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Elijah Walker Dedication Speech Transcript
A selection from: Col Elijah Walker's Gettysburg Monument Dedication Speech
On the 26th we marched to Point of Rocks, Md.; on the 27th to Middletown; on the 29th to Taneytown, and on the 30th to near Emmitsburg, occupying the village the next morning, July 1st, at 11 o’clock. at 1 P.M. our corps commander, General Sickles, led the larger part of his command to Gettysburg, arriving at 7 o’clock that evening. We heard there had been a severe engagement in which our troops encountered a force much superior in point of numbers, and were driven back past Seminary Ridge, through the village of Gettysburg, and having made a stand on Cemetery Hill, were there reforming their lines. This was unwelcome news to us who had been so often defeated, but every soldier knew we were on the free soil of a free people, and all were determined to defend it or die in the attempt.
The sun disappeared, and presently the stars became dimly visible through a vaporous and smoky atmosphere. The soldiers were seeking rest for their wearied limbs, and the officers were engaged in readjusting the lines and forming new ones, and in seeing that their men were supplied with ammunition. With my regiment of about 300 men and 18 officers I made a bed of that soil destined to become the Union veterans’ Mecca, and be immortalized in song and story; and we were trying to get a little sleep in preparation for the morrow when I heard a familiar voice inquiring for Colonel Walker, and I answered, “I am here, Captain. Is it our turn to establish a picket line?” “Yes, it is the order of General Sickles that your regiment establish a picket line, the right to connect with the First corps pickets and the left with those of the Second corps.”
I reluctantly obeyed, moved to the front about half a mile and established a line by a rail fence, some 30 or 40 rods west of the Emmitsburg road, making connection with the First corps pickets, as directed, but I failed to find any troops on my left, except a few cavalry scouts. The enemy’s pickets, at this time, occupied the woods directly in our front, 30 and 50 rods from our line, in which woods the enemy were assembling throughout the night.
All was quiet until daybreak, when they opened fire upon us and several times advanced into the opening, but were as often glad to regain the shelter of the woods. Early that morning I reported a large force in the woods in front of me, but the report was disregard by my superiors, and I was twice ordered to advance and drive the enemy’s pickets out of the woods. These orders I did not attempt to execute.
At 9 o’clock Colonel Berdan reported to me with 250 of his Sharpshooters with orders to join me in dislodging the rebels. I soon convinced Colonel Berdan that it would be foolhardy to make the attempt, and he agreed with me that an attack on the rebels’ flank was the only practicable move that could be made, if our superiors could not be otherwise convinced of the strength of the concealed Confederates. He left, saying he would report the result of his observations, and at about 9.30 the Third Maine and the Sharpshooters did attack the rebels’ flank, as I had suggested, by which movement the correctness of my conclusions was soon demonstrated.
From that time until 2.30 P.M. it was quiet on our front, but there was some sharp fighting on our left, and we were then relieved by the 1st Mass. We at once joined our brigade, which we found packing up to move, advanced with it to the front and were assigned a position on the high ground to the left of the corps and, at that time, the left of the army, connecting with the 124th N.Y. At my front and centre was the 4th N.Y. battery, Captain Smith.
It was now 3 o’clock and my men were hungry, having drank water for supper, breakfast and dinner. fires were kindled, a heifer was found near by and slaughtered, coffee was steeped and beef impaled on sticks was warmed over the blaze. We drank our coffee and ate the very rare and thoroughly smoked meat, sprinkling it with salt, of which condiment every soldier carried a little in his pocket.
At 3.45 the enemy came out of the woods half a mile from us and opened with their artillery, Smith’s battery responding. Their infantry appeared in large numbers. They first met the 2d U.S. Sharpshooters, commanded by Lieut.-Col. Stoughton, who checked the advance, but fell back as the strong rebel force came on. I was ordered to the left, leaving Smith’s guns without support and creating a space of about two hundred yards without infantry.
To this move I objected, but was assured by the adjutant-general of the brigade, who brought the order, that other troops would take my place to protect the battery. I unwillingly moved to the low ground, - the valley now memorable in history, - sending a few skirmishers, commanded by Capt. Arthur Libby, into the woods between the two mountains, and also a strong line of skirmishers to my front. I soon withdrew the men from the woods, as troops were coming down Little Round Top in the rear of Libby’s line. The line in front had a severe time with the advance of the enemy, but was not dislodged.
The troops of the Fifth corps had occupied Little Round Top and were advancing down its southern slope, being 40 or 50 rods to my rear and left, when they met the enemy. Musketry fire commenced with severity. At this time I had not been engaged, except with my skirmish line in the valley, but in a moment the 44th Ala. regiment appeared at the edge of a wood of small pines on our left flank. The colonel of that regiment says that while he was getting his men into position, and before they fired a shot, one-fourth of them had been killed or disabled; but when he did open fire upon us we soon found, to our sorrow, that we had no mean foe to contend with. They soon gave up and retired into the woods, where they were completely concealed.
Smith, on the high ground, abandoned his guns, and the rebels came over my right flank and in the rear of my skirmish line, many of the latter surrendering. I moved back about 100 yards, fixed bayonets, and charged forward by the right oblique, driving the enemy from Smith’s guns and connecting with the 124th N.Y. We had a sharp encounter on our left, at the brow of the hill, a little to the right of Devil’s Den. It was at close quarters. I was on foot and wounded, my horse having been killed. My sword was wrenched from my hand, but my men saved me and I recovered my sword.
At this critical moment the 99th Penn. came to our assistance, forming on our left along the brow of the hill, and the enemy fell back, taking cover behind the rocks and bowlders and in Devil’s Den. The 6th N.J. regiment soon arrived, taking position to the left of the 99th Penn. and the 40th N.Y., extending the line further to the left, swinging their right and advancing into the low ground.
The low, wet ground, which we had been obliged to abandon, was occupied by large numbers of the advancing enemy, but that valley, which we had christened, had received its name for all time,- the “Valley of Death.”
We held our position until about sunset, when our brigade fell back and the troops of the Second and Fifth corps had a line in our rear. When I gave the order to fall back I was unable to walk, but was saved from prison, and possibly from death, by Sergeant Mowry of company B and Corporal Roberts of company F, who wrested me from the foe and assisted me to the rear. Our flag was pierced by thirty-two bullets and two pieces of shell, and its staff was shot off, but Sergt. Henry O. Ripley, its bearer, did not allow the color to touch the ground, nor did he receive a scratch, though all the others of the color-guard were killed or wounded.
I turned the regiment over to Capt. Edwin Libby, a tried, brave and faithful officer, and took my first ride in an ambulance. July 3d the regiment was with the brigade, in reserve, and with the Third Maine, 99th Penn. and 20th Ind., under Colonel Lakeman, moved to support the Second corps when the enemy was assaulting it. On the 4th it was on picket.
The Fourth Maine was with the troops that followed the defeated enemy into Virginia, our division meeting and engaging the rebels at Wapping Heights on the 23d. I was absent, but I rejoined the regiment in time to be with it in the manoeuvres from Culpepper to Centreville, in October….”
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