Report of Capt. Henry C. Coates, First Minnesota Infantry (exerpt)
About 3 oclock on the morning of the 2d inst. we were ordered into position in
the front and about the centre of our line, just to the left of the town. The battle
commenced at daylight and raged with fury the entire day. We were under a severe artillery
fire, but not actively engaged until about 5 oclock P.M., when we were moved to
support Battery C, Fourth U.S. Artillery. Company F had been detached from the regiment as
skirmishers, and Company L as sharpshooters. Our infantry, who had advanced upon the enemy
in our front and pushed him for awhile, were in turn driven back in some confusion, the
enemy following them in heavy force.
William Lochren's Narrative of the First Regiment (exerpt)
July 2, 1863
. At a quarter before six on the morning of July 2nd we arrived on the battlefield, and the Second Corps was placed in position on the line to the left of the cemetery, being joined on its left by Sickles Third Corps, which extended that line to the vicinity of the Little Round Top. For some reason the First Minnesota Regiment was not placed in this line, but apparently in reserve, a short distance to the rear. Early in the morning, just after we reached the battlefield, Col. Colvill was relieved from arrest, and assumed command of the regiment, and Company L (sharpshooter) was detailed to support Kirbys Battery near the cemetery, and did not rejoin us during the battle. While lying here one man was killed, and Sergt. O. M. Knight of Company I was severely wounded by shells from the enemy. Some time after non Sickles advanced the Third Corps half a mile or more, to a slight ridge near the Emmitsburg road, his left extending to Devils Den, in front of and near the base of Little Round Top, and Company F (Capt. John Ball) was detached as skirmishers, and sent in that direction. Soon after, the remaining eight companies of the regiment, numbering two hundred and sixty-two men (Company C was also absent, being the provost guard of the division,) were sent to the centre of the line just vacated by Sickles' battle in the peach orchard half a mile to the front, and witnessed with eager anxiety the varying fortunes of that sanguinary conflict, until at length, with gravest apprehension, we saw Sickles' men give way before the heavier forces of Longstreet and Hill, and come back, slowly, at first, and rallying at short intervals, but at length broken and in utter disorder, rushing down the slope, but the Trostle House, across the low ground, up the slope on our side, and past our position to the rear, followed by a strong force - the large brigades of Wilcox and Barksdale - in regular lines, moving steadily in the flush of victory, and firing on the fugitives. They had reached the low ground, and in a few minutes would be at our position, on the rear of the left flank of our line, which they could roll up, as Jackson did the Eleventh Corps at Chancellorsville. There was no organized force near to oppose them, except our handful of two hundred and sixty-two men. Most soldiers, in the face of the near advance of such an overpowering force, which had just defeated a considerable portion of an army corps, would have caught the panic and joined the retreating masses. But the First Minnesota had never yet deserted any post, had never retired without orders, and desperate as the situation seemed and as it was, the regiment stood firm against whatever might come. Just then Hancock, with a single aid, rode up at full speed, and for a moment vainly endeavored to rally Sickles' retreating forces. Reserves had been sent for, but were too far away to hope to reach the critical position until it would be occupied by the enemy, unless that enemy were stopped. Quickly leaving the fugitives, Hancock spurred to where we stood, calling out, as he reached us, "What regiment is this?" "First Minnesota," replied Colvill. "Charge those lines!" commanded Hancock. Every man realized in an instant what that order meant, - death or wounds to us all; the sacrifice of the regiment to gain a few minutes time and save the position, and probably the battlefield, - and every man saw and accepted the necessity for the sacrifice, and, responding to Colvill's rapid orders, the regiment, in perfect line, with arms at "right shoulder shift," was in a moment sweeping down the slope directly upon the enemy's centre. No hesitation, no stopping to fire, though the men fell fast at every stride before the concentrated fore of the whole Confederate force, directed upon us as soon as the movement was observed. Silently, without orders, and almost from the start, double-quick had changed to utmost speed; for in utmost speed lay the only hope that any of us would pass through that storm of lead and strike the enemy. "Charge!" shouted Colvill, as we neared their first line; and with leveled bayonets, at full speed, we rushed upon it; fortunately, as it was slightly disordered in crossing a dry brook at the foot of a slope. The men were never made who will stand against leveled bayonets coming with such momentum and evident desperation. The first line broke in our front as we reached it, and rushed back through the second line, stopping the whole advance. We then poured in our first fire, and availing ourselves of such shelter as the low banks of the dry brook afforded, held the entire force at bay for a considerable time, and until our reserves appeared on the ridge we had left. Had the enemy rallied quickly to a counter charge, its great numbers would have crushed us in a moment, and we would have made but a slight pause in its advance. But the ferocity of our onset seemed to paralyze them for the time, and although they poured upon us a terrible and continuous fire from the front and enveloping flanks, they kept at respectful distance from our bayonets, until, before they added fire of our fresh reserves, they began to retire, and we were ordered back. What Hancock had given us to do was done thoroughly. The regiment had stopped the enemy, and held back its mighty force and saved the position. But at what sacrifice! Nearly every officer was dead or lay weltering with bloody wounds, our gallant colonel and every field officer among them. Of the two hundred and sixty-two men who made the charge, tow hundred and fifteen lay upon the field, stricken down by rebel bullets, forty-seven were still in line, and not a man was missing. The annals of war contain no parallel to this charge. In its desperate valor, complete execution, successful result, and in its sacrifice of men in proportion to the number engaged, authentic history has no record with which it can be compared. Col. Fox, in his very carefully prepared work on "Regimental Losses in the American Civil War," says, at page 68, speaking of the Second Corps in this battle, "The fighting was deadly in the extreme, the percentage of loss in the First Minnesota, Gibbon's Division, being without an equal in the records of modern warfare."
In another place (page 26) he notes that Gen. Hancock, in speaking of this charge, is reported to have said, "There is no more gallant deed recorded in history. I ordered these men in there because I saw I must gain five minutes time. Reinforcements were coming on the run, but I knew that before they could reach the threatened point the Confederate, unless checked, would seize the position. I would have ordered that regiment in if I had known that every man would be killed. It had to be done, and I was glad to find such a gallant body of men at hand willing to make the terrible sacrifice that the occasion demanded."
The wounded were gathered in the darkness by their surviving comrades and sent to the field hospitals, and the fragment of the regiment lay down for the night near the place from which it ad been moved to support the battery. One incident connected with Company F, which had been detached before the charge, may be mentioned. Its position brought it on the flank of Sickles' retreating forces and of the pursuing enemy, and, rallying upon a fence, it poured its fire into the enemy just before the charge of the regiment. From Confederate accounts it would appear that the Confederate general, Barksdale, was killed by this fire; though by some it has been claimed that he was killed by Private William W. Brown of Company G while we were holding the Confederate force in check at the close of the charge.
Minneapolis, Feb. 1, 1890
Report of Brig. Gen. Cadmus M. Wilcox, C. S. Army,