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First hand accounts from the 2nd day of Gettysburg

Discussion in 'Battle of Gettysburg' started by AUG351, Jul 2, 2013.

  1. AUG351

    AUG351 1st Lieutenant

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    Sergeant Valerius C. Giles
    4th Texas Infantry, Robertson's Brigade
    Giles and his fellow Texans were ordered to attack across the slopes of Big Round Top near Devils's Den and drive the Federals from their positions on the nearby Little Round Top. Failing to capture the Federal position, Giles and his comrades were forced to take shelter among the boulders on the lower slopes of Big Round Top.

    The side of the mountain was heavily timbered and covered with great boulders that had tumbles from the cliffs above years before. These afforded great protection to the men. Every tree, rock and stump that gave any protection from the rain of Minie balls that were poured down upon us, was soon appropriated. john Griffith and myself pre-empted a moss-covered old boulder about the size of a 500-pound cotton bale. By this time order and discipline were gone. Every fellow was his own general. Private soldiers gave commands as loud as the officers. Nobody paid any attention to either. To add to this confusion, our own artillery on the hill to the rear was cutting its fuse too short. their shells were bursting behind us, in the treetops, over our heads, and all around us.

    Nothing demoralizes troops quicker than to be fired into by their friends. I saw it occur twice during the war. The first time we ran, but at Gettysburg we couldn't. This mistake was soon corrected and shells burst high on the mountain or went over it.

    Major Rogers, then in command of the Fifth Texas Regiment, mounted an old log near my boulder and began a Fourth of July speech. He was a little ahead of time, for that was about six thirty on the evening of July 2d. Of course nobody was paying any attention to the oration as he appealed to the men to "stand fast." He and Captain Cousins of the Fourth Alabama were the only two men I saw standing. The balance of us had settled down behind rocks, logs, and trees. While the speech was going on, John Haggerty, one of Hood's couriers, then acting for General Law, dashed up the die of the mountain, and saluted the major and said: "General Law presents his compliments, and says hold this place at all hazards." The Major checked up, glared down at Haggerty from his perch, and shouted: "Compliments, hell! Who wants any compliments in such a ****ed place as this? Go back and ask General Law if he wants me to hold the world in check with the Fifth Texas Regiment? . . ."

    From behind my boulder I saw a ragged line of battle strung out along the side of Cemetery Ridge and in front of Little Round Top. Night began settling around us, but the carnage went on. there seemed to be a viciousness in the very air we breathed. Things had gone wrong all the day, and now pandemonium came with the darkness. Alexander Dumas says the devil gets in a man seven times a day, and if the average is not over seven times, he is almost a saint.

    At Gettysburg that night, it was about seven devils to each man. Officers were cross to the men, and the men were equally cross to the officers. It was the same with our enemies. We could hear the Yankee officer on the crest of the ridge in front of us cursing the men by platoons, and them en telling him to go to a country not very far away from us hast at the time. . . .

    The advance lines of the two armies in many places were not more than fifty yards apart. Everything was on the shoot, No favors asked, and none offered. My gun was so dirt that the ramrod hung in the barrel, and I could neither get it down nor out. I slammed the rod against the rock a few times, and drove home ramrod, cartridge and all, laid the gun on a boulder, elevated the muzzle, ducked my head, halloaed "Look out!" and pulled the trigger. She roared like a young cannon and flew over my boulder, the barrel striking John Griffith a smarter whack on the left ear. John roared too, and abused me like a pickpocket for my carelessness. It was no trouble to get another gun there. The mountain side was covered with them. . . .

    Our spiritual advisers, chaplains of regiments, were in the rear, caring for the wounded and dying soldiers. with seven devils to each man, it was no place for a preacher, anyhow. A little red paint and a few eagles feathers were all that were necessary to make that crowd on both sides into the most veritable savages on earth! There was not a man there that cared a snap for the golden rule, or that could have remembered one line of the Lord's Prayer. Both sides were whipped and all were furious about it.
     
