"The trouble with Jeff is that he lacks the power of conversation but not the power of speech."

Goodrich’s War: The Gettysburg Campaign

This is Part 9 of an ongoing series built around the letters home of Loren Goodrich, Co. F 14th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry. See the entire collection to date here:

Temporary Hero Archive: Loren Goodrich (Parts 1-9)

The Gettysburg Campaign, and the pursuit of Lee into Pennsylvania.

The Gettysburg Campaign, and the pursuit of Lee into Pennsylvania.

The Gettysburg Campaign of 1863 was Robert E. Lee’s last invasion of the north– an attempt to defeat the Federal army somewhere north of Washington, embolden Copperhead Democrats in the legislatures, and force a negotiated peace– as well as, tactically, to pull the seat of war off the bare Virginia fields into the  untouched farms of Pennsylvania, where his Army of Northern Virginia could forage effectively.

The campaign kicked off on June 3, with Lee moving his army north, through Manassas Gap and into the Shenandoah Valley on the far side of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where their movements would be masked by the peaks; and where their flank would be protected by the barrier of the hills and the river. The Army of Northern Virginia already had quite a lead over the Federals by mid-June, as they were near Winchester Virginia and the Army of the Potomac was just setting out– having realized, finally, that Lee was on the march– and northwards!– threatening the capital and their critical line of supply.

The march north by the 14th Connecticut under their new division and corps commanders (Alexander Hayes and Winfield Scott Hancock, respectively) was necessarily rapid and challenging. Under orders from President Lincoln to meet Lee’s army, but also to keep between it and both Baltimore and Washington City was quite a task, given that Hooker did not know where Lee was, and that he had a nearly two-week lead on him. The army moved north at a rapid pace, stopping only to attempt to ascertain Lee’s position (usually, ineffectively) or to rest the weary force-marched troops. The fatigue of the campaign can be tracked in the handwriting of Loren Goodrich– his hand, previously strong and smooth, over the course of the letter (which he wrote over several days during breaks in the campaign) becomes progressively choppier and difficult to read. The wear and tear of the days’ marching (and eventually the fighting) had begun to take their toll. By the end of the letter, Goodrich’s pencil is nearly unintelligible.

Hooker’s last battles with the Army of the Potomac occurred on June 17-21, as Federal cavalry attempted to punch through a rebel screen at Aldie, Middleburg, and Upperville. Infantry in the Second and Fifth Corps were rushed up to support the attacks on the 22nd, but Lee was already long gone– this is referenced in Goodrich’s letter where he notes that they were advised to be ready because the  “…enemy were coming down upon us with a huge force.” When that major prophesied battle failed to materialize, the army moved north again. As the armies continued to march, Lee lost contact with his own cavalry under Stuart, who’d left his screening position for a wide ride for glory around the entirety of the Federal army. This left Lee unaware of just how quickly the Union army was moving (contrary to its history of the “slows” under McClellan), and where it was. Now Lee was every bit as blind as his opponent, the newly appointed George Meade, replacing Hooker who was sacked over what amounted to a childish tiff with his own commander (Henry Halleck) over a strategy for the Harpers’ Ferry area. Consequently, neither side was prepared for the clash that came at the crossroads of a small town in the south of Pennsylvania that would ultimately give the campaign its name: Gettysburg.

July 1 found the 14th CV moving through Taneytown towards Gettysburg where the battle had already begun. Regimental historian Charles Page notes that as the men moved to within two or three miles of the town by 8 PM, they’d “… heard sharp artillery firing in their front, which indicated that the men would soon have some work” (134). The fight was on– Buford’s cavalry had engaged the Confederate advance guard under Harry Heth north of town early in the morning; and was joined by the First and Eleventh Corps by the afternoon. Though the Federal troops were outnumbered and outflanked, and driven southwards through town by the evening and the approach of the 14th CV and Second Corps, they were seizing critical hills in a curved line running from Culp’s Hill in the east, along Cemetery Ridge, turning south, and anchoring on the hills that would become known as Big and Little Round Top after the war.

