Report from Maj. Thomas W. Osborn, First New York Light Artillery, commanding Artillery Brigade, Eleventh Army Corps, to General Henry J. Hunt,Chief of Artillery, Army of the Potomac
HEADQUARTERS ARTILLERY, ELEVENTH CORPS, JULY 29, 1863
SIR: I have the honor to report, concerning the part borne by this command in the battle of Gettysburg on the 1st, 2d, and 3d instant, that on the morning of the 1st instant, I moved from Emmitsburg toward Gettysburg with the artillery of the corps, consisting of five batteries, and marched in the following order: Captain Dilger in advance with the Third Division, Lieutenant Wheeler with the First Division and in the center, the three remaining batteries following closely in rear of the center division.
I herewith enumerate the batteries of the command: Battery G, Fourth U.S. Artillery, commanded by Lieut. B. Wilkeson, six light 12-pounders; Battery I, First Ohio Artillery, commanded by Capt. H. Dilger, six light 12-pounders; Battery K, First Ohio Artillery, commanded by Capt. L. Heckman, four light 12-pounders; Battery I, First New York Artillery, commanded by Capt. M. Wiedrich, six 3-inch; and Thirteenth New York Independent Battery, commanded by First Lieut. W. Wheeler, four 3-inch guns. Total, 26 guns.
After moving 5 or 6 miles, I received notice from Major-General Howard that the First Corps was already engaged with the enemy at Gettysburg, and that I should move the artillery to the front as rapidly as possible.
A little after 10 a.m. the first battery (Dilger's) reached the town, and was ordered by General Schurtz to the front of and 300 yards beyond the town, where he took position, and at once became engaged with a rebel battery about 1,000 yards in its front. This battery was soon supported by another, when Captain Dilger was compelled to stand the fire from both until the arrival of Wheeler's battery half an hour later, when I ordered Lieutenant Wheeler to report to Captain Dilger. The result of this artillery duel was one piece of Wheeler's battery dismounted and five pieces of the enemy's, which they left on the ground; besides, they lost comparatively heavier than we in horses and matériel.
During the short struggle both batteries changed positions several times, and did so with excellent results and in the best possible manner, Captain Dilger using much judgment in the selection of his several positions. They did not leave their immediate locality until the corps was ordered by the commanding general to fall back to Cemetery Hill.
About 11 a.m. Lieutenant Wilkeson reached the field, and was ordered to report to General Barlow, commanding the First Division, which was engaged about three-fourths of a mile from the town and on the left of the York pike. The battery was assigned position by General Barlow, and when I reached the ground I found it unfortunately near the enemy's line of infantry, with which they were engaged, as well as two of his batteries, the concentrated fire of which no battery could withstand. Almost at the first fire, Lieutenant Wilkeson was mortally wounded, and carried from the field by 4 of his men. The command of the battery now devolved upon Lieutenant Bancroft. By changing position several times, the battery maintained its relative position until the division fell back to the town, when it retired to Cemetery Hill. During this engagement the battery was separated into sections or half batteries, and its struggle to maintain itself was very severe and persistent.
Captain Heckman was not ordered in until the corps had begun to fall back. He was then put into position, with a view of holding the enemy in check until the corps had time to retire through the town to the hill beyond, and though he worked his battery to the best of his ability, the enemy crowded upon it, and was within his battery before he attempted to retire. He was compelled to leave one gun in the hands of the enemy. I think no censure can be attached to this battery for the loss of the gun. The battery was so severely disabled otherwise that I was compelled to send it to the rear, thus losing the benefit of it during the fight of the second and third days.
Captain Wiedrich was assigned, on his arrival upon the field, to a position on the hill immediately in front of the cemetery entrance and overlooking the town. He was engaged several times during the day with the enemy's artillery at long range. He maintained the same position during the three days' fighting, but on this p.m. Colonel Wainwright, chief of artillery First Corps, took command of his battery, with the artillery on that side of the Baltimore pike. The artillery of the corps ceased firing for the day, when the corps fell back to Cemetery Hill.
I would remark here that during the p.m. of the 1st and the a.m. of the 2d, I furnished Colonel Wainwright, chief of artillery First Corps, with ammunition from the Eleventh Corps train, the train of the First Corps not being within reach. This of necessity caused considerable annoyance later in the engagement, on account of the difficulty in procuring a supply of ammunition sufficient to cover the great expenditure we were compelled to make through the engagement.
On the morning of the 2d, I applied to General Hunt, chief of artillery Army of the Potomac, for a greater amount of artillery than we then had, as our position was finely adapted to its use, and I did not consider that we had sufficient to assist our small infantry force in holding the position if the enemy should attack us in heavy force. The following batteries were ordered to report to me: Battery H, First U.S. Artillery, Lieutenant Eakin, six light 12-pounders; Fifth New York Independent Battery, Captain Taft, six 20-pounder Parrotts; Battery C, First West Virginia Artillery, Captain Hill, four 10-pounder Parrotts; Battery H, First Ohio Artillery, Captain Huntington, six 3-inch rifles; Second Maine Battery, Captain Hall, four 3-inch rifles; First New Hampshire Battery, Captain [Edgell], six 3-inch rifles. Total, 32.
Heckman's battery having been sent to the rear and one gun of Wheeler's battery dismounted, gave us on the morning of the 2d a total of fifty-two guns.