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  3. AUG351

    AUG351 1st Lieutenant

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    Corporal Henry Meyer
    148th Pennsylvania Infantry, Cross' Brigade
    Meyer watched the men of Colonel Patrick Kelly's famed Irish Brigade prepare for action before they moved, along with Meyer and the Pennsylvanians, forward the Wheat Field to stem the Confederate breakthrough. Corporal Meyer would survive Gettysburg to be discharged for poor health in 1864.

    We had read in the papers of McClellan's soldiers, in the series of battles on the Peninsula, lying down along side of batteries and going to sleep while the roar of battle went on; this seemed incredible, but such a possibility was verified that day at Gettysburg. While lying in the hot sun in line of battle, some of the boys slept, though shells and solid shot came crashing into our midst.

    . . . The Irish Brigade, which belonged to the Division, was first assembled in solid mass and their Chaplain, or priest, performed some religious ceremony of a few minutes duration, while the men stood, undisturbed by bursting hells, with bowed heads in reverent silence. then the whole Division was marched off at a "double quick" across fields and through patches of woods in the direction of the conflict. . . .

    We were the first troops to cross the field, and yellow grain was still standing. I noticed how ears of wheat flew in the air all over the fields as they were cut off by the enemy's bullets. . . . Men in battle will act very differently; some become greatly excited, others remain perfectly cool. One of the boys in my rear was sitting flat on the ground and discharged his piece in the air at an angle of fort-five degrees, as fast as he could load. "Why do you shoot in the air?" I asked him. "To scare 'em," he replied.

    He was a pious young man, and the true reason why he did not shoot at the enemy direct, was because of his conscientious scruples on the subject. What struck me as being peculiar was that some of the boys swore energetically, who never before were heard to utter an oath.
     
  4. AUG351

    AUG351 1st Lieutenant

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    Major George B. Gerald
    18th Mississippi Infantry, Barksdale's Brigade
    When William Barksdale's Mississippi brigade charged into the Peach Orchard, Major Gerald lead a party of men to clear Federal marksmen from the bard of the nearby Sherfy farm. Gerald survived a wound at Cedar Creek in 1864 and settled in Waco, Texas, five years later. there he held the office of county judge and postmaster, and edited a local newspaper. In 1897 he killed the editor of a rival newspaper and his brother in a gunfight in Waco. He died in 1914 and his cremated remained were scattered in the Gulf of Mexico.

    The order was given to "strip for the fight." The men carried their scanty change of clothing wrapped in their blankets and thrown over their shoulders; each regiment piled these in a heap and each left a man with the baggage. The field officers dismounted from their horses, the reason for this that an order had been issued some time before that no officer below the rank of brigadier or acting brigadier-general should ride into battle, because of the fact that government had a great deal of difficulty replacing the horses killed. I gave my horse and watch as well as some other belongings to my servant. After these orders had been complied with the order was given "Dress to the colors and forward to the foe!"

    After moving through the woods a short distance, we came to a fence around a field of grain; the battle was progressing. Before us lay open fields dotted with houses and right in our front were some farm houses with a grove of trees to the left and he enemy drawn up in a double line of battle some five or six hundred yards distance and supported by artillery. We steadily advanced, driving the enemy before us until we reached the houses with the trees on the left, the trees proves to be a peach orchard. On the end of the orchard was a bard in which a part of the enemy had taken refuge. . . . I with most of the regiment was directly in front of the barn. . . . I called to the men that the barn must be captured and to fallow me and I would open the door. They fallowed m e with a rush and I forced the door open, and within less than two minutes we had killed, wounded or captured every man in the barn. The barn was filled with smoke so dense that it was very nearly impossible to distinguish a man's body in it, such a continuous fire had the enemy within kept up.

