Assessment of the Gettysburg Campaign According to Soldier Participants

Tom Elmore

1st Lieutenant
Member of the Year
Joined
Jan 16, 2015
Part 1:

-This repulse is not at all discouraging to our army, for well do they know that they have been time after time victorious over the army that they fought on this occasion, and that the enemy had the advantage over them in position and supplies, and were encouraged to fight because we were invading their soil. (July 27 letter of Private W. B. Sturtevant, Company B, 8th Georgia, Museum of the Confederacy, Richmond, Virginia)

-The enemy suffered more at Gettysburg than we did, and although we failed to drive him from the Gibraltar he had chosen on the mountains, yet our infantry did all along the line get access to his, and his losses were far greater than ours. (July 12 letter of Captain George Hiller, 9th Georgia, published in Athens Southern Banner, July 23, 1863)

-I think we paid dearly for our trip into Pennsylvania. We gave 20,000 men’s lives for a few fine cattle, horses and wagons. I think our Confederacy is gone up the spout. They say old Lee is going back in Maryland. If he does I think it will end the war. Our men had most as soon die as to start back [into] Maryland. Our men is badly disheartened; they are beginning to think this war won’t end till we are all killed and it won’t take long if they make many such raids as this. (July 18 letter of George F. Robinson, Company A, 7th South Carolina, to his wife Elvira, Tennessee State Library and Archives)

-I think we are in a much worse condition than when we crossed the Potomac. It is true we got a great many cattle and horses, but taking all things together we made nothing by the operation. (July 15 letter of Surgeon Abram S. Miller, 25th Virginia, to Julia, The Handley Library, Winchester, Virginia)

-This victory [at Gettysburg] won … and the news of such successes as Vicksburg and Port Hudson lead us to believe the Rebellion is about squelched and will shortly collapse. (July 17 entry, diary of Almeron W. Stillwell, Company E, 5th Wisconsin, Wisconsin Historical Society, Madison)
 

A. Roy

Sergeant Major
Forum Host
Joined
Sep 2, 2019
Location
Raleigh, North Carolina
Fascinating to read these, with their diversity of viewpoints. Maybe I'm stating the obvious, but it emphasizes to me that, while this kind of source is invaluable, one letter or diary entry (or just a few) can't necessarily represent the overall picture. There were so many people involved, and each one's experience was unique.

Makes me think of a Spanish proverb: "Cada cabeza es un mundo." (Every mind is its own world.)

Roy B.
 

Tom Elmore

1st Lieutenant
Member of the Year
Joined
Jan 16, 2015
Part 2:

-The rebels thought we [Army of the Potomac] could not possibly get there [Pennsylvania] for three more days, and by that time, they expected to have things ready for us, but we did some tall travelling. … Had it not been for Joe Hooker’s good feeding last winter and spring we never could have done such marching. (July 6 letter of Private John L. Street, Company A, 145th Pennsylvania, to his parents)

-I was in hopes we would totally destroy the rebel army before they could get in Virginia again but they have escaped and I suppose we will have to follow them but I have strong hopes. Dear mother this war will soon be over. Three great victories in one week, Vicksburg, Port Hudson and Gettysburg. I don’t see how it can last much longer. (July 17 letter of John Stewart, 91st Pennsylvania, to his mother)

-We can see now that a splendid chance to whip the rebels was lost by not attacking them at Williamsport, for we could have punished them severely. I believe Hooker would have fought them. Everyone seems however to have every confidence in Genl. Meade; he is a careful Genl. (November 3, 1863 letter of Captain James Grindlay, 146th New York, to a friend; http://civilwartalk.com/threads/bought-a-book-found-a-nice-surprise.125433/)

-Everything seems to be going on right in every direction. Vicksburg fallen – and tonight we hear that Port Hudson has surrendered … Can we not see the beginning of the end? I think the Army of the Potomac would whip twice their number now they are so enthusiastic. (July 15 letter of Private James D. Chadwick, Company I, 10th Pennsylvania Reserves, to his father, sites.allegheny.edu/civilwarletters/tag/Gettysburg-battle-casualties/)

-We ought to have annihilated Lee’s army at Williamsport on Monday last, and I think we should if we had attacked him, but fallible beings cannot always penetrate far enough into the future to do and act just right. But notwithstanding Lee has eluded our grasp the old Army of the Potomac has again demonstrated to the world at large that upon its endurance and valor depends the safety of this government. We have not accomplished all that we could have desired in that we have allowed the enemy to withdraw any of his force from Maryland, yet we have met him upon the ground of his own choosing, and in a fair field fight have compelled him to retire leaving behind him not less than 30,000 of his veteran troops. (July 17 letter of 1st Sergeant/Captain Frank L. Lemont, Company E, 5th Maine, to his mother, Special Collections Department, Folger Library, University of Maine, Orono)
 

rpkennedy

Lt. Colonel
Member of the Year
Joined
May 18, 2011
Location
Carlisle, PA
Some information on some of these guys:

Private John L. Street mustered out with his regiment in July 1865 having been promoted to corporal.

John Stewart was the 1st Sergeant of Company C at the time of Gettysburg and was commissioned a 1st Lieutenant in November 1863. On June 22, 1864, he was mortally wounded at Petersburg.

Captain James Grindlay finished the war as the colonel of the 146th New York and mustered out with the regiment. He was also awarded the medal of honor for his actions during the Battle of Five Forks when he took command of the brigade and led them into the Confederate works.

Private James D. Chadwick finished his term of service and went home in June 1864.

Ryan
 
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