ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mauriel P. Joslyn of Sparta, Georgia, received her B.A. in History from Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Virginia, in 1978. She has participated in living history events for nearly twenty years and is a freelance writer on historical topics, mostly the War Between the States. Her first book is a biography of the Immortal Six Hundred, entitled Immortal Captives: The Story of 600 Confederate Officers and the Union Policy of Retaliation. Her second book: Charlotte’s Boys: The Wartime Correspondence of the Branch Family of Savannah, is due to be released in April.
It was raining on June 26. 1863, the day Confederate Brig. Gen. Jerome B. Robertson’s brigade crossed the Potomac River at Williamsport, Maryland. It was a steady drizzle that had commenced the day before falling on the already soaked Southerners slogging through the slippery roads leading to their destiny. With Robertson’s three regiments of lean, tanned Texans crossed a fourth regiment who had the distinction of being the only Arkansas troops in the Army of Northern Virginia.’ They were considered misfits as much by themselves as by the Texans with whom they fought. Six months earlier, their colonel had requested the regiment be sent back to Arkansas. “This regiment has served hard and faithfully in the war, but it has now almost lost its identity,” wrote Vannoy H. Manning.
“Every member of it desires a transfer to some parish where there are more troops from Arkansas.” The request was denied.
Around noon the 3rd Arkansas reached the river, where a tangle waited on a single pontoon bridge insufficient to accommodate the mixture of limbers, caissons, and ordnance wagons, troops, and mounted officers. Soon the traffic clogged the single lane pontoon bridge but the Arkansans were not to be deterred. Already wet, some stripped from their waist down, others completely, tying clothing to muskets. Covering all as best they could with rubber blankets, in they plunged and waded across with the bundles held above their heads. The men had given no thought to the spectacle they presented, and just as they had all reached the Maryland side and began to reform along the road, the most embarrassing thing that could have happened, did. Down the road came a buggy, its passengers almost exclusively women. They were among the soldiers before realizing that here stood the Confederate army, nearly naked, lining the path. The awkwardness passed with the trotting horse, and the incident was made light of by the invaders, whose high spirits were mischievous anyway. Thus was Lee’s entry into Maryland.
Even dressed in their finest available clothing, the troops of the Texas brigade “were poorly clothed, in a variety of uniforms, a dingy gray color prevailing,” according to newspaper reporter’s description of Lee’s troops. “Some wore jackets, others gray-skirted coats trimmed on collars and sleeves. There were many ragged slouch hats, and caps of various kinds with visors. Some wore boots, others shoes, and many were barefooted.” Nevertheless, the journalist was impressed with their demeanor. “Most of them were finely formed fellows, with resolute faces, and evidently good soldiers.”
Outside Williamsport the Arkansans considered themselves fortunate when they found barrels of whiskey and were given the go-ahead by commanding officers to issue the refreshment to the troops. Soon overindulgence led to a drinking spree that ended with many too drunk to walk. Their twenty-four-year-old colonel, Van H. Manning, who had raised two of the companies in the 3rd, was disgusted with such behavior. He dragged the inebriated culprits to a nearby creek and proceeded to dunk heads as long as it took to sober the men up. There was no time to lose, and the brigade pushed on through another day of rain to Greencastle, Pennsylvania, where they camped on the damp ground. They had marched in three states that day, having left Virginia early the same morning.
June 27 found them on the move, rambling through the lush Pennsylvania countryside. It was a land of plenty, and the awestruck boys, who- had lived in the desolate war zone of Virginia for the last year, gaped with wonder at the untouched fields, where fat livestock grazed and orchards hung laden with cherries. The recent rains had made the pastures a brilliant summer green, and now the sun brought with its drying warmth an unwelcome, intense humidity. The Arkansans made camp a mile north of Chambersburg in a grove of trees, where they would rest until June 30. The respite gave them time to write home or record in journals the chronicle of their journey north and its reception. It gave time to think of home, so distant, and that day over two years earlier, when the first of their number had enlisted as raw recruits.