    We left the barn and the brigade moved through the orchard towards the heights, still driving enemy before them. General Barksdale encountered the men by shouting, "Forward men, forward," which was the only command that I ever heard him give after the battle commenced. By this time we had been under heavy fire from two lines of battle and their artillery and our losses had been very heavy, and recognizing the impossibility of the breaking these fresh lines of battle, we fell back to the orchard, where we spent the night.
     
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  5. Lee

    Lee 1st Lieutenant

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    I love first hand accounts of actions, battles, marches, even camp life. I never tire of reading soldier's letters or diary entries as these sources were written during or shortly after the actions and give the reader wonderful insight from those who lived those words, descriptions, and events.
     
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  6. AUG351

    AUG351 1st Lieutenant

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    Yep, me too. You read about certain instances in such detail that you will never or rarely hear anywhere else. These accounts place you in the middle of the action, they are really one of the best ways you can come close to understanding exactly what battle was like for these men who had to experience it.

    Its an amazing experience if you bring some first hand accounts with you to the actual battlefield the individual fought at and read them at the exact spot where that soldier stood and fought at. I remember when I visited Perryville and brought along Sam Watkins' Co. Aytch, and read his account of Perryville again before I went out and visited the spot where Maney's Brigade attacked the Open Knob on the Federal left, right where the 1st Tennessee fought. You get a whole different perspective of the battlefield when you read a first hand account then see the actual field for yourself.
     
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  7. Union_Buff

    Union_Buff Captain Forum Host

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    I agree - I love reading first hand accounts' of the Civil War from the perspective of a soldier :smile:
     
  8. AUG351

    AUG351 1st Lieutenant

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    Lieutenant Edward N. Whittier
    5th Maine Light Artillery, I Corps
    In the fading light of July 2, from a knoll facing the eastern slope of Cemetery Hill, the 5th Maine Battery's six Napoleons poured over a ton of searing metal into the left flank of Avery's North Carolina brigade as it pressed forward in a gallant but costly advance up the hill. Lieutenant Whittier recalled the event in his official report.

    We made out the lines of the enemy at a distance of 1,000 yards, forming near the house and farm of William Culp. . . . as quickly as the enemy appeared, even while his lines were forming, the battery opened with case shot, each one busting as if on measured ground, at the right time and in the right place in front of the advancing lines. . . .

    The enemy swept past the left flank of the 5th Maine Battery with such rapidity that the right half battery could not be brought to bear upon their lines hastening to gain a new position and re-form on ground from which they could more successfully charge the crest of the hill.

    . . .The trails of the guns of the left battery swung sharp and hard to the right, the right half battery was limbered to the rear, and in the darkness harried into position on the left of the guns remaining in the works, and in the moment the whole battery at close range pouring a most destructive, and demoralizing, enfilading fire of double canister into a confused mass of the enemy struggling in the uncertain shadows of the crest of East Cemetery Ridge.
     
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  9. Stony

    Stony Sergeant Major Trivia Game Winner

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    Keep 'em coming!
     
  10. Gandycreek

    Gandycreek Sergeant Major

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    Thanks for posting.
     
  11. Lee

    Lee 1st Lieutenant

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    Great Stuff Aug351! I look forward to more 1st hand sources and reports.
     
  12. Drew

    Drew 2nd Lieutenant

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    I've posted my great great grandfather's very brief account of Gettysburg before, I won't do it again - Co. D, 1st Texas Infantry, Hood's Brigade. I've been thinking of him and what it must have been like.

    Read today of Lt. Marcellus Jones, 8th Illinois Cavalry, who took a carbine from a "Sergeant Shafer" and fired the first shot, around 7:30 a.m. yesterday morning, 150 years ago, at advancing Confederates. Keep these coming, they're way better than any general's account!
     
  13. AUG351

    AUG351 1st Lieutenant

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    Thank you, I am moving between the lines and interviewing more soldiers as we speak! I am currently on Cemetery Hill :D

    If you want, go ahead and post it, I'd love to hear an account from someone in my favorite regiment!
     
