Francis E. Heath
July 2, 1863
Francis Heath stood atop Cemetery Hill outside Gettysburg on July 2, 1863, and sensed that he would soon be busy. As Colonel of the 19th Maine Infantry Regiment, Heath could see that Confederate General James Longstreet’s troops were attacking the Union lines of General Daniel Sickles.
Acting contrary to General George Gordon Meade’s orders, Sickles had placed his soldiers of the 3rd Corps nearly a mile beyond Cemetery Hill.
"When Sickles took up his advanced position we watched him with much interest. He had a great deal of maneuvering to do while getting his lines established and had hardly finished when Longstreet commenced to break them up," Heath recalls in writing later to his friend and fellow officer, Selden Connor.
The 19th Maine was a mile away, part of the Union’s 2nd Corps, and Heath knew that those around him would be ordered to stop Longstreet’s attack. As the Confederates neared, General Andrew Humphreys, of the 3rd Corps, approached Heath and ordered him to have the 19th Maine stop the retreat of his own soldiers.
"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 him closely and countermanded his orders."
Heath was afraid that if he had obeyed, "the Reg’t would be carried away with the disordered troops."
After Humphreys and his staff departed, Heath rallied the 19th Maine, "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 and I can now see the determined way in which he moved forward."
He ordered the color bearer shot.
The 19th Maine eventually countercharged Longstreet's men, advancing "two hundred yards or more beyond the position where we opened fire. During this movement we took a good many prisoners and captured four guns that had been lost by Humphreys."
The following day, the 19th Maine endured the cannonade ordered by General Robert E. Lee to soften the Union lines on Cemetery Hill prior to the Confederate’s charge. "All we had to do while undergoing the shelling," writes Heath, "was to chew tobacco, watch the caissons explode and wonder if the next shell would hit you. On the whole it was not a happy time."
- The Confederate color bearer was not shot out of malice, but for reasons of common military procedure. Why was it necessary to shoot him?