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DEDICATION OF MONUMENT
147TH REGIMENT INFANTRY,
July 1, 1888
ADDRESS BY CAPT. J. V. PIERCE
Transcribed and donated by Tom Ebert

Source: New York (State). Monuments Commission for the Battlefields of Gettysburg and Chattanooga. Final report on the battlefield of Gettysburg (Sometimes referenced as New York at Gettysburg). Albany, J.B. Lyon Company, Printers, 1900. , pgs. 988-997

COMRADES:

If ever thankfulness and gratitude springs from heart to lip it is on an occasion like this. It is gratitude to Him who sheltered us in the battle’s contest --- by whose mercy we are not among our comrades who never came home; for, to-day, we clasp hands with living comrades across a quarter of a century.

I come to meet you and greet you from the emerald plains of the West, where the golden sunlight kisses the fruitful fields; where the soft southland breezes fan the nodding corn to a glorious harvest; where Nature, in her milder moods, invites the whole world to her rich garner that comes responsive to the touch of honest toil; where majesty rules all nature in her angry moods., the counterpart of the wild war days that witnessed her conception and her birth; a Commonwealth conceived in slavery, born into Freedom’s Sisterhood of States, while riot, bloodshed, fire and sword ruled in wild revels around her cradle, the glorious land of sunflowers the Empire Soldier State of the Union --- Kansas. I bring you greetings from 100,000 comrades, who send you “Cheers and God-speed” in your effort to perpetuate the names and deeds of our comrades, who on this spot gave their lives for Freedom and for Fatherland, and made the battle name “Gettysburg” famous throughout the world.

We are proud of the past. Blot it from our record we would not; forget it, we would not if we could.

We believe in perpetuating in marble and bronze, in song and in story, the grand principles of Union, of human liberty, of patriotism and a glorious memory.

Join with us, O Veterans in Gray! Join with us, O South Land! Let us weld anew the links that bind all interests, all issues, and all endeavors, to the making of a new Nation called Union, Friendship, Peace.

In the sorrowing days of the sixties, Whittier sang:
“ The birds against the April sky
Flew northward singing us as they flew;
They sang, ‘the land we leave behind
Has swords for corn-blades, --- blood for dew.’

* * * * * * * *
“ Oh, wild birds, flying from the south,
What saw ye, ---- heard ye, --- gazing down?
“ We saw the mortar’s upturned mouth,
The sickening camp, the blazing town.”

‘We heard the sorrowing prisoners sigh,
And saw from line and trench your sons
Follow our flight with homesick eye,
Beyond the battery’s smoking guns.’

In the seventies ----

“We saw the new uprising States,
The treason-nursing mischief spurned,
As crowding Freedom’s ample gates,
The long estranged and lost returned.’

* * * * * * * * *

“And sweet and far as from a star,
Replied a voice which shall not cease
Till drowning all he voice of War
It sings the blessed songs of Peace.”

In these days of peace we turn the leaves of the worn volumes of war memories, build our tablets, and lay our garlands down. I am not unmindful of the honor conferred on me on this occasion. While it is a labor of love, it is a sad one, and yet not unmixed with pleasure. Sad, for memory will run riot with the names and faces of comrades --- names now carved in marble; faces, “Though lost to sight, to memory dear,” --- boys, who were my schoolmates --- companions of my youth; and as the phantom finger of Time draws aside the curtain of eternity, they come marching in review. Faces, forms, songs and sayings recall their glorious deeds, their sufferings and their death. Here we parted from them; here on this battle line where the blinding smoke from musketry was thickest; where this hell of battle snapped their threads of life with blood-stained hands; here where their lives went out, fighting the “Crime of the Century.” Old soldiers are bound by the ties and friendships that cannot be understood or appreciated by others. The truest, best and strongest ties of friendship were formed in times of greatest peril.

We read among the old German legends the myth of Valhalla, where were thought to go the souls of the brave.” There were believed to be maidens fair called Valkyrs, or the Choosers of the Slain, --- Hilda, Guda, Treda, Mista, and others who floated on swans’ wings over the camps of the armies before a battle and chose out who should be killed. Nor were such deaths accounted a disaster; for to die bravely was the only way to the Hall of Woden where the valiant enjoyed on the other side of the rainbow bridge the delight they cared for most in life. Shooting stars were held to be the track of weapons carried to supply fresh comers into Valhalla. Only by dying gallantly could entrance he won there.”

