After the Battle of Chancellorsville, General Rodes was promoted to Division command and the senior Colonel of the Brigade. Edward A. O'Neal of the 26th Alabama, was promoted to command of the Alabama Brigade. Included in the following description of the actions of the Alabama Brigade at the Battle of Gettysburg, are details of the Brigade Sharpshooters under Major Eugene Blackford. The Sharpshooters had been formed over the winter of 1862-1863, and included hand-picked men from each regiment of the Brigade to form an "elite" unit within the brigade. It is not know whether Private J. S. Soles was among them, hence the inclusion of the details.
While General Rodes brought his Division towards Gettysburg, Union Major General Abner Doubleday, who had assumed command of the Federal 1st Corps following the death of General Reynolds, used the time to redeploy the Union 1st Corps. His new line extended across the northwest approaches of the town, from McPherson's Woods north to Oak Ridge. At about 12:00 PM, Federal reinforcements arrived and Major General Oliver Howard ordered his XIth Corps through the town onto the field northwest of town. Howard assumed overall command of all Federal forces, replacing Doubleday, since he was the senior officer present. Howard placed Brigadier General Adolph von Steinwehr’s Division south of Gettysburg along Cemetery Hill, and rushed the two other divisions north of Gettysburg to lengthen the 1st Corps line.
The men of Rodes’ Division had marched about fourteen miles that morning. South of the intersection of the road between Hunterstown and Mummasburg, where the Carlisle Road descends from the high ground of Oak Ridge to the Gettysburg Plain, Rodes’ column, except for Doles’ Brigade, veered right from the main road. Rodes’ main column followed a lesser road that paralleled Oak Ridge on the west and led to Herr Ridge at the Chambersburg Pike. Doles’ Brigade continued on the main road and descended into the plain to guard Rodes’ left as the division approached the battlefield. Iverson’s Brigade was then deployed in front of the 8000 man Division and advanced with increased caution. Rodes’ veteran infantrymen shed their blanket rolls and knapsacks in piles by the roadside as they broke into double-time towards the sound of battle.
The move onto Keckler’s Hill greatly slowed down the advance of Rodes’ men, both by the height of the ridge there and the denseness of the woods. The troops continued along the crest of the ridge, and then moved southward, with Iverson’s Brigade still deployed in advance. The rest of the division followed in column. As the ridge widened out, Iverson was shifted to the right, and O’Neal was formed to his left, with Dole’s down in the valley to their far left. Blackford’s Sharpshooters filled the gap between the top of the ridge and Dole’s men below. General Robert Rodes, after advancing for a mile through the dense woods emerged on Oak Hill, and was able to observe the enemy line. Oak Hill was a high ridge and Rodes could clearly see that they were not the first ones there. Rodes noted that the enemy lines were about half a mile away, and in order “to get at these troops properly….it was necessary to move the whole of my command by the right flank, and to change direction to the right.” The Brigades were ordered to quickly take position in line of battle.
Rodes’ Division was deployed as follows: Daniel’s Brigade took the far right, Iverson’s Brigade the centre, and O’Neal’s on the left. As noted earlier, Dole’s Brigade had been sent out on the extreme left, by the Carlisle Road with Blackford’s sharpshooters between them and the rest of the brigade. General Rodes detached the 3rd Alabama from O’Neal’s Brigade and sent it right to fill the gap and connect with Daniel's Brigade. He also detached the 5th Alabama Infantry Regiment from O’Neil’s Brigade and held it to the rear as a reserve. Ramseur’s Brigade whose men were still arriving, were to form a second line and were also to be held in reserve.
The men of O’Neal’s Brigade and had to move rapidly, frequently at a run, as the division made a right wheel from the Newville Road to Oak Ridge. Once the regiment reached the ridge, the men found that “The ground was very rough, In places the regiment moved through orchards, gardens, over wood and stone fences, which, with the rapidity of the march, fatigued the men, causing many of them to faint from exhaustion.”
Private Samuel Pickens of Company D, 5th Alabama Infantry, said much the same: "... as the Brigade moved forward it made a partial right wheel and thus kept us at a double quick march all the time; and as it was an excessively hot day and we were going through wheat field and ploughed ground and over fences, it almost killed us. I was perfectly exhausted and never suffered so from heat and fatigue in my life. A good many fellows fell out of ranks being completely broken down and some fainted.”
