"We did not pause or hesitate a moment..." 9th Georgia at Gettysburg

lelliott19

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"I saw the cannon belching forth volumes of smoke all along its summit, but heard no report from them - the roar of musketry and the shouts of our men drowned every other sound. We did not pause or hesitate a moment....I saw the ground ploughed and torn by grape shot and shell - still I heard no distinct sound, so great was the roar and din of battle." ~ Capt. George Hillyer, Company C, 9th Georgia Infantry

July 11th, at Sundown
My Dear Father:
<Excerpt includes description of the present situation, throwing up breastworks, Hillyer's health, description of 9th Georgia wounded in the battle at Funkstown, etc.>
...I should be rejoiced more than I can possibly express, if I could see you to talk of my regiment [9th GA] and brigade [G T Anderson's] and division, and of the fate and deeds of my brave comrades and of my own adventures. To write it up, would be, situated as I am, impossible. -- At the battle of Gettysburg, where Longstreet's corps was engaged on the 2d, our Division (Hood's) began the attack and for near two hours sustained the shock of battle alone.

After we had penetrated several hundred yards into the enemy's lines our flanks were, of course, very much exposed. My regiment is on the extreme left of the division, and my company the extreme left of the Regiment, so that the position of my company was the worst of all. For nearly an hour the enemy were on three sides of us, and a battery of sixteen guns enfilading us with grape. If it had not been for the shelter of rocks and trees behind which we fought, not one of us would have escaped. I changed the front of the three left companies so as to face the enemy every way, and we held the enemy at bay until the flank was relieved by the coming up of McLaws' division.

By this time, our division had whipped and dispersed two lines of the enemy, which they had successively encountered, and just about the time McLaws came up, the enemy had strongly reinforced his whole line. But half an hour's hard fighting caused them to retreat again. It was now nearly sundown. But simultaneously from all along our line, there went up a yell only such as our army can give when rushing on the foe. True, we were wearied and exhausted, and our ranks were thinned by the long contest, but we went forward as fast as we could through the rocky woods in which we had been fighting, across the disputed valley, up the hill beyond, (the enemy all the while falling and flying before us for more than a half mile,) when we came to a long, open ravine, beyond which rose a steep rocky ridge, some hundred and fifty feet high, everywhere crowned with Artillery.

I saw the cannon belching forth volumes of smoke all along its summit, but heard no report from them -- the roar of musketry and the shouts of our men drowned every other sound. We did not pause or hesitate a moment, but advanced after emerging from the timber one or two hundred yards, to the very foot of the hill and within a stone's throw of the cannon. During this charge, I saw our men falling in large numbers, and the enemy's infantry who were retreating before us, suffered very heavily, particularly as they went up the hill. I saw the ground ploughed and torn by grape shot and shell --still I heard no distinct sound, so great was the roar and din of battle.

If we had been fresh, we would have taken the hill, but when we got to the foot of it and saw how steep it was, and how high it was, and how much our ranks were thinned, all seemed at once to perceive that the desperate effort must fail, and we turned and retired to a selected line in the woods. Do not think me vain. I will say I am proud of my regiment, and of my brigade, and of my division, and I am proud of my company, and of all these I am justly proud. I am sorry we could not take the hill, but I have no self-accusation for the failure, for I went as near the enemy's guns as any other man, and at the foot of the hill fired my rifle at the cannoniers.

When we dressed our line in the woods and prepared to renew the conflict, I had scarcely eighty men left in the regiment, and it was found that 241 out of 310 had been disabled. I had command of the regiment by the fall of senior officers since about the time McLaws' Division joined us. [Captain Hillyer assumed command after Lt. Col. John C. Mounger was killed and Maj William M. Jones was wounded.] Thus ended the battle for that day.--

The next day, in the battle of Friday, we were detached and fought the enemy's cavalry. In a letter like this, I must omit many incidents, of which I would like to speak. And I have referred only to the movements of Longstreet's corps, and particularly of Hood's division --- of what transpired around me and what I saw. Of the position and events in front of Ewell and A.P. Hill, I know little more than you do. For the satisfaction of friends at home I will add that we brought off and decently buried every man that was killed in the regiment. Our wounded, except the few who were too badly hurt to be moved, we had brought off and cared for.

Poor Jack Giles [Pvt. Jackson B. Giles C/9GA] (I know how much you respected and esteemed his father) had his leg torn off by a shell just before we began to advance. He was just about ten steps from me at the time; I went to him, and at once saw by his countenance and his extreme prostration, that he would die. I asked him what I must tell his father and his mother, in case I should live to see them.-- Shells were tearing the trees and the ground around us, but the heroism of his spirit triumphed even in that dreadful hour. His reply was simple and calm -- "Capt. tell my father and my mother I died for my country." May God rest his soul, and temper this second great grief to his aged parents.

He was the only one of our boys who were killed, that I saw before death after they were struck. All the rest of my company that were killed, Rodgers, [Thomas L.B.] Atkinson, Stephens and Ragan, were good soldiers and much esteemed. My heart is deeply afflicted with sorrow when I think of them and their distant friends.-- Jasper McGaughey, who was wounded and lost his leg on the 10th, in the fight at Funkstown, was left at a hospital in Williamsport. I saw him yesterday the 13th*. He seemed to mind it very little and I think he will do well.

