The California Regiment Mans Cushing's Guns At The Angle

Joined
Jun 7, 2021
I'm hoping for some general comments on the actions, including this one, of the 71st Pennsylvania on July 3. Did they deserve the criticism some gave them after the battle?

Quoted from: https://ehistory.osu.edu/exhibitions/Regimental/pennsylvania/union/71stPennsylvania/gettysburg

More than an hour of continuous shelling..... had disabled many of Alonzo Cushing's pieces and gunners.... At length, Cushing, who had sustained a shoulder wound, struggled over to General Webb seeking help from nearby infantry to work his guns. The plea for aid was transmitted to Colonel Smith whose call for volunteers was answered by as many as 50 Californians, including almost everybody in Company E...."My men - my most brave men worked his [Cushing's] battery, until all [ammunition] was gone," pronounced Penn Smith.

The frightful artillery fusillade finally slackened by about 3:00 p.m. and an ominous stillness enveloped the smoke-filled field. Infantrymen on Cemetery Ridge strained to see through the low-lying haze......

Penn Smith was standing with Alexander Webb near the Copse of Trees when the Southerners debouched from the woodline preparatory to their attack.... The general ordered Smith to move his men up to the stone wall and to place the left of the regiment on a sapling.... the prone men .... climbed to their feet and trotted down the slope toward the unoccupied segment of stone wall on the right of the 69th​ Pennsylvania.... Some of the Californians, apparently without orders, ran one of Alonzo Cushing's remaining rifles to the apex of the outer angle, close to the location of the regiment's monument on the battlefield...... the infantry troops began loading the muzzle "with all sorts of things, they even put a bayonet in it." Penn Smith saw these same men jam rocks and broken shells into the barrel....

The Californians at the forward stone wall had finished loading their artillery piece just as the Rebels arrived at the post-and-rail fence along the west side of the Emmitsburg Road. At about this time, First Sergeant Frederick Fuger of Alonzo Cushing's battery rushed up and instructed the Californians to sight the gun on the road and fire just as the Rebels were climbing the fences. At the appointed moment, the lanyard was pulled sending the bizarre collection of projectiles on its way to the gray-clads struggling over the fences. "[T]he havoc caused by that overloaded gun," observed Penn Smith, "scattering its deadly missiles in the enemy's ranks, was frightful, being fired at short range."
 
Joined
Jun 7, 2021
The real venom about that day was reserved for the 72 Pennsylvania.
The link that I posted above gives (to me) a reasonable moment by moment account of what was happening at the Angle during the charge and why. The actions of all the Union regiments involved seem at least understandable. I'm just wondering if anyone on this forum feels that criticism is justified. And we can certainly add the actions of the 72nd to the question.
 

Tom Elmore

1st Lieutenant
Member of the Year
Joined
Jan 16, 2015
Most of the soldiers in the left companies of the 71st Pennsylvania fell back from the wall in the face of overwhelming numbers, but many of them rallied a hundred yards to the rear. Those who remained at the wall were taken prisoner, if not killed or wounded. It hardly merits criticism, unless compared and contrasted to the fanatic defense of the 69th Pennsylvania on their left.

The 72nd Pennsylvania began in the second line and were doing well just to hang on. They never broke, despite facing a great many Confederates, most of whom had the benefit of a stone wall for protection, and they helped turn back the final push led by Armistead. I don't think they merit any criticism either, just because they didn't push forward immediately once the tide began to turn.

All of this epic fighting must have seemed an eternity to the participants, but based on my calculations, the Confederates held the wall near The Angle for just 15 minutes.
 
Joined
Jun 7, 2021
So why was Lt. Haskell, in his letter to his brother, so critical of the withdrawal from the stone wall? Calling these men "rabbits," as he does below, seems totally unfair and undeserved. Did this account, when it was published, become the basis for finding fault with the Californians? Was his view shared by other officers who participated in the battle?

"I had come near my destination, when—great heaven! were my senses mad? The larger portion of Webb’s brigade—my God, it was true—there by the group of trees and the angles of the wall, was breaking from the cover of their works, and, without orders or reason, with no hand lifted to check them, was falling back, a fear-stricken flock of confusion! The fate of Gettysburg hung upon a spider’s single thread! .... All rules and proprieties were forgotten; all considerations of person, and danger and safety despised; for, as I met the tide of these rabbits, the damned red flags of the rebellion began to thicken and flaunt along the wall they had just deserted, and one was already waving over one of the guns of the dead Cushing."
 

Tom Elmore

1st Lieutenant
Member of the Year
Joined
Jan 16, 2015
From Haskell's somewhat safer vantage point, he evidently could not see Garnett's, Fry's and Armistead's brigades approaching the forward angle of the wall, substantially outnumbering the defenders at that point. Rather than face annihilation, even normally sturdy veterans, such as were common in the Union Second Corps, might choose to fall back to a more defensible position. If so, it was better to run like a rabbit than to tarry and be shot in the back. It was also common practice to devote a portion of troop strength to stretch across the rear to turn back those who would consider backing out. As it turned out, Pickett's men were essentially pinned behind the stone wall by Webb's brigade, which could not have happened if the bulk of them had completely deserted the field like "rabbits" as Haskell implied.
 
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