107th New York Infantry Regiment's Civil War Historical Sketch
By Capt. Arthur S. Fitch
Taken from Final Report on the Battlefield of Gettysburg (New York at Gettysburg) by the New York Monuments Commission for the Battlefields of Gettysburg and Chattanooga. Albany, NY: J.B. Lyon Company, 1902.
There were 400 of "ours" who awakened as the shrill notes of the reveille echoed among the Allatoona Hills in Georgia, at 3:30 o'clock on the morning of May 25, 1864. Four hundred seasoned veterans, young in years, but full-grown soldiers in experience. We had received our baptism of fire at bloody Antietam, faced the terror of those dark woods at Chancellorsville, and had stood "where the earth trembled" at Gettysburg. We had come with Sherman's victorious armies from Middle Tennessee well into the interior of Georgia, and thus far success had been our constant companion. There was a buoyancy of feeling and a consciousness that we were invincible, and the sun arose that day on as confident and well-ordered an array of soldiers as anywhere marched beneath the flag.
I see them now, as they stood in line on that bright May morning, the breakfast of coffee, hard tack, and meat disposed of, accoutrements slung, guns taken from the stack and carefully wiped and examined, awaiting the command for another day's advance. There is no look of care or anxiety on their faces. Theirs but to obey whatever others commanded. "Theirs but to do." Alas! Alas! How little thought we that for more than two score of our number the "death watch" had already been set; that for many a loved comrade the last earthly bivouac had been broken, the last "harnessing up" and preparation for the day's march had been made; and that the day begun so blithely was to end in a night of death and sorrow. At 8:30 a. m. the word "forward" is given. Our 400 quickly fall into line, the old files of four again "touch elbows," and away they go with
"The loose disorder of the rout step march,
The song, the shout, the witticism arch,"
marching on to new experiences. The sun shines warm and the air is that of June. There is a look of satisfaction on the face of every soldier, and a feeling of contentment in every heart. The "welcome noontide rest" comes. At 1:30 p. m. the column is again in motion; no enemy has appeared to dispute the advance; the roads are good, the marching easy. It is 3 o'clock in the afternoon and all is well. Suddenly a sharp "halt" passes down the line, and "the dust-brown ranks stood fast." "About face" and "march" is the command. At a quicker pace we now move back along the route just traversed; a look of eager curiosity is seen on each face; a murmur of speculation runs along the column; and as we turn from the road and cross a creek that skirts a wooded slope, and see orderlies hurrying hither and thither, cannon in position, generals in consultation, and other signs the old soldier knows so well how to interpret, there comes a seriousness of face and a silence that betokens a change in our thoughts. We press quickly on to the top of the slope, form line of battle, and stand quietly awaiting developments. The "White Star" boys of Geary's Division are there also, and the "Blue Stars" of General Butterfield's Division are ordered to join the array.
Suddenly bang, bang, bang, go the guns of a field battery, pointed into the shade of the forest that extends before us. The shriek of the flying shells and their explosions awaked with noisy echoes its gloomy recesses; but they provoke no response of hostile guns. Again and again they speak, but the result is the same. The day is waning. The "obstructions" must be brushed away, and Gen. " Pap" Williams's "Red Stars" must do it. The three brigades are drawn out in a long, straight line, stretching away to the right and left of us, aligned as if on dress parade, a living line of steel and blue. "Attention !" Then a bugle note, then sharp words of command, and as one man the division moves forward.
Never shall I forget that array. There was a mighty sound "of tramping feet, quick cries of command: "Steady men!" "Guide on the colors!" "Steady on the right!" "Steady on the left!" "Forward there in the centre !" "Pap" Williams and his staff rode close behind us, and his bugler speaks in tones easily heard by all of us. Down the slope we go, across the narrow ravine, and up the other side. A thinly-wooded level stretches out far in front. We see our line of skirmishers pressing rapidly forward, and a moment later our peering eyes detect a skirmish line of men in gray as rapidly falling back before them. "Double-quick!" sounds the bugle. "Double-quick!" shout the officers; and with arms at a right-shoulder shift, away spring our eager men.
Never shall I forget that scene. Never before nor afterwards have my eyes witnessed such a sight. As far to the left and right as the eye could see stretched that dark line undulating with the cadence of the double-quick step, crashing into the forest in all the confidence of a victory already won.
But, look! The skirmishers have come to a stand. They are making frantic gestures to us to stop. But the line goes on over beyond them. A little farther and the pace slackens; our straining eyes see through the trees the outlines of fortifications, while the zip, zip, whiz, whiz, of leaden missiles attracts our attention. The line comes to a halt; from the front comes unmistakable evidence of an enemy in force awaiting us. We are fairly trapped. A frowning line of earthworks blocks the way, covering Stewart's whole division of "Joe" Johnston's army. Their fire is already getting uncomfortably hot. There ensues a brief moment of preparation along our ranks, and then down come the rifles of our 400 to a "ready," and out blazes a volley that tells the waiting enemy that we are there.
It was a sight thrilling beyond description, one never forgotten. I did not hear a word of command to fire. I think none was given. By a common impulse each man saw the time had come, and that first volley was as simultaneous as if they had been practicing on drill.
But a terrible response came. From the dark covert in front leaped a fiery discharge of rifle and cannon, filling the air with the rushing sound of deadly missiles. Shot and shell, canister and minie balls came tearing over us and around us and through us, ploughing great gaps in our closed ranks, sweeping away our men by files and platoons, making by that one discharge skeletons of what a moment before had been solid companies.
