|Unit History Project|
1st Artillery Regiment (Light)
Mustered in: November 17,1861
The following is 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.
ADDRESS OF MAJ. GEORGE BRECK.
COMRADES OF BATTERY L:
Suppose, for instance, the army of General Lee, with its sullen resolve and impetuous daring to strike panic into the Northern heart, and hence to secure influential political allies in our rear, had successively occupied Harrisburg, Philadelphia, and New York,— what might not have been the termination o f , the war? It is perhaps idle to speculate upon such a contingency. Yet we, who passed through the greatest civil war in all history, all know that there is no such thing as certainty in the result of the clash of conflicting armies, such as we witnessed here. But the victory was priceless all the same; and the survivors of this field, remembered by a grateful people, have written over this undulating surface, in granite, and marble, and bronze, the story of that three days' triumphant struggle, making this battlefield unique for all time. Pass over the fields of Waterloo, of Austerlitz, of Sadowa, or Gravelotte, and you behold nothing to mark the gigantic strife of nations on those famous theatres of war. It has remained for America to remember her sons who fell, as we see them, commemorated on these diversified acres; and certainly we cannot feel otherwise than proud that not the least among the commands who have a monument here is our veteran battery, which I had the honor to command during the latter part of the battle.
In keeping with the proprieties of this occasion I have prepared, with the assistance of Lieutenant Shelton, a sketch of the part which this battery took in the action. I have also prepared a brief sketch of Battery " L," and a complete roster of the command from the date of its organization until it was finally mustered out of service at Elmira, June 17, 1865.
Most of the data for the following sketch of Reynolds' Battery at Gettysburg are taken from the official report of General Wainwright to General Hunt, chief of artillery, and bearing date July 17, 1863. We are indebted to the politeness of Major Cooney, at the New York headquarters of the Gettysburg Monuments Commission, for access to the advance sheets of a government work on Gettysburg not yet published, and which contains the report aforesaid.
On the night of June 30, 1863, Reynolds' Battery was encamped with the batteries and troops of the First Corps, about two miles from Emmitsburg, along the Pike leading to Gettysburg. Marching orders were received about 8 o'clock on the morning of the 1st of July. We were soon apprised of the presence of the enemy by the sound of skirmish firing ahead, and between 10 and 11 o'clock the battery was drawn off the road and parked in a field, but a short distance from the Seminary Grove. Those of us who were present at that time, will remember the clouds of cavalry skirmishers which, having been relieved by the infantry, were falling back down the hillsides which hid the village of Gettysburg from our view. Leaving the caissons at this point, the battery advanced into the fields between the town and the Lutheran Seminary. The first mention of the battery in the report says: " Directing Captain Reynolds to move his battery of six three-inch guns forward, I rode up onto the ridge, but finding that the battery would be exposed and totally without support, I withdrew it before it reached the crest." After occupying one or two positions advancing, Battery L was ordered to relieve Tidball's Horse Battery, and it was during the execution of this movement that Captain Reynolds was wounded and the command of the battery devolved upon Lieutenant Breck. Captain Reynolds is mentioned in the report as gallantly refusing to leave the field. At this point the battery was certainly without infantry support and subjected to a severe cross-fire from our right. "Both batteries," says the report, " were obliged to retire." Many of us can remember the plunging shots of the enemy throwing up the black earth in rear of the carriages as they fell back across the soft stubble field to the next ridge. General Wainwright continues: " Receiving another request from General Wadsworth for some guns in his front, I posted Lieutenant Wilbur, with a section of Company L, First New York, in the Orchard on the south side of the Cashtown Road, where he was sheltered from the fire of the enemy's battery on his right flank by the intervening houses and barn, and moved the remaining four pieces around to the south side of the wood on the open crest."
