No. 112. — Reports of Maj. Sylvanus W. Curtis, 7th Michigan Infantry.
CAMP IN PLEASANT VALLEY, MD., July 16, 1863.
This regiment left its temporary encampment, about 2 miles south of Gettysburg, on the morning of July 2, pursuant to orders, the regiments of the brigade in the following order: The Forty-second New York, Twentieth and Nineteenth Massachusetts, Seventh Michigan, and Fifty-ninth New York, respectively. Moving across an open field, I was ordered to form line on the left of the Fifty-ninth New York to support a battery, which took a position on our right and left flank, and a few paces in front of our line, our line of battle being partially covered in front by a rail fence. This was converted into a sort of barricade by bringing rails from the adjoining fences. Our front was an open field of considerable extent; the enemy held the woods beyond, about 160 rods distant. Soon after we took our position, some skirmishing took place along our front and on the right. About 4 p.m. the enemy opened fire from their artillery on the extreme left. This continued about one hour, doing no damage. Soon after, the enemy were seen forming their infantry, preparatory to an advance on our lines. The batteries on our right and left opened their fire, and did considerable execution in their ranks as they advanced. Our skirmishers were soon driven in. As soon as they (the enemy) came within range, a rapid and destructive fire opened on them along our line. The enemy continued to advance boldly until within 30 or 40 yards of our line, where, partially protected by rocks and shrubs, they continued to pour in a galling fire. The artillerymen belonging to the batteries being nearly all killed or wounded, the guns were silenced.
Advancing boldly to the battery on our left, the enemy took possession, planting a battle-flag upon one of them. Their triumph, however, was short. A deadly volley was poured upon them at not more than 30 yards distance. Their color-bearer fell, pierced by a dozen bullets. Many others were killed or wounded, and they were forced to fall back to their cover, and the battery was saved. During the hottest of the firing many of the enemy were seen to throw down their guns, and, creeping along the ground to our lines, surrendered as prisoners. The enemy, failing most completely in their attempt to carry our line by assault, retreated in considerable disorder.
The firing had nearly or quite ceased when two regiments (names unknown) filed past our left flank, and formed in front and to the left of our line. Several officers and men of the regiment saw them pick up two battle-flags and one regimental color from the ground directly in front of our line, which the enemy had left behind in their hasty retreat.
The conduct of both officers and men was in the highest degree commendable, so far as came under my observation. Lieutenant-Colonel Steele (since killed)particularly distinguished himself for coolness while directing the fire of the men to various points along the line.
The engagement lasted from 4 o’clock until dusk, when the firing ceased along the front. Farther to the right it continued much later. A strong picket line was posted in front, a proportionate number being detailed from this regiment for this purpose. The wounded were cared for as far as possible. The men rested on their arms during the night.
The next morning about daylight (July 3), skirmishing commenced along the front. The enemy’s artillery also threw shells along the line occasionally, doing little or no injury, however. At 10 o’clock all was quiet, comparatively, along our front.
At 1 p.m. the enemy, having massed their artillery at the edge of the woods, suddenly opened a heavy fire along our line, directed principally at our batteries in position on our right and left; also those on the hill in our rear. We were obliged to lie as close as possible behind our slight breastwork, which afforded but little protection. The cannonade lasted about two hours. Our escape with so slight loss seems little short of miraculous.
The smoke from the enemy’s guns had scarcely cleared away when their columns of infantry were seen advancing to the charge. Our line reserved its fire until they had advanced to within short range, when it was opened with deadly effect. The enemy’s first line advanced to within 20 rods, when they commenced moving by the left flank, which obliged us to direct our fire to the right oblique, in order to keep them within range as long as possible. Our right flank having been completely turned by the giving way of a portion of the Second Brigade, we were ordered to fall back a short distance, which movement was effected in very good order under the circumstances. Again rallying to the assistance of other regiments which now came up, the enemy were finally driven back, and the regiment again occupied its former position.
Our loss during the two days’ engagements was very heavy, the proportion of the killed to the wounded being unusually large. I herewith forward a complete list of killed and wounded, together with nature of wounds so far as known.(*)
Lieutenant-Colonel Steele fell near the close of the engagement, and while gallantly rallying his command to repel the (for a time) successful advance of the enemy.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
S. W. CURTIS,
Lieut. WILLIAM R. DRIVER,
Actg. Asst. Adjt. Gen.
AUGUST 6, 1863.
GENERAL: I have the honor to report to you that, on the evening of July 1, this regiment, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Steele, reached a point some 4 miles south of Gettysburg, Pa., and formed a line a short distance to the left of the road, and extending into the woods on the southern slope of a high conical hill.
Immediately after arriving in position, pickets were thrown out on the left flank, and a breastwork made of some rails lying near our line. The men then prepared and ate their suppers and lay on their arms.
