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Home > Civil War Sesquicentennial > Francis E. Heath Transcript

Francis E. Heath Transcript

Waterville Aug 25, ‘89
My Dear Connor

Yours rec’d. You wasted a good deal of stamps by your enclosure – I send herewith ac’t. of G.y.b.s. fight from my field of vision – Hope you can find what you want in it – Regards to Mrs. Connor & family.

Yours truly,
F. E. Heath

On the morning of July 1, ’63 the 19th Me. was detailed to guard the Corps train. About noon it was relieved from this duty and ordered to its place in column; at about that time we began to hear rumors of a fight at Gettysburg but could here no firing – We marched till 11 PM when we bivouacked. About three o’clock the next morning we started and after marching two or three miles on the Taneytown Road went into line on Cemetery Ridge with our faces toward the west.

During the forenoon we had little to do; when Sickles took up his advanced position we watched him with much interest.  He had a good deal of maneuvering to do while getting his lines established and had hardly finished when Longstreet commenced to break them up. After Sickles began to yield ground my position was changed by General Hancock, we were moved to the front & left and in support of the 5th U.S. Batt’y. which was posted on my right flank, my left being entirely dissolved from any support in line.

While changing position I witnessed an amusing outbreak of temper on the part of Hancock; he had indicated to me the place he wished me to occupy and to accomplish the object as quickly as possible.  I changed front on one of the flank companies, after putting the regiment in motion I found it was coming in contact with one of our batteries that were also taking up a new position.  In order to get by the “obstacle” as easily as possible I had files broken to the rear to let the guns &tc pass:  at this time Hancock said to the officer in charge of the battery, in a good deal of passion “that if he commanded the Reg.t he’d be God Damned if he would not charge bayonets on him!”  Such a course not commending itself to me, I refrained from giving the order. After the enemy had broken the left of the 3rd Corps, he made a vigorous attack on the right of that Corps which was deployed on the Emmitsburg Road in plain view & to our left front.  Humphreys was soon driven back and in retreating came directly towards my line. When the remains of his Division got within some one hundred yards of my line a General Officer that I supposed to be Humphreys rode up to me and ordered me to get my men (who were lying down) on their feet and stop his men; this I refused to do, fearing that the Reg’t would be carried away with the disordered troops. I told the General to get out of the way & that we would stop the pursuers. He did not appear to be satisfied with such an arrangement but rode with several staff officers down the rear of my line ordering the men up.  I followed closely and countermanded his orders – finally he went off and his men that had in the meanwhile passed over the 19th with him & I saw them no more, except that the Excelsior Brigade tried to form in my rear, but it did not stop more than a minute or so.

By this time the Rebels that were hard after Humphreys were within fifty yards of my Reg’t.

I got the men up and for a moment watched the rebel advance – in front of their advance was a color bearer, he was near enough for me to distinguish his features very plainly and I can now see the determined way in which he moved forward. As I stood in front of my line near the colors I spoke over my shoulder to the soldiers nearest me to shoot the color bearer, the men fired and the color fell.  I gave the order to fire by battalion which was evidently effective as it stopped the Rebel advance. The enemy now opened fire and I lost a good many men.

After firing a few rounds Capt. Starbird who commanded the left Co. came to me and told me that a   Rebel Reg’t was close to his Co. I got there as soon as possible and found a Reg’t in column flying the stars and bars, it appeared to be formed in double column and was in the act of deploying  and was not over 20 yards from my line. I immediately threw back the left of Starbird’s Co. so as to get an enfilading fire on our wayward brethren and the result was that the column disappeared at once. Shortly after this the Lt. Col. came to me and said the enemy had got round on our right and had cut us off. (The battery on our right had done nothing whatever, the cannoneers leaving their guns before we fired a shot.) I then gave the order to march in retreat and after getting out of the smoke found that the movement was unnecessary and again faced to the front marching two hundred yards or more beyond the position where we opened fire. During this movement we took a good many prisoners and recaptured four guns that had been lost by Humphreys.

About dusk we returned from our advanced position and laid down for the night somewhat to the right and rear of the spot where we went into action.

In the morning there was not much firing till the cannonade began which was the precursor of Pickett’s charge. We were in line on the left of the 20th Mass. All we had to do while undergoing the shelling was to chew tobacco, watch the caissons explode and wonder if the next shot would hit you. On the whole it was not a happy time. For one I felt a great relief when the enemy’s skirmishers appeared, for we knew the decisive moment was near. When Pickett got within range we opened fire on him, but about this time he made a slight change in his line of march so that he struck the2nd Brigade which gave way under the shock. Pickett’s men were moving diagonally or obliquely on our front and amongst them was a mounted officer. A cry was raised among our men to “shoot that man on a horse” which was soon accomplished.

When the 2nd Brigade gave way I immediately moved the 19th toward the gap, but it was impossible to get them in order. Everyone wanted to be first and the various commands were all mixed up, we went up more like a mob than a disciplined force – however we got there and in time to stop Pickett.  While this was going on the shelling from the enemy’s left was frightfully deadly. The 3rd Corps came up to help us but the work was done.

Perhaps it would not be out of the way to state that the colorless report of the 19th at Gettysburg was owing to the fact that Gen’l Harrow refused to accept my original report, assigning for a reason that it reflected to much on the 3rd Corps.

Our losses in the two days fight were 206 of which but 4 were missing.