Reports of Col. Jacob B. Sweitzer,
Sixty-second Pennsylvania Infantry, commanding Second Brigade
O.R.–SERIES I–VOLUME XXVII/1 [S# 43] — Gettysburg Campaign
HEADQUARTERS SECOND BRIGADE,
Camp near Warrenton, Va., July 31, 1863.
Brig. Gen. CHARLES GRIFFIN, Comdg. Division.
GENERAL: In obedience to orders, I respectfully submit the following report of the operations of this brigade during the recent battle of Gettysburg:
After a hard march on the day previous, July 1, from Unionville, Md., by way of Hanover, the brigade bivouacked after 12 p.m., with the division in the woods by the roadside, 4 or 5 miles distant from the battle-field.
Next morning by daylight we were on the march again, the Second Brigade leading. Having arrived near what I supposed to be the right of our line, and near a farm-house and barn, the division was massed, the brigades occupying positions in the order of their numbers from right to left, General Sykes’ division being on our left. Here a call was made for a regiment from this brigade for picket duty by General Barnes, and Colonel Guiney, with the Ninth Massachusetts, was directed to report to him for instructions, and did so.
Shortly after this, the division changed front to the left, at nearly a right angle with its former position, and formed in line of battalions in close column by division.
We had been in this position but a few moments before we were again moved a considerable distance to the left; then moved by the front across the creek, and massed in an orchard on the hill above the bridge on the Gettysburg turnpike. There we remained until late in the afternoon (the precise time I do not remember), and the command had a few hours quiet and rest.
Meanwhile there had been very little firing along the line, and I came to the conclusion the day would pass without the division being called into action. But soon after cannonading was heard on the left, and we were moved quite a distance farther to the left, and diagonally to the front, skirting in our march the woods in rear of or in which our lines were formed. When we moved off from the orchard, the Third Brigade, being on the left of the division, moved first, the Second and First Brigades following in the inverted order.
The Second Brigade was placed in position in a wood fronting an open field, the woods bordering two sides of the field, the side in which we were and also that extending at right angles from our left toward the enemy, and in the last-mentioned wood the First Brigade was posted, connecting with our left. Having formed the three regiments of this brigade in line of battle (the Ninth Massachusetts being still absent on picket duty) in their regular order from right to left, and finding this formation threw the Thirty-second Massachusetts, which was on the left, into an exposed position beyond the woods in low, cleared ground, I directed Colonel Prescott to change his front to the rear, so as to give him the benefit of the elevated ground and the cover of the woods, which movement he executed.
We had not remained long in this position before an attack commenced by the enemy in front of the First Brigade and Thirty-second Massachusetts. As there was no appearance of the enemy in front of the line formed by the Sixty-second Pennsylvania and Fourth Michigan, I directed them to change front to the left, and form lines in rear of the Thirty-second Massachusetts, to strengthen that position. During the execution of this order, the attack continued; the firing was very severe, and we lost many brave officers and men. Here fell Major Lowry, second to none in all the attributes of a soldier and a gentleman.
When the attack commenced, word was sent by General Barnes that when we retired we should fall back under cover of the woods. This order was communicated to Colonel Prescott, whose regiment was then under the hottest fire. Understanding it to be a peremptory order to retire then, he replied, “I don’t want to retire; I am not ready to retire; I can hold this place,” and he made good his assertion. Being informed that he misunderstood the order, which was only intended to inform him how to retire when it became necessary, he was satisfied, and he and his command held their ground manfully.
Some time after that, word was sent that the First Brigade was retiring, and General Barnes sent me word to fall back also, which I did in perfect good order, the regiments retaining their alignments and halting and firing as they came back. Having arrived at the road leading along the rear of the wheat-field, the brigade was formed in line in the woods in rear of the road and parallel to it, the right resting at the corner of the woods toward the front. We had not remained here more than, say, fifteen minutes, when a general officer I had never seen before rode up to me, and said his command was driving the enemy in the woods in front of the wheat-field; that he needed the support of a brigade, and desired to know if I would give him mine.
I referred him to General Barnes, and said I would obey his directions with pleasure. He spoke to the general, who was not far off. General Barnes came and stated to me what had been said to him by General Caldwell (this I learned was the officer who had lately spoken to me), and asked me if I would take the brigade in. I told him I would if he wished me to do so. He said he did. The command was then called to attention. General Barnes got out in front of them, and made a few patriotic remarks, to which they responded with a cheer, and we started off across the wheat-field in a line parallel to the road, our right flank resting on the woods. We advanced to the stone fence beyond the wheat-field next to the woods, and took position behind it to support, as we supposed, our friends in the woods in front. The Fourth Michigan, being on the right of the brigade, extended beyond the stone fence, and was, consequently, most exposed.