While shifting his infantry to the right, General Rodes brought forward two of Colonel Thomas H. Carter’s artillery batteries and posted them in front of the woods on the crest of Oak Hill, approximately a quarter mile in front of his first infantry line. They opened fire on the enemy sometime soon after 12 noon. As Rodes deployed his troops down the slopes of Oak Ridge and across the Mummasburg Road, Federal artillery responded to the Confederate guns and Union infantry waited unobserved, just across the field behind a stone wall. During the process of deploying his Division, the situation began to change. The two Federal Divisions that Union General Howard had sent north through the town, began to emerge and extend the Union line of battle to the left of Rodes’ position. Brigadier General Alexander Schimmelfenning's Division was placed to the right of Doubleday's I Corps. Schimmelfenning's line extended from the Mummasburg Road, eastward to the Carlisle Road, however, there was a gap of about 400 yards between his division and the right brigade of I Corps, commanded by General Baxter. Brigadier General Francis C. Barlow Division was then positioned to the right of Schimmelfenning's Division and extended the Federal line to the Harrisburg Road. Barlow’s line extended out to a knoll creating a salient. The new Federal line would not have to wait long to be tested. Shortly after Howard had completed his deployment the Confederates would attack.
Troop dispositions were nearly complete when General Rodes brought his division forward towards the battlefield northwest of the town at about one o’clock in the afternoon under a severe shelling. Rodes’ entire line enjoyed cover and protection from the woods on Oak Hill, except for Dole’s Brigade and part of O’Neal’s Brigade. This severe engagement between a portion of Colonel Carter's artillery and the enemy's, would last for more than an hour. While lying there, and awaiting orders to advance, Captain [T. R.] Lightfoot, of the Sixth Alabama, and several privates, were wounded by the enemy's shells. General Rodes grew concerned over the effect of the Union artillery fire on the exposed portion of his line, particularly on O’Neal’s Brigade. Page’s and Reese’s batteries were brought forward and placed on the eastern slope of the ridge to deal with the Union artillery. However, Rodes soon came to the conclusion that O’Neal’s line needed to be shifted to avoid the “annoying” Federal artillery fire. Therefore he directed O’Neal to fall back from the line he occupied to a new position in the rear, “so as to obtain some little shelter for the troops.”
The Confederate line ran on an east-west course for about a full mile from the Carlisle Pike to the Forney Woods west of the Mummasburg Road with three brigades in front and two in reserve. The 5th Alabama Infantry was further to the rear and under the personal command of General Rodes. He held them to aid Blackford’s men who were covering the gap between Dole’s Brigade in the lower valley, and the rest of the line. O’Neal’s three regiment brigade (6th, 12th, 26th Alabama) held the center of the line from the foot of Oak Ridge to the crest of the hill. At about 1:30 P.M., when within about 500 yards from the enemy, these men were sent forward to dislodge skirmishers from the 97th New York and other regiments under Union General Baxter that had crossed the Mummasburg Road and were at the foot of Oak Hill. The Union defenders enjoyed an advantageous position. The flank of the Union I Corps appeared to be exposed when General Rodes sent his brigades forward. Evidently, he did not know of the Union XI Corps troops in position to cover the right flank of the I Corps.
Federal reinforcements continued to arrive and take up position off to the left of Rodes position. As the 45th New York emerged from town on the Mummasburg Road, Colonel von Amsburg ordered the four right companies under Capt. Francis Irsch to deploy as skirmishers "to the right of the Mummasburg Road as far as he could towards the east." Von Amsburg promised to follow with the balance of the regiment as soon as the men had closed up and caught their breath." Irsch spread his four companies out, facing Oak Hill, and stepped off. The Confederate battery, stationed near Wilbur McLean's farm situated at the base of the hill, proceeded to lob shells at Irsch's deploying line, but with little effect initially.
General Rodes noted in his after battle report that O’Neal’s men attacked with alacrity but a fair degree of confusion. He also stated that they were not moving “in accordance with my orders as to direction.” He had personally instructed both Iverson and O’Neal as to the direction of their attack. O’Neal men advanced from a position about four hundred yards behind the McLean barn with a strong line of skirmishers out front. After about two hundred yards the men came out of the woods and soon struck the Federal skirmishers. These were men from the 88th Pennsylvania which occupied the right of Union General Baxter’s line.
From their position further to the Confederate left, Irsch's New Yorkers soon observed the dark lines of Col. Edward A. O'Neal's Alabama Brigade emerge from the woods on Oak Hill and advance along the slope and base of the hill towards Robinson`s right flank. Irsch's men peppered the 26th Alabama on O'Neal's left with a flank fire but failed to check it. As mentioned, to assist Doles on the extreme left, the Alabama sharpshooters under Major Eugene Blackford were deployed in a long line extending from Oak Ridge (the northern extension) to the Harrisburg Road, near Blocher's Knoll (known today as Barlow's Knoll). It was Blackford's keen eyed riflemen that brought the first accurate fire upon Irsch's New Yorkers.
