Friday, July 5, 2013

Battle of Gettysburg

      Private John Buttrick Noyes of the 13th Mass, earned his long sought after officer's commission in April, 1863.  He was assigned to the 28th Mass Vols, 2nd Army Corps, and joined that unit in the field May 4, 1863 during the Battle of Chancellorsville.

      Although his association with the 13th grew increasingly distant he still gives them mention in  a letter home to his father, July 5th, 1863.  As an officer, rather than a private, Noyes had a better vantage point in observing the actions around him.  Here is a fascinating,  up close look at the fighting July 2nd & 3rd.

Near Gettysburgh Pa. July 5, 1863
Dear Father
I wrote you June 30th from Uniontown June 24th from near Frederick Md.  July 1st we marched to within 3 miles of Gettysburgh Penn. About 20 miles, passing through Havanna, Tanytown, and Hornet.  There we encamped.  A fierce fight had been going on at Gettysburgh in which the First, and a part of the 11th Corps had been engaged.  Gen’l Reynolds was killed marching at the head of his corps it is said with no skirmishers ahead.  Gen’l Barlow is reported mortally wounded and Gen’l Boyd killed, both belonging to the 11th Corps.  At night the rebels undoubtedly had the advantage.  Still some splendid fighting was done on that day.  The next day we advanced in the afternoon, and for some time things went on well.  We went in at about 5 o’clock.  The ground was exceedingly uneven; we advanced upon a rocky ridge covered with huge boulders which made a regular line of battle impossible.  The men took cover behind the rocks, some to fire and some to lie down.  It was the duty of the officers to see that the men kept deployed to cover as much ground as possible and deliver their fire.  This they did. We repeatedly advanced & were on the ridge holding our ground splendidly, taking prisoners at every step.  Things looked well, never better when the brigade on our left, which was a rod or two in advance of us suddenly broke and retreated in confusion.  At that moment Gen’l Brooks’ brigade was coming up to our support, and was but two or three rods in our rear.  Instead of extending our right, or making a movement to check the rebels who were flanking our right, they precipitately retreated without firing a gun.  I suspect they fled under the flanking fire of the rebels.  Nothing was left but to retire and as men who were in better position than at any previous time, deserted by the troups on the left were compelled to fall back irregularly and in great haste.  Several men were taken prisoners who could not get back in time.  Others of my company were taken but escaped again, the Penn. Reserves charging on the pursuing rebels.  In retiring we were forced to go over a recently mowed wheat field, subject to a terrible flank fire from the rebels.  That plain as I came over it close to the colors of our regiment was rapidly becoming covered with the bodies of dead and wounded men.  A rebel prisoner beside me was shot in the foot, as he hurried by, falling with a deep groan.
About half a mile or so from the battle field, with Lt. Bailey I halted the colors so that the men might collect around it.  Several officers and men came up soon.  The Col. also with another color bearer.  We then moved into an adjacent field behind a hospital where the first Division was formed.  There we ascertained that our officers were safe with the exception of Capt. Magner, who was wounded in the finger.  This escape of the officers is astonishing, as several who fell under my observation, including the Colonel, and the Major, were conspicuous for gallant conduct.  I was agreeably disappointed in finding that though without a gun in my hand I had sufficient to do to divert my mind from the whizzing bullets in cheering on the men and selecting places for them to form.  I regret to say that I was obliged to order some men forward who were firing and yet could hardly have avoided hitting our men in front.  I took 18 men into the fight, of these men 3, all my sergeants, were wounded, two very badly, also one private.  Three men are missing making a loss of seven. We number 108 guns this P.M. and are now in readiness to march, our arms stacked.
July 3d we were shelled at 4 1/2 A.M., and immediately set to digging entrenchments.  But three men were with the Company then, the others came up during the day, and yesterday.  Two of them had been taken prisoners but escaped.  About 10 o clock the rebels commenced a tremendous cannonading of our position said to equal anything during the war.  About 12 % they advanced their infantry under our artillery fire.  Four batteries, 24 cannon, were on our Division line, and other batteries all along the extended line pouring in grape and canister & shell.  Their first charge was repelled, the carnage fearful.  Again they formed their lines in the woods & beyond the high land in front & charged in huge columns, advancing finely in beautiful lines.  They advanced a quarter of a mile under our tremendous fire and were almost up to our breastworks, the skirmishers slowly retiring in excellent order.
Our men had their pieces in their hands, capped, ready to fire at the command, when suddenly on our right a division of our men poured out from the entrenchments on their left flank.  The sight was splendid.  The rebels gave way in confusion before the artillery in front and infantry on the flank, and ran pell mell to their former position.  Prisoners in hords were driven in and the extended open space in our front was covered with their killed and wounded.  It was a Second Malvern Hill to them, and worse. The day was ours.  The three days fight was practically ended & the victory was ours.  Gen’l Meade rode full tilt along the front [of] our entrenchments amid tremendous cheers.
Last night the rebels retired from our immediate front.  They may be within a few miles of us however.  Of 260 men the 13th Mass carried into action but 74 now remain.  But four of Co. B. are left only.  Two known to be killed, many are prisoners.  Tom Welles is safe.  The 2d Mass lost 140 men & 10 officers.  The losses every where are heavy.  Gen’l Hancock, our Corps General was wounded July 3d.  Amid the tremendous shower of shell at about Eleven AM he rode at a slow canter.  He may have been wounded shortly after.  In Haste
Your Aff. Son
John B. Noyes
Please send $10.00 by next mail, and $5.00 by the succeeding mail.  The mail communications are now open.

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