Gettysburg Battle Report: Wilcox's Brigade

No. 537.--Report of Brig. Gen. Cadmus M. Wilcox, C. S. Army, commanding brigade.

Bunker Hill, Va., July 17, 1863.

SIR: I respectfully submit the following report of the operations of my brigade in the recent engagement with the enemy near Gettysburg, Pa.:

The division having encamped for three days at Fayetteville, on the morning of July 1 moved forward on the Chambersburg and Gettysburg turnpike. At 2..30 p.m. came within sight and hearing of a distant artillery fire between our own and the enemy's forces near the latter place. The division filed off to the right of the road, and halted in the woods for an hour; then, resuming the march toward Gettysburg about l½ miles, my brigade filed off perpendicularly to the right of the road, and marched in this direction nearly 1 mile, and, being joined by a battery of artillery, the command halted and remained here during the night on picket, beyond and to the rear and at right angles to the right flank of the remainder of the division, in line in front.

At 7 a.m. the following morning, the brigade rejoined the division, then in front, and advanced, bearing to the right, for the purpose of taking position in line of battle. The major-general commanding indicated to me the position to be occupied by my brigade. The right of my line, as thus directed, was thrown forward, resting against a heavy and thick woods, and ran thence back obliquely to the rear across an open field, terminating at a stone fence 100 yards from the right of Perry's brigade, the ground occupied by the left of my line being lower than the right, and ascending slightly in the latter direction. In front of my line in the open fields were several farm-houses, with barns, orchards, and the usual inclosures. The enemy's pickets were seen about these, and some 600 or 700 yards distant. Not knowing whether the woods against which the right of my line was to rest was occupied by the enemy, the Tenth Alabama Regiment (Colonel Forney) was ordered to occupy the woods, and the Eleventh Alabama Regiment (Colonel Sanders) formed in line in the open field to the left of the Tenth.

The regiments, being preceded by skirmishers, were ordered to advance, the Eleventh to its position in line in rear of a fence, and the Tenth to keep on a line with the Eleventh, to protect it from the enemy's fire should he be found in the woods, the remaining regiments being held in rear till it should be ascertained if the enemy were in the woods.

The Eleventh advanced more easily than the Tenth, being in the open field. Having moved forward about 300 yards, this regiment received a heavy volley of musketry on its right flank and rear from the enemy, concealed behind ledges of rock and trees in the woods on its right. The Tenth Alabama moved forward promptly, and soon encountered a strong line of skirmishers. These were driven back upon their supports, two regiments of infantry--the Third Maine and the First New York [U.S.] Sharpshooters. A spirited musketry fight ensued between the Tenth Alabama and these two Federal regiments. Having continued for some fifteen or twenty minutes, Colonel Forney gave the command to charge, and led his regiment in person. This broke the enemy's line, and they fled precipitately from the woods, leaving 20 or 25 dead and twice that number wounded and prisoners.

In this affair, so creditable to the Tenth Alabama and its gallant colonel, this regiment lost 10 killed and 28 wounded. In the Eleventh Alabama, 1 officer (Major [R. J.] Fletcher) severely wounded, and 17 men wounded; 6 or 8 severely.

The brigade now (9 a.m.) took its position in line of battle on the right of the division and the extreme right of the army. At this time, the Tenth Alabama occupied the woods to the right and at right angles to the remainder of my line, for the safety of my right flank. From this till 2 p.m. nothing occurred save desultory firing between skirmishers. About this time, troops were seen filing past my right flank, and soon McLaws' division was formed in line at right angles to my line, Barksdale's brigade being near mine. McLaws' troops formed in line across a road running parallel to my front and into the Emmitsburg road, 500 yards in his front. From this intersection the road continued on to Gettysburg, in a direction parallel to the front of Anderson's division.

McLaws' troops had not been in position long when the enemy opened fire upon them from two batteries in the open field in front. A battery was placed in position in the edge of the woods occupied by the Tenth Alabama Regiment, and responded to this fire. Other batteries were soon placed in position farther to our right, on McLaws' front; other and more distant batteries of the enemy, to my left and front, engaged in this artillery fight.

This cannonading continued until 6.20 p.m., when McLaws' troops advanced to the attack.

