“The Boys of Company D” – Part II
by Phil Spaugy
The morning of July 1st dawned warm and humid with a light rain that had been falling on and off during the night. Captain James Glenn shook the 60 men of Company D, 149th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, out from under their damp wool blankets, and after a hurried breakfast of hardtack and coffee, formed up with the rest of the 2nd Brigade (Stones), 3rd Division of the 1st Army Corps of the Army of the Potomac. Leaving their campsite in Farmer Brown’s barnyard, the company crossed over nearby Marsh Creek and headed north on the Emmitsburg Road toward the small Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg. Although Company D, along with the rest of the 149th, had been with the veteran 1st Corps since the previous February, they had not, in the common soldier expression of the time, “Seen the Elephant.” That said, Captain Glenn was still very proud of Company D and the men and boys in its ranks. After all, he helped raise the company in the fall of 1862, and within its ranks were many of his Washington County, Pennsylvania friends and neighbors. Now, on this damp, humid July morning, they were hard after the invading “Johnnies” of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, prepared to defend with their very lives the soil of their native state.
Upon reaching the slight rise upon which Sherfy’s soon to be famous peach orchard was located, and hearing increasing sounds of battle off to the northwest (Wadsworth’s 1st Division of the 1st Corps had just engaged the Confederate forces to the west of Gettysburg), the 3rd Division was ordered to march to the sound of the guns at the “double quick.” After less than a mile they reached the Codori Farm, where the division turned off the road to the left following the same well-worn shortcut taken by the First Division earlier that morning. This route led them west across the fields to the crest of Seminary Ridge, then following the ridge northward to the imposing brick structure that housed the Lutheran Theological Seminary. Arriving around 11:15 p.m. during a bit of lull in the battle, the 149th, with its sister regiments of the 150th and 143rd Pennsylvania (Stone’s Brigade), dropped their knapsacks and stacked arms in the small woodlot just to the west of the Seminary building to await further orders. (It was here they learned of the tragic death of Major General John Reynolds.)
Their rest was brief, for by 12:45 p.m. the 149th, 143rd and 150th PVI brigade were headed west to the area around the McPherson farm buildings to fill a gap in the Federal line between the Iron Brigade to the south and Cutler’s Brigade to the northeast. However, since Company D was designated as the provost or headquarters company of the third division, it remained behind, taking up a position extending southward of the Seminary building towards the Hagerstown Road where it was engaged in controlling the flow of stragglers and maintaining order behind the lines of battle.
By 2:30 p.m. the reformed division of Heth (who had been wounded and turned the command of his division over to Pettigrew) supported by Pender’s Division advanced, and after some of the most horrific fighting of the battle, outflanked the Federal line on McPherson’s Ridge, forcing the Iron Brigade, and shortly thereafter Stone’s Brigade, back to a “slight barricade of rails” that had been constructed earlier in the day by the men of Robinsons 2nd Division on the edge of a grove of trees just to the west of the Seminary building.
Pettigrew’s Division, having been decimated by both the morning and afternoon fighting on McPherson’s Ridge, paused to allow Pender’s Division, consisting of the brigades of Scales, Perrin and Lane, to move through its ranks and form for the attack against the battered but resolute survivors of the 1st Army Corps. They, after falling back across the swale between east McPherson’s Ridge and Seminary Ridge, were rallying on that ridge behind and to the north of the barricade of rails, their position being reinforced by the 19 guns of the 1st Corps Artillery Brigade.
As previously mentioned, Captain Glenn had spread his 60 men of Company D in a very thin skirmish line covering a front of more than 200 yards extending southward from left of the Seminary building across Hagerstown road to the area just west of the Schultz home. There they formed to the right of Gamble’s Cavalry Brigade, and in support of the four 3-inch ordinance rifles of Battery L, 1st New York Artillery (under the immediate command of Lt. William Bower), positioned facing westward on and to the north of the Hagerstown Road. They were to protect the extreme left flank of the Federal line and to keep the road as an avenue for Federal withdrawal back into Gettysburg and the heights beyond. (See map)
Company D “hunkered down” into position, taking whatever cover they could find behind the fences, stone walls and trees in the area. For easier access cartridge boxes were pulled around to their sides, flaps opened and readied for use.The metallic clank of ramrods and the strong click of hammers being pulled back was heard up and down the line as the men made their Enfield and Springfield rifle muskets ready to fire. They would not have long to wait.
By 4:00 p.m. Pender’s men had begun their assault across the 500 yards of open ground between Seminary Ridge and McPherson’s Ridge. While their advance was initially stopped by a tremendous fire of musketry and massed artillery, two regiments of Perrin’s Brigade (1st SC and the 14th SC ) soon found the exposed left flank of the Federal line and flanked the 121st Pennsylvania out of position causing the whole Federal line to start to unravel northward. At about the same time, Perrin spotted a gap in the Federal line and with the view to capture the guns of Battery L, ordered his other two regiments (12th and 13th SC ) to oblique to the right towards the battery’s position. What Perrin had not expected was the stout resistance made by the troopers of Gamble’s Cavalry Brigade and the 66 men of Company D. Even though outnumbered, under tremendous pressure, and with the entire Federal line rapidly crumbling, Company D helped hold this crucial position for 20 long minutes. Lieutenant Bower fired his last rounds, then hitching his guns up under a hail of small arms fire from the “Johnnies,” withdrew in great haste, racing eastward down the Hagerstown road towards Gettysburg and then on to the comparative safety of the Federal position on Cemetery Hill. The “Redlegs” were shortly followed by Gamble’s horse soldiers who were exhausted after more than nine hours of continuous fighting and maneuver. (As you will read in the account below, perhaps the men of Company D thought the cavalry might have left a bit too soon!)
