Gettysburg: The Third Day

Friday, July 3, 1863, dawned clear on the battlefield south of Gettysburg, according to Spartan Band diarist William H. Hill who added that it became very warm as the day progressed.

Friends of Private Nimrod Newton Nash buried him, and his Minutemen of Attala comrades who had been killed with him on Thursday, in a garden on the Serfy farm near where they fell and died.

“Soon after day dawned we were called to attention,” J.S. McNeily wrote for the Mississippi Historical Society in 1913, “the brigade and each regiment under a change of commanders…

“[T]he brigade was deployed in front of the division, and moved forward under orders to press the enemy’s skirmishers who had crossed Plum Run back on their main line, which was a portion of the [Union] 6th Corps.

“Little resistance was encountered in establishing our position, stretched around the base of Peach Orchard hill with the enemy in long range firing distance to our front. Here we remained while the artillery was being posted and the infantry columns formed for the pending and final assault upon the enemy’s center.”

When the Confederate artillery on Seminary Ridge (and the portion of it posted near the Peace Orchard) cut loose on the Union line, many in the brigade had already used their bayonets to dig in.

W. Gart Johnson of the 18th Mississippi told Confederate Veteran Magazine years after the war that he was on the picket line: “Adjutant [Edwin Preston] Harmon of the 13th Mississippi  and I were hugging a little piece of rubbish, anything to hide behind that we had thrown together….Two or three to a hole….

“That was the grandest and at the same time the most terrible artillery duel I have ever witnessed. There were [80]of our own pieces on that one spot and [63] more on other portions of the line, all firing as fast as they could and the cannon of the enemy replying. When we stopped on our side, Pickette’s division charged….”

They watched, McNeily wrote, “from afar” what they could see, in the rolling white clouds of powder smoke, of the famous advance of the Rebels on Cemetery Ridge.

“…our ears deafened by the roar of the famous and then unequaled artillery engagement that preceded the Infantry attack. Sixty of Lee’s [140] guns were stationed on and looped around the hill we had carried the day before, around the base of which we were aligned, whence they hurled thousands of deadly missiles over our heads and against the enemy’s position on Cemetery Ridge.

“Our rain of shells and shot was reciprocated in kind, though not always at the desired elevation. But by keeping close to mother earth we escaped with no more than a half a dozen fatalities during the day. As the Union infantry was well sheltered by earth works and posted under the crest of the ridge, the loss our artillery inflicted was small in proportion to the amount of powder burned.

“The din and uproar of the titanic duel, of the hour or more of cannon volleying, was fearful and awe inspiring even to ear accustomed to all forms of wars alarms. But the impressions of the scene were predominated throughout, by the agonizing and shrinking dread of the bloody sacrifice that all knew was to follow…

“We who watched the advance from a distance, while filled with admiration for its steady fortitude and heroism, saw it fail and fall back as the happening of the expected. Why was the impossible ordered?”

Private Robert A. Moore of the 17th Mississippi, writing in his diary in the line of battle, summed it up:

“We have been skirmishing with the enemy all day. Heavy artillery duel over us. Hard fighting on our left. General Pickett’s division captured the enemy’s works but were forced to abandon them.

“Our army is badly cut up & disorganized & has failed to carry the enemy’s position which was very strong indeed.”

About Dick Stanley

Retired Texas daily newspaperman
This entry was posted in Barksdale's Mississippi Brigade, Battles: Gettysburg, Confederate Veteran Magazine, Nimrod Newton Nash, The Minute Men of Attala, The Spartan Band, William H. Hill Diary and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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