Surely, the Valkyrs must have been busy during the night of June 30, 1863. Rapid must have been the flight of the shooting stars, as they flashed across the midnight sky from the deadly aim of the chosen of the slain., as Hilda, Guda, Treda, Mista, floated on swan’s wings over the camps of the Boys in Blue and the Boys in Gray. Surely Valhalla never received into its portals braver spirits than were selected by the shooting stars of the Valkyrs, as the armies slept on the nether bank of March Creek that beautiful June night and July morning. They spared neither the private in his “Blouse in Blue, or his Blouse in Gray.”

The commander and the commanded were called alike to join the procession to the Hall of Woden; but of all who left us that day of battle, none died more gloriously than the old commander who lied us in so many battles --- the Bayard of the Army of the Potomac, Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds.

The sun had started the fleecy clouds up the side of Round Top, as the long roll sounded from the brigade headquarters, July 1, 1863,. General Cutler was an early riser, --- his tent packed, horse saddled. The throbbing drum notes of the division found instant echo from Cutler’s Brigade, and he and his men were ready to march. My breakfast, two hard tack and a tin cup of black coffee. This was my fighting meal, and the only one till July 4th. What a full meal would have done for me on that occasion, history will never record.

On marching from Emmitsburg to Marsh Creek, June 30th the First Brigade led the division. From Marsh Creek to this battlefield the Second Brigade led; and the brigade formation from right to left was, eighteen men of the One hundred and forty-seventh New York under Sergt. H. H. Hubbard, as headquarter guard, followed by the Seventy-sixth New York, under Maj. Grover; Fifty-sixth Pennsylvania, Brvt. Brig. Gen. J. W. Hofmann; One hundred and forty-seventh New York, Lieut. Col. F. C. Miller; Fourteenth Brooklyn, Brvt. Brig. Gen.. E. B. Fowler; and Ninety-fifth New York, Maj. Edward Pye.

The distant reports of artillery tingled the ear as we marched up the Emmitsburg Pike. White circles of smoke rising in the air told of bomb burst where the gallant cavalry boys were defending the line of Willoughby Run and awaiting our coming. Orderlies with dispatches dashed past us to the rear with the encouraging intelligence that “The Rebs were thicker than blackberries beyond the hill.” Pioneers were ordered to the front, fences were thrown down, and, as we passed into the fields near the Cordori House, the fierce barking of Calef’s Battery redoubted. With it came the order, “Forward, double-quick! Load at will!” then was heard the wild rattle of jingling ramrods, as we moved towards the sound of the cannon. No straggling now; the old musket was clinched with a firmer grasp. The death grapple was at hand. As we crossed the rocky bed of Steven’s Run, Hall’s splendid battery dashed past us. Horses with distended nostrils, sides white with foam, now wild with excitement, hurried to join in the melee. A fence at the crossing of the Fairfield Road hindered the battery. We climbed the fence, and passing to the south of the Seminary plunged headlong over the hill into the narrow valley between the Seminary and the McPherson House ridge. The six was full of flying fragments of shell from Confederate guns beyond Willoughby Run. The Fourteenth Brooklyn and Ninety-fifth New York were moved to the front of the McPherson House, from the rear of our column. Lieut. Col. Miller, not having any orders, halted the One hundred and forty-seventh near the garden with a picket fence at the McPherson House, a few rods east of the stone basement barn on the south side of the pike, and rode forward for orders. Hall’s Battery again overtook and passed us in our rear, going to our right, across the Chambersburg Pike, and into position between the pike and railroad cut. Lieut. Col. Miller returned and ordered us by the flank to the right at a double-quick in rear of Hall’s Battery, now in position on the third ridge. We crossed the railroad bed, and the moment the left of the regiment cleared it the order came, “By the left flank; guide centre!” We are now in the line of battle moving to the west. The Seventy-sixth New York and Fifty-sixth Pennsylvania, with the headquarters guard, had preceded us, moving along the rear of the second ridge, and not in alignment with us. While we were advancing in the wheatfield the battle opened on our right, and the bullets from the Confederate line commenced their harvest of death. Men dropped dead, and the wounded men went to the rear before they had emptied their muskets; Copr. Fred Rife and his file closer, Hiram Stowell, dropped dead, one upon the other. We continued to advance in the nodding wheat of death until our left touched on the railroad cut, supporting Hall’s Battery. “Lie down! fire through the wheat close to ground!” The battle was now on in all is fierceness; a continuous roar of musketry drowned all orders. Lieut. Col. Miller received a wound in the head, and his frightened horse carried him from the field. On Maj. George Harney the duty fell to command; none more worthy than he. On this field he wore a “star” in the estimation of his command.

