Five Minutes of Absolute Terror: Eustis’ Brigade at the Opening of the July 3 Cannonade

Tom Elmore

Sergeant Major
Member of the Year
Joined
Jan 16, 2015
Messages
2,338
#1
On the morning of July 3, the four regiments in the Sixth Corps brigade of Col. Henry L. Eustis were ordered to move from their position north of Little Round Top to the support of the Union lines on Culp’s Hill. However, the brigade arrived not long after the Confederate repulse in the late forenoon, and its services were no longer needed there. It soon made a counterclockwise march up the Baltimore Pike before crossing over to the Taneytown Road on the way back to its former position.

Just after 1 p.m., the brigade was marching leisurely south along the Taneytown road, and had reached a point near the Leister cottage, occupied by Gen. Meade as army headquarters. The large 37th Massachusetts, about 550 strong, led the way in a compact “closed order” formation. The 10th Massachusetts, next in line, was more thinly stretched out. The 7th Massachusetts also moved in a loose open order. The 2nd Rhode Island brought up the rear. Open order lacked the appearance of military precision, but it was safer in the vicinity of a battlefield, where a solid shot could roll down a mass of men like so many pins in a bowling lane.

Suddenly a single enemy discharge broke the silence, with the round passing far overhead. A second immediately followed the first. It was the signal to begin the grand cannonade. Those in the marching column who glanced westward saw what appeared to be a ring of fire running south to north along the Confederate lines. It was the fractional delay of sound reaching the ears of the enemy artillerymen successively up the line, and thus must have closely matched the speed of sound, which covered a mile in about five seconds. Eustis’ brigade found itself in the proverbial “wrong place at the wrong time,” and the 37th in particular was about to pay dearly for being so closely bunched together.

Col. Edwards just had time to get the words out, “Steady, 37th! Forward, double quick!” Then nothing could be heard above the din of exploding rounds. Dozens of bursting shells scattered iron fragments in every direction, striking in and around the road, including fence rails along the road, sending wood splinters flying. The regiment kept their ranks, hastening forward through the vortex of fire. They sought protection of woods on the east side of the road about 1,400 feet away. At the double quick they could theoretically make it in under five minutes, but of course they were loaded down with many extra pounds with their gun, ammunition and the rest of their kit (canteen, haversack/knapsack, etc.).

Pvt. James Perkins of the 37th Massachusetts had fallen out on the march and only rejoined the regiment a short time before it came under fire. A piece of shell entered above his right ear and passed through his head, killing him instantly. Lt. Andrew L. Bush was hit in the thigh by another fragment. Patrick Hussey was horribly mutilated by a bursting shell, lingering but a few minutes. Mortal wounds were also inflicted upon Enos Besancon, Charles Gurney, Elihu Coville and James Crampton. Color Sergeant C. S. Bardwell was spared injury when the barrel of his pistol absorbed most of the impact from a scrap of shell. Another unnamed soldier was stunned with a blow to the head. Coming to his senses and retrieving his gun, he staggered down the road to join his comrades in the woods, his face, clothing and hands covered with blood. Soon a riderless horse galloped directly towards the group, shrieking in pain with its lower jaw hanging in shreds due to a shell strike. At the last second the horse veered past the men and disappeared into the woods.

Ambulances began arriving to carry off the wounded. Pvt. James L. Bowen, with both legs struck, and another badly wounded comrade were loaded into one of them. They were not yet out of danger. Moving toward the southeast behind Cemetery Ridge, the ambulances stayed under a heavy artillery fire for a considerable distance. The vehicles bounced and jumped over logs, rocks and ditches, adding to the misery of the wounded occupants. In due time they were delivered to the Sixth Corps, Third Division hospital, which had earlier been set up by Surgeon Charles F. Crehore of the 37th, an 1859 graduate of Harvard Medical School (Crehore may have been serving as Medical Director of the Sixth Corps). Bowen was placed on a bed of straw in a large thatched shed. He was relatively comfortable, except at night a brain-damaged soldier from the 60th New York took to rolling over and over into the other wounded men, until he was removed to a box stall in the barn. The identity of this 12th Corps soldier cannot be established; several in the 60th New York were struck in the head while firing over the top of their works on Culp’s Hill.