The explanation for the regiment’s tenacity on the battlefield came in part from the command’s birth. The nucleus of the 3rd, two companies formed near Hamburg, was spawned in patriotism, when Arkansas was in danger of being forced to stay in the Union/The central figure was an ambitious young lawyer and wealthy planter of small stature but big aspirations, Vannoy Hartrog Manning.
A native North Carolinian, Manning had come to Hamburg via Mississippi after graduating from the University of Tennessee at Nashville. Manning married Mary Wallace in Holly Springs, Mississippi, May 3, 1859, then moved to Hamburg and began a law practice. Tragedy struck the couple in January 1861, with the death of their first son. The grief was still fresh as the winds of war swept through Arkansas.
Manning was raising two companies in Ashley County even before Arkansas seceded on May 6, pledging his services as captain and his men to Confederate service. Like many Western volunteers, they believed the war was in Virginia, and without political influence their chance of being in it looked slim. Nevertheless, they drilled in the nearby fields, paraded through town on offered occasions, and accepted the attentions of young ladies, while the energetic captain sought acceptance into a regiment.
Finally on May 20, 1861, the journey began when they were mustered in officially as Captain Manning’s company and left for Vicksburg where they hoped to attach themselves to a regiment. Manning paid all the traveling expenses, and upon arrival they joined the throngs of other eager warriors, but found no command who could take them.
Manning would not give up. He used political influence from his days in the Arkansas legislature and went to the former Confederate capital, Montgomery, Alabama. There his lobbying paid off when Arkansas Senator Albert Rust not only intervened on his behalf with Secretary of War Leroy Walker, but offered himself as colonel to the nucleus of a regiment. With Rust, Manning and his company were ordered to Lynchburg, Virginia, where they would meet other independent commands from Arkansas and be united into one regiment. They took their flag, yet to be scarred by battle, and began the journey by river, rail, and road that led to the likely scene of action. When they mustered in as Company C of the 3rd Volunteer Regiment Arkansas Infantry in Lynchburg, Virginia, on July 3, 1861, they numbered 900 men. Almost two years later to the day, in a Pennsylvania field, their strength was 508, 42 of whom were officers, led by the same vigor of Manning, now colonel of the 3rd.
Preceding the army’s entry into Pennsylvania, Gen. Robert E. Lee specifically prohibited pillaging and stealing, but the Arkansas and Texas boys of Robertson’s Brigade interpreted General Orders No. 72 as not applicable to foraging. Pvt. Samuel Henry Emerson of Co. F, 3rd Arkansas, was seventeen years old, a fresh faced youth who had seen two years of war. He could not resist the temptation of sweet honeycomb offered by a row of beehives near one farmhouse. He was joined by Pvts. Morgan Beaucham and Dick Stribling in a plan to come into possession of one of these hives. While Emerson approached the matron of the house and diverted her attention, his comrades made off with one of the hives, and all three rejoined the line of march. As they passed the spring house, a glance inside revealed crocks of butter and milk, one of which was also “liberated” from its Pennsylvania owner by the three boys.
Early in the afternoon of June 30, the 3rd left Chambersburg. Robertson’s brigade fell in behind Maj. Gen. Lafayette McLaws’ division and marched east, reaching Fayetteville later that evening. The morning of July I dawned with the promise of another hot day, and the brigade broke camp early. Texans and Arkansans set out on a twelve-mile march, which became a halting, fatiguing pace when their path of travel was interrupted by Maj. Gen. Edward Johnson’s division of Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell’s corps, also en route to Cashtown. The column would advance “a hundred yards or so, and then stop and stand still,” wrote J. B. Policy of Company I, 5th Texas. So frequent was the interruption of their gait that when the troops did stop, men stood instead of sitting down for the short five or ten minutebreaks. Consequently, by the time they reached Cashtown, they were so exhausted that most stacked arms and immediately stretched their frames on the ground and fell asleep.