At 5 o’clock next day it marched on the Gettysburg road to a point on Cemetery Hill, near the center of our line of battle. Here this regiment, with the Fifty-ninth New York, was ordered to the front to support a battery. We were posted about 150 yards to the left of the summit of the hill, about 2 acres of which were covered with a dense growth of small oaks. Our left rested on the battery. Our right was partially concealed by a cluster of small trees and shrubs. We had then present 14 officers and 151 muskets.
Immediately on getting into position, barricades were made of rails, and partially screened from observation by bushes. Skirmishing commenced in front of us immediately after getting into position, and continued until 4.15 p.m., when the enemy’s artillery opened upon us, and a general artillery duel soon commenced, and continued without intermission until 5 p.m., when the fire slackened, and their infantry columns were seen advancing on our line. They succeeded in passing through between the guns of the battery on our left, driving the gunners from their posts. The line on our left gave way and our flank was almost turned, but the enemy’s line was fast melting away under the scathing fire of our men, who remained unflinchingly at their posts, and they soon retired in utter confusion, leaving a large number of killed and wounded. They also left in front of us 3 stand of colors, which were picked up by other regiments who followed them up.
A large number of prisoners fell into our hands and were immediately sent to the rear; among them one colonel, slightly wounded in one of his fingers, and several minor officers.
This ended the fight for the day, and the men lay down supperless about 10 o’clock, to obtain what rest they could.
Our loss was 9 killed and 10 wounded.
At daylight on the 3d, the enemy again opened a furious cannonade, but did us no harm, their fire being principally directed to the artillery on either side of us. This continued until 9 o’clock, when all became quiet, except a desultory fire from pickets and sharpshooters on both sides.
About 10.30 all firing ceased until 1 p.m., when the enemy fired a signal gun from the right of their line, which was instantly followed by the roar of all their artillery, which had been massed in the edge of the woods opposite our line in such a manner as to bring this regiment nearly in the center of their fire. Owing to our peculiar situation in regard to their fire, not as much damage was done us as would naturally be expected from such a storm of missiles. Nearly all the shot and shell struck in front and ricochetted over us, or passed over us and burst in our rear.
This continued until 4 p.m., when their infantry columns were seen advancing. Orders were given the men to reserve their fire until the enemy were within short range. They soon came within a very short distance, and our fire was opened upon them with terrible effect, mowing them down by scores. Still they came on till within a few yards of us, when the order was given to fix bayonets. The men expressed a determination to hold their works at all hazards. Many of the enemy at this time crawled on their hands and feet under the sheet of fire, and, coming up to our lines, surrendered themselves prisoners. The enemy, soon finding our fire too hot for them, moved by the left flank, and joined in the assault upon the crest of the hill, driving our line from its position.
At this time Colonel Steele received an order to form the regiment nearly at right angles to its then position, with the intention of attacking the enemy’s right flank, which had become exposed. Owing to the great noise, the order was not understood by any excepting those nearest Colonel Steele. The rest of the officers seeing the men, as they supposed, retreating, made all efforts to rally them. A part of them came back; the remainder kept on with Colonel Steele, who advanced with them to the crest of the hill, when he fell, instantly killed by a bullet through his brain. The greater part of the regiment remained in their works and did great execution by a well-directed fire upon the flanks of the enemy. The field was soon won and the enemy fleeing in great disorder. A great number of prisoners were taken, and a large amount of small-arms, ammunition, &c., was left upon the field.
The men by this time had become very much exhausted from previous long marches, constant watchfulness, and having been destitute of food nearly two days; yet all were cheerful, and worked during the night to improve their breastworks in anticipation of an attack next morning. Though but one spade could be obtained, the rails were nearly covered with earth by daylight.
Most of the men worked till late in the night in bringing in and caring for the wounded.
Our loss was 12 killed and 34 wounded, making the loss in both actions 21 killed and 44 wounded. The disproportionate number of killed arose from the fact that the men were partially protected by the breastwork of rails, and the greater part of them were consequently hit in the head and upper part of the body.
The 4th was spent in burying the dead, gathering up the arms left on the field, and taking care of the wounded.
Too much cannot be said in praise of the conduct of both officers and men. Where all did their duty to the fullest extent it would seem invidious to particularize. One instance deserves mention, not only for the bravery of the soldier, but for the dastardly conduct of the officer concerned. Private William Deming, of Company F, during the assault on the crest of the hill, had shot a rebel color-bearer and taken the color from him. While loading his piece, with the flag by his side, a colonel rode up to him, and, menacing him with his saber, forced the color from him; even threatening to cut him down if he did not give it up. I regret to say that it was impossible to identify the officer alluded to. The act was witnessed by several who stood near.
I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
S. W. CURTIS,
Major, Commanding Regiment.
Brig. Gen. LORENZO THOMAS,
Adjutant-General, U.S. Army.
from OFFICIAL RECORDS: Series 1, vol 27, Part 1