  14. AUG351

    AUG351 1st Lieutenant

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    Sergeant Oscar D. Ladley
    75th Ohio Infantry, Ame's Brigade
    A dry-goods crerk from Yellow Sorings, Ohio, 23-year-old Oscar Ladley elisted just a week after the firing on Fort Sumter. He fought in the Shenandoah Valley and in the Second Manassas Campaign and late on July 2 found himself under withering fire on Cemetery Hill. Ladley fought a Regular Army post after the war, he died of pneumonia while on duty in Farmington, New Mexico, in 1880

    July 5 Battle Field, Gettysburg Pa
    They came on us about dark yelling like demons with fixed bayonets. We opened on them when they were about 500 yards off but still they came their officers & colors in advance. We lay behind the wall when they came over. A Rebel officer made at me with a revolver with his colors by his side. I had no pistol one of our boys run him through the body so saved me. There was a good man killed in that way. They had driven back the dutch Brig on our right and had go behind us, and rebels & Yankees were mixed up generally. But we finally drove them back. I never saw such fighting in my life. It was a regular hand to hand fight. Our Brig (Ohio) had sworn never to turn so they stood but it was a dear stand to same of them. I have 6 men left the Regt. has 60 the Brig. has 300 of 1500.
     
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  15. Drew

    Drew 2nd Lieutenant

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    You're up there? Holy smokes! That's exciting, I'll bet. I was too chicken of traffic to do it. I'll go in a week or so and think about it in peace. Do tell though, how it's going! Excerpt from 1st Texas ancestor Pvt. J.P. O'Rear's story:

    “We reached Gettysburg on the 1st of July and lines were formed and the battle began about 1 P.M, continuing ‘till about 4 P.M. Here was some of the hardest fighting which I saw or was in during the war. I visited one of the hospitals where the sick and wounded were being taken care of. It was a horrible sight. Men were wounded in every conceivable way and the intensity of their suffering was heartrending.”
    He offered a respectful but slightly snarky mention of the retreat, too, but we're not there yet. Enjoy yourself!
     
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  16. AUG351

    AUG351 1st Lieutenant

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    Thanks, short but great account. And you think I am actually there at the reenactment? Nope, I am back in time, in July 2, 1863 at Cemetery Hill, dodging shells as we speak! I can hear the minies flying over me as I run to find some more wounded soldiers to interview!
     
  17. AUG351

    AUG351 1st Lieutenant

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    Captain R. Bruce Ricketts
    1st Pennsylvania Light, Batteries F and G, 3rd Volunteer Brigade, Artillery Reserve
    Ricketts’ battery arrived in Gettysburg on the Taneytown Road on the morning of July 2, 1863 and replaced Capt James H. Cooper's Battery B, First Pennsylvania Light Artillery, on East Cemetery Hill about 4:00 PM. It was exposed to enfilade fire from Benner’s Hill and Seminary Ridge. Around nightfall, two Confederate brigades from the division of Major General Jubal Early attacked the hill. It broke the thin Union front line at the foot of the hill in two places. In other places they were repelled. Some Confederates reached the top of the hill, and one group attacked the left of Ricketts’ battery, trying to spike the guns. The fight for the guns became hand to hand, but the Confederates were unable to capture the whole battery. Eventually Union reinforcements from the II Corps brigade of Col Samuel S. Carroll drove the Confederates down hill.

    My command at Gettysburg [on July 2, 1863] consisted of Batteries “F & G” First Pennsylvania Light Artillery—Battery “G” having been attached to my original command, Battery “F,” a few weeks before the battle—the two organizations forming one full six gun Battery.

    We were attached to the Artillery Reserve, Army o f the Potomac, and marched with that command on the morning of July 2d from Taneytown to Gettysburg arriving on the field about noon.