A mere two hours later, at 4 a.m. they were roused and pressed onward, down the Chambersburg Pike towards Gettysburg, by the light of a nearly full moon. This time they marched in the vanguard of Lt. Gen. James Longstreet’s corps and arrived with the sunrise just west of town. Here, near the headquarters tent of General Lee behind Seminary Ridge, the Western boys halted, awaiting orders. It was July 2, and Maj. Gen. John Bell Hood’s division would that day paint its name in history with the blood of the brave.
As the sun appeared in full, Colonel Manning had his 3rd Arkansas formed on the Chambersburg Pike. Riflemuskets were inspected, while breakfast and a fair rest left the men fresh and ready for whatever was demanded of them. They learned that orders were to make their way to the right of Lee’s battle line, and canteens were their first concern as the heat of another day descended.
The Union left was their destination, just on the other side of the Emmitsburg Road. Longstreet’s corps struck out along Willoughby Run, crossing the Fairfield (Hagerstown) Road and tramping through a wheatfield. The column came to an abrupt halt, as McLaws’ division was forced to backtrack. Figures at a Union signal station atop a large outcrop of rocks on some high ground to the front jeopardized the mission. Although the destination was only a few miles away, it necessitated a roundabout march to screen the Confederate army from Union reconnaissance. Hood’s division was to take the lead with Brig. Gen. Evander M. Law’s brigade, just arrived from New Guilford some twenty-three miles away. These panting troops had been on the march since 3 a.m., and were nearly spent. Next came Robertson’s, then Brig. Gens. George T. Anderson’s and Henry L. Benning’s Georgians.
As if the five-mile march under a hot sun were not enough, the route became an obstacle course of stone walls and rail fences. Time was consumed in dismantling and climbing these, until finally, at 3:30 p.m., nearly eight hours after the initial plans were decided, Longstreet’s corps arrived on its front line, a wood fronting the Emmitsburg Road. To some of the men of the deep South it was a mountain, to those of the Appalachians, a hill. To all it would become known as Little Round Top.
The situation had changed dramatically by now. When they had left the field behind Seminary Ridge, they were dispatched to attack the Union left flank. During the march there, Union forces had beaten them to it. Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Sickles’ Third Corps, Army of the Potomac, had advanced and occupied the commanding ground at Wentz’s peach orchard, unlimbering cannon to command the ground west of and south of the Emmitsburg and Wheatfield Roads. To attack would mean certain destruction, and Hood requested an alternative plan of flanking, marching around the Federal left by way of Big Round Top, and hitting Meade’s forces in the rear. But Longstreet was adamant, and his field commanders steeled themselves for the inevitable.
Hood formed his division behind a line of woods, fronting the Emmitsburg Road, as a screen to avoid being spotted by the Federals. The Texas brigade stood in a double line of brigades, with Law’s and Robertson’s in front. Colonel Manning and his Arkansans marked Hood’s left flank, linked with McLaws’ division posted in Biesecker’s Woods to their left. Next to the 3rd Arkansas, moving toward the Confederate right, were the 1st, 4th, and 5th Texas, in that order. The 5th Texas joined with Law’s 4th Alabama to unite the brigades. Capt. James Reilly’s Rowan North Carolina artillery of 12-pounder Napoleons and IO-pounder Parrots stood on a slight rise near the edge of the woods. The Carolina gunners and Texan foot soldiers had supported each other on many a hard fought field. Both commands would face their worst trial this day.
Despite the careful shielding of troops in the trees, the sun glinting off bayonets alerted Union skirmishers and Brig. Gen. Governor K. Warren on Little Round Top that the Confederate army was massing in the Federal front. Reinforcements were hurried by Maj. Gen. George G. Meade to the Union left, and Sickles’ Third Corps was positioned in time for the opening shots of Reilly’s battery. The rest of the artillery supporting Hood’s division let loose with their earthshaking volleys. They were answered swiftly by four guns of Capt. James E. Smith’s 4th New York Battery posted among the maze of scattered boulders atop Houck’s Ridge.
