BEGINNING OF THE BATTLE OF GETTYSBURG
BY PRIVATE E. T. BOLAND (13TH ALA. INF.), BREWTON, ALA.
I have been reading a history of the war, which many of our people have in their homes, that was written by a Major Handy. I believe he was with Ewell's Corps. His history does some injustice to Archer's Brigade, of Heath's (Heths) Division, A. P. Hill's Corps. Said brigade was composed of the 1st, 7th, and 14th Tennessee Regiments, the 13th Alabama and 5th Alabama Battalion, and Joe Davis's Mississippi Brigade. On the morning of the first day of July, 1863, these commands broke camp at Cashtown, seven miles from Gettysburg, the 13th Alabama in advance. We passed Anderson's Division in camps and when within about four miles of Gettysburg, we passed through a small village of a few brick houses. About one-half mile above the village the turnpike enters a thick woodland or swamp, here we halted. A misty rain had begun to fall.
Col. B. D. Fry, of our regiment, rode back to the color bearer and ordered him to uncase the colors, the first intimation that we had that we were about to engage the enemy. We discovered about this time a squad of Federal cavalry up to our right in an old field, holding their horses. We were then ordered to file to the right into an apple orchard and to load our guns at will. Companies B, C, and G, of the 13th Alabama, and the 5th Alabama Battalion were ordered out and deployed as a skirmish line. After the line of the brigade was formed, the command, "Forward, march!" was given. As soon as the skirmish line entered the swamp a shot rang out, it being the first gun fired in the great battle of Gettysburg. The skirmish line and regular line of Confederates advanced, the Federal cavalry falling back before the skirmish line.
I will say here that the cavalry we encountered was Buford's Division, which was easily driven back. When within about one mile of Gettysburg, we came in plain view of the town and also a long string of bluecoats marching. We learned that it was the first Federal Army Corps, commanded by Major General Reynolds. When we started across this field the enemy's artillery, which was located in the edge of town, opened upon us with shot and shell. We were then ordered to double-quick. Just before reaching Willoughby's Run, the cavalry began to get stubborn, and our line passed the skirmish line. Then we drove them back until we crossed the Run and went up a short hill. About one-fourth of a mile from the town we discovered that we had tackled a hard proposition, for there were Federal soldiers to the right and to the left. As the lamented Bill Arp would express it: "We had Yankees on the front, Yankees on the flanks, and soon Yankees behind us." For as soon as we engaged them in front the cavalry passed around and came in our rear.
Here occurred one of the most unequal and hardest fought battles, considering the number of men engaged on either side, that I ever saw or heard of. The 13th Alabama was on the right of the two brigades, and had struck the Federal line in or about its center, so all they had to do was to wind themselves around us. After a short, furious fight, surrounded by infantry and cavalry, nothing was left for us to do but lie down in the field and allow the enemy to come on or surrender, which we did. General Archer had gone in on foot and when the writer arose, two or three other comrades got up also. I cannot say how many were taken prisoners but all who had not grasped time by the forelock and left when they realized what a deadly trap we were in surrendered.
We were then taken to the edge of the town, and I can say truthfully that we could see one mile back in the direction from which we came, and not a sign of Confederates or reinforcements was in sight. The brigade we met that day was the Iron Brigade of the Army of the Potomac, commanded by Gen. Sol Meredith, and all Western men. General Reynolds was killed in front of us.
I give you this brief, plain statement of facts, and refer you to any member of Archer's Brigade now living as to its truthfulness. One of the companies was from Greenville and one from Camden, Ala.
From "The Confederate Veteran"
Transcribed by James W. Martin