The Leister Farm on the Taneytown road, after the battle.

The Leister Farm on the Taneytown road, after the battle.

On the morning of July 2, the 14th were called back in from picket duty on the Baltimore Turnpike where they’d spent the night, and marched up “…a narrow and rugged road that gradually ascended toward the front” (Hincks qtd. by Page 138), past General Meade’s headquarters at the Leister Farm on Taneytown Road. Above the house, and on the plain between the cemetery and Zeigler’s Grove, the 14th CV remained with stacked arms until 4 PM, when it was moved further to the left, near General Hays’ headquarters (at the Bryan Farmhouse, near Ziegler’s Grove), behind the short stone wall, in support of the First Rhode Island Battery. This was a comparatively quiet position in the center of the Union line– the main fighting was ongoing on both flanks, with rebel forces striking hard at the Round Tops and Culp’s Hill, in an effort to turn the Federal flank (either one would do!) and roll up the line in detail.

Artist's rendition of the Bliss Farm prior to its burning.

Artist’s rendition of the Bliss Farm prior to its burning.

Though something of a side note to the main fight, in the vast open field between the Federal and Confederate lines in the center, a small farmhouse and barn stood roughly equidistant– that owned by William Bliss. Seeing the advantage of this position, rebel sharpshooters had taken up station in these buildings by late in the day on the 2nd, and were using it to snipe at officers and men on the picket line before the stone wall. The 12th New Jersey had been detailed to drive them off earlier on the 2nd– and did so– but on their return to Federal lines, fresh rebels moved in and began the process all over again. Finally, after repeated attempts to clear the area, eight companies of the 14th CV were ordered to advance in two groups– a northerly group of four companies under Major Ellis, and a southerly one aiming for the barn under Co. F’s own Captain Samuel Moore and to settle the affair “to stay” (Page 143-144; Christ 68-70). (Ed. Note: Contrary to Goodrich’s account, two companies– B & D– remained in support as pickets to the southeast of the barn.)

In a mad dash, the Federal troops– including Goodrich– made their dash for the barn. Christ quotes Reverend Henry Smith Stevens when he describes the assault– and the end of one member of Co. F, Private Thomas Brainard:

“[He] was dashing ahead well to the front, and one of his comrades heard him shout to some who seemed laggard, “Come on you cowards!,” when he was struck near his shoulder by a musket shot, the ball passing down his chest” (Christ 70).

Though quickly tended to by the Reverend and Doctor Frederick Dudley, Brainard passed in moments. The fight raged in the barn and the house; and soon, Confederate artillery was pounding the site. In order to settle the matter– and prevent a need to seize the buildings yet again– the men put torch to the barn and house before retreating back to the relative safety of the main Union line at the stone wall.

The men of the Fourteenth could surely have used a break in the action at this point, but next to come was perhaps the most climactic fight of the entire war– that which became known as Pickett’s Charge. Lee threw a huge mass of his force into a massive assault along the entire Union center. With roughly a mile between the lines, the rebel forces were smashed by artillery and raked by musketry long before they could reach the Federal positions to fire. It was unmitigated slaughter. Finally flush with success after two long years of defeat after demoralizing defeat, when the battered remnants of the rebel charge made it to the line, the Fourteenth and other regiments surged forward to meet them in hand-to-hand combat. This saw a number of Confederate battle flags seized, and hundreds of prisoners taken. The battle came to a close with some scant, broken rebel troops filtering back across the field to Seminary Ridge and the safety of their own cannon.

July 4 saw some modest skirmishing as rebel pickets shielded the retreat of Lee’s army back into Virginia. Badly battered, only the relatively unscathed Sixth Corps began pursuit. On the 5th, the rest of the army began to go back into action, and began the long pursuit south. Though the marching was not overly vigorous or rapid, the constant marching took its toll on many men, including Goodrich. By the 15th of July, the men had passed through Sharpsburg; the scene of their first battle. They numbered around a thousand men that day less than a year ago– now they were less than one hundred effectives. One of those was the battle-worn and weary Loren Goodrich. Somewhere near Pleasant Valley Maryland, he concluded the letter below, detailing his own account of the campaign to date.