"Under a terrific artillery and sharpshooter fire," Irsch worked his skirmish line forward. Losses began to mount as Blackford's crack shots found their targets and Page's gunners found the range. Despite the intense fire Irsch pushed on for perhaps 400 yards when he ordered his men to lie down behind nearby fences. With the advantage of cover the New Yorkers opened a rapid and deadly fire with their Remington rifles. Irsch sought stronger measures. A request was dispatched to Dilger to engage O'Neal’s Brigade with canister and shrapnel. Dilger gave them shrapnel, concentrating the fire of all six guns upon O'Neal's infantry while the 45th New York skirmishers kept up a steady fire as the Southern infantry passed across their front. Colonel Dobke alertly began to shift the remaining six companies of the 45th towards the gap between the 1st and l1th Corps. While Dilger's guns duelled with Page and Irsch kept Blackford's Alabamians at arm's length, Schimmelfennig's 3rd Division came streaming onto the field. On the heels of Dilger came Colonel Stephen McGroarty's 61st Ohio, a slim 143 electives. McGroarty was instructed to deploy his regiment as skirmishers and extend the right of the 45th New York towards the Carlisle Road. Following the Ohioans came the balance of the 1st Brigade, now under Col. George von Amsburg of the 45th New York. Col. Adolph von Hartung's under strength 74th Pennsylvania, 134 strong, was deployed as skirmishers and went into position on the right of the 61st Ohio, along a dirt lane that ran from the Carlisle Road towards Wilbur McLean's farm in the shadow of Oak Ridge. As the senior officer Hartung assumed command of the skirmish line which now numbered nearly 425 men and extended from the Mummasburg Road to the Carlisle Road. On the left of the line, Irsch's New Yorkers dislodged Blackford's troublesome sharpshooters from Hagy's orchard giving the left end of the skirmish line a firm anchor and denying the Confederates a fine concealed position from which to pop away at the Federals. As mentioned, the Alabama brigade advanced somewhat confusedly, owing, it is said, to a misconception as to the direction which it should take. In reality, it was due to the continuous arrival of Federal reinforcements on their left flank. They were being pummelled from front, side, and at times, rear. Of course they were confused as to the direction to face!
O’Neal’s initial attack scarcely advanced to within two hundred yards of Baxter’s line before it was turned back. It was all over in about twenty to thirty minutes. Dobke's concentrated fire, combined with Irsch's, Dilger's, and two regiments of Baxter`s Brigade was more than O'Neal's three regiments could stand. "The enemy began to break and run," recalled a member of the 45th, and Irsch roused his skirmishers to their feet and sent them in a rush for Wilbur McLean's farm, where many Alabamians had sought shelter from the fire. The tough Germans scrambled through McLean's outbuildings and barn and emerged with a sizeable number of butternut prisoners who they ordered to the rear."
During the attack, the 6th Alabama was on the right of O’Neal’s Brigade and would have been screened somewhat from direct fire coming from the Union XI Corps. However, the 26th Alabama was on the left flank, and would have taken most of the punishment delivered by XI Corps infantry and artillery. The 26th Alabama Infantry Regiment entered this fight seriously understrength, short of field and company officers. Just eight weeks earlier, the regiment had ended the battle of Chancellorsville under command of a Lieutenant. At Gettysburg the 26th Alabama was under temporary command of Lieutenant Colonel John C. Goodgame of the 12th Alabama Infantry Regiment. In his report of the battle, Goodgame says "the loss of the Regiment was heavy." However, Goodgame clearly was displeased with the behaviour of his troops on July 1st. One of the few clear statements in his skimpy after-action report is this: "Some 40 were taken by the enemy, but it is my opinion, that every man could have escaped being captured had they done their duty." The 26th Alabama on the left crumpled under fire and fell back. The severe, unexpected, enfilading fire from the left had destroyed O’Neal’s attack and they had retreated in great disorder. “I never saw troops so scattered and in such confusion. We were under heavy fire from the front and a cross fire from the left and pretty soon had to fall back to a fence where the Brigade was rallied by Colonel O’Neal and General Rodes.” O’Neal, who had been wounded eight week earlier leading his men in the Battle of Chancellorsville, for whatever reason, had not gone forward with the Brigade. He was with the 5th Alabama Infantry when found by General Rodes during the confused retreat. Rodes was not pleased with his Brigade commander, but that would have to wait, as the battle was raging.