Capt. Delos Gary dropped on one knee, close in my rear, with a bullet wound in the head; Capt. Than. Wright, just to my right, was pounding the ground and yelling at the top of his voice to “give them h---.” The firing of the enemy in my immediate front slackened, and the enemy retired towards the right. I moved my men forward a few yards further to the crest of the ridge with the men of Company C, and discovered a line of Confederate skirmishers on our front, advancing from the valley up a slope towards a rail fence, firing as they advanced into Hall’s Battery, while the battery was fighting for dear life. A detachment of Confederates gathered in a fence corner, a short distance beyond the cut. I immediately ordered, “Left oblique, fire.” The order was responded to by the two left companies, G and C. Several rounds were fired into the skirmish lines; it became too hot for them, and I saw them return down the hill, with several of their number stretched on the hillside. Hall’s Battery had been fighting that skirmish line in a death grapple. “Artillery against skirmishers is like shooting mosquitoes with a rifle.” The Confederate skirmishers had the best of it up to the time the left of the One hundred and forty-seventh Regiment opened on them. The moment the battery was relieved from the force of the attack it began to limber to the rear, and, as the Confederate skirmishers fell back, the battery disappeared in a cloud of dust on the Chambersburg Pike. White this was taking place on the left, the battle reopened on the right with redoubled fury, and the cry came down the line, “They are flanking us on the right.” The right companies, by Major Harney’s orders, swung back on the south side of the rail fence; the left front of the regiment was relieved of pressure from the enemy, who either laid concealed close under the ridge at the west end of the railroad cut, or had passed towards our right to crush that. The fight was again fierce and hot; the boys on the right were falling like autumn leaves; the air was full of lead. Men fell all along the line.

I saw an officer ride down from Oak Hill in our rear, and wave his cap in retreat. To venture into this maelstrom between the railroad cut and that fence on the right was death. Fierce flamed the fire around the altar of the Union from the guns of the One hundred and forty-seventh New York. The smoke of carnage rose as an incense, and wrapped the folds of the flag defended within the shortened lines. Not a man flinched; one left the field except the wounded; the untouched living and the dead remained. You may point to Thermopylae and its Spartans; but a Thermopylae was here, and a Spartan heroism stood within this death angle on this ground. Never was a grander fight made against triple odds; never greater readiness to do and die on duty’s line; never greater results hung trembling in the balance than swayed in the battle front of the One hundred and forty-seventh New York. Shall the battle of Gettysburg be fought? Shall the high tide of the Rebellion ebb from these fields into peaceful waters at Appomattox? Shall foreign nations recognize the Confederacy? Shall the great struggle be fought now and here to a finish? The answer came back from the smoking guns of the One hundred and forty-seventh: “Our whole duty shall be done. We are here to stay.”

Closer pressed the enemy. A regiment – The Fifty-fifth North Carolina – was pressing far to our right and rear, and came over to the south side of the rail fence. The colors drooped to the front. An officer in front of the centre corrected the alignment as if passing in review. It was the finest exhibition of discipline and drill I ever saw, before or since, on the battlefield. The battery was gone from our left; Wadsworth seeing our peril ordered his adjutant general, Capt. T. E. Ellsworth, to ride in and withdraw us. With his coal-black hair pressing his horse’s mane, he came through the leaden hail like a whirlwind across the old railroad cut and up the hill to Major Harney, who gave the command, “In retreat, march!” As I started with my men to the rear I found Edwin Aylesworth mortally wounded, who begged me not to leave him. I stopped, and with Sergt. Peter Schuttz, assisted him to his feet, and tried to carry him; but I could not, and had to lay him down. His piteous appeal, “Don’t leave me boys,” has rung in my ears and lived in my memory these five and twenty years.

