Sergeant A. P. Carpenters
LETTER ON THE BATTLE OF GETTYSBURG (excerpt)
At about 10 oclock [July 2, 1863] the enemy commenced throwing shells at us, and owing to the peculiar shape of our line, they fell fast and close among us, masses as we were, behind a little eminence. This we stood till towards night, every now and then a man falling to rise no more, and others being carried to the rear with more or less severe wounds. About this time we began to hear musketry which soon became one continuous roar. The smoke shut the combatants from sight and we could only judge of the direction of the fight by sound, but this was sufficient to tell who were retreating and who were advancing. Before sunset we were ordered a short distance to the left and on to the high ground where we had a full view of the field and its terrible, magnificent scene. From our front the ground sloped some sixty rods to a ravine wooded with small trees and brush; beyond was a plain three fourths of a mile in width and about two miles long. Back over this plain our men were hurrying in confusion, followed by Rebs in a most disorderly manner, while a fresh body of U.S. troops were advancing and drove the Rebs before them. The stragglers came rushing through our lines, whom we in vain tried to stop and at last gave it up entirely, believing they were of more injury than help to us.
We were near our batteries and now and then shells fell uncomfortably near us. The fresh troops our General had sent in drove the foe steadily until they encountered the Rebel reserves, and then their advance was stayed; but, determined not to yield, the old first division of the 3rd corps stood there immovable, making their line one blaze of fire until their decimated ranks could stand it no longer, and they were ordered to fall back. Back over the plain they came, slowly, not faster than a walk, loading as they came and every now and then turning and pouring a deadly volley into the pursuing foe.
The Rebs came in two splendid lines, firing as they advanced, capturing one of our batteries which they turned against us, and gained the cover of the ravine. The plain was strewed with dead and dying men. The Rebs had advanced their batteries and were hurling death and destruction into the ranks of our retreating men. They were nearing the hill, which if gained, the day was lost to us.
Then came the order for the 2nd Division of the 2nd Corps to advance. The hill must be held at all hazards. We advanced down the slope till we neared the ravine, and "Charge" rung along the line, and with a rush and a yell we went. Bullets whistled past us; shells screached over us; canister and grape fell about us; comrade after comrade dropped from the ranks; but on the line went. No one took a second look at his fallen companion. "We had no time to weep." We were nearing the Rebel line, and in a moment more we would have been at it hand to hand. Two regiments on our right faltered and subjected us to a flank fire, and we were ordered back, leaving our dead within a few rods of the Rebel line. Then forward we went again and the Rebs were routed, and the bloody field was in our possession; but at what a cost! The ground was strewed with dead and dying, whose groans and prayers and cries for help and water rent the air. The sun had gone down and in the darkness we hurried, stumbled over the field in search of our fallen companions, and when the living were cared for, laid ourselves down on the ground to gain a little rest, for the morrow bid far more stern and bloody work, the living sleeping side by side with the dead. Thousands had fallen, and on the morrow they would be followed to their long home by thousands more. Canister and shrapnel had made horrid gaps, and as the ranks were closed up we counted files, scarcely an hundred men were left out of the three hundred and more who were with us in the morning. Two out of every three had fallen. Where are the other fourteen hundred whose names are borne upon our roles? Some are sleeping on nearly all the Eastern battlefields from 1st Bull Run to Gettysburg. They have gone to rest; they are sleeping in soldiers graves, among the unknown and unnumbered dead.
Matthew Marvin's Bound Diary (inside front cover)
Matthew Marvin's Bound Dairy