It was now about 2:30 P.M. Rodes committed his reserve regiment, the 5th Alabama, realigned his troops and sent them forward with the 5th Alabama on the left flank of the battle line. The men had joined the Brigade at the fence near the edge of the woods of Oak Hill. Colonel Hall, having witnessed the debacle of the first attack, was not particularly eager to assault the enemy position, which was composed “of two heavy lines of infantry in front and a line of sharpshooters, supported by infantry and artillery, on my left flank.” Hall found it necessary to form his 300 man command into a “V”, the left wing facing the Union XI Corps troops and the right wing facing Baxter`s line. After the rest of the Brigade had passed on, the Sharpshooters from Company D ran out of the barn and through an open area where the bullets were flying thick. They headed forward and to the left of the McLean barn, to a lane where the rest of the 5th Alabama Regiment had taken up position.
With the Union troops continuously arriving, O`Neal`s Brigade found their position impossible to hold. According to Colonel O`Neal “the enemy had the advantage in numbers and position.” Colonel Hall and the 5th Alabama fought on until they were informed that the rest of the brigade was falling back . Colonel Hall noted that “This was done all the more conscientiously because the odds opposed were very great, and my command was under a front and enfilading fire, with no support, and suffering a very severe loss.” After a “desperate fight” of less than a half hour, O`Neal`s Brigade had once again been compelled to fall back. Private Samuel Pickens of Company D wrote: “I never saw troops so scattered and in such confusion. We were under a heavy fire from the front and a cross fire from the left and had to fall back to a fence where the brigade was rallied by Colonel O’Neal and General Rodes.”
O’Neal’s Brigade now had to contend with Union reinforcements from General Paul’s Brigade. As the 13th Massachusetts and 104th New York took up position on Baxter’ right, they fell under a heavy fire from some of O’Neal’s men, who were “strongly posted behind a stone wall with thick underbrush.” Colonel Prey of the 104th New York, directed his three left companies to charge the wall and dislodge the enemy, which they did “in gallant style.” Prey was then able to advance his entire command to the line of the roadway. In the process the regiment captured some 35-40 prisoners, who were sent to the rear to join others just captured by the 13th Massachusetts. In the next few minutes another 15 to 20 Confederates were captured and likewise sent to the rear. The 16th Maine was the next of Paul’s command to arrive. They wheeled to the right and moved through some trees to a rail fence to face O’Neal’s Confederates. During this movement they began to receive enemy fire. Once formed at the fence, Confederate fire intensified and some officers were killed or wounded including the Color Corporal. As the Confederates withdrew, the 16th Maine counterattacked. They crossed the fence in front of them, but soon had to be recalled when they ran into heavy artillery fire.
A short time after, perhaps 3:15 P.M., O’Neal’s Brigade rallied and advanced to began its’ third attack on Baxter’s right. General Ramseur had entered the fray and brought two of his regiments as well as the 3rd Alabama into the fight on the right of O’Neal’s men. The remnant of Iverson's Brigade formed on the right of Ramseur under Captain D. P. Halsey, who assumed command of the brigade when reformed. Ramseur made a most gallant charge, with his usual impetuosity and daring, and, being bravely seconded by the whole line, the enemy were driven back towards and into the town. At some time between 3:30 P.M. and about 4:00 P.M. Doles, advancing parallel with Iverson and O'Neal but with a gap of five or six hundred yards intervening, came up with a column of the enemy twice his own, which was advancing out from the town. This column marched rapidly past his right flank, endeavouring to get into the gap between him and O'Neal. This movement was quickly frustrated by a change of front, which was rapidly executed by the right wing of Doles Brigade, who first fired a volley and then charged, breaking the whole Yankee column and driving it towards the town. Doles started in pursuit, but was checked by the appearance of large columns, nearly a whole corps, moving out parallel with the Heidlersburg road from Gettysburg. This last column would have forced him to have fallen back but for the timely arrival of General Early by the Heidlersburg Road. General Ewell at once put his artillery into position on the left of that road and opened fire, enfilading and silencing batteries which were then occupied in an attempt to enfilade Rodes' artillery, and in truth these batteries of the enemy were doing them a good deal of damage. General Gordon's and General Hoke's Brigades were formed on the right of the Heidlersburg road. A space was left between them for General Hays' Brigade, which had been kept in rear of the division wagon train as a guard, but which came up in time to take part in the advance which was soon made — Smith's Brigade being left to support the artillery.