In the morning, before General Slocum had occupied his position, and while he was doing so, I placed three batteries on the right of the Baltimore road, commanding the ravine between the two prominent hills on our right; yet, as General Slocum withstood every assault on his lines without assistance, later in the day I withdrew these batteries to the hill. As soon as the enemy developed the position he would probably occupy with his batteries, I placed mine in position commanding them. By the assignment on the hill, Dilger had the right, resting next the Baltimore road and parallel with the Emmitsburg road; on his left, and in order, were Bancroft, Eakin, Wheeler, Hill, and Hall, commanding the enemy's batteries to the right of the town; and across the Baltimore road I placed Taft in rear of and perpendicular to Bancroft; also Huntington in rear of and perpendicular to Wheeler, but farther in the rear of Wheeler than Taft was of Bancroft, so that Taft's battery would not obstruct his line of fire.
By this assignment of artillery, I commanded with a reputable number of guns every point on which the enemy could place artillery commanding Cemetery Hill. I also occupied every point of the hill available for artillery, and during the engagement every gun, at different times, was used with good effect, and the fire of no one gun interfered with the fire of another. A sharp curve in the side of the hill also afforded good and convenient protection for the caissons. Most of the day the firing of the enemy's artillery was irregular, they scarcely opening more than one battery at a time, and when they did so we readily silenced them.
On our entire front the enemy held a fine crest for the protection of artillery, at a distance of 1,000 to 1,400 yards from us; but at the time the heavy attack was made on the extreme left of our line, the firing was very severe, and especially upon the hill. They engaged the greater portion of our whole line, and from both the right and left of the town much of the fire was concentrated on our position, but we soon gained a decided advantage over them, and long before the infantry struggle on the left was decided, we had silenced most of their guns.
In this artillery fire, Lieutenant Eakin was wounded in the hip, and carried from the field.
Between 7 and 8 o'clock in the evening, a rebel brigade charged from the town upon the hill and Captain Wiedrich's battery. The charge was very impetuous, and the infantry at first gave way, and the battery was held for a moment by the enemy, when the cannoneers rallied with the infantry, and, seizing upon any weapons they could reach, threw themselves upon the enemy, and assisted to drive them back. All was done that could be, both before and after the repulse of the enemy, by the use of canister upon their ranks.
Colonel Wainwright speaks in highly complementary terms of both officers and men for their gallant conduct on this occasion. Although the command was much exhausted by the two day's work, most of the night was passed in replenishing the batteries with ammunition and making repairs.
On the morning of the 3d, we were in position the same as on the 2d, but little was done during the a.m. by our corps. Occasionally a rebel battery would open upon the cemetery, evidently with a view to obtain the exact elevation and time to make their fire effective in the p.m.'s work on our position. At each attempt we silenced them, with but little loss to ourselves.
About 2 p.m. they opened along our whole front with an unbroken line of artillery, and also heavily on our right flank, apparently using every description of missiles and field artillery. The crest which the enemy occupied varied from 1,000 to 1,900 yards distance, and afforded an excellent protection. I judge that the guns of not less than one-half mile of this front were concentrated on our position, besides several batteries on our right, which enfiladed our position, excepting Captains Taft's and Huntington's batteries.
Our artillery endured this fire with surprising coolness and determination. No battery even showed a disposition to retire, and several times during the cannonading we silenced several of their batteries, but at a moment's cessation on our part they would reopen upon us. The fire was extremely galling, and by comparing the rapidity with which the shells fell among and passed by our guns with the rapidity with which our guns replied, the number of guns playing on the hill was very much greater than the number in position there; probably double.
Our guns were worked with great coolness, energy, and judgment, but as no satisfactory results were obtained, I ordered all our guns to cease firing, and the men to lie down to await developments. At the same time the artillery of our entire front ceased firing, and a few moments later the infantry of the enemy broke over the crest from where their artillery had been playing, and made their grand charge across the plain upon our lines. The left of the charging column rested on a line perpendicular to our front, then stretching away to the right beyond our view, thus offering an excellent front for our artillery fire. We used, according to distance, all descriptions of projectiles. The whole force of our artillery was brought to bear upon this column, and the havoc produced upon their ranks was truly surprising.
The enemy's advance was most splendid, and for a considerable distance the only hindrance offered it was by the artillery, which broke their lines fearfully, as every moment showed that their advance under this concentrated artillery fire was most difficult; and though they made desperate efforts to advance in good order, were unable to do so, and I am convinced that the fire from the hill was one of the main auxiliaries in breaking the force of this grand charge. But while the enemy was advancing, and after having been repulsed, I insisted that the artillery fire should be turned intensely upon the infantry, and no notice whatever was to be taken of their artillery.
I am not able to speak of any one or more batteries as deserving especial notice over another. Every battery did its whole duty; the officers proved themselves brave and efficient, and the men on the battle-field were most willing, brave, and gallant; in fact, the only fault I could mention was too great willingness to use ammunition at small squads of men and on unimportant objects, yet this was not carried to excess.
The artillery of the reserve proved all that could be expected or even asked of it; without their assistance I do not conceive how I could have maintained the position we held. I feel most thankful for their assistance, and the very willing and cordial manner in which it was rendered.
I would also speak of Lieut. George W. Freeman, acting assistant adjutant-general of the command, for the great assistance he was to me and the whole command during the engagement.
I am unable to give any definite estimate of the amount of ammunition expended during the engagement. After we had exhausted the supple with the batteries, I replenished from our train. Colonel Wainwright, on the p.m. of the 1st, also replenished from our train, and, after this source was exhausted, I drew from the reserve train of the army.
The casualties of this command are as follows.*
Our loss in pieces and horses is as follows:
Horses killed Battery G, Fourth U.S. Artillery 31 Battery I, First Ohio Artillery (one piece disabled) 28 Battery K, First Ohio Artillery (one piece lost) 9 Battery I, First New York Artillery (one piece dismounted) 18 Thirteenth New York Independent Battery 12 Total 98
I am, respectively, your obedient servant,
T. W. OSBORN
Major, Commanding Artillery, Eleventh Corps.
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