The deadly iron found marks among Robertson’s men standing in the ranks. He ordered the brigade to move back and lie down. “It seemed they could hit our line every time,” wrote John A. Wilkerson, Company H, 3rd Arkansas. “I could look down the line and see our men knocked out constantly.” Wilkerson was a private in the front rank, “by the side of my captain. Soon a shell hit and killed him. I saw the orderly sergeant’s head knocked off, then a corporal’s leg. I don’t know how long we were held there under fire, but the time seemed endless.”
It must have felt an eternity to the sweating, waiting men flat on their bellies. The shell that wreaked such havoc in Wilkerson’s company bounced down the row of men before rolling off into the field. Another shell burst over the 4th Texas, killing or wounding fifteen men. John C. West and his comrades nearby were splattered with the blood of a friend when a solid shot decapitated him, then cut another soldier in half a few feet away.
In reality, the seeming endlessness of this hellacious fire lasted only fifteen minutes. As soon as the duel slacked off, Hood ordered his men forward. Manning quickly formed the 3rd, and they emerged from the line of trees ready to advance While awaiting the signal of the battery to charge, they studied the rocky position of their enemy. Pure courage must have shored up many a heart to muster the strength for the assault.
It was only minutes past 4 p.m. when a single artillery shot from Reilly’s battery challenged the silence across the pastoral valley of Plum Run, resounding off the boulders and sides of Devil’s Den and the Round Tops. Then began a rolling barrage over the heads of the Confederate infantrymen, as Manning’s Arkansans and the rest of the Texas Brigade charged with fixed bayonets and the Rebel yell. Soon they came upon a rail fence. “Grab it by the bottom rail and heave!” ordered General Robertson. The fence came down in the gray wave steadily rolling toward the slope of Little Round Top.
As Confederates threaded through the trees in Rose’s Woods, the Southern battle line lost its alignment in the confusion of the broken terrain. Robertson had orders to keep his right on Law’s left, with his own left resting on the Emmitsburg Road. But the distance between these two was too great for his brigade to fill, and, given the options, he decided to bandon the road and shift to the right, staying tight against Law’s Alabamians, who were being hard pressed by Union forces near Big Round Top. Unfortunately for the 3rd Arkansas, just as Robertson shifted away, their flank was attacked by Federal forces under Col. Regis de Trobriand, who should have been kept busy by McLaws. To prevent Manning’s annihilation in a cross fire, Robertson ordered the 1st Texas under Col. Phillip A. Work to go in on Manning’s right. This caused the Texas brigade to split, as the 4th and 5th Texas continued veering to the right to touch Law. The Texas brigade became two separate fighting forces, leaving a gap in the Confederate assault line. Hood’s division would fight for an hour before McLaws came to their aid. During that hour would pass perhaps the most intensive fighting the 3rd would see during its time in service.
“About four o’clock I was ordered to move against the enemy,” wrote Manning. “After marching in line of battle at a brisk gait, part of the way at a double-quick for about a thousand yards, all the time exposed to a destructive fire from artillery, we engaged the enemy at short range, strongly posted behind a rock fence at the edge of woods.” The fighting continued to be a stubborn contest on both sides as Robertson’s men battled for toeholds on the slopes of Houck’s Ridge and Little Round Top. A giant heap of boulders caused the Texas brigade to split, and the 3rd Arkansas and 1st Texas were on their own.
“For an hour and upwards, these two regiments maintained one of the hottest contests against five or six times their number that I have witnessed,” wrote Robertson in his official report. The Arkansans advanced against “a heavy and destructive fire of canister. . . and shell from . . . [four] pieces of their artillery on the mountain… and the same number on a commanding hill but a short distance to the left of the mountain, and from the enemy’s sharp-shooters behind the numerous rocks, fences, and houses in the field.”
As the flush of battle combined with the summer heat, men discarded everything but fighting gear. Knapsacks, blankets, and a trail of clothing marked the Confederate advance. Two crumbling stone fences were hopped, and as the troops crossed Rose Run, a few stopped to dip handkerchiefs, or take a quick drink, as musket balls whizzed overhead. Up the banks and onward the men scrambled, until blue met gray. The skirmishers pulled back, beckoning the Confederate charge onward.
