|Unit History Project|
HISTORICAL SKETCH BY REGIMENTAL COMMITTEE. This regiment broke camp at 6 A. M., July 1, 1863, at or near St. Joseph's College, Emmitsburg, Maryland, and was ordered to march towards Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, at about 6:30 A. M. At or near Horner's Mills, returning couriers and wounded cavalrymen reported an engagement with the enemy, and we were directed by a shorter route to the town of Gettysburg, making the greater part of the distance in double-quick time, so much so that the regiment arrived, panting and out of breath, at 11:15 A. M., by the town clock in the town. The colonel, George Van Amsberg, ordered four companies from the right, under command of Capt. Francis Irsch, to proceed at once on the Mummasburg Road, past the College, taking McLean's red barn on Oak Hill for his objective point, deploy as skirmishers to the right of the Mummasburg Road as far as he could towards the east, and the regiment would follow, as soon as they had gained breath and had closed up, to support the four companies acting as skirmishers. The First Corps was then, and had been, engaged on the left of the Mummasburg Road with the enemy's infantry and artillery in a desperate conflict on and beyond, and to the north of, Seminary Ridge.
At first, the four companies encountered only a Virginia Battery (Page's) near McLean's barn, and an enfilading battery of the enemy on a hill to the east, doing little damage at first, while the deploying to the right in the wheat or rye fields continued. When this was completed the skirmish line advanced, fronting towards Oak Hill, and now encountered a battalion of Alabama sharpshooters, under Major Blackford, stretched along the lane at the foot of Oak Hill to the apple orchard, at or near Hagy's Farm, close to the Mummasburg Road on our left, and some of them in a skirmish line in the wheat or rye fields aforesaid, in our front. The four companies pushed forward slowly, gaining ground under a terrific artillery and sharpshooter fire, say about four hundred yards, with considerable loss, and then sought shelter behind fences, lying down awhile, but keeping up the contest with the enemy's sharpshooters and Page's Battery with our long-range Remington rifles effectively.
Meantime the balance of the regiment came up to supporting distance, and our superb Ohio battery (Dilger's) unlimbered a short distance behind us on low ground and did good work against the battery in front, which gave us some relief. It also engaged the enfilading battery to the east, and the four companies pushed forward again on the right, when a strong column of the enemy (O'Neal's Alabama Brigade) was seen coming along a lane at the base of Oak Hill, stealthily moving towards our left, where a gap between the right flank of the First Corps and our left seemed their objective point. Other regiments of the Eleventh Corps (the Sixty-first Ohio and Seventy-fourth Pennsylvania) had now arrived, pushing through the centre of the town, and coming into skirmish line on our right, say about 1 o'clock. They fought desperately with the enemy's infantry and batteries which were steadily increasing on the hills to the east, where large columns of the enemy's infantry poured over the hills at double-quick into line below, and engaged the other regiments of the corps as fast as they arrived, in overwhelming numbers.
The Alabama Brigade alluded to, advanced steadily to the left without heeding our fire much, whereupon Captain Irsch sent word to Dilger's Battery, asking them to engage the Confederate infantry if possible with canister or shrapnel (while we laid down again), which they did so successfully that the massed enemy began to halt and waver. The supporting balance of our regiment moved obliquely to the left towards the gap between the First Corps right and our left, while Dilger's Battery worked all their guns on O'Neal's Brigade, jointly with our fire. This brigade had meantime, in a wavering and half resolute manner, passed our right and received a galling fire upon their flank and rear from our four companies. A few regiments of the First Corps near the Mummasburg Road, faced about behind a stone wall to the left of the Mummasburg Road, and fired at the enemy's advance column. Our other six companies, under Lieutenant Colonel Dobke, also opened fire. The enemy began to break and run up the slope of Oak Hill towards McLean's barn, and the Virginia Battery limbered up and hastily retired. Our four companies of skirmishers immediately charged them in flank and rear, capturing many prisoners, and finally took McLean's red barn, with many more prisoners.
While we were sending about 300 prisoners to the rear another Confederate brigade came charging down the hill near the Mummasburg Road (Iverson's North Carolina Brigade), driving in the right of the First Corps. Dilger's Battery, and six companies of our regiment in their front, and the four companies on Oak Hill and at McLean's barn, now in their flank and rear, as well as several regiments of the First Corps to the left of the Mummasburg Road, gave them simultaneously fearful volleys in front, on both flanks, and rear. Iverson's Brigade broke and ran for cover; we all charged them from every quarter simultaneously, and drove part of them upon the right of the First Corps and up to and across the Mummasburg Road, where three entire regiments surrendered with their battle flags, mostly to the First Corps, now in their front, and to the six companies of our regiment, our four companies of skirmishers in their rear picking up about 300 prisoners more.
While these prisoners were being sent to the College, the enemy, in overwhelming numbers, engaged our different regiments as fast as they came up on our right to the east, and pressed them into or near to the outskirts of the town. On our left we could see the broken lines of our First Corps' left being turned and pressed towards the western outskirts of the town, while we stood with a brigade of the First Corps almost a mile in front of the town at Oak Hill. Meanwhile several regiments, including the Eighty-second Illinois and the Twenty-sixth Wisconsin from our brigade, went gallantly to meet Early's Division of Confederates in the field to the right. We remained unmolested, except by the enemy's numerous batteries on our right, in this position until about 4 p. M., when our regiment was withdrawn to the rye field in support of the One hundred and fifty-seventh New York, which had gone gallantly forward to the right against Gordon's Brigade of Confederates. A little later we were marching leisurely to the College, where most of our prisoners captured had been confined for want of men to escort them to the rear, and subsequently were forgotten. We made preparations to defend the
College, and as the enemy in our front pressed very feebly forward expected to make a stubborn stand there, although we saw the left of the First Corps broken to pieces and pursued by overwhelming numbers of the enemy making for the left of the town. We also saw some of the enemy forming squares against some of our cavalry to the left.
