|Beautiful Belmont, Part 42 -- Some Thoughts on Gettysburg.|
by John Salisbury Cochran.
See previous entry: Beautiful Belmont, Part 41 -- The Battle of Shiloh, 6-7 April 1862.
A heavy battle is most ordinarily opened by a terrible artillery duel to develop the respective lines. The deep rumbling of the artillery wagons and caissons, the clatter of the horses' hoofs, the blowing of the bugles, the rapid unlimbering and wheeling into line -- repeated by the taking of new positions of vantage when the enemy gets the range too closely, the different shouts and commands of the artillery officers, the rapid work of the men at the guns -- to be soon enveloped in a cloud of smoke, unless a breeze is blowing -- all tend to deeply engage the attention. When artillery is plentiful and heavily parked on both sides, this artillery duel becomes awful and effective. Ordinarily, though, this is only preliminary to the great storm that is ultimately to break with thundering reverberation all along the line.
When one side or the other of the artillery lines is silenced, or both cease firing as if by common consent, then the solid line of brave men press forward into full view. In their dash forward they are supported by the redoubled energy of their own artillery in their rear, firing over their heads into the line of the enemy. The opposing artillery mows them down in their advance as best they can, until they get within rifle range, when the artillery retreats back of its line of infantry lying in reserve, and the two lines of infantry meet in terrible conflict. One line may be so shattered as to fall back and reform, being replaced by a second and supporting column coming up from behind. If the other side is likewise exhausted or shattered, a similar proceeding occurs there.
One side or the other finally retreats, or forms a new line of defense. Sometimes when an infantry charge is made, the opposing artillery delays its retreat too long. When that happens, a desperate conflict occurs between the two opposing infantry columns right among the guns, the one striving to capture, and the other to defend them. Care must be taken and firing cease on the part of the artillery of a charging line of infantry when the latter gets at close range, so that it does not kill as many of its own as of the opposing column. Sometimes when one side is demoralized, or hard pressed, a cavalry charge in the rear, or flank, is made with great effect, hastening the general demoralization, and possibly causing retreat or surrender.
One of the most daring and effective cavalry charges the world has ever known, including the historic charge of the "light brigade," was made at the battle of Gettysburg by a portion of General H. Judson Kilpatrick's cavalry under General Farnsworth, from the foot of Big Round Top up the road to Gettysburg and back, parallel with the line of battle and in rear of Pickett's lines, when Pickett made his wonderful infantry charge. This famous cavalry charge has never been immortalized in story or song as it should have been. There is no charge like it, and it so demoralized the Confederates as to save the day. It was related to me by Mr. Frank Robinson of Bridgeport, Ohio, an officer in General George Custer's command, a command noted for never missing a fight.
Robinson was a brave and gallant soldier, and fought all through the war to its close, participating at the surrender of General Lee at Appomattox. He was probably in as many battles as any other soldier from Belmont County. General Kilpatrick, with his cavalry, was stationed in the woods on the left flank of the federal army, near Big Round Top. When the Confederates under Pickett made their famous charge, Kilpatrick determined the critical time had come, and decided to make a cavalry charge all along the rear of Pickett's line. Turning to General Farnsworth, Kilpatrick said that he desired Farnsworth to lead 1,600 men along against the enemy rear. It was a fearsome thing to contemplate, for the participants were as likely to be hit from the shells and musketry of the federals as of the Confederates. "General Kilpatrick," said General Farnsworth, "are you aware that to make that charge means certain death to the whole command making it?" "General Farnsworth," replied Kilpatrick, "if you are afraid to make that charge, I will do it." "General Kilpatrick, where you can go, I can go. I am not afraid to make the charge. I am ready," said Farnsworth.
Thus began one of the most daring cavalry charges recorded in all history. The federals cut their way through row upon row of Confederates hurrying to the assistance of Pickett, strewing the ground with the enemy dead and their own comrades. When they found no outlet at the farther end, however, they whirled around and, retracing the bloody road they had come down, cut a swath like a reaper's scythe through the Confederate columns, sending disarray into that army, ultimately coming out where they had entered. The heroic General Farnsworth fell dead among his comrades just as the charge was completed, and only one-third of that noble band of 1,600 immortal heroes ever returned.
Captain Robinson was the owner of a very fine horse. Just before the charge an officer of higher grade asked him if he would not exchange horses until the charge was over, as his own mount was somewhat unruly. Robinson consented. As they made a charge against a stone fence behind which a Confederate line was assembled, the officer was shot dead and fell across the wall. His horse, true to the discipline he had received from Robinson, went riderless through the remainder of the charge, coming back with the command, and was later recovered by Captain Robinson. Another noble animal which had lost a fore leg in that charge, and whose rider had been killed, also came out with the remainder of the column, limping along on three legs. The poor animal had to be shot. There were heroes who could not talk in that war, just as there are in all wars.
See next entry: Beautiful Belmont, Part 43 -- The Folly of War.
For the table of contents and first entry in this series, see: Beautiful Belmont, Part 01 -- Table of Contents and Brief Introduction.
This entry is adapted from Bonnie Belmont: A Historical Romance of the Days of Slavery and the Civil War, by John Salisbury Cochran, which was published originally in 1907. The book has been reedited extensively for inclusion in the Pierian Press Fulltext eBooks database, and is included on the Stratton House Inn Web site by special permission. This special edition of Beautiful Belmont is licensed for use ONLY on this Web site. It may not be copied or downloaded, but may be used for educational purposes and personal pleasure under fair-use provisions via this Web site. Please note that this Stratton House Inn iteration of the book does NOT include the subject headings assigned each chapter for use in the Fulltext eBooks database.
CO-AUTHOR: Wall, C. Edward. (Editor)
DATABASE: Fulltext eBooks: Copyright (c) 2000 The Pierian Press, Inc. All Rights Reserved
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