    At 4:00 p.m. I was ordered by Captain Huntington, to whose Brigade of the Artillery Reserve my Battery was attached, to report to Colonel C.S. Wainwright, who commanded the line of Artillery on East Cemetery Hill. We moved up the Taneytown road by Gen. Meade’s Headquarters, halted for a short time behind Cemetery Hill, and then moved up the Baltimore Pike and relieved Cooper’s Battery, “B” 1st Penna. Light Artillery, on East Cemetery Hill.
    My position was in front of where the observatory now stands with my left [artillery] piece near the stone wall-on my left over the stone wall was Wiednick’s New York Battery with, I believe, six guns; on my right, down the hill was Reynold’s “L,” 1st New York Battery with, I think, six guns. All of the above three Batteries, Wiednicks, Reynolds and mine had, as I remember it, 10 pounder regulation rifled guns. Behind my Battery was Stewart’s Battery, “B” 4th U.S. Artillery, with four 12 pounder smooth-bore guns-two of his guns were on the Baltimore Pike facing the town and two were in rear of the two right guns of my battery facing to our front.

    After going into position we were engaged with the enemy’s artillery during the afternoon until Johnson’s [Confederate] Division formed on Benner’s Hill for the attack on Culp’s Hill. We opened on them as soon as they appeared on the hill and continued the fire as they advanced down the hill to Rock Creek and into the woods at the foot of Culp’s Hill. When they got into the woods between Rock Creek and Culp’s Hill, our fire was guided by the smoke of [their] musketry fire rising above the trees.

    At about dusk, and while we were still firing on Johnson’stroops Early’s Division [the Louisiana Tigers]-which had formed in a depression running from the town to Rock Creek-suddenly appeared in our front and with the “rebel yell” charged directly on East Cemetery Hill. They were at once under the fire of Wiednick’s, Reynolds’ and my Battery from East Cemetery Hill and of Steven’s Maine Battery on Culp’s Hill which had an en filading fire on them. As far as my Battery was concerned, we opened at once with double-shotted canister and although it was the dusk o f the evening and the smoke of the guns made it quite dark, I do not think that any o f the enemy who charged in our immediate front were able to reach our guns. Our infantry were, however, driven back through the Batteries and Wiednick’s Battery was compelled to [retreat]. The left flank of my Battery was then completely exposed and the enemy who had climbed the hill in front of Wiednick’s Battery were able to reach the stone wall on the left of my Battery. They fired directly down the line of the guns, but fortunately they could not see in the darkness that the ground fell away from my left piece toward the right of the Battery. I remember well the roar o f the torrent of bullets as they passed over our heads.


    My men behaved splendidly in this great emergency. Soon after I went into position, Colonel Wainwright said to me, “If a charge is made on this point you will not limber up and escape under my circumstances, but fight your Battery as long as you can.” I repeated this order to my officers and men, and I do not remember ever to have heard of any member of my command having failed to do his whole duty. Only once, for a moment, when the Infantry were falling back through the Battery, some of my men gave back, but were instantly rallied with the cry “Die on your own soil boys before you give up your guns."

    Some of the enemy crossed the stone wall and there was hand to hand fighting in the left of the Battery reaching as far as the 3d Gun from the left, my men fighting with handspikes, hammer stones and pistols. I devoted my energies to keeping up the fire from as many guns as we could and in going along the guns I suddenly came upon a group, just in rear of the 3d Gun from the left. The group consisted of Lieut. C.B. Brockway, acting Sergeant Stratford, and a confederate soldier who was on the ground. Stratford had a musket [held as a club] which was on the point of falling [on the Confederate] when I seized it and probably saved the poor fellow’s life. I do not, however, remember now what became of him. The story as told by Brockway afterwards was that the confederate demanded Stratford’s surrender when Brockway, who was near and forgetting he had a sword, picked up a stone and struck him on the head. Stratford seized the man’s musket and fired wounding him severely and then clubbed the musket and would no doubt have brained him if I had not caught the gun at that moment. At about this time and near the same place, James H. Riggin, the Guidon bearer [our flag], staggered against me and fell with the cry “help me Captain.” When we found him after the fight he was dead and the sleeve of the right arm of my coat was covered with the brave fellow’s blood. We afterward learned that in a personal encounter with a Confederate officer who had attempted to capture the Battery Guidon-which was planted near the Second Gun from the left-[Riggin] had shot the officer with his revolver, but at the same moment the staff of the Guidon was shot in two and poor Riggin was shot through the body.