Sergeant Shuttz was killed soon after near Oak Ridge. The time spent in assisting Aylesworth delayed me, so I was among the last to leave the field.

Finding the enemy so close upon us and the way open – the route we came in by – I followed several of my men into the railroad cut. A squad of Confederates were at the west end of the cut, behind some rails, and as we struck the bottom of the railroad cut, they saluted us with all their guns, and each one loaded with a bullet. I did not stay to dispute possession for they evidently intended to “to welcome us Yanks with the bloody hands to hospitable graves,” and I climbed `up the rocky face of the cut, on the south side, and made my way with many of our men across the meadow between the railroad cut and overtook the colors in the hands of Sergt. William A. Wybourn. Just as I remove the colors, but he held to them with true Irish grit. I commanded him to let go, and to my surprise he answered, “Hold on, I will be up in a minute,” rolled over and staggered to his feet and carried them all through the fight, and was commissioned for his courage.

We joined Major Harney and right wing of the regiment on the east slope of Seminary Ridge, on the north side of the Chambersburg Pike, refilled our canteens, and with the Fifty-sixth Pennsylvania and Seventy-sixth New York marched over Oak Hill again into the corn fields, to the ground and assisted Paul’s Brigade in the successful attack on Iverson’s Confederate Brigade, and lay for some time among the oaks on the ridge, under a severe shelling from Confederate batteries, and then moved to the left of the railroad cut on Oak Ridge and filled up with ammunition, when the order came, “In retreat; down the railroad track and through the town!” Called roll in the Cemetery among the tombs of generations past, only to renew the combat on Culp’s Hill; and then two days more of battle and death, continuously under fire and on active duty from July 1st until the sun went down in battle smoke on the 3d. How well they fought! How well they acted their part! Call the roll of the 380 who answered at Marsh Creek, July 1st. At Culp’s Hill 79 responded. A loss of 301 out of 380.

Gallant Sickles in his address a year ago denominates the first day’s battle “a preliminary skirmish.” But for the heroism and staying qualities of Reynolds and his men the first day, General Sickles would never had the opportunity to make the handsome boast that the Third Corps fought the battle of Gettysburg.

There were fifty battles of Gettysburg fought on these hills and plains, -- each sanguinary and terrific in character.

In conclusion, I will ask your attention to the errors in the histories which affect the credit and honor of the One hundred and forty-seventh New York. It is unfortunate for the record of the First Corps that we lost our commander, Reynolds. Not by this would I be understood as abating one jot or tittle of honor due him who succeeded the gallant Reynolds; for he who commanded us we all love and remember with a soldier’s gratitude, Gen. Abner Doubleday.

It was more than unfortunate that General Howard failed to comprehend the situation, and reported to General Meade that “the First Army Corps had fled from the field.”

Let us examine the accepted accounts of the part taken by the One hundred and forty-seventh New York and see how they conform with the actual facts.

General Doubleday, in his history, when speaking of the fight on this ground, Page 129. says: “Two regiments (Seventy-sixth New York, Fifty-sixth Pennsylvania) on the right accordingly withdrew, but the One hundred and forty-seventh New York, which was next to the (rail) road did not receive the orders, as it s colonel was shot down before he could deliver it. They were at once surrounded and very much cut up before they could be rescued from their perilous position.”

We will acknowledge we did not receive the first order and were truly “very much cut up;” but if we were ever “surrounded” we never knew it. If we were ever “rescued” by any troops of the Army of the Potomac on that particular occasion, we are not aware of it. Not only were we ignorant of such a state of affairs, but we most emphatically and positively assert it is a mistake of history, for which there never was any foundation.

When Major Harney received Captain Ellsworth’s order to retire, we had occupied that ground nearly half an hour. The rear was open to Oak Hill, and the left and rear (the route over which we came from the Seminary) was open and unobstructed. The ground that Hall’s Battery occupied was unoccupied by the enemy. The only point where there was at the west end of that railroad cut, which was not of such a nature as to prevent us crossing it with our colors, and the flank fire of the Second Mississippi and Fifty-fifth North Carolina on our north before whom we had to pass. We challenge the statement that the One hundred and forty-seventh New York was for a moment “cut off,” but fought until ordered by retreat by the authority from the division commander, and not “rescued” by the action of any other regiment. There was no other regiment in reach of us to assist while we were fighting on the right of this railroad cut; when we left the ground it was by order, and we carried our colors with us.