How changed the scene. Two hours before these boys were marching with careless glee along the sunlit road towards Dallas, in the flush of manly vigor, without a thought of the cruel fate that lay so close before them. Now they are breasting the full tide of furious battle. As if in keeping, the sky is overcast and theatening, and the growing gloom adds to the terrors of the scene. The men see their comrades falling about them, they hear the groans of the wounded, the fierce din of the conflict; they realize the hopelessness of the struggle, and that there is no chance of victory. Mutely the survivors stand with grim and resolute faces, loading and firing, keeping up the unequal contest, but with no thought of retreat.
A long, long hour of this, and the remnant of our 400 are relieved; slowly they pick their way to the rear and safety. Scarcely more than half of those who answered at roll-call that morning are left. The rest are out there in the woods dead, or are lying maimed and bleeding in the hospital tents close by. Mournful the scene. The survivors gather in little groups, and relate the dreadful experiences of that fateful hour. They speak with broken voices of those who have fallen. None but has lost a friend, the companion of many a march, a comrade who had slept beneath the same blanket and shared with him his army mess.
The darkness gathers, the rain begins to fall, and far in our front we hear the exchange of picket shots. It disturbs us little more than our dead comrades. We lie down on the wet ground, with tired bodies and aching hearts, and the day and its terrors are forgotten in a merciful sleep.
Thus ended the 25th day of May, 1864. Twenty-four years have passed. There survives today a remnant of the men who shared its experiences. Is it any wonder that as they gather, to pay a loving tribute to their dead comrades their faces wear a serious expression? Their thoughts are away amidst the woods of Dallas.
"Oh, band in the pine woods cease,
Cease with your splendid call;
The living are brave and noble,
But the dead were bravest of all.”
"They throng to the martial summons,
To the loud triumphant strain,
And the dear, bright eyes of long dead friends
Appeal to the heart again.”
"They come to the ringing bugle,
And the deep drum's mellow roar,
Till the soul is faint with longing
For the hands we shall clasp no more."
As we follow memory's chain back to the scene I have described, how vividly reappear the forms and names of those who there met a soldier's heroic death. I see Capt. John F. Knox, with drawn sword, leap to the front of Company F, and with all the emphasis that voice and action can give, urge the men a little farther forward. Then comes the fatal volley, and he is struck down with a mortal wound. Brave Knox, but a day or two before I marched by his side, and he uttered these prophetic words: "It is more than probable that we shall draw our supplies from the sea coast before Christmas." It was an inspiring thought, and some of us lived to see its realization.
The same tidal wave of death swept away his second lieutenant, John Hill, quiet, modest, young, beloved of all. How well I remember his coming with a picket relief that first night at Gettysburg, and finding me overcome with fatigue and sound asleep (a dreadful dereliction of duty at such time), quietly awakened me and sent me with my picket guard to camp, without chiding or report to his superiors. I loved him from that hour.
From the same devoted company fell Jones, Johnson, Kelley, Miller, Mollson, Nellis, Teft and Young, all dead or mortally wounded. The only remaining commissioned officer, First Lieut. John Orr, was scarcely less fortunate, being desperately wounded, and the total of killed and disabled numbered full two-thirds of those present at roll-call that morning.
Next neighbor to them was Company B. And its ranks yielded scarcely less to the destroyer. The soldierly Hay Grieve (the best soldier in the company) so the inspection report said), the quiet Louis Vreeland, brave old Martin Maguire, the fearless Corporal Munson, of the color guard, "Charlie" Keener, Van Gelder, Cooper, Bright, and Root, all good men and true. I recall chivalrous Sergt. "Billy" Van Auken, of D Company, scarcely eighteen years old, twice wounded, yet insisting upon staying to "give them one more shot," and while in the act of loading his rifle struck dead by a Rebel bullet, alongside of Sergeant Ford and Private Armstrong of the same company. Company A gave up her splendid orderly sergeant, Cornelius Hammond, and duty sergeant, Charles Bolton, with Capt. John M. Losie, and a long train of wounded to swell its casualty list.
Captain, afterwards Major, Charles J. Fox, manfully held old Company C about the colors, and sees Brockway, Dressier, and Steinbeck go down to death beneath its folds.
Left Company E gave one of its excellent sergeants, Peter Compton; while from Company G fell Corporal Tomes, Privates Alderman, Jackson, Long, Sanford, and Smith, heroes all.
Company H mourns her noble sergeant, Benjamin Force, and the names of Couch, Youmans, and Van Vleet, are still cherished among the hills of Schuyler. None are more deserving in this brief mention than Orderly Sergeant Marcy and Sergt. Eugene Thatcher who, with Alden and Horton, represent the sacrifice made by Company K. The same may be said of Corporal Newberry, and Privates Carpenter and Decker, of Company I.
These all died, a voluntary offering on the altar of their country. It seems fitting on this occasion that this roll call should be made. In the homes throughout Chemung, Steuben, and Schuyler, these names will invoke feelings of mingled pride and regret, as their heroism and tragic fate is recalled.
"What is there to be said or done?
They are departed, we remain;
Their race is run, their crowns are won;
They will not come to us again.
"Cut off by fate before their prime
Could harvest half the golden years,
All they could leave, they left us time;
All we could give, we gave them "tears."