyond description, one never forgotten. I did not
hear a word of command to fire. I think none was given. By a common impulse
each man saw the time had come, and that first volley was as simultaneous as
if they had been practicing on drill.
But a terrible response came. From the dark covert in front leaped a fiery
discharge of rifle and cannon, filling the air with the rushing sound of deadly
missiles. Shot and shell, canister and minie balls came tearing over us and
around us and through us, ploughing great gaps in our closed ranks, sweeping
away our men by files and platoons, making by that one discharge skeletons of
what a moment before had been solid companies.
How changed the scene. Two hours before these boys were marching with careless
glee along the sunlit road towards Dallas, in the flush of manly vigor, without
a thought of the cruel fate that lay so close before them. Now they are breasting
the full tide of furious battle. As if in keeping, the sky is overcast and theatening,
and the growing gloom adds to the terrors of the scene. The men see their comrades
falling about them, they hear the groans of the wounded, the fierce din of the
conflict; they realize the hopelessness of the struggle, and that there is no
chance of victory. Mutely the survivors stand with grim and resolute faces,
loading and firing, keeping up the unequal contest, but with no thought of retreat.
A long, long hour of this, and the remnant of our 400 are relieved; slowly
they pick their way to the rear and safety. Scarcely more than half of those
who answered at roll-call that morning are left. The rest are out there in the
woods dead, or are lying maimed and bleeding in the hospital tents close by.
Mournful the scene. The survivors gather in little groups, and relate the dreadful
experiences of that fateful hour. They speak with broken voices of those who
have fallen. None but has lost a friend, the companion of many a march, a comrade
who had slept beneath the same blanket and shared with him his army mess.
The darkness gathers, the rain begins to fall, and far in our front we hear
the exchange of picket shots. It disturbs us little more than our dead comrades.
We lie down on the wet ground, with tired bodies and aching hearts, and the
day and its terrors are forgotten in a merciful sleep.
Thus ended the 25th day of May, 1864. Twenty-four years have passed. There
survives today a remnant of the men who shared its experiences. Is it any wonder
that as they gather, to pay a loving tribute to their dead comrades their faces
wear a serious expression? Their thoughts are away amidst the woods of Dallas.
"Oh, band in the pine woods cease,
Cease with your splendid call;
The living are brave and noble,
But the dead were bravest of all.”
"They throng to the martial summons,
To the loud triumphant strain,
And the dear, bright eyes of long dead friends
Appeal to the heart again.”
"They come to the ringing bugle,
And the deep drum's mellow roar,
Till the soul is faint with longing
For the hands we shall clasp no more."
As we follow memory's chain back to the scene I have described, how vividly
reappear the forms and names of those who there met a soldier's heroic death.
I see Capt. John F. Knox, with drawn sword, leap to the front of Company F,
and with all the emphasis that voice and action can give, urge the men a little
farther forward. Then comes the fatal volley, and he is struck down with a mortal
wound. Brave Knox, but a day or two before I marched by his side, and he uttered
these prophetic words: "It is more than probable that we shall draw our
supplies from the sea coast before Christmas." It was an inspiring thought,
and some of us lived to see its realization.
The same tidal wave of death swept away his second lieutenant, John Hill,
quiet, modest, young, beloved of all. How well I remember his coming with a
picket relief that first night at Gettysburg, and finding me overcome with fatigue
and sound asleep (a dreadful dereliction of duty at such time), quietly awakened
me and sent me with my picket guard to camp, without chiding or report to his
superiors. I loved him from that hour.
From the same devoted company fell Jones, Johnson, Kelley, Miller, Mollson,
Nellis, Teft and Young, all dead or mortally wounded. The only remaining commissioned
officer, First Lieut. John Orr, was scarcely less fortunate, being desperately
wounded, and the total of killed and disabled numbered full two-thirds of those
present at roll-call that morning.
Next neighbor to them was Company B. And its ranks yielded scarcely less to
the destroyer. The soldierly Hay Grieve (the best soldier in the company) so
the inspection report said), the quiet Louis Vreeland, brave old Martin Maguire,
the fearless Corporal Munson, of the color guard, "Charlie" Keener,
Van Gelder, Cooper, Bright, and Root, all good men and true. I recall chivalrous
Sergt. "Billy" Van Auken, of D Company, scarcely eighteen years old,
twice wounded, yet insisting upon staying to "give them one more shot," and while in the act of loading his rifle struck dead by a Rebel bullet, alongside
of Sergeant Ford and Private Armstrong of the same company. Company A gave up
her splendid orderly sergeant, Cornelius Hammond, and duty sergeant, Charles
Bolton, with Capt. John M. Losie, and a long train of wounded to swell its casualty
Captain, afterwards Major, Charles J. Fox, manfully held old Company C about
the colors, and sees Brockway, Dressier, and Steinbeck go down to death beneath
Left Company E gave one of its excellent sergeants, Peter Compton; while from
Company G fell Corporal Tomes, Privates Alderman, Jackson, Long, Sanford, and
Smith, heroes all.
Company H mourns her noble sergeant, Benjamin Force, and the names of Couch,
Youmans, and Van Vleet, are still cherished among the hills of Schuyler. None
are more deserving in this brief mention than Orderly Sergeant Marcy and Sergt.
Eugene Thatcher who, with Alden and Horton, represent the sacrifice made by
Company K. The same may be said of Corporal Newberry, and Privates Carpenter
and Decker, of Company I.
These all died, a voluntary offering on the altar of their country. It seems
fitting on this occasion that this roll call should be made. In the homes throughout
Chemung, Steuben, and Schuyler, these names will invoke feelings of mingled
pride and regret, as their heroism and tragic fate is recalled.
"What is there to be said or done?
They are departed, we remain;
Their race is run, their crowns are won;
They will not come to us again.
"Cut off by fate before their prime
Could harvest half the golden years,
All they could leave, they left us time;
All we could give, we gave them "tears."
Back to 107th
Regiment During the Civil War
New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs: Military History
March 19, 2006