Just as the enemy were out-flanking Doles, Gordon's (former Colonel of the 6th Alabama Infantry and now a Brigadier General) brigade started forward to charge the enemy. And magnificently and nobly did he and his Georgia braves go to their appointed work. They cross a small stream and valley and enter a long, narrow strip of an opposite slope, at the top of which the enemy had a strong force posted. For five minutes nothing could be heard or seen save the smoke and roar proceeding from the heavy musketry, and indicating a desperate contest; but the contest was not long or uncertain. The Yankees are put to flight and our men press them, pouring a deadly fire at these flying fugitives. A group of officers gathering around a white flag with a red centre, the badge of one of their corps, were vainly endeavouring to rally their men, when a shot from one of Colonel Jones's guns killed two or three of them and the rest quickly scattered. Seeing a second and larger line near the town, General Early halted General Gordon until Generals Hayes and Hoke could come up, when a second charge was made, and three pieces of artillery, besides several entire regiments of the enemy, were captured. General Daniel, on the extreme right of the Confederate Corps, and Hoke's Brigade, under Colonel Avery, on the extreme left, reached the town simultaneously.--Doles came in near about the same time in the centre. Daniel did not enter quite so soon, as the enemy had so far outstripped him that he halted to form. Doles and Early coming in on the flank of the enemy, retreating from Daniel, caught quite a number of prisoners in the town.
Three of Early's brigades, commanded by Brigadier General John B. Gordon, Brigadier General Harry Hays, and Colonel Isaac Avery, had attacked Union Brigadier General Francis Barlow's division and turned its right flank. Barlow's demoralized division broke and ran back towards Gettysburg. The collapse of Barlow's division had a ripple effect on the remaining units of the Federal 11th Corps. One by one, the remaining units broke and ran towards Gettysburg. As Doles’ Brigade pushed past the college, they liberated hundreds of men from O’Neal’s Brigade that had been captured earlier and left there without a guard.
Eugene Blackford continues: “About 6 o'clock* the enemy advanced a triple line on my left. I rushed up there and did my best, but it was useless to do more than give them what we had, and then run for it. So we kept up a terrible popping until they came within 200 yards, the Yankees not firing again, expecting to meet a heavy force of rebels over the hill. Then sounding the retreat away we went at our best speed. I was much concerned, but could do nothing against that mass. Thus did we fight it out until the sun was well nigh down, and I almost exhausted by running up & down the line exhorting the men, and making a target of myself. My loss was considerable, mostly however in wounded. We had not gone more than 100 or so yards, when "Halt, Halt" was heard, and just in front of me to my infinite delight could be seen a long line of skirmishers of Early's Division sweeping on to the front. Soon afterwards we met his dusty columns hurrying up. I knew then that all was safe. Sounding the rally my men were soon around me, and allowing them a little time to rest, I too went to the front close after Early.” *This time may be in error. It seems most likely that this took place no later than 4:00 P.M..
The 6th Alabama and the rest of O’Neal’s Brigade, who “had assembled without order on the hill, rushed forward, still without order, but with all their usual courage, into the charge” and joined in the route of the Federals through the town. Eugene Blackford once again: “We overtook them as they were entering the town, and my men took their own share in the plundering that went on. I employed myself with the aid of such men as I had with me in destroying whiskey, of which there was an enormous quantity in the town. In half an hour many men were dead drunk, and others were wild with excitement. It was truly a wild scene, rushing through the town capturing prisoners by hundreds; a squad of us would run down a street and come to a corner just as a whole mass of frightened Yanks were rushing up another. A few shots made the whole surrender, and so on until we caught them all. In what was the great error committed the troops should have been pushed on, but, no one was there to take the responsibility, and in the morning the enemy were strongly fortified. The result of this day had been glorious, 5,000 prisoners for us, and much plunder.” When the Brigade reformed, it took up a position along the railroad. That night, Blackford slept with his men in a barn on the outskirts of the town. “In it there were countless [illegible], of which they made a great soup, thickened with artichoke. This was made in the boiler used to prepare food for the cattle, but it was as good as any they ever saw.”
