Numbers 64. Reports of Lieutenant Colonel John D. Musser, 143rd Pennsylvania Infantry.
CAMP NEAR GETTYSBURG, PA.,
July 4, 1863.
I have the honor to make a report of the participation of the One hundred and forty-third Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiment in the battle of Gettysburg, July 1, after the command was turned over to me, which occurred while holding the road west of the town, where the One hundred and forty-ninth and One hundred and forty-third had been ordered by command of Colonel Stone. It was in the hottest of the fire that I assumed the command, and had simply to hold the position, which we did as long as it could be held without being all captured, as the enemy were rapidly falling back on our left and flanking us on the right. Up to this time but few had been killed or wounded. Captains G. N. Reichard, Plotz, and Conyngham, among the officers, were wounded early in the action; Captain Reichard alone left on the field.
After the enemy had driven the One hundred and forty-ninth from our left, I gave the command to move back. After crossing the crest of a hill, which lay a quarter of a mile in our rear and toward the town, we halted, faced about, and fired several volleys, checking their advance in front but not on our flanks. We then fell back to a peach orchard, where our battery was stationed. We again halted, and, with others, saved the battery, leaving the men (not ours) to pull it out of range by hand. It was with great difficulty I could get all the men to fall back from this point, which was a good one, and in front of which the enemy fell thick and fast. Still they moved in columns on our right and left, and superior numbers compelled us to fall back to the town, which, I might say, was done in good order, and only when peremptorily ordered to do so.
The road from this hill (Battery Hill) to town was 10 to 12 feet high, and crossed over a stream and low meadow. Before leaving, the enemy had come out of the woods on our right (as we faced the enemy at the battery), and it was while going through the meadow my men fell so rapidly that I concluded to take them on the other side of this high road. But the balls and shell were as thick, if not thicker, on the right as on the left side. While making the observation, I received a ball through my pants, slightly wounding the skin near the knee. I rejoined the regiment, knowing this to be the safest side. I felt like making another stand, but utter destruction would have been inevitable, as the enemy deployed as soon as they left the woods, making intervals between their men, which gave them a decided advantage over us.
I am pleased to say my men behaved nobly, and fought under great disadvantage and against greatly superior numbers. Among the officers killed I have to record that of Lieutenant Charles W. Betzenberger, who was wounded in the hand early in the action, but nobly stood at the head of his company while supporting the battery in the peach orchard. He moved back only when ordered, and fell, mortally wounded, near the town. Among the wounded I have the honor to report the name of Captain Charles M. Conyngham, of Company A, who was wounded while out skirmishing, but remained with his company, and remained at the peach orchard until the order was given to move back. I saw him, after we had passed through the town, seemingly exhausted, and ordered my horse back to help him up the hill, but, just as he was mounting, he was again shot in the hip, after which I did not see him, but am happy to report his wounds are not of a dangerous character. Lieutenant C. C. Plotz was wounded early in the action, and also afterward again on the road into town. Captain George N. Reichard, of Company C, was wounded in the shoulder while holding the road, and afterward taken prisoner. Captain Asher Gaylord, of Company D, was wounded in both legs while in the peach orchard, and left on the field. Lieutenant William Lafrance, of Company E, was shot through the arm while passing through the town. Captain William A. Tubbs, slight wound in head and taken prisoner. Lieutenant H. M. Gordon, shot through the leg, and taken prisoner while crawling after the regiment. Lieutenant Lyman R. Nicholson, wounded through the shoulder after leaving the peach orchard; supposed to be of a serious character, but refused to have any one remain with him on the field. Lieutenant O. E. Vaughan, of Company K, received a slight bruise on the head from a ball, although not close enough to cut the skin, yet may properly be called a wound. I am happy to say that among those not killed or wounded, all, with one exception, stood at their posts and acted in the most becoming and commendable manner, deserving of the highest praise and commendation. John Jones, jr., A djutant, reported himself wounded, although I have not been able to learn, where, or whether sufficiently serious to have prevented him rejoining his regiment after passing through the town, and therefore report him among the doubtful. Lieutenant Benjamin F. Walters, of the One hundred and forty-third Regiment, but on your staff, showed great bravery, and distinguished himself, being conspicuous on all parts of the field; but I suppose he will come more properly under the head of your report.
In summing up my report of the casualties of the day, I have to report as follows: Killed, 1 officer and 19 non-commissioned officers and privates; wounded, 10 officers and 116 non-commissioned officers and men; prisoners, 65, and missing 25-most of the latter supposed to be either killed, wounded, or prisoners. Entered the battle with 465. It was our first engagement, and if any censure be attached to our regiment, it must be for not falling back sooner.
I have the honor to remain, yours, very respectfully,
JNO. D. MUSSER,
Major, Comdg. 143rd Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers.
CAMP NEAR HARPER’S FERRY, VA.,
___, ____, 1863.
In continuing my report of the three days’ fight at Gettysburg, I must begin with the position occupied by the One hundred and forty-third Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiment on the morning of July 2. We were ordered first to occupy a position in the rear of a battery a little south of Cemetery Hill, and upon which a most determined and incessant fire was kept up the greater part of the afternoon, but without effect, owing to the enemy’s shot being too high. The failure to silence the battery at this point compelled the enemy to make an attack farther to our left, to which part of the line our brigade was double-quicked, to assist in driving back the enemy and recapturing some guns. We lay upon our arms all night in line of battle. I am happy to be able to say that both officers and men behaved nobly, notwithstanding the severity of our loss on the previous day. No casualties occurred to my command during the day.
July 3. – This morning at daylight we commenced throwing up such breastworks as could be made, in the absence of tools of any kind, with rails and stones. In the course of the forenoon, we succeeded in getting together quite a number of both, proving a tolerable shelter for my men, who were placed directly in the rear of a battery which had been captured, but retaken again, the day before. In the afternoon the enemy opened upon us. We had not taken our position yet, but aly some distance in the rear. While doing so, a shell struck in Company D, instantly killing 1 and wounding others. I then ordered my men up to the breastwork, after which no shell struck among the men, but a number were wounded with pieces. We remained under the concentrated fire of several batteries, but all proved useless; they could not silence our batteries, and made the attack with infantry, farther to our right. The column in front swung around upon the flank of the enemy. Our line did not move from the support of the battery. I have the honor to report that all of my command stood at their posts amid all the iron that filled the air. Early in the action, Captain C. K. Hughes received a slight wound from a piece of shell, and left the field. The casualties of the day are as follows: 1 commissioned officer and 14 non-commissioned officers and privates wounded, 1 missing, and 1 man out of Company D killed.
I have the honor to be, your obedient servant,
JNO. D. MUSSER,
Lieutenant Colonel Comdg. 143d Regiment Pennsylvania Vols.
from Official Records, Series 1, Volume 27, Part 1, Pages 338-341