Member of the Year
- Jan 16, 2015
Tablet image from waymarking.com Scales portrait from Library of Congress
The Confederate brigade under Brig. Gen. Alfred Moore Scales sustained upwards of 800 casualties within a period of about 10 minutes on the afternoon of July 1. Scales' North Carolinians, along with Perrin's South Carolinians, were tasked with finishing off the Union First Corps in their last stand on Seminary Ridge. The Federals had been battered all day long, but evidently still had some fight left in them. Scales' five regiments (13-16-22-34-38 North Carolina), totaling about 1,327 officers and enlisted men, advanced to the fray with their left guiding on the Chambersburg Pike. Just beyond (east of) the McPherson farm buildings, they stepped over and between the Virginians of Brockenbrough's brigade, who had reached that spot a half hour earlier, but had decided to await reinforcements rather than try to push the Federals off Seminary Ridge. Scales' men continued their march up the slope of a rise 175 yards east of the McPherson buildings, and when they reached the crest they now came into full view of the Federals posted 500 yards away. At that moment they confronted 17 cannon from four artillery batteries, the remnants of Meredith's Iron Brigade and Stone's Pennsylvanians, and elements from the brigades of Biddle, Cutler and Baxter.
A cannoneer in Battery B, 4th U.S. Artillery, whose gun was located 50 yards or so from Mary Thompson's house, explains what happened next: "Then for seven or eight minutes ensued probably the most desperate fight ever waged between artillery and infantry at close range without a particle of cover on either side. They gave us volley after volley in front and flank, and we gave them double canister as fast as we could load. ... At his time our left half-battery, taking their first line en echarpe, swept it so clean with double canister that the Rebels sagged away from the road to get cover from the fences and trees that lined it. From our second round on a gray squirrel could not have crossed the road alive. ... Up and down the line men reeling and falling; splinters flying from wheels and axles where bullets hit; in rear, horses tearing and plunging, made with wounds or terror; drivers yelling, shells bursting, shot shrieking overhead, howling about our ears or throwing up great clouds of dust where they struck; the musketry crashing on three sides of us; bullets hissing, humming and whistling everywhere; cannon roaring; all crash on crash and peal on peal, smoke, dust, splinters, blood, wreck and carnage indescribable; but the brass guns of Old B still bellowed and not a man or boy flinched or faltered."
Brig. Gen. Scales wrote, "the brigade encountered a most terrific fire of grape and shell on our flank, and grape and musketry in our front. Every discharge made sad havoc in our line, but still we pressed on at a double-quick until we reached the bottom [depression], a distance of about 75 yards from the ridge [rise] we had just crossed, and about the same distance from the college [Seminary] in our front. Here I received a painful wound from a piece of shell, and was disabled. Our line had been broken up, and now only a squad here and there marked the place where regiments had rested." Scales' brigade suffered a similar fate to that of Iverson's a couple of hours earlier, except they avoided capture thanks largely to the personal courage of Col. Abner Perrin, commander of the other brigade in the charge, who personally led his 1st South Carolina regiment forward to a position astride the flank of the Union infantry in front of the Seminary, which quickly unraveled the entire Federal line on the ridge and precipitated their retreat through the town. For that deed, Perrin received the personal thanks of Gen. Lee, along with a battlefield promotion - but that's another story. As the Federals were just moving off the ridge, a lone Confederate color bearer from Scales' brigade appeared 100 yards in front of them and planted his flag on the now abandoned works at the foot of the ridge, showing there was still some fight left in the Confederates as well.
That evening, Scales' brigade mustered 500 men. The losses of the 13th North Carolina were typical; out of 180 men with guns who entered the fight, only 30 were left at its conclusion. Over the next couple of days, 15 men bearing slight wounds reported for duty, bringing the regiment up to 45 present, led by a handful of officers. But the brigade was destined to suffer two great tragedies in the battle - despite incurring terrific losses on the first day, they were again called upon to take part in the great charge on July 3, where they met a similar fate. Of the 45 men called upon to make that charge from the 13th North Carolina on the third day, over half did not return. So much heartbreak derived from less than an hour's worth of combined intense combat on July 1 and 3.
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