Ephraim Prince - wounded at Gettysburg -- poor fellow, could not be moved. He was shot through both thighs, one of which was broken. Jack McDaniel was wounded across the back, injuring the spine, and he could not be moved, though his wound is not thought to be mortal. Both these were left at the field hospital near Gettysburg, and have fallen into the hands of the enemy. Their friends will of course be anxious about them. But I have little doubt the enemy will treat them kindly. We left ample nurses, supplies, and physicians with them. Bill Brown and John Perkins were sent out on horseback to forage for the hospital and unluckily were captured. Jim Conner and Wilson Woodruff are also thought to be prisoners, as they are missing. Our other wounded - a list of whom has been published - were, at last accounts doing well. They have all been sent forward to Staunton and Winchester. I heard from Major McDaniel three days after he was wounded** [at Funkstown], when he was better and hoped to do well.

I wonder somebody don't take to puffing the 9th regiment. It is one of the best and steadiest on the continent. But no pains having been taken to notice it in the newspapers, I suppose people at home know very little about it.

Affectionately, Your Son,
George Hillyer [Captain C/9GA]

* Although dated July 11, 1863 at the top, the letter appears to have been written over a period of several days.
** Major McDaniel was wounded seriously in the abdomen during the battle at Funkstown and left in private qtrs.

Sources:
Map - http://www.thomaslegion.net/battleofgettysburgthewheatfield.html
Letter - Captain George Hillyer to "My Dear Father," dated "July 11th, at sundown" and published in the Southern Banner (Athens, Ga.), July 29, 1863, page 3, column 1-2.
 
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Patrick H

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The things these letters and journals say are amazing. The way they are written is sometimes astonishing to me. Those who wrote usually expressed themselves in the most beautiful ways, even if the stories they tell are sometimes gut-wrenching.
 

lelliott19

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I was hoping someone would take a shot at explaining why Hillyer was unable to hear the sound of the cannon? He says twice that there was no distinct sound of the cannon. He explains that the sound was drowned out by the yelling, musketry, and din of battle. Anyone have theories of other factors at work here contributing to explain the absence of sound from the cannon? @Tom Elmore @Andy Cardinal @rpkennedy @Wallyfish@AUG @ErnieMac
 

PeterT

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#6
I was hoping someone would take a shot at explaining why Hillyer was unable to hear the sound of the cannon? He says twice that there was no distinct sound of the cannon. He explains that the sound was drowned out by the yelling, musketry, and din of battle. Anyone have theories of other factors at work here contributing to explain the absence of sound from the cannon? @Tom Elmore @Andy Cardinal @rpkennedy @Wallyfish@AUG @ErnieMac
I was wondering if the absence of sound was due to the "acoustic shadows" we often hear about. Anyone on Seminary Ridge possibly could hear the cannon from that area quite clearly as the sound drifted over the valley. But "... the yelling, musketry, and din of battle" coming from down in the valley may not be able to be heard as clearly up on the ridgeline.
 

Tom Elmore

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I would surmise that the most intense portion of the sound from the cannon discharges was directed outward from the summit, rather than downward into the valley, and that the musketry noise and yelling was so intense in the valley as to mask the cannon discharges. Simultaneously, intense musketry at close range soon caused considerable deafness and it would take days for the soldiers to recover their hearing.
 
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Below is an excerpt from a Scott Hartwig article (source is below). Thank you for including me with other esteemed members. I am honored.


One possibility of why Hillyer didn't hear the cannon was the shear volume of musketry fire as described below.


During the fighting on Rose Hill and in Rose Woods, command of the 9th Georgia, Anderson’s brigade, devolved upon Captain George Hillyer due to casualties. Anderson sent him orders to change front with his three left companies to respond to an enfilading fire from the left. Hillyer shouted the command, “Attention, three left companies,” but the din of battle was so great no one heard it. “I ran to the left of the line,” wrote Hillyer, “and touching the men on the back, made the movement mainly by signs; and fronted the three companies to the left and rear at right angles to our position.”57
With all the factors working to pull a line apart, command and control grew increasingly difficult as units came under fire. As Captain Hillyer helps us understand, at times of heavy firing, voice commands were largely useless. During the fighting in the Wheatfield, Colonel John R. Brooke, whose Union brigade had halted in the middle of the grain field to engage Confederates of G. T. Anderson’s and Kershaw’s brigades, concluded that rifle fire would not dislodge the Confederates, who were under cover of boulders and trees in Rose Woods and that only a general advance could do so. Ordering an advance was simple. Communicating that order and having it understood and executed was not. One of Brooke’s colonels, Daniel Bingham, commanding the 64th New York, recorded “the men were firing as fast as they could load. The din was almost deafening. It was very difficult to have orders understood, and it required considerable effort to start the line forward into another charge.” Without radio communication it can be imagined how difficult it would be while under fire to communicate even a simple command to enough officers to see it executed



Source.
Unwilling Witness to the Rage of Gettysburg
The Experience of Battle, July 2 D. Scott Hartwig

http://npshistory.com/series/symposia/gettysburg_seminars/11/essay2.pdf
 
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#11
Assuming that Captain Hillyer was referring to the fighting in front of LRT around 7:30 to 8pm, the guns he could be describing might possibly be Battery L, 1st Ohio Light Artillery commanded by Captain Frank Gibbs. This 6 gun battery was positioned on the north lower slope of LRT and would have been firing into the Wheatfield area before McCandless and Nevin's charge to stop Wofford/Anderson/Kershaw/Semmes in the Plum Run Valley. I agree that the shouting and firing from this attack could very well have drowned out the cannon firing from the slope. And, as @Tom Elmore stated, after several hours of heavy fighting, Hillyer's hearing was not going to be up to snuff in any case. It's a rather mundane answer but probably the best one.

Ryan
 

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