Also page 29: “As Wadsworth withdrew them (the Seventy-sixth New York and Fifty-sixth Pennsylvania) without notifying Hall’s Battery in the road, the two regiments posted by Reynolds on the left (Fourteenth Brooklyn and Ninety-fifth New York) both became exposed to a disastrous flank attack on the right. Hall finding a cloud of skirmishers launched against his battery, which was without support, was compelled to retreat with the loss of one gun * * * The Fourteenth Brooklyn and Ninety-fifth New York finding their support gone on the right and Archer’s Rebel Brigade advancing on the left, fell back leisurely.” The error in this is that the withdrawal of the Seventy-Sixth New York and Fifty-sixth Pennsylvania exposed the One hundred and forty-seventh New York to the “disastrous flank attack on the right.” We were still holding the ground when Hall withdrew his battery. The support Hall’s Battery received from the One hundred and forty-seventh New York was as vigorous as one regiment could render against the terrible odds of three to one. The assistance rendered the battery by Companies G and C was largely instrumental in relieving from a disastrous attack by the skirmish line against which it was waging an unequal warfare, and gave Captain Hall an opportunity to retire his battery from its exposed position. He left one gun, not on the right of his battery, but on the left, next to the Chambersburg Pike. So that instead of Hall’s Battery being “without support and compelled to retreat” it was saved from capture and destruction (one the One hundred and forty-seventh New York) and escaped, which it could not have done had the One hundred and forty-seventh New York left the field before the battery. Companies G and C of the One hundred and forty-seventh are entitled to much of that credit.

Page 133, speaking of the movement of the Ninety-fifth New York, Fourteenth Brooklyn and Sixth Wisconsin against the Second and Forty-second Mississippi at the railroad cut: “Dawes brought a gun to enfilade their position,” etc. * * *

“This success relieved the One hundred and forty-seventh New York which, as I stated, was surrounded.”

Comte de Paris says, page 26, vol. 6: “The Sixth Wisconsin, left in reserve by Meredith at the Seminary, made a lively advance, supporting the right, rallied that part of Cutler’s Brigade which remained in the railroad cut, and, with the aid of one cannon, opened a deadly fire upon Davis’ Brigade.”

General Hunt says in his Century article: “The orders not reaching the One hundred and forty-seventh New York, its gallant Major Harney held that regiment to its position, until having lost half of its number the order to retire was repeated. Hall’s Battery was now imperiled, and withdrawn by sections fighting at close range, suffering severely.”

Quinner’s Military History of Wisconsin, page 461, says: “During this day the Sixth Regiment saved the One hundred and forty-seventh New York from capture by charging down upon the enemy.”

Hall’s abandoned cannon and the gallant Sixth Wisconsin have cut a large figure in the mythical “saving” of the One hundred and forty-seventh from capture or annihilation in past histories of the last twenty-five years. It has been a salient of glorious and magnanimous conduct which, if it had happened, should have been decorated every member of that brave command with an Order of Merit. The Sixth Wisconsin was supporting Meredith’s Brigade in its rear near the Fairfield Road, and not at the Seminary; and was ordered to the right to assist the right of the line held by the One hundred and forty-seventh New York. That the order was obeyed with Dawes’ characteristic energy no one will doubt. While he was en route up the valley, Hall’s Battery withdrew. Colonel Fowler retired his line to the rear of the McPherson House, changed front along the Chambersburg Pike, and its there joined by the Sixth Wisconsin. While this is taking place on the left, the One hundred and forty-seventh is still fighting three regiments on the right, and held them in check until the change was about completed a Fowler established his new line. Fowler’s command now consisted of the Sixth Wisconsin, Fourteenth Brooklyn, and Ninety-fifth New York.