Indeed, of the 6,000 or 7,000 prisoners taken in the town of Gettysburg, about 4,000 were captured on the evening of the 1st of July by Rodes' and Early's divisions, this number being about equally divided between them. The fight now being over, or rather the enemy having retreated through the town, General Ewell rode into town, and, meeting with General Early, they together made a reconnaissance, in which it was discovered that the enemy were in considerably larger force than our own, and were posted on the heights of Cemetery Hill beyond the town. Here they had formed a line of battle which overlapped Ewell's on both flanks, for General Hill had not then entered the town, and had already opened from several batteries on Ewell's troops in and beyond the town. Inasmuch as we could not get a single piece of artillery to bear on them effectively, and the additional fact that but one half hour of daylight remained, and it being more than probable that it would take longer than this to carry their new position, General Ewell determined not to push the attack that evening, but to wait until next morning to renew the fight. Rodes' right rested about four hundred yards outside of the suburbs of the town, his left extending into it along the Fairfield road, near to Early's right. Rodes bore the brunt of battle on this day. His men acted nobly and suffered severely, losing almost 3000 men.
The initial Confederate attack had begun at about 1:30 PM, but was delivered in detail rather than in conjunction with the other brigades. The Confederate Batteries had opened the attack with initial success. Then O'Neal, the left flank element of the three-brigade attack delivered by Rodes, struck next. Advancing after the three Alabama regiments had been forced back, Iverson's North Carolina Brigade were literally slaughtered. Both Brigade commanders, O'Neal and Iverson, had sent their soldiers forward while they remained behind. While it isn't clear that either man could have done much had they been with their commands, both provided poor field leadership that day much to the detriment of the Confederate attack.
After their rough start, O’Neal’s Brigade held against a Federal force that was being strengthened throughout the day. Eugene Blackford would write later, “Repeatedly during the day would they advance lines of battle against us, but our men knowing what was at stake, stood firm behind a fence, and made so determined a front that the Yankees were persuaded that we were heavily supported. All this could be seen by the whole Div. in the hills to our right, whose position would have been turned at once if the enemy had gotten wind of this.”
For the wounded men, their ordeal had just begun. The scenes around the Hospitals were among the most horrific to behold. The unfortunate wounded men lay about all around moaning and groaning, while in a barn the terrible work of amputating limbs went on throughout the night, the pile of pallid limbs growing ever larger.
The morning of July 2nd was quite quiet. The enemy was now crowded on the heights of Cemetery Hill and the Confederate lines were drawn around it. The Confederates busied themselves placing their artillery. Major Eugene Blackford’s Sharpshooters were thrown out into the meadow between the lines. Here they lay in the broiling sun until about 1 P.M. when beginning to feel hungry, Major Blackford sent a detail to catch chickens, which they cooked in a large pot found in a cottage, through which his line went. This soup contained about 60 chickens, and the entire contents of the garden in the way of onions and potatoes. The Major felt it was necessary to feed the men as no rations had been issued since the morning before, and none could be obtained any time soon. As soon as the soup was ready a detail from each company came up and received its share. Thus were 150 men fed.
Just after they had eaten it, a tremendous cannonade began between the Confederate batteries and those of the enemy, almost as rapid as musketry. The Sharpshooters, just out between the lines, received the benefit of all the "shorts," and had a vast number of shells pass over them. Eugene Blackford had this to say: “I have never in my life seen such things so awful. Many of the men ... went to the side to get out of the range. At 6 p.m. it cleared, and I restored my line.” About dusk, the Sharpshooters were recalled and joined the column marching towards the town from the heights.
While the Sharpshooters had spent the day out in the meadow between the lines, after the enemy had been driven through the town the previous evening, the rest of the Alabama Brigade were posted in rear on the railroad line near Oak Hill, which position it held, though subject to a constant and severe shelling, until late on the evening of July 2, when the command was ordered forward to support a line of battle in front. This movement was prosecuted until orders came to fall back on the Cashtown road; that is, the brigade occupied that street in Gettysburg which is a continuation of the Cashtown road. This position was occupied all night, the men lying on their arms. As mentioned, at about dusk, the whole Division was moved forward in line of battle and as they advanced upon the hill where the Yankees had all their artillery and troops massed, they fully expected to have to charge it. Eugene Blackford once again: “I soon found that it was for the purpose of making a night attack. When I heard this my heart beat more quickly than I ever knew it to do before, and I had seen some cruel fights. I knew well enough what a night attack would be with troops as badly disciplined as ours, or indeed with any save veterans, and they equipped with white shirts, or some uniform visible at night. When the column was formed we moved silently with bayonets fixed close up beneath the enemy's works. There in two lines we gave our instructions to the men. I well remember what feelings I had as I fastened my saber knot tightly around my wrist. I knew well that I had seen my last day on earth ... .It was to be a bayonet affair, the guns were all inspected to see that none were loaded. Then we lay silently waiting the word to advance, when to my relief I must say, I saw the dark masses of men wheeling to the rear -- the idea had been abandoned. I was ordered to remain where I was with my corps & await orders. In about 1/2 an hour Gen. R[odes] came to me saying that he wished me to draw a skirmish line as closely across the enemy's works as I possibly could, and when daylight came annoy them within all my power. I was more in my element, and went diligently to work to comprehend the ground, and mature my plan. Meanwhile the men went to sleep; I only keeping one or two with me as a guard. I found that the enemy were on a hill shaped like a V with the apex towards the town, and almost in it ... .In that angle where were nearly 100,000 men, all massed densely so that every shot from our side told. This hill was about as high as the tallest house in the town, I soon laid my plan and began deploying my men at "A" moving on the line designated toward "B." It became necessary to break passages thro' nearby houses, and thro' every thing else we met, so that there was a great deal of labor undergone ere this line was established. By daylight however all was ready. My orders were to fire incessantly without regard to ammunition and began as soon as my bugle sounded.”