Some confusion about the Seminary and Cemetery Ridges seems to have prevailed at this stage of the battle, and Colonel Wainwright, understanding the former instead of the latter was to be held at all hazard, proceeded with his usual tenacity of purpose to post his batteries at this end. The enemy's infantry, meanwhile, in two columns, having outflanked us to the left, formed in double line of battle and came directly up the crest. * * * " The firing of Lieutenant Breck's guns was much interfered with by our own infantry moving in front of his pieces. * * * I withdrew Lieutenant Breck's two sections when the first line was within about 200 yards, and ordered him behind a strong stone wall on the Seminary Crest." At this juncture the infantry support was rapidly withdrawn by conflicting orders, and it was not until such support was seen in full retreat towards the town that the limbers were ordered to the rear, and the batteries moved at a walk down the Cashtown Road until the infantry had all left the road and passed behind and under cover of the railroad embankment. By this time the enemy's skirmishers had lapped our retreating column within fifty yards of the road. " The Pike being clear the batteries broke into a trot, but it was too late to save everything. Lieutenant Wilbur's last piece had the off wheel-horse shot, and as he had just disentangled it, three more of the horses were shot down and his own horse killed, so it was impossible for him to bring it off. It affords me pleasure to say that not the slightest blame can be attached to Lieutenant Wilbur in the loss of this gun."
After passing through the village of Gettysburg the enemy was checked, and the national forces seized and held a position of great importance on the Cemetery Ridge. At dusk the batteries outside the Cemetery Gate were reposted: Battery B, Fourth United States, with four guns, across the Baltimore Road facing the village. Next it four guns of Battery I, First New York, Captain Wiedrich; next Cooper's four-gun battery, and on the extreme right of this line, Reynolds' Battery, with five guns. This turn or refusal of the line of batteries thus mounted thirteen three-inch guns and four Napoleons, and breastworks of the horse-shoe form were at once constructed before the pieces. The Fifth Maine Battery is described as posted to the right and some fifty yards in front of this line, on a small knoll, whence it commanded a flanking fire at close range upon any column attacking this front. " During the morning several moving columns of the enemy were shelled at intervals, but no engagement occurred until about 4 p. m., when they planted a battery of four twenty-pounders and six ten-pound Parrotts in a wheatfield in our immediate front, at about 1,300 yards, and opened the most accurate fire I have ever yet seen from their artillery."
This engagement lasted for an hour and a half, when the enemy retired, hauling two of their guns off by hand. A portion of their guns maintained a brief fire from a new position a little to the right, but were soon silenced. After this engagement Cooper's Battery was relieved by Ricketts' Battery, giving the line two additional guns. About dusk (of the 2d) there was a general attack on our position from the direction of the village by General Hays' Louisiana Brigade, and Hoke's North Carolina Brigade.
Quoting again from the report: "As their column filed out of the town they came under the fire of the Fifth Maine Battery at about 800 yards. Wheeling into line they swung around, their right resting on the town, and pushed up the hill, which is quite steep at this point. As their line became fully unmasked all the guns which could be brought to bear were opened on them, at first with shrapnel and afterwards with canister, making a total of fifteen guns in their front and six on their left Hank. Their centre and left never mounted the hill at all, but their right worked its way up under the cover of the houses and pushed completely through Wiedrich's Battery into Ricketts'. The cannoneers of both these batteries stood well to their guns, driving the enemy off with fence-rails and stones, and capturing a few prisoners. I believe it may be claimed that this attack was almost entirely repelled by the artillery. My surgeon, who was in town, and dressed many of their wounds, tells me that they reported their loss in this engagement as very great.'
On the third day the battery was not engaged, and from its position could take no part in the heavy cannonade which preceded the great Pickett charge. From our sheltered position we could see gray figures moving among the guns and monuments along the Cemetery crest, and listen to the awful chorus of batteries that ushered in the last act on this great field.
The following is a list of the casualties at this great struggle, as reported at the time to headquarters: Capt. G. H. Reynolds, lost his left eye and bruised in left side; taken to hospital in town; taken prisoner, and found in Gettysburg on its evacuation by the enemy. Edward Costello, killed. Michael Elringer, wounded in head. John Vallier, wounded in right foot and missing. Patrick Gray, wounded in back by piece of rail, a shell striking it; missing. Edward Foster, wounded in left foot. George Morris, wounded slightly in side. John P. Conn, fatally wounded. George Gavitt, wounded in face and leg, and missing. William Cronoble, wounded in the right shoulder. Sergt. Charles A. Rooney, slightly wounded, and missing. Amos Gibbs, wounded in left wrist. Victor Gretter, slightly wounded in leg. William Wood, slightly wounded in ankle. Corp. George Blake, slightly wounded in left side. Most of the above were taken prisoners in Gettysburg, and found there on our army occupying the town. Isaac Weinberg, the battery's guidon, was captured while attending to Captain Reynolds, but was released with him.
