Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Complete Masters of the Field: The Macon Volunteers at Gettysburg, July 2, 1863

By Maj. William Carraway
Historian, Georgia Army National Guard

The 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team is descended from the 2nd Georgia Battalion which was formed in April 1861 and was comprised of the Macon Volunteers, Macon Guards and Floyd Rifles among other units.[i] At the Battle of Gettysburg, the 2nd Georgia Battalion was assigned to the Georgia Brigade of Brig. Gen. Ambrose Wright. During the heavy fighting of July 2, 1863 at the Battle of Gettysburg, the 2nd Georgia Battalion served as skirmishers during the brigade’s advance on the Federal center.  Wright’s brigade penetrated farther than any other Confederate brigade at Gettysburg, but at great cost.  The commanding officer of the 2nd Georgia Battalion was mortally wounded, and the battalion suffered 50 percent casualties.

The following constitutes Wright’s after-action report for the Gettysburg Campaign.  It has been edited to focus on the events of July 2, 1863:

September 28, 1863
Assistant Adjutant-General, Anderson's Division.

        MAJOR: I submit the following report of the part taken by my brigade in the military operations at Gettysburg, Pa., on July 1, 2, 3, and 4 last…

        About noon (July 2, 1863), I was informed by Major-General Anderson that an attack upon the enemy's lines would soon be made by the whole division, commencing on our right by Wilcox s brigade, and that each brigade of the division would begin the attack as soon as the brigade on its immediate right commenced the movement. I was instructed to move simultaneously with Perry's brigade, which was on my right, and informed that Posey's brigade, on my left, would move forward upon my advance.

        This being the order of battle, I awaited the signal for the general advance, which was given at about 5 p.m. by the advance of Wilcox's and Perry's brigades, on my right. I immediately ordered forward my brigade and attacked the enemy in his strong position on a range of hills running south from the town of Gettysburg. In this advance, I was compelled to pass for more than a mile across an open plain, intersected by numerous post and rail fences, and swept by the enemy's artillery, which was posted along the Emmitsburg road and upon the crest of the heights on McPherson's farm, a little south of Cemetery Hill.

        In this advance, my brigade was formed in the following order: The Twenty-second Georgia Regiment on the right, the Third Georgia in the center, and the Forty-eighth Georgia on the left. The Second Georgia Battalion, which was deployed in front of the whole brigade as skirmishers, was directed to close intervals on the left as soon as the command reached the line of skirmishers, and form upon the left of the brigade. Owing to the impetuosity of the advance and the length of the line occupied by them, the Second Battalion failed to form all its companies upon the left of the brigade, some of them falling into line with other regiments of the command.

        My men moved steadily forward until reaching within musket range of the Emmitsburg turnpike, when we encountered a strong body of infantry posted under cover of a fence near to and parallel with the road. Just in rear of this line of infantry were the advanced batteries of the enemy, posted along the Emmitsburg turnpike, with a field of fire raking the whole valley below.

        Just before reaching this position, I had observed that Posey's brigade, on my left, had not advanced, and fearing that, if I proceeded much farther with my left flank entirely unprotected, I might become involved in serious difficulties, I dispatched my aide-de-camp, Capt. R. H. Bell, with a message to Major-General Anderson, informing him of my own advance and its extent, and that General Posey had not advanced with his brigade on my left. To this message I received a reply to press on; that Posey had been ordered in on my left, and that he (General Anderson) would reiterate the order. I immediately charged upon the enemy's line, and drove him in great confusion upon his second line, which was formed behind a stone fence, some 100 or more yards in rear of the Emmitsburg turnpike.

The Codori Farm, a prominent landmark on the Emmitsburg Road on the Gettysburg Battlefield as viewed from the position of the artillery battery of 1st Lt. Alonzo Cushing (Battery A, 4th U.S. Artillery). on July 2, 1863, the brigade of Brig. Gen. Ambrose Wright and the Macon Volunteers of the 2nd Ga. Battalion (today's 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team) passed over this ground. for his actions at the battle of Gettysburg, Cushing was awarded the Medal of Honor. Photo by 1st Lt. William Carraway

        At this point we captured several pieces of artillery, which the enemy in his haste and confusion was unable to take off the field. Having gained the Emmitsburg turnpike, we again charged upon the enemy, heavily posted behind a stone fence which ran along the abrupt slope of the heights some 150 yards in rear of the pike.

        Here the enemy made considerable resistance to our farther progress, but was finally forced to retire by the impetuous charge of my command.

