First Gun At
The Cannoneer Thinks It Useless
I see by today's National Tribune that the boys are still keeping up the old quarrel as to which of Wadsworth's Brigades - the Iron Brigade or Cutler's - got in action first at Gettysburg the morning of July 1, 1863.
Perhaps the boys of both brigades would accept me or the old man (Capt. Stewart) as arbiter on this point. The battery did not get on the ground until both brigades were fighting for all they were worth, but we certainly had opportunity to see all there was to be seen about the position, and from 10:30 a.m. until 2 o'clock p.m., we witnessed their battle almost like one would look at a grand panorama. After 2:30 in the afternoon we had so much business of our own to attend to that we could not follow their movements, but we were fully conversant with them during the forenoon. The fact that most of our men were from the Iron Brigade did not prevent us from appreciating in the highest degree the grandeur of Cutler's Brigade; and I venture to say that , though we had but two or three men in our ranks from that brigade, as against 60 or 70 from the Iron Brigade, cutler's men took as much interest in our "Old Brass Thrashing Machines" (as they used to call us) as any one did, and we always felt quite as well fixed when Cutler's Brigade was backing us in battle as we did when the Iron Brigade itself was behind us.
So, there can be no partiality on our part.
Now, to get back to the main point, it is a matter of history, easily
accessible in the official records, that Cutler's Brigade, the 76th N.Y. in
front, had the head of column of Wadsworth's Division, and thereby of the First
Corps, when we started for Gettysburg from our bivouac at Marsh Creek that July
The distance was about five and a half miles, and the infantry of Cutler's and the Iron Brigades covered it in about 50 or 55 minutes - certainly within an hour. They marched very rapidly; faster, in fact, than the guns did, because when we got there, about 10 o'clock, both brigades were fighting like h-l, and were to all intents and purposes standing off Heth's whole division, about 8,000 strong.
As to the moment of going into action, or firing the first musket, I think that the 76th N.Y. is entitled to claim the credit of it, though the 56th Pa. was close at hand; and the late Capt. Ira N. Burritt, for many years editor of the Sunday Herald of Washington, has often endeavored to demonstrate to me that his regiment (56th Pa.) fired the first gun there.
If you visit the field you will see that Cutler's Brigade kept on up the Emmitsburg road till they came to the lane leading west from that road past the north side of the Lutheran Seminary, when they left-obliqued out along that lane, and where it terminated in the narrow pasture just south of the Cashtown road and east of Willoughby's Creek they struck the leading men of Heth's Division; the result of which was, doubtless, the most desperate and bloody collision ever experienced by two formations of troops any where on earth.
Even after we got there, which was at least two hours after the first onset, we could see those troops over on the other ridge in our front firing into each other's bosoms at ranges of not mort than 30 or 40 yards.
But the Iron Brigade left the Emmitsburg road at a point considerably south of the end o this lane which I have spoken of, and they also left-obliqued and got into action south and west of the Seminary about the same time that Cutler's Brigade struck the enemy in the pasture. It must be borne in mind, when speaking of the action of the Iron Brigade there, that the 2d and 7th Wis., 19th Ind., and 24th Mich, went into action together in regular brigade formation of regimental front extended, while the 5th Us. Obliqued to the right until it became entirely detached from the rest of the brigade and went clear up to the railroad cut, where it struck the advance of Archer's rebel brigade, which, with the help of the 14th Brooklyn, it captured or destroyed. After that the 6th Wis. Came down the railroad to our position about 2 o'clock p.m., and with the aid of Big Dick Coulter's 11th Pa., of Robinson's Division, supported us to the end of the first day, and were the last of our infantry to leave the field.
I have taken some pains to locate these positions, because my mother's cousin, Capt. Ambrose Baldwin, commanding consolidated Co. I-K of the 20th N.Y., was killed there about 11 o'clock in the morning, and I have hunted out the spot where he fell.
Col. Rube Dawes, Ad't Ned Brooks, and others of the 6th Wis., claim that they got in first at the outer railroad cut, where they captured Archer. Col. Lucius Fairchild, Capt. Bill Homes, and others of the 2d Wis., and Gen. Bill Dudley, of the 19th Ind., declared with equal vigor that they were the first to strike the enemy, when they wiped out the 26th N.C. regiment a the fence just this side of the creek (Willoughby's). A singular feature of this brief but awful combat was that one entire company of the 26th N.C. was completely destroyed by the Iron Brigade at that fence, not one man init ever afterward reporting for duty, while the 26th N.C. as a whole, was made to suffer the greatest aggregate loss of any regiment in any battle of any war!
The truth of history, though slow, is probably sure, and for that reason some day the human race will learn that the fight made by the old First Corps the first day of Gettysburg was the grandest exhibition of soldierly man hood ever recorded. Cambronne at Waterloo said, "The Old Guard dies; it does not surrender!" The First Corp at Gettysburg neither died nor surrendered. Sixty-five out of every 100 of its men died or were crippled but the other 35 in every 100 were on hand the next day, quite as good as if they had never experienced any trouble.
Under such circumstances, and with such a history, why should the veterans of the First Corps dispute about the firing of the first gun?
It wasn't the first gun of Gettysburg that told the tale; it was the last gun!
Let us yield to the claim of the 76th N.Y. as to the first gun, and proceed to inquire who fired the last one. - Buell, Philadelphia, Pa.
Transcribed by B. Conrad Bush
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- Last Updated January 19, 2003