Battery L, or Reynolds' Battery, as it is always better known, was organized in the city of Rochester, September 17, 1861. Thirteen men enlisted that day for three years' service in the volunteer army, forming the nucleus of an organization which in a few weeks was filled to the maximum number of a sixgun battery, consisting of 150 men. The company, before its full completion, departed for Elmira, October 7th, and the event was duly celebrated by the old Union Grays of Rochester firing a salute, and by Hill's Union Blues acting as an escort to the depot. On the 25th of October, the company was mustered into service, numbering then 81 men, with John A. Reynolds as captain, Edward A. Loder, first lieutenant, and Gilbert H. Reynolds, second lieutenant. On the l3th of November the company left Elmira for Albany, where it received a sufficient number of recruits to entitle it to two additional commissioned officers. Charles L. Anderson, of Palmyra, and George Breck, of Rochester, were made second lieutenants, G. H. Reynolds being promoted to be one of the first lieutenants. The company remained at Albany until November 21st, when it was ordered to Washington. Here it was quartered at Camp Barry for about three months, during which time the battery was fully equipped with horses, six three-inch rifled cannon, caissons, forge and battery wagons, and everything to perfect its organization.
On February 25, 1862, the company received orders to proceed to Baltimore, and the following day it encamped in that city at Camp Andrew, or Stewart's Mansion, where it remained some three months, pleasantly located, doing holiday soldiering and practicing almost daily in artillery drill. On the 25th day of May, on a bright Sabbath afternoon, the company received its first marching orders for active field service. It was ordered to Harper's Ferry from Baltimore, with all possible despatch, and at an early hour the next morning it.had reached its destination. Stonewall Jackson was making his famous raid in the Shenandoah Valley, repulsing General Banks's army and threatening the capture of Harper's Ferry and the city of Washington. The whole North was in commotion over this strategic movement of the Rebel forces, and there was a hurrying of Federal troops to Harper's Ferry to avert the impending danger. It was then and there that Reynolds' Battery first began to soldier in good earnest; and not until the close of the war was there any suspension, for any length of time, of hardship, marching, and fighting. Its halcyon days of military life, as experienced in Baltimore, were at an end. Henceforth it was to confront " grim-visaged war " for the preservation of the Republic, and how well the company did its work is a matter of record. It was an organization of which Rochester and Monroe County could be and were proud.
From Harper's Ferry the battery began to move up the Shenandoah Valley, attached to General Sigel's Division, in pursuit of Jackson's army. It was a long and hard chase, attended with many incidents; but the day came when disaster was turned into victory. Then followed the great retreat of the Union army upon Washington, one of the leading events of the war. Reynolds' Battery took an active part in it. At about the commencement of the retreat the battery was near the Rappahannock River, which stream it crossed and recrossed several times in the movements of the army. It was at Rappahannock Station, about half-way between Culpeper and Warrenton Junction, that the battery engaged in its first real fight. It fought in company with General Patrick's Brigade, of McDowell's Corps, and performed efficient service. The first member of the company who was wounded in the battery's service was Sergt. William H. Bower, then acting as lieutenant, and subsequently promoted to a lieutenancy. It was here he lost his left arm by the fragment of a Confederate shell.
The company's next engagement was at White Sulphur Springs, Va., where John F. Deitz was badly wounded. Then followed the battle of Gainesville or Groveton, one of the hottest and severest engagements which the battery ever participated in. Here brave John Smith and gallant John Van Zandt were killed.
Then occurred the second battle of Bull Run, and here the battery won additional credit for gallantry and efficiency. The company could muster now but seventy men and needed new recruits. For several months there had been almost constant marching and fighting, and the severest hardships had been experienced. And then occurred the battle of South Mountain, where the battery was held in reserve; and, following this, was the great battle of Antietam, on the 17th of September, 1862, just one year from the date of the organization of the company. In this fierce and bloody conflict the old colors of Battery L were conspicuous from the commencement of the struggle until its close. Here Myron Annis was killed and Peter Proseus had both legs badly shattered.
