|Unit History Project|
"BATTLE OF GETTYSBURG:
Opened by Cutler’s Brigade, and Not by Any Single Regiment "
EDITOR NATIONAL TRIBUNE: The article of Capt. Whitney of the 76th N. Y., again raises the question which seems to grow in interest, as to what infantry regiment opened the battle of Gettysburg. I propose to show that no particular regiment can justify claim any such distinction.
The statement of Serg’t Schooly is wide of the mark, as his regiment was of Stone’s Brigade, Rowley’s Division, which arrived on the field sometime after Wadsworth’s first round with the enemy. There is no uncertainty about the question of what troops Doubleday first brought up, as may be seen by the official reports of the several division and brigade commanders of the old First Corps.
Capt. Whitney shows that the 76th N.Y. opened the fight; we of the 147th N. Y. used to think we did; different regiments of Meredith’s Brigade have claimed the honor, and Col. Hoffman, of the 56th Pa., has taken care to have placed in the archives of his State evidence that the glory claimed by others belongs to his men.
After comparing notes and reading up the matter I have concluded that, after the cavalry, Cutler’s Brigade opened the battle, followed so closely by Meredith’s Brigade that it might also as properly be claimed to have been the concurrent action of Wadsworth’s Division.
Cutler’s Brigade, the 76th N.Y. leading arrived first in front of the enemy, who were deployed and advancing north and south of the Cashtown pike. The three right regiments continued north in the hollow of Seminary Ridge until the 147th was across the unused railroad bed. Then they faced to the front, hurriedly corrected the line, and at once moved over the ridge to encounter the enemy coming up the opposite slope. The 95th N.Y. and 14th Brooklyn were halted in support of Hall’s battery, and at once found themselves under fire. All three of Cutler’s right regimens advanced at the same time, and the opening was, so far as anyone could distinguish, a simultaneous crash and rattle the whole length of the line.
In the meantime Meredith’s Brigade, although in the rear of Cutler’s on the morning’s forced march, kept close at its heels, and, filing by a shorter cut obliquely across the fields to the McPherson woods, went into line and was immediately engaged. No question of precedence was raised then, and the whole division soon learned that they were all “previous” enough. Gen. Doubleday says in his official report;
“General Reynolds himself was superintending the placing of Cutler’s Brigade as I rode up. Meredith’ Brigade now came into line to the left of Culter. Hall’s battery being between the two. The principal effort of the enemy was made on the Cashtown road, and was opposed at first, as I have said, by Cutler’s Brigade.’
I have not at hand Cutler’s report, but have an extract from his account
of the affair, furnished Gov. Curtin in 1863 by Gen. Cutler, in which he says:
Hoffmann’s order of “Right-oblique---Aim” indicates that the enemy were nearer to the 76th on his right, than to his own regiment, and gives some weight to the claim of Capt. Whitney, since his regiment was probably first at the close quarters. I well remember it needed no fieldglass (sic) to see the enemy as they came up in front of the 147 th N.Y. Admitting that Col. Hoffmann, standing in close to Gen. Cutler, first gave the order to fire, and that, as the General says, the other regiments fired instantly, then it was a brigade movement and not that of any particular regiment. That Col. Hoffmann should have a just pride in showing the promptness of his own command is natural and right, and every man of the old Second Brigade, so long under his command, will join with me in doing all honor to the lionhearted Colonel of the 56 th Pa. His men were certainly the first Pennsylvanians to greet the very unwelcome visitors to the grand old Commonwealth on that memorable July morning.
That the 76th N. Y. had the post of honor that morning we also admit, which may, however, be qualified by the fact that Serg’t H. H. Hubbard, 147th N.Y., in command of the provost-guard of 18 men, formed the extreme right of the 76th’s line, losing 12, or two-thirds, of his men killed and wounded, and gaining for himself epaulets in exchange for his chevrons.
I am not surprised that my old friend and comrade, Whitney, was highly incensed at the claim of one of Rowley’s men, who, after 24 years undisputed possession, would now rob us of the honor of opening the ball, and it was entirely proper that the error of the comrade should be corrected. But in history I fancy that it must go down that the battle of Gettysburg was opened by Cutler’s Brigade, which relieved Buford’s Cavalry skirmishers upon the ridge hereafter to be known as “Reynolds Avenue” which will soon be dotted with memorial structures of granite and bronze, whose tablets shall tell the future generations the fearful history of that half hour’s opening struggle.
--- H. H. Lyman, Adjutant, 147th N. Y., Oswego, N.Y.
See also: Historical Sketch
New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs: Military History