We remained thus stationed about fifteen or twenty minutes, when suddenly our division bugler sounded the retreat, and then the double-quick. The latter, however, was not obeyed by the greater portion of our brigade, then commanded by Col. George Van Amsberg, and we retreated slowly left in front into the town, cautiously followed by the enemy in the rear; but when we reached the Eagle Hotel we were fired upon from the west. We pushed ahead another square towards Cemetery Hill, where Major Koch, at the head of the regiment, was, with many others, wounded, and the regiment turned back and entered Chambersburg street, and passed through the alleys on each side of the Lutheran Church, over the fences to Cemetery Hill with the regimental battle flags saved; but the first four right companies and portions of other companies forming the rear now also came under fire from the market place (likewise in possession of the enemy) and rear-faced against the enemy each way, holding them at bay. Meanwhile Lieut. H. Ahlert had taken possession of some houses near the Eagle Hotel, into which we all retreated, covering the Lutheran Church opposite. Being assisted by many soldiers of other regiments of the First and Eleventh Corps, we broke down the fences in the yards, and Captain Dietz gained more houses up to an alley near the market place, occupying windows, barns and alleyways from which the enemy was continually harassed, and several attempts of the enemy to dislodge us were repelled successfully.
Repeated demands to surrender were refused until towards sundown, when Captain Irsch was invited, after a parley, to come out under a safe conduct and see the hopelessness of further defence, which being accepted, he was taken to the market place where a brigade of infantry and a battery were drawn up. Baltimore Street, up to the base of Cemetery Hill, was filled with Confederate troops; the eastern and western outskirts were full of the enemy, and the fields in front of the town were massed with infantry and artillery, and no Federals in sight, excepting such as having taken refuge in cellars and houses were brought out as prisoners.
Upon returning and reporting what he saw, Captain Irsch, with other officers, ordered their men to destroy their arms and ammunition and throw them into the wells, and then all formally surrendered. While being taken to the rear past the College we saw many of our former prisoners free. As we passed the lane near the Mummasburg Road, where we fought during the day, we saw a great many of the enemy's dead and wounded, and some of ours.
A remarkable incident happened (brought to our knowledge as we talked with some of our former prisoners): One of the Confederates, named Schwarz, asked whether his brother, who belonged to our Company " B," was among us. This brought out the fact that the interrogator was among the prisoners taken from McLean's red barn, and as Companies A and B, under Captain Korn and Lieutenant Lindemeyer, took most of the prisoners at and in' the barn, he recognized his brother of Company B, and they embraced right there and then, not having seen each other since they left Germany many years previous. The brother, of Company B (Corporal Schwarz), was killed while his Confederate brother was being marched to the rear as our prisoner.
The remnant of the regiment, with its battle flags, reached Cemetery Hill in safety under Captain Searles, and supported the artillery that night and on the following day. On the night of the second day, with the Eighty-second Illinois, of our brigade, it went to the assistance of General Greene's Brigade, Twelfth Corps, at Culp's Hill, and helped to drive out the Confederates, who had gained possession of some rifle-pits of ours during a night attack. The regiment returned at daylight to protect our artillery at Cemetery Hill.
During the third day General Schurz called for volunteer sharpshooters to dislodge the enemy's sharpshooters, who killed so many of our artillerymen that it became almost impossible to work our guns. Ten good shots under Sergeant Link volunteered, and being posted in barns and houses at the edge of the southern portion of the town, they did such effective work that our artillery was unmolested from this source. They also assisted effectively in breaking up Pickett's famous charge. Every one of these ten brave men was killed or wounded.
On the morning of the Fourth of July the regiment was resting. In the afternoon it went in pursuit of the enemy. Many of our comrades were prisoners since the evening of the first day, hearing and occasionally seeing the battles of the 2d and 3d of July. They refused proffered parole and liberty twice, and marched into wretched captivity, where many died or were crippled for life by want and exposure. Those that returned joined the regiment in the West, where they did good service in the Chattanooga and Atlanta campaigns, went to the relief of Knoxville, served under General Thomas in Tennessee, participated in the battle of Nashville, and were finally mustered out October 1, 1865.
Previous to Gettysburg the regiment participated in all the campaigns of the Army of the Potomac, and served under Generals Blenker, Fremont, Sigel, and Pope in Virginia. The number of killed, 11, and wounded, 61, officially mentioned at Gettysburg is under the actual number by at least one-half, many of the killed and wounded being included among the missing and prisoners. As many of the Union dead, on the first day, had been stripped of their clothing they could not be identified.
All the slightly wounded, among the captured, were taken to Southern prisons, and their wounds were not reported. So it may be fairly computed that the regiment lost in the three-days battle of Gettysburg, 30 killed and about 100 wounded, out of about 400 officers and men in action.
New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs: Military History