In Camp At Weaverton [?] Maryland
July 17 1863

Dear Friends

It gives me pleasure to again be permitted to write a few lines to you. I am well and hope that this will find you all the same. Probably you have heard of the battle that has been fought by the Army of the Potomac and thinking that you might like to hear of it from your correspondent in the army who was engaged in it I will give you a short history of the last campaign from the time we left Falmouth up to the present time.

On the 14th of June we had orders to pack up and be ready to march that night. All the rest of the troops had retreated back towards Washington except one corps amounting to about 7 thousand men. We done picket duty along the Rappahannock River so that we were obliged to march at night that we might draw in our pickets without being disturbed by the enemy. How different it was with the people at the north on that beautiful Sunday night. There the young folks were enjoying themselves. Here the prospect before us not very pleasant. Here we were 150 miles from where we were to cross the Potomac in an enemy country with only a small body of men, with the enemy in our rear ready to pounce upon us. The moment that he should find out that we were retreating at 9 o’clock in the evening we fell into line with heavily packed knapsacks on our backs and commenced our perilous journey. We marched nearly all night until 9 o’clock the next morning when we stopped to cook breakfast at a small village consisting of 2 dwelling houses one jail and a courthouse. At 12 o’clock we started on again. The dust was ankle deep it was one of the hottest days that I ever saw, but we went till we could not go any further and the men dropped down by the road side under the shade of the trees. I never saw the time before that the commander of the 14th Reg., could not get his men into line. Major Ellis came up shouting “Fall in 14th , fall in!” but not a man stirred until after they got rested. Some of the men dropped down dead while marching along in the ranks. It was one of the hardest marches that we had ever had. We encamped that night at Octagon creek, a small creek that runs into the Potomac River. The next day we marched 22 miles and encamped at night at Dumfries. On Wednesday the next day we marched 6 miles to Fairfax Station. Here we staid until Friday afternoon.

While here the brigade quartermaster brought up some whiskey to be dealt to the men but the officers got a hold of it first so that the men never got any. You never saw a merry set of men than there was there that night. On Friday afternoon at 4 o’clock, left Fairfax Station marched 10 miles to Centerville where we encamped for the night. Started early next morning marched 20 miles over the Bull Run battleground to Gainsville where we went into camp. Stayed here 3 days till Wednesday morning when we had orders to pack up and be ready for the enemy were coming down upon us with a huge force.

Marched 18 miles, encamped at night to a place called Gum Spring. Started early next morning marched 20 miles. Encamp at night. Started early next morning marched 15 miles to Edwards Ferry where we stopped crossed the Potomac River into Maryland at Edwards Ferry. At half past 2 o’clock Friday night marched to miles layed down to get a little sleep. Saturday drawed rations of whiskey, started to march at 3 o’clock in the afternoon marched 16 miles passed through Poolsville and Gainesville encamped near Sugar Loaf Mountain. Sunday morning started to march at 8 o’clock. Marched to within 3 miles of Frederick City where we encamped for the night. Started early next morning for Union Town, a distance of 33 miles. Reached there 9 o’clock at night. It was the hardest day of march that we ever done.

We stayed here until Wednesday morning when we marched to within 3 miles of Gettysburgh [sic]. Stopped at Taney Town a short time went on picket the next morning went up to the front. Supported a battery all of that day till 8 o’clock at night when we advanced a short distance to a stone wall where we took up our position.

Company A. F. detailed out on picket Friday morning our company went on post at 5 o’clock when we was ordered to advance as skirmishers which we did. At 7 o’clock company D and B came out and relieved us. At 10 o’clock four companies under command of Captain Morse [?] was ordered to make a charge on a large barn which was a little to the right of us and occupied by the rebel sharp shooters. He took possession of the barn when the rest of the 14th was ordered to take the house a short distance from the barn. Here the sharp shooters kept up a continual fire on us from the windows. The men all jumped up and grasped their trusty riffles [sic]. We fell into line and started for the house under command of Maj. Ellis. As soon as we reached the skirmish line we all made a rush for the house under heavy crossfire from the enemy’s picket. After occupying the house and firing upon the enemy for a while we was ordered to set fire to the barn and house and fall back to our old position behind the stone wall which we did.