The 37th lost a total of 31 – six killed or mortally wounded, and another 25 who were seriously wounded. Losses in the 7th Massachusetts were light. The 10th Massachusetts had four men dangerously wounded, although several others, like Henry B. Parsons and George A. Whitmore, were struck by shell pieces but not badly injured. The 2nd Rhode Island lost one man killed and five wounded.

It’s instructive to examine what happened to Eustis’ brigade to appreciate the intended effects of the Confederate artillery cannonade. The 37th Massachusetts lost about five percent of its strength within five minutes, but the bombardment lasted for some 90 minutes. At that rate, the brigade would likely have been effectively put out of action had it stayed put, but it left the scene and therefore contributed virtually nothing to the defense of Cemetery Ridge. It did march back up the Taneytown Road when the Confederate infantry assault got underway, but played no part in turning back the charge. One could conclude that Lee achieved the goal of his artillery bombardment at least with regard to Eustis’ brigade. Of course, the bulk of the Federal defenders were posted further to the front and suffered mostly incidental damage from the cannonade to the extent of single digit percentage losses.

In the realm of personal opinion, much has been written about Confederate overshooting beyond Cemetery Ridge, but that’s where the Confederates might have anticipated most of the Federal defenders to be concealed – Pickett’s division, for instance, was hidden in low ground behind their guns. In fact, both sides kept their lines well out of sight of their opponent. It was simply not possible for the Confederates to discern that the bulk of the Federal infantry was actually lying down further forward behind conveniently positioned stone walls that were augmented by low man-made barriers. It proved to be a critical miscalculation.

Sources:
-Annals of the War on the Gettysburg Field, by James L. Bowen, Philadelphia Weekly Times, June 28, 1884, vol. VIII, no. 19.
-War Memory XXIII, Springfield (Massachusetts) Republican, September 6, 1886, by Private James L. Bowen, Co. E, 37th Massachusetts.
-History of the Seventh Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry in the War of the Rebellion of the Southern States Against Constitutional Authority, by Nelson V. Hutchinson (Taunton, MA: Published by Authority of the Regimental Association, 1890), p. 156.
-Camp-Fire Sketches and Battlefield Echoes of 61-5, comp. by W. C. King and W. P. Derby (Springfield, MA: King, Richardson & Co., 1889), p. 23.
-Recollections of the Civil War, by Mason Whiting Tyler, ed. by William S. Tyler (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, The Knickerbocker Press, 1912), p. 109.
-When This Cruel War is Over, the Civil War Letters of Charles Harvey Amherst, ed. by David W. Blight (Amherst, MA: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1992), p. 239.
-July 13, 1863 letter of Henry B. Parsons to Eliza, Letters Home, V (Gettysburg: Alan Sessarego, 2003), pp. 15-16.
-Diary of George A. Whitmore, 10th Massachusetts, Greg Coco collection, on file at Gettysburg National Military Park (from the Massachusetts Historical Society).
-The Second Rhode Island Regiment: A Narrative of Military Operations, by Augustus Woodbury (Providence, RI: Valpey, Angell and Company, 1875), p. 200.
-All for the Union, the Civil War Diary of Elisha Hunt Rhodes, ed. by Robert H. Rhodes (New York: Orion Books, 1985), pp. 116-117.
-Harvard University in the War of 1861-1865, A Record of Services Rendered in the Army and Navy of the United States, by Francis H. Brown (Boston, MA: Cupples, Upham, and Company, 1886), p. 253.
 
Last edited:

(Membership has it privileges! To remove this ad: Register NOW!)

infomanpa

First Sergeant
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Messages
1,522
Location
Pennsylvania
#4
Thanks for this story about a brigade that is rarely mentioned in telling about the battle. I am a bit confused, however. The discussion here implies that Lee intentionally directed his artillery to overshoot the Union line in order to target hidden troops. My understanding was that the objective of the cannonade was to clear Cemetery Ridge of Union artillery so that the coming charge would be more effective. I thought that the overshooting was an unintended consequence.
 
Joined
May 18, 2011
Messages
9,572
Location
Carlisle, PA
#6
If Union artillery batteries were the sole target, the Confederates were considerably off both in range and bearing. Eustis was over 300 yards behind the guns of Arnold and Cushing.
It may have been Lee's intent but the execution was off (not to mention that the chances of success were not optimal). That said, Cushing and some of the other batteries on Cemetery Ridge were pretty well shot up by the cannonade. The problem was that fresh batteries were able to be rushed to the front and brought to bear on the attacking columns.