        We were now within less than 100 yards of the crest of the heights, which were lined with artillery, supported by a strong body of infantry, under protection of a stone fence. My men, by a well-directed fire, soon drove the cannoneers from their guns, and, leaping over the fence, charged up to the top of the crest, and drove the enemy's infantry into a rocky gorge on the eastern slope of the heights, and some 80 or 100 yards in rear of the enemy's batteries.

        We were now complete masters of the field, having gained the key, as it were, of the enemy's whole line. Unfortunately, just as we had carried the enemy's last and strongest position, it was discovered that the brigade on our right had not only not advanced across the turnpike, but had actually given way, and was rapidly falling back to the rear, while on our left we were entirely unprotected, the brigade ordered to our support having failed to advance.

        It was now evident, with my ranks so seriously thinned as they had been by this terrible charge, I should not be able to hold my position unless speedily and strongly re-enforced. My advanced position and the unprotected condition of my flanks invited an attack which the enemy were speedy to discover, and immediately passed a strong body of infantry under cover of a high ledge of rocks, thickly covered with stunted undergrowth, which fell away from the gorge in rear of their batteries before mentioned in a southeasterly direction, and, emerging on the western slope of the ridge, came upon my right and rear at a point equidistant from the Emmitsburg turnpike and the stone fence, while a large brigade advanced from the point of woods on my left, which extended nearly down to the turnpike, and, gaining the turnpike, moved rapidly to meet the party which had passed round upon our right.

        We were now in a critical condition. The enemy's converging line was rapidly closing upon our rear; a few moments more, and we would be completely surrounded; still, no support could be seen coming to our assistance, and with painful hearts we abandoned our captured guns, faced about, and prepared to cut our way through the closing lines in our rear. This was effected in tolerable order, but with immense loss. The enemy rushed to his abandoned guns as soon as we began to retire and poured a severe fire of grape and canister into our thinned ranks as we retired slowly down the slope into the valley below. I continued to fall back until I reached a slight depression a few hundred yards in advance of our skirmish line of the morning, when I halted, reformed my brigade, and awaited the further pursuit of the enemy. Finding that the enemy was not disposed to continue his advance, a line of skirmishers was thrown out in my front, and a little after dark my command moved to the position which we had occupied before the attack was made.

        In this charge, my loss was very severe, amounting to 688 in killed, wounded, and missing, including many valuable officers.

        I have not the slightest doubt but that I should have been able to have maintained my position on the heights, and secured the captured artillery, if there had been a protecting force on my left, or if the brigade on my right had not been forced to retire. We captured over twenty pieces of artillery, all of which we were compelled to abandon. These pieces were taken by the respective regiments composing this brigade, as follows: The Third Georgia, 11 pieces; the Twenty-second Georgia, 3 pieces; the Forty-eighth Georgia, 4 pieces, and the Second Battalion several pieces--the exact number not ascertained, but believed to amount to as many as 5 or 6 pieces.

        I am gratified to say that all the officers and men behaved in the most handsome manner; indeed, I have never seen their conduct excelled on any battle-field of this war.

        In the list of casualties, I am pained to find the name of Col. Joseph Wasden, commanding Twenty-second Georgia Regiment, who was killed at the head of his command near the Emmitsburg turnpike. The service contained no better or truer officer, and his death, while deeply deplored by his friends and associates, will be a serious loss to the Confederacy.

        Maj. George W. Ross, commanding Second Georgia Battalion, was seriously wounded, fell into the hands of the enemy, and has since died. This gallant officer was shot down while in the enemy's works on the crest of the heights, endeavoring to have removed some of the captured artillery. As a disciplinarian, he had no superior in the field; an accomplished gentleman and gallant officer, the country will mourn his loss.

        Col. William Gibson, commanding Forty-eighth Georgia Regiment, was seriously wounded, and left upon the field. I am pleased to say that recent information received from him gives assurance of his ultimate recovery. This regiment suffered more severely than any other in the command. Being on the extreme left, it was exposed to a heavy enfilade as well as direct fire. The colors were shot down no less than seven times, and were finally lost…

        A detailed list of the casualties of my command was forwarded to you immediately after the battle, and is, therefore, omitted in this report.

        Inclosed (sic) I hand you copies of the reports of the officers commanding the different regiments composing this brigade.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Brigadier-General, Commanding Brigade[ii]

[i] Center for Military History. Lineage and Honors Certificate, HHC 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team
[ii] Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Vol XXVII/2. -- SERIES I--VOLUME XXVII/2: JUNE 3-AUGUST 1, 1863--The Gettysburg Campaign. Washington DC: War Department, 1897.

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