My instructions were to advance when the troops on my right should advance, and to report this to the division commander, in order that the other brigades should advance in proper time. In order that I should advance with those on my right, it became necessary for me to move off by the left flank so as to uncover the ground over which they had to advance. This was done as rapidly as the nature of the ground with its opposing obstacles (stone and plank fences) would admit. Having gained 400 or 500 yards to the left by this flank movement, my command faced by the right flank, and advanced. This forward movement was made in an open field, the ground rising slightly to the Emmitsburg turnpike, 250 yards distant. Before reaching this road, a line of the enemy's skirmishers along a fence parallel to the road were encountered and dispersed. The fence being crossed, my men advanced to the road, in which infantry in line of battle were formed. A brisk musketry fight for a few minutes followed, when the enemy gave way; not, however, till all save two pieces of a battery that was in the road had been removed. These fell into our hands, the horses having been killed.

On the far side of the pike the ground was descending for some 600 or 700 yards. At the bottom of this descent was a narrow valley, through which ran a rocky ravine or stream, fringed with small trees and undergrowth of bushes. Beyond this, the ground rose rapidly for some 200 yards, and upon this ridge were numerous batteries of the enemy· This ridge to my right rose into a succession of higher ridges or spurs of mountains, increasing in height to the right, but to the left gradually descending. When my command crossed the pike and began to descend the slope, they were exposed to an artillery fire from numerous pieces, both from the front and from either flank.

Before reaching the ravine at the foot of the slope, two lines of infantry were met and broken, and driven pell-mell across the ravine. A second battery of six pieces here fell into our hands. From the batteries on the ridge above referred to, grape and canister were poured into our ranks. This stronghold of the enemy, together with his batteries, were almost won, when still another line of infantry descended the slope in our front at a double-quick, to the support of their fleeing comrades and for the defense of the batteries.

Seeing this contest so unequal, I dispatched my adjutant-general to the division commander, to ask that support be sent to my men, but no support came. Three several times did this last of the enemy's lines attempt to drive my men back, and were as often repulsed. This struggle at the foot of the hill on which were the enemy's batteries, though so unequal, was continued for some thirty minutes. With a second supporting line, the heights could have been carried. Without support on either my right or left, my men were withdrawn, to prevent their entire destruction or capture. The enemy did not pursue, but my men retired under a heavy artillery fire, and returned to their original position in line, and bivouacked for the night, pickets being left on the pike.

Thus ended the engagement of the 2d instant. Two guns with their caissons were taken on the turnpike; six guns were taken 300 or 400 yards beyond the road; one line of infantry was broken and dispersed at the road; two other lines were also broken and thrown back before reaching the foot of the hill; a line which descended the hill on which their rearmost line of batteries was posted was repulsed several times in its efforts to drive my men back. Many of the enemy were killed and wounded, and about 100 prisoners taken.

In the engagement of this day, I regret to report a loss of 577 killed, wounded, and missing. Among the seriously wounded, and known to be in the hands of the enemy, I may mention Colonel Forney, Tenth Alabama Regiment. This officer, not yet well of a wound received at Williamsburg, received a flesh wound in the arm and chest while charging a line of the enemy on the turnpike; but he still pressed onward, and soon his right arm was shattered. He yet refused to quit the field, and fell with a wound through the foot, in the ravine near the rearmost lines of the enemy. Colonel Pinckard, Fourteenth Alabama: This officer had rejoined his regiment but two days before this battle, having been absent by reason of a severe wound received at Salem Church; his left arm was badly broken. Captain [G. C.] Smith, Ninth Alabama Regiment, severe wound through the body (entitled to the promotion of lieutenant-colonel). Captain [C. P. B.] Branagan, Eighth Alabama, leg broken. These four were left, not being able to bear transportation. Colonel Sanders, Eleventh Alabama Regiment, and Major Fletcher, same regiment, each received severe wounds. Captain[J. H.] King, Ninth Alabama (entitled to promotion of colonel), had a finger shot off. It will be seen that of five of my regimental commanders, four were wounded in this first day's battle.

Of my two couriers, one (Private Ridgeway, Eleventh Alabama Regiment) was killed, and the other (Private Brundridge, Ninth Alabama) severely wounded.

The conduct of my men and officers was in all respects creditable. After the wounding of four of the regimental commanders, the other officers that succeeded to command acted with great gallantry and energy. Among these, I may mention Lieutenant-Colonel Tayloe, of the Eleventh Alabama Regiment; Lieutenant-Colonel Shelley, of the Tenth Alabama Regiment, and Lieutenant-Colonel Broome, Fourteenth Alabama Regiment.