Ryan
 
Joined
Jan 26, 2019
Messages
148
Location
Lookout Mtn. , TN
#7
This is my first time reading topics in the forums and the comments on the cannonade caught my attention. I have always pondered why the cannonade didn't continue to some degree as the infantry commenced their assault. It appears the guns were elevated enough to not cause any danger to their own troops and help keep the enemy under cover until they approached near their target. I know the artillery would have to be on the ready in support in the event of a retreat but it appeared there would have been time. Of course in this case there was a retreat but the artillery was not needed much for support. I thought this would create more shock and awe which I think Gen. Lee was trying to portray. I of course was not in their shoes and may be wrong in my thinking but I welcome any thoughts or comments from anyone.
 

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Messages
18,205
Location
Central Pennsylvania
#8
In the realm of personal opinion, much has been written about Confederate overshooting beyond Cemetery Ridge, but that’s where the Confederates might have anticipated most of the Federal defenders to be concealed – Pickett’s division, for instance, was hidden in low ground behind their guns. In fact, both sides kept their lines well out of sight of their opponent. It was simply not possible for the Confederates to discern that the bulk of the Federal infantry was actually lying down further forward behind conveniently positioned stone walls that were augmented by low man-made barriers. It proved to be a critical miscalculation.

Yes, agree with others posting, had no clue that take all about over shots, occluding smoke and faulty shells could be wrong- it's yet another entrenched factoid. Love this stuff, best reason ever to be here at CWT. Like the credit Buford's troopers tend to not get for their fight Day 1- without those repeating rifles that hadn't been issued, ( Eric's ).

Thanks very much!
 
Joined
May 18, 2011
Messages
9,572
Location
Carlisle, PA
#9
This is my first time reading topics in the forums and the comments on the cannonade caught my attention. I have always pondered why the cannonade didn't continue to some degree as the infantry commenced their assault. It appears the guns were elevated enough to not cause any danger to their own troops and help keep the enemy under cover until they approached near their target. I know the artillery would have to be on the ready in support in the event of a retreat but it appeared there would have been time. Of course in this case there was a retreat but the artillery was not needed much for support. I thought this would create more shock and awe which I think Gen. Lee was trying to portray. I of course was not in their shoes and may be wrong in my thinking but I welcome any thoughts or comments from anyone.
Because of the generally questionable reliability of Confederate ordinance, few Rebel infantry units would advance under the cover of their own guns. Even Union gunners sometimes inflicted casualties on their own troops because of a faulty shell and their ammunition was much more reliable.

Ryan
 

Tom Elmore

Sergeant Major
Member of the Year
Joined
Jan 16, 2015
Messages
2,338
#10
Good point, Soldier Boy. Some Confederate guns did continue to fire after a brief delay to allow their infantry to pass. But by the time of the infantry advance, many Confederate guns were out, or nearly out, of ammunition, some pieces were disabled, and the artillerymen in general were close to exhaustion after 90 minutes of intense work in the scorching heat of that fateful day. The few guns still in action did considerable damage to Stannard's flanking troops and the mass of Union soldiers that congregated near the copse. I think it safe to conclude that the Confederate artillery arm could have provided much better close support had the infantry began their charge at least a half-hour earlier.
 

Ole Miss

Sergeant Major
Forum Host
Silver Patron
Joined
Dec 9, 2017
Messages
2,428
Location
North Mississippi
#11
Still an interesting question to me, what part of the inaccuracy of the Confederate bombardment was due to the quality of their ammunition? Or was the poor visability caused by the cannon smoke part of the lack of efficacy of the bombardment?
Regards
David
 
Joined
May 18, 2011
Messages
9,572
Location
Carlisle, PA
#12
Still an interesting question to me, what part of the inaccuracy of the Confederate bombardment was due to the quality of their ammunition? Or was the poor visability caused by the cannon smoke part of the lack of efficacy of the bombardment?
Regards
David
Honestly, I think that it's a little of Column A and a little of Column B. The faulty fuses certainly caused some of the overshooting but the intermittent visibility would have also played a role. If the guns were not consistently aimed, repeated firing tended to fudge the barrel's elevation so that if the gunners could not aim after every shot, the accuracy of the shots is going to suffer.

Ryan
 



(Membership has it privileges! To remove this ad: Register NOW!)
Top