Even with the arrival of Benning’s Georgians support around 5 p.m., the 3rd could gain no ground. “As fast as we would break one line of the enemy another fresh one would present itself, the enemy reinforcing his lines in our front from his reserves at the base of the mountain to our right and front, and from his lines to our left…. Having no attack from us in his front, [he] threw his forces from there on us.
The sound of battle drowned out the shouts of officers as they called commands. Manning, frustrated at his position of fighting on three fronts, had to take troops by their shoulders and turn his line to face the flank attack. The only salvation was more troops from reserve, but the Confederates simply had no reinforcements to send, and Manning continued to shift his fire from one threat to another. “Soon I was again admonished that my left was seriously threatened, when I ordered the command back fifty or seventy-five yards to meet this contingency.” The enemy gave way slightly, “and I stretched out my front twice its legitimate length, guarding well my left and advanced to the ledge of rocks from which we had previously been dislodged.” Manning was more than a little relieved by the appearance of the 11th and 59th Georgia of “Tige” Anderson’s brigade on his left. Still the Federals would not yield. It was at this point in the battle that Manning was hit in the face.
The determination of the Texas brigade was reflected in the high loss of officers through wounds and death. General Hood had his left arm shattered from wrist to shoulder while he stood near an artillery battery, only minutes after his command became engaged. General Robertson and three of his four regimental commanders were disabled when their leadership was most needed. One of these was Col. Van Manning.”
“Just after the arrival of Gen. [George T.] Anderson on my left, I learned that the gallant Colonel Van H. Manning, of the Third Arkansas, had been wounded and carried from the field,” wrote Robertson. Shrapnel cut a gash across the colonel’s forehead and the bridge of his nose. The wound was severe enough to disable him, and some of his soldiers guided him to the shelter of a rock until he could be assisted to the rear.
The command of the 3rd devolved upon Lt. Col. Robert S. Taylor, and with the men of Benning’s brigade at their assistance, Taylor resumed Manning’s urge forward. Their goal was to reach Captain Smith’s Union battery playing havoc in front, between the rocks of Houck’s Ridge. Amid a shower of bullets and shrapnel, the Arkansans strove to rush the guns, and the fighting became hand-to-hand. The Federal artillerists of Smith’s battery were forced to abandon their pieces, and the smell of victory boosted the spirits of the exhausted Arkansans to push on. Forty or fifty prisoners were taken, and the Confederates clung tenaciously to their position, in and around the battery, as the Federals fought to regain it.
Private Wilkerson wrote of his part in the action in his diary:By evening our ranks were getting thin. It was fight all the time. Each side wanted the protection of those rocks. One in particular, it was very large, about four or five feet high. I saw smoke coming from behind that one and made a run for it, swerving to the right, with my gun ready. I cried, “Hands up,” they dropped their guns and came out from behind the rock. There were six of them. One said, “Young man, where is your troops?” I told them I was it, and showed them to the rear, and saw to it that they went. I went for that same rock, but went on the wrong side, right into the muzzle of the Yank’s gun. He could easily put his gun in my face. He jabbed the gun out and fired, but it didn’t touch me. Then he threw the gun up and begged me to spare his life. At that instant a comrade came on the other side of the rock and would have shot the Yank, had I not stopped him.
As the sun started its descent, resting on the low crest of Seminary Ridge, Houck’s Ridge, and Devil’s Den were occupied by boys from the South. Three guns of Smith’s battery were trophies in Southern hands, but the Confederates had to take a breather. The stress of battle and heat had taken a toll on Hood’s troops. Empty canteens were no comfort to parched throats. Devil’s Den offered a grisly haven from the deadly contest, and the men rested behind its fortress-like boulders. Away on the left, in a peach orchard, steady firing signified that McLaws was still heavily engaged, but only the distant furry of battle invaded the senses of Hood’s men.
The immediate battle sounds died away into a deadly sporadic sharpshooting duel. Balls ricocheted off rocks and whined through the trampled brush and grass on Little Round Top’s slopes, muffling the cries of the wounded and dying. The reality of the day’s work set in with its nightmares for the survivors.
