Skirmish Duty of the 61st Virginia from July 3-5

Tom Elmore

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It was not until sunset on July 3, in the aftermath of the failed Confederate charge against Cemetery Ridge, that the 61st Virginia finally assumed an active role in the battle. Deployed as skirmishers in front of Long Lane, the 350 or so officers and enlisted men in the regiment took an aggressive stance that was probably intended to convince the Federals that there was still plenty of fight left in the Army of Northern Virginia, and dissuade them from attacking while preparations for an orderly retreat were underway.

It was really a deception, since the sizable friendly force that had been occupying Long Lane was withdrawn under cover of darkness on July 3, and fell back to and beyond Seminary Ridge. If the Federals decided to call the bluff by advancing a large force against them, the 61st Virginia could not count on much support to back them up. They would remain constantly engaged and were among the very last Confederate troops to depart the battlefield on the early morning of July 5.

Their first task was to drive back Federal skirmishers who had moved forward a short distance following the charge – the enemy was a little too close for comfort. 1st Lieutenant John C. West of Company A, with a band of 30 selected men, volunteered to drive them out. Charging over the same ground that was so bitterly contested the previous two days, he captured a number of prisoners, clearing the way for the remainder of the regiment to take up favorable skirmishing positions behind a fence about 800 yards east of Seminary Ridge. There they were haunted by pitiful cries of the many wounded who still lay out in “no man’s land” between the opposing lines, voices that diminished over time as lives ebbed and faded away.

Casualties inflicted upon the 61st Virginia while on the skirmish line included:
Private Charles N. Overton, (Company) A, skull fractured by a minie ball on the evening of July 3, left behind with the wounded and captured.
Sergeant Thomas Henry Sykes, A, captured July 3 or 5; he died November 16, 1863 at Fort Delaware.
Private Jesse McPherson, B, wounded in the right thigh.
3rd Lieutenant Walter C. Ives, E, mortally wounded, died on July 5 on the retreat.
Private Mills A. Gay, F, killed on July 4.
Private Joseph Cobb, G, mortally wounded July 4 in the arm, died July 15 in Winchester, VA.
Private John N. Branoski, G, wounded in the left leg on July 4. Surgeon Herbert M. Nash amputated his leg before he returned to Virginia.
Private Revill W. Curtis, I, killed July 4.
Private Julius C. Ward, I, mortally wounded July 4, died August 18 in Staunton, VA.
Private William J. Jones, I, wounded in left portion of chest July 4.
Private George King, I, wounded July 4.
3rd Corporal James Edward Mears, I, wounded in both hands on July 4.
Private Joseph Tompkins, I, wounded July 4.
Private Frederick Bean, K, slightly wounded evening of July 3.

Sources:
-Supplement to the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, ed. by Janet B. Hewett, part II, vol. 71, serial no. 83, Wilmington, NC: Broadfoot Publishing Company, 1998, pp. 717-780.
-Confederate Veteran, vol. 16, 1908, p. 82.
-A Pair of Blankets, by William Henry Stewart, p. 112.
-William Fielding Baugh Letters, Library of Virginia, Richmond, accession 45019.
-Virginia Pension Application, Charles N. Overton.
 
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