We had scarcely got to this position before I noticed regiments retiring from the woods on our right, which I supposed were relieved by others who had taken their places, and would protect us in that direction. I observed also that there was considerable firing diagonally toward our rear from these woods, which I then thought were shots from our troops aimed over us at the enemy in the woods beyond and falling short. They were, however, much too frequent to be pleasant, and my color-bearer, Ed. Martin, remarked, “Colonel, I’ll be — if I don’t think we are faced the wrong way; the rebs are up there in the woods behind us, on the right.”
About this time, too, word was brought me from the Fourth Michigan and Sixty-second Pennsylvania that the enemy were getting into our rear in the woods on the right. I directed those regiments to change front, to face in that direction and meet them, which they did, the firing in the meanwhile being rapid and severe. I at the same time dispatched Lieutenant Seitz, aide-de-camp, to communicate to General Barnes our situation. He reached the point where he had last seen General Barnes. He was not there. Lieutenant Seitz found the enemy had reached that point, and he came near falling into their hands himself; his horse was killed, and he made his way back to me on foot; reported that General Barnes was not to be found; that the enemy was in the woods on our right as far back as where we had started from, and along the road in rear of the wheat-field.
Finding that we were surrounded–that our enemy was under cover, while we were in the open field exposed to their fire–I directed the command to fall back. This was done in order, the command halting and firing as it retired. The Fourth Michigan and Sixty-second Pennsylvania had become mixed up with the enemy, and many hand-to-hand conflicts occurred. Colonel Jeffords, the gallant commander of the Fourth Michigan, was thrust through with a bayonet in a contest over his colors, and Sergt. William McFairman, Company I, and Private William McCarter, Company A, Sixty-second Pennsylvania, receive honorable mention by Colonel Hull in his report for their conduct during this part of the engagement.
Finding, as we retired in the direction from which we advanced, that the fire of the enemy grew more severe on our right, I took a diagonal direction toward the corner of the wheat-field on our left and rear. We crossed the stone fence on this side of the field, and retired to the rear of the battery on the elevation beyond, where the command was halted.
We had lost heavily in our passage across the field. The Fourth Michigan and Sixty-second Pennsylvania had been surrounded, and a large proportion of those regiments were missing, either killed, wounded, or prisoners. What remained of the command formed in the rear of the battery, and we were shortly afterward joined by the Ninth Massachusetts, which had been absent all day on detached duty.
It is difficult to conceive of a more trying situation than that in which three regiments of this command had lately found themselves, and from which they had just effected their escape; in fact, I have since understood that one of General Barnes’ aides remarked to him shortly after we had advanced, when it was discovered the enemy was behind us on the flank, that he might bid good-bye to the Second Brigade. I was also informed by General Barnes that, learning soon after we had advanced the situation on our right, he had dispatched an orderly to me with the information and a verbal order to withdraw, but the orderly never reached me.
Every officer and man in the command, so far as I am informed, did his whole duty. All stood their ground and fought unflinchingly until they were ordered by me to retire, and in falling back behaved with coolness and deliberation. We lost many of our best officers and men.
I subjoin a field report of the regiments engaged on the morning of July 2, and also a report of the same regiments on July 4. A nominal and tabular report of casualties in the command has already been forwarded.
About dark on the evening of the 2d, the acting assistant adjutant-general of the First Brigade came to me and inquired for General Barnes; said he was directed by General Sykes to tell him to have the Second Brigade form on the right of the First in the position they then were. As General Barnes was not present, I received the order, and put the Second Brigade in the position indicated, where we remained until the evening of the 5th, when the division advanced toward Emmitsburg.
In conclusion, I desire to express my gratification at the conduct of my staff during the engagement–Captain [George] Monteith, acting assistant adjutant-general; Captain [Alvan C.] Lamson, acting assistant inspector-general; Captain [John S.] Burdett, acting commissary of subsistence, and Lieutenant [John A.M.] Seitz, acting aide-de-camp. They were prompt and fearless in the discharge of their duty. We were all fortunate enough to escape being hit, though a number of horses in the party were shot–two of the orderlies, the bugler’s, Lieutenant Seitz’s, and my own.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. B. SWEITZER,
Colonel, Commanding Brigade.
(Losses were 427 in killed, wounded and missing in a total of about 1,000).