Now incidents occurred that would remain clear, as remembrances of men in their old age, scenes out of place with their surroundings. Sgt. William J. Barbee, Company L, 1st Texas, stood calmly “erect, exposed and fearless” on a huge boulder, loading, aiming and firing as if hunting squirrels in the woods back home. Man after man fell as game from his marksmanship.
Wounded comrades crouching at the foot of his rock loaded weapons and handed them up to him until he was finally hit in the thigh. The wound was minor and Barbee climbed back on his rock and continued firing. He fired twenty-five times before being hit in the other leg, even then refusing to surrender his perch. He declined to yield his rocky perch until the stretcher-bearers carried him away, “crying and cursing” in resistance.
An Arkansas soldier sang .out in a steady voice the words to a popular song,” Now let the wide world wag as it will, I’ll be gay and happy still!” as he banged away steadily at any sign of movement on the Union line.” In this manner, Hood’s troops kept Union gunners pinned down. The artillerymen of Lt. Charles E. Hazlett’s Company D, 5th U.S. Artillery made futile attempts to man their pieces, but the sure shots in Devil’s Den picked them off. These feats of shooting skill were noted by R. K. Beecham of Meade’s Third Corps:We have had occasion heretofore to speak of the expert marksmanship of the Confederate soldiers, but on no field of the war did they exhibit greater skill in that capacity than at this time and place. The rocks of Devil’s Den are certainly five hundred yards, and probably more, from the summit of Little Round Top; but across the yawning chasm of Plum Run they made life uncertain for the Union soldiers who guarded it.”
Another soldier was impressed by the 3rd Arkansas in particular.They… proved to be of the Third Arkansas, Hood’s Division, Robertson’s Brigade, and were as ragged, unkempt and tough looking a body of men as it had ever been our fortune to see in the Army of Northern Virginia. They were all dead shots, armed mostly with the old-fashioned muzzle-loading Mississippi, or squirrel rifle….”
Robertson’s brigade had won the first round. The cost had been enormous, a price the Confederate army could ill-afford. Its wages lay scattered in front of the ominous boulders as bloodied and broken bodies. Lt. Col. Phillip A. Work of the 1st Texas examined the field for wounded who could safely be brought in and surveyed the carnage. “Many were killed and wounded, some losing their heads, and others so horribly mutilated and mangled that their identity could scarcely be established.”
The evening hours before sunset saw one last Confederate push, but the Union moved to meet it. A company of the 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters was posted among the rocks to answer the Confederate snipers. The sun dropped behind South Mountain as Hazlett’s battery finally brought its guns into play on Devil’s Den. Many Southern soldiers died as a consequence. They were found among the boulders, without a mark on their bodies killed by the concussion of shell and solid-shot against the rocks.
Private Wilkerson was one of the casualties that day. Before he was wounded, he managed to help other friends. Pvt. H. C. Coffman of Company H raised to shoot over a boulder and was struck across the bridge of the nose, shooting out both his eyes. Wilkerson dragged Coffman to safety, promising to be back. Five minutes later Wilkerson was hit while running back to a less exposed position.When the sun was about an hour high in the evening we made another charge and drove the enemy back a short distance. Then we were ordered to fall back. The smoke was so thick, and the roar of the muskets so loud we didn’t hear all the command. I, with those who had not heard the order, went on forward and got too close. We thought our Regiment was still back of us. The enemy were reinforced into two lines of battle, one directly behind the other. I dropped on my knees and fired at the two lines. When I raised up my comrades were gone and it seemed every Yank shot at me. Fortunately they shot too low. I was alive, but my left leg was shattered, below the knee. I fell, and they did not shoot at me any more. They thought I was riddled with bullets. I crawled on my back and dragged my leg to a large rock near by; on the side next to our men. I was then between two fires. W. S. Cockman found me. He said, “John, if I live until it is over, I’ll come and get you.”
