From Spencer G. Welch, 13th South Carolina

Letter from Dr. Spencer Glasgow Welch, a surgeon with the 13th South Carolina Volunteer Infantry

Camp near Orange Court House, Virginia

August 2, 1863

The South Carolina Flag | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

DEAREST:

In a recent letter I promised to write you more about our campaign in Pennsylvania.

On the night of the 29th of June, we camped on the west side of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where they extend into Pennsylvania. On the morning of the next day (30th), we renewed our march. Shortly after starting, it began raining, but the road was hard and well macadamized and the rain made the march rather agreeable than otherwise.

On this same morning, we passed where a splendid iron factory had been burned by General Early, of Ewell’s Corps. It belonged to a very celebrated lawyer and politician of Pennsylvania by the name of Thaddeus Stevens, who is noted for his extreme abolition views and his intense hatred for slave-holders. The works are said to have been worth more than $100,000. The burning had thrown a great many operatives out of employment, and they seemed to be much distressed.

During the day we wended our way up the mountains… In the afternoon about one or two o’clock we halted and bivouacked among the mountains. Our stopping-place was in a basin of the mountains which was very fertile and contained a few very excellent and highly cultivated farms. A while after we stopped, I started off to one of these farmhouses for the purpose of getting my dinner, as I was quite hungry and wanted something different from what I had been accustomed…

Upon returning to camp, I found that an order had been received during my absence to cook one day’s rations and have it in haversacks and be ready to march at five o’clock next morning. This at once aroused our suspicions, for we concluded that we were about to meet the enemy. Next morning about five o’clock we began moving. We had not gone more than a mile and a half before our suspicions of the evening previous were fully verified and our expectations realized by the booming of cannon ahead of us in the direction of Gettysburg. Upon looking around, I at once noticed in the countenance of all an expression of intense seriousness and solemnity, which I have always perceived in the faces of men who are about to face death and the awful shock of battle…

It was really a magnificent sight. The country was almost destitute of forest and was so open that it was easy to see all that was going on. Our division (Pender’s) continued to keep within about half a mile of Heth’s. McGowan’s Brigade was at the right of the division and the 13th Regiment was at the right of the brigade. This being the case, I could see from one end of the division to the other as it moved forward in line of battle. It was nearly a mile in length…

Officers who have been in all the fights tell me that they never saw our brigade act so gallantly before. When the order was given to charge upon the enemy, who were lying behind stone fences and other places of concealment, our men rushed forward with a perfect fury, yelling and driving them, though with great slaughter to themselves as well as to the Yankees. Most of the casualties of our brigade occurred this day (July 1). As the enemy were concealed, they killed a great many of our men before we could get at them.

There were a good many dwellings in our path, to which the Yankees would also resort for protection, and they would shoot from the doors and windows. As soon as our troops would drive them out, they would rush in, turn out the families and set the houses on fire. I think this was wrong, because the families could not prevent the Yankees seeking shelter in their houses. I saw some of the poor women who had been thus treated. They were greatly distressed, and it excited my sympathy very much. These people would have left their houses, but the battle came on so unexpectedly to them, as is often the case, that they had not time…

The fighting on the first day ceased about night, and when our brigade was relieved by Lane’s North Carolina Brigade, it was nearly dark… When they drove the Yankees to the long high range of hills, which the Yankees held throughout the fight, they should have been immediately reinforced by Anderson with his fresh troops. Then the strong position last occupied by the enemy could have been taken, and the next day, when Ewell and Longstreet came up, the victory completely won. If “Old Stonewall” had been alive and there, it no doubt would have been done. Hill was a good division commander, but he is not a superior corps commander. He lacks the mind and sagacity of Jackson…

On the second day of the battle, the fighting did not begin until about twelve or one o’clock, from which time until night it raged with great fury. The reason it began so late in the day was because it required some time for Ewell and Longstreet to get their forces in position.

On the third day, the fighting began early in the morning and continued with the greatest imaginable fury all day; at one time, about three o’clock in the afternoon, with such a cannonading I never heard before. About 150 pieces of cannon on our side and as many or more on the side of the enemy kept up for several hours. It was truly terrifying and was like heavy skirmishing in the rapidity with which the volleys succeeded one another. The roar of the artillery, the rattle of the musketry and the wild terrific scream of the shells as they whizzed through the air was really the most appalling situation that could possibly be produced. Our troops (Pickett’s Division) charged the enemy’s strong position, which they had now entrenched, but with no avail, although we slaughtered thousands of them.

On the night of the 3rd, General Lee withdrew the army nearly to its original position, hoping, I suppose, that the enemy would attack him; but they didn’t come out of their strongholds, for well they knew what their fate would be if they met the Confederate Army of Virginia upon equal grounds. On the 4th, our army remained in line of battle, earnestly desiring the advance of the Yankees, but they did not come. During this day the rain fell in torrents, completely drenching the troops…

On July 5, we recrossed the Blue Ridge Mountains. Climbing the mountains was very tedious after so much toil, excitement and loss of sleep, but we met with no obstacle until we came to Hagerstown, Md., where we stopped on account of the Potomac’s being too high to ford. While here, the Yankees came up. Our army was placed in line to meet them, but they did not dare to attack. In this situation we remained for several days with them in sight of us.

After a pontoon bridge was finished at Falling Waters and the river was sufficiently down to ford at Williamsport, we left the vicinity of Hagerstown. It was just after dark when we began leaving. It was a desperately dark night and such a rain I thought I never knew to fall… It appeared to me that at least half of the road was a quagmire, coming in places nearly to the knees…

Being very tired, we all lay down and nearly everyone fell asleep. Suddenly the Yankee cavalry rushed upon us, firing and yelling at a furious rate. None of our guns were loaded and they were also in a bad fix from the wet of the previous night. They attacked General Pettigrew’s North Carolina Brigade first. Our brigade was lying down 50 yards behind his. I was lying down between the two brigades near a spring. General Pettigrew was killed here. I was close to him when he was killed. It was a serious loss to the service. We fought them for some time. Then General Hill sent an order to fall back across the river, and it was done in good order.

The attack was a complete surprise, and is disgraceful either to General Hill or General Heth. One is certainly to blame. The Yankees threw shells at the bridge and came very near hitting it just as I was about to cross; but, after we were close enough to the river not to be hurt by our own shells, our cannon on this side opened upon them, which soon made them “skedaddle” away.

—–

Source: Tapert, Annette, The Brothers’ War: Civil War Letters to Their Loved Ones from the Blue and Gray (New York: Vintage Books, 1988), p. 169-75

 

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One thought on “From Spencer G. Welch, 13th South Carolina

  1. […] From Spencer G. Welch, 13th South Carolina […]

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