With the grand Army of the Potomac the battery again turned its face in the direction of Virginia in the latter part of October, 1862, and " Onward to Richmond" was once more the cry. In November, General Burnside was placed in command of the army, and in December following, the battery was engaged in the battle of Fredericksburg. Here David Morrison, of Scottsville, was mortally wounded. Then followed the "masterly retreat" from that historic battlefield, and the battery went into camp for four or five months at Waugh Point, the monotony of which was relieved for a little time when General Burnside made his famous mud movement in the latter part of January, 1863, in which the battery took an active part
Shortly after this General Hooker assumed command of the Army of the Potomac, and the battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville were fought May 2d, 3d, and 4th, in which the battery, still in the First Corps, was hotly engaged, particularly below Fredericksburg, three or four miles on the south side of the Rappahannock, where brave Charles Carpenter was killed and several of the men were wounded. The attacks of the enemy's batteries were gallantly repulsed, two of his caissons being blown up and two guns dismounted, It was here that General Reynolds, commanding the First Army Corps, came on the ground where the battery was in action and complimented it by remarking: " If that battery continues to stand such a fire as it is receiving, it will stand anywhere." It was in the latter part of May, that John A. Reynolds, the chief organizer of, and for more than a year and a half the captain of the battery, was commissioned as major in the First New York Light Artillery Regiment, and subsequently was assigned to the Army of the Cumberland as chief of artillery of the Twentieth Army Corps. First Lieut. G. H. Reynolds was commissioned as captain and took command of the battery. George Breck was made first lieutenant; Charles L. Anderson, second first lieutenant; and William H. Bower was promoted from first sergeant to a second lieutenancy.
About six weeks after was fought the greatest battle of the war — the battle of Gettysburg. In this terrible conflict Battery L was an active participant from the first to the close of the third day's fighting. In this engagement the battery lost its first gun, on the first day's encounter with the enemy, a detailed account of which, with the operations of the battery through the three days' fight, has already been described.
Following the battle of Gettysburg was a multiplicity of incidents and movements culminating in the battle of Mine Run, where the battery was closely engaged. It lay at Culpeper in winter quarters until May 4, 1864, when the last great general movement of the Army of the Potomac, under command of General Grant, was begun. The battery took part in the battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, North Anna, Totopotomoy, Cold Harbor (where Lieutenant De Mott was killed), Bethesda Church, Petersburg, Weldon Railroad, and Peebles' Farm; and upon its colors are inscribed the names of these battlefields and others in which it participated.
On the 31st of May, 1865, the company broke camp near City Point, Va., and made its first movement homeward bound. The orders disposing of the battery as one of the batteries of the volunteer artillery of the Army of the Potomac were issued about May 3oth, and on the 6th of June following, the company bade adieu to Washington and started for Elmira, the original place of mustering into service, arriving there two days subsequently. On the17th of June, Reynolds' Battery was duly disbanded and the members, with glad hearts, went to their respective homes. Of the number of men who originally joined the battery, twenty-five remained at the time it was mustered out of service. One hundred and sixty joined in 1861, 44 joined in 1862, 100 joined in 1863 and 1864; 11 men were killed or died from wounds received in action and 29 died from sickness contracted in service.
Thus, comrades, have I sought to briefly trace the succession of events, when, as citizen-soldiers, we first took service in the artillery, at the very threshold of manhood, until we again disappeared in the civic pursuits of life. If we have regrets to utter to-day, it is over the memories of those who did not live to enjoy the fruits of that great struggle which left us a permanent Union, but fell upon this and other fields. Nor is it probable that we shall ever again be gathered in such a reunion and amid such surroundings as these; but true as that may be, each for himself will long cherish the recollection that on the twenty-eighth anniversary of the formation of this battery, neither our patriotism nor our estimate of heroic deeds was inadequate to the true appreciation of the sacrifices made here at Gettysburg.
George Breck Columns - Donated and Transcribed by Bob Marcotte
Breck, George. "George Breck's Civil war letters from 'Reynold's battery.'" Rochester historical society publications XXII (1944) 91-149.
Marcotte, Bob, ed. Breck's War: The Civil War Correspondence of George Breck, Battery L, 1st N.Y. Light Artillery. Rochester: 2005.
Shelton, William H. "A hard road to travel out of Dixie." Century magazine XL (1890) 931-49.
Items the museum owns are in bold.
New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs: Military History Last modified: August 9, 2006 URL: http://www.dmna.state.ny.us/historic/reghist/civil/artillery/1stArtLt/1stArtLtBatL.htm