The valiant Old First Corps, battered to near extinction, was now in full retreat, falling back to run the chaotic gauntlet through the streets of Gettysburg and then on to the “good ground” of Cemetery Hill. All, that is, except for Company D, who still had a tenuous hold around the Schultz house, but that grip was rapidly slipping away.
The following is an excerpt from the “History of Company D” by Private John Nesbit, which gives a good description of this crucial part of the action:
“A strong column of Confederates had moved towards our line on the Hagerstown road, striking the First Brigade and doubling up their left flank. After severe fighting this (First) brigade was driven back, uncovering our front entirely. Up to this time our Company had not fired a gun, but our time was coming.
The rebel lines moved steadily forward, and were soon within range. The two pieces of artillery, the squad of cavalry, and Company D were now the only troops on this part of Seminary Ridge that had not been under fire and more or less demoralized. We opened fire and kept it up, but the rebels moved slowly and steadily forwards, and it soon became evident that we could not hold the position. The cavalry squad kept up appearances in good style, and it was thought they would charge, but they didn’t. They charged to the rear and left us in a hurry.
The artillery had exhausted their ammunition and were compelled to cease firing and save their pieces as best they could. Our Company commenced to fall back. Gen. Thos. A. Rowley, who was then in command of the division, was with us. Henry B. Callahan, of our Company, insisted that if he did not get off the Ridge he would be captured. He finally mounted a horse and galloped off the field. It had now become necessary to run to escape capture and our boys got off that hill in a hurry.
The writer with Capt. Glenn, Jos. C. Bell, Serg’t Snodgrass and others, went down the Hagerstown road towards the town. Jas. Roach and one or two others were in the field to the left of the road. The balances of the Company were each one saving himself. David H. Morton, who was nearly worn out, mounted a loose cavalry horse and galloped across the fields to Cemetery Hill.
We left on the field, Jos. H. Baldwin, killed; Serg’t A. M. Stewart, mortally wounded; Andy Crooks, shot through the ankle, and a number of men wounded and captured.
The rebel lines seemed to halt on the Ridge and deliberately fire after us, but we sustained no loss on the retreat. When we reached the level at the foot of the hill, near where the road crossed a little stream, Capt. Glenn insisted on stopping there to fight. There were about a half dozen of us and after persuading the captain that we could not, with any show of success, fight a Brigade of rebels, we hurried down the road to the town of Gettysburg with the Captain. (See map)
The Hagerstown road intersecting the main street of Gettysburg at the outskirts of the town, we were soon crowding along this street without any definite idea as to where we were going. Our Company was scattered in every direction. H. B. Callahan, John B. Holland, and one or two others were together. While making our way out of reach of rebel bullets, and not yet having arrived at the square, about the center of town, we found a detachment (sic) of Lee’s army were coming in at the other end of Main street. This was the first proof we had that the First and Eleventh corps must be entirely captured or driven through the town to Cemetery Hill, on our right.”
Singly and in small groups, the men of Company D struggled through the crowded, confusing streets of Gettysburg and on to Cemetery Hill. There they rejoined what remained of the 149th, who suffered losses of nearly 75 percent (336 out of 450) during the fighting near the McPherson farm and along Chambersburg Pike. With every field officer of the regiment having been wounded, and in some cases captured, command of the regiment fell to Company D’s Captain Glenn. Physically and mentally exhausted, the men dropped down on the grass, started their coffee boiling, and tried to make sense of it all. Concern was great for those “pards” who had gone missing, but for many of the men, sleep, borne of the stress of battle and the experiences of the day, came surprisingly easy that night.
One thing was for certain. On the afternoon of July 1st, “The Boys of Company D” had looked the elephant in the eye, and while they didn’t blink, they most certainly would never be the same.
Coming soon, part three of this post –Remembering the Boys of Company D who fell during the fight of July 1st.
American Civil War Database –www.civilwardata.com
Doubleday, Abner, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg– available online at Google Books.
Gottfried, Bradley, The Maps of Gettysburg, Savas Beatie, 2007
Laino, Phillip, The Gettysburg Campaign Atlas, Gettysburg Publishing, 2015
Phanz, Harry, Gettysburg-The First Day, The University of North Carolina Press, 2001
Martin, David G.,Gettysburg July1, Combined Books, 1996 (revised edition)
Wittenberg, Eric, “The Devil’s to Pay” John Buford at Gettysburg. A History and Walking Tour; Savas Beatie 2014
Revised Edition General History of Company D 149th Pennsylvania Volunteers and Personal Sketches of the Members – available online at http://collection1.libraries.psu.edu/cdm/ref/collection/digitalbks2/id/60985