With reference to the action of the 3d instant, I beg to report that early in the morning, before sunrise, the brigade was ordered out to support artillery under the command of Colonel Alexander, this artillery being placed along the Emmitsburg turnpike, and on ground won from the enemy the day before. My men had had nothing to eat since the morning of the 2d, and had confronted and endured the dangers and fatigues of that day. They nevertheless moved to the front to the support of the artillery, as ordered. The brigade was formed in line parallel to the Emmitsburg turnpike and about 200 yards from it, artillery being in front, much of it on the road, and extending far beyond either flank of the brigade. My men occupied this position till about 3.20 p.m. Our artillery opened fire upon the enemy's artillery, and upon ground supposed to be occupied by his infantry. This fire was responded to promptly by the enemy's artillery, and continued with the greatest vivacity on either side for about one hour. In no previous battle of the war had we so much artillery engaged, and the enemy seemed not to be inferior in quantity.

During all this fire, my men were exposed to the solid shot and shell of the enemy,but suffered comparatively little, probably less than a dozen men killed and wounded. The brigade lying on my right (Kemper's) suffered severely. Our artillery ceased to fire after about one hour. The enemy continued to fire for awhile after ours had ceased. I do not believe a single battery of the enemy had been disabled so as to stop its fire.

Pickett's division now advanced, and other brigades on his left. As soon as these troops rose to advance, the hostile artillery opened upon them. These brave men (Pickett's) nevertheless moved on, and, as far as I saw, without wavering. The enemy's artillery opposed them on both flanks and directly in front. Every variety of artillery missiles was thrown into their ranks.

The advance had not been made more than twenty or thirty minutes, before three staff officers in quick succession (one from the major-general commanding division) gave me orders to advance to the support of Pickett's division. My brigade, about 1,200 in number, then moved forward in the following order from right to left: Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, Eighth, and Fourteenth Alabama Regiments. As they advanced, they changed direction slightly to the left, so as to cover in part the ground over which Pickett's division had moved. As they came in view on the turnpike, all of the enemy's terrible artillery that could bear on them was concentrated upon them from both flanks and directly in front, and more than on the evening previous. Not a man of the division that I was ordered to support could I see; but as my orders were to go to their support, on my men went down the slope until they came near the hill upon which were the enemy's batteries and intrenchments.

Here they were exposed to a close and terrible fire of artillery. Two lines of the enemy's infantry were seen moving by the flank toward the rear of my left. I ordered my men to hold their ground until I could get artillery to fire upon them. I then rode back rapidly to our artillery, but could find none near that had ammunition. After some little delay, not getting any artillery to fire upon the enemy's infantry that were on my left flank, and seeing none of the troops that I was ordered to support, and knowing that my small force could do nothing save to make a useless sacrifice of themselves, I ordered them back. The enemy did not pursue. My men, as on the day before, had to retire under a heavy artillery fire. My line was reformed on the ground it occupied before it advanced.

The casualties of the brigade on this day amounted to 204 killed, wounded, and missing.

In the engagement of the 2d instant, my command inflicted severe loss upon the enemy. Three of his infantry lines were broken and driven from the field. A fourth line was repulsed several times in its efforts to drive my men back.

In the second day's (3d instant) engagement, none of the enemy's infantry were encountered in the open field. It was not until my brigade had reached the ravine beyond which was the ridge on which were the enemy's rifle-pits and batteries did they meet infantry, and here they were engaged but a few minutes, without probably inflicting much, if any, loss upon their infantry. This day my men acted with their usual gallantry, though they accomplished but little.

The regimental commanders were active and zealous in commanding and directing their men. Lieutenant-Colonel Herbert, of the Eighth; Lieutenant-Colonel Shelley, of the Tenth; Lieutenant-Colonel Tayloe, of the Eleventh, and Captain King, are all deserving of especial praise. The latter had lost a finger the day before. Captain [M. G.] May, Ninth Alabama, had also been wounded on the 2d, but remained with his company during the battle of the 3d. There were many acts of personal gallantry among both officers and men during the two days' battle.

The entire loss of the two days' battle was 777 killed, wounded, and missing. Of this number, 257 are missing. Of this number, 14 are officers. Of this number, nearly all are supposed to be killed or wounded. Most of the field upon which the brigade fought remained both nights in the possession of the enemy. It is believed that but few, if any, not wounded, were taken prisoners.

To my staff--Capt. W. E. Winn, assistant adjutant-general, and Lieutenant [M. M.] Lindsay, aide-de-camp--I am indebted for valuable services rendered on the field during both days, their duties frequently requiring them to be under the severest musketry firing. The former was bruised by the explosion of a shell near him on the second day, and thrown from his horse by it.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,


Brigadier-General, Commanding, &c.


Assistant Adjutant-General.

P. S.--Two men (one of the Eighth and the other of the Tenth Alabama Regiment) were wounded on the 12th instant near Saint James' College, Md., thus making my loss 779 while beyond the Potomac.