Night on the battlefield

The survivors of the Mississippi Brigade retreated in the evening twilight of July 2, 1863, back to the Peach Orchard and the vicinity of the Sherfy farm. More than twenty Rebel cannon were awaiting them there, having moved from Seminary Ridge to support their attack.

“When nightfall came we formed as best we could,” Private Judge E. Woodruff of the Winston Guards, later told Confederate Veteran Magazine, “and remained on top of the rise where the houses and barn were.”

Their dead and dying were scattered in the fields behind and before them. Confederate litter-bearers began moving about the battlefield with candle lanterns searching for the living.

One of the wounded was Private David H. Williams of the Pettus Guards who lay east of the orchard near the second line of Union batteries the brigade had swept through.

“I was shot down in twenty feet of the cannon and was reported dead and lay there til midnight,” Williams later recalled. “I was wounded in the head and my skull was fractured….”

“Our regiment lost in killed and wounded 245,” Quartermaster clerk William H. Hill of the Spartan Band recorded in his diary. The record probably is inaccurate, but by some accounts Hill’s figure was 49 percent of the 13th Mississippi Infantry Regiment.

Private Robert Moore of the 17th Mississippi apparently found time, shelter from a hard rain (and sufficient light) to write in his diary: “Had a desperate encounter with the enemy….Drove them before us for 1 and 1/4 miles but were forced to fall back for lack of support.

“Captured several batteries and stands of colors. Our loss was heavy, in the Regt [forty killed and one hundred sixty wounded], in our Co. 29. Several of them were my dear friends.

“Every man acted the hero. Miss. has lost many of her best and bravest sons. How thankful should all be to God who have escaped. OH! the horrors of war.”

“We shared the blood-stained field on the battle night with the dead of the enemy and of our own comrades,” J.S. McNeily, who claimed to have been a member of the brigade’s 21st Mississippi (though he is not recorded in Howell’s muster list) wrote for the Mississippi Historical Society journal in 1913.

“So tired and spent were we, that in spite of ghastly surroundings, a drenching rain and thoughts of a ‘dread tomorrow,’ our slumber was almost as profound as those who ‘slept the sleep that knows not waking.'”

There were those, however,who found it impossible to sleep. Wounded Lieutenant Barzilia J. Inman of the 148th Pennsylvania awoke during the night near the Trostle house to hear hogs grunting as they tore at the bodies of the dead, according to Corporal John L. Smith’s history of the 118th Pennsylvania. Inman defended himself with his sword. Other wounded men who were also unable to stand used their bayonets.

Union litter-bearers were also out in the night searching for their wounded. Among them was Private David Parker of the 14th Vermont. He had a special mission.

He and a few others had been detailed to search for General William Barksdale, whom several Union troops had mentioned seeing fall or, at least, fallen.

About 11 p.m., Parker wrote Mrs. Barksdale in 1882, they finally found the Mississippi Brigade’s commander on his back west of Plum Run.

He was “suffering from severe bleeding internally and suffering very much.” They carried him to the Second Corps aid station at the Hummelbaugh house near the Taneytown Road.

About Dick Stanley

Retired Texas daily newspaperman
This entry was posted in Barksdale's Mississippi Brigade, Battles: Gettysburg, H. Grady Howell Jr., The Pettus Guards, The Spartan Band, The Winston Guards, William H. Hill Diary and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Night on the battlefield

  1. Joshua says:

    Thank you for the history. However the 148th PA and the Lieut. you mentioned were in The Wheatfield. The 148th PA fought with COl. Edlward Cross’ Brigade. I enjoyed what you shared here.

  2. Dick Stanley says:

    Thanks for the comment, Joshua. My source for “the Lieut.” (Lt. Barzilla J. Inman) and his whereabouts, was Pfanz’s “Gettysburg, The Second Day.” The specific page is available here:

    You’ll see that Pfanz said Inman was “probably in the Trostle Woods” which is north of the Wheat Field, well north and closer to the Trostle House, depending on how you choose to interpret the woods. I chose closer to the house as being easier to locate.

    Your “Remember Gettysburg” site is interesting. Is it yours or does it belong to the Gettysburg Foundation?

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