When the One hundred and forty-seventh received orders to retreat, it retired in part on the east of the railroad and a part with the colors crossed it and the Chambersburg Pike, and thence over the Seminary Ridge without meeting any mythical rescuers with their enfilading gun or any other troops. If the One hundred and forty-seventh was “saved” or “rescued” by the gallant Wisconsin boys or by the joint movement of other forces, the next historian must produce some evidence and not rely on mere assertions.

Brig. Gen. E. B. Fowler, the gallant colonel of the Fourteenth Brooklyn, written me at a recent date and says: “Hall’s Battery had been withdrawn except one gun near the Chambersburg Pike. One man fired that gun and ran, * * * I, without orders, marched to the rear of the house and changed front to face the railroad cut. While performing this movement the Sixth Wisconsin joined on the right of our line. The enemy, seeing our movement, also changed his front along the railroad cut, using it for shelter.”

Now for the celebrated and sanguinary gun which has played such a glorious part in the “rescue” saving and relieving the One hundred and forty-seventh from being captured.

General Fowler says: “In regard to that gun you mentioned. My recollection is, that after we had passed it in our advance (from the Chambersburg Pike towards the railroad cut) one of Hall’s officers brought out a limber with its men and horses and drew the gun off. Then I sent word to him to take it to the right and fire through the cut, but before he reached there, the affair was over and the enemy surrendered. There was no artillery firing into or about the cut, nor did we have any assistance from artillery to aid in the repulse and capture of the enemy at the cut.” When Fowler speaks of the cut he means the one at the second ridge, to which Davis’ Brigade had pursued us before observing his advance.

Comrades, I have brushed aside some of the cobwebs that have obscured your history since the battle day of July 1, 1863. As it stands corrected it is a grand history; it is full of glorious and heroic deeds; and as I analyze it in all the light now before me, I claim with all candor that the steadfast courage displayed by the officers and men of the One hundred and forty-seventh New York made the capture of several hundred men of the Second and Forty-second Mississippi and Fifty-fifth North Carolina by General Fowler’s forces possible, and therefore, entitled to the same credit.

We point with pride to the record, and claim the still higher credit that by holding the right of the line like a forlorn hope, we saved the entire line from destruction and made the battle of Gettysburg possible.

Had our regiment flinched for one moment, or allowed the three Confederate regiments to have marched over the field unopposed, Hall’s battery and the left of the line would have been taken in flank and rear, with results no man can appreciate. God only knows the possible result.

To the memory of our honored dead who laid life’s tribute on the sacred altar of home and country we leave this monument of respect and honor from the hands of the people of the Empire State. Of those who were with us, and those who led us on the field, where are they. Generals Doubleday, Fowler, and Hofmann still live to receive our love and gratitude. Reynolds, Wadsworth, Cutler, Hall, Rice, Miller, Gary, Schenck, Van Dusen, McAssy, Mace, Taylor and Sisson have long since answered the inevitable roll call. Turn your faces comrades towards the setting sun! Far towards the backbone of the Continental Divide, by the side of the rock-ribbed mountain, and within the shadows of the snow-capped Pike’s Peak, sleeps a hero for which that famed old mountain is none too grand a monument, -- a true hero, a genial comrade, a warm friend, one beloved by all, Lieut. Col. George Harney, he meets with us no more.

“Yet we see in our dreams in that shadow region
Where the dead form their ranks at the wan drummer’s sign,
He rides on as of old down the length of his legion,
And the word is still, “Forward along the whole line’ “

We turn towards the South Land and view the finger marks of war in the graves of comrades dead, and raise the old tin cup of black coffee, and drink to the memory of those who never came home.

“I dreamed of our dead and forgotten,
Marked Unknown on the tablets of fame,
And a long line of heroes filed past me ---
Who for us gave a life and name ---
With the grace of youth, but each face was pale,
And furrowed by lines of pain’
Though lost to fame they proudly marched
As though they had not fought in vain.

“They halted for roll-call, and for each name
A ready ‘HERE” was said;
I listened with awe, for the sergeants there
Were calling the roll of our dead.
‘ All present or accounted for;’
‘ A detail is still on earth,’
‘ To guard our flags, to mark our graves,’
‘ To let men know our worth,’
I awakened, startled, from my sleep;
‘ Our regiment, boys, is with the dead;’
‘’ Tis the rear-guard only that’s here.’”

 

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