Everything went quietly until 2 o’clock in the afternoon when the enemy opened 75 pieces of cannon on to us. It was one of the hardest artillery fights that we have ever had. It kept up for 2 hours when the enemy having smashed one of our battries [sic] all to pieces, made an advance on us with 3 battle lines a mile long. They came up in beautiful style with their beautiful battle flags flying open to the breeze. It was a splendid sight to see, but alas how many there were of those brave men that were launched into eternity during that terrible struggle. Onward they came, cheering till within 200 yards when we opened a terrible fire upon them which staggered them for a moment. They then rallied and tried to flank us but were again repulsed. The other lines then advanced but were repulsed in the same way with great slaughter. They scattered in every direction a great many of them lying down and waving their white handkerchiefs in token of their surrender. Our men then ceased firing and our own regiment succeeded in capturing over 200 prisoners, 4 stands of colors, and 8 swords which are to be sent home.

It was a scene of the wildest confusion. Our men were cheering and our division General, General Hayes was riding up and down the lines dragging a secesh flag after him and cheering up the men. By the time that the excitement was over the shades of evening closed over the scene.

The men were hungry their rations having run out the night before. Our supply train was ordered to the rear on account of the cannonading that night. I went down on the battle field to see if I could find any grub in the rebs haversacks. I am ashamed to own it but then the pangs of hunger will do most anything. I went around and felt in the dead rebs haversacks in nearly every one of them I found plenty of fresh meat and wheat bread which I took up and distributed amongst the boys. They were glad to get it.

It was a horrible sight to see those poor fellows lying there, who a few hours before were in the full bloom of manhood. One man who lived 2 hours after the battle was holding in his hand the picture of his wife and children. There he died with no loving hand or a kind friend to soothe or cheer him with kind words. Grasping in his death clutch the picture of those innocent ones who will be left fatherless. I passed on to another man touched him to see if we was a live [sic]. He looked up the stamp of death was marked on his features says he “Young friend, give me a drink of water.” He could not raise his head to drink. One of my companions being with me raised his head for him which was covered with blood. I had a canteen which holds 3 pints of water that I gave to him. He drank the whole of it and he wanted more. The night was still and dark I could hear the groans of the wounded that lay betwixt the two skirmish lines nearly half a mile of calling for water. It was a trying scene.

There we were on the battlefield laying down to get a little sleep and rest from the fatigues of the day. Saturday passed of quietly till 10 o’clock at night when we were aroused from our slumbers by the pickets coming in, thinking that the rebs were advancing on us, but it turned out to be nothing more than some of them got scared. We layed down once again to get a little rest when it commenced to rain; and rained all night.

The next morning we looked down on to the field in front of us. There you could see the poor fellows that we thought were dead dragging themselves out of the mud holes. The fields were covered with the dead and wounded. At 10 o’clock the left and right of centre [sic] advanced, the right going through Gettysburgh [sic] capturing 500 prisoners. Our position was in the center of the whole line we then went down and brought of the wounded. They had layed on the field for 3 days. We could not get them of before on account of rebel sharp shooters we the[n] picked up the guns and accoutrements and buryed the dead. Our regiment picked up 15 hundred guns.

At 4 o’clock in the afternoon we marched back 4 miles where we encamped for the night. Here we stayed till Tuesday morning when we again took the road to Fredrick City. The men had nothing to eat; our supply train had been sent 25 miles to the rear expecting that we would overtake them. I think I have never saw the men have such haggard and careworn countenances on them before we marched 10 miles to Taney Town where we stopped. General Hayes sent out foragers to get what food they could for the men. Our brigade got 7 barrels of flour some beans and bacon. The butcher killed some cattle so that we got along very well till night when our supply train came up and we got our rations.