    Three of my men, Francis Reid, Oscar G. Lanaber and John M. Given, commoners on the left piece, were carried away as prisoners. [Given was wounded and died in the hands of the enemy. The other two were afterwards exchanged.] The situation had now become really desperate -Stewart with his two 12 pounder guns on the Pike was firing canister, sweeping the ground that had been occupied by Wiedrick’s Battery. There was nothing left on East Cemetery Hill to resist the onslaught of the enemy but the hand-full of brave men of my Batterybut even with the favoring circumstances of the dusk of the evening, the smoke of the guns and the lay of ground, they were becoming exhausted and would soon have been overcome-but just at this time-probably the most critical moment during the Battle of Gettysburg-Carroll’s Brigade of the 2d Army Corps, sent in on the run by Genl. Hancock, arrived and passing by the right of my Battery and down the hill opened fire and the enemy retired.

    I never knew how long the fight lasted on the evening of the 2nd, but I remember that after everything had become quiet the full moon was just above Culp’s Hill.
     
  18. Drew

    Drew 2nd Lieutenant

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    Ahh, OK. I was in the same place during Chancellorsville! This is exciting stuff.

    I had the good fortune, a decade or so ago, to hear from the Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, who spoke of his experience as a platoon leader in Vietnam. He said two things that I remember. First, the "crack" of gunfire is nothing to be worried about. If it "cracks," it's not pointed in your direction. If it "pings," look out, get in a hole, the deeper the better, it's aimed at you!

    He also spoke of giving an order, under fire, for which his platoon sergeant hit him so hard he was knocked to the ground and his helmut fell off. He could of and was about to have the guy shot, until he realized the Sergeant was right. He'd made a terrible mistake that put "precious, young Marines" at terrible risk. He was speaking of "leadership."

    Anyway, there was a lot of that at Gettysburg! Love the accounts of junior officers and private soldiers. Please keep them coming.
     
  19. Drew

    Drew 2nd Lieutenant

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    You simply can't make this stuff up. Thanks for posting!

     
  20. Bernard West Sr.

    Bernard West Sr. Private

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    Thanks for posting. Some of the best first person accounts I've seen of the Second Days action. Very appropriate for a rainy July 2nd evening 150 years later.
     
  21. AUG351

    AUG351 1st Lieutenant

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    Yeah, I once had the chance to talk to a veteran of the 28th Infantry Division "The Bloody Bucket Division" who fought at the bloody Battle of Hurtgen Forest in Germany, a particular battle known for being a very bloody and hard fought fight. The 28th Infantry Division lost over 6,100 combat casualties and another 700 casualties from trench foot and 600 from battle fatigue, by the end of the battle they were almost wiped out.

    The veteran I talked to mentioned that when they went on the attack they heard bullets crack and buzz around. He said when they cracked they flew above you and when they buzzed they flew by your sides. He mentioned how when the Germans dropped artillery on them in the open, most men learned to hug a tree because usually the Germans used timed shrapnel shells that exploded in the air, so if they layed out on the ground they would be hit, but hugging a tree made them not so big of a target. He mentioned a lot of other personal incidents, none of which I could tell he liked talking about very much, but it was great to hear his experiences and it was terrible what those men went through out in the Hurtgen Forest, a forgotten battle of WW2 that had almost no strategical importance, yet it was very bloody.
     
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