Another casualty was young Sam Emerson. “I was shot down about sundown, and five others of my company were killed. My surroundings at this point were awful to contemplate.” A bullet had sheared across the crown of his head, cutting down to the skull and leaving him temporarily blind and paralyzed. As he regained consciousness and sight, he was left to ponder the surrounding battlefield and whether he would survive.There was a calm luster in the sky as I surveyed it from the valley in which I lay. The blue expanse was untarnished by a cloud. Around me everything presented the glorious beauties of a summer’s day save the havoc of the broad battlefield, which lay bestrewed with the dead and wounded. The scene was too distressing for description occasionally the rattle of musketry and the roar of cannon came rushing over my lacerated brain like traces of fire. . . . I doubted the reality of all around me, and strove to shake it off as a horrible dream. . . I was mad with terror and anguish. The stars and bars were lying at my feet. By and by the storm of battle passed away. The distant mutterings of the cannons soon ceased to fall upon my ear. Then again all was dark.
About 8 p.m. the firing died away. As darkness brought an end to the battle, an uneasy truce allowed the Confederates to search for wounded comrades, while all through the night both sides dug in for the next day’s action. Whatever that might be, neither would retreat. Both Emerson and Wilkerson were found by friends. Private Cockman returned for Wilkerson.About ten o’clock in the night he called for me, and at least fifty answered. I heard him tell the boys with him, “Let me call again.” This time he yelled “Seven Pines.” None answered but me. He was from my home town ‘way down in Arkansas. They put me on a litter and carried me back to the rear of our lines, near a brick barn that our men were using for a hospital. I was left in that wheat field with about one hundred of my Regiment, too badly wounded to be moved with my Regiment, and the Army.
Emerson was nearly dead when he was found late in the night.I knew not even where I was then. At length the thick clouds of gloom began to disperse. A feeble voice seemed to call: “Oh Sam!” Judge, those who can, how intently I listened for the second call: “Oh Sam!” Yet how I trembled that it should prove a delusion. 0 God, it was not. It was the voice of one of my comrades, who had been sent back by the captain of my company, he knowing that several had fallen in that particular locality, . . . [in Rose’s Woods] near the stone fence, as it will ever be remembered by the survivors of the Texas Brigade. For the first time in three long years did I think of home and friends as memory came rushing back to my brain. May I never witness another such night:”
While friends searched for friends, the commanders tried to sort out the tangled lines in the darkness. “I.. . proceeded to the Third Arkansas Regiment, of which General Robertson had ordered me to take charge,” reported Work. “After the loss of some half hour in searching for the Third Arkansas, I found Lieutenant-Colonel [Robert S.] Taylor and Major [John W.] Reedy, of that regiment, both alive and uninjured, and in charge of the regiment, which was doing its duty nobly and well.
At 2 a.m. Colonels Work and Taylor moved the 3rd Arkansas to the right and up the slope between the two Round Tops, consolidating the division’s position and reuniting Robertson’s brigade. The men formed a line along Plum Run, between Devil’s Den and Big Round Top. From 3 a.m. until dawn, Texas brigade survivors worked on defenses, piling rocks on an old stone wall, building loopholes in the makeshift breastwork. Cartridge boxes and canteens were replenished, and a few winks of much needed sleep were caught on the fly.
The divisions of Hood and McLaws had done the majority of the fighting for the Sooth on July 2. One-fourth of the men in Hood’s division were casualties. In the 3rd Arkansas, 41 were killed and 141 wounded or missing, thirty-eight percent of its strength and the second highest casualties in Robertson’s brigade. The loss was particularly heavy among officers. Although not seriously wounded. Colonel Manning was out of action for several days. Longstreet would note that the July 2 action was “the best three hours of fighting ever done by any troops on any battlefield.”
With first light on July 3, firing resumed sporadically between the Confederate right and Union left. The morning was greeted by nervous cannon fire from batteries on Seminary Ridge, while sharpshooting was the order of the day on the Plum Run defenses. The cloudy sky and patchy fog obscured visibility and lessened the desire to shoot at less than clear targets. An accidental wounding of two men in Company F, 3rd Arkansas by their own artillery caused most of the excitement.