About 2 a.m. on July 3, the Alabama Brigade was ordered to move to the left of their lines, to re-enforce General Edward Johnson. They arrived there at daylight, and were soon under a severe fire of artillery and infantry, but did not actively engage the enemy until 8 a.m., when they was ordered to attack the works of the enemy, strongly posted in a log fort on the spur of the mountain. The attack was made with great spirit by the Sixth, Twelfth, Twenty-sixth, and Third Alabama Regiments, under their respective commanders, Captain Bowie, Colonel Pickens, Lieutenant-Colonel Goodgame, and Colonel Battle. The brigade moved forward in fine style, under a terrific fire of grape and small-arms, and gained a hill near the enemy's works, which it held for three hours, exposed to a murderous fire. The officers and men fought bravely, and held their ground until ordered to fall back with the entire line. They retired behind the hill, where they remained, under an incessant fire of artillery and musketry, till 12 o'clock at night, when they were ordered to withdraw and rejoin the division. They joined the division in rear of the town, on the hill near the enemy, and was ordered to occupy the hill to the left of the railroad and fortify, which they did during Saturday, July 4.
The Sharpshooters in town witnessed the climatic charge of General Pickett’s Division as Eugene Blackford relates: “I could write a month of the nice events of this day, but must stop, only narrating my intense excitement when I saw [Maj. Gen. George] Pickett's Division during ... the charge, their waver, when almost in the works, and finally fall back. How my heart ached when I saw the fearful fire with which they were received. I could scarcely contain myself. The attack made the enemy mass more than ever, and so expose themselves to our fire more plainly. I fired 84 rounds with careful aim into their midst, one gun cooling while the other was in use. My shoulder pad became so sore that I was obliged to rest. Now and then the enemy's gunners would turn a gun or two on us, and give us a shot, but this was too destructive of the lives of gunners, so it was soon stopped. A Yankee sharpshooter established himself in a pit in the street to which I have alluded, and keeping his gun ready cocked, fired away at any one attempting to cross at our end. Many of the men of mine, and of the adjoining battalion, amused themselves by drawing his fire, running quickly across, seeing how much behind the bullet would be which was sure to follow. At this reckless sort of sport, where a stumble or fall would have been almost certain death, they carried themselves as ... children at play. Thus the sun went down the same steady fire being kept up from my line. This evening also another tremendous cannonade occurred, the [greatest] ever known on this continent certainly, probably the greatest that ever occurred. It is a low estimate to say that 500 pieces were in action. I enjoyed its grandeur this time more than that of the day before, not being under range. At night little was done, I kept up a very vigil watch, making rounds frequently.”
