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Thursday, February 20, 2014

It’s Just a Matter of Time (Part 1 of 2)

On July 2, 1889, the survivors of Companies A, B, D, and H, 1st U.S. Sharpshooters dedicated their monument in Pitzer’s Woods at Gettysburg. Lieutenant Charles J. Buchanan (Co. D) delivered an address in which he made the following statement:

“A great deal has been said and written as to when precisely these four companies (D, E, F, and I) left the regiment that morning; just when we moved into the woods; exactly how far we went; and how long we remained in the timber. None of these details are of the slightest consequence to what we actually accomplished….This is not as most of us remember it; but what is the use of quibbling over these nonessentials, thereby losing sight of its merits of our spirited and successful reconoissance [sic]?”
His offhand dismissal of the particulars of the skirmish was not as important as the results of it irritated me. He sounded a lot like a former a school principal, who at an in-service, told us we could teach history without teaching fact, that conclusions and not trivia were all that mattered. My mental response came from the Bill Mauldin cartoon in which Willie and Joe are sharing a muddy foxhole in Italy. One of them, while reading a newspaper lauding D-Day sarcastically quipped, “The Hell this ain’t the most important hole in the world. I’m in it.”

Despite his assertion that the facts did not matter, Buchanan expounded upon the exploits of the four companies and their alleged times of engagement by including every contemporary source he could find describing the foray. [Note: I italicized the references to the time of the attack.)

1.      Major General Daniel E. Sickles, III Corps commanding, wrote a letter apologizing because he could not attend the ceremony and added I should have found great satisfaction in meeting the survivors of the sharpshooters who made that brilliant reconnoisance [sic] one the morning of July 2, 1863.

2.      In his own account, Buchanan stated, “A great deal has been said and written as to when precisely these four companies (D, E, F, and I) left the regiment that morning...”

3.      Major General David Birney, in the Official Records, said Sickles gave him the order to send the sharpshooters with the 3rd Maine in support into the woods at 12 noon.

4.      Colonel Hiram Berdan, commanding the 1st U.S. Sharpshooters stated in his official report that around 11:00 a.m. Birney commanded him to make the reconnaissance.

5.      Lieutenant Colonel Casper Trepp, commanding the 1st U.S.S.S. on the field, in his report said that he deployed the regiment early in the morning and that in a short while he received an order to sent Companies D, E, F, and I forward to the woods with the 3rd Maine as support.

6.      Colonel Moses Lakeman, 3rd Maine, stated he formed his regiment parallel to and facing the Emmitsburg Road at early morn and shortly thereafter sent the regiment forward to support the sharpshooters.

7.      F. E. Garrett, Company D, wrote in his diary that day: “2d July, noon. We have just come out of the fight.”

8.      Captain F. E. Marble, commanding Companies B and G, in his diary wrote: “July 2d, 12 o’clock m. Just on my left the sharpshooters, with the Third Maine, are advancing in line of skirmishers…”

Buchanan concluded: These extracts simply show that sometime between 7:30 a.m. or early morn, whenever that was, and 12 m, July 2, 1863 Colonel Berdan…ordered a retreat of his small force…
Buchanan then proceeded to add the following information:

1.      “Rebel accounts state that this reconnoisance [sic] was made about 9 a.m.

2.      “My own recollection of the time and detail with this attack of ours was made is not satisfactory even to myself, though there is no doubt but that it was sometime during the morning of July 2, 1863.”

3.      “We were here sometime in the forenoon, and the exact time has no more to do with our gallantry and service on that occasion than the spots on the sun.”

While it is evident that Buchanan did not agree with the time as stated by Birney, Berdan, Garrett, and Marble, he, apparently decided not to create brouhaha over it. The monument said the four companies engaged the Confederates in the woods “about 12 M.”

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