Early hours passed slowly under these circumstances until 11 a.m. when the sky cleared to reveal another breezeless, sultry day, under a broiling sun. Men tended to doze under any shelter to escape the heat and lost interest in the sniping contest with Federals. Just to hold their ground seemed success enough. Occasional firing kept them cautious enough not to forget their deadly purpose on this field.
The careful vigilance was distracted by the earth-shaking volley of the Confederate cannonade preceding the Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble Charge. The roar over-shadowed the popping of muskets and caused blue and gray alike to turn eyes northward. During the artillery barrage, the 1st Texas was withdrawn from behind its crumbling stone wall and double-quicked down Plum Run Valley to a position between Big Round Top and the Emmitsburg Road, to prepare for a possible cavalry attack. The 3rd Arkansas moved to the right to fill the gap. Then all waited.
The men of Robertson’s brigade had been told they would receive orders to move forward when the artillery barrage ceased. Meanwhile, the 3rd Arkansas bugged the ground, now trembling beneath them, absorbing the concussion of hundreds of cannon.
“An earthquake, a cyclone, a thunderstorm, a hurricane, all in one, could not be more terrific,” wrote Pvt. John West.” But when the roar ceased. Robertson’s brigade could gain no ground. The Union line among the rocks stood fast, and the Arkansans knew that the commotion from the center of the field was the culminating end to a disastrous day.
Pvt. William Fletcher watched in awe and admiration as the charge moved across the field towards Cemetery Ridge. “From our elevated position we could see the battle line in the valley and hear the roar of cannon that were on an elevation to the rear. . . . There was sure noise enough, from the roar of guns and bursting of shells, to have moved the Yanks when the Rebs charged, if they had been movable; but they were like those in front of Hood.”
The work at hand summoned them back to duty as the Union line opened fire. Around 5 p.m. the 3rd witnessed the cavalry attack of Union Brig. Gen. Elon J. Farnsworth; it was easily repulsed by the Confederate infantry. Then all was quiet. Later the Texas brigade withdrew to a position near the Emmitsburg Road, remaining in battle formation throughout July 4, awaiting a Federal counterattack that never came.” That evening, drenched by torrential rains, the 3rd Arkansas and the Texas brigade began the retreat to Virginia with Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, occupying the center of the army. For the men of the 3rd left behind too severely wounded to be moved, the painful ordeal of healing began. Pvt. John Wilkerson, who had been rescued by friends was one of those left in enemy hands:We lay on the bare ground with nothing over us or under us but the heavens above and the earth beneath, completely at the mercy of green flies, swarming by the thousands. They kept our wounds full of creepers, and these sucked off the poison from our festering wounds. My head was on a sweet gum bush, for a pillow. There were two volunteer nurses…. [They] braced my foot and broken leg up by driving sticks round it, to keep it from falling over.
Wilkerson recovered without losing his leg.” Pvt. Sam Emerson was fortunate enough to be able to travel and rode in the wagon train with the Confederate wounded, crossing the Potomac River at Williamsport, Maryland, and safely arriving back in Virginia. He recovered and was back with his regiment by September.”
The 3rd reached Hagerstown on the afternoon of July 6 and camped southeast of town on the Sharpsburg Road. Here they stayed and nursed their wounds until July 10. It was a much needed and well earned rest. For the first six days of July they had marched, fought, and stood on alert with little or no food or water all in merciless heat or driving rain with no chance to even take off accoutrements or change clothes. On that one day of July 2 the men had fought three hours, most of it a continuous uphill struggle, on no sleep, a few bites of breakfast, and no dinner or supper. It failed because it was more than human flesh could accomplish.
On July 14, Hood’s division, now led by Brig. Gen. Evander M. Law, crossed back into Virginia (since mid – June the new state of West Virginia) at Falling Waters. It had won eternal fame with its war record, even in defeat. Now it would remain on Southern soil for the rest of the war. Joseph B. Policy of the Texas brigade left this simple epitaph to their service: “Judged by its losses, which are usually held true criterions of the gallantry of a regiment and the dangers it faced, the 3rd Arkansas bore the brunt of the Battle of Gettysburg.