It rained during the day, so the men put up tents and lay under them. There were a large number of the enemy’s dead and dead horses lying behind their position which produced a most disagreeable smell. Blackford’s Sharpshooters were also withdrawn as Eugene continues: “Towards day I was awakened by a staff officer, who told me to withdraw my men at daylight, and fall back thro' the town to the base of the ridge in which the main line was stationed and there deploy. At dawn therefore with a heavy heart I called in the men silently, and sullenly drew slowly out of the town, returning the sour looks of the citizens with others equally as stern. The enemy did not molest us at all, tho' I was in hope that they would, being in a savage mood. A heavy rain was falling too, and just then I remembered that it was the 4th of July, and that the villains would think more than ever of their wretched Independence Day. Soon after we formed our new line, a battalion of Yankee skirmishers came out of the town and deployed in our front. They used the bugle, the first I had seen with them. Their signals sounded clear & [distant], thro' the damp air. I moved against them at once, but they slowly withdrew, and evidently were but overseeing us. A squad of them however came forward and gained unobserved a small house filled with hay midway between our lines, from which they began to annoy us with their fire. Taking a few men I went forward at a run, and came up quite close before the rascals could get out of the rear. They lost no time then in scudding away to their lines, but one of my men brought one down before they reached it ... I fired the hay, and soon there was a magnificent blaze. So we went on all the day, but seeing work ahead of me, I slept most of it away, leaving the command to one of my subordinates. At nine I reported to Gen. R[odes] who directed me to assume command of the sharpshooters from each of the Brigades (4) and line our rear when the army moved, which it would begin to do at midnight. I was to keep my line until day or longer if I saw fit, and then follow keeping a half mile or more in the rear, and acting as rear guard. Accordingly by 11 p.m. the troops all disappeared on the proscribed route and I was left in sole command at Gettysburg. It was the first time I had ever commanded more than one battalion and now I had five. My only embarrassment was in not knowing the officers but this I soon remedied, and got on quite well.”
At about 2:00 P.M. that day, the wagon trains of Rodes Division with their wounded, baggage, and herds of livestock, had begun the retreat and moved through Fairfield. The 6th Alabama Infantry Regiment cooked three days rations and evacuated their position between midnight and one o’clock in the morning on July 5, 1863, marching off on the pike. The road was very sloppy and so slippery that it was with the greatest difficulty that they could keep their feet. They didn’t travel more than two or three miles before they were stopped due to the road being blocked by the wagon trains. There, they were drenched by a cold rain, but when it subsided they made fires and made themselves as comfortable as possible under the circumstances. Several hours after daylight, they continued the march through mud and water ankle deep in places. The wagon trains kept to the road, while a column of troops marched through the fields and woods on each side.
Eugene Blackford with his Sharpshooters, provides a more detailed account. “At sunrise I quitted my positions, and followed the main body. I continued my route unmolested until about 12 o'clock when some cavalry appeared, but they did not molest us. At 2 p.m. so many came up that I halted and deployed. They then brought up a field piece but did not use it. Seeing that they now wished to molest us, I hit upon this plan. All the front rank men kept their round & fired away, the rear rank men meanwhile retired to some good positions in the rear. I then formed a new line leaving vacancies for those of the first. I here would seize a favorable occasion after the new line was formed, and retreat at a run, suddenly disappearing before the enemy. These would then come in quickly thinking our men had been routed, they would be checked by the fire of the new line, snugly posted behind trees, stone fences &c. My worry had been that when I wished to retire, the enemy would push us so that we were in danger of being broken, but by this arrangement I [avoided] all difficulties -- I had read of it in [General Sir William F.P.] Napier's Peninsular War, as being a dodge of Marshal [Nicolas Jean de Dieu] Soult.
The men towards evening became worn out for food, so seeing that we would not hear from our [commissary] for a week or more, as it had gone to the Potomac, I sent orders to the officer to take all the provisions they could find in the houses by which we passed. In one occasion, riding along at the head of my own battalion marching quickly in retreat, we passed a cottage situated some distance from the main road & not visited by stragglers -- around it were countless fowls, my hungry fellows looked eloquently to me for leave, I told the bugler to sound the "disperse," and then shouted "one minute." Instantly a hundred cartridges were drawn which thrown skillfully at the heads of the fowls bringing them down by scores; these fellows were used to the work evidently, but now they knew that it was for their actual subsistence as we had nothing, and were following in the rear of a great Army, which would leave us nothing. When the "Assembly" sounded two minutes afterwards, every man had one, two or more chickens slung over his gun, and the march was resumed with out delay.” The retreat continued until after dark when the army bivouacked having traveled about ten miles.
Casualties on the opening day of the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1, 1863) were quite high for Major General Robert E. Rodes’ Division of Lieutenant General Richard S. Ewell’s Corps, Army of Northern Virginia. As a whole, the division is believed to have suffered approximately thirty-seven percent casualties during the campaign, including many regimental officers. These losses were not solely a result of the fight on Oak Hill on day one of the battle since the brigades of Edward O’Neal and Junius Daniel both saw action on the closing day. The division also had a few run-ins during the retreat to Virginia. Nonetheless, the ill-fated attack of O’Neal’s Brigade and Alfred Iverson’s Brigade on July 1st, resulted in high losses for both Confederate outfits. O’Neal’s Brigade, the 3rd, 5th, 6th, 12th, and 26th Alabama Infantry Regiments, lost 41.2% of their effective strength with 90 killed, 422 wounded, and 184 missing or captured.