"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.
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.