Account of the Recent Battle at Gettysburg
I could not write sooner for fear of details of our army's plans falling into the enemy's hands. Since I last wrote the whole Army of North Virginia, including our new 3rd Corps, commanded by the red-shirted Ambrose Powell Hill, invaded Pennsylvania from the Shenandoah Valley. Our spirits were high as we reached Chambersburg and were made aware that we had managed to outfox and outflank old Joe Hooker.
We marched from Chambersburg over South Mountains towards Cashtown. Our Division, commanded by Henry Heth, was in the lead, when we heard that there was a warehouse full of shoes at a little town called Gettysburg further down the road, with only a small detachment of local militia guarding the town. Now as we had been on the march for some time now, many of our shoes had all worn away and some of us were marching barefoot or with holes in our shoes. So we got the order to get them shoes.
We marched along the road from Cashtown until we eventually ran into the enemy's advanced pickets on the crest of a hill in front. We crossed a stream and our Brigade, commanded by General Archer, deployed to the right of the road, and Davis' Brigade to the left, where there was an unfinished rail road cutting. The enemy militia were thinly spread, and we were ordered to advance in battle line. With bugles blaring, drums beating, and whooping our famous battle cry we advanced up the hill towards the religious looking building in the distance. A hail of fire met us. It seemed the enemy each had four muskets. I had never seen such rapid firing before. Someone said they were the new-fangled repeaters and the enemy must be regular cavalry. We rallied and re-dressed our ranks, and continued the advance, firing as fast as we could, when all of a sudden, there was a commotion and panic from our right flank, where I saw the unexpected sight of regular, veteran infantry of the Black Hatted Brigade. We turned to face this attack, but it was too late. I saw General Archer captured, and half of my section was down, when I felt a searing pain in my hand as if a mule had kicked me. I remember seeing the clouds of smoke above and the sun shining brightly through like a stairway to heaven.
I lay still, the pain in my hand throbbing and spreading up my arm. I felt the warm sticky flow of blood down my arm and blacked out. I was roused from my slumber by our reverend shaking me to my senses. He said I must have been out for an hour. He said we had won a great victory and chased the Yankees back into the town of Gettysburg, but we had lost nearly half our brigade. It didn't seem much like a victory to me at all. I looked down at my hand, which was aching but I was still able to move it. With my other hand, I picked up my musket, which I found to be broken in two at the small of the stock where a minie ball must have hit it, and maybe saved my life. It had been a good old faithful friend to me since '61, and I was sorry to lose it. I picked up another discarded musket that looked in good order and made my way with the rest of the wounded to the rear to have my wound dressed.
I returned to join my regiment the next morning, to find less than half of us had reported for duty. More kept arriving in dribs and drabs during the day. We were held in reserve and could only guess as to the fighting we could hear in the distance on both the right and left flank. Rumour had it that we had made two great flank attacks against the enemy's flanks but were met with stubborn resistance from heavily entrenched troops. The scene was set for a third day of fighting.
General Heth had been wounded and General Johnston Pettigrew was to command our Division. Colonel Fry of the 13th Alabama was given command of our Brigade after General Archer's capture. Major Felix Buchanan commanded our regiment. Our Division formed up behind a row of trees on Seminary Ridge to the left of Pickett's Division, and in front of two of Pender's Brigades commanded by General Trimble. Our Brigade was on the right of our Division, and all our artillery was massed in front. Shortly after one o'clock in the afternoon, our artillery opened up on the enemy, who replied soon after. For over an hour we stayed under cover listening to the deadly shells bursting all around, but mostly in front of us. We dare not move for fear of being hit by flying debris. Then the incoming bombardment stopped. Our artillery, having silenced their guns, continued to pound the enemy infantry lines.
At about three o'clock the order came to advance. Our new Brigadier gave us rousing words of encouragement, and our Reverend blessed us all, and reminded us that our cause was just. With flags flying and our spirits high, we advanced across the valley between the two ridges. We could see the blue enemy lines in the distance and the clump of trees which was our target. Across a front more than a mile wide, I could see a sea of red banners and glistening bayonets, a grand sight such as I had not seen before. We were invincible and fighting for our homes and our rights.
Some sporadic fire reached our lines from their sharpshooters, and then boom, their artillery reappeared and fired on us, followed by their infantry. Men began to fall around me, but we just dressed ranks and marched on as if on parade, shouting for our states, our country, and our homes. We reached a picket fence, and started to clamber over it. Many were hit as they crossed the fence. We rallied our ranks and began one last charge towards the Yankees who were firing from behind a stone wall, shouting "Fredericksburg," and firing like madmen. My section corporal went down shouting "On for Tennessee!" I bent down to help him, when a sledgehammer blow hit my left arm that spun me around where I stood in a daze facing to the rear. I saw rank after rank of men charging towards and past me and then I saw row after row of the dead and dying strewn across the field to the rear. My left leg was then knocked from under me by another minie ball, and I fell to the ground looking towards the enemy. I could see our flag in amongst the enemy over the wall, then it fell, and with it my world went black as I drifted into unconsciousness.
I awoke with the rain falling gently on my face. I could not move to stand. I was so thirsty I opened my mouth and caught the falling rain. Everything went black again, but this time the darkness spoke to me, "Are you hurt, Johnny?" it said. I looked up and saw the most gentle faced man I could recall, and nodded. He gave me water and rested my head on a rolled up blanket, and said that we Johnny's could be proud of what we had done today. I asked Billy if we had won. He replied not, and my spirits sank to the bottom of the world.
I was taken good care of at the Union field hospital where I was told I would not lose my leg or arm, but would never walk proper again. I didn't care. My whole world had fallen apart. I could not contemplate the future. I met a veteran from the 14th Tennessee who told me that Colonel Fry and Colonel Marshall (commander of Pettigrew's brigade) had both been wounded and captured, and that we had lost 5,000 good Southern men in that grand charge.
I am writing this letter whilst waiting to be transported to a prison camp I know not where. We have been promised that our letters will get through to Tennessee. I am in as good a shape as can be, but I know not what the future holds. The war must surely be over by Christmas after these three bloody days. I long for the day when I can return home to you all. I bid you a fond goodbye until we meet again.
Your obedient servant,
Private M. Bussey, 1st Tennessee (Provisional Confederate States Army)
The above are my recollections and thoughts of the recent re-enactment of the Battle of Gettysburg at Weston Park, Shropshire, England on the weekend of August 9-10 1997. - Private Mike Bussey
The above article first appeared in the ACWS Newsletter, October 1997