The next morning we started early the rain came pouring down in torrents. It continued to rain till noon when it cleared of. The water and mud was half knee deep. We marched a distance of 20 miles that day and encamped in 3 miles of Frederick City. The next Thursday we marched through Frederick City and took the turnpike of Harpers Ferry marched 10 miles to Jefferson and then took the road to [heatersville?] on Friday and a short distance from Antietam on Saturday marched to Funkstown {?] where we drawed up in line of battle. I was detailed to go on picket.

On the next day Sunday the 12th of July we was ordered to advance out as skirmishers we did so and advanced 1 mile when we came up to the enemys picket line. That night we were relieved from picket went back to camp here the boys were throwing up breastworks. We worked nearly all night. The next day we advanced a half mile further where we throwed up more breastworks. We stayed here till the next day which was Tuesday till 9 o’clock when we advanced and followed the rebels to the river where we stopped for the night. Next morning started for Harpers Ferry encamped that night 1 mile from the ferry. The next day Thursday marched 5 miles and went into a camp a short distance from Weaverton. Here is where I commenced to write this letter. But we had orders to march early on Saturday morning and been on the go ever since, so that I have had no time to finish it before.

Saturday we cross the Potomac passed through Harpers Ferry crossed the Shenandoah River took the same road that we took last year through London Valley. We marched from 6 to 8 miles a day for 5 days. On Thursday morning we started from Upperville for Manassas Gap. We marched to within 7 miles when we stopped for a while as a reserve to the army corps that was ahead of us. At 5 o’clock in the afternoon we had orders to go up to the front we double quicked it over one of the roughest roads that I ever saw. It was up hill and down hill through swamp holes. We was glad when we got to our destination. We stayed here till noon of the next day our cavalry drove the enemy to Front Royal. We moved back and encamped for the night. The next day Saturday we started for White Plains to get rations. We reached that place at 5 o’clock in the afternoon. Here we encamped for the night. The next morning started for Warrentown; it was Sunday the 26th of July and a very hot day. We reached Warrentown at noon. From here we had to march 6 miles further to Warrentown Station and here we are in camp. We do not know how long we shall stay here.

I rather think that we shall be in Falmouth again before long. We are on the same road that we were on last year. This has been the longest campaign that the army has ever had. It has been just 6 weeks since we started from Falmouth till we stopped here in camp. I think that it has been the hardest. It has tried the patience and the courage of the men and shows of itself what privations and hardships men can endure. The month of July has been one of great interest to us all it has decided the fate of some of the strongest places that the rebels could boast of. The 3rd and 4th day of July will be days that will be remembered by all of the men that were engaged in fighting both by the army of the Potomac and by General Grants army one by the surrender of Vicksburgh [sic]; the other by giving General Lee a good sound thrashing.

While we soldiers are doing our best to end this war a good many of the people of the North are trying to keep it up. What we want of the people now is to come forward to help us to join hands with us and we shall soon see peace restored to us and the stars and stripes floating once more over all of the states peace and comfort to our home. I hope that it will end before long. I have never wrote you a long letter and I hope that you will excuse all of the mistakes I have made. I have given you as good a history of the fast campaign as I am capable of doing and hope that you will excuse me if I have not done it justice. I would like to have you save this letter for I should like to read it when this war is over. I must bring my letter to a close. I would like to have you write in your next letter who is drafted in Wethersfield. Please write soon. This Is from your friend Loren H. Goodrich. I send my love to you all.

I forgot to tell you how many there are in killed and wounded in our regiment. There were 66 in all, out of 160 men.

————————

Sources:

Christ, Elwood. The Struggle for the Bliss Farm at Gettysburg. Baltimore, Maryland: Butternut and Blue, 1993. Print.

Goodrich, Loren H. “Letters.” Letter to Joseph Wells. 17 July 1863. MS. Connecticut Historical Archives, Hartford, CT.

Page, Charles D. History of the Fourteenth Regiment, Connecticut Vol. Infantry. Meriden, CT: Horton Printing, 1906. Print.

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